Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Black Dog's still here!

On this, the last day of the year, it is customary to look over the year and evaluate what great musical things have come our way in the last 12 months. However, since every website, blog, publication, and their granny is doing this I’m just gonna write about something that I’m totally crestfallen that I missed. The most recent album by British techno/IDM stalwarts The Black Dog came out at the end of March of this Year and I didn’t get the memo. The fact that it was released on a label from the city of my birth, Glasgow, Scotland, adds even more insult to injury, the insult that comes from not paying enough BLOODY ATTENTION to what’s going on in the world of proper techno, as I like to call it.

Radio Scarecrow came out on Soma Quality Recordings on March 31st as a CD and a very limited — 230 copies — triple vinyl pack. Would I like to possess the aforementioned three vinyl set? Yesh, I soytenly would, but alas and alack ‘tis undoubtedly sold out. There’s still the CD or digital files from the Soma store, and those may suffice. However, regardless of format this album absolutely rocks from start to finish, over the course of its seventeen tracks. On it, The Black Dog, Ken Downie, Martin Dust, and Richard Dust (of Dust Science Recordings) return to that lush, tricky sound that has been their trademark on IDM classics like “Virtual,” Spanners and Temple Of Transparent Balls.

 The group has never really gone away,  the line up has just changed — estranged members Handley and Turner went on to trade as Plaid — and their profile has lessened somewhat since the ‘90s when IDM was a hot genre. Intelligent electronic music, that you can dance to sometimes, is always a welcome thing in my book, but the lowbrow turn that dance music has taken in this low brow decade has kinda left it in the shadows. Radio Scarecrow shows that though it may not be in the limelight there is always a place for it. This album rolls, twitches, glitches, turns and hovers excellently from start to finish and the boys even fire in a couple of dance floor burners just in case you might think that they’re a trio of glum, Northern English chinstrokers. In fact, “UV Sine,” an abstract fusion of Detroit techno and New Jersey garage shows why djs like Tony Humphries used to drop “Virtual” back in the day.

Radio Scarecrow is a real keeper, extremely listenable and a solid exercise in melodic abstraction. Scoop on sight!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ghostly Round Up

I often feel guilty when I give props to an artist or a label over and over again but sometimes you just can’t help it. This is the case with Ghostly International I believe. In the last week or so I have a covered School Of Seven Bells and Broker/Dealer, two outfits which record for the Ann Arbor, Michigan, based imprint. The debut album by the former is sterling piece of work, while Broker/Dealer’s “Soft Sell EP” contains one of the best dance tracks of the year, the title track.

However, it doesn’t stop there as Ghostly just continue to knock out the quality entertainment across a range of genres. This is what makes Ghostly truly admirable, a dismissal of the need to willingly pigeon hole yourself. Hats off to that in an era that has seen underground music cave to the myopic and narrow focus on sub-genres and the manufactured notion that club music — and black music in general — can only have rap, r&b and syrupy dance pop. Not that all of that is bad either as the commercial producers continue to dumbfound us with increasingly abstract and enthralling beats.

However, thank god there’s a world of music to choose from besides what the corporates prescribe for us. Ghostly’s existence is proof enough that good music will always find some way out of a tight, corporate controlled bind. And serving that purpose this year were albums by British odd rockers, The Chap, and their Mega Breakfast long player, Michna and his Magic Monday opus and singles by Kate Simko, Lawrence, and Matthew Dear with the excellent "Pom Pom." 

I could wax about this label for days, but why bother, it's to better to root through what Ghostly has and see how it suits ya. That way you can surprise yourself with just how kick ass this label is.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Roy Davis and Todd Edwards

What do you write about on Christmas Eve, when you have a gang of music to deal with but you’ve spent so much time downloading it, sending feedback and making sure that it’s somewhere you can find it easily when you do need to listen to it? Simple, you pick out a five-track remix EP by Chicago house music guy Roy Davis Jr. and you gush endlessly about the Todd Edwards remix dub. If only all writing conundrums could be solved this easily.

Scion, those purveyors of boxy, little cars, also have an Audio Visual arm, with which occasionally like to put out digital releases, and the odd rekkid too. So far their releases have centred in and around the accepted modes of club music, i.e. electro and hip-hop, or a combo of both. As I am completely over both of these genres — in their more mainstream leaning forms anyway — I was glad to see that the car people had decided to go into a more groovy direction with Roy Davis Jr. and a host of credible remix talent.

The song is called “I Have A Vision,” a title which smacks of late ‘80s and early ‘90s starry eyed idealism — we could all do with a bit of that right now I think — and makes you want to run and grab your super deep house records and uplifting New York and New Jersey garage toons. Luckily I have an ample supply of all of these types of music, which means I’m always on the hunt for something new and fresh sounding. As the decade winds out and the whole edit/disco retro scenario starts to get long in the tooth (or is it the beard?), we’ll hopefully see and hear some new new sounding gear.

Todd Edwards’s remix dub has a certain freshness to it; it’s fast, slick, groovy and has the producer’s signature chopped up vocal style. It reminds me of his wicked mix of “If I Ever Feel Better” by Phoenix, coupled with the power of Justice (with all their jagged corners smoothed down) and a bit of Speed Garage, which Edwards influenced heavily anyway. I’ve been into his sound since the mid-90s after hearing killer cuts like “Saved My Life” and “Winter Behaviour.” This dub on Roy Davis Jr.’s record is another Edwards classic, not that the other mixes by Fred Falke, The Juan MacLean and Davis himself are sloppy, not at all, but Todd Edwards’s dub contains an effortless funk futurism that used to be dance music’s MO. We’ve taken the step back to re-evaluate the ‘70s and ‘80s, might be time for that step forward. Hopefully.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Les Filles on Le Pop Musik

In the ‘70s and ‘80s you could always rely on the British media, especially the music media, to point out that the French had no real pop music of their own, that their interpretation of youth culture was heavily slanted by a dated reverence for Americana. This was based on the fact that in the English speaking world the only artists of note at that time were crooners like Charles Aznavour. There was a certain amount of xenophobia in these opinions, which bolstered the eminent position of the British as the first, finest and most current interpreters of American musical culture.

This was before the French fairly beat the British around the head with Daft Punk, Motorbass, Julien Jabre, Pepe Braddock et al. and their visionary versions of house music, executed before they handed the baton to Justice so that duo could shred the music through a refractive lens of irony, hair metal and good fun. However, the French always had their own, traditional popular music and song called Chanson, the origins of which dated back to the twelfth century and epic poem songs like The Song of Roland. This tradition has lasted up to this day, and is undergoing a renaissance as it looks to modern artists like Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel for inspiration.

Now there are a host of new French artists creating music in this vein and thankfully there is a German label that is championing it with individual artist releases and reliable compilations. The label is called Le Pop Musik and it is based in Cologne and one of its latest offerings is a compilation called Les Filles. It drops in Europe on January 26th and in the US on February 1oth. It is an excellent sixteen-track collection containing music by female artists. These include Barbara Carlotti, whose stirring “Mademoiselle Opossum” opens the record. Other stirring offerings include Fredda’s “Barry White,” the beautiful “Clash Dans La Tempo” by Constance Amiot and the girlish and irresistible “Cupide Et Stupide” by Austine. The risqué, joyful and hilarious video above is by Marianne Dissard, a French woman living in Tucson, Arizona, who has collaborated with both Calexico and Giant Sand, and whose husband, Naim Amor, has done likewise.

I was introduced to this label via Le Pop Musik’s Le Pop 4 collection in the sping of last year. I do like what I hear as it is perfect listening music and isn’t it nice to hear pop music sung in a different language (I get guilty pleasure from some J Pop too). Plus Jeanne Cherhal’s closer “Si Tu Reviens J'annule Tout” is magic and the album just gets better and better with each listen. Check this, it came out and if you're keen on fragile girls singing in French and making you sigh, then you might want to check this blog on the regular,


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Toob - Dervish Angel

This one came out on Monday and I think it’s kinda nice. The record is called “Dervish Angel” and it’s by a British act called Toob. The music is house inflected with dreamy, narcotic nuances and a dark little edge that catches you off guard. The Clouded Vision Remix will probably do the most damage on the dance floor and it sounds quite pleasant in your ear holes too, when yer away from the dance floor. The duo appeared on Bomb The Bass’s last album, Future Chaos, and have been putting out material on labels Process Recordings and Lo Recordings for a minute. Keep an eye and an ear peeled for them. Pretty boys they may not be, but they make a pretty noise, and that’s what counts. Or did.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Broker/Dealer in exquisite techno manoeuvres.

I’m kinda up to my naddlies in new records but pushed this one to the front of the priority pile as it rocks in a grand style. It’s a four track EP (on wax, five on the digital release) by San Francisco based duo Broker/Dealer on Ann Arbor’s Spectrum Sound label, a Ghostly International side imprint. The Ryans, Bishop and Fitzgerald, comprise the outfit and produce what is, in my humble opinion, some of the best dance music coming out of SF right now, along with releases by folks like Claude Von Stroke, the Martin Brothers and Nick Chacona.

Von Stroke and the Martins deal in techno with a bounce happy sound that is as abstract as it is playful, while Fitzgerald and Bishop opt for a galactic glide that hints at hours listening to Basic Channel, Il Discotto, Underground Resistance and Logic System. The title track of this record exhibits that tendency in all its glory and is hooky and majestic all at once

Thomas Fehlmann, a collaborator with The Orb and a former member of Palais Schaumburg, provides two mixes (only one appears on the wax, two on the digital release) which take a more minimal route with a gritty and funky groove. And there is an extra track called “Save It For Later,” which also works quite nicely on the ears and arse. The title track is the one for me though, deep techno from some sound heads. Check it, and wreck it.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas in Discoland

Here we see two completely different approaches to Christmas carol/song covers. The first, by Italo disco legend Alexander Robotnick, aka Maurizio Dami, is the completely barking mad, ravey, burn yer fake beard while lighting your fag approach. The second one is a much more Scandinavian and polite take on the idiom by Norwegian artist Lindstrøm, and friends. Both are equally valid, with Lindstrøm's Paul McCartney cover being a delightful accompaniment to the early and civilized part of the day, while Robotnick's will do just fine when all the food's been scoffed, quite a bit of hard liquor has been imbibed and the kids — rushing on a savage amount of sugar — are on top of the tree chucking baubles at you and screaming total gibberish in your general direction.

Thanks to Sir Anthony of the Mansfields for posting a link to the Lindstrøm vid on myshpace. Anthony makes rekkids with Nick Chacona, djs...a lot and runs the Hector Works label (I'm not sure if Hector works there, but call his mum too find out, if you're curious, or bi, curious even, snicker). He's based in Shan Francishco, and if you don't concur that his rekkids and remixes are fab –check his TJ Gorton remix and Greg Wilson's rework of "Oh Snap" — he will come to your town and point at you and then bear hug you until you relent. So relent now, as relenting laterz could lead to unrelenting embarrassment, and that's the tired and not so funny relenting usage put to rest.

I just love the Paul McCartney original and Lindstrøm's version is pretty damned faithful and you could have a bit of dance to it while pulling a cracker with granny, the Robotnick version is good whilst listening to the sleigh bells, and galloping reindeer in your your your mind. Can also did a version of "Silent Night" and it's on the b side of the 12 inch of "I Want More," and came to my attention in the winter of 1989 when I successfully blagged one off a friend back in ze old country. He wanted Sonic Youth's Sister on wax, which I had, and I wanted the Can 12" which he had. 

We reached a harmonious accord in relation to the transaction and I haven't looked back since, except when I'm walking through the Tenderloin in the wee hours and behind me I hear feet shuffling, blades being pulled or someone screaming "wurrarrghaaah" (which is always, but coincidentally, the name of someone who lives on the third floor of a building and has a copious amount of serious narcotics). Enjoy the yuletide machinations that are laid out before us like a cornucopia of gorgeousfulness, dear readers, and I will take my leave. Hokay!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

School Of Seven Bells' Alpinisms Album

I was going to write a super long-winded treatise on this album using words and phrases like post-modern, musique concrète, neo-psychedelic and post ambient dub trip rock, but decided strongly against that and just vouched for a simple message instead. School of Seven Bells’ Alpinisms album fucking rocks — albeit in a gentle way that creeps over you in a wave of controlled euphoria — and I would advise everyone and their granny to go out and buy it immediately and without further delay, hesitation, pause or procrastination on anyone’s (or their granny’s) parts — not that this blog (or anywhere else) is a forum for discussing your granny’s parts or your parts either. There are other places to do that and this not one of them. Hokay!

Seriously though, this record is a damned good one, and Ghostly deliver ze goods once again. The Chap aren’t three bad eever.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ghostape - Many Stars EP.

Out of a lot of the new stuff I’ve heard recently in the electronic side of things a cheeky little five tracker from a Swiss artist named Ghostape was a breath of fresh air to say the least. It’s coming out tomorrow on UK label People in the Sky. It’s cute, quirky, danceable, unself-conscious and contains a coupla two or three tight remixes, especially the one by Danish artist Screen Tests. I’ve already reviewed it here, so have a listen and a read and enjoy yer Sunday. Hokay!


Meninblack Part 2

All this twee rock and dance music just pushes me to listen to edgier, harder music that truly exhibits angst, anger and hunger. The first three Stranglers albums do this with bells on and the fact they were lambasted as misogynists, racists etc. etc. was ample proof that they riled the British music press with their talent, lack of interest in punk pigeon-holing and general lack of respect for the journalists themselves.

Bass player JJ Burnel got into some fisticuffs with NME journalists and fellow musicians, but a lot of British rockers of that era — Siouxsie and Paul Weller included — made violent overtures about music hacks. The Stranglers just delivered on the threats and then wound things up more by pushing all the taboos they could in the press’s face. NME regarded the band as not punk enough because they were older, had members with long hair and featured a keyboard player. But the band weren't trying to be punk, they just happened to be around at the same time as the budding genre and had a dark, aggressive sound that resonated with punk rockers. 

Regardless, the first three Stranglers records are a great exercise in gifted musicianship, a non guitar hero approach to rock — Burnel and Cornwell shared lead vocals — and a musical style that couldn’t be put in a neat, punk box. The Raven, their fourth, is a pretty neat affair too, although showing more of a pop leaning. Some of the tracks from all these albums are timeless, and sound as forward looking and modern as much of the rock coming out now.

The combination of JJ Burnel’s bass and Dave Greenfield’s unbelievable, baroque tinged keyboard playing and synth work made their music intricate, aggressive and otherworldly all at one. They sounded like the Doors colliding with Kraftwerk and The Flamin’ Groovies. I grew up on those albums and I go back to them often for ideas and inspiration, now, more than ever. Their music proves that you can be angry, pissed off and intelligent all at once and that you don’t have to cave at the feet of an elite world view that’s fascist at one extreme and overly politically correct at the other, because there are no parameters in self-politics or good music. There are in dogma and crap music.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Meninblack Part 1

Thanks to the man like James Glass for hipping me to the absofuckinglutely killer youtube video above featuring the stellar talents of both The Stranglers and Peter Cook. James is a bit of a stellar talent himself, on the wheels of steel, and on the edit and like myself is an old school Stranglers fanatic. Check his selections of the Golden Goose label and keep an eye peeled for when he is behind the ones and twos.

We are both currently lamenting the fact that everything musical we love — dance music and rock — has become so damned wimpy that we might be forced to go metal. Even techno has wimped out as it becomes more of an ultra-generic software workout for jet setters with great programming skills and not a note in their head. Anyway as the cities become more and more expensive to live in, and you get less and less for your buck, the task of creating music has fallen hard on the delicate shoulders of the progeny of the wealthy.

Oh, they should show us the extent of their struggle and hunger while creating twee offerings replete with shrill vocals and music that has “always had an Arthur Russell and Liquid Liquid” quality to it.” This will be an antedote to our drab proletarian lives. However, I would rather just pull out Black And White by The Stranglers and wallow in its dark and caustic post apocalyptic vision to be honest.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Meninblack intro

In the last month or so I have been writing about new dance music and older rock music. And it’s only today that I’ve really thought about why that is so, because at this point I’m kinda a little bored with both and with some of the newer rock I’m hearing too. Perhaps, I got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Well, my bed’s against a wall so maybe I’m getting up on the wrong side of it every day (a chorus of chimpmunk voices chimes in saying, “Yeah you do, you fucking asshole!”). Hanx for that.

New dancey stuff is getting all quiet, cosmic and contemplative, kinda like trip hop without the minor jazz chords, dodgy compilations and start up parties with an ice sculpture (San Fran circa 1999). While some of the new rock I’m hearing sounds like “we made this album with the trust fund of the singer, drummer and bass player and we’re going to do our godsdarnests to exercise our bourgeois ennui if it kills us — or gives us a nasty blister on our pinkies. Twee to say the least, and then on the electronic front there’s been a serious outbreak of balearia.

Balearia is a disease that’s contracted when you mix the eclectic dj sets of ‘80s and early ‘90s Ibiza classics with yacht rock, Italo disco and Baldelli classics, It causes you to grow a beard and speak in a quiet voice like the whispering guy out of the Old Grey Whistle Test. Advanced forms of it reportedly make you Norwegian, but you’d have to check in with the World Health Organization for more info on that.

I think it’s hilarious that Balearic has become a genre, given that it’s a style of djing where eclecticism was a prerequisite. Welcome to corporate style marketing for underground music. Which leads to me to pull out one of my old favorites and write about it, basically because I want to hear something that’s keyboardy and weird but has balls. You could always rely on The Stranglers for balls and their music is a beautiful fusion of testosterone, an excess of good drugs, Devo, Kraftwerk, The Doors, acid rock and dark sarcasm.

More on this is a bit.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Killing Joke Part One

My friend Raf who writes the absolutely banging blog, Gold Code, just posted about Killing Joke’s phenomenal “Almost Red” EP and it got me thinking about the band, one of my favorites, along with The Stranglers. I love Raf’s blog ‘cos it sidetracks away from all the dance music obscurer than thou dick swinging and occasionally focuses on stuff that’s under your nose and that’s not dance music while also keeping tabs on killer classics in the boogie, Cosmic, hip-hop, house and Italo realms. And he posts mp3s. It’s a good read, no doubt.

And Killing Joke was/is a good listen, a brutal, yet complex, fusion of punk, Moroderesque electronics, disco, funk, Kraut rock and dub reggae. However, this potent concoction of sounds didn’t detract from a rage that was palpable, an anger that was moulded from coming of age in Thatcher’s no hope, no future, class war plagued Britain. Listen to tunes like “War Dance,” “Psyche,” “Requiem” and “Change” for evidence of that, and a dark edge that set them apart, putting them somewhere in the same realm as the equally dark horse group The Stranglers.

Like the Meninblack they had a kick ass bass player, in the shape of Youth, the man who brought the disco and reggae quotients for sure. Legend has it that in the ‘80s he would sneak off to New York for a month every year to check out the music and clubs etc. He would tape every mix show on WBLS that he could and then bring the tapes back to the UK to share with friends like NME writer Kris Needs. This was the age of Shep Pettibone playing dubbed out, three deck clusterfucks of avant funk. Youth took that inspiration and applied it to the production he provided on cuts like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill. He also dated Bush, the jammy fucker, as did Stranglers bass player Jean Jacques Burnel. Shoulda taken up the bass sooner, huh?

Legend also has it that the entire band ran off to Iceland in 1982 because their occultist beliefs led them to the conclusion that the world was about to end, and Iceland was the best place to avoid the fire and brimstone. It seems the opposite is the case in the current financial maelstrom. Despite numerous line up changes they always operated as a quartet with Jaz Coleman on vocals and synths. Coleman also managed to collaborate with Anne Dudley from Art of Noise on a project that combined electronic, middle eastern and classical musics, and produced an album of Māori inflected music using master Māori players. Thus he didn’t resort to samples like the new agey twiddlings of Enigma et al.

To be continued….