The Legendary Pink Dots’ discography is so expansive that it’s difficult to say something about their music with full authority. The Dots’ founding members—Edward Ka-Spel and Phil Knight—may not even know for themselves how many albums they have released by this point, although it’s safe to say the number of studio records exceeds 40. In 2014 alone, the band released one LP—10 to the Power of 9—two live albums and two compilations. One of those compilations, 12 Steps Off the Path, appeared in my inbox to review. Although there’s no knowing why 12 Steps Off the Path arose as the victor among the Legendary Pink Dots’ 2014 output, it does highlight the things that can be said about the band’s music—namely, it’s dark and filled with esoteric mystique, it’s loud, it’s psychedelic, it’s synthy, it’s gothy, and it’s still more thrilling today than many of the most hotly praised albums of the year.
12 Steps Off the Path was compiled and released in an effort to restore some of the Dots’ back catalogue that has, for one reason or another, disappeared over the years. As with many Legendary Pink Dots compilations, it proves that even the band’s rarities are better than studio releases from a number of bands that acquire similar themes and sounds and run mindlessly with them. Ka-Spel’s lyrics can be hard to grasp for the layman, but the overall feel of the music is forever giving a sense of looking under the carpet of this surface world and uncovering some ancient evil. Even a sing-songy number like “A Moustache on the Mona Lisa and Other Things You May Find in the Trash” has almost the same vaudeville-gone-nightmare feel as the “Singin’ in the Rain” scene in A Clockwork Orange.
Other songs raise the drama in unexpected ways. “Citadel”, originally appearing on 1995’s From Here You’ll Watch the World Go By and one of a number of live songs on this compilation, starts with a meandering synth line and easy brass. It is not long, though, until Ka-Spel’s vocals blast off from his standard pitch and run rampant through the second half of the song, erupting at song’s end in a ferocious “Come to Daddy daddy daddy” while the horns take a similarly chaotic turn.
If you haven’t already guessed, the Legendary Pink Dots’ music certainly doesn’t make for easy listening. Selections like “A Japanese Manual for a Broken Wheel” are customarily noisy. Quieter moments like “Goldilocks” will employ suspenseful pulses and throbs that work to cushion Ka Spel’s terrifying missives. “I confess I’ve never had a hobby / Except you / And me” has never sounded so threatening. Yet, there are also moments on 12 Steps Off the Path that showcase the beauty behind the Dots’ music, such as the almost tranquil Eastern-tinged closer “Out There Part 2”.
Seeing as press on the Legendary Pink Dots, in this day and age, is comparatively minimal to their output, it can be troubling to think of their music—compilation or not—lost among the clutter and clatter of Bandcamp and other online music distribution sites. Even one critic telling one curious music listener that something—anything—in the Legendary Pink Dots’ discography is worth their time is the most minuscule drop in a gigantic, ever-changing pond, but then again, enlightenment isn’t the easiest thing to find. Ultimately, there is actually too much to say about the Legendary Pink Dots, but most of it is still worth hearing out.