Tagged: pop music

Yoruba Spells

Rob (u) rang
Ofò
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR408 CD (2016)

Within the lurid sleeve depicting producer Gabriel Séverin’s (Rob (u) rang since 2000) bared chest lurk nine pieces of electronic avant pop music; detourned somewhat with what appears to be an attempt to thread a seam of African occultism throughout. Specifically, he informs us that he employs yorùbá spells – writings and recordings thereof I’m assuming acquired himself – from trips to Nigeria and Benin. The accompanying booklet attached to the inside of the fold-over digipak includes these texts along with translations into English.

Judging by the sound of the opening track, “Le Lion Et Le Gazelle”, the esteemed Mister (u) rang is quite busy enjoying the process of recording music without paying too much attention to the detail; the music is ragged, sounds cobbled together or barely held together, with mismatched delay times while pre-set rhythm settings (a vintage Ace Tone Rhythm Ace drum machine from Rob’s own collection, no less?) predominate. But that’s the whole idea and it’s a good one. This mildly wonky approach works well with the material and results in a deliberately unbalanced listening experience.

On the third track, “Begin to understand”, Séverin credits himself with “subterranean bass guitar”. Did he actually bury it? Flute weaves around percussion samples that have blunt, soporific edges almost like what I imagine 23 Skidoo might have sounded like on Nytol. As it progresses, heavily processed harmonium courtesy of Xavier Klaine fluctuates.

Séverin covers some ground stylistically. “Àjídéwe” I could describe as acoustic breakbeat, while “Les puisatiers” – “The Well Diggers” – has a flute bed that wouldn’t sound out of place in the background at a travellers’ hostel in Goa. In the booklet in amongst the spells is a piece of text by Laszlo Umbreit – the field-recordist responsible for the Sounds of Europe website – about the physical act of digging a well: “…things get perilous 5 or 6 metres deep, because the soil grows soft again as you get close to the water. You have to know when to stop before the hole, now ten metres deep, collapses over the digger…” “Oògùn eti didi” on the other hand, is flecked with jazz with a repeated bass motif. “Ìdáàbòbò ọba lówó ikú” features pitch-shifted vocals, heaving woodwinds and woozy electronics. Bringing things to a close, the final piece, “Oògùn éfọrí” is a maelstrom of contrasting elements; tablas spar with the trusty Rhythm Ace, buzz-saw guitars compete with what could be samples. The results are disorientating and strange.

A fine set of transporting vintage electronics mixed with medicated afro-funk elements – which in the wrong hands might result in an unholy stew of Fela Kuti meets Klaus Wunderlich – here, reminiscent of what used to be called “chill-out music” in parts, but with a sharper, darker edge. Tradition meets modernity across continents.

Grenadine Blood

The CD Stars Vomit Coffee Shop (OSR TAPES OSR72) by Frank Kogan is a 2016 reissue of a compilation that originally came out in 1986, self-released by Kogan with annotations and now here in CD form with a rejigged cover by Christine Schneider. It’s a fab set of post-punk songs recorded by Kogan solo or with his bands The Pillowmakers and Red Dark Sweet, and covers a period from 1981 to 1984. Kogan is an unabashed fan of 1960s rock and pop music, as he admits upfront in his sleeve note, as he listened to this stuff growing up in the 1960s and gives us a long list that covers everyone from The Kinks to The Electric Prunes and The Monkees, but he also adored The Velvet Underground. You know you can trust a man who says “I couldn’t listen to ‘96 Tears’ because it upset me too much’; he tries to account for the delicious sense of alienation that was hard-wired into the music of The Rolling Stones, and their many imitators, and was drawn to singers whose voice was used as an instrument – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan.

The CD more or less charts his progress in New York as he worked his way through musical ideas that would give expression to his inner torment. He went from post-Velvets hard-lipped sneering to a wayward cross-breed of disco and punk, in the form of the trio The Pillowmakers, then found his way back to his roots with Red Dark Sweet. Kogan is a mite hard on himself and thinks his experiments don’t really come off, but I would beg to differ. In 1983 The Pillowmakers recorded ‘Linda Lu Pissed On Hitler’s Kneecap’ – Stefano Arata on bass, Carol Meinke on drums – which is a two-minute gem. It sounds like Lou Reed rapping a lost chapter from ‘Sister Ray’ to a disco beat. This song might contain trace elements of Kogan’s bid to bring “swinging blues and funk” elements to his music, after his friend Rich Campo had suggested he listen to James Brown records in the late 1970s. Kogan’s plan was to enlarge the “emotional range” of punk by crossing it with disco, and he thinks he didn’t succeed, but I’m not sure if we have any recordings from this period on the CD. These Pillowmakers tracks might not represent this period, but they are endearing and straightforward blasts of garage-enriched guitar swipes combined with elliptical syncopated bass rhythms, sure to appeal to fans of Magazine or Fire Engines. 1

By 1981 Kogan had met Andrew Klimek and Charlotte Pressler, and formed Red Dark Sweet – they were the core members, though drummers Donna Ratajczak, Rick Brown and John Spuzzillo also appear on some recordings. The 1982 tracks offered here were recorded on a cassette player “lying on the floor”. The songs here are closest in spirit and sound to The Velvet Underground, but it seems Andrew and Charlotte were musical omnivores with wide-ranging record collections, and showed Kogan new possibilities for freedom in the music of VU, for instance with improvisation and noise experimentation. These elements are most in evidence on the 15-minute workout ‘Mrs. Hanson / What’s That Sound I Hear?’, without a doubt their attempt to remake ‘European Son’ on their own lo-fi terms.

I like these free-wheeling and discursive Red Dark Sweet tracks, but there’s also a lot to be said for Kogan’s pop-influenced song style. The four opening cuts on the CD were recorded in 1984 and to me they’re near-flawless examples of songcraft, often delivered with just one guitar and a voice. Strong melody, simple riffs, and very concise; everything a song should be. Frank Kogan surely deserves to be located near J Mascis in the canon of American post-punk songwriters.

Hugely enjoyable CD; it’s been a delight to discover this hitherto hidden chapter of American song-based music, a chapter which might perhaps have been swept away the tsunami of 1980s punk that came in the form of Black Flag and all who followed. I’m glad that no attempt was made to clean up the sound; to me it’s like hearing a well-loved and cherished cassette tape lent to you by a friend. Recommended. From 28th October 2016.

  1. Interestingly, many bands in the NDW scene also melded disco and punk starting in 1981, but Kogan makes no mention of this.

David Bowie (self-titled, 1967): 50 years ago today, a star man came out to play

David Bowie, self-titled, Deram Records (1967)

June 1st, 1967, was a significant day in the history of British rock and pop: an album by a highly influential act was released on that day. Naaah, I didn’t have The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in mind, important though that work might be in some people’s eyes. Besides, contrary to what is often believed, that particular recording’s release date was brought forward a week by its label EMI in Britain so the release date was actually May 26, 1967, instead of June 1st, 1967.

No, on that day, that hallowed day, the world was blessed with the release of David Bowie’s self-titled debut album. WHA-A-AT? you say, David Bowie’s first album, the one consigned to mental attics around the world as some unwanted and unloved mad relative of classics like “Low”, “Heroes” and “Station to Station”? Well yes, I want to rescue that album from its current inglorious status as one of the black moments in Bowie’s long history as an artist, equivalent to those seedy little pornographic flicks that famous actors always regret making while they were down on their last dollar as drama graduates way back when in the mists of time. As black moments go, “David Bowie” turns out to be much, much lighter in colour than people, even diehard Bowie fans, might make it out to be – c’mon, folks, can the same be said of other black moments in Bowie’s recording history like “Never Let Me Down”?

Well, I’ll grant that most of the music on “David Bowie” isn’t what you’d expect of an ambitious up-and-coming teenage pop singer: it often sounds twee and the minimal “play safe” approach doesn’t always suit the lyrics on several songs which cover themes and topics such as alienation or lack of connection with others, longing, futuristic dystopias in which irrational crowds follow self-proclaimed messiahs, fluid gender identity, population control, serial killing, necrophilia and paedophilia among others. (Some of these themes were to arise on future Bowie albums again and again.) Certainly the music on songs like “There Is A Happy Land”, which depending on one’s interpretation can carry a chilling message about the alien nature of youth, seems at odds with the track’s theme; on the other hand, its relaxed and stripped-back nature highlights the lyrics and Bowie’s crisp style of singing which varies from one song to the next. Quite a lot of vocal gymnastics is involved and if Bowie had had some training at this point in his career, the album could have been a very remarkable one for his vocal range and adventurous singing. There’s also the possibility that Bowie found juxtaposing dark and disturbing lyrics with seemingly happy or comic music intriguing and amusing, and he would not have been the first (certainly not the last) artist to discover that the happy pop song format is an ideal medium for conveying otherwise sinister messages.

Why Bowie chose to write and record his debut the way he did, with the music, the visually colourful lyrics and the sometimes disturbing messages they carry, we may never fully know. Legend has it his manager at the time, Ken Pitt, may have pressured the young singer into becoming an all-round entertainer with old music hall and vaudeville influences, and recording the album with that goal in mind. The irony of course is that Bowie eventually did become an all-round entertainer by following a different if perhaps more zig-zagging path.

Even so, with all the faults of this approach which ill-suited Bowie, several songs on the album have their own sweet and whimsical charm, and if you let them they can grow on you. Bowie’s singing which sounds surprisingly mature, even a little “old man”-ish for someone of his age, has a very distinct flavour at once intimate yet suggesting its owner might have access to some deep well of gnostic knowledge. The lyrics are often funny, self-deprecating and wry at the same time, and strong visual imagination and inventive, cunning wit are at work here. Bowie’s wacky and bizarre sense of humour – which never ch-ch-ch-changed over the years – is in full flight across several songs with a number of them containing very subtle twists in the tales they tell.

There are songs here (“When I Live My Dream”, “Sell Me A Coat” and “Silly Boy Blue”) that could have been reworked with different music arrangements and re-released, and no-one would guess that they’d been on this album. “Silly Boy Blue”, referencing Bowie’s life-long interest in Tibetan Buddhism, in particular imitates Tibetan-style droning music and rhythms and a later treatment could have incorporated actual drones and invited experimentation. “Join The Gang” enjoys a brief burst of avant jazz improv at its end which could have been extended to cover the whole song.

If one chooses to listen to the whole album just for Bowie’s voice, lyrics and subject matter, one will find very little filler even in songs with the most godawful crap music. With regard to experimentation, several tracks are quite good, given Bowie’s inexperience and the guidance he had, though they could have done with more and one track – it’s my favourite of the whole album – that will surprise listeners is the last song, “Please Mr Gravedigger”, sung entirely a cappella with just ambient effects as accompaniment. Now that’s what I call experimental!

Fifty years ago today, a star man came out to play … it’s time for this particular mad relative to come out of the attic and show us all how really mad it is!

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
GERMANY CELLULE 75 CELL-1 LP (2016)

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 buy kamagra cheap 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

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The Original Beekeepers
How The River Runs Dry
UK LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR064 CD (2015)

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.