Archive for the ‘New Music and New Discoveries’ Category

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/the-tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-i/

I was honoured to be asked by Trebuchet Magazine (thank you Kailas and Naila!) to contribute a brief article to their website…And I totally failed them by contributing a lengthy rant instead! Luckily they’re kind people and found enough of substance in my growling that they were happy to publish it as a two part discussion piece.

In essence, have you noticed how inescapable ‘the beat’ is? In a world of infinite possibility how limited the possibilities used actually are? I’m not talking absolute rejection but I like the thought that my world might be limitless rather than limited by unconscious design.

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-ii/

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https://thevinylfactory.com/features/an-essential-guide-to-public-image-ltd-in-10-records/

For a couple of years now Vinyl Factory has been allowing me to come up with brief spotlights on ten releases by an artist – always an enjoyable experience siphoning down to a certain core and bound to cause disagreement given my ten worthies very likely don’t mesh with many other people’s own lists. But that’s the fun of any public opinion, it invites others to say “no,” or to suggest alternatives. The funniest two comments I’ve received? Number one was on a Nine Inch Nails focused piece where someone wrote that not including Pretty Hate Machine or Still was a “tragic mistake which discredits the whole of your so called ‘introduction to NIN'” (answer: I love Still but had to leave something out while Pretty Hate Machine just isn’t on my list of favourite NIN releases at all.) The other was on a piece focused on Coil where, having listed all the things they would have preferred I include the comment said “It seems like some of these choices were poorly made – a lot of compilation albums that all have ‘Amethyst Deceivers’ on them.” To be fair, I agreed that remakes of Amethyst Deceivers cropped up probably way too much in the latter years of Coil – but trying to choose Coil releases is like deciding which diamond is most sparkly.

My view is always I refuse to write about an artist I don’t respect or enjoy (the two don’t have to coexist – I respect Radiohead but only enjoy them in patches. I don’t want to spend my limited time focusing on anything that doesn’t enthrall me – there are enough such distractions in the world.

So this month I decided to swallow the whole of Public Image Ltd’s discography whole, with a couple of John Lydon sidebars added on for good measure.

The greatest enjoyment I took from it? Comparing Commercial Zone to This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get! The original piece was two, maybe three times as long – there was just so much to say about the comparison. For a start, Commercial Zone gets that extra ‘gloss’ that sometimes adheres to anything that can be described as lost, secret, unofficial – anything with that outlaw edge. I wanted to try to disregard that and consider how it really stands up. Truth is it’s a mixed bag: some of the songs gain an eerie and atmospheric vibe in early demo form – if you like horror/sci fi movie soundtracks, it’s great. Other tracks though are just blatant noodling and tossed off time-filling. Thing is, that’d be a pretty balanced description of the official album too: so it just becomes a Pepsi/Coke question – depends on your tastes because neither is significantly above the other.

The least enjoyable moment isn’t visible in the final post: having to listen through Happy? (1987), 9 (1989) and That What Is Not (1992) in search of something good to say about them. It killed me. I respect and enjoy John Lydon’s work deeply: most artists are hard pressed to wind up with one truly significant band let alone two; to make one album that people might claim as an all-time favourite let alone three or four (depending on your take on Flowers Of Romance.) There’s something about that late eighties-early nineties British guitar pop tone that never hooked me even as a cheery nine or ten year old. The jaggly drums, the over-production, the gleaming plastic vibe of so much of that time. I just can’t fathom what Lydon was singing about by then: the mansion liberal substituting CNN for any contact with life – harsh but I see little evidence on those albums of it being unfair. Still! To digest them in detail and in full was something I’d meant to do for ages. Two whole weeks working those albums round and round, giving them all the energy I could, then realising it was hurting to write about one of them let alone all three.

The most obvious moment, well, sheer truth, I love the first three PiL albums: such a distance travelled, so many different terrains explored, words and sounds that work, humour and seriousness in equal measure – glorious. And the two comeback reecords have been very pleasing.

 

Marco Porsia is currently in the midst of creating the film Where Does A Body End? regarding the truly awesome Swans. He’s put together this brief three minute film to commemorate the final show of this Swans line up which took place earlier this month in New York City.

I’d have to say, after so many years of watching (and loving) live music, Swans are the only band where I was ever struck by the desire – mid-show – to abandon everything and just go watch them night-after-night-after-night. They remain the standard against which I judge a live show: does the set flow? Is this a journey or just a grab-bag of songs? Was it possible to surprise me with the decisions made? Did I hear something new? Did I hear old things anew? Did I lose track of time and space and the presence of others? Did I reach a point of complete surrender to sound and spectacle? Swans.

Currently trying to read more fiction. Two authors in particular are heading up my “what’s awesome?” list. Firstly, Adam Nevill:

http://www.adamlgnevill.com/

He’s a British horror author I’ve followed a while now. His first book was very visibly someone learning as they went – a university/post-university effort but it’s been great to see that develop into such a diverse expertise in how to chill. I loved Last Days for its keen observance of cult structures and the building dread; The Ritual for the sense of being hunted in a believable space; then his most recent works have entered something new. No One Gets Out Alive is the tale of a down-on-her-luck zero-hours girl scratching together enough money to live and forced to take the worst accommodation with the grimmest bottom-feeders, the kind of guys who take advantage of the weak. It’s gift was in making something that is a part of day-to-day life feel more horrific than the imaginary or the supernatural: the way the two realms worked together created something with huge emotional power. Lost Girl was another step out of fantasy and into something closer to home: a world beset by the realities of climate change, in which predating on one’s fellow man is increasingly the norm, in which money provides insulation – again, the weaving of supernatural into a believable context was talented and intriguing.

On a lighter note, the other author I’ve got a lot of time for right now is Jonathan L. Howard:

http://www.jonathanlhoward.com/

I’ve got one more book to go in the Johannes Cabal series. The tale of an amoral anti-hero with a talent for unwitting humour and knowing sarcasm, again and again there’s a turn of phrase that I have to stop and re-read to appreciate how beautifully done or imaginatively written it is. Add on the humour, the depth, the diverse landscape in which everything takes place…I’ve become a big fan. I’m concluding The Brothers Cabal at the moment and enjoying the digressions and diversions (the scene where he lectures the creatures that live in the garden on who/what to eat and not to eat for example.)

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/best-john-carpenter-10-records/

I did this piece for The Vinyl Factory recently – a relatively easy one for me given my day-to-day listening habits have quite a lot of space for John Carpenter’s work at the moment. Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog are my favourite soundtracks of his I admit.

In life, all the time, I’m struck that I think most things are good/bad simultaneously. It’s like candy: the initial sugar hit, the flavour, the indulgence – great! But the undercurrent is, sure, it’ll lead to tooth decay, obesity and so forth. It doesn’t mean one should avoid these things, it just means that there’s no avoiding consequences in life and that people’s tendency to divide into good/bad is just plain silly. Most things are both all the time.

A fair example is the work involved in creating things like one of these ‘Ten Of’ lists. Sure you say, it’s just listening to a bunch of music – it ain’t hard. True! And there’s a really deep pleasure involved in sinking so completely into someone’s work. I tend to find that listening to this much of one person’s music in a concerted way over a couple of weeks gives me an expanded awareness of the things they do that make the music theirs, what their techniques and approaches are, where they’re deviating, what makes this piece standout or that piece fit.

On the other hand, it’s not just listening. It’s hours of flicking back, re-listening, discarding notes and thoughts on one piece, thinking more about another. It emphasises that no one is so original that listening to their music so obsessively won’t kill the vibe or point out the bits where it’s a bit the same, or where they’re coasting. It means I can’t bring myself to listen to Carpenter’s latest just yet – I’ll need a break, time to cleanse the palette and digest.

It’s a constant sin of mine: I get into an artist, I hoover up music by them, then I need a pause before returning to them to really ‘get’ the individual joys of a particular record.

 

 

I watch this and wonder if I’d be able to detect which song was being played purely from the drums without any further reference…Then I look at some of the isolated drum tracks present on YouTube and confess I often can’t see the overall track at all.

 

Caught this recently, the track ‘Salvation’ from Solar Twin’s new album Pink Noise. Lyrically there’s a lot going on, a musing on current state of music and world that’s worth following throughout. What hooked me the most, however, was the alliance of modern day pop music to the footage of Cobain in a heyday that passed some 29-to-23 years ago: genuinely an entire life time of separation. I couldn’t help but watch it and think when was the last time I saw a mainstream star genuinely acting out emotionally on stage to this extent? Sure, Cobain was aware of stage craft as anyone: seeing the impact smashing a guitar made in front of an audience in 1988 sparked a light bulb and so the reheated Who/Hendrix motif made it’s way through years of Nirvana’s live performances – but there was honesty shot through it at all times. Nirvana didn’t wreck their gear every night: it was a final ecstatic moment when happy or it was an expression of a pissed-off and rotten show – it could be both, it could be either, it was the emotion behind it that mattered. Something has definitely changed though because something so un-contrived, and that looks so right as oft-shaky handheld video footage, is rare at a time when every moment is made to be screened one way or another.

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My best recent purchase was from Little Cracked Rabbit:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/box-set-subscription.html

Around 2007 to 2009, I was becoming jaded when it came to music. The internet era had it’s positives but, ultimately, being able to saturate myself in any genre, label, artist, movement at a moment’s notice wasn’t glorious, it was exhausting. DC Hardcore? Sure, here’s the ten key albums digested inside just a few weeks. The Definitive Jux label? No problem, the label’s hot streak done and dusted in little more than a month. The reduction of music to a series of clickable files robbed any sense of value for me: I could acquire it at a click, hear it at another, bin it moments later or lose it on a practically limitless hard drive the next.

The restoration of my pleasure in music took several forms. Initially it was about regaining limitations: to this day I take CDs and vinyl to the Record & Video Exchange store to trade. They have an amazing selection but it brings my budget down to where I have to commit and decide “this is what I want.” It also reopened the door to treasure hunting: a record I’d wanted to hear forever appears suddenly, being surprised to spot a band I’d never had a chance to look at. The manageability of the experience helped: instead of hundreds of hours of music I’d never get the chance to look at let alone feel something for, I’d get an amount manageable across a month.

I started to realise too that my choices mattered in an age where the bare truth is that outside of a pitiful handful of mainstream artists, the majority of indie musicians barely break-even on touring that lures only a dozen people out of their homes; on the pennies that come in through streaming and downloading. The expansion of the audience to a worldwide level hasn’t led to a commensurate increase in the money they live on day-by-day. The charts of the most widely listened to music show, to an ever-increasing degree, that though people like to say the internet exposes them to stuff they’d never hear, the truth is most people are listening to and buying the same major label (or secretly major label subsidiary) product. It’s getting harder to be heard because there’s so much musical clutter out there. The big bucks, to a greater degree than ever, can dominate what people hear about, find on playlists, and therefore listen to.

The positive of the Internet, however, was that I could ensure that my money actually went to an artist not to a corporate. The reason I buy the physical releases is because the artist gets a greater overall sum. And I buy them in two ways: direct from particular labels that I want to support; direct from the individual artist so they get everything minus their own production costs. I think it’s genuinely important that my money sustains the work and well-being of the people whose work I appreciate and there’s near no excuse not to seek them out and do it except in the rarest of circumstances i.e., a record is out of print so I can only find it on eBay or Discogs; a record is exclusively sold through a particular outlet.

Labels themselves have reacted to the modern realities of the industry by focusing not on runaway, unexpected success, but on manufacturing limited editions that they know will sell out and thus fund further activity; creating subscription series that ensure lesser known artists have a fair hearing; art editions that will appeal to those who enjoy music as a tactile experience not just a sonic one; on the human touches that enhance the connection to artist and to the music.

 

So! The Little Cracked Rabbit box set arrived in the post the other day: glorious! It’s not just about packaging, it’s about looking at something that has been composed with such care, where every aspect of it is genuinely beautiful. It’s been created as an item of artistic merit. My interest initially came about because I’ve been collecting the solo works of Norman Westberg (most famously guitarist with Swans and an ambient guitar legend in his own right) but I’ve had a glimpse now of the other three artists — Mia Zabelka, BLK w/BEAR and P.J. Philipson — and I’m finding a lot to enjoy.

The bonding of music and art at Little Cracked Rabbit made a lot of sense when I spoke to one of the gentlemen running the label. David Armes explained the label as a labour of love run with his friend and collaborator Kevin Craig. The two of them are visual artists who played music together in Last Harbour and currently in A.R.C. Soundtracks. Kevin’s work focuses on experimental film predominantly so he handles the digital side of LCR: videos, collage images for covers, flyers and so forth. David, meanwhile, is a letterpress artist so he handles the physical sleeve print and preparation.

The overall look and feel of the releases is co-designed. They’ve gone with the (wise) approach taken by labels like Young God Records and other classic music labels where there’s a shared aesthetic across the releases, a visual identity connecting each record to LCR. The simplicity, combined with the genuinely sharp design (the lettering, the stark black/white/silver, the hole in the front cover of the card CD case inside the box is all exquisite) gives it all a real electricity and impact. Take a look at the label’s catalogue and I think you get the sense of it:

http://www.littlecrackdrabbit.co.uk/releases.html

In terms of the label approach, David made a neat point about “wanting to do something low-key in expectation but high in quality; releasing whatever we like (at this point our tastes crossover) without worrying about sales, press, distribution…There’s nothing wrong with all that but we were just bored of taking it into account. We’ll never earn any money from releasing editions of 150 CDs so we need to enjoy it and do it precisely as we want.” Amen to that! People often think the joy of music, books, art is in the completion and conclusion when the pleasure has to be taken in the process because it’s that day-to-day over weeks, months, years which is the core reality and enduring experience of making anything of this nature.

Further examples of Kevin’s work are at:

http://cargocollective.com/kcraig

While David’s work is visible at:

http://www.redplatepress.com

LCR_logo_final_white_square

 

http://clashmusic.com/features/feeling-love-in-a-melting-world-jessica-moss-interviewed

Thursday a week ago Dead Neanderthals (awesome Dutch outfit), Jessica Moss and Zu (Italian rock awesomeness) came to town and played a mere 4 minutes from my front door. I was particularly delighted to meet Jessica and Massimo (from Zu) given I’d interviewed both of them previously and it’s always good to put a face to a voice on the phone.

In the mid-to-late nineties, in the aftermath of alternative rock, it final felt there were expansive, politically and socially aware, alternatives to mainstream rock values cropping up: that alternative rock didn’t die, it just moved back into the underground and sparked a dozen intriguing wells of inspiration. This led me to embrace post-rock, which led me to encounter Constellation and their welter of absorbing acts: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Do Make Say Think…

The label is still thriving in 2017 and I think that’s down to the very clear vision and identity, the obvious care and precision taken with each release (the label foreshadowed the enhanced packaging and artwork values adopted by outfits like Joyful Noise), the supportiveness and connection between the various artists on the label and the ability to simultaneously have a recognisable ethos emerging in a wide-range of sounds and styles.

Jessica’s first full solo album certainly caught my ear and I made sure to have cash to hand to grab a copy on vinyl (and Zu’s Jhator too! http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2017/03/zu-jhator/). I’m not usually a format junkie but I do appreciate my money going direct to musicians and into the hands of those who create elements that enhance life.