• Sun 10 Jul – Oren Ambarchi, crys cole

    12 Jul 2011, 2:45

  • Bubblegum Cage III: June 2010

    2 Jul 2010, 21:28

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3 of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    Oval – Oh (Thrill Jockey) 12″
    It’s been about a decade since we last heard from Markus “Oval” Popp. During said decade, glitch – the style of abstract digital electronica Oval basically invented during the mid ’90s – has had time to go in and out of fashion a couple of times. Popp, meanwhile, has been suffering the effects of his highly analytical approach to music making – total creative deadlock.

    To clear his writer’s block, Popp has moved from a methodology focused on questioning everything to one based on simply reversing everything. The approach he takes on Oh is rather reminiscent of that Seinfeld episode where George decides to start doing the opposite of everything he would normally do. In Popp’s case, this means swapping custom-built software for cheap commercial plug-ins and abandoning samples of skipping CDs in favour of actually playing acoustic and software instruments – drums, even!

    The result is an EP that packs 15 tracks onto two sides of (white) vinyl. The four tracks on side A are relatively lengthy and by far the most musically conventional material ever released under the Oval banner. Side B features much shorter, more abstract pieces. Initially, both sides seem likely to frustrate long-time Oval fans – with the tracks being either too lightweight or too brief to be truly satisfying. However, once prejudices are suppressed and expectations put aside, this turns out to be a highly satisfying release.

    While, Popp may have reversed his approach, his sonic signature is immediately recognizable. In fact, “Hey” (MP3 removed because it had been recorded from the vinyl at the wrong speed!!!) actually opens the EP with some reassuringly familiar-sounding filtered glitches. Even as the track progresses into something far more rhythmically and melodically steady than the classic Oval material, Popp’s authorial presence is strongly but subtly asserted. It’s something about the way he gently disrupts and distresses sound to create music that is decorative and confounding in equal measure.

    The great dark secret of Popp’s career has been that, while he has always concerned himself with asking difficult questions about digital technology and musical practice, he has also consistently displayed a real talent for using digital technology to make quite straightforwardly beautiful music. Now, with what is by far the most straightforwardly beautiful music he has ever given us, Popp is asking some pretty intriguing things about what it means to have a “voice” in music and how musical technology and critical theory can either intensify or obfuscate raw talent.

    Oh seems to have gone out of print already. If you see a copy, buy it!

    ***

    Mego Goes Analogue

    In its original incarnation, the Mego label focussed on bringing Viennese digital electronica artists like Fennesz, Pita, Farmers Manual and General Magic to an unsuspecting world. As the label’s profile grew, so did it’s A&R remit and quality control started to suffer.

    The reborn Editions Mego retains the eclecticism Mego embraced towards the end of its first life but has thus far done a better job of consistently issuing worthwhile albums. The label’s recent release of two excellent LPs by American retro synth acts is testament to this fact.

    Does it Look Like I’m Here by Emeralds is that rare beast – a double LP which doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The breezier side of krautrock is a clear influence here, with Neu! and Popol Vuh being two obvious reference points. Tracks like “Double Helix” are remarkably concise and executed with such aplomb that the music’s lack of originality hardly seems like an issue.

    Still, Emeralds hardly seems like a terribly intriguing musical proposition when compared to Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never. OPN’s Returnal confounds expectations by beginning with a blast of sliced-up noise worthy of a first-generation Mego act like Rehberg & Bauer. Much of the rest of Returnal falls back on Lopatin’s usual mix of evocative arpeggios and drones but it still manages to reaffirm that Oneohtrix is about way more than mere retro pastiche. The processed vocal on the title track is a particularly nice touch.

    Both of these albums are career high points for the artists concerned. The vinyl is likely to go out of print very quickly, so act fast.

    ***

    A Conversation with Woebot

    The mighty Woebot has a new CD out. It’s called Moanad and it’s his most accomplished and satisfying set of sample collages yet – providing nourishing, bite-sized morsels of re-imagined rock history.

    The appeal of Moanad is that it’s almost entirely based on samples of other people’s music but the samples seem to have been picked for their aesthetic qualities, rather than to make a “subversive” point about copyright law.

    You should totally buy a copy!

    Last month, a representative of this here blog was lucky enough to spend a little time at Woebot’s East London home studio, where the great man was very forthcoming about his musical methods and intentions. Below is a selection of what he had to say:

    On the Recording Process
    “The first thing I started finding out when I started sampling was that – people wouldn’t really think about it necessarily, if they didn’t know about recording music – but the recording process itself is really, really crucial when you’re sampling stuff. I started out with a little MOTU sound card, which was supposedly very good – it’s drivers were very solid and everything – but what I found very quickly was that… the analogue conversion in the thing was really shitty. So, a lot of the really early stuff I did ­­– nobody would probably know or care but to me – I think that the recording of the sounds was not good, so I spent a lot of time researching analogue-to-digital conversion and I ended up with [an Apogee sound card], which I use with the [Akai] MPC [sampler] in a very particular way. The MPC’s converters were actually better than those in the MOTU, so the stuff that I’d sampled directly into the MPC sounded better. But now what I do is sample via the new sound card and bring it into the MPC as a digital signal – I don’t touch the MPC’s converters. So, the whole recording process is really detailed. And once I finish a track, I’ll try six or seven different ways of recording it to the computer. Sometimes it’ll sound better coming out of the MPC, sometimes I’ll multi-track it from the MPC… So recording becomes a big issue with sampling, I find.”

    On Using Lots of Samples
    “What I tend to do is, I will probably build up about four pages of MPC sound-banks, so I’ll have sometimes 200 things in there. And then I’ll sometimes use half of that, a third of that or less in the finished track. But I’ll have a lot of stuff in there. For instance, on the new one, there’s a track called ‘Overdrive’ that’s only 40 seconds long… I pulled apart [name of classic rock chestnut deleted] – just the drum part – and I think I used about probably 50 samples out of it. So, for about 40 seconds, that was about 50 samples, all from the same place.”

    On Integrity & Identity
    “I don’t know if I could properly articulate why it is that I do sample but I think it’s probably… a bit more to do with a degree of not being conscious and a bit more to do with it being a practice that’s there… I’ve grown up as a record collector and somehow it seems like the first reflex is just to regurgitate what one’s been exposed too. So, maybe it’s less philosophically motivated, except that what I have tried to do, certainly with this record, is to unapologetically burrow through to who I am…. One of the things I’m big on is integrity and people having integrity and being who they are. I mean, I’m a middle class/upper-middle class, white indie geek. I’ve gone through the whole electronic music thing but that is who I am. I’m not, y’know, a Rastafarian, although I love that – I love those people and the music they make… I’m not German… Y’know, I have a lot of respect for those people, as I would hope they would have for me but I can’t pretend to be something that I’m not. So certainly, with this record, the sounds that I’ve used, the samples that I’ve used, have all been about personal identity. And obviously that could be construed as being totally selfish, apart from the fact that there are other people out there like me.“

    On Composition Versus Repetition
    “One of the pieces of feedback I got on the second record – and it’s something I really took to heart – it came from John Leidecker, the Wobbly guy. He played some of the tracks to Blevin and Kevin of Blectum from Blechdom because I had a track named in honour of them. And they really liked that, which was really nice. But one of the things John said was that he liked the tracks where I kept the bars much shorter. And in fact, there were four tracks on the album I built for playing out live so, obviously, I had to actually make the bars a bit longer because I couldn’t realistically trigger two-bar loops in a live setting and I had to stretch it out to eight bars. Whereas, with this record, I kept everything down to one bar or two bars at most and – as a result – it moves much quicker. Generally, it’s much more brevity and that goes hand-in-hand with there being much more composition, thinking, putting things together more artfully and seeing how things go. You can’t just run something for four bars, do A-B-A-B and then you’re out. You have to use more samples, stitch things together and compose more. If you just did A-B-A-B on two bars, you’d be done in no time… I do like lots of house and techno and things like Actress and Oneohtrix Point Never but I listen to it now and I think: ‘there’s a lot of redundancy there, that’s a lot of repetition. That track could be out of there in like 30 seconds’. Do you know what I mean? So, when I’ve got to two minutes on my new thing, it goes this way and that and I’m trying to keep a thematic thing going. I don’t want people to lose interest. Obviously, the thing about repetition is that it’s a nice thing to listen too sometimes but I’ve kind of gone the other way… If you’re like me and you [rely] on the quality of the samples [you use], then you’re forced into a position whereby you have to keep things moving – otherwise you’re just like [sings repetitive riff]. And I think I would have been much more tolerant of that in the past.”

    On Keeping It Rock’n’Roll
    “I think that, to temper that, I feel negatively that it’s kind of an old thing to be less patient with repetition because I do like a lot of repetitive music… It feels very proggy in a way, to be against repetition… I like the visceral thing about repetition. There’s the physical dimension of music, certainly when it’s played really loud, that kind of messes with that whole thing. My big thing this year has been rock’n’roll – as in really 1956 stuff – and that whole visceral dimension of music. What I personally feel I need to be careful of is keeping that backbeat, that pulse behind it… John Leidecker says his friends say his music isn’t repetitive enough. So, I think it’s a knife-edge but it’s certainly something that one has to be aware of… It’s almost just having that energy, that kind of vicious energy that’s almost threatening… Not necessarily that threatening but maybe destabilising. That’s why I shy from the prog thing a bit because I think that people who come to making music from a critical background, what they tend to make is not visceral… It can be tepid and it can be mousey.”

    On the Legal Aspects of Sampling
    “I had a real meltdown because I used a [name of extremely famous pop/soul star deleted] sample on the last record and I thought: ‘I’m going to be in such trouble for this’. I had to play some stuff live on the radio and I thought: ‘I’ve got to get it out of there’, so I just pulled the track apart and the whole thing just did not work without it. So, I just used it. I thought: ‘fuck it!’ I’m a limited company. I set it up because I was anxious. And I went to see a music lawyer. I researched it a lot and found that people like Madlib never bothered with it, although I think he subsequently came reasonably unstuck. He got into trouble. But the limit is something like 20 or 30,000 copies and below that, it’s not worth being prosecuted.”

    On Sampling Obscure Artists
    “One of the charms of using things that are very obscure [is that] you don’t know what it is, it’s just beautiful… I think it’s interesting because things that are not obscure, immediately the emotions that people get from them are much more trammelled.”

    On Being an Obscure Artist
    “One of my big things at the moment is accepting that what I’m doing has a limited appeal and not giving a shit about it but also having the integrity to not bother people about my music. This time around, there’s a load of people who I’ve elected to just not involve in the promotional process because I don’t want the stress of bothering them – people I respect – for their opinions. So, I’ve kind of gone off the radar even more. But, y’know, that’s just it. I’d like it to have its own momentum. It’s early days for this record and I’ve got a couple of pieces of good press. But I feel that I’ve got to be really hard on myself. Looking at my record collection, that’s right beside us, there are records here that mean just huge amounts to me and they can’t have sold very much. It’s just like being part of that edifice is enough. That’s what I’d like to think. I think that’s the way it is.”

    ***

    Simple Time-Stretching Instrument for Max/MSP
    Often, when a person starts programming in Max/MSP, the first thing he or she wants to do is build an instrument for “time-stretching” samples – increasing the duration of the sample, without altering its pitch. Many new Max users are perplexed to find that there is no native object in MSP that allows one to independently modify the pitch and duration of samples.

    Probably the quickest way to remedy this is to grab Nathan Wolek’s Granular Toolkit – a set of external objects designed to enable various types of granular synthesis. The Toolkit includes an object called gran.groove.file~, which is essentially MSP’s standard sample looper, groove~, with independent pitch/duration augmentation built in.

    This object has found its way onto quite a few connect_icut tracks but it’s never sounded quite right – a little tinny and washed out. Luckily, the Toolkit includes another object, called gran.cloud.live~, which can be used in conjunction with groove~ for a rather punchier-sounding form of granular pitch/duration augmentation. The Max/MSP patch pictured above uses this technique. It was originally built as a simple stand-alone instrument and has since been integrated into the the main connect_icut Max/MSP set-up.

    The way it works is incredibly straightforward. The signal from a groove~ object is fed through the gran.cloud.live~ object and the controls are set up so that when the duration of the groove~ is changed, the gran.cloud.live~ does a little compensation and the pitch remains constant. Essentially, gran.cloud.live~ does this by busting the live signal up into a bunch of micro-loops (or “grains”), the pitch/duration of which can be adjusted independently.

    The MP3 below is a demo of how the instrument sounds. It uses a sample familiar from connect_icut’s “Sea Bells on Sunday” and runs it through a bunch of presets with different durations, pitch-shifts and sizes of grain. You may notice that the particularly nice (or annoying, depending on how you look at it) thing about using the gran.cloud.live~ object is that it has a just-glitchy-enough sound and adds some nutty stereo panning.

    connect_icut – “Time-Stretching Demo”
    http://bubblegumcage3.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/01-time-stretching-demo.mp3

    ***

    A Broken Consort – Crow Autumn (Tompkins Square) LP
    There must be some logic to the way Richard Skelton assigns artist names to his various releases but can your ears tell the difference between A Broken Consort, Clouwbeck, Carousell and the work Skelton releases under his own name? All of this stuff basically sounds like the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt‘s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor.

    So, Crow Autumn is pretty much business as usual. Hell, doesn’t the title alone tell you everything you need to know about the Richard Skelton sound? On tracks like “Mountains Ash” and “The River”, all of the familiar elements are in place: sawing string instruments modulating between a couple of notes, terse high-end piano chords, rolling cymbals…

    But here’s the thing: it works – it always works. You see, with Skelton, the sameness, the blinkered monomania… that’s the whole point. His is a world of autumnal melancholy, where crows caw and the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor really is attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor – and will be until the end of time. Few artist’s revival him for sheer aesthetic commitment. He’s the Ramones of experimental music.

    How many Richard Skelton albums do you really need? Dunno but you need this one because it’s fucking great. Go buy it from Forced Exposure.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: April 2010

    26 Abr 2010, 3:53

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3 of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    The Miracles Club

    The Miracles Club is a new project helmed by Portland’s Honey Owens, who you may know as Valet or from her work with Nudge and Jackie-O Motherfucker. The concept behind this particular project seems to be a lo-fi take on the early house music of artists like Mr. Fingers.

    This may be another example of the US avant rock underground desperately trying to explore every nook and cranny of ’80s music or it could represent a more intriguing trend towards noise-oriented artists becoming enamoured with the early history of electronic dance music – also suggested by Carlos Giffoni’s No Fun Acid project (as Philip Sherburne has previously noted) and Josh “Magneticring” Stevenson’s recent excavation of an acid house track he made on his Commodore Amiga, back in the day.

    In any case, tracks like “Light of Love” and “A New Love” are pure win, with Owens’ deliciously cracked voice floating atop blissful synth-piano vamps and pattering four-to-the-floor beats. This is improbably brilliant stuff and you are strongly encouraged to seek out the Light of Love EP, which is available now through iTunes and which might possibly be appearing on 12″ in the near future.

    ***

    Classic-Era Fall Compilations

    There’s not necessarily that much critical consensus about what precisely are The Fall’s best albums. Hardcore Fall fanatics will endlessly debate which are the most worthy LPs from every era of the band’s over-30 year existence, with some even willing to claim that unmitigated disasters like Are You Are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC rank among the best!

    Nevertheless, there does seem to be some broad agreement among people who are music nerds, generally and not just Fall fans, specifically. What consensus there is identifies 1980 to ’83 as the band’s true glory years, with Hex Enduction Hour as the period’s zenith. This belief may have a good deal to do with music geeks’ ongoing reverence for all things post-punk but it would be hard to argue that the music Mark E. Smith and co produced during this period was anything less than stellar.

    It may come as a surprise to many of you, then, that recent scientific studies have conclusively proved that The Fall’s most artistically successful period came directly after the post-punk years: between 1984 and ’86, to be precise. The studies have also strongly suggested the fact that many “generalist” music nerds dismiss anything The Fall did after ’83 is largely due to: (a) ingrained misogyny, leading to distrust of Brix Smith, Mark E.’s blonde Californian (now ex-) wife, who was a driving creative force in the band during the ’84-’86 period; and (b) immovable elitism, leading to distrust of anything that is “properly” recorded and which, therefore, has some potential for adoption by a relatively mainstream audience (for the same reason, many nerds foolishly dismiss Live at the Witch Trials, viewing Dragnet as the band’s true debut).

    Again, it’s worth pointing out that the damn-near-perfection of those classic (mostly) John Leckie-produced records created during the early part of Smith’s relationship with Beggar’s Banquet should not detract from the vivid brilliance of The Fall’s ’80-’83 incarnation. On the whole, the wisest move would be to define The Fall’s true classic era as lasting from ’80 to ’86 – even though this era encompasses two distinct periods of the band’s work.

    How to begin exploring this seven-year run of unparalleled avant rock genius? Surely not through a jumble of oddly-compiled retrospective LPs, released on a seemingly random selection of labels! Well, it might not be the best way but it’s certainly not the worst. See, it’s well known that, during the ’90s, a terrifying slew of raggedy Fall compilations started to appear, compiling odds and sods from the band’s albums of that time. It’s somewhat less well-known that a similar thing happened during the early-to-mid ’80s, only with rather more satisfying results (partly because the band was working with more scrupulous labels but mainly because the music was better). Here are some of the best….

    Palace of Swords Reversed (Cog Sinister) 1987
    When the post-punk revival craze really started to kick off in the noughties, a number of compilations appeared covering The Fall’s years with Rough Trade. This earlier LP covering the same period, issued on Smith’s own Cog Sinister label, is still hard to top, though. It collects a string of astonishing A sides, such as “Totally Wired” and “The Man Whose Head Expanded”, some tracks from the Slates 10″, the band’s Best B-side Evar (“Putta Block”) and a magnificent live version of “Neighbourhood of Infinity” from Perverted by Language.

    Hip Priest & Kamerads (Situation Two) 1985
    This album seems to be an attempt by Beggars Banquet (Situation Two was a Beggars offshoot) to compile some work The Fall did for the obscure Kamera label, during a chill in relations with Rough Trade. This means tracks from the legendary Hex Enduction Hour plus classic singles like “Look, Know” and “Fantastic Life”.

    Nord-West Gas (Funf und Vierzig) 1986
    Completely produced and engineered by John Leckie, this German collection of work from The Fall’s very-early Beggars period is absolutely essential. Sure, it may be a bit weird to put the Best Album-Closer Evar (“Disney’s Dream Debased”) at track three on side one and to end side two with the Best Album Opener Evar (“Lay of the Land”) but whatever order you put these songs in, they’re fucking awe inspiring. Listen, rock music simply doesn’t get any better than “No Bulbs”.

    Domesday Payoff (Big Time) 1978
    Bend Sinister – the last Fall LP which Leckie was involved with – is quite possibly the band’s most underrated album. For some, it seems to represent a slide into commercialism – and the breezy garage rock cover “Mr. Pharmacist” might appear to be clear evidence of this. For others, though, it represents a technical failure – brought on by Smith’s insistence that Leckie have the album mastered from a cassette tape. The irony here is that Smith’s lo-fi mastering technique leant a spooky, haunted ambiance to the whole album – even its poppiest tracks.

    The point being that Bend Sinister is fucking great. Domesday Payoff, on the other hand, is a slightly curious item – seemingly a resequenced version Bend Sinister put out by a Universal Music subsidiary, for the American market. The resequencing involves some fairly obvious ideas, such as inserting catchy singles like “Hey! Luciani” and the top 40-breaking R. Dean Taylor cover “There’s a Ghost in My House”. It also includes some odd decisions, like including the extremely abstract B side “Haf Found Bormann”. But the really great thing about the Domesday Payoff track-listing is that it institutes “Gross Chapel — British Grenadiers” in its rightful place as an elegiac album closer.

    Let the spirited discussion of this here blog’s idiocy commence!

    ***

    Static Kitten & Scant Intone – “Brood” (CSAF) MP3

    The latest release in CSAF’s 10-20 2010 series of free MP3 downloads is now online. It’s called “Brood” and it’s a collaboration between Static Kitten and Vancouver-based digital electronica artist Scant Intone – aka Constantine Katsiris.

    Download it from here!
    http://csaf-records.com/10-20-2010/

    Constantine is also the fellow behind the Quiet City shows at Vancouver’s Blim gallery and – wouldn’t you just know it – there’s a Quiet City event coming up soon, which will feature a rare appearance from connect_icut.

    Here are the details we have available right now:

    Quiet City
    connect_icut
    Dr. Dad’s Sound Lab
    Holzkopf
    Kellarissa
    Blim (115 East Pender, Vancouver)
    May 14th (doors 8pm)
    Benefit for CFRO Co-op Radio
    Presented by Soundscape & Panospria

    Please note that the artists are listed in alphabetical order and that this does not represent the actual running order of the show. Oh and watch this space for the announcement of another, sooner connect_icut show.

    connect_icut – “Dream (Pop) Boy”

    Kellarissa – “Tiny Things”
  • Bubblegum Cage III: March 2010

    6 Abr 2010, 18:36

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3 of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Nitetime Rainbows (Mis Ojos Discos) 12″

    This clear vinyl EP from Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow is a pretty generous offering. The A-side features “Nitetime Rainbows” from the band’s excellent 2009 album Ashes Grammar plus three new songs. On the flip, we get three remixes of “Nitetime Rainbows”. All for a very reasonable price.

    The remixes are fine but it’s the new songs that really make this 12″ worth having. These tunes do a reasonably good job of finding a middle ground between the electronica-tinged dream-pop idyll of Ashes Grammar and the thornier territory explored on the band’s debut album, Scribble Mural Comic Journal. For instance, “So Bloody, So Tight”, though generally in the Ashes Grammar style, contains elements that hint at the acidic feedback of early Jesus & Mary Chain or – more speculatively – the stately doom of late-period Swans.

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow plays Vancouver media club on March 9th and you can buy Nitetime Rainbows from Mis Ojos Discos.

    ***

    Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (Drag City) 3LP

    Joanna Newsom is one of those artists who polarizes opinion and sparks fierce debate. This mammoth triple-album set (housed in a sodding-great pizza box of a cover) therefore seems destined to become one of most discussed records of 2010. This here blog is not generally in the habit of entering into such discussions but just so happens to have a bit of a “thing” for Ms. Newsom and her delightfully harp-tastic song stylings.

    These particular stylings are generally similar to those on her previous opus, Ys but with rather more restrained arrangements, where conventional rock instrumentation is allowed greater prominence than on previous releases. Indeed, despite its length, Have One on Me is surely Newsom’s most approachable album to date – particularly as her signature love-it-or-hate-it squawk has been softened to a conciliatory purr.

    Joni Mitchell comparisons have been bandied about and Never for Ever-era Kate Bush would be another apt comparison. But you should all know by now that Joanna Newsom is in a world of her own. What is more, you should be well aware that her world is a wonderful place to be. In this climate of austerity, Have One on Me really does feel like a much-needed outpouring of generosity. Heck, if your heart isn’t melted by the likes of “‘81″ and “Kingfisher”… erm… we’ll just have to agree to disagree, won’t we?

    This could be the album that turns Joanna Newsom into a bona fide superstar. As such, it should be pretty damn easy for you to find a copy at your local record store. Otherwise, you could go straight to the source and buy it from Drag City.

    ***

    The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter (Domino) LP

    With his appearance on the latest Gorillaz multimedia circus of an album, Mark E Smith finally became a caricature of himself, in the most literal sense possible. The British media continues to laud his brilliance and celebrate his increasingly erratic antics but old MES simply isn’t the razor-sharp visionary he used to be. And in recent years, the music he’s released under the banner of The Fall has become distinctly patchy.

    Having said all that, 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent was the most consistently inventive Fall album in ages – a tightly produced exploration of the same ground covered by that recognized late-period classic The Unutterable. The 2009 single “Slippy Floor” suggested that Smith had decided to take the Fall group (such as it is) in a more ramshackle direction.

    However, any suspicion that Your Future Our Clutter might be a half-assed mess along the lines of Reformation Post T.L.C. or Are You Are Missing Winner is immediately dispelled by “O.F.Y.C. Showcase” , which actually recalls the noisy epic “No Bulbs” from the group’s mid-’80s heyday. This seems to set the template for Your Future… – longish, raucous minimalist rock jams, excellently produced. The “Slippy Floor” 7″ tracks even make a comeback, in a somewhat fleshed-out form.

    On songs like the funky “Mexico Wax Solvent” , Smith actually sounds remarkably lucid. Better still, he’s backed by musicianship and production that is hard-hitting and imaginative in equal measure. Fall fans can breathe a sigh of relief – Your Future Our Clutter is a triumph. It will be released by Domino on April 26th.

    ***

    Klimek – Movies is Magic (Anticipate) CD

    Klimek is Sebastian Meissner. You may know Meissner from Klimek’s excellent contributions to Kompakt’s Pop Ambient compilation series. Otherwise, long-time digital electronica fans may remember his work as Autopoieses, Bizz Circuits, and Random Inc.

    Like Ekkehard Ehlers (his partner in the Autopoieses duo), Meissner seems to be very interested in creating music which takes a high-concept approach to sampling, without sacrificing the harmonic and textural beauty of the original sampled materials.

    As you might expect, Movies is Magic is based around distinctly cinematic sounding samples, presumably lifted directly from film soundtracks. Instead of simply letting these samples loop, as Ehlers might, Meissner subtly disrupts and destabilizes them in a manner that recalls the best work of Vladislav Delay.

    The results, on tracks like “Exploding Unbearable Desires” and “Greed, Mutation, Betrayal”, are moody and darkly entrancing. Like Black to Comm’s Alphabet 1968, Fenn O’Berg’s In Stereo and Loscil’s Endless Falls, this album manages to create a balance between brooding menace and vivid detail.

    It’s a thoroughly compelling, intelligent and beautiful piece of work that deserves to be heard as widely as possible. Maybe, just maybe, if enough of you buy the CD from Boomkat, Anticipate will do the right thing and release Movies is Magic on vinyl.

    ***

    CRES Media Arts Committee Audio Art CD Series

    This highly recommended series of publicly-funded sound art CDs is a joint initiative of the Community Radio Education Society (CRES) and Vancouver’s Co-Op Radio 102.7FM (home of the essential Art of Beatz show).

    The series is very heavy on Vancouver and ex-Vancouver-based electronica types. On Volume Five alone, you get Souns, Jesse Scott, granny’ark and Tanya Pea (granny’ark’s “Sauna” steals the show).

    Volume Four, meanwhile, is worth having just for “The Spike & the Infirmary” – an epic collaboration between harsh noise miscreant flatgrey and acclaimed singer-songwriter Ora Cogan.

    Goodness knows how you can get your hands on the actual CDs but you can download selected tracks from the CRES Media Arts Committee website. Presumably, if you contact them, they’ll tell you how to get hard copies.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: February 2010

    2 Mar 2010, 7:18

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3 of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    Gang Starr – Hard to Earn (Chrysalis) 2LP

    Gang Starr’s fourth album, Hard to Earn was released in 1993. While Daily Operation, the album that preceded it, is generally considered to be Guru and DJ Premier’s master-work, Hard to Earn is surely the duo’s most ambitious set.

    Guru is not exactly what you might call a “whack emcee” but – as he basically admits on one of Hard to Earn’s lesser cuts – his appeal is “Mostly tha Voice”. That richly textured monotone delivery is certainly appealing enough but his writing has always been fairly pedestrian. The fact is, you don’t really listen to Gang Starr for the lyrics.

    What you do really listen to Gang Starr for is Premier’s production. And Hard to Earn sees the man at the peak of his powers – a level of prowess he managed to maintain into ‘94, when he co-produced Jeru the Damaja’s classic The Sun Rises in the East.

    It’s easy to see why people like Daily Operation so much. That album represents a quantum leap in the sophistication of Primo’s beat science – ditching straight soul and funk loops in favour of micro-edited snippets of moody modern jazz and soundtrack recordings. (This development was somewhat akin to My Bloody Valentine’s transition from Ecstasy & Wine to You Made Me Realise). But it was on Hard to Earn that he took this sound to its logical extreme. Here, the drum tracks are militarily clipped and and terse and the sample loops are boiled down to hermetic cells of sound.

    The type of “true school” ’90s hip-hop that Hard to Earn seemingly epitomizes is often derided by critics for being too self-consciously “musical”. But tracks like “Tons’o'Guns” and “Brainstorm” pretty much jettison harmony and melody in favour of dizzying barrages of abstract sound. Essentially, what Primo does on Hard to Earn is take The Bomb Squad’s rhythm-and-noise approach and shoot it full of holes – creating plenty of dub space in which the whirring, whining noises can breath (DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill was doing something similar around the same time).

    It should be noted however, that this album certainly does not skimp on the funk. “Code of the Streets” lays an irresistible up-tempo beat under lush descending strings, while “Blowin’ Up the Spot” reanimates a truly fabulous Clavinet-fuelled groove to righteous effect.

    Hard to Earn is over-long – it starts to tail off about three-quarters of the way through – but the bulk of the album is truly astonishing and quite removed from anything Gang Starr has done before or since. Daily Operation may be the fan favourite but Hard to Earn is a record everyone needs to pay respect to.

    ***

    Top Ten Albums of All Time

    Well honestly, where do you go after compiling your top ten albums of 2009 and your top ten albums of the Noughties? Once again, the usual disclaimers and lame excuses apply. One additional thought: Maybe this list should be refreshed yearly. Might be interesting to see how it mutated year after year.

    Sorry if the descriptions below are a little defensive – they all seem to say “everyone reckons this album is crap but it’s actually a classic because…” Bubblegum Cage III hereby acknowledges that you know most of these albums are generally considered to be fairly obvious classics.

    1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
    Indeed, this is a staggeringly obvious choice for number one but what are you going to do? The fact that My Bloody Valentine’s peerless masterpiece is one of the most imitated albums of all time only goes to show how utterly inimitable it remains. As physical as it is ethereal, Loveless is, in fact, anything but obvious.
    My Bloody Valentine – “Loomer”

    2. The Fall – The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall
    As a consequence of the now-tiresome post-punk revival, a critical consensus has developed that puts The Fall’s best before date at 1984. But from ‘84 to ‘86 the band developed a truly singular sound that could never be generically pigeon-holed. Wonderful & Frightening represents the pinnacle of this period.
    The Fall – “Lay of the Land”

    3. Scott Walker – Tilt
    The Drift my be a fuller realisation of Scott Walker’s late-period avant garde song style but Tilt is ultimately a richer, more rewarding listen. Maybe this is precisely because it displays more willingness to meet the listener halfway, providing at least a modicum of conventionally musical reference points.
    Scott Walker – “Farmer in the City”

    4. Fennesz – Endless Summer
    Fennesz’s master-work is the only LP to make into both the Noughties list and this one. Like a lot of albums on this list, Endless Summer represents an artist’s most individual statement. Though it owes debts to everyone from The Beach Boys to Oval, Endless Summer sounds like nothing else on earth.
    Fennesz – “Caecilia”

    5. Arthur Russell – World of Echo
    Talking of singular artistic statements… Arthur Russell spent most of his career playing with genres ranging from modern classical to disco via folk and pop. This collection of heavily processed voice-and-cello songs shows us Arthur’s true vision – the sound of a dreamer lost in his own World of Echo.
    Arthur Russell – “Place I Know/Kid Like You”

    6. Disco Inferno – DI Go Pop
    The legendary Five EPs contain Disco Inferno’s best work but seeing as those singles have never been officially collected, DI Go Pop will have to do. Certainly, this album represents the band’s most original statement – few traces of traditional instruments are audible above the barrage of sampled sound.
    Disco Inferno – “New Clothes for the New World”

    7. Oval – 94 Diskont
    Oval’s Systemich introduced the digital glitch into the lexicon of recorded music and proposed a challenging new form of experimental electronica that was neither ambient, noise nor electro-acoustic composition. It was the follow-up, 94 Diskont, that harnessed this new form in the service of timeless beauty.
    Oval – “Do While (✂)”

    8. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
    It’s not easy to pick a favourite Wu-affiliated album – Tical has the best production, Only Built for Cuban Linx has the best rhyming, Iron Man has… well… Ghostface! Still, Enter the Wu-Tang conveys a palpable sense of artists discovering their powers – something that only a debut album can capture.
    Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Part 2″

    9. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
    Kate’s career has been – pardon the pun – dogged by the slick manoeuvres of slimy session musicians. To a great extent though, Hounds of Love is the sound of a genius at home with her Linn Drum and her Fairlight. It’s all Kate, in other words and Kate is a true visionary, best left unencumbered by fussy technique.
    Kate Bush – “Cloudbusting”

    10. Sonic Youth – Sister
    Mark K-Punk’s infamous evisceration of Sonic Youth seemed to suggest that Thurston and co’s innovations were purely technical and that their music had no ontological resonance. Has he actually listened to Sister? Here, the guitar is re-invented in the service of sheer nerve-racking, life-affirming panic.
    Sonic Youth – “Tuff Gnarl”

    Honourable Mentions
    Antipop Consortium – Arrhythmia
    Basic Channel – BCD2
    Bark Psychosis – Hex
    Tim Buckley – Starsailor
    Can – Tago Mago
    Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief
    Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
    Scritti Politti – Songs to Remember
    Tujiko Noriko – Make Me Hard
    Neil Young – Zuma (Controversial!)

    ***

    Von Bingen – Von Bingen (Amen Absen) LP

    The debut album from Vancouver quartet Von Bingen seems to have snuck below all but the hippest of radar. This is probably down to Amen Absen’s apparent decree that the LP should only be made available through the coolest of mail-order dealers. Take that record stores!

    It’s a shame that the label seems so determined to prevent this album from being sullied by the record-buying public’s grubby fingerprints because it really does have something very worthwhile to offer – something a lot of underground rock bands could learn a great deal from.

    Von Bingen features three members of analogue synth orchestra BCVCO (including Joshua Stevenson aka Magneticring). Like BCVCO, Von Bingen relies heavily on the type of vintage keyboards favoured by that ever-growing army of increasingly indistinguishable avant rock drone-makers.

    But “Eyeglasses of Kentucky”, this album’s opening track, makes it very clear that Von Bingen is more than just another gaggle of stoned knob-twiddlers. In fact, Von Bingen is a refreshingly strident and rhythmically solid album, from start to finish.

    Here, where you might expect enervation and stasis, you get attitude and motivation. Not that this isn’t a cosmic space-rock voyage of downright German proportions, it’s just that it has enough punk rock attitude on board to make the journey satisfyingly dangerous.

    If you’re cool enough, they might let you buy a copy from Mimaroglu Music Sales.

    ***

    Deadstock – Deadstock (Internal) LP

    Deadstock was a mid ’90s UK post-rock/electronica combo featuring Ian Hicks aka Baron Mordant of arch hauntologists Mordant Music. Those of you who enjoyed Mordant’s excellent 2009 album SyMptoMs would be well advised to dig up a copy of Deadstock’s one and only LP, from 1996.

    Essentially, SyMptoMs expands upon “Fallen Faces” from Mordant’s previous, mostly instrumental album, Dead Air. Like “Fallen Faces”, SyMptoMs prominently features Ian Hicks singing scabrous couplets of Internet-age ennui and anomie. Much of Deadstock prefigures these developments.

    The album is divided between instrumental and vocal tracks. Deadstock’s instrumentals haven’t stood the test of time terribly well, bearing many dated hallmarks of the “intelligent techno” featured on those early-’90s Trance Europe Express compilations.

    The tracks with vocals are another matter altogether. Songs like “Monophonic Man” and “Nobody” are strongly redolent of Bark Psychosis’s electronically-enhanced swan song, “Blue”. These are infectious urban nocturnes, which powerfully evoke the mood of their time, not just its lesser musical trends.

    Deadstock is worth picking up just for highlights such as these. Luckily enough, you should be able to get a cheap copy of the LP via Discogs Marketplace, without too much trouble.

    ***

    Oneohtrix Point Never – Zones Without People (Arbor) LP

    Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never is another in the long line of vintage synthesizer-wielding cosmic voyagers to have launched skyward from the US avant rock underground in the last few years. The difference is, where most of these acts concentrate on reviving the sound of 1970s space rock, Lopatin focusses on synth music from the early 1980s.

    Crucially, his music evokes that moment when digital technology started to enter the mix, brining a more clinical, alienated sound to synth-based music. It’s significant that the current homepage of Oneohtrix Point Never’s website features a prominent image of Roland’s 1982 digital/analogue hybrid synth, the Juno 60. Meanwhile, albums like Zones Without People immediately bring to mind the kind of slick soundtrack music Tangerine Dream were churning out during the ’80s.

    Another crucial factor that marks Oneohtrix Point Never music out from the crowd is the fact that it is not fundamentally reliant on extended drones. Instead, Lopatin lets his arpeggiators do most of the work, painting airbrushed landscapes from precise, pointillistic little medlodies. Yes, drones are used – but sparingly, to provide impressionistic strokes of colour.

    The most important difference between Lopatin and his peers, though – the thing that makes his work truly worth hearing – is that he is not really interested in mere pastiche. The arpeggios may seem to stretch off into infinity but their continued existence is often called into question by the looming promise of chaos. Essentially, this is new age music with noise attitude – an approach that will be familiar to those of you who remember Coil’s “Red Birds Will Fly Out of the East & Destroy Paris in a Night”.

    Zones Without People is part of the suitably conceptual Rifts trilogy – a sci-fi-themed epic that was recently compiled as a double CD on the No Fun label. The three original vinyl LPs seem to be out of print but Mark over at Expressway managed to hook this here blog up with a reasonably-priced copy of Zones, thus enabling all manner of inadvertent astral travelling. Heck the gorgeous “Zones Without People” itself would have been worth the price of admission alone.

    Seriously, Lopatin is to be applauded, not only for rescuing a whole era of experimental rock/electronic music from critical neglect but for doing so with real imagination, where others would fall back on irony.

    ***

    Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo (Editions Mego) 2LP

    In Stereo is the long-awaited third album from the trio of Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke and Peter “Pita” Rehberg. Like The Magic Sound of Fenn O’Berg (1999) and The Return of Fenn O’Berg (2002), this is an uncompromising work of hardcore digital electronica. However, whereas the trio’s first two albums compiled edited versions of live improvisations, In Stereo was created 100% studio-side.

    This fact may suggest that the new album takes a more premeditated approach than its predecessors did but any hints of compositional rigour will not be immediately apparent to the casual listener. Initially, In Stereo sounds like just the kind of three-way laptop cluster-fuck you might expect – high on harsh, glitch-ridden textures and chaotic granular synthesis manoeuvres.

    However, after repeated listens, you’ll find the album revealing a genuinely epic sense of drama. The mood throughout is darkly cinematic – murky soundscapes are shot-through with intense digital clarity. Fans of Black to Comm’s superb Alphabet 1968 are bound to find something to enjoy here.

    Even at its most patently bonkers, In Stereo never descends into aimless fidgeting. Take “VI”, for instance (the tracks are named with Roman numerals but presented out of sequence). It begins as a barrage of sliced-up digital detritus, which purposefully gives way to a passage of tense contemplation. The results are absolutely phenomenal – attentive listeners may find themselves compelled to stand up and applaud.

    In Stereo marks a great start to 2010 for Pita’s Editions Mego label. The vinyl seems to gone out of print before the arrival of its March 5th release date but you should be able to order a copy if you shop around. There will also be a slightly abridged CD version, which you can still pre-order from Mego.

    ***

    Loscil – Endless Falls (Kranky) 2LP

    The Work of Vancouver’s Loscil – aka sometime Destroyer drummer Scott Morgan – is all about incremental development. This applies at the micro level and the macro level. Each individual track pivots around Morgan gradually introducing a series of slow, dreamy loops – mainly chord washes, sub-bass detonations, and percussive clicks…

    Morgan’s career as Loscil, meanwhile, has seen him building a cult fan-base across the span of a decade. If you’ve followed the series of albums he’s released on Kranky during this time, you might be forgiven for thinking they all sound pretty much the same. But compare the murky dub-techno of Triple Point to the twinkling bliss-out of Plume and you’ll see that a real musical progression has occurred somewhere along the line.

    Endless Falls is the latest Loscil album and the first to be released on vinyl. It takes up where the last two albums (First Narrows and the aforementioned Plume) left off – displaying an increased emphasis on juxtaposing Morgan’s processed loops with live instruments.

    The subtle difference here, on tracks like “Lake Orchard”, is an almost neoclassical feel, reminiscent of Max Richter’s work. This similarity is reinforced by an overall melancholy feel and a spoken-word appearance by Destroyer’s Dan Bejar (on “The Making of Grief Point”).

    Endless Fall’s immediately feels like the most ambitious Loscil album to date and it might just be the best. You can – and should – buy it once it gets released on March 1st.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: January 2010

    4 Feb 2010, 17:47

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3 of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***


    Top Ten Albums 2000-2009

    Like the recent best of 2009 list, this top ten does not claim to be definitive. It’s not just that the whole thing is highly subjective, it’s mainly that this list has been compiled by someone with a really, really terrible memory. Doubtless, something utterly indispensable has been wantonly omitted.

    Once again, the desire to spuriously identify broad, overarching trends has been resisted, for the most part. But one trend does assert itself rather forcefully: As many bloggers and crtitics have already noted, it seems clear that the first half of the decade produced much better music than the second.

    Let’s get this over and done with then, shall we? Taking it from the top…

    1. Fennesz – Endless Summer (2001)
    Most of the very few truly new opportunities presented to musical artists in the noughties stemmed from the astonishing things that could suddenly be done with real-time digital signal processing. No album took advantage of these opportunities with more emotively musical aplomb than Endless Summer.

    Fennesz – “Caecilia”

    2. Antipop Consortium – Arrhythmia (2002)
    It’s not a fashionable opinion but one could easily argue that indie rap produced a great deal of the decade’s most original music. Arrhythmia is the sound of a sub-genre at its delirious creative peak. Every single second of every single track is still breathtakingly exciting. Fashion be damned.

    Antipop Consortium – “Human Shield”

    3. Burial – Untrue (2007)
    Nobody captured the decade’s anhedonic zeitgeist better than Burial. Untrue recycles elements of ’90s underground dance music and contemporary R&B into an immediately recognizable signature sound. Mournful, delicious and still definitively contemporary.

    Burial – “Etched Headplate”

    4. Tujiko Noriko – Make Me Hard (2003)
    Noriko was simultaneously one of the decade’s best digital electronica artists and one of its most intriguing songwriters. Her song’s aren’t particularly memorable though – they’re all texture and flux, drifting by like clouds. Make Me Hard is the most ambitious and well-realised of her many albums.

    Tujiko Noriko – “Penguin”

    5. Scott Walker – The Drift (2006)
    With The Drift, Scott Walker finally managed to boil his music down to its core essence. The result was a stark, nightmarish collection of fractured narratives, with Scott intoning cryptic fragments of song over monumental, unforgiving blocks of sound. Totally compelling.

    Scott Walker – “Cossacks Are”

    6. Sonic Youth – Murray Street (2002)
    Those of you who believe Sonic Youth haven’t produced anything worthwhile since Daydream Nation need to hear Murray Street and eat your words. Honestly, this album is something of a perfect storm – an ecstatic culmination of years of research into the power of rock noise.

    Sonic Youth – “Karen Revisited”

    7. Joanna Newsom – Ys (2006)
    With the long, wordy songs all sung in Newsom’s impossibly kooky squeak and garnished with Van Dyke Parks‘ garish, relentlessly melodic string arrangements, Ys should be awful. But the sheer quality of this material and the conviction of its delivery win out. The results are utterly affecting.

    Joanna Newsom – “Monkey & Bear”

    8. Alva Noto – Prototypes (2000)
    For some of us, the early noughties were all about the glitch – the disruption of precise digital sound into something gritty and abstract. On Prototypes, Carsten Nicolai – aka Alva Noto – refined the digital glitch, making it ornate and reintegrating it into a minimalist simulacrum of pop’s 4/4 rhythmic grid.

    Alva Noto – “Prototypes Track 6″

    9. The Fall – The Unutterable (2000)
    It was either The Unutterable or Tromatic Relexxions, Mark E Smith’s tragically underrated collaboration with Mouse on Mars, under the guise of Von Sudenfed. Together, these albums represent the perfection of a dance-rock hybrid Smith developed in the 90s and mostly abandoned in the noughties.

    The Fall – “Sons of Temperance”

    10. Gas – Pop (2000)
    If Prototypes took glitch into the white-walled spaces of contemporary art, Pop dragged it semi-conscious into the depths of the woods and buried it under a thick layer of moss and peat. Lush and sinister in equal measure, this is a magnificent testament to the meditative properties of hiss and static.

    Gas – “Pop Track 2″

    ***


    Richard Youngs – Like a Neuron (Dekorder) LP

    If he keeps releasing ‘em, this here blog will keep reviewing ‘em. 2009 was another busy year for Richard Youngs. He released not one but two excellent albums of new songs and found time to indulge in some rather more abstract projects, like this LP on Black to Comm’s Dekorder label.

    Abstract synth noodling is the order of the day here. To an extent, we’re in the realm of post-Tangerine Dream space music but Youngs is intent on exploring only the most asteroid-riven stellar regions. Instead of gliding smoothly through the cosmos, his keyboards bump and crash and grind – a glorious vision futuristic technical imperfection that would warm the cockles of Philip K Dick’s heart.

    This sound will be familiar to fans of the UK avant rock under-under-underground that spawned Youngs. The noisy head-rush of Sunroof! and the broken techno of Astral Social Club are both evoked.

    Throughout side one, tracks like “Runway” and “Descent” efficiently induce a sense of blissfully plunging into the existential void (think of the “inner space” sequence in 2001) . However, as side two progresses, the clashing rhythms and extreme stereo separation can start to grate a little – if you’re not in the mood, you may just find it irritating.

    Overall though, another worthwhile release from Richard Youngs. It seems like the kind of thing that will sell out fairly quickly, so don’t hesitate: buy it from Scratch.

    ***


    Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem (P.W. Elverum & Sun) 2LP

    This album could be seen as being part of indie rock’s minor creative renaissance, which has been noted on this here blog and elsewhere. Truth be told though, Phil Elverum – aka The Microphones aka Mount Eerie – has been making startlingly original modifications to the indie rock template for years now. He just hasn’t received anything like the level of recognition he deserves.

    So, while the current upsurge of indie creativity may not be responsible for the brilliance of Elverum’s latest album, it must have contributed to the unprecedented level of critical attention the album has received.

    Wind’s Poem has certainly garnered a fair amount of critical adulation. What’s been overlooked in the rush to recognize Elverum’s singular vision is that this album is, to an extent, a collaboration with Nick Krgovich of No Kids. This is a shame because Nick is another indie visionary who deserves more respect and attention than he gets.

    It’s easy to understand though. Wind’s Poem is a million miles away from No Kids’ breezy, R&B-inflected chamber pop. Influenced by Elverum’s avowed love of black metal, many of the album’s songs are smothered by pitch-black sheets of heavy guitar drone. Topped off with Eleverum and Krgovich’s fey vocals, the results are actually rather more like a self-consciously literate take on Tremolo/Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine than anything genuinely metallic.

    But even the album’s quieter moments, like “My Heart is Not at Peace”, have a deeply disquieting undertow of low-end boom. Eleverum and Krgovich are both artists based in the Pacific North-West and Wind’s Poem really does sound like the organic voice of that region’s wooded wilds. This sense is reinforced by the album’s multiple Twin Peaks references – most obviously on “Between Two Mysteries”.

    The rich complexity of the album’s words, music and production is carried right through to its packaging – two clear vinyl LPs housed inside a lavish, bronze-embossed gatefold sleeve. This is an album you need to own and you can buy it at Insound.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: Albums of the Year 2009

    24 Dic 2009, 23:58

    Originally published with hyperlinks, images and MP3s at http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    Albums of the Year 2009
    http://bubblegumcage3.com/2009/12/24/albums-of-the-year-2009/

    A festive, holiday, Yuletide gift to you: The Acid Folk Remix Project Volume Two is complete and you can download it by clicking on this link. Full details further down in this post but first… the list.

    This list is incomplete. How many recent albums by favourite artists remain unheard? How many obscure gems remain undiscovered? Who can keep up? This list is provisional. The definitive version may never exist.

    Best albums of the noughties? Maybe. All in good time. That would take a hideous amount of research and – frankly – a rather better memory for names and dates. For now, it’s hard enough to piece together the highlights of these last 12 months.

    Was it a good year for music? Was it really so awful? Who can say? After all, how many great discoveries of 2009 were technically released in 2008? How many of 2009’s great LP releases emerged on CD the year before? Where to draw the line?

    Oh and don’t expect some kinda overview of the state of (the) music (industry). Do you really want to read another tedious think-piece about how MP3s are saving the world and/or ruining everything? Yawn.

    Sure, coded opinions and suggestions for ways forward may be embedded deep within this post. You can dig for them at your peril. The music industry can go hang. Trite as it sounds, this post is strictly about the music, maaan.

    It is worth noting one upshot of the music industry’s increasing conservatism, though: This year, it seemed like nobody wanted to release a record in anything other than the holiday shopping season (or at least the preceding six weeks – December itself is a notoriously slow month for new albums). How to keep up with this flood of eleventh-hour releases?

    So many questions, so few answers. In the final analysis, it hardly seems worth agonizing over. The albums below are all fantastic and well worth discovering. This list may not be definitive but it is a wonder to behold.

    One final disclaimer, this post is quite long and was written at the last minute, during a rather busy time of the year. As such, it is likely to include even more typos, borderline grammar, factual inaccuracies and half-baked opinions than usual. Please do point out any glaring errors or broken links, via the normal channels.

    Okay, that’s enough lame excuses. Let’sh get shtarted…

    TOP TEN ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

    1. Nudge – As Good as Gone (Kranky) LP
    Nudge - As Good as Gone

    Nudge - As Good as Gone

    As Good as Gone seems like a pretty modest proposition. Nudge is just about as unassuming a band name as you could hope to find. The band itself is a loose collective of mostly Portland-based dilettantes led by Audra Glint label boss Brian Foote and featuring Paul Dickow (aka Strategy) and Honey Owens (aka Valet). Their latest album is short, to the point and avoids showy bombast to the extent of being positively diffident.

    This is a small album, then but hell yes is it ever perfectly formed. Oddly enough, this kind of short, well-structured album seems to be making a bit of a comeback right now. As a format, it’s ideal for either legal or illegal consumption – for economical vinyl releases or full-album blog downloads.

    But As Good as Gone is more than just a tidy little package. It’s a record that displays admirable restraint and good judgement at all levels. It’s an electronically-enhanced avant rock album that manages to be simultaneously Spartan and luxurious – lightly misting dry’n'heavy dubwise rhythm tracks with an ocean spray of dream-pop guitars and vaguely distracted-sounding vocals.

    This formula makes explicit the links between Can’s aquatic mantras, PiL’s death disco and the moonscapes of early UK post-rock. But As Good as Gone never seems like its trying to make a big deal of all this – nothing here is cheaply showy; every note and texture is purposefully-chosen.

    While it’s certainly an immediately ear-grabbing record, As Good as Gone’s real strength is in its ability to gradually win over the listener’s heart and mind. In other words: it has hidden depths and it’s a grower.

    This, friends, is what it’s all about. Seemingly out of nowhere, with little or no fanfare: the album of the year.

    Originally reviewed in October.

    Nudge – “Two Hands”

    Nudge – “Aurolac”

    Buy it at Insound.

    2. Black to Comm – Alphabet 1968 (Type) LP
    Black to Comm - Alphabet 1968

    Black to Comm - Alphabet 1968

    To a great extent, darkness continues to be the prevailing mode of experimental music’s international underground community. This mode generally expresses itself in the form of faux-metallic low-end droning or murky lo-fi ambiance. More often not, it expresses itself as a set of empty gestures, signifying nothing more than “this is dark because that’s what we’re into right now”.

    Today’s dark stuff often sounds like it was made in the afterglow of a stoned horror flick viewing. Consequently, it tends to come across as doubly mediated. This is not the stuff real nightmares are made of. Sure, nightmares are often baroquely horrifying but they can also be cathartic, illuminating and even entertaining. Strange as it may sound, seeing minor permutations on a recurring nightmare can actually be very intriguing.

    Enter Black to Comm aka Dekorder label head-honcho Marc Richter. His latest album – Alphabet 1968 – is as uncannily dark and illuminating as a really, really interesting nightmare – it’s like musical night vision! The tracks are mostly based on short sample loops, like recurring dreams in miniature – an approach that is sure to please fans of Colleen, Ekkehard Ehlers, The Focus group and Gas.

    Like the Nudge record, this is a concise and beautifully structured little album full of concise and beautifully structured little tracks. And like the Nudge album, it manages to be truly, excitingly brilliant, without being flashy or smug about the whole thing.

    Another unexpected treat and very nearly the album of the year.

    Originally reviewed in November.

    Black to Comm – “Forst”

    Black to Comm – “Traum GmbH”

    Buy it at Insound.

    3. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon’s) LP
    Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent

    Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent

    The concept is easy enough to grasp: Moritz “Maurizio” Von Oswald, one half of the legendary German dub-techno duo Basic Channel, forms a live improvising trio, which includes acclaimed abstract electronica artist Vladislav Delay on percussion. But the sound that this Moritz Von Oswald Trio makes is another matter – all unspeakably alien pulse and clatter, more stark and robotic than any of Von Oswald’s more straightforwardly electronic work.

    Vertical Ascent, the trio’s debut recording, is a somewhat difficult record to get into. The first three of its four long tracks are off-putting in their dry austerity, offering few obvious points of reference to even the most attentive listener.

    The fourth and final track will seem more familiar to fans of Von Oswald’s previous work (it could almost be an early Rhythm & Sound tune) but it still feels frustratingly enigmatic. It’s as if, having stepped into the limelight as a live performer, Maurizio needs to do something that will protect the anonymous non-image he has spent years cultivating.

    Of course, it’s the album’s wilful refusal to engage that ultimately makes it compelling. This might not be the year’s best album but it may just be the year’s most original and intriguing record. A remarkable piece of work, which really does seem to be the product of some alien intelligence – alive, organic and yet utterly unknowable.

    Originally reviewed in August.

    Moritz Von Oswald Trio – “Pattern 4″

    Buy it at Insound.

    4. King Midas Sound – Waiting for You (Hyperdub) CD
    King Midas Sound - Waiting for You

    King Midas Sound - Waiting for You

    Kevin Martin has been on the scene since at least the early ’90s, when he helmed such extremist UK post-rock outfits as God, Ice and Techno Animal. Throughout his entire musical career, he’s been dealing with competing compulsions towards rock density on one hand and dub space on the other. Much of his work is reliant on shear heaviosity – massively compressed slabs of mid-range noise that seem to suck the air out of the room. Elsewhere, he’s displayed a penchant for dub reductionism and a knack for creating dark, strung-out atmospheres.

    In recent years, Martin has achieved unprecedented levels of popularity and critical acclaim – mainly for his work with reggae singers and deejays under the guise of The Bug. Last year’s Bug album, London Zoo, felt like a bit of a false start. Martin seemed like he was trying to appeal to an even wider audience, without abandoning the heavyweight sound he’s built his reputation on – stripping his blaring faux-dancehall beats back to the bare essentials of boom, bap and bass. The results were mixed.

    On the debut King Midas Sound album, Martin seems to have perfected the formula he was developing on London Zoo. King Midas is supposedly his dubstep project but it clearly has a life of its own. Largely a collaboration with Trinidad-born poet and singer Roger Robinson, Waiting for You is as based in lovers rock – the sweet bubblegum of 1980s London reggae – as it is in dubstep. Robinson’s voice is disconcertingly sweet and high and yet he asserts himself as a startlingly intelligent and powerful presence over Martin’s titanic riddims. Truly this is a collaboration of equals.

    Its also an absolutely fucking stunning record. Every song is beautifully realised and utterly heartbreaking. It gets better with every listen. If this list were to be revised a year from now, Waiting for You might just have worked its way to the top.

    As it is, it already has the best album cover of the year – you’ve gotta love the way “collection” is misspelled in that laundromat window!

    King Midas Sound – “Meltdown”

    King Midas Sound – “Lost”

    Buy it from Boomkat.

    5. Broadcast & The Focus Group – …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) LP
    Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

    Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

    Birmingham’s retro-futurist post-rockers Broadcast have been going from strength to strength in recent years. This collaboration with The Focus Group – aka Ghost Box label founder and ace graphic designer Julian House – is possibly the best thing either party has been involved in. It’s a quintessentially hauntological collage of song and sound, which recalls Faust, The United States of America, White Noise and a lost age of utopian English boffinry that is truly worth reanimating.

    Originally reviewed in November.

    Broadcast & The Focus Group – “Trailer”

    Broacast & The Focus Group – “The Be Colony”

    Buy it at Insound.

    6. Mountains – Choral (Thrill Jockey) LP
    Mountains - Choral

    Mountains - Choral

    Mountains is a New York-based duo, which has been toiling in obscurity for a few years now, self-releasing albums full of pastoral folktronica par excellence. For Choral, Mountains moved to the relatively high-profile Thrill Jockey label and unleashed four sides featuring some of the duo’s best work to date – very likely to appeal to fans of Fennesz, Greg Davis and late-period Gastr del Sol.

    Originally reviewed in August.

    Mountains – “Map Table”

    Mountains – “Choral”

    Buy it at Insound.

    7. The Field – Yesterday & Today (Kompakt) 2LP + CD
    The Field - Yesterday & Today

    The Field - Yesterday & Today

    Sweden’s Axel Willner – who releases music as The Field – does things that no electronic dance music artist in his or her right mind should ever do. And he makes it all work wonderfully, through sheer force of exuberance. Cover versions of terrible ’80s soft-rock hits! Live Afrobeat drumming! Bouncy tech-house tracks that modulate between two chords for over 10 minutes! All of this sounds utterly life-affirming on Yesterday & Today. The year’s most purely uplifting album.

    Originally reviewed in November.

    The Field – “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”

    The Field – “Sequenced”

    Buy it at Insound.

    8. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Discos) 2LP
    A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

    “Shoegaze” has to be the most insulting genre term ever invented, doesn’t it? Who would want to admit to playing “shoegaze” music?? But wait! There’s a new wave of shoegaze bands and they’re being labelled “nugaze”!! That may be even worse but… Did someone just say “shitgaze”?

    Well, this has little to do with Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow. The members of this band are doubtless massive fans of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive but they have enough wit and inventiveness to lift themselves above the – cough – nugazing hordes.

    In fact, if this band harks back to a sub-genre of early ’90s UK indie music, it’s to post-rock rather than shoegaze. At times, Ashes Grammar recalls recently-reformed UK post-rock legends Seefeel (but with added song-writing skills).

    It’s an epic album that works wonderfully as a complete piece – an audacious and heroic move from an outwardly shy and self-deprecating band. You have to watch out for the quiet ones.

    Originally reviewed in October.

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Shy”

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)”

    A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Failure”

    The vinyl is out of print but you can get the CD from Mis Ojos Discos.

    9. Mordant Music – SyMptoMs (Mordant Music) CD
    Mordant Music - SyMptoMs

    Mordant Music - SyMptoMs

    The most song-based missive yet from Mordant Music – a mysterious collective operating deep within the hauntological hinterland. More prosaically, this album recalls Eno’s witty art-rock period, Underworld’s literate techno and The Fall’s acerbic magic realism. Best lyrics of the year.

    Mordant Music – “Where Can You Scream?”

    Mordant Music – “SyMptoMs”

    Buy it from the Mordant Music website.

    10. Shackleton – Three EPs (Perlon) 3×12″
    Shackleton - Three EPs

    Shackleton - Three EPs

    A fellow traveller of the Mordant Music organization, Bristol’s Sam Shackleton makes post-dubstep music that recalls the industrial exoticism of Muslimgauze, Kevin Martin’s monumental Techno Animal project and the more interesting aspects of recent minimalist dance music. The Three EPs is rhythmically intricate, without ever being fussy and it’s affectingly moody, without lacking a sense of humour.

    Shackleton – “It’s Time for Love”

    Shackleton – “There’s a Slow Train Coming”

    Buy it at Insound.

    ALSO RECOMMENDED

    Magneticring

    Magneticring

    Magneticring – Magneticring
    Long-awaited debut LP from Vancouver’s Joshua Stevenson aka Magnetic Ring. Given the length of the wait, it’s unfortunate that this album doesn’t really represent the true extent of Josh’s talents – concentrating instead on some precision-tooled kosmische synth action. As a pure listening experience, though, it is thoroughly, thoroughly satisfying.
    Doom - Born Like This

    Doom - Born Like This

    DOOM – Born Like This
    Another reliably patchy collection from hardcore rap’s last remaining square peg. MF Doom continues to rhyme about himself in the past tense and the third person, over beats that genuinely deserve to be called “wonky”. There are a few misfires and the subject matter is occasionally odious but what else would you expect from a survivor of hip-hop’s early ’90s golden age?
    Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

    Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

    Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country
    Canada’s Tim Hecker has really been picking up steam in the last few years, becoming one of the most prominent abstract electronica artists currently operating. An Imaginary Country represents a bit of a cooling off after the febrile Harmony in Ultraviolet but it doesn’t show any signs that Hecker is losing his spark. Can’t wait to hear what he does next.
    Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus - Ballads

    Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus - Ballads

    Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus – Ballads
    This album relies a bit too much on Ekkehard Ehlers’ penchant for squeaking, scraping contemporary classical/improv sounds to deliver the full-on blissout fans of his best electronic work will be craving. Still, anything with his name on it is worth investigating and this taut, tense duo album with Paul Wirkus is no exception.
    Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

    Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

    Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black
    APC couldn’t really have picked a worse time to reform. The type of cerebral underground rap that Beans, Priest and Sayyid specialize in is deep in the Black Hole of Cool, with no immediate signs of escape. Perhaps, if they’d arrived baring a really killer comeback album, they could have circumvented the music-listening public’s temporary prejudices but Fluorescent Black is decidedly patchy and doesn’t have the growing power of APC’s first two albums. Still, the good patches are as dizzying as anything these guys have done – which is to say utterly.

    And…
    Vladislav Delay – Tummaa
    Richard Youngs – Under Stellar Stream
    Sparklehorse + Fennesz – In the Fishtank 15
    Mokira – Persona
    Richard Youngs – Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits
    Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor
    Mountains – Etching
    Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – UTP
    Empty Love + Sade Sade – s/t
    Woebot - Automat EP and East Central One EP
    Flight of the Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky
    Sonic Youth – The Eternal

    SONGS AND SINGLES
    My Bloody Valentine – “Kevin Song”
    Pulido/Fennesz/Siewert/Stangl – A Girl and a Gun 7″
    The Fall – Slippy Floor 7″
    Stephan Mathieu – The Keys to the Kingdom 10″
    Esperik Glare – As the Insects Swarm 7″
    Burial & Four Tet – black label 12”
    Antipop Consortium – “Get Lite”
    Flight of the Conchords – “Carol Brown (Stick Around)”

    STILL HAVEN’T HEARD BUT PROBABLY REALLY GOOD
    Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol.2
    Belbury Poly – From an Ancient Star
    Coin Gutter – Broken Lily
    Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
    Leyland Kirby – Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was
    Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem
    Richard Skelton – Landings
    Mark E. Smith & Ed Blaney – Smith & Blaney
    Sunno))) – Monolith’s & Dimensions
    Woebot – s/t

    Other essential lists: Blissblog, The Decibel Tolls, Grimmertown, Hollow Earth, Mapsadaisical, Raven Sings the Blues.
    Not Me

    Not Me

    NOT ME PRESENTS: THE ACID FOLK REMIX PROJECT VOLUME TWO
    This here blog’s first festive gift to you – Not Me’s second volume of UK folk remixes and re-imaginings. You can download the whole thing by clicking on this link (http://www.[spam] or get the individual songs you want from the track-listing below.

    1. Comus - “Bitten (Not Me Remix by Esperik Glare)”
    This first of two genuinely terrifying mixes by Wyoming’s Esperik Glare should put paid to any notion that The Acid Folk Remix Project Volume Two is going to be some sort of pastoral lovefest from start to finish. Having said that, this is not generic dark ambient rumble or harsh noise assault but a genuinely cinematic piece of abstract electronica.

    2. Not Me – “APC Meets Fairport Convention Upcountry”
    There’s a cute story behind this one. While connect_icut was struggling with a remix of “Matty Groves” by Fairport Convention, the estimable Wonk flagged up the existence of WFMU’s Antipop Consortium remix contest. The Antipop track (“Reflections”) was 89 BPM. The Fairport track was roughly 91 BPM. Could the vocal track from the former be layered over loops of the latter? Here’s your answer. Sadly, the track was not eligible for the contest on account of uncleared samples, hence the existence of a separate “Reflections (connect_icut Remix)”.

    3. Historian Trinkets – “She Walked Through the Fair Gathering Mushrooms”
    Little is known about this artist. “She Walked Through the Fair Gathering Mushrooms” may or may not be entirely sourced from recordings made in the 1980s. All we can say for sure is this: Clannad!

    4. Nick Krgovich & Rose Melberg – “Coldest Night of the Year (Version Two)”
    This is where the lovefest starts. A charming Vasti Bunyan cover from Nick of No Kids and Rose, formerly of Tiger Trap and The Softies. You can find the original on Vashti’s Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind, a compilation of her early singles and demos. This cover is one of two versions of the song recorded by Nick and Rose. The other is available as part of a festive compilation album called The Mental Beast Eggnog Experience.

    5. Johnny Payne - “Meet on the Ledge”
    The lovefest continues. Not sure exactly which Vancouver indie bands Johnny is currently playing with but they are doubtless greatly improved by his presence. Johnny had a bit of a cold when he recorded this Fairport Convention cover and was a little worried that he might come out sounding like Kermit. In fact, Devendra Banhart would probably give up a lung if it would help him sound this good.

    6. Skullfucker - “The Witch”
    Skullfucker – aka Dan from Vancouver drone rock duo Solars – gives his new microKORG synth a workout on this cover of Mark Fry’s “The Witch”. Understated and moodily atmospheric, this thoroughly excellent recording is perfectly complemented by…

    7. Secret Pyramid - “Milk and Honey”
    A really, really incredible Sandy Denny cover from Dan’s buddy Amir – the other half of Solars. This recalls the pastoral dreampop of Flying Saucer Attack, with the lo-fi murk replaced by piercing psychedelic clarity. More stuff like this, please Amir!

    8. Shirley Collins - “Adieu to Old England (Not Me Remix by connect_icut)”
    A darkly hypnotic remix of this classic Shirley Collins a capella. The remix is as a raw and scary as the emotions evoked by the original. To put this another way: it was made really quickly and sounds like hell. But – y’know – in a fun way.

    9. The Watersons - “Hal-an-Tow (Gunshae’s Winter of Discontent Remix)”
    Last year, Vancouver-based ambient duo Gunshae went to town on The Watersons’ recording of “Christmas is Now Drawing Near”. This year, Kuma and Eve do the same to “Hal-an-Tow” – turning a song about the coming of spring into a meditation on deep winter dread. Chilling, in every sense.

    10. Wonk - “Cellular (Lord Summerisle is My Co-Pilot Mix)”
    The aforementioned Wonk – aka Vancouver multi-disciplinary artist Christopher Olson – with a track based entirely on samples from “A Very Cellular Song” by The Incredible String Band. It starts off Steve Reich, ends up Nurse with Wound and it’s all good.

    11. Skullfucker vs. connect_icut - “Evil Island Home”
    The undisputed hit of last year’s Acid Folk Remix Project was a hair-raising, lo-fi cover of Kevin Coyne’s “Evil Island Home”, which came courtesy of that Skullfucker fellow. This epic remix reinstates a previously AWOL guitar solo, adds about three layers of murk and plays out with a churning schaffel coda. Ten points if you can spot where that drum loop’s from.

    12. The Pentangle - “Lyke-Wake Dirge (Not Me Remix by Esperik Glare)”
    And if you thought Esperik Glare’s first contribution was scary… Here, the solemn executioner’s drum that marks time in The Pentangle’s rendition of “Lyke-Wake Dirge” is filtered into a sky-rending, thunderous roar. The punch line of “And Christ receive them all” starts to sound much more like a threat than a promise of redemption.
    Happy Holidays!

    Happy Holidays!

    A NEW MIX CD
    This here blog’s second festive gift you. Same deal: download it all by clicking on this link (http://www.[spam] or get the songs you want from the list below.

    1. The Fall – “Hot Cake – Part 2″

    2. My Bloody Valentine – “Kevin Song”

    3. Antipop Consortium – “Get Lite”

    4. King Midas Sound – “Meltdown”

    5. Mordant Music – “SyMptoMs”

    6. Broacast & The Focus Group – “The Be Colony”

    7. Richard Youngs – “Cluster to a Star”

    8. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Failure”

    9. Nudge – “Aurolac”

    10. Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl – “Canto de Velorio”

    11. Sparklehorse + Fennesz “If My Heart”

    12. Black to Comm – “Traum GmbH”

    13. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – “Pattern 4″

    14. The Field – “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”

    15. Flight of the Conchords – “Carol Brown (Stick Around)”

    And that’s all. Happy holidays. See you in the New Year.

    ***


    Also reviewed in December...

    The Fall – Slippy Floor (Action Records) 7″
    This new limited edition single from The Fall is nominally a tie-in with the band’s recent tour. However, it seems more likely that it’s been issued to ensure that Mark E. Smith keeps up his record of releasing at least one record per year since 1978.

    Slippy Floor is a step back from the relatively slick, digitally-constructed sound of 2008’s excellent Imperial Wax Solvent. It recalls the raw avant-garage style of other recent albums – such as Country on the Click and Fall Heads Roll – but with a more ragged production style.

    The lead track is pretty much Fall-by-numbers but enjoyable all the same. B-side “Hot Cake – Part 2″ is like a more experimental variation on the same general themes, with extra layers of declamatory vocals and synth squiggles.

    What the stripped-down production style of this 7″ highlights is that Smith is sounding slightly more lucid than he has for the last little while. The cut-and-paste approach of albums like Imperial Wax Solvent and Von Sudenfed’s Tromatic Reflexxions seemed like a creative response to his apparent inability to actually sing a song from start to finish. He appears to have pulled himself together a bit this year.

    So, there’s life in the grumpy old bastard yet! And – for fans – this single is certainly worth buying. Hopefully, you can get Action Records‘ slightly crappy ecommerce interface to work before it sells out.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: November 2009

    1 Dic 2009, 1:13

    All reviews and articles originally published, with MP3s of the songs mentioned, at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    Sylvain Chauveau – Nuage (Type) LP

    Those of you who admire Max Richter’s blend of neo-classical composition, post-rock and electronica are strongly urged to investigate the work of Frenchman Sylvain Chauveau. At first glance, the two artists seem to have the exact same modus operandi. However, Chauveau’s music eschews the simple, melancholy loveliness of Richter’s compositions, in favour of a rather thornier aesthetic.

    The Black Book of Capitalism, Chauveau’s first album, presented a startlingly lo-fi take on chamber music – with musty strings coming under siege from ominously chiming guitars and primitive sampling. More recently, his 10″ single S displayed a new-found mastery of digital signal processing – with shards of piano and guitar refined into ornate glitches and stutters.

    But the best place to start – if only because it bares the closest resemblance to Max Richter’s work – is the quite staggeringly beautiful Nuage. Some wag recently noted that the rise of eclecticist composers like Chauveau and Richter may be related to the fact that soundtrack work is one of the few ways recording artists can still make a living. Whether or not this is true, the facts remain that Nuage is indeed a collection of music composed for films and that it often recalls the mellower soundtrack work of John Zorn.

    Hopefully, Cheavau will gradually gain the recognition he deserves, which will allow him to build a discography as diverse – if not as voluminous – as Zorn’s. The available evidence suggests he has both the talent and the attitude to succeed on these terms. To give Sylvain Chauveau a helping hand, you are strongly urged to buy Nuage from Forced Exposure.

    Sylvain Chauveau – “Nuage III”

    ***


    Richard Youngs – Under Stellar Stream (Jagjaguwar) LP

    Each Richard Youngs album seems to be guided by a particular set of rules or limitations. On Autumn Response, for instance, Youngs used hard disc editing to create a digital equivalent of the olde English round. Similarly, Under Stellar Stream is based around vocal repetition but instead of weaving dreamily overlapping patterns, it concentrates on stark, mantric insistence.

    Things start unassumingly enough with the gorgeous “Broke Up by Night” but by track two (“All Day Monday and Tuesday”), the album’s overarching concept has become clear. Youngs’ voice – harsher and huskier than usual – repeats the title phrase every other line and by the song’s end, the effect is oddly harrowing.

    “Cluster to a Star” lightens the mood considerably and throughout the rest of Under Stellar Stream, Youngs subtly refines the album’s core shamanistic lyrical structure, to stunning effect. The musical backings are lovely but tentative. It’s the voice of Richard Youngs that dominates here – cracked, melodious, insistent.

    It’s hard to think of another artist who so successfully (not to say prolifically) manages to wrestle competing urges for simple beauty and iconoclastic confrontation. Youngs is unwavering in his devotion to whatever peculiar muse drives him. In a small but – to some of us – quite significant way, this unwavering devotion makes the world a better place to be.

    Make your world a better place: buy Under Stellar Stream from Jagjaguwar.


    ***

    Broadcast & The Focus Group – …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) LP

    To get what remains of the record-buying public heated up for the release of Sonic Youth’s most recent LP, Matador Records allowed an MP3 collage of song snippets to circulate online, prior to the album’s release. As a sneaky marketing ploy, this was probably pretty effective – said collage made The Eternal seem rather more exciting than it actually turned out to be.

    The “Trailer” that Warp unleashed to presage the release of Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age was – by contrast – a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole. On this collaboration, hauntological overlord Julian House – aka The Focus Group – chops, splices and reconfigures a set of new recording by Birmingham post-rockers Broadcast. Consequently, the whole album sounds like a collage of snippets.

    The most obvious point of reference here is Faust’s classic The Faust Tapes – in the way that House repeatedly cuts between churning industrial chaos and pastoral folk-pop. Broadcast’s more song-based fragments, meanwhile, are strongly redolent of early electronic rockers like The United States of America and White Noise.

    But this album is much more than just retro – it’s retro-futurist. Broadcast – the duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill – has long been at the forefront of UK post-rock’s retro-futurist wing (along with fellow Brummie’s Pram). Keenan and Cargill began as rather pallid Stereolab imitators (for what it’s worth, House has designed sleeves for both Broadcast and the ‘Lab) but they’ve really started to assert themselves on recent releases. This album immediately feels like the best thing they’ve ever been involved with.

    Maybe it’s a case of right place, right time. House and his Ghost Box label really seem to have captured something of the zeitgeist – almost single-handedly defining the fusty, radiophonic aesthetic of hauntology. Keenan and Cargill have been ploughing a similar furrow for some time. Clearly, the time was ripe for this particular harmonic convergence.

    Maybe a little too ripe, you might argue. The title of the album is so generically hauntological that it borders on self parody. You might even be forgiven for thinking that it’s a foreshadowing of the moment when hauntology will finally disappear up its own Ghost Box.

    But damn if Investigate Witch Cults doesn’t just work. For all the weird jump cuts and uncanny juxtapositions, nothing here seems contrived. It overwhelmingly feels like the work of driven artists sincerely doing their respective things, just when such things are needed the most. This, in other words, is the stuff classic albums are made of.

    Apparently, the vinyl is a strictly limited edition. If you see one, buy it.


    ***

    My Bloody Valentine Bootlegs

    Since My Bloody Valentine reformed a couple of years back, there’s been a considerable upsurge in the number of MBV bootlegs circulating in various digital and analogue formats. This has been exacerbated by a number of factors – much of MBV’s back catalogue remains out of print, promised re-issues are endlessly delayed and the band seems willing to let high-quality recordings of every live show circulate freely.

    Perhaps the most exciting aspect of all this grey market activity has been the emergence of four previously unheard demo recordings – possibly abandoned songs from the Glider sessions. The authenticity of these recordings has been called into question but if they’re fakes, they’re extremely nuanced ones (unlike the track “Explosive” which purported to be an MBV demo a couple of years back).

    In any case, they’re great tunes that bridge the musical gap between Isn’t Anything and Glider. The best of the bunch is “Kevin Song”, which manages to prolong a nonchalant sonic swoon for the entirety of its three-and-three-quarter minutes. “Kevin Song” is also probably the most suspicious of the newly emerged demos. After all, if you’d written a song this good, wouldn’t you have finished recording it properly? Maybe we can’t hold Kevin Shields to such standards of reasonable human behaviour.

    Real or fake, the demos have been circulating on various home-made “outtakes and rarities”-type compilations. For the most part, these comps have done a good job of making familiar rarities (“Sugar”, the Isn’t Anything bonus 7″, the post-Loveless cover versions) available in 320k MP3 format. Aside from the demos, the only really unforeseen item to have emerged from this rarity-swapping frenzy has been the full 10-minute version of “Glider”.

    You’d be forgiven for getting the urge to hear some of this stuff on vinyl. A few years ago, the idea of listening to these kinds of MBV rarities on wax would have seemed pretty far-fetched. But given all the vinyl bootlegs that have been appearing recently, who knows?

    The most welcome of these vinyl bootlegs must be Things Left Behind, which previously appeared as a CD, collecting the pre-Creation E.P.s Geek, The New Record by My Bloody Valentine, Sunny Sundae Smile and Strawberry Wine. The new vinyl version unfortunately does not include the Strawberry Wine E.P. (which apparently features a version of its title track different from the one which appeared on the more widely available compilation Ecstasy & Wine). The vinyl also ditches the CD’s already rather chintzy cover design for a low-grade recreation of the You Made Me Realise sleeve.

    Luckily, far more care and attention has been put into the audio quality of this release. Indeed, the Things Left Behind LP presents early MBV material in astonishingly high-quality audio, on nice thick vinyl – a real boon to those of us who only previously had access to vinyl rips in sub-128k MP3 format.

    Perhaps it’s silly to quibble over what form these E.P.s are delivered in, as they hardly represent the band’s best work. Nevertheless, Sunny Sundae Smile, in particular, is really quite charming. What’s more, this compilation presents the only viable way to get that E.P. and The New Record by… on vinyl, without paying $150 each for the originals.

    So, will there be a vinyl album of demos and out-takes? Stranger things have happened. Or perhaps another common CD bootleg will find its way onto wax – the legendary Loom: Live in Vancouver. If nothing else, that would be a treat for MBV’s Vancouverite fans (in lieu of the band actually coming to play here again).

    As previously implied, Loom is just one of many, many live MBV recordings one might find floating around online. A particularly entertaining example is Live at Dingwalls 1988. This is a fairly astonishing recording, in which Kevin goes on a series of rants against the venue’s negligent sound-men – even urging the audience to “smash the place up” at one point.

    As a recording of an actual My Bloody Valentine show, it’s a mixed bag. The audio fidelity is extremely poor and the “apocalypse” section of “You Made Me Realise” is severely truncated to make way for another rant. But it does capture the band at an important transitional faze, mixing pre-Creation tunes with classic era material and concluding with a storming nine-minute version of “Clair”.


    ***

    Black to Comm – Alphabet 1968 (Type) LP

    Black to Comm is the brainchild of one Marc Richter – not to be confused with eclecticist composer Max Richter. This Richter is also the fellow behind Hamburg’s excellent Dekorder label, which has put out releases by a number of very notable experimental/electronic artists including Stephan Mathieu and Xela – aka Type label boss John Twells. Alphabet 1968 sees Twells returning the favour, releasing Richter’s latest opus on vinyl and CD.

    Suspicions that this is just another fly-by-night experimental music release should be put aside. Alphabet 1968 has already garnered praise from prominent music critics not normally known for an interest in digital electronica – notably, Mark K-Punk and Sasha Frere-Jones.

    This is understandable as Alphabet 1968 is an instantly captivating album, which gives the immediate impression of being more dramatically structured than the vast majority of abstract electronica. Richter is clearly a master of creating sonic dioramas in which sample loops revolve slowly, casting strange reflections off each other.

    The nine sonic miniatures and single long-form piece on this album form an extremely satisfying whole. Nothing feels randomly patched together or purposeless – everything arrives at a certain time and behaves a certain way for a very specific reason.

    Overall, the mood this fastidious approach creates is rather menacing. But Alphabet 1968 is not a generically “dark” piece of work. There’s no excess of murky reverb or low-end sludge to cheapen the mood here. The sound is rich, full and crystal clear. And tracks like “Traum GmbH” are hardly lacking in simple melodic or harmonic beauty.

    While this album is very much in a world of its own, comparisons are still reasonably easy to make. The single long piece is an obvious tribute to Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project, right down to the title - “Forst”. Elsewhere, the creaking loops of Colleen and the hauntological juxtapositions of The Focus Group are conjured.

    Type Records puts out a lot of decent stuff but this is something else altogether. Like As Good as Gone by Nudge, Alphabet 1968 is an unassuming record that – in it’s own quiet way – has the makings of a future classic. You are strongly advised to be an early adopter and buy it at Insound.


    ***

    The Field – Yesterday & Today (Kompakt) 2LP + CD

    The Kompakt label seems to have a limitless supply of nominally left-field but fundamentally lightweight electronic dance music. Over the years, the label has touched upon everything from house, techno and electro to ambient and even glam rock. The vast majority of its output exists in some rose-tinted hinterland between fluffy and downright irritating. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that Kompakt was founded by Wolfgang Voigt – he of the monumental Gas project.

    In many ways Axel Wilner – aka The Field – is a very typical Kompakt artist. His epic minimal techno constructions gush cascades of sugar-water samples over bouncy, up-tempo tech-house grooves. The tunes on his much-loved debut album From Here We Go Sublime are exceptionally formulaic – each track modulating insistently between two equally heady chords until pop-ambient nirvana is achieved.

    So, what marks The Field out from the Kompakt pack? Why is Wilner so much more critically acclaimed, so much more popular and – frankly – so much better than most of his peers? In a word: intensity. If Wilner was not so utterly dedicated to his aesthetic and mission, his tracks would fall flat, like so many here-today-gone-tomorrow Kompakt 12″s. Instead, the effects of his music are positively ecstatic – a cynicism-destroying flood of good vibes.

    Wilner doesn’t depart much from the standard Field formula on Yesterday & Today but he does renew his commitment to flirting with disaster. Each of this album’s minor innovations could have resulted in utter calamity. Instead they’ve resulted in one of 2009’s most consistently satisfying long-players.

    Doing a full vocals-and-all cover of The Korgis’ soft-pop chestnut “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” is objectively a terrible idea. But Wilner’s realisation is utterly ingenious – as intense as anything he’s done but in a new slow-burning tempo. Elsewhere, he brings in (shudder) live musicians – including John Stanier, drummer with Warp-signed avant rockers Battles. On tracks like the predictably epic but surprisingly mid-tempo closer “Sequenced”, Stanier confounds expectations (or prejudices, at least), managing to build up a level of organic momentum that Tony Allen himself would be proud of.

    To top it all off, Yesterday & Today come housed in a lovely matte gatefold sleeve, which includes the vinyl and CD versions of the album. You can have it all when you buy it from Insound.


    ***

    Vladislav Delay – “Tummaa” (Leaf) 2LP

    Finland’s Sasu Ripatti – aka Vladislav Delay – is the real deal: an electronic music artist with an instantly recognizable signature sound, who is also unafraid to do his thing in a wide range of forms and contexts. Aside from his solo abstract electronica work, Ripatti flirts with vocal house music and pop under the guide of Luomo, explores the limits of language in collaboration with his missus AGF and plays scrap-metal percussion in The Moritz Von Oswald Trio.

    On Tummaa, that instantly recognizable signature sound is… erm… instantly recognizable – a fidgety but immersive pile-up of clattering noises and mellow synth chords. Here though, the sound is set into one of those wide-ranging contexts Ripatti loves to explore. Tummaa features conventional “live” instruments more prominently than any previous Vladislav Delay release – including electric and acoustic piano from Massive Attack string arranger Craig Armstrong.

    At first, you might find yourself wondering why that new age jazz combo won’t shut up and let you listen to the new Vladislav Delay album. But it starts to make sense once you get used to Ripatti’s sparser-than-usual electronics making room for the smooth sounds (which wouldn’t be too out of place on the ECM label – some parts sound like Jan Garbarek has been replaced by a malfunctioning android). There’s an aesthetic contrast here that is inherently intriguing. More than that, Tummaa reminds us that Ripatti started out as a jazz/improv drummer and makes sense of the structure underlying previous Vladislav Delay releases.

    Leave it to an artist from Finland to come up with the perfect soundtrack for these long late-autumn nights. The songs below should be enough to convince you to buy Tummaa from Insound.

    Vlasdislav Delay – “Musta Planeetta”

    Vladislav Delay – “Toive”
  • Bubblegum Cage III: Post-Rocktoberfest 2009

    29 Oct 2009, 22:12

    Originally published, with reader comments and MP3s of the songs mentioned at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest 2009: The Delightfully Confusing World of Papa Sprain

    Papa Sprain was perhaps the most mysterious of all the first-generation UK post-rock bands. Memorably, a poster on the I Love Music forum once voiced an opinion that the band was merely a figment of some Pitchfork’s writer’s imagination.

    But Papa Sprain existed and some of the recorded evidence is scattered throughout this post. The band was based in London but – as far as one can tell – all the members originally came from Belfast. They were proteges of dreampop legends A.R. Kane and released two E.P.s on their mentors’ H.ark! label. Additionally, they were very closely linked to Butterfly Child – also from Belfast, also involved with A.R. Kane.

    Papa Sprain didn’t necessarily make the most original, eclectic or experimental music to emerge from the early post-rock scene. But the Papa Sprain sound certainly was eccentric and confounding – a peculiar mix of literate singer-songwriter pop with experimental noise-rock, feedback drones and primitive electronics. And it was very much centred around the fragile voice and self-consciously modernist lyrics of the group’s leader Gary McKendry.

    During its short life, the band only had three official releases. However, since McKendry’s disappearance from the world of music, a few additional tracks have found their way onto the Internet and Papa Sprain’s small (but international) band of admirers lives in hope that more is yet to come.

    Early Demos (recorded around 1991)
    These lo-fi home recording recently emerged when a mysterious source passed some MP3s onto Joe Morris of The Blackened Air. Tracks like “Shake Your Foot” and “Toppled King of the World” are clearly the work of a band in the earliest stages of its development.

    Still, McKendry’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical style is in place and the guitars are already being mangled by all manner of effects-pedal excess (not to mention the low-technology recording equipment).

    You can download the whole thing via The Blackened Air.

    Flying to Vegas 12″ (H.ark!, 1991)
    The only song from the demo to make it onto an official release was “Flying to Vegas”, the title track from the band’s debut E.P. for H.ark! This tune is an odd mix of semi-spoken vocals and electronically altered guitar melodies – coming off like Lloyd Cole produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins.

    The rest of the tracks point more clearly towards Papa Sprain’s future development. “Spout”, in particular, is a limpid grotto of sound worthy of Sixty-Nine era A.R. Kane. Here, an anthemic chord sequence is gradually swallowed by guitar feedback and dub effects.

    May 12″ (H.ark!, 1992)
    The band’s second (and most immediately appealing) official release marked a slight step back from the slide into abstraction hinted at on tracks like “Spout”. May has a starker, more electronic sound. It also features some of the band’s finest and oddest pieces of song-writing, notably “I Got Stop” and “U Swell”.

    Again, you can download the whole thing via The Blackened Air.

    The Peel Session (recorded 1992)
    By the time of Papa Sprain’s one-and-only session for the John Peel Show, the band was pretty much a solo concern for McKendry. For the session, he was backed up by Joe Cassidy of Butterfly Child and Rudy Tambala of A.R. Kane (a Butterfly Child session from around the same time featured an identical line-up).

    The session drew half its material from May and the BBC versions were not noticeably different from the ones that appeared on the 12″. However, the two new songs suggested that McKendry was taking a sharp creative left turn. The gorgeous “Cliff Tune” may represent his most impressive attempt to balance melody and abstraction.

    “You Are Ten Million Needles Pierce” (aka “You Are Ten Million Needless People”), meanwhile, represents a huge leap into the void – a wild cascade of free-form guitars and vocals, disrupted by Tambala’s stuttering drum machine noise. This bizarre track forms a real cornerstone of the Papa Sprain mythology – particularly as there is some disagreement over its correct title (perhaps due to Peel stumbling over said title when he announced it on air). “You Are.. ” was also a vital foreshadowing of what little future Papa Sprain had.

    And, once again, you can download the whole session via The Blackened Air.

    Tech Yes 7″ (Rough Trade, 1993)
    Somewhere along the line, McKendry had entered into a relationship with Rough Trade – a label that had also released albums by A.R. Kane. The only official fruit borne by this relationship was Tech Yes, a three-track 7″ released as part of the Rough Trade Singles Club series.

    “Tech Yes” itself is like nothing else the band had previously recorded – a glitchy drum machine pattern overlaid with rumbling feedback and detuned spoken word vocals. The MP3 presented here was ripped at 45RPM, as specified on the record. So it really is supposed to sound like that!

    On the B-side “See Sons Bring Some More Out Tomb We Enter” is rather more accessible – basically a droney, tonal organ improvisation, featuring McKendry’s looped voice intoning the title phrase – presumably a phonetic reconfiguring of “seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter”. This simple linguistic game hinted at McKendry’s growing interest in modernist literature (particularly the work of James Joyce), something which was to be a significant part of his undoing.

    The Mysterious Full-Length Album (unreleased)
    There are those who claim to have heard the full-length album that Papa Sprain allegedly recorded for Rough Trade. But these claims are hard to verify.

    The story is that an increasingly eccentric McKendry was taking his sweet time recording Papa Sprain’s full-length debut when the folks at Rough Trade demanded to hear some work in progress. McKendry brought them a cassette of freeform guitar feedback and the irritated label people demanded that he produce something a bit more substantial – and soon. A week later, McKendry returned with the same recording, to which he had added his voice intoning the first word from every page of Ulysses.

    That’s the story anyhow. And that was pretty much the end of Papa Sprain. McKendry returned to Belfast, where he started a short-lived band called Roo Nation, before dropping off the musical map for good.

    The only Gary McKendry from Belfast to have made any noticeable waves since then is a director of American TV ads, as well as one Academy Award-nominated feature film. Could they possibly be the same person? Apparently, he’s currently working on an action flick that will star Jason Statham.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: US Post-Rock Top Five

    Today, most people who would admit to being post-rock fans are solely interested in the third wave of epic, instrumental post-rock typified by Explosions in the Sky. Call it “emo post-rock” call it “unmitigated dog shit”, there’s no denying that this terrible, terrible music is popular. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the After the Post-Rock forum.

    With contemporary post-rock the world over moving further and further away from anything that ever made the genre worthwhile, UK post-rock enthusiasts are feeling an increasing allegiance with fans of the early US post-rock bands. To celebrate this slight shift of allegiances – not to mention the mighty Matt Woebot’s brief overview of USPR – it seems like a good time to talk about some early-’90s American post-rock records that don’t totally suck.

    1. Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)
    Millions Now Living… represents the moment when a US indie/avant rock band really broke on through to the post- side. Some may feel that the album’s electronica influences have dated poorly but – to these ears – the synthetic textures and experiments in remixology showcased here still sound utterly unique and timeless. Moreover, Millions… may just be the most melodically lovely post-rock album ever released. This is a record that truly lives up to its utopian title.

    Tortoise – “Glass Museum”

    Tortoise – “The Taut and Tame”

    2. Labradford – A Stable Reference (1995)
    Talking of utopia, early US post-rock had a real retro-futurist obsession with the utopian promise of America’s space program. The three pale and interesting souls in Virginia’s Labradford were very much dedicated to exploring this obsession during their early career, using a combination of twangy, Tortoise-style guitars, droning vintage keyboards and whispered vocals. A Stable Reference, is the most well-realised testament to their childlike wonder at the universe and its infinite promise. A decade and a half on, its astral beauty remains undimmed.

    Labradford – “El Lago”

    Labradford – “Comfort”

    3. Gastr Del Sol – Upgrade and Afterlife (1996)
    As Gastr Del Sol, David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke took a rigorously deconstructive approach to rock. The game was to smoke out musical and lyrical cliches, blast them into a million tiny fragments, then rearrange the wreckage into interesting new shapes. The results were cerebral, confounding and oddly beautiful. Upgrade… – their Woebot-approved finest moment – mixes modernist poetry, acoustic finger-picking and hardcore electro-acoustic noise, to mind-boggling effect. With feint-hearted readers in mind, the MP3s posted below represent two of its more accessible moments.

    Gastr Del Sol – “Rebecca Sylvester”

    Gastr Del Sol – “The Relay”

    4. Bowery Electric – Beat (1997)
    One of the problems that many UK post-rock fans have with the genre’s American equivalent is the Yanks’ avoidance of dub, hip-hop and anything outwardly, well… funky. Bowery Electric, though, were an American post-rock band that new a thing or two about a good groove. Beat layers My Bloody Valentine-style sampled guitar drones over grainy hip-hop beats, deep, lithe dub-funk bass-lines and cooing dreampop vocals. It lacks any of the fusionoid noodling commonly associated with American post-rock and instead displays a heady, relentless sense of purpose.

    Bowery Electric – “Without Stopping”

    Bowery Electric – “Fear of Flying”

    5. Salaryman – Salaryman (1996)
    Believe or not, Salaryman was the experimental offshoot of post-hardcore also-rans The Poster Children. This may explain the fact that their music is not remembered fondly – or indeed at all, for the most part. It certainly can’t be anything to do with the quality of the music on their self-titled debut LP, which is very high indeed. Like Bowery Electric, Salaryman had more in common with the British post-rock movement than the American scene (although, like much latter day post-rock, Salaryman is an entirely instrumental affair). However, whereas Bowery Electric made a sexy, streamlined noise, Salaryman was a lumbering beast with a penchant for gauche keyboard sounds and slightly fussy rhythms. The results, on this album, are never less than infectious – bearing an open-heartedness sadly missing from today’s post-rock scene.

    Salaryman – “Rather”

    Salaryman – “Voids+Superclusters”

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: Butterfly Child – The Peel Session

    Bubblegum Cage III is proud to present the first of two sessions that Joe Cassidy’s band recorded for the John Peel show. As previously mentioned, these 1992 recordings feature a line-up identical to the one that appeared on Papa Sprain’s one-and-only Peel session – Cassidy, Gary McKendry of Papa Sprain and Rudy Tambala of A.R. Kane. Cassidy’s guests certainly make their collective presence felt – the session includes some of the most aggressive, noisy material Butterfly Child ever recorded. Perhaps that’s why Peel was so effusive in his praise for these songs when the session was originally broadcast. He got particularly hot under the collar about “Led Through the Mardi Gras”.

    These MP3 were recorded from the same cassette that yielded the Papa Sprain session files. The cassette was provided by erstwhile electronica artiste FortDax – to whom this here blog is eternally grateful. The tape will be mailed back to you soon Darren. Honest.

    Download the entire session here.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: US Post-Rock Still Doesn’t Suck as Much as You’d Think!

    There’s a thread on the UK Post-Rock Group’s forum called Newer Bands in the Spirit of Early UK Post-Rock. One of the most interesting facts to have emerged from this discussion is that, today, it’s American bands who most successfully encompass the essence of UKPR. Two such bands have recently released absolutely stunning albums.

    Nudge is an ongoing collaboration between Portland musicians Paul Dickow (aka Strategy), Brian Foote (who runs the Audra Glint label) and Honey Owens (a survivor of Jackie-O Motherfucker). These fellows have released a bunch of albums but their new record for Kranky – As Good as Gone – seems to have brought them to a whole new level of prominence. And with good reason – As Good as Gone is an impressively confident resolution of opposing tendencies towards abstraction and song-craft. Folding in elements of glitchy electronica, dub, shoegaze and even the blues, tracks like “Two Hands” and “Aurolac” (which sounds remarkably like Papa Sprain’s “I Got Stop”) are utterly convincing in their effortless eclecticism and stark moodiness.

    Buy it from Kranky.

    Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow may have a lighter, bouncier sound but it’s a sound that shares Nudge’s emphasis on digital electronics, sinuous grooves and soaring, atmospheric guitars. On Ashes Grammar, the band explicitly declares a diffidence (with song titles like “Shy” and “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)” ) that is somewhat perplexing given the musical confidence on display. This another beautiful and highly accomplished piece of work.

    Buy it from Mis Ojos Discos.

    Over the last few of years, the emergence of bands like Gang Gang Dance and The Dirty Projectors has shown us that there’s a surprising amount of life left in America’s indie rock scene. These two albums suggest that the spirit of UK post-rock is likely to play an important role in the continued development of this welcome trend.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: Terminal Cheesecake – King of All Spaceheads (Jackass) 2LP

    Congratulations to those of you who are still reading. You have resisted the urge to say: “If it’s by a band called Terminal Cheesecake, I don’t want to listen to it, even if it’s good!” It must have taken quite a leap of faith. The name “Terminal Cheesecake” immediately conjures up the cheery, beery, dog-shit depths of British indie music from the early ’90s – where bands with names like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine pedalled anthemic dross to drunken sixth-formers.

    So, why would anyone with anything to offer name a band something like that? Reports suggest that, early on, this particular band wrote a song called “Terminal Headfuck” and – back in 1994 – if you had any commercial ambitions whatsoever, you just couldn’t have the word “fuck” in your band name, so…

    But the fact that the members of this band (allegedly) chose to call a song “Terminal Headfuck” points straight at the real reason they ended up with such a goofy moniker. The reason is: DRUGS. And lots of ‘em, if King of All Spaceheads is anything to go by.

    “King of All Spaceheads” , the opening track, reaches its halfway point when a vintage radio announcer cuts in with a very important message: “What you’re listening to are musicians performing psychedelic music under the influence of a mind-altering chemical.” Again, you’d be forgiven for jumping ship at this point. Really, why should you be interested in this bunch of drug-addled goof-balls?

    Well, the CD of this album was released by Pathological, the label headed by Kevin Martin, a prime mover in the original UK post-rock scene and the man behind God, Techno Animal, Ice, The Bug and many more genre-melting musical projects. If Martin involves himself in anything, you can pretty much guarantee it will be both heavy and interesting.

    King of All Spaceheads is certainly both – a monstrous amalgam of arse-quaking guitar sludge and dubbed-out, post-acid house psychedelia. If it has anything in common with dog-shit indie, it’s only insofar as it sounds like Pop Will Eat Itself finally getting serious. Really serious.

    Terminal Cheesecake’s best known single “Oily Hot Knife” (originally from the Jackass E.P.) reappears here, titled “Budmeister”. It’s a genuinely hypnotic melding of drunken brutality and psychedelic mania. “Ginge le Geezer” plays a similar trick but stretches it out until the listener is simply beaten into a state of unwilling transcendence.

    The record is pressed on low-quality coloured vinyl, which reduces the sound to little more than crackle and low-end boom. Oddly, it works. The second disc is a one-sided live LP, which gives the impression that Terminal Cheesecake live was an even more murky-yet-heady experience than the recorded version. Among the hare-brained jamming, it features a reggae deejay repeatedly calling out the band’s name. You wouldn’t think he’d want to draw attention to it, would you?

    Your chances of finding this excellent record are pretty slim. Check the dollar bin or – if all else fails – you can download the whole thing via Sickness Abounds.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: UK Post-Rock Volume Five

    The last couple of compilations in this series have strayed to the margins somewhat. Firstly, they’ve concentrated – to a certain extent – on exploring the work of lesser-known bands. Secondly, they’ve focused on showing that post-rock was as much a part of some nascent indie continuum as it was a reaction to acid house and rave.

    This volume gets back to the source, with tracks from many of the key UK post-rock albums. It also displays a renewed focus on post-rock’s absorption of elements from a range of sampledelic dance music genre’s and – in particular – hip-hop. So, for those of you who are new to UKPR , this is as good a place to start as any.

    A sixth volume is planned, which will only feature bands that have not appeared on any of the previous volumes. In the meantime, here’s the track-listing for volume five…

    1. Insides – “Bent Double”
    You could comfortably put just about any song from Euphoria on a compilation like this. It’s a more-or-less perfect album and each track works beautifully in its own right. The genius of Euphoria is how it uses tight, interlocking musical cells and abstracted vocals to capture the creepiness of human intimacy. “Bent Double” does a particularly good job of this, helped along by some startling lyrical twists: “You may warm your cold hands on my stomach/And breathe warm air down my neck/But only my best friend will rub my back, hold my head/And stroke the hair out of my face when I’m being sick/Because I can’t hold my drink.”

    2. Long Fin Killie - “The Heads of Dead Surfers”
    Okay, so the first half of this compilation is still quite indie-centric. Don’t worry, the hip-hop and techno-influenced stuff is coming up. For now, just enjoy the vertiginous angles and swooning gestures of Scottish avant-indie band Long Fin Killie. “The Heads of Dead Surfers” features a surprising number of hooks, bursts of free-form saxophone and a guest appearance from Mark E. Smith himself.

    3. Telstar Ponies – “Lugengeschichte”
    Another, Scottish indie band. Those Telstar Ponies were pretty ahead of the game in copping influences from free jazz, British folk and – on this track – the motorik pulse of prime krautrock. It all makes sense when you learn that the band was fronted by Wire magazine critic and England’s Hidden Reverse author David Keenan.

    4. Disco Inferno – “Second Language”
    It wouldn’t be a UK post-rock compilation without a Disco Inferno track and this one probably didn’t appear on any of the previous volumes, right? A marvellous single from the band’s Five EPs heyday, mixing the sampledelic ecstatic with the rock mundane as only Disco Inferno knew how.

    5. Papa Sprain – “Cliff Tune”
    For what little information exists on Papa Sprain, please refer back to this previous post. “Cliff Tune” comes from Gary McKendry and co’s Peel session and probably encapsulates their rather obtuse aesthetic better than any other song they recorded.

    6. Epic45 - “A Year Without a Summer”
    Surely the most recent track on this compilation by some years. Epic45 is a contemporary British indie band unafraid to site Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis as key influences. What this song really demonstrates though, is that Slowdive has become a more than acceptable influence for bands to flaunt. This must be rather baffling for the British music journalists who laughed that most unapologetically fey of all shoegaze bands out of town in the early ’90s.

    7. Scorn - “Light Trap”
    Here comes the hip-hop influence. This track from the Birmingham duo’s bleak master-work Evanescence has a head-nodding beat that might make you want to bust out a freestyle. Resist that urge. Apparently, ex-Scorn/Napalm Death bassist Nic Bullen – who has the vocals covered here, thank you very much – is developing a new project, which is named after this song. Good choice.

    8. Seefeel – “Polyfusion”
    Due to an association with the Warp-sponsored “Artificial Intelligence” scene, Seefeel managed to build a larger and more durable fan-base than most of the early post-rock bands. These fellows must also be the only first-generation post-rockers to stage a proper reformation (but surely they won’t be the last). This track is from their endlessly hypnotic debut album, Quique.

    9. The Third Eye Foundation - “A Galaxy of Scars”
    How has this avoided being on one of the previous volumes? The absolute high-watermark of Bristol post-rock – a sampledelic collage taking in elements of jungle, hip-hop and Nurse with Wound-style weirdness.

    10. Ice – “X-1″
    One of Kevin “The Bug” Martin’s many projects from the early ’90s, Ice’s underrated Bad Blood prefigured the great man’s more popular recent work by employing the services of various hip-hop emcees (though Martin is now better known for his work with reggae deejays). Here, Sebastien from the mighty New Kingdom gets busy over a groove that is lither and less lumbering than most of Martin’s work from this period.

    11. Terminal Cheesecake - “Ginge le Geezer”
    Terminal Cheesecake is another band that has been previously discussed on this here blog. The phrase “Pop Will Eat Itself finally getting serious” was used. Be afraid.

    12. Bark Psychosis – “Absent Friend”
    This thread on the UK Post-Rock Group has clearly shown that “Absent Friend” is Bark Psychosis’s most popular song. Humbling news for those of us who barely noticed it nestled in the middle of Hex. It is indeed a marvellous construction. The jazzy drums and dubby bass of the verses pointedly refuse to gel, opening up a huge gap in the song, which is sporadically filled by the cascading guitars and gushing vocals of the chorus.

    You can grab any individual tracks you may want by clicking on the links above or download the whole thing from this link.

    If that doesn’t work, try this one.

    And here’s where you can still get some of the previous volumes:

    Volume Two

    Volume Three

    Volume Four

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: Insides (and Earwig)

    Insides was the Brighton-based duo of J.Serge Tardo and Kirsty Yates. Tardo and Yates started releasing music together in the very early ’90s as two-thirds of the band Earwig, alongside Dimitri Voulis.

    Earwig’s first E.P. – Hardly – displays a distinct post-punk influence with Tardo’s scratchy guitar and Yates’ strident vocals layered atop some rather fussy drum machine beats. Melodically, the influence of the Smiths is also felt heavily throughout.

    What really sets apart songs like “Blind, Stupid and Desperate” and “It’s the Waiting I Can’t Stand” is the lyric writing of Kirsty Yates. From the get-go, she had an incredible talent for arranging apparently mundane phrases into stanzas of chilling malice and almost embarrassing intimacy.

    You can download the whole thing from The Blackened Air.

    By 1992, when Earwig released its one-and-only full length LP – Under My Skin I am Laughing – the Insides sound was pretty much in place. The electronics had become more pronounced (but sparser) and the guitars more ornate.

    Once again, though, it was Yates who made the real difference. She’d started to slur and lisp her way through the songs. The malice was greater but it was also more insidious – wrapped in a soft, warm blanket of sensuality.

    The epic single “Every Day Shines” is as hypnotic as anything Insides released, while “We Could Be Sisters” sounds like The Durutti Column’s evil twin.

    Again, you can download it all from The Blackened Air.

    The following year, the debut Insides album Euphoria was released on 4AD subsidiary Guernica. Voulis had left the band and the sound developed on Under My Skin had been perfected.

    Euphoria is, without a doubt, Tardo and Yates’ masterpiece. It opens with the almost straightforwardly sexy “Walking in Straight Lines” lines but as the album progresses, it gets ever darker – as if the characters described in the songs are sinking deeper and deeper into viciously dysfunctional relationships.

    Pretty much every song on this album is gold but “Relentless” ranks as a mid-point highlight. You are strongly urged to seek out a hard copy of Euphoria. Everybody should have one.

    The year after that, Insides released an instrumental E.P. called Clearskin. Its one track – “In Search of Spaces” – brings in a noticeable Steve Reich influence. In and of itself, Clearskin is great and really quite ambitious. But coming right after the emotionally intense Euphoria, it seemed like a bit of a cop out.

    Guess what? You can decide for yourself after you download the whole thing from The Blackened Air.

    After Clearskin, Insides did what all the great post-rock bands were doing at that time: they disappeared. Rather astonishingly though, they actually released a second full-length album in 2000. The ’90s may have been over by this point but you wouldn’t guess it listening to the inoffensively jazzy trip-hop of Sweet Tip.

    The album has a few great tracks – notably “All Life Long” and “Nothing Could be Sweeter” – but it utterly lacks the highly individual musical inventiveness and sly lyrical intensity that made Euphoria a classic.

    Yet again, you can judge for yourself by downloading the whole thing from The Blackened Air.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: Spoonfed Hybrid – Spoonfed Hybrid (Guernica) LP

    In 1993, Ian Masters left Pale Saints, the Leeds-based, 4AD-signed band he had led since 1987, apparently to pursue a more left-field musical direction. It’s also tempting to suspect that the rest of the Pale Saints had grown tired of Masters’ antics – which included peppering interviews with ludicrous fibs and disrupting the nice pop songs his band-mates were trying to write by transposing the tunes into weird time signatures.

    Whatever the case, Masters’ next move was to team up with Chris Trout of the suitably eccentric A.C. Temple, forming Spoonfed Hybrid. The duo released just one full-length album, on 4AD’s post-rock-centric subsidiary Guernica (plus a couple of 7″ singles).

    The music on this self-titled album is more serene than Pale Saints’ angst-ridden shoegaze rock. It falls squarely into the “new age post-punk” sound pioneered by The Durutti Column and developed by 4AD bands like Dif Juz. Fans of Kate Bush will also find much to love in Spoonfed Hybrid’s chintzy synth sounds and winsome vocals.

    Masters’ tricksy ways aren’t allowed to disrupt things too much but you can hear them lurking just around the corner on “Naturally Occurring Anchors”. It’s his choir-boy voice that dominates the mood of the album, though. In fact, it’s quite jarring when Trout steps up to the mic for “A Pocketful of Dust”.

    The cult of shoegaze has done much to preserve the reputation of Masters’ first band. Quite right too – The Comforts of Madness is a near flawless album. It would be nice, though, if the folks who are keeping that particular flame burning would turn their collective attention to the more diffident – but no less impassioned – Spoonfed Hybrid.

    ***

    Post-Rocktoberfest: Early Moonshake

    Dave Callahan was a member of second-division Creation records band The Wolfounds. Getting its initial break by featuring on the NME’s era-defining C86 compilation, this group started out playing fairly standard UK indie but grew progressively more experimental throughout its career.

    After The Wolfhounds broke up, Callahan made a pretty definitive statement of intent by calling his next band Moonshake, after the Can song. Moonshake teamed Callahan with an American guitarist and vocalist called Margaret Fiedler (later of Laika), as well as a kick-ass rhythm section that could have given the Can boys a run for their money.

    Naturally, Moonshake’s 1991 debut E.P. came out on Creation. Good as it is, First gives little indication that Moonshake would ever amount to more than The Wolfhounds had. The influence of the band’s label mates My Bloody Valentine looms large, although – to be fair – the sampledelic “Gravity” and Fielder’s folky “Coward” are markedly more impressive than anything the post-MBV shoegaze scene was churning out at the time.

    Seeing the way things were going, Callahan ended Moonshake’s relationship with Creation and latched on to the post-rock-friendly Too Pure label (also the early home of Stereolab and Seefeel). The band also began developing a much starker, more aggressive sound on its second 12″, Second Hand Clothes.

    “Second Hand Clothes” itself might just be the most extraordinary UK post-rock track of all. Nothing on this song feels quite normal (the ludicrously deep bass, the mangled guitars, Callahan’s off-key, nasal vocal) but it asserts itself with an astonishing force. On the B-side, “Drop in the Ocean” really gives that rhythm section the work-out it deserves.

    The band’s debut LP – Eva Luna – expands on the formula established by Second Hand Clothes. It opens with the magnificently vitriolic “City Poison” and doesn’t let up for its entire duration. Notably, the use of sampling becomes more sophisticated and Fiedler really starts to assert herself as a songwriter, particularly on “Beautiful Pigeon”, which was the lead track on the band’s next E.P.

    The Beautiful Pigeon 12″ was followed (in 1993) by a mini album called Big Good Angel. On tracks like “Two Trains”, the magic is still there but on gets the sense that Moonshake’s focus was beginning to weaken. Callahan and Fiedler seemed to agree that they should pursue a more sample-based direction but their aesthetic priorities seemed to be at odds.

    Fiedler left to form Laika, wrapping here songs around liquid grooves that weren’t a million miles from the emerging trip-hop sound. Callahan continued the Moonshake project, making the band’s sound increasingly angular and unforgiving. There’s a lot to recommend Fiedler and Callahan’s post Big Good Angel Work (particularly the excellent first Laika album Silver Apples of the Moon) but it conspicuously lacks the wild-eyed sense of self-belief apparent on Eva Luna.
  • Bubblegum Cage III: September 2009

    24 Sep 2009, 2:02

    All reviews originally published (with MP3s of the individual songs mentioned) at:

    http://bubblegumcage3.com/

    ***

    Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

    And where – you might be forgiven for asking – is the hip-hop? Well, first of all, we try not to call it “hip-hop” too much around here. Hip-hop is an aerobics class you can take at some yuppie gym. What we’re talking about here is rhyming, emceeing… rapping. And few have rapped better than the legendary Big L.

    Big L was arguably the most talented emcee in producer Diamond D’s perennially (commercially) underachieving Digging in the Creates posse (D.I.T.C.) He first came to the rap world’s attention with a guest spot on “Represent”, the stand-out cut from Runaway Slave, Showbiz & AG’s classic 1992 album. On this track, L fairly bursts into life: “Yo, on the mic is Big L, that brother who kicks flav’, God/Known for sending garbage emcees to the graveyard.”

    While L’s considerable talent was immediately obvious to anyone who heard the opening lines of “Represent”, he didn’t get to release his own solo album until 1995 – right at the tail end of hardcore hip-hop’s early-’90s golden age. Sadly, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous ended up being his only proper full-length release – he died in 1999, leaving the follow-up uncompleted.

    What’s so great about Big L, then? Well, to really understand that, you first have to look at what’s not so great about Big L. The thing is, perhaps more than any other emcee, Big L represents the central conundrum of rap music: how can such ugly sentiments be expressed so beautifully? On “Da Graveyard” L spits: “I make a duck shed much tears/I buck queers/I don’t have it all upstairs/But who the fuck cares?”

    So, the sentiments expressed on Lifestylez… are ugly, even by the standards of mid-’90s rap. In particular, L’s homophobia is utterly rancid and unforgivable. He rhymes about his professed love of murdering homosexuals on just about every cut – to the point that it gets a little ridiculous.

    And it’s that very ridiculousness that contains the seed of Big L’s salvation. See, while the gritty street tales of Lifestylez… go out of their way to “represent the real”, as all hardcore hip-hop lyrics must, L had a tendency to blow things way, way out of proportion. At one point, does he really rap about killing his own momma for small change?

    Big L instinctively understood that emceeing is all about elevating boastfulness to a high art. Unlike a lot of emcees, though, he also understood that you have to make that shit funny and – above all – musical. “M.V.P.” may just be the high-water mark of funny, musical boasting in rap music: “In a street brawl I strike men/Quicker than lightning/You seen what happened in my last fight, friend?/A’ight then!”

    “Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous” is not only the album’s title track, it’s also the perfect summation of Big L’s lyrical aesthetic, containing classic couplets like “Yo, I admit I’m a sucker/A low down dirty, sneaky, double crossin’, connivin’ muthafucka/Breakin’ in cribs with a crow bar/I wasn’t poor, I was po’/I couldn’t afford the O.R.” and “Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim/Once a brother done broke into my house and I robbed him!”

    Like all D.I.T.C. releases, this album has fantastic beats – eerie, inventive and dangerously funky. But it’s Big L’s prodigious lyrical talent and his ability to charm the listener against all odds that make Lifestylez… such a stand-out classic.

    It’s hard not to feel that the ruthless, homophobic psycho Big L portrayed in his lyrics was merely the creation of a very smart artist, who new how to play up to the very specific demands of hardcore hip-hop’s core audience, while subtly subverting those same demands with wit and sly self deprecation.

    On other albums from this period, the token “conscious” track can sound very contrived. But the conscious single from this album, “Street Struck”, sounds incredibly heartfelt. Knowing that L had two brothers who did time in prison puts real emotional weight behind lines like: “I’ve seen a lot of my peers/Give up their careers/For some fast money/They could have been boxers, ball players or rap singers/Instead they bank robbers and crack slingers/Hey yo, they used to be legit kids/Now they corrupt/They had dreams but gave ‘em up/’Cos they street struck .”

    Big L’s death was a pretty sorry affair. In fact, the story of L’s demise reads like one of his own sick jokes. He was shot and killed in an apparently senseless incident – a tragic crime that remains unsolved to this day. The best the cops could figure it, he was killed as revenge for something one of his brothers did in jail.

    Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous seems to be in circulation as a vinyl LP, which you can obtain via Discogs marketplace.

    ***

    Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

    The power that received opinion continues to have over music criticism is really incredible. You’d think the Internet would have caused unconventional and iconoclastic viewpoints to proliferate. In fact, the Web has merely provided more efficient ways for narrow-minded dogmas to gain utter hegemony over the critical discourse. The major print publications and Web portals can pigeonhole an artist on Monday and by the end of the week, the whole blogosphere is parroting the party line.

    This is more than mere consensus building – it’s the reconfiguration of musical reality from the ground up. Case in point: post-rap pioneers Antipop Consortium. Over the course of two albums, APC proved themselves to be one of the most inventive, exciting and downright funny groups working in any genre. But because of their association with experimental music and the deathly unfashionable indie rap movement of the early ’00s, APC have found themselves universally branded as po-faced pedallers of fun-free obscuritanism.

    Here’s where the reconfiguration of reality comes in. Just about anything you’ll read about APC will tell you that their songs don’t have hooks. In fact, at least half of their tracks have choruses that range from pretty catchy to maddeningly memorable. Perhaps that’s what you get for calling yourselves “Antipop Consortium”. Still, this case really goes to show how people will toe the critical line in the face of massive contradictory evidence.

    Antipop called it a day six years ago. The crew’s individual members went on to pursue a range of rather unsatisfactory projects before deciding to reform a year-or-so ago. The upshot of this most welcome reformation is APC’s third album, Fluorescent Black. So is the magic still there?

    Well Fluorescent Black is certainly Antipop’s weakest full-length. It’s a sprawling, uneven affair that can’t decide whether to settle on the spooky experimentalism of Tragic Epilogue or the avant-party vibe of Arrhythmia. It contains some pretty major misfires too, including a few highly jarring bursts of heavy rock instrumentation and a slightly embarrassing cameo from Roots Manuva – who just can’t keep up with Beans, Sayyid and Priest’s galloping rhyme-flows.

    But when Fluorescent Black is good, man is it ever great! On the whole, it works best when going way out on a limb. The descriptively named “Timpani” consists of little more a kettle drum loop, a few dark atmospherics and some seriously munted vocal samples. Oh and an italo disco outro. “Get Lite”, meanwhile, is based around some dizzying synth arrpeggios and more-than-usually breathless rhyming. It’ll make you lite headed.

    Antipop’s LPs tend to be growers. Fluorescent Black could easily end up being one of the albums of the year. Don’t listen to the critical consensus, this is some serious fun!

    Fluorescent Black will be released by Big Dada on September 29th.

    ***

    Richard Youngs - Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits

    Richard Youngs is surely one the United Kingdom’s most under-appreciated musical artists. Even appearing on the front cover of The Wire magazine a few years back didn’t seem to boost his profile all that much.

    Youngs’ music ranges the gamut from acoustic singer-songwriter rock to no-holds-barred free-form noise. Whatever mode he’s working in though, Youngs always gives something fundamentally uplifting to whatever listeners he may have.

    Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits is hardly the most significant entry in his sizeable discography. A CDR released in a tiny run, …Ultrahits was apparently recorded as a goof, when a friend dared Youngs to record a straightforward pop album.

    Youngs took the dare but the results give the impression he didn’t take it too seriously. This is a distinctly imperfect album that sounds like it was recorded very, very quickly indeed. The electronic backings are rather generic, the songs are mostly quite rudimentary and the vocal harmonies are often shaky.

    But there are more serious problems with …Ultrahits. Firstly, it’s slightly disturbing that this is Richard Youngs’ idea of a straightforward pop album. In fact, it’s not really a pop album at all – it’s a quirky indie rock album. Has indie rock achieved such cultural hegemony that even an artist of Youngs’ range can’t see past it?

    Perhaps, though, what we really have here is just another Richard Youngs album. That’s a problem too – his folky tones and sincerely mystical lyrics just don’t sound right over faux-R&B beats. Real pop stars simply don’t write vegan cookbooks, do they?

    Having said all this, the wrongness of ...Ultrahits – it’s awkward, ragged imperfection – is also the album’s charm; its saving grace. If you can get past your preconceptions about what Youngs was supposed to achieve, the results are actually quite beguiling. And many of the songs are simply beautiful.

    “A Storm of Light Ignites My Heart” is a particularly lovely anthem to the night sky. The shuffling back-beat might seem a little uncharacteristic but don’t be fooled – this is Youngs at his ecstatic best. “Collapsing Stars” is great too. Based around a naggingly familiar sample loop (Lali Puna? Pluramon?), it’s lilting folk-song melody is totally at odds with the concept of the album but utterly perfect for Youngs’ voice.

    So, out of all this imperfection, all this wrongness, comes one of 2009’s most winning albums. Sadly, as a limited run CDR, Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits is – by all accounts – waaay out of print.

    ***

    Black Moon - Diggin' in dah Vaults

    Black Moon’s Enta da Stage is the mighty Woebot’s favourite ’90s rap record, so you know these guys are worth the time of day. Enta da Stage certainly makes an impression – it must be one of the darkest hip-hop albums ever released.

    Early on, Black Moon had some sort of association with Mobb Deep. Both crews certainly espoused a similarly bleak worldview but whereas Mobb Deep wrapped this worldview in all sorts of half-baked Social Darwinist rhetoric, Black Moon seemed to simply accept their harsh ‘90s reality, no questions asked. They weren’t interested in self-justification – which somehow made them even scarier.

    Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a compilation of singles, B-sides and outtakes, released some time after the Black Moon crew’s 1995 break-up (they later reformed but never quite managed to recapture their initial spark of inspiration). For the most part, it reprises songs from Enta da Stage, adding lusher production and more sophisticated, melodic emceeing.

    While Enta da Stage is a devastatingly effective statement of intent, lead emcee Buckshot and producer Evil Dee both reached peak form on these later tracks. Buckshot’s voice had, by this point, taken on a unique, insinuating rasp and a lilting singsong cadence. Evil Dee, meanwhile, was draping woozy, menacing soundscapes over crisp, minimal beats.

    “Buck ‘em Down (Remix)” is exemplary – replacing the original version’s stark, staccato sound with something at once breathlessly psychedelic and utterly merciless. “Ack Like U Want It (DJ Evil Dee Remix)” and “Murder MCs”, meanwhile, are prowling, deep and subtly dissonant.

    This is nasty, nasty but utterly seductive stuff. It’s hard not to feel like a voyeur listening to these tales of inner-city brutality. It’s also hard to shake the feeling that you might be the next victim.

    And yet Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a deeply rewarding listen. In the final analysis, it seems like a heartfelt attempt to find some oblique kind of beauty in the midst of incredibly dark circumstances.

    Looks like you can buy Diggin’ in dah Vaults from Amazon.

    ***

    Sparklehorse + Fennesz - In the Fishtank 15

    The early career of Christian Fennesz was positively littered with collaborative releases – of varying quality. A few years ago, Fennesz announced that he was going to start being a lot more choosy about collaborations, mainly concentrating on FennO’berg, his trio with Jim O’Rourke and Peter “Pita” Rehberg.

    Rather confusingly, there have been no new FennO’berg albums since that time but Fennesz has gone on tour with Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton (an artist whose good intentions do little to mask his lack of talent) and has also appeared on an album by a rather nondescript indie rock act called Sparklehorse.*

    You might be forgiven for greeting the news of a full-on Sparklehorse + Fennesz release with a copious yawn. But if you took the time to give said release a fair listen, well you’d be taking back that yawn pretty quickly, mister.

    In the Fishtank 15 is the latest entry in the Konkurrent label’s series of collaborative releases, which has previously paired up Low with the Dirty Three and Tortoise with The Ex. It’s basically a document of Fennesz jamming in the studio with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous and it really is surprisingly satisfying.

    Things do not start off promisingly. Early on in the opening track (”Music Box of Snakes”) you can clearly hear Linkous fiddling with a delay pedal – usually the first sign of a clueless rock guitarist trying to be “experimental”. Things pick up pretty quickly though and Linkous ends up acquitting himself rather well – in spite of the fact that the whole session takes place in Fennesz’s abstract/electronic realm and barely strays into Linkous’s world of singers and songwriters.

    In fact, if there’s a weak link here, it’s Fennesz’s guitar playing. Don’t take that the wrong way, Fennesz is an excellent guitarist – with a strong tone and a lovely melodic sensibility – but he does tend towards always playing the same kind of thing. There are a number of moments on this release where he sounds like he’s about to burst into his own classic tune “Codeine”, most obviously on “Christian’s Guitar Piece”.

    And to be honest, the best parts of the whole record are the bits where Linkous’s voice makes an appearance, as on “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “If My Heart”. Listening to these tracks should be pretty humbling stuff for any Fennesz fans who’d written Linkous off as a mere indie rock hack. Maybe Sparklehorse isn’t so bad after all!

    The vinyl version of In the Fishtank 15 is available for pre-order from Insound.

    (*To be fair, there have been some pretty great Fennesz collab’s in recent years, perhaps most notably 2008’s Fennesz Brandlmayr Dafeldecker 2CD.)

    ***

    Mokira - "Persona"

    Mokira is Andreas Tilliander who – like Tape’s Andreas Berthling – is a first-generation glitch electronica producer. From Sweden. Called Andreas.

    During glitch’s post-Oval heyday, Tilliander released albums on Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton. He’s been a little bit under-the-radar for the last few years, so it’s nice to see him releasing some new vinyl on the ever-reliable Type label.

    Persona is hardly a glitch album, though. Apparently, it’s the result of Tilliander’s move towards a purely analogue approach. While this might seem like a cowardly capitulation with the current fashion for vintage synth drones, the simple beauty of these tracks is hard to deny.

    The soft pads and diffuse reverbs of Persona suggest that Tilliander has been spending some time luxuriating in Vladislav Delay’s world of echo. Witness “Lord, am I Going Down?” for evidence.

    But there’s a far more obvious influence at work here: ’80s drone-rock legends the Spacemen 3. “Ode to the Ode to the Street Hassle” rather obviously samples that band’s “Ode to Street Hassle” (itself a rather obvious erm… ode to Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”).

    Tilliander also pays tribute to the band in this biographical sleeve note: “Hats off to Jason Pierce and Peter Kember. Thank you for signing my T-shirt, Jason. Sorry for interrupting your performance.”

    More obliquely, Tilliander’s love of the Spacemen 3 extends to embracing their infatuation with flangers, phasers and all things that go “eeeeeeooowwwwwwaaaaaahhh”. Indeed, the one real weakness of Persona is its over-reliance on these kinds of simplistic effects.

    On the whole, though, this is a delightful return to the fray for Tilliander. You are encouraged to buy it from Forced Exposure.

    ***

    Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

    Throughout the ’90s, Jim O’Rourke was a ubiquitous presence in experimental music and underground rock. He began by prowling the hinterlands of free improv, dark ambient and noise. Gradually, via his membership in David Grubbs’ deconstructionist rock band Gastr Del Sol, he came to the attention of the indie rock cognoscenti. Eventually, he was given the highest honour imaginable, becoming a fully-fledged member of Sonic Youth.

    What really built O’Rourke’s personal fan-base, though, was the series of solo albums he made for Chicago’s Drag City label. These records came cloaked in cover art which ranged from the cloyingly cute to the grotesquely pornographic (occasionally encompassing both aesthetics simultaneously) and were – more often than not – named after Nicolas Roeg films.

    The music itself was an odd – but timely and highly effective – mish-mash of folky-Americana, West Coast pop, progressive rock, digital electronica and easy listening. Some of the albums were instrumental but others – notably O’Rourke’s masterpiece Eureka – came topped off with astoundingly bitter and misanthropic lyrics, sung in his faltering, unassuming little voice.

    In 2001, he released Insignificance, which was simultaneously his most conventional rock album and his most lyrically unpleasant assault on the human race. It was great and sold like hot cakes. After the release of Insignificance, O’Rourke moved to Japan and slimmed down his musical activities to virtually nil.

    Which brings us to The Visitor, his long-awaited new solo full-length. It’s a folky, instrumental effort, along the lines of Bad Timing (the connection is made explicit by the fact that both albums feature images of disco balls on their covers). Though split across two sides of vinyl, it’s essentially one long composition, which O’Rourke has quite possibly been labouring over for these last eight years.

    Side one initially seems none too engaging. It’s full of rather ponderous, rhythmically complex, finger-picked acoustic guitar. The tone is relentlessly melodic and there are no electronics or dissonances to add edge. At times, you fear that O’Rourke is in danger of slipping into the technically clever but aesthetically vapid worlds of third-tier prog rock and lite jazz fusion.

    Things start to make sense as side two picks up the pace, adding some loose improv drumming and dissonant piano parts. By the end of the composition, everything has resolved in a most satisfying fashion. Listen again, with some knowledge of the musical road-map and you’ll find the whole journey extremely pleasurable.

    So, while not outwardly challenging, The Visitor is clearly a record that demands full engagement. On the cover, O’Rourke asks that we listen to it “on speakers, loud”. He’s also refused to have the album released in MP3 format, presumably feeling that the loss of audio fidelity will dull the sharp edges of his precision sound mix. Good for him. Sorry for posting digital extracts.

    Still, The Visitor remains a somewhat enigmatic release that may leave you wondering exactly what Jim O’Rourke is getting at. Perhaps those Roeg-inspired album titles provide a clue. O’Rourke has claimed that, while music is what he does, cinema is what he loves. The concept of “imaginary soundtracks” may be somewhat played out but it’s hard not to think of The Visitor as the soundtrack to a cinematic masterpiece O’Rourke might have dreamed, if he’d been chosen for that particular vocation.

    See – or rather hear – for yourself. Buy The Visitor from Drag City.

    ***

    Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl - A Girl & a Gun

    What the hell is up with that cover, eh? We’ll deal with this issue in a minute. But first…

    In the last couple of years, Christian Fennesz does seem to have become a little less choosy when it comes to collaborations. You have to hand it to him, though – for every collab with an experimental jet-set superstar like Ryuichi Sakamoto or Mike Patton, there’s one that teams Fennesz with some hardcore, grass-roots improvisers based in his native Vienna.

    This 7″, released by Austrian label Interstellar, features the great man alongside Martin Siewert and Burkhard Stangl – names that should be familiar to long-term Fennesz fans. The unknown quantity here is Lucia Pulido. Apparently, she’s a fairly well-known Columbian singer and each side of this 7″ is based on a traditional Columbian song.

    The recordings were made for an art film titled Film ist. A Girl & a Gun, which – judging by the vaguely grotesque sketches adorning the record’s cover – must be pretty, erm…. racy stuff. The songs, on the other hand, are quite straightforwardly pretty and civilized.

    Side A (“Canto de Zafra”) is full of chiming guitars, subtle electronics and cooing vocals. On side B (”Canto de Velorio”), Pulido becomes rather more strident, with intense – but never less than decorative – results. Both sides are very accessible but richly inventive and original.

    This seems like the kind of record that’s going to disappear from print pretty quickly. Hopefully, it’s not already too late for you to buy A Girl & a Gun from Touch.

    ***