Tagged: electropop

Five Easy Pieces

a1312456114_10

Scantily Clad
Volume 5
Self-released CD-R (2012? 2013?)

No, this duo of home-recording synth pop-rock improvisers aren’t targeting that crucial Page 3 photographic spot of some lowbrow British tabloid rag, they aim straight for the even more important space between your ears with their collections of eccentric lo-sci-fi synthscapes taking in a variety of sounds, melodies and rhythms from different musical genres. Greg Manata and Preston A Nunez celebrate their fifth release with 23 tracks (‘cos 2 + 3 = 5, geddit?) in a run of 55 copies selling at US$5.55 if you live in the States. Unfortunately there was no information available about these guys when I Googled their names and the project name so I have no idea if they’re followers of Discordianism and the Law of Five.

All tracks are quite short and bleed into one another so the entire album is best heard as one continuous tapestry of wildly eccentric mini-soundscapes of sometimes crazed sounds with a distinct sunny and slightly sultry atmosphere and a sometimes lush or bleached feel. You feel like an observer on a boat ride through some of the more kitschy tourist must-see towns and landscapes that might have been rejected by Disneyland for being too psychedelically wild and colourful and not commercial enough. Greens are that jarring lime-green shade and yellows are bright flurorescent lolly-pop yellow, the kind that tastes sweet and yummy but which later makes your stomach turn a sour leap from all that artificial over-colouring.

The music delights in jarring percussion and blaring tones and drones as if deliberately trying to get a reaction out of you. A strong dominating influence is jazz of a sharp, almost garage kind. Cool space ambient tones seem insouciant and jaunty percussion bounce about without a care in the world. Whatever sounds, rhythms and melodies are deployed, irrespective of their origin, Manata and Nunez wield them confidently and nonchalantly yet expertly: nothing is out of place no matter how strange and eccentric it all seems.

Some tracks hark back to the period of Seventies disco (“As Lonely as the Moon”) and rock and pop music from California of the same vintage with a hot acid-tinged ambience. Others have a very strong cosmic space vibe in spite of the odd titles they have (“Double Shot Sweet Envy Love” being an outstanding example). One track, the strongly melodic “Ego Ego Ego Ego Ego”, references the theme of the number five with all that figure may imply.

There’s hardly any let-up in the proceedings: everything breezes along at a steady clip which can leave a listener a bit bewildered and somewhat lost. There’ll usually be a track that a tourist can home in on and use as a landmark from which to navigate the rest of the album. Most pieces, however short they are (they are often not much more than layers of looping sound put together to achieve certain moods), will have something for everyone.

Probably by the time you read this, all copies of this album will have sold out – there are only 55 copies after all – but you can always contact Aquarius Records to see if they still have a copy or two.

Columbarium

Another curio from those crazy Canadians who call themselves Tetrix. Not unlike their previous release Tetrix 11, Tetrix 12: The Time Travellers is a species of radio play with musical interludes – every other track is a short snippet of an unfolding drama, alternating with the songs and tunes. In the story, the band Tetrix meet up with their future selves who vouchsafe to them an enigmatic riddle or paradox, and the present-day Tetrix spend the rest of the album attempting to get safely home across a bewildering array of cartoon-like events, each more preposterous than the last, unfolding in a dayglo urban landscape replete with vivid sound effects and jaunty explicatory dialogue. It’s all amiable stuff and the band present themselves as a slightly more streetwise, post-modern and cynical version of The Monkees, acting in an extended fantasy episode of their own TV show. Will the band survive this adventure and make it home safely? Buy the CD and find out! As to the time travel motifs, the story-tellers borrow heavily from recent-ish Hollywood movies on the subject, including the Back to the Future “trilogy”, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, whence they copied the device of the phone booth as a time travel unit. Musically, some of the songs are clearly Tetrix’s warped attempts to do old-skool hip-hop, a trick which they pull off with their characteristic mix of effortless technical skill and tongue-in-cheek parody; other songs are unclassifiable, freely match-’n’-mixing around genres and styles such as psychedelia, heavy metal and electropop, such that the listener will soon feel themselves caught up in a vortex of musical time-travelling. Whatever mask or disguise they slip into though, the band’s gift for melodic invention always shines through, despite the cluttered and eccentric production. I realise not everyone likes this band – it seems they come across as a little too clever for their own good, and their overall sound is extremely artificial, processed with many studio effects – and their sense of humour may not always travel. But I enjoy and admire the way they manage to produce such dense and layered conceits in their work, creating puzzles in sound which are fun to solve, and which repay multiple further listens. I sometimes wonder if history will adjudge these tricksters as the Canadian equivalent to Sudden Sway; they have the same elusiveness, the same quirky pop-charm, and this album could almost be their Spacemate 1. As usual, the release is packaged in an attractive and elaborate sleeve, with a psychedelic illustration of a dinosaur printed on card; you have to lift the die-cut upper jaw of the beast to get to the record. From 30 May 2013.

An absolutely first-class record is Helgoland (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 109) by Lasse-Marc Riek, and one of the finest field recording items to have reached us for a long time. I’d go so far as to say it sets a benchmark in the genre, both for the clarity of its intent, and the excellence of its realisation. Helgoland is Germany’s only ocean island, an archipelago in the North Sea which has, against all odds, developed into a haven and breeding ground for all manner of seabirds. The area is well-loved and visited by ornithologists, naturally, but Lasse-Marc is one of the few sound artists who has made it out to the island to capture a collection of recordings, apparently at some personal discomfort to himself (it involves crawling into caves and other tight corners), and he devoted two years of his life to this project. The results are beautiful; cries of birds such as the kittiwake, the guillemot and the gull are presented here in vivid detail, along with the bracing sounds of the wind and the ocean surf. Each recording has an honesty and raw vitality; there are no edits, no processes, no tricks. Additionally, there are a few recordings of grey seals near the end of the album, which may reassure those of you who find the strange voice of the seabird too reptilian and alien. Many have remarked how the voice of the seal can resemble the human voice, and tracks 13-14 here do indeed inspire remarkable empathy; they should make you sit up and pay attention like a March hare. The release is published with a high-quality booklet with sumptuous full-colour photographs of animals and landscape, and there are illuminating written notes from Stefan Militzer, Cheryl Tipp from the British Library 2, and Tobias Fischer. Aurally, visually, intellectually – this release satisfies on many levels, and these superb recordings are a tremendous testament to the power of life, the beauty of creation. Essential. From 20 May 2013.

No Compass: Solter resets Friedlander (SKIPSTONE RECORDS SR104) is a short set of remixes derived by Scott Solter from the music of Erik Friedlander. We’ve enjoyed the music of the gifted cellist for many years now, last digging him with the excellent Bonebridge album in 2011. The music here has been reprocessed using the Broken Arm Trio album as a starting point, where Erik played with the drummer Michael Sarin and the bassist Trevor Dunn. Solter’s approach to the art of the remix is radical; he slices the music open like a cadaver, pulls out all the bones and reconstructs everything from the ground up, using as a guidebook the works of Andreas Vesalius combined with the writings of Timothy Leary. ‘Full Chroma’ refashions the all-acoustic trio as a semi-functioning beatbox, left abandoned to sputter away in a deserted Chicago meat-packing warehouse, while ‘Columbarium’ extends stray and overlooked notes into an intense reverbed drone-distort marathon. ‘Assault by St. Wolfli’ is a manic piece, two minutes of mayhem almost as deranged as the mind of its namesake Adolf Wölfli, the famous Outsider artist with his private language and unplayable music scores; here Solter performs his surgery with deep cuts of the knife and unexpected sutures, and the end result is like being dragged through a briar patch. Only ‘Steppe Dub’ is mildly disappointing, for the way it drifts into more familiar territory with its over-processed ambient sounds, but even so it’s blessed with a tricky internal pulse that will baffle the dancing feet of many a dance-floor rhinoceros. The title No Compass suggests that Solter was working in an intuitive manner, setting his sights by the stars as he navigated these strange waters; at the same time, it’s a deliciously perplexing “off-the-map” listen for us, with many inscrutable and baffling moments to savour. It’s as though Solter has created a “secret identity” for Friedlander; now all he has to do is live up to that alter ego. From May 2013.

  1. Blanco Y Negro BYN8B, 1986.
  2. She contributes to the excellent Sound and Vision blog.

Floating Dimensions

Feel Beetrr (VETO-RECORDS / EXCHANGE 007) is the latest item from Swiss reedman Christoph Erb and his Veto-Records label, where he’s horning it large with his bass clarinet and tenor as one third of the Bererberg Trio with the Chicago players Josh Berman on cornet and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. Ah, no percussion. I’m often very partial to music in the free jazz or improv idioms where there’s no drummer involved; somehow it seems to make the players more comfortable, as regards volume, dynamics, and tempo. The combination of brass, woodwinds and cello continues to create pleasing tastes for the hungry listener who’s tiring of endless corned beef sandwiches or deep-dish pizza, and wants the chance to savour a spot of raw sushi or avant-garde petit-fours wrapped with a mild form of plastic explosive instead of the conventional marzipan. The brew is livened considerably when Fred plays his electric guitar instead of the usual cello on some tracks; it’s especially interesting when he tries to match the plangent tones from the blowing part of the act through means of sustained, bended notes from his Gibson Flying V, until he decides to roughen up the surface with a touch of crazy-paving scrabble-mode riffing. Natch, Erb and Lonberg-Holm are highly familiar to us in these here parts, for example as the duo Screw & Straw or as half of the quartet Sack. Arrived 23 May 2013.

It’s possible at one level to enjoy a record like Feel Beetrr simply as a perfect combination of great sounds from well-played instruments – each player giving unique voice to their chosen “fifth limb”, as most musicians refer to the device that plagues their life so much. We might consider the same line of thought with Le Jardin Bizarre (AN’ARCHIVES AN’06), which features the French guitarist Michel Henritzi pairing his lapsteel and electric guitars along with the violins – both amplified and acoustic – of Japanese wizard Fukuoka Rinji. It’s a beautiful but sad record. Henritzi has long dwelt in melancholic, rain-sodden musical terrains; it’s as though his musical life were a Kurosawa movie. Some of his solo guitar records have more minor keys than the whole of Asia Minor, whatever the heck that means. For the most part here though he is content to provide a strumming / chord backdrop to the keening violin work of Fukuoka Rinji, who effectively captures and distils the voice of a thousand wailing tree spirits in each note produced by his ethereal digits. I often imagine him as a fragile man whose bones are made from brittle clay pipes rather than calcium, and that his flesh would crumple into grey dust if you so much as blew him a kiss. The merest touch of studio echo is added to the record to enhance the overall ambience of the recording, resulting in a very effective portrait of this “strange garden”, subtitled “a garrulous 6 pieces for night garden suite”. Indeed, night bloomers such as the Casablanca Lily and Night Gladiolus would be what I would expect to find in my imaginary time-lapse documentary film that I’m mentally playing as I spin this superbly morose and plangent record. I’m also imagining a picture book by Edward Gorey that was never drawn nor published, but he would have been an exceptionally suitable candidate for delineating this night garden using his dark cross-hatching nib and jet-black ink. Poetic track titles, and equally lyrical artwork – uncredited, but probably screenprinted by Alan Sherry of Siwa Records – complete this delicate hymn to the ipomoea and oenothera biennis. Rinji was the founder of the psychedelic rock band Overhang Party and his wiry, minimal work has graced collaborations with Sachiko and Chie Mukai; he last played with Henritzi on the 2011 PSF release, Outside Darkness. From 16 May 2013.

Another item themed on the idea of “night”, and very coincidentally featuring a Japanese artist is the delightful album The Illuminated Nightingale (NOBLE RECORDS NBL-209) by Motoomi Doi from Osaka. Apparently, he regards this as his first proper album, unless you count his two previous private press releases. One of them, N-N-N, was only available if you sent an email to Motoomi and asked him for a copy; later on, you’d get a parcel in the post. It’s his way of subverting the idea of the free digital download by restoring a tangible product to the equation. The present item comprises ten bouncy songs of electropop with plenty of drum-machine beats, poppy Casio-type melodies played by very busy fingers, and above all the delicate wispy soprano voice of Motoomi himself. He delivers his lyrics with an unaffected simplicity, and great gentleness; for the listener, it’s like being caressed by a large pink marshmallow. There’s also the impression one has of bittersweet emotions; the album is neither really happy nor sad, but floating midstream like a little cork boat on the river. Even the more upbeat songs contain a hint of imminent disappointment, an awareness that the party you’re enjoying so much now will be over the next day. I’m guessing when I say this of course, since it seems all the lyrics are sung in Japanese, but the stated intention is to “portray an entire evening from dusk to dawn” in song, and to allow the listener to “wander through a world where fantasy and reality co-exist…what kind of view will we see from this place where night calls out its end?” Melodic, lyrical, inventive.

Back to the Future

21718_2

Cavern of Anti-Matter
Blood-Drums
GERMANY GRAUTAG RECORDS GTR#006 2 x LP (2013)

Cavern of Anti-Matter is a project from Tim Gane, previously of Stereolab. Despite the ominous band name and moody black and white industrial photos that adorn the sleeve, this actually turns out to be highly melodic instrumental synth pop of a determinedly retro variety. Most of the songs are essentially extended grooves based around a certain repeated synth riff. Despite the album title, the synth is always the dominant instrument here, with any ‘blood drumming’ fading into the background as either minimal drum machine or simple rock beats.

Opener ‘You’re an Art Soul’ acts as a good primer for the ears. Structurally, very little happens beyond a repeated synth groove, but this just serves to emphasise the stereo panning effects and gradual changes in tone. ‘Hot Electric Insect’ presents layers of sequencer/synth riffs, sounding like banks of sci-fi computers talking to each other. Occasionally the band add some minimal guitar into the mix, with tracks like ‘Movin On Static’ featuring bright summery major chords for the chorus – all very jolly and upbeat, but the retro synth worship always moves back into pole position. There’s a distinct whiff of Giorgio Morodor about tracks like ‘Rotation and Particle Density in D’ and ‘Adventures in One Octave’, with the duppa-duppa style synths in full effect. ‘Dystopian Shopping Mall’ in particular sounds like such a homage it’s almost a surprise when Donna Summer or Russell Mael from Sparks don’t appear and start singing.

All pleasant stuff, though the most modern sounding artist I can compare this to are the mid-90’s grooves of Bentley Rhythm Ace (remember them?). In the late 70’s/early80’s this album would have sounded like a vision from an impossibly high-tech science fiction future, now it more sounds a little more like a knowing homage to the past.

Retro-Galaxies

emeralds jtfa

Synthetic Gems & Kosmische Rays

Joining a roster that includes Zombi, Zombie Zombie, and other traffickers of the well-promulgated sound of ‘80s VHS nostalgia, Emeralds deliver still-hungry listeners their 2012 swan song Just To Feel Anything (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 150): seven tracks of innocuous, progged-up electro-pop, with strong Tangerine Dream/Howarth & Carpenter leanings. These seven songs saunter between opening and end credit malaise and seem to maintain themselves once underway. Silky swells of dry-ice fog launch soaring six-string swarms, underpinned by colourful, twinkling arpeggios and punchy, 4/4 drum machine rhythms. Good work guys. You just take a rest.

I can kind of picture guitarist Mark McGuire lying on his bedroom floor, one foot on the delay pedal, as he noodles his way through John Elliot’s and Steve Hauschildt’s safety-zone drones while hankering for another buzz on the X-Box. His playing, though generally apposite, strikes me as a little too cautious and could certainly do with a little more edge. Captain Beefheart once had his band play a song ‘upside down’ because they sounded too polished. No sooner had they managed the feat (with no small measure of anger at their taskmaster), than he had them resume the original approach with their newfound ire. There’s a lesson in there.

Early recordings by the group are reported to be edgier, more collisional: an energy I find conspicuous by its absence here, presumably having been eliminated over time in the compromising pursuit of this tentative harmony. The three members are all perfectly proficient on their respective tools, and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing actually wrong with this music. It is simply the sound of a group deep in their comfort zone, which suggests it’s probably just as well they called it a day after this one. This disc may lead neophyte listeners back to the group’s audible influences the way Fujiya & Miyagi and others shone a bit of light on Neu. Less desirably, it might prompt a reunion, which would do no one any favours.

steve_hauschildt_lp_600

More Music for Music For Films

Emeralds’ Steve Hauschildt lifts the tarpaulin on a double disc extravaganza S/H (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 178) of several years’ worth of hitherto unreleased (or largely unavailable) electro-doodlings, conveniently compiled into two chronological categories (2005-2009, 2010-2012), albeit with nothing further in terms of conceptual or stylistic distinction. Abstracted from the sugary haze of Emeralds, the music comes into its own rather well, displaying a wider personality range to that exhibited in the now-disbanded main show. As these performances demonstrate, his was the Kosmische radiance that set the scene for Mark McGuire’s prog rock posturing, though I remain none the wiser as to where John Elliot’s contributions ended and Hauschildt’s began. But let me restate the chief charm of this collection: no guitars.

Consequently, the composer is at liberty to explore a limited set of approaches with a lighter touch than demanded by Emeralds’ melodramatic mandate. Usually this results in a simple and sustained, solar shimmering, on occasion kept a-pulse by a touch of light techno; at other times Hauschildt approximates the concrète/kosmische retro-galaxies of label mate Raglani, who released (I’m guessing) the earliest material featured here. The brief, versioned ‘work in progress’ feeling of numerous titles here lend the collection an Eno-esque ‘Music for Films’ flavour. To be sure, everything is an appropriately light in tone and unhurried, suggesting a cool disinterest in exigencies of perfection, as though he were enjoying a pleasant meander past the neon waves of water in the world of TRON. By the same token, the quantity/quality ratio does not always favour the discerning listener, and musical ‘events’ are certainly thin on the ground, so few things grab as much as they please. Still, if you’re studying or working from home then a more reassuring array of backdrops you could not ask for.

Some Words On Western Art

Weisser Westen
Weisser Westen
APPARENT EXTENT AE017 2 x LP (2013)

A daring debut from Düsseldorf Duo, Weisser Westen (‘White West’), this eponymous double LP (and CD) drops a lifetime’s worth of oddly angled ideas into the same sack and wields threateningly. Like a savvier (and wordier) set of Lebowskian Nihilists, but decked out in white paper armour, the spiritual siblings Angela Fette and Phillip Schulze rather resemble those theatrical Swedish electro-popsters, The Knife, whose predilection for dramatic dress-up and Darwinian opera find resonance in the über-conceptual happenings here, if not a spitting image. Weisser Westen declare open allegiance to ‘avant-garde’ culture in its manifold historical forms (without naming names albeit), and their homepage houses an artistic manifesto that promotes (rather obliquely) ‘Art’ as a natural proclivity; as much I assume, to set themselves apart from would-be ‘kultur vultures’, as to justify their uncompromising sound. The music is rich in mannerisms both shocking and sublime, which work surprisingly well given how infrequently modern electronic music traffics in ‘surprise’.

Listeners are advised to ‘listen loudly’ and adherence does pay off: every track is dark, dirty, dense and detailed, volume enhancing rather than dulling character. Stylistically, sounds range from thickly layered electro-pop to fat psychoacoustics. My only caveat is the vocals, which will probably polarise listeners (an indifferent reception seems unthinkable): German lyrics delivered rapidly like a stentorian, slightly nasal airhostess trying to take control in an emergency situation. Thus every track seems like a showdown between music and voice, both of which betoken a larger-than-life personality.

The only point at which events threaten to overwhelm is on ‘Species’ when the narrator adopts English to articulate the duo’s artistic raison d’etre; likening it to a biological, evolutionary or spiritual imperative (‘a wonder/a fire without cinder’). Never having been partial to public soul-searching, this sparse, cymbal-mirrored monologue strikes me as a tad egocentric. Likewise, the crazed Cabaret-histrionics of the side-long ‘Galley’ – with its maddening mantra of ‘ABER JETZT!’ – demand a stronger set of lugholes than I can offer.

Compensation is abundant though, chiefly on the album’s sole instrumental, the dark-electro ‘Mothership’, which is skin-tinglingy sexy, like Detroit techno done well (I speak as someone who has found disappointingly cheap, synthetic procrastination in the vaunted DT scene). One second of this reverberant, robo-techno in a decent club and everything would become a blur. My only criticism is that it’s too fleeting to realise its full potential.

On paper, this project has all the makings of a pretentious waste of time: overpowering personalities; overconfidence in its marshalling of styles; possible delusions of ‘avant-garde’ grandeur. Saturated as I am with music these days though, I find its boldness charismatic; the modest ‘challenge’ it presents, quite refreshing. That said, I suspect the opposite could just as easily be the case.

Astronautic Ambitions

"spaced-out slice of tomorrow..."
“spaced-out slice of tomorrow…”

Raglani
Real Colors Of The Physical World
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO 149 LP (2012)

In times of uncertainty I’ll reach for the bottle of red with the nicest label. When it comes to music, one can usually rely on a label like Editions Mego to deliver tasteful material with a long shelf life. So when arrives a slab of thick black vinyl in a cardboard covering of riotous collaged colour (resembling, rather, one of Savage Pencil’s Wire ‘Primer’ illustrations) and bearing a GRM-esque legend like ‘Raglani’, then only the most doubting of Thomases will waver. And so it is that fans of all things concrète, Kosmische, vintage synth, and sci-fi soundtrack should consider snapping-up this spaced-out slice of tomorrow, yesterday, being as dynamic and dazzling as the sleeve suggests; and as full-bodied and smooth-tailed as a good Amarone.

Hitherto unknown to me, Mr. Raglani here sculpts sound as nostalgic and retro-futuristic as anything you’ll find on the Creel Pone label, and thanks to mastering mastermind Rashad Becker, it sounds richer to boot. Apparently, this is (Joe) Raglani’s first LP proper since 2006, though it’s rather difficult to tell, as he seems to have amassed a fair few limited edition cassettes and CDRs in the meantime, ostensibly of a darker ambient bent to the present proposition. This missive occasions a mission statement detailing a search for ‘the cosmic in the concrete’ and ‘construct(ion of) a plastic image of the imperceptible dynamics beneath the surface of the world ‘. What this means in concrete terms is a matter best left for an interview, suffice to say that he could scarcely be faulted for want of ambition.

The record comprises two extended, electronic compositions, each consisting of four (or so) movements that bleed phantasmagorically into one another. As cosmologies shift from dense to ethereal; electric to entropic, familiar elements of musique concrète and ‘kosmische’ emerge and merge while Raglani has a good old tinker with all manner of physical and phenomenological variables. Oft-animated, ever bleeping, yet sometimes lurching like wind-up robots winding down, the pieces present a sophisticated interweaving of natural and synthesized sounds, Carlos-esque vocodered vocals and shimmering segues that suggest at times the courting dance of electric shadows. Detectable also are shades of the Rephlex label’s more playful releases, and the corner of Trunk Records that happily houses now-revered names like Basil Kirchin and Tristram Cary. The album also sports a bonus 7” featuring arpeggiated, somewhat poppier numbers, which will surely seduce the club-goers of summer 3000.

I remember finally ‘getting’ the initially alienating mutant pixie music of Caroliner Rainbow: through a cassette Walkman, blanketed on a sofa with heavy flu, when suddenly the mountainous riffage of ‘Rainbows Made of Meat’ spoke to me like the voice of God. So vivid is this recollection that I can give ready credence to the myth that attending an Otomo Yoshihide show with a heavy fever was the catalyst for Raglani’s own musical productivity. While the rest of us were at home sick, feeling sorry for ourselves! So on the strength of releases like this, I’m considering giving up washing my hands altogether.

Raglani’s Soundcloud page

009

Robotic Reveries

"Perfectly-proportioned space-pop"
“Perfectly proportioned space-pop…”

Three Legged Race
Persuasive Barrier
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP022 LP (2012)

Check the Edition Mego’s ‘Spectrum Spools’ website, scan the covers and this is the one your eyes will be drawn to: a tightly rendered telephone melting out of a white leather egg. Correspondingly, the record it protects vomits vast valleys of multi-coloured, molten strangeness into listening spaces, and long may it do so. Persuasive Barrier is the surreal spawn of Robert Beatty: Kentucky-based multi-media artist, progenitor of a panoply of psychedelic sleeves (including the iconic, airbrushed moonscape to Burning Star Core’s Challenger), small-run cassettes and now this strangely hued volume of lysergic library music under the ‘Three-Legged Race’ moniker. It calls up any number of potent references: visual classics such as La Planète Sauvage, the works of Piotr Kamler, right up to the deliciously dreary Willows by Belbury Poly, but none more accurately than Mort Garson’s Black Mass (under the ‘Lucifer’ pseudonym). Like the scratch-card I’ve never found, it’s an instant winner.

I was fortunate enough to receive the record during a spell of the ‘there’s no more ‘new’ music (just a spectrum of spins on the old)’ doldrums, and to be honest my mind hasn’t changed. However, faith is fully refurbished when, balanced between the imitation and ‘innovation’, one encounters such a successful restoration of a well-worn sound. Alternating between ear-baitingly brief synthetic song-craft and longer, woozier wig-outs, the tracks exhibit resourcefulness using a presumably pared-down set-up and an intrepid navigator’s spirit of adventurous tomfoolery.

The scene is set in the opening tracks: ‘Traces of a Wet Crowd’, a spirited swarm of pinpricks and clipped garbles, lasts long enough to bemuse before melting into ‘Permethrin I’: a yawning groan of cold, metallic space. Alternation between these atmospheres of bleepy whimsy and deep paranoia characterises the overall content. Highlights include the melancholic ‘Persuasive Barrier’; a ponderous procession of descending, doleful pulses, eliciting many a bleak, airbrushed sci-fi paperback landscape, and ‘Magnetic Bride’: another Terry Gilliam sky rattled by ring-modulated gargles, faint laboratory burbles and quicksand-distressed SOS bleeps, as if an old Dr Who soundtrack had somehow gained sentience and outgrown its background role.

Though teasingly tiny, the album is perfectly proportioned space-pop: its 5-year genesis suggesting sincere craftsmanship: the labour of love. Retro-sleeve art included, Beatty himself has confirmed that he sees his work as a considered reaction to a pervasive culture of internet-ready laziness. Persuasive Barrier isn’t an original sound, granted, but neither is it derivative, and certainly has the capacity for succour, not least to Ghost Box fans who feel those releases have lately lost the zeitgeist that once distinguished them. Of all the releases I’ve reviewed for this journal thus far, this is one of the best. It has my fullest possible recommendation and strikes me as the very reason replacement cartridges are made available.

003

Eyeless But Mindful

img100

Eyeless In Gaza
Orange Ice & Wax Crayons
POLAND CATSUN CAT9 CD (2012)

Odds n’sods compilations are often regarded as ‘fan-only’ affairs, full of half-baked ideas and wild goose chases that never found their way onto albums proper. In this respect, my first exposure to Eyeless in Gaza – invisible on my radar until now – is something of a baptism of fire. That said, and with certain qualifications, I can report that my first encounter has yielded many episodes of interest and intrigue. In fact, for an ostensible set of offcuts and (potentially) offal, this is a curiously cohesive collection of non-canonical cuts realised in various stages of development, covering 1981 – 1985, and (thematically) tracing EiG’s development into the shinier alt-pop duo that brought us ‘Back from the Rains’ in 1986. Recording fidelity varies throughout, and songs range from scribbled (yet sincere) sketches to polished pop pieces, though I suspect Sound Projector readers would consider this an asset, especially as enthusiastic and illuminating directorial commentary is provided in the sleevenotes by both members, Martyn Bates and Pete Becker, who personally picked every piece from their archives.

Admirers of ‘80s art-pop will quickly warm to the first four cuts, which comprise a suite of upbeat but moody, technicolor synth-pop numbers similarly veined to early Talk Talk. ‘Hours Grow’ and ‘What I Want to Know’ (the latter Becker’s hypothetical choice for single, ‘if only someone could have heard it’) find EiG full in flight and body: reflective yet resolved, held high by a rubbery bass and as many hooks as Prince’s wardrobe, the latter aspect diminishing as the CD progresses. By ‘Ways of Rachel’ and the wintery ‘Street Lamps N’ Snow’ the mood is more mournful, the high vocals have deepened and bear traces of folk singing, which return (by degrees) in later songs; the setting is sparser and more spacious, having stretched to accommodate a smattering of exotic percussion and wind instruments. In fact, it is EIG’s taste for foreign flavours that leads them on some of their most satisfying journeys.

The best evidence of this is to be found in the collection’s many instrumentals, beginning with the windy seascape interlude of ‘P.S. For Michel’, and culminating with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop ‘tribute’ piece, ‘Music For Playgrounds’, a light-hearted jingle, of the same genealogy as Plaid and Stereolab. Other interesting entries include the haunting, O.Rang-esque ‘Formerly At Midnight’, with its programmed percussion, keening vocal refrain and sombre flute phrases. In ‘Egg Box Mask’, a wavering electronic bleat pierces a ghost-ship greyness that calls to mind the bleak, sepia netherworld of The Caretaker; the nautical theme resumes in a more majestic light in ‘Great Ocean Liner’, which makes grander entry, and offers more spacious quarters to its layers of keyboards, scraped guitar and violin, as they gradually cohere into a dense, driven mass. Of a different warmth is ‘Old Lime Quarry’, which sports a slowly-rolling harmonium that fades to admit a shower of resigned twitters and twinkles. Included perhaps to throw listeners off the scent altogether, the seven jagged, guitar-jangling minutes of ‘Red Letter Day’ are more redolent of some New York garret than the studio of one of the UK’s longest serving alt-pop units.

The rest of the album maintains this appetite for adventure, while ensuring explored ideas are realised as fully as apparently necessary. Some earlier locations are revisited, such as on the expeditious synth-pop reprise, ‘Stay’, which might have been better situated in the first part of the album than amidst a dirge of earthy instrumentals near the end. Of these – and cited as Bates’ reason for embarking on this compilation – ‘Dogs Bark’, fan-recorded live in Den Haag, is an earth-toned, Irish-folk take on Terry Riley. The purgatorial fairground feeling of ‘Fear Clutches’ also features strong vocals (though of a more lugubrious species), along with a funereal turn on the organ.

On the whole, the diversity and inspiration evident in these fifteen cuts offer convincing confirmation of Eyeless in Gaza’s putative status as overlooked talent, presumably a consequence of their long-term inability to cultivate a reputation in the ‘mainstream’ arena in the way that Talk Talk managed to. In any event, fans not already in possession of this collection will likely enjoy its manifold angles of EiG during their four or five years. Those unfamiliar with Martyn Bates’ vocals may find them to be an acquired taste – something like a higher-register Mark Hollis singing with a mouth full of orange juice. But to these listeners, the album’s bounty of intriguing instrumentals will be welcome indeed.

Distributed by Monotype Records

Endless Autumn

img088

Kilo
The Wildernis
EXPERIMENTAL STUDIO BRIGITTENAU EXB 002 CD + DVD (2012)

With exceptions, the few friends I have know me to have precious little time for ‘happy’ music, and – as is my wont – to disparage it with canyon-sized generalisations, finding it too distracted by its own joie de vivre to deliver substance. Indie pop? With a vocal spectrum that stretches from post-Beach Boy falsetto to wimpy whine? It animates me with an aggressive lust for hateful black metal.

Thus, to my great surprise, I find my apprehension melt away in earshot of the latest work of the laptop pop duo, Kilo (comprising Kompakt alumni Florian Bogner and Markus Urban), with the startling serendipity of an unpretentiously simple set of songs. It may just be that this crisp, sunny autumn day has engendered in me a feeling of false optimism, but this is exactly what I want to hear right now. Though lacking the sheen and budget that sold the summer to Daft Punk, Kilo’s songs smoulder with inner warmth, which is revealed by the layer to careful listeners. And the nondescript, monotone (even banal) vocals are my new fair-weather friend.

‘The Wildernis’ is a hazy hybrid of mildly glitch-gilded, GASeous pop sensibilities shot through with an array of distilled musical gestures from synthetic chamber to shoegaze, though the press release boasts of a more distinct and eclectic set of styles (including ‘rock, jazz, contemporary music and free improvisation’) than I am equipped to identify. In any event, such influences are atomised and wormholed into a dazed and distorted dimension of muted exuberance, casting the record in the same neverwhere light as that which illuminates Fennesz’ Endless Summer. Think of a brighter Tujiko Noriko, a less complex Cornelius or one of Kompakt’s ‘Pop Ambient’ stable and you’re in the ballpark.

Opener ‘For Those Who Go Away’ bounces along at a pace: cheery phrases ping from rubberised guitar strings while phantom syllables sweep the horizon. Maintaining a mightier clip, ‘Masken’ is all handclaps, kick drums and synth swells, marching like animated animals into an endless foreground (though its triumphant tone better befits an album closer). Another highlight in the haze, ‘Melody’ collects chromatic climbing and dispassionate harmonies, rubbery bass and tight (if swerving) kick-drum whooshed by red-arrow layers of neon synth; it is (im)pared-down electro-pop that stands firm, halfway in, undone by a lysergic, lilting flute and rebuilt from scratch amidst perpetual collapse. The harmonious blend of elements synthesized and acoustic, beneath a fuzzy blanket – if clumsy at times – renders the hapless song writing all the more endearing.

A ghostly sense of summer days and nights, idealised and invented, veins every track, including more downbeat numbers such as ‘Shivering’, with its world-weary entreaty to ‘feel my body shivering’ over a slurred, string-weltered backdrop. Its transition into a more crepuscular climate marks an emotional sea change for the album, while eroding the first few tracks’ sense of purpose, to no overall detriment albeit. Woozy instrumental interludes such as ‘Integrals’, ‘Wildernis’ and ‘Langdeep’ perpetuate the directional indifference – possibly to the loss of more impatient listeners – though enhancing the sense of scrapbook scrawl, captured well by the near-ubiquitous, sudden stop/start structure, as one halcyon moment after another gets hastily Prit-stuck for posterity. This approach is expounded upon in the nine-minute ‘Dickicht’ which descends like a cryogenic coma, haunted by the ghost of 1970s Miles Davis: a ponderous Fender Rhodes heaves over 4/4 drum machine and low, melodic mumbles – all elements exercising their right to capricious entrances and exits.

Often ambiguous and ambivalent, over time these deceptively simple songs reveal moods and textures that capture the emotional complexity of autumn mornings and other transitional times. ‘The Wildernis’ is a refreshing and disarming collection of songs, worth the time it takes to befriend.

In addition, the CD is complimented by a DVD, which contains visual analogues of all of the songs, in case the images in your head prove to be insufficient; special mention going to Adnan Popovic’s psychedelic Sesame Street visualisation of ‘Melody’. The films – many topographical in content – are well coordinated with the music, and would serve well as a backdrop to a live AV show, or to the home playback should a projector be available.