Written by accomplished music writer Martin Aston 'Facing The Other Way' is the first comprehensive history of record label 4AD.
4AD is a British independent record label founded in 1979 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent. The 4AD current roster includes Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Bon Iver, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Daughter, Deerhunter, Grimes, Iron & Wine, The National, Purity Ring, Sohn, Twin Shadow, and Tune-Yards.
While its list of current artists are impressive, the 4AD roots lay within a sub-set of post-punk, and it is this period in the 80s where 4AD have developed a cult status. The label, alongside its artists, nurtured and raised a new and defined sound, predominantly ethereal and dark, as Alternative Rock.
'Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD' focuses extensively on this 'Classic 4AD' period when founder and owner Ivo Watts-Russell worked with artists such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, The Birthday Party, Bauhaus and Pixies. The author, Martin Aston, in over 600 pages, documents details of the label's achievements (and failures) right up until the modern day.
Martin has managed to gain unparalleled access to key people involved, unravelling a story previously untold.
Adding to its cultish notability of this time, the accompanying artwork to many 4AD releases of this time were designed by Vaughan Oliver of 23 Envelope and photographer Nigel Grierson, who helped create a distinct visual aesthetic alongside the sound. View examples of this below.
The book centres around Martin's visit and interviews with Ivo Watts-Russel, now somewhat a recluse living in New Mexico. Ivo himself outlines his difficulties with communicating emotions, instead having always found solace in music. He is a sensitive man, affected by the blurring of friendships and business relationships, which ultimately resulted in him selling his shares in 4AD and moving to the desert in 1991.
Martin outlines how much of the music that was released on 4AD sounded like an emulation of Ivo's own personality and creative struggles, writing 'So much of the music released on 4AD during Ivo’s era had this same creative tension, beauty masking secrets, feelings buried, persisting in anxious dreams and suppressed fear, hope and anger; lyrics that don’t explain emotion as much as cloud the issue'
Martin compares how Factory Records captured the zeitgeist and rode upon it, while 4AD was its own, insular and vastly unique label, working with 'trailblazers, outsiders whose unique perspective invariably included a troubled, sometimes irreconcilable relationship with the mainstream.'
Treasure is the third studio album by Cocteau Twins, released 1st Nov 1984, and the first with bassist Simon Raymonde who joined the lineup of vocalist Elizabeth Fraser and guitarist Robin Guthrie. It includes a song 'Ivo' as a tribute to Watts-Russell.
Dead Can Dance is the debut album by Australian artists Dead Can Dance, released on 27 Feb 1984. 'The album artwork, a ritual mask from New Guinea, attempted to provide a visual reinterpretation of the meaning of the name Dead Can Dance. The mask, though once a living part of a tree is dead; nevertheless it has, through the artistry of its maker, been imbued with a life force of its own.' -Perry and Gerrard
Doolittle was the second studio album by Pixies, released April 1989. The cover relates to track 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'. The surrealist and abstract images throughout the album booklet are linked to the album's content.
Wheel In The Roses was released 1980 by Rema Rema, repressed in 1984 with this interesting artowrk
It'll End in Tears was released in 1984 by This Mortal Coil
Some of the most defining releases from 4AD under Ivo Watts-Russel are listed below:
The Birthday Party - Nick The Stripper (1981) The band were one of the darkest and provocative post-punk groups from the early ’80s, fronted by Nick Cave who told disturbing stories of religion, violence, and perversity.
Throwing Muses ‘Hate My Way’ (1986) Originally fronted by stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly, they used displaced tempos, innovative chord progressions, and unconventional song structures with surreal lyrics. Donelly later left to join Breeders.
Bauhaus ‘Dark Entries’ (1980) Highly influential British post-punks whose creepy and disturbing sound would later crown them as godfathers of Goth-Rock.
Cocteau Twins ‘Musette & Drums’ (1983) Scottish artists, whose influences can be heard in modern 'ethereal' music. They created atmospheric, reverb-laden soundcapes with singer Elizabeth Fraser’s famous vocals, the words of which were often made-up, plucked at random from the dictionary.
Modern English ‘I Melt With You’ (1982) 'Gloom Rock' from Colchester, Essex, this song has been used on various adverts.
Pixies ‘Giganic’ (1988) The biggest artist on the 4AD roster, whose 1988 album 'Surfer Rosa' influenced Kurt Cobain.
Colourbox ‘Baby I Love You So’. Their sound was eclectic, drawing from reggae and soul influences.
Dead Can Dance ‘The Host of Seraphim' (1988) Australian music historian Ian McFarlane described Dead Can Dance's sound as "constructed soundscapes of mesmerising grandeur and solemn beauty; African polyrhythms, Gaelic folk, Gregorian chant, Middle Eastern mantras and art rock."
This Mortal Coil ‘Song To The Siren’ (1983) This supergroup included a number of rotating 4AD artists, the only permenant member of which was Ivo Watts-Russel himself. 'Song to the Siren' was a cover of Tim Buckley's original.