Yves Malone – Death House 4
It’s always the fourth movie in a franchise when the blueprints are scrapped and the writers desperately scramble to inject new life into the story. The first movie sets the tone, the second one pushes it forward and may even outperform the first, but the third one tends to get stuck in a rut for some reason. That’s why fourth films in series are so unpredictable – so much spaghetti gets tossed against the wall, some of it’s bound to stick, or at least be memorable. So maybe that’s why Yves Malone’s providing an imaginary soundtrack for Death House 4, an imaginary movie in an imaginary franchise that somehow made it to its fourth installment. That’s right, skip all the foreplay and get right to the good stuff, that’s what our man Yves is up to this time. I have no idea what the Death Houses are all about – presumably there’s a house, and death happens within it. But that’s what makes Yves Malone so great, that he’s so remarkably astute at tapping in to a cinematic vibe and running with it all the way, until it’s a bleeding heap of gristle pounded with blunt synthesizers. John Carpenter would obviously be a proud papa, his illegitimate son taking on the family mantle so willingly. But Malone’s music is not simply “Carpenter-esque” in its phantasmal hauntorific glory; no, it conjures much more than evil spirits, except when it’s conjuring, erm, evil spirits, like on the appropriately titled dirge “Abysmal Hymnal.” But then there’s “Golden Riders at a Nuclear Dawn,” which imagines Tron in the Old West, glowing tumbleweeds set to de-res you the moment you touch them. The sun beats down, the synthesizer humidifies the surroundings, and you’re somewhere else, man. “Buffalo Cheek Carrier Wave” is pretty much dance pop that freaks out in paranoia by the end, a product of all that bad granola you been smoking. The rest is pretty much straight-up Yves Malone action, and that’s exactly what you want, all the time. Now where the hell is the real movie that Malone’s in desperate need of soundtracking? Somebody get Carter Burwell on the phone.
Manville Heights – Manville Heights
Oh, uh, did you think that Yves Malone had some sort of monopoly on the creepy synthesizer soundtrack stuff? I didn’t mean to give you that impression. Turns out that a lot of these Field Hymns cats know their way around a synthesizer and a midnight vibe. Take Manville Heights, for instance, a shadowy entity whose internet presence appears to be scrubbed, although a Google search indicates a Bandcamp page at one point that no longer returns any useful data. Manville Heights, despite being a shadow, plies the patch cords and tweaks the knobs on a synthesizer somehow managing to out-murder-ballad murder balladeers without any words and with one leg firmly dangling over the old R&B wall. The tunes are laid back but tense, less horror movie and more down-on-his-luck private eye joints, but these characters are noir-style dicks as imagined by 1980s cable television. Is that a beat-up fedora on top of the VCR? Sure is. Unsolvable mysteries spiral out of control, and you, the listener, are somehow in on the mayhem while trying to figure out who done it. And the ultimate enjoyment you receive while visualizing that and listening to Manville Heights’ output makes rainy afternoons all the more tolerable, like unholy role-playing cocktail parties, or unholy games of Clue. It’s still all about the vibe, people, haven’t you figured it out by now? It’s Manville Heights, it’s Field Hymns, so get your stories straight, or, as Das EFX used to say, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Please.
Snakes of Pennsylvania – Snakes of Pennsylvania
I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I spent much of my adult life there before moving away (yes, in a fit of rage). So you could say that I’m an authority on that PA spirit, that mindset or lifestyle that remains sullenly rural in the face of expanding suburbia. And let’s face it, there’s some pretty phenomenal rural landscape in Pennsylvania, enough that driving through a place like Jim Thorpe, a shithole on an average day, takes on an enchanted surrealism in the autumn. Snakes of Pennsylvania exude an outlook that straddles the good points of remaining in a place you otherwise hate and the downhearted realization that you have to leave some things there in your bid to escape. At times ramshackle and at others reverent, Snakes of PA (we locals just refer to it as the abbreviated PA) harness the magic of location, quietly observing their surroundings and reaching out one hand in the hopes of connection. There’s a cultish quality to the understated compositions, in that you feel like you’re part of a collective aiming its common thoughts in an ESP-like trance toward an unseen or unknown goal. Ever see Midnight Special? Sort of like that cult. Quiet, out of the way, in tune with something actually “spiritual,” if misguided by the connotations of that word’s definition. Give it up, though – you’ll be indoctrinated soon enough. You’ll have your “Kumbaya” moments, but they will decay into melancholy. Snakes of Pennsylvania wouldn’t have it any other way.