Tagged: American

MacArthur’s Lark

macarthur

Here’s another reissue obscurity from Out-Sider Music, the Spanish offshoot of Guerssen, whose other offshoot Mental Experience brought us the reissues of Circles and Red Square. MacArthur (OSR044) was made by an American band in the late 1970s and described here as a “US basement psych-prog monster”. I understand why these reissue labels feel the need to hype everything they put out, but this is such a mediocre example of 1970s American rock that I find this hyperbole hard to swallow. Apart from some quite good flashes of accomplished lead guitar work, this whole album is an undistinguished piece of work, with lame songs, poor vocals, and a heavy-handed rhythm section.

MacArthur are sold to us as a form of progressive rock or psychedelic rock, but for the most part they resemble a third-rate version of Kansas, Boston, or Foghat. A charitable listener might find consonances between album opener ‘Light Up’ and the early work of Focus (it comes within an ace of turning into ‘Sylvia’), and ‘The Black Forest’ is a Flamenco-tinged instrumental that vaguely suggests sword-and-sorcery themes drawn from the well of Led Zeppelin IV. On ‘Prelude No 1 in C Major’, the guitarist indulges his skill for baroque classical guitar, and ‘The Shock Of The New’ is a showcase for ELP-styled pyrotechnics with speedy acoustic piano licks followed by Euro-prog moog solo excess. But MacArthur’s real passion is for playing power ballads, with unexceptional time signatures and unemotive vocals from the lead singer, and this material is what characterises most of the album. It’s quite some way from being “underground” as I would understand it; it seems more plausible that MacArthur had their sights set on finding their way into the AOR charts and FM radio play. Unfortunate timing for them, given that MTV was just about to dawn, resulting in significant changes to the market and audience they were seeking for their music.

The story of it is that MacArthur recorded the album at home in 1979, on a four-track machine. There are other, less credible, stories that say it was recorded in 1973 and released in 1974, but this is probably just wishful thinking. The creative nexus is songwriter Ben MacArthur and instrumentalist-arranger Bill Heffelfinger, who met in Saginaw in Michigan. Heffelfinger seems to be the main creative powerhouse; he arranged the songs and produced the album, the guitar and keyboard solos are all his, and so are what the press notes describe as “mini-moog analog synth attacks”.

The resulting album was a private-press release, comprising 200 copies (or 500; again, there are conflicting stories about this detail). It appeared in a very plain sleeve; the label is at pains to tell us the lengths they have gone to restore the “embossed letters” which appear on the LP version of this release, sparing no expense to represent the band’s original intention. Before this official release, there was a bootleg version circulating with a rather attractive collage cover, retitled The Black Forest, a release which may well have been the source of the wrong dates and other misinformation. Even that bootleg is rare, which persuades me that there are some vinyl collectors who will chase after anything provided it’s obscure enough, regardless of the quality of the music. Guerrsen and Out-Sider have been “reissuing rare and obscure psychedelic, progressive, folk and garage albums from the 60s to early 80s” now since 2010, arguably picking up the torch from other dubious labels who do likewise, such as Akarma, Radioactive Records, and Phoenix.

MacArthur is a very mixed bag and extremely uneven album which I can’t recommend, except as an odd period piece. From 16th April 2016.

Unique ‘n’ Wondrous

dredd-quest

Dredd Foole (i.e. Dan Ireton) has In Quest Of Tense (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR213), a vintage album from 1994 originally released as a CD by Forced Exposure and now reissued on vinyl by Feeding Tube Records. One common factor between these two labels is writer and collector Byron Coley, who writes about this release from direct experience, knowing the major players involved, and he provides an exhaustive sleeve note documenting the genesis of this release and putting the music and song of Dredd Foole in context, an exercise which I personally find extremely useful…I had no idea Dredd Foole And The Din (with its ever-shifting lineups) had been active since the late 1980s, nor that there was such a strong antipathy towards conventional rock music, and its apparent ubiquity, being harboured by Ireton and his followers. At any rate it’s clear that Coley and the FE team welcomed the music as a breath of fresh air, perhaps at a time when the USA was saturated by an unwelcome surfeit of Nirvana imitators. The story of this record is that after a number of spotty releases and live gigs in the early 1990s, Dan Ireton got his hands on a four-track recorder and a reverb unit, and recorded In Quest Of Tense at home in Wakefield. It’s all solo too, apart from one track which features his frequent sideman Ed Yazijian on slide guitar. The result of one week’s worth of improvising, In Quest Of Tense was released as a CD in 1994 and – according to Mr Coley – is now regarded as a seminal piece in the development of a latterday acoustic folk underground scene across the eastern seaboard of the United States, a phenomenon that would include I suppose The Tower Recordings and P.G. Six, and led to strains which later developed into even more unhinged and hairy free-form collectives, like Sunburned Hand of the Man or Valley Of Ashes.

Dredd Foole undoubtedly occupies his own niche, however. While I’m still not sure if I count myself a complete convert to his cult, there’s no denying the power of this release, the unique sound of it, and the generally unhinged vibes emanating from every moment of his free-wheeling performances. When I heard That Lonesome Road Between Hurt and Soul, his record for Bo Weavil Recordings, I was trying to reclaim Dredd Foole as some sort of warped American storyteller. But on In Quest Of Tense, he’s more like a demented wild-eyed poet, at times slipping into the assumed identity of a mountain hermit, possessed by the need to howl his self-penned chants and spells into the wind as he hurls them against the follies of the world. His special talent is revealed most clearly on the two long tracks, ‘Turn Turn (Turn)’ and especially ‘Ascension: Ra And Buk (Bridge Of Cries)’, the latter of which occupies most of side two; this is a performer who relishes the large canvas, so that he can fill every available moment with his continually-extemporised strums and vocals like Jackson Pollock flinging and dripping paint every which way. Once he’s in the zone, there’s no stopping the man, that much is clear. It’s impossible to decode any of the content of his mystic incomprehensible yawls, but the sense of meaning is still somehow transferred, and he’s not some loopy acid-head jabbering empty platitudes in an invented language.

The listener can’t help be overwhelmed by the odd sound of the record. Who’d have thought that a reverb unit, adding liberal doses of echo across almost the whole album, could have created such uncanny sensations of mind-altering dizzyness…that, and Foole’s brilliantly raw stabs at overdubbing additional guitars and other instruments, showing that he managed to master the technology at his disposal very quickly. Then there’s the cavernous tone of his singing voice, often-times transformed into another instrument as he barks or yelps out crazed vocal interjections to spur the song along like an errant beast on a cattle drive. One vocal mannerism is his hollowed-out mouth drone used to accompany certain passages, providing his own unique take on the art of overtone singing. The listener need only tune in for five seconds and that box of paracetamol will fly out the window. Many of the factors coalesce nicely on the 3-minute ‘Glory’, which is more like a poem or recit than a song, one that starts out like an incarnation of the truly dark prince of Rock that Jim Morrison never quite managed to become in reality, and then degenerates quite swiftly into an alarming flurry of overdubbed mouth-jabberings. Wild, freaky stuff; perhaps its only precedent on vinyl is the record by Mij The Yodelling Astrologer, that 1969 freakeroonie released by ESP-Disk’. It too made liberal use of the echo chamber to multiply and magnify the stoned ramblings of its creator.

The term “folk music” has been applied in recent years to all manner of material that is clearly nothing whatever to do with indigenous folk music history at all, and happens simply to involve acoustic guitars or non-electric instruments. One such example of this grand error is so-called “Finnish Folk”. Even Coley can’t quite bring himself to write the word and instead coins the phrase “modern völk sub-underground” to help situate Dredd Foole’s work in a context we can live with. However, faced with the crags and rough edges of this near-possessed statement, I can’t help but think of it as a piece of hand-made folk art, thinking not of music but of some physical artefact crafted in leather or wood and exhibited outside the house of some isolated American loner-genius. A cultivated form of Outsider Art, almost, but I’m aware that’s an even more loaded term. At any rate, this might be the record that finally tips the balance for me in favour of this one-of-a-kind musician. Provided the doctor lets me out at weekends, that is. From 22 September 2015.

Presidential Karaoke

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We received Mad Genius Presents…2012 from Mad Manor Multimedia in Madison WI, creators who call themselves “an anonymous collective of found sound addicts”…the ten tracks on their CD use collaged voice samples from the media and intend to create a global portrait of doom, disaster, and civil unrest. It seems all the sources come from YouTube videos published in the year 2012…the original plan of our plucky subversive team was to create a podcast from these materials, and say something about the “End Of Days” – it seems apocalypse culture is still alive and well, nearly 30 years after the publication of Adam Parfrey’s survey. But the Mad Manor dwellers were convinced they had something even more explosive on their hands, and assembled this album in 2015 in response to what appears to be a significant upsurge of interest from the online community. “It was played and shared thousand of times online”, to use their own expression; the present release is a remastered and “reimagined” version of the original internet piece.

From a welter of news reports, satirical and surreal sound collages have been forged, and set to the thumping tunes of disco beats and synth pop tunes with primitive simplistic melodies, the better to hammer home the messages. Among the subjects under scrutiny are crime and urban decay, race relations, contraception, the judiciary, shootings in schools, hurricanes, the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, and politics. Mostly American politics, I might add… It’s one thing to present “a sonic time capsule for the end of days”, but apparently this imminent disaster doesn’t apply to the rest of the world outside of the United States; yet the collages were created “using the world’s social media”, implying a more global ambition. This may simply reflect the near-domination of YouTube by American source materials and American commenters, but it tends to limit the range of this would-be subversive statement; and I find it’s already quite limited by concentrating so exclusively on media reports.

As satire, the device of chopping up the recorded words of politicians so they apparently say something contradictory, or rude, is a very old joke; I can’t say that Mad Manor improve on the formula much. A lot of their jokes fall flat because they’re so obvious – hypocritical media discussions on contraception are an easy target, likewise are most utterances of mealy-mouthed CNN presenters and other brash journalists. Some jokes don’t travel; the minutiae of the madness underlying presidential campaigns has been a perennial favourite of American satirists, lovingly detailed every four years by Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip in the 1950s and beyond, for instance; but it always baffles me why they think the rest of the world should care so much about it.

I prefer this album when the targets are less obvious, and the intended message far more ambivalent; for instance, ‘The Adventures Of Hurricane Mike’ succeeds in this regard, and amounts to a slightly creepy and unsettling four minutes of frown-inducing sound art. But there are few such moments; and the album browbeats more than it persuades, delivering its “clever” collaged sound-bites and agitated music with the subtlety of a Bren gun, resulting in a wearying listen. Negativland and The KLF are name-checked as precedents, of course, but I still much prefer the subtle and more humourous approaches of People Like Us. The cover art also plays games; it inserts the impassive, sun-glassed visage of Mad Genius into various real-life photos, thus enabling him to stamp his presence across time and space. This is a fairly obvious diluted version of the image of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the whole Church of Subgenius trope. From 13 November 2015.

Zeit und Sein

Kenneth Kirschner

Kenneth Kirschner
Compressions & Rarefactions
USA 12K 12K1083 CD (2015)

It is a known phenomenon that the menstrual cycles of two women cohabiting will quickly assume the same rhythm. In any given situation, bodies occupying the same space must conform to the law of dynamic equilibrium if they are not to find themselves rejected, regardless of the nature of the relationship in question. For someone who lives in the countryside, the contours of that environment must become as intimate as a lover amid the stillness that would prove unbearable if not befriended.

A corresponding survival strategy must be employed in the city, in which the constant hubbub is something most of us filter out as we go about our business in as easy a manner as if we were living in a quiet suburb: symbiotically conforming to the urban pulse. However, New York City – ‘the capital of the world’ as some put it – has never been short of composers for whom the perpetual din acts as something more than a distraction; rather, something to be reflected back into the never-ending state of play.

In spite of their superficial differences and respective muses, Minimalist composers such as Glass, Reich and even Feldman have all made it their business to internalise and collectively refract such unshielded chaos through monumentally proportioned works that offer us listeners some perspective both on the ultimately conservative order of chaos itself and on the perspective of the artist for whom the tumultuous backdrop acts as a canvas for a very specific point of focus; one to which we must be attentive – perhaps exclusively so – if we are to recognise the grandeur of their architecture.

The New York composer Kenneth Kirschner takes his place unselfconsciously among these ranks. His compositions, five of them collected here, appear to go nowhere for very long periods of time; up to two hours in fact, without rumour of destination. It is the rhythm of a city that never sleeps. His terminations are merely the voice of a body exhausted and surrendering to the need for sleep, where even in retirement one does not simply ‘forget’ what has been heard (for it has never died away) and imperceptibly our entire nervous system has quietly accommodated their subtle movements and intrigues as it proceeds into whatever preoccupation that follows.

This is not to say that Kirschner’s music lacks variety: one can quickly discern this fact by skipping through the tracks. In three of the pieces, miniature orchestras perform polyphonic contortions within a dark, indeterminate space; truncated suggestions of phrases condensing and dispersing at a maddening crawl, eliciting genuine sympathy for the musicians who appear to be on the verge of freezing solid. Perhaps this is why the compositions end without resolution, as they do.

Except the performance is illusory: working with as little as a single violinist, Kirschner has recorded, manipulated and layered the performances – which must still have been no picnic for the performers – into a new (or ‘New’) organism with a microtonally detailed nervous system – one capable of both withstanding and even influencing that of the surrounding climate, or at least that of the willing participant. We are invited to peer into the cracks between layers; the thawing icicles of piano and percussion; the respiratory silences between bars, where we may encounter the spectres of our own sleeping selves. In the process of listening to these pieces, we may lose all sense of time and all expectation of conclusion, for when all is said and done all we are left with, ironically, is the date on which each piece was recorded.

Two of the pieces fall short of thirty minutes and these are on the CD. Three further can (and should) be downloaded following purchase, which is where the real substance is to be found. It is as though Kirschner would taunt us for our materialism; our coveting the tangible object, when it is our desire that possesses us. By engaging with his music we are expected to relinquish such urges and partake in the play of elements – the ‘waves of pressure and absence’ – that we would otherwise forsake.

A potent symbol for us therefore is the empty glass, which forms the sound source for ‘July 17, 2010’. By no means unprecedented in the field of electroacoustic music, the vessel offers the sound artist a vast range of tones and textures, and Kirschner draws extensively upon this throughout the piece, as it tunnels and condenses around us, reducing our perspective to that of the sand grain itself as the glasses’ atomic structure regresses back to that of constituent elements whirling in their lonely orbits.

The second piece on the CD, ‘April 16, 2013’ stands alone as a distinctly musical statement: a warming sun-shower of tuned percussion parts that bathes us after what has preceded and in preparation for the epic that is to follow. While enjoying this, we might lay eyes upon artist Kysa Johnson’s supra-mathematical calligraphy, which adorns the CDs all-too-diminutive sleeve and which provides the music’s conceptual underpinning. Like the music, it alternates between compression and rarefaction, but it does so with a view of carefully adjusting the rhythm of the spectator, ultimately blurring the distinction between perceiver and perceived. In the end, it is universal law that succeeds and we are restored.

The Killing Floor

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Theme From An Imaginary Slasher (SYSTEMS NEUTRALIZERS 05) is an essential slab of noisy punk guitar thrash played, mangled and spat out by Reg Bloor, who last came our way as one half of The Paranoid Critical Revolution in 2011. Now on her debut solo album, she’s still at home on Systems Neutralizers Records and still providing raw ‘n’ scratchy cover art, in the form of bloodthirsty gore fantasies enacted by crazed stick-figures…last time it was an axe, this time a chainsaw, but either way the victim suffers a headache they won’t be waking up from in a hurry. Bloor’s taste for grand guignol continues to a lesser extent in tune titles such as ‘Chasing Ghosts’, ‘4 Dada Suicides’ and ‘Killing Mind’, but mostly in the ultra-violent music which is played entirely by her FX-laden guitar screeching its way across many New York lofts by way of Marshall amps and a stack of pedals about the size of the Woolworth Building 1. There’s some “drum programming” assist from Roger Oldtown, but this is pretty much a solo Bloor effort, and it’s also great to hear her emotional, pained warbling, such as on ‘Eastbound Train’.

What we like here, apart from the sizzling excitement of these high-speed collision pileups, is the concision and brevity of each tune, most of them running the mile in under three triumphant minutes of energy-packed glory and arriving sweat-free and breathless to break the tape with a flourish. At a time when guitarists around the world are copying the Haino template which obliges them to turn in excessive introverted solos that last for 45 self-regarding minutes at a time, it’s great to know the punk mentality for punchy slogans in song still thrives and blossoms in some corner of Old New York. Then again, this is also experimental art-rock, informed by New Wave / No Wave guitar bands from 1977 onwards, and hence includes buckets of shrill dissonance in the tricky chord shapes expertly executed with the venom of 18 cobras, as well as Bloor’s “choppy” strumming style which carries the blistering attack of an M2 flame-thrower. One that shoots acid as well as fire. Sure to please fans of both avant-garde music and loud Black Metal. Recommended to fans of Mars, DNA, Sonic Youth, and of course Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestras. Arrived 19 August 2015.

  1. This is obviously untrue. In fact I think her FX set-up is pretty minimal. The skill’s in the playing, dudes!

The Philadelphia Experiment

Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura

We’ve been keen on Toshimaru Nakamura’s music for at least 15 years now, ever since the wonderful Japanorama events organised by Ed Baxter first graced the UK and presented his famed no-input mixing board in the context of Sachiko M and her empty synth, Otomo Yoshihide’s then-new reduced playing style, and many other futuristic musicians. Since then Nakamura has been well-represented in the so-called EAI sphere, evidence of which can be found in assorted group combinations on the Erstwhile and ErstLive labels. Quite a change perhaps to find him doing it with a rock group, as can be heard to great effect on Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura (PUBLIC EYESORE PE131), with four long recordings he made with Many Arms in Philadelphia in 2013.

Actually Many Arms – a trio of fellows from New York and Philly who play guitar, bass, and drums – are more than just a rock band, and make intelligent, single-minded forays into free-form playing to create highly energetic music which resembles free jazz as much as punk rock, and they play games with unexpected rhythms and melodies, besides all their inventive use of amplifier feedback and sustained guitar tones. This record would seem to represent a pretty ideal pairing, were it not for the fact that on first listen it’s a bit hard to make out Nakamura’s contributions. For the first two tracks, it feels as though the Americans pretty much dominate the pitch like Joe Namath to the power of three; on ‘I’, they’re raving like avant-garde frat-boys at a beer-keg party, and while on ‘II’ the hormonal power is more subdued, I can’t quite disentangle Toshi’s vibrant burr from the more aggressive feedback hums emanating out of Nick Millevoi’s guitar. No matter, as both of these are supremely exciting cuts, and may also indicate how the influence and lessons of Keiji Haino are still being digested and mutated in the USA.

‘III’ is more of a recognisable collaboration among the musicians, a fascinating and innovative sprawl where Toshimaru’s electronic eructations are nicely balanced by restrained free-form melancholic plucks and keening cries from the guitarist, while drummer Ricardo Legomasino is quietly running an express train in the background. The Onkyo purity of Japanorama becomes a distant memory when listening to this contemporary hybrid…there’s no space, no air, just a thick wodge of suffocating but multi-dimensional noise that does much to advance us beyond recognisable genres or categories. ‘IV’ is more or less in a similar place, but it goes on for 18 minutes and grows into terrifyingly manic proportions of hysteria, screaming and jangling effects that will guarantee to shatter the psyche of all who come near this poisonous cloud of horror.

An astonishing and exhausting collaboration; I’d like to learn how more concerning it came about, but apparently Toshimaru just flew over there for the express purpose of working with these three. For those with an appetite for more from Many Arms, be sure to look out for their two albums on Tzadik. From June 2015.

Pitched Together

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EM Records in Japan continue their campaign to keep the Yoshi Wada flame alive – they’re already reissued his “classic” 1981 recording Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile on CD, and brought us two other spectacular droners The Appointed Cloud and Earth Horns With Electronic Drone. For those of you who still need more output from this New York minimalist with his La Monte Young associations, here’s Singing In Unison (EM RECORDS EM1109CD), two recordings from March 1978 made at The Kitchen Center in NYC. Yoshi is joined by Richard Hayman (from New Mexico; studied with John Cage, Ravi Shankar and Philip Corner) and Imani Smith for these semi-devotional and low-pitched growlings, and Yoshi’s sleeve note reminds us of (a) his period of study under Pandit Pran Nath, the mystical Sufi fellow who also influenced La Monte Young, and (b) his childhood memory of hearing monks chanting at a Zen temple in Kyoto. He’s as true to his Zen roots as Charlemagne Palestine is to his synagogue heritage, and besides the “ritual” aspects of this music Yoshi Wada stresses the hypnotic effect of these long throaty drones, and advises us that the music “has to do with what we can communicate without words”. Even so, it’s not an essential release (and I say that as something of a Wada fanatic); the recording is rather flat and spare, has none of the full-bodied resonant echo effect that characterises Elephantine Crocodile, and born-again Beatnik hipsters will have to work a lot harder to reach the expected trance-like states. But it’s historically of value, probably the earliest document we’ve yet heard from the Wada archive, and the supporting contextual documentation in the package is up to Koki Emura’s usual standards. From November 2013.

The Sshpppingg Forecast

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Recently noted Charlemagne Palestine’s team up with Rhys Chatham, three CDs of lengthy drones from keyboards, guitar, trumpet and voice…here is Charlemagne solo, again with an over-elaborate and eccentric title Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg (IDIOSYNCRATICS IDCD) and performing a piece which I can only assume is a studio recording, unless “Club Charlemagne” refers to his private Mediterranean beach resort. Here he exhibits his Jewish-cantor synagogue roots by delivering some quite frankly celestial upper-register tones, sung over the top of a string-synthesiser drone along with faintly tinkling bells. As is customary, it takes him the best part of an hour to do it, and it’s a continuous standalone performed piece of heroic minimalism.

I suppose I’ve heard not a few records by Palestine now. One of them which I will bring up for purposes of comparison is Karenina, the record released on David Tibet’s Durtro label in 2000, recorded three years before that. There he also uses the falsetto vocals, again on top of a drone, on that occasion supplied by an Indian harmonium. Since the album was “Dedicated to the black Labrador”, I’d always assumed it was a grief-stricken paean on the occasion of the death of a loved dog. Certainly it was heart-rending to listen to; Charlemagne poured out his emotions in the rawest way he knows how, ragged and breathy tones and almost on the verge of sobbing. I’ve always thought his Russian-Jewish origins are what makes him so sensible (over-sensitive, perhaps) to the plight of the human race; he seems to have a heart three times normal size, and when it gets broken you sure know about it. Friends of mine have seen him in his cups; he can become a blubbering sentimental liability.

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Compare that broken-man weeping to the poise and control exhibited on Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg. The new record is an example of flawless vocalising, and he hasn’t had to sacrifice an iota of emotion in the process. That’s how sublimation in art ought to work. So we’re off to a good start, but the music also improves, deepens and grows ever-more complex over 50 minutes. More alien sounds added to the layers, including field recordings of livestock, human voices, clattering percussion, a parade march…I suspect it’s the same recording of Jamaicans he used on Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn. And another vocal element resembling a very unhappy duck or swan emitting a death-shriek. The unceasing wall of drone is as airless and powerful a piece of near-noise as this oddball Minimalist (often deemed far too much of an outlier by the salon) has ever emanated from his capable digits.

The accumulated layers of sound are structured in this composition to gradually reach a crescendo of overpowering proportions…the powerful wave of humankind’s energised and chaotic forces immersing the listener much like an ocean. Matter of fact you get the ocean too, if I’m hearing the sounds near the end of the record correctly. The combined sensation is extremely cathartic, and one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve yet to encounter from a Charlemagne Palestine recording. It’s also deeply religious and spiritual, the resonances of the synagogue singing informing the work all the way through, and framed at the end with an envoi of small, quiet solitary sounds, that pass from the beautiful to the ridiculous and back again. Astonishing. From 14th April 2015.

El Negro: an ambitious and wide-ranging hiphop beast meditating on alienation and the human condition

Signor Benedick the Moor

Signor Benedick the Moor, El Negro, Deathbomb Arc, CD DBA132 (2013)

Yeah, a full two years passed before I came across this album but it sounds as fresh as if it had been released in September 2015, not September 2013. It was re-released in mid-2014 so there must have been considerable interest in it lasting nearly a whole year. That comes as no surprise to me, having now heard it a few times and still finding plenty to marvel at. Incidentally and incredibly, “El Negro” is the signor’s first album as a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist, and he was only 20 years old when he recorded it.

There are 18 tracks in total but you really get the most value if you take in the album all at once; it’s a massive sprawling beast, wide-ranging and ambitious in its musical choices, quicksilver and original in its rhyming lyrics, intelligent, philosophical and opinionated. Cinematic orchestral soundtrack music sits comfortably with hardcore metal punk, bluesy electric guitar melodies dance with programmed steel drum rhythms, car-chase lead guitar runs riot over rapid-fire machine-gun break-beats- and those fusions exist on just one track (“Call of the Wild”) alone! Our man used to play in hardcore and metalcore bands while at high school and this hard-hitting aspect of his musical psyche along with an interest in jackhammer industrial beats shows up in several songs. At the same time, though the music on each track can be complex, it’s not densely layered and there is usually plenty of space within each song, so individual instruments and the half-spoken / half-sung lyrics can be heard clearly, and the listener never feels overwhelmed.

Of course this being a hiphop album, the lyrics are all-important and it’s a pity that they’re not printed so listeners can see the full gamut of subject matter covered and the pop-culture references made. Most songs revolve around alienation and being an outsider, and despite the bravado on songs like “Mouth of the Beast” where Signor Benedick (aka Christian McLaurin) appears to imagine himself fighting videogame dragons, there is often a definite atmosphere of melancholy and despair. The alienation extends into a contemplation of the modern human condition as the rapper switches back and forth between first-person and third-person points of view, observing various characters that pop up in his songs or revealing unexpected self-deprecating humour and wit. (And you just gotta love a rhyming couplet that marries Francis Crick with … ah, yeah, well …)

There is not a step out of place here and if there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that there is so much music packed into the one package that the listening experience can be tiring, even exhausting; once you start the disc, you just have to follow it all the way through its entire 72-minute running time.

It’s a crying shame that not more hiphop is like this album and that Signor Benedick’s monicker hasn’t yet reached household-name status yet. Give him more time and another couple of albums, and we shall see what he’s capable of.

Hint Of Mint

010

Last heard from the duo of Sarah Smith and Zach Phillips, who record as Blanche Blanche Blanche, on their LP for Feeding Tube Records called Our Place. I had a lot of time then for their highly quirky approach to the short-form deconstructed half-mad pop song, but today Hints To Pilgrims (OSR TAPES 25) isn’t exactly chiming the triangle or sinking the right notes in the old apple-barrel. Perhaps it’s the fact that this time they seem determined to cram as much lyrical and musical information into two minutes as the laws of time and space will allow – and even, where possible, exceed those laws and bend them in their favour. In short there are just too many words, and they’re delivered in haste by lips that have been greased and oiled for extra speed; and there’s a detached, ironic tone to the singing which troubles me. Baffling content, inexplicable lyrics, mannered deadpan tone; I’m looking in vain for a bit of simple honesty and direct communication. However, we mustn’t overlook the album’s strengths; the instrumental arrangements remain very strong, and there’s an imaginative use of guitar and piano lines to weave deceptively simple figures, which turn out to be quite intricate upon closer examination. I’m inclined to dub this pair the Les Paul and Mary Ford of 2015. I think they were from Brattleboro Vermont last time we looked, but this was recorded in Brooklyn, and Kramer did the mastering. Kurt Weisman, Colin White and Graham Brooks are occasional guest musicians, and the impasto cover painting is by Alexis Graman. Unsure precisely when we received this, but it was released in November 2014.