Momus: The Little Red Songbook.
At long last I finally got a copy and rest assured I'm playing it over and over like an obsessed freak. It's too early to really give much of a critique, but my first impressions are: 1) this is a very good album but, 2) sadly it's not as earth-shakingly brilliant as Ping Pong. Oh well, it's still very very good, and does contain some of the funniest songs I've ever heard Currie do. If not some of the funniest songs I've ever heard. And yes, the insightful cultural criticism is still present, and "A White Oriental Flower" is so incredibly good that whenever I hear it I just sit and stare. And, hey, there's a song about MC Escher, too. (But, alas, the Wendy Carlos song has been omitted-- but in its place are three others which might actually be better songs-- it seems that even when the bad crap happens Nick Currie somehow uses it to his advantage and comes out on top.) I give it four Japanese schoolgirls outta five.
Momus: Ping Pong.
Perhaps Nick Currie's masterpiece, still fresh after I don't know how many listens, Ping Pong contains four of THE MOST IMPORTANT POP SONGS EVER WRITTEN ("The Age Of Information," "The Sensation Of Orgasm," "Anthem Of Shibuya," and "2PM"), as well as "How To get -- And Stay -- Famous," which I can't even begin to describe. If Folk music wasn't dead, boring, badly dated, lackluster, and used up, it would have evolved into this.
Cornelius: Fantasma, CM, FM.
Brilliant postmodern Japanese pop from, well, a brilliant postmodern Japanese. This guy is Japan's answer to Beck and, from what I can tell, a million times more talented. Not that I dislike Beck. But Cornelius seems to be more edgy, even more whimsical and less folksy-- more 21st Century-- forward-looking while at the same time still chewing up the past. (Also, much like Beck, despite all the wackiness and virtuosity and musical hijinks, by the end of the album a strange, lonely melancholy begins to seep into the tracks-- highlighted in this case by the fact that Fantasma seems all that much more futuristic than Beck's dazed forays into the strange.) And, hey, as much as I hate using the phrase, sometimes Cornelius just plain rocks. CM and FM are follow-ups to Fantasma: CM consists of Cornelius remixing the works of other artists (such as Coldcut and Buffalo Daughter, etc), while FM is an ep of remixes of key Fantasma tracks by the likes of Coldcut, and The High Llamas, Damon Albarn, etc. As to be expected, CM (with Cornelius as remixer) is much better than FM. Also there's some fairly decent artist cross-over between the two discs. All in all, an excellent trilogy. End-of-the-millennium fun.
Bernhard Gunter: Univers Temporel
Espoir and Buddha With The Sun Face / Buddha With The
Moon Face (w/Jeph Jerman).
Quiet, delicate almost imperceptibly soft music where time freezes and the sounds stand for themselves, and only themselves, barely heard signals signifying nothing but their presence in the moments in which they are trapped. Utterly beautiful perfect music from the master of this totally new territory that's neither Noise, nor Musique Concrete, nor Ambient, nor Electroacoustic, yet somehow all of these things. There is no name for this new thing. It is only itself. Buddha... is a collaboration with / remix of sound artist Jeph Jerman's sounds. Jerman seems to be doing the same things with natural sounds that Gunter is doing with electronic. Subtle and excellent.
Alexandre St-Onge: Image / Négation.
A fantastic album by someone who maybe looks to be Canada's answer to Bernhard Gunter, except sometimes maybe a little more audible. On Alien8.
Everybody's favorite surrealistically multitalented Christian Vegan strikes again. I don't want to ruin this album for anyone so I'm not gonna say much except that this is one best albums of the year. And this has been one hell of a year for good music. He's using lots of gospel and blues samples in this one, among other stuff. This music makes stuff like Fatboy Slim look like the amateurish flailing it really is. Almost everything Moby has done has been good (and yes, I even mean Animal Rights). Do yourself a favour and buy this album right now! It's genius. After all, what more can you expect from Herman Melville's great great great great nephew?
Tetsu Inoue: Waterloo Terminal and Psycho
I've always liked Tetsu Inoue's ambient stuff-- but he's in totally new, totally brilliant territory here.
Seemingly random occurrences, odd sound-clusters appear and disappear, forming patterns and then shattering into chaos and silence. There is so much going on in each moment of these two discs that I think it's literally impossible to assimilate the whole work.
Waterloo Terminal was composed using the blueprints of said terminal as its source. The blueprints were fed into a computer and Inoue manipulated the resulting sounds. I have no idea how Psycho Acoustic was composed.
John Zorn: Cynical Hysterie Hour (Filmworks,
25 minutes of sheer insanity, maybe the most entertaining recording Zorn has ever produced, and easily one of my favorites. Cynical Hysterie Hour is four seperate soundtracks to four short Japanese anime by artist Kiriko Kubo. This music is fast and funny, crazed and charming. Which is only fair because C.H.H. (the anime) seems to be about a gang of extremely young children adventures. God I'd love to see a tape of this show. Or even some of Kiriko Kubo's manga. On Tzadik.
Philip Glass / Robert Wilson: the CIVIL warS--
a tree is best measured when it is down, Act V: THE ROME SECTION.
At long last we have another piece of the mystery. A brief history of the CIVIL warS:
It was to be a 12-to-15 hour spectacular (Wilson could shorten it to 9 if he had to); 5 acts (plus the "Knee Plays"); was to be shown at the 1984 Olympics in L.A.; each act assembled in a different country; each act independent of the others but linked through a dense web of text, image, and motion; went horribly overbudget; was never completed; bits performed here and there, now and then, over the years. ("The German Section"-- about 5 hours long-- almost won the Pulitzer but there was no real written script so the committee declined.)
And now we have this recording of Act 5, the final act, "The Rome Section," which brings everything to its enigmatic conclusion, and which also stands alone, an opera in its own right.
I say sort of because I've only got the music so I really can't tell how everything interlocks. And this recording of "The Rome Section" is only 77:37 long, which means I don't have a document like Einstein On The Beach which is over 3 hours and so because of its sheer length everything comes together in the end like gears fitting click-click-click. So, as far as recordings of the CIVIL warS go, I wish there were more. (There is a little more, there's The Knee Plays by David Byrne, but that's still just a fragment.)
But, that aside, "The Rome Section" is still very good. Very very good. Maybe on the whole excellent. Parts, definitely brilliant.
And even with what there is, if you listen to it enough you start to make those holographic Wilsonian connections: bits of monologue begin to intertwine, The songs of Mrs Lincoln begin to echo those of the Snow Owl, and Robert E. Lee, and the Young Mrs Lincoln, and Abraham Lincoln, etc. And if you look deeper, things begin to jell further: the progression of military figures / protagonists in each of the four scenes culminating in Young Mrs Lincoln's monologue in Scene C. (There are four scenes to "The Rome Section:" Prologue, Scene A, Scene B, and Scene C-- it forms a square.) And so on.
Musically, "The Rome Section" is very... large. Forceful and sweeping and dramatic. Sensual, but not soothing. Just this side of apocalyptic. The whole thing is very "operatic," both in scale and delivery. The first two scenes are very traditional-- at least in as far as Glass and Wilson can be considered traditional-- you've got your arias, or maybe recitatives... well, y'know, opera singing, the Italian language, that sort of thing. I'm not really an opera expert, and I'm nowhere near versed in the nomenclature, but I can recognize a few traditions when I hear them.
But, when you get to Scene B, things change. It's still an "opera," but the clichés, the traditions, have retreated to the background. You cross a border into something new. (Maybe this is intended: The Civil War, the Mason-Dixon line, the two halves separating the old and the new?).
Scene B: Robert Wilson as Robert E Lee. He speaks his lines in a slow, fractured, stunned (and stunning) monologue. Wilson lingers on words and fragments of words, bits and pieces of texts, reports from The Front, news bulletins, etc. The language is English, but scattered with fragments, broken syllables, bits of other languages creeping into the framework. He describes riots and wars, the structure of the opera itself. It's dada, it's a massive cut-up, it's rife with meaning and allusion. And the work is shattered, but yet comes into lasersharp focus. (I can only imagine how powerful, moving, and oddly funny-- nobody ever talks about Wilson's weird sense of humour-- this would have been after the first four acts.)
The operatic singing is in the background, moves to the foreground briefly. Mrs Lincoln sings in English, echoes Robert E Lee and the next scene, the chorus is there, and then Mrs Lincoln fades to the background again, and Lee's repetitions end the scene.
Scene B has some of the most beautiful music Philip Glass has ever written. And Wilson is amazing. This one scene is easily up there with the whole of Einstein for sheer emotional impact. Difficult to top.
But, somehow, it's topped. Scene C:
Another Wilsonian monologue, brilliantly delivered by Laurie Anderson. It's Young Mrs Lincoln this time, and she's clearly mad. Her words are a desperate and frightened litany of paranoia. She is terrified of her husband, and the war, and herself. She is a collection of ghost-voices, banalities and fears hopelessly trying to make sense of the world she lives in (and the opera she's a part of), hopelessly trying not to break down, terrified of being alone, praying she's not insane, eternally suspended between fighting and resignation. Laurie Anderson manages to be pathetic, menacing and funny all at the same time. The effect is awe-inspiring.
(And so is the text. I'd love to see Robert Wilson write a novel.)
All in all, wow.
Listening to the CIVIL warS: "The Rome Section" is like living in a dream. Or a hologram. It's a work of precise alien beauty. It's such a shame there isn't more.
I could go on and on and on about this piece. How each Scene fits a certain pattern that echoes the others. How there are central languages in each Scene. The way that, if you pay attention, different aspects of the score begin to subtly echo each other. How it all seems to come together in the end, while each Scene still manages to remain separate.
How I really really wish (damn it!) that the CIVIL warS would have been completed.
And how, despite its polish and independence, it still feels like a fragment.
I wonder how much money it would take to restart and finish the CIVIL warS? Anybody out there wanna try? If I could I would. But lord knows I don't have the money....
Merzbow: Door Open At 8 AM.
This is really quite good. Merzbow with sampled beats. (He has had a few beats before-- people forget about the creepy-ambient Music For Bondage Performance discs-- but nothing quite like this.) Alien8 describes Door Open as Akita's "tribute to free jazz, actually to be more precise a homage to dead drummers." And, yeah, this is cool. Very reminiscent of his Aqua Necromancer album also on Alien8, but a lot better. I like Aqua Necromancer okay, I guess-- but it's not the brilliant thing that everybody seems to think it is, really. But Door Open, yeah. That's the stuff. The control Akita exhibits here is staggering. He is a man who knows exactly what he is doing, how to shape his sound, maintain a presence while losing himself in the mix. Most noise musicians just revel in the sheer squalling mass of the chaos they create with no plan in mind, no eye to art, their only desire to belch out the harshest wall of pain and sadism they can manage. But not Akita. Sure, he can do that. And sometimes he does. But, like all visionaries, there seems to be a method to his madness, a sense of exploration, a legitimate desire to test the limits of art, and to better his own craft. Anyway, yeah, Door Open At 8 AM is excellent, and accessible (as far as something like Merzbow can ever be accessible)-- a great place to start listening if you're curious and an indispensable addition to your collection if you're already a fan.
(It's also a little like 1930, the fairly recent-- and utterly brilliant-- release on John Zorn's Tzadik label (I don't know 100 percent but I think 1930 might be better-- one of these days I'll have to listen to both Door Open and 1930 back to back).)
More and more I get the feeling that Masami Akita's mission is to drag music kicking and screaming into the future whether the music likes it or not, and even if it kills him.
(Check out the Alien8
label. Easily the best, most forward-looking record label in Canada.
By a long shot.)
(Also Tzadik. Zorn's cool.)
(And don't forget Extreme.)
The Angels Of Light: New Mother.
Michael Gira's newest project. It's astounding. I've been listening to Swans since highschool, since the Greed / Holy Money days. I've been with them through the ups and downs, highs and lows (and there've been quite a few of both), so I feel more than qualified to say that this album marks a high point in an already impressive, and secretly influential, career. Now that Swans is over and done Gira has, typically, freed himself of that crushing burden only to move on to another. And move on he does, in gorgeously lyrical style: New Mother is both fresh and new, and recapitulatory, filled with both lyrical and musical references to his early work. For example: the strains of Children Of God's "In My Garden" woven throughout the new "The Garden Hides The Jewel;" the song "This Is Mine" whose title is a not-so-oblique reference to Raping A Slave's "This Is Mine;" the refrain of "glory glorious glory" in the second track, "Praise Your Name," both its delivery and context taken from Greed's "Nobody," etc. This isn't to say Gira is dried up and worn out, regurgitating old ideas and themes in a desperate attempt to keep going, no, not at all, instead what he has done here is paid service to, acknowledged, and moved beyond the old. Swans is over, but Gira's core interests remain the same: loss of identity; codependency; god as both presence and absence; ego; transcendence; self-hatred and self-love (the exact same thing); the many different forms of rape and masochism we all have to face, daily, in both the workday world and our interpersonal relationships; the predatory nature of humanity, of our "souls." Same obsessive themes, but now it's just time to explore a quieter, more poetic terrain. The brilliance and intelligence of Gira's songwriting, of which there have been glimmers of in Swans-- each album after World Of Skin / Children Of God becoming more and more concerned with the content of the words-- is in full flower here. And songwriting is what Angels Of Light is about, the power of words replacing the power of sound: just another technique for taking the listener into the brutal, lonely, confused, and yet very real world Michael Gira inhabits. So all in all: amazing. Blurb time: In Angels Of Light: New Mother, Michael Gira, like the extremely Beckettian characters whose lives he is both describing and living, is both moving beyond his restrictions and staying in the exact same place.
Steve Reich: Music For 18 Musicians.
Beautiful. It's minimalistic without being minimalistic. It's jazz but not jazz, classical but not classical. It's a wall of textures and sounds and details that's constantly changing but also static. This is the best Steve Reich I've ever heard. It's both emotional and extremely intellectual. It's a wash of colours. There isn't much else to say. Wow.
Various Artists: Reich Remixed.
Various artists remixing Steve Reich. Some of it is quite nice.
Robert Ashley: Perfect Lives.
The best way to describe this is Joycean. It's an opera for television about a bank robbery. Ashley speak-sings the narrative as it crawls in and out of the characters' heads. It's very dense. It's not something you put on in the background and subliminally absorb. Perfect Lives demands your complete attention and, when it gets it, becomes quite rewarding. However, like a novel, you have to take breaks. And, like Joyce, the action is so dense that you frequently have to go over entire chapters time and time again in order to glean anything from the (yes) text. I Imagine that if I saw Perfect Lives on tv I'd have to tape the (seven half-hour) episodes watch them over and over. Perfect Lives is amazing. The narrative is so rich. It's for things like this that recordable media were invented. You need to rewind, you need to review, it's not just a one-off. Multiple listenings have been built into Perfect Lives. There is no way to get it all in one take.
Steve Roach: The Magnificent Void.
Most of Roach's stuff is just a little New-Agey for me. But this disc, woah!, brooding and slow and beautiful and spacey. The perfect music to work on that weird novel / short story sequence / experimental autobiography / poem / thing that's been occupying most of my writing time for most of the past decade. Along with:
Brian Eno: On Land.
Brooding, ominous. Eno says this music reminds him of specific places. To me, it's just a dark drone filled with low tones and slow shifts. Feels like I'm trapped inside the darkness of my own psyche, not like, y'know, some hills somewhere in England. Before I found The Magnificent Void, this was what I listened to while I wrote that weird novel (hopefully almost done now) I alluded to above.
Bernhard Gunter: Details Agrandis and Un
Peu De Neige Salie.
The only thing I'd heard by Gunter before Mar 1999 was a Merzbow remix that totally blew me away. And now these two albums are dropped on me on the exactly same day. Stunning. I cannot recommend this guy enough. His music is so delicate, so quiet, so perfect. Riveting. I could just sit for hours and listen to all the little sounds....
Jliat: The Nature Of Nature.
James Whitehead (aka Jliat-- a word he heard in a dream) makes some of the most beautiful, compelling, shimmering, and complex drone-music I've ever heard. On the surface, much of his output sounds like a single, extended note. But once you stop and pay attention you realize that this "note" is made up of layers upon layers upon layers of harmonies, undertones and overtones, shimmers and shifts. There seems to be a veritable infinity of subtle sounds in his best compositions, and even his more simplistic works still reward careful listening. This is music you can obsessively scrutinize and never totally plumb the depths of, or if you want you can play it in the background and let its sheer bliss wash over you like a warm, soothing bath. A friend once commented on The Nature Of Nature: 'This stuff sounds like a soundtrack to Heaven." Whitehead also has a fairly interesting webpage, and you can find the URL in my links section. His mind is very keen, and he seems to be very well-read. He has a strong philosophical/spiritual (and intellectual) bent to his music which some may find offputting (or crazy. A couple of my friends have called him a loon. Personally, I think he is far too well-read and rational to be insane, but a few of you might find his philosophizing unusual). Don't let that stand in your way. If you're interested in interesting, and beautiful music, you deserve to give Jliat a chance.
Masona: Beauty Beast.
More Japanese Noise. Even more extreme than Merzbow. Much shorter, too: it's a cute little 3-inch CD. Kinda like the sounds a Tasmanian devil would make if you shoved a whole bunch of hot peppers up its ass and then processed the noises at a brain-shattering volume. I know, it sounds horrible. But, somehow, like all this Japanese stuff, there seems to be some kind of undeniable substance here, an aesthetic that goes beyond noise while still reveling in noise, throwing you into a realm of pure art. It's hard to describe without actually experiencing it. Again, like Merzbow, the first time I heard Masonna I couldn't take it. But then I came back, and it was really worth it. I'd kill to see Masonna live. Beck likes him, too. He even opened for Beck once, I think in Osaka. I'd love to see all the stunned Japanese teeny-boppers in that audience.
Jim O'Rourke: Eureka.
I know, I know. Now that O'Rourke's not doing the guitar-drone things of Disengage and the electroacoustic / noise stuff of Terminal Pharmacy, and now that he's focusing on avant-pop, we're all supposed to call him a big sellout and whine about how he's lost it, and now he's getting old and fat. And I know, only "pseudointellectuals" are supposed to like O'Rourke now, because he's not totally abstract and intellectual, and now his guitar actually sounds like a guitar sometimes, but godammit, there's a reason why this album is called Eureka: every singe note of this 42 minute and 11 second disc is an epiphany. We're talking total perfection here, people. Pure and simple. Eureka lifts you out of the mud and shit and gloom and hate and transports you into a weird, whimsical world filled with clouds and flowers and subtle humour that's just barely tinted with sadness, and there are these strange steel-drum sounding things, and harmonies and horns and colours and yeah, there's even some sonic abstraction behind and around the pop like those incredibly high-pitched sounds near the end and those shimmers so he hasn't left that stuff behind. Fucking gorgeous-- pardon my French. So call me a pseudointellectual, I don't care. because this is maybe the first brilliant album of 1999. If you can't get it, if it doesn't reach you, if you are unable to appreciate the beauty of this album, that's your problem, bub. Not mine. The painting on the cover makes me want to wash, though. Crawly.
Philip Glass: Einstein On The Beach (CBS
In honour of Monsters Of Grace this April. I'm also listening to the new Koyaanisqatsi disc a lot. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! At long bloody last, Phil and Bob! April 24th, I'll be in Toronto, Roy Thomas hall. I'll be the mountain with the messy hair and that stunned look in his eyes....
Merzbow: Akasha Gulva.
Merzbow never ceases to amaze me. It's hard to believe the first time I heard one of Akita's disks I hated it. But now, man, it's like stepping into another world. Akasha Gulva is brutal and dense. There is so much going on in this 70 minute wall of sound that every time I listen to it I hear more detail. It's always changing, and it always stays the same. Masami Akita is a genius, pure and simple. But I also fully understand the instinctive, recoiling, gut-hatred people some experience the first time they hear a Merzbow track (one of my co-workers actually tried to throw a water-bottle at my head during the first six seconds of Akasha. But, hey, the man likes Aqua).
John Oswald: Plexure.
Fascinating, dense, funny. What Negativland should be doing now-- that is if Negativland actually had focus and sophistication and wasn't obsessed with spitting out snotty quasi-intellectual pseudo-theoretical pseudo-political pseudo-profundities about Free Use, "Mertz" "changing your mind," The Clorox Cowboy, and all that childish nonsense about "munal condoptions"-- whatever the hell those are supposed to be.
Underworld: Beaucoup Fish.
When I'm not listening to Little Red Songbook I'm listening to this. It's hard to believe that these guys came from such a crappy 80's pop scene ("Underneath The Radar" and that Freur thing-- bleh!). Easily better than Second Toughest... but time will have to tell if it's as good as, or even better than, Dubnobasswithmyheadman which is still my favorite Underworld album. (The way the whole album builds up to "Cowgirl" still gives me the chills.) Oddly enough, as much as I like this album, I don't really have much to say about it....
Momus: Stars Forever.
In 1998 Nick Currie, a.k.a. Momus, racked up a pretty good legal bill. What happened, he either can't or won't discuss (I actually know what happened, more or less, but out of respect for Currie I won't say-- it'll just have to be one of life's sweet little mysteries. But, if you poke around enough, you can figure it out for yourself. It's not hard), but rest assured it was an expensive complication in his life.
So, the question posed itself: How to pay the bill?
And then, the answer:
If, in the Olden Days, Currie rationalized, art was produced through a system of patronage, why not now?
So, January 1, 1999, he posted, on his web page, this offer:
For $1000, you can have your very own Momus song written for and about you. A song portrait based upon information you give Currie, final work subject to your approval.
Thus, Patronage Pop was born.
Within two weeks he had thirty patrons, and (presumably) $30,000.
The resulting album is a tour de force. Currie's writing is as sharp and insightful as ever. He does it all, music, lyrics, production. He paints portraits, composing allusive little stories from brief descriptions supplied by his patrons, always remaining entertaining and smart, out on a limb, and (too many people tend to say it, but hey it's true) accessible. The range of styles he employs is truly dizzying. Musically, it's a virtuoso performance of pop styles, ballads, cabaret, faux pop-classical, electronica, you name it. Each song is different, can be taken on its own, but also contributes to a stunning whole.
Like all good writers, Currie uses both the popular culture of the day, as well as 'classical' references to enhance the scope of his project. Vaudeville and Japanese pop and Beethoven stand side by side by side. French writers collide with underground cartoonists. There are Pocket Monsters and iMacs, vintage furniture and kitty cats, cowboys and girls playing thrash zydeco. Straights and gays, women and men, men want to be women and women who want to be men. Noah Brill (age 3) wants to save the world, while Natsuko Tayama shyly stands in a corner unable to talk to the boys. Everything collides and becomes interdependent. Subject and object blur, here.
In what amounts to no less that sheer brilliance on Currie's part is his placement at the heart of Stars Forever. Yes, the album is 'about' the patrons. But, more importantly, like everything he has done so far, the real star of the album is Currie himself. (Or, more precisely, Momus, the figure he chooses to speak through-- but, through Momus, Currie, so....)
Currie has taken the identity issues almost accidentally raised by David Bowie in the 1970s and elevated them to high art, turned them into a form of audio Literature on par with such identity manglers as Kathy Acker and Borges.
(In the last half of the album there are a few commercials for corporations and record stores. And although these songs are rife with interesting sociological implications, but I'm not going to discuss that here.)
Currie is the writer of each song, to be sure. But his presence goes deeper than that. Occasionally, he injects himself in the narrative as a character ('Maf'), often as an omniscient narrator ('Akiko Matsuda,' 'Brent Busboom,' among others), but, most importantly, there are times in Stars Forever when Momus becomes the 'I,' the viewpoint character. In 'Mai Noda,' he presents himself as patron Mai Noda's pink iMac. In 'Stephanie Pappas,' Momus becomes Pappas herself, and seems to describe the process of her (now 'his,' now '"her"') application of patronship to the Stars Forever project. Of course Currie ('Momus') has a bit of fun with this, paints Pappas as falling in love, and then sleeping with Momus ('Currie'), with predictable results-- she complains her guru could have been 'a better lay.' In this theoretical complication the heart of this album lies: We have Currie (or Momus-- to keep things simple let's just say the two are interchangeable) writing songs about real people based upon information he has been given by those people, and yet injecting himself into these songs, into these descriptions, into the identities of the patrons themselves. (All that seems to be you's really me / And all that seems to be me is really me too-- 'Stephanie Pappas.') He writes about individuals, appropriates individuals, and writes through individuals, about himself (but also, always, simultaneously, the patrons).
(We'll spend the day just looking at Las Meninas / Asking ourselves 'Who was that king? What was his name? / The one who let his family get in the way / Of the self-portrait Velazquez was painting?'-- 'The Minus 5')
And also, through him, and them, he writes about society at large, global culture, the universals that define us, as well as what will be defining us very soon: love, relationships, loneliness, technology, gender, popular culture, High and Low art.
And the music itself is expansive, referential, filled with quotations from other sources and cultures, pop and classic, old and new. The melodic lines and rhythms of the songs could be footnoted as well as the lyrics. (But I don't know enough about music to bore you with that analysis. And besides, I'm already probably boring you with this one.)
Patronage Pop to be sure, Sociological Pop definitely (e.g.: 'Indiepop List,' aside from being a snappily rattled-off list of names and brief descriptions is also a commentary on the Internet, how it's changing our culture by bringing people together, intertwining disparate lives), Postmodern Appropriation-Theory Lit-Pop you bet. Like all masterpieces, the more effort you put into this album, the more it opens up, the more it radiates.
All this has probably made Stars Forever seem like a dry intellectual exercise, which it most definitely is not. Sure, it's intellectual. But it's also emotional, witty, laugh-out-loud funny and wipe-a-tear poignant. The music is catchy, hummable, very easy to listen to. And Currie's voice (as always) is smoothe, soothing, and pleasant. (Although labeling him 'Loungecore' as some do still baffles me. Sure, Momus is not usually a harsh listen, Currie isn't Marilyn Manson (although occasionally I wonder if deep down M. Manson doesn't want to be Currie for a day), but he's not a lounge singer either.) So if you want to ignore the content and play Hum Along With Momus, that's fine too. The sound is totally radio-friendly (I guarantee, stuff from this album will stick in your head), and very (gak!) accessible. In these genre-hopping days of quirky pop, something from Stars Forever should be on every radio station playlist. But that's never gonna happen.
In a perfect world, Momus would actually be played on the radio, occasional naughty words and all. But this is hardly a perfect world.
Stars Forever is a two disc-set. At the end of the album you also get the winners from Little Red Songbook's karaoke parody contest (funny as hell if you've heard Songbook, just plain weird if you haven't), as well as a 21-minute interview with Currie. (It's actually a little less than 21 minutes because there are a lot of Stars Forever soundbites. It's almost like this last track was made for college radio profile shows.)
Easily one of the top five albums of 1999.
Terry Riley / Eddy De Fanti: In C.
In C is a classic piece of minimalism. This time it has been reworked by Eddy De Fanti for African percussion, and it's amazing. To be honest, before I bought this one I'd only heard a few minutes of some full-orchestra version or other and it was good, but not nearly as neat as this. In C seems to've been made for percussion, either that or De Fanti has made it seem so by virtue of his talent. Excellent. Music to get lost in. Now if only I could find that 70-minute full-orchestra one that came out a few years back.
Jim O'Rourke: Halfway To A Threeway.
A beautiful little EP. More gorgeous, blissy avant-pop from Jim O'Rourke. Not really much else to say, though. Good playing, catchy tunes, weird lyrics. Froggy and Chompers are there, too.
Moebius / Plank / Thompson: Ludwig's Law.
Music by mad scientists for mad scientists. Two German "electronica" pioneers from the 1970s, plus hyper-literate weirdoid Mayo Thompson picking up the ball Devo dropped. Songs about the geometry of apartments and love, about Truth and Art, chickens and instinct and gestalt perception and molecular interaction as metaphor. Lists, maxims, and arrows. Oblique and laugh-out-loud funny, and also weirdly profound. Brilliant fun. A re-issue from of an album from 1983. But I don't think M/P/T ever made anything else because Conny Plank died. Poor Conny....
Stereolab: Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage
In The Milky Night.
Mutated, loungy, easy and harsh. Weird and cutting edge, but so subversive you'll never know you've been cut till its too late. Stereolab seems to be getting better and better as time goes by-- which is okay by me. Retro-futuristic, strange and ethereal. Noisy and abstract. Genre-hopping, melodic and chaotic. Some lyrics in French, some in English. Maybe bits of Esquivel thrown in here and there. Kinda jazzy, kinda electronicish, kinda all sortsa stuff. Fun and engaging postmodern pop.
Aube: Blood-Brain Barrier.
Akifumi Nakajima (aka Aube) is a Japanese noise artist, I guess. Although you could also describe him as musique concrete, or maybe "electroacoustic." Or, in some cases, even ambient. He crosses a lot of boundaries. Unlike Merzbow, which is a bludgeoning and oppressive wall of sound, Aube is far more delicate. (Although he does tend to get fairly loud and noisy sometimes.) He takes sounds, usually one type of sound an album (ie. water, or metal, or the pages of a book), and filters them and changes them, slowly, over time. So, what you get, instead of a dense wall, is more like an unfolding tapestry. And the sound seems to always be change, very subtly.
And in Blood-Brain Barrier he's using brainwaves.
It's pretty amazing. Static but still subtly shifting. (Although in parts the tones become fairly harsh-- to my ears anyway.) And sometimes it makes me feel sort of funny. Sort of woozy.
Still, if you're interested in what's going on at the very edges of experimental music, Aube's definitely worth checking out.
Cool, distant, minimalist brain-techno from Richie Hawtin's (Plastikman) label, Minus. Music stripped to the bone. Kind of ambient, with a bit of a Detroit feel.
Jan Garbarek / Hilliard Ensemble: Officium.
Sounding ancient and yet very contemporary, blending saxophone and choir, these songs (taken from medieval Latin sources) form strange soundscapes. It reminds me of tundra and black and white photographs of trees in the fall. Partially structured and partially improvised, this music is something that slips around you and takes you away. Back in time, or maybe to the distant future, it doesn't matter because you know you're in a strange place. Beautiful, sad, weirdly joyous, and sometimes even menacing, this is a perfect album for a late night: It's cold outside, you're inside wearing your robe or housecoat, there's frost on all the windows, and you're sipping tea, staring at the computer screen, remembering all the things you've done in your past, thinking about what's ahead, and you've got a strange expression on your face no one can read....
Mira Calix: One on One.
Brilliant. Playful, weird, sometimes soothing and other times edgy, and always interesting. One of the best of the Warp school (Aphex Twin, Autechre, etc.) I've heard in a long time. She manages to breathe freshness into stuff that's so very quickly become clichéd. There isn't a dull moment in this album. Fragments of haunting melodies mix with jagged rhythms, strange washes of static, and violin drones. Haunting, nostalgic, futuristic, and very smart. Occasionally rough and sometimes even moving. Mira Calix shows that she's not only as good as the boys, but most of the time even better. I guess it all has to do with taking chances, and when you're at the margins-- and the women in electronic music scene have been marginalized-- you have nothing to lose. I know it's sorta wrongheaded to judge a genre by gender, but still I want to see more "electronica" by women. So far what I've heard has been extremely cool: experimental, intellectual, emotional and innovative. Women are beginning to make some incredibly high-quality Art in this mostly male-dominated genre. They're shaking stuff up and setting a newer, higher standard of quality by which all this music is going to have to be measured. For example, Aphex Twin (the Warp "electronica" posterboy) hasn't done anything as good as One On One in years. And Squarepusher (posterboy #2) has never done anything this good.
Russell Mills/Undark: Pearl + Umbra.
Last I heard, Russell Mills was a painter (and his excellent, weird free- associational works do adorn the liner notes of this lush album) but now I guess he's making music-- which is fine by me. He's joined here by Tom Smyth and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) along with a host of others including, but not limited to: Brian and Roger Eno, David Sylvian, Harold Budd, Michael Brook, Emma Townshend, Hector Zazau, Bill Laswell, Thurston Moore, and on and on. A veritable who's who of ambient music, dream-pop, and the avant-garde. The results are impressively lush and smart, reminiscent of the mid/late-80's Opal-era Eno-spearheaded ambient-world-fusion stuff that was quietly coming out in, well, the mid to late 1980s... although slightly updated for our end-of-the-millennium bass-heavy tastes. Dreamy, rhythmic and layered. I guess these days people might want to try to label this "acid jazz" or "trip hop," but in fact this music operates well beyond those definitions.
Philip Glass: Symphony No. 3.
Okay, I admit I picked it up not because of the symphony but because of the incidental music from The CIVIL warS that's included after the symphony. But, y'know, while the CIVIL warS stuff is pretty good, I liked the symphony a lot, too. This sorta surprises me because recently Glass's stuff has felt a little thin. But I liked Symphony 3, and might pick up 1 and 2 next time I see them....
Michael J. Schumacher: Fidicin Drones.
Three static guitar drones that stop time and fill my head with shimmering beauty. Nothing changes in the music, and that's fine by me.
Dieter Moebius: Blotch.
Really, really solid experimental "electronica" from a pioneer in the field. Moebius is one half of Cluster, and (along with partner Roedelius) did some really excellent work with Brian Eno in the 1970's. This, only his second solo album (with the exception of one other, all his dozens and dozens and dozens of other projects have been collaborative), is on the Scratch Records label stationed in Vancouver (which is also a great store if you're into weird experimental abstractness and fringe music sold to you by, well, occasionally quite drunken, yet friendly and talkative clerks). Makes me kinda proud to be a Canadian. Weird robot grooves, strange jazz and odd atmospherics are the theme here-- all with a very human feel.
Beatles: White Album.
What? I'm not allowed to like the Beatles?
Yoshihiro Hanno & Mick Karn: Liquid Glass.
Mick Karn (best known for surviving the Sylvian-fronted Japan trite-rock project) lends his rubbery bass, as well as other instruments and "poets" (i.e. samples of poetry readings, presumably) to several compositions by Yoshihiro Hanno (I have no idea who this guy is, please forgive me... and I thought I was up on my Japanese musicians these days). The effect is nicely jazzy, slightly ambient, cool and funky, trippy and occasionally dub-wise. Never pretentious or overbearing (this was a fear), the poets drift in and out of the soundscapes, adding to the general sense of mystery and rhythm these tracks generate. Karn's playing is, as usual, excellent (even in the projects of his I don't particularly care for, I've always admired the way he handles his bass), and as far as Hanno goes-- like I said, up 'till now I'd never heard of him, but this album definitely bodes well and if in the future I have the chance to snag more of his stuff you can bet I will.
Aki Tsuyuko: Ongakushitsu.
Wow, what a totally charming and delightful disc. All instrumental, slightly chamber-music-y. Aki Tsuyuko's electronics make me think of weird vintage instruments like theremins and barrel-organs. The music is minimal and yet never really repeats itself. It's all very low key, charming (I said that once but I can say it again), and whimsical. It's a shame she doesn't sing though. I heard her voice on Nobukazu Takemura's Scope and fell in love with it. She has one of the cutest voices I've ever heard. But, despite that one disappointment, Ongakushitu's still easily one of the most enchanting things I've heard in a long time. (Maybe time to put it on a best of 2000 list?) Hats off to Jim O'Rourke and Moikai for bringing this one overseas. God, I hope he imports more stuff by her.
Otomo Yoshihide: Cathode.
Maybe one of the best albums of 1999. Four tracks, here. Two of them (Cathode #1 and #2) employ more "naturalistic" instruments (as well as Yoshihide on turntables) to create sound collages that bridge the gap between ambient, noise, free-jazz, and classical. The other two (Modulation #1 and #2) feature Yoshihide's partner in crime Sachiko M generating pure sine waves on her empty sampling keyboard. Sachiko's sine waves interact with acoustic instruments (guitar, sho) and create shimmering, droning soundscapes that shift and modulate as you turn your head, or as you walk around the room. I've always been fascinated by this phenomenon: because sine waves are pure, smooth tones when they interact with each other through space (or within an ear in motion) they create interference patterns which of course alter their sound. (I've played bits of these two tracks for friends and most simply tell me the frequencies hurt their ears and would I please, if I don't mind turn that fucking awful highpitched fucking sound off right fucking now! Personally, I think it sounds beautiful and maybe a little moving, but, that's just me.... You have been warned.) Overall, unfortunately, there just aren't enough adjectives to describe the way I feel about Cathode, but here are a few anyway: stark, beautiful, peaceful, painful, noisy, minimalist, creepily spiritual, transcendentally uplifting, intellectually riveting, and oddly sad.
Hoahio: Ohayo! Hoahio!
Amazing, charming, and enchanting, almost, in places, verging on Pop... or something. Hoahio is three women: Haco, Yagi Michiyo, and Sachiko M (see above). Haco sings, Yagi plays the koto, and Sachiko creates pure sine waves and other cute (and occasionally threatening) sounds with her "memory free" sampler. There are also other instruments, too: drums, basses, samples and whatnot-- everybody seems to trade off duties a little. The end product is whimsical and thoroughly enjoyable. Ohayo! Hoahio! swings from chaotic cutely poppy numbers to walls of dada-esque free noise, breathy noises and beautiful vocals, one ethereally beautiful semi-ballad (or something) "Marimo," and even something that could almost pass for a commercially-viable single "Less Than Lovers, More Than Friends." Highly recommended if you want something new and weird and challenging, but not utterly intimidating. Just a little bit intimidating. Recommended for people who were disappointed in Shonen Knife (which Hoahio resembles only insofar as it's also a three person Japanese "Girl Band"). Love this album. Cute cover, too. More Kudos to Tzadik for making stuff like this so easy to find.
Tetsu Inoue: Fragment Dots and Ambiant
Fragment Dots: Inoue's second Tzadik release and a nice follow-up to 1998's Psycho-Acoustic. More abstract glitches, weird sonic sequences and a weird sounds. More spatially varied than Psycho-Acoustic and also prettier. Again, the placement of the sounds seem random, but upon closer scrutiny seems to follow a logic of its own. Fragment Dots feels more traditionally "ambient" than Psycho-Acoustic, and a little more contemplative, but this isn't to say it's a wash of drones and dolphins. Indeed, nothing drones here. No individual sound lasts more than a second or two (maybe with the exception of the odd halting pulse-- but even these are only a few seconds long), creating a strange feeling of data overload. Some sounds are quiet and distant while others are loud and close. It feels sort of like early computer music a la Stockhausen, but more mature, intuitive and savvy. Maybe a cross between that computer classical stuff and Oval-style glitch electronica, but more intelligent, more playful, and more open to its own inherent experimental possibilities. Extremely beautiful and great on headphones!
Ambiant Otaku: It's easy to see why this disc was sold out almost immediately, and became an instant classic when it first showed up on the Fax label years ago. I am very fussy when it comes to "ambient" music because I cut my ambient teeth on Brian Eno. Eno originated the term in the 1970s and gave the music a broad and rich theoretical background that very few ambient composers have ever chosen to explore. Eno's work is the yardstick by which all other ambient composers must be measured by. And very few succeed in capturing even a 10th of the richness, beauty, and feelings of mystery in Eno's music. Tetsu Inoue succeeds. This music is shimmering and suspended, golden and haunting and beautiful, eternal. Like Eno's best work Ambiant Otaku can be easily ignored and consigned to the background-- but if you actually take time to listen to what's going on your efforts will be highly rewarded. The five tracks on this album drone, and shimmer, and take their time. The listener is drawn into a world that's half sound and half painting. There are no beats, here, no down-tempo dance rhythms with dolphin sounds echoing in the background, just layers and layers of colour and harmonics. The last track ("Magnetic Field") easily ranks up there with the best of Eno's work. This is music that feels eternal, constrained only by track length and the spatial limits of a compact disc. I could easily imagine listening to these tracks forever in Heaven. This is music that's not afraid to be at peace, that looks back to the past, to Eno's heyday, and celebrates beauty.
Akira Yamamichi: Pulse Beats.
Some cynical poo-heads have suggested to me that there's far too much of this "bippy" kind of music around these days. I think, stuff them, because I've barely heard any and so far what I'm hearing I like. Pulse Beats is a 3'' CD, with three untitled tracks. It's about 18 minutes long and lives in a tiny cardboard case. The music is very delicate and minimalist, most of it so high in the register, and at times so soft it's difficult to hear without headphones... or without cranking the stereo to max. The rhythms are, like I said, delicate and, honestly, quite beautiful. The shortness of the cd and the sparseness of the tracks (both in instrumentation and arrangement) remind me of haiku: suggestive and brief, saying nothing and yet fraught with meaning. The only problem with this disc is, uh, the size. These things are real easy to lose, what with being in a tiny 3'' cardboard case and all. And, well, it seems that a few days I lost mine. Hmp.
Ryoji Ikeda: +/- and 20' to 2000.
+/-: It took me a while to find this one. More "bippy" stuff, I guess. Lots of extreme high and low frequencies. The first three tracks have an intelligent grove. The last seven are more free-form: higher end sounds, pure sine waves, little bursts of static. and, again, like Yoshihide above the music changes as you walk around, frequencies alter with changes in position and air-pressure, and also includes "a high-frequency sound... that the listener becomes aware of only upon its disappearance." Very minimal and intriguing. Like all of Ikeda's best work (including the Dumb Type stuff-- [OR] is absolute genius), this album is very precise and meditative, playful, and as always strangely melancholic. There is a sadness to Ikeda's music that's hard to describe. And parts of it also have a "haiku" feel similar to Yamamichi above. But there is also something weirdly Zen about Ikeda. I find it difficult to write about music at the best of times, and extremely difficult to write about this type on music. It's not "Noise," it's not "Electronica," it's not "Classical." It exists at the borders, where there is no adequate language to describe experience.
20' to 2000: A 20-minute cd single celebrating the Millennium. Part of a series of 12 discs that was slowly coming out for a while in 1999, but honestly I don't know if they got past the first few months. Ikeda's is 99 tracks of 12-second "variations for modulated 440hz sinewaves." (Actually, track 99 is 26 seconds long.) It begins with a steady tone which then starts to, well, modulate. It pulses and warbles and creates delicate Morse-code-like structures. I think it's great. It drove my friend Alex's cat nuts, though. Not to be played around domestic mammals.
Purple Trap: Decided... Already The Motionless
Heart Of Tranquillity, Tangling The Prayer Called "I".
I like it, but I do have a few reservations. There are some great things on Decided, but there is also more than a little flailing. Haino is in fairly fine form, Bill Laswell is pretty good and Rasheed Ali more-or-less stays out of the way. When it works, it's pretty good-- although, really, it just doesn't achieve the same heights the best of Fushitsusha (one of Haino's "other" bands-- let's be honest, most of Keiji Haino's projects have a very eerie air of similarity about them. This isn't a bad thing, but it is true), and with this lineup it should. Unfortunately, the guitarwork isn't as shimmering and loud, the feel nowhere near as darkly spiritual and transcendent. And sometimes Laswell's bass gets in the way. He's too busy being Bill Laswell to notice that he's sharing the stage with Keiji Haino. And I don't care who you are, even if you're Eric-bleeding-Clapton, or Bill-freakin'-Laswell, if you're playing with Haino, because Haino is such a rare and special talent, Haino comes first and you come second. I don't care who you are or how big your ego, you are secondary to Haino. That's just the way it is. And sometimes Laswell forgets this.
It's a word I hate uttering, makes me think of Beavis and Butthead and all those lameass backwards-ballcap-wearing middleclass slackerpunk streetkids who ask for change and then spend it all on pot, death metal, and Lysol, but I just gotta, so help me I gotta: plain and simple, this album (here it comes) rocks. God... I hated saying that, but sometimes it's true. This album rocks. It's hard, noisy, and groove-heavy. Drum, bass, guitar, keyboards, and noise noise noise. Maybe the first ever "rock" album put out by Tzadik. Of course, take my labeling of Empties "rock" with a slight grain here and there-- this is Tzadik we're talking about. This is the label that brought us an entire 77-minute album of duck-call and saxophone solos (John Zorn's The Classic Guide To Strategy). So, the way "rock" is used here is a fairly, uh, subjective term. But, hey, sometimes these songs do rock. Maybe call this abstract-noise-rock. There are bits of punk, jazz, and noise, in the mix. There are groovy club riffs buried under the sheets of sound. And to top it all off, a good dollop of dub studio wizardry (echoes, distortion, you name it). Sayoko's voice ranges from sweet and melodic, to utterly distorted and virtually indistinguishable for another one of the instruments, to a Lydia Lunch-like no-wave wail. Call me Butthead (and spare any change, Mister?), but this album kicks ass.
It's that time again. Time for another essay/novel/theme album/whatever-you-wanna-call-it from Nick Currie. Once again, Nick packs more astute social observation, cultural referencing, laugh out loud humour, lyrical brilliance, and sensitive creepyness than any other ten singer/song writers currently producing. The conciet with this one (and all his best albums have a theme running through them) is that through time electronic muisc has become the people's music, has taken the place that country and western, blugrass and folk once occupied as the world's "grassroots" muiscal form. Easy to produce and omnipresent, electronic muisc has become the folk muisc of today, while folk muisc itself has become elevated to elititst, exculisonary status, a type of muisc that only a few people really lisetn to, and only then to seperate themselves from the masses. (Working at a muisc store, I can honesltly say that this is a very astute, on-the-money observation. The people who do revel in "folk" muiscs, in "coutry" muiscs do so in ordre to go out of their ways to elevate themselves above the crowd.) How does Nick impart this little bit of observational genius? Simple, he merges genres: breakbeats sit beside plunking banjoes, casio twitters go hnd-in-hand with mountain yodelling, and so on. (And don't worry, he also hasn't forgotten about his love for "analogue baroque," quasi-classical and medeival structures bleep and drone around it all. Interstingly enough, this helps us trace the evolution of folk muiscs from the celtic skirl, and from European medieval peasnt and aristocrat dances.)
At the forefront, of course, as always is Nick's lyrics and voice. He speak-sings, probbaly because he feels his voice isn't good enough to really hold a melody, but more importantly so you can catch all the words. (There is a reason Nick Currie always likes to refer to himself as a writer.) As usual, the lyrics are dense and funny, studded with popcultural and literary references. The Rednex are spoken of with the same authority as Goethe, and Jean Michel Jarre, and Buckminster Fuller. The songs themsleves are tight and dazzling.
The album starts off lightly with the noisy and infectious "Apalaicha, which then swings intoi the clunky electro-blues of "Cool Folk Singer." And then when the Casios start up in "Mountain Music" everything locks into place. And it's not until almost an hour later with "The Penis Song" (easily one of the funniest songs Nick Currie has ever recorded) does Folktronic start to deviate from its program with side trips to Ancient Rome ("Heliogablus") and the wierd mediaval/prog rock tainted last three tracks. But, like a William S Burroughs collage novel, even these little side trips seem to serve an important fuvnction. They trace his thesemes throughout history. The boy emporor Heliogabus, for example, could easily be one of the twisted Westren townsfolk of "Psychopathis Sexualis," and the angry and chilling "Pygmalism" directly mirrors the first track (Apalachis has Momus mooning over a perfect, electronic Apalachisn mountain girl, while Pygmalism (written for Japanese pop star Kahimi Karie) is written from the point of view of a (possibly virtual) woman, created by a very George-Bernard-Shaw-esq Momus, for the sole puropse of pleasing him, all the while slowly going mad due to her "lover's" obsessive attentions, and plotting a merderous revenge. Nick Curries is a master of simultaneously undercutting and elevading himself, both inflating and destroying his own ego and becoming universal in the process-- it's amazing to witness. "Pygmalism" may be one of the most chilling songs Currie's ever written, and maybe the best song Tori Amos never had the intellect to write.
And then there's the brilliant "Robocowboys" which says more about the politics and reality of the 21st century in three minutes than most people can in an entire book.
Another highlight is the strangly beautiful "U.S. Knitting." When my friend Adrian heard it he commented that it felt like being in a book by Baudrilard.
This whole album is in many ways Baudrillard in action. Infact most of Momus' later work is best experienced with an eye to the hyperreal.
There is so much to this album that I can't talk about it all here. It just has to be experienced.
And, as usual, most of the songs are all very catchy and stick in your head for days.
In a perfect world this is what would be on the radio. Not Blink-182.
Moby: Play/Play: The B-Sides Box.
Yeah, I gushed about Play earlier, but now I have the box set with the extra CD of "B-Sides" some of which are as good as the stuff from Play, and some of which are not. But it's still worthwhile. (I know I'm supposed to be a muiscal weirdo, never liking commercial stuff, but what can I say, Moby makes good music.) Now I'd just like him to start working on a new album.
Pete Namlook/DJ Dag: Adlernebel.
Whimsical and beautiful. A little more beat-oriented than the Namlook I've heard before, but still a very mellow ride. Something to sit back and tap your toes to and smile. The firts track (The Forgotten Trail) is just totally... like... nice... in every way. "Raum und Ziet" is a bit darker maybe, sort of German-feeling (which is only fair because Namlook aka Peter Kuhlmann is German, and one of the earlier germean electronic folk, starting with jazz experiments and then later falling in love with all sorts of neat gadgetry), but still manages an optimistic feel-good sort of vibe. Remenescent of good Tangerine Dream, or Jean Michel Jarre-- back when there were such things. (Actually, a lot of Namlook's stuff sounds like, maybe, what TD wold have become if they hadn't started sucking wind so early on in their carreers.) "The West IS The Best" is smooth and toe-tapping, and hs a bit of an edge. And there are these little noises, some sort of clicky-jangly poercusiion in the background. They're great. And even "Pure Energy" with its cliched, cheezy sample and silly dance feeling is good. It's kind of ironic, and kind of serious. Then comes the atmosphereic "Dagar" and the witty and weird "You Gotta Hold It In Your Lungs Longer, George," a track I thought I'd hate, but then as it progressed had a feeling I'd like, and then thought "I dunno, maybe this isn't very good," but ended up loving and even laughing a bit at the "punchline." All-in-all, another disc from Fax, a label which has yet to disappoint me, even though I only have a dozen or so FAX albums. They're awfully hard to find and pretty expensive over here, even for somebody who gets a discount at the record store where he works. Still, if you can find and affpord the discs they're well worth the effort and cash. Right now Peter Kuhlmann's FAX +49-69/450464 label is putting out some of the best, and most fun electronic muisc in the world.
Sad World: Sad World I +II.
Sad world is a duo consisting of "Dr. Atmo" and "Ramin." This is a double CD set collecting the first two Sad World albums and contains 6 tracks. The tracks range from 5 minutes to 40 minutes. I don't really know much about these guys, but who really cares. The only thing that matters is the end muisc is beautiful. Relaxing, ambient, world-fusion-feeling (sometimes seeming Eastern, other times Russian or Australain-- many muiscs from many different cultures are blended in this one), and yes, sad. There seems to be a semi-conservationist tone to some of the samples in the tracks (the 30-minute "Glyan" springs to mind) but there is no over polliticking. Rather, the politics form part of the atmosphere. You are not hit over the head with a message, even in the 40-minute "Samarra" with its long sampled Christian sermon, which is kind of weird because I usually find long lectured about Jesus Christ sort of overbearing. And of course there might be something overt in the story the unnamed narratior tells in disc 1's "Harsin." However, I have no idea what language he's even speaking, so if there is a message it's lost to me. And if the slightly nutral treatment of preacher in "Samarra" is any indication, "Harsin 's" narrative is being handled with equal subtlty. (Even after "Samarra" I can't tell if these guys are Christians or not. Is the speach literal or ironic, or simply "sad?") Synth drones from old and new gear, soothing beats, vocal and other samples, acoustic instruments, and a gererally thoughtful tone. The only real problem here is that the under 15 minute tracks could have been a little longer. For example the 10-minute "Terasury" seems to just get started and then it fades out. Maybe a 3-disc set would have been better? On FAX, but licenecd to Instinct records out of the States which brought its price down a bit. Yet another good album from this label.
Francisco Lopez: Untitled 104.
Roaring, blistering, mind-numbing and brain shattering. A wall of sound for 30 minutes, and then completely silent. Francisco Lopez's "absolute musique concrète" takes a dramatic turn away from silence and naturalistic landscapes to something more... threatening. Amazing, and ear-wrenching.
Jliat: When we focus on nothing as opposed
to the set or subset of infinite events with whatever intellect we have
in that moment the conscious state becomes aware of the alternative to
the infinity of states which in its apprehension is enlightenment.
Whew. With a mouthful like that for a title this thing better be good. And it is. It's a long drone that builds upon itself and stretches for infinity-- or at least 70 minutes-- but I know that if he could James Whitehead (aka Jliat) would compose music that lasts forever. He's just that kinda guy. If you like drone-muisc, I can't recommend Jliat enough. However, stay away from his "Still-Life" series which is conceptually interesting, but extremely expensive and will probably piss you off (one of the Still Life discs I have consists of a single, milisecond click. It is the shortest CD I have ever bought and although it is an interesting idea, I wouldn't've purchased it had I had the foresight to go to the Jliat website [linked to on my links page] and headr the thing for free. Oh well) unless you really like the avant-garde. Which I do. Which was why it didn't piss me off. But I was still pretty stunned. But this one, it's like a billion church organs holding a single note forever. Magestic.
NEU!, NEU!2, NEU! '75.
How to begin. Maybe a list is in order....
1) Neu! is band formed by two ex-members of Kraftwerk. It ran from 1972 -1975.
2) "Neu" is the german word for "new." It's pronounced "Noy."
3) The two guys from Neu! are named Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger.
4) The music sounds like it was recorded yesterday. It has not aged one bit. And this is a remarkable achievement.
5) Neu! has influenced, in no particular order: David Bowie, Brian Eno, any number of punk bands, Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Public Image Limited, trance techno, bliss-core, and noise punk. The roots of ambient music are here, also. Ditto New Wave. And also New Age. And almost every indie guitar band of the 1990s (except for the ones that got everything from the Velvet Underground).
6) One track on Neu! 2 has on it (I swear) Japanese heartbeat drums.
7) When David Bowie and Brian Eno heard Neu!, they recorded their famous Low / Heroes / Lodger trilogy and changed musical history.
8) Neu! ran out of money half way through the making of Neu! 2, and so decided to play a bunch of their tracks at various speeds to fill up the record, arguably inventing the remix.
9) Neu! is some of the coolest music you will ever hear-- EVER!!!!
10) Neu! is the perfect music for driving, passive listening, ambient relaxation, or moshing.
11) Some of Neu! sounds like ambient german electronica a la Cluster and, of course, a lot like Britisher Brian Eno. But there are also early, very rhythmic noise-punk tracks. And also long, dream "space-rock" / trance experiments as well. And there's also some spacy progressive guitar stuff that's halfway between Pink Floyd and Neil Young.
12) Even Neu! 2, the weakest album is brilliant and funny.
13) Dinger and Rother hate each other and these reissues have been, literally decades in the making.
14) The second you hear the 4/4 Neu "motorik" rhythm you will recognize it from literally hundreds of songs. I have no idea is Neu! invented this rhythm, though, or merely perfected it. BUt you will still recognize it.
15) Most of the tracks don't have lyrics. But that's good because Klaus Dinger only really scream and whine. When he does this, it's remarkably effective, though.
16) People classify this music as "electronica," now, but it's closer to "krautrock." But that doesn't matter because both "electronica" and "krautrock" are meaningless terms.
17) Spacey, electronic, mellow, harsh, rockin', ambient, noisy, detached, in-your-face, alien, groovy, new-age, punk, transcendent, motorik joy.
Fennesz: Endless Summer.
His music skitters and skips, it yibbles and twitters and squeaks and sounds like lots of skipping cds arranged in loops. And it's so weirdly emotional. Kind of nostalgic. I read somewhere that Endless Summer is Fennesz's tribute to the Beach Boys, and while I'm not really sure exactly how that follows, there is a very definite "summery" feeling to these pieces. A sense of beauty, even. Like, well, like maybe walking on a beach in the middle of some virtual summer, and there's interference maybe-- maybe some static, maybe the feed isn't exactly as tuned as you want it to be, but that's still beautiful. The beach and the swaying palm trees, they seem to fracture and distort, for just a nanosecond, and then they're back. And then the picture breaks up, and coheres into something new.
It's the sound of old digital memories fraying around the edges. In his novel Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling supposes something called "bit-rot," an effect created by newer virtual technologies not being able to totally interface with the old, creating virtual worlds that, while infinitely reproducible, are in a state of ever-increasing decay. Endless Summer feels a bit like bit-rot, like I'm 80 years old and looking at a past-- something I recorded decades ago-- that doesn't quite interface with today. Nostalgic music from tomorrow.
Part of this effect is achieved through Fennesz's guitar. It's filtered through his laptop, mixed with all the chiming and skipping, simply melodic and yet fractured.
This is some of the most beautiful electronic music I've heard in years.
Jim O'Rourke: Insignificance & I'm
Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1,2,3,4.
Here Jim O'Rourke is making a witty, ascerbic, and angry album of country-fried pop a la... I dunno what... Lynnrd Skynyrd maybe? Among other things. Anyway, this album... uh... "rocks" in all the right places. And, because it's O'Rourke, all his bitterness, angst and humour, and all his pseudo-70's "guitar-as-penis-metaphor" flourishes are nicely mixed together with a big helping of intelligence, avant-garde theorizing, and just plain fun. Even when he's angry and lashing out at the world in an unfocussed way, he still manages to have fun. Some people in the Chicago scene have criticized him for criticizing them, but I don't really care. Jim O'Rourke can criticize anybody he likes if he keeps putting out albums as good as this one. You don't like what he says about you, tough titty, go cry in yer cornflakes pal. In Insignificance, O'Rourke (once again) puts his money where his mouth is and, well, he makes another winner.
I'm Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1,2,3,4:
O'Rourke's entry into the world of "glitch." While not as good as Fennesz's Endless Summer, this is still a mighty solid, damn beautiful slab of whatever it is.
Much like Fennesz, O'Rourke packs a lot of emotion into his loops.
The album is comprised of 3 tracks. The first is called "I'm Happy," the second is "and I'm Singing," and the third is (curiously enough) entitled "and a 1,2,3,4."
Chiming, and colourful. Some of it is introspective, and some of it reminiscent of classical minimalism.
VARIOUS: Clicks & Cuts 2.
A 3-CD "glitch" sampler that runs the gamut from accessible dancy/dub-like stuff to the most obscure and out-there squeaking and clicking you can think of. Some of it is harsh, and some of it reaches a very delicate, almost zen-like musical precision. Tons of talent in this sampler at a reasonable price. From Kid 606, to Tomas Jirku, and Fennesz, Vadislav Delay, Matmos and others. And a great booklet explaining the theory and practice of constructing rhythmic and abstract music from quick digital errors. People were touting "Drum n' Bass" as the "new" Jazz a while back, but that fell flat when it seemed that all the Drum N Bass people were using the exact same complex rhythms again and again. However, Glitch while not being like Jazz in the slightest (and maybe sort of like D n B sometimes) seems to be more in the spirit of a new type of jazz than anything else I've heard so far. While a lot of it is generated by playing with loops on computers, there is still a huge amount of room for types of improvisation-- a potential that D n B never really managed to harness. Played live, Glitch can have both defined structures and utterly free sections where the musicians can improvise on themes of their own devising-- much like Jazz. Amazing. If not sometimes kinda hard on the ears. But in a soothing way....
Sonic Youth: NYC Ghosts & Flowers.
I'm not a really big SY fan, anybody who knows me knows that-- although lately I've recently revised a few of my harsher opinions of them. Their music does seem to be withstanding the test of time and hell, maybe I'm just getting soft, but some of it does make me feel nostalgic. But when I heard that Jim O'Rourke was signing onto the band for an indefinite stint, I thought I had to check it out.
And it's good. This is maybe one of the strongest albums SY has ever put out, and O'Rourke's fingerprints are all over it. This could wind up being one of those legendary collaborations, like Eno's hooking up with Talking Heads, that just might end up producing classic albums, if not the best albums of this band's career. (Sort of like, well, Eno did, with, like, Talking Heads....)
This singing is "good," as far as anything on a Sonic Youth album can be called "Singing," the mixing is excellent, the wall of noise ending the title track is absolutely apocalyptic (I only wish that track had been about a minute longer), and even Kim Gordon isn't really all that annoying. And one of the tracks is even kinda funky, in a fractured grunge-funk sorta way.
What more could you ask for?
John Cale: Sun Blindness Music.
Three early recordings by Cale, dating from the pre-Velvet Underground days. In the long title track, Cale tortures an organ with both the recording input and the organ's volume seemingly turned to the max. The effect he achieves is, almost literally the aural equivalent of staring at the sun too long. Lots of long, drawn-out, chords, but weirdly beautiful notes. The other two tracks are an experimental guitar drone-- think maybe along the lines of Glenn Branca or Spacemen 3. The last track is an experimental electronic piece. For anyone interested in Cale, and in particular the more experimental side of Cale, this disc is a must.
Miss Kittin And The Hacker: First Album.
Cynical, funny, sexy, and dangerous. Miss Kittin (Caroline Herve) and The Hacker (Michael Amato) are a French Duo. The music (provided by The Hacker) sounds like almost every 80's techno artist you can think of. Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, and on and on. The lyrics (Miss Kittin's contribution) are delivered in a bored, sensual speak-song reminiscent of The Flying Lizards. Song topics range from sex on MTV, Frank Sinatra and the whole cult of the famous, strippers as holograms, self-reflexivity, and other strangeness. This is what Laurie Anderson should be ding now, in stead of making self-consciously sentimental and dreck like Life On A String. Miss Kittin and The Hacker is funny, and sharp. And, especially with the whole 80s revival thing fast on our heels, chillingly relevant. The whole thing is very European, kind of sleazy, emotionally detached, and totally cool.
More Ambient than Fantasma, this outing combines aspects of club pop, lounge music, prog rock, noise, Beach Boys harmonies, computer singing, human voices, punk, hawaiian guitar, and, well, you name it. An amazing follow-up to Fantasma. Total and compete ear candy. Fun, and blissy.