Tagged: pop music

Secret Reproductive Plant

Enjoyable set of entertaining distortion, noise, electronics and rhythmic pulsations from The Miz’ries, on their EP Complete Control Of Your Vehicle (BELTS & WHISTLES B&W005). They’re pretty much a trio operating in New York, featuring Quinn Collins, Jeff Snyder, and Leila Adu, though on this outing they’re joined by Crosslegged who I think is Keba Robinson from Split Level Records and is known as a mover and shaker in Brooklyn music circles. Miz’ries create a nice surface sound, using loops and malfunctioning turntables pushed through pedals and distortion effects, and their own brand of cracked electronic blurpage some of which was invented and built by Jeff Snyder – he even calls it Snyderphonics, perhaps in homage to The Simeon of Silver Apples.

On top of their barely-working layered stew of avant-pop rhythms, Leila Adu adds her poised and mannered soprano vocals – now singing, now humming background tunes, or in one instance muttering snippets of nonsense in the studio, which have been further cut up and redistributed as needed around the track. She’s also pretty mean with her drum pad playing, deliberately missing the beat and contributing lopsided time signatures. On paper, this may sound like a recasting of the Portishead set-up, but in a less polite and more angstified arty mode; The Miz’ries are certainly darker and troubled, sometimes with a vaguely political edge (Adu’s songs are supposed to contain elements of politics and ballads, though I can discern neither), and will never settle for anything that resembles a familiar sound, note, or vibe in their quest for surprising aural goodiness. They also see themselves as a pop band, working within three or four minute boundaries, instead of extending these workouts into something three times the needed length (which PAS Musique, fellow Brooklynites, would not hesitate to do).

As to their intensive working method, which involves improvisation in the studio, much distortion and effects, editing and composing from tapes, it’s clearly paid off in this instance, even if some of the experiments misfire slightly. The press notes compare this method to Miles Davis (presumably they mean Teo Macero rather than Miles, but fair enough) and Can, but if we’re namechecking krautrock bands I think Faust’s method is more apposite…From 22 September 2016.

Jemh and the Holograms

Jemh Circs
Jemh Circs

Jemh Circs is the latest alias of Marc Richter, the producer also known as Black to Comm. For this project, Richter has gone poking about in YouTube and Spotify with his special record-producing scissors, snipping out countless vocal samples from contemporary pop songs and stitching them all together in nine brightly-coloured, glittering patchwork quilts of pop/drone/ambience.

The overall effect is quite remarkable. Each track is like a hologram of pop music itself, a tiny part that reflects the whole. You almost feel that you could open them out and re-create entire popular music cultures. We’ll be grateful for that when the next solar storm fries all of our hard drives.

Opening track ‘Comp’ sets the pace, a blend of autotuned spirit voices, alien transmissions and sentient machine chatter that, somehow, still sounds like pop music. ‘Ordre’ takes it further, the invisible choir ascending in pitch across static bursts and bleached-out beats that nibble away at the edge of your awareness. ‘Va’ sends a kosmische synth fragment through a series of bizarre mutations, whilst ‘Arbre’ provides another synth figure that you might think you’ve heard before, somewhere. Possibly in a dream you had after a heavy night at a Cinderella Rockefella’s disco in 1984.

All of the tracks, incidentally, have these terse, one-word titles. It seems to be a bit of a thing these days, and I kind of like the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it feel they provide. I very much like what Richter has created here. Seek it out, dive in and enjoy.

The Encrypted Gallbladder

Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.

Dreamskills in the Star Clinic

Another splendid package of unusual and sumptuously-decorated releases from Eric Kinny and his Santé Loisirs label in Belgium…first is a blue seven-inch flexi disc from CE Schneider Topical & The Lentils. CE Schneider Topical is another New England weird-folk duo (we’re anticipating writing about a full-length album of theirs quite soon) comprising Christine Schneider and Zach Phillips, the latter being the head of OSR Tapes and a troubadour who has come our way before as one half of Blanche Blanche Blanche. On Four Different Hells (SL05) they turn in four immaculate acoustic pop songs with odd melodies and minimal instrumental arrangements, occasionally dropping in sweet vocal harmonies that are like an East Coast take on Brian Wilson at his most spaced-out and psychotropically damaged. We still see the lingering after-effects of those Smile bootlegs leaking into the culture…these miniaturist enigmas in song form last barely a minute or two before they disappear into the air, like the sighting of an odd dragonfly in the middle of an enchanted glade, and leave the impression of a Red Krayola fragment or even Young Marble Giants sung in American accents. Not entirely sure what The Lentils contribute here, but they seem to be the vision of songwriter Luke Csehak, come from Los Angeles and are also well represented on Feeding Tube vinyl editions. A charming little gem that sparkles for less than ten minutes… “you may spot Zach Phillips’ abusive use of musical informations.” writes Eric in an enclosed note, “but this time he only has the length of a 7” to express himself.” Christine Schneider did the cover design, executed here by the gift of woodblock printing.


The other item is a cassette tape featuring the solo clarinet of Joachim Badenhorst. His Kitakata (SL04) includes 15 peculiar instrumentals that are both forlorn and mysterious, ringing out across the place in Japan – I think it’s the “Star Clinic” – where they were recorded. “The atmosphere was so special, it made me play like I hadn’t before”, is all the creator can tell us about an evidently highly personal experience. But his music communicates it in a very deep fashion. To add to the atmosphere, the tape includes certain interludes and field recordings, documenting simple and gentle sounds such as a water fountain, bird song, and people talking quietly. Hard to say why but it increases the overall beauty of this release 100-fold. The artwork is printed on very thin newsprint, again a woodblock creation, a very bold combination of hand-written text with a grungy half-tone photograph, which further emphasises the very human nature of this statement. Badenhorst is an important latter-day Belgian improviser and jazz musician, and we’ve encountered his work twice this year – once with Dan Peck on The Salt Of Deformation (co-released on his own Klein label), and again with Pascal Niggenkemper on the exceptional record Talking Trash. Beyond that, I can only urge you to try and seek out this touchingly beautiful and intimate personal musical statement.

Both the above from 9th June 2016. We last received items from Eric’s micro-label in 2015, see this page. I see now I’ve missed SL03, which was the cassette release by Les Dauphins Et La Science…boo hoo!

Cats On Window Sills


The Original Beekeepers
How The River Runs Dry

If I was doorstepped by some earnest musicologist, I’d have said that listening to the London-based Bees showed a quintessentially English songwriting outfit that was possibly riding on the coattails of Martin Newell’s Cleaners from Venus and/or the rather plush garden shed demos found on XTC’s Homegrown c.d. However, it appears that the O.B.s (a.k.a. Tom, Steve and Ash) have been in existence (initially as The Shammy Leathers) since 1984 (!), having amassed nearly five hundred home recordings. So… they were closer to being near contemporaries to Andy Partridge’s combo and the Venusians than was previously thought!

Issued in a decidedly miniscule edition of fifty copies, …River… is a ten track conceptual work where the interrelated numbers tell a story of everyday folk down Suburbiton way. And cracks start to appear fairly early on in this diorama, the title track’s male/femme trade-offs coming to a head with vocalist Denise’s kitchen sink musings, “This life’s not mine” becoming the most telling line of all. Though having zilch to do with Scandinavian black metal, “A Church is Burning” is the punchiest number here and the one imbued with a crazy logic of its own, with an extended and frenetic sitar solo coming straight out of nowhere. “Breaking Down”, like the previous, assimilates certain eastern elements with the brassy blare of “The Hornsey Horns” evincing the woozy, loping gait of Soliman Gamil or indeed those of the Ethiopian school.

Unusual as it is to let the group review its own wares, their claim that …River… is “probably their best and most consistent work since 2002” seems pretty damn on the mark. Painfully obscurist fare admittedly, but this is my kind of pop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonic Frequencies

Midnight Doctors

Midnight Doctors
Through A Screen And Into A Hole
UK OURODISC ouro05 CD (2015)

Phil Begg, the head of Ourodisc – formerly Ouroboros Recordings – coerces some like-minded friends into Newcastle’s Icmus Studios to help him assemble a superb album of jazz-tinged, soundtrack-influenced experimentalism and fast-moving craziness. A previous self-titled album was released by alt.vinyl and Ourodisc simultaneously in 2013. Midnight Doctors swung a bit harder and had a massive list of contributors, some of whom were also involved in the creation of Through A Screen And Into A Hole. But Through A Screen… is much less a joyous celebration of off-kilter, although essentially accessible, musicality and more eerie and dark-sounding endeavour.

Begg himself is the axis around which the satellite musicians revolve. He brings piano, guitar, harmonium, modular synth, radio, percussion, tubular bells and “electroacoustics” to the table while being augmented by drummer Christian Alderson and double bassist John Pope. The filigree is provided by the violins of Sean Cotterill, Niles Krieger and Rachael Hales, brass players Faye MacClaman and Laura Davison, the clarinettist Jamie Stockbridge, while Richard Dawson contributes a ferocious wordless vocal on “Climactic Loss” and Joe Possett provides “tape jams” which, where it surfaces, effectively turns the music on its head. The sleevenotes refer to the personnel in the past tense which suggests that Begg prefers to use specific groupings taken from a pool of musicians available to him for each of the sessions that result in a piece of music. The group is described as having a “rotating membership” on Discogs. A pretty effective use of resources, I’d say. Begg’s approach is refreshingly libertarian; his direction produces great performances and superb material.

The first half of the album, roughly, is made up of five short, jazz ensemble pieces. “Life and Light Apart” is beautiful and mournful in equal measure. A theme is presented carefully, only to be replaced with fragile held notes for the final 40 seconds while “Chump Change” is jazz Darwinism divided by a great concrète section. “Long Sands Black Labrador”, where Begg breaks out his tubular bells, features another mournful melody underpinned by strings droning away on single notes.
Begg’s percussion solo, “Death Of Similaun Man”, bleeds and spreads like an inkblot over aural cartridge paper. Getting a better grip back on the reins, “Rust Coloured Smoke” is the first track to feature Joe Possett’s “tape jams” and manages an eastern flavour, from the guitar sound possibly or maybe Possett’s pre-recorded material? Sounds like drone strings on indian sitar or sarod or perhaps a sample from Begg’s “electrocacoustic” armoury?

Of particular interest to me is “My Forsyth (Demonic Frequency)”, an electronic exploration duet of Begg’s various keyboard instruments and Joe Possett’s tape-based constructions. A concrète edifice to the mildewing legacy of Henri Chopin or Pierre Schaefer filtered through everyone’s current obsession / fascination with the idea of Brian Eno’s invention of Ambient Music. None of which terms would apply in this case, to be strictly accurate. But my point is: why isn’t more music like this? Why don’t more people listen to “sounds” rather than “music”?

“Climactic Loss” acts as a counterpoint to the order and stability of the previous pieces. Here, the group demonstrates a level of intensity, power and integrity over a fifteen minute duration that Guy Garvey could only dream of. The musicians ramp up the tension wave after wave, with Richard Dawson’s ecstatic vocal doing nothing to alleviate the anxiety.

On the closing track, “The Slow Way Home”, it is as if Begg has taken a nursery rhyme melody and slowed it down to a glacial tempo; heightening feelings of bewilderment and hopelessness through implosive gaps in the sound, before dropping high-mass blocks of ensemble playing on the unsuspecting listener’s toes.

From unadulterated free jazz through unsettling electronic experimentation to noir primal screaming, Through A Screen And Into A Hole is a very cool item which I urge you to acquire and investigate thoroughly. I’d put this album up there with the recent release from Martin Archer’s Inclusion Principle project in its intent, poise and execution. It makes me wish more contemporary jazz groupings were willing to work in this stylistically freer (rather than simply free, or not free at all), way. At other times, unexpectedly, it simultaneously reeks of the daemon swamp air of the dark side of English folk-rock in feel if not in style. Either way, I’m all for it.

Cosmic Machine, The Sequel: a reminder that cosmic space psychedelia wasn’t always so great


Various Artists, Cosmic Machine, The Sequel: A Voyage across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (70s-80s), Because Music, CD BEC5156322 (2016)

As if you couldn’t already tell from the title, this album is the follow-up to the earlier Cosmic Machine compilation of French cosmic space and electronic disco from the 1970s to the 1980s. While a fair few styles of music from that period are represented here – we’ve got space funk, floaty mood music, soul, early techno, musique concrete and a couple of all-electronic experimental improv pieces among others – much of the music on display is frankly relentless and repetitive trash Euro-disco thunk-a-lunk that probably still gets played at veterans’ clubs, casinos, over-50s wedding parties and Saturday midnight television advertisements for last year’s models of white-goods at giveaway prices. The presence of two tracks cashing in on a couple of more famous songs imported from Britain and the United States should be a warning that there’s a lot of commercial disco music here that probably should have remained obscure.

The best tracks on the CD turn out to be the ones that bookend it: Pascal Comelade’s “Mouvement Decompose d’un Coup de Marteau” is an all-too-brief exercise in needle-sharp drone that laser-like drills holes in your head and ears, all the better to drown you in what comes in the next 21 tracks; and Pierre Schaeffer’s “Moins Banal (Interlude, ou Impromptu)” is a whimsical busy-bee piece that shyly flits in and out of dark space and leaves bleeps and bloops of quivering ectoplasm in its wake for intrigued listeners to follow.

This leaves the huge bulk of 20 instrumental tracks to thump out in more or less tedious repetition whatever limited charm they can offer. Try as I could, and I did listen to this album quite a few times, I couldn’t find many looping pieces that stuck out heads and shoulders above the others. Nicolas Peyrac’s delicate “Rite” is a rare cosmic space gem that sparkles briefly. Arpadys’ “Monkey Star” has a strong bass groove and a slightly shaky, near-hysterical wobble feel. Video Liszt’s “Fade in Hong Kong” is an 80s-sounding synthpop ditty with a slight melancholy feel that sits a bit oddly with the cheery tune and synthesised voice. Elsewhere on the album is a cover version of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” (that used to drive audiences around the planet nuts with its boppy-poppy staccato notes) by Anarchic System and a trippy space disco version of a Pink Floyd song by Rosebud.

I guess I’m just not cut out to review old 70s space disco music and 80s synthpop as so much of this music unfortunately leaves me cold. Those of you unfamiliar with the Euro disco space scene may find this CD a good enough introduction to the music and its inspirations. A lot of the music here is happy breezy stuff without a care in the world and that attitude may well be the one positive legacy that remains with listeners after Schaeffer’s little flotsam space piece has tidied up everything and put it all away in its genie bottle.

Sometimes I wonder whether knowing that such music used to exist is better and of more value to us than the music itself, for what it says about French pop music culture of the period.


Two For Tea


Low-key DIY Japanese charm on Conga (NOBLE LABEL NBL-217), a short album of minimal songs by Sonotanotanpenz – a duo of two young Japanese women. They do it all with acoustic guitars playing simple circular figures, and an electronic box which plays basic rhythms and supplies even more basic keyboard riffs. On top of this barely-there structure, the pair chant, whisper and sing their delicate vocal raps, often breathlessly packing in as many syllables per square inch as the current exchange rate allows.

Although at least two of the songs resemble the kind of wispy introspective pseudo-emotional music that passes for singer-songwriter craft these days (and has often blighted my cup of tasteless overpriced coffee when waiting for a plane in Heathrow), I like about 5 of these 7 tracks…which strike me as ingenious, inconsequential pop with a vaguely futuristic, woman’s take on what the genre of hip hop might evolve into one day, if said genre were left to breed for a few weeks in a flower garden full of moss and frogs. There’s something so wonderfully unassuming about the vocals of Hitomi Itamura and Hitomi Moriwaki; it’s as though they’re got something important to tell you, but they’re also afraid of bothering you, so they stand in the doorway bowing while they bring you a cup of tea, and can’t wait to make their excuses and leave.

The track titles are a simple list that reads Cave, Tea, Map, Bagpipe (or Bug Pipe, which is a much better title), King, Conga, and A Farm And The Universe; they are exactly like titles for images in a children’s book, one which starts off with simple shape recognition and which ends with a deep meditation considering on our place in the world. Maybe this album follows a similar path, but that’s probably wishful thinking. The duo have made one album in 2014 for Kirgirisu Recordings (a tiny CDR label in Tokyo), and also appeared on a comp for that label. This, from 26 February 2016.


Kammerflimmer Kollektief

Kammerflimmer Kollektief

“The Kammerflimmer Kollektief plays music, which should not be written down, for it would scorch the paper” so says the band’s website. Kammerflimmer Kollektief are Heike Aumüller, Johannes Frisch and founder Thomas Weber. The project has been active since 1996, having apparently produced ten albums including this one.

This album makes me think about the popularity and influence of dub music/studio dub technique and the exploitation/appropriation of same by many musicians outside of Jamaica, for this is to my ears, despite the presence of (probably) middle class Caucasian western european musicians, a dub album. The second track ‘Désarroi #2: grundstürzend’ (or “radical”) in particular feels especially dubby with its tape delay effects and laid back bassline. Dub production is a lot of fun to do, and of course you can say that since Pole, the style, or “genre”, has developed in many new and interesting ways. Like any music, its OK for anyone to join in or use it as an influence and why not – Diatribes recently deconstructed two 1970s dubs by King Tubby very successfully by taking the music as a starting point and making the result undeniably their own. That’s just one example.

The word “désarroi” could be translated as “disarray”, “disorder”, or “upheaval” and that’s a very apt description. The component content of Désarroi is piled up on top of itself, strange turns surprise the listener and old ground is covered in interesting ways. For me with the possible exclusion of track three – ‘Free Form Freak Out’ is just that; where the first two pieces are an attempt at jazz-tinged transcendent post-rock, ‘Free Form Freak Out’ gives up any attempt at rigour halfway through in order to make random noises for the remainder of the allotted time.

Fourth track ‘Evol Jam (Edit)’ is a song, despite its Miles Davis/Sonic Youth-referencing title; or should I say it’s at least a repeated melodic sequence. A female voice intones the phrase “the more you love, the more you can love” over and over. Sudden, pure pop dissolving into distressed tabla loops. And very pleasant this sort of thing is too, not least for the musicians involved. I’m all for variation over the course of an album, but I wonder is this too disparate? Is it evidence of a group who can’t actually make up their minds as to what they want to be? For all the scratching noises (a device also showcased at the end of a couple of tracks later on), out-of-control electronics and sonic detritus, this track still hangs around the traditional and familiar device of a chiming electric guitar riff. After a few plays for me, perhaps due to the collision of two very different sonic worlds, ‘Evol Jam (Edit)’ starts to grate. And while we’re on the subject, so does the tinny slide guitar on track five.

Overall this is a deconstructed pop album, to my mind, with the benefit of high-end production and great mastering; it sounds great. The sounds sound great. The noises sound great. The vocals (where there are vocals) sound great. The dub effects sound great. Everything sounds great. I’m personally not a huge fan of pop/experimental hybrids, but if that sort of thing floats your boat, you’re probably going to dig this album massively. Two things I don’t like – the first piece of music features a mindlessly random, nay clueless, accordion intro which, try as I might, I just cannot understand why it needs to be there. And the unnecessary legend “PLAY IT LOUD” written on the sleeve. And the gratuitous female nude on the cover. Sorry, that’s three isn’t it.