Seattle’s Sky Cries Mary didn’t set out to revitalize the legend of Hawkwind and rekindle the notion of space rock (or even become a Jefferson Airplane for the ’90s). Actually, the group began by making particularly nasty noises in the guise of an industrial band. SCM began as theater student Roderick Romero’s senior thesis, and evolved into dadaesque cacophony. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who were simultaneously writing and recording clever pop songs as the Posies, hit things and looped tapes — think Negativland, not Ministry — while Roderick made grating noises into the microphone. Early sets were as much performance art as music, and presented as a kind of endurance test for local hipsters. The aptly titled debut, Until the Grinders Cease (engineered and mixed by Auer), is a comparatively moderate document of that phase. The band was much more abrasive live, though “When the Fear Stops” is a precursor to the more spiritual bent that eventually followed. The French CD offers a ninth bonus track; the decade-later American edition sticks with the original eight selections.
Don’t Eat the Dirt… is much the same, with the addition of input from maverick producer Steve Fisk. The EP includes a Fisk remix of “When the Fear Stops,” a more varied supporting cast and an unrecognizable version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic.” That, along with a video also entitled Until the Grinders Cease, was enough to convince Dave Allen that he’d found the next great industrial band, and he signed them to his World Domination label.
And then things changed. Roderick reconnected with singer Anisa (they subsequently married), who’d had a cameo in his senior thesis. The four-song label debut, Exit at the Axis, introduced Anisa, as well as DJ Fallout, drummer Ben James, bassist Joe Howard (now a member of the Posies) and guitarist Ivan Kral (Patti Smith Group, Iggy Pop). The transition became complete by 1993’s A Return to the Inner Experience, by which time Kral had departed. While the background still hides the sounds of inanimate objects being beaten, the full-length album has a decidedly Eastern — and vastly more spiritual — bent. Live shows began incorporating incense and a light show; Roderick and Anisa wrapped their voices around each other as if singing were a tantric exercise. (Maybe it is.) The result isn’t so much dance music as it is trance music. Cornershop has come at the same combination of sounds from a markedly different starting point, but with much the same result.
Guitarist Michael Cozzi (ex-Shriekback) joined in time for This Timeless Turning; Howard was replaced by the one-named Juano. The songs are slightly more forceful, and both singers sound as if they’re more comfortable with their roles. The business behind the voices continues to be dense and layered, though live it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly which musician is emitting what sounds.