Sunday, 31 October 2010

Congratulations To The Church.

We here at Second Drawer Up HQ would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Steve Kilbey, Peter Koppes, Marty Wilson-Piper, and Tim Powles (drummer Richard Ploog's replacement, after his tragic psychological meltdown) of Australian band The Church on their induction into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame this last Wednesday the 27th of October, 2010. It's been one hell of a ride for The Church, with a career chockfull of highs, lows, changing fortunes, drug addiction, musical successes, and commercial failures. I have to say that The Church has never been anything less than interesting -- personally, I count them as one of my favourite bands of all time. From their beginning in 1980, with the audacious debut Of Skins And Heart, the new-wave and synth-y Seance and Remote Luxury, the massive success of Starfish and its runaway hit single "Under The Milky Way," the psychedelic musical maelstrom of priest = aura, and to lackadaisical but still quite charming Gold Afternoon Fix, The Church have always gone their own route; they've always done things on their terms, and damn the consequences. They're true mavericks, in the truest sense of the word, and I salute them. Carry on, may you prosper onwards, and always have a trick or two up your sleeves. I'm very proud of you!

And now for a couple of my favorite songs. This is "Constant In Opal." One of Kilbey's greatest strengths is his razor-sharp wit, and way with words (You can watch his speech here - it's just freaking awesome). The clowns creep me out a bit, though.

the church
"constant in opal"
remote luxury

Ah, "It's No Reason." What a gorgeous, gorgeous song. I love the women's voices in the background - one could lose oneself in this tapestry.

the church
"it's no reason"

This, "The Unguarded Moment," was their very first hit single. Goddamn, if the guitars don't excite you, then you just might be a zombie, mate.

the church
"the unguarded moment"
of skin and heart

And, here's probably my favourite track of theirs, "Destination" from their 1988 album Starfish. Here it is being performed live for an Italian TV show - pretty awesome.

the church

Friday, 29 October 2010

Gothic Masterpieces: Clan of Xymox.

Ah, Clan of Xymox. I've been listening to a lot of them today - it's rainier than fuck here in Melbourne at the moment, and damned if I'm going to head out into it ... unless I absolutely have to. Clan of Xymox's music is, for want of a better word, absolutely perfect for the occasional cold and rainy day - so this rainy-ass Derby Day seems to be a perfect opportunity to reflect on their 1985 self-titled debut Clan of Xymox!

Based out of Amsterdam and signed to the prestigious London label 4AD (home to such stalwarts as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and The Pixies), Clan of Xymox made an immediate impression on the electronic scene with their sweepingly hypnotic melodies that were firmly moored with a sophisticated sheen of guitars. What is it exactly that defines this record? Maybe it is the soaring je ne sais quoi of "No Words," with its delicate acoustic instrumentation hovering lovingly over Ronny Mooring's (who writes and records all of the songs himself) despondent lyrics: "No words to explain, no words in my mouth / No words in my mind / But the gesture said it all / And the words refined it all"? Perhaps it boils down to the grandiosity and pulsing power of the largely instrumental (and a guaranteed floor-filler at finer dance clubs) "Stranger"? Or is it the strange and glossy nonsense of the galloping bonus track "Muscovite Mosquito," overlaid with a distinctly brooding bass? Who knows? Hell, what is a Muscovite Mosquito, anyway? I don't know -- but it fucking rocks. Luckily, Clan of Xymox is still with us after all these years, and their new album Hidden Faces will be released on the 9th of November. Can't wait -- I'll be sure to review it and let you all know what I think!

But for now I think I'm going to continue to sit at my desk with my bottle of Cooper's Green and listen to some more COX. Let me let you in on what it is I'm listening to on this rainy, rainy day.

clan of xymox
clan of xymox

clan of xymox
"a day"
clan of xymox

clan of xymox
"muscovite mosquito"
clan of xymox

Video Disturbeo: Marilyn Manson.

Running through the annals of popular culture and the storied history of pop music itself, the yearning to shock the public's sensibilities has always been a constant in the course of entertainment. From KISS and their demonic costumes, Alice Cooper with his snakes and scimitars, Jimmy Page and his studious transliterations of the writing of Aleister Crowley, Ozzy Osbourne's pigeon/bat feasts, and John Lennon's blasé dismissal of Jesus' popularity to GWAR's epically nasty (and fucking disgusting - in a good way) stage massacres, Revolting Cocks' own name, Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy's self-mutilation, and Judas Priest's S&M-inspired frenzies of metal mayhem, there has always been something out there somewhere to shock just about anybody. Heaven knows people can be easily offended; and sometimes offensiveness is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to moving copies of albums off those record shelves. (Or getting kids to clickety-click on the "Buy" button on iTunes.)

So it came as no surprise that, at the end of the 20th century, the bogeyman du jour for middle-American parents was none other than Brian Hugh Warner from Columbus, Ohio -- better known to the world at large as Marilyn Manson. A card-carrying member of the Church of Satan who had supped personally with that church's leader Anton La Vey in his San Francisco home; a provocateur of the highest order with that vaguely disturbing coloured contact lens and the androgynous costumes; an estimable member of the late 90's shock-rock community with blaring guitars and bludgeoning lyrics revolving around violence, drugs, mayhem, and - yes - Satan; and a shameless self-promoter whose often conflicting statements about his "message" in interviews confused many; Marilyn Manson represented many aspects of popular culture to many different people. But on the 20th of April, 1999, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Marilyn Manson was ridiculously blamed somehow for the carnage and sadly, his career took a hit.

I've never been a huge fan of his music, truth be told. I usually found his music to be on the puerile side of things -- I didn't think his works represented any kind of shock, per se. More like schlock than anything else. I personally found Portrait of an American Family to be a quite irritating record -- grating, masturbatorial nonsense. Antichrist Superstar fared better in my opinion, but I felt it was outweighed by an almost impenetrable barrage of speed metal. But when Manson and his merry band of mates put out 1998's Mechanical Animals, something snapped in me. Here at last was an intelligent, well-thought out, thematic, aggressive, and entertaining piece of work that still, almost thirteen years later, stands up on its own as a brilliant record. From the squelching drone of "Dope Show," to the hyperdriven manic energy of "Posthuman," to the flat-out rocking "Don't Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)" -- this is very listenable stuff, and I can't recommend it enough.

Today's Video Disturbeo is not taken from the album, but it was recorded in the same year for the soundtrack to David Lynch's time-puzzle of a film Lost Highway. (In fact, Marilyn Manson had a bit role in the film as "Porn Star #1). The song I'd like to showcase today is called "Apple of Sodom," and it ranks right up there with my favorites. Disturbing vocal distortions, an incredibly menacing synth, and the phrase "I'm dying - I hope you're dying too" make this track a suitable addition for our Halloween playlist here at Second Drawer Up HQ. Enjoy!

marilyn manson
"apple of sodom"
lost highway soundtrack

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Wax Trax!: Ministry.

Somewhere between the hardcore and aggressive metal-infused industrial music Ministry became known for -- "N.W.O.," "Just One Fix," "Stigmata," and "Reload" are some of the tracks that come immediately to mind -- and the 1983 new wave oddity With Sympathy, which featured longtime provocateur and leader Al Jourgensen singing melodic pop songs with a feigned English accent (Ministry sprouted from Chicago, IL), they released a total of four 12" singles on the Wax Trax! label. Of these four, one of them spawned what would become, arguably, Ministry's most popular and well-known songs. I'm speaking, of course, of the single for "All Day" (WAX 007) -- the B-Side was "(Everyday) Is Halloween." I'm sure you've heard of it? Whilst Jourgensen despised With Sympathy (he famously referred to it as "an abortion of an album"), "All Day" was included in Ministry's 1986 followup, Twitch, which gave listeners a hint in what direction Jourgensen (along with new partner Paul Barker) would follow with 1988's The Land Of Rape And Honey.

But let's focus on "(Everyday Is) Halloween," shall we? Who can forget the intro and its steady drumbeat and drone-y synth, with those "bop ... bopbop's" in the background as Jourgensen (still in faux-English accent mode) sings, "Well I live with snakes and lizards and other things that go bump in the night"? I can't. It's admittedly a rather simple song -- existing in a realm between the banal and the extreme -- but you gotta admit, it's pretty fucking catchy. No Halloween celebration would be complete without this track being on the playlist; and we have Wax Trax! to thank for that. Happy Halloween from your friends at Second Drawer Up -- for those about to dress up, we salute you.

"(everyday is) halloween"
all day / (everyday is) halloween 12"

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Electro Classic Jukebox: Skinny Puppy.

Well! I had so much fun revisiting the EBM stylings of Front Line Assembly, I felt I had to make a return trip for the sole purpose of bearing homage to fellow Vancouverites Skinny Puppy. Formed as an experimental side project by cEvin Key whilst he was in a new wave band called Images In Vogue in 1982, it became a full-time project when he became disillusioned with his band's music - and when Nivek Ogre came on board as vocalist. After the initial release of a cassette demo Back and Forth in 1984, they signed to Canadian label Nettwerk and put out (in the same year!) their debut EP Remission - which let the world know they were a force to be reckoned with. And *poof!* just like that, Skinny Puppy (widely is believed to) had given messy birth to a new genre - electronic industrialism. And bully for them - 26 years later Skinny Puppy is still churning on, delivering shockingly disturbing metal-based electronic horror that has the power after all these years to still blanche the spirit. I think one aspect of Mssrs. Key and Ogre's brainchild that gives it its oomph is that they have consistently wore their severed, blood-spattered hearts on their sleeves; they have a lot of energy and, if you've ever seen their videos or have gone to one of their shows, they proudly debase the whole meaning of where their vicious style of electro-industrial ends and where death metal begins to seep into the works like a dripping, infected wound. Blood spatters. Horrible images of death, decay, and torture are emblazoned on giant screens. Self-mutilation. Evil iconography. Lyrics about murder, animal experimentation, politics, genocide, mutants, and villainy. Aggressive music that flies in one's face, challenging. So I got to thinking: with Halloween a scant four days away, I'd share some of my favorite Skinny Puppy tracks with you today. Enjoy!

Here, from their 1984 debut Remissions, is "Smothered Hope." I think this was the first song of theirs I heard. I think Ogre's distorted vocals and the nearly poetic stream-of-consciousness lyrics sound fucking fantastic together.

skinny puppy
"smothered hope"
remissions ep

From 1986's Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, here's "Dig It." When Ogre and friends chant "Dig it! Dig it! Execute economic slave!", I have to admit, I bang my head a little. Such anger in this track.

skinny puppy
"dig it"
mind: the perpetual intercourse

From Vivisect VI, released in 1988, here's an epically disturbing and horrific track about animal testing and torture called "Testure." WARNING: INCREDIBLY DISTURBING VIDEO. I've always been curious as to where the opening sample comes from: "I hope you make sure we're properly dead before you start, old rip beak!" Freaky shit.  UPDATE: Have located source of the above sample. It is taken from the 1982 animated film Plague Dogs, a super-depressing adaptation of Richard Adams' (Watership Down) novel of the same name. The entire quote, from dear, hyper-active Snitter - speaking to his fellow escapee Rowf: "Have you ever thought, Rowf ... that we won't need food when we're dead? Or names for that matter. I wonder who the buzzards will like best, you or me ... I hope you make sure we're properly dead before you start, old rip beak!" This film will make you weep.

skinny puppy
vivisect vi

Last, but most certainly not least, from 1985's Bites, is what is probably Skinny Puppy's "danciest" single, "Assimilate." I certainly know it was very popular at The Church and other gothic clubs I frequented in the early '90s. As a treat, here it is being performed live! Check out the visuals that would accompany them on tour. Disturbing, but not as disturbing as "Testure," that's for damn sure.

skinny puppy

Monday, 25 October 2010

Wax Trax!: Front Line Assembly.

Choo choo, the Wax Trax! reminisce machine rolls along like a well-oiled EBM locomotive, spreading aggressive beats, growled vocals, and icy synths with the furiousness of an AK-47 spitting musical bullets. Welcome! Today I thought I'd head up north to Canadian soil and extend a hearty hello to the one and only Front Line Assembly. 

Hailing from lovely Vancouver, British Columbia, FLA began in 1985 when leader Bill Leeb, then a supporting musician for Skinny Puppy, decided to strike out on his own and assume more creative control as his own man. Having already learned the tricks of the trade with SP, he managed to wrangle up like-minded musicians who also preferred the darker underbelly of electronic music and industrial metal. After the releases of The Initial Command and State of Mind, they were picked up by Wax Trax!, who distributed their third album, the sublimely deranged and ferocious Corrosion (WAX 038). By this time, FLA consisted of Leeb, his good friend Rhys Fulber, and Michael Balch. Two more releases under Wax Trax!'s banner followed: 1988's Disorder and 1989's Gashed Senses & Crossfire. I would like to take the time to showcase a phenomenal track from GS&C; the one and only "Digital Tension Dementia."

My goodness, what an epic piece of industrial triumph we have here. Sonically, I'd have to say that "DTD" rests in an interesting spectrum of EBM geology, sporting the rhythmic beats of a Front 242 album with Leeb's antagonistic lyrics waxing philosophically about brutality, powerlessness, fear, and hopelessness with the spite and venom of Nivek Ogre. There's an inherent meanness present - but my god is it danceable, or what?

Check it out by all means. And turn up that there volume to get the full effect - let the force of this shit wash over you!

front line assembly
"digital tension dementia"
gashed senses & crossfire

Gig Review: Cranes.

27 MARCH 1997

Every now and then I like to look back at old reviews I've written and, if the mood strikes me, re-post them and take a moment to muse on bands that have moved on, styles that may have changed, and memories that have lain dormant for years. Thisreview of a Cranes show was one that I remember vividly. It was a great evening, the venue was suitably seedy (in a good way), the band was on fire, and I had a chance to chat with them afterwards, finding them to be funny, endearing, and very talented. It's a shame Cranes are no longer a band; I found their wispy gothic string-inflected electronica incredibly appealing. Cheers, kids.

- TB

Dallas, TX -- Trees Nightclub in Deep Ellum, a renovated warehouse district in "the Big D"'s downtown area. A very spacious and well-laid-out venue to catch the Portsmouth, UK-based Cranes' intimate, intoxicating show. A sign hangs by the front door, informing visitors that "by order of state law, dancing is not allowed." The doorperson, I was pleasantly surprised to find, was helpful and polite. "Did you bring your camera?" she asked -- I don't know, I was somehow expecting to be given some flack.

Unfortunately, my roommate and I had left the flat just a little too late; as a result, we ended up missing the majority of Rasputina's set. As I entered the club, one of the three women on cellos (I never caught their names, alas) asked the audience, "What's another word for feces?", to which the crowd enthusiastically shouted, "SHIT!!!" Rasputina's last two numbers, which skillfully and gorgeously combined a trio of Cellos with a bassist and a drum-player into a lush aura of sound, made me promise myself to check out more of their work.

A brief intermission ensued; the Cranes' equipment was thoroughly checked, the crowd milled about and mingled peacefully, and then Alison and company took the stage with a gorgeously rendered version of "Everywhere". The night for me had officially begun, and I relished the hold the music on me. And, I hasten to add, on everybody else who was lucky enough to share the experience with me. "Reverie" and "Jewel", two other exquisite numbers, followed -- deeply impressing me, for I was expecting them to open withPopulation 4 material, and THEN segue into their earlier work.

Alison sported a multi-coloured frilly dress, Jim had his Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds T-shirt, Mark wore a puke-green Levelfive T, and Manu had his groovy holographic glasses (I know couldn't play drums in those!). They played off of each other extraordinarily well, launching into their newer material with aplomb. The sound system was (from my perspective) flawless and professional, as their playing varied from soft and dreamlike ("To Be") to jazzed-up and energetic ("Breeze"). Somewhere in the midst, "E.G. Shining", a rare, earlier track, made an unexpected appearance, much to the delight of a scattered handful of concertgoers. The lighting (which was somewhat sparse, I thought) suddenly became more ethereal and psychadelic. And then -- the icing on the cake. "Sixth of May" followed by an incredible performance of "Far Away". As Mike Dare (the chief editor of the Cranes Fan Forum, for which I wrote the review) once wrote, they have definitely hit their stride on this tour.

They concluded their "pre-encore" set with "Adrift", which slowly built in intensity -- and then nearly brought the house down! The smile on Mark's face was the only proof needed that he was happy with his guitar playing -- then again, so was I. 
And then -- "l'encore", as Manu would say. Jim and Alison returned shortly with a beautiful, toned down (read: acoustic) version of "Tangled Up". It sounded, I must say, much more lush and pretty than the version on Pop4. Then Manu (who drummed with so much energy throughout the show, I was sure he would explode a la Spinal Tap) and Mark joined the Shaws for "Adoration", my personal favourite. Then, an absolute show-stopping performance of "Lilies", drawn out and extended, with the lighting synchronised with Manu's every thunderous drumbeat. The lights reached their crescendo with the intensity of the music, and then pow! the show was complete and the houselights came on.

Au revoir, mes amis, depuis la prochaine fois.

The band hung out with fans in front of the club, next to the tour bus, and Manu, when I asked him, seemed particularly pleased with the performance. "We love Dallas, we love the people of Dallas," he said, "unlike Austin -- the Austin experience wasn't so good." The Cranes were completely polite and gracious, signing autographs and taking pictures with people, chatting with anybody who so much as approached them. I personally cannot wait for them to return, to see them again -- a bit like old friends who didn't get to stay long enough.


to be
e.g. shining
let go
on top of the world
angel bell
sixth of may
far away
tangled up

And now here, from their brilliant sophomore album, 1991's Wings of Joy, here are Cranes with the lush, and very, very gorgeous track "Adoration." Turn this one up, lovelies - it's fucking amazing.

wings of joy