Graf & Zyx: Trust No Woman Plus

Along strikingly similar lines to Cultural Amnesia’s Enormous Savages, here’s a reissue of another lost artefact of electronic pop. This time the Klanggalerie label has disinterred the very rare 1981 album Trust No Woman by the Austrian duo of Inge Graf and Walter Zyx, adding a slew of bonus tracks ranging from 1977 to 1986 for good measure.

The record is remarkably ahead of its time, and one wonders how it is that Graf & Zyx have until now been so under-reported – and, indeed, under-appreciated – in the history of synthesised pop music. It’s quite staggering, in fact, to listen to a track like “Sorrow and Sadness”, with its clipped, multi-tracked vocals, spacey synths and restrained percussion, and to learn that it dates from as far back as 1977. Those first Graf & Zyx songs – “I Look Out” and “Get Away Dark Side” also date from this period – have a rough, weathered feel that points to Cabaret Voltaire as being the duo’s closest peers at that stage.

Throughout the early ’80s, Graf & Zyx deepened and refined their approach and produced Trust No Woman, the album that forms the core of the present reissue. Building on the early work of Gary Numan – who, for all the critical opprobrium piled upon him, was a crucially important figure in the development of electronic pop – and the original Human League, Graf & Zyx designed their short, immediate songs around a barrage of analogue synths, rock-solid electro beats and controlled, low-key vox. From 1982, “I Use You” (the title sounds like something an early computer might have come out with) is simple, undulant and strangely moving, infused with the spirit of hopeful discovery that accompanied the introduction of affordable home computers and synthesisers at that time: “Empty room in my mind/they are talking from behind/but I use you/when I look away…” Graf & Zyx may not be as revered or, indeed, as important as Kraftwerk; yet their work shares the technological melancholy that suffuses through the music of the men from Düsseldorf.

With a total of 24 tracks on the album, there was always going to be the occasional clunker, and certainly Graf & Zyx were not always as sharp as they might have been. The cringemaking “Love Your Dog” is a very silly, faux-operatic piece of doggy do-do, while “Ciao Lucia” plods along for five interminable minutes without ever raising a flicker of interest. These lapses, though, are thankfully rare. And the album ends on a perfect flourish with a key track, “When Darkness Comes” – not only the last and longest song on the record, but the only one whose lyric is printed on the insert. Its extended instrumental outro is a bubbling, perfectly paced synth workout; bright, lively and profoundly tuneful, it revels, like the album as a whole, in its own formal boldness and innovation.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)