Akira Yamamichi – Sémiologie
Label: Fire Inc. Format: CD
The word to sum up Sémiologie is pure. Akira Yamamichi has produced on of the purest expressions of sub bass. This is the kind of album you can really share with your neighbours. He does this by working with pulse beats, constructing his music from very basic and pure sounds. The comparison with Pan Sonic is obvious, but this is more digital and glitchy. The sound is even more clinical too – whereas oscillator-driven Pan Sonic have a warm and curiously organic feel. Sémiologie has that same single-minded and stark quality, though. The second half of the album mixes pure tone with processed acoustics. Jazz drum patterns are warped, pushed around, and overlaid with the pulses. Ambient minimal Techno meets Jazz head on with a bit of prepared piano thrown in for good measure. The result is a highly synthesized and, yes, pure sound form.
Yamaoka-Ya – Monstak
Label: Sideburn Format: 12″
Combining Japanese Industrial noise with the sinuous twists of Drum & Bass, Kenichi Oka and Yoshinori Yamzaki harness the drum-machine rhythms of the Eighties to a blast of Skiffy analogue arpeggiation and somnolent synthesizer washes in the title track of a record whose sleeve (seemingly incongrously) relishes fetishistic images of spray-brushed bondage. Perhaps it’s an appropriate reflection of what Yamaoka-Ya have done to their sources; taken the linear restriction of the programmed, quantized loop, the furious sound of a previous decade’s dance music, and worked some quite appropriately Japanese post-Modern hyper-mischief on the (willing) electronic body music.
By the time “Kiai” comes around, the attenuated near-melody is gradually being forced to submit to the the encroaching phasers and accreting beats; the claustrophobia generated is not a grinding smash of pummelling breaks, but a more subtly dark infusion of applied acoustic pressure. Likewise “Kamui” makes a break for the faster tempos, but is reined in by the ominous bass presence and a grey, ambient fugue which maintains a constant internal tension in the piece. “Monstak” promises more unsettling pleasures yet to come with the duo’s forthcoming album; if it’s anything like as elegantly inhuman as this EP, there’ll be some warped minds as a result.
Saxophones are something of an obsession with me, especially when a player is trying to do something unusual with the instrument. So I listen constantly to Lester Young, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Dewey Redman, Dudu Pukwana, Paul Dunmall and on and on. The list is probably endless. Recently, I was listening to that fine alto player, Julius Hemphill with cellist Abdul Wadud on their Live In New York album and enjoying his sharp, keening sound. Sometimes it is such a lonely voice, one bereft of joy, and at others it sings and affirms life. But listening to that coincided with a CD from a new voice and that of a tenor saxophonist, one Simon Yarde.
I can’t recall who it was that said the sound of the tenor sax is the nearest you can get to the human voice. Well, that was before Mr Yarde recorded his Manhattan Suite, a composition for processed tenor saxophone inspired by a visit to New York two years ago. In his words it is intended “to create a journey into the urban sprawl” and it does evoke a sense of movement, though not into any conventional cityscape. He also talks of the sound as “the friction of a world under the electron microscope”. That isn’t something I can readily envisage but it does, somehow, convey the sense of atmosphere built throughout the work.
A long way from the human voice then. In fact there is little that could be immediately recognised as the voice of a tenor sax. But through the use of electronic processing a more forbidding sonic landscape emerges. It’s surfaces and textures are bleak and metallic, the sounds are not those of the inhabitants but of non-human structures. They may be drawn from the rain and wind driven down through the shadows of skyscrapers or into the networks where the underground grinds its metal doors and tracks. They may be forlorn fog warnings coming from the darkness of the river. At one point there is a sound which bears some slight resemblance to a human voice but it is far from comforting or reassuring. I briefly thought of the Hemphill recording but this is far bleaker than anything found on that album.
The entire piece is just under 10 minutes long yet does manage to construct an unsettling abstract urban soundscape. It is an impressionistic view and also one which you feel compelled to re-visit. He is currently working on material that will form a debut album for release sometime in 2002 . I look forward to hearing whatever he does with the sax on that too.
Yasnaïa – Onokoro Yokul
Label: (unknown) Format: Picture 7″
Some things are just so incredible-looking, you have to pick them up – despite if you know what the sounds within are or not. Such is the case with this exquisitely painted, rough-edged, (dark) blue picture disc. The a-side features what sounds like French spoken by a determined and pensive female, over breathing synths and meditating chains. A cold wind shatters through the proceedings, and there is a fantastic “build” to it all. The b-side features a younger female singing, with more sounds of wind and loops and the world around us. Na na na. It would be perfect fuck music if only you didn’t have to go back and forth to the turntable.
Regardless, it’ll look great on the wall beside my blue vinyl, star-of-David-shaped 7″ by Gefilte Joe And The Fish on Rhino! In an edition of 466, mine being 307, you beautiful trainspotters you!
(Available from S. Alt, Lessingstrasse 7a, 93049 Regensburg, Germany).
Yellow 6 – Overtone
Label: Enraptured Format: CD,limited 2LP
Soaring is how Overtone starts, and that’s how it goes on as Yellow 6 make their effects pedals work overtime to the point of dissolution, sometimes fracturing into crackles before a return to identifiable melodic guitar is made. Blissed out is a good term, as reverberations echo off the simple drum machine and drench the feedback walls with shimmering trails. It’s all very uplifting, though the percussion makes for a solid groundwork of rhythm to complement the beatless atmospherics.
There’s an extra track on the hand-painted double clear vinyl edition, but at around seventy-three minutes there’s a mammoth amount of tripped-out, concentrated slo-mo Psychedelic drone music on Overtone. Easily hypnotic tracks mark languid time, where the bass sometimes swells into its own and the clicking programmed beats evoke horses or clocks among the ultimately entropic decay of the guitars. “Snowmelt” occupies similar landscapes to the more propulsive Flying Saucer Attack songs (though all the tracks here are instrumentals), but produced to a far greater degree with crunchier drum sounds to hand. There is that same sense of peaking bliss about Yellow 6 though, and less actual reliance on massed effects which give FSA their signature frying-pan sound, but a piece like the downtempo “Fried” reveals a certain amount of stylistic influence from sequenced music (Trip Hop/Drum & Bass, in their widest definition) as well as the perennial techniques of Dub too.
It’s very easy to fall back into the slumbering grooves of this record, letting it all drift overhead and into semi-consciousness, only to have the passivity jerked away by a nexus of feedback or a particularly booming low end moment. “Seethrough” has a particularly pugnacious bass drum sound used to underpin the spacious top, and while taking off into sonic firework dispays isn’t on the agenda, epic soundscaping certainly is. Evocative of surreal landscapes and even environmental grandeur from time to time, Overtone also manages to work as much more than as the sum of its influences, suspended out there just beyond Space Rock, old or new.
-Antron S. Meister-
Massive, that’s the first adjective which springs to mind as the initial bars of “Two Fingers” kick right into Magma territory with very little pause for breath. Huge great chords and seeping sythesizers from Ohm‘s Doug Ferguson, pounding rhythms courtesy of Jon Teague at the drumkit, ponderous bass from Tommy Atkins and some pretty Psyched-up geetar noise emanating from Eric Teague‘s fretboard. Full ahead, no-nonsense stuff, broad as it is deep and resonant of everyone the Seventies Punks loved to hate. Except apparently Teague and Harris are straight out of the Hardcore scene in Texas, which just goes to show that it’s two decades on, and the old rivalries no longer apply.
Things To Come… is so Prog that it really demands a stack of Marshalls higher than the Albert Hall to do it justice, with a light show to match. Forty-eight minutes and four tracks worth of Progness, battering at the speaker cones with all the intensity of Jazz musicians on a lot of speed (and such folk have a reputation to live up/down to, after all). Spiky, murderously fast glissandos on the keyboards and matching strung-out guitaring splutter around a rhythm section which can turn on a pin, let alone sixpence. Imagine if the Butthole Surfers were serious… The only disappointment is the apparent lack of double-necked instruments, if the sleeve photo is anything to go by – except the keyboards, which are racked up with lots of dangling wires, so that’s as it should be.
Packed with more notes that could possibly be imagined, the musicianship on display from Yeti is awesome to behold. Propulsive in the extreme, their playing rocks like an illegitimate blend of stadium Sabbath instrumental and everything else pompous and theatrical ever devised. “Interstellar Biplane” even mellows out into noodling grooves before fading to a Mellotron wash and a segue into “Go Like This” where it all becomes a polo-necked swing of the most gratuitous kind. Which is not necessarily a criticism, because it presages lengthy electronic ambiences and a gradual return into the frenetic realms of Le Jazz Rock Enorme!. Phew!
Mellow Cosmos is the Parisian based Industrial group’s debut UK album. After touring Europe and the USA Y Front have slimmed down to the core members – Syd Ogy and D. Throughout Mellow Cosmos they are assisted by Bernard Trontin of The Young Gods. Does the term Industrial Stadium Rock exist? It does now. Their sound is certainly big and chunky enough at points to warrant that. There’s quite a lot of variety to Mellow Cosmos – from Electro to seriously Hard Rock and back again dragging some hefty beats with it.
“Daft Boyz”, as the name suggests, is robot Funk somewhere in the vicinity of Daft Punk complete with synthesised sounding voice. Y Front don’t quite dive head first into the same areas of kitsch and retro, though. There are plenty of major league rockouts, not least the title track itself. The twisted Jungle loops of “eCcentric moonDancer” are punctuated by a solid wall of Nine Inch Nails/Nu Metal style distorted crunch guitar. Mellow Cosmos is the kind of album that should leave you with ringing in your ears and a damn stiff neck. I’m really not sure about the band name, though. I’m really not sure …
Susumu Yokota – Grinning Cat
Label: Leaf Format: CD,LP
Grinning Cat – so named because of Susumu Yokota‘s life with his three cats – is a dreamlike album. It follows up from his much acclaimed album Sakura. Grinning Cat is more up tempo than his previous albums. The music almost reaches House music at points as it drifts in and out of textures. The influence of Jazz and Classical music is as strong as ever and Eno-strength Ambience is placed just where it should be.
I‘ve got to admit to being a bit of an Eno fan, so I’ve got a natural affinity for Grinning Cat. I’m also a cat owner … well no one owns a cat. You feed the cat and in return he agrees to acknowledge you once in a while … although I’ve got a feeling my cat would be more likely to inspire a Sisters of Mercy or Big Black album. No matter, albums inspired by cats are OK in my book.
The Grinning Cat is such an idyllic and eminently listenable album … you’d really have to try hard not to like it.
This Leaf Label release of Susumu Yokota‘s rare Magic Thread album is incredibly difficult to classify or pigeon hole, a collection of music which is both miminmalist and fully encompassing at once. It’s quiet music, drifting, sensual, soft; it is also beat generated music with much danceable percussion layered through the calm. Here it is ambient, there it is electronic, now it is sublime, then it steps left into House. As many things as one could do with a piece of thread, Yokota-san has done with this collection. The overall impression is one of very clean quality. Volumes are subdued but not muddled and each track retains clarity, even a razor sharp edge of definition. Where some music can be too dreamy and narcoleptic, this collection is quiet, and even at times a little dark without being so trancelike that one would be likely to let the kettle boil over. There is no distortion however, and no noise without purpose. The volume key could be pushed to eleven, and it would all just get louder, without coming undone.
The percussive elements which are more lateral and less affrontal are an exercise in minimalism as well.. Showing off more of Yokota’s expertise as a DJ and Disco/House music maker, many tracks follow a definite dance beat pattern which has loads to do with staving off the sleepiness. These beats also interupt the ambience just enough to keep it from sounding at all repetitive. Within the percussion and the more electronically-generated moments there is a weaving of an ancient sound of traditional Japanese music, but only just a thread of it. There are no vocals, but interestingly, there doesn’t need to be any. It’s easy to think of having a bar/café conversation with this in the background, and what a relief it would be to do away with the need to yell across tables.
Looking over Susumu Yokota’s long list of projects and achievements, it seems there are a myriad of musical genres he can be associated with and indeed he has worked with many artists on many labels. This release and the forthcoming projects to be released on Leaf later this year may see Yokota move to the forefront of conceptual music outside of Japan and Continental Europe. If Magic Thread is an indicator of his professional ability, though apparently not fully representative of his usual style, he’ll have no trouble capturing a wider audience. One wonders what his performances done live may look like, but we know they will sound exquisite.
Yossarian – Elegant Time
Label: Satellite Format:
Elegant Time is the debut album from Yossarian, and despite one or two annoying lapses in judgement, manages to be a worthy heir to his fine single My Shy Boy Saint. Indeed the album opens with the single and the melodic loops and chirping combined with the truly chilled out percussion create a pleasantly hypnotic soundscape which simultaneously conjures images of late Sixties summer days and late Nineties ambient nights; chilled out Electro-Psychedelia with an early Pink Floyd sensibility would be one way of putting it. Unfortunately the aforementioned lapses in judgement often stem from the Syd Barratt-esque strangeness that Yossarian clumsily spoons onto a couple of tracks – most notably the second track “Dolly” (which is just plain annoying). This spaced-out wackiness just feels altogether too contrived at times, and the album is, sadly, at its worst when at its most retrospective (there’s a lesson in there somewhere).
Thankfully, Yossarian plays to his strengths much more often, and Elegant Time is liberally scattered with gems of cosmic brilliance, like the wonderfully titled “Peddling Filth to the Kids,” which consists of little more than a simple organ melody looped and added to a mixed bag of analogue squelches and trippy space effects, but which is so insidiously hypnotic that it managed to make me miss my stop when listening to it on the Tube. However, this track – like everything on the album – is too short to truly generate that wonderful oceanic feeling of well-being and pleasant otherness that should go hand in hand with this type of psychedelic keyboard music. I get the feeling that this album would work far better if Yossarian had left off the clumsy nursery-rhymes of “Dolly”, “Witches & Bitches” and the like. This could have made way for an extended piece of chilled strangeness which, to be frank, is what this album really needs to elevate it above the merely “pleasing” and get it on regular rotation. Twelve 4-minute tracks just isn’t what you’re looking for from an album in this genre; Elegant Time should have taken a leaf from Woob‘s book (whose path it crosses – and suffers in comparison to – from time to time) and opened with a 20-minute extravaganza prior to demonstrating its sonic diversity.
That said; I did really like this album and would recommend it to anyone who likes their chilled electronics to be a little bit weirder than usual – and the vocal tracks are by no means a complete loss; “Rollerskate City” manages to come over all Laurie Anderson / Brian Eno mixed with the Byrds – and to achieve that is no mean feat. The closing track, “Cocktail in Amsterdam” also whispers the phrase “Avant-Garde” whilst at the same time trying to imagine what Brecht would have sounded like as a Millennial electronic musician on acid. Overall, elegant time is an audacious project which may not be an unqualified success, but is, nonetheless, a fine slice of chilled-out psychedelia and a very promising debut indeed.
Yossarian – Spider’s Web
Label: Satellite Format: CD
Analogue synthesizer-based Dub seems to be the preserve of solo artists and producers at the moment (see Pole etc.), and Yossarian has taken to it with considerably more interesting results than his previous efforts in the realm of Seventies-style Psychedelic freak-out music. There is of course a large whiff of that decade (and some other substances no doubt) about Spider’s Web; melodicas, rim shots, overloaded organs, reverbed guitar chords and all the paraphenalia of a genre which continues to exert a strange fascination on mind and body.
Such faithful revisiting of an already substantial template is of course quite often a recipe for soporific disaster, with limited invention or addition to the form being attempted, with the result that what emerges can be overly-familiar and potentially quite close to boring. This charge could possibly be laid at Spider’s Web with some truth, and it’s fair to say that very little new ground is broken with this record; but what is does have is all the right moves in the right places, and a bass presence of the required warmth.
As a multi-instrumentalist Yossarian is quite accomplished too, and there’s quite an affinity with the single-minded dubs of Twilight Circus, both sharing a Heady feel for the spaces offered up by the echo box, keyboards and fragmented sound sources riding on the solid underpinnings of a low throbbing pulse. When Yossarian sings on the vocal version of the title track, he also reveals a softly poetic side which complements the music perfectly, in an almost Waltzing shuffle on the borders of wasted admiration for the object in question. Sometimes quirky (check the doorchimes on “This Is Our Wedding Day”) and mostly warm and pleasant, it’s an album of few surprises, but provides a gently soothing bass bath nonetheless
-Antron S. Meister-
Claud Young – Presents Pattern Buffer 02
Label: Djax Format: 12″
Gawd bless the 303 (it’s got a special place in our hearts like the Queen Mum.) Don`t worry though, there’s not one in sight on this record, it’s just time for a diatribe. Let’s face it, theres only so much you can do with the go-ahead-bangin`-in ya-face-rushin`-ya-tits-off Techno Trance. And I think it was done five years ago. Don`t get me wrong, at the right time and the right place it can be just what you want, but the right times and the right places usually involve lots and lots of speed at which point anything energetic sounds good. I like Techno that makes me think “how the fuck did they make that noise?”
This leads me neatly on to Mr Young. If he did to animals what he does to computers the RSPCA would want a word or two. So what’s in Pattern Buffer 02? The track titles say it all, messed up data. It sounds like its the result of file errors and corruptions. Karlheinz Stockhausen would be proud. Claud Young has made some seriously indeterminate noises, if made is the right word. They could be scooped from the bloody remnants of a crashed hard drive. And beneath all this its got the rhythm. Its as banging as they come. Not quite as fast as acidy Techno, but like Mr Mills it’s just so much more rugged. When you`ve got the power you don`t need to make it that fast.
It must be a right fucker being The Young Gods. You`re well-known the world over for being legendary, groundbreaking, innovative and really fucking cool to listen to. So after locking Wagner in a cave on their eponymous debut album, dragging Heavy Metal up a mountain and getting it struck by lightning (L’Eau Rouge), having a fight with Kurt Weill (The Young Gods Play…) and forcing The Doors to watch the whole of the Gulf War on video (TV Sky), you release an album that’s just really fucking cool to listen to but not so legendary, groundbreaking or innovative (Only Heaven) and everyone thinks you’re past it. Shit. Just ‘cos you haven’t singlehandedly invented any new styles of music recently, everyone loses interest.
It’s five years later, and Franz Treichler and his mates have been slaving away, Roobarb-like, in their garden shed to create the most bombastic Ambient Techno you will ever hear. And it rocks. In every sense. (Apart possibly from the one in which it means “to sway repeatedly from side to side”.) Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “oh, so they’ve gone Techno then”- there’s nary a bandwagon in sight, and yet again they’ve rewritten the rulebook, moved the goalposts and upped the stakes. Which is why it’s so lucky thy’re musicians and not sportsmen, ‘cos that’d be cheating. It’s as if they’ve looked at modern Electronica, rewound the clock fifteen years, then slipped into a parallel universe and brought it up to date again.
I‘m really trying hard not to overuse the adjective “Wagnerian”, but it’s pretty fucking tricky, I can tell you. So in the true traditions of lazy journalism, I’m going to move onto clichés about the Swiss. I can’t really crowbar in either cuckoo clocks or chocolate, so I’ll move swiftly on to precision and… um… having mountains. Both of which (Ah-ha! Got it!) are hugely relevant here, as da boyz (hmmm… don’t know what I was thinking with that bit of “hip” spelling, but there you go…) manage to create enormous (and, okay, Wagnerian) amounts of mountain-top bombast and then trap it in little precision-crafted electronic boxes.
Three more things must ye know, O Fool, of Second Nature by the Young Gods. First, that there is a bit that sounds like Coil‘s Black Light District project, only totally different. Second, that there’s a bit of really unexpectedly Funky bass that startled me a bit the first time I heard it. And third, there’s a section where I swear Franz is singing “I’m McGyver! My hat’s full of stamps!” only he probably isn’t.
The new Young Gods album, then. Legendary, groundbreaking, and innovative. And really fucking cool to listen to.
-Deuteronemu 90210, Chooser of the Slain-