Migrating from ’90s Germany to today’s San Francisco scene, the members of dark-pop outfit no:carrier embrace the here and now. Their sound is dense, rich with time and experience, but also weighed down by the state of affairs in today’s world. Their new album, Broken Rainbow, references the sense of hopelessness of dreams destroyed, addiction, and depression. And yet, as its title might imply, there’s a glimmer of hope, a sense that not all is lost after all.
“We are truly living in exciting, but also very strange and dangerous times,” says songwriter Chris Wirsig. “All over the world, there’s a move back towards a more cavemen-like, medieval behavior that I thought we had overcome more or less.
“More and more people seem to fall back into an archaic mental state, where dog-eat-dog is the norm and humanity is left to die, while we still make scientific and cultural progress, but – and I know this sounds a bit desolate – mankind doesn’t seem to be fit for the 21st Century yet.”
Exploring these themes without totally bumming out their listeners is a challenge, and one that no:carrier migrates aptly. It’s easy to get distracted by their intricate arrangements and sonic prowess, traveling down that dark tunnel where the only thing that exists is the music — a divine state indeed.
We asked Wirsig to choose five of no:carrier’s biggest influences and explain how they became part of this unique group’s sound. Of course, like many who complete this challenge, it was near impossible. So, first, a disclaimer: “It’s hard to choose only five, as I could easily name 20 or more,” he says. “Apologies to the others not mentioned.”
Nine Inch Nails
“When I heard Pretty Hate Machine in the early 1990s, I was still living in Germany and not a lot of people there knew about Trent Reznor and his band yet. I remember I was blown away by the sound, the power, and emotions of the songs.
“For me, this was one of the entry points into dark music – from Dark Wave to Gothic Rock. Until this day, Pretty Hate Machine is still my favorite NIN album.
“Hard to choose one song as an example, but ‘Something I Can Never Have’ perfectly combines the fragile and the powerful elements that make NIN’s music so special – and I love the simple yet hauntingly emotional piano in
the song clashing with the harsh electronic sounds.
“That’s something I always have in mind and try myself when writing songs: taking extremes, bringing them together, and creating an interesting, emotive whole out of the different elements.”
“When I discovered electronic instrumental music in the mid-1980s through artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Art Of Noise, and Yello, there of course also was Tangerine Dream.
“Ranging from their more experimental work during the 1970s up to the commercially successful soundtracks of the 1980s, I always liked their music and soaked it up. And once you’ve listened to ‘Stratosfear’ while a thunderstorm comes up, you know how powerful music can be in the perfect moment.
“Tangerine Dream showed me that you can mix up different elements, make very emotive (and not at all ‘cold’)
music with synthesizers, and bring this in harmony with acoustic instruments as well. And also add vocals every now and then, like they did on ‘Cyclone’ (in a darker and more Pink Floyd style) or ‘Tyger’ (more poetic).
“The video I’m choosing is from their Electric Mandarine Tour in 2012, where I was lucky enough to see them with founder Edgar Froese who unfortunately passed in 2015. This concert video shows the wide spectrum of music Tangerine Dream offer. From classically inspired, very acoustic, pieces to completely electronic soundscapes, to rocking guitars.”
Pet Shop Boys
“When pop stars were supposed to be nice and friendly looking, the Pet Shop Boys dared to look bored and were not smiling on their covers – something I immediately liked. Apart from loving their (often darker) pop songs that nowadays are classics, I liked their we-do-what-we-want attitude.
“I remember hearing ‘Suburbia’ for the first time and having my imagination run wild with suburban angst, barking dogs and sinister boys. It all sounded like the music for an inner-city uprising (or at least what my 12-year-old imagination thought that would sound like).
“Their integrity and love of experimentation while still being ‘pop’ influenced me to a great deal. And also the melancholy their songs often show is something you find in my music as well. The Pet Shop Boys are among the artists who, early on, showed me the beauty of melancholy and darkness, even before I entered the world of
Dark Wave and Gothic music.”
Alan Parsons Project
“Another example of a band/project combining totally different genres and musical elements into their own sound world, writing some very beautiful and some very sad songs on the way. Also often using lots of pathos.
“The albums of Alan Parsons Project showed me that instrumental music, rock songs, and pop songs can live next to each other perfectly well, complement each other, drifting from an emotive, more electronic instrumental into rock guitars, and some guy singing about ‘Beaujolais,’ the ‘Turn Of A Friendly Card,’ or Edgar
Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ and then back into an instrumental piece, but this
time a classical suite. And it all fit together perfectly.
“I think the intro ‘A Dream Within A Dream’ from their first album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, that segues into ‘The Raven’ is a great example of that.”
“One of the bands from the European Dark Wave and Gothic scene I always admired for their unusual, still pop, sound, Peter Heppner’s great voice, and the overall feeling of romantic darkness and melancholy.
“Wolfsheim, and other bands of that genre, influenced me a lot, as this was music I could always better relate to than happy pop songs (although there are a lot of happy pop songs I truly love). It’s just that melancholy songs usually touch me deeper than other songs. Realizing that and embracing it helped me to shape my own style (or styles), and it will always play a big role in my own music.
“Again, it’s hard to choose one song, but Wolfsheim’s first hit, ‘The Sparrows and the Nightingales’ is a good one to start with if you’ve never heard their music. With its moody atmosphere, I’d call it a perfect 1990s Dark Pop