There’s something powerful, otherworldly, in Theologian’s music that transcends not only genre classifications like ‘dark ambient’ and ‘power electronics’, but time and space as well.
Though the mind behind the sound, one Lee M Bartow (aka Leech), has been releasing music under Navicon Torture Technologies since 1997, this debut full-length under a new moniker is imbued with new energy—possibly siphoned from a collapsing star.
The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face is relentless from the very beginning. The howling blast of “Zero” entwines itself into your ears and mind and holds you there in its blackened embrace. While elements of NTT are still present (from industrial noise to completely deconstructed black metal), there’s a more ritualized psychedelic feel to this debut, akin to the esoterica of Coil‘s bleakest moments. There’s an obscure sort of melodicism apparent as well, though it’s the melodicism of the Void: the seesawing electronic hums of “Unfamiliar Skies” soon grow to resemble the looped coos of doves against an unfamiliar and shattered sky, while the vocal wails of “In Times Of Need, We All Go Against Our Natures” feel like a desperate cry from the pit, begging for release that will never, ever come.
Many (most?) would consider this to be noise music. I, however, view it as something close to body music: frequencies that touch not only the cochlea but spiral down into the muscle tissue, organs, nerves, and bones—perhaps the very soul itself, in whatever aspect of that idea you care to imagine. It’s meditative in an extreme way, hypnotic and sub-magickal. Close listening to discern new depths in tracks is essential here, for the Prophet Theologian soars as much as he crushes; “Bearing Bitter Fruit”, for example, sounds like Sunn O))) played at 1/100th speed, more raging than despairing. The combination of organic and mechanical sounds also evoke the obscenities of body-horror films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man: self-mutilation and torture that breeds synthesis and rebirth. The nature of the audio here scours the listener raw, but it’s cleansing, rewarding. The Further I Get From Your Star‘s release on Crucial Blast is fitting, for this is, indeed, crucial music. Look for a release on Experimedia in the near future.
Though now almost two years old, The Weeknd‘s debut mixtape House Of Balloons still feels as fresh now as it did the first time I heard it—which is why the release of Trilogy, which collects the aforementioned mix along with the followups Thursday and Echoes of Silence, is so important—to you, as an evolving listener, and to music, as an evolving idea.
The first track by The Weeknd that ever truly moved me was the Siouxsie-sampling ‘House of Balloons’, the title track from Abel Tesfaye’s debut 2011 mixtape. Here were the sounds of both musical sides of my youth, the goth-pop grandeur of ‘Happy House‘ reformatted into relevancy with soulful R&B vocals and hooks enough to raise hell. Not only that, but the entire mixtape is littered with references that make my ears go WHAT: snippets of Aaliyah, Beach House and Cocteau Twins fit snugly in, but as punctuation rather than structure. Indeed, an over-saturation of references would have made House Of Balloons merely a selection of refixes and nostalgia-tinged edits. But the productions and vocals are more than strong enough to stand on their own, which makes the well-used and occasionally-restrained samples glow even brighter.
That’s not to say the mixtape is restrained—from start to finish, it’s an all-night seduction. Tesfaye’s silky-smooth vocals caress the ears and mind, wrapping it up in an easy embrace of leave-in-the-morning lust that’s impossible to not fidget through. Yet despite the casual sexuality, you’re left feeling more invigorated than fucked-out. The soaring “High For This” sets the tone, beckoning with crook’d finger before taking you up, up, away into a realm of smoke and mirrors before bringing you down into the sweat-soaked afterglow of “What You Need”. Sung-light dappling skin, sheets damp with the smell of Human. Those familiar Sioux “whoa-ohhs” signal a change of atmosphere: the throb of lights, packed body throbbing entwined—and when that changeup comes, so will you. “Make that money rain as they’re takin’ off they clothes” croons Abel, and you’re oh so willing to throw it all away for another push, another thrust of that voice into your dripping earholes. By the time “The Knowing” arrives, the slap of the snare and the throb of the bass will have you on your knees with a mouthful of worship.
If there’s any fault here, it that’s the number of peaks throughout House of Balloons can be exhausting, an extended orgy that might leave you raw. But don’t worry: “It don’t hurt like you thought it would”…it’s a good pain. Following Balloons, I’ve been increasingly turned off from Tesfaye’s work as the production levels kicked up and that personal, weirdo-pop vibe (with a few exceptions) seemed to disintegrate…which is why I’ll leave parts two and three of Trilogy to my colleagues to review. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this soppy lusty prose has left me a bit coitus inner-earuptus, and it’s either a brisk jog around the block or a fuck-frenzy of bestial proportions. Somehow I think my workmates would rather the former.
The Weeknd’s Trilogy is out now on Republic Records.
I’m not much of a career person. In fact, I would say I’ve stumbled into almost everything I’ve done in life—not entirely by accident, but certainly without very much planning. And that’s more or less how I became involved in making film music together with Can founder Irmin Schmidt. But before I tell that story, I’d first like to say that I was never much of a Can fan. Actually, for most of my life, I felt like I never really “got” it. When it comes to German music from that era, Kraftwerk were always far more appealing to me. I first encountered the whole Can cosmos in the mid-nineties in Cologne when I was involved with Whirlpool Productions and doing mostly house music, which was becoming increasingly poppy. At the time, we only had a MIDI studio and were searching for something more professional to record our album. This is back when labels had money to pay for such things. Anyhow, after a short search, we ended up at the legendary Can studio in Weilerswist outside of Cologne, which was actually an abandoned cinema. This was where the band did almost all their recording and practicing from 1970 until around ’78 or ’79, when they split up and then turned it into a commercial studio run by René Tinner and bassist Holger Czukay. Basically, we fell in love with the studio and ever since I’ve been working with René, Can’s chief roadie and sound tech. Around 2001, René put me in contact with Irmin, who needed a programmer for the film music he was doing. So I went down to the south of France to meet him and his wife, Hildegard, who runs Spoon Records. We just clicked, right on the spot. And since then it’s been Irmin composing, me programming and René mixing.
I always had misconceptions about Can being “hippies” in their attitude towards music, and when I told that to Irmin, he went completely bananas. Can were highly scientific, filled with German efficiency, and insanely hard working. Of course, they had their rockstar fun, but they were absolutely not rock stars in any real sense. Irmin himself is very proud of the fact that he turned away from a career as a composer at the age of thirty after going to New York in the late sixties and seeing the Velvet Underground and the Fluxus people and listening to Hendrix. Irmin chose rock, but as a student of Stockhausen, he could have easily gone off to do big things in the contemporary and classical world. But that broader understanding of music—that’s what I would consider the “scientific” boundaries within which Can improvised, sometimes for days at a time and all of it recorded. They were one of the first rock bands to take the good stuff and edit the rest out. And that’s the context in which I hear the Lost Tapes: three pretty brilliant CDs put together by Irmin after wading through something like fifty hours of tape. In my opinion, almost every single track here measures up to Can’s greatest work—albums like Monster Movie or Tago Mago. And it does a really interesting job of putting songs with original singer Malcom Mooney together with those of Damo Suzuki. But most of all, it just sounds so good. Most of the Lost Tapes are straight up stereo recordings done by Holger Czukay live to stereo while playing the bass, which speaks to the success of their simple approach. “Dead Pigeon Suite”, “Bubble Rap” and especially “Midnight Men” remind me not only why this band was so important but also why the music seduced me as an adult. ~
Justus Köhncke is a producer and DJ based in Berlin. A founding member of house trio Whirlpool Productions, Köhncke currently releases disco and krautrock inspired minimal techno on Cologne’s Kompakt label.