Coil - A Guide For Beginners & A Guide For Finishers [Cold Spring Records - 2020]
Transcendental pagan ambient duo Coil charted an incredible path of interdimensional psychedelic electronic journeys within their twenty three years, ending in the death of singer/poet Jhonn Balance in 2005. Since the death of the other half of the band, 'Sleazy' (Peter Christopherson) in 2010, I have been less than satisfied with the handling of their mostly out of print legacy. Most of what has come out has been compilations of unreleased material that was never intended for release, and many of the essential full-length albums remain out of print and quite rare (Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil and Moon's Milk, among others).
This latest re-issue of the double disk 'best of' compilation, A Guide for Beginners / A Guide for Finishers does not help to fix that problem, but is a satisfying release in and of itself. I always enjoyed the selection and beautiful artwork on this best of, which truly does represent a wide range of the many directions taken by the group, from their sombre gothic ballads (their best-known music) to the pure abstraction and three dimensional sound design of their drone work. In the early 2000s when I was first discovering the group, this compilation served to help me make sense of their massive and obscure catalogue. Though the songs found here come from a wide variety of eras, the album flows together wonderfully, quite poetically arranged, I can only assume, by the group themselves.
Individual songs from some of the albums I'd like to see re-issued are included, such as the beautiful "Amethyst Deceivers" from Moon's Milk, with its luminous acoustic guitar work. The evocative and colourful "Red Skeletons" is included, from Black Light District (1995), one of the most beautiful and underrated nocturnal ambient albums ever to come out (recently re-issued by Dais Records). I am pleased by the unexpected inclusion of 'rarities' like "Lost Rivers of London" from Unnatural History 2, which fits comfortably next to more well-known tracks like "Ostia" (from Horse Rotorvator most known of their 'industrial' era). Though pieces like "Are You Shivering?" and "Where Are You?" from the famed Musick to Play in the Dark (1 & 2 respectively) are perhaps overfamiliar to me by now, any actual 'beginner' to Coil must indeed hear these pieces at once.
Disk one focuses more on the melodic ballad style of the band, while disk two includes some of the manic, acid-drenched beat-oriented tracks of their early 90's period, such as "Scope" (from Stolen & Contaminated Songs, the compilation of "Love's Secret Domain" b-sides), and "Furthur Back and Faster" (from the classic Love's Secret Domain itself), as well as growling industrial Stormers from the early 80's such as "Solar Lodge" and "Panic" (both from the debut Scatology).
In the end, nothing substitutes for actual re-issues of classics like Moon's Milk or Queens of the Circulating Library, and the length of many notable tracks bars them from being included in a compilation like this. There is no denying a longer attention span is needed to penetrate a lot of the group's music, and the original album contexts for the songs are still best. That said, if any peripheral compilation release in their catalogue deserved this treatment, it is this one. If this album can provide any new listeners with the intended introduction to this music, it is a good thing.Josh Landry