The Banshees pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and into art pop punk bliss.
Evolution, as always, is the key to survival. By the time Siouxsie and the Banshees released A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, they were already an established commercial and critically acclaimed force in Britain — their prior album, Juju, hit the Top 10 and remained in the charts for nearly 20 weeks. However, for a couple of punks from London raised on the notion of tearing things down and building it back up in their own image, safe commercial success was never an option.
A Kiss in the Dreamhouse sees the Banshees push their music down unexpected corridors of mayhem. While not psychedelic in the traditional sense, the album produces a surreal and otherworldly mood by flashing unusual sound effects, eerie loops and Sioux’s atypical and out-there lyrics. Its muscular production job and creative arrangements present a band fast approaching mastery of their gothic pop craft while expanding their sound to encompass art pop orchestral backing and studio effect experimentation.
Guitarist John McGeoch and drummer Budgie, already formidable presences in the band since joining two albums ago, dominate the proceedings with their powerful command of space. Sharp pricks of electric riffage and chiming acoustic arpeggios bite into opener “Cascade,” McGeoch showing off his natural sense of melody by creating a guitar orchestra of constantly moving parts. While his quicksilver riffs dart around at an ever quickening pace, bassist Steven Severin and Budgie firmly hold things down with a razor sharp jabs of hi-hats and phased out bass. Out of the gate, the Banshees sound tight and to the point.
“Obsession,” similarly, finds McGeoch imbuing a sense of dread with atonal guitars warped into harsh, reverb-heavy upstrokes. “Suddenly the tape machine began to slow down… almost to a dead stop, and then just as mysteriously it began to correct itself,” recalled Budgie. “The effect it had on the guitar part was wonderful; but there was no logical explanation.” By embracing the odd, slightly out of time chordage, Sioux is given an appropriate backing to her dark tale of a broken down romance. Warm strings envelop her as she questions “Do you hear this breath?/ It’s an obsessive breath/ Can you feel this beat?/ It’s an obsessive heartbeat” over the song’s muted funeral dirge backing.
However, it’s not all gloom as A Kiss in the Dreamhouse finds the Banshees moving into dancey territories. Perhaps one of their most enduring songs, if not for its legacy in both giving the ‘90s shoegaze Slowdive their name and LCD Soundsystem a dancey goth cover to prove their post-punk credentials, “Slowdive” finds Budgie taking lead with a heaving snare that constantly smashes its way into the mix. A simple number that thrives on a tense yet groovy basis, trebly violins grate against Sioux insisting to “Dig those limbs into the floor/ And holler out for more.”
“Painted Bird,” the album’s most upbeat moment (relatively speaking), finds McGeoch pushing an ever ascending guitar riff into an uphill battle against Budgie and Severin’s booming rhythm section. Sioux’s vocals are warped with delay, her whispered backing vocals collapsing upon themselves in a violent fit, while she pushes and stretches the song’s melody into elongated shapes.
What makes A Kiss in the Dreamhouse such a compelling listen is the band’s keen sense of what makes a song work and their willingness to break those rules in favor of whatever the hell they want to throw into the mix. “Green Fingers,” with its menacing recorder motif and Sioux’s tense melody, present splashes of chimes and tambourines draped around McGeoch’s flanged guitar flourishes. “She’s a Carnival,” meanwhile, is carried along by Budgie’s circular drum beats thrashes, as Severin provides a thematically appropriate with organ jam. By subtly weaving these unexpected sounds around their post-punk songwriting, the Banshees pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and into art pop punk bliss.