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Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  480 ratings  ·  56 reviews
The first official account of the iconic record label.

This Mortal Coil, Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Breeders, Dead Can Dance, Lisa Germano, Kristin Hersh, Belly, Red House Painters.

Just a handful of the bands and artists who started out recording for 4AD, a record label founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent in 1979, a label which
Hardcover, 650 pages
Published September 19th 2013 by The Friday Pjoject (first published September 2013)
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MJ Nicholls
For me, 4AD is to music as Dalkey is to books—an independent label serving up divine music in beautiful packaging—and this thorough account of the label’s pivotal first two decades is a perfect reason to dip back into the back catalogue. 4AD’s architect was retiring depressive Ivo Watts-Russell, whose taste in artful melancholia led to three This Mortal Coil albums and helped shape their roster. Martin Aston’s love for 4AD shines in this respectful account drawn in large part from interviews ...more
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
Having this book exist is sort of like discovering the rosetta stone. It's hard to remember before the internet, when 4AD was this mysterious thing, along with the bands and 23 envelope. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in central Alaska, and I can remember the first time I ever saw a 4AD record - This Mortal Coil's "16 days" single and the Cocteau Twins' Victorialand, at a local Comic Book Store of all places. 1986? 1987? It was like finding an artifact from another world. Through the years, ...more
This is a simply wonderful history of one of my favorite record labels. 4AD. Music is just as important to me as books are and 4AD had so many great bands: The Birthday Party, The Breeders, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Throwing Muses, The Pixies, Dead Can Dance, Belly, Red House Painters...I have music by all of these bands and never has an independent label had so many great bands on their roster.

So if you like any of these bands or are interested in learning all about how a record label is
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
"If you could describe music, you wouldn't need music" - Sinead O'Connor. I can't stress how important 4AD was to my musically formative years. In fact, it remains the only record label I followed like it was a band or artist or film director, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is the greatest independent record label that has ever existed. From philosophy and ethos to artist selection to packaging, 4AD under the aegis of founder Ivo Watts-Russell was the pinnacle of independent music in ...more
Mike Clarke
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Calling time....At 600pp or more Martin Aston's history of seminal indie label 4AD isn't for the faint hearted. It's actually a bit tricky to work out who it's for. The fanboys? Whilst hugely important and influential, wildly beyond its mainly meagre sales (ignore the aberration that was M/A/R/R/S), at times 4AD barely kept its head above water given founder and kingpin Ivo Watts-Russell's allergic reaction to doing anything mainstream or - gasp - commercial. Even at the time, the winklepicker, ...more
Graham Bailey
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
4AD provided the seminal music I listened to in the late 80's & early 90's and as a label introduced to to the work of many artists I still listen to & enjoy now. This book is a very interesting look at the characters and bands that made the label what it is.
Totally enjoyable and insightful, it's also encouraged me to look up some artists that I've missed and to re-listen to a very entertaining back catalogue.
Peter O'Connor
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Few labels have inspired such devotion from its followers as 4AD and, given that few of the artists ever made it big enough to warrant their own biographies, then this is the only place to grab any insight into its enigmatic roster and the spellbinding music they produced. As one would expect, it is an exhaustive read (600 plus pages) and one that is expertly woven, but given how the stellar ensemble weave their way in and out of the narrative, it never gets tiresome. Naturally the story of 4AD ...more
Baal Of
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book that would be boring for people who aren't extreme fans, but for someone like me, who found 4AD to be a revelation, this book is amazing. Getting to see inside the history of this influential record label was a joy, and seeing how circumstance around various signings and releases were so precarious was almost frightening. To think that some of my all-time favorite albums might not have happened, but for some specific events is simultaneously distressing and thrilling. ...more
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
A timely opportunity to revisit the music of my youth. I think I first became aware of 4AD in 1982 as the home of Bauhaus and The Birthday Party but, of course, ultimately, inevitably it's the love affair with Cocteau Twins that dominated my 80s with 4AD.
There's always a danger that reading about the music, the musicians, that you came to virginally pure with each new release that the grubby reality and sense of mistrust that developed in Robin Guthrie towards Ivo taints memory. It's certainly
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Meticulously researched and wonderfully written, this book is a MUST HAVE for those rarefied individuals who are interested in the legendary record label 4AD and its enigmatic founder, Ivo Watts-Russell.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Wow, this book took forever for me to finish! I'm a fan of the label, but not an obsessive and it was a good natural insomnia cure for awhile. I enjoy reading about music, though this was tough since it was more behind the business. The graphic design parts were interesting even if it wasn't the main focus, it's largely what sets 4AD apart from most labels. I'm a slow reader in general, but didn't read this consistently. I do feel better informed about the label though!
U. Cronin
May 20, 2014 rated it liked it
A very thorough treatment of 4AD's "Ivo years". I liked the book — but at the same time it was a struggle to get through in the sense of being (for this dedicated but simple alternative music fan!) overly academic, overloaded with facts and lightweight in terms of human insight. When I read pop music books I generally look for a spark, a bit of fun, some gossip, scandal, a bit of pop psychology, sociology, social history, an insight into character. For example, the book told me very little about ...more
Toby Litt
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it
If, like me, you are a fan of some or all 4AD (record label) artists, you'll find this a uniquely informative and dispiriting book.

Essentially, it tells the same story about fifty times. Ivo Watts-Russell (record label founder) gets a demo from a couple (almost always a couple-couple) of talented fragile people, loves it, signs them, and five years later everyone feels conned, debased, strung out and no-one is speaking any more. In between, the music business has done its usual job of messing
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
If you have the kind of relationship with 4AD records that many fans do, this book is going to be a must-read for you regardless of what anyone says. Also, if an insider look at the music industry is especially appealing to you, it might beer of some interest. However, it does sometimes read like a litany of days and names and events that never really gels into a compelling narrative. Not really helping is that it turns out that while there is certainly genius in many off the artists ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
A pretty thorough look through the evolution of 4AD records. Still seems sad that 4AD has become just another record label compared to what it once was. Lots of interesting tidbits about the design of the covers. Sadly, there aren't enough pictures to go along with these tales, and what is there are quite small(I sort of wish this would have been more a coffee table type book). It seems they didn't do enough research on Cindytalk and omitted the fact that Gordon Sharp is trans. They just mention ...more
Feb 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I don't think you can find a more definitive history of 4AD than this book. Culled from interviews conducted over a few decades, Aston leaves no detail out. As someone who likes Pixies, Red House Painters, and Mojave 3, I enjoyed getting to know more about their stories. I also was inspired to check out more of Lush's material as well as Tanya Donelly's work with Belly and as a solo artist. All this said, I would say it's best to be a huge fan of the label's output to really enjoy this book. ...more
William Strasse
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
There are pretty much 2 types of 4AD fans...the ones who pretty much just like all the classic stuff from the 80s, and those who are more completist and like a lot of the melancholy releases that carried on through the 90s and, to some degree, today. I fall into the 1st category. At the time I was discovering the 4AD catalog, they were putting out some of their last great records as far as many people were concerned. This is one label that actually inspires some interesting questions about what ...more
Scott Hamilton
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I finished this a week ago but held off reviewing it because I was so torn about whether to give it four or five stars. Five stars indicates perfection, and the book wasn't perfect—though in mostly forgivable and even endearing ways (save the editing mistakes). The label, including many of its artists, is so near and dear to my heart, and has been for 25 years or so, it's hard for me to be objective about this incredible book that unearthed so many secrets and answered so many questions I had. ...more
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phew! This is a rollercoaster ride through the origins, halcyon days, demise, and rebirth of the world's coolest record label. It's a labour of love even to get through, I can't imagine the dedication the author had to muster to put it together. And it's a triumph! The personalities, bands, records, art, all of it, is here, not just in exhaustive detail but also from many of the major players' angles - Mr Aston tracked them all down and extracted everything they could remember. Why did certain ...more
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Detailed, non-judgemental and very interesting, I've learned much from this book, but admit that my interest wained after the bands I still listen to left the story.

To an extent, a tale of the rise and fall of Ivo Watts-Russell it also covers the damaging systems of the music business, the difficulties of sensitive creatives, and the relationship between art and business.

It's made me revisit some musicians I've loved and inspired me to listen to some that passed me by. I'd recommend it.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well, this definitely covers as much as it can without becoming a complete history. Due to this is does drag on occasion and the supporting cast takes a little while to piece together, but in the end it epitomises the sort of fanaticism that a label like 4ad can breed.
It was a shame that the more modern history was whipped through in a couple of chapters, almost writing off what the label now is, or could become - but I guess it's heyday was the 80s, and the time that Ivo was fully involved.
Patrick Taylor
Nov 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
I enjoyed learning more about This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Lush, Breeders, Belly, etc., and it was interesting seeing how the label struggled to survive the explosion of alternative culture and britpop in the 90s, but I also felt like this was repetitive and overlong. It went into perhaps too much detail in some of the minor acts on the label, and there was only so much I could read about how depressed Ivo was.
Dec 03, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Like slogging through a bog

This is the most boring book ever about an exciting time e in the music industry. So dry, it's almost a day by day dairy with all the excitement taken out. How can a book that includes some of the great musical artists be so dull? Incredibly disappointed. I literally thought this book would never end. It needs an editor to cut it in half.
Kay Smillie
Hard going and probably only going to appeal to 4AD fans. I admit to being a fan of Cocteau Twins and Pixies, also appreciating the likes of This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Breeders and Belly. There is no doubt that this has been thoroughly researched and many who were on the label contacted but, as I said at the start, it was hard going at times.

Ray Smillie
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book, especially learning about the post 4AD careers so many musicians have since embarked on - be sure to have music nearby as reading this book made me want to listen to so many songs as they were discussed
Jon Chaisson
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Extremely detailed and dense, but a fantastic book for the obsessive 4AD fan!
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
An insanely in-depth chronicle of every aspect of one of the most influential record labels. A must read for fans.
Eric Sbar
When you know the dramatic and melancholic music of early 4AD, it should come as no surprise that its brainchild was also melancholic. It was quite in depth but lacked the joy of the music
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Having reached the end, I don't think I could imagine a more apt approach for a history of 4AD. This book is way too long, way too detailed in parts, lovingly crafted and deeply fascinating. 4AD was a label that behaved more like a band. Indeed, it was a case of the vessel becoming the story, as the Vaughan Oliver/v23 covers and Ivo Watts-Russell's steely taste captured the imagination of a generation and a half of indie kids. 4AD albums were beautiful, almost timeless objects, radiating mystery ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Among independent record labels, 4AD was able to draw an unusually loyal following between its founding in 1980 and the late 1990s. With the music personally chosen by founder Ivo Watts-Russell and released in packaging by acclaimed designers Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson, everything that came out on the label was granted a consistency that sort of guaranteed quality. Eventually, however, Ivo would sell the label and retire to the New Mexico desert, and while the name "4AD" continues to be ...more
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“And Kristin Hersh made total sense on 4AD. There was something wide-eyed and extraordinary about her, something emotional and visceral, something basic and yet complex.” 0 likes
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