Posts tagged ‘reviews’

Broadcast & The Focus Group – …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) LP

Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

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.

November 16, 2009 at 9:00 am 6 comments

Richard Youngs – Under Stellar Stream (Jagjaguwar) LP

Richard Youngs - Under Stellar Stream

Richard Youngs - Under Stellar Stream

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.

November 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm 2 comments

Sylvain Chauveau – Nuage (Type) LP

Sylvain Chauveau - Nuage

Sylvain Chauveau - Nuage

Those of you who admire Max Richter’s blend of neo-classical composition, post-rock and electronica are strongly urged to investigate the work of Frenchman Sylvain Chauveau. At first glance, the two artists seem to have the exact same modus operandi. However, Chauveau’s music eschews the simple, melancholy loveliness of Richter’s compositions, in favour of a rather thornier aesthetic.

The Black Book of Capitalism, Chauveau’s first album, presented a startlingly lo-fi take on chamber music – with musty strings coming under siege from ominously chiming guitars and primitive sampling. More recently, his 10″ single S displayed a new-found mastery of digital signal processing – with shards of piano and guitar refined into ornate glitches and stutters.

But the best place to start – if only because it bares the closest resemblance to Max Richter’s work – is the quite staggeringly beautiful Nuage. Some wag recently noted that the rise of eclecticist composers like Chauveau and Richter may be related to the fact that soundtrack work is one of the few ways recording artists can still make a living. Whether or not this is true, the facts remain that Nuage is indeed a collection of music composed for films and that it often recalls the mellower soundtrack work of John Zorn.

Hopefully, Cheavau will gradually gain the recognition he deserves, which will allow him to build a discography as diverse – if not as voluminous – as Zorn’s. The available evidence suggests he has both the talent and the attitude to succeed on these terms. To give Sylvain Chauveau a helping hand, you are strongly urged to buy Nuage from Forced Exposure.

Sylvain Chauveau – “Nuage III”

November 9, 2009 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Post-Rocktoberfest: Spoonfed Hybrid – Spoonfed Hybrid (Guernica) LP

Spoonfed Hybrid - s/t

Spoonfed Hybrid - s/t

In 1993, Ian Masters left Pale Saints, the Leeds-based, 4AD-signed band he had led since 1987, apparently to pursue a more left-field musical direction.  It’s also tempting to suspect that the rest of the Pale Saints had grown tired of Masters’ antics – which included peppering interviews with ludicrous fibs and disrupting the nice pop songs his band-mates were trying to write by transposing the tunes into weird time signatures.

Whatever the case, Masters’ next move was to team up with Chris Trout of the suitably eccentric A.C. Temple, forming Spoonfed Hybrid. The duo released just one full-length album, on 4AD’s post-rock-centric subsidiary Guernica (plus a couple of 7″ singles).

The music on this self-titled album is more serene than Pale Saints’ angst-ridden shoegaze rock. It falls squarely into the “new age post-punk” sound pioneered by The Durutti Column and developed by 4AD bands like Dif Juz. Fans of Kate Bush will also find much to love in Spoonfed Hybrid’s chintzy synth sounds and winsome vocals.

Masters’ tricksy ways aren’t allowed to disrupt things too much but you can hear them lurking just around the corner on “Naturally Occurring Anchors”. It’s his choir-boy voice that dominates the mood of the album, though. In fact, it’s quite jarring when Trout steps up to the mic for “A Pocketful of Dust”.

The cult of shoegaze has done much to preserve the reputation of Masters’ first band. Quite right too – The Comforts of Madness is a near flawless album. It would be nice, though, if the folks who are keeping that particular flame burning would turn their collective attention to the more diffident – but no less impassioned – Spoonfed Hybrid.

October 22, 2009 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Post-Rocktoberfest: Terminal Cheesecake – King of All Spaceheads (Jackass) 2LP

Terminal Cheesecake - King of All Spaceheads

Terminal Cheesecake - King of All Spaceheads

Congratulations to those of you who are still reading. You have resisted the urge to say: “If it’s by a band called Terminal Cheesecake, I don’t want to listen to it, even if it’s good!” It must have taken quite a leap of faith. The name “Terminal Cheesecake” immediately conjures up the cheery, beery, dog-shit depths of British indie music from the early ’90s – where bands with names like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine pedalled anthemic dross to drunken sixth-formers.

So, why would anyone with anything to offer name a band something like that? Reports suggest that, early on, this particular band wrote a song called “Terminal Headfuck” and – back in 1994 – if you had any commercial ambitions whatsoever, you just couldn’t have the word “fuck” in your band name, so…

But the fact that the members of this band (allegedly) chose to call a song “Terminal Headfuck” points straight at the real reason they ended up with such a goofy moniker. The reason is: DRUGS. And lots of ’em, if King of All Spaceheads is anything to go by.

“King of All Spaceheads” , the opening track, reaches its halfway point when a vintage radio announcer cuts in with a very important message: “What you’re listening to are musicians performing psychedelic music under the influence of a mind-altering chemical.” Again, you’d be forgiven for jumping ship at this point. Really, why should you be interested in this bunch of drug-addled goof-balls?

Well, the CD of this album was released by Pathological, the label headed by Kevin Martin, a prime mover in the original UK post-rock scene and the man behind God, Techno Animal, Ice, The Bug and many more genre-melting musical projects. If Martin involves himself in anything, you can pretty much guarantee it will be both heavy and interesting.

King of All Spaceheads is certainly both – a monstrous amalgam of arse-quaking guitar sludge and dubbed-out, post-acid house psychedelia. If it has anything in common with dog-shit indie, it’s only insofar as it sounds like Pop Will Eat Itself finally getting serious. Really serious.

Terminal Cheesecake’s best known single “Oily Hot Knife” (originally from the Jackass E.P.) reappears here, titled “Budmeister”. It’s a genuinely hypnotic melding of drunken brutality and psychedelic mania. “Ginge le Geezer” plays a similar trick but stretches it out until the listener is simply beaten into a state of unwilling transcendence.

The record is pressed on low-quality coloured vinyl, which reduces the sound to little more than crackle and low-end boom. Oddly, it works. The second disc is a one-sided live LP, which gives the impression that Terminal Cheesecake live was an even more murky-yet-heady experience than the recorded version. Among the hare-brained jamming, it features a reggae deejay repeatedly calling out the band’s name. You wouldn’t think he’d want to draw attention to it, would you?

Your chances of finding this excellent record are pretty slim. Check the dollar bin or – if all else fails – you can download the whole thing via Sickness Abounds.

October 12, 2009 at 9:00 am 9 comments

Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl – A Girl & a Gun (Interstellar) 7″

Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl - A Girl & a Gun

Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl - A Girl & a Gun

What the hell is up with that cover, eh? We’ll deal with this issue in a minute. But first…

In the last couple of years, Christian Fennesz does seem to have become a little less choosy when it comes to collaborations. You have to hand it to him, though – for every collab with an experimental jet-set superstar like Ryuichi Sakamoto or Mike Patton, there’s one that teams Fennesz with some hardcore, grass-roots improvisers based in his native Vienna.

This 7″, released by Austrian label Interstellar, features the great man alongside Martin Siewert and Burkhard Stangl – names that should be familiar to long-term Fennesz fans. The unknown quantity here is Lucia Pulido. Apparently, she’s a fairly well-known Columbian singer and each side of this 7″ is based on a traditional Columbian song.

The recordings were made for an art film titled Film ist. A Girl & a Gun, which – judging by the vaguely grotesque sketches adorning the record’s cover – must be pretty, erm…. racy stuff. The songs, on the other hand, are quite straightforwardly pretty and civilized.

“Canto de Velorio” is full of chiming guitars, subtle electronics and cooing vocals. On “Canto de Zafra”, Pulido becomes rather more strident, with intense – but never less than decorative – results. Both sides are very accessible but richly inventive and original.

This seems like the kind of record that’s going to disappear from print pretty quickly. Hopefully, it’s not already too late for you to buy A Girl & a Gun from Touch.

September 17, 2009 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (Drag City) LP

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

Throughout the ’90s, Jim O’Rourke was a ubiquitous presence in experimental music and underground rock. He began by prowling the hinterlands of free improv, dark ambient and noise. Gradually, via his membership in David Grubbs’ deconstructionist rock band Gastr Del Sol, he came to the attention of the indie rock cognoscenti. Eventually, he was given the highest honour imaginable, becoming a fully-fledged member of Sonic Youth.

What really built O’Rourke’s personal fan-base, though, was the series of solo albums he made for Chicago’s Drag City label. These records came cloaked in cover art which ranged from the cloyingly cute to the grotesquely pornographic (occasionally encompassing both aesthetics simultaneously) and were – more often than not – named after Nicolas Roeg films.

The music itself was an odd – but timely and highly effective – mish-mash of folky-Americana, West Coast pop, progressive rock, digital electronica and easy listening. Some of the albums were instrumental but others – notably O’Rourke’s masterpiece Eureka – came topped off with astoundingly bitter and misanthropic lyrics, sung in his faltering, unassuming little voice.

In 2001, he released Insignificance, which was simultaneously his most conventional rock album and his most lyrically unpleasant assault on the human race. It was great and sold like hot cakes. After the release of Insignificance, O’Rourke moved to Japan and slimmed down his musical activities to virtually nil.

Which brings us to The Visitor, his long-awaited new solo full-length. It’s a folky, instrumental effort, along the lines of Bad Timing (the connection is made explicit by the fact that both albums feature images of disco balls on their covers). Though split across two sides of vinyl, it’s essentially one long composition, which O’Rourke has quite possibly been labouring over for these last eight years.

Side one initially seems none too engaging. It’s full of rather ponderous, rhythmically complex, finger-picked acoustic guitar. The tone is relentlessly melodic and there are no electronics or dissonances to add edge. At times, you fear that O’Rourke is in danger of slipping into the technically clever but aesthetically vapid worlds of third-tier prog rock and lite jazz fusion.

Things start to make sense as side two picks up the pace, adding some loose improv drumming and dissonant piano parts. By the end of the composition, everything has resolved in a most satisfying fashion. Listen again, with some knowledge of the musical road-map and you’ll find the whole journey extremely pleasurable.

So, while not outwardly challenging, The Visitor is clearly a record that demands full engagement. On the cover, O’Rourke asks that we listen to it “on speakers, loud”. He’s also refused to have the album released in MP3 format, presumably feeling that the loss of audio fidelity will dull the sharp edges of his precision sound mix. Good for him. Sorry for posting digital extracts.

Still, The Visitor remains a somewhat enigmatic release that may leave you wondering exactly what Jim O’Rourke is getting at. Perhaps those Roeg-inspired album titles provide a clue. O’Rourke has claimed that, while music is what he does, cinema is what he loves. The concept of “imaginary soundtracks” may be somewhat played out but it’s hard not to think of The Visitor as the soundtrack to a cinematic masterpiece O’Rourke might have dreamed, if he’d been chosen for that particular vocation.

See – or rather hear – for yourself. Buy The Visitor from Drag City.

September 14, 2009 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Mokira – Persona (Type) LP

Mokira - "Persona"

Mokira - "Persona"

Mokira is Andreas Tilliander who – like Tape‘s Andreas Berthling – is a first-generation glitch electronica producer. From Sweden. Called Andreas.

During glitch’s post-Oval heyday, Tilliander released albums on Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton. He’s been a little bit under-the-radar for the last few years, so it’s nice to see him releasing some new vinyl on the ever-reliable Type label.

Persona is hardly a glitch album, though. Apparently, it’s the result of Tilliander’s move towards a purely analogue approach. While this might seem like a cowardly capitulation with the current fashion for vintage synth drones,  the simple beauty of these tracks is hard to deny.

The soft pads and diffuse reverbs of Persona suggest that Tilliander has been spending some time luxuriating in Vladislav Delay’s world of echo. Witness “Lord, am I Going Down?” for evidence.

But there’s a far more obvious influence at work here: ’80s drone-rock legends the Spacemen 3. “Ode to the Ode to the Street Hassle” rather obviously samples that band’s “Ode to Street Hassle” (itself a rather obvious erm… ode to Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”).

Tilliander also pays tribute to the band in this biographical sleeve note: “Hats off to Jason Pierce and Peter Kember. Thank you for signing my T-shirt, Jason. Sorry for interrupting your performance.”

More obliquely, Tilliander’s love of the Spacemen 3 extends to embracing their infatuation with flangers, phasers and all things that go “eeeeeeooowwwwwwaaaaaahhh”. Indeed, the one real weakness of Persona is its over-reliance on these kinds of simplistic effects.

On the whole, though, this is a delightful return to the fray for Tilliander. You are encouraged to buy it from Forced Exposure.

September 11, 2009 at 9:00 am 5 comments

Sparklehorse + Fennesz – In the Fishtank 15 (Konkurrent) LP

Sparklehorse + Fennesz - In the Fishtank 15

Sparklehorse + Fennesz - In the Fishtank 15

The early career of Christian Fennesz was positively littered with collaborative releases – of varying quality. A few years ago, Fennesz announced that he was going to start being a lot more choosy about collaborations, mainly concentrating on FennO’berg, his trio with Jim O’Rourke and Peter “Pita” Rehberg.

Rather confusingly, there have been no new FennO’berg albums since that time but Fennesz has gone on tour with Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton (an artist whose good intentions do little to mask his lack of talent) and has also appeared on an album by a rather nondescript indie rock act called Sparklehorse.*

You might be forgiven for greeting the news of a full-on Sparklehorse + Fennesz release with a copious yawn. But if you took the time to give said release a fair listen, well you’d be taking back that yawn pretty quickly, mister.

In the Fishtank 15 is the latest entry in the Konkurrent label’s series of collaborative releases, which has previously paired up Low with the Dirty Three and Tortoise with The Ex. It’s basically a document of Fennesz jamming in the studio with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous and it really is surprisingly satisfying.

Things do not start off promisingly. Early on in the opening track (“Music Box of Snakes”) you can clearly hear Linkous fiddling with a delay pedal – usually the first sign of a clueless rock guitarist trying to be “experimental”. Things pick up pretty quickly though and Linkous ends up acquitting himself rather well – in spite of the fact that the whole session takes place in Fennesz’s abstract/electronic realm and barely strays into Linkous’s world of singers and songwriters.

In fact, if there’s a weak link here, it’s Fennesz’s guitar playing. Don’t take that the wrong way, Fennesz is an excellent guitarist – with a strong tone and a lovely melodic sensibility – but he does tend towards always playing the same kind of thing. There are a number of moments on this release where he sounds like he’s about to burst into his own classic tune “Codeine”, most obviously on “Christian’s Guitar Piece”.

And to be honest, the best parts of the whole record are the bits where Linkous’s voice makes an appearance, as on “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “If My Heart”. Listening to these tracks should be pretty humbling stuff for any Fennesz fans who’d written Linkous off as a mere indie rock hack. Maybe Sparklehorse isn’t so bad after all!

The vinyl version of In the Fishtank 15 is available for pre-order from Insound.

(*To be fair, there have been some pretty great Fennesz collab’s in recent years, perhaps most notably 2008’s Fennesz Brandlmayr Dafeldecker 2CD.)

September 9, 2009 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Black Moon – Diggin’ in dah Vaults (Wreck) CD

Black Moon - Diggin' in dah Vaults

Black Moon - Diggin' in dah Vaults

Black Moon’s Enta da Stage is the mighty Woebot‘s favourite ’90s rap record, so you know these guys are worth the time of day. Enta da Stage certainly makes an impression – it must be one of the darkest hip-hop albums ever released.

Early on, Black Moon had some sort of association with Mobb Deep. Both crews certainly espoused a similarly bleak worldview but whereas Mobb Deep wrapped this worldview in all sorts of half-baked Social Darwinist rhetoric, Black Moon seemed to simply accept their harsh ‘90s reality, no questions asked. They weren’t interested in self-justification – which somehow made them even scarier.

Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a compilation of singles, B-sides and outtakes, released some time after the Black Moon crew’s 1995 break-up (they later reformed but never quite managed to recapture their initial spark of inspiration). For the most part, it reprises songs from Enta da Stage, adding lusher production and more sophisticated, melodic emceeing.

While Enta da Stage is a devastatingly effective statement of intent, lead emcee Buckshot and producer Evil Dee both reached peak form on these later tracks. Buckshot’s voice had, by this point, taken on a unique, insinuating rasp and a lilting singsong cadence. Evil Dee, meanwhile, was draping woozy, menacing soundscapes over crisp, minimal beats.

“Buck ’em Down (Remix)” is exemplary – replacing the original version’s stark, staccato sound with something at once breathlessly psychedelic and utterly merciless. “Ack Like U Want It (DJ Evil Dee Remix)” and “Murder MCs”, meanwhile, are prowling, deep and subtly dissonant.

This is nasty, nasty but utterly seductive stuff. It’s hard not to feel like a voyeur listening to these tales of inner-city brutality. It’s also hard to shake the feeling that you might be the next victim.

And yet Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a deeply rewarding listen. In the final analysis, it seems like a heartfelt attempt to find some oblique kind of beauty in the midst of incredibly dark circumstances.

Looks like you can buy Diggin’ in dah Vaults from Amazon.

September 7, 2009 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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