Critics of social media often say that it can't be used as a substitute for real friendship. But there are individuals who can have a huge influence on your life without the need for face-to-face contact. Four years ago, I encountered an oddball called Michael Barrie Wood on a forum about obscure goth and shoegaze bands. In fact I have a feeling he may have cheekily added me to the forum without first introducing himself, after reading some of my music posts elsewhere. Few people I know could be so brazen and still get away with it. I soon discovered that his knowledge of music extended well beyond my own and he introduced me to artists such as The Cultural Decay, Deception Bay, Kaa Antilope and many others. Bands so obscure that at first I thought he was making them up until I succumbed and started to purchase his recommendations.
Michael sadly departed this world at the beginning of August. More than anything else, he will be remembered as someone who wasn't afraid to speak his mind and it's fair to say that he despised many aspects of modern culture. His daily online posts were hotly anticipated as we speculated about who would be in the firing line today... the royal family, Simon Cowell or whichever airbrushed Hollywood starlet was gracing the cover of this week's "Hello". Michael came across as a kind of goth Malcolm Tucker, although few comedy scriptwriters would dare to create a character so brutally honest.
Our regular online exchanges were gradually leading me towards his own band, The Anxiety Of Love. I knew this was going to be uneasy listening and I'm glad that I conditioned myself by working through his other recommendations (and also getting a feel for his personality) rather than plunging unprepared into his work. On the face of it the musical influences are obvious, especially the relentless drum machine that shows their heritage in the early Leeds goth scene. The live recordings in particular bring to mind Suicide but what really shapes the gloom is the bass sound, reminiscent of The Cure circa "Seventeen Seconds"/"Pornography". These elements are thrown together in such a way that you might think the individual musicians were not in the same room during recording, or had even met each other. This may seem a negative accusation to throw at a band, but it was surely the intended effect. The Anxiety Of Love inhabit a world where things don't fit together nicely. There is enough pressure just to get through the day in one piece without having to worry about what anyone is doing in the next room. When Michael's distorted voice (part Throbbing Gristle, part Chrome) cuts through the darkness, confirming your deepest fears, it's almost reassuring. When you're expecting the worst, it's sometimes satisfying just to know that you were right.
When writing about music I normally focus on the lyrics but the lo-fi recording techniques here mean that the words are often difficult to decipher. The links on Bandcamp that would normally lead to the lyrics simply tell the listener to "work them out". This is typical of Michael's refusal to conform or co-operate. But even without a full transcript, you can get a sense of what's happening. Song titles such as "He Wastes Away", "Anaemia", "Pathological Grief", "These Concrete Aversions", "Things Fall Apart" suggest urban decay and society as a whole disintegrating to an extent that the individual overlooks the way their own life is also collapsing. This is the world predicted by Throbbing Gristle, particularly on their 1980 "live in the studio" epic, "Heathen Earth". Except things have turned out even worse than Genesis P-Orridge imagined. I suspect that Michael would feel honoured to be mentioned alongside TG while at the same time despairing that P-Orridge is now indulging in blissful psychedelia when there is little in the world to merit a feeling of bliss.
Nothing the band recorded could be described as "accessible" but if you've read this far without being turned off then the EPs "The Anxiety Of Hate" and "The Swarm" would be the most comfortable, or more accurately the least uncomfortable, starting point. I'm sometimes guilty of making assumptions about what my friends will or will not like and I tend to be wary of recommending certain bands to certain people. When asked about Swans, for example, I'm sure I have responded with a dismissive "You wouldn't like them." Michael would never have done this, he was determined that everyone should listen to his choice of music regardless of whether they were likely to enjoy it. So I ask that you pay tribute to this unique man by listening to The Anxiety Of Love, even if only for 10 minutes, to remind yourself that the world is not always as cosy as you would like to imagine.