Psychic TV - Dreams Less Sweet

Psychic TV
Dreams Less Sweet

Released 1983 on Some Bizzare
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 26/04/2004ce

This 19 track album is a kaleidophone full of twists and turns, sweetness and light cohabiting with sourness and darkness, all permeated by an uneasy air of mystery, magick and ritual. It forced open my adolescent ears to sonic possibilites which I didn't know existed nor even imagined. At the time, I knew nothing about TG, TOPY or anything else Psychic TV had done. This album appeared to me like a puff of magickal smoke in a vacuum jar.

Once I had got the record home and put it on the turntable and started playing it I felt I'd fallen through the forest floor into some kind of (oc)cult group's hidden labyrinth. This album drips with the atmosphere of a network of fire-lit caverns populated by the eldritch shadows of cowl-wearing figures. The group image on the back sleeve places this seminal Psychic TV lineup in a coastal setting on the edge of dusk. A large part of the ambience, which permeates the album, is due to the fact that it was recorded using Zuccarelli Holophonic technology, similar to the Artificial Head system used by the 70's Berlin Krautrockers. Extra spacial dimension and clarity become disorientatingly apparent. This encouraged Psychic TV to record sounds and environments which would make the most of the recording system. Locations included The Hell Fire Club caves 300ft. underground, Christ Church in Hampstead, and Caxton Hall. The album is full of sounds designed to exploit the 3D effect. It's an amazing experience on headphones.

The album begins with a car approaching, then the first track, the tiny 'Hymn 23' is played by Andrew Poppy on an emulator, weaving the first of several ecclesiastical and monastic pieces of music into the fabric of this album, which I suppose could be seen as a hymnody for TOPY. This is followed by 'The Orchids', which is a beautiful song played on Reichian xylophone, oboe and guitar, with Genesis P Orridge duetting with himself in his sweetest choirboy vocal: "In the morning after the night I fall in love with the light", opening the album in a similar way to 'Sunday Morning' opening the first Velvet Underground album, hinting at a night of excess seen from the inevitable spangled daybreak. This mood is dashed by 'Botanica' which drags us into the realm of cavernous ritual drums, possessed metallic tinkering and the distant sound of animal horns. Blink and it's gone though, to be replaced by a small ensemble of brass, cor anglais and oboe wrenched from the recital chamber to the cavern to play 'Iron Glove'. Their sad and beautiful tune floats over to the left channel as Monte Cazazza appears in the right channel reading his own words in a telephone call from San Francisco. The track ends with the vicious attack and decay of a tuning fork. The telephone line interference gives way to the glorious clarity of a solo choirboy singing 'Always is Always', a song penned by the murderer of psychedelic innocence: Charles Manson, and much sung by his adopted family of waifs and strays. The choirboy's angelic voice drifts around in the sonic space until we are left with the distant sound of what could be water dripping from the roof of a cave, blood dripping from a corpse, a crackling fire or maybe someone pissing in the distance, with a barely discernable voice, perfectly encapsulating the contrast of seductive innocence and the mysterious threat of the unknown that pervades the atmosphere on this album. The next track is a bittersweet winter solstice carol played on organ, guitar, and tambourine with lashings of sugary vocal harmonies. And Genesis is back again with his wide-eyed innocent vocal singing ambiguous lyrics which could be about all manner of other things, or maybe it's simply about "Santa Claus (...) checking his list/Going over it twice/Seeing who is naughty and who is nice", though the implication of threat in that last lyric and throughout the song is chilling, particularly as the sound of an Uzi machine gun starts to appear towards the end cracking through the surface innocence. 'Finale' smashes right through, beginning with the sound of petrol being thrown on a fire, then all hell breaking loose a mediaeval military fanfare, complete with machine guns and barking and growling hunting dogs sounding like they're coming out of the speakers and invading the room. This is followed by 'Eleusis', a ritualistic chant by those figures in cowls ringing ritualistic bells. The monastic figures melt away and are replaced by 'Medmenham's swarm of Tibetan Thigh Bone bees buzzing all around the cave. 'Ancient Lights' follows with its dark, unpredictable, sparse funk. Genesis is on full sinister vocal form this time, as the sounds of phones, car horns and various shrieks, shouts and screams fly around him. 'Proof On Survival' follows, with a short piece of psychick motivational polemic spoken by Genesis followed by the sound of earth to earth: The literal sound of being buried alive in a coffin. The ultimate claustrophobic nightmare.

Side two opens with the trilogy 'Eden 1, 2 and 3'. This mini symphony begins as a building cacophony of ringing telephones. The holophonic recording technique means the brain is fooled into thinking one of them must surely be your own telephone. Mr Sebastian, a tattoo artist and body piercer who would become a household name 4 years later thanks to the notorious Operation Spanner police raids, had pierced and tatooed various members of Psychic TV; The sleeve of this album alludes to a Prince Albert piercing. Here he is heard reassuring John Balance about the tattoo he is about to give him. Then a creepy-as-hell track cuts in with a killer bass line and buzzsaw feedback guitar following a tyrannical ritual drum beat, the sound of the tattoo needle providing percussion. Genesis intones lyrics possibly about Cerberus. Dog's eyes glowing. Towards the end the guitar and Genesis's voice meld in an indo-oriental chant, building to climax. By far the most sexually charged track on the album. Feedback wails as a baritone singer breaks in with his righteous light, banishing the screeching feedback to Hades, whence it came. The voices multiply until a complete male voice choir is filling the room with plainsong chanting. Cerberus rears his ugly heads again momentarily and growls at the choir, however his growling is soothed and calmed and the choir begin again. However they cannot hold off the march of nasty cacophony forever, and once they have faded the hellhound reawakens,and comes running into the room barking, heralding the arrival of more cavernous drumming and a Gristled-to-fuck guitar. The volume rises and rises and culminates in a dervish frenzy of feedback which is slain in an instant by 'Clouds Without Water', a beautiful woodwind, horn and xylophone piece with systemic leanings soundtracking distant, rumbing thunder. 'Black Moon' follows with Master Orridge at the front of the primary school assembly singing along with the piano as birds tweet outside. 'Silver And Gold' brings us back to the cavern as gongs and Tibetan singing bowls are stroked, caressed and gently tapped. What sounds like a large remote-controlled vehicle makes its hesitant way closer and closer to us, then makes a run for it as the swooshing percussive sound that pulls us 'In The Nursery' begins. Genesis comes on like a detective William Burroughs narrating as he enters the house that will take him Exorcist-style to the nursery. The music is wailing howling feedback, concrete clickings and crashings of unidentifiable origins, all the while that insistent whip swooshing sound flying around the room, suggesting the vortex in the bedroom in Poltergeist. Genesis screams louder and louder until the whole thing crashes around him and us. 'Circle' finishes the album with a short, cathartic recorder solo.

This record, once it has finished, leaves behind feelings unlike any other. It's not only the sound that is left ringing in my ears, but my mind feels like it has been well and truly exercised and exorcised too. I was worried that reviewing this album might be like spraying pine air freshener into a room impregnated with a complex, evocative, etherial odour, but it hasn't killed any of the mystery or tension in it for me. 'Dreams Less Sweet' remains just that, a dream teetering on the verge of a nightmare. It defies anal-ysis, and has the power, unlike almost any other recording I know, to subject the psyche to a severe whiplashing and a tender massage, often at the same time.

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