Tuesday, 31 July 2018

SPK ‎– Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers (1986)

Style: Industrial, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Side Effects, Normal

A1  Invocation (To Secular Heresies)
A2  Palms Crossed In Sorrow
A3  Romanze In Moll (Romance In A Minor Key)
A4  In The Dying Moments
B1  In Flagrante Delicto (Introduction)
B2  In Flagrante Delicto
B3  Alocasia Metallica
B4  Necropolis
B5  The Garden Of Earthly Delights

Graeme Revell - Composer, Engineer, Multi Instruments, Producer
Sinan - Voices
Brian Lustmord - Supervisor

SPK was the electronic/industrial/ambient brainchild of Graeme Revell - now known for his soundtrack music for numerous films and television programs. His sense of composition and orchestration (and I don't use that word in the traditional sense...) which are apparent in his current work have been present all along, to which this recording, originally released in 1986, will testify. This music is played/constructed/composed with creative brilliance and genius - there are many contemporary artists that owe a great debt to his pioneering work, and much of what passes for innovation in this genre doesn't hold a candle to this. 
Revell utilizes all sorts of sounds - keyboards, orchestral instruments, percussion, ethnic instruments from around the world, voices (including solo voices recorded specifically for this music, as well as altered recordings of choirs and altered and looped voices from primitive culture rituals), found sounds (ambience from a railway yard, clanking chains, printing factory noises, a child's swing, sheet metal) and recordings from nature (toads, crows), mixing them not at random, but with precision and skill and emotion, to form a cohesive whole that is nothing short of astonishing. The resulting music has elements of the sacred as well as the profane - it is darkness and light, possessed of a heavenly beauty and gut-wrenching power, subtle and overt. The loveliness of many passages will bring tears to the eyes - and a chill to the spine. 
Some of the notes from the CD insert are revelatory - a quote from Wellesz (from BYZANTINE MUSIC AND HYMNOGRAPHY) portrays Byzantium as `...the centre of civilization...' for Europe during the Dark Ages, `...and it now laid the foundation for the music of Christendom through a fusion of elements, religious and secular, eastern and western.' The image is an apt one - this recording is itself a blend of sounds from all over the world, an audio lens through which Revell shines the light of diverse cultures and belief systems, illuming the mind of the listener. There is also a verse quoted from `Byzantium' by W. B. Yeats, which expresses some of the mood of this album: 
`...by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
in glory of changeless metal
common bird or petal,
and all complexities of mire or blood.' 
The instruments (include in that definition: taped sounds) on this recording are played by Revell - the voices are by Sinan (who also appears on earlier SPK releases), Jan Thornton, and the Choir of the Russian Old Orthodox Church of the Holy Annunciation-Assumption of Sydney, Australia. There are voices that sound like they were recorded in perhaps Bali or Vietnam that have been made into loops - and Revell has done this with great care, preserving the rhythm of the lines sung so that the layers he has added contribute to that rhythm and feeling, rather than clash with it. Several of the tracks have an obvious influence of the Balinese gamelan orchestras, as well. 
The mood changes from track to track, from section to section of each piece - but it does so logically, never jarring the listener. It's easy to experience to this in a `trusting' way, allowing the composer/performer to lift the listener and pull him/her along on this journey. As some of the titles reflect, there is darkness to be found here - but there is also much light. This is a stunning sonic document.
 Larry L. Looney / amazon.com

Nels Cline ‎– Lovers (2016)

Style: Contemporary Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Blue Note

1-01.   Introduction / Diaphanous
1-02.    Glad To Be Unhappy
1-03.    Beautiful Love
1-04.   Hairpin & Hatbox
1-05.   Cry, Want
1-06.   Lady Gabor
1-07.   The Bed We Made
1-08.   You Noticed
1-09.   Secret Love
1-10.   I Have Dreamed
2-01.   Why Was I Born?
2-02.   Invitation
2-03.   It Only Has To Happen Once
2-04.   The Night Porter / Max, Mon Amour
2-05.   Snare, Girl
2-06.   So Hard It Hurts / Touching
2-07.   The Search For Cat
2-08.   The Bond (For Yuka)

Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar – Julian Lage
Bass Clarinet, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone – Douglas Wieselman
Bassoon – Sara Schoenbeck
Celesta, Synthesizer – Yuka C Honda
Cello – Erik Friedlander, Maggie Parkins
Clarinet [Bb Clarinet], Alto Saxophone – Gavin Templeton
Contra-Alto Clarinet, Clarinet – Ben Goldberg
Contrabass, Bass Guitar – Devin Hoff
Drums, Percussion – Alex Cline
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar, Effects – Nels Cline
Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Clarinet, Alto Clarinet, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone – JD Parran
Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet – Charles Pillow
Harp – Zeena Parkins
Trombone, Bass Trombone – Alan Ferber
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cimbalom, Celesta – Michael Leonhart
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Valve Trombone – Taylor Haskins
Trumpet, Trumpet (Slide Trumpet), Flugelhorn, Alto Horn – Steven Bernstein
Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion – Kenny Wollesen
Viola – Stephanie Griffin
Violin – Antoine Silverman, Jeff Gauthier
Violin, Viola – Amy Kimball

Fans of Nels Cline are accustomed to his adaptability. After starting his career in jazz’s progressive currents—and playing alongside saxophonist Julius Hemphill—the guitarist later became a member of Wilco, starting with Sky Blue Sky. He’s also maintained a feverish schedule as a solo artist: participating in improv-noise summits with Thurston Moore and recording an album with the fusionists in Medeski, Martin & Wood. 
Still, ardent followers of this guitarist may be unprepared for his latest reinvention. Romantic “mood music” isn’t what most listeners expect from him—even if refined, soft-touch playing has long been one aspect of his overall sound. On his 2xCD debut for the Blue Note label, Cline has delivered a chamber-orchestra set that’s notable for relying on some “Great American Songbook” standards by the likes of Jerome Kern and Rodgers & Hammerstein. 
This isn’t a setup for some punkish deconstruction, either. The album starts off with a quarter-hour that sounds surprisingly straight-ahead. (Even the adventurous touches in the early going can be traced back to Gil Evans, Miles Davis’ sometime big-band arranger). Cline and his talented supporting musicians play “Glad to Be Unhappy” without any hint of camp—instead endeavoring to treat familiar themes with tenderness. Outside of those performances, the album offers some pensive Cline originals, as well as covers that wouldn’t normally be assigned to a “standards” group. 
It’s this final batch of songs that gives Lovers an edge. The inclusion of pieces by experimentalist Arto Lindsay and Third Stream saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre honors Cline’s diverse fascinations, yet what's more interesting is the way that Cline makes these compositions seem like natural extensions of a program that also includes music by Henry Mancini. After Cline and his band have moved on from Tin Pan Alley in order to visit No Wave New York, the “for lovers only” feel is maintained. The orchestra’s performances may briefly include rougher attacks, though not to such a degree that the album’s conceit is ever risked. 
Much credit for this unusual achievement is due to conductor and arranger Michael Leonhart—as well as to the cast of contemporary-music ringers that Cline has assembled for his backing ensemble. Harpist Zeena Parkins, cellist Erik Friedlander, and keyboardist Yuka Honda are all familiar to frequenters of America’s experimental music venues, though you’ve rarely heard them as restrained as they are on Lovers. 
Initially, this can feel like a waste of good avant power. But over the course of the album, the benefits become clear. Leonhart’s arrangement of the melody to Sonic Youth’s “Snare, Girl,” goes well with the mournful lyricism of Rodgers’s “I Have Dreamed.” And a droning, exploratory version of Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo’s “Lady Gabor” winds up sharing a sound-world with Lindsay’s Ambitious Lovers track “It Only Has To Happen Once.” 
Cline’s guitar playing delights in this parade of upset expectations, too—sounding dirtier in Kern’s “Why Was I Born?” than during the various resettings of modernist rock. He plays lap steel during “Dreamed,” and swings amiably on other vintage cuts like “Beautiful Love” and “Secret Love.” The only task he doesn’t quite pull off is the composition of original themes that stand with the classics he’s selected. Almost half of the first CD is made up of Cline originals, and these pale a bit in comparison with the surrounding material. Though thanks to its sly and measured embrace of the experimental, Lovers still has all the originality it needs to endear.
Seth Colter Walls / Pitchfork

The Durutti Column ‎– LC (1981)

Style: Abstract, Indie Rock, Post-Punk
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Factory

01.   Sketch For Dawn I
02.   Portrait For Frazer
03.   Jacqueline
04.   Messidor
05.   Sketch For Dawn II
06.   Never Known
07.   The Act Committed
08.   Detail For Paul
09.   The Missing Boy
10.   The Sweet Cheat Gone
Related Works
11.   For Mimi
12.   Belgian Friends
13.   Self Portrait
14.   One Christmas For Your Thoughts
15.   Danny
16.   Enigma

Credits: Martin Hannett - Producer Bruce Mitchell - Percussion Vini Reilly - Composer, Guitar, Keyboards, Producer, Writer

After some abortive collaborations, Reilly hooked up with a regular drummer, talented fellow Mancunian Bruce Mitchell, to create LC, Durutti's second full release. Self-produced by Reilly but bearing the unmistakable hints of his earlier work with Martin Hannett, LC, named after a bit of Italian graffiti, extends Reilly's lovely talents ever further, resulting in a new set of evocative, carefully played and performed excursions on electric guitar. Mitchell's crisp but never overly dominant drumming actually starts the record off via "Sketch for Dawn I," added to by a simply captivating low series of notes from Reilly that builds into a softly triumphant melodic surge, repeating a core motif again and again. His piano playing adds a perfect counterpart, while the final touch are his vocals -- low speak-singing that sounds utterly appropriate in context, mixed low and capturing the emotional flavor at play via delivery rather than lyrical content. As great as Return is, this is perhaps even better, signaling a full flowering of Reilly's talents throughout the album. Mitchell proves him time and again to be in perfect sync with Reilly, adding gentle brio and understated variation to the latter's compositions. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "The Missing Boy," the album's unquestioned highlight. Written in memory of Ian Curtis of Joy Division, on it Mitchell adds quick, sudden hits contrasting against the low, tense atmosphere of the song, while fragile piano notes and Reilly's own regret-tinged, yearning vocals complete the picture. For all the implicit melancholy in Durutti's work, there's a surprising amount of life and energy throughout -- "Jaqueline" is perhaps the standout, with a great central melody surrounded by the expected Reilly elaborations and additions in the breaks. As with the rest of Durutti's mid-'90s reissues, the expanded version of LC appears full to the brim with intriguing bonus tracks galore. The first three capture an abortive collaboration with another Manc drummer, funk performer Donald Johnson. A contribution to a holiday album, "One Christmas for Your Thoughts," finds Reilly back with drum machines, while the very first Reilly/Mitchell collaborations, "Danny" and "Enigma," round out this excellent release.
Ned Ragget / ALLMusic

Shri ‎– Drum The Bass (1997)

Style: Breaks, Drum n Bass, Ambient
Format: CD. Vinyl
Label: Outcaste Records

1.   Meditation
2.   Camels
3.   Village By The River
4.   Trains
5.   Inside Outside
6.   Camels (Instrumental)
7.   Before The Rain
8.   Bombay
9.   Maybe But Not Really

Sanjeev Bhasker - Vocals
Tina Grace - Vocals
JC-001 - Beatbox, Vocals
Meera Syal - Vocals
Eshan Khadaroo - Drums
Nitin Sawhney - Composer, Keyboards, Producer
Shri - Composer, Primary Artist
Dev Singh - Vocals
Shrikanth Sriram - Arranger, Composer, Liner Notes, Mixing, Producer
Mandy Parnell - Post Production

One of the rare cases in the British dance underground where an artist actually understands the ethnicities of the countries he's fusing, Shri is classically trained on the tabla, and uses his intricate knowledge of percussion to create a complex drum'n'bass outing with Indian environments.
John Bush / ALLMusic

Monday, 30 July 2018

Jazzanova ‎– The Pool (2018)

Style: Trip Hop, Breaks
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Sonar Kollektiv

01.   Now (L.O.V.E. And You & I - Part 2)
02.   Rain Makes The River
03.   Follow Your Feet
04.   No. 9
05.   Sincere
06.   Slow Rise
07.   Let's Live Well
08.   Everything I Wanted
09.   Heatwave
10.   It's Beautiful
11.   I'm Still Here
12.   Summer Keeps On Passing Me By

Jazzanova are Alex Barck, Claas Brieler, Jürgen von Knoblauch, Stefan Leisering & Axel Reinemer.

The DJ collective known as Jazzanova don't have many "proper" albums to their name. Sure, there have been many EPs and remix compilations along the way to keep the main albums company, yet the press material for Jazzanova's album The Pool states that this is their first album in ten years. It's funny to imagine that an album like the live-in-studio Funkhaus Studio Sessions, which I very much enjoyed, doesn't appear to count in the long run! Any way you choose to look at it, The Pool is very much a worthy follow-up to Of All Things and can take its rightful place alongside any other classic album of the electro-crossover persuasion. 
Stefan Leisering, Alex Barck, Claas Brieler, Axel Reinemer, and Jürgen von Knoblauch have never strictly stuck to any one genre because, back in their early days, they weren't sure what they were going to create. As time rolled along, old-fashioned soul, R&B, and modern hip-hop had no problem cozying up to electronic dance pop or anything remotely "jazz" related in Jazzanova's world. This time around, the flagship single from The Pool "Rain Makes the River" could eerily pass for Portishead. "If rain makes the river / Rain needs to fall," Rachel Sermanni coos in a voice that barely registers in a mix stuffed with hypnotic trip-hop samples and soft horns. Two tracks later, we're in Gorillaz territory as KPTN tags slightly extended drawls at the end of his phrases on "No. 9". The odd thing is, when you're listening to The Pool, a stylistic shift from "Rain Makes the River to "No. 9" (which samples the Beatles's "Revolution 9", in case you were wondering) doesn't feel the slightest bit jarring.

This isn't hard to believe. Jazzanova have been honing their niche "thing" for more than 20 years now. To have at least 11 different guest vocalists appear on a 51-minute album without it sounding like a badly jumbled amateur mixtape is a special skill, not to mention a subtle one. Good songs and professional performances help, too. The easy-going and soulful "Let's Live Well" is a highlight thanks to Jamie Cullum's smooth melody. Pete Josef's pop-friendly tenor keeps "Follow Your Feet" light. Paul Randolph, who sang on the ruthlessly magnetic single "I Human" from Funkhaus returns for "It's Beautiful", which holds the catchy cards close to the chest while playing all the abstract, moody ones. My personal favorite could be the last word, "Summer Keeps on Passing Me By" featuring Ben Westbeech. It swiftly swings on a waltz beat, chugging over an electric piano, never giving in to modern R&B clichés. 
To be perfectly honest, I didn't think that an outfit like Jazzanova was capable of making an album like The Pool. I knew they were good, but I wasn't aware that they were this good. Each track can survive on its own in the wild. Together within one album, and it's an unstoppable force. I don't know how they did it -- and I doubt that Jazzanova are all that confident on how they did it either -- but they have made a classic with The Pool.
John Garratt / popMATTERS

Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society ‎– Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society (2017 )

Style: Ambient, Experimental
Format: CD
Label: Six Degrees

1.   Blue Filter
2.   Cloudface
3.   Half Light
4.   Sine Language
5.   St. Tropez 1966
6.   Ride Under Trees
7.   The Scent Of Rain

Garry Hughes - Composer, Keyboards, Sleeve Photo, Synthesizer, Treatments
Harvey Jones - Composer, Keyboards, Synthesizer, Treatments
Bob Katz - Mastering

Music industry veterans Garry Hughes and Harvey Jones have crossed paths several times before, but Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society is their first full-scale collaboration. The duo intriguingly named the project in tribute to the British sonic innovator best known for her groundbreaking work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, including the original theme to Dr. Who, recorded in 1963. However, the DDAS moniker is somewhat misleading, as the pair's debut album isn't nearly as eerie or playful as Derbyshire's work, and definitely nowhere near as weird as An Electric Storm by White Noise, an absolutely brilliant experimental pop album from the late '60s that Derbyshire played a major part in creating. Instead, DDAS sound much closer to the serene ambient recordings of Brian Eno (with or without Robert Fripp) as well as '90s ambient techno artists such as Pete Namlook. Both Hughes and Jones are avid collectors of vintage synthesizers, and here they pool their resources for seven original compositions. Considering that Jones resides in New York City and Hughes lives in Wales, the collaboration feels seamless and natural rather than pieced together through the mail or over the internet. There are no beats on the album, but there's still plenty of lightly pulsating rhythms. Opener "Blue Filter" seems to calmly dance its way in, punctuated by deep bass plunges and warm, scattered arpeggios. Some pieces like "Half Light" are more free and drifting, and also somewhat darker. They also contain slightly warped textures that signify the analog nature of their recording. The most light-spirited moment is "St. Tropez 1966," which features layers of softly bubbling, melodic textures and a general feeling of dazed cheerfulness. "Ride Under Trees" starts out smooth and new age-y, with plenty of crystalline synths and reversed bell-like tones, but it ends up being almost overwhelming as it becomes flooded with swerving bass and sweeping filters. The release is an enjoyable effort that never seems to take itself too seriously.
Paul Simpson / ALLMusic

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Delia Derbyshire / Barry Bermange ‎– Inventions For Radio: The Dreams (2014)

Style: Experimental
Format: Vinyl
Label: Psychic Sounds

A1.   Running
A2.   Land
A3.   Falling
B4.   Sea
B5.   Colour

"Dreams" was made in collaboration with Barry Bermange (who originally recorded the narrations). Bermange put together The Dreams (1964), a collage of people describing their dreams, set to a background of electronic sound. Dreams is a collection of spliced/reassembled interviews with people describing their dreams, particularly recurring elements. The program of sounds and voices attempts to represent, in five movements, some sensations of dreaming: running away, falling, landscape, underwater, and colour.

A real treat for Delia's legion of fans here. "Dreams" was originally made in collaboration with Barry Bermange and broadcast on BBC Radio's "Third Programme" on 05-01-1964. Quite what the listening public made of it, I can't imagine, as even today it's a strangely beautiful, but nightmarish proposition, with a slow, spooky atmosphere that immediately made me think of "Carnival of Souls". 
Bermange recorded a selection of typically well-spoken, upper crust sounding members of the English public describing their uncomfortable, claustrophobic dreams, in a calm monotone which hints at the coiled mania beneath. David Lynch would love both the delivery, and the surreal depth of detail here. 
These recordings were then spliced and reassembled, with excellent use of repetition to build tension, with Derbyshire providing suitably nightmarish electronic soundscapes that accentuate the feeling of mounting terror. Those who are fans of her eerie Doctor Who work will feel right at home here, although this is creepier than anything the Beeb would have allowed on their flagship kid's sci-fi show. 
It's riveting stuff, presented in five themed movements. "Falling" is a particular revelation, full of edge of the seat moments, with a deliberately slow pace that racks up the tension to unbearable levels.
Word is unfortunately, that this vinyl release is a bootleg, and that it's sourced from 256k mp3s. It sounds like it may well be, unfortunately; it's certainly not an ideal situation, but given its relatively lo-fi origins, it doesn't suffer too much from this treatment. While I'm loathe to support this sort of venture, it's historical importance, coupled with the unlikeliness of an official release anytime soon (or indeed, ever) make this a no-regrets purchase for me, and should an official release eventuate, a re-buy is a certainty. 
An essential addition to your Radiophonic collection.
Nathan Ford  / The Active Listener 

Coil ‎– Love's Secret Domain (1991)

Style: Techno, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label:  Wax Trax! Records

01.   Disco Hospital
02.   Teenage Lightning 1
03.   Things Happen
04.   The Snow
05.   Dark River
06.   Where even The Darkness Is Something To See
07.   Teenage Lightning 2
08.   Windowpane
09.   Further Back And Faster
10.   Titan Arch
11.   Chaostrophy
12.   Lorca Not Orca
13.   Love's Secret Domain

Didgeridoo – Cyrung (tracks: 5, 6, 9)
Guitar [Spanish] – Juan Ramirez (tracks: 5, 7, 12)
Producer – Coil, Danny Hyde
Programmed By [Additional], Engineer – Danny Hyde

Coil is possibly the most overlooked electronic act in recent memory. Throughout their whole career they’ve pushed boundaries in so many strange ways, and while not all results were positive they allowed the room to re-distinguish what music could become. In turn, Love’s Secret Domain’s appeal has nothing to do with its dynamic instrumentation or its eclectic styles throughout the songs. The fact that makes this such an interesting album is merely detail. Naturally since this came out during the great electronic revolution they pertained to certain relevant aspects such as rhythmic foundations, but also include an almost scary amount of other influences, such as jazz-fusion, post-gothic, and even some literary citations. The record is meant to be taken almost ironically just by the title Love’s Secret Domain (LSD), but there’s so many other levels of philosophy and ambience that you literally have no idea where the record is going. Now, is this a bad thing, or merely a musical experiment of social/unspoken dialect" 
Just like with any experiment it works both ways. Disco Hospital opens the record with nothing more than a collection of noises on a mixing board, but flows right into Teenage Lightning, Pt. 1, a very…very strange composition of buzzes, bangs, and twangs randomly landing over a consistent rhythm melody. If you weren’t confused enough, Things Happen introduces Annie Anxiety, a stage actor from New York, in a completely dazed yet nonchalant spoken-word performance over a mid-tempo, nightmarish theme that completely alters the tone from the first two tracks. The album loves to take sudden turns like this in order to cover a vast amount of ground in terms of emotions and topics and ideas, which is immediately obvious if you were to compare The Snow, essentially a frigid dance track consisting of what you would expect, as well as a consistency of ever-evolving layers and samples, to Dark River, a very hollow ambient piece, or to Windowpane, a vocal-driven modulation of world music influence.  
From the reference to The Divine Comedy in Titan Arch to the pseudo-philosophy rant about a demented view of love from the title track to the complete circle back to the lightness of Teenage Lighting, Pt. 2, it’s not necessarily apparent whether or not the album is meant to be taken in a linear way. Does the song order deal with a stream-of-consciousness concept of what goes through one’s head when evolving into one who loves or becomes loveless, or even a path where cohesiveness is just too weird to make the concept fit" This isn’t meant for a few listens before you move on to something else, you really have to delve into this record to make your own story of what the purpose is to you because frankly that’s probably why the band made it so vague and out of balance. It wasn’t meant to make sense because the concept they’re tackling doesn’t make sense. Obviously, like previously mentioned, some parts just don’t work in their method, such as Further Back And Faster’s 8-minute trek of percussion tracks or Chaostrophy’s lack of identity, however the soul of the record never cracks into useless convolution of other principles. If you want a record that needs to grow into you, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something anything else as strangely, neurotically, or overwhelmingly ensnaring.
fireaboveicebelow / sputnik music 

Tangents ‎– New Bodies (2018)

Style: Post Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Temporary Residence Limited

1.   Lake George
2.   Terracotta
3.   Arteries
4.   Immersion
5.   Gone To Ground
6.   Swells Under Tito
7.   Oort Cloud

Peter Hollo - Cello, Effects
Ollie Bown - Arranger, Computers, Producer, Sampling, Synthesizer
Evan Dorrian - Drum Set, Keyboards, Percussion, Voices
Adrian Klumpes - Arranger, Fender Rhodes, Piano, Prepared Piano, Vibraphone
Shoeb Ahmad - Guitar (Bass), Guitar (Electric), Sleigh Bells
Casey Rice - Mastering
Richard Belkner - Engineer, Mixing

At some point during the first three albums by Australian instrumental quintet Tangents, you’re bound to get a bit breathless. Tangents don’t write songs so much as they create little worlds, each one a microcosm teeming with separate but symbiotic ideas, like samples of fertile soil viewed under a microscope. An unorthodox ensemble of keyboards, drums, bells, cello, effects, and electronics, they front-load their pieces with varied sounds: bits of warm folk melody and cold string drone, buoyant trip-hop rhythm and tessellated gamelan percussion. It’s easy to feel buried beneath all these elements or swept away in their inevitable landslide. 
On Tangents’ 2013 debut, I, my breathless moment came early, when drummer Evan Dorrian climbed atop a cello-and-circuits din to dance with his kit; on 2016’s Stateless, it was the rising action of “N-Mission,” when drums and electronics coiled repeatedly around a loping pizzicato cello line, teasing a deliverance that never came. Their fourth and best album, New Bodies, overflows with these sensations—of being overpowered and delighted, of being buoyed up and washed away by Tangents’ seemingly endless ideas. 
Tangents began as a strictly improvisational ensemble, recording their first two records in single sittings. I documents the first time they ever played together. But for Stateless, they elected to edit that spontaneous energy, clipping and rearranging their improvisations into sophisticated, interconnected pieces. On “Oberon,” they summoned the slow, accretive approach of Australian instrumental elders the Necks, while “N-Mission” recalls the way Four Tet uses florid little themes as the anchors for rising rhythms. But the album sometimes came off as too scripted and fastidious, sucking the early improvisational air from the editing room. 
The band takes a similar compositional approach to the seven pieces on New Bodies, but that lost beginners’ energy has returned and even grown. “Immersion” again evokes the Necks, but this time you feel as if you’re in the room with Tangents, lifted in real time as their controlled commotion rises. Serene closer “Oort Cloud” moves like a daydream, with whispering electronics and persistent piano suggesting a minor breeze that rustles the hair on your arms. It is lovely and carefully constructed music that also feels casual and conversational. If you didn’t know these were edits of improvisations, you might assume they were simply remarkable, complicated compositions. 
This emerging seamlessness seems to have made Tangents less self-conscious, too. They’ve started to shed their preference for compositional austerity or coolness. “Swells Under Tito” is the most outwardly joyous and funky tune in their catalog. Ebullient drums and a cello that flits between rubbery bass and restless smears lift a West African guitar line, which flashes like a roadside sign inviting you to an all-night party. The guileless tune suggests a discarded Akron/Family or Dirty Projectors demo, meticulously sculpted by a third party into its final prismatic form. During the back half of “Terracotta,” a tune that initially invokes Four Tet’s repetitive ecstasy, pianist Adrian Lim-Klumpes dips into a trio vamp with Dorrian and cellist Peter Hollo, whose plucking somehow elicits the robustness of an upright bass. The passage sounds like Keith Jarrett righteously commandeering the keys of Medeski Martin & Wood. Tangents never seemed the sort to make Saturday cookout tunes, but they sound spectacular testing the edges of their accessibility. 
Still, the most significant shift on New Bodies—and the mature move that could push Tangents beyond the realm of instrumental esoterica, like their Temporary Residence labelmates Explosions in the Sky—is a nascent emotional resonance. “Gone to Ground” hinges on the group’s technical excellence. A prepared piano rattles around a bleak landscape of distended drones and disjointed beats, alternating with sections where stately progressions sit inside the rhythms’ rests, finding a bona fide groove. But those threads tangle late in the 11-minute odyssey, forming a knot of rumbling bass, anxious percussion, and aching countermelodies. With its push and pull between rest and restlessness, “Gone to Ground” is a sophisticated musical map of ordinary frustration, complete with a requisite this-too-shall-pass comedown. 
Absorbing opener “Lake George” captures the exhaustion that follows a long-cohesive group’s split, without warning, into distinct factions. For the song’s first half, Tangents seem to drift through a reverie, with echoing guitar notes lacing around low cello and steady drums; then, the kinetic Dorrian sprints headlong while the band stands still, dismayed by the sudden departure. As the song fades into what feels like an exhalation, you might be struck by the familiarity of this kind of relationship—a situation that’s contentious to the point of collapse. For years, an emotional narrative like this one would have seemed superfluous for Tangents, a quintet devoted to technical dexterity and clarity. On New Bodies, they allow those sharpened skills to inhabit emerging human forms, a move that speaks as powerfully to the heart as it does to the brain.
Grayson Haver Currin / Pitchfork

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Woodentops ‎– Giant (1986)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Rough Trade

01.   Get It On
02.   Good Thing
03.   Give It Time
04.   Love Train
05.   Hear Me James
06.   Love Affair With Everyday Livin'
07.   So Good Today
08.   Shout
09.   History
10.   Travelling Man
11.   Last Time
12.   I Want Your Love
13.   Everything Breaks

Accordion – Jack Emblow
Bass – Frank De Freitas
Double Bass – Chucho Merchan
Drums – Benny Staples
Guitar – Simon Mawby
Keyboards – Alice Thompson
Marimba – Bob Sargeant
Strings – Danny Shogger
Trumpet – Steve Sidwell
Voice – Alice Thompson, Benny Staples, Frank De Freitas, Rolo McGinty, Simon Mawby
Producer – Bob Sargeant
Engineer – John Gallen

During the two weeks I spent working on my “1987: 20th Year Reunion” piece, I ended up digging up some music from the previous year that I used to listen to. By far my most revelatory rediscovery was The Woodentops’ Giant. I remember having the tape and playing it to death. Eventually the tape was lost, and I never found the CD, until last week, when I ordered it from Deepdiscount. Cherry Red reissued it in 2001 with four bonus tracks. Why they didn’t include all the singles is beyond me, as there isn’t a single Woodentops song from that era not worth hearing. 
Lead by Rolo McGinty, The Woodentops took bits of Suicide, The Talking Heads, XTC , Echo & the Bunnymen and especially the frenetic rhythms of The Feelies, all treated with acoustic folk, twisted with other instrumentation like marimbas, accordian and trumpet. While The Feelies also tackled acoustic guitars on their second album, The Good Earth, The Woodentops still sounded quite different. Their songs had a perfect balance of diverse experimentalism and pop hooks. Morrissey constantly talked them up at the time, which was a brave gesture, considering the strong possibility that Giant more consistently great than The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead. If it weren’t for Morrissey’s clever lyrics and two untouchable singles from that album, I’d even say Giant crushed it. So why didn’t they become huge? Probably because their magic only lasted through their debut album. They were on Rough Trade, an indie label unable to push a band without help from a string of hit singles like The Smiths had. Columbia did release the album in the U.S., but it didn’t catch on. The 1988 followup, Wooden Foot Cops On The Highway, while actually very good, wasn’t able to measure up to Giant. Thus, Giant slipped through the cracks of canonization and became a lost classic. 
I uploaded the MP3 of the first track, “Get It On,” which gives a sense of the propulsive energy of much of the album, along with “Love Train,” Hear Me James,” “Shout,” and “Travelling Man.” “Good Thing” is wonderfully original love ballad that made it onto several high school era mix tapes. The album gets better and better, peaking with “Last Time” and “Everything Breaks,” two of their most distinct songs. I desperately don’t want it to end, and the four bonus cuts collected from the Well Well Well EP provides some relief. I also downloaded the out of print singles collection (“Steady Steady” is a heavy dirge about terminal cancer, and one of their most atypical, but powerful songs) and their 1987 live album, Hypno Beat Live (where they play three times as fast! Who needs Slayer?) to extend my buzz. Amazingly, they popped up last year announcing a reunion and a tour. We should be so lucky that they come to the U.S.
A.S. Van Dorston / fastndbulbous 

Sudden Sway ‎– 76 Kids Forever (1988)

Style: Indie Rock, Avantgarde, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Rough Trade

A1.   The Phoenix Family Protection Plan
A2.   Solo - Store Detective Man
A3.   Barmy Army
A4.   So, You're Alright Then?
A5.   I've Got A Tinnitron Amusement Centre
A6.   Only A Grebo
A7.   Reverend Peter, Bio-Teacher
B1.   Once In Every Weekend
B2.   Trisha Listen
B3.   Ballad Of Brancaster
B4.   Never In Netherton
B5.   76 Kids Forever
B6.   Hush Puppy Yummy

The band was formed in 1980 by Mike McGuire (vocals) and Steve Rolls (Guitar) after disbanding 1st generation punk band The Now. They recruited Pete Jostins (Bass), Shaun Foreman (Guitar & Keyboards) and Colin Meech (Drums), with various others contributing in their early days.[1] They were initially influenced by bands such as A Certain Ratio and Shriekback.[1] Their first releases were two self-financed singles, "Jane's Third Party" and the To You, With Regard EP, in 1980 and 1981 respectively. The latter was sufficiently successful to attract major-label interest from CBS and Virgin Records, but after a further single (Traffic Tax Scheme) on their own 'Chant' label, and with guitarist Simon Childs added as a permanent member, they signed a deal with Warners subsidiary Blanco y Negro, debuting on the label in 1986 with eight versions of the single "Sing Song".[1] After releasing the Spacemate package - a double LP, book, poster, set of cards and instruction manual, packaged together in a soap box container and designed by Jon Wozencroft, the band moved on to indie label Rough Trade Records, where they would stay for the rest of their career. Their fondness for short songs was evident on their first Rough Trade release, a 7-inch EP featuring eight, 1 minute songs and titled "Autumn Cut Back Job Lot Offer", released in early 1987. The following year, they released their second album, '76 Kids Forever, which they described as a "soap opera musical". The band continued for one final effort, 1990's Ko-Opera album, before splitting up with an unreleased album (minus Simon Childs) in the can. 
The band recorded two sessions for John Peel's BBC Radio 1 programme, in 1983 (Let's Evolve, Relationships) and 1984 (A Walk in the Park, Problem-Solving Broadcasts 1-3, T Minus Tranquility), the first released as an EP in 1986.[2] They also made an appearance on Whistle Test, performing "Packet of Vacuum" , "Father I Do" and one other track , plus an appearance on C4 "Night Network" playing "Solo Store Detective Man".

Friday, 27 July 2018

Dinah Shore ‎– The Dinah Shore Collection: Columbia and RCA Recordings 1942-1948 (1999)

Style: Vocal
Format: CD
Label: Vocalion

1-01.   On A Bicycle Built For Two
1-02.   Manhattan Serenade
1-03.   You And I
1-04.   Mad About Him
1-05.   You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To
1-06.   Shoo-Fly Pie And Apple Pan Dowdy
1-07.   Coax Me A Little Bit
1-08.   Two Silhouettes
1-09.   The Gypsy
1-10.   Laughing On The Outside
1-11.   I Got Lost In His Arms
1-12.   That Little Dream Got Nowhere
1-13.   All That Glitters Is Not Gold
1-14.   Come Rain Or Come Shine
1-15.   Doin' What Comes Naturally
1-16.   You Keep Coming Back Like A Song
1-17.   I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful)
1-18.   You, So It's You!
1-19.   Who'll Buy My Violets?
1-20.   A Rainy Night In Rio
1-21.   You'll Always Be The One I Love
1-22.   Through A Thousand Dreams
1-23.   (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons
1-24.   The Kerry Dance
1-25.   Dixie
2-01.   The Thrill Is Gone
2-02.   There'll Be Some Changes Made
2-03.   Georgia On My Mind
2-04.   What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry
2-05.   Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man
2-06.   They Didn't Believe Me
2-07.   Mama, Do I Gotta?
2-08.   When Am I Gonna Kiss You Good Morning?
2-09.   Ask Anyone Who Knows
2-10.   Poppa Don't Preach To Me
2-11.   Tallahassee
2-12.   Natch!
2-13.   Tea For Two
2-14.   My Romance
2-15.   It's Delovely
2-16.   I'm Yours
2-17.   When A Woman Loves A Man
2-18.   Bill
2-19.   Crying For Joy
2-20.   In A Little Bookshop
2-21.   Love That Boy
2-22.   This Is The Moment
2-23.   Buttons And Bows
2-24.   Little White Lies
2-25.   Always True To You In My Fashion

There were many great female singers around in the 1940's but Dinah Shore was certainly one of the best as well as one of the most successful. This particular compilation begins with five early recordings from 1941 and 1942. The two 1941 tracks mean that the 1942 in the title is incorrect. The remainder of the songs were all recorded in 1946 or 1947 except the final track, which is from 1948.
The music here is of an extremely high quality and the re-mastering does justice to it. One other thing to note is that this is not a greatest hits package. Some hits are included, but if you want to collect Dinah's hits, you can find more of the Columbia hits on 16 most requested songs and its companion 16 most requested songs Encore. As I write this, the best RCA hits collection is the Taragon compilation Essential RCA recordings. I've already reviewed all three of those collections.
Among the Columbia hits included here are Buttons and bows, Shoo fly pie and apple pan dowdy, The gypsy, Doin' what comes naturally, Laughing on the outside, You keep coming back like a song and I love you for sentimental reasons. The Columbia hits omitted from this collection include Dear hearts and gentle people, Baby it's cold outside, Anniversary song, You do and I wish I didn't love you so. All these were huge American hits and it seems odd that they were omitted, but the quality of the other songs here is such that their omission doesn't really matter.
Outstanding performances of classic songs were a trademark of Dinah Shore - just listen to her singing Come rain or come shine, Georgia on my mind, Tea for two, My romance and the closing Always true to you in my fashion. Many of the recordings here are not available anywhere else. In the case of those that are, the standard of re-mastering on this collection makes it particularly desirable. Despite the absence of so many big hits, this collection provides a great introduction to the music of Dinah Shore.
Peter Durward / Amazon 

Hadley Caliman ‎– Hadley Caliman (1971)

Style: Contemporary Jazz, Post Bop, Hard Bop, Modal
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mainstream Records

A1.   Cigar Eddie
A2.   Comencio
A3.   Little One
B1.   Blues For L.L.
B2.   Kicking On The Inside
B3.   Longing

Bass – Bill Douglas
Drums – Clarence Becton
Guitar – John White Jr.
Piano – Larry Vuckovich
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Hadley Caliman
Producer – Bobby Shad
Liner Notes – Leonard Feather

Santana sideman, saxophonist/flautist Hadley Caliman is one of the great players of West Coast jazz, despite being a relative unknown. A contemporary of Harold Land and Art Farmer, a denizen of the 1950s Central Avenue scene, he didn't make his debut as a leader until this beautiful album from 1971 was issued. 
At this point Caliman had lost a decade to drugs but rediscovered his muse while he was a member of Gerald Wilson's big band in the latter 60s. He then became an in-demand session player, appearing on recordings by Bobby Hutcherson, Julian Priester and most famously on Santana's hit album Caravanserai.  
His debut LP includes the regular group with whom he played live dates in San Francisco. It features six distinctive and reflective numbers which are the very height of early 70s acoustic jazz. Caliman did not record often but when he did he made it count. This is one of the lost gems!

VA ‎– Between Or Beyond The Iron Curtain (2001)

Style: Jazz-Rock, Jazz-Funk, Fusion
Format: CD, Vinyl
Lavel: Crippled Dick Hot Wax!

01.   Wojciech Karolak - A Day In The City
02.   Gustav Brom And His Orchestra - Bounty
03.   Adam Makowicz - Drinking Song
04.   Mahagon - Divka's Jablky [Dívka S Jablky]
05.   Novi Singers - Tanczace Orzechy / Dancing Nuts
06.   Jazz Celula - Probuzeni [Probuzení]
07.   Big Band Katowice - Sorcery
08.   Martin Kratochvil's Jazz Q - A Dance [Tanec]
09.   Zbigniew Namyslowski Quartet - Mango Boogie
10.   Grupa Organowa Krzysztofa Sadowskiego - Alfa Centaura
11.   Karel Velebný And His SHQ - The Newcomer [Nový Muž]
12.   Impuls - Sextant
13.   Mahagon - Pisecne Presypy [Písečné Přesypy]
14.   Prague Big Band - Helemese / Gee Whiz [Heleme Se]
15.   Laboratorium - Funki Dla Franki
16.   Hubert Katzenbeier Quintett - Quartet

Compiled By [Final Track Selection] – Crippled Dick Hot Wax!, Tøni Schifer
Liner Notes [& Introduction] – Daniel Sprenger
Liner Notes [Translated By] – John C. Constable
Mastered By – Bo Kondren, H. P.
Producer – Crippled Dick Hot Wax!, Daniel Sprenger, Tøni Schifer
Producer [Assistant] – Stephan Steigleder

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Pere Ubu ‎– 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo (2017)

Style: Alternative Rock, Avantgarde, Art Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Cherry Red

01.   Monkey Bizness
02.   Funk 49
03.   Prison Of The Senses
04.   Toe To Toe
05.   The Healer
06.   Swampland
07.   Plan From Frag 9
08.   Howl
09.   Red Eye Blues
10.   Walking Again
11.   I Can Still See
12.   Cold Sweat

Bass – Michele Temple
Clarinet – Darryl Boon
Drums – Steve Mehlman
Guitar – Gary Siperko, Keith Moliné
Mastered By – Nick Watson
Steel Guitar – Kristof Hahn
Synth, Theremin – Robert Wheeler
Synth – Gagarin
Vocals – Roshi (tracks: 11)
Vocals, Producer – David Thomas
Written-By – Pere Ubu

The fact that Pere Ubu has been flying under the radar for the majority, if not the entirety, of the band's career is at the same time surprising and somewhat expected. Retaining an excellent balance between the sound that defined the late '70s to mid-'80s, in new wave and post-punk, and at the same time layering that foundation with avant-garde augmentations, Pere Ubu is not a very easy band to follow. Aspects of musique concrete and krautrock notions living beside blues and garage rock is a strange mix, no matter how successful Pere Ubu was in nailing the bizarre cocktail. 
Revolving around main man, vocalist David Thomas, the line-up of the band has constantly been changing, but that is not something that has slowed the band's prolific output. Since its inception back in the mid-'70s, Pere Ubu has remained active and is about to release its 16th full-length in 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, following the highly bizarre, even by the band's standards, Carnival of Souls. The band's 2014 album was a tour de force of experimental rock, diving headfirst into the avant-garde depths and unearthing a terrifying gem of a record. Tracks like the mysterious “Doctor Faustus” and the colossal “Brother Ray” are some of the most compelling material the band has ever released. 
In that respect 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo does not share the same dark, exploratory sense of its predecessor. Still elements of that quality exist, as in “Plan From Flag 9”, which is based on samples and minimal instrumentation accommodating a spoken word-like performance by Thomas. Always retaining this off-kilter essence, alongside an almost sadistic view towards structure, as the track reaches the promise of a crescendo that never arrives, Pere Ubu still display this intricacy when it comes to compositions. The mysterious and mesmerizing tonality of “I Can Still See” is another moment of this hypnotic experimentalism, as it slowly puts you under Pere Ubu's spell and drags you in the band's realm. 
The majority of the record, however, focuses on establishing Pere Ubu's vision of its original influences. The manner in which the record kicks things off with “Monkey Bizness” is an astounding example of the act's surf rock mutation. The tone is vibrant, and there is something electrifying about Pere Ubu when the band explores the standard rock form and interprets it through hooking choruses and bombastic verses, as they appear in “Red Eyes Blues” and the '70s rock-influenced “Swampland”. Similar is the scope of the blues influence, in the garage driven “Funk 49” and the typical blues progression of “Howl” and “Walking Again”. All these moments are reinterpreted by Pere Ubu, crafting a psychedelic driven, experimental take on each genre, where the background is altered by projecting avant-garde notions, through the strange synth sounds. That is particularly effective in the album's “power ballad”, the fantastic “The Healer” which through its surreal context brilliantly exposes both the adventurous spirit and the sentimental underbelly of Pere Ubu. 
20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo displays a side of Pere Ubu that is more familiar than Carnival of Souls. Taking a step back, the band manages to tangle all the aspects that make its music so enticing and driven, may it be surf rock riffs and blues rhythms, or experimental sonic manipulation and avant-garde thinking. The short duration of the tracks, about three minutes on average, and the fantastic guitar performances enhance the experience, enriching the various twists and turns Pere Ubu travels.
Spyros Stasis / popMATTERS

Monday, 23 July 2018

Laika ‎– Good Looking Blues (2000)

Style: Trip Hop, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Too Pure

01.   Black Cat Bone
02.   Moccasin
03.   T. Street
04.   Uneasy
05.   Good Looking Blues
06.   Widow's Weed
07.   Glory Cloud
08.   Go Fish
09.   Badtimes
10.   Knowing Too Little

Synthesizer, Electric Piano – Guy Fixsen
Trumpet – Matt Barge
Bass – John Frenett
Clarinet – Pete Whyman
Djembe – Lou Ciccotelli
Flute – Louise Elliott
Guitar – Guy Fixsen, Margaret Murphy Fiedler
Vocals – Margaret Murphy Fiedler
Mastered By – Tony Cousins
Mixed By – Guy Fixsen
Producer – Fixsen, Fiedler
Sampler – Guy Fixsen, Margaret Murphy Fiedler
Turntables – Danny Doyle
Written-By, Engineer, Programmed By – Guy Fixsen

To some-- the hip, the jaded-- Laika's third release is likely to seem a bit of a disappointment. And in a way, I guess it is: after the sonic barrage of their first album, its two successors may seem a bit dry. In fact, by some standards, Laika have gone downhill not just since their first album, but since the first 20 seconds of their first album, which were arguably 20 of the most exciting seconds electronic music produced in the 1990s. Consider, for example, the generally shoddy treatment Stereolab has recieved from hipsters regarding their post-Emperor Tomato Ketchup LPs. 
The thing of it is, see, that the phenomenon known as electronic music-- half music and three halves public relations-- has always set itself up as The Future. The Future, of course, is always one step ahead, and this has led to the development of a freakishly malproportioned set of criteria by which electronic music is to be judged: one which values innovation above all other things. Constantly striving to push the envelope (in order to push the product, naturally), electronic music plunges blindly ahead into what so many fawning reviews refer to as "uncharted territory." This is all fine and good, except for one thing: left behind in the neverending move forward lie vast expanses of half, sorta and barely charted territory. 
Few blues singers are criticized for lack of innovation-- they're instead evaluated on their musicianship, songwriting and knowledge of their craft. Meanwhile, electronic music's mainstream has been largely unable to value itself as a tradition to the extent that artists are allowed to explore the nooks and crannies of their own genre. When an album like Good Looking Blues is released-- one that moves towards accessibility-- the general reaction tends towards dismissals of the "I've heard this before" or "Nothing new here" variety. 
Admittedly, Good Looking Blues doesn't seem like much at first-- pretty run-of-the-mill trip-hoppy shit: some loops here, some scratching there, a dash of hip-hop for flavor, shrinkwrap it and call it a day. Certainly, it's nothing like the grinding and irresistible Silver Apples of the Moon. But as bands like Stereolab have proven, a sheen of accessibility can conceal a wealth of texture, and Good Looking Blues more than makes up for its lack of originality with plenty of detail and craft. 
While generally more song-oriented than previous outings, Good Looking Blues is built on a foundation of acid-jazzy, polyrythmic beats-- the kind that just seem to shuffle along until you pay attention to them, at which point they prove to be more layered than Barthes' S/Z. Organic texture is provided throughout by such unhip instruments as the bass clarinet, the trumpet and the flute. Margaret Fiedler's vocals are much further up in the mix than on past releases. This is a welcome thing for the most part, though at points you may wish you could gloss over the lyrics: the opening "Black Cat Bone" in particular, whose stilted rap is basically Blondie's "Rapture" updated for the new millenium. 
Still, Good Looking Blues shows a Laika that has learned from its past mistakes-- they don't get lost in their own loops like they used to-- and willing to stretch out and explore their surroundings. I'd gladly see electronic music lose its innovation if it meant more music like this album's creepily sublime title track or the quiet Reichian beauty of "A Single Word." Of course, the hipsters would never stand for it.
Zach Hooker / Pitchfork 

Laika ‎– Sounds Of The Satellites (1997)

Style: Downtempo, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Too Pure

01.   Prairie Dog
02.   Breather
03.   Out Of Sight And Snowblind
04.   Almost Sleeping
05.   Starry Night
06. Bedbugs
07.   Martinis On The Moon
08.   Poor Gal
09.   Blood+Bones (Moody Mix)
10.   Shut Off/Curl Up
11.   Spooky Rhodes
12.   Dirty Feet+Giggles

Credits: Drums, Piano, Percussion, Backing Vocals – Rob Ellis Vibraphone – Alonso Mendoza Flute – Louise Elliott Percussion – Lou Ciccotelli Sampler, Guitar, Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Drums, Trumpet – Guy Fixsen, Margaret Fiedler
The World Trade Center in New York is one of the tallest buildings on earth. Heaving its twin towers over one hundred stories into the sky, its most stunning engineering feature hits you when you step inside: each of the nearly acre-wide floors is wide open from edge to edge with no central means of support.  
Laika construct a similar feat on Sounds of the Satellites, the group's sophomore effort. Repeated listens reveal layer upon layer of sound, but the end result isn't dense; the album floats along, spacious and atmospheric while reaching toward the ionosphere.  
Every teenaged, amber-sunglassed, Tom Rowlands wannabe with a sampler is looping electronic bleeps and hip-hop beats, but only a choice few bands are using new technology intelligently to enhance their music instead of using it as a crutch. Stereolab and Spiritualized are shining examples; Laika is another. 
The core of the group is Margaret Fiedler and Guy Fixsen, musical polymaths who split command of vocals, guitar, bass, minimoog, trumpet and sampling. Former drummer for PJ Harvey Rob Ellis is also on board, along with guest flutists, vibraphonists and percussionists to flesh out the pair's gently orbiting compositions. 
Expertly blending dub and hip-hop technology with live instrumentation that nods to jazz, trip-hop and dreamy pop, the cyborg fusion of smooth organic grooves in a warm electronic bath is subtly addictive. And I do mean warm; most computerized music is sorely lacking in soul, leaving listeners in a cold synthetic wash, but Laika's sound is as endearing as the dog they named themselves after, the first animal to be shot into orbit. It helps that the group writes actual songs, not just repetitive dance tracks.  
"Almost Sleeping" is a gorgeously smooth track, the languid beat, gentle vibes and light modulations in tone emphasizing the lassitude of the lyrics: "lose track of days, whiling away/I don't have strength to get away." The lilting flute that closes out the track is a lovely touch. The odd, Lee Perry-ist machine clunking that opens "Starry Night" is softened by wah-wah guitar and soft moog flourishes, setting the twilight scene: "the air is still / the earth sleeps / we move with the grace of the moon / sweeping through the clouds / one by one the stars break through." This is a cosmonaut's perfect lullaby. 
The album may be mellow in places, but it's not all zero-gravity floating; "Bedbugs" is a funky, Curtis Mayfield-style story of a player with edgy guitar licks, "Poor Gal" a jungle-influenced rave up, and "Shut Off/Curl Up" a dark look into the bruised psyche of an abused woman. A richly textured, deceptively complex album with intriguing sounds and solid songwriting, Sounds of the Satellites is tailor made for those who want to leave the earth for a while - throw on the headphones, stare up into the starry blackness and bliss out. 
Jared O'Connor / Angel Fire (1998)