Boomkat Product Review:
Stroom induce heavy swoons with Dark Arts’ anthology of classy late ‘80s/mid ‘90s/ late ’00s goth, neofolk and atmospheric music that somehow got swept under the carpet of time...
Centring on the work of Stephanie Payne, who conceived Dark Arts with friends in Columbus, OH, 1983, and remains its sole member, ‘Reflections in a rear view mirror’ supplies a necessary overview of the act between their 1991 debut album and occult ambient practice of 2008. Theirs is a classic tale rooted in a medium-sized town, where music and its associated culture provided a portal for youthful energies to sync in and drop out; from playing in Toy Division - a Joy Division covers band using toy instruments - to DJing and booking bands at the local “cool” venue, Crazy Mama’s; and eventually signing off a letter and demo to Steve Albini, who would sign their first 12”, ‘A Long Way From Brigadoon’ to his Ruthless Records in 1985. From here they would play support for Big Black, and their influences only grew to encompass krautrock, ambient, folk, and spiritual musics, leading o the conception of the band heard on this record.
Spanning 10 songs shuffled anachronistically, the set skates the timeline from material recorded in 1989 that ended up on ‘Carnival Of Lost Souls’, including the sleepwalking neofolk of ‘The More Things Stay The Same’ and the ruby red kiss of ‘Chemia’, to what sounds like Berntholer or a Tuxedomoon instrumental in the chamber-like arabesque ‘Fragments of a Smile’, her etheric B-side dirge ‘Grey Eyes Is Glass’, and the mulky ambience of ‘Lament’, which all come from the mid ‘90s, and thru to with more quizzical and esoteric developments with the possessed scenes of 2008’s ‘Memory of a Dream’ and the folksy, proto-Larping regression of ‘Golden Fond Memories’. Were it not for Stroom these songs and this vibe may have remained neglected, overlooked by the history books but, now presented in this context in 2020, the Dark Arts endure due to quality of their spell casting.