In a major flashback here arrives a copious collection of ten discs of the 1980’s work of NY’s preeminent experimental outfit, Controlled Bleeding. In continuous operation since 1978, their sound has swayed, shifted and otherwise transformed, though the band has always remained outside the edge of the mainstream. And remain so, even through the eyes of today’s artist’s (ie: Carving Songs, 2017, Artoffact Records). Like other acts with similar origins such as Nurse With Wound, Einstürzende Neubauten, Pere Ubu, The Residents and to a lesser extent Ministry, their under-the-radar-ness is the tension-laden kernel that has yet to ‘pop’. That is the basis of their longevity, and true artistic vision. And this collection is a testament to that, rather than a mere instant replay. The contents include 24 pages with essays by founding member Paul Lemos, cover art and a chronological listening experience as follows:
1. Death in the Cameroon (1984-85)
2. Feet Hacked Rails (1985)
3. Headcrack (1986)
4. Between Tides (1986)
5. Curd (1986)
6. Core (1986)
7. Music for Stolen Icon (1986)
8. Music For the Scourging Ground (1987)
9. Music For Gilded Chambers (1988)
10. Songs From the Drain (1987)
Even after many decades, the work of Controlled Bleeding is not easy to finger, but there’s hardly a dull moment on this set, nor up until their latter day output and reconstructions thereof. Some of this work was only originally available via cassette, and the available within the underground music scene in/out of whence they traveled. Themes vary but there’s a range of experimental electronica that at times can be (or seem) dub industrial, film soundtrack-based, noisy drone, or even like avant-classical, though the sound is constantly engaging, evolving.
The solipsism is real, in terms of their nature, generated chaos and matter that becomes its celebrated detritus, especially as witnessed in the earliest work like Ribs in Scavenger’s Sack from Death in the Cameroon. The mid 80’s was a prolific time for these guys, and they created a sound space that was way ahead of it’s time. With cavernous resonance and eroded, corroded metallics, spun drills and dazzling skewed drums and wires they played with the senses of perception. On Mindarnoking Orch, a track from 1985’s hard-edged Feet Hacked Rails (under the moniker “The Art Barbeque”) they inserted bits of animated ‘nya-nya’s’ over spiraling synths that are quite dazzling – ultimately creating a wacky theme for ears overly effected by the Reagan era. The same album includes the drifting trance-ambient track Dredging Phil, just to bring an understanding about the diversified approach to music making. Oh yes, you must consider the time period this was recorded…those were the days of “just say no” after all.
It’s tough to imagine but these records are almost all over 33 years old (give/take), but I’ll be damned if this isn’t as fresh as anything out there today, and others in their wake. Having released recordings on a plethora of imprints from Subterranean Records to Subrosa, from Wax Trax! to Tone Casualties – the band has built a cult following over the years. Headcrack was likely a breakout record for them back in the day. Having been in the latter part of my art school studies I caught glimpses of them for the first time. At first, the subtlety of the title track (in three parts) seems like a simply guitar driven piece, broken, and in muted ambient tones. The deeper you listen, especially on Headcrack Pt. 2, the more textural layers emerge. It’s a trippy track, likely these guys may have had influence on bands that would follow (The KLF, Future Sound of London, Boards of Canada). The quieter moments like those on Music for Earth and Water showcase certain world tribalism, and their ability to create an elusive shoegaze feel, long before that term was ever uttered in relationship to sound as we know it today.
Moving on to a waterfall of electronics on the incredibly arranged Under Burned Hills from Between Tides (1986) their sound has grown in restraint by adding even more, keeping it edgy, but understanding how to edit/sculpt sound with striations of layered noise. It’s a colorful mix. On this same album is The Scorched Ground which sounds like the dregs from U2’s cutting room floor, it’s jangled-up and psychedelic, a bit noisy, but never out of control. The pitter/patter soft drumpad is a perfect foil to the otherwise geodesic backdrop. These guys were super-busy in 1986 (Core and the spin-off duo of Paul Lemos & Joe Papa (RIP) and their Music for Stolen Icon). But for me, Curd stands out (and the test of time) with a track like Rhythm to Body Bag – a revved-up hive that calls out to some of their industrial brethren of the time (Revolting Cocks, Skinny Puppy, Test Dept., even Coil). Their was a collective sound forming, though these guys were already long at it, they reached a fever pitch on the record. Elsewhere on Brained by Funk you can hear their own take on impressionistic instrumental outtakes. Commonalities aside their nearest kin were likely 4AD’s The Wolfgang Press, who also remained mostly out of the spotlight.
Moving into the latter 80’s with Music For the Scourging Ground (1987) their sounds was a slightly darker and less orchestral Dead Can Dance, as heard on the dramatic Voices Of The Dead. Fog horns, serrated effects and industrial vibes comport an atmosphere of the unknown, quite ghostly. The track An Awakening combines Moroccan drumming with assertive piano-scapes and an operatic vocal treatment that is woven right into the tapestry. The vocals are evident elsewhere here as on the pulsating operatics of Near The Water (Vocal Mix). On 1988’s Music For Gilded Chambers a new pure instrumental sensibility is conjured on Tides Of Heaven. Again infused with a ‘from on high’ vocal, but the voice in its synonymous withal with its surrounding instrumentation becomes a bit of a lament (also evident on The Vigil). On this record there seems an outreach to the harder line of breakthrough commercial industrial music for the first time (Healing Time, Faith), making it a bit suspect, but a necessary evil, in this series. It is also the most current of this collection, a foreshadowing.
The collection comes to an illustrious conclusion on their opus, Songs From The Drain (1987) which opens with the beautiful anthemic Ash and Stone. This combines their ability to keep to restrained ambient harmonies while delicately over-layering a wavering vocal treatment that is pure light. Bu the record is not conceptual in construct – it’s more set up like short vignettes, like the next track which is a shape-shifter of various dials and toy-like effects, …On Eating Garbage. Layers of noise without feeling too ‘noisy’ it cranks along with a rush of bells and whistles (quite literally). But they finally breach the ability to appropriate their sound for alternative radio on the quite listenable Red Stigmata which is funky with its infectious guitar arrangements that may remind some of The Cure or even a hint of Echo & the Bunnymen – but still distinctly themselves.
This finale is far more straight-laced with deeper drumming/percussive elements and traditional synths heard on The Groan, as well as In Sub-Crisis – which sounds like a gloomy instrumental surfer song. But the last track here, the balls-to-the-wall kitchen sink mix of Loop Cycle is a soulfully concocted piece of sonic experimental bliss, with the right amount of discipline. It jettisons and floats to a beat-based crescendo that pulses with a white hot glow, and a whole lotta electro-acoustic mishegas. A tight endpoint to an otherwise breathtaking exposé on a band no longer relegated to the underground, but who has the deserved belt notches to show for it!