Last month, XL Recordings hosted a special advance listening session for Thom Yorke‘s Suspiria soundtrack in Los Angeles. These sort of listening parties are fairly common for anticipated records, where a bunch of industry professionals turn out for free drinks and light networking, sometimes giving the record their undivided attention and others just allowing it to be background ambience. Once in a while, the artist even shows up to take questions or just witness these early reactions.
But the Suspiria event took things to the next level. For one, it was held at the Sowden House in Los Feliz, an ornate residence that looks like a Mayan inspired recreation of a shark attack. It’s rumored to be the site of the Black Dahlia murder and is a frequent shooting location for movies and music videos. All attendees were required to lock up their phones and after hitting the bar for complimentary wine and CBD strips, the task was to quietly sit in the home’s courtyard and take in the work that Yorke has created.
As an event, it wasn’t the ideal method for listening to an ambient, at times horrific, and quite long album. No phones meant no clocks, so the record’s runtime could not be tracked, and with 25 songs, even counting off starts and stops proved futile. In the end, it raised questions into the nature of horror, and whether there was anything as anxiet- causing as feeling lost in time, not knowing how many minutes had passed and when (or if) something was going to end.
The occasional blood-curdling scream (like on “Synthesizer Speaks”) that comes from the album might as well have been the internal monologue of the dozens of people in attendance. For every moment that sounded like a possessed power drill floating through space (“Open Again”) or demonic glitchy whirring (“A Light Green”), the audience’s discomfort could be seen in shared glances or heard in the occasional nervous laughter. Suspiria the album is simply not a record meant to be consumed as a group activity, at least not without the film providing the accompanying imagery to put the album’s more experimental moments into context.