Sunday, August 2, 2009
Reviews: Number Three (Part Two)
Quite simply, a few more reviews started around the same time as the last batch that needed tweaking a little...
Photo: Office-R (6)
ALVA NOTO + RYUICHI SAKAMOTO with ENSEMBLE MODERN –utp_ CD/DVD (Raster-Noton, Germany, 2008)
Absolutely phenomenal team-up between Carsten Nicolai (aka, Alva Noto/raster-noton label big chief) and the multi-talented ex-YMO member that catches the former utilising piano works and other sounds by the latter in collaboration with film artists Ensemble Modern. Microscopic piano melodies and vague electronic signatures join hands with atmospheric tones, filmic haze and carefully woven flecks of digital debris to create an album where reflection harmonises with the very same visions of utopia hinted at by the title itself. The DVD features visuals from the original concert by the two of them as well as another dedicated to its process. (Richard Johnson)
APE SHIT Intravenous in Furs/Heavy Leather LP (Smith Research, 2008)
You pretty much know where you’re heading when you receive another slab o’ wax accompanying a hastily scribbled note from the Ceramic Hobs’ Simon Morris. The DIY/hand-assembled sleeve, complete with sticker proudly proclaiming that the record is one of 100 only, the photocopied insert that looks like it exploded out of prime ‘80s cut ‘n’ paste culture, and the white label record itself with stickers on all add up to something that instantly induces recollections of Amor Fati’s Body Without Organs LP via Rancid Vat and, more appropriately, the UK’s own ATV and, moreso, Blackpool’s The Membranes. The music, as with the Hobs before them, is of the homegrown, unadulterated and virtually self-destructive persuasion, all vitriolic poetry and cynical swagger bound to a load of live recordings that sound like they’ve been culled from a mixing desk stuck in some dingy pub’s backroom toilet. Beyond this, it’s all psychotic and drug-addled drum pummel, feedbacking guitars, audience shouts and quite possibly Speaker’s Corner-type rants about the general nature of things. It’s like a Bukowski story in sonic form. The sound of embitterment arriving from a heart with some passion.
Apart from the fact Simon sings on one side of the LP, it’s difficult to ascertain who’s involved exactly. Names such as Watson Lewis, Jim MacDougall, Errol Hunter and ‘Sir Nigger’ are all embroidered to the insert, plus The Wire’s Ben Watson’s name appears a lot…but I suspect as some kind of joke at the critic’s expense. Whatever, definitely not an album to be played if your biggest desire is to ward off evil spirits. (Richard Johnson)
KASHIWA DAISUKE 5 Dec CD (Noble Records, Japan, 2009)
Third album proper by this Japanese laptop artist who has been operating since 2004. Following a rather lush and almost filmic opening track that wouldn’t be out of place on Russia’s Electroshock imprint, Kashiwa throws us into slightly more haphazard territory, where piano melodies soon get pushed violently aside by drum ‘n’ bass, Fennesz-type electronic gristle, broken operatic vocals that wouldn’t seem out of place on an old Prog record, rock guitar and cut-ups. It’s okay but, combined with other songs that delve into downtempo territory and post-techno manoeuvres that are all perhaps slightly overcooked, reeks of someone trying maybe a little too hard to demonstrate his obvious abilities. From what I understand, Kashiwa is a huge Prog fan too, and I think it’s precisely this that governs his own music. The ideas are more about him showing what he’s capable of in the studio than expressing anything deep or personal. Everything’s too polished and, due to the lack of real orientation evident here, often quite clumsy or awkward sounding. Fifth cut, ‘Black Lie, White Lie’, would, I’m certain, soon clear out those club spaces in need of a reason to go home. (Richard Johnson)
IAN MIDDLETON Time Building LP (Entr’acte, 2009)
Arriving from a certain class of musicians and artists whose dedication to their craft pays absolutely no attention whatsoever to trends or the demands of the listener, Ian Middleton has been forging his own path in the often enticing world of analogue synth drones and related areas since the mid-1990s. Although he now employs a wider range of tools to help realise his work, such as a pattern generator, ring modulator, various effects units and occasional acoustic sounds and field recordings, it has always aspired to reach heights so many others who’re similarly-inclined completely fail to arrive even remotely so close. Sometimes Ian Middleton’s work may flounder slightly due to various limitations but, mostly, it succeeds in being extremely natural, beautiful and mesmerising simply due to his possessing a very clear idea about his objectives here. On Time Building, which arrives in an almost plain white sleeve and with an insert explaining some of the reasons and processes behind both this and his previous material, there are six pieces evenly divided over both sides which are not only dedicated to the repetitive outdoor sounds Ian likes so much but capture them perfectly. In the past, I’ve generally likened Ian’s work to those rather more obscure or hidden places either around the world, or on others, and whilst this may be true to a certain extent, it’s also very clear he’s catching nature’s cycles closer to home too. Layered oscillating tones that forever metamorphose form the main body of these pieces, yet other sounds glide in, make subtle and brief appearances, and occasionally take over altogether, overtly resulting in music that feels alive. Always engaging and never once afraid to explore all the available contours that present themselves, Ian Middleton’s work is up there with everything at once extraordinary and inspiring. Time Building’s only crime is that it comes in an edition of 250 that, I’m sure, will disappear fairly quickly. (Richard Johnson)
OFFICE-R (6) Recording the Grain CD (+3dB Recordings, Norway, 2008)
Improv is a form of music I’m, to be perfectly honest, rarely in the mood for, despite having enough interest in the medium to indulge in occasional concerts (of which there are plenty here in Krakow) and even pick up the occasional release. Mostly, I feel it’s music best caught live anyway, but there are plenty of justifications to it being recorded as well. In the same way as free jazz is best seen and heard sweated out in some flea-riddled bar, there are still plenty of times when those moments can warrant return trips…especially when, for instance, we’re talking about someone such as Albert Ayler, whose fantastic forays into his own soul-searching can now only be heard on recordings testifying his greatness. Improv falls into exactly the same trap, really, but some albums by these artists are more justified than others and, luckily, Recording the Grain, put together by six musicians otherwise found under the N-Collective moniker, happens to be one of them, especially in the sense it successfully bridges the gap between free jazz and contemporary improv like little else.
Over the course of five lengthy pieces, a couple of saxophones, clarinet and bass are all reduced to an appropriately subdued relationship to some electronics also carefully woven into the setting. Little reed instrument signatures are fed into this and kept to a level where they rarely become obtrusive, whilst the electronics themselves are spatial and measured and yet as fluid in their execution as everything they’re up against. Space itself appears to be the key to this music as well, as absolutely nothing is allowed to dominate or consume proceedings and there’s more than a passing nod to the minimalist end of electro-acoustic composition. Gently swaying bridges of peeps, parps, poots and fragmented melodies give way to an undercurrent of tinklings, taps, shuffles and knocks that rarely assume forms outside the purely oblique. Swells sometimes loom into view, but don’t stick long enough to detract from the overall sound, and we’re ultimately left with an album as rewarding and comfortable to listen to as such apparent disjointedness could possibly hope for. Time to check out the N-Collective releases, I would contend… (Richard Johnson)
UBIK Loop Finding… CD (Recycling Records, Poland, 2008)
Third album by this Polish artist, here joint-released with another from 2006 called Cut with the Blade that originally came in download-only format (see? It’s not a real album until it actually exists as something solid!). Featuring six tracks, it mostly hovers over loop-generated atmospherics territory not entirely original but still okay in an easy-listening kinda way. The downside of this type of music is that it’s not exactly hard to make these days, but it at least feels as though Ubik’s Mikolaj Trzaska’s heart is in the right place even if the execution of his expression isn’t quite there. Dunno though…I’ve always thought too much music is made by people who can make it instead of those who feel completely and utterly compelled to. Everything sounds fine on Loop Finding…, if somewhat functional and perfunctory, but it ultimately points to Mikolaj still trying to find his own voice in an ocean becoming increasingly deeper. Above all else, this album amounts to someone struggling to find exactly what he wants to do in relatively safe, and rather calm, waters. It’d be good to be knocked sideways from time to time, if nothing else. The very fact Cut with the Blade amounts to saxophone/electronics experiments absolutely nothing like the music on Loop Finding… compounds my point perfectly, although I must concede this music is more interesting. (Richard Johnson)