Friday, May 28, 2010

Actress - Splazsh (2010)***


For fans of: Basic Channel, Autechre, Ricardo Villalobos

Wowzzers! This is the very tip of what I could imagine of music in 2010. I like that microhouse is the top genre, these beats are filled. I've always thought of microhouse as music that uses the space between beats to inject melodies, samples, or mini-beats to create what could be thought of as frames between each beat. Akufen and Moritz von Oswald Trio come to mind. Actress seems to be doing that do a certain extent, but what makes me love this album so much is the way the beats seem to bounce off each other and build, like each beat is trying to one up the last. I could be way off in trying to describe these sweet sounds, but that's an attempt. Like Scuba's Triangulation, this is really proving to me that electronic music has so much more to offer and has me on the edge of my seat to here the next. - Matthew Foster

Wire - Read & Burn 02 (2002)


"A decade in exile meant Wire had something to prove. 2000's tour of golden oldies whetted the appetite, but the 17-minute ear-bashing provided by Read & Burn 01 pushed even Wire's standards up a notch, at least in terms of intensity and production.

While that CD sounded like full-on punk rock as played by machines, Read & Burn 02 finds said machines on overload, perhaps losing a few screws in the process. Buzzsaw guitars and hell-for-leather drum loops are joined by industrial electronics, and Newman's shouty vocal on I Don't Understand seems tame compared to several of Read & Burn 02's offerings.

Never a band to be pigeon-holed, Wire has ensured that Read & Burn 02 is not an ideal copy of its predecessor, and what it forsakes in terms of accessibility, it makes up for in variety—in many cases within each individual track. The sickly sweet Newman vocal on Trash/Treasure recalls trippy early '90s pop singers, but backed up by Wire, circa 40 versions. Half-way through, a barrage of electric guitar noise introduces us to a double-speed version of the track, with chugging bass, clattering, relentless drums, but the same soft vocal overlaid to wonderful effect.

Rather less calming is the 'in your face' verbal and sonic assault of Raft Ants—the angry bastard son of Kidney Bingos, whose clattering drums fail to hide the lyrical gem 'lawn mower, flame thrower, watch out, whistle blower'.

However, while Wire has obviously lost none of its playfulness with words—Trash/Treasure lovingly asks, 'Do you have the dentistry?'—it's slightly disappointing to note that several tracks have little more than one repeated line, and in others, the vocals are strangely low in the mix.

Elsewhere, the CD is as noisy and abrasive as you'd expect. Nice Streets Above combines an angry Dome with Hawkwind, mashing up reversed Newman vocals and a distorted, robotic aggressor, who yells the title of the track over and over. Spent recalls I Don't Understand's hostility, and Read and Burn takes a half-dozen simplistic riffs, flings them round the mix and wryly adds, 'You never know...'

The best is saved for last though. 99.9 takes the best of each Wire incarnation and creates an eight-minute track to rival anything in the back catalogue. It begins with ambient textures, while a single hi-hat holds the beat beneath a soft Newman vocal. Like Trash/Treasure, the halfway point sees the track explode, flinging relentless drums, guitars laced with electronic distortion and Newman's shouts towards the listener.

The commentary within—'the road ahead looks quite uncertain'—may present paranoid Wire fans with a bit of a scare, but if Read & Burn 02 is anything to go by, this bunch of 50-something geezers can easily hold its own against the current crowd of wannabes, and more importantly, isn't nearly done yet." - Craig Grannell

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The King Khan & BBQ Show - The King Khan & BBQ Show (2005)


"This record can be summed up in five words: 'Motherfuck! This is so good!'

My own laziness astounds me sometimes. I’ve had this record for like three months and am only writing this review now. I don’t know why I waited so long, I love it and can’t say enough good things about the King Khan and BBQ Show (nee’ Mark Sultan) and their assorted side projects (well, I’m not so fond of the Shrines).

This is a re-release of their first album (originally on Goner Records) but this version has a swank gatefold cover, board game on the inside and a second, one-sided LP of the boys’ original demo. If you don’t know, the King Khan and BBQ Show are a minimalist garage/rock and roll/punk duo, but unlike many other of their ilk, they aren’t just influenced by 60s garage punk, but instead pay homage to 1950s doo-wop. I can’t NOT dance when I listen to ‘em. The first two songs are absolutely killer ('Waddlin’ Around' and 'Fishfight') but there are no dull songs. I may like this more than their second LP What’s for Dinner? but that’s debatable.

In the Red and Goner Records are definitely where it’s at these days. True, both labels have been around forever but it seems like both are really hitting their respective strides. It’s almost like when I first discovered Crypt or Sympathy for the Record Industry, when anything either put out was gold. With the questionable status of SFTRI and Crypt’s sporadic release schedule (well, they did just put out a King Khan and BBQ Show 7″) I kind of lost hope that dirty rock and roll would have a home. Buy this!" - Sal Lucci

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Books - Lost and Safe (2005)***


"The Lemon of Pink was my favourite release of 2003, with its complex sound collaging, folky tone and cheerful, celabratory feel making it one of the most fascinating and enjoyable albums I'd heard in years. I became a very big fan of The Books based almost entirely on that one release (although Thought For Food is also excellent), so I was very keen to hear what they had to offer on this year's Lost and Safe.

The album is a departure from the duo's style in some ways, yet it still sounds unmistakably like The Books. The most noticable change is the drastic increase in vocal work throughout the album, complete with fully-realised lyrical content. The soft, spoken-word passages drift along comfortably with the trademark cut-and-paste backing, and certainly don't detract from the music in any way. The key effect these vocals have is that they give the album a significantly more instrospective feel. The lyrics are loaded with philosophical musings, mostly about the basics of human nature, which range from genuinely interesting contemplations to loopy mindwarps which the more chemically inclined listeners are sure to enjoy. Examples like 'We know to seek success is utter nonsense / The best is to be blank' (from 'A Little Longing Goes Away') and 'Most of the world is a place where parts of wholes are described / within an overarching pardigm of clarity / and accuracy / the context of which makes possible and underlying sense of the way it all fits together / despite our collective tendency not to perceive it as such' (from 'Smells Like Content') should give you an idea what I mean.

The only drawback to the inclusion of vocals is initially a very noticable one - it's hard not to feel like the overwhelming joy of The Lemon of Pink is absent here. That album's multicultural celebration of the world doesn't really play a part in Lost and Safe, but it only takes a short while for the duo's new focus of joy - the secret inner-workings of people - to really kick in. Once you get used to the new direction, things start sounding very special indeed.

Thankfully, The Books' wonderful creativity survives the transition completely intact, and each listen of Lost and Safe reveals more brilliant, previously unheard touches of magic. One of my personal favourite tricks, one which is quite new to The Books' work, is the occasional use of sample-vocal mimicry (used to brilliant effect in 'Be Good to them Always'). There's just something very likeable about hearing their usual, dug-up-from-nowhere samples, this time coupled with a monotone delivery of exactly the same dialogue, as it adds a surreal, echoed effect to proceedings.

With each listen to Lost and Safe it becomes more and more apparent that The Books have delivered more-or-less the perfect followup - an album which never tries to one-up it's magnificient predecessor, yet does an amazing job with its foray into new and exciting territory. It's an invaluable addition to their catalogue, and one of the year's best releases." - Tom

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Graeme Jefferies - Messages for the Cakekitchen (1988)


"On Messages for the Cakekitchen, released by Ajax Records, the solo artistry of New Zealand's Graeme Jefferies is documented during the period after the demise of This Kind of Punishment - a heralded New Zealand band that included Graeme's older brother Peter. These messages, recorded on four-track between 1986-87 and released on Flying Nun in 1988, are the link between TKP and Graeme Jefferies' current band the Cakekitchen. Full of acoustic and electric guitars, cymbals crashing and drum kits, violas and Jefferies' low-end larynx rumble, Messages is close to a blueprint for the two Cakekitchen releases which followed, but even more eccentric. It's a vibrantly chaotic vision of Bowie meets Bauhaus without the roll. It's Graeme's artistic struggle captured at a pivotal moment in a recording career that began back in 1981 (i.e., 'The Simple Tapestry of Fate,' the self questioning of 'The Cardhouse' and 'Is the Timing Wrong?') Sorely overlooked? As usual … 'The Simple Tapestry of Fate'is stunning. The chorus-less song phrasing is fragmented and sprawled on top of a naked acoustic guitar: 'Wake up, stumble, fall, draw the blinds... We step into the coffee houses, all run dry...' The thick acoustic plays arpeggios to the sound of rain falling in the background while a piano slithers into the mix. Messages also features minimal electric guitar work on the spacey 'All the Colours Run Dry,' and vocals by his then-girlfriend Maxine Fleming on the folky 'Prisoner of a Single Passion'(folky as folk can be with metallic clunking noises, viola, sporadic bursts of electric et al. tossed in), and mood galore from the schizophrenic electric guitar and tambourine shaking in 'If the Moon Dies.'
A very rewarding glimpse at an overlooked genius - a songwriter with the ability to seduce you into acidic Nick Drake day dreams." - Michael Peters

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fripp & Eno - The Equatorial Stars (2004)


"Almost 30 years on since Evening Star, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno resume their collaboration, and remarkably, they seem to have picked up right where they left off. Remarkably, because Fripp's more recent soundscaping has had a different quality than either his collaborations with Eno or his proper 'Frippertronics' albums like Let the Power Fall or the solo side of God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners. Surely they're not back to using the old Revox tape machine setup, but having Eno in the producer's chair (not to mention making his own musical contributions) seems to add a warmth that's been missing from albums like 1999. But much like Evening Star showed a progression from No Pussyfooting, The Equatorial Stars is another step forward while retaining all the same elements as their previous work together. On 'Meissa,' there's just a bit of glitch periodically applied to the background keyboards and guitar harmonics with Fripp soloing softly over the top. 'Lyra' is even prettier, and you can really hear Fripp's guitar lines trailing off into the distance. His tone here is less saturated than on the earlier albums, but there's just as much sustain and his playing is beautiful and lyrical. 'Ankaa' bears the strongest resemblance to the material on Evening Star, with that classic 'Frippertronics' guitar tone. And just as their previous efforts were mostly, but not entirely, placid, The Equatorial Stars takes on a slightly more aggressive tone (if you can call it that) toward the end. 'Lupus' adds the pulse of a heartbeat and a bit of sonic scuzz to the mix, and 'Terebellum' takes on a slightly more ominous tone. Most surprising is 'Altair,' which almost gets funky with a bit of bass and some chicken scratch rhythm guitar work. While Fripp is nominally at the forefront on The Equatorial Stars, Eno's contributions and excellent production are just as important. There seems to be a genuine synergy when these two work together, and The Equatorial Stars is a worthy successor to their earlier brilliant albums together." - Sean Westergaard

Monday, May 10, 2010

Natural Snow Buildings - Laurie Bird (2008)


"Sometimes, usually after a string of particularly braindead drone records, I start to wonder exactly why I even bother with the genre. Then I come across something like Laure Bird, and it all makes sense. While Natural Snow Buildings are sometimes guilty of releasing records that come dangerously close to pointless, Laurie Bird is absolutely not one of those records. It's a gem of a record, and an example of how drone should be done. You don't have to try very hard to like it; all the ideas are interesting, they just happen to be stretched as thin as they possibly can without becoming monotonous. And unlike so many other drone records, you never wonder if you're just not paying enough attention. The music here is just too pretty to ignore. And finally, with a little time, a little luck, and a decent pair of headphones, it's not very hard to become completely immersed in Laurie Bird. And I don't mean your typical, garden-variety immersion; I mean that special kind, that you only get with songs with longer runtimes than some albums. The music blends so seamlessly with your thoughts that you almost forget you're even listening to music. If you've never experienced that, then I've probably completely lost you by now; if you have, then you know exactly what I'm referring to, no matter how ineloquently I may be doing so. In short, Laure Bird should be required listening for anyone even remotely interested in the drone. You're not just getting a record that validates a genre that can be easy to dismiss; you're also getting a record that's nearly impossible not to love." - Panda08

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exuma - Exuma (1970)


"‘Unique’ is an often overused word in music, but there really is almost nothing Exuma’s self-titled debut can be compared to. The only thing remotely close is the even more bizarre ‘First Utterance’ by psychedelic folk legends Comus. Both albums are bizarre twisted takes on the usually very ordinary folk genre, both have ‘pagan’ lyrics, and both use bongos, but that’s as far as the similarities go.

Exuma is really just the pseudonym of one man, Tony McKay who composed the music, sang and played nearly all of the instruments on the album except the variety of backing vocals. Born in the Caribbean, his homeland had an obvious influence on this album, which has a tribal Afro-Caribbean theme throughout.

‘Exuma’ sounds a bit like the soundtrack to a voodoo ritual put into a slightly more normal folk format. The focus of the music is definitely on the percussion here, with Exuma’s acoustic guitar work taking a back seat most of the time while complex and hypnotic drumming on bongos push the music forward. Whistles, chimes, bells and more unusual traditional Caribbean instruments add brilliantly to the percussion so it is always gripping and unpredictable.

There is also a lot of emphasis placed on Exuma’s singing. His voice is rough but still very powerful. It is best compared to that of Richie Havens, though it is sung in quite a strange bluesy way and with a strong but unobtrusive Caribbean accent. While not quite as unorthodox as the rest of the music, the singing fits the tribal atmosphere perfectly. In fact, the worst song is the only instrumental, which soon gets boring without Exuma’s vocals. Several male and female back-up vocalists are used, but support Exuma with tribal chants instead of regular singing.

Exuma’s lyrics deal with shamanism and voodoo beliefs. The lyrics are exceptionally well written, with stunningly vivid imagery of ancient gods and rituals. While not as grim as those lyrics on Comus’ ‘First Utterance’ which describe murder and rape, ‘Exuma’ can be quite dark. In ‘Séance In The Sixth Fret’ he depicts a séance to summon the dead, and often sings about Satan, especially in ‘Mama Loi, Papa Loi’, one of the album’s darker songs. It can be slightly cheesy, but the atmosphere is so believable it’s not much of a problem.

However, despite it’s weirdness, ‘Exuma’ is far from being a simple gimmick. There is easily enough variety and quality songwriting to keep it memorable and hold up to repeat listens easily. As well as being able to create sinister and sometimes frantic tribal music, Exuma is also capable of the complete opposite, shown in ‘Dambala’, a beautiful folk song with much less percussion and more emphasis on guitar melodies and the great singing and backing vocals. Despite the complete change in sound, the song doesn’t feel disjointed at all, still retaining the same tribal atmosphere, just used in a completely different way.

There aren’t really any faults with the album but it’s far too weird to be appealing to a large audience so can only be recommended to people who want to hear something unique and different in their music. If you do want to hear something completely unique though, you could do a lot worse than giving Exuma a listen." - username345

Deru - Say Goodbye to Useless (2010)


"Having previously released for iconic electronica labels like Neo Ouija, Ghostly International and Merck, Deru now arrives at Mush for the release of his third album. Say Goodbye To Useless captures the producer (real name Benjamin Wynn) at the height of his powers, mixing hip-hop toughness with some eerily evocative sound design atmospherics that lend the album a real sense of depth and emotional grounding. 'I Would Like' heralds a great start, opening with a crackly old vocal recording, sung in French and bathed in echo. It's all a bit Caretaker, actually. There are more vocals carried over for companion piece 'I Want', whose scratchy, pitched up samples are bound to come with Burial-goes-Galic associations. The beats take shape as a shuffling hip-hop number here though, laying down a sturdy backbeat thud. Further into the record, productions like 'Walk' really add to the all-important atmosphere that hangs over the album, supplying melody and mood-setting ambient textures with deft evenhandedness. Outside his work as a solo artist, Wynn has built a career for himself as a composer and sound designer, penning scores for the Paris Opera Ballet Company and earning himself award nominations along the way. Say Goodbye To Useless calls upon this sort of experience and far transcends the album's grounding in popular forms, providing moments of real compositional merit - as exemplified by the stirring use of a wind section during 'Fadeaway'. Apparently, even Kanye West's a Deru fan, having posted the 'Peanut Butter & Patience' video (it's no 'Single Ladies' though, is it Kanye?) on his blog recently, and undoubtedly, the kind of expectation-shifting, genre-crossing sounds exhibited here reassert the strength of Deru's talents - hopefully introducing his music to a broader audience along the way." - Boomkat

Jandek - Blue Corpse (1987)


"This is probably the most accessible album Jandek ever released. Which is not to say that it isn't a difficult listen, because it is. It still features his trademark mumbled, moaned vocals and enigmatic lyrics. But at least this time we aren't subjected to his awkward attempts at guitar playing. The music here is almost certainly played by a different guitar player (who may be named Eddie, because Jandek says 'Take it, Eddie' at one point in the album). The other guitarist is a much more melodic, conventionally 'skilled' player who strums chords instead of just plucking strings, pitch-bends, etc., and generally just owes a lot more to the kind of guitar playing you learn from records and from your guitar teacher. So, that renders the album more listenable than usual. The songs generally have sad lyrics, which seem to be about the ending of a romantic relationship. Some people have speculated that Jandek broke up with 'Nancy', the girl singer on many of his previous albums, but of course we don't really know if Jandek and Nancy were ever a couple in the first place. This album is also notable for having the only cover song Jandek ever recorded, 'House of the Rising Sun'. If you are interested in giving Jandek a listen, this would probably be the best album to start with." - Johnny Heering