Ólafur Arnalds/Shinichi Atobe/Daniel Bachman/Nicolas Jaar/Roland Kayn/Bamba Pana/Various Artists – bblisss
The very act of change is a natural state. In the twelve years since I last held a valid British passport, pretty much everything has changed for me: I am no longer a drunk; I am no longer HCV+; I am no longer a single parent. Children grow up, children leave home. Shorn of the responsibility of family holidays, and with a newly issued passport in pocket, I duly set sail for France, and the promise of two idyllic weeks with la nouvelle Madame Encoule.
We sailed from Dover, on the early afternoon tide, bound for Calais, and the beckoning tolls of the French motorway system. By the time we’d hit out first service station, somewhere near the Somme, I’d readapted to driving on the wrong side of the road, and reacquainted myself with the kind of rudimentary French involved in ordering ham baguettes, coffee and muffins. In summary, French motorway service stations are ostensibly the same as here in the UK, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, or feature coach-loads of drunken office staff returning from team-building exercises in the Forest Of Dean.
With a couple of hundred miles worth of UK motorway already under our belts that day, we sallied forth only as far as Rouen on the first night, some three hundred miles short of our ultimate destination: Concarneau. Armed with the wonders of smart phones and roaming data agreements, we were able to make a reservation in Rouen in plain sight of the actual room we would be staying in that night, whilst still a hundred miles or so away, travelling at 80mph, in a large metal tin, on wheels. Technology has come a long way in the last twelve years, changing the art of travelling on possibly every level imaginable. Directed to the hotel with the pinpoint accuracy of a MGM-51 Shillelagh missile by our on-board sat-nav system, we were duly installed and loose on the streets of Rouen, refreshed and pizza’d, in time for the stunning light projection of scenes from Rouen’s history, beamed onto the outside walls of the city’s cathedral. We stood in awe, agog at the spectacle, filming furiously on our mobile devices, whilst simultaneously broadcasting to various social media platforms at will. With hundreds of years of history literally crumbling in front of our eyes, this was surely the finest acid trip I had ever experienced without the use of hallucinogenic substances. With flashbacks indelibly stamped on our retinas, we strolled the balmy streets of Rouen in search of the river, and the ten thousand steps each we required to keep our blood pressures in line with European Standard Blood Pressure regulation #12826-2. In summary, Rouen is ostensibly the same as any historical city here in the UK, except it serves decent coffee, doesn’t smell of weed, or feature coach-loads of drunken Celtic supporters returning from a Champion’s League qualifier in Moldova.
Arising bright and breezy at around 7am the following matin, we breakfasted like children amok in a croissant factory, slurping delicious coffee, cramming in mini-pastries and multiple yoghurts, buttering pain traditionale without recourse for confiture. On the road for 8am, we began eating miles like Pac-Man eats Pac-Dots, Madame Encoule co-piloting and DJing ambidextrously, whilst carrying out her own research on the type of cars preferred by French drivers. She soon felt confident enough to publish her findings, concluding that French drivers typically preferred to drive French cars. 7-out-of-the-next-10 cars to overtake us all turned out to be German, and the research method was returned to the drawing board of reflection, for reconsideration and refinement. The soundtrack to the journey featured Nubya Garcia, Burial, Sons Of Kemet, Nathan Salsburg, François Tusques, Daniel Bachman, Mikey Dread, Black Lodge, Topdown Dialectic and Iceage. As the toll roads turned to dual carriageways, and the terrain altered accordingly, we crossed the regional line into Brittany, mid-afternoon, eventually picking up the N165, the thoroughfare that would become our Route 66 for the ensuing fortnight. We rolled into downtown Concarneau at around 4.30pm, collecting the maison keys from the letting agency, before venturing back up over the bridge that spans the gorge at the head of the town, to reach La Passage on the east side of the dock. Our maison, located dockside, directly opposite the citadel of Concarneau, could best be described as halcyon: the Otis Reading of holiday homes. As we entered the 3-storey building, filming furiously, amazed at the luxury our money had secured us, we were filled with the kind of child-like joy that only wonderful surprises can bring. We had our own citadel, our own fleet of French naval frigates guarding our docks, and our very own ferryman, who for 1-Euro a pop would ferry us from our local jetty to the sea gate of the citadel, daily, from 8am till 11pm. We’d hit town in the midst of festival season. Over a hundred years old, the Filets Bleus festival takes place every August, when it gives the town and its inhabitants an opportunity to go back to their roots: a typically Breton-flavoured costumed parade, dancing, games and the 24-hour drone of massed bagpipes, percussed by the constant click of le clog. As we swam around town through the sea of brasseries in search of bière sans alcohol, we were soon ensconced quayside at Les Grand Voyageurs, Desigauled-up, sipping ice-cold Jupiler, munching moules, omelettes and frites. Wandering the citadel later that evening, cafe ice-creams in hand (deux scoops), we found what would become the ice-cream bench, where we sat, licked, and watched le monde drift by into the night. In summary, Concarneau’s citadel is much like any English citadel, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t rammed with hordes of sunburnt infidels who overdid it on the first day, singing: “Torremolinos, Torremolinos”.
In the course of the next seven days, week one saw us traverse the N165 in search of the standing stones of Carnac, one of Brittany’s greatest attractions. Three fields, Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan, contain around 3,000-aligned megaliths, dating from 4000BC. These granite stones were erected on the spot where they were dug, hence the differing sizes, and although it is not known why they were put up, it is thought they had a religious or cultural significance. Some of the latest theories suggest that they formed a barrier between incomers from the coast and the heartlands of the interior, but I prefer to think they were erected to channel energy towards the Tumulus Saint Michel, the enormous burial mound at the centre of the modern town of Carnac, originally built to house a single grave. The concept that the entire complex was constructed in honour of a single human being is as mind-bending as the tangible sense of flowing energy we felt wandering illegally in and out of the stones. Nearby, the megalithic site in Locmariaquer contains three of most emblematic monuments of Breton megalithic architecture: the ‘Er Grah de Locmariaquer’ tumulus, the broken standing stone (menhir), and the ‘Table des Marchands’, or Merchants’ Table, dolmen. These enigmatic stones were erected between 4500 and 3700 BC, and bear testament to a period of prehistory that saw the sedentarisation of man, and the beginnings of primitive farming. The rest of week one was balanced out with local pottering: costal reconnoitres, plage testing, lighthouse spotting, hyper-market evaluation, cycling, and a whole bunch of walking. We even found a record shop, in Brest, Bad Seeds Records, but sadly it had an extensive Death In June section, so we made our excuses, and left. By the end of week one we’d become accustomed to our environment; could speak fluent parodic French; could hear bagpipes in our sleep; and had found the beach beneath the pavement. In summary, French archaeological sites are much like English archaeological sites, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t troubled by phalanxes of Time Team t-shirted Phil Hardings shouting: “come and have a look in this here trench, Tony”.
Week one’s holiday reading matter: ‘The Gallows Pole’ (Bluemoose Books), Ben Myers: “An England divided. From his remote moorland home, David Hartley assembles a gang of weavers and land-workers to embark upon a criminal enterprise that will capsize the economy and become the biggest fraud in British history. They are the Cragg Vale Coiners and their business is ‘clipping’ – the forging of coins, a treasonous offence punishable by death. A charismatic leader, Hartley cares for the poor and uses violence and intimidation against his opponents. He is also prone to self-delusion and strange visions of mythical creatures. When excise officer William Deighton vows to bring down the Coiners and one of their own becomes turncoat, Hartley’s empire begins to crumble. With the industrial age set to change the face of England forever, the fate of his empire is under threat. Forensically assembled from historical accounts and legal documents, ‘The Gallows Pole’ is a true story of resistance that combines poetry, landscape, crime and historical fiction, whose themes continue to resonate.”
Week two felt more relaxed from the get-go. Orienteered and settled, we began to push the envelope to explore the full potential of N165. We hit the north and Pontivy, a quiet market town where the River Blavet meets the Nantes-Brest canal, once the seat of one of Brittany’s most powerful families before becoming one of Napoléon’s ‘new towns’. We ventured west to Quimper, the administrative capital of the Finistère department, also generally regarded as the cultural heart of Brittany. The town is known for its cathedral, atmospheric old quarter and museums, and we spent hours wandering its impressive streets, furiously photographing, irresponsibly consuming coffee. Midweek saw us head east, back along the old N165, for a booked excursion to Gavrinis, home to what is arguably Brittany’s most impressive Neolithic site: a pyramid-shaped stone burial chamber, whose interior walls are covered with artwork. The island is accessible via a guided tour by boat, from Larmor-Baden. The structure is a tumulus (earth mound) covering a cairn (stone mound) covering a dolmen (stone burial chamber), and was built around 3500BC. To reach the burial chamber, visitors must walk down a low, narrow 46ft-long passage whose walls are decorated with intricate carved patterns and symbols, such as axe heads, horned animals and swirls. At Winter Solstice, the sun shines down the passage and hits the back wall, a la Newgrange (Eire). It is strictly forbidden to take any photographs inside the chamber, and following advice and guidance gleaned from social media stone-worshiping pages, we planned an approach of guile and cunning involving the strategic positioning of Madame Encoule in the guide’s eyeline. Our plan was helped enormously by a smaller-than average party containing a few small children, one of whom was frankly far too young to be interested in neolithic burial practices, and a combination of stealth, a healthy disregard for authoritarianism and sheer bloody-mindedness resulted in a simply stunning set of shots that only served to improve my kudos on social media pages with a stone worshiping bias. The day was further capped by a (slight) return to Carnac, where the late afternoon sun and thinning tourist crowds meant a sweltering three-hour illegal wander through the stones of Kermario and Kerlescan, taking in the Géant du Manio, an enormous menhir, and the Tumulus de Kercado (4500BC). Next on the hit list was the Cairn de Barnenez, the largest megalithic mausoleum in Europe, and also one of the world’s oldest, older than the pyramids of Egypt. Inside, there are 11-passage tombs. The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968, and finds from this restoration including Neolithic pottery, axes, arrowheads and Bronze Age artefacts can be seen in the visitor centre. The remainder of the week was spent re-walking the streets of Concarneau and its environs, sadly without the aid of our own personal ferry into the citadel, which had been suspended from service unexpectedly due to a technical issue. This meant driving in and out of town for the last 48-hours, somewhat breaking the spell of the previous couple of weeks, but only slightly. Inevitably, we saw it as a precursor of change, an omen that two week’s of bblisss was soon to come to an end. On our last day in Concarneau, we took to the western coast we’d been reluctant to explore on our bikes due to the incline of the only climb onto that peninsula, and were amazed to find a plethora of incredible trimarans, catamarans and racing vessels nestled in the port of Fouesnant. In summary, French sailing communities are much the same as English sailing communities, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t overrun by people called Hugo dressed in sulphur spring coloured Musto BR2 Offshore Jackets.
Week two’s holiday reading matter: ‘Perfidious Albion’, Sam Byers (Faber & Faber): “Brexit has happened and is real. Fear and loathing are on the rise. Grass-roots right-wing political party England Always are fomenting hatred. The residents of a failing housing estate are being cleared from their homes. A multinational tech company is making inroads into the infrastructure. Just as the climate seems at its most pressured, masked men begin a series of ‘disruptions’, threatening to make internet histories public, asking the townspeople what don’t you want to share? As tensions mount, lives begin to unravel. Jess Ellis’s research into internet misogyny pushes her relationship with her over-exposed opinion columnist boyfriend Robert Townsend to breaking point. Robert’s championing of the inhabitants of the threatened estate begins to erode the edges of his fragile idealism. Local England Always politician Hugo Bennington finds his twisted loyalties catching up with him. At the nearby tech park, behind the utopian rhetoric, Trina James finds that something is dangerously amiss. A controversial tweet; a series of ill-judged thinkpieces; a riot of opinions. Suddenly Edmundsbury is no longer the peaceful town it has always imagined itself to be. Things are changing. No-one is quite who they appear. The future has arrived, and it is not what anyone imagined.”
Bidding au revoir to Conarneau, we hit the N165 bound for an overnight stop in Caen, en route to Calais, and the return ferry home. It was with much sadness that we departed our amazing maison, we’d become accustomed to the drone of the bagpipes, the constant hum of the fishing boat engines, the daily walk to the artisan boulangerie to collect our delicious pain tradtionale, the Heineken 0.0., the unbelievable range of produce available at E.Leclerc, the consistently incredible coffee and our constantly staggering citadel view. By mid-afternoon, we’d reached the medieval town of Fougères, situated on the Brittany-Normandy border. The town originally sprung up to the south of Fougères Castle, one of the finest fortresses in the whole of France, on the banks of the River Nançon, whose waters were used by cloth-makers, dyers and tanners. The prettiest and most atmospheric part of the old town is the Place du Marchix, lined with half-timbered houses. There has been a castle in Fougères for more than 1,000 years. The site, on a promontory sheltered by hills and surrounded by marshes, was first identified by the Duchy of Brittany as the perfect spot to defend its lands from the French. The current castle dates from the 12th century, consisting of three enclosures whose walls are dotted with towers, the most impressive of which is the Mélusine Tower. Approaching the castle from the car park to the north, it was impossible not to be daunted by the sheer size of the defences. I’ve been visiting castles for much of my life, but with the possible exception of Carcassonne (admittedly, more of a cité than a Château), Fougères was somewhat of a game changer. With the dying embers of our holiday sunshine topping up our already mildly impressive tans, we photographed and posted, drank coffee and munched frites, draining the last of our Frenching and touristing from the opportunity. We eventually hit Caen as the sun was falling, on both the day, and our great French adventure. Caen is a port city, capital of the Calvados department in northern France’s Normandy region. Its centre features the Château de Caen, a circa-1060 castle built by William the Conqueror. Madame Encoule had waited patiently all holiday to realise her ambition of an authentic French Château, and like a number 10 bus you’ve been waiting for for some considerable time, two come along at once! In the space of a couple of hours, we were wandering yet more ramparts, climbing towers, peering from battlements and marvelling at gatehouses. In the town’s restaurant district, later that night, I was reminded of distant memories of St Tropez and PGL holidays in 1978, the art of al fresco dining, and how the UK will never perfect the concept of continental approaches to alcohol consumption. The following morning, as we inched ever-closer to Calais, there was a significant increase in the number of UK number-plated vehicles overtaking us at speed in excess of 100mph. It was sudden manifestation of the depressing reality that we were once again amongst The Twitterati, a nation who seemingly relate their social status to the cubic capacity of their car’s engine in less than 280-characters. These fears were only heightened further whilst queuing for the toilets, dockside at Calais, piss-poor coffee in hand, nostrils offended by the stink of weed, conversations littered with gratuitous swearing and the threat of impeding violence. In the words of Jason Williamson: “Fuck England. Fuck my country”.
This month’s new releases are featured here as recommendations, rather than reviews, in the interests of brevity:
Ólafur Arnalds – ‘re:member’ (Mercury): Icelandic composer’s 11th full length in a career spanning 11-years is a lush and rewarding change-focussed journey of oceanic depth and tidal pull. All kinds of gorgeousness in liberal excess. Speaking of the album, Ólafur says: “This is my breaking out-of-a-shell album. It’s me taking the raw influences that I have from all these different musical genres and not filtering them. It explores the creative process and how one can manipulate that to get out of the circle of expectations and habit.”
Shinichi Atobe – ‘Heat’ (DDS): Japanese electronic music producer’s totally unexpected yet droolingly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s ‘From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art’. Somewhat of a family favourite here in the Encoule household, undoubtedly his finest creation thus far, and a fairly obvious contender come close of play and list season. Genuinely, there is not a sub-par moment on this record, one that will keep spinning long into the future chez Encoule.
Daniel Bachman – ‘The Morning Star’ (Three Lobed Recordings): When word came down the wire from our American Primitive correspondent, embedded deep within the oft-forgotten land of Dark Folk, of the imminence of a new double album opus from Virginian wunderkind, Daniel Bachman, it was smuggled in almost undercover, in a cache containing recommendations for the likes of Gwenifer Raymond, Nathan Salsburg and Roslyn Steer. Accustomed, as I have been in recent years, to the work of William Tyler, Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker, the world of the solo acoustic guitar slinger can be both satisfying and frustrating, in equal measure. After all, it’s a thin line between the reinterpretation of traditional mores and parody, and in some senses, it could be argued, that records I own by all of the above straddle said divide on a tightrope, spinning through 360-degrees perilously, in the course of a single siting. To not only avoid such a trap, then, but to vault dextrously across it whilst performing triple somersaults, is surely a feat of some magnitude.
Nicolas Jaar – ‘Pomegranates’ (Mana): Palestinian and Chilean composer’s enigmatic alternate soundtrack to Sergei Parajanov‘s 1969 avant-garde film ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’, newly mastered, re-dressed and issued on vinyl for the first time by the impeccable Mana. An intimate hour and a quarter vision presented as cinematic epic that veers across genre boundaries with a gleeful nonchalance to stand alone in all its uncategorised glory.
Roland Kayn – ‘Simultan’ (Die Schachtel): Box-set re-issue of this truly groundbreaking set from ?founder member of legendary ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and regular singular genius, Roland Kayn. Superlatives run rich on this incredible package everywhere you dig, issued as an edition of 100-numbered white wax copies, complete with 6-translucent paper score-sheets, extensive booklet, and printed inner sleeves. Remastered from the original analog master-tapes.
Bamba Pana – ‘Poaa’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes): Tanzanian grime-merchant Bamba Pana keeps the needle firmly in the red for the latest exemplary release from Nyege Nyege Tapes. Following last month’s praise for griot Ekuka Morris Sirikiti, Pana capitalises on the groundwork set out by the label’s ‘Sounds Of Cisso’ compilation to radically redraw the contours of BPM abuse. Highly recommended for anyone remotely interested in where repetitive beats are heading next. Exhilarating.
Various Artists – ‘bblisss’ (bliss): Originally released on cassette a couple of years ago, and now changing hands on Discogs for vast sums, Ryan Fall (uon) compiles a selection of West Mineral artists and associates to fashion possibly one of the finest ambient collections of this, or any other age. Featuring Pendant, Ulla Straus, Naemi, DJ Paradise and Billington & Tramposh, amongst others, this essential collection is worth sticking your neck out for and holding onto for grim death. Outstanding artefact, artfully pressed up onto doubt white wax in painfully limited numbers.
Black Lodge/Eiko Ishibashi & Darin Gray/Khalab/Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch/Nozomu Matsumoto/Francis Plange & Crys Cole/Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus/Resina/Ekuka Morris Sirikiti/Topdown Dialectic
“For humans, time has an ambiguous and perhaps paradoxical quality to it. In some ways, it is something that we seem to push to the back of our thoughts in the same way a timepiece sits unthreateningly on the walls; it is ‘simply what the mechanical clock and Gregorian calendar display, a neutral and enumerated dimension in which life unfolds’ (Hom, A. R. – 2013 – ‘Reckoning Ruin: International Relations Theorising and the Problem of Time’). Yet, it is also a mysterious concept that has always slipped into the human mind’s ideas about change, impermanence, and mortality” – A. McKay
Temporality, the politics of time: a perpetual state of tragi-comedic duality. It’s all about the timing. This flowing river, hyperaware of becoming the sea. Neither heads nor tails, merely a coin spinning in the air, perpetually. Stuck somewhere on the dial between zero and one. An undefined figure, neither a plus nor a minus. Emitting dots and dashes: dot-dot-dot; dash-dash-dash; dot-dot-dot; S.O.S. All hands on deck, this bird is sinking.
As Tommy comes marching home again, hurrahs fill the cyber streets. The FLA throw Nazi salutes, along with traffic cones, bottles, coins, fake memes, photoshopped j-pegs and anything else that comes to hand. They’re coming by bus or underground, armed with clubs and fists and spurious facts, dressed in brown. Your face, lit blue by the light of the screen, as you watch the You Tube clips of this animal scream. The NEU-SA Party army, marching in over your head. You may live to regret hiding that radio under the stairs. Regret the fact that you got caught out unawares. The NEU-SA Party army, marching up your stairs. You failed to recognise that it’s happening again. You took your eye off the football lads alliance. Your frantically polished BMW may have pride of place on your drive. The sun may be shining. Your kids may well be outside in the garden, shouting loud. Except the sun is shining through a crack in the cloud, and only shadows will be falling when Tommy comes marching home.
Change, impermanence, mortality, all generational signifiers for a boy from 1962. In the month since my last missive, everything has changed for me. The temporal reality of time itself, stretched to incredulity. There’s a battle outside and it’s raging. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changing:
HELEN: “Is that the time?”
MIKE: “No, time is an abstract concept. This is a wristwatch.”
Sadly, we are no longer the young ones, time has caught up with us. It’s pissing on our parade. Bury me in my motorcycle jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Bury my heart at wounded knee. Everything is temporary. My assumed identity: recoverist, single-parent, communist, literally, speech-bubbled on a sea of floaters, blood pressure rising. Creating freedom in a hypernormalised construct requires a new context; a new language; a new identity. How do we stop this propagandist osmosis when the mind has no firewall?
Dystopian nightmares demand dystopian soundtracks, and thus we commence this month’s trawl through the record box that time forgot with an esoteric phalanx of detritus expunged from the annals of Mancunian legend: Black Lodge – ‘Bitter Blood (A Collection of Archival Recordings)’ (Disciples), released in tandem with a hitherto unreleased set of jams originally recorded for Mo’ Wax, out now on Arcola, sees former Badly Drawn Boy remixer Dan Dwayre‘s Black Lodge moniker exhume twelve corpses from the graveyard and the ballroom. Surprisingly fresh, uncannily contemporary, this enigmatic collection will appeal to both lovers of Demdike Stare and aficionados of library music in general. Intrinsically psychedelic, in both colour and hue, ‘Bitter Blood’ exists on a spectrum of improved accessibility that is enhanced greatly through repeated exposure. A quirky nonchalance, a resolutely lo-fi sensibility, denote this release as far superior to the Arcola sides, clearly identifying ‘Bitter Blood’ as a watershed moment, unlikely to be repeated. It is this very sense of uniqueness that recommends itself for inclusion in your record collection.
Previously collaborators largely confined to the virtual shadows of collective works, Eiko Ishibashi and Darin Gray emerge from the shade with ‘Ichida’ (Black Truffle) to capture our hearts with their progressive future-free-jazz, eloquently expressed on this pair of long-form exercises. Originally recorded live at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe, back in March of 2013, these recordings have been buffed and polished by Jim O’Rourke, furnishing a 40-minute set that strides purposefully through a mannerist canvas rich with Ishibashi’s flute, underpinned by Gray’s strident yet inventive bass. Augmented by doom electronics and delicate piano flourishes, ‘Ichida’ flows through time and space effortlessly, effusing a combination of emotional maturity, venturesome audacity and cinematic intelligibility.
Created with unprecedented access to field recordings from the archives of the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Bruxelles, ‘Black Noise 2084′ (On The Corner) sees Italian DJ Khalab harness these ethnographic/historical insights into the cultures of the region over the last 500-years to fashion arguably the logical successor to Barney Wilen‘s 1970 classic, ‘Moshi’ (Souffle Continu). Assembling an impressive cohort of collaborators, including Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, Tamar ‘The Collocutor’ Osborn, The Master Gabin Dabir, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Tommaso Cappellato and Prince Buju, Khalab diligently summons the spirit of Wilen’s intervention in a seance of creativity to carve out a contemporary niche alongside the output of Kampala, Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes (see below). Over ten songs, in the space of just 35-minutes, Khalab orchestrates a sonic revolution to establish a new order of Afro-futurist expressionism. This is a journey, a journey into sound. One that Geoffrey Sumner himself would doubtless have approved of.
An object of seraphic beauty, on every conceivable level, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch‘s ‘Époques’ (130701) sees the London-based French pianist and composer return with her second long player for Fat Cat‘s post-classical imprint. Hot on the heels of 2017’s much-heralded Dmitry Evgrafov release, ‘Comprehension Of Light’, ‘Epoques’ confirms somewhat of a purple patch for the label. Alongside Resina‘s ‘Traces’ (see below) and the forthcoming masterpiece from Maarja Nuut and Ruum, this fascinating collection of compositions for piano, viola, cello and electronics veers between fragile passages of shimmering delicacy and more coruscating sections of analogue discourse. Intimate yet agitated, ‘Époques’ manages both to entrance and to threaten. Ominous clouds descend to envelope the implied lightness in a sonic miasma, adding the gravitas seemingly required to tether the record to the ground, to stop it floating away. Draped in reverb, Levienaise-Farrouch’s beatific keys radiate from these recordings with sonorous grace, none more so than on the record’s titular centrepiece. Warmth, honesty and despair combine to construct a linear narrative that allows the album’s purpose and potential to expand exponentially into the future.
Continuing a lineage firmly established with Sam Kidel‘s ‘Disruptive Muzak’, Nozomu Matsumoto‘s incredible ‘Climatotherapy’ (The Death of Rave) presents an imaginary soundtrack to a fantasy movie in the form of a personal health assessment narrated by Amazon’s Text-to-Speech interface, Polly. Part hauntological concerto composed of Universal Studio-esque strings, intermittent R&B-tinged female vocals and operatic deviances hovering above low-end disturbances, part exploration on the morality of Artificial Intelligence, ‘Climatotherapy’ is a staggeringly original work of art in every sense of the phrase: edition of 300, one-sided whitelabel with holographic sticker, plus a 12×12” insert, transcript designed by Mark Fell.
Worth the entry price for the cover art alone, by Australian painter Anne Wallace, Crys Cole & Francis Plagne‘s ‘Two Words’ (Black Truffle) has been gaining relentless hype from most every quarter these past few weeks. Canadian sound artist Crys Cole (partner of Oren Ambarchi) and Australian songwriter Francis Plagne combine to blend their wilfully differing approaches to music making. The record begins on a tide of abrasive texture, as colliding surfaces bring to mind a sea of sand waves crashing onto a shore of paper. Plagne’s electric organ floats in downcast chords on a pool of Soft Machine, whilst Cole punctuates the mix with eccentricity. The second half of the record features Plagne singing monotone two-word texts by Berlin-based poet Marty Haitt, as the organ padding grows ever more functional. There’s something strangely disconcerting about this release, from the cover art to the final note. A fascinating attraction that begins as greater than the sum of its parts, ending in unison with a sense of enormous satisfaction. The vocal melody reminds me of something I just can’t put my finger on, and that probably contributes to the sense of unease.
Recorded in a bedroom in Chicago on a post-clubbing comedown, Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus‘ ‘Chat’ (West Mineral Ltd) presents a meditative quartet of similar tribal tropes inspired by absorbing too much late night communication and insipid right wing propaganda. Vaguely reminiscent of Dominic Fernow‘s Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, the vibe is strictly humid tropicana. As with a number of this month’s releases, there is a vague sense of unease in the undertow, just below the surface. Following on from uon‘s recent killer 12″ for the label, West Mineral Ltd are also on a roll right now. Edition of 200-copies on clear wax.
The second indispensable artefact this month from Fat Cat‘s post-classical imprint comes in the form of Resina‘s ‘Traces’ (130701). Polish cellist Karolina Rec returns with her second long player in as many years, and it’s a truly breathtaking body of work. Cello, electronics, percussion (courtesy of Maciej Cieslak) and Rec’s own wordless vocals shape this 47-minute epic, weaving from spectral elegance to pounding rhythmic insistence amidst the omnipresent dark energy of resistance. The album’s title alludes to the power of memory in shaping our lives, reflecting the unstable times we are currently experiencing. Recorded in 2017 at drummer Cieslak’s studio in the Wola district of Warsaw, the record bears the aforementioned spirit of defiance associated with Jewish resistance and the Warsaw Uprising that centred around Wola in 1943.
Recorded direct to tape from Ugandan radio, circa 1978-2003, ‘Ekuka’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes) collates the recordings of Lukeme maestro Ekuka Morris Sirikiti. Only the label’s third vinyl offering, the collection features twelve tracks pressed onto a double gold wax set. Hailing from the Langi tribe of Lira, Northern Uganda, griot Ekuka Morris Sirikiti was a regular on the local festival and market scene, busking his intricate music with just the use of vocals, a kick drum and a Mbira. The twelve songs here move backwards and forwards in time, between 1978 and 2003, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The inconsistencies in fidelity and the constant hiss of ferric particles only serve to render these recordings as fresh as the day they were first broadcast. Subject matter varies between authority-sponsored messages of the dangers of tax evasion, alcohol consumption and unprotected casual sex, to everyman observations on the importance of being a gentleman, a good husband, father and citizen. Sirikiti was loved by his people, as both an artist and a role model, and now he can be loved again by us, as a temporal traveller.
Finally this month, we round off our selections with the debut self-titled long player from Topdown Dialectic (Peak Oil). The eight tracks here began life as a set of software strategies, manipulated and stretched to create the finished articles we hear here. In reality, the results are far more compelling than such a creation process would suggest. Encapsulating elements of the classic Basic Channel sound, alongside elements of Shinichi Atobe, ex-Aught stablemates Topdown Dialectic join De Leon, Xth Réflexion and Agnes in their transition from tape-based artists to vinyl avatars. This set has been looping away on repeat for the best part of the last month, and despite the alphabetical realities, we really have saved the best till last. Absolutely stunning!
Abul Mogard/Acolytes/Bad Tracking/Kali Malone/Mark Fell/Steven Legget/Tribe Of Colin
‘The harms being caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored. It is time to leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice. It is time to prioritise the health and welfare of the affected populations, their families and communities” – Support Don’t Punish
Much like the War On Terror, or any war, for that matter, the War On Drugs is essentially class war. In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a revolutionary act. Shaped by conditioning, wounded by trauma, marginalised by anxiety, defined by deviancy, the need to escape consequentiality hampered by the external stigma that informs internal stigma. The political implications of operation escape-from-self have ramifications that tear families and communities asunder. With drug deaths rising and drug treatment budgets falling, the implicit correlation between capitalist surrealism and the death of self-love has never been more explicit.
“Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life” – Bruce K Alexander
In terms of solution-focussed approaches, the twin pillars of Maté (Boaz) and Alexander (Jachin) guide us towards the salvation of shalom. This duality is at the beating heart of the Recoverist dichotomy. Only when we frame our collective demise as the consequence of unenlightened thoughts can we embark on the pathway of education, agitation and organisation necessary to reclaim the self through emancipation. Our antecedents here are hidden in plain sight, amongst the rubble of neoliberal capitalist surrealism: the ghosts of the Chartists, the Suffragettes, the Fabians, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the spirits of emancipatory freedom from the symbolic violence of abstract systems.
The concept of Nietzsche versus nurture can thus be seen as a truly holistic exploration of the nihilistic drivers informing the deviant behaviour perspective of the ruling elite; a philosophical deconstruction of the Kantian right versus the Benthamite left. In the common ground between the ABCDWP-driven Recovery Agenda of government policy and the traditional liberalism of the Harm Reductionist left, lie the fertile pastures of possibility through purpose: an Aristotlian flourishing, Eudaimonia, achieved through re-identity, a process of shared learning shaped to redefine self as a revolutionary act of emancipation.
The process of pain management through self-medication suppresses our dreams, as well as our sense of self. Addictive substances affect our ability to achieve REM sleep. By losing consciousness instead of sleeping soundly, we wilfully aid and abet the forces of oppression by building our own prisons, acting as our own jailor. The crime of allowing our pain to steal our dreams is intrinsically self-harm.
“To be, or not to be? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep – no more – and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to – ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life” – William Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet’ (Act 3, Scene 1)
As Nietzsche himself observed, life without music would be a mistake, and this month’s selection have been instrumental in shaping my personal response to those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We begin, then, with ‘Above All Dreams’ (Ecstatic), Abul Mogard’s expansive follow-up to 2015’s ‘Circular Forms’ (Ecstatic). To this day, Mogard’s true identity remains shrouded in mystery. The party line of sexagenarian Serbian sheet metal worker recreating the sounds of the factory through modular synthesis may be prosaic, but according to my Serbian contacts, the name itself is distinctly un-Serbian. Theories abound as to exactly who is moonlighting here, but it doesn’t really matter that much. Whatever the absolute truth, the relative truth is that ‘Above All Dreams’ evolves in front of our ears, seamlessly, from where ‘Circular Forms’ closed, three years earlier.
For those of us who joined the party late with ‘Works’ (Ecstatic), 2016’s collation of Mogard’s VCO output from 2012-2013, ‘Above All Dreams’ may appear somewhat slight when disconnected from ‘Circular Forms’. It is imperative that Mogard’s development be heard as the progression that it undoubtedly is, instead of some kind of gradual osmosis into the ambient wallpaper of magnolia world. Those of you yearning for the harsher elements of ‘Works’ need to overcome those expectations before embracing the hauntological mindfulness of ‘Above All Dreams’. This is a domain of spiritual sanctity, achieved through artful composition, an emotional ephemera of love and light in six movements. Between the drones we discover salvation in oscillation. On ‘Where Not Even’ and ‘The Roof Falls’ in particular, we hear nods to Sarah Davachi‘s ‘Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’ (Recital) and the ghosts of panoramic ’70s progression. Abul Mogard has staked his claim to greatness, and with both ‘Circular Forms’ and ‘Works’ already hailed as classics, it can be confidently assumed that ‘Above All Dreams’ will ascend its forebears to assume hierarchical precedence in the Mogard cannon.
Described elsewhere as the ‘best record Alter have ever put out’, Acolytes consciousness-altering ‘Rupture’ (Alter) is computer music with a lo-fi aesthetic. Moody, visceral and relentless in its approach, ‘Rupture’ pixilates the angst of symbolic violence in byte-sized chunks. Dysfunctional rhythms contradict the topography of their sound-beds in a jarring juxtaposition that struggles to impose much sense of form on first listen. Repeated exposure gradually pulls shape from the miasma to reveal the man called D. Shan’s modus operandi. Slimmed down from the group-based set-up that delivered Acolytes s/t debut back in 2015, ‘Rupture’ is an altogether more enduring work. Echoes of Gábor Lázár‘s acidic tekno shade the palette. Dub sensibilities elongate the space between tones. Tribal beats and samples litter the terrain. ‘MXE666′ squelches from the speakers, dancing above the melee like a sprite atop the flames of a ritual campfire. This autocannibalistic approach to sound-craft is utterly mesmeric. The esoteric vibe of ‘Rupture’ is something we will be returning to below with Tribe Of Colin. ‘Night Air’ draws proceedings to a close in enigmatic fashion: a swirl of backwards scratches herald what sounds like a bastardised melodica refrain, introducing a vaguely ‘East Of Of The River Nile’ vibe that somehow retro-informs all that has come before it to leave us with a real sense of culmination. ‘Rupture’ is a masterful accomplishment, a dark art from a dark heart in a dark world. Is this the best record Alter have ever put out? Find out for yourself here:
Following their 2017 vinyl debut on Bristol’s Mechanical Reproductions, West Country pioneers Bad Tracking (Max Pearce/Gordon Apps) return with this 4-track monster on FuckPunk. In a hail of recrimination and hissing arpeggiation, the duo roll the overdosed spectre of industrial electronics into the recovery position and pump in the Naloxone. With the ambulance on its way, the patient is not overtly pleased to have regained conciseness. This escape from self-imposed oblivion results in the weaponised, beat-driven, animalistic squalls that we hear as ‘Mayday’ and ‘Clanger’, and their accompanying dubs. This is the raw sound of the city’s revenge. City, baby, attacked by rats. This edition of 88-copies comes complete with an additional pink rubber-banded C35 bonus-tape, containing unheard material and Bad Tracking live jams.
The ability of harmony to affect psychological change is a concept explored by Kali Malone on her follow-up to 2017’s ‘Velocity Of Sleep’ (XKatedral/Bleak Environment) ‘Cast of Mind’ (Hallow Ground) explores this concept through the exclusive use of the Buchla 200 synthesiser, in combination with acoustic woodwind and brass instruments. Born in Colorado in 1994, Malone has been living and working in Sweden since 2012. As well as her solo work, she is also an active member of Sorrowing Christ, Swap Babies and Upper Glossa. Working in a similar genre pool to the aforementioned Sarah Davachi, alongside other notable contemporary composers such as Kara-Lis Coverdale, Teresa Winter and Christina Vantzou, Malone utilises unique tuning systems in minimalist form for analog and digital synthesis. ‘Cast Of Mind’ delivers over four-pieces, moving from the woodwind hunting calls of the titular opener, eerily reminiscent of an ambient black metal vignette, through three variations, ending with the drone-dominated roulade of finale, ‘Empty The Belief’. The sum of these parts is a rich aural tapestry, sonically sewn in intricate detail. At 37-minutes, ‘Cast Of Mind’ never outstays its welcome. This is an incredible record I find myself returning to time after time, every listen subtly altering the way I feel about it as a work of art. In that sense, the overarching concept is proven.
June must be the month of rhythmelodic cadence. This time last year, I was obsessed with Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Levitation Praxis Pt. 4′ (DDS), a pair of incredible recordings made with Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures. This year, it’s the turn of Mark Fell‘s ‘Intra’ (Boomkat Editions), a suite of soundscapes performed with Drumming Grupo De Percussão on the Sixxen metallophone system: a set of six microtonally tuned instruments, originally conceived by Iannis Xenakis, back in 1976. ‘Intra’ comprises eight complex polyrhythms, delivering a 37-minute meditative Carnatic therapy session, connecting us to the future primitivism of John Zerzan. ‘Intra’ is a work of art that resolutely rejects the thesis that time and technology are neutral scientific realities, positing instead that they are carefully constructed means of enslaving people. ‘Intra’ connects to the justified and ancient inside of us all. This is so much more than a slight return.
Originally recorded in the Turkish Baths of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s City Pool, and subsequently augmented with field recordings gathered on the islands of Paxos and Loutro, South Crete, Steven Legget‘s serene ‘Bathhouse’ (Firecracker Recordings) is one of the most stunning electroacoustic amalgamations I have discovered thus far, an innovative blend of environmental drone and illustrated neo-classical. Aquatic sounds, ambient samples, electronic interfaces and immensely expressive cello combine to create spectral beauty of unfathomable import. Ten widescreen compositions lead us on an hour-long journey through water, submerged in the warmth of a rarified atmosphere heavy with condensation. All profits from the record are being donated to clean water charity, Waves for Water.
“It’s a signal, and it’s a signal that’s saying wake up. It’s a signal that’s saying take a look. Take a look at yourself. So, two things basically drive change in human beings. One of them is suffering, and the other is, you meet somebody, and in the presence of that person you realise, here is a human that’s found something, and is listening to something, has become connected to something, and I want to know what that is for myself, so, it’s inspirational, and its conveyed by quality of conciseness in someone else that makes you say: ‘I want to take a journey’, and usually what that person says is: ‘you’re a really beautiful human being and you’re struggling with the kind of things you’re meant to be struggling with, and lets take a look at how you can struggle in a constructive way’ ”
So begins Tribe Of Colin‘s ‘Lions Print Complete In Ten Thousand Practices Thus Come One’ (Chant). The synchronicity of these words within the narrative of this month’s column cannot be understated. That’s the second time this week something vaguely prophetic has occurred out of the blue. This record arrived in this morning’s post, but after only two spins it’s safe to say it’s already up there with my treasured copy of ‘Wide Berth’ (Label Unknown) and the recent Docile 12″ on Trilogy Tapes with John T. Gast. Gnostic, esoteric, ritualistic and compelling, Tribe Of Collin throw skanking tekno shapes into a vat of acid in a vivid display of end-of-times provocation. My favourite record of the year so far, six months down, this one’s a keeper!
SKRSINTL/ZamZam Sounds/Sophia Loizou/Gabor Lazar/Aspect/4625
“Workers have no country. You cannot take from them what they have not got” – Karl Marx
4,500 pairs of shoes, laid in front of the Council of the European Union in Brussels, representing every person killed in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over the last decade. 500,000 (approx) lives lost in the ongoing Syrian conflict. 10,000 people dead as a result of the war in Yemen. 7,000,000 people on the brink of starvation as a consequence of the war in Yemen. 230 people dead due to homelessness in the UK during the last five years. 120,000 deaths linked to Neoliberal UK austerity policies. 215 fatal stabbings in the UK in the 12-months leading up to March 2017. 30,000,000 pounds of taxpayer’s money spent on security for the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Capitalist surrealism just won’t stop taking it to the T.O.P. on the D.E.X. tonight. Hypernomalisation as comfort blanket. We barely flinch. Rewind. Seemingly engrossed in the promise of love, amidst the hatred of war, the stench of poverty. Escalating military conflicts, primarily in a huge arc from Yemen to Ukraine, the rise of xenophobic nationalism, increasingly pointing towards preparations for global conflagration. Coalitions of confusion, breeding grounds for ideas that are diametrically opposed to revolutionary perspectives and solution-focussed critical thinking. The right wing, the left wing, merely wings of the same bird. This bird is sinking. This not-so-sweet bird of untruth.
Nationalism, be it the xenophobic freedom-of-hate-speech Islamophobia of the FLA, or the emerging nationalist arguments around small-nation-thinking coming out of Scotland or Catalonia, only serve to weaken working class internationalism. Working class revolution is the only remedy to a world of exploitation and increasing barbarism. Amongst the furore around anti-fascism, the so-called defence of democracy, or the rights of small nations, workers have to remember that the main enemy is still within. The epoch of efficient capitalism has long since passed. Those who look for a progressive element in the conflicts between factions of capital will be left wanting. Internationalists concur that the only way to end this imperialist carnage is not to line up on any side, but for the world working class instead to educate, agitate and organise themselves in their own interests to fight against their exploiters.
Meanwhile, in the darkened dancehalls of the global counterculture of resistance, Seekers International continue to mutate the murderation in the form of ‘Black Mazda Soundclash’ (Liquorish Records). Here, SKRSINTL deliver 28-all-new volleys of rapid-fire mashup gathered from skirmishes across the globe: the spoils of sound clash war. Their most inspired outing yet, ‘Black Mazda Soundclash’ raises an already heightened bar to the rafters in a display of excellence widely considered to be world-beater material. SKRSINTL cement their reputation as one of the most forward thinking crews active on the world stage presently. Available on limited edition cassette or digital:
Formed in 2012 by Ezra Ereckson and Tracy Harrison, ZamZam Sounds‘ approach is resolutely artistic-over-commercial. Up to now, they’ve been releasing only 7-inch vinyl records in limited quantities, with meticulously executed artwork. Soundwise, ZZS procure the wildest dubman grooves: the freshest takes on roots, steppas and echo-tech, from all over the globe. Each record is packaged within hand-made, screen-printed sleeves, rendering each artefact unique beyond the sounds themselves. The label’s name refers to the traditional Muslim story of the Arabian ZamZam wellspring, which saved the lives of Abraham’s Lady Hagar and son Ishmael, and whose waters still run today. ZZS’ companion label Khaliphonic releases longer format vinyl 10-inch and 12-inch records, and the hype is simmering as I type for their much anticipated forthcoming release of Strategy‘s ‘Dub Mind Paradigm':
The long-awaited ‘Irregular Territories’ (Cosmo Rhythmatic) EP from Bristolian rave archaeologist Sophia Loizou has been kicking up a fuss in the tMx bunker this past month. Following on from her ‘Singulacra’ LP from 2016, this ruffneck six-tracker jacks junglist riddims into the swelling chords and arpeggios of rave culture detritus to detonate the ambience with ordinance. Digging up breaks from the past and launching them headwards into the future, Loizou’s approach is both hauntological and innovative. Shattered beats punctuated by gasps and sighs, the fragile facade of neo-classical endeavour splintered with inventive intent.
Gabor Lázár studied electronic music/media art at the University Of Pec’s Faculty Of Music and Visual Arts, before co-founding Last Foundation. His debut release appeared back in 2013, in collaboration with Russell Haswell. His style is hectic and unpredictable, eclectic and undefinable, battered yet composed. ‘Unfold’ (The Death Of Rave) finds him expanding over two sides of clear wax, through eight movements, in a stunning display of next level club sonics with scientific precision. Building on collaborations with the aforementioned Haswell and Mark Fell, Lázár strikes out alone here in his most refined presentation yet. There’s a timelessness to this record that screams ‘future classic’ at you from somewhere behind Dr Who’s settee, deep within the Tardis. ‘Unfold’ is a record that demands your attention, and pummels you into submission. Faultless in every respect, the sound of ground being broken in spades. Mastered and cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy, with artwork designed Daniel Kozma, as we approach the halfway mark in 2018, this is one that will surely be troubling the scorers come close of play.
Aspect – ‘Stand Clear’ (Droogs) – UVB-76 Music‘s affiliate label DROOGS, returns with their 2nd release, this time a primal offering from veteran UK producer Aspect. ‘Stand Clear’ and ‘Untitled’ are both explosive tracks in their own right that have been hammered unconscious by the UVB-76 core members, but ‘Stand Clear’ alone is worth the price of admission: as dark our collective futures, bound to give you nightmares. Ugly times demand ugly music.
An essential companion piece to the Aspect platter above, our final selection this month comes from Bristolian junglists, 4625. ‘4625-001′ (UVB-76 Music) is a collective vision, capturing the collaborative output of UVB-76 Music’s core members. 4625 continues and builds upon the foundation laid by the label since 2015, ensuring the evolution of their collective art at both the periphery and the core simultaneously.
The Caretaker/Sarah Davachi/Sons Of Kemet/Head Technician/Steven Julien
“The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations” – Mark Fisher
Was it better when it was worse? Was I smarter when I knew less? Was I braver when I was naive? Truth is, I’ve never had ambition, the concept is alien to me. Even before I came to understand that being here now is fundamental to a peaceful existence, I always intuitively lived for the moment. In the moment, instinctively. In order to survive, I’ve trained myself to not look forward to things. What’s the point in eroding the experience of the now for the promise of a future that may never come? It’s a risky practice, looking forwards. It takes for granted that we will actually be around to enjoy the future, a lack of humility that for me borders on arrogance.
Despite the crushing weight of capitalist surrealism in these last days of reality, I have taught myself to live without medication; to ignore the news; to take responsibility for my behaviours; to strive to understand my place in this world beyond the confines of fragile ego. Ironically, the worse things get for the macro, the stronger micro-me becomes in overcoming any barriers I may face. I have hope, I have dreams. These days my dreams are so profound they wake me. They shake me. Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me. This morning I woke to the reality that they do.
It’s not the slow cancellation of the future that has deflated my expectations. I’ve never had any expectations, great or otherwise. No future, Yes! future, pistols at dawn. Nothing ever plays out the way you expect it to. The more we imagine a situation, the less that situation resembles our imagining. As Raoul Vaneigem states, “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth”. I’ll face my future, one day at a time. I’ll continue my struggle, hour by hour. I will chose love over fear. Was it better when it was worse? It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.
Themes of inertia, bereavement, acceptance and nostalgia (for an age yet to come) haunt this month’s column. The passage of time, the frailty of mortality, both have weighed heavily on what passes for my mind these past few weeks. As Guy Debord wrote to Gerard Lebovici in 1973: “critique of the spectacle is also a critique of art. But art, so as to be critiqued and superseded, at first has the need to be free”.
Freedom? This contemporary montage, this capitalist surrealism, is but a patchwork quilt of relative truths, draped around the shoulders of the chimeric antibody of absolute truth. A comfort blanket of uncomfortable candour, a hair-shirt, masquerading as norms and values. A hypernormal world, transcribed into images, that are owned by everybody, and nobody. Totalitarian bureaucracy orchestrating alleged intellectual and artistic expression through the joyful division of communities and families. Pre-existing cultural data, re-used in whole or in part. Nothing new under the sun.
These days, according to a study conducted by Saga, older people are officially more fearful of developing dementia than they are of contracting cancer. When 500-adults aged over-50 from across the UK were asked which condition they feared the most, 68% said dementia, 9.44% said cancer. Meanwhile, just 3.88% said they were frightened of developing a heart condition, whilst only 0.73% were concerned about the risk of diabetes. There are currently around 800,000-people with dementia in the UK. As the population ages, this figure is expected to soar.
Much like the rustling walls in the House Of Leaves, the fourth ‘Everywhere At The End Of Time’ (History Always Favours The Winners) release in a series of six albums from The Caretaker is a shapeshifting, menacing, maze of corridors, documenting, as it does, the ravaging effects of early-onset dementia. Drawing us ever-deeper into a harrowing realm of fragmented narratives, the haunted ballroom’s resident DJ spins hallucinatory psychedelia, 78-rpm style. Over four side-long pieces, Leyland Kirby explores the post-awareness stage of moderate to severe dementia, through the mediums of confusion, frustration, and alarm. Previous visitations reappear like old friends we no longer formally recognise, only the vague sense of tenuous association remains.
Hipped to the essential nature of The Caretaker by Mark Fisher’s ‘Ghosts Of My Life’ (Zero Books), back in 2014, my relationship with Kirby’s art was initially founded on the universally-accepted brilliance of 2011’s ‘An Empty Bliss Beyond This World’ (History Always Favours The Winners). The ethereal sense of connectivity to the sounds that shaped the formative years of my deceased father was the hook that snared me. Listening sessions felt as if I’d somehow occupied his memory, hearing the music of his youth through a membrane, direct from the centre of his latent consciousness. Nostalgia for an era I’d only known through his memories, hardwired to my mainframe, by unconditional love.
The post-awareness stage is the darkest episode yet on this heartbreaking journey to oblivion. We are beginning to experience difficulty concentrating; decreased memory of recent events; difficulties managing finances or traveling alone to new locations; trouble completing complex tasks efficiently or accurately; in denial about symptoms; withdrawing from family or friends; socialisation is becoming increasingly difficult. Kirby captures these characteristics so evocatively. The sense of dread that prevails throughout is the pre-imagining of what stage five could sound like, and, almost incomprehensibly, stage six. With the final two stages due in September 2018 and March 2019 respectively, the promise that both ‘may be without description’ is ominous, to say the least.
As we age, we seek new domains in which to free our art. Consuming music in concert halls, as opposed to venues or clubs, is part of that maturation. The Elgar Concert Hall, at the heart of The Bramall, located within the opulence of Chancellor’s Court, University Of Birmingham, is home to BEAST x Bleep43, a summer festival of classical, gospel, jazz and electronic music. I was in town to witness a Sarah Davachi-curated evening of pre-recorded sound, featuring EMS Spectre-generated images created by Richard Smith. Canadian minimalist Davachi is widely regarded as one of the foremost explorers of sonic texture of her generation, and recent immersion in her simply stunning long playing debut for Sean McCann’s Recital Program, ‘Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’, duly rendered my attendance mandatory.
Following up the magnificent, entirely acoustic, ‘All My Circles Run’ (Students Of Decay), could have been a challenge for lesser artists, but Davachi triumphs ephemerally. ‘Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’, her fifth full-length in six years, is sublimely constructed purely from Mellotron and electronic organ, over five improvisational, meditative drones, as sensuous as they are beguiling. Baroque melodies weave in and out of the expansive space between tones, decorating the ether with delicate leitmotifs of iridescent sheen. The disassociated spirits of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Led Zeppelin and La Monte Young flicker in and out of the record’s grooves, bridging links to post-rock, classic rock and pioneering minimalism.
When it comes to plagiarism, the British Empire plundered the seven seas to claim their seven wonders for its own work. Great Britain, a nation built on the profits of slavery, shaped by the diversity of multiculturalism, infected by the stench of institutionalised racism. Nurses, doctors, builders, tradesmen, skilled workers, all have made huge contributions to the cultural worth and wealth of post-war Britain, suddenly they find themselves in a hostile environment. ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ (Impulse), the third album from Sons Of Kemet, could be considered in some ways prophetic.
Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, featuring Theon Cross on tuba, alongside the twin-drum attack of Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, Sons Of Kemet emerge headlong into the glare of the Windrush scandal with their heads held high and their papers in perfect order. The LP’s title alludes to David Icke‘s royal family lizard theory, and it’s worth remembering that Icke himself was filling stadiums at a hundred-pound-a-pop only five-years-or-so ago. Conspiracists are not the niche market some would prefer you to believe! The coronation of nine black women over the course of ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ represents the symbolic usurping of Albion’s reptilian monarch, replacing her with Ada Eastman, Mammie Phipps Clarke, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nanny Of The Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Albertina Sisulu or Doreen Lawrence: a necessary social reordering, directly challenging the institutional racism that eats away at the collective conscience of this septic isle.
Musically, the album resembles a float moving through Notting Hill Carnival, absorbing and reframing the multiple cultures of a thousand sound systems in a frenetic sweep through Ladbroke Grove. The tuba’s role in dropping baselines present as electronic, at times, whilst the frantic Afrofuturistic rhythms of the twin drummers drive Hutchings’ horn in complex spirals of contortion. In places, weirdly, I’m reminded of The Clash, circa ‘Sandinista’ . . . on the cusp of ‘Combat Rock’, maybe . . . in particular, ‘Death Is A Star’ . . . are you positively absolutely? The vocal contributions of Congo Natty stylistically reminiscent of Paul Simenon’s luddite patois. Elsewhere, prevailing jazz sensibilities are infused with the reverberation of the Special AKA. I can imagine Jerry Dammers loving this record!
In the wake of Amber Rudd’s resignation, ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ could have claimed its first victim. In short, this record is a manifesto: it’s time to start again. The norms and values of neoliberal Britain, corruption and collusion, protect the few at the expense of the many. As Ben Okri states, “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation. Stories can conquer fear, you know? They can make the heart larger”. ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ convincingly states the case for reparation. It’s time to change the record.
This writer’s love of Brutalist architecture has doubtless come to your attention over the course of the last few years. My enduring love of bleep and roll has been less well documented. Both elements duly combined here on Head Technician‘s flawless ‘Profane Architecture’ (Ecstatic) is thus cause for much celebration. Pye Corner Audio head honcho, Martin Jenkins, dons his technical cap for this second outing for Ecstatic. Built using Roland TR-606, MC-202 and TB-303 boxes, plus the Roland System 100 modular synth, Jenkins raises audio edifices in sonic concrete that gurgle with acidic import when poured into your foundations. Detroit haunts the mix, Plastikman and Aphex Twin. This new brutalism is stark, hypnotic, towering in stature, monolithic.
Dedicated to the memory of Ikutaro Kakehashi, the much-loved Roland founder and creator of the TR-808, London based artist Steven Julien‘s ‘Bloodline’ (Apron) follows in the considerable footprints of his critically acclaimed 2016 debut, ‘Fallen’ (Apron). ‘Bloodline’ expands in seven cuts, documenting the unconditional love and influence of family, and the cultural heritage that has shaped his art. Relatively basic in sonic palate, but dextrous in delivery, Julien’s signature sound pays homage to the founding fathers of Detroit techno. His rhythms are steeped in the wisdom of the ancestors. The jittery funk of ‘Roll Of The Dice’, the electro swoon of ‘Queen of Ungilsan’, swimming in the same gene pool as Equiknoxx Music, this is dance music with one foot in the dancehall and one foot up on the coffee table.