I don’t object to samples on albums; I often enjoy them. I just think they’re mostly used haphazardly. I often play the fantasy sampling game when I’m watching a movie. I’ll hear a great bit of dialogue and I’ll ponder how I would apply it to a song. What would it say about the music? Would it influence the lyrics or performance? How would it work in an album context? I don’t think enough people ask themselves those questions when they pull a bit of dialogue from their favorite movie. [Ed. Note: I’m not talking about somebody like Graf Orlock. Their shtick is so total as to place them in a whole ’nother realm.]
I can think of very few examples of bands using samples thoughtfully or for more than a superficial rhetorical point. The first would be Who’s My Saviour’s “Save Your Breath,” an album-closing 90 seconds of sludgy psychedelia that deploys creepy flat toned HAL 9000 from 2001 with expertly counterpointed music to perfectly claustrophobic effect. It’s the kind of song I end up listening to three or four times in a row because it’s so well constructed. The second would be Damad’s second album, Rise and Fall, which trickles bits of dialogue from Swimming With Sharks throughout. The choice to go with a single film and to highlight Kevin Spacey’s relentless asshole boss built a misanthropic theme that jibed with the band’s southern crust style.
I wish more bands were that thoughtful when they reach for their DVD collection. Extreme Noise Terror pretty much admitted the samples for
I read an interview with Pig Destroyer’s J.R. Hayes a few years back (I think it was circa Terrifyer) where he talked about why the band decided to stop using movie samples and start creating their own theatrical bits. He said when you hear a sample and identify it, it pulls you out of the music. It adds in other associations that maybe the artist didn’t really intend to be there. I’ve often gone back and thought about that quite a bit since then. Especially after I hear the same samples or the same directors endlessly used to augment a band’s song or aesthetic.
Do I really need to hear the exact same "pain has a face" quote from Hellraiser: Bloodline from both Kataklysm (not a grind band, I know; but they’re a repeat offender so bear with me) and Suffering Mind? Are they trying to imply that their music will cause me pain? Because last I checked I thought they wrote songs for their and my enjoyment.
Maruta and Abstain have both used the – thanks to Glenn Beck – no longer farcical Howard Beale rant from Network in their music. Beale’s character was supposed to be satirical rip on the inanity and venality of television news. Are they asking me to seriously identify with his frothing about being mad as hell and scared of the world? If so, why? According to the FBI violent crime has plummeted over the last decade.
Some movies are just overused to the point of painful cliché. Means of Existence is my favorite Phobia album, but even I have to groan at “Snail,” a midtempo, mid-album instrumental meltdown built around samples describing Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Audio Kollaps have also pillaged Coppolla’s cursed jungle epic (at least they do it in dubbed German), borrowing the Col. Kilgore hitting the beach scene (but mercifully not "Ride of the Valkyries") on an album that also pays visual homage to the movie. If there’s some sort of take home message from either, I’m not sure what it means. Is there some special commentary about the futility and madness of war (Coppolla’s intended themes) I’m not getting from them.
David Lynch is also a popular target for bands looking to boost their arty, intellectual cred. Remember Hayes said Pig Destroyer decided to stop using movie samples? Cuz they sure didn’t have a problem nicking a line from Twin Peaks for the song “Elfin” on the Explosions in Ward 6 (later 38 Counts of Battery) album. Ditto Circle of Dead Children who decided a bit of the Cowboy’s dialogue from Mulholland Dr. would make a fitting opener for Human Harvest. While the “Let’s get down to it” line does make for a nice bit of intro, am I supposed to glean anything else from their choice? Do they identify with Lynch’s vision or artistry in any significant way? Is Human Harvest informed by the themes of duality, identity and delusion that pervaded the movie? How about the Destroyers of Pigs and Twin Peaks?
So I say this as both an undying fan of film and grind: I get tired hearing the same samples on every fucking album. You wanna surprise me? Next album, sample Steel Magnolias or Terms of Endearment instead and do it in a way that’s honest to the spirit of the music.
I’ve collected some of the more egregious offenders and Who’s My Saviour’s sterling example here. Give it a listen and tell me if I’m completely off base and just a grumpy old man.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Who’s My Saviour – “Save Your Breath”
Luddite Clone – “Oratory of the Jigsaw”
Kataklysm – “1999:6661:2000”
Abstain – “Discriminating”
Maruta – “Replicate”
Suffering Mind – “Dead Part of Cause”
Kataklysm – “Il Diavolo in Me”
Phobia – “Snail”
Audio Kollaps – “Aussent Welt”
Pig Destroyer – “Elfin” (Twin Peaks)
Circle of Dead Children – “A Family Tree to Hang From” (Mulholland Dr.)