Saturday, 31 March 2012

Diamond Catalog - Magnified Palette (2012)

I came across this piece last week...

"...Jaw-dropping and mind-bending post-Dance Music bricolage from Diamond Catalog: a potent alliance of "Glamorous" Pat Maherr (Indignant Senility, Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting) and Lala Conchita who have the honour of releasing the first vinyl record on the revered NNA Tapes label. The incessant swirl of lopped Techno rhythms and mis-firing synaptic routes which make up 'Magnified Palette' approximates the accumulation of countless chrono-blips lost at the peak of the MDMA buzz; those deliciously fraught and lushly frazzled moments, minutes and hours of giddy bruxist memory loss which you'll never reclaim but can glimpse a taste of on this album. It plays through like a CCTV video where the recordings of multiple cameras are overlaid onto one cassette, only to be delineated at a later stage with special software. But, the only difference is, you hold the algorithm to decipher their inextricable code of convected memories and each listen will reveal a more unstable and fractal re-patterning of fleeting collective cognizance from the darkest backrooms, slow-motion strobe-lit main rooms and the gaps betwixt where fuck knows what happened. It's a regular touchstone for us, but this record recalls the way Mark Leckey pieced together a patchwork of collective cultural trips through images of us at our most heightened state, dancing and taking drugs, in his 'Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore' video (watch it on Ubuweb or youtube, now!), but perhaps the difference here is that this is a more American take on those experiences, and one filtered with a noise freak's sense of (de)structuring and visceral disorientation. Ultimately it's one of the most exhilarating, incredible records we've heard all year and nothing short of essential for those that know..."

On tour with Grouper at the moment. Surely a must see if three was ever one.

I honestly can't think of a better way to spend 28 minutes of your life right now.

Dirty Beaches - Dirty Beaches Cassette (2009)

I had to find more music by Dirty Beaches after hearing Badlands. There were a few bits and pieces available but nothing grabbed me quite like Badlands. That was until I came across this, a cassette only release from 2009 containing six tracks just shy of 19 minutes. A handful of instrumentals, a few vocal numbers - all swathed in the same grimy filth of lo-fi distortion familiar to any listener of Badlands. loping analogue beats, loops and growls with vocals buried deep in the mix. Extremely repetitive and half-arsed, in the most interesting possible way.

If you enjoyed Badlands then seek out and approach this release with an open mind. I can't guarantee you'll dig it but, give it a chance and you never know.

Suzanne Ciani - Lixiviation (2012)

Absolutely astonishing, revelatory collection of commercial and "secret" synth music by "the American Delia Derbyshire of The Atari Generation". Suzanne Ciani is a foundational electronic explorer who created a wealth of experimental synth music traversing academic and commercial boundaries. After completing an MA in music composition, Ciani was introduced to synth designer Don Buchla, whose Buchla 200 synthesizer would come to define much of her work for the next two decades. She counted the likes of synth maverick Vangelis and electronic music pioneer Harold Bode among her close friends and would set up Ciani Musica Inc. to publish her commercial endeavours for companies such as Coca Cola and Atari, while constantly working at the cutting edge of advances in electronic music and amassing an expansive vault of underexposed music which has remained untouched for over 30 years… until now. With 'Lixiviation' Finders Keepers contextualise Ciani not only as one of the very few female exponents and explorers of electronic music - alongside Chicago's Laurie Spiegel, Italy's Doris Norton, and a post-op Wendy Carlos - but also as a hugely significant cog in the machinery of modern electronic music, scanning her scores for TV and early Atari games alongside her work at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Lab with Max Matthews and John Chowning. It's an incredible collection, at once playful, colourful and wildly imaginative, and also hugely disciplined, complex and searching. Like the Daphne Oram Tapes which snuck out late last year, this album crucially places emphasis on the oft-neglected role of female artists in electronic music history, but perhaps more importantly rescues a chunk of treasure from the vaults which deserves to be heard by any self-respecting fan of synthesized sonics. So damn good.

This is for you Nick

Play Suzanne Ciani - Second Breath (Full)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement Of The Decline (2007)

Sometimes life is just plain shit. Sometimes everything you had and held dear just turns to shit overnight. Music is supposed to be the food of love, but when love gets damaged, what's left? 

I'll tell you what - music.

I've had music in my life for almost 46 years now. My father loved music and I grew up around his record collection. I remember those rows of vinyl under the old stereo system, it didn't matter to me what the music was, the fact that my father had amassed a large collection of albums that soundtracked his life had the greatest impact on me. I think that's why I became so obsessed with collecting myself from an early age. I won't pretend I had the coolest record collection stuffed full of yesterday's classics and all those post-modern touchstones that we only discover years after the fact. No, I bought what my life revolved around -  even if that meant the records themselves were pretty ropey in hindsight. 

Years pass and we continually re-evaluate our listening habits. Some folks don't ever progress beyond what they were playing in their teens and twenties. Some folks stick rigidly to a particular genre. Nothing is wrong when it comes to listening to music.

The rise of the internet and file sharing has opened up music to the masses to a point where we truly can have access to pretty much everything ever committed to vinyl, tape or CD. This is when I fell in love with music all over again. I have spent the last several years since digitising my CD collection finding some of the most amazing albums I have ever heard. I was always a heavy consumer of vinyl and CDs but over the last eight years or so I have doubled my collection. I am constantly amazed by what I discover, sometimes on a daily basis.

And so, when life changes, music remains a constant throughout. No matter how traumatic those changes may be, we still have the albums and songs that will comfort us, give us strength and make all of the shit a little less shit. Music will never judge you, accuse you, humiliate you or betray you. It will always be there for you no matter what.

Music is my life.

It would be crass to describe the music on this album as cinematic, but the first thing that strikes me about Stars of the Lid And their Refinement of the Decline is its similarity to the work of Zbigniew Preisner and specifically his work with film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. This isn't necessarily in sound alone, Stars of the Lid share Preisner's (and Kieslowski's) sense of restraint, of minimalism and stark beauty without resorting to meaningless sentimentalism. This is simply beautiful music in its rawest form - horns, strings and that haunting reverb-drenched guitar all perfectly placed and allowed time to breathe. Nothing here is rushed, you hear passages rise and fall gloriously, sounds make an entrance and slowly disappear and nothing ever dares to outstay it's welcome. Arvo Pärt, Gavin Bryars or Brian Eno would all be more than appropriate comparisons for this stunning collection of work, but Stars of the Lid are almost at the point where they defy comparison altogether. Of course they have introduced further, more overtly 'classical' elements into their mix but the music they are making now is quite uniquely their own - they are one of those rare bands that has absolutely defined a sound. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Frak - Muzika Electronic (2012)

Killer album of screwed techno, noise pulses, Drexciyan deconstructions and bizarro pop from Sweden's Jan Svensson and Johan Sturesson. These guys have been around for 25 years but this is their first full length in quite some time after a slew of self released cassettes via their own Börft Records imprint.

The album opens with 'Voyage No. 1's' slow-moving rhythms providing the backbone whilst looping, crusty synths spin around, spiked with dizzying, high-pitched melodies. The opening track flows into the deceptively catchy 'Tristesse Dance' and onwards to the fizzing, droning Katamorph. This is pretty experimental stuff so far, taking in such sources as Delia Derbyshire's BBC radiophonics, Daphne Oram's exercises in early electronics and some 70's public information film soundtracks. Even the cover has a lost library album look to it. But it's not all experiments and sound-scapes. Frak's pop sensibilities come to the fore with the New Order-tinged 'Pulse-Crack'. Wide-eyed leads mesh into the pulsating bass undercurrents, riding a blissed-out electronic wave. The robotic vocals and arpeggiated bounce of tracks like 'Varje Dag' and 'In Order To Create' also swim in a warm, sci-fi glow.

Recommended for fans of Oneohtrix point Never, Panabrite and other more experimental synth bands out there.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cerebral Ballzy - Cerebral Ballzy (2011)

Three reasons to love this band;

1. Their name / song titles. Cerebral Ballzy is probably the most amusing band name since Test Icicles. Song titles include 'Drug Myself Dumb', 'Skate All Day' and 'Underage Drink Forever' so you know exactly what you're getting from the outset.

2. Their vídeos. A quick search on YouTube found several official videos for tracks on this, their debut album. Lots of skateboarding, casual recreational drug use and wanton destruction of property.

3. Their sound. Pitched somewhere back in the early 80's US hardcore / punk scene - Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag etc. Frenetic songs, strained vocals and not much lasting over 2 minutes. The whole album clocks in at only 20 minutes for 12 songs so there's no excuse not to play this over and over.

What more do you need to know - go get it, 'nuff said.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Dirty Beaches - Badlands (2011)

When I first read about this album, there were three phrases that were used in virtually every article; Lo-fi, David Lynch and post-rockabilly. As you can imagine, It was immediately downloaded and entered heavy rotation.

As for those articles, this is what I thought after a few spins;

First up, the album is definately a lo-fi affair - so much so that I initially thought i'd downloaded some shitty web rip of the actual album. Not so, the whole thing is drenched in a haze of compression. After the first few plays I started to ignore the technical shortcomings and focus on the music. That said, I can imagine this bare bones approach will put some folks off altogether.

Secondly, the David Lynch thing is certainly there. I can imagine all of these songs accompanying some crazy, Lynchian visuals. I'd probably mention Jim Jarmusch as well as Lynch.

Finally, the rockabilly influence. Well, the album itself whilst short (only 27 minutes!) divides up into three distinct phases. The first four songs undeniably draw on some 50's influences from the locked groove guitar twangs on Speedway, to the repetitive Krautrock rhythms and Alan-Vega-meets-young-Presley yowl. Then comes the album's twin highlights; 'True Blue' snags its death prom ballad groove from The Ronettes’ 'Keep On Dancing' whilst Alex Zhang Huntai drapes some Beach Boys surf licks and Roy Orbison-esque vocals on top. 'Lord Knows Best' owes its mesmeric piano melody to Françoise Hardy’s Voila and the deep-voiced mumble Huntai sighs along is a pretty clear reference to her collaborator and fellow countryman Serge Gainsbourg. the last two tracks are instrumentals and are pure spectral, night-drive noir.

The only problems I have with this otherwise stellar album are it's brevity and the fact that I can't help but wonder what these songs would have sounded like with a bit of sonic spit and polish.

Huge recommendation.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Prurient - Bermuda Drain (2012)

Dominick Fernow has been recording as Prurient since 1995, he is also a member of the band Cold Cave. Fernow is one of the leading lights on the US harsh noise / power electronics scene coming out of New York.

I never really got on that well with Prurient to be honest, I always turned to Merzbow when I fancied some pure noise. It was probably to do with the fact that Fernow made almost all his earlier tracks with coruscating sheets of manipulated ultra high frequency feedback which is valid in itself but I felt that some changes in texture wouldn't have gone amiss. Prurient always seemed to me more about endurance than listening pleasure.

But that was before I heard Bermuda Drain. I'd read a few articles about the album and was struck by how most of the reviewers mentioned Fernow's apparent change in direction. So intrigued was I that within a few minutes I had a copy of the album on my hard drive ready to go.

For the first ten seconds of 'Many Jewels Surround the Crown' nothing seems to have changed - a blood curdling scream and a blast of distortion - but then in come the Carpenter-esque synths and spoken word vocal. The title track is an ambient style drift, littered with electronic pulses and sonic debris whilst more spoken word lyrics are delivered. 'Watch Silently' serves up a more typical Prurient sound with a deluge of pure high frequency noise and strained, guttural vocals.

I can't suggest seeking out anything else by Prurient as I'm not familiar enough with any of his previous albums - maybe someone can suggest some essential material - but this release comes with a huge recommendation.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lambchop, Live at Manchester Cathedral (2012)

The thing that always struck me most when listening to a Lambchop record was the use of space and volume. Arrangements created by a dozen or so players sounded beautifully sparse yet richly detailed. And then there was Kurt Wagner's voice - plaintive, desert dry and frayed at the edges, almost cracking as he sang lyrics detailing the minutiae of the human condition.

The band has slimmed down to six members over the years but none of the drama has been toned down. Brushed drums, ghostly pedal steel and Wagner's own minimal guitar picking are all used to devastating effect. The volume is low, so much so that when a bottle falls to the floor mid-song it's clatter is clearly heard above the music. They mostly play material from the latest album Mr. M for around 45 minutes then begin revisiting earlier songs including 'Soaky in the Pooper' and 'My Blue Wave'. Kurt's voice is magnificent in the cavernous Manchester cathedral, it all sounds so gentle, so fragile.

But then the fireworks begin. 'Up With People' is played as an encore and the band suddenly take off after an hour and a half of quiet restraint. It's an exuberant, celebratory end to proceedings as the huge crowd go understandably nuts.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Legowelt - The Teac Life (2011)

Legowelt is the working name of Dutchman Danny Wolfers (AKA Danny Blanco). He has released six full length albums and thirteen EPs as Legowelt since 2000 as well as many more under a dozen or so pseudonyms.

I heard a track from his 2011 album - The Teac Life which he was giving away via his website and not long after grabbed a copy of the full album. I was extremely impressed by it all, his updating of the classic sounds of Detroit and Chicago via AFX and Drexciya was beautifully done without a hint of pastiche. There seems to be quite a bit of this particular strain of analogue audio around at the moment so i'm sure more blog posts related to this sound will follow.

After playing this album several times I decided to go on the hunt for more releases and ended up tracking down pretty much all of the Legowelt discography plus associated albums and EPs.

Every piece is brilliantly done, lots of classic raw Detroit / Chicago house sounds and electro techno sensibilities - all recorded to tape in varying degrees of fidelity using analogue equipment. One of the standout things about The Teac Life is it's permeating sheen of tape hiss which gives the whole album a kind of soft-focus, organic feel.

As the man himself states on his website..."Fuck that, I am talking about: Raw as fuck autistic Star Trek, 1987- Misty Forests- X-FILES,- DETROIT unicorn futurism made on cheap ass digital & analog crap synthesizers recorded in a ragtag bedroom studio on a TEAC VHX cassette deck in DOLBY C with an unintelligible yet soulful vivacity"...


Play 'Forest Conditioner' by Legowelt;