A Few Forthcoming Releases (July)

Incoming stuff on the radar.

7th July

BECK Modern Guilt (Rough Trade)

BUG London Zoo (Ninja Tune)

BURIAL DJ Kicks (K7)

HAROLD BUDD / CLIVE WRIGHT A Song For Lost Blossoms (Darla)

KLAUS SCHULZE / LISA GERRARD Farscape (SPV)

LEILA Blood Looms and Blooms (Warp)

MELVINS Nude With Boots (Southern)

PATTI SMITH & KEVIN SHIELDS The Coral Sea (Cargo)

SAUL WILLIAMS the Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust (One Label)

TRICKY Knowle West Boy (Domino)

UNKLE End Titles…Stories For A Film (Surrender All)

 

14th July

ALTER EGO What’s Next (Klang)

POLAR BEAR Polar Bear (Tin Angel)

RED KRAYOLA Fingerpointing (Drag City)

WIRE Object 47 (Pink Flag)

 

21st July

BRASSICA Microvictories (Tartaruga)

MAX RICHTER 24 Postcards in Full Colour (Fat Cat)

 

28th July

DANIEL PADDEN Pause For The Jet (Dekorder)

DINOSAUR JR Hand It Over (Rhino)

HINT Driven From Distraction (Tru Thoughts)

JOHN ZORN News For Lulu (Hatology)

MACHINEFABRIK Dauw (Dekorder)

SONIC YOUTH / MATS GUSTAFSSON / MERZBOW Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth (SYR)

 

4th August

DURUTTI COLUMN Treatise on the Steppenwolf (LTM)

GASMAN Superlife (Planet Mu)

 

18th August

STEREOLAB Chemical Chords (4AD)

 

1st September

FUJIYA & MYIAGI Lightbulbs (Full Time Hobby)

MY BLOODY VALENTINE Loveless / Isn’t Anything (Remastered reissues) (Sony)

 

8th September

CALEXICO Carried To Dust (Touch & Go)

NEW YEAR New Year (Touch & Go)

 

22nd September

MOGWAI The Hawk Is Howling (PIAS)

Gig: Hey! You! Get Off My Pavement! (Mono, Glasgow, 29/6/2008)

The weather forecasters threatened a repeat of 2007′s drizzle-fest, and it was lashing down when the gates opened an hour late. In the end, the elements were relatively benign, although nobody was going to go home with a tan. Hey You Get Off My Pavement is Mono’s annual mini-festival held outside the vegan restaurant-cum-bar-cum-record emporium on its large triangular courtyard with further acts playing inside. It has the atmosphere of a summer fète, with outdoor bars and a barbecue. No bouncy castle, though.

Thirteen bands over ten hours for eighteen quids is not a bad return – although not according to one woman who threw a wobbly at the gate when told the price. Did she just fall through a crack in the space-time continuum from 1974 or something? Proceedings were kicked off by the Sparkling Shadazz who mocked the leaden skies with a great set of surf-beat instrumentals straight out of the Dick Dale school. Although all the songs sounded like they could have beamed in from 1963, the only one I recognised as a definite cover was “The Munsters” theme. They were great, although I thought they would have been better off playing a bit later when people’s reserve had worn off a bit. They definitely get my prize for the most ironic band in the UK – a surf combo from Glasgow!

Pictish Trail is one of the Fence Collective and was accompanied by others like King Creosote. It was a set fairly typical of the collective’s collective folkish-pop. He seems to be the only member to eschew face-fuzz, though. Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock-Pickers are a spin-off of Glasgow semi-legends Uncle John and Whitelock. They reminded me of those Ron Johnson type bands that Peel used to play in the late eighties – a bit Dave Howard Singers, a bit Shock Headed Peters too. They were OK.

European Union are alt-rock refugees from the era when Dinosaur Jr ruled the earth. They opened proceedings indoors, before the horror that was Stevie Jackson (from Belle and Sebastian) did his thing outside. I’ve always had an allergic reaction to B&S’s winsome wimp-pop, and I lasted two songs of Jackson’s set before going into an insulin-shock through a surfeit of sugar. The first sounded like something Brian Cant would sing on Playschool, and the second was full of references to rhyming Parisians (Juliet Greco / Victor Hugo – please make him stop!)

As palate cleansers go, the Gummy Stumps couldn’t have been better. A guitar/drums/vocals trio, they sound like a cross between the Fall and Lightning Bolt. Actually, they don’t really sound like anyone. The vocals are bellowed out in a seldom-wavering monotone, whilst the drums thunder and Rob-from-Park Attack twists some pretty amazing noise from his abused guitar. Noisy shouty punk is easy to do – noisy shouty punk that sounds like nothing on earth is a lot harder. Probably my band of the day.

Foxface are like a parallel universe Sons and Daughters who had been brought up on Dick Gaughan rather than Johnny Cash. They share a penchant for fierce pop tunes, but have a folky side. Indeed, I think it’s their slower tunes that are the more effective. They are a great live band, although they seemed to suffer from some equipment problems that led to a bit of a stop-start set that didn’t flow as it should. The Week That Was and School of Language were both fairly mainstream indie acts which went in one ear and out the other to the extent that I remember little about either.

Hamburg’s Felix Kubin is an oddball – a chain-smoking geek dressed like a 1970s catalogue model, he was cursed with a wonky synth that made some of his off-kilter technopop sound even more bizarre. His music has hints of Yello and DAF: at times quirky, but at times going into full-on Tresor techno mode. He was followed by Plaaydoh. My friend pulled a face like she’d just swallowed a lemon, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. Their thrashy, dada-ist pop sounds like the Ting Tings jamming with Melt-Banana. Shambolic, shouty, simplistic, but a whole bundle of fun. Their mash-up of Springsteen’s “Born To Run” was plain mental. But in a good way.

John B McKenna’s singer-songwriter stuff was ill-suited to the hour he was on, and few were inclined to listen. Headliners Camera Obscura closed out the festival with a set that was shortened due to the whole thing over-running. By the time they came on, temperatures had plunged, as had most people’s energy levels. Both times I’ve seen them previously was in brilliant sunshine – something they are perfectly suited to. Cold gloom is not really their ideal environment. Even so, they managed to lift the spirits of the (somewhat depleted) crowd with a selection of tunes old and new. They are a great pop band, with the same ear for a tune as the Delgados had, but with a much more upbeat and optimistic air.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. I think that both the weather and the general standard of the music was an improvement on last year. Maybe next year’s will be lucky enough to coincide with Glasgow’s seven-day summer.

Album: BRASSICA – Microvictories (Tartaruga TTRCD002 2008)

Microvictories is subtitled ‘songs sculpted from a scrapbook of experiments, field recordings, improvisations, thoughts and reactions to times and places’. That’s a fairly broad and all-encompassing manifesto. It’s the work of one Michael Anthony Wright, aka Brassica, and shares a similar outlook on the methods of music making to that of Norwegian duo Alog. At times it’s barely more than a random collection of clicks and clacks, scratches and other micro-sounds, but then things begin to coalesce into something with more form and structure. Third track “The First Education”, for example, sounds like the highly magnified noise of ants scuttling across leaf-litter, before building, almost unnoticeably, into a brooding mixture of strummed strings and cello drone and then fading before really blossoming. “Untitled (miniscuses)” (can you subtitle something untitled?) is a fragile piece for acoustic guitar and what sounds like a toy xylophone, whereas “Objective 1 (tangible)” is barely that (tangible).

By track five you have the album pegged as a collection of intricate, delicate microscopic sounds, but “Mull” wrong-foots you completely as it builds into a fuzz of electrostatic noise and feedback. And then “Thank You, Mr Francis” shoots off into another direction entirely with a sweet analogue electronic melody reminiscent of Boards of Canada. “Objective 2 (Meta)” has us in Oliver Postgate territory as it gurgles along like something from the Clangers’ world, before “Flams” bashes the listener over the head with two minutes of drums and drone thunder. “Welcome” has a driving bass guitar riff overlaid with all manner of electronic noise that sounds like the mangled noise of cassette loaded ZX Spectrums. Microvictories is stylistically all over the place, but it’s an intriguing forty minute journey. It’s a bit like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle that you can’t help returning to in order to find a couple more pieces that fit into the main picture. Some of it is immediate, and some of it makes you work – but often the rewards seem greater when you have to put more effort in to get them.

Tartaruga Records is only two releases old, but already they’ve set impeccably high standards when it comes to packaging. Microvictories comes in a handstamped gatefold card sleeve which is sewn rather than glued, and includes a set of ten art cards, each designed by a different artist and each corresponding to one of the album’s ten tracks. It’s a lovely artefact – a reminder of what is in danger of being lost as the world rushes headlong into the realm of ones and zeroes.

The album will be released on July 21st in an edition limited to just 200 copies.

The First Education (September 1985) by Oliver Barrett

Conveyor Belt (on the way out) by Mathieu Ranson

Tracks
1 Conveyor Belt (on the way in) 3:19
2 Objective 1 (tangible) 1:32
3 The First Education (September 1985) 7:09
4 Untitled (miniscuses) 6:02
5 Mull (until the mind begins to blister) 6:04
6 Thank You, Mr Francis 5:38
7 Objective 2 (meta) 2:21
8 Flams? 1:55
9 Welcome (a piss in the river) 5:18
10 Conveyor Belt (on the way out) 1:59

Website
www.tartarugarecords.com

 

Album: BUILD – Build (New Amsterdam NWAM008 2008)

Thirty or so years ago, classical/rock crossover was the sort of thing that made the heart sink faster than the arrival of a quarterly gas bill. It was usually instigated by rock musicians whose egos were way bigger than any accompanying talent. The classical players roped in, would grimace and squirm with embarrassment, kept going only with the promise of a big wad of cash at the end of it. Think Deep Purple, Keith Emerson, Paul McCartney etc. and weep silently at the horror of it all.

Things are very different these days. A trail was blazed in the nineties by the likes of Rachel’s. These were a new generation of musician – classically trained, but who grow up with the punk rock ethos that anyone can and should have a go. The long-standing borders between ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ music were sneered at, and a new kind of creativity came to the fore whose only boundaries were those of the imagination. The last decade or so has seen a rich growth of this kind of genre-defying music. Some is wilfully experimental and self-consciously difficult, but some is readily accessible to anyone open minded enough to try. The ‘indie’ hoards haven’t yet traded their guitars for violins, but who knows, that day may come soon. Surely there’s only so many times you can recycle the past.

Brooklyn based Build are a quintet rooted firmly in the small ensemble classical tradition, but with influences that stretch from Steve Reich’s minimalism to bluegrass. One major difference is that they have, in Adam Gold, a drummer who underpins things with rock, jazz and r&b rhythms. The group’s leader is violinist and composer Matt McBane, and it’s his playing that takes centre stage through most of their self-titled debut. Unlike many acts working in this field, the predominant mood is not sombre and reflective. This is much more active, almost jumpy music. “Magnet” has an almost punk intensity that brings to mind Canadian duo Hangedup, although with a flavour of the good time hoedown about it. “Imagining Winter” is much darker, and probably the strongest piece of the five. It’s brooding, cold and vaguely threatening, like the soundtrack to an expressionist horror film. “No Response” is the only piece that allows a quiet melancholy to intrude. “Drivin’”, by far the longest track, was written partly in homage to Steve Reich, and it has a slightly harsh, cyclical sound that has echoes of the speed of the road.

Build is a very promising debut. The only criticism I would venture is that McBane does hog the limelight a bit, and it would be good if some of the other players were pushed to the fore more often. Great cover too.

Tracks
1 In The Backyard 4:08
2 Magnet 4:41
3 No Response 4:43
4 Imagining Winter 6:07
5 Drivin’ 13:42

Website
www.myspace.com/buildbuildbuild

 

Cult Albums: #6 IDAHO – Year After Year (1993)

Idaho could be the archetypal cult act. They’ve been going for ages with little in the way of mainstream attention or commercial success, but have a small, deeply loyal and dedicated following. I first came across them some fifteen years ago when they were featured on a cover mounted cassette that came with Lime Lizard magazine (blimey, I forgot all about that publication – I seem to remember it being pretty good) called Altered States of America. Nestling alongside some excellent stuff from Girls vs Boys, Jesus Lizard, Polvo and the mighty Come was “Skyscrape” by Idaho, a slow, sad, feedback drenched lament. I was smitten. Year After Year became high on my wants list, and when a copy fell into my hands, I wasn’t disappointed.

At the time of this, their debut long player, Idaho were a duo of Jeff Martin on vocals and John Berry on guitar – everything else was also played by the pair bar three tracks with guest drummers. Tempos were slow, and the mood uniformly sombre (except when it was positively anguished). This wasn’t happy music. Existing somewhere in the space between Red House Painters and Low, what marked Idaho out from the crowd was the guitar-work and the extensive use of sustained feedback as opposed to gentle strumming. It sounded as tormented as the songs themselves. “Skyscrape” was a highlight, but tracks like “Gone” and “Memorial Day” were its equal. The final track “Endgame” is magnificent, but an even more striking version entitled “You Are There” appeared on the group’s first release, the four song Palms EP.

Berry left before the follow-up record This Way Out was recorded. I seem to recall that some kind of substance problem was the issue. Happily he was back for 2005′s The Lone Gunman. In the interim, Martin put together a four piece group who were responsible for a series of excellent records. None quite matched the heights of their debut, though. The album is still in print and should be easy enough to track down.

“Skyscrape” recorded live at the Knitting Factory in 1996 and featuring the bleach-blond Dan Seta with some stunning, restrained guitar work.

Tracks
1 God’s Green Earth 3:44
2 Skyscrape 4:11
3 Gone 5:21
4 Here To Go 4:56
5 Sundown 4:33
6 Memorial Day 4:25
7 One Sunday 2:12
8 The Only Road 4:00
9 Let’s Cheat Death 1:36
10 Save 3:46
11 Year After Year 5:48
12 End Game 5:36

Originally issued in October 1993 on Caroline, CAROL136 in the US and Quigley QUIGD4 in the UK.

Album: NALLE – The Siren’s Wave (Locust Music 109 2008)

Nalle (Finnish for ‘little bear’) are a Glasgow based avant-folk trio led by Anglo-Finn Hanna Tuulikki. The Siren’s Wave is their second album, following on from 2006′s By Chance Upon Waking. Using a bewildering array of instrumentation, ranging from analogue Moogs and oscillators to bouzouki, harmonium, clarinet and viola, they craft loose, drone and raga based elemental folk music. This is not the sort of stuff you’ll hear in an upstairs room at a rural pub on a Tuesday night – certainly not in this form.

The Siren’s Wave consists of six lengthy pieces, dominated by Tuulikki’s, by turn angelic and rasping, voice. Tracks unfurl slowly, and the instrumentation can be doggedly out there at times, with an accordion drone, some seemingly random plucks of the dulcimer, and melodies that form and then disappear. It can sound unsettling and chaotic – almost anti-music – but then suddenly flower into something gorgeous. Sometimes it seems that it is only the viola of the One Ensemble’s Aby Vulliamy and the bouzouki of Chris Hladowski that keeps it from floating off into the ether.

The first three tracks are particularly challenging, and suffer a little from a lack of variation in pace and structure. The second half of the record is more grounded and eclectic. “Secret of the Seven Sirens” is equipped with a melody you can whistle and some fine ensemble singing (a strong suit of the group’s which is underused in the first half of the album), and even breaks into what sounds like a Balkan dance midway through. “Alice’s Ladder” is a fragile little thing that leads into the final track “First Eden Sank to Grief”, which features some marvellous polyphonic chanting from the trio. It’s a beautiful end to an album that can be a bit frustrating at times. If all the tracks were as good as the final three, then The Siren’s Wave would be something very special indeed.

Tracks
1 Nothing Gold Can Stay 5:10
2 Young Light 8:11
3 Voi Ruusuni (A Rose) 10:31
4 Secret of the Seven Sirens 10:18
5 Alice’s Ladder 3:31
6 First Eden Sank to Grief 6:32

Website
http://www.myspace.com/nallemusic

 

Harry Smith Anthology Remixed (CCA, Glasgow) / Glasgow School Of Art Degree Show

In the first half of the twentieth century, the American record industry was purely about ‘the now’. Music was recorded, records pressed and sold, and everybody moved on to the next thing. There was little attempt to go back, take stock, and put the growing recorded legacy into some kind of context (with the possible exception of jazz). That changed in 1952 when experimental filmmaker and record collector Harry Smith compiled the groundbreaking Anthology of American Folk Music, a series of three double vinyl albums issued on Folkways Records. It’s a project that was only made practical by the invention of the long playing microgroove record just a few years before. Smith took as his parameters the period between 1927, when electrical recording became standard thus allowing a far better sound quality, and 1932 when the music industry had retracted to almost a tenth of its previous size due to the Depression, and folk music recordings had almost ceased completely.

The 84 recordings he chose were split into three broad themes – Ballads, Social Music and Songs (a fourth collection, Labor Songs, remained uncompleted until 2000 when it was issued alongside the others by Revenant Records. It’s not been included in this project.). Each song was accompanied by a short liner note written by Smith, under a tabloid newspaper style headline which acted as a witty encapsulation of the story told within. Many of the songs are now very familiar – “Single Girl, Married Girl”, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”, “Henry Lee”, “The House Carpenter”, “Kassie Jones” etc etc. This is hardly surprising since the collection was extremely influential on the fifties folk revival, and songs were plundered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, Joan Baez and virtually everybody else on the Greenwich Village coffee house scene. Van Ronk put it best when he said “we all knew every word of every song on it, including the ones we hated.”

Harry Smith Anthology Remixed has a simple premise: take each of the 84 songs, and ask an artist to create a visual representation of it. The result is an exhibition that’s as witty, moving, innovative and human as the songs themselves. Contributors to the exhibition include musicians like Michael Nyman, DJ Spooky, Yamantaka Eye, Vashti Bunyan and Jad Fair, as well as a whole host of established and up-and-coming visual artists. Media used includes graphic art, collage, photography, painting and sculpture – but each piece is uniformly sized and framed.

Bill Drummond’s response is typically anti-art, coming in the form of an e-mail message suggesting that he couldn’t think of a suitable artistic statement. But most of the artists have taken the challenge seriously and come up with something thoughtful and original. Some I particularly like include Mark Vernon and Barry Burns’ spoof medicine show poster for Coley Jones’ “Drunkard’s Special” which includes a whole host of made-up entertainers and entertainments including a paper aeroplane competition. New York musician Jeffrey Lewis has turned Uncle Eck Dunford’s “Old Shoes and Leggins” into a very funny comic strip, which reminded me a bit of Robert Crumb. In complete contrast, :zoviet*france: illustrate Joseph Falcon’s “Arcadian One-Step” with a small metallic sculpture inspired by the accordion.

It’s a fascinating project. Smith died in 1991, but were he still alive today I think he would have been thrilled with the varied and original responses to the tunes he collated.

 

***

 

Earlier, I attended the annual degree show at the Glasgow School of Art. It’s something I’ve meant to do in previous years but never have. I was very impressed by the general standard. Cynically, I expected to be confronted with a lot of sculptures consisting of a load of crap strewn on the floor, and semi-abstract paintings created with all the feeling and skill of a bored three year old, intermingled with a few oases of inspiration. OK, there was some of that – a few things that reeked of “will this do?” following three years spent in the pub, but on the whole, the standard of work was very high indeed – easily as good as many things I’ve seen at GoMA or the Tate Modern. The sheer volume of work on show meant that even spending a whole afternoon there was not enough to give many pieces more than a cursory glance. I probably missed a good deal completely. There was a lot I liked. Jonathan Barr had a series of sky photos that were almost featureless, and yet somehow very involving – like a visual equivalent of ambient music. In contrast, Susan Kennedy’s cannibalistic paintings were deeply disturbing. Technically they reminded me of Goya’s ‘black period’, but the subject matter was even darker – ordinary looking people holding severed heads, limp body parts, and in a couple of cases eating them.

Star of the show was undoubtedly James Houston, who also won the top prize. His video remix of Radiohead’s “Nude” using obsolete computer peripherals and a ZX Spectrum has quickly become an internet legend. It is fantastic, although not a million miles away from the work of established cut-up artists like EBN and especially Hexstatic. His short MTV indent piece is, to my mind, even better.

MTV from James Houston on Vimeo.

The artist I left most impressed by was Akiko Ueda. Her series of landscapes were inspired by a winter visit to northern Sweden. Some are simple charcoal lines on white paper, and some a combination of paper and painted glass which gives a misty 3D effect. They capture perfectly the icy, grey-white stillness of the Arctic winter. I found them absolutely stunning.

The Harry Smith Anthology Remixed is on at the CCA, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow until July 26th. The GSA degree show has now finished.

Website
http://www.cca-glasgow.com/events/harry_smith.html