Monday, July 14, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #109 - Kleenex / Liliput – Kleenex / Liliput

This 2-disc set covers the (almost) complete musical 5-year legacy of the Swiss, mostly-female art-punk group Kleenex (who in 1980 changed their name to Liliput to avoid a lawsuit from a certain facial tissue manufacturer who shall remain nameless). It goes from their early 1978 punk-ish works through various lineup changes, two full-length LPs and a number of EPs, singles, and stray tracks until their dissolution in 1983. In 46 songs born out of the music scene of a 70’s post-punk Zurich, the band explored a brand of punk-inspired music that’s unlike anything else out there, including similarly structured, arty, all-female bands of the era like The Slits and The Raincoats, both of whom aren’t – in my humble opinion – up to their standards. Not that it needs to be a competition of course – you need The Slits’ Cut and The Raincoats’ The Raincoats and maybe Odyshape too (and possibly Essential Logic’s Beat Rhythm News too), but you definitely need this more than any of them.
            The group writes with the purity of the best punk rockers – not knowing the rules of music allows you to break them in interesting and creative ways – and it’s one of the main reasons their music resembles nothing else out there. Songs are sung primarily in English, sometimes Swiss-German, and very occasionally in French, though often (in any language) with more care to the sound than the sense of words. According to guitarist Marlene Marder:
“Our English isn't that good. It's a foreign language. It was nonsense anyway! (laughs) We had one or two songs in German. ... For us, English was the language of music but we couldn't talk English so... We tried.” (From interview in Perfect Sound Forever online magazine, May 1998 (
So these women proffer shouts, sing-alongs, and eccentric vocal interjections and sounds over their crudely catchy tunes, leaving something always slightly off and creepy even in their whimsy, a dark undercurrent even to the lightest sounding material. Covering their full output requires viewing the different lineups through different lenses, so let’s break it down like this:

Disc 1:
Tracks 1 – 10; 1978-1979; 4-piece (Marlene Marder guitar / Klaudia Schiff bass & vocals / Lislot Ha. drums / Regula Sing vocals)
Their earliest recordings, punkier than they’d be later, finding them hitting their stride with the great “Krimi” and “Beri-Beri.” Voices joining on “Ain’t You” or the German-language “Nice” is about as “girl group” as this punk-inspired (mostly) female group really got.

Tracks 11 – 19; 1980; 5-piece (Lislot Ha. drums / Marlene Marder guitar / Angie Barrack sax & vocals / Klaudia Schiff bass & vocals / Chrigle Freund vocals)
A different vibe, and not just because of the saxophone. It’s clear they’re gunning for both artier and goofier waters than most punk bands – as signified in the whistle-along of “Die Matrosen” - but they don’t lose their oddball catchiness, as in that whistle-along or the cut that follows, “Hitch-Hike” (no relation to the Marvin Gaye classic).

Tracks 20 – 21; 1981; 3-piece (Chrigle Freund drums &vocals / Klaudia Schiff bass & vocals / Marlene Marder guitar &vocals)
A single immediately noticeable as different from the others for its heavy riffing on “Eisiger Wind” though true to their style it creates its own form rather than following any proscribed hard rock models, breaking into their usual vocal harmonic excursions; the flip side “When the Cat’s Away” is a whimsical waltz with an undercurrent of menace.

Tracks 22 – 24; 1981-1982; 5-piece (Klaudia Schiff bass & vocals / Marlene Marder guitar / Astrid Spirit vocals & percussion / Beat Schlatter drums / Christoph Herzog sax)
Guys in the band for the first time (though not the last). These few cuts find them possibly sounding more like a rock band than anywhere else in the catalog.

Disc 2:
(2 full albums plus one single)
Tracks 1 – 11; 1982-1983; 3-piece (Klaudia Schiff bass, drums, guitar, vocals / Marlene Marder guitar, bass, percussion, noises / Astrid Spirit violin, vocals, percussion, bass)
Artier that anything they’d yet essayed, this is their first full album (Liliput), and for me the high point of their career. Weird vocal sounds, percussive experimentation, scraped violin playing the part of a bird, primordial dinosaur vocals – it’s all over the place and yet unified by their spirit, indulging their sense of fun, their sense of musical drama. Their playing is also upped a notch from the looser earlier material without losing their raw edge. The primordial “Umamm,” the atmospheric “Tschik-mo,” the percussion-and-vocals closing cut “Tong Tong” (with its sole lyric of “tong tong” repeated over and over), the vaguely jazzy “Ichor,” and maybe their by-now-patented vocal outbursts all over “Outburst” are my personal highlights, but the whole record kills. Marlene again:
“It's a change because it's a different area, a different time. We were more serious.” (From interview in Perfect Sound Forever, May 1998 ( )

Tracks 12 – 22; 1982-1983; 3-piece (with guests) (Klaudia Schiff bass, drums, guitar, vocals / Marlene Marder guitar, bass, percussion, noises / Astrid Spirit violin, vocals, percussion, bass – plus guests on various album tracks)
One single plus one album (Some Songs). Single is two great, catchy sides (especially “You Did It”), the album their most polished – if that can ever be said of the group – and rocking statement to date, though even here they don’t lose the qualities that make the band so special.

And so it went. Astrid Spirit, the main driving force for keeping the band together as a potential career at this point became pregnant and decided to devote her full energies to her child rather than her group and founders Marder and Schiff were ready to move on with their lives. But they left behind five wonderful years of music that even 30-35 years later sound utterly unique.
- Patrick Brown

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