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Archived reviews: S

Rachael SagePainting Of A Painting
Label: Mpress Format: CD

Painting Of A Painting - sleeve detailI think Rachael Sage is on the verge of becoming something great. I don’t think that she’s necessarily reached that “great” point with this album, but you can already tell that she’s growing into something here. There’s just not enough confidence or strength in her voice at this point, though, and for the subject matter and the quiet type of sparse Jazz-Pop accompaniment (guitar, percussion, piano, etc.) she’s singing along with, her voice is the centerpiece of these songs and needs to be strong enough to take that position. However, at this point, her voice quavers and trips just enough to detract from what is good there to hear, leaving the listener wondering if perhaps turning up the volume is all that’s needed to make these really listenable, only to find out that the problem’s not with the stereo at all.

-Holly Day-

SanasolCosy
Label: 66 Degrees/Thule Format: 12″

More Deep House from Iceland, but no sign of Orlando Careca or Chilean football players in general. This record does what House needs to do very well. Sanasol provide us with uplifting dance floor moments, and then they provide us with bass. They take around the breakbeat outskirts of Housiness and take a peek across the road at Ambience – and then they provide us with bass. Last but not least, Sanasol have made some seriously minimal House music on “Cosy” – and yes, they are still providing the bass.

If you need to ask why Deep House is called Deep House you’re obviously suffering from some form of ear damage. Must be all that bass.

-Mephist-

SandDis Plane
Label: Satellite Format: 12″

Dis Plane - sleeve Sand gives another quick come on with their immediate ear assault tactics. Roving drums and bass lay under spiralled horns and here is a group doing their best to re-invent everything. I am sure this song has been used in a car advertisement but I cannot remember which one. No matter, if I am wrong, no doubt it will be used soon, as it is practically a sountrack style ode to the rhythms of driving. Any ad exec worth his storyboards will recognize the potential in this lot of power, energy and freedom of movement. Or we can hope for the best and pray no such executives ever hear it.

The flip side version offers “Dis Plane Down”. Same again but in a more enjoyable way. More attention is given here to individual sounds, slower separations for horn solos, and even more bass. This AA side is not as instantly gratifying, but is wholly more satisfying overall. Sand are still showing off their power mixes, and this single is a nice tiding over until their next full length album comes out.

-LillyNovak-

Satisfact The Third Meeting At The Third Counter
Label: K Format: CD, LP

You`re really not gonna like what I`m about to ask you to do, but there you go… Cast your mind back to the Eighties (see, toldya) – no, you twat, not mullets`n`poodles`n`blokes with headbands holding their keyboards like guitars, but something a bit, well… I guess louder is as good a word as any. That sort of not-quite-Goth-but- still-aimed-at-students kind of thing. Echo And The Bunnymen. Killing Joke. That sort of thing. And I know those two bands never really sounded at all similar, but then the Teardrop Explodes didn`t sound like either of them. Didn`t sound like Joy Division either as I recall. Bits of this album bring to mind all the above- too poppy to be post-Punk period Joke, too dark to be the Teardrops, too brutal to be the Bunnymen, too – surreal, maybe? – to be Joy Division.

I like this album. I like it a lot. I like the way the angular, Wire-ey guitar lines play off against the mad psychedelic synth washes. I like the way the guy shouts in that clipped, youthful way they did back then, before everyone got into that whole serious thing and everyone had to sing like they lived on a farm in Texas and slept with their sister after too much moonshine. I like the way “Triple Deck” has a stuttery bit kind of like on the Bunnymen`s “Thorn of Crowns” (and, quite frankly, if you dodn`t think Ocean Rain is one of the most gorgeous albums EVER- I`ll say that last word again, EVER- recorded, then you can sod off! (Well, not having heard it…. Ed.)) before chilling out and going a bit dubby and post-Rock (only a bit, mind, but with these mad synth bit going off in the background).

Satisfact have been criticised for harking back to the Eighties, but detractors miss the point- this album COULD NOT have been made back then; it’s just… too aware of its heritage, too eclectic in its influences, to have been made back then, having never heard the music that was to follow. Are you getting any of this or am I just rambling? “Vortex”, for example, has the drums of a Ska track backing up a whole bunch of electric/electronic discordance, while “I’m In A Bad Way”, the album’s opener, has that Gothy-guitar with washes of synth and shouting that sounds to my ears not dissimilar to the sound Jaz Coleman thought he was making when Killing Joke ill-advisedly entered the pop arena. “Love Like Blood” but faster, “America” but not shit; am I making sense here?

Perhaps even a touch of the Cure or The Bolshoi in the vocals, although don’t let that put you off- Third Meeting… is not nostalgia for an age that was actually a bit crap; it is a truly modernist album- or maybe that just sounds dumb, maybe I need to dress it up a little so…Neo-pre-postModernism – it’s the new rock and roll, apparently.

-Deuteronomy 90210 The Vampire Slayer-

Savage Aural HotbedThe Strain And Force Handbook
Label: Microblister Format: CD

The Strain And Force Handbook - sleeve detailAnother great Twin Cities-based band, Savage Aural Hotbed is more an experience than a band. Creating their music almost entirely out of found and hand-made instruments, they’ve created this amazing class of music that makes its niche somewhere between ancient tribal percussion-intensive music and something that might have been recorded in an auto shop. Not only does the band play music made out of instruments with self-descriptive names like “Propanophone” – and, of course, circular saws, police scanners and hollow metal and plastic pipes – they make music inside the instruments themselves. Some of these songs were actually recorded inside a huge steel grainhopper, with the band beating percussion against the walls of the hopper. Like the atempo shaman percussionists of the Inuit, the mismatched pounding of this record will send you off on the closest thing to an out-of-body experience you may ever experience in your own living room.

-Holly Day-

ScalaTo You In Alpha
Label: Too Pure Format: CD,LP

Managing the quite difficult feat of blending the Electronica moves of their SeeFeel days with a more song-oriented apporach, Daren Seymour and Sarah Peacock deploy some pretty rollicking beats alongside some quite nifty fuzz guitar, courtesy of Simon McLean. Seymour’s time with Locust has got Mark van Hoen on board too, and add in the production assistance of Mads Bjerke for good measure and what results is something of a mixed bag.

The uneasy collision of ethereally-delivered, subtly barbed vocals by Peacock come to the fore on the energised “Remember How To Breathe,” which keeps just the right side of listlessness through the confidence of the production and performances. Likewise, the Spacemen 3 guitars of “Colt, Wires” narrowly redeem a Electro-Rock piece which is disturbingly close to the despicable spirit of Republica; but somehow, there’s often an undercurrent of disturbance which slips out through the often lugubrious beats and down-tempo arrangements. For what it’s worth, To You In Alpha shows moments of dark engagement, let down overall by its emphasis on somewhat affectless emotion, though the closing “17765744J” tumbles refreshingly out of the speakers as a cleansing coda to the whole affair.

-Freq1C-

Janek SchaeferAbove Buildings
Label: Fat Cat Format: CD

Janek Schaefer is more interested it seems in texture than specific sounds, though each of the eight pieces on Above Buildings has distinct source material as its basis, sometimes the preferred mode of listening is switching off and stepping inside the soundscape. Derived from fizzing lamp fittings to old organs, needles and grooves, Niagra Falls to grand pianos via the 1999 Solar Eclipse, malfunctioning tone-arms and the internal noises of digital sampling disappearing up its own fundament, the shifting sonic landscape reaches an attenuated blissout at times, sucking in the outside world and engaging through the identifiable and the refracted sounds alike.

Ideal for headphone listening, Above Buildings shifts angles and sweeps in and out of close-up on any particular, particulate, sound; and the cinematic similie is appropriate, as this is highly visual music. It is very difficult not to build storyboards to accompany the placement of sounds across the stereo spectrum, and the results are diffuse, sometimes tensely dramatic, frequently obscured by layers of fractured mini-rhythms, swarms and swathes of processed, invasive noise, and highlighted by silence.

-Freq1C-

Janek SchaeferCold Storage
Label: DSP Format: CD

Cold Storage sleeveOriginally commissioned for the Sonicity Festival in Rome last year, this new piece by electroacoustic sound sculptor and inventor Janek Schaefer grew out of a site-specific installation and performance in a disused underground cold-store on the banks of the Tiber. Split into five segments – although the split points do not always correlate with the textural and emotional changes that lead the listener to suspect that a new phase has started – the CD release has been re-improvised and re-edited from the original field recordings, all of which were gathered by the artist on his travels around Europe and allegedly relate to themes of ‘cold’ and ‘storage’.

Considerations of process aside, the resulting work is a textbook example of classic Musique Concrète fused with 20th-century Industrial abrasiveness. Sheets of sound shimmer and vibrate over dissonant rumbles and percussive impacts, rhythmic stretches emerge from the chance meeting in a mixing desk of unrelated sonic events, manipulated voice-like samples hint occasionally (VERY occasionally) at tonality, and vast, sepulchral spaces resonate with the sound of reverb pedals set to eleven. The sound is somewhat low-fidelity at times, reflecting its rather retro mode of acqusition and arrangement, with only the replacement of tape loops with Minidisc anchoring it in the present day, and then only by virtue of the liner notes.

Hugely enjoyable though this all is, especially when played loud as recommended by Schaefer, it falls short of perfection on two fronts. For a start, it is nothing particularly new. Throbbing Gristle at their least band-like, Merzbow at his least musical, or an obscure Cold Spring release of a decade ago called Thee Angels Ov Light Meet Thee Angry Love Orchestra – another re-edited documentary of an older improvised performance – all these are obvious comparisons, and this is ignoring two or three decades of related music in the noise genre. I am not familiar enough with Schaefer’s oeuvre to say whether this is breaking new ground for him, but it’s certainly not pushing any boundaries in terms of technique or results, and in fact it sounds surprisingly conventional and warmly familiar to my ears.

Secondly, one gets the feeling that the artist is trying too hard to establish a link between the finished work and its conceptual roots. There is very little here to particularly signify ‘cold’ or ‘storage’ besides the packaging and liner notes – semiotic finesse is difficult in this kind of music though, to be fair – and stripped of its context, the purely aural component of this work seems much more generic. Or to put it another way: he could have called it something like Boiling Point, and told us that all the souce samples related to heat or fire and that it was performed in a disused foundry, and no-one would have been any the wiser. In fact that would have been much more satisfying, if only for Schaefer himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved this CD, but then I have a soft spot for stark, antisocial noise. But it comes with caveats, and don’t expect the music to live up to the high concept – there is definitely something missing. Maybe I’ll feel better if I play it to people and tell them it was recorded in a furnace.

-Andrew Clegg-

Janek ShaeferPulled Under
Label: AudiOh! Recordings Format: CD

Pulled Under - sleeve Pulled Under is great album. Ambience, Musique Concrete, experimental Electronica … call it what you will I still like Pulled Under lots. Using a contact microphone and turntables Janek Shaefer creates abstract textures and drones that wash in and out. There is always the old question: are turntables really musical instruments? In Janek Shaefer’s case the answer is an unequivocal yes. His Tri-Phonic Turntable is actually entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most versatile record player. The range of sounds that come out of his vinyl manipulations are huge.

All of this is by and large irrelevant. It wasn’t even until I read the press release that I even knew turntables were used. Pulled Under is the fantastic kind of Electronica that doesn’t really sound like anything but itself – the kind that I always assume is produced using some method known only to the composer. Ultimately, though, it’s the music that succeeds or fails – not the production techniques behind them. That’s what I really like about the album – the music itself – above and beyond any technique. I could sit and listen to the washing drones and textures for hours.

– Stage 0 –

Janek Schaefer et al – Wow
Label: Diskono Format: 7″

Wow - Caz McIntee remixIn which Janek Schaefer and Diskono send copies of Wow (physically-remixed in the cutting of the 7″ itself) to several people with instructions to further physically remix.

My copy, by Caz McIntee, was pierced by drill and needled thread, transposing a 14th century shunga print onto the vinyl. See website for further physical remixesp[7].p[0] p[7] p[0]

In this case, is the original recording remarkable more for what it inspires later; the initial sound being somewhat immaterial? I’m thinking now that I should’ve ground mine into a fine powder and mixed into a festive gingerbread. Ho ho ho and hardee-fuckin’-har.

-David Cotner-

David Schaferx10R.1/x10R.2
Label: Transparency Format: 2CD

Wherein ten Easy Listening records played at the same time (either in two-second gaps or variable gaps ) that take you right up above the MuzakTM aether . The design and execution of this particular curiosity are green and impeccable. It’s a bit like changing channels on the radio, this – however, the only stations available are the Easy Listening ones. This is not necessarily a bad thing – and this would make a phantastic installation piece. At times, the waves of nostalghia buffet gently against one’s craft, depending on whatever pharmaceuticals one has at hand – at other times, it s as if the drug spiral drags one down through the nightmare psycho-logical sequences from a 1960s film where the ending is anything but certain.

In the face of considerable – yet identifiable cacophony – the mind picks out recognisable and comforting snippets (usually rhythmic) with which to console itself. Alessandro Alessandroni is the person behind the unique whistling on the Sergio Leone Western soundtracks is one. That’s the most vivid thing I could find. This is a simultaneously comforting and cacophonic series of recordings – a rare duality indeed.

-David Cotner-

ScannerLost Without Light
Label: Underscan Format: 10″

This three track EP is first in a series of ten put out by Underscan and will be available on 10 inch vinyl. It features Robin Rimbaud mixing the chattering beats, shards of desiccated voice and buried pulse of “Canton Lathe” along side the more spaced metals and rustlings of the brief “Forget Me”. There is a spacious quality to both of these tracks, the beats never become too cluttered and the sounds are sparse but somehow warm. The last track, “Backwood” is slightly more beat filled but also has a ghost of mournful melody threading in and out of the precise percussion. Voices briefly shift to the front of the mix, muffled and unidentifiable, then fade back and forth again as the track continues on its original course.

Lost Without Light is a short but tantalising slice of Electronica that isn’t going to break into any new territory but it made me wish there were some more of it.

-Paul Donnelly-

Frederik SchikowskiTja, Nein
Label: Betrug Format: LP

A decided oddity, Tja, Nein combines backing tracks recorded on what sounds like preset keyboards and drum machine settings run at high speed through a devious Pop sensibility of an indeterminate era. Frederik Schikowski sings in German, with such titles as “Vergessen” (“Forget”), “Der Traurige Junge” (The Sad Boy”) and “Ich Kannte Dich Erst Kurz, Aber Fand Dich Ziemlich Gut” (” I Had Not Known You For Long, But Liked You A lot”) resonating with melancholiy and gloom, but delivered to such upbeat, brightly minor key music that signals soon become crossed. Some of the instrumentals are enough to make one wonder at the mind which could compose such squalls of overblown electronic faux bombast; the use of detuning in particular is enough to invoke queasiness on more than one occasion.

It’s hard to know how to describe this record: it’s funny, thanks to the cheesy tunes and instrumentals, but the singing evokes such sadness even in someone who doesn’t understand more than the odd word, that it takes on an aspect of doleful sadness and longing almost enough to bring sobbing fits on at the pity of it all. The plangently pitch-bent synth sounds tug heartily at the emotions, rising into swooningly cod-Electro chops and occasionally frenetic rhyhms of such leftfield chirpiness that when the voice sounds so resigned, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for Schikowski. Somehow, the not of this world longings and disappoinments sketched by Edward Ka-Spel and the Legendary Pink Dots in the early Eighties spring to mind, as “Ich Kannte Dich Erst Kurz, Aber Fand Dich Ziemlich Gut” makes its way through Waltz-time and spoken passages into a not-necessarily love song of considerable apparent weltschmertz and wavery keyboards. The final straw comes with “Ich meine Neine” (“I Mean No”), a deadpan vocal flatly deconstructing love song structures in about 60 seconds flat – as with most of this album, it’s hard to know whether to weep or chuckle in the end.

-Linus Tossio-

Irmin Schmidt & Kumo Masters Of Confusion
Label: Spoon/Mute Format: CD

Masters Of Confusion- sleeve Subtitled A Can Solo Project, this is a collaboration between the founder member of Krautrock legends Can and drum programmer/electronics maestro Jono Podmore. Schmidt‘s acoustic piano pitted against the electronic rhythms created by Kumo can make for exhilarating noises, as on “Las Plumas del Buho”. The sound is somewhere between a Flamenco and a Raga as keyboards and percussion engage furiously in a dialogue which demonstrates how the different approaches of these two musicians and their instruments can be mutually compatible. And sound good too.

More abstract sounds open “Burning Straw In Sky”, creating a vortex out of which a relaxed duet emerges; the beats are less frenetic and Schmidt leaves more spaces between his explorations of the darker end of the piano’s colours. But the tensions build and fade. There is a passage of glittery accelerating keyboard over spare rhythms which gradually become more dense. It is a music of contrasts. “Those Fuzzy Things” employs a simple motif from piano but is occasionally invaded by Riley-esque loops and small showers of metallic noises which may come from either player. Space is created and the rhythms are broken down and re-built. This is taken further on “Fledermenschen”, which is composed almost entirely of percussive acrobatics and electronics. The broad romantic swathes of keyboard which open “Beauty Duty” gradually mutate into a relaxed Reggae groove before becoming more dissonant and spacey. Another interesting aural mixture.

One of the most satisfying combinations of acoustic and electric instruments comes on “Gentle into that Night” where Schmidt’s acoustic explorations, both intensely melodic and brooding, are supported by the shifting, understated electronics. Each complements the other. They have taken two musical vocabularies and shown that they are mutually comprehensible and compatible. Between them Schmidt and Kumo construct a variety of musical textures, sometimes harsh, sometimes melodic, never dull. They seem to challenge and inspire each other. The setting of grand piano with all its cultural associations alongside the newer culture of Kumo’s world works perfectly. A truly creative meeting.

-Paul Donnelly-

Irmin Schmidt & Kumo Masters Of Confusion (A Second Opinion)

The tap and thud of the modern bass drum, proceeding apace quick as a bunny. “Goatfooted Balloonman” – and the springheeled jack can be seen racing after balloons that edge higher toward away. A nimble thread across the piano, all the while. Up floats the balloons, free at last, mired in the ether of radio static and contemplative clouds of piano watching. A more aggressive beat hones in and crows across the backdrop of the piece, accelerating and speeding the proceedings. “Burning Straw in Sky” descends with drips and whispers, filigree of organ drone and the promise of more to come. Piano and beats, piano and beats, piano and beats and a certain innate sense of interplay and improvisation. And then the dancing spider of notes, suspended and tense. Back come the beats, and the unusual odd ambient odes.

I can see the reflection of a seagull through the window behind this computer screen, and that’s how the sounds move – a bird in flight, reassuring but not entirely predictable. Interesting that three tracks on the record are from European live actions of the reasonably near past tense. Breaking glass. In the underpass? A touch of the Dub pervades – still the best music to listen to whilst driving through paranoid London, Rhythmic snatches of breathing and bells and piano is the underpinning, “gentle into that night” indeed.

Speed, much breaking of glass, a race weighing heavily, and conclusion. Who could ask for anything more?

-David Cotner-

Schneider TM Masters
Label: City Slang Format: CDS,12″

Lifted from the generally-excellent Moist album, “Masters” gets the remix treatment from Sean O’Hagan (returning the favour for Dirk Dresselhaus‘ bouncy contribution to the High LlamasLollo Rosso earlier this year), Dresselhaus himself and Thurston Moore – who’s obviously got the mixing bug too from the mega-reconstructions of his Root project) .

O’Hagan conjours an Easy variation from his lounge-lite repertoirs, partway between his own work with Stereolab and as High Llamas on the “I Dream Of Chomsky” mix. Seemingly innocent enough at first, with elongation of the core rhythms and the addition of strings, things soon take surprising twists into noise and attenuated beats, matching the Schneider TM template of lateral oddness quite nicely. The “Master’s Stripteaser Dub” is just that, Dresselhaus stripping down to essentials and building it all back up again in a different order, but it’s Moore who takes most liberties with “Star(t) Fuck(ing)”. Essentially a new track based on the bones of “Star Fuck,” Moore treats this as an opportunity to scatter some highly arrhythmic Free Jazz Electronica shenanigans over a bare pulse tone, ensuring along the way that anyone dancing to this is going to be a) weird and b)double-jointed.

-Freq1C-

SchizoidAll Things Are Connected
Label: D-Trash Format: CD

All Things Are Connected - sleeve Schizoid are here to fuck you up with reality of circumstances, apparently. And Christ, what a noisy reality it is. If “Digital Hardcore” can be used as a genre rather than a trademark, then this boy’s got it in spades. Quite possibly the Ace Spades, too, as the fucked-up breakbeats and Gabba kickdrums keep getting overridden by Death Metal guitar assaults. And it’s bangin’. I’m not sure exactly what it is that All Things Are Connected to, but I’d hazard a guess that whatever it is, it generates electricity and Schizoid’s just switched it on and turned it up to at least 11.

Reference points begin, obviously, with Alec Empire, but stretch to include Napalm Death, if they went out clubbing and got in a fight. With various punk bands of the Crass/Conflict stable. And possibly the Dead Kennedys, if the intro to “Food for Thought” is anything to go by. (Of course, the “Tonight, Matthew, I will be California �eralles” tendency of the first few seconds is quickly drowned in a full-on carpet-bombing campaign of nasty electronics, but you get the impression that if it isn’t in fact deliberate, Schizoid would be flattered by the comparison.) This is a man in a spiky metal box, or trapped in a Cube– style maze of death (you know, with, like, rooms that fill with water, and bits where you can’t tread on certain coloured tiles, and shit like that) and really pissed off about conditions both inside the box/Maze of Death and outside in the corporate, branded fuck-up of a world the rest of us get to inhabit. And with access to Daleks samples and a couple of Norwegian Black Metal bands. It’s fucking smart, really.

Imagine Atari Teenage Riot without the Glam-Pop aspects, and just the angry shouting and noises, and you’re nearly there. The similarity betweent the blackest of Metal and the hardest of DHR has never been more apparent, although he does find time to bung in some sinister, spooky bits, too – “Indulgence/Compulsion” starts off sounding like Witchman, before the noise is brung, as it were. Light relief ought to be provided by some of the sillier samples, but such is the vitriol pouring (rather painfully, by the sounds of things) from Scizoid’s throat (not to mention his guitar and electronic boxes “o” tricks) that even these become warped and nasty by association. (No sooner can you go “cool, that was a Dalek” than the music kicks in and reminds you just what a fucking nasty word “Exterminate” actually is. Likewise Bill Bixby off The Incredible Hulk telling you politely not to make him angry on “Elitist Musings”, which also carries off the not unremarkable trick of making the line “Each to his own is more or less my way of thinking” sound like a threat to drop rabid ferrets down your trousers).

The only worry, as with Bomb 20, Shizuo and a million Punk bands, is how long can he keep up being this angry? I mean, I guess I’m probably not in a position to judge, but one thing’s for fucking sure, Schizoid being angry sounds fucking good. Enjoy it while you can, and pray (rather selfishly, admittedly) the day never comes when he cheers up.

-The Commander-In-Chief, Deuteronemu 90210-

SchizoidalSecond
Label: Secret Level Format: CD

Second - sleeve detailFrance’s Schizoidal are purveyors of a particularly digital brand of HipHop breaks, bleep tones and arpeggiating basslines. First track, “A Piece Of Earth”, is possibly the strongest on Second, based as it is around those specific elements. Sparse, effective beats, almost lazy in their effect though not in construction, make rolling baseline for the gurgling synths to chug along quite smoothly over, while Schizoid sets the pace off into breaks, drops and rewinds. There are recapitulations galore, building into a groovy number of pleasingly minimal accretions which could also work well with some kind of vocal element to pad out the nine minutes of drum machine calisthenics.

Other pieces are equally long or longer (“Halo Master” clocks in just over sixteen minutes) and follow a similar path at first; make a trundling beat jump though some less obvious hoops, bring in the digital keyboards to make a melody of sorts, then dissolve in the mix. This is all well and good, but sometimes becomes a bit of a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Background-listening funky drum patterns are fair enough, and that’s what there are a lot of on Second. Still, they work well enough, and when the breaks and beat constructions are set to a looser level, they’re satisfyingly rounded, if perhaps lacking in an element of real resonance. “Sunset Light” in particular blends a more urgent tempo on the beats with some dissonances from the keys which makes for a mostly successful bash at the Jazz-Noise-Funk sound without any real descent into noodling wankiness at all.

No, Second works fine at ploughing the minimalist HipHop beat, and when the tearing sound of synths rolling over themselves under the faders, sliders and pitchbend controls kicks in around the cycling rhythms, all is well, justifying the lengthy track times for the most part. The closing piece, “Spot And Touch”, takes matters further to the edges of the equipment selection’s parameters, with circuitous trills of synth riding through the stepping, building groove to make wobbly good use of the restricted and reedy sounds most digital electronic tone generators put out. Compositionally effective, there is a feeling that some warmer-sounding instruments could make Schizoidal really shudder the speakers. Until then, Second is a rather more than good enough example of what they offer, and that’s not bad at all.

-Freq1C-

SchlammpeitzigerAugenwischwaldmoppgefl�e
Label: A-Musik Format: CD

Jo Zimmermann likes his tunes as bouncy and enjoyable as he likes his titles loooong. Each track name is an absurdist construction of wordextensions – maybe nonGermanspeakers might not understand the nuances, but they can certainly appreciate the humour of a title like “Klapperhoforkester” – or even funnier no doubt, try to pronounce them, especially after a few beers.

Naturally, Augenwischwaldmoppgefl�e has all the hallmarks of bleepy, chirpy post-New Wave Synth Pop straightouttaK�n, and an irrepressible humour and sense of good cheer and joy that it’s very hard to be glum while giving it a wirl on the compactdiscplayer. Oh, all this runningwordstogetherintooneanother is quite infectious – a bit like the music.

So when the tinny keyboards have been assimilated, it’s worth mentioning the clockwork precision of the beat constructions (sorry, beatconstructions!), running over each other in that finely-meshed way the Nineties brought the world, along with a rediscovery of the the monosynth’s ability to sweep the corners of the mouth upwards in a cheesy grin. That and a very groovy undertow of bass and the swirl-by Autobahnarpeggiations and reverbs to. It’s not a particularly derivative sound though; just familiar. An album for bouncing up and down to then, and one for falling over afterwards with a feeling that time has gone out of joint. Happyhappyjoyjoy.

-Freq1C-

Günter SchrothBarcode Music
Label: Archegon Format: CD

Barcode Music - sleeve “Barcodes are condemned to be dumb contemporaries of our world ruled by computers. Only by bleeping at the scanner of the supermarket checkout they bashfully refer to their musical qualities.”

Gnter Schroth composes and performs music that is 100% barcode controlled. This ranges from prepared sheets of barcodes to the contents of a weekly excursion to the shops. The result is similar to Stockhausen‘s electronic pieces like Kontakte. This gives you some idea of the sound, but this is as much down to Gnter Schroth’s understandable liking of concrete noise, shortwave tweaks, and oscillator squeals as it is to the barcodes.

The barcodes themselves have their own peculiar cycles and repetitions. They are closer to the structure of computer data than conventional music cycles. Well, they are computer data. Barcodes are such simple little chunks of data that the sound moves in blocks that resemble ZX81 computer cassettes or the signals from the antique satellite Pioneer 10.

-s5000-

Schwermut Forest Sort Of
Label: Kitty-Yo Int/Kollaps Format: CD/LP

The German labels Kitty-Yo and Kollaps seem to have been instrumental in defining a certain nineties German post-rock sound in the same way that On-U Sound defined the eighties digital Dub sound. Similarly most bands arising from these houses seem to swap musicians as some sort of interchangeable super-group which shifts and turns to fulfill one or another purpose.

Schwermut Forest‘s purpose would seem to be to produce lyrical, melodic, German-language Pop-Rock-Ska-fusion. The sweet catchy swing of their sound is moulded into carefully (almost anally so!) constructed song structures that charm the ear and set the foot tapping. I’d personally like them to explode into showers of vitriol more often although their only attempt at that direction “Die Zukunft Der Was” is slightly embarrassing and perhaps suggests why they don’t. Nonetheless there is still much to enjoy: The apres-college-Rock anthem “Guten Tag” and the twin glories of “Gastecouch” and “Sunshine” swing extremely hot, but the avant-Ska of “Das Captivity Thema” left this reviewer baffled. The image of hip German kids getting down to Madness and Bad Manners will haunt me until my dying day.

Enjoyable.

-Iotar-

DJ Scotch EggScotch Hausen
Label: Very Friendly/ADAADAT Format: CD/LP

Scotch hausen - sleeve detailFox Mulder described Bach as having a genius for polyphonic composition. That’s all well and good, and yes it’s all very clever stuff, but there will always be some people who feel that Bach just doesn’t rock enough. DJ Scotch Egg redresses this balance and gives the classics a hardcore noise work over … on a Gameboy, that low tech favourite.

The results sound like a weekends hard partying in Rotterdam and an arcade full of space invaders singing Bach and Mozart. Great stuff. Primitive, utterly banging, and brutally lo-fi with a twist of Gameboy kitch. The demented fury of Scotch Hausen burns itself out by the end of the album and transforms into an altogether gentler sound. The “Scotch Sundance” tracks begin with a recording of children singing a song in a classroom. The Gameboy sound becomes a whole lot lighter, childlike and innocent. More toylike in a nutshell. In a way the gentle end of Scotch Hausen is oddly parallel with the course of Hardcore artists who mellow after several albums of abrasive noise. The levels of anger are unsustainable – at least without getting seriously repetitive.

-A.P.-

Robert ScottThe Creeping Unknown
Label: Thirsty Ear Format: CD

Creeping Unknown - sleeve For over 20 years, Robert Scott has been a shining example of how beautiful Pop songs should be put together (but rarely are), first in The Clean and later in The Bats. It’s hard to tell whether he’s actually a hard-driven perfectionist, or if these songs just come pouring out of his head this way – the melodies are so tight and beautiful and perfect, soaring into joyful guitar crescendos just at the right places, and moody, spooky, painfully sad at others, cleverly modern-to-futuristic, utilizing feedback and voice loops as unexpected song leads, and samples that sound like plugged-in sitars and airplanes. These songs just feel so free, falling together as naturally as waterfalls tinkling, it’s hard to think of them as being actually constructed and not just occurring.

-Holly Day-

Scott 4Catastophe
Label: Format: CDS,12″

Naming your band after That Album is a good start; as, indeed, is that DJ Shadow Trip-Hop break. And then you bung in some slide guitar and all of a sudden we’re in Electro-New Country territory. Only we’re not Gomez

This is quite a strange blend, bringing to mind Beck while remaining resolutely Lo-Fi – as with a great deal of this kind of thing, the most pleasant parts are where the electrickery (as Catweazle would say) is allowed to give way to melody and good old-fashioned singing and stuff. Having said that, the real star of the title title track is this great squelchy analogue synth sound which keeps poppoing up and being way cool at you.

The second track “Avis Railhome,” is a tad more banging – there’s still good squelch, and distorted vocals in an almost Buttholes vein; and slide guitar too, but more “Grease Nipples” by Wiseblood than Ry Cooder. “Famished,” on the other hand, is much more restrained, cry-in-yer-beer music done by the Mary Chain circa Darklands, with some nice understated strings before the loud (though not too loud) Mogwai bit comes on. Never in yer face, this is inoffensively lovable-comedown music for those comedowns when you can handle vocals and lyrics and shit like that. I like it. Don’t get where the boy Walker comes in though…

-Deuteronemu 90210 II Electric-Boogaloo-

Scott 4 Lefturno
Label: Folk Archive/V2 Format: CDS

It’s that harmonica, really. That’s the hook. It sounds like Johnny Marr should be playing it (no, I have no idea why I think that either; although a slower version of the “Dogs Of Lust” riff would probably sound fairly similar). There’s shades of the mighty Julian Cope in the vocals, especially when they start harmonising in that kind of stoned-Pop-Rock way that Cope specialises in. The Wiseguts remix has a really cool bomb falling whistle sort of noise from an old video game and more scratching and stuff, but the song is essentialy the same (and none of your fucking Led Zepplin jokes…)

“Sony” comes on like a TripHop Tindersticks but with slide guitar on and some nice fuzz towards the end, plus some Peel Sessions-era Copey organ. Stuff about “motherships” and how “the new Sony beat is taking us all” really don’t explain much to me, but sounds cool. Which is of course, much more important.

-Deuteronemu 90210, Duke Of Hazzard-

Scratch Pet LandSolo Soli Iiiiii
Label: Sonig Format: CD

Solo Soli Iiiiii - sleeve detailThe sound of children at play, or more specifically of adults who have chosen to ignore (or who maybe never learned) how you’re supposed to use musical technology. Instead, they just wade in, irrespective of melody, composition or keys, and instead let rip with whatever sounds fun at the time. Buzzes, plinks, pops, tweaks, chirrups, blown-over tubes, wibbles, snorts, close-mic’d scrapes; tinkly lo-fi keyboard or blipping sample loops made to roll on because they sound interesting for the moment; attention-defecit concr� is upon the world of Electronica once again, and why not?

This approach can be wearing, even painful, if taken too far for too long, but Scratch Pet Land seem to be quite determined in their na�ity. Laurent and Nicholas Badoux inviting the listener to forget their musical upbringing in “proper” melody and “acceptable” harmony and get mucky – to laugh with pleasure derived from funny sounds extratced from their usual context; chuckle even at the nature of music and how seriously it can be taken by adults. Even among the passages of badly-played bum notes or prmitive drum machines let rip at 50,000 bpm for the hell of it, it’s possible to perk up when the going actually gets tuneful at several points and a great big hook comes along for a few bars and sweeps up the sound of a buzzy toy into emotive joy before frazzling itself to giggly bits again.

Solo Soli Iiiii makes a comfortably silly sound, happy on the stereo entertaining itself in its own virtual world of musical innocence and exploration; not a bad achievement really. Perhaps to be taken in small doses by those not prepared to relax their definition of music to allow for stumbling, fumbling improvisation among the cunningly-warped electronic manipulations.

-Linus Tossio-

2nd Gen – Live, March 1999.

2nd Gen Against Nature
Label: Novamute Format: 12″,CDS

Imagine if grindcore metal went breakbeat; not limited to the Godflesh/Techno Animal axis of crushing HipHop, nor using the Ultraviolence method of post-Gabba rock, but full-on, speed thrash meets drill & bass. 2nd Gen’s Wajid Yaseen welds the shuddering bass twists of No U- Turn to Industrial noise with a jagged touch, aurally stripping away the veneer of jazz and melody into which too much drum & bass has deteriorated.

Titles such as ‘Malady Made Simple’ and ‘Rushing at Thresholds’ say it all, with the latter’s dentist-drill intensity setting teeth on edge and paranoia levels to 11. Play this out, clear the dancefloor, and take darkness to an extreme.

-Freq1C-

2nd GenAnd/Or
Label: Novamute Format: CDS

And/Or - sleeve Riding low and fruity on a distorted HipHop breakbeat, “And/Or” snaps angrily like Wajid Yaseen really wants you to know how crap the world really is. Through the application of noise and processing of the rumbling, spluttering kind, the track edges from a loping prowl into shards of noise then back down to nil. Things have got clearer acoustically than found on the full-tilt assault of Against Nature, but the sense of dread is still well apparent here.

Techno Animal couldn’t have been a better choice for remixers, and they bring the clanking Dub noise along with D�ek rapping about, well, how crap the world is. They do “And/Or” over again in instrumental form too, with even more bass fartalong to underpin the minor-key threat implicit in almost verything they touch. Grindcore and Horrorcore were made for each other in these hands, as the wet slap of fuck-over bass kicks shudders under blasts of Tech-stepping synth stabs and rising draughts from the sampler

For Cold Kid‘s mix, it’s all nagging one-note piano riffs, tearing analogue buzzes and spine-freezing arpeggiations on the basic structure, while Si Begg (in Buckfunk 3000 guise) goes downbeat and funky, rolling the breaks up into phased areas of quite trebly timestretched gloop which eventually dissolve into dynamic gear shifts and mid-range coasting of almost dancebable (rather than moshable as is the case with the original) form.

-Freq1C-

2nd GenIrony Is
Label: Novamute Format: CD

Irony Is - sleeve Yup, it’s the 2nd Gen album. So don’t get too comfortable – it’s gonna be one hell of a glorious racket. And, fuck me, it is! From the worryingly laid-back, Ice-esque HipHop of opener “And/Or” to the closing title track, Irony Is is a full-on metallic package of angry political “belching, farting, vomiting and diarrhoea”, as Che Guevara once said. (Okay, so he was referring to having a dicky tummy in Bolivia due to malnutrition, and it wasn’t supposed to be any kind of recommendation, but in keeping with the revolutionary spirit of this album, I thought I’d quote the bugger anyway. Alright?)

Imagine Witchman getting seriously pissed off, or Techno Animal if someone surreptitiously nicked their Ketamine and replaced it with PCP before making them watch the news for ages. And that’s 2nd Gen, AKA Wajid Yaseen, ex of angry Islamic HipHop guerrillas Fun-Da-Mental, now name-checking Kevin Martin on album sleeves and hanging out with Gallon Drunk‘s James Johnston, a man who could well have been born during a Birthday Party gig were it not for the fact that he’s too old. Johnston guests on “Black Spring”, an unexpectedly pleasant (although that’s “pleasant” in the sense of four broken ribs and a gammy leg rather than five broken ribs and permanent brain damage) slice of Drunk-esque slide guitar and breathy vocals (this, remember, is the guy who taught- well, everyone, really, how to say “Hey!” as if they were from Tennessee rather than Camden – and how to do it wearing a Hawaiian shirt) underpinned by some banging electronic percussion, and with some real fucked-up harmonica jammed in at the end. “Vurt” (great title, great fucking book) has some particularly vicious high-frequency squirts and squelches and ends up coming on like DJ Krush (yes, the chilled-out Japanese fella) being mugged by a gang of killer robots (yes, I know, quite why supposedly “killer” robots would settle for just mugging him is beyond me, too, but what can I say? I don’t know how their fucking algorithms work. I can barely operate a microwave.)

Drum’n’Bass rantathon “Slowburn” has a very stoned-sounding Mau intoning “I want a beautiful girl to catch my brain/Take it home, preserve it in a fish bowl and feed it fish food” before cutting into the bleeding-eardrum Funk of “Buried”, which sees a gang of midgets setting about your skull with tiny little drills and hammers and shit. It’s pretty fucking noisetastic, really, and shows a guy not content to stay within the traditional bounds of hard Electronica (I mean, can you imagine many others of the big boots, fucked beats fraternity doing the James Johnston thing?) but instead wilfully leaping over genre boundaries into someone else’s backyard and frightening their cat. And that, I think you’ll agree (if you have even the faintest idea of what I’m on about at this point, ‘cos quite frankly even I’m not sure anymore) is A Good Thing.

-Deuteronemu 90210 in a white wine sauce-

2nd GenMusicians Are Morons
Label: Novamute Format: 12″,CDS

Wajid Yaseen‘s never been one to mince his words, and this EP provides yet further opportunity for him to do the same to the music. “Black Spring” and “Musicians Are Morons” itself are here in album versions, the former with James Johnston of Gallon Drunk providing suitably incendiary guitar and vocals to the swampy breakbeat and feedback Blues grind. The original title track is a cruncher of the by-now traditional 2nd Gen format – HipHop beat distened under an assault of broad-spectrum noise until it bleeds as much as the listener’s ears are intended to as the frequencys are squeezed and filtered into thankfully-dynamic submission.

Each track gets a versioning – former Nitzer Ebb Industrial Dancer Bon Harris takes “Musicians Are Morons” in a slippery Techno direction as Maven, pumping up the rhythm to the acocmpaniment of crunchy fragments of the original on top and ominously-wheezing Trance sideswipes, and seemingly surrounded by a swarm of crows. NYC label Wordsound‘s own Sensational joins in the fun for a rejig of “Black Spring” into even darker dimensions, rapping through distortions and sheets of noise with ill intent. The CD edition comes with a couple of bonuses – “Slowburn”, thoroughly warped into a twisty feast of scarred digital scum by Patric C, and the sinister video for “And/Or, both of which will quite likely set the pulses racing along.

-Freq1C-

SedayneThe Proximal Indo-European No-Age Sounds Of Sedayne
Label: Sedayne Format: CD

Proximal Indo-European Sounds of Sedayne - sleeve detailA whistle, rattle and something else besides.

That “something else” is what gave rise to the spate of ritualistic experimental groups in the 1980s (:zoviet*france:, Psychick TV, Korpses Katatonik, Sleep Chamber, Alien Brains, Metgumbnerbone, Masstishaddhu). The folkloric tradition blows through the thighbones of murdered men and the crop circles in the fields of Northern England, and Sedayne is from those last two aforementioned groups. The vague atmosphere of the exotic, hanging like rough incense, pervades these songs (not “tracks”, or “pieces” per se) – devotional and charming and exceedingly good fuck music. It’s only fair – at low volumes your plants will grow stronger because of it. Not because of your rutting, I mean. Oh, will you turn that music down!

Are the images of a fading past preserved in the blood of some? Stuck squarely in the recesses of a person’s mind, refusing to let go? Is nostalghia a living thing? And yet for all the sombre mood and mystery, sometimes the frown turns upside down, travelling elseways through a furrowed brow and emerging as a smile. Musically speaking, that is. A slight twitter of birds now – or is it rats? Such was the sense of humour that suffused these groups in the 1980s. Sedayne sez:

“…and very different to (Masstishaddhu’s) Shekinah too, although both are possessed of a similar droning darkness largely thanks to the crwth, a mediaeval bowed-lyre which I like to think of my main instrument – it’s there on “Shekinah” but here it finds its true home – especially with the foxes in (the track) “Now / Here”…”

“Hometime (for Cherry & Mbizo)” saunters down a pav� path, voice matching the call of the horn and entering into a hall of bells. Resonance flows into the atmosphere, mixing with it, atomising and inhaled as a cat smells a mouse or you hold a lover, revelling in the overarching sensation of the exotic. It crystallises the feeling of looking over a high cliff and realising with all your heart and soul that you never, ever have to fall over the edge.

-David Cotner-

Senssurround OrchestraMort Aux Vaches; Meltdown Of Control
Label: Staalplaat Format: CD

O what those Japanese get up to with the Germans when no one is looking… A reconstructed recording (by a Pole and a Dutchman as it happens) of live music from three performances during 1997-98 Meltdown Of Control is somewhat like an hour’s worth of noise one should make up their own mind about. For the first seven minutes or so, I felt like I was standing for about a month on tarmac, behind the turbines of some massive futuristic passenger jet with nothing to protect my ears nor even any of my other senses. Usually the little people moving about on airport runways are equipped with those big soft-looking earphones, but I tell you, if I got any, they were only to amplify the engine roar directly into my brain. Seven minutes feels more like seven years with a noise so intense that my hearing eventually mutes itself, making only a buffer and giving loose sort of apoplexy to the rest of the time left on the CD. I am not sure what it sounded like after all that, though I did keep listening and do recall some other trips to the tarmac. I’m not sure what else can be said, really. Give it a listen for your own self – ear protection recommended.

-Lilly Novak-

Brian Setzer ’68 Comeback SpecialIgnition!
Label: Surfdog Format: CD

Ignition! - sleeve No one could ever accuse former Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer of being stuck in a rut. From his Rockabilly/Punk roots to his Swing-revival stint in the Brian Setzer Orchestra to this, his newest band, Setzer has made an obvious effort to strive to do new things with each new project. With ….’68 Comeback Special, Setzer seems to be focusing his attention on writing songs about his childhood, fast cars, and girls that like cars, set to a ’60s Hard Rock beat with a bit of the Rockabilly edge that made him famous to start with. His band, of course, is excellent, with a strong upright bass-sound pushing most of the songs along, tight percussion, and Setzer’s own spectacular guitar work.

-Holly Day-

7-HurtzAudiophiliac
Label: Output Format: CD,LP

Audiophiliac - sleeveBig beats and buzzing effects units, Funky functionalism and down’n’dirty grooves – that’s what 7-Hurtz are all about. A good pointer too is the name – it’s the (appropriately mispelled) bass frequency at which the listener’s bowels are supposed to open spontaneously, so their choice gives some indication where Lascelles Gordon and Ben Cowen are coming from. Their debut single “Beatbox” (which is included here) was a bit of a banging bruiser for the dancefloor, so it’s pleasant to report that Audiophiliac strays into less upfront territory too.

At a guess this record is meant to be listened to really very loud indeed – it does a good job of shaking the walls on those broken beat moments, and the avant-soundtrack into to the punishing beats and bastard buzzing bassline of, say, “Brains Diagram” benefits from the calm before the stormy atmospherics it generates. Still, it’s far from all noisy bluster, and their sense of flowing, and dare it be said, Jazzy noisescape construction is proficient – and this is Jazz of the darkling honk and funky keyboard kind, taking a riff and turning it nasty or groovy as the moment demands. Still, the smoking sax which permeates “Babe” goes maybe a little too far in the “sexy noir” stakes for it’s own good. Probably the best track after “Beatbox” would be “Krystal”, which oozes electronic menace through oversampled chimes and some phased rhythms – if only it didn’t just fade out of ideas into the more urgent “Zero Zero Five Ten”, which verges into squelchy Ambient Techno, early Aphex Twin style.

Dips and swoons into breakbeat or abstract noodling abound like the ghost of Jazz Rock haunting the dancehall; as it does quite a lot these days. “Optimus” is a prime example of this tendency, taking a long hike around the shimmering reaches of faint beats and piercing echo wafts to no great demanding effect, but some distracting noise. Likewise, the underwater church chorus sampled for the beginning of “Aurora Borealis” are shaken up before no doubt getting a good stirring at the hands of its wheezing, sinuous beat. “Stoker’s Motor” is as Electro-Funk as can be, with a fringe of Synth Pop on top; like Kraftwerk‘s “Robots” gone Nineties. Again.

So Audiophiliac does the business of bludgeoning its beats foursquare and hard, but largely all to the good. The edges of the sound are where the action really is though, and what makes it worth a listen outside the club environment; where some of its more frenetic tracks no doubt kick up an arse-quaking storm nevertheless.

-Freq1C-

7-Hurtz Beatbox
Label: Output Format: 12″,CDS

Beatbox - sleeve7-Hurtz combines the DJing and keyboard skills of Lascelles Gordon (ex-Brand New Heavies and Heliocentric World, currently of Campag Velocet and the Helter Stupid club) and Ben Cowen (of Lowilliams and Pushkin) into a John Carpenter-inspired melange of rhythmic Electro pulses and steaming breakbeats, heavy on the bass and quite fond of the odd vocoder moment. This is demonstrated ably by “Beatbox” with its Eighties intro streaming off into glitchy feedback and looming booms and electrically-charged sinewaves. All good dirty Funky fun.

“808 Trippin'” does like it says, gloopily but briefly, while the “7-Hurtz Theme” drops an old favourite stereo test record sample for the start of a signature tune which has all the hallmarks of cross-decades Electronica: snappy breaks winding around some shambing digital keyboard sounds and a warmly mellow groove of the sinuously evasive kind. Add in some lingering analogue squelches and drum machine polyphonics, and it’s all quite pleasantly Acidic, in a laid-back kind of manner. This is a taster for an upcoming album on Output, which could turn out rather interesting on the basis of their Beatbox introduction.

-Linus Tossio-

Zeek Sheck/Cloud People Good Luck Suckers

Label: Skin Graft Format: CD

In which Zeek Sheck meets the Cloud People to relate the tale of the Beeper; an everyday story of collective madness which sits somehwere in the same mindfield as such prominent eccentrics as Ween, Caroliner and even The Residents. Not that there’s the parodic element some of those groups rely on for too much of their output – what is on offer is often far more strange, veering into areas Sun Ra or Captain Beefheart might have passed though, before slipping away into uncharted territories of their own making.

From the collaged photos of the cover to the unhelpfully elliptical sleeve notes, the packaging reflects the music it encases, each requiring decoding (and sometimes causing confused double-takes). Even the title of the album is uncertain; it might actually be The Sweet Young Beeper by Cloud People after all. Somewhere between thirteen and fifteen people are credited at various points with playing a variety of instruments in a veritable orchestra of electronics and acoustic devices. If this seems a bit chaotic – it is, as (apparently) are the sounds produced by this somewhat sprawling ensemble. However, there is an underlying structure to the record – it just takes some time to become apparent.

By the time a couple of listens have been undertaken, the strange world becomes gradually familiar, even normal. Often wholly absorbing, the sense of otherness present in squeaked lyrics such as “AC/DC – I’m electric” convey a demented world of the chemically insane, the childishly inventive and the weirdly experimental, all rolled into one shuffling whole. Quite often gloriously destabilising any normal relationship between the music and reality, this is a record which amuses, confuses and excites as frequently as it is wilfully obscure. Perhaps an acquired taste, with much to infuriate those of linear disposition, Zeek and co. have produced a reminder that there is still much of interest on the fringes of the US underground.

-Antron S. Meister-

Colin Andrew Sheffield Side One /Side Two
Label: Elevator Bath Format: 7″

Side one – Waves of hum introduce a clattering scatter of tones – videogame reminiscent. The skips and pops of the record cuddle alongside. Is the overt action of the skittering tones meant as a hymn – a paean to the nuances of the vinyl record experience? Then – slight tones (a bow to musicality) edge their way into the sight, followed by the lift of the tone arm.

Side two – More forceful bass boosts almost scuttle the speakers (at least, it nearly did on my Hello, Dummy! radio broadcast). It’s accompanied by higher tones like a little brother following its elder sounds around. High tones come to the fore, and there seems to be a far-reaching impetus to the sounds. It’s like these sounds ARE going somewhere, that they have a goal in mind… It’s included in a gatefold 7″ sleeve, on clear vinyl and designed with very clean lines, reminiscent of the old UK Virgin singles from the 1970s. One of the best-presented releases so far, flat out.

-David Cotner-

Bim Sherman
Love Forever
Rub-A-Dub
Label: Century Format: CD

Collecting together a bunch of rare 7″ vinyl tracks (and their dub versions on Rub-A-Dub), Love Forever showcases Bim Sherman‘s output from the last half of the Seventies. Subtitled The Classic Jamaican Recordings, the vocal albums reflect a previous pair of rare collections, one with the same title, put out by UK producer and legendary sound system owner Lloyd Coxsone to show off Sherman’s unique lyrical style. Thanks to these re-issues – and more are to follow, including On-U Sound rarities – many ultra-rare songs have resurfaced at last for re-appraisal and for those (in the majority of Reggae fans no doubt) who missed them the first time round.

Bim ShermanBim Sherman is unfortunately in the position of being widely underappreciated, not by those in the know, but by a wider public who only really had the chance to revel in in his 1995 album Miracle on any great scale. Some of that album’s tracks appear in their original editions here, most notably the sonorous “Golden Locks” and the trombone-led “It Must Be A Dream”. Stylistically, the vocal tracks range from the sweetly-euphonic “Love Forever” to the more Rootsy grandeur of “Mighty Ruler” with its reedy organ intro, and the heavier Sufferers-style tune “Tribulation”. There’s also a bonus in the shape of his debut recording “100 Years”, a sprightly little number which is all the more evocative thanks to it’s recording straight of an old dub plate, crackles and mid-range drop and all.

With the crooning charms of Sherman’s voice stripped down or evn out entirely, Rub-A-Dub doesn’t match exactly the versions to the originals, sprinkling in some extra tracks from other singles among the Love Forever songs, but this is largely academic save for the attentions of Reggae cataloguers out there. What shines through from these mainly uptempo mixes, largely produced by Sherman himself, is his ear for melody amongst the production overlays and echoes. These are among the mellowest of dubs, for the simple reason that the tricks and fades are kept to a bare minimum compared to some of the more outr�Seventies experimentalists, instead building warm dubs on the fradework of solid instrumental foundations from players such as the Roots Radics, Revolutionary Warriors and The Soul Syndicate.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the sensuously pleasant vibe given off by these two releases, whether due to Sherman’s silky voice of a master singer or the forthright arrangements of brass, leyboard, drums and bass, in both dub and vocal formats. The exception here is “Beyond The Hill Dub”, which stretches out into electro-dubber energy with the Tackhead crew and Dave Harrow on board in the On-U days, interjecting a drum machine blaster before the Dub Reggae returns in all its stately, bass-bosted glory.

-Antron S. Meister-

Shining Vril/KnifeLadder(Split CD)
Label: Capp Format: CD

Knifeladder/Shining Vril Spilt CD - inner tray detailShining Vril (John Murphy and Deborah Petrovich)’s four tracks on this disc feature a miasmic threnody of drones, clatter and feedback, swarming with menace and shifting uneasily from brooding presences to filtered effects turning unsettling sounds into even creepier ones. “Tortured Willow” weeps under a scatter of echo and delay, with metallic-sounding sharp tones providing a nesting place for hissing and scratching scurries and a fade out into horrified vocal fragments. “Carcass Black” holds similar crepitations and close-up moans and scrapes. There is a hellish, Dantean air of souls and sounds in toment being subjected to the bows which use their victims’ tongues as strings to this piece, as a muttering legion of darkling figures build percussive rhythms to keep the process to a slowly-wavering time noted by chiming metal.

“Dislocation” makes a sound collage of looped voices and ominous whispers take the threat level to Paranoid Black; this is one not to listen to with the speakers behind the ears, or on headphones if a quiet night (or day) is required. Occult hints at sacrificial ceremonies, B&D and magickal practices are described to the slap-back of echoes and a dissolve into moans and glossolalia; whether this is disturbing or Hammer-like probably depends on the conditions it’s listened to under. As for “All My Sins Remembered”, these are perhaps of the kind for which absolution is sought in the slicing them into little pieces and whirling through a soft blender, sonically speaking at least. Is confession being givemn and taken by the stretchy, lateral voice? The redemptive qualities of further whistlings, vocal utterances and excoriated lysergic gropings around rhythm and texture seem entirely uncertain – but who said this was going to offer any answers?

KnifeLadder (Murphy, Andrew Trail and Hunter Barr) take much more interest in the construction of vaguely martial beats which propel the surrounding gurgle and chill of electronics into emergent states of rhythmic trance. Follow the accretions of percussion and bass in “Last Gasp” as melodies appear, dissolve and scream over the rapidly-increasing tempo; the results are almost purgative. Live track “Dervish” opens with a wordless chorus of layered vocalisation before the rolling beat kicks into violent spasms of Murphy’s cymbal crash and powerhouse drumming and a veritable vortex of sundry electronic noise and grinding samples, soon reaching a room-filling density which is slightly offset by the concluding “Thank you, g’night”.

The energy continues into “Maelstrom I+II+III”, whose bleached groove staggers forward among the electro-acoustic rain with apparent intent to cause damge to someone or something. In fact, this piece nearly turns out to be an almost mellow trundle through the interface of improvised instrumental Rock and powered Electronica; at the switch of a rhtyhm, things take a reverse turn on the beat, sidestepping the established groove and abandoning it in favour of more liquid approach of near-vertiginous aspect. It probably does ride the same sample loops for a little too long for comfort, but with the whistling arrival of sonic bombshells, the gear steps down into a mostly satisfactory second section of stuttery hisses and revisited kettle drums. The conclusion takes the chaos into a fairly hurried, psyched-out expanse, of drums and electronics once again, but with the bass coasting on a frying-pan distortion before the obligatory feedback fade.

-Antron S. Meister-

Shinto Ai To Kakumei
Label: Seperator/Disko B Format: 12″

A collaboration between Hans Platzgummer and singer CaMi Tokujiro, “Ai To Kakumei” allows the former to wreak some digital damage on the voice of the latter while making a darkly dramatic breakbeat assault as a backing. The A-Side title track has a curiously trebly sound, and it would be useful to know what Tokujiro is saying, but whatever it is, it sounds arty and works well with the music as it get progressively more claustrophobic. Japanese is also a good language for an MC, and while Platzgummer’s Drum & Bass is nowhere in the darkcore league of the No U-Turn posse for example, it has a certain warped Pop quality thanks to its digital bassline.

Shinto reflect the spiritual ancestry of their name better on “Hangyonin”, which is a ghostly enough companion to the spectral atmospheres of Witchman, all echoed vocal snippets and recursivley accreting breakbeats which switch from furious Junglist release to tense, reversed restraint. “Hora, Goran” has a funkier edge to the gloomy dynamics, though there’s a foghorn wheeze which disrupts the warbling bassline and makes Tokujiro’s crooning seem even more estranged. When the half-cheery, near-Housey melody comes in, it’s all change into a curious warped Pop dimension. Oh, and the Seperator series of releases are almost worth buying for Georg Gaigl‘s monochrome photo-collage sleeve designs alone.

-Freq2D-

Si-cut.dbEnthusiast
Label: Bip-Hop Format: CD

Enthusiast - sleeve Enthusiast is the 4th Si-cut.db album following on from Tennis, Douglas Benford‘s collaboration with Ben Edwards. To my mind Enthusiast isn’t as stark sounding or minimal as Europe On Horseback. Actually, if anything Enthusiast is much more of a carpentered album, a major source of the sounds coming from wood work. This is very similar to Matmos technique. The comparison goes beyond technique, actually. Like a Matmos album, you can listen to Enthusiast and say yes, that’s a piece of wood being planed. Then you forget about that and get back to saying this is bloody good music. Digital glitches and acoustic sounds merge together agreeably making an album of very good and very listenable electronic Dub.

To say that Douglas Benford has been prolific is an understatement. Apart from Si-cut.db and Tennis, he has worked on various projects – Radical Blend, Media Form, Phoenix Jig, Pantunes Music, as well as founding the Suburbs Of Hell and Sprawl Imprint labels. And we can expect further releases from Si-cut.db and Tennis this year. With Enthusiast it looks like he, along with Bip Hop, have come up trumps again.

-ap-

Si-cut.dbEnthusiast (A Second Opinion)

A snaking crackle and hiss and subtle beat pervades the opening sounds and in the digital realm, how enthusiastic can one be about zeroes and ones? Well, of course, they’re rarely seen or experienced as such, but still…they’re there, all-encompassing and insidious. Faintly Dubby echoes lie prostrate beneath the static cling. It galumphs along with a sense of journeying, of travelling, to it. It’s a bit like the small, repetitive video game anthems in arcade games from the early-mid 1980s. Much head-nodding. Well, the keeping-beat kind, not the sleeping-beat kind! Zowie with the echo now, and it seems that smaller sounds, even when gathered together in this way or that, still retain their identity and innocuity. It’s a very patient album, moving alongside fuck music as the equally-important situation of drive music (i.e. for very late nights when the house won’t suffice and the hunger isn’t quite there yet and the wet humidity of fresh air is needed in the form of a drive down a very long road).

And yet, with the advent and popularity of the laptop in modern composing, are we growing closer to people, to process, or to zeroes and ones? Perhaps, even in embracing the digital, such a divide can be addressed in a way that’s more poignant and true and playful than was previously thought. So it is with enthusiasts like these…

-David Cotner-

Si-{cut}.db Rate Of Living
Label: Sprawl Imprint Format: CD

Bass, and lots of it, characterise the undertow of this latest Si-{cut}.db release from Douglas Benford. This bass may be of a generally digital sort, but certainly thuds and reverberates with the best of them from the speakers, making a solid, if wayward, framework for the layers of breakbeats, synth shimmers and samples Benford weaves around the album. As with much of the current waves of Electronica albums, there’s an extensive relationship with Jazz motifs going on in Rate Of Living – skewed arpeggiations, slantwise faux-vibraphonics, tinkly electronic pianos, that sort of thing, plus the still-effective assimilation of Drum & Bass’ more fun elements of skittering snares, tortuously-developed rhythms and outrageously treated sound sources.

Such endeavours can quite easily lead to an ambient wash, an almost imperceptibly shifting music which hovers rather than confronts or energises, and sometimes that’s the case here – however, even then, its presence is shadowy rather than background, instigating mood shifts with sometimes imperceptible adroitness. Taken as an accompaniment to everyday or extraordinary events or tasks, occasionally the music becomes a flowing half-engagement with listening, and quite likely to energise or ennervate with little conscious effort on the part of the listener, before popping out into moments of eccentric foregrounding. Mood music for a distracted culture, hypermodern stylism and/or technological loungecore for those neo-hepcat moments – Rate Of Living manages to encompass all those and a few more besides as it trickles, warms and amuses, an apparently surface-skimming concoction which thankfully also takes its body-grooving basslines along for the ride too – and even remains some kind of Dance music after all, packed with moments which can raise a big cheesy grin, a wry smile or even the odd raised eyebrow.

-Freq1C-

S.I. FuturesThe Mission Statement
Label: Novamute Format: CD/LP

The Mission Statement - sleeve detailAfter the obligatory and insincere corporate introduction, The Mission Statement begins an eclectic romp through electronica. Si Begg, a.k.a. S.I.Futures, resurrects a Frankenstein form of Acid House with “This Is The Way”, cut up and stitched together with glitches and old style guitar blasts. “Freestyle Disco” is hard Funk that brings to mind a thousand and one fitness records, while the collaboration with T Power “I Like That (Brand New)” is an abstract slab of Drum and Bass. The album also contains a collaboration with Aspects on the Rap number “All Terrain Aspects”.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons with this album. It’s hard not to compare the packaging to The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle. It’s slicker and friendlier – coming straight from the insipid Modernism of corporate mission statements – but it’s an Industrial product all the same. The mandatory monorail curves behind a pastel couple laden with shopping as they enjoy a walk in their pleasant concrete environment. And then of course there’s “Eurostar”, fuelled with vocoder harmonies and the na�e belief in trains, and it’s impossible not to compare it to Kraftwerk‘s “Trans Europe Express”. Only it isn’t na�e, and that’s the point. Part of the charm and brilliance of The Mission Statement is the way it ridicules corporate culture as Si Begg moves from style to style.

-ms2000-

S.I. FuturesWe Are Not A Rock Band
Label: Novamute Format: CDS,12″

We Are Not A Rock Band - sleeve detailThe artist formerly known as Si Begg (and Cabbage Boy, Buckfunk 3000 etc. etc.) sets out a mission statement for the forthcoming album of the same name on this single. “We are not a rock band” says the vocoded vocal, “But we rock the house”. Indeed. They mayn’t throw TVs out of windows or play guitars, but they (well, he, ‘cos it’s not a band either, is it?) set the floors a-pumping well enough. as for “getting high on drugs”: well, that’s probaly the prerogative of the target club audience, isn’t it? The packaging itself is all done in rather neatly-realised corporate style; the latest fashion it seems, as Icebreaker International have shown to be as effective a commentary as Kraftwerk did with high-tech scientific garb before.

As for the remixes, they’re all by S.I. Futures himself. Queasy Drum & Bass from Buckfunk, stripped-back high-kicking Housey Funk for the Dub Mix and the Acapella version does just what it says, the solo vocoder rippling with echo treatments. Things go all over the place on what would be a B-side if it wasn’t only on the CD for “Everybody Just Git Funky”, and as the video-style voice-over of “Outro” declares with all the cod-dynamic thrust of a business presentation, this EP is “another quality S.I. Futures product”.

-Freq1C-

Sigur RósÆgætis Byrjun
Label: Fat Cat/Smekkleysa Ehf Format: CD,2LP

Agaetis Byrjun - sleeveI will have such a difficult time telling anyone what this recording sounds like. Striking out with a beautiful weapon of melancholia and heart-swelling lightness, Sigur R� have created here one of the most moving creations I have ever heard in modern music. A fast and early connection straight through to the central nervous system, Ægætis Byrjun is relentless in its wind tunnel evocation of all my feelings. This recording honestly doesn’t sound like anything I have ever heard. Well, it does a tiny bit remind me of Spiritualized, and I can conjure up emotions from it not unlike listening to “Moonlight Sonata”. It is definitely as beautiful as my favourite song ever, which is “Song To The Siren” done by This Mortal Coil.

Still, all comparisons are really very lost in the face of this disturbing and strange piece of work. I will credit its alienation to the fact that I can’t understand a word of it as it is all sung in Icelandic, but where to credit the familiarity? Surely these people are not mere humans. Or could they be anything but human to understand so well how to pull a violin bow right across my spine until I feel like my heart could blow apart with the loveliness of it all?

Technically, there is a lot of noise, samples, sources, synths, electronics; real instrumentations, horns strings, voices. Ultra high gloss production work, crystal clear depth and layering, pretty much every trick in the book. This is a gorgeous recording of the utmost quality. And still I am sure it is preternaturally charged to be able to sound so good, to sound so far inside the soul. Anymore really and I will start to gush, so buy this, and make what you will of it.

-Lilly Novak-

Sigur RósÆgætis Byrjun
(A Second Opinion)

The spoken word.

A backward mask and through the eyes can be seen the strains of an organ labouring but only just so. Much use of piano and swoonish guitar to create a mood of twilit time, and since apparently the words are “made up” (sometimes difficult to tell with the Icelandic language in popular music) they won’t get too deeply in the way of coital affirmation and so forth. The orchestra flushes lushly from the hi-fi and the semper thereof – there is no small amount of sincerity in the recording of these songs.

It’s all very groo-v material – but in America, it’s being beaten into irrelevance by the “Bjök effect” (which I’ve often wanted a scientist to say, i.e., “Gentlemen, here we have a terrifying example of what is known as the ‘Bjök effect’.”) Oh, those kooky Icelanders! You Icelanders (kooky or non-) know what I’m talking about. It’s essentially very mellow, reflectively banal fuck music (not casting aspersions, mind) that repeated listens could possibly uncover unseen stones. One never knows.

-David Cotner-

Sigur Rós( )
Label: Fat Cat Format: CD,LP

As you can see this third album has no title, unless you think a pair of brackets is a title. The absence of any information extends to the CD, the cover and the tracing paper booklet. All pale grey and black with “close-up photographs taken by the band, which have been manipulated using natural materials”. If you want any more information you’ll have to go to their website where you can also post your interpretations of the wordless vocals.

Musically, this set veers between beauty and monotony. They create swathes of expansive sound, using their own string section and a variety of keyboards alongside the “Hopelandish” vocals of Jonsi Thor Birgisson. This is, for me, partly the source of the monotony. It begins intriguingly as he intones these phrases like other-worldly hymns but, after a while the “syllables”, or whatever they are, sound very much alike. The floating, hypnotic quality of the music sometimes suffers from these vocal affectations. There are, however, some moments of extreme beauty as the strings, guitars and keyboards create softly undulating waves of sound.

Imagine being able to live under ice upon which the sun drops only to coldly illuminating the near silence. This music resembles some kind of submerged landscape where Birgisson’s voice is the lament of an almost extinct creature. Though sometimes it also recalls Tim Buckley, which I suppose is pretty much the same thing.

-Paul Donnelly-

Silo Instar
Label: Swim Format: CD

Like Trans Am, this Danish trio have a grounding in the heavier end of Rock, now put through a digtal filter and emerging as a metronomic companion to the more sequenced sampler delights of the likes of Tortoise or To Rococo Rot (without wishing to draw too many comparisons). “Asset’s” somewhat portentious lyrical delivery shows the vestigal remains of a four-to-the-floor riff-oriented approach, but allows space for developments into groove and texture too. These elements are given much more space to work in the following “Beat 41,” and as is usually the case (though not always as Jessamine show) with such post-Rock blends, most tracks here are much better off without vocals – though they do occasionally add something, as with the measured melancholy of “Templates”.

If there’s a downside to the apparently effortless unwinding of Rock’s fabric, it’s in the contradictory sublimation of the hook into the cruise and plateau of the instrumental workout. This can have the effect of deadening the results into an interchangeable gloop, where one meeting of analogue and electronic instruments sound pretty much the same as another – exactly the same problem which afflicts the forms which post-Rock has drawn on (e.g. Techno or HipHop) – and nuance and inflection become the key indicators of a band’s style and musical identity. This may not actually be a problem in the end, and what this means in relation to Silo is that there’s a little of everything in their sound, and what there is is well executed, engaging and competent – but the key ingredient of uniqueness is somewhat lacking. For all that, “Cream Puff’s” arpeggiating synthesizer line, the spacious twang of “You Play With Guns” or the driving phased chug of “In Constant Use” are highlights of what manages to be both a very good and slightly too average album at the same time.

-Antron S. Meister-

The Silverman Silvermandalas
Label: Soleilmoon Format: CD

The Silverman - Silvermandalas coverWhen not making up a sizeable chunk of the musical bedrock of The Legendary Pink Dots, and surprisingly unprolific in his solo work by the standards of that group, Phil Knight has been known to settle down to produce some stunningly hypnotic recordings in his time. Following on from the hypnagogic Dreamcell of the early Nineties, Silvermandalas opens with an untitled track which shows a fascination for the watery sound of an electric organ in the midst of a rising and fading wash of distended drums and restrained electronic noise. As is to be expected, there’s a cyclical feel to the album, as loops are rearranged, entwined and revolved into complex patterns which frequently end at a strangely distant, but connected, point from their origins.

Sharing the same headspace as both Rolf Dammers and Holger Czukay‘s Canaxis and the more reflective work of Coil (particularly “Is Suicide A Solution”), the second track is a concoction of drifting, half-human voice loops and snatched telephone conversation, making a particularly disorienting piece of atmospheric ellipsis. The album is replete with the hypnotic possibilities of varied repetition, taking minimal structures and turning them into elongated variations on themselves – the simple tones of mysteriously-derived samples and synthesizer sounds assume a crystalline avian quality as a subtle bass presence makes itself known; an attenuated tribal rhythm coalesces into the virtual sounds of impossible electronic near-wildlife; a drone meets another as a reeded instrument sings to itself before arrival of a phasing pulse-beat – there’s an underlying feeling of the ritually paranormal about Silvermandalas, though never so gauche as to be New Age, and too unsettling to be entirely Ambient.

By composing deeply mediatative music which draws inward before exploring outwards into the realms of minimal psychedelic trance Electronica, Knight has made a record which justifies its title – when the end finally comes in a whirl of violins, rolling bleeps and gentle propulsive rhythm, it’s the culmination of a transfixing listen, like watching ripples from a skimmed pebble which has disturbed the distended reflections of a smooth sheet of water. Zen-like in its semi-transparency, Silvermandalas is the ideal accompaniment to the half-sleeping state which, in some theories of parapsychology, is when the incubi and succubi of the subconscious can manifest themselves in modern minds as extraterrestrials. With the help of this record, they can have a far better soundtrack than the usual spooky-orchestral clichés they’ve suffered from over the years…

-Antron S. Meister-

The Skatalites Meet King TubbyThe Legendary Skatalites In Dub
Label: Motion Format: CD

Much of the material collected here as The Legendary Skatalites In Dub was orignally put out as an alternate Dub album to their 1975 self-titled return to form the following year. Motion Records re-released this as the vinyl LP Herb Dub-Collie Dub in 1998, and this CD release also includes some cuts from the Heroes Of Reggae In Dub set too. Recorded at Black Ark and Aquarius Studios by engineers including both King Tubby and Lee Perry and with guests such as Augustus Pablo on board, the results shimmer with a host of reverb and echoes which let the basic Skatalites good times shine through.

While the flood of flutes, somewhat smokey sax lines and the ever-funky brass section place the recordings firmly in the mid-Seventies with a little bit of an easy and decidedly groovy (if equally infectious) swing, the firm foundations of drums and bass keep proceedings deeply hypnotic throughout. Above all, it is the massssed Nyabinghi percussion which marks out the Rasta credentials of the album, uncoiling to basslines made even warmer by their origins on an acoustic bass, and meshing with sinous ease between the hi-hats, snares and tom toms of the standard drumkit. Tracks like “Roots Dub” and “African Dub”, while possibly some of the more over-used titles around (there is also an “African Roots Dub”, which features some of the few vocal snippets on the album), are accurate enough in their associations to some heavyweight rhythms which trickle with splashes of mixing desk chicanery to upbeat yet thoroughly Dread effect. Likewise, the brightly perky brass on “Middle East Dub” sparkles with a positive vibe which drives away all negativity with consumate ease.

As the bonus vocal cut “Starlight” shows, the (Legendary) Skatalites were one of the classic groups who brought their own Rasta philosophy into the forefront of Jamaican popular music in a somewhat peculiar Christmas track. Overall, this welcoming and thoroughly cheerful record showcases how the Dub method could weave its almost centrifugal effect onto the more upbeat sections of Roots Reggae and produce something yet more entrancing and elaborate in turn.

-Antron S. Meister-

Skull Snapz
Label: Output Format: 12″,CDS

Snapz - sleeveColected from the backlog of obscure and semi-disposed tracks Trevor Jackson (AKA The Underdog) has released sporadically over the last few years, Snapz shows a flair for the murkier realms of broken-clockwork Electronica far from his more mainstream work as remixer to the stars. For openers, “Whappen” produces variations on a mechanistic ooze over a chiming loop before putting the Dub frighteners on to ominous effect. “Flump” is relatively jollier, slow a beatbox trickle dissovling into deceptively bouncy moments of paranoid fun, before reinventing itself as a toked-out drum massacre – no wonder it featured on Macro Dub Infection II.

There’s more dubs of a Kevin Martin variety from “Trapped Dub”, which dissects the bass-man’s Ice piece into a draught of digital breezes and fractured breaks, splaying the horns around as sickly reminders of the grating possiblityes of both reeds and the mixing desk. Even “Spaztik” seems friendly by comparison, being merely dolorous in its mid-range selection of chimes and plonks, but decidedly lugubrious on the wall-worrying bass. So then it’s left to “Crash” to foreground the cymbal sample of the same name in a decidedly ungroovy mash-up of quite remarkably buzzy heaviness – seriously, gloriously, warped, this one…

-Freq1C –

SkyrayMind Lagoons
Label: Ochre Format: CD

Mellow and drifting, Mind Lagoons is an album with a title about as perfectly descriptive as could be asked for. Gentle trills of electronic harps, washes of sysnthesised waves, a cod-Tiki feel even, plus all the relaxed poat-TripHop beats and cyclical whirs of humming bass tones… it’s an aural water bed, a floatation tank bath of distant choruses wordlessly evoking blissed-out smoothness; in other words, it’s ambient as you like and nearly twice as background-but-foreground as mood music ever could be.

Skyray consists in this incarnation of founder Paul Simpson (formerly of The Teardrop Explodes, with guests Alan Holmes of Wales’ very eccentric Ectogram and John Lawrence from the equally Welsh but slightly more quirky Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – the sub-Supergroup theme added to by the vocal contributions of one Tenzing Scott-Brown (allegedly, possibly, of The KLF, JAMMS etc. etc. – maybe – who could that be?), the latter talking in chilled out manner about the sea (of course) on the title track.

Watery, langourous electronics are usually quite endurably pleasant; Mind Lagoons is no exception, and the mood is mostly fairly static too – no storms, no hurricanes, just calm swells washing their hypnotic waves to lap at the tidemarks of consciousness. Too competently produced to actually be dull, the album evokes some kind of ideal of the holiday as escape – seaside sunsets, tropical island exoticism, aquarium trance – set up the fishtank video, turn on the bubbling stone-effect fountain, that sort of thing. Relaaaaax.

-Antron S. Meister-

Slag Boom Van LoonSo Soon
Label: Planet Format: CD/12″

So Soon - sleeve detailSlag Boom Van Loon is the silly yet memorable collaborative name adopted by Speedy J and Mike Paradinas (-Ziq), and So Soon is their remix album (the vinyl edition gets an extra track as a bonus incentive by the way). The record is topped and tailed by Boards Of Canada‘s “Poppy Seed” in Ambient cycles through warmth and tickling electro phase-pulses which warble in fine soaring style. Threads of melody make a strangely old-fashioned Hippyish fluting and arpeggiated tripping sounds; the beats are Dubby-Funky, the mood decidedly relaxed, in soapy form.

-Ziq himself does things with a big bass rumble – “Spc-ch-pn” turns on small coins to make its stabs of bleep and glitch uncoil in oddly Pole-ish manner. As Stefan Betke is on board too with “Casual”, there’s a neat comparison to be made with the Dub filter man himself; the actual Pole mix really does sound just like one of his own tracks at first, lush with trickling electronic stuff. The curve of this piece is slow and increments the level of dusty hiss and pop into a calmly-controlled uncurled rush of echospace mellowness, with those trademark whips of concentrated delay snapping up the attention for all they’re worth. The decay into muted bleeps is very nice too, and prefaces the rather massive Dub outbreak from Matmos. Their “Moon Base Alpha” shows they can do weird things to a Reggae bassline quite as well as their sampladelic House shananigans, with vocal snatches, spine-shivering pink noise and the disembodied electronics wafting around the basic vibraphone twitterings. Oh, and it gets Funky too.

Then there’s Coil; the arch-psychonauts have a track called “Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium” frazzled over with keyboard shivers held for lenghty durations while the bass undertow makes a deep, singleminded throb below like shipboard engines. The track wriggles with atonal samples and somehow pizzicato processing, dredging up an atmosphere suitably on the paranoid side. Shrill clicking rhythms and threats of marimba mania pull disturbances into the foreground, making an uncomfortably tingly listen take matters into less than wholesome dimensions. Elsewhere, Leafcutter John has more lighthearted approach – or so it seems at first as the sounds of crows happily cawing get stoned with shattering glass samples making disjointed beats and off-key tones. “Broccoli” is a churnsome little number, odd rhythms piled on top of footsteps, children and traffic, echoed door slams and heavy objects apparently being being dragged through the sampler. It’s always nice when producers bring the outdoors into electronics, and this track is defintitely one to scratch the head to.

Further deracinations take the stage in Tipper‘s “Butch”, wherein samples become grist to the four-dimensional scramble towards bass and swirling chimes; did someone mention Autechre? Not exactly, but in the same general field; nothing can be taken for granted too long, as the basskick beats swathe everything in mammoth rhythms. This one is akin to the glitchy equivalent of a hand-in-the-air (and fall over) stormer. Four Tet does his thing to “Sutedja”, which involves running the closed-hat break and swimming keyboard through a chunk of echo, rewind and the odd spot of drop-down trickery to the accompaniment of a melodica. Groovy‘s probably the best adjective to apply here. As for Horse Opera, their track is one of the more minimal to be found on So Soon, contrasting shimmery electronic swoons with swatches of snicker and bleep, vinyl-slash rips and warnings of rattlesnakes nearby.

-Freq1C-

Luke SlaterAll Exhale
Label: Novamute Format: CD,2×12″

There’s something so tingly and satisfying about sending the chorus of a hard-kicking Techno track through enough vocoders and sundry dalek-buzz effects, and on “All Exhale” Luke Slater does this to spine-shooting effect. That, the female voice (sampled? synthesized?) instrucing in cut-up style to enact various procedures including the aforementioned exhalation, and it certainly makes for a storming club track.

The various mixes mash up the tune in various formats – the “Electropunk” one being a firm favourite for its saw-tooth wave sound, chiming melody and furious energy. The Original mix is almost as whistle-blowing, hand waving and E-rushing, but with some of the attitude melted instead into digital Funk breakbeatiness and a festival-load of swooping, rewinding and arpeggiated synth stabs and closer emphasis on the off-beat bass kick. Naturally, the Club mix rolls on longer and with a pumping hi-hat and rimshots to run the elbows up to the earholes and back again while gurning to the phaser sweep. A plant your feet in the air like you just don’t care, wait for the rewind, then come up for the second round fresh like a good little raver sort of track.

Futureshock make “All Exhale” go Disco-Techno-groooovy, all harsher kicks and snares and a tearing synth to buzz things up for the night – a sound which would be really quite effective on a big system, and the bleeps and uprushing analogue exhalations on the rebound will keep a few people happily grinning like it was Nineteen Ninety Two again. Brutally effective dance music, pushing at the fringes of Pop, and no doubt destined for various forms of dancefloor smashing, “All Exhale” simply goes about its business in a sturdy, workmanlike sort of way.

-Freq1C-

Luke SlaterAlright On Top
Label: Mute Format: CD

Alright On Top - sleeve Alright On Top isn’t what you’d expect from Mr Slater. You’d be expecting an album of Techno, correct? Superb Techno, but Techno none-the-less. After his 1999 release Wireless you might find a strong 80s influence. Alright On Top goes even further than this; its an album of high energy Electropop songs. Luke Slater, along with former Aloof singer Ricky Barrow and Slater’s long-standing collaborator Alan Sage, has created an album that sounds more 80s than the 80s ever were. A bit of a paradox, but that’s the way it is.

“Nothing At All” begins the album and punches it’s way through the speakers like a Gary Numan classic on steroids. The fat automated Moog basslines of “Cars” or “Metal” meets thumping Techno head on. Ricky Barrow adds a dimension of feeling on top of Slater’s hard edged Electro Pop Techno rhythms and melodies. I can’t help thinking of Erasure‘s Vince Clark muttering something like “I do the electronics and let him get on with the emotion”. Yeah, I could go on about the 80s all day, making comparisons between the poignant robot of “I Can Complete You” and Mr Numan … but then you might get the impression that Alright On Top is an album of Electropop classics remixed with House and Drum and Bass rhythms … yes, we’ve all heard them.

This is the 80s consciously remade with 21st century Techno sensibilities, humour, and energy … in love with Electropop but by no means blinded by it. And how often can you call a Techno album catchy? After a few listens I’ve got “Stars And Heroes” and “I Can Complete You” running through my head. It would be too easy to judge this album for what it isn’t. It isn’t the sombre and austere electronic album some people might have expected, nor is Alright On Top a jump from the Techno underground to Pop commercialism. The either/or-ness is unnecessary. As the man says: “I’ve never believed in all that underground vs overground stuff, I think it’s a pile of shite.” Need I say more?

-iAP-

Luke SlaterNothing At All
Label: Mute Format: CDS,12″

Nothing At All - sleeve Rocketing off into pumping vocal Housey Pop territory, Luke Slater‘s “Nothing At All” combines floor-friendly beats and breakdowns with screaming electronic distortion on the melody, some twiddly sub-riffs and a wasted vocal from Ricky Barrow. Churning and swirling like the stadium anthem it will probably become, it’s certain that the live performance will be accompanied by dazzling floodlights and salad lights ago-go.

There are two remixes on the CD single, one from King Unique as “Chocolate Orange” which thrusts matters forward to the beat, building a repetetive lyrical loop up to full echoed audibility while the kickdrums stomp and flow together to an intermittent shimmering refrain. No doubt more strobes will encourage the dancefloor handwaving for this one. The harder core may take to the stripped-down Spincycle version with enthusiasm as the familiar mechanized beat warfare of Minimal Techno conquers all to a Funky goosestep reconnaissanse before the outbreak of more blissed out cyberdelic love-in vibes as the handclaps applaud the extended move into burblingly abstract outer space at cruising speed.

-Freq1C-

Luke SlaterTraktion Action
Label: Novamute Format: 12″

Once again Luke Slater shows his commitment to keeping Techno dirty; filthy even. Not in any kind of slack way, but by bringing the chip-fat sound of distortion into the otherwise straightforward kick drums and endlessly repeated keyboard stabs of his brutally effective rhythms. While he’s not quite on the same level of distension as Jeff Mills, Slater can cartainly bang out an anti-tune on his electronics, as “Traktion Action” demonstartes, pounding itself squarely into a round peg hole and tweaking the intensity until something seems like it’s about to break. Instead of a comforting resolution, he just piles on the chords and hihats, with only the odd roll to ease the tension until a dissolution occurs – but then there’s a return to screw up any hope of relief from that singleminded rhythm and its slowly accreting slew of electronic feedback. The phrase “bashing your head against a brick wall” seems apposite – but in a good way.

A different kind of linear acceleration pervades “Intensity”, where the emphasis is Funkier and the mood Electro. A swerving melody buzzes to the digital beat, building into a state of benighted euphoria, tainted by murky vocal commentary of indistinct content. Analogue synths, a stabbing breakdown or three and a compulsory hands in the air return stumble along to accompaniment of a dentist drill, declamatory obscurities and sundry environmental madness: it all makes for a refreshingly confused slice of scuzzy dancefloor perversion. “EDBD” ratchets up the tempo on a deliciously buzzing faux-guitar riff, slamming into ecstatic groove mode with one hand held on the throttle just in case anyone starts enjoying themselves too soon without pushing the limits of dancefloor tension and release. When the drums kick in, they’re all the more welcome for the clich� simplicity of the ein-zwei beat, and the FM keyboard chords trill with just the right amount of major key brigthness while retaining an underlying fuzziness set at a spine-tingling pitch. Yes, and there are handclaps too, but set to face-slap speed. One to relish for its effective obviouness.

-Freq1C-

Sleep ChamberSiamese Succubi
Label: Fnfundvierzig Format: CD

Hey now.

Siamese Succubus - sleeve Look, don’t get me wrong. I like Sleep Chamber. I LIKE them. A crucial reason for my being ever interested in all these nights and noises is their Symphony Sexualis recording. That, and everything without vocals (or nearat)… I mean, for a while, my Prodigy ID name was “Lascivious Butt”. But vocals… Jeez, I don’t know… John Zewizz‘s violin-playing is so shamefully underrated – if only he’d showcase it more often…

They should be much bigger than they are – really big. And I don’t mean that in a Priceline sort of way. I hereby fall under the inevitable spell and nod in helpless assent…

-David Cotner-

Sleepytime Gorilla MuseumGrand Opening And Closing
Label: Seeland Format: CD

Grunty ug-Rock stylings and the Cookie Monster vocals besides. Well, that’s how it begins, at least. Offset by female reveries and intensely intricate packaging harboring an entire world inside it, the pieces are written collectively, with song ideas arising out of group improvisations and subject to merciless revision by all Museum members. Faintly reminiscent of the dog that fatally mauled the schoolteacher. She hangs her skin up by the window there is a particularly unique brand of aberrration that seems to coalesce in the San Francisco Bay area (cf. The Residents, Caroliner [Rainbow], The Dead Kennedys) into which this recording fits very well. Much guitar, of the electric variety – the album itself is, in the words of Vyvyan from The Young Ones , “Very metal and a nearly literally dissonant elephant”.

-David Cotner-

A Small Good ThingSlim Westerns Vol. II
Label: Leaf Format: CD

“Jane Russell”, from Slim Westerns is one of the most beautiful pop songs ever. Hands fckn down.

So it is with a certain amount of excitement that I spread the good word about this, the followup to that particular Magnum .44 opus. Languid acoustic guitars hang like dead coyotes along the fences built by “A Might Stillness”, and there is much lowing & ooh-oohing; with Andrew Hulme (O Yuki Conjugate) on bogus marimba. The songs have a particular, unique gait to them – waltzing easily across the horizon and then vanishing, one after another; tumbling into the deep, concentric tones pooling out from the first Slim Westerns.

Animal screams augur an oncoming storm, which fades into the sunset of a remedial piano. It’s as if someone from a cargo cult had seen a Western just once, and devoted a long period of time to re-approximating the cultural signifiers in a world where John Ford is just as deific as John Frum. The storm on the horizon, broken Spanglish, clip-clop clip-clop, the yells of the vaqueros, and the mantra of the word “hey” – all wind themselves into a new folklore that lives somewhere in the recesses of memory, shimmering much like the gorgeous cast of these exemplary recordings.

-David Cotner-

Small RocksCarbondating
Label: Hot Air Format: CD

Carbondating - sleeve detailThe sleeve comes with a “handy scale in centimeters (for measuring your own small rocks)”. Fucking brilliant idea, that one. We need more multisubjectival record sleeves. A scary Yeti-like creature abominably juggles various small rocks on the back. The sounds jump and down like the adorable oxygen-rich blood of Smurfs, and “the Wand touch” is bestowed upon our modern world of grunts, burps and barfs. The glamorous clamor of the sound is perfect for those with overactive synapses or high intelligence quotients – chill-out music for the jaunty set. It’s a very blatantly and overtly fun record.

-David Cotner-

Arj Snoek Albert Gabriel
Label: Ladomat 2000 Format: 2×12″,CD

The first real hurdle with this record is trying to pronounce Mr Gabriel‘s adopted name – Arj Snoek. I have it on good auhtority that it’s Arj Shnerk. What’s the second hurdle? Well, there isn`t one really. Ladomat do their thing once more and bring us a slab of rather nice individual House – made because someone wanted to make it (always a good sign) without it’s beady eyes being squarely focused on dance floor thumpers. This outing was recorded in Mr Gabriel`s home in Cologne and sits on the mellow laid back side of House. Yes, its very dancable, but it doesn`t end there. This record can be listened to without needing to leap around a dance floor.

And nobody needs to tell Arj that Disco’s back in town. Believe me, he already knows, he’s forcing it through filters and effects as we speak. Occasionally a moment of Disco surfaces before it sinks back beneath the choppy sea of envelope filters. Give “Voltage Control” or “Got It” a listening to and see what I mean. Add to this funky HipHop interludes drifting around between tracks. To top it all our Arj is still in his teens, he’s a master of the accordian (according to a Ladomat flyer), and a bit prodigous all round, I guess. Its the start of a promising career.

The one exception to all this has to be “I Don`t Know (What To Do)”. It’s very rare that I listen to vocally House that does anything for me … and nope, Mr Gabriel doesn’t suceed … he’s by no means alone though. Aside from that, this is a nicely homegrown record which plays just as well on a quiet Sunday afternoon as it would in a club.

-Alaric Pether-

Sofa Surfers Cargo
Label: Klein Records Format: CD, 2LP

Cargo - sleeve It’s difficult not to instantly love this album. The scene-setting “Beans & rice” follows a somewhat abstract intro track; all deep Dub basslines and effortless grooves accompanied by the rich vocals of Singing Bird. And the album continues roughly in the same vein, though with enough twists and turns to defy easy categorisation.

Those of you who remember the seminal Macro Dub Infection compilation of a few years back will be very familiar with the overall vibe of this album… it’s dub, Jim, but not as we know it… the sound is dirtier, darker and more oppressive, and it’s a damn sight more inventive than the majority of what gets described as Dub. There’s no relying on hypnotic bass loops to fill out the empty spaces between ideas for Sofa Surfers. No siree-bob! Even on “Long Bone”, perhaps the track that sounds most obviously like ‘generic summer festie sound-system’tm�dub, there’s enough rhythmic experimentation and odd samples to keep the most jaded aficionado happy.

But just when you think you’ve got a handle on this album; just when you’ve got it pigeon-holed as a mildly experimental chill-out; the altogether stranger middle section gets underway. The urgent Jazz sounds of “If It Were Not For You” darken the atmosphere substantially with indefinably sinister undertones and give way to a squidgy Drum’n’Bass freak-out in the form of “Yoyogi Uehara”, a track that reminds me a lot of David Byrne’s recent In Spite Of Wishing And Wanting album (and that’s high praise indeed, believe me). From there we take to the streets (and the barricades) on “Guns & Bombs & Knives” and finally get all spacey as the album returns to deep basslines and lazy grooves to close out.

Cargo is a good album, although at times it feels a little disjointed. Still, that’s very much part of the idea with such an unashamedly experimental take on the Dub genre. Or maybe this is just par for the course in the Austrian Dub scene? Whichever it is… it’s well worth a listen.

-Grufty Jim-

Soft VergeSoft Verge
Label: Output Format: CD,LP

A pliable edge, or a simple Virgil? Perhaps a bit of both is contained in the encoded bits and/or analogue nodes and humps of the carrier spirals of Mike Silver‘s (one half of Sonovac) strange cyberpunk tropical island vacation disc. Soft Verge (apparently) has a plot, a story, in this case of a parasitic cyberspace virus which maks its first appearance softly demanding “Burn me into every cell, and every atom” as the somnolently threatening bass rumble of “Microbial” is washed with the lap of sampled waters. The buzzing electronic insects of “Mosquito Mattia” chart the infection to a disjointed Systems Techno-House rhythm; “Club Fantasmo (Island Dreaming)” presumably intends to show the unsuspecting cyber-holidaymaker in their blissful MIDI Exotica ignorance before the virus bites, with whooping tropical birds and synthetic cicadas.

When the “Fever” kicks in, it’s curiously Industrial – it seems the symptoms of virtual bugs are as much Pan Sonic as pandemic… and also quite appropriately unsettling. As the sickness enters the stage of “Delerium”, things get even less pleasant, with all manner of digital side effects ringing in the ears and churning the guts of the bass frequencies., with occasional hallucinatory analogue squitters among the queasy loops. Once the digital plague is in remission, it seems the have taken chronic hold, if “Submission” is anything to go by – the story ends in a sort of cyborg symbiosis – will the patient recover?

It’s not often that there are Electonica concept albums let loose on the world; Soft Verge is certainly among the odd few (there are others, aren’t there?). Putting the ill right back into Illbient, it’s a peculiarly antiseptic listen on occasion, or perhaps that’s the other, alien presence of the virus at work. Whatever, this album is an oddity which makes the head spin slightly, and can cause mild dizziness. Language is a virus; so is music is it any use to keep on taking the medicine, or have the memes evolved just like the DNA of Staph-A and Ebola or the machine code of the Lamer Exterminator?

-Freq1C-

Son, Ambulance/Bright EyesOh Holy Fools
Label: Saddle Creek Format: CD,LP

Oh Holy Fools - sleeve I never realized how tragically romantic Nebraska was as a subject until I heard Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes perform about a year ago, although I had noticed, when I was much younger, that talking about growing up in Nebraska to strange men in California was a sure way to get free drinks/laid. This is not to say that all the songs on this split LP-half Son, Ambulance and half Bright Eyes – are necessarily about Nebraska, but there’s something about the melancholic delivery and particular references to playgrounds, winter, and the determination to cling to a childlike innocence that are inherently Midwestern, if not inherently Nebraskan. The two bands work off each other well, alternating tracks between them, and while there are plenty of similarities between the two, such as slow-paced, melancholic delivery, near-acoustic instrumentation, etc., there are enough striking differences between the two that there’s no confusing which song is from which.

-Holly Day-

Son-DhaRed Sector A Speeds Up Alio Die
Label: Release Format: CD

As the album title indicates, Son-Dha is a collaboration between Stefano Musso (AKA Alio Die) and Andrea Bellucci of Red Sector A – the name comes from the Italian for “Probe” (“Sonda”), and was apparently chosen to reflect the experimental aspect of the project. In essence, Bellucci sampled chunks of Alio Die’s atmospherics, added it to drum and sequence parts and then sent the results back to Musso to tweak and insert a few more sounds. The results vary from microsound-inflected Ambient Dub of “Shuar (Floating Mix)”, where the twitters of electronic filters, watery sounds and bass rumble meet some well-developed percussion, to the sinister metallic Drum & Bass treatment of “Alternate Realities (Psychonaut Mix)”, bringing the energy levels of the CD to a crunchy, stepping peak.

The subsurface structure is well realized for the most part too, encouraging close listening for best immersive results, from drifting contemplation to more dynamic grooves. This is demonstrated best on the rising chug-beat and elevated drones of of “In Mean Time (New World Experience Mix)” or “Onyx (Afterlife Mix)” with its Electro-Techno chunkiness underpinning the all-pervading shimmer, even if it does bliis out rather into 4/4 familiarity after a while. There’s a slow Dub’n’tabla passage through “Axis Mundi (Templehead Mix)” for when it comes time to roll the next herbal cigarette, and with plenty of time-dilating sample-stretchings during which to smoke the results before the album ends too.

Fortunately, Red Sector A Speeds Up Alio Die is not a montotone album: there is plenty of engaging variation from track to track, with some longuers creeping in only to be dispelled eventually by some fresh new combination of rhythm and drone. The trance properties of Techno drum loops and filtered bleeps are invoked among the layered textural sounds, perhaps not always entirely engrossingly, but the whole passes off with deceptive ease. It is an album which can easily slip into background placidity, but sometimes that’s what is required from music. At other moments, the ethnodelic samples, long-distance voices and twinklingly-treated loops approaching the right level of pleasant trance-induction for some seriously deep relaxation.

-Freq1C-

SonicanimationI‘m A DJ
Label: Doublethink Format: CDS/12″

I'm A DJ - sleeve If my hunch is right you may not hear this one in the clubs. Why? “I’m A DJ” should be a storm, shouldn’t it? Every DJ should want to play it, right? However, the song continues – “I’m a DJ, my head is up my arse”. It’s the musical equivalent of wearing a tee-shirt bearing the word twat.

Australian duo Rupert Keiller and Adrian Cartwright, a.k.a. Sonicanimation, definitely have their tongues in cheek for this release. No guesses for the target – its your Superstar DJ with record bag in hand and bloated sense of self importance. After eight years in the dance scene the pair felt that the not-so-humble DJ was the worthy subject for a song. And they’re cruel. The DJ they’re singing about really ought to wear a tee-shirt saying twat. You may ask yourself who are they to sit in judgement? Fair enough, they are even gracious enough to admit: “Of course, we’re not perfect either and have been accused of being wankers and pop stars, especially when we wear all our gold chains, drive our black Mercedes and have a posse of scantily clad women shakin’ their big booties…”

“I‘m A DJ” comes with a handful of remixes. The Sharp Boys “Hytronic Vocal” and “Instrumental” mixes are seriously thumping club tracks. Mark James‘ “Future Mix” continues the Funk out Houseness of the original. All good solid stuff with a major injection of biting humour – somewhat of a rarity in the generally humourless world of club music. Not all DJs have their heads up their own arses, and maybe you’ll hear this if your DJ has a sense of humour. Well, it made me laugh.

– stage0 –

SonovacEP EP
Label: Output Format: 12″,CDS

Bit of an oddity, this. Opening (from a glow-in-the-dark sleeve- GLOW IN THE FUCKING DARK SLEEVE, MAN!) to a sound of something masticating (that’s masticating) in an empty virtual cavern (oh God, it’s started already- better strap yourself in and get ready for reams of hyperbole from Satan’s own arse) that’s not totally dissimilar (but dissimilar enough to be confusing) to a slower version of Nurse With Wound‘s “I Am Blind” crossed with that really weird unrelated mix of “On” that Aphex Twin put out many years ago, “Flyback”, for such is Sonovac’s chosen vehicle of ambassadorial first contact called, develops into something not a million miles from Coil, but like Coil in the way that every Coil track is like Coil because it doesn’t sound like any other Coil track… oh fuck it, you know what I mean. Or you would if you’d listened to it, in which case, why the fuck are you reading this shit instead of being sat in your room monged off your tits (or other secondary sexual characteristics) going “Woahhh…” with this skittering (yes, skittering) out of the speakers?

To overuse literary metaphor here, there is something very Burroughs about the recurring chittering insect-like sounds (and the stop-start cut up ambience of tracks like “Fooling Around”, where breaths provide some semblance of a bassline and the bugs do their thang) and something very Lovecraft about the general atmosphere and otherworldly nature of the whole thing, like those bits in a Clive Barker book where reality doesn’t leave the room, it just turns round to you, whips off its hat and shades and goes “Aha! I’m not who you thought I was, motherfucker!” just before drilling through the sides of your head with a drill crafted from Nyquil and psychosis. Sort of.

There’s still something funky about the whole thing, a kind of ethereal groove being bolted together from these organic, Cronenberg-esque sounds (oh fuck, he’s got onto movies now), and even a stab (ironically, given my choice of word, on the nicer of the tracks such as “Maybe Baby”) at that kind of Chris and Cosey thing- almost New Beat, but too out there to fit into any club that would have it on the playlist. To make matters weirder, not only does “System Error” (of course) come with Kraftwerk-style bleeps and bloops against what should be (but isn’t) a wholly inappropriate backing track, but “Waltz” comes on all (dare I say it – yeah, go on, GO ON!) pastoral, and the aforementioned “Fooling Around” features two lines of vocal, “The burning keeps me alive” and “This ain’t no fooling around” that will be oddly familiar (in content only; the delivery again is something very different) to anyone familiar with Talking Heads‘ classic of survivalist paranoia “Life During Wartime”.

It’s hard to know how to categorise this, without being shit and saying “Electronica”, but to me it sounds like a music that knows its history, but still manages to be constructed entirely from fucking weird noises – and that’s no bad thing, especially if you have a glow in the fucking dark sleeve to wrap it in afterwards.

-Deuteronemu 90210, Dark Lord Of The Sith-

SonovacHigh-On-Tech
Label: Output Format: 12″,CDS

High-On-Tech - sleeve detail“High-On-Tech” is a snappy diatribe on the drift into digital convergence and its human cost – “We’re high on tech/We think we ain’t got no problems/We’re high on tech/We treat computers like friends” as the off-world sing-song vocals of Suzy and Mike Silver proclaim over the backing of disrupted Electro Sonovac. They make a bastardized form of SynthPop, with the emphasis on treated vocals, ironic “Here We Go”‘s and bleepily dissonant post-Punk electronica. Remember, this is a group whose name comes from a brand of spaceship toilets…

Anton La Vay - first class on High-On-Tech sleeveThe remix makes everything even less straightforward than the album version, while “Breasts, Death And Puppies” shows that their evisceration of the form comes from an obvious immersion in the world of samplers, drum machines and sequencers that works at least both ways between kick-ass kick drums, ominous soundtrack synth sweeps and shuffling the rhythms out of the expected directions to disorienting effect. The version of this track makes off into the loops with intent to dicombobulate, and largely succeeds in making a rumbling pulse of squalchy analogue noise, backwards beats and clipped vocal samples into a clicking, sinister instrumental – and as another touch, the sleeve is designed as a postcard, featuring the head of Anton La Vey on the stamp.

-Freq1C-

SonovacHuman Fly
Label: Flesh/Output Format: 7″

Seven comments about seven inches:

1. “Never judge a book by its cover”…yeah, whatever, I love little vinyls that come in cute packages, this one being a limited edition numbered screen printed poster! And it’s black and red, And it has every cartoon hallmark of old style punk rock records from before CDs, so we’re off to a great start.

2. Sonovac are siblings, a brother and sister recording duo that spark the imagination with what their childhood must have been like. I bet their parents are proud of them now.

3. This record is a tribute to The Cramps! Whoo Hoo, I love being force fed memories of seeing Lux Interior and Ms.Ivy back when Psychobilly wasn’t invented yet. And Sonovac do a great job of it, maybe not even pissing off Nick Knox!

4. Suzy Silver can sound just like a human fly!

5. Flip side song “Heavy Rotation” is a perfect mockery of all I despise in dubious dance music – the repetion, the redundancy. It does that “repeat these words over and over” thing that is so much immature fun, eventually sounding like Mike is droning “ir-ri-tation” instead of “Heavy Rotation”. Silly words coming over relentless below bass beats is a fine example of what dance music, ummm…IS, but this is better.

6. Did I mention the cover folds out into a poster?

7. The other good news is that Sonovac have a full length album due out any moment now, and another single (though this one is a 12″) coming out soon. Boys and girls, the fun may be back in music! What a relief after listening to other, sadder, prettier, Ambient-er music all day! “Heavy Rotation, heavy rotation, heavy rotation is a sweet sensation…”

Update 2001 – those nice people at Flesh Records have made a full-length MP3 of “Human Fly” avialable on their website.

-Lilly2000-

SonovacRaw
Label: Output Format: CD

Raw - sleeve detailWhat a lucky day for the world when Raw is released. Get a copy ASAP and mark my words, you will enjoy it. YOU WILL!

The Sonovac brother/sister team of Mike and Suzy Silver have again livened up the electronic music scene with a little bid of humour looped into their brand of machine music. When the single “Human Fly” came out, I was astounded to realize that of course old guitar music could be recycled into modern electronics. I know, beat me over the head with the obvious. Drum machines and all Sonovac dive right into the piss-taking and energetically set out to bring us all to hysterics. What this all comes down to is the sound of The Cramps or Flaming Lips or The Damned or all three and more, set up into something close to Garage Rock for dancing. I could see them showcased as a counterpoint to most of the DHR kids, same sort of sound, but loads more fun.

The songs on Raw are simple and short, to the point, and never drag on. Their version of my favourite Ramones song “I Wanna Be Sedated” defies logic and supercedes explanation. Just listen to it. “Be My Oxygen” reminds me of Ministry‘s ill-remembered beginings as Pop stars on MTV. “Heart Broker” is just plain weird, sounding like Annabelle from BowWowWow trying to make a move on the London club scene, while “I Don’t Want Nobody Else But You” drops bass lines from a mighty Disco ball above to pound you in the head, and it is soooo sexy. I think “We’ll Meet Them Halfway” may be be this year’s Sonovac Christmas song, and “Waltz” is their foray into the beautiful because it haunts me. Some songs sound like Blondie, some like Devo, one even sounds like a chorus of pigeons contributed to the backing vocals. Still, it is sort of like what I would imagine all these bands would sound like now, if they were now and now was when they had done their stuff. And, besides all that, Sonovac stay incredibly original, and never boring. Quite an achievement really, as tech brings the music world to a minimum.

Yes, Sonovac have it all and more. Appropriated, begged and borrowed, the Silvers are something like the Wondertwins exhorting “Powers! Activate!” before saving the world, representatives of the electronic Now. Look for them live soon. I don’t actually know if they are coming, but what a show if they did! Perhaps with Add N to (X)? Now that would run me right off the digital rails.

-Lilly Novak-

The Sons Of GodThe Object
Label: Firework Editions Format: CD

The Object - CD pictureSons of God are a Swedish performance and music art group, apparently active since the mid-Eighties. The Object presents a distillation of their acoustic exploration of the sonic properties of an East German navy trawler formerly used to eavesdrop on and monitor movements of traffic in the Baltic Sea during the Cold War. With the parapsycho-acoustic experiments of various archaeologists who have attempted to extract any possible sound information encoded into the grooves of pottery or the brush-strokes of paintings in mind, the Sons Of God set out to locate possible recordings of the past from the interior of the trawler – or “object” as they renamed it.

Recorded using a 130x200mm square diaphragm of sheet iron equipped with appropriate military surplus telephone microphones, The Object presents over sixty minutes of the resulting material as one long track. Whether it has been composed into a work of music from the source tapes or exists as a field recording faithfully presented in real-time, rendering the listener “in the same position as we were on ‘the object'” as the sleeve notes claim, is debatable; what is evident is the transition from silence through subtle shifts in frequency layers to a deeply intense auditory experince, especailly through headphones. Sundry pops and clicks are interspersed through various sections of the recording, acting as anchors or distractions from the all-encompassing sub-bass tones and the almost palpable sense of a large physical presence, that of the ship itself.

Again, the actual results are of subjective interest over and beyond the stated process of recording, and these results themselves are singularly detached from interpretation as either the archaeoacoustic traces of previous times encoded in the structure of a vessel or as the reverberations of environment and its effect on the subect of the recording. The massive throb of bass and its interaction with the higher frequencies in quite overwhelming at volume or at close proximity to the ear; as an exploration into the realms of sound The Object provides an undeniably demanding listen.

-Antron S. Meister-

The Sontaran Experiment – {The Sontaran Experiment}
Label: Undergroove Format: CD

The Sontaran Experiment - sleeveI remember the “Sontaran Experiment” Doctor Who story. Tom Baker fighting bad guys with lame papier-mâché heads and then there was this really crap robot-crab-thing. Fantastic. So when this beautifully packaged CD dropped through my door it had already done a pretty good job of endearing itself to me before I had even given it a listen.

Everything about The Sontaran Experiment‘s self titled debut is epic. Clocking in at 58 minutes long it consists of three huge movements. Not one to file under easy listening. Paul Catten‘s musical vision is  brutal, harrowing, utterly intense and emotionally draining. Huge slabs of doom reminiscent of Burning Witch or ASVA beat you into submission. Catten’s cries of “There’s no one left but us” fight to break through the wall of guitar and ever intensifying crescendos.

What makes this album really great is that The Sontaran Experiment are full of twists and turns. When you least expect it, when their pounding doom has got total hold of you, they leap into tight drum and bass riffs, or washes of ominous keyboards. They collapse into pure noise experimentalism and rise out again. There are even moments of delicate melody, sounding especially fragile in the midst of the brutality. At one point in the first movement the big wall of doom cuts out. A clock ticks away, interrupted by momentary blasts of ultra fast hardcore every bit as demented as The Locust. Fantastic, brutal and original.

-Alaric-

SoundScreaming Zenith
Label: Beta-Lactam Ring Records Format: 2LP

Sound by name, and sound by nature. Add in the superb production values and heavy, heavy vinyl, the album is complete with a colour insert to complement the distubing kaleidoscopic fetish artwork which extends to an individual image on the 4th side of the album. Any record that opens with as grandiose and out-there tracks as the viscerally-uplifting “Resplendent Vistas Of Viscous Treacle” and “Sephulchural Velocity” promises much and delivers a huge amount in turn. Epic in proportions, the brain-melting assault is immediate and ongoing, with massed synthesizers poised to propel, batter, terrify and amuse all at once. Stupendous sequenced rhythms pound out monotone beats in “The Tickly Pistons”, while keyboards shimmer and drone their alien funeral music to the stars; and here too is a band who know the proper use for digital synthesis – to sound like itself, and to be placed in a suitable context of surround-sound psychedelic chaos.

Which idea then logically follows that, were Joel Zoch and Eric Lumbleau to produce their material in 5.1 on DVD-A, the effects could be yet further discombobulating. Given the stereo-only treatment, Screaming Zenith is audio madness incarnate enough though, trilling and parping and wobbling and slithering outragously-distended electronic through filters the like of which haven’t been heard since the days when Nurse With Wound splattered themselves into existence. Unlike some aural assault squads, Sound seem to hold not only purpose but ability to overwhelm with their sonic weaponry; their strategy is devastation, the tactics precise and surprising. Orchestrated is the term for the way they mould analogue synthesis with sampled voices, tapeloops and/or who knows else what.

The track titles are as evocative and disturbing as the sleeve art: “Flibertigibbet’s Katzenjammer”, “Gambol And Caper Through Discombobulation’s Lustre”, “Egregious Salvos Of Aberrant Folderol” – the reviewer’s arsenal of adjectives are surrounded, beseiged and crushed, just like the listener’s aural perceptions. “Amorphous Procession Through Paralyzed Gelatin” slaps a drum machine loop with descending chords and spiky FM synths in a sick regurgitation of everything bright and shiny about digital music, pushed to the limits of the taste and decency envelope. This LP roils with deranged inventive energy, as the concluding title track proves in a welter of circling percussive loops which build with metronomic drama to a shuddering synthetic creschendo on a wall of Jim Edgerton‘s multi-layered guitar solos of nearly unbelievable intensity. Add in breakbeats and a slavo of squittering analogue synths and the piece de resistance
: a soaring operatic vocal screech which competes wilfully with the demonic paroxysms on every side until the inevitable collapse into silence. Magnificent.

-Richard Fontenoy-

Source Direct
Concealed Identity ;
Mind Weaver;
Technical Warfare ;
Label: Science Format: 12″

Let it be known, I`m somewhat partial to me Source Direct. Not to the point that I blindly advocate any slab of vinyl that’s passed from their way. At times they can have a tendency to over do the angst a bit, but their classics (in my opinion) now thats another matter. Try out Call & Response (Science) or Secret Liason (Good Looking Records). These tracks are brilliant, “Secret Liason” is like collapsing down a staircase of Jungle while trying to listen to some really nice ambience. Whenever I get my hands on a number by Source Direct I`m always hoping it will join their ranks.

So here I am with a triple helping (although the B-sides are blank), and my anticipation and curiosity are growing. Of the three, Mind Weaver was my initial favourite – and still remains so. Concealed Identity took a little longer to grow on me – perhaps its just that little too similar to Photek‘s “Ni – Ten – Ichi – Ryu”. Despite that, its a good track. The rolling bass line is very nice and the beat is constantly pushing harder and harder. Technical Warfare is good, solid Drum and Bass, but not on the same level as “Mind Weaver”.

When Source Direct are on form they can produce some classics: “Mind Weaver” could be one such track. It sounds like a Jungle/Drum & Bass war of rhythm. Sparse minimal beats clash with super fast snare fills. It’s abrupt, very abrupt, jolting and stop-start-stop. This is what makes Jungle such an exciting form of music. You never know where you are, the beat is always in a state of near collapse yet it just manages to hold together, or it drops out entirely and picks up where it left off before you’ve had a chance to get your breath back. Its the perfect music to explode to. Source Direct have come up trumps with “Mind Weaver”.

-Alaric Pether –

Source Direct Exorcise The Demons
Label: Science Format: CD,2LP

OK, lets get one thing straight. I know that Source Direct‘s debut album is called Exorcise the Demons – I just can`t bring myself to call it that. Excercise the Demons is a much better title. It conjours up images in my mind of people out on a Sunday stroll talking their demons for a walk down on London Fields (Have you seen some of the beasts out walking there then? – Ed.). So, I’ve got a problem with one small insignificant letter in the album title, big deal, but from hence forward the Source Direct debut album is called Excercise the Demons. Don’t let me catch you calling it otherwise.

I‘ve gone on at lengths about my opinion of Source Direct – read my review of “Mind Weaver/Concealed Identity/Technical Warfare” above – so I don`t intend to repeat myself. Basically, when Source Direct are on form they can produce some masterpieces, but unfortunately, they aren’t always on form. My favourites still remain “Mind Weaver” and “Call and Response” – it’s nice to see the inclusion of this oldie, along with “Capital D”. Source Direct have been around for five years and innumerable EPs before releasing their debut album. That’s not to say that this is some retrospective, best-of, look-back-at-our-career kind of record. It isn’t, and why should it be? It’s their debut album, after all – it’s a bit premature for greatest hits yet.

Generally, this is a rather nice album – Source Direct don`t pull many surprises out of the bag – if you’re familiar with the tunes they’ve released previously you’ll know what to expect – but this isn`t really a criticism. Excercise The Demons (sic) is nine dark and edgy Drum and Bass techstep epics (the shortest being a mere six minutes forty five seconds.) All good stuff, and with a couple of blinders thrown in for good measure – and if you don`t know what to expect? Hello, this is Source Direct.

-Alaric Pether-

Spaceheads And Max EastleyThe Time Of The Ancient Astronaut
Label: Bip-Hop Format: CD

The Time Of The Ancient Astronaut - sleeve detailSomehow resonant with a slow march gloom of a New Orleans Jazz funeral march as witnessed by the characters in Easy Rider at the very height of their acid trip, or a slow rainy stumble through Soho in the West End of London at the wrong time of hangover, Time Of The Ancient Astronaut is a full-on soundscape of dread beauty. The disc brings the echoed, looped and pitched-shifted trumpet of Andy Diagram into contact with the processed percussion played by Richard Harrison and the single-string electro-acoustic Arc scraped and skimmed by Max Eastley. The effects are nothing short of spine-bendingly unnerving; there is a fingernail on chalk quality to the Arc which complements the breathy drones of the brass instrument to downright spooky effect. This album is not suggested for playing as a soundtrack to lonely wanderings through the back streets by night, or the arid wastes of other worlds for that matter either, not unless the listener has a backbone which won’t shiver at the eerie vibrato of that string which warps like a combined Theremin and musical saw.

The improvisational nature of the recordings adds to the air of expectant unease; who knows what tingle will be encouraged by the scrape and clatter of metal or the sussurus of electronics. Those whooshing noises certainly don’t help, and as for the drumkit attacked like it’s a nest of vipers, perhaps even Hawkwind would have a bad trip to those rhythms – Time Of The Ancient Astronaut isn’t part of the Universal Head Expansion Series for nothing, it seems. Comfort can be brought to mind by promising that it’s really only The Clangers holding an alien be-in after all; they’re safe little woolly creatures after all, and no-one could be harmed by the siren sound of an approaching Soup Dragon, could they…? That’s to take the less chilling option in ascribing benign intentionality to this music; what if that shrill piping and reverberating chord presages something altogether more Lovecraftian after all? It certainly sounds like The Spaceheads are out to unsettle if not plain get someone into the asylum, and Max Eastley is producing sounds here which are far from innocent sounding.

-Linus Tossio-

SpaceheadsLow Pressure
Label: BiP HoP Format: CD

Low Pressure - sleeve Low Pressure is a an album of lazy beats and thick layers of trumpets. At it’s heart the music is human and acoustic. The ingredients are breath and wood beating on skin. One of the most fundamental and ancient musical combinations. These are then pushed through filters and rearranged into crackles. One trumpet becomes a whole chorus of trumpets. The title refers to the mud hut on the cover, which was built by Richard Harrison. It’s a low pressure building. And Low Pressure is about the damage our environment is suffering. After all, the new style British greenhouse summer is hardly natural is it? Trumpets and the apocalypse? That’s a old one too, but let’s not get apocalyptic, though. Low Pressure is as mellow as they come.

It is the 7th album from Andy Diagram and Richard Harrison – a.k.a. Spaceheads. The album contains remixes by the Bleach Boys as the fast paced “On A Clear Day” and “Pressure Point”. I’m not so sure about this “On A Clear Day”, but their second contribution “Pressure Point”, a remix of the album opener “Low Pressure” itself, is right on the money. Laid back harmonies of trumpets of the original float on top of crushed up rhythms. Graham Massey provides the third remix of the album, “Storm Force”. This is a hypnotic moment of Technoid trance that goes right back to the early Nineties … in my opinion at least. The days when Trance was mechanical, Plastik, and had little idea that House music even existed. Apart from the remixes I really like the original version of “Low Pressure” and “Red Shift”. This last track is wonderful. It sees Spaceheads bring the floating harmonies to the fore.

At it’s best Low Pressure is an album to sit and do nothing to – a contented nothing of course.

– Stage 0 –

Spatialize Dryad’s Bubble
Label: Third Stone Format: CD

Dryad's Bubble - sleeve Not many people use the word ‘Ambient’ these days, at least not in reference to a genre, although I’ve never been very good at keeping track of buzzwords or respecting stylistic boundaries so I use and abuse it all the time. Generally though, it’s been surplanted, linguistically and musically, by ‘Electronica’. This is unashamedly an Ambient album however, in the grand tradition of The Orb, later Delerium and earlier Future Sound Of London, and the great days of free festivals and club chill-out rooms that inspired and fuelled them. Accordingly then, there’s very little here that will seem novel or surprising, unless you spent the years from about 89 to 95 in total ignorance of alternative culture. On paper, in fact, it reads on paper like a textbook on how to put an ambient album together; all the elements are in place.

There’s the borrowed Dub rhythms (as on the vaguely Leftfield-ish title track), the familiar yet unplaceable ethnic instrumentation (“Blind to Insight”), the samples of astronauts having radio conversations (“Lunar Space Dub”), the laidback breakbeats (“Moksha Journey”), the snatches of birdsong (“Somuti”), the obligatory track in 6/8 or 12/8 time (“Ukiyo”), the extended drumless atmospheric interludes (“Antakarana”), the arpeggiators, filter sweeps and signature sample-and-hold patterns all over the place, and so on, all put together by mainman Neil Butler with a fan’s dedication. But if you can forgive him his retrospective attitude and his thorough, near-obsessive cataloguing of the things that made the Ambient scene great, it’s actually very well done.

I‘m not ashamed to admit that this CD made the hair stand up on the back of my neck more than once, and that was just on the way to work in the morning, not even lying in a blissed-out haze in the back room of a Brixton nightclub or anything. The production is lush, the layers of sound dripping off each other and gliding over each other beautifully, and in times when the scene has become very focussed on technological gimmickry (see ‘glitch’) it’s refreshing to hear electronic music with real melody, and with acoustic instrument sounds (guitars, piano and harp for example) employed tastefully. It’s a little nature-documentary-soundtrack at times but that comes with the terrritory. And it’s made me want to go raving again, which can’t be a bad thing. Don’t expect too much in the way of cutting-edge innovation or fad-following trendiness and you won’t be disappointed.

-Andrew Clegg-

Speedranch ^Jansky Noise Welcome To Execrate
Label: Leaf Format: CD

Ahh, the joys of noise, generated on turntable and sampler, mashed in the hard drive and spat out again on the decks or in a CD player… what more could the war in Europe require, than a post-Modern soundtrack for the sanitised bombs and the unsurprising surprise of a world returuning to it’s old ways? Why is this at all relevant to Speedranch & Jansky Noise, any more than Megadeth were to the (second) Gulf War and its computer game soundtrack? Not because of the macho posturing or Rock and Roll’s agressive, thumping martial music, or just because the Sturm and Drang which opens the album is called “We Need Your War (Bringer).” It’s all in the Futurist aesthetic of noise from whatever source gloried in for its cathartic, frightening rush, for a culture trapped in its own self-obsessed decadence, mashing up whatever makes the most pleasant, grinding, chaotic whirl in a futilist lament for the passing of a civilization in transition.

Is all that realy to be found in this CD? Or is it just a blurring smear of bilious churn, a snapping fizz of empty, voiding rush of noise? That it even raises the questions makes a change. A format that sucks in everything and makes garbage from dross or splintered jewels from pristine art alike has made this possible; the accelerating spin of artificial diamond on vinyl rips apart the idea of music once again, leaving a shattered space of impure form from the result. That Welcome To Execrate cannot help but provoke a response is good; that the listener can bring their own sense of ennui to the proceedings is not an accident – it’s part of the process. Listening to the album is just like being put in a blender sometimes, with a rising wall of mush smoothing itself into something new and subject to a new description. Whatever the source material, it’s now S^JN’s record, their statement – and only appropriate, given the circumstances. If warfare has become a distant spectacle and something experienced via the media, so has noisemaking to an extent – slipping comfortably into a familiar, even composed alternate tonality on occasion.

That may well be the downfall of this outburst of thubs and bagpipes, tumbling sample loops and semi-random scratches, in the end – familiarity, the bane of a hypercultured environment. Until then, take the plunge into some of the most enjoyably anarchic plundering of the turntables available – nihilistic noisemongering certainly beats the shit out of self-righteous covert militarism any day.

-Freq1C-

Speedranch^Jansky Noise Execrate (Configuration 001)
Label: Leaf Format: 12″

Operating as agents of chaos in the realms of turntablism, DJ Speedranch and Jansky Noise (of V/VM) are on a mission to cut, splice, re-heat and demolish established musical conventions. What this involves here is mixing up a heap of their own and others tracks into a splurge of noise, extruded sound and suffering vinyl. Just like Fuckhead the duo like nothing better than to pound their source material into shivering pulp, before serving up a fresh collection of regurgitated thud, booms and tortured vocals. It’s no wonder that the mix CD will include noisy scratches from the likes of 2nd Gen and Mixmaster Mike.

Accompanied by a manifesto almost worthy of Wyndham Lewis, Execrate is a taster for their forthcoming mix CD on Leaf which aims to do a little nihilistic re-jigging of the status quo in the tradition of Negativland, Otomo Yoshihide or Stock Hausen & Walkman (who crop up on “Fuse The Vertical Strategy game Extract – Vac 88r490” – they also know how to fuck with easy titling). Side X is mostly their own work, and consists largely of loops and re-runs of distorted, jarring splinters. Side O mixes tracks by Somatic Responses (feat. Hrvåtski v. Blitter), Marco Passarani and Jega into a seething soup of overdriven beatboxes and complaining electronics, before settling into a soundscape of aliendated textures and sampled film dialogue.

If Speedranch and Jansky N. only succeed in getting up a few people’s noses with their take on uncompromising evisceration of the conventions of rhythm and noise they’ll have done the world a favour. Absurdist collage is a nifty route to existential destabilisation and reinvention – lets see how far this can go before some advertising executive takes the paradigm shift challenge and shoehorns this into a car commercial.

-Freq1C-

Speedy J IEEE Mitten Menu
Label: Novamute Format: 12″,CDS

This record was described to me as sounding like Front 242. I suppose it does a bit, but 242 were always on the Panzer Division side of Eurosynthpop. Speedy J has produced what I can only describe as rather bludgeoning Electro. I don’t think its so much sound that makes this record sound like Front 242, more a question of attitude. Both would be ideal listening music as you hose your ex-Russian Army helicopter gunship down on a sunday afternoon.

“I Triple E Mitten Menu” isn’t just hard Electro, its fully fortified and able to survive for 17 months in its underground bunker if necessary. This is the kind of strength I’m talking about. Above the unstoppable rhythm a vocoder voice blurts incomprehensibilities, I`ve always got a soft spot for vocoders. Generally, incomprehensibility characterises Speedy J’s record. What’s it about? I can’t really say. “IEEE Mitten Menu”? Nope, I can`t see how the IEEE fit into it at all – they define standards for low level stuff like the twos compliment format. “Mitten Menu”? Nope, that doesn`t make much sense either, especially stuck on the end of IEEE.

The cover offers little guidance, as it looks like a diagram for a kit form robot that’s vomiting cogs. But none of this really matters, “IEEE Mitten Menu” is a pretty damm good, and thats what does matter. So, if you see gunships rising over the rooftops to the sound of this tune, you’ll know I’ve had as much as I can take. My next step will be to send the Lancaster Bombers out to blanket bomb Ronny Corbett‘s home. (Erm, yessss…-Ed.)

Great record.

-N. Sequiter-

Speedy JKrekc
Label: Novamute Format: 12″

“Krekc” shows that Speedy J’s name is not a misnomer in any way: the build-up from the opening beat is aphetamine-fuelled to tha max, kicking into a spine-shuddering rhythm with a defibrillating urgency of demonic possession. The snares don’t do something so laid back as clatter; instead they tremble violently in spasms while the piercing treble makes the top of the head tingle and the bas kick does things in fours. Combine all this with an electronic escalator from the peaks into the sputtering depths of atonal rhythmic hold, restrain and (not quite) release tension methodology, and “Krekc” is a neat floor-spanker of a tune.

The B-side holds the yet further pumping grind of “Krikc”, turning the intensity up a few further notches to beyond the point of dancefloor return. Single-minded in it’s approach as ever, the emphasis here is on a dynamic rotor-bladed rhythm around which the main chug meanders with a threatening, dirty rictus grin of the 4am non-stop kind. The high-speed phased biscuit tin lid percussion comes to the fore for a sizable chunk of the track, winding up for the suspended beats return in a particularly distorienting style. “Krakc” takes matters lower down the scale, maintaining the propulsive churn and wrinkling the surface textures and filtering everything in its onrushing path while the drums get a fulsome crisping by turns. The intensity of the three tracks is distinct from the pulverising grind of, say, Gabba, but it is equally unrelenting – anyone so foolish as to try even blowing their whistle after being exposed to any of these Speedy J tracks probably would be able to summon the required puff. Thankfully.

-Freq1C-

Speedy JLoudboxer
– Label: Novamute Format: CD,2LP

Loudboxer - sleeve I love this album. When ever I play a new Techno record this is the kind of stuff I’m hoping for – dark, sparse, and relentlessly mechanical. Not that I should be too surprised. Speedy J, a.k.a. Jochen Paap, is up there is up there with the likes of Jeff Mills for my money – not something I say lightly.

Loudboxer sees him returning to a more basic formula after his last two caustic releases for Novamute: Public Energy No 1 and A Shocking Hobby. It’s almost an album of two sides, being divided in the middle by drifting voices of “InterZil”. The first half is really sparse; tracks like “Reenter” and “Qesop” are reduced to the skeletal essentials of Techno. I think the second track is called “Qesop” – the typeface on Loudboxer is almost as inscrutable as a Front 242 album track list.

After the interlude the album returns to full pelt with some really belting mechanical Techno. “Krekc” takes the mechanical tweaks and tones of the first half and totally blitzes them. “Sevntrak” is off the scale. “Krikc Live” is a fury of riotous mixing and jagged beats. The ‘second’ side … part two … whatever … is a definite follow on to the first half. More a question of Brutalistix Pure and Applied than two distinct albums. Speedy J begins with the principal, drags it through a hedge kicking and screaming, and then forces it home. Now if more Techno albums were like this …

– Stage 0 –

Speedy J/Adam BeyerCollabs 100
Label: Novamute Format: 12″

Collabs 100 - sleeve detailRoll up! Roll up! Going head to head, on 12-inch vinyl and through the very latest Flash webpage with an exclusive download track, please put yr feet kicking to the full-tilt sounds of Speedy J and Adam Beyer! So much for the fanfare, but this 12″ double A-side (the first in a series of Speedy J collaborations) really shows off the heaviest of heavy beats that Jochen Paap and Beyer can swap and remould – “Sjab” runs straight in to the Techno groove with no messing and no waiting, thudding along for all it’s worth before mellowing out and down into a drop out which does the uncoiling thing.. And whump, the beat is back, redoubled and refreshed on a cyclical welter of FX, delays flickering everywhere in sub-rhythms until the tune bleeds. Monstrous.

“Basj” slaps up the tempo, pulsating with swept-down rhythms sliding across each other in interlocked grooves. Slick – but in the sense of a spreading scum of oily residue – and twisting the pressure of dancefloor intensity for all they’re worth, Beyer and Speedy J pump up the controls until the track is almost audibly breathless with exertion and takes time out for a relatively relaxed breather. But everyone knows the dancefloor score by now – the phased descent and the equally expected splash back of rhythmic colour to the power of two, spin drying the brains and sweat-soaking the bodies of anyone dancing in the immediate vicinity. Pummelling.

-Freq1C-

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Acme
Label: Mute Format: CD, LP

It’s not often you can tell exactly what someone’s wearing while you’re hearing them play music, but I’m prepared to put my ass on the line here and say that while recording Acme, Jon Spencer‘s latest instalment in his increasingly demented plundering of the Blues, the lad was wearing Very Very smart, and expensive (and probably shiney) trousers. And shoes. You can just tell.

All the best bits of Rock history are here, bunged into a smokey room together, forced to down a couple of bottles of tequila each and dance like maniacs until they’re sick. And the result is some of the most fantastic sonic splatter to be released this year. Tracks stomp, strut and quite literally shag their way out of the speakers and into your solu before you have a chance to say “Yeah, this one’s started off quite niceley.” From the suave and sophisticated (“Magical Colour” and the opening “Do You Wanna Get Heavy”) to the absolutely fucking MAD (“Attack,” on which Digital Hardcore supremo Alec Empire is invited on board to do his teutonic Anti-Fascist groove thang while Spencer attempts to escape from a sealed dustbin armed only with a megaphone), this is music which ROCKS.

Steve Albini, as ever, does that cool spikey guitars and shiny distortion thing as only he can – drums are pounded, basses fucked and guitars taken out and shot. But the unashamed centrepiece of this album is the sublime, the godlike, the utterly bastard sexy “Talk About The Blues,” on which Spencer assures us “I don’t play no Blues… I play ROCK AND ROLL!” like a thinner Elvis smacked off his tits, while the Explosion bravely try to prove him wrong. In fact, if you played this album to John Lithgow off Footloose, he’d probably have seen the light, stopped being disapproving and just shot Kevin fucking Bacon anyway, before embarking on a three-state killing spree. With shades on.

Funnily enough, if you look at the front cover of Pussy Galore‘s seminal (as in covered in… well, you get my drift) Dial M For Motherfucker, this all makes a hell of a lot of sense. Which is kind of alarming. Vegas, Memphis, Detroit – Jon Spencer has his sights set on absolutely fucking everywhere. You have been warned.

-Revd. Deuteronomy 90210 (The Warrior Princess)-

Spiritual Revival Choir Of RussiaSerene Ecstasy
Label: Delos International Format: CD

Every time I listen to something I got from Delos, one of my first thoughts is: “I love this label!” Everything I get from them is amazingly recorded, to the point where Classical music sounds wonderful even on my pitiful stereo system, and even more amazing on a good hi-fi. Not only does music from Delos sound good, the material they chose to record and release is top quality, passionate, and accessible without coming across like so much of the homogenous muck that passes for Classical music nowadays.

This collection of a capella religious music is no exception. Directed by composer/conductor Lev Kontorovich and using arrangements from Tchaikovsky,Chesnokov and some contemporary composers as well, the Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia chronicle the sorrowful and joyful past of the Russian Orthodox Church through song. Founded as recently as after the end of the Soviet era in 1992, this relatively-new choir is obviously revelling at the opportunity to sing these songs in a public forum again, and the joy in these pieces is almost palpable.

-Holly Day-

DJ Spooky That Subliminal KidOptometry
DJ Spooky With Mad ProfessorDubtometry
Label: Thirsty Ear Format: CD,LP

Optometry is deceptive to non-Jazz-immersed ears in several aspects. The way DJ Spooky blends his sampling and turntablist skills with the langorous proficiency of Matthew Shipp (piano), William Parker (bass), Joe McPhee (sax, trumpet) and Guillermo E. Brown (drums) is often effortless to the point of transparency, but when the quintet and Pauline Oliveros propel a laid back groove like “Asphalt (Tome II)” to the smooth rap of Carl Hancock Rux into the smokey space of downtown blues bar and white-cubed art gallery space at one and the same time, things come to a avant-Jazz-Hop fusion peak of considerable goatee’d charm.

Such pairings of laptops and Jazz are inherently at risk of charges of ponciness and glib cross-pollination being laid at their door – witness the titles of tracks like “Reactive Strategies For The Control Of Uninhabited Air” or “Variation Cybern�ique: Rhythmic Pataphysics” – but such doubts can be at the least ignored and in the best of circumstances overridden by in-depth listening. Post-Modernism has become such a part of the fabric of 21st Century cultural life that its presence has slipped into the assumed rather than the surprising; Optometry could have seemed radical, innovative and/or highly pretentious a mere couple of years back – now it feels integral; subliminal for that matter.

The title track itself, built on a foundation of squeaky analogue synth burbles, a turntabled beat from the vinyl library of Billy Martin and some spry violin work from Daniel Bernard Roumain, slides into a dizzying melange of scratches and sax, vocal snippets and spaced-out oscillations as Parker and Shipp are given and give it some. Above all, as the trip incorporates further guests – Napoleon of IsWhat?! on the reflectively-chatted discourse on closed minds “Parachutes”; High Priest from Anti-Pop Consortium aiding and abetting a suitably spooky slice of avant-glitch as “Absentia Absentia” – into the mix, the conclusion that Optometry and his recent collaborative work with the Freight Elevator Quartet lead to is that DJ Spooky has benefitted immensely in fine Jazz style from the interplay of his own skills with others.

Rating: Four black poloneck sweaters and a beret bonus.

In the light of the above, it’s therefore entirely natural (complete with assertion that it’s more than a remix album, which is indeed partly the case) that Dubtometry should mash up the album in Dub style at the hands of not only Reggae hands old and new like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mad Professor, Twilight Circus, Alter Echo and I-Sound, but under the breakbeat and Plunderphonic razor of DJ Goo or Negativland. Perry conducts the narration in his usual duppy drift style, introducing tracks and and interludes here and there throught the disc as a structural device to keep matters moving on and connected, and also serving up “Jungle Soldier” too as a forest of echoes, loops and fragments of the source tracks flicker and jump to his out-there voice.

Karsh Kale bring on the tablas to collide head on with the percussive roll of “Variation Cybern�ique” , slipping in shards of noise drift and selected vocal snippets from Optometry and elsewhere until digital Dub boiling point is reached in a welter of heavyweight drum and bass action. J-Live take on the track “Optometry” and emphasize the Jazz elements for an intro which soon allows them to freestyle at the mic as the beats kick in for an energetic HipHop feast of thundering bass and some dextrously-delivered scratching and an amusing interlude bringing in “So you’re a philosopher? Yes, I think very deeply” exchange sample for laughs. DJ Goo’s makeover of the same track has its own Francophone sampling going on for an instant dose of implied existentialism of the language course variety, ducking a diving to the funky rhythms which stream past easily yet forgettably enough; likewise, “Ibid vs. The Mohican” takes things for a Jazz-o-phonic meander on crisp breakbeats with a heavier Dub feel and an more rounded sense of development and dynamic progression as a dense cloud of echoes infest a sampled militarist newsreel voice and McPhee’s trumpet with a noirish miasma as the low end reverberates ominously beneath.

There’s a couple of reflections back to Optometry itself in the shape of an instrumental version of “Parachutes” and “Absentia Absentia Intro”, the latter finding Scratch talking into the void as footsteps build momentum until a veritable army of marching soles shuffle around the melancholic Twilight Circus remix of “Variation Cybern�ique” which freezes the action to a curiously witheld promise of Dubtastic pressure that never fully materialises. Instead, elements of the original make ghostly precession as the relentless sound of a million virtual shoes pass by eerily. Colorform bring back the upbeat mood for “Sequentia Absentia”, even if their propulsive chug has a slightly tacked-on feel which could perhaps have done with some more rhythmic variation to accompany the swarming sax, cymbals and kalimba in their ambient flow. There’s a grainy blur to the sounds I-Sound use to make their “Remix” shuffle and sway in Illbient fashion across the whole album, while Negativland do scattershot things to Jazz with their stuttery cut up of “Asphalt”, as do Animal Crackers as “Optometry” disappears and reappears once again, here in a forest of heavily-scratched resamplings and recursions at a suitably cartoon-paced rate for a breakneck album grand finale.

-Richard Fontenoy-

DJ Spooky Vs. The Freight Elevator Quartet File Under Futurism
Label: Caipirinha Format: CD

File Under Futurism - sleeve detailThat PostModern Kid DJ Spooky has found excellent partners in the Freight Elevator Quartet, whose string drones, percussion and synth chords meld not exactly seamlessly, but properly, in and out of the storm of breakbeats and Dub bass which Paul Miller conjours from his samplers and turntables. Some tracks are credited to all the assembled team, some to the Quartet alone, and all bristle with the urban rhythms and voices of New York, linked by the shifts engendered by the various production devices, effects and the resulting polyphonic trails of sound detritus the technology generates.

With boom-boxes set variously to stun or overdrive, beats skittering or sludgy, the mood shifts from frantic to blasted heath, the luxuriant warbling low end and busy breaks of “Downtempo Manifesto” to the shuffling hypermodern Jazz of “The Revolution Will Be Streamed,” underpinned by the sonorous fadings of Rachael Finn‘s cello to humanising effect. “Experimental Asynchronicity” is an accurate description of the most disorienting track too, where a full-speed collision of different tracks smashes at right angles before exploding into particulate fragments of eventually groaning noises and re-emergent digitally-delayed twists.

There are also a couple of reprocessed live Freight Elevator pieces on hand to show it’s not all studio-bound tricknology, and miniatures like “RCA Mark II Synthesizer” and the recycled soundscape collages of “Interstitial A” and “B” to bridge the gaps, DJ mix-style, between scene shifts and thematic rewinds. The final cut, “Chromatic Aberration”, winds everything down gently into silence, and another experimental volume of the onward march of breakbeat science is concluded. File Under Futurism (which is of course accompanied by a quote from Marinetti) is not exactly a floor-filler of a Drum & Bass record, though certain floors could well be cleared by it, and others at least prompted into more vigorous chin-stroking.

-Freq1C-

Spooky PieHad A Piece Lately?
In The Sky
Poisonberry
Label: Boo Format: CD

Poisonberry - sleeve detailOne day I got up and went off to collect the mail and lo and behold, there were three CDs from Los Angeles. This was the first post of the day; there are a couple of deliveries per day as a rule here in London. Los Angeles is lucky to have one on weekdays, so the idea of getting three things from there at once, well, it all went twisty after that.

Los Angeles kind of had its own sound thing, as most cities do. The LA heyday was back in post-England punk, with bands like X dominating everything. Since then, this sound has been recreated and concreted as the official LA band sound. I like it. I lived in LA just long enough to get an overdose of that particular format. I suppose one would call it sort of desert Punk, Surf-style Grungy Indie sort of jangly guitar sing-along type sort of mish mash. Someone from LA knows it, but since everything travels Westward, I think maybe only the Japanese appreciate it all as much as the Lost Angelians. The hard core is dosed out with Mexican Rockabilly, the Goth scene is linked in by fetish gigs and Betty Page. It is all a sunny version of Black Dhalia, and Sid and Nancy would have more likely been speed freaks had they lived and died in carefree southern Cali. The music reflects this in a myriad of ways, and all the gloom of the rest of the world never seems to infect LA with its relentless sunshine.

Spooky Pie apparently came on the scene big there after I left. I don’t recall seeing them play, though I do wish I would have. Easily described, they embody the whole sound of LA punk. There are enough of them to imitate X, and that seems to be an obvious and much mentioned comparison. Their songs are short and catchy and sarcastic and just abrasive enough to not be Pop. The lyrics are full of silly irony and smart-ass jokes on everything. There are darling girl vocals, boy/girl interplay and full on surfing piss-takes. The guitars are simple, the beats are simpler, and the noise levels are completely palatable. O yes, and they sound a lot like X, or did I mention that already? Except when they sound like Jesus and Mary Chain, or Ex-Idols, or D.O.A., or ummmm, you get the point.

Had A Piece Lately? - sleeve detailThe three CDs vary little from another, though repition is not their downfall. Had a Piece Lately?, Poisonberry and In the Sky may not stand out one from the other, but they are all worthy fun collections of songs proving there is a lot of fun to be had in Cali. If I had to choose one to keep it would definitely be Poisonberry with its straighforwardly charming cover of “In the Midnght Hour”. Of course there is argument in favour of “Walking After Midnight” on Had a Piece Lately?. O yeah and on that same CD, there is the beautiful “To You” which is about the most evocative and beautiful little post-Punk song I have ever heard. Hmmm. Back to Poisonberry, I also particulary like “Kill Yer TV”. Thankfully, I have all three albums, and I am thinking about hiring a car and driving across America with all three playing on repeat from New York to Malibu. What a kick to drive into the sunset, a little spooked out, listening to Spooky Pie’s collection of sun-shiny nightmares.

-Lilly Novak-

Squarepusher – Presents Budakhan Mindphone
Label: Warp Format: CD,LP

Back to the sequencer then for a mini-album of more restrained palette, after the full-tilt Fusion of Music Is Rotten One Note – though the opening “Iambic 5 Poetry” shows that Squarepusher is still enamoured (with good reason) of the live self-jam, this time in mellow under-Dub style; with a tinkling vibraphone/glockenspiel for supremely laid back, even Tortoise-y feel. The fretless bass versatility is still in evidence here, and in the more familiar rewound and rinsed-out pots and pans groove of “Fly Street,” which is as pleasant a Drum & Bass track as Tom Jenkinson has produced in a long while.

Still keeping just the right side of the noodling Jazz/Breakbeat interface, Budakhan Mindphone shows the usual adept scientific skills of its creator, as he takes the brushed snares of “The Tide” on a sleigh ride over some pretty abstracted terrain, to somewhere around Serialism, even. “Splask” engages in some shuffling hi- hat frippery before launching on a short burst of intense pecussion interplay; “Two Bass Hit (Dub)” says it all in the title, invoking that old Jaco Pastorius feeling, while “Varkatope” has connections to both bass synth groove and ambient Jazz noodle. The closing Gamelan and bass “Gong Acid” wobbles out in polyrhythmic style, just like it should – where next?

-Freq1C-

Squarepusher – Presents Maximum Priest EP
Label: Warp Format: 12″,CDS

Maximum Priest finds Tom Jenkinson still gnawing away blithely at the fringes of Dum & Bass, Jazz, Electronica and anything else he turns his sampler to – opening with “Song: Our Underwater Torch” for starters is a curious blend of rimshots, drips and sub-melancholic organ chords, making for a moody contemplative start to an EP which soon brings on the dancing sequencers. “Decathlon Oxide” stumbles into a shuffling, minimalist kind of breakbeat science, implying the rhythm more than actually playing it very much, at least compared to some previous Squarepusher hecticness, and is actually quite restrained most of the time.

Likewise, “You’re Going Down” is a development of the Jazz-lounge effect, with some very peculiar mutterings going on at one point, with a passing resemblance to Tortoise in their more noodlesome moments. “Cranium Oxide” is just twisted, as someone gets a good grilling by some electronics for 30 seconds, and then the remixers get to do their stuff: Autechre take “Two Bass Hit” to pieces and reassemble it somewhere of their own singular rhythmic devising; Yee-King does a more industrially, squittery splattery job on “Circular Flexing”; and as for Wagon Christ – well, “Shin Triad” becomes a groove monster in his hands, loping along with metaphorical flares that could easily keep Carnaby Street’s pavements swept on their own for a year. Clap your hands and shake yo’ funky stuff… mad.

-Freq1C-

Squarepusher Music Is Rotted One Note
Label: Warp Format: CD

At first listen it’s like Tom Jenkinson has finally flipped out from being Drum and Bass’s supreme noodler into a welter of Jazz Fusion malarkey not heard at this level since the days of Jaco Pastorious or even (dare they be mentioned) Oregon. What with playing all the instruments live without aid of sequencers or programming, Music Is Rotted One Note seems about as far from the manic breakbeat days of the phenomenal Big Loada as it is possible for Squarepusher to go, with awesomely complex arrangements of fretless bass, electronics and drums scattered outward, just as before, but in a radical return to the Jazz source he always hinted lay at the root of his (then) unique sound.

So why, though, is this record actually so enjoyable most of the time? Roni Size and 4Hero have each demonstrated the perils of taking too much Jazz into Drum and Bass, resulting in a horrible bastard melange of the worst bits of each, and rarely any of the positive. Well, it’s probably in the feel for the vibe that Jenkinson retains, even if the accompanying precision can be entirely self-indulgent too, which makes up for any (entirely reasonable) feelings of beret-and-polo neck alert that Fusion inevitably brings to mind. Simply, Jenkinson applied Jazz looseness to his Junglism; now he’s switched priorities, and created a genuine hypermodern millennial groove that may well open a few ears to a different musical possibility – with the attached warning that listening to too much of this sort of thing can be dangerous, and may lead to severe attacks of chin-stroking.

-Freq1C-

Squarepusher– Presents Selection Sixteen
Label: Warp Format: CD,2×12″

Selection Sixteen - sleeve detailThe release literature describes Selection Sixteen as being in a more upbeat mood than previous Squarepusher releases. Errrrr, errm, I hate to say it but this is my first conscious encounter with Squarepusher. I can’t really comment on the mood of Tom Jenkinson‘s previous recordings. What I will say is this: yes, this isn’t a dark gloomy record, but it isn’t upbeat in any particularly bubbly jolly way. Selection Sixteen is upbeat in a demented lunatic genius kind of way.

Imagine a radio tuned halfway between a Jazz station and a hardcore Jungle station. Squarepusher is neither, somewhere phasing in and out between the two. Selection Sixteen has the intense trillion snare triggers per second in yr face fury of Jungle, but it’s not just breakbeat. It’s broken beat. The rhythms collapse and reform, unable to sustain themselves, moments of unbridled free form are hurled in as interludes; they creep in from nowhere to destroy the rhythm only to be destroyed themselves. Most disturbingly, or wonderfully depending on perspective, they seem to float arbitrarily above the snare chaos in schizophrenic ambience. And thats not to mention the interference.

Now, soak this demented oxymoronic slab of vinyl in 303 acid and it’s coming close to Squarepusher. Of course, it could all wind up sounding like meaningless shit. The ingredients alone don’t mean that much – it’s what he does with these ingredients that counts. Tom Jenkinson might not get onto Master Chef with this creation, it might not even be humanly edible, so what? It’s not food anyway, it’s a record. The vinyl would do horrible damage to the roof of your mouth; just remember that before chewing on records.

The Jungle is as furious as Alec Empire‘s at points, but the comparison doesn’t go that far. Squarepusher is far less distorted and garbled in that sense. The noises are as bizarre and corrupt sounding as Autechre – same label – but again, the comparison only goes so far. Really there isn’t much to compare Squarepusher against, apart from Mr Jenkinson himself I guess. I’ve noticed that when I don`t have a lot of context to place a record in, I tend to heap on the metaphors if I like it. Enough said.

-Norris Notepad-

SquarepusherSquare Window/Talk About You And Me
Label: Warp Format: MP3 download, Limited 12″

Square Window - 12Thanks to Warp‘s Bleep.com service, this Squarepusher single is being released in a pay-per-download format, though DJs and vinyl fetishists will be pleased to hear that a limited edition 12″ will still make it into the shops. Neither of the tracks will appear on the new Ultravisitor album, but the vinyl release will also include that record’s title track – also made available for download.

“Square Window” is a slowly-turning slice of relaxed post-Dub bass and beats, twangy synth noddling and machine string arrangements, with sparkling pizzicato flickering into the mix. A real head-nodder, and quite subtly done too. Less easy is “Talk About You And Me”, a speedy thrill of more familiar style from Tom Jenkinson; flanged and timestretched words struggle for comprehension through a bleeped and boosted breakbeat soup., wriggling with mellow electric piano riffs and creaking tones on a bed of atrophied early Twenty-first Century Jazz Funk.

“Ultravisitor” charges forward at a breakneck pace, but still retaining the computerised orchestral arrangements as a variation on the hyperdelic beat constructions. The sense of development from earlier Squarepusher work is still there, combining the urgency of deranged dancefloor MDMA-accelerants like “Big Loada” or “Vic Acid” with a keen sense of dynamics working on a grander scale. This finds expression in a psychedelic dub out into a plateau of layered effects and held chords which maintain the rush without reliance on complexity or noise alone.

-Freq1C-

Click the links below to play a preview version of each track directly from the Warp website:

Note: Freq is not responsible for the availability or content of externally-streamed material.

SquarepusherUltravisitor
Label: Warp Format: CD

Ultravisitor - sleeve detailLet’s not beat about the bush, I think Ultravisitor is great. It takes us on a journey through the quirky spasmodic Squarepusher world of frenzied drum loops, beautiful melodies, microsonic chaos, and crazed Jazz performances. And yes, if you didn’t know, that is him playing all those instruments. He can play and then some. Tom Jenkinson, one of Electronica’s eccentric greats is also a frighteningly talented musician.

It may have been three years since his last album Go Plastic, but it’s worth the wait. Squarepusher has come back with a bang with Ultravisitor. He takes his music so much further and in so many directions. “50 Cycles” explores Rap, but like the 2 Step experiments of Go Plastic don’t expect it to be coming to the bass bins of a rude Merc anytime soon. The free Jazz of Music is Rotted One Note finds its place emerging out of glitches and digital distortion. Then, of course, there is Drum and Bass and Squarepusher’s bombastic drum loop programming. “Steinbolt” is one of the most fearsome tracks I’ve ever heard – every bit as Punk and in yr face as Atari Teenage Riot. A whole new melodic dimension is added to the frenzied jungle and furious jazz riffs. The tracks “Every Day I Love” and “Andrei” are beautiful calm moments of classical guitar.

What strikes me with Ultravisitor isn’t how different it sounds to his previous albums, but how much Jenkinson has explored his sound and how much he has got out of it adding new elements along the way almost seamlessly. It feels like the classical guitar or the gentle Rhodes sounds of “Tommib Help Buss” were always there just waiting to be brought out. Another pointer to the quality of Ultravisitor is just how balanced the album feels. Despite exploring so many directions it never feels bitty – like Selection Sixteen‘s short pointless tracks – it has that distinctive Squarepusher feel that ties it all together.

-ap-

S/TZwölf Lieder Für Katrin
Label: Save Our Sperms Format: CD

Zwolf Lieder Fur Katrin - sleeve detailAs an exemplar of the uniquely lo-fi S/T sound, Zwölf Lieder Für Katrin shows just how engaging a live act Joachim Gaertner and Martin Brauner are. Recorded in their eponymous friend Katrin’s living room on the occasion of her birthday, the album comes packaged with loving attention to detail and clever design by the duo themselves which radiates quality. The sound itself is somewhat murky and lo-res, but curiously doesn’t suffer as a result – S/T’s music sounds as if it being coaxed from the ether itself sometimes, distilling four decades of what might loosely be termed psychedelic and New Wave music into a heady brew which is still best experienced live.

S/T wear their influences proudly and well, their repertoire reconfiguring the likes of Can‘s “Yoo Doo Right” in finely wasted uptempo style, Hendrix‘s “Third Stone From The Sun” as an electronic trip, or “Shot By Both Sides” by Magazine emerging as a highly lysergic slab of Punky drum machine energy. Even Jefferson Airplane‘s “White Rabbit”, and old Hawkwind warhorse “Silver Machine” appears in distinctively different form of versioning style done as Casio-injected, phased-up Space Rock. While they may be covers, each song is taken into the S/T melding machines and returned to the listener filtered by these two vinyl junkies (who of course also perform a searing little number called just that – more of which later), frequently remodelled to the point of recognition without reference to the track listing only coming from a moment of sudden realisation that Martin is singing “One pill makes you tall…”. Without in any way sounding like them, S/T’s approach to the history of Rock music is somewhere tangentially akin to Laibach‘s, though perhaps without the politics and with a vastly more loving touch – it is obvious that their reverence for this music is unbounded, but not at the expense of working within the tradition to make for something descended from rather than merely derivative, and nowhere is this more apparent that on the mini-epic “All Is Well In Our World/Apocalypse” which combines their own immersive brand of frizzled Kosmische Musik with some borrowed words from Faust.

While it is easy to select the covers first, it is an important point that S/T are accomplished composers of orignal material in their own right, and the insouciant Zen of “What Happens, Happens” is one of those songs which can easily become lodged in the mind for days upon first hearing thanks to some tender drones and furiously uplifting chords in the chorus which propel it into pogo territory with ease. Simple drum loops and a barrage of guitar effects are held in sway by Joachim’s frazzled keyboards and FX, demonstrating their ability to construct an alternate universe onstage from simple elements, while Martin’s curious vocal style sounds like he is channelling the spirit of Rock’n’ Roll in its broadest sense through various lighter than air elements. “It’s Hot” is another classic tune redolent of ennui and speed comedowns, wobbling furiously on a looped chug and surrounding water sounds while the guitar soars for all the world like a mosquito about a ceiling fan. There are quieter pieces of synth ambience on “Das Noch Unvollendete”, but the previously-mentioned “Vinyl Junkie” is another effevescent stab at the feet and heartstrings at the same time, riffing up an electical storm in praise to their inspiration and musical love, complete with self-deprecating lyrics like “I would sell my mother for a copy of that single”.

Zwölf Lieder Fü;r Katrin is a fantastic representation of the live sound of one of the undiscovered legends of the European underground – and it’s another one of their stunningly-designed limited editions, so snap it up while the price is still somewhat less than one parent.

-Linus Tossio-

Stahlgren And FergusonPrinting With Magnetic Inks
Label: Hot Air Format: 3″ CDS

Printing With Magnetic Inks - sleeve Now apparently this is the result of recording the mechanical processes used to sort paper cheques as they pass from bank to bank around the global economy. Perhaps it is, as the whistling roar of tape loops are fed through digital processes, the sound of money in motion becomes a whistling, flickering skim of abstraction; just like the transactions themselves. The rumble of reversed, rewound, snipped and crunched magnetic stripes, if that is what the source material truly is, takes on an avant-garde serialism around “The Distortion Of Character”, proceeding through the sinister hum and fast-forward whizz of an increasingly present hum into the tonal threnody of “Dismantling The Numbering Mechanism”.

The ascension into a glorious chaos of squeak and creaking excoriation peaks in “Dead Thixotropic Duct Roller”, pinging down to an atmoshperic calm phase in the soothing, squirming processes of “Anti-Set-Off Powder”. With the flick of an “Oxide Transaction Code Flux”, the passage into the gentle wavering timbres of the “shrinking Disinclination Loop” completes the journey in a sweeping sussurus and bounces to a springy conclusion. The sound of money, if not jingling hard, then at least music to the gnomes of Zurich and points weird from there.

-Linus Tossio-

Starflyer 59 Fell In Love At 22
Label: Tooth And Nail Format: CD,12″

Sad tales of everyday failure and fretboard melancholy. Not what we’ve come to expect from Christian Rock bands. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that this has been released by Tooth’n’Nail, (home of Danielson and Sun Electric) and the dedication to “Jesus Christ our risen lord and saviour,” you probably couldn’t tell. Oh, and it’s not half bad neither.

The title track, the least interesting of the five pieces, is a gentle Beatlesesque pop song. By the time we get to “EP Nights,” they’ve knocked together the sort of groove Codeine wouldn’t have baulked at – drones and all. Especially noteworthy is the urban Morricone-style instrumental “Traffic Jam” which plays open plangent chords over a long running undercarriage worthy of Tortoise. The singer is occasionally a tad lacking in vocal gusto but he’s effective enough at what he does. All in all – nice!

-Iotar-

Alek StarkHighway To Disko
Label: Disko B Format: CD/2×12″

It’s immediately apparent from the opening buzz of “Lights And Sex” that Alek Stark loves Disco, adores Electro, and counts Giorgio Moroder as his personal saviour. That and wanting to remake Kraftwerk in his own image, neither of which are either a) unreasonable ambitions or b) beyond his cababliites, as Highway To Disko proves over and again, hands waving in the air to the sound of quantized digital delerium.

As with fellow retro-groovers Artist Unknown, Stark takes every single dancefloor clich� twists them up in beat-laden songs about electricity and passion, then lets them loose. Entirely derivative as his music seems to be, at least he does it supremely well. Every bleep, handclap, Vocoded talk of robots, gutteral rhyme, plangent keyboard chord and bloopy arpeggiated synth sequence fits into perfect Electro jigsaw place, shudders the bassline, twirls the break and then does it again and again, with a whiff of lateral Front 242 Euro exoticism thrown in for good measure. Obvious, yet terrific fun at the same time.

Bonus material includes a heavyweight, industrial-strength tearing through “Me n Me” by Neonwerk, who push the throttle into overdrive on a trail of chunkily-refried beats and gas-guzzled vocals, while Robert Calvin blisters the rhythms of an already stomping “Lights And Sex” until they ignite and then dissolve by stages. Not one for the fainthearted to dance through; mindless yet far from merely stupid, and corybantically charged to the max.

-Freq1C-

StarsNightsongs
Label: Le Grande Magistery Format: CD

My life as a music consumer would be made much easier if record stores would organize music by labels instead of bands, just because so many labels, like Le Grande Magistery, consistently release wonderful albums and it’s almost a given that anything that comes out from them is going to be something I like. Stars is no exception, although I have to admit it leans a little too far into ’80s Synth Pop territory for my liking at times, especially where the vocals are concerned. The musical arrangements, though, are exceptional, ranging from loungey Techno Pop punctuated with echoey blips and beeps to borderline classical piano pieces. Reminds me a lot of an updated Smiths for some reason, and not just because they cover “The Charming Man” here.

-Holly Day-

Stars Of The Lid and Jon McCafferty Per Aspera Ad Astra
Label:Kranky Format: CD,LP

Divided into two sides of three parts each, Per Aspera Ad Astra is a collaboration between Stars Of The Lid‘s feedback landscapes with painter Jon McCafferty (who provided the cover for REM‘s Green). Taking not only inspiration from his band-derived abstract artworks, but also incorporating the sounds of the artist at work into the texture of the music, this is an album that quietly works in the realms of the Art Project, while fortunately avoiding any tendencies to wallow in pretension.

“Low Level Listening” is a slow-building piece built on the gradual unwinding of feedback and low-end rhythm, with the sounds of McCafferty painting appearing as incidental moments of partly identifiable noises in an otherwise abstracted frame. By Part Three, the mood develops via individual piano notes into a somnolent, drifting trail. By contrast, the opening cello duet of “Anchor States Part One”, through the subtle interplay of effects and the emotional sweep of the instruments, creates a stirring introduction to the rumbling bass vibrations and minimal string arrangements of Part Two, and the spatial expansion into drones and delays of the third and final section.

Definitely one for headphone listening to appreciate its subtleties, Per Aspera is a subtly varied contribution to the interface between Ambient music and Abstract art (or perhaps vice versa). As usual, the idea of the roots of the project is more important than its actual noticable effect on the sound. Inspiration is always useful for a piece of music, above and beyond the possibilities of technology or the qualities of a set of sounds, and here the results are effective and even quite moving on occasion.

-Antron S. Meister-

Mikael StavöstrandReduce
Label: Force Inc. Format: CD,2LP

Reduce - inside booklet detailReduce is an interesting title for this album, as Mikael Stavöstrand melds clicking glitches with massed Dub bass regularity and steady metronomic beats of the deepest of House and minimalist Techno. Together, the hypnotic rhythms and scrathcy snaps and pop make elegantly immersive dance music, with a nodding tendency towards environmental ambience as much as floor-friendly propulsion.

There’s a certain coldness to Reduce, as might be expected, where the generous warmth of the bass only serves to highlight the remodelled sequences of what would once have been snares, blips and percussive samples into less immediately categorizable sounds; Trance resides in the same places though, as motion is suggested through the interaction of low end and higher spectral elements, regardless of their construction. Slow spreads of rumbling bass acreage are emphasised by the gradual shifting dynamics of cut and paste, the results have emergent rhythmic tendencies to sysnthesize physical and psychological reactions.

Heartbeat and breathing analogues range from meditative alpha states to adrenaline-heightening jogging. While these general principles can be applied to most forms of linear beat music, Reduce‘s individuality lies in to particular textures and arrangements, which here lie somewhere in the realms of sensual bass pressure and unfolding scatters of attenuated rhythm. Stavöstrand squeezes out a subtle mix of engaging complexity and occasional thumping propulsion from the album’s ten tracks, gently merging apparently divergent streams of computer music into gradualist coherence.

-Freq1C-

SteinbrckelZwischen.raum
Label: Domizil Format: 3″ CDS

Wrapped in a slowly-unfolding cocoon of misty electronic parings, Zwischen.raum takes time making its point, which seems to be a careful, considered and precise observation on the transformation of sound dynamics for their own pure sake. The gradual acent of slow-breatjhing relaxation tones from the silence of the opening is elegantly acheived on a structure of meditative whirrs, drones and neutral low-level chimes, creeping with abstracted determination to the final assumption of a Zen calm in time-free strokes of electronics, and a antural close to a silent 19th unnamed track. Quiet please.

-Linus Tossio-

StendecAvro/Feint
Label: Expanding Format: 7″

Avro/Feint - sleeve label detailThird in Expanding RecordsEVS series of limited edition heavy vinyl singles, Stendec’s offerings comprise a shuffling, melodic Electronica of the sort which starts of wistfully Ambient and works its way to comfortable with gentle ease. There are rhythms made of clicks and snippets, but not of any great surprising nature, just good clean bass sounds and some tweaked application of the sometimes mildly stuttery loops. Non-invasive and essentially mellow, when beats do become noticably more prominent in the mix it’s only because they develop more depth. Add in some counting voices which reel off seemingly random numbers with an air of distraction, and the sensation of a hypnotherapy session is complete as the bleeps and ticks make a relaxing drift into the aether.

-Freq1C-

Stock, Hausen And WalkmanOrgan Transplants Vol. 2
– Label: Hot Air Format: CD

Organ Transplants Volume 2 - sleeve One gets the impression that Wand and Sharpley are very tiny, swiftcreatures with busy schedules and oxygen-enriched blood. Whomever that one is, please let him know that the doctour would like to see him now. Rationally-integrated as they are with their names, they should be much bigger. Much! When approached by this reporter, Maverick Records execs showed shameful ignorance of the existence of our organ transplanters. And so on.

These are the kinds of sound that make one wonder how long it took to sew them all together. How many experiments led to the final whole cloth, studded as it is with mice and creakiness? A new kind of Northern soul, p’raps. Claps and a whistling in the dark – now it putters along, an innocent wind-up (toy), stopped by the piano-led strains of the past and the end of the recording itself. But, it leads off the edge and runs over the ouevre, to beget more tiny rodentia…

This critique is in memory of Mrs. G. Cotner, died 6 January 2001 after a long illness.

-David Cotner-

Strings Of ConsciousnessOur Moon Is Full
Label: Central Control International Format: CD,LP

Our Moon Is Full - sleeveNot so much a supergroup as a superhighway-connected collective, mostly based in the south of France, Strings Of Consciousness delight in melding acoustic instruments with electronics, sliding one over the other and processing the former with the latter. The results could be messy, or could be described as extremely hallucinatory soundtracks to that imaginary collective headtrip movie which everyone who composes this sort of music seemingly contributes to.

Perhaps it is best to approach the album in its own right, but the guest names ( JG Thirlwell, Eugene Robinson from Oxbow, Barry Adamson – on whose label Our Moon Is Full is released, and it shows –  and others contribute vocals) are as impressive as those of the ensemble’s core members who include Phillipe Petite of BiP_HOp label fame, Andy Diagram of Spaceheads and Two Pale Boys and a host of french improv scenesters. Hell, even Hugh Hopper of the Soft Machine joins in the fun.

One result the number of participants involved is a certain tendency towards sounding like a compilation, and this is especially apparent in the first four tracks. No one overall sound ever dominates, but this is no bad thing, the mood swinging from electro-acoustic ambience and splurges of distended rock to the scratchy, sensous strings and reeds accompanying Robinson’s spoken word trek into the mythopaeic abyss of a tale of treachery, violence and murder in “Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness”. Here the electronics building in density until the music cracks as the enraged jealousy in narrator’s voice breaks down into impassioned despair as his self-appointed state of frenzied bloodlust explodes in metallic percussion and pounding heart bass beats. This marks an intense emotive peak for the first part of the album, and takes some coming down from – which is where Adamson comes in on a waft of throaty, soothing mutterings and a far gentler backing on “Sonic Glimpses”, whose almost romantic tone at first is soon spurred into thickly-spread impassioned jazz-rock spaciousness.

T
he second phase of the record finds twinkling strings plucked and bowed briefly around the treated voice of Lisa Smith Klossner, before Black Sifichi takes on the poetic duties, ruminating on mortality and the passage of time while the musical mood glows softly louder and grittier below his words, which flow in waves and ripples in – of course – a stream of consciousness which is soon immersed in a propulsive psychedelic grind of rhythm and melodic twin guitar.  Sifichi is soon back along with Pete Simonelli of The Enablers, and the last tracks on the album merge into each other more seamlessly than the first on the first side (assuming the vinyl paradigm is being observed, which of course it can be on the LP edition), the whole flowing with less disconnection in peaks and troughs following a richly textured loud-quiet-loud dynamic which closes in a welter of disjointed feedback and words flung out into the moonlight.

-Linus Tossio-

StumpToneCircles/Jeremy Bentham’s Boots
Label: Two Ohm Hop Format: 7″

Circles - sleeve“Jeremy Bentham’s Boots” has all the hallmarks of Psychedelic Rock-out power Pop, riding on a streaming upbeat and a crest of guitar effects – phase, flange, whoooosh! Verse, chorus, verse of the head-down and give the wah some wellie variety, it shoots out of the vinyl groove and through the speakers into the waiting ears at a rate of more than a few knots, spraying streaks of delay from the wind-tunnel vortex of the Garage riff and ecstatically-blasted vocal. And it’s surprisingly short too, skipping out for all its worth and then fading into the aether.

On the flip side, “Circles” builds on a simple acoustic guitar melody punctuated with rising flares of fuzzy electric storm and a simple vocal line before slipping away in a flutter of bells. It’s also quite brief and to the point. On the basis of this record, StumpTone could equally appeal to Bevis Frond and/or Pavement fans, and they certainly know how to package a transparent vinyl 7″ single, layering squares of card and clear plastic with gold designs for endless interactive design fun.

-Linus Tossio-

StumpTone StumpTone
Label: Two Ohm Hop Format: CD

StumpTone - sleeve I get a little worried about music from Texas, but Two Ohm Hop keep putting my fears at ease, and have done so again with the release of StumpTone‘s first full length CD. It’s just short of Indie-sound music, capable of capturing the banal hearts of American radio, totally non-threatening, but not as boring as all that either. Syd Barrett gets a couple of mentions on their press release and the influences are definitely there. Indeed there is a tiny bit of madness woven into the slow fabrics of the lyrics understood best by the writer and barely discernable by others.

Chris Plavidal seems to be the main perptrator of all this, with song writing credits and a long list of instrumental contributions. The wide sound of Texas is also here and there, via slide guitar by Penny Lea Wells and Wanz Dover on the electric. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be too much Country-Western, more just the big big sound of the Wild, wiled West. Trumpets and toys also are nice redeemers to keep the listener from wondering what Oasis song will be played next. I notice a nice sort of bridge bands like StumpTone and Eels could create between what is commercial, and what is experimental. Infinitely listenable by most audience standards, these bands can make your toes curl up with irony when you really pay attention, but on a surface level, go over well on the radio. One could almost assure StumpTone a place on the American music charts, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Better them than Steps or other equally shameful computer-produced and -compressed anti-music.

In fact what’s nice is that at almost 70 minutes worth of music, this CD is still infinitely marketable, while keeping nihilistic enough to cause concern to the parents of the kids who will be buying it. There are at least nine musicians performing on the album, and it is apparent that they all care about aesthetics and good music. What remains to be seen is whether they will end up led in the direction of “lightening up a bit” to be even more saleable, or if they will go further out on limbs and explore experimentation more. Whatever the case, this record is a great showcase of the many talents that are held within, from the beautiful artwork package, to the varied and multiple-personality sounds inside. David Willingham and Chris Plavidal both deserve some notice for the production value and mixing of this project. One song goes well into another, and the mastered sound quality is right on. There is a lot of room for difference without too much opposition clashing which can acompany a recording with so many people and so many instruments. So without adding too many more slurs to the state of Texas, I would say give this a listen, and wait to see what the future holds.

-Lilly2000-

The StyrenesIt’s Still Artastic
Label: ROIR Format: CD

The Styrenes were part of Cleveland’s experimental Rock scene in the Post-Punk era, and were founded by Paul Marotta of The Electric Eels and Jamie Klimek of Mirrors, featuring local musicians including Jim Jones of Pere Ubu and the Golden Palominos‘ own Anton Fier. As is to be expected, this CD edition of the ROIR cassette collection of rarities and (mostly live) unreleased tracks almost tingles with edgy freak energy from an era when being underground seemed to actually mean something other than being a marketing label.

No track on this compilation is over 4:39, and most clock in under three minutes, but the minute and forty-seven seconds of “Drano In Your Veins” fizzes with the sort of lo-fi singalong nihilism to make a passing pop pundit blench with disgust at the skewed misanthropy of it all. As a Fier’s rolling martial drums drive the song forward to Klimek’s wahed guitar scrawls, Marotta sings in high-pitched chorus about any of a number of unpleasant ways to go – “plastic bag put over your hair/razor blades down your throat/drano in your veins/dagger in your eyes”; and all so cheerfully that it’s an immediate draw right into The Styrenes’ odd worldview. Likewise “Radial Arm Saws” bubbles with a lyric about being the happiest man in town (and the furthest underground) while the band get all jazzadelic as the crooning fades into some oddball tape manipulation and a rambling drum solo outward departure.

If Tortoise, Pavement and Ween along with numerous Post-Rockers haven’t heard and learned, then it’s just as certain that The Styrenes’ own Cleveland contemporaries would have been in on the act too. Throughout, tunes meld with crazed percussive trips into buzzing electric piano swirls, and it’s evident that The Styrenes’ idea of a good time was to do their own thing with Rock and Jazz, with the odd boogie-woogie Proggish inflections like “Leaving The Girls” and the bouncy sax-led high-speed smoocher “The Outer Limits” creeping in among the weirdness. There are spoken word passages to rising paranoic grooves and piano meanderings like “The Social Whirlpool” or “Back In Hell” too, dark tales of an insidious outsider grimness which are among the most effective pieces on this CD.

Some of the live recordings have a fantastic presence to them too, where the sense of a real band playing in a space is captured to perfection, especially “It’s Artastic” from 1983, or “Eyes Of Satan” recorded at CBGBs in 1992. Both have more than a hint of the Dead Kennedys in knockabout cabaret style about them as they screech off into full-tilt rockouts with some shouty vocals from Mike Hudson of fellow Cleveland Garage Punks The Pagans – though the latter track’s guitar solo from Klimek gets a little wearing. “Cold Meat” is a noisy affair, while “The Karma Bank” and three others chug along, Garage Psych style, in London, 1998 – though oddly, would probably have sounded better as a lo-fi cassette mix. There’s also a new-ish studio track, “Lukas Said”, from 1998, which shares definite noodling leanings with Tortoise’s recent works to similarly disappointing effect.

In all, It’s Still Artastic
adds further pieces to the experimental rock history jigsaw, and is well worth obtaining if mostly for the earlier tracks when they were still more off-kilter than some of the later full-on live material, which while enjoyably skewed, blurs into somewhat generic territory.

-Linus Tossio-

Sub OsloDubs In The Key Of Life
Label: Two Ohm Hop Format: CD

Dubs In The Key Of Life - sleeve Sub Oslo makes it easy to cast aside some of my life-learned doubt about the state of Texas and the music that normally comes loping out of that oversized land of twang. I understand they still have jackalopes, but with the inspired injection of Bub that Sub Oslo is loosing on Amerika, Texas may still have some hope. Of course having said that, it is important to note that Sub Oslo is not the first Reggae to rockaway out of the Lone Star State. Johnny Nash set a precedent long back in the mid ’60s when Reggae was new to the States by being one of its main sources, and by bringing Bob Marley to light on the American scene. Nash’s contributions were certainly more on the pop side of the spectrum, which would seem to have little to do with Sub Oslo’s intentions; still one can hardly deny that without his linkings between Houston and Kingston, Sub Oslo might have had small else to follow on from.

Dubs in the Key of Life is without a doubt one of my favourite records of the year. It is Dub, and the Reggae theme is generous and evenly dispersed througout. But Sub Oslo don’t stop in any traditional track and what one will also hear is an eloquent blend of many genres being led by the Reggae rhythms. Space, Lounge, Ambient, Classical, Trip Hop and certainly Acid-everything, this CD vibes and rolls luciously through many moments of uninterrupted blissful dreaming. The undeniable but subtle little trembles of Latino influence might seem out of place but go right with, right on. There seems to be a swaying sense of humour attatched to the strong dark beats and this makes such a balance between heavy atmospherics and the sun-loving laid back Reggae optimism.

The band Sub Oslo states a mission in bringing live Dub to Amerika. They must be quite a company to watch, eight musicians throbbing to the visuals of one live sight artist. One can hardly think of a more noble idea than trying to get Amerika to come out for some lovely real music. We can only hope that Sub Oslo get to make the rounds of rest of the world as well for a more pure form of anti-depressant is certainly not yet available anywhere. Dubs in the Key of Life should be listened to daily and at good volume and with solid bass to relieve the worst cases of anxiety and other stress related conditions. This is music to make the world feel better. Even if it did come from Texas.

-Lilly Novak-

Sub OsloSub Oslo EP
Label: Two Ohm Hop Format: 12″

Sub Oslo - sleeve detailFurther evidence of the worldwide spread of the Dub virus – Sub Oslo are from Texas, and produce Reggae-based instrumentals. A collective with between seven and nine members, the essential drum and bass undertow is provided by Quincy Holloway and Miguel Veliz (who incidentally also form the rhythm section of StumpTone). With Frank Cervantes on guitar, keyboards, flutes, percussion and the live mixdown by John Nuckels, they’re certainly away from the studio mastery archetype of some of the more technological producers.

There’s some of the On-U Sound collective vibe evident here, thanks to all those players and recorders of instruments, but their self-titled debut is a far looser, more relaxed affair with a less Technoid feel. Effects are limited fairly standard but ever-effective echoes, and while there isn’t much innovation here, there is instead an excellently warm sense of musicians grooving for all they’re worth. Psychedelic Rock motifs creep in on occasion, and the guitars and keyboards on “Prisoner Of Dub” produce cirling melodies which chime over the increasingly lugubrious bass and rimshots flicking back from the walls. “Science Dub” has a steady, chunky beat and backwards-leaning bass to anchor the airy guitar scrawl in a slowly brewed meander, while “Dubaliscious” is more upbeat, stepping out on an almost urgently-trilled snare and basskick rhythm while the guitar chops and skanks around before the effects, samples and mixdown trickery really kick in with a vengeance – definitely the heavy skunk weed track of the EP, and the one most likely to set headz a-spinning.

This is an EP which shows off the extensive live experience of Sub Oslo, and that it has translated perfectly to a studio recording. Just about the business for heavy speaker cones and smoke-filled rooms filled with people either sprawled semi-conscious or lifted up and dancing with a Reggae shuffle too. More, please!

-Freq1C-

SubsonicRectifier
Label: Collapsed Format: CD

There’s something pleasantly reminiscent of being bundled into a spin drier filled with liquid concrete about Rectifier. Not of course, that this is an experience many are likely to have had save for the purposes of drawing a comparision to what a piece of music sounds like, but the sensation is definitely there with this CD. Seven tracks of binary-numbered propulsive rhythms take a somewhat linear trot at a cracking pace through the shaken, stirred and muffled soundscapes of Techno given a thorough drycleaning.

Imagine that above-mentioned spin drier stuck out in the middle of a field where a throng of serious ravers were partying to a muffled amplification of the drum, which is being whacked into oblivion by all and sundry in Tribal Industrialist style – now there’s a thought. They could get seriously thrashed to this, providing a gloopy soundtrack which would see them in good stead through torrential rain and possibly even the collapsed of and remotley nearby civilization. They’d have fun doing it, but with a determined air of corybantic frenzy too, as it’s the sort of relentless rhythmic shuffle which takes a certain amount of no-mind concentration to get thoroughly involved in, before expiring in a sated heap of tired bones and aching musculature. Mix in the sound of passing steam trains running at full throttle, dopplering off the local scenery through a digitally-processed hailstorm, and the metaphor is complete, if addled. A bit like the effect of Rectifier, really.

-Linus Tossio-

SuchtruppHeile Welt
Label: Disko B Format: CD

Heile Welt - sleeve detailDeveloping their blend of minimal beat Electronica from 1996 in and around their own underground Ultraschall club in Munich since 1996, the trio of Alexander Gutsch, Sabine G�el and Jens Former mix up G�el’s treated violin into a sometimes very successful electronic melange. Best track of all is the opener “Herzschlag”, built around a rubbery loop, bounding along in fine style, and others show a distinctly devious tendency to take an Electro template and mess around with the form until something unusual emerge, as demonstrated on the following “Mimikry”.

Suchtrupp‘s music can sometimes be as beautiful/kitsch as the interiors of the over-the-top baroque Neuschwanstein Castle built by Ludwig II of Bavaria (an eccentric of truly historical proportions), various pictures of which decorate the CD booklet. The violin in particular, as befits the playing of an orchestral instrumentalist, is excellent, folding in and out of synthetic gurgles, piano meditations or mysterious clicks with consumate ease and not a little pathos. Not all the ambiences are easy or soft though, with some delay-riding swoops of treated string tones even recalling the plangent work of Sylvia Hallet at certain points, e.g. “Tagebuch Einer Am�e”‘s disjointed echoes and low, groaning atonalisms, or the layered loops of “Impulsdimensionen”, which takes off in hypnotic directions.

There is quite a lot of satisfaction to be drawn from Heile Welt , and the crystalline production from Tobias Neumann suits its dry atmosphere well. The variations provided by the violin and the electronics working together and separately make for some effective moments of accreted rhythm and slowly-sawing melody, and there’s space included for throbbing Techno beats in “Helsinki Syndrom” too. Dynamic listening indeed, thanks to the variety and progression from album start to lengthy closing track “Dr. Kern”, where everything drfits loose on a raft of treated strings, hissing electronics and gradually-bulding watery rhythms. There are odd longuers, some skippable moments, but much else which retains attention on Heile Welt, and it’s an album which benefits from repeated listening to discover some of its odder properties.

-Freq1C-

Nikki SuddenThe Nikki Sudden Compendium
Label: Secretly Canadian Format: CD

Nikki Sudden‘s music always had this wonderful, wild abandon to it that defied the depressing and melancholic nature of the subject matter. It’s strange to think how cheerful poverty can be portrayed – how many rich kids in the ’80s ran off to become junkies and hang out with French prostitutes after hearing Sudden’s “English Girls”? I bet it was more than one. I suppose that’s what made his music so genuine, and able to stand the test of time so well – just like his equally genius contemporaries, Television Personalities, these songs all sound as though he lived them, and not as a depressed, lonely whiner, but as someone who always made the best of a situation and life in general, no matter how bleak it was.

This wonderful and well-thought-out collection of Nikki Sudden’s work includes selections from his solo records as well as material from what he did with the Jacobites and Nikki Sudden & the French Revolution, and offers a poignant sampling at his wonderful and important legacy.

-Holly Day-

Yoshinori Sunahara Pan Am – The Sound Of Seventies
Label: Format: CD

Pan Am - sleeve detailYoshinori Sunahara is a bit fond of planes and air travel, having dedicated his last album Take Off And Landingto the exploration of the idea of constructing Tokyo’s (and presumably the world’s) first underground airport. Pan Am – Sound Of The ’70s continues the obsession, and as may be indicated by the title, Sunahara is now even an ex-officio rep for the airline – which must help his Air Miles rack up no end – and the album stands as some kind of bizzare tribute to an Pan-American commercial icon, even deriving its opening and closing cuts to a pair of junk-shop refugee flexi-discs cut in the Seventies by (of all concerns) – Pan Am airlines… and then, in the strange twist, getting a full orchestra to re-record them, mega-Mancini-style for inclusion as “Theme For Take-Off” and “..Landing” respectively.

Now this is obsessional behaviour on a grand scale, and can be applauded on those grounds alone. In fact, if it wasn’t for the streak of utter loopiness running through this record, it would qualify as one of themore outrageous examples of over-produced commercial nightmare Swinging Funky Beats for Cool People the year has yet seen – that and a tongue (hopefully) rammed far into the same cheek-area as Jimi Tenor is fond of exploring (err….) In other words, it’s shocking in its glossy surfaces, reflecting back like the stratosphere-polished surface of a first-build 747, coating though the higher reaches of bass-beat groove like it’s got not a care in the world – not much danger of hijackers leading the passengers off to Cuba either, though it’s surprising given the general cheesiness of what’s on offer here there’s not a hint of Salsa.

For all that, it’s fun, in a madly-envisioned pocket-universe kind of way – except the appalling saccharine vocals of the revisited “Sun Song ’70,” which are quite unbearably sincere – and quite sure of it’s own convictions and single-minded intensity. The insane breaks and fretless bass of “Rhodes Funky Dub” are enjoyably undemanding accompaniment to the eponymous piano riffs, and Sunahara is fond of using odd samples for his beats – including spun coins – and has some busy little sounds going on in the cloudy depths too. Be warned, though – this album is extremely well-polished (with consequent danger of tripping) and the sharp edges of the wings could cut like a tailfin.

-Linus Tossio-

Yoshinori Sunahara Take Off And Landing
Label:Bungalow (Europe), Ki/oon (Japan) Format: CD

Based around the theme of a proposed underground airport for Tokyo, Take Off And Landing is a peculiar combination of hyper-glossy concept album and far-out sequencing ideas. With beats which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Swingbeat album, tracks such as “Cross Wind Take Off” fall somewhere between the sleek electronic compositions of Yellow Magic Orchestra and the utopian dance music of someone like Howie B – unfortunately also including the dodgy daydream-worshipping cod-Soulful vocals on tracks like “Sun Song ’80”, even if Sunahara does scratch and fade them to bits.

Relentlessly pleasant, comprehensively detailed and precisely placed individual sounds mesh like clockwork with the occasional vocals, blending styles and genres from House via Techno to Trip Hop with the consumate eye for post-Modernism which typifies so much Japanese music. There’s even a cover of “My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose” too, with waves washing in just to complete the Muzak ambience before the soaring, high-tech finale of “Welcome To Japan”. Steel drums, orchestral arrangements, even weird bits with bells on – they’re all present in what has to take any prizes knocking around for chic retro-Futurist (check the wood-veneered Atari console and Stewardess costumes in the booklet for prime examples) albums of the year. Finally, Sunahara is so convincing in the depth of his vision that one question remains – have they actually built the underground airport yet, or not?

-Freq1C-

Sunn0)))ØØVoid
Label: Daymare Format: 2CD

��Void - sleeveThis is a 2CD reissue of the second Sunn0))) album, released on Japan’s Daymare label, that couples the original album with a previously unreleased disc subtitled The Iron Soul of Nothing, which features radical remixes by none other than Nurse With Wound. I ordered this despite being unimpressed by Sunn0))) when I saw them live a few years ago – I’ve been partly won over by some of the studio stuff I’ve heard since, and the NWW disc sounded interesting, so…

First thing to note is that it arrived within a few days despite coming from Japan. Second point is that the packaging is absolutely gorgeous. Then the music – I’d say this is the most consistently interesting of the Sunn0))) albums I’ve heard to date. Four tracks, each about a quarter of an hour long – no quick snacks here. On ØØVoid they are still exploring their mighty, rumbling droneworld, but without the slightly cheesy Black Metal tropes or hit-and-miss experimentalism of later releases. It’s true that as the disc progresses there’s a law of diminishing returns – the glacial, slo-mo riffing sounds somewhat formulaic after an hour or so – but the first two tracks here must rank among the band’s definitive statements.

Opening track “Richard” features a looping, cyclical riff, with intermittent accompaniment from electronic insect swarms. It pulls off the difficult trick of being massively weighty without sounding ponderous. “NN0)))” follows a simialr template, but plays up the ritualistic aspects with processed chanting and a progressively eerie atmosphere. The remainder of the disc is less compelling, but far from negligible: “Rabbit’s Revenge”, a Melvins cover of sorts, takes a more abrasive approach with buzzing, discordant bass tones thrown into the mix, while “Ra at Dusk” achieves in its first few minutes the densest, heaviest guitar noise of the whole disc (if you’ve ever heard The Heads‘ “Coogan’s Bluff”, imagine the final section played at 16rpm and that should give you some idea) before rather disappointingly fizzling out into more bottom-end riffing.

The Nurse With Wound (here represented by Steve Stapleton and Colin Potter) disc was a real surprise – I’d expected a remix where the noise factor was ramped up; instead the first track begins with slowly building blissed-out drone (think “Funeral Music for Perez Prado”) and develops into an excellent Hafler Trio-esque piece, with enough interesting little touches to prevent drone fatigue setting in. The second track is an entirely different beast – it has (gasp) vocals! I can’t work out from the sleeve who is singing here, the voice is heavily processed and sounds like some strange cross between John Balance and Tom Verlaine, if you can imagine that (David Tibet is namechecked elsewhere on the sleeve but it doesn’t sound like him). Anyway this is much darker and doomier and sounds a bit, well, silly to start with, but then develops into something really quite sinister. The third piece is more in the vein of the first and is another excellent track. Given my love of NWW I’m biased but I’d say their disc eclipses the original album – but overall this is an excellent package and highly recommended.

-Manfred Scholido-

SunrayRestrospective In Stereo
Label: Enraptured Format: LP

Restrospective In Stereo - sleeveFrom the opening sitar drones and gently tumbling percussion of “Incantation”, it is apparent that Sunray‘s Jon Chambers is a lover of all things psychedelic and swirly (as if the sleeve wasn’t a dead giveaway in the first instance). That the track is a demo is evident from the slightly hesitant four-track quality of the sound, but it suffers in no way, gaining something from the warm lo-fi fuzziness which it resonates with a slightly asthmatic wheeze. And so it goes with the rest of the disc, available only and pressed lovingly on heavy vinyl and peppered with the sort of leather-jacketed mysticism which would make Sonic Boom or The Seeds proud, as set out with track titles like “Open Your Mind” and “Forever One”. Again, this is not a bad thing, and for an album which is essentially a collection of singles, a compilation track and a bunch of unreleased pieces Retrospective In Stereo holds together well.

There is a fair quotient of jangly chord progressions, tablas and hallucinatory harmonics wrapped up in cotton wool soaked with patchouli oil and double-dipped in incense and LSD, the vocals stretching out into the depths of the echochamber as oil-lamps swirl on the bedsit walls. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the hipster love song “Hey little Girl” which is a charming Folk number for acoustic guitar and flute. It’s not just bohemians who can appreciate this though, but anyone with an ear for finely-tuned, slightly home-brewed head music of the kind which drifts past ultra-pleasantly while occasionally picking up the pace a tad on reverb-drenched swirler “Shake It” or the handclap’n’sitar groove of “Fire Inside” and the backwards loops of “Fall To Time” will most likely want to groove by this collection.

-Linus Tossio-

Suns Of ArqaTechnomor – The Remixes Volume 4
Label: Arka Sound Format:

Technomor - sleeveGiven the longevity and output of Suns Of Arqa (Michael Ward AKA Wadada and friends) it’s not much of a surprise that the Remixes series has now reached Volume Four. Entitled Technomor, there’s certainly a lot of the more Trancey end of electronic remixes going on here, particularly on Astralasia’s familiar jigadelic (and slightly inferior) take on “Sully’s Reel”, a mix which has been part of their collaborative catalogue in numerous versions since 1992 in “Sul-E-Stomp” guise.

Still, the opening mix by Raw Pete of “Unique Seal” mixes some quite stunning bagpipes courtesy of John Snelson with deeply dubbed-up bass and Shabaz Hussain and Kalu Zera‘s tabla playing to meditative effect – an makes a reminder that since his early days in association with Adrian Sherwood in the Sevnties, Ward has been a pioneer in the fusion/allusion of global musics to dance and head-friendly effect. Likewise, Zion Train tackle “Rosin + Reed” in psychedelic Roots style, as the evocative sub-continental woodwind and violin meet bass reverberation and amplification to generous effect.

Youth is in on the act twice, with “Silent Witness” made over as chugging Ambient Dub with further violin from Johar Ali Khan, flutes, tablas and drones and some decidedly hallucinatory spoken word passages, while “Whirling Forest” does similar things at a quicker, more banging, pace. “Moroder Vibe” from Rick The Switch tries hard to work with its linking of “I Feel Love” to the Arqa big bass vibe, but unfortunately something is wrong with this piece. Eleswhere, mixes by Lazlo Hortobagyi and C.N.D. follow mellowish breakbeat groove paths with that bottom end and wafting breezy wind sound never far away, while Bleep & Booster do their thing in minimal style to “Formorian”. It’s left to John Leckie and The Raw Collective to do odd shuffling cut-up things involving Fleetwood Mac‘s “Albatross” and yet further bass/tabla/drum machine conjunctions for a conclusion, leaving the faint feeling that some music is best left unremixed after all.

-Linus Tossio-

Supersilent1 – 3
Label: Rune Grammofon Format: 3CD

Any band that unleashes a triple album on the listening public, as its debut, has got to be full of courageous self-conviction, arrogance, madness or indifference to that public’s response. To release it again five years later is something else, but this is what the Norwegian improvising quartet have done. (O.K. so it’s the first time its been distributed in the U.K. and will coincide with their Contemporary Music Network tour.) You have to hand it to Rune Grammofon too. This was their first release, remember! A gesture of faith few new companies would be prepared to make these days, I think.

What also makes this re-release unusual is that it is over 3 hours of mainly hardcore electronic improvisation with very little respite. Uncompromising ? Well, spokesman and `audio virus’, Helge Sten says : “We are very interested in communicating with people”. A very laudable aim but I’m not sure every listener would agree, even those hardened to the extremes of free improvisation and noise. Bear Sten’s words in mind too when Supersilent say they never discuss the music and don’t rehearse. They just get together and play. This has to be somewhat problematic for a first release like this. Even though three of the players had been working together for some years there isn’t always evidence of the rapport and intuitive links that hold together subsequent albums. In places this is obvious, it just sounds as though everyone was working at high levels of personal creative energy but not paying close attention to what each member was doing. Hence the welter of bruising electronic storms that characterise much of these recordings.

Ten hours playing were distilled then edited it down further. Despite this some tracks are still sprawling, shapeless entities that only end when the tape runs out, which makes me wonder about the process of editing. In places, I feel they needed further judicious trimming to avoid what sounds like that old monster, self-indulgence. Sten, aka Deathprod, whose input is somewhat hard to define, has also stated : “We didn’t really have any control over what the output was; it was just happening”. Again, at times this is all too evident. You have to wonder if it’s a good policy. But it isn’t all a titanic metal barrage. Several tracks offer a slightly more spacious dynamic, like “1.4” (remember – no titles) which has a strong percussive undertow but also allows the players to stop competing and crowding each other. It’s still busy but there is contrast between the gruff keyboard, which sounds like a mutant bass saxophone, and a little of Arve Henriksen‘s breathy trumpet. Similarly, “2.4” has a muted opening of softly struck gong sounds, low-key percussion and keyboard noise. The trumpet coils in and around again but soon becomes less clear in the general maelstrom.

I suppose “3.4” is the track that I’ve gone back to most. It reminded me of a soundtrack set in terrain akin to one of the Alien movies. It is creepy, dark and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. There is feeling that all members were together on this one and did not feel the desire to go at full tilt, obliterating all before them. As it progresses the trumpet returns to the fore contributing a human voice amid the machinery.

There is a great deal that is attractive and fascinating about the sound of Supersilent and I’ve enjoyed much of their work but it is the later albums, especially the most recent, that seem to successfully blend and balance their diverse elements. I think 1-3 will appeal mostly to collectors and completists or anyone willing to fillet out those tracks which evidence the best features of the band during 1997.

-Paul Donnelly-

Survival Research LaboratoriesSurvival Research Laboratories
Label: Sub Rosa Format: CD

Shit dont seem nearly loud enough.

Then again, when you’re around old people, that’s what happens. Yea, literally and metaphorically – get off my case. So I got to meet Mark Pauline recently (February 24, 2002, that is), and he’s a very down-to-earth, level-headed guy. Very nice. Not nicey-nice, but agreeable, even funny. Well, that’s a little like this compilation of SRL sounds from Mark and G.X. Jupitter-Larsen (of the estimable group The Haters). It just doesn’t seem loud enough. Maybe my hearing’s going. I must be a fuck.

It’s recordings from live actions spanning the years 1992-1998, including such diverse monstrosities as amplified funnels dragging on rotating sandpaper, pitching machines that hurl 2x4s at 190 mph, square-wheeled cars, and amplified hand-held hole-punches. The liner notes are well-written – in a peculiar way that was unique to the Re/Search Industrial Culture Handbook, where Survival Reasearch Laboratories were first discovered by many people – a sense of inspiration and wonder. The well-worn urban legend told to friends in schools and nightclubs and in letters home.

Yet removed from the context of its spectacular live action, it’s a little airless. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all badass! Heavy and harsh sound is one of the only things left in modern music that affects people negatively. When will The Kids ever learn that? I get an overall sense that something amazing and sinister and hilarious is happening – but in tandem with this disc is a feeling of “shoulda been there, maan”. Oh, life’s too short and so are you!

Enough with regret. This is a definitive, and reasonably loud comprehensive history of a group of people doing the incomprehensible – building something that likely no one has ever done or will do again. Making things happen. You want an intense experience? Shake Mark Pauline’s hand. Hey now!

-David Cotner-

SuryaMusic To Watch
Label: Soleilmoon Format: CD

Music To Watch - sleeve detailOriginally recorded for various video and theatre installations and dance pieces, the five tracks on Music To Watch has a relaxed, contemplative feel, bringing Dub, Techno, Drum & Bass and other diverse global influences into a particularly warm blend of contemporary Electronica. From the opening low end sussurus of “The Strain” onwards, the album floats gently on a substantial wash of ear-pleasing electronic curlicues and echoed effects, before building up though a series of dynamic, broadly Ambient, instrumentals to a breakbeat and bass conclusion with “Gap”, where Electro and Drum & bass meet in chirruping union.

So while there are no great surprises, there is a finely-judged use of the rhythms and technique of Dub in association with abstract electronics to create a dreamlike state. One track flows into another at its own pace, as from from the chunky bass-led groove of “Serenade Upgrade” into the chittering processing and woodwind loops which introduce the slow-burning Funk beats and synth melody of “282”. The procession into the accreting bleeps and drips of “Oil Cut” leads again into a Reggae rhythm, this time to an Autechre style samplescape of backwards and glitched sounds. The combination of straightforward dancefloor and chillout motifs with an ear for experimentally-proven timestoppers such as the use of continuous drones and whirrs to hold the background together in evolutionary counterpoint makes for a sound which can unfold subtly from background to foreground with a natural ease.

-Freq1C-

Rob Swift The Ablist
Label: Asphodel Format: 12″

Containing no less than five versions of the A-Side, and three of “All That Scratching” on the reverse, this EP showcases The X-Ecutioner‘s scratch technician at work through instrumental, remix and acapella cuts. Foregrounding the decknological method, musically as well as in the fragmented vocal references to the “Wheels of Steel,” Rob Swift brings a refreshing number of dicordant piano groves and wheezing drones onto the HipHop beat, like a Serialist mix master – John Cage would have recognized the method and the result, though he was instrumental in the pioneering days of avant-scratching four decades ago.

There’s still that self-referential tendencies of DJs to get the MC to big up their mixing skills – and then scratch that up too, as well as sundry other references to his prowess and skill. Swift is so good at his fader controls and with a wrist action to match, this self-aggrandisement can be forgiven – and ignored in most of the versions anyway. As a piece of abstract HipHop, “The Ablist” is damned good, even if the natural environment for a DJ is live where the audience can see the dexterity involved, and as each version progresses it’s apparent that each side is more like one work with stylistic variations. “All That Scratching” is just as clever, and the slip of needle through vinyl has never sounded better, as the beats get juggled and the title vocal swiped around to irritatingly itchy effect, with the Acappella version expanding into a kind of Free turntable Jazz virtuousity.

-Freq2D-

Rob Swift The Ablist
Label: Asphodel Format: CD,2LP

Rob Swift - The Ablist sleeve detail Remember the days before the Wu-Tang when hip hop had very little to do with kung fu and everything to do with scratching? Rob Swift does, and he’s here to ensure that we all know those days never went away. On this seemingly track-heavy album (21 listed, only 13 of which are actual pieces of music, rather than recorded conversations, ansaphone messages etc.) Swift demonstrates his really quite impressive mastery of the turntable over a series of laid-back grooves and beats, sampling and scratching his own vocals as if to prove that all that stuff about the turntable being an instrument in its own right is correct; a proof he demonstrates with consummate style and seeming ease. Opening with “Dope on Plastic”, a loop not unlike something The RZA would come out with (an eerie bell over a slow break), Swift manages to incorporate his wizardry with the decks into all manner of different types of hip-hop, most notably the fairly self-explanatory “Two Turntables and a Keyboard”, which manages to do something not a million miles from DJ Krush, but without actually becoming trip-hop in the process- like Krush and Money Mark sitting down for cocktails and a spliff.

For sheer sonic invention, however, “All That Scratching Is Making Me Rich!” has to be the stand-out track- a crippled, stumbling rhythm section has its skin literally flayed from its bones by Swift’s mad hands as a sample of the title queasily bursts in and out. This is, believe it or not, a lot more hypnotic than it seems, and by the time we hit stuff like “Ben Fee The MC”, it becomes hard to tell where one squiqqly noise ends and the other begins, samples and scratches fighting for attention with cut-up vocals before finally the rap begins, and a mad accordionist on Valium keeps trying to nudge his way into the mix while Swift attempts to fend him off with his top-secret vinyl machine gun. Grooves are locked into before you realise it, until what you thought was just a mish-mash of sounds and words has already wormed its way into your brain.

There’s no doubt Swift’s damn good, but unfortunately he knows this, and (admittedly justifiably) does tend to blow his own trumpet (an ability bound to cause jealousy among single men) and big up himself (see previous parentheses). It seems a bit petty to criticise him for this, when I guess all he’s doing is taking pride in a job well done, and as he proves on “Gangis Khan” and “Gangis Kahn Returns”, he’s also willing to let the equally-accomplished rapper of the same name strut his stuff too, even when he does it with all his sonic tomfoolery tied behind his back.

So yeah, don’t expect humility, but sit down, skin up and check it the fuck out. This is DEEEUUUUUT-DEEEUUUUUTERONEMU-wibbidy-wibbidy-NINE!!! OH!!! TWO!!! ONE!!! Uh-Uh-OOOOH!!! now going to have a little lie down somewhere.

-Deuteronemu 90210 The Vampire Slayer-

Rob Swift Dope On Plastic
Label: Asphodel Format: 12″

Previewing his forthcoming album The Ablist (not to be confused with his previous EP of the same name) which showcases his scratching and mixing talents in collaboration and conjunction with nine-piece group of musicians and rappers, Rob Swift‘s “Dope On Plastic” is presented in the now-usual Remix, Scratch, Instrumental and Acapella forms. Swift’s mixing is so damned seamless that what is going on with the cross-fader and rewind seems so natural that it’s very easy to forget that the music doesn’t come from a hard-disc editing suite, but from a pair of hands, some decks and accompanying instruments.

So perhaps the MCs’ toasting of Swift’s skills isn’t that irritating in context; he does deserve the accolades they deliver (scratching them up too in the process) after all. With the stated aim being to do for the Nineties what Herbie Hancock and Grand Master D.ST did in the Eighties for Jazz and HipHop, Swift is well-placed to do just that, having taken the art of scratching into interesting directions here, particularly on the Acapella versions of both the title track and “Do You Dance” on this EP, which stand out as the best of the bunch as he demonstrates his abilities to the utmost wrist-flexing degree.

-Freq1C-

Syntetika100% Syntetika
Label: Shaped Harmonics Format: CD

Originating from St Petersburg, this duo offer a cool slice of Russian Electronica that won’t set the teeth on edge or make you want to smash the state-of-the-art laptop that is producing the arid noise drizzling from your speakers. (Yes, I’ve had a couple of bad listening experiences lately!) As they say themselves, “Electronica shouldn’t become a collection of noise constructions.” There will be those who disagree, of course.

They emphasise the continuing importance of harmony and melody on tracks like “Above The Clouds” and use rhythms to underpin the kaleidoscopic keyboard swirling of “Gliss”. The latter is pure musical onomatopoeia if ever I heard it. “Levitation” with its melodic repetitions reminded me of the French guitar trio Philharmonie. Repetitive but not monotonous. There are a couple of tracks that are a little too bland and lean towards a sort of superior supermarket music but they are overshadowed by the inventive textures of the rest of the set. It is a calm music that probably wont set worlds on fire or extend the boundaries of the genre. But, at its best it does offer an oasis of sounds into which you can withdraw and immerse yourself for a while.

-Paul Donnelly-

Tibor SzemzoDanube Exodus
Label: Leo Format: CD

This film is a kind of documentary following the exodus of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and bound for Palestine, in one case, and another group of Volksdeutsch leaving Romania for resettlement in Poland under the control of the Third Reich. These two different journeys were captured by the avid film-maker and captain of one of the steamboats, Nandor Andrasovits. His film was re-contextualised by Peter Forgacs and, with Tibor Szemzo‘s music, became part of an interactive installation at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles. Now we have the music with a few clips of film on this CD.

Szemzo is part of and has composed for The Gordian Knot Company, making use of a varied sound palette comprising strings, reeds, keyboards, vocals, bass flute, bass and drums. These instruments are used sparingly, for the most part, and are all the more effective for that. A cantor-like voice resonates against mobile electric bass as strings create a shifting web of delicate notations. A minimal oboe theme dominates “Furcap” but you are also aware of the subtle colourings of flugelhorn and reeds. Particularly effective is the use of sounds from the steamboat on “Boat-Collage”. The boat and water’s rhythm suggest movement as the voice declaims and a dark menace of trombone raises itself through the flute’s luminous spray. “Ceskoslovensko”, utilises a simple piano motif over which melodic electric bass, strings, sparse percussion and spectral flute drift.

The mood alters for “Pleasure Boat” where sax and trumpet, underpinned by that supple bass, recreate a delicate, stately version of something Mongezi Feza and Dudu Pukwana might have played in reflective moments if transplanted to Eastern Europe. It’s a ghostly evocation of pleasure mixed with a sense of trepidation. Despite its restrained buoyancy it is an unsettling piece. Each of these compositions builds a miniature soundscape. The instruments chosen to colour these impressionistic stills are vital to the whole musical and visual experience. They should not be too intrusive but neither should they simply generate background sounds, to be forgotten as the film ends. The music succeeds through its gentle, unobtrusive nature and ability to trigger haunting yet elusive images long after it has become silence.

-Paul Donnelly-

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