Coil | Stolen & Contaminated Songs
SPK | Zamia Lehmanni (Songs Of Byzantine Flowers)
Two important reissues from seminal experimental outfits Coil and SPK are coming in the next few weeks and each will be released in a few formats: bronze, gold and bone vinyl, sparkling shiny cd and such. These were originally released in 1986 (SPK, Side Effects) and 1992 (Coil, Threshold House) respectively. Both of these recordings fall somewhere in the middle of each of the artists’ catalogues. On Zamia Lehmanni (Songs Of Byzantine Flowers) Graeme Revell took the prior exotic noise cum post-industrial dance act into a more cerebral realm with lush orchestration, drone and angelic backing vocals. Coil’s Stolen & Contaminated Songs moved from the darker underground to a more exploratory field of funk, folly and warped experimentalism, a pre-cursor to their more dance oriented works that would emerge very soon after.
Consisting of an hour of unreleased outtakes from the sessions for their previous Love’s Secret Domain this is Coil amid a true evolution on an original set of parameters and a turning point for their sound in general. And while they were constantly evolving, neither their angsty beginnings are omnipresent here, nor is their monk-like mysticism that they would phase into in their latter years. What you get on Stolen & Contaminated Songs is altogether dynamically cryptic, packed with innuendo, darkly-tinged sexuality, and a spirited playfulness.
We offered the opener Futhur (“As It Really Is”) on our most recent podcast, a series of cut-up edits anonymized and funkified. A twisted beginning to an album with post-classical inflections, strings and moody passages, Mid East snake charmers, and whispers. By the time Omlagus Garfungiloops emerges with its reverse vocal effects and moving into a sleuthy jazz riff between guitar and soft cymbal you’ll most certainly be turning your head. But the mix of ideas somehow transitions really well. I’ve no evidence, but my guess is at mid-careeer Jhonn Balance and Sleazy (Peter Martin Christopherson) and company were showing off their chops as the anti-DJs of the day. Mixing, matching and futzing as much as possible with the previous record – and achieving something, in my opinion, surpasses the lauded record its based upon.
There are parts of this that harken to Nick Cave or Tom Waits’ early records (listen to Love’s Secret Domain – original mix). And these gents could have easily taken the pop path and made it big, instead they only hinted at the riffs and tropes, and remained underground, even as technology began to eclipse the performer during the era. This record is a perfect example of how a talented bunch of blokes never sold out, and made the listener think about the power of independent music all over again. They had three decades to evolve, and unlike many of their peers, they always stayed true to their roots, but never repeated themselves, even when looking back. Instead of repeating popular treatments of their sound, they reinvented it here.
A good example of how they flowed with the time (think Meat Beat Manifesto, mid-era Ministry or Psychic TV…) just drop the needle on the dizzying Nasa-Arab. It’s an aural hallucination with a funky bass bottom end. By having some in common with Moby and Aphex Twin who were just emerging, they broadened their audience by dropping in some accessible elements of orchestral flourishes (The Original Wild Garlic Memory), industrial demons (Her Friends the Wolves) moving into an otherwise subliminal record embedded with dreamy messages (Who’ll Fall) of love, loss, lust and the beyond. At their peak, so I suggest you pluck it!
From the earliest incarnation of Australian industrial act SPK (Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv) only one thing remained constant, and that was Auckland’s multi-instrumentalist and composer Graeme Revell. Active between 1978-1988 Zamia Lehmanni (Songs Of Byzantine Flowers) was in the latter part of their existence. Gone here are the sizzling, persistent crash of percussion, made way for a far more spiritual journey through world music and mysterious orchestration.
This reads like a travelogue through sacred grounds rather than anything from their post-punk roots. Though the recording may have been a whole new vantage point, this is the type of record that brings in a whole new swath of inter-generational listeners who can appreciate the graceful layers laid forth. The balance between tribal chants and enchanting synths has a dynamic range. The album hints strongly into the world of soundtrack composing into which Revell would enter in due time.
Romanz In Moll combines ghostly drifting winds with a set of nimble keys. A haunting grouping of ten tracks, each a short story in its own right, each offering varying timbre that is as intriguing as they are delicately mastered here. Incantations in the hallowed belly of the beast is what arises on In The Dying Moments, and then melancholy strings and strange effects invade In Flagrante Delicto. The track undulates like shallow human breath, exhaling in sacred mysticism.
There is something about celebrating the unspoken here as well. As though Revell and co. are tapping into a long forgotten civilization and sharing interpretations of their lost folksongs (Alocasia Metallica). The one track here that may seem slightly too light for the ruins it implies is Necropolis (of all titles) – it simply drifts too far off the map for these ears. In the final two pieces the balance is restored by relational synths that modulate drones and a distinct calls from the supernatural that seem in keeping with the overall concept. The closer, The Doctrine Of Eternal Ice, offers the broken frame of industrial techno massaged by the orchestral counterparts, and leaves the listener in a floating middle ground. This recording is a gateway to something quite timeless: then, now and to be.