It’s hard to know where to start talking about a band like Kirlian Camera. Mostly because there are no bands like Kirlian Camera. Formed in 1980 by Angelo Bergamini with one foot in the italo disco tradition and the other in left of center electronics, the group traversed vast swathes of musical territory for the first 20 years of its existence before the arrival of iconic vocalist Elena Alice Fossi at the turn of the millennium crystallized them into their current form as, in this website’s opinion, THE darkwave band.
Remarkably, in 2011 KC are making what we here at ID:UD consider to be the best music of their career. Since 2004’s Invisible Front. 2005 (huh?) Kirlian have taken on an ever more sweeping and majestic approach, even re-approaching their older material, refining their catalogue into an ideal vision, a refined and regal posture.
And there’s more to come. The recently released EP Ghlóir Ar An Oíche promises that their as yet untitled forthcoming album will maintain their course upwards into the night sky. The word epic has lost any kind of meaning over the last few years from overuse, but make no mistake: this is epic, beautiful music.
Ask any fan where a good place to start is (even the two humble hosts of this site) and you’ll likely get a different answer. Thus, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to craft a mixtape that attempts to address the vast scope of their 30+ year history, but is also a subjective look at the songs we’re most enamored with. We aren’t attempting to curate an authoritative statement on Kirlian Camera as an entity, our end goal is to share our devotion to a cult act who are criminally underappreciated on this side of the Atlantic.
A quick note: a lot of these songs appear in nearly indistinguishable forms on two, three, and in some cases four releases. Whenever possible we have credited the most readily available/in-print title.
We hope you enjoy the mix. Stream or download from the bottom of this post.
Distant Light: An Introduction to Kirlian Camera
1. “Odyssey Europa”, from the 2CD/4CD Odyssey Europa compilation.
This track is the State of the Union. You couldn’t ask for a better snapshot of KC’s current sound, in under three minutes no less.
2. “K-PAX”, from Invisible Front. 2005.
Bizarrely named for the incredibly preachy-sounding series of books/Kevin Spacey movie about a benevolent alien bent on itemizing the follies of human civilization in comparison to his own. Lyrics don’t seem to have anything to do with that, though. As the first proper song on Invisible Front. 2005, it heralds the arrival of KC’s longest running and strongest incarnation.
3. “Black Harbour / Helmah Nah’ Shmarr”, from Still Air.
Continuing the cold, quavering austerity of Still Air‘s lead track “The Unreachable One”, this cut’s funerary mood is genuinely chilling. Creaking wooden boats move through fog, voices chant an indecipherable refrain into an unknown horizon.
4. “Edges”, from Odyssey Europa.
The band’s roots in italo disco are on full display on this 1984 single. Also a nice example of Kirlian’s occasional dalliances with butt-rock guitar.
5. “Heldenplatz (Mission Walhalla Ix)”, from Held V Shadow Mission.
This oft-rerecorded song got the contemporary dancefloor treatment in 2009. The melody is the consistent carryover, a perfect example of Bergamini’s ear for a haunting hook.
6. “Dead Zone In The Sky”, from Invisible Front. 2005.
A slightly softer number, and a perfect showcase for our not-infrequently Google Image searched heroine Elena.
7. “The End Of Day”, from Pictures From Eternity.
One of the best examples of Kirlian Camera’s occasional forays into neo-folk which marked much of the 90s (they name-checked Douglas P on their cover of “We Will Rock You”, fer cryin’ out loud!).
8. “The Desert Inside” from Odyssey Europa.
One of Angelo’s finest vocal performances, a driving monotone that sells the feeling of isolation and compulsion that a song called “The Desert Inside” probably should have. Also one of the few times that this Italian band actually sings in Italian, however briefly.
9. “Blue Room” from Odyssey Europa.
This one still makes appearances in various forms on Italo comps, although this 7″ version is firmly pointing to the Darkwave sound that would come to define the group.
10. “After Winter MMXI” from Ghlóir Ar An Oíche.
In contrast to the uplifting feel of lead track “Nightglory” (which Bruce detailed here), this is another solemn Angelo vocal performance, and a very different feel from some of the earlier female voiced versions of the song. We went down a 15 minute k-hole trying to figure out where the original first appeared while writing this, which should tell you why we aren’t attempting a more serious summation of KC’s corpus. (We’re crediting it to the Drifting EP, by the way.)
11. “Absentee” from Still Air.
A lovely bridging of the acoustic and electronic strains in Kirlian’s music. It’s easy (and perhaps best) to let the most lyrical and gorgeous side of it wash over you, but if you’ve loved a song like this for a while (which we have), you can sometimes stand back and notice just how articulate and elegantly crafted the programming on it is. The benefits of staying in the game for several decades.
12. “Eclipse” from Odyssey Europa.
Released in 1985, possibly the quintessential darkwave track (Clan of Xymox’s “A Day” has to be the only competition). A dancefloor staple which has appeared on countless compilations in innumerable incarnations (stick around for some classic meedly-meedly guitar heroics in the last minute). Bonus fact: produced by John Fryer (whose credits speak for themselves: Wikipedia that shit, rolls six scrolls deep, that dude is a player) who apparently asked Angelo to join This Mortal Coil before Bergamini’s self-described “boorish manners” scuttled the whole deal.
13. “Ascension” from Pictures From Eternity.
Originally commissioned as a wedding march for friends of the band, this was pressed to a single with a run of one. One copy. The ultimate Kirlian Camera collector’s item. We’re still waiting for it to show up on eBay. Fortunately, it has also made an appearance on Pictures From Eternity, which gave the rest of us an opportunity to enjoy its splendor and grace.
I Die: You Die purchased all the music used on this mix (in the case of some songs several times over) and endorses monetary support of the artists whose work we all enjoy. If you’re not up for immediately dropping a month of rent on KC’s labyrinthine catalogue, the modest 2 CD version of the 2009 compilation Odyssey Europa is a fantastic place to start. Buy it here.
I Die: You Die presents Distant Light: The Kirlian Camera Mixtape