39 Clocks were the art-damaged German post-punk duo, extant from the late 1970s, of Christian Henjes (CH-39) and Juergen Gleue (JG-39). I first heard about them, as with many great things, thanks to the proselytising of T J Lax, who painted them as post-VU downer cronies of a broader stripe. Listening to Zoned, a compilation of tracks drawn from the Clocks’ history, I’m reminded of Lax’s general righteousness, but also of the trade routes between Germany and the UK in the immediate post-punk era – if 39 Clocks are VU-inspired, that’s fed through a quite particular British lens. Zoned most often reminds of some weird Swell Maps/TV Personalities/basement-DIY whack-job zone, with a touch of Francophile Doctor Mix abandon thrown into the mix.
Though an excellent place to be, it’s also not exactly under-populated. But particular to the Clocks – alongside their solo projects and other efforts as Phantom Payn, Exit Out, Beauty Contest, and peers/collaborators like Black Vial’s Liebfried Loch – is a quite wonderfully diffuse sense of dislocation, of not-quite-rightness, to the affair. Because 39 Clocks are song-reverent, they manage to conjure their weirdness within the contours of great blocks of forward movement, full of pealing post-Sterling/Lou guitar strum, drizzling and splattery organs, the occasional rasp of Cale-ian violin, and often the polite chock-tick of primitive rhythm boxes. Both JG-39 and CH-39 sing with the right amount of disaffection and laissez-faire, pulling moves from Jonathan Richman and Nikki Sudden.
I keep returning to Sudden and Swell Maps when listening to Zoned, and it’s a fairly apposite reference point. A good description of the longer, more rambling joints on Zoned would be the longer, more rambling joints on Jane From Occupied Europe if Sudden was singing along in his sleep. 39 Clocks people also released records on pro-Sudden labels Flicknife and What’s So Funny About, which suggests they were carving up similar psychic space. But what I dig most about Zoned is how much it reminds you of other wasted DIY shit, while still being entirely its own thing. It’s an excellent document that sits real nicely next to Shadow Ring’s Life Review, both in terms of sheer off-the-grid sonic beauty and oddity. The best, most unexpected and unexpectedly essential compilation of the year.