Twice a year, the Wire magazine compiles another edition of the Wire Tapper – a round up of new experimental, underground and leftfield music. The emphasis is usually placed on names who may not be so well known, even in the spheres through which the magazine moves. Eclecticism is the name of the game, and the music ranges from the wilfully difficult right through to the fringes of the mainstream. Surprisingly, given the wild variety of music on offer, the CDs tend to hang together well as linear listening experiences. In this respect, edition 21 is no different from its predecessors.
Reviewing them is never a particularly easy task. Even if every track was the absolute pinnacle of its field, very few listeners will have a diverse enough taste to appreciate everything. I’m no different. To me, the freeform, detuned guitar improv of Jim McAuley and Nels Cline’s “Froggy’s Magic Twanger” sounds little different to somebody cutting up lengths of copper wire, rolling them into loose balls and chucking them down several flights of stairs. And I know Chris Corsano is held in esteem in many quarters that verges on the religious, but the trio recording with Tony Bevan and Dominic Lash just seems like tub-thumping and squawky free jazz by numbers to these ears – particular when compared to the delicate and emotional, but nevertheless still improvised, sax and trumpet piece by Streifenjunko that precedes it.
What struck me most about the latest collection, though, was how remarkably humdrum most of it is. The aforementioned tracks, along with the Grand Opera meets Van Der Graaf Generator folly that is Jono El Grande (and believe me, that particular sound clash sounds better on paper than it does in reality) were the only ones that aroused much in the way of irritation. But equally, there is little here that had me making mental notes for further investigation. Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s contribution is a beautiful mix of downbeat Tom Waits style balladry with banjo, micro-electronica and lush strings (and that sounds better in reality than it does on paper). Animal Hospital’s combination of machine-like drum loops and strings is also impressive – an affecting mix of nostalgia and brute force, whilst Hitoshi Kojo’s mix of layered field recordings is seriously spooked.
Most tracks, be they electronica, avant-rock, jazz, pseudo-metal or quasi-pop, tend towards the typical for music in their particular micro-niches. There are very few surprises on offer. And if truth be told, if this had appeared in 2004, very few eyebrows would have been raised. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of progression going on, just a retrenchment or, at best, further explorations of old ideas.
I don’t want to sound overly negative. On the whole, Wire Tapper 21 is an enjoyable trip around music’s margins. Whether its shortcomings are purely down to the tracks selected, or whether they are indicative of a creeping malaise in experimental music is a matter for debate.
1 ROBERT LOGAN – Accurate Spit Boy
2 SHOGUN KUNITOKI – Riddarholmen
3 JONO EL GRANDE – Neo Dada
4 SWEET BILLY PILGRIM – Longshore Drift
5 JIM McAULEY with NELS CLINE – Froggy’s Magic Twanger
6 HIGAMOS HOGAMOS – The Illuminoids
7 BARBARA MORGENSTERN – Morbus Basedaw
8 WHIRLING HALL OF KNIVES – 2-Bar Heater and Smoke
9 ANIMAL HOSPITAL – His Belly Burst
10 VIOLET – Violet Ray Gas
11 ANDRES LÕO – Introvert Dancer
12 FELIX KUBIN – The Rhythm Modulator (cont’d)
13 SHEIK ANORAK / WEASEL WALTER DUO – Silver
14 STREIFENJUNKO – No Longer Burning
15 TONY BEVAN / CHRIS CORSANO / DOMINIC LASH – I Think That’ll Be OK
16 PEKKA AIRAKSINEN – Nobody is Free
17 DAVID ÅHLÉN – We Sprout in Thy Soil
18 JEZ RILEY FRENCH – Audible Silence – Enter (Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge)
19 THEM USE THEM – Able
20 LAURA TOXVAERD – Spine Side
21 HITOSHI KOJO – Hiruko