Posts filed under ‘reviews’

Post-Rocktoberfest: Seefeel – Faults (Warp) 10″

Seefeel - Faults

Seefeel - Faults

This year’s Post-Rocktoberfestivities were going to a open with a review of One Little Indian’s official re-issue of the Disco Inferno Five EPs bootleg, which was supposed to get released in September. Unfortunately, the street date for that long-awaited compilation has been put back until November (shockingly, with no vinyl edition planned at all!!!)

Well, that makes Seefeel’s Faults EP the most exciting UK post-rock release of the year so far, doesn’t it? Anticipation for this 10″ has been sky-high ever since Warp dropped a streamable preview of the title track. So… does the rest of the EP live up to the promise of “Faults” itself? Well, yes and no.

First of all, the tracks are, in and of themselves, absolutely bloody fantastic. Honestly, this is probably the best material Seefeel has produced since its classic debut album Quique – and yet the new EP doesn’t really sound very much like Quique. In fact, it doesn’t sound very much like anything else, which is precisely why it’s so exciting.

But Faults isn’t actually a very satisfying EP because it’s rather lacking in variety. Really, it’s more of a single. The distinction may seem slight but it is significant. The song names are a bit of a give-away. The track titles on side B (“Folds” and “Clouded”) seem like mispronunciations of the track titles on side A (“Faults” and “Crowded”). It’s a pretty good bet, then, that the second two cuts are remixes of the first two – particularly as fragments of the vocal from “Faults” are clearly audible on “Folds”. In fact, “Crowded” is actually pretty similar to “Faults” – so maybe the last three songs are all remixes of the title track.

Of course some would argue that, just because a record happens to consist of a series of remixes, it doesn’t mean the record won’t work just fine. As Dave put it on the UK Post-Rock Group: “The thing with the ‘remixes’ just reminds me of how Quique is basically a series of variations on one sound… they’ve just changed that sound now!”

Anyway, if anyone could shed light on the precise relationship between these tracks, this here blog would be terribly grateful. The thing is, there’s just enough variety that you can’t be sure about it. “Clouded”, in particular, takes the EP’s glitch-dub formula into an extremely abstract realm – an ear-tricking soundscape of surely-impossible textures.

Which brings us back to the key point: there’s never been anything quite like this. In theory, the elements are all recognizable: digi-dub bass, glitchy beats, dreampop vocals and highly processed guitar. But listing these elements doesn’t really do justice to the intricately wrought sonic material that’s used to build them.

Here’s the kicker, though – because Faults is so brilliant and yet somewhat unsatisfactory as an EP, it really, really leaves you wanting more. Album, please. Sooner rather than later!

October 1, 2010 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Oval – O (Thrill Jockey) 2LP

Oval - O

Oval - O

Well, as promised the new Oval album really does come across as a massively expanded version of the Oh EP. What filled two sides of 45RPM vinyl on that 12″ is here stretched across two whole CDs. The first disc features more of Markus Popp’s excursions into digitally damaged acoustic guitar abuse and fake jazz drumming, the second gives us 50 (count ’em) more of his endlessly beguiling “ringtones”.

The more percussive sound that Popp has been dabbling in seems to have caused some consternation among long-time devotees, who generally prefer the more abstract style of the ringtones. In fact, the material on disc one of O is hardly dancefloor friendly and features plenty of extended abstract passages among the bursts of sliced up drums.

Basically, it’s great but bloody hell does it go on. As with many Oval albums, the sonic palette is extremely limited and you may feel that there isn’t enough variety here to justify the running time. You may even be tempted to pass this up altogether and stick with the more concise Oh EP. But the material here is generally stronger than on the 12″ and displays a lightness of touch that makes the time just fly by.

O isn’t out yet but Thrill Jockey is allegedly planning to release this monster on vinyl. It’ll have to be a four LP set, like Wu-Tang Forever. Can’t wait!

Oval – “Brahms Mania”

Oval – “I Heart Musik”

STOP THE PRESS: O is actually being released as a 2LP set. The music from CD1 is stretched across sides A to C, while side D features some vinyl-only bonus tracks. The album comes with a download coupon for the tracks from CD 2. It’s available for pre-order now.

August 28, 2010 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Live in New York (Honest Jon’s) 2LP+CD

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Live in New York

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Live in New York

As one half of Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound and a co-founder of Berlin’s legendary record-cutting studio Dubplates & Mastering, Moritz Von Oswald is already an electronic music legend. Not one to rest on his laurels, Von Oswald has recently been creating some of most alien and perplexing music of his career in a live, improvising trio with Vladislav Delay and Max Loderbauer.

Live in New York is a high-quality audience recording taken from one of the Trio’s rare public appearances. This particular set extrapolates upon material from the band’s debut album, Vertical Ascent, with a little help from guests Carl Craig and Francois K. The presence of these heavyweight collaborators fleshes out the material a little, making it somewhat more approachable. But this is still startlingly odd stuff. It’s pretty strange, in particular, to hear the New York crowd whooping and cheering along to the group’s extra-terrestrial synth chatter.

Still, the enthusiasm is well earned. With its mechanistic live percussion and stern, dissonant keyboard drones, the Moritz Von Oswald Trio sounds like a malfunctioning cyborg jazz band from a novel Philip K Dick never got around to writing. It always sounds wrong somehow but it never fails to satisfy. Take a listen to this extract and once you’re inevitably convinced that you need to own the whole deluxe 2LP+CD package, go buy it from Forced Exposure.

The Moritz Von Oswald Trio will be playing in Seattle on Sunday, September 26th, as part of the Decibel festival. If you’re there, be sure to do a lot of whooping and cheering. You might end up on the next LP.

August 26, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Fennesz Mania!

This year, Christian Fennesz has displayed a renewed willingness to collaborate. A decade or so ago, early in his career as a solo electronica artist, Fennesz seemed to be releasing collaborative CDs on an almost weekly basis, documenting various one-off improv configurations. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he made a point of announcing that he would be avoiding such collaborative projects in future, preferring to concentrate on his solo work. FennO’Berg, his ongoing trio with Peter “Pita” Rehberg and Jim O’Rourke, was scheduled to continue but – somewhere along the line – even that fell by the wayside. The 2010 release of In Stereo – the (excellent) third FennO’Berg album – was a welcome surprise, then. Even better, In Stereo has been followed by a handful of other commendable collaborative releases. It’s like the old days – only the quality control seems to be somewhat more stringent.

Actually, this is a simplification of the storyline. Over the last few years, Fennesz has been edging his way back into the fray, with collaborations that have ranged from the unlikely (a live duo with Mike Patton) to the sublime (Till the Old World’s Blown Up & a New One is Created – a glorious trio album with Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Brandlmayr). Still, his 2010 collabs are enjoying a relatively elevated public profile, which may reflect Fennesz’s confidence in their quality or may simply be an upshot of his ever-growing commercial viability.

On - Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not

On - Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not

Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not (Type, LP) is the latest album from On, the duo of Bubblegumcage III favourite Sylvain Chauveau and Steven Hess of Pan American/Labradford. On’s modus operandi is to improvise raw source material, which is then turned over to a third-party producer for transformation into a coherent album. The duo’s previous LP, Your Naked Ghost Comes Back at Night, was produced by Nordic dark ambient overlord Deathprod. This new one is handled by – you guessed it – Christian Fennesz.

It’s a fairly unassuming album, built around some stealthily abstract loops, which occasionally cohere into rather surprising, jazzy rhythms. What Something That Has Form… lacks in impact, it more than makes up for in charm. The music here emits a subtle magnetic attraction; an almost subliminal hypnotic power that recalls Jan Jelinek’s excellent Kosmicher Pitch album. It’s one of those LPs you’ll keep coming back to, almost without realising how into it you really are. Definitely worth heading right over to Forced Exposure to order a copy – particularly as the vinyl is limited to 500 units. If you’re not yet convinced, you can stream the whole album via the Type website.

Fennesz Daniell Buck - Knoxville

Fennesz Daniell Buck - Knoxville

Knoxville (Thrill Jockey, LP) is a live album recorded at Tennessee’s Big Ears festival. It pits Fennesz’s laptop against drums courtesy of Tony Buck from The Necks and the guitar of one David Daniell. This is a rather more strident venture than the On LP but – perhaps by the same token – a slightly less satisfying one. Like the aforementioned trio album with Dafeldecker and Brandlmayr, Knoxville mixes free improvisation with epic post-rock. But – in that trio – Fennesz was matched by players who shared his natural diffidence and hesitancy. Here, the jazzy drums and chiming guitar often threaten to drown out Fennesz’s subtle digital atmospherics. Knoxville is a fundamentally satisfying, often beautiful album – it just needz moar Fennesz.

Hmmm… Having said that, perhaps some of those guitar parts are Fennesz. Probably a good sign that it’s hard to tell. Oh and on the album’s standout track – “Antonia”–  he really gets to shine. All told, then, Knoxville is another essential purchase for Fennesz fans.  It’ll be released by Thrill Jockey on August 24th.

There’s more! Don’t sleep on that Oneohtrix Point Never remix featuring Antony (he of the Johnsons) – it’s phenomenal! And if you live in North America, do whatever you can to see the great man on his continent-wide tour this autumn.

August 18, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Oval – Ringtones (Thrill Jockey) download

Oval - Ringtones

Oval - Ringtones

As previously mentioned, Markus Popp – aka Oval – has decided to follow up his comeback 12″, Oh, with a free download EP, cheekily titled Ringtones. The two sides of Oh were very clearly compartmentalized, with side A featuring Oval’s most conventionally “musical” material to date and side B presenting some of the raw materials used in the construction of these surprisingly beat-driven tunes. Apparently, the upcoming 2CD album, O, will use a similar structure.

Although the tracks on Oh’s B side are exceptionally brief, they feel satisfyingly like a logical development of the classic Oval sound. The side A tracks are highly enjoyable too but there’s a sense that Popp’s musical personality is being lost in the quest to make his tracks musical and give them personality. Therefore, long-term Oval fans are likely to find the shorter, more abstract pieces – which Popp has dubbed “ringtones” – more nourishing.

As the title suggests, the Ringtones MP3 EP consists of a few more of these abstract sketches. One might reasonably speculate this release is Popp’s acknowledgement that his rawer tracks are actually more musically satisfying. It seems more likely, though, that he’s simply feeling generous after holding out on his public for around a decade – he probably just wants to release as much stuff as possible.

In any case, Ringtones features eight pieces plus a bonus track available exclusively through FACT magazine. The whole thing lasts only nine minutes, which means that the EP would probably make a pretty kick-ass 7″, if Thrill Jockey chose to get it pressed up. The pieces themselves are even rawer (and perhaps, for that very reason, even more satisfying) than the building blocks presented on the B-side of Oh. Song titles like “Tapasbar” and “Candyplex” do a great deal to evoke the whimsical nature of the music, which is modestly but deeply beguiling.

Despite its apparently throw-away nature, Ringtones is absolutely essential listening for Oval fans everywhere. Go download it from Thrill Jockey.

August 6, 2010 at 9:00 am 5 comments

Secret Pyramid – Ghosts (no label) CDR

Secret Pyramid - Ghosts

Secret Pyramid - Ghosts

Secret Pyramid is the solo project of Amir from Vancouver-based drone-rock overlords Solars. Ghosts is a thoughtfully-packaged CDR mini album, issued in a ridiculously limited run of 50 numbered copies.

The Secret Pyramid sound is more reflective and song-based than Solars’ adrenalin-rush abstraction. Basically, Amir is working at the deeper, darker end of the dream-pop spectrum, with Flying Saucer Attack and Lovesliescrushing being obvious points of reference.

Those who enjoyed Secret Pyramid’s contribution to the Acid Folk Remix Project Vol. 2 compilation will be delighted to hear the very same cover of Sandy Denny’s “Milk & Honey” cropping up again, sandwiched between two equally excellent new tracks.

There are plenty of artists traversing similar sonic hinterlands to the ones Secret Pyramid explores on Ghosts but few of these folks are quite so adept at pushing the borders of their chosen micro-genre. Presumably, the vast majority of the sounds here were made with guitars and effects pedals but – by the end of “Permanence” – you’ll swear you can hear choirs of angels.

Ghosts is almost certainly out of print but you can stream the whole thing at the Aquarius Records site and – if they get more copies in – you might even be able to buy a copy.

July 29, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Actress – Splazsh (Honest Jon’s) 2LP

Actress - Splazsh

Actress - Splazsh

Album of the summer!

This summer, Splazsh – the second album by Actress (aka Darren J. Cunningham) – seems like the ideal solution to the same summer itch that The Field’s Yesterday & Today scratched in 2009. Like Yesterday…, this album offers a highly cohesive collection of deliciously immersive, subtly innovative tech-house, ideal for blasting out of open windows on hot, sunny days.

Sonically though, Actress doesn’t really have the same wide-screen vision as The Field. Indeed, he seems determined to narrow his focus into a wilfully compromised frequency range. Cunningham is the man behind the Werk Discs label and – as such – he is commonly perceived as an adherent to the teachings of UK bass music’s broad church. But there’s not much bass here, just a grainy mid-rage that sounds like it might be emerging from an iPhone across the aisle of a London bus.

Even more than Hazyville (Cunningham’s excellent debut album), Splazsh is an exercise in digital lo-fi, the like of which has rarely been heard since the heyday of glitch, circa 1999. Sounds are down-sampled into dessicated, rubbery strands then time-stretched until the holes start to appear. All the annoying detritus we normally associate with 128k MP3 and laptop speakers is marshalled in the service of an uncannily ear-catching and  shamelessly contemporary sound.

The glitch comparison is apt because what this album perhaps most recalls is the psychedelic sample-splicing of glitch-associated techno producer Akufen. Cunningham has talked inspiringly about using sampling to capture the abstract essence of one’s favourite tunes and deploys this methodolgy to absolutely stunning effect throughout Splazsh, using all the DSP tools at his command to trip almost-recognizable fragments of music into stuttering abstraction.

Still, whereas glitch highlighted the deficiencies of digital audio, with a clear critical agenda in mind, Actress just revels in the decrepitude. And sometimes, it can get to be a bit much. For instance, he harnesses the overuse of compression (a common complaint about contemporary audio production) and channels it creatively into dense tracks that sound fit to burst. But sometimes, as on the “Bubble Butts & Equations”, everything just sounds deflated, with quiet bits that won’t shut up and kick drums that just won’t kick.

For the most part, though, it works wonderfully. There are so many great moments on Splazsh that it’s hard to pick favourites but “Hubble” and “Maze” are particularly tasty. Also, the fact that Honest Jon’s has a policy of getting its vinyl cut by the great Moritz Von Oswald helps to considerably soften the hard edges of Cunningham’s productions. Listening to the MP3s on headphones will probably give you a headache but buy the vinyl at Forced Exposure and throw your windows open and then… well, then you’ll really be making the most of your summer.

July 24, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Simon Scott – Navigare (Miasmah) LP

Simon Scott - Navigare

Simon Scott - Navigare

The tasty abstract painting that adorns the cover of this LP gives a pretty good indication of the album lurking within – two sides of sumptuous post-Fennsz/Tim Hecker ambiance. Simon Scott was the original drummer with dream-pop legends Slowdive and it wouldn’t be too fanciful to imagine tracks like “The ACC” as representing Slowdive’s sonic cathedral stripped of its pop/rock foundation.

You might occasionally wish that Scott didn’t insist on constantly obfuscating the simple harmonic loveliness of his music with a gauzy cloak of reverb. But – for the most part – you’ll be too busy enjoying the effects to look that closely at the list of active ingredients. Fill your prescription for this supreme sonic sedative at Forced Exposure.

July 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

The Advisory Cirle – Mind How You Go [Revised Edition] (Ghost Box) LP

The Advisory Circle - Mind How You Go

The Advisory Circle - Mind How You Go

It always seemed incongruous that Ghost Box – a label which pretty-much defined the retro-futuristic genre known as hauntology –  only made its releases available in digital formats. This apparent chink in the imprint’s otherwise robust aesthetic armour probably resulted from any number of practical and financial considerations. Until recently, Ghost Box didn’t seem to have much of an audience beyond a hardcore of intellectual music bloggers and ageing ravers – so, going to the trouble and expense of pressing vinyl records probably seemed downright foolhardy.

But with the recent hype surrounding hauntology’s autistic American cousin – hypnagogic pop – it has started to seem like Ghost Box’s time might have come. Certainly, people beyond hauntology’s core audience finally seem to be catching onto the genre’s damaged utopianism. And so, we finally get the label’s first ever vinyl release – a revised edition of its sixth CD release.

Like most Ghost Box releases, Mind How You Go was/is a collection of melodic instrumental electronica, primarily influenced by the library music and public information films of 1970s Britain. It contains elements of both Belbury Poly’s jaunty synth stylings and The Focus Group’s sample-based experimentalism – indeed both of these core Ghost Box acts contribute remixes to the Revised Edition. The main distinguishing feature here is a stronger-than-usual tinge of krautrock, with Neu! and Kraftwerk influences clearly audible.

Those who have come to love the Ghost Box sound and shtick will definitely cherish this release, particularly as it contains what may be the label’s high-point to date – Belbury Poly’s total renaissance fair re-imagining of “And the Cuckoo Comes”. In any case, a must have for Ghost Box-loving vinyl snobs. You can buy it directly from the label.

July 9, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 2 (Ratser Noton) 2LP

Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol. 2

Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol. 2

In his capacity as a successful multidisciplinary artist and digital electronica producer, Carsten Nicolai – aka Alva Noto, among other things – puts out a lot of stuff. Even the most dedicated followers of his work could be forgiven for finding themselves playing catch-up, from time to time.

Living in an age when months, even years can pass between an album’s CD release and its appearance on vinyl adds an extra layer of confusion for the record snobs among Nicolai’s fan base. Anyway, Bubblegum Cage III can state, without fear of contradiction, that the second volume of Alva Noto’s Xerrox series has been issued on vinyl, at some point between the album’s 2009 CD release and now.

The Xerrox project seems like Nicolai’s reaction to William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops series, where mildewed tape loops were digitally archived and – in the process – destroyed. But whereas Basinski simply allowed his loops to auto-destruct, Nicolai works exclusively in the digital realm, contriving ways to distress and disgrace a selection of pristine musical samples.

And what samples! It says something of Nicolai’s status in the art and music worlds that he is able to openly thank Michael Nyman, Ryuichi Sakamoto (a regular Alva Noto collaborator) and SunnO)))’s Stephen O’Malley for providing some of the sampled  source material on this album.

As with Vol. 1, the sounds used on here are considerably lusher and more immersive than one would expect, based on the arid, pointillistic sound of classic Alva Noto albums such as Prototypes. Tracks like “Xerrox Monophaser Two” wantonly spray gorgeous orchestral chords with a scurf of digital distortion. This is an ingeniously simple formula and one that produces an album of truly poignant beauty.

And – as previously stated – it’s an album that is available on vinyl, though goodness knows how long it’ll actually stay in print. Buy it at Forced Exposure, while you can.

July 6, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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