Tagged: electropop

The Warsaw Wives

lxmp

Quite exhausting and hyper-kinetic record Polish electronic bounce and electropop bashery from LXMP, a duo from Warsaw. Their Żony W Pracy (LADO ABC Lado A/18LP) was made using just keyboards and drums, but Piotr Zabrodzki and Macio Moretti have a particular inclination towards Korg synths (indeed, they actually seem to have bonded over the matter) and the glimpses of their equipment set-up on the front cover may cause many a hardware fetishist to salivate in sympathy, particularly the view of the Roland SH-101 (if such it be), a famed monophonic job from the 1980s that has caused many a man to twitch with a slack-jawed expression.

These ten tracks of theirs amount to an unholy blend of sources and inspirations – cheesy easy-listening records, cute shiny electropop, and some mutated strain of disco fever that has not yet been released from the laboratory, and they’re mostly played at a breathless rate which pounds the listener into surrender in short order. There’s also something rather airless about the sound that betrays the studio-bound origins of all this work. Between the tight, compressed compositions and the gapless notes, it’s a wonder a man can breathe here at all. I’d like to say the duo have a gift for a strong melody, and while some tracks do shine and even uplift the spirits with their melodic sparkle (assuming you think TV theme tunes and space-age pop albums are a good template), every other track misfires with its slapdash technique and relentless insistence on putting the unpleasant synth “squelch” right in your face. It’s a case of allowing fun-loving “retro” sensibilities get the better of your aesthetic good sense…there’s a shade too much irony and insincerity, suggesting that LXMP are more glitterball than substance.

The title translates as “Wives At Work”, and I have no idea what that means in this context. This is the third LP they’ve made for Lado ABC and a follow-up to 2013’s Back To The Future Shock, which appears to be a set of cover version of Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell tunes. Ingenious, aggressive, but the fun factor comes with a very limited guarantee. From18 April 2016.

No mystery but plenty of treasures on “Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed”

Various Artists, Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed, Analog Africa, AACD080 (2016)

At long last, the music scene that thrived in Cape Verde during the late 1970s / early 1980s gets a reissue on CD by Analog Africa as part of a series showcasing African pop music from the last quarter of the 20th century. This CD (number 20 in the Analog Africa series) is an excellent compilation of 15 songs composed and performed by various musicians, whose relations to one another I’m still not really sure of after reading the booklet that comes in the package. The songs are credited to individual composers and musicians but that can’t be completely right as all songs are performed by bands, some of whose members rate no mention in the booklet.

Generally the music has a light feel and a mostly sunny outlook, though given that Cape Verde’s culture was much influenced by its Portuguese colonisers, a bit of melancholy is bound to appear here and there. The surprising aspect of the music is the use of synthesiser, electric piano and other electronic instruments popular in the 70s and 80s through most tracks in composing and playing melodies and rhythms, and creating and sustaining moods and soundscape backgrounds. Even when the background music seems at its most electro-alien and cold, the charging percussion, rhythms and singing infuse the songs with lively energy and spirit.

Listeners expecting that the music will be similar to Brazilian and a lot of African pop of the same period might be in for a surprise: sure, there are African-influenced beats, rhythms and structures, and the musicians sing in Portuguese, but the music also sounds very European, much more than we might have assumed. There’s not much call-and-response music, where a lead vocalist calls out to a crowd and urges them along, and everyone responds singing the same lyrics or a chorus, and a dialogue that bounces back and forth continuously is set up, that appears here (or what does appear seems watered down into verse-chorus refrain songs); and there’s a lot of Euro-disco and Latino influence across the songs. In short, we have a true synthesis of African and European styles and elements overlaid and united by the Western music and cultural trends and advances in the music and recording technologies of the time and the opportunities these offered to musicians to explore, question and engage with their musical heritage, and to reach out to their people and the world beyond.

There are many good songs to be found here and anyone and everyone who listens to the album will soon have a favourite song or two. The one song that typifies this compilation and which I consider the best is one of the middle tracks, Quirino do Canto’s “Mino di Mama”, which is a wonderful liquid duet (or duel?) of a lone male vocal and a flippy silver synthesiser melody over a light galloping percussion beat. This song comes at the end of a run of great tracks starting with Fany Havest’s “That Day”, the sole English-language song, which initially start slowly, even a bit gloomily, and then suddenly go light and sparkly.

I believe the 15 songs that appear come from a collection of 1,000 songs found by the compiler over a year or so of research and travelling around Cape Verde, only to discover most of the musicians who composed and played these songs are actually living and working in Europe. As mentioned before, on the whole these tracks are upbeat and sunny, and most listeners will be satisfied with that, but I’m hoping future follow-up compilations will include music of a wider range of moods and subject matter. Still, this collection is a great introduction to the music and culture of Cape Verde.

As for the “mystery” about the supposed lost ship whose cargo mysteriously appeared abandoned on the shores of Cape Verde … the mundane reality is that the music scene celebrated on this CD exploded after the islands gained their independence in 1975, and that event must surely have been the watershed that allowed Cape Verdean culture to flourish.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 4

cavernofant

Cavern Of Anti-Matter is the current project of Tim Gane from Stereolab, where he plays guitar and electronics supported by Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth and Holger Zapf playing synths, drum machines, and electronic noises. Lawrence Conquest noted their 2103 album Blood-Drums here, as “highly melodic instrumental synth pop of a determinedly retro variety”. Total Availability And The Private Future (PERIPHERAL CONSERVE pH-24) is much in the same mode, two pieces of clever synth pop with added beats. Quite nice. I always feel a tad underwhelmed by this band’s work, perhaps because the name itself Cavern Of Anti-Matter is leading me to expect something with more intellectual heft, or at the very least a bit more cavernous dub echo in the production. Or maybe something from a science fiction fantasy where they produce music so powerful and strange that it can undo the fabric of matter itself. That would be worth hearing. I’m sure Tim Gane knows that story about Tony Visconti’s Eventide Harmonizer used on Low, and probably filed that nugget away in his mental cabinet as a piece of rock mythology. If only they could live up to it. At any rate this music is nowhere near as smarmy and knowing as Stereolab used to be, so that’s progress. The cover art is by Julian House. Some nice design and collage elements going on here, and it could have been as strong as a meeting between Eduardo Paolozzi and Peter Max, but somehow the image loses its nerve and is lost in a welter of bad design. From 31 October 2014.

blues

The duo of Loren Connors & Suzanne Langille appear on the 7-incher Strong & Foolish Heart / Blue Ghost Blues (TANUKI RECORDS #16), which was recorded at a festival in Glasgow in 2013. The alienated guitar music of Connors is something I feel I ought to know more about, and I’ve often bumped into it since there was a surge of interest in his music since the mid-1990s. There was an Ecstatic Yod box set of four CDs that compiled some of his early acoustic work that I’ve often wondered about. We have fared a little better in recent years with the Haunted House records, where Connors and Langille teamed up with others in a tenuous musical situation that could just about be described as a “band”. Their albums for Northern Spy were impressive, including a fairly rockin’ beast called Blue Ghost Blues…but I haven’t compared the 2011 version with the song on this single to confirm if it’s the same song in another form. Matter of fact “form” is never the word that really comes to mind when hearing this duo’s music, as it seemed determined never to materialise into any recognisable shape. Think instead of musical phantoms, ectoplasms, fogs; that might be a better way to consider its value. I will say that on her singing for ‘Strong & Foolish Heart’, Suzanne Langille does pay her respects to the blues idiom with her flattened fifths, but does so in slow motion, like a mannered, awkward and frozen-stiff version of Billie Holiday meeting Ida Cox at the side of some infernal glacier. Meanwhile Connors is producing effects that are more like shimmering, transient aerial phenomena (the Northern Lights, for instance) rather than concrete guitar chords, or anything that might translate back into a basic blues-box. The combination of odd shapes, FX pedals and perhaps the tremolo arm come into play in producing this ethereal sensation. Bleak and chilling material, but wait till you hear the near-apocalyptic wail of ‘Blue Ghost Blues’, where the guitar creeps into the noisier realms with extended, hollow-sounding riffs that induce lasting despair. Langille’s lyric is half-spoken, half-whispered, half-sung…the metaphor of ghosts and haunted houses clearly abides with her as a lasting “motif”, perhaps a way of dealing with ruined relationships, horrible memories, and impossible situations that can’t be resolved. Very good. 250 copies of the record were pressed, the visuals are by Loren and there are three different covers available. From 25th January 2016.

The High Priestess

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Mary Ocher is a true one of a kind personality whose charisma and presence is all over the album Mary Ocher + Your Government (KLANGBAD 69), her 2016 album made for Hans-Joachim Irmler’s Klangbad label…in a short space of time she’s established herself as a queer icon and underground heroine, and is all set to supplant Peaches as the European locus of sexual emancipation for everyone through flamboyant stage shows, crazy outfits, and no-nonsense disco music. Actually she’s more about political emancipation than sexual, as we’ll see when we get to her anti-war songs, but you get the idea. Ocher does it by channelling the spirit of Klaus Nomi, in both her outlandish outfits, makeup, and her mannered, operatic singing voice – which some critics are content to describe as “quirky”, but that’s doing a disservice to her uncanny and quite graceful acrobatics, which flip-flop between Yma Sumac styled high notes and the clipped, authoritarian barks of a less user-friendly version of Lene Lovich. Klaus Nomi by the way has been an unfairly neglected figure, who I gather continues to be regarded as a preposterous buffoon by many, but his operatic-disco records from the 1980s will have their day in the sun yet.

Your Government is the name of a backing band put together by Mary Ocher with a rotating membership. For this record, Ocher is joined by the duo Stefan Widdess and Oliver Rivera-Drew, who provide a solid tribal drumming backbeat and discordant synth tones to accompany La Ocher. The players are content to turn in a solid workmanlike performance, which I think is just right for allowing Ocher’s strong personality to shine; they’re everything an early 1960s beat combo used to be, keeping their heads down and just playing straight-ahead rhythms and riffs in order to provide a vehicle to the star. The record is also helped by a strong production team: Jochen Stroeh (engineer), mastering by Fred Kevorkian, and King Khan (who provided advice on one track).

Mary Ocher has toured extensively in recent years and her spectacular American and European shows have been creating quite a stir, with the critics calling her everything from a queer icon to a folk diva and modernistic torch singer. You’ll probably be unsurprised to learn she’s based in Berlin just now, just the right locale for her multi-cultural and pan-sexual talents to thrive, but she was born Mariya Ocheretianskaya in Moscow, and lived much of her early life in Israel and Tel Aviv. There appear to have been various dramatic high points in the strange life of this Russian Jewess that go some way to affirming her semi-outsider status, and for whatever reason a lot of her songs have strong anti-war and anti-authority themes. Key albums in her catalogue – she’s been active for many years, starting out as Mary And The Baby Cheeses – might be 2011’s Eden, the solo album War Songs from 2008, and The Fictional Biography of Mary Ocher. Based on the cover photos here where she might be mistaken for a cross between Sun Ra, June Tyson and George Clinton, it might not be too far-fetched to propose that she record a version of ‘Nuclear War’ some time soon. On the other hand, she also likes David Bowie, and her cold, disaffected reading of ‘Where Are We Now’ is tacked on the end of this album as a bonus track. From 18th January 2016.

Post revised on 13th June to correct some inaccuracies.

X In Circle

hox

Here’s Edvard Graham Lewis from Wire and Dome appearing as one half of HOX, impressively maintaining a very high standard of alienated, unsettling avant-pop music after all this time…he’s doing it with Swedish musician and sound designer Andreas Karperyd, who is famed for a few albums of ambient-industrial music he made as Omala with Mattias Tegnér, in the later 1980s and early 1990s.

At first spin, the nine songs on Duke Of York (EDITIONS MEGO 214) might pass for some species of Cold Wave of darkish electropop, in some ways updating Wire’s guitar sound with sequencers and synths, and at the same time holding on to an evanescent vision of late-1970s and early-1980s electronic angst…and whose chumbering rhythms and mannered vocals are sure to please fans of Tuxedomoon. But there’s something stranger and almost indigestible wriggling under the surface here, which is hard to define…it may have something to do with the vocal delivery, tonelessly uttering its mysterious and allusive lyrics with the resigned air of an exiled man who has seen too much…yet there’s also an insistence to the singing that proves rather discomfiting, causing the listener to squirm in one’s chair.

What makes it odder is the chilling clarity with which each song is presented, with not a single detail fluffed, blurred or disguised under studio effects or ambient murk. Instead each synthesized note stands out with the strength of a stainless steel stamper in the printshop of the damned, ready to imprint its grim message on your forehead. One might almost be hearing a corrupted, long-lost brother of Kraftwerk…but instead of the hopeful messages of a neon-lit future where machines are doing all the work, HOX present a skewed world-view where many things have gone badly wrong, there’s a ravenous hunger in every man’s tone, and survival is tenuous at best. Whatever pleasure we may derive from the quasi-funky rhythms and upbeat tempo of a song is soon undercut by this menacing lurking shadow.

Impressive…this isn’t the first time Lewis and Karperyd have worked together, nor is it the very first Hox album (see 1999’s It-Ness). I’ve got a feeling it’s mostly the work of Lewis (he certainly provided the lyrics, and probably the singing) with Karperyd handling the production and sonic presentation. From November 2015.

Spanish Keys

Agnes Pe

Got a split C30 cassette from Héctor Rey’s Nueni Recs label in Bilbao, whose catalogue has gradually been arriving here to mixed receptions from various writers. On Nueni #004 he maintains the staunch Anti-Copyright approach to present snippets by two musicians. On Spec Phtisica Endtítulo Al, Agnès Pe offers five short cuts of charmingly strange electronic music which she tags as, among other things, “Happy Techno”. That’s as good as any a term to apply to these bouncy lo-fi tunes whose melodies appear to be picked out by hand on a toy organ rather than sequenced by computer, although there’s also healthy doses of analogue malarkey, fizzy noise, and uncanny booperlings to occupy and entertain the mental enquirer. There is something slightly dark lurking behind the apparently happy tunes…and her approach to using beats betokens an alienated attitude to the dancefloor, rather than an enthusiastic participant. One suspects Agnès Pe would be happier taking a nocturnal turn of a deserted shopping mall than wasting time having fun at the disco with her so-called friends.

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Niebla Fascista is a new name to me, but he has collaborated with Xedh (i.e. Miguel A. García) on two recent releases, and any friend of Xedh is welcome in these quarters, as indeed is any adherent to the Spanish school of stern and grisly noise. On Cheddar Brother, Niebla Fascista turns in eight short experiments involving feedback, crazed synths, an equally crazed drum machine, and snarly vocals. Where Agnès Pe is prepared to project a brave front and pretend that all is well with the world, Niebla makes no secret of his anger and disaffection, railing against the world with his furious growls. Quite often his outbursts are delivered in short, disjunctive stabs, as if he was growing more inarticulate with rage and exasperation as each second passes. However, this is far from “pure noise”, as is evident from his sputtering attempts at creating tunes (again using the one-finger melodies not unlike Agnès above) and his bizarre foray into crooning, where he comes across like a member of Whitehouse filtered through the larynx of Bing Crosby.

feb2016193

Oier Iruretagoiena is another lesser-known creator from the Spanish quarter devoted to delivering a particularly cruel strain of noise; I often feel that many of them are in thrall to Miguel A. García who seems to have set a template for the entire Basque region with his stern, brooding abstractions. Oier Iruretagoiena, also known as Oier I.A. and Tüsüri and a member of the group Larraskito Audio Dissection Unit, has recorded with García and Oscar Martin, and is clearly has what it takes to wring strange wheezing and grunting forms from the innards of his computer. On Kulakantu (Nueni #005). he seems to be controlling feedback and white noise in a carefully-wrought and highly twisted fashion, producing a complex intermittent stream of exquisite ugliness. Unlike our two friends above, he doesn’t seem especially angry, but is playing the role of an isolated loner, breeding unusual types of insect hybrids which he keeps in perspex cages in his basement. The cover art is from the pipe organ at St Martin of Tours in Ataun, described elsewhere as a “masterpiece of Iberian Baroque organ-making”. I’d like to think Oier made a special pilgrimage to see this historically significant instrument; what self-respecting keyboard player wouldn’t? The above items from 29 September 2015.

Stark Genug

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Though active since 1999 or earlier, Thomas Weber’s unique project Kammerflimmer Kollektief is a relatively new thing on our radar, and it’s only recently we’ve been sent a copy of 2015’s overwhelming album Désarroi (although we did briefly note their Teufelskamin in 2011). It used to be Weber’s solo project, but his appetite for genre-bending mashups and his passionate desire to explore multiple genres of music (most notably electronica and free jazz) has led to him recruiting other similarly driven musicians from around Germany. A recent manifestation is The Schwarzenbach, where the band have joined forces with the author and journalist Dietmer Dath to create Nicht Sterben. Aufpassen (STABUGOLD 142). Members of Kammerflimmer Kollektief play awkward musical backdrops with synths, keyboards, bass and guitar, which are frameworks for the sung and spoken-word texts of Dath. The words are mostly in German, but the project draws inspiration from the works of Annemarie Schwarzenbach (the Swiss lesbian photographer, author and traveller) 1, and the recurring themes which I’m able to discern are to do with sexual politics and the hypocrisy of society. Certainly the vocals – delivered by Dath with help from Heikie Aumuller – won’t let the listener off the hook, and you’ll feel cornered right from the start of this album, with little room for manoeuvre as you’re confronted by his hectoring tones. The music itself has at least two modes of potential interest – a sort of scuzzy electropop which is like a toned-down D.A.F., and a sarcastic easy-listening pastiche which is one step away from synth and drum-machine karaoke. I don’t know where to put myself. From September 2015.

  1. Schwarzenbach’s interesting life is bound to appeal to lovers of doomed romantics, a tale involving drugs, suicide attempts, glamour, and a tragic early death.

Lost in a Fiction

mirt

Multi-talented artist and entrepreneur Mirt has yoked together three separate mini-albums on his Vanishing Land (BDTA LXXXII) full-length release. One outcome of this strategy is that the collaged whole amounts to a narrative, albeit one delivered in a layered and enigmatic fashion. Readers will recall that his Rite of Passage from 2013 could also be interpreted as a film soundtrack, and Mirt is entirely comfortable with this take on his output. As to the content of Vanishing Land’s scenario, Mirt remains cryptic and allusive in his notes, and the listener is given scant clues on the record: near-anonymous ambient electronic music, vague and ambiguous field recordings, and a story trajectory that requires a prodigious memory if you wish to follow it. The cover art, painted by Mirt, is like an imaginary still from a European road movie laden with symbolism. From September 2015.

A Short Ride On The Arrow Of Time

To produce A Short Ride On The Arrow Of Time (ELECTRIC BRASS RECORDS EBR005), the duo Spaceheads recorded a substantial number of jam sessions over four days in the studio, and present the edited results on disc. Trumpeter Andy Diagram may be known to you for his work with James, or with Pere Ubu and Two Pale Boys, or even further back as a member of John Peel favourites The Diagram Brothers; he’s made the loop effect a big part of his trumpet’s signature sound, and creates pleasant half-melodies here that keep the listener buoyant with their suggestions of joyous whoops and balletic leaps. He’s supported as ever by drummer Richard Harrison, who’s content to be reprocessed until he resembles an identikit dance record rhythm track. Many pleasant moments on these lengthy extemporisations – they would prefer to call them “continuums”, a term calculated to preserve something of the integrity of their free-form work – but also a fair deal of flabbiness and meandering. I’m also surprised how often the music descends into bland, tasteful elevator music, not unlike what I’d imagine a 1970s Chuck Mangione album sounds like. From September 2015.

Doppelstern

Barbara Morgenstern is yet another new name to these pages, yet this talented German composer and singer has been releasing avant-garde electropop material since 1997, with a number of albums released on Monika Enterprise. On Doppelstern (MONIKA ENTERPRISE 85), we have 11 examples of her craft, each one produced with a separate collaborator – mostly musicians, singers and writers published by Maobeat, as it turns out, and they all bring their own shades of emotional piquancy to the picnic. The precision and care that Morgenstern pours into her work is evident on every one of these compacted pop songs, each one arranged to perform like a flawless machine that folds cardboard cartons into place with a tolerance of two microns. Yet they’re also very human and romantic songs, and the wistful emotions are conveyed expertly and honestly by her unpretentious, spare singing voice. Fine item! Released 25 September 2015.

Unimperative

Tellavision

Tellavision is Fee Kürten, a very talented 20-something German performer who we last noted in 2014 with her excellent Music On Canvas LP (from Feeding Tube Records). On The Third Eye (KARL RECORDS KR031), she’s continuing to flaunt her unique style of fractured, mannered vocalising with cranky analogue synths and erratic beats, doing so with even more assurance and sass than before. The press note would like us to note her “post-punk” stylings, which probably refers to the minimal DIY qualities of her perfectly simple songs, but to my ears there’s elements of a warpoid R’n’B sensibility creeping in to some these ditties too. Her slightly mean, streetwise songs are delivered with the faint trace of a sneer and a bemused alienation, while the lyrics and titles indicate a highly ambiguous relationship to virtually everything in the world, be it friendship, entertainment, or modern city life. Mind you, it’s not always easy to tell what’s afoot in her noggin with some of her brain-scrambling titles and lyrics here. The vinyl edition splits into two discrete sides, titled Cryptic Snash Man? and Ease Tikky Tab, each portraying a particular aspect of her skewed world-view. There’s no doubt that her performance, her sound, indeed her entire stance, are highly contrived, and this projects a faint layer of “cleverness” which apparently puts off some sections of the audience, but I am confident you, reader, do not belong with that faction and that you will investigate her work. From 14 September 2015.

Black (Coffee) Celebration

IDA106LPLTD

Sylvain Chauveau & Ensemble Nocturne
Down To The Bone
FRANCE ICI D’AILLEURS IDA 106 LP (2015)

Well, this is a rum one, and no mistake.

One of my comic-reading highlights of 2015 was James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s “Airboy”, a tour-de-force of self-loathing that actually made me laugh out loud in a coffee shop. This was in response to a panel where Robinson’s character rages against slowed down acoustic versions of 80s new wave songs. High street coffee shops tend to have such things on permanent loop, of course. So, imagine my surprise, and my trepidation, when my review pile yielded up this little item, subtitled “An Acoustic Tribute To Depeche Mode”.

I genuinely do not know what to make of this. I guess it succeeds on its own terms, because these are indeed acoustic versions of Depeche Mode songs, tastefully arranged for piano and strings. The musicians play well, the singer is fine, so these are not bad versions as such, even if it’s very hard to distinguish one track from the next. Apart from Track 6, “(Enjoy) The Silence”, which is 47 seconds of, yes, near silence.

I should point out that I have no strong feelings about Depeche Mode one way or the other, so I have no emotional attachment to the songs. But really, who is this aimed at? If you were a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions? If you’re not a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen to an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions of songs by a band you weren’t really interested in?

Chauveau is described as an “experimental crooner”, although it’s hard to see what’s experimental about any of this. The arrangements don’t seem to reveal any hidden depths or surprising aspects of the originals, apart from the surprise at how similar it all sounds. Maybe there’s a high concept that I’m not picking up or a joke that I’m not getting, but in the end, this doesn’t appear to be anything more than a collection of slowed down acoustic versions of new wave songs.

If that’s your cup of macchiato, or if you’re a café owner putting together a playlist, dive on in.

Editor’s note: this is a reissue of an album originally released in 2005 on Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L’Acier.