Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: Portland punks The Thermals and ambient producer Lusine.
Listed: The Thermals + Lusine
Since 2002, the Thermals have been bashing out pop songs at punk tempos, hitching melodic hooks to fiercely energized anthems -- while getting in some pretty good jabs at the vast right wing conspiracy. Four drummers have come and gone around the core team of Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster, but the Thermals sound has remained remarkably fresh and constant, from the debut More Parts Per Million, which Dusted’s Jason Dungan called “one of those albums susceptible to obsession” to this year’s Now We Can See which Brandon Bussolini tagged as “eager punk [that] can feel like a metaphysical ideal.” The latest line in percussionists, Westin Glass, penned this week’s Listed.
Ten Truly Disturbing Records for October
From covering The Breeders and Green Day at sunny outdoor festivals, to having parking lot dance parties after shows with MJ blasting out of the Shaky Hands’ van, it’s been a year of feel-good music. But here in Portland, it’s starting to get a little darker at night, dry leaves are skittering anxiously across sidewalks, and I can feel the sinister breath of fall on my neck. I’m starting to look forward to Halloween, my favorite holiday. For the month of October, I’ve prepared a list of the most disturbing and unsettling music I can find.
In no particular order, here are 10 upsetting records that might make you question your sanity. I recommend listening to them alone, in the dark, on headphones…if you think you can handle it!
1. Kronos Quartet – Black Angels (Nonesuch)
If you only listen to one record on this list (and I wouldn’t blame you), make it this one. It’s a moving, disturbing, and smartly curated collection of pieces that deal with the dark side of the human experience. The record begins with George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” the inspiration for violinist David Harrington to found Kronos Quartet – the first second will shock you and set your teeth on edge, and you won’t feel relaxed again until long after it’s over. It’s hard to find a more eloquent expression of sorrow than Istvan Martha’s “Doom - A Sigh,” which contrasts bursts of machine-gun strings with field recordings of persecuted Hungarian villagers in Romania singing/sobbing in mourning. Charles Ives’ “They Are There!” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Quartet No. 8” round out the theme of war, and the large-scale horrors people are capable of perpetrating against other people. The message and feeling of this record will be hard to forget once you’ve heard it.
2. Bernard Herrmann – OST: Taxi Driver (Arista)
Herrmann’s masterpiece – he died the night after recording was complete. This supremely creepy soundtrack really makes you feel what it’s like to be inside Travis Bickle’s warped, airtight world, looking out through a filthy windshield. The parts where Robert De Niro’s monologues are put over the music are perfect for getting into a real loner-psychopath mood. “All the animals come out at night. Buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies…Sick. Venal. Someday a real rain’ll come and wash all this scum off the streets.”
3. The pAperchAse – Someday This Could All Be Yours (Kill Rock Stars)
These guys have been perfecting the designs of their stifling, fucked-up, horrific sound prisons over the course of several records, and they would love to lock you in this newest one. An album conceived like a horror movie, and best consumed the same way. More than any other on this list, headphones are a must. You may, in fact, scream in parts.
4 & 5. Scott Walker – Tilt / The Drift (Drag City / 4AD)
One of the most interesting and innovative artists in music today, Scott Walker is also probably making the most disturbing music you’ll hear. His quavering baritone tells lonely, sickening, surreal tales in the midst of a threatening sonic environment of overbearing dread.
6. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night (Warner Bros.)
Actually quite an enjoyable listen; however, there is an unsettling undercurrent throughout. Produced by Angelo Badalamenti and with most of the lyrics written by David Lynch, these songs were prominently featured in Blue Velvet and the best TV show ever, Twin Peaks. Sweet and sugary, this is the music the venus flytrap sings to the fly.
7. Xiu Xiu – The Air Force (5 Rue Christine)
A stark, desolate, and distinctly American landscape of intimate misery, this record makes me cringe. In a smart move by producer Greg Saunier (of Deerhoof), Jamie Stewart’s vocals are often mixed uncomfortably close-up – he whispers horrible things in your ear while strings, percusson, and samples ratchet up the anxiety.
8. Naked City – Torture Garden (Shimmy Disc)
John Zorn’s avant-garde New York jazz/grindcore group assaults your psyche with brutal, unrelenting, and virtuosic sonic punishment. The rapid shifts in genre and mood keep you off-balance, while the violent lyrics and cruel sonic textures soon make you sorry you entered this harsh world.
9 & 10. Swans – Child of God / World of Skin (Young God)
Though Swans’ earlier work may be bleaker and more brutal, this pair of records by Michael Gira’s polynomial group benefits here from the addition of contrasting softer elements, increasing its dynamic impact and making it ultimately more devastating. Jarboe’s vocals, piano, and acoustic instrumentation expand the dimensions of Swans’ sound. While it’s still apocalyptic, hellish, and sweeping, it’s also intimate and lulling. A recurring theme of religion and the power it holds serves as a further expansion of Gira’s fascination with structures of domination and control.
Whew. After that harrowing journey, I’m ready to go shake my booty at Tiga – Kathy’s DJing and I think she’s going to play some Bobby Brown.
Jeff McIlwain’s downtempo reveries have always included shreds of melody, woven in amongst percolating rhythms and skittering bits of noise. His latest album A Certain Distance inches further out onto the pop continuum. The first single, “Two Dots,” brings in Brazilian singer Vilja Larjosto to sweeten the mix, successfully enough that KEXP’s blog called the song, “a lovely step forward into the crossover realm of bubbly pop and post-rock experimentalism.” McIllwain has performed at London’s Fabric nightclub, collaborated with video artist Scott Sunn in Seattle this spring and played a few dates this summer with the Ghostly International 10th Anniversary tour. A more extended set of US performances is promised for the fall.
1. Biosphere - “Warmed by the Drift” (from Dropsonde on Touch)
The first time I heard this was the second to last day of my stay in Japan. I was in a little suburban town outside Tokyo and it was raining outside. It just fit the mood so perfectly because I was really enjoying my time there and it was a really peaceful feeling, but it was unsettling because I was going to have to leave to go back to the U.S. the next day. The song starts out like it’s going to be pleasantly quiet and contemplative, but then it morphs into this really moody textured and rhythmic ambient track.
2. Susumu Yokota - “Asukiiro No Kaori” (from Sakura on Leaf)
This song calls to mind my time in L.A. In a way, I think it provided an escape. Sitting in traffic can really get to you there, and this whole album kind of lifts you out of that. The way he blends vocals, Rhodes, and analog synths here, seamlessly drifting in and out, it’s been a major influence on me in terms of sonic depth for a long time.
3. Ellen Alien - “Alies Sehen” (from Berlinette on Bpitch Control)
This is really the perfect track to drive to. Something to start the night with. I have no idea what she’s singing here. It’s sexy and German, whatever it is. I think I’d rather not know. She has a way of making her voice sound even more mechanical and inhuman, with reverses and cut-up syllables. I think she has successfully fused the playful with the sentimental here.
4. Milosh - “Time Steals the Day” (from You Make Me Feel on Plug Research)
I always felt like this was hands down the strongest track on Mike’s first album. You Make Me Feel. He does a great job of toning down the vocals, making them weird, but keeping it heartfelt. Saw him play live in Toronto, harmonizing his own vocals with a looper. He was pitch perfect and didn’t miss a beat.
5. Royksopp - “So Easy” (from Melody AM on Astralwerks)
When I first moved to Seattle, our local radio station was pumping this song everyday. It was the rainy season, and I would hear it while I was driving around running errands. It’s got this really retro and melancholy feel. And so does Seattle. I love it how Royksopp will pitch a whole progression up and down on a whim, but somehow it always seems to work in a really interesting way.
6. Dosh - “Wolves” (from Wolves and Wishes on Anticon)
I knew nothing about this guy when I went to go see him live sometime last year. His live set was one of the most compelling I’ve ever seen. He looped his own drums and played keyboard along with his saxophone player, who had a really great stage presence. They got the whole crowd going nuts when they played this track. It reminded me of some of the post-rock shows I used to go to in Austin back in the day, except it felt like a step forward.
7. The Sea and Cake - “The Fawn” (from The Fawn on Thrill Jockey)
I was not a Sea and Cake fan when I first heard them in the mid 1990s. I really disliked that mixture of funk and indie rock that The Biz was all about. But when this album came out, I had a 180 degree change of heart. I think it took them delving into electronics, and this track especially, for me to start understanding how amazing Sam Prekop is as a songwriter.
8. Ola Podrida - “Instead” (from Ola Podrida on Plug Research)
My film-music partner David Wingo has a knack for telling stories with his music. The progressions that he comes up with are often really innovative and unpredictable. “Instead” is gorgeous the way it keeps building throughout. And one thing that really catches my ear with this track is the synth pad that comes in to compliment the acoustic guitar.
9. Soap and Skin - “Spiracle” (from Lovetune for Vacuum on PIAS)
This song has been stuck in my head for the last few weeks. Her delivery is so direct and theatrical. The transition from verse to chorus is really interesting – it goes from aggressive to unexpectedly restrained. The way she layers her vocals is also really interesting and dissonant.
10. Autechre - “Konklied MX” (from Warp:Routine on Warp)
It always disappointed me that Autechre started focusing less and less on melody because I thought they were really good at writing really subtle melodic progressions. When this Warp compilation came out, it had been a while since I had heard anything like this, and it was a welcome return to form. The clarinet in this track really stands out. It’s such an unusual match with the harsh rhythm. Really beautiful, and in a way only Autechre can do it.
By Dusted Magazine