So Black Ships Ate The Sky is going to be Current 93‘s breakthrough album. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking with it. Hell, I got a bunch of emails last week from various folk saying “Hey, have you heard of this Current 93 band? I think you’d like them.” Now, I’ve been pushing these guys on people for about a decade now, give or take, but I realize that part of the price of being ahead of your time (i.e. too weird and pushy) is being ignored until the time is ripe and the zeitgeist can chill with it. So now weirdo folkish music is big and David Tibet and company will have their day. This is a great thing and everyone can rock out to Hitler as Kalki.Tibet has a dreamy voice, and he sings about the apocalypse, cats, physical death and mythic life. I find it quite effective, especially as this is the most smoothly thematic Current 93 album since Of Ruine or Some Blazing Star* – which, despite the prententious cloud which hangs over the title, is truly a desert island album. The guests spots which have gotten so much attention are almost all variations on Idumæa, a Methodist hymn from the 19th century. It’s a song about accepting the finality of death and the destiny of the afterlife. Each version is different, though not surprising; Will Oldham sounds like himself, as do Antony and Marc Almond. The droney haze of the Shirley Collins version (she sounds like a time travelling wizard – in a good way, I mean) is the most memorable, though Oldham‘s mournful version would fit well on a mountain mix tape (a nice compliment to a tedious drive through upstate New York; think John Fahey or Ben Chasny, who has, coincidentally, played on Current 93 albums for a while now). If you like these folks, you’ll like their contributions.
However, Current 93 is not for everybody. They make unsettling music about death within a apocalyptic kind of Catholicism. I think it’s beautiful because I can appreciate meditations on physical death – the loss of the physical things we love – and spiritual renewal when they are rendered without fear. (The Cloud of Unknowing would make for a good literary accompanyment to this album, by the way.) And while I appreciate the sort of frenzied, poetic preaching that is David Tibet’s voice, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. Songs about kittens and black ships filling the sky to destroy the world are, to me, a great match for Fall in the city. Walking around an overcast, rainy October weekend that fits well with the library or maybe even record shopping,
Yeah, dude sounds like he’s nuts; and yeah, dude sounds like he reads too many books; and yeah, the music is weird; and yeah, he believes in a transcendent Christ; and yeah, he thinks we’re in the end times; and yeah, he’s learning Coptic for keeps; and yeah, he might as well be speaking in tongues. But it is genuine and beautiful, and that’s good enough for me.
I’ll take smart, talented and thoughtful religious folks as neighbors – even if only musically – over a lot of alternatives. Black Ships Ate the Sky is deeply religious without being recognizably sectarian; more about a metaphysical point of reference to something nearly everyone seems to believe. I don’t think we’re living in the Kali Yuga myself, because all of life lives on the edge of a new age, one that is birthed in blood and steel. Secular folk believe in armageddeon as well, stalked by death and global warming and (in their understanding) the unnatural vices of warfare and violence. Not that the world isn’t filled with dangers both spiritual and material, but I do think some of these natural tendencies are a revolt against the idea of personal death being the end of only one small part of the whole.
Regardless, I would like to see the reaction of people to the title track, which is unlike everything else on the album. I am curious to hear what the upcoming split with Om will sound like. And I hope the filthy hand of fate sees fit to make room for more Current 93, though it may not be understood.
* My favorite selection of lyrics from this album go something like this:
We have lived before and shall live again
We have danced through the shallow pools
We have slept before and shall sleep again
And shall rejoice once again
To those who say there is no hope
I say liars
Liars you are
Now, it’s not the worst interview I’ve ever read (my wife insists that their interview with Edward Ka-Spel is worse) but you have to be severely uninformed about their music to ask a question like this:
Pitchfork: There’s a moment on Black Ships– “Christ made a dance/ Which turned into a trance.” Did you convert to Christianity?
You have to be pretty severely ignorant of the history of Current 93 to ask a question like that, and Tibet’s reply is very gentle. I am very glad that Pitchfork will help him sell more records, because this group deserves more attention. However, it’s also pretty clear that they’re covering him because of the Will Oldham, Antony and Ben Chasny connection. Had this been some awful hipster band the interviewer would have known what color underwear they were wearing; which isn’t such a big deal except two minutes of reading wikipedia would have made this pretty damn clear.
Now, I understand that just as American evangelicals have difficulty with Darwinism, American liberal-ish whatevers have trouble understanding religion and the many flavors it comes in – watch your average secular hep cat on the street try to explain the difference between an evangelical and a pentacostal sect, much less the sort of post-tribulation apocalyptic Catholicism of Mr. Tibet – but no one should have trouble reading wikipedia. Which isn’t actually the reason I yelled at my monitor when I read this interview – it was because there truly is a subtle blockage when it comes to religion with the sort of folks who most likely write for Pitchfork. It’s not bigotry so much as a blind spot – the idea that if someone really were a Christian, they’d have to be the sort of sweetness and light liberal protestant or Catholic type, because everyone else in that category is some flavor of insane Jerry Falwell hyperbigot.
As Mr. Tibet explains later in the interview, there’s plenty of people who thought he was being ironic – not totally out of mind for the first few albums because of his frenzied delivery and pitched vocals – in terms of his religious views. This is partially the fault of the public face of religion in the west and Christianity in general.
Pitchfork: [Laughs]Okay, back to the record. Lyrically, there’s a lot of talk of Caesar, Rome, judgment, dissolution, destroyers/destruction, sinking boats, and ships. Certain parts make me think of George Bush and U.S colonialism. Is the record a critique of top-heavy modern society? Or is it some sort of internal Armageddon?
I almost stopped reading at this point. I’m glad I didn’t because I would have missed out on the conversion question and screaming at my monitor in frustration.
Sample: Abba Amma (Babylon Destroyer)