Tagged: songs

Keef Mountain (self-titled): a powerful start to a retro-70s doom stoner band’s career

Keef Mountain, self-titled, United States, The Company, THECO-001 CD digipak (2016)

Hard to believe that this is Keef Mountain’s debut album and all the music is the work of just two musicians: this is really massive and powerful, a very confident and self-assured recording with a definite message that celebrates transcendence and the various modes of achieving it. The band manages to be retro-1970s stoner doom in style and sheer heaviness yet the music sounds fresh and up-to-date due to a good balance between a distorted fuzzy guitar sound and a clean production that gives the songs a minimal and spacious quality. The songs are short and straight to the point in their delivery, with strong tough riffing that defines the tracks’ identities. While the singing is shouty, it’s very clear and isn’t overwhelmed by the music.

Opener “Green Wizard” might clock under five minutes but it has three quite distinct parts: a slow instrumental introduction followed by a speedy middle section where the best riffs and singing are bunched together, and a silly finale featuring a spoken-word recording about the worth of taking drugs over organised religion. Fortunately the found sound recording is the only hokey part of the album so if listeners can hang on, they’ll be well rewarded. “Psilocybin Queen” is a better indicator of what listeners can expect: focused songs stressing good solid doom riffing, plenty of jamming and no unnecessary meandering or filler material. If anything, the songs could afford to be a bit longer so listeners can savour the more doomy and abrasive rhythm guitar crunching – some of those riffs are sledgehammer- heavy – or the more spaced-out trippy ambient parts where they exist.

Surprisingly the album’s best moments come after the halfway point when we think the band can’t possibly keep up the standard anymore and we start expecting the inevitable slide into filler-zone territory: “Resin Lung” introduces a light psychedelic or sci-fi influence with treated vocal leading into a frenzy of bass grind riffing. “Hendog” is much slower and sludgier with eerily treated vocals that sound as if their owner was stuck in a space capsule high above Earth; the song later collapses into a series of powerful crashing riffs. “Higher Realms” is a gritty and sometimes darkly brooding resolution of the album’s themes and ideas in just over six compact minutes.

All the songs are good as they are, though they probably could do with more atmosphere than they have, and different atmospheres at that so they are more distinctive from one another. Keef Mountain have a powerful and bass-heavy style that could be even more so if they let fly on longer songs with more instrumental and improvised music. I’d be keen on the duo following up with a longer  album with themes and ideas going beyond dope-smoking and rituals of transcendence – these guys seem more than capable of taking their listeners on long extended journeys through vistas of inner time and space.

From the country and the concrete jungle

st1

Two more cassettes from Staaltape arrived 9th May 2016. It so happens both releases are by women, and very coincidentally the imagery on Rinus Van Alebeek’s collaged decorated envelope (which he customarily includes with every mailout) features the faces of women clipped from his vast stack of old magazines.

Patrizia Oliva has created Numen – Life Of Elitra Lipozi, a most beautiful work clad in a smoky black cover with just a single blue butterfly spray-painted on. The A side, titled ‘Danse Des Fantomes’, is dreamy and evocative and makes me a willing dancing partner of the proposed ghosts and spirits. Voices, loops, and even some vaguely operatic elements are refashioned by Oliva into something personal and strange. She’s playing with magnetic tape like a gifted child sets to work with a box of watercolours. I don’t know why musicians (like Michael Nyman) are drawn to the work of Oliver Sacks (this release includes dedication to that deep thinker). But Oliva may be trying, like Sacks, to map the strange pathways of the brain in her atmospheric and charged music.

The B side ‘A Day Long To’ showcases the “Annette Peacock” mode of this performer…vaguely jazzy free singing she emanates from an indefinable part of her singing apparatus, in an inflected and mannered mode…the lonely avant-ness of Joan La Barbara is notched back two degrees and edged a shade closer to a ghostly portrait of Ella Fitzgerald…by which I mean it’s not clear if she’s singing from her mouth, or her brain-waves. Of course the minimal arrangements that back her up are pretty inspired too, making the most of a studio housed in a matchbox and two rubber bands holding everything together. More tape loops and much dreamy unfinished music drifts into the ether. A nice not-quite-there quality, slightly balmy. Oddly the B-side feels to me like separate songs, where the A side feels like a mini-opera telling a story. Not all that’s here is a song; there’s one very effective piece which is extremely abstract, just repeated patterns, sound effects, and whispered / murmured voices, yet it’s uncanny and highly effective in its dream-like mood sustaining of same. The side ends with a fascinating anecdote about synaesthesia, how it’s possible to see music as colours, and how no two people who have the condition ever agree on what the “right” colour is. Interestingly, the condition was first recorded in medical history by another Dr Sachs, this time a German physician of the 19th century.

In all Patrizia Oliva not only has a singular vision but also a very delicate touch in the creation of her work which is determinedly “non-masculine”, which isn’t to say it’s feminine and decorative, but organised along non-aggressive lines, without the usual male need to follow structure blindly and rush to a contrived ending. “Patrizia lives in the country, surrounded by nature,” write Rinus helpfully. “One lady from the old world”. If that’s true, that’s one old world whose passing we will come to regret. Every commonplace remark made on Twitter hastens the death of these old worlds.

The tape by Valerie Kuehne is of a different order. I couldn’t find a title but it might be called Audiozone #3, part of a series; release is just identified by the two sides, called ‘Ball Side’ and ‘Other Side’. Patrizia Oliva is pleasantly balmy, while Valerie Kuehne is an inspired screwball, in the nicest possible way of course. “Valerie moves in the concrete jungle”, writes Rinus about this American performer. Her songs here feature a kind of demented folk-inflected chanting and yawping, for instance the opener ‘Haul Away Joe’, a sea shanty which requires the artiste to remake herself as a crusty nautical cove on board an 18th century rigger. A grotesque opener. ‘The Graviton’ is better, more of a shamanic free-form wailing trip…like a lost ESP Disk recording from such waywards as Erica Pomerance, much free warbling with plenty of percussion and manic performances from her side musicians. ‘Apocalypse Berliner’ is a spoken word recit which gradually becomes more, erm, impassioned…as she describes some situation which sounds like a grave social injustice, her sarcasm shoots through the top of the thermometer and she becomes positively demented with her passion and commitment to the cause. The sort of loopy radical who might have featured in any 1970 Hollywood hipster road movie made in the wake of Easy Rider. Then there’s ‘Long Long Sleep’, which is like a nightmare parody of Edwardian parlour music with its poised and mannered vocalising which over-stresses certain phonemes in an annoyingly pronounced manner. But you can still sense the underlying nuttiness…her cello work, just now beginning to surface among the chaos on offer, is also certainly highly distinctive and evidence of a wild, peculiar talent.

B side of this weirdie in tape form contains ‘Sunshine in the Sunshine’, which is her freakoid take on the Fifth Dimension pop hit, with emphatic singing, chaotic playing from the guest musicians, her mad cello sawing and her frantic attempts to stir up collaboration among all participants. A glorious mess. You’d hate to have her at your birthday party, unless you love to be embarrassed and mortified. A mostly solo work follows, ‘Architecture at Muchmore’s’, with its cracked all-over-the-show melody, and alarming dynamics which require these abrupt shifts of tempo and sudden bouts of intense delivery. Shocking, crazed. Voice and cello only, I think, were used to realise this insight into the cracks of Kuehne’s brain. After this it might be a piece called ‘Leader Eater’ but it’s getting harder to tell one track from another. Part of what we hear sounds like a confrontational performance-art piece that involves yelling at the audience, and further ingeniously complex songs where it’s a wonder she manages to sustain the difficult long tones which the tunes require. I’m a-warming to this release now…Valerie Kuehne is a very acquired taste, but you don’t get this exceptionally high degree of uncut humanity and honesty captured on tape every day. Ably supported by her side players, which include Natalia Steinbach. Alex Cohen, Hui-Chun Lin, The Columbia Orchestra, Matthew Silver, and others, she saws and sings away. Other releases by Valerie Kuehne include Dream Zoo and Phoenix Goes Crazy, both very obscure low-run CDRs.

The tape itself is a provisional attempt at an “album”. Rinus Van Alebeek made the selections and put it together, but didn’t get much in the way of preferences expressed by the creator, who’s presumably so creatively chaotic in her life that she doesn’t bother with bourgeois things like organisation and planning. So “it is not an album by Valerie; it is an album about her”, is the stated claim, along with an attempt to document the “subculture she is a part of”. This provisional aspect is even reflected in the cover, showing details from a notebook, where the track order and even the titles are subjected to much crossing-out and rethinking. Most intriguingly, the result “leads to a couple of obscure passages into 21st century life somewhere in the US.” What in the name of Condoleezza Rice does that mean?

MacArthur’s Lark

macarthur

Here’s another reissue obscurity from Out-Sider Music, the Spanish offshoot of Guerssen, whose other offshoot Mental Experience brought us the reissues of Circles and Red Square. MacArthur (OSR044) was made by an American band in the late 1970s and described here as a “US basement psych-prog monster”. I understand why these reissue labels feel the need to hype everything they put out, but this is such a mediocre example of 1970s American rock that I find this hyperbole hard to swallow. Apart from some quite good flashes of accomplished lead guitar work, this whole album is an undistinguished piece of work, with lame songs, poor vocals, and a heavy-handed rhythm section.

MacArthur are sold to us as a form of progressive rock or psychedelic rock, but for the most part they resemble a third-rate version of Kansas, Boston, or Foghat. A charitable listener might find consonances between album opener ‘Light Up’ and the early work of Focus (it comes within an ace of turning into ‘Sylvia’), and ‘The Black Forest’ is a Flamenco-tinged instrumental that vaguely suggests sword-and-sorcery themes drawn from the well of Led Zeppelin IV. On ‘Prelude No 1 in C Major’, the guitarist indulges his skill for baroque classical guitar, and ‘The Shock Of The New’ is a showcase for ELP-styled pyrotechnics with speedy acoustic piano licks followed by Euro-prog moog solo excess. But MacArthur’s real passion is for playing power ballads, with unexceptional time signatures and unemotive vocals from the lead singer, and this material is what characterises most of the album. It’s quite some way from being “underground” as I would understand it; it seems more plausible that MacArthur had their sights set on finding their way into the AOR charts and FM radio play. Unfortunate timing for them, given that MTV was just about to dawn, resulting in significant changes to the market and audience they were seeking for their music.

The story of it is that MacArthur recorded the album at home in 1979, on a four-track machine. There are other, less credible, stories that say it was recorded in 1973 and released in 1974, but this is probably just wishful thinking. The creative nexus is songwriter Ben MacArthur and instrumentalist-arranger Bill Heffelfinger, who met in Saginaw in Michigan. Heffelfinger seems to be the main creative powerhouse; he arranged the songs and produced the album, the guitar and keyboard solos are all his, and so are what the press notes describe as “mini-moog analog synth attacks”.

The resulting album was a private-press release, comprising 200 copies (or 500; again, there are conflicting stories about this detail). It appeared in a very plain sleeve; the label is at pains to tell us the lengths they have gone to restore the “embossed letters” which appear on the LP version of this release, sparing no expense to represent the band’s original intention. Before this official release, there was a bootleg version circulating with a rather attractive collage cover, retitled The Black Forest, a release which may well have been the source of the wrong dates and other misinformation. Even that bootleg is rare, which persuades me that there are some vinyl collectors who will chase after anything provided it’s obscure enough, regardless of the quality of the music. Guerrsen and Out-Sider have been “reissuing rare and obscure psychedelic, progressive, folk and garage albums from the 60s to early 80s” now since 2010, arguably picking up the torch from other dubious labels who do likewise, such as Akarma, Radioactive Records, and Phoenix.

MacArthur is a very mixed bag and extremely uneven album which I can’t recommend, except as an odd period piece. From 16th April 2016.

Everything’s Going Jackanory

dsc_0001

English pastoral moods, themes, and whimsy on The Quietened Village: Dawn Edition (AUDIOLOGICAL TRANSMISSIONS ARTIFACT #2), an 11-track compilation of contemporary artistes from the micro-label A Year In The Country. They present the work in two different editions, a Night edition and a Dawn edition, but the audio content is the same, just the packaging varies (the Night edition arrives in a box). Everything is hand-made, textured papers are favoured, and little chunks of ephemera including a small badge and a stringed tag are attached. I like the care and attention in the packaging, which is described in extensive detail on the label website, but I find the actual imagery is severely impoverished; the cover, which looks like it might have started life as a nice bit of photo-collage work, is printed in such a light grey that it seems to be fading away before our eyes.

This is probably the whole point, however. The project is setting out to produce a “reflection” on lost villages of England. We are invited to muse upon matters of coastal erosion (village has fallen into the sea), villages no longer featured on maps, or cases where populations are evicted and when they come back it’s all changed. As to that last one, the paragraph that describes it is clearly referring to Imber, yet doesn’t name it explicitly, resorting instead to flowery phrases like “great conflicts between nations”. Imber was indeed evacuated during the second World War and never recovered from its careless treatment at the hands of the MOD; another record, oddly enough made by the Norwegian guitar duo kÖök, covered similar ground, and is noted here. They drew very pessimistic conclusions.

dsc_0003

This vagueness (I suppose they would prefer to call it “allusiveness”) on the part of A Year In The Country is evidenced throughout the album. Only two tracks here actually dare to name an abandoned village; there’s ‘The Drowning Of Mardale Green’, referring to a place in the Lake District that was submerged underwater due to a reservoir blunder by Manchester Corporation; and ‘Lost Villages of Holderness’, referring to parts of the East Riding in Yorkshire that were lost to erosion. I discount David Colohan’s reference to the Mitta Mitta, as this is a small town in Australia, and doesn’t seem to fit the overall theme of Englishness. Evidently, the music on The Quietened Village prefers to evoke, rather than to deal with specifics of geography or history; and likes to mix reality with imagination, fictions and myths, as demonstrated by the press release with its reference to The Midwich Cuckoos, and “dystopic tales told and transmitted in times gone by” – a sentence which, while lyrical, would not have earned its author a pass mark in CSE History.

The music itself, mostly instrumental, is pleasant enough. If the musicians share any common ground, I’d say it’s that they are trying to trigger memories and associations in the listener, and doing so mostly by pastiche and quotation. In this, they are not far apart from their nearest rival, the well-established Ghost Box label with its loving recreations of a fictional England refracted through memories of incidental music on BBC television emerging in some undefined period between the Suez crisis and the joining of the European common market. Two cuts which to my ears most closely resemble the Ghost Box “style” (admittedly a very broad church) are ‘Playground Ritual’ by Polypores, and ‘47 Days And Fathoms Deep’ by A Year In The Country. The latter is a pleasant folk-y tune presented with slightly treated sounds, and it fades away sadly into the sound effect of the blowing winds. to illustrate the passing of a lost village. The former has a clunky synth tune acting in quite an agitated manner, with richly evocative sounds; I like its slightly dark undercurrent, the vague creeping noise approaching, which may be taken to stand for encroaching modernity threatening the old ways.

dsc_0004

From here it’s a stone-throw to some good old Radiophonic Workshop quotes; our good friends Howlround have made a career from quoting BBC music in clever and well-informed ways, and their ‘Flying Over a Glassed Wedge’ does not disappoint, reminding us of incidental music for Dr Who episodes that never existed. ‘Day Blink’ by Time Attendant, is likewise of a sci-fi bent, using distortion and unusual synth sounds punctuated by random beats. Time Attendant is a great name, but sadly time-keeping is not in their skill-set. Like much of the work on this compilation, it’s an attractive but poorly-composed piece, lacking form or direction or a satisfactory conclusion. Cosmic Neighbourhood’s ‘Bunk Beds’ is likewise littered with quirky electronic sounds, in a nonsensical confection that ends the comp on a note of whimsical fun.

The Rowan Amber Mill have made more of an effort to compose and arrange music; their ‘Separations’ reminds me of a Dolly Collins arrangement from Love Death and The Lady, lean and spare, and given the context that’s not a bad association to have. 1 The Soulless Party have their ‘Damnatorum’, a pleasing tune rendered in a sort of minimal romantic classical style. Only the synthetic string keyboards let this one down slightly. ‘Damnatorum’ is a strong title too, and let’s not forget the film made of The Midwich Cuckoos was called Village of the Damned. Another track with classical leanings is Richard Moult’s ‘Quopeveil’, where the piano and oboe produce a very tasty and unusual combination, even if the melody is very uncertain and comes out haltingly. It feels a bit precious, strained; as if striving to be mistaken for a British Light Music classic.

dsc_0007

David Colohan’s ‘At the Confluence of the Mitta Mitta & Murray’ relies almost entirely on a “nostalgic” ambient drone to achieve its effects; it’s in the same general area as Sproatly Smith and their ‘Lost Villages of Holderness’, a piece which makes extensive use of sound effects such as ocean waves, seagulls, wind, etc. It feels a bit glib, but the juxtaposition of these recordings with the nostalgic music works well. The second half of the piece shifts dramatically to a “modern” folk song, sung in a charmless style.

For other musicians who have tried to capture the charms of the United Kingdom’s imaginary past, see Hidden Rivers (i.e. Huw Roberts) who idealised the Welsh countryside on Where Moss Grows; Nigel Samways, at a stretch, with his Nuclear Beach and Temple of the Swine; and Jon Brooks, with his 52 for the label Clay Pipe Music. From 6th April 2016.

  1. Somehow I expected a few more explicit references to English folk music. Maybe it’s because the title reminded me of The Imagined Village, which is a hyper-critical book by Georgina Boyes, amounting to a direct attack on the person and work of folk song collector Cecil Sharp. Boyes wanted to disabuse us of any notion we might harbour that folk music is “ancient” or produced by unlearned rustics; she aimed to debunk myths. The phrase “The Imagined Village” was then lifted by Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Sound System and applied to his multi-cultural music project. Allez savoir pourquoi.

Cats On Window Sills

a1914084265_10

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

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

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

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

Long Overdue Part 16

western-front

Dial are a reliably excellent underground US band, featuring the talents of Jacqui Ham from Ut. They’re not terribly prolific though, and the last item we enjoyed was their superb album 168k released in 2007. From November 2012, we have Western Front (EKTRO-084) issued by the Finnish label Ektro Records, their fourth release. Besides vocalist and guitarist Ham, there’s Rob Smith from God adding guitar and drum programming, and Dominic Weeks from Furious Pig and Het. I think one of their virtues and well-demonstrated on this release is their very basic approach in the studio – most of these songs are done by the simplest of means, a combination of drum machine, vocals, and synth or guitar. The assembly of the music seems to take precedence over any conventions of song-writing; we often have the feeling they’re building the songs building-block fashion right there in the recording room. This gives every song a tremendous directness, a clarity of intent; the songs comes charging out fully-armed, fully-loaded, ready to mow down all like an armoured tank. The press note here gives the impression the band flit about between the US and France, and make records when and where they can in guerilla fashion, a method which seems very plausible. Extremely inventive and edgy music, building on ideas of No Wave and post-punk, laced with additions of 1990s-styled table noise, lo-fi techniques, and taut, Can-styled rhythmic loops. Recommended!

Long Overdue Part 7

belly

We have noted Andrew Plummer’s works briefly in the past – the bizarre songs of World Sanguine Report are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, and Plummer cultivates his status as a sort of English Tom Waits / Captain Beefheart sea-faring eccentric type. Another band he plays in is Snack Family, with drummer Tom Greenhalgh and sax player James Allsopp; their Belly EP (LIMITED NOISE LTDNSE5) may not be especially “avant”, but is an extremely visceral and eccentric take on the sort of evil swamp blues we might associate with Dr John, crossed with ingenious off-beat rhythms and deliciously spare playing from the side musicians. On the title track ‘Belly’ you’ll feel like you’re being compelled by a malevolent witch to eat your last meal of poisoned chili beans; you can feel indigestion setting in already, but you can’t stop shovelling food in your mouth. Drew Millward made the cartoony Grand Guignol cover art. Not safe for vegetarians. From 4th March 2014; they made one other EP that year (Pokie Eye).

r-n141_vinyl_02_960x640

Last noted Vladislav Delay with his 2012 Kuopio album for Raster-Noton where Jen noted his “nervy beats”…his Espoo EP (RASTER-NOTON R-N 141) experiments further with beats and loops, and intends to set-up maddening cross-rhythms that are had to follow. It’s done with filters, modifiers and echo effects, but the equipment precisely controlled; you can tell on the finished product that there’s not a single digit out of place, in the inhumanly exacting patterns that have been so ruthlessly enacted and executed. Vladislav Delay explicitly intends to create conceptual music, yet he doesn’t want to depart too far from the disco dance hall. These ingenious mesmerising pound-a-thons ought to present quite a challenge to your average hoofer. I like the way he disguises his severe conceptual ideas; the sound of this record, for instance, isn’t too alienating, and indeed ‘Kolari’ has a user-friendly ambient setting that cushions the blows from these steely and devilish beats of high complexity. By front-loading his work with semi-familiar and approachable sounds, perhaps he stands a chance of smuggling his subversive ideas into the mainstream of dance culture. From 3rd July 2012.

marielle

Beautiful and transcendent droney-violin and synth sound art thing from Marielle V. Jakobsons and her Glass Canyon (STUDENTS OF DECAY SOD097). For this project, painstakingly created over a number of years between 2009 and 2011, this Oakland artist decided to reduce the process to just violin and synthesizer, mostly to explore the sonorities of “where two timbres meet”. The simplicity of the process conceals a lot of complexity; somehow you can tell there’s a great deal of preparation, forethought and composition that has been fed into each of these gorgeous long-form stretches of sound, and she’s not simply letting her machines run on autopilot. This seems to be the first work released under her own name; the curious listener may wish to investigate her Ore record from 2009, released for Digitalis as Darwinsbitch, and she’s also led the groups Date Palms, Portraits, and Myrmyr. From listening, and from titles such as ‘Purple Sands’ or ‘Dusty Trails’, it’s clear she’s a landscape painter in sound, and her multi-media practices involving art installations would seem to conform this; her intention is to create a “visceral experience of sound and light”. I think ‘Purple Sands’ and ‘Cobalt Waters’ are among the finest pieces here, with incredibly subtle shifts in tone, mostly staying in a very pleasant and beautiful place and allowing us to contemplate it; for a few precious moments on ‘Purple Sands’, there’s one of the most mournful and affecting violin tones I’ve ever heard, like the cry of a bird. ‘Dusty Trails’ has a synth sequencer rhythm and somehow seems a tad more conventional, stylistically tipping its forehead towards Tangerine Dream, but that’s a small quibble when faced with such an original and sumptuous album. From 3rd July 2012.

Long Overdue Part 5

glowickajpg

We have heard from Katarina Glowicka (also called Kasia Glowicka) on Red Sun, a 2013 release from Bôłt Records, where she composed piano music for Malgorzata Walentynowicz. Here she is again with Seven Sonnets (DUX 1194 / ARTEK SOUNDS ART003 / BÔŁT RECORDS BR1028), which is her settings for sonnets by William Shakespeare, here given a “modern interpretation”. It’s a boring and slow set, and the listener must work hard to discern any sense to these over-extended tunes with their lengthy held tones and subtle variations. There are songs of a sort. The singer is counter-tenor Arnon Zlotnik, an Israeli-born opera singer who hits the correct notes, but sounds strangely distant and uninvolved, as if he’s passing time in an airport terminal. Considering the sonnets here are all about young love, I’d hope for a little more passion and enthusiasm in the delivery. No such luck. The Rubens Quartet are a string quartet playing Glowicka’s arrangements, which are enhanced with electronic music interventions from the composer. The plan is match the patterns in the string sections with these “electronic counterpoints”. Whatever the intention, it’s done nothing to improve the dynamics of these torpid drones.

All of the above is supposed to build on the music of Renaissance composer John Dowland in some way. Well, this hubris cuts no ice with me; few composers have come close to matching Dowland’s gifts for compression and emotional tautness, and Glowicka fails singularly. Downland always matched the content of the libretto to the music in meaningful ways; the tune, and the way it was played, would illustrate the text in a sympathetic fashion, the two streams of content locked together like a dovetail joint, always delivering a strong emotional charge. This kind of applied songcraft is beyond the capabilities of Glowicka, which is one reason why we end up with this severe emotional disconnect; neither the singer, nor the players, nor Glowicka herself, apparently have the slightest idea what the sonnets are about. With this disconnect, what results is an empty work, devoid of meaning. A modernist statement of intellectual coldness, for the generation that’s become so ironic that it’s forgotten the meaning of everything. Released in 2015.

Funny Aminals

sep2016090

Here’s the latest release from Tetrix, the oddball Canadian pop-experimenters from Calgary. Recent releases have been vehicles for radio plays, where the band would splice their warpoid pop songs into a sustained narrative complete with sound effects, characters, and unexpected payoffs, almost creating a mini-movie for the ears. With this new Cat-Headed item, which may be called Tetrix 14, the band write to say “we’ve returned to the basics…just music, no radio play”. Accordingly here are 18 songs segued together in a loose suite, and it’s a very satisfying listen. No annoying “wacky” cartoon voices getting in the way and it’s possible to concentrate more on the music.

Tetrix can’t help parodying and pastiching, and on this occasion we hear quasi-psychedelic songs, electropop, acoustic ballads just dripping with too much fake echo, cod-reggae, rap, and their white-bread idea of how to do R&B / soul songs…it can come across as contrived and synthetic, and this is no doubt why Tetrix are perceived to be insincere pranksters, but if you draw this conclusion too hastily you will miss out on some finely crafted pieces of work. They are skilled musicians, and know how to construct a song using old-fashioned craft; under the plastic surface of the over-cooked studio effects, there is real passion and emotion in the singing, and many of these pieces are genuinely affecting.

Tetrix have a facility which many would envy; perhaps it goes too far, and they find it so easy to construct a song that they have to set themselves the additional challenge of doing it in a different style every time, just to keep themselves fresh. I know that Frank Zappa would discipline (some would call it “bullying”) his touring bands to the point that they had not only learned all the material by heart, they could play the same tunes in a half-dozen different tempos and styles, all based on the finger-pointings of the musical director. Natch, this being Zappa, said musical styles were often heavily parodic and full of audible sneers, especially when he and the band attempted to play in a “reggae” style. Without knowing the musicians in Tetrix personally, I would like to think they’re not pursuing the same agenda as that Grand Cynic.

If you like melody, songcraft, songs and tunes – all given a strange twist by a very curious and unusual approach to studio production – then permit me to recommend this album. As usual with this band, they have opted for a zany shaped cover for a limited edition CD. “The cover is a three colour silkscreen (yours glows in the dark),” states the accompanying letter. “It comes in 35 colour combos!” From 26 April 2016.

Christ Clad in White Phosphorus: not just another tour-de-force album by Caïna

Caïna, Christ Clad in White Phosphorus, Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings, digipak CD APW011 (2016)

Since reforming in 2012, Caïna continues to do no wrong from this listener’s viewpoint as it evolves from Andrew Curtis-Bicknell’s solo project  to a three-member band and the music shifting from black metal / post-BM to a black metal mixed with industrial, dark ambient, noise electronics and 80s-styled darkwave / synth-pop influences. In my little world at least, every new album release from Caïna is an event not to be missed.  Listening to Caïna’s recordings isn’t easy and most of them can be very hard-going, and not just because they can be long or because they can be so unpredictable. There is much emotional pain revealed that can resonate with dark moments in most people’s lives and a listener would have to be either dead, comatose or sociopathic not to be affected by moments in Caïna’s albums to the point of tears.

From the hellish industrial nightmare ambience created by opener “Oildrenched and Geartorn” through intense raw garage black metal filled with rage and a desire to destroy everything within hearing range in tracks like “Fumes of God” and “Entartete Kunst”; doomier and darker melodic pop-song tracks like “Gazing on the Quantum Megalith” and “God’s Tongue as an Ashtray”; the noise / dark ambient soundscapes of “The Throat of the World” … the sonic universe that arises is incredibly vast and varied yet it all crackles with energy and a malevolent spirit. If anything, there might be too much going on here (for a 53-minute album) with Caïna jumping from one style of music to another through songs that are often just 4 – 6 minutes which may not be enough time for many listeners to fully savour the sounds, the emotions, the fury and intensity of one song before they are hurled into another.

Just when you think Caïna has gone past the halfway mark and can do no more, the band goes to another level with pieces like the fusion dark ambient / jazz of “Pillars of Salt” and the harsh blizzard 90s-Norwegian styled black metal of “The Promise of Youth”. These send us to the unreal blinding-white dazzle ambient world of static and white sizzle noise that is “Extraordinary Grace”. Have we all died and gone to Heaven to meet our maker and hear the judgement to be pronounced upon us? In an album already jam-packed with experimentation and investigations into angst and melancholy, this near-psychedelic track, lasting for 12 minutes, is an astounding discovery, the proverbial diamond in a heap of black coal. This quartet of songs ends with the title track which with clean vocals, shrill guitar melodies and pulsing synth accompaniment, sounds like a noisy black metal reworking of a 1980s Goth synth-pop song.

For a band that at one point in its past almost did away with black metal completely, Caïna commit themselves to the black art with the force and aggression that comes from being fully invigorated with the music again. Perhaps bringing on board guest vocalists on previous album “Settler of Unseen Snares” and a permanent vocalist and another musician has inspired AC-B anew. Caïna’s sound is fuller, more blood-red raw and intense than I remember from earlier recordings.

Coupled with excellent production, this album presents a reborn Caïna that is at once experimental and at the same time surprisingly accessible with songs possessed of catchy tunes and beats, all arranged in a way that shorter, more conventionally oriented BM tracks (well, relatively speaking of course – we’re talking about an act whose work has always spanned several genres) come first before the more surreal pieces. It can be a lot to take in and several songs are very uncompromising in their aggression and intense delivery. This is an album that repays repeated hearings: with each spin, you may find your darkest fears and vulnerabilities exposed anew.

At this point, if Caïna never do anything else again, the band will be leaving behind a legacy of great if not always perfect albums. I rate Caïna among Britain’s greatest rock music exports, and that is really saying something even now with so much British pop and rock music in apparent decline.