Coil - Musick to Play in the Dark

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:

As Coil, John Balance and Peter Christopherson (aka Sleazy) created one of the most eclectic and interesting back catalogues you could hope to hear. If I had to choose one album to introduce anyone to their spiritual, drug-warped yet beautiful world, it would be the wonderful Musick to Play in the Dark. Both volumes one and two, in fact. Yes, I know that's actually two albums, but they're such perfect companions I can't bear to separate them. Released in 1999 and 2000, these two albums represented what Coil liked to call "moon music".

These records blend seamlessly to make a thoroughly atmospheric collection of songs which creep into your unconscious and become more meaningful, more intoxicating with each listen. Make no mistake; it may well take a few listens before Coil's subtle magic really starts to take hold. The music is far from easy-going and each track demands your full attention if you're really going to appreciate what's been achieved here.

The title serves as a thoroughly apt listening suggestion: Lie in the dark with the songs on headphones. The music becomes utterly consuming. Balance whispering secrets in your ear as Sleazy creates suitably nocturnal worlds of sound. Coil's music is both cerebral and moving; the balance between electronic experimentation and Balance's damaged, ever human poetry creates something undeniably unique.

Any genre label you attempt to apply to Coil seems woefully inadequate. The band have been categorised as post-industrial, electronica, avant-garde, neo-folk and dark ambient (I'm not even sure what some of those things are). Perhaps it's easier to say that Coil was an experimental duo whose music refused be pigeon-holed. The music on these two volumes is by turns beautiful, intense, strange and enlightening.

Highlights include the sprawling electronic shuffle of 'The Dreamer is Still Asleep'. In many ways, one of Coil's signature tunes, it's impossible not to be lulled into a stunned silence as the music gradually unfurls and Balance sings: "May I ask you all for silence/the dreamer is still asleep/May the Goddess keep us from single vision". There's certainly a spiritual element to Coil's music, the band sometimes being linked to Paganism but never really 'signing up' to any set dogma aside from the music itself. You may well find yourself becoming utterly obsessed with these strangely emotional compositions.

'Are You Shivering' borders on the terrifying with its brain-rattling drones and a superbly unnerving performance from Balance. He could be in the room with you as he whispers: "Are you loathsome tonight? Does your madness shine bright?" 'Where Are You?', with its creeping static and broken toy-box melody, never fails to terrify and impress in equal measure. 'Ether' explores the band's well-documented interest in excess, as Balance's cracked and distorted voice repeats: "To turn my mind off" It stands as a dark glimpse into Balance's relationship with 'substances' and is one of many spine-tingling moments on these two volumes.

Unfortunately, it may be a little difficult to get hold of these albums now. Coil tended to release their albums as limited runs as they saw their physical releases as 'art objects'. More poignantly, the albums are difficult to obtain as both Balance and Christopherson have both passed away (and they distributed much of their own music). An incredibly sad end to one of music's most underappreciated partnerships.

The recordings here share a few (small) musical traits with Radiohead's experimental opus Kid A, released around the same time. Musick to Play in the Dark has yet to be entered into any official pantheon of modern greats, however, so I hope this article goes someway to readdressing the balance. On 'The Dreamer is Still Asleep' Balance sings: "in ten years time who will care? Who will even remember?" But these aren't the kind of songs that can be simply resigned to the tides of musical obscurity. Gone but not forgotten, Coil's 'moon music' is just begging to be rediscovered.

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