A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Everybody needs a little bit of time alone. This is 3 times as true for someone as involved in as many collaborative efforts as Emil Amos. Amos is best known as rhythmkeeper for Grails and formerly of Om.
Holy Sons’ is Amos’ possessed vessel for getting solitary, constructing a midnight sound world of slack-key slowburn ominous lo-fi folk. Fall Of Man is his twelfth record as Holy Sons, and second for Thrill Jockey.
Music made by solo musicians, whatever the genre, have a peculiar aura – a feeling of isolation, a voyeuristic glimpse into theit private inner worlds, like being a fly on their bedroom wall. Think about Jandek, or the paranoid fifth world soundscapes of James Ferraro. It’s a chance for them to explore their obsessions, sometimes in nerve wracking detail (what IS going on in those Polaroid living rooms on Jandek’s record sleeves?)
Amos’ inner world is painted in inky ominous moody blues & blacks – like a scene from Les Revenants, or a colorized vision of Charles’ Burns Black Holes. Here, familiar images bend and blur, as though reflected in funhouse mirrors. Holy Sons’ world is populated with banshees, lycanthropes, & fallen angels, amidst satirical commentary on the late-capitalism world we’re living in (hear “Fall Of Man” and “Discipline” from Fall Of Man for examples.) Homeless camps are converted in Boschian netherworlds, while the recently deceased stalk the streets, still fretting about the finances.
This bizarre and interesting succession of images and characters is pinned to some relatively straightforward music, which is part of what makes it so strange, such a surprise and a delight. Fall Of Man sounds like a straight-up ’70s folk rock record, although one layered with many experimental nuances, like the dusty drum machines of “Fall Of Man”. To be reductive, Fall Of Man sounds an awful lot like Bonnie “Prince” Billy getting together with late-period Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, perhaps produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, with a slight guest appearance from Toumani Diabate.
The lasting impression is similar to digging into The Mountain Goat’s discography, with his anti-folk anthems to Satanic metal bands and pro wrestlers, along with the aforementioned Bonnie “Prince” Billy and his dread-full pitch black folk outings such as I See A Darkness.
The images we’re left with are interesting and unique, playing with traditional images but tweaking and twerking them into uncanny shapes, like Edvard Munch’s take on Americana.
Of course, Amos’ imagery is interesting and surreal, but it doesn’t seem that he’s trying to make some meta-commentary on the state of the world. Like every musician living and working in 2015, he is striving to explore the sounds that interest him, that he feels would interest his listeners and warrant a purchase. This means that every element – every tasty guitar solo, every dubbed out drum line, every falsetto-doubled vocal – is fine-tuned and well placed.
I know i sound like a damn broken record (o wait, isn’t that a good thing for us?), but i’m going to keep saying it until it’s true; genres are breaking down and everything is gathering together. We’re getting beyond superficial trappings of “movements”, honing in on the actual soul of the thing. During the 2000s, people were still squibbling, “Is this shoegaze?” or “that’s not kvlt!” all the while, everybody’s listening to everything – music from throughout time and all over the world.
And while genre cross-pollination is pervasive (dare we say ubiquitous?), this is still not reflected in the way we write about music. Black metal is judged by black metal standards; techno by the dictates of the dancefloor. Choirs are preached to, and real dialogue and communication are hampered. But things seem to be getting better. Folk bands are playing black metal, while jazz, classical, electronic, and non-Western musicks continue to intertwine.
I had an epiphany, while unable to sleep last night (yes, these matters keep me awake at night). Once we learn to find the common ground between all kinds of people, we’ll be able to celebrate the differences as well. While one could argue that all genres and labels are harmful, somewhere (not in physical space), the idea of “shoegaze” or “folk” exists (although they are constantly shifting and morphing).
A lot of what I am hoping to foster, by writing this blog, is what happens when these ideas mix and mingle? What new forms emerge? While haters hate on bricolage and sample culture, personally, i want to see/hear what happens when you sample the Aliens’ soundtrack on a sick instrumental hip-hop beat? Will smoky, dimly lit nightclubs transform into anti-gravity chambers of claustrophobic dread? And are you into that?
There are no easy answers, and you’ll have to decide for yrself. I say damn the notion of purity! It’s irrelevant to people living in modern society. That being said, you must go beyond co-opting sounds as empty signifiers. I’d like to think the days of Deep Forest sampling pygmies-that-are-not-pygmies to “sound tribal” are dead and gone, and good riddance! It’s like throwing on a headdress and making a war chant video if yr not from an indigenous culture of some kind. Yes, you can do that. The backlash that falls upon yr head is entirely yr own doing, however, so don’t expect us to feel sorry for you.
Although it’s kind of a weird back entrance into the topic, but this genre cross-pollination actually leads to appreciating different people and cultures. Like, despite the fact that i was raised by my Mother and have had thousands of close female friends and considered my “pro-feminine”, i realized about 10 years ago that i barely listened to any female artists, apart from the occasional Tori Amos or Loreena McKennitt track. This was at a time when i was beginning to think about writing fiction, speculating on what makes for a compelling character, and getting into journalism, criticism, and marketing, all of which requires you to think like other people and get beyond yr own bias.
My “job” basically requires me to hear all of the pop music of the day, to see the blockbuster movies and listen to the conversations that are happening out there. I am passionate about these topics and the possibilities for good art and meaningful discourse, despite being rabidly opposed to the methodology of the SJW contingent.
So, my question, for those who’ve made it this far… Tell us some other folk(ish) music that mixes with dark ambient, horrorscores, or industrial techno? What about noise and pop? Analog and digital? How about interesting fusions between Western and non-Western musics? Folk and classical?
Let’s shatter the binary into one billion scintillating fragments and make gorgeous fantasies out of the kaleidoscope. Let us love ourselves, being mighty, powerful, proud and strong, while simultaneously celebrating, loving, adoring, and uplifting The Other.
Holy Sons – Fall Of Man
Holy sons FB
Thrill Jockey FB