I Start Counting ‘My Translucent Hands’ (Mute, 1986)

Of the various musical guises assumed by David Baker and Simon Leonard, it was arguably their first – I Start Counting – which saw them at their most multifarious. Their later projects, Fortran 5 and Komputer, valiantly presented spaced-out dance music and heavily Kraftwerk-influenced electro respectively. But as I Start Counting, the duo moulded bright, full-bodied synthesisers and a deadpan, tongue-in-cheek delivery with eerie spoken word samples, and in doing so they created a small but compelling bank of refreshingly eclectic material.

Native Londoners Baker and Leonard met at Middlesex University in the early 1980s and bonded over their shared love of DJing and pop music. They were signed to Mute Records in 1984 on the strength of their demos, and after releasing two singles produced by label boss Daniel Miller, the duo’s debut long-player, ‘My Translucent Hands’, eventually surfaced in 1986 as a mini-album on both CD and vinyl.

Admittedly, the record’s heavy use of archetypal mid-80s production means it hasn’t stood the test of time quite as well as it could have. Despite this (and as its slightly odd title suggests), ‘My Translucent Hands’ is not your run-of-the-mill synthpop release – something you would have discovered in 1986 as soon as you hit play on your CD player or touched the needle to the vinyl (which in some rather quaint cases was translucent).

The opening track, ‘Introduction’, is less a song and more a three-minute escalation of energy, morphing and contorting until it reaches a state of mesmeric intensity. At the other end of the scale, there’s the single ‘Letters To A Friend’, which appeared only on the CD. A more wistful, tender track, it cleverly weaves the tale of a man who’s sure the letters his partner writes in secret are intended for her lover, only to have his suspicions confirmed when she leaves him, promising that she’ll write to him by way of reconciliation.

When these two extremes come together – particularly on tracks such as ‘You And I’, ‘Lose Him’ and ‘Which Way Is Home?’ with their restless synth grooves, collage-like arrangements and witty lyrics – ‘My Translucent Hands’ are at their finest and Baker and Leonard at their most distinctive.

Moments like these serve to establish the duo as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making intriguing, unpredictable electronic music that still retains a level of mainstream appeal. Although they never reached the commercial heights of some of their Mute contemporaries like Depeche Mode or Erasure (who they supported on tour in 1987), their work will continue to be shared, sought-out and loved – under whatever guise it was recorded.

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