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Archived reviews: W

Miriam de WaardVoor Elise (an electronic welcome)
Label: Staalplaat Format: 3″ CD

Rhythmic ratcheting enters from the fog and brings it along besides. Fuer Elise – but only the most familiar of the notes. Plinky bells tinker along, as if trying to catch up with its larger, more melodious brother. More of those notes, only with more air in them. A kitty! – and a music box. The ratcheting re-exits.

It is such a little thing.

-David Cotner-

WäldchengartenWas Kommunikation?
Label: KFI Records Format: 10″

Was Kommunikation? - sleeve detailThe epigram on “Was Kommunikation?” reads “If you ever discover what communication is, you’ll be saddened, since you’re really not making so much sense right now”. Wäldchengarten‘s form of cummunication on this EP/mini-LP is fairly straightforward; big blasts of rising feedback and noise looping into waves of distortion, riding the crest of multitudinous effects pedals as whatever sound sources (they could be guitars and/or analogue synths but let’s not make too many assumptions here) become somwhat redundant in the face of their downstream recursion inside the electronics.

“Strategies For Making A Move” does this in spades; “Fuck You Because You Don’t!” brings in some metal thwacking and relies more on the dynamic possibilities of tweaking those knobs in queasy directions; excoriating and purgative – just what the doctor ordered to drive those melodic Blues away, including the very idea of melody itself of course. The endless loop at the end is a nice touch too. “Sundays Are The Best?” is suitably slow and lazy, like the day in question it wanders slightly aimlessly, tinkering for a while with small drones, ponderous guitar figures and shuffly shakes and plinks. When the not unexpected shards of noise burst out of the speakers, they blow the cowebs away briefly before the lead into the closing “Stupid, Ignorant Woman”, which signs off in furious looping style with a headache-inducing descending tone to conclude.

Wäldchengarten love to make a big rumbling noise, to scrape the textures and stutters into cavernous slabs of sound which refuse to make themselves easy in any way. Naturally, the assumption that the record should be listened to at maximum volume seems assured of an affirmative “Pardon? What was that you said?”

-Antron S. Meister-

WastelandOctober
Label: Transparent Format: CD

Reverberating across the Atlantic like a pressure wave through a disintegrating glacier, Wasteland are a collaboration between London-based breakcore-gabber-jungle terrorist DJ Scud (here in uncharacteristically laid-back mode) and New York improvisational dubbist I-Sound. Their trademark sound is sparse, uncluttered Electronica, blending Dub sensibilities with razor-sharp digital pulses and stabs, blasts of static, ravey ‘hoover’ synths and snatches of dislocated human voice, mixing it all up into a white-cold furnace while still maintaining an illusion of melody and a firm grip on the groove controls.

Opener “Sandwood” sets the pace, settling into a disjointed rhythm that put me immediately in mind of “Ticking Time Bomb”/”What’s My Mission Now?”-era Tackhead, only harder-edged and spikier. Occasionally (“Wintermission”/”Flash Point”) comparisons with the Sabres of Paradise come to mind too. Mostly missing however is the warmth of production shared by both Sherwood and Weatherall, at least in the first half of the album, but then they aren’t called Wasteland for nothing; what did you expect, comfort? From time to time they strip the beats down to their barest and most machine-like components, as on (heh) “Industrial Injury”, and let the duelling oscillators dominate, and while this is perfectly competent brain candy, it’s not where they shine the most; the angry electric Funk of tracks like “Saturation” is much more satisfying.

Wasteland’s handling of sample selection and sound palette construction is particularly well-executed. The choice of synth patches occasionally refer knowingly to dance culture rather than traditional Dub or the self-conscious avant-garde – closing track “In Your Sleep” even starts off sounding a bit like Orbital before going all Tekniq – and the tabla/djembe-like percussion layers mesh beautifully with the nostalgic clankiness of the drum machines, which sound suspiciously like early 90s Yamaha kit. For that matter, they eschew the faddish engineering tricks like time-stretching and squashing, bit quantization and extreme flanging that are so popular with the likes of Kid 606 and Venetian Snares, and I mean it as a compliment when I say this CD could have been recorded ten years ago.

At forty minutes it’s not an epic album, it does what it wants to do and leaves, and this is when I start to have slight reservations; if you’re not paying attention, it’ll slip through your perceptual field and out the other side without you really becoming aware of its passage, a few moments of sublime clarity notwithstanding. But pin it down and it’ll open up its crystalline layers to you like a flower frozen in liquid nitrogen.

-Andrew Clegg-

We TM Square R oot Of Negative One
Label: Asphodel Format: CD,2LP

We TM have been dipping into the Big Book of Drum & Bass since their debut As Is – which isn’t to say they weren’t fairly proficient in the art of breakbeat and rewind before, just that their technique has got a whole lot chunkier, with even more depth present in the bass-shaking and the snare-stretching. They’re still proponents of Illbient unease too, as the opening “Biribau” brings up the recursive, echoed electrical whirrs and ambient trash-compacter before the quaking, distorted synth bass of “12_Diabolos” shudders into effect.

There’s an edgy quality to the sparingly-applied digital synth washes – which still seem to plague D∓B tracks, but have a subservient role here to the all-propulsive rumble and interlocked snare kicks. The keyboards are used innofensively on thw whole, and the occasional child sample adds an almost Sesame Street quality to the early proceedings. Given We’s New York origins, there’s also a hint of HipHop to their science, but plenty of Dub rimshots and melting low end among the occasional mellow Jazzy sample (thankfully not too mellow, and also lacking in cliché) – but everything ends up in a warmly-baked stew of their own devising, bubbling under with plenty occasional morsels among the crashing basslines.

What is most effective about this album, apart from a heavier sense of dread than much Illbient material, is the dynamic shift from onward driven rush into restrained accretions of reversed loops, break-fragments, indivdual bass pulses and back again into the energetic sections of looming beat chaos, and the circular structure closed by the end loops of “Uabmirib”. The spoken section which ends “Ririka” comes at a particularly slow point, and marks a pause for thought as a passing voice wonders (after much tongue-twisting) “How can I get by with this?” – before the quite caverous chest-burst bass makes such fleeting existential questions moot in the face of the self-sufficient logic of the all-consuming hard-disc. High point of the album’s weightiness is the total Dub-out “Hiela” – the point at which their bass credentials are confirmed, placing The Square Root Of Negative One firmly in the range of Drum and Bass which likes its Reggae with a breakbeat and a sample on top.

-Freq1C-

Ween White Pepper
Label: Mushroom/Elektra Format: CD,LP

White Pepper - sleeveSo, here we have another culinary theme being dissected by that unique Ween experience we have all come to love so dearly. In time honoured stoner tradition, Gene and Dean have a very deep and intimate relationship with food, a relationship that is based in a deep commitment to a healthy hedonism. It is this self-love that is explored on this offering, probably further than at any other time in Ween’s prolific career. The thing that might disturb weenies who have sacrificed at the altar of The Pod is the lack of Lo-Fi ideologies and that spoonful of youthful alienation at the sight of the absurdity of it all. After Pure Guava Ween had acquired better recording facilities and a comfortable position in the american post-Grunge landscape that included the obligatory red-eyed party-polaroids with Vince Neil and so on. These chaps were simply not alienated any more, they had arrived at that fruit covered nitrous-oxide cloud in the sky overlooking the western sky.

What about the music then? For those of us that have followed Ween in their paradigm shift this is a fairly solid venture, but for the rest this probably will not shake their cerebral tree. On The Mollusk the band took a almost progressive direction and delivered a classic. With White Pepper they’re making things simpler and exploring the West Coast sound of the late Seventies – yes, that implies the Eagles! As always Ween can pull anything off, but this is certainly a step down. Just like Chocolate and Cheese it is very uneven and lacks the psychoactive depth of a song like “The Golden Eel” from the The Mollusk. It also has the superficiality which comes from adopting a cheesy Seventies genre… ‘Dude, like we should make a record that sounds like Steely Dan. WOW, like where did that suntan oil go Deaner….”

What Ween have presented us with in the 21st century is not enough. Having said that, there are some fine compositions emanating from White Pepper. “Back to Basom” has a Neil Young in outer space feel that only Ween could hope to acheive. The Moog breakdown and consequent build up is magical. “Bananas and Blow” perfects that tropical vacation feel that Ween seem to be trying to acheive on this album, and it works, it really does. “Stay Forever” is just a classic pop song, it’s the would-be summer #1 of the year 2000. And so it goes, on and on thoughout the whole CD, and as I said it works most of the time, though “Even If You Don’t” sucks big time. There are two no-frills rawkers, as heavy as anything they have done, dripping with Sabbathy ectoplasm. But they do not convince. They seem forced. Forced by a nagging conscience perhaps?

Since the gravitionally motivated plunge of the Butthole Surfers, Ween have been the last great hope of forward looking rock. Since the sunny days of the Sixties and Seventies, Rock has been in a state of decay and Ween have the big responsibility of bringing melodic Rock forward into the post-whatever age of nonsense. Throughout the late Nineties they have been doing all the right things but White Pepper doesn’t cut it. I think the only solution to this crisis is to take it to the stage: a Rock Opera!!!!!!!

-Dag Luterek-

Bill Wells TrioAlso In White
Label: Geographic Format: CD, also in vinyl

I like visual music, that is, music that evokes images of places, both real and imagined. Faust‘s Edinburgh 1997 is an example of what I mean. This is another. The places here are cities, mostly at night or under a cold pre-dawn light. Not too many people about.

Bill Wells uses mostly his own melodic keyboards, Robert Henderson‘s smooth trumpet and Stevie Jackson‘s guitar to create these Jazz inflected cityscapes. Occasionally he adds samples from his Octet or double bass/tuba from Lindsay Cooper. The first track “Presentation Piece No 1” borrows from the Octet and also contains an unexpected brass passage which is as elegant as some pieces Miles Davis did with Gil Evans where the lines seem to simply breathe over the rest of the band. Much of the track is given over to a simple but haunting theme by Henderson. It is a perfect example of restraint and the careful placing of colours. “Record Collectors” takes you down a back street at dusk by way of a minimal, melancholy harmonica theme played by Henderson again. At just over a minute it offers a glimpse out of the corner of an eye. Perfect. “Singleton” works in a similar way but this time the shimmer of electric keyboard provides the image of a deserted street, a shadow having just vanished around the corner. As you can see the titles are not particularly evocative, in fact the opposite. “Job The Chemistry Teacher”, for example is another excursion down an empty boulevard courtesy of trumpet and harmonica.

A different texture is provided by sax and that rich, warm electric piano over rippling guitar, though again there is a prevalent air of melancholy and the title is probably deliberately at odds since it’s “The Last Guitar Lesson”. A further warmth is evident on the final track “D.A.D.E” and this time it is supplied by thoese keyboards and the airy vocals of Katrina, one third of The Pastels. It is a truly compelling set of tunes that will probably be lost under the welter of heavyweight Jazz and related musics around but it is a small masterpiece demonstrating that simplicity of arrangement and judicious use of instrumental colour is usually more evocative than much of the glossy over-produced jazz I’ve heard recently.

-Paul Donnelly-

Whirlpool Productions Crazy Music
Label: Ladomat 2000 Format: 12″, CD, limited CD

Taking a chunk of Roxy Music and turning it into an upbeat, tranced-out dancefloor filler for pogoing in an arty Techno style. Knob- twiddling of the spine-stripping variety is the order of the day, which should provoke a few hands-in-the-air rushes when the highly appropriate Brian Ferry vocal sample kicks in, as it does frequently throught the track.

The remix selection from DJ Pierre, Sand 11 and FX Randomiz deconstruct the original into nagging, bass-throbbing trance, hyper- happyclappy trance and abstracted loop fragments respectively – and only appear on the limited CD and vinyl editions.

-Freq1C-

Whirlpool Productions ????
Label: Ladomat 2000 Format: CD, 2×12″

Seemingly determined to be as post-Modern as they possibly can, Cologne’s Hans Nieswandt, Eric D. Clark and Justus Koehncke chuck as many ingredients into their whirlpool and see what emerges. Blended into a smoothish paste are the brassy horns of “Good Time There”, the analogue bass sweeps of “Mampee Models” and the vocoder treatments of “Got Me (Burnin’ Up)” – and that’s just the first three tracks. Distorting the pop template as hard as they can, Whirlpool Productions are aptly named on the strength of their warped sense of disco, processed through a dub echo chamber.

Taken at face value, ??? would probably slip easily into the charts (as a recent single has in Germany), populated as it is with stomping floor- friendly beats, handclaps and funky samples. There’s a fine line between joyously subversive appropriation of the downright cheesy and submergence into a quagmire of mindless commercialism, and there are moments where it’s difficult to judge with this album. Perhaps their choice of covers – Bryan Ferry’s “Crazy Music” and Sylvester Stewart’s “If You Want Me To Stay” (both of which undergo decidedly strange treatment) – indicate that there’s some kind of crossover potential in the offing.

Moments such as the electro-Reggae sampledelia of “Da Batty Beat” or “Heights Smoke Signal” place Whirlpool firmly in Dreadzone territory: pleasant, danceable, collage-pop, (though with a less filmic or apparently political edge), which is ultimately lacking in much that is memorable beyond the moment. As such, ??? is entirely passable as disposable entertainment which happens to possess moments of enthusiastic enjoyment, along with a lateral approach and willingness to experiment (revealed particularly in the extended slo-mo delay-fest of the title track, along with the use of backward loops over a clattery beat in “I Don’t Think The Music’d Stop. Do You?”), but unfortunately little beyond a quirky eclecticism remains.

-Freq1C-

Doug WimbishTrippy Notes For Bass
Label: Babel Format: CD

Trippy Notes For Bass - sleeve detailAlthough unfortunately adorned with (frankly muso-looking) pictures of the boy Wimbish with his bass, and having passages that sound suspiciously like a much-less-boring U.N.K.L.E., Trippy Notes for Bass manages to avoid being a chin-stroking, lager-with-a-bit-of-fruit-in-the-neck-of-the-bottle Hoxton Jazzwankfest largely by virtue of Being Really Good.

It’s much less dubby than I expected, and much more suave. Almost-opener “Perplex” send shimmering little echoey bits flying off in all fucking directions, before “Bedwood” picks you up and drops you, really stoned, in the middle of the jungle. Only it’s a jungle in space. An’, an’ like, there’s these little guys, right, and they keep doing this stuff… umm.. I think you get my point. There’s possibly a hint of Barry Adamson about the more cinematic moments but the general feel is pretty laidback, with this hint of menace running through it, “Gangster” in particular coming off like an even-more-monged cousin of the Primals‘ majestic “If They Move, Kill ‘Em”.

But it’s not all being taken up back alleys and shot in the face. (Could possibly have phrased that better. Still…) “Glorification Chant” is just fucking lovely- ethereal vocals piped into space with some whooshy Hawkwind noises and lots of echo. Sounds float out into space, coincidentally making a damn good tune together. It’s that kind of album, not a standing in a shit bar with a bunch of tossers being cool and drinking bottled lager album. A lying down stoned, chilling or monging album to go “whoah!” at every now and then. Like trip hop without the crap beards, only better.

-Deuteronemu 90210, famed bon viveur-

The WipeoutersPtwaaang!!!
Label: Casual Tonalities Format: CD

Ptwaaang! - sleeve detailWho be The Wipeouters? Well, it’s Devo, pretty much, only they’ve come down from space and started hanging out on the beach. But there’s still rockets and stuff. Yeah. Imagine a Charles Burns comic (y’know, like Black Hole or something) only it’s all about surfing. And drugs. Then someone makes it into a cartoon. This would be the soundtrack. Or that Stephen King story, “Night Surf”, the one that takes place at the same time as The Stand, where everyone’s died of the ‘flu ‘n’ stuff, and there’s a bunch of reprobates getting pissed and hanging out on the beach. Give ’em a beat-up old ghettoblaster, and this CD. They’d love it. Only it’s not as sinister as that makes it sound. Just pretty fucked up.

More Pixies than Beach Boys, more missing link than Link Wray, with space noises. And the Rocket Power theme tune (‘cos what with Dweezil Zappa doing the music for Duckman, and Devo doing the music for the wonderful Powerpuff Girls, old alternative Rockers all seem to have gravitated towards scoring animation. As in “hey, I scored some fucking wixked animation the other day. Wanna hit?”).

Beneath the pavement, the beach. Only it’s covered in toxic sludge (but not the sort that gives you unpleasant diseases, the sort that glows pretty colours and gives you weird fucking superpowers) and the surfers are all on LSD. Like that Tank Girl comic where she and Booga go to the beach and she drops acid, only to discover that the ghost of Jimi Hendrix she comunes with is actually Feargal Sharkey in disguise. So she twats him. But that’s beside the point. What can I say? It’s Devo doing surf music. And that’s what it sounds like.

Awesome. Hang ten, and shoot the other four.

-Deuteronemu 90210-

ShannonwrightDyed In The Wool
Label: Quarterstick Format: CD,LP

Dyed In The Wool - sleeve Listening to Shannonwright (or is it Shannon Wright? I’ve seen it both ways) is especially disturbing when you’re lying in a hospital bed. Her songs are eerie enough as it is, but the uncertain lyrics sung in her quavering yet brilliantly strong voice take on new meaning depending on your situation – when you’re lying in a hospital bed, her songs are all about terminal illness, sympathetic orderlies and picking out coffins. Aside from the slightly melodramatic factor (both me and the album), Shannonwright/Shannon Wright is an amazing performer, composer, and musician, and has assembled a staggering cast of musicians to join her on this album, including most of the cast of The Shipping News (the band, not the book or the movie) and Rachel’s Christian Fredrickson, just to name a few. The songs are wonderfully crafted works loaded with beautiful keyboards (electric, piano, organs, and harmonium), strings, bass and muted percussion, often bordering on Classical and Pop all in the same song.

-Holly Day-

:Wumpscut: Embryodead
Label: Nova Tekk/Beton Kopf Format: CD

Tastefully packaged in an elegant black and silver jewel case with sufficient Gothic trimmings to remind the world that gloomy chord progressions, sampled pipe organs and God-bothering (and -hectoring) lyrics will remain a perennial favourite with those of a black-clad persuasion. With titles like ‘Slave To Evil’, ‘Stillbirth’ and ‘Golgotha,’ and a generous helping of guttural, pitch-shifted intonations (which work surprisingly well on ‘Womb’) matched with appropriately ominous film samples, this is one to file under Ante-Natal Industrial Electro for Misanthropes.

-Antron S. Meister-

Marques WyattSound Design/V1
Label: Om Format: CD

Sound Design V1 - sleeve detailMuch mellowness (almost to the point of ripening and rotting) and soul-singin’ on this release but why and for whom is it designed? Vacuum cleaners who need expression as much as the mop with whom you dance? The musicians are proficient and tight and admirably so. A Latin rhythm snakes through the line until you, too, shall declare “Tengo Tango!”. It’s the kind of music that is played behind the heroine of the film as she successfully gathers her life together after multiple abuses. You know – seamless.

And here’s the inescapable plinky-plonky piano, alongside “Elements of Life”. Much steel drumming. Some compelling overtures to the dancing feet on “Orixas”. And still it strides – the music, that is – along an ever-revolving vertical world. The only thing that prevents it from becoming eternal music is the ever-present spectre of boredom and malaise…

-David Cotner-

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