Tagged: songs

A Letter to Krohn

Krohn Jestram Lippok
Dear Mister Singing Club
GERMANY DISTILLERY STILL 22 CD (2013)

F.S. Blumm
Up Up And Astray
GERMANY PINGIPUNG 39 CD (2013)

Dan Melchior
The Backward Path
USA NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD028 (2012)

Christian Meaas Svendsen / Christian Winther
W/W
NORWAY VA FONGOOL VAFCD006 2 x CD (2013)

Dear Mister Singing Club,

I don’t know what to do with another singer-songwriter proclaiming over acoustic guitar and muffled, boomy percussion. I mean, I like John Martyn and Nick Drake when I am in the mood, but that was the 70s, and I’m not sure we need any more confession and angst, especially with echoing backing vocals and tricksy sound effects in the mix. I almost laughed when the tuba and glockenspiel – or synthesized versions of them? I don’t know – arrived. The nearest comparison I could come up with was Peter Blegvad or Slapp Happy, but only on a really bad day. Your CD doesn’t come close.

I could recommend you listen to Dan Melchior’s CD, who has the grace to put some quirky and at times moving instrumentals, each titled as a numbered ‘S.P.’, around his songs, but I’d be kidding myself and you. Whilst he thankfully stays away from tubas and glockenspiels, those jokey musical arrangements you seem to like, when he gets to the actual songs, his doom-laden intonation and heavy-handed guitar chords are dull and lifeless. “I have known the emptiness and have tried to love it” he says. I’m sorry for him, but can only hope he learns to stay away from the attempted profundity and focus on the short, intriguing instrumentals.

If I knew where you lived, I might actually send you F.S. Blumm’s CD to listen to. It reminds me of Animals That Swim (without the vocals), or perhaps Tindersticks, both bands who use arrangement and composition to exquisite effect. I mentioned Slapp Happy earlier, and there are touches of them, as well as other European Rock in Opposition bands here. This is sunny, happy contemporary chamber music, which gently subverts itself with odd dynamics, instrumental combinations and careful use of sound and dynamics. I like it a lot.

You might also like W / M, a double CD by the two Christians, one of whom plays double bass, one guitar. I take the music to be improvised pieces, and although the sometimes noisy double bass explorations on M are intriguing, it is the exquisite guitar album W that deserves your attention. Winther moves from fingerpicked etudes to finger-thrumming abstraction to ruminative introversion, occasionally with Svendsen guesting on double bass. (He returns the favour on some of Svendsen’s tracks.)

I’d like to hear you forget about emoting and expressing yourself, and paying this kind of attention to your music, but then I guess you’d have to call your CD Dear Mister Guitar Club, which isn’t quite the same.

Best wishes

Rupert Loydell

Buried Secrets

MARGREE534

Airchamber3
Peripheral
FRATTONOVE fratto023 CD (2013)

According its creators, the Italian improvising trio Airchamber3, this record was conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film. It is a fitting description for such viscous, textured music. The group’s creative process – improvising on various acoustic and electronic instruments augmented by comprehensive processing and editing – results in a set of layered and textured pieces that are somewhere between free improvisation, post-rock and an unheimlich ambient sound.

‘Dopamine Yuppie Dub’ is a great example of this approach in action. A burst of static ushers in a stealthily paced bass line. It’s gradually enveloped in layers of guitar, resonating and dampened, plucked strings and squalling chords. Squalling tones pile sound upon sound. Each instrument, loop or noise seems to exist in its own world yet is also part of the whole. Just as we’re getting into the post-rock vibe, a dark burst of noise covers everything, like a thunderstorm appearing out of nowhere on a summer’s day.

Unease continues on ‘The Buried Secret Inside My Ventricles’, Andrea Serrapiglio’s cello sawing ominously on a bed of queasy drones as brother Luca picks out equally disconcerting phrases on the bass clarinet. It’s all unresolved tension, a creeping shadow that vanishes as soon as you turn around.

Yet that’s just a dress rehearsal compared to the sheer daemonic horror of ‘Recollecting Pieces of Treasured Memories’. It’s a piece that resembles a nightmarishly time-stretched ballad, thanks to a fantastically eldritch vocal contribution from Vincenzo Vasi. His gothick declamations are a canticle of dread, bringing to mind Jocelyn Pook’s terrifying Masked Ball, deployed to such disturbing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Fortunately for my sanity, it’s not all trippy darkness. ‘Tunnel Vision’ offers up a collage of guitar mayhem and Scanner-style found sound snatches. ‘Crippling Approach Anxiety’s naggingly insistent clockwork groove is a jerky marvel, nicely complemented by wriggling electronics and tin tack guitar.

There are more vocals on ‘A Body Is A Map Of Bruises’, this time a jazzy croon from Barbara De Dominicis. Over fuzzy clouds of digital mush, reedy moans and cello exotica she casts a haunting, nostalgic presence, her voice drifting in and out of audibility as if being conjured from the digital aether. It’s ghostly, melancholic, and full of pathos.

Peripheral is enigmatic and liquid sound. Not a set for listeners keen for jazzy display of virtuosity, the playing pared down and rarely strays from minimal phrases, augmented with noise and samples, building blocks for the trio’s musical welding. Yet it is an evocative wonder, a slow-motion carousel of sounds and images, a dream in which you are only half-awake.

Wikkid’s The Intro: a movie-trailer to black metal psychedemonchaotica

Wikkid

Wikkid, The Intro, Soulthief Musick (2013)

This micro-album of five songs could be heard as one song of five parts that themselves might have been extracted from much longer tracks. Think of it as one continuous piece that could be equivalent to a movie trailer featuring the best scenes from an otherwise ordinary or mediocre flick. Even the album title suggests as much (err … not the “mediocre” aspect though). Of the five songs, only three can be said to be Wikkid songs, the other two coming from another project Blaksmoke which Wikkid main-man Wikkidiablo oversees with another musician.

Set to heavy pounding machine-gun rhythms, “Smokelessfire” is a strong opener with stuttery spider guitar noise-drone and wolf-like guttural vocals thrashing about in the background. This is followed by a slower and more tortured piece of howl and screech and bursts of squally guitar cloud in a song that may owe something to the infamous Swedish sadomasochistic duo Abruptum. “Torment” is another jerky stuttering attack-dog critter with echoing multi-voiced demonic gabbles and squealing high-pitched guitars. All three songs are fairly free-form (though the rhythms provide backbone for the guitar and vocal screams to hang from) and have a strong experimental feel. It’s a real pity that they’re extremely short and a couple of pieces could actually afford an extra couple of minutes each as they are to sound completely self-contained.

The second half of the demo is given over to tracks from Blaksmoke’s first album (which is shorter even than the recording under review) and these are more conventionally song-like, relative to the Wikkid tracks, in their structure. The drumming is dominant in both tracks and sets the pace for the guitars to follow. The vocals are not so prominent but exist as background menaces held on tight leashes.

Wikkid’s half of this recording is a varied and chaotic collection of very different though equally malevolent and barmy songs. The Blaksmoke tracks have a rock-out orientation with percussion going mushroom-cloud explosive and radioactive, powered by plenty of bashing of skins and cymbals. The production on all five tracks isn’t great but it does impart a raw quality. The atmosphere seems intimate as though we’re privy to a secret ritual, and dark at the same time.

Overall the recording promises heaps more of that enthusiastic and unpolished creative racket from where these songs came, though some listeners might feel a bit miffed that a couple of tracks from another project were snuck in to fill up the recording. Why not wait until there are more songs to bulk up a Wikkid and Wikkid-only album?

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 2 of 3

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From Norway, we have a single by Mummu which is a team-up between Skrap and Ich Bin N!ntendo. Skrap are the two women Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck who make quite a nice low-frequency and subtle drone music out of tuba and synth, while the trio of Nergaard, Winther and Heibo are capable of puking out a form of spiky high-energy noise-rock with their guitar-bass-drum setup that is appropriate to almost any musical situation, as their recording with Mats Gustafsson will testify. Both bands also have at least one CD album to their name on this label. On Mitt Ferieparadis (VA FONGOOL VAFLPS001), we have an A side ‘Feda Bru’ which is incredibly restrained, and a much more fiery B side ‘Logatunellen’. You might be more drawn to the riotous and anarchic free playing on ‘Logatunellen’, which is louder, thicker, and almost has a beat that you could frisk to, but somehow the energy feels neutered, blocked. There’s a lot more to be said for ‘Feda Bru’, even though it appears hesitant and uncertain at first spin. I would guess that Lauvdal and Mobeck are quietly dominating this session, while the three rockin’ guys are reining themselves in and acting on their best behaviour. It sometimes takes more discipline to play with this degree of restraint than it does to blast out an amplified blurt, and this does show up on the recording in the form of a seething tension that’s so sharp you could put it in a jamjar. The cover art was concocted by all five musicians with the help of Torstein L. Larsen; it looks like a primary school art mural, except it’s spiked with four-letter words, riddles, and slightly rude sexual images poking about in amongst all the incoherent dribbly visual anarchy. No idea when we got this one but it was released in 2013.

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White Star Line (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp042) – the label and artist would prefer it printed as White * Line – is a piece of sound art by the Irish electro-acoustic artist Danny McCarthy from Cork. He’s attempting to make some sort of statement about RMS Titanic and the White Star Line shipping company; since Cobh in Cork was the final port of call of the doomed ship, it has historical significance. McCarthy visited the harbour there and made some field recordings using hyrdophones (underwater microphones) from the very same pier trodden by the feet of passengers who originally made their way on board, before sailing off to meet their doom. If the cover photograph has any verisimilitude, said pier is now just a skeleton of decaying timbers. It doesn’t actually take a great deal of research to find this information out, and there’s a “historic experience” museum at Cobh which was established in January 2012 and is probably proving very popular as a school outing. McCarthy’s approach is to combine his watery field recordings with low-key electronic sounds, and I think there may be some post-processing on the finished work. What results is to my ears some rather dull process sound, a lot of static and whirr combined with little bubbles, and ultimately rather irritating sonically. However, there’s an added poignancy to the fact that he made the recordings on a date that coincides exactly with the centenary of the tragic event. And the cover images are strangely moving; the lone pigeon sitting there on the ruin of the pier in a rather forlorn stance is quite touching. And at least one listener claims to hear the voices of drowned souls in this record, or at least an imaginative suggestion of same. However, compared to Gavin Bryars’ grand-scale work The Sinking of the Titanic, this under-resourced and attenuated statement is not much more than a footnote. Arrived 3rd June 2013.

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I always enjoy the playful singles released by Jos Moers on his Belgian-Dutch Meeuw Muzak label. The one by Harry Merry, Australian Sun (MEEUW MUZAK 042), is no exception – and like others in the roster, it’s melodic, has a catchy beat, and is eccentric to the point of near-daftness. Merry was born in Rotterdam and professes his love of vinyl singles, attracted as much to the sensuous colours of the labels as he was to the music he heard when he was a child growing up in the 1970s. He’s a keyboard player and pianist, and while he usually plays a Roland synth, this particular record is instead accompanied by a Belgian barrel organ. There’s a small colour photo of this beast in the press release, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture on the record sleeve. In design terms, it’s a truly ghastly piece of Mittel-European gingerbread. How was the jaunty, cornball music that emanates from its pipes put into service of this quirky piece of post-punk music, with its cryptical layered lyric about the threats to global ecology, and the stiffly mannered but irresistible singing voice of Harry Merry? The answer is, I think, that the music – originally composed by Harry Merry and Ilhem Sabih – had to be rendered into “book music”, a late Victorian storage system for mechanical organs, which comprises holes punched into thick pieces of card. The pieces of card are folded into a zig-zag book, and fed into the mechanical organ. Elbert Pluer assisted with the production of the “orgelboek”, while Adrie Vergeer provided the instrument, Tom Meijer did the arrangement, and Martin Luiten did the mix. The B side contains a delightful instrumental version, allowing you to hear the sheer craft that has gone into the production of the mechanical music. You can keep your Conlon Nancarrow…it’s about time for a revival of this near-obsolete music production method! The A side is a stroke of sheer genius. If nothing else, the fusion of the lyric’s cadences with the music is little short of incredible; the ungainly phrasing of the musical composition dovetails with the words in ways that are continually surprising, like a little miniature wooden cabinet with ingeniously hinged flaps and drawers. A meeting of the old and the new, the square and the hip. A brilliant piece of offbeat pop, and a tiny miracle enacted in just over three minutes. From 21 November 2012.

Pop Pain

rstevie

Personal Appeal (CARE IN THE COMMUNITY RECORDINGS CARE109CD) is a compilation of songs by R. Stevie Moore, mostly I think recorded in a period dating from 1973 to 1979. There was a time when Moore’s releases kept popping up for sale in the Recommended Records catalogue, in the 1980s when said catalogue was sent out in the mail, and writer / musician Chris Cutler, a known fan of all stripes of avant-pop music with an intellectual bent, would praise “pop genius” Moore. “Classic intelligent pop at its obscure & accessible toe-tapping best,” he wrote in Autumn 1986, “Stevie has more ideas per groove CM than anyone else in the pop field…recommended unequivocally”. While I never bought the records at the time, I was vaguely aware that the musician had an extensive back catalogue of home-released cassettes, and was highly regarded in the thriving tape world of the eighties; Robin James wrote about him in his Cassette Mythos book, noting that Moore had made his work available through his own Cassette Club label since 1971, mailing out orders from his home in New Jersey. This isn’t the first time his work has been compiled; there have been a few previous efforts, including the 2009 set Meet The R. Stevie Moore! on Cherry Red. Many of these comps stooped to concocting ironic variations on a “Greatest Hits” title – I say ironic, because this unsung genius of underground lo-fi pop music has never had a hit record. It clearly wasn’t for lack of skill, since there’s abundant evidence here of his songcraft, his overdubbing abilities and studio technique in support of his highly fluent multi-instrumental playing, and his flawless singing voice. Already I’m reaching for comparisons with the early records of Todd Rundgren, such as the double LP Something / Anything? where Todd wrote, sung and played the first three sides completely solo.

Over time Moore has attracted the attention of other underground luminaries such as Thurston Moore and Jad Fair; the latter even made a single with him. Life hasn’t always been happy for him though, and as recently as 2010 he left New Jersey to return to his Nashville home, apparently broke and homeless and in terrible physical shape, at the point of utter despair. This sad tale is related in the liner notes written by Irwin Chusid, that excellent writer, journalist and broadcaster who has for many years been a friend to “outsider music” of all kinds. He wrote about many such musicians 1 who fit his defined profile, including Jandek, Syd Barrett, and The Shaggs, in his volume Songs In The Key Of Z. He also wrote about Wesley Willis, a street musician who likewise has a formidable back catalogue of home-made tapes. As a prolific and determined self-publisher, it’s clearly about time a unique figure like R. Stevie Moore was reclaimed into today’s polymorphous culture. As I write it seems media rehabilitation has been well underway for this last twelvemonth; features or interviews in the NME, and even The Guardian. Would Chris Cutler feel at all vindicated now after some 28 years of trying to get people to listen?

The selection of songs here has been personally approved by the artist. Previous comps have tended to rehash the same, or very similar, selections, but Personal Appeal contains “hidden gem obscurities”. Fans of “classic” pop music will find, almost instantly, affinities with Beatles 2 and Beach Boys records that will give them a way in, but Moore is a clever pasticher of many genres, including country and western, folk, bluegrass, and surf music. His effortless vocal harmonies will cause many bobby-soxers to swoon, while fretboard students of the male persuasion will drool over his nifty guitar licks. But there’s clearly a darker side to Moore’s maze of a mind, a side which can’t help bubbling to the surface in spite of all the 1966 sunshine pop effects; it’s like a trickle of oil coming up from the ground below to spoil your picnic. At such moments, especially when the singing voice turns slightly sideways and the reverb device is working overtime, R. Stevie Moore notches up extra weirdness points that would earn him the runner-up prize at a Residents audition 3. Every so often there’s something borderline obsessive in a certain song; it may only be a few bars or 10 seconds of music, but it’s enough to turn the stomachs of a thousand David Gates fans. Part of this might be due to his insistent singing voice. It might also be the excess of verbiage; Moore outdoes Elvis Costello when it comes to packing in the clever lyric-writing, and while he’s not as prone to annoying wordplay as MacManus, he certainly stretches the pop verse form to its limits with his lines – and that’s not to mention the unusual subject matter. Not a single lyric here falls into the cliché trap, but it’s mainly because he evades obvious pop-song treatments with the ease of a greased-up pavement skater. Even when tackling a love song, Moore’s skewed and oblique approaches, as evidenced on ‘Structure of Love’, ‘Quarter Peep Show’ and ‘I’ve begun to fall in love’, will impress the literate listener, as much as they chill us with their bittersweet and plangent emotions. Each song packs a lot of layers, that’s for sure! The last one in my list not only does all the above, but somehow manages to turn in a spot-on Brian Wilson impersonation that’ll make grown men weep. Now, how many songs on your iPod can do all that?

As noted, these 15 cuts are separated by the distance of years, and after listening one end to the other I personally have found it almost impossible to get any sort of handle on the way this creator’s mind works; there’s not much of a thread or pattern, and each track is wildly different from its neighbour. “His formula is not a formula”, confirms Chusid. “His path is unfollowable”. It staggers the imagination to think how much of this material R. Stevie Moore has created in his lifetime, an achievement which I would imagine the world still has yet to come to terms with.

  1. And played their music on his radio show, I might add.
  2. There’s probably a lot more to be written about the Moore / Beatles imbroglio; at least one of his album sleeves, What’s The Point?!!, was a Beatles parody.
  3. If The Residents had any sense, they’d have recruited Moore into their touring band long ago. In like manner, The Beatles should have hired Neil Innes to produce ‘Free as a Bird’, not Jeff Lynne.

Nostalgic Pop

Babi

Babi’s Botanical (NOBLE LABEL NBL-210) defies belief – a lovely album of immaculate “chamber pop” songs crafted with great compositional and studio skills. For starters, this is only her second LP – but it’s so accomplished and polished. The young composer and singer Babi is a child prodigy who apparently started learning the piano at age two and had her first composition written at age five. She learned the craft of multi-tracking at music college, and since then has been stacked out with commercial work, besides finding time for realising her own compositions. For this, a joint release on two labels, she’s done all the composing, singing and programming – it’s fundamentally a keyboard album – with guest musicians brought in to add strings and woodwinds. There’s a number of elements to praise and enjoy – the forthright assurance with which Babi proceeds is commendable, knowing exactly in her mind what the song is about and proceeding directly with a very clean performance, with not an ounce of waste. Then there’s the ultra-lean and lightweight sound, a superbly uncluttered studio production, aided by flawless arrangements with every instrument sitting in the perfect place. Additionally, the compositions themselves are these deceptively simple melodies, cunningly spiked with little twists and curlicues that lead the mind off down multiple pathways at once. The album was mixed and mastered by Toyoaki Mishima, who also works with Cornelius – another Japanese genius of quirkoid avant-pop. With ten short tracks of compressed loveliness, this album amounts to a near-perfect set of electro-pop miniatures, enriched with classical flourishes. Babi could almost be the Japanese Kate Bush, although since I don’t understand Japanese her lyrical content remains a mystery to me. I sense she might not be quite as dark and troubled as my beloved Kate, though, since there’s a generally upbeat tempo to the songs here, and Babi’s rather fluffy singing voice (a factor which might prove a barrier for some listeners) and occasional use of wacky sound effects suggest instead a child-like and fantastic view of the world, with bright colours and strange friendly monsters walking through imaginary landscapes, funfairs, and parks on summer afternoons. Be sure to watch the three-minute “trailer” she’s made for this album on YouTube, with suitably flowery animations. Besides Kate Bush, also recommended to listeners who enjoy Slapp Happy and Dagmar Krause, or Van Dyke Parks. Or that incredible Nora Guthrie single from 1967. Received 8th August 2013.

OhYoko

Not entirely unrelated to above, we have I Love You… (COOKIE 3) by Oh, Yoko released on the Normal Cookie label in Tokyo. This is also an album of pop tunes, but far less upbeat and bouncy than Babi, and aims from the get-go to beguile you with a strange nostalgic feeling. The duo of Rie Mitsutake and Will Long achieve this goal through their small and intimate sound; playing electronic and acoustic instruments together, in a syrupy and sensuous blend; keeping the arrangements simple, and playing everything in a gentle manner; and by filtering all the vocals through wispy pieces of gauze that float by on the breeze on a sunny day in September. Again, sung in Japanese, so specifics elude me, but the abiding emotional keynote here speaks volumes – lots of soppy and fuzzy sentiments, just bordering on the saccharine at times. Recording as Miko in a previous life, Rie did a couple of albums that we know of (Parade and Chandelier, the latter released by Lawrence English’s Room 40 label in Australia), and like Babi above she started out her musical life at a relatively young age – taking piano lessons from age five. Will Long might be remembered by some as Celer, a project which he used to do with his wife Chubby Wolf, and which has released over 100 records of ambient installation droney sound-art music, much of it self-issued. Oh, Yoko certainly work well together here and this a very pleasing combination of soft-focus instrumentation and whispery, heartfelt vocalising, occasionally supplemented by gorgeous background field recordings of crickets a-chirping (or maybe frogs a-croaking). “Something pure for a more simple life,” is their only stated goal with this music, and who can take issue with that ambition? Be sure to look for their 2012 release, Seashore. This one from 8th August 2013.

Ride the Wild Hog

merid031

Delightful and irresistible is Devoción (Works 2005-2011) (STAUBGOLD 128), a compilation of music by Meridian Brothers, an experimental music combo from Bogota. All the music and singing here is the work of one fellow, the multi-talented Eblis Álvarez. Apparently he alone makes all the music for the Meridian Brothers records, although there is also a five-piece of players – their names are listed inside the CD cover – who constitute, since 2009, the live version of the band. Meridian Brothers generate an extremely playful and infectious music based on traditional Colombian music genres, including Cumbia and Salsa, with influences also coming from 1960s tropicalia, surf music, Peruvian music, and even highlife and Ethiopian music. A miniature avant-carnival performed by a comedy version of the cast from El Topo. What you hear is balmy and eccentric combinations of woodwinds, percussion, keyboards, electronics, bass, playing spare and compacted melodic lines – all in the service of supporting Álvarez’s slightly loopy singing voice. Some of the experimental vibe can be attributed to the time he spent in Denmark at the Danish Institute of Electronic Music, where he learned useful techniques that have fed into the realisation of his fractured lo-fi one-man-band vision. None of the words are sung in English, but there’s no mistaking the crazed charm of a fellow loon in these screwball ditties; there’s also tremendous assurance in the way the instrumental layers are assembled and mixed in unexpected dubby fashion, and the economy with which special effects, samples, and distortion techniques are applied. In all these playful excursions, he never once neglects the pulsebeat and every song trundles forward with an endearing rackety motion. And talk about your wild syncopation – the rhythms are as tricky as 20 reticulated armour-plated centipedes crawling over the surface of the Las Lajas Sanctuary. In places, I’d almost be tempted to dub him the Colombian one-man Portishead, but he’s far more prolific and not as straight-faced as those chilly, repressed English types. Astonishing. No wonder he’s regarded as a genius in his home country. From August 2013.

The Infinity Dub Sessions: an uneven set of dark desperate dub techno minimalism

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Deadbeat and Paul St Hilaire, The Infinity Dub Sessions, BLKRTZ, CD BLKRTZ008 (2014)

Although this CD represents their first studio recording together, the two artists Deadbeat aka Scott Monteith and Paul St Hilaire aka Tikiman have collaborated in live situations on and off since they met over a decade ago in Montreal and discovered a common interest in dub music. On this album, the duo have gone for a dark minimalist musical approach on songs bound by a theme of the stress of modern life and how one can find comfort and purpose in a hard world where machine rhythms and routines dictate our thinking and behaviour.

There’s a sense of desperation in the opener “Hold On Strong”, a relentless and bleak if understated pulsing track. Reggae influences are strong in this song and on all other songs: they are in the rhythms, the voices and the music and lyric structures. What listeners might not expect is the cold and subtle, near-industrial nature of the sounds nor the open black spaces within each and every piece. A strong sense of urban alienation and a feeling of a cold, seemingly forbidding yet alluring and seductive hyper-technology that dominates life are present. An unseen eminence grise, sensed more than heard or felt yet pulling the strings here, might be moving slowly and confidently in the deep dark background.

Hope and frustration mix in tracks like “What the Heck Them Expect”, notable for its superficially lazy-loping rhythm, and “Working Everyday”, a repeating mantra of resignation and despair over an insistent looping rhythm that lures you into its dark trance world: this is the strongest track on the album in spite of (or maybe because of) its never-ending Moebius-strip structure. Sparse, seemingly empty yet yielding ever more from its depths, this soundtrack to work drudgery might just be in danger of advertising for it; the two dub musicians should not push their luck too hard. The constant repetition is both asset and liability: a couple of later songs on the album drag the whole thing down with repeating loops of unremarkable music and lyrics (“Rock of Creation” and “Little Darling”) though some of the sound effects can be good. Closing track “Peace and Love” brings an impression of hope over despair with an emotionally moving rhythm, a strong beat and
equally affecting melodies and lyrics.

It has its ups and downs and I’m sorry to say they’re in the ratio of 50:50 for this style of dark minimalist dub techno. The music is beautifully constructed with gorgeous sounds, a clear three-dimensional ambience and memorable rhythm structures. It’s weak in the song-writing department with too much repetition in most tracks which sometimes give an impression of not knowing how to climax and then get out of the way quickly. I’m sure though the two musicians will continue working together in the studio because the sound they have is too good to leave to just one album. I confess I don’t listen to much dub and reggae at all but I think I know a quality act when I hear one and these guys definitely have the potential to be leaders in their genre.

Contact: Deadbeat / BLKRTZ

Crystal Gazing

Big French are an underground American rock band who play bizarre songs and their Downtown Runnin’ (WHARF CAT RECORDS 006) LP was sent to us from Brooklyn 23 July 2013. It’s mostly the work of Quentin Moore, who wrote the songs, sings them, and plays guitar, while the frantic tunes are filled out with some very fluid lead guitar lines perhaps played by Colin White, and some freaky synth blat from the fingers of Zach Phillips. Given the brevity of most of the songs – few last beyond two minutes – it’s much to their credit that the band members find room to express themselves at all, and mostly they do it by overplaying their lines against each other in exciting ways, and pile their colourful riffs on top of the effete and mannered vocalisings of Moore, who sings in quite a high range. A bit like hearing Russell Mael sing alongside Brian May’s guitar, yet the whole shebang is happening in the context of an album which, if released by SST in the 1980s, would now be regarded as a fine example of experimental rock-pop music. Sorry if I appear at all equivocal, because I kinda like this one; while Moore’s work is an acquired taste, it’s catchy; the more you listen, the more addictive do the songs become. It’s on vinyl, but I have a promo CD copy.

Another unusual item from Intangible Cat, an obscure Illinois label whose output I would never otherwise hear were it not for their frequent mailings and the power of the mailbox. Dog Hallucination is the duo of D. Petri and Doggy P. Lips, and when we heard their 2011 record Bob Hallucination we felt quite a buzz from its unpredictable zanery and cut-up pranks, even when this was mostly due to radical remix work and hackerment from cutting devices of said Bob, whom they specifically asked to reprocess their recorded work. Serving Two Masters (CAT-19) is completely different to that experiment, and comprises just six short tracks of unobtrusive yet exquisite guitar-based ambient music. I say “ambient”, but if that word triggers associations involving droney background synths, then check out the door right now, bubba! Dog Hallucination create gorgeous tapestries using strum and glide on guitars, processing them to the exact degree that gives them that underwater, misty-morning, gauzy distance that they’re looking for. In the process, they are extremely careful not to lose definition of the overall image, and the sounds of the chiming strings ring clear and true even at low volume. By the time we get to fourth untitled track, it’s clear that this subtle strategy is paying off, and allows them to create a passable (and highly compressed) impersonation of Popol Vuh. They tell me this EP is just the prelude to an entire album on these lines, to be called Mitzi, which was due in later Summer of 2013 and which we look forward to hearing. The enigmatic and elaborate package includes inserts and “fabric dyed with beet leaves and stems & pressed sage leaf from D. Petri’s garden”. From 09 July 2013.

Jonas Gruska is a sound artist from Czechoslovakia who studied composition in Poland and The Netherlands, and whose main work as Binmatu involves computers and electronic music. There’s a visual side to his work too, hence the multi-media release Crystylys (KVITNU 28), a pressing which includes video files alongside the audio content – what’s more the same musical content is served up in multiple formats, including WAV and MP3. My computer isn’t sure where to navigate next, and as a human being I’m not faring too well either. On one level, it seems Binmatu is all about the process – he exhibits an interest in “complex air pressure modulations” and enjoys the “brain-twisting modulations of oscillators”, effects which are matched to some degree in the computer-art abstract visuals he generates in the movie files. Yet on another level, Binmatu intends to pass on a “greater spiritual theory”, using “sound as an intimate power” and performing a “holy purpose”. He regards himself as a “priest of sound”, which is quite an ambitious statement. He wouldn’t be the first to have made claims for the spiritual dimensions to be found in minimal droney music – Terry Riley and Charlemagne Palestine spring to mind – and it’s a commonplace now among many writers to ruminate on the connections between trance states, prayer, and repetitive, monotonous sounds. Gruska’s mysterious drones are pleasant enough, but unfortunately I find he’s unable to sublimate his processes in any meaningful way. I feel he’s got a long way to go before he achieves the transcendence and depth he’s aiming at, but maybe I need to devote more time to exploring these works. From 22 July 2013.

Schizophrenia Party

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As regular readers and listeners may know we are very keen on Family Fodder here at TSP. We were introduced to the music of this UK post-punk band around 1981, by which time they’d produced a number of excellent singles for Fresh Records, and the album Monkey Banana Kitchen in 1980. Said album is today regarded as something of an unfairly overlooked “classic”, perhaps for its daring use of dub mixing effects combined with post-punk themes, the spirited yet understated playing, and the imaginative lyrics with their oblique approach to songwriting, attempting to subvert over-familiar themes. Said album has also recently been remastered and reissued by Staubgold, making it accessible to today’s audiences. When TSP print magazine started, Alig Pearce – the main man behind Family Fodder, although numerous talented UK players and singers were also involved – was the first person we interviewed, thanks to initiative of Harley Richardson who managed to track him down to an address in South London. “He seemed very genuine,” was the comment of Chris Butler, one reader who appreciated Alig’s interview.

This is just by way of preamble to Variety (THE STATE51 CONSPIRACY CON156CD), the new Family Fodder album which we received in July 2013. It’s hugely enjoyable and very much recommended, which is more than I could say for the lukewarm 2000 album Water Shed, even though it featured many of the original members, including the French singer Dominique Levillain. Water Shed seemed tired, too “modern” sounding, a pale reflection of former glories. Variety conversely intriguingly contains some old (unreleased?) songs – “reworked treasures from Alig Fodder’s tape archive” is how the press release vaguely alludes to this – alongside some new compositions. Drive yourself bonkers trying to figure out which are which, but this collection has a lot of strong material, like the reggae-inflected ‘The Pain Won’t Go’, the 1980s Europop synth minimalism of ‘Love is Like a Goat’, the spiked nursery-rhyme malevolence of ‘Blue Puppies’, and the fractured madness of ‘Vampyre on my Mind’. And the pseudo-easy listening flamenco-jazz of ‘Hippy Bus To Spain’ with its tinkly piano, quotes from movie soundtracks, resembling an idealised track from a non-existent Herb Albert album. ‘The Moon Told Me So’ is also a glorious piece of songwriting, only slightly marred by the autotune on the vocals, which the skilled songstress clearly doesn’t require.

Which seems a good point to mention the wonderful vocal contributions of Mae Karthauser and Darlini Singh-Kaul, who bring a great deal of style, class and panache to the set. I’m reminded also of La Varieté, the 1982 album by Weekend, partially because Weekend emerged from Young Marble Giants, another post-punk band from roughly the same period as Family Fodder who had signed to Rough Trade. I think Weekend’s inspiration for the album title was based on their experience of listening to French radio stations, where you could find a much wider spectrum of musical styles (chanson, jazz, samba, pop) and hence a wider appeal to more age groups and tastes than you could on BBC’s rotten old Radio One, which in the 1980s continued to force-feed us with chartbound pop garbage, mostly for the benefit of a teenager listenership. Alig’s take on Variety also shows a lot of continental influences, even when done slightly knowingly, but it’s something he’s always managed with considerable flair, ease, and humour – aided by his own considerable musical skills, which often get downplayed 1. What I always enjoyed about 1979’s ‘Playing Golf with my Flesh Crawling’ was how it took some fairly dark themes and put them into an irresistibly catchy pop framework with lots of hooks, riffs, and fascinating instrumental layers; in the lyrics, the singer was losing his mind, driven to suicide by the pressures of the family and the excesses of the acquisitive society around him, yet he sounded as cheery and bouncy as Boy George. This same schizophrenia, while somewhat diluted by time, is still a hallmark of Alig’s best songs, if this new album is anything to go by. Recommended!

My 2009 podcast is still available for download.

  1. See the 1983 All Styles album for a tongue-in-cheek example of this; each song was identified with a user-friendly genre as part of the title, and playfully suggested Family Fodder could play everything from soul to disco to country and western. That album could almost have been the blueprint for Stereolab, who nicked a lot of Alig’s ideas.