The two tracks that comprise this ultra-obscure EP by Les Vampyrettes (revered krautrock studio wizard Conny Plank and the late, great Holger Czukay of CAN) represent some of the most sinister music ever laid to tape. For decades, however, Les Vampyrettes was strictly the province of the world’s most elite collectors. Thankfully, in 2013 the great Grönland label reissued the record. (You can also find these cuts on Czukay’s just-released 5xLP Cinema box set.)
Pulling off sinister music is more difficult than it may seem, as it’s easy to topple into hokeyness or ham-fisted Hollywood tropes when venturing into hellish sonic miasmas. As you would expect from two masters of sound sorcery such as Plank and Czukay, Les Vampyrettes avoid those pitfalls. Holger proposed to Conny a series of singles with the theme of “horror with comfort,” and Les Vampyrettes resulted. They infuse the music here with a gravity and oppressiveness that are truly remarkable.
“Biomutanten” is a four-minute collage of seemingly random noises, but the way Les Vampyrettes arrange and produce them is chilling. Ominous pulsations and panicky ticking sounds, doom-laden twangs, alarm bells, emergency warning signals, Doppler-effected wails, myriad noises hinting at things going awry, a pitched-down-to-hell (literally, it seems) male voice speaking in German—all of these elements induce a serious dread and a feeling of a tenuous grasp of sanity gradually slipping. Do not listen on hallucinogens… unless you really want to lose your marbles.
“Menetekel” is a slightly shorter minimalist creepscape haunted by insectoid chirps, warped warbles, dripping and splashing water, and those guttural, lower-than-low/slower-than-slow German guy intonations. It’s not quite the mindfuck that “Biomutanten” is, but it’s still the antithesis of party music.
As fantastic and phantasmagorical asConny Plank and Holger Czukay’s discographies are, they may have conjured their most outlandish vibe with this one-off project. At certain times of the night, Les Vampyrettes might be regarded as both geniuses’ peak work. -Buckley Mayfield
Imagine hearing this music when it was created, in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Imagine how far-fucking-out it must’ve sounded to people who hadn’t yet experienced the great psychedelic cultural upheaval of 1966, who probably had only the faintest idea of musique concrète and Bebe and Louis Barron’s 1956 soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. Dutch composers Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan (aka Dick Raaijmakers) cracked open a Pandora’s Box of bizarre and breath-taking electronic tones and textures that some of today’s producers are still trying to emulate almost six decades later. Song Of The Second Moon captures the duo at a creative peak, generating compositions that embrace menace and whimsy, as well as order and chaos, with a poise that elevates them to the level of other electronic innovators like the aforementioned Barrons and Raymond Scott.
Baltan’s “Song Of The Second Moon” is the kind of synthesizer opus full of off-kilter jauntiness and mercurial insectoid bleeps that made ’90s IDM stars like Mike “µ-Ziq” Paradinas extol it as a paragon of pioneering electronic music. The beautifully desolate atmospheres and shattered metallic timbres of Tom Dissevelt’s “Moon Maid” evoke a sense of awestruck wonder, of planets tilting off their axes. Baltan’s “The Ray Makers” foreshadows Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s malfunctioning rocket noises on “Jetsex” [see my review of TEHB’s Zero Time from December 18, 2016] and Gil Mellé’s sinister, microbial ambience in The Andromeda Strain soundtrack. Dissevelt and Baltan were magicking science-fiction sonics that were way ahead of their time.
Song Of The Second Moon ends with a couple of deviations from the rest of the LP and reveal the duo’s facility for jazz maneuvers. On “Twilight Ozone,” Dissevelt offers a witty homage to Bernard Herrmann’s Twilight Zone theme, full of frightful horn fanfares and hurtling, white-knuckle rhythms. On “Pianoforte,” Baltan serves up nerve-jangling, disjunctive spy jazz that predates Ennio Morricone’s work in this vein by a half decade or so. Lordy, how did the squares of the early ’60s deal with this madness? Some heads still ain’t ready for this kind of structural and tonal discombobulation.
(Kudos to Fifth Dimension for reissuing this groundbreaking electronic LP. You should also pick up Sonitron’s archival releases of Dissevelt’s Fantasy In Orbit and Dissevelt and Baltan’s El Fascinante Mundo De La Musica Electronica.) -Buckley Mayfield
Throughout the ’70s, the French group Heldon forged one of one of progressive music’s most fascinating discographies. Their seven albums never wavered from greatness. The first few largely featured somber takes on languid, Robert Fripp-ian guitar meditativeness and drone tapestries while the last four found the music morphing into a more percussive, infernally throbbing brand of electronic space-rock that sounds like the ultimate score for a harrowing acid trip. (Hear Interface‘s title track for the peak of the latter style.) Heldon were led by Richard Pinhas, a guitarist and synth player enamored of dystopian science fiction and French philosophers. These interests fed into compositions that radiate an intense existential dread, albeit sometimes tempered by passages of eerie serenity and even pastoral bliss.
In Pinhas’ solo career, he muted some of the more horrific elements of Heldon’s output, but in his first LP under his own name (recorded in 1976), Chronolyse, you can still hear the mad scientist in thrall to Frank Herbert’s Dune in its nine tracks, which were done in one take, with Pinhas using Moog 55 modular synth in addition to his trademark guitar and Mellotron. The first seven pieces are relatively short and bear the title “Variations I Sur Le Thème Des Bene Gesserit.” (Wikipedia informs me that Bene Gesserit are “an exclusive sisterhood [in Dune] whose members train their bodies and minds through years of phyiscal and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders.”) They consist of insistent, repetitive pulsations that build a sense of great expectation. Think a more primitive and darker-hued version of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack for an idea of the mantric zones explored here.
The 98-second “III” is particularly manic, threatening to spiral out of control, but never doing so. The bedazzled “IV” is a mere 1:45 long, but its momentous, interstellar theme—which many ’90s techno producers replicated, consciously or not—makes you wish it were 10 times longer. “V” also sounds like an embryonic attempt at techno; if its tempo were increased by 30 bpm, it could’ve thrilled the masses at raves worldwide. “VII” would make an ideal score for a sci-fi thriller flick directed by a Stanley Kubrick disciple.
“Duncan Idaho” combines the compressed-air ominousness of “Interface” with the Autobahn-jaunty synths of Kraftwerk and Cluster ca. Sowiesoso—which makes it godly. Last but certainly not least, the 30-minute “Paul Atreïdes” begins with repeated modulated blurts of Moog that recall the pew pews of futuristic weapons in loads of sci-fi movies. These are overlaid with ominous drones that foreshadow some sort of incomprehensible catastrophe. About six minutes in, Pinhas finesses some King Crimson-oid guitar filigrees that arc and wail in great anguish. Then around the 15-minute mark, Heldon drummer François Auger’s odd, quasi-funk rhythm enters earshot, while Pinhas continues soloing on guitar with increasing fierceness and complexity. Toward the end, the piece cycles around to the opening theme, but now with a sense of resignation to accompany the dread.
Of the many records inspired by Dune (which I haven’t read nor have I seen David Lynch’s film, sorry to say), Chronolyse ranks way up there with Bernard Szajner’s Visions Of Dune (recorded under the name Zed). Such is its malevolent power, Chronolyse makes me want to investigate a genre I normally don’t enjoy. -Buckley Mayfield
Perhaps you don’t spend much time thinking about gay porn soundtrack music. No worries—it is a fairly niche subgenre. But if you happen to be curious about this stuff, you could hardly do better than to explore the output of Patrick Cowley. Luckily for us, the Dark Entries label has reissued two collections of Cowley’s ’70s and ’80s work, School Daze (2013) and, most recently, the double LP Muscle Up. Whatever clichéd vision you have of gay porn soundtrackage, Cowley will make you readjust your expectations.
Cowley’s music is often eerily atmospheric and, yes, funky, but not in any cheesy, hamfisted way. Some tracks—like “Cat’s Eye,” “The Jungle Dream,” “Uhura,” “Mockingbird Dream 2,” and “Deep Inside You”—sound more like scores for space travel or nature documentaries than they do of cinematic sex. Beatier numbers like “Somebody To Love Tonight” and “Pigfoot” pump with a sexy thrust, but are also adorned with the sort of astral synthesizer dust that will enrapture Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Heldon fans. “5 Oz. Of Funk” is the most lubricious/tumescent piece here, and it is sure enough filthy to the core. But then you get something like “Timelink,” which sounds like a didgeridoo hyperventilating in the ozone layer. It’s kind of funny and ludicrous to think that this tune thrummed in the background of some dudes’ orgasmic experiences.
But credit to Cowley for landing this sort of utilitarian job and creating something extraordinary and subversive; what was probably a low-rent gig resulted in high art. [Muscle Up comes with informative liner notes and an XXX-rated poster.] -Buckley Mayfield
After the release of “Dance Hall Days,” Wang Chung had the fortune of being discovered by director William Freidkin, a man known for his recruitment of bands to produce film scores. Wang Chung joined the ranks of Tangerine Dream and The Germs when they scored “To Live and Die in L.A.”
They prove to be an excellent and integral part of the film, a self-aware macho action flick with plenty of action tropes set to punchy drum machines and thick synth lines… though the film’s more subdued moments show Wang Chung’s interest in classical music (use of flutes, cellos, no drum machine accompaniment). “Lullaby” is a laidback pop number with plenty of great changes for a seemingly sleek and simple number, but “City of Angles” on side two is the real track that showcases Wang Chung’s musical knowledge and modern craft. At just more than nine minutes, they provide most of the score for the entire film, and the feeling is as immersive as L.A. is expansive.
Not just a film score but a stand alone album of experimental pop, “To Live and Die in L.A.” is an OST to own if you’re a fan of synth, classical or new wave sounds. -Wade
The title track on this 7” was written in a taxi cab, concerning a French girl walking down a beach in England. This perfect piece of clarinet-led pop, easy-listening used in a popular BBC serial, was also taken to the moon and enjoyed by the crew of the Apollo 10. English Clarinettist Acker Bilk worked with the Leon Young String Chorale to create the sweet and sensuous mood, as welcoming as a lit wood-fire stove, long after the sun has set on your fondest beach memory…
The b-side is a moodier affair thanks to the addition of a slow, driving waltz pattern accented by an unchanging high-hat. No drums are to be found in the title track, and so the feeling of unbridled infatuation wasn’t grounded. “Take My Lips” has Acker still leading his Chorale, but coupled with the locked drumming, his group creates a feeling of want less innocent than “Stranger…” more like pent-up desire than innocent passion.
This single can touch the heart with its simple pop arrangements, and it’s classical/jazz components are placed with sophistication. Scour the 7” bin for this one! -Wade
The title track is reason enough to own this great LP. It’s a jazzy, strutting, ethereal masterpiece of music that hasn’t aged a day in 40 years (don’t those cymbals and echoing snare-drum wafting in over the piano on the intro just give you the chills?) and stands as a major landmark in both movie music and the career of Marvin Gaye.
The rest of this soundtrack is just that, beautiful ‘sound’. The instrumentals that comprise this collection incorporate elements of jazz, soul, classical and pop, to stunning effect. While the movie itself hasn’t exactly endured very well, the accompanying music is timeless. Mr. Gaye had yet another classic on his hands. —Willie
Another record I dismissed on first sight, Cat People has become a go-to, both for Djing and home listening. Although I’ve still never seen the questionable-looking sci-faux film this was made for, it’s almost beside the point. This thing could have been made to soundtrack an instructional guide to the cat’s cradle and it would still rule.
Cat People followed Moroder’s American Gigolo soundtrack by only a couple of years, but the departure from the Italo-disco sound he helped trademark is considerable. Everything here is slowed down to a twilight half-speed. David Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline)”, a slow-to-ignite, soul-rock number, actually sounds more at home here than on his chart-busting Let’s Dance album, and is the most muscular piece by far. Breaking the synth lines and drum programming of his earlier work down to a sinister, skeletal slow-pulse proved yet again Moroder’s vision in his unflinching willingness to break with the past to stay a step ahead of the game. However, this time it would be nearly 20 years before the bedrock vibrations emanating here were felt at all, first surfacing in the brief synth-electro revival of the early 2000s, and more recently in the narcotic crepuscule of Chromatics, who brought the new crop of interpreters to wider recognition with their work on the Drive soundtrack. A direct line can be drawn from Cat People and everything Chromatics producer Johnny Jewel and his Italians Do It Better label have done to bring the new wave of synth-italo-disco to the masses in the last half-decade. The heavily reverb-ed, delicately plucked and muted guitar lines and cinematic synth wash of Chromatics, Glass Candy, Desire, and their current legion of followers can be traced directly to this record, one of the most compelling and original records of it’s era, soundtrack or otherwise. –Jonathan Treneff
Even if you haven’t seen the film — and heck, if you haven’t, why not? — this is a remarkably satisfying soundtrack album, put together by Jack Nitzsche and featuring Ry Cooder on guitar. (In places this sounds extremely close to Cooder’s own scores, such as for Paris, Texas.) Randy Newman sings “Gone Dead Train” in a much more urgent style than anything on his own early albums, while Mick Jagger’s version of “Memo from Turner” — with Cooder on guitar and members of Traffic — is a gloriously sleazy blues that should be in any Stones fan’s collection. (If you’ve only heard the Stones’ own fumbled version on Metamorphosis — according to legend, deliberately sabotaged by Keith as revenge for Mick screwing Anita Pallenberg on set — you really haven’t heard the song at all.) And how can you pass up a soundtrack that has the good sense to include the Last Poets’ “Wake Up Niggers”? (The first “rap” I’d ever heard.) –Brad
The battle’s over, but the war has just begun… There was only one place any boy in the summer of ’86 wanted to be – in the local multiplex soaking in Transformers: The Movie. Stepped-up animation, Transformers (including the presumedly indestructible Optimus Prime) getting shot and DYING, and bad language, this one promised a full dose of PG thrills. A few decades later, the movie is more of a chore to sit through, but the soundtrack holds up as a snapshot of mid 80’s pre-teen dreamin’. A mix of period AOR, slick metal, and evocative fusion/prog instrumentals, Transformers: The Movie plays up the good guy/bad guy angle with Stan Bush’s amazing double-shot of self-confidence in “The Touch” (reprised by Mark “Marky Mark” Whalberg in Boogie Nights) and “Dare,” while Kick Axe transform into Spectre General to deliver some evil Decepticon rock with “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” and “Hunger.” Lion’s metallized version of the classic theme song is a pure laserblast of energy, and NRG’s “Instruments of Destruction” keeps the cannons blazing. Wrap it up with Scotti Bros. pride and joy, “Weird” Al Yankovic doing his best Devo impression on a rallying cry to kids across the country strung out on sugar and Atari, “Dare to be Stupid,” and I’m ready to slap on my Walkman, and hop on the ol’ Huffy BMX for some suburban curb burnin’. Transform and roll out! –Ben
A monument of 70’s soul music that totally eclipsed the film it scores and for good reason as an average film continues to get a lot of attention on the back of this record. While the film seemed to glamorize drug dealing in the black community Curtis told the real and much less appealing truth about his communities struggle against its evils. In doing so he produced a record of real power and one with a bittersweet feel as serious and depressing subject matter is delivered by the delicate almost angelic falsetto. It is up there with the great soul concept LP’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Donny Hathaway’s “Extension of a Man” that signaled a major shift in the power of soul and black music in general. –Jon