(Krieg’s Neill Jameson recently completed a very well-read three-part NCS series on obscure black metal from the ’90s (collected behind this link), and now he returns to our site with a different kind of mixtape.)
Even though we’re still in the middle of the season where your chances of getting skin cancer AND being irritated at all times is still going strong, I’m attempting to be forward-thinking. Thus to take my mind off the heat, I’ve decided to write about miserable and morose music this time around. I figure if places are trying to shove pumpkin beer up our asses in the middle of summer then I might as well shove some gloomy music up whatever orifice you prefer. I’m trying to be considerate.
As some of these artists have wildly varying styles across recordings I’m just going to hone in on one specific one per, but the majority of these fine and well-adjusted folks have a lengthy resume to choose from, so don’t just take my preference as gospel, which I’m sure no one does anyway.
CHELSEA WOLFE – PRAYER FOR THE UNBORN EP 2013
Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, you’re either sick of hearing about Chelsea Wolfe or you can’t get enough of her music. I strongly fall on the side of bottomless consumption and can easily recommend any of her records. But for a myriad of reasons, I’d have to say my personal favorite (and unfortunately one of the most expensive) is the Prayer for the Unborn EP that Southern released a few years back.
First being that this is an EP of Rudimentary Peni covers, which is giving praise to a band that cannot be praised enough, and she goes deeper than the early stuff into where Peni got weird and also did their best work. She manages to make every song her own in that they’re barely recognizable to their original form unless you take the time to pay attention. The level of care and respect to the source material is overly apparent, making this one of the best collections of cover songs I’ve heard.
Secondly, she manages to capture an atmosphere in the recording itself that harkens back (to me anyway, and I’m sure not on purpose) to a lot of what Cold Meat Industries was releasing in the early and mid-1990s. Awash in a cavernous reverb, the songs seem just as visual as audial.
RUDIMENTARY PENI – CACOPHONY LP 1989
Probably the best UK punk record of the 1980s, Cacophony has already been written about for nearly twenty years as an achievement in not only guitar-based music but also as a flowing conceptual soundscape (which makes it sound a lot more pretentious than it honestly is). Based around the writings and life of HP Lovecraft and recorded on the other side of the decade from their debut full-length, Death Church, Peni manage to continue to hone their anarcho punk formation with liberal sprinklings of Joy Division-esque post punk and bizarre yet totally ahead of its time noise in order to weave together a consistent narrative throughout the record.
This marks the only time they really experimented with this kind of thing, and I suppose if you do it perfectly the first time then why fuck around and try to recreate it? All Peni records are fucking mandatory in my eyes, but this one sticks out for being psychotic and morose, thus landing itself in this list.
PART 1 – PICTURES OF PAIN LP 1985
One of the biggest pains in the ass was trying to find information years ago on England’s Part 1, mostly because typing that into search engines was a fucking nightmare, and when you finally could track down either their EP or LP you’d get into a bidding war that could equal a rent check (depending on what part of town you live in). Fortunately, last year both were reissued when the band got back together to briefly tour, including a stop in Philadelphia where I got a chance to see them.
Mentioning them constantly in the same breath as Rudimentary Peni (since both bands were horror-obsessed, from the same time period, and back in the day closely aligned) seems a bit unfair, as Part 1 seemed to have more of a goth/death-rock leaning sonically than Peni, as well as more of an occult theme. I remember one of the members saying they had a ton of unreleased shit on MySpace back when that was a thing, but I don’t know if anything ever came out of that. At least these records are easier to come by now and those of us lucky enough to have seen them live have something to hold over other peoples’ heads.
MARK LANEGAN – FIELD SONGS LP 2001
Out of the graveyard of the first few entries of this list and into a bottle and a near empty pack of cigarettes we go. Lanegan (who fronted Screaming Trees, who I mentioned a few pieces ago) has had a lengthy solo career which has produced a slew of honestly perfect records. Initially starting out as more of a world-weary bluesman, Lanegan honed this style into perfect on Field Songs and then abandoned it to begin experimenting with electronica, creating Bubblegum and Blues Funeral, which I had a hard time choosing between for this column so I recommend checking them both out.
I’ve also included his collaboration with Moby which was released as a single for Record Store Day a few years back because it’s a dark and depressing song, and also (for once) because the video is absolutely amazing. While you’re reading me ramble, I need to relay the story of meeting Lanegan after he played the TLA a few years back and how polite he was while I was an absolute fanboy who a lesser man would have probably just knocked out and walked away from.
DORTHIA COTTRELL – S/T LP 2015
Mostly known for her vocals in Windhand, Dorthia Cottrell was the first artist I saw when I started coming to Richmond when she did a solo acoustic show at Strange Matter. I was really impressed with how she managed to move out of the style she uses for Windhand into a depressing slice of Americana, similar to Lanegan’s mid-period records but just as soulful and as much her own. The full-length manages to capture the intensity of her live performances and shows that she can stand on her own (again, like Lanegan and his solo work vs his work in Screaming Trees) with a very morose take on country and blues from a time before it became all about waving a flag-colored dick in everyone’s face.
Even if you’re not a fan of Windhand but interested in music that will make you want to drink and hang yourself, then this is a highly recommended record and I hope she’s working on a new one.
VOMIT ORCHESTRA – BRIDGES BURNT LP 2007
I’m ending this list with a project that is able to evoke different images for different people. VO is one of the projects of D, who USBM purists will remember fronts Vrolok amongst others. This is incredibly negative and evocative ambient created with a variety of instruments and techniques to produce (again I’ll use this term, eat shit) extremely visual music that can suit many moods, though none of them good moods. While each recording is worth looking into, I found this one, this song especially, to be very soothing to the deepest depression. Hopefully a label will be smart enough to put this work on vinyl, but until then the majority of it is available on YouTube.
And thus we come to the end of an extremely wordy piece about extremely moody music. Hopefully you’ll have gotten something out of this one so that I can be invited back to toss more of this ongoing digital mixtape experiment into your newsfeed. Until then,