Litany Reviews: Legendary Pink Dots - Kollabaris - by Corey Goldberg
The Legendary Pink Dots have always released exclusive, small edition tapes (and now CD-Rs) independent from their 'real' albums. These recordings were usually only available directly through the Dots themselves, allowing them to build a voluminous catalog and keep it continually 'in-print' despite record label whims. The only problem was that the band's location made these releases difficult and/or costly for many fans (particularly those not in Europe) to obtain. Enter Beta-Lactam Ring Records. This small label now makes these previously elusive recordings easily and readily available to fans across the globe while still giving the band their due. Newly released through BLRR is the unlimited edition CD-R collection entitled "Kollabaris". This disc is a compilation of the Pink Dot's various collaborations with other artists and features a great deal of exclusive material. In addition to the totally new music, a few of the tracks are from previous, but hard to come by, releases and some are new mixes of tracks from the various artists compilations of Subconscious Communications.
If you're a Skinny Puppy fan who has never heard of the Pink Dots before, you might be wondering why you are reading this. Simply put, this disc features a great deal of material from the Tear Garden, which is a collaborative project of members of Skinny Puppy and the Legendary Pink Dots. Many Skinny Puppy completists will likely get this disc just for the Tear Garden tracks, but there is a lot of great music to be heard here.
The collection begins with a track by Jochen Schoberth's Artwork, which features Pink Dots Edward Ka-Spel, Ryan Moore, and Niels Van Hoorn. "Bring the Rain" is a plaintive, serene ballad guided by Jochen's acoustic guitar. His style is somewhat different from that which we are used to hearing from the Dots. His short solo, in particular, makes for a unique combination with Niels' flute, which begins in the background but takes an increasingly greater role as the track progresses. Niels weaves his line in and out of the guitar chords. "Bring the Rain" has more of an obvious pop song structure than most of the Dots' material. Though not his usual arena, Edward has no problem matching the almost catchy chorus with his unassumingly honest vocal delivery. Stylistically, this track reminds me most of their album "From Here We'll Watch the World Go By" (if any). This track was previously released but very difficult to find and its inclusion here is welcome. "Bring the Rain" is a definite highlight that I'd love to see LPD perform live.
"A Small Swan Song" is a different animal. Credited to Edward Ka-Spel with Karolina Rozycka, this track is a layered, ambient soundscape. Though seemingly based on the human voice, a mass of effects warps the voice into a new texture that is quite unsettling and downright creepy. The result is something reminiscent of some of the Dots "Premonition" tracks or the short instrumental pieces that often bridge the gaps between songs. "...Swan Song" is quite interesting, especially following the acoustic guitar dominated "Bring the Day", but at 2 minutes it is all too short.
The Tear Garden's "Bump (version 2)" (a shortened title of "Things That Go Bump in the Night") previously appeared on cEvin Key and co.'s "Wild Planet" compilation. This version is a different mix, however. The main difference (aside from being a slightly shorter edit) is that Edward's vocal track is coated in what sounds like slabs of chorus and reverb effects. This seems a little gratuitous and, in my opinion, does not aid the song. The intimate feel of the original's vocal is disturbed by a virtual chorus of Edwards. "Bump" remains an incredible song and those new to it are in for a treat, but unfortunately I think the "Wild Planet" mix is superior.
The Tear Garden's "Georgie (version 2)" (a shortened title of "George the Parasite") is, similarly, a new mix of a track which previously appeared on one of the Subconscious Compilation albums, "Paradigm Shift". Unlike the previous track, however, the new effects applied here work well. Some of the whooshing, white noise-ish sounds and synths have greater prominence and lend a nerve-racking quality to the section featuring Edward's refrain. Some previously inaudible vocals, with a few new lyrics, are brought out as well. Still, the changes are relatively small; don't expect any revelations if you've heard the original mix. In the case that you have not, however, you will be regaled with yet another great Tear Garden song.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to hear the original, raw performances that gave birth to your favorite album? Well, guess what? With "Extract From The Empathy Session", I got my wish. It's an almost fifteen minute jam from the sessions for the Tear Garden album "Last Man To Fly". Similar outtakes appeared on the "Sheila Liked the Rodeo" EP (in fact, a few minutes of this cut were used in "Do It Yourself From A- Z Part 1"), but I think this track differs a bit in that it is pure and unadulterated improvisation, with little to no edits or postproduction. As the title suggests, it is the source for part of the track "Empathy With the Devil" (specifically the slow end portion). The whole band shines here as they weave an ever-changing tapestry through their delicate interplay. We hear cEvin's unmistakable early 90s drum sound, Ryan Moore's incomparable bass groove, and Martijn de Kleer's singular guitar tone amongst layers of keys and ambient sounds. "Extract..." is a piece of the intricate musical dialogue that spawned the songs on LMTF. This glimpse at their process is like a peak behind the curtains that uncovers new gems and offers new perspectives, much like the release of alternates and outtakes on jazz box set reissues. Perhaps someday the world will be a just enough place to allow the release of a "Complete Last Man to Fly Sessions" box. Until such a time, this track is a revelation and dream come true for the ardent fan. To put it in perspective, if this were to have gone unreleased and been leaked out as a bootleg item, it would the crown jewel of any collection. Having such a track originate from one of the creative high points of the musicians involved is no small sum either.
After 20 years in existence the band has performed only one cover song, that being this next track from the "Homage to Neu!" tribute. "Super", by the Legendary Pink Dots, is without a doubt a surprise. They've never done anything quite in this style before, and, as always with LPD, the style has never been done quite like they do it. The only comparisons I can make to their catalog are "Spike" and "Inside" and even those similarities are tenuous at best. But if this was an experiment for the Dots, it was successful. Heavy, rock-style drums and distorted guitar dominate the noisy texture punctuated by the occasional vocal howl. While it may not be indicative of most of LPD's output, Skinny Puppy fans in particular will definitely find this very aggressive track intriguing. Hardcore fans will also appreciate having this track available outside of the various artists compilation it originates from.
The Dots accompany Lydia Tomkiw's spoken word on "Pretty Something". The very dark, ambient music they provide defines the tone of her reading and, indeed, stands as a legitimate piece of music unto itself. The music slowly rises like waves to peaks of tension and then falls again, only to repeat the process. This track, from Lydia's album "Incorporated", was previously very difficult to find and is a great example of their more atmospheric work.
From the project entitled Mimir, the Dots' collaboration with HNAS, "Catchy Tune" is anything but catchy. Containing no melodic elements, the track is an atmospheric soundscape. Dense and lush, this is another fine example of their ambient style. Mimir is notoriously difficult to track down, making the inclusion of this track simultaneously overdue and teasing.
The Tear Garden's "Message 3" triumphantly breaks through the ambience of the previous track. A great song, but it (apparently) doesn't differ from the version previously available on "Paradigm Shift". Thematically, this track continues the concept of the Dots' "Message From Our Sponsor", making it of particular interest to LPD fans. Though it is nothing new, Dot or Tear Garden fans who haven't heard this track yet are certain to enjoy it here.
The collection concludes with a previously unreleased track by the Dots, "The Bomb Bomb Loopa Tribe Go To Swansea (and Eat It)". Though short, this instrumental represents some of the Dots' approach to improvisation. This bit of synthetic madness atop a tribal rhythm may have been without a place for release until now, but it finds a welcome home here. The track provides a fitting conclusion to the disc.
If "Kollabaris" had only included "Extract from the Empathy Session" I would still consider it an essential release. However, all of these tracks are a worthwhile addition to the Dots' catalog. The alternate Tear Garden tracks are a nice inclusion for the sake of comprehensiveness but owners of "Paradigm Shift" and "Wild Planet" should not expect anything radically or drastically different. LPD fans who have for years been searching for the releases that some of these tracks have previously appeared on can now rejoice. They are now easily and readily available here, along with completely new goodies. As a collection of oddities and difficult to find material, this disc is a resounding success. Skinny Puppy/Tear Garden fans otherwise uninitiated to the Dots may find this release a welcome stepping stone. The aforementioned "Extract..." is a must-hear for any Tear Garden listener (particularly fans of the "Sheila" EP) and the non-SP related material is all top-notch. The ambient and atmospheric material should be heard by any fan of SP's "Draining Faces". Such readers should take note, however, that while "Kollabaris" may succeed as a rarity compilation for fans, it merely hints at the Dots' true ability when faced with the format of the full-length album.
Kollabaris can be ordered from Beta-Lactum Ring Records at www.blrrecords.com