:Music Review: Chris Alexander – Music For Murder
Review by John “DJ Engine” Courte
If you think back to Skinny Puppy’s Chainsaw, it’s a no-brainer that it owes a great deal of its mood and ambience to the modern horror film. By “modern,” I mean 1970’s and later, the darker manifestation of cinema verité that would grace the fan-mags of the time like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria. Chris Alexander’s Music for Murder is very much an expression and continuation of the themes and tone of the film genre that inspired and augmented a good deal of first- and second-wave industrial.
Music for Murder is just the tip of the Chris Alexander iceberg; he’s a true renaissance man from the core to the outer orbits of the horror film world. He has directed, produced, and scored them, as well as being a prolific contributor to several publications as a horror film critic, including the Toronto paper Metro, and he was editor-in-chief of Fangoria from 2010 until September of 2015. The Skinny Puppy connection goes another step: Alexander’s film Queen of Blood features Nivek Ogre as Preacher.
Music for Murder finds a good fit with the Giallo Disco label, released on limited edition vinyl and digital. The vinyl runs tend to sell out fast, but their digital catalog is available and full of dark, cinematic offerings, including remixes and re-releases of classic Italo horror film soundtracks. This reviewer did not have the vinyl for review but the digital files are high quality and free of defects.
The key thing about Music for Murder is that not only does it sound like a horror film soundtrack, it sounds like a horror film itself. One of the ways it does this is mind-blowing in its simplicity and effectiveness: When analog tape equipment begins to fail, the consistency of the playback speed goes to hell, and the result is an unsettling warble, where the pitch goes up and down in time with the drag on the reel. You can hear it when reel-to-reel motors get old, or when the tracking goes bad on VHS tapes, or when the works of the cassette deck in your car (or your parents’ car) are so gummed up with smoke residue that the tape sounds more like a police siren than music. This also happens with film projectors, and it usually happens in run-down theaters when the print is so thrashed and the projector sprockets are so worn down that 24 frames per second is more of a guideline than a rule. So how could this ever be a good thing to deliberately inflict on a recorded track?
It’s weird, but it’s exactly the effect called for. It’s also subtle, and the heaviest you’ll hear it is in the second track, “Organ Grinder,” but it shows up on others as well. It’s why many of these tracks capture the ambience of watching a slasher flick in the jankiest movie house in town, where the floor is sticky with the soda residue of decades and the projector carries the ghosts of the films run through it, a Christine or The Mangler configured for 35mm print. You might think it’s annoying, because there’s just enough dissonance to give you the feeling of wrongness, but if you imagine the canvas—low-budget horror film—it works really well.
Music for Murder works as second-wave industrial because it shares a good amount of thematic and technical elements with early Skinny Puppy, but some tracks also capture The Legendary Pink Dots and Current 93, making Music for Murder a solid entry in the dark ambient and experimental categories as well. The production technique feels like first-generation digital instruments recorded on analog 4-track, using plenty of dark ambient layering. Some tracks are only soundscapes, but there is an arc to each one. The album itself seems without arc or story as a whole, but more a collection of pieces designed for a mood. I suppose you could make up a narrative if you wanted to, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to do so, but it wasn’t obvious to this reviewer.
You’ll find nothing here that would bring a lot of boots to the dance floor of a club, but that’s really not the intent. This album is way more Giallo than Disco, faithful to film above all. Chris Alexander has a love for horror cinema that expresses itself throughout this work, and good on him for it. It brings an authenticity and respect to a genre that’s been the wellspring of so many other industrial artists, sometimes missing from similar projects, and it mirrors the appreciation Skinny Puppy must have had for the horror film genre when they were producing Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse.
If you’re a horror film fan, an early industrial fan, or you’re just curious to see what the mind of a veteran Fangoria editor-in-chief sounds like, give Music for Murder a listen. You can get the digital release on bandcamp.com, but the limited-edition vinyl pressing is unfortunately sold out.
02. Organ Grinder
03. Don’t Open the Window
04. Dark Secrets Of The Black Heart
05. Skin Too Tight
07. Night Drive
08. Trees With Teeth
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