AND ALSO THE TREES (Listen For) The Rag and Bone Man CD (Indigo, 2007)
Before AATT’s singer, Simon Jones, sent me a copy of this album, I must ‘fess I’d not heard anything new by his group for a few years. Not sure why, either, as I always enjoyed their reflective and autumnal songs before, plus even had quite a good friendship with them once that included my first group playing with them twice and my staying over with various female friends of ex-bassist Steve Burrows in London a number of times. I suppose life can just take over at various junctures, leaving certain people, groups or whatever relagated to the wings. Still, if there’s one good thing to be said for the internet and, indeed, possibly cheesy social networking sites, it’s that long forgotten bridges can be traversed once more and, naturally, old friendships restored. As such, my tail is firmly between my legs as I now seek to investigate what I’ve been missing out on in the AATT camp during more recent years (but why does it all appear to be so expensive on, for example, eBay…?)…
(Listen For) The Rag and Bone Man hails from the tail end of 2007, actually, but warrants inclusion here simply because it deserves whatever little extra attention I can bring its way. Thirteen songs form this album and capture a sound that, really, can now only be described as AATT’s own. Whereas earlier work drew parallels with certain other post-punk contemporaries such as Joy Division, Nick Cave, Modern English and The Cure at times, AATT’s emphasis on the imagery in Jones’ words always took a bigger hold on the music and elevated it somewhere else entirely. And it’s now evident that this has matured to the point the songwriting operates in a landscape purely of its own: one where world-weariness converges with a lonely stroll along a river’s bank, lost thoughts, broken romance, the evening shade and times lost to the hungry jaws of the modern age. In the wrong hands, this very same world could end up fey and pastoral, like the very worst of so much so-called ‘indie’ music, but AATT anchor their sound to weightier stuff. Alongside Simon’s brother Justin’s forever evocative guitar work and the muscular basslines that always served AATT well, the generally contemplative and melancholic air gives way to occasional swells of bitterness and anger. A hint of danger, or of things not being quite right, stakes its presence perfectly amongst these songs…
From the opener, ‘Domed’, with its dynamics building up to a punchy finale, through the murderous tale ensnared in ‘The Legend of Mucklow’ and on to the beautiful combination of melody and cello of last song ‘Under the Stars’, (Listen For) The Rag and Bone Man makes for a successful celebration of both yearning and new passions like very little else. And with Cave having clearly laid songwriting ability to rest in favour of seeing out his mid-life crisis, only Tindersticks serve as AATT’s most obvious contemporaries. It would be nice to see them garner the same kind of recognition. (RJ)
THE DRONES Havilah CD (ATP Recordings, 2009)
Dear oh dear. Very ordinary rock music strained with an air of melancholy and the occasional savage spurt to, I imagine, balance things out. And a vocalist who sounds like he gets through two packets of cigs a day. Apparently, this Australian group have received heaps of acclaim during the past few years. I guess pub rock passes for innovation and excitement these days…?! (RJ)
ETHAN ROSE Oaks CD (Baskaru, France, 2009)
Third album by this Portland, Oregon, soundsmith whose work during the past decade includes soundtracking films, its appearance in Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, a number of collaborations, and various sound installations. Here, he has employed a reconditioned Wurlitzer theatre organ to form the basis of his acousmatic explorations, resulting in a contemporary instrumental electronica approach whereby soft textures and unobtrusive tones are brushed with much attention to detail. Whilst pleasant and relaxing enough, it’s a shame the Wurlitzer was reduced to the level of a mere sound source rather than being actually utilised more directly (in, say, the same way as Eric Cordier’s Breizhiseled remained faithful to its own use of a 1960s reissue of a 78rpm record of traditional French music was). By reducing the sounds here to highly contemporary forms, the source has become irrelevant, and the idea itself has no substance beyond amounting to something reflecting a whim. Not a bad album in and of itself, although it doesn’t exactly jut out of the sea of such music in any great way, but it could have been so much more. (RJ)
SEELAND Tomorrow Today CD (Loaf, 2009)
Following two singles on Stereolab’s Duophonic imprint during the past few years, Tomorrow Today represents Birmingham group Seeland’s debut album. Spread over the twelve cuts you’ll find a summery pop that’s as wispy as it is dreamy and comprises the kind of electronic inflections their beloved Joe Meek liberally applied to his work. Amidst the standard arrangements of a pop song, tones waver and occasional sounds babble away that resemble old sci-fi film soundtrack effects, leading to an overtly nostalgic glow recalling an age when the idea of space travel was dominated by visions of people in bacofoil suits roaming the stars in search of little green men. Outside of this, the tunes themselves have arrived strictly from that part of the horizon still indebted to ‘80s giants such as The Smiths and New Order. There’s clearly a depth there, but it’s unfortunately not strong enough to punch with the same weight. Equally, the album’s simply not idiosyncratic enough to compare with other electronic pop albums of a generally deemed ‘classic’ nature. Whilst certain songs, such as ‘5 a.m.’, possess an infectious quality absolutely imperative to music of this nature, The White Noise’s An Electronic Storm’s position at the top remains very much in check… (RJ)
V/A Escaping From Colour: Rapoon Recomposed & Remixed CD
(Quasi-Pop Records, Ukraine, 2008)
One’s reaction to this release is likely to be determined by two factors:
1. How one feels about Rapoon to begin with;
2. One’s ability to distinguish sonic traits of artists working in what might be termed organic-influenced ambient music.
This release, on an almost unknown Ukrainian label called Quasi-Pop (their web site is an exercise in online futility), features artists using source sounds from Rapoon, the long time project of former Zoviet France lynch-pin Robin Storey, to create new pieces. It’s unclear whether the source sounds were created specifically for this project, or if they were taken from previously released Rapoon material. Given the artist’s prodigious back catalogue, there would certainly be plenty to choose from.
Many of the “re-composers” are better known in the field of art than that of music. However, there are some bigger “names”, such as Francisco Lopez, Troum and Aidan Baker. All tracks are created from Rapoon source sounds, although- with the exception of a couple- other elements have been added by the remixers. The shimmering depth, the glacial reserve and the organic texture of the Storey sound is evident throughout. Much of the album sounds very much like a Rapoon release (ironically, more like traditional Rapoon than Storey’s 2008 release The Library of the Dead). Alternately, other parts sound like Shouting at the Ground or Shadow, Thief of the Sun-era Zoviet France. A Storey fan (and, while I don’t claim intimate familiarity with all his work, I do count myself as one), will find much to like here. If Rapoon material normally leaves you cold, then chances are these tracks will have no great appeal.
One of the things that struck me listening to this is that, while there are certain artists present- Lopez and Troum, for instance- who have a distinctive sound, that sound already meshes pretty well with that of the source artist. Some tracks - Tube’s noisier take on things, or Ronnie Sundin’s more stripped-down, raw approach - offer a bit of variation, but this is akin to choosing between desks made of various types of hardwood; sure, there are differences, but it’s not like you’re choosing between a ultramodern glass and aluminum affair and a Queen Anne escritoire. (In the live collaborative piece between Rapoon and Russian artist Cisfinitum, one could easily be forgiven for assuming it was a Storey solo track. The elements combine so effectively that the collaborator is entirely subsumed.)
Overall, this will be of interest to Storey fans. There are some moments of real beauty, much like those on “proper” Rapoon albums and the tracks remain very true to the spirit of the originator. (KM)
WINDSCALE Servitude CDEP (Fellacoustic, USA, 2008)
Four cuts very much indebted to early Whitehouse and various affiliates of the infant era Broken Flag Records. What, as ever, gets me with such artists is that they all appear to have missed the fucking point. ‘Noise’ has to have some depth that goes beyond all the hackneyed ‘shock horror’ reflections of the modern world. It needs to cut deeper and work with far more interesting agendas. It needs to be reconfigured, fucked around with and cast into new contexts where meaning actually dovetails with purpose. Windscale can only take some solace from the fact there are probably several handfuls of people scattered around the globe who will brainlessly nod their heads in approval of their work. Well done. (RJ)