The All-Timers #2: New Order's "Your Silent Face"

The All-Timers #2: New Order's "Your Silent Face"

It's come to my attention just now, while scrambling for a topic for this week's newsletter amidst a recently assigned tight deadline, that I've never written a word about New Order outside of Twitter. That feels weird because I've considered them one of my all-time favorite bands for most of my adult life, but it also doesn't, because I didn't give one solitary shit about them until I was at least 20.

I don't know how long this has been the case—I'm assuming since at least the grunge era–but as far as I can remember, the position that Joy Division were one of the coolest bands that ever graced Planet Earth is as baked into pop culture as the squiggly iconography from their unimpeachable debut album, Unknown Pleasures. From my childhood onward, I've encountered so many Ian Curtis diehards that I never considered myself a flag-bearing stan of the band, but if you'd asked me early on if I preferred them or their post-Curtis offshoot, I wouldn't have thought twice about siding with the consensus. My familiarity was limited to the rock critics of yore raving about "She's Lost Control," a viewing of Anton Corbijn's 2007 biopic Control mandated by the frontman of my high school band (I should rewatch that), and predominantly, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (I can't overstate how much the Donnie Darko soundtrack was a formative influence on me). At 16, that's enough to constitute an opinion.

My first New Order experiences have murkier details, but a decidedly more vehement outcome: I really, really didn't like them. When I attempt to probe the why of that judgement, I can only grasp at straws outlined by my prevailing tastes at the time: I didn't love dance music, I was pretending like I didn't like pop music, and perhaps Bernard Sumner's affected sigh of a voice rubbed me the wrong way. It's also worth noting that outside of Hot Chip (whose 2008 album Made in the Dark CD I bought used because it was highly reviewed, but never really connected with me), there weren't a ton of buzzy bands getting New Order comparisons in the mid-to-late-2000s.

Maybe the foundation was laid by the moment I knew I didn't really love Joy Division. As a freshman at NYU, I attended a couple of meetings for the Program Board, the student group that booked the school's concerts. At my second and final of these, someone mentioned Cold Cave (who ended up playing an Andrew WK-hosted Earth Day show the next semester, lol), someone else asked who they were, and I responded, looking to boost my clout, "They're like Joy Division but better." The vehement response, which involved one of the board chairs insisting that they'd "dig up Ian Curtis' corpse and fuck him," turned me off—possibly of Joy Division, certainly of Program Board.

Fast forward 18-ish months later, and I'm back at my parents' for the summer, sprinting to the bluffs near their house for the explicit purposes of: catching the sunset, s***ing w**d, and listening to New Order's "Your Silent Face." I could attempt to explain why the song was even on my iPod at the time, but you should just listen to it instead.

Those synths—my god, those SYNTHS—have always made me think of sunsets. It's the way the song begins with an anticipatory burbling, like it's counting down to something, and then how it bursts into bloom with the full array of lush analog technology that was available in 1983. I just get vivid hues of orange, red, purple. I'm not even a "oh my god, synesthesia, dude" guy! But as soon as I heard "Your Silent Face," I knew it would never hit quite as hard for me unless it was paired with a brilliant blast of color at the tail end of daylight. That's why I rushed to the Washington coast on that day in 2011; that's why I spun it within days of moving into my current, West-facing apartment the second I realized how much closer and bolder the far-off Manhattan skyline looked at sunset.

Everyone has songs that they love regardless of place, and songs that are tied to specific moments or settings. For me, the latter are usually also the former. Kurt Vile's "Wakin on a Pretty Day" will always remind me of emerging from a friend's apartment in Chicago on a cold, sunny March morning and walking to the train; in college I made a tradition of playing Cam'ron's "Hey Ma" while heading back to my dorm from my last final of the semester. Not at all coincidentally, both of those songs are on the playlist from which I select "All-Timers" subjects.

But back to New Order! The band sprung into action surprisingly quickly after Ian Curtis' May 1980 suicide. By the next November, the three surviving Joy Division members, plus crucial synth addition Gillian Gilbert, had released their debut album.

Movement is sick, a clear continuation of JD's cold atmospherics with a poppier edge, but it's obvious that the band were still clinging onto their existing aesthetics. If they continued to make Movement for the next 10 years, nobody would ever think of placing New Order in the same conversation as the trendier band that preceded them.

A few crucial things happen between Movement and 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies, the album that houses "Your Silent Face."

1: Bernard Sumner stops trying to sing in Ian Curtis' monotone baritone. I can't imagine hearing "Age Of Consent" for the first time and thinking, "This guy has a higher register?!"

2: Following suit, bassist Peter Hook begins playing unconventionally high-pitched parts. Sumner plays guitar on most of New Order's ensuing material, but with the presence of Gilbert's deeper synth-bass tones, Hook struts up to the front of the mix and becomes the band's melodic leader, a rarity for a bassist even in the post-McCartney landscape.

3: In March of '83, just two months before Power, Corruption & Lies drops, New Order release "Blue Monday," a lengthy electronic cut that doesn't end up on the album. It's a sea change of a song–not just for the band, but for the increasingly dance-focused Manchester scene around them.

The decision to exclude the club-oriented single from the album became a New Order hallmark—the reason why many fans swear by greatest hits compilations over specific albums to this day—but plopping "Blue Monday" among the Power, Corruption & Lies tracklist would further muddy an already scattered listen. As it stands, it's unclear if New Order were among the cream of the crop of the UK's many peppy new wave bands, or if they aspired to be more dub-inflected brooders. Like every one of the band's peak-era albums, there's more substantially more wheat than chaff—the aforementioned "Age Of Consent" is an ebullient highlight of this era of British rock, "We All Stand" belongs alongside Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" in the pantheon of white boys biting Lee "Scratch" Perry in service of bad vibes, closing track "Leave Me Alone" at last marries the band's previously incongruous bouts of jangle-pop and bummer jams. But nothing hangs together particularly well.

In the middle of all of this, there is "Your Silent Face." It, too, is out of step with the rest of the album. It's synth-pop, which New Order would only really start focusing on in the run-up to 1985's Low-Life, but it's also big and pastoral, full of the potential to provide a better-sequenced album with its cathartic peak. 1300 words into this, I'm realizing why New Order didn't connect with me as a 14-year-old, "Best Albums of All-Time" list-reading rockist: they don't have a consensus "classic." Though I love them with all of my heart, I think that's a valid, accurate assertion.

I got heavy into 1989's Technique, the one the band recorded on the dance music mecca island of Ibiza, a few years after my initial infatuation. Pound-for-pound, I don't think it's necessarily better than any of the four preceding albums, but it nails a vibe. The fact that the vibe is an acid house-drenched dose of Balearic hedonism certainly doesn't hurt, but Technique remains the best front-to-back listen of New Order's career.

As much as I've tried to evolve from the classic rock elitist of my tweenage years, I'm still beholden to a bit of that era's criteria for greatness, namely The Importance Of The Album. I'm an avid vinyl collector and I agonize over Albums of the Year lists while giving little thought to Songs of the Year. But my beloved New Order, heralding the age of dance music 12" singles that alter the entire world in ways that LPs did back in the '60s, perhaps prepared me for the MP3/streaming/snippet/TikTok-based future of the world. You'll still have to pry my most prized records from my cold, dead hands, but a good many of those might not be writ-large classics; more likely, they'll contain cherished gems like "Your Silent Face."

Plug 2

I'm gonna include two pieces this week, the first of which is Vivian Medithi's astute column on the unconventionally released Playboi Carti singles that have dominated the conversation since they began surfacing around Thanksgiving. It addresses not only the (high, quite obviously) quality of the music, but also the weird release strategy and the unresolved assault allegations hanging over Carti's head. The FADER recently granted this hip hop column space to Medithi and Nadine Smith, whose work I've shared here in the past, and that's a smart move on their part!

The second is Ian Cohen's enlightening Stereogum interview with Virginia screamo band Infant Island. They have a new album out today, and though I've been obsessed with the pre-release singles, I've neglected to include them in my weekly playlists out of the hope that I'd nab an assignment writing about the album. Gods be blessed, that's come to pass, so watch this space in the coming weeks.

BOI (Best of Inbox) #14

Alvidrez - "Hymn for the Corner"

Genre: drone-y dream pop // RIYL: Grouper, early Beach House

Alvidrez's bio says they record with "piano, organ, voice & reconstrued traditional church music," which certainly piqued my interest. Their upcoming album draws on their experiences growing up in an evangelical church, and lead single "Hymn for the Corner" explores the fluid boundaries between the sacred and secular with its reverent, hushed tone. I racked my brain for a good 48 hours to figure out what this song reminds me of, and oddly enough, it's the second half of Drake's "Star67"—tell me I'm wrong! Antiphon is out 2/20.

Barely Civil - "Better Now"

Genre: emo // RIYL: Wild Pink but with gang vocals

The first thing I noticed about "Better Now" is how much Cranberries - "Dreams" DNA is in the big, powerful strums that open it up. But beyond easy comparisons, there's a buoyant, emotional song within. "Better Now" addresses the growth that can happen after a breakup, both for you and your ex. It sounds like Barely Civil's new album will dredge up a lot of painful emotions in pursuit of catharsis, and they're off to a great start. I'd Say I'm Not Fine is out 3/22.

Careen - "Last Winter"

Genre: post-hardcore // RIYL: Lungfish, Kerosene 454, Unwound

One perk of running my own newsletter: I get to cover friends' music without feeling unethical. In Careen's case, I actually did interview the vocalist/guitarist/homie Desi Valdez last year for a Bandcamp Daily feature on The Unknown, the recording studio that's located in our hometown, but now I get to gush more about their actual music. On "Last Winter," taken from the upcoming Cycle 3 EP, the band yet again refine their once-sloppier sound while still allowing plenty of room for unkempt antics. Careen continue to mine the ever-fertile post-hardcore caverns carved out in the mid-80s, but this time, they're hitting upon the moodier pockets that defined Unwound's last two albums. Cycle 3, with cover art lifted from a 1984 calendar by fellow Anacortes legend Bill Mitchell, is out 2/23.

evilgiane, xaviersobased & Nettspend - "40"

Genre: zoomer plugg // RIYL: Yhapojj, evvls

I first heard about Nettspend via a video on Twitter that made the rounds off the strength of a tidal wave of "look at this little white boy" reactions, which I imagine is a common introduction to the teenage Virginia rapper. Once the novelty died down, it became clear that he had some heat in his discography. Producer evilgiane of Surf Gang, on the other hand, already has tracks with Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar/Baby Keem under his belt, and continues make some of the most inventive beats out there. "40," a 64-second-long burst accompanied by a video filmed on the Brooklyn waterfront, is taken from giane's upcoming #HEAVENSGATE mixtape.

Fall Of Leviathan - "Spermwhale"

Genre: instrumental post-metal // RIYL: Isis, Pelican

Just last week, upon including Isis' album Panopticon in my list of favorite 2004 albums, I remarked that there's just not as much great post-metal nowadays as there was in the mid-2000s. I try to not make present-day-shaming comments like that very often, and here's why: the same day that list published, I got this gem of a Hydra-Head-Records-circa-2002 track in my inbox. *Chris Berman voice* AND THAT'S WHY THEY PLAY THE GAME! Fall Of Leviathan are a Swiss instrumental act, and they've got all the hallmarks of a great post-metal band: a knack for patience and drama, incredible guitar interplay, and most importantly, a nautical theme (see: Isis' Oceanic, Mastodon's Leviathan, both Giant Squid and The Ocean's entire discography, and many others). In Waves is out 3/1.

Marika Hackman - "The Yellow Mile"

Genre: singer-songwriter // RIYL: Jose Gonzalez, Cat Power

I was thiiiiis close to including "Hanging," a previous single from Marika Hackman's upcoming album, in a previous edition of the newsletter, but it got bumped out by something or other (it's still great—I've only got so much room per week!). I'm not going to make the same mistake again, though. "The Yellow Mile" is a sparse song, just an acoustic guitar and Hackman's vocals (to be fair, those do get multi-tracked towards the song's end). That's not usually my bag, but this is too exceptional to ignore—just brilliant writing and composition all the way through. I haven't had a chance to dive into Stereogum's recent interview with Hackman, but it's by the always-great Danielle Chelosky, so don't miss that if you like "The Yellow Mile." Big Sigh is out today, 1/12.

MIZU - "Pavane"

Genre: ambient/neoclassical // RIYL: Rachika Nayar, Tim Hecker

One of the best sets I saw at Pitchfork Fest last year was Rachika Nayar, who was periodically accompanied by MIZU on cello and Maria BC on vocals. What a powerhouse trio! Maria put out their great album Spike Field last October, and now MIZU's set to release her next stunner. Lead single "Pavane" sculpts a gorgeous, humid atmosphere out of bowed and plucked parts, but with its unnerving undertone, it sounds like getting stalked through the trees by a predator that you can sense but can't see. The aptly named Forest Scenes is out 3/22.

Runnner - "eleven"

Genre: ambient with breakbeats // RIYL: Seefeel, Nosaj Thing

To get the full effect of Runnner's "eleven," you should absolutely listen to the drumless, smearier 2.5-minute-long song that precedes it, "ten" (and based on his decision to numerically title this album's tracks, I would assume that a completist approach is preferable for the entire thing too). Bursting out of the horn-led ambiance of "ten," the breakbeat in "eleven" really pops, turning what on first glance seems chilled out into a much more powerful proposition. Starsdust is out 2/2.

Timelost - "Eternal Vibe"

Genre: cheap beer rock // RIYL: Jeff The Brotherhood, music coming out of vintage Camaros

"Eternal Vibe" might be about getting ground down by the world, but Philly's Timelost make that sound like a party. This is a thoroughly uncomplicated song, but it's skillfully written, riffed, and especially sung—vocalist/guitarist Shane Handal belts with his whole chest and confidently carries the track. Drained is out 2/23.

Track of the Week

Hannah Frances - "Bronwyn"

Genre: jazzy, proggy folk // RIYL: Fairport Convention, Grizzly Bear

I can't say I'm a huge folk guy, but whenever things get knotty and start incorporating jazz and/or prog elements, I'm usually 100% on board. "Bronwyn," the lead single from Chicago singer/songwriter/guitarist Hannah Frances' upcoming album, is no exception. It starts off angular enough, with roughly strummed acoustic and electric guitars butting heads, but things only escalate from there, with Frances' meandering vocals rising to the occasion when the song eventually climaxes. Keeper of the Shepherd is out 3/1.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson