The Legendary Pink Dots Round Out a Quarter Century (The Stranger)

Drop a Dot: The Legendary Pink Dots Round Out a Quarter Century
by Marjorie Skinner

You don’t really need the drugs. With over 25 releases available from cult geniuses the Legendary Pink Dots, all you need is a turntable and the desire to have your mind by turns kneaded into ponderous hypnosis and tricked down dripping halls of epic psychedelia. Not that a doobie won’t help you sink further into the wandering, goblin house of the Dots’ repertoire–the mix of machines employed in gothic atmosphere with retro pop ease is a true aural adventure into “eat me, drink me” country.

The career of the Legendary Pink Dots spans roughly a quarter century, during which time they steadily produced an astounding repertoire. Each record has its own mood and motives, but with the Dots you’re guaranteed to find yourself in a dreamlike place no matter what, one that all the bad trance DJs in the world could only pray to someday be able to cop.

Watching the development and experimentation of the band is much like watching an individual walk through 25 years of life. Phases pass and luck changes direction, which filters through to color a person’s–or a band’s–essential traits. In the case of the Legendary Pink Dots, those essentials are a propensity for appreciating the shadowy end of their subject matter, a fascination with technology and its developing relationship to art, and a loyalty to beauty in sound. No less impervious to the state of their environment than any other war-era artist, 2002’s All the King’s Men stood as a queasy reflection of world affairs on creative culture and the collective psyche.

Perhaps one of the aspects of the Dots’ ever-expanding popularity is their commitment to making music that is experimental and progressive yet counterbalanced by a desire to please the ear. Unlike other artists exploring similar realms, the Dots are rarely interested in undue cacophony, escaping the impression that they are foisting the raw results of their experiments and discoveries on their audience. Although fascinating and important, the experience of innovation without an awareness of your aesthetic can produce something that often rests more contentedly in the archives rather than spinning in your room when there’s company over. The Dots have managed to find the best in both worlds, leading their listeners through new audio spaces without neglecting the desire to keep the music palatable–sometimes even catchy.

Despite the many changes in lineup the band has experienced over its life span, the Legendary Pink Dots have retained their ringleader throughout. Edward Ka-Spel cuts one of the most enigmatic figures in modern music history. Known for his seemingly single-minded career directive of perfecting an impersonation of Syd Barrett, it’s his poetry that can be credited for much of the devotion of Dots fans. In addition, he’s also had a hand in projects like Skinny Puppy and the Tear Garden, as well as his own solo work.

On the most recent release from the Pink Dots, The Whispering Wall, the music is rolled back a bit to allow Ka-Spel’s half-spoken lyrics more of a platform. Delivered in a lazy, almost bemused, almost sinister, but rakish and likable tone, Ka-Spel’s poetry here is eerily infused with everyday references to details like the crackers an old girlfriend left behind, mixed with witchy, sing-song lines about weeping willow trees and bloody towels.

Meanwhile, the music itself leads you into absorption, remaining constant just enough to get the listener accustomed to one particular tack before veering into a new direction and snapping you newly awake. Stoned or not, the effect on the close appreciator is a sense of vague profundity, as if you’ve stumbled on some small piece of sagacious wisdom in a detail, which of course, with the right mindset, you sort of have.

Other aspects of the new album are reminiscent of being locked on the wrong side of the fence at a haunted carnival. It’s difficult to discern whether the ghosts are friendly or dangerous–a precarious line drawn in the sand of doom that the Legendary Pink Dots are pros at walking–but the frighteningly forced joviality of trumpeting parade music that breaks into songs such as “Dominic” certainly creates a spectral image.

The experience of a Legendary Pink Dots show is less about “rocking out,” and more of a ritualistic, communal, and mental solstice. Maybe an excuse to get high, too.

The Legendary Pink Dots w/Bill Horist
Tues June 29, Chop Suey,
8 pm, $13 adv.

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