Sky Records - Monolith Cocktail

Breaking with convention yet again, this addition of ‘tickling our fancy’  includes a couple of album reviews alongside the usual eclectic array of singles, EPs and tracks that have rung the loudest in our ears during the last few weeks.

Our motley and sometimes refined collection includes the following ‘choice’ selections: Aphex Twin, Sky Records Kollection 1 Compilation (Chosen by former Stereolab member Tim Gane),  Lisa Alma, Phil The Tremolo King, Joan Of Arse, Chirping, Ceri James and Location Baked.

Aphex Twin ‘Syro’  (Warp)  Released 19th September 2014.

Starring through the ‘polygon window’, taking stock and encouraged by the interest in a prized unreleased test pressing of his fabled mid-90s Caustic Window album earlier this year – that went on sale for an initial sum of £8,050, before a group of lively enthusiast cut a deal via Kickstarter to release it to a wider circle of fans – Richard D James has decided that now would be a good time to release the abundance of material he’s been sitting on for the last few years: if an interview he conducted a few years ago, and since repeated, are true, there are at least another six finished albums waiting in the wings.

Vaporously unfurling the Aphex Twin banner, the less than concomitant collection of ideas, both disjointed in theme and the years recorded, Syco is a strange album indeed. Codified and released using the usual mischievous campaigning, this 12-track suite is, as the nuanced advertising may have suggested, a far subtler affair. Compared to what I would call, the juvenile shenanigans of ‘Window Licker’ and the demonic buffoonery of his more industrial scale heavy mental recordings, Syco is both articulate and sensible. Perhaps the hordes of imitators and dedicated followers have finally caught up with James after a twenty-five year head start or maybe the electronic pioneer, nee often knighted as a genius, no longer feels the need to up the ante by hurtling off into a technological future that hasn’t been invented yet, but this feels like an almost nostalgic exercise. References throughout recall those already alluded to Polygon and Caustic Window days, with some gestures made towards the less outrageous inaugural Analogue Bubblebath EPs and some of the more delicate somber piano moments from Drukqs (the album even finishes on a resonating romantic picturesque proto-Drukqs classical sound piece, ‘aisatana [102]’.

But there are also nods towards his peers – far too many to even bother mentioning – who imbue the contemporary resurrection compositions with the spirit that first morphed the deep house, acid and ambient blueprints of the later 80s into something even more layered and intelligent (from label soul mates and British electronic music survivors, Autechre, to Detroit producer Kenny Larkin).

Lacking a real bombastic or inventive stand out, James turns soulful on the album’s leading track, ‘’mini pops 67′. Beautifully crafted it starts out with the most sophisticated android techno sounds and slowly unravels its stirring melodic Chicago house lament.

Beautifully crafted it starts out with the most sophisticated android techno sounds and slowly unravels its stirring melodic Chicago house lament.

Spitting out glitches left, right and center, and bouncing along attentively to skipping beats and the family’s passing conversational vocal contributions, James takes time to demonstrate his depth and breadth, distorting and shaping jungle, electro, acid, intelligent techno and even garage to his whim.

Oddities abound, ‘180db_[130]’ manipulates siren call new jack house into some rave era repetitive breakbeat, and ‘syro u473t8+e[141.98][piezoluminescence mix]’ is weird sporadic synth soundtrack to some disturbed futuristic dystopia.

Hardly considered a save bet, and I’m being perhaps a little disingenuous, but for those familiar with the James legacy this latest excursion travels sideways rather than forward – a reworking of his greatest synchs and ingenious sounds. For a generation weaned on cheap software, in a digital climate in which it’s cooler to not be a musician than it is to be one (cheapened technology so everyone can dabble and releases whatever they want as there is always, no matter how small, some audience out there online), Syco will hopefully sound unique enough to introduce the Cornish progenitor of experimental electronica to a new audience. Otherwise, this latest collection reinforces James’ talent and shows he can literally chuck this material out at will. Most composers of course would kill to sound so comfortably sophisticated and appealing whilst still remaining edgy.

Various Artists  ‘Sky Records Compiled By Tim Gane: Kollektion 01’  (Bureau B)  Released 26th September 2014.

Guilty as charged for hotwiring the Kosmiche rocket ship, Tim Gane and the outfit he will be most remembered for being part of, Stereolab, fondly replicated the Teutonic sound for their own diaphanous and sunnier kitsch misadventures. Let loose in the Sky Records archive, Gane has been tasked with compiling a choice list of tracks highlighting the German label’s sometimes overlooked and lesser known synth music mavericks.

Instigated by Günter Körber in 1975 after leaving Metronome Musik, a subsidiary of the infamous Krautrock pioneering Brain label, Sky would eventually see many of those artists join the newly created sanctuary for electronic and experimental ‘ksomiche’ music. The duo of celestial, peregrination bound travellers, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, alongside later convert Michael Rother, would all move over to Körber’s new enterprise from Brain. And it is this duo who dominate the album – no surprise, as Moebius and Roedelius were both highly prolific when either together, in collaboration with outside artists or flying solo -, whether in the role of the much acclaimed and venerated Cluster or as individual artists.

Their many contributions include Roedelius’s space-age Baroque harpsichord beauty, ‘Glaubersalz’ (taken from his 1978 alum, Durch Die Wüste) and majestic, star-gazing ‘Veilchenwurzeln’ (from his seventh studio LP, Wenn Der Südwind Weht). With his stalwart comrade Moebius as Cluster, Gane picks out the daft yahoo calling proto-punk ‘Prothese’ from there restored partnership album, Grosses Wasser, and the strange cosmic brew ‘Seltsame Gegand’ from the 1981 oddity, Curiosum. Moebius also appears alongside the reverent recording pioneer Conny Plank on the Bavarian oomph, synth pop curio, ‘Conditionierer’, and with both Eno and Roedelius on the futuristic lilting man machine operator lament, ‘The Belldog’.

Looming large over proceedings then, the dual presence – one of Krautrock’s most influential and enduring – of Roedelius and Dieter is balanced by a cast of lesser know, but no less talented composers and artists.

Another titan of the German music scene, both in the heady days of the 70s and ever since, Michael Rother making his debut on Sky as a solo artist (having previously worked with Klaus Dinger in Neu! and bolstered many other Krautrock groups with his presence, including Harmonia) is represented here with the suppressed, instrumental alienated travelogue, ‘Feuerland’ from the 1977 album Flammende Herzen: an extension of that progressive Neu! motoring sound, yet enervated and made more sedate.

The label’s Hamburg setting is handy for the experimental and music concrete dabbler, Asmus Tietchens, who was raised in those parts. His almost deadpan, fairground ride turn dystopia whiling synth grandiose, ‘Wein Aus Wien’ (translates as ‘wine from Vienna’, oh that German wit) opens the album. Later we hear what sounds like a gay German disco inhabited by The Normal, on the amusing ‘Trümmerköpfe’.

Last but no means least, the more recent resurrection or re-discovery of Wolfgang Riechmann’s cerebral 1978 celestial flight of fantasy, Wunderbar. Taken from that seminal electro-light trip, ‘Himmelblau’ is a Kraftwerk like arc through the clouds. This comes as no surprise, Riechmann originally part of The Sprits Of Sound line up that featured future Kraftwerk assimilation, Wolfgang Flür.

As a key development stage in the story of synth produced and electronic music the Kollection will act as a guide for those unfamiliar with the label and its highly influential inspirational releases. For connoisseurs this will once again reinforce our smug, self-congratulatory, opinion that we were right all along to get excited about the kosmiche sound. But even ardent fans and collectors such as myself will find a couple of surprises that may knock us from our gilded know-it-all perches. Tim Gane has compiled a thoroughly satisfying compilation, one of the more assiduous, if under the radar, selections yet from the Krautrock era and the first of a whole litany of further releases soon to be trotted out by Bureau B, starring Roedelius and friends.

For more information and background on Hans-Joachim Roedelius, catch my interview from a few years back HERE.

Lisa Alma  ‘Fine’   3rd November 2014.

Hailing from the shores of Denmark and diaphanously cooing from the same hymn sheet as fellow compatriot, Agnes Obel (who she has congruously supported on tour), the serene all-rounder (singer/songwriter/producer) Lisa Alma likes her plaintive pop epic and expansive but subtle and attentive.

Her latest single, the slickly produced confessional ‘Fine’, a soulful heart-on-sleeve affair, is a slinky nuanced swell of suffused synth and tight electronic percussion; a nocturnal romance that recalls moments of the now, sadly, disbanded Outlands. Alma herself soothingly, but dusky, sounds simultaneously resigned and hurt.

Back from a successful set of sold out shows in the US (off the back of the Obel gig and performing at both CMJ and SXSW), Alma returned to the studio with a zeal to experiment, working this time with outside producer Lasse Lyngbro. The results so far sound highly sophisticated and richly layered, crisply hewn from the melodramatic department of iridescent electro pop.

Chirping   ‘Ambitions’   27th October 2014.

We travel further north from Denmark into Sweden, as we introduce ourselves to the latest pretenders to the sincere indie pop title, Chirping. Building their own studio to accommodate a DIY ascetic ideal of creating music that bridges both punk and a more rounded, less angulated, version of commercial indie, the quartet produce minor epics in the style of a Juilan Casablancas fronted The Drums or Echo and the Bunnymen meet innocent floppy fringed soaring postcard label pop.

Reinforcing their intentions with the suitably entitled new ‘Ambitions’ single, the band’s lilting, romantic swoons and hooks are disarming but contagiously catch-y and destined for success.

Joan Of Arse   ‘I’m Fucked’   (Small Bear Records)  Out now.

Offending sensibilities everywhere the eponymous debut from the indecorous troublesome noise merchants Joan Of Arse is as you may already have cottoned on, rude and rowdy: a cacophony of competing industrial and anti-pop ideas, all clashing for your attention.

With obscured, drowned out vocals delivered in a whirl of fuzz, psychedelic organ wails, screeching guitars and demonic loud hailer tomfoolery, the opening threat of intent ‘I’m Fucked’, sounds like a jerking circle of The Fall, Inspiral Carpets, Pop Group and Throbbing Gristle. Fuck knows what is actually happening, as the torrid isn’t without some direction and signs of a theme.

The next track is far more sedate, almost ambient in comparison, as shifting synth modulated waves and a subtle, low under-riding, beat signal a more meditative, restful, side to the group. Something of a break then, ‘Elisabeth The First’, is a trance-like interlude, seemingly out of character from the noisy barrage that comes next.

We’re back to the bamboozled by tracks 3, ‘Joan Of Arse’, which sounds like some schizoid 60s backbeat turned esoteric terror; a ironical fucked take on the much-celebrated baby boomer generations golden age – we think. The accompanying video, sent by the group, superimposes the hazy go-go pop culture and a number of goofball dancing clips from the swinging decade over footage of Vietnam to nail the point home.

They finish on the clandestine, mystical downer rock of ‘Got No Time For Them Approximate Blues’, which mixes ghostly echoing eastern drones with the Lords Prayer and squalid gothic drums.

Information is scant on just who created this unstable 4-track EP, only that they or he/she/it hail from the Isle of Man, and that they are very much disturbed: in a good way of course.

Phil The Tremolo King  ‘4 Track Adventures’   Released 27th September 2014.

If you thought that a vinyl revival was fraught with difficulty and perhaps an exercise in futility against the digital onslaught, then an even more tenuous grasp of tangibility must be the idea of a cassette day. Yet, growing in popularity, and if nothing else drawing publicity to the cause, the restrictions that always sealed the cassette tapes fate are also its saviour.

Truly DIY, the cassette is a pretty useless yet affectionately remembered musical tool, fondly manipulated and used to great effect by the New Orleans Tropicana maverick, Phil The Tremolo King, who’s latest 4 Track Adventures mini-album, released to coincide with the annual cassette day event, revels in its lo fi deficiencies.

As a broke musician in New York, the only music Phil could afford were the used cassette offerings from homeless street sellers. Acquiring a collection of the most odd and exotic music imaginable, this necessity soon grew into a love. Later on in ‘Orleans, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, with Phil’s belongings and recording gear evacuated to Austin, Texas, his only solace was a 4-track recorder. Rather than curtail Phil’s creativity, the tape cassette was used as a spontaneous document of a time, place and the people who passed through his life during the natural disaster, and subsequent healing process. The results are in some ways his best, if not the most interestingly raw and honest of his song collections yet; part way between an obscure, blankly labeled tape found in a thrift store and the raving genius of a unsung troubadour, down on his luck.

Cutting in between snippets of found music, Phil’s original material sounds stirringly sad, the quality of the recordings impossible to pin down to an era – anywhere, from a foggy recollected 50s to a more modern hazy 90s. The sunny-side up tropical sway and Casio keyboard preset of his previous recordings are replaced with something rougher. The introductory musings on the leap from adolescent ambitions to adulthood reality, ‘When I Grow Up’, have their underlying hints of a samba programmed beat, yet recall a resigned, knowing John Cale – who Phil channels throughout the album. As if to show the variety of resources and ideas running through his head, it’s followed by the Hank Williams (circa ‘Kaw Light’) Native Indian drummed, warning dressed up as a Cub Scout campfire sing-along, ‘The Wolf’, before the sweetly, Elizabethan come folk plucked romantic lament ‘Every Crumb Is A Diamond’ once again takes us on a new turn through the neighbourhood.

Phil delicately runs through a gamut of redemptive country and western, hazy psych pop, sleepy bedtime lullaby’s, the troubled quivering minimal blues of Sparklehorse and plaintive Leonard Cohen-esque mooning, to produce his most stripped back, but effective work yet.

Ceri James ‘Hawthorn Hill’  (Deep River Records)  Single and featured on the recently released LP, Songs From The Saloon.

Down and out in Deptford, earnest Welsh troubadour and frequent ‘real coffee shop’ activist Ceri James was born in Fulham before moving to Swansea as a nipper. Yet as the EP that first brought this humbling voiced songwriter to my attention testified, James yearns for the more peaceful country life, his acoustic songbook, City Fields, eloquently depicting the life of a struggling musician down on his luck in London. However, it also amplified a certain warmth, found mostly by the characters that frequently dropped in and out of his life.

Now onto his fourth album, and plugged back into the power supply, James gazes contemplatively from the ruins of a Gothic building as he jangles away on the befitting ‘Hawthorne Hall’. In a metaphoric tribute to the beguiled location, and scene of meditational reflection, he pens a 80s Mersey backbeat and pleasing harmonica sweet homage. Still grafting and producing disarmingly well-crafted paeans and minor anthems, James has honed his talent on every release.

Location Baked  ‘The Bowman’  (Peski Records)

Meditating in his own inimitable style on the horrors of WWI, on the occasion of a major yearlong centennial anniversary, Welsh ‘pop concrète’ composer Location Baked offers a disconsolate score to the mystical bard, Arthur Machen’s fabled Mons ghost story legend, The Bowman.

The fictional account dressed up as a proxy news report, of the infamous first major encounter of the war between the British Expeditionary Forces and German army at Mons, was given an esoteric leaning, as the phantom archers of England’s grand victory at Agincourt, in 1415, rose from their slumber to protect their modern counterparts and destroy the enemy to the calls of ‘St.George’. Though few would honestly believe such rousing ghostly nonsense, at the time of publication, and as the author had previously written factual accounts of the war, the story ran and ran, often changed or repeated until becoming a legend and spawning an industry. Angels and other such supernatural beings would replace the bowman over time until the intervention on behalf of saving our boys from the ghastly villainous Hun became an urban myth; all the while Machen would admit he was making the whole thing up.

Collating, shaping and cutting up loops, collected or made on his travels between Cardiff, Brussels and Manchester, Location Baked’s solemn electronic soundtrack begins as a mildly clanging workshop of marching anvil-beating machines and wandering despondent piano before exploding into a cannonade of vapour frazzling fuzz, and entering a foggy malaise of eerie chimes. The narration is also resigned and somber, read out in the atmosphere of a medium contacting the dead. It all comes together to produce a very haunting but by no means sentimental, take on the futility and myth-making comforting of WWI.


One Response to “TOF 011: Aphex Twin, Lias Alma, Joan Of Arse…”

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