Section 25 epitomize an uneasy classification of "post-punk," combining raw electronics, cast over with early shadows of gothic rock despair, and blended with a healthy dose of stark krautrock and sometimes even *gasp* danceable rhythms, fronted by tuneless, disaffected vocals. This formula has served countless experimental bands well that followed into today. This gorgeous 5 disc vinyl (or 2 CD) set of Always Now from Factory Benelux allows listeners old and new to dig deeper into the musical expanse of early Section 25.
The original cover art is well-known in graphics design circles for being a typographical and visual masterpiece; it was Factory‚Äôs most expensive design ever. The outer case was printed in a strikingly solid PMS 123 with spot varnish, and designed to appear like a matchbook, textured with a "waxed" appearance. The typography emulates the Berthold font, using a repurposed Phil‚Äôs Bembo specimen and Bakserville fonts to craft a unique font for the album, and further accentuated by adding unhyphenated linebreaks. If you look very closely at the bottom of the typography, you will notice "16.5mm (60p)" which shows the character scale used. The first 1000 copies of the vinyl box set are additionally pressed in colored vinyl (black, clear, silver, yellow, red).
Musically, when Always Now came out in 1981, the band still had the aura of Ian Curtis over them who, as a friend of the band, had earlier produced the single "Girls Don‚Äôt Count" later included on reissues of the album. As fantastic as that song is, Section 25 have always had far more to offer, and this set breaks it down. For the vinyl set, the first disc covers the primary album, while Disc 2 pulls together non-album singles ("Charnel Ground", "Je Veux Ton Amour" and the aforementioned "Girls Don't Count").
Disc 3 is a complete 1980 live show in the Netherlands that was a complete Factory package tour. Disc 4 is the excellent studio album The Key of Dreams, a 1982 disc of partially improvised works that came about only a few months after the release of Always Now. Disc 5 covers their experimental output that was originally released on cassette as Illuminus Illumina prior to the band‚Äôs brief breakup.
Both discs 4 and 5 showcase their excellent improvisational ability. Starting with disc 4, "Visitation" offers an onslaught of gloomy, swirling psychedelic gothic instrumentation and sound effects, suitable alongside a good chunk of today‚Äôs tribal psychedelic gloom mongers (F√∂llakzoid comes to mind), while "Regions" may easily be mistaken for a Throbbing Gristle or Psychic TV track. On disc 5, opening track "Fallen Monument" shows the band venturing into ambient electronics territory, while the rest of the disc has them in experimental gloom mode. One wonders where these would have ended up if they had been polished into full-fledged tracks. Of note is an extended live jam with the members of New Order at Reading University, shortly after Ian Curtis‚Äô death in 1981, that offers a glimpse into their free-form prowess.
While a set of this size is bound to have some filler, it is thankfully kept to a minimum here, and brought together in a lovingly crafted package. This is not a set only for diehard Factory fans. It is a snapshot of an era, and a picture of a band that, despite an underground status, has remained true to itself despite never achieving the massive success of some of their Factory peers.