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BIRTH! Relights the California Synthpunk Torch

Posted by Aaron Detroit, February 28, 2010 03:30pm | Post a Comment
Birth! Synthpunk
California’s music underground has had a certain strain of Gothy Synthpunk running through its veins for over a decade now. In the late Nineties and early Aughts, bands like San Francisco’s Phantom Limbs and Subtonix and LA’s New Collapse delivered heavy doses of frenetic, trashy and dark Synth-based punk heavily influenced by 70’s seminal LA groups like The Screamers and Nervous Gender with liberal dashes of O.G. LA Deathrockers Christian Death, the UK Batcave scene, and a noticeable pull from 90’s West Coast Post-Hardcore and Punk. Picking up this torch left dwindling for some years is the LA-based one-man band, BIRTH! AKA Douglas Halbert (also of Industrial noise-purveyors Elephant Skull). BIRTH!’s full-length debut, I Will, is an exemplary addition to the pantheon of California Deathrock and Synthpunk – raw yet compelling anthems soaked in funeral organ and cutting old-school Hardcore vocals.

I Will’s opener, “Value,” is a classic Deathrock stomper in the vein of Christian Death’s “Face” or Subtonix’s “Black Nails In My Coffin” with an extra dose of bile. On “Arms Crossed,” Halbert simultaneously skewers the apathy of a prospective lover and the affected apathy of punk-show spectators over a filthy Sci-Fi dirge. However, despite the throat-destroying, incendiary vocals, there is a sensitivity and creeping light at the heart of this seemingly vicious animal of a record. “My Home To Keep” is what one might call a “Deathrock power ballad,” -- if one can imagine such a thing. Over a downright pretty synth melody, Halbert characterizes childhood traumas following a mother’s death, but even with such intense subject matter and the general crestfallen atmosphere, Halbert’s lyrics still have a defiantly positive outlook. On “Value” he ends his rant with the line “I'll look inside myself and find a life I can value!” and one can truly believe his insistent tone on “Free of This” when he bellows, “I am free of this!” I Will, indeed, seems to be Halbert’s will --his sigil--for a better life.

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Getting to Know...Xeno & Oaklander

Posted by Aaron Detroit, February 15, 2010 02:15pm | Post a Comment
Xeno & Oaklander
In the tradition of the DIY Minimal Wave and Synthpop bands of the 1980's, Xeno & Oaklander make music with strict guidelines: no digital instruments or recording. The New York-based duo of Sean McBride (of the quite excellent synth-project Martial Canterel) and Liz Wendelbo implemented the exclusive use of analogue synthesizers, instruments and equipment to write and record their darkly brilliant debut full-length, Sentinelle (one of our 20 Dark Music albums of 2009,on the always-superb Wierd Records). Recently, I got the chance to have the band expand on these principles as they were preparing for a series of upcoming globe-trotting live dates in New York, Rotterdam and Paris. Please, get to know...Xeno & Oaklander.

Black Light District: First things first. Why is analogue better than digital?


Liz Wedelbo:
Analogue is immediate and raw. Sean McBride: It's alive -- a current which can be shaped in infinite ways. It's quite elemental, like fire.

BLD: Sentinelle is available on CD and LP, but being an exclusively analogue band in a digital age, do you prefer vinyl? Your presentation as a band seems pretty complete in sound, concept and artwork – so in the age of downloads and streaming, how important is the physical piece to you?


LW:
I'm fond of the weight of objects. SM: The physicality of vinyl has some earthly origin. LW: ...with traces, marks and scratches.

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Who's Really Listening?: The Minimal Wave Tapes, Volume One

Posted by Aaron Detroit, February 1, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Over the last few years, Amoeba Music Hollywood has stocked a slew of obscure but quite excellent and endlessly exciting limited-edition vinyl reissues of DIY European and North American dark and minimal analog synth-based music from the 1980’s -- all thanks to the stellar underground label Minimal Wave. Originally these recordings were released in ridiculously small quantities either on cassette or vinyl by the bands themselves or by equally-unknown labels local to the band. Albums by the likes of Spanish Industrial pioneers Esplendor Geometrico, the Belgian Linear Movement (featuring Peter Bonne of New Beat progenitors A Split Second), and French New Wavers Martin Dupont have all recently seen the light of day on quality vinyl pressings via the loving care of the Minimal Wave label.

Minimal Wave’s label head/überfan Veronica Vasicka struck a deal late last year with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw label to issue a series of “best-of” compilations featuring choice cuts from the MW roster and beyond. Recently, the popularity of new minimal synth-based bands like Cold Cave and Xeno & Oaklander has heightened, making this the perfect time to issue the first in the series of Minimal Wave/Stones Throw team-ups, The Minimal Wave Tapes, Volume One (available on CD and 2LP). It is a wonderful thing to hear these rescued gems and decades-old transmissions mostly recorded in isolated bedrooms miles away from any bustling cityscapes. Volume One very much invokes a familiar nostalgic feeling, like a mixtape would from your way-cooler friend or older sibling did in your formative years. Vasicka functions here as that cooler friend or sister and thankfully, she doesn’t mind spreading her cool around -- making us ear-opening mixes from her even-cooler record collection.

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Swans Are NOT Dead

Posted by Aaron Detroit, January 11, 2010 05:20pm | Post a Comment

According to the group's official Myspace page, Swans are back! Michael Gira --who has most recently performed as Angels of Light-- has announced a reconfigured lineup for the group, as well as plans for an LP (their first in 14 years) via Gira's Young God imprint and a new tour.  Strangely, no mention is made of longtime Swans member/colloborator Jarboe.

From the Swans Myspace Blog:

principal players on the swans album are (and there will be many special guests):

Michael Gira / gtr / voice / mendicant friar act  (original swans)

Norman Westberg – Guitar (original swans)

Christophj Hahn – Guitar (mid period swans and most angels)

Phil Puleo – Drums, percussion, dulcimer etc etc  (final swans tour and most angels)

Chris Pravdica – Bass and gadgets (flux information sciences / services/ gunga din)

Thor Harris, Drums, percussion, vibes, dulcimer, curios,  etc etc... (angels, now also with shearwater)

Angels Of Light is temporarily on hold while gira pursues his “new” project...

Exciting and excellent news! Let's celebrate with video!!:

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Sixx's Most Unholy 'Sister Devil'

Posted by Aaron Detroit, January 11, 2010 03:30pm | Post a Comment
Von, Sixx, Sister Devil Art
Recently highlighted in Black Light District’s 2009 year-end lists, Sixx’s Sister Devil is a starkly excellent yet nearly-forgotten Deathrock recording from 1991 by the members of San Francisco cult (and largely considered America’s first) Black Metal band, Von. After the release of their Satanic Blood demo, the members of Von started Sixx as a side project. While decidedly taking a turn towards Deathrock, the group recorded 8 tracks as Sixx that retained the lo-fi bleakness and Satanic bent of Von’s now infamous and highly influential demo recordings. Sister Devil has threads of early Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Samhain, early Xmal Deutschland, and The Cure. The LP likely would have been an immediately celebrated record had it been properly distributed and promoted on its initial release in ’91; however, the band only ever released a handful of cassette demo copies. The album -- now featuring brand-spanking-new mastering by James Plotkin (Khanate/Khlyst) -- was finally and properly issued on CD and LP this past November thanks to Von/ Sixx’s very own Goat and NWN! Productions and though it took 18 years to properly release, it will now likely be rightly considered a Deathrock classic.

Stand-out track “Black Ride” sounds like it could be an early demo for the Sisters’ First Last and Always LP had Andrew Eldritch been more of the goat-sacrificing ilk, while Von, Sixx, Black Metal“On The Dead” is Only Theatre of Pain-era Christian Death meets Peter Murphy on some-sort of pill-popping bender. The lo-fi atmosphere and an almost tentative approach to the songs are complimented and tied together by creepy spoken interludes by frontman Goat (taken from his 1993 zine -- a facsimile of which can be obtained in the special “die-hard” edition of the LP) that sound like ‘found’ recordings of a killer’s last confession.

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