These are not the albums I grew up with, or the songs that make me maudlin when I’m drunk. These are some of the albums I listen to every day while I’m writing, or driving around at night, thinking about writing.
I’ve always been drawn to instrumental music that drove my imagination, without spoon-feeding it. The first record I loved that didn’t have Tinkerbell waving a magic wand on it was this
William Tell Overture
When I’m writing, the right kind of music can keep me immersed in a mood and a deep line of abstract thought, and gives the work a tighter rhythm.
For ten years, I worked as a “radio research musicologist,” which involved freebasing lethal quantities of alternative rock radio and keeping logbooks filled with Creed and Korn lyrics, so I’d rather listen to a car alarm than anything that’s played on the radio. Another lasting side effect is that music with lyrics tends to leave me feeling claustrophobic in my own head. Either someone’s shouting a story or an impassioned declaration at you, or mouthing some empty nonsense in time with the backbeat, while you’re trying to think. But the right kind of music is like a key for inducing altered states of consciousness on demand. These are some of my favorite keys.
The best composer and producer alive, for my money. Songs from this disk have spiced up Hummer and Coke ads and graced unworthy movies like S.W.A.T., and Tobin’s scored videogames like Infamous and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. His earlier stuff is insanely frenetic drum & bass, while his later works are more spiky and complex, but this one is still my favorite because it has a lush solidity and a creeping sense of déjà vu that comes from samples so finely chopped and mutated as to be totally unrecognizable, yet still hauntingly familiar. If you’re ever on Maui on a full-moon night and watching the waves and not listening to this disk, just go home. You’re doing it wrong.
Dead Can Dance
In The Realm Of The Dying Sun
Among the few vocal acts in heavy rotation in my head, because Lisa Gerrard’s vocals are in a language seemingly of her own invention, while Brendan Perry’s pallid, philosophical lyric-lectures fade into the mix with familiarity. Both use their voices as complementary instruments over grandiose, bombastic neo-Romantic orchestration. Their later stuff uses exotic instruments and looser,“world beat” arrangements, but here, they’re still resolutely Gothic, with a sound so controlled it evokes images of a tortured orchestra in a vast, frigid cellar, toiling under whips and hot tongs to propel Gerrard’s alien, coldly wondrous voice through a hole in the sky for an unfathomable audience of one.
Too Dark Park
One of the few things I loved in high school that I still enjoy. At their peak, Skinny Puppy’s music sounded too abrasive, insane and toxic for humans to actually survive exposure to it, let alone compose and perform it. The lyrics never distract me because they are a dehumanized stream of sensational images and rudimentary thought––a dog’s eye view of a world gone mad. Unlike the run of goth and industrial contemporaries, they didn’t just slap on makeup and cry into dead flowers; they immersed themselves in chaos and transmuted it into a raw, oddly beautiful way of capturing the wrongness of the world that made the hardest guitar-based metal sound quaint and masturbatory. Too Dark Park is a sprawling monster movie that never quite ends, but gleefully eats its own tail and starts over again, unless you can bring yourself to stop it. Explosively cathartic, endlessly catalytic.
The antidote to any bad mood. The Orb patented ambient dub that mixed bouncy Trojan reggae beats with noodly space fx and gamma ray-fried samples as psychic guides for a journey to the blind idiot, Minnie Riperton-yodeling center of the cosmos. When it became an easily reproduced formula, they struck back with U.F.Orb, an epic voyage of headphone-buggery and post-psychedelic weirdness that made Tangerine Dream like earthbound polka-mongers. The opening track, O.O.B.E., softly teases your brain right out of your body, if you’re smoking the right stuff, and the succeeding tracks act as landmarks on a terminal headtrip that ditches you on the wrong side of the universe with a broken lighter.
The Exotic Sounds Of Martin Denny
The desk staff at the Waikiki Beachcomber have never heard of Don the Beachcomber or Martin Denny, and not even a tiki plaque marks the site of Hawaii’s answer to the Bat Cave. This injustice must not stand.
Les Baxter may have composed the Sacred & Savage suite of syrupy, surreal tropical tone poems, but pianist Denny gave them their trademark languid tropical feel and frog croaks and birdcalls that made them the anthem of every suburban daydream.
Though corny on any scale and tinged with the patronizing naivete of the mid-century American honky, Denny’s collected works are like a dream vacation in a Hawaii of the id. It’s easy to see his influence on artists like Throbbing Gristle, Non and 808 State, and to lament the devolution of popular instrumental music today into smooth jazz.
These guys say they’ve never heard of Martin Denny either, which is surprising, because they have the same penchant for exotic settings and arrangements and passion for sound effects and atmospheres. From the nipple-erecting opening strains of “Montanita”
...to the syrupy organ washout of “Tacobel Canon
Classics is a perfect burnout exotica album. And they’re pretty good live, too.
A Fistful Of Film Music
I recently finished a weird western novella during which I listened to nothing but spaghetti western soundtracks. It’s difficult to strip Morricone’s scores away from their iconic context, but his genius for making elemental hooks and unexpected sounds into themes lifts out of the context of the films and starts to project its own brain movies, after a hundred or so listens.
Secret Chiefs 3
An instrumental collective that thrives on multiple personality disorder, Secret Chiefs 3 often come onstage in hooded robes and play a traditionalist Middle Eastern set...
...then return after an intermission to play Ventures-style surf rock...
...then an encore of spaghetti-western and death metal oddities...
They’ve also done an entire soundtrack album for a fictitious Italian horror movie. Members of Mr. Bungle and Estradasphere show the same legendary flair for experimentation and self-indulgence here, but the overarching vibe is one of mystery and gnosis, the song titles taken from Hashishim initiation rituals and Masonic mythology.
Though dumped on by purists for being too polished and techno-inflected, Book M is also a lot less jarring in its stylistic spasms than anything before or after, and features a drum kit with a hunting falcon.
Future Sound Of London
The Pink Floyd of electronica. From coldly groovy ambient dance tracks like Papua, New Guinea and Lifeforms, Future Sound always had a strain of paranoid genius that stood out among the hundreds of ambient acts that cluttered the early 90’s, and continues to make even their early tracks sound like something stolen from a lost future.
Gary Cobain and Brian Dougans refused to tour, instead doing live ISDN broadcasts from their remote studio, and conducting interviews on a camera remote, like the crew of Discovery in 2001. Supremely self-absorbed douchery? To be sure, but the results of that experiment yielded their best album ever, and gave the hollow ritual of the live rock concert a long-overdue reaming. (I attended two shows they were supposed to “telecommute” to, but no show.) ISDN is like an epic bad acid trip, with fidgety rhythms, dyspeptic saxophones and marooned vocal samples wandering lost amid vast skeletons of pure melodic beauty. Far from sterile, emotionless ambient pablum, this is almost too intensely human. Insecurity, paranoia, fear and despair moans through ISDN like unheeded air raid sirens.
FSOL next turned out Dead Cities...
...their masterpiece. It’s a huge haunted house of a concept album, and an almost passionately nihilistic vision of the world without us.
Their subsequent Syd Barrett-esque meltdown and descent into excruciating retro-psychedelia is a broken-brained testimony to the incredible strain they were under. Somehow, it serves to remind me better than any humor not to take my art, or anybody else’s too seriously.
Tales Of The Inexpressible
The best kind of trip-out music to me is not the kind you only can enjoy on drugs, but the stuff that induces a truly altered state of consciousness when you listen to it sober.
Shpongle is made up of a jazz flautist and a trance DJ, and yet Tales is the rare electronic album you can get away with playing for people who hate electronic music. They actually can and do play instruments, with an intensity and a playful complexity that explodes jaded preconceptions about what electronic dance music can sound like. And Raja Ram blows an fucking awesome jazz flute, to boot.
(The Black Glove wants to thank Cody Goodfellow for his time and effort, and for just plain giving us one of the coolest horror playlist, ever!
Please visit Cody Goodfellow at Perilous Press and his Facebook page.)