First the gloom: remix albums seldom if ever excite me; pips of the predecessor squeaking as the last few notes are squeezed dry, while retailers foresee the slashing of another price tag in a bid to free up some shelf space. Peter Knight and Dung Nguyen – the minds behind the 2010 collaboration Residual – seem equally conscious of this commercial reality in their choice of such a functional designation as RE: Residual, while its ‘name your price’ status on Bandcamp betokens realistic expectations for its place in such a overpopulated sub-category. The original, Residual found the pair introducing Vietnamese instruments into an echoing, electroacoustic, ‘east-meets-west’ setting, which involved adopting the usual tack of subsuming the orient(al) in a grey mist, the results of which some have strangely likened to Miles Davis’ fusion period (at a stretch I’d go to Bill Laswell’s Panthalassa remixes).
For the follow-up the Parenthèses label’s Alexis Courtin and Peter Knight handpicked a respectable set of remixers, their work covering modest ground between dubby, downtempo throb to more meandering electroacoustic treatments; an obvious but necessary strategy of polite reserve that obviates awkward over-eclecticism. While it’s a solid enough effort, I can’t help but lament that beyond Black Sifichi’s dusky monologue on stars in ‘Travelling’, little effort is made to overthrow the safety and almost political correctness of the source material. However, listeners can scarcely ignore the philanthropy of the price, and ought to consider making up their own minds.
The Greek/German duo Alcalica continue to reinforce their image of ‘80s dark/minimal wave as a vehicle for the protest song in [WATER] 1 (PHOTOVOLTAIC RECORDS 06 LP), drawing equally upon London squat parties and minor Asian folk styles for their latest pot pourri of underground/cultural resistance motifs, which includes thick waves of bassy electronics, delicately phrased Rebetika 2 and odd spells of dance subgenres, narrated dispassionately at times by multi-lingual vocalist Julie Loi. All of this is held up as a riposte to the encroaching structures of globalisation and the corrupt social and political elites that manage them. While a bit retro-pastiche at times, the group lacks no commitment to their ideals as they report s(in several tongues) the dark deeds that on which the mass media is silent, including secret paramilitaries (‘Gladio’) and the privatisation/pollution of water (from which the album takes its name).
Onto the concrete veneer of reality they superimpose their utopian vision, one that distinguishes the transcendental beauty of the quotidian from the gloom of routine. The dreary rumble of opener ‘Crumbling’, which might once have inhabited a small-run cassette compilation, conveys dystopian imagery with a resignation spared only by the resilience of Petros Michalas’ baglamas work, the latter (the work of several such musicians and instruments) comprising the most dignified element of this folk-fusion melange. At best Alcalica express lyricism and resolve as they lead us through the murky waters of western culture, but (call me fussy) standards are lowered by the warning shots of drum n’bass in ‘Mraw’ and (to a lesser extent) ‘Gladio’, where the fusion smacks of needless contrivance (a point the Secret Chiefs 3 demonstrated amply on similar efforts in the late nineties) alongside the more timeless Rebetiko element. Indeed, the truism that eclecticism without clear purpose is merely confused is almost – though not quite – fitting at such times.
Our last encounter with Springintgut was 2013’s patchy Where We Need No Map, which extolled the highs and lows of travelling abroad in an erratic series of elegant-to-embarrassing ethno/electro holiday snaps, the best of which made impressive use of his cello variant, the ‘fello’. Perhaps solo travel is not Andi Otto’s forte, for his journey with F.S. Blumm finds him in far finer fettle. The Bird and White Noise (NIGHT CRUISING NCD 04 / PINGIPUNG PP043) strips away the fat and leaves us a lean feed of cello, guitar and signature-free field recordings from Japan, India and Italy through the electronics and a more wizened bag of tricks to savour. The seventeen tracks heard here came about during a 2014 tour of Japan and rolled off the tongue rather easily it seems, the pair’s original intention having been a single, collaborative track with which to close their shows, but an album prevailed. These things happen I suppose, and lucky for us that it did.
It’s impressive how the pair avoid covering the same ground twice, or pushing a formulaic alternation of the lead role. There is actually no ‘lead’ as such, as the pair prefer to drape themselves in effects for much of it, infusing their tunes in an exotic warmth. Amidst this travelogue of naturalistic melodies, single-status goes to the business schedule-tight bounce of ‘In Zügen’, which sports a music video that features the endless ranks of faceless grey tenements that flank the shinkansen lines, yet not quite draining that land of its mystique. No less remarkable are the few magical close-ups that invite non-musical objects like ping pong balls and rattling stones to share their voice, granting us a more genuine sense of natural splendour than a reel of location recording. Indeed, whether found or performed, these recordings properly maintain the occidental tradition of polite wonder encountered abroad, and I imagine the pair were deservedly received with the greatest hospitality wherever they went.