Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky

Siim Kera

Ricky: “I was filming this dead bird.”
Angela: “Why?”
Ricky: “Because it's beautiful.”

“American Beauty”

With an album name like „Black Ships Ate the Sky” it was not hard to misthink that Current 93 may just be Explosions in the Sky rip-off band filled with wuss-musicians who read Camus and pleasure themselves while watching „Un Chien Andalou”. Well, good for me, I was wrong as doggone Tiger Woods.

Current 93 and Explosions in the Sky, while making completely different genres of music, share at least one same ground. They are both apocalyptical. Soundtrack to watching how the world slowly-slowly fades, but Texas post-rockers from Explosions in the Sky are way more hopeful than mournful folk behind the name Current 93. David Tibet is the only permanent member of the band, but there is always huge amount of contributors who help David to create his gloomy music that since 1984 has been released on over thirty albums and handful of EP’s. That IS mad.

Among others, “Black Ships Ate the Sky” includes cult singer/songwriter Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond who gave their voice to the methodist hymn “Idumæa”. Song that has 8 (!) different versions on the album. “Idumæa” is the best worst nightmare you have never had. It is haunting, it’s eerie and it will come back to haunt from night to night (or after one or two songs). “Idumæa” is the axe murderer who will kill you from dream to dream when you’re sleeping. At first you will wake up, shaking and covered with sweat, but you will get used to it and the slaughterer becomes your buddy. Your only friend. You will start to love his bloody Al Borland-like flannel shirt and his killer eyes. The 8 different versions are not exactly listener-friendly at first, but it works, because when your thoughts start to drift away from the music, there is this first line of the hymn that hits you with an axe, makes you pay the attention again: “And am I born to die?”.

Most of the album is filled with acoustic guitars. Of course, there are occasional other instruments like violins, banjos, pianos etc, but possibly the greatest song on the album has one of the wickest and simplest distorted guitar rhythms that just digs a tunnel through your head - even if you don’t want it. Noisy lo-fi with lyrics like “I would die for you now”, It is track 19th and it shares name with the album. If you add the weirdly magnificent guitar solo and the honesty and madness from David’s vocal effort (that almost sounds David Yow-esque), you get what it sounds to go crazy in Novosibirsk. Yes, IT sounds like Siberia! Actually, most of the album appears as that. Empty, cold and all possible synonyms for “sad” and “gloomy”, but at the same time beautiful. Tale of a man who is going mad.

“Sunset (The Death of Thumbelinna)" is another highlight, a catchy acoustic guitar tune accompanied by beautiful cello (?). At least one song that you could play to your parents without them thinking that you may kill yourself in the next few days. But hey, forget the highlights, album works nice as a whole. It flows smoothly and though it is hard to listen to, because it clocks’s at 76 minutes, it is still quite rewarding. Nice death music and I feel slightly distracted that I like it.

This piece is not exactly what you would play at your wedding, but I would truly respect couple who would want “Black Ships Ate the Sky” to be soundtrack of their (supposedly) greatest day of the life. Sorry, Mark Kozelek, but Current 93 is even creepier than your Red House Painters track “Lord Kill the Pain”. I bet that Ian Curtis would be in the first row at the Current 93 gigs if he still were alive. Sad is good. Don’t you kill yourself, David. There will be gloomy bands you want to see in thirty years from now.


Norman said...

Great review. Here's my ramble on the background of things, 'cause C93 is clearly one of my absolute favorites.

David's apocalyptic outlook on life comes rather concisely from his Christian background. So when he in track six "This Autistic Imperium Is Nihil Reich" sings...

"like Lazarus I arise in time/ For tea and toast and judgment/And all that stuff that rests in the land of Jack and Jill"

David has commented on the matter:

"‘Black Ship Ate the Sky’ is a narrative, as I refer to it, it’s a hypnagogic patripassianist dream narrative of the apocalypse. I’m using apocalypse as the proper sense of the word. Now it’s used for such things as Armageddon or destruction or holocaust, nuclear holocaust, the end of the world. Apocalypse, as in the New Testament means ‘the unveiling’ so this patripassianist hallucinogenic narrative is the unveiling, the pulling away of all the masks from those who are hiding the essential reality of what’s happening around them. ‘Black Ships Ate the Sky’ is my way of explaining how I see the world working. People might agree with me, they might disagree with me they might think I’m insane, they might think that I’m paranoid. I can appreciate people not agreeing with me but from my point of view it’s an absolutely factual description of what’s happening. This is the way of the anti-Christ, the second coming of Christ and judgement. " (you can get the rest of the interview about Black Ships in... )

As Siim rightly has pointed out, the madman has produced some 30+ records in the past three decades and about another half as guest appearances so "BSAtS" is really a tip of the ice-berg (although a very good representation of what C93 sounds like... about half of the times) and beyond the sad folk act there is also

some really disturbing ambient

some metal-kind of thing:

and, of course, disco:

In short, there's a whole world of C93 out there. And by listening to it all, you'll go a long way towards spiritual enlightenment. Either that or a mental institution.

siim k said...

I agree, listening to Current 93 was rather spiritual experience that anything else.

bv said...

No wonder the media has picked up on you 8) The literary imagery sets it apart (and may I suggest, above) a few other reviews; it may be enough to suggest that a track is danceable, gloomy or sublime, but it takes a leap of imagination such as comparing the music to Siberia (or going crazy in Novosibirsk) or conjuring up situational similes such as "At least one song that you could play to your parents without them thinking that you may kill yourself in the next few days" to make a review an enjoyable entity in itself.

I keep being intrigued by the use of second person singular; I've been sticking to it myself in my recent fiction because it sounds kinda natural but it's interesting to see other people do it as well; who is the "you" thus addressed? What does it tell about us who use (or "you-se") it?