Oh boy! So many great things coming out right now, this list is a real monster. Of course this is likely the storm before the calm of summer, but we’ll take what we can get. Strap on your reading glasses folks….
…..pick of the week…..
Wilburn Burchette: Opens the Seven Gates Transcendental Consciousness (Fifth Dimension) LP
First reissue of this stunning, dark, mysterious instrumental 1972 work by Wilburn Burchette, mystery of 1970s experimental guitar music. In place of regular songs there are several layers of chord and melody patterns shifted upon each other, performed on a semi-distorted electric guitar with a strong echo effect. A few other instruments may have been used as well, but it’s also possible that there are only electric guitars on this album. Even the oscillating buzz of “Transformation” could easily be created with a guitar and a few effect machines. Halfway through the tune the music knocks over into some very bright and jubilant guitar melody structures. The album as a whole has a krautish vibe, due to the repetitive layer-upon-layer structure of the compositions. It has an ethnic folk edge due to the use of Spanish and eastern folk harmonies. Burchette intended to create spiritual music to expands the listener’s mind in a positive way, and bring the soul and body into a state of enlightenment. Global folk music surely had an influence on this guitar masterpiece, and even though there are many mood changes, from the obscure lairs of the ancient druids to the light-filled Celtic springtime ceremonies, this record really lifts the spirit and cleanses all stress, anger, and pain from it. Although it was not created in Germany, this album could be a typical experimental and even cosmic release of the krautrock scene from its era. The years from 1970 to 1974 saw quite a few similar releases. The closing track, “Realization,” in particular, is a beautiful example of cosmic guitar music as it was produced only in that short period of time. It begins with some whistling fizzling buzz and then changes to a calm and mystical chord structure with strange echoes and spooky howls in the background. “Realization” slowly develops into a maelstrom that drags the listener into a musical black hole. Not as wild and heavy as the early Ash Ra Tempel albums, this piece could easily be a composition of guitar legend Manuel Göttsching. For fans of blues- and folk-based yet utterly freaked-out and dirty echo guitar music and cosmic sounds such as A.R. & Machines, early Tangerine Dream, early Kraftwerk, the aforementioned Ash Ra Tempel, Walter Wegmüller, or Gulââb.
File Under: New Age, Guitar, Kosmische, Private Press
Eden Ahbez: Eden’s Island (Captain High) LP
It is 1960. Rock ‘n’ roll has just lost a couple of its protagonists during this and the previous year. The time of the great balladeers has just begun but soon will run out, due to the new and exciting beat invasion. In the US mainstream, the tiki culture has reached a certain peak and is about to collapse, but still goes strong, and with it comes the so-called “exotica” music, a crossover between smooth jazz and swing, Latin grooves, and haunting melodies rooted in global folk traditions, plus weird sound effects that often create a spooky jungle or dreamy island beach atmosphere. See palm trees growing out of your speakers; witness monkeys and parrots having fun in your room. Eden Ahbez (1908-1995) lived a consistent dropout and hippie lifestyle way before the movement was born in the mid ’60s. As a poet and composer, he wrote the hit tune “Nature Boy” that gave Nat King Cole his first big success in 1948. On Eden’s Island, originally released in 1960, he approaches the field of exotica music from a different point of view, creating an epic concept album about a utopian society living in peace and harmony on an island far away from the modern western world as we know it. Relaxed grooves; easy-listening swing; Latin patterns; peaceful, dreamy, even transcendent vocal melodies; tinges of folk music from around the world; and a whole color palette of mind-expanding sounds, with narrated lyrics and eden ahbez’s wood flute. A truly unique effort; highly recommended to exotica aficionados who, for example, love Frank Hunter’s 1959 White Goddess album. Psychedelic music before the term was even invented.
File Under: Exotica, Psych
Best Coast: California Nights (Tompkins Square) LP
Best Coast – singer/songwriter/guitarist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno – return with their third full-length album, entitled California Nights. Produced by Wally Gagel (Miley Cyrus, New Order, Muse), and recorded at WAX LTD in Hollywood, CA – the appropriately titled collection is a brighter, more sparkly, more sophisticated, more psychedelic Best Coast album across the board, embodying the rich lightness and stinging darkness of a California state of mind. The love stories Bethany spins on California Nights all detail the highs and the lows of relationships, similar to the juxtaposition of the band’s native Los Angeles – a place tinted by candy-colored palm trees and pale blue skies while existing within the loneliness and desperation of waterless place. More than that, there is a literal meaning to the record’s title – Cosentino is a well-documented insomniac whose creativity spirals out in the early hours of the morning, allowing her to write, undisturbed, the finest album Best Coast has made to date. “If you have ever lived in California, you know what nighttime here feels like. You know what the sky looks like when those epic sunsets begin, and you understand that feeling and the way things change when the sun finally sets. In LA, or maybe just personally to me, when the sun sets – I feel like there is a large sense of calmness in the air, and I feel like everything that happened to me prior in the day, whether crappy experiences or good ones, at night, it all goes away and I sink deep into this different kind of ‘world.’ “It also ties in with the idea that, in LA, there’s a real darkness that you don’t see unless you know where to look. That’s a theme we very consciously decided to explore and play with when making this record. We related to the idea that things may look or sound fun and upbeat, but they may not actually always be that way – much like our songs. A lot of the writing for this record consisted of me getting to know myself again and remembering where Bethany ended and Best Coast began. I took a much needed step back and I was able to breathe deep for a moment and really focus on what I was doing. The end result of all of that, is California Nights. It’s about a journey, accepting the things you have no control over; it’s about dealing with life like an adult, and at the end of the day, reminding yourself that there really is no reason to be sad, and you have every right to feel okay.” – Bethany Cosentino
File Under: Pop, Psych
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Musique de Film Imagine (A Recordings) LP
Musique de film imaginé (music for film imagined) is a soundtrack that pays homage to the great European film directors of the late ’50s and ’60s, such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard (to name but two), created by Anton Newcombe on behalf of The Brian Jonestown Massacre for an imaginary French film. Named in tribute to the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist and his influence in introducing Eastern culture and music into the world of western rock and roll, The Brian Jonestown Massacre formed in San Francisco, California in 1990. Two dozen band members and numerous ups and downs later (some of which have been famously sensationalized in the media), the one thing that has always remained consistent for this psychedelic collective is frontman Mr. Anton Alfred Newcombe. The Brian Jonestown Massacre returned to wide acclaim in May of 2014 with their 14th full-length album, Revelation, the first of the band’s albums to be fully recorded and produced at Newcombe’s recording studio in Berlin. Also recorded in Berlin, Musique de film imaginé features vocals from French chanteuse and multi-instrumentalist SoKo and Italian actress, singer, and director Asia Argento. SoKo is signed to Because Music and her track “We Might Be Dead by Tomorrow” was featured in the viral video “First Kiss,” which has garnered over 63 million views; the track debuted at number 9 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 2014. Argento, who has starred in music videos for Marilyn Manson, Placebo, and Tim Burgess, wrote the storyline for A$AP Rocky’s 2013 cinematic music video “Phoenix,” which has had over 5.5 million hits. Both vocal performances are in French. Newcombe recorded this daring symphonic experience in August 2014 after a successful European tour with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Newcombe describes the work as “a soundtrack, my own creation, a tribute to great directors and filmmakers [and] to an era that now seems to be behind us. Leaving the smart person to care to imagine that this art could now be in the shadow of its former glory. The interesting thing about this project is that the film does not exist either. Even so, I imagined and I realized its soundtrack… Now it’s your turn, you are the listener to imagine the film.”
File Under: Rock, Psych, OST
Chra: Empty Airports (Editions Mego) LP
The title of Empty Airport, Chra’s second LP and her first on Editions Mego, may be read as a reference to Brian Eno’s ambient classic, though this time we find ourselves in a territory of transit that sounds like a dystopian swan song on civilizatoric debris — a heterotopia emptied of human remains, with only ghostly echoes behind. Chra aka comfortzone foundress Christina Nemec has traced out a post-anthropocene area in which acoustic entries of field recordings are stratified in layers of deconstructed noisescapes. Partly interspersed with clunky technoid basslines, an introspective space is opened, which excavates in a discreet and subtle manner layers of abandoned wasteland. Nemec, who is a member of various projects including Shampoo Boy (together with Peter Rehberg and Christian Schachinger) and the female berserker formation SV Damenkraft, has succeeded in producing a significant LP that merges dark techno and industrial with found sounds and ambient scapes, resulting in a compositoric minimalism that ushers us into a state of existential trance. Recorded and produced by Christina Nemec in Vienna and Hornerwald, 2012-2014. Additional mixing on “Abandoned House” by Christian Fennesz. Guitar on “Soca Valley” by Christian Schachinger, recorded at Twisted, Vienna. Mastered and cut at Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin, 2015. Artwork by Susi Klocker.
File Under: Electronic, Ambient, Field Recordings
Loren Connors: Blues: The ‘Dark Paintings’ of Mark Rothko (Family Vineyard) LP
Blues: The Dark Paintings of Mark Rothko is one of Loren Connors’ most cherished and sought after albums. Originally released in a handmade edition of around 300 copies on Connors’ own St. Joan label in January 1990 under the name Guitar Roberts – this album has been unavailable in any form until now. At the time of its release, Connors was still an inscrutable guitarist whose matchless and alien rendering of the blues was just gaining recognition despite more than two dozen solo and collaborative releases since 1978. Connors’ classic, song-based In Pittsburgh had only been available for three months when Blues welcomed the new decade. It would be the first of four solo albums issued by Connors that year and distilled the blues form into bleak, minimalist lines and tone; a compound of influences spanning Louisiana guitarist Robert Pete Johnson to painter Mark Rothko. “Moving with the slow, stately weirdom we expect of Connors’ late ’80s sound, the music is all shards, all pokes in the eye, as though Rothko’s gray scale had exploded, sending shrapnelized paint rocketing through your brain,” music historian Byron Coley writes in the liner notes of this reissue. “Just as Connors’ notes ricochet hauntedly through its recesses.” For this reissue, the audio has been restored to Connors’ specifications of how these seven instrumentals were originally intended to sound. Cover art is an untitled 1969 Rothko work – one of the paintings that influenced Connors to record this album. The original LP art and liner notes are replicated as a full-color inner sleeve. New liner notes by music historian Byron Coley chart Connors development and Rothko’s effect on the music.
File Under: Guitar Soli, Blues
Mikal Cronin: MCIII (Merge) LP
MCIII is the third album from Californian singer-songwriter Mikal Cronin. Marked by the lush arrangements, stunning melodies, and deeply personal lyrical work for which Cronin is now known, the album is also a deliberate attempt to simply “go big.” Written and recorded over the course of 2014, between long bouts of touring, MCIII finds the Laguna Beach native splitting his latest full-length statement into two distinct halves. On Side A, behold a shimmering tsunami of furious, undeniable pop songs. On Side B, marvel at a beautifully wrought concept record in miniature, built around the radiant retelling of what Cronin calls his “coming-of-age” story. After leaving California to go to school in the Pacific Northwest, he found himself alone and adrift, struggling with debilitating back pain and a dissolving sense of self. “It’s about a pivotal moment in my life that changed things, just within a couple of months,” he says. “It was a shifting point that sent me on the path to doing what I’m doing right now.” As he did on his self-titled 2011 debut and 2013’s MCII, Cronin arranged and played nearly all of the record himself, including the tzouras, a traditional Greek string instrument he heard and subsequently bought while on tour in Athens. There’s French horn, saxophone, and trumpet. There are mood-altering crescendos and heartbreaking turns-of-phrase, guitars both gorgeous and pugnacious. No longer satisfied with the sound of “just one string player,” Cronin arranged parts for a full string quartet instead. “It’s a continuation of what I’ve been trying to do up until now, but I’m finding a better way to do it,” he adds. “I’m finding a more successful way of working those unexpected elements and textures and instruments into a rock record, of exploring that wormhole and mushing everything together harmoniously. I like riding the line between the two,” he adds. “I like finding new ways to bring different musical worlds together.”
File Under: Rock, Pop, Ty Segall
Anla Courtis/Aaron Moore: Bring Us Some Honest Food (Dancing Wayang) LP
Pressed on 180-gram vinyl; housed in Dancing Wayang’s customary hand-screenprinted wrap-around sleeve featuring a bold potato-print design by the label’s own Anna Tjan. Exclusive liner notes courtesy of Tom Recchion (Smegma, Los Angeles Free Music Society). Dancing Wayang is thrilled to release Bring Us Some Honest Food, a collaboration between Argentine guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Alan Courtis and Brooklyn-based British drummer Aaron Moore. Recorded at London’s Fish Factory Studio in 2014, it sees both musicians explore sounds and instruments far beyond their regular guitar and drums setups, utilizing anything from grand piano and balafon to metal lampshades and wooden staircases. Courtis (formerly Anla Courtis) co-founded Argentine power trio Reynols, and has collaborated and performed with Kawabata Makoto, Oren Ambarchi, Lasse Marhaug, and many more; Moore has détourned music most regularly as part of Volcano the Bear, who came to attention in the late 1990s through their imaginative live performances and recorded output. Bring Us Some Honest Food merges and develops the postal collaboration techniques of their previous releases; this is music created in real time, face-to-face in London, then layered and collaged afterward by (digital) post across continents to produce the intricate découpage effect heard here. It is a disorienting experience to listen deeply to this music. These lengthy pieces sound densely structured and composed with the precision of a Glenn Gould tape edit, but with a seat-of-yr-pants improv feel that brings the threat of collapse and chaos. In that sense it echoes krautrock pioneers going crazy with tape and razor blades decades ago, with a similarly kosmische expansiveness, but filtered through a wealth of avant knowledge and praxis. In short, neither salon nor sweat-pit, though informed by both. Bring Us Some Honest Food is all noir and shadow. The slammed piano chords of “Portions of Honesty” are repeated maddeningly, feeling like the shadow of Nosferatu creeping up the stairs. The muted trumpet of “Dishonest Dessert” accrues portentousness over 20 minutes, echoing the ever-more-insistent piano. Throughout the album sounds drift in and out, from foreground to background, cut off, backwards. Vocals are muffled, distorted; recognizable sounds redacted. The listener’s ears skitter across the stereo envelope like an extra-wired sentry on guard duty. This is an involving, demanding, rewarding, and immersive album. Chance encounters are mercifully all around us but while all are welcome few are as serendipitous as this bizarre and blessed encounter of Brooklyn and Buenos Aires, and now London.
File Under: Experimental, Improv, Volcano the Bear
Death: N.E.W. (Tryangle) LP
“Since the discovery of Death in 2008 and the release of the archival LP …For the Whole World to See, the story has been often told. Three African-American brothers, David, Dannis, and Bobby Hackney, tapped into the surging energy of their hometown rock-and-roll scene (mid-’70s Detroit) to produce a style and a set of songs that, while completely unappreciated in their day, proved later to be a powerful missing link in the evolution of punk rock. The question always asked was, Will there be a new record? Now, there literally is, and Death and Drag City are proud to bring it to you, titled simply N.E.W. Inspired by the positivity brought to them by ever-increasing numbers of new fans, the current performing Death (Bobby Hackney, Dannis Hackney, and Bobbie Duncan) completed several songs started back in the late 1970s by Bobby and David, and composed entirely new songs that continue the timeless vibe, feel, and resolve of Death with remarkable drive and vigor. For many years after disbanding the original Death, Bobby and Dannis played different styles of music, but with the same deep spiritual investment. Bringing that spirit back to Death, their ability to make new songs in the same vein is fantastic.”
File Under: Rock, Soul, Blues
Death Cab For Cutie: Kintsugi (Atlantic) LP
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Rich Costey (Franz Ferdinand, Muse, Interpol), the album takes its title from the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum, highlighting cracks rather than hiding them. As such, Kintsugi represents a compassionate aesthetic philosophy in which damage and wear are embraced as part of an object’s history. “Considering what we were going through internally, and with what a lot of the lyrics are about, it had a great deal of resonance for us – the idea of figuring out how to repair breaks and make them a thing of beauty,” says bassist Nick Harmer, who suggested the name to singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard and drummer Jason McGerr. “Philosophically, spiritually, emotionally, it seems perfect for this group of songs.” For nearly two decades, Death Cab for Cutie has been hailed as one of contemporary music’s most compelling and creative collectives. Born in Bellingham, Washington in 1997, the band followed a long relationship with the Seattle-based independent label, Barsuk, by making their Atlantic Records debut with their fifth studio release, 2005’s Plans. The album proved Death Cab for Cutie’s popular breakthrough, earning RIAA platinum certification as well as spawning the chart-topping singles, “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” The latter track was honored with a Grammy nomination as “Best Pop Performance By Duo Or Group With Vocals,” with Plans receiving the nod as “Best Alternative Album.”
File Under: Indie Rock
Brigth Engelberts & The B.E. Movement: Tolambo Funk (Hot Casa) LP
Killer obscure Afro-funk album from an unknown Cameroonian bass player and lead singer. Recorded at EMI Studios in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1978, the sound definitely echoes the American soul funk scene, while mixing it with deep Afro harmonies, a great horn section, and tremendous percussion. A few tracks have been bootlegged since its original release, but this is the first complete reissue of this rare gem. Remastered sound.
File Under: Afro-Funk, Afro-Beat
Mort Garson: Mother Earth’s Plantasia (Fifth Dimension) LP
Mort Garson is well known as one of the pioneers of electronic music in the late ’60s; some may have heard of his contributions to quite a few pop hits back in the day, when he wrote and conducted orchestral arrangements for one or another popular artist. During the second half of the 1960s Mort Garson and his sidekicks Paul Beaver and Jacques Wilson, among others, discovered Robert Moog’s synthesizer and made it an integral part of their future-pop music even before Wendy Carlos released her famous and fabulous Switched-On Bach album in 1968. Garson recorded and released Mother Earth’s Plantasia a few years after his albums The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds (1967), The Wozard of Iz: An Electronic Odyssey (1968), and Lucifer: Black Mass (1971). Every fan of unique psychedelic (The Zodiac) and mind-bending electronic music (the two others) should certainly lend an ear to these three masterpieces, but there was more to come. Plantasia, originally released in 1976 and not reissued since until now, is subtitled “warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them.” As you can imagine, it’s a rather bright affair, far from the dark and seething atmosphere of the earlier electronic pieces. A shining diversity of stylistic devices creates dreamy and colorful compositions, warm yet haunting, with a rather sinister vibe in their most playful and surreal moments. It’s a feeling that, despite the apparent peace and relaxation, something utterly dire is about to rise up. Still, these are only a few passages, and when Mort Garson and his mates move on from lush orchestral soul arrangements to more tribal sounds, you will drift with them from one scene of your inner mind-movie to the next. The technical options had improved since the late ’60s, and the album features electronic percussion that conjures up memories of records by German electronic pioneers from the same era such as Cluster, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. And despite the twinkle-toed harmonies and big arrangements that point at the big band music and orchestral pop from which Mort Garson originated, the whole work is futuristic and intriguing. Rather like an old science fiction movie than a horror film, though its identity is open to interpretation. The best way to enjoy this masterpiece of synthesizer music is to lay back and close your eyes while drifting away into a territory still unknown to man.
File Under: Early Electronic, Moog, Kosmische
Larry Heard: Alien (Alleviated) LP
One of Larry Heard’s most under-rated albums finally remastered. Known for his classic early house releases, Larry Heard’s productions always hinted at deepest outer space, but his 1996 Alien album was his first actual science-fiction record. It’s almost as polished as the most mainstream dance production, but just as sublime as any Detroit producer. Heard’s house roots often show themselves, while the chords and shimmering production make this an album almost on par with Heard’s mid-’80s peak. The project was a recording and sound-development experiment that was mostly constructed around a Korg O1/W workstation keyboard that was left at Larry’s studio to check out by Victor “Melodious Myles” Houston along with some of the staples of his studio, including the Roland d550 and Oberheim Matrix 1000. Mr Fingers’ magic touch can be heard all over the album, and this showcases the incredible musical talents of the man, whose name by now can’t be left out from any hall of fame when you’re talking music innovators from the last century.
File Under: House, Electronic
I-LP-O In Dub: Communist Dub (Editions Mego) LP
“Communist Dub is Pan Sonic member Ilpo Väisänen’s second solo album for Editions Mego (Asuma having appeared 2001). This striking new release is a statement against technocracy and the erosion of human community. Whilst Jamaican dub and ska are often cited as an influence on Väisänen’s work, this album utilizes dub as strategy as opposed to genre — the precise manipulation of sound and the removal of all extraneous material to create a disorientating landscape of austere spaces. Pulled into a sucking pit of reverb and echo, the listener can choose whether to be pummeled into submission or to reflect on their situation. Väisänen’s intricate rhythmic structures propel the listener from monochrome machinic matrices to head-wrecking abstraction. The ten track titles hint at failed emancipatory projects of the last century with a nod to the present situation — ‘Donetsk Disciples: Bolsheviks meeting the farmers (and wiping them out),’ ‘Benghazi Affair: Libyan connection and arming the forces, but history is taking over. A burning man in Tunisia starts the future.’ Communist Dub is a ruthless criticism of everything existing, but one ultimately tempered by hope” –John Eden. Tracks by Ilpo Väisänen. Recorded sometimes in here. Mastered by Rashad Becker at Dubplates & Mastering. Photos and cover idea by Ilpo Väisänen. Layout by Stephen O’Malley. Nation of versions, i-shent recommended. Dedicated to victims of isms.
File Under: Electronic, Pan Sonic
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (Glitterbeat) LP
Ba Power, Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba’s fourth album (and their first for Glitterbeat Records) is a striking, career-defining record marked by mesmerizing songs, razor-sharp riffs, and full-throttle emotions. Following two years of worldwide touring for the much-heralded Jama Ko, Bassekou’s band, Ngoni Ba, has turned up the volume and dynamics significantly and Bassekou’s masterful ngoni playing has achieved a new level of intensity that can only be called: Afro-rock. Distortion and wah-wah and propulsive rhythms now form the defining backbone of his songs and the white-hot vocals of his wife, Amy Sacko, serve more than ever as his passionate and perfect foil. When asked what Ba Power means to him, Bassekou replied, “‘Ba,’ in Bambara, means ‘strong’ or ‘great’ and it also means ‘group.’ I called the album Ba Power because I think the messages on it are very important and strong, and it is also definitely the album with the toughest sound I’ve ever made. I want these songs to grab as many people as possible.” Ba Power was recorded in November of 2014 at MBK Studios in Bamako, a studio just down the road from the Kouyaté family home in the hills at the edge of the city. Produced by Chris Eckman (Tamikrest, Aziza Brahim), the album began with Ngoni Ba playing together live in a relaxed, intimate space. Features appearances from legendary Songhai blues guitarist Samba Touré on “Fama Magni,” soku master Zoumana Tereta on “Fama Magni,” vocalist Adama Yalomba “Waati,” massively influential composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell on “Ayé Sira Bla,” guitarist Chris Brokaw (The Lemonheads) on “Siran Fen” and “Abé Sumaya,” and drummer Dave Smith (JuJu, Fofoulah, The Sensational Space Shifters with Robert Plant) on four songs including opener “Siran Fen.” Ba Power contains all the swagger, precision, and wide-eyed excitement that the title implies. It is the album on which Bassekou’s music engages with the world in unprecedented ways, and the album with which he confirms his status among the 21st century’s most relevant musical artists. “I think African music and culture deserve to be spread to the broadest audience possible. That is what I want to accomplish with Ba Power” –Bassekou Kouyaté. Bassekou Kouyaté: lead ngoni; Abou Sissoko: medium ngoni; Mamadou Kouyaté: bass ngoni and backing vocals; Moctar Kouyaté: calebash; Mahamadou Tounkara: yabara, tamani, tamaba; Bina Diabaté: medium ngoni ba; Amy Sacko: lead vocal and backing vocals. Housed in a gatefold sleeve.
File Under: African, Folk, Mali
Mac McCaughan: Non Believers (Merge) LP
Non-Believers is the first solo album from Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan under his own name. McCaughan wanted to use the album to explore his attraction to that early-’80s era of music when punk evolved into something more introspective, focusing on themes of isolation and eventually turning into post-punk and new wave. As he puts it, he was thinking about a time when bands were “using keyboards and drum machines to relate through their music a disaffection or alienation” from society, school, whatever. The record is about a fascination with art that could only be made by someone far from where you are, but who maybe shares the frustrations and awkwardness of youth. It’s about “the irony that comes with being 16 and having a car but not knowing where to go in it, or having a keyboard or a guitar and not knowing how to play it.” McCaughan’s songwriting isn’t limited to sheer nostalgia; it’s also about the more relatable theme of the point when people who grow up feeling isolated have to choose if and when they are going to join the mainstream, and about the emotional journey tied to weighing those options. “What appeals to me is songs that deal with the messiness and ambiguity that come with any transitional period,” says McCaughan. Given that McCaughan comes from the indie and punk rock worlds, he’s always shied away from the perceived hubris of putting out a record under his own name. “There’s something about it that’s way too ‘look at me,’” the singer and songwriter admits. However, given the fact that Non-Believers explores a very personal set of influences, putting out an album as simply Mac McCaughan for the first time just makes sense.
File Under: Indie Rock, Superchunk
Alex Menzies: Order & Disorder (Kathexis) LP
Alex Menzies, more commonly known as Alex Smoke, began his techno career in the early 2000s, with years of international performances and DJ sets culminating in a string of heady 12″s for the inimitable R&S label in 2013 and ’14. Menzies’s techno prowess has always carried with it a keen sense of compositional rigor, with harmonic outlining pads and strings adding emotional depth and weight. A classically trained cellist, Menzies has shifted his attention back to composition, cello, and the piano, collaborating on abstract installation work with visual master Florence To. The second release on Ricardo Donoso’s label Kathexis and the first in a two-part series of BBC documentary soundtrack work, Order & Disorder sees Menzies using a sound palette of mostly orchestral instrumentation, including, voice, cello, and prepared piano, as well as electronic sources like the ondes Martenot. Each different cue of electronic and acoustic hybrid miniatures develops throughout the album, each piece carrying with it a profound depth and gravity that is unique and unrivaled in its beauty. For a high-level physics documentary focusing on entropy and information, presented in a strikingly engaging manner, Menzies’s score provides a serene take on the slippery concept of energy. Angelic harmony runs in parallel with more unpredictable elements like prepared piano, tape hiss, percussive clicks, and smothered field recordings, truly encapsulating the documentary’s themes and our relationship to the world around us — chaotic, beautiful, but most of all full of wonder and awe. Limited to 300 copies; initial copies on mint-colored vinyl.
File Under: Ambient, Classical, Electronic
Metz: II (Sub Pop) LP
“I look at it like this,” Metz frontman Alex Edkins says. “You start a band, just as something to do, because music’s what makes you tick, the thing you dream about and think about and that’s it. You never think that you’ll be able to do it all the time. But then, for some inexplicable reason, people actually listen and latch on and the band begins to take on new meaning. All of a sudden there are expectations and pressure, real or imagined, to change who you are. It was important to us, when making this record, not to give in to that pressure.” What happens when a seemingly irresistible force meets an immovable object is a serviceable metaphor for the music Metz creates, both live and on record. Now behold II, the concussive new full-length from what is arguably North America’s finest touring rock band. Written and recorded in 2014, after two years of constant touring behind their rightly adored self-titled debut, II is Metz at their most true to form – as pure an expression of what they do as can currently be committed to tape. The guitars are titanic, the drums ill-tempered, the vocals chilling, and the volume worrisome. From the exhilarating grind of “Spit You Out” to the blunt-force thrills of “Landfill,” herein reside 10 songs as uncompromising in their ferocity and abrasiveness as any collection this record label has had the pleasure of releasing to date. While the band’s debut was often “clean and clinical,” II is what Edkins describes as a “much heavier, darker, and sloppier” affair, with many of its roughest edges and ugliest tones kept intact. Its lyrical matter, Edkins notes, stems from a year of loss and doubt, of contemplating our relationships with death and the planet. “I consider myself a pretty massive pessimist, but a pessimist who knows how lucky he is,” he says. “A lot of things in everyday life drive me crazy: how we relate to each other; how politics, media, technology, money and medication influence our lives. This band, in a lot of ways, is an outlet.” What we’re left with is the sound of an already monstrous band improving in both subtle and terrifying ways.
File Under: Rock, Punk, CanCon
Mumford & Sons: Wilder Mind (Glassnote) LP
British folk-rock act Mumford & Sons follow up their 2012 Grammy Award-winning Album of the Year with third full-length album Wilder Mind. It was recorded at Air Studios, London and produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, HAIM, Florence & The Machine). Wilder Mind features 12 new tracks, written collaboratively by the band in London, Brooklyn and Texas. A number of the new songs were written and demoed at Aaron Dessner’s (The National) garage studios in Brooklyn. The band also returned to Eastcote Studios in London, where they recorded debut Sigh No More, for further writing and demo sessions. This new album marks a significant departure for the young band from their previous records, 2009’s Sigh No More, and 2012’s Babel. The early sessions in New York and London witnessed a change in the band’s approach not just to writing and recording, but to texture and dynamics, too. There is a minimalist yet panoramic feel to the new album, whose sound Marcus Mumford describes as “a development, not a departure.” It came about by both accident, and by conscious decision. He adds, “Towards the end of the Babel tour, we’d always play new songs during soundchecks, and none of them featured the banjo, or a kick-drum. And demoing with Aaron meant that, when we took a break, we knew it wasn’t going to involve acoustic instruments. We didn’t say: ‘No acoustic instruments.’ But I think all of us had this desire to shake it up. The songwriting hasn’t changed drastically; it was led more by a desire to not do the same thing again. Plus, we fell back in love with drums! It’s as simple as that.” “It felt completely natural, though,” says Ben Lovett, “like it did when we started out. It was very much a case of, if someone was playing an electric guitar, drums were going to complement that best; and, sonically, it then made sense to add a synth or an organ. We chose instruments that played well off each other, rather than consciously trying to overhaul it.”
File Under: Folk, Rock
Nochexxx: Plot Defender (Type) LP
Dave Henson has been producing electronic music on the fringes of any discernible scene since the late ’90s, operating outside of the boundaries of good taste and slowly formulating his own very particular sound. Since 2010 he’s been recording as Nochexxx, and firing the influence of vintage electro and early bleep techno through an arsenal of barely-working gear to create a sound that’s as grubby as Wolf Eyes but with the unmistakable slap of late ’80s Detroit. Plot Defender is Henson’s third proper album under the Nochexxx moniker, and is his most developed to date, anchored by clattering tape-distorted rhythms and synth squelches that make the TB-303 sound well-mannered. Whether giving the nod to Incunabula on “Between Two Stations” or to the masters Drexciya on “Stinson Fish,” Henson’s vision is never anything but unique, offering a cracked-glass vision of the last few decades of electronic music and doing so with a very British nod to the camera. Anyone who fell in love with 2014’s transmissions from Ekoplekz would do well to investigate. Mastered and cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy. Edition of 500 copies.
File Under: Electronic, Techno, Grime
Aki Onda/Loren Connors: Lost City (Audiomer) LP
“The images were shot in New York between 2001 and 2002. It was during the time when we were still in shock from 9.11. The stars and stripes suddenly became visible everywhere in the city. Soon after, the invasion of Afghanistan started. Everybody was living under an indefinable fear — not knowing what would happen in the future” –Aki Onda. Lost City started as a series of photographs shot by visual artist and composer Aki Onda in New York right after September 11, 2001. A decisively introspective response to a major world event, his pictures were devoid of direct references, but documented his immediate surroundings, focusing on how what happened resonated on a personal micro-level. Since 2005, Onda has been presenting this series as slide projections, which function as a visual score for improvisation, and performing with NYC avant-garde musicians Loren Connors and Alan Licht. The two improvisations on this LP were recorded at Anthology Film Archives in NYC in 2007. Lost City contains the vinyl, a folded 20 x 30 inch poster with the complete photograph series, and an A4 risoprinted booklet containing the accompanying text written by NYC-based curator/writer Niels van Tomme. The record’s A-side is a duo piece between Connors and Licht that consists of wandering, buzzing guitar drones with occasional noisy eruptions. It highlights the almost twin-like connection between the longtime collaborators, with telepathic intersecting guitar lines and a sense of unease seeping through. The B-side is Connors’s lyrical, atmospheric solo performance, equally sparse and spacious. Limited to 350 copies.
File Under: Guitar, Field Recordings, Experimental
Charlemagne Palestine/Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra: Ggrreebbammnnuucckkaallooww!!! (Important) LP
In 2013, when Daniel O’Sullivan was invited to curate the sixth installment of Ravenna, Italy’s Transmissions festival, his first request was for Charlemagne Palestine, the shamanic world-maker, sacred toy emissary, and one-time student of Pandit Pran Nath associated with the New York ’60s minimalist scene and known primarily for extended performances with Bösendorfer piano, cathedral organs, and falsetto voice. After Transmissions O’Sullivan invited Palestine to play a two-night residency at London’s Cafe OTO, the second night of which was a collaboration with Grumbling Fur, the duo of O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker. The performance at OTO was a ritualistic union of crystalware, processed strings, live tape manipulations, Indian harmonium, shimmering piano clusters, bleating cattle, a Japanese orgy, disembodied vocal harmony, and rousing choruses often led by sing-a-ma-jigs (singing Fisher-Price toys affectionately referred to as “the singing assholes”). A continuous flow of overtones and plainchant sieved through mutant simulations of processed pulses, orbiting strings, and heliotropic vocal mantras. Following 2013’s Glynnaestra and 2014’s Preternaturals, both of which The Wire listed in its top avant rock albums of their respective years, this is the first incarnation of the Grumbling Fur alter-ego Time Machine Orchestra, an alias put together to explore extended drone works, improvisation, and automatic composition. Recorded at Cafe OTO and Fur Island and assembled by Grumbling Fur. LP pressed in an edition of 500 copies.
File Under: Drone, Minimalism, Experimental
Tim Robertson: Outer Planetary Church Music (Aguirre) LP
A friend of Aguirre recalls meeting Tim Robertson by chance in a thrift store in Barcelona, while eyeing a dusty Hammond organ: “He was born in Honduras, but moved out of there at a young age to several other countries such as Perú, France, and Norway. His parents were devoted to some religious organization and they were spreading the word all around. The last place they were sent to was Barcelona, hence the reason he was there. He learned to play the keyboards as a kid and performed in church. He told me his life changed after spending some years in Niger and Ethiopia. He returned from that experience totally renewed and decided to somehow capture all the ideas he had during his stay in Africa. He bought an old four-track recorder and started jamming around the simple but complex idea of how church music in space would sound. During the next two years he got obsessed with creating the compositions of the future temples on Saturn and Neptune. He recorded hours and hours of music. In the end, feeling totally frustrated, he decided to throw to the bin all those tapes. Well, not all of them. Happily he kept two as a gift to his parents. Sadly, his parents passed away some years later. While cleaning their apartment he found the tapes and with the passing of time he decided to keep them as a memory of that crazy time. I was really curious about those tapes so I asked him if it would be possible to listen to them. After a couple of minutes I was totally captivated by them. It was so strange. The kind of repetitive music with cheap keyboard presets. So rough, basic, and fragile. It was then I told him that I felt more people had to listen to those recordings. After quite a bit of arguing, he finally accepted. ‘At least I’m sharing the word of God with more people,’ he said. So 20 years after they were originally recorded I’m proud to share with everyone out there these seven tracks by a man who had a strange vision: compose the perfect soundtrack for the buildings where future space travelers would praise the lord. You can now judge with your own ears if he achieved his goal or failed. Peace!” Recorded in 1993. Remastered from the original tapes by Anders Peterson. Pressed on milky white vinyl. Artwork by Tim Robertson. Layout by Jeroen Wille.
File Under: Ambient, New Age, Organs
Rrose Plays James Tenney: Having Never Written A Note for Percussion
Rrose (Sandwell District, Eaux, Stroboscopic Artefacts) has found her own niche in the American techno underground. Her hypnotic tracks incorporate ideas from ambient and minimalist music as prominently as they do the history of dance music, operating in the same fruitful cross-section between techno and the abstract as many other Further Records releases. Rrose’s debt to experimental music has never been more obvious than on September 20, 2012, when he performed legendary composer and electronic/computer music pioneer James Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion live in Washington, DC. The simple yet colossal piece requires the performer to play one percussive instrument constantly, taking it from the quietest point to the loudest and back again. Done well, it’s a fascinating exploration of tone, volume, and decay, and a showcase for drone music’s unusually transportive powers. Never Having Written a Note for Percussion has always been a personal favorite of Rrose’s. He was inspired to try it out after touring Dupont Undergound, a performance space in a disused trolley tunnel beneath downtown DC, where the possibilities of “seemingly endless and unpredictable reverberations” seemed perfect for Tenney’s composition. He made a 32-inch gong played with two mallets the central device of his performance, creating a towering leviathan of sound capable of the softest highs and the deepest lows. It’s a vastness that comes across especially well on the live recording of that 2012 performance, a breathtaking 30 minutes that seems daunting at first but moves with a grace as easy as breathing. Rrose’s take is almost definitive: not only does he stretch out the piece to 30 minutes beyond its usual eight-to-12-minute duration, but, even more importantly, she offers two versions made in two very different settings. The A-side features a performance recorded in a studio during his practice sessions. Dry and mic’d up close, its almost stuffy quality is the direct opposite of the live version, like it’s coming from inside your head, where the live recording on the B-side surrounds you with the booming sound of the gong. Never Having Written a Note for Percussion is a powerful study not only in minimalist composition but the importance of the room and environment that a performance, or just pure sound, takes place in, and a potent example of the kind of experimental tendencies that make Rrose one of techno’s more fascinating figures. Mastered by Rashad Becker at Dubplates & Mastering.
File Under: Ambient, Drone
Schlippenbach Trio: Pakistani Pomade (Cien Fuegos) LP
Pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Cien Fuegos presents a reissue of Pakistani Pomade by the Schlippenbach Trio, originally released on FMP in 1972. Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophone; Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano; Paul Lovens: drums. Recorded by Dietram Köster in November 1972, Bremen. Artwork by Benjamin von Schlippenbach; layout by Peter Brötzmann.
File Under: Jazz, Free Jazz, Brotzmann
Ty Segall/King Tuff: Live at Pickathon (Easy Sound) LP
Culled from four incredible performances over the first weekend of August 2013. Wild, late nights with King Tuff and a very special debut of the Ty Segall Sleeper Band (recorded three weeks before the release of Sleeper). The second release from the Live at Pickathon series. A vinyl-only/limited-pressing endeavor, which focuses on the festivals historically diverse lineups and intimate one-of-a-kind performances. Each release hand selected from the massive archive of more than 15 years of recordings; remixed, mastered and wrapped in original artwork featuring illustrations by Travis Bone of Furturtle. Limited edition of 1,500 copies.
File Under: Garage, Punk, Psych
Shampoo Boy: Crack (Blackest Ever Black) LP
The Vienna-based trio’s second LP following 2013’s crushing debut Licht, Crack finds Peter Rehberg, Christina Nemec (comfortzone), and Christian Schachinger crafting a powerful alloy of extreme electroacoustic music, luminous ambience, and the mineral fundaments of rock and black metal. Opener “Spalt” immediately signals a departure from the monolithic doom of Licht, conveying instead a sense of adrenalized movement, of acceleration toward an ever-receding horizon. There is no percussion, yet Nemec’s chasmic bass and Rehberg’s protean electronics give rise to an unstoppable momentum. Schachinger’s highly lyrical, spiraling guitar improvisations nod to Fripp and Göttsching, but Shampoo Boy’s vision of the cosmos is more hard-boiled and unforgiving than that of their forefathers. On “Riss,” slow, ceremonial down-strokes suggest a return to Licht, with the addition of Rehberg’s unintelligible conversation-snippets, machine noise, and nameless natural currents mingling in pernicious hybrid forms that curl and ricochet about the stereo field. Subterranean bass tones, meanwhile, seem to reverberate from an ancient and appalling source. It’s typical of Crack’s unorthodox Weltanschauung, however, that just when we think the game is up, we are faced not with oblivion but with potential absolution: “Riss”‘s closing section is a gravely serene tone-painting. Side B is given in its entirety to the three-part “Bruch,” the most potent and pugilistic manifestation of Shampoo Boy’s brute psychedelia to date. Part I is a near-gothic assemblage of tortured computer processing, abyssal drones, and stray industrial noise. This gives way to the calm but agonized concrète of part II, sparse, minimalist, dub-damaged. The broiling digital synthesis of part III complements annihilating slow-motion riffage; a thuggish monochord attack that feels almost Stooge-ian — grungy, swaggering, sewer-savvy — but doubles back into abstraction. It becomes impossible to distinguish individual instruments, processes, or contributions; the group mind takes over, the third eye is on fire, and the album climaxes in a black flash of negative ecstasy. Epic in scale, complex in mood, and dazzling in technique, Crack is a momentous achievement from three improvising musicians at the height of their powers. A lived-in and emotionally charged work, harrowing but energizing, it is also a sustained achievement of arrangement and post-production remarkable even in light of its makers’ pedigree: the harshest and heaviest passages are rendered with a sense of space and richness of detail that is truly otherworldly. Russell Haswell’s astute mastering amplifies this, resulting in one a supremely exhilarating and rewarding work.
File Under: Ambient, Industrial, Dark
Ananda Shankar: And His Music (Far East Sunshine) LP
The name “Shankar” is most famously associated with Ravi Shankar, the grand master of contemporary Indian folk music who was very popular in the ’60s due to his connection with the American music industry, despite staying away from pure pop music by maintaining his classic sitar-and-tabla-style drone ragas to express himself musically. Bengali musician Ananda Shankar was Ravi Shankar’s nephew, and he also traveled to the USA, to gather inspiration from rock artists like Jimi Hendrix, among others. His 1970 self-titled debut album, a conglomeration of classic Indian folk tunes and instrumental versions of the hottest rock songs of the day clothed in a veil of sitar melodies and backed up with tabla drum grooves, was an attempt to combine the spiritual approach of his cultural origins with the light-minded blissful attitude of western psychedelic pop music — a groovy little album. After its release, Shankar took a five-year break from recording to create his second album, reissued here. The cover tunes were replaced by all-original compositions with a lush instrumentation that features the typical sitar, tabla, and bowed string instruments such as the sarong and the sera, mixed with sounds that have a definite western origin such as rock guitars, Hammond organ, and Moog synthesizers, plus full drum kits to enhance the actual groove. Psychedelic rock, raga, fusion-jazz, and funk flow into each other quite naturally, giving birth to something fresh and exciting one might call “Bengali pop.” The borders between eastern and western music dissolve. For the most part, Ananda Shankar and his Music is quite accessible, and comes with a certain slickness. Still, there is the other side of the coin, the spiritual depth that pop music often lacks. This might have been too far out for the average western mainstream fanatic back in 1975, when disco began its rule, but it is an awesome sound trip for fans of psychedelic dance music like the Incredible Bongo Band and all eastern-influenced popular rock.
File Under: Eastern Pop, Raga
J.B. Smith: No More Good Time… (Dust to Digital) 2CD
In 1965 and 1966 Bruce Jackson visited Ramsey State Farm in Rosharon, Texas, where he recorded the remarkable epic songs of Johnnie B. Smith, a prisoner-composer doing a 45-year bid for the murder of his wife. Three of the recordings included on this two-disc set appeared on Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown, an LP produced by John Fahey’s Takoma Records in 1965. The other 15 — traditional work songs and J.B.’s original pieces — are issued for the first time. Folklorist Bruce Jackson was among the last to record work songs. He met Smith, prisoner #130196, during a 1964 visit to Ramsey State Farm. A native of Hearne, Texas, Smith was 46 years old and on his fourth prison term. In his younger days, Smith toted lead hoe in a flat-weeding gang and led the work songs. But he also sang other songs, different songs — those he’d made up to occupy himself while chopping sugarcane or picking cotton. He referred to them as his “little ol’ songs.” The longest stretched to 33 verses, or more than 22 recorded minutes. Although Smith knew and sang a variety of melodies, to an assortment of work songs and sacred pieces, he employed only one tune for his compositions. What changed were the tempo and the ornamentation with which he individualized them. “The Major Special,” “No More Good Time in the World for Me,” “Ever Since I Been a Man Full Grown” — each song Smith charged with its own emotional ambience, as a seasoned preacher intuits the particular colors and atmospheres that should imbue each portion of his service. Smith was paroled in 1967, a year after his final session with Jackson. That summer, Jackson arranged for him to sing at the Newport Folk Festival, at which he appeared on stage with Pete Seeger, and, in one of the only photos that survives of him, in the company of Robert Pete Williams and Muddy Waters. No More Good Time in the World for Me includes 18 remastered recordings, 15 of which are previously unreleased, and is presented in a digipak with a 36-page booklet containing liner notes by Nathan Salsburg (curator of the Alan Lomax Archive), full lyric transcriptions, and never-before-published photographs of J.B. Smith. Produced by Nathan Salsburg and Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-to-Digital.
File Under: Blues, Prison
Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer (Carpark) LP
Foil Deer is the sophomore album from Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Sadie Dupuis sings on first single “Raising the Skate,” invoking in spirit one half of the Carter-Knowles clan and echoing the other’s wordplay. And wordplay makes sense, considering Dupuis – the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and frontwoman – spent the band’s first few years teaching writing at UMass Amherst. She’s drawn to the dense complexity of Pynchon, the dreamlike geometry of Bolaño, the confounded yearning of Plath – all attributes you could easily apply to the band’s 2013 debut Major Arcana, which fans and press alike have invested with a sense of purpose and merit uncommon in contemporary guitar rock. Dupuis wrote much of Foil Deer at her mother’s home in the Connecticut woods, where the songwriter imposed a self-regulated exile and physical cleansing of sorts, finding that many of the songs came to her while running or swimming alone. “I gave up wasting mental energy on people who didn’t have my back,” she says. “This music isn’t coming from a dark place, and without slipping into self-empowerment jargon, it feels stronger.” Many of the songs deal with a similar sense of starting over, editing out the unnecessary drama. “Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive,” she sings on “Mister Difficult.” And while their debut album was recorded on the fly, Speedy Ortiz spent almost a month in the studio on Foil Deer. Mike Falcone’s drums are taut, mechanistic; Darl Ferm’s bass ranges from the aggressive rattle of an AmRep classic to smoother, hip-hop inspired lines. Devin McKnight, meanwhile, lends spacier, textural riffs to complement Dupuis’ wiry, melody-driven guitar style. It was recorded and mixed at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room with Nicolas Vernhes (Silver Jews, Enon, Deerhunter), with the record mastered by Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim, Beauty Pill), lending a more polished sound and a pop sensibility that will stand out to existing fans and new converts alike.
File Under: Indie Rock
Sprawl: s/t (Trost) LP
Trost presents the first vinyl edition of Sprawl, the intense and beautifully harsh collaborative project of drummer Michael Wertmüller (16-17, Alboth!, Full Blast), originally released on CD in 1997. Remastered and re-cut by Wertmüller and Alex Buess. The original release of this work marked the beginning of Trost’s cooperation with Peter Brötzmann, after they organized an Alboth! show with Wertmüller. Wertmüller’s intention for Sprawl was to gather the musicians he appreciates most and has worked with in various contexts for a special one-time recording project. The main idea was to create an album that incorporates the rough energy of “Machine Gun” based on improvisation, the electricity of 16-17, and the application of experimental recording techniques that give the album its own, very special feeling. Alongside Wertmüller and European free jazz legend Brötzmann, the project includes New York-based bassist William Parker, one of the most important US free jazz bassists and a long-time collaborator with Cecil Taylor, Charles Gayle, Rashied Ali, and others; saxophonist Alex Buess, frequent collaborator with British musician and producer Kevin Martin and member of Paul Schütze’s Phantom City, ICE, GOD, Cortex, and 16-17; and guitarist Stephan Wittwer, who has played with Irène Schweizer, Rüdiger Carl, Radu Malfatti, Cowwf-Quintett, Sludge 5-0, Red Twist & Tuned Arrow, and Polyphonie Zürich. Peter Brötzmann: tenor and baritone saxophones; Michael Wertmüller: drums; William Parker: bass; Alex Buess: electronics, reeds; Stephan Wittwer: guitar.
File Under: Jazz, Free Jazz
Stringtronics: Mindbender (Fifth Dimension) LP
This album, originally released in 1972, can be put in the field of so-called “library music,” records made for use in movies and TV productions, commercials, and for similar purposes to enhance the tension of the atmosphere in very dramatic scenes or accompany the more mellow and relaxed moments with lush harmony carpets. And of all these library albums, this is one of the most sought-after by collectors around the world due to the musical quality of its content. And so we sit back, relax, close our eyes and get ready for the movie that only exists in our imagination. Stringtronics take us on a journey from the dark city gorges of any North American metropolis, where steaming hot, funky, and jazzy rhythms amalgamate and are clothed in a veil of lush string arrangements, to the banks of the river Seine, where painters draw portraits of tourists and people sit in the sun, relaxing to the typical chanson melodies full of melancholy and joy. In there is a tinge of the 1950s exotica music here and there, alongside Latin grooves and some rock elements shining through in the soundscape. It is fantastic but not easy to categorize — it could appeal to fans of US movie soundtracks from the early ’70s and late ’60s created by folks like George Clinton, but also to those who enjoy the early works of such electronic pop pioneers as Wendy Carlos, and to space-age pop aficionados. It is all here, and the participating musicians paint their melody-and-rhythm patterns with an enormous feeling for depth and emotion.
File Under: Library, Space Age, Electronic
Tallest Man on Earth: Dark Bird is Home (Dead Oceans) LP
Dark Bird Is Home doesn’t feel like it came from one time, one place, or one tape machine. The songs and sounds were captured in various countries, studios, and barns, and they carry a weather-worn quality, some dirt and some grit. If you’re a fan of The Tallest Man On Earth, Dark Bird Is Home pays real tribute to the old records you fell for, and goes new places you’re going to love as well. If you’re new to the band, enjoy these songs, and know there are 40 or more other gems waiting on earlier albums and singles. Early in Dark Bird Is Home, toward the end of the opening track, we hear other voices and sounds backing Kristian Matsson’s own. One of them, later credited in the liner notes with Angel Vocals, shows up several times throughout the record, adding new color to the familiar palette. And so the story grows and expands. That first song has horns and a piano, keyboards, synthesizers, and other modern noisemakers…and by track two you’ve got The Tallest Man on Earth as full-throttle rock and roll. While Dark Bird Is Home is The Tallest Man on Earth at his most personal and direct, deeper and darker than ever at times, it’s also an album with strokes of whimsy and the scent of new beginnings – which feels fresh, and well timed. Reliably, the melodies and arrangements are sturdy and classic, like old cars and tightly wound clocks. The lyrics and their delivery are both comforting and alarming, like tall trees and wide hills. The other musicians and layers on this recording put a wide lens on familiar themes. Fear and darkness, sleep or lack of it, dreams in the dark and in the light. Moving, leaving, going. Distance and short stops, long straight lines, temporal places. More hopefully, a grateful nod to a traveling partner, a healing mind. Maybe a little forgiveness needed. Definitely some things to forget. And of course, that last song. The title track. If there is a little legend-building to be done here, let it be this scene a few of the album’s early-listeners can recount: Kristian gently warning them over their shoulder before track ten begins: “Watch out for this one.” You should expect the loudest and proudest sounds yet from The Tallest Man on Earth on album number four, but also the softest and the lowest. For the next few years, the Dark Bird Is Home tour will come to your city or a town nearby, and for the first time The Tallest Man on Earth is bringing a band to the stage with him.
File Under: Indie Rock, Folk
Walls: Urals (Ecstatic) LP
Walls (Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis) return with their third and final studio album, Urals. Urals is the conclusion of a three-album cycle that began with their self-titled debut in 2010, and continued in 2011 with Coracle. This album is an accumulation of four years of studio exploration, inverting their signature sound into a new, more intense dimension, the duo once again exploring futuristic vistas with their coruscating synth lines, spiraling guitar figures, and howling distortion and noise. Informed by the creation/curation of their burgeoning Ecstatic Recordings imprint that has seen them release music by kindred spirits such as Pye Corner Audio, Axel Willner (The Field), and L/F/D/M, among others, as well as their own individual explorations (Natalizia’s caustic, minimal synth workouts as Not Waving, and Willis’s lurid, ritualistic techno as Primitive World) Urals pushes the envelope a long way from the template they set out with on tracks such as “Burnt Sienna” or “Hang Four.” From the stumbling, off-kilter groove of the title-track to the probing kosmische pulses of “Altai” to the intense, ear-shredding acid of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to the sublime synth-scape paean “Radiance,” it’s clear that Willis and Natalizia are taking leave of the Walls project at the top of their game. Mastered by Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum) at New Atlantis Studios.
File Under: Electronic, Ambient, Synths
Eddie Warner: Progressive Percussions (Fifth Dimension) LP
Eddie Warner, born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1917, was one of the leading figures in European exotica in the 1950s, operating from France, where he ended up at after the war. His repertoire of styles included several kinds of jazz- and Latin-based dance music such as mambo, baião, and chachachá, but, as a tireless explorer, he also found refuge in the library music and electronic sounds department. A cornerstone of his work in that field, Progressive Percussions, was originally released in 1968 and has not been reissued since, until now. Library music was always meant to be used for the soundtracks of movie and TV productions or commercials, so not many people outside of that world have taken notice of this colorful masterpiece. It was not uncommon for such late ’60s productions to consist of powerful, funky, and jazzy rhythms; fuzzed-out guitars; and steaming keyboard work. Eddie Warner and his compatriots spice up these standardized elements with freaky electronic chimes, Morse code sounds, and even outbursts of free-format psychedelic eruptions that will blow your mind. The title suggests that Eddie Warner and his musicians often emphasized the groove; a tight netting of polyrhythmic patterns is conjured by the regular drummer along with some skillfully executed xylophone work and some handy percussions that rattle and ping somewhere within this jungle of grooves. Rock and heavy funk are the predominant styles from which this studio band starts its musical expedition. Despite being European, Eddie Warner and his mates hit the frequency of pure hot-blooded power-funk and heavier west coast rock played mostly by American bands from California to Detroit and NYC in the late ’60s. When this group calms down a bit and gets in the mood for a Latin- and jazz-influenced jam, you as the listener find yourself in a smokey psychedelic club somewhere in San Francisco until the song and your trippy dream end. While most of the time you could imagine a rampant jam session of Sly & the Family Stone, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane, the pure electronic moments here are years ahead of their time and should have been a massive influence on later German pioneers such as Kraftwerk, NEU!, or Cluster. An adventurous piece of music for fans of groovy, sexy, and mind-expanding music based on what the pop scene in 1968 had to offer. Close your eyes and join the space dance.
File Under: Library, Electronic, Funk, Latin
Patrick Watson: Love Songs for Robots (Secret City) LP
Now approaching a decade as a band, it has been a truly interesting journey for Patrick Watson and his cohorts. Having accomplished such feats as playing to over 100,000 people at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival, composing 15 scores for film and television, receiving Canada’s elite Polaris Music Prize in 2007, and most recently performing two songs in Wim Wenders’ current 3D epic Every Thing Will Be Fine, his career has had many peaks, with more to come with the release of his forthcoming album, Love Songs For Robots. Still standing proudly at the helm, Love Songs For Robots marks Patrick Watson’s fifth release since he first galvanized this “temporary project” in 2006. His latest installment in his already impressive body of work follows up on his stunning 2012 release Adventures In Your Own Backyard. The new album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and Pierre Marchand Studio in Montreal. His hard-fought lyrical pearls are now guided through newfound psychedelic and soul swagger influences, as left of center instrumentation and arrangements cover up well-beaten tracks, and makes this a rewarding and truly original statement. Love Songs for Robots bears Watson’s indelible stamp, and manages to create a piece of work that is not only stirring, daring, and deeply personal, but also represents his creative high water mark. It’s all too rare to see an artist wear their heart on their sleeve while never growing weary of the battle against cynicism and callousness, but Watson and band’s aim remains true.
File Under: Indie Rock, CanCon
Wovenhand: s/t (Bang) LP
No doubt Wovenhand is one of the most intense contemporary American bands in existence. Bang! Records presents the first vinyl edition of Wovenhand’s 2002 debut self-titled album. This is the very first effort by David Eugene Edwards after 16 Horsepower — the start of a new era in his musical career, diving into foggy and shady passages of folk and blues. Take a walk on the darkest side of American music. A mandatory album for fans of The Gun Club/Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Johnny Cash, Mark Lanegan, The Beasts of Bourbon, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
File Under: Folk, Blues
Yamasuki: Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki (Far East Sunshine) LP
The weirdest exploito-pop attempting to fuse western popular music with folkloristic elements of different origins came from the ’60s and early-to-mid-’70s. Among tons of more or less entertaining releases a few diamonds could be found and Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki (1971), the brainchild of French composers Jean Kluger and Daniel Vangarde, is definitely a stand-out production in this field. “Yamasuki” is a fictional Japanese person about whom Kluger and Vangarde created a musical concept story with a black-belt judo-master doing all the battle-shouts and a female choir, the so-called Yamasuki Singers, taking the lead vocal duties. All-Japanese-language lyrics, of course, with strange grammar. At least, it sounds Japanese — that’s all that matters. The music itself is a simmering mixture of typical bloomy late ’60s pop music with a psychedelic edge, elements of funk in the rhythmic department, and some fuzzed-out acid rock tunes thrown in for good measure. The Eastern flavor might just be an illusion due to the language but all in all Yamasuki is a beautiful western pop art vision of Japanese music. In fact it sounds and feels like many contemporary bands and projects that combined colorful power pop with a heavier guitar sound and regional peculiarities, resulting in a simmering sound cocktail with fresh and exciting melodies. Yamasuki comes close to Omega (Hungary), AKA (Indonesia), and San Ul Lim (South Korea), even as an exploito-pop project. Fans of rich melody patterns will have their minds blown by this album. With Latin-based funk and samba rhythms flowing beneath a lush vocal arrangement, as in “Okawa,” Yamasuki is made to abduct you from reality and lead you into some exotic dreams. Well produced and well executed. Close your eyes, drink some sake, and find yourself transported to an ancient Japan as it exists only in your dreams.
File Under: Exploit-pop, Funk, Psych, Fuzz
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