EPs: ANTANAS JASENKA – Art Action (Clinical Archives CA193 2008); JOE FRAWLEY – Ritual Research (Clinical Archives CA195 2008); ADEPTUS – Humanity the Teenager (Clinical Archives CA196 2008)

Clinical Archives is one of the most prolific netlabels, with a roster of releases that increases almost by the week – and they are all free downloads. These are three of the most recent:

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Antanas Jasenka’s Art Action is derived from a laptop set he did at a festival in Austria back in May 2003, and subsequently remixed and remodelled. It’s a set of glitch and drone with symphonic flourishes and bursts of noise. It has more warmth than a lot of music found in this genre, with less reliance on data clicks, and machine-tooled precision. It also runs an interesting journey from the, sometimes, harsh and extroverted sounds of the first couple of tracks to the delicate tones and micro-clicks of the final two.

Tracks
01 Slashing rain 6:46
02 Slater 8:21
03 Single-seater 2:50
04 Single-track 3:09
05 St.Johan in Tirol 4:51
06 Silence 4:25

***

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Pianist Joe Frawley’s Ritual Research is a real oddity. It starts off with a lovely, but pretty conventional piano piece (the title track), but from then on in is a collage of looped voice samples, hymns, choirs and all manner of other effects. It has a strange impact on the listener, where the focus is drawn to different elements on each listen. The whole is far from a cacophony, with plenty of passages of grace and beauty, but is quite difficult to take in. It’s weird how certain voices and phrases stay with you long after the music has finished. Ritual Research is an interesting and rewarding project that is probably less of an intellectual challenge than I make it sound.

Tracks
01 Ritual Research 2:35
02 Inquiry 4:03
03 Hymn 1:21
04 Profana Sacra 6:58
05 Grounded Theory 4:45
06 Mistress of Ceremonies 3:58

***

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The third EP is by the mysterious, Brooklyn-based Adeptus. It has just three tracks, the first, and by far the longest, being the title piece “Humanity the Teenager”. It’s actually more of a suite than a single track. Beginning as a distant ambient drone, with glassy chimes like starlight, it then goes through a phase of steam-turbine like rhythms and ends with a simple and delicate techno-pop melody. “Indisputable Fact” is a beatless, dark ambient drone, while “New Kind” returns to the melodic IDM tune that closed the title track, but with a live bass and drums rhythm section. An interesting, eclectic and accessible release.

Tracks
01 Humanity The Teenager 16:41
02 Indisputable Fact 04:17
03 New Kind 06:44

***

Websites
www.clinicalarchives.spyw.com/
www.myspace.com/exerpm (Antanas Jasenka)
www.joefrawleymusic.info (Joe Frawley)
www.myspace.com/adeptusdiffuz (Adeptus)

Review of the Year Part 4 – Films

Just a top five – I didn’t see as many films as I wanted to this year. On the plus side, I managed to avoid any real stinkers, although Quantum of Solace was a pretty hollow experience.

5. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman)
The animation was a strange mixture of realism and almost comic book framing, and the narrative was part interviews, part flashbacks. It was a unique way of presenting a documentary about the film maker’s attempts to establish what really went on during the Lebanese Civil War of 1982 – a conflict that he was present at, but had little recollection of. In particular, it deals with a brutal massacre of Palestinians carried out by Lebanese Christians while the Israeli Army stood back and watched – either in complicity or in ignorance. Sometimes funny, but more often horrifying, it was a truly original piece of film making.

4. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
The world of Neapolitan organised crime shown from the point of view of the foot soldiers and small timers caught up with it, Gomorrah was in fact a portmanteau of four inter-weaved stories rather than a single narrative arc. There were no heroes on show, just people caught up in a stinking system they had little control over. Those who tried, either by embarking on an unsanctioned life of crime, or trying to escape the tentacles of corruption and retribution, were cut down or reined in. Only one character walks away unscathed. An unglamorous, brutal movie.

3. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
Possibly Pixar’s greatest work, yet, and certainly their most daring. The first half hour of wordless, visual comedy is stunning to look at, and quite sad, too, as the eponymous robot goes about his business – the last of his kind still functioning. The rest of the film is a more traditional tale of love and redemption as the humans finally return to earth, but is still done with a great deal of wit and invention.

2. No Country For Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Burn After Reading was amusing, well-acted, but pretty lightweight. The Coen’s first movie of the year was much more interesting. With the brothers’ usual cast of oddballs, understated dark humour and brutal violence, the plot felt somehow secondary to the characters, who were about as far from the one dimensional black hat / white hat ciphers as it’s possible to get.

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
A Citizen Kane for the 21st Century? There are a lot of parallels – self-made millionaires ending up tortured and isolated, and bravura central performances among them. Daniel Day-Lewis got a lot of plaudits for his performance as Daniel Plainview (and rightly so), but I think Paul Dano’s creepy, self-righteous and corrupt preacher was just as great a turn. A true modern classic

I also enjoyed the Orphanage, Jar City, In the Valley of Elah and the Baader-Meinhof Complex, whilst somehow managing to miss Hunger and In Bruges, whilst Bela Tarr’s The Man from London hasn’t come to Scotland yet.

Review of the Year Part 3 – Albums

As I Said before, feel free to send in your own lists, and I’ll publish them towards the end of the year.

Here are my thirty albums of the year, then. There have been a lot of good records issued this year, but only half a dozen or so really great ones. Though there are a fair few things on my ‘to hear’ list which might fall into that category.

30. ERSTLAUB – I Am the Line Drawn in the Sand Between the Living and the Dead (Highpoint Lowlife)

29. BRASSICA – Microvictories (Tartaruga)

28. GRAILS – Doomsdayer’s Holiday (Temporary Residence)

27. SUNKEN FOAL – Fallen Arches (Planet Mu)

26. BARRY LYNN – Balancing Lakes (Planet Mu)

25. ÓLAFUR ARNALDS – Variations of Static (Erased Tapes)

24. BLEEDING HEART NARRATIVE – All That Was Missing We Never Had in the World (Tartaruga)

23. STRAY GHOST – Losthilde (Highpoint Lowlife)

22. MOSCA – Blue Sunshine (One) (Phantom Channel)

21. THALIA ZEDEK BAND – Liars and Prayers (Thrill Jockey)

20. PAN SONIC – Kuvaputki (Blast First Petite DVD)

19. SUSUMU YOKOTA – Love or Die (Lo)

18. MIRA CALIX – The Elephant in the Room: 3 Commissions (Warp)

17. TINDERSTICKS – The Hungry Saw (Beggars Banquet)

16. ENGINE7 – Me, But Perfect (Herb)

15. MOGWAI – The Hawk Is Howling (Wall of Sound)

14. LINDSTRØM – Where You Go, I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound)

13. WILLIAM BASINSKI & RICHARD CHARTIER – Untitled 1-3 (Line)

12. CLARK – Turning Dragon (Warp)

11. MAX RICHTER – 24 Postcards in Full Colour (130701)

10. OUR SLEEPLESS FOREST – Our Sleepless Forest (Resonant)
The last release by Resonant records, and one of their best. Our Sleepless Forest mix a heady brew of dub, drone, post-rock ambience and shoegazy guitars into something uniquely theirs.

9. ALVA NOTO – Unitxt (Raster-Noton)
The second half of this CD consists of raw, unmixed data, which is pretty tough going. The first half, though, is some of Carsten Nicolai’s most accessible work, with the machines emitting some diamond hard beats as well as moments that are oddly moving.

8. MURCOF – The Versailles Sessions (Leaf)
In which Fernando Corona takes seventeenth century melodies and instrumentation, and transforms them into something weirdly alien – like that episode of Doctor Who set in the court of Louis XVI.

7. AUTECHRE – Quaristice (Warp)
This got mixed reactions when it came out, which I didn’t understand then, and still don’t. Autechre were in danger of painting themselves into a corner, and this album saw a radical shift in focus. Shorter tracks, beatless tracks – it had a greater variety of material than anything they’ve done in the past, and managed to be both forward-thinking and yet accessible at the same time.

6. THE BLACK DOG – Radio Scarecrow (Soma)
The Black Dog’s best work since 1995’s Spanners, this was unashamedly melodic and emotional electronica in an old school style. But it was far from being simply a piece of nineties nostalgia. A terrific and rewarding record.

5. EVANGELISTA – Hello, Voyager (Constellation)
Carla Bozulich’s second album for Constellation was, if anything, even more harrowing than the first. More than just an exercise in soul-bearing, this had the spirit and fire of an exorcism.

4. THEE SILVER MT ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (Constellation)
Four epic tracks, and no less than a soundtrack to the collapse of capitalism. Probably even more relevant now than it was nine months ago when it came out.

3. FENNESZ – Black Sea (Touch)
In some ways this is one of Christian Fennesz’s most uncompromising records, but it is also his most naked, musically. There are storms of noise, but also passages of quiet acoustic picking, and melodies of austere grace and beauty.

2. JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – Fordlandia (4AD)
Epic, neo-romantic strings, quiet minimalism, and moments of elegaic splendour. If anything, even better than 2006’s IBM 1401.

1. PORTISHEAD – Third (Island)
After eleven years away, Portishead could have returned with more of the same, sold a zillion copies, and faded into musical irrelevance. Instead, they radically reinvented themselves as an avant-garde rock band, but crucially kept intact the haunted qualities that made them great in the first place. Beth Gibbons has never sounded better, and there was hardly a wasted moment on the whole LP. The wails of betrayal from Middle England just added to the fun!

Album: OFF LAND – Grey Surfaces (Resting Bell RB046 2008)

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This is pretty good. Off Land (an Eno-esque pun?) is a chap called Tim Dwyer from Belmont, Massachusetts. Grey Surfaces is a set of glacial, ambient tracks which are infused with hazy melody, and augmented by various field recordings. The pace is leisurely, but the mood ranges from the laid back pastoralism of “Information Stencil” to the brooding menace of “Slow Blow”. What beats there are, are low key and mixed down.

“Trapezoid” starts with birdsong and dark drones and builds gradually with swirling organ loops. It sounds very much like pre-Virgin era Tangerine Dream. The five original compositions are augmented by a couple of remixes. Placement’s rejig of “Slow Blow” doesn’t add much to the original, but Ennio Mazzon’s excellent glitchy rework of “Input Shape” strips the track down into a fizz of microtones, high frequency hiss and quiet distortion.

Grey Surfaces is well worth a listen. It can be downloaded for free from the Berlin-based netlabel’s Resting Bell’s website below.

Tracks
1 Input Shape 3:40
2 Information Stencil 7:36
3 Slow Blow 7:16
4 Increase Swell 2:16
5 Trapezoid 10:38
6 Slow Blow (Placement Mix) 6:52
7 Input Shape (Ennio Mazzon Mix) 5:04

Websites
www.myspace.com/offlandmusic
www.restingbell.net/releases/rb046-grey-surfaces

Review of the Year Part 2 – Gigs

First up, I’ve been asked whether I would consider publishing readers’ top tens / twenties of the year. It sounded like an interesting idea, so if you’re interested in contributing, then the address is up there in the top left corner. If you have a blog / website / MySpace page and want it mentioned, then I’d be happy to. Get listing!

OK, 2008. Gig wise it was a bit of a damp squib, more due, I think, to my lack of pennies than a lack of things going on. Having said that, I’d be hard pressed to think of much that happened in Glasgow that I was really narked at missing. A few things here and there that it would have been nice to been at, but nothing to get me crouched in a corner wailing.

My top ten includes four sets from ATP (the Explosions one) which was the nearest thing I had to a holiday this year. :(

Here goes:

10. A HAWK AND A HACKSAW (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
9. SILVER JEWS (ATP, Minehead, 18th May)
8. WORLD’S END GIRLFRIEND (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)

Of these, I’d only seen World’s End Girlfriend before. On that occasion he was on his own with just a laptop and guitar. This time, with drummer in tow, it was a much more muscular experience. A mixture of self-sampling, laptop clicking and noise-rock. A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s Balkan folk was thoroughly enjoyable – so much so that I missed Saul Williams because I was having so much fun. The Silver Jews are a band I’ve never really got on record. Live, they made much more sense, even though it’s something they don’t do that often (play live that is).

7.MICHIYO YAGI (Stereo, Glasgow, 15th Feb)
Michiyo Yagi’s solo koto performance at the Instal after-hours do at Stereo was one of the unexpected highlights of this year’s event. Partly atonal and droney, partly imbued with a classical beauty, it was a revelation.

6.THE BLUE NILE (Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 9th Jul)
Despite the lack of new material (one as yet unreleased song) and the fact that the set list was almost identical to the Paul Buchanan solo-billed shows of a couple of years ago, a Blue Nile gig is still a Blue Nile gig. They still do melancholy, heartbreak and rain-swept loneliness like no other band. They seem to exist in their own unhurried time bubble, untouched by trends, changes or innovation. The music evolves, but without any perceptible outside influence.

5.RED SNAPPER (Oran Mor, Glasgow, 29th Nov)
Stripped down to basics, this was Red Snapper at their extrovert best. Eschewing vocals, and downtempo moments, it was a set of blistering jazz-funk aimed as much at the feet as it was the head. The new songs aired indicated that the time away has left them reinvigorated and at the very peak of their powers.

4.BRUCE McCLURE (CCA, Glasgow, 7th Dec)
Still fresh in my mind, although my ears have stopped ringing, Bruce McClure’s set at Kill Your Timid Notion was a brutal audio-visual treat. Flickering and morphing shapes provided by three trashed projectors was accompanied by a soundtrack of extreme noise, through which heard or imagined melodies emerged and were gobbled up in an ocean of intense drone.

3.TINDERSTICKS (City Halls, Glasgow, 5th Oct)
Their set may have concentrated largely on the latest album which is a very good record, but not their best, but that didn’t matter. I’ve never seen the band so at ease with themselves, their music and the audience. The loss of three founding members seems to have given them a new togetherness, and the result was a stunning performance.

2.THE NATIONAL (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
The National are a band who aren’t particularly innovative, but through an unbeatable combination of great musicianship and memorable songs, never disappoint live. They are everything that so many groups aspire to be but aren’t. They just have an instinctive knack of getting everything right. Much is down to singer Matt Berninger whose awkward, anti-charisma is coupled with a fantastic baritone that brings the songs alive.

1.MARGINAL CONSORT (Arches, Glasgow, 17th Feb)
This was one of the most remarkable live experiences of my life, not just of this year. Marginal Consort are four unassuming, middle aged Japanese guys who sit behind tables situated in the four corners of the room with the audience wandering around in the middle. With a bewildering array of household objects, modified instruments, blocks of wood and all sorts of other ephemera, they go on an improvised musical journey that can last for hours. At Instal, it was a three hour trip. Each responding to what his (unseen) colleagues are up to, the music evolves in all sorts of directions through the performance. Sometimes settling into trance-like grooves, sometimes descending into atonal dissonance, but never staying in any place for longer than is necessary, the music changes not just through time, but through space as the audience wander around and get a different mix of  sound. The last few seconds consisted of an aquarium water pump bubbling away into silence. And then there was an eruption from the audience quite unlike anything you usually get from the reserved intelligentsia that inhabit these events. It showed the possibilities of improvised music that I’ve seen no other musicians reach – creating new sounds that were, for all their strangeness, unquestionably musical. An amazing experience.

Review of the Year Part 1 – Compilations

I’m kicking off my review of 2008 with a list of five of the best compilations of both old and new material.

5. VARIOUS – Phantom Channel Presents Part 1 (Phantom Channel PHCH001-1)
Netlabel Phantom Channel launched this year with this excellent free, download only, compilation. A mixture of electronica, ambient drone and what could be loosely classified as post-rock, it was a strong opening statement.

4. VARIOUS – Magnetism, That Electricity (Highpoint Lowlife HPLL026)
This was a double vinyl extravaganza with a side each given to the Mandelbrot Set, Fisk Industries, the Village Orchestra and the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Ranging from dubby hip hop and neoclassical drone to melodic electronica, this was an exceptional collection with no weak links.

3. VARIOUS – The Complete Motown Singles Volume 10: 1970 (Hip-o-Select B0011056-02)
The Complete Motown singles series has been running since 2005, building up into a library of every track released on 45 by all of the Motown group of labels during the Detroit era. The packaging and sleevenotes are second to none. The music ain’t bad either. Volume 9 came out this year in the UK too. Volume 11a is already out in the US; its British release date is next month.

2. STEINSKI – What Does It All Mean: 1983-2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art IA116)
This was the first time that much of this material ever gained an official, above-board release. The first disc is a trawl through Steinski’s cut-and-paste turntablist classics conceived over nearly a quarter of a century, and the second an hour long mix created for the Solid Steel radio show. Anyone with more than a passing interest in hip hop and turntablism really ought to own this.

1. GAS – Nah und Fern (Kompakt CD66)
The complete Gas-works in a box for around three quid a disc? This has to be the bargain of the year (and I like my bargains!). Wolfgang Voigt produced these four albums between 1996 and 2000, and each is a classic of its kind. It’s ambient techno, I suppose, if you must pin a label on it, but with a breadth of vision and purpose seldom matched in its field. Nice packaging too, if a little uninformative.

Album: MURCOF – The Versailles Sessions (Leaf BAY67CD 2008)

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Conductor Thomas Beecham once said “the sound of the harpsichord resembles that of a bird-cage played with toasting-forks.” It’s a sentiment I share. In fact, most Baroque music leaves me cold. It’s too genteel, too shallow, designed not to offend the ladies of the aristocracy. I don’t suppose Fernando Corona agrees with me, since his latest collection is based around the opulent court of ‘the Sun King’, Louis XIV, who reigned throughout the second half of the seventeenth century (and well into the eighteenth). Or maybe he does, because The Versailles Sessions is no soundtrack for a bunch of bewigged, prancing ninnies in a gilt-drenched ballroom.

The music is played on a quartet of traditional Baroque intruments – viola da gamba, viola, flute and the aforementioned harpsichord and is based on the work of seventeenth century French composers such as Couperin and Lully. But then seriously abused. “Welcome to Versailles” makes its intentions very clear, and may come as much a shock to seasoned Murcof fans as it would to Louis and friends. Beginning with an ominous stomp, the track sets some seemingly random plucked strings against long drawn out drones with no hint of real melody emerging until eight minutes in.

The viola on “Louis XIV’s Demons” scrapes a ghostly sound and the harpsichord’s strings sound like suspension bridge wires snapping under tension. It’s an eerie piece of music. This isn’t a ‘difficult’ album. Strange, yes, but not difficult. “A Lesson for the Future” introduces the mezzo soprano of Sarah Jouffroy whose voice dies in a haze of echo to leave a simple harpsichord melody with a quivering Moog shadow.

“Death of a Forest” is a piece of sound sculpture – the instruments sounding like creaking branches, falling trees and braying dogs before breaking into a sombre melody, over which Jouffroy sounds a vocal requiem. It’s a darkly beautiful track that somehow reminds me of Future Sound of London’s “My Kingdom”. “Spring in the Artificial Gardens” is the most ‘traditionally’ Murcof sounding piece, with its swirling drones harking back to last year’s Cosmos album. It’s heady stuff.

The album closes with a dance by Louis’s court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully played on flute, but turned into a fizzing electro track. It’s a gleeful combination of the past and present that typifies this highly original album. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like it before. It’s a weird mixture of seventeenth century melodies, avant-garde clattering, ambient drone and modern electronica. It all hangs together brilliantly, though.

Murcof returns in 2009 with Oceano, the fifth instalment of the M-U-R-C-O-F sequence. If The Versailles Sessions was merely intended as an experimental side project, then I think Corona does his own work some disservice. It’s far better than that.

Tracks
1 Welcome To Versailles 11:30
2 Louis XIV’s Demons 4:58
3 A Lesson For The Future, Farewell To The Old Ways 7:54
4 Death Of A Forest 6:44
5 Spring In The Artificial Gardens 12:10
6 Lully’s “Turquerie” As Interpreted By An Advanced Script 6:42

Websites
www.murcof.com
www.myspace.com/murcof