Album: SPARKLEHORSE + FENNESZ – In the Fishtank 15 (Konkurrent FISH15 2009)


Dutch label Konkurrent’s In the Fishtank series has an elegantly simple premise. Give a couple of acts two days studio time to use as they see fit and hope that the results are fruitful. It’s often the case that the less obvious the collaboration, the more interesting the results. That’s definitely true of this, the 15th of the series. Both Mark Linkous and Christian Fennesz are serial collaborators anyway – Linkous with various guests on his Sparklehorse LPs and Fennesz with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jim O’Rourke, David Sylvian and others.

There’s some exceptional music on this album, and nothing that sounds like it was thrown together in the last half hour. It covers a wide range of ground, but sounds totally cohesive – just like a proper album!

Things begin in downbeat, almost depressing fashion, with “Music Box of Snakes”, a long, elegaic piece that begins with music box, cello and a wheezy, clapped-out Wurlitzer, develops with majestic strings and ends in decay with the clicks and buzzes of tiny scuttling creatures feeding on its corpse. Both “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “If My Heart” incorporate Linkous’s fragile vocal. On the former, the title is repeated like a mantra, swathed in effects, and decorated with cobwebs of sound that are redolent of Pygmalion era Slowdive. The latter is equally brittle, washed with gentle feedback drone and treated guitar. In between them, “Sahi-Hulud” is a combination of metallic, insectoid aliens and a spacey six-string screech.

The epic “NC Bongo Buddy”, a terrific journey through deep drones, fuzz guitar, disintegrating amps, distortion and empty spaces, is sandwiched between two eponymous guitar pieces. Mark Linkous’s is an American Primitive type instrumental, with low key, atmospheric accompaniment. Christian Fennesz’s is a brief, unadorned acoustic coda.

That these two could make such a remarkable album in just two days proves that they are on the same musical wavelength. I hope that this collaboration won’t be their last.

1 Music Box Of Snakes (9:46)
2 Goodnight Sweetheart (5:24)
3 Sahi-Hulud (2:36)
4 If My Heart (5:13)
5 Mark’s Guitar Piece (4:27)
6 NC Bongo Buddy (11:24)
7 Christian’s Guitar Piece (1:28)



A Few Forthcoming Releases: Oct 2009

The usual monthly round out of imminent items.

5th Oct

  • ADJAGAS – ? (Trust Me)
  • AEROSOL – Airborne (N5MD)
  • AIR – Love 2 (EMI)
  • CALIFONE – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans)
  • DJ SPOOKY – The Secret Song (Thirsty Ear)
  • ETHERNET – 144 Pulsations of Light (Kranky)
  • EVANGELISTA / CARLA BOZULICH – Prince Of Truth (Constellation)
  • KEITH JARRETT – Testament: Paris / London (ECM)
  • LOU BARLOW – Goodnight Unknown (Domino)
  • MOUNTAIN GOATS – Life of the World to Come (4AD)
  • PORT ROYAL – Dying in Time (N5MD)
  • RUSSELL HASWELL – Wild Tracks (Mego)
  • SUPERSILENT – Supersilent 9 (Rune Grammofon)
  • TWILIGHT SAD – Forget the Night Ahead (Fat Cat)
  • VARIOUS – Refugees: A Charisma Records Anthology 1969-78 (Virgin)
  • VIC CHESNUTT – Skitter On Take Off (Vapor)
  • WAY OUT WEST – Love Machine (Hope)
  • WOODY GUTHRIE – My Dusty Road (Decca)

12th Oct

  • EXENE CERVENKA – Somewhere Gone (Bloodshot)
  • FAUNS – Fauns (Laser Ghost)
  • FLAMING LIPS – Embryonic (Warner)
  • LIGHTNING BOLT – Earthly Delights
  • MERZBOW – 13 Japanese Birds Vol 9: Hiyodori (Important)
  • MISSION OF BURMA – The Sound of the Speed of Light (Matador)
  • NELS CLINE & GE STINSON – Elevating Device (Sounds Are Active)
  • PIANO MAGIC – Ovations (Darla)
  • RACHEL GRIMES – Book of Leaves (Ruminance)
  • TORD GUSTAVSEN ENSEMBLE – Restored, Returned (ECM)

19th Oct

  • 4HERO – Extensions (Raw Canvas)
  • ATLAS SOUND – Logos (4AD)
  • BEAK – Beak (Invada)
  • DAVID WENNGREN – Sleepless Nights (Auetic)
  • DO MAKE SAY THINK – Other Truths (Constellation)
  • FINAL – Reading All the Right Signals Wrong (No Quarter)
  • JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON – Impossible (Metamatic)
  • MARK EITZEL – Klamath (Décor)
  • PORTICO QUARTET – Isla (Real World)
  • SPIRAL STAIRS – The Real Feel (Domino)
  • THEMSELVES – Crowns Down
  • WHITE RAINBOW – New Clouds (Kranky)
  • WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY – Paper Covers Stone (Loose)

26th Oct

  • CHRISTIAN WALLUMROD – Fabula Suirte Lugano (ECM)
  • HUDSON MOHAWKE – Butter (Warp)
  • JESU – Opiate Sun (Caldo Verde)
  • MERZBOW – 13 Japanese Birds Vol 10 (Important)
  • MF DOOM – Unexpected Guests (Gold Dust Media)
  • TOMASZ STANKO – Dark Eyes (ECM)

2nd Nov

  • 2562 – Unbalance (Tectonic)
  • FELIX – You are the One I Pick (Kranky)
  • OOIOO – Armonico Hewa (Thrill Jockey)

9th Nov

  • BLACK TO COMM – Alphabet 1968 (Type)
  • GITHEAD – Landing (Swim)
  • RYUICHI SAKAMOTO – Playing the Piano (Decca)

16th Nov

  • ANNIE – Don’t Stop (Smalltown Supersound)

11th Jan


The M M & M 1000 – part 43

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. A start to the Rs.

FLAMING LIPS – Race For the Prize / Riding to Work in the Year 2025 / 3000 ft of Despair (Warner 494 1999)
Flaming Lips are an unusual rock band in that they never seem to moan about anything, never seem to be unduly negative about anything and yet also manage to avoid all the ‘up’ clichés of calls to party / rock / dance etc. It’s a rousing anthem about the dedication of scientists, praising the self-sacrifices of scientists working for the good of mankind, that makes science sound heroic and romantic in a way usually reserved for war heroes. Heart-warming.

GENE VINCENT – Race With the Devil / Gonna Back Up My Baby (Capitol 3530 1956)
It’s kinda like an update of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal for the rock and roll generation, with the game of chess replaced by a hot rod / drag race. Saying that, I’m now getting daft images in my head of Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot zooming down the track in souped-up Chevys!

PAST SEVEN DAYS – Raindance / So Many Others (4AD 102 1981)
Past Seven Days were one of the great what-ifs? of the post-punk era. From Sheffield, they combined the doomy atmospherics of the Joy Division generation with a spacious, ACR type punk-funk and staccato guitar lines straight out of the Andy Gill school. “Raindance” is a six minute, brooding and quite brilliant piece of music. Sadly, they didn’t last much more than seven days, and this remains their only recorded statement

BROOK BENTON – Rainy Night in Georgia / Where Do I Go From Here? (Cotillion 44057 1969)
Randy Crawford’s cover is probably better known, but Benton’s original is the definitive reading. Like Lou Rawls, Benton had a wonderfully smooth and pure baritone, and like Rawls too often wasted it on MOR standards. “Rainy Night in Georgia” is probably too lushly arranged to be considered a typical southern soul tune, but it has a beautiful, dreamy sadness about it.

PAVEMENT – Range Life / Raft / Coolin’ By Sound (Big Cat 77 1995)
Ignorant dismissals of Pavement as Fall clones seem to have become more widespread as time passes. It’s no more relevant than to dismiss the Fall as Monks clones. The band were one of the most consistently interesting of any nineties rock outfits. Their genius was to blend elements that all seemed ramshackle and off-key on their own (especially the vocals) and make them into something engaging. Like a portrait painter whose detailed central study is surrounded by broad strokes tailing off into blank canvas, Pavement left their edges rough, and that always made their songs sound more interesting. “Range Life” is actually quite smooth for them, although Malkmus’s cracked whine is hardly typical of your average ballad singer.

BUDDY HOLLY – Rave On / Take Your Time (Coral 61985 1958)
It’s interesting to speculate how Buddy Holly’s career would have panned out if events had allowed it. He wasn’t just a songwriting genius, but a bit of a technical wizard too. It would have been such a shame if he’d ended up on the easy-listening or bog-standard country treadmills. He definitely had the potential to take music into new directions and perhaps completely have changed the course of music history. We’ll never know, and will just have to be satisfied with the great records he left us.

FOUR TOPS – Reach Out (I’ll Be There) / Until You Love Someone (Motown 1098 1966)
Melodramatic perfection. Fave bit? The brief bass and percussion pause that allows Levi Stubbs to get his breath back between “Reach Out” and “I’ll Be There”. Magic.

SWELL MAPS – Read About Seymour / Ripped and Torn / Black Velvet (Rather 1 1978)
Must be the shortest song on this list. It starts out almost conventionally for a post-punk record with a verse-chorus structure, before disintegrating into a barrage of clatter and noise. Swell Maps were essentially English eccentric experimentalists in the Henry Cow tradition with a DIY ethos and an instinct for carving melody out of chaos.

DELFONICS – Ready Or Not Here I Come / Somebody Loves You (Philly Groove 154 1968)
The song’s better known in its revamped form by the Fugees, but they didn’t really add anything to the two minute marvel of the original with its unusual horn motif.

CRASS – Reality Asylum / Shaved Women Collaborators (Crass 5249841 1979)
Still shocking, still awesome, I wrote about this here.

PUBLIC ENEMY – Rebel Without a Pause / instrumental (Def Jam 651245 1987)
Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a great album, but the step up to It Takes a Million… is astonishing. “Rebel Without a Pause” was the first taster for the second LP, and was louder and more intense than anything before in hip hop history. This was a mere eight years after the genre’s first recorded statement. Things haven’t really moved on that much further in the following 22.

SEBADOH – Rebound (plus 9) (Domino 17 1994)
I’ve probably stretched the definition of a single well beyond breaking point here since “Rebound” was track two of a ten track EP called (with typical Sebadoh contrariness) 4 Song CD. Hell, though, everyone treated it like it was a single at the time. After their cynical “Gimme Indie Rock”, they did just that to perfection with “Rebound”, a fat free 132 seconds of alt-pop-punk.

McCARTHY – Red Sleeping Beauty / From the Damned (Pink 12 1986)
Witlessly lumped in with the C86 brigade, it seems to me that McCarthy became damned by association. Which is a shame. Like Easterhouse and Crass they came from the radical left (Crass would bristle at being branded lefties, but they shared the same distaste of the hierarchical establishment), but Malcolm Eden preferred satire to sloganeering, often voicing the establishment view with enough of a gentle twist to make it sound ludicrous. “Red Sleeping Beauty” is suitably dream-like musically, with a spare, subtle lyric that alludes to the lack of an effective socialist opposition during the height of Thatcherism. “Nothing Stirs Us, We’re Sound Asleep, We’re Sound Asleep”.

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS – Redemption Song / version (Island 6653 1980)
The final track from the final album released during Bob Marley’s lifetime and astonishingly for such a well known song, never a hit. Unlike anything else he did, this was just Marley and guitar, and feels like a last will and testmanent. Even for the faithless, an undeniably moving song.

STEELY DAN – Reelin’ in the Years / Only a Fool Would Say That (ABC 11352 1973)
This early Dan tune stands out from their usual smooth west-coast jazz ouevre by being unashamedly rock, with some superb guitar playing by Elliott Randall. Randall was never officially a band member (in fact he turned them down when asked) but would play on many of their records.

JACKIE WILSON – Reet Petite / By the Light of the Silvery Moon (Brunswick 55024 1957)
Some classic songs are just there, and you forget how extraordinary they are simply through familiarity. Jackie Wilson’s singing on this record is nothing short of extraordinary – from the rolled r’s, always in rhythm, to the incredible range, he never misses a note or a beat, even by a hair’s breadth. It also has trombones, and there should be more trombones in pop.

More soon

Album: VLADISLAV DELAY – Tummaa (Leaf BAY72CD 2009)


Tummaa, Finnish for darkness, was apparently inspired by the long long nights of the Arctic winter (and I find it depressing enough in Scotland when it’s dark before 4). It’s a trio recording where Sasu Ripatti is joined by Craig Armstrong and Argentinian reed player Lucio Capece.

The mood of the album is almost wholly downbeat, with sparse instrumentation and plenty of space. Armstrong plays acoustic and electric piano, sometimes muted in the mix, sometimes providing a rhythmic pulse and sometimes a short and repeating neo-classical melody. Capece’s saxophone and clarinet parts are very often barely recognisable as such, being muted or distorted beyond recognition. The baritone sounding burps at the beginning of “Mustelmia” provide a rare moment resembling conventional sax playing, although the lowly mixed runs on “Kuula” leak through like noise from a distant jazz radio station.

Around his collaborators’ contribution, Ripatti weaves a net of percussion effects, tweaked and twisted. On occasion, such as on the title track, it’s the piano’s two note refrain that provides the rhythmic heart of the piece, and the percussion that provides a kind of cracked melodic counterpoint. Only “Toive” with its martial beat and quasi-dubstep finale flirts with conventional percussive rhythms, although “Mustelmia” has a section with a squelchy 4/4 beat that reminds me of Cabaret Voltaire’s “Silent Command”.

With four of the seven tracks breaching the ten minute mark, and two others not far short of it, the music is set free to evolve in often surprising ways. High on atmosphere, it may be a pretty unconventional sounding record, but it’s a long way from being scarily atonal. “Melankolia”, for example, contains some of Craig Armstrong’s loveliest melodies, and there are plenty of instances throughout the album where the disparate sounds coalesce into something quite moving. Like Supersilent’s work (to which there is actually little musical resemblance), Tummaa offers music that combines the abstract with a melodic heart. I recommend it without reservation.

1 Melankolia (10:58)
2 Kuula (Kiitos) (9:02)
3 Mustelmia (8:13)
4 Musta Planeetta (5:11)
5 Toive (11:09)
6 Tummaa (10:19)
7 Tunnelivisio (11:16)


Album: PASTAKLUBBEN – Asperger (Phantom Channel PHCH011 2009)


Asperger is one long 35 minute work by a quartet of laptop whizzes from Hovedstaden in Denmark called Pastaklubben. Recorded live, it starts out beatless, with dark ambient drones and orchestral flourishes creating a pitch black atmosphere. Each player seems to know instinctively what to add and when, as the sonic claustrophobia sets in like a blanket of dread.

So far so cosmic, but as the track builds, almost inaudible beats star leaking into the mix. Sometimes something recognisable appears, like the pacifying tones of a piano, but there is always the feeling that there is something lurking, threatening to wake.

When the payoff comes, the track lurches into a frenzy of glitched beats that get ever more chaotic and punishing. It’s an incredibly exciting climax as things get faster and louder, finishing with what sounds like techno sped up to about 300bpm. It’s an expertly structured piece that belies its live genesis. Really impressive stuff. It must have been amazing to be there when it was happening.

This is 35 minutes of superb electronic head and body music. What’s more, it’s free from our old friends at Phantom Channel.

1. Asperger 35:36


Shameless Plug

Apologies in advance, but for anyone who’s interested I’m currently having a clear out on Ebay of various things I’ve found lurking in dark corners, stuff I’ve culled from my collection and stuff I’ve had for sale on Amazon for forever. Various formats, various types of music – some shite, some good, some common, some rare. There’ll be several hundred things going over the next few weeks.

Have a look.

End of shameless plug

Album: ELISA LUU – Chromatic Sigh (Hidden Shoal HSR056 2009)

Chromatic Sigh Front Art

Elisabetta Luciani is a Rome-based composer who records under the diminutive Elisa Luu. She uses self-played samples of instruments such as guitar, flute, saxophone and electric piano, manipulating and moulding them into a warm and organic sounding electronica. Chromatic Sigh is her first album following an EP release for Phantom Channel.

The record is consistent in tone and mood, but varied in instrumentation and structure. The prevalent air is slightly downbeat, but at the same time not down. Much of the music is beatless, but there is always too much going on for this to be described as ambient music. Sometimes the instruments are clearly defined and easily identifiable. Just as often, though, they are manipulated beyond recognition. Some of the pieces seem conventionally composed, whilst others have the ring of improvisation, but never aimlessly so. Indeed, there is remarkable self-discipline on show as melodies are never over-utilised and nothing is drawn out longer than it need be.

Picking highlights is a tough call. Indeed, picking out obvious influences is equally hard. There are shades of My Bloody Valentine in the layered guitar coda of “Pixie Space Rock” and the sad beauty of “Slow Bass Flute” is redolent of early Kraftwerk when they still used conventional instrumentation like flute and electric piano. On the other hand, “R3Son8” has shades of the emperors of improv, Supersilent.

Chromatic Sigh is an absolute joy to explore, full of emotional resonance. It has a perfect balance between experimentation and melody making it equally satisfying on both an emotional and intellectual level. It’s the work of a composer who knows exactly what she’s aiming for, and knows exactly how to achieve that aim. A terrific debut from a major talent.

1. Chromatic Sigh 4:55
2. Pixie Space Rock 5:49
3. Arteline 4:09
4. R3Son8 3:37
5. Slowbeat 3:45
6. Perhaps 3:49
7. Slow Bass Flute 5:11
8. The Garden 5:01
9. Warn Plate 3:09