Now I’m Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95
Ryan Alexander Diduck
, February 26th, 2012 08:32
What surprises me most about Johnny Mnemonic, Robert Longo’s 1995 (now retro-)futuristic cyber-thriller, is that Keanu “be excellent to each other” Reeves made the final cut and New York industrial duo Black Rain’s bone-gnawing score did not. However, in hindsight, it was likely a fortuitous omission considering how well the music currently holds up in contrast to the movie. (Actual Keanu-monic dialogue: “I can carry nearly 80 gigs of data in my head.” That just doesn’t sound believable to me.)
That’s why the newly remastered instrumental cuts appearing on Now I’m Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95 sit nicely alongside the Blackest Ever Black label’s growing catalogue of slow and sinister fare. It’s like, how much more black can rain be? And the answer, of course, is none. None more black.
But don’t call it a comeback; they’ve been here for years. Core members Stuart Argabright and Shinichi Shimokawa rubbed elbows with the no wave/post-punk underground scene in New York during the '80s, producing the outstanding 1985 hit 'At The Marble Bar' as Death Comet Crew, with the late Rammellzee rocking the mic something fierce. Argabright’s other pioneering projects include Dominatrix, Ike Yard and the Voodooists, which have all seen recent re-releases on his own Rapid Expansion Corp label.
Nevertheless, Blackest Ever Black boss Kiran Sande is emphatic that Now I’m Just A Number... is not a ‘reissue,’ and it isn’t - rather, it’s an archival release of remarkably contemporary and largely unheard-of works that still sound well ahead of their curve. The 11-minute title track, for instance, would fit seamlessly into a pre-dawn slackened bpm set with the likes of Silent Servant and Sigha. And as all good soundtrack music should, the record feels like it successfully constructs a cohesive narrative.
'Lo Tek', the album’s opener, lumbers forth like a synthoholic Borg; 'Tokyo Night.City' conjures up an electroconvulsive therapy session in a dank and mouldy cellar, its woozy sub-bass yawns punctuated by erratic reverb-drenched kicks, faraway footsteps, and vaguely intelligible android intonations. 'Lo Tek Bridge' chugs along at a steady locomotive pulse, until slippery rails cause its wheels to spark and jump tracks. The paranoid string pads of 'Biotechno 1 & 2' might just make you want to snatch up all your floppy disks and lam it underground until the robot rebellion blows over.
But it’s the title track that is the album’s centrepiece - a throbbing floorgazer that’s all smouldering smoke, steam, and steel, flickering with twitchy hi-hats and techy, asynchronous rhythmic palpitations. 'Lo Tek Music' is by far the album’s most melodic track, a moody and melancholy psilocyberpunk requiem for futures past. Roll end credits and stagger out of the theatre with caution: the world is not as you left it.
Industrial musicians are no strangers to the realm of macabre movie scores: Skinny Puppy’s cEvin Key contributed sound design to Jacob’s Ladder and End Of Days with his Scaremeister side project - and then there’s old man Rezzywez. But it seems that the best of the best (I’m thinking here of Coil’s unreleased Hellraiser themes) ultimately went unused. And although Black Rain’s soundtrack did see limited release on Fifth Colvmn Records in 1995 - and as underlying soundscapes for the audiobook of William Gibson’s Neuromancer - it’s taken nearly 20 years for their trailblazing work to see the proper light of day, or dark of night, as it were. Now I’m Just A Number... is a bionic wolf in black sheep’s clothing.