Courtesy of Merciful Release

Courtesy of Merciful Release

October 29, 2018

YANDAVA | A Guide to Goth in 10 Albums

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When Halloween rolls around, I get the strange compulsion to haunt a graveyard, wear all black and put on the Bauhaus and Joy Division. Although I rarely succumb to the first two desires, that last one is decidedly more tempting.

After the punk movement electrified England and New York in the 1970s, post-punk rose from its ashes, adding musical complexity and a depth of emotion to punk’s relatively stripped-down sound and ethos of anger, eventually spawning a range of derivative subgenres from synth-pop to shoegaze.

Gothic rock managed to differentiate itself from post-punk through its introspective, dark lyrics and Romantic sensibility. The aesthetic was marked by black eyeliner, dark clothing, wild hair, and, as the Damned’s guitarist once noted, “half the local cemetery… propped up against the stage.” The music itself tended to feature deep vocals, distortion and distinctive bass lines, evoking existential and often mystical themes.

 

Nico — The Marble Index (1969)
While largely unnoticed at the time of its release, The Marble Index has nevertheless come to be seen as a precursor of the genre, both in its music and its visuals. Here, Nico (who’s most well known for her collaboration with The Velvet Underground) really comes into her own, radically changing her image from blonde model to red-headed ghoul. The album takes lyrical and thematic inspiration from the British Romantic poets and combines it with a sound reminiscent of Gregorian chant, resulting in a sonic landscape that is desolate, haunting and bleak, though nevertheless beautiful.

Joy Division — Closer (1980)
By the time Closer was released, Ian Curtis had already taken his life and the rest of the band was morphing into what would become the popular synth-pop group New Order. Nevertheless, Closer remains one of the seminal albums of the post-punk era. Martin Hannett’s experimental production lends it a ghostly, austere industrialism, and combined with Curtis’ dark, confessional, highly personal lyrics, you wouldn’t expect it to be as danceable as it actually is.

Bauhaus — In the Flat Field (1980)
Bauhaus is perhaps best known for their first single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” but this whole album is pretty great. Take the opening track, “Double Dare,” for example, with its trancelike drone and fuzzy riffs, viscerally luring the listener in to stay for the remainder of the album. Or the erratic, fast and thunderous “Dive,” with Peter Murphy going on about fishnets and Sumo wrestlers in the background. This album makes me wish I were a vampire, or some similarly glamorous and menacing creature of the undead.

Siouxsie and the Banshees — Juju (1981)
Though the album’s horror references were originally meant jokingly, audiences took them seriously and thus, Siouxsie and the Banshees cemented themselves as one of the great gothic rock bands (while still scorning the label, of course). The album was both commercially and critically successful at the time of its release with a return to guitar-based instrumentation and complex, elaborate drumming, and Siouxsie Sioux’s voice soaring strong and melodious above it all.

The Birthday Party — Junkyard (1982)
Before he was the frontman of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave was a fixture of Melbourne’s post-punk scene as a member of The Birthday Party. Junkyard was their third and final album, filtering American pop culture references, a Southern Gothic aesthetic, and blues and rockabilly through its dark, screaming belligerence.

The Cure — Pornography (1982)
At this point in their career, the band was dealing with frequent in-fighting and drug use while lead singer Robert Smith spiraled further into depression. Intended as his sign-off, the album anticipated the gloomy, ghoulish sound of Disintegration (1989) seven years prior and became one of their most popular. Claustrophobic and oppressive, it’s not exactly light listening, though definitely well worth your time.

The Damned — Phantasmagoria (1985)
Though The Damned was the first UK punk band to release both a single and an album, by 1985, punk was out and goth was in. Thus, led by David Vanian’s deep vocals, the band moved towards a spookier image and a more sinister, lush and layered sound. Nevertheless, many of the tracks are still quite dancey — “Is It a Dream” and “Grimly Fiendish,” for example, are just plain fun to sing along to.

Clan of Xymox — Medusa (1986)
A Dutch band formed in the early ‘80s, Clan of Xymox moved to England and began recording music that has sometimes been described as darkwave, featuring melancholy, introspective lyrics, slower tempos and more use of minor keys that differentiate it from other post-punk bands of the time. These tracks are smooth and ambient, the perfect soundtrack for climbing back into your coffin at the end of a long day.

This Mortal Coil — Filigree & Shadow (1986)
This Mortal Coil was formed as a music collective in 1983 by the British record label 4AD, which was associated with acts such as Modern English, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Pixies and others. As their second album, Filigree & Shadow consists of 25 tracks, 13 of which are instrumental and many of which are rather obscure covers. Collaborative and experimental, the album makes use of the didgeridoo and shines a light on goth’s more atmospheric, ambient, folksy qualities.

The Sisters of Mercy — Floodland (1987)
The Sisters of Mercy created some of the most iconic goth anthems. “This Corrosion,” for one, is an 11-minute jam that builds to a sweeping intensity, ironic in its lyrics yet masterfully emotional. “Lucretia, My Reflection,” another of their most recognizable songs, highlights the industrial monotony of blue-collar work without ever letting the song itself sink into monotony or dullness. Overall, a truly astounding album.

 

Ramya Yandava is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ry86@cornell.edu. Ramy’s Rambles runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.