Thursday, October 23, 2008

Surgery 68

- Caesura (Type)
Tussle - Cream Cuts (Smalltown Supersound)
Peter Rehberg - Work For GV 2004-2008 (Editions Mego)
Samarkande - 3 Synapses (Samarkande)
Klangwart - Stadtlandfluss (Staubgold)
Peter Grummich - Dinner Music For Clubbers-Peter Grummich Plays Staubgold (Staubgold)
Tujiko Noriko / Lawrence English / John Chantler - U (Room40)
CoH + Cosey Fanni Tutti - COH Plays Cosey (Raster-Noton)
Les Poules - Phénix (Ambiances Magnetiques)
Pedal - S/T (Staubgold)
Elite Barbarian - It's Only When You Get To The End That It All Makes Sense (Front & Follow)
Johann Johannsson - Fordlandia (4AD)

Track Listing
Helios - The Red Truth [0:00]
Tussle - Third Party [4:43]
Peter Rehberg - Pia [8:11]
Samarkande - Synapse No 3 [10:26]
Klangwart - IO [19:42]
Sun - Make It (Mapstation Remix) [27:39]
Tujiko Noriko / Lawrence English / John Chantler - The Sky And Us, 2 Girls [30:15]
CoH + Cosey Fanni Tutti - Lying [35:12]
Les Poules - D'os Et De Cendre [40:37]
Pedal - Security [42:45]
Elite Barbarian - Going Down [48:19]
Johann Johannsson - The Rocket Builder [53:38]

Listen to Surgery 68 click here

Monday, October 20, 2008

Grails - Doomsdayer's Holiday

As it turns out their e.p. for Important Records, Take Refuge in Clean Living, was not Grails’ shoring up of direction, but seemingly a cap on their folk-leanings. Doomsdayer’s Holiday kicks off definitively and scarily with apocalypse horses a-galloping and the screams of the innocent. After that the dark groove of “Reincarnation Blues” reminds us the Portland, OR group once knocked a Sabbath cover out of the park (on Temporary Residence’s odd tribute album). Even the quieter moments like “The Natural Man” hide echoes and whispers in the flute trills and dappled trees. It might be upsetting if it wasn’t so damn much fun. “Predestination Blues” gives us a prog-gyspy theme for the ages (you might need to score a cloak to truly rock out to it). “X-Contaminations” would have us believe even the digital recordings have been warped by some ancient evil. Grails continue to impress with their ever-unfolding identity and bad-ass chops.

Temporary Residence

Christina Carter - Original Darkness

On Christina Carter’s last solo release for Kranky, Electrice, she wrote and recorded the four long pieces in a single key and tuning to explore possibilities within a confined space. On Original Darkness she is free to once again fly free, though apparently with a heavy heart. Carter, who is also half of Texas’ Charalambides permanent core, had commonly used her lilting siren call wordlessly and double-tracked to float above the singeing interplay of acoustic guitars and pedal steel. Here, tracks like “Capable of Murder” have the same weight of sound, but the music is much more concise and Carter’s lyrics are equally direct, though incantatory. “In Prisoned Body” adds a slightly off-kilter Touré electric pattern to the more standard acoustic one. Slight rifts like this, and on the title track’s just off-melody xylophone, create a hallucinatory dreaminess which keys into the album’s heartsickness. Ms. Carter kicks at this darkness, does not go gently into it.


Galerie Stratique – Faux World

There are many ways to incorporate exotic instruments into experimental music, but I’ve not heard any that are as immediately striking and beautiful as Galerie Stratique’s Faux World. Québec’s Charles-Émile Beullac used three days worth of jam time on a closet load of oddball instruments to build up a huge reference library of sounds he could convert to loops and samples at his leisure. Unlike other purveyors of altered world acoustics (Ben Vida’s Bird Show and Per Henrik Svalastog for example) Beullac seldom leans on the trance elements inherent in the sounds, preferring to let strange and discrete sound events link up in wonderful and unexpected ways. Exceptions, such as “Hors Champs,” still strike a balance between the original organic sound and its transformation into an evolving electronic entity. Little touches of electroacoustic surrealism pepper the margins as well. The end result of all these strategies is an album that lives neither in the wild nor on the desktop but in a sparsely populated middle kingdom.

Galerie Stratique

Agathe Max – This Silver String

Throwing off the mantle of traditional classical music this French violinist has stepped laterally into the worlds of improvisation and solo sound experiments, still using her violin as a main weapon. This first widespread release encapsulates an approach that pits spatial resonance / loop treatments from live performance alongside a love of post-classical overdubbing a la Steve Reich. She blends these with traces of mournful melody absorbed from Eastern European folk modes, as on “Frederic.” Also on “Ashes of Broken Furniture” a slow building theme evolves into a slow gypsy swing before layers of loop turn it into something more dense and fearsome. Both the title track and “Raw Bow” prove that Max is unafraid to dig into the dirt of the sound spectrum, pushing things into the red and the nearly brown, tone-wise. The combination of these elements makes for a music that engages heart, head and guts at once.

Xeric / Table of the Elements

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Fordlandia

Iceland is alive with the sound string composers of late: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Ólafur Arnalds, and Amiina have all released lovely albums celebrating the pomp and melancholic circumstance of the North. Note for note though, Jóhann Jóhannsson manages to hover a few centimeters above them all. Fordlandia, his second release for 4AD, takes its title from a large tract of land in Brazil purchased by Henry Ford during the 1920s to harvest cheaper rubber. It was an experiment that was fraught with troubles. Jóhannsson turns his mastery of slow thematic evolution to the task of creating a musical backdrop that moves from bombast to subtle deflation. “The Rocket Builder” is another piece built on an insistent clockwork piano figure and a push of strings set against an electronic doppelganger of percussion. When these elements quietly trade spaces at the halfway mark the mood eerily turns from hopefully to worry-filled. Jóhannsson’s choice to examine themes of big dreams / bad outcomes feeds into our North American desire for the rags-to-riches-to-rags story retold. To have it presented without Oscar-fuelled mugging is a welcome relief.


Samarkande – 3 Synapses

The Quebecois duo that make up Samarkande, Eric Fillion and Sylvain Lamirande, have a complementary background that moves from classical studies (piano and saxophone) through electroacoustics with diversions into the worlds of jazz and new wave. They’ve taken all that previous experience and sunk it into the … The first and longest movement is the most propulsive, with a sci-fi flavour reminiscent at times of the “On the Run” section of Dark Side of the Moon. Snippets of found dialogue and the occasional sprinkling of acoustic percussion enliven this mostly synthetic excursion. The second synapse is more enervated, buzzing and clicking like a locust in a bottle. Eventually thumb piano and soprano sax are loosed in their own miniature invasion. The last and shortest piece also moves slowest, like a cloud full of metal sheets that creak across each other, occasionally showering sparks and lightning. It’s an engaging listen by artists who learned to treat sound from all angles.


Anla Courtis / Seiichi Yamamoto / Yoshimi – Live at Kanadian

In terms of classifying this group of improvisers the term “shaggy dog” is the first that leaps to mind. Slapping together two Boredoms members and an ex-Reynols survivor is a sure way to destabilize any musical economy. Opening with a shattered window of guitar exploration by Courtis and Yamamoto, the second track steps away from the wreckage and lets Yoshimi concentrate on vocal looping and a toy factory of percussive hints. The last and longest takes all the elements, the explosive guitars, wavering keylines and testifying vocals and lets them ebb and fly. There is a patience that translates to a kind of winding-up of energy between outbursts, but even that is not exactly subtle. At the height of efficacy the trio is not unlike the jack-in-the-box you can feel coiled and waiting, but still knocked back by the sudden pop-out.

Public Eyesore

Elite Barbarian – It’s Only When You Get to the End That it All Makes Sense

As a member of Rothko Benjamin Page has refined musical understatement in the service of uncluttered emotion. Going solo as Elite Barbarian he imports some of his band’s minimalist tendencies, but shows off a more off-the-cuff approach to his statements. There is a quite a bit of nose-following, locked beats and phased loops providing a safety net for Page to experiment with textures and stereo effects. The result is a hybrid that resembles early ambient works by Aphex Twin crossed with a micro House that has burnt down to echoes of its halcyon beats. That hint of ruin pervades the album (and it’s title) as on the opener “Going Down” that transposes a rough dub recoding style to Tesla coil snap-beat and time shifting budget keyboards. Other tracks either are stuck in the amber of their tones or play on some half-remembered progression of how rhythms used to work. It’s a post-collapse dance party for the surviving few.

Front and Follow

Hilde Marie Kjersem – A Killer for That Ache

Given the usual austerity and/or brinksmanly character of this Norwegian label’s roster it comes as a little surprise to hear this fairly “normal” song cycle. Of course the normal here is in the realm of such squares as Björk, Kate Bush and My Brightest Diamond. Kjersem’s voice has a smoky mystery that is easily thrown into carnivalesque contortions when the need arises. She is flanked by a quartet of multi-instrumentalists from Norway’s melting pot where jazz, electronics and chamber rock ooze together. Each track has florid patchwork of woodwinds, acoustic strings, squiggling tones and things too exotic to place straight off. This overflow of sounds tends to drown the underlying themes of media critique, making Kjersem’s vocal just another instrument initially. But an album this detail-heavy definitely requires deeper consideration, if only to appreciate the musicianship.

Rune Grammofon

Growing - All the Way

Kevin Doria and Joe DeNardo of Growing seem like the types of guys who’d use vice grips to pull out a nail. On their first full length for The Social Registry they’ve continued on a trajectory that has been carrying them away from the overstuffed field of drone/psychedelic behemoths. Where they’re headed is unsure, but it appears to be concerned with turning guitars into tools for electronic dance music. Using a slightly lighter and more refined palate of manipulations from their mini-album Lateral, the duo have scrubbed the surface grime from their rapid tremolo oscillations leaving six mid-length tracks of shimmering tonal refraction. The opening two pieces showcase patchwork polishes that resemble vintage analogue burbling, but on “Rave Pie Only” they harness the pulse into a plosive 4/4 squelch that early housetronauts would feel justified broadcasting into outer space. Next up “Innit” corrals an over-firing Kraftwerkian synapse and lets it sizzle over a stuttering undersong. If this is an album to spawn a new subgenre in the lexicon I suggest the term “doom disco”.

The Social Registry

Harold Budd & Clive Wright – A Song for Lost Blossoms

Harold Budd’s reputation as progenitor of ambient electronic music, his career having started in the late 70s and early 80s, is undisputable. Alongside the other colossuses (Eno, Glass, etc) he strode across becalmed liquid pools of tone. That slow burning torch has been carried into the present by the Stars of the Lids and the Eluviums of the world. Meanwhile Budd himself has been relatively quiet (pun intended), his reputed retirement album Avalon Sutra having been released in 2004. Breaking cover here with guitarist Clive Wright he unspools a keyboard haze that seems unaltered since his Moon and the Melodies days. The 30+ minute opener is a bright and brittle monument to mournful beauty entitled “Pensive Aphrodite.” Over its course Budd and Wright slowly call and respond and theme and vary until every last smoky shaft of light is prismatic. Sharp points of piano punctuate the epic echo/delay orchestrations of Wright’s strings. Unnecessarily, given the fulsomeness of this track, the duo fill another forty-two minutes with more of the same.


Ezekiel Honig – Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band

Ezekiel Honig has spent a couple of years behind the scenes of his Anticipate label, building a base of fresh talent in the minimalist electronic field. On his own first offering he has etched the closest thing one could imagine to a Richard Chartier dance album. There is the buzz of distant voices, the dry echo of little collisions in empty space and a warm musical tone that seems almost overheard rather than made. Beats act as reminders of more solid states, hard angles that occasionally add order to the drift. The pulses and noises do repeat, but often in less than metered progressions, lending another layer of organic identity to the sound. Clutches of piano notes run over themselves in “Displacement,” creating a little cauldron of half-melody. Mark Templeton’s guitar haunts spaces that are wider and more open like “Porchside Economics part” and “Past Tense Kitchen Movement.” But for the most Surfaces has a slight claustrophobic undertone of “what’s he building in there,” but in an urban setting.


Windy & Carl – Songs for the Broken Hearted

Writing hurtin’ songs is a staple of most musical genres, but few artists come closer than this Michigan husband and wife to imagining the sound of broken hearts from within a busted ventricle. For the better part of two decades Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren have dreamed their way through musical landscapes both barren and lush. Listening to their infinite guitar sound is still like watching water slowly streaming of rocks: shape, colour and movement meld into a unified pulse. On the more skeletal tracks, like “Forever” and “Champion,” Weber’s vocal steps further forward than ever before, allowing a naked vulnerability that serves the album’s theme. “When We Were” ramps up the distortion to Flying Saucer Attack levels then “Snow Covers Everything” showers little icy angels earthward. Though wonderfully resistant to deviation, they continue to discover little cathedrals and caverns in the rabbit hole they inhabit.

The Alps - III

Eschewing the “freak out” might seem handcuffing to the average psychedelic musician, but this San Francisco trio finds cosmic debris in the details of sound. Despite the title this is the debut from Tarentel’s Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Alexis Georgopoulos (who also records as ARP) and Scott Hewicker of Troll. The dreaded soundtrack tag that dogs instrumental music is fairly applicable here, and may be due to Georgopoulos and Hewicker’s backgrounds in visual art. Light, it’s refractions and the visual confusion caused, runs through all the pieces here. The opener, “A Manhã Na Praia,” shoots prismatic sunlight through the many-angled repetitions of acoustic and electric guitar and twinkling xylophone. “Trem Fantasma,” titled after a 70s Brazilian film or the Os Mutantes track it inspired, starts with a spooling reverb that recalls film clicking into projector gate then unspools into a darkened funk rhythm that slowly crawls through spectral keening and meandering piano and guitar. If the pictures in your head feature salt wrecked seaports, moss-choked cottages or crumbing reliquaries then The Alps can provide your theme songs.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

With All Due Respect – Blueprint for Destiny

This Montreal duo lurk behind their twilight imagery and surprisingly broad style on this second expanded release. Perhaps due to geographic proximity I’m reminded of Ghislain Poirier, whose spare, early 12k releases gave way to unorthodox hip-hop production a few years later. WADR compress the timeframe and squish smoky machinery-hop (“Plateau” with guest vocals by Myriam Bois) next to dub-y micro-house (“CCTV”) next to jittery, transistor-infected reggae (“Montreal Protocol”). The works are granted a turquoise hard gleam by producer Yahik Daunais, who gives the decay as much detail as the notes. It’s an ambitious and intriguing portrait of an after-hours landscape where steam and neon bleed all markers of identity together. For all its genre-hopping, it mistreats none of them and masters several.

With All Due Respect

Build Buildings – Ceiling Lights From Street

Columbus, OH native Ben Tweel is a bright light in the information highway where every year more and more fellow electronic travellers throw up websites and post downloadable tracks, then idle in the traffic jam. Tweel may be on the verge of finding a less encumbered lane. Ceiling Lights From Street evokes nostalgia for labels like Mille Plateaux and Force Inc., whose artists flirted with the very outer periphery of dance rhythms, where beats slipped and cracked. Like them, Tweel spools melody through the stuttering so that the brain’s leaps for continuity easily turn into slow head bobbing. Tracks like “Let’s Go” let their little sizzles and back skips slide smoothly over the dampened music box keyboards and warm, droning swells. The sharper pieces, like “Letter Codes,” often borrow the ghost of a hip-hop backbeat to crystallize the rhythm. “Skatal,” on the other hand, is the music of standing still and letting the room revolve around you. Build Buildings may not be reinventing the wheel exactly but he certainly knows how to ride it.

Build Buildings

Taub – Bedtime Stories

Perhaps the busiest bugbear in electronic music is expectation. If artists can escape its predictable clutches then they have a head start on all the other goblins too. Nonine label head Me Raabenstein is a chance-taker with sound deployment. Unafraid to hold a silence for a few beats beyond comfort or splotch an austere ambient microgroove with sudden dayglo colours. As the duo Taub the Berliner brings on board Edinburgh ambient artist Harold Nono in the role of accomplice and foil. Both treat the world of electronics as anything but a closed system, either temporally or instrumentally. Tracks like “Chamber Pot” hold the synthetic sounds under the dominant piano lines, gradually building both up onto an equal platform of pulse, echo and modification. “Wild Blue Yonder” plays with space and volume within a minimal framework of sound, surprising the ears with sudden nearby piano strikes while an emotive theme wipes across the farther fields. It’s a recording that seldom plays it safe, and it’s these risks that help avoid any lazy categorizing.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Surgery 67

Windy & Carl
- Songs For The Broken Hearted (Kranky)
Various - Ambient Not Not Ambient (Audio Dregs)
Harold Budd And Clive Wright - A Song for Lost Blossoms (Darla)
Alejandro Franov - Aixa (Plop)
Benoit Pioulard - Temper (Kranky)
Miwon - A To B (City Centre Offices)
Anat-Ben-David - Virtual Leisure (Chicks on Speed)
Arctic Hospital - Neon Veils (Plop/Lantern)
Arovane - Lilies (City Centre Offices)
It's A Musical - The Music Makes Me Sick (Morr)
Anla Courtis/Seiichi Yamamoto/Yoshimi - Live At Kanadian (Public Eyesore)

Track Listing

Windy & Carl - Btwn You + Me [0:00]
Grouper - Quiet Eyes [6:20]
Harold Budd And Clive Wright - Of Many Mirrors [12:35]
Alejandro Franov - TRANQUI [16:53]
Benoit Pioulard - Cycle Disparaissant [22:51]
Miwon - They Leave in Autumn [24:33]
Anat-Ben-David - Beg London [31:25]
Arctic Hospital - At Random [34:39]
Arovane - Tokyo Ghost Stories [40:26]
It's A Musical - Take Off Your T-Shirt [45:24]
Anla Courtis/Seiichi Yamamoto/Yoshimi - Part 3 [49:02]

Listen to Surgery 67 click here