Coil: Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1

This instance of Coil consisted of:
John Balance
Drew McDowall
Peter Christopherson

Following the (relatively) popular success of the 1991 album Love's Secret Domain (which lead to unpleasantness with their American distributor, Wax Trax!), the Coil discography, never simple to begin with, grew ever more tangled. Over the next several years the band released a number of albums under various aliases (Coil vs. ELpH, Coil presents Black Light District, Time Machines) and a number of rarities compilations, but nothing that could be considered a true successor to Love's Secret Domain.

In 1998, a series of four seasonal themed EPs was released, heralding a new stylistic approach termed "Moon Musick" by the band. In 1999, for the first time in 8 years, the band released albums billed simply as Coil. The first, Astral Disaster was originally limited to 99 copies, and does not concern us here. The second, Musick to Play in the Dark Volume 1 is an affecting, mind-altering mix of drones, stately vocals, and deep, funky minimalism. The album is exactly one hour long.

Something should be said about the title. This is not faux spooky Halloween music (though it would not be wholly out of place on October 31st). Rather, sitting in the dark with the music playing through some quality headphones, the music seems to expand and fill the space around the listener. The unconventional spelling "Musick," (yes, it does seem a bit pretentious, doesn't it?) is an allusion to Aleister Crowley's concept of "magick."

The songs:

The album opens with "Are You Shivering?." A thick, distorted melody introduces the song, only to cut out as dripping percussion and shuddering heavily-processed vocal sounds enter. It will return in time. John Balance intones his mystical vocals, with choral-like tones adding to the ambience. At the end, this is all stripped away and the shuddering, shivering vocals are left to work their rhythm.

Next up is the instrumental "Red Birds Will Fly Out of the East and Destroy Paris in a Night." There is nothing I can add to DyRE's writeup at the song title's node other than to affirm that it is indeed a stunning piece of music.

Thirdly, "Red Queen," a song inspired by Lewis Carroll and the untrustworthiness of the media. "What are you going to do, when they don't believe you?" asks Balance, as Thighpaulsandra plays complex (all the more so for being overdubbed) lines on the piano.

Fourthly, the most emotionally moving song on the album, "Broccoli." Peter Christopherson sings of the "wise words from the departing," and salvation through green vegetables. The faint crackling of a digital fire reminds us that this loss has been lamented in song for thousands of years.

"Strange Birds" has a strong musique concrete feel to it, as an echoey glitch groove is slowly overtaken by a collage of birdsong.

Finally, the album closes with "The Dreamer is Still Asleep." Balance sings of lucid dreaming while a simple piano and organ melody snakes its way through a dense mix of swirling vocal effects and a super-deep beat. This piece ends the album on a seriously trance-inducing note.

I hope that I may have given some hint of the austere beauty of this music, despite the inadequacy of my words to describe it in full.

CD audio and liner notes

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