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Conceived, compiled & created by Sam Rosenthal, Spring 2011 Cover image: John-Riley Harper, website. Model: Courtney Edwards.
Here She Comes a Tumblin'
Projekt Presents: A Dark Cabaret
A Sepiachord Passport ~ SALE $5
Well, my pretties, what have we here? It's the long-awaited follow-up to Projekt's compilation, A Dark Cabaret. Huzzah! Selling over 15,000 units, that 2005 release introduced the world to the Dark Cabaret genre, drawing on the aesthetics of decadent, risqué German Weimar-era cabarets, burlesque and Vaudeville shows mashed with the stylings of post-1970s goth and punk music. Projekt's Sam Rosenthal coined the "Dark Cabaret" term in the late 90s, and thus he is the ideal person to compile A Dark Cabaret 2, a delightfully dark and delicious collection featuring 12 artists: fan favorites and new acts soon to be legendary.
Voltaire opens the set with "Coin Operated Goi," his humorous parody of The Dresden Dolls' track which opened DarkCab1. Boston is well-represented with HUMANWINE and Boston Phoenix's Best Live Artist of 2011, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys; both acts are rollicking and scorching, bringing energy to the late night burlesque. Darlings of DarkCab1, Katzenjammer Kabarett are reborn as KatzKab, inciting the listener to "Join Us" on an infectious previously-unreleased track of quirky experimental pop with an 80s electropunk edge. Black Tape For A Blue Girl present their emotionally charged, theatrical, bold & raucous, shanty "Sailor Boy;" Jill Tracy seduces with "In Between Shades," a dark, elegant netherworld full of hidden passageways, wonder cabinets and opium dens. Newcomer Adrian H and The Wounds slithers into our lives with the gravelly-vocalled, sinfully soulful "Bad Man." Enigmatic Italian band-leader Simone Salvatori brings Spiritual Front's "Song For The Old Man;" while Unextraordinary Gentlemen's "Black Iron Road" travels the cold, shaded streets of a Victorian Purgatory in this mix by the legendary Barry Adamson. Twenty-five years on and Eva is back for another waltz through Amsterdam's dark underbelly on Attrition's "A'dam & Eva (the resurrection)." The winner of the "Is that Amanda Palmer or what!?!?!" prize goes to England's Birdeatsbaby with their schizophrenic hymn ‘The Trouble’ (the video has over 89,000 views on YouTube!). Pop noir veterans ThouShaltNot bring the disc to a ghastly conclusion with their Tin Pan Alley excursion into supernatural insanity, "The Haunted Phonograph."
Sordid, seductive, catchy and fascinated with the darker side of life, this release is a truly delectable confection. Is that a hint of bitter almond in the meringue? Put on your sexiest flapper dress or Gatsby-esque paper boy hat as A Dark Cabaret 2 puts a new twist on an old fashioned beat; it is dark and twisted, sassy to sinister, a mesmerizing combination of old styles made new.
Katzenjammer Kabarett have reinvented themselves as Katzkab, and appear here with an inventive mix of classical piano and strings, wild psychedelic rock guitar and angular alt-pop. Spiritual Front juxtapose dark folk, sombre synth and military drumming with a jaunty accordion and catchy chorus, with highly effective results. Unextraordinary Gentlemen are basically a classical-tinged and slightly off-centre reinvention of 80s gothic music. Jill Tracy's "In Between Shades" is blues combined with sophisticated pop balladry and wrapped up in a dark gothic atmosphere. Adrian H and the Wounds provide a sleazy mix of jazz and cabaret with horror film-esque lyrics delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. Attrition's track is a creepy gothic number, adding an eerie, lopsided accordion riff and intense, edgy violin. Thoushaltnot set dark yet tongue in cheek humour to a mixture of cabaret-style piano, jazzy horns and theremin.
Dark Cabaret is an inventive genre, bringing together the sombre, the sleazy and the sophisticated, in a manner that rarely takes itself too seriously. This compilation is an ideal place to begin exploring the style. -Kim Harten
Projekt released their first A Dark Cabaret compilation in 2005 to critical and commercial success, and now – in perfect sync with Autumn's arrival – the inevitable sequel brings another collection of sly and slinky tracks from these and many other artists.
Besides their vintage influences, one thing that's fairly consistent among these artists' offerings (and one of many reasons to check this disc out) is a focus on themes of tragedy, death and the supernatural... which seems perfectly suited to melodies of a bygone era: you can easily imagine many of these tunes crackling out of an antique record player in a haunted-house flick, summoning restless, seductive ghosts to spin around a dusty, abandoned ballroom.
But it's not all serious business, either, especially when you've got cats like Voltaire on the job. The macabre musical comic opens the album with "Coin Operated Goi," an affectionate and hilarious jab at "Coin Operated Boy" by goth-rockers The Dresden Dolls. The carnival-style track "Rivolta Silenziosa," from Humanwine's 2006 EP of the same name, is both smooth and gritty, thanks to the alternating male and female vocals and electric guitar paired with piano and buzzing brass.
"Sailor Boy," from Black Tape for a Blue Girl's 2010 album 10 Neurotics, is a grim tale of a lethal seductress of the sea, driven by a stomping waltz tempo beneath clean acoustic guitar and ghost-story vocals. It's one of the album's darkest tracks, counter-balanced by "The Trouble" by UK act BirdEatsBaby (love that name, by the way). This one's another keeper; a perfect summation of the style, mood and theme that A Dark Cabaret represents – with an extra dose of surrealist humor.
Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys present the melancholy "Sea Song (Mare Carmen)", from their album Steamship Killers, which calls to mind a crew of undead sailors finding their way back home; they're followed by the more lighthearted but no less eerie tones of KatzKab – who first sparked my attention with their album Grand Guignol and Variétés. For this collection they've unearthed the previously unreleased track "Join Us," which showcases their early '80s underground sound reminiscent of early Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The bizarro lyrical stylings of Spiritual Front's Simone "Hellvis" Salvatori get some great play in "Song for the Old Man," backed by a surprisingly sweet accordion harmony and a soulful lead guitar. So-called "Victorian synth-punk" band Unextraordinary Gentlemen rework their song "Black Iron Road" from the album Five Tales from God-Only-Knows, with stark, stripped-down instrumentation and a relentless sledge-hammer rhythm; then an amazing, threatening piano pattern sets off the deep & smoky vocals of Jill Tracy's "In Between Shades," another of the album's most memorable cuts.
The influence of gravel-throated folkster Tom Waits permeates every second of Adrian and the Wounds' "Bad Man," which plays like a boozy barroom number in a spaghetti western made by aliens. Dark experimental band Attrition, the long-lived creation of Martin Bowes – and one of my favorite bands for many years – bring the epic "A'dam & Eva (The Resurrection)," a dark and dangerous tune tailor-made for a monsters' masquerade, complete with pipe organ and a sparkling cello line. That inviting chill continues through the closing track "The Haunted Phonograph" by ThouShaltNot, a classically sweeping steampunk piece highlighted by the versatile vocals of Alex Reed.
Chances are you already think "spooky" and "sexy" are not mutually exclusive, but even if you have your doubts, this compilation will probably blow them away. You don't have to be part of the fishnets-and-eyeliner crowd to enjoy this material either, because there's a timelessness to this kind of music that helps break through genre walls... but I'd still recommend dimming the lights, then sparking up some incense and a few black candles to get the full experience, especially in a romantic-type situation. (Come to think of it, you should probably light the candles first... I don't want to be responsible for you setting your date on fire.) -Gregory Burkart
El melodioso espíritu contenido en el sonido del piano nos presentará el tema “Join Us (Edit)” de Katzkab hasta que el talento creativo de Spiritual Front, y su búsqueda de nuevas fronteras dentro del neofolk, nos permita deleitarnos con la canción “Song For The Old Man” y con este estilo musical que tanto estamos amando y disfrutando en Occidente desde hace años. ¡¡¡“Song For The Old Man”, otra joya musical en este magnífico recopilatorio!!! A continuación, la ambientación instrumental de corte industrial del tema “Black Iron Road (2011 version)” nos llevará a atmósferas musicales más densas y oscuras gracias a la innovación conceptual y a la vanguardia sonora creada por Unextraordinary Gentlemen en esta composición. ¡¡¡“Black Iron Road (2011 version)”, una canción oscuramente deliciosa!!! A estas alturas del álbum, los lectores de Lux Atenea Webzine no podrán evitar tener pensamientos de agradecimiento a este alquimista de la vanguardia musical llamado Sam Rosenthal, por haber realizado esta exquisita selección musical destinada a los fieles seguidores del prestigioso sello discográfico Projekt Records. Un óptimo trabajo a la hora de elegir lo mejor y más destacado dentro del panorama musical actual. Pero todavía nos quedan muchas más composiciones con las que seguir estimulando con música nuestra alma, y Jill Tracy llegará con su hipnótica y fantasmagórica canción “In Between Shades” para poseernos, siendo el tema “Bad Man” de Adrian H And The Wounds el que dé continuidad sonora a este siniestro encanto sonoro. Una dinámica musical donde el grupo musical de culto Attrition siempre se ha sentido cómodo y creativo, siendo la caleidoscópica canción “Ádam & Eva (the resurrection)” una muestra clara de su tremenda capacidad artística para continuar hechizándonos. Finalmente, será el tema “The Haunted Phonograph” el elegido para poner un cierre a ritmo de cabaret para este impresionante disco de la mano de Thoushaltnot. “A Dark Cabaret 2”, como ya viene siendo norma en Projekt Records desde hace tiempo, cada nuevo recopilatorio vuelve a convertirse en un álbum imprescindible con lo más selecto del panorama musical gótico & independiente. ¡¡¡Disfrútenlo!!! -Lux_Atman
Voltaire does an affectionate pastiche with ‘Coin Operated Goi’ like a music box powered by utterly filthy thoughts. It’s also catchy in a quite jovial manner and lolls around with a deliberately faltering gait, as though Fiddler On The Roof involved masturbation under the stars. Humanwine have earthier carousing to unfurl during ‘Rivolta Silenziosa’ with the vocals unwinding cleverly, brightly gritty and the lyrical barbs catching and keeping you hooked as the brackish music proves strangely attractive. Black Tape For A Blue Girl gurgle through their belligerently sing-song ‘Sailor Boy’ which I’m sure you’re familiar with. Self-professed alt-classical-prog-punks Birdseatbaby have that quixotic drum rattle as the keys stream along in a busy-busy ‘The Trouble’ and the strings pinch. Kate Bush finally meets Sex Gang, that sort of thing.
Walter Sickert & The Army Of Broken Toys seethe and swell thickly during the urging tenderness of ‘Sea Song’ which is comparatively short, when you want it longer, but it’s effectively brisk and charismatic. Katzkab (much simpler than Katzenjammer Kabarett) enchant in ‘Join Us’ with the divine keyboard intro and a string curtsey then snapping into some fast and louche post-punk poppery! Wonderfully snappy stuff. Spiritual Front are far more serious with the serenely drippy ‘Song For The Old Man’ like Nick Cave being rocked in a cradle to elegantly theatrical backing. Unextraordinary Gentlemen then do a fantastically juicy 2011 version of their inspired ‘Black Iron Road’, clanking with a stunning bass tease and wonderful vocal drama.
Jill Tracy’s ‘In Between Shades’ is a lovely low-key vibrating ballad with twisted innards, but I’m not sure if this fits the cabaret thing, compared to the others teeming sensibilities, but it certainly provides further variety. Winner of the I Wear Kurt Weill’s Old Pants award goes to Adrian H & The Wounds and the pukily pulsating ‘Bad Man’ with sleazy brass investing the sprawl of traipsing drums and rheumatic keys, as the hoary vocal presence unleashes a magnificent burst of story-telling. Marlene Dietrich with a beard, that type of image.
Attrition’s ‘Adam & Eva (The Resurrection)’ is pretty weird because it instantly fits in with what we’ve just heard as though this is a musical cloak you can easily throw on if you know how, but gradually it assumes a lighter shape in the background, while still crumbly-grumbly to the fore, with doom-laden vocals contrasting against some gentler strains. That’s all been quite dark and heavy so it’s cute to hear Thoushaltnot trip gaily through ‘The Haunted Photograph’ with a tale of wicked whimsy that harnesses early dance movie razzmatazz and making for a brilliant end to an absorbing compilation.
"A Dark Cabaret 2" has been in the works for awhile and I was a bit concerned as to how it would stack up against the original, seminal release. I shouldn't have worried. Projekt founder Sam Rosenthal has been waving the "dark cabaret" banner since the late 90s so you know he takes this seriously.
"A Dark Cabaret 2" is loaded with some of the leading lights of the macaberet underground: Walter Sicker & the Army of Broken Toys, HUMAWNINE, Voltaire, Jill Tracy, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Any compilation with this line up is already worth your attention and pin money.
But in addition has some of my absolute favorite "up and comers" in the genre: Birdeatsbaby, Adrian H and the Wounds and Unextraordinary Gentlemen. "A Dark Cabaret 2" is the first set to bring these amazing artists together and kudos to Projekt for beating everybody to the punch. These are artists you should know about, artists that if you get into now you can start bragging about when your friends finally latch onto their wavelengths months from now. In addition to all of this you get "The Haunted Phonograph" which is the best ThouShaltNot tune I've had the pleasure of hearing.
And with this collection coming out on Projekt there can be now doubting the release's noir street-cred. In the end I'm pleasantly stunned to admit that "A DARK CABARET 2" IS ACTUALLY BETTER THAN THE LANDMARK "A DARK CABARET"! That's no mean feat, so Rosenthal and all the artists involved should be patting themselves on the back. This CD, like "The Empire Strikes Back", is one of the few sequels that *surpasses* the original.
There are a couple of hitches though. The compilation open with Voltaire's "Coin Operated Goi", a parody of the Dresden Doll's "Coin Operated Boy" (the ditty that opened the first "Dark Cabaret"). There's a nice symmetry here and I appreciate staring things off with a sense of humor in place but, while I adore Voltaire, this song crosses the line from clever and funny into novelty track. It's not that it isn't good or not funny but it is from a few albums back from Voltaire so the gild is off the lily for me.
Secondly (and second on the CD) is "Rivolta Silenziosa" by HUMANWINE. Please understand: THIS IS A GREAT SONG. It deserves its position as a contemporary classic. But the song goes back to (at least) 2006 and it the band has grown so much since then that I'm afraid that new listeners are bound to judge the band on who they were as opposed to who they are now (it's akin to judging the entire Doors catalog after only hearing "The End").
BUT THESE ARE MINOR QUIBBLES AT BEST. Both of these songs are great listens and there isn't a single clunker in the entire collection, *that* alone is reason enough to recommend a compilation CD.
"A Dark Cabaret 2" isn't just recommended. It's required listening.
E’‘ un genere assolutamente di nicchia ma esiste, limitato ma affascinante, a volte solo lambito da una canzone all’‘interno di un album, un’‘ispirazione che viene, passa, rimane su solco e determina un episodio: qualche anno fa Dresden Dolls con l’‘album eponimo ed Ataraxia con “Paris Spleen” hanno creato un’‘opera intera dedicate al dark-cabaret sound.
Facciamo alcuni passi indietro nel tempo per incontrarlo altrove. Dove?
A volte con Siouxsie (“Join Us” di Katzkab qui è esemplare), altre volte con i Wolfgang Press, spesso con Nick Cave (ascoltate il blues maledetto di Adrian H And The Wounds “Bad Man”) ed avvicinandoci agli States, strisciando tra olezzi di roulotte e villaggi sudici del sud, con John Lurie, Tom Waits, ovunque sia stato coup de foudre tra i musicisti ed il cinema, fatale se con Jim Jarmusch o Emir Kusturica.
Verso la fine del sampler, maledetto ed ovattato, di nuovo un blues, ora in compagnia di Unextraordinary Gentleman e “Black Iron Road”, accoglie il precedente richiamo di Adrian H And The Wounds, due momenti in cui la cultura della strada intesa come viaggio senza meta, senza casa, senza riferimento, diventa il viaggio dell’‘uomo che vince la paura dell’‘incertezza, anche quando il sound puzza di alcool è sempre un punto di partenza creato tra immaginari di pianura, orizzonti vasti, narrazioni per adulti perché reali quotidiani vissuti. Perché è il cinema che vuole questa musica; può rimanere fine a se stessa ma è così suggestiva in ciò che evoca, porti, luna-park, cantine o sobborghi dove tra blues e wishky (con ghiaccio please…), pianoforti suonati da geni con le mani unte e puttane colte e sfortunate, qui, tra le maledizioni, tra gli inferni quotidiani nasce il dark-cabaret, insieme a lui il cugino steam-punk al quale Projekt ha dedicato un anno fa un sampler tutt’‘ora enciclopedia sonora del genere.
Il cinema: Fellini o “Cabaret” con Liza Minelli e Michael York, sono territori in cui la musica diviene attrice assieme al cast, con Fellini regna il circo, in “Cabaret” lo chapiteau è il teatro, un circo senza animali o forse gli animali sono gli attori; un percorso che da anni scorre sotterraneo, fino ad oggi con Tim Burton (“Big Fish” il capolavoro) o “Parnassus”.
“Rivolta Silenziosa” di Humanwine è jazz frenetico, teatrale, una brass-song creata per garantire calore al duetto grottesco, innaturale, due maschere anche sonore esaltate dai fiati e lo stesso vale proprio nel finale d’‘album per il divertito “The Haunted Phonograph” dei Thoushaltnot, la chiusura degna, il sipario che, sdrucito, cala sulle dodici tracks.
Sipario che si era aperto con la cover di “Coin Operated Goi” dei Dresden Dolls qui rivista dai Voltaire e voluta ingiallita, impolverata, derivata da tempi remoti, innocente anche quando una calza scende su una coscia tornita, la commedia erotica che con violini scordati e voce caratteriale diviene festa paesana in questa versione, un sipario sdrucito ma che Sam Rosenthal per questo vol. 2 ha voluto alzare con carrucole oliate e funzionanti.
E Sam ha voluto anche essere presente con i suoi “nuovi” Black Tape For A Blue Girl e quel brano, “Sailor Boy” che in “10 Neurotics” ha determinato una svolta che ha stupito, frutto di un’‘intelligenza quasi infantile per la curiosa personalità che cerca, ricerca, sperimenta, osa.
“Song For the Old Man” è ancora una volta il flyer sonoro che gonfia le vele dei nostri Spiritual Front entrando come vecchi migranti del sud nelle baie americane, folk da taverna, noir e non nero, un brano che ha dato loro tante soddisfazioni, come il valzer caotico da allegra brigata bohemien di Walter Sickert & The Army Of Broken Toys, una grande band capeggiata da un genio della musica. Complimenti Sam: ancora una volta hai assemblato con dovizia e competenza un album che potrebbe essere antologia come soundtrack di un film in bianco e nero, oppure dai colori, ancora meglio, seppiati, ingialliti, corrosi ma ancora beffardi! - Nicola Tenani