Mainstream media has its one-hit wonders, and many would be right to think that this is a consequence of the autophagy inherent of the music industry – decisions driven by marketing rather than artistic merit often leave musicians stranded. But the underground scene isn’t exempt from this phenomenon either, even if the wonders may “hit” more than once, and even if they don’t necessarily disappear due to external factors. I’ve compiled a short list of bands which have had little but precious time to express their unbridled creativity, only to fade out under relatively mysterious circumstances. Of course, this is a very personal list, and hopefully my colleagues here at Arctic Drones will add to it in time, for the past is a treasure trove, and the roots of contemporary bands we love may go deeper than expected. So, in no particular order, I give you:
MIASMA AND THE CAROUSEL OF HEADLESS HORSES
You know a band hasn’t been around in a long time when the only official streaming service you can find some of their songs on is MySpace. “Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses” was a UK quintet of musicians with diverse backgrounds and connections to some very well-known bands of the underground and Rock In Opposition scene: Guapo, Magma, The Ruins, Julian Klein, Tadashi Endo, and the list can go on. Their music is a bizarre blend of extremes, exceedingly difficult to classify under one label, although “neo-baroque psychedelic chamber post-rock” might fit the bill to some extent. Their two releases (“Perils” – Mimicry Records, 2005 and “Manfauna” – Latitudes, 2007) are some of the most theatrical, dark and cathartic music I’ve ever heard, and I thoroughly recommend “Manfauna” as one of the best EPs to come out in the ‘00s for fans of experimental music and art-rock. They’ve completely disappeared for the better part of a decade now, without saying goodbye, without announcing anything in the works, basically without a trace.
Keigo Oyamada is a Japanese producer better known as the mastermind behind Cornelius, a musical moniker that gave us some of the most trippy and hypnotic music of the ‘00s. I had the great fortune of seeing Cornelius live in Germany, in 2006, during an experimental music/noise festival, right before “Sensuous”, the last studio LP in their discography was released by Warner Music Japan. I say “their” even though Cornelius is considered a one-man act, because live performances were one of the most remarkable aspects of the music: the live band was extremely proficient and disciplined, and the visuals were spellbinding – every element working together to completely transfix the audience and leave one breathless with wonder and joy. Cornelius hasn’t completely gone M.I.A. though, as there are occasional snippets of new music being featured in various contexts, most notable of which being the soundtrack to the film “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”. However, this was five years ago… signs of life are few and far apart, so it’s pretty safe to say that Cornelius’ special brand of syncopated electronica and synesthesia-inducing glitch-pop won’t be making a triumphant return any time soon. We can hope though, right?
BRIGHT RED PAPER
Based in Portland, Oregon, this four-piece band is probably the most obscure on my list, given that they only released one EP, a decade ago. However, their reliance on the cello as a main driving force for melodies in their songs, as well as the very nuanced compositional skills the group as a whole employed make me think of them as one of the bands I wish could have developed much more. Their self-titled EP was self-released and is now available digitally through Outright Music, via Bandcamp. It is most definitely a debut record, a little hesitant, a little off balance, but there’s tremendous potential shining through these songs. The fact that after this release they had incorporated a female vocalist into the band (according to Sonicbids’ page dedicated to them) makes it all the more painful to contemplate their disappearance and aborted 2007 full-length record.
SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM
I feel Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s absence from the music scene nowadays as an almost untreatable wound, due to the sheer brilliance and fantastic bravery the band employed on each and every one of their songs. I say “almost” because many of its former members are very much still active, in projects just as spellbinding and challenging: Rabbit Rabbit Radio, Free Salamander Exhibit, Tin Hat, Two Foot Yard, Cosa Brava and who knows how many others?… The ferocious creativity of this band has definitely outlived its name with the combined efforts of its alumni. Their humor is infectious and well-represented by their website, which only asks the question “Where are we?” of the occasional visitor. Their music is an absolutely overwhelming mix of elements, the epitome of avant-garde metal, so I won’t even try to define them. They sound like nothing else before or after, so I highly recommend you listen to the above record, their last, titled “In Glorious Times” (2007, The End Records), now available on Bandcamp. After all, where else will you be able to hear instruments such as the Valhalla, the Sledgehammer Dulcimer or the Electric Pancreas? Nowhere, believe me.
Slint has made a lot of ink flow throughout the years, being considered one of the true innovators in rock music, and one of the deepest roots of post-rock and post-metal. Slint were doing things in 1991 on such a level, it took the world well more than a decade to catch up with. So how come they stopped after only two full-length releases, the second of which (1991’s “Spiderland”, Touch and Go Records) was the true coming-together moment for the group? It’s hard to say, but the simplest answer, especially by following the very sporadic interviews with the original members coming out in recent years, is that they hadn’t been trying to reinvent music, they hadn’t had any high expectations or long-term plans, and the impact of “Spiderland” came too late for them to realize how profoundly important it was for musicians at the forefront of a constellation of nascent genres. Slint were just having fun, making often tongue-in-cheek music, and when it wasn’t fun anymore, they stopped. They’ve been teasing a reunion since 2005, with some live performances and rumors running rampant, but nothing has come of it so far (except maybe for the glorious limited edition box set of “Spiderland” released by Touch and Go and their short tour in the US in 2014). I’m going to try and tempt Murphy’s Law here and say that in spite of these recent signs of life, Slint are still stuck in a bands’ Bermuda Triangle. Hopefully, now that I’ve said it, they’ll announce a new album release for early 2016. Fingers crossed!
I hope you enjoy this mini-list. Of course there are many more disappearing acts to talk about, and I’m sure my colleagues here will do just that in future articles. In the meantime, there’s the comment section! See you there!