Tagged: electropop

Daft Pop

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Atom TM
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GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 147 CD

Slick as oil, sumptuous and satirical, Atom™’s latest LP of machined electro-pop music has many antecedents, among whom Alva Noto, Kraftwerk, Prince and all those who follow the slenderest of muses, and to boot he’s probably the most waggish artist on the Raster Noton label. It’s very nice to hear something that diverges from the typically ‘cyborg’ mood of so many of his label mates, as much as I do enjoy their work.

The spirit of play is in full flight in the uptempo bleep march, ‘Empty’ – a monotone parody on ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ – and the Prince-referencing ‘I Love U (Like I Love My Drum Machine)’, though I’ve got to say that having never had much time for Jamie Lidell’s mannered white-soul vocals, this one hasn’t changed my mind any. Same thing with the pixelated cover (with spot-on vocals) of The Who’s much loved/covered ‘My Generation’, for whom there’s doubtless a more appreciative audience.

Still, there’s a point behind all this, wrapped in a blended expression of sincere exaltation at all Atom loves about pop music and mirthful scorn at industry contamination, as in ‘Stop (Imperialist Pop)’. In either respect, the message is never grating, and the music – as lacking in bloat as pop music could ever be – carries it well. There’s also a fair amount of inconspicuous euro-techno-pop to be had – the sparing synth n’drum machine voyage of ‘Riding the Void’ for one – all delivered nonetheless, with measure and panache. The nine-song set concludes with a pleasing Kraftwerk tribute, ‘Ich Bin Meine Maschine’ (featuring Carsten Nicolai), which has also been issued as a 12” single with a tasty remix by Function, and is also worth your free time and hard-earned.

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Unicorn Hard-On
Weird Universe
AUSTRIA SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP030 LP (2013)

While sporting one of the more outlandish sobriquets in the realm, the electro-pop concern Unicorn Hard-On is very much a down to earth affair. Now over a decade in action, this solo project of one Valerie Martino has left its unmistakeable moniker on many a self-released cassette and a fair few live posters over the last few years, and at last her bona fide debut album, Weird Universe. Suitable home it has found on the ever interesting Spectrum Spools label, for whom she’s gone all out it seems: Mechanical ridmicks and red alert surges shepherding us into a well-behaved, noise pop landscape: the inner topography of a lackadaisical sibling to the Fuck Buttons.

Conspicuous are its abundances of colourful, melodic build up, light static shading, wibbly-wobbly modulation and clip-clopping synth-pads, which (alas) remain perpetually averse to fifth gear speeds and the resulting euphoria. Though ‘mostly harmless’ in the main, tracks like ‘Houndstooth’ are perhaps a little too generic for my liking: an elevating tower of bleeps that could easily have been knocked out during the bedroom electronica glut a decade ago. ‘Mysterious Prism’ – the closer – does, however, display pleasing prowess with some filthy, pounding Game Boy electronics, which could well please Crystal Castles fans.

Nostalgic Pop

Babi

Babi’s Botanical (NOBLE LABEL NBL-210) defies belief – a lovely album of immaculate “chamber pop” songs crafted with great compositional and studio skills. For starters, this is only her second LP – but it’s so accomplished and polished. The young composer and singer Babi is a child prodigy who apparently started learning the piano at age two and had her first composition written at age five. She learned the craft of multi-tracking at music college, and since then has been stacked out with commercial work, besides finding time for realising her own compositions. For this, a joint release on two labels, she’s done all the composing, singing and programming – it’s fundamentally a keyboard album – with guest musicians brought in to add strings and woodwinds. There’s a number of elements to praise and enjoy – the forthright assurance with which Babi proceeds is commendable, knowing exactly in her mind what the song is about and proceeding directly with a very clean performance, with not an ounce of waste. Then there’s the ultra-lean and lightweight sound, a superbly uncluttered studio production, aided by flawless arrangements with every instrument sitting in the perfect place. Additionally, the compositions themselves are these deceptively simple melodies, cunningly spiked with little twists and curlicues that lead the mind off down multiple pathways at once. The album was mixed and mastered by Toyoaki Mishima, who also works with Cornelius – another Japanese genius of quirkoid avant-pop. With ten short tracks of compressed loveliness, this album amounts to a near-perfect set of electro-pop miniatures, enriched with classical flourishes. Babi could almost be the Japanese Kate Bush, although since I don’t understand Japanese her lyrical content remains a mystery to me. I sense she might not be quite as dark and troubled as my beloved Kate, though, since there’s a generally upbeat tempo to the songs here, and Babi’s rather fluffy singing voice (a factor which might prove a barrier for some listeners) and occasional use of wacky sound effects suggest instead a child-like and fantastic view of the world, with bright colours and strange friendly monsters walking through imaginary landscapes, funfairs, and parks on summer afternoons. Be sure to watch the three-minute “trailer” she’s made for this album on YouTube, with suitably flowery animations. Besides Kate Bush, also recommended to listeners who enjoy Slapp Happy and Dagmar Krause, or Van Dyke Parks. Or that incredible Nora Guthrie single from 1967. Received 8th August 2013.

OhYoko

Not entirely unrelated to above, we have I Love You… (COOKIE 3) by Oh, Yoko released on the Normal Cookie label in Tokyo. This is also an album of pop tunes, but far less upbeat and bouncy than Babi, and aims from the get-go to beguile you with a strange nostalgic feeling. The duo of Rie Mitsutake and Will Long achieve this goal through their small and intimate sound; playing electronic and acoustic instruments together, in a syrupy and sensuous blend; keeping the arrangements simple, and playing everything in a gentle manner; and by filtering all the vocals through wispy pieces of gauze that float by on the breeze on a sunny day in September. Again, sung in Japanese, so specifics elude me, but the abiding emotional keynote here speaks volumes – lots of soppy and fuzzy sentiments, just bordering on the saccharine at times. Recording as Miko in a previous life, Rie did a couple of albums that we know of (Parade and Chandelier, the latter released by Lawrence English’s Room 40 label in Australia), and like Babi above she started out her musical life at a relatively young age – taking piano lessons from age five. Will Long might be remembered by some as Celer, a project which he used to do with his wife Chubby Wolf, and which has released over 100 records of ambient installation droney sound-art music, much of it self-issued. Oh, Yoko certainly work well together here and this a very pleasing combination of soft-focus instrumentation and whispery, heartfelt vocalising, occasionally supplemented by gorgeous background field recordings of crickets a-chirping (or maybe frogs a-croaking). “Something pure for a more simple life,” is their only stated goal with this music, and who can take issue with that ambition? Be sure to look for their 2012 release, Seashore. This one from 8th August 2013.

Scantily Clad: Law of Five rules here

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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