by Paul Ashby
Harold Budd, Perhaps
Double LP, Root Strata
I first heard Harold Budd in the early eighties while listening to The Pavilion of Dreams, his 1978 album for Brian Eno’s Obscure label. Californian Budd’s playing reminded me a bit of…well, this may seem cruel, but remember that piano you’d hear on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”? Yeah, that. And the florid chorales on side two didn’t convert me, either. I filed the album away, and when listening to it again, I find Pavillion hasn’t aged well.
When Eno released his 1980 collaboration with Budd, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, I finally came around. Budd’s watercolor keyboard impressions were brushed across a soaked-in-reverb Eno canvas and the result was classically lovely (and reprised on The Pearl in 1984). Plateau‘s “Not Yet Remembered” became one of my favorite songs, and remains so today.
Since then, he’s released nearly twenty albums. In 2007, Budd performed at a memorial at his alma mater, CalArts, in honor of his friend and associate teacher, James Tenney. The performance — all improvised solo piano — is gorgeous.
Budd’s talent is his ability to work with and within silence; the space between notes and chords takes on a real gravity. No, it’s not the same gravity as on Earth. It’s a bit lighter, as if the quiet has somehow become imbued with helium. Budd can lull the listener with a wandering melodic segment full of vague phrases and seemingly uncertain motifs, pause…then wave an invisible wand in the form of an arpeggiated change in key that positively blooms.
While Perhaps could be tagged as a minimalist by most goatee-strokers, I can’t agree. Quiet, yes. Verging on ambient? Maybe. An acquired taste that, as Eno, quoting Satie, claimed is music that could “mingle with the sound of the knives and forks at dinner”? Certainly. I can’t vouch for the minimal pigeonhole, but Budd can maintain this level of thoughtful, moody beauty throughout four LP sides of improvisation and that’s a maximal marvel.
This album was originally only available digitally on David Sylvian’s website. San Francisco’s Root Strata label deserves a gracious thank-you for reissuing this recording on the quietest, cleanest vinyl I’ve ever heard. This double LP is a delight.
Cian Nugent & the Cosmos, Born With The Caul
Irish guitarist Cian Nugent (first name pronounced KEE-yen and no, no relation to Ted) is known for his solo acoustic guitar work. But maybe he was feeling lonely, because “the Cosmos” on Born With The Caul is a band consisting of Nugent on electric guitar, plus electric viola, bass, organ, and drums.
Born brings forth three songs: two instrumentals and one vocal tune. There’s enough structure for fans of songs, and enough improvisation for fans of jamming.
The opening track,”Grass Above My Head,” is a bluegrass-DIxieland hybrid fanfare that welcomes you to Cian’s Cosmos.
Track two, “Double Horse”, is nothing short of an Anglicized morning raga, and it’s Born With The Caul‘s shining moment. It meanders at the start, with languid guitar picking and Farfisa drones. Sometimes it recalls the beginning of The Doors’ “The End” if you scrinch your ears up a tad. After about seven minutes it’s not even half-finished, and the pace accelerates; Nugent’s soloing becomes more urgent, resembling Television’s Verlaine/Lloyd axis at its most untethered (think the middle sections of Marquee Moon filtered through a Hindustani classical haze). At the ten minute mark things even out a bit as the band catches its breath, and the song draws to a close with a long, sustained, and yes, satisfying drone.
The final song, the 23-minute “Houses of Parliament,” manages to turn a repeated five-chord ascending progression into a beautiful mantra, borne of jamming. That’s during the first nine minutes, of course. The middle section, again, invokes some Television-esque riffing atop a somewhat funkified foundation. It gradually transitions to a furious jam that is, most likely, amazing live, but gets a bit….long on record. Maybe I need to play it louder. I’ll test this theory and get back to you.
I believe Cian’s age is closer to 20 than 30, but he plays with the taste, restraint, experience – and, at times, channeled fury – of someone twice his age. In jazz parlance, Cian knows what NOT to play — there’s a lot of wheat and very little chaff. “Double Horse” is one of the highest-quality extended jams released this year, and it, alone, is worth the price of the LP.
Cian Nugent on Twitter: @ciannugent
John Lemke, People Do
This is an exceptional electronic album from Berliner/Glaswegian Lemke. It’s not “EDM” (ugh) but rather something a bit more low-key. If you require a reference point or three: People Do does an admirable job of bridging (and toning down) Amon Tobin’s cyberkinetic clatter with the left-field pulsing ambience of Aphex Twin. Remember the muted, airy melodies of Boom Bip’s “Roads Must Roll”? Sure you do. Lemke can channel that variety of subtly catchy synth songcraft and tinge the whole thing with more than a touch of noir.
Lemke has a sense of musical history. “Nolands” seems a tribute to side 1 of Tubular Bells, or maybe it’s just Lemke paying tribute to Mike Oldfield paying tribute to Steve Reich. Who can say? The closing track, “When We Could,” revolves around an echoey melody and possesses a power that belies its simplicity (I can even almost forgive the intrusion of a cheap-sounding rhythm machine. The song is that good). “When We Could” is one of those compositions that can’t help but conjure déjà vu. Or is it je nais sais quoi? Have I heard that melody before? Or did I dream it? Let’s call it a draw. My favorite songs are often the ones I can’t describe.
“People Do” is mastered by the irrepressible Nils Frahm for some really mean (and by mean I mean sweet) low-end. The LP sounds wonderful.
John Lemke on Twitter: @lostinsounds
Favorite releases of 2013
- Aidan Baker, Already Drowning LP (Gizeh)
- James Blackshaw/Lubomyr Melnyk, The Watchers LP (Important Records)
- Broderick & Broderick, Broderick & Broderick 10″ (Team Love)
- Harold Budd, Perhaps 2xLP (Root Strata)
- Danny Paul Grody, Between Two Worlds LP (Three Lobed Recordings)
- Eluvium, Nightmare Ending CD (Temporary Residence)
- Janet Feder, Songs With Words LP (self-released)
- * Nils Frahm, Spaces (Erased Tapes) CD
- Friedman & Leibezeit, Secret Rhythms 5 LP (Nonplace)
- Golden Gunn, Golden Gunn LP (Three Lobed Recordings)
- Gunn/Gangloff, Melodies For A Savage Fix LP (Important)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw LP (Paradise of Bachelors)
- Bruce Langhorne, Hired Hand LP (Scissortail) (reissue)
- John Lemke, People Do LP (Denovali)
- Locust, You’ll Be Safe Forever LP (Editions Mego)
- Mountains, Centralia 2xLP (Thrill Jockey)
- Cian Nugent and the Cosmos, Born With the Caul LP (No Quarter)
- William Tyler, Impossible Truth 2xLP (Merge)
- Yair Yona, A World Beyond Curtains LP (Strange Attractors/Anova Music)
* Conflict of interest acknowledgement: my employer distributes this album in North America.
2013 was also the year I discovered an overlooked (well, by me, at least) album from 2009: Heather Woods Broderick’s From The Ground. It may be the most perfect album ever and I’d be embarrassed to admit I missed it the first time around, except for the fact that … it may just be the most perfect album ever. I think I already mentioned that?
John Fahey: The New Possibility (Takoma)
Low: Christmas (Kranky)
Ben Keith: Christmas At the Ranch (Vapor)
About the Author
Paul Ashby has been working in music retail and wholesale since 1980. His spends his days maintaining digital content management, sales and social media at Revolver USA, an independent music distributor. He intermittently dotes upon his blog, Anything But MP3, and has contributed to PS Audio’s PS Tracks site and Tower Records’PULSE! magazine.
He sometimes listens to English and German progressive rock from the 70s at excessive volume when no one’s around. He would like Lee Ann Womack’s next album would be produced by Daniel Lanois. Or Buddy Miller. He pledges not to write about Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno or his girlfriend’s forthcoming EP. Much.
Paul hoards vinyl and has been known to be computer audio apologist, but he’s hardly ever defensive about it. He spends far too much time not putting his CD collection up for sale on Discogs. Among his other hobbies are wandering inexorably along the audiophile hardware upgrade path, Macintosh computer futzing, digital photography, cat herding, DIY landscaping, and trying to keep orchids and tropical plants alive. He insists on acknowledging that his sweetheart, Kate, cheerfully (and indispensably) helps prune some of the denser verbiage in his contributions here — although she evidently didn’t have much to do with this particular thatch of text.