Tagged: songs

Lake of Solace: black metal and rock meet Chinese pop culture influences

Deep Mountains Lake of Solace

Deep Mountains, Lake of Solace, Pest Productions, Digipak CD PEST046 (2014)

Deep Mountains is a Chinese black metal band and “Lake of Solace” is the musicians’ first full-length release (after an EP released in 2010). The band’s existence and the presence of other Chinese black metal bands in a small scene are testament to the spread of the music across the world since its emergence in Norway 30 years ago: in spite of being ignored or avoided by the commercial music industry, black metal can truly stake a claim to being an international music phenomenon.

The music mixes elements of epic melodic post-BM and what might have been called blues and hard rock in decades past. It’s almost as if Deep Mountains are compressing the history of rock and metal, stretching right back to the 1960s almost, into one package for the benefit of their audience. Black metal is just one of several influences that add flavour to the overall mix: it adds toughness and a sharp steely edge to the music and the raspy BM vocal brings harshness and aggression. The songs tend to flow into one another with barely audible breaks. An early track, “Wind and Stellar”, combines typical BM tremolo noise guitar and spidery BM voice with passages of lilting melancholy acoustic guitar music, desert-desolate lead guitar solo yodel and clean-voiced singing with some Chinese melody structures.

The guys do not forget that they are playing to an audience eager for foreign Western cultural fads: “Detachment” includes English-language spoken-word recordings about rebelling against being dumbed down and maintaining personal integrity and honour, and the music features pop-friendly riffing and melodies and some very pretty moments of introspective ambient post-BM guitar tremolo tremble. To Western ears, having to concentrate on the music rather than the lyrics (I can’t read Chinese), the song can seem very ordinary, almost as if a couple of musicians were sleep-walking through their parts.

The second half of the album, consisting of four songs, seems to be a unit in itself. “Lake of Solace (Part 1)” is a meandering, mostly acoustic-guitar instrumental with birdsong and other nature-themed field recordings: very pretty and pleasant to hear but at over 7 minutes in length, it’s too long and needs pruning here and there as there’s not a lot done in 7 minutes that couldn’t be squinched into 3 or 4 minutes. The second part is more bearable as it includes BM vocals and guitar-work but again there are long sections where the music seems to lose focus and dog-paddles aimlessly, and near the end the song descends into sappy syrupy music territory. “The Ballad of Nai River” seems to be an adaptation of a traditional Chinese song as the female vocal follows a Chinese melody and the only contemporary aspect is the acoustic guitar backing and the field recording of water drops.

For me the album doesn’t have much BM teeth and the band’s style is now better described as a rock and blues mix with some BM influence. The latter part of the recording emphasises more melodic and clear-toned music. While the album isn’t bad, it could certainly be improved with some editing for length on most songs. In the later sections of the recording, a bland quality is creeping in. I earnestly hope this isn’t a sign of DM bowing to pressure to satisfy the faddish demands of their home audiences.

Contact: Pest Productions

Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq: a surreal journey through black metal / Middle Eastern music fusion

Al-Namrood - Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq - Front

Al Namrood, Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq, Shaytan Productions, Qayamat-009 (CD) / Qayamat-010 (vinyl) (2014)

You’d think living in the heartland of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam would deter most people from forming anything other than short-lived solo online bedroom black metal projects. Yet here’s a Saudi band that has already released several recordings including four albums. Al Namrood is the band’s name and the album under review, the trio’s fourth, came out early in 2014, demonstrating that this project is alive and certainly kicking!. And kicking – the percussion, that is – is what they do best!

The band’s style is a mix of crunchy melodic black metal, maybe some death metal / thrash influences and native Arab / Oriental musical styles and instrumentation. Generally the beats and rhythms are provided by Western instruments including a drum machine and those instruments that take the place of lead guitar tend to be native Arabian ones. Even the main melodies are of native Arab derivation and the band also employs chords and melodic or riff motifs with quarter-tones that lend a demented air to the general proceedings. Opening track “Estalahat al Harb” is a fine instrumental demonstration of this East-West fusion and its air of surreal, slightly chaotic confusion prepares listeners for what’s to come.

The sound isn’t as crisp as it could be to show off the richness of the sonic layers inherent in the music – I’d love to hear some of the jewelled tones of the oud and more of that resonant hand-drumming – but given the difficult conditions Al Namrood is performing under, the fact that this music even exists is a wonder so some technical imperfections in the recording are to be expected. What the musicians might lack in technical finesse, they more than compensate with energy, enthusiasm (maybe a little too much so: in some songs, the percussion is in danger of being punched right through), the most deliriously demented cartoon melodies and a choir of bloodcurdling guttural voices fighting for space in front of the mikes. The sense of humour these guys have is infectious and boisterous.

Some of the more memorable tracks include the brain-destroying, mind-melting “Youm Yakram al Jaban” and the flowing if more chaotic “Bat Al Thaar Nar Muheja”. “Um Al Qashaam” features the most thunderous beats and blast-beats along with almost laughably cartoony deranged quarter-tone melodies. Each succeeding song is crazier than the one before and I just wonder where and how the guys find the inspiration to think up the most bat-shit insane tunes and rhythms as each song wipes my brain clean of everything it thought it knew. I’m sure the musicians themselves can see the humour present in mashing together the most brutal metal rhythms and beats and Oriental tunes. For their part, Western listeners can experience something of the surrealism that folks in the Middle East have to live with, in societies at once ultra-modern and wealthy, yet still wrestling with an oppressive medieval political culture and the instability in nearby countries like Iraq and Syria.

As it progresses, the madness and the histrionics escalate further and the music threatens to drown under the sheer thunder and the almost-buffoonish melodies, rhythms and beats. Perhaps that chaos is part of what Al Namrood guys intend to say: that they live in an absurd world of unlikely pairings and polarities, and the only way to make sense of it all is to reflect some of that madness back at it.

The journey through the album is very exhausting and I’m not sure that I’d want to repeat it over and over. Maybe I’ll visit once or twice a year. I’d certainly recommend though that everyone who thinks they’re broad-minded about music, and music from the Middle East in particular, should listen to this album at least once.

Contact: Shaytan Productions

The Other Three: noise indie-pop with more kinetic energy and promise than kinetosis

18881284671388128467

Carsick Cars, The Other 3, Maybe Mars, EP CD-R (2014?)

“Carsick Cars” is one of those band names that just seem so obvious and cute that you wonder why no-one ever claimed usage of it over the past 50 or so years of rock and pop before a Chinese indie-pop / noise group came along and made the name its own in 2007. This bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little EP was released (I think) to coincide with CSC’s recent tour of the United States and to accompany a full-length album called “3″, which explains the EP’s title. The EP features five short tracks that may have been singles in the past or are alternate rejigs of songs from previous releases: the first song is performed in Mandarin Chinese but the rest are sung in precisely intoned English.

The band have a very poppy sound which is jangly and which sometimes incorporates a darker, more contemplative mood along with the bounciness. Listening to the EP right through, I’m sometimes reminded of the legendary American new wave act Devo who could be very serious and witty as well as eccentric and fun. While the opening track is definitely sugar and spice and all things nice, subsequent songs showcase what CSC are really capable of: catchy melodic pieces that combine melancholy brooding with an almost defiantly optimistic attitude that no matter how down in the dumps you fall, you’ll eventually get back into the light. “Shelter” is a thoughtful and lengthy song while “15 Minutes Older” is a rough-edged rocking little galloper with buzzy guitars, woozy drone and a dreamy jewel-like jangle ambience. “She Will Wait” tends to be more low-key and gentle than the preceding, and the mood is even more wistful and mesmerising. A psychedelic touch comes with the bewitching lead guitar soloing.

While the music is very good and there is plenty of energy and zest throughout, there is a certain flat quality in the singing and it may be that CSC are still finding their way in singing in English and conveying emotion at the same time. The lyrics seem to be rushed and have a bit of a robotic quality. Apart from this detail, CSC have found a niche in dark jangle noise pop that could take them further into shoegazer and depressive rock pop territory if they’re prepared to take risks with their music.

Contact: Maybe Mars,  Carsick Cars

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

007

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.

013

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.

008

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.