This month’s Wire magazine (with Robert Wyatt on the front) comes with the latest in the Wire Tapper series of bi-annual CD compilations – now up to number 18. As ever, it’s an eclectic cross-section of some of the contemporary sounds that are rocking Wire-world. Household names (even in the magazine’s stretched sense of the phrase) are in short supply, the focus being on up and coming, or just plain obscure, artists from across the underground spectrum. It is the nature of these things to be a mixed bag in terms of quality, although this is probably subjective, as few people will find everything here to their taste. Even so, Wire Tappers are usually pretty consistent, often with some outstanding music. Occasionally there’s something that raises eyebrows and/or hackles.
Some of the highlights include the warped west-coast harmonies and microbeats of French collective Strings Of Consciousness, whose Our Moon Is Full album has been getting some good reviews. Cath and Phil Tyler are a neo-folk duo whose raga-infused counter-harmonies are like a rough and ready version of the stuff that Shirley Collins and Davey Graham did more than forty years ago. The collaboration between Dutch post-punks the Ex and septuagenarian Ethiopian sax player Getatchew Mekuria actually sounds like and old Willis Jackson jump blues with a scuzz-rockabilly band behind. It works as a roaring piece of swing, rather than a studied slice of cross-culturalism.
Tarentel’s contribution sounds like a Pansonic remix of Kraftwerk’s pastoral piece “Morgenspaziergang” – all oscillators and birdsong in a strangely complementary mash-up. Three instrumental jazz/neo-classical improvisations from Babils, Luciano Cilio and Hulk are also compelling, with differing levels of accessibility. Dimension X’s “The Martian Chronicles” is a lot of fun – improv noise-rock laced with a healthy dose of American 50s radio sci-fi. Mordant Music round up the CD with a retro piece of analogue, sequencer dominated music redolent of a lo-fi Tangerine Dream. The best track for me, though, is duo the Fun Years’ “Electricity Is A Scarce Commodity”, a static and guitar piece straight out of the Set Fire To Flames school of epic post-rock.
There are very few misfires. Heribert Friedl’s track is OK, but a fairly bog-standard exercise in micro-minimalism. The Icarus track is standard issue glitch electronica, and the Damon and Naomi contribution a pleasant ballad in the Antony Hegarty / Lambchop mould. It sticks out like a sore thumb. The only truly rotten piece is by Goodiepal – basically a Danish bloke yabbering into a tape recorder accompanied by somebody whistling and wind chimes. It’s as crap as it sounds.
I always find that these CDs are a lot more digestible than they sound like they might be from reading the descriptions of the tracks beforehand. And they’ve introduced me to some really superb acts over the years, most recently Rune Grammofon’s Shining. As well as Robert Wyatt, this month’s issue of the mag has a good article on the eighties and nineties Bristol sound, from the Wild Bunch on.