Tag Archives: Goth

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus on the Value of Mystery and Sacredness

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus

Photo by Maria Aua.

It feels cliché at this point to describe the music of the U.K. group Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus as a “shared secret,” but in the early ’90s, that’s exactly what it was. Their albums seemed to materialize out of nowhere. You heard about them from a friend who heard about them from another friend, who happened to have a burned CD that they’d loan you for a week so you could make your own. (To wit: I was a fan of the band for decades before I knew what the cover of their haunting 1987 masterpiece The Gift of Tears even looked like). Not only were there no interviews, the band wasn’t even written about, not even by the fledgling alt-music press. If you travelled in Christian circles, as I did, they had an almost occult aura; their music drew on Christian and religious themes, but their name came from director Luis Buñuel’s film That Obscure Object of Desire, and they could just as easily have been witches as saints. The lack of any kind of public presence only caused their eerie mystique to grow.

Listening to the group’s two albums—the only works to their name—only added to the mystery. Mirror, from 1991, recently reissued by Occultation Records, felt like the soundtrack to some unsettling ritual, taking place in a deep wood late at night. Their songs were built around ominous, chant-like vocals, full of chilling acoustic guitars, baleful, minor-key synths, and melodies that drew heavily on Medieval modalities. Nowadays, we might call their music “folk horror;” in the ’90s, it felt almost forbidden.

And then, just as quietly as they appeared, they vanished. Even after the arrival of the Internet, information about them was scant—just a few bare-bones fan-created websites (which usually employed white text on a black background), which generally contained brief summaries of their history with no concrete details. But all of that changed in 2015, when the band reappeared after a 20-year absence with Beauty Will Save the World, a record that is just as gorgeous and harrowing as any they made during their initial run. The news of their reactivation travelled much in the same way their music did the first time: via emails from friends, or posts in small-ish Internet interest groups. And while it’s certainly easier to learn about the band now—they even have a Facebook page—their music has retained all of its spectral beauty and glorious ambiguity. We sat down with Jon Egan who, along with Paul Boyce and Leslie Hampson, form the group’s core membership, to discuss their history, and how creating mystery isn’t just a PR stunt—it’s the very core of their art.

Continue reading

A Guide Through the Haunting World of “Folk Horror”

Comus-by-Mike-Rose-600

Comus by Mike Rose

Folk horror is a contemporary term coined to describe a cultural strand running through film, art, literature, and music. Appropriately though, its origins are as old as the hills. The term appears to have entered the lingua franca in Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss’ 2010 BBC documentary Home Counties Horror, where it was used to describe three British horror films—1968’s Witchfinder General, 1970’s Blood On Satan’s Claw, and 1973’s The Wicker Man. Each of these films posited the English countryside as a place of ancient traditions and malign forces, dangerous to outsiders and the unwary. In his essay “From The Forests, Fields And Furrows,” Andy Paciorek notes folk horror’s proximity to psychogeography, the Situationist concept which draws lines between landscape and the human psyche. In folk horror, evil is stamped into the very soil.

The term “folk horror” might have sprung from cinema, but this is a world from which music and sound is inextricable. The Wicker Man—director Robin Hardy’s horror about the pagan community of Summerisle in the Scottish Highlands—was musically driven, with Paul Giovanni’s soundtrack locating a traditional magical undercurrent in English folk. The film’s most famous track, “Willow’s Song,” is a sort of pagan spell of seduction, as a sultry barmaid named Willow tempts the straight-laced Sergeant Howie through the wall of his room.

But it feels important to point out that the music of folk horror is not merely “dark folk music.” Nigel Kneale’s influential ’70s TV programs Quatermass and the Pit and The Stone Tape featured audio effects by Desmond Briscoe’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And many contemporary musicians working in the realms of folk horror—often based around concept-driven boutique imprints such as Reverb Worship or Ghost Box—pick up on this strand, employing analog electronics and concrete techniques that invest their music with an occult power or a sense of the uncanny.

Read on for some of the best folk horror releases that Bandcamp has to offer.

Continue reading

Goth’s Undead: Six Current Releases From Groups Old and New

Goth

Goth’s Undead. Illustrations by George Wylesol.

Few strains of rock music get less respect than goth. Though the genre’s lush soundscapes and searing-then-willowy guitar attack are all over bigger acts like Savages, Preoccupations, and Merchandise, they tend to attract the “post-punk” tag instead. Goth just isn’t cool; it’s too emotional, too baroque, too weird. Witness the absorption of Joy Division into the nebulous history of post-punk, despite 1980’s Closer being about as quintessentially goth as Edward Gorey.

Goth may not be cool, but it is definitely not dead, either, not as a subculture or as a public trope; witness its thriving life on Tumblr and in the fashion world, the garage rock world’s Beach Goth festival (at which, we are sad to report, there has never been a goth band), and so forth. Even those ever-incisive chroniclers of subcultures and outsiders, The Mountain Goats, have turned their eyes to the night for their upcoming LP; called, simply, Goths. In a terrifying, shifting world there will always be value in finding beauty in luxe sensation, in decay, in darkness. The alternative is total despair… and not in a poetic way.

So let’s celebrate these artists, who are mining the decadence, coy humor, and sheer sonic power of goth for all it’s worth; from throbbing tracks for the dancefloor, to skeletal elegies, to gleaming melodic pop, and so on, through all the colors of the dark.

Continue reading

Back from the Grave: Altar de Fey on Deathrock’s Origin and Legacy

Alter de Fey

Alter de Fey, 1985 by Renee Haden Pouvreau

Echoes in the Corridor, the new LP from Altar de Fey, exudes all of the extravagant darkness and drama of deathrock from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Its lyrics and imagery are stocked with vampires, wraiths, and demons. But if Echoes in the Corridor sounds authentic, it’s because Altar de Fey were there from the genre’s start.

Deathrock originated in California, blending West Coast punk with UK post-punk influences like Bauhaus and Joy Division—bands who reveled in the melancholic excess of death and decay. That baseline aesthetic was spiked with elements lifted from ’50s Hollywood and B-movies, along with a touch of glamour and camp. Gory and blasphemous imagery—crucifixes, blood, bats—raised the level of theatrics. Deathrock’s spooky, squalling vocals, pounding drums, and maniacal, punk-influenced guitars were the perfect match for its visuals, an attractive aesthetic for angsty young adults.

Altar de Fey formed in San Francisco in early 1983, combining the aggression of their punk roots with guitarist Kent Cates’ melodic and moody approach. The group released a handful of tracks before disbanding two years later. Despite their short run, their legacy lingered, largely due to the rediscovery by young goths of their distinct and jarring deathrock look: backcombed knots of birds nest hair, deathly pallors, and ripped fishnet tights that clung to them like spiderwebs. Images of Cates with guitar in hand, black-lined eyes, and carved-out cheekbones, caused a frenzy of reblogging amongst scene aficionados, eventually summoning the band back from the grave.

Continue reading

Monica LaPlante Funnels Fear, Darkness, and Phil Spector Into Shadowy Garage Rock

Monica LaPlante

Garage rock can be a beginning, middle, and end for many who make it, but Monica LaPlante—a 25-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist—isn’t interested in cookie-cutter revisionism. Her 2013 debut, Jour, has a bright indie-pop feel, steeped in 1960s allure. But as the name of her new Noir EP makes clear, she’s darkened considerably—and gained substantial depth along the way. Noir’s songs, particularly the locomotive (and ridiculously catchy) “Hope You’re Alone” and the harmony-drenched “From Your Shadow,” are rich and endlessly playable. Each one occupies its own highly-specific sonic space, and the entire EP showcases a formidable talent coming into her own. LaPlante spoke with Bandcamp’s Michaelangelo Matos at the Amsterdam Bar in downtown St. Paul on a drizzly fall afternoon.
Continue reading