Posts tagged ‘reviews’

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

Sylvain Chauveau – Singular Forms [Sometimes Repeated] (Type) 12″/LP

Sylvain Chauveau - Singular Forms

Sylvain Chauveau - Singular Forms

Sylvain Chauveau certainly is an eclectic fellow. Maybe this kind of thing is perfectly normal in France but – in the mind of an anglophone – a career spanning orchestral minimalism, austere digital electronica and Depeche Mode covers seems impressively diverse.

This blue-vinyl LP (well, it plays at 45RPM and lasts about 30 minutes but Type is marketing it as a full-length album) encompasses a number of Chauveau’s musical interests. It’s a collection of art song, set to stark, piano-led arrangements and disrupted by a storm-front of computerized chaos.

On dropping the needle, the comparison that immediately springs to mind is David Sylvian’s recent work. Actually, the similarity is a little too close for comfort. You half expect to glance back at the cover and realise that the artist’s name is, in fact, David Sylvian Chauveau. Ahem.

The EP has other faults. The pared-back arrangements occasionally leave Chauveau’s ever-so-slightly ESL lyrics a little exposed. Also, it could be argued that coloured vinyl wasn’t the wisest choice – quality-wise – for a record that relies so heavily on clear, ringing sounds and passages of near silence.

None of this seems to matter, though, when Singular Forms really starts to hit home. The songs are absolutely beautiful, the arrangements subtly dissonant and the electronics absolutely glitch-perfect. The overall effect is vividly dreamlike – an effect perfectly captured by the startling video  for “The Unbroken Line”.

So, in spite of its faults, this is a more-than worthwhile release. It’s one of the bravest and most brilliant records of the year so far. You can listen to the whole thing at Soundcloud then buy it at Forced Exposure.

July 2, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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

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