Manchester’s Crispy Ambulance was one of the indie-label explosion bands that formed in the late ’70s after such ensembles as Throbbing Gristle and the abrasively punky Mekons helped dig a niche for music that wasn’t oriented to the rock’n’roll lifestyle or chart success. Despite a reputation as part of the city’s gloom movement — thanks to an early association with Factory, a Joy Division gig at which Crispy Ambulance singer/synthesist Alan Hempsall subbed for Ian Curtis, and one studio foray with producer Martin Hannett (on the misleadingly titled Live on a Hot August Night 12-inch: two JD wannabe studio tracks that run a combined total of 22 minutes, including droning ambient passages) — the quartet could actually be quite perky, even danceable, as on the posthumously issued “Sexus” single.
More soundsters than popsters, Crispy Ambulance at first produced landscapes of timbre and texture featuring canted vocals and sharp-edged guitar; the group later moved on to drawn-out moanings and synthesizer-produced textures mixed with shimmering guitar. At its best, Crispy Ambulance could create deceptively unobtrusive sci-fi scores; at worst, the music is little more than a pretentious sea of echoed din.
Recorded live (with occasionally dodgy sound) at various European shows in 1981 and ’82, Fin shows just how active and abrasive the group’s experiments with synthesizer and guitar textures could be, and acknowledges its stylistic foundations in a cover of Throbbing Gristle’s “United.”
Despite absurdly over-echoed percussion, Plateau Phase is pretty and introspective, with engrossing shifts in texture, tempo and tone and enough guts to ballast the gloomy elegance.
When the post-punk/gloom genre ended, so did Crispy Ambulance, closing up shop in late ’82. (Although a subsequent incarnation named Ram Ram Kino put out a single on UK Temple.) In 1990, two CDs reissued virtually everything the group ever released (save for the two 1983 cassettes of live material and demos). Crispy Ambulance contains The Plateau Phase and both EPs; the new edition of Fin adds both sides of the band’s 1980 debut single and a B-side.