Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi Gets 30th Anniversary Re-Release

We were existing on the cusp of the 1990s. The ’80s as people remember it now, an era marked by new wave, John Hughes’ teen flicks and Ronald Reagan, was essentially over by 1989. Yet we were still a ways off from the sounds, sights and politics that would come to define the ’90s.

During that in-between time, music was all over the place in the best possible way. Hip-hop was at its peak of sample-heavy creativity: De La Soul debuted with 3 Feet High and Rising in March of that year; that summer, the Beastie Boys dropped Paul’s Boutique. The Cure and Depeche Mode were cementing their status as icons of the alternative, the former with the album Disintegration and the latter with the hit single “Personal Jesus.” Meanwhile, underground dance music from Chicago house to Detroit techno to U.K. acid had infiltrated its way into pop music, whether or not the average listener realized it.

That space between the ’80s and ’90s is a sorely underrated era for music. It wasn’t as easy to define and market as the early ’80s or the post-Nirvana ’90s. And, to be fair, there were loads of releases that any of us could argue were terrible (of course, that’s the case for any given era, not to mention completely subjective). But it’s also a time of albums like The Stone Roses self-titled debut and Janet Jackson’s landmark Rhythm Nation 1814, both of which went on to influence generations of subsequent artists.

I thought about this while listening Neneh Cherry’s album, Raw Like Sushi, a 30th anniversary edition of which was released digitally in January and out on vinyl on February 14. The full-length appeared midway through 1989 and went on to have chart success in multiple countries, cracking the top 40 of the U.S. album charts in September of that year. Meanwhile, lead single “Buffalo Stance” would become the album’s calling card, peaking at number 3 on Billboard’s Top 100 in June of ’89. It was a mainstream hit of its time that would settle into a sort of cult popularity over the decades that followed. It was a commercial album steeped in underground culture – mainly hip-hop and house, but also punk by way of its attitude and Cherry’s musical history – that would quietly influence the club sound of the coming decade and beyond. In fact, just last month, Robyn referred to Cherry as her “hero” in an Instagram post.

Technically, Raw Like Sushi was Cherry’s debut album, but the Swedish singer had been active for years prior to its release. She played in a string of post-punk bands, including The Slits and Rip, Rig + Panic, and had collaborated with The The. She also appeared on a 1987 b-side from the duo Morgan McVey (featuring Cherry’s future husband and frequent collaborator Cameron McVey) called “Looking Good Diving with the Wild Bunch.” That song would eventually morph into “Buffalo Stance.”

In a 2015 mini-documentary, Cherry refers to “Buffalo Stance” as a “tribute to the Buffalo crew,” group of creative Londoners led by the stylist Ray Petri that would influence British fashion of that decade and beyond. Cherry herself was part of that circle and it was through Petri, who died in ’89, that she would connect with art director and stylist Judy Blame, who became the singer’s close collaborator. Cherry’s look during the Raw Like Sushi period – big earrings, lace-trimmed bike shorts and bomber jackets – linked together the ’80s and the ’90s.

Similarly, the sound of the album links together the decade that was ending with the one that was about to start. Tim Simenon, otherwise known as Bomb the Bass, co-produced “Buffalo Stance” at a time where he was emerging as a dance music heavy-hitter. The album’s players included Nellee Hooper, who was coming into his own as a producer with his work for Soul II Soul; he would go on to produce for Björk and Madonna. “Manchild,” another single from the album features Robert “3D” Del Naja of Massive Attack as a co-writer. In fact, the connection between Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry is quite close. She was an early champion of the group and, as member Daddy G recalls in an interview with The Guardian, they recorded parts of their debut album, Blue Lines, at her home.

Listening to the 30th anniversary edition of Raw Like Sushi, which includes oodles of remixes, the depth and breadth of this album’s dance music legacy are more obvious. Arthur Baker, whose previous work on tracks like Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and New Order’s “Confusion” made him an icon of cool ’80s, provided both a house and “nearly neu beat” remix of “Buffalo Stance.” Kevin Saunderson, a pioneer of the Detroit sound then well known for his project Inner City, gave the single a “techno stance.” Meanwhile, Massive Attack, still a couple years away from their debut album, remixed “Manchild.”

Cherry would go on to have a fruitful career; four solo records followed Raw Like Sushi, the most recent being Broken Politics from 2018. She has also collaborated with a number of other artists, including Peter Gabriel, Gorillaz and Loco Dice. But her first solo effort remains a particularly strong legacy. It’s an album so dialed into the moment in which is was made that it essentially predicts the future.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: Hælos “Earth Not Above”

Hælos photo

Our track of the week is Hælos “Earth Not Above.” The London trio composed of Arthur Delaney (vocals), Dom Goldsmith (vocals, keys) and Lotti Benardout (vocals) are set to rock American waters with their new self-produced track “Earth Not Above,” their first official release on Matador Records. A methodic, seductively entrancing song, “Earth Not Above” evokes Massive Attack moods with light vocal harmonies and a soundscape fit for a Darren Aronofsky film.

Take a listen:

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With a name inspired by a Kafka story, it makes sense The Harrow would be well-spoken. Yet even with the bar set high the mysterious Brooklyn coldwave/post-punk band impressed with their bewitchingly intelligent interview. The Harrow is Vanessa Irena (vocals, synth, programming), Frank Deserto (bass, synth, machines), Barrett Hiatt (synth, programming) and Greg Fasolino (guitar). They are currently working on an upcoming LP that we’re already gnawing to hear. I spoke with our Artist of the Month about gothic art, nerdy influences, and selectivity of gigs.

AudioFemme: How did you guys meet and form a band?

Barrett: We all seemed to have traveled in the same circles for some years, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time for this band to come to fruition. Frank and I became close friends during our previous band, and we had shared stages with Greg’s previous band as well. Vanessa and Frank met through their respective DJ gigs, and the timing just felt right. Frank had some demos kicking around, I jumped in and we started fleshing things out. We then invited Greg to add his signature sound, and Vanessa was the perfect last piece to the puzzle.

AF: Who do you look up to as musical inspirations?

Frank: As far as sound is concerned, bands like Cindytalk, And Also the Trees, Breathless, Cranes, For Against, and of course, The Cure and Cocteau Twins are hugely inspirational, as well as most of the players in the French coldwave and early 4AD movement. Belgian new beat and ’90s electronica have been influences that I’m not quite sure have fully manifested yet, but are definitely something I’d love to explore further in the coming years.

Greg: For me, the 4AD sonic universe is definitely a place we all intersect and Cocteau Twins are the ultimate touchstone. As a musician, I am particularly influenced by classic ’80s post-punk bands like The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, Banshees, Bunnymen, Sad Lovers & Giants, and The Sound, as well as ’90s genres like shoegaze (Slowdive, Pale Saints, MBV), trip-hop (Massive Attack, Portishead), and alt-rock (Smashing Pumpkins, Suede, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley). Lately I am very inspired by a lot of modern neo-shoegaze bands, who seem to be carrying the torch for dreamy, effects-heavy music now that much of the post-punk revival has dissipated, as well as more atmospheric metal stuff like Agalloch and Deftones/Crosses and creative, hard-to-categorize bands like HTRK and Braids.

B: I’m not sure if I can get through an interview without mentioning Trent Reznor, but he has always inspired me, through his recording methods as well as his choice of collaboration, and just his general attitude towards music. Of course: David Bowie, Chris Corner, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, The Cure. I do have a tendency to lean on bands from the ’80s.

Vanessa: I’m a huge fan of Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray, The Knife) and Elizabeth Bernholz (Gazelle Twin). These days I’m mostly listening to techno and textural stuff (Ancient Methods, Klara Lewis, Vatican Shadow, Function, Profligate, OAKE, Adam X, Mondkopf, etc.).

AF: What about other artists: poets, painters, writers – who else has influenced your sound?

F: Literary influences are as important to me as musical influences. There’s the obvious surrealist and nightmarish nods to Kafka, but other authors such as Isak Dinesen, Robert Aickman, Albert Camus, Charles Baudelaire, and William Blake have inspired the lyrics I’ve written for the band, some more directly than others. As for art, the same applies; Francis Bacon seems almost too obvious to mention, but his work is incredibly moving. Francisco De Goya as well. I’m also drawn heavily to bleak, medieval religious art, usually depicting the crueler aspects of Christianity. Perhaps a bit cliché as far as gothic influences are concerned, but lots of imagery to draw upon.

B: David Lynch, John Carpenter, Jim Jarmusch, Anton Corbijn, just to name a few. These guys paint wonderful pictures through film, and I always find it very inspiring.

V: Frank and I have pretty similar tastes in art, so I definitely agree with him on the above, but I think it’s worth mentioning that we’re also all a bunch of huge fucking nerds. I’m not ashamed to admit that lyrical inspiration for me can come just as easily from The Wheel of Time or an episode of Star Trek: TNG as it does from Artaud.

AF: What do you credit to be your muse?

F: My bandmates.

G: Posterity.

V: My shitty life/Being a woman.

B: Dreaming.

AF: Blogs love labels, but how would you describe your music?

F: I don’t ever attest to reinventing the wheel. We all draw from different influences and I mostly consider our sound to be a blend of shoegaze/dream pop, 4AD, and early ’80s post-punk vibes. We generally err on the dreamier side but have no qualms with getting aggressive if the mood calls for it. At this point in the game, creating a new sound is out of the question, but our varied tastes and interests have led to some cross-pollination of genres that hopefully proves to be interesting amidst dozens of modern bands operating in a similar medium.

B: I’m still trying to get a little saxophone in there.

AF: Will you speak to the darker element of your style?

F: Operating in this medium is less of a conscious choice for me than it is a catharsis. Therapy in a sense – a method of expressing otherwise unpleasant thoughts and feelings to make something creative, rather than letting my shadow side consume me.

B: Darkness is way more interesting. And real.

AF: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?

F: At this point, the idea of collaborating with someone famous is an overwhelming thought. Sorry for the cop out, but I can say that we’re looking forward to some collaborations from some of our peers, both original and in remix form. More on this as it develops!

B: Sorry Frank, but I’m going with Pee-Wee Herman.

AF: Will you tell me about your current LP you’re working on?

F: We spent the majority of 2014 hunkering down and working on the record. We recorded Silhouettes in piecemeal form over the course of the year, layering synths and guitars and drums as they fell into place. The record is currently in the can and is being mixed as we speak by the uber-talented Xavier Paradis, and will hopefully see release this fall via aufnahme + wiedergabe.

AF: How does it differentiate from previous work?

F: The new record is incredibly diverse – there are ambient segues, the occasional industrial/hip-hop hybrids, and plenty of other eclectic sounds to go around. There are more complex rhythms that are the result of Vanessa and Barrett’s superior drum programming talents, for starters. We also took turns writing lyrics this time around, with Barrett, Vanessa, and I all contributing. It’s truly The Harrow as it’s meant to be – a band hitting their stride as a full working unit with equal love and collaboration driving us.

AF: Can we expect any live shows for you in the future?

B: While we enjoy playing live from time to time, it isn’t the primary focus of the band. We are at points in our lives where making the music is more important and rewarding in and of itself than performing it on stage. Our goal with the band leans much more toward the creative side. When we do play though, we want to make sure it is an event, and something to look forward to, not just the typical four random bands on a Tuesday night thing.

Watch The Harrow’s music video for “AXIS” below.