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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last heard from duo FvRTvR in 2012 with their Gobi Wow record (noted here), and their new vinyl utterance Following Shapes To The Edge Of A Drift (DISCOMBOBULATE BOB009) shows the team of Fritz Welch and Guido Henneböhl are still working their unique furrow of disconnected percussive and electronic noise. As Fritz Welch projects go, I tend to find this one preferable to With Lumps, his side project with Neil Davidson which produces music bordering on the unlistenable, in the best possible way of course. At least FvRTvR sound like they’re having some fun, or a good whole-hearted discussion over a brew or two, rather than contemplating the general deterioration of the universe with crestfallen expressions.
Not a single moment on this white vinyl pressing flies by that isn’t filled with unexpected pleasures, and unpredictable aural swoop attacks – particularly from Henneböhl, the German half of the act, who is evidently more kestrel than man, using oscillators for wings. Welch’s task, which he engages with manfully, involves a certain amount of heft and sweat, and is more akin to punching rivets into the side of a hull than conventional “music” as, say, Les Percussions De Strasbourg would define it. A restless and slightly angrified mood abounds for duration of this spiky and turgid album, and you should start to feel itchy and active after just ten mins of spinnage.
The cover art conveys precisely the right degree of sleaze, mystery, and surrealism in equal measures. There is something quite surreal about most of Fritz Welch’s music, as though he seems determined to remould everything we think we understand about life, then tear it apart with his kneading hands, pressing it all together into a large gobbet of insanity. From 7 April 2016.
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.
Ants, eh…you can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em…at any rate, it’s always these six-legged bastards who show up in pseudo-scientific articles when some nincompoop author is clutching for a metaphor for human society. Perhaps it’s because we suppose these tiny black rogues have organised themselves into a hierarchical system, one with a monarch at its centre, and capable of productive activity on an industrial scale we puny humans can only dream about. Then there’s their elaborate communication system, which involves flopping their pathetic antennae about in some way, to relay signals throughout the entire colony. It’s only a matter of time before some smart alec compares that to “The Internet” and starts to make outlandish claims, for instance that “Ants Invented The World Wide Web” or some such nonsense.
I for one have never trusted the ant, and regard these crawling devils with the same suspicious eye as I do most of the smaller creatures who share the earth with us. They’re up to something, and I don’t like it. One interesting trend for many years has been the cultivation of a so-called “ant farm”, which I believe involves creating a mini-colony of these unpleasant monsters inside a glass box filled with sand or porous earth, allowing us to observe the ants plotting their nefarious schemes. These ant farms have proven especially popular among American school children, who proudly exhibit them as “science projects” when they wish to earn points in entomology. The truth is far more sinister, of course…any given ant farm is just a way of proving the inevitability of capitalism, perpetuating the exploitation of labour, and the “need” for a caste system that keeps us all oppressed; and where better to indoctrinate children with this poisonous ideology than at secondary school. It’s all there, in among the ants.
Some of my justifiable paranoia and bile has, I like to think, informed the record we have in front of us – titled Ant Farm (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR241) and credited to the players Elliott Schwartz and Big Blood. It’s a slightly creepy and weird slab of sound art and music, not without its frequently beautiful moments, but mostly issued as a warning against the rise of the ants. The music was originally the soundtrack for an art exhibit, also called Ant Farm, an event which was held in Maine to showcase the work of The Ant Girls, a visual art group including Colleen Kinsella and Dorothy Schwartz. Right there you’ve got a strong thread of “ant-ness” detectable in the genesis of this particular record. I shouldn’t be surprised if The Ant Girls knew more than they were letting on.
Colleen Kinsella is also one half of Big Blood, along with Caleb Mulkerin, and they’ve been making records since 2006, many of them issued as CDRs on their own Don’t Trust The Ruin label. Weirdly, they’re actually a four-piece but only have two members. They probably came under the influence of the ants to arrive at that point. Elliott Schwartz is a veteran American composer whose modernistic (I assume) escapades date back to the 1960s, although he also made a remarkable record with Marion Brown called Soundways, issued in 1973 by the Bowdoin College Music Press. It’s remarkable for its combination of electronic keyboard music with free jazz sax blowing, a combination which always works for me. Schwartz has no traceable connection to the world of ants, and is just guesting.
The Ant Farm record will draw you in at first by dint of its unusual sound – lo-fi, crackly, misted-up recordings as if heard through a layer of aural fog. From these gentle rumbles and purrs, there will emerge strange tunes and eerie keyboard fugues, some of them played on gamelan instruments such as the Baliphone, or other hammered instruments like the Dulcimer. There’s more atmospheric home-brew electronics than you could fit in a shopping bag, and Schwartz plays his heart out when called upon, offering near-classical tunes of intricate delicacy, many of which have a narrative vibe very fitted to telling the stories of these darn ants. For instance, ‘The Queen’s Egg’ or ‘Winged Pile’ or ‘Swarm’. All of these uncanny musical elements – plus some occasional whispery breathy songs on side two – are blended into a seamless suite of gentle, vaguely sinister music of a supreme oddness, leading the listener through that evil maze-like warren that is the tunnel system of the ants. To top it all off, it’s packaged in some gorgeous sleeve art and inners, featuring paintings of – guess what! – ants at work. These images are uncredited on the release but are possibly provided by one of the Ant Girls. Great! From 17 May 2016.