Dennis Lyxzén is the lead singer of post-hardcore heroes Refused, mod-rock revolutionaries The (International) Noise Conspiracy, punk thrashers AC4, and currently, the shadowy post-punk outfit INVSN (who are currently touring North America in support of their latest album, The Beautiful Stories). Dennis created this playing specially for The Dowsers—here, he explains the concept behind it.
Growing up in the north of Sweden as a working-class kid there are certain elements of American culture that fascinate and enthrall. Lana Del Rey sings about the real underclass of the USA—not the hard-working people that Bruce sings about, but the real freaks and misfits and about a darkness inherited in the culture. A world filled with sex and drugs and violence with a language of alienation and despair. Under the glamour and glitz, there’s a darkness and depth that give way to a more nuanced picture of America.
“Love” is, granted, one of her more hopeful and optimistic songs even though it is still filled with longing and a sense of disconnect. To celebrate the release of our cover version—and to try and position Lana Del Rey as a part of a fine musical tradition—INVSN gives you 19 songs from the American Underbelly.
1. Townes Van Zandt, “Waiting Around to Die” (1968)
The true outsider and part of the outlaw western tradition. Townes claims this is the first song he ever wrote. A song about gamblers and thieves and liars. One of the most haunting songs about human despair ever written.
2. The Velvet Underground, “Candy Says” (1969)
In a time of peace and love and bubblegum pop, The Velvet Underground wrote songs about sex and drugs and violence. But not speculative or cynical. It always just seemed like stories about their lives. Lou Reed kept singing about the outcasts and the junkies until he died.
3. Tom Waits, “Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis” (1978)
Tom Waits needs little introduction. Balancing on the edge of the absurd and the dark, but still a mainstay in American music. His songs and stories always touch on the tragic, on the fates of people that never get songs written about them. Beautiful and sad and scary.
4. Nico, “Vegas” (1981)
Once a part of The Velvet Underground, Nico was the embodiment of everything they sang about. She was a tragic but fascinating figure. She wrote music and songs like no one else, and lived life like her songs.
5. T.S.O.L., “Code Blue” (1981)
Even by punk standards, TSOL were an anomaly. Weird surfers that exploded with violence and cross-dressing. They were grave robbers and, by any standards, frightening and real. Sure. a song about necrophilia might be goofy, and it would definitely not fly in 2017, but it’s something different and it’s a representation of a fixation with everything extreme and forbidden.
6. The Gun Club, “The House On Highland Ave.” (1983)
The Gun Club took punk and added blues and gospel and country music. They wrote songs about death and murder and drugs and Jeffrey Lee Pierce was tortured soul in the true sense of the term. This song about hope and murder is one of the greatest songs ever written about said subjects.
7. Christian Death, “Awake At the Wall” (1984)
Goth and all of its glorious darkness never made as big an impact in America as it did in Europe. The biggest goth bands were always imports. Christian Death was, of course, a golden exception to this. Filled with death and darkness and anguish and despair, they made some true American classics.
8. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, “Tupelo” (1985)
Nick Cave might be Australian, but few people have delved deeper into American culture. His early recordings are filled with so much violence, and are steeped in a language stolen from the blues and the gospel.
9. Sonic Youth, “Death Valley ’69” (1985)
Sonic Youth came armed with equal parts punk and art-school sensibility. Inspired by Manson and Madonna, they set about to become a staple of American alternative culture. Even with their most successful albums, the darkness was never far away. (The Raymond Pettibon artwork for Goo was inspired by the Moors Murders of the 1960s.)
10. Dead Moon, “Dead Moon Night” (1989)
Few bands have symbolized the American underground as well as Dead Moon. Always the outsiders, always freaks, and always autonomous to a default. Dark brooding songs that channel outlaw country and Delta blues but with a punk edge. Dead Moon are truly an institution of the American Underbelly.
11. Pain Teens, “Bondage” (1991)
Pain Teens were on the fringes of the punk scene in Texas. Using tape manipulation and sampling, they become more of an experimental noise unit, singing about sex and murder and trying to push the envelope both musically and thematically.
12. Lustmord, “Ixaxaar” (1992)
Lustmord came to prominence in the early ’80s with heavy ambient industrial music rooted in the tradition of everything extreme: mass-murder, death, religion, and the usual subjects. Over the years, his music has become more contemplative, but it’s still very much a part of something different from the ordinary. With an album called The Monstrous Soul, how can you really expect anything else?
13. Diamanda Galas, “The Thrill is Gone” (1998)
With a voice that has been called the most unnerving, vocal terror Diamanda has haunted us with music about death and religion and darkness like few others.
14. PJ Harvey, “The Whores Hustle and The Hustler Whores” (2000)
PJ has always had a knack for telling stories about human suffering and alienation. From the streets of NYC to Palestinian refugee camps, the stories are real and bleak. This song from Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is a portrait of the underclass and the conditions of life that they have to endure.
15. Morrissey, “First Of the Gang To Die” (2004)
Morrissey is, of course, a Brit in exile. And as much and American has embraced his Britishness, he has also embraced his new home. This song about gang-culture in Los Angeles is both beautiful and sad, and talks about an undercurrent of American violence that dictates the life of the underclass. A true masterpiece.
16. Chelsea Wolfe, “Wasteland” (2011)
Chelsea Wolfe has worked hard the past 10 years and carved out a nice niche as the new queen of darkness. With heavy gothic themes and album titles like Pain Is Beauty, she is carrying the tradition of American darkness onwards with her own sound.
17. Crime And The City Solution, “American Twilight” (2013)
From Australia to Berlin to London to, finally, Detroit, Simon Bonney has immersed himself in American culture so much that he made some fantastic Americana records as a solo artist in the ’90s. With lyrics about the homeless and junkies and about despair and darkness, “American Twilight” is a fantastic testimony of the American Underbelly.
18. Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence” (2014)
The reason we are here and the reason we are making this list in the first place. No real explanation needed. A beautiful and haunting song about love and violence. Stealing lines from The Crystals and singing about cult leaders, Lana continues the tradition of American darkness with fine form.
19. Marilyn Manson, “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” (2015)
Marilyn Manson is one of the most American artists of all time. The bastard child of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, and a true representation of the opposite poles of a culture of glamour and violence. Drugs and sex and death have filled his songs and life for the past 25 years, making him a true institution of American culture. Here’s a song from his latest record that shows there’s no sign of him slowing down.