We've dropped in on the spooky goings-on over at Projekt Records quite a few times over the years, and for good reason: their ever-growing repertoire of darkly-inclined artists is a haven for fans of midnight mood music from every corner of the globe. One of the many genres supported by this label that's recenltly stepped up in popularity is "dark cabaret" – a musical style inspired in part by 1930's dance-hall & burlesque performances, sometimes updated with a touch of gothic rock, electro-punk and darkwave, often delivered with a wink and a crooked (but sexy) smile. Artists in that genre include world-famous performer Voltaire, the haunting soundscapes of Attrition, the moody darkwave of Black Tape for a Blue Girl and the new-wave nursery rhymes of Katzenjammer Kabarett (now simply called KatzKab).
Projekt released their first Dark Cabaret compilation in 2005 to critical and commercial success, and now – in perfect sync with Autumn's arrival – the inevitable sequel brings another collection of sly and slinky tracks from these and many other artists. Read on for a full review...
Besides their vintage influences, one thing that's fairly consistent among these artists' offerings (and one of many reasons to check this disc out) is a focus on themes of tragedy, death and the supernatural... which seems perfectly suited to melodies of a bygone era: you can easily imagine many of these tunes crackling out of an antique record player in a haunted-house flick, summoning restless, seductive ghosts to spin around a dusty, abandoned ballroom.
But it's not all serious business, either, especially when you've got cats like Voltaire on the job. The macabre musical comic opens the album with "Coin Operated Goi," an affectionate and hilarious jab at "Coin Operated Boy" by goth-rockers The Dresden Dolls. The carnival-style track "Rivolta Silenziosa," from Humanwine's 2006 EP of the same name, is both smooth and gritty, thanks to the alternating male and female vocals and electric guitar paired with piano and buzzing brass.
"Sailor Boy," from Black Tape for a Blue Girl's 2010 album 10 Neurotics, is a grim tale of a lethal seductress of the sea, driven by a stomping waltz tempo beneath clean acoustic guitar and ghost-story vocals. It's one of the album's darkest tracks, counter-balanced by "The Trouble" by UK act BirdEatsBaby (love that name, by the way). This one's another keeper; a perfect summation of the style, mood and theme that Dark Cabaret represents – with an extra dose of surrealist humor, as you can see in the music video below.
Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys present the melancholy "Sea Song (Mare Carmen)", from their album Steamship Killers, which calls to mind a crew of undead sailors finding their way back home; they're followed by the more lighthearted but no less eerie tones of KatzKab – who first sparked my attention with their album Grand Guignol and Variétés. For this collection they've unearthed the previously unreleased track "Join Us," which showcases their early '80s underground sound reminiscent of early Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The bizarro lyrical stylings of Spiritual Front's Simone "Hellvis" Salvatori get some great play in "Song for the Old Man," backed by a surprisingly sweet accordion harmony and a soulful lead guitar. So-called "Victorian synth-punk" band Unextraordinary Gentlemen rework their song "Black Iron Road" from the album Five Tales from God-Only-Knows, with stark, stripped-down instrumentation and a relentless sledge-hammer rhythm; then an amazing, threatening piano pattern sets off the deep & smoky vocals of Jill Tracy's "In Between Shades," another of the album's most memorable cuts.
The influence of gravel-throated folkster Tom Waits permeates every second of Adrian and the Wounds' "Bad Man," which plays like a boozy barroom number in a spaghetti western made by aliens. Dark experimental band Attrition, the long-lived creation of Martin Bowes – and one of my favorite bands for many years – bring the epic "A'dam & Eva (The Resurrection)," a dark and dangerous tune tailor-made for a monsters' masquerade, complete with pipe organ and a sparkling cello line. That inviting chill continues through the closing track "The Haunted Phonograph" by ThouShaltNot, a classically sweeping steampunk piece highlighted by the versatile vocals of Alex Reed.
Chances are you already think "spooky" and "sexy" are not mutually exclusive, but even if you have your doubts, this compilation will probably blow them away. You don't have to be part of the fishnets-and-eyeliner crowd to enjoy this material either, because there's a timelessness to this kind of music that helps break through genre walls... but I'd still recommend dimming the lights, then sparking up some incense and a few black candles to get the full experience, especially in a romantic-type situation. (Come to think of it, you should probably light the candles first... I don't want to be responsible for you setting your date on fire.)