Tagged: vinyl

Press Play Stop Eject

Working in the 1980s, A. K. Klosowski produced music and noise with his largely hand-operated methods of pressing buttons and depressing keys to get playback from a bank of eight Walkman cassette tape players. He also used a drum machine and some effects. “Intuitive and spontaneous control” are the operative words for this practice.

He hooked up with Kurt Dahle, a member of the Dusseldorf synth band Der Plan, a record appeared in 1985 called Hometaping Is Killing Music (Dahle appeared under his Pyrolator name). I never heard it, but the present LP A. K. Klosowski Plays The Kassetteninstrument (GAGARIN RECORDS gr2035) predates that session, and is done solo.

Reading about it may be more interesting than hearing it; it’s certainly a great way of working, and while the album contains an entertaining and inventive set of tunes, it doesn’t go much beyond a primitive sampling set-up with added noise and beats. A.K. doesn’t push it far enough; or the set-up itself is limited. Klosowski manipulates his device, and his sounds, like modelling clay. It results in lovely imperfections, rough edges, things not matching, which I like. I never liked that school of thought that spent ages crafting a “perfect” loop or sampled beat, an approach which kills spontaneity.

Other writers have picked up on the theme that this represents an early pre-digital approach to sampling, and invoked Cabaret Voltaire and The Art Of Noise. I like this better than Cabaret Voltaire (who were too arty, and trying to tell us something) and The Art Of Noise (who were too synthetic, too layered with intellectual pretensions.) Klosowski has a directness – his noise is noise – and it may start with tapes, but doesn’t end there. His actions are imprinted instantly onto the record without studio “diddling” before and after. It may even be closer to the “art” end of early sampling, for instance Steve Reich.

Not every track here is “abrasive disco”. ‘Lamento’ is a very nice use of strange loops, mostly voices and strings, and not too far away from Canaxis (‘Boat Woman Song’). And ‘R H 2’ is as close as he comes to producing chaotic industrial noise.

Let’s not forget cassette tapes are at the heart of this inventive noise. Label owner Felix Kubin doubtless approves; his love-affair with the cassette tape was wittily and passionately expressed on his Chromodioxgedächtnis box set, which we noted in 2015.

From 31st August 2016.

Diabolical Insight

Continuing their mission to bring us the finest in far-out and eccentric obscure music, and then press it on vinyl, Feeding Tube Records bring us the work of Teddy Fire and Iguid Fidd on the LP Chastity Revolution And The Submachine Girl (FTR 245 / P&R-LP-004). The music, originally recorded in the mid-1990s, was made by the DJ and record-collector Pablo Yglesias and featured his teenage brother Teddy on vocals; they did it using a home recording studio and oodles of attitude and wild imagination. Supporting them are the band Iguid Fidd, including pro musicians such as the guitarist Bond Bergland from Factrix, plus Miki Navazio, Fritz Fox, and Phil ‘Nordit’ Scher. But it’s safe to say that Pablo Cuba and Teddy Fire are the stars of this particular wayward entertainment.

Cuban-American Pablo is an expert in Latin and funk music, and is also a writer and historian besides being a musician. Latin and funk aren’t quite in my line (although I do frequently indulge my taste for Funkadelic), but I can groove on the sheer weirdness and vitality of Chastity Revolution. The vocals of Teddy Fire hit me first…abrasive and mean on opening track ‘Howlin’ Ham’, I soon learned to love his endearing semi-innocent manner of vocalising, and even the press notes invite comparisons with Jad Fair. He raps in a fetching non-professional manner, by which I mean he’s not trying to sound like a million other 1990s hip-hop rap artistes, nor engaged in a competition to pack as many words as possible per square inch into the vinyl. There’s something about his delivery I can’t shake off; he walks a knife-edge between insouciant cool and impassioned pleading as he struts his way through these surreal raps.

Speaking of which…as a feat of writing alone, the verbiage on this release ought to be nominated for some sort of special prize for warped street poetry. No wonder a printed lyric sheet has been included. T. Wulff and P. Yglesias have written some memorable mind-curlers, each one a compelling comic-strip vision of bizarre proportions, and people by such madcap characters as Harry Comatose, the Jello Girl, and Frank The Lima Bean Boy. I’m wondering if these raps began life as comics, or drawings. “Why don’t you say the rest?” “Well, I can’t, it’s a drawing, but I’ll try.” That’s from ‘Electrical Smile’, one of my favourites on the album, which comes close to creating a snapshot of a film noir nightmare that even surpasses Tom Waits.

There’s a lot of guitars on this album, along with the beats and distorted production, which may be because of the number of guitarists in the band (assuming they’re not all part of a hoax). I’m no expert but that is some funky, greasy guitar work. The press notes point out the way a track can shift from psychedelic freak music to R’n’B without batting an eye, which is true, but I’d like to add rockabilly to that mix, even if it’s inappropriate to do so. It’s all that reverb, you see. What an oddity…and a delight. The record is a joint release with Peace & Rhythm, Pablo Cuba’s vinyl label. From 17 May 2016.

Totally Masked Out

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

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

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

Drei, He Said

At first glance, the European trio Bader Motor may appear to be offering us nothing more than a very knowing take on Krautrock records, with their obvious quotes from Kraftwerk and Neu! LPs, and probably other Germanic references too. However, I’ll forgive any project which has Fred Bigot as a member, considering my fondness for his solo records where he mixes electronic noise with rockabilly in a highly enjoyable manner. not to mention the unusual Melt Famas record with its over-amped guitars and drums. Bader Motor are Bigot with Arnaud Maguet and Vincent Epplay – the latter played with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech – and the three have appeared together before on Musique Pour Les Plantes Des Dieux in 2009. This record, Drei drei drei (VEALS & GEEKS VAGO17 / LES DISQUES EN ROTIN REUNIS LDRR #056), not only has the clever Krautrock pastiches assembled by these French wags, but also offers their slightly sardonic version of electropop, disco, and general Euro-murk – the sort of banal aural wallpaper that might blight your continental tour at any point between the airport, the shopping mall and the cafe. This may be what the threesome have in mind when they speak of “a new class of space [rock] and Riviera Krautrock”. Riviera Krautrock?! What does that even mean? I can’t think of anything worse than experimental music recast as another consumer / lifestyle option for the “Riviera set”, those rich buffoons wearing expensive sunglasses and swimsuits, if indeed such a thing even exists any more outside of 1960s travelogue movies, but I’m prepared to believe Bader Motor are up to something vaguely subversive and sarcastic. As it turns out, this LP is an enjoyable listen with its edgy mix of user-friendly beats and melodic drones combined with odd, queasy noises, rough textures, and outpourings of filtered glorp. From 12th August 2016; available as an LP or download.

Jemh and the Holograms

Jemh Circs
Jemh Circs
GERMANY CELLULE 75 CELL-1 LP (2016)

Jemh Circs is the latest alias of Marc Richter, the producer also known as Black to Comm. For this project, Richter has gone poking about in YouTube and Spotify with his special record-producing scissors, snipping out countless vocal samples from contemporary pop songs and stitching them all together in nine brightly-coloured, glittering patchwork quilts of pop/drone/ambience.

The overall effect is quite remarkable. Each track is like a hologram of pop music itself, a tiny part that reflects the whole. You almost feel that you could open them out and re-create entire popular music cultures. We’ll be grateful for that when the next solar storm fries all of our hard drives.

Opening track ‘Comp’ sets the pace, a blend of autotuned spirit voices, alien transmissions and sentient machine chatter that, somehow, still sounds like pop music. ‘Ordre’ takes it further, the invisible choir ascending in pitch across static bursts and bleached-out beats that nibble away at the edge of your awareness. ‘Va’ sends a kosmische synth fragment through a series of bizarre mutations, whilst ‘Arbre’ provides another synth figure that you might think you’ve heard before, somewhere. Possibly in a dream you had after a heavy night at a Cinderella Rockefella’s disco in 1984.

All of the tracks, incidentally, have these terse, one-word titles. It seems to be a bit of a thing these days, and I kind of like the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it feel they provide. I very much like what Richter has created here. Seek it out, dive in and enjoy.

Mules Of The Sea

Last heard from Ted Lee, one of the luminaries behind the Feeding Tube Records label, in October 2016 with his bizarre solo record made as No Sod. I’m still trying to come to terms with that spontaneous explosion of free noise and art music, but while I’m trying I have this new LP Dream Away Lodge (FTR269) by Donkey No No to assuage my wounds and soothe my brow. On it, Ted Lee supplies percussion by bowing his cymbals, while joined by two mostly-acoustic players – the guitarist Omeed Goodarzi and the violinist Jen Gelineau. Omeed Goodarzi has been associated with Midi & The Modern Dance and Ivan Ooze, while Gelineau from Holyoke in MA has performed on a large number of records by Egg, Eggs, the sprawling and prolific New England free noise combo.

Dream Away Lodge is quite a different proposition to the far-out No Sod record, and indeed in places it’s quite tasteful and introspective, where No Sod is brash and outspoken. A melancholic tone permeates both sides of this continual low-key rippling drone music, recorded at a place called Dream Away Lodge in Massachusetts in 2015, and for some reason it casts the impression of being recorded in near-darkness or by candlelight. Omeed Goodarzi’s acoustic guitar work is probably the most conventional element in the trio, and for a few seconds on side A we could almost be hearing an acoustic Led Zeppelin bootleg. He provides most of the structure and form to the A side, his simple chord shapes and figures forming a prop for the other two to drape their solos and noises. I like Gelineau’s tone and her sound, and she finally has a chance to shine (Egg, Eggs sessions seem to be just a free-for-all wrestling match) with her playing; her chilling music greets you like the icy stare from the Victorian portrait of a long-dead ancestor. Her echo effect on the B side is delicious, contributing a vaguely “kosmische” vibe to the music; Tangerine Dream music played on violins instead of mellotrons.

As for Lee, his metallic shimmers are positively restrained, adding just the right degree of improvised noise to these semi-melodic fugues. The team cohere well on these two sides, and even if the music seems to go for longer than it should, this is part of the improv-only deal in this context – you have to take everything or nothing. When Donkey No No get themselves into a good space, they pretty much stay there for 15-20 mins. Since 2015, they’ve already released 11 other recordings, mostly in tiny editions on cassette or acetates. The cover, screenprinted by Neil Burke from a photo by Lauri McNamara, is quite a strong point; it’s printed in just the right shade of “mellow brown” to match the music, reminding me of the Fairfield Parlour cover (or perhaps the 1971 LP by Master’s Apprentices on Regal Zonophone). I don’t know much about the donkey in the picture, except it’s made of metal and joins them on their performances and presumably gave the band their name. From 27 June 2016, limited to 100 copies.

I’ll Be Your Mirror

Hello New York (OSR TAPES OSR60) is the “American” album, I suppose, by Maher Shalal Hash Baz, that highly eccentric Japanese band led by Tori Kudo that continues to baffle listeners across the globe. I think they may have caused a flurry of interest in the UK around 2000, when Stephen Pastel started to put out some of their records on his Geographic label, but copies of these never reached us. Matter of fact we don’t seem to have been graced with their music since 2009, when we heard the bizarre double CD C’est La Dernière Chanson which was recorded with the help of some local French players. It comprised over 200 songs, a fact I mention just to remind you of one of the many quirks of the Maher Shalal Hash Baz approach to playing and recording songs.

The tradition of “working with the locals” appears to continue on Hello New York, as he’s joined by some American players including Christina Schneider and Zach Phillips from CE Schneider Topical (Zach is also the owner of OSR Tapes), and clarinet player Arrington de Dionyso who has amazed us in the past with his wild solo records and with the group Old Time Relijun. How did Tori Kudo feel about playing in New York? “One of my dreams has come true,” he states on his modest sleeve note here, worried about whether his voice carried well when he said “hello New York”. Did he say it to an audience? These are live recordings, in case you were wondering, but done in a studio in Brooklyn. Packed crowd of eager fans at Madison Square Garden next time, let’s hope.

I can see why civilians struggle to listen to the music of Maher Shalal Hash Baz; clearly it sounds as though it’s being played “badly”, and when writing about it I always reach for the metaphor of a school band attempting to do easy-listening music. But it’s done this way deliberately, and the odd arrangements are what gives the music its character. Even so this particular record might be a way in for many listeners, as it’s got something of a rock vibe; for one thing, they set out to cover a Velvet Underground song (‘Sweet Jane’, rendered here as ‘Dulce Juana’), and at least half of the tunes resemble VU songs and jams that never existed. This may be because of the large number of guitar players who are credited on the sessions – eight in all, including Kudo. But it’s also endearing and exciting to hear the band attempt even the simplest rock syncopation in their rhythms, only for it to come out extremely clunky, with the percussion, xylophone and clarinets soon revealing their shortcomings when it comes to playing streetwise rock, or even gentle loping Indie-rock rhythms. This may be one of the things Pastel found so appealing in the first place. It certainly grows on you.

Playing ‘Sweet Jane’ is Kudo’s way of greeting New York, by paying homage to that most New Yorkian of rock bands. It’s clear he not only loves the band, but he’s taken every one of their recordings to heart in a way that shames even the most dedicated VU collector-nutcase; his rendition of ‘Sweet Jane’ is not only accurate and complete, but also a radical remake; it reveals unexpected nuances and meanings in the song. The song is echoed, I would claim, by a song which proceeds it on side one, called ‘Haarp’, which is dominated by Schneider and Phillips performing the sort of snappy off-colour repartee which Lou Reed would normally have carried out by himself, playing all the parts in his dramas of seedy low-life.

Kudo’s other way of greeting New York is to have played some John Cage music, apparently. Good move, given Cage’s position as some sort of patriarch of the New York school. I don’t know if this high experimentalism of Kudo shows up on the grooves. We do have some of his characteristically odd compositions, such as ‘Banksy’, scored for woodwind and percussion – less than a minute of deliciously perplexing gentle notes arrayed according to a weird logic. It’s not easy to summarise this elusive music, but one key characteristic is “brevity” – short tunes that end as soon as they begin, leaving many question marks at the end, although the longer workouts such as ‘Miss You My Baby Doll’ and ‘That’s All I Would Get’ tip the balance in the opposite direction, making their one simple point over and over again. Another key characteristic is “everything playing at once”, by which I mean no solos and no single instrument is especially highlighted. Great polyphony. Yet it coheres, and we can hear everyone clearly in a delicious jumble of music. One sense it takes some discipline and talent to be able to keep this many musicians under control without producing a horrible noise. There is an anecdote about Phil Spector and his enormous studio bands…which I’ll save for another time.

This endearing record feels more “chaotic” (in a good way) than the few Maher Shalal Hash Baz recordings I have heard, so perhaps Tori Kudo picked up some of the “energy” of New York that everyone talks about. It’s reflected to some degree in the back cover photos of the sessions, created by Christina Schneider, brilliantly collaging and overlaying her own images. A riot of colour, instruments and stands everywhere; almost like a dream in miniature of the Arkestra. Kramer (of Shimmy Disc fame) did the mastering, and the LP is 53 minutes long! From 19 May 2016.

30th January update: many thanks to Ed Walsh, who points out this cover is a pastiche of a 1973 LP by Silverhead.

6th March update: many thanks to Zach for pointing out it’s Christina & Arrington doing the vocal back-&-forth on “Haarp”.

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.

Deflation Hymns

Strange record of electronica by Bromp Treb in the form of Concession Themes (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 243)…Bromp Treb is a solo act named Neil Young Cloaca, who has been releasing music under this name since 2002, sometimes on his own label Yeay! Cassettes; his Loop Rotator Pool from 2010 contains no fewer than 77 tracks, which may be an indicator of something. Cloaca favours home-made and broken lo-fi sounds, producing everything with tapes, synths, samplers, and mics, and passing most of the results through cheap distortion techniques. He certainly doesn’t lack for a sense of fun, as can be readily gleaned from the cartoony cover art and insert, and the jolly titles such as ‘Pennies from The Back Of Displeasure’ or ‘Pest Promenade’, the latter of which would have made an excellent theme for a 1930s Silly Symphony animation. The press notes for this release invite us to consider Bromp Treb’s work as a form of dance music, but one that subverts the norms and stereotypes of the genre; “what if…you threw all those beats and tempos at the ceiling and then just let the pieces fall wherever?” is the rhetorical question posed by Angela Sawyer. Concession Themes is presumably the answer. Quite good fun and vaguely unusual sounds, and throwing pieces in the air is always a good working method, but this LP is thin on substance and extremely wanting in production depth; each track is more like a doodle than a finished work. Many of the generated sounds, which Sawyer politely describes as “whimsical”, strike me as just plain nonsensical. From 17 May 2016.

Age Of Enlightenment

Image sourced from http://fangbomb.com

Imaginary Forces last came our way in March 2016 with the unsettling and implied violence of Corner Crew, a record he made for the Sleep Codes label. With the Visitation EP (FANG BOMB FB026), we’re back on the shadowy ground which we know and love him for ever since his 2013 Begotten cassette for the same label, and here are four tracks of grim and slow avant-techno laced with diabolical repetitions, mercilessly loud and heavy bass thumps, and joyless beats that are intent on propelling the listener down a slow but sure slide into oblivion.

London player Anthoney Hart projects a low profile in his music and image, a strategy which I admire heartily, and every release seems to be an attempt to undermine our collective certainties, using stealth and invisible means…each beat is a hammer blow delivered with the surgical skill of a geologist prising loose a keystone from a pyramid of power…the temples of the Establishment are sure to topple, but not before our masked hero has long made good his escape under cover of night. The A side contains ‘Preternatural’ and ‘Enlightenment’, both hugely effective pulsation and throb experiences that can sap the vitality from a hundred civil servants in just ten minutes.

The B side includes the unusual ‘(A Drift)’, a version of a Closed Circuits track which is even more skeletal and bare-bones in its arrangement (if that’s conceivable), where the beat is unprocessed and raw, arriving like the knocking of a hammer on an empty wooden crate (or coffin). Chris Page intones a dark and defiant lyric in a resigned tone of world-weariness, while around him strange minimal electronic tones dart about like small birds.

To complete the package and its tone of strange despairing symbolism, we have the excellent cover art: a troubling image of a man with a head split in two, blood trickling down his nose, yet wearing an impassive and calmly accepting expression. His striped shirt and jacket might almost mark him out as a businessman or other enemy of society. The half-tone printing employed on this monochrome image adds to the weird mood; you certainly wouldn’t welcome a “visitation” from this menacing apparition with his grey, clay-like features. From 19 May 2016.