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When The Cult were preparing to hit the stage at Coachella in 2014, few were expecting the fury that the band delivered. As the festival goers milled about, packing in the field in front of the stage, Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy were building up to a crescendo, of which, when the smoke cleared, Rolling Stone would hail as “the Messianic moment of Coachella”. Critics have hailed the band as incendiary, ground-breaking, and transcendent, but the band themselves choose to look forward… and in a lot of ways, prefer to be seen as survivors… marginalized and vulgarized, much in the same way their song subjects have been. And it was on the ride home from this performance in the desert that the roots of their tenth album Hidden City began to take root. And it was then that the Astbury realized he was ready to begin putting together the final chapter of a trilogy – one that hadn’t been not, until then, fully realized… one that, with the release of Hidden City in early 2016 would complete a circle that had been forming a long time before… one that, when complete, would encompass their acknowledgement of the global community within a metaphor for our spiritual lives, our intimate interior lives... one that spoke for those with voices who are not heard… those who live in outside of the public eye, within the “Hidden City.”
Hidden City isn’t an album as much as it’s an environment… a world of layers that, when peeled away, you begin to discover the wild spaces that The Cult inhabits. “I find today’s gurus are trying to peddle some cure, product or insight as if it’s a new phenomenon,” Astbury explains. “My place is to respond, not react, to observe, participate and share through words and music. There is no higher authority than the heart.”
It is this intense internalization of concepts and invented realms that builds Hidden City - its framework built of tightly woven stories of experience and visions with underlying themes of redemption and rebirth, and its façade - The Cult’s visceral and textured music.
More specifically, the name “Hidden City” stems from the Spanish phrase “La Ciudad Oculta” which is essentially a ghetto in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There is unfathomable poverty in the hidden city, a town the Argentine government turns a blind eye towards while highlighting the cosmopolitan and European flair of the more proper sections of the city. They “hide” the evidence of the deep social inequalities present in Argentine society. “Hidden city” became the perfect metaphor for revolt of the self and soul, and the framework for Cult’s third record of three in nine years, aptly titled Hidden City.
The closing chapter on the album trilogy the band had built with 2007’s Born Into This (“The Fall”) and 2012’s Choice of Weapon (“Dark Night of the Soul”) preceding it, 2016’s Hidden City (“Rebirth”) features Astbury’s signature baritone and blood-soaked lyrics paired with Duffy’s smouldering, textured guitar tones, creating a musical environment that is fearless and peerless. It is within this archetype that their music takes shape and learns to breathe.
Produced by Bob Rock and written by Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy the team has collaborated on what has turned out to be the brutal and beautiful masterpiece Hidden City.
As you descend into their world, The Cult ask but one thing: Defend the beauty of Hidden City.
BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
For a select few, rock’n’roll is a life sentence. It’s in every muscle in your body, it’s in every thought you have, it’s written all over your face. When you arrive at Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s headquarters in East Hollywood, you know you’re sidling up to the home of some of rock’s most primal prisoners. In the driveway there are motorcycles. In the living room there is gear splayed everywhere; random bits of drum kits, a pedal steel guitar, stacks of vinyl. Answering the door is a bleary-eyed, chain-smoking Peter Hayes (guitar, vocals) and his co-habiting bandmate Leah Shapiro (drums). In walks bassist Robert Levon Been too, Hayes’ BRMC co-founder, dark shades on, an even darker all-black ensemble. As a trio, they seem forever unsettled, even in the safety of each other’s companies. They take time over answers, seeking for perfect responses. It’s the same approach they have to rock’n’roll. If the end result is not flawless, they’re not interested.
In this house is where they’re currently putting the finishing touches on their forthcoming eighth album, the follow-up to 2013’s ‘Specter At The Feast’. Titled ‘Wrong Creatures’, it began in the summer of 2015. Shapiro was six months clear of a brain surgery. The trio had come off a tour and began to sketching out new songs in their private lockout space appropriately nicknamed ‘The Bunker’ in North Hollywood they arranged and sketched out basic ideas on guitar, bass and drums. “Just mumble tracks, inside big walls of noise” explains Hayes, lyrics would often morph out the sounds later.
For Hayes, in particular, this record proved to be one of the more tumultuous given the length of time it’s taken from start to finish. “This one’s been so long I have come around the other side,” he admits. “I’ve gone from hating it to enjoying it.” A hesitant sense of pride is shared among them. On a good day, BRMC remains a democracy. Their lifestyle is anti-establishment, and it’s reflected in their approach to being a band, too. There is no chief lyricist, for instance. That makes for a delicate balancing of egos. “We’ve always been anti frontman,” reasons Hayes.
Sharing the load, however, doesn’t necessarily make the task at hand any easier. The longer BRMC exist, the deeper they have to search to mine the gold dust. The difference between them and your typical band is that they work themselves into the ground to get there. “Every record gets a little harder figuring out what to say, trying not to repeat yourself,” admits Hayes. The reason for their cantankerous relationship with critics is a result of being their own harshest judges. “We beat the shit out of ourselves trying to come up with something meaningful. So when someone else beats the crap out of it we’re like, ‘Yeah that’s fair.’”
Back to ‘Wrong Creatures’ though… Once the trio had enough “mumble” tracks to get going, they’d move into their LA studio to record properly. Where most of this album could be described as an Angeleno affair, some of the songs are older. ‘Spook’, for instance came from writing sessions in Santa Cruz and was recorded out in Joshua Tree. ‘Bandung Hum’ was started in Indonesia on tour. Writing on the road, however, is never the most optimum place. It was back home where they toiled and drove themselves to breaking point. Producer Nick Launay came in to assist. Famed for his work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and most significantly here Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Launay became a fundamental part of the BRMC machine, providing the band a sounding board.
Recorded in Los Angeles over the past few years, the bands taken many unlikely twists and turns, yet always remaining focused on the music and returning again to edge of the stage. “It’s a crazy making machine, it can chew you up as fast as it spits you out. A few years back we literally toured till the wheels came off and Leah’s brain literally started leaking out of her head” say’s Been. “It catches up with you, i know i’ve battled on and off with my own depression, and Pete’s head never came with any proper instructions. So you just gotta keep pushing buttons to see what happens.”
The title of the album was taken from a lyrical passage in ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’ “Lord you hear me loud into my soul speaker, why won’t you let me out, you’ve got the wrong creature’. “There was this reoccurring theme of being locked away in yourself, always scratching and clawing your way out’. say’s Been, ‘I guess the idea was that maybe we’re not all these precious divine beings, as much as we want to believe we’re cut from some sort of better cloth, the truth is we usually just wind up like all the other pigs rolling around in our own shit, fighting over a few truffles”.
Provocation aside, ‘Wrong Creatures’ returns to the core of BRMC’s alchemy, while also plunging the knife in even further. From the Cave-esque murder balladry of “Haunt” to the garage punk of “Little Thing Gone Wild,” it runs the gamut allowing the band to flex every muscle in their armor. They remain opaque about the songs’ greater meanings, fearful of past misunderstandings. “I find myself writing about death a lot,” says Hayes. “I find myself having a discussion with death, which sounds dark. For me, it’s dark humor.” Talking about mortality allows Hayes to explore life’s great mistakes and regrets. Channeling them through rolling riffs and dirge-laden rhythms that stir the pot before reaching boiling point.
Ultimately, the band may well be survivors of an era where rock’n’roll can often be overshadowed by dance pop, and garish commercialism. Robert Levon Been; “We are truly an island – come hell or high water, so it’s usually best to dress accordingly. Though i’m not sure what the proper attire is when drowning in fire. But leather usually goes with everything.”
There is a way a voice can cut through the fascia of reality, cleaving through habit into the raw nerve of experience. Nika Roza Danilova, the singer, songwriter, and producer who since 2009 has released music as Zola Jesus, wields a voice that does that. When you hear it, it is like you are being summoned to a place that’s already wrapped inside you but obscured from conscious experience. This place has been buried because it tends to hold pain and Zola Jesus’s new album, Arkhon, finds new ways of loosing this submerged, stalled pain.
On previous albums, Danilova had largely played the role of auteur, meticulously crafting every aspect of Zola Jesus’s sound and look. This time, she realized that her habitual need for control was sealing her out of her art. Arkhon sees Zola Jesus’s first collaboration with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Mandy and Candyman soundtracks) and with drummer and percussionist Matt Chamberlain, whose prior work appears on albums by Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie.
Arkhon reveals itself as an album whose power derives from abandon. Both its turmoils and its pleasures take root in the body, letting individual consciousness dissolve into the thick of the beat. Despite the darkness curled inside reality, there is power, too, in surrendering to what can’t be pinned down, to the wild unfurling of the world in all its unforeseeable motion. That letting go is the crux of Arkhon, which marks a new way of moving and making for Zola Jesus.