REVIEWS/PREVIEWS ROUNDUP
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Not that I ever mean to do it, but this month’s roundup does have a tenuous theme of sorts, or rather many of the releases in this, the 52nd edition of my eclectic revues, are more or less all experimenting with the electronic music format in one way or another. The sagacious counterculture totem and beatnik poet of renown, John Sinclair leads the charge this month, his vivid jazz lyricism recitations put to an evocative soundtrack by Youth on the mini-album Beatnik Youth Ambient. Jono Podmore’s recently re-launched label, Psychomat, follows up on the inaugural release with another electronic peregrination – this time far more melodic and dreamy –, from the mysterious Reason Stendec. Working in isolation and apart, never meeting in person, the Room Of Wires duo release their third EP of otherworldly and atmospheric techno and downtempo beats, Black Medicine. And an assortment of artists from the ambient, trance, electronica fields contribute towards the One String Inspiration project, highlighting and collecting money for the Syria Relief charity effort.

We also have the latest and it seems final album of outsider New York slacker pathos from Charles Griffin Gilson, otherwise known as CHUCK. Calling it quits on his alter ego, due to a multitude of reasons, Gilson records his sincere CHUCK swan songs collection, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, for the Audio Antihero label.

Read on for full analysis and review…


John Sinclair  ‘Beatnik Youth Ambient’
Ironman Records,  28th July 2017


Synonymous for steering and kicking out the jams in his short role as manager of Detroit’s renowned rebel rousing motherfuckers The MC5, renegade poet, scholar, activist and establishment rattler John Sinclair is also remembered for his free radical zeal and dalliances with the law.

Even too hardcore for the MC5, Sinclair’s foundation of the anti-racist socialist White Panthers, and his countless associations with equally revolutionary counterculture players and shakers, marked him out; leading as it did to the now infamous drug bust for marijuana possession in 1969. Whilst his love for the herb and gesticulations, whether through poetry or diatribes, is in no doubt, the way this particular bust was set-up (for what was a very insignificant amount of drugs) is considered heavy-handed and unjustifiable. Handed an initial ten-year sentence, Sinclair’s status in the “heads” and political agitators communities had singled him out as a poster child for deterring the like-minded boomer generation from stepping out of line. Fortunately (to a degree) this sentence and media furor galvanized support and sympathy and reduced that ten-year stretch to two, with Sinclair emerging from jail in 1971.

Keeping his hand in so to speak, but taking up residency in Amsterdam – a much safer bet -, the beatnik jazz sage continued, and as you can hear on this latest recording, continues, to record and perform in a host of setups with a multitude of contributors and backing bands.

 

The appropriately (in every sense) entitled Beatnik Youth Ambient mini LP is a foretaste, and as the title implies, ambient treatment version of material from a full-length album, due to be released later on in September. The “Youth” of that title refers of course to the Killing Joke bassist turn in-demand producer Martin Glover. Arguably one of the most consistent producers over the last few decades in the UK, Glover, under his Youth alter ego, has taken on more or less most forms of music and worked on both commercial and underground experimental projects. But he’s perhaps better known for pushing the boundaries of dub through his own productions and with a number of other artists; notably setting up the WAU! Mr. Modo imprint with fellow Orb band member Alex Paterson in 1989.

He now provides Sinclair’s “literary synthesis” with a suitable “beatnik ambient” soundtrack: a serialism quartet of turmoil, turbulent jazz and dreamier trance.

Split into two sides, Sinclair’s sagacious burr recitations are left to flow with only an occasional echo, reverb or metallic ominous effect added for atmosphere or to reinforce the sentiment and hallucinatory philosophy. The opening history lesson, Do It, which enthuses this generation to once again upend the status quo, turns Sinclair’s cerebral lyricism into a quasi-dance track rallying cry: the lingering reflective melodic and amorphous synth chorus in the first half of the track gradually joined by an Orb-like cloud-bursting trance beat.

Running through a vivid purview of postwar counterculture, bringing to life the energy and excitement that writers such as Kerouac (who gets referenced a lot) captured when seeing the Bebop jazz revolution and its great proponents perform, Sinclair delivers a magical enthusiastic experience on the next peregrination and nod to Thelonious Monk’s 1957 LP of the same name, Brilliant Corners. Titans of American beatnik and psychedelic literature lineup, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (“…had the ability to park a car anywhere”, just one of his talents alongside his status as the “human bridge between the 50s and 60s.”), rubbing shoulders with jazz music’s new guard Lester Young, Byrd and Gillespie; immortalized by Sinclair to “head music” cosmos of jazzy lamenting woe, ghostly squawking and hooting saxophone and swirling mirages.

The greatest “head trip” however is saved until last. Sinclair channeling Captain Beefheart delivering the most “high” meandering TED talk ever, translates, or rather makes a reification of the almost impossible to articulate spark and feelings that kick started the whole boomer generation of beatniks, on the spiritual jazz voyage Sitarrtha. Sitars shimmer, an electric guitar twists and contorts, snares are played in a military, misty revolutionary reveille style, and the saxophone battles on as Sinclair implores us to grasp his message: a return to the real.

A eulogy of a sort, certainly homage, fellow renegade and jailbird, the late convivial Welsh sage Howard Marks reads out a befitting War On Drugs. Part epistle, part rambling thoughts, Marks, the cosmic prophet, weaves between the nonsensical and profound, the intimate and enraged. An obvious candidate and fellow drug evangelist, Marks makes a welcome addition to Sinclair’s congregation.

 

If anything, Beatnik Youth Ambient leaves the listener pining for a lost age; Sinclair’s evocative prose and delivery lifted (and cradled at times) by Youth’s congruous seething tensions and floaty dream-like production, which enthrall me to once again get stuck in to the “beat generation” and spin those Savoy label jazz totem recordings again. A prompt for the present times, the zeal of the postwar “baby boomers” (those with a soul anyway) counterculture not necessarily translating to generations X, Y and Z, even if it is needed; Sinclair’s language is nevertheless just as powerfully descriptive and energizing now as it was over forty years ago.




Reason Stendec  ‘Impulsion EP’
Psychomat,  17th July 2017


 

Wingman to Can’s Irmin Schmidt and the late Jaki Liebezeit, on both a myriad of band legacy projects and various collaborations over the years; solo electronic music composer, and professor to boot; and in the last few years, part of the analogue manifesto enthused trio, Metamono; Jono Podmore has just recently, in the last two months, after a twenty year hiatus, re-launched his 90s Psychomat record label. The aim being to release, in both physical and digital formats, a cerebral experimental run of electronic music 7”s.

 

Featured on the Monolith Cocktail in June the inaugural extemporized Podmore & Swantje Lichtenstein partnership of serialism amorphous avant-garde backing and exploratory spoken word, Miss Slipper/Lewes, and subsequent series of remixes that followed, laid down the foundations and signature ascetics of the label. Record number two, Reason Stendec’s Impulsion EP, congruously keeps up the momentum: just as shrouded in mystery; every bit as challenging, but this time around for more melodic and flowing, and on Podmore’s (under his Kumo persona) remix treatment transforms the original material into a bubbling Roland TRs acid techno (reminiscent of Waveform Transmission era Jeff Mills and Derrick Carter) thumper.

 

An interesting story lies behind that Reason Stendec moniker, which helps to reinforce a sense of mystique. “Stendec” was the last, and as it turned out confounding, word of a Morse code message sent by the crew of the doomed Lancastrian flight between Buenos Aires and Santiago on August 2nd 1947. Turning into a conspirator dream factory of ever outlandish, convoluted theories, including the obligatory alien abduction angle, the Stendec saga had to wait 51 years to be finally laid to rest. It certainly had all the right components for a conspiracy or unworldly mystery, disappearing completely as it did, with no signs of wreckage, no bodies and the most cryptic of messages left to unscramble. But as it turned out the plane crashed, the impact as it hit one the looming mountain ranges triggered an avalanche that buried and entombed the plane and passengers for decades in an area known as the Tupungato glacier. As it thawed over those years, the plane was exposed and finally discovered by mountain climbers.

With this in mind, Reason Stendec cast a spell of otherworldliness; wafting along on a ghostly visage of Pan-European and Arabian sounding influences: like a breeze over an imaginary sand dune landscape, heightened by knife-sharpening percussion.

Like Grace Jones’ Parisian tango en vogue dalliances and contralto husky romantic burr crossed with a restrained Diamanda Galas, the vocals on this track follow the sonic contours; switching from an opening chant to English, French and German. A Vocal Mix version of the same track manipulates, pitch-shifts, bit-crushes, and refashions the voice into various forms: ominous and cybernetic, ritualistic and floating; one minute quivering towards the operatic, the next, in an incantation style.

A languid, lingering and sophisticated turn, the Impulsion EP is another electronica adventure and move in the right direction; both befitting the Psychomat label’s raison d’être yet cerebrally drifting off into more melodic, flowing directions.





CHUCK  ‘Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store’
Audio Antihero,  18th August 2017


Bowing out (or bailing out) on a high note with another signature collection of pathos rich idiosyncratic slacker anthems and plaints, Charles Griffin Gilson calls time on his alter ego CHUCK. Stating a number of reasons for this closure, including his recent marriage, hitting thirty and honestly feeling he just hasn’t got it in him anymore, Gilson releases his final swansong, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, on the perfect home for such a maverick artists, Audio Antihero.

A most generous offering it is too: fifteen observatory songs and instrumentals of wistful, often of a despondent, bent, with ruminations on diets, exercise, work, love, TV and animals – more in the metaphorical sense.

An outsider of a kind, originally upping sticks from his Massachusetts home to New York, Gilson’s CHUCK persona whimsically, though often stirringly sad, looks at the foibles of living in the metropolis. This is exemplified in the most direct way on the bubbly knockabout (tongue-in-cheek) tribute to New York and its citizens, New Yorker, which lists a number of postcard landmarks made (in)famous in song and reputation (from Rockaway Beach to Hipster Williamsburg), and the personal traits, such as their stereotype brash offensive manner, of many of its residents: “Get the hell outta my way/Now go and die.”

Though just as domineering theme wise is the ‘social media’ constraints and context of a wider world, encroaching upon (as much as deriving from) these New York musings. This can be heard on the millennial blues trysts Becky and Bodies, which both feature a number of references to our obsession for validation in the online world. The pains of never growing up, streaming lives through a never-ending feed of updates and memes, Gilson encapsulates in his slightly nasal lo fi emo meets Tom Petty, Jonathan Richman, Clouds and Daniel Johnston waking up late in a Williamsburg bedsit style of delivery the regrets and anxieties of a generation growing up in a society that’s never offline: one that conducts its love affairs over a smart phone.

 

There’s a real sadness to many of these relationship-themed laments; the modern travails of long-distance love in an ever-connected but alienating world, and as with the Dylan-esque flowing turn pizzicato Arcade Fire rousing Caroline, an almost resigned to fate, shrugged, relationship with the ill-suited cavalier subject of the title: “My friends say you’re wasting my time/Baby I don’t mind.”

Whether dreamily drifting along to tropical palm swaying alluded notes, lasers, synthesizer presets and fanned phaser effects, Gilson sings of both unrequited love, gaining and regaining love in a languorous candid manner: removed but betraying a real fragility and care for his characters.

And so we bid fond well to CHUCK, though whether that means a more grown-up post-millennial with commitments Gilson emerges in its wake remains to be seen and heard. I only know that it’s a real shame that he’s decided to call time on his creation. Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store is a fitting swansong.








Various Artists  ‘One String Inspirations’


 

So much has happened on the international stage since the April release date of this benefit for Syria album, yet the bitter catastrophic Syrian civil war still rages on unabated by talks and the erosion of ISIS in the country and bordering regions (especially more recently, Iraq). Now in its seventh year with no sign of ending anytime soon, the ensuing humanitarian tragedy throws more desperate Syrian refugees to the mercy of people smugglers and their cadre. Entangled with a never-ending flood of those escaping the devastation of this conflict and with those escaping poverty and violence from across a wide area of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean has, even this summer, seen huge numbers desperately making the crossing to Europe.

Statistics are staggering: the Syria Relief charity website, which all funds from this release go towards, refers to 6 million children inside the warzone currently needing urgent humanitarian assistance, alone. With this glaring travesty in mind, the 28-track One String Inspiration compilation offers a stirring collection of poetic (and not so poetic: see the bish bosh no-nonsense punk raging Hostile Skies by 3 Chords & A Lie) indictments and bleak instrumental soundtrack atmospheres. The premise of which, alluded to in some ways via the title, challenges each artist to feature either a found or self-made instrument in their composition. Not that any of the results sound restrictive, even if it means some artists have had to move outside their “comfort zones” in the process.

 

Most of the contributions could be classed in the ambient or experimental sound and mood categories: The opening tabla rattling, spinning travail Night Journey To The Coast by Bowmer Holmes setting the right scene of magical Middle Eastern promise and reflection. Serene veiled drones and obscured leviathan movements follow with the Melodic Energy Commission’s Hole In Timeless and the transmogrified Animal Waves, by Can, put through a wobbly switched-on Bach treatment Budget Airlines from Detlev Everling – which shows a certain sense of humor and offers a kooky respite from the moodier material.

Tribal futurism, ratchet-y workshop mechanics, Transglobal Underground laments and duck quacks abound until reaching the stark folksy plaintive lyricism of Anna Knight’s unapologetic indictment on the refugee crisis, With His Lifejacket. Following the fateful plight of one poor unfortunate child, drowned like so many others crossing the straits to Europe, Knight somberly mourns but also attacks the inhumanity and cruelty of it all.

Full-on warping drum’n’bass and techno (courtesy of the tetchy Kitchen Sink Drama by Glove Of Bones) at its most lively, tapping an object to produce a serial environmental accompaniment at its most minimalist, and whistling to a wood shavings itchy dub track at its most strange, One String Inspiration features a diverse and generous range of wonders; many of which evoke the Warp (early on in its creation), Leaf and First World labels.

 

A few months on and just as vital, the collection in its own small way keeps the crisis in the spotlight, as more and more artists do their bit and make sense of such chaos.






Room Of Wires  ‘Black Medicine’
Section 27

 

For a duo of sonic experimentalists that have never met – working apart in total isolation -, the Room Of Wires partnership, no matter how seething with ominous twists and turns, is a complimentary synchronized meeting of minds.

The rather anonymous, faceless downtempo and in industrial techno composers manipulate, churn and whip up a mysterious combination of futuristic atmospheres and inner turmoil on their third, most recent, EP Black Medicine.

Beginning as they mean to progress, the kinetic chain snaking opener Game Over builds gradually, weaving touches of Kraftwerk, Basic Channel and Mike Dred to a rhythmic soundscape of harmonious discord. Undulating spheres, radio waves, obscured broadcasted voices and stretching creaks and expanding steel structures move overhead on the following space journey Protected Space, whilst Temple Run juxtaposes lumbering bit-crushing monolith punctuations with a haunting Oriental siren chorus.

Unsettling and sonorous in places, yet able to lift the miasma and darkness with lightened breaks of more serene, glowing synth waves, Room Of Wires constantly offer glimmers of humanity and nature: even if the voices, transmissions sound lost and ebbing away like ghostly visages. A mouthful of Black Medicine that won’t do you any harm.





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LABEL LAUNCH/SINGLE
Words: Dominic Valvona


Jono Podmore & Swantje Lichtenstein - Monolith Cocktail

Jono Podmore  &  Swantje Lichtenstein   ‘Miss Slipper/Lewes’
Released  on  Psychomat,  6th  March  2017

Responsible for a stream of experimental electronic projects, both on the cutting edge of technology and vanguard of a return to the roots of analogue, and a member of the manifesto guided metamono trio, Jono Podmore has cranked-up the generator, punched in new coordinates and blown the dust off the dials to relaunch his influential 90s label, Psychomat.

Renowned for his cerebral collaborations with a number of luminaries from across the electronic music spectrum, but famously for his work with both Can’s Irmin Schmidt (together as the Kumo and Irmin Schmidt duo) and the late Jaki Liebezeit (Cyclopean), Jono’s inaugural label comeback pairs him with the Düsseldorf-based sound writer/performance artist Swantje Lichtenstein.

A conceptual meeting of minds, the duo’s upcoming Michaela Eichwald cover art adorned 7”, which is billed as an actual “work of art” in its own right, features two serialism performance-manipulations recorded at Jono’s on the day of the funeral of his friend, the publisher Felix Hiner, in 2014.

The first of these, Miss Slipper, is of all things, riffing off a piece of writing by Jono’s daughter. A spontaneous freewheeling interpretation of an innocent description of a school art teacher is pushed towards the alien by ring modulations and filter trickery. Obscured and transmogrified into something almost sinister, even daemonic, Swantje’s voice shifts between squelched and metallic strange tongues.

Lingering in the same atmosphere, beyond the stratospheric, the idyllic pastoral East Sussex town of Lewes slips into a parallel dimension of weirdness; the metamono sat-nav tuning into a beacon communal with unknown entities, somewhere yonder in the ether. Based on a set of directions given to the group for a gig in Lewes, this extemporized art-piece glitches, buzzes and chants its amorphous script until it becomes directionless; untethered on wave after wave of tubular ringing, echoed and chromed effects; disappearing into the torn fabrics of space.

Miss Slipper/Lewes is every bit as conceptual and experimental as you’d expect, and lays down the start of, what I hope, will be a fruitful union of art and sound work. We may not have to wait long though for the next installment, as a series of remixes from Pete Hope, Hairy Kipper, Inky Blackness, Bastard Status, Jono in his Kumo guise, and Professor Michael Ball (a colleague of Jono’s and a professor of electronic composition), will be released in the coming weeks and months.





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