When you listen to music, what do you expect from it? Are you just listening to the latest Top 40 hits and bobbing your head to the beat? Maybe you’re tired of the system and venting your frustrations to early Black Flag or Reagan Youth? You could just be zoning out to bands from your childhood that transport you back to a different time in your life. That’s the power of music. You find something that gives you a feeling, any feeling, and allows you to explore, not just the music, but yourself in the process.
I could never be confused for someone who is a music aficionado. I do not have rhythm, my taste in music is questionable at best, and I played the clarinet in school. As you can see, I am not an expert in anything resembling music. What I do enjoy, though, is the idea of music transporting your thought process somewhere that you may not be able to experience in person.
As someone with PTSD and severe clinical depression, my mood swings wildly like a child going after a pinata at a birthday party. Though never reaching peaks of true happiness, the valleys are much more prominent. While there are days where I get through a day without much mental anguish, there are more days where I find difficulties getting through the day. Everyone goes through daily struggles, and I am not saying that what I deal with is worse than anyone else. My point is that mood fluctuates for everyone, and those swings in mood can arise from anything.
Bohren & der Club of Gore is an ambient jazz band from Germany. Formed in 1992, the initial sound of the band mixed doom rock with jazz elements. As the new millennium neared, the band’s sound changed as they brought in a saxophone and left out the electric guitar. With the right components in place, all that was needed was an album to capture their sound.
Released in 2000, Sunset Mission was Bohren & der Club of Gore’s third official album, but the first album to really define who the band is. Playing out similarly to the best of Angelo Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch, Sunset Mission is a haunting piece of work and strikes my mind’s fancy like no other album. Though mood and vibes vary from person to person, let’s take a stroll and see what type of brushstrokes Bohren & der Club of Gore paint on my mind’s canvas.
Kicking off the album with ‘Prowler’, the first moments set the mood with slow, luscious piano keys and soft drums and bass which, when they give way to a hard but mellow sax, instantly transports you to another world; a world of dark alleys, lonely automats, and smoky nightclubs. I find myself and my mind going to a dark place like this, but dark in a different way.
The dark world continues as ‘On Demon Wings’ begins. Sounding as if this came from Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive, track two paints an evocative picture of a dark city with a lot to hide. Delivering ominous drums and piano strikes, this dangerous yet alluring song pulls your mind deeper into the uncertain void of Sunset Mission.
‘Midnight Walker’ is just as would be expected from its title. The cityscape painted in my mind follows along with the bass and saxophone as someone walking alone at night. Maybe an alley? Possibly a desolate Times Square in the 1940s? Loneliness is in order as the song lulls you in with beautiful yet subtle saxophone work.
Moving to a slightly jazzier sound, ‘Street Tattoo’ is no less mesmerizing. Track four finds the mood picking up ever so slightly. Maybe a cliched private detective’s office at night during a rainstorm? The water reflecting off the window onto the detective’s face as he sips a glass of Scotch with a cigarette in hand? Is he waiting for that femme fatale to come walking through his door regarding one last job? Or maybe just overlooking the nameless city through the slats in the office blinds?
‘Painless Steel’ truly lives up to his name. Evocative of ‘Laura’s Theme’ from Twin Peaks, or maybe Tangerine Dream’s part of the score for Blade Runner, the track is as somber as it gets. The saxophone of Christopher Clöser tells the entire story. Whatever story that is for you, the story itself is beautiful and sad. With an evocative instrumental backing, one instrument paints a picture. And that painting is filled with the color blue.
In my head, ‘Darkstalker’ and ‘Prowler’ set the image of the city I imagine in my head. Playing out as close to a noir vibe as it can get, I see a city of darkness. Neon lights from a nightclub reflect in puddles of water on the empty streets. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks is a perfect summation of ‘Darkstalker’: sitting in a 1940’s cafe, drinking black coffee and smoking an unfiltered cigarette. You look over the few customers in the establishment and wonder what their stories are. Will you ever hear about them?
Dark romance is next on the docket with ‘Nightwolf’, the longest track on the album. The battle for the listener’s emotions comes between the sax and the bass. Could a man have bought a woman a drink? Did he light her cigarette, or was she not reliant on men? Maybe she led him to her apartment, and he did not even know he was falling into her web? Could it be true love between them? There is no way to tell. ‘Nightwolf’ sets the stage for wherever your mind takes you.
Taking a stroll through your imagination, ‘Black City Skyline’ leads you traipsing down the back alleys and city streets as all forms of life punctuate your senses. You look up to the top of a brick building and see someone staring out the window. Is this person happy and in bliss? Are they dreaming of a better life? There are many people in this city, why focus on this one person? The music fades, you leave them behind.
Here it is, the end of the road. Bohren & der Club of Gore are giving you one last track to enjoy before you’re brought back to reality. ‘Dead End Angels’ keeps the mood dark yet sensuous. The dark jazz eventually gives way to pounding rain and thunder. There is no other way that Sunset Mission could end. A perfect encapsulation to the 73-minute odyssey you have just taken.
Usually, when tracks on an album blend together, it produces a monotonous sound where you can’t tell one track from another. In the case of Sunset Mission, though, this works to the album’s benefit. The tracks lead into each other and create one long visual and auditory experience that you will never forget.
So, when I go to those dark places, Sunset Mission keeps me there but gives me a different perspective. I can sit back, travel back to the 1940s or a cyberpunk future where the rain is heavy, the smoke is thick, and the Scotch is great. Instead of doing anything drastic, I can paint an imaginary city where smoke-filled jazz clubs abound, or maybe a Blade Runner-esque future that I may never see. All I know is that in my blackest hours, some of the darkest music lightens up my soul.
Sunset Mission has power and evokes the mind as all great music should. Unfortunately, I discovered the band only a few years ago and am playing catchup over their discography. For now, though, Sunset Mission is an important album to myself, and, if you have not given it a listen, take it for a test drive and let me know where you end up.