UK DISCUS 55CD (2016)
Meson is the collective name of metaphysical bard Bo Meson and an amorphous glob of hired musical help that usually expands to double figures. Strictly speaking, 5c4l3 or Scale, let’s jettison that numbers resembling letters affectation , comes as Bo’s debut lasering on Discus, as the Echoic Entertainment album (from 2015) was a shared project where Discus m.d. Martin Archer’s arrangements were employed as shifting back projections to the poetic/declamatory actions of the mesonic one.
The accompanying promo sheet shoehorns in ambient, ambidelic (?), free-form and improg as suitably fitting genres for this venture. Though at certain times, it can come down to an ‘all of the above’ and possibly a little bit more. I’d expect nothing less from someone who uses a word for an unstable atomic particle as part of his pseudonym. All of Scale‘s material is of an improvised nature that slumps heavily, eyes crossed, across the deep reverb/kozmik echo generator controls, clutching a P.K. Dick-endorsed blister pack of slow release capsules in its right hand. “We Traffic in Progress” with its classic analogue squeals and talk of quantum particles and the melodica-laced “Dark Matters” come almost on a default setting.
However, it’s not all centred on Copernicus, “G.Z.D.” era Arthur Brown or 90n9 dynamics (sorry!), as certain pieces travel less frequented paths. “Kem-Na Mazda” pitches mystical Jade Warrioresque exoticism against the full-bodied, classically-trained tenor of Wolfgang Seel and “Advances in Destruction by Technology” belies its attractive and serene nature with a doomy crystal ball gaze into a future where the use of artificial intelligence has led to mass unemployment within the professional classes, Could such things really happen? Only that wildly gesticulating figure behind the lectern seems to know…
A Hidden Life And Other Works
BELGIUM TANUKI RECORDS #13 CD (2016)
Back in the late eighties, my discovery of Simon Wickham-Smith was certainly a weirdly circuitous one. The trail began with a rave review of the Lake double set by the mysterioso R!!! and S!!! found in the still sorely missed Forced Exposure zine/kulcha bible. When I homed in on contact details, I did a double take as it showed a Rowlands Castle address, a village which lies three or so miles north of yours truly (!!!). So it took a Boston, U.S.A.-based publication to alert me to something that was freely available for the princely sum of seven quid (!!!), a mere stone’s throw away.
Since then, multiple exclamation marks have lost their novelty value somewhat, but Simon has hit the review sections with the occasional collaboration (mostly with Richard (R!!!) Youngs and comp track appearances on labels such as Pogus and Electroshock. A Hidden Life, initially released in early 2015 as a limited run cassette/download, has now been given a second bite of the apple through the auspices of the Brussels-based Tanuki label. It’s an avant opera, concerning the life and times of the Tibetan Dalai Lama, Number Six: Tshangyang Gyatso. A major interest to Simon, religious themes being a recurring thread throughout his compositions.
It features the strange sprechsang of Joan Stango, readings/narration by French composer Laetitia Sonami, and ‘tapdancer in the sand’/principal wolfman Robert Ashley (no stranger to theatrical and operatic works himself). And it’s his presence as the lama that really lodges in the memory long after the disc has come to its conclusion. Bizarro recollections/visions of six-tusked elephants, zombies, headless men and yeti attacks abound. Backed by steadily percolating/bubbling analogue manipulations, his silkily-voiced ‘ancient of days’ tones could effortlessly sell icecubes to the Innuits or, at the very least, open up the third eye, making this a tantalising visit to a still(?) forbidden zone.
Midaircondo is an unusual duo of players, Lisa Nordström and Lisen Rylander Löve, who seem to have called it a day after 12 years of playing; this record, IV (TWIN SEED RECORDINGS TWINS004), may be one of their final releases. They play a variety of non-standard instruments, including the zither and kalimba, along with their saxophone, bass flute, percussion, and live electronics, both of them pitching their mannered and brittle vocal utterances into the midst of these rather contemplative pieces, which are generally sedate and slow, occupying a vaguely pastoral stretch of turf in a very poised fashion. Some of their works do introduce a more energetic rhythm, such as ‘Higher’ and ‘Veins’, and while the latter might be mistaken for a lost tributary of psychedelic rock, the latter is most certainly a work-a-day poppy-techno piece that’s not quite in my line. ‘Panther’, featuring guest drummer Mika Takehara, may be closer to what they intended when they had the idea of adding beats to their fragile work. For the most part, we have the impression of two orphaned girls who escaped from a cold 1950s nunnery, dressed in stiffly-starched white dresses with collars to hold their necks in a rigid position; under these cramped conditions, they attempt to recite forlorn poems or diary entries from their wretched lives. It’s to the credit of Midaircondo that all of this stuff was completely improvised, and what’s more they did it in front of a live audience (in Gothenburg, in 2013). The duo didn’t make that many records when they were around, but they toured a lot, and did music for TV, theatre, dance and radio. Their stage show used to include video elements, and you can tell from the palpable atmosphere of this album they had a strong dramatic element. Released in 2015.
Yol is a great performer of ugly English noise. His Cordless Drill Faces Separation Anxiety CDR (NO LABEL) was released in 2013. We noted him before with the cassette Neck Vs. Throat Volume 2 released on Fencing Flatworm, where he teamed up with the guitarist Miguel Perez. On Cordless Drill, we have seven short tracks of manic energy where Yol grunts and howls like a half-human pig, aiming to make contact with his feral self. There is also much banging about of tea-tray percussion and makeshift drums, creating an unpleasant rattling which brings the old cliché about “bull in a china shop” to mind.
You want music? Well, on ‘Eco’ he does play a toy chord organ (probably an old 1970s Rosedale) and forms mangled chords to accompany his incoherent spoutings. Plus there’s use of lo-fi and distorted backing tapes on ‘Rain Gutter’ which are strangely evocative. You may even make out some audible English words on ‘Short Horses’ in between the attempts at forced vomiting and strangled gasping, and he yells out these broken phrases in a desperate manner as though his life depended on it. It’s like he was a political prisoner undergoing torture, and trying to save his hide by reciting absurd blank verse to his captors.
For all his efforts at primitivism, there’s evidently a deal of rough-hewn sophistication at work behind the scenes, like a Neanderthal man wandering into a recording studio and gradually teaching himself how to generate musique concrète using a stone axe and leather hides. This Hull fellow has made a couple of records with Filthy Turd, our favourite Yorkshire genius of disgusting and stinky supernatural racket, and the two may share some common ground. Great work Yol.
We have noted Andrew Plummer’s works briefly in the past – the bizarre songs of World Sanguine Report are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, and Plummer cultivates his status as a sort of English Tom Waits / Captain Beefheart sea-faring eccentric type. Another band he plays in is Snack Family, with drummer Tom Greenhalgh and sax player James Allsopp; their Belly EP (LIMITED NOISE LTDNSE5) may not be especially “avant”, but is an extremely visceral and eccentric take on the sort of evil swamp blues we might associate with Dr John, crossed with ingenious off-beat rhythms and deliciously spare playing from the side musicians. On the title track ‘Belly’ you’ll feel like you’re being compelled by a malevolent witch to eat your last meal of poisoned chili beans; you can feel indigestion setting in already, but you can’t stop shovelling food in your mouth. Drew Millward made the cartoony Grand Guignol cover art. Not safe for vegetarians. From 4th March 2014; they made one other EP that year (Pokie Eye).
Last noted Vladislav Delay with his 2012 Kuopio album for Raster-Noton where Jen noted his “nervy beats”…his Espoo EP (RASTER-NOTON R-N 141) experiments further with beats and loops, and intends to set-up maddening cross-rhythms that are had to follow. It’s done with filters, modifiers and echo effects, but the equipment precisely controlled; you can tell on the finished product that there’s not a single digit out of place, in the inhumanly exacting patterns that have been so ruthlessly enacted and executed. Vladislav Delay explicitly intends to create conceptual music, yet he doesn’t want to depart too far from the disco dance hall. These ingenious mesmerising pound-a-thons ought to present quite a challenge to your average hoofer. I like the way he disguises his severe conceptual ideas; the sound of this record, for instance, isn’t too alienating, and indeed ‘Kolari’ has a user-friendly ambient setting that cushions the blows from these steely and devilish beats of high complexity. By front-loading his work with semi-familiar and approachable sounds, perhaps he stands a chance of smuggling his subversive ideas into the mainstream of dance culture. From 3rd July 2012.
Beautiful and transcendent droney-violin and synth sound art thing from Marielle V. Jakobsons and her Glass Canyon (STUDENTS OF DECAY SOD097). For this project, painstakingly created over a number of years between 2009 and 2011, this Oakland artist decided to reduce the process to just violin and synthesizer, mostly to explore the sonorities of “where two timbres meet”. The simplicity of the process conceals a lot of complexity; somehow you can tell there’s a great deal of preparation, forethought and composition that has been fed into each of these gorgeous long-form stretches of sound, and she’s not simply letting her machines run on autopilot. This seems to be the first work released under her own name; the curious listener may wish to investigate her Ore record from 2009, released for Digitalis as Darwinsbitch, and she’s also led the groups Date Palms, Portraits, and Myrmyr. From listening, and from titles such as ‘Purple Sands’ or ‘Dusty Trails’, it’s clear she’s a landscape painter in sound, and her multi-media practices involving art installations would seem to conform this; her intention is to create a “visceral experience of sound and light”. I think ‘Purple Sands’ and ‘Cobalt Waters’ are among the finest pieces here, with incredibly subtle shifts in tone, mostly staying in a very pleasant and beautiful place and allowing us to contemplate it; for a few precious moments on ‘Purple Sands’, there’s one of the most mournful and affecting violin tones I’ve ever heard, like the cry of a bird. ‘Dusty Trails’ has a synth sequencer rhythm and somehow seems a tad more conventional, stylistically tipping its forehead towards Tangerine Dream, but that’s a small quibble when faced with such an original and sumptuous album. From 3rd July 2012.
Romain Perrot is one of our personal TSP favourites. This French madman for years practised an extreme form of noise performance art which he called Harsh Noise Wall, whose main feature was an unvarying flat racket of insufferable feedback in front of which he would appear dressed in a black bin-bag. Despite what you may think, there was much humour and ingenuity behind these statements of pure unremitting nihilism. In recent years, he took an about-turn in his music – strumming an acoustic guitar monotonously instead of twiddling knobs. Then he was experimenting with vocals, beat boxes, and electric guitars. We noted one result in 2014 called ta bouche de fraise me rend si sauvage, credited to Roro Perrot et son héroroïne, and it was a primo example of how he was able to deconstruct the conventional song form and rebuild it in his own intense manner. “Deconstruct” is too clever a word in this context, though. Some might call it more of a savage mauling; it’s as though he was a lion or tiger, ripping apart a hundred Bob Dylan records as if they were so much raw meat.
We received Roro-Mantique (DECIMATION SOCIALE NO NUMBER) on 20 March 2014, and musically it’s pretty much in the same zone as described above. It’s a solo EP where he’s joined by two guest performers. There he is (presumably) on the cover, looking every inch the renegade biker gypsy who failed to get an audition with a Jimi Hendrix Experience covers band. On the inside there’s a family group photo that’s strongly reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa back cover. The EP itself is totally bonkers. On ‘La Cicatrice Blonde’, the manic acoustic guitar strumming creates an absurd background scratchy noise, while there’s also a semi-tasteful harmonium introduction to this parodic love song. The vocals are insane; guest singer Mogui keens out her random phrases in a form of song-speech, aided by an echo chamber which helps the atmosphere of the song. Roro Perrot just grunts and growls like a monster. No verse-chorus nonsense here, nor a tune; it’s totally formless spew that somehow works perfectly. If you’re seeking an underground riposte to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, this blast of absurdity might just fit the bill. ‘Lettre D’Amour’ picks up the “romance” theme, and turns love into a nightmarish experience – two echo-enhanced voices screaming at each other. Totally reduces the idea of “love” to its most primal, basic form; the lovers here could be having a row, experiencing orgasm, or writhing in pain – or all of the above. If you enjoy records by Yoko Ono and Junko and want to hear something even more repellent, prepare for two minutes of vocal hell.
The B-side ‘Expectatives Libidineuses’ dispenses with Mogui’s contributions and we’re back to the basic set-up of Roro heaving out his foul grunts along with the worst guitar playing in the universe. He’s joined by percussionist Yoshihiro Kikuchi, and the song stops and starts for no reason, without once managing to generate an iota of positive energy. A perfect example of what the creator calls “ultra shit folk”, and issued under a title that you’d expect to find next to a Salvador Dali painting. Except that there is very little freedom for the libido in this nasty, constipated, song. Like much of Roro’s non-music, it’s trapped in this self-made circle where there is no possibility of release. I hope I’ve managed to sell you on this fantastic release; Roro Perrot is a true Outsider, and it’s very rare to find such examples of strong, raw music, pressed directly from his heart onto the wax.
Cavern Of Anti-Matter is the current project of Tim Gane from Stereolab, where he plays guitar and electronics supported by Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth and Holger Zapf playing synths, drum machines, and electronic noises. Lawrence Conquest noted their 2103 album Blood-Drums here, as “highly melodic instrumental synth pop of a determinedly retro variety”. Total Availability And The Private Future (PERIPHERAL CONSERVE pH-24) is much in the same mode, two pieces of clever synth pop with added beats. Quite nice. I always feel a tad underwhelmed by this band’s work, perhaps because the name itself Cavern Of Anti-Matter is leading me to expect something with more intellectual heft, or at the very least a bit more cavernous dub echo in the production. Or maybe something from a science fiction fantasy where they produce music so powerful and strange that it can undo the fabric of matter itself. That would be worth hearing. I’m sure Tim Gane knows that story about Tony Visconti’s Eventide Harmonizer used on Low, and probably filed that nugget away in his mental cabinet as a piece of rock mythology. If only they could live up to it. At any rate this music is nowhere near as smarmy and knowing as Stereolab used to be, so that’s progress. The cover art is by Julian House. Some nice design and collage elements going on here, and it could have been as strong as a meeting between Eduardo Paolozzi and Peter Max, but somehow the image loses its nerve and is lost in a welter of bad design. From 31 October 2014.
The duo of Loren Connors & Suzanne Langille appear on the 7-incher Strong & Foolish Heart / Blue Ghost Blues (TANUKI RECORDS #16), which was recorded at a festival in Glasgow in 2013. The alienated guitar music of Connors is something I feel I ought to know more about, and I’ve often bumped into it since there was a surge of interest in his music since the mid-1990s. There was an Ecstatic Yod box set of four CDs that compiled some of his early acoustic work that I’ve often wondered about. We have fared a little better in recent years with the Haunted House records, where Connors and Langille teamed up with others in a tenuous musical situation that could just about be described as a “band”. Their albums for Northern Spy were impressive, including a fairly rockin’ beast called Blue Ghost Blues…but I haven’t compared the 2011 version with the song on this single to confirm if it’s the same song in another form. Matter of fact “form” is never the word that really comes to mind when hearing this duo’s music, as it seemed determined never to materialise into any recognisable shape. Think instead of musical phantoms, ectoplasms, fogs; that might be a better way to consider its value. I will say that on her singing for ‘Strong & Foolish Heart’, Suzanne Langille does pay her respects to the blues idiom with her flattened fifths, but does so in slow motion, like a mannered, awkward and frozen-stiff version of Billie Holiday meeting Ida Cox at the side of some infernal glacier. Meanwhile Connors is producing effects that are more like shimmering, transient aerial phenomena (the Northern Lights, for instance) rather than concrete guitar chords, or anything that might translate back into a basic blues-box. The combination of odd shapes, FX pedals and perhaps the tremolo arm come into play in producing this ethereal sensation. Bleak and chilling material, but wait till you hear the near-apocalyptic wail of ‘Blue Ghost Blues’, where the guitar creeps into the noisier realms with extended, hollow-sounding riffs that induce lasting despair. Langille’s lyric is half-spoken, half-whispered, half-sung…the metaphor of ghosts and haunted houses clearly abides with her as a lasting “motif”, perhaps a way of dealing with ruined relationships, horrible memories, and impossible situations that can’t be resolved. Very good. 250 copies of the record were pressed, the visuals are by Loren and there are three different covers available. From 25th January 2016.
Three singles from Andy Pyne’s Foolproof Projects label from 18 August 2014. We’ve heard full-length recordings by all these acts…Pyne drums on all of them. Map 71 is Lisa Jayne’s poetry rap set to Pyne’s drumming and synth performances. One of the more unusual offerings from this label. Lisa Jayne usually injects a thrill somewhere between repulsion and alienation with her vaguely alarmist tones, and her sharp voice brooks no nonsense. She always sounds like she’s about to be turfed out of a council flat by the bailiffs, and is set to give ‘em Hell in return. It’s often bothered me how, on their records, Map 71 can’t always get the voice and noise and beats to match up harmoniously, but on PRJ033 it’s not too bad. ‘Standing’ works quite well – if you hear it as a competition between the two fighting for air space in the studio. It’s a thick and heavy noise and the vocalist has to resort to the vocal equivalent of shoving and punching her way to the front. On ‘Specimen’, there’s something more secretive and fragile at stake, and she has to whisper it.
Aeolipile is a jazz trio featuring the sax blurt of Jason Williams and impolite bass playing of Tom Roberts. We’ve had Mapping The Diaphragms Of Drowning Cats thrown at us in 2015, a quite good energy burst thing. Today it feels like the formula isn’t quite cohering, and the music they play is neither rock nor jazz, even as it flounders about trying to claim the liveliest chunks they can snarf from both genres for their own use. Williams doesn’t have the articulation or subtlety that would mark him out as a notable jazz player, but if you like abrasive sax textures and rude honking smeared on your morning rolls, then this is the cafe for you. Roberts’ bass is amplified, and he comes across as more of an aspiring Hendrix sideman than a performer on Bitches Brew. Two tunes ‘Glut’ and ‘Paused Pregnancy’ manage to roll forwards like a cart with irregular wheels on PRJ035, but the playing feels disorganised and muddled.
Kellar is the duo of Pyne with guitarist Dan Cross, whose full-length The Even Keel we noted in 2015. Kellar always disappoint me. The combination of FX-ed guitar noise with drumming should be a noise-rock delight, but Dan Cross lacks the stamina and chops to produce anything of value. ‘Sunrise City Flux’ on PRJ034 is a weedy effort, where the FX pedals do nothing to conceal the timid and unadventurous guitar playing, and the duo tread water in a pointless four minutes of tentative dribbling. ‘Exit Via Ocean’ is more acceptable for its chaotic elements and Cross is making a bit more of an effort to push himself over to the wilder side, but they still run out of time before they manage to achieve a healthy ejaculation of noisy spunk. For the real thing, tune in to Rudolph Grey / The Blue Humans, or Ascension.
Impressive free jazz team-up on Wood Moon (JVTLANDT JVT0016 / TOZTIZOK ZOUNDZ TOZ017) – it was a one-off meeting between the Dutch drummer Rogier Smal and the Japanese saxophonist, Ryoko Ono. Ryoko Ono is a new name to me but I’m very impressed by her fluent playing and uncluttered style; she gets on with the job at hand and makes “high energy” music seem like something she could do without breaking into a sweat, executing complex moves with ease. Her press points to her interest in several forms of music outside of jazz, including free improvisation and avant-garde noise, which is the kind of claim made on behalf of many a cultural omnivore these days. But Ryoko Ono, I learn to my advantage, has a history of adding her sax work to LPs by Acid Mothers Temple, and other unusual latterday Jap-psych records, such as releases by Atsushi Tsuyama, the zaniest member of Kawabata Makoto’s ever-changing collective. I’m now intrigued enough to start looking for records by Psyche Bugyou, whose output has strangely enough passed me by. Experimental skittery brush-work drummer Smal is also new to me, but anyone who makes a record with Dylan Carlson and has played alongside Eugene Chadbourne is welcome in this humble abode.
Wood Moon for the most part resembles John Coltrane for me, particularly some of the cuts on 1960’s all-time classic Giant Steps, except that Ono does the overblowing and sax-screaming thing with an incredible perfection – almost too perfect, in places making her performances verge on the synthetic, and I’m amazed at the way she can regain balance with such sangfroid after performing a series of near-impossible acrobatics with her horn. It’s kind of a samey sounding record too, most likely recorded at a single session, but for the presence of Track Four where we hear some of Ryoko’s charming vocalising, which she’s apparently able to do in between puffs on the sax. I’d have gladly paid double for an entire album of this surrealist jibber-jabber, where she appears to be possessed by a friendly Japanese demon. From 30 March 2016.
From 7th March 2016, the latest release by Brighton project Map 71 which is the duo of ranting poet Lisa Jayne with the low-key electropop noise of Andy Pyne. Sado-Technical Exercise (FOOLPROOF PROJECTS PRJ045) is the third release we’ve noted from this pair and their first full-length; I’d say it’s about their most successful outing to date, evidence that the duo have found a successful way to work together without getting in each other’s way.
I have in the past grumbled about the balance of the mix which seemed to privilege Pyne’s pulsations over the voice of Jayne, but there’s plenty of instances here showing they are working hard to overcome this niggling detail. On tracks like ‘4PM IG1’, there’s even a species of dynamism at work; instead of spewing out her text in a non-stop stream that pays no attention to the musical backdrop, Lisa Jayne punctuates it so that her phrases land either side of Pyne’s beat, resulting in an exciting tension. I’m aware that you could probably say the same about any underground rap record released in the wake of Cypress Hill in the 1990s, but it’s always encouraging when musicians find a method – arriving at it intuitively – that works effectively and in their favour. Lisa Jayne is not a rapper of course, more like a punkified story-teller who brings back pained and haunted images of life on the street in her impenetrable symbol-laden free verse. Andy Pyne keeps evolving new and inventive ways to restate the electrop beat thing, leaving more gaps and without having to assault the listener with mindless blasts of airless Techno nonsense.
Other signs of their technical evolution: Lisa Payne is now using echo effect to boost her voice on some tracks, and overdubs on others, whereas before it seemed the plan was give us the unadorned truth of her confrontational vocalising with no studio enhancement (“a woman wearing no makeup”, as I described it previously). These developments are welcome. No enclosed booklet of text and images this time, but Lisa’s bold images of a spider – a frightening image which crops up at least once in the songs here – are used as cover art. The spider and the fly story is a simple motif used here to express darker meanings of entrapment and manipulation in relationships and life. Very good.