Saturday, December 29, 2007

It Snowed on Christmas Day!
For those of you who think that all of Canada is permanently under three feet of snow, I should point out that it's actually pretty rare to get any snow in Vancouver, so it was a real treat to have a light dusting of the stuff on Chrimbo day. Wheeee! Of course, the snow did make it rather hard for Sneefler to find somewhere she could take a whiz.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Top Ten of the Year 2007
Okay, so it hasn't been a great year for music. Really, though, that's a statement that needs to be qualified or - at least - seen in context. Saying that it hasn't been a great year for music shouldn't be taken to imply that there hasn't been a tonne of wonderful albums this year.

The problems I've had with music in 2007 have had less to do with the my subjective judgment on how much "good" stuff has been produced than with disturbing trends in the way people have been acquiring and consuming music. MP3s and Web 2.0 have been encouraging a superficially "informed" but utterly un-engaged approach to musical culture - one that favours received knowledge and opinions over active listening and having a personal relationship with individual works.

Of course, what really bugs me is that people have been listening to soppy retro bullshit on MP3 and ignoring the really really great vinyl LPs that I bought this year. Hmm... So, apparently, this does have something do with my subjective judgments. But what the hell, eh? This is supposed to be the preamble to my top ten of the year and what could be more subjective than an end-of-year list?

Subjectively speaking, then, I feel obliged to tell you that the albums you've all been listening to are a pile of crap and that, if you paid attention to me once in a while, you wouldn't be missing out on all the real music. I'm kidding, of course but the serious point is that most of my favourite records of the year seem to have been heard by a distressingly tiny number of people.

I know it's childish and that I shouldn't care but do I find it somewhat disheartening - not just because it means that people are missing out on great (even important) music but because it shows that I have little or no remaining common ground with most other music fans. This was brought home to me with a horrid thud when I realized that not one of my picks had made it into a single Zulu Records staff top ten this year.

Still, a lack of common ground is pretty much endemic to the overcrowded music marketplace of the web world. It's inevitable and shouldn't be seen as a sign of my personal isolation or other people's bad taste. Like I said, your faithful corespondent heard a lot of great records this year - and I'm willing to bet that there are dozens and dozens of great records that he didn't hear this year.

So how to go about compiling a list of the year's ten key albums? A lot of obvious choices sprang to mind. Many of my favourite artists put out absolutely stellar records and CDs this year. It would have been easy to make a top ten entirely out of such albums but where's the fun or the use in that? And once you get beyond the obvious stuff, you get embroiled in such a morass of wonderful and obscure gems that it's truly hard to know where to start.

Clearly some ground rules had to be established, to cut the pack down a bit and exclude some of the less imaginative choices. The rules I came up with were:

1. No CD-only releases (and no CDRs or tapes, either)

2. No albums by artists who have appeared on previous BB Cage top tens

3. No EPs or mini albums

4. No re-issues or vinyl editions of albums from previous years

5. No albums by me (but - ahem - feel free to include LA: An Apology in your end-of-the-year list)

I thought that applying this set of rules (or rather limitations) to the list might make for a more original, exciting and useful top ten than would otherwise be possible. Maybe it would have done but I had to face up to the fact that some of my motives for placing these limitations were pretty shady:

1. Opportunity to show off extreme vinyl snobbery;

2. Excuse to leave sub-par Fall album out of the top ten, without admitting that it really is a bit crap;

3. Stress-reducing way of making it easier to shave the list down to a mere ten records from the dozens of possible contenders;

Additionally, I realized that there were a couple of albums - Noriko Tujiko's Solo and the Fennesz/Sakamoto collaboration - that couldn't be left off the list even if they were only available as CDs. So, I ended up using my rules more as a set of guiding principles than a slab of rigid commandments. Basically, it helped me make tough decisions about borderline cases and to prioritize newer and less well-known artists. Think of it as a kind of music nerd affirmative action.

So, sure, some of the following choices are a little predictable, if you know my tastes. But what's it to you? This is my freakin' blog, motherfucker.

Top 10 Albums of the Year

1. Von Sudenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino) 2LP
Hate to admit it but this really does piss on Reformation Post-TLC from a great height. Essentially, Tromatic Reflexxions is the Fall album that many of us have been waiting to hear ever since The Unutterable trumpeted a major return to form that never fully materialized.

Sure Country on the Click and Fall Heads Roll are great albums but - for the most part - they're great garage rock albums. By collaborating with Mouse on Mars, Mark E Smith has found a way to pursue his interest in avant-lumpen dance-rock, making the world a much funner place along the way.

Tromatic Reflexxions really is a blast. This is probably a result of MOM's fearless slicing, splicing and Autotuning of MES's voice into a series of hilariously infectious, digitally fractured chants and catchphrases. Nobody in the producer's chair has showed such a willful lack of respect for Smith's voice since the great John Leckie produced The Fall's unequaled mid-80s masterworks.

High praise indeed but well deserved. Tromatic Reflexxions is a classic. Every song is catchy, clever and entirely invigorating. Album of the year.

2. Fennesz Sakamoto - Cendre (Touch) CD
In sharp contrast, this debut full-length from the duo of Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto distinctly recalls the early days of ambient music, when artists like Eno, Popol Vuh and Harold Budd were unwittingly setting the template for what would become new age music. Still, given the unsettling hesitancy of Sakamoto's piano playing and the murky DSP magic that Fennesz manifests, it's hard to imagine ever hearing this album at a health spa.

Cendre is unrelentingly fascinating and gorgeous from start to finish and - while it doesn't quite have the edge of Sakamoto's work with alva noto - it's guaranteed be an extremely satisfying listen for fans of either of the artists involved.

One has to wonder, though, when the next solo Fennesz album is coming our way. Why does he make us wait so?

3. Noriko Tujiko - Solo (Editions Mego) CD
If only Fennesz had the work ethic of his sometime Editions Mego label-mate Noriko Tujiko. One might be forgiven for saying that Noriko tends to churn albums out, if that didn't suggest a certain lack of quality. In fact, her work is consistently among the most brilliant and individual music being made today. So, here we are again - another top ten of the year, another wonderful Noriko Tujiko album that just had to be included.

Solo doesn't really say much not covered by Noriko's other albums. Basically you get all the glitchy textures, serpentine song structures and vertigo-inducing melodies you'd expect. The real upside of this is that it gives us fans exactly what we want and offers newcomers an extremely concise and representative introduction to the work of a shamefully underrated artist.

4. Alog - Amateur (Rune Grammofon) 2LP
Unusual that many of my favourite records this year had such a palpable sense of fun about them (okay, maybe not many but some is unusual enough). Perhaps it's a reaction to the horrible prevalence of dour, Grey's Anatomy-ready indie rock, right now. Anyway, the fun continues here.

Norway's Alog seem to have made Amateur by recording themselves bashing whatever came to hand, then feeding the results through some freaky-ass customized software. The results vary from utterly alien avant pop to warm, quasi-organic digital abstraction.

Let's be honest, most contemporary post-glitch electronica takes itself pretty seriously, while offering nothing more challenging than a fairly middlebrow combination of folksy acoustic melody and grainy digital textures. Alog, by contrast, provide something genuinely innovative and challenging, delivered with exceptional verve and good humour.

5. Haswell and Hecker - Blackest Ever Black: Electro-acoustic UPIC Recordings (WEA) 2LP
While it seems likely that Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker had a lot of fun making this duo album, the prevailing mood on Blackest Ever Black is unrelentingly modernist and highbrow. All the better for it, too - in the current
cultural climate, we need artists of focussed seriousness more urgently than ever.

So where does the fun come in? Well, Haswell and Hecker are artists who exist at that weird nexus where highbrow intent coexists with a rather puerile/prurient love of taboo subject matter. Hence the fact that this album was made using Xenakis's vintage images-to-audio computer music system UPIC, which allowed the duo to have a bit of a laugh, making music by tracing images of pornography, explosions and erm... kebabs.

The results are a lot less abrasive and a lot more fun than one might expect, given the hideous racket that these two make on their solo recordings. Still, the fact that Blackest Ever Black was released as a double vinyl LP by Warner Classics and Jazz is frankly astounding.

6. 3/4hadbeeneliminated - The Religious Experience (Soleilmoon) LP
Also astounding is the extraordinary fanciness of the hand-made packaging that encases this particular album, as previously discussed. The fact that the "delicately perfumed" sleeve of The Religious Experience gives of a noxious chemical stink that induces a violent allergic reaction in Kris has seriously discouraged me from ever actually taking it off the shelf. Which is a shame because the music on the record itself is truly fantastic.

Italy's 3/4hadbeeneliminated are one of those bands who fall through the cracks of niche marketing, gaining attention from a variety of musical subcultures but never acquiring the devoted admiration they deserve. Their DSP textures appeal to abstract electronica fans, their improv rock stylings have caught the attention of free folk freaks and their dark moodiness appeals to industrial goth types. But they don't really fit in anywhere and - as far as I'm concerned - they're all the better for it. There's nothing else quite like The Religious Experience and how many albums could you say that about in 2007?

7. Ben Frost - Theory of Machines (Bedroom Community) LP
Like 3/4hadbeeneliminated, Ben Frost brings some much needed edge and attitude to the New Electronic Underground. Theory of Machines is based on a fairly strict formula of moody granular clouds of sound, occasionally underpinned by booming, distorted slow-motion beats. But as a whole, the album is extremely dynamic and well paced, with plenty of variety coming in (distressed guitar, elegiac strings...) and a very cinematic sense of overall structure. This is an ambitious and admirably well-realized piece of work.

Something tells me that Ben Frost will be receiving a certain amount of media attention in the coming years. He seems like a chap who could go far. It will help that Theory of Machines comes to us courtesy of Bedroom Community, an Icelandic label with links to Bjork and Will Oldham. Bedroom Community is shaping up to be one of the most diverse, consistently interesting imprints currently operating and the label's high-profile associates should be enough to get it at least a modicum of attention.

8. Islaja - Ulual Yyy (Fonal) LP
Also coming straight out of Scandanavia is Finland's Fonal label, which has been responsible for some really quite intriguing avant rock records over the last few years. Right now, the world of music seems to be squarely divided between tedious sub-Coldplay singer-songwriters and nihilistic makers of formless noise. In this context, Finnish acts like Lau Nau and Islaja appear like a breath of icy fresh air, bringing a much more satisfying blend of free-form improvisation and structured song forms.

Islaja, in particular, manages to make songs structures that sound uncannily spontaneous; always on the edge of collapse but never without focus. Ulual Yyy takes an even greater leap away from the obvious by focusing on much sparser, less organic textures than one might expect from an act so closely associated with the free folk scene.

Her sound is low key and intimate but - make no mistake - this is a major work.

9. The Focus Group - We Are All Pan's People (Ghost Box) CD
Another sonic essay on lost futures from the Ghost Box label. The label's most definitive statement of intent since Belbury Poly's marvelous album The Owl's Map, which arrived in my household just too late to be included in last year's top ten. However, where The Owl's Map is endearingly goofy and melodic, The Focus Group's jarring sample collages are abrasively angular and disconcertingly alien.

It's easy to feel that the Ghost Box crew overshadow the originality of the music they produce with excessive retro-futurist rhetoric. Sure, in the post-meaning age of digital downloads and MP3 blogs, it's nice to see a label obsessed with setting it's own context in obsessive detail. It would be interesting, though, to hear this album with no idea of what the heck the whole thing was supposed to mean. Having said that, it's hard to take the mystery away from something this genuinely odd.

10. Burial - Untrue (Hyperdub) 2LP
This one almost didn't make it to the top ten. There were good reasons for not putting it in, at least according to the loose rules I set for myself. But if I'm honest, the real reason I was going to leave it out was that I didn't want to get involved in the heated debate it's provoked since its release.

Not sure why this is. I actually think it's fantastic that people can still get so worked up about an album. It's as if people feel that Burial owes them something epochal. In those terms, even if Untrue isn't the best album of the year, Burial is quite possibly the year's most important artist.

Perhaps the reason I wanted to avoid the Untrue debate was that the album provokes such a strong emotional reaction in me that I get faintly hysterical at the thought of having to defend it against naysayers. This really is an incredibly poignant record. Nothing else this year presented such a believably soulful reaction to its particular time and place.

The issue of soul may just be the problem, though. Most people who object to Untrue seem to feel that Burial rather overdoes his use of vocal samples from anonymous R&B tunes. It's understandable that an overabundance of vocal science might be a little grating for some people. I suspect that the same thing has put some people off the excellent new Richard Youngs album (see below).

Nevertheless, how listeners can fail to at least be impressed by this album's technical and musical ingenuity is somewhat perplexing. I mean, how does he do it? It's as if Burial is laying down big surges of classical strings and choirs, pitting them against vocals forced into the same key via Autotune, underpinning the resulting melange with worryingly un-quantized beats and topping it all off with a layer of gritty, filtered noise. But there's way more to it than that, even. On every listen, Untrue, reveals a new vocal filigree or destabilizing layer of polymetrical delay.

Stunning stuff. No debate. One little complaint, though - it would have been easy to fit the whole CD on a single LP, so why release the vinyl as a double set minus some of the album's most interesting tracks? Because you think DJs are going to play this stuff to get the party started? Really?

Top Three Songs of the Year
Killer cuts from Von Sudenfed, Noriko Tujiko and Burial for you online streaming pleasure.

Bubbling Under
Scott Walker - And Who Shall Go to the Ball? and What Shall Go to the Ball?
This limited edition EP of instrumental music composed for a contemporary dance piece is surely the most extreme thing Scott has ever done. Makes The Drift seem like a walk in the park.

Richard Youngs - Autumn Response
Like many Richard Youngs albums Autumn Response seems to be based around a set of limiting rules - kind of like the ones that (only just) kept him out of the top ten proper. Youngs is no stranger to Blogglebum Cage end-of-year lists and the prospect of including him again did feel a little obvious. In the end, though, it was my growing obsession with the Burial album that got him booted out. This is somewhat appropriate considering the fact that - as already alluded to - Autumn Response, like Untrue - trades heavily on the use of digitally manipulated vocals.

Which brings us back to the set of rules/limitations that Youngs used to make the album. All of the tracks on Autumn Response are fairly straightforward songs sung by Youngs with acoustic guitar as his only accompaniment. The left turn comes when he starts to use his computer to create delays and phase patterns that recall both classic New York minimalism and olde English folk music.

The results are disconcerting - hypnotic to a point but way too far off-kilter to ever be lulling. For some reason, these songs give me a very strong image of someone slapping Devendra Banhart repeatedly in the face and it seems that I get some kind of sadistic pleasure from this image. Confusing because I actually like Banhart but appropriate as a comment on Autumn Response as a whip-smart challenge to the complacent pastoralism of the US freak folk scene.

Pita - A Bas la Culture Marchande
I'm a pretty big fan of Peter "Pita" Rehberg but I normally far prefer his immersive, drone-based work to his more rhythmic, concussive material. Surprising then, that this sparsely-packaged LP on Carlos Giffoni's No Fun label really did it for me, despite focusing on the latter style. A Bas... is a fairly audacious mix of digital noise and silence, which ranks among Rehberg's best work.

Also great to see Pita so active on other fronts, with his reactivated Editions Mego label going from strength to strength and...

KTL - KTL 2 and KTL 3
This has been a good year for catching the darker-than-thou duo of Pita and Sunn0)))'s Stephen O'Malley on vinyl. Both of these fancily packaged items are extremely powerful and both are worth owning.

But it's on KTL 3 that Pita's digital interventions come to the fore. Far from a formulaic exercise in post-metal droning, this one-sided LP, on the aforementioned Russell Haswell's OR label, showcases Pita's talent even better than the solo disc discussed above.

KTL 3 is an exceptionally special release and was mainly excluded from the top ten on the basis of the rule cutting out EPs and mini albums. In spite of the duo's high work rate, there's certainly no lack of quality evident here.

Oren Ambarchi - In the Pendulum's Embrace and Lost Like a Star
Only just got Ambarchi's latest studio album, In the Pendulum's embrace. Early impressions suggest that Pendulum would be a front-runner for top-ten status, had it arrived a little earlier. Certainly, Ambarchi is a perennial Blogglebum favourite and this album sees him on top form.

No huge surprises here but plenty of lovely little ones (unusually conventional guitar sounds and even a little singing). In the Pendulum's Embrace may not add much to Ambarchi's already sizeable body of work but it's an excellent representation of what he does and - as such - a great place for newcomers to jump in to his world of meditative guitar and electronics.

The live LP Lost Like a Star is also worth mentioning because:

a. It's fancy;

b. The title is a Scott Walker reference (I think);

c. Ambarchi was responsible for the best live set I witnessed this year.

Playing at Vancouver's Scotiabank Dance Center, Ambarchi started off by deploying the kind of filtered-to-sine-waves guitar loops that fans associate with him, before building layer upon layer of oddly modulated noise, then finally dropping in a titanic quasi-black-metal riff at just the right time.

Noticeably, the set was good enough to win over quite a few people who were in only in attendance to see other artists on the bill. Hopefully they all own In the Pendulum's Embrace by now (as per my comments above). The set collected on Lost Like a Star isn't quite so memorable but it's pretty damn good, all the same.

Trimbal - Soul Food Volume One
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Trim is by far the best MC that the grime scene has produced. Ever. By far.

Shame he's decided to release a series of half-assed "mix tapes" instead of a proper album. Still, we should be grateful for all the Trim we can get.

The Fall - Reformation Post-TLC
I liked it!

Also Highly Recommended
Esperik Glare - Dumpster Divebombing Lessons
Flat Grey - XXXXXX
Giuseppe Ielasi - August
Lim - His Destinys Dub
Mordant Music - Carrion Squared
Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
To Bad Catholics - Mallorytown
Tu M' - Fragile Touch of the Coincidence

Re-issues, Vinyl Editions and Compilations
Boris and Sunn0))) - Altar (3LP)
Tim Buckley - Starsailor (180g LP)
Fennesz - Plays (10")
Fennesz - Endless Summer (CD)
Fennesz - Hotel Paral.lel (CD)
Tim Hecker - Harmony in Ultraviolet (180g LP)
Caetano Veloso - Araca Azul and Irene 1969 (180g LPs)
Scott Walker - Scott, Scott Two, Scott Three and Scott Four (180g LPs)
v/a - Box of Dub (3LP)

Some Singles
Oren Ambarchi/Lasse Marhaug - "Worried Friends"/"Nervous Enemies"
Burial - "Ghost Hardware"
High Places - "Shared Islands"/"Universe"
Von Sudenfed - "The Rhinohead" and "Fledermaus Can't Get it"

Other Artists of Note
Fovea Hex

Forthcoming/Haven't Heard Yet
Scorn - Stealth
Sun - I'll be the Same
Trimbal - Soul Food Volume 2
v/a - Box of Dub 2

Still Waiting for...
A new Fennesz solo album
That new Oren Ambarchi album on vinyl
The moment when I finally "get" Ricardo Villalobos

Too Late for Last Year's List
Belbury Poly - The Owl's Map
Mordant Music - Dead Air

As usual, I'm sure there's a bunch of important stuff that's accidentally been left out but that's yer lot for this year. I'll add anything I remember after the fact in the comments box. And your greetings, suggestions and abuse are welcome, as ever.

See you all in 2008.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One New Mix CD: The Acid Folk Volume Four
Here it is, my early Christmas gift to you. Making a CDR compilation of classic UK folk-rock has become something of a holiday tradition in our household. Kris always complains that the mixes end up with too much "folk" and not enough "acid". It's ironic, then, that a lot of the more chunky sweater, finger-in-ear, hey-nonny-no tracks on this mix are traditional songs she remembers from her childhood (The Wire's recent acid folk primer was another big influence). And there's plenty of trad stuff on this comp, mark my words.

Nevertheless, there should also be enough flute solos and eastern modes to keep even the most prog-centric hipster satisfied. I'm not sure that this mix quite scales the dizzy heights reached by last year's Volume Three but it features some old favourites, some new discoveries and some really really killer choons.
I've even embedded a DivShare player at the bottom of this post, featuring three of my favourite songs from the comp, for your online previewing pleasure.

I have a handful of copies of the CDR, which are intended to be festive gifts for my friends. So, friends: if you want a copy, let me know ASAP and I'll try to get one to you in time to have your granny tripping out on some Comus after Christmas dinner. If, by some bizarre fluke, you are one of the artists included and you feel that this harmless enterprise infringes your rights, let me know and I'll remove your song from the tracklist.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the track-by-track breakdown:

"Song for the Laird of Connaugh" Bridget St John
Lovely opener from this John Peel-sponsored songbird. When I was first starting to get into music, Peel's "failed" Dandelion label was a bit of a running joke among the British music press. Nowadays, his grooming of psych-folk cornerstones like Forest and Kevin Coyne seems extremely forward thinking.

"Ophelia's Song" Shelagh McDonald

A Mike Barnes recommendation. Apparently McDonald had the same arranger as Nick Drake and the same acid psychosis as Syd Barret. The Drake connection is certainly audible on this delightful piece of chamber-folk.

"Break Your Token" Mellow Candle
One of my absolute favourites here. I first heard of Clodagh Simmonds when she guested on Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky. That led me to Simmonds' current output with Fovea Hex - a kind of free-floating ambient-folk collective, featuring Clodagh collaborating with a whole heap of avant-notables, ranging from Eno to Andrew McKenzie of The Hafler Trio.

Anyway, it turns out that, in the '70s, she was in an acid folk group called Mellow Candle. "Break Your Token" sounds quite a lot like Forest (another favourite of mine), as you will discover if you scroll to the DivShare playlist at the foot of this post.

"Who's the Fool Now?" Tim Hart and Maddy Prior
The most straightforwardly folky track on the comp. Two members of Steeleye Span get trad, dad. Talking of "The Span"...

"Blacksmith" Steeleye Span
I stayed away from these guys for years, perhaps traumatized by their atrocious late-period hit "All Around my Hat". Turns out that the band's early material is prime UK folk-rock in the vein of Fairport Convention (from whom they were directly descended) and Trees.

Don't believe me? Just scroll down to the DivShare player at the bottom of the post and hear for yourself.

"Red Wine and Promises" Mike and Lal Waterson
Apparently, the album this song featured on (Bright Phoebus) was The Watersons' attempt to get a slice of the folk-rock action. Disconcerting as it is to hear Lal Waterson's voice backed by, like, instruments, this is a wonderful, darkly funny tune. And you just can't detract or distract from that voice. The Waterson's must have been one of the most truly charismatic musical groups of all time and their charisma is beautifully encapsulated by Lal's defiant tone here.

"Ca' the Yowes" Shirley Collins
Joanna Newsom has been been playing this traditional Scottish songs live quite a lot recently. While I'm certainly part of the whole "Joanna Newsom is a Giantess" faction, I can't believe she'll ever top this version from Shirley Collins, backed by a signature arrangement from sister Dolly. Scroll down to the DivShare player at the bottom of the post and judge for yourself.

"Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair" Davy
Not many people seem to know that this is a traditional English folk tune. Most of you probably think of it as a Nina Simone song, although it's also been covered by some notable US folkies. Admittedly, when it comes to vocal range, Davy Graham is no Nina Simone but I still find this rendition pretty moving and the guitar playing is fantastic, of course.

"Doctor of Physick" Fairport Convention

From Full House, which is kind of their 'Til the Band Comes in. In other words it's the partially-good album that marked the end of the band's classic period. So, no Sandy Denny here but Richard Thompson was still in the band at this point and "Doctor of Physick" is still very much in the style of Liege and Lief etc. Can't wait to hear their Tilt.

"Old Boot Wine" Spirogyra

Flute action! Confusingly this is not the title track from the band's 1972 album of the same name, which featured Fairport alumnus Dave Mattacks on drums. In fact, it's a notably drum-less piece of chamber-folk whimsy from the 1972 album Bells Boots and Shambles. There's a strong possibility that the choirboy-style vocal here is provided by Barbara Gaskin of "It's my Party and I'll Cry If I Want to To" fame!

"Girl from the North Country" Clive Palmer
Fairport weren't the only UK folk-rock act to cover Dylan, y'know. This rendition of "Girl from the North Country" by Incredible String Band founder Clive Palmer is a wonderfully British take on Bob's unmistakable idiom.

"It Don't Bother Me"
Bert Jansch
The title track from my personal favourite Jansch solo outing. This song provides a pretty good illustration of what I was getting at in the recent post where I argued that Bert is the living embodiment of punk rock attitude.

"Bruton Town" The Pentangle
More punk rock! I just keep coming back to that first Pentangle album. It's never been beaten. Even the triangle playing is brilliant!

"The Tale of the Spider and the Fly" Synanthesia

Wasn't Mike Oldfield in this band? Don't tell me. I don't want to know. That whole Barbara Gaskin revelation was quite enough for me.

"The Witch" Mark Fry
Okay, this is where we get into the acid-fried, private press end of things. Flute solos, sitars and it's called "The Witch" fer cryin' out loud! Happy now, hipsters?

"Drip Drip" Comus

Well, if that doesn't get you, then this surely will. An incredibly freaky and disturbing song, with fiddle playing that will blow your mind and vocals that will soil your pants.

You could say that "Drip Drip" is a pretty interesting take on the classic British murder ballad formula, as exemplified by "Bruton Town", earlier on in this compilation. Whereas "Bruton Town" disguises its prurient interest in muderous mayhem behind a thin veil of tragic romance, "Drip Drip" wantonly delights in murder, mutilation and - possibly - necrophilia. Unpleasant but awesome and genuinely epic.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hot Shoe Daze
I'm currently reading JG Ballard's eco-disaster tale The Burning World. The novel, which is beautiful, understated and oddly prescient, takes place during a global drought that causes the land to dry, crack and turn to dust.

I managed to pick up a rather handsome paperback copy (like the one pictured above) for six bucks, at the ever-reliable ABC Book and Comic Emporium. On close inspection, it appears to be a first edition. I imagine it might be worth at bit more than $6, were it in better condition.

Actually, it was in pretty decent condition when I bought it but as soon as I started to read the thing, it began to fall apart. For some reason, the pages have become absolutely dessicated over the years. Every page I turn cracks at the top and bottom, near the spine, depositing a little pile of dust in my lap. This morning, the cover almost fell clean off. Obviously, this all a bit too perfect. Some might say spookily perfect. I personally prefer to call it annoyingly perfect.

This 1960s pulp-modernist book's auto-destruction somehow reminds me of the way Fennesz corrodes his memories of classic rock into dust-flecked abstract electronica. You may remember Fennesz - he put out an album called Venice about a decade ago and hasn't been heard from since.

Fennesz has been on my mind recently because I noticed that the Google search term "Maische" brings quite a few people to this here blog. At first this confused me but then I realized that Maische were a bunch of Austrian shoegazers from the early 90s, who had a singer/guitarist by the name of Christian Fennesz.

To give my fellow Fennesz fans a little something to tide them over until the great man's next solo album (ha!) and to prove to you all that I haven't totally turned my back on embedded multi-media content, I would like to present a Maische song for your online streaming pleasure.

Not too bad, really. Sounds a bit like Ride, who I bloody loved as a 16-year-old. The song is called "This is Your Birthday". It's the last track from the band's 1992 album Brand. I file-shared it from Solarseek but I think the person I got it from got it from a blog called Zero G Sound.

So, you see, the Internet is good for something after all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"I Don't Know Who That is and I Don't Care to Find Out"
creator David Chase once said that his show was about "people who lie to themselves, as we all do". I'm paraphrasing from memory, so I may not have the quote exactly right but you get the point. One doesn't have to be a sour-faced veteran Hollywood misanthrope to see what Chase was getting at. Some might even say that the socio-economic order that we are all - to some degree - complicit in is so morally abhorrent that, for most people, total denial is the only available strategy for psychological survival. I mean, we're all basically good people, right?

While The Sopranos certainly deals with this denial quite brilliantly, it's actually Fox's Arrested Development that most effectively makes denial the central topic of an extended satire on contemporary society, politics, economics and culture. Sure, it mainly does this through an endless stream of outlandish characters, knob gags, catch phrases and pratfalls but make no mistake, Arrested Development has layers and layers and layers beneath the surface.

The structures of the episodes themselves is extraordinary enough. In many ways, AD is similar to Seinfeld in the way that it splices and folds sitcom conventions into astounding new patterns. But whereas Seinfeld has a specifically sitcom-y approach to deconstructing the sitcom, there's something more literary (or at least cinematic) about the way AD uses foreshadowing, coincidence, captions, narration (courtesy of Ron Howard) etc. etc. to create a bizzare labyrinth of thematic juxtapositions. This reaches its absurd formal zenith during the episode in which Tobias (acclaimed stand-up comedian David Cross) and his nephew George Michael (the astonishingly gifted Michael Cera) unwittingly stage a live-action pastiche of vintage Japanese monster movies.

While Cross and Cera both give virtuoso performances throughout the series - each deploying a method actor-like array of tics, gestures and mannerisms - it seems unfair to single them out among what must undoubtedly be the greatest ensemble cast ever in a US network TV show (featuring Portia de Rossi, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor, among others).

Still, it's worth mentioning Cross and his failed-psychiatrist/actor character because Tobias is present at the central moment of denial in the entire series. Somewhere in the middle of the second season, Tobias confronts his mother-in-law Lucille (played with imperious venom by Jessica Walter) to tell her that - in his qualified opinion - she is suffering from what psychiatrists call "denial". Lucille then delivers a razor sharp, concise assassination of Tobias's character, directly to his face. There's a pregnant pause after which Tobias says something like "Well, if she's not going to say anything, I simply can't help her" before hastily leaving the room.

The thing is that, like most of the characters on the show, Lucille lives her life in deep denial. But with her, denial seems to be an entirely voluntary state, as evidenced by her fondness for phrases like "I didn't understand the question and I won't respond to it." Lucille may seem like the most despicable character on AD but in many ways, she's actually one of the most honest and least hypocritical.

The same might be said of her granddaughter Maeby (played brilliantly by Alia Shawkat). Maeby
and her cousin George Michael are interesting cases because they're still teenagers (and unlike most US shows, the teens on AD really are played by teens). You see, "the Kids" haven't yet learned to work denial seamlessly into their day-to-day lives. For George Michael, this means enduring a constant stream of horrifically embarrassing and traumatic incidents. For Maeby, on the other hand, it means being able to shamelessly exploit the credulity of the adult world for personal gain - much to George Michael's horror. (Notably, one of the few adults on the show who seems to live without denial is the man-child Buster - played by Tony Hale in another of AD's most virtuosic performances).

Cera's character spends much of his time trying to live up to the apparently saintly example set by his father Michael (the show's central character, played by Bateman). The catch here is that Michael is a judgmental and egocentric jerk. His essential lameness is paralleled by the ludicrous faux-charitable antics of his twin sister Lindsay (de Rossi). Don't get me wrong, they both mean well. They're basically good people.

But aren't we all?

(Postscript: The lack of embedded multi-media content in this post has less to do with my recently-acquired aversion to such things and everything to do with the fact that Fox seems to be having some kind of ridiculous crybaby dispute with YouTube. Fear not, though, because it seems that you can stream the entire series online, legally, here!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not sure why I've been blogging so consistently (some might say "obsessively") over the last little while. It may have something to do with the fact that the bloggers I read consistently haven't been posting much recently. Somehow , I've had to fill the BLOGVOID!

I've also been looking a little further afield, going back to blogs I haven't read in months. As a result of this, I've decided to add an "Other Blogs" list to the sidebar here. Said list also features friends' blogs that aren't within the normal remit of this here blog. So, if you're interested in reading about the life of an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter or a highly accomplished user-interface geek, you know where to go.

You might also note that, under the Other Blogs list is a little counter which tells you how many visitors I've had since last Sunday. This little gizmo is linked to a web analytics service that also gives me some info on who's been stopping by and why. Turns out I get about a dozen visitors a day, mainly abstract electronica fans in mainland Europe, looking for free MP3s. And someone who did an AOL search for "Jeff Lynn is crap"!

Anyway, the point I'm getting to here is that the amount of time I've been spending thinking about and writing in this blog is in no way justified by the amount of people who are actually taking the time to read it. As a result, I'm taking a partial vow of blog silence. Basically I plan to blog less.

But I also plan to blog better. One of my big concerns is that my blogging recently has not been as diligent as it may have appeared. Sure, I've been posting a lot but most of it has been low on insight and high on embedded multi-media content. This is the kind of thing that's killing music, frankly - an overload of availability and a complete lack of context. So, my plan is to concentrate on writing less frequent but more substantial posts for the rest of the year.

For those few of you who may actually claim to give a rat's ass, there's still plenty of content in the archive for you to catch up on. To make it a little easier, I've provided a partial index of recent topics, below. Of course, the last time I did this, on the premise that I was going to lay off blogging for a while, I pretty much got right back on the horse. But this time I mean it.

Recent Topics
Computer Music

Philip K. Dick (Can't believe I forgot to write about Time Out of Joint!)
Top Five
Five More Novels

Butterfly Child
Techno Animal
Bark Psychosis

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Post-Rocktoberfest #s 6, 7, 8 and 9 - Bark Psychosis "All Different Things" 12", "Nothing Feels"12", "Scum" 12" and "Blue" 12"
It's always exciting when a new record store opens in town. So there we were the other night, enjoying a burrito on Kingsway, when Kris pointed into a small gallery and said: "You know there's a record store in there, right?" Lo and behold, at the back of the gallery, down a little staircase was Dandelion Records (presumably named in homage to John Peel).

The store is pretty well stocked and most of the inventory apparently comes directly from the proprietor's personal collection. Prominent items include some first German edition Can records, priced over the $100 mark. But there's plenty of affordable stuff too and it seems like the kind of place where one might find something completely random and extremely exciting.

So it was that I walked out of the place with four Bark Psychosis singles under my arm (after paying for them, obviously). I already had all the songs. Bark Psychosis are extremely well catered for when it comes to singles compilation CDs (there are three and I have two of them). Still, these 12"s were items that I simply couldn't say no to. Sure, you can probably find them in plenty of £1 bins in the UK but you just don't see them over here and they fetch a pretty penny on eBay.

"All Different Things" (1990)
A dark one, this. Showcasing the band's Swans influence but keeping things extremely restrained and spacious. Anger wells up throughout but always finds itself suppresse
d before things get out of hand. Tense stuff.

"Nothing Feels" (1990)
It's the Nick Drake influence that comes to the fore here. This single showcases two of the band's most straightforwardly lovely songs. The b-side "I Know" is one of my personal favourite Bark Psychosis moments and here it is for your streaming pleasure.

"Scum" (1992)
Their masterwork. "Scum" is 20-odd minutes of tension-and-release, not unlike the "All Different Things" 12" blown out of all proportion. Despite its length, "Scum" is incredibly simple and amounts to an essentially very concise distillation of millennial urban angst. The song is cut on one side of a 33rpm record, with the other side dedicated to an astonishingly lovely and chaotic etching. A must have for any serious UK post-rock fan. Seriously, seriously essential.

"Blue" (1994)
I think this was the last release by the original incarnation of Bark Psychosis. It came in the wake of their major label debut Hex utterly failing to capture the record buying public's imagination and is an anthem to what the British music press were calling "post-rave comedown". Musically, it's one of the band's most explicitly electronica-influenced tracks and lyrically it seems to ruminate over all manner of bitterness and disillusion: "Petrol station plastic people/Their expressions are fake/You're only as good as your last goddamn mistake". This is a very deep shade of blue indeed but - ironically enough - the record itself is pressed on milky white vinyl.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cat and Man
"There was a cat who lived on the place (not as a pet, but as co-owner); on rare occasions it came to the house and deigned to accept a handout. He had discovered that the cat's name (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche) was not the cat's name at all, but he had not told anyone this because he could not pronounce the cat's real name; he could only hear it in his head."
Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Funny: the always reliable Cat and Girl gives us reason to chortle heartily (as already reported by DJ/Rupture).

Not sure Veronica Mars really warranted saving by the end, though. It would be charitable to say that the third season was "patchy" and there is every reason to believe that the fourth would have been total shit.

Anyone else noticed that Veronica (aka Kristen Bell) is now on not one but two rubbish network shows (Heroes and Gossip Girl)? How the mighty have fallen.

Speaking of which... Freaks and Geeks - now there's a show that was ended too soon. F'n'G just got better with every episode of it's one, solitary season. By the end, Apatow, Rogen et al had arrived at one of the most subtle and resonant pieces of comedy-drama ever to make it to the small screen. Such a shame they ended up making unfunny, reactionary horseshit like Knocked Up. Lest we forget...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Starsailor Released
I've been meaning to follow up on this post since picking up the recent vinyl re-issue of Tim Buckley's Starsailor. The ever reliable and wonderfully named Four Men with Beards label was responsible for making this particular 180g dream come true.

As far as I know, there are still no plans for a CD re-issue but I must admit to being out of the loop since taking the "long walk" from the record store. You'd think there'd be a lot of demand for a deluxe 2CD bonus track-infested version of Starsailor.

But I doubt most listeners care about that kind of thing any more. They'd probably rather just pay a wad of cash to download the album as a series of shitty sounding MP3s.

Anyway, while Starsailor remains (to the best of my knowledge) out of digital print, I don't suppose I have to feel too bad about allowing you to stream the album's second best track - "Monterey".

Christ what a song! "Under a loom of stars/In the vulgar cold" has to be the most evocative opening line of a song, ever. And things just get better from thereon in. "Monterey" has an incessant skyward trajectory that defies appropriate description.

So just listen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Well, there I was getting all excited/concerned about SeeqPod and it turns out that everyone else is getting all hot-under-the-collar about the magic of divShare. Thanks to Christopher O for pointing this out, by the way.

Seems like a good time to remind you that the very talented Oren Ambarchi is Vancouver bound. No excuse for missing this one, people. And just in case you want to know what you're in for, here's a song via the magic of divShare.

I can only suppose that Mr Ambarchi wouldn't mind me sharing this with you Flash-style for the purpose of promoting his show. I'm pretty sure I got this track from a Wire Tapper compilation and that isn't on any of his albums.

But I don't intend to make a habit of posting other people's music on this blog, without their permission. Maybe just the occasional tantalizing glimpse or rarity. Nothing anyone would feel the need to get upset about.

Anyhoo, here are the full details of that show:

Wednesday October 17

Gord Grdina (Vancouver) - 8pm
Nicolas Bragg (Vancouver) - 9pm

Oren Ambarchi (Australia) - 10pm

Bill Frisell (USA) - 11pm

Scotiabank Dance Centre,
677 Davie Street, Vancouver
Tickets $15/$10, available at Zulu Records and Scratch

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Post-Rocktoberfest # 5: Techno Animal - Re-entry
I recently used this here blog to praise the absurd persistence of Butterfly Child. That band's willingness to just keep going is truly heroic, simply because their time will almost certainly never come. For other UK post-rock movers and shakers, though, persistence has actually paid off, either in terms of finding an audience in a niche market (goth rock, electronic dance music, indie...) or simply by having the rest of the world catch up.

In these terms Kevin Martin of God, Ice, The Sidewinder, EAR and Techno Animal has pretty much hit the jackpot. Over the years, his various projects have found favour with a whole range of demographics - from goths to ravers to indie rockers. Moreover, his aesthetic - as epitomized in Martin-compiled compilations like Isolationism and Macro Dub Infection - has just recently started to seem very contemporary. Everything from hipster metal to dubstep contains distinctly Kevin Martin-esque overtones.

To my mind though, he's never topped the work he did in the original UK post-rock era. Re-entry, the second album by Techno Animal (a duo with Godflesh's Justin Broadrick) was released in 1995 on - get this - Virgin Records (who also put out Hex by Bark Psychosis!) It's a mammoth 2CD set of deliberately monotonous beats and narcotized dub textures.

Again, persistence is the key word here. Just making it through the entirety of Re-entry is something of an endurance test but it's worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears. In particular, the 19-minute "Demodex Invasion" has to be one of the most brutally, intensely hypnotic pieces of music ever recorded.

Hell, everything Kevin Martin does is intense one way or another and it's usually pretty great too. Fans of his (excellent) recent work are strongly urged to investigate this album (along with God's The Anatomy of Addicition) to witness K Mart at his greatest and his most intense.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yay! Computer Music
Well, rather unbelievably, the MOTU Ultralite seems to have solved all of my computer problems. No idea how or why this has happened but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, eh? Or a $700 horse, in this case.

Either way, I'm suddenly building Max patches and making music like crazy. To celebrate this renewed activity, let's take a look at three abstract electronica releases that have really been doing it for me recently.

Giuseppe Ielasi - August (12K)
This is less dark and more computer-y than his last album but it's far from sterile. Over the last couple of years, strictly on the hush hush, Ielasi has been emerging as a musical talent to be reckoned with. You can pick it up via Smallfish.

Rosy Parlane - Jessamine (Touch)
Absolutely ravishing drone-work from this erstwhile Fennesz collaborator. Track three has the most devastating guitar noise build-up finale I've heard in ages. Seriously, take a listen.

Available at Forced Exposure.

M Rosner - Alluvial (Room 40)
More great stuff from Room 40 - a label that can do no wrong in my eyes. Buy it at Boomkat. Actually, you can probably get any of these items at any of the mail orders mentioned here and - if you live in Vancouver - they'll probably have them at Zulu too.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Highly Recommended
Kris has been on a couple of the trips to the States this year, leaving me at home to the tend to The Sneefler's every whim and fancy. Earlier in the year she went off to LA to visit friends and more recently she went to New York on business.

On each occasion, she managed to catch a live set by the rather wonderful Brooklyn experimental pop band High Places. On the second occasion, she also managed to pick up a copy of the band's fine and swanky new 7" picture disc. I commend it most highly. You can buy it here.

I tried to embed a track using Seeqpod but it wouldn't work, for some reason.
It wasn't even from the 7" but it would have given you a pretty good idea of the Noriko Tujiko-meets-Adventures in Stereo goodness that these kids have going on (obscure references, I know, cheers). Oh well, you'll have to take my word for it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Breaking News
Looks like you might not be able to download that KTL album after all.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Now I'm sure you've all figured out how much I like spending all my money on records. And surely you also know how much I fetishize vinyl, right? Well there have been a couple of releases recently that have raised the question "how far is too far" in regards to these predilections.

KTL - III (Or)
The latest release from the duo of Peter "Pita" Rehberg and Stephen O'Malley of Sunn0))) comes courtesy of Russell Haswell's Or label. It's a limited edition one-sided album housed in a thick card sleeve and pressed on heavyweight vinyl, the "blank" side of which is adorned with a Savage Pencil engraving. The whole thing is genuinely visually beautiful.

But boy is it expensive. That's fine as far as it goes but it's a shame given the fact that KTL III isn't going to be released in any other format. Therefore, to get "legal" access to this music, you have to have both the funds and the obsessive mindset of a fairly serious record collector.

This really is a shame because KTL III is by far the best thing they've done so far and it really deserves to be heard as widely as possible. Having said that, these things usually end up on illegal file-sharing networks the moment they're released, so perhaps it's not such a big deal.

3/4hadbeeneliminated - The Religious Experience (Soleilmoon)
A yes, my favourite Italian post-rock outfit. I've been waiting a while for these folks to bring something out on vinyl, so when this particular limited edition came up for pre-order, I jumped at the chance - in spite of the hefty asking price.

This one comes in a fragile hand-made sleeve. According to the label, said sleeve is supposed to be "delicately perfumed" or some such nonsense. In fact, it smells like it's been dipped in industrial strength toilet cleaner. The record itself is pressed on patterned white vinyl that makes it look somewhat like a giant peppermint. Cool, certainly but maybe a little gauche, no?

While I'm somewhat doubtful about whether this one was really worth the dosh as a collector's item, I certainly can't argue with the quality of the music. 3/4... have a distinctly spooky and pretty much unique sound - it's as if the whole album was recorded under the covers of a king-size bed.

For those of you who don't buy schmancy vinyl editions and aren't into the whole file-sharing deal, there is another option with this album. While, it's not actually available on CD, Soleilmoon did simultaneously release a "sister" CD to go with it, called Theology. If it's anything like as good as The Religious Experience then it's not to be missed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Post-rocktoberfest # 4: Seefeel - Quique
Now I know for a fact that I've written about this before, at least in passing. Also, it's certainly on of the better known UK post-rock albums. Therefore, I'll just let the music speak for itself. Nor entirely sure how I feel about the morality of using SeeqPod to embed MP3s in one's blog but I love this song.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007



Has anyone seen this yet? Kinda interesting.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hey There Little Sunbeam
The Sneefler decides to celebrate a surprisingly sunny Thanksgiving by combining her two favourite pass-times: relaxing and violence.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Post-rocktoberfest # 3: Insides - Euphoria
Haven't I written about this before? Seems like I must have done but I dare say it bears repeating. This is a fantastic album that really should be more widely heard - if only because it's accessible enough for anyone to get into.

Insides were a boy-girl couple who splintered off from quirky Brighton-based avant rock group Earwhig. Insides seems to have been some sort of attempt to: (a) replace the angularity of Earwhig's sound with something more streamlined and sensual; (b) give the world far too much information about the couple's rather intense sexual relationship.

Like the very excellent Spoonfed Hybrid, Insides were signed to 4AD sub-label Guernica. Also like Spoonfed Hybrid they managed to combine a vaguely new-agey sound (chiming guitars, percolating synth arpeggios...) with an undercurrent of vague menace. The results, on Euphoria, give off a distinct whiff of obsessive sexual jealousy. Seductive stuff but also extremely claustrophobic.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Fuck Computer Music!
Just kidding! But Holy Christ can you believe I'm still having the computer problems I described here? That was back in July and even then it felt like the whole debacle had been dragging on for a ridiculous amount of time.

Here's the crux of the problem: often, though irregularly, my computer will start receiving distortion and feedback to its audio in and/or internal mic. This is a drag but only really creates significant problems when doing live sampling in Max (which is usually the basis of my live performances).

I'm pretty sure this is not a Max problem, though. The problem occurs system-wide, even when I'm not using Max. It crops up in all applications that have an audio input and in the audio system preferences.
I've re-installed Max/MSP and done extensive debugging/simplification of my Max patches. It hasn't helped.

So the problem is system-wide. Fine. I reinstalled OSX and tried to calibrate the system to remove clashing sampling rates and/or corrupted audio preference files. No dice. Surely, then, it's a hardware problem.

Well, Apple were good enough to (eventually) agree to give me a new top-board and logic-board for my computer and... it's still no better! I'm going out to buy an external sound-card this afternoon but I don't honestly expect it to help and I'll probably end up returning it.

I've asked lots of people about this and consulted forums etc but I haven't found anyone who has had a similar experience or who could tell me what the problem might be. I don't expect to turn up anything at this stage but if anyone thinks they can help then PLEASE, PLEASE HELP ME!

In more positive computer music news, Cycling 74 just announced the forthcoming release of Max 5, which looks to be a major leap forward for the application's programming interface. It would be really exciting if this version of Max made it accessible to more musically (rather than technically) minded people. Honestly, such a thing could lead to a major musical revolution. Seriously!