Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Richie Hawtin is a legendary producer from Windsor, Canada and immensely influential in the development of minimal techno in the early-mid 90's. Here's a detroit techno compilation that many rank as one of his better works.
Ex-Plastikman techno artist Richie Hawtin's latest release continues his predilection for stripped-down beats and less-is-more aesthetics, slamming down the needle on a record of merciless mixes and remixes. It's quite a workout, with relief coming only in the form of occasional, slightly quieter thumps. Hawtin works with slices of his own material, along with the ruthless concoctions of Jeff Mills and a selection of other DJs from Detroit's influential techno community. Other eclectic influences make their way onto his turntables, the most obvious being a flash of industrial rock courtesy of Nitzer Ebb. Most of it gets swallowed up in Hawtin's metronomelike devotion to rote bpms and hard, minimalist stylings. Still, when it's done with this level of driving force, the sheer momentum is enough to force your limbs into involuntarily movement. From the opening pulse of Ratio's "Early Blow," Hawtin extrapolates on a short beat structure with perfectly rhythmic precision, growing and building through a series of melodyless phases. The album peaks with the Nitzer Ebb break, leading into Hawtin's short, irresistible remix of his own "Orange/Minus 1" then abruptly stopping with one of the album's few respites--a quick clip of movie dialogue. It's a brief pause, and the omnipresent beat restarts only slightly less demanding and brutally danceable than before. Hawtin's record is a stellar example, at a time when twisted jungle beats rule the dance floors, of getting people to dance a lot more by using a lot less (*)
Let yr body learn
Saturday, May 28, 2011
The Spaceshits were a Montreal band with King Khan and Mark Sultan (BBQ) that lasted from 1995 to about 1999 if I'm not mistaken. Their 2nd album, Winter Dance Party, well, you need to listen to it right now.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Cocteau Twins were a Scottish alternative/dreampop band active from 1979 to about 1997. Hugely influential and unique, they forged a sound that was ethereal unlike any other, and well, they had Liz Fraser, who could quite possibly be the best female vocalist of all time.
Sometimes Cocteau Twins albums may sound a bit dated, even if they are perfect otherwise. But with no drum machines on Victorialand, there's nothing holding this back. Stratospheric ambient pop, if there ever was such a thing.
The thinner the air
Boards of Canada are an electronic duo from Scotland, who helped define the shape of IDM and electronic music since their inception in the 90's. Here's my favourite record of theirs, The Campfire Headphase.
Barthes would tell you that myth is a powerful thing, that it perpetuates itself, that it doesn’t need to be created, just allowed room to develop, that it emerges everywhere within the scope of human culture. By avoiding face-to-face interviews, by revealing scant biographical information (and what they did reveal, it transpires, was sometimes false), by making music characterised by enormous semiotic and literal holes which practically beg the listener to inject their own interpretations and construct their own folklore in order to understand it, Boards Of Canada have inadvertently allowed an entire world of myths to build up around them over the last decade or so. And now, it seems, they’re trying to destroy it.
The Campfire Headphase comes wrapped in a sleeve none-more-Boards-Of-Canada, turquoise-tinted mildewed Polaroids of dozens and dozens of people who may no longer exist scattered across the digipak. Song titles (if they are songs—a dictionary will tell you that a song is something to be sung) such as “Chromakey Dreamcoat,” “’84 Pontiac Dream,” and “Tears From The Compound Eye” fit comfortably alongside the titles from their previous albums and EPs. The opening seconds of “Into The Rainbow Vein” confirm that the sound of The Campfire Headphase sits just as flush with their history. But this was bound to be the case—Boards Of Canada nailed their aesthetic long ago, and have no desire to change it.
Some myths debunked, and truths revealed. Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin are actually brothers (Eoin is Marcus’ middle name); they concealed this fact because they didn’t want to be compared to Orbital. Yes, they’ve used numerological theories to structure their music, but no, they’re not practicing members of any cult or occult group, despite a few oblique references placed within their songs. Yes, they are keen on keeping themselves separate from any perceived scenes or trends, but no, they don’t believe their geographical location is key to the creation of their music. The duo have also detailed how they artificially age their music, talked about how they compose, record, and then spend months, if not years, perfecting everything in post-production. It seems, in telling us this, that the Sandison brothers are deliberately seeking to erode the intricate tapestry of theories, rumours and speculations that has surrounded them for years in order to allow their music a degree of contextual freedom. Depending how you feel about the band, this is either necessary or foolhardy.
There are aesthetic changes—the interpolation of (heavily treated) guitars into the duo’s sonic soup has been discussed extensively. Yes, from a distance it makes The Campfire Headphase sound like My Bloody Valentine, but it’s a lazy comparison. Likewise there are less unsettling vocal sample interjections, no playground laughter, no oblique quotes about paganism or distant, childhood declarations of love. It’s a less unsettling album overall, lighter in tone, more directly tuneful and even, on a couple of occasions, positively uplifting without (much of) a sense of bittersweet melancholia underpinning it. But it’s still far from being Simon & Garfunkel; most people, faced with The Campfire Headphase, will find it an uneasy listening experience, even if, after Geogaddi, hardcore BoC fans may not.
Make no mistake though; this record contains some of the most astounding music that Boards Of Canada have ever composed. Four minutes into “Peacock Tail” a tiny, tremulous melody emerges and is as good, as evocative, as heart-tuggingly uncanny as the nearly intangible movement in “Kid For Today” (from the In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country EP), perhaps as anything they’ve produced before at all. There are the bizarre, upwards-spiralling melodic fills of “Ataronchronon,” the infinite fadeout decay of album closer “Farewell Fire,” the huge (by their standards), almost jubilant tunefulness of “Satellite Anthem Icarus.” “Dayvan Cowboy” is an ambient wash of distant, corroded, almost unheard hum for two minutes before open, reverberating guitar chords fall into place and strings lift this typically Boards Of Canada sound and make it soar like they never have done before. A rattle of drums three minutes in is like Dylan going electric or something. It’s their most tangible, solid moment of music since “Roygbiv,” and it might just be my favourite song on the album.
Oddly it strikes me with this album that Boards Of Canada and Sigur Ros are following similar career paths, which no doubt will be blasphemy to some readers, and that after acclaimed and beautiful breakthroughs (Music Has The Right To Children and Agaetis Byrjun) and moodier, aesthetic-deepening follow-ups (Geogaddi and ( ) - you can count Von and Twoism as counterparts too, if you like), their current records see them re-establishing lines of communication, focusing themselves and becoming unafraid of their music. The Campfire Headphase turns previously oblique approaches to building new worlds of sound in more concise directions, makes Boards Of Canada more accessible without making them any less special. They are still isolationist, peculiarly nostalgic, disconcerting and beautiful. They’re still unique. They always will be. (*)
Friday, May 6, 2011
Espers are a psychedelic folk act from Philly, they formed in 2002 and were initially centred around the songwriting partnership of Meg Baird and Greg Weeks, and have now expanded to a sextet. Their modus operandi seems to be mystery and ether over musicality, in a sense of speaking. They revel in drawn out compositions that envelop the listener in a world that is entirely their own. Here's my favourite of theirs, their second LP simply titled II.
Such is the evocativeness of Espers' second album that I feel as if I should write about my experiences listening to it while picnicking in the King's Woods, prancing across the greensward, or sipping mulled cider behind castle walls. But it's 2006, and I've mostly listened to it in my cubicle at work. Besides, despite the strong whiff of Ye Olde Renaissance Faire coming from II during initial plays, Espers' genius lies in making music that feels both archaic and timeless simultaneously.
“Dead Queen” begins the album with vaguely medieval sounding acoustic guitar, tambourine, and female vocals, but also crystalline production that appears as if the pastoral setting Espers summon to mind exists on a spaceship. By the end, the droning instrument that arises (an electric harpsichord, maybe?) has taken the track somewhere entirely new. “Widow's Weed” launches into a fairly conventional modern psychedelic rock opening, but once Meg Baird starts singing in her slightly angelic voice you're ushered back to the same calm, reflective atmosphere as the beginning of “Dead Queen,” There's a measured, oddly reassuring air to all of the performances here, even at the height of their bad trip-evoking powers, such as the end of the new version of “Dead King,” which originally appeared on their covers-heavy The Weed Tree EP.
There's also an overwhelmingly melancholy, valedictory feel to II. Naturally enough “Dead King” and “Dead Queen” are songs for a wake, but so is “Cruel Storm,” and even “Widow's Weed” and “Children of Stone” are immensely foreboding despite the sweet harmonizing of Baird and Greg Weeks on the latter. Only “Mansfield and Cyclops” escapes the funeral air of the rest of the album (and that serves more as a pause between two of the more intense songs here than anything else). All seven songs are lengthy; absent the more interesting touches Espers bring to bear you'd have a lugubrious, almost Zen set of archaic folk music that would be as likely to put you to a restful sleep as make you listen closer. But the drones and guitars keep surfacing during the songs, as if they were eating them from inside out: The second half of “Dead Queen” is the group playing some hot-shit metal solo at a tenth speed until the guitar(?) comes unstuck and melts all over the song. The end of “Moon Occults the Sun” has hand percussion and what might be some sort of a primitive keyboard trying to grind itself to death at the same time. “Children of Stone” may be the most conventionally pleasing track here, but even it boasts the kind of keening high tone in the background that sounds like a sickly bagpipe.
The biggest testament to II's success is that this all feels naturally fitting, elements taken from the worlds of sludge and noise fitting in perfectly with the pretty vocals and folk tropes. It's not as if the band's disparate sources haven't been assembled before (e.g. the recently reissued Comus records), but they've rarely been assembled this skillfully. One of the corollaries of the old “mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal” chestnut is that really great artists not only steal but make you completely forget that fact.
There are shocks to the system hidden within II, but they're so pleasingly cushioned you never notice until afterwards. It’s an album that leaves you both soothed and disturbed, lulled and shaken by the group’s masterful blend of the comforting and the uncanny, slightly dazed as if returning from time travel or a knock on the head (.)
All that blossoms, all that blooms, lies fallow in the night
Guitar Wolf are a garage trio that formed in Nagasaki, Japan in 1987. They play caustic, loud+ugly, in your fucking face rock n' roll music. That's pretty much all you need to know. Listen to their best, 'Jet Generation'.
Jet Generation' is stickered with a disclaimer: "Warning: this is the loudest CD ever made. Playing it at normal levels may damage your stereo equipment." Apparently, when it was sent to the mastering lab, sound engineers were mystified that three young Japanese men could make a record that exceeded the theoretical maximum levels possible on a CD. Simply: 'Jet Generation' hurts. By God, though, it works. Guitar Wolf are Japan's generation terrorists, importing three decades' worth of furious rock'n'roll, refining it, compacting it, and firing it back; this is punk rock in a bombshell. The inspiration for tracks like 'Kung Fu Ramone' are probably fairly self-explanatory, but'Jet Generation' is fuelled by such psychotic good intentions that it hardly seems to matter. A cover of Eddie Cochran's'Summertime Blues', then, is unconscious rock'n'roll perfection, Seiji Wolfscreaming the words, "Yo' wanna rock out, but yo' too young to bowl" like it's the most important thing in the world. And as he doesn't speak English, for all he knows it is. Played back-to-back with'The Ramones', 'Jet Generation' leaves even the established greats wanting. For 36 very loud minutes, you'll think that Guitar Wolf are the best band in the world.