Regular Price: $11.98
Online Sale Price! $5.00
These Bubbles Come From Ants (CD)
Adrian H and The Wounds
Adrian H (2009)
A Dark Cabaret 2
Steampunk Poison Bottle Labels
set of 8 Poison Labels
Various Artists featuring Voltaire and Jill Tracy
The Sepiachord Companion
For four years Sepiachord.com has tirelessly explored the strange musical underground where contemporary artists take pre-modern sonic elements and use them to create innovative new music. Now Sepiachord.com joins forces with Projekt Records to present a CD collection of the best of these musicians: A Sepiachord Passport.
With performers hailing from Seattle to London and from New York to Norway, this compilation presents twenty(!) songs that meld dark cabaret, gypsy punk, neo-folk, twisted waltzes and circus blues with pop, rock, hip-hop, world music and the avant-garde. A Sepiachord Passport is sure to take listeners (pleasantly) by surprise!
This wide-ranging collection was carefully curated by the creators of the Sepiachord.com website to include talented up-and-comers alongside established artists to ensure that listeners experience a CD that is both familiar and novel.
Steampunk has been around for a couple of decades, at least, mainly as the rubric of science fiction novels (the work of K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers and William Gibson), comic books (Girl Genius, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the eponymous Steampunk) and under-the-radar films (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Perfect Creature). Recently it’s made inroads into the mainstream, specifically major motion pictures (the spectacular failure Wild Wild West, the massive successes Sherlock Holmes and Hellboy) and TV (the recent “Punked” episode of Castle).
All that said, what does it have to do with music? Steampunk as a musical style is more difficult to define, as there are as many variations as in fiction and film. But there are certain elements one can pinpoint that indicate an affinity for the genre. Waltz tempos are common, as is a melodic sensibility more informed by vaudeville and cabaret than rock – the 20s and 30s have had more impact than the 60s and 70s. Instrumentation tends to be acoustic, though it’s hardly exclusively so, and the guitar takes a back seat in favor of less rock-oriented noises, particularly brass and accordion. Subject matter takes in almost anything, though there’s definitely a gothic, often macabre sense of humor running through much of the work. A lot of these bands list themselves as “jazz,” “Americana” or (more applicably) “other” on their MySpace pages. Whatever you call them, most of them have a similar feel, even when they sound different from each other, and A Sepiachord Passport gathers a fine batch of musicians together that lets the listener find the commonality for him/herself.
Most prevalent, if not exactly dominant, is a cabaret feel, as if the seedy club scene of Weimar Berlin had been transplanted to the dark alleys of the Pacific Northwest. “Thief Song,” performed by Miss Maime Lavona the Exotic Mulatta & Her White Boy Band, is a prime example – a clever lyric about a thief of love, the metaphor extended but not belabored, delivered in a clear, straightforward alto, a horn-driven, nostalgic arrangement, and occasional profanity (“Why am I screwing such a prick?”) to remind us that it’s not 1929. Rhubarb Whiskey‘s love song “Lilacs From Canada,” black tape for a blue girl‘s “Rotten Zurich Café* and Huxley Vertical Cabaret Nouveau‘s “Early Chill” follow suit, with similar success. Tiger Lillies‘ “Roll Up” puts its cabaret stylings through a gypsy strainer, adding a piercing, androgynous falsetto for delivery.
Things take a darker turn on the same smoky stage with Circus Contraption‘s “If I Told You Once,” as a Gene Austin-style crooner liltingly tells the tale of a Bluebeardesque serial killer who blames his victims’ unfortunate fates on not knowing any better than to get involved with him. Singer/comedian Veronique Chevalier weaves a similar story on “The Dance Master,” adding white slavery and other unsavory activities to the mix, while the Magnificent Seven cuts out the middleman and goes straight to the grave with “The Last Waltz.”
It’s not all a gaslight fantasy version of the Kit Kat Klub, however. The Clockwork Dolls‘ “The Ballad of Black Jack Jezebel” sounds the way you’d think from its title – like a spaghetti western onstage at a drag club, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by way of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The Peculiar Pretzelmen‘s “Hammer Nails” is essentially folk rock, albeit driven by banjo and what sounds like a bass clarinet, while Bakelite 78‘s “Aurora Ave Motel” is a (sleazy, sexually charged) C&W duet. In concert with Miss Sadie Bell, Professor Elemental also brings the smarm with “Sweet Cold Colation,” which piles euphemism on top of euphemism in a mélange of sex, food, hip-hop beats and upper class accents.
While lyrical acumen is a mighty weapon in the steampunk world, there’s room for wordless expression as well. The best instrumental is by Nathaniel Johnstone, multi-instrumentalist for goth/steampunk rock icon Abney Park, who leads the Brazilian Surf Mafia through a mandolin-led romp that marries a Middle Eastern melody to a flamenco rhythm. “Kibosh On Your Scene,” by Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, is indeed a march, performed by what sounds like a New Orleans brass band reimagined for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both Sxip Shirey‘s “Mehenetta” and Toy-Box Trio‘s “Stamp Collection” make use of toy instruments, the former mixed with electronics and the latter exclusively, for a pair of cluttered tracks whose charm wears thin fairly quickly.
Some tracks are more obviously accessible to an audience more comfortable with rock. While Bat Country‘s “Knockin’ On My Coffin” and Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys‘ “Off With Her Head!!!” aren’t rock per se, the gravely vocals and catchy melodies will certainly appeal to fans of, say, Tom Waits. The Men Who Will Not Blamed For Nothing (winners of the Most Unwieldy Band Name award), go straight for punk rock with “Charlie,” a witty tribute to Charles Darwin and his detractors that sounds like the classic folk/punk track for which the Dropkick Murphys have long been striving. Blackbird Orchestra‘s “Hollowland” is unambiguously rock of the widescreen alternative variety – it’s not terrible, but its connection to steampunk is undetectable, unless the bandmembers are friends with the compiler.
Unity is definitely a plus on A Sepiachord Passport – there’s a sort of thematic atmosphere that allows these disparate musicians to stand side-by-side under a common banner. With a few exceptions (seriously, what is Blackbird Orchestra doing here?), nearly every band here would elicit a knowing “Yeah, I get it” if you were told it was a steampunk artist. Yet, there’s enough variety to keep you from nailing exactly what that means, or, worse, getting bored over the course of 20 tracks. A Sepiachord Passport accomplishes the goals of any good compilation album – it peaks curiosity, displays a scene’s creativity and, most importantly, consistently entertains. - Michael Toland
The tagline for the Sepiachord site is “Music for a Past that Never was.” Many of the songs on this compilation (and the other Sepiachord CD) have strong vaudevillian and cabaret influences. Jangly pianos and accordions feature strongly, as does the occasional theremin. Everything on this CD is more than listenable, but there are a few standouts.
“The Dance Master” by Veronique Chevalier is hands down the best song on this CD. It tells the story of an evil Dance Master who seduces girls into a life of prostitution. She has a throaty voice, with a French accent. The first time I heard the song, I texted Mr. Bodewell immediately to tell him how incredible I thought it was.
“Hollowland” by Blackbird Orchestra is also a great song, but it doesn’t fit. The others songs feature jangly vaudeville-sounding instruments, and Blackbird Orchestra has a very lush, full sound. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song! It reminds me a bit of Sisters of Mercy with some elements of the Killers thrown in. It’s fantastic, but I just don’t think it really fits.
My other favorites on this compiliation are Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys‘ “Off With Her Head,” and Miss Mamie Lavona the Exotic Mulatta and Her White Boy Band doing “Thief Song.”
The majority of songs on this album tell stories, good ones, interesting stories, and with the exception of “Hollowland” they all fit together very well. They’re incredibly evocative, and I could probably give you a paragraph or more about each if pressed, but I’d like to go finish getting ready for PAX now.
A Sepiachord Passport is the latest compilation album put out by the folks over at Sepiachord. The question of what steampunk music is gets asked frequently and this album goes a long way towards answering that question. Not all of the bands on the compilation would necessarily embrace the label of steampunk music but embrace it or not there is something in every one of the songs that will appeal to the steampunk set.
Album curator Mr. Bodewell did an excellent job of selecting tracks for the compilation that fit well together while keeping enough variety in the sound and styles that it doesn’t become monotonous. The instrumentation in most of the songs leans towards a kind of retro-future cabaret sound, lots of brass, concertinas, banjos and piano, but there are also tracks with a more world music sound, Nathaniel Johnstone & The Brazilian Surf Mafia’s ‘Scarlet Carpet Interstate, Part One’, for example and more modern rock sounds like Blackbird Orchestra’s ‘Hollowland’.
The appeal reaches well beyond the steampunk scene. If you have ever listened to the Dresden Dolls or The Squirrel Nut Zippers or Abney Park and wondered where to find more music like that, then this is the album for you. I also highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in throwing some unique sounds into your play list.
To be more specific about the tunes.....The first song, “Roll Up”, is a good tune but the voice became grating as it progressed. It did make for a good barker calling the listener in for the rest of the show and after listeninga few times I found it grew on me. It's soon over and into the wonderfully creepy “Off with Her Head”. As the musical journey continued I enjoyed each song as a unique individual, each one being quite different than the one before. In particular I quite enjoyed Circus Contraption's “If I Told You Once”. It is definitely oneof my new favourites. It was quirky and funny and and the lyrics are wonderful.
Something else I enjoyed about A Sepiachord Passport was the mix of performers I already knew and loved like Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys, VeroniqueChevalier, Professor Elemental, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band and The Clockwork Dolls and performers I had not heard of, but now had a chance to get to know.
The whole collection left a good taste in my mouth – like absinthe flavoured cotton candy!
A Sepiachord Passport is aptly named. Listening to it feels like an adventure through the Steampunk genre. It succeeds in presenting the many facets of Steampunk music in a highly entertaining and engaging manner. It is an anthology of retro-futuristic music that explores the furthest reaches of what Steampunk music could be. From bubbly and optimistic to dark and punky, A Sepiachord Passport is an all-inclusive auditory escapade through the Steampunk genre. I especially appreciate A Sepiachord Passport’s success in exposing me to some Steampunk and retro-futuristic bands I’ve never heard of previously. Because Steampunk doesn’t have uniform sound, online radio stations like Pandora don’t necessarily help me in discovering new Steampunk music. A Sepiachord Passport succeeds where Pandora fails. And although there is a wide spectrum of sounds, textures, and lyrical images, the composition of the Passport is one that flows smoothly and enjoyably.
Some of my favorite tracks on the Passport included Charlie by the Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing, Scarlet Carpet Interstate Part One by Nathaniel Johnstone and the Brazilian Surf Mafia, and The Dance Master by Veronique Chevalier.
A Sepiachord Passport comes enthusiastically recommended to Steampunks and other retro-futurists interested in further exploring the vast talent of the artists featured.