January 26, 2017
NEW MUSIC REVIEW ROUNDUP
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 045: A Journey Of Giraffes, Bargou 08, Delicate Steve, Dr Chan, Emptyset, The Food Of Love Project, Le Petit Diable and Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.
In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, the great and good of experimental and atavistic folk interpret sonnets and songs referenced in the works of Shakespeare, on The Food Of Love Project; John Lane produces his most experimental, esoteric, collection of field recordings yet, under his A Journey Of Giraffes alter ego; Delicate Steve marks his return with his first solo LP in four years, a collection of personable “songs without words”, entitled This Is Steve; Dr. Chan make their most “mature” howling skate punk meets primal garage row yet, $outh$ide $uicide; there’s mesmerizing Tunisian desert funk and atavistic vibes from Glitterbeat’s latest signing, the Bargou 08 project; the latest reification sonic suite from Emptyset; the accomplished jazz siblings, Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr’s recruit David Bowie’s Blackstar line-up for their Landed In Brooklyn suite; and finally, a welcome new solo direction from Jinko Vilova’s Ander López.
Bargou 08 ‘Targ’
Released by Glitterbeat Records, 17th February 2017
Ahh…the sounds of a dusky reedy gasba flute; the tactile patted and burnished bendir drum; the rustic, earthy strung loutar, and the flowing, scaling vocals of the Bargou 08 project’s chief instigator, Nidhal Yahyaoui, set an impressive atmosphere in the first couple of minutes of the album’s opening, Chechel Khater.
The source of this sound derives from a relatively uncharted region that lies obscured between the mountains of northwest Tunisia and the Algerian border, called the Bargou Valley, which despite its barren isolation, has cultured a unique musical fusion, stretching back hundreds of years. Captivating and magical enough in its ancestral unchanged form, the songs of the valley, sung in the local Targ dialect (a language that is one part Berber, the other Arabic), are given a contemporary jolt that transforms the atavistic paeans, odes and poetry of yore into an intoxicating swirling rapture of electronic North African funk.
In the same way that Noura Mint Seymali’s griot traditions of Mauritania were boosted by an infusion of psych and a polyrhythmic, bordering on breakbeat jazz, drums the Bargou valley’s heritage is given a fattened keyboard bassline, warping Moog oscillations and a modern production. The results are exciting and often lively. The dynamics, especially Yahyaoui’s emotionally powerful vocals, are an especially imaginative giddy thumping mix of desert rock, Arabian dance music and snake-charming mysticism. Suffused with this cocktail of sounds, each passionate evocation, learned and passed on by the village elders, begins with a signature introduction of searching, plaintive or mysterious flute before a pulsing backbeat kicks in; suddenly jump-starting and placing those songs in a modern context. Modulating between the nocturnal desert soundclash of Dek Biya and the Barbary coastal tidal motion candor of Le Min Ijina, different eras are magnificently bridged.
Honed on the road, the Bargou 08 project, conceived by Yahyaoui and steered by his musical partner and friend, keyboard player and producer Sofyann Ben Youssef, was recorded in an ad hoc manner: Youssef juggling both the recording equipment whilst playing the Moog. Yet despite its often loose and hypnotic nature, devoid of tension, this album is a highly sophisticated, joyful, groovy and tight; the musicianship first rate.
Filled with a legacy of turmoil and tension that goes back an aeon the song’s many themes, from describing a lover’s vital attributes on Mamchout to laments of alienation, resonate strongly with the growing unease of events, initiated six years ago by the Arab Spring. Tunisia itself is facing a struggle and teetering on the edge, with no guarantee that certain cultures won’t just disappear or be fragmented in the ensuing melee. Originally setting out to document his Bargou Valley home’s musical heritage before it disappeared, Yahyaoui has successfully and thankfully, with Youssef, captured this rich mesmeric culture for posterity. And in doing so, produced a masterpiece that will endure. 2017 will have to be an exceptional year if Targ doesn’t make this year’s “best of lists”; it’s certainly earmarked for ours.
Various Artists ‘The Food Of Love’
Released by Autolycus Records, via PinDrop and TMD Media, 20th February 2017
Despite being one the most laid back people I know, though judging by the multiple projects, schemes, events and albums he’s working on at any one time he may just be tired out, Oxford polymath Sebastian Reynolds is in a constant state of ennui. He made the TOF column four times in a row last year with various remixes and productions including the multimedia Thai meets West production Mahajanaka – a collaboration fusion of both traditional Thai forms and Western contemporary dance and music, which reinterprets the ancient stories of Buddha on his multiple incarnations journey of perfection towards becoming fully enlightened. In between his roles as a promoter and head honcho at PinDrop, Seb’s set to release a pair of solo albums, Remembrance and Epiphany, later in the year. It is once again in his role as both a performer and instigator that sees him, alongside Tom McDonnell of TMD Media, commission and curate a celebration of the great bard Shakespeare.
Originally part of the wider Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee festival programme in 2016, the adroitly conceived compilation has had some trouble with its official release date, being put back and now hovering over January ready to drop at anytime. But the wait has been worthwhile. The twelve-strong track list features an inspired choice of both Oxford locals and carefully plucked international artists interpreting, transmogrifying and playing around with both the most fleeting and integral songs performed or merely referenced in Shakespeare great cannon of work. In what is now an obligatory requisite, Seb performs with both the electronic-indie outfit he’s been a member for years, Flights Of Helios, and as one half of a unique collaboration with Food Of Love project partner McDonnell, under The Children Of The Midnight Chimes appellation. The first of these is a constantly evolving alternative indie and trip-hop dance peregrination of I Loathe That I Did Love from Hamlet, the latter, is a heavy, thick supernatural vortex drone representation of O Death, Rock Me Asleep from Henry IV Part 2. Considering its source is “allegedly” from a poem written by the tragic fateful Anne Boleyn on the eve of her execution, this abstract soundscape, which features shrouded in the ether vocals from McDonnell, is like a haunting: the unrested spectre of Ann caught in perpetual anguish.
Equally good at removing the original material from any sort of familiarity, taking it over the threshold into alien realms, steam-punk maverick and musical contraption inventor Thomas Truax transforms the Tudor court stalwart Greensleeves into a ethereal cosmic trip abroad Gene Roddenberry’s Starship Enterprise; landing on The Tempest inspired Forbidden Planet. David Thomas Broughton meanwhile closes the album with a ten-minute experimental finale, reinterpreting Lawn As White As Driven Snow from A Winter’s Tale. Sounding like multiple takes of the same song, set into motion at different times and played all at once, Broughton impressively weaves all the discord, overlaps and amorphous bleeds together to create a drifting, sometimes anemic panoply.
In a more congruous manner, closer to the times they were written in, the Scottish troubadour Alasdair Roberts, with only the minimal though attentively atmospheric “historically accurate” lute of Gordon Ferries to back him up, steps straight off a Tudor tapestry to coo in an atavistic lulling timbre the “oblique” referenced Caleno Custure Me from Henry IV Part 2. Elsewhere the tone is of a folksy twee yet often stark and ominous droning beauty. A Highland imbued version of Strength In A Whisper, from Much Ado About Nothing, by, another Scott, the folk songstress Kirsty Law, and a stirring quivered Celtic orchestral treatment of Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone, from Hamlet, by the Dead Rat Orchestra both share hints of Jed Kurzel’s mesmerizing score for the 2015 movie version of Macbeth.
Missing unfortunately from the line-up, the classical folk legend John Renbourn sadly passed away before recording his contribution. The Food Of Love is as a result dedicated to his memory. And it is a touching tribute but most importantly a successful exercise in bringing vitality to Shakespeare’s yellowed parchment; lifting what were in many ways just fleetingly touched upon songs to life.
Delicate Steve ‘This Is Steve’
Released by ANTI-, 27th January 2017
I must confess. Delicate Steve (as he’s known) has until now escaped my detection. The accompanying bio however offers an impressive resume, listing David Byrne, The Dirty Projectors, Lee Ranaldo and tUnE-yArDs as admirers and collaborators. As a testament to Steve’s range, the erudite guitarist and songwriter has “cut records” with both Sondre Lerche and Death Grip’s Zach Hill; and recently appeared playing guitar on the new Paul Simon record.
His first solo album in four years, and the first for the Anti- label, This Is Steve is billed as an “introduction” from the artist to you, the audience. A one-man band, producing and playing everything himself, Steve’s peaceable, often acid-country and surf twanged jaunty and ruminative, guitar themes run through an eclectic array of genres without settling on any specific. The signature cosmic swirling phaser guitar effect and intricate but relaxed perusal technique apes a number of other instruments, including the sitar on the opening glam-psych wilderness of Animals, the zither on the George Harrison exotic bluegrass walk along a California boardwalk Winners, and a Theremin on the nocturnal slouchy candor Nightlife.
Untethered as such; meandering mostly, but at times more forcefully careering through expressions and moods, Steve is scuzzing down ZZ Top’s highway towards a Todd Rundgren drive-through one minute (Cartoon Rock) and yearningly picking out a poignant personal Woodstock gospel anthem the next (This Is Steve).
Despite it being an entirely instrumental affair, you may find yourself singing along. And that’s due to each song’s uncanny familiarity, but also down to Steve’s personable touch, unguarded, channeling a lifetime of both conscious and unconscious melodies and articulating them in his own unique manner.
Released by Thrill Jockey, January 27th 2017
Transmogrifying, compressing and distorting their chosen “tactile” instruments (which include a six-stringed zither-like contraption and a drum) through vintage analogue equipment, the Emptyset duo perform a live contortion of fuzzy and frazzling trepidation on this latest conceptual offering, Borders.
Commissioned in the past to articulate musically and sonically the abstract; Emptyset have produced successful reification suits, with a number of self-imposed rules, from a number of architectural spaces, including the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and the neo-gothic Woodchester Mansion. This time around, sat in a Faraday cage as towering metal leviathans communicate with each other overhead, James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas set themselves another series of prompting parameters to work within. On this particular score the duo focus on subtly adjusting the timbral qualities of their performance, for an often ominous concatenate series of sonorous and abrasive evocations.
Though Borders doesn’t seem to offer a specific architectural environment; it evokes instead an electrified industrial-scarred force field of dread. Sounding not too dissimilar to Sunn O))) making a cerebral techno album on Basic Channel, the eleven-track soundtrack is suffused with long drawn-out pylon throbbing rhythms, seething and flexing with various fluctuated menace. Descent for instance opens the furnace door of a machine-age fire-breathing Moloch, whilst Speak brays with a monstrous didgeridoo-like rasp.
The album is a heavy dose of bestial sizzled magnetic crackling and giant rumblings; an electrified fence of static doom, both highly atmospheric but also teasing with anticipation.
A Journey Of Giraffes ‘F²’
Self-released, January 11th 2017
A Journey Of Giraffes’ John Lane has come a long way since his chirpier and languorous lo fi Beach Boys (circa Pet Sounds and SMiLE) inspired renderings and washes. Now almost fully immersed in the esoteric; exploring strange new soundscapes, Lane takes “a long walk into the deep forest” of his Maryland, USA home for something approaching the supernatural. Those California vapours of old do still linger, though removed even further, lost on a swell of reverb, Foley sounds and a heavy miasma of abstracted experimentation. A leitmotif of field recordings from the Hampton’s Cromwell Valley Park underpin this latest journey: the trampling underfoot of the valley floor and, threatening to blow us off-course, gusts of wind create an environment that sounds like an ominous meander into the Blair Witch Project.
Best described as Coil picking apart Panda Bear on the way to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, F² (an element which you won’t find on the periodic table; a symbol instead that Lane uses to represent a sentiment of “family first”) features venerable monk-like chants and wordplay, subterranean echoes, Tibetan chimes and paranormal doo-wop. Hermitages, caves, atavistic idols to old gods the ghosts of previous generations that once hewed a living from the landscape and the sainted Father Damien De Veuster of the 19th century leprosy colony of Hawaii’s Molokai Island, all haunt Lane’s imagination.
Self-released via Bandcamp, almost happenstance style, this avant-garde soundtrack opus benefits from the kind of freedom that the internet can offer. However, with no restrictions and a methodology of total exploration, the album is perhaps overly long in places and can stretch the listener’s patience. Still, Lane works out his ideas and expands his sound further on every release; taking that original Beach Boys influence into seldom charted waters.
Dr Chan ‘Southside Suicide’
Released by Stolen Body Records, 24th February 2017
Like some obscure French exchange garage band of students – the kind you’d find, if it existed, on a European version of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations – hanging out in the 80s L.A. of plaid shirt and paisley bandana fatigue wearing skater-punks, Dr Chan are an abrasive and coarse mix of renegade petulant inspirations.
Essentially powered by garage rock and all its various manifestations, the group from the south of France hurtle through an up tempo and raging backbeat of The Chocolate Watch Band, Standells, Rationals, Black Lips and Detroit Cobras. The difference here is that they also throw in a miscreant Molotov of thrash punk, courtesy of Fidlar, and “death rap”, cue Florida’s $uicideboy$, into the riot. It gives the Chan’s brand of garage band mania a different intensity and drive: more screaming in a ball of flames spikiness than tripping psych.
The opening title track is a lively introduction to this controlled chaos; the distorted scrawling spunk-rockers rumbling and attacking surf, bluegrass and rock n roll in adolescent fury. It isn’t always this fast and noisy. I Can’t Change for example takes a, dare I say, poignant respite; sounding like a yearning Roky Erikson dodging the whistling drop of bombs from above.
Despite the increasingly distressed cartoon screamed resigned sentiment of the swansong, Life Is Not Fun – Southside Suicide is a blast. Riled and obviously pissed about the current state of affairs both at home and overseas, Dr Chan’s protests are in keeping with the primal spirit of rock’n’roll: fun, fun, fun! It’s a blast.
Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr ‘Landed In Brooklyn’
Released by ACT, 24th February 2017
It can hardly be denied that New York always has and always will be an epicenter of musical innovation and fusion. Sure, there’s a growing unease at not just New York but mega beacons of creativity everywhere in the West. That the artists are pushed out and forced into the outlier regions because of gentrification, high rents and a general enervation of culture. Manhattan still has the jazz legacy and sports the venues (from the Lincoln Centre to The Village), but we’re increasingly told the “action” is happening elsewhere: in the borough of Brooklyn to be exact. A sprawling region of the New York panoply, Brooklyn has become a cheaper, more viable alternative; though in the last decade this hotspot has seen a massive influx of millennials, students and creatives flood the area, and so changed the very nature of the neighborhoods and inevitably made it more expensive.
Lured to this hotspot, the exceptionally talented trumpet (though on the latest album also partial to the flugelhorn) and piano sibling partnership of Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr “land” in Brooklyn for their 5th LP together. Prompted by the German jazz label ACT, and producer Siggi Loch (one of the first to foster the brothers talent, Loch produced their debut 2006 album Remember Chet, as part of that label’s “Young German Jazz” series) the duo initially hadn’t given much thought to the project. Spurred on however by the mounting reputation of New York’s largest borough, the brothers relocated. Imbuing themselves with Brooklyn’s history and present “where the action is” status, they recruited members of David Bowie’s Blackstar backline; man-of-the-moment tenor saxophonist and bandleader Donny McCaslin and the equally in-demand, former New York native, electric and double-bass player, Tim Lefebvre. Both have, in great part due to the attention Bowie inevitably drew, helped shape the city’s persona and rep for pushing the boundaries of jazz. And here they do what they do best; lifting and taking ideas and melodies into ever more inventive directions. Consummate enough to boost the foundations, yet also erudite enough to know when to blow or noodle away ten-to-the-dozen, they prove a congruous fit. Finishing the lineup, another link to McCaslin, is supremo drummer Nate Wood, who gets the chance to showboat with a salvo of never-ending rolls and crescendos on the cover of Tokio Hotel’s power-rock ballad, Durch den Monsun – a vast improvement upon the original.
Making a final connection to the city’s wider jazz legacy; the brothers chose to record at Joe & Nancy Marciano’s legendary System Two Recording Studio; using the venerated studio’s classic ribbon mic, once owned by John Coltrane no less, and a piano previously used for concerts at Carnegie Hall. Utilizing the environment, which has seen its fair share of legendary names from the jazz lexicon record there, the quintet produced an extemporized performance. Far from rehearsed and contrived – other than the choice of covers and the odd bit of sheet music – there’s little prompting on Landed In Brooklyn. Instead we get a flowing, loose semi-improvised interplay between all involved. This method is demonstrated on the opening “ensemble sound”, Bernie’s Tune. Relaxed, springy even, Julian Wasserfuhr and McCaslin’s interweaving horn section flews impressively over a quickened backbeat to create an update on the New York siren wailed TV detective theme tune. Roman Wasserfuhr, who leads on most of the album, is deft and supple on the ivories; caressing warming with a rippling effect even though you can tell he’s working hard on some complex countermelodies.
Whether it’s been planned, or unintentionally just floated into the quintet’s melting pot sound, there are traces and nods to a number of key jazz doyens throughout. There’s purposeful, and noted in the album’s accompanying booklet, hints of the horn geniuses Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine for instance on a couple of tracks, most notably however on the nestled trumpet and swaddling saxophone – Gershwin on Blue Note – Tinderly.
Elsewhere there’s Marimba-lilted waltzes; a 5/4 timing transformation of a moribund Sting song; and a cluttering railway-track travail style meditation on America’s past segregation woes to take in. And marvelous they all sound too. There can be no denying that this is a quality line-up; musically speaking, even if the covers are hardly inspiring, this is an accomplished recording. The Wasserfuhr brothers do creative things with the scenery and mood of a hub currently in the spotlight; producing an album that arguably bridges the old with the new guard.
Le Petit Diable ‘Seeds’
Self-released through Bandcamp, available now
An important force for good on the underground Spanish music scene, predominantly in the last five years with the Krautrock and “Motor City” inspired Jinko Vilova, songwriter/musician and full-on space-rocker Ander López has taken on a new role as a troubadour for his solo album.
As demonstrated on his new collection, under the Le Petit Diable guise, López removes all but a brassy-stringed resonating acoustic guitar from the Jinko Vilova blueprint sound. Taken from the group’s previous LP, Líquid, the opening gambit, You’re Standing, is reduced from its original cosmic thickset Detroit bombast to a far more intimate acoustic affair, which sounds at times like a missing track from Can’s Unlimited Edition. It serves as a transitional introduction to ease the listener into the new raw, stripped direction. The album, Seeds (a metaphor for the ideas he’s evidently planting), has a real live quality about it, recorded in an atmospherically favourable space that lends itself to the echoing chimes and rings of his “lived-in” guitar playing.
Countering a gentler picking and plucking articulation with a mixture of attacking and ringing reverberation style rhythm guitar, López works up a fair old pace at times; filling the space when he needs to: The rebellious folk gallop, Purple Sphere, could be considered even spiky!
Vocally he channels a litany of hard-worn melancholic wayfarers; including Blixa Bargeld (Who Cast The First Stone), Nico (Snake’s Dance, Follow The Leader) and Roy Harper (My Eyes). There’s even a hint of the languid Damo Suzuki about López on the opener.
Le Petit Diable is a welcome move towards a parallel solo career; a surprise exploration and change from the music he’s become synonymous with. There is a lot of promise on this album, and the future looks bright.
January 23, 2017
Words: Matt Oliver
Happy new year to the gazillion followers of Rapture & Verse, jumping on some previously unpulled Christmas crackers and wading into the New Year like the flyest of flyweights – after all, this is the season where Soulja Boy and Chris Brown (including a Mike Tyson diss record) and 50 Cent versus Riff Raff are taking it upon themselves to pick up from where 2016 left off. January cabin fever already? You can choose upcoming UK appearances from Drake, KRS One, Loyle Carner and Rae Sremmurd, or follow the I Love 90s hip-hop tour, with Coolio, Salt n Pepa and Vanilla Ice headlining.
Sounding like he actually enjoyed the clusterfuck that was 2016, Jam Baxter’s ‘Teeth Marks’/’Soi 36’, to the sound of Chemo dredging the depths, is an intriguing yet debilitating start to the year. Micall Parknsun ‘Practicing Tag Team Moves’ lets you know you are now rocking with the best, Jehst and Durrty Goodz joining in the belligerence to snap barbells. Lucid Logic’s ‘Falling into Winter’ EP – “our gift to you as we make the transition from Fall to Winter” – is not exactly the simple comfort blanket as appears advertised, Illogic and Lucid Optics providing a boiling pot of ideas and colours. Quelle Chris both flips and upholds hip-hop egotism on ‘Buddies’, Godz Chyld’s ‘Crazy’ vividly illustrates street psychosis that won’t fade, and Reef the Lost Cauze beats his chest with authority as funk fire ‘Grizzly’ matches the talk with the walk.
Instrumental funk that’ll get you stretching your hamstrings for auditions as both ‘floor-burning B-boy and crime fighter from when men were men?’ That’ll be DJ DSK’s 7” pair ‘Lamine’ and ‘I Know You Got Sole’, the boxfresh sneaker freak laced by Mystro. A pensive EP of head down beats, chopping folk as needle fluff dictates, dives through the back of the wardrobe in the name of guarded headphone instrumentalism: L’Orange’s ‘Koala’ EP challenges the cute and cuddly. Meanwhile, Torb The Roach & Floppy McSpace’s dope ‘Tusen Baht’ turns a foreign film dub into a hoodlum’s magic carpet ride, and Nottz conducts his own ghetto Fantasia for Stik Figa and Elzhi to make their ‘Down Payment’ substantial.
The epitome of impetus, Jermiside and L-Marr the Starr air it all out on six track soul nourishment ‘God Bless the Child’ that will both stroke your ego and shake you by your shoulders. Oddisee begins his next critically acclaimed year by sprinting out the gate with ‘Things’, a most spry guru of the groove. Of an older vintage, The Beatnuts’ ‘Off the Books’ – that gangster flute lick with Big Pun ripping it up – and Too $hort, in typically mild-mannered form on the Lil Jon-produced ‘Blow the Whistle’, both get 7” second winds begging for your shopping basket. Corleone holidaying in the sun from Oh No, Tristate & Evidence takes an ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, some of that old Wu-Tang grit from Masta Killa, Redman and Method Man rocks a ‘Keep It Thoro’-style bruiser and sweeps ‘Therapy’ through a three minute snowstorm, and a familiar heart-stopping boom bap whirlwind from Endemic allows Bankai Fam to smash into the calendar ahead.
In case you’ve been hibernating to this point, Run the Jewels dropped ‘RTJ3’ at Christmas and have already gone close to making 2017 null and void in terms of competition coming close. Their gunfingers-n-gold chain bravado unsheathes another shedload of quotable, tripping the switch to consistently controlled explosions dialling in their sub-sci-fi, slyly evolving short shrift. Extending the telekinetic chokehold of the previous two albums (and why shouldn’t they? – if it ain’t broke…), El-P and Killer Mike are finding hip-hop’s throne at the top table most comfortable.
Taking a New Year’s trip to ‘Paranoid City’, the unnerving calm of Sleaze and Sonnyjim sparks a dangerous combination of smoked out and razor sharp. Lead by the immaculate ironman ‘Lobster Bisque’ and with a supreme cast on the boards (Reklews, Illinformed, Sumgii, Sam Zircon), this is true eyes-on-the-prize hip-hop shot through with the everyday, personas split between callous opportunists and kingpins at play. Take it home at your first opportunity.
A similar character assassination (as well as some of the same production personnel) can be aimed at Lee Scott, whose scallywagging ‘Nice Swan’ is of a loaded nonchalance maxing out the Blah Records patent lining hip-hop’s underbelly. Snivelling between unharmed shrugging and expressly not giving a fuck, Scott reveals the great squalor of opening track ‘Bootl£gliving’, a succession of quality snides, and insomnia-battling technicality “stepping on your dreams with elephant-sized feet”. Perfect to combat the bite of January with.
‘The Madness’, while only allowing momentary folly, is Attikus kicking no frills lessons, knuckling down while he knuckles up. Out of Vancouver with a touch of the Midwest, the niceness of his nitty gritty puts hoods up, but then tightens the drawstring to noose-like levels. The golden touch of MidaZ is rarely a subtle one, a chew-up-and-spit-out emcee with a flow rarely resting between scoffs, making ‘Loops Two’ a thorough boost to the bicep. Working around funk with money on its mind while twirling a gun round his finger, it’s an LP maintaining inescapable intimidation at all times. To be fair, both pale in comparison to the monocle and tweed parody of ‘Professor Elemental & His Amazing Friends’, sergeant major styling sounding like a block party thrown by Tom Caruana for the Downtown Abbey massive. Chocks away, tally-ho, and so on.
Given hip-hop’s obsession with the finer things in life, it takes someone like Cab Cabernet to step it up into something aristocratic. ‘Krushed Grapes: Harlem Vintage’ sees the ex-Maspyke member swirling bouquets of beats and reeling off rhymes from the wine list, only dealing in the dapper. Strap your gators on, cos this is slick. Blowing impressive fresh air into your ears are Benny Diction and Blue Buttonz, a UK-SA connect on cruise control for ‘Button Up’ where confidence breeds optimism – even at its sternest, its vibe of yearning is something to sidle up to. eMCee Killa, MNSR Fries, Luca Brazi and Elliot Fresh come along for the smoothest of rides. Yet another Statik Selektah casting session remixes ‘The A3C’ series, wrapping Dave East, Action Bronson, The Underachievers, Mick Jenkins and Vince Staples in new threads frayed from all the shoulder brushing.
Run-DMC’s self-titled debut gets a reformat; VIP hip-hop that’s a different world away as it churned up all before it, the primal avant-garde of crunching drum machines and scratches, rawk riffs and full steam tag teamin’ with a brand new attitude, is a stark reminder as much as a shot of nostalgia.
Free to download, Giallo Point adds a fresh lick of majestic menace to the aggravations of Percee P, Nas, KRS-One, Shabazz the Disciple, and a daring flip of OC’s signature switchblade. ‘The Remixes’ practises the ski mask way with some fast life coasting – do not make one false move. A massive ode to real hip-hop demanding you respect his hustle, Optimystic’s two-disc, 32-track ‘Day of the Guiding Light’/’Followed by the Shadow’ finds its lane and never swerves. The Aussie emcee makes his buoyancy loud and clear, that in spite of recruiting a mass regiment of hired guns and old skool soldiers – Jeru the Damaja, Killa Priest, Chip Fu, Krazy Drayz, Mr Cheeks, Keith Murray – is a one man army revering the essence.
You can never go wrong with a Donnie Propa mixtape. After tributes to Masta Ace and J Dilla, ‘Straight from the Crate Cave’ honours all that is golden aged in the garden of Pete Rock. It’s the full spectrum of the Chocolate Boy Wonder that’ll have you auto reversing in no time. Certainties in life: death, taxes, and the freshness of J-Live. ‘At the Date of this Writing’ – tagline: ‘advocate dope’ – offers more soaring standards of enlightenment, maximising damning indictments and wordplay to get your grey cells cramming. Only seven tracks only, it’s the first of a series of one-man mixtapes to put you in a thinker’s pose.
Got a twin tape ghetto blaster for Christmas? Get ‘Cuts for the Boombox’ on it and watch the blockbuster haul from Oso Blanco & Matt Kuartz start rocking and tripping from your shoulder. Don’t forget to rewind. Neatly finishing up this month, DJ Skarface puts DJ Shadow beats underneath Run the Jewels wrath for a well executed 20 minute mash up to get everyone talking.
Maximise your browsers for M- Dot’s life through a lens, Jabee’s face-off, and Geechi Suede getting grooves on.
January 18, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
In case the latest album title from Vukovar left you in any doubt, the smutty postcard fanny cover art will confirm that Fornication, quite literally, twats and fucks around with its source material of inspired cover versions. After releasing the stunning visceral debut proper, Emperor, in 2015 (featured in our ‘choice albums’ feature of that year), which romantically but despairingly soundtracked the fall of Olympus, fiddling in melodic melancholy whilst Rome burned, Vukovar followed with a more withdrawn and challenging harder edged LP the following year, entitled Voyeurism. For their third effort, they’ve chosen to bastardize an eclectic but not altogether surprising number of songs; often-gelling two separate songs together in their inimitable signature style of miasma post-punk and caustic shoegaze to create something even more esoteric or melancholic.
The opening opiate injection shot, Forbidden Colours, aligns Japan’s famous broody, romanticized crooning indulgence with hints of progressive intoxicants Gong’s Princess Dreaming. The results: a haunted Bossa nova preset Suicide shuffling beyond the ether with David Sylvian’s astral projection. Just a couple of tracks later, Vukovar listlessly expand Laurie Anderson’s groundbreaking avant-garde vocoderised O Superman; adding traces of the obscure French composer and soundtrack artist Jean Claude Vannier‘s L’enfant Assassin Mouches (taken from his 70s debut solo album of the same name) to the mix. Strung-out with only a penetrating resonating single snare shot to wake the listener from the amorphous malaise, the group languishes in a tragic mood until a brief shimmer of twinkly hope emerges near the end. However, one final bombardment sends the light packing as a meltdown approaches. Elsewhere they tether the experimental White Noise workshop with a ghostly schmooze-y finger-clicking Billy Fury on the Wondrous Place/Love Without Sound hybrid, and match Lila Engel by the motorik doyens Neu! with Soft Cell’s Meet Murder My Angel – imagine Bernard Summers instead of Michael Rother , fronting the Neu!.
In a singular mode, but by no means less strange and beguiling, Vukovar play, comparatively, straighter versions of songs by the House Of Love (Destroy The Heart), The Birthday Party (Loose) and The Velvet Underground (Lady Godiva’s Operation). Highlights include a smeared, hypnotic version of the highly influential Oh How To Do Now by the legendary US-airman-abroad-in-60s-Germany, The Monks; which sounds like Can and the Dead Skeletons slurring and removing the urgency from the original’s rampant (Model T) garage banjo march. They also do a killer drug-y haze cover of The Shangri Las’ Dressed In Black; reimagining the original as a Mogadon Downliners Sect sharing a car ride with The Fall on a one-way journey over the ledge at dead man’s curve.
Fornication is a curious covers album, an extension of Vukovar’s cult status: The malcontent outsiders totally at odds with instant gratification and a 24/7 all-immersive connection to their followers. If anything they’ve retreated further into the gloom as their reputation gains more attention and welcome acclaim. In an atmosphere of haunted languorous despair then, they’ve removed their influences even further away into often darker and worrying recesses of the psyche to produce not so much homages, but re-appropriate, reexamine and dissect the originals to offer a glimpse into our worryingly unstable contemporary times.
January 12, 2017
New Music Reviews Roundup
Words: Dominic Valvona
Welcome back to the first review roundup of 2017, which gets off to a grand start with this dazzling cornucopia of new releases from Baba Zula, Dearly Beloved, Hanitra, Mikko Joensuu, Piano Magic, James McArthur and Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward.
In this edition of my regular review roundup we have the grand sweeping gestures of Mikko Joensuu’s second album in the Amen cycle; the second idiosyncratic folk and country idyllic songbook from James McArthur; some tender sounds “from the heart of Madagascar” in the shape of the Island’s talented songstress Hanitra; plus a bit of hardcore from the Dearly Beloved. There’s also a trio of special anniversary releases, the first, a triumvirate of solo work from Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward, celebrating the tenth birthday of Jezus Factory Records, the second and third mark the twentieth anniversaries of both the chamber pop dreamers Piano Magic, who have chosen to have one last fling before disbanding this year, and the polygenesis dub Istanbul outfit Baba Zula.
Baba Zula ‘XX’
Released by Glitterbeat Records, 27th January 2017
Bastions of a psychedelic Istanbul scene, they’ve arguably made their very own, the omnivorous Anatolian Acid Mother Temple of dub-styled Baba Zula have been melding all their many musical inspirations together for twenty years now. Co-founded by Osman Muret Ertel and Levent Akman in 1996, the kaleidoscopic group originally sprung from Ertel’s previous ZeN Outfit as a one-off soundtrack project for a film director friend. Two decades later and we can surely assume that Baba Zula won out.
Inspired by the first wave of Turkish bands, that grew out of a previous generations atavistic folk scene, in the 1960s, notably the psych pioneers Moğollar, Ertel and Akman helped revitalize an age of experimentation, lost during the tumultuous upheavals of Turkey’s coups in the 70s and 80s. Politically acute, challenging the authorities with trance-like joyous expression, Baba Zula are once again finding themselves overshadowed by developments in their own backyard. And so just when we and their comrades need them that discerning label of new musical discoveries from the African continent and beyond, Glitterbeat Records, have decided to celebrate the band’s legacy with a generous double helping of reimagined material and a whole host of transmogrified dub treatments from congruous bedfellows and admirers alike – including the Mad Professor, Dr. Das and Glitterbeat’s quasi in-house band Dirtmusic.
Choosing a unique method of documenting that twenty-year career (and counting), Ertel explains: “None of the pieces here are in their original forms. Instead, we picked remixes, re-recordings, collaborations, live tracks, all the possibilities, but none of these have been released before.”
Transformed but not enough to completely obscure the source, the first of these two CDs (or albums) travels back and forth across the decades, with the earliest example being the feverish female protagonist orgasm over a DJ Shadow backbeat Erotika Hop from 1997, and one of the latest, a nine-minute Tamikrest-on-an-exchange-trip-to Byzantine Aşiklarin Sözu Kalir (otherwise known as “External Is The Word Of Poets”). Elsewhere you’ll find the group’s biggest hit to date, Bir Sana Bir De Bana (“One For You And One For Me”) playfully re-styled as a Gainsbourg-on-the-Bosphorus duet between a French woman and an Armenian man.
Opening this meandering journey, Ozgür Ruh showcases the group’s signature languid dub sound; a free-spirited melting of ascending, whirling electric saz (a long-necked lute-like instrument), accentuated brushed bendir hand drums, longing male and female vocals and a cosmic Jamaica blown off course towards the Adriatic, vibe. However, there’s no mistaking the band’s roots on Biz Size Asik Olduk; a curious dervish romance with the candor and atmosphere of a desert blues serenaded camel caravan trail. The final two tracks are live. There’s, what sounds at first like a tuning-up session, kosmische freestyle Çöl Aslanlari performance from the Bada Bing in Berlin (handed over to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke to mix) and a nineteen-minute experimental reverb-heavy dub odyssey version of Abdülcanbaz from the Piraeus Resistance Festival In Greece to lose oneself in. Both are great examples of their untethered abandon and float-y transcendental mesmerism.
The accompanying (mis)adventures in dub companion is a veritable feast of the most somnolent drifting mixes. It helps that Baba Zulu’s exotic vapours lend themselves so well to dub, imbued as they are by it. But with no limits set and with a litany of dub explorers allowed a free-reign to remodel, the band’s material is swathed in so much echo that it almost disappears into the ether.
The first few tracks are by the group themselves and someone known as “arastaman”. Reshaping their own catalogue and sound they use the lingering traces of a song and submerge beneath a smog of warbled theremin and phaser effects on Alem and cut up the vocals on a mind-bending Ufak. Guest mixes include the radical Asian Dub Foundations’ Dr Das and his Uncle style heavy shake-up of Iki Alem; Dirtmusic’s mysterious lunar sandscaped ‘Hopche’; and The Mad Professor’s quartet of polygenesis traverses: merging a South American tropical groove to the Istanbul guitar cycles of ‘Baso’ and playing with the convulsing vocals and howling calls of ‘Erotik Adab’.
To a backdrop of continued violence (at the time of going to press there’s been both the shootings at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub and the car bomb/gun attack on the courthouse in Izmir, in just the last two weeks alone) and heightened turmoil, caught in the midst of suppressive regime currently removing dissenting and alternative voices from the street with the most tenuous of reasons it’s hardly surprising that many wish to escape the realities of daily life. Baba Zula know more than most how dire the situation is; Ertel’s own late uncle, a journalist, was tortured and imprisoned for his troubles. Though highly entrancing and mostly destined for psychedelic shindigs this eclectic voyage is every bit the rallying call of protestation; just existing amounts to a form of dissention in the face of increasing nationalism. Here’s to another twenty years of stirring the omnivorous musical stew.
Dearly Beloved ‘Admission’
Released by Aporia Records, January 27th 2017
Recorded through Dave Grohl’s acquired custom-built 70s Neve 8028 analogue console, at his famous Studio 606, the desk that that facilitated Nirvana’s Nevermind has imbued the latest steely hardcore row from the Dearly Beloved duo. Still thundering along at a furious velocity, thrash-powering their way through a scowling mix of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and The Pixies, the dynamic Niva Chow/Rob Higgins gut-thumping and bewailing partnership have acquired an extra, controlled, ingredient of grunge.
More suffused, the light and shade of Admission rages in a thoughtful depth between dystopian drones and full-on esoteric rock’n’roll, ala a Mogadon induced Royal Trux in a switchblade scuffle with The Black Keys – the opening RIP track showing a flair even for southern boogie blues, albeit a very noisy one. For a band that fluidly absorbs a litany of hardcore, punk and doom influences, Admission is surprisingly melodic and nuanced. And so you’re are just as likely to hear echoes of Placebo and the Moon Duo as you are Death From Above 1979, and run through not just broody miasma moods but also fun-thrilled frolics.
Whipped into shape (not literally of course!) by Ramones and Misfits producer Daniel Rey who laid out a relentless schedule that had the duo rehearse in a East L.A. sweatbox for eight hours a day for a week, the Dearly Beloved for the first time entrusted an outsider to sit behind the controls. As it turns out, the road-tested and solid work out sessions have captured the duo’s live energy perfectly, delivering a lean, sinewy, heavy-as-fuck rage with all the indulgences and chaff taken out. That tumultuous, controlled but far from caged performance matches the turbulence of the times we’re living in.
Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward ‘Volume 2’
Released via Jezus Factory Records, January 20th 2017
A decade on from the last Mauro Pawlowski, Rudy Trouvé and Craig Ward triumvirate compilation of solo work and to celebrate the tenure of the label vassal of so many Belgium borne alternative rock projects, Jezus Factory Records have now released a long-awaited follow up; named simply Volume 2. All at one point or another members of Belgium’s, arguably, most famous export dEUS, all three musicians have also shared a highly complex interlocking relationship; each serving together in a rambunctious myriad of side projects, team-ups and explorations, most notably The Love Substitutes, iH8 Camera and Kiss My Jazz: if anyone could ever be bothered, it would make a convoluted but interesting rock family tree diagram. Crossing over and extending beyond the dEUS hub it feels like the common bond of releasing their material on Jezus Factory could see the trio join forces at any moment.
Showcasing their individual flights of fantasy, this second volume of solo work is sometimes bizarre, often curious and occasionally silly; traversing the more serious glacial suffused drones of Ward’s four-track travail; the guitar and post-punk synth of Trouvé; and the killer-ziller-driller lunacy of Pawlowski’s imaginary 80s movie soundtrack, complete with commercial breaks!
A familiar face on the Monolith Cocktail, the erudite Scottish guitarist/composer Craig Ward was originally invited many moons ago to holiday in the Belgium city of Antwerp by dEUS and Zita Swoon stalwart Stef Kamil Carlens. Somehow instead of returning home, he stayed and signed-up for in a stint in a local band, Kiss My Jazz, before inevitably joining the dEUS fraternity; playing guitar and delivering vocals on the In A Bar Under The Sea and The Ideal Crash albums. Ward subsequently left to form both The Love Substitutes and A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen. More recently he’s carved out a solo niche for himself with the suitably evocative ambient suite New Third Lanark whilst also running a guesthouse in his native Scotland. Earlier in 2016 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant to complete his ambitious solo opus Leave Everything Move Out, which was actually recorded in France with the Grammy Award winner David Odlum. Sticking to the same tone of moody strangeness and drawn-out drones, his environmentally descriptive quartet of soundscapes cover the territory of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. Ward circumnavigates with a touch of subtle gravitas the mysterious veiled landmarks, circling the behemoth omnipresence of Mount Betsy; hovering In The Wet Maze; dreamily rowing the topographic ocean from Island To Any Islands; and lurking in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a Sunless compression of resonating guitar notes and heavy-leaden synth modulations. It’s classic Ward at his deepest.
Still holding down the day job as a member of dEUS, Pawlowski has really gone for broke on this compilation with his 80s pastiche soundtrack. A quick run-through of the CV is needed first before we go into the details. Pawlowski originally rose to fame in the Evil Superstars, until they called it quits at the peak of their career. He went on however to release the Dave Sardy produced album Songs From A Bad Hat and launch a string of experimental groups and collaborations, including a Dutch language folk LP under the Maurits Pauwels appellation, and the Hitsville Drunks and Gruppo Di Pawlowski (recorded incidentally by Steve Albini) projects.
Throwing a tongue-in-cheek (I assume) curveball at 80s cinema, his eleven-track mix of Casio demo display crescendos, yapping seal noises, and Carpenter meets John Hughes is pure bonkers. There’s bad acid telly binges and garbled industrial menace aplenty, but the best is saved until last with the finale firework exploding retro tribute to AM college radio rock, Starught: a mix-up of Strangers When We Meet era Bowie, The Cars, Queen and Boston, it is an unashamed punch-in-the-air love song anthem. Pawlowski’s contribution is certainly the most varied and odd, detached from the more serious and dour tones of his album mates.
The final leg, the baton handed over to Trouvé, fluctuates between the stripped guitar sounds of The Durutti Column and a 80s homage of despondent Visage and Soft Cell synth maladies. Originally a founder member of dEUS but tiring of the group’s major label success and all the bullshit that comes with it (the band’s debut was released on Island Records), Trouvé left to form the Heavenhotel Presents label and play in the Ornette Coleman inspired experimental project Tape Cuts Tape, the The Mechanics (with Pawlowski) and the “all star” improvising iH8 Camera.
With a wealth of experience and enough of an eclectic swag of influences behind him, from post-punk to avant-garde jazz, ready to surface at anytime, his twelve-strong contribution of meditative and considered explorations reflects an omnivorous craving. And so one minute you’ll hear a hint of Spiritualized or DAF, the next minute, John Cale, yet the underlying sound remains signature Trouvé.
A decade in, weary and beleaguered with the current Brexit woes (just wait until it’s actually been triggered and unraveled), Andrew Bennett’s showcase label for music from the nation that unfortunately symbolizes both the best and worst excesses of the EU, has a challenging future ahead of it. There’s no signs however of fatigue nor a dip in quality or originality; Pawlowski, Trouvé & Ward still producing the goods no matter what the augurs foretell.
James McArthur and the Head Gardeners ‘Burnt Moth’
Released via Moorland Records, 20th January 2017
Conjuring up an idyllic image of sipping Cider with Rosie on the back of Constable’s Hay Wain, Welsh-born troubadour James McArthur and his Head Gardeners troupe return with another lilting album of bucolic folk and country songs on Burnt Moth.
Following up on the Strange Readings From The Weather Station debut, which announced McArthur’s move from backing Paul Weller on drums to fronting his very own songbook, this second peaceable collection continues to wander a perpetual end of summer into early autumn seasonal landscape. Picking away and plucking attentively in the style of Bert Jansch or Mike Cooper, the serenade-style poetic musicianship on display is effortlessly timeless, yet the often meandering lyrics chime with the contemporary themes of an ever-changing society moving unabated towards a digital, even virtual, immersion: encroaching on the tranquility and earnest pastoral ideals of a slower-paced more personal interactive world, which to all intents and purposes is proving a sanctuary from the fully-connected hum of the internet.
Mostly acoustic, McArthur is also accompanied throughout by an accentuated backing of burnished and dampened drums, slowly released from its quivered tension strings (all co-written and arranged with Jim Willis, who also plays mandolin on the album), rustic pining pedal steel guitar and on the classically leaning yearned To Do the lulling coos of guest vocalist Samantha Whates. Not only assisting McArthur in the making of this album but also chipping in with backing vocals and bass on the roulette wheel of lovelorn fortune, Evens On Green, is Joel Magill of the psychedelic Canterbury band Syd Arthur.
Burnt Moth is a charming sun-dappled tapestry of McCartney-esque, and on the title track finale, Harry Nilsson (fronting a dreamy Morricone romance) idiosyncratic storytelling and musings. McArthur is in no hurry to reveal and unfurl the album’s many nuances and beauty; toiling away gently to create a most enjoyable and thoughtful songbook.
Mikko Joensuu ‘Amen 2’
Released by Svart Records, end of 2016.
The middle of an ambitious all-expansive soul-searching trilogy, the second Amen chapter finds a vulnerable Mikko Joensuu rising from the porch of his cabin retreat to step forth into the radiant majesty of the Finnish landscape. Finding an obvious awe-inspiring beauty in the stunning vistas yet equally overwhelmed, Joensuu attempts to cope with his troubled past. An epiphany if you like, the Finnish troubadour “lost his religion” a while back and has since been attempting to draw back from a mental abyss. Imbued with the candid soul and gospel of Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized and the melodious drone of My Bloody Valentine, Joensuu’s second album in this triumvirate cycle balances the ethereal with a tumultuous chorus of peaks and lows; the opening Drop Me Down opus for example gently builds from the diaphanous to a nosier cacophony of horns. Even when the fuzz, distortion and tribal backbeat dynamics are let loose the dappled light pours in.
An alternative questioning and sincere hymn supported by the North Finnish veranda, Amen 2 is a grandiose stunning visceral work of art.
Released by ARC Music, 6th January 2017
An unofficial cultural ambassador for her homeland of Madagascar, the sagacious and much-celebrated talented songstress Hanitra sheds light on both the personal and environmental plights of the unique Indian Ocean Island and the universal suffrage of women in the wider world on her latest album Lasa.
For many, Madagascar continues to be an enigma: Famous unfortunately as the title of a DreamWorks animation franchise, but apart from its reputation as a colourful menagerie for all kinds of exotic wildlife and fauna, it remains a mystery to many. Musically speaking it has attracted a host of composers and musicians, including the recently revived French ethno jazz maestro Jef Gilson with his Et Malagasy masterpiece.
Almost as an anthropological experiment and survey Madagascar’s isolation and history has fascinated many. Lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, it’s strategic position has made it a popular port-of-call for traders and explorers, though many literally bumped into it unaware it existed. Despite a litany of famed travellers, from the Arabs to Marco Polo, recording its discovery over the centuries, it would be France that colonized it. However, whether warranted or not, conquerors and traders alike left traces, resulting in a cross-pollination of influences including music. On Lasa you can hear this legacy well with elements of jazz, the Balearics, Arabia and even the reverberations of an old Afghanistan – resonating from the evocative sound of that country’s lute-like rubab instrument; used to plaintive dreamy effect throughout on this album – entwined with a distinct foundation of Madagascar folk and gentle African rhythms. But it’s the award-winning siren’s vocals, flexing with élan, which encompass this imbued richness. Inherently timeless, fluidly moving between cooing, almost lullaby, and effortless soaring tension, Hanitra’s voice subtly matches the themes of her album without showboating. The double-meaning title song for instance, translated from the Malagasy dialect as to “go past”, is an elegy of a sort to the French-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela, who passed away in 2010 from breast cancer. Yet this touching tribute to a singer is far from sentimental; its Middle Eastern permutations and tenderness sweet and reflective rather than downcast and lamentable.
Soothingly in an array of colourful hues and tones, Hanitra addresses the themes of maltreatment, meted out both physically and psychologically towards women, on Eka and Avia, deforestation, in particular the devastating environmental costs of cutting down and selling Madagascar’s rosewood, on Mivalo, and another of those tributes, this time to the Vezo fishermens wives on the Island’s southeastern coastlines, eking out a hard living, on the oceanic motion Ampela. There’s celebration, paeans even, with the relaxed, lilting defense of same-sex marriage on Myriam and an invitation to dance in joyful abandon on Lalao. Whatever the emotion, Hanitra articulates her concerns and protestations with a soulful sincerity.
Lasa’s extended title is “from the heart of Madagascar”, and this is very true, yet the Island’s melting pot of musical influences and Hanitra’s own global travels mean this album is in fact universal.
Piano Magic ‘Closure’
Released by Second Language Music, 20th January 2017
Calling time on a twenty-year career with one last swansong, the Anglo-French Baroque indie dreamers Piano Magic echo the sentiments and themes of their 2000 song No Closure on their final majestic and profound album, Closure.
The self-proclaimed purveyors of “ghost rock”, formed at the height of the Britpop, have traversed and mapped out a moody romantic pathway for themselves over the years. Originally starting out as a lo-fi electronica trio in 1996, soon finding favour with John Peel, Piano Magic gradually grew into a full-on tour de force alternative rock band as the millennium drew near; recording amongst their notable cannon both a soundtrack for the Spanish director Bigas Luna’s Son De Mar and the Writers Without Homes album, which famously featured the folk legend Vashti Bunyan – who emerged from a 30-year musical silence to dust off the quelled vocal chords for the band. Still far off his critical-applauded born again renaissance as a “torch singer”, that same album also featured the dour talents of John Grant; just one of many collaborations over the years, the band also working at one time or another with Alan Sparhawk of Low, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, Cornershop and Tarwater. Closure is no different in featuring a suitably congruous number of guest spots, with Peter Milton Walsh, singer of the fellow chamber pop, Australian band, The Apartments channeling Mick Harvey, and Oliver Cheer (aka Dollboy) providing a south of the Rio Grande style swooning brass accompaniment on the Choir Boys-travail-a-literary-rich-Outback Attention To Life. Offering harmonic and atmospheric support on backing vocals, Josh Hight of Irons can be heard wafting about on the album’s opening grandiose and subtle opus title track and the stripped-down electro pop, in a quasi New Order style, Exile.
Drawn to a despondent melancholy, a most diaphanous one at that, the sagacious founder member and songwriter Glen Johnson is aided in this enterprise by Franck Alba (guitars), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion), Alasdair Steer (bass) and the band’s original drummer from their debut gig at the infamous Wag Club, Paul Tornbohm, now providing keyboards. Wounded and troubled as ever by the lingering traces and ghosts of past relationships and liaisons, Johnson’s resigned poetics attempt to meet head-on those feelings he just can’t seem to lay to rest: as Johnson calls it, the “mythical formal conclusion”, the need to “move on” from broken relationships is not so easy. And so he croons, “Let’s get this thing sewn up” on the Morricone meets Ry Cooder cinematic title track, knowing full well that “…you never get closure.” The supernatural echoes of a lost love, channeled through a dusty answering machine message séance, on Landline leave the singer’s voice paled and weakened; lamenting loss form the far side of the ether. Marooned as a passive onlooker to the goings-on in the backstreets of his southeast London neighbourhood, a voyeuristic, removed Johnson (in Talk Talk mode) vanishes almost completely before our very ears. The song’s sad lyrics it must be said are a most beautiful kind of misery.
Magnificent in their despair, the musicianship poised, purposeful and subtly stirring, Piano Magic’s last ever fling is one of the band’s most accomplished, and definitely one to savour. As near perfect as any Piano Magic suite can be, Closure proves that you can perhaps after all find a satisfactory ending.
January 5, 2017
Words: Dominic Valvona
Moebius ‘Musik fur Metropolis’
Released on CD/LP/DD by Bureau B, January 6th 2017
Standing like a shard beacon of expressionist light in 20th century cinema Fritz Lang’s, and let’s not forget his wife and co-auteur on this visionary opus Thea von Harbou, futuristic visual requiem Metropolis is rightly hailed as a classic. Borne out of the most tumultuous of periods in German history, as the artistically creative but decadent disconnect of the Weimar Republic was about to crumble and the menace of the National Socialists was goose-stepping towards an eventual Armageddon, Metropolis may have been about a future world but was making glaringly obvious analogies and metaphors about the present.
Modeled in the Art Deco style of its day the centuries old struggle between the elite and those on the lower strata of society continued unabated in the movie’s 21st century dystopian setting. A privileged minority of wealthy industrialists, living in the lofty heights of a N.Y. on steroids skyline, lorded it over those who toil in perpetual labour below, firing up and feeding the machinery that keeps the balance of power in check. The cast includes the love spurned mad scientist Rotwang, whose resurrection totem robot creation became the poster child for the film and continues to be one of the most iconic symbols of malevolent technology; the dandy of the ‘upper world’ turn inspired ‘mediator’, reformed hero Freder and his father the city’s “master” Joh Fredersen; and the idealist heroine of the piece, Maria. All parties are forced to reconcile after a series of events, sparked by Freder’s epiphany after witnessing a deadly explosion in the boiler rooms; enchanted and led to the workers via his love for Maria.
Ambitious in any era, Metropolis despite pushing cinematography towards dizzying heights of inventiveness and scope was considered too lengthy and it’s central tenet naïve on its inaugural release. A substantial cut was made, losing many scenes and even characters, before a final edited version was released to the greater public. Believed discarded and lost, the original became something of an enigma until a full-length version turned up in 2005 in a museum in Argentina. Restored to near 95% completion it was unveiled five-years later and has ever since been lavished with special screenings and accompanied by a myriad of different scores, including the catalyst for this special release. Invited in 2012 to perform a semi-improvised soundtrack leading avant-garde composer and founding member of the Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia triumvirate of cosmic progressives Dieter Moebius composed a suitably atmospheric, often unsettling and evocative industrial suite. Not the first and certainly not the last artist to soundscape this Silent Age behemoth, attempts to furnish the action with a suitable musical score stretch right back to Gottfried Huppertz’s original in 1928, to Moroder and “friends” gratuitous pop soundtrack remake in the 80s, and the more successful interpretations of Techno music giant Jeff Mills in 2000 and the lavish 96-piece orchestra and 60-strong choir opus in 2004 by Abel Korzeniowski.
Using pre-arranged tracks and samples, treated by an array of effects, Moebius’ one-off performance was always destined for release at a later date. Unfortunately as it turned out a reimagined album version would elude the Kosmische pioneer who passed away in the summer of 2015. With the help and support of his widow Irene and longtime musical partners Tim Story and Jon Leidecker, the Berlin musician Jonas Förster finished the remaining work that needed to be done and completed the production: quite satisfactorily as it transpires. A performance in four concomitant acts, Moebius loyally matches up the drama onscreen with a serial suffused and nuanced avant-garde narrative. Swaying in their unison of drudgery the somnolent work gangs of the opening Schicht (“layer”) section are accorded a lamentable industrial march. At the core of this soundscape is a monotony of hissing valves, descending and bending generator drones and the sound of steam-pumped hydraulics. Layer upon layer is carefully administered whilst the clocking-in gong vibrates a foreboding signal for the day’s subjugated graft.
In a film packed with vivid iconography, analogies and scenes, Freder’s hallucinogenic like vision of the city’s underbelly, the boiler room if you will, reimagines the machineries of Metropolis transformed into the atavistic figurehead for a sacrificial ritual: workers climb the altar steps to be fed into the furnace mouth of the Canaanite god Moloch in one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, and the second chapter on this album. The atmosphere more esoteric, features an ominous – as you’d quite rightly expect – tribal rhythm with stifled synthesizer screams and strange obscured hoots. Yet Moebius, who could go all out on this bestial scene, is quite reserved, holding back from full Biblical bombast and horror. Tiefenbahen is equally as disturbing with its static field of electrons buzzing away to the loading of an unidentified mechanism and the discarded discord of bounding bass drums and a venerable organ: a lingering signature from Kluster. An attempt is made to set into motion a shuffling groove of some kind; again heavy and in keeping with the monotonous miasma of the storyline but offering a glimmer, a lift from the veils of the macabre.
Finally the “mediator” or Mittler, the dystopian end run that brings together all parties and forces mediation – though Lang’s not so subtle communist solutions proved naïve –, beginning with a death grapple between Freder and the miscreant scientist Rotwang, is accompanied by a finger-cymbal and sleigh bells percussion, sharp metallic pulses and what sounds like iron filings being moved around on a sheet of metal.
In safe hands, Moebius’ posthumous Metropolis soundtrack proves a distinctly descriptive enough and evocative narrative experience in isolation, separated from the visual motivation of the film. Fans of the Kosmische progenitor’s work will find it familiar territory but notice enough examples of subtle explorations and interplay unique to an improvised performance to find it worthwhile purchasing.