Reviews of physical releases received here by Richard Johnson (RJ) and Steve Pescott (SP). All reviews are of items either received during the past twelve months or more recently. All are from the UK unless otherwise specified. As always, if interested in anything being reviewed please pay attention to where interests lay, plus note that we do not review links to downloads or streams. Links tend to get left behind amongst the many emails received daily. Physical releases at least sit on a shelf here awaiting attention. We also just prefer to look at the whole package. We’re ‘old school’ and like tangibility. It’s that simple. Sorry if it can sometimes take a while to get to any release, too. What with the Grim Humour books and Fourth Dimension Records, besides other activities, it just gets very busy here. We get there in the end, though. Thanks.
The address can be found elsewhere, but here it is once again:
Winnicka 57B, 32-020 Wieliczka, Poland
Ale Hop Why Is It They Say a City is Like Any City? LP (Karlrecords, Germany, 2022)
Ale Hop is Peruvian sound artist Alejandra Luciana Cárdenas, who has lived in and operated from Berlin for a number of years now. Why Is It They Say… is her fifth album since her debut in 2017 and brings together six cuts which jostle heavily processed voice fragments, fractured melodies, organ shimmer, occasional minimalist rhythms and abstract electronics alongside each other like it was the most natural thing ever. With a deft command of breezy and often melancholic refrains binding together strings of sound that could easily be rendered clumsy or obtuse in the wrong hands, Ale Hop has produced an album that’s both ambitious and remarkably accessible as it repaints that fantastic bridge between the avant-garde and the outer realms of electronic music. A strong and engaging ride from beginning to end. (RJ)
Ashtray Navigations Cabin Exterior CD (Cheeses International, 2021)
It’s funny how things go sometimes. Back in the 1990s, Phil Todd, the founder and driving force behind Ashtray Navigations since its inception in about 1993, ran a label called Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers and put out all manner of sonic gunk by no-fi weirdos, Japanoise artists and those generally displaced types who doubtlessly looked at the No-Neck Blues Band and Ceramic Hobs as prime examples of ’success’ for their kind. At the same time, Steve Fricker’s Cheeses International was hobbling along with sporadic releases by the likes of Brume, Merzbow and Kapotte Muziek and his own Onomatopeia before apparently ceasing operations only a few years into the new millennium. The label then reappeared in 2020 with a new LP by Smell & Quim called Cuntybubbles, which featured contributions by the late Simon Morris of Ceramic Hobs besides plenty of absurdist-noise fuckery by Milan Srdenovic, Kate Fear and various others possessed of many violently pulsating tendrils reaching into the very same sonic cesspools largely responsible for just about everybody thus far noted. Cesspools themselves formed through too much overdosing on ESP-Disk, Brainticket, Metal Machine Music, John Fahey, The Door and the Window and maybe a dusty old Sonic Youth rehearsal tape snatched well before they they dribbled down the facial topiary of yr average proto-hipster. All going some distance to paint the natural bond between Ashtray Navigations and Cheeses International forged so well here. And while the former have remained a prolific concern over the past three decades, it’s perfectly easy to understand why Cheeses International wanted to hammer a rung onto the trajectory they’ve long been traversing. It was a marriage waiting to happen.
And a mighty fine album it is, too. I cannot say I’ve been paying close attention to what Phil Todd and co. have been producing over the years, beyond having bagged myself the odd releases every once in a while, so have no idea how Cabin Exterior compares to more recent output, but the six cuts have drawn me in repeatedly since first listening to them and magically appear to reveal new shapes each time. Always a good sign. Beginning with ‘At Throat of Night’, a track heralded in by some slightly misleading undulating drone splurge that serves as a backdrop to Todd’s fiery guitar onanism, things really pick up from the second track, ‘When God Gave Out Brains Et Cetera’, where the guitar is still a prominent feature but far better served by quasi-ambient swirl that after six minutes shifts gear completely with moody yet elegiac organs pulsing like some of Gary Mundy’s solo work into those darker crevices forever illuminated by a kaleidoscopic alien glare. It’s at this point the album truly rams home the very core of its existence and not only boldly displays why it was realised but makes it clear in no uncertain times why it has to keep jumping the queue ’round here. It’s a majestic statement that somehow makes psychedelia still seem relevant several decades on from its grand arrival via beat groups keen to map where their minds were going via all kinds of new studio trickery and electronic gizmos, whilst at the same time showing itself to be far more than just that. Over the next couple of cuts, an avant-garde sensibility looms into view through tumbling piano chords struck more like Jerry Lee Lewis in deep-sea diving boots than Morton Feldman as indiscernible gasps of unwholesome hiss lock wisps with rasping organ jabs lumbering into crepuscular rhythmic form and something even vaguely melodic enters the fray. Everything is then cast under the shadows of the guitar once more before the final cut, ‘With Candarel Spoonful Over the Mountain Rainbow’, laps at a moonlit lake like Flying Saucer Attack or one of those NZ improv-rock outfits with a borderline post-rock disorder. Somehow, magnificently, it all gels into a solid whole that aligns perfectly with what I’m craving for right now.
It is rare I am moved enough by an album to then want to purchase a few more by the same artist after, but Cabin Exterior has done exactly that. I should have been paying more attention over the years. As indeed you should, too. (RJ)
Aube Hydrophobia 1993 single-sided LP (Cheeses International, 2021)
If you’re already familiar with the late Akifumi Nakajima’s work, you will realise he was given to composing works from, very often, one or two sources. Hydrophobia 1993 is no different in this respect and, as the title suggests, uses recordings of water as a starting point. These are then heavily processed to form a lengthy whole of, no pun, immersive textural efflux that gains momentum as the track unfolds. A nice piece rendered all the more so for its sitting alone on a wholesome looking slab of blue vinyl. No sarcasm intended, either. It simply works well in its own right. The way it should be with such music. (RJ)
Ka Baird & Pekka Airaksinen Hungry Shells LP (Rvng Intl., USA, 2021)
Seven collaborative pieces by Kathleen Baird of NYC experimental psychedelic group Spires That In The Sunset Rise and the late Pekka Airaksinen, a Finnish electronic artist who gained notoriety with his improv jazz/noise group Sperm in 1970 following a live show that included one of the members fucking an audience member on top of a piano. Since then, however, Pekka forged a solo career as an avant-garde electronics artist whose works I must admit to not being familiar with, but certainly sound intriguing if Hungry Shells is anything to go by. Although some more direct rhythms or beats appear from time to time, the accompaniment to Baird’s often spoken vocals is more akin to the molten sonicscapes of Nick Mott, Graham Bowers or Organum. Other instrumentation enters the fray at various junctures, but the whole album is draped in an unsettling atmosphere perfect for shaking your fillings loose. Bastardised mulch converges with jarred robotic whirs, a computer being eviscerated and deep space groans to such great effect you know you’ll hear something different with every spin. I don’t often say this, but I really need more. Incredible stuff. (RJ)
Neil Campbell + Nick Edwards The State We’re In cassette (self-released, 2021)
At the very start of 2022, I had a short exchange of messages with Neil Campbell on Twitter due to his, I think, posting a link to a Sourdure track I liked. It transpired he had a spare copy of the LP the track was from and was happy to do a good old-fashioned trade for some stuff from my labels. Said Sourdure LP then arrived here accompanied by a few other odds and ends, including this collaborative cassette with Nick Edwards, a similarly prolific artist perhaps most known for his work as the now defunct Ekoplekz. Neil himself is perhaps most known for his work with avant-drone group Vibracathedral Orchestra, although like Nick has been working in various collaborative or group settings, as well as playing solo, since the early 1990s. I think I first became aware of Neil via a collab. LP with Richard Youngs and Simon Wickham-Smith released by Forced Exposure in 1992, which is quite some time ago, although I must admit to not having played this LP for many years (and must now remedy this!). Am sure Neil used to write for a ‘zine like E.S.T. or even Music from the Empty Quarter as well around this period. It’s all, perhaps understandably, somewhat hazy now.
The seven cuts that constitute the wonderfully titled The State We’re In roll gently enough around pulsing electronic loops, Steve Reich-esque keys, clockwork whirs and ticks, plus torrents of indiscernible psychedelic squelch occasionally fostered by sci-fi jabs akin to a low-slung cousin of prime period Conrad Schnitzler. It’s all pretty amazing, with plenty of moods shifted through, ranging from brooding to the comparatively sprightly. A huge shame this is only on a cassette that probably went out to, I dunno, thirty or so listeners. Mighty work that deserves far more. (RJ)
Dead Voices On Air Abrader: Redux CD (Cold Spring, 2022)
Remastered reissue of Mark Spybey’s debut album, originally released on cassette in 1992, as DVOA. I cannot say how this compares to the original version, but would like to think the overhaul has brought out some warmth and greater attention to the nuances to be found embedded in pieces built around loops and the kinda electronic weaving one might expect from a chap who was once a member of Zoviet France and has subsequently long been a presence on the industrial drone circuit. The three tracks that formed the original tape are quite lengthy and definitely nod back to those cruder times when loops were built around analogue tape spliced into segments that’d have to run around a studio before taking effect. None of them are easy listening or comfortably blend into the background. Whilst not as abrasive as certain industrial music pioneers, they head closer to this direction and never deliver on the mere hint of expansiveness they’re equally imbued with. Another four recordings from 1994 flesh out the rest of the album, but the most rewarding are the two which feature Skinny Puppy’s cEvin Key on additional Moog and barrell drum. Both of these assume a more hypnotic quality guided by rhythms that most would deem ‘tribal’ and, once again, a part of DVOA’s later trademark sound. In this respect I’m reminded also of Rapoon’s work and, again, how that also arrived from the ZF wellspring. All of it works well as a document of former times still worth dipping into once in a while, though. (RJ)
Destrifan Fantasies cassette (Knotwilg, Belgium, 2021)
Ten pieces of ambient electronics by a duo featuring a member with a Surface of the Earth connection. Mostly, they see textures and sheets of glistening sheen sliding into and over each other, but once in a while a track will murmur with a fizziness that elevates it beyond. I was, coincidentally enough, reading a comment made by Room40’s Lawrence English as I listened to this cassette for a second time whereby he remarked that ambient music is “a process” that’s never finished. The exact opposite of Keith Rowe once stating that every improvised piece of music should be seen as a finished composition. It’s something to ponder over on a wet Saturday afternoon here in Krakow, although ultimately our own barometers decide what’s good and bad in a typically subjective manner. Fantasies may or may not be part of a ‘process’, but it is pleasant and listenable, with enough going on to maintain interest. (RJ)
DID End of Xibalba CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2022)
From what I can gather, this is the debut solo album by Warsaw’s Hania Piosik, who has been previously caught operating in a synth duo called Joy Pop and the Warsaw Improvisers Collective, amongst others. It gathers four lengthy pieces which mostly jostle along a plane that brings together bubbling, almost kosmische, synth sounds, contemporary atmospherics, subtly fluttering rhythms and a sense of otherness that I guess attempts to encapsulate the Mayan name of the title, meaning a place or space of fear, but is actually far too pleasant for that. It’s not a criticism, either, as these pieces unfold and caress their setting just perfectly, with the mood being more relaxed and akin to falling back into the clutches of a dream uneasy around the edges yet too good to wake from. Three of the four pieces work really well together in this manner, but the last cut, the comparatively short ‘Lightment’, with its ragged and heavily treated voice drifting in and out of a mesh of rolling keyboards and electronic sounds, feels rather half-formed and out of place. Otherwise, a good album that’s rich in its scope and firmly pointed towards wonderful things to come. If this is what ‘fear’ is doing to Hania Piosik, then staying afraid is going to serve her well. (RJ)
Doc Wör Mirran Feat. Schnitzler/Emerge Diaspar Parts 13 – 22 CDr (Attenuation Circuit, Germany, 2021)
From what I gather this is the second such collection of collaborations originally recorded in the 1990s before being then subjected to more work a year or so ago. Sound sources were provided by the late Conrad Schnitzler, Attenuation Circuit’s own Sascha Stadlmeier (a.k.a. Emerge), Michael Wurzer, Stefan Schweiger and Ralf Lexis. DWM’s own Joseph B. Raimond then arranged everything for the ten tracks assembled here, each one simply called ‘Diaspar’ and numbered accordingly. If already familiar with DWM, you’ll know that you can be taken anywhere within a roughly hewn electronic landscape of unevenly chiselled synth shards, ’50s sci-fi film noodling, found dialogue, chirps, miasmic psychedelic undertow and broken industrial weirdness of the kind Nurse With Wound were kings at back in the day. Along the way, everything is sometimes loosely held together by a rhythmic interlude or a series of crackles, whirrs and wheezes that look like they were placed into a semblance of order, but mostly this is typical bizarro DWM fare and, frankly, every bit as good as it can be because of that. I don’t often turn to my DWM releases but when I do I always thoroughly enjoy them. I get the impression Joseph B. Raimond always kinda liked his firm ‘outsider’ status, hence not actively pursuing much beyond, but a lot of his music certainly warrants far more attention than it’s ever been accorded. Of course, on this CD the distinct presence of Schnitzler can also be felt (and anybody with a keen interest in abstract electronic music should already have at least a few of his solo records!), but I’m sure all the other sound sources have played an equally significant role. It’s a great collection of pieces, anyway. Just wish I had the first disc now. (RJ)
Tom Flaherty Mixed Messages – Music for Humans and Electronics CD (New Focus Recordings, USA, 2022)
Nine pieces by this Los Angeles-based cellist and electronic music composer who has been active for a considerable while and is know for directing the Electronic Music Studio. On Mixed Messages – Music for Humans and Electronics, we are treated to a collection of electroacoustic works which are focussed on an array of stringed instruments, organ and toy piano being used for everything from folk-tinged to subtly dissonant passages themselves buoyed by often sprightly electronic sounds. ‘Threnody’, featuring the cello work of Maggie Parkins, is a comparatively stark and dramatic counterpoint, whilst the three-part ‘Recess’ gravitates towards similarly avant-garde flourishes rife with contrasts that especially come into their own when the electronics flesh the proceedings out. Melodic bridges jostle alongside sweeping tones and gentle rhythmic inflections to considerable effect, perfectly displaying exactly how competent a contemporary composer Flaherty is. The remaining pieces do little to belie the overall mood of these pieces, bringing together warmth, beauty and sombre realism to a rich setting steeped in organic fervour. (RJ)
Florian Weiss’ Woodoism Alternate Reality CD (Nwog, Switzerland, 2021)
The latest from this young Swiss quartet led by trombonist Florian Weiss proffers ten mostly quite short pieces of melodic yet sprightly enough jazz that showcases some great musicianship catering for all moods. The lengthiest piece, ‘Valse De Papillons De Nuit’, spanning just over 8 mins, is a sombre affair somewhat reflective in nature and perfect for the bass, sax and drums accompaniment to breathe, whilst ‘Feuer Im Termitenhügel’ assumes the kinda untamed posture I personally prefer in such music. In between, hooks fly in all directions yet remain underpinned by a sense of refinement suitable for a late night lounge. There are some inventive touches along the way, especially when Philipp Leibundgut brings in his glockenspiel to flesh things out, but I’d like to hear these players sound less constrained. The cover artwork by Corinne Hächler is fantastic, anyway. (RJ)
Rhys Fulber Brutal Nature CD (FR Recordings, Canada, 2021)
The fourth solo album by this co-founder of post-industrial electronic/EBM stalwarts Front Line Assembly catches him producing a pandemic/lockdown-inspired album of mostly aggressive but sometimes more reflective techno-based electronica of the kind I’m sure his fanbase will love. Perfect for these times, Brutal Nature is an unsettling voyage through relentless obsidian beats, brooding synth swells, occasional melodic detours and ravaged ambience. Vocalist Jeza helps lift the proceedings on three of the tracks, with ‘Fragility’ even possessed of a slight poppy edge vaguely recalling the likes of Faithless or Underworld in their more contemplative moments. Mostly, however, the tracks here are unflinching in their assault, driving home the album’s simple premise concerning humanity and nature’s power to overcome it. Youth Code’s Sara Taylor guests on final cut, ‘Stare at the Sun’, which is an appropriate demolition ball of an EBM-flavoured sonic overload to round things off with. Mighty. (RJ)
Gaap Kvlt eponymous CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2021)
This Polish artist first came to my attention via the now defunct BDTA label (also from Poland) and a series of limited run CDr releases almost 10 years ago. Since then, there have been a few albums ‘proper’ compounding a bare-bones minimalist rhythm stance of the kind Pan Sonic once likewise sculpted huge ice blocks from. The eleven tracks collected here, however, are from those early and now o/p CDr releases dominated by this atmosphere where post-industrial sounds are carefully knitted to stripped-down rhythms set to stun. Cranked up, it’s all very effective and appears like a take on Plastikman’s Closer period yet with added refinery sounds poised less for the dancefloor and more for that dystopian nightmare one may now feel themselves trapped in. To that end, even Gaap Kvlt’s oldest music makes more sense now than when first released. (RJ)
Robert Haigh Human Remains CD (Unseen Worlds, USA, 2022)
Fully aware of both Haigh’s dalliance with Steven Stapleton and having had an album released by him in 1987 called Valentine Out of Season, I was curious to hear this. The title alone proved beguiling enough, but to be honest rather belies the thirteen compositions gathered. Most of them are more akin to vignettes since they, a couple of exceptions aside, span two or three minutes. Each one is centred on some breezy and organic piano playing occasionally embellished with electronics or location recordings (or both) and other subtle bursts of instrumentation. It’s clear that Haigh is a master of the piano and doubtlessly nods towards the likes of Harold Budd, but that’s not to suggest there isn’t something of his own at work here. Although much of the playing is delicate, it is still neatly contoured with an array of light and dark shading. Everything might appear gentle enough on first listen, but revisits reveal a lot of depth to these pieces that takes on an almost soundtrack-ish hue. My only criticism is that the brevity of these works goes against them, ultimately. The highlight for me is ‘Lost Albion’, lasting just over six minutes and fleshed out with some carefully hewn beach sounds, subtle banks of moody synth and even what sounds like a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it trumpet stab. ‘Still Life with Moving Parts’, clocking up a grand total of three minutes, is possibly the next standout for me, but as with each and every piece I’d love to hear what Robert does with some lengthier compositions. As it stands, however, Human Remains is a breathtaking addition to the canon where contemporary ambient music meets the easier side of modern classical. (RJ)
It Dockumer Lokaeltsje Alles is Goed CD (Makkum Records, The Netherlands, 2020)
This is quite old now, but got snagged at the bottom of the box of review material and unfortunately stayed there till a few days ago when I fished it out and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. IDL, as they are known, are a Dutch post-punk group who’ve existed since the mid-1980s and have a few albums behind them. Alles is Goed collects ten short songs (only a couple reach beyond the three minute mark) full of muscular yet angled rhythms that give way to plenty of space, king-sized bouts of pummel where guitars also sweat it out, or what sounds like a combination of carefully hewn keyboard tones and gnarled synth lines carving out some atmosphere. Sometimes I think of fellow countrymen The Ex or the long gone No Tomorrow Charlie, but there’s little in the way of the former’s more jazzed-out tendencies and, instead, an allusion to the artsier likes of Pere Ubu fused with the near-metal heaviness of (again, fellow countrymen) early Gore. I realise I’m throwing a lot of references around here and it’s pretty fucking lazy, too. Everything is sung in Dutch, no less, so I have no idea what they’re singing about, but this does not get in the way of an album that not only sounds like it means business, but must be one of the very few to clock in at less than 23 minutes these days. Curious. (RJ)
Jarl Mindrotation CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2022)
During the past twenty or so years, Sweden’s Erik Jarl appears to have released more albums than most artists manage in twice as much time. I don’t know how the five pieces on this new one compare to his previous output, but they’re far better than the ‘dark ambient’ tag often levelled at his work suggest. In fact, they’re closer to what I’d expect from a contemporary ambient artist to produce. While heavily shaded in places, each of these tracks is buoyed by crystalline tones, gently sweeping key changes, vacillating gauze and a carefully honed sheen to the hints of murk that serve everything well. It’s a rewarding listen that perhaps owes more to the late Klaus Schulze or the Fax label than Lustmord. The only thing that lets it all down is the terrible album title. Perhaps I’m missing a reference to something here, but it seems pretty lacklustre. Get past that and you’ll find a listening experience every bit as good as some of the giants of the genre. (RJ)
Lean Left Mederner CD (PNL, Norway, 2020)
Mederner is the eighth or ninth album by this fiery free music quartet featuring Paal-Nilssen Love (percussion), Terrie Ex (left guitar), Ken Vandermark (sax and clarinet) and Andy Moor (right guitar). Obviously, with a lineup of this calibre we’re not going to get any half-arsed stabs at the tumultuous end of improv here. Rather, these six cuts, recorded live in Warsaw, show the guys at the top of their game, delivering hammer blow after hammer blow of sonic fuckery that even the relents to quieter passages are akin to the sound of a limb being sawn off without anaesthetic while court jesters run amok. Absolutely wonderful stuff but, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t expect anything less. (RJ)
Andrew Liles Blood Theme CD (Ultra Mail Records, Hong Kong, 2021)
Avant sound manipulator Andrew Liles has been scratching that creative itch for a considerable amount of time with numerous solo works and collaborations; Faust’s Jean-herve Peron, Nigel Ayers (Nocturnal Emissions, etc.) and in a more well-known bracket; those with Nurse with Wound’s Steven Stapleton, to name but a few. After earlier ventures that were marginally more ear-friendly, such as And Aura Gram, In my Father’s House and Ouarda, his career, over time, can be thought of (using a well-worn cliche), as a snowball rolling down a hill, accumulating gnarlier chunks of debris as it travels ever downward. Those gnarlier chunks on this ridiculously limited release come thick and fast. with the opener ‘Stainless Steel’, you’ll be immediately struck by the cavernous production values – you could lose a well-populated city in this, alongside metallic percussion (naturally) and a particularly menacing sequencer motif. The sublimely creepy ‘Transubstantiation’ follows in which a Satanic choir (?), fresh from Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club stamps its infernal presence on the proceedings. While ‘Mody 6’ is a perfect marriage of corrosive (and at times painful) guitar skree and cro-magnon drum clatter. reminiscent of ne’er-do-wells from the U.S. underground of yore like Unholy Swill and Abu Nidal.
One nice touch is that all the tracks segue into each other – a sleight of hand that really works on the penultimate and closing pieces – which obviously keeps the tension levels permanently in the red, being my new favourite colour. And before I close, a mention must really go to the sleeve artist Shintaro Kago; proud owner of a warped nib and an even more warped mind. his remarkably executed, devil in the detail illustration of a trip to the dentist (!) is truly beyond the pale. Cancel my check-up! (SP)
Kate Moore Revolver CD (Unsounds, The Netherlands, 2021)
Revolver is the sixth album by this Australian composer who now resides in The Netherlands. Built around eight pieces originally designed for a dance performance, the arrangements are cut from a generally more sombre or reflective setting that allows room for the intricacies of stringed instruments, including a harp, violin and double bass, to either swell profoundly alongside the percussion of four pieces or glide gently into spaces both majestic and evocative. Ultimately, there’s an air of serenity spread throughout the entire album which nicely offsets the tugging of different, or even disparate, melodic gestures. It’s akin to staring at a vast lake as the sun sets whose still surface belies the power of life itself beneath. Beautiful. (RJ)
Manuel Mota Cirrus CD/Marcia Bassett, Margarida Garcia & Manuel Mota Survival of Laments CD (Headlights Records, 2021 and 2020 respectively, Portugal)
Perusing his CV, Portuguese avant guitarist Manuel Mota has rubbed shoulders with names such as Akira Sakata, Jason Kahn and Noel Akchote and was also known for time served in Osso Exotico, Curia and AufHeben. But he has another bow to his string as he’s also the sole curator of the Headlights imprint. During the past two decades or so, it’s been a small but well appointed source of interest for those of a left-field inclination. Using both hands and fingers, I’d surmise that Manuel’s Cirrus CD could well be edging towards his eighteenth solo release for the label. Prolific, eh? As for Cirrus, a.k.a. ‘…high altitude, thin, wispy, fibrous cloud…’ unquote., its title fits like a glove, in which almost hesitantly plucked notes glide past in a stately procession, aided by breathy wafts of reverb and insistent sustain. Recorded at Ericeira, Portugal on September 28th, 2021, this five-part suite comes expertly mastered by Tokyo denizen Taku Unami, whose microscopic A2D means that you can almost hear Manuel’s breath while hunched over his favourite six-string. A more than serviceable slice of avant guitar experimentalism then, for those interested in following the trail of discarded plectrums left by Manuel Gottsching, Gunter Schickert and to a lesser extent, Robert Fripp’s ‘Frippertronix’ rig-up.
Manuel also forms a third point in an equilateral triangle made up of fellow experimentalists Marcia Bassett (a.k.a. Zaimph, see also Double Leopards and Hototogisu…). on guitar and avant contrabassist/sleeve artist Margarida Garcia; a vital cog in sessions with Loren Connors, Mattin and Thurston Moore among others. Captured within the confines of the medieval church of Janskerk in Utrecht, Holland in August of 2018, Survival of Laments‘ very existence was triggered off by a previously aired 2vocal performance of fifteenth century polyphonic laments…” to which the three-piece were invited to respond, all the while unavoidably soaking up an ambience eight centuries deep. Cut neatly into two complementary sections, one’s ears are immediately struck by this ultra-cavernous recording, again an expertly mastered job, this time by Stephen Cooper of New York. The long, extended and mournful drones of the trio, in which Margarida’s fathom deep excavations underpin a shrieking melee of what seems to be a pair of frantically bowed/scraped six strings, seemingly resemble an extremely agitated Tony Conrad session set in the very bowels of the earth. Now, if that’s not a recommendation, what is?? (SP)
N.U.N. ‘Nocturnal Discombobulation (Parts 1 & 2)’ 7″ (Telesterion Records, Norway, 2022)
After an energy-sapping decade or two screaming sub-Crowley poesie and shaking their fists at the sky (to the general bemusement of passers-by), it made perfect sense for some of those in the black metal fraternity to set their basilisk glare towards marginally less fraught area of self-expression. Step forward death/dark ambient… though by now, hardly a spring chicken itself (still useful for a sacrifice or two, though…). It’s a sub-genre that’s as restrictive as a newly acquired choke-chain and our heroes, N.U.N., are trapped in it like a fly in amber, like so many before them. The sleeve art showing demonic entities, pentacles and a naked femme reclining on a penis throne (???) means that I can almost hear the contents before the stylus hits home.
Black clouds of deep foreboding (c/o crackly sampling ‘n’ drone ‘scaping), will inevitably fog up your contacts, and as for the real cherry on the icing – the group are dedicated to the destruction of Christianity and probably the local women’s institute, too. So, while we imagine baby Jesus receiving a devilish custard pie to his angelic features we can also muse on the amount of progress made by black metal and its satellites since Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos tome. Nun. (SP)
The Orphanage Committee Continuities Vol.1. CD (EE Tapes, Belgium, 2022)
This looks like the debut release by a new project of Belgium’s Orphan S. C. Wallace, who has done at least a couple of other releases before that might have come from his background in post-dancefloor electronic sounds. The five fairly lengthy pieces here, each called ‘Continuity’ and numbered accordingly, owe more to the moulding of post-industrial shapes than anything else yet are elevated beyond by embellishments more readily found in contemporary electronica. Loops and pulses throb and gently collide, whilst tones, robotic groans, subtle chiming sounds, heaving whirs and a space station’s alarm sympathetically ringing as it slowly implodes all add up to a whole that’s far more compelling than this may seem. Although a little crude at times, it’s clear The Orphanage Committee is onto something. Only 100 of these, too. Cannot wait to hear where Wallace takes this project next. (RJ)
Pas Musique Psychedelic Talismans LP (Alrealon Musique, USA, 2021)
A completely new name for me, but New York’s Pas Musique have been going since the mid-1990s and started as a solo project of Robert L. Pepper’s before evolving into a group that, as the title of this album indicates, draws from psychedelia as well as kosmische music and the more outward-bound reaches of electronic music. Of course, it’s a blend that can be found amongst many these days, but Pas Musique approach it with a playfulness that’s neither irritating or which strays too far from traversing murkier waters. While the electronics are often clunky and archaic in nature, they work well alongside torrents of immersive swirl, submerged voices and a guitar that makes me think of Snakefinger’s work with The Residents or even early Cabaret Voltaire. It’s a neat mix and arrives charged with the power to pull one back for repeat listens, so I’m curious how their collaborations with Rapoon several years ago panned out. Not only that, I’m generally curious to hear more. Wonderful stuff. (RJ)
RG Rough 70 LP (Bam Balam, France, 2022)
Until I received a copy of the promo CD for this album, I’d never heard of RG Rough. Typically, I sat on the CD for a while before fishing it from the review stack with little more than a withered hope it’d at least be more engaging than the last thing I threw back there in disgust after only a few minutes. However, the aptly titled 70, the fifth album by Robert G. Rough since 2019’s debut 60, grabbed me so hard my jaw slammed to the floor and cracked a couple of teeth. Which is exactly what I want from new or unfamiliar music snatched here or, well, just about anywhere else. I liked this so much I even wrote to the label to bag myself a copy of the actual LP in a small trade. Not often I feel compelled to even propose such a thing these days, which might well have a few of you wondering what it is that made this album feel so special. Thankfully, this neat little label from France obliged, too. It’s the kinda thing I do, so is always nice to know there are a few kindred spirits still around.
The album itself gathers two compositions that span around 22 minutes each. These use mostly unrecognisable processed samples of dozens of ’70s records which are woven into a whole based entirely around movement and rhythms pulsing somewhere between the spirit of prime Conrad Schnitzler or Neu! and the electronic ambient spillage of Manuel Göttsching. Of course, using specific source material as a starting point to fresh compositions is not a new concept in itself, but RG Rough appears to have dedicated a lot of time into perfecting music which through the wonders of his own alchemy assumes an entirely new voice. Along the way, these works both evoke the spirit of the decade they’re sourced from whilst sounding completely and utterly contemporary. There’s also a fantastic energy behind these works. Everything is buoyed by this so much it’s easy to overlook the almost neurological precision behind the patchwork these sounds are built from. I must have listened to this album around a dozen times now and different tiny details bubble to the surface every play. Easily one of my favourites this year. Don’t overlook it. (RJ)
Jakob Schauer In Death I Am Caressing You CD (Forwind, Ireland, 2021)
You might mistakenly take the title of this new album by Vienna-based sound artist Jakob Schauer to be something related to either metal or goth. As becomes clear over the seven tracks, though, these works have far more to do with grizzled electronics, musique concrete, gently unfolding textures, stabs of volcanic noise and the kind of beats which wouldn’t appear out of place sewn into the sonic attack of a post-industrial outfit. Like so much such music, I’m sure Schauer draws from the worlds of avant-garde music as much as more direct and accessible work, but he successfully moulds everything into an invigorating listening experience designed perfectly to take one to all kinds of spaces, both comfortable and the exact opposite. There’s a dramatic quality that serves everything well, and even subtle nods to melody tucked throughout that assume a more psychedelic flavour at times, ultimately adding up to one of those great albums that seems to sound different with every play. Good stuff. (RJ)
Schröttersburg Om Shanti Om LP (Zoharum, Poland, 2022)
Many will be familiar with the meaning of this album’s title as, quite simply, ‘peace’ in Hindi. It’s a chant used as a salutation and is common in prayer. Schröttersburg, however, appear to use it as a starting point to an album of six songs that assume the group’s longstanding meshing of stark post-punk gestures, despairing lyrics and unbridled anger kept in check by some pretty hefty pummel and guitar savagery sometimes recalling Killing Joke or Poland’s very own Siekiera. The ‘peace’ adopted here amounting to either something ironic or wielded like a symbol of hope that, unfortunately, won’t amount to much more than exactly that for many. Perhaps it relates to something more internalised, though? The only peace anybody can really achieve is the one found within ourselves if we succeed with the many struggles encountered along the way. Whatever is behind the title of Schröttersburg’s sixth album ‘proper’ certainly belies some of the turmoil evident in the music, but that’s not a complaint. Far from it. The very first track (untitled and, like all of them, simply numbered) hints at the exploration of new ground, given its own sitar-driven mantric stance and still slightly serrated psychedelic edge. As much as the trademark sound works well in their hands, it’d be great to hear this side pushed further. A strong album regardless, though. Highly recommended. (RJ)
Snowdrops Inner Fires CD (Forwind, Ireland, 2021)
Third album, to my knowledge, by this French duo of Christine Ott (piano, gong) and Matthieu Gabry (piano, keyboards, tubular bells, effects) who, on the fourth and final cut, ‘Rüptur 47’, are also aided by Richard Knox on guitar. The four pieces slide gently into that space between contemporary ambient and that strand of music often known as ‘modern classical’ but is more often than not hewn from filmic textures, moody dynamics and little in the way of the more pronounced avant-garde sensibilities I’d personally equate the description with. What’s clear over the four pieces that constitute Inner Fires, however, is the depth of the sheer craftsmanship at work. The allusion to film soundtrack work is buoyed not only by the actual quality of the musicianship but also Christine’s own experience in having done such work before when collaborating with Tindersticks on Claire Denis movies, such as 2013’s Les Salauds. She is also recognised globally as a leading player of the ondes Martenot, an early keyboard. With all this in mind, it’s fair to say Inner Fires has a greater range than most such music due to its being imbued with a combination of stark tones and softer hues. For this reason alone, it makes for a commanding listen too good to simply reside in the background. Another triumphant release by the always reliable Forwind. (RJ)
XFnX Ex Nihilo CDr (Attenuation Circuit, Germany, 2021)
Four lengthy enough heavy rhythmic electronic pieces that clearly draw from sweat-drenched four-the-floor techno, the dancefloor side of industrial music and several clawhammer swings to the back of one’s cranium. Dirty and dingy basement music for those hours when the light is beginning to break once again and the chemicals need a firm crutch. Only a hundred of these. You know the drill. (RJ)
Zsolt Sőrés Mitragyna Metro 2CD (Hinge Thunder, Hungary, 2021)
Zsolt Sőrés is a friend of mine and has not only been involved in collaborations with a group I’m in, but has graced my Fourth Dimension label with a couple of releases (so far) and I’m certain will remain a presence I want in all these realms. Usually, I’d try to steer clear of reviewing anything by those orbiting around my own endeavours, but Zsolt is an artist deserving of far more attention than he gets and even if these loosely spat words here only snag the interest of a couple more people towards his work then it’s worth it. On Mitragyna Metro, the latest release from his recently founded Hinge Thunder imprint, there are four pretty lengthy pieces that both chew on Zsolt’s penchant for a quasi-mystical approach to powerful psychedelic textures that glide and jostle over each other like undulating waves of seepage from a popped skull as well as more electroacoustic forms. Although known mostly for his work on the viola, he has always augmented it with an array of electronics and gadgets which either bring out new sounds from it or enrich it somehow. A skilled musician who works brilliantly either in an alchemical collaborative setting or solo, he draws from music’s outer reaches, adds the depth and drama learnt from avant-garde composition, and renders everything with a magical charm rendered by years of experience as a high-calibre improviser whose intuition rarely wavers. On the first disc, Zsolt ramps up the almost kosmische setting he’s now a master at, with both pieces serving vast labyrinthine layers of curdled sonics ideal for falling backwards into, while the second one proffers far more in the way of jagged rhythms and deeply serrated shapes from his strings that might well’ve stemmed from a bad day. On top of these, electronics crackle and hiss alongside heaved blocks of knocking sounds never afforded the chance to develop into a hypnotic state while prehistoric animals groan preposterously and pitifully as they die in close proximity to the proceedings. Most of the psychedelic undercurrents here are eschewed in favour of a comparatively less comfortable journey still worth taking for all the nightmarish yet fantastic visions moulded into view and only a subtle reference to an ’80s episode of Twilight Zone (called ‘Wordplay’) furnishes one with anything to latch onto directly. Thankfully, I like all that kinda stuff, however. Very much. Only 100 of these albums made, so get to it. (RJ)
Linnea Talp Arch of Motion CD (Thanatosis Records, Sweden, 2022)
Debut solo album collecting eight drone works utilising pipe organ, modular synth, trombone, flute, clarinet, piano, voice, guitar and other instrumentation by Linnea Talp and guests including Martin Kuchen, Christer Bothen, Mariam Wallentin and Mandus Almqvist. Animated and entrenched in detail, each piece may be somewhat bound by the premise of such music yet still yields something beautiful, moving and almost dreamlike. Pieces such as ‘Råsunda Kyrka (Exhale)’ work especially well for the voice accompaniment as well. Music to fall backwards into. (RJ)
Θ (Theta) Vision of One CD (Zoharum, Poland, 2022)
Some cursory research into the work of Greek artist Themistoklis Altintzoglou, who operates under the guise of Θ (or Theta, the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet and also a symbol used in physics and chemistry), reveals he has been traversing the doom-laden end of the ambient plane for a number of years now and over the previous two years alone is credited with having produced almost ten albums. The five pieces on Vision of One do little to belie why it’s conceivable that anybody given to creating such music can do so fairly easily, too. They follow the usual pattern of wedding deep drones with incandescent synths, murky swirls and an array of submerged screams or voices taken straight from the handbook. Accordingly, the ‘vision’ of ‘one’ here amounts to somebody blindsided by the usual medley of tropes as they stumble down the stairs towards an empty basement emblazoned with the words ‘nothing to be found here,’ just in case the glaring vacuity was not already enough. As I get older, I try to avoid dismissing most people’s music like I once did. I try to look for the positives and likewise attempt to fathom what actually compels those responsible to create it in the first instance. There are still exceptions to my effort towards being reasonable, however, and this album is most definitely one of them. A shocking exercise in abject pointlessness. (RJ)
Taumel + Ensemble Adapter ‘In Pieces – Volume One’ 10″ (Drone Records, Germany, 2021)
From what I can gather, Taumel are a duo given to playing a kinda ravaged and decidedly avant-garde jazz on guitars, keyboards and samplers, while Ensemble Adapter have here thrown in percussion, voices, various stringed instruments (including a harp), tapes, a flute and clarinet. Taumel were then responsible for mixing and producing the eight untitled cuts here, which take on a patchwork of grizzled electronics, fragmented melodies, submerged voices, interstellar beeps, often broken rhythms and an overall approach to sound-making promised yet never fully delivered by a group like Matmos. This is far deeper and so laden with intriguing nooks and crannies that it requires a few listens for some of it to start making more sense. Which is a good thing, by the way. A couple of the cuts are more immediate and possessed of a more avant-rock sensibility, but only if one can imagine that then being dragged whilst kicking into shape by early Negativland. I never expected anything like this from Drone Records, either, even if an entry in their Substantia Innominata series. A fantastic surprise. I could use more of this. These Taumel guys are onto something. (RJ)
Christian Wallumrød Speaksome CD (Hubro, Norway, 2021)
Operating since the ’90s, this Norwegian jazz pianist has had quite a number of solo and collaborative releases out since, although to my knowledge this is the first I’ve encountered. Using an autoharp and electronics, including even a dash of drum programming, alongside the piano, the seven pieces here are of a contemporary nature yet still lean towards the lighter side of things. Airy melodic lines are punctuated by space, softly struck chords and carefully guided detours into comparatively more abstract territory, such as on second cut ‘Speakless’, which is only let down by its brevity. A lot of ground is covered within its setting, proving that Wallumrød’s ability to craft compositions from a natural ability to explore appears effortless in his hands. (RJ)
Zenial Lancelot’s Delusions CD (Sublime Retreat, Poland, 2021)
Poland’s Lukasz Szalankiewicz has been creating music under the Zenial guise for almost 20 years now. Placed next to his various other collaborative projects he has been quite a prolific artist dedicated to the worlds inhabited by electronic music, with his expansive oeuvre seeping everywhere from sound art to post-industrial and techno music. On Lancelot’s Delusions we are treated to four lengthy tracks that start out like Roland Kayn’s voyages into subtly vacillating shimmer before later embracing carefully treated location recorded chatter more akin to some of The Hafler Trio’s work before then once again subsiding to its atonal stance. Everything is woven together with typical Zenial finesse but, what with a booklet featuring nothing but colourful computer-generated images that look like they’re from a bygone era, I’m wondering what the connection to the Arthurian legend of the title is. Maybe I’m missing something here? (RJ)
V/A Atonal Volume 2: Encyclopedia of Obscure Aural Wonders – ’80s/’90s cassette (SPH, Portugal, 2021)
Now this was a pleasant surprise! Back in the early ’90s, Portugese label SPH was a prolific addition to the worlds of post-industrial, electronic, ‘noise’ and avant-garde music via cassette releases by the likes of Blackhumour, Brume, Maeror Tri, The Haters, Merzbow, Another Headache, Smersh, Crawling With Tarts and many others. It then went into a protracted hiatus in about 1994 until relaunching as a digital label in 2015 before returning to its medium of choice in 2021 when it once again started backing many cassette albums by artists mostly rarely found beyond the realms of such low-slung releases. Atonal Volume 2: Encyclopedia of Obscure Aural Wonders – ’80s/’90s, exactly as the title suggests, collects a contribution each by some of the many players found operating in the DIY culture first spawned in the late 1970s but still going strong well into the 1990s. Artists featured include Mr. Ebu, PBK, Randy Greif, Pacific 231, Comando Bruno, Trance, Emil Beaulieau, Lieutenant Caramel and many more I’m sure you’re no more familiar with than I am. Mixing everything from concrete noise to abstract electronic pieces and even a healthy dose of avant-pop, the whole compilation succeeds as a fantastic overview of the weird and wonderful sounds and styles to be found nestled in such restless waters. While on one hand much of this music warrants the attention of a CD or vinyl release, its being snagged here on a doubtlessly limited cassette perhaps makes the most perfect sense. The tape even arrived with an old school photocopied pamphlet dedicated to SPH’s catalogue and some distro items, like stepping back in time to a place still unique and absolutely fascinating that’s part of anybody’s blood should they have already been there. Good to see SPH back. (RJ)
V/A Drone-Mind//Mind-Drone Volume 8 LP (Drone Records, Germany, 2021)
The Drone Mind//Mind-Drone compilation LP series has been operating for the best part of ten years now, pretty much doing exactly as one might expect from a range of records titled thus in bringing together a number of artists directly affiliated with or sometimes dabbling with ‘drone’ music. Naturally, and regardless of my own occasional protestations about such music, this is a term often lazily thrown about by those who tend to overlook exactly what it means next to the broad spectrum of proponents who deploy ‘drones and textures’ in their work yet both approach it from a wide variety of different angles and are quite capable of nourishing it with ideas drawn from disparate sources. While I’ll forever stand against those one-dimensional artists given to churning out slabs of drab timbres that hang in the ether like a bad smell that needs nuking with the pleasant scent of incense, many of the artists who’ve peppered this particular series so far seem to be a cut above, thankfully, and this entry is especially good. Snagging a total of six tracks by four artists on delightful purple vinyl, this is great way to become acquainted with any or all of them if not already familiar.
The first side clearly illustrates just how far-reaching the universe of ‘drone’ is. First up is Japan’s Kazuya Ishigami with ‘Clean 2020’ spanning nearly 13 minutes and absorbing all from processed field recordings to wavering tones, calming loops and what sounds like a space probe lost to a black hole, it’s far from yr granny’s arguments that La Monte Young-style minimalism was and is the final word on the matter. Following this is a similarly lengthy piece by US duo Aume, but this is perhaps the most ordinary contribution to the LP. Although powerful as it chugs along its miasmic meshing of deep timbres, train samples, anguished voices and low-key drum patterns before falling headlong into some psycho-ambience, it ultimately tastes like something I heard well over two decades ago. The guys should do something about that name as well. Too close to Aube.
The second side commences with Hiroshimabend’s ‘Syllabarimau’, which takes up over half of it and merges drifting shimmers, crystalline rhythms and carefully crafted key changes heavy in atmosphere and perfect for my staring out at the night sky and an almost full moon. There’s a vague whiff of Coil’s Musick to Play in the Dark to it, but there’s enough other stuff going on to take this beyond. Hiroshimabend produces a lot of music that’s then available online, but I strongly feel a physical album will appear some day soon that’ll truly take things up a couple more notches. Meantime, dive in. Anybody with an interested in such moody atmospherics will find much to enjoy here. After this, there are three shorter Baldruin pieces which are incredible blends of melancholic songwriting, hazy drifting, nicely crafted dialogue samples, pulsing rhythms and guitar parts that round things off absolutely perfectly.
All in all, a wonderful entry in the series, perhaps bridging the older stylings via Aume with the new and far more contemporary and forward-looking sounds proffered by the other contributors. Neat Pete Greening artwork adorning a Puppy38 designed sleeve, too. What’re ya waiting for? (RJ)
V/A Re:flexions (2021) CDr (Attenuation Circuit, Germany, 2021)
Latest in an ongoing series of limited edition compilations that document the annual Re:flexions Sound Art festival label head Sascha Stadlmeier has, I believe, helped to organise in Augsburg for many years now. Dedicated to electroacoustic, improvisation and abstract electronic artists, the three lengthy tracks each by Sascha’ own Emerge and Stefan Schmidt, Doc Wor Mirran & The Oval Language, and Carsten Vollmer Sprengmeister on offer here illustrate just how broad a spectrum this can be. The Emerge and Schmidt piece pleasantly combines subtly Middle Eastern-flavoured minimalist guitar playing with swells of atmospheric electronics, while the collaborative ‘Oval Eclipse’ by DWM and The Oval Language delves through a series of splutters, squawks and rhythmic clanks before sounding like Cabaret Voltaire circa 1974 checking their equipment, and Sprengmeister’s contribution takes on a playful junk-noise approach ideal for those who like Crank Sturgeon or The Hanatarash. Of the three, Emerge & Schmidt’s track is the most cohesive and perhaps suits my late evening mood the most, but I like the fact this compilation brings together such a diverse selection of artists. 100 only. (RJ)
Listen/buy here: https://emerge.bandcamp.com/album/r-i-2021
Bunnyman: A Memoir book, by Will Sergeant (Third Man Books, 336pp., 2022)
The first thing that struck me upon reading this was how remarkably familiar so much of Will Sergeant’s childhood years were to me. Everything from the descriptions of the schools, classes, teachers and general experience of having to go to them and on to the kind of antics one would get up to in between. All of this resonated deeply and brought back memories of times often best left consigned to the most buried recesses of the mind. Sergeant, however, does a great job in reminding us of the post-WWII setting of the ‘60s and ‘70s; a period when bomb craters could still be found near where one lived and teachers not only used corporal punishment, but were not averse to flinging a board rubber at a pupil’s head in class for not paying attention or striking a palm with a ruler for some mild misdemeanour (needless to say, I was subjected to most!). What with his having come from a ruptured family, too, the first few chapters of Bunnyman paint a dreary picture offset only by Sergeant’s love of sci-fi, motorbikes and, of course, music.
Having had to live in a council house with his dad, a man seemingly incapable of expressing much in the way of warmth, following the unexpected departure of his mother in 1971, the drab portrait of family life for Will thankfully gets alleviated by a burgeoning love of psychedelic and progressive rock, besides early ‘70s favourites Slade and some of the better stuff coming out of glam, such as Bowie and Roxy Music. Leaving school at 16 to become a trainee chef means he then has the money to feed such interests, going to gigs regularly, and buying whatever records he could, as well as developing an interest in fashion and experimenting with cassette and reel-to-reel recorders. Everything starts to gain momentum as punk’s initial explosion soon leads Sergeant to becoming a regular at Liverpool’s legendary Eric’s club. Opening in October 1976, it was an important venue in the punk and post-punk circuit that both served a fantastic way to see a number of the main players (The Clash, Pistols, The Slits, Joy Division, Wire, The Stranglers and far more) and went on to inspire many others, including Pete Burns, Holly Johnson, Jayne Casey and Julian Cope, to start their own bands. It’s a melting pot of punks, freaks, arty types and misfits from which Sergeant manages to form Echo and the Bunnymen with bassist Les Pattinson, vocalist Ian McCulloch and a drum machine. Although Will is on his own with his interest in prog rock and The Residents, each of them connect on a love of Bowie, the Velvets and The Fall. It’s also apparent that the generic punk of Manchester group Warsaw, also regularly appearing at Eric’s during this period, having transformed into the smell of something new and exciting in the form of Joy Division, makes a big impact on Will, who by this point has been trying to master his guitar at weekly rehearsals and through playing along to Television’s Marquee Moon LP, amongst others.
Once we get to this stage in the book, we are in the latter part of 1978 and it’s nearly finished, though. The last few chapters (each one named after a song that must mean a lot to Will) are dedicated to the Bunnymen’s steady rise from their brief debut appearance at Eric’s to meeting Bill Drummond, another Liverpool scenester who was to become the group’s manager until the mid-1980s, and getting the first single out. All of this is shaped by a combination of great anecdotes (including one concerning the inspiration for the ‘bunnyman’ drawing on the debut single, ‘The Pictures on my Wall’ having been taken from the excellent film, Quatermass & the Pit), wry humour or sarcasm, and an incredible attention to detail that could only have arrived from either an incredible memory or diary keeping, or both. What’s also clear is that Will has a flair for writing that usurps most of his peers. Bunnyman makes a perfect companion to those autobiographies or memoirs (so far) published by Peter Hook, Lol Tohurst and the late Mark E. Smith. Having said this, it must be emphasised that this book is concerned only with his story. In this sense, it’s Ken Loach meets Steptoe & Son meets the tale of a genuine music geek (with an additional passion for scooters) who comes across like somebody who’d be as perfectly happy digging out rarities from his record collection to spin as making some of the best guitar sounds to have been informed by the post-punk years. Above all, Will comes over as earnest, modest and extremely affable. I always felt he was one of the best yet most undervalued guitarists to have come out of the punk years, largely seeming at odds with the group’s success during the 1980s, but this memoir helps redress the balance, firmly underlining precisely why he remains so respected while clearly illustrating there’s far more to him than that floppy fringe would ever suggest.
I am sure the next book, which promises to cover the years after the late Pete de Freitas joined the Bunnies on drums, will prove to be just as delightful. In the meantime, the paperback version of this has just been published. (RJ)
Cabaret Voltaire: A Collection of Interviews 1977 – 1994 book, by Fabio Mendez (580pp., hardback, self-published, Spain)
Most people I know who claim to enjoy music from the outer reaches will admit liking early Cabaret Voltaire, and with good reason at that. Although the comparatively more accessible Red Mecca LP from 1981 stands out as a personal favourite simply for its being amongst the first albums I bought at the time and its serving as a regular late night listen, pretty much everything the group did both prior to this and shortly after is incredible for its being unlike anything else. Of course, it can be argued that during these nascent years, Cabaret Voltaire developed a sound and an array of ideas that continued to stay with them even through their more commercial dalliances, but the gnarled, knotted and curdled amalgam of often crude yet wayward electronics, snatched dialogue, moody vocals, serrated guitar, haunting clarinet, hammer-pounding rhythms and atmospherics of those early records in particular truly set them apart from everything else going on during the mid-to-late 1970s. While kindred spirits may have been found in Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire’s early music always felt like it had more in common with very early Kraftwerk, or their 1968 predecessor Organisation, and the likes of Kluster than that of their more directly industrial cousins. Only an attitude pinned into place by punk and buoyed along by the group’s shared love of dada belied this.
While some of the later (and by this I essentially mean everything released after they signed to Virgin in 1983) albums are equally strong and commanding enough listens in their own way, it’s ultimately their pre-techno, dub and pop material which still holds the most sway in my humble nest. It’s fair to say that almost half of Cabaret Voltaire: A Collection of Interviews 1977 – 1994 is devoted to this period, too. Exactly as the title suggests, editor Fabio Mendez has gathered 127 interviews with the group originally published in the years 1977 to 1994 from a variety of sources ranging from fanzines to the UK music press and even magazines or journals dedicated to electronics used for sound. Quite a broad selection, basically, with well-renowned writers such as Jon Savage, Chris Bohn, Dave Henderson and others standing tall amongst them while contributions can also be found by the late Geoff Rushton and from places that had to be translated.
Throughout these interviews, conducted with all three original members, Stephen Mallinder, the late Richard H. Kirk and Chris Watson, either together or individually, it becomes apparent early on that the group had a reasonably clear idea about what they were trying to achieve. Whilst often admitting respective humble backgrounds, it is clear that they aimed through their collective vision to reach far higher. Each of them is erudite and has a lot to say. All of them are both striking for their utmost conviction in what they are doing and for passions in music, art, film and literature that may well seem a little threadbare now but for the time were incredible in helping many a lost soul find new sources of interest. Kirk and Mallinder especially then, to their credit, apply a modesty to this through often playing themselves down and preferring to cast themselves as beer-swillers who cut their teeth on music as young teens via soul and the clubs dedicated to it. Weirdly, they are only asked about this juxtaposition two or three times throughout all these interviews, but this once again serves them well, ultimately, for their firm belief that all music and sound works best if it creates a reaction. To that end, there is little distinction between avant-garde musings or indeed a good pop song. Everything is there for the taking, with the only limits being afforded by one’s own skills. Both often state they are non-musicians as well. As their music progresses and becomes more danceable or approachable, they point to the fact technology has made this possible rather than their skills. Such points are reiterated all the way through these interviews, almost as though they’re standard-bearers for the non-musician.
The only criticism I really have of this book is in this repetition of points already laboured, but perhaps my mistake was in reading the entire book beginning to end? It might be better served as one to simply dip into every once in a while. Some of the interviews are equally a little cumbersome or generic, but having conducted many interviews myself over the years I’m fully aware of how the best results depend on a variety of factors. Interview ‘fatigue’ being one.
It’s an interesting concept for a book, anyway. I think a little more editorial input would have been good, though. Aside from a very short prologue, there’s little here from Fabio’s side beyond the exhaustive work behind having curated and rewritten the material to begin with.
Anybody with an interest in Cabaret Voltaire, even if from a more cursory perspective, would be well advised to find a copy of this. Even if I’d have liked to see it approached slightly different, it’s still an engaging collection of material by one of the most innovative groups to have come out of the whole mid-1970s upheaval. The fact that all concerned come across as engaging, intelligent, down-to-earth, earnest and thoroughly likeable only adds weight to this. (RJ)