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Seductive Melancholy

Darkwave group Black Tape for a Blue Girl marks a new album with a Congress gig

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It's the sound of melancholy decay filtered through a Baroque combination of modern electronics, traditional acoustic instruments, tribal rhythms, stately Gothic moods and 19th-century Romanticism. It's a sound you might hear drifting through a spirit-laden mansion on a Southern plantation, or echoing down the stone corridors of a European castle.

Black Tape for a Blue Girl is coming to Tucson to weave dark ambient spells at Club Congress Wednesday night, Sept. 8.

Gothic music impresario Sam Rosenthal founded his Projekt Records in Florida, circa 1983, as a vehicle for cassette-only releases of his solo electronic recordings. Three years later, while in college in Los Angeles, Rosenthal poured his creative juices into a new group, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, which released its debut album, The Rope, on Projekt.

Band and label have evolved steadily in the last 18 years.

Soon enough, around 1989, Projekt was issuing CDs, and Black Tape was joined by new labelmates such as Lycia, Love Spirals Downwards, Soul Whirling Somewhere, Arcanta, Voltaire, Peter Ulrich, Vidna Obmana, Attrition, Human Drama, Ordo Equitum Solis, O Yuki Conjugate and Shinjuku Thief.

Two Projekt acts have Tucson connections: the experimental duo Lovesliescrushing, which began here; and prolific, world-renowned ambient composer Steve Roach.

As years passed, Rosenthal relocated first to Chicago and later to New York City, which Projekt now calls home.

Over the years, the label flagship act's music has grown well beyond being simply a collection of references and allusions to other artists such as Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus and This Mortal Coil. And somewhere along the line, Black Tape's style of music was dubbed "darkwave."

Black Tape for a Blue Girl has released nine albums, the most recent being the impressive Halo Star, which arrived in stores this week. The new CD boasts a more sophisticated sound, even an improvement on the almost-universally acclaimed The Scavenger Bride, issued in 2002.

The new album's opening tracks, "Glow" and "Tarnished," feature Middle Eastern hand drums and buzzing violin. The intoxicating rhythms invoke a Moroccan trance groove, against which singer-guitarist Bret Helm summons forth a croaking baritone not unlike Peter Murphy's.

Singer Elysabeth Grant handles some celestial-sounding melodies on the sonnet-like "Your Love Is Sweeter Than Wine" and "Indefinable, Yet." The sweet-dark result will remind some listeners of Jarboe's haunting vocals in the brilliant, now-defunct Swans.

Rosenthal writes the lyrics, melodies and music, and he plays all manner of electronic instruments. He's not above a reference to mainstream pop, either, albeit with his own dark twist. Dig this lyric: "Knock three times on the coffin if you want my love / Twice on the pipe if the answer is no."

But "Tarnished" perhaps contains the typical Black Tape lyrical approach. In it, Rosenthal explores the nature of the relationship between audience and sacrificial performer: "Wounds torn open, desire exposed, we grab for a piece of his soul."

Especially cool, though, is "The Gravediggers," which sounds like an Olde English ballad by way of Nick Cave and Drake. The acoustic guitar and soft whooshes evoke a hallucinatory, Pink Floyd-style psychedelic folk mood.

Rosenthal and Co. created most of the new CD in New York City. But it's interesting to note that additional vocals and instruments were recorded at Roach's Timeroom studios in northeast Tucson.

The live band for Black Tape's West Coast tour will feature Rosenthal and stalwarts Helm (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Grant (vocals, viola), as well as Bart Helm on electric and acoustic guitar, Nicki Jaine on piano and acoustic guitar and J. DeWolfe on percussion.

Rosenthal's wife and muse, Lisa Feuer, who plays flute in Black Tape and is the Projekt promotions manager, is not listed among the band members for the tour--maybe she'll be back at home minding the store. Nevertheless, Black Tape for a Blue Girl is still likely to brew up a concoction as seductive, heady and (occasionally) somnambulant as a couple shots of absinthe.

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