Archive for November, 2009
Finland’s Sasu Ripatti – aka Vladislav Delay – is the real deal: an electronic music artist with an instantly recognizable signature sound, who is also unafraid to do his thing in a wide range of forms and contexts. Aside from his solo abstract electronica work, Ripatti flirts with vocal house music and pop under the guide of Luomo, explores the limits of language in collaboration with his missus AGF and plays scrap-metal percussion in The Moritz Von Oswald Trio.
On Tummaa, that instantly recognizable signature sound is… erm… instantly recognizable – a fidgety but immersive pile-up of clattering noises and mellow synth chords. Here though, the sound is set into one of those wide-ranging contexts Ripatti loves to explore. Tummaa features conventional “live” instruments more prominently than any previous Vladislav Delay release – including electric and acoustic piano from Massive Attack string arranger Craig Armstrong.
At first, you might find yourself wondering why that new age jazz combo won’t shut up and let you listen to the new Vladislav Delay album. But it starts to make sense once you get used to Ripatti’s sparser-than-usual electronics making room for the smooth sounds (which wouldn’t be too out of place on the ECM label – some parts sound like Jan Garbarek has been replaced by a malfunctioning android). There’s an aesthetic contrast here that is inherently intriguing. More than that, Tummaa reminds us that Ripatti started out as a jazz/improv drummer and makes sense of the structure underlying previous Vladislav Delay releases.
Leave it to an artist from Finland to come up with the perfect soundtrack for these long late-autumn nights. The songs below should be enough to convince you to buy Tummaa from Insound.
An astonishing mix from Kevin Martin and company, via FACT magazine, featuring tunes from their wonderful debut album plus tracks by Lovejoys, Burial, Jacob Miller, Gregory Isaacs, Sade, Rhythm & Sound, Larry Heard, Vincent Gallo, A.R. Kane, Scritti Politti, Japan, Kevin Shields, Oval, Thomas Koner and My Bloody Valentine. Go and get it right away!
Oh and then there’s this…
Local politics is a ghastly, sordid business, discussion of which would not normally be permitted within the ivy-covered walls of this here blog. Unfortunately, the City of Vancouver is an even-more-than-usually wretched hive of scum and villainy. The City needs money to pay for its stupid, boring Olympics and it is determined to decimate the cultural life of your community in order to get what it needs.
Please sign this petition to save Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. Note that the conservatory is not a mere relic – it is, in fact, a living, breathing part of Vancouver’s finest neighbourhood.
And now, to get that bad taste out of your mouth, here’s a little punk rock.
The Kompakt label seems to have a limitless supply of nominally left-field but fundamentally lightweight electronic dance music. Over the years, the label has touched upon everything from house, techno and electro to ambient and even glam rock. The vast majority of its output exists in some rose-tinted hinterland between fluffy and downright irritating. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that Kompakt was founded by Wolfgang Voigt – he of the monumental Gas project.
In many ways Axel Wilner – aka The Field – is a very typical Kompakt artist. His epic minimal techno constructions gush cascades of sugar-water samples over bouncy, up-tempo tech-house grooves. The tunes on his much-loved debut album From Here We Go Sublime are exceptionally formulaic – each track modulating insistently between two equally heady chords until pop-ambient nirvana is achieved.
So, what marks The Field out from the Kompakt pack? Why is Wilner so much more critically acclaimed, so much more popular and – frankly – so much better than most of his peers? In a word: intensity. If Wilner was not so utterly dedicated to his aesthetic and mission, his tracks would fall flat, like so many here-today-gone-tomorrow Kompakt 12″s. Instead, the effects of his music are positively ecstatic – a cynicism-destroying flood of good vibes.
Wilner doesn’t depart much from the standard Field formula on Yesterday & Today but he does renew his commitment to flirting with disaster. Each of this album’s minor innovations could have resulted in utter calamity. Instead they’ve resulted in one of 2009’s most consistently satisfying long-players.
Doing a full vocals-and-all cover of The Korgis’ soft-pop chestnut “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” is objectively a terrible idea. But Wilner’s realisation is utterly ingenious – as intense as anything he’s done but in a new slow-burning tempo. Elsewhere, he brings in (shudder) live musicians – including John Stanier, drummer with Warp-signed avant rockers Battles. On tracks like the predictably epic but surprisingly mid-tempo closer “Sequenced”, Stanier confounds expectations (or prejudices, at least), managing to build up a level of organic momentum that Tony Allen himself would be proud of.
To top it all off, Yesterday & Today come housed in a lovely matte gatefold sleeve, which includes the vinyl and CD versions of the album. You can have it all when you buy it from Insound.
Black to Comm is the brainchild of one Marc Richter – not to be confused with eclecticist composer Max Richter. This Richter is also the fellow behind Hamburg’s excellent Dekorder label, which has put out releases by a number of very notable experimental/electronic artists including Stephan Mathieu and Xela – aka Type label boss John Twells. Alphabet 1968 sees Twells returning the favour, releasing Richter’s latest opus on vinyl and CD.
Suspicions that this is just another fly-by-night experimental music release should be put aside. Alphabet 1968 has already garnered praise from prominent music critics not normally known for an interest in digital electronica – notably, Mark K-Punk and Sasha Frere-Jones.
This is understandable as Alphabet 1968 is an instantly captivating album, which gives the immediate impression of being more dramatically structured than the vast majority of abstract electronica. Richter is clearly a master of creating sonic dioramas in which sample loops revolve slowly, casting strange reflections off each other.
The nine sonic miniatures and single long-form piece on this album form an extremely satisfying whole. Nothing feels randomly patched together or purposeless – everything arrives at a certain time and behaves a certain way for a very specific reason.
Overall, the mood this fastidious approach creates is rather menacing. But Alphabet 1968 is not a generically “dark” piece of work. There’s no excess of murky reverb or low-end sludge to cheapen the mood here. The sound is rich, full and crystal clear. And tracks like “Traum GmbH” are hardly lacking in simple melodic or harmonic beauty.
While this album is very much in a world of its own, comparisons are still reasonably easy to make. The single long piece is an obvious tribute to Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project, right down to the title – “Forst”. Elsewhere, the creaking loops of Colleen and the hauntological juxtapositions of The Focus Group are conjured.
Type Records puts out a lot of decent stuff but this is something else altogether. Like As Good as Gone by Nudge, Alphabet 1968 is an unassuming record that – in it’s own quiet way – has the makings of a future classic. You are strongly advised to be an early adopter and buy it at Insound.
Since My Bloody Valentine reformed a couple of years back, there’s been a considerable upsurge in the number of MBV bootlegs circulating in various digital and analogue formats. This has been exacerbated by a number of factors – much of MBV’s back catalogue remains out of print, promised re-issues are endlessly delayed and the band seems willing to let high-quality recordings of every live show circulate freely.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of all this grey market activity has been the emergence of four previously unheard demo recordings – possibly abandoned songs from the Glider sessions. The authenticity of these recordings has been called into question but if they’re fakes, they’re extremely nuanced ones (unlike the track “Explosive” which purported to be an MBV demo a couple of years back).
In any case, they’re great tunes that bridge the musical gap between Isn’t Anything and Glider. The best of the bunch is “Kevin Song”, which manages to prolong a nonchalant sonic swoon for the entirety of its three-and-three-quarter minutes. “Kevin Song” is also probably the most suspicious of the newly emerged demos. After all, if you’d written a song this good, wouldn’t you have finished recording it properly? Maybe we can’t hold Kevin Shields to such standards of reasonable human behaviour.
Real or fake, the demos have been circulating on various home-made “outtakes and rarities”-type compilations. For the most part, these comps have done a good job of making familiar rarities (“Sugar”, the Isn’t Anything bonus 7″, the post-Loveless cover versions) available in 320k MP3 format. Aside from the demos, the only really unforeseen item to have emerged from this rarity-swapping frenzy has been the full 10-minute version of “Glider”.
You’d be forgiven for getting the urge to hear some of this stuff on vinyl. A few years ago, the idea of listening to these kinds of MBV rarities on wax would have seemed pretty far-fetched. But given all the vinyl bootlegs that have been appearing recently, who knows?
The most welcome of these vinyl bootlegs must be Things Left Behind, which previously appeared as a CD, collecting the pre-Creation E.P.s Geek, The New Record by My Bloody Valentine, Sunny Sundae Smile and Strawberry Wine. The new vinyl version unfortunately does not include the Strawberry Wine E.P. (which apparently features a version of its title track different from the one which appeared on the more widely available compilation Ecstasy & Wine). The vinyl also ditches the CD’s already rather chintzy cover design for a low-grade recreation of the You Made Me Realise sleeve.
Luckily, far more care and attention has been put into the audio quality of this release. Indeed, the Things Left Behind LP presents early MBV material in astonishingly high-quality audio, on nice thick vinyl – a real boon to those of us who only previously had access to vinyl rips in sub-128k MP3 format.
Perhaps it’s silly to quibble over what form these E.P.s are delivered in, as they hardly represent the band’s best work. Nevertheless, Sunny Sundae Smile, in particular, is really quite charming. What’s more, this compilation presents the only viable way to get that E.P. and The New Record by… on vinyl, without paying $150 each for the originals.
So, will there be a vinyl album of demos and out-takes? Stranger things have happened. Or perhaps another common CD bootleg will find its way onto wax – the legendary Loom: Live in Vancouver. If nothing else, that would be a treat for MBV’s Vancouverite fans (in lieu of the band actually coming to play here again).
As previously implied, Loom is just one of many, many live MBV recordings one might find floating around online. A particularly entertaining example is Live at Dingwalls 1988. This is a fairly astonishing recording, in which Kevin goes on a series of rants against the venue’s negligent sound-men – even urging the audience to “smash the place up” at one point.
As a recording of an actual My Bloody Valentine show, it’s a mixed bag. The audio fidelity is extremely poor and the “apocalypse” section of “You Made Me Realise” is severely truncated to make way for another rant. But it does capture the band at an important transitional faze, mixing pre-Creation tunes with classic era material and concluding with a storming nine-minute version of “Clair”.
(*The image at the top of this post was found by doing a Google image search for “Kevin Shields angry”.)
To get what remains of the record-buying public heated up for the release of Sonic Youth’s most recent LP, Matador Records allowed an MP3 collage of song snippets to circulate online, prior to the album’s release. As a sneaky marketing ploy, this was probably pretty effective – said collage made The Eternal seem rather more exciting than it actually turned out to be.
The “Trailer” that Warp unleashed to presage the release of Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age was – by contrast – a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole. On this collaboration, hauntological overlord Julian House – aka The Focus Group – chops, splices and reconfigures a set of new recording by Birmingham post-rockers Broadcast. Consequently, the whole album sounds like a collage of snippets.
The most obvious point of reference here is Faust’s classic The Faust Tapes – in the way that House repeatedly cuts between churning industrial chaos and pastoral folk-pop. Broadcast’s more song-based fragments, meanwhile, are strongly redolent of early electronic rockers like The United States of America and White Noise.
But this album is much more than just retro – it’s retro-futurist. Broadcast – the duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill – has long been at the forefront of UK post-rock’s retro-futurist wing (along with fellow Brummie’s Pram). Keenan and Cargill began as rather pallid Stereolab imitators (for what it’s worth, House has designed sleeves for both Broadcast and the ‘Lab) but they’ve really started to assert themselves on recent releases. This album immediately feels like the best thing they’ve ever been involved with.
Maybe it’s a case of right place, right time. House and his Ghost Box label really seem to have captured something of the zeitgeist – almost single-handedly defining the fusty, radiophonic aesthetic of hauntology. Keenan and Cargill have been ploughing a similar furrow for some time. Clearly, the time was ripe for this particular harmonic convergence.
Maybe a little too ripe, you might argue. The title of the album is so generically hauntological that it borders on self parody. You might even be forgiven for thinking that it’s a foreshadowing of the moment when hauntology will finally disappear up its own Ghost Box.
But damn if Investigate Witch Cults doesn’t just work. For all the weird jump cuts and uncanny juxtapositions, nothing here seems contrived. It overwhelmingly feels like the work of driven artists sincerely doing their respective things, just when such things are needed the most. This, in other words, is the stuff classic albums are made of.
Apparently, the vinyl is a strictly limited edition. If you see one, buy it.
Each Richard Youngs album seems to be guided by a particular set of rules or limitations. On Autumn Response, for instance, Youngs used hard disc editing to create a digital equivalent of the olde English round. Similarly, Under Stellar Stream is based around vocal repetition but instead of weaving dreamily overlapping patterns, it concentrates on stark, mantric insistence.
Things start unassumingly enough with the gorgeous “Broke Up by Night” but by track two (“All Day Monday and Tuesday”), the album’s overarching concept has become clear. Youngs’ voice – harsher and huskier than usual – repeats the title phrase every other line and by the song’s end, the effect is oddly harrowing.
“Cluster to a Star” lightens the mood considerably and throughout the rest of Under Stellar Stream, Youngs subtly refines the album’s core shamanistic lyrical structure, to stunning effect. The musical backings are lovely but tentative. It’s the voice of Richard Youngs that dominates here – cracked, melodious, insistent.
It’s hard to think of another artist who so successfully (not to say prolifically) manages to wrestle competing urges for simple beauty and iconoclastic confrontation. Youngs is unwavering in his devotion to whatever peculiar muse drives him. In a small but – to some of us – quite significant way, this unwavering devotion makes the world a better place to be.
Make your world a better place: buy Under Stellar Stream from Jagjaguwar.
Apparently, Gary and Cregan just uploaded this. Not sure if it’s new or old or what. More here.