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COIL, "AND THE AMBULANCE DIED IN HIS ARMS"

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This is the first new Coil release (and also possibly the last) to surface since the untimely passing of Geoff Rushton AKA Jhonn Balance last November. As we are assured that the title for this release was already decided upon before Balance's death, it's hard not to read it as strangely prophetic, just as it is difficult to listen to any Coil music nowadays without hearing signs, omens and harbingers of death everywhere.
Threshold House
For a group whose music is so implicative of a rich esoteric heritage, the death of Jhonn Balance, while certainly tragic and accidental, seems somehow wholly appropriate, a corporeal sacrifice in pursuit of some higher pitch of magickal experience. These omens and beckoning mythologizations are all over ...And the Ambulance Died In His Arms, which documents a unique Coil performance at the Camber Sands Holiday Centre, part of the Autechre-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, weekend of April 6, 2003. I was in the audience during this performance, and have been repeatedly listening to a fan-recorded bootleg of the show in the two intervening years, so this material is very familiar to me, and brings back gloriously hallucinogenic memories. This official release is superior in many ways to both my memory and the bootleg, boasting a higher quality soundboard recording, song names, track separations and packaging containing fantastic photos from the performance. The front cover is a particularly choice snapshot of Jhonn Balance in his Victorian madman costume, sporting a D.H. Lawrence/Will Oldham beard and hair combed sharply sideways. After a brief introduction of the now-familiar Coil-trademarked electronics—all shuddering gurgles, ripples, dimensional buzzes and distorted analogue melodies—the lengthy, seemingly improvised "Snow Falls into Military Temples" begins. The song is all icy ambience: a chillingly glacial combination of distorted, sidereal synths, unidentifiable percussive clatter and irregular trills on the marimba. Jhonn Balance pipes in with a series of nonverbal ululations and incantations, eventually settling on the mantric repetition of the song's title. Then Jhonn reveals the guiding principle behind this uniquely understated Coil performance: "We're doing a quiet set today...we've had too much shouting over the past year." And a quiet set it is, at least when compared to the Constant Shallowness-era, baptism-through-noise set I'd witnessed a couple years earlier in NYC. However, quiet in this case does not suggest that it is any less powerful, and in fact, there is a simmering, deliberate intensity to this material that brings it closer to the group's Musick To Play in the Dark phase than any of their other live appearances. "A Slip in the Marylebone Road" is an aural dowsing rod, Jhonn Balance recounting hazy memories of a drugged robbery near the aforementioned tube station that left him bereft of a valuable green notebook full of ideas and song lyrics. The story is told in freeform style over a quiet rhythm punctuated by Sleazy's sampled Speak-and-Spell spitting out computerized nonsense syllables. The last two lengthy tracks seem the most prophetic of all, "Triple Sons and the One You Bury" ("I drank a cup of mercury...If you're going to bury him, bring him home first.") and a radically retooled version of "The Dreamer Is Still Asleep." Subtitled "A Somnambulist in an Ambulance," a reference to Balance's alliterative mantra, impossible not to read as an eerie portent of tragic events to come. This is an indispensable live document, a set of songs never performed before or since, with a uniquely atmospheric mood steeped in morbid augury.

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Last Updated on Monday, 18 July 2005 15:09  


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