Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The User's Guide to Skinny Puppy, Part III - Music


One day when I was in high school I was listening to Rabies by Skinny Puppy on a cassette tape in my bedroom while I was studying for a history exam. "Rivers" had just finished up and "Choralone" was starting. Time to stop the tape and either unwind or flip it over, you know how it is.

No, you don't. We all don't. Now we just hit buttons and songs come instantly to you, popping up out of some infinite electric void. We just conjure music now, and it's a realm of science fiction for people like me who remember that when you wanted to listen to that favorite record wherever you went, you played it loud, left a tape recorder on and left the room. An hour or so later and you had a tape of whatever you wanted. Now we have cd burners, computers and iPods. The music is ours, to command at will. A golden age.

In fact, tapes were weird because every cassette tape would eventually die on you. The tape would snap or flip over, sometimes while you were listening to it, and suddenly it would sound like you were listening to space aliens. Gotta love analog.

"Choralone" is a really weird song. Don't get me wrong, "Rivers" is it's own particular flavor of weird, but "Choralone" is bizarre.


The song sounds like a hymn to Anton LeVay, homeboy. I mean, it's like a hellish, soulless dirge or a grand, malefic chant to some eon-etched chthonic deity. I don't even know what the hell the song is saying. From what I remember, the first lyric is, "UNFURNISHED," whatever the fuck that means.

Seriously, the voice is this deep, dark, almost devilish rumble, like it's coming from a vampire that's buried in the soil three feet to your left. What is this song even fucking about?

I don't know, because I usually skip over it. Like all of us, we have favorite bands and songs we hate, no matter who made them. For instance, I hate the song "Jangling Jack" by Nick Cave. It's just a dumb song that not only does nothing for me, but it's actually a negative integer that subtracts from my happiness, just like "Choralone."

So I'm in high school listening to this tape and my mother barges in and says, "What are you listening to?" I respond, "Skinny Puppy, it's an industrial band." For those of you who don't remember, growing up with your parents is a lot like growing up in jail, and your mom and dad are wardens, guards, and parole board officers. Any infraction could land you in solitary.

Mom freaks out and takes the cassette tape. The song was just too much like Satan, so she swiped it.

"Can you tell me how to get?
How to get to...
SESAME STREET!!!"

I tried to tell mom I never really liked that song, and that to be honest I was still more of a Ministry man, but the problem is my room couldn't take a thorough inspection by The Man. One, I was hiding like two boxes of condoms in my underwear drawer (it was somehow poetic to store them there) and two, I still had my copy of Too Dark Park. If I couldn't explain my way out of Rabies, I certainly couldn't talk my way out of that album.

Before I go discussing TDP, my point is that some moms think everything is Satan when you are in high school and that some Skinny Puppy songs are inaccessible.

By inaccessible I mean that sometimes, the art is just, well, not going to do it for you. That is different than a song just not being your thing. For example, some people just don't care for Roy Orbison, because they just don't care for classic American rock and roll, and because they have no soul and probably devour the flesh of babies and live near dumpsters. What I mean is, if you don't like Roy Orbison please leave my blog and never  visit this hyperlink again.

An inaccessible song or artist or album is just something that is so totally out there, or maybe even chaotic, or even a little too minimalist like "MONOCHROME" by Kodo. Too Dark Park is crazy, it's almost too much Skinny Puppy for neonates to handle, but you can enjoy it. Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed is just plain fucking inaccessible. 

Friends don't let friends listen to this album. It's kind of like
listening to really loud radio frequencies having an orgy.

Like I talked about in my last post, it's fun to be into music that's weird. The problem is, "Choralone" has that deep, chanting voice that just makes me feel weird listening to it. I kind of have to pay attention, but then the lyrics are very weird so it's pointless to figure them out.

The lyrics of Skinny Puppy add to the intense defamiliarization a normal person might feel when confronted by cutting edge industrial music. It's got a weird bet, I guess I could dance to it, but what is he saying? When you think about your favorite songs, it's kind of a prerequisite that you sort of kind of have to know what the fuck the message is before you go chanting the song as if it's a mantra to joy.

Remission, the album I spoke of earlier, has a lot of cool songs like "Far Too Frail," which certainly sounds like Satanic disco, but it also has songs that are nearly as bizarre as "Choralone," like "Film."


Do you know what's going on in this song? You do? Can you tell me? Because I certainly don't know, and this is one of my favorite songs from my favorite album by my favorite band. Go figure. Maybe that's what happens...you listen to a band for so long that every song they have on that one favorite album they made is perfect, and if people don't like it they just aren't hip.

By the way, just so I can wrap up that whole story about my mother, what finally happened was my father got home, explained to mom that whatever modern industrial music had to offer had nothing on The Rolling Stones, especially "Sympathy for the Devil," my mother's favorite song, so maybe she should lay off my record collection. Fathers can be very cool like that.

The lyrics of Skinny Puppy basically seem to be stream-of-consciousness, although I certainly don't believe the consciousness that is streaming is anything remotely sane. Poetry is somewhat like that. If you read a poem and know what it means, you usually either have college degree in a relevant subject or the poetry is awful.

Since you already heard "Assimilate," I'm sure you quickly realized it was a song about man's decay and descent into some sort of cybernetic, dystopic, hellish future. "Oil remove shred tear radiation everywhere it's the fear so unclear man in motion going nowhere..." ok, we get it, stop driving your car all the time, plant a tree and just recycle, I get it, you don't have to scream it.

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is, Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate.

Up in Canada there are actually Caucasians
who are so white they end up looking
light blue.  

The next time you have a Halloween Party just turn the lights down and turn this up. The atmosphere will spook in no time. That's not to say it's the kind of album that's just too weird, but rather that, this album is just more ambient than industrial. It's a whole lot of beats, samples and sound effects. You just can't dance to this.

There are good songs, but for the most part this is a big collection of some pretty dense, experimental stuff. If you enjoy algebra, this is calculus. If you like Moby Dick, this is Billy Budd

Industrial does that, sometimes. A band just comes out with an album, and it's just the soundtrack to a horror flick, and not something you play as the sun is coming up and the road trip has just begun. I mean, songs like "Fly By Night" by Chilliwack or "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd is fun, sun and good times. Driving just a little too fast on the freeway while blasting something with guitar solos is an American tradition. 

Yeah, baby, program the cruise control and crank this up...

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