Sunday, May 25, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...The Legendary Pink Dots

I have never been as loyal to any band as I have The Legendary Pink Dots, so this is a difficult entry to write; my love is a deep and long one. So let's start with the how I became involved.

In 1990 I was obsessed with Skinny Puppy. While waiting at the Kitchener bus station I got into a musical discussion with the janitor there, and he told me I should listen to "The Tear Garden," a collaboration between Skinny Puppy and the Pink Dots. I picked up their CD ("Tired Eyes Slowly Burning") and I was absolutely was the most incredible music I'd ever heard. I still think it's one of the greatest albums ever made.

So I started buying Pink Dots music, but it was a difficult and expensive thing to do; the only store that carried their back catalog at the time was "The CD Bar" in Toronto. It didn't help that I didn't know anybody else who liked them; even today their fan base is small and scattered.

It's impossible to describe what the Pink Dots sound like because they change styles so frequently. Their early music was a mix between Beatles pop and electronic experimentation. In the mid-'80s they gradually transformed into a goth/industrial hybrid. After that they moved on to psychedelic space-rock funk, now doing a bit of a mish-mash that I'm not 100% fond of.

The most noticeable element of their sound, however, is the voice of Edward Ka-Spel, lead singer and constant member; some people think he sounds whiny, which I totally disagree with. You either like his vocal style or you dislike the band.

They have only made a few (somewhat regrettable) videos, but thanks to their open recording policy you can find hundreds of live clips online. Here they are during the peak of their "psychedelic space-rock" period (1995) playing "Clockwise." Co-founder The Silverman is playing keyboards on the right, and on the left is wacky sax-player Niels Van Hoorn, the friendliest guy you'll ever meet in a club.

So that's one side of the Dots. Here they are -- ten years later -- getting a little bit nastier. It's yet another reinterpretation of an old Dots song ("Love in a Plain Brown Envelope"), a live performance after the departure of Canadian funky-dub bassist Ryan Moore.

They tour North America every year (with few exceptions) and word is they'll be here in the fall, so if you see that they're playing in your town, do yourself a favour and check them out. But be forewarned: their discography is huge and their mythology is even bigger. If you want to know a bit about their older (more obscure) work, check out my Legendary Pink Cassette Cross-reference blog, a work-in-progress and my small contribution to ongoing Dots scholarship.

Albums to buy: Nobody will ever agree on this, but most people recommend either "Crushed Velvet Apocalypse" (angry) or "The Maria Dimension" (spacey) as a good "first album." Albums to avoid: I really didn't like "Nemesis Online" or "Hallway of the Gods," but some people think those are the best. For fans only: any of the limited special edition works produced by small labels such as BLRR, usually requiring a turntable and a thick wallet.

And keep in mind the many solo projects and collaborations by band members...much of that stuff is darned good if you can find it.

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