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.
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, her effortless elegance and cool continues to inspire.
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)
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 kitsch 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”). 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.
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 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
Claire Boucher packed so many fresh creative instincts into such limited means early on. On oft-ridiculed Halfaxa, she channeled haunted cathedrals and medieval heirlooms from what many critics dismiss as the lowest dregs in music-making: Garageband. Albums like this make me question that dismissal.
It’s these same technical constraints that help make these songs so surreal and intriguing. 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 an erupting 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 have pointed out, you find very 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 obsessive. 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 though not leaving the captivating, surreal sense of darkness behind.
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 guitar you have ”Carousel”’s haunted circus organ, “Rhapsody”s chilly operatics and “Peek-A-Boo”‘s reversed orchestral blasts.
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 of the best goth music. 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. Siouxsie sounds like the suave and secretive ringleader in a freakshow. Songs like “Scarecrow” and “Rhapsody” showcase her refining flair for drama.
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.
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
‘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.
As mush as I adore synths, my #1 band didn’t actually use them much. Superstition was the one Banshees album to use them beyond cameos. Guitars were their clear specialty, but I do wonder where more keyboard would have led them.
This metaphysical b-side is one in few exceptions. Beyond Siouxsie and one quiet guitar, it’s all misty fairy synths. Believe it or not, “Sea Of Light” sounds like new age Banshee-style. An uneasy mood sneaks in even so via Siouxsie’s vocal as she sings of near-death experiences. The effects on her voice resemble a distant call for help or gathering wind. This results in a unique middle ground between peace and danger.
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.