Tagged: France

Mister Master


David Fenech is a groovy French composer-musician who I first heard of when he contributed his skillset to the 2011 monster Superdisque, with fellow Frenchman Jac Berrocal and the wonderful Ghédalia Tazartès. Turns out he’s also a guitar maniac of the first water and has played alongside various free improvisers and talented individualists, besides leading the 1990s French punk collective Peu Importe. Since I never heard enough of his guitar playing to judge, I like to fantasise that he owns a deep scarlet “axe” and that he probably plays it in a scratchy, angrified, “blocky” style, much like an updated version of Fred Frith in a lime green suit. Grand Huit (GR 2026) was his first solo record from 2000, and in 2012 it got reissued on vinyl by Gagarin Records 1. Right away the humourous-surreal cover art of cat-into-human 2 lets us know we’re in for a fine and freaky time. I suppose I might have expected a guitar record of some sort, but this album is eccentric and varied, sprawling all over the shop in a very good way, and largely unclassifiable – highly unusual songs and instrumentals, composed with percussion, keyboards, drum machines, field recordings of schoolchildren making announcements, and his own bizarrely energised singing – on which more to follow.

Fenech seems to have a rough and ready approach to record production, which I enjoy immensely; almost every track feels very spontaneous 3 , thrown together like so much fascinating bric-a-brac retrieved from a flea market, and he’s not afraid to leave plenty of mismatches, false starts, and overdubs that miss the mark in a compelling manner. Then there’s his highly contrived singing voice; on ‘Mister Master’ he’s growling and barking out his words so much that he forces himself into a coughing fit (needless to say, he doesn’t edit out the coughing), and on ‘Boeuf Bourguiba / Opera En Toc’, you’ll hear his attempt at singing in a more-or-less bluesy idiom, detoured by way of David Thomas. Talk about guttural – he comes close to swallowing his own nose! There’s also the charming and eccentric instrumentals such as ‘Jaune d’oeuf en cage’ or ‘Un Lacher de Lucioles / Jukebox’, both of which feature tasty keyboards and guitar lines interlocking as smoothly as gold metalwork around a precious jewel, and give us a glimpse of what Frank Zappa might have accomplished with his little black notes if he didn’t hate all of Europe with such a misanthropic vengeance. Or how about the crazed Residents-like toy disco thump of ‘Grand Huit’? Irresistible, declare 18 swooning denizens of the dancefloor. Or the menacing undercurrents to ‘Solaris’, with its sinister guitar notes undermining the easy-listening samba melody and where the lead vocal is sung by a half-pint kleptomaniac dwarf from inside a birdcage. It’s a brilliant example of subverted pop music, dark clouds of New Wave menace occluding the Burt Bacharach sunshine.

Truly unpredictable, you never know where any given tune is heading, or which stylistic outfit Mr Quick-Change is going to whip out next from his magic trunk of disguises. He makes it look easy, but you can bet there’s 500 kilograms of sheer talent and hard work behind his every move. Recommended!

  1. Felix Kubin, label boss, says “Grand Huit is one of my alltime favourites”.
  2. The painting is by Martha Colburn, a New York artist; not the original cover art, it was newly created for this release.
  3. This may have something to do with the limited means at his disposal; it was all created on a 4-track machine.

Un, Deux, Trois



Les Hauts De Plafond
No Ask Lévrier

Highbrow yet accessible, this sumptuous sonic melange melds vintage musique concrète’s rigorous exploration for new realms, scattershot syllable poetry and the propulsion of a studio-savvy avant-rock outfit that’s comfortable in any gear. No Ask Lévrier, Les Hauts de Plafond’s four-wheeled fantasy, chugs through forests of mystery with sat-nav flagging up every musical detour along a 40 minute ‘scenic route’, in which sound upon intriguing sound is layered and woven into the next like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by hands adept at intuitive combination; the music suffering not in the least from absence of climax; joy lying largely in wedding one strange sonic situation with another. As a result, you can leave the room and feel certain that someone’s changed the CD while you were out.

Something of an extended radio piece, this recording also belongs in the tradition of live meets sampled sound collage, and while it never quite attains the ecstatic poles of seminal works such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, nor does it stray into the less enthralling zones. Those familiar with the hardcore collagists (and a personal favourite) Milk Cult will also have some idea what to expect, the miniatures of their Project M-13 exuding a similar penchant for playful mystery, wherein vignettes of avant-pop collage engender eclectic and serendipitous psychological spaces; a perpetual scrapbook of adventure as in ‘Dieu Est Une Voiture En Plein Phare’, which immerses a metronomic bass in a web of voices and the motor blasts of a car race.

A press shot shows the pensive pair attempting to record pieces of fruit, suggesting a quirky sense of humour and a ‘concrète’ mandate to distil drama from the quotidian. Further homage to the sound-spelunking forefathers can be found in ‘L’insoutenable Objet’, featuring clattering crockery and a deep, squeaky door that opens the portal to Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir. Les Hauts de Plafond has also been said to broadcast music from a 2CV used as a mobile amplifier, the myth enhancing their capacity to illuminate the sublimely ridiculous within the ostensibly ordinary.

Sylvain Chauveau


Sylvain Chauveau

Sylvain Chauveau’s 10th recording Kogetsudai is the second in a trilogy based on convergence of abstract and natural forms. Where the first part, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) drew upon the mysteries of abstract painting, Kogetsudai reflects (and reflects upon) a more eastern phenomenon: Japanese rock gardens, such as Ryoanji in Kyoto, where the piece was conceived. I’m pretty sure Ryoanji was also the site of an incongruous photograph of Rudolf eb.er and Dave Philips, joined by a bevy of Japanese schoolgirls, which I can’t locate right now. Further bemusement notoriously occurs in response to the site itself: 248 square metres’ worth of pebbles raked to resemble… nothing much, leaving many a westerner wondering what they travelled all that way for.

In a similar manner, the Kogetsudai resonates with naturalistic intrigue, oscillating fragile ripples and whorls, from the centre of which issues the odd snatch of haiku-like lyric, delivered so gradually as to force you to pay attention. Emotionally adrift somewhere between Fennesz and Eleh; archetypally minimal; it’s not Francisco Lopez, but it is delicate in construction, every piece just a gossamer layer or so, consisting of location recordings, sine waves or, in ‘Lenta’, soft, suspended piano chords. While I’m not drawn to the laboured vocals – I don’t know – something like a frozen Bill Callahan’s, the tenuous musical gestures are genuinely evocative, suggesting a space outside of time the way Aphex Twin did in his second round of Selected Ambients. Evident is the attention to detail, and a seemingly genuine appreciation of the meditative mentality of Chaveau’s subject matter, which to my ears is a significant accomplishment, given that one cannot simply ‘turn Japanese’.



A Rebours

To realise a long-term ambition, French electronic trio Minizza recruited six collaborators for their third and most considered recording: a radio rendering of J.K. Huysman’s dense novella about a decadent misanthropist named Jean Des Esseintes. In the novel, Des Esseintes retires with his many worldly possessions from Paris – sick of society and its tiresome mores – to a house in the countryside, where he spends day upon day keeping strange hours, reflecting upon and rejecting orthodox literature, criticism, Catholic writings, and rewarding his senses to the gills with the finest substances he can treat them to. He also encrusts the shell of a tortoise with gems, causing its death; an indulgence analogous to the lifestyle that nearly kills Des Esseintes himself. Seemingly sedated by the knots of memories and sensory experiences past and present, the narrative proceeds quite ponderously at times, and is best reserved for times devoid of distraction.

Similar attention may be required here, for though an easier experience than the novel, it’s not a casual one. Realised for French radio, Francophones will certainly fare better than I in appreciating it in its fullness, though I begrudge it not the inaccessibility: rather the French vocals engender a sense of emotional distance analogous to the protagonist’s. Besides, I couldn’t see an English version living up to this standard, to be honest: the obsessive yet languid atmosphere is far more suggestive of a continental decadence than a conceivably more inept, British one. As if to drive the point home, in ‘De La Nature Des Choses’ a Gallic slur slinks sleazily behind a familiar bassline, through the same firelit drawing room as in Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’, and offering the set one of its more seductive sections. That said, the narrator’s resonant, often breathy delivery I find difficult to correlate with as sickly a figure as Des Esseintes, unless it is a self-dramatising interior monologue, where none can taint his schizoid, scholarly reveries.

Arrangements are on the whole airy, moody and evocative of Des Esseintes’ sensory forays. Instrumentation is spare, implying precariousness and single-mindedness, and further by layers of soft, echoing electronics, seemingly bathing the voice in sickly rays of light. ‘Dominé Par Des Abstractions’ delights especially in the ebb and flow of it. These faint sonic veneers sometimes admit voices: revenants from Des Esseintes’ distant, debauched past; figments of the dimly remembered, lit by faint flickers of Badalamenti-esque jazz. As it approaches the final stages, the atmosphere becomes quite disorienting, culminating in a radio dial blitz in ‘Agonie’, but all in all it’s an enticing listen, as rich in tone and pretension; as ornate and fleeting as the world of Des Esseintes, and perhaps as appropriate to specific points in time as a reading of the novel itself.

Flu(o): An impression of Miles

Encore Remuants

A bitches brew (not quite) of motley influences with a mainly jazz-rock deployment from France. Excepting the occasional proggish touches in the main the Miles influence is strong with this one; some trumpet parts sound like re-arrangements of electric era Miles solos, unfortunately rendered a little too sedately and comfortably to be entirely convincing. Things generally sound very composed (overly-determined) and disappointingly even somewhat bloodless.

Like the journey of Jazz-rocker Alan Holdsworth from early invention in ‘Igginbottom, virtuosity at the sometimes increasing expense of personality in post-Wyatt Soft Machine to the deadened 80s of clean production and pallid synthetics this is an album that begs certain questions about fusion (the fusion of Jazz and Rock) as an approach and fusion (Jazz-Rock) as a set of tropes, a genre. Obviously fusion is dangerous territory, electric era Miles is cold, fiery, technical, primal, intuitive, composed, magic – the very definition of fusion – many other attempts do not reach that potency or degree of integration and sublimation of ingredients into something new.

Somewhat earnest quotation, pastiche and patchwork are the compositional approaches, here. Complex arrangements where contrast of unexpected quotation lends spice to the compositions. Nothing is pushed far enough, for my liking though, and to make it really gel. Certain proggish tendencies sometimes remind of (really) late Canterbury related things or remind of the more modern, clean Jazz-rock that Cuneiform might put out. The rhythm section is driving force, Drummer Peter Orins is credited with all compositions. The interplay of his solid drumming and Cristophe Hache’s bass almost leads you to hope for a first-album Lard Free toughness, but this lot instead exude an air of professionalism and precision, not bad qualities, but there doesn’t seem to be enough room for the wild and dangerous (although simulacra of the superficial manifestations of such qualities do appear. The noisier guitar work courtesy of Olivier Benoit in the title track being a case in point). Perhaps the unhelpfully clinical production is to blame, sterilising what should be ragged and intense. There are bits that space out like ‘Round About Midnight’, track 3, ‘annam’, for example, including Miles-esque floating trumpet lines. But it comes across as an impression, in some ways, a little too pat, perhaps.

There is undoubtedly skill in the playing here (I do keep mentioning the trumpet playing of Christian Pruvost), good ideas, and irreproachable influences (at least the Miles bits). There’s Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, my favourite Cellar Door era. ‘Fluo’ adopts the Miles approach of using fragments and vamps to build up a brooding stalking atmosphere, although never as sultry. It’s a good touchstone, and there’s some nice growl and grumble along the way. A group of musicians who appreciate that that is music worthy of basing your explorations on deserve to be listened to accordingly. If it falls short of full throttle integration and creation, that’s unfortunate but it isn’t to say there aren’t ingredients to savour in the, uh, brew (Excuse me getting tangled in my own verbal metaphor fusions…). Ultimately, though, it leans towards the proficiency-without-efficacy of some latter day fusions.

The cover art and presentation is a little antiseptic and anonymous (someone do them a painted gatefold!) which unfortunately adds to the overall impression that although competent and with plenty of commendable moments, I feel like flu(o) could let their hair down and wig out a bit more. Taken on its own terms it is reasonably enjoyable, varied and tightly played music, and I find it a lot more palatable and interesting than some other latter-day Jazz-Rock, but I do feel that it doesn’t do justice to the full implications or spirit of its apparent main inspirations. It does make me want to go and listen to the steaming cauldrons of blood brewed up by the Dark Magus himself, though, which can’t be a bad thing. I’m off to go and pull Live-Evil off the shelf now…

Flu(o) on Soundcloud


We The People

Métal Urbain

Here’s TSP favourite Franck Vigroux with a new solo record, his first for about two years since the exciting and pessimistic Camera Police, which took a stern unblinking look at modern surveillance methods. We (Nous Autres) (D’AUTRES CORDES RECORDS DAC 2021) is not informed by so specific a theme, but the titles such as ‘Death in Paris’, ‘Ininferna’, ‘Fire’, ‘Crash’ and ‘La Mort’ should alert you to the inflammatory nature of the music here. Many tracks demonstrate Vigroux’s strong capability in terms of manipulating and sculpting electronic noise on a grand scale. There’s a very physical, manual quality to the way he assembles sound, smearing vats of lard with one hand while controlling an enormous derrick with the other, swinging steel-like girders of digital burr and buzz into place. When he’s not hammering another rivet into the cast-iron coffin of 21st-century schizoid man, Vigroux exhales from his poisoned lungs bleak and foggy atmospheres such as ‘Bruisme’ or ‘Ashes II’, which are positively Ballard-esque in their remorseless misery. There’s also the splintered and nightmarish consciousness of ‘Death in Paris’, which in less than two minutes posits a horrifying future where your modernistic all-automated apartment (all its utilities computer-assisted, natch) is rebelling against you at every turn, and gloomy resigned robots wait outside with the express task of hammering your face into the wall with mighty metal mitts. Speaking of Ballard, there is the 14-minute ‘Crash’ which in title at least pays homage to the respected English dystopian, and concludes the album by leading us on a lengthy tour around many aspects of the modern urban hell we are doomed to create for ourselves, and combines most of the techniques used so far into one monstrous track – vicious electronic growls, fragmented inhuman voices, white noise, and depressingly vacant ambient fogs. Even if this cut ends the album on a relatively serene and calming tone of minimal drone, you’ll still be crushed into a compressed block of meat by the claustrophobic weight of Vigroux’s brilliant music. Listen out too for the “abrasive distorted electronic beats” as noted in the press pack, and the contributions of vocalist Annabelle Playe. Vigroux uses a lot of electro-acoustic methodology in all his music, but I sense he works in a very intuitive and painterly style, rather than assembling content laboriously like a formal composer. The results always pay off, and his dark imagination flourishes. Received 18 March 2012.

Proteus Gowanus

The Gowanus Session (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4068) is a fabulous suite of free-jazz-improvised music created by bassist William Parker, pianist Thollem McDonas, and Nels Cline with his electric guitar. Californian improviser Cline may be familiar to you from records he’s made with Thurston, Zeena Parkins, Chris Corsano, Alan Licht, Henry Kaiser and many other untamed Americans. The Gowanus Session does contain two or three high-energy type cuts, which propel themselves forward admirably without the aid of a drummer, but the trio exercise considerable restraint as they explore puzzling metaphysical mysteries on the quieter, slower tracks. The album is mainly about the combination of unusual and far-out sounds, textures and tones, and it’s loaded with tasty, dense musical fillings. Parker for one serves up a fabulous range of techniques, such that his bass performs as a growling droner or pattering percussive instrument as the situation demands. McDonas supplies rich and baroque chord shapes, melodies and patterns, while Cline is generally let off the leash to go completely bonkers – aggressive feedback blasts, intense high-octane soloing, and amplified curved shapes that fall out of his solid-body guitar like dollops of Baskin-Robbins’ finest. Recorded and mixed by Peter Karl in his studio, and it’s got cover art by Cork Marcheschi, a former member of Fifty Foot Hose. How much more hip could it be? Received 20 March 2012.

Death, Thou Shalt Die

Just noted Steve Roden yesterday and here he be again, this time in a team-up with Steve Peters. Not A Leaf Remains As It Was (12K RECORDINGS 12K1069) is largely a vocal record of extreme delicacy and subtlety, with near-hesitant vocal wisps unfurling their washed-out tones to the accompaniment of gentle ambient music and small percussive sounds. The content for the lyrics was derived, in an extremely circuitous fashion, from a book of Japanese Jisei, a form of poem supposedly written by Japanese monks at the very point of death (though according to some scholars, warriors and poets did it too). Neither creator can read or speak a word of Japanese, but they weren’t about to let a little thing like that stop them making a covenant with this highly charged spiritual content. Sorting out the poems using a classification system that would have delighted both John Cage and Brian Eno (a methodology that involved using index cards), they proceeded to perform the fragmented texts in a remarkably selective fashion, at times settling for the utterance of a mere syllable simply because they liked the taste of it in their intoning mouths. Even English translations of the Japanese words were fair game in this phonetic approach. It’s thus something of a lottery whether any of the original jisei texts get through at all. In this manner, they hoped to avoid all the obvious pitfalls that await any Westerner who attempts to flirt with Oriental cultures, so there is not a trace of Zen Buddhism anywhere in the finished product. Seattle studio whiz Doug Haire has to be given a lot of credit for making the final assemblage and mix from these evanescent sounds, a task which to many would seem on a par with knitting fog. To its credit, this album completely eschews the use of electronic instruments, and any sounds which we may at first mistake for commonplace “ambient” drones are largely produced by the combined voices of Roden and Peters, as they quaver and whisper like avant-garde choirboys in Westminster Abbey. It’s also notable how, despite being so far removed from the original source material by dint of the elaborate near-conceptual cut-up methods used, the record still resonates with a deep spiritual feeling. It also preserves the very starkness of the jisei, a form which ought to “vividly express the sentiments of an individual standing face-to-face with death.” 1 Received 18 March 2012.

  1. From http://japanesereligions.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/japanese-death-poem-jisei.html, retrieved 07/10/2012.

Secret Societies

Standing In The Shadows

Got a great LP of guitar drone from the French duo of Sun Stabbed, who have been working at their craft in Grenoble since 2005. Actually Des Lumières, Des Ombres, Des Figures (DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT 06) is more like guitar drone-plus, what with the added elements of found tapes and distortion that have been folded into the record as part of its mixage/construction. Seems that the basic performances were captured in 2009, then worked on at the cutting table well into 2010. Given the simplicity of means, it’s a very compelling and satisfying listen, and after two sides of descending into this gentle maelstrom of strummed thrummery, I was hungry for more of the same. Those of you who crave excessive volume and amplification and Sunn O))) styled doom-drone might be disappointed, but Sun Stabbed have subtlety, much variation, and an underlying purpose to their strange drones, even when that very purpose remains opaque. Perhaps they keep it occluded deliberately; I like the obscure press note reference to “sound dérives”, which is not about deriving new sounds from odd combinations, but to the cultivation of a sense of “wandering” inside guitar noise much like the Situationists would perform their dérives, their arty-intellectual meanders and purposeless walks around Paris without aid of map. I haven’t encountered that sense of purposeful daydreaming in the construction of music since the time of Main, to take one example; Main’s inspired sense of taking a sound for a long walk stood them in good stead through many a CD in the 1990s. Sun Stabbed sound nothing like Main of course, and if anything they tend to resemble the best recorded moments of Ashtray Navigations – they have the same sense of limpid and oneiric mysteriousness to their muddy drones, an unreal zone where voices from the real world can sometimes drift in to perplexing effect, and where every image we see is a double-exposure on outdated film stock. In this context the evocative cover photograph by Pierre-Oliver Arnaud is very sympathetic. Now I think I’d like to hear their 2006 CDR Radio. Just the title of that one suggests they may use radio signals as part of their aural collaging, and it also puts me in mind of Radio Guitar, that superb and massively overlooked record by Peggy Awesh and Barbara Ess from 2001.

Meet Your Ghost

Barbara Ess was a member of Theoretical Girls, The Static and Y Pants of course, which I mention as a way of prefacing this live LP by Mars called Live At Artists Space (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR068). The audience tapes here were made on 6 May 1978, and I don’t know if they ever circulated as boots, but this LP came out late last year – a production effort by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore issued as NG#1 on their Negative Glam imprint, and part of their agenda to rescue and contextualise important obscure music from history. The context of the original week-long run of live music in Manhattan was that it featured a clutch of bands now regarded as vital exponents of what has come to be termed “No Wave” American music (which I suppose roughly coincided with the rise of post-punk here in the UK). The researchers also inform us that nobody paid much attention to this event at the time, it was poorly attended and probably under-reported, yet it has since grown in the minds of many to achieve the sort of reverence we would normally reserve for the transit of Venus. Ten fine bands were featured (see list in photo of sleeve), Mars among them, and apparently it represented a meeting between bands from the Lower East Side and those from the Western realms of NYC; whether these combos were previously at daggers drawn, or just separated by geography, I don’t know.

As Mars were something I completely missed out on in every possible way in 1978, it was a lovely discovery for me to hear a copy of the Mars EP (recorded late 1978, issued in 1980) and the compilation of all their studio recordings put out by Important Records. There are so few studio recordings they all fit on one LP, and the Mars EP was recorded right at the very end of their career. On those five recordings the listener is obliged to reach for terms like “conflagration” and “meltdown” to describe the horrific guitar noise. On this live LP however we have eight songs rather than pure noise, and the band pretty much perform their whole repertoire twice over in two separate sets. Keen listeners will immediately notice the profound differences between the sets, even when the same material is the starting point. The tenor of the second set is largely resigned and fatalistic, whereas the band clearly still had some fighting spirit left on side one. I suppose the band saw the song form as an opportunity for radical reinvention and a chance to remake, restate, and start afresh 1. However, I’d be misrepresenting the music of Mars if I gave the impression it was somehow “experimental” or cerebral – the truth is that it comes across as 100% intuitive, the band grasping like possessed souls at any chance they can find for expression, for freedom. This is nothing like the calculated, mannered oddness of Talking Heads in 1978; it is genuinely alien and strange. What we hear is an unmistakeable raw and primitive honesty, juddering out in broken forms.

Listeners who enjoy that brokenness, and other desirable qualities like unusual guitar tunings, frantic strumming, disjointed noise bursts and general uneasiness in performed music will find much to enjoy here. The songs have lyrics, of which I could not make out a single word, and I’m glad; it’s not about verbal communication. The anguished howling and inarticulate spat-out grunts represent yet another attempt to bypass rational communication, to reach for something deeper. 90% of UK punk rock can be summed up by a very limited range of emotional expression (anger, frustration), but what emotions are portrayed here? Unrecognisable. Scary ones, for sure. The singer doesn’t know, but the driving need to express them is there. The team of Nancy Arlen, China Burg, Sumner Crane and Mark Cuningham apparently worked best in live performance rather than in the studio. Edgy and difficult documents like this confirm my view that the best music is in some way dangerous and threatening; I think Mars purposely took themselves into that zone of danger, and had to do it as live performance with an audience, just to counter-balance the powerful and intuitive dynamics at work within their foursome. It’s a wonder that they managed to keep on doing it for three years. Amazingly, there’s another record from the same period issued by this label which I hope to get soon, recorded on cassette by Brian Eno. Now I suggest you tune in to this and keep your appointment with the ‘Puerto Rican Ghost’.

  1. I’m no expert, but I gather something akin to this was the intended meaning of “The Blank Generation”. Far from a statement of nihilism, it was about empowerment; fill in the blanks yourself, and keep on doing it.

Tribal Rawque

Last heard from French underground proggy drummer Jean-Noël Cognard with LPs from his TANKJ project in 2009 and 2010. Well, he also lends his grasshopper-like sticks to Tribraque, another demented band of dingues featuring guitarist Jean-François Pauvros and Patrick Müller with his “electrosonics”, and on these 2009 recordings we have six untitled tracks (or perhaps one long work in six parts, which is more likely) of unsettling anti-rock performance. Whereas TANKJ are I think making a deliberate and concerted attempt to blend jazz, free noise, improvisation and progressive rock in a heady contemporary casserole, Tribraque is much grittier and characterised, at first spin, by aggressive and menacing urban vibes, and the record (with the exception of the energised opening and closing cuts) tends to hover just this side of futility and despair. The trio propose a wild beast that’s part leopard, part shark and part jackal, ravenous and with staring eyes; Cognard’s job is not to propel the music forward with jazz-inflected rhythms, rather to keep it penned in a wire cage with his percussive attacks (which involve the use of foreign objects in the manner of Chris Cutler). Rarely has the French word for a drum kit – Batterie – felt more apt. Besides tormenting the soul from his steel-stringed swan, Pauvros occasionally pitches into the performance with a bass-voice murmur of complaint and frustration with his unintelligible vocals yawps, and the album’s long instrumental passages exude electrical dynamics and extended feedbacky events that are hardly pleasant to listen to, but they are direct and honest, and communicate much about the disconnected states and broken passages of transportation that are the doom of us modern city-dwellers. Wouldn’t want you to think Tribraque have made a “cold” album though; these are maximal and full-on performances, and not an inch of the canvas is left unsplattered. A static charge of constrained, neutered energy; scrapey, turgid, and cathartic ugliness of the first water.

M. Cognard kindly sent me copies of the CD version (TRACE 029) and the lavish double LP edition with silkscreened covers (THYRISTORS VYNILES 0060/70 / BIMBO TOWER RECORDS 10), a joint production with Bimbo Tower, probably the best shop in all of Paris (which I must get around to visiting one day). As you can see the artworks are quite different. The CD version has a photocollage which strongly suggests that life in the tower blocks outside of central Paris (where the French are currently exiling all their poor people to make Paris nicer for tourists) is a joyless affair, but also that the constrained power of the populace will one day manage to shatter and dent those sheet metal panels that are hemming them in at every turn. The LP version’s imagery is not as brutal or pessimistic as that, and its gorgeous drawings (by the great Jörg Morning) of mutated machinery (car engine parts rethought by Moebius) suggest a more constructive science-fiction solution to social engineering. Then you can open up all the panels of this sturdy card artwork to reveal the central image of twisted tree branches forming into maddened wolves. Plus it’s pressed in coloured vinyl, rich and brown as Bournville chocolate. Quelle largesse!

Eight Vaitrecemonatims of Vinyl

Inward come these Vinyl Vaitrecemonatims, nothing stopping their flight from the pressing plants of Europe and America to line my aural throat like so many multicoloured pastilles. First we have three new platters from Germany’s Dekorder, whose owner Marc Richter is s a man who loves anything that’s crowded, maximal and thick as frozen grapefruit crush. Nary a minimalist or clinical recording slips out from his stampers. Iibiis Rooge (DEKORDER 043) struck me immediately as kosmik klutter of the highest order, souped-up instrumentals supping deeply from the rock music roots but also nourished with golden electronic drones. Of these four lengthy workouts (‘Dancing In The Sun’ occupies all of the B-side) nothing has any real centre or root note you can pin your hopes on, yet it’s possible to immerse my lardy head in these thick broths and come up well-fed and watered. A delightful surprise to learn that Neil Campbell, now calling himself Astral Social Club, is one half of this online collaborative band; the other contributor is High Wolf of Not Not Fun Records. Diffuse inspiring music emerges in a torrential flow from their multiple limbs, a phenomenon illustrated by two fuzzy photo-collage mandalas printed in green on the covers.

The record by King Kong Ding Dong may be construed as evidence of the quirky path currently being trod by many avant-rocksters from the USA. Everything on Youth Culture Index (DEKORDER 041) sounds to me like it was played and recorded “sideways”, by which I mean that youthful imaginations in the studio are so fired-up with experimental derring-do that nothing they touch can long remain set in the “normal” mode. One can also hear post-punk and Krautrock aspirations in these entertaining short instrumental mis-shapes. But it’s mainly non-threatening weirdness from these Philadelphia zanes; those looking for the dangerous and distorted attack of Hospitals or Hearts Of Palm had best seek elsewhere.

It’s to John Twells in his Xela guise that we must look should we wish to seek out something ectoplasmic, something from the dark side. The Divine (DEKORDER 042) is the second part of a “trilogy” presumably begun with The Illuminated, his previous release for this label, and suggests all manner of occult movements and spiritual disruptions across two sides of moody, atmospheric and highly layered spacey noise. As I’m slowly learning with Xela, his use of recorded human voices is one of his secret weapons, as he drops in half-glimpsed shadows and whispers across the music to suggest cryptic messages from beyond the grave. The classical statuary on the cover further advances his “ancient” yearnings as he rewrites the history of early civilisations to reveal alternative religions and unknown mystic cults. The A side is muffled and disturbing, the B side has a little more depth in its super-dark ambient questings.

Cape Fear is a solo project of Laurent Perrier, the French multi-tasking creator who puts a great deal of care and attention into the high-quality releases on his own Sound On Probation label. Winds of the dead air (LP SOP 015) blows in like a Harmattan with five tracks of suave and intelligent electronica rich with beats, loops and other insistent repetitions that work overtime to milk the minimal melodies from the udders of the sophisticated jazz-beat cow. Perrier composed, recorded, played, produced and mixed everything, and then supervised the mastering process himself, the better to deliver the cleanest and crispest sound quality that a recording engineer could ever dream of; in another time and place, Perrier would have risen to become the right-hand man of Rudy Van Gelder in short order. With its vaguely supernatural titles such as ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Haunted’, Perrier is probably aiming at something quite different from the threatening murk proposed by Xela, yet still this jazz-noir record carries a sharp and sinister edge like a Parisian Apache carrying a concealed switchblade. Mince de chic!

Also from France, two miraculous records which combine the glory days of 1970s French underground jazz-rock with contemporary sounds, bruits, and actions. Empan‘s Entraxes inégaux (BLOC THYRISTORS 0040) just sounds completely bonkers as soon as the bewildered stylus touches the tumescent red vinyl, delivering an impassioned blast of avant-jazz stompery in the RIO vein which follows no rhyme or reason, and is driven into even further corners of joyful insanity by the assured, mannered scat-piping vocals of Judith Kan. Veteran prog drummer Jean-Noël Cognard supplies the unrestricted percussive elements, and I love the melancholic cello work of Béatrice Godeau on the slower chamber-prog tracks. But the real coup is Dan Warburton on violin and keyboards, and (wait for it) Jac Berrocal on trumpet! Just ask any French connoisseur about this glorious period of their musical culture, and they will happily take you home and unveil their secret shrine that puts an effigy of the amazing Berrocal on its central pedestal, closely flanked on either side by Pierre Bastien and Pascal Comelade holding wreaths of respect and awe. Many listeners found a way to Berrocal through Nurse With Wound, others through the Alga Marghen reissues, but we all know there simply isn’t enough of his genius to be had on vinyl. The situation just improved substantially with this beautiful release. Look at the incredible silkscreen sleeve too, by the award-winning Mounir Jatoum who did the unforgettable cover for LE PETIT MIGNON LPM01 (see here for our immediate impressions of that blaster).

The same label has put out the equally sumptuous package for another LP by TANKJ, who created one of my fave vinyl vloggeroos from last year. On Craquer Les Liants (BLOC THYRISTORS 0050), Cognard strikes again, this time with the help of Jérôme Noetinger using his Magneto Revox as if intent on cracking apart every paving slab the length of Boulevard Saint-Michel. Fast, energised, free-form jazz rock enriched with brass, double-bass propulsion, junk, and electronic barbs, all make this another essential listen. Another silkscreened package of warpoid beauty from the same art collective as above, this time calling themselves Jörg Morning. Many thanks to Jean-Noël for sending these certified beauts which are co-releases with Bimbo Tower, the centre of all things that guarantee weird and colourful fun in marginal Parisian culture, and from whose shop you can nab ‘em (but be quick, only 300 copies exist); also inserted in the covers what do I find but a poster for an astonishing musical event headlined by Lard Free, and featuring Marteau Rouge (with Jean-Marc Foussat), Salmigondis, and Evan Parker; with Steve Stapleton doing a DJ act. This took place last December in Brussels. I missed it.

The Rebel is from England and while the cover art of his bizarre solo LP may be quite some way from the fine-art stylings of those French screenprints, I think you’ll own it’s highly striking in its peculiar way. The Incredible Hulk (JUNIOR ASPIRIN RECORDS ASP 019) is an LP of extremely odd songs which to begin with reminded me of John The Postman (full marks if you ever heard the home-made records by this amateurish singer from the post-punk era), but that impression may result simply from the highly idiosyncratic Postman Pat story which graces the first side. The rest of this curio by Ben Wallers (from Country Teasers) is unpeggable in the best sense, veering wildly from lo-fi ramshackle madness to well-constructed dark electro pop songs created with effortless crackpot skill. Like Xela, hidden messages can be teased out from the grooves of this one by those patient enough to untangle the skeins of layered muttering voices. For those with a taste for the furthest reaches of mental decay, a record like this is pure gold; you won’t believe what you’re hearing as you let its warped grooves unspin and slowly cloud over your cranium. 500 copies.

Lastly we have the dark horrors of Near Death Experience (ERRATUM MUSICAL EM006), an LP in a charred gatefold cover adorned with mirror-writing on the back cover and close-up photos of the extreme genius that is Bryan Lewis Saunders. While I’m still finding previous listen Daku quite an indigestible proposition, there’s a chance my ears can worm a way into this vocal fright-fest as I follow its oneiric, surrealist trails; although known for his viscerality, Saunders also likes to record himself speaking as he dreams and perhaps unlock secret chambers of the mind thereby, in fine Andre Breton style. Nevertheless the shouted and intense vocals on here, not to mention the overall accusatory and hysterical tone in which these toxic utterances are delivered, will make this LP a tough experience to sit through even for hardened fans of apocalyptic music. “I myself have only listened to it once on a great system in the dark”, reveals Saunders in an accompanying letter, in which he describes the release as a collection of “extreme autobiographical stories”. Where Daku featured Z’EV’s music, this one offers numerous co-creators, among them John Duncan and Marcelo Aguirre and five more, all of them contributing suitably sick and demented backdrops of unpleasant sound. Capable of generating extreme physical reactions in the listener, this record represents the sort of material that a wimp like me normally steers clear of, but I do respect the all-or-nothing qualities of Saunders’ performances; everything to him is truly a matter of life or death, with no hyperbole! A splendid presentation from this French concrete poetry label; purchasers of this item get a link to download the whole LP plus nine extra tracks as MP3s, and a PDF of texts. Like the man says, pure “PCP Poetry!”

Noctilucent Idioms

From Denmark, Stormhat sends a copy of From The Moat (APPOLLOLAAN RECORDINGS APAR030), a curious solo CDR which has been made from building up layers of field recordings with “primitive instruments”, and producing some very singular sound events through subtle, organic collisions. Sun, sand, sea and windspray are not exactly prominent on these hallucinatory episodes, but they seem to underpin and inform all the strange clonkings, clankings, wooden thuddings and deft tape manipulations that are taking place. I’m always impressed when a creator can master this many layers of unmatched materials, and not end up with a paintbox full of muddy brown goo (or the digital equivalent thereof), a success that our man Peter Bach Nicolaisen achieves here in his quiet and idiosyncratic way. ‘Taking Off On Fragile Wings’ is especially impressive for producing the sort of imaginative and fanciful materials which many stern academics of the tape-recorder method would normally deny themselves. A micro edition of 50 copies, with photography and artwork by Michael Shaw; I wonder if he hand-decorated all the covers? Apparently it’s already sold out!

Canadian project VioSac were last noted here in August 2009 with a rather apocalyptic and bleak pronouncement somewhat in the “dark ambient” mode, but Dawning Luminosity (VATS3) feels quite different. It’s calmer, slower, and extremely minimal, made using a lot of analogue equipment at source (including a Moog Voyager and a Roland Korg), and it aims to express “sadness and resolution”. I haven’t yet got to the resolution part, but it’s certainly quite a poignant listen thus far. I am personally encouraged to see a 16th-century religious painting on the front cover (St John on the isle of Patmos painted by Bramantino), hinting that Graham Stewart may also wish to convey something of the quietness and solitude of the ascetic life, and his printed motto “understand, and you are liberated” comes within a hair of “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). These filtered and looped electronic droney-waves are not unpleasant, and there’s a steady rising and falling slow rhythm shaping the work.

Camera Police (D’AUTRES CORDES RECORDS DAC302) is another great one from Franck Vigroux, the French one-man jazz-rock electronic genius. As you can tell from the title and the cover art which features a single riot policeman with helmet and baton inflated in Photoshop so he looks like a grotesque leaping blimp, this concept CD is highlighting the dangers of the surveillance technology which is one of the blights of the modern age, and Vigroux makes no bones about his very real fears that we’ll all end up under the iron rule of a Police state if things go much further. Track titles take up the theme, alluding to identity cards, truncheons and databases of personal records on ‘Fichier’. One of his more exciting and abrasive records results, with plenty of harsh electronic noises and mutant beats thickening up the textures of these paranoid atmospheres, ultra-fast instrumentals and chattering side-swipes. Musically, Vigroux is proudly carrying on the traditions of Pinhas, Lard Free and Metal Boys, and it’s also great to hear the Situationist spirit of rebellion and political critique expressed with such passion and panache. Garde à vue, gare à toi!

On Music In The Air (DEEP LISTENING DL 43 2010), we have a studio collaboration between famed American Minimalist Pauline Oliveros, with her accordion and her conch, and also performing on something called an “expanded instrument system”. Hard by is Chris Brown, a scholarly fellow who has followed many ethnic influences in his piano work but also busied himself with building modified electronic instruments, a path which has led him to the real-time signal processing he performs here with the aid of computers. While ‘Troposphere’ seems a little over-crowded with discordant and busy sounds competing for air-space, the opening cut ‘Noctilucent Clouds’ is bafflingly beautiful, somehow deflecting all of one’s expectations as we try to listen our way into its nebulous centre. The genius of the performers here seems to be that they have created a gaseous fog out of multiple small gestures and tiny mosaic-like sounds. Very compelling.

Idioms and Idiots (W.M.O/R 35) is the latest item sent to me by Mattin, an event which you should all by know is the equivalent of receiving a bottle of nitro in the mail. I’m not sure yet but it might be another ingenious anti-music statement that manages to be totally innovative and poisonously destructive at the same time. Hereon, Roy Brassier, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Seijiro Murayama and Mattin are doing something which human minds cannot comprehend. It seems to have been recorded live at a festival in Niort in 2008, perhaps working to diagrams (or perhaps not) by Guionnet, and it’s bolstered by a textual mini-essay inside the package which I think explains something of how it came to be. I can’t face digesting that mass of words at the moment, but there seems to be a set of very convincing ideas about keeping normal expectations and conditioned behaviours at bay, in the same radical way that MEV used to do when they were inventing their unique form of improvised noise (ideas and discussions…always a good approach). At least, that’s my understanding of the heading for paragraph 2 “Don’t start improvising for God’s sake”, which in my opinion is very good advice indeed. This is without doubt one of the most perplexing and confusing records I have heard this year, which can only be a good thing; packed with strange sawing noises, inept guitar strums, inexplicable passages of nothing happening, and odd irruptions of screaming metallic shrieks. I hope to revisit in due course and try and figure out what this all means.