Monday, 31 December 2012

Best. Ten. 2012.

1. Lee Gamble - Diversions 1994-1996 (PAN)

2. Emptyset - Medium (Subtext)
3. Demdike Stare - Elemental (Modern Love)
4. Madteo - Noi No (Sahko Recordings)

5. Silent Servant - Negative Fascination (Hospital Productions)
6. Nick Edwards - Plekzationz (Editions Mego)
7. Vatican Shadow - Kneel Before Religious Icons (Type)

8. Love Cult - Fingers crossed (Public Information)
9. The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Underture (Finders Keepers)
10. The Slaves - Spirits of the Sun (Digitalis)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Vatican Shadow - Ghosts of Chechnya

Following the issue of the ultra-limited Byzantine Private CIA cassette at the start of 2010, well over a dozen releases attributed to Dominick Fernow's Vatican Shadow project have appeared. The most recent of these, September Cell and Operation Neptune Spear were covered by so much noise back in June and July respectively. Last Monday saw the release of three more additions to Fernow's burgeoning canon; a pair of EPs (Jordanian Descent and Atta's Apartment Slated for Demolition) and this album which was previously available only as a limited double cassette pack.

The Vatican Shadow sound has undergone quite a few changes since that first cassette which presented various sound sources layered over disjointed rhythms and cloaked in reverb. Fernow has employed more conventional rhythmic structures on later releases and incorporated textures which increase the overall sense of military-grade paranoia and creeping dread as referenced in his titles.

Ghosts of Chechnya is probably the most 'accessible' title in the Vatican Shadow back catalogue so far but this is far from the lazy, lowest common denominator cash grab that accessibility usually signifies. I can't help feeling that this is probably the most completely realised Vatican Shadow set issued so far.

Opener 'Encryption Nets' runs a sweeping loop, plangent synth lines and white noise flickers over a submerged rhythm track. 'Peace Rage' makes a mad dash through clattering percussion whilst 'Voices Came Crackling Across A Motorola Hand-Held Radio' builds tense drones atop crunchy jackboot drums. The standout track for me is 'The Hamburg Cell Was Born In Chechnya' which builds from an ominous, low-end rumble before adding hovering synths and gunfire snare hits.

With this kind of prolificacy it's only natural to expect the occasional dip in quality control. On the evidence of these three releases, Domick Fernow is still operating at a much higher level than sheer volume usually dictates.  

Ghosts of Chechnya is available digitally through Juno. Jordanian Descent and Atta's Apartment Slated For Demolition are also available via the same source and are highly recommended.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Emptyset - Collapsed

There must be something rather special in the air around Bristol at the moment. Monday saw the release of the mighty Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 by Ekoplekz, an incredible album which has been on constant repeat here at so much noise over the past few days. Also issued on the same day was Collapsed, an EP containing four new tracks by Bristol-based duo Emptyset on the esteemed Raster Noton imprint.

I’ve followed the work of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas closely since picking up a copy of their debut self titled LP in 2009. This was an album which took the rather well worn minimal techno framework and forced it into a variety of interesting new shapes. Then came last year’s astonishing Demiurge set which is, in my opinion at least, one of the finest electronic albums to have been released recent years. They managed to better that in March this year with the release of Medium, a five track mini album which is resolutely uncompromising and brutally raw in it’s approach, yet remains an utterly gripping listening experience.

To say that my expectations of this record were high is a massive understatement and thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. A track-by-track analysis of a release like this is utterly pointless as Emptyset employ a compositional methodology which concentrates on the construction of overall aesthetic and texture rather than tunes per se. As on Demiurge and Medium, bass plays a pivotal role here; fat slabs of speaker wrecking low end pressure and thick, rumbling drones underpin each track. Sheets of static, distortion and ragged frequencies are manipulated and bent into oddly rhythmic shapes.

Once again, Emptyset have created an astonishing set of tracks which, whilst rooted at their base level in techno, ultimately bear almost no resemblance to that music's most recognisable characteristics.

There are very few people currently operating within this field and at this level right now, don't let this one pass you by if you like your music challenging, abstract and visceral. Massive recommendation to anyone giving heavy play to recent releases by Nick Edwards/EkoplekzPerc or Mordant Music

Collapsed is available in both 12" vinyl and digital formats via Raster Noton. I'd also suggest sourcing copies of Medium and Demiurge too whilst you're at it, both of which are widely available.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ekoplekz - Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2

Not content with delivering one of the absolute highlights of the year with his stunning Plekzationz album last month, Nick Edwards now gives us the second volume of Intrusive Incidentalz via Punch Drunk records. It's no secret that Edwards is a huge favourite here at so much noise but critically speaking, he's yet to put a foot wrong. Over the course of 2012, he has issued several essential transmissions commencing with the Dromilly Vale EP back in February, a split tape with Wanda Group and the gargantuan thirty five track Skalectrikz double cassette pack in addition to a rework of electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader's Boingo Background just a few weeks ago.

Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 follows on almost a year from volume 1 and occupies the same area of the audio spectrum as it's predecessor. If Plekzationz represented an exercise in opening out his sound, allowing it to breathe and develop into long form pieces then this collection is it's antithesis. Tracks are pared back to much shorter running times and the general mood is oppressive, suffocating.

It can be argued that what Nick Edwards does isn't at all unique, or that there is little 'progression' between his main releases but that misses the point entirely. He obviously operates within the tightly defined parameters dictated by the equipment he utilises and his chosen compositional methodology. To put it another way, he improvises using the sounds generated by antiquated hardware. What do you expect to hear on an Ekoplekz record, a string section and thirty piece gospel choir? Ultimately, it's what he does with these crude raw materials that makes his work so compelling.

It's a futile task to pick out individual highlights from an album this good; 'Ultra Warble' is the filthy sound of heavy machinery, 'Effluvia' is saturated in flickering reverb whilst 'Neutronik III' marries atonal pulses with bursts of white noise. Special mention has to be given to 'Kelvin Flats', a nod to Sheffield's notorious council housing complex - a failed social experiment in high-rise living which was built in the 1960s and is now, thankfully demolished. Scroll down to listen to the full track.

After releasing such a large volume of high quality material this year alone, Edwards has proved that he is still capable of producing an album which can be filed amongst the very best entries in his rapidly expanding back catalogue. Keep 'em coming Nick!

Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 is available on vinyl and as a digital download via Bleep. Keep track of Nick's movements on the Ekoplekz Bulletin Board and whilst you're at it, have a quick look at the website of 2nd Fade who produced the album's  rather brilliant cover art which features a View-Master stereoscope disc.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tod Dockstader/Mordant Music/Ekoplekz - Electronic Vol 1

When I read a few months ago that Mordant Music were preparing to reissue two rare volumes of music by early electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader, I was excited at the prospect of finally being able to replace my rather low quality vinyl rips. I also couldn't help feeling that it was about time this largely forgotten pioneer of electronic music was given a little more credit for the massive influence he has undoubtedly had on the modern audio landscape.  

Both the albums in question were recorded over thirty years ago for library music specialists Boosey & Hawkes who made them available exclusively to film and TV studios. They were both called Electronic, and carried the subtitle "Recorded Music For Film, Radio & Television".

It seems that just recently, people have finally begun to fully appreciate the music contained on these hard to find LPs, the vast majority of which were never given a full commercial release. It's commendable that some of these largely unheard volumes are now being released into the public domain by forward thinking labels and are no longer the sole preserve of obsessive vinyl junkies willing to pay hundreds of pounds for a battered secondhand copy. Over the past few years there have been some sterling reissues of material by the likes of Daphne Oram, Suzanne Ciani, David Cain and Bruno Spoerri so it's only fitting that seventy four year old Tod Dockstader should now join this group. 

Dockstader began his career as a film editor in 1955 after studying painting and film at the University of Minnesota. He became a sound editor a few years later and released his first album - Eight Electronic Pieces - in 1960. This album would later go on to be used by Federico Fellini as the soundtrack to his 1969 film Satyricon. Following the closure of the studios where he had worked since 1958, he found himself rejected by the established electronic music institutions due to a lack of academic experience and so he eventually moved into audio-visual work. After his retirement in 1990, he built himself a home studio and spent the next fifteen years recording short wave radio transmissions which he used as the basis for his Aerial series of albums on Sub Rosa.

Although he achieved only modest success during his career as a composer and musician, he managed to establish a small back catalogue of recordings which have since become hugely influential despite being virtually unknown outside the aficionados.

Listening to these twenty three musical miniatures, I find it almost impossible to place them on a timeline stretching back to their original recording date of 1979. If recent albums by Moon Wiring Club, Pye Corner Audio and almost anything associated with the Ghost Box label are anything to go by, it's clear that Dockstader's presence is still felt today.

Bridging the reissue of these two volumes is a 10" remix disc of sorts. It contains three tracks which have been suitably deconstructed and rewired by the good Baron himself and Mr Nick Edwards under his Ekoplekz moniker.

It shouldn't be any great surprise that this album is being issued by the redoubtable Baron Mordant's label. After all, he did release Carrion Squared, his own entry into this field back in 2007. It was culled from sessions recorded for a library music album called The Drone Continuum which was commissioned by Boosey & Hawkes and released via the Strip Sounds imprint. 

Both these releases are essential listening for anyone remotely interested in the evolution of modern electronic music.

Electronic Volume 1 is available on vinyl and digitally through the Mordant Music online store as is the remix EP. Electronic Volume 2 will be available soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Carlos Giffoni - Evidence

It's still possible in this age of social networking, music blogging and near ubiquitous internet access for good records to get lost in the usual weekly deluge of new releases. After carrying out some digital housekeeping last week, I came across this two track offering from No Fun Productions boss Carlos Giffoni sitting on my hard drive and was surprised that it was even there. I have a much played copy of his last full length offering, Severence from 2010 (which is fantastic incidentally) but couldn't for the life of me remember picking this one up. I duly added it into my iTunes library and hit play…

First track 'Evidence' starts with a beautiful, mournful piano line (courtesy of Laurel Halo as it turns out). For a moment I thought I'd playlisted the wrong track, then came the vocal which made me certain this wasn't the right track - an accented monotone voice delivers the lines "It would be so easy, to fall in love with you / But we can't talk to each other any more no, we just can't talk to other any more". This is rapidly followed by an aggressive 303 squiggle and a single 4/4 kick-drum as the voice intones the brief lyric a few more times. Once established, the track plays out against a muted synth line, also the work of Laurel Halo before reprising it's opening piano motif. It's a simple track with just a few components but it works so damn well. This basic precept is repeated on 'Desire in the Summer' but builds itself around a grainy pulse and adds a few, sparse electro drum rolls before descending into a vat of gradually decaying echo.

This release is nothing short of incredible and as far away from Giffoni's signature experiments in noise and abstract laptop manipulation as is humanly possible. I can only hope that he has a few more tracks like these tucked away for an album sometime soon, until then, I suspect these will get some heavy rotation.

12" vinyl and digital download versions are available via Boomkat.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Time Attendant - Tournaments

Paul Snowdon is an artist from Deptford, London who creates beautiful abstract paintings depicting various geometric, cubist forms. He has a blog site which contains images of some of his work which you should go and look at as soon as you have finished reading this article. On his blog, he makes the following statement;

"Heraldic abstract geometric colour deception"

Actually, this isn't so much a statement as one of his "six steps of painting". His final step is determined as follows;

"Cubism Vortism Constructivism Futurism Modernism"

Looking at his work whilst considering these two lines, his words make perfect sense. 

Paul Snowdon is also a musician and the man behind Time Attendant. He has associations with such luminaries as Pye Corner Audio, Moon Wiring Club and Jonny Mugwump whose Exotic Pylon Records has just issued the Tournaments EP.

The four tracks that make up this release contain portions of the following elements in varying degrees;

Rattling electronics and the gurgling wheeze of vintage synthesizers / Tone bursts, tape hiss and other disintegrating audio artefacts / Decaying drones and pulses daubed onto fractured rhythms / Spluttering reverberations bleeding from mouldering tape stock.

If any of the above descriptors mean anything to you, or you have recently enjoyed Nick Edward's Plekzationz album then this EP should be playing in your home/head right now.

Tournaments is available on 12" vinyl (with a bonus track) and digital download via Exotic Pylon Records. Once you've obtained this, you'll also want to check out the Time Attendant Bandcamp page for two earlier releases which are equally indispensable.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Silent Servant - Negative Fascination

The last time we heard anything from John (Juan) Mendez it was with Camella Lobo as part of Tropic of Cancer on a three track EP called Permissions of Love issued via Italy's Mannequin label last month. Prior to this, Mendez released several more singles and EPs as part of this duo in addition to a couple of  twelves as Silent Servant on the now decommissioned Sandwell District imprint. It's hard to believe that this is the first full length solo release that Mendez has worked on since his debut back in 2006 and so my expectations were unusually high after grabbing a copy of the disc.

Noise supremo Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions seems an odd choice of label to issue this album but, given his recent work under the Vatican Shadow moniker there is some kind of skewed logic behind it I guess. I had spent some time listening to the previous Silent Servant releases as well as Sandwell District's Feed-Forward album in preparation for my initial session with this LP but I needn't have bothered - the approach taken here is from a different set of reference points entirely.

Lead track 'Process (Introduction') is as much about texture as it is rhythm. Synth drones are layered above minimal arpeggios and a voice intones wordlessly in a foreign tongue against ricocheting percussive elements. 'Moral Divide (Endless)' starts off sounding like a muscular take on something from Throbbing Gristle's Twenty Jazz Funk Greats before adding a drifting flute sample to it's trebly beat-box chassis. But it's on 'Temptation & Desire' that Mendez lets his love for post-punk aesthetics run riot by using a blunted drum track and bass guitar rumble as it's backbone whilst more disembodied voices flicker and billow. During the penultimate track 'A Path Eternal', Mendez pulls the beats completely and uses another heavily manipulated voice which is set against a spectral, almost ambient drift. 

After a few spins, there's no mistaking that this is a Silent Servant album but over the course of thirty six minutes, Juan Mendez constantly redesigns his signature sound whilst retaining the basic elements that have made his previous work such compulsive listening.  

Negative Fascination is available as in limited edition vinyl, CD and as a digital download via Boomkat.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Nick Edwards (Ekoplekz) - Plekzationz

Back in the early 1990s, Nick Edwards began writing a blog called Gutterbreakz on which he offered up his opinions on the music which had shaped his life and the new releases that informed his current listening habits. He wrote enthusiastically about what he loved and why, he had no agenda and covered everything from obscure library music LPs to the sounds of the emerging underground. What was special about his writing was that he did it with the passion and conviction of a man who was obsessed with music for music's sake, not as some name-dropping hipster with a vinyl fetish.

I had the pleasure of discovering Ekoplekz after picking up a copy of last year's immense Memowrecks collection which was issued via Mordant Music. It contained thirty three tracks of tape saturated electronic experimentation and was an absolutely gripping listen despite it's almost two hour running time. Since then, there have been several more EPs, a few collaborations and an almighty live/studio double tape set which was released in April 2012.

From the first moment I heard Memowrecks, I was completely hooked. His reference points were upfront and explicit - Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire immediately came to the fore - but his tracks were also informed by early radiophonics and post-punk experimentation as well as dub dynamics. This was an album which easily transcended it's influences whilst retaining that raw, unstable edge inherent in so many nascent sonic offshoots.

Plekzationz is the first release to bear Edward's given name since 1994, his debut being a cassette called Controlled by Voltage Vol. 1 on Volatile Records. The reasoning behind this eighteen year gap is not apparent, nor is it clear if the Ekoplekz moniker has now been retired. There has been some conjecture that this may be an attempt to make a 'serious' statement, even pointing to the cover portrait as some kind of proof. I don't accept this rationale however, a large majority of musicians in this field routinely work under a variety of nom de plumes so why should Edwards be any different? Also, the cover painting isn't an example of simple figurative portraiture designed to cast it's subject in a flattering, media-friendly light. It clearly takes it's cues from Francis Bacon's distorted grotesqueries and creates something which is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

But, this is all empty speculation by people who should be listening to the album instead of searching for meanings behind its presentation. There are no answers to these questions, all we really have is the music and that should be quite enough to be honest.

The first major change I noted is that the album only contains four tracks rather than the more concise pieces which make up the Ekoplekz releases, each of these weighing in at around the quarter hour mark. Secondly, the overall sound of the album is quite breathtaking. After installing some new audio kit in our listening area over the weekend, it came as a bit of a shock that this would prove to be such a great test record for the equipment. Gone is the resolutely lo-fi cassette tape murk and hiss of old, this has been replaced by crystal clarity and a widescreen stereo soundstage. Edwards is obviously using the same vintage machines and broken effects as before but his production values have soared. This is a fantastic sounding record.

First track 'Chance Meets Causality Uptown' bounces a succession of reverberating high frequency tones and pulses around the mix underpinned by a loose bass guitar line which is gradually replaced by caustic drones. 'No Escape From '79' is an apt choice of title as it plots a course through similar dystopian electronic territories charted by Messrs Kirk and Mallinder thirty-odd years ago. After taking a short diversion through a series of loops, the track's coda briefly returns to another rhythm carved from primitive devices and sparse guitar lines. 'Inside The Analog Continuum' is a twisted excursion into lysergic dub effects whilst 'A Pedant's Progress' dispenses with all notions of rhythm and presents itself as a freeform sonic tangle.

This album is without doubt the finest thing that bears Nick Edward's name to date, and with a back catalogue containing such a large amount of high quality material that's some feat. It's a revelatory listen in terms of it's spectral production and the extended track times which clearly suit the nature of these four pieces, allowing them to fully develop in a way that we're unused to. Whichever moniker he chooses to release his music under, this should rightly cement Mr Edward's name amongst the luminaries of electronic music where it rightfully belongs.

Plekzationz is available over at the Editions Mego site as either a double vinyl set, CD or digital download. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

PHORK - Discrepancies

You'd think that finding information about new music in these ultra-connected times would be simplicity itself, especially now most of us have a decent web browser on our smartphones and constant internet connectivity. Occasionally though, a band decides to choose a moniker that wilfully skews our search results to the point which they almost become anonymous - a rare feat in 2012.

After running a few searches in preparation for this piece, I discovered the following available definitions;

PHORK - a flexible, open source PHP 5 framework.
PHORK - a specially constructed piece of cutlery which bends when exposed to body temperature.
PHORK - a branch of physical activity or social practice.

All of these are correct in their own particular context of course, but they are also incorrect. PHORK is actually an acronym for People's Higher Order of Royal Kinship.

The man behind all this search engine confusion is Neal Reinalda who is one of the founder members of an art gallery and studio called Open Space which is located in the Remington neighbourhood of Baltimore City. Discrepancies is his second release this year as PHORK and his first on the always wonderful NNA Tapes.

The tape starts with a mournful drone which floats languidly across a bed of static and various found sounds; rainfall, creaking wood, overheard conversations, a subway train pulling out of it's station - all held together by a single kick drum. It's simple but beautifully effective and sets a high benchmark for the next forty minutes. 

There are many more highlights; 'III' is a twitchy, phased and flanged skeletal dub techno joint during which a recording of a heated series of exchanges is woven into it's digital fabric whilst 'IV' uses a sparse electro rhythm track and gradually pushes the beats together into overlapping percussive eddies.

The press release dubs this tape a "surrealist techno collage" which is a pretty good place to begin it's descriptors. To my ears though, these eight tracks are as much about what isn't there as what obviously is, the myriad embedded details and judicious use of field recordings simply beg for endless replay. Neal Reinalda has created something fantastic here, a set of tracks which are not only deeply experimental but also eminently accessible. 

Copies of the C50 cassette can be obtained directly from the NNA Tapes website, digital downloads are widely available too.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Ekoplekz / Wanda Group - Split Cassette

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, cassettes were as much a part of my musical DNA as vinyl. They were viewed by our purist elders as a sonically inferior reduction of reel to reel technology and by the record labels as nothing short of a threat to their livelihood. To us they represented the gateway to an endless source of new albums which few of us could afford to buy and a tool to express ourselves via the mixtape format.

Over the past few years, vinyl has made a significant comeback but more surprisingly, so has the humble cassette. There are now a few rather excellent labels specialising in releases on this gloriously outdated medium - NNA Tapes being one of our favourite purveyors of ferric delights.

Further Records was established a few years ago in the US by Mark Cul and his partner to issue limited run cassettes, each with handmade inserts. They now have a Bandcamp page selling digital versions of these tapes for those folks without the requisite playback hardware.

This latest release features a side each from so much noise favourite Nick Edwards as Ekoplekz and the rather intriguingly named Wanda Group, an alias of Louis Johnstone, the man behind the brilliantly deranged Dem Hunger.

Nick Edwards turns in an incredible twenty minute A side titled 'Dead Escalator Suite' which cycles through all manner of dubbed out ephemera coated in his trademark submerged sonic patina. At around the halfway mark, reverb takes hold of the track displacing everything but it's trace elements before plunging headlong into a twisted coda of malfunctioning radiophonics.

The B side is no less absorbing, Louis Johnstone delivers a smudged and bruised smear of sound shot through with field recordings, vinyl crackle and a concatenated series of exercises in microtonal electronic manipulations. It's a beautifully refined take on his previous, more rhythmic output as Dem Hunger. 

The cassette has long since sold out as it was originally issued in a run of only one hundred units, a digital download is however available from the Further Records Bandcamp page.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Underture

Exactly four hundred years ago to the day, eight women and two men were executed by hanging at Gallows Hill in Lancashire, England. They had been accused of the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft in a trial lasting only two days. It would become one of the best documented cases of it's kind but also the most disastrous, prejudiced and oft mythologised miscarriages of justice in the history of the pre-industrialised North. I won't expand upon the story in any more detail here as there are plenty of informative online resources and well researched books available which can provide a far more authoritative account of the events leading up to this tragedy.

Dean Honer of Sheffield groups I Monster / All Seeing I and Adrian Flanagan, a Salfordian and member of electro-pranksters Kings Have Long Arms have created a concept album commemorating the so-called Pendle Witches. The true stroke of genius here though is the casting of actress Maxine Peake who provides the narrative throughout the record, her beautiful Lancastrian burr is a fantastic counterpoint to the vintage analogue electronics and firmly places the recording within it's specific geography.

Released via Finders Keepers (who else?) on their Bird sub-label, the album is described on their website as "one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem". Sonically, this is an album that sits well amongst the likes of Belbury Poly, Moon Wiring Club and Pye Corner Audio in it's conjuring of the ghosts of the past through it's antiquated machines - the past inside the present. Or, as it is more eloquently stated on the ERC Soundcloud page; "Post 1612 Ghosts on Pre 1977 analogue Synthesisers". 

The journey starts with 'Autobahn 666' (the first in a series of four travelogues) as our intrepid travellers set off on a pilgrimage to Pendle Hill from Salford via the devil's road, the A666 "like Terry and June in a battered old Hillman Minx". The second travelogue proudly proclaims "This is the North, the fantastical North. Home of proud, hard grafting bastards".

And this is what makes the album such a pleasure to listen to, the narrative is both incredibly poignant and yet brimming with dark humour. On 'Her Kind' Peake recites three verses in which the late American poet Anne Sexton identifies with the misunderstood women in society against a battery of eerie sounds and screams, the final verse ending with "A woman like that is not ashamed to die. I have been her kind." It's a powerful track that owes as much to the narrator's vehement delivery as it does to the significance of the original poem.

As the story's protagonists reach Pendle and are ushered into the gift shop, Peake snorts "How do we market the loss and hanging of women like us? With coasters and tea towels". On 'Trial By Jiggery Pokery', Peake asks "how can one defend oneself against rhetorical slights of hand when the law, if it's to be infallible must be manifestly evident. It is not manifestly evident that Saint Peter appeared to the Pope or that man can walk on water but it is taken unquestionably as infallible". The last travelogue recounts a visit to the grave of Alice Nutter, "the educated, the wealthiest, the luckiest of them all - The Pendle Witch with a grave". 

The album closes out with a searing condemnation of the injustices which occurred four hundred years ago, yet are still apparent today as Peake channels the spirit of Owd Demdike on 'Ghost Of Old Lizzy Southerns Returns'; "Curse the ancient law books you still use today and Boots the chemist for stealing all my potions. Bark of tree and twelve crushed red ants, it's the London look. Curse the endless persecution of 'our kind', there's nothing more wicked than a watching, but turned blind eye."

1612 Underture is an incredibly passionate, brilliantly realised album which, in lesser hands could have easily fallen into the 'worthy but dull' category and is more than deserving of your attention. It comes very highly recommended to adventurous listeners, lovers of analogue electronics and scholars of all things hauntological.

Both CD and digital download versions are available over at the Finders Keepers online shop.

Dedicated to the memory of the so-called Pendle Witches who were executed on 20th August 1612; Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alizon Device, Anne Whittle (aka Chattox), Anne Redferne, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt and Jennet Preston. 

Also dedicated to the memory of the accused; Alice Grey who was eventually acquitted on all charges and Elizabeth Southerns (aka Owd Demdike) who died whilst awaiting trial.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Moon Pool & Dead Band - Human Fly

In a recent piece about a pair of albums by John Elliott's Outer Space Project, I remarked that he had been extremely prolific in releasing music under a variety of different names during the past six years. However, Nate Young who forms one half of Moon Pool & Dead Band makes this work ethic seem positively slothful by comparison. As a member of Michigan noise legends Wolf Eyes alone, his tally of releases goes well into triple figures and keeps on rising through an almost infinite number of splits and side projects.

Moon Pool & Dead Band first appeared on my radar after picking up a cassette called Overspace which was originally sold at a few live shows in 2010. They followed this up with a self released EP called Gossypol and then a self titled LP via Agitated at the end of last year. It's an unlikely pairing to be honest; Nate Young with his impeccable experimental/noise credentials and Dave Shettler, drummer in garage rock outfit The sights, but the biggest surprise for me was the music contained on that first cassette. 

And this new twelve incher on Not Not Fun is no different, Human Fly contains three tracks of wilfully smeared and squashed techno hewn from the classic Detroit template. As on previous releases, each track is a product of live improvisation without overdubs using analogue equipment and bargain basement effects. The fidelity is suitably blunted with tape hiss which makes this set almost impossible to place on a timeline stretching over the past twenty five odd years.

The title track pits a squelchy bassline and acidic bleeps against a chugging drum machine rhythm. At the six minute mark, a twanging guitar line pinched from The Cramps' classic punkabilly track Human Fly appears momentarily before fading out, only to reappear again a few minutes later during the coda. It's a ridiculous touch but it works brilliantly - Poison Ivy would be proud! The remaining two tracks; 'Jagged Orbit' and 'Cyber Rebels' follow slightly lighter but equally skewed trajectories. 

Highly recommended listening for those who like their electronics decidedly old skool and a bit lo-fi.

The 12" Vinyl can be purchased through the Piccadilly Records online shop, the digital download version is widely available although Juno is always a reliable service.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Outer Space - Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) / II

John Elliott is a prolific creator and curator of some of the most incredible drone and synthesiser music produced over the last decade. After founding the self confessed "bullshit boring drone band" Emeralds with Mark McGuire and Steve Hauschildt, he helped establish a back catalogue of over forty releases in just four years. He has also put out a variety of releases as Mist, Imaginary Softwoods and Lilypad (amongst others) as well as setting up the excellent Spectrum Spools label with Peter Rehberg in 2011.

Last month saw the release of not one, but two new albums under his Outer Space moniker which has been stated is a "laboratory for electronic investigation" which utilises supplementary contributions from a host of Midwestern musicians and associates. Due to Elliott's prolificacy in producing music outside of Emeralds, these shouldn't be classed as mere 'side project' releases and therefore dismissed as second rate. I can't help but assess each Outer Space album within a wider context and ultimately view it as being a logical extension of the Emeralds back catalogue.

The first album to be released was Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) which was issued by Elliott's own Spectrum Spools label and was described as an investigation into "synthesizer experimentation and it's esoteric relations". This statement of intent is fully realised from the first track onwards; 'Ellipse' begins with a series of metallic drones which are overtaken by sequencer and synth phasing before dissolving into an elongated coda of electronic abstraction. This approach is modified and expanded over the following two tracks before the album closes with a pair of incredible live recordings. Elliot's measured use of arpeggios throughout this album makes it, for me at least, his most explicit reference to the material that Tangerine Dream were releasing around the mid 1970s. 

The Second album, fittingly titled II was issued by UK independent Blast First Petite just a few weeks after Akashic Record. Here we are presented with two ambient miniatures (I & II) and more of those beautiful arpeggios (vanishing Act) which reminded me of 'Marboubra Bay' from Edgar Froese's majestic 1975 solo LP Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. In addition to these, '3332' is seven minutes of thudding, proto-acid synthesiser dynamics whilst the final track, 'Liquid Systems Functions' manages to recall Cluster, Autechre and Tod Dockstader during it's running time.

It's been two years since Emeralds released their last album - Does It Look Like I'm Here? Hopefully there will be new material on the horizon at some point soon but until then, this pair of albums are every bit as satisfying as their creator's main band.

For links to purchase Akashic Record (Events: 1986-1990) on limited edition coloured vinyl or as a digital download, head over to the Spectrum Spools website. Similarly, II can be purchased as either vinyl or download directly from Blast First Petite.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Thought Broadcast - Thought Broadcast

There have been many scientific studies undertaken over the years to determine what effect music has on humans, both mentally and physiologically. It would seem that the general consensus of opinion is that happiness is the most common feeling to be derived from listing to music, especially given it's ability to stimulate the release of neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. I'm not about to disagree with this research but I'd also like to add another effect that I take pleasure in experiencing when playing a record for the first time - confusion. Some of the most confusing, strange and downright "difficult" albums I've initially encountered have gone on to become absolute favourites over time and I suspect that this will become one of them.

I've had this album on my hard drive for quite a few weeks now and only recently had the chance to add it to my iTunes library. A few moments after sitting down to listen for the first time, I had to check that I'd sourced the correct playlist as I was sure I had inadvertantly selected a collection of tape recordings from circa 1979.

As far as I can tell, Thought Broadcast is led by New York artist Ravi Binning. There may be other people involved in the project but that information isn't readily available, partly due to the fact that the band's name is also a commonly reported symptom of schizophrenia and therefore hard to pin down relevant search engine results.

This self titled album consists of twelve tracks fashioned from monotone synth bleeps, minimal beat box rhythms and a variety of additional atonal sounds generated by other analogue machines. Binning's voice appears on most tracks, his vocals scrambled and rendered all but unintelligible through sheets of cassette tape hiss and smudged ferric murk. To say that this set is lo-fi would be a massive understatement but I think it's sonic limitations merely add to the overall effect. Think new wave/no wave minimal electronics or pre-punk/post-punk experimentation. It's hard not to deny the antecedents here; Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire being the main sources of influence. Coincidently, when adding this album to my iTunes library I noticed that it sat directly above the first entry in my Throbbing Gristle back catalogue, segueing perfectly into their Second Annual Report album.

With Thought Broadcast, Ravi Binning has created an album of oblique, submerged, aphotic brilliance that perfectly recalls a specific point in music history and ends up sounding like one of it's lost classics. There are quite a few people out there at the moment using this timeframe as a source of reference but no-one has yet managed to sound so focussed or accomplished as this.

There are a few copies remaining from a limited run of heavyweight vinyl in a silkscreened sleeve via the Olde English Spelling Bee online shop. A digital download version is also available through Boomkat and Juno.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Tropic of Cancer - Permissions of Love

There seems to have been a huge resurgence of interest in post punk and it's more minimal, electronic cousin over the past few years. This has led to some fantastic reissues (4AD's recent This Mortal Coil remasters) and a clutch of intelligent compilations (two volumes of The Minimal Wave Tapes from Stones Throw and Strange Passion from the always reliable Finders Keepers) - all of which are indispensable listening.

After a recent session delving amongst these dusty old records in my library, I spent a good few days listening to early albums by two of the unsung heroes of the Factory Records catalogue; Section 25 and Crispy Ambulance. I couldn't help think how distinctive and incredibly relevant they sounded after around thirty years.

And so, when I read the first review of Permissions of Love, the first thing that caught my eye was a reference to Section 25. Coincidences like this usually result in some interesting outcomes so I snagged a copy of the EP on the same day.

Tropic of Cancer are Camella Lobo and John Mendez (who also records as Silent Servant) from California and have released a handful of records so far on esteemed imprints such as Downwards and Blackest Ever Black. Back in May they also played live with so much noise favourites Demdike Stare and Vatican Shadow, this is a mightily impressive pedigree for a band with such a short history.

The EP contains three tracks clocking in at around fourteen and a half minutes and is the band's first release on Italy's Mannequin label. From the outset, it's clear that the early Factory aesthetic casts a huge shadow across this record. The drum machine sound has that unmistakable attack of classic period Martin Hannett productions and underpins ghostly synth drones, sparse guitars and beautifully submerged vocals cloaked in an opium haze of reverb. There's also a definite 4AD feel to these tracks too, dripping as they are with the kind of emotionally charged, gothic paeans to love and loss that haunted some of their finest releases.

It can be argued that nothing contained across these tracks is entirely new or original but that doesn't detract from the feelings they instilled in me after an initial spin. Maybe it's partly due to my love for the music that has clearly influenced this set; these were some of my earliest obsessions as a teenager. But then again, maybe it's because this is an incredibly good release from a band who are still building up to their first album and are already clearly operating at the height of their powers.

The digital download version of this EP can be obtained via the Mannequin Records Bandcamp page. Previous releases are also available from a variety of sources, all of which come highly recommended and are well worth tracking down.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Prostitutes - Psychedelic Black

Psychedelic Black by Prostitutes first came to my attention back in March as I happened to accidentally stumble upon a piece about it's recording on a blog. I immediately headed over to the stabUdown website and decided to keep an eye out for a release, five months later and here is the finished article. This is a very limited pressing - only 100 hand numbered copies are available so I didn't hang about long and neither should you.

It's described on the website as "8 tracks that orbit the center label like rusted out satellites launched by a dead civilization" and I think that gives a pretty good description of what's contained within the beautifully silk screened jacket.

The first few tracks immediately put me in mind of the kind of ferric experiments undertaken by early electronic pioneers such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire - all blunted pulses, grimy reverb and queasy synth drones. But the album quickly progresses beyond these influences and throws in a stripped down electro-Krautrock jam (Get Off The Streets), some post-punk/new wave tinged pop (Flipped Pieces of Coin) and even a new age synth miniature, complete with wind chimes (Rogue Elephants).

This is a record that was most definitely worth the wait and should be grabbed from the label shop quickly whilst they're still available. I'd dearly love to see this one given a digital release too as it really should be heard by more people. I suspect those initial hundred copies will disappear rapidly once the word spreads.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The art and music of Foster-m

When I was first introduced to Foster-m he was working temporarily in a very badly lit studio. He switched on a lamp and angled it so that his paintings could be seen a little more clearly but this wasn't really necessary as the canvasses spoke for themselves. They were incredible; huge meshes of coloured lines, drips and submerged human forms which incorporated symbols, slogans, elements of collage and anatomical diagrams. The copious layers of colour were exceptionally vivid, he explained that he uses any kind of paint he can get his hands on from oils and acrylics to household gloss. In some of his paintings, he also utilises items he finds in skips outside his studio which is located in Sheffield's old industrial quarter; wood, tiles and various pieces of discarded factory waste. 

Everything is used to it's fullest effect in his work, from the source materials to the vibrant colours, densely layered paint textures, compositional structure and various application techniques. He spoke about his work in terms of an expression of the struggles he experienced in his early life growing up in Sheffield's notorious Kelvin flats complex - a failed social experiment in high-rise living which was built in the 1960s and is now, thankfully demolished. Foster also talked passionately about his love of music, telling me that he was currently listening (amongst others) to the Lost Tapes box set by Can, various Demdike stare albums and a variety of post punk, cold wave and minimal techno releases.

He told me how he had spent his formative years saving up what money he could to buy records from a variety of Sheffield's tiny specialist shops, most of which are now long gone. We spoke of a shared interest in the work of early pioneers in electronic and experimental music as well as countless forgotten Sheffield post punk bands and a lifetime spent tracking down rare records, not for the sense of élitism attached to their ownership or ridiculous resale values but for the music they contained. Music it seems plays as much a part in the life of Foster-m as his painting.

After further conversation, I discovered that he was an active participant in the local Sheffield music scene from the 1980s onwards and was instrumental in setting up the Audiolaceration label in 2000 which specialises in limited releases covering all forms of experimental music. The website is worth a visit as there are still some CD releases available. He was also involved in the production of a record called Saint Agnes Fountain which purports to be a lost session from the 1970s by Japanese music student Masayo Asahara. It's an incredible piece of work which features manipulated organ drones, free jazz outbursts and Krautrock/prog sensibilities. A press review at it's release in 2004 likened it to the sound of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Mike Ratledge and the Art Ensemble of Chicago jamming with Faust in 1973. The album is still available on CD over at the Discus website and is highly recommended.

Foster-m is also a bass player and turntablist amongst other things and was recently recorded using contact microphones applied to the canvas whilst painting. The resulting sounds were treated, edited together and eventually pressed onto vinyl. He is a restless, inveterate explorer and experimenter in both art and sound.

At the end of our meeting, I stood looking at one of the large canvasses he was currently working on and noticed that he had written something across the bar which held a tarpaulin to the wall behind it. The words read as follows;

"I really don't give a fuck what you see in my painting… I'm more interested in what you hear!"

This is, in my mind at least, one of the most honest statements made by an artist in relation to their work, irrespective of discipline.

An exhibition of new paintings by Foster-m called Exposed Interiors Vs. Opaque Occupants will open on Friday the 10th of August at the Snig Hill Gallery in Sheffield.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Slaves - Spirits of the Sun

An album review is a very important piece of writing. Some records just don't get the exposure that they rightly deserve due to an unfavourable write-up or inaccurate description of it's sound. The annals of music history are littered with records which are now considered to be classics, but were critically panned at their time of release leading to commercial failure. However, sometimes a review manages to capture the sound and feel of an album perfectly which causes a bypass of the 'preview' mechanism and leads straight to the 'purchase' reflex.

The opening sentence of this album's review on Boomkat ran as follows; "...reminiscent of Grouper with a brutal, doom-stricken underbelly that at turns sounds like My Bloody Valentine, Sunn O))) and Slowdive." Being a huge fan of each of these four groups I immediately went on the hunt for Spirits of the Sun but was disappointed to find that it had only been issued on vinyl. A few weeks later, Digitalis saw fit to make it available digitally and so I downloaded it without delay.

First track '111' begins with a damaged chorale of female vocals supplied by Barbara Kinzle and is joined by an abrasive swell of guitar which completely swamps the track toward the end. The vocal incantations make a brief return before segueing into 'River' which stretches out the billowing guitar modulations for almost ten minutes. 'The field' casts a slightly more brooding shadow as it utilises a series of ominous chords but everything is just a build-up to the album's longest piece, 'Born Into Light'. The track uses more vocal harmonies, this time a combination of male and female timbres which are run through with shimmering drones. At around the five minute mark, Birch Cooper's guitar starts to surface once more and gradually throws up suffocating clouds of distortion, increasing in volume and intensity as the track progresses.

So, was that review an accurate summing up of this incredible debut? Well, I can see where each of the aforementioned bands' influences may be drawn from but that's nowhere near the full picture in my opinion. I'd also have to mention the work of Popol Vuh, Flying Saucer Attack and Stars of the Lid as additional points of reference. Ultimately though, this is a record which easily transcends it's obvious influences and, using only a limited set of sounds creates something utterly beautiful which is more than deserving of your attention.

Head over to the Digitalis Bandcamp site to purchase the digital download, a vinyl version is still available.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Demdike Stare - Collected Mixes & Podcasts

This past week has been a bit of a challenge for me in one way or another but, as ever, music has kept me going through it all. I still have a pile of new material to get through as well as some rather interesting old releases including several albums of library music from the 1970s, a few more Sun Ra LPs for my ever expanding collection and a rather superb 20 disc box set of rare UK psychedelia and freakbeat tracks. But, despite all of this I have found myself turning back to the work of Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty time after time.

If it were possible to wear out mp3s like vinyl then I'm sure I'd have replaced my Demdike Stare albums at least a couple of times now, such is the frequency at which they are played. It's unlikely that there will be any new material with us this year after the completion of the Elemental series and their other activities so I began to wonder if they'd done any mixes to bolster my catalogue. After an hour of searching, I was surprised to learn that there are no fewer than seven mixes/podcasts which are all available for free in various places online and duly downloaded each of them.

As these sessions were all given away free, I decided to reference them in a single location to make their discovery and acquisition a little more straightforward. To my knowledge they have never been issued as official releases so hopefully I'm not contravening any copyright laws by sharing them here. If anyone connected with the production of these mixes thinks otherwise then please contact me directly and I will remove them immediately.

The six downloads presented here are as follows;

Moving Metals - Issued by Modern Love records in 2009

FACT Mix 151 - Issued by FACT magazine in 2010

Unsound Podcast - Issued by Unsound in 2010

XLR8R Podcast - Issued by XLR8R in 2011

Irrational Advice - Issued by Modern Love records in 2011

Needle Exchange Mix 053 - Issued by Self-Titled Daily magazine in 2011

PlayGround Mix 066 - Issued by PlayGround magazine in 2012

I won't provide my usual descriptions here as I think you have a good idea what you're getting into if you've continued reading this far. Suffice to say that each session is a combination of Demdike Stare tracks and textures mixed with a variety of source materials covering drone, electronics, jazz, progressive rock, library music and much more besides. It's a testament to Miles and Sean's skills as producers/arrangers that the finished pieces are every bit as good as their studio output and contain some extremely forward thinking music which, even as an aficionado of outré sounds had me reaching for my iPad frequently to look up tracks.

It's also worth mentioning that only a few of these sessions have a proper tracklist (which can be found under the 'Lyrics' tab) but this shouldn't be a barrier to your enjoyment. Also, artwork was either non existent or too small in size for my use  (with the exception of Irrational Advice) so I decided to create my own using a generic template featuring the Demdike Stare skull logo.

I hope a few of these mixes are new to you too and that they serve to tide you over until the next official Demdike Stare emission is with us. If anyone knows of any other mixes/sessions/podcasts out there which are freely available then please let me know and I'll keep this page updated.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Fetch

The term 'genius' is often used without much supporting evidence these days. It seems that anyone who has achieved a few critically acclaimed goals in their chosen profession has this honour bestowed upon them by the media, lazily elevating them to deity status. 

Moritz Von Oswald is however, in my mind at least, worthy of this title and then some. He originally worked as percussionist in German avant garde band Palais Schaumburg before going on to play drums for Scottish new wave darlings The Associates from 1985 onwards. Von Oswald then moved into music production and worked with Thomas Fehlmann under the 2MB & 3MB monikers. He then founded the Basic Channel label with Mark Ernestus, recording under a variety of aliases including Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound and Maurizio. His influence on techno, particularly minimal and dub variants, and also within the wider sphere of electronic music is inestimable. His touch, technique and signature sound is still very much in evidence some seventeen years after the Basic Channel label ceased operations. It's hard to imagine where electronic music would be without the influence of luminaries such as Moritz Von Oswald.

The first Moritz Von Oswald Trio album - Vertical Ascent, was issued in 2009 featuring the talents of engineer/producer Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (better known as Vladislav Delay). This was followed up by the albums Live in New York (2010) and Horizontal Structures (2011) - huge favourites here at the noise.

And so we arrive at the new record - Fetch, which consists of four long-form compositions that manage to enmesh elements of dub, techno and jazz, bending them into a whole new series of shapes in the process. The album opens with 'Jam', a seventeen minute improvisation which throws random outbursts of sax, dissonant electronics and various textures against a grainy rhythm track. One of Fetch's revolving cast of collaborators, Mark Muellbauer adds bass which, along with touches of electric piano gives the piece a distinct jazz feel. The segue into next track 'Dark' is flawless, the pace dropping a few beats as a smoky, dub-like atmosphere develops. Third track 'Club' builds on a more recognisable, Basic Channel minimal techno chassis adding more grit, grain and heavily processed percussive hits. The album ends with 'Yangissa', a fourteen minute excursion into blunted tribal aesthetics with a muted, spidery bassline. At the halfway mark, almost everything but the spongy kick is dialled down and the rest of the track plays out in a clattering tangle.

Fetch is an altogether looser, more organic proposition than it's predecessors, due in part to the fact that it was apparently pieced together from a four hour improv session which saw the core trio joined by Mark Muellbauer (bass) and Tobias Freund (live electronics and effects). The recordings were then later processed by Von Oswald who added further contributions from Jonas Shoen (flute, clarinet and saxophone) and Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet).

This comes highly recommended to anyone looking for further expansions into minimal / dub techno, jazz or experimental electronics - basically anything recently covered on so much noise such is the scope of this record. 

Head over to Honest Jon's Records to buy vinyl, CD and download versions.