Monday, June 16, 2008

what I've been listening to, part two

From the portico of the Cathedral of Leon -- now that's Gothic.

Once I was exposed to darkwave, I found a small label based in Brooklyn called Projekt Records, the child of the hardworking Sam Rosenthal. The label features many related sub-genres of gloomy and beautiful music: Gothic-Darkwave, Dark Cabaret, Ethereal-Heavenly, Neo-Folk, Ambient-Electronic... I don't know what any of this means, but they have some great bands. They even have Christmas music. Project also has a page with information on their artists, with links to their websites and myspace pages (I only recently learned that myspace is good for more than just getting busted by Dateline: it's a great place to listen to music).

Sam Rosenthal also has his own band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl (website, myspace page). They've been around for some time and gone through different lineups, but the song in this video gives a sense of what they're about: haunting vocals, real acoustic instruments and percussion, and Sam on keyboards.

I'll feature one other group on this post, Attrition. I will just quote at length from an article about recent Projekt releases:
My absolute favorite – and possibly one of the best dark ambient releases in recent years – comes from one of the leading names in that genre, the UK experimental outfit Attrition, alias Martin Bowes. I came upon this talented artist a few years ago – fairly late in the game, considering Attrition has been around since the early '80s – and I was instantly hooked by Bowes' solitary devotion to creating moods and atmospheres instead of catchy melodies. Back when the term “industrial music” was less mainstream and applied mainly to avant-garde acts like Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Einsturzende Neubaten, Attrition were building a revolutionary style of their own, and decades later Bowes hasn't strayed from that goal with the latest Attrition release All Mine Enemys Whispers – one of the band's finest achievements in a long and storied career.

Whispers weaves the horrific tale of Mary Ann Cotton, one of England's most notorious serial killers. Responsible for the deaths (by poisoning) of up to 21 people – most of whom were her own children – Cotton would be perfect subject matter for a horrifying Halloween concept album. But instead of taking the more overtly gruesome route, Bowes opts for a sublime ambiance of growing doom to pull you headlong into the very thoughts of this human monster... even daring to make you sympathize with her before dragging you bodily to the depths of the underworld, surrounded by the whispering chants of her many victims.

As it turns out, Cotton is more than a mere macabre curiosity as far as this artist is concerned: the project was born out of Bowes' own ancestral link to Cotton's killing spree. Not only is he a distant relative of the constable who arrested Cotton in 1872, but Bowes recently came into possession of Cotton's sewing box, which the convicted murderer gave to the officer's daughter (Bowes' great great great aunt) just before her imprisonment. A photo of the box is included in the CD liner notes, and the sound of the box being struck can be heard on the track “Gates of Eternity.”

Interwoven with Bowes' elaborate synth programming and sound effects – which range from deep drones and hums to open, airy washes and some jarringly distorted glitch-loops – are eerie contributions from variety of recognizable names in the Gothic and dark ambient/industrial genres: Emilie Autumn takes up her signature violin as well as providing one of the few conventional lyric passages (a creepy rendition of “Rock of Ages”) on “Gates of Eternity,” while Rasputina's Erica Mulkey joins on cello, Ned Kirby of Stromkern plays piano and Laurie Reade of Pigface and High Blue Star offers backing vocals. Even Bowes' children participate with a bone-chilling rendition of a Victorian children's rhyme (“Mary Ann Cotton... She's dead and she's rotten”) on opening track “What Shall I Sing?” The expanded canvas results in a more complex, focused sound than I expected, with motifs that speak to an abstract storytelling style – it all feels like the score to a sublime horror film that exists only in your mind.

Avoiding all of the pretensions that can often accompany a concept album, Whispers is one of the most unique musical realizations I've heard in a years. A completely immersive work of art, it deserves to be experienced in a darkened room, awash in your choice of incense. To top off the experience, there's even a set of collectible stickers styled after vintage poison vial labels, that you can use to keep your roommate from borrowing your favorite cologne.
Here's the cool and messed-up video for their song "This Girl Called Harmony":


Garpu said...

Sending away for my almost-free their mp3s have DRM on it? I tend to eschew places that do (and itunes.)

cowboyangel said...

Thanks for the introduction to these groups. I hear Nick Cave in the first video, and it makes me wonder if he was your "in" to this stuff?

Marcus Aurelius said...

I'm not sure what I'd get up to while listening to black tape for a blue girl but I think it would involve lots of candles and an odd mood. But I liked it. Thnx for sharing.

Liam said...

I don't know about the mp3s, I have yet to start in on those.

Sort of -- the same kind of dark and melancholy sound. I found them via Rasputina.

That's about the mood, all right.

Garpu said...

Finally got my almost-free CD! And...I like it. Not a huge fan of the more cabaret-inspired bits, though. (And I don't like Kurt Weil, either.)