Tagged: songs

Dreamskills in the Star Clinic

Another splendid package of unusual and sumptuously-decorated releases from Eric Kinny and his Santé Loisirs label in Belgium…first is a blue seven-inch flexi disc from CE Schneider Topical & The Lentils. CE Schneider Topical is another New England weird-folk duo (we’re anticipating writing about a full-length album of theirs quite soon) comprising Christine Schneider and Zach Phillips, the latter being the head of OSR Tapes and a troubadour who has come our way before as one half of Blanche Blanche Blanche. On Four Different Hells (SL05) they turn in four immaculate acoustic pop songs with odd melodies and minimal instrumental arrangements, occasionally dropping in sweet vocal harmonies that are like an East Coast take on Brian Wilson at his most spaced-out and psychotropically damaged. We still see the lingering after-effects of those Smile bootlegs leaking into the culture…these miniaturist enigmas in song form last barely a minute or two before they disappear into the air, like the sighting of an odd dragonfly in the middle of an enchanted glade, and leave the impression of a Red Krayola fragment or even Young Marble Giants sung in American accents. Not entirely sure what The Lentils contribute here, but they seem to be the vision of songwriter Luke Csehak, come from Los Angeles and are also well represented on Feeding Tube vinyl editions. A charming little gem that sparkles for less than ten minutes… “you may spot Zach Phillips’ abusive use of musical informations.” writes Eric in an enclosed note, “but this time he only has the length of a 7” to express himself.” Christine Schneider did the cover design, executed here by the gift of woodblock printing.

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The other item is a cassette tape featuring the solo clarinet of Joachim Badenhorst. His Kitakata (SL04) includes 15 peculiar instrumentals that are both forlorn and mysterious, ringing out across the place in Japan – I think it’s the “Star Clinic” – where they were recorded. “The atmosphere was so special, it made me play like I hadn’t before”, is all the creator can tell us about an evidently highly personal experience. But his music communicates it in a very deep fashion. To add to the atmosphere, the tape includes certain interludes and field recordings, documenting simple and gentle sounds such as a water fountain, bird song, and people talking quietly. Hard to say why but it increases the overall beauty of this release 100-fold. The artwork is printed on very thin newsprint, again a woodblock creation, a very bold combination of hand-written text with a grungy half-tone photograph, which further emphasises the very human nature of this statement. Badenhorst is an important latter-day Belgian improviser and jazz musician, and we’ve encountered his work twice this year – once with Dan Peck on The Salt Of Deformation (co-released on his own Klein label), and again with Pascal Niggenkemper on the exceptional record Talking Trash. Beyond that, I can only urge you to try and seek out this touchingly beautiful and intimate personal musical statement.

Both the above from 9th June 2016. We last received items from Eric’s micro-label in 2015, see this page. I see now I’ve missed SL03, which was the cassette release by Les Dauphins Et La Science…boo hoo!

Amateur Chromatics

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

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

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

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

Lover’s Paranoia

The Sexphonie album by Tyll (MENTAL EXPERIENCE MENT004) is a welcome reissue of a very obscure 1975 Krautrock album, originally released on the small German label Kerston Records. The guitarist Det Fonfara, who performed as Teflon Fonfara, was approached by label boss Fred Kersten to put together a record, most likely to cash in on the “popularity” (ahem) of Krautrock at the time. After all, Kerston had just put out a compilation record called Proton 1, featuring a bunch of fourth-division nobodies from the German prog and fusion areas – Nexus, Penicillin, Zyma, and Andorra. Fonfara designed the cover to that particular canard.

Fonfara’s response to the commission appears to have been to assemble a pick-up crew and rush them into the studio in short order – much the same way, perhaps, as Polydor Records had hoped to create the German equivalent to The Beatles when they approached Uwe Nettelbeck. Instead, they got Faust – but that’s another story. Fonfara had connections with Eulenspygel at the time, so he poached the drummer Günter Klinger and brought in some muso-friends of Eulenspygel as well. Tyll were thus a studio band who only made this one record, and what’s more the project was completed in a matter of weeks. The other members were bassist Achim Bosch, who later played on the Mongoloid album by German New Wave band Ernst, and vocalist Michael Scherf, who has vanished from view since.

Matter of fact, there’s at least three singers on Sexphonie, including Susanne and Ulrike Schemmp, and their performance really lifts up the song ‘Paranoia Eines Verliebten’, turning it into a species of post-hippy Bubblegum Pop, laced with edgy singing, a riotous “party” atmosphere and a strong beat that Phil Spector would have loved. The multiple vocalist thing also works well on ‘Delirium-Song Grammophon’; the words may all be in German, but I can’t help feeling this bunch are preaching heavily about something. This may be why other experts have compared Tyll to the more explicitly political agit-group, Floh De Cologne.

The remainder of the album is great too though, Essentially it’s a basic rock trio set-up with guitar instrumentals and very string drumming, with melodies that occasionally trigger associations of non-Western music, and highly syncopated time signatures. Fonfara may not be an exceptionally inventive guitarist, but he’s not excessive or self-indulgent; his taut and compacted work on ‘Tim’ is impressive, to say nothing of the ingenious studio-concocted freakout that appears unexpectedly in the middle of that song. ‘Nervenzusammenbruch Einer Gitarrre’ is another gem of power-trio looseness and facility that rivals early Guru Guru…‘Asiatische Liebeserklaring’ is more explicitly Indian in its references, the guitar sounding like a sitar, and pasted thickly with hippy dreams of exotic travels and bricks of hashish.

If I am right about my speculative notion that Sexphonie was intended as a quickie cash-in attempt by Fred Kersten, it has ironically turned into something which fans of the genre (and 70s guitar music in general) can now truly appreciate and savour. This may account for why originals of the LP command a £300 price tag. If you’re thinking of investigating the label for further buried treasure, I wouldn’t bother – it appears Kerston Records mostly released 7-inches of Schlager and German Pop. From 3rd June 2016.

Necessary Monsters

The American duo of Hollow Deck turn in a peculiar album of songs and sounds with their Hobson’s Choice (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR239 / WEIRD EAR RECORDS WER-011), recorded in Massachusetts. Mia Friedman and Andy Allen are Hollow Deck. Allen has also appeared as Friendship Ceremonies, and is associated with other New England free noise acts, such as Guerilla Toss and Arkm Foam; both players also appeared in Survivors Breakfast, playing on a big-band jazz project of some sort by Anthony Coleman called The End Of Summer.

The present record might be described as a later strain of the “free folk” genre, admittedly a highly loose and contentious definition, but Hollow Deck’s approach is extremely fragmented and off-centred. Friedman will perform a song with the banjo and her angelic soprano voice, but the singing is extremely tentative, the melody purposefully kept vague, the lyrics are unintelligible, and the performance arrives very haltingly. I suppose it’s “folk” in as much as it’s acoustic music, and she plays a banjo, but beyond that I can’t connect the music to any known Appalachian roots, for instance; and genuine American folk singers of the 1930s, full-throated belters such as Darby and Tarlton, Grayson and Whitter, or Charley Poole, would probably be baffled as to why Mia Friedman is so hesitant about delivering her message.

Andy Allen’s contributions shift Hobson’s Choice down an even more avant-garde pathway, and he uses woodwinds, percussion, guitars, electronics and found tapes to create free-noise backdrops which are delicate, imaginative, and in places quite unexpected. On ‘Hurrah’, he uses a drum machine and some electronic pwoops to do all he can to disrupt the expected flow of Mia’s song; it’s like a mashup between Karen Dalton and Erikm. The duo also work together on more extended free-form noise scapes, such as ‘Montana Lite’ or ‘Here Is My Home’, where the emphasis is on generating something as alien as possible, but through simple under-stated means instead of “freaking out” like Egg, Eggs might do. As such, the record reminds me very much of the first two Red Krayola records, veering from delicate songcraft to bizarrely unstructured free sounds. There’s a concerted effort to derail common sense, blind-side the listener.

Some of the songs – or the same titles at any rate – appeared previously on a cassette of the same name from Friendship Tapes in 2014. This, from 8th April 2016.

But Not This Chevrolet

Here’s Garagen Aurora (STAUBGOLD 143), the second album by Telebossa, whose debut we heard in 2011. The core duo is the Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Mello joined by the German pianist Nicholas Bussmann, and the purpose of Telebossa is to combine traditional Brazilian bossa nova styles with contemporary music. While it’s intriguing, I continue to find this proposal an uneasy mix, and at times the duo appear to be pulling a song in two different directions at once. This may be part of the plan. Where Mello is sentimental and romantic, Bussman is a forthright non-nonsense go-ahead modernist, as reflected in his no-frills piano style (the use of Winfried Ritsch’s “robot piano” is especially strident). Where Mello croons and reflects on life’s tragedies in a gentle counter-tenor voice, almost conversational in its laid-backness, Bussmann hammers home each phrase with the grim cynicism of a realist, as if to say “told you so” every five minutes. The Ensemble Aventure of woodwind players add colour and tone to this bare-bones album, with its extremely spare arrangements; amazingly, someone also managed to persuade Van Dyke Parks to score a woodwind arrangement on ‘Nao So’, adding his typically sprightly show-tune bounce to this otherwise down-beat album for five precious minutes. Arrived 3rd May 2016.

Conference of the Birds

Maurice Louca
Salute The Parrot
UK NAWA RECORDINGS NAWA002CD CD (2014)

I recently heeded the Economist’s warning us of “New Arab Awakening Coming” and in light (and darkness) of recent tragedies in Syria, the headline could, sadly, be read in more than one way. Of more favourable portent however, the middle-eastern music scene is now wide awake; its doors of perception pried open by the mercurial Maurice Louca. Opening with a title like ‘The Golden Age’, Salute The Parrot fulfills the headline’s potential optimism: this pounding 4/4 anthem, charged with a fireworks display of keyboard arpeggios and more feather-fingered improvisation, proclaims the current state of chaos as the Best of All Possible Worlds; an marked determination that Louca and co see through to the (less than) bitter end: one piece of polished, party pop perfection after another; so long as we’re talking about a party at the end of the world.

Louca’s polarity-inverting wizardry first came to our attention owing to his involvement in the pan-Arabic ‘supergroup’ Alif earlier this year: his ‘space-inducing’ textures adding dizzying depth to the group’s Arabic flavoured psych-rock overtones, though it’s group affiliation made difficult by the fact that the members all live in different countries. In the meantime he has recorded and toured with Alan Bishop and Sam Shalaabi as The Dwarfs of East Agouza (both of whom do spot work here, incidentally) alongside numerous other signs of his ill-disposition towards sleep.

Salute The Parrot sees Louca running a tighter ship; an autocrat’s whip-hand shaping his musical cohort’s output into something far more focused than any of his more democratic liaisons: eight songs running at just under 40 minutes with levels of action and detail that really push one’s attention through its paces, even after countless listens. Grounded in the Egyptian shaabi style, they are, broadly speaking, distinguished by heavy dance rhythms that shelter strata of intricate hand drum patterns, accompanied by bursts of anthemic poetry and blurs of microtonal syncopation: a proto-nuclear mass of ornamented protest song exploding with the joys and frustrations of street-level Egypt, and the confrontational energy it deals with.

Keeping with its policy of social democracy, there is space here for those with and without attention span, which is to say you can take or leave the social politics or the visual statements about media appropriation of images and simply enjoy the music. Indeed, were popular culture still not so obsessed with preserving mediocrity, Salute the Parrot would be a true pop album of the people. At the same time, it’s not unlike the more occidentally oriented musical melange of the Secret Chiefs 3 – who share top shelf musicianship and the idiosyncratic syncretism of innumerable ideas and influences. One senses beneath all of the clamour and energy a philosophical stance that demands nothing less than a broad musical palette such as this, yet while imposing so little obligation on the listener. Not for nothing then is this album not titled Salute The Magpie: its expansive, multi-coloured hue is as natural a wonder as an iridescent plumage, at the seams with seamlessly blended stylistic motifs that effectively reject the insatiable cravings of vain and wanton eclecticism.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.