After making “Dead Elvis”, one of the most unique electronica records of the 90s, it was hard to guess what Death In Vegas would do for the follow up. Would they go down the path of easy money and create an entire album in the same vein as their buzz bin hit “Dirt”? Would they go darker and explore the dark, ambient world they hinted upon in the song “Rocco”? Or maybe they could experiment with even more instrumentation like the song “Rematerialized”? There was certainly quite a few directions to take but, instead of taking the easy way out, they focused on what made their debut album successful and tweaked it into what would become their crowning achievement as band, “The Contino Sessions”
Named after the studio Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes record most of their records, “The Contino Sessions” is a strange journey into the seediest parts of the electronica genre. Actually, it feels a little off labeling it ‘electronica’ when there are hardly no signs of the genre anywhere on the album. Most of the drums are from a live kit, guitar samples have been traded in for actual guitar overdubs, bass grooves are no longer loops but an actual live bassists. Four of the songs even feature an actual vocalist! Iggy Pop, Jim Reid of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, and Dot Allison make for a motley crew of special guest appearances that make this record feel more like an actual album instead of a collection of experiments like their debut record.
Opening the record is “Dirge”, an eerie track that starts with an ominous two chord strum of a jangly electric guitar and an unsettling chant of “La La La La” from Dot Allison. As the song goes on tension builds with a hypnotic bass groove and squealing vintage keyboard to the point where it feels claustrophobic. It sets the tone for the rest of the record letting the listener know that this is going to be a dark, creepy ride. Songs like “Dirge” as well as “Soul Auctioneer” and “Broken Little Sister” manage to use very little lyrics and set up to paint a visceral, surreal soundscape that’s both interesting as it is unsettling. You can almost hear a hollow wind blowing through a deserted cemetery on one track, and a distance siren coming from a dark alley on the next. These soundscapes may have been introduced on their previous record but are delivered here with a confidence that prove that Death In Vegas are not one trick ponies.
With the track “Aisha” we’re introduced to a fuzzy distorted guir riff played over and over an AC/DC-esque drum beat and narrative lyrics from Iggy Pop, warning the listener that he is a cannibalistic murder who lives in a graveyard. If that doesn’t creep you out I don’t know what will! Maybe the blood curdling scream he lets out towards the end of the song followed by a groovy 1960s inspired organ solo.
Not every song on the album is a sociopathic anthem though, there are actually upbeat moments in songs like “Neptune City” or the beautiful organ led piece “Lever Street” which stands out as a highlight of the entire record. “Aladdin’s Story” is a track that sounds extremely similar to the Rolling Stones’s demo “So Divine” up until a choir comes in with the looped lyric “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, no body knows the sorrow”. It’s these bright, upbeat spots like this that heighten the tension and moodiness of the rest of the record.
Blending artistry and experimentation isn’t an easy feat but Death In Vegas have done it in such a way it feels natural and never forced. One track you are soaring above the clouds, the next, you are crawling on your belly in a poorly lit parking lot. This was the band at it’s peak and nothing can match a genuine artist in their element. There is nothing on this record that will turn you on to electronica music if you are not a fan, and it will not turn an electronica fan onto rock music, but what it does so delightfully is bring those two types of people together to enjoy something so remarkably weird and equally beautiful. Jim Reid is kind of wasted with the song “Broken Little Sister” as it’s probably the weakest song on the album followed the Gillespie led “Soul Auctioneer” but even in that, it’s 2 forgettable up against the rest of the album full of thrills, chills and suprises.
Death In Vegas are probably the most interesting electronica groups to come out of the 90s and are still out there creating music. “The Contino Sessions” just may be the band’s finest moment, a record in which to this day have yet to top. It’s not a hard record to find these days if you frequent a resale/trade shop and if you ever come across it, pick it up by all means, you will not be disappointed!