Friday, 10 January 2014

Current 93 - The Inmost Light

Current 93 is an eclectic British experimental music group, working since the early 1980s in folk-based musical forms. The band was founded in 1982 by David Tibet (né David Michael Bunting, renamed 'Tibet' by Genesis P-Orridge sometime prior to forming the group).

Tibet has been the only constant in the group, though Steven Stapleton (of Nurse with Wound) has appeared on nearly every Current 93 release. Michael Cashmore has also been a constant contributor since Thunder Perfect Mind. Douglas P. of Death in June has played on well over a dozen Current 93 releases, and Steve Ignorant of Crass (using the name Stephen Intelligent), Boyd Rice, runologist Freya Aswynn, Nick Cave, Björk, Andrew W.K., Will Oldham, Ben Chasny, Rose McDowall, Tiny Tim, Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus, Marc Almond, John Balance of Coil, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, Baby Dee and Ian Read of Fire + Ice have also lent their talents over the years.

Current 93 have released over twenty albums and many singles as well as having been a guest on many of the above listed artists' records. Tibet has also collaborated with Nature and Organisation and The Hafler Trio.

Much of Current 93's early work was similar to late 1970s and early 1980s industrial music: abrasive tape loops, droning synthesizer noises and Tibet's distorted, excoriating vocals. This early work became influential with the goth scene. Later works found Tibet mostly casting off such trappings in favor of a more organic sound, labeled by some as "apocalyptic folk" music, occasionally featuring his sinister nursery rhyme-influenced singing and primarily acoustic folk-styled music.

This lavish set collects two minialbums, Where The Long Shadows Fall and The Stars Are Marching Sadly Home, together with Current 93’s mother release, All The Pretty Little Horses. Originally issued as separate discs in 1995/96, the thematic threads worming their way throughout (childhood’s bittersweet memories, the inevitable apocalypse, the works of author Thomas Ligotti and painter Louis Wain) form a portal through which to glimpse the world envisioned by Current 93’s David Tibet. At its centre lies a song cycle musing on the erosion of youth’s lost innocence.

Michael Cashmore’s beautiful finger-picking roots the music firmly within the folk tradition, allowing Tibet and his coconspirators (members of Nurse With Wound and Coil appear here, as does Nick Cave, making a brief cameo) to sculpt a set of surreal, yet intensely emotional modern lullabies. Such is their craft that even a hymnal about a fictional feline (Tommy Katkins) will have you blubbing. The two shorter pieces are more abstract, with creaking timbers and howling winds enveloping Tibet’s hushed voice. Shirley Collins emerges from exile to close proceedings with a chilling reading of All The Pretty Horses’ title track. In a body of work with many peaks, The Inmost Light endures as Current 93’s pinnacle.
Spencer Grady

I have this little habit of falling asleep while listening to an album. I also realized that while at the state of semiconscious where you are half awake and half way into your sleep (its almost a trance like state, trust me), I generally enjoy music the most then. Its as if you are not judging the sound anymore and you have surrendered for the day, letting you self loose, and the music then takes you over instead. So I also hold this idea that I reserve that go-to-sleep music for music/bands that are new to me; the ones that i want to get into but simply cannot due to their complete departure in style from the usual. It has helped me lots to be honest and Current 93 fell right in that category for me.....I wanted to know what the buzz was all about.

So another similar night when I set my playlist with this album and I am done for the day, the lights are turned off and its pitch black and all, its just the music then. I don't particularly recall any of the songs as I was fast asleep and the music was lost on me. Til I suddenly woke up to the haunting sound of "The Inmost Night", I can still remember clearly how breathless I felt, my eyes had opened wide but it was pitch black and she wouldn't stop howling "and i drown a little more everyday...." out from my speakers.........I never felt so suffocated and trapped listening to any sound ever, and at that instance I knew I would love this band !


Current 93 hit the hight point of their career with the album at the center of this trilogy: 1996's All the Pretty Little Horses was and is the most perfectly rendered artistic statement that David Tibet and company have created. This will sound like blasphemy to the legions who jumped aboard the apocalyptic folk train with last year's Black Ships Ate the Sky, but trust me: I know what I'm talking about. This album is much, much better than Black Ships, and I unreservedly consider it to be one of the finest albums ever recorded.

It is hard to deny the power of this album, especially a track like "The Bloodbells Chime," a tribute to cat artist Louis Wain, containing a fragile, off-kilter piano melody joined by Cashmore's resonant acoustic guitar, climaxing in a moment that can only be described as utterly disarming. If you've heard the album before, you'll know what I'm talking about: "Thereohthere/The Inmost Light/The Happy Children rise from all their pools/Eyes still sealed/With mud and night/It's their Inmost Night." It is here that I begin to notice Stapleton's hand in the album's sound, as sample upon sample is layered and mutated to devastatingly psychedelic effect: children laughing, children crying, lysergically mutated vocal snippets creating a bubbling undercurrent of dread that will reach its apotheosis on the eight-minute "The Frolic," as a bloodcurdling sample comes swimming out of the murk with the staccato, accusatory scream of "Dead!" Tibet seems particularly fixated on the idea that his enlightenment, his desire to cleanse himself, to unmake his past and be born again, may have come too late, and that eternal salvation is forever out of his grasp. Thus, the return to images of childhood, to the signifiers of an innocence irrevocably lost, to vivid dreams and simple piety now sedimented by unhappy years of spiritual malaise.

The darkambient centerpiece of the album "Twilight Twilight Nihil Nihil" is a perfect stopgap before the next epic vocal track, "The Inmost Light Itself," containing one of Tibet's most dreadfully pessimistic lyrics: "Our hands tumble towards the skies/To block visions of The Inmost Light/And if I pointless arch/And spit whitenothings at the sky/Oh Bigboys - check it out: too fucking late." This against a lovely Cashmore arrangement of strummed guitar and Joolie Wood's clarinet, which constantly threaten to be drowned out by a frightening sample that sounds at first like children playing—with all of the characteristic yelling, laughing and chattering—but begins to seem as if it might be the sound of children in the midst of some terrifying holocaust, screaming and writhing in pain. It comes as a relief to hear Nick Cave's soulful, deep-voiced rendition of "All the Pretty Little Horses," followed by the album's coda: Cave reading Blaise Pascal's uncompromisingly dark and apocalyptic Pensees over a ghostly sampled choir.

With such a perfectly lovely and dread-filled conclusion, it is almost unfortunate to have to follow it with the concluding part of the trilogy, The Stars Are Marching Sadly Home. Although it is one of Current 93's most complex and fascinating works, indispensible for its inclusion of Shirley Collins, it ends up seeming like the superfluous gilding of the lilly when heard directly after Horses. Taken on its own terms, however, and as a conceptual third part of the trilogy, Stars is a terrific sidelong track. The creaking of a great wooden ship (a Black Ship?) sets the stage for Tibet's final prayer, an ominous sea shanty followed by a deliberately paced text so apocalyptic it achieves a Book of Revelations-style grandeur: "These days shall not come again/The stars are marching sadly home/The seahorse rears to oblivion." Tibet's words are artifically time-stretched, smeared, blurred, cracked and mutated, spinning out over a warbling sample of a vintage 78 so disintegrated and distorted that it seems positively alien. Andria Degens of Pantaleimon reads the final part of Tibet's text as the track becomes noisier and more discombobulated, climaxing with a squall of white noise and Shirley Collins' singularly melodic and matronly a cappella rendition of "All the Pretty Little Horses," by far the most emotionally penetrating take on the song across the trilogy.
Jonathan Dean

The idea of a "lamentation" applies across the full suite, as all three discs are filled with melancholy and dread - both musical and lyrical - but as with all things, there's also beauty for the finding. Even a random sampling of Tibet's words contains images both beautiful and filled with threat: "The green of the grass and the blue of the sky are immense and terrifying / everything seems so close so very very close / should a storm come, should a storm break / and halo all around us as some savage and blind god jerking his hands out to us, the birds drop all around us" ("The Frolic"). 

The second disc, All the Pretty Little Horses, contains the bulk of music here, at 55 minutes. From tortured lullabies to seemingly pastoral folk (until one truly listens) to infernal drones that harken back to Current 93's earliest days, these 13 songs span a wide stylistic range. The title song, also performed by Coil on one of their albums, appears here twice. It remains a beautiful song indeed, with wonderful acoustic guitar work by Michael Cashmore; the first rendition is lent an eerie air by Tibet's whispered vocal delivery. "The Inmost Night" is a creepy vocal chant with booming piano notes and keening strings supporting the vocals. In fact, the album as a whole is perhaps best considered as poetry set to music rather than what many mean by "songs," as the music truly serves to support the words.

"The Inmost Light" is a repeating motif throughout the pieces, and as such an appropriate title for this reissue package. The song given that title is a simple statement, though the meaning of the words harkens back to Tibet's earlier obsession with "imperium" (the album of that name was a highlight of Current 93's earliest incarnation), seemingly describing this world as a transitional place. Fitting, as the song leads into the album's most harrowing passage, the one-two punch of "Twilight Twilight Nihil Nihil" and "The Inmost Light Itself," each almost 10 minutes in length and filled with a near-logorrhea of dense imagery and paranoiac visions. The former is laid over a particularly ominous bed of dank drones, while the latter is a more typical acoustic guitar-based song, with background recordings of children playing outdoors that lends it a strange atmosphere. 

The trio concludes with The Stars Are Marching Sadly Home, a single 22-minute piece. It's seemingly a celebration, if you will, of a life passed that will never be repeated. It might be from the point of view of someone looking back, somewhat in nostalgia, though as the meaning is shrouded in mysterious imagery there's no doubt much more to it. As is true throughout, the focus is on the words, incanted atop ominously droning background sounds and noises. The very end finishes the suite with a sweet, albeit eerie, lullaby sung by Shirley Collins. 

Those familiar with Current 93 who don't already have the previous editions of these will have an easy decision here. Even those who already have them will need to consider that these have been remastered, and the foldout digipack with a thick color booklet is well worth having. As a starting place for those unfamiliar with Current 93, this is likely a bit daunting, but at the same time it does offer the full gamut of styles and serves as a fine introduction to Tibet's lyrical universe. Nonetheless, the recent Black Ships Ate the Sky is probably a better place for neophytes to start. All others will find this set an impressive, heavy, and rewarding experience.
Mason Jones 

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