Sunday, 31 May 2020

Priscilla Ermel ‎– Origens Da Luz (2020)

Style: Ambient, New Age, Experimental
Format: Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Music From Memory

A1.   Luar
A2.   Martim Pescador
A3.   Campo De Sonhos
A4.   Origens Da Luz
A5.   Meditação
B1.   Americua
B2.   Cine Mato Grafico
B3.   Cristal De Fogo
B4.   Sete Quedas
C1.   Corpo Do Vento
C2.   Meia Noite
D1.   Sonho De Cacador
D2.   Folia Do Divino
D3.   Floresta
D4.   Mensageiro

Compiled By – John Gómez
Written By, Arranged By – Priscilla Ermel

A Music From Memory editará no próximo dia 17 de Fevereiro uma retrospectiva da obra da artista brasileira Priscilla Ermel, Origens da Luz, um duplo LP com 15 faixas. A etiqueta baseada em Amesterdão já tinha incluído faixas de Ermel nos dois volumes da antologia Outro Tempo apresentados como focados na música electrónica e contemporânea do Brasil originalmente lançada entre 1978 e 1992 (1º volume, de 2017) e 1984 e 1996 (2º volume, lançado o ano passado). 
Priscilla Ermel lançou os álbuns Saber Sobre Viver (1986), Tai Chi – Gestos de Equilíbrio (1989), Cine Mato Gráfico (1990) e Campo de Sonhos (1992) nas editoras Timbre e Eldorado estruturando a sua obra em torno de uma ideia muito própria de new age e de experiências com timbres e instrumentos tradicionais do Brasil, numa mistura altamente original. 
Explica a Music From Memory que Priscilla foi educada numa família de músicos de São Paulo tendo aprendido violoncelo e guitarra desde muito cedo. “Ela embarcou posteriormente numa viagem musical extremamente pessoal que se espraiou de origens centradas em Tom Jobim e Chico Buarque até ao registo de música do mundo natural e de comunidades ao seu redor. Cineasta e antropóloga de formação, Priscilla dedicou toda a vida a estudar a música universal”, refere-se ainda nas notas com que se apresenta Origens da Luz. “Desiludida com a música clássica contemporânea vinda da Europa, ela passou longos períodos a viver com populações indígenas do Brasil, colecionando instrumentos que depois combinaria com sintetizadores e gravações de campo. Depois de ter estudado com o reputado mestre taoista Liu Pai Lin, ela integrou o passo lento do Tai Chi numa música que se liga intimamente com uma multiplicidade de culturas ao mesmo tempo que de forma inequívoca reflecte a sua alma brasileira”.
A compilação assinada por John Gómez inclui temas de todos os álbuns editados pela artista, integrando-a num mais vasto plano de criadores que na década de 80 e 90 exploraram a ideia de “mundos possíveis” (como Jon Hassell ou Haruomi Hosono), usando o estúdio como laboratório de utopias em que o mundo natural e os domínios da fantasia se cruzavam em luxuriantes composições.
Rui Miguel Abreu / Rimas e Batidas
Following Music From Memory’s Outro Tempo, a collection of Brazilian obscurities, the label turns the spotlight on a forgotten composer who fused cello and guitar with the sounds of the rainforest.

Even the most committed students of Brazilian music might not have been familiar with the work of composer Priscilla Ermel until 2017. That was when Music From Memory released Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music From Brazil, 1978-1992, introducing a number of obscure Brazilian artists who were making music at the tail end of the country’s military regime. Ermel described that era as not just “another time” but “another tempo,” inspiring compiler John Gómez to title the anthology after her phrase. 
Ermel has called recordings from that period “portals through which stories, people, and cultures can be revealed.” It’s an apt metaphor for the uncanny soundworlds glimpsed in Origens Da Luz, a crucial compendium of Ermel’s singular work, drawn from the four albums she released between 1986 and 1992. Born and raised in São Paulo, Ermel, who studied cello and guitar, was reared on Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and bossa-nova master Tom Jobim, and both sensibilities filter down to her own music. Just as crucially, while researching for her master’s thesis, Ermel traveled to the Amazon rainforest to study the songs of the indigenous Cinta-Larga and Ikolem Gavião people, for whom music is inextricable from storytelling. 
A similar sensibility runs through Ermel’s astonishingly layered work, whose arrangements unfurl more like short stories than pop songs. “Luar,” which opens the compilation, begins with the sounds of birds and chirping insects, situating us in a twilit landscape. Ermel’s strong, clear voice crests at the midway point, and as she falls silent, her guitar and melodica are rejoined by the sounds of the rainforest. Those chirps and calls are present in many of the songs, turning any negative space in the music into an open window—as though to suggest that the natural world is ever-present, and one need only become silent to become aware of it. Even when she isn’t directly incorporating the ambient chatter of the wilderness, the rattles and bamboo flutes that Ermel deploys emulate natural sounds; on the title track, so does her own wordless voice, whose squawks, howls, and purrs sound almost primal. 
It often seems as if Ermel is striving for an equilibrium between her own music and the beautiful, chaotic density of the rainforest. But even in the absence of field recordings, her songs are strongly evocative of a sense of place—even if no such land exists anywhere but in her own music. “Meditação,” featuring her gorgeous cello, piano, and acoustic guitar, starts off like an English folk ballad before wandering further afield, while “Campo De Sonhos” conjures two worlds at once: The synth line moves like Indonesian court music while the cello is worthy of a modern classical recital. An elegant braiding of piano and keyboards, “Cristal De Fogo” toggles between smooth new age and soap-opera soundtrack. 
The gem of the original Outro Tempo, the masterwork “Corpo Do Vento” is also the highlight of Origens Da Luz. Translated as “Body of the Wind,” it remains the finest amalgam of Ermel’s classical upbringing and ethnographic studies. Atop bombo and cultrun drums, Ermel adds ocarina, Chilean chirimia, and Nepalese flute; after letting the piece build for five minutes, she introduces piano and viola caipira, a Brazilian 10-string guitar, playing themes redolent of modern classical composition. By the third act, the hand drums and woodwinds return, quickening to a ritualistic climax. It feels like a condensation of the Brazilian composer’s own story into 16 spell-binding minutes—and a portal to another world.
Andy Beta / Pitchfork 

The Young Gods ‎– L'Eau Rouge - Red Water (1989)

Genre: Electronic, Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Play It Again Sam Records, Globus International

01.   La Fille De La Mort
02.   Rue Des Tempêtes
03.   L'Eau Rouge
04.   Charlotte
05.   Longue Route
06.   Crier Les Chiens
07.   Ville Nôtre
08.   Les Enfants
09.   L'Amourir
10.   Pas Mal

Producer, Arranged By – Roli Mosimann
Programmed By – Michele Amar
Music By, Lyrics By, Artwork By – The Young Gods

"La Fille de la Mort" begins this album so perfectly that it becomes immediately clear how much more striking the already powerful band had become; beginning with a simple boulevardier melody and lyric (even though, as the title indicates, it's about the daughter of Death!), it slowly but relentlessly builds over the course of eight minutes, suddenly bursting into a beautiful orchestral sample loop that is then staggered and distorted, punctuated by sharp drums and finally concluding with guitar pulses on top of that. It's a stunning, unique way to start, and the album easily lives up to that opening promise. Tracks like the fast-paced roar "Longue Route" and the title song -- a celebration of 'red water, ' the female period -- maintain a fierce, sharp tension between rock rhythms (new drummer Use Hiestand shows much more flexibility than his predecessor), huge riffs and classical stabs, all with Treichler's powerful, gravelly voice invoking any number of striking natural and elemental images, putting the lie to the claim that rock can't happen in French. There's even time for more traditional French cabaret tunes like "Charlotte," while "Les Enfants" takes the classical bombast to an even higher level. Originally available only as a single, "L'Amourir" remains the album's and the band's high point, a brilliantly arranged and performed combination of guitar riff samples and powerful drumming, accentuated by a snaky bass pulse/snort throughout and Treichler's climactic roar over a wailing guitar loop.
Ned Raggett / AllMusic

Luis Lopes Humanization 4tet ‎– Believe, Believe (2020)

Genre: Free Jazz
Format: CDFLAC
Label: Clean Feed

1.   Eddie Harris / Tranquilidad Alborotadora
2.   Replicate I
3.   Engorged Mosquitoes
4.   She
5.   Brainlust Distraction
6.   Replicate II

Luís Lopes – Electric guitar
Rodrigo Amado – Tenor saxophone
Aaron Gonzalez – Doublebass
Stefan Gonzalez – Drums

“Believe Believe” é um disco com um travo amargo: gravado numa sessão ao vivo no Marigny Studios em New Orleans (um estúdio de gravação com bar e público), no final da terceira “tournée” norte americana do quarteto (ler + em, abria as portas para uma viagem do grupo pela Europa. O vírus que parou o mundo matou os 12 concertos programados – Alemanha, Suíça, Bélgica, Rússia, Noruega, Portugal – para fazer ouvir o novo disco e deixou-nos só com esta gravação da expedição pela América profunda, armada e precária. 
O quarto disco do Humanization 4Tet é mais um passo largo na carreira musical de Luís Lopes e do quarteto criado em 2008, um grupo difícil de gerir porque vive separado por 7500 Kms: metade em Lisboa (Lopes e Rodrigo Amado) e a outra metade em Dallas (Aaron e Stefan Gonzalez). Não é por isso de estranhar que “Believe, Believe” expire um silêncio de sete anos e apresente grandes diferenças. Aos meus ouvidos, para melhor. 
É vulgar dizer que os Humanization têm um jazz musculado, no sentido em que a música da aliança luso-americana é intensa, forte, como um grupo de rock bola-prá-frente. Energia, pulsação, alegria e aventura. Mas esta não é uma imagem completa: é verdade que Lopes gosta de tocar alto e forte e que a parceria com o saxofonista Rodrigo Amado funciona particularmente bem, porque ambos aceitam a corrida sem vontade de a ganhar. Também é justo dizer que a secção rítmica dos irmãos Gonzalez se enquadra magnificamente neste ambiente esforçado e é capaz de o travar ou de lhe dar estrutura, unindo todos os elementos como um campo magnético. 
Há duas grandes diferenças que fazem diferença nesta nova gravação. Uma: as músicas soam a hard bop mundano e tosco que rapidamente se sujam através das improvisações. Podem ser partes de um tema clássico ou uma frase de um dos músicos que colocam a máquina em movimento. A canção de abertura, por exemplo, “Eddie Harris / Tranquilidad Alborotadora”, parte do tema “Eddie Harris” que apareceu no disco de Clifford Jordan, “Glass Bead Games” de 1974, e evolui para uma ideia criada por Stefan Gonzalez. Outros temas surgem de pequenos esboços de Rodrigo Amado (“Replicate I / Replicate II”). “Engorged Mosquitoes” e “Brainlust Distraction” são ideias de Aaron Gonzalez desenvolvidas pela banda. A segunda diferença é a guitarra de Luís Lopes, que mudou a sua forma de tocar, adoptando um som de “surf guitar”, com muito  “twang”, cheia de disparos e repetições (“stutter”), muito boa de ouvir. 
O registo em New Orleans fixa um som livre e natural de (nas palavras de Guy Peters) uma banda de «bandidos livres, funk, rock e noise, uns contra os outros».
Gonçalo Falcão /

Radiohead ‎– The Bends (1994)

Style: Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Parlophone, EMI, Capitol Records

01.   Planet Telex
02.   The Bends
03.   High And Dry
04.   Fake Plastic Trees
05.   Bones
06.   (Nice Dream)
07.   Just
08.   My Iron Lung
09.   Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was
10.   Black Star
11.   Sulk
12.   Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Backing Vocals – Ed O'Brien
Bass – Colin Greenwood
Cello – Caroline Lavelle
Drums – Phil Selway
Guitar – Ed O'Brien, Jon Greenwood, Thom Yorke
Organ, Recorder, Synthesizer – Jon Greenwood
Piano – Jon Greenwood, Thom Yorke
Viola, Violin – John Matthias
Vocals – Thom Yorke
Written-By – Radiohead
Producer – Jim Warren, John Leckie, Nigel Godrich, Radiohead

Thom Yorke and his band of merry men have taken the musical landscape and toyed, spliced and even at times mollycoddled it. Where most bands pick a path and stick to it, the Oxford five-piece have danced over and beyond various musical landscapes, carving out a unique hollow for others to marvel at. But before they achieved such a status, Radiohead had some establishing to do. 
At a time when the main argument in the music industry was Blur vs. Oasis, Radiohead were following up their debut Pablo Honey with a more progressive move towards the largely unpopular art rock movement. The Bends sounded different. Why? It had subtle creativity at its core. Producer John Leckie, who also produced Pink Floyd, gave the band an unprecedented freedom of expression and the band had more than enough ability to take the ball and run... 
The first track Planet Telex feels genuinely refreshing even thirteen years later. Further on, High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees are simply acoustic treats – stirring and poignant. Bones swiftly picks up the mood before Just blows most of the previous tracks out of the water, with the gain whacked up to ten and '90s guitar solos aplenty. Street Spirit (Fade Out), although notoriously downbeat contains one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in musical history. Accompany that with haunting harmonies and a string section and it all amounts to a stunning finish to the album. 
Popular opinion places OK Computer as Radiohead's finest release to date, yet the The Bends was where they really put themselves firmly into the public consciousness. On the title track, Yorke sings, ''where do we go from here?'' like he didn’t have a plan…Luckily for us, he had a pretty good one.
David McGuire / BBC Review

Dominique Guiot ‎– L'Univers De La Mer (1978)

Style: Synth-pop, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Audivis, We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Records

01.   Wind Surf Ballad
02.   La Danse Des Méduses
03.   Une Ballade Pour Une Goélette
04.   Les Deux Poissons
05.   Ballet Amoureux Des Dauphins
06.   Les Pingouins S'Amusent
07.   Destination Inconnue
08.   Iceberg En Voyage
09.   L'Univers De La Mer
10.   Alerte En Mer
11.   Les Émigrants De La Mer
12.   À La Découverte D'Une Amphore

Composed By – Dominique Guiot
Producer – Renaldo Cerri

The crew over at WRWTFWW have always been true to their masthead, exploring any facet of the musical landscape that catches their fancy. Earlier this year they set sights on French prog and cosmic synth artist Dominique Guiot’s 1978 album L’Univers De La Mer. The album, inspired by undersea exploration, skews a bit from the wide-eyed wonder of Jaques Cousteau scores, adding a sense of danger to the mellotron’s quaver and a medieval bent to some of the more pastoral passages. The record employs minimoog, clavinet, guitar, and organ alongside the seaside call of the mellotron, and while the damp inspiration remains in tact, the styles change as Guiot sees fit – winding through space-odyssey jazz and dense prog to tracks. 
Guiot’s vision comes close to that of Sven Liabek, whose undersea scores were a vanguard of the ‘70s. Again though,, as with Cousteau’s scores, Liabek was a bit less heavy on the throttle than Guiot. The sci-fi keys kick in giving the album a kinship with Eloy or Embryo at their heaviest. Its a beautifully engrossing gem of an album that’s worthy of rediscovery, given the limited nature of its original issue. Just as good for meditative bliss as it is for head-trip excursions to the inner most reaches of the soul. Highly recommend dimming the lights and letting this one float over the eyelids.
Andy / Raven Sings the Blues

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Brian Wilson ‎– Smile (2004)

Style: Pop Rock, Art Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Nonesuch

01.   Our Prayer / Gee
02.   Heroes And Villains
03.   Roll Plymouth Rock
04.   Barnyard
05.   Old Master Paint / You Are My Sunshine
06.   Cabin Essence
07.   Wonderful
08.   Song For Children
09.   Child Is Father Of The Man
10.   Surf's Up
11.   I'm In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop
12.   Vega-Tables
13.   On A Holiday
14.   Wind Chimes
15.   Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
16.   In Blue Hawaii
17.   Good Vibrations

Bass Guitar, Other – Bob Lizik
Drums, Percussion, Saw, Effects – Jim Hines
Strings, Horns – Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns
Vocals, Guitar, Brass, Theremin, Whistle – Probyn Gregory
Vocals, Guitar, Other  – Nick Walusko
Vocals, Guitar, Other – Jeffrey Foskett
Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion, Guitar – Scott Bennett
Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion – Darian Sahanaja
Vocals, Other – Taylor Mills
Vocals, Percussion, Whistle, Other – Nelson Bragg
Woodwind, Saxophone, Harmonica, Conductor – Paul Mertens
Producer – Brian Wilson, Darian Sahanaja

While current list-orientated thinking places the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as one of the greatest modern popular recordings, debate still rages as to whether its mooted follow-up, Smile, would have outshone it. Only ever glimpsed in segments, was the album just a victim of a self-perpetuating myth, enhanced by legends of Brian and his missing marbles? Or was this one of the great lost opportunities? 40 years later, Brian's finally letting us know... 
After creating Pet Sounds almost single-handedly while his siblings toured the globe, Brian - already in the throes of considerable mental anguish - embarked on a project even more gargantuan. With maverick lyricist Van Dyke Parks he proceeded to craft a 'teenage symphony to God'. Six months of intense work yielded most of the tracks, but by then Wilson was suffering from intense paranoia and exhibiting somewhat erratic behaviour. While recording the "Fire" sequence of "Mrs O'Leary's Cow" (getting the orchestra to wear fireman's helmets!) he believed that the vibes had started a major conflagration nearby. Now irreparably fragile and convinced he could never better the Beatles, he took to his bed for years, releasing tantalising snippets of his symphony on subsequent albums and leaving fans to try and assemble their own versions from advance press release track listings. Ironically Brian's own website claims that: "To this day, few have heard this lost masterpiece". 
What's immediately apparent is that this project, once dubbed 'unwieldy', is perfectly suited to modern ears. The complexity of the segmented arrangements, the recurring themes ("Roll Plymouth Rock", "Heroes and Villains" etc.) and the lush orchestration and vocal harmonies actually improve under modern recording techniques, making what once seem muddled now a startlingly clear vision of American history - albeit a baroque and impressionistic one. Parks' lyrics defy categorisation and still convey a concise sense of the weight of 200 years. One instinctively knows what he means by 'Bicycle rider, just look what you've done to the church of the American Indian' or 'Colonnaded ruins domino' ("Surf's Up"). 
The music manages even more. Every second is packed with a thorough trawling of popular forms, from lounge jazz ("I Wanna Be Around") to barbershop ("Heroes and Villains"). A capella opener "Our Prayer" provides the missing link between the Four Freshmen and gospel music(!) and "Wonderful" manages to be both sensual and holy. Only during the final suite, containing oddities such as "Vega-tables" and the aforementioned "Mrs O'Leary's Cow", do you start to wonder if Brian's muse is unravelling before your ears. 
Aficionados will argue for decades over the differences between these newly recorded versions and the sacred originals, yet the Wondermints, Brian's backing band on recent live outings, are so steeped in Beach Boys lore that you'd be hard pushed to tell them from the originals. Only Brian's older, worn vocals really give the game away. Anyone fearing that finally finishing Smile would diminish its status can now rest easy. This is a work of genius that transcends time. Is it time to rewrite those lists again?
Chris Jones / BBC Review

Jeremy Underground ‎– Beauty: A Journey Through Jeremy Underground's Collection (2016)

Genre: Jazz, Latin, Funk / Soul
Format: Vinyl
Label: Spacetalk Records

A1.   Ron Rinaldi - Mexican Summer
A2.   Leila Pinheiro - Tudo Em Cima
A3.   Christer Norden - Lay Back
A4.   N C C U - Superstar
B1.   Shades Of Love - Do Your Own Dance
B2.   Sonya Spence - Let Love Flow On
B3.   Nu-Cleus - Needing A Woman
C1.   Al (Alonzo) Wilson - Love You Girl
C2.   Richardi Mac - Told You So
C3.   Maureen Bailey - Takin' My Time With You
C4.   Fein - Stonedage
D1.   June Evans - Hardly Need To Say
D2.   Starcrost - Quicksand
D3.   Creative Arts Ensemble - Unity

Mastered By – Peter Beckmann
Compiled By – Jeremy Underground
Coordinator – Danny McLewin, Paul 'Mudd' Murphy, Simon Purnell

Jeremy Underground first gained attention through My Love Is Underground. His vinyl-only label, launched in 2010, helped revive a particular style of pneumatic, '90s-inspired house. He slowly gained a reputation as a major house nerd, a man with encyclopedic knowledge of Kerri Chandler B-sides and little-known American record labels. He also displayed a broader love of music. On his YouTube channel, he shared an array of obscure jazz, soul and disco from around the world. He also dropped fantastic home-listening mixes. In 2013, I saw him play at Plastic People, spinning an amazing set of mysterious rare grooves alongside Floating Points and Red Greg. I was left with the distinct impression that Jeremy was an excellent house DJ but perhaps an even better soul and funk DJ.
Beauty is Jeremy's first downtempo compilation. His credentials to curate such a release are matched by Claremont, whose Originals compilation series was one of the decade's best. Beauty is the second release from the Claremont sub-label Spacetalk, which is run by Psychemagik's Danny McLewin. The pair met after Jeremy's soul and funk set in Maceo's, a crew bar run by Block 9. Danny was impressed, a friendship was born and the decision to make the compilation was solidified there and then. 
Beauty features some of the best records Jeremy has discovered so far. The music is often pleasingly difficult to categorise. There's Sonya Spence's "Let Love Flow On," a soul track that features Jamaican musicians who usually perform in ska and reggae bands. There's Starcrost's "Quicksand," which has a folksy, soul-jazz vibe, Leila Pinheiro's bossa nova-rooted disco and Christer Norden's funky library music. The pick of Beauty might be "Hardly Need To Say." This mind-blowing smoky soul cut would have been a huge hit had it been released on a big label, as opposed to a tiny company from Glassboro, New Jersey. 
Reissue culture has arguably never been more vibrant. The likes of BBE, Music From Memory and Numero Group unearth a seemingly never-ending stash of vinyl gold. But in a crowded marketplace Beauty stands out. The laid-back vibe and sparkling musicianship on the album makes it a pleasure from start to finish. In my 2014 review of Jeremy's previous house compilation, My Love Is Underground, I said, "If you're at all interested in playing old-school house music on vinyl, then this is an essential purchase." By that logic, if you're into soul and jazz records, you need Beauty in your life.
Stephen Titmus / Resident Advisor

Marcos Valle ‎– Estática (2010)

Genre: Electronic, Jazz, Latin
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Far Out Recordings

01.   Vamos Sambar
02.   Prefixo
03.   Papo De Maluco
04.   Arranca Toco
05.   Baião Maracatú
06.   Novo Acorde (Reprise)
07.   Novo Acorde
08.   1995
09.   Estática
10.   Na Pista
11.   1985
12.   Esphera
13.   Eu Vou
14.   1975
15.   Vamos Sambar (Instrumental)

Vocals – Patricia Alvi
Bass – Mazinho Ventura
Drums – Renato Massa
Electric Guitar – Marcelo Camelo
Executive-Producer – Joe Davis
Percussion – Julio Diniz, Robertinho Silva
Trombone – Aldivas Ayres
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Jesse Sadoc
Flute, Saxophone – Marcelo Martins, Renato Paulo Franco
Cello – Marcus Ribeiro, Martina Stroeher, Mateus Ceccato
Viola – Deborah Cheyne, Nayran Pessanha, Rubia Siqueira
Violin – Andre Cunha, Denise Pedrassoli, Leo Ortiz, Marco Catto, Mauro Rufino Martins, Pancho Roa
Vocals, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Acoustic Guitar – Marcos Valle
Producer – Daniel Maunick

The main thought running through my head as I listened to Estática, the new album by Marcos Valle, was why had he never recorded this before. It’s as if he’s taken all the best bits from his previous albums, the daring of Garra, the pure pop of Samba ’68, the funk of Previsao of Tempo and given it wings through the orchestral arrangements that give it a depth and vibrance that I’ve never heard before from his work. It has been dubbed a “Brazilian masterpiece” and while that is understandable due to its grandiosity and intentions, it does stop a little short of such hyperbole – not by much though. 
This is his fourth album for Far Out Recordings (excluding the 2008 The Best of compilation), with whom he has recorded since the early 90s, and who are largely responsible for his comeback, and it is the first one where he feels truly comfortably. Which shouldn’t be read as any criticism of the other albums, it’s just a feeling that with those he did try and push the acid-jazz (massively popular in the 90s) and electronic and drum ‘n’ bass elements as it was a way back into the industry, to reconnect with the youth. This album feels more personal because it doesn’t identify with a particular movement; there are experiments here that could be deemed cheesy or genius depending on your perspective. The beautiful thing is that he has pushed himself and with that creative drive has come an abundance of killer melodies. 
“Vamos Sambar” is the perfect track to open the album, a lush, wide-screen plea for us all to ‘samba.’ It showcases the ambition of the album with its intricate string and horn arrangements as well as a classic Valle pop melody, the first of many on the first half of the album. “Prefixo” slows it down slightly with a Serge Gainsbourg vocal piece before Joyce joins in for “Papo de Maluco” (an insistent “Crickets Sing for Anamaria” melody) and “Baiao Maracatú”, one of the highlights of the album. It’s this latter song which shows Valle perfecting the jazz-inflected pop song. It’s almost a deadringer for Steely Dan, partly down to the similarities with Donald Fagen’s voice. 
Whether intentional or not there is a strong 70s vibe to this album. At times some of the guitar work resembles the Isley Brothers (circa “That Lady”) and the synthesisers either Sly and the Family Stone (as on “Novo Acorde (Reprise)”) or Stevie Wonder. It’d be interesting to know whether Valle was at all infuenced by the recent re-assessment of Arthur Verocai, who’s sole self-titled 70s record has recently been elevated to masterpiece status in the US, and with whom Valle definitely shares some similarity on the album. 
The second half of the album is heavier with shorter, instrumental tracks that generally display more of a willingness to experiment and offer a pyschedelic vibe. It also contains the title track Estática, the centrepiece of the album. A rattling, jazz odyssey so dense it feels like a manifesto yet with this Weather Report-ish, disco sheen that lifts it up, scrapping around for air. I feel like I want to come up with some kind of plant metaphor, reaching for the light, etc., but I’m gonna stop myself, we don’t need to be that corny. 
It’s a shame that this latter half of the album contains some of the weaker melodies; “Esphera” and “Eu Vou” are perfectly serviceable songs but lack the spark of some of the earlier efforts. The album even finishes on an instrumental versions of “Vamos Sambar” which I believe is better that the vocal version. Valle does not possess the strongest of voices and it does not suit every song perfectly, as is the case on this one. It’s these two criticisms that stop this album from being a masterpiece in my eyes, although they don’t stop it from being one of the most listenable collection of original samba-derived songs in quite some time. 
There was one more thing missing too though and I wasn’t to find that out until England’s erratic weather decided to give us one last flash of summer in the last week of August. Sat outside on a sun lounger, with this music pumping in my ears it all suddenly made sense. I felt I was on Copacabana beach or at the MTV Summer Jam (if those things still exist). In short, it suddenly took on a new level I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s just a shame it’s being released the wrong side of the summer otherwise this would have been one of the staple albums over the summer months
Russ Slater / Sounds and Colours

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet ‎– Live In Madison (2013)

Genre: Free Jazz
Format: CDFLAC
Label: Ayler Records

1.   Bush Baby
2.   Jungle Gymnastics
3.   Long March For Frida Kahlo
4.   Big Love
5.   Two Girls
6.   Dehumanization Blues

Double Bass – Aaron González
Drums – Stefan González
Electric Guitar – Luís Lopes
Recorded By – Anna Weisling
Tenor Saxophone – Rodrigo Amado

Respectively, Portuguese artists Luis Lopes (guitar) and Rodrigo Amado (saxophone) are known for aggressive tactics and forward motion at almost any tempo. There's nothing sheepish about this live date, recorded in Madison, WI. And there's no looking back as the band seemingly loaded up on energy drinks for this high-impact set. Lopes' variable use of distortion techniques—among other factors—provide a razor-sharp and stinging soundstage, coupled with Amado's rip-roaring solos. They use space as an equalizer amid snaking time changes and vibrant pulses laid out by the rhythm section. Hence, this performance must have given the audience an adrenalin rush. 
The quartet gels to a smacking funk-rock groove on "Two Girls." Amado's heavily serrated lines, abetted with screeching plaintive cries and torrential downpours underscore the ferocity of the overall vibe. They punch out a firm pulse as the frontline renders bop- like unison choruses to state the primary theme. Lopes often counters and circles Amado's phrasings as they build tension and mix it up with a touch of skronk during the bridge. Here, the musicians throw caution to the wind, amped by the rhythm section's punchy outline. Hence, the diverse track mix serves them well. But it's the performers' collective tenacity and unrelenting force-field that catapult this outing to towering heights, equating to a decidedly entertaining form-factor.
Glenn Astarita / All About Jazz

Mulatu Astatke / The Heliocentrics ‎– Inspiration Information (2009)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul, Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Strut

01.   Masenqo
02.   Cha Cha
03.   Addis Black Widow
04.   Mulatu
05.   Blue Nile
06.   Esketa Dance
07.   Chik Chikka
08.   Live From Tigre Lounge
09.   Chinese New Year
10.   Phantom Of The Panther
11.   Dewel
12.   Fire In The Zoo
13.   An Epic Story
14.   Anglo Ethio Suite

Producer, Engineer, Mixed By – Jake Ferguson, Malcolm Catto

The third in Strut Records' Inspiration Information collaborative series pairs Mulatu Astatke, 66-year-old father of Ethio-jazz, with London-based astral funk collective the Heliocentrics. The collaboration began with an appearance at London club Cargo in 2008, and has finally borne recorded fruit in the form of an intriguing album that's equal parts sweaty funk and blissfully meditative jams. 
Astatke has come to be appreciated outside specialist circles in recent years. His music featured heavily in Jim Jarmusch's 2005 film Broken Flowers, and before that, in 1998, an entire edition of the Ethiopiques album series was devoted to his work. His sound intertwines funk and jazz elements with traditional Ethiopian folk melodies and echoes of Coptic Church music. Astatke's compositions frequently combine his own vibraphone and conga playing with the distinctive sound of the lyre-like krar, which works with five tones instead of the seven-note scale typical of western music. These disparate elements combine to create a heady blend that feels both sacred and profane. 
That paradoxical effect holds sway here, with the Heliocentrics adding a glitchy sheen. Their most noticeable contribution at first is the sheer power of the drumming, which on sleazy jam Addis Black Widow and the funky sax-led Fire in the Zoo have an almost breakbeat-like heaviness. Elsewhere, however, they conspire with Astatke to far subtler effect. The electronic effects flecked between the meandering bass, spiralling strings and washint (an Ethiopian flute) passages on An Epic Story are no less compelling for being down in the mix. 
There are times when the partnership falters. Blue Nile dips its toes into forgettable downtempo territory, and the closing ten-minute sprawl of Anglo Ethio Suite doesn't build much beyond a promising opening. The good outweighs the bad, however, especially on the woozy stagger of Chik Chikka and the Alice Coltrane-style oddness of Phantom of the Panther. Best of all is Live From Tigre Lounge, where metallic beats combine with a sinister organ and distant howled vocals above a bassline that sounds like its wandered in from an early-1990s hardcore record. At times such as these this project makes perfect, unexpected sense.
Chris Power / BBC Review

Mr Fingers ‎– Ammnesia (1989)

Style: House, Deep House, Acid House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Jack Trax, P-Vine Records

01.   Can You Feel It
02.   Washing Machine
03.   Beyond The Clouds
04.   Slam Dance
05.   Stars
06.   Waterfalls
07.   Let's Dance All Night
08.   Bye Bye
09.   For So Long
10.   Ammnesia
11.   The Juice
12.   Mystery Of Love

Producer, Written-By, Arranged By – Larry Heard

The first Mr. Fingers LP out of the gates, though of dubious origins, is a classic compilation of the earliest, and most inspired, recordings by Larry Heard. Liberally sprinkled with seminal tracks like "Can You Feel It?," "Washing Machine," "Slam Dance," and "Bye Bye," Ammnesia became virtually impossible to find several years after its release and remains one of the most sought-after documents of Chicago house. Though perhaps not worth the high price from collectors, it remains a brilliant Larry Heard collection.
John Bush / AllMusic

Friday, 29 May 2020

Pauline Oliveros / Stuart Dempster / Panaiotis ‎– Deep Listening (1989)

Style: Contemporary, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: New Albion, Ioda, Important Records

1.   Lear
2.   Suiren
3.   Ione
4.   Nike

Recorded By – Al Swanson
Executive-Producer – Foster Reed
Producer – Stuart Dempster
Metal Pieces, Pipes, Voice – Panaiotis
Conch Shell, Accordion, Voice – Pauline Oliveros
Conch Shell, Whistlin, Winds, Trombone, Didgeridoo, Voice  – Stuart Dempster

In 1989, Pauline Oliveros coined the term Deep Listening to describe a practice of radical attentiveness. This double LP collects the famed original record with selections from her Deep Listening Band. 
Listening is an inherently empathetic act, requiring receptivity to the intentions of others and the natural world. Composer Pauline Oliveros wrote frequently about what it means to listen throughout her career, which spanned over half a century and encompassed electronic works, compositions for magnetic tape, improvisation, and exercises in focus and reflection designed to deepen everyday engagement with sound. She considered sound not only to be the audible vibrations of the air around us, but the totality of many vibrational energies throughout the universe. To listen is to be aware of one’s self in that collective whole. 
Since her death in 2016, Oliveros’ ideas about what she called “Deep Listening” (which she described as “a practice that is intended to heighten and expand consciousness of sound in as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible”) have become increasingly popular. In her 2019 book How To Do Nothing, Jenny Odell returns several times to Oliveros’ Deep Listening techniques as a salve to the increasingly chaotic flow of information in the Internet age. A 2016 article in The New Yorker brought her Sonic Meditations to a wide audience, saying they “make a timely case for listening as a form of activism.” Events have been staged throughout the country, from Houston to St. Paul to Washington, DC, celebrating her sonic legacy. 
The salience of Deep Listening resides in its contrast to mainstream culture’s riptide trajectory towards distraction and saturation, towards siloed media and political environments. It also stands in opposition to the numbing listening habits encouraged by streaming, which positions music as a utilitarian tool for productivity, something to be ignored while your concentration rests elsewhere. Oliveros provided a secular alternative to the increasingly commodified mindfulness movement that paradoxically co-opts the posturing of meditative practice in the service of productivity and capital. Deep Listening exists as its own end, without a pretense of functionality.

Oliveros coined the term Deep Listening in 1989 to describe her collected improvisations with trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist Panaiotis, it would go on to become the name of the album released that same year on the under-appreciated avant-garde classical label New Albion. Important Records, which has spent nearly a decade producing impressive new editions of an array of Oliveros’ recordings, has collected the entirety of that seminal album in a new double LP, augmented by related material from a follow-up of sorts, 1991’s The Ready Made Boomerang, credited to the Deep Listening Band. The release is a remarkable realization of her ideas and demonstrates the sensitivity of the musicians to their physical environment, as well her profoundly expressive accordion playing and singing. 
Both Deep Listening and The Ready Made Boomerang were recorded in a massive underground cistern in Washington State that Dempster had discovered some years before. The space, which once held two million gallons of water, has a 45-second reverberation time, and the recordings are defined by a surreal smearing of tones. Like much of Oliveros’ and Dempster’s work around this time, most of these improvisations are focused around extended drones, with Dempster’s trombone and didjeridu providing the backbone. Far from evoking any sort of stasis, these tones swell and resonate actively throughout the space, and the effect is hallucinatory. Melodic lines intertwine as they ripple and decay, and momentarily raised voices seemingly emerge from within the insistent, omnipresent root. “The cistern space, in effect, is an instrument being played simultaneously by all three composers,” Oliveros stated in the album’s original liner notes. 
With the exception of “Nike,” which consists of the reverberant clang of metal on metal segueing into extemporaneous vocalizations and discordant trombone interjections, this collection is largely consonant, reveling in the resonances produced by the careful tuning of the instruments to just intonation. It would be inaccurate to describe music produced with such intensity as strictly pleasant, but there is a quality about it that feels centered and calming in a strange, otherworldly way. Pieces like “Lear” and “Ione” are meditative without falling into the trappings of new age music; instead, they enact core tenets of meditative practice—reflection, attentiveness, an openness to one’s surroundings—in a musical framework. Each musician is listening intently and reacting in kind not only to each other but to the space around them. The cistern stands in for the world, the entire universe, as they listen to its contours. 
In a contemporary context, Deep Listening still sounds revolutionary. While drone, minimalism, and ambient music have proliferated in the intervening decades, few albums in those fields are as rich texturally and harmonically or have such a clarity of vision. The album remains vital largely because it embodies Oliveros’ ideas, which have themselves resurfaced as a corrective to the sinister undercurrents of social and technological advancement. If art is a way to grapple with philosophical and societal hardships, Deep Listening may resound with just as much, if not more, clarity now than when it was created.
Jonathan Williger / Pitchfork

KA ‎– The Night's Gambit (2013)

Genre: Hip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Iron Works Records

01.   You Know It's About
02.   Our Father
03.   Jungle
04.   Barring The Likeness
05.   Nothing Is
06.   Soap Box
07.   Peace Akhi
08.   Knighthood
09.   30 Pieces Of Silver
10.   I'm Ready
11.   Off The Record

Mastered, Mixed By – Christos "Mixbystos" Tsantilis
Producer – Ka

Ka's voice isn't overexcited. It's not larger-than-life, not a caricature, not a distillation of TV rap fantasies. His voice doesn't swell with braggadocio or bristle with rage. It's cool, but not cool in the way some people flaunt themselves and their own unflappable attitude, or callously disregard the lives of people they look down on. It's the cool of someone who, by necessity, has figured out how to detach himself from the emotional stress that would otherwise knock most people in the dirt. What's the point of embellishing something you already know is intense in itself? 
The initial appeal of The Night's Gambit and Ka in particular is lyrics, and it'd be easy enough to just lay out a string of them to prove it. The Brooklyn rapper's thoughts scan well on paper, then unspool in a delivery that lets the internal rhyme structure provide the emotional emphasis. “You Know It's About” offers a scene of a street business days gone by with shifts of tense that make old memories fresh, emphasizing the cycle he can't believe he's not still stuck in: “With a toast to rap that roasts your fabric/ The friends, if conflict ever ends we're post-traumatic.” After that opener, the album is a litany of scenarios that play up guilt, betrayal, anxiety, resilience, and everything else that reduces interpersonal workings into a high-stakes chess match. Not for nothing that the three biggest thematic presences in intros and outros are games of strategy, martial arts philosophy, and the church-- tactical, adaptive maneuvering cut through with deep moral weight. 
Maybe that seems a bit Recommended If You Like GZA. But while the Wu MC has the bearings of someone doing scientific analysis, Ka's vibe is more like that of a true-crime reporter, trying to find a balance between laying out all the facts and trying not to let that excess of knowledge take a toll on his soul. Reformation narrative “Our Father” packs in enough observations, introspective and looking outwards, to drive this home clearly. But it also puts its point across by situating the rehabilitated perspective in the first verse and the vivid criminal revenge he's trying to atone for in the second. A mid-album stretch of cuts gets even more Scorsese with it, pervaded with criminal guilt on “Barring the Likeness”, restless brass ring-grabbing on “Nothing Is”, and calculating, whistling-through-a-graveyard iciness on Roc Marciano team-up “Soap Box”. And when he really does get double-meaning conceptual a'la “Labels” on “Off the Record”, it's a brilliant recursive trick: the rap he classics he references aren't evoked as mere namedropping, but reflections of how many different artists found indelible, unique ways to tell similar stories.

It's hard to separate the stark tone of Ka's voice and narrative from the equally stark mood music he embeds it in. As a rapper/producer, he has that finely-tuned awareness of how a track works from every angle. Some moments of upfront beauty shine through, as the soul-blues guitar licks and electric piano on “Jungle” cut through like a cold wind, and the aching, wordless hum that intermittently pierces the organ drone of “Knighthood” turns a meditative dirge into a hairs-on-end spiritual. But, like his voice, a lot of his production's pull lies in how its sparseness deeply sinks in just through exposure. The interpolation of that riff of doom from Black Sabbath's “Black Sabbath” on “You Know It's About” is a telling point of reference. Like the source material, he draws a lot of strength from the same insistent tritone, but turns its immediate menace into lurking dread by pushing it into the background and melting it down into bass frequencies. 
Last year's Grief Pedigree showed a DIY auteur with one of the more unique and underreported stories in hip-hop. Despite the exposure that comes with his professional working partnership with Roc Marciano and a base in the ironclad diehard world of 1990s-steeped NYC hardcore hip-hop, the stakes of his come-up seem more personal than anything. His outlook on that recent groundswell of support has the levelheaded perspective of someone hitting his stride in his forties: “Of course this isn't over night sensation's the music of the sensations you get over the course of the night”, he quipped on Twitter. And his work's total lack of compromise has the drive of someone who only got stronger when he stopped trying to do things on some other label's terms. If The Night's Gambit has that same imprint, the same ruminative, clinical yet human scale as its predecessor did, it also seems to have the renewed idea that this voice has something that really needs to be heard. Listen, then listen closer.
Nate Patrin / Pitchfork

Radiohead ‎– Pablo Honey (1992)

Style: Alternative Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Parlophone, EMI, Capitol Records

10.   You
02.   Creep
03.   How Do You?
04.   Stop Whispering
05.   Thinking About You
06.   Anyone Can Play Guitar
07.   Ripcord
08.   Vegetable
09.   Prove Yourself
10.   I Can't
11.   Lurgee
12.   Blow Out

Bass – Colin Greenwood
Drums – Phil Selway
Guitar, Vocals – Ed O'Brien
Lead Guitar, Piano, Organ – Jon Greenwood
Vocals, Guitar – Thom Yorke
Producer, Engineer – Chris Hufford
Producer, Engineer, Mixed By – Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade

Oxfordshire's best-known musical export have been voicing the angst of an inarticulate generation for the last fifteen years, kicking off with Pablo Honey, their exploration of suburban, adolescent self-awareness. Released when the boys still glistened with the sheen of an expensive private education and set against the more mature redneck, white bread, blue-collar roar of Nirvana, Radiohead's intelligent, delicate take on the loud/soft, quick/slow language of grunge appeared spineless and effete until Creep was released and set the record straight. 
Massively backed by UK 'indie' radio, the single became a hit in the slacker student community, and simultaneously established the band as serious musicians, with interesting points to make and hefty musical skills with which to drive them home. 
The band's apparent overnight success came after years of dedication (even keeping in touch while away at various universities) and endless free time spent in rehearsal. They'd toughened up and tightened their sound on the road before setting out to make the album, and had grown the confidence to expand ideas across lengthy instrumental breaks that other new kids in the studio might fear to try. 
It all resulted in a stunning blend that combined the best aspects of prog rock (challenging lyrics, deft chord changes, novelty time signatures and so forth) with the plaintiveness of bedsit singer song-writing and the sound of expensive equipment thrashed at by experts. Though later albums were better received, this remains one of rock's most impressive debuts.
Al Spicer / BBC Review

Spacemen 3 ‎– Playing With Fire (1989)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Fire Records, Taang! Records, Space Age Recordings

01.   Honey
02.   Come Down Softly To My Soul
03.   How Does It Feel?
04.   I Believe It
05.   Revolution
06.   Let Me Down Gently
07.   So Hot (Wash Away All The Tears)
08.   Suicide
09.   Lord Can You Hear Me?
10.   Suicide (Live)
11.   Repeater (How Does It Feel?) (Live)
12.   Ché
13.   May The Circle Be Unbroken

Bass – Willie
Vocals, Guitar– Jason
Vocals, Guitar, Organ– Sonic
Producer – Jason, Sonic

“Thirty years? Fuck! Thirty years!” Jason Pierce, one half of the creative duo at the heart of Spacemen 3, is struggling to take in the fact that Playing With Fire is celebrating its Big Three-Oh. And, it seems, he’s also struggling to remember events from 1989. 
“What were you doing 30 years ago?” he asks as he gathers his thoughts together. 
Getting baked to Playing With Fire, your correspondent tells him. 
Pierce chuckles in response, but it’s an honest reply to his question, not least becausePlaying With Fire is that kind of an album: lay back, fire up and float on. But that’s to damn the record with faint and superficial praise for in truth, it’s so much more than that: Playing With Fire is an extraordinary album and its ramifications and reverberations are still being felt to this very day. Not only was it the moment that Spacemen 3 found themselves reaching a wider audience after years of indifference, but it was also one that saw them create a contemporary form of psychedelia that was ripe for the time and beyond. And in fairness to Pierce, three decades is a considerable period of time, so a re-acquaintance with Spacemen 3’s third album and the times in which it was made is called for. 
Looking back three decades is to be reminded of a time characterised by huge social, political and cultural upheavals. The year leading up to the album’s release had been marred by shocking levels of violence in and around Northern Ireland. Margaret Thatcher became the 20th century’s longest-serving Prime Minister at the turn of the year. The Local Government Act – featuring the notorious Section 28 preventing local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” – became law. And in a grotesque full stop to the year, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie when a terrorist bomb went off on board, killing a total of 270 people. 
Cultural changes were afoot. The first rumblings from the Pacific Northwest were beginning to make themselves felt, hip hop had taken bold steps forward thanks to groundbreaking records by Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim and EPMD among others, while the likes of Sonic Youth, Pixies and R.E.M. were reaching far and wide. 
Closer to home, the psychedelic experience was in the process of taking an unexpected turn when British youth once again seized upon underground black American music and this time began to refine it into rave culture. The addition of MDMA to the existing menu of mind-altering substances inextricably linked the drug with the scene. If you want to track the seed of the best of the 90s and what followed, this is when it was planted. 
And it was against this backdrop that Spacemen 3 unshackled psychedelic rock from its origins in the 60s to give it an updated and modern vernacular. 
Driven by the partnership of Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember and Jason Pierce, Spacemen 3 had been ploughing their own unique and unfashionable furrow since their formation in 1982. From the fuzzed-up ramalama of their Stooges-indebted 1986 debut album, Sound Of Confusion, through to its follow-up a year later with the laid-back and medicated washes of The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3’s gradual reduction and minimalising of their sound would result in Playing With Fire. Opening a fresh chapter in the band’s evolution in the shape of new bassist Will Carruthers, the circumstances around the album’s creation helped precipitate the increasingly fractious relationship between Pete Kember and Jason Pierce. 
Speaking to tQ from his Berlin home, Carruthers muses: “People always ask, ‘Why did the band split up?’ The more interesting question is, ‘Why did they stay together?’” 
Carruthers has a point and the answer lies in the grooves contained within Playing With Fire. This is an album that’s defined as much by what’s not there as is there. The monolithic and overdriven onslaught of their debut is largely gone, and when it does re-appear on the hypno-monotony of the repetitive call-to-arms that is ‘Revolution’, the sound is more streamlined, focussed and attacking. Boiled down to a single E chord, its audacity is matched by its mesmeric qualities as it layers one guitar on top of another, before reducing the sound down again to the bare minimum of guitars and single, open strings. 
Similarly, ‘Suicide’ strips away structures to just an isolated chord, and instead applies washes of tremolo, delay, echo and wah-wah on a circular guitar riff for dynamic effect. Its tempo is anchored by the beat of a single, programmed bass drum and a bass guitar that locks in on the groove. The end result is a relentless wall of sound that simultaneously disorientates yet welcomes the listener to an experience where time, space and structure become meaningless concepts. 
Yet for all that, Spacemen 3 were creating even more space on the album. Opening with the beatific ‘Honey’, the band’s intentions become manifestly clear. This is to be a trip fuelled less by power and more by stealth, pace and room to roam. The sparseness at the heart of ‘How Does It Feel?’ – an eight-minute exercise in minimalism – is matched by the haunting yet oddly lachrymose ‘Let Me Down Gently’. 
And among these stark excursions are songs of stunning beauty. ‘Come Down Softly To My Soul’ dances and shimmers, while ‘So Hot (Wash Away All Of My Tears)’ is a tender search for redemption and inner peace that’s underlined by the neo-gospel yearn of ‘Lord Can You Hear Me?’ 
In short, Spacemen 3 were making the best music of their career. And in doing so, they were also laying down the groundwork for what was to come next as they gradually fell apart first into factions, and then two separate groups in the shape of Spectrum and Spiritualized. But how much of it was evolution or revolution? 
“I don’t think there was ever a wilful decision that said we’re going to do something different than we had before, but there was always an assumption that it was going to be like that,” states Jason Pierce. “But what seems to be a giant leap for the listener isn’t such a big step for the musician. To my ears it doesn’t seem like a huge step. We were moving relatively fast anyway, and we had a huge amount of influences already involved ahead, even, of the first album.” 
It’s a viewpoint shared by Pete Kember: “I would venture that Sound Of Confusion through to The Perfect Prescription was a night and day switch as well. My thing has always been that I’m not that interested in making the same record twice. I think most musicians feel like that and it’s an unfulfilling thing to repeat yourself. Most of the bands that I like, they like to keep themselves walking.” 
He continues: “Speaking for myself, I’d call myself an untrained musician and we were very much experimenting with what we could do and how we could encapsulate what we were trying to present in sound, really. The Perfect Prescription was definitely an awakening for us. Initially we thought that there would be severe limitations to having these one and two-chord, very minimal song structures that would burn themselves out quickly, but they never did. I think we kept finding other ways that we could have these other avenues and branches where we could take music that were still part of the same tree. Playing With Fire was a slightly different direction.” 
“There was also a certain musical inability that helped our sound,” elaborates Pierce. “We couldn’t do certain chord changes so we minimalised the whole thing through necessity. With Spacemen 3, it’s almost like you’re listening to people learning their instruments as they go along; there might be guitar bends here and there, but they’re not learned guitar bends. And you’ve also got the inherent stupidity of rock & roll, but that’s not to undermine anyone’s talent. The simplicity of language and notes makes things so exciting.” 
“Well, the greatest effects came from the least effort. That’s one of my driving motivations!” laughs Kember. “I’ve always been in awe of people like Kraftwerk, who wouldn’t have more than three or four elements in their tracks; they would all own and occupy their own space, sonically. They’d keep clear of each other but would be awesome around each other. I think there was some influence from that.”

Work began on Playing With Fire in June 1988 when Kember and Pierce were persuaded to record at ARK Studios in Cornwall instead of VHF Studios near Rugby where they’d previously recorded. 
“We got offered a cheap deal at a studio that didn’t turn out what it was meant to be,” recalls Kember. “We did, in fact, complete about half of the album back in Rugby at VHF. We had to re-record parts as stuff got wiped in Cornwall.” 
Will Carruthers, who had never actually played with Spacemen 3 until he arrived for the sessions, is less flattering in his recollections of the Cornish studios. 
“We’re not talking about fucking Abbey Road,” he chuckles at the memory. “It was the corner of the living room in a hippy house. It was a really crusty, anarchist punk household.” 
“We liked the idea of not being on an industrial estate in Rugby in a closed box for another summer,” adds Kember. “The best summers of my youth were spent in a box with no windows! In Cornwall, we could actually set up outside and play there.” 
Indeed. While the inside of the studio may not have lived up to the band’s expectations, its surrounding areas had a more positive effect. 
“It was very exciting making a record and being in a studio and playing those songs and working with Pete and Jason,” says Carruthers. “I remember sitting in the garden, playing music and smoking hash and being pretty much focussed on making that record. That was all that really mattered.” 
Carruthers had arrived in Cornwall to find the recording sessions in their infancy. 
“There wasn’t very much down at that point,” he says. “Maybe the backing track for [the cover of Suicide’s] ‘Che’, a few little drones for ‘Let Me Down Gently’, and a lot of it was written as it went. But what there was sounded great.” 
An oddly compelling aspect to Playing With Fire is that for a largely beatless album, it’s driven by a palpable groove. Was this by accident or design? 
“The drums went down in some kind of form in Cornwall, but not particularly well executed,” says Jason Pierce. 
“This French guy was drafted in to have a go but didn’t really nail it,” explains Carruthers. “They had to programme the drums but no one was really labouring over that for weeks to get it done.” 
He continues: “But it was hard to play those Spacemen 3 songs with a drummer. They’re deceptively simple, but if you weren’t bang on when you played them, they sounded gash.” 
“Well, the thing with Spacemen 3 were the very minimal or underplayed drums,” adds Kember. “I love rhythm and groove but I’m not particularly great at creating it. I tend towards the minimal and simplistic. I’m bound by limitations and Spacemen 3 were band whose limitations helped us become the band we were. We were trying to make something out of nothing and sometimes, when you do that, you get really good things out of it.” 
The distance between Cornwall and Rugby gave the principal players time to soak up further influences. For Kember and Carruthers, who’d drive back to their hometown at the weekends, it was bootleg cassettes of The Beach Boys’ Smile sessions as well as illicit recordings of New York’s electronic pioneers Suicide, while Pierce, remaining in Cornwall, would immerse himself in live bootlegs of The MC5 in action. But inspiration was coming from other areas, too. 
“Jason got into gospel around the time of Playing With Fire,” says Will Carruthers. “‘Lord Can You Hear Me?’ is a classic gospel soul tune. We listened to a lot of that stuff.” 
“I think gospel has always been there, even in the early days,” says Pierce. “And American soul. It’s there on ‘Lord Can You Hear Me’ but it’s evident on some of the others tracks, if you listen carefully enough.” 
“That song is so good that it should be a gospel standard,” opines Kember. 
“But I don’t think those influences are that disparate,” continues Pierce. “I didn’t think it was that odd to be listening to The MC5 and Kraftwerk and Otis Redding. Now, it’s not such a big deal because it’s all easily available and has some kind of reference point. It all seems to make more sense now because the world is a little smaller.” 
He adds: “It was very natural. As soon as we put those sounds together on the earliest recordings, it didn’t sound like anyone else. Of course, it was coming from our small world of music and it became bigger as we heard more music. But it wasn’t trying to copy those sounds. It was this thing that worked.” 
“We were certainly a magpie band,” admits Kember. “We would delve into the past but we ended up with this weird mix. But all of those songs are from the same place, in a weird way. It’s just people meaning what they say and owning it when they say it. We were definitely listening to Kraftwerk and Laurie Anderson, plus there were the records that we found in the studio in Cornwall that we didn’t have. Penguin Café Orchestra were an influence around that time and elements of all of them found their way into Playing With Fire.” 
While Jason Pierce and Will Carruthers deny that the emerging popularity in MDMA had any direct impact on the music Spacemen 3 were making, Pete Kember remembers things a little differently. 
“‘Ecstasy Symphony’ from The Perfect Prescription from ’87 is entirely referencing the ecstasy scene. We were lucky to play some of the pre-rave ecstasy shows in Hackney. They were called ‘The X Parties’ and we played two of those that I remember. There were large amounts of people there taking ecstasy and other psychedelic drugs. The days of The Grateful Dead and all that nonsense were long gone.” 
Pondering the cultural impact of ecstasy, Kember continues: “Ecstasy really changed British culture. If you were a kid then and into Spacemen 3 and you went out into your town or city on a Friday or Saturday night, then you’d better watch your back. When we played gigs in Rugby we’d hear bottles smashing behind us after they’d been thrown on stage. But that really changed with the whole MDMA culture and it changed that whole British bloke thing. It opened up a whole empathetic side to people that was culturally really important. 
“It was one of the more interesting cultural steps; maybe even the last truly interesting cultural movement to have happened.”
Less harmonious was what was to come. A perfect storm of Jason Pierce’s romance with future Spiritualized keyboard player Kate Radley, a new management contract with local businessman Gerald Palmer and Kember’s perception of an imbalance in songwriting duties was beginning to take its toll on the band’s two song writers. 
“We were badly advised and badly managed,” sighs Kember. “We were kids learning and trying to figure shit out.” 
A tone of remorse enters his voice. 
“If I had the chance to change things, there are many things that I would’ve done differently,” he admits. “You know, at that point we separated our song writing and there was a period when Jason stopped writing songs and we’d always split the credit. I was like, ‘Dude, you can’t just leave me floating here. Come on – you come up with totally different stuff and our stuff works really well together. I’m not going to split the credit with you, dude, if you’re not going to write anything’ and I regret that.” 
He continues: “It was only a small and temporary period that Jason wasn’t writing, and I think I reacted badly to it. I wish we had worked closer together and many of the tracks on the record were done in isolation: ‘Lord Can You Hear Me’, that’s Jason and I don’t play on that track. ‘Honey’, that’s me but Jason doesn’t play on that track. It wasn’t a critically destructive thing but it wasn’t good vibes. 
“I just wish that maybe we could have done it differently. But on the other hand, I feel that, as with the bands whose music I really love, that dysfunction can produce great music. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes.” 
In some respects, Playing With Fire is an album that’s curated as much as it’s composed. This far down the line it’s easy to spot the ingredients that went into its making but this is to miss the point. The analogue world of 1988 – 89 didn’t offer the same off-the-peg musical choices that it does now. Influences, records, and their histories and significance had to be physically hunted down. Time, effort and money were spent to seek these materials, to make sense of them and to refine and streamline them into something new. Consequently, Playing With Fire not only comes at the listener from different directions, it also sends the curious on a journey that joins a lot of dots. But crucially, it holds it all together to create a satisfying journey from beginning to end – and one that has continued to do so over the last 30 years as it inspires subsequent generations of space cadets. 
Says Will Carruthers: “It’s a peculiar album, especially when you think about the diversity – from ‘Suicide’ to ‘Let Me Down Gently’, ‘Lord Can You Hear Me’ to ‘How Does It Feel?’ and I don’t know how it works as an album. On paper, it shouldn’t fucking work. You’ve got Jason’s classic, poppy and gospel tunes. It’s interesting how it hangs together, given the peculiarity of the elements within it.” 
As one of the album’s two chief architects, Pete Kember has a clearer idea of how those different elements coalesce into a coherent statement. 
“It’s one of those weird things where sometimes you have a collection of songs that don’t appear to go together and then you find that actually, you find a way to thread them together, and so make them all stronger,” he explains. “You know, ‘Suicide’ next to ‘Revolution’? That’s not such a great mix, but when you put ‘Suicide’ next to ‘Honey’, then it makes both of the tracks more extreme. I really like that kind of journey.” 
“It’s funny, there are a lot of people now who sound like Spacemen 3 but when we were kids, we didn’t want to make psychedelic music that sounded like psychedelic music,” adds Jason Pierce. “I don’t think we’d have been able even if we wanted to. There were bands at the time wearing paisley and playing music that was copied from West Coast psychedelia, but the music we played didn’t come from that. We weren’t constrained by style or form; we went for what sounded right.” 
Pete Kember agrees and it’s with no little pride that he states: “I’ve never wanted to make a lot of records, but I’ve always wanted to feel happy about the ones I have made. 
“I could go a decade without listening to Spacemen 3, but when I hear that stuff I’m always psyched and I think to myself, Yeah, we fucking nailed it.”
Julian Marszalek / The QUIETUS