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Coil - Musick To Play In The Dark, Vols. 1 & 2

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Artist: Coil

Album: Musick To Play In The Dark, Vols. 1 & 2

Label: Chalice

Review date: Oct. 30, 2006

At the end of its initial phase of operation, Coil had taken its music to a somewhat logical endpoint, a frigid coda where its jarring, industrial phase split between a love/sex/drug fascination and the hollow ring of metal-on-metal collision. Though traditional song structures and melodies shot through the underbelly of their most memorable work (anyone remembering their take on “Tainted Love,” Marc Almond inclusive, will have a hard time denying this charge), Coil thrived on the lurid dreams of the willing set against the chilling actualities of life itself. Our bodies begin and end at discrete points, in temporal, physical, and metaphysical situations, and the weight of this burden strikes a minor, ceaseless chord that resonates throughout Coil’s music.

Originally released around the turn of the millennium, Musick to Play in the Dark featured a restarted Coil at bay, with original members John (later Jhonn) Balance (R.I.P.) and Peter Christopherson joined by synthesist/bassist Thighpaulsandra, and Drew McDowall (replaced by Rose McDowall on the second volume). These are long-form works, collections of mood pieces in several modes, and what’s interesting (and somewhat predictable) is that the patience displayed while shifting in between these modes creates a tension and space that feels … almost removed from music by a step, as if the performance decided to slowly back away from Coil at a respectful, totality-fearing distance (or maybe it was the psychic force of their music that pushed it all back).

Musick the first peaks early on, with the Delia Derbyshire-esque sweep of the excellently-titled “Red Birds Will Fly Out of the East and Destroy Paris in a Night,” but does not sacrifice its ability to intone fear into the audience’s minds, as it does on the seemingly innocent “Broccoli,” its lyrical ramblings holding themselves in the round, turning from absurd to ghoulish as the track drones onward, pitched-down choruses adding to the overall effect. Vol. 2 is its own work entirely, more focused on a set of instrumentation and style that is smaller in scope than on the first volume. Tweaky, inner-ear synth squelch glides icily along its requisite sine waves, Balance’s vocals at first obscured by vocoding and electronic pincers but eventually ebbing back into its deep, reverberating pall. Even somewhat uplifting moments, such as the jumping-jack rhythms of “Paranoid Inlay,” collapse into interminable darkness given a few minutes of runtime. The bulk of what’s left is unreasonably cold, alone, and deadly serious, from the elegant piano tumble of “Ether” to the surgically imprecise puddle of “Where Are You?” leading into the album closer “Batwings (A Limnal Hymn),” a tour-de-force of Guignol imagery and the almost unavoidable, mantra-like denouement amidst electronic cycling and dulcet tones.

Not easy listening here, mind you, but then again, Coil never was. These records don’t merely deserve a full and unimpeded attention span; they require their own environments. Candlelight, blackout shades, red wine and intoxicants of choice are their demands. Anything less and you might laugh. You might still laugh on first listen. It’s just your nerves trying to avoid the inevitable. Listen again, until the cold, humid dusk of their finest hours truly sink in.

By Doug Mosurock

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