Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
I privy to thee this transmission via the kind folks at Off Shelf. Who is this disembodied, unfamiliar narrator? What does he expect of us? Are we treading in wholly unfamiliar waters? Allow me to allay your apprehensions. My name is Peter, and I find myself here by way of my friendship with your previous wordsmith, Tim Anderl, the kind folks here at the aforementioned web zine, and my own, particular, gourmand appetite for bleak and mournful musics.
My youth was spent in the semi-rural bosom of the Wyoming Valley area of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The relative isolation, coupled with having grown up amidst the rise of Punk, Thrash, Hip Hop, and the subsequent offshoots of all three, nourished my stimulation starved psyche, creating the pop culture vampire currently in your midst.
As further introduction, who was that first band that can be construed as Post Punk that I fell madly in love with? The ever popular Goth Fathers, The Cure. Combining the disparate initial influences of Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix, the titular 3 imaginary boys forged a mopey institution that is reportedly releasing their final record this coming year. The End beginning to begin the ending.
Bypassing a lifetime of listening, I arrive at the end of one icons 40+ year career, and the birth of a new generation’s iconography. Portland, Oregon’s Soft Kill are an anomaly cloaked in an enigma. They craft sonics with a nod to Chameleons and Blitz in their New Wave period (which was vastly underrated). The interwoven lyrics are heart rending confessionals, detailing the struggles that primary songwriter Tobias Grave and his label owner/better half/co-lyricist Nicole Colbath have experienced, witnessed, and survived. This past Halloween, Soft Kill have followed up their highly successful album Dead Kids, R.I.P. City with the next step in their evolution, Canary Yellow. This collection begins with a phone call from the proverbial clink. After the bevy of trills and warbles associated with such calls, a prerecorded voice informs the listener of the rules and regulations that one must abide by. Finally a human voice… “Welcome to Canary Yellow”. You can just smell industrial disinfectant and BO.
Canary Yellow offers 9 songs that vary in style, tempo, subject matter, and (in one particular instance) vocalists. The second single and album midpoint, The Line, is resplendent in its presentation, with guest vocalist Ruth Radelet’s lament of a partner who has been loose of their moorings. Dibs is unthreatening third single and another composition that lurches forth in existential dread, “C.O., C.O., Don’t Take My Phone Away, my girl is in some trouble, and I just need her voice…” This is an album that will surely garner repeated listens and countless moments of introspection. The label that is run by Nicole of Soft Kill, Cercle Social, is home to a few prominent acts in the greater sphere of artists. Catholic School, Vali S.C., and Sculpture Club stand out as totems to the new gods, and I worship in ecstatic delight.
This generation is not limited to just one voice, mind you, as we have the likes of Tom Weir’s one man show, Old Moon. A largely self produced, low-fi affair, that had begun in earnest, presenting bleak soundscapes and forlorn mood. That was where he’d begun. But as Rakim Allah says, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. After a few E.P.s and the magnificent “Altars” LP, Tom made 2022 his year, Giving us the “In The Wasteland” EP, “Cities of the Plain” LP, and his most recent “Under All Skies” 5 song cassette (Relief Map Records). Along that path he’s moved into a more Paul Westerberg meets Springsteen aura, therefore using his entire sphere of influence to help shape an oeuvre all his own.
Portland’s Drowse have come in, just under the wire, for a 2022 release. Kyle Bates, the project’s sole member, has crafted a monolithic spire of dark resonance with “Wane Into It” (The Flenser). Described by some as his most “positive” sounding record, it differs from his former releases insofar as it focuses on the exterior of his psyche, as opposed to being the internal monologue of yore. This record is casting a glance at a world outside as grim and hostile as his internal one, with perhaps a less self flagellating mood. Kyle, sadly, attended a “living wake” during the writing process of this tome, and having discussed the event, I can state in no uncertain terms that a moment like that one would scar me indefinitely. Events such as these pepper the lyrical content. As for the sonics of this gem, the synths are out in front of the mix, the guitars are much cleaner, and the vocals take on a more human aspect., rendering the analog sounding digital, and vice versa. The effect creates an (in Kyle’s words, which I second) an auditory “Uncanny Valley”.
The Soft Moon‘s “ Exister” (Sacred Bones Records) made heady waves this fall, as did Chino Moreno (Deftones), Shaun Lopez (Far), and Chuck Doom’s sort of Witch House adjacent project Crosses’ new EP “PERMANENT.RADIANT” (Warner Records – out December 9). Winter holds the promise of more blissed out cacophonies to come, as My Bloody Valentine, A Place to Bury Strangers, Fontaines DC, Slowdive, and Texas giants Lesser Care all have records slated on the soonish end of the near future. I, for one, am giddy with anticipation, and will transcribe my eager aural gorging for your reading pleasures.
This concludes my maiden installment. I wish you well.