Saturday, November 20, 2004

Moon Musick

So now that John Balance has passed away, I'm not sure if Coil are going to keep going, so I thought it's probably about time for a great big Coil post.

Our story begins, Dear Reader, far back in the mists of history. Come with me now, back to the 1970s...

[Whooo, whooo, time travel effects....]

Once upon a time there was a band called Throbbing Gristle. They were one of the original industrial bands. They considered themselves 'anti musicians', and their goal was to make the most bewildering unpredictable sounds they could. In ideology they were similar to the original punks, believing that society was corrupt and about to collapse, but their music was completely different. While the kind of music that normally comes to mind when thinking of industrial are ambient droning songs or god-awful electronic noise songs, Throbbing Gristle's songs incorporate influences from jazz to pop, even writing a twisted but sincere football anthem. I could go on about industrial music for a while, but it's a subject for another post. In 1981 Throbbing Gristle disbanded and declared industrial music to be over.

Two of the former members of Throbbing Gristle, Peter Christopherson and Genesis P. Orridge formed a new band, Psychic TV, with a bunch of other guys, one of whom was John Balance. (Since industrial music was declared over, it's usually called a post-industrial band.) Genesis and Christopherson had a falling out (a subject for yet another post), and Christopherson left with Balance to form Coil.

Compared to Throbbing Gristle, Coil is more accessible and somewhat less confrontational. To begin with, their albums were similar in format and style to TG, but as the years went on their style became, for the most part, more contemplative and peaceful.

Coil's first album was called 'How to Destroy Angels', they only ever made something like twelve copies of it so they're probably worth a billion dollars now. Their first album that's widely available is Scatology. As you might guess from the title, it has a somewhat dodgy theme. Apparantely they used samples of people shitting, having anal sex, and other scatologically themed sounds in the recording of this album. To this day I've been too scared to buy it.

Their second album was 'Horse Rotorvator'. Out of all of their albums it's probably the most accessible, although this is a very relative statement. The songs aren't too long, and stick to a relatively normal structure. It's still pretty feral though, as you'd expect from an album with a song called 'The Anal Staircase'. Lots of confrontational disturbing content, but not as unrelenting as Throbbing Gristle's work, and with a mellow side too.

Their next album was 'Loves Secret Domain', which was a bit of a departure into the realm of house music, although their interpretation of house was of course pretty twisted. It's widely regarded as one of their best albums, and I can see why as it neatly combines catchy electronic dance tracks with peaceful and moving ambient tracks, while keeping the thread of perverse experimentation that makes them who they are.

By now we're into the early 90s, and here Coil's discography starts to a bit get hard to follow, with lots of EPs, b-sides and rarities albums, limited editions and releases under other names. The only album from this period that I own is 'A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room', released under the name Black Light District. It's a very ambient album (it actually gets quite boring during the middle), but it contains some of the best ambient music I've ever heard.

In the last few years they released 'Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil', a noise album, which means lots of rhythmic static, and uh, non-rhythmic static. One of the least accessible albums in an inaccessible discography, but I mention it just to highlight the variety of their releases.

They also released the Moons Milk series, four EPs, each relating to a different season. The autumn equinox disk (subtitled 'Amethyst Deceivers') is probably my favorite Coil album. They're very varied releases, switching between styles from song to song, but retaining a constant tone and topic.

The two 'Musick to Play in the Dark' CDs are regarded to be their best, and they certainly are some of the best albums in my collection. The songs on these disks are all very dark, but peaceful (as the title would imply). As all the songs are about ten minutes long, it gives them room to show off both their ambient and their conventional sides, often within one song.

John Balance was the main vocalist of the band, and while there was nothing special about his voice he's one of my top three favorite lyricists. Between their beyond new-age philosophy and their obsessions with death, drugs, (gay) sex and the paranormal, it's always interesting subject matter and would probably come out pretentious and cheesy in the hands of most, but Balance had the talent to keep it original and thought-provoking. It just goes to demonstrate the inspirational power of hallucinogens.


Joel said...

Just wonderinng... where does Time Machines come into the picture?

Jon said...

Somewhere just before Constant Shallowness I think. I'm not sure since I haven't been able to track down a copy of Time Machines myself yet...