Cold River Songs

Outside of the realm of reissuing out of print label discography, Relapse Records has specialized in two different types of reissues, first, the painfully obvious and effortlessly successful, read: Atheist, Repulsion, Pentagram and Cryptic Slaughter with the second tier consisting of the absolutely obscure, such latter being met with appreciation from underground spelunkers in the case of Dead Horse, Harvey Milk, Japanese Torture Comedy Hour, while others, such as Massappeal and Adrenalin OD slip between the cracks, justifiably or not. Formed by both members of harsh power electronics duo Sutcliffe Jugend it would seem apparent that the reissue of Bodychoke’s final album might well end up in the latter part of the latter category, however I am going to make the argument here that Cold River Songs belongs in the upper echelon of the unknown, resting comfortably along with Courtesy & Good Will Towards Men and Peaceful Death & Pretty Flowers in being somewhat of a revelation for fans of obscure heavy sounds and unacknowledged genius in songwriting and composition.
Surprisingly, considering the pedigree of it’s founders, Bodychoke comes off more as slightly noisy rock rather than noise rock as most, if not all of the sonic palette in this case seems to these ears to come from instrumental sources rather than electronic ones. Along with the two Sutcliffe Jugend alumni, each on guitar and vocals, the group is rounded out by cellist Mike Alexander, bassist Gary Kean, and drummer Manu Ros. The music they create is thus somewhat hard to classify now, and was probably harder to classify during the group’s tenure between 1993 and 1999. Parallels can be drawn to the Swans, Sonic Youth, Unsane, Skinny Puppy, Foetus, and Cop Shoot Cop but none of these quite fits as a direct comparison. Unfortunately the most direct comparison I can come up with is the possibly equally obscure sludgecore band Cream Abdul Babar, but that will only help all of about three people reading this (though I can guarantee all three will enjoy this).
Basically what the group does is tip-toe along the line of chaos and cohesion, creating surly, moody, sludgy songs within an uncomfortable, surreally tense atmosphere, punctuated by gloomy, suggestive first person serial (killer/rapist/pervert?) narratives. The key here is that the songs, no matter how out there they get, musically or lyrically, are memorable, catchy – even infectiously so, at times (“Ideal Home”, “White Light Killer”) – and it is here that the group shows a preference for discomfiting subversion over the outright perversion favored in the power-electronics scene’s imagery and aesthetic. Like emotive post-hardcore for the criminally insane, these Cold River Songs are all the more spooky and disquieting by virtue of omitting the blood, guts, gore and semen (mostly) and instead focusing on emotional states which we may find ourselves almost relating to before a fit of self-disgust sets in. The attentive listener is left helplessly asserting that they are not this person, this narrator, while at the same time acknowledging that the lines of demarcation aren’t as boldy drawn as sane society would have us believe. It is this power of hypnotic, suggestive seduction expressed musically and lyrically which gives this album its creepily unsettling charm. Highly recommended.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
September 12th, 2009


  1. Commented by: Mark

    Great review. Swans fans rejoice…

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