Some more reviews here by, so far, Richard Johnson (RJ) and Kate MacDonald (KM). More will be added over the next few weeks/months. If interested in having anything reviewed, please note that we only accept physical formats. We welcome music, books, fanzines and other related ephemera. Send to the address on the home page. Thank you.
PETER ABLINGER Augmented Studies CD (Maria de Alvear World Edition, Germany, 2014)
Contemporary classical compositions by this Austrian whose work here is centered around an assortment of flutes played by Erik Drescher. Over the four pieces here, we are subjected to layers of clipped and rhythmic glissando or polymorphic gusts from an otherworldly wind. On one hand, it is hard to fault the complexity of these pieces but, on the other, and given as I am to awkward and difficult music, I have revisited Augmented Studies several times now and find it cloying and annoying. I’d like to hear more of Ablinger’s work, but this is not the introduction to it I was anticipating. (RJ)
ATOM™: HD CD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2014)
Kraftwerk. KRAFTWERK! Krrraaaaaaaaaaafffttweeeeeerrrrk!!!
I listen to this album and with each passing note, the echoes of the German pioneers reverberate more through it. It is so heavy with their influence that it becomes distracting. I find my mind drifting off and wondering what Herr Uwe Schmidt would have done if there had never been a Kraftwerk. Actually, chances are he would have done plenty, because he’s recorded under more aliases than most people have hairs on their head, but chances are that Atom™ wouldn’t have been among them.
The album isn’t empty mimicry, however. Schmidt may use the same sort of minimalist electronic structure and emotionless vocals, but there is a grooviness and a warmth that Kratwerk absolutely never possessed. It’s Kraftwerk passed through the veil of minimal house music, trailing those accented rhythms behind. The end product (and it somehow seems appropriate to think of this as product, without meaning any insult) is smooth, slick, a perfectly polished pop nugget. If you’ve heard music from the Raster-Noton label before, this fits nicely on its more accessible side.
One of the things that marks much of Atom™’s music is cuteness. Schmidt’s Señor Coconut project may have a more obvious sense of humour, but there are plenty of cheeky winks to be found here. A “cover” of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ features the original pushed through machines and emerging an electrified version of itself. The problem with those sort of gestures is that they’re really only amusing for about the first two minutes and then it starts to occur to you that you’re listening to what’s basically a disco remix of classic rock.
More successful is ‘Empty’, which is musically (but not lyrically) a cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’. Like much of the album, it’s pop music talking about pop music in a pop culture way, with sound-bite phrases and rallying cries. Less successful is ‘I Love U (Like I Love My Drum machine)’. which made me want to cut my own ears off to escape. I’m sure that there’s a point being made about incorporating R&B style vocals and the pristine syncopation, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it.
My guess is that people will like this if they like their music clean, sleek and served with a heavy wedge of irony. I’m not nearly so hip. (KM)
MICHEL BANABILA/OENE VAN GEEL Music for Viola and Electronics CD (Tapu, 2014, NL)
Another release from the prolific Banabila, here collaborating with fellow Dutchman and violinist Van Geel on five pieces of subdued, hazy and textural ‘spherics. The electronics are understated while the violin itself takes centre stage in a bid to lull us, little jazzy or folk-ish signatures aside, like a fresh ‘n’ warm duvet on a cold winter’s night. The aural equivalent of a glass of decent mulled wine. (RJ)
ALEXEI BORISOV and ANTON MOBIN Try to Crawl Out of It CD (Mathka, Poland, 2014)
I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but looking at the artwork for this album, I was left with the sense of something that might have been the soundtrack to a futurist horror film. And, indeed, that’s not a bad starting point for coming to grips with the album, which is mechanical and vaguely sinister and at the same time being a bit like a lumbering relic, a view of the future from a hundred years back.
The work of the two artists is divided, with Borisov contributing electronics and occasional vocals and Mobin credited with “cassettes”. Of the two, I’m only familiar with Borisov’s independent work and I can certainly hear some of his slightly spastic glitch and offbeat sputtered vocal style in here. The overall structure of the music, however, doesn’t resemble what I’ve heard from him before; it’s much more of a complex noisy fence. Not a wall, because it doesn’t have that thick solidity you get from the real Japnoise masters. This is multilayered with static-y bursts cutting through it, often at frequencies that seem chosen to irritate or discomfit and elements that compete with rather than complement each other.
Listening on headphones is an absolute must if you want to get the full effect, because a lot of care has been taken in the production to place sounds in the fore- or background, to build a three-dimensional sonic field. This sort of conscientious detail, along with the use of random tape loops and jarring electronics reminds me more than anything of earlier Nurse With Wound. It vacillates in that same way between the mad and the moody. It seems to move from the former to the latter as it goes along.
Being reminiscent of Nurse With Wound does not mean being equal to it. Where I find the album bogs down a bit for me is that it lacks Steven Stapleton’s sense of composition. Some of the tracks seem to meander, and the duo never hits the level of either madness or moodiness of which Stapleton was capable. If you want something in that genre, something to give your ears a bit of a workout, it’s worth a listen. If you want something with a bit more finesse, it might be best to stick to the classics. (KM)
MAX & LAURA BRAUN Highwire Haywire CD (Interbang Records, Germany, 2015)
Dreary and vaguely country-tinged singer-songwriter bilge. I’ve listened to this three times now and each one has been more arduous. I honestly dunno why anybody would want to produce such downright uninteresting music. Perhaps it would redeem itself somewhat in a live setting, but here it just sounds lacklustre and bereft of the qualities I personally feel the likes of Lee Hazelwood or Will Oldham are brimmin’ with. (RJ)
ERLAND DAHLEN Blossom Bells CD (Hubro, Norway, 2015)
Blossom Bells is the second solo release by this Norwegian jazz percussionist in a few years. Otherwise known for his involvement in Batagraf, Madrugada and the Sonic Codex Orchestra, Dahlen is a highly adept artist who can sway from more exploratory or avant-garde realms to something resembling epic post-rock only too easily. This album, whilst sometimes across like a showcase for a man who can probably fill the seat for any such band (and more besides), is rich with ideas that spill over like a fantastic soundtrack for the most part. For all of the steps towards a more pedestrian approach evident here, the carefully interwoven details and willfully playful and boundary-defying sensibilities render this a fine listen strongly beckoning repeat plays. Always a fine thing. (RJ)
ERIK FRIEDLANDER Illuminations CD (SkipStone Records. USA, 2015)
This must be something like Eric Friedlander’s 25th solo album in as many years, but this prolific New Yorker known also for his collaborations with John Zorn, Teho Teardo and Ikue Mori, amongst others, continues to produce alluring compositions on his cello that absorb all from modern classical and jazz to folk and traditional music styles. The ten pieces here were originally commissioned by NYC’s Jewish Museum for an exhibition of antique books and although inspired by Bach’s Preludes equally draw from this environment. Meditative and sombre for the most part, the strings sometimes give way to busier and lighter flourishes with a vaguely Middle Eastern slant. A rewarding listen guaranteed to take you somewhere new each time. (RJ)
GAAP KVLT Void CD (Monotype, PL, 2014)
Following a cassette album and several low run CDr releases on Poland’s BDTA label, Void represents Gaap Kvlt’s first album ‘proper’ and, whilst remaining bound to ideas this Polish solo project doubtlessly took its initial cues from, delivers like a serious statement of intent. With titles like ‘Birth of Golem’, Ritual’ and ‘Might’ pinned to a backdrop of skewed and stuttering electronics, brooding rumbles and mean yet minimal rhythms, there’s no denying this work sways towards the murkier side of things, but that’s perfectly fine if handled as well as this. It’ll be good to see how Gaap Kvlt develops, anyway. (RJ)
FRODE HALTLI Vagabonde Blu CD IHubro, Norway, 2014)
Three incredible compositions from this Norwegian accordion player whose work is usually found on ECM. Recorded live in 2009, it is only too evident that the space of the concert hall forms an integral part of the overall sound. Haltli maximises the acoustics whilst playing a commanding yet expressive music steadily moving from something overtly sombre to being occasionally dramatic and tumultous. The very fact that everything is otherwise generated from an accordion lends considerable weight to the proceedings as well. Only Pauline Oliveros springs to mind as a contemporary in this respect, although Haltli’s work moves in a different direction. At once beautiful, stirring and seemingly possessed, the natural charm and sensitivity clearly at work in Vagabonde Blu is never once less than awe-inspiring. I’m sure that hearing this in its original setting would have made for an even more wonderful experience, of course, but for those of us not afforded that privilege, this recording will have to suffice. (RJ)
HIDDEN WORLD Waiting For… 7″ (Antena Kryzyku, Poland, 2014)
Was a time, once, when I’d get shitloads of hardcore punk records and the like sent to review in Grim Humour. Got rather tiring after a while, though, as so many such groups just sounded like they were put together by robots somewhere. These days, however, it’s rare anything of this nature lands my way and I think I’m presently so sick of people crawling up their own arses with drones & fucking textures that a solid blast of hardcore actually sounds comparatively enticing again. Whilst my barometer for such groups got abandoned a long time ago, I can say that this second release by this Polish group (included in a singles club run by the label throughout 2014) is a pretty punchy affair with a neatly hewn melodic streak and gruff vocals. There are three cuts here, but the flipside’s slower ‘You Didn’t Get a Chance’ is the standout as it breaks the mould and is still appropriately angry and heavy. Neat packaging that brings to mind old Savage Republic and Shellac singles, too. (RJ)
HUMAN GREED World Fair CD (Omnempathy, 2014)
It’s always hard to approach the music of this Scottish duo of Michael Begg and Deryk Thomas without toying with adjectives such as melancholic, haunting, reflective and the like. This is no bad thing, of course, but can also detract from the fact that Human Greed’s music also allows for field recordings, spoken word passages, the occasional dramatic swell and the kind of string arrangements usually reserved for a bloody decent film score. In other words, despite the general feel of any given Human Greed album, there are other facets equally afoot. Over the fifteen cuts that constitute their seventh album, aided themselves once again by a canon of collaborators including Susan Bancroft, NWW’s Colin Potter, Steven R. Smith and Michael Begg’s own two sons (on screams and incidental piano, no less!), we are nudged further into a world where staring out at a stormy sea from a rainswept clifftop appears to make perfect sense. Typical of the duo’s work, much attention to detail is paid as each piece of music glides almost ghostlike over its course. If you’re still unfamiliar with them and in need of reference points, then imagine Arvo Part working with Contrastate or Andrew Liles and you’ll at least find yourself in an appropriate enough (and doublessly abandoned and decaying) building. This music would be perfect for a church performance, which isn’t something you could level at countless others attempting to do a similar thing. Packaged in another great Deryk Thomas painting, too. You really can’t go wrong with this. (RJ)
JOB KARMA Society Suicide LP (Requiem Records, PL, 2014)
Job Karma hail from Wroclaw in Poland and are essentially a duo who’ve been operating since the late 1990s. Often lazily and unfairly described as being similar to FSOL, there may be some similarities up to the point where both groups employed highly produced molten electronics to forge their sound from, but Job Karma are of a more post-industrial extraction and, despite carefully woven shading, prefer to operate in a collapsing urban environment blanketed by thick sulphuric smog and acid rain. Tucked into the nine cuts here are faint nods to EBM and the kinda surrealist psychedelic approach of later Coil, replete with deadpan vocals (sometimes aided by a range of guests, including Thom Fuhrmann of Savage Republic and Autumfair, and Polish group The Magic Carpathians), neatly threaded tempered noises and loops sourced from all manner of different places. This is their seventh album and whilst it might not elevate them to the same attention as those artists who doubtlessly inspired them, it is mature, bristling with ideas and a fair representation of their live sound. (RJ)
FRANCE JOBIN The Illusion of Infinitesmal CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
Three rather subdued pieces hewn from shimmering, light yet warm, tones and smooth textures by this Canadian artist already known for her sound art and installations. Whilst this work may not sound readily distinguished from so many others of a similar disposition, there is a depth to it obviously arriving from a deft hand. The fact that Lawrence English has his hand in this via the mastering job likewise indicates a wholesome grasp on matters, too. Most pleasant. (RJ)
JOHANN JOHANNSSON The Theory of Everything OST (Blacklot Studios, 2014)
As one might guess regarding the idea of this light, ambient composer being used for scoring a film as successful as the mostly enjoyable The Theory of Everything, a biopic concerned with the private life of Professor Stephen Hawking, there are not going to be any surprises in store. Instead, we are treated to arrangements combining Johannsson’s trademark blending of subtle electronics and melodic keys with gentle orchestration so fluffy it’d only take a mouse’s sneeze to blow it out of shape. Rather like the film itself, this is rich in sentimentality. However, for all the lush, sweeping movements and occasionally pleasant yet plaintive melodic refrains, there are just too many dollops of syrup here for my liking. (RJ)
KAYO DOT/TARTAR LAMB II Krakow 2CD (Instant Classic, PL, 2014)
A disc each by a US group and duo, respectively, from it which is each given to weaving lengthy and dramatic improvised psychedelia, drawing from jazz, The Velvets and the same spaces many a progressive post-rock outfit occupies. Both sets were recorded when they hit Krakow in early 2011, but for some unfathomable and now forgotten reason I was not able to attend. I’m sure I’d have enjoyed the actual experience of seeing them live far more than listening to these documentations, despite the cumbersome, stodgy passages and often annoying vocals, anyway. (RJ)
MICHAL RATAJ/JAROMIR TYPLT Skrabanice / Scribbles CD (Pol5, Czech Republic, 2014)
Absolutely astounding collection of thirteen collaborative pieces by two Czech Republic soundsmiths given to moulding various objects, acoustic guitars, voices, electronics and other such sources into acousmatic shapes not far removed, at least aesthetically, from Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing. Buoyed by the notion of eternal movement in a setting simultaneously subdued, disturbed, fragmented and wholly atmospheric, everything is kept to a level where nothing is particularly invasive but rather works its way keenly and stealthily towards those corners of our mind usually reserved for a fucking good dream. Clearly both artists are adept and come from an academic persuasion, but the language of their music is invitingly warm and replete with so many nuances repeat listening is tactfully commanded instantly. I know little about either beyond Rataj having once appeared on the now defunct AudioTong as a solo artist via an album in 2012. If this music was recorded real-time, it makes it even more impressive, though. I would relish seeing a live performance regardless. Fantastic work. (RJ)
SAWAKO Nu.it CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
This Tokyo-based soundmaker has been releasing music for over 10 years now, all of it stemming from a background in visual arts and sound design hewn from a more insular and hushed nature. Soft-focus tones overlaid with melodic loops, key flourishes and gentle ebbs form the basis of the nine pieces here. Rich and deeply absorbing, Nu.it certainly makes for one of the better ambient releases I’ve heard in recent times. (RJ)
SCHROTTERSBURG Krew CD (Extinction Records, USA, 2015)
I’m not sure exactly what place punk music has right now, but it is clear that countless labels and artists continue to dedicate themselves to it despite the fact it’s getting close to 40 years since it began as a much needed smack round the head (with a baseball bat, I daresay). I admit my interest in it shifted a lot during the ‘80s and soon after drifted away almost completely beyond a select few groups and, more importantly, those who were initially inspired by it but went largely elsewhere musically. The more progressive end of it was where my interests really lay, and I guess even this expanded and changed as time went by. During the past few years here in Poland, however, I’ve encountered a number of groups who are clearly indebted to the early post-punk sound and, beyond this, actually make for a more than reasonable proposition live. It has certainly got me rethinking things Perhaps, taken as an incendiary form of folk music, it does still have a place? This is far from a new notion, but appears to make some kinda sense. Am I wrong to claim it as being relevant only amongst those groups I personally grew up with? Surely, the ideas in music can be passed down, generation to generation, and kept fresh by newer perspectives, the same as with literature and any other art form? There might be a grain of truth in the latter if the focus is on a re-imagining of those initial sparks. To do otherwise would lead to treading the same ground as a tired old covers group. And it is here that I have noticed things compounded by some of these current Polish groups. They sound invigorating and bring new life to this lumbering old beast. It’s no bad thing when in the right hands.
Schrottersburg are no exception to the latter. Over the 9 songs here, they channel a perhaps typical array of shouted vocals and axel-ground guitars over jagged rhythms and the odd effect that would serve them even better if perhaps deployed more often. It is such touches that elevate proceedings beyond the norm, tho’ there’s much else to be said for the melee cooked up here. It’s a pissed off sound dimly recalling Gang Of Four and maybe early Fugazi, but with (naturally) a neat modern production that showcases the sparse savagery and sheer power at work.
Like so often the case, I may well be wrong but believe this is their debut album ‘proper’, following a now sold out CDr release. It’s a strong entrance begging invitation, anyway. (RJ)
SISTEMA BEZOPASNOSTI Swan Song CD (Heimdall Records, Russia, 2014)
There are a few actions that suggest themselves to me when presented with a release the uses the descriptor “dark folk”. The first, of course, is suicide, because you can’t be cast adrift on a sea of wine-soaked imaginary Northern European nostalgia if you’re dead. But I usually reconsider, because I like me and don’t want me to be dead and because I don’t want to be someone who prejudges everything. That becomes very difficult when dealing with certain types of music, however, especially with something like dark or neo-folk, which seems to be made up almost entirely of people who should spend their days walking around with a sandwich board that reads: “I take myself too seriously”.
One of my great issues with music branded “dark folk” is its obstinate ignorance of what constitutes folk music. Swan Song begins with a sparse piano melody and my immediate reaction is to wonder why no one ever writes about the traveling piano minstrels of Olde Englande. I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t take liberties, but could we at least have a rule that music that’s called “______ folk” should have some sort of basis in a folk tradition?
I realize (thanks to the liner notes) that this was recorded in a home studio, but the tracks are surprisingly raw even taking that into consideration. They sound more like demos rather than finished songs, and not particularly “folk” in any sense. It’s more how I imagine Kurt Weill drunk in the middle of the night and banging out a few ideas to be developed later might have sounded.
The somewhat overwrought and extensive liner notes inform me that Swan Song is the tale of “the tragic fate of a man who enters a thorny path of transcendental experience. The main character, the bearer of an inner conflict, not only witnesses the clash of the titans, but he is also involved in the battle of powerful supernatural forces.” The songs are split between those that that are a more personal and emotional analysis and those that demonstrate “macro-catastrophe of colossal scale” (a phrase, which, incidentally, is an excellent description of itself).
While I’m sure that the composer was clear on the purpose of each track (there are ten to correspond to the ten branches of the Kabbalah), the flatness and roughness of the production and the stilted nature of many of the melodies – one group of instruments doing their part and being replaced by another, with precious little to tie them together – means the effort is in vain.
I know how hard it can be to find someone to work with, but this is the sort of work that screams out for a more experienced helping hand. Possibly, it’s the sort of thing that screams to be made into prose rather than music. It’s crying out for something, certainly. (KM)
SLEAFORD MODS Talk Bollocks 7″ (Salon After Hammer/In A Car, Germany, 2015)
Latest single from these upsetters from Nottingham whose third album ‘proper’, Key Markets, has just been released and is presently garnering widespread crtical acclaim whilst the duo themselves continue to be unwittingly foisted by certain quarters of the press as spokespeople for the underdog or downright poverty-stricken. Although there might be a partial truth in the latter, in the sense that Sleaford Mods have voiced against the sheer amount of shit the average person has to endure in modern Britain (and beyond), there’s far, far more to them and it’s only unfortunate that this fact only too often gets overlooked. One element that’s possibly not entirely aided by his role on stage of simply pressing start and stop on a battered laptop is Andrew Fearn’s talent for creating fantastic heavily bass-driven loops that are themselves drawn from a vast array of music cues (from the more green-hued plumes in hiphop to depth-charged rock and a lot in between). On ‘Talk Bollocks’, there’s a squelching minimal funk techno groove buoying proceedings that’s reminiscent of Ester Brinkmann, while Jay foams at the mouth as he pumps out more acerbic one-liners and stream-of-consciousness psychobabble pinned to a seething yet catchy chorus of “Talk bollocks”. It’s not entirely immediate, but works its way into you subtly and I’d defy anybody not to be hooked completely by the third spin. Typical of most SM singles, the flipside track, No One’s Bothered (Slow Version)’ stands up well next to the main course, too, offering as it does another thick wedge of minimal funkiness backdropping Jay proving himself to have a wider vocal range than the kind of embittered and ravaged yet savvy urban poet he’s often boxed in as. (RJ)
SOFT POWER ENSEMBLE OF VIENNA demo CDr (Austria, 2015)
I’m not in the habit of even listening to most unsolicited demos never mind writing about them. I guess the heat got to me this time, though, as this ‘un arrived only a day ago as I write this and went straight to the front of the queue. Just goes to show you can try yr luck, but I’d keep yr expectations in check. Anyway, this music hails from an international collective based in, you guessed it, Vienna. There seems to be about 150 guys in this group, most of whom possess a guitar and point it towards those symphonic maelstroms cooked up by Branca. Due to the sheer amount of strings at work it’s very easy to hear other sounds creeping into the melee, too; sometimes it’s akin to stumbling ‘pon a brass section screaming for help from an old mineshaft, at others like a buncha kids with recorders. These blankets of sound are tacked in place by a drummer vying for attention, though, plus there are enough breaks and diversions into jazzy-prog-improv territory to keep this all smelling fresh. I otherwise know little about this collective beyond knowing they appear to be pretty active and clearly crave the attention of a proper release. Right fucking now. (RJ)
SOLYPSIS To Know Death…You Have To Fuck Life in the Gallbladder 7” (Dry Lungs Records, 2014, Austria)
Two mighty slabs of rhythmic pummel that slyly nod as much towards the usual suspects as full-on and barbaric techno. An immense wash of sound that I’m sure would be great live, clearly crafted by someone (in this case, a US artist) who knows his shit. 200 only on red vinyl. I don’t mind if I do. (RJ)
SUN COLOR Parallel Tracks album (S.C.A.P. Records, 2014)
Another swift dive into the review pile here culminated in my clutching a CDr by Sun Color. I have no idea what format this album actually appears on ‘properly’, but a cursory surf revealed it might well be an ultra-limited lathe-cut LP and download (tho’ I stubbornly detest everything about downloads). I also understand this is the debut by a group based in Poland and Italy, but there might well be another group of the same name. Who knows? I’m presently paying the price for having mislaid the press sheet, no less, so am presently floundering in a place only illuminated by wine and a couple of low lights attracting enough moths to distract the cat. Parallel Tracks collects two 14+ minute pieces that combine subdued tones, spiralling flutters, random knocking sounds and all manner of other noises presumably sourced from field recordings, electronics and digital processing. Chattering machines converge with what sounds like the working away at a clunky typewriter whilst deep space signals cry for attention, dripping icicles fuse with crackling wires, and the innards of a computer protest as it is subjected to death by a thousand crashes. All of it is rendered wonderfully by virtue of an organic approach clandestine in nature, where nothing is upfront or turned into a more obvious attack. Indeed, this is a good album and if I’m right about this being Sun Color’s debut then they have certainly set out on a great footing. (RJ)
UKRYTE ZALETY SYSTEMU eponymous LP (Antenakrzyku, 2015)
From what I understand, this is the debut by a Polish trio very much indebted to the more aggressive end of the early post-punk sound. The guitars sound suitably mean and chiselled over stormy rhythms, but there’s far more to it all than just this. Coupled to its contemporary production and peppered with ideas that stretch the more obvious setting, this LP makes for an invigorating ride I’m sure would be a blast to see live. Like, say, Gang Of Four and The Ex, there’s something at once linear and progressive at work here. Agreeably angry, highly charged and uplifting, if you’re gonna listen to punk in the 21st Century, then it might as well be something at least as solid as this. Red vinyl, too! (RJ)
WIEMAN The Classics Album CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
Hiding behind the virtually unknown name Wieman are a couple of faces very well known to the experimental music community: Frans de Waard and Roel Meelkop. And rather than the “greatest hits” compilation you might expect from the title (although “greatest hits” is a questionable term with this sort of thing anyway), the album is new material made up of repurposed classics, a style that the label dubs “meltpop”. Their website offers the following helpful description of what “meltpop” is, for the seven billion odd people who haven’t heard of it yet:
“…complex constructions that can at time sound like pop/dance songs, made entirely out of samples drawn from a very specific and predetermined corpus. More insidious than plunderphonics, rounder around the edges than sound collage, and infinitely trickier than a DJ set!”
I would say that including the term “pop” in the descriptor for this album is a little misleading. It is pop insofar as sections of it have beats, which is, admittedly, more pop-like than I’ve heard from any other de Waard projects, but still a long way off even the most liberal definitions of pop music. In fact, the rhythms in this case seem to throw things off-kilter, rushing in unexpectedly, doing their own thing and then retreating from once they came. It won’t be tearing up dance floors at your local clubs anytime soon. (If it does, though, I want to know, because that would be the kind of club I’d travel to visit.)
There’s a great deal going on in the tracks, much more than you might notice at first, since some of the elements are quiet or placed deep down. Hearing the whole work is infinitely more interesting than skimming the surface, so I’d recommend either headphones or loud volume on a quality sound system to get the most out of the listening experience. Some of the samples are immediately recognizable: a twisted clip of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ that, interestingly enough, does sound a bit like it’s melting, winnows through a section of the opening track; the fourth track crumbles into a snippet of piano from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (the sample sources all reference classical music styles in their titles). Most of what you hear, however, is taken so completely out of context that the source is unidentifiable. You can always have a go at the “name that sample” game, though. This is definitely expert level.
The sound itself rests on hypnotic loops that swell and disintegrate like waves (sound waves, yuk yuk yuk). The swells can be jarring at times, but there is a delicate but strong background that keeps everything pinned together. The overall result is surprisingly beautiful, with punches of the unexpected. I am, apparently, a meltpop convert. (KM)
WIRE eponymous LP (Pinkflag, 2015)
What’s this, something like the fifteenth studio album by these post-punk pioneers-cum-art rockers? It’s been a number of years since Bruce Gilbert left, anyway, and although the group can still craft a gleaming pop nugget or fashion swathes of beautiful noise at will, I cannot help but feel Gilbert’s departure signalled a loss of some of the group’s magic. The songs here are generally on the lighter side of things. The trademark signatures remain in place, such as the carefully angled approach and melodies, but Colin Newman’s lyric references to eBay and Google Maps and the like appear half-hearted and more akin to product placement than wry critique. I hate to say it, but Wire actually sound like a band trying to copy Wire on this album. Which is far from ideal. (RJ)
ACHIM WOLLSCHEID & BERNHARD SCHREINER Calibrated Contingency CD (Baskaru, France, 2014)
I’m not in the least familiar with Benhard Schreiner’s work, but Wollscheid was first introduced to me via his involvement with Germany’s excellent Selektion label, which he co-founded with Ralf Wehowsky in the early ’90s. Known for his installations involving light and sound, his recordings mostly concerned subtle electronic tweakings that probably lost something outside the environment of a live performance but were always still captivating enough in their own right to warrant their being released on vinyl or CD. This collaborative CD is from a live show in 2011 and, true to form, comprises an improvised wash of crackling sounds, radio interference, frazzled hum and general fizzing & popping. Each sound is balanced out nicely with plenty of breathing space, where nothing outstays its welcome yet is allowed to run its own course. As so often the case, I’m sure this would have all been far more effective in its original settng, but it is dfficult to not get pulled into this network of corridors and causeways regardless of the context. What could so very easily have been a simple exercise in discomfort is more akin to a series of sketches where all possibilities are afforded. A mesmerising triumph in sound design happening in its very moment. (RJ)
ZEITKRATZER Play Lou Reed Metal Machine Music CD (Zeitktatzer, Germamy, 2014)
The first time I heard anything by this contemporary German orchestra, they were reinterpretating Whitehouse songs such as ‘Fairground Muscle Twitcher’ and ‘Munkisi Munkodi’ to considerable effect and even enlisted William Bennett’s own help to mix and oversee the recordings. Since then, I also got the Songs LP they released on Poland’s dependable Bocian label (in 2012) and a second disc dedicated to Whitehouse, but have only otherwise paid cursory interest due to the usual combination of workload, lack of funds and ever-spiralling torrents of music to explore. It’s just downright tough keeping up with everything, unfortunately, which is a shame as Zeitkratzer certainly warrant keeping up with. The four pieces here, taking Lou Reed’s notorious Metal Machine Music as their cue, compound this perfectly. Whatever your opinion of the original album (and I ‘fess to my own being torn in a few directions), the live homage here by Zeitkratzer, recorded at two festival appearances in Italy, only goes on to clarify the depths this collective will plummet in order to conjure up something utterly powerful and breathtaking. What may seem unlistenable to many in Lou Reed’s album is here rendered beautiful and almost celebratory. Yes, it’s cacophonous and consists of numerous monstously proportioned drones, but as some of the strings are sawn at and huge screeching swells are scaled, subtle melodic bridges and clusters keep everything far removed from just assuming assault status. This is a joyous and fantastically hypnotic set, simultaneously casting the original four pieces into completely new light and transforming them to the point where beauty in ugliness is given new meaning. Absolutely stunning. (RJ)