Monday, 27 April 2015

ENNUI - What's Not On The Hi-Fi

I never thought when this blog began that I would ever write about music that I'm not listening to. I thought occasional articles about music I hated would have been written but you still have to listen to those. As I have written before, the glut of rap mixtapes and proper albums has become absurd, leading me to almost give up entirely on the genre. Perhaps I went too deep last year and over indulged in rap and, being a fickle bastard, got sick of it. Rap like ye olde reggae is more of a singles game these days anyway innit? Maybe rap's just not as good as last year. Innovation, good tunes and good albums come in waves with lulls in between. Twelve of my top twenty two LP/Mixtape releases from 2014 were from trap, ratchet, drill and other hip hop zones. Another six LPs/Mixtapes rated a special mention in my end of year list as well. I also went a bit mad on old stuff by Kevin Gates and BeatKing in particular. Perhaps my proclivity for these zones reached some kind of apex that could only then decline into a nadir. 2015 has only produced, for me, two ok/listenable rap releases BeatKing's Club God 4 and Ballout & Tadoe's Rise Of The Glo Gang Empire. Even these two aren't really getting mega airplay round here. Artists that I've previously held in high esteem such as Schoolboy Q, Chief Keef, Future, I Love Makonnen, Que, Juicy J, Iamsu!, Sicko Mobb and Rome Fortune remain on the sidelines unlistened to. While releases rated by others in 2015 that I would have usually checked out by now such as those by Father, AD, Rae Sremmurd, RJ & Choice, Drake, HBK CJ, Johnny May Cash and MPA Wicced also reside in the unplayed/unheard sector. I did listen to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and well it annoyed the shit out of me. Maybe I should give it another go but I can't bring myself to do it. Like an abstinent nihilistic hedonist I'm a vibe migrant without a destination.

This looks like it might be pretty good but will I ever listen to it?

Friday, 24 April 2015

On The Haunted Gramophone

Who can understand where your brain will go next with regards to what you are gong to listen to? I'm still really enjoying The Advisory Circle's excellent 2014 album From Out Here. Perhaps it's the best ever release on Ghostbox. It's definitely up there with The Focus Group's Hey Let Loose Your Love and Belbury Poly's The Willows in my book. I just wanna keep hearing it and I know I've already written about it a couple of times before but hey it keeps growing in my estimation. It's probably not very cool to be into GhostBox these days but I don't give a fuck. Hipsters can go and listen to their fka twiggles, shite z-grade house and whatever else.

Gesellschaft Zur Emanzipation Des Samples
Actually some other stuff from hauntological zones has had my attention also. I went back and had a listen to the G.E.S. album Circulations and fuck me, after having a reaction just a notch above lukewarm to it back in 2009, I'm starting to think this recording is one of the best in its field now. If you dig those first couple of Focus Group albums and haven't heard this you need to check it out. Circulations is a gloriously random sampleadelic collage and a mini-masterpiece. Apparently a couple years after this release G.E.S. did a second volume which passed me by but now I'm on the search for that.

Listening to that has in turn led me all the way back to 1999. Leyland Kirby's first release under The Caretaker pseudonym was issued in 1999 but I didn't hear it till the early 00s. Anyway those first 3 Caretaker albums Selected Memories From The Haunted Ballroom (99), A Stairway To The Stars (01) and We'll All Go Riding On A Rainbow (04) have had me captivated again. It's a bloody great concept ie. the haunted ballroom is The Gold Room in The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's novel The Shining. They made a movie too that you may have seen, directed by a guy you may have heard of. Of course The Caretaker is named after the caretaker Jack Torrance from the aforementioned ghost story. Concepts are pretty meaningless though, unless the music is the goods. They're sometimes meaningless when the music's expertly executed too. These records are perfectly out of time, sentimental, nostalgic, revenant, disorientating and even sometimes quite lovely. The Caretaker's secret is to keep it subtle and let the music insidiously haunt you. This trilogy is a magnificent achievement. The mood The Caretaker creates lingers on long after you've stopped listening and I find myself going back time and time again to experience the inexplicable feelings this music elicits (sorry couldn't bring myself to say uncanny Mr Fisher). The Caretaker is possibly the most artistically successful of anyone who has been cast as hauntological.

Finally this brings me to Actress. I didn't mind their R.I.P. record from 2012 and I thought 2010's Splazsh was quite ace. I never would have imagined they'd end up in such exhausted zones as those on last year's Ghettoville though. Darren Cunningham's exemplary arty electronic melange was always a restrained version of tech, house, garage and other club styles. I don't know if tunes from Splazsh or R.I.P. ever got played out but you felt like it was maybe possible with some of them. I can't imagine anything from Ghettoville getting a spin in a club though, unless its a disco at a funeral or a zombie rave. This is post-millennial electronic music that's broken down, malfunctioning and barely able to transmit through its frayed circuits which is not dissimilar in spirit to Mordant Music's requiem for rave Dead Air from 2006. Ghettoville feels like the final death notice for rave memorial services. I mean 'wake for rave' has become a sub-genre hasn't it? With the likes of Burial, Lee Gamble, Mordant Music, Leyland Kirby's V/VM et al. This could be the final death knell for the technoid future or is their further sonic depletion and ruin on the horizon?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Lord Of The Rings - Bo Hansson

On The Hi-Fi Part 43

Bo Hansson - Lord Of The Rings
For years I've avoided this album for some reason. I mean I love me kosmische and synth based gear but I think it was the title that put me off. I thought it was probably music for Tolkien nerds and trainspotters. Anyway I finally took the plunge and hey, due to my ignorance, I've been missing out. There's way more guitar than I imagined but it's got plenty of Moog and organ too. Guitar-wise it's a little reminiscent of the more outre moments from Robbie Krieger, like if he'd been tripping on acid in the desert for five days straight sweltering in the hot sun. I guess for me this sound conjures up images of arid dusty plains, scorching heat, sand dunes and cacti rather than middle earth. In amongst the beautifully evocative atmospheres it even gets a bit groovy in places. Lord Of The Rings is just the right side of good psych prog. This is another Swedish gem from the early 70s along with LPs from Älgarnas Trädgård, Harvester, Träd, Gräs & Stenar, Handgjort and a few others.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bad Moon Rising - Sonic Youth

I haven't been posting as much due to, you know, life and that but also because I've been doing some writing for a web site. This writing is eating into my blogging time, anyway whatever. So I've decided to include some of these writings here in a little series called Tim's Rough Guide To Rock. This first one is on Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising which I just had to share as I came to a much deeper understanding of the record as I wrote the review. Now I think I could write a major article by expanding this small piece or just leave it as is.

This is a weird album. Bad Moon Rising has a mysterious atmosphere that just hangs and engulfs all in its path. This is the most singular Sonic Youth LP making it unique in their catalogue. Like David Lynch did with Blue Velvet, Sonic Youth shine a light on the dark underbelly of the suburban American Dream. Perhaps coming to the conclusion that it may in fact be a nightmare. Sex, mental illness, hippie optimism and its ultimate disillusion, subversion, nihilism, death, transgression and power are all covered lyrically here. Sonically the clangs and the air of alienating dissonance mirror that of the urban sprawl and the squalor it entails. This LP moves at a creepy catatonic pace that parallels life in the suburbs. The pace only picks up with a burst of violence that is Death Valley 69. A bit like Charles Manson’s wake up call to those sleepwalking through the 60s.

*This really is a concept LP which would have been very uncool at the time. How did it get past the taste police, I wonder? This has me thinking about a piece Simon Reynolds did a few weeks back about a Thurston Moore quote about 1985. The gist was that in 1985 Thurston thought it was quite radical to reference music from the rock no go zone of 1968-75, citing Green River as the catalysts for this move. Perhaps this double think allowed him to make a concept LP in 1985 as well.

*Bad Moon Rising got reissued a month or so back I've just noticed making this post quite topical and not as pointless as I thought.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ex Machina - Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

Last week the OST to Ex Machina was released. I thought that 2012's DROKK album by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury was a one off but here they are again working as a duo. This time it's a soundtrack for a sci-fi thriller. Unlike the previous DROKK OST, I think this one actually got used for the film's score. For Ex-Machina they have expanded the sound palette beyond mere John Carpenter synth homages to include real instruments like guitars and brass. As there are no drums we end up in pretty much dark ambient zones on this soundtrack with occasional Berlin school style synth flourishes. Amongst the impeccable throbs and drones there's also....shhh!.... a bit of a post-rock vibe on some tracks where a guitar is utilised. Sometimes the drones mutate into into thick squalls of intense gloom. So we've got the 70s, 80s and 90s covered then. Depending on your point of view this is either a derivative throwback or retro(future)licious.

Friday, 10 April 2015

RE: Swagger Jacker

Here's that tune Swagger Jacker from Cam'ron. It's more like a piece of heavy handed investigative journalism than a song innit? Sure this expose is a little biased but that's bias based in fact. One man's homage is another's Swagger Jacking it seems. Hip Hop culture is largely based on sampling, pilfering, homages, tributes and appropriations. So perhaps Cam'ron took umbrage at Z for not owning up to his pilfering and/or his sledging of other rappers?? Cam'ron had to sample Jay Z, Slick Rick, Snoop Doggy Dog, Biggie etc. to make his own song. I wonder if that irony was lost on him though?

Funnily enough as Simon pointed out here Swagger Jacking used to be called biting. That's 'biting someone's style'. Jay Z is sampled in Swagger Jacker saying he's 'not a biter he's a writer' which is from What More Can I Say off Z's Black Album. As Cam'ron points out though he is a biter. Slick Rick says in The Ruler's Back from 1988 'They're bitin what I'm writin.' Thirteen years later Z bites what Slick Rick wrote on his very own similarly titled tune The Ruler's Back from The Blueprint. Hey Jay Z's pretty good at biting though as I've testified. Ironically Z spends the entire second verse of The Ruler's Back dissing rappers swagger jacking him, all in good humour of course.

*Unfortunately Jay Z's The Ruler's Back is nowhere to be found on the youtubes.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

New Terms

The Original revivalists in 1985.

Reviving the revival or was it reviving the revival of the revival in 2000?

In the last week I've come across two new little phrases I've not heard. The first one is revival spiral , which is the perfect way to describe revivals of revivals and revivals of revivals of revivals and so on....I came across this quote from Lauren Cochrane from The Guardian via Retromania. Here she is referring to fashion mainly but this can be used in relation to music, architecture, art etc.

"The Pulp look means the 70s as seen by the 90s, tweaked by 2015. It’s the latest example of a revival spiral, but one that, like Pulp’s albums, we’ll no doubt be playing again and again."

Er....I wish I'd come up with that snazzy little phrase.

Also noteworthy over at Retromania was the New York Times Style Magazine's feature article - The Revival Of Everything. I thought this revival started somewhere in the mid to late 90s. The interweb was taking off. The Beastie Boys were making eclectic records like ill Communication that had funk, soundtrack, rock, jazz, rap, latin, reggae, world, punk and many other vibes. Grande Royale, The Beasties own magazine was getting into all sorts of things that seemed to not make sense at the time. All of a sudden in the streets it seemed like anything from any era was up for grabs and hey why not mix and match eras too in fashion, music, furniture etc. This is where today's atemporality was forming. Back then it seemed like it hadn't been done before in such a comprehensive manner though. Whereas everything being hip at the same time and eclecticism is now the norm. Is there a paradox forming here? I guess the trend of incongruity can only last for a certain amount of time before it becomes congruous. Then what are you left with?

The other new term, to me, is Swagger Jacker. After consulting the Urban Dictionary I've found that this term has been in use since at least 2006. Ha, I'm only 9 years behind. It was used over at FACT to describe rappers who mimic other rappers unique style, flow and, well, their entire vibe really. It appears that in 2006 Cam'ron had a tune called Swagger Jacker that was a comprehensive dis of Jay Z. Cam'ron juxtaposed Jay Z's lyrics and flow against the swagger of Biggie, Snoop & Slick Rick to make the point that Z ain't too original. In the rap world last year many seemed to be Swagger Jacking Young Thug. This year it'll probably be someone else. That's a great way of describing these less unique performers who can't shake off their hero's influence in their own work. Here's an excellent article over at Complex about the phenomenon of Swagger Jacking.

The one and only Young Thug.

One of the many other Young Thugs.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cascade - William Basinski

Whoa I'm back after quite a little retreat from the outside world. Here's a beautiful record for the beginning of Autumn. Cascade was actually evoking wintry trees and slowly shifting clouds earlier. I guess if you know Basanski's work you'll know what your getting with this kind of thing ie. gentle repetitious piano drifting over subtle drones. Subdued bliss is the vibe, for me anyway. Different moods might evoke different feelings. Halfway through this 40 minute composition I started to wonder if it had changed at all since it had begun. This indicating that Basanski had done something to make minimalist echoing drones captivating and insidiously psychedelic. I got lost deep inside these mesmerising textures and time felt like it had slowed, leaving an anodyne feeling. Just when my mind was resigned to the fact that this tune would remain infinitely static, with five minutes left, Basanski dropped the pianos. This left just the subtle ambient drones that were underpinning the piano loops, which were then faded out to end this stellar piece. You might think you've heard it all before but there's an ineffable quality about the ebb and flow of Cascade's enveloping tones that keeps me coming back. Cascade is one of Basanski's most compelling works.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

La Corta Notte Delle Bambole Di Vetro & Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura - Ennio Morricone

I can't believe I haven't been alerted to or discovered this soundtrack until now. I somehow missed this when it first got released in 1998, only 27 years after it was recorded. I mean I know Morricone is a man of many soundtracks but why is this one remaining in obscurity? La Corta Notte Delle Bambole Di Vetro is outstanding. Its in that zone where his Argento soundtracks were. That's a great zone, one of my favorite sonic places to visit. La Corta Notte... is a giallo film that was the directorial debut for Aldo Lado. The La Corta Notte... soundtrack was recorded in 1971, around the same time Ennio recorded the OSTs for Argento's The Cat O Nine Tales, Four Flies On Grey Velvet and The Bird With Crystal Plummage, Fulci's A Lizard In A Woman's Skin, Rubartelli's Veruschka and Castellari's Gli Occhi Freddi Del Paura. He was certainly having a purple patch in 1971.

The music Ennio Morricone arranged for La Cotra Notte... is tense, intensely creepy, very minimal and unmistakeably Morricone does giallo. This music has more in common with Morricone's experimental improv side project Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza than his famous Spaghetti Western scores. Here he doesn't use funky psych guitars at all though (Like he does with the Gruppo or on A Lizard In A Woman's Skin etc.) leaving the score peculiarly sparse. Some tracks are dementedly atonal. There are horror motifs throughout so its not as audacious as the unpredictable score for Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura (which was recorded with Gruppo) but this is still brilliantly eerie, dark and experimental. Sometimes its like you can hear and feel the air on this recording. On several tunes a woman (Edda Dell'orso) who sounds like she's been tortured and then forced to sing appears with crippled fearful tones for your disturbing delight. It's apparently a film about some kind of hostage situation so this makes sense. Sospiri Di Morte features a deep breathing lady (Dell'orso again) over really baleful, minimal and muffled percussion, which is one of the most extraordinary soundtrack moments I've ever heard. Like the previously mentioned soundtracks, this score works perfectly as an album all by its nightmarish self. I've just noticed that Morricone scored Lado's next handful of films which include another giallo film, a science fiction flick and a video nasty. Still more to discover.....

1971: A hell of a year for Morricone.
While we're on the subject I might as well say a thing or two about the (pictured just above) aforementioned soundtrack Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura. Now this was another 1971 soundtrack but it didn't get a release until 2000. I didn't miss this one. I think it has been reissued again in the last year or two. So Morricone recorded this with his improv band Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. This score is not only one of the best soundtracks ever, its also one of the best albums ever. I guess people into AMM, Nihilist Spasm Band, Spontaneous Music Ensemble or Miles Davis in the 70s should take a special interest here. This is some top notch improv jams under the direction of the one and only Bruno Nicolai. Produced by none other than Gianni Dell'orso. We've got fuzz guitar duelling with jazz bass and electronics. That's just for starters. This LP is so unpredictable you never know where it's heading next. There's many a clank and a scrape to be heard amongst other haunting sounds. The group had been going since 1964 and are considered one of the pioneering collectives of experimental composers. It was by no means Morricone's band. Other members included Egisto Macchi (library music legend), Walter Branchi and Franco Evangelisti. I think it was Evangelisti who got the whole thing together. They were aspiring to a new form of composition through improvisation and other methods such as (like John Cage) chance. Apparently they sometimes used the game of chess as an inspiration. Anyway the credits on this one go to Morricone but that seems arbitrary as surely everyone contributed to each tune. Fabulously free percussion mixed with of sour sax/trumpet(?) and textural keyboards play their part on this recording. More than anything though its not the separate sounds that make up the music its the sound of the unit itself. This is an incredibly switched on unit comparable to Can and the ensembles Miles Davis put together in the 70s. Half the time I don't know what's making the sounds anyway. This doesn't sound like any other soundtrack I've ever heard. Most of the time you forget this incredibly fluid music even went with images as the tangent of where the hell they'll go next has you so engaged. You start to feel that your own ear is also an integral part of the unit as well...sort of becoming one with the music. This is a hell of a strange trip that never gets old. They have other albums as well, maybe I'll discuss them another time. Its quite hard to believe a film director just saying 'yeah sure' to this mental project. This is a unique record that could have a special place in your heart if you give it a listen. Like Harmonia's Deluxe this is an unheralded classic of 20th century music that deserves a better status.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Jungle Gold

This is a bunch of jungle tunes I've only come across this year or at least ID'ed anyway. The jungle music jungle is vast indeed. I had a severe migraine earlier today so I was drugged to the eyeballs. After many hours the pain abated. I was still in a drug haze when I decided to listen to a mix I'd made earlier this year, before my computer crashed. I had found a stash of choice jungle tunes on the interweb I hadn't come across before but now I can't recall how or where I found them. Anyway it was a great decision to listen to this mix while I sunk into the bed finally feeling better and able to enjoy a snippet of life. The quality goes deep on these tunes. One thing I loved about hardcore and jungle was the amount of different sections to a song there were. If one bit wasn't doing it for ya it didn't matter because a new section would have probably arrived before you even realised. Tear Down is a bewdy. Total drum and bass science. These artists were so damn crafty, you have to admire their commitment and dedication. 

This is great mental jungle. Fucking crazy bass, kung fu samples, beats to die for, killer synth stabs and a lovely reggae vocal loop. What more do you need? You Must Think First is relentless.

This really sounds like music from a Jungle at the start. Then the beats roll in, followed by a diva, then killer bass and breaks. The drums on this are incredible. This was a culture on a high and Dubb Hustlers were bringing their A game because you had to otherwise you'd be fucked as everyone else was raising the bar as well. Shit two sport analogies in the same sentence, I think I need to have another lie down.

There's something comforting about the sirens in this tune. Junglist Soldier has passed both tests ie. the bike one and the bed one. The beatz are amazing on this and that 80s Prince-esque synth is fabulous and unusual. Perhaps amongst the choppage here is a Prince drum sample. I think I'm hearing Devo drums as well. Maybe they're just the same drum machines. I don't know. When you think all is said and done an unexpected mental bassline kicks in at the 4 and a half minute mark which is pure gold. You could say that bass was proto-dubstep but that would kind of cheapen it I reckon. This is prime jungle, dubstep doesn't come anywhere near this shit man. 

Lets face it music sounds better on drugs. Lets face it everything's better with drugs. Why do you think its such a massive worldwide industry. This sounds good when you're straight too. Its just that the last time I heard it (an hour and a half ago) I was off me head. Hoover soundz along with sweet soul vocals is a great combo as is bit of a chipmunk vocal, great keyboards, synth strings and a reggae sample.