A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Enter the town of Courtempierre, a silver nitrate village in the shadow of a crumbling manor. People are going missing, and you just remembered the wrapped paper parcel the stranger gave to you earlier. It had about the dimensions and heft of an old book. You might have to shed some blood before the night is through; some of it might be yr own. You might be digging up graves before the dawn.
“Vampyr” is a live score for the 1932 German vampire film, directed by Carl Theodor Dryer. It’s the most recent release from Malmö, Sweden’s stereophonic electropop surrealists Death And Vanilla, released just before Halloween on the crackling tape label Moon Glyph. For the occasion, the usual duo bulked up to a five piece, to become a chorale of moogs and spooky organs, sneaky vibes, guitars, basses, and wind. Some of it was improvised, but it sure as hell seems tightly put together, weaving a narrative in the dark, casting you into the world of Vampyr.
Death & Vanilla are exquisite recreationists. They rehearsed for 5 weeks with the footage of the film, in preparation for this performance. The rehearsal made the band tight and in control, really getting a chance to set the mood, and let something special happen. They play like a real band together, like people who have written parts and memorized them. Like people that play in a room together once or twice a week. We loved their first record, and they just seem to be getting better all the time. For lovers of soundtracks, of ’60s pop and lounge and the idea of what the future used to be, get on board.
Every element is dipped in warm tube reverb that pets yr ears, that soothes and sedates you, that lures you into the trance and lets the chronicles unfold in yr chilled brain. It’s the perfect antidote to the passive stimulation of visual entertainment. It lets you supply yr own visions, and actually exercises the imagination. I’ve never seen Vampyr (although i have to now), and i totally loved letting the music supply my imagery of snowy village courtyards, of graveyards and stealing through the night.
One thing you can say for hauntologists, they always have great keyboard sounds. It really casts a classic ‘Hammer-in-the-60s’ vibe, (even though this movie was made in ’32). It makes me think of vampires in cardboard crypts.
The moods on “Vampyr” range from ’70s baroque melancholic (pianos and flutes), to sneaky and mysterious (vibes and surf guitar), to ritualistic (thundering drums) to pitch black ambiance (wind). It’s a real journey, that places you inside the film. Or transforms yr life into one.
Death & Vanilla stand for something. They believe in something. They love something; the past. Knowledge. They are scholars, and have exceptional taste. It is difficult to talk about Death & Vanilla without Stereolab or Broadcast being brought up. It’s not because this Swedish duo are overtly trying to sound like Trish Keenan or Laetitia Sadler, but because all of them share a love for ’60s and ’70s culture. For funky, quirky British movies and National Film Boards Of Canada information films. For all things blurry and kodachrome, for those bright red splashes of blood and the last days of dystopian black & whites.
There’s been a lot of acid from the post-punk cognoscenti over the retrofixation of this present generation, and i would like to counter. Because you can’t always Rip it up and start again. You’ve got to start from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually yrself. We all like things, and have interests, have our own particular vibes that give us gooseflesh. If one has a love of learning, and can still one’s self and find the eye of the hurricane, you can totally excel at yr chosen craft, in this case, making bitching movie soundtracks.
Because the band took their time. Because they love what they are doing. They took the time to rehearse and write parts. They took the time to get to know one another as musicians. To find authentic (or authentic sounding) instruments and amps, and tune and upkeep those instruments. This is what i call MASTERY, and it’s one of the things i’m most interested in.
Because we have it all at our fingertips. We could make anything we want. We could make the most astounding artwork in history, every single day, and we are, and we should be. It’s also an antidote to the ‘Things Used To Be Better’ poison. Things used to be different. The main trade off, for me, these days, is i have every opportunity and resource, i’m pulled in a hundred directions, and my attention span is flayed to bloody ribbons.
That’s why we have to learn FOCUS. Let Death & Vanilla be an example of what could be done. Loving recreation, that makes new worlds, that sets people’s imagination on fire. O, and as a side benefit, this also transmits a love of these old things that you’ve been so inspired by, and the old forms do not die, but grow and evolve. In this way, we are keeping the past alive. ALIVE, as in the present. The past is alive, in the present, which is a far cry from it being dead in the dust, lost in yesterday.
In this same way, the future is still alive and well, and Death And Vanilla are pointing the way towards it.
Moon Glyph still has some copies, so you’d be advised to locate one, check out the rest of their roster, as there looks to be some pretty rad shit to be listened to, and then go out and watch Vampyr (The Criterion Collection)