Published Feb 16, 2016Much like the great Canadian electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack, Toronto's James Jeffrey Plewman (a.k.a. Nash the Slash) was an incomparable genius that never received the acclaim he deserved before leaving this dimension, as he did in May of 2014, at the age of 66.
His flirtations with mainstream success were mostly limited to a recurring role in proggy space-rock outfit FM, who struck gold in Canada with 1977's Black Noise, and his tours with Gary Numan, most notably on the new wave legend's first Canadian run in 1980. The buzz from those performances helped make Nash's Steve Hillage-produced album Children of the Night the arguable high point of his solo career.
Nash the Slash had a style like no other. After the Three Mile Island catastrophe, he took to wearing bandages head-to-toe onstage. Along with his goggle-esque sunglasses, he looked like Claude Rains in The Invisible Man, and completed his distinctive ensemble with a white top hat and matching suit (he successfully sued Pepsi for ripping off his image, so don't even think about it). His music matched his esoteric appearance, using overdriven effects to maul mandolin and violin sounds into guitar-like timbres over ancient drum machines, amidst minor innovations like jamming matchbooks in keyboards to make chord drones.
Slash was so original that the covers are actually among the weakest material on Children of the Night, an album on which, if you didn't know there were no guitars, you'd assume there were. Although undeniably inventive instrumentally — considering that hollow, knocking bass line to his Zappa-esque reworking of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" as "Dope on the Water" — Plewman didn't quite have the vocal chops to pull off the beachy melodies of Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve," rendering it rather cringe-worthy in hindsight. Of the three covers, his take on "19th Nervous Breakdown" by the Rolling Stones works the best, with its new wave, futuristic vibe and cheeky slow-motion chorus.
Nash's original compositions are definitely the star of this release. The titular "Children of the Night" has a true horror score feel perfectly suited to his vocals, with a darkwave/synth-metal overtone that should have seen it become the theme to a cult Canuxploitation film like Hobo with a Shotgun or Wolfcop, but with a Children of the Corn twist. "In a Glass Eye" is in a similar vein, like a motorik version of a Men at Work single.
The album's opening track, "Wolf," starts off like a steampunk locomotive, with Slash sawing away on his signature distorted electric violin as if he were an epic '80s guitarist beginning a classic solo, but quickly resolves to vocal sighs over a briskly repeating, minimal bass line that lulls the listener into a trance. When the bass line finally breaks away, it announces the crescendo, elevating the introduction of the famous riff from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Kishi Bashi couldn't have interpreted it better.
"Danger Zone" is miles better the Kenny Loggins track of the same name, rising on a warbled synth drone and squeaky lead until a manic beat kicks in and Nash starts jamming. It's kosmische bliss.
"Swing Shift" is probably the most remarkable track on the album, though, a downtempo synth-pop ballad so far ahead of its time that it could almost pass for Oracular Spectacular-era MGMT. That said, its two alternate versions on the Artoffact pressing's bonus disk are a bit overkill, even if much of the bonus material is a welcome addition.
The live version of "Danger Zone" is imbued with more of an unbridled feel, while the sequencer in the live version of "Wolf" faintly flubs a note just to let you know it's a tangible piece of machinery. B-side instrumental "Reactor No.2" deserves to join the title track on a cheap thriller score, while the 1997 live version of "Children of the Night" shows he never lost a step over the years. Hopefully, this faithfully restored gatefold pressing will help to earn Nash the Slash the wider acknowledgement he always deserved. (Artoffact)