Tickling Our Fancy 046: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Nightjar…
February 14, 2017
NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona
Tickling Our Fancy 046: Srdjan Beronja, Nick Blackos, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Irk Yste, IRL Remixes, The Nightjar and Baluji Shrivastav.
In this edition of Tickling Our Fancy, Alec Ounsworth, under his famous Clap Your Hands Say Yeah moniker, returns with a brilliant new “cathartic” purging of an album, The Tourist; the inconspicuous but effective in spreading ever more eclectic world music sounds to a wider audience, Independent Records Ltd label, celebrates its first fifteen years in the business with an album of transmogrified remixes, entitled Terraforming In Analogue Space; ARC Music release two Indian music inspired albums, with a Best Of the legendary Baluji Shrivastav (who made London his home in the early 80s) and a new travelogue that straddles not only India, but also the Balkans and the Middle East, from the erudite Serbian multi instrumentalist Srdjan Beronja; The Nightjar unfurl their accentuated and stark contemplated post-folk debut, Objects; plus the inaugural release for the German label, GiveUsYourGOLD, from the Weimar Techno duo Irk Yste, and a new album of Nick Blackos hip-hop instrumentals from the burgeoning ONV blueprint.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ‘The Tourist’
Released 24th February 2017
Inimitably jump-starting a cerebral indie-pop scene in the mid noughties with his unique off-kilter melodies and quivered, yodeled vocals, the fiercely independent, Alec Ounsworth created major ripples with his nom de plume, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-released debut in 2005.
Every critics nightmare in the labored name department, and so abbreviated to save precious time (oh pity us poor feckless critic darlings!), CYHSY was instrumental in influencing and inspiring a rafter of artists and bands. Ounsworth’s peers have evidently caught up, and his fifth album, The Tourist, reflects this; suffused as it is with familiar echoes of The Parenthetical Girls, Les Savy Fav, Elliot Smith, the Arcade Fire, and on the askew r’n’b lite, A Chance To Cure, Chk Chk Chk.
One man’s vision, orchestrated in a solitary fashion, Ounsworth is self-confessedly “stubborn” when it comes to recording. However, though he writes and arranges everything he’s joined in the studio by a bassist and drummer, who offer a bright, expanded “band feel” to the material. These recordings were further embellished with additional back-up vocals, keyboards, guitars and percussion, tidied up by engineer Nick Krill and eventually mixed (and egged-on) by CYHSY “anchor” Dave Friedman – who previously worked of course on the Some Loud Thunder and Only Run albums. The results of this process are magnificent; the anxiety-ridden, rich challenging themes channeled through an airy and often breezy big sound.
Ounsworth stumbles and ponders through a “post factual” strewn world of challenging emotions trying, to make sense of it all. At times the album title could even be said to act as a metaphor for the artist’s own estranged and removed soul-searching: a tourist in his own country. As lyrically adroit as ever, he carefully crams in as many associated references and wordplays as he can, squeezing a lot out of every phrase and expression in a characteristic style that leans towards a more cheery disposed Thom Yorke. Despite some sad and profound pathos heavy lyricism, Ounsworth’s “purging” of thoughts is meant to be a cathartic experience. The anxieties of our times can’t help but leak from every other line, yet The Tourist is a fairly warm, jangly surprise package of lolloping and anthemic songs. Building and soaring to an emotive brightened crescendo of sweetness and yearning on The Vanity Of Trying; contorting and bending guitar textures in a Robert Fripp fashion on the psych-pop gnarled Down (Is Where I Want To Be); and, up close and personal (every breathe audible) to the mic, driving through an 80s nocturnal rock ballad on Better Off, the inimitable Ounsworth careers through a full gamut of moods and chaos in the most natural and energetically purposeful way.
Clocking in at well under the forty minute mark (bands and artists take note) The Tourist is an unlabored, near-perfect melodious album. It says all it needs to and more; free of indulgence, and despite its bombast, sophisticated suffused layering is incredibly lean and brisk. A most enjoyable if poignant experience, this album already sets the benchmark in 2017, and is without doubt one of CYHSY’s best.
Various ‘Terraforming In Analogue Space – IRL Remixes 2000 – 2015’
Released by IRL, 24th February 2017
Celebrating fifteen years (the first that is) of “global music” transmogrification – transforming what are in many cases the most raw and basic of field recordings into stunning peregrinations and flights of internationally amorphous fantasy – Independent Records Ltd. have chosen label stalwart Nick “Dubulah” Page to curate a 100th release special of remixes, that once again, in-keeping with their “raison d’être”, offers an alternative sonic vision of choice tracks from the back catalogue.
Regular Monolith Cocktail followers may recall my review of Page’s Xaos mythical Hellenistic soundscape collaboration with Ahetas Jimi and a group of traditional musicians, which made the blog’s choice albums of 2015 feature. The multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer may also be familiar to readers for his work with Transglobal Underground and Dub Colossus. All three of which appear in one form or another on this reinvigorated album: that reimagined Greek tragedy Xaos, for instance, is represented with a David Sylvian flittering, and quickened rhythm and beats swaddled TJ Rehmi mix of Pindos Full Moon, and a subtle bounding timpani, 80s synth-horror soundtrack style treatment, by Stereo Mike, of the esoteric Byzantine evocation Processional – one part atavistic Biblical Aphrodite’s Child, the other, John Carpenter in the “fog”.
But before we venture any further, a little background is needed. The illusive IRL – not one to herald and pontificate loudly – have remained a highly influential purveyor of music from across the most wild, isolated and wondrous corners of the world, even if they remain on the peripherals; relatively obscure. Originally formed by a trio of artist/band managers, whose eclectic CV included managing at one time or another, Sinead O’Connor, Beth Orton, Rialto, Jah Wobble and The Wonder Stuff, IRL’s remit was to remain inconspicuous. Key figures in this enterprise, the guitarist and in recent years, member of Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters, Justin Adams, and field recording specialist extraordinaire and general polymath of distinction, Ian Brennan, have brought the goods, or at least help shape them. And it’s no surprise that they feature heavily, with both their own productions and songs receiving the remix treatment, but also appearing in their original form on a second CD. Brennan, who I interviewed for the blog last year, memorably introduced the sublime ragged and dusty gospel-influenced Malawi Mouse Boys to the label. The rodent kebab sellers and, as it turns out, gifted musicians/singers from one of the poorest of poor hamlets are given a galloping dubstep-lite flitter by The Dhol Foundation on the village serenaded and lolloping, Ndinasangalala (I Was Happy), and acquire a Teutonic electro affects package of drum pad lasers, modulating contoured synth and handclap percussion (remolded from the joyous clapping on the original) on Dalek Romeo’s horizon floating mix of Manja (Clap Your Hands). Other choice Brennan productions, reconfigured and taken off-course, include the Lunar Drive mix of General Paolino’s Congratulations South Sudan, which shifts between two-step accelerated shuffling and half-time dreamy lilting soul, and the Penguin Café Orchestra’s, as ever, lush and subtle scenic mix of Acholi Machon’s Convoy.
Making the most appearances however, the already mentioned Justin Adams appears in many guises, both as a solo artist and as a collaborator and producer. His own lo fi Desert Road trip is underlain with a percussive cycle of tight-delayed electronic snare and soft prodding synthesized bass by Dub Colossus, but keeps its original mirage-shimmering candor. There’s also a lunar whistling and quivering Radar Station mix of Adams’, with Juldeh Camera’s Ngamen, and a trio of, mostly subtle transformations of the French chanson group Lo’Jo, who Adams produced. Heavily intoxicated by North African musical influences, Lo’Jo in fact took Adams on his first trip to Mali, which as a result, led to them both producing the sublime Tuareg desert blues group Tinariwen’s legendary 2001 release, The Radio Tisdas Sessions.
Complementing Lo’Jo’s Arab-Franco signatures further, as if in some kind of dreamscape, Bernard O’Neill (comrade-in-arms of Page in Dub Colossus and other incarnations), appearing here under the Syriana banner, accentuates the jazzy seductive, liaison-amongst-the-Tunisian-sand-dunes, mood with a Holger Czukay-like evocation on the group’s Sur Des Carnet Nus. A Boyscout mix of their languid Yalaki reimagines them as Moloko, whilst album closer, Carnet US Vatican Radio, also mixed by O’Neill, lets the concertinaed, yearning lived-in French vocals and atmospheric crackles dissipate into the ether.
Broadening musical horizons, if politically and societally it seems many are retreating towards nationalistic introspection, IRL have released some superb albums. It was through the label’s 2003 Festival In The Desert LP that I first heard the mesmerizing Saharan transcendental blues of Tinariwen. And the “terraforming in analogue space” album opens with a suitably suffused desert contoured and Kraftwerk-like kinetic beats driven peregrination of their entrancing Oualahila by the world music and electronica fusion doyens Transglobal Underground.
Taking the LP title literally, “terraforming” describes the process of making a planet habitable for us humans, changing the atmosphere and life-giving properties to that of Earths. In this instance, IRL allow others to reshape their back catalogue in an attempt to introduce the listener to inhabit an ever richer and eclectic space. Despite drifting untethered into the galaxy, at times sounding almost alien, this remix appraisal seeks to bring the global community together in the spirit of human commonality.
The Nightjar ‘Objects’
Released 17th March 2017
To the group’s credit, The Nightjar’s accentuated and stark contemplations on the human condition and the constructs that give meaning to reality itself, including the inevitable specter of death, couldn’t have sounded more peaceable and full of grace. Such heavy themes as these, inspired in part by both Eastern philosophy and the Catholic afflatus metaphysical quandaries, posed by the late venerable French composer Olivier Messiaen, usually promise a hard slog and grueling experience for the listener. Yet, despite the raw directness of this Bristol ensemble’s naturalistic, poised, songbook of “hope, loss and disaster”, every performance is beautifully and dreamily executed.
Referring to their debut album, Objects, as a collection of “songs for the end of time”, “concerned with transformation, transience and impermanence”, The Nightjar articulates the fleeting and sings of a time when nature reclaims the encroaching man-made landscape. Describing their particular style as “lo fi post-folk”, they do push and experiment with the folk genre, though the choice of themes, and even with the inclusion of the re-arranged traditional songs Hangman and Dle Yaman, summon up the atavistic. For instance, the age-old standard, Hangman, is a scion of over hundreds of variations on the same central trope; an unknown fated protagonist waits, hoping that out of a litany of visitors, from family members to lovers, someone will arrive in time with the right coinage bribe to free them from the hangman’s noose. The Nightjar hauntingly resurrect this morbid tale with a suitable lamentable vocal, paused, sighing electric guitar and a harrowed bowed drone. Albeit from what I can gather with little information, Dle Yaman is another standard, this time a plaintive Armenian ode, an exclamation of mourning, which the group furnishes with a divine sacrosanct ascendency.
Exploring the void, submerged under a amorphous gauze of diaphanous and ether atmospherics, The Nightjar recorded their album in rural Portugal on the most basic of equipment. Informed by such “interesting” locations as a dilapidated bar in the Old Town of Sertã, and the distressed run-down piano that came with it, they fluctuate between (what sounds like) a gramophone scratched transmission, from the great beyond, and a clearer, more evocative and resonated style or recording. The backing is mostly subtle and attentive: the electric and acoustic guitars erudite and drums attentive throughout, ascending, descending in the ebb and flow of the building drama. But most striking is the vocal work of Mo Kirby, who perfectly articulates the mood with a measured performance of sorrow, yearning, tumultuous lament and the ethereal.
Finding a passage through an allegorical “wardrobe” into an earnest, toiled world of cockleshell dredger inhabited coastal shorelines and riverbeds; swallowed whole by the soil into the psychogeography, The Nightjar waft through centuries of despair and meaning to map out an auger of unease about our future.
Baluji Shrivastav ‘Best Of…’
Srdjan Beronja ‘Sounds Of The East: Music From The Balkans, India And The Middle East’
Both released by ARC Music, 24th February 2017
Capping off last year’s 40th anniversary celebrations with a top three placing in the highly regarded Womex “top 20 labels” awards, the industrious world music label ARC Music starts the new year as they mean to go on, with a duo of congruous Eastern imbued musical travelogues from Baluji Shrivastav and Srdjan Beronja. The first of which is a “best of” collection and timely appreciation of the revered Indian music virtuoso – who was recently honoured with an OBE -, the second, is a collection of field recordings taken from a geographical triangle of India, the Balkans and the Middle East. Both albums overlap; Shrivastav’s polygenesis array of ragas and concepts chiming with Beronja’s own sitar and Indian redolent cornucopia of recordings. And coming as they do from different starting points and cultures, compliment each other well.
Highly qualified, gaining a degree for his vocal studies from the University of Lucknow, and a BA for tablas and an MA for sitar from the Allahabad University, respectfully, multi-instrumentalist composer Baluji Shrivastav has journeyed a well-travail(ed) road to reach his richly deserved status as one of India’s most cherished exports. Musically championed of course on this collection, he’s equally respected for his fervent campaigning as a cofounder, alongside his wife, the composer and songwriter Linda Shanson, of the London-based Baluji Music Foundation. Shrivastav, who was blinded at only eight months from glaucoma, and Shanson’s foundation has and continues to help further the cause of the blind and visually impaired, as well as disabled in music. Whilst this impairment hasn’t held the gifted and tactile musician back – if anything, inspiring experimentation and an alternative, sometimes original, way of doing things – it has obviously shaped him.
A positive extension of his foundation is the Inner Vision Orchestra; steered and directed by Shrivastav, the 14-piece ensemble is a melting pot of cultures, with members from the Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Japan, and Nigeria. This troupe can be heard on both the exotic Persian love yearned Chashma Sia Dari (sung in the Dari dialect, a spoken form of Persian used in Afghanistan), and the swimmingly reedy ensemble-vocal piece, Diggy Diggy Diggy Ya Rababa.
Making London his home in the early 80s, Shrivastav’s humble journey from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to the streets of the England capital informs most of the material. Taken from his recording career over this four-decade period, some tracks make more obvious allusions to this than others. One of the earliest, Fruit from 1982, is a lilting sitar version of the Linda Shanovitch written South American-bound love tryst. Languid Cuban flavours and sauntering sway work well with the Indian instrumentation, in what is a fusion of styles we seldom hear. Reflecting, in a more grandiose manner, his attentive first steps in, and embrace of, London, there’s the instrumental trilogy of Discovering London & Friendship, Walking Through The Streets and Mixing With The Crowd And Spirit Of Joy. All of which tie together Shrivastav’s experiences, mixing classical British pomp and circumstance with the exotic reverberations of India across three various mood soundtracks. The rest of this collection mixes more traditional adaptations with contemporary arrangements; devotional standards such as the melodious Raag Shobhavari, and the spritely, full of life, Indian dance, Nartaki.
As highly complex and intricate as you’d expect, with countless forms, scales and “ascending’, “descending” notes of praise, adulation and contemplation, as well as guest appearances from not only Inner Vision but also the Egyptian master tabla player Hossam Ramzy, Andy Sheppard and Guy Baker, all these performances remain organic and fluid – there is a detailed inventory and backstory booklet however for those who wish to dip further into the finer details.
Though he’s worked with a dizzying cast of eclectic performers including tabla legends Anindo Chatterji and Ustad Fayaz Khan, and artists as diverse as Massive Attack and Stevie Wonder over the years, Baluji Shrivastav is now enjoying a welcome appraisal: On top of that OBE he received in the Queen’s birthday honours list last year, a GG2 Leadership Award for Achievement Through Adversity, there’s also a new documentary about the Inner Vision Orchestra, Colours Of Sound, from the director Marie-Cécile Embleton, and now this highly enjoyable survey compilation. An introduction and retrospective, this Best Of album will endear the listener to the prowess and multifaceted evocations of the sitar and its accompanying Indian instrumentation.
Imbued with a similar Indian sound palette, though one that has amorphously blended it with those of the Middle East and the Balkans, Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja takes the familiar buzz of the sitar and highly deft, rapid tapping rhythms of the tabla and merges them with a host of instruments from ancient Persia and North Africa on his latest album, Sounds Of The East. Drifting across a geographical triangle of influence, the ethnomusicologist travels between all three corners of his sonic map, recording both traditional and original field recordings and improvised performances. It is in short, a veritable odyssey of discoveries; moving seamlessly through the exotic landscape, capturing many unusual and surprising sounds.
Following on “effortlessly” from his previous 2015 album, Sounds Of Varanasi – the Indian holy town of the title appears again on this collection -, Beronja, again, spends most of his time in India. Recordings vary in length and drama; from the menagerie “morning chorus” of wild twirling, hooting and convoluted birdlife, found on the heat-sapping Alapana – recorded in Kerala – to the gunpowder explosion firework snapshot of the famous Diwali Festival Of Light, on Visphot – meant as a poignant reflection on the damage that this bombastic firework display inflicts on the environment. There’s also more performance-based instrumentals, including the improvised, joyful, Raag Jog Dhun, which partners Beronja on the tabla-like darabuka drum with maestro violinist Pt Sukhdev Prasad Misha (a revered ambassador of Hindustani classical music no less), and the more groovy but reflective, Raga Sitar-Daf Kirvani, which sees Beronja play the Persian frame “daf” drum and the notable Pt Dhruv Nath Mishra sit in on the sitar.
Leaving behind the scenery but not the music, those Indian sounds lingering on as Beronja journeys to the Middle East and the Balkans. The strangest recording, Nora Of Hama, captures the weird buzzsaw and motorbike revving sounds of a wooden water wheel in the Syrian town of the title. Disturbing, almost ominous, the scraping and creaking mechanics offer a surreal window into age-old apparatus; still in use; still providing an essential resource. In a similar landscape of musical influence, the Serbian composer invites the Sarajevo born oud player and multi-instrumentalist Marina Tošić to join him on the “open air” improvised liturgy, Maqam Bayati Oud Taqsim. Tošić also appears, playing the pan flute, on the live in concert recorded, Shepherd’s Love Song. Two musical spheres and traditions, one from (again) India, the other, the Balkans, entwine on this sad tale of the lonely shepherd pining on the hillside in wistful lament because of a former lover’s unreciprocated love. Another “virtuoso” (just one of the many) oud player, but also more than handy on the zither-like qanun, Stefan Sablić plucks away dreamily on the ethereal album closer lullaby, Maqam Ajam Qanun Taqsim.
As with many ARC Music releases, in depth notes can be found in the accompanying album booklet. Not that you need an extensive knowledge, and with so many different influences and ways of interpreting meaning from the highly sophisticated, centuries old traditions of specific scales, it’s better to let the music breathe unburdened. Of course it’s all interesting and informative, but it also shows the cross-pollination process and intricate blending of styles that makes this music so universally connected. Sounds Of The East is an intriguing, often surprising, musical travelogue; one that reminds us just how erroneous those musical borders really are, as Beronja finds the sounds that bind us.
Nick Blackos & LOA ‘No Reason’
Released by ONV, available now
Dropping releases surreptitiously without any fanfares or grandstanding, the burgeoning London-based hip-hop (and all it’s many congruous bedfellows) label ONV has in the last week, shinnied an eight-track instrumental showcase up the flagpole in the hope someone will salute it. Entitled No Reason of course, this latest collection of transmogrified 808 beats, tight kinetic drums, tetchy glitches, and warped languid samples is every bit as in line with the label’s signature subterranean and gritty London-soundscape style as previous EPs, LPs and odd tracks.
No Reason travails a strewn, strung-out sonic landscape, littered with cryptic chemicals (T88), vortex obscured utterances, speech and lulling voices (Four Horsemen, Get Away), languid vapours of dubstep and grime (Grotti), and the slow ticking away of time (Tranceforma). Lo fi and off most radars, ONV’s principle Nick Blackos, and the mysterious LOA, have produced another curious, underground and leftfield hip-hop album.
Irk Yste ‘Wumpe/Stroppe’
Released by GiveUsYourGOLD, 3rd February 2017
The first release of the year from our friends at GiveUsYourGOLD – the artist-run Berlin label founded a few years ago by Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai, of Psycho & Plastic fame -, the cool aloof Irk Yste debut is a sophisticated three-track techno transmission from the historically and culturally important eastern German town of Weimar.
Since bonding in the sandbox of their playschool in ’84, the Irk Yste’s Christoph and Benjamin (no surnames given) have shared a penchant for music, especially acid techno. Introduced to the style whilst in Denmark during the dawn of the noughties, the musical partnership toured the (as the bio describes it) “flattest of kingdoms” to ride on that inimitable acid wave. Via a number of projects, including The Zonnhaider’s Club and Norsal Flow, and a sojourn studying electroacoustics at the SeaM institute, in the city they now call home, the Weimar duo now release their inaugural explorations under their latest darkly melodic techno incarnation.
Informed by an “iterative” process of building sonic structure and harmony before dismantling and starting anew, the three-track Wumpe/Stroppe suite is a sophisticated, suffused mix of minimal techno, house and, even, jazz. The opening machine-age with soul, Wumpe, starts with a nauanced chain reaction of R&S and Basic Channel flavoured kinetic beats and a sonorous bass drum, but gradually builds to an ascendant, cinematic melody finish. From a similar mould but hinting towards a more lilting nocturnal escape, Stroppe is a metallic glistening slow ride into an unsure future scape. More a vignette, the final track, Pumps, fades in on a stirring pronounced synthesizer drone wave, before a serial accompaniment of warping, wobbling robotic and dial-up sounds interweave with the minimalist stripped-down techno foundations.
An impressive glimpse inside the machine, GiveUsYourGOLD promise that there’s more to come from their latest signing. Stay tuned for further techno explorations in the future-now.