Saturday, January 9, 2016

Track of the Week: Joy Division "Transmission"

Songs from these tracks of the week tend to be things I am listening to at this moment and feel like talking about.  "Transmission," on the other hand, is a song that lives with me, and has for many years now.  Joy Division's music is another kind of experience, listening to it I feel transported to a kind of semi-dreamspace in the back of my mind.  Few others can do that, which probably explains why lonely, introverted teens are still listening to Unknown Pleasures to this day.

My favorite Joy Division song is not on that album, though.  I love the stand-alone single "Transmission" best. I just discovered that it was their first single under the Joy Division name (after going by Warsaw), which is a hell of a way to announce your presence.  The start is just about as perfect as can be, and sums up what made Joy Division great in a matter of seconds.  There is an airy synthesizer chord that seems ominous despite its lightness, and then Peter Hook's bass comes in, tapping out Morse code from some forgotten realm, mimicking the "Transmission" of the title.  Suddenly there's a quick, unorthodox drum fill from Stephen Morris, sounding more spare and angular than anything yet in rock music and then Bernard Sumner's distorted, snaking guitar weaves around the beat, leaving the melody to the bass.  It's all so very strange, and then Ian Curtis' voice intones "Radio/Live transmission" with a hitch, sounding in that instance like a man damaged by the inhumanity of modern life.  In a mere forty seconds, the greatness of Joy Division has been made manifest.  I don't think any other group has managed to distill their essence so magnificently so quickly in their first single.

And it only gets better from there.  Sumner's guitar after the first verse seems to slice the air, and Ian Curtis matches that intensity with his voice rising, to the point where it almost crashes into the wall, before he lowers it a notch and says "dance to the radio" in a flat, dark tone that is about a million miles away from KC and the Sunshine Band.  The song does not end with a flash, but slows down to a halt, like a car breaking down at the side of the road.  It's a song that still thrills me, no matter how many times I've heard it.

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