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)

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Be Forest – Earthbeat (2014)

dream pop / post-punk / ethereal wave

RIYL – early Cocteau Twins, 4AD, post-punk guitars, Chelsea Wolfe, Tamaryn, Them Are Us Too

Be Forest have a truly haunted and forlorn guitar sound that smolders over their songs like embers and fireflies. It sounds like an update or even the ghost of the usual eighties guitar twang. They manage to call on classic post-punk while finding their own ground within it.

Earthbeat is my favorite BF album since it doesn’t lose itself in the fuzz like Cold. or a bland, formless void like Knocturne. Earthbeat leaves some room for true songs and melodies to unravel. They merge gentle acoustics and thorned, distorted edges for an ideal autumn-campfire mood piece. Erica’s organic rhythms are the wooden logs and trees, Costanza’s bass lines are wolves and old memories lurking in the distance; their singers hum quietly like they’re telling you a secret about their past. In classic dream pop fashion, they create strong images and feelings without clear lyrics.

Earthbeat is one of the most evocative albums I’ve heard in this decade’s post-punk scene. Be sure to check out “NTR” from their debut too.

List

A Gothic Top 5

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With The Banshees as my biggest gateway into my serious musical interests, I’ve had a fascination for gothic themes for many years now. As picky as I get with the goth rock/darkwave scenes, they generated and influenced several of my all-time favorite albums.

To coincide with this Halloween, I’ve decided to look back on five of my most formative gothic, autumnal and/or ‘spooky’ favorites. This is more about representing than building an exact top-5, so check out this related list and my Halloween mixes if you want more!

Lene Lovich – Shadows And Dust, 2005

Lene Lovich is new wave’s wacky witch of the west. Anyone familiar with her distinctive polka-dotted voice will know this already. Shadows And Dust is the lesser-known piece to the puzzle. Despite coming fifteen years after March, Lene sounds more witchy than ever. She tributes the Wicked One herself with all the right gleeful camp on track 9.

Mixing non-forced cabaret drama with speculative themes, SAD is a goth-pop wonderland. SAD plays like a natural step from where she left off, unfazed by time. It never lacks a new trick to show off, be it wispy synth bells (“Ghost Story”), viking-like backing vocals, a grim synth-string intro (“Remember”) or an elaborate Dracula narrative (“Insect Eater”). To top this off, every song has a bouncy hook to get you nodding along. Altogether, it brings me back to Siouxsie’s Peepshow. With a bold sing-along and mutant arrangement, “Shapeshifter” makes a worthy “Peek-A-Boo” sequel. And this is coming from a fanatic!

Lene sings like she’s stirring a cauldron. Her voice wears a bit on louder sections, but I love her enthusiasm. Her wild-but-warm spirit hasn’t faded a bit, and her deeper, richer tone matches her themes. The sheer thrill she takes in voicing Reinfield on “Insect Eater” is nearly contagious. Sweeter moments like “Remember” show her knack for tender romance isn’t gone either.

Even beyond her ‘prime’, Lene had so much more to offer than “Lucky Number”. SAD is a major reason why; the limited release has me wishing more fans got to hear it.

Grimes – Halfaxa, 2010

In a Simpler Time ™ before dating billionaires and romanticizing climate change with anime, Claire Boucher packed fresh creative instincts into a computer. On oft-ridiculed Halfaxa, she channeled cathedrals and haunted medieval heirlooms from what many critics dismiss as the lowest dregs in music-making: Garageband. Albums like this tell me they’re wrong.

These technical limits and her isolation at the time informed these songs to unique results. Like many albums in this formative time for bedroom e-music, she’s alone with her thoughts here. As expected with a creative musical mind, it’s easy for me to get lost in them.

The songs create unique emotional portraits, both vague and pointed. “Devon”, for one, is a raw, rejected love song all the way, but with other highlights like ”Dream Fortress”, I detect so many different feelings at once. It’s sad nostalgia for that once-beautiful abandoned heirloom one minute and ghostly horror the next.

Halfaxa is a mind, a universe and a huge antique house. It thrives in surrealism and history’s shadows, but as other reviews stated before, you find human feelings inside. Her devotion to Mariah Carey helped; she stated Halfaxa was her attempt to capture the spacious, haunting effects of group church singing. I know well these vocals can be a bit much with the echoes and caterwauls everywhere, but I would argue the cowgirl-punk approach on Art Angels is it’s own acquired taste.

Halfaxa is ethereal wave’s digital-age niece; any fan should try it.

Bauhaus – The Sky’s Gone Out, 1982

Bauhaus’ messiness was the main reason I was a ‘casual fan’ rather than worshipper. With that said, Sky’s Gone Out struck me as a glorious, thrilling mess if anything. Beyond “Exquisite Corpse”, the songs don’t lose their footing in shouty jam-outs. They had more ambitious ideas and the experience to pull them off by now. They were maturing from the faux-edgy rambling that filled their debut.

Sky’s Gone Out stands out further as the one Bauhaus album where they could pull a true ‘scare’ on me. For all the hammy drama leftover from Mask, this album allows itself to build a stronger atmosphere, one that belongs in bizarre nightmares out of an arthouse film. Sky’s Gone Out has it’s own black-and-white, surrealist world like the cover art.

Complete with piano and sax from a haunted house, “Spirit” isn’t punk as much as a wild, dancing chorus of ghosts. The “Three Shadows” trio is a journey in itself, going from quiet goth-tar disturbance to an underworld’s fairground waltz.

Despite everything, the album ends on a quiet, solemn note with “All We Ever Wanted”. It’s the gentlest song to the Bauhaus name. Peter’s fittingly spectral highs toward the end whirled around my head for years. Fun as songs like “Spirit” and “Bela Lugosi” get, it makes me wish Peter Murphy showed this vulnerable side more often.

Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels, 1983

Head Over Heels takes place in the mountains and towering caves of your mind. As the first ’normal’ Cocteau album, this invented ethereal wave as we know it and pioneered the 4AD sound. I’d argue shoegaze’s whole color-wash approach began around here too.

HOH is a thrilling display for Cocteau’s leftover goth roots in the more elemental context that would become their trademark. Liz Fraser’s voice settles a bit, sounding freer than ever as she belts, quivers and hums with equal strength. Her usual non-lyrics add to the enigma but her tone posesses incredible warmth and nobility here. The boldness in her delivery is surprising knowing her famous self-deprecation.

The spacious fuzz-guitar draws curiosity but insists to lurk in shadows. It’s a long, long gaze into said caves, where water drips quietly and huge sun rays peer inside. This is the moody, bewitching edge of nature in it’s full glory. It can be “Sugar Hiccup”’s candyland dream sequence or an intimidating divine beast emerging from it’s lair. What never fails to cast a spell on me is “Tinderbox Of A Heart”, a tie with “Fifty Fifty Clown” for my favorite CT song. it works like a travelogue for HOH’s world, where this mountain-cave turns out huge from the outside and all you can do is glare in awe.

Siouxsie And The Banshees – Peepshow, 1988

As the 33 1/3 book stresses, Peepshow emphasized SATB’s art-film interests. At this point, they were more a ‘goth pop’ group. Far from Juju’s raw impact, then, but resuming the moody elegance that graced Dreamhouse and Tinderbox. For each goth-tar you have ”Carousel”’s haunted circus organ, “Rhapsody”s chilly strings and “Peek-A-Boo”‘s reversed tango.

Martin McCarrick is the one who took the Banshees (further) beyond rock. Adding cello, accordion and other new flavors, he’s one of their most unique members. The result is the band’s last goth album, being a few years before “Kiss Them For Me”. As if predicting this change, they went all-out with it. Peepshow has all the thrill, variety and surrealism to remind you why this band was so vital to the goth scene. Q gave this apt summary: ‘Peepshow takes place in some distorted fairground of the mind where weird and wonderful shapes loom’. In a parallel to Goldfrapp’s debut made in a cottage, they recorded these songs in a 17th century mansion. The kind of album that puts Hot Topic rock to shame.

Siouxsie sounds like the suave and secretive ringleader in a freakshow. Songs like “Scarecrow” and “Rhapsody” showcase her refining flair for drama. As a whole, Peepshow finds this band at a special middle ground. Yet to hit the Top 40 with “Kiss Them For Me” but on their way, with their middle era’s adventurous spirits intact.

Mix

HALLOWEEN MIX II: Scary But Fun

scary but fun edition

🎃 8Tracks

🌑 Youtube

A sequel to my first Halloween mix from four (!) years ago. Expect urgent and thrilling vocals from new wave/goth icons and a cross of grim, sinister atmosphere with pulpy fun.

Track list

love bites + devil in my life – GRACE JONES / el diablo anda suelto – ALASKA Y DINARAMA / face to face [batman returns soundtrack] + the double life – SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES / out on my own – ROMEO VOID / heads will roll + isis – YEAH YEAH YEAHS / whirlpool – DEAD OR ALIVE / spirit – BAUHAUS / obsolete – TOYAH / nosferatu – MIRO MIROE / vampires – BAT FOR LASHES / to get over heartbreak – THE BEDROOM WITCH / astrid – THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS / love crime – SIOUXSIE

Songs that got me into music

Siouxsie And The Banshees – “Into The Light” (Juju, 1981)

‘A racket that mixed up Blondie with Siouxsie And The Banshees’; said one critic on Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Who were the Banshees?, I thought eight (!) years ago. Soon I found “Into The Light” on my sister’s iTunes by fluke and it blew my mind within seconds. I knew nothing about the new wave scene and the endless creativity within yet, so you could imagine my awe.

The song resembled a campfire with Siouxsie as the enigmatic storyteller. The guitar sizzled over Budgie’s drums like wood covered in flames. With this band, guitar worked more as the portal to their surreal worlds than a tool for beefy riffs. John McGeoch’s ‘Gizmo’ effect pedal played a big part in this. “Into The Light” has a raw instinct for sure, but they didn’t look past melody; it’s an agitated beast. Likewise, something vulnerable lies in Siouxsie’s defiant voice. Her lyrics insist on rhymes with ‘light’:

Our hearts entwine / a new horizon

Remember when / bleached into white

Your time again / kept out of sight

Standing in the light

I never wanted to be right

Now I’m attracted by the light

And blinded by the sight

What is this light? ‘I never wanted to be right’; it’s confessing something, it sounds defeated. Genius suggests a light-before-death scene, fitting the cosmic images though not confirmed. Either way, I couldn’t ask for a stronger delivery.

Key to Juju’s impact was how it found Siouxsie between her punk roots and later refinement. She reached a raw desperation (especially live) that wasn’t quite the same with earlier and later periods. As it took one jam-based take to record with improvised lyrics, this song came from pure impulse. It told me that spontaneous bursts can birth the best inspiration.

Go here for my Siouxsie gateway playlist if you’re unfamiliar.

Genre primers · Guest post · Playlist

Genre Primers: Ethereal Wave

cocteau-twins-head-over-heels

by Jan

Originally written in Polish for Jan’s new music blog Anielskie Jajo. This is the first guest post I’ve featured here! I’m not sure how common this will be, but I’ll be open to more in the future.

About the guest author:

Jan (~shores on Rateyourmusic) is a musician and dedicated listener from Poland. We ‘met’ by chance in January when I answered his thread asking for recs in 80s new age. We had an immediate connection from there as we happened to share close opinions on several more genres like ambient, folk, pop and darkwave. Listen to Jan’s music here and here.

I. What is Ethereal Wave?

Ethereal Wave, or Ethereal Goth, or just Ethereal, is a music genre that is a variation on gothic rock and darkwave, transcending the dark imagery of said genre into denser, dreamier environments.

What’s more, you can say some bands playing “ethereal” sounding music who aren’t a part of goth scene could be called ethereal wave. Commonly the genre is applied to music that is related to gothic rock, but still a bit different. Lots of ethereal wave bands don’t play goth rock with female vocals (there’s a misconception that all goth rock bands with female vocals are ethereal), but uses certain means of expression that make the genre stand out from the goth scene – such as sparse, delicate guitar layers with lots of effects, soaring vocals (some using glossolalia), drum machines, and sometimes synths or keyboards.

II. Short history of genre

While lots of bands not affiliated with the goth scene today could be classified as ethereal, the style was born on goth rock and darkwave influences. The first half of the 80s brought us classic bands such as The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus. We could say that ethereal wave was born as a reaction to the murky and suffocating atmosphere exhibited in music of those bands (not to say it’s a reaction to ONLY those bands, just the scene at the time).

4AD was the primary powerhouse that made the genre happen – with bands like early Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, the genre had a nice headstart. But it didn’t have a name yet, and it wasn’t established yet – music press just tried to classify the music played by those bands, and “ethereal” was probably the closest, and it possibly stuck. It was rather an unspoken artistic movement.

The second half of the 80s brought fame to the genre: Cocteau Twins had indie hits with singles like “Carolyn’s Fingers” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas”, while This Mortal Coil became somewhat legendary with “Song To The Siren” and released highly acclaimed albums. But it was Dead Can Dance who actually migrated to neoclassical and regional music-inspired sounds with goth undertones, today known as neoclassical darkwave (Genre Primers post soon!).

That was the ethereal wave scene in the UK. In United States, the genre was popularised by Projekt Records – a bit of an American version of 4AD, but they had their own aesthetic and credo. Bands such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, or Lycia were the most popular pupils of said label.

In the end of the 80s and the early 90s, the genre regained some popularity, and several new bands were formed. Unfortunately, the genre went out of fashion rather quickly after that – it could be said that Cocteau Twins’ last album (1996) in marks the end of the genre’s popularity. Yet still: bands affiliated with the scene were experimenting with the sound and expanding it’s influences, sometimes incorporating electronics into their work – notably Chandeen and Love Spirals Downwards.

Today the genre has a small yet faithful fanbase, and – what is really nice to see for me – there are more bands appearing who play in such style.

Finally, this is how the ‘official’ EW looks. ‘Unofficial’ ethereal wave can be found in early 80s new age records and some non-goth artists, but it’s up to you if you feel it’s okay to call non-goth artists ethereal wave or not.

III. Playlist

feathers oar-blades – cocteau twins / ocean – dead can dance / rains on me – heavenly bodies / cranes fly – black rose / birds of passage – bel canto / wish – soulswirlingsomewhere / scatter january – love spirals downwards / sparks – faith and the muse / mr. somewhere – this mortal coil / beneath the leaves – requiem in white / drifting – lycia / ecdisis – wind atlas / floor – them are us too / feral love – chelsea wolfe

Anniversary · Playlist

Happy birthday to Siouxsie Sioux!

sioupor43

Siouxsie is my favorite musician and it’s because of her albums that I legitimately became interested in music in the first place. I think this occasion makes for a good time to start listening to her music for those still unfamiliar.

So, I’ve tried to assemble a playlist of a song for every Banshees and Creatures album, including Siouxsie’s lone solo album Mantaray to somewhat give a taste of all the major releases. I tried to keep it mostly accessible and not entirely made up of obvious hits (as great as those songs are). I also left out B-sides because there’s just too many good ones to fit in there for now – but I hope to make a proper playlist out of those in the near-future as well.

Siouxsie + Banshees + Creatures ‘gateway’ playlist

1. Pure (The Scream)

2. Icon (Join Hands)

3. Red Light (Kaleidoscope)

4. Into The Light (Juju)

5. Cascade (A Kiss In The Dreamhouse)

6. Morning Dawning (Feast)

7. Swimming Horses (Hyaena)

8. The Sweetest Chill (Tinderbox)

9. Hall Of Mirrors (Through The Looking Glass)

10. Carousel (Peepshow)

11. Pluto Drive (Boomerang)

12. Little Sister (Superstition)

13. Forever (The Rapture)

14. Say (Anima Animus)

15. Further Nearer (Hai!)

16. Here Comes That Day (Mantaray)

17. Love Crime (Single)