Monday, 5 October 2020

New York Gong ‎– About Time (1979)

Style: New Wave, Punk, Avantgarde, Prog Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Charly Records, Decal, Victor

1.   Preface
2.   Much Too Old
3.   Black September
4.   Materialism
5.   Strong Woman
6.   I Am A Freud
7.   O My Photograph
8.   Jungle Windo(w)
9.   Hours Gone

Bass – Bill Laswell
Drums – Bill Bacon, Fred Maher
Guitar – Cliff Cultreri
Producer, Guitar, Vocals – Daevid Allen

Gong gone punk. About Time documents Daevid Allen's 1979 New York trip to partake of the then-happenin' CBGB's scene. The new sound is an odd hybrid of psychedelia ("Preface"), new wave ("I Am a Freud") and punk ("Much Too Old"), with a lyrical sentiment reminiscent of early-'70s Gong ("Jungle Window"). The CD opens with an effects-laden recording of Allen reciting his "trippy" poetry. Some of the compositions, like "I Am a Freud," bleed quirky rhythms and melodies resembling the work of the League of Gentlemen and Talking Heads. "Materialism" and "Strong Woman" feature Allen's glissando guitar, which seems a forerunner to the sound Fripp and Belew employed on their early-'80s King Crimson projects. "Materialism," penned by Laswell, is a standout with its dominating bass driving home the groove. Another highlight is "Jungle Window," the most Gong-like piece in the set, featuring Gary Windo's jagged sax and Laswell's popping bass. About Time is a solid CD which pleasantly expands Allen's repertoire.
David Ross Smith / AllMusic

Róisín Murphy ‎– Ruby Blue (2005)

Genre: Electronic, Pop
Format: CDVinyl
Label: Echo, Play It Again Sam, Sony Music

01.   Leaving The City
02.   Sinking Feeling
03.   Night Of The Dancing Flame
04.   Through Time
05.   Sow Into You
06.   Dear Diary
07.   If We're In Love
08.   Ramalama (Bang Bang)
09.   Ruby Blue
10.   Off On It
11.   Prelude To Love In The Making
12.   The Closing Of The Doors

Keyboards – Matthew Herbert
Mastered By – Mandy Parnell
Saxophone – Dave O'Higgins 
Trombone – Trevor Mires 
Trumpet – Pete Wraight
Written-By – Matthew Herbert, Roisin Murphy
Producer – Matthew "Right Handed" Herbert, Roisin Murphy

We didn't hear much about Moloko in the U.S., but they had qualities that set them apart from the trip-hoppers they were first lumped with, most notably Portishead. Moloko could do icy noir when they wanted but they could also be playful and mischievous with an interest in off-kilter pop. Their albums don't hold up all that well but they got better the further they went from their trip-hop roots and left a handful of good singles behind. "Sing It Back" from I Am Not a Doctor is one such gem, and beyond its catchy chorus it now has further significance since a remix brought Moloko singer Róisín Murphy together with Matthew Herbert.

After the fortuitous meeting over the mixing board, Murphy and Herbert later decided to collaborate on this, her debut solo album. They wrote the songs together and Herbert handled the production, melding his intricate sampling technique, which proceeds according to strict compositional strictures, with contributions from other musicians, mostly horns and reeds. All songs were released piecemeal earlier this year on three low-profile 12" EPs titled Sequins 1-3.

It's hard to imagine anyone not ranking this is the best thing Murphy has ever done. Her singing has definitely improved in a technical sense, as she sounds more confident and controlled with her voice basically stripped of processing. She's also ironed out some of her trademark tics, mostly leaving behind the pinched nasal tone that seemed intended to impart "attitude" to certain Moloko tracks. And behind Murphy is some of Herbert's most balanced and functional music-- plenty of glitches and odd noises but always deployed in the service of the song.

The first seven tracks are very nearly flawless. "Leaving the City" combines a repetitious pleading refrain by Murphy ("No more goodbyes!") with tense backing from Herbert at his busiest, the out-of-tune guitar plucks imparting a palpable sense of urgency. "Through Time" is another highlight with its airy bossa nova feel, the subdued and spacious production complementing Murphy's voice at is rich and sultry peak. Throughout Herbert uses the horns primarily for quick percussive stabs and minute textural accents, magically evoking pop classicism with fussy micro-edited electronics. The towering opening run ends with the album's first single "If We're in Love", one of the 2005's best to date and a song that suggests that Murphy and Herbert could freelance as a hitmaking r&b songwriting duo if so inclined. "Ramalama (Bang Bang)" is almost as excellent but more unusual, sharing with "The Night of the Dancing Flame" a German cabaret feel, with dark jazz accents and Herbert molding gothic percussion into twisted gargoyle shapes.

From there Ruby Blue takes a short excursion into a more experimental direction that isn't quite as satisfying. The title track has an awesome overdriven guitar tone and sharp cool vocal layering but it feels very underwritten compared to what has come before while "Off On It" a meandering assemblage of cool noises. "Prelude to Love in the Making" is a short snippet of a track called "Love in the Making" that appeared complete on Sequins 2, and we're not missing much in excerpted form.

Ruby Blue ends with the gorgeous ballad "Closing of the Doors", played on the piano that was certainly used to help write the rest of the music and was supplanted throughout by Herbert's always fascinating synthesized stand-ins. It's a nice closer and a good reminder of what makes this record so good. When the songwriting is on, Ruby Blue seems perfect, the ultimate combination of human warmth and technological know-how.
Mark Richardson / Pitchfork

Ultramarine ‎– Signals Into Space (2019)

Genre: Electronic
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Les Disques Du Crépuscule, P-Vine Records

01.   Elsewhere
02.   Spark From Flint To Clay
03.   Breathing
04.   Arithmetic
05.   If Not Now When?
06.   $10 Heel
07.   Du Sud
08.   Equatorial Calms
09.   Sleight Of Hand
10.   Framework
11.   Cross Reference
12.   Signals Into Space

Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone– Iain Ballamy
Vibraphone, Percussion – Ric Elsworth
Vocals, Lyrics By – Anna Domino
All Instruments Played By – Ian Cooper, Paul Hammond
Produced By – Ultramarine

Ultramarine have always seemed to exist slightly outside their time. Their 1989 debut EP, Wyndham Lewis, incorporated recordings of the work of Lewis, the futurist painter and writer who died three decades earlier. And where their first album, 1990’s Folk, bore certain hallmarks of its era—a mix of breakbeats, funk bass, and keening saxophone, embedded within groove-heavy, sampledelic post-punk—subsequent albums ventured further afield. Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper made good on the promise of what Simon Reynolds called “pastoral techno”: an unorthodox fusion of sleek machine funk with woolly jazz, wonky soul, and occasional vocals from Robert Wyatt, an iconoclastic legend of the Canterbury scene.

Signals Into Space, only their second album in two decades, distills elements that have always been present in Ultramarine’s music into a potent new brew. Their sound is more refined than ever, but it’s hard to put your finger on what, exactly, that sound is. Warm, liquid synths and gently pulsing grooves scan as ambient, but vintage drum machines add teeth. The tone of the electric bass, muscular but understated, flashes to Tortoise’s spacious brand of post-rock. The watercolor wash of Ric Elsworth’s vibraphone and the searching saxophone of Iain Ballamy (a member of the group Food, with multiple albums for ECM and Rune Grammofon to his name) nod to ethereal jazz. The most fitting tag might be “Balearic,” given the album’s drowsy drift; there’s even a sample of a 1983 song by Orquesta de las Nubes, Suso Sáiz’s balmily experimental Spanish group.

Ultramarine call Signals Into Space—composed in a small, windowless room in an industrial complex in their native Essex—“an escapist record.” But it’s no mere pastiche of palm trees and Mediterranean tides. Its effects are more complex, even contradictory—a picture of white-sand beaches superimposed on dull cement walls, a dream of summer bundled in heavy down. Atmospheric and skeletal, their music projects outward yet turns inward.

Their oblique way of working tends to smudge edges. Instead of taking the lead, guitar and bass riffs add subtle adornment to softly cycling synth arpeggios and mysterious streaks of tone, bounced from tape to tape so many times that they’ve lost all trace of their original contours. On the title track, you can identify the provenance of some sounds, like the scrape of fingertips against coiled strings or the rustle of muted vibraphone. Others swim just past the limits of perception, like dark shapes beneath the surface of the water.

Still, Ultramarine’s music isn’t murky, exactly. They have learned from dub how to get the most out of empty space, from Talk Talk how to make elaborate studio artifice sound as natural as a single mic hung in the center of a candlelit room. Their sleight-of-hand sometimes makes it difficult to fix your attention on the music’s outlines. These are not melodies that stick with you after the song is finished. Instead, they’re rewarding while you’re in them, and that elusive quality has its own magnetism.

Their only real concession to center stage comes with Anna Domino, a singer who made a string of idiosyncratic synth-pop records for Les Disques du Crépuscule in the 1980s. She sings on four songs here, with mixed results. Her lovely voice is cool and controlled, but the presence of a vocal melody throws the music’s proportions out of whack. The jazzy lilt of “$10 Heel” and “Spark From Flint to Clay” feel out of keeping with the diffuseness of the music. Ballamy’s saxophone is a more natural fit, sometimes sliding like a blurry brushstroke across wet canvas. He’s often content just to add the faintest spot of color to the duo’s electronic textures, like a blush coming to the surface.

On the most successful of Domino’s songs, “Arithmetic,” her voice is harmonized, vocoded, and folded back into the fabric of the music, restoring the balance. The arrangement is beyond subtle: just reeds, Rhodes, reverb, and a twinge of birdsong, like a chain reaction of glancing accents and hints of things not quite heard. There’s a snatch of some foreign language, as though the recording has alighted on a distant radio station, and a powerful sense of groove. “Arithmetic,” sings Domino, her voice quiet and low, “Skies are streaming/You look up and get carried away.” It’s a fine approximation of how, at its best, Ultramarine’s music feels: a flash of logic and a fog of unknowing, the trace of an equation on a chalkboard wiped clean.
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork

Gotan Project ‎– La Revancha Del Tango (2000)

Genre: Electronic, Latin
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: ¡Ya Basta!, XL Recordings

01.   Queremos Paz
02.   Época
03.   Chunga's Revenge
04.   Tríptico
05.   Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)
06.   Una Música Brutal
07.   El Capitalismo Foráneo
08.   Last Tango In Paris
09.   La Del Ruso
10.   Vuelvo Al Sur

MC – Willy Crook
Percussion – Edi Tomassi
Piano – Gustavo Beytelmann
Violin – Line Kruse
Vocals – Cristina Vilallonga
Acoustic Guitar – Eduardo Makaroff
Bandoneon – Nini Flores
Double Bass – Fabrizio Fenoglietto
Drum Programming, Bass, Keyboards – Christoph H. Müller
Keyboards, Bass, Sounds, Effects – Philippe Cohen Solal
Written-By – Christoph H. Müller, Eduardo Makaroff, Philippe Cohen Solal
Producer – Christoph H. Müller, Eduardo Makaroff, Philippe Cohen Solal

Tango is crying out for reinvention. The death of Astor Piazzolla in 1992 marked the end of the last great era of experimentation. Perennial revivals and occasional new approaches pop up in Buenos Aires but there is still a creative void in the genre.

"La Revancha del Tango" by Franco-Argentine outfit Gotan Project takes tango away from the ballroom, the floorshow and the heavy nostalgia that lingers in every step of the dance. Acoustic guitar, piano, double bass and bandoneón (the plaintive button accordion vital to tango) are overlaid with dub treatments, screeching violins, fast trancey beats and speech samples. They are clearly on a mission to get tango into clubland.

Their use of tango comes from the classic thumping, dance-friendly orchestral sound of the 1930s and 40s. The repetitions, sudden shifts in direction and melodramatic flourishes fit neatly into the frantic pace of the contemporary dance beat. But this is music for the lounge, not the salon. Most numbers open with promising stridency but this can soon drift into a level, blasé series of variations. And some will find it soporific. The liveliest track on the album, "Last Tango in Paris", is the leastgroundedin tango. The energetic chacarera "La del ruso"finds the ten musicians liveliest when doing jazz-style improvisations.

Their songs are given some smoky (not always tuneful) female vocals on "Una musica brutal" and the great Piazzolla-Solanas song "Vuelvo al sur". Some of the singing recalls the past glories of tango canción but is essentially decorative, evoking more than it delivers.

Which is, I suspect, the project Gotan have embarked on to explore, and exploit, tango's suggestive qualities, its melancholy moods and romance, and its local mythologies. Their music hints at shadowy cobbled backstreets in Buenos Aires, the elegant couples dancing while democracies are toppled and the memory of tango as its one great export. Like a soundtrack, you keep wondering what the film might look like.

Those looking for a new tango maestro must keep on waiting. Whilst this album is daring on its own terms, and achingly stylish, it will not have tango conservatives threatening the lives of Gotan's musicians as they did Piazzolla.

This is a trippy, slickly-executed and utterly modern tango sound, but a bit too harmless and non-committal. Where the band go next with tango, or dance,or jazz,is an open question but they'll probably go somewhere interesting.
Chris Moss / BBC Review