Fire!/Christoph De Babalon/Carlos Maria Trindade and Nuno Canavarro/Ameel Brecht/Kuniyuki Takahashi/Kinlaw/Leslie Winer and Jay Glass Dubs/Golpea Tu Cerebro
“Neoliberalism represents a highly efficient, indeed an intelligent, system for exploiting freedom. Everything that belongs to practices and expressive forms of liberty – emotion, play and communication – comes to be exploited. It is inefficient to exploit people against their will. Allo-exploitation yields scant returns. Only when freedom is exploited are returns maximized.” – Byung-Chul Han – ‘Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power’ (Verso Books)
“The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation”, so spoke Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the inventor of the Panopticon, a building intrinsically designed to maximise surveillance potential for the monitoring of those striving within. If he were alive today, I’d wager that Bentham would be genuinely appalled that a government with such a poor record on animal rights has so successfully subverted his model, forgoing the interests of ‘the many’ for the high interest accounts of ‘the few’, to develop a system in which inmate has become their own monitor: ultimately, their own jailor. Bentham’s utilitarian ethics doubtless rattle in their grave, stoked by later observations from Michel Foucault et al. that place the locus of right-wing policy solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy over other actions/policies. Freedom is now measured by its relationship to unfreedom.
A text as essential to the average critical thinker as Mark Fisher‘s ‘Capitalist Realism’ (Zero Books), ‘Pyshopolitics’ delineates our current cultural surreality: a system that empowers us as individuals to exploit ourselves beyond the wildest dreams of traditional capitalist expectation. Big Data crunches the locus of control into the shape of a giant games console: shrinking the volume of virtual autonomy; unstitching the seams of connectivity; tearing the fabric of society to shreds. This contemporary crisis of freedom is the technological triumph of unfreedom, an age of dislocation celebrated endlessly in the newsfeeds of the disaffected, as they compete for the ever-decreasing attention-span of a rapidly-deminishing consensus. Amongst these ruins, we are compelled to search for rays of hope, radiant, shimmering, descending through the decimated roof of a shelter suddenly unfit for human habitation. A new generation will inevitably crawl from the wreckage, hopefully one who have educated themselves above and beyond the limited syllabus parameters of the Russell Group. It’s time to dumb-up. Time to educate, to agitate, to organise.
An incendiary soundtrack to a pivotal year, then, begins with one of the essential elements: Fire! The cleansing properties of the rapid oxidisation of any given material through the exothermic chemical process of combustion releases heat and light, Nordic trio Fire! bring the noise. Formed in 2009, Mats Gustafsson (sax), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werlin (drums) begin 2018 with their sixth full-length, ‘The Hands’ (Rune Grammofon). Billed by Rune Grammofon themselves as the band’s finest work to date, initial observations on the part of this listener concur that this is indeed no idle boast. ‘The Hands’ is expansive, yet remains conversely Fire!’s most concise effort to date. Clocking in at 37-minutes, it’s 8-minutes-or-so short of your average Fire! LP. That’s important. The brevity employed this time out has increased both clarity and diction, giving the record an improved traction that was at times absent from predecessor, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’. ‘The Hands’, therefore, is a return to the potential exhibited by 2013’s ‘(Without Noticing)’, in short a stunning return to form. The titular opener establishes an intensity that deliberately wanes across both sides, towards the relative delicacy of the record’s closing title, ‘I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence’. Having swayed my allegiance from trio to Fire! Orchestra these past couple of years, it’s a refreshingly optimistic start to 2018 that sees my loyalties swing back in favour of the trio, once again. The introduction of a handful of sampled spoken word interludes and the ominous presence of electronic device lurking amongst the shadows bring a new industrial menace to ‘The Hand’, and its a subtle inflection that scores large on the atmosphere front, priming me suitably for their Cafe Oto show in February. ‘The Hands’ is the first trakMARX mandatory release of this virgin year.
I was initially introduced to the music of Christoph De Babalon by John Peel, back in the late 90s. Peel was a fervent advocate of the Teutonic techno that birthed ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It’ (CFET), reissued this month on double clear wax, as a brand-spanking-new remaster. Deconstructing the 20-odd years since its initial release with its rebirth presence, this is a record that could have been recorded yesterday. Welding the progressive elements of jungle to the somnambulist tendencies of ambience is no mean feat, but it’s one that ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It’ pulls off with the kind of arrogance only found at pivotal moments in the arc of an artist’s career path. Although Da Babalon has continued to make valid artistic statements throughout the ensuing two decades, none have eclipsed this release, in terms of genre classicism. Recorded as the utopian fervour of rave culture had begun to eat itself, Da Babalon was committed to shining an altogether darker light onto the manufactured happiness that altered states of consciousness beget. The Berlin scene that informed this record was far more radical than the UK scene that inspired it, in every sense, with a parallel political sensibility that was never present in the UK. This is a record that demands its place in the here and now; a record that soundtracks the desolation of collapsing buildings, both old and new. Da Babalon re-emerges from the miasma as visionary sound-poet, get down and pay homage to the arrogance of his youth.
A more recent discovery has been Barcelona-based Urpa I Musell, a label born out of Discos Paradiso, a Barca record shop of note. The label’s mission is to make the music they love available to everyone, regardless of genre or era, and if that music happens to be local, then said love increases exponentially. Urpa I Musell’s second release is a collaboration originally released back in 1991, by Carlos Maria Trindade and Nuno Canavarro. ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ has enjoyed cult status in Portugal since its reevaluation in the noughties, and is considered a seminal record in the evolution of Portuguese electronic music, by luminaries such as Jim O’Rourke. Both artists were notable on the 1980s Portuguese pop-rock scene, Trindade with Corpo Diplomático and Heróis do Mar, and Canavarro with Street Kids and Delfins. ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ was recorded in the first six months of 1990, with each artist being credited for one side each, although both artists worked collaboratively on the recording as a whole. In terms of style and content, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ sits comfortably alongside the work of Roberto Aglieri, Paolo Modugno, Pep Llopis and Alessandro Alessandro, recordings that has swelled my library from labels of similar intent these past 12-months: Archeo Recordings, Freedom To Spend and Transversales Disques. Blending electronica with traditional instruments, interspersed with evocative spoken word samples, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ paints a vivid canvas of alchemical mystery, pushing envelopes and challenging boundaries, considering the era it was created in. In many ways, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ can be heard as a sonic travelogue, a series of thirteen postcards that could have been mailed from anywhere around the Mediterranean. Its a joy to listen to, from beginning to end, one that grows in stature with every listen. A record to treasure from a label to love.
Every once in a while, a guitar player comes along who redefines your personal relationship with the instrument, and its eternal, exquisite potential. Last year, for me, it was Raphael Roginski, this year has dug it’s claws in early with Ameel Brecht‘s ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ (Kraak). A member of the extraordinary Belgian avant-drone troupe, Razen, Brecht strikes out here alone, with his solo debut long player. Compared to the haunting sonic sorcery of Razen’s incredible 2017 release, ‘The Xvoto Reels’ (three: four records), ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ is a relatively simple affair: just Brecht, a steel resonator, a resonator mandolin, and nine variations on a thematic air of awkward consummate beauty. Meditative, studious, ornate in clarity of tone, Brecht’s compositions reek of purity of essence. Silence expertly separates resonating timbres, creating gaps that allow phrases to exhale, breathlessly, as they wend their way deep into your heart. Executed with a deftness that enchants as it defines, ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ sent me into a dervish whirl of emotional commitment at the drop of a busker’s hat.
Following last year’s exposure to Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s ‘Music For Nine Post Cards’ (Empire Of Signs), my interest in Japanese electronic music has been growing. Imagine my joy, then, when I stumbled across Kuniyuki Takahashi‘s ‘Early Tape Works – 1986-1993 Vol.1’ (Music From Memory), a new compilation that corners the developmental period of what Takahashi himself refers to as his ‘new oriental sound’. Exposure to the brave new sounds of Japanese clubland circa 1986 inspired Takahashi’s initial experimental explorations into minimal ambient house, shaped by a cosmic jazz sensibility, informed by a searching agenda of progression. An ever-growing arsenal of contemporary Roland, Casio, Korg, Boss, Foster and Yamaha analogue equipment provided a rich palate for Takahashi’s mannerist sonic canvases. These recordings were all captured in the artist’s home studio in Saporro over a period of seven years, allowing us to witness the evolution of a sound that continues to mutate to this day. 2017’s ‘Newwave Project’ (Mule Musiq) stands as contemporary testament to Takahashi’s longevity as an artist, and this stunning collection allows us to gaze longingly back in time, to where it all began.
Bristol, a city with a rich musical heritage, built on the solid core economy of sound system culture. From Ye Olde Punk Rock days of Revolver Records to the post-punk chicanery of The Pop Group and Pigbag; from The Wild Bunch and Smith And Mighty to Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead, Bristol’s evolution as a musical centre of excellence has been linear, much like the park at the heart of Temple Meads Quay. Owing much to the inspiration of such precedents are NoCorner and Bokeh Versions. NoCorner’s bid for world domination continues apace with Kinlaw‘s 6-track cassette, ‘Corfe’, a genre-surfing examination of the intersectionality at the heart of the underground hardcore continuum. Grime, jungle, dubstep, breakbeat and irregular waveforms are mangled up into dissonant vistas of unconventional topography.
Meanwhile, Bokeh Versions maintain the pressure with Leslie Winer And Jay Glass Dubs monstrously monotone ‘Your Mom’s Favourite Eazy-E Song’, a 6-track 12″ that pretty much defies classification. Former beauty queen Winer crossed over into avant electronica way back in 1990, with the legendary ‘Witch’. The cognoscenti responded, dubbing her the ‘Grandmother Of Trip-Hop’. Over the course of 32-minutes here, Winer drawls her husky poetic licence across Dubs roughshod riddims in an avalanche of word association. Constructed electronically by virtual exchange, oscillating down the wires between France and Athens, Greece: “I don’t care what you call it, as long as the program works”.
And finally, we end this month’s soundtrack with a compilation: ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro’ (Insane Muzak), the first ever vinyl compilation dedicated to the unknown-yet-fascinating Spanish underground cassette scene of the 1980s. Translating as ‘Shake Your Brain’, the complication’s title works as both cue and clue to the experience of listening to its contents at volume through headphones. Back in the day, with few resources but unlimited imaginations, Spanish youngsters began recording their interpretations of industrial, experimental and electronic music, at home in their bedrooms, on cassettes. Influenced by DIY, Futurism, Dada, and the early Industrial landscape of Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, Nurse With Wound, S.P.K. and Cabaret Voltaire, eyes were opened and minds blown by an underground network of groundbreaking radio shows, fanzines (Cloruro Sónico, Necronomicon, Particular Motors, Syntorama, El Papel de la Merienda) and mail order outlets, distributing the industrial revolution in vinyl and cassette forms. Capturing the individualism, sense of alienation, and active opposition to mainstream culture of these one-man operations, small collectives and scenes, underground tape labels began springing up all over the country: ä.d.n, El Consumo Del Miedo, Auxilio de Cientos, S.T.I., Obreros del Sonido, Toracic Tapes, 3EM. Cassettes were produced in obscenely limited numbers, exchanged by post amongst contemporaries, compiled and distributed through international tape exchange networks, escaping into the wider European continental ether and beyond by a form of cultural osmosis. ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro’ gathers the myths and legends created by the likes of LA OTRA CARA DE UN JARDÍN, COMANDO BRUNO, LÍNEA TÁCTICA. FRANCISCO LÓPEZ, UVEGRAF, ÉTICA MAKINAL, L’AKSTREMAUNÇIÓ, NEO ZELANDA, SEPTIEMBRE NEGRO, TÉCNICA MATERIAL, FÍSODO 13.4, EL ENTERRADOR ENTERRADO, 1985, ZUMBI-2, BRIGADA NADIE and more, to assemble this exemplary boxset of primitive harsh noise, dark electronics, wild tape manipulation, electroacoustic noise, and general homemade weirdness.
Jasss/Felicia Atkinson/Wilted Woman/Kara-Lis Coverdale/Teresa Winter/Maxwell Stirling/Shinichi Atobe
“In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction” – Slavoj Žižek
This courage of hopelessness defined a year that began badly, then got worse. As Ali Smith states in the first line of ‘Autumn’ (Penguin): “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times”. Must I count the ways? With my generation entering our own metaphorical autumn, the death of Mark Fisher symbolised not only the extinguishing of the light at the end of that tunnel, but also the derailment of the train. Inevitably, his passing hauntologically informed the unfolding year: the ghost of ideology past; the ghost of ideology present; the ghost of ideology future; reality as surreality; the stalking horses of parliamentary pantomime, hunting disadvantage in packs. Shock doctrines mocked, media moguls warped public perceptions, minority railed against minority, whilst division cheered from the benches, hiding in plain sight.
“And I’m up while the dawn is breaking/Even though my heart is aching/I should be drinking a toast to absent friends/Instead of these comedians” – Elvis Costello
With academia seemingly under attack, it was left to the comedians to gather the commentariat slack. It’s amazing what you can get away with in the name of satire, until you’re eventually decommissioned, quietly. Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle lead the line here in the UK, as the case for Doug Stanhope for president of the USA grew in stature, tweet by tweet. The threat of book burnings superseded library closures, plans to eradicate the past in a bid to stop us learning from history’s mistakes unfolded in Whitehall. Henry VIII powers lay in wait, the post-war statute book trembling in their shadow, a Queen before the gallows. The language of oppression chiselled away at the bust of the national consciousness, the constant drip-drip of a tap desperately in need of a new philosophical washer. Swathes of a demographic once united through Two Tone now found themselves estranged by Brexit. As Comrade Corbyn tightened his grip on power, the elite merely sharpened their pens, polishing their ceremonial swords. The unacceptable face of freedom. We will never allow you to govern.
2017 will go down in whatever purports to be history in whatever is left of the future as the year of ‘knowing someone in this life that loves with a passion called hate’ (Paul Weller). Those who once considered themselves the enemy within, now turn on the enemy without. 2017: The Year Homelessness Broke. With only the cult of the individual to keep us warm at night, a mere six degrees of separation between us and the concrete beneath the beach, we grope for our devices the moment we regain consciousness, to reconnect to the matrix, in this age of dislocation. There is no atonement in a landscape shaped by injustice. We are complicit in our estrangement from ourselves, our families, our history, our culture, our future. Condemned to repeat, to collude, at best unknowingly, at worse complicity. The fine art of sufficing for a generation born of rebellion, raised on unqualified success, ascended to hierarchal heaven, to gaze down, ultimately alone.
As is traditional at this time of the year, it has become a populist pastime to construct lists. The age of the internet has elevated individual opinion to whatever platform it can ill afford. The cult of the music journalist nothing but a quaint footnote in the dyslexic body of critical mass. That pile of moulding magazines in the attic of cultural oblivion. The relativity of subjectivity, a conceit that cannot exist, neither theoretically, or in practice. The notion that an assessment based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions, can exist or possess specified characteristics only in comparison to something else, is by no means absolute. There is, therefore, no universal truth, only a patchwork quilt of relative truths. There have been times, back in the past, where I would have scoured these co-called lists, searching for failings on the part of my own assessment processes, vacuums of disconnectedness in my personal hall of records. In our failings we become losers, as losers we live outside of margins. These days, the exhaustive nature of listdom renders the assessment process ever-more unapproachable. Who do we talk to when a body’s in trouble?
Accepting, then, that there is no ‘album of the year’ is a fiercely liberating process. Forgiving the sin of elitism through original singularity is akin to emancipation. To me, every record I’m listening to at that moment in time is by definition the greatest record ever made. Music is the very art of being here now. Transcending judgemental perspectives instilled in us by arbiters of taste, elevating engagement beyond consumption. Upwards, towards atomic oneness: a universe of untold possibility. In the past, we’ve produced our own lists. I’m not going to lie to you, or deny our history. We’ve even emulated dead heroes with Festive Fifties. This year, instead, we’ve merely posted the artwork to our favourite albums, as of 17/12/17. Some of these records we’ve written about in the preceding twelve columns of 2017, some of them we may well feature in future columns of 2018. No names, no pack drill. If you’re intrigued, do your homework. Reinvest a little of that old magical mystery into the anodyne process of year-end assessment.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, these are records I have fallen in love with whilst conducting my own limited assessment of other people’s lists, plus a few that got overlooked from the piles that litter the killing floor of the tMx bunker. As I’ve opined above, there are very few in the way of authoritative voices out there in the post-everything ether, thus I’ve collated this anything-but-concise anti-list using mainly my ears and my sociological imagination, from labels I love, and distributors I trust:
Jasss – ‘Weightless’ (iDeal Recordings): “I wanted to love someone . . . I wanted to love someone more than I love you”. So begins ‘Every Single Fish In The Pond’, the opening cut from Silvia Jiménez Alvarez (aka Jasss) debut long player for iDeal Recordings. As soon as I heard those words, I was gripped. They encapsulated exactly where both my head and my heart were at, the precise moment I first heard them. That connection launched a voyage of discovery into Jasss’ universe of dark jazz, African and South American rhythms, punk and hardcore attitude, industrial bleakness, dub space and experimental electronic topography. ‘Weightless’ is filmic in scope, an abstract wide-screen sonic epic of oscillating frequencies warped at the analogue altar of Santiago de Compostela. A record that resonates through the engulfing darkness of my winter solitude. ‘Weightless’ takes back control of the power of electronics from the bedroom fascists to instil beauty and rhythmic dexterity through femininity.
Félicia Atkinson – ‘Hand In Hand’ (Shelter Press): Seemingly impenetrable on first listen, the whispering intimacy of ‘Hand In Hand’ took me some time to fully embrace. I read the reams of plaudits with interest, hugely impressed, but didn’t fully succumb until very late in the year. For a while, the more I listened, the further away true love wandered away into the distance. Fascinated by the tones and the drones, the meandering and the bubbling, I persisted, but still the spoken words kept me at arm’s length, deep into the night. Eventually, the damn broke, early one evening, at the heart of winter, snow piled outside my door, my heart slighted, faltering, in need of both spiritual and ethereal sustenance, I finally found the courage to pledge my love to Felicia Atkinson. Once committed, the intimacy that at first scared me quickly became the connectivity that ensnared me. There has been no other record in 2018 that I have worked so hard to love.
Wilted Woman – ‘Home Listener’ (Alien Jams): Operating somewhere in the glitch-ridden middle ground between Beatrice Dillon and Karen Gwyer, Berlin-based Wilted Woman (aka Eel Burn) synthesises sinister bleeps and weirdly graceful tones that capture both the sweat of the dance floor and the relative comfort of the living room on this 5-track EP. Acidic analogue squiggles dart in and out of the staggering rhythms in a seance of apparitional manifestation, reimagining parity between mind and body. Arpeggiating particles accelerate on an elliptical orbit, returning in ovular fashion. ‘Bubbling Again’ is at the centre of this universe, epitomising the playfulness at the heart of ‘Home Listener’.
Kara-Lis Coverdale – ‘Grafts’ (Boomkat Editions): ‘Grafts’ is one of those records, one that invades your heart from first listen, and then forces the rest of your being to pay attention at gunpoint. Delivered in 3-short movements over twenty-three minutes, Kara-Lis Coverdale has captured the breadth of her art in bottomless depth in one sitting with this release. In tune with much of the 70s Italian experimentalism I’ve been immersed in for much of this year, ‘Grafts’ transcends such antecedents to soar above almost everything I’ve heard in 2017. There’s a wonderful immediacy here, a sense of deja-vu that envelopes from the first note: short enough in the moment to repeat ad finitum, long enough at its deepest point to imagine that it could continue into eternity without protest. Each movement is subtly different, building towards a crescendo of understated majesty that inspires both reflection and subsequent resolution. Sometimes it may indeed seem like everything in life is prone to let us down, but at the seismic centre of ‘Grafts’, an embryonic, strangely fetal embrace assures us that this music will never break its bond of attachment with the listener.
Teresa Winter – ‘Untitled Death’ (The Death Of Rave): From the mushrooms that adorn the sleeve of Teresa Winter’s vinyl debut for The Death Of Rave, to the broken electronica at its core, ‘Untitled Death’ is a portable psilocybin festival heading Wales-ward for Devil’s Bridge, sometime back at the dawn of the 80s. Imagine a psychedelic reinvention of Kluster, high on euphoric recall, beguiling yet knowing in its shapeshifting elasticity. Over the course of 6-pieces in the space of 32-minutes, Winter warms the frozen ventricles of any given broken heart, defrosting the imagination, reigniting the intrigue, refuelling the impetus for continued sonic exploration. The latest addition to my here and now, ‘Untitled Death’ forges a path of possibility that has remained overgrown since the cessation of psychoactive substance ingestion. As a pre-teen, the auricular sorcery of Page and Plant could achieve such mind-expansion alone, it’s reassuring to rediscover these pathways once again through the auditory hallucinations of Teresa Winter.
Maxwell Stirling – ‘Hollywood Medieval’ (The Death Of Rave): Son of erstwhile post-punk iconoclast and leader of Ludus, Linder Sterling, Maxwell maintains the familial tradition of challenging convention with his debut vinyl outing, ‘Hollywood Medieval’. Composed in response to his tenure working as a nursery nurse in support of his studies at UCLA in the early 2010s, the record delves into the contradictions posed by the extremes of wealth and poverty at the heart of LA’s fiscal elite through synthesiser abuse. Sterling pushes the envelopes of every constituent particle in seven flavours during a packed thirty-six minutes. Fault lines open up like San Andreas at the high end of the Richter Scale to reconfigure in unrecognisable alignments. ‘Hollywood Medieval’ is the kind of record I could imagine Mark Fisher writing about at length. From the visual stimulus of Linder’s artwork to the sophisticated compositional art at the epicentre of the music, Maxwell Stirling has created a work of great value that will echo outward into a future, far beyond this place in time.
Shinichi Atobe – ‘From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art’ (DDS): Complied from three retooled undercarriages nearly two decades old, plus four new explorations freshly minted in a sympathetic guise, ‘From The Heart, It’s a Start, A Work Of Art’ is precisely that. From the sublime minimalism of ‘Regret’ to the metronomic static crackle of ‘First Plate 3′, this seven track EP ranks amongst Atobe’s finest work. House music all night long.
And finally, trakMARX will continue to exist moving forwards into 2018, despite a million reservations. There may be server transfers sometime early in the new year, which may affect transmission temporarily at some stage. We will keep you posted in this regard via the Facebook page (link in masthead). Thanks for reading in 2017, wishing each and every one of you everything you hope for in the coming year!
Graziano Mandozzi/Pauline Anna Strom/Alexandra Atnif/Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1/Roberto Aglieri/Sandro Mussida/Equiknoxx/Sounds Of Sisso/Nihiloxica
As integrated societies fragment, both internal and external forces drive communities and families apart, smashed beneath the perpetual wheels of industry. In this virtual panopticon, the spectacle intensifies, through the pedantic drizzle of symbolic violence, arcing from the mainframe, like sparks falling from an angle grinder. An accumulation of situations ordinarily avoided by previous generations have become unavoidable in the halogen-headlight-glare of the obligatory Audi A4 estate self-preservation culture of 21st century western obsession. Torn asunder, the frayed familial ties that once bound us now flutter like ribbons tied to the branches of sacred trees, rustling in the idiot winds of trade disagreements and infidelity. The dissolution of my marriage was one such statistic in this sorry catalogue of social dysfunction. As always, in these sordid tales of adult betrayal, it’s the children who ultimately suffer.
And, so it came to pass, back in the winter of 2003/2004, driven from my family home, into a caravan, to nurse a liver that had ceased to expel toxins, I began the long walk towards recovery, and, away from the extended family I had grown to love so dearly since 1979. One of the great tragedies of said divorce was the loss of my relationship with my nephew, George. In the first picture I have of me taken with George, I’m 18-years old, wearing my faded blue Fiorucci sweatshirt, emblazoned with an iron-on-stencil that came free with initial copies of the Au Pairs’ ‘Playing With Another Sex’. My hair is blonde, grown-out spikes, crimped and hair-spayed to attention. George is a babe in arms, we were framed by the back doorway of his parent’s house, on the cusp of a shared lifetime of mutual musical wonderment.
Across the next 25-years, we developed a relationship resolutely founded on musical curiosity. I mentored George through wave after wave of musical shenanigans, comings and goings, as genre tides rose and genre tides fell, the eternal sea: through punk; post-punk; reggae; ska; folk; world music; hip-hop; acid house; jungle; alt.country; Americana; Britpop; black metal; doom metal; et al. George had an insatiable appetite for new sounds, and I’d compile cassettes for him endlessly, recommendation after recommendation. During these years, trips to Wiltshire, and later, Devon, would always include jamming sessions and performances for the rest of the family, and, before long, George far-exceeded my meagre talents as a guitarist. In those days, I was known as Uncle Punk, and my fretboard abilities as a humble strummer were rapidly eclipsed by George’s nimble fretwork. I can still recall the glee with which he first played me his take on Davey Graham’s ‘Anji’, a tune I still can’t play to this day.
As is often the case, it took death to reconcile us. The passing of my ex-mother-in-law this November brought the extended family back together once more for her funeral. As I arrived in the church, I spied George at the front, the first time we’d set eyes on each other in nigh-on 14-years. The surge of emotion was overpowering, a hug brought me to tears, a quarter of a century’s mutual love and admiration reconnected instantly. At the wake, we scrambled to fit 14-year’s worth of news into a couple of hours of conversation, the bond between us seemingly intact. I was simply thrilled to be reminded of the countless cassettes I’d compiled, and the resonance they held in George’s memories. This palate of impeccable taste I’d influenced, possibly even shaped, this cultural exchange. The magic of the peer to peer relationship; the exchange of sacral information; the reciprocity of connectivity; this passion for sound. We recalled individual songs, collective themes, scenes and dreams, each one of them powerful enough to change the world forever at the time, or so it seemed back then.
I was flawed when George told me that he’d been reading trakMARX throughout our estrangement. I’d genuinely never considered that angle for a moment. He even suggested it was time to resurrect ‘Cowboy Mouth’, the precursor of tMx, a hard copy zine that lasted one whole issue, indebted to Dave Henderson’s ‘Happenstance’. It was the first time I’d thought of ‘No Depression’-era alt.country in two decades: momentarily, I became disorientated, drowning in the history of my own musical journey, as long-forgotten obsessions flashed before my watery eyes. We’ve been communicating regularly since the funeral, and George has invited me and my daughters down to Exeter in the spring. George has played in many bands over the years of our estrangement, including stints in a major doom metal band that saw him tread the boards to audiences exceeding anything I achieved in my time. He’s got a functional home studio set-up, and we’ve agreed to work together on some material I’ve had lying round for a couple of years, and some stuff George has been working on. In this age of dislocation, stories of reconnection and families overcoming dysfunction are stories of hope: an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes. Both this month’s column and its selections are dedicated to the musical imagination of George Birch:
Graziano Mandozzi – ‘Masada’ (Holywax):
Mandozzi’s epic score to Hans Kresnik’s 1977 ballet, ‘Masada’, operates in similar soundtrack-boundary-annihilation territory to that of Bernard Parmegiani’s ‘Rock’ (Transversales Disques), explored in detail in last month’s column. The experience of ground being broken by the interpretive tools of jazz action, Milesian bad-ass-funk, experimental electronica and the liberal sprinkling of psychedelic shapeshiftery renders this intriguing disc from Geneva-based psych monkeys, Holywax Records, as a grail worthy of the label’s moniker. Remastered and tinkered to the sonic peak of perfection by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London, ‘Masada’ is a journey into sound that will leave you exhausted but satiated.
Pauline Anna Strom – ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ (ReRVNG):
ReRVNG, the paramilitary reissue-wing of NYC-based RVNG, has spent the past 6-years establishing a reputation of some repute in the discipline of shedding light into darkened corners. With a catalogue blessed by luminaries such as Harald Grosskopf, Craig Leon, K. Leimer, Ariel Kalma, and Anna Homler, the addition of this carefully curated compilation from San Fransican ambient legend, Pauline Anna Strom, is cause for some celeberation. Blind from birth, following complications relating to the premature nature of her entry into this world, Strom’s acute sensitivity to sound invigorated her with an incredible ability to create her own universe aurally, from her own home, between 1982 and 1988, using a Tascam 4-track recorder and a modest arsenal of analogue synthesizers. Immensely spiritual and deeply zen, immersion within the boundless confines of Strom’s universe is literally akin to the art of being here now. The connectivity of universal atomic bonds link the listener to the epitome of existence itself, providing an experiential reciprocal exchange that emphasises our commonality as sentient beings. Healer, spirit guide, Reiki master and composer, Strom’s belated canonisation is long overdue, and ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ stretches our flimsy concepts of time and space beyond the relative towards the cosmic. Magnificently packaged, pressed onto two sides of shimmering orange sunburst wax, this incredible release is not only one of the highlights of the year, but possibly of the decade thus far as a whole.
Alexandra Atnif – ‘Rhythmic Brutalism Vol. 1/Vol. 2′ (EM Records):
Following a string of limited self-released cassettes stretching back to 2015, Romanian sound artist Alexandra Atnif collates her back catalogue with this two-volume collection on Japanese label, Em Records. Inspired by the brutalist architecture that informs the urban landscape of her native lands, Atnif’s unapologetic approach to sound constructs imposing edifices to the former glories of the Communist experiment. Through the power of relatively accessible analogue technology, she has crafted a monolithic niche within the contemporary electronic music milieu. The sound of rust oxidising in the damp atmosphere of the mist of the tears of the proletariat. The sound of concrete infested with pyrites, silica and mica, constantly mutating in the harsh environment of sub-zero temperatures. The sound of oligarchs screaming digitally as they are torn limb from limb by the righteous masses. The crackles of their subsequent pyres oscillate through the mix in distorted collapse, as failed ideology burns in front of our ears. Informed on the one hand by the school of radical experimentalism of the 1970s: Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, Cabaret Voltaire, and on the other by more recent adherents of the discipline: Autechre, Prurient, Vatican Shadow, Atnif demonstrates the art of progression through both time and space across this brace of indispensable volumes.
V/A – ‘Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1′ (Tigersushi):
Triple-vinyl compilation on Paris-based Tigersushi captures the zeitgeist at the heart of the French beatless community. Purpose built around Apollo Noir’s ‘Inspiring Images & Visual Power. Chosen With Love & Dedication’ and Glass’ ‘Heart’, the original concept of a split-45 eventually evolved into the 18-track, 2-hour-13-minute opus you read about here. In an amazing display of synchronicity, these 18-initially disparate sources coalesce in wondrous amalgamation, both consolidating and affiliating individual contributors in a synthesis far greater than the project’s curators could ever have imagined at the outset. Doffing berets in the general direction of antecedent Pierres, Schaeffer and Henry, volume two is reportedly already in the pipeline, suggesting in some senses a glorious accident turned brilliant mistake.
Roberto Aglieri – ‘Ragapadani’ (Archeo Recordings):
Florence-based Archeo Recordings delivers its second mandatory double-wax-bundle of the year, following sharply on the heels of Paolo Modugno’s ‘Brise D’Automne’. Again, the format is familiar: a double album, one disc on coloured wax (this time silver marble, as opposed to gold for Modugno), a second on black vinyl, in an edition of 100-copies. Forming an orderly queue behind the likes of Franco Battiato, Giusto Pio, Roberto Musci,Telaio Magnetico, Zeit, Lino Capra Vaccina, Claudio Rocchi, N.A.D.M.A., and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Aglieri is the latest in the long line of Italian composers to have their work disentombed from the 20th century and resurrected in the collective consciousness of the contemporary imagination. Originally released back in 1987, ‘Ragapadani’ does not come with a biography of its creator over-laden with detail. A flautist with a penchant for musical therapy, Aglieri espoused the healing properties of sound in taking the listener to hitherto undiscovered realms of acceptance through arpeggiation. This is music that demands to be inhabited, not simply heard. I would urge you to move beyond cliched new-age/hippy slights in approaching ‘Ragapadani’. Go in with an open mind and leave with a new perspective.
Sandro Mussida – ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ (Metrica):
Composed for violin, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, percussion, and computers, and staffed by an ensemble consisting of Enrico Gabrielli, Yoko Morimyo, Susanne Satz, Alessandra Novaga, Giulio Patara, Sebastiano De Gennaro, Giovanni Isgrò, ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ sees London-based Italian Mussida expand the lineage of tradition in terms of Italian progressive instrumentalism outlined in the Aglieri review above. Experimenting with pitch, tone, speed and triangulation, Mussida approaches the art of classical deconstruction with elegance and restraint. Beautifully realised and sumptuously packaged, every aspect of this release symbolises Mussida’s unshakeable belief in the resonance of his creative process. Sonorous yet sparse, orotund yet minimalist, Mussida stands shoulder to shoulder with fellow countryman Giulio Aldinucci in keeping the home fires of constant redefinition across the spectrum of experimental Italian composition burning brightly.
Equiknoxx – ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS):
Following their hugely acclaimed compilation of earlier work, ‘Bird Sound Power’ (DDS, 2016), Jamaica’s Equiknoxx Music (Gavin Blair aka Gavsborg and Jordan Chung aka Time Cow) finally drop their long-player-proper in the form of ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS). The record’s title eludes to a Jamaican folk song, ‘Colon Man-A-Come’, celebrating the return to the island from Cólon of one of the 100,000 or so Jamaicans who built the Panama Canal. He left the island as a humble labourer, but returns with a certain swagger, a brass watch chain, and a zoot suit: “One, two, three, four, Colon man a-come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Ask him what the time is him look upon the sun (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Zoot suit, eye glass, ‘Merican a come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/So fast him leave the island so quickly him come back (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam”. Recorded between December 2016 and June 2017, ‘Colón Man’ is a eminently more focussed and vivid affair than its predecessor. Melody is used sparingly in an abstract manner, reconfiguring original sources, spliced through effect and desk, evolving beyond parameter into something unrecognisable. Addis Pablo’s melodica, synth hooks, acidic grinds, doorbells, birdcalls, tin cans, chorales, bleeps, gongs, pinball machines, all are superimposed over mutated dancehall riddims as progressive as anything to emanate from Jamaica in years.
V/A – ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):
“For the past 15-years the Tanzanian megalopolis of Dar Es Salaam has had one of the most exciting underground electronic music scenes in East Africa. A constellation of micro-scenes from Mchiriku, Sebene and Segere all the way to its latest mutation of Singeli that finally after years of lurking in the underground has exploded into the mainstream and taken over Bongo Flava as the music of choice amongst Tanzania’s youth. Born in the sprawling working class neighborhoods of Tandale and Manzese, Singeli’s signature sound consists of fast paced frantic loops interlocking with each other, with influences from Zanzibars Tarab music all the way to South African afro-house coupled with MCs who often spit satirical lyrics about the challenges facing Tanzania’s youth, from police corruption to the complications of dating girls when you are broke. If there is one studio that stands out amongst the hundreds that dot Dar es Salaam’s musical landscape it is Sisso Records. Centered around producers; Bwax, Sisso, Bampa Pana and Yung Keyz Morento and Mc’s Dogo Niga and Makavelli, they were early pioneers of the Singeli sound. Whilst some Singeli artists have begun fusing their music with more traditional Tanzanian hip hop, Sisso have remained uncompromising in their sound: always raw, fast, with a punk DIY aesthetic that can at times verge on Noise and Gabber, to produce a spell binding music that is like no other Sound System culture in the region” – Nyege Nyege Tapes
Man, this shit is raw. I’ve only just unearthed this scene, and hastily snagged myself a copy of Boomkat’s 300-copy double-vinyl-coloured-wax repressing of this original Nyege Nyege Tapes cassette release. Alongside the Equiknoxx jam above, and the Nihiloxica tape below, ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ is a filling of quality in a sandwich of innovation. I won’t even attempt to qualify beyond the quote above from horse’s mouth, I simply do not yet possess either the understanding or the prerequisite vocabulary to do justice to this gargantuan release, beyond express both my total fascination and eternal gratitude to Nyege Nyege Tapes and the artists of Sisso for shining a sun’s worth of illumination onto the repressive darkness of my English winter.
Nihiloxica – ‘S/T’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):
Again, there are no words presently, the last seven days have been a new voyage of discovery inspired by Nyege Nyege Tapes, and in my current incarnation as total novice, I am loathed to attempt anything other than quotation: “After leaving us reeling with the electrifying Sounds of Sisso compilation, Nyege Nyege Tapes introduce a scintillating and darker take on traditional Bugandan drumming with Nihiloxica’s debut battery of percussion and stark synth work. Revolving around seven percussionists plus one kit drum and a synth, their eponymous debut is a deeply grounded but sparking session recorded in single takes at Boutiq Studios in Kampala, Uganda, between 26-29th August, 2017.”
Virosa Ebriosa (album)
Fragments: The end of a set at one venue, a near miss at another, a sense that something missed was significant as condensation and sweat hangs heavy in the post performance air. A shimmering chimera rendered accessible through the recorded medium. The antiseptic digital format does not undermine the visceral energies contained within its virtual folds; Virosa Ebriosa is suitably strong and addictive even when consumed within the most ascetic environment.
‘You’re One’ bursts in, coruscates, accelerating through a notional set of friction heavy gears that cause it to skitter and bounce, plain sailing rendered kinetic through its reflexive serrations. Literate lyrics hint at the outsider perspective and juxtaposed belonging, a syncopated scratch that balms the savage itch. A torpedo descent to the bottom of Davy Jones locker switches perspective, driven by bass dexterity ‘Pyrate Bad’ cracks open a barrel of fun.
Waters run deep. The greenback river of Jordan is polluted by the pure light of actuality. ‘Ghostwriter’ coalesces into a venomous scarification of artificiality before fading into the tar melting two lane blacktop burn of ‘Bombshell’, a standout track that supports malefic vocals upon a sleek, portentous superstructure. The themes are heavy but the delivery is made with accomplished light hands.
After ‘The Ballad Of Lucifer’ rattles through like a night train carrying forbidden pets, ‘Hate Parades’ dares to skank. Strafing and evocative by degree, the number scours its groove, adorned by sumptuous lead and rich harmony. A sensual travelogue is unfolding; epitomised by ‘Hate Parade’, a spinning madrigal of bittersweet umami that traces the journey from conflagration to dying ember. ‘Lipstick Graffiti’ emerges as a broadcast from the last wasteland, twitching and convulsing in the crepuscular half light to recount pulp fictions with magnificent malevolence.
‘Russell (The Soundcheck Song)’ and ‘Sounds Like A Douche’ return fun to the top of the high octane agenda, paint blistering lead combining with the latter’s entrancing melodic savagery to frame an exultant release. Intent and execution rule here, with ‘My Lady Castlemaine’ writhing like an uroboros impaled upon its own fangs. With vocal prowess unrestrained, ‘Rage’ brings in the home straight; a furious casting built upon a rock solid gallows, before the episodic ‘Valkyrie Eyes’ delivers its Ouija board lexicon, immolating the heretical spellings within a house of flames. Kinesis and allure are juxtaposed.
Finally, the ramalama punkarama of ‘Train Of Stars’ loops around the outer rim of the non-stop pogo-a-gogo, a demented Sputnik that arcs toward the killing floor. Soaking its entry point with the same sweet condensation and sweat that hung in the air weeks ago now. This is mischief with ideas – experience it.
Haram/Belus/Sanguine Relic/Hell/N.A.D.M.A./Laura Cannell/Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker/Bernard Parmegiani/Dmitry Evgrafov/Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988
“Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or ‘improve’ it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism” – György Lukács
Eclecticism is defined as a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or concepts. When I founded trakMARX, back in 2001, I was a practicing exhibition electrician. These days, I’m more of an eclectic exhibitionist. In 2001, we still bought records in shops; had a functional hard-copy music press; believed punk rock was a generational signifier worthy of continued relevance; and used mobile phones that required the wearing of a holster. Things change. Life is fluid. As some of you are doubtless aware, back in 2001, life for me was especially fluid, to the tune of around 280-units of alcohol a week. As I said, things change.
If you signed up to this zine sometime back in a distant decade when things almost mattered, you may well have been appalled at the outrageously not-really-punk-rock theories, styles or concepts we have foisted upon you in the ensuing years. You possibly ceased reading some time ago, when we stopped posting so many pictures of Debbie Harry, or parades of dusty old record sleeves. This is my truth: forty years after the fact, I’m still energised by music as an art form, and I find that irrascible punk rock (nee: counterculture) attitude in just about anything. Come with me then, as we dig through the virtual crates, to sample the giddy delights of an eclectic Marxist approach to consuming music in the twenty first century.
Haram – ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’ (LVEUM): One of a handful of punk rock combos to effectively engage with me in the past 12-months, NYC’s Haram follow their well-received demo and essential seven inch on Toxic State with a virulent 10-track LP on La Vida Es Un Mus in the UK/Europe (Toxic State is the US). Band-leader and front-man, Nadar, is of Lebanese origin, and his coruscating vocals are delivered entirely in Arabic, over tub-thumping drums and splenetic guitars, reminiscent (to these ears) of the work of East Bay Ray. It’s by no means all 1-2-3-4-rammalama, either: ‘The Voice Of The Hari’meen’, ‘What Is This Life?’ and ‘Road To Liberation’ quell the pace and stem the fury with intelligent use of spoken word, effective sampling, and a variable rhythmic approach that nods in the general direction of UK comrades, Bad Breeding. It’s all over in 21-radical-minutes, but it seems way longer than that in-situ, and that’s a mark of the quality of Haram’s art. In a year when dad’s, grandads and uncle punks all over what passes for mass media in 2017 remind you incessantly that its 40-years ago today since Malcolm taught the band to play, if I read one more essay claiming ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was the only punk rock album ever made, I will hunt the authors down, and force them to listen to ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’, over and over again, until their ears bleed.
Belus – ‘Apophenia’ (Vendetta): Five years after their debut self-released cassette, Belus finally drop their debut long player. This New York horde have been keeping their powder dry, and ‘Apophenia’ is one hell of an opening statement. The band have grown further in stature since my entry point, their split with Anicon (2014), and this record finds them fully defining their sound betwixt the twin pillars of blackened doom and black metal. Drummer Jacques Johnson varies the attack with some decidedly unmetallic approaches, particularly on the angular standout, ‘Monolith’. Elsewhere Matt Newton (vocals/gtr) and Lesley Wolf (vocals/bass) trade gnarly licks, shifting shapes in the gloom, refusniks on the run from the genre police. Carefully constructed over the course of the last three years with assistance from the band’s engineer, Nolan Voss, ‘Apophenia’ kicks over the statues in its bid to establish a unique identity, an objective it achieves with room to spare.
Sanguine Relic – ‘Bitter Reflection In Luminous Shadows’ (Skjold): Originally released in stunningly limited numbers on Perverse Homage, this vinyl pressing on Skjold follows the label’s earlier vinyl pressing of the band’s ‘Vampiric Will’ (Defiled Light) cassette, back in 2015. Sanguine Relic are conspiratorially regarded as one of the most authentic US raw BM hordes in existence presently. Their tapes and vinyl pressings change hands on Discogs for frankly ridiculous amounts. Peruse the band’s below-the-line comments on their individual release listings on Discogs for a flavour of the discourse revolving around inclusivity/exclusivity in underground black metal. Kvltists karmically deride ‘flippers’ for their questionable ethics; Perverse Homage appear almost totalitarian in their approach to fulfilment (one copy per person; working in conjunction with the FBI counter-flipper team; trained team of handwriting experts; postcode recognition software). This begs the question: is it ok if I like your band? Obviously, as a relative fossil, I find all this parochialism faintly amusing, but remembering the protective instincts I once had as a younger man for bands I considered to be my personal property, I do appreciate the conundrum. The fine art of selling out is seemingly played out to the Nth degree in the 21st century. I’d imagine in certain dark circles the act of playing a gig could be viewed as heresy. Sonically, I’ve been developing an appreciative ear for the art of Sanguine Relic over the course of the last few months, but it has been fairly arduous work, I’m not going to lie to you. In terms of fidelity, they make Black Cilice sound like Black Veil Brides. One imagines the recording process to involve the careful etching of the songs onto a rusting chrome C60 with a 2B pencil, before some kind of primitive overdubbing, involving the use of condenser mics and broken boomboxes, allows the band to build their cacophony of dread by candlelight. Beneath the murk of the kind production values normally associated with underground noise bands (i.e. – makes ‘Raw Power’ sound over-produced), Sanguine Relic are actually way more melodic than my words may imply. The songwriting is impeccable throughout, punkish in its delivery, crammed with menacing riffs, decorated sparsely with fluid tremolo’d melody, punctuated by harrowing high-pitched screaming. Sanguine Relic are engaged in a relative spiritual war; struggling to cleanse their minds, their hearts and their spirits, striving to break the chains that shackle them to their futile existences.
Hell – ‘Full Length’ (Lower Your Head/Sentient Ruin): Salem, Oregon’s Hell have been quietly ruling the extreme doom underground since 2009. Over the course of a trilogy of long players and a host of splits, they’ve established a reputation as vile purveyors of blackened woe. Multiple issues across both cassette and vinyl formats have built a fertile catalogue, culminating in this cassette release, on the band’s own Lower Your Head, in conjunction with Sentient Ruin. M.S.W. and guest vocalist A.L.N. return to the fore once again with ‘Full Length’, collating various pieces assembled over the past three years. The album includes 2015’s ‘Sub Odin’/’Inscriptus’ seven inch; ‘Victus’ (previously released as a bonus track in 2014); alongside four brand new songs. Opener ‘Helmzmen’ sets the tone, with its blend of ultra-distorted/clean guitar interplay, interspersed with sickening rasps and spoken word samples. This is despotic doom, carved in heavy oak with a bloodied dagger. Precision music that crushes the breath from your lily livered lungs in spasms of humble consecration. Hell are equal opportunity oppressors, and you enter their subterranean world at your own peril. Their back catalogue has always been intriguing, if not a tad uneven, veering from ultra-doom to experimental doom opera, but ‘Full Length’ establishes a new paradigm of refined heaviness.
N.A.D.M.A. – ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ (Die Schachtel): Originally released back in 1973 on RCA Records, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ is one of those records: one where the reality of the repress actually surpasses the myth of constructed memory. Long regarded as one of the most sought-after artefacts of the Italian avant-garde, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ expands your mind, your spirit and your consciousness. As ecstatic as it is eclectic, it swerves joyously from free jazz liberation to modal folk traditionalism, and back again. Considering the staggering brilliance of the Die Schachtel roster, to suggest that this is one of the finest records in the label’s catalogue will give you some idea of the importance of this release. Steeped in mystery, the finer details of this recording are as scarce as the accolades draped across the original release back in 1973. We have the connoisseurs and historians of the Italian avant-garde to thank for any awareness in this regard. ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ cuts through time like an insect crawling up the walls, to plug us into the zeitgeist of a truly egalitarian movement, one that defined the possibility of radical sound so effectively that it still sounds like nothing else to this day. Such is the mark of innovation.
Laura Cannell – ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ (Brawl Records): Violinist Laura Cannell’s fourth solo release follows her acclaimed albums: ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014); ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ (2015); ‘Simultaneous Flight Movement’ (2016). ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ captures the East Anglian fiddler over 11-improvisations recorded live in the semi-ruined church of Covehithe, perched atop the fast-eroding cliffs of the Suffolk coast. The material here was inspired by an art installation involving sound, light and a live stallion. Cannell explores daydreams, memories and perspectives, of both the horse, and the humans seeking to harness its power and strength for their own needs. Cannell’s fiddle and overbow fiddle conjure age-old visions of half-light and torch light; flitting shadows; the rhythmic cadence of hooves on sodden turf. There’s always been a medieval bent to Cannell’s work, and ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ duly echoes with the natural reverb of sanctity, befitting of the space in which it was recorded. I have cherished every one of Cannell’s albums thus far, but until now I have had nothing tangible to hold in my hands. ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ rectifies this with a limited cassette pressing, available through her Bandcamp page below. For the uninitiated, it’s a good place to begin your investigations. Highly recommended.
Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker – ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ (Drag City Records): I met Ryley Walker earlier this year, at a show in Wolverhampton, within spitting distance of the Molineux. He was charming, effusive and engaging, full of the veritable joys of being a respected travelling musician, abroad in a foreign land, posing for photographs with my companion and I. He talked briefly about the follow-up to ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ (Dead Oceans), set for release early next year, but conspicously failed to mention this second full-length outing with compadre-in-strings, Bill Mackay. The show that night was a revelation, bringing Walker’s songs to life off of the vinyl, breathing connectivity into my listening experiences moving forwards. It may have only been a slight meeting, but it brought his music alive to me, a shared moment that will forever connect me to the man and his songs. ‘SpiderBeetleBee’, then, is the successor to ‘Land Of Plenty’ (Whistler Records, 2015), a second rambling dual acoustic conversation in dialects as varied as you’d expect from such well-travelled men. Together, the duo swerve from Nick Drake-ist whimsey to Jim O’Rourke-ian gravitas with wit and verve, making their own path as they walk it. More than just ‘Land Of Plenty’ (revisited), ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is a companion piece that compliments its predecessor perfectly. Ideal for long winter nights huddled round a one-bar fire in a tenement slum, wishing for all the world that it didn’t have to be this way, that you could be somewhere else, anywhere but here.
Bernard Parmegiani – ‘Rock (Original Soundtrack)’ (Transversales Disques): Recorded in 1982 as the soundtrack to Michel Treguero’s film, ‘Rock’ was created using a TR-808 drum-machine, a Synthi AKS, a Farfisa organ, and a Clavinet. Recorded entirely in Parmegiani’s home studio, ‘Rock’ uncannily laid the foundations for future records, such as Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human), reviewed in these pages a mere couple of columns ago. Splice ‘Rock’ with Jean Hoyoux‘s ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona), et voila! A member of the Groupe De Recherches Musicales, an electroacoustic composer in his own right, and a contemporary of Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, François Bayle et al., Parmegiani’s reputation spent years languishing in the shadows cast by the success of his fellow musicians; decades of grubbing about in the margins. Paris-based label, Transversales Disques, are now set to challenge such isolationist narratives with their inaugural release of ‘Rock’. Ironically, Parmegiani began his creative life as a mime artist, before forging a career defined by the potential of recorded sound, largely in the arena of film and television. Bearing little resemblance to the bulk of Parmegiani’s work as a composer, ‘Rock’ instead owes more to the likes of Carpenter, de Roubaix and the Berlin School of 80s electronica. I originally stumbled across ‘Rock’ as a spiritual companion record to Pierre Mariétan‘s ‘Rose Des Vents’ (Mana Records), a vaguely contemporaneous Parisienne experimental sound artefact from 1981: the fine defined lines of the artwork, the similar yellow hue of the record’s sleeve, connectivity at play in an obsessive mind. ‘Rock’ unfolds over 19-short vignettes of effervescence: radical, modular, droning, pulsating, analogue dysfunction. Tonally captivating, nothing hangs around long enough to outstay its welcome. There’s something utterly fascinating about this record, it possesses that certain je ne sais quoi that’s also present in spades on ‘Rose De Vents’. An utterly essential purchase.
Dmitry Evgrafov – ‘Comprehension Of Light’ (130701): In a teeming genre pool as fertile as that of neo-classical electronica, it takes something extraordinary to overshadow relative veterans such as Max Richter or Jóhann Jóhannsson, but with ‘Comprehension Of Light’, that’s precisely what this inexplicably talented neophyte Moskvich pianist has achieved, in one fell swoop. If Richter is imagined as an electronic composer flirting with classicism, and Jóhannsson as a classical composer flirting with electronica, then Evgrafov must then be framed as a true hybrid, on a journey of expansion, undertaken within, not without. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ is thus defined as an inventory of self by the artist; a stock take of ethical and moral concerns; an internal audit, if you will. A vast swathe of emotional intelligence that serves as a juxtaposition to his previous piano-dominated lyricism: for an album composed by a pianist, the piano only makes four notable appearances throughout. Instead we are enveloped by a cosmos of resonating drones, punctuated by ecstatic string-led chamber interludes that rise from their sombre killing floor to soar like eagles atop the heady mix. I’ve been spinning this head-to-head with Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s ‘Luciferian Towers’ for the past few weeks, and despite my eternal love for GY!BE, I have to say Dmitry is edging ahead. When I was younger, adults used to tell me that I’d know when I’d finally grown up, because I’d start listening to classical music. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ turns that maxim on its head, inside out, and upside down.
V/A – ‘Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988′ (Munster): Featuring Manongo Mujica, Banda Dispersa De La Madre Selva, Miguel Flores, Amauta, Autoperro, Malalche, Decibel, Jorge Reyes, Grupo Um, Carlos Da Silveira, Musikautomatika, Quum, Vía Láctea, and Miguel Noya.
Thoroughly enticing compilation on the ever-reliable Munster Records, collating Latin America’s embracing of the DIY ethic. The sound of South America exploding through punk rock, and out the other side. History has applied cult status to many of the artists featured here, and as with the febrile movements in similar timeframes I’ve recently been exploring in both Italy and France, there is much here that connects intuitively to the bulk of the extraordinary exploration that’s filled these pages in 2017. The counterculture of the 60s, like the atom, has continued to expand ever since its detonation, and it could be argued that punk temporarily became an inadvertent straightjacket; that instead of liberating a staid and lumbering aristocracy of dinosaurs, as the myth insists, it instead merely halted the tide of progression temporarily, before misappropriating all its best ideas in the name of post-punk.
To conclude, those who cite ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ as the only punk rock LP ever made, will doubtless bore you senseless with their justification of ‘Metal Box’ as the epitome of experimentalism. It’s a bitter P/i/L to swallow, but some people just seem to revel in being cheated.