Monday, July 31, 2006

Top Five Records of the Year So Far
Saelan's Mid-Year Round-up inspired me to create a list of my own. I thought it would be a pretty easy task but soon found that a lot of the records I've been listening to a lot this year actually came out last year - Coil's Black Antlers, Kate Bush's Aerial, Matt Elliott's Drinking Songs... More alarmingly, I found it hard to come up with ten new records from 2006 that I'd liked enough to buy. I abandoned the project for a while before realising that there were at least five records this year that I actually liked enough to consider potential future classics; five really important, meaningful and possibly epochal records.

Scott Walker - The Drift
Not his best record but quite possibly his definitive statement. The essence of all that is Scott boiled down to opaque black goo. Drink it all down. It's good for you.

Scritti Politti - White Bread Black Beer
At first I was put-off by home computer-iness of the production - endless preset break loops and parping VST synths. But, perhaps for the first time in Scritti history, this album isn't about the sound - it's about the singer and his songs. In this sense, computer studio production is the acoustic singer-songwriter sound of our times - sonic shorthand for intimacy and confession. This is probably the only context in which Green would be able to make such an unusually personal album.

Ekkehard Ehlers - A Life Without Fear
Again, this was initially disappointing. I keep hoping that Ehlers will make another album as simple and blissed-out as Plays or Heroin. A Life Without Fear is a much more thorny proposition and - on repeated listens - all the better for it. That's not to say that there aren't passages of intensely lovely droning here. It's just that they're interspersed with all sorts of musical and conceptual about-faces and double-takes. A most welcome challenge to expectations.

Burial - Burial
As with a lot of the best music, you can spot all the neat reference points here without really being able to see how they ad up to the finished product. This is being proclaimed the first masterwork of dubstep and, as such, its obvious precendents are in the 'ardkore continuum - rave, jungle, UK garage, grime... But there's a whole other, wholly other, sonic strata revealing itself here. I detect the elegiac melodies of early (and recent) Aphex Twin, the faux-ethnic atmospheres of :zoviet*france: and the gritty digi-dub of Basic Channel. Whatever, the case, this is a unique, utterly compelling and genuinely mysterious album.

Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky
Once again, I initially found this rather off-putting (an odd pattern developing here - could be significant). I was very wary of the amount of guest appearances contained herein - the same thing that threw the last Antony album hopelessly off-kilter (naturally Antony appears on Black Ships...) Also, on actually hearing the album, I was shocked by how dark and complex it sounded. I'm a big fan of Current's ultra minimal, reflectively mature albums (Soft Black Stars, Sleep Has His House...) and was a little disappointed to hear Tibet et al revisiting the tortured, tortuous terrain of All the Pretty Little Horses, Thunder Perfect Mind etc... Fairly quickly, I came to realise two important things: (i) Tibet's use of guest stars is audacious and brilliant - each arranges and sings his or her own version of the same song, with the - almost universally fantastic - versions interspersed throughout the album; (ii) All the Pretty Little Horses is one of my favourite albums of all time and Thunder Perfect Mind ain't bad either. In fact, Black Ships... is an astonishing, devastating piece of work that ranks with the best of C93's output.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Oh, for Crying Out Loud!
Bananaman is innocent! Right? Right??

Friday, July 28, 2006

Wild Horses! or What I Really Did on My Holiday

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Wirewool
I'm liking this blog more and more with every post.

Couldn't agree more with this assessment of Rhythm and Sound (which I would extend to their work as Basic Channel and Main Street)...

"Rhythm & Sound - Imprint
I planned on this weekend being an all-Rhythm & Sound and Terence Malick weekend. I didn't do so good, only managing to find the time for Badlands and the first Rhythm & Sound album, but hey, a classic's a classic. 'Imprint' is incredible, dub with only the echoes left intact, hypnotic, ghostly... for fuck's sake go and buy everything by them. EVERYTHING. Now.

I would hasten to add that the first Rhythm and Sound CD is actually out of print but it is entirely worth picking up each and every one of the 12"s said CD compiles. I'm fairly certain that they're all available.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Electronica Obscurities #s

4 Autopoises “La Vie a Noir Remixes” 1999
Random Inc “Walking in Jerusalem2002

Autopoises is a collaboration between Blogglebum Cage favourite Ekkehard Ehlers (Beitrieb, Auch, Marz etc.) and Sebastian Meissner (Random Inc, Bizz Circuits). Their album La Vie a Noir was a conceptual project "exploring notions of noir" - as we used to say in the Listings industry. (In an odd sense, this mirrors Ehlers' fantastic new meditation upon the meaning(s) of "blackness", A Life Without Fear). The remix LP that followed La Vie featured one disc of remixes and another of locked grooves.

The loops on the second record of the set are amusing enough but disc one's remixes are where the real action is. The opening mix of by Gez Varley is a fairly straight-ahead techno banger but things head west pretty swiftly after that. Terre Thaemlitz's mix is a fascinating brew of insectoid microsound, Kit Clayton's is a piece of dramatically structured noise worthy of Nurse with Wound and Vladislav Delay's glorious splurge of bump'n'scrape is highly redolent of his Anima-era heyday.

It's hard to see where the noir concept comes into all this but Ekkehard Ehler's always approaches his subject matter from an oblique angle. The unifying concept is even harder to hear among the Random Inc album's choice minimal techno but I think that all the tracks were made entirely from samples recorded whilst erm... Walking in Jerusalem.

Like the Autopoises album, it's a highly collaborative effort, with input from a variety of artists, including notable appearances by the very excellent Ultra Red and Canada's-own Tim Hecker. Both albums are also beautifully packaged with extensive liner notes that - to be honest - don't really clear all that much up. Seeing the CD tray on the Autopoises cover blown up to LP size comes across as genuinely witty and oddly moving.

Minimal techno seems to have gained quite a wide audience in the last few years but it also seems to have strayed a long way from it's origins in the kind of fevered theoretical speculation that spawned these two projects. Walking in Jerusalem is only four years old but it seems to come from another age altogether.
Don't Say It's Over!
Oh well, at least I can listen to some records now.

For what it's worth, I actually like Banaman Landis. Sure, he's American but he's also clearly, truly, heroically mental. He has that far away look in his eyes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blogs of Love and Hate
I was working on a new installment of "Electronica Obscurities" during my lunch-break at work, when the shitty-assed PC I'm forced to use crashed and wiped the whole thing. Save often, people. Anyway, as it may be a while before I can stand to rewrite the whole thing, I'll tide you over with a couple of quotes from other people's blogs.

K-Punk on the Happy Mondays
"The Mondays' transposition of Sly Stone and Krautrock into a Mancunian idiom, their translation of p-funk glossalalia into what Simon called 'dosser speak', was a mystical materialism - but they had to be sold as just ordinary lads, havin' a fookin laff, any weirdness played down, attributed to the pills... (One more way in which drugs, far from undermining the reality principle, tend to shore it up...)"

Woebot on Live 8
"Who gives half a flying fuck about the African presence at Live 8? Musically speaking I was quite glad there was almost no African presence at Live 8, because if there had been it would have compromised the event's utter shiteness. I'd have had to taken the whole thing seriously, rather than just outta hand dismissing it like I did. The first time I saw any footage was this year, and boy was I glad for the 365 day buffer. If I'd been able to watch it on Pluto that'd have been slightly more agreeable."

and the Observer Music Monthly
"World music existing as a "section" in Western music collections? Clearly fatuous and wrong-headed. I don't know if this makes me detest the Observer's relentlessly middle-brow aesthetic or just people in general."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Veronica Mars Versus the iPod People of Why TV is Better Than Music
It's incredible, really. I've used this blog as a forum for admitting to liking some fundamentally terrible music. There's really no excuse for Ween OR the Legendary Pink Dots. Nobody bats an eye. And yet, when I admit that I like to - gasp - watch TV, I start to get borderline abusive comments posted by random strangers.

Yes, Veronica Mars: The Debate Continues - and it seems to be getting a little personal.

So what gives? Well, first of all, I'm assuming my detractors have a US-centric viewpoint. When they say "TV" the mean "mainstream American TV". European TV (due, largely, to the relative importance of public broadcasting) is a different matter - but not as different as many of my fellow Brits would like to think.

Even bearing in mind the fact that we're talking about my love for Hollywood teen/genre comedy-dramas like Buffy and Veronica, it's a little hard for me to understand why all music is apparently acceptable, while "TV" (in this limited sense) is a disgrace.

People seem to instantly, thoughtlessly regard music - no matter how nerdy or cheesy the music - as inherently more cool/worthwhile than TV. The coolness of Being Totally Into Music thus reveals itself as an important cornerstone of the vapid iPod culture that I've come to utterly deplore. It's just another mindless faith; an unjustifiable foundation for a lifestyle that helps to perpetuate capitalism/evil.

While giving quasi-religious reverence to the spiritual superiority of music, these iPod people seem really hung up on the idea that TV can't be great art or that great art can't happen within the confines of a popular genre/corporate structure. This prejudice seems to stem largely from insecurity - the IPPs can't make meaningful judgments after years of uncritical "appreciation" of middlebrow shite, so they rely on knee-jerk small-mindedness to shore up their unfounded sense of cultural superiority. For them, music is a quick signifier for Okay-to-Like and TV is an easy target.

Unfortunately, when done in this context, listening to - or rather BEING TOTALLY INTO - music is a passive, mindless experience; a dose of soma that makes people feel that they're right/everything is alright. Here's the other side of this coin: for me, watching TV doesn't have to be passive or mindless. I try to approach my TV watching the way I approach my music listening - with an open, critically-active mind (it's more fun that way, apart from anything).

The real problem with American genre TV is that it's so deeply tied to art-by-committee within the structure of highly Capitalist corporate organisations. It's pretty hard to get a TV show produced that is not tainted by the agenda of some corporate paymaster. Music, on the other hand is a highly democratic medium, which anyone can do if they have access to an acoustic guitar or a computer or whatever.

Nevertheless, I'm going to say that Veronica Mars is proof that extremely interesting and genuinely provocative art CAN make it to the small screen, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Flipping the coin again, I'll note that the vast majority of DIY rock and electronic music releases are utterly devoid of ideas and entirely pointless.

It's easy to make an acceptable sounding album - utilising the available technology and independent infrastructure, whilst deploying all the relevant aesthetic signifiers. But what's it all for? Rebellious music culture is so well mapped that it's lost any power to surprise and become little more than a set of empty, easily marketed gestures. There's plenty of decent music being made but little sense that said music could change the world for the better.

From this viewpoint, American genre TV represents relatively virgin territory. There's so much ground still to be broken; so many borders to be dissolved. This is precisely because, in Hollywood, it is more or less impossible to make a TV show that has something original and important to say. Another victory for the cultural economy of scarcity!

I still believe that music is a magical force that can stop wars and stuff - it just doesn't FEEL like it, in the contemporary context. TV, on the other hand, feels loaded with subversive potential. Let's just hope the man doesn't notice before the people do.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stuff I Bought on My Holiday.


Dinosaur L - "24 24 Music"
Arthur Russell mutant disco album from 1981. On "Get Set" it sounds like electric Miles gone gay. Sealed for ten quid and surely a bootleg.

Autopoieses - "La Vie a Noir Transposed" 2LP

Early collab between Ekkehard Ehlers (I'm rocking the "Life with Out Fear" vinyl as I type) with that bloke from Random inc. plus a bunch of remixers including Vladislav Delay. 28 locked grooves for 8 quid.

The Watersons - "Yorkshire Garland" LP
Can't go wrong with classic Watersons. This one's from the pre-Carthy era and gives you all the uncompromising acapella Yorkshire folk joy one would expect. Seven quid from MVE in Notting Hill. Looks like a first edition and it's in great shape.

Burial - s/t CD
Believe the hype on this one. Sounds like :zoviet*france: and Basic Channel getting together to make a UK garage album. Phenomenal but why no vinyl?

Kode 9 - "Forward" 10"
This is the same guy as Burial, right? Particularly impressed by this one because it sounded wrong at both 33 and 45. I'm not all about dubstep but Kode 9 and his Hyperdub imprint impress me a lot.

Kemialliset Ystavat - "Kellari Juniversumi" LP
The one on Beta-Lactam Ring (CD on Fonal). Expensive but I'm pretty sure it's out of print. Came with a free 7". Top notch Finnish free-folktronica band, if you're not hip to them already. This one's freaky and folky.

Current 93/Nurse with Wound - "Bright Yellow Moon" 2LP
I wasn't previously aware of this album. Seems that it's quite recent and deals with a near-death experience. Haven't had a chance to listen to it yet but it's near-mint and only cost 10 quid.

Terror Danjah - "Industry Standard EP" 12"
Classic grimey instrumentals on really nice marbled vinyl (great shape too). Reynolds hipped me to this one, of course.


"The Day Today"
I just couldn't live without it a day longer. It's only available for region 2 so playing it more than once on my DVD player (a.k.a. my Mac) is kind of an issue. Hopefully, someone will come up with a way to bypass the new Mac firmware's region encoding that doesn't void the computer's warantee. A new version of VLC, perhaps? I'm sure the boffins are working on it.


Joe Boyd - "White Bicycles"
A lot more entertaining than Ian Penman's review made it out to be. Boyd is amusing and insightful about everything from The Watersons (see above) to Albert Ayler.

Things I Already Regret Not Buying

Whilst reading the Observer on my flight home, I noticed that there's a new Will Self book in the UK bestsellers list. I'm a big Will fan and can't beleive the existence of "The Book of Dave" (love that title) managed to pass me by completely. Doesn't come out in Canada until October 15th (an easy date to remember because it's also my brother's birthday).

A few records were foolishly left on the shelf too, including Main - "Motion Pool", Anne Briggs - "The Complete Topic Recordings", Pure -"The End of Vinyl" and Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Vrioon". Oh well, maybe next time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I Haven't Forgotten You.
I'm just working on a longer-than-usual post. Why not tide youself over with this excellent post about Mego Records.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Oh The Pain Part 732.
This was supposed to be his year!

Listen: they all do it, so why pick on Ullrich?