While coldwave music could virtually only be heard in France and Belgium, its roots could be heard all over Europe in post-punk music as the influences of Joy Division, Siouxsie And The Banshees and Kraftwerk created a perfect mix of inspirations for the genre.

Enter the touching pop movement, a sub-genre that took coldwave music and gave it a lush, effect-laden sound, not unlike shoegaze, with a pinch of pop sensibility in front of a melancholy backdrop. The majority of these bands came from French label Lively Art, a sub-division of New Rose Records.

Borderline‘ is the sophomore effort by Asylum Party, based in Courbevoie, France. The 1989 release is arguably the definitive touching pop album.

Opening with ‘Play Alone‘, the drums and bass lay something simple and intriguing until two quick reverberated swipes on the guitar signal a journey into a sullen, yet powerful soundscape that details an inner turmoil about the hopelessness and drudgery of modern life. The choruses sound as if the singer was belting his frustrations into a gale force wind as the bass starts taking a driving pace against the guitar and synthesizer’s ethereal wave of sound that washes in and out.

I’m immediately struck by the duality of the music because, despite the darkness and angst that pervades nearly every inch of this album, there is this resounding desperation, a wish to be hopeful, heard not just in the low croons to the defiant bellows of the vocals but in the music as well. The fact that the music can simultaneously be lamenting yet uplifting is such a rare twist to behold.

Midway through the album sits ‘First Days Of Winter‘, an instrumental that serves as an intermission from the driving anguish that is the first three songs of the album, easing the listener adrift into an icy-sounding melody that manages to be soothing while still pulsing with a wave of strength beneath the surface thanks to some powerful drumming.

More astounding still is how oddly complete everything feels within the album. If Borderline was represented as a person with overwhelming inner turmoil, digging deep to claw for the surface for oxygen, then it would be a person that is strangely at peace with their situation. There is brooding, there is melancholy but there is acceptance, and the outlook of that acceptance is ever-changing throughout the album.
Unfortunately, Asylum Party was as short-lived as the touching pop movement itself, releasing a final album a year later and subsequently breaking up. Regardless, Borderline still ages well nearly three decades later, and is a tragically hidden gem in the world of post-punk.

Drew Dickinson