The thematic idea for Black Candies: The Eighties came about more or less as a whim. After Stranger Things came out, I fell down a wormhole of nostalgia-heavy entertainment and ended up rewatching all the horror ‘80s horror that became intrinsic to my formative years: Evil Dead, The Re-Animator and Romero’s Day of the Dead.
But when submissions for the issue began to trickle in, I noticed how much seething anger there was among them. Analog deaths, slashers, the past made present, political allegories. Ironically, The Eighties seemed to reflect the horror of our current era with more vehemence than any other issue of Black Candies.
So co-editor Julia Dixon Evans and I wanted The Eighties to reflect this hostility. This is the first issue that I’ve not had the help of a creative director, and it’s quite different than those that came before it. It’s purposefully abrasive. Analog-like glitches fill the corners. We didn’t want blurbs on the cover. We wanted it to feel like a dangerous object that you’d find tucked away in footlocker. An unmarked VHS; a cursed cassette. We wanted readers to feel like they were reading a book produced by a haunted printing press.
For inspiration, I turned to two well-known albums: Nirvana’s In Utero and Nine Inch Nails’ Broken. Both albums are considered sharp left-turns because they veered deep into abrasive, harsh, alienating waters from artists who experienced commercial success from their previous albums. I always find it fascinating when artists willingly show their ugly side when money’s on the line.
There was a long period in my life when I stopped listening to Nirvana because I thought “grunge” was a boring genre and—ugh—everyone listened to Nirvana. The songs were ubiquitous on the radio, and it came to a point when I didn’t know if “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was actually a good song, or if it was just lionized it after Cobain’s death.
It wasn’t until the 2013 reissue of In Utero that I decided to give Nirvana another chance. My brother owned that CD when we were young (the Walmart edited version, with “Waif Me” instead of “Rape Me”), but it had been maybe 15 years since I listened to it. In the intervening years, I had become familiar with In Utero producer Steve Albini’s other projects (Big Black and Shellac) and considered myself a fan of his curmudgeonly subversiveness and provocation. I was interested in seeing how In Utero held up.
That first dive back in was a jarring experience, especially since I was so used to the radio polish of songs “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yes, In Utero has “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” but the rest of the album is fucking insane. There’s nothing gentle about it. The vocals sound like they’re sung into a trashcan, and the drums are relentlessly pummeling (the drum sounds on In Utero, especially on “Scentless Apprentice,” may be my favorite of all time). The corporate hesitancy to release such an abrasive record is well-documented, but I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when a record exec—hoping for another “Teen Spirit”—turned on “Tourettes”.
Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP, is another one that I wasn’t really familiar with until recently. I mean, growing up in a Mormon household made all Nine Inch Nails’ music inherently scary— it didn’t matter if it was from Pretty Hate Machine or the Downward Spiral, so I can’t say I had the mettle to analyze both until later.
But then I read this essay by Aaron Burch, which tackles Broken better and more in-depth than I plan to do here— and again, I was infatuated with the idea of an intentionally-abrasive piece of art. I finally got around to listening to Broken, and, yeah, it’s harsh. Its predecessor Pretty Hate Machine is not exactly gentle, but it contains nothing as trashy as tracks like “Wish.” The whole EP, sounds drowned in industrial beats and distortion, but it’s an obvious keystone to understanding the brilliance of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile that came afterwards.
Plus, according to the wiki: “Reznor said he wanted the album to be ‘an ultra-fast chunk of death” for the listener, something that would “make your ears a little scratchy’.”
“A little scratchy.” I love that. So, if The Eighties can make your eyes a little scratchy as well, then my work is done.
You can order Black Candies: The Eighties here.