Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Seven for 2011

The consumer-as-critic post, based on the modern reality of criticism sharing ever closer click space with retailers – as well as the instant effusions of the social networkers, has compelled me to go over recent purchases (not of the last week but the year so far), and weigh out the sonic truth innit. Not really, I don’t pretend to be able to compete with the good crit out there and no doubt this will be shared little, laughed at and largely ignored but at least it occupies its own space, divorced from the need to sell units or drive up hits.


The brooding strings and accordion elegy by Doomed Bird of Providence, who spin tales of Australia’s dark colonial past, gets comprehensively altered over six remixes. I Am a Vowel leads with undulating drones eventually allowing some uplifting notes out into the light at the end of the mix, Mark Beazley introduces electric and classic guitar and retains more of the vocal; Position Normal let the harpist play amid desolate urban atmospherics, Cloud in the Shape of Klaus Schulze (not Herr Schulze but, confusingly the collaboration between Time Attendant and Jonny Mugwump, I think) reverberates the ensemble, adds some flute and 70s synth-noise for a heady pastoral space brew in phase 1, before dropping back into quasi-Iberian then avant-noise takes in phases 2 and 3 – varied and bewitching; Bristolian Zoon van SnooK riffs on an odd but danceable and constantly shifting bubbler ; and Robert Logan’s Diazapam mix adds a pulse which the echoed and distorted vocal rides well. All in all, a pretty strong digital-only remix package, and selecting one is a lottery. With their fine source material, get Doomed Bird, already tracked by the likes of Tom Ravenscroft, on at your nearest ‘twisted folk’ night pronto.
Fedicia Exine (I Am A Vowel mix) by frontandfollow


An artist on which Wire critique unusually compelled me to listen. Minerva specialises in spectral wisps, most of her songs barely exist, music not drowning but drowned by the FX palate, neither here or there in your presence. As an aesthetic it’s a good and consistent one, the artist genuinely able to match her music to its haunted catalysts which could be [unfulfilled] homosexual desire and the exquisite loneliness of the bedroom, along with the general feeling that any worlds other than the one she’s currently experiencing carry more resonance. And when Minerva gets it right, as in the first minutes of A Little Lonely’s shimmering but woozy disco, the music soars.
But the Tallinn Dawn album put out by Not Not Fun (wow, a double negative adverb, how evasive!) and even A Little Lonely, which tails off rather lamely with no effort to get back to the ecstatic mores of the first two minutes, are quite maddening for any listener more interested in engagement than critique, as it means the songs ghost in and out leaving scant trace of their existence. Part-formed and intent on evading any sense of Now.
Maria Minerva - Disko Bliss by


Label owner’s solo debut. Though Slugs’ impact on clubland and sonic trends has been sufficient to inspire infamous and ambitious detailed track by track analysis, their output has ebbed and flowed with some truly great moments (‘Wut’, Velour and Jam City’s EP) accompanied by some filler. The same is true on this EP – the first three tracks are so-so higher tempo workouts with the drums sounding loud and clear but the riffs and effects fairly ineffective – Remainder at one stage has a flanged out drop I’d be a little embarrassed to keep even on my own not-fit-for-public consumption musical experiments; Charisma Theme promises anthemic release but doesn’t quite get there; while Hyperpass is a bit acid-techno with Phuture-type dread vox but fairly unmemorable. It’s the last two tracks that do it, dropping the need to bang with much heavier dynamics. Silo Pass begins with scratched hip-hop loops and ambient conversation, before building up into a old-school grime riff given space to breathe and play off the drums. The snatched conversation continues emphasising the urban feel and giving it the air of a DJ playing it out. Look (Dub) – with its plucked acid stabs, heavy percussion and the old dramatic string up against drum machines working overtime to fill within the time signature – also creates a decent air of sustained menace. Would like to see a bit more of the spirit of these last two tracks in his more dance-oriented tracks.
BOK BOK - Silo Pass (NS010 preview) by BokBok


Exquisite goth, or is it witch-rock now? Lone basslines striding out above the guitar, Dr Jeep-style rhythm monotony, breathy vocals you can’t hear, record cover of a heavily veiled woman viewing her ruined beauty in the mirror. there’s a part of me that’s always a willing supplicant to this moody, decadent aesthetic. That’s A Colour and Temporal Vessels, but Dive (the Wheel of the Law) ditches the goth motifs and ascends into haunted folk territory, riding a primitive drum machine thud to fine effect. ToC are part of the Blackest Ever Black label, who are carving quite a niche out for lovingly prepared, post-industrial dark output, where all the 80s references are quite fresh and not totally played out. Corky and I are going to this and looking forward to it!
Tropic of Cancer - A Color [Blackest Ever Black, 2011] by Blackest Ever Black


Jesu and Godflesher Justin Broadrick’s jumping off point for his new project is the breakbeats, trip-hop and overall blunted ranges of the 90s, but all done behind a permeable wall of FX to take the sound beyond mere raver or weed-smoking fayre. Some mastering pedants would no doubt like to get at the mix to separate out the constant incidental glitch and queasy feel, moreover there’s no micro-programming of each quant of beatsthe distinctive sound is capable of delivering emotional grandeur. Yet the treated vocals and riffs still soar in their own way with emotional grandeur, hinting at a transcendental purpose. Seventh Heaven itself is probably the standout yet the ep all stands up; King Midas Sound’s remix of Wash It All Away complements the aesthetic, while Resonanz Therapie Musik differs the most with its drowsy industrial 80s soundtrack feel. Looking forward to hearing more.
Pale Sketcher - Seventh Heaven by alexandroid


Deferring from either the Honest Jon’s EP or Fabric mix, I went for the ep on his own new Woe to the Septic Heart label. The form with Sam Shackleton hasn’t changed much since he hit his range on Skull Disco, microcosmic rhythm programming, eerie dubs, occasional dark humour – am I the only one to find the Shack sound totally beguiling but also occasionally a little irritating, able to get under your skin like a tic? But in this alien carrier lies a sense of terror and malaise which is a good thing, urging you to a deeper listen to force definition. Both Man on a String and Bastard Spirit have insistent bass patterns as the impetus for all manner of rhythmic and instrumental interplay, pitch-bent Arabic flavours on the former, wind chimes on the latter. Scratched into either side of the out-vinyl is a message – the Danger Lies Within and the Crisis of Our Country is Not Caused by External Forces. Stay with Shackleton to help you escape our epistemological sinkhole.
Shackleton 'Man on a String Pt 1 & 2' (Woe to the Septic Heart) by punchdrunkmusicdotcom


Some of us, if we’re honest, had found our place when fourth-world rave utopia segued with pre-jungle mania, and would have been happy sticking there, so Lone pushes the right buttons straight away. Yet it’s very typical as a selective buyer that, having been wooed by pretty much everything on the streams of his various releases as well as his Xoyo mix, when I finally reach for an ep – the six-tracker Echolocations – I was left a little unsatiated despite all the desired elements being in place. Matt Cutler makes it clear he’s not doing this stuff for pure retro value itself (and in an if not totally validated then certainly accepted Retromaniacal world he has nothing to apologise for). Only Explorers riding in on deranged half-backwards riff whose filters punctuate the gap reminding you of everything and nothing of your subcultural life, really does it. The new agey, harp-led Dolphin is useful too, but as with Bok Bok the Coreshine Voodoo lead track (as much as this matters on a digital release) seems a bit of a letdown; glockenspiel works off banging drums and the rave riff to no great effect. Lone can clearly come up with these riffs in his sleep but maybe a little more development is needed. No need to ditch the re-vision, few can deliver a sound with as much brightness and vitality as this producer and it’s not the case this sound suffers from contextual displacement, but maybe a wider sound palate, a bit more dysfunctionality and a little bit less re-creation will take him to the next stage.
LONE - Explorers by ana_basha

Hope this inspires a few purchases of your own. It’s certainly leading me to whack the highlights of all these together in a mix. That I’ll do. In the next bit. Of time. There’s a systemic breakdown of the establishment going on!
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Mis-shapes and townies

A trailer for his Uncommon book, Owen offers a fine evocation on Up, Close of the liminal world and ‘alternative collectivity’ of the Mis-Shapes, with the suggestion of a false and over-stated divide (not to mention contradictions) engendered by these cultural signifiers.

Undoubtedly, the mis-shapes of indie could come from the poorest backgrounds (often the most willing converts as they're desperate for culture they never had around them), as well as those upper-working, lower-middle liminal strata who were doing their best to avoid the corporate world their parents wanted for them. Important to remember a 90s ‘townie’, too, could cut across class lines. Schooled on the surrey-hants border, I know many a public school type who dumbed down (a very 90s phrase) to that boorish Ben Sherman, lager-swilling, casual look. It was a very aspirational move back then.

I get Phil's point about our cities not necessarily toeing the marketing/media line and having their own musical and cultural preferences. Areas of Burley and Headingley in Leeds had strong local contingents who also would have been largely indifferent to the approved groups. But my impression was that in the more desperate provinces the Roses and the Mondays (and Inspirals, and James! …) were very much the chosen ones of the non-indie working and middle class tribes – not at the time of Bummed/Squirrel or the release of the Roses LP, of course, but a year later after all the Roses singles had been re-released, Fool’s Gold kept being played and Shaun had Paul Oakenfold twist his melons, man. We forget how pop had been so sorely lacking in identity for groups of young men by the tail-end of the 80s. The chimera of good vibes and unity within baggy never filtered down to those who were happy just to have a look again though. It’s almost a cliché to say it but it was only in actually dancing rave up to 91/92 that I saw an anti-aspirational mixing of the classes, and the rich kids fell away as the music became more hardcore.

Before it became grimly clear they stood for nothing so much as social nihilism and the music wasn’t going anywhere, early Oasis seemed to muddy the stereotyping further, as the indie-kids, ravers and townies all seemed to give their seal of approval, maybe in collective hallucination that this ‘swinging Britain’ redux thing was really happening. [Clinging onto them longer than was necessary it had become clear I was in a liminal world of my own, where I wanted access to the ‘solidarity of records and clothes’ of indie, the sonic advances of rave and, with football, the regular night out on the export juice in the shittiest of venues our chosen town for the night could muster. This way bred confusion and self-loathing (an indie trait?) and I wouldnt recommend it].

These were times of extended class mobility, extended HE access, etc. Now ‘we’ just sneer at the chavs and have little left to steal from their culture, while the casual look is a Mod-type Britcult curio, at best. Sportswear and logos reign, and so successful is their penetration that they are no longer seen as just for the working classes. The provincial Mis-Shapes still obviously exist but not as filtered through indie as they used to be: that world is a very stylised, commodified thing now; ‘getting the look’ can still involve thrift shops/retro gear but is more likely to involve boutique wear. And it might involve very expensive trainers or shoes, and weekends away at resorts listening to a hero curate the line-up of your dreams. Being indie now is an expensive habit which takes it away from the ghetto it used to imprison itself in.
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