Sleepwalking Mag (Guest Post): Making a Case for the Horrors


Originally posted on Sleepwalking Mag

The Horrors‘ newest release “Primary Colours” is one of a select few albums I have bought physical copies of this year, the other two being the new “War Sucks EP” from Spectrum, on vinyl, and the Natural Snow Buildings / Isengrind / TwinSisterMoon 2CD “The Snowbringer Cult” (which actually came out in 2008). The Horrors had made their new album available to listen to a week in advance on their website and at the NME, not long after it had leaked (you can still listen to it for free- I’ve embedded the code from their website at the bottom of the article). The initial press response seemed overwhelmingly positive, though, sure enough, the naysayers began to appear…

There were the disillusioned fans who missed the 60s garage/freakbeat style of “Strange House” and critics who scowled at the amalgamation (or pilfering, in their eyes) of post-punk, krautrock, and shoegaze sounds of days gone by. On the flip-side, there were newly won fans and critics, many of which previously had dismissed them as copyists of The Birthday Party and The Cramps, now praising them for their artistic expansion. But, tackling the Horrors and their music isn’t really as clear-cut as all that.

My introduction to The Horrors was in spring of 2007, shortly after the March release of “Strange House” and when Free Napster still allowed a non-subscriber to listen to more than a handful of tracks per month. I made the (perhaps unwise) choice of listening to “Sheena is a Parasite” first, a song which is still a bit much for me, cherry-picked a few more…and did not revisit the album again until this year! In autumn of 2008, I found out about Blast First Petite’s plan to release a limited-edition EP each month of different artists covering Suicide songs. Suicide happen to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands of all-time; they’re a synth-proto-punk duo (Alan Vega on vocals and Martin Rev on electronics) that formed in the early 70s, whose 1977 self-titled album was way ahead of its time (maybe still is). One of the bands doing a cover song for the series turned out to be the Horrors, who covered “Shadazz” (from Suicide’s 1980 release, also self-titled). My reaction upon listening? WHOA!

This was a very different Horrors from what I remembered. Singer Faris Badwan wasn’t growling out notes this time, sounding very cool and just as stylish as the music, which seemed to be the polar opposite of their previous output. It was a chance search on Google Blogsearch in March 2009 for news about HTRK’s new album Marry Me Tonight (released on Blast First Petite, oddly enough) that I came upon this is offset‘s post on the new Horrors single “Sea Within a Sea”, which was (and still is) available for free download upon signing up to the Horrors’ mailing list. Yes! My inclinations about the direction they would take, after hearing “Shadazz” months prior, were correct, and based on the loveliness of “Sea Within a Sea” (with some bass activity that’s reminded people, including myself, of Can’s “Mother Sky” and Neu!’s “Hallogallo”), I was filled with anticipation to hear their new release.

This is a band that haven’t ever been afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, which seems to irk some people out there. After hearing Primary Colours in early April, and enjoying it so much that I wrote a review right away, I became interested in who their influences might be. A Quietus feature from March includes a Spotify playlist of bands influential to the Primary Colours sound, including Neu! and Can (of course!), the Psychedelic Furs, Wire, the Velvet Underground, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Jesus and Mary Chain, all of which were bands that I had already loved. Quietus writer Luke Turner says, aptly: “many of those strange beings who do not know any light save from the glow of their messageboard-displaying computer monitors remain doubters, accusing new Horrors material of being derivative…In terms of bright and glaring reference points (and the odd bracing steal) “Primary Colours” is aptly named, but this is a record that is far more than the sum of its parts…and those parts, as our playlist shows, are choice ones indeed.” Digging back into influences for their previous release turned up scans of articles the band members had written from their tour fanzines, including an article by Tom on Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an A-Z of psychedelic bands compiled by Spider Webb, and compilations of 60s garage rock, space-themed music, and girl group music, all of which served to endear me to the band further still.

The physical copy of “Primary Colours” that I had ordered from Rough Trade included a bonus CD of the mix that members Tom and Rhys made for Vice Magazine (it’s worth noting that hearing the Hypothetical Prophets’ “Person to Person”, for the first time, in this mix set me on a coldwave quest) and also came with Rough Trade’s The Fold, a guide to the month’s releases, with the Horrors being the foremost feature. The album is described here as “a dense, layered sonic approach, building epic soundscapes out of motorik rhythms, washes of guitars and spectral, claustrophobic synths”.

Besides the description and a message to the listener from the band, there are three albums listed as influences, Arthur Russell – “World of Echo“(1986), The Pretty Things – “S. F. Sorrow” (1968; this is one I had previously heard), and Steve Reich – “Different Trains” (1989), which lead me to even more music-exploration!

That should be part of what great bands should strive to do, shouldn’t it? Encouraging both the exploration of their catalog as well as the music that is so much a part of who they are as musicians is an element that I think is very important, and seems all but lost in popular music. Shamelessly derivative or innovatively interpretive? That’s up to you do decide through listening, though I sincerely feel that it is the latter.

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