Wednesday, March 18, 2009

before the cape and foil come closing in for a kill

There’s something cathartic in finding beauty in the darker side of human emotions.

Janine White said that, in talking to Karl de Mesa, the writer behind Trust Your Black Shirt. This draws us 'round to Johnny Hollow, the second deep puzzle on the list.

Johnny Hollow has been described as everything from "gothic chamber music" to full-on darkambient electronica, and I think their addiction to the cello is largely what fuels this. Without Kitty Thompson's virtuoso cello tricks, they'd be every other gothic club band, succeeding through style and poetry.

That, and the fact their music is drenched in technological effects, sound loops, dub beat and samples from an inconceivable number of sources. But it always comes back to Janine White's dreaming, breathy vocals and Kitty Thompson's cello, linking song to song.


(Vincent Marcone, left, Janine White center, and Kitty Thompson to the right.)
Once when I was all alone,
I could not find the telephone
so instead I burned your pretty home
to the ground...

--"Worse Things"

Johnny Hollow started as three people with a darker take on reality: Vincent Marcone, the poet/songwriter (and background vocalist), Janine White, the voice of the dream (and keyboardist), and Kitty Thompson, wizardess with a bow. They've since added Stephen Hiehn, but still make music that's the essence of shadow: dark, intimate and alluring. "Listen in safety", someone remarked on them, and it must be said--the songs don't lead us anywhere safe. But how tempting it is to stray from the path...
Passion is relentless as the underworld
And lover burning coal
I hold my breath,
Devotion seizes me
And jealousy ripples like a river underneath me

--"Die 4 Love"

Is it electronica? In that it's mostly made, edited, engineered, mixed, remixed, charged and sent out using electronic means, it's easily possible. It's a little too heavy in spots to be "chamber music", gothic or not. Darkambient? Oh, the darkambi is a given; they couldn't be anything else with this drifting, rudderless sound.


(Janine White, center, singing on keys; Kitty Thompson with the cello. All rights reserved to Dylerpillar.)
You took your hat off
and untied my bonnet
and you took my body
when you didn't even want it



Combustible Edison once said that they were Satan's ambassadors to the world, not shock troops--that their brand of quirky, seductive cocktail-hour music would gain more listeners and good press for the cause than, say, Slipknot. I'm thinking of Johnny Hollow in much the same way--they sing about some very dark things, obsession and loss, occult magics and madness, yet the music they make is so beautiful, the vocals so enticing, you're standing in their circle nodding with whatever they say before you're even aware you've moved.

Blanche of Völundarkviða said: "Johnny Hollow is actually outstanding, oozing with creepy sextile evilness. They are overwhelmingly intriguing, like being slapped in the face by the most scandalous person you know or wish you knew."

I don't know that I entirely agree with the 'slapped in the face' bit--if anything, it's more of a sublimely sensual caress of black-painted fingernails, drawn across trembling skin--but 'overwhelmingly intriguing'? I can definitely agree with that.


(Kitty Thompson on the cello at a live show. All rights reserved to Dylerpillar.)
Woke up this evening
television screaming
static burns in my world of dreaming
soothed by the light
I drop my fist
turn my cheek for a cathode ray kiss

--"This Hollow World"

Give them a listen--they've even made it easy with Johnny Hollow Radio. All you have to do is click, and be transported, to where the tattered curtains flutter in the shadows, and the interplay of instrument and artist is all.

Are they steampunk, after all this lurid description? I think...I'm thinking, really, no. Even with the cello, no. Are they gorgeous, intense, astounding, intoxicating? Yes, and so much more.

But steampunk: no, no, I'm sorry, but no. I think I'm taking a stand: Johnny Hollow isn't in.


Anonymous said...

I agree the sound isn't steampunk, but their visual style, their song titles, their band identification does seem to be, so perhaps that is enough to tip the balance. I am inclined to think maybe it is...

Emilly Orr said...

And it might be past this point?

The frustrating bit of this next section on the project is, I'm trying to accomplish the somewhat Herculean task of identifying by sound, instrument, and lyric alone what is or is not; waiting until later to add in the visual component.

And I'm steadfastly resisting going to Sepiachord to see what made their list.