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Album Review

The Passage's first album was actually a solo affair in many ways, as Dick Witts' original bandmates had chosen other pastures by the time of its recording. As a result, Pindrop is rather unlike anything the band recorded elsewhere, and even more to the point is one of the most strikingly unusual debuts recorded. If the tools of his compositions — synthesizers and drums for the most part — weren't particularly surprising in 1980, his arrangements and songwriting approaches were, combined with an intentionally befuddling and murky mix that placed an emphasis on overall atmosphere instead of direct impact. It isn't a one-note album by any means, however, and sometimes things can turn on a dime from layered keyboards loops that suggest Suicide's obsessive focus to distant, dislocated vocals and melodies over unsettling basslines. Witts' various lyrical foci on overwhelming emotional extremity and meditations on power and control — one track, "Anderton's Hall," is one of several songs he wrote regarding Manchester police chief James Anderton — in many cases require, not merely reward, close listening; his high-pitched voice sliding under the minimal textures and to-the-point rhythms. At times the music suggests a beautiful, unexpected fragility — note how the sudden breaks on "Carnal" echo the shimmering textures of Joy Division's "Atmosphere," for instance — while at other points, the muffled and played-down nature of the vocal notwithstanding, a sudden snarling passion will rip out of Witts like a wake-up call. The LTM reissue of the album contains a slew of bonuses for the aficionado; the band's debut EPs with the original lineup, including the blunt lust of "Love Song," and a six-song radio session from 1981 including a slew of otherwise unavailable songs from a mini-cycle called "A Good and Useful Life."

Pindrop, The Passage
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