Monday, December 27, 2010

Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements

Behold, ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest bands of the last two decades, no questions asked. Stereolab were formed in 1990 by like minded music enthusiasts Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier. Throughout their career, they've been called fiercely independent and creative, both of which would somehow still be understatements in comparison to what they've accomplished over their time. From their early jangle pop and c86 incarnations they transformed into children of the Velvet Underground and heirs to the krautrock scene, without losing their pop sensibility or the passion for experimentation on album, the evolution continuing over the course of their career (and all the way upto Mary Hansen's unfortunate death in 2002, no two albums had anything in common except for the fact that they were all masterpieces). Now with so many fucking good Stereolab albums and compilations (yeah they have about 5cds worth of non LP material which is just as good) I'm going to have to take some time to get through them all, so I'll just start with my favourite of theirs, their major label debut; Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements - and a top 5 album of the 90's for me.

Sometimes I have to be in the mood for this. But when I am, nothing else will even begin to suffice. Every single song on this is its own beast, whilst still retaining the signature Stereolab sound. Not a wasted note here, this album basically showed that the band is more than faithful to its name and were pioneers to the exact revolution they idealised in their songwriting. And oh yeah, Jenny motherfuckin' Ondioline. 'Nuff said. 

If there's been a way to build it, there'll be a way to destroy it

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sly & The Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On

Sly and the Family Stone were an American funk and soul band from San Fransico, California. Active from 1966 to 1983, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelia. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends; as well as one of the first important groups to have a racially integrated, multi-gender lineup, something quite unheard of in the music scene in the late 60's. They released a whole bunch of albums; 2 of which were masterpieces that still hold up today. This is their best album in my opinion,  the 1971 behemoth 'There's a Riot Goin' On' 

Urban legends are cool. One says that where Marvin Gaye searched and pondered what exactly had come to be in his time with the aptly titled "What's Goin' On?", a slightly less known musician (but equally, if not more talented) called Sly Stone responded with this album. With the death of the 60's, came also the death of a lot of the expectations and ideals the 60's had envisioned. Political strife, police brutality, assassinations, the fall of the social rights movement and general social disillusionment brought forth by events of the era were the zeitgest of the day, and Sly Stone had been off the map  for nearly 2 years following the hugely optimistic and colourful 'Stand', the band's previous release. Prior to recording this album, Sly Stone more or less locked himself up in a studio, and fuelled by the aforementioned air of negativity, chooses to create a haunting conceptual album whilst spiralling under the heavy weight of substance abuse and worsening relationships between him and his band. The result is jaw dropping; a man left with his thoughts, employing a minimalistic, murky approach to his funk, lays down some of the bleakest soul music ever seen. Features some of the earliest and creative use of overdubs and rerecording, drum machines (on the lead single "Family Affair"), the drug induced euphoria of the opening "Luv n Haight", the satirical take on country on "Space Cowboy", the album is produced just as well as the material it contains - Sly's voice feels like a distant, disorienting lament of a man on the edge as opposed to a stagefront croon that he had trademarked on his previous albums. The album closer "Thank you for talkin' to me Africa" is essentially a slowed down version of a previous single of theirs "Thank you for lettin' me be mice elf again", is absolutely devastating in it's simplicity; a bluesy number on hedonism and self resignation that goes on for a good 7 minutes, but still feels exceedingly short. All in all, a fitting epitapth for the end of the last great decade of social optimism and upheavel - the darkest psychedelic funk/soul album put to record is also one of the most resonant and endlessly fascinating albums of all time; both in songwriting and scope. In my opinion, There's A Riot Goin' On sits comfortably as one of the ten best albums of the 1970's, and has stood the test of time as an all time great.

Thank you for lettin' me be myself again

Friday, December 17, 2010

The KLF - Chill Out

The KLF were a British band, pioneers of electronic and ambient music in the early 90's. Though they were predominantly working in the field of electronica, the control they maintained over their own art and their distaste for the corporate music business is probably unparalleled in music history. In 1990, they released Chill Out, one of the most influential and kickass ambient albums put to record. Check this out: 

Their first record sampled ABBA who promptly sued the band for unauthorised use. After confronting ABBA in their recording studio, the band burnt all the copies of the record in a field. They then went back to the drawing board and made an ambient album ‘Chill Out’ and then the house classic ‘The White Room’ before finally appearing at The Brit Awards violently firing blanks from an automatic rifle into the audience, causing mayhem in the area. Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for ewe—bon appetit" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties. Then they dropped out of the music business almost immediately, burning all of their back catalog (which remains unavailable and out of print to this day). Their statuette for "best british group" of 1992 was found buried in a field near Stonehenge. 

"We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground—we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted.... If we meet further along be prepared...our disguise may be complete" 

With The KLF's profits, Drummond and Cauty established the K Foundation and sought to subvert the art world, staging an alternative art award for the worst artist of the year and burning one million pounds sterling..

An insight from a fellow rymer:

Taking cues from Brian Eno’s early ambient records, ‘Chill Out’ seems to simulate a night time road trip across southern USA highways while you have the radio on low because everyone else in the car is fast asleep; it’s enveloping bliss. Some of the tracks don’t even have any melody in them, but they all add to the dreamy ambiance of it all. You can hear train-crossings, birds, engines, even sheep; why some of them are in there is anyone’s guess, but like The Orb’s classic debut, ‘Chill Out’ has a great sense of humour bundled with it which means that there’s always something to take you by surprise. ‘Chill Out’ is also heavily indebted to sampling; the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ and Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger On The Shore’ aren’t disguised in any way, but they don’t really steal their melodies; ‘Chill Out’ isn’t about melodies. It’s all about atmosphere and that’s exactly what the samples provide. As the ‘Albatross’ snippet fades in slowly, you can see yourself sipping coffee parked in a petrol station watching the traffic spin round in the pouring rain.

I strongly doubt there has ever been (or will ever be) a record like this. Though The Orb’s ‘U.F.Orb’ came close, ‘Chill Out’ still exceeds it in nearly every aspect. A transcendant, transporting highway wilderness. In a bizarre change of plan, the year after ‘Chill Out’ was released, The KLF had more UK hit singles than anyone else that year, then the year after that they withdrew one million pounds from their bank account, nailed it to a board of wood, then burnt it. That weird stunt may have shown their madness, but ‘Chill Out’ shows their genius.

Madrugada Eterna

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

dum de da

So I'm gonna step up my blog posting, probably include linkage to my favourite movies as well. Laziness and procrastionation is not a good mix. Can't remember what the fuck I was doing in November. Ah well.

For music, I'm going to post all my favourites/classics, then get to the more esoteric stuff. Stick around, whoever it is that may visit - I've got a lot of stuff I wanna share.

The Chameleons - Script of the Bridge

In an ideal world, The Chameleons are selling out stadia of fans, and are one of the most successful bands in the history of popular music; while U2 have slipped into obscurity because of their utter mediocrity. Basically, reality check isn't so pretty, and somehow this immensely talented band slipped through the cracks to become the quintessential 80's band you've never heard of. Here's their debut, Script of the Bridge - a post punk masterpiece disguised (blame the cover art) as a bargain bin piece. One of the finest albums of its time, and still sounds so damn good today. The guitar interplay is fantastic, the lyrics are poignant and the sound is, well, timeless; in many ways it serves as a sort of 80's Ok Computer; with its unique atmosphere and themes of alienation and disconnect. Bono+Edge, you guys are fucking hacks for ripping off and  watering down this sound. Another insight: 

Script Of The Bridge sets the stage perfectly for a record of broken dreams, trembling nostalgia, and a palatable yearning for the lost innocence of youth. The touchstones of human existence are all here, in glorious blood red. Joy and despair. Pleasure and pain. 

Marking an exact stylistic point between fellow Mancunians Joy Division and the Smiths, the Chameleons have somehow been criminally neglected by the history books. Whilst their peers Echo & The Bunnymen and U2 enjoyed critical acclaim and adoration, the Chameleons simply released three low key albums before breaking up after the untimely death of their manager in 1987. 

_Script of the Bridge_, their 1983 debut, defies its relative obscurity by standing virtually unrivaled, not just in eighties post punk music, but in rock music at large; a thundering wall of melody, the band used the studio to create a textured sonic art that married a breath taking understanding of atmosphere and restraint with a palatable sense of emotional fury. The result is music that is somehow beyond mere words and adjectives, transcending any inevitable comparisons or praise. 

Song's like "Second Skin" and "Thursday's Child" are rooted between a nostalgic dreamscape and a profound and heartbreaking reality; in one corner the twin guitars of Reg and Dave fill the song's black voids with a kind of glacial sonic ecstasy. Meanwhile vocalist Mark Burgess delivers his words like a man on the edge; brooding and guttural, littered with references to an innocence lost and a desire unspeakable. Be it the dense foreboding of "Here Today" or the hammering distress of "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days", the band sound forever on the very edge of exploding into a sprawl of futile despair, but always come back with an angel dust melody to shine a light and heal the sadness, offering a sense of hope, empathy and brotherhood through catharsis. 

Futhermore, whilst Script of the Bridge feels entirely unified and cohesive, its relentlessly strong songs can actually distract one from the gently inventive arrangements and intricate playing on display, all of which is simply outstanding; the fade out coda tagged onto the end of the aforementioned "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days" is a mesmerising piece of ambient dub in itself, whilst "Paper Tigers" jumps between jangling guitar lines and unforgiving drum machine breaks. Elsewhere the band mine subtly Gothic influences but with none of the tiresome theatrics; you get the impression that whilst fledgling Goth bands stole the worst bits of Bauhaus and amplified them into a lame pantomime, the Chameleons simply took some of the energetic essence and purified it further. 

Relentlessly emotional yet ultimately cleansing, from the opening fury of "Don't Fall" to the reflective post-apocalyptic dream of "View From A Hill" The Chameleons simply don't let up on the perfectly executed intensity of their craft, and with Script of the Bridge touched upon something intangible and rarefied in guitar rock. 

For such astonishing music as this I reserve a rare piece of hyperbole. Script of the Bridge is quite simply one of the greatest records ever made.

"In his Autumn 'fore the Winter comes man's last mad surge of youth"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Prolapse - The Italian Flag

Ahh, to be a music fan is to come to terms with the fact that, while there is so much good stuff out there, most of it goes largely unnoticed, even by music enthusiasts themselves. Such is the case with Prolapse, a band that formed in Leicester in about 1992; and wearing their krautrock and post punk influences proudly on their sleeves - churned out 4 albums of near perfect music, and disappeared into nothingness. This is their best album, The Italian Flag; I could just keep praising it to high heaven but all I'll say is that this is one of the top 10 albums of the 90's. For a decade with so much fantastic music, it's a crime to let a band this unique and inventive go ignored. So without further adieu; here's an awesome piece on The Italian Flag from the now defunct Stylus Magazine.Rest assured that you will listen to this and realise exactly what I'm talking about.

Sometimes reference points aren’t much help, really. I’m really not sure if there’s any records out there quite like this. One day there might be. It’ll probably be successful. The NME’ll like it. The NME liked Prolapse, of course, but back in the dark, distant days of 1998 that didn’t cut much mustard with The British Record Buying Public. At least, not if you were Prolapse. Somehow the idea of a woman from the East Midlands and a big Scottish bloke talking, singing and shouting over, under and at each other while punk, post-punk and shoegaze came together and had an almighty row—somehow, Urban Hymns was more successful. Bizarre. 

Prolapse, from what I can gather, were a bunch of C86 kids who met while at university in Leicester and decided to make really depressing music together. The Italian Flag, their third album and the only one that got released on a major label, goes one fuck of a way beyond that. It’s immediate and yet a bit impenetrable at the same time. You could call it pop, but people would give you some very, very strange looks. 

One thing you can say with little fear of contradiction is that this is a very grown-up album, not because of the mature qualities of the musicianship or whatever people are saying about Doves this week but because of the darkness of the sound, not in the modern whining sarcasm that passes for wit too often nowadays, but the seriousness of the thing. Guitars are hefty, nervous, oppressive, edgy, scratchy. Linda Steelyard and Mick Derrick’s vocals are… it’s difficult to know what to say. She: clipped, hard East Midlands tones, sometimes lost in the mix, like being called to by ghosts, playing at girlyness, other times irritable, skulking shrugs, sometimes just plain fucked off. He: rasping Glasgae yelling, or low, threatening murmurs and whispers; sometimes he sounds drunk, sometimes he sounds fucking unhinged. 

The songs are monsterpieces of repetition and freeform clashing together, not ‘uncomfortable’, not ‘awkward’, just intensely brilliant. The energy is immense. ‘Slash/Oblique’ lunges in early. Steelyard coos “You, will, ne, ver, un, der, stand, me,” then babbles “IknowIneedmyheadexaminedIknowIneedmyheadexamined,” and Derrick throws himself in, yelling incomprehensibly wherever he can. The drums charge throughout, fit to burst, going so fast they’ve forgotten who’s meant to be keeping up with who. ‘Deanshanger’ is slower. Nearly more conventional, a bassline driving it along neatly—there’s some verses, and a chorus… it could almost be normal, were it not for the fact that Derrick is still making Aidan Moffat sound like Stephen Fry, there’s bagpipes that sound like they’re hurling invective at a cabinet minister and the chorus is actually just Steelyard singing some words that sound vaguely French but don’t actually make any sense. Still, she gets to be the shouty one on ‘Day At Death Seaside’, yelling “HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE! HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE!” amid horrible fairground organs and her yelling at someone about Oprah Winfrey and clearing the fucking mantelpiece. ‘Autocade’, on the other hand, sounds like Lush (that’s a very good thing) and doesn’t feature Derrick, because he thought it wasn’t very good. It really is depressing how little influence Prolapse have had on the British music industry. 

It’s intense, serious, grown-up, and incredible fun. ‘Killing The Bland’ (“I might have to kill you, which wouldn’t be fair. On me.”) could legitimately have been a proper hit single, We All Shout Together as the backing goes all psycho-punka and decides to race Derrick and Steelyard to see who can finish theirs first. ‘Visa For Violet And Van’ is the sort of song that swallows you completely whole, the pace militaristic and unrelenting for six minutes, a pounding, punishing rhythm destroying everything in its path without blinking. The guitar wanders and wails all over, lost and wounded. Steelyard sounds calm, detached. “My floor, kitchenware, underwear, haircare!” Derrick is on top form, screaming his verses, sneering his chorus (“Ah wis always wan point wan point wan point wan point wan ae thim!”), sounding like he’s making wanker signs right up in your face and could not give a shite what you’re thinking about that. A minute and a half from the end it dissolves into feedback and crashing. You barely notice. 

There’s really nothing quite like Prolapse—too complex and hefty for punk, too bold and fast (and, to be honest, fun) for shoegaze, too fucking odd for pop. ‘Indie’ feels like a whole can of worms that doesn’t merit touching, but maybe that’s just what Prolapse were, a properly independent band who didn’t appear to give the slightest fuck for what other people thought of them (as opposed to the kind of band who repeatedly declare that they don’t give a fuck what other people think of them) because they were rather too busy being themselves. It’s annoying that they completely vanished in 1999 after their final album, Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes, and that nowadays they seem to exist solely in the memories of music journalists. Despite the fact that Prolapse ran almost directly parallel with my teenage years, I didn’t actually know they’d existed till just before they split up, and I only started getting into them in about 2001, which is fucking stupid. You look at the raft of mediocre British guitar bands around today, all trying to do something new and different, and you realise that only five or six years ago this lot were everything they could never be. And it pisses you off ever so slightly. 

I know I need my head examined

Television - Marquee Moon

Television were a band formed in 1973and were active in NYC during the nascent of the punk and the new wave scene. A regular at the now defunct CBGB's scene, they never really achieved much fame but were to be immensely influential in the canon of alternative music with the release of 1977 album, Marquee Moon. Together, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd would form a guitar team that would define their sound and pave the way for a lot of great alternative music that was made in the 80's (and of course subsequently, in the nineties and noughties). Very few things done by two guitars in a band comes close to this. An insight from a fellow rymer, unearth.

 Having not aged an iota in its thirty years of existence, Marquee Moon's futurist impact is still reverberating through the music world. It is as if Television took Brian Eno's sound, reinterpretted it for guitars, and added existential poetry on top of it, but that description falls far short of the magic contained in this music. These songs ring true to my personal sensibilites, from the embrace of all experience (See No Evil), to the vitalistic desire for perpetual change (Venus), to the dispassionate, uncommited observer of the title track, there is a strong philosophical (particularly Nietzschean) bent running through the proceedings. Yet, even taken as a purely aural/visceral experience, Marquee Moon is as thrilling and vital as music gets. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Galaxie 500 - On Fire

Galaxie 500 were an indie rock band from Boston, MA. Their signature hazy, lethargic and psychedelic sound was to be a major influence on dozens of great bands in years to come. In 1989, they released their magnum opus, On Fire. 

Really, this is a record about nothing at all. Most albums are thematic, trying to fill in the voids and the mundane moments of human existence; whereas this album cherishes those moments. Dean Wareham's idiosyncratic voice and his nonchalant yet unique style with the guitar backed by what was probably one of the most understated rhythm sections of all time in Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang. The result is one hell of a nostalgic record washed with melancholic delay and reverb, and a sound that is far ahead of its time. Simply one of the most underrated albums of the 80's - every note and chord seems perfectly poised and every other flaw on 'On Fire' exists just to add to its character. Winter beckons, believe you me this will be a worthy companion for evenings when you don't really feel like doing anything at all.

Watching trees decompose

Monday, October 25, 2010

Françoise Hardy - La Question

Ladies and gents, the most gorgeous woman of all time, French chanteuse, ye-ye/style icon, Françoise Hardy. Her 1971 album La Question is definitely one of the most delicate and beautiful records I have ever heard. Listen for yourself. 


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division are, hands down, one of the greatest fucking bands of all time. Their debut, Unknown Pleasures, set new benchmarks in alternative music, and is without a doubt one of the finest and most influential records, ever. The fantastic album art describes it to a tee really, nothing before or after, only an erratic yet channelled burst of creative genius in the middle. 

So, It's 1979, and punk is pretty much dead - all the energy, bravado and balls it had is seemingly on life support. Enter Joy Division - four Mancunian lads who manage to paint a musical landscape that mirrors their own existential dread. This musical landscape, although a product of its time, sounds like nothing that came before it. 

You have driving, muscular basslines and a formally dressed vocalist singing in baritone (but never indulging in vocal theatrics) taking the centerstage; always in the company of  motorik percussion and an atonal, minimalistic guitar that sometimes growls, and at others provides texture; seemingly mimicking whatever demon it is that was consuming Ian's soul at the time. Martin Hennett's austere, dub-influenced  aesthetic recognises the importance of space in a work as bleak as this, and it all sets the stage for telling the tales of alienation, disorientation and despair during Thatcher era UK, in an entirely original way - a driving, metronomic opener in 'Disorder', the haunting, hellish lament of 'Day of the Lords', the maddening riff and subsequent explosion of 'Shadowplay', the chilling, hypnotic bass propelled illustration of epilepsy in 'She's Lost Control' as well as the cathartic build and release of 'New Dawn Fades' which foresees Curtis'  losing struggle to maintain his lifestyle - "a loaded gun won't set you free, or so you say." There is also the vacuous anti-anthem in the closer "I Remember Nothing", by this point all corporeal relevance seems to have been uprooted and shot calluously into deep space, leaving behind only echoes of sorts - "Me in my own world, you there beside; the gaps are enormous, we stare from each side"

Raw, relentless and visceral, Unknown Pleasures is much more than an insight to a restless soul bearing the brunt of decay; it's also a definitive segment of alternative music history as we know it. You just can't go wrong here.

A loaded gun won't set you free, or so you say

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pram - Gash

Pram are an experimental band based in Birmingham. Originally from Yorkshire, Rosie Cuckston and Matt Eaton went to school together. Along with drummer Andy Weir, the three then moved to Birmingham in the late 80's. A chance meeting between Rosie Cuckston and Sam Owen at a local supermarkets Singles Night started off the unique band. They began gigging under the name Hole in 1988. The only sounds included her eerie vocals and a home-made theremin. Matt Eaton later joined the band playing multiple instruments. Keyboard player/sampler Max Simpson also joined, with Sam playing bass and Andy Weir on the drums. The band's first album "Gash" was self-released and sold by mail order and at gigs, and is now completely out of print (sells for about $500 on Ebay). 

This as a debut marked Pram as one of the most innovative bands in the UK in the 90's. Filled to the brim with mind bending experiments in deconstruction, Gash has a near psychedelic nature in its delivery but never flirts with pomposity or wank. It's a very intriguing world of sound that Pram have conjured in Gash, one could say the chaos within is meticulously detailed, and once a while it's possible to witness the myriad of musical cornerstones that Pram use to decorate their tunes; ranging all from free jazz, ambience, usage of toys and toy-like instruments (that well compliment the child-nightmare themes that the songs portray) and the part-controlled/part frenzied krautrock drumming that gives the songs a really cool, rough edge, like a yacht getting rocked by the mighty ocean in the dead of the night (we would in fact be lost at sea if it wasn't for Rosie Cuckton's sweet, soothing voice that adds a semblance of 'normalcy' to the whole affair). 

All in all, a bizarre barrage of sounds on this one, every song is unique, from the industrial mutant pop of 'I'm a War' which climaxes into a serious funk workout, the calm solitude of 'Pram', the grotesque 'Flesh' which possesses a frantic punk spirit and some violent, noisy guitar lines that show that these guys were good at just about everything. I'm not sure how analogies work in reviews, but at this point in time I think it's fair to say that Pram were the heirs to the kind of thing This Heat and Can were doing decades before them - pushing the boundaries of sound in ways not thought entirely possible without sacrificing any of it in quality. Sorry if I'm gushing, I fucking love this record.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Slowdive - Just For A Day

At this point in time, you all should know that Slowdive are probably my favourite band of all time. No one crafted soundscapes like they did, no other band I know (other than probably Joy Division) has such a flawless discography, outtakes and extras included. I don't have much to say that won't be said in my review, except for the fact that I fucking adore these guys and wish they have a far larger audience than they currently do. So without further adieu, here's their debut.

Before I make any sort of attempt to review this record, I request that you bear with me, while I tell you a bit about myself. That may also serve to explain a lot of the hyperbole that would follow on for the rest of this monologue.

I am a hopeless romantic. I'm not even going to lie. Daydreaming, yearning, walking around with a stupid smile on my face, these things seem to go hand in hand with my nonchalant, happy-go-lucky personality. And when these things finally come together with the actual event of falling in love, then, just wow. It's intoxicating. Everything else around you doesn't only seem lacklustre, but it actually is a lot less important than you once felt it to be. And yeah, anyone reading this can attest to that.

Life's a funny thing though - it paves the way for the other side of the coin. The heartbreak. The end of a good thing, that despondent feeling, the works. And for the hopeless romantic, this usually means that he's going to turn into one pensive motherfucker, and for a while, life becomes one huge daydream. I'm here, but not really. I see everything around me, but for whatever reason, I cannot relate to it. Or maybe I just don't want to. 

Either way, like everything else, it all comes full circle. It's a cycle, and what some would call vicious, I call life-affirming. It defines a certain part of my character, and despite everything else that goes on in my head, it's great glancing at the bigger picture - the ability to love without condition and to be able to completely surrender yourself to your instinct and dream; in a sense it is the very essence of youth. And I'm unabashedly proud of it.

So it is with a rather romantic fervor that I attempt to review Slowdive's "Just for a Day", a tiny little album that dropped in 1991; the great 1991 when the already pregnant alternative music scene exploded, and this gem was lost somewhere in the washes of everything else that was overwhelming the music press at the time. It was a key part of the much misunderstood shoegazer movement; the idea that you didn't need to scream or be abrasive to voice your rebellion, but rather drench and drown it amongst the countless waves of sonic bliss and the hushed voices that lurked beneath. The Valentines stood above their peers during this era with the monolithic 'Loveless'; and why the fuck not - after all, Loveless was a beast, an example of the beautiful and the ugly coexisting in harmony in a way none had imagined before. I hadn't been old enough to appreciate the scene at the time, but man, it was certainly my kind of rebellion. 

And then, there was Slowdive. From day one, you could tell that these guys were inspired, and to an extent it's fair to call them soundchasers. There's evidence littered throughout their career that shows them to be playing around with the proposed conventions of shoegaze and dreampop; most of their early EPs and singles show them experimenting with ambient soundscapes (perhaps inspired by Victorialand era Cocteau Twins) and psychedelic dream-pop. Their debut 'Just for a Day' illustrates this - it's a record that was made with a certain memory in mind, as it sets out to pursue this memory, this sense of longing and capture its essence with their own impressionistic aesthetic.

And it is with this release that they managed to bring out their youthful romanticism and merge it with their own dosage of bliss. The whole record conveys a feeling of lysergic haze while never being devoid of melody, even though the melody is usually hidden under layers of sonic waves that create a pulsating ripple through most of the songs over here. There’s the glacial single ‘Catch the Breeze’ that brings out a sense of nostalgia with its gentle, subdued vocals and a memorable hook that is soon avalanched by Halstead’s guitar, there’s the blackened, mournful ‘Ballad of Sister Sue’ that tells a tale of loss and desensitisation solely through the atmosphere it invokes. The lyrics are nearly completely inaudible, they only exist to further augment the white-noised, borderline morphine like quality that the music induces in you. The lush, ambient instrumental ‘Erik’s Song’ forms the perfect bridge between the first and second halves of the record, paving the way for ‘Brighter’ and ‘The Sadman’, the closest you get to straightforward pop on this record; the latter having a sublime choral daze that brings to mind a feeling of being washed over by emotion, courtesy Rachel Goswell’s heavenly voice. But where Just For a Day is concerned, there’s absolutely nothing better on the album than the bookends; the funeral march-like opener in ‘Spanish Air’ sets the tone for the record in magnificent fashion, a haunting lament accentuated by Goswell and Halstead’s sombre vocal harmonising, topped off by what is probably the sweetest acoustic arpeggio you have ever heard in a Slowdive song. And the closer, oh lord. Primal is a song that utilises the signature sound on this album and stretches it to a breaking point; at its climax it may be the most euphoric thing you have ever heard. 

What is even more admirable about Just for a Day is the wonderful 2005 reissue, that compiles ‘Blue Day’, a collection of material from their early EPs to really illustrate the creativity behind this short-lived band even at their early, maturing stages. The aptly named ‘Albatross’ is an example of soaring ambience being used to create a mood behind some furious drumming, ‘She Calls’, ‘Slowdive’ and ‘Morningrise’ all showcasing the band’s heavier side and signalling the archetypal shoegazer sound that they had already perfected and were going to move on from – quiet, steady drums, an omniscient soothing guitar drone and washed out melodies buried within an aural vortex. They also delve into psychedelic and ambient respectively with ‘Avalyn’ and ‘Losing Today’, the two perhaps being amongst the best of the lot here – the former being propelled by a deep underlying bassline and Goswell’s voice to hypnotic effect, and the latter using a slow tempo and gently strummed guitars to create an aura of introspection, something the band would go on to master a couple of years later on Pygmalion. Also included is the single ‘Shine’, a breezy, rich pop song that serves as a soundtrack for a quiet day on the beach, as well as a dark, haunting interpretation of Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’. 

Slowdive would soon grow up and move on. They would reach for the clouds in their quest for creating and mastering the dream-pop sound on Souvlaki, and they would hurtle toward outer space in sparse, delicate and almost alien-like fashion on Pygmalion; both records serving as milestones of pioneering, consistent achievement for a band that boasted of steady sonic evolution and maturity on every release. But it was on Just for a Day that they had their feet firmly rooted on the ground, and that they unabashedly wore their hearts on their sleeves and dared to dream. And where people find flaws with this album is where I find peace within it; it reminds me of what it is like to fall in love and be imperfect, in the best way possible.

Screams that seem unreal

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Burial - Untrue

Burial is a dubstep producer from the UK. Notorious for refusing to appear live or engage in celebrity theatrics, he's remained true to his ideals by releasing two of the most groundbreaking records electronic music had heard in ages. 2-step has never been this introspective, nor has it conjured late night urban landscapes like Burial's second album Untrue does. A review from a fellow rymer, the_sound_reigns: 

"Yeah, this fucking album. I've listened to it while baking in the scorching heat of a Canterbury nor'wester and while walking through the rain on a late Seattle afternoon while the sky grew dark and heavy. It sounded just as wonderful in either situation. Contrary to what some might say, this isn't an album that takes life from its surroundings; it's an album that gives life to its surroundings. There are songs that stand on their own as stunning tracks ("Archangel", "Raver") but by and large, this is one bleak and beautiful symphony. Perhaps bleak is overstating it somewhat: take the moment in "Shell of Light" around 3:30 when it all melts into a gloriously uplifting smear of heat-hazed piano and strings. And who would have thought a track called "In McDonalds" could be so knock-out gorgeous? But again, it's when you take the album in its entirety that you get the full picture of how wonderful it is. Try to disassemble it into component parts: murky aquatic funk beats, the deep-bass thrum of dub, neon-on-pavement ambient bleed, the ever-present hiss and crackle of the city speeding by, vocals lost and whirling in the void. You could add these up over and over again and never get close to the beauty and darkness that Burial coaxes from the strands he(?) weaves. Sometimes it's hard to explain why one particular album stands out from the clamouring throng; what's the magic ingredient that takes this particular record and elevates it until it takes hold of me until I can barely breathe with the intensity of it all? Why do I keep circling back to it, wanting to lay back and sink into the sound, fall beneath the hum and clutter of it and lie submerged, listening to the voices leading me down dark and echoing paths. How can something so dystopian be so beautiful? Something that conjures images of cities dissolved in a chemical fog, the only flickering signs of life the voices of the dead still travelling lonely on the airwaves, broadcasting their final messages into the emptiness. It's a transmission from the end of the line, soaring out into the endless void opening up at the death of the universe. This music should play among the burned-out husks of the stars when the human race is long extinct. Still telling our stories, baring our hearts, singing our songs."

cigarettes and nightwalks

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Swans - Soundtracks for the Blind

Swans have been an immensely influential no-wave act who have gone through various transformations, sort of like a shedding skin and maturing with absolute class without sacrificing any of their quality. 

Michael gira is an enigma. Raised and fed on a diet of the experimental and largely noise oriented new york scene, Swans is practically his vehicle for expression, one he's guided through the years and has been its only consistent member, from the inception of the band to date, where we await their new studio album almost 20 years after the band formed. 

Early Swans material, was in a nutshell, absolutely fucking brutal. Tape loops, heavy riffs, guitars completely detuned and atonality are pretty much commonplace here. This is basically some of the most aggressive music that ever existed. Case in point, shows were so loud and dissonant that people were reported to have ended up passing out and occasionally going dizzy, from sheer volume. Cops would regularly shut down and ban them from playing in certain areas (Gira returns his love for the authority on the wonderful release 'Cop') But it wasn't harsh for the sake of being harsh, the time signatures were reminiscent of Gira's love for jazz influenced 'rock', the minimal chord structures seemed to be a nod to early, minimalistic blues based rock and roll.   

Swans themselves are a study in evolution. From the violently noisy beginnings in the now legendary no-wave scene, they carved out a really unique path for themselves, seeing them morph ever so slowly, but surely, into a more melodic juggernaut, paving the way for 2 of their finest efforts - White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and The Great Annihilator. What was to follow was anyone's guess, but really, nothing in the world prepared anyone for the masterwork that was Soundtracks for the Blind. Soundtracks adds up to nearly two and a half hours in length. It's a sprawling effort, one that changes mood and tempo on every possible turn, but still retains its character alongwith its devotion to an unique, sinister atmosphere that is always seductive and hypnotic. Dissonance is the modus operandi here, you are literally compelled to understand music as you know it as a different kind of instrument altogether. 

They meddle with a frenetic punk aesthetic on "Yum Yab Killers" which is layed out deliciously over Jarboe's ferocious vox, they travel into warped techno soundscapes on "Volcano" and even feature a medieval harpsichord swirl on "Red Velvet Corridor". The drones exist to serve as psychoactive rather than a foreground mechanism, slowly lulling you into a lucid daydream, evoking ambience that brings to mind desolate industrial landscapes, war torn fields and ruins of ancient civilisations. Maybe they are allusions to the dark recesses of the human psyche; "Prisoner in Yr Skull" and "Final Sacrifice" seem to be the sound of personal ghosts being exorcised.  There also seems to be an undercurrent of carnal sexuality to the rhythms that pulsate under each selection, from the thunderous tribal drumming to the beating of primal overtones that permeate the drones. But the two key highlights on the record are definitely the epics, 'Helpless Child' and 'The Sound'. The former being a cinematic ode to a obsessively dependent relationship that glides effortlessly into the atmosphere as it builds to it's climax, and the latter is just about the best fucking song there ever was - a monstrosity that predates the 'post rock' movement by at least 3 years and is arguably the watermark for Godspeed you! black Emperor's career and every other derivate that has followed since - 'The Sound' stands as a milestone in 'build-and-release tension' finesse in music; a solemn orchestral dirge that marks Gira's omniscience on the record to fantastic effect. 

It's quite hard to believe they bowed out with this, even for today's standards. A disjointed, double disc ode that compiles nearly every manifestation of Swan's career and more; tape loops, mournful drones, samples, field recordings, distorted guitars, ambient keyboards and Gira's lovely baritone - the result is spectral, to say the least, there's not a wasted minute, and the album is so unstably unfocused that trying to allocate a narrative to it is almost invariably bound to be futile - it has to be heard to be believed. Soundtracks for the Blind stands as a testament to one of the best bands of our time - Swans were so far ahead of their time that most of us are still catching up. I recommend that you give it a listen because it could possibly change your life.

Lose your eyesight

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bark Psychosis - ///Codename:Dustsucker

So let me kick things off here. I'd like to start off by posting the album that the blog name is derived from. Let it be known everywhere that Bark Psychosis, the pioneers of the 'post rock' genre in 1994 (with the magnificent Hex), came back ten years later to show the competition how far ahead of the game they still were. Master innovators who use texture and form to fantastic effect. Listen closely and you find enough enigma and intricacy in this record to qualify it as a musical puzzle, one that reveals more every listen. Check out this review from Nick Southall from the now defunct Stylus Magazine.

Vapour trails of distant airplanes turning orange in the sunset, a smear of royal umber bruise. Universes appear within your iris, tremulous rumbles consume miniscule worlds. Glass and metal are pushed beyond physical limits, bend and break. Bark peels like skin from trees. Points of water evaporate under immense heat. Whispers drown out coils of industry. Forward motion is reversed and progresses faster. The church walls begin to close in again, and so you swing aside the oaken door and step outside into the buzzing orange half light another time, people still moving, still alive, even at this time of night, and you melt into the tarmac, the brickwork, the sulphur, the pallid strip-lights… 

Shrouded in ten years of mystery and disappearance and elusive ‘other projects’, it’s easy to feel that ///Codename: Dustsucker doesn’t really exist. Bark Psychosis as a band don’t exist anymore, certainly not in the way they did a decade ago. John Ling and Daniel Gish have long since gone, and Mark Simnet exists on ///Codename: Dustsucker only in the form of ‘found drums’. By the time “Blue” was released and the band put on hold in 1994, Bark Psychosis had fallen away, leaving only Graham Sutton. When he put Boymerang aside in 1999 it was only natural to pick up where he had left off: resurrect Bark Psychosis and once again make a music different to that of those elsewhere, everywhere. 

Use of shape, space and sound betray ///Codename: Dustsucker’s lineage and creation from the moment a corrupted, familiar melody bleats from the speakers as if it were a forgotten joke. Time is blurred for fifty minutes, topography altered, positions changed, rules of deportment completely unconsidered. It’s clear that ///: is the work of the man behind Hex and the singles compiled onIndependency, but it is not simply a retread of the past, or even a direct continuation of what was left ten years ago. ///: has a decade of space and a lifetime of experience between it and its predecessor; it is necessarily a different beast. Five years of creation have ensured that every detail is deliciously agonised, every note placed with purpose, nothing left to chance except chance (a guitar is knocked over, ruptures sound like fractured bone; a flippant voicemail message given space within the minus seconds). No significance is attached to passing time; dates are ignored, anniversaries forgotten, temporal shifts unnoticed; “From What Is Said To When It’s Read” floats over you on hypnotic waves of guitar and suggestions of electronic noise, before pausing and crashing back with the force of a tidal wave, hushed, devotional vocals subsumed beneath a gorge of sound, absolute calm within absolute intensity. This is just the beginning. 

Delayed organs, mouthless do-do-dos and a cascading guitar riff form the bedrock of “The Black Meat”, talk of standing on “black sand” and trees, “one for you / one for me”. Hesitancy, a clock is broken, someone closes a door. A guitar groans and signals the birth of a trumpet, slowly melting into gaseous synths and a whiff of melodica; it comes in two parts like The Isley Brothers through the looking glass. “Miss Abuse” is a cavernous, sinister cloud of dub space, a bassline crawling for a handful of notes every few bars and no more, a kick-drum with arrhythmia, an eptopic heartbeat guiding the song’s progress through vortices of sound towards the moment when a 303 begins, seizing the songs arteries and windpipe and strangling life slowly from it. ///: is uncategorisable, even neologisms fall short now that the old words have been warped. It exists in a space outside of rock, post-rock, jazz, pop, dance and avant-garde, in a nothingness zone, unfettered by genre or gatekeepers. 

“Dr Innocuous / Ketamoid” rips apart the fabric at the centre of the album, a distant stamp and tear, Lee Harris using hi-hats and cymbals in a way that makes them sound like broken glass, building an intensity before stop. begin again. piano. count to three. brushed guitar strings. “Did you ever hear the one / About that bird-girl?” A pipe organ breathes for a second. “Burning The City” is an escapist dream, rebellion touched with an elegiac sense of yearning and a wry smile, warm in tone. As is “400 Winters”, caressed by a woman’s voice, tiding on acoustic guitars and falling into piano. “INQB8TR” crawls through infinite dub-space, glades of synth and destructive passages of rich, beautiful noise. “Shapeshifting” tears itself apart with electric guitar scree, filling your head before backwards loops and perpetual-motion drums guide the song through an estuary of found-sounds. “Rose” guides us home under a swell of Germanic trust and nothingness. 

///Codename: Dustsucker has been a long time coming (it seems an age since its existence was first even rumoured) and it will not please everyone because it is not a simple relation of Hex. But taken on its own terms it is an outstanding record, multi-hued and consuming, concerned with invented realities and blurred lines in much the same way as Magritte’s pipe and Borges’ invented facts. Agonised, fearful, compelling, beautiful and measured with infinite precision and chaos, ///: is close to miraculous.