Monday, November 4, 2013

My Favorite Fall Albums [Part Two]

Halloween has come and gone, fall color is well past its peak, and we no longer have daylight savings time to stave off the early nights.  The transitional period is behind us, and we are now in the depths of Autumn; Winter is beginning to make it's impending arrival known and Summer has faded into a distant memory.  

I'm not sure if there are necessarily any inherent differences in this batch of fall albums compared to the first edition, compiled almost two months ago.  I will say that the swift progression of the season gives a more subdued, introspective flavor to the earthy, organic sound that albums from both lists share.  Whether it is the more prominent dreariness in the seasonal context, or an increased withdrawal in the music itself, these are the ten albums that I feel are most fitting for (late) fall.    


1.Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

I would be hard pressed to find any other album that comes this close to literally sounding like fall.  The sparse arrangements, with the lazily echoing drums and windy, ringing electric guitar strumming, seem to be crafted for the sole purpose of transporting the listener to a park bench with a steaming cup of coffee as brown leaves whirl about on the hollow wind.  And just as that coffee brings warm appreciation to the heart, so does the sublime voice of Neko Case.  For as great as the album is as a whole, it is crafted entirely around the warm, ethereal glow of her crooning.  

2. Patti Smith - Horses

Patti Smith the "post-Beat" poet probably could have been just as influential as Patti Smith the musician, but when framed by the raw, simple guitar grooves heard on Horses, her impact rises to transcendental heights.  Her anarchic free-verse wordplay drones through and dances around the improvisational garage rock song structures, and at the perfect moments erupts into cathartic hooks.  The hypnotic vocal meandering on Birdland and Land put the listener in a beatnik heaven in the darkened corner of a smoke-filled club, until the band bursts in, burning the world to ashes of proto-punk fury.  

3. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

The album opens with breathy schoolyard taunts echoing over a droning guitar progression, but upon awakening to a Teenage Riot you are thrust headfirst into a sprawling land of experimental song structures, strange alternate tunings, bursts of sheer noise, and detached surrealist lyricism.  No matter how far Daydream Nation takes you into the unknown however, it always keeps its roots in sublime artistic expression.  The album is an odd, challenging, and occasionally even threatening journey, but at the end proves to be a brilliant marriage of indie rock and avant art.

4. Television - Marquee Moon

Gotham City was once described by Batman creator Dennis O'Neil as "Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November".  That happens to be exactly where I envision Marquee Moon taking place.  The tense, nervy garage rock is the soundtrack to distant flashes of lightning behind the looming skyscrapers, as smoke bellows out of grates in the wet street and shady figures maneuver in and out of the shadows.  

5. The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers, along with Exile on Main Street, is probably the mighty Rolling Stones at their absolute weariest.  In 1971, The Stones had already become the stuff of legend.  Their reckless barroom swagger, controversial subject matter, drug-fueled hedonism, and general contempt for authority was and still is the very embodiment of rock and roll.  Such legacy doesn't come without a price however, and by the time Sticky Fingers came out the band's personal troubles were catching up to them.  This is the sound of the world's greatest rock band running on fumes, worn out from their own lust for life.  As a testament to their power of musical expression, the dark moodiness of Sticky Fingers is exactly what makes it great.  Shamelessly decadent rockers are counterpointed with druggy, strung-out ballads and anachronistic country.  The album is dense and murky throughout, as instruments blend into each other to create the mood of the whole. 

The Stones more than paid their dues to the demons of rock and roll by the time this album came out.  Although they lived to tell about it, they found themselves at a turning point to figure out where to go next.  In this way, Sticky Fingers is eerily similar to the experience of Summer's magic fading closer into the dreariness of Winter as the world catches up to us once again.

6. Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff

As far as I'm concerned, Superfuzz Bigmuff (technically a combination of Mudhoney's early Sub/Pop EPs and Singles, but today considered an LP for all intents and purposes) is the pinnacle of the Seattle "grunge" scene in its purest form.  This is a collection of songs that all deliver massive melodic riffs with the intensity and destructiveness of punk music, while condensing punk's relentless energy and anger into a half-speed, down-tuned sea of distorted slop.  Meanwhile the attitude of vocalist Mark Arm is practically tangible as he delivers the snarky, debasing lyrics with aggressive sarcasm, his howls often drifting into and resurfacing from the underlying murk.  

7. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

Like fall itself, I can't think of many better ways to describe Band of Horses than "a breath of fresh air".  Throughout the album the drums are beautifully compressed and splashy, the guitars chime and swirl, and the vocals echo with reverb as they stretch over the aural landscape.  The result is a dense, vaguely Spector-like wall of sound, which the wide, airy mix molds into one long gust of brisk fall wind.  Meanwhile the delivery and melodicism, which alternates between tranquil meditative country and explosive anthems to the majesty of the natural world, finds a comfortable balance somewhere between Beach Boys whimsy and Neil Young's woodsy naturalism.  

8. Dinosaur Jr - You're Living All Over Me

The debut album from indie legends (and Neil Young disciples) Dinosaur Jr offers an interesting blend of Neil's rustic, backwoods authenticity and fractured indie songcraft, the downbeat grime later heard in grunge, avant noise, and old school guitar shredding mixed with hints of psychedelia.  Perhaps more than anything though, it is known as the album that brought lead guitar back to indie music.  While the mumbled vocals and intentionally sloppy overall sound led to the band's reputation as "slacker" icons, frontman J Mascis certainly had/has the guitar chops to compete with anyone.  Of course his leads are delivered with an incredibly distinct recklessness and a near-violent lack of giving a shit; which makes the album that much more representative of the season. 

9. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

As an artist, there is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a successful collaboration between styles that initially seem conflicting.  James Mercer is the indie icon that crafted dreamy, heartfelt pop music with The ShinsDanger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) is the prolific, primarily electronic producer/DJ.  The result is Broken Bells, a seamless melding of organic instrumentation with electronic beats and loops; indie-pop songcraft with technically ambitious production.  Songs like The High Road and The Ghost Inside make the two elements almost indistinguishable from each other, while others like Sailing to Nowhere and Mongrel Heart play on the relationship between the familiar and the intimidating.   All said and told, it just lends itself to the ominous underlying mystery of autumn.  

10. The Highwaymen - Highwayman

Willie Nelson.  Waylon Jennings.  Kris Kristofferson.  Johnny Cash.  Does any more really need to be said?  Probably not, but I'm gonna say it anyway.  It would have been easy for those four to have made a "successful" album full of cookie-cutter songs and fueled by name recognition.  Instead they crafted a ten-piece of songs so transcendental that it could only have been pulled off by a group of legends.  Songs like Desperadoes Waiting for a Train and We're All in Your Corner seemingly unite the group into one omnipresent force of outlaw spirit, while The Last Cowboy Song and The Twentieth Century is Over celebrates their impeccable longevity among the disintegration of their mythical outlaw ethos.  Of course it is all framed by the opening track Highwayman, a cathartic ode to the past and future of their immortal, unstoppable renegade legacy.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matt's Halloween Playlist; THE FINAL CHAPTER

Happy Halloween, everybody!  With the glorious night finally upon us, I present to you with my Halloween Playlist!

The final two songs are ones that need little introduction- Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath) and Skulls (Misfits).  Black Sabbath, with its unmistakable tritone and lumbering sense of impending doom is THE song that created the idea of "scary music".  Shortly thereafter Glenn Danzig and his Misfits (in their original, and most iconic incarnation) took the idea of "shock rock" to its ultimate limits by delivering ridiculous B-horror lyrics with an anachronistic croon over the top of relentless hardcore punk rhythms. These two bands are the very embodiment of Halloween music, and the perfect finishing touches to my playlist.

Matt's Halloween Playlist

1. Sonic Youth - Death Valley 69
2. Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane
3. Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead
4. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
5. Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams
6. Horrorpops - Walk Like a Zombie
7. Rihanna - Disturbia
8. Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
9. The Beatles - Revolution 9
10. Misfits - Skulls
11. Stevie Wonder - Superstition
12. Man…or Astro Man?  - Put Your Finger in the Socket
13. Rob Zombie - Dragula
14. Misfits - Scream
15. Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
16. Michael Jackson - Thriller
17. AFI - Fall Children
18. The Butthole Surfers - 22 Going on 23

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Matt's Halloween Mixtape; Part Five

When then big night comes it's time to cut loose and dance with the dead!  These next few songs are guaranteed to rock them right out of their graves, so play 'em loud...if you dare

Michael Jackson - Thriller

Yeah, yeah, we all knew this was coming.  I thought (very briefly) about omitting Thriller for the sake of avoiding the obvious, but the fact is that there's a damn good reason this song has been a mainstay of any self-respecting Halloween party for the past twenty plus years.  Nevermind the fact that the legendary 13-minute music video, directed by the inimitable John Landis and narrated by none other than Vincent Price, holds its own as an amazingly enjoyable campy horror short.  Nevermind that the Thriller dance is so embedded in popular culture that it might as well be (and hell, probably is)  taught in elementary school music classes.  This song itself is not only as perfect as any pop song ever released, but it has the devious lyrics and vibe to back up the horrorgasmic video.  It's about embracing what scares us and letting the dark magic of Halloween take over - this is Thriller night!

Stevie Wonder - Superstition

We've covered the ominous, the disturbing, the evil, and the indulgent, but I don't think any song on the playlist embodies "spooky" as well as Superstition.  The music, for the most part is straight funk.  Not that that's a bad thing, because this song grooves like few others, but it's the lyrics that really Superstition suitable for this list.  This is a song about unknown but unavoidable forces at work, and the imagery of the number 13, falling ladders, and broken mirrors does a great job of achieving an eerie, ominous tone.  The swollen, half speed crescendos during the chorus and bridge ("You believe in things, that you don't understand…") are a thing of spooky Halloween beauty.  

Rihanna - Disturbia 

Alright, so Disturbia was a massive Top 40 hit and dance club staple instantly upon its release five years ago.  Despite that (or maybe because of that), it has been relatively unacknowledged that this is a very good musical and lyrical portrayal of fear and dark self-doubt.  Much like Psycho Killer, Disturbia is sung from the perspective of a person who has begun to lose trust in their own mind.  The thumping, pulsating rhythm and dark tonality create a dreary, claustrophobic urban setting for this internal conflict.  The lyrics reference creeping, unseen insanity throughout, and the call-and-response delivery greatly accentuates the consuming paranoia.  The creepy vibe that is injected into this undeniably catchy single makes it worthy of joining Stevie and MJ as dance/pop representatives on my Halloween playlist.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Matt's Halloween Mixtape; Part Four

The mischievous aura of the fall season has firmly taken hold and we move into the final stretch.  As our Halloween festivities come to a head we remember again how to embrace and celebrate the creepy unknown.  As such, this next installment to my Halloween Playlist takes on a more upbeat vibe; disturbing macabre is traded for energetic, campy fun in presentation of otherworldly, paranormal themes.  The tone is set, it's time to give in to Halloween's nature as a time of respect and celebration for the dead, and the darkness inside us all…

Talking Heads - Psycho Killer

Over a brilliant pulsating bassline and funkified guitar stabs, David Byrne spews a staccato series of warnings of his own ticking-time-bomb insanity.  He sings from the perspective of a deeply paranoid, disturbed outsider whose madness is entirely internal.  He has accepted however that it will soon explode, declaring himself the titular "Psycho Killer" and begs listeners to "run run run run run run run away".  He gets closer to the edge as the song progresses, shifting from first person to second person as if he's schizophrenically talking to himself, and inexplicably singing the final verse almost entirely in French.  The funky musicianship and Byrne's almost gleeful delivery combine with the subject material to make this a true classic of Halloween fun.  

Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Any number of Marilyn Manson tracks could have made this playlist in the darker early installments, but to me he really transcends himself with his cover of The Eurhythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).  To it's benefit (in my opinion) Sweet Dreams doesn't contain much of Manson's infamously blatant lyrical shock tactics.  However, as a vaguely creepy song to begin with, it becomes a true staple of ominous debauchery and dark celebration when delivered with his signature musical persona.  

Misfits - Scream

Easy with the pitchforks, Misfits fans, this will not be the last time you see them on this list.  Glenn Danzig sits this one out, but in terms of "Halloween music" that almost works to the Misfits advantage.  Within the band's turbulent context it plays sort of like a modern, cover-band take on the Misfits sound; or perhaps, a self-aware band under the guise of the Misfits.  Regardless, Scream is a very good stand-alone song and Michale Graves does an admirable job at Danzig's place on the mic.  The song itself is about fear, and the strangely enjoyable thrill of giving or receiving it.  Doesn't get much better than that these days. 

Rob Zombie - Dragula

Rob Zombie's 1998 album Hellbilly Deluxe really should be considered right up with Bing Crosby's "Merry Christmas" as far as holiday music goes.  Plain and simple, this is a truly quintessential Halloween album.  From beginning to end, the album is chock full of scary noises of all types, horror movie samples, distorted vocals, and a general obsession with B-horror fun.  Nowhere is this better represented than in stand-out single Dragula.  Wrapped in pounding industrial rhythms and drilling metal guitars, Dragula is a fist-in-the-air anthem from the perspective of an immortal force of destruction, mayhem, and revelry.  In other words, this song IS Halloween.  

Running List:

Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69
HorrorPops - Walk Like a Zombie
Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane
The Beatles - Revolution 9
The Butthole Surfers - [TBD]
AFI - Fall Children
Man...or Astro-Man? - Put Your Finger in the Socket (Maximum Voltage Version)
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead
Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Misfits - Scream
Rob Zombie - Dragula

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Tribute to Lou Reed

It was a rainy evening in early spring, 2009.  I had nothing particularly going on and my roommate at the time had left to take a load of his things home, leaving me sitting there in our dark and mostly cleared out dorm room.  As I did a lot during that time, I found myself reflecting on my first year of college and thinking about the void lying ahead, since I knew by then that I wouldn't be returning to Stevens Point.  As I munched on the apple that I had just finished using as a broke-college-kid pipe, I looked at the rain and fog out our third story window and set my music to shuffle. 

I had a passing knowledge of The Velvet Underground at the time; I knew that way back when they had broken new ground in the subject material and aural presentation of rock music.  I knew that more than a handful of people more knowledgable of rock history than my teenage self strongly believed that the punk movement, and all of the ensuing sub-genres, wouldn't exist as we know it if it weren't for that iconic banana-sporting album.  I knew the Brian Eno quote regarding that album and how "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band".  However, the few times I myself had given The Velvet Underground & Nico a listen, it just didn't grab me the way that its legacy led me to believe it would.  The crunchy melodicism, driving angst, and reckless energy that built my interest in punk rock to that point was hardly even hinted at; instead what I heard was a droning, detached, and at times downright depressing musical fever dream about dirty sex and even dirtier drugs.  I didn't get it.

What I felt that rainy night when Heroin came on and inexplicably thrust me into an eight minute trance is similar, I imagine, to what those 10,000 people Brian Eno was talking about felt back in 1967.  Why it picked that time to finally click for me will forever be a mystery, but during those eight minutes everything I thought I knew about music was shook to its very foundation. There was no discernible consistent rhythm or structure, the tempo and dynamics rose and fell with great range; but I had never physically felt a song the way I did then.  The song ended with a climax of pure noise and chaos, but I had never felt such a catharsis over a piece of music.  Most subtly (to a desensitized teenager of the internet) but perhaps most importantly, this was a man singing about something as dark as the depths of heroin addiction without any semblance of either disgust or glorification, but acceptance for what it is.  I had never felt as empathetic for the struggles faced in life by other people.  

I cannot speak for those 10,000 people that started bands after hearing The Velvet Underground and Nico and went on to shape the punk/alternative/indie rock scene as we know it, but I can speak for the way that Lou Reed and his bandmates forever changed the way that I approach, listen to, and appreciate music.  I suppose it goes without saying that The Velvets have become one of my favorite bands since that night.  Furthermore, they led me to admire aspects of other bands that I otherwise wouldn't have thought much of:  the darkly honest subject matter of The Stooges, the detached "cool" of Television and The Strokes, the droning experimentation of Bauhaus and Spacemen 3, the volatile self-destruction of The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and The Ramones, the sheer noise of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.  Without listening to The Velvet Underground & Nico on that rainy night I likely wouldn't have ever gotten into many of the bands I know love, and without that album they likely wouldn't have ever existed.

 Lou Reed died today, but his legacy and impact on the music world will live on forever.  I'll never forget that night when the doors were opened to me to countless aspects of rock music that I hadn't yet considered.  I will always be grateful to Lou Reed for giving me that opportunity to experience a fraction of what his audience in the 60s experienced when he and The Velvets blasted rock and roll to the ground and re-built the foundations of what it has become over the decades.  

Thanks for everything Lou, rest peacefully.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Matt's Halloween Mixtape; Part Three

Link to PART ONE
Link to PART TWO

AFI - Fall Children

AFI's 1999 All Hallow's EP is the sound of a band squarely hitting its stride.  All Hallow's finds Davey Havock and company at the earliest stages of their transition from hardcore punk to moody mid tempo neo-goth.  For the albums trim 13 minutes, AFI is entirely in their element blasting dark shout-along anthems of Misfits inspired, horror themed punk.  The disc's opener Fall Children begins with a fluid, creeping guitar run.  Davey drones the opening verse as sinister feedback swells in the background, before finally a shout cracks the song open like a lightning bolt.  From there it is a galloping, almost apocalyptic burst of maliciousness.  Davey seems to be screaming his lungs out from atop a black soapbox, while the backup shouting responds to him like a wolf to a full moon.  Fall Children is a flat out rallying cry for the misfits and weirdos of America to stand and embrace THEIR holliday.  

Man…or Astro-Man? - Put Your Finger in the Socket (Maximum Voltage Version)

The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore... television is reality, and reality is less than television.

This clip from the horror classic Videodrome opens Put Your Finger in the Socket, which from there takes off with classic surf-rock abandon.  Self-described as "space-age surf", Man or Astroman takes their queues from classic surf music with wobbly, reverb laden guitars, but adds a liberal amount of tongue-in-cheek B-horror humor.  The result of course is a unique, energetic sound that is necessary on any Halloween mixture.  

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead

Even without frequent name checking of a certain horror film icon, Bela Lugosi's Dead is over nine minutes of pure atmosphere, and essentially a horror movie soundtrack in and of itself.  With all kinds of ticks, clicks, dripping and screeching (all over a crawling, understated bassline), Bauhaus puts you right into the gothic mountaintop castles of the classic Universal monster movies.  The eeriness is palpable by the time the sing-speak vocals come in, deep and dripping with reverb, introducing the undead Mr. Lugosi, aka Count Dracula. 

With exactly two weeks to go, there are a handful of Halloween music legends just dying to be introduced...

Running List

Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69
HorrorPops - Walk Like a Zombie
Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
Acid Bath - Fingerpaintings of the Insane
The Beatles - Revolution 9
The Butthole Surfers - [TBD]
AFI - Fall Children
Man...or Astroman? - Put Your Finger in the Socket (Maximum Voltage Version)
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween Album Special: Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician

If Hell has a house band, I like to think that it is the Butthole Surfers.  The Surfers built a career out of making music that at its friendliest is just plain weird, but more often than not is threatening, abrasive, and legitimately frightening.  On their 1996 album Locust Abortion Technician in particular, they have an undeniable knack of putting on tape the mentally unhinged type of sounds that exist in the darkest corners of our psyche, only brought fourth in the unstable mind or to soundtrack tormented fever dreams.  I will go through with the agonizing task of picking one song from Locust Abortion to represent The Surfers on the final Halloween mixtape, but for now it feels necessary to address the entirety of an album that for my money is the most deranged, maniacally twisted collection of songs ever set to tape.

"Daddy?…What does 'regret' mean?"  
"Well son, the funny thing about regret is- it's better to regret something that you have done than to regret something you haven't done.  
And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend, be sure and tell her:

And with that, the Butthole Surfers launch headfirst into 33 minutes of utter nightmare.  The opening track that contains this delightfully haunting intro is Sweet Loaf, a cover/parody of sorts of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf.  The hook is a warped version of Tony Iommi's classic original riff, accompanied by effects-laden inhuman shouts and screams.  The vocal effects in question have come to be called "Gibbytronix" after frontman Gibby Haynes, who processes his vocals in various demented ways throughout the album.  It does an admirable job of introducing the general approach of the Surfers:  weird and even disturbing, but at the end of the day still flat-out rocks and is delivered with a sly wink. 

The next few tracks dwell in the deepness of this atmosphere.  Graveyard is rooted in a distorted, downtuned guitar riff that seems to grind its way through it's own sludge, with brief piercing leads occasionally slicing through the mix.  The Gibbytronix makes its presence felt, as the vocals are heavily down-pitched to provide a suffocated, guttural quality as if they are excruciatingly making their way up through six feet of earth.  Following Graveyard is Pittsburgh to Lebanon, a down-and-dirty blues straight from the depths of hell.  It plods along to a lunatic groove as Gibby howls distortedly about such things as buying "(his) first shotgun at the age of three".  

Just as you begin to get used to the downtempo weirdness thus far, The Surfers throw in a subconsciously dreaded monkey wrench, confirming your fears that this rabbit hole does indeed deepen.  The brief instrumental Weber sloppily establishes riffs and motives that are never expanded upon, and leads directly into the farm animal sounds.  The moo's and baa's that carry throughout Hay are soon accompanied by stuttered, disorienting tape loops that flap and reverse over themselves as the animals continue their yelling and are joined late in the track by faint high-pitched human chanting and devilish growls.  At the albums halfway point the relatively straightforward Human Cannonball is a welcome intermission.  More importantly however, it is a very strong stand-alone garage rock song.  Albeit on the terms of the Butthole Surfers; the riffs drone along, the vocals are manic and the lyrics are cryptic; it adds a new level of musical sensibility that will be necessary to carry this album through its home stretch.  

U.S.S.A. shoves us back into nightmareland with a terribly distorted drumroll, or march, or…something.  The brief fade-out provides a teasingly false sense of security right before the grinding guitar noise stutters its way to the front of the mix.  Gibby spends the next couple minutes half-screaming (through filters that give even more edges to his delivery) incoherently over the now familiar, yet no less threatening, chopped up tape loops.  Much to everyone's demented joy, as soon as this madness ends The O-Men pick it right back up.  The rhythm pounds in double-time now, and once the rapid-fire vocals come in spewing nonsense it's obvious there is no turning back.  In what I suppose could be called a chorus, there is a call-and-response from the many schizophrenic voices of Gibby Haynes, as his high pitched worm-voice gives que to his Darth Vader-on-acid voice, which is followed by an unhinged, hyperactive guitar lead before it starts all over again.  The tempo is taken down briefly with Kuntz, but the insanity very much remains.  The song is a remixed version of what seems like an old-time traditional Indian or Middle-Eastern song edited just right (and with extra voices added) so it sounds like the word cunts is repeated as the etherial rhythm drones on.  After that we are treated to another version of Graveyard, this time without any downpitching effects.  Somehow it is even more maddening this way, as the guitar plucks and screams while the Gibbytronix take the vocals to new depths of delirium.  

The darkness all comes to a head with troubling album closer 22 Going on 23.  In audio taken from an actual radio broadcast, a young woman details with disturbing tranquility her "sleep problems" stemming from a sexual assault.  In the background a feral, lumbering riff rises and swells with pure evil as the radio host analyses her issues with echoing terms like "anxiety…sleep programming…conselling…medicine…depression…etc".  After a slowed down, otherworldly guitar solo the same woman resurfaces, complaining of an entirely different set of problems.  The album then fades out into familiar farm-animal noises, and comes to a disturbing halt with crickets and slow-motion "moo"ing.  Upon further inspection, not only are these slowed down versions of the same sample heard in Hay, but the woman's voice had previously been sped up and distorted and used throughout the album, subconsciously tying all of the madness together.  

As you're dropped into silence and left wondering exactly what the hell it is that you've just listened to, the album continues to work its magic as the aural journey through hell sticks vaguely in your mind like the aforementioned fever dreams.  After a little time to readjust to normalcy the appreciation grows for the way Locust Abortion Technician maintains an enjoyable, momentous listen even as it sinks to new depths of psychosis.  The overall haunting atmosphere and gleeful embrace of everything creepy and darkly experimental make this as good of an album as any to give a spin during Halloween. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Matt's Halloween Mixtape; Part Two

Behind all of the fun and games associated with Halloween lies a very dark and mysterious past.  While customs such as carving jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes and so on have become time-honored traditions ubiquitous with the season, and many variations of monsters and ghosts have rightfully become pop-culture icons, we mustn't forget the darkly rich history of the relatively recently mainstream holiday.  The underlying purpose of Halloween is less about celebration as it is paying respect to the certainty of death, and the frighteningly unknowable thereafter.  

This eerie correlation with the the unknown and the otherworldly is, in my opinion, what really makes Halloween special.  Therefore, I've taken great care to include in this series those songs which I feel most effectively acknowledge the darker aspects of the human (or not-so-human) condition, and bring them to the forefront of a fittingly ominous atmosphere.  

Suicide - Frankie Teardrop

Suicide is quite simply a weird "band", both during their active years and within a historical context.  The were the first group to ever use the term "punk music" to advertise a show, yet they were widely detested by much of the punk scene for their provocative demeanor and reliance on keyboards, drum machines, and murmured vocals.  

This artist/audience conflict came together for several stunning moments on their 1977 self-titled debut album however, most notably on side two's minimalist epic Frankie Teardrop.  The song immediately establishes a disturbing claustrophobic atmosphere of doom with a pounding, straight eighth-note rhythm of industrial noise that drones on for its ten minute entirety.  laid over the top of this agonizingly simple beat with unnerving volume are Alan Vega's nervy, tense, half-whispered vocals.  As the metallic noise pounds on Vega weaves a tale of a young father on the brink of insanity trapped in poverty and the maddening repetition of his factory work.  Good ol' Frankie hopelessly grinds through the days to support his family, but when his desperation reaches its breaking point he is left to pick up a gun and let it provide all the "support" his family needs.  All the while the constant pounding noise continues.  The song can explode into hell at any moment, but the real terror is that you know it won't- it will just keep droning on and on.  When listened to in the right setting, you have already long been firmly on edge by the time the utterly blood curdling screams come out of nowhere. 

Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane

Much earlier in this blog's life I wrote with disturbed affection about Acid Bath's classic "death rock" album When the Kite String Pops.  I am excited now to have an opportunity to more deeply explore one of my favorite cuts from that album.  

In the years before and since I made that post reviewing When the Kite String Pops I haven't come up with a better description for their sound than that which must constantly play within the mind of a serial killer.  From their overbearing menace to the unrelenting brutality of their lyrics and their schizophrenic straddling of genres, Acid Bath creates a musical environment that is directly engaging in it's heaviness yet consistently unnerving in its twists and turns, and it has a way of getting you lost in the fractured mind of the deeply disturbed.

At no point in the album are these qualities on more troubling display than during Finger Paintings of the Insane.  As vocalist Dax Riggs alternates between morbidly dark crooning and agonized verbal assaults of self-destruction, torture and pure evil, the band weaves a spellbinding web of shifting dynamics and jarring tempo changes, bookended by skull-crushing rhythms and guitars that grind and slash their way through the nightmare.  As a listener you are left disoriented; scared and lost in the mind of a psychopath, yet morbidly fascinated and unable to take yourself away from the hellish, unforgiving sonic landscape.

The Beatles - Revolution 9  

Possibly the one song that I would call the creepiest comes from an unlikely yet ultimately unsurprising source.  More widely regarded for their mop-tops and desire to "hold your hand", The Beatles were certainly no slouches when it came to experimental recording, and the results heard in Revolution 9 are nothing short of terrifying.  

Revolution 9 begins with a minor piano theme and a mysterious voice repeating "number nine", panned jarringly between stereo channels.  For the ensuing eight minutes, it spirals deeper and deeper into pure insanity.  The piece consists entirely of various different tape loops that have been treated with odd, disquieting effects.  Most of them are taken from classical music or opera, but there are also everyday sound effects such as crowd noise, laughter, voices, breaking glass, and car horns that in this context are made harsh and grating.  The loops fade in and out, dance around each other, and, at the absolute scariest- burst unexpectedly out of nowhere on only one side of the mix (DO NOT listen to this loudly on headphones late at night).  In a move of subtle production genius, the piano and "number nine" motif recur and echo almost tauntingly in and out of the mix, confirming that the suddenly not-so-Fab Four realize exactly how uncomfortable of a listening experience they have created.  

Running List:

Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69
HorrorPops - Walk Like a Zombie
Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane
The Beatles - Revolution 9

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