Ben Greenberg wears many hats in NYC industrial-punk outfit Uniform: "guitar, drum programming, also synths and general production — tracking, mixing, etc. — mumbling," he describes his duties. All his efforts go to making the band the "incredibly loud" and "cathartic" project he and co-founding vocalist Michael Berdan envisioned from the get-go.
For our continuing "Songs for Black Days" series, presented in partnership with Hope for the Day, we asked Greenberg to share some of the music that has helped him through dark times. Below is what he offered up.
This is my No. 1 record for crying alone on a plane. I cry on planes all the time. No idea why. The whole record is truly beautiful, it's so simple and repetitive in just the right way. The way the synths are treated makes the music float right past your expectations of what an electronic instrument is supposed to sound like, straight into your reflective consciousness. There isn't even a harmonic shift for the first 2 minutes of the track, it's just gorgeous. Also, I saw Cortini play with Nine Inch Nails a few times last week and he's rocking a Tascam cassette 4-track on stage, and if that isn't the coolest shit ever, well, then you and I have very different ideas of cool.
This song is off of Chris Bell's solo album, I Am the Cosmos, which was recorded in the Seventies after he left Big Star for the second and final time. The record didn't come out properly 'til the Nineties, but people are often familiar with the title track. This song, however, is the one that gets me the hardest. Nancy Bryan's voice naturally and perfectly illustrates Bell's very pointed and thorough description of his mental state. The choruses in particular, when she repeats the line "I must find a way out," really hit home on the specific combination of desperation and loneliness that I often feel trapped between.
This isn't exactly a sad song in the classic self-pitying sense — I mean, it's not far from that, but it's somewhat hidden under a different exterior. Kim Salmon's voice hits a very sincere point in his register when he sings, "In my heart, there's a place called swamp land, nine parts water, one part sand." That's a very important thing that people don't often talk about. Different registers of the human vocal range with naturally open up different emotional spaces. This isn't a full-on heartstring-puller like the Boys Next Door had with "Shivers." it's more of a cold and lonely, numb and resolute sort of feeling. Which honestly I find more relatable. Everybody processes negativity differently, this is a particular shade I rarely see bands touch on.
Easily among the most futuristic and dazzling string arrangements of all time, even the initial sizzling chord of this song, before the beat kicks in, has a very immediate emotional grab. And then as the song moves into the chorus, holy shit, what an incredible lift. As usual with Scott Walker's lyrics I can only guess at the meaning, but every word feels right and I'll catch myself singing along, and it makes me feel things. Also, all the layered fretless bass at the end, it's just beautiful.
This song has been part of my daily routine for about two years now. For starters, it has one of the all time best classic feels, ever. When the second verse starts and the band breaks for Marlena to sing, "Now I know, where to go," and it feels like maybe the drummer forgot for a sec they were gonna have to keep playing that amazing beat, and then — wham! — they're back in somehow weaving between the fabric of conventional rhythmic understanding. That's a real moment. My favorite line in this song is "to the left and to the right" in the B section, I always picture her illustrating that line by holding up her left arm, then her right, showing the audience the exact location of the walls that she feels closing in on her.
As soon as Eric Dolphy screams in over the turnaround of the form and blasts back into the main theme, I'm hooked. He is displaying such mastery of his instrument, such domination of the band — NOT EVEN HIS BAND, he was hired as a soloist on this session by leader George Russell — and the song, an undeniable all time classic ballad by Thelonius Monk that deserves to be shot into space and beamed back to earth én masse to put us all in our place, it's just plainly intimidating. Then he launches into a solo well over halfway thru the recording and his playing becomes magnetic, pulling the listener closely through every poetic, painterly phrase. This track will always clear my head.
Originally by a doo wop act called the Sonics (not to be confused with the still touring proto-garage band), Funkadelic pay tribute to their own beginnings as the Parliaments with this perfect re-arrangement of a perfect song. The performances are wild and full of enough loose ends to feel spontaneous and full of life, and the song is so damn solid that it can absorb just about any twist thrown its way by George Clinton or Bernie Worrell or anyone else in the band. The lyrics are a big part of the draw here, their simplicity supporting a raw emotional directness that is grandly illustrated by Clinton's vocal and driven solidly home by the post-chorus instrumental refrain.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of resources.