CULT CLASSIC: TUXEDOMOON-HALF-MUTE.
Success came quickly for Tuxedomoon. They were formed in 1977, and released their debut single in 1978. A year later, Tuxedomoon’s sophomore single No Tears was hailed a post punk classic. Tuxedomoon were one of mus ic’s rising stars.
So it was no surprise that in 1980, Ralph’s Records signed Tuxedomoon and they released their debut album Half-Mute later that year. It was released to critical acclaim, and introduced Tuxedomoon’s music to a wider audience. However, the Tuxedomoon story began in 1977.
Their roots can be traced to 1977, and the Angels of Light, a musical collective and commune in San Francisco that Steven Brown was a member of. He was also at student at San Francisco City College. That was where Steven Brown met Blaine Reininger and Tommy Tadlock. They were all taking the same electronic music class at San Francisco City College, and quickly became friends.
As the electronic music course neared completion, Steven Brown and Tommy Tadlock decided to combine their talents for their final project. Little did the pair realise, that Tommy would end up managing Tuxedomoon. That was in the future.
Tuxedomoon had only been born in 1977, and were still to find their sound. So in the evenings, Steven Brown and Blaine Reininger would head over to Tommy Tadlock’s to make music. This was unlike the majority of the music being released. Especially with Blaine Reininger playing electronic violin and guitar. Tommy Tadlock however, was content to take a backseat, working on the sound. He also made tools to fix the nascent band’s equipment, and even created “Treatment Mountain,” a plywood pyramid structure that housed Blaine’s myriad of effects. This became important as the band started to play live
By then, punk rock was on its way to moving from the underground to mainstream. However, as the band began to make their tentative steps in San Francisco’s live scene, punk was still an underground scene. Punk had certainly influenced Tuxedomoon.
When Tuxedomoon took to the stage, they were determined to sound different to everyone else. As a result, their vocals were inspired by punk and were a mixture of power, frustration, anger and angst. Augmenting the core band of Steven Brown and Blaine Reininger were bassist Peter Principle, filmmaker Bruce Geduldig and performance artist Winston Tong. Some members of the band didn’t play a particular instrument. Instead, they arrived with whatever instrument that they could find and ‘played’ it. This was similar things to the happenings in the psychedelic sixties. However, for a new generation who watched Tuxedomoon fuse elements of punk and electronics it was a new experience. This new sound was quickly christened cabaret no-wave.
It wasn’t until 1978, that Tuxedomoon’s cabaret no-wave sound first found its way onto a single. Tuxedomoon’s debut single was Pinheads On The Move. Then later in 1978, came Tuxedomoon’s sophomore single No Tears. It was the song that made critics and record buyers sit up and take notice. Soon, No Tears was regarded as a a post punk classic, and had introduced Tuxedomoon’s to a wider audience. Already Tuxedomoon were making waves in the post punk era.
Having made a breakthrough with No Tears in 1978, Tuxedomoon released two further singles in 1979. By then, bassist Peter Principle was a permanent member of the band, and played on The Stranger. This was Tuxedomoon’s first single of 1979, but their second and final release on Time Release Records.
Later in 1979, Scream With A View was released on the short-lived Tuxedomoon Records. Soon, the band’s new label had outlived its usefulness, as they signed to a new label.
After signing to Ralph Records later in 1979, Tuxedomoon returned in 1980 with not just a new single, but a new album. The single was What Use? and the album was Half-Mute, which was released in 1980.
Half-Mute featured ten tracks. Nine were penned by Steven Brown, Blaine Reininger and Peter Principle. The exception was Crash, which was written by Blaine Reininger and Michael Belfer. These tracks were recorded at San Amigos Studios, San Francisco.
At San Amigos Studios, Tuxedomoon began setting up an array of instruments. Steven Brown would play keyboards, synths, saxophones, electronic percussion and add vocals. Blaine Reininger who had learnt to play violin and guitar, also played bass, keyboards, synths, electronic percussion, root toms, C.B. interference and vocals. Peter Principle played bass, guitar, piano, synths and electronic percussion. Producing Half-Mute were the three members of Tuxedomoon. Once the album was complete, Half-Mute was released later in 1980.
By then, word had spread about Tuxedomoon. They had already released five singles and were the toast of the underground music press not just in America, but in Britain. This bode well for Half-Mute.
When reviews were published, critics lavished praise on Half-Mute. They were won over by Tuxedomoon’s unique fusion of punk and electronics. Many critics remarked on the lyrics. They weren’t just dark and maudlin, but tinged with humour and often incisive. Some critics called Half-Mute a genre-classic. This proved to be the case, and was the springboard for Tuxedomoon to become one of leading avant-garde pop bands. However, things were about to get even better for Tuxedomoon.
Buoyed by critically acclaimed reviews, Half-Mute reached number ten in the UK Indie Chart. Suddenly, Tuxedomoon’s star was in the ascendancy, after releasing what many regard as their finest album, Half-Mute.
Opening Half-Mute is Nazca, an instrumental. Washes of moody synths sweep in and out, while a pulsating beat is accompanied by a chiming guitar. By then, there’s a hypnotic quality to the arrangement. Then when a sultry saxophone enters. It’s dreamy and floats above rest of the arrangement, adding to the melodic quality. Sometimes, it threatens to head in the direction of free jazz. This never happens, as the saxophone proves the perfect foil for the washes of synths. Together, they create a soundscape that’s not just cinematic and beautiful, melodic, hypnotic and timeless.
From the opening bars, it’s obvious that 59 To 1 is a song about time. A ticking sound is joined by a funky bass and synthetic sounding drums. The urgent vocal is sounds almost Kraftwerk-esque. When the vocal drops out, a wailing saxophone soars above the hypnotic, funky arrangement. By then, the vocal is urgent, impassioned and despairing, at being unable to beat time. Snippets of C.B. radio interject, as the scorching, blazing saxophone soars and flutters, joining a mesmeric vocal and walking bass. Hypnotic, funky and innovative it’s a timeless genre-melting track.
Straight away, Fifth Column takes on a cinematic sound. Synths and a saxophone join a dark bass and crisp drums. It’s the synths and braying saxophone that paint pictures. They add to the cinematic quality, as the bass provides the heartbeat to a track where beauty and mystery are omnipresent. The beauty comes courtesy of saxophone, while synths add mystery.
Drums scamper along as otherworldly synths, beep and squeak on Tritone (Musica Diablo). They add a darkness as an urgent scratchy violin plays. As the tempo increases, the track becomes robotic, rocky and urgent. A myriad beeps, buzzes, squeaks and whirs join the scampering, scratchy violin and synthetic drums to create a short otherworldly symphony.
A darkness descends on Loneliness, which owes a debt of gratitude to Kraftwerk and even Cluster. Bursts of drums and bass set the scene for a dark, fuzz-tone organ and a monotone vocal that’s tips its hat to Kraftwerk. The final piece of the jigsaw are repetitive elegiac sounds that add a mesmeric sound. This adds to the almost robotic sound of the arrangement, which marches to the beat of the drum. The result is captivating emotionless track, that’s a fusion of avant-garde, electronica, funk and Krautrock.
Bells chime, as variety of crackles, rumbling, galloping and ghostly sounds combine on James Whale. Sometimes, the tape speed varies, as Tuxedomoon pay their tribute to the late Hollywood director James Whale. Later, the track takes on a haunting sound, as an otherworldly being gallops towards the listener. This adds to the spine tingling cinematic sound, and is fitting, given James Whale directed a classic horror film The Bride Of Frankenstein.
In the distance, a walling sound encircles, before gradually moving closer on What Use? That’s a curveball, as a thunderous beat joins cinematic synths and bass on a track that sounds as if it’s been inspired by Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. Even by the time the deliberate vocal has entered, the listener has been swept along by what’s an irresistible sounding dance track. At one point, Tuxedomoon replicate the sound of a high speed train. By then, there’s a Euro Disco influence, as the track heads into anthem territory and showcases Tuxedomoon’s versatility.
Volo Vivace provides the perfect showcase for Blaine Reininger’s violin skills. Buzzing synths are joined by a bass, before the elegiac sound of the violin enters. It provides a contrast to the rest of arrangement.Especially when its played with speed and precision. Meanwhile, the rest of the arrangement is spacious, hypnotic and sometimes futuristic. However, the violin adds beauty and elegance. By then, music’s past and present sit side-by-side, and unite to make the music of the future.
As 7 Years unfolds, straight away, washes of synths add an element of darkness and drama, as drums rattle and crack. Atop the arrangement, the vocal is deliberate and lacking in emotion as it sings of: “seven years in one night.” Who knows what horrors take place during this “psychedelic melodrama.” It sounds as if it’s been influenced by Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. Later, Blaine Reininger’s violin adds a myriad of spine-chilling sounds, adding a cinematic sound to what was in 1980, a modern day “psychedelic melodrama.”
Km-Seeding The Clouds closes Half-Mute, and is an eleven minute epic. As the sound of traffic, goes by a wistful saxophone solo plays. It’s joined by a plucked bass, as the sounds of the city pass by. However, it’s the hauntingly beautiful, but mournful saxophone that’s the focus of the listener’s attention. They’re oblivious to the sound of traffic, birdsong, cinematic synth strings and bold keyboards chords. Even the sound of horns beeping, doesn’t stop the listener revelling in the mournful beauty of Steven Brown’s saxophone. It takes centre-stage, and closes Tuxedomoon’s avant-garde pop classic.
Since its release, Half-Mute has influenced several generations of musicians. So much so, that many musicians were inspired to form bands after hearing Half-Mute. The music they went on to make was influenced by Tuxedomoon’s avant-garde pop classic Half-Mute.
It’s hard to believe that forty years have passed since the release of Half-Mute. It’s an innovative, inventive and genre-melting cult classic that has stood the test of time. On Half-Mute, Tuxedomoon flit between and fuse disparate musical genres including avant-garde, avant pop, electronica, Euro Disco, free jazz, funk, jazz ,Krautrock, no-wave, pop, post punk and psychedelia. There’s also elements of drama and a cinematic sound on an album that references everything from Cluster and Kraftwerk to Giorgio Moroder and even Gary Numan. The result is a captivating, genre-hopping cult classic where the music is always ambitious, innovative, inventive and continues to influence and inspire a new generation of musicians to push musical boundaries to their limits.