Posts tagged ‘reviews’

A Broken Consort – Crow Autumn (Tompkins Square) LP

A Broken Consort - Crow Autumn

A Broken Consort - Crow Autumn

There must be some logic to the way Richard Skelton assigns artist names to his various releases but can your ears tell the difference between A Broken Consort, Clouwbeck, Carousell and the work Skelton releases under his own name? All of this stuff basically sounds like the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt‘s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor.

So, Crow Autumn is pretty much business as usual. Hell, doesn’t the title alone tell you everything you need to know about the Richard Skelton sound? On tracks like “Mountains Ash” and “The River”, all of the familiar elements are in place: sawing string instruments modulating between a couple of notes, terse high-end piano chords, rolling cymbals…

But here’s the thing: it works – it always works. You see, with Skelton, the sameness, the blinkered monomania… that’s the whole point. His is a world of autumnal melancholy, where crows caw and  the string section from Godspeed You! Black Emperor really is attempting a recital of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten on a wind-blasted English moor – and will be until the end of time. Few artist’s revival him for sheer aesthetic commitment. He’s the Ramones of experimental music.

How many Richard Skelton albums do you really need? Dunno but you need this one because it’s fucking great. Go buy it from Forced Exposure.

June 29, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Mego Goes Analogue

In its original incarnation, the Mego label focussed on bringing Viennese digital electronica artists like Fennesz, Pita, Farmers Manual and General Magic to an unsuspecting world. As the label’s profile grew, so did it’s A&R remit and quality control started to suffer.

The reborn Editions Mego retains the eclecticism Mego embraced towards the end of its first life but has thus far done a better job of consistently issuing worthwhile albums. The label’s recent release of two excellent LPs by American retro synth acts is testament to this fact.

Emeralds - Does it Look Like I'm Here?

Emeralds - Does it Look Like I'm Here?

Does it Look Like I’m Here by Emeralds is that rare beast – a double LP which doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The breezier side of krautrock is a clear influence here, with Neu! and Popol Vuh being two obvious reference points. Tracks like “Double Helix” are remarkably concise and executed with such aplomb that the music’s lack of originality hardly seems like an issue.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

Still, Emeralds hardly seems like a terribly intriguing musical proposition when compared to Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never. OPN’s Returnal confounds expectations by beginning with a blast of sliced-up noise worthy of a first-generation Mego act like Rehberg & Bauer. Much of the rest of Returnal falls back on Lopatin’s usual mix of evocative arpeggios and drones but it still manages to reaffirm that Oneohtrix is about way more than mere retro pastiche. The processed vocal on the title track is a particularly nice touch.

Both of these albums are career high points for the artists concerned. The vinyl is likely to go out of print very quickly, so act fast.

June 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm 3 comments

Oval – Oh (Thrill Jockey) 12″

Oval - Oh

Oval - Oh

It’s been about a decade since we last heard from Markus “Oval” Popp. During said decade, glitch – the style of abstract digital electronica Oval basically invented during the mid ’90s – has had time to go in and out of fashion a couple of times. Popp, meanwhile, has been suffering the effects of his highly analytical approach to music making – total creative deadlock.

To clear his writer’s block, Popp has moved from a methodology focused on questioning everything to one based on simply reversing everything. The approach he takes on Oh is rather reminiscent of that Seinfeld episode where George decides to start doing the opposite of everything he would normally do. In Popp’s case, this means swapping custom-built software for cheap commercial plug-ins and abandoning samples of skipping CDs in favour of actually playing acoustic and software instruments – drums, even!

The result is an EP that packs 15 tracks onto two sides of (white) vinyl. The four tracks on side A are relatively lengthy and by far the most musically conventional material ever released under the Oval banner. Side B features much shorter, more abstract pieces. Initially, both sides seem likely to frustrate long-time Oval fans – with the tracks being either too lightweight or too brief to be truly satisfying. However, once prejudices are suppressed and expectations put aside, this turns out to be a highly satisfying release.

While, Popp may have reversed his approach, his sonic signature is immediately recognizable. In fact, “Hey” (MP3 removed because it had been recorded from the vinyl at the wrong speed!!!) actually opens the EP with some reassuringly familiar-sounding filtered glitches. Even as the track progresses into something far more rhythmically and melodically steady than the classic Oval material,  Popp’s authorial presence is strongly but subtly asserted. It’s something about the way he gently disrupts and distresses sound to create music that is decorative and confounding in equal measure.

The great dark secret of Popp’s career has been that, while he has always concerned himself with asking difficult questions about digital technology and musical practice, he has also consistently displayed a real talent for using digital technology to make quite straightforwardly beautiful music. Now, with what is by far the most straightforwardly beautiful music he has ever given us, Popp is asking some pretty intriguing things about what it means to have a “voice” in music and how musical technology and critical theory can either intensify or obfuscate raw talent.

Oh seems to have gone out of print already. If you see a copy, buy it!

June 10, 2010 at 10:28 pm 3 comments

Fennesz – Szampler (The Tape Worm) Cassette

Fennesz - Szampler

Fennesz - Szampler

A scrappy cassette release is not the sort of thing you’d normally expect from Fennesz – a man who, by habit, likes to digitally craft his solo albums over a period of several years. Clearly then, this extremely limited-edition cassette, from Touch-affiliated label The Tape Worm, is something of an anomaly in Fennesz’s discography. As such, it casts light on a few of the lesser-known artefacts lurking in the dark corners his sound-world.

The concept seems to be that Fennesz has dumped all of the sounds that were sitting on his old Ensoniq hardware samplers onto a cassette tape and made the results available to the world. Said results work surprisingly well, on a musical level, though – Szampler comprises a series of murkily intimate sonic vignettes that have that distinct “reading under the covers” aura about them.

The real surprise, though, is how many recognizable snippets of Fennesz’s classic albums crop up here. One would have been forgiven for thinking that, following his debut EP Instrument, Fennesz abandoned hardware samplers completely, in favour of Mac laptops and Max/MSP. However, this release makes it clear that he has continued to run sounds through his samplers, presumably to utilize the signature low-resolution Ensoniq sound (which is perfect for his aesthetic).  So, for example, the riff from Endless Summer‘s “A Year in a Minute” is clearly audible in this extract from near the beginning of side one (and it reappears, in a much less processed form, around the middle of side two).

This review should have come a lot earlier. Szampler arrived at Bubblegum Cage III’s palatial offices some weeks ago but busyness prevented this post from showing up until now. In the interim, Szampler seems to have gone waaay out of print. Sorry about that.

May 6, 2010 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Your Future Our Clutter (Update)

The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter 2LP

A smug bastard holding his latest vinyl acquisition, yesterday

This here blog was quite possibly the first website to post a (rather half-assed, let’s face it) review of the new Fall album.  It seems only right that Bubblegum Cage III should be quick off the mark with some comments on the bonus tracks that come with the vinyl version, which just (finally) got released.

They’re great! “986 Generator”, which might just be the best thing on the whole album, consists of little more than a signature MES rant, a menacing kick-drum stomp, a few banjo licks and a very familiar slide guitar part (a segment of this track also crops up at the end of “Y.F.O.C./Slippy Floor”).  “Get a Summer Song Goin'” is pretty damn good too – a mid-tempo, fuzzed-out avant garage number with a magnificently anomalous techno bridge.

No MP3s for you this time – that would rather defeat the purpose of vinyl-only bonus tracks, wouldn’t it?  But the LP’s well worth buying – because it’s bloody great and it comes on excellent-sounding heavyweight vinyl.

April 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Klimek – Movies is Magic (Anticipate) CD

Klimek - Movies is Magic

Klimek - Movies is Magic

Klimek is Sebastian Meissner. You may know Meissner from Klimek’s excellent contributions to Kompakt’s Pop Ambient compilation series. Otherwise, long-time digital electronica fans may  remember his work as Autopoieses, Bizz Circuits, and Random Inc.

Like Ekkehard Ehlers (his partner in the Autopoieses duo), Meissner seems to be very interested in creating music which takes a high-concept approach to sampling, without sacrificing the harmonic and textural beauty of the original sampled materials.

As you might expect, Movies is Magic is based around distinctly cinematic sounding samples, presumably lifted directly from film soundtracks. Instead of simply letting these samples loop, as Ehlers might, Meissner subtly disrupts and destabilizes them in a manner that recalls the best work of Vladislav Delay.

The results, on tracks like “Exploding Unbearable Desires” and “Greed, Mutation, Betrayal”, are moody and darkly entrancing. Like Black to Comm’s Alphabet 1968, Fenn O’Berg’s In Stereo and Loscil’s Endless Falls, this album manages to create a balance between brooding menace and vivid detail.

It’s a thoroughly compelling, intelligent and beautiful piece of work that deserves to be heard as widely as possible. Maybe, just maybe, if enough of you buy the CD from Boomkat, Anticipate will do the right thing and release Movies is Magic on vinyl.

March 25, 2010 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Haven’t We Been Busy?

In 2009, it seemed like not much truly great music was unleashed until right at the end of the year. By contrast, the first few months of 2010 have seen a relative flood of exciting new releases. It’s already hard to keep up but this here blog has been trying its best.

To help you out, here are links to some recent reviews of note:

The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter

Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo

Loscil – Endless Falls

Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Nitetime Rainbows

March 8, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter (Domino) LP

The Fall 2010

The Fall 2010

With his appearance on the latest Gorillaz multimedia circus of an album, Mark E Smith finally became a caricature of himself, in the most literal sense possible. The British media continues to laud his brilliance and celebrate his increasingly erratic antics but old MES simply isn’t the razor-sharp visionary he used to be. And in recent years, the music he’s released under the banner of The Fall has become distinctly patchy.

Having said all that, 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent was the most consistently inventive Fall album in ages – a tightly produced exploration of the same ground covered by that recognized late-period classic The Unutterable. The 2009 single “Slippy Floor” suggested that Smith had decided to take the Fall group (such as it is) in a more ramshackle direction.

However, any suspicion that Your Future Our Clutter might be a half-assed mess along the lines of Reformation Post T.L.C. or Are You Are Missing Winner is immediately dispelled by “O.F.Y.C. Showcase” , which actually recalls the noisy epic “No Bulbs” from the group’s mid-’80s heyday. This seems to set the template for Your Future… – longish, raucous minimalist rock jams, excellently produced. The “Slippy Floor” 7″ tracks even make a comeback, in a somewhat fleshed-out form.

On songs like the funky “Mexico Wax Solvent” , Smith actually sounds remarkably lucid. Better still, he’s backed by musicianship and production that is hard-hitting and imaginative in equal measure. Fall fans can breathe a sigh of relief – Your Future Our Clutter is a triumph. It will be released by Domino on April 26th.

March 7, 2010 at 12:23 am 16 comments

Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (Drag City) 3LP

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom is one of those artists who polarizes opinion and sparks fierce debate. This mammoth triple-album set (housed in a sodding-great pizza box of a cover) therefore seems destined to become one of most discussed records of 2010. This here blog is not generally in the habit of entering into such discussions but just so happens to have a bit of a “thing” for Ms. Newsom and her delightfully harp-tastic song stylings.

These particular stylings are generally similar to those on her previous opus, Ys but with rather more restrained arrangements, where conventional rock instrumentation is allowed greater prominence than on previous releases. Indeed, despite its length, Have One on Me is surely Newsom’s most approachable album to date – particularly as her signature love-it-or-hate-it squawk has been softened to a conciliatory purr.

Joni Mitchell comparisons have been bandied about and Never for Ever-era Kate Bush would be another apt comparison. But you should all know by now that Joanna Newsom is in a world of her own. What is more, you should be well aware that her world is a wonderful place to be. In this climate of austerity, Have One on Me really does feel like a much-needed outpouring of generosity. Heck, if your heart isn’t melted by the likes of “’81” and  “Kingfisher”… erm… we’ll just have to agree to disagree, won’t we?

This could be the album that turns Joanna Newsom into a bona fide superstar. As such, it should be pretty damn easy for you to find a copy at your local record store. Otherwise, you could go straight to the source and buy it from Drag City.

Joanna Newsom bathroom

No comment

March 4, 2010 at 9:00 am 5 comments

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Nitetime Rainbows (Mis Ojos Discos) 12″

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Nitetime Rainbows

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Nitetime Rainbows

This clear vinyl EP from Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow is a pretty generous offering. The A-side features “Nitetime Rainbows” from the band’s excellent 2009 album Ashes Grammar plus three new songs. On the flip, we get three remixes of “Nitetime Rainbows”. All for a very reasonable price.

The remixes are fine but it’s the new songs that really make this 12″ worth having. These tunes do a reasonably good job of finding a middle ground between the electronica-tinged dream-pop idyll of Ashes Grammar and the thornier territory explored on the band’s debut album, Scribble Mural Comic Journal.  For instance, “So Bloody, So Tight”,  though generally in the Ashes Grammar style, contains elements that hint at the acidic feedback of early Jesus & Mary Chain or – more speculatively – the stately doom of late-period Swans.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow plays Vancouver media club on March 9th and you can buy Nitetime Rainbows from Mis Ojos Discos.

March 2, 2010 at 9:00 am 1 comment

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