The German duo 39 Clocks carved out an idiosyncratic and mysterious space for themselves in the post-punk scene. Operating under pseudonyms and prone to dark shades and fuzzy press photos, their darkly melodic blend of Suicide cool, Velvets attitude, and a general disregard for the niceties of fidelity didn't strike much of a chord with the few people who heard them in the late '70s and early '80s. Their songs and sound had a lasting impact on bands like Stereo Total, Crystal Stilts, and POW!, though, and their two records have been reissued a few times, most recently by the Tapete label. Tapete Records is also responsible for Next Dimension Transfer, an essential box set that gathers the band's two officially released records (1981's Pain It Dark and 1982's Subnarcotic), two collections of singles and outtakes (1985's Reality Is a State of Mind and 1987's 13 More Protest Songs), and a six-song live set recorded in 1981.
39 Clocks' studio albums are jagged, blackly humorous, and proudly art damaged, featuring the two musicians mixing up the previously mentioned bands with a healthy dose of rockabilly swagger and garage rock sloppiness. Pain It Dark is the more together of the two, featuring sprightly rockers like "DNS" and "Psycho Beat," droning jams ("Shake the Hippie"), and long Velvety-excursions into clanging noise ("A Look Into You"). Subnarcotic is more experimental and fragmented, with more noise and less structure, though they still toss off some classic-sounding psycho-beat tracks like "Virtuous Girl" and the thundering "A Touch of Rot." Both these albums have been fairly widely available before, and as important as it is to have them out again, the reason to get the box is to get the two rarities sets.
13 More Protest Songs contains rough demos of songs meant for their third album and it's a lot of fun. They seemed to be pursuing a folk-rock angle, but also a wild garage rock, trashcan blues, and even a couple of almost tender ballads. It's a fascinating look at what could have been if they had stayed together. The Reality Is a State of Mind disc collects outtakes, single versions, and rarities that were cut between 1997 and 1983, and it's a ramshackle dash through the band's dustbin. Alongside highlights like a brutal 45 version of "DNS," a trashed version of "Psycho Beat," and the should-have-been single "Fast Cars," there are plenty of raggedly glorious post-punk moments to discover.
Speaking of ragged, the live set isn't particularly well-recorded and the band sounds like a mess, but it's as close as anyone will get again to seeing them destroy a stage in their prime. Tapete has done a fine job putting the set together -- the booklet is an unsurprisingly odd artifact -- and it's more than a treat to have all the band's music gathered in one place. 39 Clocks certainly weren't the best-known post-punk band around, but as the music here proves, they do lay claim to being one of the weirdest and best.