Posts Tagged ‘theatrical’

7th July 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Well, this is a lot to take in: the pitch alone is a back and forth slap around the face of information overload as I struggle to absorb the idea of a ‘post-punk, synth-pop, new wave concept album that sings of the pleasures and difficulties of life within a haunted house’ which is ‘also multi-lingual’ whereby ‘Daniel will sing to you in Spanish about a werewolf, in English about a Ouija board, in Portuguese about a haunted house and in French about bats at Christmas time’.

Is anyone equipped to deal with this in our tiny-mind, hyper-anxietised, attention-short culture? I don’t really know if I am, and rather suspect I’m not, or even if I want this, and ‘m not sure I do, but there’s really only one way to know for certain, and that isn’t to ask someone who’s heard it.

According to the accompanying notes, ‘The title of the album, El Salón has multiple meanings. In Spanish it can reference a classroom, an art studio, a living room and of course, a salon. Daniel Ouellette says, “The best place I have learned to speak is in living rooms with loved ones who speak Spanish and this the title is in honor of my mates, my loved ones to whom I speak Spanish.”

As such, it’s a polylingual cocktail that draws on pan-cultural sources and a host of genres. This doesn’t make it any easier to assimilate, and the resulting product is a mixed bag to be polite, something I’m not always given to being. What do you get if you throw together Rammstein, Young Marble Giants, and Flying Lizards? The absolute toss of ‘A Planchette’. Pretentious, precocious, corny theatricals… it’s hard to swallow. It has novelty value, and I can accommodate that, but it just feels so painfully self-absorbed.

‘Duérmete’ is more palatable, 80s synth pop with a dash of Cure in the mix, and ‘O Lindo Sonâmbulo’ is a tidy slice of vintage electropop with a crisp and dominant snare. ‘The Kitchen Witch Who Stayed.’ is more bleepy, bouncy, and it’s wincey. It sits somewhere between Erasure and St Michel Front, but has the panache or aplomb of neither. St Michael Front demonstrate a winking knowingness, whereas Daniel Ouellette lacks that same sense of self-awareness, resulting in a clunky, awkward delivery made without a nod or a wank – and Ouellette is no Throbbing Gristle either. As a consequence, El Salon is a mixed bag and a shade patchy: at its best, it’s dark, stark, brooding and theatrical electropop: at its worst, it’s pretty cringy. In favour of El Salon, the best is proportionally better represented than the far from best, which is simply grating and cheesy. With its shifting forms, it’s hard to digest. Or maybe I’m just not ready to take it in all at once.

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Prophecy Productions / Auerbach Tonträger – 13th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Anyone who tells you Germans lack a sense of humour probably doesn’t have one themselves. Many of the Germans I’ve had contact with have been wry wordplayers and incredibly droll. Who could deny the humour of a nation that gave us Die Toten Hosen? And so it is that St Michael Front showcase a certain tongue-in-cheek amusement, and while their debut album revelled in the preposterous, their latest, which also happens to be the first in their native tongue, exploits the disparity between drama and drollery. For a band who play small venues domestically, and with a minimal setup beyond the projection of movie clips, their sound and presentation is very much a cinematic widescreen and 5.1 sound that’s bold and ambitious – and not just a little self-aware of the pomp and extravagance of their songs.

I have to confess that the arrival of ‘Knochen und Blut’, the second single from Schuld & Sühne completely skittled me, and I immediately found myself somewhat obsessed by the song, and its accompanying video. The song is so magnificently poised, balanced, dramatic, theatrical, while the video… the video is weird. Lifting clips from vintage movies is nothing new, but there seemed to be a certain revelling in the brutal here, and it cut a path from the previous video, suggesting that these guys have something of a fascination with clips of people pummelling or shooting the crap out of one another and scenes of destruction by fire and extreme weather. I’m actually reminded a little of Home Alone, and can picture them glued to all the old black and white gangster movies.

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Schuld & Sühne seems to revel in being overtly German, in the way that Rammstein are – yes, I know – more German than German (although it was Hanzel Und Gretyl who took this comment on the Jewish community prior to WWII and the label ascribes to architectural historian Niklaus Pevsner for his dubious support of the Nazis as a song title for a technoindustrial banger). St Michael Front are a hell of a lot more subtle than Rammstein, and a lot more fun, too: it’s far smarter than ‘Amerika’, but no less German, and no less bold or steeped in pomp.

There’s more than a hint of Sparks or even Pet Shop Boys here, and St Michael Front clearly ‘get’ the essential dynamic of the quintessential pop duo: impassive, static, stone-faced guitarist Bruder Matthias is the perfect deadpan foil to the subtly flamboyant and vaguely campy trenchcoat-wearing Bruder Sascha, and the interplay between the two across the songs is entertaining. They build drama, and there’s a keen theatrical element to the songs.

It helps that St Michael Front don’t resort to force, lyrically or sonically. Instead of bludgeoning the listener, Bruder Sascha has a knack for an expansive gesture, a raised eyebrow that’s arch and disarming, vaguely absurd, and knowingly so – and it translates beyond the videos – you can actually hear this coming through in the songs themselves. At times incongruously jaunty, at others giving a knowing nod, there’s a dry comedic element to the performance.

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Schuld & Sühne is at times brooding, at times breezy, even borderline cheesy (none more so than third single ‘1000 Namen’) – but for all this, there is something aching and beautiful about so much of it that makes it a magnificent and really quite special album.

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15th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Lately, being goth isn’t so much of a cause of derision, since everyone has been facing some existential angst about isolation and death in some form or another. It may sound a shade facetious, and the truth is, it is, but the point stands: circumstances have forced many people to reflect differently on life, and to experience a kind of alienation, as a result of separation and distancing in the most literal of senses.

And it is upon this thought that Johnathan|Christian singer/co-writer, Christian Granquist reflects when considering this new EP: “Unlike previous releases, the lyrics and inspirations on this one is a bit of a paradox” he says. “Some of our ‘usual’ vocal topics like loneliness, isolation and of course death have become so much more relevant during the pandemic. And for the exact same reason they appear less relevant, as they become less metaphorical.’

This EP may only contain four tracks (which feels like the optimal EP set, corresponding with vinyl 12” from the 80s), but does showcase some considerable stylistic range.

With ‘My Dying Words’, the duo spin a brooding goth tune that’s in keeping with the second wave style, and would be quite at home on a Nightbreed release. Lyrically, it’s one of those ‘big ego’ protagonist songs ‘You’ll never meet someone like me again’, he bombasts in the chorus.

The title track is a piano-led piece, that brings with it a certain theatricality and some moody strings. With live-sounding drums, the feel of the production is quite different, too. Recorded as a duet, it works well, presenting as a dialogue that plays out the themes of absence and missing, and the way those feelings can interplay, and drag on the soul.

After the brief string-draped interlude if ‘My Beautiful, Broken Butterfly’, ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’ pitches a drably spoken-word vocal delivery against a sparse backdrop of spindly guitars and a remarkably danceable beat, coming on like a goth Pest Shop Boys and building to a majestic finish.

A strong EP doesn’t only have strong songs, but is also sequenced in such a way as to have a flow, and Together, We’re Alone very much has that. It feels like more than simply four songs in the same space, but a self-contained unit.

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SPV / NoCut and ADA / Entertainment One

24th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

And we’re back once again in the divergent and varied field of what’s come to be goth in the 21st century, and it’s a very far cry from its post-punk roots. The late 70s and early 80s saw the emergence of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The March Violets, Christian Death and a slew of bands who would subsequently be labelled as ‘goth’, and who were subsequently joined by the likes of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Cult, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission, etc., etc. The fact of the matter is, there was little commonality between these acts, and that goth was something of a media fabrication. What about the fans? Let’s not confuse the fans and the artists, or a subculture with its icons. So what was a scene that never was morphed into an evermore diffuse group of subcultures, with an ever-broader range of bands who had little or nothing in common beyond their shared fanbase. After metal, there can be few labels that provide an umbrella for a greater range of styles.

So here we are, presented with The Book of Fire, the eleventh album by German goth-metal act MONO INC. And while it’s goth, it’s not really my kinda goth, and couldn’t be further from the dark post-punk or art-rock stylings of the first wave of bands. Is this evolution, or dilution, cross-pollination and contamination? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The album’s first song, the title track, is over seven and a half minutes long. It begins with a slick guitar that almost manages to sound like a harpsichord, and then it glides into some kind of Celtic folk metal and it very soon starts to become uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because such buoyant energy is more the domain of the hoedown knees-up. The folk-hued power-metal of ‘Louder Than Hell’ brims with positivity about strength and stuff, and explodes with crisp synths and choral backing vocals and it’s fun enough, but it’s also pretty cringy: it’s the kind of thing Germany might enter into Eurovision.

Then again, ‘Shining Light’ has such a massive chorus and a hook so strong that it’s hard to resist even when you’re hating it: it has that uplifting surge that lifts you and carries you away on the tide from the inside.

The euphoria swiftly dissipates with the next song, ‘Where the Raven Flies’, which is the definition of theatrical cliché melodrama. And herein lies the problem, which I accept is entirely personal, at least on a primary level. In short, I think it’s cheesy and naff.

On a secondary level, and one which is more objective, what The Book of Fire represents is very much a commercial take on the genre; theatre and drama don’t necessarily equate to an absence of depth, but this is good-time party goth, and any emotional sincerity is polished away under a slick veneer of pomp and overblown production. In this way, it’s as credible as examples of either folk or goth as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ or Doctor and the Medics’ rendition of ‘Spirit in the Sky’. It displays all the trappings, but none of the authenticity. For all the theatre, there’s a woeful absence of substance, the brooding is third-rate thespianism rather than the anguish of tortured souls.

Elsewhere, ‘The Last Crusade’ is riven with choral bombast, but is little more than an obvious ‘This Corrosion’ rip-off, that once again leans heavily on Germanic folk tropes, and ‘The Gods of Love’ similarly brings together Floodland-era Sisters with Rammstein. I’m sure plenty will view this as a good thing, but they’d be wrong, so wrong. ‘What have we done?’ they ask repeatedly on the final and suitably epic finale track ‘What have We Done’, and it’s a fair question: whatever it is, it’s not good.

In fairness, it’s not quite ‘Rocky Horror’ bad on the spectrum of play-goth, but it’s not far off, and while it’s sonically ambitious, creatively, it’s depressingly derivative.

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