Sumptuously packaged, limited-edition box set contains the complete works of the UK post-punk band, along with a disc of live recordings / This Heat were born in the years immediately preceding punk rock. Severe young men Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward were making things go pish-ding-whoosh on London’s free-improvising circuit and had links to the waning days of Canterbury’s whimsical and conceptual prog rock scene. So though punk riled them up-- as it riled up many under-30s lurking in the corners of London in the summer of 1976-- it’s unsurprising that what they produced in response sounds little like the Clash. They hooked up with “non-musician” Gareth Williams and took up in an abandoned meat locker dubbed Cold Storage. Like Can in their castle or Faust in their farmhouse, This Heat recorded endlessly at Cold Storage, editing the results down into (semi-) coherent chunks.
What This Heat produced there is a remarkable body of work, even in the context of creative abundance that was British post-punk. Hayward sang in a keening voice with audible debts to Robert Wyatt, but without the former Soft Machine leader's warmth and sentimentality. This Heat’s astringent combination of tape loops, coruscating sheet metal guitar, Krautrock-inspired groove, improvised noise, and Reagan/Thatcher-era political despair felt frigid to the touch. Listening today you can almost hear Cold Storage’s rusted pipes and crackled, mottled porcelain as captured in this new box set’s black-and-white photographs.
Out of Cold Storage contains the complete works of This Heat, along with a disc of live recordings and an informative booklet where the surviving members (Williams passed away in 2001) dissect their discography. It’s a sumptuously packaged, limited-edition, mail-order release, and since most of the material has long been available only as bootlegs or on mp3, the sound quality of these remasters is an obvious improvement.
Here are some much-hated rock critic words that are impossible to avoid when talking about This Heat: angular, spiky, jagged, shards, atonal. The brittle, scrabbling, squawking, scraping qualities of This Heat’s music come partially out of the band’s background in free improvisation. At the same time, the reversed voices and tea kettle ambience of a track like Deceit’s “Shrinkwrap” find kin in the rusty, industrial Ohio dada of Pere Ubu tracks like “The Book is on the Table”-- crude sound art with the implied violence of rock music.
And This Heat did rock. They were rarely funky, and Cold Storage feels as far from the Mississippi delta as Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne. But “SPRQ” is as triumphant a rock song as any post-punk band ever wrote-- just two awkward chords ringing out stadium-sized. And live-- evidenced on the slightly murky sounding Live 80/81 but especially on Made Available, the disc of sessions they recorded for John Peel’s radio show-- they were a snarling, metallic machine.
Recorded from 1976 to 1978 and released the following year, This Heat is the sound of three avant-gardeners getting to grips with the mud and clay of rock. The album opens and closes with radio interference; Williams’ organ sounds like he’s playing it with his elbows. Much of it eschews songform entirely, drifting freely and unmoored. When it doesn’t-- as on “Not Waving”-- Hayward’s voice emerges from the mist of organs on like headlamps in fog with only a tidal clang to anchor the music. But then there’s a track like “Horizontal Hold”, thrashing like a prog rock power trio of cavemen.
“24 Track Loop” feeds a chunk of Hayward’s drumming into a harmonizer and what it spits out sounds, as many have pointed out, strangely like the pitchshifted drums of jungle nearly two decades later. It also sounds more than a bit like Miles Davis’ On the Corner. Indeed, the whole album twitches with the same urban dread as OTC, a creeping turn-of-the-decade horror-- the Cold War on the brink of nuclear meltdown, economic breakdown, conservatism (or outright fascism) on the rise, consumer complacency-- that found its most harrowing expression in This Heat’s second album.
Twenty-five years after its release Deceit feels more relevant than ever-- and not just because our national policy makers are currently playing chicken with Iran and its nuclear capabilities. More of a song suite than its predecessor, the album opens with “Sleep”, a nursery rhyme set to undulating reversed tape loops that envisions a society “cocooned in a routine of food” and hypnotized by television. “Cenotaph” twists a Civil War era standard, lamenting that “a kiss won’t mean goodbye/ When Johnny comes marching home.” When I first heard the album, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the song felt almost unbearably poignant. Now that more than 2,500 American soldiers and uncountable Middle Easterners have died in the current Iraq war, it has only grown sadder.
This Heat’s most expressly political record, Deceit contains references to Triumph of the Will, conflates Nazi rallies with the Roman Empire, and includes a song where the lyrics are simply a recitation of the American Declaration of Independence. It is a bleak, black record, and unlike other efforts of the time by PiL or Joy Division, there’s little redemption to be found in the run out grooves, very little light at the end of the tunnel. Its final track is called “Hi Baku Shyo”; its subtitle is “Suffer Bomb Disease”. And while we’re not dancing on the post-nuclear cinder just yet, one can’t help but feel that Deceit was re-released at precisely the right time.
Health and Efficiency is This Heat’s masterpiece. The title track is, in a complete turn of events for these doommongers, a hymn to the restorative powers of sunshine, and their most traditionally rocking song, at least until it veers off into an extended instrumental slalom with some of Hayward’s most intricate (and violent) drumming. “It seemed to be a quite radical idea to be healthy, happy, acknowledging the sun,” Hayward says in the liner notes. “We’ve all got the same bodies; it’s international.” The B-side, “Graphic/Varispeed”, is an extended experiment in tape loops and studio manipulation, as you might have guessed from the title.
The title track of Repeat is an extended take on the sound of “24 Track Loop”, re-edited in 1992. It’s 20 minutes of rhythm, a cycle of drums, handclaps, buzzing drones, and sharp jumpcuts that may be the band’s most Can and Miles-like moment. “Metal” is 23 minutes of murky metallic percussion, like a field recording of a drunken Asian drum troupe or a blacksmith’s shop, and “Graphic/Varispeed” makes a return appearance. Anyone who hears it will probably toss that new Liars album. There’s also Made Available, the aforementioned Peel Sessions disc, which contains versions of This Heat-era tracks that best their album versions. Live 80/81 is the most inessential disc here, like most live recordings for fans only.
A few months ago, I griped in a Pitchfork review of A Certain Ratio that the renewed interest in post-punk had sent labels scraping the barrel for “lost masterpieces.” I’d be fibbing, to say nothing of backsliding, if I claimed that the average listener needs every disc in Welcome to Cold Storage at the low, low asking price of nearly 100 of your hard-earned dollars. (This Heat is currently available as a standalone disc, with the others apparently to follow.) But anyone with the slightest interest in post-punk should shelve those plans to invest in the Konk reissue or the Definitive Medium Medium, fork over the seemingly high asking price, and wait the interminable length for ReR to mail it to you.
The definitive edition of the complete official lifetime releases of This Heat: This Heat (This Is 1), Deceit (This Is 2), Health and Efficiency (This Is 3), Made Available (This Is 4) and Repeat (This Is 5), re-mastered and re-packaged, with a substantial (48pp) book of interviews, recollections, information, documents and photographs in a sturdy box, plus a new CD of concert recordings, 'Live 80/81' (This Is 6). The first of the 1200 subscription copies come with an exclusive, otherwise unavailable 3" CD, 'Nivelles' (This Is 7), which is hand-numbered and personalised with the name of the subscriber. DISC 1: Mono/stereo cassette, 2 and 24 track recordings, feb. 1976 - sept. 1978. The Workhouse, Cold Storage, Camberwell, live and in performance. Originally released in 1979 on Piano as THIS 1. Previously released in 1991 on These Records as HEAT 1 CD. This edition remastered July 2001 and April 2002 at Country Masters. Includes 8-page booklet. DISC 2: Recorded at Cold Storage, Zipper Mobile, Mekon, Berry St, Vineyard, Surrey Sound, Nivelles. Originally released in 1981 on Rough Trade as ROUGH 026. Previously released in 1991 on These Records as HEAT 2 CD. This edition remastered 2001 at Country Masters. Includes 4-panel insert with lyrics. DISC 3: Recorded: Cold Storage/Sorry Sound. Originally released in 1980 on Piano as THIS 1201. This edition remastered at Wolf Studios. "Remembering Dada Nevrela". DISC 4: Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios, London. Tracks 4.1 to 4.3 recorded: 28 March 1977. First transmission date: 22 April 1977. Tracks 4.4 to 4.8 recorded: 26 October 1977. First transmission date: 24 November 1977. Originally released in 1996 on These Records as THESE 10 CD. Remastered at Wolf Studios, Brixton, February 2006. DISC 5: 5.1 recorded and mixed at the Workhorse, Old Kent Road, with assistance from David Cunningham, Anthony Moore, Rik Walton & Chris Blake 1979. Edited at Node Recording Services in 1992. 5.2 recorded outside Cold Storage, Brixton with assistance from David Cunningham. Mixed at Mekon, Brixton with Rob Mekon 1980. 5.3 recorded in Cold Storage, treated at the Workhorse, with assistance from David Cunningham, Anthony Moore & Rik Walton 1979. Recorded: mono/stereo cassette, 2, 8 and 24 track reel-to-reel. 5.3 was originally released with Health & Efficiency in 1980 as a 12" single on Piano as THIS 1201. The entire disc was previously released in 1993 on These Records as THESE 6 CD. Remastered at Wolf Studios, Brixton, February 2006. DISC 6: Recorded on cassette using a stereo microphone placed near the sound desk. Compiled from gigs in Tilburg, Nijmegen, Århus, Apeldoorn, Vienna and Rheims between April 1980 and June 1981. Structured around the set list used on tour in the Netherlands, December 1980. Edited and mastered in 2006. Previously unreleased.