(as usual, click to enlarge. All artwork done by myself)
OI ENDOXOS NECROS (ΟΙ ΕΝΔΟΞΟΣ ΝΕΓΡΟΣ), if I remember correctly, was an inscription on the set of a play I saw on Saturday night, Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes (itself an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone). It was written in the stone over the wreaths laid for the fallen brothers Eteocles and Polyneices, the first of what would be many dead bodies over the course of this Greek tragedy.
'The Glorious Dead' is, as far as I can make out, what Oi Endoxos Necros translates to; but the exact meaning isn't that important here. This isn't meant to be a macabre mix, or over-occupied with death, but rather a collection of songs that could be reasonably described as 'tragic' in some aspect.
It's a little more than that though - it is a reaction to my first proper experience of Greek tragedy. The Burial at Thebes was, undoubtedly, an excellent production; a fascinating political drama up until the second half, when people started dropping like flies (and yes, I know that's meant to happen. And it was executed [sic] extremely well). The themes explored in the first half - conflict between religious and secular demands, the exercise of authority, the duties and bounds of citizenship - seemed to be abandoned to dramatic despair and drift; no redemption, no real statement, not even a recognizable acknowledgement of nihilism. Just death (one suicide, an attempted parricide, another suicide, and another) and dramatic necrophilia.
So the non-essential purpose of this mix is not just to illustrate the soundscapes of darkness, tragedy and human doom in the first instance, but to project forward into some hardcore songs that actually have something to say about the tragic in life.
But most of all, just some powerful tunes.
Oi Endoxos Necros: Pt. 1 – Doom as a Non-Metallic Element
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’
2. Tom Waits – ‘Misery is a River of the World’
3. God Speed You! Black Emperor – ‘East Hastings’/“The Sad Mafioso…”
4. Envy – ‘Unrepairable Gentleness’
Oi Endoxos Necros: Pt. 2 – The Positive Force! Reprise
5. Hot Water Music – ‘Minno’
6. Leatherface – ‘In My Life’
7. Lungfish – ‘Descender’
8. Bad Religion – ‘Materialist’
9. Rancid – ‘Turntables’
10. The Bouncing Souls – ‘For All the Unheard’
11. buried track (s – ‘gm, c’)
Oi Endoxos Necros: A Mixtape in Tragedy - two individual files (Sides 1 and 2) [download this for smoother and snappier transitions between tracks (long form mp3) and also for vinyl rip of the last song :)]
Oi Endoxos Necros: A Mixtape in Tragedy - 11 tracks [download this if you want separate mp3s]
Albums and release dates:
The Lyre of Orpheus, Anti- 2004
Blood Money, Anti- 2002
F#A#[infinity], Kranky 1998
A Dead Sinking Story, Level Plane 2002
Forever and Counting, Doghouse 1997
The Last, BYO 2001
Talking Songs for Walking, Dischord 1995
The Process of Belief, Epitaph 2002
Life Won't Wait, Epitaph 1998
The Gold Record, Epitaph 2006
Touch & Go, 1991
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ has an obvious connection to Greek tragedy, but updated to a very twentieth-century folk-rock epic. “Owwww momma” Cave sings, a plaintive cry which probably echoes Dylan’s Memphis blues but is also imbued with a tragedy all of its own. Add to this Warren Ellis’s needling guitar – I absolutely love the riff on this song – and you have a tense, doom-laden tale of mythological and human pride, arrogance and visceral violence.
The Bad Seed’s 2004 Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus double album is the only thing by Nick Cave that I listen to; the Birthday Party never appealed much, Grinderman is of peculiarly little interest, and the Bad Seeds catalogue I am content to leave as mostly a mystery. The A.V. Club review for their latest album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is a pretty good read, mostly for lines like “Lyrically, Cave’s dick is still hanging out of his pants” and “the ageing Cave, to his credit, can still eat his weight in sleaze”. Extra credit goes to the commenter who pointed out that in the video for ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ Cave looks like “one part Disco Stu and one part Fredo Carleone”. The worrying thing is, he looks more like John Cazale’s character from Dog Day Afternoon than either of those.
The film The Proposition is excellent, however. Now there’s a Greek tragedy, or at least what I think a Greek tragedy should be!
2. Tom Waits, 'Misery is a River of the World' - the same A.V. Club review mentioned above had a brief discussion in the comments as to whether Nick Cave is a 'boring and girly' imposter of Tom Waits. Or more prosaically (or even perhaps, more poetically):
"BAH by albtraum
Every time I read a review of a Nick Cave album, it sounds cool and Tom Waits-y.
Then when I buy and listen to a Nick Cave album, it sounds boring and girly. I won't be fooled [regarding Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!] again."
I don't think I've ever tried to rank the two artists against each other, although I do lump them together (as I have done here) very roughly in terms of style. I guess direct comparison obscures the different backgrounds they come from - Tom Waits from being a 1970s beat/gutter poet, Nick Cave from starting off in punk/post-punk nihilists the Birthday Party - as well as their obvious musical differences now. But yes, I do reckon the one goes quite well with the other.
This song is the first track from Blood Money, and it serves well as an introduction to the tone of that album. Semi-bestial vocals, in a childrens' sing-song rhythm over eerie carnival music it's pretty frightening as well as being utterly captivating. Lyrics like "if there one thing you can say about mankind/there's nothing kind about man" showcase Waits's dark view of, well, everything, and the incessant thick beat of the song combine to induce a peculiar kind of musical claustrophobia; and when the accompaniment is stripped down for the haunting call "Evr'ybody row, evr'ybody row", it's hard not to buy into the tragedy of the song, and of Waits's performance.
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 'East Hastings'/"The Sad Mafioso..." is the second movement of the second track (East Hastings) on their debut album F#A#∞. This was (pretty much by coincidence) the first GY!BE release I heard, and it is still kind of my favourite. Partly for this song I could have used any post-rock band anything from Slint to Explosions in the Sky, for the beginning is just sparse but affecting guitar work, and later parts bring in the jerky, rhythmic strings for which you could listen to something like the Kronos Quartet, who performed the memorable score for Darren Arronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and latterly, along with Clint Mansell and Mogwai, his most recent film The Fountain (That never got a proper release over here, so I haven't seen it, but I have the soundtrack and it sounds really good - it would have been included here if there was space). But whichever compartment of their sound you are referring to here, it's undeniably affecting. To my mind, Godspeed are fairly unassailably the kings of post-rock.
What the specific title "A Sad Mafioso" was meant to refer to, I don't know. I can imagine some kind of a Scorsese character, looking out on a rainy street and pondering the validity of his existence while sadly and desperately smoking a cigarette. Certainly, that's the vibe I get from the atmospheric, minimalist intro to the piece; and the heavy strings of the rest merely add a crushing weight of emotion to the scenario. This being GY!BE, that existential dilemma probably revolves around his position in a capitalist society and its tension with his criminal exploitation of his own people in it. Just somehow, it's unbearably tragic.
4. Envy, 'Unrepairable Gentleness' is equivalently post-rock, just couched within the sounds of blindingly screamy hardcore rather than classical strings and composition. From the point of this album and somewhat before, Envy morphed considerably into a broad-stroked, layered and expansive post-rock act, disappointing many of their hardcore fans (in both senses of the word) fans from previous albums. Personally, I far prefer this side of Envy's sound (A Dead Stinking Story and Our Dreams Walking This Way onward), not least of all having followed their development from that point, via 2006's full-length Insomniac Doze and last year's EP Abyssal. The immediacy (comparative to some extent, absolute to another) of this release presents a good middle ground for those who tend to lose interest at their later works.
'Unrepairable Gentleness' forms an epic screamo song which, buried in its onslaught, contains a massively powerful sense of tragedy. It communicates tenderness in a way only that several tons of distorted guitar sounds and throat-shredding vocals can; an emotion and a melody that is all the stronger for being found in a place that it would be difficult to include, otherwise. When you hear the rise and fall of this song, it should be close to bringing you to tears. Any less, and you probably aren't ready for Japanese screamo.
"If you hear this, I hope it eases some troubles..."
5. Hot Water Music, 'Minno' is a song from the band's third album, Forever and Counting. Insofar as I can possibly rank any of their albums above on another, it is one of my favourites; there is just something extra special about the guitar composition on this one, the purity and the flexibility of their post-hardcore approach to a particular sound. Others may not find their most varied, interesting or original, but for me it's definitely one of the most affecting.
This song in particular, with its gentle, caressing intro is also one of the most meaningful and tragic of the band's whole output. As the band explains in the notes for their Live at the Hardback CD:
"In remembrance of an old friend who took his own life under the 13th St. Bridge. He left us for reasons that no one but him may ever understand. Though we were left uneasy and confused, we were left with the memory of all the good in him. This is for Minno. Rest in peace. We'll remember you."
I said before when posting that CD that, in relation to lyrics, Hot Water Music "more than any other band I know, showed me how much words could truly mean". How that applies to this beautiful post-hardcore song is up to you to decide, but I think it's pretty obvious. And more broadly, it's about how post-hardcore is about really saying things - in this case, about the complex emotions of suicide - that other genres merely raise the issue of. So call this the reprise of the previous songs' explanation of tragedy, which was largely to convey the feeling in an artistic manner - not to actually speak about it. Both, of course, are valuable; but this way is more hardcore.
5. Leatherface - 'In My Life'; Leatherface and Hot Water Music go together, despite coming from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean (Florida and Sunderland) and not coming from musically the exact same kind of origins. I wrote about their BYO split before, which introduced me to the former band. But apart from their single masterpiece Mush, the effectively mini-album The Last is where it's at. The CD version from BYO Records collected together two sessions' worth of recordings, one of which was in fact a discontinued post-breakup project called Pope (and their album cleverly titled Johnpaulgeorgeringo) and wasn't really all that good ('Kingsane' is good though). But the first set which is The Last proper, from 'Little White God' to 'Ba Ba Boo' is gold. On request, I've posted it here.
Those six tracks have some of the most affecting, and most tragic, Leatherface songs. 'Little White God', for example, is a searing, slightly reggae-inflected description of drug addiction. A little left-field - and not to say left-wing, as well - is the balladic 'Shipyards' about (presumably) the Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite erosion of British industrial society in the 80s and 90s:
"Throw the fisherman lines
close the shipyards and mines
Leaving only water, we'll still have old wives tales
about the old days
deep lonely water
the old days"
In terms of tragedy, that would be the song I would want to have put on here, but it's an unusual soft piano song (no less, and in fact more, affecting for that in my book) and not the same as Leatherface's normal post-punk sound. 'In My Life', however, is straight-up Leatherface emotional hardcore right from the opening chords. The meaning of the lyrics isn't as clear, but you can feel the passion in the closing lines:
"In my life
In all of my life
In all of my fucking life"
6. Lungfish - 'Descender', another of the post-hardcore trio featured on my first mixtape (Hot Water Music, 'No Division', Leatherface, 'Gang Party', and Lungfish, 'Non Dual Bliss'). Some way different from either of the other two bands or their common ancestors, Lungfish are roughly 'Dischord proto-emo' (in the words of this eMusic dozen), laying down their heavy-rocking, hypnotic grooves since the mid-90s without much notice of what other groups have been doing, or almost what they have been doing themselves (to judge by the repetition of their albums!). I think it was this song or 'Samuel' which made me realise on first listen to Talking Songs for Walking that Lungfish were not just another Dischord post-hardcore group, but something much more exciting. To this day, I still prefer their first album over anything else, mainly because it plays the loudest and, as much as I dig their spacier sounds, I'm sucker for walls-of-sound guitar distortion.
'Descender' is one of the darker, and perhaps more direct, songs on the record. It's about, or so I've heard, an acid trip (hence the "churchbell heartbeat" of the final lines) but also about a tender, tragic story of youthful experimentation and misgivings:
"I took a look at her tattered shoes
I offered her mine but she refused
She said: I want these cuts on my feet, man
gotta be as sensitive as I can…
…The tiny cuts in your skin
They let a little fresh air in
You dilate your opening
And when it starts to gush
START TO SING"
That roaring, explosive climax is also kind of bone-chilling for the raw passion and emotion it exhibits, and the certain mysterious, tragic sense it reflects and which runs through a lot of Lungfish songs.
7. Bad Religion - 'Materialist'; from post-hardcore to what came before it, for me at least. The Process of Belief-era Bad Religion isn't hardcore for anyone who can remember the 80s (when, well, Bad Religion released Suffer and of course their first, s/t album) but it was punk for me when I was listening to it. First of all, it's loud and fast, a quickfire barrage of melodic guitar and rising vocals. That's Brian Baker from Minor Threat on guitar, by the way. Second of all, it's the hyperliterate, hyperkinetic lyrics which probably have most fans grasping for the lyric sheet and the dictionary: "incipient senescence" being a case in point. I'd been listening to this band for two years when I got an 800 on my verbal SATs. But it's the simple phrases that are often the most effective, and for this song it's the tragic turn of
"Mind over matter, it really don't matter
If the street's idle chatter
turns your heart strings to tatters"
that got my attention for this song, and grabbed for it a place on the mixtape.
8. Rancid - 'Turntables' is another one from my earlier appreciation of punk rock, and another one from the gabbatape where I posted the title track from the Life Won't Wait album. It's still my favourite of theirs, by the way, and still one of the favourites out of all my albums. There's just something about the combination of enthusiasm, attitude and diversity of sounds - not to mention Rancid's considerable pop-punk chops - that make every song on that album resonate with feeling for me. For this song, it's the semi-tragic take on social realism:
"When there's no more food on the table
What once was strong, no longer able
And an open mind, no longer stable
And it spins like a DJ's turntable"
After I picked this song out, it obviously occurred to me that maybe I should have chosen something from Operation Ivy - like 'Junkie Running Dry' or 'Take Warning' - but in the end I stuck with this. Less authentic, perhaps, but this is produced better and is still honestly just as meaningful for me. Their last album, Indestructible, is remarkably close all the way through to the sound of this song - and all the better for it.
10. The Bouncing Souls, 'For All The Unheard'; for the final (or, um, semi-final) song, this is the closer to the Souls' last album, The Gold Record. Mostly from reading and commenting over at Zen and the Art of Face Punching, I've found that a lot of people who were big fans of the early Bouncing Souls just don't follow their later work, finding it too 'anthemic'. I guess you aren't going to like this long song, then; but to me the band have found the perfect balance between driving, melodic punk rock and a Springsteenesque sense of emotion. Okay, so they've moved some way from their happy hardcore days (in which I'd include my favourite, How I Spent My Summer Vacation) but there is just so much to discover in their newer records.
I just found now that I inexplicably didn't put a Bouncing Souls track on my first mixtape, but there was no way I could have done this mix without including a song of theirs. The message on this song, not just in the slow, anthemic guitars and Boss-like "whoahs" at the end, is pretty affecting and cutting. Like the Bad Religion couplet above, I couldn't leave it out:
"Troubled youth spills over into
troubled life and times
We walk alone with our troubled minds
This is for all the unheard
all the music left behind"
11. Slint, 'Good Morning, Captain': this is a song I couldn't very well leave off a mixtape concerned with tragedy. Blend77 describes it as "a chilling ending to one of the most unique albums you will ever hear". For me, the whole "I MISS YOU!!!" thing never gets old, and that's the truth. I got to see this performed live last year, and as sweet baby jaysus suggested, it probably was the show of a lifetime.
If you listen really closely to the version on the long-form mp3, you might just be able to hear the record needle dropping down and picking up. Just because, like the band say, "this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl".