December 2011 and January 2012 stuff

February 23, 2012

STATIC – Freedom From Noise  Berlin electronic experimentalist Hanno Leichtmann back with an album apparently born of improvisational collaborations and subsequently pieced together, but you’d never guess with a result that certainly creeps into the inventive everything-but-the-kitchen-sink avant-pop end of the German electronic scene. Probably the finest album of its kind I’ve heard in a long time – so here’s a quick flavour for you…

Definitely recommended.

RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR – Rats Live On No Evil Starin a similar vein, (eclectic German electronic pop), but not scaling the same heights as Static, I just picked up this more obviously rock-oriented 2010 collaboration involving Tarwater’s Bernd Jestram.

What is it with Germans and palindromic band names anyway? The following few are all associated with To Rococo Rot.

WHITETREE – Cloudlanddie Brüder Lippok in collaboration with an Italian pianist on a disk released a couple of years ago, but which must have escaped my attention (I picked this up in Fnac in Paris when over there seeing Tuxedomoon perform their soundtrack to Pink Narcissus last September, and it’s taken me this long to get around to listening to it). Primarily piano studies embellished by electronic textures though it does ‘rock out’ on occasion, this should appeal to me – but sadly it veers towards being too relaxed, polite and syrupy for my taste. That said, if you frequent those kind of dinner parties or that kind of gallery opening, it might catch your ear.

ROBERT LIPPOK – Redsuperstructuresomething unsatisfying about this new solo release overly repetitive instrumental electronic glitch-rhythms and processed detritus that’s as well produced as you might expect, but overall the album lacks a sense of cohesion or purpose, diverse sketches thrown together.

ROBERT LIPPOK/DEBASHIS SINHA – Knuckleduster –  and the same could be said of this collaborative release, even emptier than Redsuperstructure.

SØLYST – Sølyst – the relationship to To Rococo Rot gets about as tenuous as possible with this album from former Kriedler drummer Thomas Klein (TRR Bassist Stefan Schneider was once also a member). When Boomkat reviewed this as “Tribal Dub Krautrock”, I thought that my ongoing and mostly fruitless search for innovative and enjoyable African/Euro-electronic interfaces might be pandered to here. Plenty of nice rhythms on display (as you’d expect from a drummer), but it’s a tad monotonous – unlike, for example, the constantly evolving patterns of Jaki Liebezeit. The accompanying electronic textures and dubs sit prettily above the rhythms rather than intergrating with or distrupting them, hauling them off into new directions. OK, it’s a partial success.

And speaking of Liebezeit….

CAN – Tago Mago, double cd edition I’m still hanging out for the soon-come boxed set of previously unrealeased early 1970s material culled from their immense taped archive of jams (which my spy in Mute Records tells me is an absolute belter) but for the moment this rerelease with a cracking bonus disc of unfamiliar (to me) live versions will do quite nicely thank you.

ALVA NOTO – Univrs – I love this guys production, and when he gets those glitch rhythms moving I used to be in heaven – I say used to, because this, although it contains all the ‘right’ elements, left me cold. Ploughing a furrow that’s now perhaps too familiar for me – the law of diminishing returns, also applicable to Burnt Friedman’s ‘Secret Rhythms’ series of cds.

ROEDELIUS & MORGAN FISHER – Neverthelessfrom 2005, yet another release that somehow passed me by, worryingly. Slow treated piano meanderings and electronic interventions.

Right, that really is enough German music for the moment.  I’ve also bought and listened to…

…oh ffs, we’ve just moved over the border into Austria…  (why does that sound familiar?).

FENNESZ – Seven Starsyou get what you pay for here, more ep than album length. First track Liminal features heavily processed accoustic guitar melodies, never quite teetering on the brink of vanishing completely beneath shifting walls of distortion as with some of his other work. But for me, that and last track Sevenstars are as good as it gets here –  drone work and scrapings on the other two tracks leave me cold.

FENNESZ/SAKAMOTO – Flumina if you like Sakamoto’s various collaborations with Alva Noto (and who wouldn’t?), this is worth investigating.

And also vaguely Austrian-associated (it’s on MEGO)….

TUJIKO NORIKO & TYME – Gyu– finally, after dribs and drabs of this collaboration being offered up on Tujiko Noriko’s website over the last few years, we have a cd containing all of these tracks, and several others. Another definite recommend for something that’s arguably the most ‘poppy’ she’s sounded, but it’s joyful stuff and unlikely to disappoint anyone who became entranced with her particular brand of song-based electronica through either Shojo Toshi or Make Me Hard. Anyone into Severed Heads should probably give this a listen.

Speaking of which…

SEVERED HEADS – Op (chOPped) – did you become bamboozled by the myriad different versions of Op released over the space of 4 or 5 years? I certainly did, but worry no more, for the entire collection is now available here for the princely sum of $5 or more. Bargain.

HACO – Forever And Ever – you never know quite what you’re going to get with Haco – minimalist sine wave drones, explorations of  minituarised ambient sounds, or both of these combined with quirky melodies. I favour the latter, and this is one of those.  There are a few obvious points of comparison between Haco and Tujiko Noriko, with a lazy (very) comparison being that former is the ‘prog’ version of the latter.

LEE SCRATCH PERRY – High Plains Drifter – On a completely different tip, Pressure Sounds ruffle around in Perry’s late 60s/early 70s underskirts, this time emerging with a bunch of material that all sounds so, so familiar that I’m not convinced that I haven’t already heard it all before on one or other of the myriad other compilations released over the years by Trojan etc…  Apparently though, I haven’t.

KATE BUSH – 50 Words For Snow – Never used to be a fan of Bush at all, but as her voice mellows with age and her songcraft becomes more engaging, she’s definitely got something going on.  There’s one horrendous mistep on this otherwise gorgeous fireside winter album of piano ballads – namely “Snowed In At Wheeler Street”, featuring appallingly histrionic vocal performances from herself and guest vocalist Elton John.  Uuurgh.  Come to think of it, the title track featuring the spoken voice of England’s alternate queen-in-waiting Stephen Fry is overlong and entirely forgettable too.

JAH WOBBLE/JULIE CAMPBELL – Psychic Life – a return to the sort of material Wobble was doing with Human Condition in the early/mid 80s, but sounds kinda empty these days and Campbell’s voice is a taste I’m unlikely to acquire.

TALKING HEADS – Chronology DVD – not watched yet, but any fan of  ‘the Heads’ has likely seen or heard all of this material before at some point. Worth having for a rainy day though.

And now two releases from Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label, consistently entertaining over the years. Shame there hasn’t been as much 30th anniversary activity as promised, but On-U have always doggedly chosen their own path and their own pace.

Picked up these two CDs mail-order from the Reggae Records website in Tokyo, both for the extra tracks typically offered on Japanese releases, and because neither of these pop-reggae gems have been released outside of Japan.

DEEDER ZAMAN – Pride Of The Underdog – Japanese import On-U Sound

JEB LOY NICHOLS – Longtime Traveller – Japanese import On-U Sound

If you have to go for one of these, choose Jeb Loy Nichols – and here’s why…..

CHRIS WATSON – El Tren Fantasma – never quite subscribed to the huge acclaim heaped on Watson’s sonic collages, but this time the subject matter appealed, I’ve always been a sucker for the lolloping rhythms of slow-moving old trains on rickety tracks – you could fill a cd with that and keep me entertained for hours.

JOHANN JOHANNSSON – Copenhagen Dreams – documentary soundtrack and film dvd.  Although a huge fan of his earlier albums (in particular the majestic four movements of Virðulegu Forsetar, which still occasionally rattle the ornaments on my shelves of a Sunday morning), I’ve found some of his later works tending too much towards a syrupy sentimentality for my taste. Haven’t watched this yet, but the accompanying cd, although not amongst his most memorable compositions, drifts along very pleasantly.

And last but by no means least…

OSTRICH VON NIPPLE – Contemplates The Cosmossaw this mentioned on chatroll at whilst hanging around waiting for some limited edition or other to be put up for sale on eBay (seemingly the Rez new preferred point of sale these days). Pan-fry some Phizmiz, stir in a healthy dollop of Residents, add a soupcon of Snakefinger and finish off with a zit of Zappa to emerge with something that’s not a million miles away from our classic mid-70s eyeball buddies. Highly enjoyable nonsense. Dunno why I went all culinary there, must be about dinnertime…..  Here’s a taster (groan…. I’m here all week, try the chicken etc….)



October stuff

October 31, 2010

A quiet month, with work kicking in again and less time for listening……

DUBBLESTANDART – Marijuana Dreams – had a lot of time for their Return From Planet Dub double set from last year, so was curious about this new effort, promising as it does contributions from Lee Scratch Perry, David Lynch and William S. Burroughs – the latter presumably resurrected for the occasion. It’s a pleasant listen, no more.

THE RESIDENTS – Brava – although the quality of the disc label and packaging is much better than I’d anticipated from a produced-to-order cdr, the sound quality certainly isn’t. Poorly mixed and flat as a pancake. Listened to once, and filed right at the back of my Residents collection, probably never to see the light of day again.

DAVID THOMAS AND TWO PALE BOYS – I Remember Mars – a download from You can never have too much DT&2PB (imho).  This live set’s not too dissimilar to Meadville (recorded one or two years later).

EL GABINETE – Pasando Aceite – recent solo album from Nine Rain’s Daniel Aspuru. Sure the sax playing isn’t Steven Brown? I’m not.

THE ORB with DAVID GILMOUR – Metallic Spheres – double cd edition.  I think someone reviewed this on Amazon as being the perfect disc for a beach holiday. Might well be, but it falls flat around these parts.

LE WEEKEND – All Things Must Pass

October 17, 2010

So, after 13 years, it’s over.

Yup, after this evening (Sunday 17th October), Stirling’s annual new music shindig, LE WEEKEND, will cease to be – although I do hope that some kind of variant events emerge in its place.

Although in later years my attendance waned as my tastes and those of the organisers diverged, and I became less and less tolerant of the anti-Nirvana default setting (quiet/loud/quiet) of honkclacksquartwiddlefring improv that began to dominate, I never lost my enthusiasm for the event and looked forward to checking the programme each year.

After all, it’s where I took my now wife of ten years to see Hoahio on the very day that I first met her in Edinburgh. A magic day indeed.

Quite a few acts have entertained over the years, but here are those that will remain in memory as moments of absolute transportation, shows from which I emerged feeling as though I were grinning from ear to ear with sheer joy.

Otomo Yoshihide (1998)

Haco (1999)

Hoahio (2000)

David Thomas & The Pale Orchestra (2001)

Acid Mothers Temple (2001)

Haco & Hiromichi Sakamoto (2004)

and now…

Tarwater (2010)

On the ‘minus’ side, I also recall being desperately disappointed by a no-show from Deathprod in 2005.

Anyway, Saturday night I met my chum Jo for a decent home-cooking French dinner in a new restaurant in the centre of Stirling before climbing the hill to the Tolbooth. First thing we caught was a dread improv session – technically impressive perhaps, but beyond that…. let’s just say that my tolerance levels remain low.

A break in the bar and then into another session, where I was absolutely scunnered by an improv twelve-string plucker and repaired outside the venue for a whiff of cold autumn air (and a cigarette or two).

Who should be standing out there engaged in similar activity but Ronald Lippok and Bernd Jestram of Tarwater – one of the delights of Le Weekend has always been that its size means there’s always the possibility of bumping into the artists in the bar/on the roof terrace etc… Difficult for me not to appear to be a bit of a fanboy (hey-ho), but had a lovely conversation with them, discovering along the way a mutual love for Tuxedomoon. Very interesting to discover that a German label (I think) is shortly to release a compilation loosely focussing on the works of Baudelaire, and featuring contributions from both bands (TM and TW). Eyes and ears peeled for that early next year.

Tarwater’s performance was absolutely sublime, all the better for being in a comfy seated venue (showing my age here). Not sure what any improv heads still in attendance might have made of it, but don’t really give a damn either. Great to be able to leave the event on a high point!

I would have been happy to commemorate the event passing with the purchase of one of the natty ‘All Things Must Pass’ t-shirts on offer, but until organisers of such events get it onto their heads that some folk like to wear their t-shirts baggy (ie XXL, XXXL etc…), nope.

And so, a fond farewell to Le Weekend…. perhaps fittingly, the last act of the last festival is Faust, a collective who’ve spanned both popular and avant works in their time. Shame I couldn’t manage to be there two nights in a row.

The Curse of Nine Rain…

November 9, 2009

…strikes again.

Recently spent a long weekend in Amsterdam, focal point of which was taking in a screening at the Paradiso of Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico with live score performed by Nine Rain, made all the more special by it taking place in conjunction with celebrations for the Mexican Day Of The Dead.

A wet Sunday evening and the Paradiso, a converted church in the city centre

Paradiso - the stage

was decked out for the evening with large skull mobiles hanging from the ceiling and an impressively adorned altar to Eisenstein front and centre below the stage.

Eisenstein table

A crowd of maybe around 300 gathered for the show, which began with two dancers ritually invoking the spirits.

And then the film – I’d not seen it before, and it’s a film with a ‘difficult’ past, probably best served over more than one viewing. Initially, the old city symphonies (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City – Man With A Movie Camera etc…) sprang to mind, and I wonder whether Eisenstein was perhaps intent on crafting a kind of  ‘country symphony’.

Nine Rain’s musical accompaniment provided a thought-provoking additional ‘layer’ of meaning, with some sections evoking the onscreen action and others acting as counterpoint. There were even a couple of passages of intentional silence to ponder. That the ‘soundtrack’ didn’t end with the film points towards something else going on, a combined work in which vision and sound intentionally meet tangentially, creating an event that’s part film screening, part concert.  All extremely enjoyable, despite the occasions where the live sound mix briefly seemed to briefly ‘lose’ voice or instruments.

Was good to hang out with Isabelle, Steven, Alejandro, Jocelyne, Willem, Marianne and Greta in the bar of the Backstage Hotel (where the band were staying) afterwards, although the 4am finish effectively meant that I spent most of the following day in a bit of a stupor, rising late to bike around town with Jocelyne and picking up a DVD copy of Que Viva Mexico at a small film buff store we chanced upon.

film buffs ahoy

We ended up, perhaps appropriately, having a leisurely dinner in Rose’s Cantina.

Sad to have missed a hastily organised ‘jam’ session at the Illuseum on Tuesday evening – I did try to rearrange my return flight, but discovered that my ticket type wouldn’t allow it, and a new single flight would set me back over £300. Ouch.  So I’ll have to make do with the two tantalising snippets that have appeared on YouTube, dammit.

And the curse?

According to Steven, every time Nine Rain play, it rains.  It certainly did when I caught the band at the Illuseum last year, and there was to be no exception this year. I got soaked through twice in the space of three days, though my decision to cycle everywhere probably didn’t help.

Throbbing Gristle @ Glasgow Tramway

June 18, 2009

A quick trip along a crowded M8 late yesterday afternoon nearly turned in to a disaster when for reasons unknown (to me anyway) a driver three ahead of me decided to screech to a halt in the fast lane. Ferociously jumping on my brakes and swerving, I avoided whacking the car in front by a whisker – but following drivers weren’t so lucky, and I heard the dull crunch of metal on metal behind me. Perhaps ironically prescient, this crunching echoed a similar sonic palette to early TG.

So, an unnerving start to the evening, attending what might at one time have been a vaguely unnerving concert experience me. Have to confess that waaay back before I’d first heard Throbbing Gristle, their reputation preceded them and I was unsure what to expect and how I’d react.

Same with this evening – but being older and (arguably, I know) wiser, I was uncertain for a different reason. TG as a chicken-in-a-basket retro outfit, albeit at the ‘arty’ end of the spectrum?

The venue was almost full (900 out of 1,000 ticket sold, I heard), with an adjacent MFA degree show viewing in another hall also crowding the foyer. Hard to tell one group from the other, which was encouraging – regulation paramilitary greys/blacks obviously a thing of the past for TG’s current audience.

TG emerged at half past eight for their first set of the evening, an improvised (“this is the first time we’ve done this”) score for a 40 minute short film by Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans. Band and artist had previously collaborated on a sound scuplture for the Yokohama Triennale, something I managed to take in on a trip to Japan late last year and found to be the highlight of that overall disappointing show (see earlier blog entry).

Notwithstanding an obvious confluence of intellectual interest in ritual behaviours, there didn’t seem to be much to link the slowly dissolving images of Thai and Japanese festivals with the lugubrious TG jamming accompanying it – material that didn’t seem a million miles away in scope from the Third Mind Movement album the group have released as a recent tour artefact. Not that any of this wasn’t engaging – it certainly was.

tour artefact

a tour artefact, yeserday

A half hour break followed before the band re-emerged for their ‘greatest hits’ set. House lights remained up as Persuasion oozed into being, a welcome opener, and pleasingly clear sound.

I’m not one for spewing set lists (or being able to remember them), but amongst the favourites offered up were Hamburger Lady, Almost A Kiss, What A Day, and a thumping climax with Discipline. No encore.

Not sure what happened to Genesis’ violin playing throughout – either I’ve lost a frequency in my hearing or it was well down in the mix, only occasionally audible.

So, the first TG appearance in “a wee country, but one with a lot of power” (according to Genesis) was a success – no longer (though of course they never were) the ‘wreckers of civilization”, the group maintained admirable levels of power and composure throughout, and confirmed (for me at any rate) that their reactivated sonic questing is well worthy of continued engagement.

Haste ye back.

April showers

May 1, 2009

This month’s prime listenage…

SOISONG – xAj3z : 060409 – Peter Christopherson & Ivan Pavlov arguably still finding their feet as a duo with their debut album release. Beautifully – if annoyingly – packaged. Not convinced myself as yet that it hangs together as an album, although each track is a wonderful listen. As I type, only two days separate me from a Threshold Houseboy’s Choir show in Glasgow. Can’t wait.

INTRUSION – The Seduction Of Silence – comparisons with a roomier Pole or Rhythm & Sound wouldn’t go amiss here.

TOSCA – No Hassle – having bored with Kruder & Dorfmeister quite a while ago, I only bought this recent Dorfmeister/Huber double set as an audio souvenir of our visit to Wien, and having read reviews suggesting that this lifts itself beyond the trip-hoppy/ambient cliches that K&D became mired in. It does, to an extent.

JAH WOBBLE & THE CHINESE DUB ORCHESTRA – Chinese Dub – finally got around to this, having read so many ecstatic reviews over the past few months. Doesn’t (probably couldn’t really be expected to) live up to the hyperbole on offer in print, but decent.

MARTIENSGOHOME – Abscons Depuis 1996 – ten albums worth of relatively spartan Belgian electro-acoustic improv on a bamboo USB stick housed in a small wooden box – gorgeous design sense, something to treasure as an artefact. Am slowly beginning to work my way through its audio delights.

Stockholm & The Residents

January 2, 2009

Took a long weekend break to Stockholm in early December, primarily to see The Residents, but also my first visit to Sweden.

Had heard how expensive it is there, but nothing had quite prepared me for £8 for a bar of chocolate. A pub dinner (admittedly 3-course, an up-market bar, and elk & reindeer steaks scoffed) cost us over £100, so bread and cheese came into play despite the cold, grey and damp weather.

Residents show? Smallest venue I’ve ever seen them in, a theatre annex with a capacity of around 200 (it was jammed). A small stage barely big enough to accommodate personnel, equipment and the two basic ‘tent’ sets, but clear sound.

The Bunny Boy’s a curious album (and YouTube series etc….) and I’d looked forward to seeing the nascent mythology expanded upon. Disappointing in that respect as there was nothing on offer that’s not already available on disc/YT. Simple but effective presentation as the Bunny Boy himself lead proceedings, stalking the tiny stage and ranting throughout. It’s the music that fails to engage – the word ‘lumpen’ springs to mind, unfortunately.

A problem I’ve had with the last few Residents releases, imho not striking a good balance between spoken word, lyrics and musical inventiveness. The SandMan had superb musical backing that wasn’t allowed time to breathe, suffocated by spoken word that was insufficiently involved to stand repeated listening. Bunny Boy is the reverse – conceptually a more involving project, but hampered by music that doesn’t stand up to repeated exposure. What next for them, I wonder.