The album cover for the Soundwalk Collective, Jesse Paris Smith and Patti Smith LP ‘Killer Road’ is simply those two words carved three times into a cream background in black ink. The phrase is scrawled maniacally into a page with a broken fountain pen, resembling the last, desperate diary entry of an anonymous genius tumbling into madness and beyond. It is an homage to Nico’s life and untimely death following The Velvet Underground, and draws inspiration from her poems and unpublished works. As an LP, ’Killer Road’ itself runs parallel with the artwork, at once feeling stripped-back, deeply emotive, and not quite fully cohesive.
Ambient, throbbing synthetic pulses occupy the background of a cut of songs filled with fear and regret vocalised by Patti Smith. The tracks are melancholy and spine-chilling, but touch upon a relatable sadness which never quite fully brings them back from the brink of the ether.
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Smith’s whispered, repetition-based chanting is a crisp and imaginative exploration of intimate poetry. In ‘I Will Be Seven’ she adopts the martyr-like persona of a child accepting their upcoming death. Talk of ‘layers falling away’ and ‘the end of time’ is drummed home in a hypnotic, mantric fever. ’My Heart is Empty’ begins with tranquil, natural sounds gradually being superseded by a swarm of buzzing flies. These nature recordings were taken in Ibiza – the place of Nico’s passing – and form an auditory setting for vocally distorted whispering, a slow buildup of tension, and dark, desperate lyrics.
As an album, the ambition of ‘Killer Road’ falls short because it can only attack you on one front. Live recordings make up three of its eight tracks, and the pick of the bunch is ‘Fearfully In Danger’, which builds up to a crescendo of discordant synth tones, cutting off just as the intensity threatens to become unbearable. This LP achieves sounding its most focused and captivating when a degree of human interaction can be appreciated, so the live numbers are noticeably more effective in creating the desired mood. Unfortunately, ‘Killer Road’ lacks a visual anchor to be expressed through by default, so can’t be interpreted as the complete art piece it represents.
This article was written by Michael Hinchcliffe, a GIGsoup contributor