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SinSynth: Dreamy Music for a Would-Be Neon Giallo

Music and imagery are two worlds that can be sheer blazing kismet or the art equivalent of a dumpster man giving you the middle finger. In short? It can range fiercely but when it works, it is absolute dynamite. A truly strong soundtrack is one that not only pairs well with its film, but intertwines with the work and fuels further cinematic alchemy. You get to take an already great thing and further shine it up. A great soundtrack is, in many ways, the ultimate mix-tape. (Obviously, this is in reference to film soundtracks built up from popular music tracks, as opposed to its bigger and even more beautiful older kin of the composer variety.) One of my many weird personal dreams is to create the tailored-to-a-finite-T soundtrack for a new, balls out, neon-light-soaked, red lips, and black patent leather glove giallo film that only exists in my head. (For now, because Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were correct when they wrote that “dreaming is free.”)

Until exact stars line up where I net such a real life opportunity and garner intrepid producers to fuel my mad indulgent film love-whimsy, this glowing bastard of a playlist and rough shot list will just have to do. Welcome to the land of SinSynth, where lurid imagery and atmosphere is rounded off by electronic laced music.

1) Raf’s “Self Control”

Most Americans over the age of 30 will, dollars to donuts, be more familiar with the Laura Branigan cover of this song, which is equally strong and sported a psycho-sexual, giallo-style video from Sorcerer and The Exorcist director himself, William Friedkin. Both versions of the song were released in 1984, but Italian singer Raf’s original features a slightly more cool and ominous tone. Branigan was an awesome singer whose vocals led some warmth and hidden passion, while Raf’s sounds more plagued verging on strange eyed acceptance of his vices. When he sings, “I live among the creatures of the night/I haven’t got the will to try to fight,” he is not joking around. This song is built for a night time street shot. Oil slicked pavement bathed in unnatural light and littered with the wan faces of the human moles, as well as the stray rube that they encounter. Everything is that piece of candy that looks dark and lovely on the outside, but yet you hesitate to bite into it, since its filling is totally unknown.

2) Ryan Paris’s”La Dolce Vita”

This may seem like an initially out of place choice. A 1983 “Italo Disco” song by Ryan Paris (who also did a bit of acting under his real name of Fabio Roscioli), its tone is light and airy, bordering dangerously in the electronic keys of jaunty. I’m a total sucker for creative contrast, so “La Dolce Vita” is the perfect song for a night time club scene. Perhaps a young couple getting in a fight that edges on nasty or a cut-jaw man with ice blue eyes and malcontent, angling for the night’s next bad decision.

3) Night Moves’s”Transdance”

Creating one of the best electronic singles in the early 1980s, UK artists Night Moves are one of the most unjustly obscure outfits on this list. First discovering this song via the comp “Hardest Hits Volume Three” from Canadian Label SPG Music, I was instantly struck by how it merged elements both ethereal and danceable but also quite dark. There’s a sweet starkness to this song. The lyrics are equally great: “I looked into the night/A cascade of light,” soon segues into a line about “Another face to maim.” Its crypticness adds to the beautiful murky. This would be a fantastic song to either begin or end the film with. Setting a charismatic, no-fun ride intro, or adding a bittersweet “the carnival is over” kind of end note. Regardless, “Transdance” is a song built for fringe cinema.

4) One-Two-Three’s “Another Knife in My Back”

One of many groups founded and formed by Hi NRG juggernaut producer and musician, New York born and bred Bobby “O” Orlando, One-Two-Three didn’t have a long shelf life as a band, but were around long enough to make a mark with this catchy and fairly nasty song. “Another Knife in My Back” is about a mostly one-sided relationship that has taken a sharp turn towards the bitter and mean, right down to a spoken intersection of the song where the man actually says, “Let me hear it from the whore’s mouth.” The song has a valuable lesson, which is namely do not date overly possessive mooks, no matter how cute the may initially look. Just say no, ladies and gents.

An odd bit of trivia about the band is that while their main front man was actor and singer Tony Caso (whose credits include everything from 1971’s Panic in Needle Park to playing Martin Scorsese in an episode of The Sopranos), the actual vocal track is Orlando himself. What’s really strange is that Caso is actually a terrific singer, as evidenced by some of the other tracks on their LP, as well as his solo work with songs like “Dancin in Heaven.” It is Caso that you see in the music video for “Another Knife,” bringing both heart and genuine menace to the well made clip, which involves a triple murder plot. (Why can’t more pop music be this messed up?) With a song like this, it could really be used anywhere in a modern day Giallo. A hero walking forlornly down a litter-strewn street, vexed by the unsolved killings. A go-go dancer avoiding the shifty glare of a red-herring character actor born out of granite, grease and guts. It pairs well with almost anything.

5) West End Dance Project’s “92 in the Shade”

More than just a really underrated 1975 film starring Warren Oates and my man Joe Spinell, “92 in the Shade” is an absolutely fantastic song from a band I could hardly find anything about in my research. This is a heartbreak and a half, because the song, from its impassioned vocals, including a particularly strong female one towards the latter half that is beautiful and fringed with gut wrench, to a blend of synth mixed with the occasional electric guitar, is quite a powerhouse. Another discovery via SPG’s “Hardest Hits” series, which makes sense, both in terms of quality, slight obscurity and, by judging by some of the comments on YouTube, Canadian roots. (That series is way out-of-print but well worth seeking. This track is on volume two, for the record.) The emotion of this song is primed for a scene of a killer’s own anguish with her or his nature or the aftermath the living are left to deal with.

6) Glamorcult’s”Tokyo Streets”

Another early ’80s gift from the Great White North and the “Hardest Hits” series, Glamorcult were new wave with a sound that later on would be defined as “minimal wave.” Sub-categories and sub-sub-categories aside, Glamorcult really nailed an evocative mood with “Tokyo Streets.” Slinky synths set up a narrative that initially leads you to feel like you’re in a black and pink room with a coked up and out reptile with money and his treat-du-nuit. (“A platinum blonde and a bottle of wine/She’s looking good and I’m feeling real fine.”) But the music betrays whatever visions of vapidity you may have as it goes into “Can you feel me watching you?” and the synths suddenly grow jagged, throwing some discord before going back to its deceptively low-sweet sound. Any film that has a “…is it the devil you know?” kind of moment is ready-built for this obscure gem.

7) Snowy Red’s”Baby Tonight”

Any song that is dedicated to the band Suicide is naturally one that will strike my soul and heart. Marcel Thiel or as he was better known, Mickey Mike aka Snowy Red, was an ahead of the curve electronic musician from Belgium. While he passed away at the young age of 52 back in 2009, Thiel’s work still sounds eerie, unearthly and wonderful, with “Baby Tonight” being a haunting highlight. The Suicide tribute is so fitting, since this song sounds like it could fit snugly into a Lynchian shadow universe. That smudge realm where emotion and heart get ghoulish and fetid, but yet still so real. For the purpose of this piece, any slow dance with a thriving sense of pregnant dread will work just fine. The sock hop is ruined and someone is going to die.

8) Telex’s “L’amour Toujours”

Speaking of Belgium, Telex were an interesting band. Combining elements of disco, pop, bits of rock, as well as the artier end of electronic music, they are most definitely the only band on this list that have not only entered the Eurovision Song Contest but actually made it to the finals. Don’t let that color your view though. “L’amour Toujours” features languid vocals, robotic backing vocals, and an overall feeling of something normally quite warm and earthy being infected from within by an element manufactured with no pulse at all. Any rotten act of humanity framed in vivid, radioactive jewel tones would be a sweet layer for this song.

For the someday-to-be-made-hopefully-soon neon giallo, one could do far worse than this small but mighty, stark and radiant list. If any of you end up getting to that starting gate before me, pay these musicians and thank me in the credits or you will be cursed to hear Eric Clapton muzak wherever you go. It’s not a threat. It’s a promise.

About Heather Drain

Heather Drain is a fringe culture writer who has written for Dangerous Minds, Video Watchdog, Lunchmeat and Cashiers du Cinemart. She has also been a contributor to The Rialto Report, The Projection Booth, Paracinema, Cinema Head Cheese and, on occasion, as a guest writer at both Rupert Pupkin Speaks and Turner Classic's Movie Morlocks blog. Heather currently writes for Art Decades as well as her own site, Mondo Heather, and is the Music & Culture Editor at Diabolique Magazine.

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