I took a stab at re-writing the track list for our latest album Complexion using other people’s songs as substitutes!
Complexion was written approximately two years ago, so with this playlist I am re-connecting with the songs I was listening to back then that provided the initial creative spark for each of our tunes. If you listen to Complexion and this playlist back-to-back, you’ll hear that each of our songs has an evil twin lurking in the crates of my record collection. (Talk about anxiety of influence!)
There are numerous permutations that this playlist could have explored, but since this is my personal take on Complexion’s vibes, most of these definitely fall into the ’80s UK psychedelia/dark-new-wave/baggy continuum… with a few surprises, as any Dinowalrus album should have.
1. LUCITE: Echo and the Bunnymen, “Lips Like Sugar”
This was the song that took me from a casual fan to a Bunnymen fanatic. I think Will Sergeant’s memorable guitar themes are what sold this song to me. I love the repetitive groove that explodes into a big change for the chorus. I sense a connection between the Bunnymen and Neu! in terms of finding interesting melodies within very simple, droning riffs while keeping chord changes to a minimum. This was definitely an approach we could relate to.
2. TROPICAL DEPRESSION: Primal Scream, “Imperial”
Obviously I love all eras of Primal Scream, from their acid house essentials to their southern rock anthems, but the jangly vintage psych sound of their debut, Sonic Flower Groove, is actually the most relevant to what’s going on in the scene right now. On that note, my friend Matt Stevenson from Spires pointed out that the verse in “Tropical Depression” kinda nicks Bobby Gillespie’s vocal melody. I don’t own a 12-string, so I added some jangle to our song via some acoustic guitar overdubs. Primal Scream has pretty much disowned their first two albums and they never play this song live, which is a shame, but hopefully we have resurrected it in our own way.
3. PSYCHIC PHARMACY: Rod Stewart, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
I think we actually realized the similarities in these two songs after we wrote “Psychic Pharmacy”—mainly in the pulsing disco bassline and wailing sax solo. The origins of our track probably lie more in Talking Heads, David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, A Certain Ratio, and Glass Candy. There’s something strange about Rod Stewart in that when you hit your late twenties, he stops becoming the butt of your jokes and you actually start to relate to his vibe! I like his work in the Faces the best, but his disco-rock stuff is probably most relevant to what we are doing now.
4. WAKE UP IN THE VOID: Happy Mondays, “God’s Cop”
“God’s Cop” is definitely the Madchester formula at its best—a relaxed house beat, a Sly Stone bassline, pulsing farfisa organs, and spaced-out guitar. Supposedly “God’s Cop” was written about a Manchester Police Commissioner who was on a mission from God to shut down all the raves circa 1988.
5. THE FUTURE SOUND OF PUGET SOUND: The Orb, “Supernova at the End of the Universe”
We actually kicked off our songwriting session for Complexion with a cover/rearrangement of “Little Fluffy Clouds”, so it’s natural that The Orb would factor in heavily to our own songwriting—especially in terms of the synth work. The coolest thing here is the long-form dynamic escalation in the track: it’s probably five minutes before the looped breakbeat kicks in, but when it does, it’s epic. And then when the dub-style bassline drops in, it’s even more massive. This track definitely inspired us to do more tracks with looped breakbeats—a hallmark of early ’90s UK house.
6. MISPRONOUNCE: New Order, “Vanishing Point”
I listened to Technique a lot during a trip to Italy in 2011—I love its Mediterranean/Ibiza/Euro vibes. It’s both summery and bittersweet, with plenty of clubby percussion and synth layers to keep up with the times, and it also bridges the gap between the postpunk and acid house eras. New Order actually has a ton of stylistic diversity, but somehow everything blends together seamlessly since 95 percent of their catalog exists between 110 and 130BPM.
7. IN A SENSE: The Chameleons, “Swamp Thing”
I really like how this song manages to have a dynamic build: anthemic vocals, but also an icy disposition. Although not affiliated with Factory, The Chameleons existed squarely in Manchester’s postpunk era, a few years before Madchester, but I think you can hear residual traces of their doomy pseudo-gothic atmospheres in John Squire’s early Stone Roses guitar work. Anyway, much like The Chameleons, on Complexion, we wanted to be psychedelic, icy, and danceable all at once. The Chameleons’ bonus track cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” really illustrates this too.
8. GROUNDED: Simple Minds, “Alive and Kicking”
Slow gallop, with gospel overtones. And Jim Kerr definitely comes from the Bryan Ferry school of vocals. Not surprisingly, Simple Minds is Scottish, like most of my favorite bands, but unlike the Mary Chain or The Vaselines, they’ve infused this song with a synth-heavy, radio-ready shine. I’m a sucker for the build and triplet roll around 3:42. We’ve ripped off this slow disco beat countless times.
9. OUTERBRIDGE CROSSING: Brian Eno, “In Dark Trees”
I always like to put an interlude track on our albums—Black Sabbath did this well (except for the track “FX” which is pretty pointless). Of course, Brian Eno needs no introduction, but this minimalist percussion loop that sounds like it’s running through a ring modulator has a nice otherworldly sound to it, almost like Suicide. Primal Scream also does amazing downtempo/comedown tracks that have been a big influence on us—like “I’m Coming Down” on Screamadelica (though, I may have already used up my Primal Scream allotment with “Imperial”).
10. THE ANCIENT STEREO: Ride, “Dreams Burn Down”
The drums on this Ride track sound super ’90s (not surprisingly) and they inspired us to do a slow-burner ballad that wasn’t as overtly danceable as the rest of Complexion. The vocals on “Dreams Burn Down” aren’t as layered or harmony-rich as they are on Ride’s hallmark songs, but they make up for it with bittersweet, slow burning guitar melodies and insane monolithic squalls of fuzz.