There’s often a unifying quality with some of my favorite record labels that tells me, “Yeah, this will be good.” At best, a label’s feel for musical curation — or sometimes, even a logo or design aesthetic — helps gives some idea of what to expect. This has certainly been the case with Sacred Bones — the Brooklyn label with a roster that includes The Men, Zola Jesus, Crystal Stilts, and Destruction Unit, among many others. Seemingly from its start, Sacred Bones’ “sound” — a bit of gothy electronic pop, some reverby garage rock, a lot of scorching noisy punk all come to mind — established a personality that carries through its entire lineup.
And now with Sacred Bones’ recent reissues, the label brings that hand-selected musical aesthetic to obscure recordings. Case in point: Vex, a London-based band who was only around for a few years in the early 1980’s (they toured England with the band Conflict), before sorta disappearing. Vex left behind just one 12”, Sanctuary (originally released on Fight Back Records) and a handful of other songs from compilations and demos — which proved practically impossible to track down — unless you’re prone to trolling out-of-print album mp3 blogs. And yet, despite the short shelf life, this unheralded band has been important in some underground circles thanks to its fiery “anarcho punk” songs and the D.I.Y. spirit it embodied. Finally that music is able to be heard with Sanctuary: The Complete Discography, which collects the entirety of Vex’s recorded output — all eight songs of it.
Hearing this music now for the first time, it’s hard not to try to pinpoint elements that remind of music that’s come since, and then work backwards. Vex certainly has a grimy punk coursing through its veins, yet these songs also share DNA with what many consider goth, metal, and especially post-punk. “It’s No Crime” and “World In Action” — with that icy, almost spoken\shouted vocal delivery — could pass for a rawer, more pummeling Joy Division or even Talking Heads. Hell, those wiry guitar arpeggios that open the title track could pass for something Portishead could’ve played more than a decade later.
But Vex’s songs hold up on their own with aggressive, exposed wire energy seething throughout. One can sense an emotional frustration in the vocals of “Relative Sadness,” and an all-out blast of power in “Rushing To Hide,” a song that chugs along with thick bass and drums. And while the demos, “Pain” and “Pressure,” are much rougher in sound quality and development, there no denying the blistering guitar distortion that would shake any basement show. Ultimately, Sanctuary is a fascinating document that feels of the time it was made, while also standing up nicely alongside the Sacred Bones roster.