Saturday, 14 November 2020

Lizzy Mercier Descloux ‎– Press Color (1979)

Style: New Wave, No Wave, Free Funk, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: ZE Records, Island Records

01.   Fire
02.   Torso Corso
03.   Mission Impossible
04.   No Golden Throat
05.   Jim On The Move
06.   Wawa
07.   Tumour
08.   Aya Mood
09.   Mission Impossible 2.0
10.   Rosa Vertov
11.   Decryptated
12.   Herpes Simplex
13.   Larousse Baron Bic
14.   Tso Xin Yu Xin
15.   Nina Con Un Tercer Ojo
16.   Birdy Num-num
17.   Hard Boiled Babe
18.   Morning High (Featuring Patti Smith)

Compiled By– Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Michel Esteban
Executive Producer, Producer, Design, Artwork By – Michel Esteban

In 1976, a couple of young French dreamers finagled their way into New York’s punk scene under the auspices of their newly minted magazine, Rock News. Lizzy Mercier Descloux and boyfriend Michel Esteban took full advantage of the Lower East Side’s perpetually open door, scooping ad hoc interviews with the likes of Patti Smith and Television, and became vivid regulars (and Descloux a regular heartbreaker) on the CBGBs circuit. Across the English Channel, they met with the Sex Pistols, and brought stories of nihilists and poets back to France. (France shrugged.) Just a year later, having appeared in Amos Poe and Ivan Kral’s Blank Generation, they had the audacity to declare punk dead, and closed the magazine. Sick of their stuffy city, they moved to New York, and roomed with Smith, Descloux’s Rimbaudian comrade, in a loft propped up by white columns.

As Descloux drifted between simultaneous relationships with Richard Hell and various other artists, she and Esteban split but maintained a close personal and creative bond. She acquired a Fender Jazzmaster, and formed Rosa Yemen with Esteban’s brother, Didier, just around the time of the legendary Artists Space noise series immortalized in Brian Eno’s No New York compilation. Following unhinged gigs at the Kitchen and the Mudd Club where Descloux would scream herself silly and wrap the mic cable around her throat, the duo (named in honor of European activists like Rosa Luxembourg and the Baader-Meinhof group) consecrated their fractious musical relationship in a 12-inch, Live in N.Y.C. July 1978. It became the fifth release on the nascent ZE Records, which Esteban had founded earlier that year with the British writer Michael Zilkha.

On that 12-inch, only "Decryptated" has any significant percussion, which sounds like it was slapped out on an empty bucket. The record is a clash between two guitars, the lead needling with the intensity of a polygraph test administered by a fascist regime, the loose rhythm taking its cues from dub. It’s beginners’ stuff, very much in the vein of Rosa Yemen’s destructive no wave peers, though the atmosphere is consummately terrifying, fraught with the danger of illicit negotiations on dark street corners. "Herpes Simplex" starts with the sound of gasping and frantic footsteps, and then Descloux comes in, yelping about the STI in fractured hysterics. She shudders the word "metabolisme!" like Dracula rising from his coffin.

There are probably dozens, or maybe even hundreds of records like Rosa Yemen Live in N.Y.C.—gripping if unexceptional also-rans that may find an audience as reissue culture has to dig deeper. Light In The Attic has appended these songs to the first in their Lizzy Mercier Descloux reissue series, which focuses on Press Color, the first album under her own name, and one that warrants the marquee billing. In February 1979, as Sid Vicious was being sprinkled on Nancy Spungen’s grave, Descloux, Didier Esteban, Erik Eliasson (from Marie et les Garçons) and Jimmy Young headed into the third room of Bob Blank’s Blank Tapes studio at 37 West 20th Street for 10 days of intense recording. It was still under construction at the time, but then so was Descloux. Where Parisian studios would have scoffed at this bunch of amateurs, Blank welcomed their naïve creative impulses.

Press Color was originally intended to be a group release, but ZE decided that Descloux’s name and face was a better selling point. At the time they were pushing their "mutant disco" aesthetic on their less fully formed artists. Cristina, Zilkha’s wife, had released "Disco Clone", which sent up the interchangeability of women within the scene. Descloux was working within the label’s prescribed sound, but she emerges here as a unique, instinctive voice, abandoning the harrowed yelps of Rosa Yemen to trill and jabber with glee. Uninterested in the conventions of rock, she pursued her guitar playing just the same way.

As a New York newcomer, the failed '60s dream didn’t oppress Descloux in the same way as it did her new peers: she rose early to browse the fish market, swam in Central Park’s Lasker Pool, and scaled rooftops for the views. Her peers and boyfriends recall her as the only person who wore bright colors in a monochromatic scene. And so Press Color is full of joy and possibility rather than psychic pain and bankruptcy, opening with a shimmying cover of Arthur Brown’s "Fire" that moves at the pace of an enervated woodpecker. Descloux’s strong French accent just adds to the charm: "You’ve been so blind! You fall be’ind!" she explodes amidst the glittering whirl.

There are more covers: a skeletal take on Lalo Shifrin’s "Mission Impossible" theme and "Jim on the Move", where Descloux seems to vocalize every twitch of her tongue. A strain of no wave malevolence lingers in "Torso Corso", "Wawa" (whose tumbling bassline deserves to be fully iconic), and the dubbed-out "Aya Mood", which show off the band’s nimble, minimalist interplay. Her shuffling, splayed redux of Peggy Lee’s "Fever" as "Tumor" has an obvious morbid humor, though it’s the original "No Golden Throat" where her disposition and tastes come through most strongly.

By all accounts, Descloux wasn’t into slogging away in the studio, and resisted Michel Esteban’s attempts to get her to sing properly. "Right now I’m not at all a writer of words," she told New York Rocker in the summer of 1980. "I’m using the words completely for what they sound like, how they fit with the rhythms… What’s beautiful is that I don’t speak perfect English but I can get lost in the dictionary and just discover the words." "Golden Throat" is her protest at being asked to fit any idiom: she repeats the line "I’ll never have a golden throat" a dozen different ways, seducing it, mocking it, playing her voicebox like a plastic slide whistle. Phonetic chatter litters the relaxed reggae guitar, prefiguring the direction she would pursue later in her career as she recorded in Nassau and apartheid-era Soweto. She never met the Slits, but they shared a love of reggae and silliness. European avant-garde artists are often self-serious, or considered to be, but Descloux and Ari Up (along with Palmolive and the Raincoats' Ana da Silva) brought a welcome playful streak to what could be an austere scene.

Compared to 1979’s major punk releases, it’s not hard to see why Press Color didn’t make much of a dent in the U.S., UK, or even France. Next to the likes of Fear of Music, Entertainment!, The B-52s, Tom Verlaine, The Raincoats, This Heat, Broken English, Metal Box, London Calling, Cut, and Y, it’s a vivid curio and cool personality splatter rather than a cultural landmark. Descloux would make those later (even if their recognition remains overdue). What Press Color does is distill our collective excitement and unceasing wonder at a scene that’s almost four decades old. New York's no wave and punk’s protagonists were down in the squalor, waging a brutal, draining fight against their city, their country, the commoditization of their sound. As an outsider, Descloux was able to soak up their energy and revolution and use it to fuel the discovery of her own cultural identity and purpose. Press Color isn’t wildly original, but it’s the making of one.
Laura Snapes / Pitchfork

Scrimshire ‎– Believers Vol.1 (2020)

Genre: Electronica, Jazz
Format: FLAC, Vinyl
Label: Albert's Favourites

1.   Anadwo feat. K.O.G 
2.   Where Are We (feat. Stac )
3.   Lost in Space & Time (feat. Bessi )
4.   Chance Me feat. And Is Phi 
5.   Transformation (feat. Tamar Osborn)
6.   Tanto Tiempo (feat. Penya )
7.   Love Is Loving (feat. Omar, XANA, Faye Houston )
8.   Peaceless Peace (feat. Faye Houston, Stac )

Lilli Elina - Vocals 
Chris Boot - Kit drums
Viva Msimang - Trombone 
Matthew Gordon - Wurlitzer electric piano
Tamar Osborn - Flute, baritone clarinet
Magnus Mehta, Jim le Messurier - Percussion 
Faye Houston, Stacey Dowdeswell - Choir vocals 
Vince Vella, Phillip Harper, Nick Woodmansey - Percussion 
Adam Scrimshire - Drum programming, percussion, bass guitar, Fender rhodes, piano, acoustic and electric guitar, Juno 6, Behringer Model D, Casio VL-Tone

Scrimshire’s silky fusion of nu-soul and contemporary jazz is just what’s needed in the world right now. It’s a brilliant feelgood album that drops just in time. Gordon Rutherford reviews for Louder Than War.

Everyone dreads Black Friday, right? It’s that portentous day when you furiously resist the requirement to crawl out from under the duvet, lest any misfortunate occur. This year you can put all of that superstitious old chutney to one side, because Friday 13th November 2020 has an altogether different vibe. Cue the release of Scrimshire’s outstanding new album, Believers Vol. 1.

In case you don’t know, the man behind the moniker is Adam Scrimshire, co-founder of South London soul-focused label, Albert’s Favourites. Scrimshire is no novice; Believers Vol. 1 is actually his fifth album and it follows hard on the heels of 2019’s excellent, critically acclaimed, Listeners.

We may well be on the cusp of the long dark nights and winter woes, but Believers Vol. 1 is such an antidote to that bleak prospect. This album is a fortifying, elevating experience; like being wrapped in the wings of an angel. It is an uplifting and affirmative collection that is guaranteed to banish the blues in these crazy, insecure times of pandemics and polluted politics.

It is nigh on impossible to pick out a highlight from Believers Vol. 1. Every single track stands out in its own right, with precisely zero filler in these grooves. The furious, energetic afro-beat of Anadwo exuberantly kicks off proceedings, exploding out of the blocks like Usain Bolt at the London Olympics. This collaboration with Ghanaian artist K.O.G. is an absolute celebration and is guaranteed to get the party started. The absolutely sublime Where Are We is up next, bringing snappy, hooky nu-soul and featuring the outstanding, honey-like voice of Stac.

Lost In Space And Time introduces a different, but equally dazzling, vocal collaborator in the shape of Brighton-based Bessi (how come Scrimshire has access to so many brilliant vocalists?). This electronic nu-soul track swings and sashays beautifully. It is coolness personified. Things then mellow out with the jazzy Chance Me. This collaboration with And Is Phi is quite sumptuous with Scrimshire’s beautiful keys and understated guitar providing the perfect platform for And Is Phi’s voice.

That laidback vibe continues with the outstanding Transformation. This gorgeous, hypnotic instrumental is wonderfully performed and if you lie back and listen intensely, it will transport you to another, better, place. The outstanding flute of Tamar Osborn must be called out here. It is like a pipistrello on an infinitesimal pipe, swooping and dancing across the grooves and utterly transfixing you.

The Latin-jazz fusion of Tante Tiempo follows. Scrimshire’s terse, anticipatory piano chords introduce the track in a way that summons the spirit of Thelonius Monk’s Epistrophy. The genre-defying quarter, Penya, take the stage and suddenly we have a rumba going on, provoking frenzied percussion, the soaring colossus of Viva Msimang’s trombone and Latin chanting featuring the voice of Lilli Elina. It is quite wonderful.

If there is a stand out track, a case could be made for Love Is Loving. This track, featuring Omar, Xana and Faye Houston is pure hot buttered soul that would be comfortably at home on any of Stevie Wonder’s classic early seventies classic albums. It is that good. The cosmic-jazz instrumental, Peaceless Peace, brings Believers Vol. 1 to an all-too-soon close. Like an Edward Hopper masterpiece, it’s all late-night, smoky piano bar feels and it is a quite beautiful comedown. I loved the 1950’s jazz-influenced piano that Scrimshire brings to the party here and as the track unfolds it’s as if it motors through the ages to reach a point where it suddenly feels like a Kamasi Washington number, with the heavenly choir and all.

And that’s it. That’s how you do it, folks. Only eight tracks, but Scrimshire makes every damn second count. It feels cohesive and joined up, whilst bringing incredible diversity between those eight songs. I’m struggling to recall another album this year that instilled such a sense of optimism and warmth in me and that’s no mean feat as we sit here in the midst of Lockdown Mark Two. I genuinely don’t think I am overstating things by describing Believers Vol. 1 as one of the albums of the year. It really is quite an achievement in terms of its vocal performances, collaborations, musical brilliance, song-writing and production quality.

Last year, Scrimshire’s Listeners got some great exposure, including a slot as BBC 6 Music’s Album of the Day. Believers Vol. 1 deserves even more and if there is any justice in this world, it will happen. Scrimshire describes it as a “love letter to black music” and that summary feels just about perfect. So, give it a spin. Because, it’s guaranteed to make those Black Friday blues disappear.
 Gordon Rutherford / Louder Than War

Thomas Dolby ‎– The Golden Age Of Wireless (1982)

Style: Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Capitol Records

01.   She Blinded Me With Science
02.   Radio Silence
03.   Airwaves
04.   Flying North
05.   Weightless
06.   Europa And The Pirate Twins
07.   Windpower
08.   Commercial Breakup
09.   One Of Our Submarines
10.   Cloudburst At Shingle Street

Written-By – J. Kerr, Thomas Dolby, T. Kerr
Producer – Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson, Tim Friese-Greene

The Golden Age of Wireless is Thomas Dolby’s debut album, released in 1982. The album includes Dolby’s breakout hit, “She Blinded Me with Science”, as well as my favorite song of his, “Europa and the Pirate Twins”.

The album’s overall theme is radio and the modern world. Both themes factor into many, if not most of the songs on the album.

At the time of the album’s release in the US, the tone of the album which was described as being cinematic, emotional, and even moody, was a departure from most of the early 80’s synth-pop records. There were many to follow that soared in that vein of sound, but in a lot of ways, The Golden Age of Wireless was one of the first.

The Golden Age of Wireless was released 5 different times, all of which were on both vinyl and cassette. CD was only from the 3rd and 5th releases. Every time the album was re-released the song order was changed, often replacing album mixes with extended or radio/single mixes. Sometimes songs were removed completely.

“Radio Silence” was a completely different song in the early US releases than what later appeared on versions of the album. And, with the first US version, the instrumental “The Wreck of the Fairchild”, was removed, and 2 other songs were put in its place, “Urges” and “Leipzig”.

Capitol Records, in the US, changed the album cover art, too. In the UK the album had a “comic book” type cover. Capitol switched it out with a picture of Dolby on stage instead.

After “She Blinded Me with Science” was released as a single, and took MTV by storm with its corresponding music video, Capitol pulled the album and made more changes. They removed “Urges” and “Leipzig”, and put in its place an extended version of “She Blinded Me with Science”, along with its “B-Side”, “Submarines”. And, they switched back the album cover art to the original UK “comic book” style.

In 2009, a remastered “Collector’s Edition” of The Golden Age of Wireless was released. It includes bonus tracks, extra liner notes, and a DVD of the Live Wireless music video.

My copy of the album, from the early 80’s, has the “comic book” cover art, as well as the extended version of “She Blinded Me with Science”. At the time I didn’t know there were other versions. I picked it up at the Record Trading Company, a favorite Orange County record store when I was a teenager, after hearing “Europa and the Pirate Twins” on the radio. I’d known “She Blinded Me with Science”. You couldn’t turn on MTV without seeing the video. And, I liked the song. But, it was love at first listen with “Europa and the Pirate Twins”, and I had to have it, and hear more.

I met Thomas Dolby in the late 80’s (1988, I think). He was rather shy, very polite and humble. We talked about books actually. I’m going to have to find the one picture I have with him one of these days.

This is one of those early 80’s albums that I have grown to love more as the years have gone by. Though I always, always loved “Europa and the Pirate Twins”, much of the album faded into the background when I played it. And then, when mixtapes were my big thing, I often skipped all of the other songs completely, except for “Europa” and “Radio Silence”, the two songs I would throw on mixtapes often.