Mojo Africa Rising

This month’s Mojo continues in its recent form of being lamentably dull. There is a fairly unrevealing interview with David Sylvian and some nice pics of the recent Kraftwerk show at the Manchester Velodrome, complete with the British Team Pursuit gold medal cyclists. The ageing indie-fan’s favourite retro rockers are on the front. Zzzzz.

However, also stuck to the front is a CD called Africa Rising, a frankly marvellous collection of contemporary African music, with Farka Touré père and fils, Tinariwen, Tony Allen and loads more. It’s full of shit-hot playing, unbelievable rhythms, and doesn’t flag throughout its seventy odd minutes. Toumani Diabate’s “Cantalowes”, with its little the Good, the Bad & the Ugly intro, is one of my highlights, but the whole CD is superb. I’m particularly drawn to the first half which is where some of the hottest guitar action happens. It’s certainly worth the £4.50 that the mag costs these days on its own.


A Few Forthcoming Releases (August 2009)

The traditional autumn avalanche is nearly upon us, although the schedules seem to be bunged up with endless remasters, reissues, deluxe editions and compilations.

Sadly, on November 1st, Benbecula Records are shutting up shop, so the Christ. album will likely be their last.

Aug 3rd

  • DISKJOKKE – Discolated (Remixes 2007-2008) (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • HERBALISER – Band Session 2 (K7)
  • MERZBOW – 13 Japanese Birds Vol 7: Kujakubato (Important)
  • MOS DEF – The Ecstatic (V2)
  • RICHARD YOUNGS – Like a Neuron (Dekorder)
  • ROBERT WYATT – Box Set (Domino)
  • VARIOUS – Ze 30: Ze Records Story 1979-2009 (K7)
  • TELEKINESIS! – Telekinesis! (Morr)

Aug 10th

  • KLAUS SCHULZE – La Vie Electronique 3 (Revisited)
  • KLAUS SCHULZE – La Vie Electronique 4 (Revisited)
  • LUKE VIBERT – We Hear You (Planet Mu)
  • NISENNENMONDAI – Destination Tokyo (Smalltown Supersound)
  • RICHARD THOMPSON – Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009 (Shout Factory)
  • SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE – Luminous Night (Drag City)
  • THE ROOTS – How I Got Over (Def Jam)

Aug 17th

  • NEIL LANDSTRUMM – Bambaataa Eats his Breakfast (Planet Mu)
  • PISSED JEANS – King of Jeans (Sub Pop)
  • PLUM – A Different Skin (Benbecula)
  • RICHMOND FONTAINE – We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River (Decor)
  • SOULSAVERS – Broken (V2)
  • SQUAREPUSHER – Solo Electric Bass (Warp)

Aug 24th

  • MÙM – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know (Morr)
  • SUSANNA & THE MAGICAL ORCHESTRA – 3 (Rune Grammofon)

Aug 31st

  • TIM BUCKLEY – Live at the Folklore Center, NYC: March 6th, 1967 (Tompkins Square)
  • ANDREW WEATHERALL – A Pox on the Pioneers (Rotter’s Golf Club)
  • ROBIN GUTHRIE – Carousel (Darla)

Sep 7th

  • GUS GUS – 24/7 (Kompakt)
  • NUDGE – As Good As Gone (Kranky)
  • PASTELS / TENNISCOATS – Two Sunsets (Geographic)
  • PREFAB SPROUT – Let’s Change the World with Music (Sony)
  • YO LA TENGO – Popular Songs (Matador)

Sep 14th

  • BEASTIE BOYS – Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 (Capitol)
  • PERE UBU – Long Live Pere Ubu (Cooking Vinyl)
  • SPARKLEHORSE / FENNESZ – In the Fishtank 15 (Fishtank)

Sep 21st

  • CHRIST. – Distance Lends Enchantment to the View (Benbecula)
  • PART CHIMP – Thriller (Rock Action)
  • TO KILL A PETTY BOURGEOISIE – Marlone (Kranky)
  • VARIOUS – Warp 20 Box Set (Warp)
  • VARIOUS – Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 (Rhino)
  • VIC CHESNUTT – At The Cut (Constellation)

Sep 28th

  • GIUSEPPE IELASI – Aix (Minority)
  • JACK MARCHMENT – Who’s Afraid of Iannis Xenakis? (Herb)
  • SWEET TRIP – You Will Never Know Why (Darla)

Oct 5th

  • ETHERNET – 144 Pulsations of Light (Kranky)
  • EVANGELISTA / CARLA BOZULICH – Prince Of Truth (Constellation)
  • RUSSELL HASWELL – Wild Tracks (Mego)

Zonophone versus Berliner and Johnson (there could only be one Victor!)

Imagine you are the owner of a cutting-edge technology business, a technology that you invented. Imagine then that a former employee of yours sets up his own company using your technology. You’d be a bit pissed off I expect. But then this former employee of yours has the bare-faced cheek to sue you for infringement of copyright, and not only that, he wins! Sounds implausible. Well it’s a story that I came across today whilst doing some research into the early record business.

The big two players in the 1890s were Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison. Their relationship was uneasy, but their approaches to the recording industry were quite different. Edison was a firm believer in the wax cylinder method that he invented, whereas Berliner used his flat disc gramophone system. It was an arms race of competing technologies, rather like VHS vs Betamax.

One of Berliner’s employees was a guy named Frank Seaman, who left the business and in 1899 set up his own Zonophone company. The disc technology he used was a brazen copy of Berliner’s. Not only that, but the hardware he manufactured was also ripped off from a guy called Eldridge Johnson whose own company traded technology and ideas with Berliner’s.

When Berliner complained that Seaman was in breach of contract, Seaman sued both him and Johnson for copyright infringement. With the help of a shyster lawyer called Phillip Mauro, on June 25th 1900 he got an injunction that prevented Berliner from selling to anyone but himself – and of course, he wasn’t buying.

Lurking behind the scenes like a hungry vulture was Columbia Records. They’d started out as merely a distributor for Edison’s cylinders, but had broken with the inventor in 1893 and become a manufacturer in their own right. Berliner’s gramophone technology was a threat to their competing system, and they wanted it shut down, so they threw their lot in with Seaman.

Berliner and Johnson counter-sued, and the injunction was finally lifted in July 1901. They set up a new joint venture called the Victor Talking Machine Company, with the name a nice little dig at Zonophone. Actually, there seems to be debate as to whether Berliner had anything to do with Victor – some claim he was a partner, others that he had nothing to do with the new company. Actions and counter actions continued until 1903 when the Zonophone company was swallowed up by Johnson’s Victor.

Zonophone didn’t cease to exist altogether. It was wiped off the map in North America, but deals done with European companies such as the Gramophone Company in Britain (the forerunner of EMI) meant that it continued to exist in some form. Indeed, the label was still being used in Britain into the 1960s.

Berliner didn’t stay in the record business. By 1922 he was working on helicopter design. Victor spent nearly three decades as one of the big two US companies alongside Columbia (who eventually ditched cylinders when they saw which way the wind was blowing). Edison stubbornly stuck with his technology, but by the end of World War one, it was clear that it was obsolete.

Victor was eventually swallowed up by the Radio Corporation of America in 1929, who were looking for a recording side to complement their hugely successful radio empire. They used the name RCA Victor into the seventies when he old moniker was finally dropped.

Some sources:

Album – TARCUTTA – Tarcutta (Hidden Shoal HSR051 2009)


Tarcutta are a Melbourne based trio who offer a new spin on the instrumental rock group by bringing the organ centre stage. Imagine if the Dirty Three grew sick of Warren Ellis’s unruly facial hair and decided to hire Keith Emerson instead. It’s a fairly original concept, or at least one that has lain unexplored for several decades. The problem is that the organ has never really worked for me when given the limelight in a rock setting. Van Der Graaf Generator tempered it with reed instruments and, of course, Peter Hammill’s brilliant melodramas. But the likes of the Nice, Atomic Rooster and ELP were all surface and very little substance. The organ doesn’t really lend itself to emotional subtleties, but comes across as brash and flash.

Throughout the 45 minutes of Tarcutta’s debut album, the organ hogs attention, with only brief spells when it allows someone else a little space. It results in a pretty wearing listen. That’s not to say that the music is without variation or intelligence. That’s far from the case. Indeed, the pieces that work best are the more subtle and contemplative ones like “Mount Bartle Frere” and “Cicada Cycle”. “No Light No Shade” introduces a female vocal, but ends in a tedious display of pyrotechnics. The closer “Flaghags Must Die” ends proceedings with an agreeably punky thrash. At its worst, such as on the dreadful “Liberace Fibonacci”, things descend into a horrible, bombastic rehash of progressive rock c. 1970.

Generally reactions have been favourable, so maybe I’m missing something.

1 Mount Bartle Frere 7:32
2 Liberace Fibonacci 4:59
3 You Gotta Crawl Before You Walk Before You Waltz 6:07
4 Cicada Cycle 7:45
5 No Light No Shade 7:11
6 Glassed 3:38
7 Evan and Luna Take on the Coca-Cola Teenqueens Conspiracy and Kick Its Arse 5:43
8 Flaghags Must Die 2:28


The M M & M 1000 – part 37

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today’s episode puts the Ns to bed.

BOB SEGER – Night Moves / Ship of Fools (Capitol 4369 1976)
Back when I was in my early teens, Radio One closed down for the evening, broadcasting Radio Two (then a horrendous mix of pre-rock schlock and brass band music, it seemed) until Peel popped up with his two hourly fix of decent tunes. Sundays were the worst though. The only hope for finding any decent non-chart music being the notoriously dodgy signal from Radio Luxembourg. Even so, I dilligently had my hand held mic on hand to tape any tunes that I liked. “Night Moves” was a song that I loved back then, and I eventually captured it on tape. The quiet bridge section of the track on my recording was full of the bleed from other radio stations. For me, it actually added to the song. Bob sounded like a lonely soul, stranded in a Motel room in Nowheresville accompanied by the sounds from other rooms, folk desperately masking their solitude with turned up TV or radio. It doesn’t quite sound the same in crisp, clean digital. My tape is long lost, but if I listen hard enough, I still imagine I can hear those ghosts from the past.

JAPAN – Night Porter / Ain’t That Peculiar (Virgin 554 1982)
NAMES – Night Shift / I Wish I Could Speak Your Language (Factory 29 1981)

These two songs continue with that lonely, nocturnal feel. Night porters, night watchmen – they seem like outsiders and observers of life, fundamentally detached from the world. It’s something I’ve always been drawn to, be it the classic sleeve of Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, or some of the classic crime fiction of Raymond Chandler (in particular his short story “I’ll Be Waiting” about a hotel detective). “Night Porter” is musically rich and lush, but Sylvian creates a broken centre at the heart of it. Belgian miserablists the Names were typical of the era’s long-raincoat brigade. “Night Shift” has an uninspired metronomic rhythm, but it does have a bucket load of atmosphere.

COMMODORES – Nightshift / I Keep Running (Motown 1773 1984)
Another “Nightshift”! The eighties were hardly a golden age at Motown, and by 1984 Lionel Richie was long gone, singing insipid ballads to blind sculptresses. He was replaced by a bloke from UK also-rans Heatwave. Against the odds, the band came up with an absolute classic. “Nightshift” is a tribute to the recently deceased Marvin Gaye, that eerily sounds just like him. It’s a hugely emotional ballad of the type they used to do back in the old days before soul got submerged by slickness.

? & THE MYSTERIANS – 96 Tears / Midnight Hour (Cameo 428 1966)
Most of the garage bands that followed the British Invasion took the trusty template of guitar/bass/drums. The Mysterians opted for using an organ that sounded like a fairground Wurlitzer for their lead instrument. It could have sounded ridiculous, but ? had the snotty Jaggeresque misanthropy down to a T.

PHOTEK – Ni Ten Ichi Ryu / Fifth Column (Science 2 1997)
Pure coincidence that I posted the video of this yesterday. It’s one of the finest examples of the more arty side of drum and bass. There’s barely any bass on it, save the natural timbre of the percussion, and the only melodic elements are some metallic clashes and the occasional call of a reed flute. All its energy comes from the drumming. The beats are programmed, but somehow still sound organic – even ancient.

PRODIGY – No Good / mixes (XL 51 1994)
I kind of lost interest in the Prodigy when they unleashed Keith ‘Krusty the Clown’ Flint as lead vocalist on Fat of the Land. I much prefer the old skool rave monsters that they used to do. “No Good” was arguably the last of these, a ridiculously uptempo piece of hardcore with sped up vocals that probably laid the foundation for that unique West of Scotland phenomenon Happy Hardcore that still blasts from ned motors to this day.

WALKER BROTHERS – No Regrets / Remember Me (GTO 42 1975)
The mid seventies Walker Brothers reunion was driven purely by financial motives. After years of doing albums of hideous country-rock schlock, Scott was still not allowed to write his own songs (although he has hinted that he had nothing to offer at the time, anyway), but at least the material was better. His take on Tom Rush’s fatalistic ballad of a dead relationship showed that he’d lost nothing in the five years since his last half-good record (Till The Band Comes In). To the surprise of everyone, they had a huge hit on their hands. It proved to be a false dawn, and by the third reunion album, sales were poor, and the record company was in its death throes. GTO being no longer interested in what the trio were up to, they took the opportunity to experiment. That proved to be the rebirth of Scott as the avant-garde giant he is today, although it still took nearly two decades before he unleashed his masterpiece, Tilt.

MALCOLM X – No Sell Out / instrumental (Tommy Boy 840 1984)
Not exactly your average pop star, Malcolm Little aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Keith Leblanc took elements of his speeches, Steinski-style, and weaved them into a cool electro tune. What could have turned out to be a bit crass was in fact an inspirational three minute introduction to the life and thoughts of the man, with plenty of quotable soundbites.

BESSIE SMITH – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out / Take it Right Back (Columbia 14451 1929)
Along with “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”, this was one of the iconic songs of the Depression. Strangely, it was recorded in July 1929 when nobody but a few doom-mongers thought the party would ever end. Three months later it must have seemed like an act of prophecy. Bessie Smith was a woman who took no bullshit from anyone, and that’s reflected in most of her songs where she lets you know exactly who’s boss. Here, though, she exudes a real anguish and hurt. You totally believe in the despair.

GRACE – Not Over Yet / mixes (Perfecto 104 1995)
The song is a perfectly serviceable piece of pop-trance, with a great, catchy chorus sung well by Dominique Atkins, but no more remarkable than that. When remixed by BT, though, it was turned into an epic thirteen minute monster, full of soaring synths, neo-romantic piano and just about anything else he could think to chuck in. Epic house was about as fashionable as a Yes triple album, and a short lived phenomenon. A pity, actually. When done well, it combined elements of dance , prog and even the avant-garde. When done badly it was interminable, of course.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION – Now Be Thankful / Sir B Mackenzie’s Daughter’s Lament … (Island 6089 1970)
“Now Be Thankful” is a kind of rustic hymn, and certainly the best known Fairport song post-Sandy Denny. It holds a record (or at least used to) for the longest song title ever issued on a single, the snappily titled “Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughter’s Lament For The 77th Mounted Lancers’ Retreat From The Straits Of Loch Knombe, In The Year Of Our Lord 1727, On The Occasion Of The Announcement Of Her Marriage To The Laird Of Kinleakie”.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Nowhere To Run / Motoring (Gordy 7039 1965)
Classic era Motown at its most energetic and urgent. As was often the case, “Nowhere to Run” is a love song comprised of a stack of metaphors – in this instance comparing it to being a cornered criminal on the run. You can tell Martha Reeves really liked this one – she pulls out all the stops, and gives the best vocal performance of her recording career. Quite brilliant.

IKE & TINA TURNER – Nutbush City Limits / Help Him (United Artists 298 1973)
As one of the many claimants to the title ‘inventor of rock ‘n’ roll’, Ike Turner had more to back it up than most. Twenty years on, his wife Tina proved to be his match with her semi-autobiographical rocker “Nutbush City Limits”. With a brilliantly simple dirty guitar riff, thumping beats, and most of all, Tina’s astonishingly gutsy delivery, the tune is granite-tough. It was also one of the first records to feature a synth solo in the wailing, slightly deranged bridge.

More soon

EP: ALPINE. – Fr:om Harmed Weather To Stark, Micro, Climates (Highpoint Lowlife HPLL038 2009)


Highpoint Lowlife have a pretty good track record when it comes to unearthing burgeoning new talent. Alpine. is a guy called Alex Smalley who also works as half of an act called Pausal. His oddly titled debut EP (strung together from the track names or broken up into the track names, depending on which way you look at it) is a collection of miniatures that mix climatic samples, microbeats and lush ambience.

The EP opens with the clinking ice of “Fr:om” which fades into an ambient loop of synth drone and plucked guitar. “Harmed” is a short organ monotone that leads into “Weather”, a piece that seems to be comprised of wind and bird samples, with some faint musical echo in the background. “To stark” has crystalline ringing, fizzing water and ebbing organ drone that gives it a cold and clear atmosphere.

The micro-clicks of “Micro”, the stand-out track, are redolent of the Spring melt, as the power of the sun makes itself felt in the warm ambient tones that loop and fade leaving the clicks and drips to gradually ease themselves into silence. The simple treated piano melody of “Climates” wraps things up in a gentle calm.

Fr:om Harmed Weather To Stark, Micro, Climates is an understated 18 minutes or so. Its charms are subtle, but rewarding. It’s available now as a download only release from Highpoint Lowlife.

01 fr:om 3:11
02 harmed 2:01
03 weather 2:28
04 to stark, 4:14
05 micro, 4:52
06 climates 1:59