September dissolved so quickly it feels like only last week that I turned in the last column.
I’m grateful that I have this digital gig in order to concentrate my tendency to maintain a heavy dose of looking for and discovering great music. Halloween and falling leaves. We have cold mornings on the horizon and I already have a new list started for November. This one is over flowing with astounding music, much of which is filled with surprises, spontaneity and challenging structures. Enjoy.
Mothers: Render Another Ugly Method
File Under: art-rock, avant-garde, and sometimes proggy
Talk about an evolution. What was clearly a spark before is now a full blown firestorm. Mothers has always been the project of art-schooled and multitalented guitarist and singer Kristine Leschper, but the musicians supporting her are what made the early work so compelling. The most remarkable and name-making is the Ege Bamyari-style percussion work of drummer Matthew Anderegg, with Drew Kirby on guitar and Chris Goggans on bass. This album relies less on the vocal stylings of Leschper and more on the sound of a band working together, or at least trying to keep up with the drummer who often offers counterpoint that deserves to be followed. When art appears it should render you mute for a while as you process what begins only as a feeling, before evolving into language, the vicissitudes and fickleness of memory, like static built up between objects as you try and pin a name or definition on something that has yet to be defined. Mothers have leaped ahead with this one and captured a rawness that remains complex and at a distance. Perhaps it is a reflection in a mirror, looking back at this moment from the future as it is refracted and distorted and quickly recedes into infinity. Two videos: one a teaser track and the other is from their earlier incarnation and from a stunning live performance that shows where they came from.
Emma Ruth Rundle: On Dark Horses / Marked For Death
File Under: post-metal, post-folk, post-rock
Emma Ruth Rundle has been playing in heavy bands for a while now, but it is her solo work that really stands apart. There are echoes of her old group Marriages. these two albums: On Dark Horses and Marked For Death soar with her lyrics and songs that contain both soul wrecking despair over the death of a loved one, relationships dissolved, with always a heightened sense of ultimately evolving and moving forward. Even metalheads will like this stuff. In her own words she describes especially On Dark Horses: “The record is about overcoming—understanding and embracing the crippling situation and then growing beyond it,” she says, “Horses keep working their way into the lyrics and visual dimension of this record. They’re powerful and beautiful yet not free really. A dark horse works for me as a contained force that will win the race or exceed the expectation of society and self.” The live video of her playing her song “Heaven” from the Marked For Death record is absolutely a stunning and worth watching a couple of times.
Gazelle Twin: Pastoral
File Under: dystopian tribal chants, anti-agitprop art electronica
Elizabeth Bernholz aka Gazelle Twin has always been an uncompromising figure in 21st century art music. Even the cover of Pastoral mimics the Deutsche Grammophon classical records, albeit with a costumed clown/jester figure keying us in right away that something is amiss in good old England these days. That the Brexit vote was engineered by the dark algorithmic hand of billionaire Robert Mercer using his company Cambridge Analytica to use Facebook to micro target UK and US voters to create chaos and fear is the hyperreality/simulacrum where Pastoral gives up it’s most compelling signifiers. Pastoral, besides being an excellent piece of music, is also not afraid to demand the attention of her audience, who may or may not share her crystalline hostility toward this dystopian sensibility. In the cut “Better In My Day” she stalks in the guise of a Daily Mail reader, hyped up on racist logic and spewing hate “Just look at these kids now / No respect / No proper job / Much better in my day / No locked doors / No foreigners.” This is a sonically dense document that alters voices, aspires toward Chicago footwork, techno, folk, robotic vocals that taunt and seduce with their inverted and perverse sense of parody and rage. I always say this but will again: Art is rare indeed.
Yves Tumor: Safe In The Hands of Love
File Under: a fluid enigma who gets better with each album
I’ve nearly reviewed Yves Tumor before in this column. I gave his last album several listens and found it intriguing and deeper than it appeared on the first listen. He’s the anti-Yeezy and in his own gender bender way is far more musically adventurous and sensual. His bombast is truly radical and without a hint of bragging or bling. Not that Safe should in anyway be confused with hip-hop. The fact that the artist is a black man from the south who has found a diaspora in various EU zone cities, made a steady climb through various guises and disguises and flirted with a sexual persona not unlike the 70’s era Bowie, only adds to the richness found here. Instead of swaggering through the world Tumor revels in shedding genres and definitions that might pin him down and trap him as when he sings on Recognizing the Enemy: “It means so much to me when I can’t recognize myself.” Safe is a full on epic album full of warnings and talk of tribulations and the ever present possibility of sudden violence coming in the form of the white, hetero gaze, a supremacy that Tumor has meticulously created an antidote to in the form of his musical resistance.
File Under: Its not rock, jazz, grime, techno, hardcore, punk, vaporware or anything else.
It’s official that Angus Andrew is now the solo creator of the band that has innovated and never bored in its long history of releases over the years. Andrew’s was obviously the guiding star of Liars because this sounds exactly like a Liars record with it’s attention to studio manipulations, invention and the “we don’t repeat ourselves” motto relentlessly enforced. There’s something to be said for the urge to keep making Liars records. One a year or so would be sure to keep us on edge and off-kilter. It’s certainly tuned up the synapses and opened up that sense of the spontaneous I search for everywhere. A third eye. This is a massive double album with 29 songs. He asked me in I had a Horizon? (It’s a car) Baffled and not sure how to respond I said “No, but I have a very large circumference.” Angus Andrew has one immense circumference.
Richard Reed Parry: Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1
File Under: post-rock
It’s possible that I’ve been listening to Another Green World so often recently for this column that I hear the innovations and experiments of Brian Eno all over this solo outing by Richard Reed Parry, who is a founding member of the group Arcade Fire. Some Pink Floyd, Some Syd Barrett. A pastoral music. It has an expansive and vibrant feel although the lyrics aren’t especially deep. Overtly mean’t to please, this record cannot be described with any terms such as innovation. In the realm where popular music is used as a reference, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 attends those thinking of Mercury Prizes and other practical memes. There is little darkness and despair found here but there is passion and a overall benign sense of happiness. Entertained but not challenged. Perhaps I’m sitting on the fence. I think I’ll stay here for a while.
Saintseneca: Pillar of Na
File Under: folkatronic
Fleet Foxes at their most majestic, or The Suburbs era Arcade Fire are mere touchtones to the Ohio group who play banjo, bag lama, bulbul, balalaika, baritone ukulele, bass and bouzouki and sitar. And don’t forget the Appalachian-style joy of gathering around them a family of listeners. Frontman Zac Little plays off his revival tent beginnings, ratcheting up the biblical mysticism but always trying to allow the listener into what he’s about. Fellow vocalist Maryn Jones harmonizing remains, but when she does get top billing she’s been speeded up and is full of effects. For my ears her voice has always been the most compelling part of this band and her solo songs are always stand outs.
The Necks: Body
File Under: ecstatic meditations
20 albums and this Aussie outfit still manage to surprise. Being a trio of Tony Buck on drums, Chris Abrahams on guitar and bassist Lloyd Swanton and having played together for so many years now The Necks are a powerful force who always start from some meditative, seemingly simple krautish impulse and head from there to the heavens. On the Body they simply take off about 20 minutes into this 56 minutes long single track and blast off into a post-rock improvisation as tight and slick as those early Neu records. Perhaps the telepathy of the live shows is somewhat absent here, although that can be said of most of their work. Still, it’s deep space, psyche-trance conflagration that takes over your sense of time.
Oliver Coates: Shelley’s on Zell-La
File Under: not just a cellist
London-based cellist Coates is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Radiohead and composer Mica Levi as well as a turn on Greg Fox’s Best of the year winner The Gradual Progression. His collaboration with Levi, 2016’s Remain Calm is a great introduction to how Coates envisions and sculpts his relationship to cello and electronica. Every once in a while the cello comes through the mix as your expectations might latch onto. Otherwise, he uses Renoise, a fairly mundane software sequencer to create a cello that sounds very much like a buzzing bee, or a funk groove, with percussion also being manipulated from the same instrument.
Hiro Kone: Pure Expenditure
File Under: experimental deconstructed techno
If you look on the bill of any electronic music festival you won’t find but more than two
out of twenty that are women, and why is that exactly? Is it a patriarchal structure mirroring it’s own pleasure principle? Is there something in the various forms of electronic music that the audience considers more enjoyable when it is created by a man? So with that in mind I want to highlight a recent discovery in Nicky Mao, a NYC-based electronic artist who records and plays under the moniker of Hiro Kono, which is a distinctly male Japanese name. Given the genre’s innate sexism it might be a smart move on her part, a way to defy inbred prejudices and signifiers. Mao has made her career by some savvy collaborations such as on “The Ghost of George Bataille” with Drew McDowall (Coil). Here we find her collaborating with Berlin’s Group A on the title track and with Little Annie on “Outside The Axiom.” In no way is this “dance music” although she certainly knows how to create and flaunt a relentless beat throughout an entire song. And she started out on Geographic North, which should tell you something about the intensity of this electronic landscape. And I used the word experimental in the File Under and that is just a signifier I use when I am certain that someone has made something quite ritualistically and with a great deal of originality. It also just means that I am dumbfounded and my brain is endlessly searching for definitions and comparisons in order to better put words to something that needs none.
Low: Double Negative
File Under: some static and noise with the Low folks
If you’ve kept up with them over the past 25 years of their recording career Low, by any standard is almost a rock institution at this point, one where we can expect glorious harmonizing, as well as Christian overtones. What you might not expect from them is dissonance and abstraction, which is precisely why they took that approach to Double Negative, their new album. In the scheme of things Low remain an inspirational duo but instead of palatial and or refracted minimalism, we get a foray into an abstract space that is not at all trying to cause more disruption, but continues in their tradition, only with a growing sense that everything is not all right or can be resolved with love, devotion and empathy alone. Some more primal feeling is perhaps being called into being with this album that remains as lovely and enchanting as anything they’ve ever made.
Michele Mercure: An Accident Waiting to Happen
File Under: early 80’s feminist synth pioneer
Guitar: House Full of Time
File Under: this band had two great songs and this is one of them.
Mahavishnu Orchestra: A Lotus on Irish Streams
File Under: An Inner Mounting Flame
Jimmy Page (acoustic) Untitled
File Under: From a 1970 UK TV show. Rare
Adrianne Lenker: Symbol
File Under: (Big Thief) solo project
Another Green World, Geeta Dayal
File Under: seminal 1975 album just before Eno went all in on ambient
Another excellent 100 page essay from the 33 &1/3 series. I didn’t discover Eno until around 1981 and played catch up from there. I remember trying his ambient speaker set up using three speakers by splitting the chords from the two outside speakers, then listening to various things, especially Eno, Budd and others. The book steers clear of a lot of the material that has already been written and focuses instead on the how Eno was a painting major, an “unmusician” by his own reckoning, and went to a radical art school in England (where so many of the rock stars of the time originated) and came to music more like a painter than a composer. He built and he erased and rebuilt, adding layers and relentlessly adhered to creating situations where accidents were bound to happen and other musicians were left with oblique instructions that forced them out of their comfort zones. He loved all forms of tape machines and small, old-fashioned synthisizers that could be carried around like a suitcase. He continues to this day to be an inspiration and innovator, who not only created a genre or music, but showed how the studio itself should be considered an instrument and played as if it were one.
From The Archives
Roxy Music: Country Life
File Under: art rock from 1974
In this section of the column I like to highlight older gems that seem timeless, or so original and inspiring that they seem fresh every time you play them. Of course in writing this column I have to listen to forty or fifty albums a month to come up with 12 or so that seem worthy. Many times I don’t make it past the second or third song, or I skip ahead trying to get a feel for something I want to put in my Tidal or BC queue for a deeper listen. Which leaves me little time for the old chestnuts. So here I get to pluck something out of the archives and listen to it carefully two or three times. I almost did Avalon, because even within the stunning accomplishments of Roxy Music that one remains in its own category. So I choose Country Life instead, and if you haven’t heard it in a few years or never, please give it a close listen. They don’t play Roxy Music on classic rock FM stations because their music has always been a post-modern burlesque, with its roots in glam and in a Berlin Cabaret circa 1928, in fact the amazing
German television series Babylon Berlin (Netflix) involves a cameo by Brian Ferry. This is unapologetic art-rock, experimental and no one else sounded like them. The UK press was bonkers for them but they were all but ignored in the states until Country Life was released and went gold in the US. Yeah, and then there’s the whole Brian Eno thing. Can’t forget that.