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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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Black Light District's Best Dark Music Albums of The '00's

Posted by Aaron Detroit, December 23, 2009 12:45pm | Post a Comment
Last week, I posted Black Light District's year-end best of list, which was a breeze to compile compared to reviewing the last 10 years for this week's post -- the 20 Best Dark Music Albums of The Decade. I had to whittle away many great titles, but I believe these records have proven to be or will prove to be dark classics for years to come. See ya next year, kids...

1. Coil – The Ape of Naples / The New Backwards (2005/08)


John Balance’s passing was one of the great tragedies in the music world this past decade. It was especially sad to see one of his greatest works be released posthumously. The recordings on The Ape of Naples and its (later-released) sister album, The New Backwards (collected together in the limited Ape of Naples LP box set), date back as far as 1993 when the band was briefly signed to Trent Reznor’s Nothing label, but went unfinished until 2004 when the group returned to the abandoned material for their new album. Gorgeous Funeral-Folk, third-eye electronics and captured transmissions from beyond The Threshold.

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