Monday, June 21, 2010

A Love Like Blood

(Click on image to download the mix)

Did I tell you about mixtapes? I love making mixtapes, or, as it where, mix-cds. Seriously, anyone that's spent more than a dozen hours with me probably has one or more cds with meticulously planned playlists on them.

Pieces of plastic are kinda out though. For the last few years I've been mostly making mp3 mixes, and predominantly of the Heavy Metal persuasion. But there's one person whom doesn't understand the internet very well, for whom I still make mix-cds for. He's my dad.

He must have a dozen mixes of mine, most themed around moods or historical periods in popular music and properly all geared towards the vain attempt to 'explain Heavy Metal' to him. Well, after ten years of trying, I think my dad gets it pretty well. He probably can't name you more than two genres of metal -although he seems to enjoy dropping "death metal, the metal of death" on me some times. I get why it tickles him, it's a pretty funny yet severe name for a music genre. Also he says "Heavy Metal" and never "metal" to me, so I've taught him well. Anyway, he may not know more than two genres or more than five metal bands by name but he sure as hell can explain to you the Romanticist onset of the genre, its lust for transcendence, its stochastic morbidity, so I'm pretty proud to say he's paid attention, and therefore through my fascination for it, understood me better too. Most dads wouldn't bother.

But that doesn't mean I'm all 'mission accomplished!' about it. I still write him new ones twice a year or so. I've written him proto-metal late sixties to early seventies only mixes (he liked most of it), I've written him genre-specific epic metal mixtapes (he liked Warlord and Virgin Steele), I've written him pot purris of 'religious music' going from J.S. Bach to My Dying Bride to Gregorian Chants to Thomas De Luis Victoria to Lordian Guard to Arvo Pert to Black motherfucking Sabbath (tremendous success). The works. I know he listens to them in the car on the way to work and back, as well as on the long treks he likes to undertake to various foreign countries (my dad is cool). I don't know how much he enjoys them really, he has low tolerances for noise and dissonance so I try to avoid anything more aggressive than Metallica, most of the time. And perhaps he's being a kind liar when he says he's into it, just so we keep communicating like this, but I take it as a good sign that he does anyway.

So I'm posting this here mostly because it's decidedly not-metal. Here's the playlist.

Sisters of Mercy - Dominion / Mother Russia
The Cure - One Hundred Years
Cocteau Twins - Wax & Wane
Husker Du - Pink turns to Blue
Killing Joke - Love like Blood
Talking Heads - The Overload
Dead Can Dance - Advent
Daemonia Nymphe - Ida's Dactyls
Fields of the Nephilim - Last Exit For the Lost
Bauhaus - All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

For anyone well-versed in dark wave, post-punk and gothic rock this compilation is laughably basic but that's just as well because my dad isn't. Actually my dad introduced me to half the stuff on here in some capacity, I heard loose The Cure, Talking Heads or Bauhaus tracks on *his* meticulously archived mix-tapes (and yes, they were tapes, numbered chronologically and with funny "I don't really know English" misspellings of band names, like 'The Beatles' became 'The Beatls' which span two decades of pop music). That's where I first heard Rainbow's 'Stargazer' and look what damage *that* did! He has some odd vinyl too, the wonderful Dead Can Dance 'Gardens of Delight' foldout, Pink Floyd's 'Meddle' and hilariously, the first Russian-sang Kruiz record that he got in his travels to the USSR. That record blew my mind, I had only heard little power metal until then (Helloween's Walls of Jericho exclusively, actually) and it was at least that good, only in a crazy moon-language.

But my dad never followed bands and genres, he just liked some songs and put them on tape, he doesn't remember The Cure, twenty years later. So when he asked me to write him a compilation that's based on 'melancholy' I thought 'I've your your melancholy right here, buddy'. Nothing more nostalgic than half-remembering One Hundred Years, (365 days x 20 years) = 7,300 days later.

(If you're asking yourself why would my dad want a melancholic mix in the dawn of a beautiful summer then I can only answer that that's my strongest proof that I'm his biological progeny.)

You can download the mix by clicking in the header image, it also has a high-res scan of the handmade cover I made for it (another tradition with me and mix-cds). Below are liner notes for the songs, if you like that sort of thing:

Sisters of Mercy

I thought it was apt to start here. I considered starting with The Doors, some Bowie and Joy Division but there wouldn't be enough time to get up to Fields of the Nephilim then (I'm something of a stickler for at least a semblance of historical continuity). That's a great way to start a record any way you cut it. I love the audacity of mr. Eldrich for putting two songs in the space of one, using the same drum machine beat all the while. I think the Mother Russia chorus will also tickle my dad, whom remains something of a Marxist-Leninist.

The Cure

You know, my threshold for morbidity in music is very high, I listen to a lot of extreme metal, Doom especially. But somehow this song is at least as effective as the more earnest metalhead attempts at 'death summoning music'.

"Caressing an old man
And painting a lifeless face
Just a piece of new meat in a clean room
The soldiers close in under a yellow moon
All shadows and deliverance
Under a black flag
A hundred years of blood

Also I enjoy how the drum machine beat is almost at the same tempo and feel as the Sisters song above. And look what I did then!

Cocteau Twins

More drum machine goodness! To be frank I don't go for most Cocteau Twins material, it's too sickly sweet for my tastes (yup, I'm a metalhead alright). But that first record, Garlands, has a very malevolent atmosphere for me even though Elizabeth Frazer is doing what Elizabeth Frazer does. It took me a while to realize why this song has the effect it has on me, it's the bass-lines. The guitar wash is vaguely chromatic with a metallic sheen, it holds no emotion for me. But the bass line is resolutely minor key and driving a mood that is commented on by Frazer, her usually nonsensical lyrics making just enough sense here, and darkly so:

"Carrying prose
Broke my real friend
The devil might steady
We wax and wane

Licking alms
The devil might steady
Rattling we'll taste
We wax and we wane"

Once this bassist was out, I was out too.

Husker Du

This is a horrifying pop song if you pay attention to it. Zen Arcade is one of my favorite records outside my usual metallic scope. I've approached it at different periods of my life, in different angles and it always leaves me richer for the attempt. I don't want to go into the lyrics of this one, they're - I hope - revealing enough for anyone that'd care to read them.

Killing Joke

Oh boy, romantic period Killing Joke. Some people hate what they were doing in the 80's and I must say I prefer 'Revelations' and 'Fire Dances' to either their early sludgy dance-punk and their latter paranoiac post-metal. But they never really put out awful records regardless of their stylistic drift over time. If I had to take only a few bands' worth of discographies with me on a desert island, after King Crimson, Fates Warning and Magma, Killing Joke would be my final choice. I really like the lyric here, it's very hopeful in its drama. 'When self-preservation rules the day no more'. My favorite thing about this song (and this period of Killing Joke generally) is how distinctively clear the work every instrumentalist is doing is. No instrument is encroaching on the space of the others and they all contribute to a simple but beautiful whole. It takes real inspiration and a lot of hard work (not to mention a smart sound engineer) for a band to sound so together.

Talking Heads

Rumor has it mr. David Byrne wrote this song inspired by what Joy Division could have been. He had been reading about them but had not yet heard them and he sat down with that inspiration and gave us "The Overload". Afterwards when he eventually heard Joy Division he exclaimed some disappointment at how 'rocky' they were. And although I disagree with his assessment (I have never felt disappointment in Joy Division, only disappointment along with Joy Division) it's pretty startling how his interpretation of the idea of 'rock dirge' is so effective. I have not heard much else that, while so sedate, has such a powerful emotional impact in me. Barring Skepticism, probably.

Dead Can Dance

After the quintessential downer that is 'The Overload' I had to pick things up ever slightly here. This is such a beautiful early song by Dead Can Dance. Here is the lyric in its entirety:

"In the hour of darkness
when our worlds collide
assailed by madness
that has plagued our lives,

On the point of departure
on the eve of despair
the recourse to reason
seems to make no sense at all

The light of hope
Shines in your eyes
Dementia has gone
Purged from inside

Throughout our wand'rings
In a land of lies
We fell from God's grace
Into a sea of storms.

In the self-revelation
Celebration of love
These bold four virtues
W seem to've left behind

Lay bare your heart
Induce the will of love
T restore what little faith
That you may have lost

As morning brings rebirth
A new day will dawn
T ease our troubled minds

Turn away on your side
and dream of days to come"

Also note I chose a Dead Can Dance song without Lisa Gerrard singing. It's not that I don't like her (or Elizabeth Frazer for that matter), it's just that I prefer my dark wave to have lyrics that make sense.

Daemonia Nymphe

This is a Greek outfit attempting to recreate in some degree the ethos and atmosphere of archaic Greek music. As we have very little historical record of how they composed and how their music sounded, it can be said that such approximations are at best inspired by the idea of Ancient Greek art than directly related to them. Nonetheless I find Daemonia Nymphe to be extremely effective in conjuring a specific mood, a prosperous meeting between Dionysus and Apollo. May we worship autumn and spring, together.

Fields of the Nephilim

When I said there's no Heavy Metal in this compilation, I lied, didn't I? Fields of the Nephilim are categorized as 'gothic rock' but from my point of view, they're a full-fledged metal band that happens to have taken their cue from the Sisters of Mercy concept instead of Motorhead. I know this point of view would be upsetting for a lot of goths and I don't really mean to bring something they love into the fold of something they hate (and do the goths hate Heavy Metal, let me tell you). I do not mean to say that it is because Fields of the Nephilim are a HM band in disguise that they are good (if anything 'metal in disguise' makes things worse). Fields of the Nephilim are good, no, great, because their spell works regardless what particular subculture the listener belongs in. During attentive listening, they enforce a world-sense that is hazy, but contemplative, lurid but energetic. There aren't many gothic rock or metal bands that can achieve this mood, and the Fields go even further from there. This song is their crowning opus in my opinion and it is not for its lyric or melodic sense. There is a sense of movement here, of a progression towards the vast unfathomable. The only disappointment is when the song ends but it is one I allow for because, for Fields of the Nephilim to attempt to describe what happens after the telos of this movement would be presumptuous. What human has moved beyond death and can come back and tell us what it is like?


And then of those that can speak of the persistent ennui far before the end is reached, what they'd say is often marked by eating sarcasm and gratuous nonsense. One tries so hard to understand,

"All we ever wanted was everything
All we ever got was cold

Get up, eat jelly
Sandwich bars, and barbed wire
Squash every week into a day

The sound of drums is calling
The sound of the drum has called
Flash of youth shoot out of darkness


Oh, to be the cream"


Todd said...

Agreed re: Zen Arcade

Griffith said...

hey man-dog,

i used to follow your stuff on the pixelation forums back in the day (circa 2003?). fucking brilliant palettes, design, et. al. i'm glad to see you kept it up and didn't sell out.

this playlist was good, and that's coming from someone utterly uninitiated in this genre--nice break from my usual staple of bluegrass.

hope you don't care if i follow your blog.

Chrille said...

Man, I miss making mixed tapes. It's the only thing I miss about cassettes. I think it was the extra care and time it took, listening to the songs as you make the tape and adjusting the volume balance.

Making mixed cds is fun too, but people barely even use cd players anymore.

I like the playlist, I need to check out Zen Arcade!

Helm said...

Griffith, what was your Pixelation handle?

Chrille, my favorite part is to arrange the songs in such a way that the flow, personally. I'm glad you liked the mix :)

Chrille said...

Of course, that's the most important part of making a mix tape!

It doesn't seem as important anymore. I don't make mixes for myself nowadays and I don't think people I'd make a mix for would listen to it. Of course, that depends on who it was.

Griffith said...