Anniversary

A(nother) love letter to Siouxsie And The Banshees

September marks a whopping ten years since “Into The Light” blew my mind, but I face the same old question once again. Where do I begin with my favorite band? When every Banshees album had it’s formative role for me, describing one for as many as five paragraphs wouldn’t say enough.

Making my way through each of SATB’s eleven albums (combined with the just-as-creative Creatures albums) was a true journey. Each had it’s own world and fragrance so to speak. Few songs meandered together as they weren’t the types to repeat themselves. They helped typify the enduring goth/post-punk sound (as much as they hated such connections), but they did so while thinking far beyond the boxing that the genres could bring. Siouxie would state that those boxing them were struggling to simplify something they didn’t understand. From The Creatures’ incredibly un-rock, xylophone-loving experiments to the near-heavenly flourishes on Hyaena, The Banshees’ music had an imagination that they refused to water down for others’ expectations. Instead, they littered their releases with anything that struck this imagination.

Albums like Dreamhouse and Hyaena took post-punk’s creative potential to their own surrealist, melodically rich wonderland while leaving an influence so large that I find it underestimated to this day. This goes without mentioning the b-sides, where they got as uncommercial and diverse as they wanted, covering a French holiday standard and burying metallic guitar textures with proto trip-hop in the same era. Oh, and this wasn’t the only time they’d cram an iconic earworm like ‘Cities In Dust’ in between. In fact, Siouxsie mentioned that the band loved to put the weirdest b-sides on the catchiest singles to mess with their newfound listeners.

(Budgie would introduce one new rhythmic style after another like it was nothing when he wasn’t inventing a whole new beat (“Land’s End”). As much as McGeoch would embody the classic ‘spidery’ post-punk sound at it’s best (“Spellbound”), nearly every Banshee guitarist evoked fascinatingly different imagery to what I was used to seeing with ‘rock’. (As Siouxsie stated herself, they would always go for a guitar that didn’t ‘sound like guitar’; at least not the average one.) Bloodcurdling nightmares (“Night Shift”), the weightless motion and fog of a helicopter (“Sleepwalking”); the most majestic beast in the sky (“Fireworks”). Where the guitarists came and went, I could count on Steven Severin’s subtle murmurs of bass; they would take me to strange forests or the quiet presence of fireflies. I could go on here.

Siouxsie’s evolution as a singer was a wonder in itself. Contrary to the ‘goth queen’ implications, she could do justice to a whole rainbow of moods. She could be The Scream’s boisterous rebel, the enigma with a warning, an emotive balladeer, the playful witch delighting in chaos. The early 80s material could turn her into this show-stealing burst of desperation and passion. She always brought danger to the intrigue or vice versa, a perfect fit for the band’s own aspiration to capture the thrill of Hitchcock films. While she struggled with pitch for sure, her range just added onto that intrigue, able to reach both rich, mesmerizing lows and hysterical bird-like highs.

Ten years on I can say that SATB was where my music obsession kicked off for real. Few niches in music fascinate me as much as that early-80s ‘alternative’ renaissance they represented so well. While the music I make has little in common with Siouxsie’s up to now, I’ll always aspire to her effortless cool.

Playlist

Blood-Stained Roses: Siouxsie Beyond The Singles

Listen Here

Basically an update/expansion on the Siouxsie ‘intro playlist’ I kept reposting here.

So maybe you know ‘Happy House’ or ‘Spellbound’ or another early Banshees hit? That’s great but on ‘Siouxsie Day’, I feel the push to promote a deeper look. Iconic as the big singles were, I feel that this is the tip of the iceberg.

This is a collection for the curious listener who wants to know more about Siouxsie’s more adventurous tastes and gradual evolution throughout her many many projects. After all, we’re talking about 16 albums in all. Sticking to only two or three ‘sides’ of such a prolific figure doesn’t do her justice. As powerful and crucial as the Juju era was, think of the constant misconceptions it inspired. Even Siouxsie would reiterate in interviews; not only was attaining a hit single not a priority, but that b-sides contained the Banshees’ most creative work. (For instance, the proto-trip hop ’Tattoo’.)

From the jazzy mallets of ‘Weathercade’ to Hyaena’s elegant flourishes, to the spacey trip-hop of Anima Animus and her haunting Hannibal finale theme, I hope for this to show new facets to Siouxsie’s music that you might have missed. Title comes from John McGeoch’s summary for the specific musical tension that SATB aimed to create.

(Combining the Once and Twice Upon A Time single collections does make a good intro if you want something more immediate, but note that Twice includes neither single from The Rapture. I do throw in some fantastic non-album singles since they didn’t get the same attention.)

Part 1: The first eight years
Staircase Mystery (Stand-alone single)
Mirage (The Scream)
Placebo Effect (Join Hands)
Desert Kisses (Kaleidoscope)
Into The Light (Juju)
Mad Eyed Screamer (The Creatures – Wild Things EP)
Fireworks (Stand-alone single)
Obsession (A Kiss In The Dreamhouse)
Morning Dawning (The Creatures – Feast)
Weathercade (The Creatures – ‘Right Now’ b-side)
Pulled To Bits (Nocturne live version)
Tattoo (‘Dear Prudence’ B-side)
Overground (The Thorn orchestral version)
Belladonna (Hyaena)
The Sweetest Chill (Tinderbox)

Part 2: Late 80’s to 2015
Song From The Edge Of The World (Stand-alone single)
Hall Of Mirrors (Through The Looking Glass)
Sleepwalking (‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ B-side)
Scarecrow (Peepshow)
Manchild (The Creatures – Boomerang)
Little Sister (Superstition)
Face To Face (Batman Returns soundtrack)
Sick Child (The Rapture)
Pinned Down (The Creatures – Eraser Cut EP)
Another Planet (The Creatures – Anima Animus)
All She Could Ask For (The Creatures – U.S. Retrace EP)
Further Nearer (The Creatures – HAI!)
Cish Cash w/ Basement Jaxx
Sea Of Tranquility (Mantaray solo debut)
Love Crime (Hannibal soundtrack)

Anniversary · Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Miami Vice – Palm Haze, 2013

While he vanished before we knew it, Miami Vice left a definite mark on like-minded producers and helped define vaporwave. In it’s year-long span, his music came in fragments that went from one early trademark to the next with surprising ease. You had spacy ‘mallsoft’, sinister funk riffs, smooth jazz, and in this case, self-composed v-wave before that was so common. On the other hand, the thing that insists to haunt the whole project is this blurry, downbeat view of ‘paradise’. Where his debut’s ‘paradise’ was uneasy to the point it would fit an obscure 80’s disaster film, Palm Haze seems to steep itself in the heartbreak that can come with nostalgia.

It’s so sweetly eccentric on the surface; even with the groovier bits, each sound warbles and shimmers softly like an odd creature. Imagine melting synthwave into seafoam and you get something like this. Like the best vaporwave, MV opts to use lo-fi as a smooth balm that renders this weird sensation we call the eighties in a more tender and luxurious light. Once I listen close though, I get the feeling this isn’t a paradise meant to last or regain it’s old glory. As much as the synths burst with that eighties pastel, the melodies give an idea that they can’t keep nurturing and entertaining us. Whether it’s the voice of a broken toy, a worn VHS or the beach itself, they aren’t here in spirit. They’re intent to sulk and hide. The pleasure is empty then, but the refreshing part is that Miami Vice doesn’t look past the emotional weight. Palm Haze isn’t another edgy e-boy gazing off into the dystopia. The way MV does it, I can feel the innocent dismay in this scenario.

Whether you’re talking it’s period acccuracy, emotions or ghostly presence, that extra mile MV took in ‘dubbing’ these songs to real VHS makes everything three times as effective. When you render the 80’s sound that unmistakable magnetic decay and not another Com Truise polish-overload, not even a fanatic like Fire-Toolz can tell this was self-composed until I tell them. It brings this gushing, detuning effect that turns already eccentric sounds surreal while leaving them too ‘choked-up’ to clearly ‘speak’ out their sadness.

Take that lead on “Palm Haze”; the way it chirps and frolics around is just adorable, while the melody nears depression. It tries and tries to feel better and it doesn’t work despite it’s own sweetness. Move on to the farewell that swallows up “HyperColor”, ironically using the same bubbly synths as before, until it fades into “NeoSynth”‘s quiet abandonment. The outro to “Tropics” brings the most sublime textures on the album just as a tiny bell pleads to me and drowns it’s sorrows. The whimsy sits at odds with grief here. Is this how it feels to watch good memories wash away against my will, or burst a young person’s innocent bubbles? All I can say for sure is: it feels eerily fitting to revisit this when I’m approaching 20.

While “Tokyo Negative” was quick to strike a nerve with me through that forlorn twinkling, I’d call it the album’s ‘refuge’. I can see shores flourishing in a calming, cinematic slo-mo. Someone wraps themselves in a blanket, concerned for their future but grateful to have someone to help. (like the pair on the cover?) Even if they’re yet to the fix the problem, they can persevere through their support for each other. I want a 80’s movie with an outro like this.

Miami Vice didn’t intend it as a swan song, but Palm Haze wound up fitting the bill in more ways than one. Really: with a sound this lonely, coming from a project that wound up floating by itself on the internet, to haunt whoever finds it? This really is vaporwave’s lost sea shell. Fitting, but I have to sigh a bit when it promised so much for his future. Why do the best vaporwave artists have to go poof?

hidden treasure

Djavan – Lilás, 1984

More like this – Elza Soares’ “Lá Vem Você”, “Marcos Valle’s Marcos Valle

One reason I adore sophisti-pop is it’s SUPREME breeziness. Albums like Lilas have such a luscious yet steady groove that I lose myself in a blissful fantasy of the most refreshing morning walk. It’s something about the way the glittery keyboards shimmer over the smooth bass and such clear, idyllic pillows of harmony. On a song like “Esquinas”, the saxophone gets me lost in the image of endless cities or candle-fit cocktail parties. Music for having an easygoing Good Time, but the wistful way it frames the vocals leaves room for deeper thought without disrupting things.

I’d say the only thing that can enrich this further are some strings.. oh wait, they’re here, and they have a gorgeous way of flourishing into the arrangement just enough.

Well then, how about some Brazilian flavor? Evocative, romantic singers like Nascimento or Jorge Ben are sophisti bait, are they not? Having a past in samba himself, Djavan brings plenty of that, and the result is true ear candy if you like it smooth and don’t mind some subtle eighties-isms. (I don’t, of course.) As you may guess, the elegance of Portuguese and the samba-like atmosphere makes a breezy genre like sophisti even more breezy. For one, “Obi” brings a bossa nova vibe and the album’s richest strings, meaning Lilas has about anything I could ask for in a sophisti album.

This stuff is like gourmet strawberry pie as music; I’m sure my ears will always have room for that.

Deep Cuts · List

5 Grace Jones Deep Cuts You Can’t Miss

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Wishing Grace Jones a happy 72nd with this post!

Even during exciting eras like disco and the new wave, Grace Jones stood out and made many unique acts sound mundane. These were worldwide phenomenons that define the eighties’ myriad influences, but you won’t find anyone quite like Grace within them. That should say something.

Yes, Grace is a ‘muse’ (after all, she had an album with this name; she excels at it). So much appeal with learning her story is the way connects with fellow artists and producers. I felt I’d learn a new connection with every other page in her memoir. Still, I think it’s crucial to note that so much of that ‘larger than life’ character you see in her collabs revolve on her face, voice and personality in the end. None would wind up the same without her. It’s rare for anyone to mold her for real; she absorbs her surroundings, the extravagance of her voice shines through. No matter how poppy, how disco or how ‘weird’ she got, she rolled with it and made herself the life of the party. Grace brings glamor to anything without trying.

Her supposed ‘narrow’ range as a singer didn’t matter so much to me. I was too busy taking awe in her velvet-like elegance and unique dramatic flair. Her monotone brought hypnotic classics like “Private Life”, while others can rage with passion; let’s not forget “La Vie En Rose”. So often she comes off as this enigma, yet she can radiate this sense of warmth that draws me back again and again.

Most Grace tributes stick to her Sly/Robbie era, if they acknowledge the music, so I thought I’d break this ‘cycle’ by focusing on other eras this time.

1. “I’ll Find My Way To You” (Muse, 1979)

My defense for Disco Grace goes back years: I had each album on vinyl by 2013 and I wrote about “Autumn Leaves” for THE first MAM post. I see where some criticism comes from, since her delivery can grow awkward and on-the-nose, but I think any 70’s disco fan should take a closer look. This eager, younger Grace should endear true fans anyway, and the disco glamor suited her theatrics. Arrangements from the famed Tom Moulton, both punchy and luxurious, helped support her with every great disco trademark.

The interesting thing about Muse (her ‘lost album’) was the added synths. Not enough to make this ~electro-disco~, but with all the syntoms bouncing around like laser beams this makes a colorful decoration. This way, I got a feel for disco’s range through singular songs.

“Find My Way” demonstrates best, with the synths taking on a breezier tone that flourishes perfectly with the strings and and the lyric’s sweet yearning. The result has a nearly Cinderella feeling, painting dreamy portraits of romance in pastel and Technicolor. Disco as an idyllic walk in the park. I can’t believe this wasn’t a single.

2. “Slave To The Rhythm” (6:36 version / Slave To The Rhythm, 1985)

Never stop the action

Keep it up, keep it up

Anyone who says Grace lost her edge after new wave should hear Slave To The Rhythm. Here, Trevor Horn re-assembles her title hit with more creative measures than many modern remixes. Revolutionary at a time where most mainstream ‘remix albums’ boiled down to ‘make song longer with new drums and bass’.

Trevor’s colorful palette shouldn’t surprise Art of Noise fans, and it’s a perfect fit for Grace given her pop-art aesthetics. You have new age lotion in synth form (“The Crossing”), an operatic dance mix and even a fashionable R&B revamp on music from the Bruton library. (“The Fashion Show”; and I heard every Grace album long before I knew a thing about library music!) Funk from eighties heaven meets surreal spa music from Utopia.

“Slave To The Rhythm” is a flashier example (no, this isn’t the single). Matching the lyrics, Trevor mechanizes the go-go rhythms and Grace’s wordless ‘oohh!’ into an earth-shattering force. You have Chic guitars, an infectious mix between digital and organic beats, and synth horns adding quirky chrome futurism.

Grace seems to command this rhythm like her horde, all while dropping some enigma to reveal the upbeat spirit that brought so much charm to her ‘pop’ era. And before you know it? The most heavenly bridge in all 80’s pop, where gentle guitars and background voices wash over like a fountain. This is the same song? And it FITS? Time to kick myself for the hundredth time over hearing so few Horn productions.

3. “Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician” (Inside Story, 1986)

I went to a concert, to see Nina, Simone,
The concert was over, there was still a band playing, the rap up…

Hollywood jazz meets sophisti-pop at it’s peak luxury. I’m yet to hear a jazz/pop crossover that captures this much impeccable late-night-cantina romance. Just as “I’ve Done It Again” provided a surprise ballad to close Nightclubbing, “Victor” shows Grace in a wistful, even sensitive light. She plays a dreamer, falling in love and losing herself in this subdued, big-city glamor.

With that sad little keyboard I can feel the guests coming and going, the flickering billboards and a band playing for what feels like forever, serenading everyone. The instrumental break at 3:08 is most hypnotizing with the groovy 80’s guitar that screams of yachts, plus the most haunting trumpet solo I know. Jazz isn’t the first thing I’d expect hearing ‘Grace Jones’ but well… Read that again, this is Grace Jones.

4. “Seduction Surrender” (Bulletproof Heart, 1989)

I’ll always remember

Light inside your love

Bulletproof Heart holds a unanimous status as ‘worst Grace album’. I say you should give it a chance if you appreciate her voice and don’t mind a few predictable lyrics. The mechanized late-80’s beats and cavey reverbs are bound to overwhelm certain people, but such kitsch-futuristic antics fit right in with Grace’s flamboyance.

Some critics will lump Bulletproof with Inside Story, but I’d say that was her sophisti-pop/soul album while this is her ‘party’ album. On the other hand, “Seduction” stands out through it’s weirdness. It sits somewhere between nightclub nightmare and demented cave. Gigantic drums tumble in all directions rather than stick to a simple beat; sampling makes trippy, ambiguous distortions on her own backing voices.

Once again, Grace mixes a powerful delivery with warmth and over-the-top fun. Her jumping from giddy monologues to a theatric sung chorus sounds near-effortless. The result demonstrates her nuance as a vocalist just as well as her prime; I’d LOVE to see it live.

“SS” resembles the theme for a b-movie villain, and sure enough: it originates from her villainous role in Vamp. At least two movie mixes exist. This one loosens further with it’s turbulent melody. Leave it to Grace to make groovy 80’s pop verge on gothic.

5. “Devil In My Life” (Hurricane, 2008)

You’re the architect of my destruction

Hurricane is the best ‘comeback’ album I could want. It modernizes the artist’s classic sound without losing any initial charm. It takes a sound that began unique to new places as Grace sings about new topics herself. No covers here, but the auto-biography feel creates it’s own intrigue. This is ever-mysterious Grace revealing her story here, after all. No matter how long she spent away, certain songs resemble a re-arranged lost entry from her new wave heyday.

Remove Grace’s enormous personality and “Devil” stays a unique instrumental. Isolate the drums and they alone mesh trip hop, slo-mo reggae and gritty electropop. Before half-time rhythms were everywhere, this song was fast and slow at once thanks to it’s bursts of distortion and film-worthy suspense. From the sad, smoky piano that opens it to that vulnerable shiver of strings, this had me wishing she dabbled in orchestral sounds more often. (The one other time I recall aside from this era is her thrill-ride of an Avengers theme, “Storm”.)

The strings throbbing with her voice soaring at the end makes this song one of her most emotionally intense. In one corner, she invokes a long-standing inner fear (Devil in my life / Treading on thin ice / slowly mesmerize / always in disguise). In the other, she has her own sinister aura as she observes a seedy gathering (Collaborate while being exploited, And we celebrate by drinking poison).

hidden treasure

Thomas Newman’s score for Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985

Thomas Newman’s knack for synths surprised me seeing he got his fame later on through classical Pixar scores. Susan doesn’t get much talk beyond “Into The Groove”, but the score is ear candy if you enjoy Vangelis or the mid-80′s digital gloss in general. (Dare I say vaporwave too?)

Within a minute, each piece reflects the movie’s wide metropolis and/or the lead character’s curiosity. While keeping with the film’s playful mood, it subtly counters the hijinks with a strong atmosphere unique to the era’s shimmering textures. His use of echo, reverb and high notes leaves a gorgeous panoramic effect. “Leave Atlantic City” demonstrates with it’s bubbly sequencer and subtle bass echoes that hit like a cool breeze. “Port Authority” continues the formula with a more tender mood and a sweet new-agey flute. “Key And a Picture Of” mixes it up with it’s murky slow tension and “Rain” adds some elegance with it’s thoughtful piano.

The closest to a ‘theme song’ is “New York City By Night”, a catchy synth-pop tune capturing the glitz and glamor of Prince’s Revolution era. One year after Purple Rain after all!

Deep Cuts

Aleph – “Silver”, 1989 (sampled in Luxury Elite’s “Empire”)

I’m addicted to that intro with the little echoing bell. Cinematic, fierce, even a little tragic. Skyscrapers are peering over the TV credits.

I considered Luxury Elite’s edit a main theme for my mix Is It A Crime?, AKA my ‘dream Miami Vice soundtrack’. At the original pace it’s a slamming euro-disco tune with more urgency than most in it’s genre. It’s that glittery maximalist sound you come to expect, but even with the expected hammy vocal, “Silver” sounds more like a confrontation than another melodramatic love story. Why it wasn’t a single is beyond me.

hidden treasure

Eurythmics – In The Garden (1981)

new wave / art rock / neo-psychedelia / synth pop

RIYL – Annie Lennox, Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope, early Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Conny Plank productions

Offbeat, ‘leftfield’ or plain weird early work from soon-to-be chart toppers are a phenomenon that never fails to draw me in. Beyond an already unique path in sound and genre, Eurythmics’ commercial-flop debut was a great example. 1981 had Annie Lennox and David Stewart in an odd spot between their upbeat power pop with Tourists and finding their niche as a minimal synth-pop duo. They had the icy keyboards down by now, but a backing band as well, playing an ambiguous new wave-jangle-neo psych hybrid.

In The Garden is a studio creation first and foremost, but it’s knack for ghostly surrealism isn’t too far from how Goldfrapp recorded their debut in a cottage. Picture Annie as a half-woman half-ghost haunting an old mansion or farmhouse in the English woods, and you have the right idea. She hasn’t sounded so haunted before or since. If the cover is any hint, she tones down her usual powerful belts and soars for chilly falsettos and sinister, abstract poems. They tend to echo off into the music in a way that would do wonders for a 4AD group; now I wish Annie sang in such a band. The lyrics follow suit:
‘I’m never gonna cry again / I’m never gonna die again’
’Dust is collecting / But she doesn’t notice / counting forever / she’s a calculator’
‘Another change of light / The underlying truth / request to pack it in / no solutions’

Combined with the uneasy, resonant wide-open space distinct to a krautrock giant like Conny Plank (“All The Young”), this is an album full of surprises. The result highlights many interesting parallels between krautrock and early new wave.  You’ll hear foresty atmospheric touches, bizarre sound effects, and creeping post-punk twang among other curios Eurythmics left behind within a few years.

For all the weirdness (“Sing-Sing”, filled with samples chattering away and Annie singing in French) and sinister undertones (“Caveman Head” with it’s edgy goth rock tease, the horror-inspired b-side “Le Sinistre”), songs like “Belinda” approach a normal pop-rock sound. Part of me wishes they engaged more with those thrilling goth/experimental hints than these upbeat grooves as a result. Still, you can find some fulfillment for that on the bonus tracks “Le Sinistre”, “4/4 In Leather” and “Take Me To Your Heart”’s live version. As it stands, In The Garden is worthy curiosity for anyone drawn to the oddball early eighties.