Between the political terrors of the last year or so, and the more recent celebrity suicides, it seems the world has gotten a bit DARK lately. I have found that when the darkness calls, it’s best to just go with it, and so I put together a playlist of some suitably SHADOWY tunes, mostly of the “electronic listening music” variety (although there’s always a solid rhythm to most of the music that I really enjoy—a GROOVE, if you will…) So, if you’re ready to come with me into the SPOOKY side of the musical spectrum, let’s look at these TEN CUTS!
TEN CUTS – 03 by Richard F. Yates
1. “Soft Machine” by Les Rythmes Digitales
Les Rythmes Digitales is one of the many monikers for award winning British musician and producer, Stuart Price. (If you’ve been to a club or listened to the radio in the last 20 years, you’ve heard SOMETHING that he’s worked on.) The guy is a powerhouse, and he FOOLED me. When the album, Darkdancer, came out in 1999, I assumed it was by a French techno band. Nope. British guy. Regardless, THIS song is brilliant. It has a stuttering, post-drum & bass beat, a dreamy, nightmarish feel, and lyrics that drag us into the seedy world of drug abuse and Kenneth Anger chaos magic. This song is incredible, and it sounds like it could have come out THIS MONTH, even though it’s almost TWO DECADES OLD already. Seriously brilliant, catchy, creepy work, that you can almost groove to, while struggling with the terrors of the modern world (and gaining POWER from the struggle!)
2. “Haze” by Skinny Puppy
Skinny Puppy are one of THOSE bands—the kind that change with every new album but still manage to BE Puppy… They are Canadian, have had a number of member changes over the years, including losing founding member Bill Leeb early in their career (he went on to Front Line Assembly and Delerium fame, as well as recording under about a hundred different names for various side projects); and the band suffered the tragic death of percussionist, Dwayne Goettel in 1995; but the members who are still standing, cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre (Ohgr), have kept the band moving and shaking for a SOLID three, almost four, decades! The Skinny Puppy sound is CREEPY, electronic, dubby, epic, disorienting, and deep. I’ve listened to and LOVED Skinny Puppy since the mid-1980s, and it’s been a real interesting ride, seeing them develop and change and mutate. THIS song, “Haze,” comes from the 2014 album, Mythmaker, and it incorporates everything that I love about SP. It’s dreamy, nightmarish, cyber-punk listening music, and I honestly have NO IDEA what it’s about. Funny thing about Puppy is, even though they sing in English (on the songs with lyrics) their oblique, poetic lyrics are heavily metaphorical, surrealistic, and opaque. I don’t care, though, because with this song, and with the band in general, the MOOD is the important thing—and Puppy can deliver MOOD like no other band on the planet.
3. “Out” by Stroke
This is a band that I know very little about. I received a promotional copy of their XL Records album, First In Last Out, when it was released in 1999, but then I never heard from them again. (A search for the band online usually ends up with The Strokes—who are different…) Regardless, the song, “Out,” is an interesting cut. At times, it has a crunchy, industrial laden beat and harsh electronic elements to it, then the vocals kick in, with a late-90’s, post-Grunge flavor, and THEN it moves into a strange, almost Radiohead-like ambiance. It’s a cool cut, and I remember playing it a few times (to a baffled Kelso, Washington, bar crowd, who would probably have rather been listening to AC/DC, but the owner of the bar I DJ-ed at was from San Francisco, and she hired me to play techno and industrial music—basically anything BUT Rock, Blues, or Country…) Anyway, this song is good, at times stompy and dancy, and at other times moody and atmospheric. I wonder what ever happened to these guys?
4. “Nothing Stays” by Cyberaktif
Speaking of Bill Leeb, Cyberaktif was one of Leeb’s one-thousand-and-one side projects. He recorded one album as Cyberaktif, called Tenebrae Vision, with cEvin Key, Dwayne Goettel, and even Blixa Bargeld (of Einsturzende Neubauten), back in 1990 (on the long-lost Wax Trax! label…) The album is a unique artifact, and in my opinion, “Nothing Stays” is the crowning jewel. The sound is very dreamy, almost psychedelic, but it also includes a recognizable Skinny Puppy percussive stomp (no doubt thanks to Goettel’s programming influence.) The vocals are a growled whisper, the lyrics odd, the samples (from the movie Dune) are echoed and repeated, and the tone is dark—but there is an undeniable groove, that I find darn near irresistible. It’s a great song for listening and contemplation but could easily be swayed to on a dance-floor as well!
5. “Monster” by Peach Stealing Monkeys
I learned about THIS cut from an interesting place—parts of the song have been incorporated into the theme music for my favorite podcast: MonsterTalk – the science show about monsters. MonsterTalk is hosted by Blake Smith and Dr. Karen Stollznow, and the show uses cryptids, folklore, and paranormal topics to explore skeptical concepts, like sleep paralysis and issues with human perception. (It’s a FANTASTIC show; I can’t recommend it highly enough…) Each episode opens with this excellent, almost industrial stomper, with distorted horns or bells or something like that, and samples from the old television program, In Search Of… Eventually, after hearing Blake Smith say, week after week, that the theme music was by Peach Stealing Monkeys, I looked the band up, and was pleasantly surprised. The In Search Of samples aren’t present in the original version of “Monster,” but there is a solid vocal, and the cut has lots of movement and an exciting contrast between the percussive sections and the more dreamy vocal measures. It’s a great song, and one that definitely makes me curious to know more about this band.
6. “The Wheel” by Coil
“The Wheel” is a short but powerful song by Coil from a brilliant compilation album called If You Can’t Please Yourself, You Can’t Please Your Soul, which was originally released in 1985. (I have it on a 1990’s CD rerelease put out by Thirsty Ear.) The legendary performers who contributed to this compilation include Cabaret Voltaire, Yello, Psychic TV, Marc Almond (of Soft Cell), Test Dept., The The, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, and more… My favorite cut on the CD, though, is by Coil, a band who have created some of the weirdest and most disturbing music made in the 20th century. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the video for their cover of “Tainted Love” or listen to their horrifying cut, “Heartworms,” and just try not to be creeped out.) “The Wheel,” however, is an explosive, propulsive industrial number, pushed forward by clicking percussion and a relentless thump. Meanwhile, John Balance’s haunted, hypnotic vocals, chant and incant and build tension, as the song pushes toward a horrific anti-climax. There are strange, screeching violin-like stabs and odd, metallic clanks and chitters, all of which build and build throughout the song. Luckily, it’s a short tune, but very disorienting and macabre, nonetheless. It was the first song that I ever heard by Coil, and I immediately fell in love with it. Unfortunately, Balance left us a few years ago, so we won’t have any new music from Coil, but their back catalog is extensive, and often terrifying, mixing alchemy, dream exploration, occultism, and other human weirdness with keyboards and programmed beats. A great band, and a unique cut!
7. “Human Sacrifice” by Tubeway Army
Okay, so this is a weird one. Gary Numan, who many of you probably know from his HUGE MTV hit, “Cars,” was originally in a synth-punk band called Tubeway Army, but Numan went solo after recording a couple of great albums with the TA. After Numan’s exit, the original band kept going, under the name Dramatis, and released some singles and one album, For Future Reference. Weirdly, Numan did appear as a “guest” on one song on the album, “Love Needs No Disguise.” Even more odd, after a few years, the album got the reissue treatment, attributed to Tubeway Army, and this time called just Future. That’s where I found this cut, thinking it was an album by Gary Numan from his Tubeway years that I just hadn’t heard of. The timeline is sticky, and there are apparently several different reissues of the original Dramatis album, but I think it’s pretty safe to say, it was ORIGINALLY produced in 1981. With all of that to think about, WHOEVER recorded it, the song “Human Sacrifice” is EXCELLENT. It’s got a monstrous synth line, intriguing drumming, science fiction lyrics, and a dark, cyberpunk feel throughout. It’s not really a DANCE song, although you might be able to shake to it… It’s hard to describe, really, somewhere between industrial and synth-pop and PRE-techno (PRE by about a decade), and just cool… Like listening to an army of bloodthirsty robots marching into the gleaming, futuristic citadel and crushing the weak-willed humans beneath their metal feet… Good stuff!
8. “Poisonous Friend (Iris Remix)” by Seabound
Seabound is a cool band. They fall somewhere between industrial, EBM, “future pop,” and dark synth-pop. This cut, which comes from the Poisonous Friend CD single (2004), has a brilliantly addictive beat—I played this cut whenever I DJed for about a decade straight. It’s got light, clicky percussion, a gummy synth bassline, and weird little mechanical clicks and blips, as if the music were being played by a slightly broken android. The vocals, however, are pitch-perfect pop, dreamy and chorused, with dark and sinister lyrics about betrayal and death. Almost everything I’ve heard by Seabound is good, but this cut in particular is spectacular, catchy and made to command a dance-floor!
9. “Yu-Gung (Futter Mein Ego)” by Einsturzende Neubauten
I should probably mention that I don’t know the German language at all, but I love Einsturzende Neubauten. They are an industrial noise outfit who have made some truly fascinating tunes over the years, usually incorporating odd noises, found sounds, clankings, and Blixa Bargeld’s howling, commanding, mesmerizing vocals. This song comes from the 1985 album, Halber Mensch, which is an absolute CLASSIC of experimental noise industrial, that somehow still manages to have enough GROOVE to move a dance-floor (full of rivet-heads and goths.) This song, in particular, is hypnotic, with a percussive groove that drives the song, absolutely relentlessly forward, accompanied by clicks and clanks and screeches and chimes and Bargeld chanting and growling and casting some sort of weird spell. Despite having NO CLUE what this song is about (I think “futter mein ego” means “feed my ego”), I am completely mesmerized by the noise that I hear, and find the cut far too short, even though it’s over seven minutes long. It’s dark and freakish and will probably weird some people out. I had a girlfriend back in high school who thought EN were witches and that their music was black magic. To be fair, I can’t say for sure that she was wrong, but if this is what black magic sounds like, it’s fascinating to listen to!
10. “I’m Alive (That was the Day My Dead Pet Returned to Save My Life)” by Alice Cooper
So as not to end on too dark of a note, I thought I’d head to Alice Cooper for my final cut. Cooper, who most people probably know as either a 70’s rocker or from his later heavy metal career, might not know that he had a few albums that fall pretty firmly in the NEW WAVE category (and he also had a bit of a nervous breakdown in this era.) He experimented with keyboards and punk/new wave song structures, and general weirdness, on albums like Flush the Fashion (1980), Dada (1983), and Zipper Catches Skin (1982), the latter being where “I’m Alive” comes from. This era isn’t really looked on particularly fondly by most fans (or by Cooper himself, who claims not to even remember making several of the albums from this time period.) Regardless, “I’m Alive” is a fun, goofy song about how various ghost pets show up just in time to pull the narrator of the song from various life-threatening situations. The song is quick and buzzy and has a very Ramones or perhaps even Rezillos feel to it, definitely influenced by punk and new wave! There aren’t as many obvious keyboard bits as some cuts from this era (like “Clones” or “I am the Future”) and it’s definitely not as creepy and weird as the song “DaDa,” but it’s still a fun, humorous, very UP song…which might be what we need to take us out of the DARKNESS and into the light of life again. Thanks, ghost pets, for pulling us to safety JUST IN TIME!!!
And that’s this episode of TEN CUTS! Hopefully, there was a cut or two here that you enjoyed. If so, send me a note and let me know what struck ya! Until next time, STAY GROOVY!!!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!