Tagged: guitar

From the Lap of Cougar

May I declare myself a long-standing fan of MX-80 Sound, one of the more unusual American bands to have ever been tagged with a New Wave or No Wave label, a love affair which began when I snarfed up a UK Island pressing of their Hard Attack LP in Coventry. It was a time when Woolworths still existed, they still sold vinyl records, and they marked down items they couldn’t sell, so I secured this tasty zonkeroo for about 50p. Since I was also in love with The Residents at the time, it wasn’t too long before I found out about MX-80 Sound’s superb LP releases for Ralph Records, namely Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control, all of them gems. I’m still looking for an original of Big Hits, their debut EP, but it’s rare and costly. Byron Coley, who has done the press for the band’s new LP So Funny (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR250) is also a loyal supporter I assume, since he interviewed the band for Forced Exposure magazine in 1991 and put them on the cover too. During that interview, he demonstrated arcane knowledge of their discography that even the band didn’t know about. Coley also penned an authoritative essay on this Indiana band for the Superior Viaduct CD reissue of Hard Attack, a release which is worth owning for that sleeve note alone, although the remastering of it is also excellent. Well, MX-80 Sound never gave up in all that time, despite lack of commercial success; my 50p cut-out story is only one manifestation of their inexplicable inability to sell large numbers of records.

1977’s Hard Attack pretty much comes roaring out at you like an out-of-control heavy truck, except you then realise the truck is following a crazy roller-coaster route of its own making and the drivers and passengers have a laconic, offbeat sense of humour, and mean no harm. On So Funny, there may not be the same effusive and scratchy energy, but the core trio of Bruce Anderson, Dale Sopheia and Rich Stim still have their own unique electrical voice. On these grooves, I would characterise it as a weird blend of guitar chords creating mixed frequencies that probably shouldn’t really work, but they do. I have that same sensation of being drenched, almost drowned, by these guitars as I enjoyed in 1981. I also savour the way that all the guitar parts are slightly mismatched, as if we were hearing the aural equivalent of an off-register screenprint made by Andy Warhol and his team; MX-80 Sound have never seemed to particularly care for being a “tight” band, and it’s one of their greatest strengths. Stim’s singing voice is another irreplaceable element, and I still savour the bemused tone he evinces as he rattles off his slightly surreal lyrics and slanted observations. Why did we ever settle for Michael Stipe when we had Rich Stim?

This LP, recorded in California around 2013-2015 (the band moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s, which is probably how they hooked up with The Residents and could be aligned with the SF New Wave “scene”) was originally issued as a file-based album on 2015 on their own label, and now surfaces on vinyl. The band are fleshed out by a new drummer, Nico Sophiea, and the guitarist Jim Hrabetin (who also played on two Family Vineyard releases in the late 1990s). Original drummer Marc Weinstein sings on one track. Along with the songs, the band continue their preoccupation with surf guitar-like instrumentals, and soundtrack music – hence cover versions of ‘A Man And A Woman’, John Barry’s ‘Goldfinger’, and oddest of all the ‘X-Files’ theme. None of these are taken completely seriously, and the sleek menace of the James Bond tune is replaced by a faintly absurdist humour. The X-Files music ends up far stranger than the original theme, and seems to emerge from a place that accepts alien abduction and UFOs as everyday occurrences. I’m delighted with this record, and only the goofy cover painting by Rhode Montijo puzzles me. Even so it’s possible to read that image as a metaphor for the way that veteran bands like MX-80 Sound are treated by the uncaring youth of today. From 6th September 2016.

No Bulbs

Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr has been noted in these pages as part of the group Circadia with Tony Buck, but he’s probably more familiar in his home country as part of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and is also known as an experimental guitarist and composer. His 2014 solo record All Your Limbs Singing, not heard by us, evidenced his interest in American folk guitar idioms as well as micro-tonal avant-garde music. Today’s record, Bloom (HUBRO HUBROCD2578), does have moments where it sparkles, but feels sketchy and unfinished to me. Myhr requires time and space to spread out, which is fine, but he wastes most of that time noodling about on the ground pecking for seed when he could be taking off like an eagle and soaring in the sky. Myrh informs us that he had been listening to “Ram Narayan (a distinguished Indian sarangi player) and Milton Nascimento, as well as psych-folk stuff” before he made these recordings, but owning a record collection is not the same as being a composer or being able to frame musical ideas. Bloom merely demonstrates a vague osmosis of some superficial effects from these progenitors, rather than a solid grasp of musical form. ‘Sort Sol’ has some pleasing textures, presumably the result of overdubbing several 12 string acoustic guitars and electric guitars, and weaves its way through changes in the surface without actually achieving very much. ‘O Horizon’ has slightly more grit, and I did like the atonal lite-noise effects Myhr gets from obsessively scratching his fretboard, but this track soon lapses into the tasteful wallpaper that characterises much of this release. I’m sure that Myhr is an accomplished player, and I’m sorry not to derive more pleasure from his intricate work, but this soft-centred and woolly record failed to make much of an impression. From 3rd October 2016.

Bear With

Otso
Dendermonde
FRANCE ELLI RECORDS EL-03 CD (2016)

Otso Lähdeoja is a Finnish composer, guitarist and “omnidirectional researcher of all things sonic”, who also describes himself as a “man of many faces and many places”. One of those faces is ursine, judging by the cover of this CD. There he is, capering about in a bear mask on some unsafe-looking walkways over a frozen lake, like Disney’s Baloo transported north of the Arctic Circle. Time to forget about your worries and your strife, then, with four tracks of “music for phantoms and ancestors”.

This is a small but perfectly formed offering which confounded my expectations quite pleasantly. There’s a fair amount of glitchy hissing, field recording and distorted vocal samples, which at first made me think it was going to be standard electronica/ambient/experimental fare. But it quickly became clear that this is actually a psychedelic rock record with modern avant-garde trappings.

Opening track “QC Underground” sets the pace, as the vocal loop quickly gives way to some chewy guitar figures and harmonica drones. I also like the title, which suggests some sort of clandestine organisation of barristers. Next up, “Banshee”, where murky bass and drums open up into sunshine bursts of full-throttle Hendrix-style guitar. “0verwinning” reminds me of the more pastoral interludes of ‘70s German kosmische bands, before it all ends in the harmonica fantasia of “Mue End”.

Apparently, the album was conceived as an act of “technologic shamanism”, the bear acting as a totem that connects current and past lives. It’s also described as a search for an “electronic blues” sound, which I kind of get, as it has that feel about it, without being blues, as such. That seems like quite a lot to try and achieve in four short tracks, but you can’t fault the ambition.

Concise, focused and rather lovely. If you’re a bear with a sore head, this might just sort you out.

Crude Cassettes

Herewith one large envelope of Miguel A. García-related material from 19th September 2016.

The cassette tape Harigams (CUT#35) comes to us from the Polish label Wounded Knife. The story of it is that Miguel A. García was touring Europe with the French saxophonist Sébastien Branche, and during the Warsaw leg of the trip they recorded a studio set with the drummer Wojtek Kurek from the experimental duo Paper Cuts, and Mateusz Wysocki (sometimes called Fischerle), armed with his laptop of sound samples and field recordings. On the A side, an understated but dense cloud of smeared, fizzy, electro-acoustic noise was the result, a rather subdued and slow drone where it’s hard to say where the saxophone leaves off and the electronic elements begin. The musicians seem to be hampered by uncertainty, but at least their efforts create a fairly pleasing trance. At length, a more restless note creeps into the day’s work, and attempts are made to coarsen the surface with harsh electronic whines and bubbly, crackly emissions from the bell of Branche’s sax. Things improve somewhat on the B side, where the abrasive textures continue and the general flow of the music is subject to more ebb and flow. There’s a nice sample of some vocal music thrown in by someone, but it’s done tentatively, and you wish it could last for longer. The noises are generally pretty good, but the performers are not organising themselves. There’s a general lack of spirit and courage that prevents this music from really catching fire.

Another cassette tape Crudo (NYAPSTER 019) was recorded by García with Carlos Valverde. García and Valverde have performed and recorded together as Cooloola Monster, and their Canciones Del Diablo is an all-time classic in the blasphemous / supernatural noise stakes. On this occasion (as far back as 2011) the harsh pair locked their noisy antlers together and recorded a piece at Radio Bronka in Barcelona, under the general rubric of “Fuck The Bastards” – not sure if this refers to a regular broadcast on that station or a music festival or what, but it’s a good piece of anti-social hate-mongering, not unlike the sort of slogans employed by Crass and Flux Of Pink Indians in the 1980s, except they did it in an anarchist context. The word Crudo is of course entirely apt for this burst of coarse filth, and for about 23 minutes you’ll wallow in scads of black feedback and ugly electronic scabrousness. That sense of nagging insistence, like being attacked by a remorseless sewing machine or other torture implement, is one of García’s strongest characteristics, and in Carlos Valverde he has clearly found a kindred spirit who shares his sadistic tendencies. The cover art – a single word written in black – is spray painted on through a stencil, and the cassette is issued in a Poly-Frosty-Flexi case.

The split tape on Rypistellyt Levyt (RL-016) is not exclusively a Miguel A. García item, but he’s on the B side. At time of writing, this small Helsinki label only offers three releases on its Bandcamp page, but it’s been active since 2009 or earlier, starting out with CDRs but then specialising in cassettes, and has been home to such Finnish obscurities as Neue Haas Grotesk, Supermasters, and the jazz group Horst Quartet. The A side was recorded in Helsinki in 2015, and features our good friend Ilia Belorukov, the ubiquitous Russian, wielding his sax and electronic setup in the company of Lauri Hyvärinen, the Finnish improvising guitarist. The label describe this noise as “slowly unravelling acoustic and electric sounds”, and point out that it was recorded in a concrete bunker, as if that really made any difference. It’s a dud in any case; the duo’s attenuated electric whines and clattering junkyard scrabbles completely fail to cohere for me, but it sounds as though Lauri Hyvärinen has a unique approach to playing the guitar.

On the B side, Miguel A. García is doing it live in Mexico with Héctor Rey, about a week after the Helsinki gig took place. Rey from Bilbao is not unknown in these quarters as he runs the Nueni Records label, which every so often sends us a CDR missive containing obscure and challenging minimal / improvised music. We haven’t heard much of his own work, but his Myxini from 2012 (on the comp Radical Demos #4) impressed us, because of the utter seriousness with which he approached the problem of simply plucking a string. It was as though his very life depended on him sounding the right note. On this Live At Umbral set he’s playing violin and percussion while García supplies electronics, and it’s an extremely subdued set punctuated with much silence and hesitancy. There’s that same sense of deliberation (some might call it paralysis) that I recall from Myxini. When the duo do manage to make a noise together, it’s as if they’re looking at each other with doubtful expressions, asking each other “is this okay?”, as though they were questioning their very right to make improvised music before an audience at all. The duo “work on their sound from a sculptural perspective” according to the label blurb, which may be their way of trying to express in words the deliberation of this stilted approach to playing, likening the musician to a sculptor carefully chipping away at a large slab of marble. They manage to stretch this shilly-shallying out for 17 uneventful minutes, and you’ll need a lot of patience to get to the end of it. Limited edition of 50 copies was released in March 2016, and has already sold out.

The tape Absquatulate Azimuth (BC023) is an old one from 2015, and long sold out. Bicephalic Records is an American tape label and many of the releases feature cover drawings by the owner, August Traeger, who also appears on this split. On the A side, García turns in three variations on a theme he calls Stripes (For Windowpane)…probably one of the most unsettling and confusing sets I’ve heard from the man. It’s got the familiar sense of obsessiveness and the determination to explore an unknown area, but he’s really pushing against the limits, particularly on the spooky third part. Feels like something that members of Nurse With Wound would’ve welcomed in the late 1970s…a real creepster. Apparently the work is derived from “original raw sound sources by window pane”, if that means anything to you.

August Traeger is a new name to me, but he’s a video artist as well as a musician, and also trades under the name Somnaphon. His two contributions are no less creepy than the A side, and ‘Eating Borrowed People’ has a spooked cinematic vibe which I attribute to the sound effects of echoing footsteps and suspenseful chords in the background. But the footsteps are irregular and troubling; no human has ever trod the pavements of the world and created such an unnatural rhythm. I preferred this contribution to ‘Logistic Maps (Subset 2)’, a rather routine bit of glitch and scrambled low-key techno which barely hangs together, but even so Traeger has a nice line in producing synth tunes in the background which make the flesh creep with their queasy, off-centred nature.

The Purge: Anarchy

Fine blast of art-noise with a punky edge from the Peter Aaron / Brian Chase Duo, an American pair of seasoned players who only met up a few years ago in 2013. On the same occasion as their first live outing, they also booked a recording session at an old church in Hudson NY and recorded Purges (PUBLIC EYESORE 134), an intensive set of vigourous music created by means of guitar, drums and electronics. The longer tracks with names like ‘Space’, ‘Rolling’ and ‘Swirl’ are more easy to locate in the improv-exploratory noise zones, and they are sandwiched in between the numbered ‘Purge’ blasts, which are short punky guitar explosions usually around a minute in length – clearly the players intending to “purge” themselves of all bodily poisons with a voiding, puking action.

It’s impressive to hear this much confidence and swagger on a debut, but the pair have long histories; Peter Aaron, from Cincinnati but known in New York and New Jersey, was the guitarist and singer with punk band The Chrome Cranks in the 1990s, whose records are described elsewhere as “Garage Rock” and are hopefully edgy and nasty affairs of angrified electric bombardment. Chrome Cranks were pretty successful, with eight albums, lots of tours, and an MTV appearance. Aaron was also in Sand In The Face, who made one hardcore punk LP in 1986. As for Brian Chase, he’s the drummer with Yeah Yeah Yeahs (New York alt-rock band since 2000), and has duetted with Alan Licht, Andrea Parkins, and made an experimental drumming-drone record for Pogus Productions. I’d like to think that it’s these credentials that make Purges such a compelling listen, a thrilling combination of raw punk attack with ideas about sound art and improvisation…the label is equally enthused, emphasising the loud volume of their sets, and the “rare uncanny telepathy” that the two share, enabling them to set up and start playing without any fussing over sound checks and balancing levels.

The digipak sleeve includes a photo of the boys in action, confirming once again you can always trust a guitarist who wears a suit. The front cover may look a bit of a mess, but it’s an image of a broken lightbulb (a motif picked up on the other artworks) which, along with the acidic colours of the printing, does much to suggest the violent power of this music. Very good. From 21st September 2016.

Long-Winded Small Talk

The Dwarfs Of East Agouza
Bes
UK / USA NAWA RECORDINGS NAWA005CD CD (2015)

A recent chapter in ex-Sun City Girl Alan Bishop’s saga of map-hopping exploits catches him in Cairo-based cahoots with like-minded lunatics Sam Shalabi and Maurice Louca for a turbulent turn in team-building. At the risk of selling it as Bishop’s thing, The Dwarfs of East Agouza sound like they might have been distant cousins of the Sun City Girls, had they grown up in post Arab-Spring Cairo instead of Phoenix. But it’s very much an egalitarian effort; blending distinctively non-western percussion, rambling microtonality and the awkward/irascible brand of echo-peddling psych-rock the Girls would lapse into now and again. And as per efforts such as Valentines From Matahari, there’s an assurance that the music’s charms will not be immediately evident.

What’s quickly clear however is that all sense of restraint has been canned: jams ring out in all directions for up to thirty minutes and ain’t about to stop for your peace of mind, nor mine. Or else they ramble on in muttered tones like Bishop’s Uncle Jim in caustic toad mode. In few other conditions could ‘Baka of the Future’ fake it as a sampler track, where itching beneath a bouncy bassline and narcotic organ riff we hear the signature scrapings of Alvarius B’s Jackson Pollock guitar. Skip through the 10-minute excursion and witness the trio almost suffocating in its own smog; the boys getting their groove on where most of us experience mental problems. Yet despite this airborne aggravation, their initial aimlessness achieves lucidity in all cases, and after repeat playbacks their sounds soak deeper into the nervous system.

For all the music’s purported lack of polish, there’s also a sense that the Dwarfs are trying hard not to sound like they’re trying hard. They want not for impish mischief nor discipline, and were it not for poly-musician Louca’s rhythmic chops and unseated tonal stylings, Shalabi and Bishop’s jagged and disgruntled string manipulations would be on much shakier ground. His horse-powered hand-drumming brings calm cohesion to the same chaos his shape-shifting keyboard modulations help to create; encompassing the whole nine yards between Arthur Russell-style organ stabs on ‘Hungry Bears Don’t Dance’ and opiate-drowned dream imagery in ‘Resinance’, both of which aim to resituate us in less defined modes of being. I will take this opportunity to remind you to buy his excellent solo album, Salute The Parrot.

The 30-minute ‘Museum of Stranglers (I-III)’ is everything you’d expect from a cosmic, side-long closer: A climatic creatio ex nihilo in dead air of echo pedal guitars; flutters of Alan Bishop’s recent post-skronk saxophony; the wooziest, most Lovecraftian electronics to manifest thus far; psych-rock tropes unleashed in full force; long stretches of little evident interest; time folding between threadbare lows and celestial highs where oblique and charged power lines soar, bestial purrs and gurgles taper to zero and an inverted, no-wave reprise (of sorts) of the opening theme marking our return to the point of origin. Even for a group with such avowedly irrational proclivities this lurching epic is a perversely gratifying patience-tester; the longer one listens, the stronger the sense of dissociation. A worthy debut to be sure!

Planet Echo

Rara
W//\TR
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 125-2 CD (2016)

Formerly known as Przed Państwem Rara, Poland’s now-truncated Rara are a trio who purvey (apologies in advance) a kind of ambient folktronica (sorry again) that weaves acoustic guitar, percussion and low-key electronic textures into moody dreamscapes – both oneiric and nightmarish – which are well-suited to the gothic whims of the Zoharum label. While their new album, W//\TR, is generally warmer and more emotive than the black metal ambience hinted at by the cover, the 10-minute opener ‘Echo Planety’ leaves us little the wiser. This, the longest of the otherwise intermezzo instrumentals, is a runway taxi of echo pedal-drenched shoegaze guitar with all the glory of the first yawning in millennia of dawn light across a distant moon. It’s a fine scene-setter for the epic theatrics that subsequently emerge from subterranean strata of crisp, ornate finger-picking, bubbling synths and deep, droney undercurrents that add drama to ambivalent chord progressions.

While much of this is to seemingly simple pastoral effect, Rara also know how to throw a ‘country’ shape or two, whether it’s affecting the slow southern drawl and wild west mise en scene of Angels of Light’s no country for old men (‘Gen Planety’) or the more rustic charms of a fair-voiced maiden (one Kuba Ziolek) singing to the night (‘Przynieś To Z Nocy’). All nice enough, though there are unsettling anomalies like the risible electro-goth segue halfway through ‘Pasaźerowie Wiatru’ or the moist male whispers that follow a plangent guitar into the ear canal in ‘Szepty W Głowie Elly Brand’. Mood killers both.

There is ear-balm aplenty however: ambient interludes that provide recovery time, and the more soothing female voice that dovetails with itchy guitar lines, recalling some of Stine Grytøyr’s plaintive contributions to Ulver’s Marriage of Heaven & Hell. In fact, W//\TR shares a good deal of that album’s mannered and musically omnivorous gothicism: primal undercurrents of tethered frustration beneath ornamented structures (and the odd power-chord pyramid), suggestive of a reservoir of archetypal power that gives form to all physical appearances. Some might find W//\TR‘s stylistic shifting a tough swallow, but Rara’s musical blending is an accomplished one, lending W//\TR a sense of fractured identity well-suited to their recent change of name.

A Raga Called Nick

New solo album by the Nottingham guitar player Nick Jonah Davis. House Of Dragons (THREAD RECORDINGS THR004) contains ten tracks of consummate acoustic guitar craft – melodic, rootsy, folky, performed with confidence and uncanny accuracy. All that I wrote about Split Electric – his fab teamup with C. Joynes from earlier in 2016 – continues to apply, except that this record is pretty much all-acoustic, so less of the spooky noise effects we heard on ‘Sigil Eyes’ this time, apart from the opening seconds of ‘Double Peace’, which uses a scrapey flourish to set the mood on this, one of the darker pieces on a mostly upbeat and sprightly record. Cam Deas, who sent us his amazing Quadtych album in 2011, did the production on House Of Dragons, and friends C. Joynes and Karl Townsend play on the last cut, ‘The Illumination of Nelson Fortune’. This piece has a rather Fahey-esque title and a Ry Cooder feel in the shimmering slide and drone effects, conjuring up a cinematic desert vista in short order. I might add that the press release points out he has kept the company of two other TSP heroes, i.e. folk iconoclast Richard Dawson and radical song interpreter Alasdair Roberts, which earns him automatic wine privileges in my house. He’s also managed to perform alongside Max Ochs at a New York guitar festival, which is a pretty big deal…there aren’t that many records by this Greenwich Village hero of the 1960s, although if you get a copy of that Takoma sampler Contemporary Guitar, you can hear a couple of ragas by him. I have enjoyed House Of Dragons enormously, although with its title and cover artworks, I was hoping for something slightly more sinister, perhaps with added fairytale or supernatural undertones and themes. Instead we have this, with its generally rather cheery and bouncy tunes and melodies. I would like to think Davis has it in him to turn in a downbeat, pessimistic set of Richard Thompson cover versions, all played as instrumentals on the blackest guitar in his collection. From 2nd August 2016.

An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg: a quirky and charming stream-of-consciousness work

Matthew Revert, An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg, Caduc CD #CA17 (2016)

A beguiling work composed of spoken word monologues, field recordings, samples, occasional acoustic guitar noodling and off-key singing, “An Insect …” heralds a growing body of experimental music by Melbourne-based absurdist novelist / graphic designer Matthew Revert. This recording nods in the direction of improv, drone, light noise and neo-primitive folk without being captured completely by any of these categories. It’s quite a busy release with hardly any pauses or lapses in the continuous free-form patter of sound and I marvel that Revert is able to keep up the brisk pace without losing a beat. (Of course there would be have been a lot of cutting and pasting but any joins can hardly be heard.) All the sounds appear to be completely natural with very little processing and they are right at the forefront of the mix.

Listeners might feel a little too close to the action for comfort – there’s a phone conversation that they’ll be eavesdropping into, and Revert (I assume that Revert does all the monologues) mumbles under his breath and almost appears to drift into sleep – and possibly much of the intimacy feels too forced. Towards the end of the recording, sounds from the external environment – radio song, a soap opera soundtrack, half of a conversation – intrude into the musical narrative and turn it into something more forbidding and impersonal. It’s as if Revert’s private space which he has deigned to share with us is being invaded and torn apart.

Not too long for the stream-of-consciousness novelty value to turn kitschy and stale, and not too short either, this quirky work has much charm and many surprises. TSP readers need to hear it for themselves as to what meanings or messages (if any) it may have – but I need to warn you, the more you listen to it, the more you’ll wonder what it’s meant to be about. At least the cover art (done by Revert) is easy on the eye and looks as if it means something … or does it when you see the blank face and read the strange messages?

I’ll Be Your Mirror

Hello New York (OSR TAPES OSR60) is the “American” album, I suppose, by Maher Shalal Hash Baz, that highly eccentric Japanese band led by Tori Kudo that continues to baffle listeners across the globe. I think they may have caused a flurry of interest in the UK around 2000, when Stephen Pastel started to put out some of their records on his Geographic label, but copies of these never reached us. Matter of fact we don’t seem to have been graced with their music since 2009, when we heard the bizarre double CD C’est La Dernière Chanson which was recorded with the help of some local French players. It comprised over 200 songs, a fact I mention just to remind you of one of the many quirks of the Maher Shalal Hash Baz approach to playing and recording songs.

The tradition of “working with the locals” appears to continue on Hello New York, as he’s joined by some American players including Christina Schneider and Zach Phillips from CE Schneider Topical (Zach is also the owner of OSR Tapes), and clarinet player Arrington de Dionyso who has amazed us in the past with his wild solo records and with the group Old Time Relijun. How did Tori Kudo feel about playing in New York? “One of my dreams has come true,” he states on his modest sleeve note here, worried about whether his voice carried well when he said “hello New York”. Did he say it to an audience? These are live recordings, in case you were wondering, but done in a studio in Brooklyn. Packed crowd of eager fans at Madison Square Garden next time, let’s hope.

I can see why civilians struggle to listen to the music of Maher Shalal Hash Baz; clearly it sounds as though it’s being played “badly”, and when writing about it I always reach for the metaphor of a school band attempting to do easy-listening music. But it’s done this way deliberately, and the odd arrangements are what gives the music its character. Even so this particular record might be a way in for many listeners, as it’s got something of a rock vibe; for one thing, they set out to cover a Velvet Underground song (‘Sweet Jane’, rendered here as ‘Dulce Juana’), and at least half of the tunes resemble VU songs and jams that never existed. This may be because of the large number of guitar players who are credited on the sessions – eight in all, including Kudo. But it’s also endearing and exciting to hear the band attempt even the simplest rock syncopation in their rhythms, only for it to come out extremely clunky, with the percussion, xylophone and clarinets soon revealing their shortcomings when it comes to playing streetwise rock, or even gentle loping Indie-rock rhythms. This may be one of the things Pastel found so appealing in the first place. It certainly grows on you.

Playing ‘Sweet Jane’ is Kudo’s way of greeting New York, by paying homage to that most New Yorkian of rock bands. It’s clear he not only loves the band, but he’s taken every one of their recordings to heart in a way that shames even the most dedicated VU collector-nutcase; his rendition of ‘Sweet Jane’ is not only accurate and complete, but also a radical remake; it reveals unexpected nuances and meanings in the song. The song is echoed, I would claim, by a song which proceeds it on side one, called ‘Haarp’, which is dominated by Schneider and Phillips performing the sort of snappy off-colour repartee which Lou Reed would normally have carried out by himself, playing all the parts in his dramas of seedy low-life.

Kudo’s other way of greeting New York is to have played some John Cage music, apparently. Good move, given Cage’s position as some sort of patriarch of the New York school. I don’t know if this high experimentalism of Kudo shows up on the grooves. We do have some of his characteristically odd compositions, such as ‘Banksy’, scored for woodwind and percussion – less than a minute of deliciously perplexing gentle notes arrayed according to a weird logic. It’s not easy to summarise this elusive music, but one key characteristic is “brevity” – short tunes that end as soon as they begin, leaving many question marks at the end, although the longer workouts such as ‘Miss You My Baby Doll’ and ‘That’s All I Would Get’ tip the balance in the opposite direction, making their one simple point over and over again. Another key characteristic is “everything playing at once”, by which I mean no solos and no single instrument is especially highlighted. Great polyphony. Yet it coheres, and we can hear everyone clearly in a delicious jumble of music. One sense it takes some discipline and talent to be able to keep this many musicians under control without producing a horrible noise. There is an anecdote about Phil Spector and his enormous studio bands…which I’ll save for another time.

This endearing record feels more “chaotic” (in a good way) than the few Maher Shalal Hash Baz recordings I have heard, so perhaps Tori Kudo picked up some of the “energy” of New York that everyone talks about. It’s reflected to some degree in the back cover photos of the sessions, created by Christina Schneider, brilliantly collaging and overlaying her own images. A riot of colour, instruments and stands everywhere; almost like a dream in miniature of the Arkestra. Kramer (of Shimmy Disc fame) did the mastering, and the LP is 53 minutes long! From 19 May 2016.

30th January update: many thanks to Ed Walsh, who points out this cover is a pastiche of a 1973 LP by Silverhead.

6th March update: many thanks to Zach for pointing out it’s Christina & Arrington doing the vocal back-&-forth on “Haarp”.