Thursday, May 10, 2007

It's Either Ether of the Other
It’s good to see that “Sleazy” is trying to keep the Coil back catalogue in print. And it’s especially good to see both volumes of Musick to Play in the Dark back in print, if only on CD.

The common feeling among Coil fans (both fickle and fanatical) is that the band’s finest work came early on, with Scatology and Horse Rotorvator. As far as the Blogglebum Cage is concerned, though, these albums are little more than juvenilia and things didn’t really take off until the post-acid house delirium of Love’s Secret Domain.

LSD seems to inspire an unnecessarily ambivalent reaction among aCOILytes. This is understandable as the band’s early Mars music is, at least, focused on the classic rock themes of adolescent rebellion and male empowerment. Under the spell of Kate Bush, The Butthole Surfers, Tim Buckley and acid house, LSD saw Coil move into their Moon phase and a world of their own.

A world that’s far too symbolically feminine and unrepentantly new-agey for most rock snobs and industrialists. Coil’s subsequent move deeper into what they openly called “healing music” found its ultimate expression on the Musick to Play in the Dark albums.

On a purely musical level, it's hard to fault the Musick to Play in the Dark project, either in terms of being good or in terms of being in line with the current zeitgeist. As on LSD, Coil's musickal architecture is constructed with the utmost attention to sonic detail and the results are startling both in clarity and density. The influences on display are pretty hip too - prog, library music, early academic electronica...

But how does one square all this with the - surely laughable - scented candle-lighting aspect of the albums' content? I mean, "musick" with a K, for goodness' sake! What's the deal with these superstitious old fishwives?

The thing is that Coil's music is all about the inseparability of the material and spiritual realms. They were always concerned with ritual and ritual is primarily a matter of using material objects and actions to access the mystic. What Coil understood was that all music essentially constitutes this type of ritual. For them, music making was a matter of ontological revelation and nothing captures the substrata of being quite like Musick to Play in the Dark does. Listening to these albums is like being plugged into an always-sensed but never previously seen level of reality. It's almost unbearably lucid. So while it's easy, maybe even fun, to laugh at the more obvious ritual aspects of Coil' musical practice, it's frankly beside the point.

Both volumes are essential for any listeners who consider themselves to have a serious interest in music and what music means. Go and buy them before they go out of print again.

7 comments:

charlie m. said...

Those albums are amazing, Im especially partial to vol. 1 but 2 is good too.

Biggie Samuels said...

In England's Hidden Reverse, Dave Keenan incorrectly asserts that Vol 2 was a huge disappointment. I've never understood that but I will admit that Vol 1 is the better of the two.

Biggie Samuels said...

BTW, this quote from K-Punk's recent post on HP Lovecraft sums up my feelings about these albums more than my own fumbling efforts ever could:

"Naturalism - the ordinary, empirical world of common sense and Euclidean geometries - will be shredded by the end of the tale, but it is replaced by a Hypernaturalism - an expanded sense of what the material cosmos contains - rather than a Supernaturalistic dualism."

charlie m. said...

Englands Hidden Reverse is a good read, I thought it was a bit c93 heavy...

Biggie Samuels said...

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that it was anything other than a really great book. I particularly appreciated the way Keenan

(i) gave plenty of attention to all of the bands' later work (which I prefer) and

(ii) basically ignored Death in June.

charlie m. said...

hahah yeah Death in June=3rd rate joy division cover band, Andrew Mackenzie from Hafler trio feels offended for being left out however :P.

Biggie Samuels said...

That is a puzzling omission.