Saturday, 20 October 2012

Hallo Halloween - Album Recommendation 3

Sonic Youth - Bad Moon Rising (1985, Homestead)

The most typically "Halloween" cover in the history of time?

Sonic Youth are a band renowned for their experimentation with the guitar – making use of unorthodox tunings and the technique, borrowed from avant-garde composition, of ‘prepared guitar’ to produce unique tones and strange timbres.

Of their ‘main albums’ (i.e. excluding rarer and more esoteric material like the SYR EPs and curios like Silver Session for Jason Knuth), it’s probably safe to say that 1985’s Bad Moon Rising is the album where such textural experimentation is most pushed to the forefront: unlike the noisy avant-punk that came before it on Confusion is Sex, and the increasing flirtations with more traditional structure that would come after it – much of Bad Moon Rising can almost be described as ‘ambient’ music, designed for establishing a mood and atmosphere through subtle instrumentation.

 In fact, when looking for which Sonic Youth album would be most appropriate for Halloween-listening, it’s hard to come up with an argument for why that album wouldn’t be Bad Moon Rising: for one, the cover of the album is a scarecrow with a flaming carved pumpkin for a head and as images go, you can’t really get much Halloweenier than that. And additionally, of course, that mood and atmosphere mentioned earlier can also be described as “pretty Halloweeny” – the band pull out all the stops on this album to make it sound as unsettling, violent, and tense as possible: we hear the whole host of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitar trickery – discordant chiming, noisy squalls, feedback quietly humming in a way that always sort of reminds me of the atmospheres of a John Carpenter soundtrack; Kim Gordon’s bass creeps in and out through the album’s duration, providing an effective rhythmic backdrop alongside Steve Shelley’s drums, which – when they come in – pulse mechanically in a way that, if Gordon’s bass is creeping towards you, then Shelley’s drums are chasing you relentlessly and showing no sign of exhaustion.

The lyrical content is appropriate to what Bad Moon Rising’s visual and aural aesthetics bring to mind: the legendary Death Valley ’69, for example, is a terrifically aggressive track whose title and vague lyrics (“She started to holler, so I had to hit it”) allude to the Charles Manson murders; and the lyrics to I’m Insane show a fascination with trashy pulp fiction novels as Thurston Moore sings fragments of the titles and back-cover descriptions of such novels in lines like “twisted passions, flesh parade...” and “one step more, he’ll stir your senses, scratch your surface and nail your head...” against the backdrop of hypnotically droning noise and industrial-sounding rhythms.

So, this year, why not play this album loud and terrify yr neighbours to the point that they won’t be able to file a noise complaint? Or make their day if they’re big Sonic Youth fans... whatever, I don’t know your neighbours. Just listen to it anyway.

(a wicked live video of I'm Insane, courtesy of Staffan Sladik)

A couple of other recommendations...

Public Image, Ltd. - Swan Lake

(courtesy of BonzoGoesToMexico)

On the subject of unsettling post-punk / noise-rock, it'd be foolish not to mention Metal Box and, in particular, this track from it; on which dub-influenced basslines and vaguely disco-esque drumming serves as the backdrop to chaotically noisy guitar work and the aggressive hyperactivity of John Lydon's vocals.

Akira Yamaoka - Pyramid Head (from the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack)

(courtesy of PeyserConley)

Playing Silent Hill 2 for the first time (with the lights on, of course, even though it was still daytime), I remember thinking that some of the noisier, more industrial tracks from Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack to the game (which, by the way, is great - especially if you're into trip-hop and moody ambient music) sounded very similar to a lot of what Sonic Youth are doing here, on Bad Moon Rising.

Listening to this now, I can definitely see where my young, terrified-of-weird-mannequin-legs-and-pyramid-headed-cleaver-wielding-manifestations-of-guilt self was coming from. The mechanical clattering of this track is especially reminiscent of the noisy chaos on show on a number of Bad Moon Rising's tracks, in particular something like Ghost Bitch.

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