Years ago, a friend of mine bought a house with a shower that had two dispensers built into the wall. Hand-written labels read “Shampoo” and “Soap”, but the sloppy “a” looked like a “u”. I told him he should put soup in there for his roommate to discover, so he put some in there.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever heard about whether it was discovered, but I think about it every so often, wondering how long it takes for tomato soup to spoil, if kept at room (and occasionally “steamy”) temperature.
I moved to Cincinnati only about a couple months earlier, on the first of September. I frequented a coffee/used cd shop (where I’d later be asked to work), mostly just reading/listening to music, and drinking Coke with blueberry syrup (I was inexplicably into blueberry flavored food), as I hadn’t yet gotten into coffee. I had no job or job prospects, and was still getting over a particularly tough breakup. Later (much, much later), I would have identified myself as depressed, but at the time, I was just, like… really bummed.
Music, as has always been the case, was my savior, and I spent money I wasn’t earning on cds, desperately looking for new stuff. A couple years earlier, I’d reversed my opinion of synths, from a “hell no” to a “yes if in industrial music”. Much of what I was doing, then, was digging up relatively obscure industrial/synthcore/etc.
Laibach was not exactly obscure, but at the time, I only had Kapital, their latest, a weird, genre-hopping electronic record, but not the exact brand of industrial that I really got into. (Though I love it now.) However, their new record was supposedly a much more guitar-based sound, which would put it more squarely in my camp. I pre-ordered it (again, with money I wasn’t earning!), and once it arrived, threw it in the discman for the walk over to the coffee shop.
From the first guitar chord, I loved it. The overall sound was similar to the formula Rammstein had found not long before: deep, Teutonic vocals over driving guitar riffs, though this Laibach sound had predominantly electronic drums.
The theme of the album was religion, focusing on Christianity, not surprisingly in a negative light. The opening track, “God Is God“, was a cover of a Juno Reactor song, with the The Ten Commandments samples in the original sung here as lyrics, lending a weird, stream-of-consciousness feel to the vocals. Another cover came next, the titular track from both this album and its musical of origin: “Jesus Christ Superstar“. I was never much of a fan of musicals, so this would always be mostly a novelty tune, for me.
The first original on the album was really where the record began to shine, with a bit more complexity coming in.
“Kingdom of God” wasn’t just Rammstein-style riffing; this was a choir/orchestra, film-score atmosphere, with the guitar coming in only on the chorus. “Abuse and Confession” reveled in the indignance of Judas, asking of Jesus, “But were You not tempted, my Lord / When You became flesh? Did Your desire not rise / At the sound of a woman’s breath?”
While not bad, the next couple tunes didn’t stand out on the album, so not until “The Cross“, the third cover on the album, did we get another truly heavyweight song. I’ve found Prince’s original to be a frankly lackluster tune on an album with some otherwise amazing songs; however, Laibach recontextualized it in a way that melded perfectly with the other cynical religious commentaries on the record. I made a joke at one time that Laibach had become the greatest cover band of all time, and the more I revisit their covers (of which there are literally albums worth), the more that joke rings true.
Instead of Prince’s guitar histrionics (which I love), the end of this version brings choir vocals and organ, darkening the hopeful Price tune. (The only real sour note on the record, for me, is at the end here, when the lily is gilded by one last vocal interjection of “The cross!”, casting the tune is just a bit to jokey a light.”) The last two songs on the album round out the ominous feel of the album, with only minimal guitar, but heavy synth and atmospherics. The album may have been better suited to save “The Cross” until the final spot, but at this point in post-album music culture, that stuff doesn’t matter.
At a time when I had under 500 albums in my collection, this one was a powerhouse, and it’s one I’ve always been sure to push on folks who express any interest in guitar industrial. It would be a bit of revisionist history to say this helped me along my path to skepticism, but there’s a good chance it saved a fair amount of my sanity.
Recently there’s been a lot of talk (including from me!) about the score to a recent 80s-throwback horror show on a popular streaming platform. While I do love attention being paid to cool, darkly moody synth music, I do want to point out that there is a ton of cool, darkly moody synth music already out in the world.
To capture the mood I was going for, I tried to stick to a few criteria. I looked for prominent, dark synths, often arpeggiated. I tried, for the most part, to avoid other instruments (especially drums, though some do appear here) and vocals. Reverb always helps, too — in fact, I cheated a bit and drenched one of the drier tunes in reverb myself.
Don’t worry, though — after all that dread, I did allow the last tune to be a little uplifting, so you’ll be able to continue on with your day, a little unscathed.
So, enjoy. Tracklist below.
Disasterpeace, “It Follows: Title” (2015)
Walls/Oram, “Extremely Long Corridor” (196X?/2014)
Daft Punk, “Armory” (2010)
John Carpenter, “Wrong Flavour” (1976)
Johnathan Snipes & William Hutson, “Universal Weak Male” (2013)
Just noticed it’s Buckethead’s birthday today, May 13th.
Just for fun, I did the math, and roughly speaking, I’ve been a fan of his for about half his life, give or take a few months: he was 23 when I discovered his music, and it’s been about 23 years since then. Weird. Time flies, and all that.
For a long time, if you were to ask me my top ten bands, Skinny Puppy would have been one of them. I mean, they’re still in the top ten, but their last few releases haven’t grabbed me in quite the same way as the ones from the first half of their career. (A lot of that is down to me, by the way, not them. Bands change; Too Dark Park was very different from its predecessor, and same with its followup, The Process, so I’m not stressed that their post-reunion albums haven’t grabbed me in the same way. We’re all different people than we were before.)
So, let’s skip back to the early/mid 90s, probably the summer of… 94? I moved from <irony>the booming metropolis</irony> of Terre Haute, Indiana, back home to rural southern Indiana, outside Chrisney (which has a wiki page, so at least it’s better known than I, though I have more twitter followers than its population). I did, however, find a summer job at a relatively local factory. This factory, situated in or nearby Spencer County (I can’t remember now, decades later), produced targets for bow hunters.
The targets were of two varieties. One was simpler, classic in its form: a foam circle with a marked center, not terribly dissimilar to the logo of the box store rival to Wal-Mart. I started, on my first day, constructing these. Starting with a long strip of six-inch-wide, half-inch-thick foam, I merely rolled it up, with a torch very slightly melting the foam as it rolled. This provided a natural adhesive, not to mention another source of heat in the July air. After the target’s width was right, the torch was applied to the front face of the circle, and a flat piece of foam (about a half inch thick) was stuck to the melted face, then trimmed to the circle. Et voila! A target.
Now repeat x 100000000000000000000
This was the only job I had a this factory that involved going outside (to get more foam, if I remember correctly). I should have treasured it.
I was soon moved to the back room facility, to help produce the second type of target: a foam 3D rough likeness of a deer, with two aluminum poles coming out the feet to shove into the ground. Said ground-shoving would mean you had a sorta deer, though much smaller, ready to be arrowed.
These were a more complex affair. Basically, this was a fill-the-mold-with-liquid-foam affair, though there was additional prep. I was at the front of the line, coating the inside of the two halves of the mold with a spray lubricant. After this, we applied brown paint to the inside of the mold. The halves of the fiberglass mold were then clamped together (with aluminum posts coming out the legs) and sent down the line. Another person filled the mold with foam and sent it through an oven, not dissimilar to what one might see subs go through now at Penn Station. At the end of the line, the molds were opened, and the target removed. If we had (a) lubricated sufficiently, and (b) painted thoroughly, the target would come out ready to go.
Alas, though, this wasn’t always the case.
The lubricant was clear, meaning we couldn’t really see whether we’d covered the inside of the mold completely unless we’d been paying very close attention. If not: the paint would stick to the fiberglass mold, and rip off when the mold halves were separated. Bummer: target goes in the trash, and time had been wasted. Similarly, the paint was close in hue to the inside of the mold. If we weren’t paying the closest attention to the painting process, the target would emerge with bare, unfixable foam sections. Another target for the trash heap.
This meant a not insignificant attention to detail was required. Was the lubricant spread evenly? Was the paint thoroughly applied? Combine this with the face that the fiberglass molds were constantly shedding tiny, itchy fibers (if you’ve hung insulation, you know what I mean), meant that this job was the PITS.
I arrived way early each morning (a real DRAG), and so by the time I clocked out each day (yes, the pure elation of *clocking out* is not lost on me) I was ready to GO. I hopped in my car (specifically, I think, a parent-donated Chevy Suburban or Dodge Caravan) and got the FUCK out of there, blaring the stereo on the way out.
What’s this got to do with Skinny Puppy? Guess what I was playing in the cassette deck on my way out.
At that time I’d only recently discovered SP, so I’d only been a fan a year or so. I knew Bites and Remission to be separate releases, but when I’d taped them from my friend Wil, he had the American release, where they’d been put together on one cd. I wore this goddamn tape out! I mean, I later bought both discs, but for better or worse, I know them as a pair.
That factory was miserable, mentally and physically. I spent every day, all day, with people who largely seemed like shady characters. Many were convicted criminals, including the foreman, who’d served time for manslaughter. Those who weren’t yet convicted were still on trial. It was a bit of a concerning situation to find myself in. Every day at that factory, every day I worked there, I was just working to the time I could leave. Leaving meant getting in the car, and that meant hearing Bites and Remission. Every day.
That goddamn tape fixed SO MUCH grueling drudgery.
To this day (including now, as I write this), this music brings me back to then. Not in a negative way, though: I’m far enough removed from all of that now that the negative has receded. I mean, I’m not even sure how much I’ve shared of this time in my life to my current friends.
That being said, though, this record (or two records) were SO FUCKING IMPORTANT to my general well-being back then that I cannot even imagine where I’d be, or what I’d have done without it.
“Saved My Life”, as in the title? Maybe not. Even so, it’s right up there in importance.
A bit over a decade ago, I was writing for a short-lived, Cincinnati-based music website called “I See Sound”. Sadly, the site is long gone (and the URL taken over by the usual web-squatters), but I still have some of the pieces I wrote.
The following piece was published in mid-November, 2005 (and slightly edited today).
“Well, have you heard Buckethead?”
I don’t remember his last name, the kid who asked me that question, but his first name was Brian (like Buckethead’s, coincidentally). We were freshmen in college that fall of 1992, and we were discussing guitar players.
At that point I was still very much a guitar nerd. For a couple years, when I started listening to music, I had been exclusively into rap. Upon picking up the guitar in 1990, however, I had sold all my rap tapes. I then got into metal, and along with it, a lot of guitar virtuoso stuff, like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen. I delighted at the sheer speed with which some of these guys could play.
“No,” I told Brian, “I don’t know who that is.”
He proceeded to tell me he’d heard about a new record by a band called Praxis, with a weird guitar player who played amazing stuff. Of course, I’m sure he mentioned the KFC bucket on his head, but what I took away from that conversation was that I needed to hear this guy, not see him.
The album was Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis), and within the next week I found the cassette at Headstone Friends, the college favorite record store in town, one I would become oh-so familiar with over the next four years. Back to my dorm room I went, straight to the tape deck, and put it in.
Luckily my roommate wasn’t around. He was a great guy, but his Right Said Fred ears would likely not be too pleased at the sound of “Blast / War Machine Dub“, the first track on side one. The “Blast” part of it I understood, consisting as it did of some heavy guitar and the fastest leads I think I’d ever heard. However, less than halfway into the four-minute track, things got weird, slowing down suddenly. At the time, of course, I had no idea what dub was, though I’d heard reggae and wasn’t overly fond. This didn’t remind me of reggae, though — this was weird.
Another thing that confused me was the presence, and sheer prominence, of the keyboards. Up until that point, I’d generally avoided them, preferring the guitar/bass/drums instrumentation of most metal, though the occasional piano intros and “texture” keyboard parts didn’t bother me. I had already scoured the liner notes for any familiar names and found none, so re-reading “Bernie Worrell: synthesizer, clavinet & vital organ” didn’t demystify it at all.
Nor did the next track on the record, “Interface / Stimulation Loop“, which began with an incredibly simple-but-heavy three note riff. The organ and guitars played in unison over a very funky beat that I wouldn’t have expected in metal. Of course, by this point I had already realized that this was no metal album, and of course Brain was no metal drummer. This guy was varied, in both style and technique.
Each track on the album seemed weirder and more diverse than the last, incorporating not only metal, dub, and funk, but also jazz, hip-hop, and experimental music. The one vocal track, “Animal Behavior“, featured Bootsy Collins simply being Bootsy, though the section of lyrics that name-checked the rest of the band (“Hey Buckethead, what’s in the bucket, man?”) definitely seemed a bit left-of-center.
The last track on the record, the huge “After Shock (Chaos Never Died)” was the biggest conundrum, though. By this time, getting my head around funk was no problem. Also, Buckethead was definitely the feature here, so I had plenty to chew on, with his two-minute guitar solo daring me to figure out its twists and turns. It had many, too, from the mile-a-minute stuff that I’d previously (and foolishly) thought was a good litmus test of quality, to slow, oddly-paced little melodies during a breakdown section. The pop-culture-obsessed Buckethead even slipped in a bit of the melody from “It’s a Small World”, a weird, three-second chunk of familiarity in a piece that was very foreign to me (and about to become even more so). After a little drum breakdown, the track devolved into a free-form collage jam session, focusing initially on Worrell’s organ, but eventually incorporating noise elements, most likely explained by Buckethead’s secondary credit of “toys”. As unprepared as I was for the genre-jumping to which I was subjected so far in the record, in no way was I ready for nearly twelve minutes of experimental music.
That didn’t stop me, of course, from immediately turning the tape over and listening to the entire album again, and then repeatedly over the ensuing weeks and years. Truth be told, back then I usually fast-forwarded through the experimental section at the end, but the rest of the record was fascinating. I’d heard music I liked before, but not with the staying power this had.
Transmutation broke “genre” in my head. Specifically, until then, I had been under the impression that one could really only like one genre of music — that’s why I had sold my rap tapes when I started listening to metal. Some of it could be chalked up to capricious youth, but mostly I just didn’t think I had room in my head for more than one kind of music. Buckethead’s weird metal shredding on the record gave me something familiar to latch onto, but once I became familiar with it, I realized that I liked it all.
After that, it wasn’t too long before I was getting some of those rap tapes again, and other things, too. I delved into the discographies of the people involved, discovering that AF Next Man Flip was none other than Afrika Baby Bam, the dj for the Jungle Brothers, whose music had been in the purge only a couple years earlier. I discovered that Bootsy and Bernie Worrell were decades into their careers at that point, and I made repeated trips to the campus radio station to make tapes of the vinyl of their releases there.
The one person most important on the whole record, though I didn’t realize it, had no specific instrument credit, so I didn’t notice him at first. Over the next few years I gradually came to understand the significance of the line “Conceived and Constructed by Bill Laswell”. I saw his name on the later Praxis records, too, and when I got Buckethead’s pseudonymous Death Cube K records, there was Laswell again. When I got that Public Image Limited plain-wrap Album because Steve Vai had played on it, guess who had produced and played on it as well? Correct. Later, when I became a dj myself and picked up Herbie Hancock’s seminal “Rockit” 12″ single, arguably one of the most influential records in hip-hop, it came as little surprise to find it had been co-written by Laswell. Now I have over a hundred or more (no exaggeration) albums with his name credited in some active role.
To this day I still find new things in Transmutation, whether it be noticing a quiet guitar line buried deep in the left channel, or understanding how Bootsy and Bernie interact in a way that doesn’t happen without years of playing together. Even sitting here writing this, I realize that my taste in snare drum sound comes from Brain’s drumkit on this record.
Transmutation permanently changed how I listen to music, and is directly responsible for my exposure to, and familiarity with, a good portion of my all-time top ten artists. So, thanks, Brian Whatever-your-last-name-was; you inadvertently helped make me who I am today.
This album came out 24 years ago today, slightly longer ago than the age Buckethead was when he released it.
I found out about it in the fall/winter later that year, and sent a couple bucks to someone I talked to on the (fledgling) internet to tape it for me (as it had only been released in Japan at that time). I wore that damn tape out, and eventually found a (very expensive) copy on cd at Best Buy (back when they actually had weird import cds).
It is supremely weird, full of shredder guitar over simple drum loops, intermixed with ambient soundscapes, breakdance-influenced electro interludes, loads of very short tracks (sometimes consisting of simply a few second long sample), and Bootsy’s unmistakable voice popping in with some hilarious whatnot. The range of weird things Buckethead does on the guitar here is pretty wide as well — some are just him sort of improvising with weird effects, making the guitar sound like a weird alien conversation, or pop-and-slap bass, or a synth arpeggio.
I didn’t love it as much as I loved (and still do) the Praxis album that had come out the fall prior, “Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis”), but that one is more clearly an ensemble record (as only Laswell could assemble). This is pure Buckethead, front to back.
I’ve been working with my friend Erica for a while now on an electronic pop album that I thought of initially as *hers*, but which has become much more collaborative. To that end, we’ve decided on a name for this project: Below Between.
Below are a couple rough versions of tunes. The first an original entitled “Qualifiers“, and the second a cover of the Siouxsie Sioux/Brian Reitzell song “Love Crime“, from the finale of Hannibal.