Saturday, 25 September 2021

Anika – Change (2021)

Style: Indie Pop, Dub, Post-Punk, Krautrock
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Sacred Bones Records

1.   Finger Pies
2.   Critical
3.   Change
4.   Naysayer
5.   Sand Witches
6.   Never Coming Back
7.   Rights
8.   Freedom
9.   Wait For Something

Mastered By – James Trevascus
Mixed By, Co-producer – Martin Thulin

Perhaps like a lot of people, I first became aware of Annika Henderson, aka Anika, in 2019 via the Netflix comedy drama, Russian Doll. The distinct tones of the English/German musician shone through on her rather gorgeous cover of Ray Davies’ I Go To Sleep. The song was pulled from Anika’s self-titled debut album, recorded with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow in 2010.

The intervening years have seen Anika collaborate with Tricky and release two albums with her electro-psych outfit, Exploded View. The new LP represents a significant step in Henderson’s musical journey. If the debut album was something of an understated slow-burn, then Change is the full realisation of an underground pop star.

Finger Pies feels fresh, focused and vibrant as it bounces along on an irresistible, dub-inflected groove. Anika calmly yet defiantly chants, “Some may say you are only interested in one thing / That’s to get your own way.” Anika’s distinct personality and nuanced delivery are embedded into every second.

Critical mimics the urgent beats of a heart monitor as it channels its trip-hop influences into a hypnotic slice of future-pop. “I always give my man the last word/ I always give him what he deserves,” sings Anika in dry, sarcastic tones, “but don’t forget that little twist of cyanide in his little gift.” Juxtaposed with the frequently playful instrumentation, Anika’s vocals often bring Velvet’s priestess Nico to mind. The style feels far less troubled, yet it retains the artful cool we so readily associate with the German-born avant-gardist.

The meditative title track reveals the tender, surprisingly optimistic heart at the centre of the LP. The chilled electronic backing and intimate vocal style occupy a similar space to Jenny Hval’s spine-tingling That Battle Is Over. The two artists share a passion for expressing ideas not so readily found in traditional pop. Both are intent on pushing things forwards. The words were written during the recording process, making the lyrics feel immediate and cathartic.

The excellent, semi-industrial clang of Naysayer finds Anika confronting the “novices running the show.” Perhaps unintentionally, it’s a line that can’t help but bring Boris Johnson and his clan of clowns to mind. Anika’s cool veneer momentarily cracks with the insistent declaration, “I don’t want you/ I don’t want you.

Sand Witches is a slower and altogether stranger affair. “I don’t like what you’ve become,” intones Anika over droning electronics and decidedly creepy piano, as well as “I don’t like what you’ve begun to peddle/ The words of the devil.” By this point, the themes of the album are coming through loud and clear: defiance, empowerment and, of course, change.

The album tackles change on numerous levels, from the personal and political to the creeping environmental change that we perhaps don’t even notice happening. Never Coming Back was inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which brought environmental concerns to the public’s attention in 1962.

Rights is a mesmeric bombardment of bubbling synths and fragmented sounds that finds an increasingly possessed Anika wailing, “Fear your power/ Show me power.” Like much of the album, the track’s structure is incredibly loose and free-flowing, everything based around a compulsive groove. Freedom slides in on the back of some superbly atmospheric John Carpenter-style synths and the repeated affirmation, “I’m not being silenced by anyone”.

Then, quite unexpectedly, we get the sound of a battered old acoustic guitar as Wait For Something eases us into the album’s closing moments. The track slowly blooms into a driving Velvets-like anthem: “And be patient for something new… I’m not gonna be your fool, I’m not gonna fall for you/ No, not this time.”

We’re living in strange and ever-changing times, yet for every worrying headline, there’s news of progress, resistance and transformation. Despite its dark, atmospheric soundscapes, it’s this positive outlook that Change encapsulates the most. The fall of Trump, the rise of the Me Too movement and the feeling that, this time, we really won’t get fooled again. The chants and affirmations throughout the album are willing something good to happen.

Ultimately, Change is an album about escaping the past and letting it all out. The culmination of a lifetime’s worth of turmoil, manifested as a subversive rallying cry for positive, lasting and meaningful change.

Monday, 30 August 2021

VA ‎– Antologia De Música Atípica Portuguesa Vol.1: O Trabalho (2017)

Style: Avantgarde, Experimental
Formtat: Vinyl
Label: Discrepant ‎– CREP 35

01.   Live Low - Antiplot
02.   Negra Branca - O Espatelar Do Linho
03.   EITR - Cicuta
04.   Luar Domatrix - Bocadinho De Alentjo
05.   Gonzo - Agora Baixou O Sol = Now The Sun Is Down
06.   Tiago Morais Morgado - Laurindinha
07.   Filipe Felizardo - Sede E Morte
08.   Gonzo & Luar Domatrix - Já Lá Gritam No Calvário
09.   Calhau! - Pecunibal
10.   Peter Forest - A Maria Cavaca (Trad. Working Song)

Mastered By – Rashad Becker
Artwork – Ruca Bourbon
Layout – Gonçalo F. Cardoso

Gathered together on this new compilation series are Portuguese artists that stretch back into the past with the same inquisition as they press into the future, allured both by the original significance of tradition and the opportunity to reframe it. The theme of the first volume is “o Trabalho” (which translates as “work”), with the sounds here predominantly driven by steam and muscle and persistence: trains horns toot as they trundle through the countryside with cargo in tow, drums mimic the metronomic impact of axes and hammers, work songs liberate minds from the drudge of repetitious labour. These physical gestures are then smeared, serrated and bled into the apparatus of the modern day, with choral winds blistered by distortion (Filipe Felizardo), chants arcing over gentle synthesiser tides (Gonzo) and guttural throat-song set inside bitcrusher crystals (Calhau!). 
Despite the strong spirit of manipulation and collage, the general shape of those recorded historical artefacts are kept largely intact, which means that even the compilation’s most abstract flights maintain a connection with the earth below. On Negra Branca’s “O Espatelar Do Linho”, the present is a comet trail pouring out of antiquity: synthesisers follow the ascent of mass song as it breaks through the ceiling, buoyed by chimes and the patter of mallet percussion, imbuing the jovial rise of voice with the shimmer of the cosmic. Meanwhile, the intertwining vocoder chants of Tiago Morais Morgado – whose low notes blur into gigantic rumbles of synthetic voice, grinding against eachother tectonic plates – maintain a visceral, thoroughly human depth through their fizz of electronic filtering. In retaining the essence of their source material, all of these artists exhibit a fascination with not just the sonic qualities of these sounds, but also the historical narratives that have carried their significance into the present.

Propellerheads ‎– Decksandrumsandrockandroll (1998)

Style: Breakbeat, Trip Hop, Big Beat
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Wall Of Sound

01.   Take California
02.   Echo And Bounce
03.   Velvet Pants
04.   Better?
05.   Oh Yeah?
06.   History Repeating
07.   Winning Style
08.   Bang On!
09.   A Number Of Microphones
10.   On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
11.   Bigger?
12.   Cominagetcha
13.   Spybreak!

Producer – Propellerheads

Really, the title says it all -- Decksanddrumsandrockandroll is about as close to rock & roll as big-beat techno is going to get. Taking their cue from the Chemical Brothers, the Bath-based duo Propellerheads offer a set of pummeling, ultra-loud beats that may dabble in funk, house, hip-hop, soul, and rap, but which all come out sounding as aggressive as rock. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- at its best, big beat is as invigorating as any other music -- but Propellerheads don't have the finesse, innovation, or style of the Chemical Brothers, the leading proponents of big beat. When they shake the beat up, whether on the wah-wah-drenched "Velvet Pants" or the pair of John Barry/James Bond tributes (a reworking of their cover of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "History Repeating"), it sounds like a tactical move, since they know they can't spend the entire album on thundering dance cuts like "Bang On!" and "Take California." That said, Decksanddrumsandrockandroll remains a strong big beat album, even if it ultimately doesn't reveal anything new, because the duo knows how to craft a hard-hitting, infectious rhythm track. And while that doesn't make them the next Chemical Brothers, it does make them the best in this style since the Chemicals.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine / AllMusic

Monday, 16 August 2021

Sault ‎– Nine (2021)

Genre: Electronic, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Forever Living Originals

01.   Haha
02.   London Gangs
03.   Trap Life
04.   Fear
05.   Mike's Story
06.   Bitter Streets
07.   Alcohol
08.   You From London
09.   9
10.   Light's In Your Hands

Sault – a semi-anonymous UK collective – have already made their mark with four extraordinary albums in the space of two years. Releasing their works without much warning, unwilling to talk about their art, they have become a prolific leftfield outfit torching the rules. Nine, their fifth album, is available to buy and stream for 99 days (until 2 October). It’s pretty special too – not least because it’s an album about the experience of growing up in London that thumbs its nose almost entirely at the capital’s rich history of music genres, both black and white.

We are accustomed to hearing these sad, angry, mischievous stories told as the fast 8-bit rhythms of grime or hip-hop. But Nine eschews the sounds synonymous with London; it only hints in passing at dubstep and rave. You really have to pinch yourself at the audacity, too, of a track called Trap Life containing 0% trap beats – the now-dominant strain of hip-hop here as in the US. Rather, Sault turn to warm African-Caribbean sounds, and righteous anger played out as playground chants. A hard-hitting song about London’s gang infrastructure sounds like the Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats.

Sault have always confounded. Nine follows their genre-melting albums of 2019, 5 and 7, and their twin records of 2020, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise). The latter two were impassioned outpourings in sync with last year’s international Black Lives Matter protests. All offered up an unexpectedly boxy, retro sound: rolling drums, funk bass and R&B groove, rogue analogue keyboards, and a sampledelic aesthetic. Vocalists Cleo Sol (UK) and Kid Sister (US) were as likely to chant as they were to sing or rap; African and Caribbean inflections were ever-present.

Throughout Nine, Sault double down on this vinyl crate-digger vibe: a rolling break here combined with an unexpected Beatles tilt there. The electronic Afro-funk of ESG or Tom Tom Club still looms high in the mix, as it has on all Sault’s records, but there are songs here – such as the lovely Bitter Streets – that recall, of all things, French chanson.

Their name has always carried with it the cold shiver of the word “assault”, but here they offer their music as a remedy
Nine returns to Sault’s earlier album art: titles formed by matchsticks, and a fire about to be lit. The visuals speak loudly so that the artists involved don’t have to: joining Sol and Kid Sister are UK producer Inflo and a handful of collaborators. Inflo (Dean Josiah) is better known as Michael Kiwanuka’s producer on Kiwanuka, his Mercury-winning album of 2019; Josiah is also involved with Little Simz and Jungle.

Like Adele (19, 21, 25), Sault have a thing for odd numbers. Nine showcases its namesake twice: the title track turns on a delicate retro guitar motif holding aloft Cleo Sol’s cooed vocal. Another “nine” occurs earlier, on Trap Life: “Don’t reach for that nine, nine, nine,” Sol begs, referring to a firearm; the repetition also suggests dialling 999.

An Instagram statement explains that the band’s origins lie in London’s council estates, where resources and options are limited and people can fall into even more harmful situations. The final song, Light’s In Your Hands, talks of kids growing up too fast, traumatised.

The spoken word is paramount here. One of a number of spoken interludes, Mike’s Story bears witness to one Michael Ofo hearing of his father’s murder. 9 finds an unnamed, older contributor explaining how being from a particular area inevitably marked you. If a sense of discomfiture has run through all Sault’s albums – they challenge, seethe and weep, confound expectation, change tack abruptly – there is never a sense of a misstep. As with previous Sault LPs, there is at least one thoroughly mainstream knockout moment: Alcohol is a smooth neo-soul paean to self-medication played out in gentle waltz time.

Just as Michael Kiwanuka featured on Untitled (Black Is), Inflo’s other close associate Little Simz appears here, her old-school flow detailing a life of Oyster cards and being triggered by sirens – Untitled themes given an unmistakable London flavour and dreamy organ keys, jazz horn and a tickle of hi-hat. There’s humour here too: You From London also pokes fun at American attitudes to Britons. (“Like people be going to work on horses and stuff?”)

Where the two Untitleds were aflame with anger as well as pain, Nine returns to trauma – and healing – as its central motif. “The pain is real,” Sault repeat. As on 5’s Add a Little Bit of Sault, the band briefly namecheck themselves. Their name has always carried with it the cold shiver of the word “assault”, but here they offer their music as a remedy. “The Sault will heal the wounds,” croons Sol.
Kitty Empire / The Guardian 

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Synergetic Voice Orchestra ‎– MIOS (1990)

Genre: Electronic, Pop, Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Métron Records ‎

1.   Zebra
2.   Luna Park
3.   Island Girl
4.   Lullaby for Tristan
5.   Jesus and Muhammad
6.   A Tale
7.   Hari-Hari
8.   Tangram
9.   Life Goes On

Sitar – Motoyasu Tatsuno
Vocals – Mami Tanaka, Norico, Samala
Drums – Masahiro Iwamoto
Flute – Shunji Yamamoto
Keyboards – Yumiko Morioka
Koto – Mitsuko Nakabayashi
Percussion – Katsuaki Yoshiguchi
Composed By – Yumiko Morioka
Directed By – Mikio Tajima, Shigeo Ohwa
Producer – Shigeo Ohwa, Yumiko Morioka
Recorded By – Tatsuya Sakamoto

Japanese pianist and composer Yumiko Morioka's revered 1990 album project 'MIOS' gets a timely re-issue next month, with a lovingly remastered vinyl release arriving courtesy of Métron Records.

Recorded in 1989, Morioka assembled a diverse band of street musicians and semi-professional players to form the delightfully diverse Synergetic Voice Orchestra. Inspired by Yumiko’s love of eclectic global music, the newly constructed group drew on influences from India, Ethiopia, Mali, Korea and China to create a stunning album that skilfully managed to merge these seemingly disparate sonic identities with traditional aesthetics from the southern Japanese island, Okinawa.

Following the success of her 'Resonance' album which appeared a few years earlier, Yumiko was ecstatic when she was offered the opportunity to compose an album of “any kind of music she wanted”. The players she united under the SVO banner were formed of artists she either knew personally, or had seen performing in and around Tokyo, and many of them were self-taught and unable to read music. For Yumiko – a classically taught musician – working with players who lacked her formal training presented a unique challenge, but by adopting the synergetic principles of American architect and theorist Buckminster Fuller, she was able to create an open environment where a collective mentality was able to flourish. Nothing was off-limits, and experimentation ruled supreme. The approach embodied the work with vivid energy and an effervescent exploratory feel – which included, among other quirks, percussive parts played on old washing machine parts by a drummer who sold vegetables by day, practising at night in a nearby cemetery so as not to disturb his neighbours!

The singular album is one of Japanese music's hidden treasures. The new edition comes complete with striking artwork produced by Elvis Barlow-Smith and is well worth adding to the collection.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

António de Sousa Dias ‎– Música Do Filme: Os Abismos Da Meia-Noite (1983)

Style: Soundtrack, Contemporary 
Format: Vinyl
Label: Fotossonoro

A1.   Coração Já Repousavas... (I)
A2.   Ante-Cântico
A3.   Cântico Dos Lagos De Prata
A4.   Rituália
A5.   Tema Branco
A6.   Coração Já Repousavas... (II)
A7.   A Gruta
A8.   ...& Angústia
B1.   Os Guerreiros Da Meia-Noite
B2.   Coração Já Repousavas... (III)
B3.   Imaginária
B4.   As Fontes Mágicas De Gerénia
B5.   Pesquisa & Fuga
B6.   Coração Já Repousavas... (IV)
B7.   Gloria In Excesis Aquae
B8.   Senhora Partem Tão Tristes
B9.   Coração Já Repousavas... (Reprise)

Chorus – Coro De Santo Amaro De Oeiras
Clarinet – Sílvio Pleno
Drums – Luís Desirat
Electric Bass – João Hayère
Guitar – Carlos Vitorino
Keyboards – António De Sousa Dias
Percussion – Luís Desirat
Soprano Saxophone – Jorge Egrejas
Tenor Saxophone – Jorge Egrejas
Trumpet – Virgílio Mendes
Flute – Eduardo Abreu, Jorge Egrejas, Manuel Luís Cochofel
Trombone – Carlos Simões, Ismael Santos, Luís Carvalho
Composed By – António De Sousa Dias

For this weeks 'digging deeper' we've delved into the brilliant world of cinema and soundtracks. Our friends at Carbono Record in Lisbon recently brought to our attention the awesome soundtrack to the controversial cult Portuguese Science Fiction film "Os Abismos da Meia-Noite", directed by António de Macedo in 1983. 

The film has never received a video or DVD release, but can be viewed below  - however sadly there are no subtitles available. "Os Abismos da Meia-Noite" is a trippy magical, low-fi sci-fi adventure, blending parallel worlds, ancient legends and alchemy. Director Antonio Macedo was one of a number of Portuguese filmmakers using sci-fi and fantasy as a critique of modern life, thus was always battling against the Portuguese censorship prevalent at the time. Macedo died in 2017 at the age of 86, with a career as a director spanning over four decades, with his last film ‘O Segredo das Pedras Vivas’ released in 2016. 

Originally, there were only 500 copies of the 1st edition soundtrack pressed, with a gatefold cover. A number of these (unplayed) dead stock LPs where found in a warehouse, 36 years since the film was released! Now thanks to Carbono we have can present this sought-after gem on our website. 

The soundtrack was recorded by Portuguese composer António de Sousa Dias who studied at the Lisbon Conservatory and University of Paris VIII, with an interest in jazz, electronics, musicology and computer programming. De Sousa Dias wrote many scores for cinema and TV alongside working with the theatre groups ColecViva and Opus Sic. He was appointed as a teacher of composition and electro-acoustics at the Escola Superior de Música in Lisbon.  His soundtracks and theatre scores are known to embrace a wide range of generic style but had a heavy lean to dramatic focus.

The official soundtrack for 'Os Abismos Da Meia-Noite’ has a 70’s psychedelia vibe, using elements of lush orchestrations, jazz / funk and easy listening instrumentals, alongside sonic electronics and soundscapes. De Sousa Dias is still composing soundtracks for films, documentaries and TV to this day.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Ingrid Chavez ‎– May 19, 1992 (1991)

Genre: Electronic, Rock, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Paisley Park, Warner Bros. Records

01.   Heaven Must Be Near
02.   Hippy Blood
03.   Candle Dance
04.   Elephant Box
05.   Slappy Dappy
06.   Little Mama
07.   Jadestone
08.   Wintersong
09.   Spiritual Storm
10.   Sad Puppet Dance
11.   Whispering Dandelions

Composed By – Ingrid Chavez, Levi Seacer Jr., Michael Koppelman, Paisley Park
Producer – Ingrid Chavez, Levi Seacer Jr., Michael Koppelman , Paisley Park

A história começa ainda nos oitentas, em Minneapolis. Nascida no Novo México, crescida na Georgia, Ingrid Chavez chegou a Minneapolis na segunda metade da década. Pagou as contas trabalhando num café, ao mesmo tempo que procurava um caminho na música. Prince escutou-a. Ingrid colaborou no álbum de 1988 Lovessexy, mais tarde no elenco do filme Graffiti Bridge. E pelo caminho um desafio para criarem, juntos, um álbum de poesia. Poemas de Ingrid, lidos pela sua voz, Prince ao lado, ao piano... Gravaram takes, mas o projecto acabou na gaveta. A ideia seria recuperada mais tarde, mas já sem Prince como co-protagonista, a edição do álbum fazendo-se contudo pelo selo da sua Paisley Park Records.
Editado em 1992, May 19, 1992 (a data indicava a passagem de um ano sobre o dia em que fora tirada a fotografia usada na capa) não é contudo o álbum spoken word (com piano) que começara a nascer em estúdio algum tempo antes. É certo que o registo spoken word não abandonou o disco – basta escutar Elephant Box para o (re)descobrir. Mas da ideia inicial de um álbum de poesia, Ingrid Chavez fez nascer um álbum de pop de rara elegância, electrónicas, batidas bem desenhadas e uma contenção quase minimalista nos arranjos fazendo deste um dos mais belos (e hoje espantosamente esquecidos) dos discos de inícios dos noventas. Cruzam-se aqui vários caminhos, do paisagismo delicado dos fundos ao fulgor de genética funk de algumas batidas, a voz sussurrante e doce de Ingrid Chavez conferindo-lhe uma personalidade única. Do alinhamento nasceram três singles – Elephant Box, Hippy Blood e Heaven Must Be Near – mas pouco aconteceu depois...
Ainda em 1992, e depois de colaborar na gravação de I Surrender, com David Sylvian e Ryuichi Sakamoto, casava com o primeiro e tornava-se parceira em alguns dos seus trabalhos seguintes. Projectaram um álbum que ficou na gaveta. Mas em 2010, sem alarido, Ingrid Chavez regressou aos discos, editando A Flutter And Some Words.
sound + vision / Nuno Galopim

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Squid ‎– Bright Green Field (2021)

Style: Post Rock, Post Punk, Krautrock
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Warp Records

01.   Resolution Square
02.   G.S.K.
03.   Narrator
04.   Boy Racers
05.   Paddling
06.   Documentary Filmmaker
07.   2010
08.   The Flyover
09.   Peel St.
10.   Global Groove
11.   Pamphlets

Producer – Daniel Carey

The word “island” is usually synonymous with “paradise”—someplace tropical and warm, skewered by beach umbrellas. We’re less likely to think of Alcatraz. But when English rock band Squid mention a “concrete island” in the first minutes of Bright Green Field, it’s closer to the infamous prison than a Sandals resort. The isle in “G.S.K.” is a dystopian slab ruled by Big Pharma, and the record’s opening scene, as shouted by drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge, confines us to this grim locale: “As the sun sets, on the Glaxo Klein/Well it’s the only way that I can tell the time,” he sings. On this barren rock, the British drug conglomerate is the towering center of daily life—so big, it acts like a sundial. “Island” never sounded so angry or claustrophobic.

Bright Green Field is packed with these moments of compression—lean phrases that steadily inflate into three-dimensional scenes. Driving their expansion are vigorous and detailed arrangements, music that rattles against Judge’s agitated lyrics until it erupts. A sickly undercurrent of strings propels his role as a white-collar drudge on “G.S.K.”; when he embarks on his evening commute, dreaming of the warm dinner that awaits, the music seems to pursue him. The horn section sounds like a fleet of motorbikes trying to run him off of the road.

Squid’s music has always toyed with discomfort. Six years after forming at college in coastal England, Judge, Louis Borlase, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell, and Anton Pearson have pushed that unrest to the point of catharsis. Like Squid’s best singles—last year’s “Sludge,” 2019’s “Houseplants”—the songs on Bright Green Field set out on one course, only to flail in another direction just as you’ve settled in. “Boy Racers” kicks off as a linear groove, its noodling bassline and clipped rhythm guitar among the album’s more pared-back arrangements. Roughly halfway through, the beat drops out, giving way to a bleak, distorted drone. A faint mechanical voice speaks, like Daft Punk with a dead battery: “You’re always small/And there are things that you’ll never know.” It’s unnerving but effective, like the moment in Alien when we discover Ash is really a robot.

Squid approach their music like skilled choreographers; though every move is carefully plotted, the dance maintains the illusion of spontaneity. Each track feels on the verge of some massive release, but all meltdowns are carefully preordained. “Narrator,” the album’s best song, exemplifies the band’s calculated pandemonium. Its opening measures recall early Talking Heads and James Chance: Quick ripples of electric guitar and sharp basslines squiggle on top of a crisp snare beat. But it’s the abandonment of this structure that’s most interesting. At the song’s midpoint, guest vocalist Martha Skye Murphy slowly creeps in, lingering around the edges. As Squid explode into a frenzied coda, Murphy wails her voice raw, shrieking like a slasher-flick victim. It’s the album’s most exhilarating stretch of sound.

Like magpies, Squid stockpile scraps of jazz, funk, krautrock, dub, and punk, uninterested in adopting a single identity. Their genre agnosticism extends to equipment: In addition to drums, bass, and guitar, Bright Green Field’s sense of disorientation is aided by alto saxophone, violin, trumpet, cello, trombone, and rackett—a 16th-century wind instrument also known as the sausage bassoon. (Leadbetter’s father, who specializes in medieval rock and Renaissance instruments, handles sausage bassoon duties on “Boy Racers.”) Even amid all these choices, Squid’s spinouts are orchestrated stunts, never heady jam-band accidents. More than a canonized style, it’s their level of control that sets them apart.

Yet Squid’s characters and the world they inhabit are in constant friction. On “Global Groove,” Judge deadpans about wearing “tight Lycra,” trudging through the day like a weary Zumba instructor. The pace is a narcotized march, nudged along by stabs of guitar and saxophone. The song offers only a few visuals: mindless TV shows, the oppressive titular dance. Is it a wry take on fitness culture, or sheer drudgery? (The two haven’t always been distinct: Treadmills were once instruments of penal discipline.) “Pamphlets” twists another innocuous item into a symbol of suffocating conformity: “Pamphlets through my door/And pamphlets on my floor,” Judge screeches, as though he’s being crushed by the leaflets blasting through his mail slot. Bright Green Field is filled with these imaginative dispatches from capitalist hell, but it’s Squid’s exacting ruckus that exposes their true nature. The field isn’t green with grass, but radioactive sludge.
Madison Bloom / Pitchfork

Thursday, 22 July 2021

DJ Sprinkles ‎– Midtown 120 Blues (2009)

Style: Deep House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mule Musiq

01.   Midtown 120 Intro
02.   Midtown 120 Blues
03.   Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)
04.   Brenda's $20 Dilemma
05.   House Music Is Controllable Desire You Can Own
06.   Sisters, I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To
07.   Reverse Rotation
08.   Grand Central, Pt. I (Deep Into The Bowel Of House)
09.   Grand Central, Pt. II (72 Hrs. By Rail From Missouri)
10.   The Occasional Feel-Good

Producer, Written-By – T. Thaemlitz

There's a contradiction at the core of Terre Thaemlitz's album as DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues, that is difficult to resolve. The album, a treatise on house music, goes lengths to debunk the myth that house music is/was an all-accepting, pan-cultural utopia—that house music is for everyone. She does this, however, while offering up a deep house sound so sumptuous and inviting that it's easy to lose Thaemlitz's socio-political motives: a Trojan horse whose trap-door gets stuck. Midtown 120 Blues is being reissued, in deluxe packaging but with no additional or altered music, after just five years, though the record's scarcity and limited reach justify that decision.

Thaemlitz is best known as an experimental, electro-acoustic composer, and she has released difficult, conceptual works for labels like Mille Plateaux since the mid-90s. (With 2012's Soulnessless, she claimed to have released the longest-ever album, anchored by a 29-hour piano meditation.) In the early '90s, before she was releasing experimental works, Thaemlitz worked as a DJ in the type of midtown clubs that defined Times Square before it was corporatized later in the decade. These formative spaces gave a home to the different strains of house music emanating from New Jersey and New York, a sound more contemplative than that which was coming out of Chicago: slower, jazzier, more reflective. It was music made and then defined by disadvantaged communities: by latinos and blacks and the LGBT community.

Thaemlitz has produced house music under a number of different aliases, but the deconstructivist instincts that dominate her experimental works aren't as dominant here. Midtown 120 Blues travels familiar territory, working through lived-in hi-hat patterns and familiar, calming electric piano chords. It helps the medicine go down easier, sure, but there's not that much medicine. You get the sense that this style is so dear to Thaemlitz that she's less willing to fuck with it, at least on a sonic level. Midtown 120 Blues, at nearly 80 minutes, is almost womb-like in its immersion, though Thaemlitz rejects the idea of the club as a healing, safe space. You don't "lose yourself" in Midtown 120 Blues; it's a reflection on feeling lost.

Thaemlitz began documenting this scene in 1998, shortly after those clubs were elbowed out of downtown, with the Sloppy 42nds 12", her first work under the DJ Sprinkles alias. Midtown 120 Blues again took this baton a decade later, chronicling the turbulence and violation that existed in Thaemlitz's communities; it's an album that seethes, however prettily, as Thaemlitz laces her patient, supple grooves with short speeches.

One poignant segment of "Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)" finds her railing against Madonna, whose "decontextualized, reified, corporatized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized pop reflection" of the vogue scene not only misrepresented the scene's origins but left the queen "who actually taught [Madonna] how to vogue" broke. Thaemlitz is a compelling speaker, and the hurt and anger in her voice is obvious; she's also deft enough to let the preachers, whom she often samples, do the preaching. Midtown 120 Blues feels far more personal than political.

Midtown 120 Blues is a remembrance, but it's also a travelogue, loosely documenting Thaemlitz's move from her childhood home in Missouri and her immersion in midtown's scene. "Grand Central, Pt. II (72 hrs. by Rail from Missouri)" functions largely like the KLF's Chill Out, organizing samples into an ambient collage that holds your attention even as it drifts for eight minutes. Moments like these feel like a salve for Jesse Jackson, who burns through his (sampled) vocal chords on "Sisters, I Don't Know What This World is Coming To" and the nervous, pendulous piano of "House Music Is Controllable Desire You Can Own".

Like punk music, house music was an underground phenomenon that offered an outlet to people who really needed an outlet. And like punk music, its history is romanticized to the point that the ills and misdeeds that still permeated the community are largely ignored. In the mid-'90s Thaemlitz was fired from a prominent DJ gig because she refused to play Gloria Estefan, a frequent request from the johns who would frequent the club; the johns, after all, kept the club open.

Thaemlitz quit, exhibiting the kind of principled stubbornness that has guided her career. This persists: Midtown 120 Blues will not be issued on vinyl, a medium unable to provide an accurate stereo bass response. Still, there's a fondness to Midtown 120 Blues, not least in its closing shuffle, "The Occaional Feel-Good". There is love here, however guarded. At its best, Midtown 120 Blues simultaneously acts as a corrective to house's ahistorical narrative and reminds us just how potent and beautiful New York deep house can be.
Andrew Gaerig / Pitchfork

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Black Midi ‎– Cavalcade (2021)

Style: Experimental, Art Rock, Math Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Rough Trade

1.   John L
2.   Marlene Dietrich
3.   Chondromalacia Patella
4.   Slow
5.   Diamond Stuff
6.   Dethroned
7.   Hogwash and Balderdash
8.   Ascending Forth

John Murphy - Producer
Marta Salogn - Mixing, Producer, Programming

Black Midi have always maintained that they’ll never reach a final form. Though their debut album ‘Schlagenheim’ put them at the vanguard of British guitar music, and NME labelled them the “best band in London” before they’d even released a single, there was never any chance of the band settling into a predictable sound. “If we kept on doing the same stuff, we’d quit the band,” they said in a 2019 interview.

Even with this knowledge, the band’s second album ‘Cavalcade’ is a remarkable left turn. Across the album’s eight songs and 40 minutes, they traverse noise rock, unhinged jazz, ambient folk and beyond. Their claim in a past interview that their music would soon be “unrecognisable” from their initial form suddenly doesn’t seem so ridiculous. A band who defy expectation at every turn, the only predictable thing about Black Midi is that they’ll never stay the same.

Despite sounding lightyears away from traditional guitar music, the band’s original make-up – two guitars, bass, drums and vocals – at least appeared uniform to look at. On ‘Cavalcade’, the band – now a trio for the foreseeable future, with guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin taking time out for mental health reasons – change this up too, adding saxophone, violin and more to the mix, all contributing to the maelstrom of noise they whip up across its length.

They’re also clearly not averse to inviting others into their process. A new ‘golden ticket’ competition launched alongside the release of new single ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ contains a prize of collaborating with the band for a day in the studio (or life-long guestlist to their shows, or for the band to perform at an event of your choosing – they’re nothing if not flexible).

Squalls of violin open the album on ‘John L’, a deranged war cry of a first single. It periodically screeches to a halt before galloping away once again; unpredictability rules on a track that feels like a runaway train. Controlled moments do appear on ‘Cavalcade’ – ‘Diamond Stuff’ is a gorgeously delicate wonderland of soft strings and acoustic guitars, while ‘Marlene Dietrich’, a song about the titular cabaret singer, honours her craft and turns Black Midi into a bar band for a moment, with vocalist Geordie Greep their crooning frontman.

‘Slow’, another highlight, feels plucked from a jam session, where the band rise and fall as one through a skittish introduction that travels through a mystical midsection before coming to a head once again in a jazz-influenced explosion of noise defined by its jubilant saxophone. Then there’s ‘Hogwash and Balderdash’, which screeches to a halt after its introduction of frantic noise rock to float away in its new guise as a country song. Almost as if realising what’s just happened, the band then handbrake turn back into a whirlpool of blackened guitars. If you don’t need a lie down after this one, you’re stronger than us.

Frontman Geordie Greep’s vocals have been a standout feature of Black Midi since the band’s inception, his truly unique yelp pushing them even further away from any comparison to their peers. As with the music on ‘Cavalcade’, he manages to stretch his voice into unchartered territory here. On ‘Dethroned’, he gets close to crooner territory again, adding melody to the dissonance, while half way through ‘John L’, vocal effects make his booming voice sound like a master leading a war chant in The Lord Of The Rings.

Greep’s lyrical content also takes huge strides forward on the new album. Intent on telling theatrical third-person stories, the album tells tales of unhinged cult leaders (‘John L’), “an ancient corpse found in a diamond mine” (‘Diamond Stuff’) and much, much more. The lyrics – when they’re intelligible, at least – add yet another layer of weirdness and unpredictability to music already shaking at its foundations, ready to fall apart. (Greep wasn’t ever really singing platitudes, though – debut single ‘bmbmbm’ spoke of people who “find different ways to suck themselves off”.)

With regards to where Black Midi might go next, ‘Cavalcade’ poses far more questions than it does answers (as did ‘Schlagenheim’). One thing emphatically confirmed, though, is that they’re miles beyond the flash-in-the-pan buzz band some pre-emptively penned them as. Whatever form, sound or shape they might gravitate towards next, it’s certain that they’re here to stay, and their intense fire shows no danger of burning out.

Black Midi will almost definitely never make easily digestible or understandable music – they’re probably as excited and confused about where they’re heading next as we are – but to focus on the finer points and try to make sense of it would be to miss the overall point of the band. Simply going down the rabbit hole with these deeply weird, brilliant musicians will never be less than exhilarating.
Will Richards / NME