Cyclic Selects by Alps (Chris Hearn)


Dark Day – Exterminating Angel [1980]

Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel is about a dinner party at which all of the guests find themselves unable to leave. There is little explanation as to why they cannot leave. The doors do not seem to be blocked off, there does not appear to be a nuclear war kicking off outside; all of the guests are simply overcome by a paranormal, assumedly psychological condition, which locks them inside. Buñuel was a Surrealist, and sense can only be made of it in this context – explanations are not really the point.

Dark Day is the project of Robin Crutchfield, a previous member of DNA, Arto Lindsay’s No Wave group. Being from DNA, you’d probably expect something quite lo-fi and shambolic, but it’s quite the opposite. Dark Day’s record Exterminating Angel is one of the clearest recordings to come out of the No Wave era, perhaps even more so than Brian Eno’s No New York compilation. I picture this album recorded in a perfectly anaesthetised setting, with whitewashed walls, perhaps an asylum for the few un-brainwashed members of a futuristic society, run by Hal from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Every sound here is effected. “I’m only human”, speaks the most inhuman voice imaginable over a synthetic synthesizer pattern. Keyboards flawlessly arpeggiate, echoing perfectly in time with incredibly minimalist live drums. A bass line is floating in the distance, subdued in chorus effect, sounding like computer-generated speech, as it sounded to the 80s contemplating how it might sound in the future. The guitars are similarly processed. Different characters seem to appear, perhaps through different vocal processing effects, and create surrealistic narratives, some appearing nonsensical yet eerie, some uncomfortably honest snippets from tales of dysfunctional modern lives, some crushingly nihilistic. “No. Nothing. Ever”, Dark Day echo throughout a six-minute track. Although Dark Day’s aesthetic feels quite distant in Exterminating Angel from Buñuel’s film, the claustrophobia, and the feeling of cold, is just as present.

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson – Einstein on the Beach [1976]

Einstein on the Beach is an opera spread over four LPs in the box-set that I own – I believe it may have been longer when performed, but some of the movements were edited to fit it on record. Talking about the entire opera would be too time consuming, and I’m potentially not qualified to speak at length on classical music, having never studied it and barely read a word on the topic. However, this opera can be spoken of in the same breath as Exterminating Angel. Both are based around the synthesizer, repetition, and nihilistic narratives. The second piece on the first record’s A-side, “Train/Spaceship”, kicks off with two female singers repeating a two note (upon the syllable of the word) anti-melody of “Nothing nothing nothing nothing” (repeat). Two synths, flute, and sax all repeat along, changing only subtly, throwing you off now and then. It’s still easy, though, to let this whole piece consume you and get inside your nerves. It’s interesting watching segments of this piece on YouTube. Philip Glass has this massive 70s afro, and he headbangs, but not in the sense that you see people headbanging at metal shows. Perhaps a couple times per minute, he pulls his head back slowly and looks upwards, as if communicating with something out there, then bam, drops his head, shaking his fro all over. Watching this, you get the sense that he’s found his own rhythm in the piece, and try all you want, it’s impossible to tap into. But this is one of those expansive pieces that everyone will experience differently, as hidden everywhere are different rhythms. You find your own, and go with it.

Flying Saucer Attack – Flying Saucer Attack [1993]

What would a flying saucer attack sound like? We all have some sort of idea in our minds, probably derived from the plenty of films out there with some sort of spaceship landing or invasion scene. The first that springs to my mind, though not quite an attack scene, is the scene in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the spaceship has landed and is attempting to communicate with the military, by way of music, playing a sequence of notes (likely coming from an analogue synth) with a sequence of coloured lights.

“My Dreaming Hill”, the first track off Flying Saucer Attack’s debut record, has some pretty strange sounds, like what a laser or tractor beam might sound like. Not long after, a washed out guitar kicks in and the pop song begins, but the strange sounds continue. Layered over this track is a dissonant sequence of notes, seemingly guitar-based feedback, that somehow neither add to nor detract from the existing melodies; they do not harmonise, but at the same time do not distract. It’s easy to imagine these notes as the voice of the spaceship in Close Encounters, perched upon a desert hill (or dreaming hill?), sending a message of peace or war or indifference to the populous of another world.

This record kills me. I heard it was all recorded to four-track, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the guitars were plugged straight in, amp-free, and the gains just flicked all the way up so that everything is in the red. It’s got this amazing maximalist feeling about it, where everything is so high in the mix that it just collapses into itself. Like an implosion. Like the big bang, everything getting sucked into the centre and then pushed back out, as new shapes and forms. I watched a documentary the other night about swarms of insects, and scientists were discussing them in terms as though they were a single organism, due to the unified nature of their group behaviour. I immediately thought that they could be tapped into a collective unconscious, either the same one that humans have greater difficulty accessing, or one of their own. Flying Saucer Attack sound like that. Like a swarm, a collective unit, so close together that you can’t find the space between the individual units comprising it. It’s easier to imagine it as a swarm of bees, the way this record buzzes. And like the supernova, the swarm expands and contracts, and in moments like the entry of the second guitar in the chorus of “A Silent Tide”, and the interlude at around 2:00 in “Wish” the bees all explode out at you and sting you in the fucking face.

His Hero is Gone – Monuments to Thieves [1997]

The last time that I was on tour in the United States, I played a show in Santa Cruz, California that was put on by a hardcore punk kid. After the show, he let me stay at his apartment. When we walked through the door, he put on a DVD with the sound off and asked if I’d like to pick a record. I scanned through his collection, and it was pretty comprehensive as to the staples and standards of punk music and everything that came after. I picked out an old favourite, His Hero Is Gone’s Monuments to Thieves, a raging down-tuned punk record full of sludge and d-beats.

A few songs in, I looked over at the television, and it was a Miyazake film playing that I hadn’t seen before; I’m still not sure what it was. I didn’t watch much of it, but got quite a kick out of how well the scene I caught synced up with the music on the stereo. The hero was galloping on a horse down a mountain and through a forest, while being pursued by a floating dark spirit in a huge cape. Both moved across the screen at breakneck speed. I have often thought about the sound and rhythm of horse’s hooves when listening to d-beat and crust punk bands, and in this instance, the drums in His Hero is Gone seemed to be the hammering of the hooves into the earth, in perfect timing, as if the speakers of the record player were somehow linked up to his television audio system. I got to thinking about how there was a deeper similarity still, between this scene and the music of crust punk (or neo-crust if you want to get really specific) bands. Crust is deeply rooted in its ideals and traditions, and carries its own mythologies with it. The themes discussed in the lyrics of many bands often centre around concepts of dystopia, apocalypse, and post-apocalypse, whether brought about by nuclear war or the uprising of anarchists bringing about an end to the modern world. The crust punk is active, he more likely than not subscribes to anarchism, and that anarchism is either a personal, self-sustaining notion of anarchy or a collectively driven spirit focused upon bringing change. Either way, the crust punk feels a sense of urgency, and this is expressed as much through their lifestyle as it is through the tempo of their music. The crust punk is driven to keep moving, galloping. The black spirit that floats behind him cannot actually be identified; its presence is certain, it is perhaps even omnipresent, but it is intangible. The crust punk cannot stop moving or he will be consumed by it. This dark force is often referred to in terms such as “capitalism”, “the system”‚“corporations”‚“society”. It is evil, and it is powerful, but the crust punk is heroic, he gallops onwards, he gallops through the forests and the burrs of black metal cling to his jean-legs, he gallops through the hills from San Francisco and heads into northern California, or perhaps he exits the woods to find nothing but a wasteland, the concrete and tar artifacts of progression and modernity. But no matter how far he runs, or how fast, the black spirit will be always just over his shoulder, haunting him, driving him. But the crust punk is the antithesis of the black spirit, he is the hero, he will not admit defeat, and he will most certainly never slow down.

Neil Young – Harvest [1972]

As a practicing vegan, people often ask me how I get manage to get by finding food to eat on tour. Traveling far and wide, and staying with many different hosts, it might seem like a bit of a thorn in the side to have an ideological attachment to such a specific diet. I’ve never starved, though, and among other things, this is largely due to peanut butter and toast. Its a staple, in every pantry, not just universally accepted but widely loved. I’m going to draw a parallel here to Neil Young’s Harvest, not only to help describe is appeal, but also to help explain the development of my relationship with it.

I’m not going to claim Harvest to be the best Neil Young record, but its certainly the most widespread. Harvest is a record that you can expect to find in almost any record collection. To the individual with refined musical taste, it is what peanut butter on toast is to the vegan. As someone who for a very long time did not own an iPod or a laptop and would travel for months without my own music, it was a blessing to come across this record so often, and I grew closer to it with each listen, in each new location with each new person. Wherever I went, I would find this record. Young kids in New Jersey, friends in Melbourne, couch-surfers in Italy, hipsters in LA, old field-recording fanatics in Berlin – everybody owned a copy. Even my Dad owned a copy, and he didn’t own many records, maybe ten or fifteen, I assume he got rid of the majority of his collection when he converted to Christianity in his late teens. The first time I played Harvest at home, my Dad said to me: “You can’t listen to Neil Young without a doobie in your hand! It’s the only time he’s ever made reference to drugs in my presence. I don’t know if we bonded at that moment, I didn’t admit it to him but I have of course shared a joint over this record in many a household. When the crowd cheers at the end of “The Needle and the Damage Done”, and is spliced straight into the smashing opening chords of “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”, it sends shivers down my spine, and the guitar solos that close that track smatter my brain into cosmic sludge. I feel like I can hear the notes dropping from the frets as Neil melts the strings into the neck, his fingers dripping with some sort of audible fragility that seeps deep into my person, causing me to feel faint and sink into my seat, closing my eyes and starting to see pinpoints of blue and red and green fuzz flickering throughout the enveloping black, spinning, until the needle lifts and I open my eyes to find the black still there, my hosts having switched off the lights and left me half-submerged into the couch to fall asleep, still blanketed by the warmth, and familiarity of Harvest.


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