Saturday, 9 May 2020

Glenn Branca ‎– The Ascension (1981)

Style: Noise, Minimal, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: 99 Records, Acute Records, Fortissimo Records

1.   Lesson 2
2.   The Spectacular Commodity (For Eiko And Koma)
3.   Structure
4.   Light Field (In Consonance)
5.   The Ascension

Producer – Ed Bahlman
Bass – Jeffrey Glenn
Drums – Stephan Wischerth
Composed By – Branca, Glenn, Wischerth
Guitars – David Rosenbloom, Glenn Branca, Lee Ranaldo, Ned Sublette

I was teaching the Dwight highschoolers how to drunk-drive when I first heard The Ascension. "When the vision's getting blurry, when you can't handle yer liquor or yer speed," I said, "cover one eye and your head'll stop spinning. It takes that binocular dilemma right out of there so you can see straight. Visionary or not, it's easy to steer straight with only one eye working." 
Glenn Branca knows nothing about this: he was never one to limit his vision. Seeing Rock out of one side and Academic out the other, the two only blurred together in his third eye. By 1981, Branca had already played in Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio for four years, and had disbanded his No Wave groups Theoretical Girls and The Static to focus on larger movements for amplified guitar. He had even completed compositions like "Lesson No.1" and "Dissonance", bringing to light the possibilities for multiple guitars beyond the Molly Hatchet formations of the early 70s. 
But the group he assembled to play a rare tour of the States around 1980 would cohere in such a way as to make his most recent work to that point, "The Ascension", his most fully realized. Featuring David Rosenbloom from downtown group Chinese Puzzle, as well as future Sonic Youth guitar-beating beat Lee Ranaldo, the piece was scored for four guitars, bass, and drums; his sextet was Times Square neon and the ghost-light luminance of the city at 3 a.m. focused into a laser-like intensity. 
It was ferocity never seen nor heard before, not even on that coast-to-coast tour, where the guitars would slash it out on stage nightly, roaring alive like the 6 train, one-eyed through dank tunnels across the country. Trying to capture that essence in the elitist Power Station studio, even Ranaldo-- in his excellent liner notes for this reissue-- admits it was hard to recreate the actual beast. Whatever Weasel Walter was able to glean digital remastering from is unbeknownst to me, but this thing is fucking huge. 
You can sure bet Branca knows about driving drunk: he swerves about on these city streets between two musical extremes like a pilled-n-pompadoured Popeye Doyle on his way to the French Connection set. On one hand, he seems to be in the slow lane with all the Sunday drivers moving to Brahms and Buckner on the West Side Highway, making symphonic movements with the blinker on for miles before the turn. Riding on the Neu!-like toms of Stephan Wischerth and a bassline that lunges out like Drive Like Jehu, the four guitars in "Lesson No.2" quickly gain on traffic, buzzing and droning about 88 miles faster than anyone else clogging the lanes. It sounds almost reckless, as he steers and swerves the guitars into the other lanes, right at the oncoming lights of punk-crushed cars, weaving in and out of traffic, and then suddenly cutting down dark Chinatown alleys of urban rot. Your knuckles turn white, clinging to the door handles-- it feels so out of control, but every movement has been precisely laid-out. 
"The Spectacular Commodity" is precision defined, the massive guitars gleaming like metal and glass towers in a grand opening movement, its bass menacing the very foundations with a low rumble. The manic speed of the piece increases to white-hot levels of crashing, cacophonous overtone; from these bloodied guitar strings and twisted metal carnage you can discern not just the euphoric guitar bliss of everyone from Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine, but also the mighty crescendos of Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Black Dice, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, or whomever, here executed with a plasma-like energy and melodic/harmonic structure still light-years beyond the forenamed. 
"Light Field (In Consonance)" is as majestic as its title would suggest: guitars rain down like torrents from thunderclouds, but with a savagery typical of back alley stabbings. When the guitar strikes like sheets of lightning into these ascendant runs at the apex, it's as anthemic and all-powerful as anything I've ever heard from a six-stringed electric, in rock or any experimental context. 
I've had the symphony of the streets do a little winking dance in a light drizzle to Monk's solo piano playing before, I've had Ellington make the lights of Broadway glimmer and dance for miles. White Light/White Heat split my skull open with the cold cruelty of the last exit to Brooklyn, while Paul's Boutique foretold the coke-smoking pleasures of the Vice lifestyle ten years before I arrived. Daydream Nation carved out the skyscraper shapes and dungeon scrapes of the sewer below in sound, but none of these quintessential New York records made every single movement of the Gotham populous move as one quivering entity in my head as does Branca's finale, "The Ascension". 
Every step pounded out on concrete, every seeping bag of dragged garbage, every rat squeal, every metal-on-metal cry of the arriving train on the third rail, every disfigured bum, and all the echoing voices seem to be notated for these detuned guitars. The nasty city these compositions were birthed in appears no longer to be with us. A ghost city, seemingly isolated to Martin Scorsese and Abel Ferrera videos, still haunts us as an ineffable layer over the cleaned city of Disney, as brutal and terrifying as the city has always been. She's never left; it's nice to have her back.
Andy Beta / Pitchfork

Brian Eno ‎– Here Come The Warm Jets (1973)

Genre: Electronic, Pop, Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: EG, Virgin, Polydor, Astralwerks

01.   Needles In The Camel's Eye
02.   The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch
03.   Baby's On Fire
04.   Cindy Tells Me
05.   Driving Me Backwards
06.   On Some Farway Beach
07.   Blank Frank
08.   Dead Finks Don't Talk
09.   Some Of Them Are Old
10.   Here Come The Warm Jets

Bass Guitar – Bill MacCormick, Busta Cherry Jones, Paul Rudolph
Guitar – Chris 'Ace' Spedding, Paul Rudolph, Phil Manzanera, Robert Fripp
Keyboards – Andy Mackay, Nick Judd, Nick Kool & The Koolaids
Percussion – Marty Simon, Paul Thompson, Simon King
Vocals, Simplistic Keyboards, Snake Guitar, Vocoder, Treatments, Mixed By, Producer – Brian Eno

Full confession, I’m not a huge fan of Eno’s ambient works such as Music For Airports. I’m not going to sit here and play detractor. That work certainly has its merits. Truth is, it’s just not my bag. That said, I find his first three solo albums to be out of this world.  
Here Come The Warm Jets came out in 1974 a year after Eno parted ways with Roxy Music. And it certainly takes its cue from For Your Pleasure. But here, Eno flexes his muscles and his oblique strategies reach far beyond Bryan Ferry’s wildest dreams. That said, he essentially enlisted Roxy Music (sans Ferry) but threw them together with the likes of Robert Fripp and Chris Spedding. His idea was to bring an odd assortment together who essentially had nothing in common musically and see what would happen. The results could be called, seminal and groundbreaking, but they’re also a lot of fun. It’s clear Eno’s tongue was firmly in cheek and wasn't about to do anything as indulgent as take himself too seriously. According to the maestro, he would “dance” his instructions of how he wanted a particular part played. Then, would mix and treat the results until they were virtually unrecognizable from what was laid down. There are sounds on this record that were hitherto unknown to the 20th Century and yet, it all bears approachable semblance to the Glam Rock Eno helped usher in. It’s not that Eno’s compositions themselves reinvented the wheel, it’s how they were produced, treated and sound that remains innovative. Rumor is the album title refers to urination but Eno has set the record straight by relating it refers to a guitar treatment he came up for the album. 
The lyrics to the opener, ‘Needle In The Camel’s Eye’ were reportedly written in a few minutes. Eno has described it as an instrumental with words. Regardless, it’s as infectious as any Pop tune out there at the time. Which in the end, might just be the point. Still, elements sound otherworldly to this day, as if one's suddenly stepped into a futuristic dance party, cutting a rug with the robot from Metropolis. 
‘The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch’ is based off a real personage, and imagines a love triangle with a circus freak, a literal human torch.  Musically, things are not only on fire but contagious as hell. There are some sounds on here that would later pave the way for countless other artists and bands including David Bowie and Echo and The Bunnymen. 
‘Baby’s On Fire’ is about as playful and sarcastic as Eno gets. Who knows what the hell he’s talking about but one can gleam it’s about the artistic, baptism by fire Eno is undertaking with this record. “The temperature’s rising and any idiot will know that,” he concludes. That blistering guitar, could only come from Robert Fripp. 
Eno once quipped everyone who heard the Velvet Underground started a band, and ‘Cindy Tells Me’ is an unabashed nod to Lou and The Velvets. Despite this, the treated guitars give the song a sound all its own. One can later hear its influence on Bowie’s, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’. Eno’s vocals managing to sound both robotic and heartfelt. 
‘Driving Me Backwards’ is an exercise in pure experimentation. Close on the heels, the ruminative ‘Some Far Away Beach’ hints at what Eno would later lay down with Another Green World. A song that harks back to a bygone era, yet sounds undeniably modern. It’s the closest one gets to a traditional ballad on the album. 
One listen to the vocals on the anarchic, ‘Blank Frank’ and one can’t help but ponder its influence on a young John Lydon. One could easily call this track Punk or Post Punk. Without a doubt, the founders of Wire and Gang of Four were lending an ear to this one. 
One of my personal favorites is ‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk’. It’s hard to describe this sardonic mix of poison pen letter and Lounge. Eno crooning at times in parody of what can only be Bryan Ferry. Any way you cut it, it’s the sound of burying the hatchet, ending in a flurry of electronic cacophony. ‘Some Of Them Are Old’, follows and sounds like an obituary from the Twilight Zone. “Remember me, remember me,” he coos. “Lucy be still and hide your madness in a jar,” is one of the most haunting lines on the album. If Eno is laying any grievances to rest, they sound most dearly departed. The treated guitar solo is a perverted take on traditional Hawaiian lap steel, before the orchestrated synths lift things to the stratosphere. 
Finally, the title track provides the perfect coda to an album that relishes in the surreal and absurd with aplomb. One can write volumes on those influenced by this record. From Depeche Mode to Bauhaus to Gary Newman. Nor can one underestimate its influence on what was arguably David Bowie’s most groundbreaking period, the oft revered “Berlin Trilogy” of Low, Heroes and Lodger. But take the time to travel back and delve into this long player and you'll be grateful such a strange wonder exists. Here Come The Warm Jets  is truly a one of a kind record that was way ahead of its time.
Kevin Orton / Soudblab

Can ‎– The Singles (2017)

Style: Avantgarde, Experimental, Krautrock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Spoon Records

01.   Soul Desert
02.   She Brings The Rain
03.   Spoon
04.   Shikako Maru Ten
05.   Turtles Have Short Legs
06.   Halleluwah (Edit)
07.   Vitamin C
08.   I'm So Green
09.   Mushroom
10.   Moonshake
11.   Future Days (Edit)
12.   Dizzy Dizzy (Edit)
13.   Splash (Edit)
14.   Hunters And Collectors (Edit)
15.   Vernal Equinox (Edit)
16.   I Want More
17.   ....And More
18.   Silent Night
19.   Cascade Waltz
20.   Don't Say No (Edit)
21.   Return
22.   Can Can
23.   Hoolah Hoolah (Edit)

The Singles by Can is an indispensable and compelling career spanning compilation available on digital, CD and an amazing triple album vinyl set. This is the first time Can’s singles have been presented together and is a cause for celebration, writes Ian Johnston. 
Revealing scarce pieces and Can’s superlative film music (‘Soul Desert’, ’She Brings The Rain’), The Singles consists of incandescent music mostly produced by the classic Can line up of Holger Czukay on propulsive bass, Michael Karoli’s (1948-2001) exploratory, improvisational guitar, the late, great Jaki Liebezeit’s (who died in January of this year) mesmerising drums and Irmin Schmidt’s rhythmic keyboards, and on most tracks, vocals from Malcolm Mooney or Damo Suzuki. Brimming with unconventional music created with conventional instruments, The Singles provide an overview of one of the greatest German bands of the ‘rock’ era. 
Can were formed in 1967 by an ex-student of Stockhausen, Irmin Schmidt, who, excited by the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, abandoned his career in classical music to form a group which could utilise and transcend all boundaries of electronic, jazz and modern classical music. Improvisation was the key. The result was their first album, Monster Movie (1968). 
The Singles perfectly represents what Michael Karoli would define as the band’s approach to “instant composition”. The composition would always be taken from the personal to the collective perspective. The music would come from without, to be channelled through the four pugnacious band members, flowing into Can. Initially, Can would draw uncomprehending comparisons with England’s Pink Floyd from certain quarters. But unlike the Floyd, Can’s musical destination was not outer space. Can christened their recording studio Inner Space for good reason and would have virtually no connection with standard American derived rhythm & blues/ rock ‘n’ roll or conventional popular music. 
Can would only score one hit single in the UK; the funky, pulsing and hypnotic ‘I Want More’ (B-Side ‘…And More’ is also featured here). Can’s music was generally considered too demanding for the mainstream, and also many of the group’s compositions were considerably longer than the 45-RPM format. Yet The Singles make the case that in a parallel universe, Can should have repeatedly enjoyed considerable international chart success. The trance-like ‘Spoon’ (taken from the landmark Ege Bamyasi), which was actually a Top Ten hit in Germany during 1972, is included on this compilation, together with its beguiling ‘lost’ B-side, ‘Shikako Maru Ten’. 
The band’s third single, ‘Turtles Have Short Legs’, (which has never before appeared on an album and was recorded at the same time as the band’s masterwork Tago Mago LP) defies description – a jolly novelty ditty with a catchy barroom chorus and berserk lyrics from Damo Suzuki. Elsewhere, the edited versions of such Can classics, such as the unstoppable ‘Halleluwah’ (also on Tago Mago), the dream-like album title track ‘Future Days’ (1973), the intoxicating ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ (from the 1974 album, Soon Over Babaluma, featuring Michael Karoli on vocals, replacing the departed free spirit Suzuki) and the bewitching ‘Hunters And Collectors’ and incendiary ‘Vernal Equinox’ (both from the 1975 Landed album), sound as good as their original incarnations. 
The rulebook didn’t mean anything to Can, because they didn’t know what the rules were. Twisted 1976 Christmas single ‘Silent Night’, in which the seasonal traditional number is bent into unfamiliar electronic territory, while a similar feat is performed with a punky romp through Jacques Offenbach’s 1840s composition ‘Can Can’, (1978), provide ample proof that Can followed their own drum. 
If you are unfamiliar with Can’s trailblazing “Krautrock”, The Singles is as good a point of entry as anywhere to their utterly distinctive and timeless music. No wonder the influence of Can endures throughout the best of contemporary music today.
Ian Johnston / Lauder Than War

Jibóia ‎– OOOO (2018)

Style: Free Jazz, Experimental
Format: Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Discrepant

A1.   Diapason
A2.   Diapente
B1.   Diatessaron
B2.  Topos

Mastered By – Rashad Becker
Recorded By, Mixed By – Bernardo Barata

Jibóia era Óscar Silva, homem munido de guitarra, teclados baratos e uma enormidade de pedais que transformavam, reverberavam, distorciam o som criado. Jibóia, o de Badlav e de Masala, os álbuns anteriores, cruzava geografias, com ênfase no Médio e Extremo Oriente, para criar música onde a noção de psicadelismo — vertente rock — ganhava dimensão de rave cósmica — hipnotizados, dançávamos, intrigados e deslumbrados com aquele novo mundo que nos era revelado. Mas Jibóia, apesar do início solitário, nunca se quis exilar em si mesmo. A abertura a outros sons teve rapidamente correspondência na procura de quem acrescentasse outros temperos sonoros à sua música, já de origem bem condimentada. Sequin foi cantora em Badlav, enquanto o baterista Ricardo Martins e Jonathan Saldanha (HHY & The Macumbas, entre outros), este enquanto guia e produtor, foram presença marcante em Massala. OOOO nasce, portanto, desse desejo de encontro. A Jibóia a contrariar a sua natureza, preferindo um abraço fraterno ao sufoco mortal.

Tudo começou com uma residência nas Damas, a sala lisboeta na Graça. Foi ali que, durante quatro concertos em Abril e Maio de 2017, Óscar Silva se juntou novamente a Ricardo Martins (Lobster, Pop Dell’Arte, entre mil outras colaborações) e ao saxofonista Mestre André (O Morto, Notwan). Encontros exploratórios em que, perante um mote sugerido por cada um dos músicos, o trio se entregava à descoberta, entre o combo jazz cósmico e as delícias oníricas do psicadelismo. OOOO é o que aconteceu depois disso, ou seja, é o registo em estúdio do que frutificou da residência nas Damas.

Inspirados pela ideia de Harmonia das Esferas de Pitágoras, segundo a qual cada corpo celeste emite uma vibração — o som de todas elas reunidas resultará numa eterna sinfonia celestial —, criaram quatro peças que, mais que obras concretizadas, ouvimos como pedaços de um trabalho em construção. Isso é evidente em Diapason, a primeira. As notas distendidas, orientais, diríamos, os timbalões a ribombar em cadência lenta, um lugar que se começa a apresentar perante nós, mas que não chegamos a ver realmente — como se, definidos os seus contornos, faltasse colocar alguém a habitá-lo. Diapente, por sua vez, está vivo, vivíssimo: tarola a fazer roda de dança tropical, a linha de baixo a entontecer os sentidos, os teclados distorcidos a conduzir-nos ao Cairo de Islam Chipsy e o sax a enlear-se livremente nele enquanto uma voz faz uma qualquer invocação que desconhecemos — Diapente é música de dança primitiva e tecnologia moderna, é electro chaaby, roda de samba e free hazz, é a Jibóia a mostrar-se em nova dança, tão misteriosa quanto atraente.

OOOO, que terá também saxofone troando como raitas magrebinas em Diatesseron (tema que é antecâmara para algo que, tal como em Diapason, não se revela verdadeiramente), e que termina com os quinze minutos de Topos, peça na qual como que se reúnem num só corpo as experiências que a antecedem, é, de certa forma, Jibóia pela metade. Nasceu da liberdade de um encontro em palco. Em disco, deixou preservado um vislumbre parcelar do que terá sido a viagem completa. É bom (e Diapente é mesmo muito bom), mas não é tudo.
Mário Lopes / ípsilon

Betty Harris ‎– Soul Perfection Plus (1998)

Genre: Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Westside

01.   Betty Harris - Cry To Me
02.   Betty Harris - I'll Be A Liar
03.   Betty Harris - His Kiss
04.   Betty Harris - It's Dark Outside
05.   Betty Harris - Mo Jo Hannah
06.   Betty Harris - Now Is The Hour
07.   Betty Harris - Everybody's Love A.K.A. Just Like Mine
08.   Betty Harris - Why Don't You Tell Him (Take 37)
09.   Betty Harris - I'm Evil Tonight
10.   Betty Harris - What A Sad Feeling
11.   Betty Harris - Sometime
12.   Betty Harris - I Don't Want To Hear It
13.   Betty Harris - 12 Red Roses
14.   Betty Harris - What Did I Do Wrong
15.   Betty Harris - Lonely Hearts
16.   Betty Harris - Bad Luck
17.   Betty Harris - Nearer To You
18.   Betty Harris - I'm Gonna Git Ya
19.   Betty Harris - Can't Last Much Longer
20.   Betty Harris - With Lee Dorsey Love Lots Of Lovin'
21.   Betty Harris - With Lee Dorsey Take Care Of Our Love
22.   Betty Harris - Mean Man
23.   Betty Harris - Hook, Line & Sinker
24.   Betty Harris - Show It
25.   Betty Harris - Trouble With My Lover
26.   Betty Harris - Ride Your Pony
27.   Zilla Mays - All I Want Is You
28.   Betty Harris - There's A Break In The Road 
Compilation of Betty Harris' output for the Jubilee, Sansu and SSS International Labels. Recording dates range from 1963 to 1969.

Subtitled "complete Jubilee, Sansu, SSS International masters, 1963-1969," this is a thorough retrospective of the minor but quality soul singer's 1960s work. The Jubilee sides, all from 1963 and 1964, are decent New York pop-soul, several of them written by top NYC songwriter-producer Bert Berns, and most of them produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. "Cry to Me" (also done by Solomon Burke, and covered by the Rolling Stones) was the only hit from this batch, but if you like the style you'll like what's here; "His Kiss," for instance, sounds a lot like the songs Burke was doing at the same time. From 1965 to 1969 Harris recorded under the direction of the great New Orleans producer and songwriter Allen Toussaint, who wrote every last one of the 20 Harris sides on this disc that were cut during the collaboration. The presence of an ace producer-songwriter is often what's needed to make a good, but not great, vocalist like Harris into something special. While the Toussaint material here is satisfying New Orleans soul, it didn't get Harris over the hump commercially (although "Nearer to You" was an R&B hit), or endure as top-line classic soul. The tracks certainly cover a lot of territory, from the good commercial pop-soul of "What a Sad Feeling" and arching soul balladry of "Can't Last Much Longer" to numbers whose arrangements recall the New Orleans bounce of Lee Dorsey (who duets with Harris on a couple of songs). Some of the later tracks move into the kind of funk associated with the Meters, not a surprise as musicians from the Meters are supposed to have supplied the rhythm section for at least some of these sides.
Richie Unterberger / AllMusic

Charlie Hilton ‎– Palana (2015)

Style: Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Captured Tracks

01.   Palana
02.   Something For Us All
03.   Pony
04.   Long Goodbye
05.   Funny Anyway
06.   Why
07.   Let's Go To A Party
08.   Snow
09.   The Young
10.   No One Will
11.   100 Million

Producer - Jacob Portrait

Best known for fronting Portland trio Blouse, Charlie Hilton sets out on her own with Palana, her first solo offering to be released via Captured Tracks. Listening to Palana feels like waking up, only to find yourself stoned in a field during the summer of love, which by all accounts is a pretty enjoyable place to be. The record takes its title from the Sankrit name given to Charlie by her hippy parents, meaning ‘protection’, and according to Hilton, it also reflects the free spirited nature of Hilton’s personal mantra, 'Man is not by any means of fixed and enduring form... he is much more an experiment and a transition'. 
Palana was produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jacob Portrait, whose analogue production style is the perfect compliment to Hilton’s dreamy vocal, as she oozes an effortless cool with her signature washed-out soundscapes. The spacey synths and hazy guitars are part of an experiment with minimal structures and the result is soft and trippy. It's also surprisingly diverse, drawing on influences from Sixties psych-folk, Seventies psychedelia and Eighties new wave. 
‘Something for Us All’ undoubtedly channels retro charm, with its psychedelic synths, paired back beats and Nico-esque vocal. Lead single ‘Pony’ springs to life with more urgency and resonates with new wave sounds, featuring a driving bass line and droning electronics. Like many songs on the album, the ethereal ballad ‘WHY’ speaks of relationships, love and heartache.

In contrast to the chilled-out tone of the record as a whole, one of the stand-out tracks is the tongue-in-cheek ‘Let’s Go To A Party’, which hears Hilton singing, "I’m only happy when I’m dancing for you”. It’s by far the most upbeat tempo we reach on Palana, pulsing with dark-wave synths and a contemporary feel, before the record fades back to the softer, more ambient and experimental textures of ‘Snow’. 
Charlie enlisted the help of her labelmate, everyone’s favourite stoner Mac Demarco, for penultimate track, ‘100 Million’, a lovely acoustic number filled with nostalgia and a gorgeously melancholic lilt on the vocal. It’s the only song produced by Woods' Jarvis Taveniere and it draws on the sweetness of Hilton’s singing style. 
Palana takes a hazy trip down memory lane, though its overarching strengths could also be its main downfall - that the record often feels like a pastiche of so many musical genres and influences - mainly drawing on the intoxicating sounds of Sixties and Seventies psychedelia. What Hilton does well is to demonstrate a clear ability to produce a strong atmosphere and feeling with her song writing, even if her sound does borrow so strongly from others. As a debut album, it shows great promise and potential for what’s to come, as she develops her own style as an artist.
Caroline Moors / Drowned In Sound