Tagged: songs

Fyodor’s Wild Years

A real one-of-a-kind record is Russian Canon (FROZEN LIGHT FZL 037), a record credited to Fake Cats Project, a trio featuring Kirill Makushin, Igor Levshin, and Alexei Borisov, which they only started in 2015 yet they’re already produced four records, of which this is one. Can’t find out much about the project or the band, although Alexei Borisov is well known and respected on these pages, and is probably my favourite avant-garde Russian musician (along with Kurt Liedwart and Ilia Belorukov).

Russian Canon is a bizarre suite of songs and instrumentals which may amount to an opera, a song cycle, a parodic comment on modern urban society, or simply a series of surreal poems set to music. All is sung (and lyrics printed) in Russian, so I’m at a bit of a loss, but at least the titles are printed in English. You might be able to piece together a scenario from titles like ‘Falcon Theme’, ‘Clouds Of My Memory’, and ‘A Kitten Looks At Soldier’s Eyes’, but it’d be a pretty wild and hairy screenplay that you’d be submitting to your editor. The music is kind of all over the place too. I can discern tunes and ditties that might be Russian folk songs (a wild guess though; the accordion backing is my one and only clue here) and likewise songs that more resemble the sort of proletariat anthems that appear in my worst nightmares when I’m inventing newsreel footage from the days of Kruschev and Sputnik and screening these imaginary movies in my brain. Particularly the opening blast, ‘Everything Is Fine’, a fractured every-which-way composition whose waywardness makes it perfectly clear that whatever else is going on, everything is not fine. But that’s just my warped imagination.

The trio also play electronic synth drone tunes; a very distorted form of easy-listening jazz with the help of guest trumpeter Konstantin Sukhan, acting as the reverse Herb Alpert in this context; broken, minimal post-punk songs; and even on one track a song built on a famous Erik Satie tune, so that’s their classical music credentials also checking in for duty. Fake Cats Project perform in all these styles effortlessly, and are not attempting a mannered pastiche…and they play with utter conviction, maintaining a serious and slightly gloomy mood throughout the whole off-beat performance. Street singers and “baggers” – hopefully that’s the local slang for bag-men – are also sampled and their voices join in the rollicking fun in places.

It’s a remarkable tour de force, packed with much drama and musical invention. Now that I think of it, the nearest Western equivalent to this might be Tom Waits, but even he would probably hand over his last bottle of brown-bagged bourbon if he could produce something as cinematic, noirish, and unhinged as Russian Canon. Wish I could decode more of this, so I may just have to send a message to the band through their Bandcamp page. Very high recommendation for this lavish, layered, musical oddity. From 7th September 2016.

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.

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.

The Sleeping Cage

From New York City, here are The Strange Walls with their album Won’t Last (ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN072); the trio of J.V.O. Worthley, Dandrogenous and singer Regina Yates are talented multi-instrumentalists and vocalists with a history of interesting collaborations. On this 11 track LP, I liked ‘The Girl On Mandragora’ which is an abrasive pounder with echoes of The Velvet Underground (and even a little Nirvana), which seemed fitting given their album cover which made me think of an attempt to restage the Exploding Plastic Inevitable at home using only bedsheets and bare lightbulbs. This song turns out to be uncharacteristic of the album though, which is mostly slow reflective songs filled with introspection, darkness, and a wistful tone. ‘Wartime Melody’, one of the best of these, is very reminiscent of Opal. This general despondency may account for why they’ve been labelled, perhaps unfairly, with terms like “goth” and “shoegaze” and even “dark wave”. I’ve no doubt the trio are sincere, but I feel they are striving a bit too hard to achieve that washed-out, strung-out effect in their sound and their singing voices. It feels mannered. I like the “foreign elements” and odd noises evidently added on to the recordings, but they also distract; too much unwarranted texture, surface. This aspect may be coming from PAS leader Robert L. Pepper (he produced it). From 31st August 2016.

Love Over Gold: This Is Not This Heat Live

This Heat at the Barbican Sat 4 March 2017

Second outing for this unusual musical venture which calls itself This Is Not This Heat; two original members from the trio This Heat, plus a number of additional musicians drawn from the worlds of art-rock, free improvisation, and just plain good music. Not the first outing; it came, out of nowhere almost, to Café Oto for a two-night residency in February 2016, which I completely missed. Reports were good – emotions ran high; loyal fans in tears, listeners travelling long distances from beyond the seas to catch the event.

I was overwhelmed by the Barbican night, the power and the beauty of the music. The songs and tunes from the band’s concise output (2 LPs, one 12-inch) which I know so well were running through my head, playing in parallel to these new versions performed on the stage. I’m going to try to account for why it was such a success.

Collaborative, for one thing. Musicians including James Sedwards, improvising bass player John Edwards, violinist and keyboard player Merlin Nova, drummer Frank Byng…not to mention star names Thurston Moore and Chris Cutler. These players are not only able to produce highly convincing versions of the “original” arrangements, but also brought new ideas, new “textures”, to each piece. Purists may have wanted an exact replica of the albums This Heat or Deceit performed on stage, in the manner of acts at the South Bank (which I have seen and enjoyed) that gave us Forever Changes and Pet Sounds, classic albums re-created live on stage, by well-drilled experts. Instead, we got much more, something much deeper.

When I think of added depth…I heard it in the tunes, and most importantly, in the songs. Oh the songs! This Heat wrote great songs! 1 I almost forgot how, on record, there’s such a striking mix of voices, high and low tones, weird harmonies clashing, the grain of many voices, unexpected intervals that leave you breathless. That rich quality was built on, by the trio of dedicated vocalists Jenny Moore, Luisa Gerstein and Laura Groves, joining Hayward and the other singers; a polyphony of voices. The harmonies now became unbearably beautiful. Conversations, previously obscured in the original recordings, suddenly came forth. Meanings were enriched, and deepened. Obscure lyrics – beautiful poetry – were suddenly now audible, and readable like books. Most prominent successes to illustrate this: ‘Music Like Escaping Gas’ (“There She Blows…”), ‘The Fall of Saigon’, and ‘Independence’. And how could I forget ‘Sleep’, on stage a bittersweet delight of unbearable poignancy, an achingly brief moment which you wish you could have put in a bottle like vintage wine. Heck, all the songs benefited from this process of blending avant-garde doo-wop and Gesualdo madrigal singing, by way of angst-ridden post-punk groanings. I’ll say it again – This Heat always wrote great songs, and didn’t just make a “noise” or free-form experiments in the studio. Let’s move the spotlight away from Scott Walker’s latest over-contrived pieces for one moment, and give Charles Hayward his due as a composer.

Pause. Perhaps my readers would like a more prosaic account of the evening at The Barbican. Well, This Is Not This Heat came on after the interval, preceded by two solo sets by the original members. The one by Charles Hayward was a mix of icy-cold romantic and melancholy songs with him performing on the grand piano and crooning. But he also moved strangely about the stage rattling percussion. Even more strangely wheeling a speaker around in a pram. The speaker made a droning sound. Hayward wailed like a baby, but this seemed to have been part of a much wider domestic narrative about a sad commuter returning to his “happy” home in the evening. A bleak view of life to be sure, but an honest one. Hayward was not one for effusive communication with his fans, and entered and left the stage with a very becoming deal of modesty. Charles Bullen, who now cuts a remarkable figure with his Victorian whiskers, was even less demonstrative. Barely looking at us, he sat behind his table on which may have been mounted a prepared guitar of some sort, and set to work with deliberation. What emerged was incredibly minimal tones in a slew of repeated phrases that nearly drove this listener mad – a kind of restricted cross between electronic Gamelan and Terry Riley. Yet something struck home. Overheard in the lobby afterwards: “Yeah, but you can still hear This Heat in that stuff, somehow.” Good observation, stranger. In between these acts: screening of a film by the 1970s structuralist film-maker John Smith called The Black Tower. unlike Peter Gidal and the more hard-core members of the London Film-Makers Co-op, Smith decided to meet the audience halfway, and went back to telling stories in the 1980s, hence this unsettling suburban fable about the pernicious and unseen effects of an unknown outer force (most likely a metaphor for monopoly capitalism).

Then This Is Not This Heat after the interval. A crowd-pleasing ending with green laser lights. Who would have thought that it would be possible to play ‘24 Track Loop’, originally a concoction of the studio mixing desk, on stage? Hayward may say it’s now possible to do that because technology has improved now, but I think there are other factors, other reasons that have brought matters to this point.

To try and explain what I mean, let’s revisit that collaborative theme. At one level, I think it means something that it takes 14 musicians to build one This Heat, indicating the power of the original trio must have been…quite considerable. But I am probably imagining those 1980s gigs (I never saw the band at the time) to have been more than they were. But perhaps it also takes 14 musicians to create this reconstruction, this reimagination of the songs and the tunes, to make them even greater than before. The nuances and details are all there on the original records – incidentally inviting one to go back and re-examine those grooves, where not a single second was wasted in communicating through sound, gesture, word, music, editing, layering…

The team effort also says something to me about how, through music, we can build on stage a working model of how human relations could change, how society could work better. Even if it’s just for two hours on stage, we can learn from it. John Stevens, the UK improviser, believed strongly in this possibility, and manifested it in all of his directed team efforts, harnessing the energy of great musicians to show a way of living, working and doing that was a model of how a co-operative society could work. I’ve always thought This Heat believed in that too; at the Barbican, they proved it.

Some media write-ups and appraisals have pointed out the gap between the original This Heat and this event; for instance, the concert handout tells us it’s been 40 years since the band’s first gig in 1976. Well, maybe this isn’t really a gap; I would argue that it has in fact been a necessary waiting process, a maturation. The band This Heat had to exist in the 1970s and 1980s, in order to influence musicians Thurston Moore and many others (becoming a “cult” band, I suppose, much as I hate that term), and the impact of their work sunk into the culture in a gradual way. Think of it as a slow release of benign energy, a healing and changing power. The time is now right for that cycle to complete; by bringing their own history, with This Heat DNA mixed into it, the 14 musicians were able to realise the “perfect” version of This Heat we saw in March 2017. If I am right in these fervoured ravings, maybe the event says something about the way culture ought to happen; it’s not instant, it’s slow, and mysterious, but when it works – it’s a glorious and unstoppable force for good.

Comparisons therefore with, say, Young Marble Giants, and their reunion gigs, are probably not in the same league. I love YMG and their 1980 album. But somehow their music got hermetically sealed into a 1980-1981 time capsule, and its influence has not really rooted itself in culture, other than being a reference for “hip” bands to name-check, often by people who have little real understanding of their music. I am fairly sure their “reunion” gig at Meltdown in 2015 (I did not attend) would have been pretty much the exact same songs played the exact same way, with no evidence of a deepening process. Sure, a rock fan addicted to the cult of personality and some idea of “authenticity” might well say that seeing the “original members” trumps everything. But This Is Not This Heat gives us a different angle on that. This is Not This Heat, it’s This Heat Plus.

  1. Hayward has spoken movingly of the songs greeting him like old friends, saying “where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you”.

Totally Masked Out

Finding much to enjoy on the LP Antifree (OSR TAPES OSR#48) by CE Schneider Topical, the singing duo of Christina Schneider and Zach Phillips, an album recorded in 2015 in Brooklyn. You may recall we just recently noted their contributions to a blue flexidisc from Belgium, and their appearance on the record by Maher Shalal Hash Baz, plus the highly active Zach Phillips has come our way before on records by Blanche Blanche Blanche and Big French. He plays a lot of the instruments on this LP, but so does Schneider, who has a songwriting credit on all but one of these 17 songs, and she’s the lead vocalist throughout. Antifree is a highly entertaining record of what I call “avant-pop”, a term I’ve used to describe diverse bands such as Family Fodder, Jack O’ The Clock, The Residents, Amos & Sara, and many other offbeat melodicists. If we could characterise most of the songs on Antifree, I’d point out the bizarre and highly inventive melodies, which (unlike most conventional pop) don’t rely too heavily on repetition, or a simple verse-chorus structure. There’s something more ingenious going on with the songwriting. Secondly, I’d draw attention to the unusual musical arrangements, using adjectives like “eccentric” to describe the sound and the instrumentation. There’s a lot of guitars, and tight drumming, but also some old-school non-digital keyboards, such as the Clavinet and the Wurlitzer piano, the latter an instrument favoured by Hamilton Yarns, that charming UK band of underground popsters. Zach’s technical skill here (he engineered it) has been to achieve this natural home-grown sound using an open-reel tape recorder. Nothing tweaked, and it shows; Christina’s assured vocal performances shine in the mix, and the music hasn’t been bled dry by digital reworking, meaning each song soars for its few brief minutes on earth.

I’ve tried on today’s listen to engage with the lyrical content of these non-rock songs, with their titles such as ‘Female in Images’ and ‘Exit All Seasons’, and find them completely cliché-free; not a hackneyed phrase in sight. But I’ll also admit defeat; the lyrics are slightly impenetrable. Somehow Christina keeps the subject at arm’s length for the duration of the song, with her unexpected turns of phrases that really keep the listener on their toes. She also sings them totally straight, by which I mean without affectation or vocal tics. I feel that I ought to be able to decode these songs in time, but it’ll take a few listens. I’ve previously compared this duo’s records to Brian Wilson Beach Boys productions, and think this is still valid, but these songs don’t have the innocence of Pet Sounds (mind you, in 2016, who does?!), and it feels like a lo-fi Wilson production pushed through a modern, suburban, and ironic filter.

As an album that keeps on perpetually surprising the listener, Antifree comes highly recommended, as a unique example of contemporary American songcraft. I see Mark Kramer did the mastering, and this record often puts me in mind of another personal favourite “avant-pop” duo, Bongwater, which Kramer led with Ann Magnuson. Luke Csehak of The Lentils plays lead guitar on one track, and Billy McShane adds saxophone to another. The charming surreal cover art was painted by Matthew Thurber. From May 2016.

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”.

Will Not Split

Two more cassettes from Kassettkultur are by Maja Ratkje and Bjørn Hatterud, both made at the same time and only ever sold together as a pair; “will not split” is the familiar rallying cry of antique dealers who hold a fine pair of ancient jugs. With the jury’s permission, we will mention them here together.

The first of these, Focus Foucault Foccaci (KULT 014), is not much more than a cassingle, and contains two tunes at five mins apiece. On one side the duo – appearing here as Solveig Kjelstrup & Maskinanlegg – appear to be adopting a quasi-ethnic stance with a performance based on percussion and a shenai-like reed instrument, to produce something Sun City Girls might have belched up as an interlude on one of their earlier ethnic forgery LPs. Or maybe it’s intended to remind us of Don Cherry and his bamboo flutes when he played with Ed Blackwell in 1969. At any rate it’s recognisable as music, which is more than you can say for the puzzling flip side. A nightmarish take on a patriotic song from the 1930s that was never written, or a national anthem for the smallest non-existent country in Europe, is put through the tape-processing treatment until it acquires a nasty and vaguely disturbing patina. The singing voice especially is something that creeps up your spine like a jellyfish. Not that the singer sounds especially menacing, but you don’t want him hanging around your house for long. Limited edition of 30 copies for this surreal slice of pie. Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, to use her full name, is a genius composer, improviser and noise maker who never ceases to surprise me with the ease, expertise, and commitment with which she takes on each new and wholly unexpected project. Bjørn Hatterud should be notorious to all as a member of the Norwegian collective Origami Republika, a sprawling project of weirdness whose aim was to overthrow the known world through subversive, absurdist antics; it’s impossible to tell how many records they made, as they kept changing their name, and so evaded the confining boundaries of officialdom, keeping everything fuzzy around the edges. It’s a strategy that always pays off.

The second tape, featuring the same personnel, is called Malleus Maleficarum Maximum, and with its monochrome cover, gothic styled lettering, and supernatural title, it may fool some Black Metal fans into buying it. Boy, will they be in for a surprise! One side is a short fragment of ingeniously compacted music, perhaps using tape loops, that feels like a distillation of all 19th century classical music and opera that ever dared to flirt with a “heroic” theme (and thus drove its composers mad or deaf, or both). It becomes a nostalgic view of an imaginary past that never existed, now somehow transplanted into our ironic modern times for hipsters to wonder at. That’s the power of time-travel with which I credit these two deadly magicians. Part 2 is even more alarming. Voice elements are detectable here and it feels like human beings made this noise at some point, but it also feels like monsters and wild beasts were involved at some point. The ingenuity lies in the simple layering together of elements that don’t fit, and relentlessly bringing the thing in for landing against all the laws of sanity. I’m feeling unhinged just thinking about it…maybe there really is a “black magic” thing going on after all. As you all know, Malleus Maleficarum refers to “The Hammer of the Witches”, a 15th century guidebook for how to expose witches and then put them on trial, supposedly issued by the Catholic church. God alone knows what your basic witch-hunter would have made of these two musicians, if he’d been forced to endure this mind-melt of a cassette.

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!

Amateur Chromatics

Another slice from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD02 is Gesualdo Translations, Bosetti’s take on the amazing music of Carlo Gesualdo. This Italian renaissance composer was famed for his bold harmonies and use of chromatics in his madrigals, and although neglected for a long time in the history of serious music, was reclaimed by Robert Craft and others and came to be regarded as a kind of forerunner of modernism; indeed I’ve even read a fascinating book called The Gesualdo Hex (by Glenn Watkins) which makes a convincing case for seeing Gesualdo as a precursor to serial and 12-tone composition.

Gesualdo also continues to fascinate a modern audience because of certain sensational details in his private life, for details of which I refer you to your own research. I’m fairly sure Bosetti knows about all this, but here he’s chosen to push the music through a daring experiment involving non-professional singers, in a sort of serendipitous crowd-sourcing action…he passed through the streets of Napoli, a place where Gesualdo is known to have lived and composed, and asked random people he met on the streets (and in cafes, churches, and markets) to participate. They would sing along as best they could to a recording of a single voice played back to them on headphones. Since the madrigals – taken in this instance from the famed fifth and sixth books of Gesualdo, regarded as his best and most experimental works – are multi-voice compositions, this clearly involved a lot of hard work by Bosetti in disaggregating the individual voice parts, and then re-assembling the parts from the taped results gathered in from his street singers.

The rich and complicated results on this record, some 45 minutes of heavily-edited suites, expand the “original chromaticism” of Gesualdo… “microtonal shadings are brought into the mix”, is Bosetti’s enthused claim, because the untrained singers, though often spirited and giving it a real go, are not really managing to hit the right notes at all. “Approximate renderings” is how he politely describes it. Additionally, further contextual field recordings from the streets are thrown in – people simply talking, chatting, bartering…along with cars, car horns, and other bits of guitar and keyboard music sourced from I know not where. All of this produces a delirious mix of sounds, assembled to a logic only Bosetti understands, and creates something new which is both familiar and strange at the same time.

A Gesualdo purist would probably be dismayed at the “bad” singing and take exception to the utterly fragmented mosaic-like approach of Bosetti’s assemblage, but taken as a whole lump of stew it’s a totally compelling experience. He calls it “a meditation on the practice of screziatura”, and screziatura is an Italian word which approximates to “mottling” or “speckling”…he may be thinking of a particular painterly effect, because I think one of the other pursuits of this genius polymath is the study of certain renaissance painting techniques, and composing or discovering musical parallels for them…how ambitious can you get? He also of course enjoys the random essence to the work, saying something about “the erratic nature of musical pitch”; and like everyone’s favourite mentor, John Cage, he is to some degree is allowing chance to guide his odyssey around the pathways of Naples and the people he met to produce these musical statements. Highly original and striking sonic coup here…