Continuing our theme of the Heroin Olympics, we examine two essential Download releases.
The Eyes of Stanley Pain – along with The Process – is the last real taste of Dwayne Goettel‘s work before he died of an overdose in his parents’ bathroom; the sound pallette is heavily techno, but the construction is far more Puppy-oriented. III is the emergence of an overt IDM sensibility, more Warp than anything “industrial,” and definitely several years ahead of the curve.
The first two Download releases are interesting for fans of the folks involved, but they also mostly sound like what you’d imagine mixes and remixes involving Genesis P’Orridge, Mark Spybey, Cevin Key and Dwayne Goettel would sound like, the first steps of a post-post-post-industrial music outlook.
But Stanley Pain stepped further from the rivethead ranch than any previous Puppy-related project, and we are all richer for it. Flipping between abrasive and soft, with textural vocals being the one real anchor point between whatever “industrial” influence it had and the form it helped manifest, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Missing Skinny Puppy? “Posession” has some of the same tricks melded with a slap bass and stepladder percussive, and “Base Metal” is – dare we say it – nearly gothy. But interesting gothy, not skanky gothy. (I think the distinction was lost sometime in the early 90s.)
Skinny Puppy always had a heavy electro influence with their percussive structure, like much of the 2nd wave industrial genre, and the bits of this album which aren’t rushes of noise and largely unintelligible vocals owe more of a debt to Mantronik than anything else. Just go check out “Seven Plagues” – after you’re done breakdancing you can come back and we’ll agree to agree.
As the album runs to a close, a noisy jam with Gen – wisely excerpted to five minutes – falls apart into the title track, one of the more disturbing bits of music put out by these Canadian psychonauts. Anchored by a constant repetition of “something something words by stanley pain”* it’s a bit morbid and a bit gross, even, like you’re reading someone’s diary without their permission.
Now, III is about as far away as you can get. I remember a lot of people hated III when it dropped, largely because it moved so far away from the old template that it has more in common with the first few Plateau releases. Not everyone appreciated the heavy technoid/IDM influence – there’s that damn sensiblity again – but not everyone likes new tricks from old dogs. For something released in 1996, it was a little too far ahead of its time for the audience it was exposed to; I’m thinking anyone who was up on the Warp Records tip at the time probably got a lot more out of the experience. Hell, “Flight of the Luminous Insects” almost sounds like a Gescom track, minus the obsessive focus on snare drums.
There’s nothing “dark” here at all beyond the quasi-rock song that emerges from the middle of “Bellshaw” and even that only lasts a two minutes, tops. I think that was a huge part of why people went out of their way to hate the shit out of this album; alternately, they weren’t into the idea of “ambient techno” even if it was ambient techno filtered through several layers of weirdness and largely eschewing any real notion of danceability beyond a steady bass drum.
Winner? III. This might be comparing apples and oranges but while The Eyes of Stanley Pain opened some new doors, III realized the door was never real. Sadly, I don’t think anything that’s been done since is nearly as interesting.
* I still have no idea what the voice is saying after all these years.