In 2013, pioneering producer Patrick Cowley's pornographic cues were assembled and released under the name School Daze, and met with warm praise. But his work is not a curio or an outlier. Cowley, like a good deal of other pioneers in disco and house music, was in a symbiotic relationship with the broader LGBT community. These genres are arguably inseparable from the queerness that lifted them into the mainstream.
Legendary group Coil, comprised of ex-Throbbing Gristle member Sleazy and late TG mega-fan Jhon Balance, have similarly explored sexuality and sex throughout their career. The Gay Man's Guide to Safer Sex is no exception, soundtracking an informational VHS of the same name.
The music on this release was recorded early in Coil's career. As such, it may prove more conventional than some fans expect. It's stuffed with progressive house hallmarks: short female vocal samples, swathed in reverb; bright synthetic strings, arranged in jubilant chord sequences; funky, repetitive basslines — in short, a style which was since adopted by and (poorly) imitated in modern mainstream pornography. Thus, the music naturally carries an intense sexual charge. But it's truly tender and sentimental.
'Exploding Frogs' has the groovy, almost gratingly repetitious approach to jazz as Badalamenti's work on Twin Peaks — full of brushes, snares, clicking fingers; reversed instruments and speech, and dissonant saxophones — but also shares its esoteric mystery and oddball charm.
'Nasa-Arab II' is an aquatic-sounding track, disorientating and polyrhythmic. It's reimagined (or pre-imagined) by sister track 'Nasa-Arab'. Treated, indistinct vocals, hooting owls and a greatly extended runtime all serve to deepen the track's sense of mystery and soften its edges. Easier to pin down, less jittery, but still generous and propulsive. It's a little like Massive Attack's 'Risingson', with an absolutely relentless bass riff that brings the best of trip-hop to mind.
These two tracks are the album's locus. It goes on to reprise both 'Exploding Frogs' and its title track, the former resurrected as 'Omagus Garfungiloops' with added sprinkles of eccentricity. Weird, car-horn honks keep intruding on the song, leaning in and shouting over it. But it's not an unpleasant experience, and certainly refreshes and adds some surprises to the track.
'The Gay Man's Guide to Safer Sex Theme' closes this release out. Any changes from its iteration at the album's opening are minimal. But it bookends the other work here so well, and is so catchy in its own right, that it's hard to mind.
If you were in doubt, cast your doubts aside. What could be overlooked as a scoff-worthy oddity contains some of Coil's career-best work.
The Gay Man’s Guide to Safer Sex is available for purchase and streaming here.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe