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Archive for September, 2008

Anyone want a free CD?

Posted: September 15th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

I got 3 CDs in my copy of The Wire this week. An extra copy of the subscriber-only Phonorama and if anyone thinks they’d like it, they can have it. Leave a mention or contact details in the comments.

Phonorama is an improvised electronic piece that’ll remind you of Fennesz or Oren Ambarchi. Extremely pleasant in my opinion and about as accessible as a Wire CD would get. The packaging’s cute too, if flimsy and all-in-all it’s better than the Wire Tapper compilation.

While on the subject of The Wire, their blog has led me to some good articles recently. I especially liked k-punk‘s essays on class and culture (but the specific one that caught my eye, I’ve lost; sorry).

LIBRARY TAPES – A Summer Beneath The Trees (CD, Make Mine Music)

Posted: September 14th, 2008, by Simon Minter

Sweden’s Library Tapes have been following a steady path for some years now; developing and experimenting around a core sound of soft, echoed piano lines and an atmosphere of loss and regret that is beautiful and, at times, heartbreakingly intimate. As with previous work, this album sounds plaintive and thoughtful, and it’s very, very quiet. Circular piano melodies build slowly, augmented with subtle string arrangements and occasional ‘real-life’ sounds of distant traffic and the hiss and pop of vinyl. In previous work, Library Tapes have sometimes been in danger of drifting off into a meander, but on A Summer Beneath The Trees the songs have more direction, more individual character across the set. ‘The Modest Triumph,’ for example, is quietly confident and positive; the fantastic, ten-minute-plus ‘…And The Rain Did Fall’ reflects on endlessly repeating notes, recalling Michael Nyman’s Greenaway film scores. This definition of character helps the album to sound warmer and more comforting than previous work, with some forays into string-led semi-ambient soundscapes suggesting a combination of the feelings engendered by Rachel’s, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and even Mike Oldfield, when glockenspiel and a distant trumpet come into play and the arrangements become more complex. It’s certainly music to create feelings.

Library Tapes
Make Mine Music

SPECTRUM MEETS CAPTAIN MEMPHIS – Indian Giver (CD, Birdman Records)

Posted: September 13th, 2008, by Simon Minter

In his post-Spacemen 3 years, Sonic Boom has followed a determined path of experimentation, releasing countless volumes of electronic music under the Spectrum and E.A.R. names, moving from the melodic Soul Kiss (Glide Divine) into more esoteric territory with collections of drones and relentlessly repetitive keyboard motifs. Indian Giver, Spectrum’s collaborative effort with Captain Memphis (aka Jim Dickinson, producer of Big Star’s Third, amongst a variety of other production work including the Replacements and Mudhoney) changes tack, being something of a collection of nods to the past. It features a variety of analogue instrumentation – upright bass, fiddles, trumpet, sax – alongside Sonic Boom’s trademark electronic shimmers, augmented here with space-rock sweeps and wooshes from Randall Nieman (Windy & Carl/Füxa). The album includes reworkings of Sonic Boom’s previous output – Spectrum’s ‘Take Your Time’, Spacemen 3’s ‘Hey Man’ and Mudhoney’s ‘When Tomorrow Hits’ (as previously covered by Spacemen 3 years ago). This, combined with Dickinson’s smoky, gruff blues vocals, create a warmer, more human sound, and one that has not been heard in Sonic Boom’s output for some time. He has always dug into the past for musical references from the blues and psychedelia, but here these influences are more transparent, less swathed in electronic experimentation, than ever before. For every soft Krautrock meditation like ‘Mary’ and ‘Take Your Time’ here, there are tracks like ‘Til Your Mainline Comes’ and ‘The Old Cow Died’ – raw, unpolished work that sounds all the better for it. The two styles merge to create songs like ‘Confederate Dead’, a wonderfully sedated take on Neu!, with added fiddle, and ‘The Lonesome Death Of Johnny Ace’, a travelling blues tale set to Duane Eddy’s twang over Kraftwerk’s synths. It’s great stuff, humanistic music combining Sonic Boom’s past loves and present interests to impressively natural-sounding ends.

Sonic Boom
Birdman Records

diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #6

Posted: September 12th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted April 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

I’ve been experiencing this strange phenomenon lately, whenever I see movies. I keep looking for evidence of the good side of humanity in celluloid situations, and find myself getting weirdly choked up at any vaguely emotional or bittersweet scenes – leaving myself thinking ‘ah, so everything’s not so bad, after all’. So, this I presume must mean I’m either experiencing movies on a different level recently, or I’ve become more hyper-sensitive to things, or I’m having some kind of emotional breakdown. I strongly suspect the latter. But fingers crossed, eh?

Example one: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), whilst ostensibly a bizarre and sharply-defined comedy, seemed to throw in a couple of moments of pure heartbreaking poignancy within the jokes, to great effect. It turned what at first I suspected of being a lightweight humourous movie into a real, deep, affecting movie, in much the same way as American Beauty was. The storyline is, on the surface, pretty basic – an aging father (named Royal Tenenbaum) tries to bring his strange family back together and at the same time repair his guilty feelings about not being a good parent for most of his life. But the collection of characters in, and related to, the family are drawn with a Coen Brothers-style eye for quirky individuality, developing the one-dimensional nature of the storyline into something more complex: the childishly naughty Royal doing his best to understand family members including a recently-widowed financial genius son who is obsessively over-protective of his two sons, whom he dresses like miniature versions of himself, a failed writer daughter with a finger missing and a secret smoking habit for 25 years, and an ex-pro tennis star son who happens to be in love with his sister. The characters could have been annoyingly over-defined if they weren’t played so well by a brilliantly understated cast including Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston and Ben Stiller. The gradual resolution of how the family all feel about eachother slowly develops through the film, and whilst nothing particularly major happens to twist or confuse the plot, the richness of the characters and their relationships sustain the movie without any problem.

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Large Hadron Collider as Big Bang tribute band

Posted: September 10th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

It’s the biggest science experiment in the world, silly people are getting freaked out by the prospect of a baby black hole eating the whole world, it’s make-or-break for all current physics theories and what’s the BBC’s response?

  • a radio episode of hack sci-fi series Torchwood
  • Andrew Marr (former economics guy, aye?) smashing barely-detectable metaphors together in the hope of producing some insight
  • schoolchildren explaining why it’s great and important (“cos we’ll, like, find out new stuff even if we don’t find anything”)

As weak as gravitational waves.

Given the scale of the project and the ambition, there was really only one way to adequately deal with the subject and it would involve Godzilla spinning Mecha-Godzilla round and round by the tail before smashing it into Gojira, as spun by King Kong.

I have been wondering what the LHC sounds like, too. It’s definitely not cutesy hip-hop (I love scientists but we overwhelmingly suck at picking tunes).

Somewhat inevitably, I decided it sounds like Merzbow but in a relaxed way. So like his collaboration with Nordvardgr, which happily enough has a track called Tachyon Paradox.

diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #5

Posted: September 9th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted April 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

I know, I know, I’ve left this too late again, and everything I write seems to be the blandest gibberine that’s spilt from my tired, flu-stricken fingers for some time. But I soldier on because I love you, and because I get the guilts easily. No promises about my spelling or quality control, I have faith in the other music columnists here to carry me through this time of uninspiration.

Split 7″
Earworm WORMSS11

Crazy mad weird stuff this. Nik Turner’s Fantastic Allstars (featuring Nik Turner of Hawkwind, no less) do a kind of John-Coltrane-recorded-by-Stock-Aitken-and-Waterman-in-a-Stray-Cats-stylee thing, and 46000 Fibres do a Sun Ra tune in a murky, cack-handed triphop way. And that sounds horrible, right? But the strange thing is, something about the naive sounds here and the general feeling of being entirely off your face on hallucinogenics whilst listening to it give this record a unique charm.
THE SLEEVE: is an Earworm singles club standard sleeve, a generic two-colour affair with a sticker on it. ‘Workmanlike’ is the term.

A Boy, a Girl and a Rendez-vous

Red Roses For Me RRFMCD01
A 15-song compilation which seems almost like a CD version of an old-school indiepop compilation tape (the likes of which are so very rarely seen around in these cynical, digital times). The thing about those tapes was that they were so cheap that you could put up with a few duff tracks on the understanding that there’d be a gem or two hidden away there too. The same theory applies here too, really, because whilst this dips somewhat in the middle (getting into a bit of a solitary-indie-boy-strumming-guitar-about-lost-love thang for four or five tracks), there’s good stuff aplenty going on. The mood never entirely shifts away from the indiepop/Sarah way of doing things, but hey – that’s not a problem for me. So, White Town, The Sugargliders, Callow and Tree Fort Angst all deliver assuredly soft-centred and tuneful tunes, with the absolute jewel being The Aislers Set whose ‘Hit the Snow’ is like Spectoresque girl group melody gone cute. Throughout the other tracks (The Dudley Corporation, Watoo Watoo, Lovejoy, Bart & Friends, The Windmills, The Jordans, Aberdeen, The Zambonis, The Arrogants and The Lucksmiths there are a couple of moments which remind me why I went off that whole cutie/Sarah scene, but that’s just my evil, black heart for you.
THE SLEEVE: sepia-style photographs of obviously American scenes give off a certain charm, but the use of what looks to be the nightmarish Impact typeface is inexcusable!

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BUILD BUILDINGS – Ceiling Lights From Street (self-released)

Posted: September 8th, 2008, by Stuart Fowkes

The press release accompanying this album from Build Buildings, the solo project of one Ben Tweel, seems calculated to get Wire reviewers all afroth, cramming in references to sound-colour synaesthesia, musique concrète and treated samples of everything from opening envelopes to desk fan noises. But get past the foregrounding of all the compositional details surrounding the record, and there’s actually something quite beautiful at work here, which I could easily imagine popping up on Sub Rosa or Kompakt. Ceiling Lights From Street, for all its fascination with process and source material, is thankfully not a record that requires you to have a track-by-track here’s-how-they-did-it guide to sample processing to enjoy it.

To fans of Matmos or Fennesz particularly, there’s little here you won’t have heard before, and while in isolation you could say that individual tracks don’t exactly have tunes to whistle in the shower, the record works beautifully as one piece. It doesn’t quite have the melodic edge that made the Fennesz’s Venice album so captivating, but Build Buildings scores big points on the texture front. Tweel builds up buzzing drones from layers of samples brilliantly, and is from that rare group of bleep-fuelled samplers who can make electronica sound warm and human, rather than cold and distant. Couple these comforting, rich layers of sound with skittering drum fills, as on ‘Letter Codes’, and you have a gorgeous record that matches any minimal electronica that will see the light of day this year.

Build Buildings

la Sconosciuta

Posted: September 8th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

Lots of sound and fury over “piracy” of music and films. One situation where there’s no grounds for compliant must be those films that hardly get shown in cinemas in this country, i.e. anything with subtitles. Picking random torrents off of the Pirate Bay isn’t for the faint-hearted but it does turn up some gems.

La Sconosciuta is an Italian thriller from a couple of years back, more indebted to Hitchcock than the giallo / Argento tradition. Has a very muted palette for one thing and the similarly-murky morality makes it a more mature piece of work.

A woman arrives in an Italian city, blank and hollow, with a number of secrets in her past. What’s her motivation for inserting herself so determinedly into the life of, first this apartment block then this family? All standard thriller stuff, but what makes the film stand out is the shifting sands of your sympathies for the main character. Is she victim or villain? Why is she stalking these people and what does she want with the child?

That relationship with the child is the (rather cauterised) emotional heart of the film, fascinating and disturbing. There’s a lengthy scene where the child is being taught to be stand up for herself by being pushed over with bound hands and feet. It goes on and on, the kid gets more and more upset and is extremely uncomfortable to watch. Yet at other times it’s clear that she cares deeply for the child. The ambiguity introduces tension over and beyond the whodunnit? aspects and makes the film one that would probably repay repeat viewing.

Without the Pirate Bay, would it be possible to see this film in this country? It might’ve got a couple of showings on the arthouse circuit, I don’t remember it. Otherwise I think you’d have to wait for a Hollywood remake where the “difficult” parts would be removed to make it a story of redemption and you’d find yourself wondering what the fuss was about.

So I’m with the pirates. AAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh!

THE TELESCOPES – Infinite Suns (LP, Textile Records)

Posted: September 7th, 2008, by Simon Minter

This five track album from the increasingly prolific Telescopes is the first in a trio of releases – two albums proper and one live recording – that reflect a shift in their style that sees them edging ever more deeply into the world of abstract noise and improvisation. This shift could be very likely due to the influence of Bridget Hayden (once of Vibracathedral Orchestra); with a new interest in the examination of sound in ever-increasing detail, stepping further and further away from the original song-based forms of the Telescopes’ past.

The five tracks of Infinite Suns are recorded onto analogue tape with recording levels set to intentionally overload. The album is literally packed with noise, often distorting so much that the recording itself breaks down into glitches of silence. It’s hard going, but impressive in its relentless focus. Across the album is shared a set of harsh, tinny core tones and textures, with each track digging around the roots in an exploratory fashion. ‘Thought Loops’ has a weirdly human, intensely repeating, pained voice throughout – pretty hellish stuff. ‘Northumberland’ is a purer circular drone, touching down and taking off regularly, delightful in its simplicity. ‘Tidal bandwidth’ is akin to being trapped within a broken wind tunnel: occasional rising and falling tones are buried beneath layers of fuzz and noise. ‘Chrome gulls’ is violent and sporadic, until descending into a relentless, bloody-minded scrawl of noise and feedback.

Easily listening this is not, but an interesting development for an outfit with a 20+ year lifespan it most certainly is. The Telescopes in their current form are several worlds apart from the band(s) they once were – but listen back to their earlier output and you can spot hints of experimentalism that are finally being given absolute free rein and free experiment.

The Telescopes
Textile Records

diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #4

Posted: September 5th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted February 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Well, I started 2001 with the high-hoped New Years Resolution of going to the cinema at least once a week. Needless to say that plan fell by the wayside pretty quick. So, 2002 started with the same resolution but with my fingers secretly crossed behind my back. When I say ‘going to the cinema’, you must understand that this can be extended to mean ‘getting a video out’ due to the exceptionally fuckwitted policy of my local Warner Village cinema (the only cinema I can get to easily) of only showing the most mainstream and popular films. So last year and this year so far has meant no ‘Ghost World’, no ‘Mulholland Drive’ and no ‘My Neighbour the Totoro’ but all the romantic comedies and action shitebusters I can stomach.

But it’s not all bad, you understand. I do get out into more than a five-mile radius from time to time, and am blessed with an ACTUALLY GOOD QUALITY Blockbuster nearby, so no need to start killing and burning stuff just yet.

This is supposed to be some kind of roundup of things that rocked my tiny, insignificant world last year (in a cinematic sense), so I’ll start incorrectly by frothing over LORD OF THE RINGS, even though I didn’t actually see it until this year. I expect most people have seen this by now? If not, you gotta. Yeah man you gotta. I know it’s more than three hours long; I know the books are hard going, but it’s a great great film. It follows the book (book one of the trilogy – the second two books will follow as two further films) pretty closely, and keeps just the right side of cutesy goblins’n’hobbits fun by never failing to take its subject matter seriously or pay it the respect due. The plot could seem scant (where’s that magic ring gone? let’s go find it) but there’s depth and philosophy there if you want it, and if you’re not consistently blown away by the beautiful magical settings and exquisitely executed set pieces then your seat’s facing the wrong way. There’s special effects aplenty, but this is no special effects movie, it’s one of the few to use effects to complete the vision of the director (Peter Jackson – he of ‘Bad Taste’, ‘Braindead’ and ‘Meet the Feebles’, bizarrely, and later the somewhat sinister ‘Heavenly Creatures’, which is worth checking out) rather than to round out the trailer with arbitrary explosions and monsters. I can’t really write about Lord of the Rings without slipping into ‘it’s ace! you have to see this!’ over and over again so I’ll leave it there.

Another ‘ace! see! etc.’ movie of 2001 was AMELIE; one for all your romantic fools out there. ‘Charming’ is the key word here in this French-made-and-set story of a naive young woman arriving in Paris and deciding to help out strangers in random ways, along the way finding friends, delight in her own actions and, of course, love. Aw. Does it sound like a load of old sentimental toss? I imagine so. Somehow it manages to skirt around sickbag territory though, partly because of the nice playing of the lead character (by Audrey Tautou) as a scatty, cheeky joker with a ‘naughty’ sense of humour, partly because of the bizarre situations set up along the way (which come together by the end of the movie in a surprisingly unexpected way) and partly because of the beautiful filming of the story – all rich warm colours and subtly off-the-wall angles and styles. Maybe it’s because I saw Amelie on my own at the cinema, keeping out of the cold, but it’s what the oft-used phrase ‘heart-warming and compelling’ was written for.

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