The Hang of Music: Bris Notes Edition

Well, I’m back! And in text format once more – ye gods it was hard to pretend to have a voice/be human last week! Luckily, all that’s over.

Now, I really hope that the title of this post doesn’t draw in a load of people hoping to actually talk about bris and circumcision. If you’re one of those people, get out.

No, bris is there for a purpose other than attracting me a new audience, as this week I am writing about – instead of talking about – Voltaire, and album numero uno, “The Devil’s Bris”.

(Brought to you courtesy of Discord. Listen to the music only; ignore the draconequus dancing.)

It’s precisely what I’m supposed to, but I find ex lover’s lovers supremely creepy. And the transition to the next song is just weird. Almost jarring. Luckily, the rest of the album doesn’t suffer from that, as “Anniversary” is the only happy, non-serial killer related song on the album, so the rest of them flow a lot better.

I wish I was kidding about the serial killer thing, but I’m really not. In a quick count; two of them are about straight up killers (“The Chosen” and “When You’re Evil”); two are about people seriously contemplating at best a single measly murder, at worst quite a few more (“The Man Upstairs”, “Ex Lover’s Lover”); one is about a doctor stealing medicine from his hospital (“They Know Me”) – and when a psychotic, obsessive, paranoid boyfriend (“Snakes”) is one of the nicest characters on the album, I have to call this an album full of weirdos.

Of all of them, I feel “The Man Upstairs” feels the most desperate. And, dare I say it, closest to justfiable murder, if such a thing exists. Though asking someone else to do your dirty work seems a bit cheap. But seriously, sleep deprivation is a horrible torture.

If it's what it takes to remove the giant eyeballs from my every dream, I'll murder that man upstairs!

But I’m going to ignore the possible reading of “The Man Upstairs” as advocating deicide. Despite the death of God being very much in the vein of Voltaire’s writing, what with all the malevolent psychopaths and references to heaven and hell, and despite the fun I could get from interpreting it that way, I have to come down on the side of solid reality rather than wishful thinking. It isliterally about the man who lives above you “juggling bowling balls… badly”.

Also, honourable mention to the knowing reference to the origin of the word “lunatic”.

“Now I’m the only sucker paying more than a hundred bucks a room,

And I’m surrounded by lunatics who don’t even need a moon”

The Man Upstairs

The music is very reliant on violins*, and cellos I think, along with other stringed instruments along those lines. You wouldn’t be able to tell this from the line-up listed on wiki, however, as the only person listed is Voltaire himself, and he only plays guitar, which mainly falls into the background, whereas the strings take the fore. (Behind, of course, the great vocals.) The liner notes may say more on the rest of the band, but alas I do not have those.

Some of the violin parts bring Braid to mind. Chiefly becasue they both have awesome violin parts. And this makes me very happy, as I love a good fiddle. Both too have an air of sadness and regret.

A word about his vocals: sometimes – quite often, in fact – the harshness of his singing remind me of the evil, psychopathic, serial killer side of Modest Mouse’s Frontman, Isaac Brock. Now I have to wonder whose Superpowered Evil Side would win in a fight. I want to say that Voltaire puts more emotion into his crazy evil singing, but no, he really doesn’t. He puts in exactly as much – a lot.

How does he write songs that are both terrifying and heart-rending? Even “When You’re Evil” speaks volumes of an unhappy individual, whilst describing a principle-free complete monster who will rob and murder for no price but your tears. But even that contains a nub of sadness.

Well, not really. But he has songs about serial killers that are sadder than I find most break-up songs.

So why does “Anniversary” exist? The more I listen to this album, the more out of place Anniversary feels. Why? What right does Voltaire have to be writing such a happy, cheery and uplifting love song, when most of his songs are about concealing murder and self-hatred (not mutually exclusive). This song emphasises the classical bent of his music – that’s the only reasoning I can think of that justifies its existence on this album.

These songs really benefit from a second listen. “They Know Me” as an example. On first listen, I didn’t get any of the meaning, I just figured it was about someone who was relaxing into lazy comfort. Since then, I’ve realised it’s about the self-deluding justifications of a selfish git who’s doomed to hell. (Which exists here, by the way.)

That said, I’m still puzzling over what Ravens Land could mean. The closest I’ve got is it’s about a witness being interviewed by the police who’s only just realised that the pretty girl he met last night (if you know what I mean) was actually a horrible criminal on the run from the law. Going by the tenor of the album, probably a murderess, a torturer and a viola player.

Despite the subject matter, the music is so vital and alive. I dare you to listen and not try to sing along to Ex Lover’s Lover. Voltaire is wonderful at the swing and swell of the music. It just paces and builds into madness on tracks like “Snakes”. The music has a wonderful helter skelter, circus music feel to it that just lends it tone and eerie overtones. Wait, no: “eerie” is too subtle – more like “looming”, “awful” or “terrifying”.

My favourite example of this is probably “The Chosen”. With it’s wonderful, rolling drums, and the clear melodies, it manages to remain an interesting and lovely song, even despite the simple, repeated melody. And the horrible, heart-rending subject matter. Seriously, half the time the narrator can’t remember if it’s you or himself that he’s killing, and needs reassurance from the lampshade.

I should point out that I am/was really pleased with this album, and enjoyed it a lot. The only thing that’s puzzling me is this: the man himself describes this as dark cabaret. I cannot hear the cabaret in this. Maybe I’m just listening to the wrong stuff – if all cabaret sounded like this, I would be listening to it a lot more often than I do currently. (I.e. never, unless Voltaire’s attached his name to it.)


For those of you who are interested, I found out about Voltaire because of this.

Yes, I just found a full episode of Billy and Mandy online for you, starring Voltaire as an evil meteor. You’re welcome!

* Though sadly no sax.


Posted on April 5, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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