As a number of people in comment and meme form have joked this past week or two, this isn’t the dystopian future we were promised. But it’s the one we’ve got, and it is remarkable how certain outlooks have changed. Certain political policies that were ridiculed just three months ago have become instantly popular – and necessary – policy, and a community spirit appears to have begun to flourish across what was appearing in a very selfish country just weeks before. That said, there’s still a fair number of not so great things going on from other people, and I only feel it might get a bit worse before it gets better as we enter effective lockdown today.
But, we are where we are, and we have to work through this in some way. My way of dealing so far has been to write more when I’m not working, to concentrate my mind a bit and bring it away from the stress of dealing with being near-isolated at home (a blow for me cushioned a bit by the fact that I’ve been a home-based worker for just over a year now anyway, and I’ve long had the tools to do so – I’m painfully aware this is not the case for many).
So, needless to say, I asked last week as things began to blow up, for my friend’s suggestions on songs of isolation. They didn’t let me down, with 190 suggestions, 21 of which I’d used before, and 152 unique songs. 80 different people offered suggestions, and thanks to everyone, as always, who took the time to get involved – by request this week I’ve also created a playlist containing as many of the suggestions as possible on Spotify – be warned, this covers about ten hours of music. For the first time in some time on a subject-based /Tuesday Ten, too, this week is heavy on the industrial, but then, artists in that genre were always good for providing dystopian and indeed isolationist songs.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Where Is Everybody?
A song that, according to nin.wiki, has perhaps surprisingly never been played live by the band (one of only a handful of album tracks aside from instrumentals not to have been). It’s a great song, too, from an album that is pretty much entirely about self-isolation, and couldn’t be more apt right now as numbers outdoors – and on public transport, where tube passenger numbers in London were down 70% by the end of last week – plummet as work-from-home and non-essential venue closure directives have taken effect, and increasing numbers of people self-isolate. What’s it going to look like in a few weeks time? Who fucking knows, right now. These are crazy times.
One of this band’s greatest songs – and recently, unexpectedly returned to their live sets for the first time in decades – is unexpectedly appropriate for these times. A thumpingly hard-edged electro-industrial dancefloor brute of a track, complete with huge synth hooks, it details a world gone mad amid confusion and ignorance, as control slips and everyone panics. Sound familiar? Right now in the UK it certainly does. In the week between originally writing about this and coming back to revisit before posting, we’ve finally seen restrictions and myriad examples of people finding a way to flout rules that are there for everyone’s protection – yet more examples, perhaps, of the selfishness that has caused other societal and political issues in the UK and other countries in recent times.
The very first A23 song I heard, way back in 2000-01 sometime (I think from the excellent first Cyberpolis compilation), I was an instant fan and have remained a long-time follower of this ever-solid project by Tom Shear. Listening back to this debut album, though, and it’s clear Shear was still finding his feet. The vocals, in particular, are much deeper in the mix for the most part, as if he’s still building the confidence to make his thoughtful words take centre-stage, and indeed one of the few times he does is on this perennial dancefloor-filler. Here, he’s considering the mistakes that have left him standing alone, without the support he was counting on, and compares his position to that of someone in Dante’s Purgatorio, having effectively sinned in the ways of love.
/Left To My Own Devices
Of all of the Pet Shop Boys classic singles, I don’t think there’s another with such a mundane subject (even Being Boring!). In structure – across the lengthy, string-laden album version especially – it’s Neil Tennant narrating the actions of a regular day, from waking to sleeping, but critically as someone who is either happy to avoid or is being shunned, by human contact, as is thus isolated from others. His trademark deadpan delivery only adds to the effect, aside from that glorious chorus, where he suddenly bursts into melodious voice and reminds that he could change if he wanted…but he clearly doesn’t.
/Love and Other Demons
Now here’s a band that I’ve not thought of in a long time, but the merest mention of this song had the chorus in my head. One of those Britpop-era bands that never made it to wider prominence like they should have – despite the patronage of Suede and Radiohead, among others – they released a number of sublime singles, particularly this one. Something of a warning, perhaps, as to the mental state of singer Patrick Duff at the time – stuck in his house, isolating from the world and sufferingly deeply for doing so, but entirely unrepentant for doing so – it remains one of the great, near-forgotten songs of that era.
/Symbol of Life
One of the only songs regularly played by Paradise Lost from their “electronic” period around the turn of the millennium – this and the equally excellent Erased are basically the only pair from a period that is much better than many give it credit for, as noted in my relatively recent conversation with Gregor on /Talk Show Host/045 about the re-issue of Host – this has probably one of the greatest choruses the band ever wrote. From a band entirely familiar with bleak, isolationist loneliness and regret, this song almost celebrates the chance for isolation from the world, as the song feels unexpectedly upbeat in its assessment of life. Regardless of your thoughts on this period of Paradise Lost’s output – and Symbol of Life is certainly an uneven album – this remains one of their greatest, most powerful songs.
/III – Odyssey Of The Mind
German EBM pioneers-turned-Industrial Metal powerhouse Die Krupps take a different view on being isolation, on this thundering, long-time live favourite (it sounds amazing live as it’s so heavy). Jürgen Engler both appears to see it as akin to being in prison, but conversely as somewhere freeing, too. After all, you’re trapped with your thoughts for company – and mental health in an isolationist situation is definitely a problem – but also you’re free to think what you like, without input from others. Needless to say, this is going to be a problem as we adjust to more isolation right now. How do you keep your mind occupied without panicking about the present, or, indeed, the future?
I finally had the pleasure of seeing Suzanne Vega live – having been listening to her since I was a child (as my dad had her early albums from the off, and I’ve remained a fan ever since) – back in 2015, and the show was every bit as sublime as I’d hoped, as she told stories and sang songs from across her now three-decade career. One song not played that night was the title track from probably her best-known album, and a rare song of hers that is perhaps darker, heavier and more “rock” than anything else she’s done. An offbeat study of solitude and isolation, imagining solitude as another being spending time with her, encouraging the isolation but offering a salve of sorts, a comfort even as the silence descends.
/Panic Drives Human Herds
We were reminiscing about the vicious, searing power of this band live was only the other day, and the full name of the band (reflected in the album) rather seems apt this week. Something of a forgotten footnote of the period – lead vocalist and guitarist Robbie Furze (nowadays the frontman of The Big Pink, a band who’ve gone onto much greater mainstream success) seems to have gone to great lengths to bury his past in this band – they emerged from work with Alec Empire and Digital Hardcore Records to become a group in their own right, who used power electronics, guitars and an extreme amount of distortion and volume to become a formidable live presence, and the lyrics, when they used them, dripped with fury. But they could be just as devastating when they slowed things down, as they did on this track, a musing on isolation and the toll that it takes on the mind, and the result is a track as hard-hitting as the brutal electronics that precede it on the album.
/The Dandy Warhols Come Down
The lengthy opening track to this band’s greatest album, and for many of us the discovery point of the band (I bought this album on import for a substantial sum when it was released in the US months before the UK, as I recall), this was a quick reminder that not all Dandys songs were sunny(ish!) pop songs. Once this eventually fades in fully, it retains a foggy, out-there feel as the protagonist refuses to leave the house, potentially in some form of drugged-out haze and really not in a good way, and even the arrival of a friend or two can’t make things better.
One unexpected side effect of the measures being taken worldwide at the moment is – if you get past the examples of selfish panic-buying and profiteering that have been seen and called out – is an increase, though, in kindness. Social groups are using online tools to talk to each other, to check-in, to make sure people are ok, or even to find ways to socialise remotely over a drink. The latter is no substitute for meeting in person, of course, but we can and will adapt as we need to, and we’re already seeing that (look out for /amodelofcontrol.com running a couple of experimental, virtual nights in the coming weeks).
Otherwise, stay safe, be more kind. We can get through this.