Monday, 30 November 2009

Pluramon - Render Bandits

Pluramon is Markus Schmickler, and this is the second Pluramon album, from 1998, on Mille Plateaux. Schmickler was an early pioneer of of a fairly even mix of acoustic instruments and electronics - the kind of mix and sound palette which Four Tet had subsequent success with.
Most tracks proceed with a head nodding groove played on an acoustic kit, with layers of guitars both spangly and fuzzy; along with bass and an assortment of keyboards, drones and more abstract electronic burblings. Occasionally the grooves retreat, like on 'Flicker', or the end section of 'Formant', and the album fits perfectly with the label - sounding very much like Snd, and the digi/glitch sound the label is synonymous with. These moments provide a nice contrast, but the album is best when the heavy grooves chunter along. When 'Gloop' hits its stride and sucks you into the wake of the stomping groove, loads of distorted, edited and messed up sounds are smeared across the pummelling rhythm.
Like much of my favourite music, this harks back to the more groove-laden German music of the 70s (especially later Can), but the detailed digital processing and editing keep it modern and forward looking at the same time ( as well as trippy). The predominance of acoustic intruments, especially guitar, maintains the warm fuzzy sound envelope and rich harmonics.
Previous album Pick Up Canyon and remix project Bit Sand Riders are also excellent, and Pluramon has gone in a more shoegaze-oriented direction with recent albums reams Top Rock and The Monstrous Surplus, both of which are decent, and feature more vocals.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Black Heart Procession - 3

Released in 2000, I consider this to be The Black Heart Procession's masterpiece. I suppose this would have fallen under the alt. country banner at the time, but there is something majestic and timeless about this album, and it has probably shed that label in the intervening years. This is a collection of spare, stark and very beautiful songs, with a consistent unity of character. 'Doom Country' I think I have referred to this as, although there is something uplifting in these baleful, resonant songs. All delivered in a downbeat, plaintive voice; and backed by a glorious palette of acoustic instruments, organ, piano, trumpet - all slowly stomping to the funeral march pace.
There are no highlights, because the whole album is brilliant and mesmerising from start to finish, and I'm not going to write any more about it.


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Groundhogs - Split

I'm thinking I should pepper this blog with a few more retro favourites. I love the music of the 70s, and not just the stuff that came out of Germany! Groundhogs were a band like many of their contemporaries that started out as primarily a blues based band, like Fleetwood Mac or Ten Years After, and fairly straight blues rock was the sound of their first two albums. Things changed with their third album 'Thank Christ For The Bomb', and by this, their fourth album, from 1971, they had gone down a far harder, darker and more progressive route. Like the aforementioned bands, Groundhogs had a terrific guitarist - Tony McPhee in this case. Words like blistering and coruscating spring to mind when describing his playing on this disc: he totally destroys. Ostensibly this is a power trio, which is always a great setting for a brilliant guitarist - no matter how much the bass and drums pummel away, there is always space for as much noise as he wants to make. There is plenty of distortion and wah, and utterly compelling dynamics - you can sense an oncoming outpouring of guitar fury, and you can feel the serious intent take hold of you when he steps on the volume pedal and lets rip. It's not just the lead work, though; the move away from the blues resulted in loads of interesting riffs, and open, flowing song structures. McPhee's voice is not the greatest, but is perfectly suited to the music, and just sounds so 70s. They hark back to a more pure blues on the album closer 'Ground Hog', where Tony McPhee shows the range of his skills with some fiery slide on amplified acoustic guitar.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Savath & Savalas - Apropa't

Rather glorious 2004 album by Guillermo Scott Herren. Possibly better known for his more hip-hop oriented project Prefuse 73, I prefer his output under this alias. Although the beats aren't too far removed from hip-hop, they are usually played live, and have a more jazzy swing to them. There is also abundant use of acoustic instruments, too. There are some marvellous acoustic bass lines on here too, especially the utterly brilliant 'Te Quiero Pere Por Otro Lado...', which is one of my favourite tracks of recent years. This album was co-written by Eva Puyelo Muns, who provides vocals on most tracks, often double-tracked or in chorus. They are very lovely, and an essential part of what makes this album so good. I can't help being reminded of the Brazilian pop and exotica of the 60s and 70s, and especially the Getz/Gilberto albums from that time. Also, there is a vividly sun-baked ambience and flavour of Spain where this album was recorded; and the heat-haze texture also calls to mind Sketches Of Spain. As well as the expertly marshalled acoustic instruments, what raises the quality of this music is Herren's use of electronics - he has a very deft touch: creating an intricate web of complementary sounds. Sometimes there is some restrained processing of acoustic instruments, but the outcome is a tightly defined and consistent sound. I daresay having that man John McEntire in the mix didn't hurt, either.
Buy this album, and his debut as S&S, 'Folk Songs For Trains Trees And Honey', which is also excellent.


Germ - Gone

1994 - a great year for techno and electronica saw the release of Germ's debut album on GPR. Although this is slightly primitive compared to weird masterpieces such as The Black Chair that Tim Wright would subsequently release, it easily matches his contemporaries, and is still sufficiently weird and freaky to be enjoyable 15 years later. The sounds palette is bleepy and squelchy, with incisive percussion; the kick drum often being a fairly hard techno one, as opposed to the more metallic, crunchy beats being used by a lot of electronica at the time. Co-engineered with John Dalby, it is obvious that there are a couple of studio whizz-kids at work: all the weirdest noises have been coaxed out of whatever keyboards or VSTs they had, and it’s really well edited and mixed. There is an otherworldly sense of menace to some of this stuff – it can be quite dark, and tracks like ‘Ssong’ prefigure Wright’s later, weirder creations, with it’s queasy and disembodied warbling. This abstraction is nicely balanced with some pretty rocking tracks – I used to mix with ‘Blib’ all the time, its mish-mash of brittle syncopated bleeps, wobbling bass and euphorically thrashing synths is very groovy indeed. Elsewhere there is a bit more harshness: closer ‘Gun(Gone)’ has some nasty panning action and dive bombing rave waves. The moody sonar electronica of ‘Sap’ heads almost to gabba speed as the beats are doubled up, and there are disturbing, almost industrial details throughout the album.
I think this streak of darkness, along with the very trippy sound palette, keeps this album still sounding pretty strong and fresh today.


Friday, 13 November 2009

The For Carnation - The For Carnation

This amazing album came out in 2000, thus qualifies for my best of the decade run down. I still listen to this and enjoy it as much as I ever did, 9 years down the line.
The For Carnation were a post-Slint band, and have featured various Chicago musicians at various times, although the only two major players on this album are Brian McMahon, and John McEntire who contributes some extra instrumentation and who engineered the album (remarkably well). There are many of the hallmarks of post-rock on this album: the predominance of bass and drums; the ease and assurance with which slow pacing is used; mastery of texture. There are far more vocals on this than your average post rock outing, and this probably adds to the lasting appeal. McMahon's vocals are close-mic'ed, and border on spoken/whispered, helping to build a very intimate mood. As I said, this is beautifully recorded, and the slowly rocking rhythms are tight, and almost tense. There is often an ominous throbbing ambience, and delicate touches of spacy synths - heard to great effect on 'A Tribute To'. The sense of melody is gorgeous, yet restrained - the carefully picked out guitar line on opener 'Emp. Man's Blues' is backed by gradually swelling strings to a blissful plateau. After this these two tracks, a sense of foreboding and tension is developed with the very moody post rock of 'Being Held', before another slow and majestic gem in 'Snoother', which sounds somewhat like Tortoise vs Bill Callahan. 'Tales (Live From The Crypt)' is a wonderful spaced out groover; very similar to Do Make Say Think's debut: it's almost a prog-out compared to the rest of the album. Layers of spacey keys, shimmering guitar, and even a Goblin-esque synth line embellish this fantastic track. The last track 'Moonbeams' is probably the most beautiful. A distillation of what has gone before, and a coda, or resolution, too - a release of the slow-burning mood built up through the preceding tracks. A very slow track, laid on a bed of spacious synths drones, punctuated by a lyrical guitar, some throbbing analogue sythns, and seen out with a swell of strings.
I've namechecked a lot of bands describing this, but I think it is pretty unique, and a masterpiece that is amazingly undervalued. They are playing at the forthcoming 10 years of All Tomorrow's Parties festival - I hope this leads to a resurgence of interest and some further recordings.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Neotropic - La Prochaine Fois

An aural antidote to Portal, and more music by a lady. In this case it's Riz Maslen, and her 2001 album on Ntone. Some of her other work has been more in the vein of trip-hop/electronica with kitchen sink additions of samples and live instruments, but this one embraces the acoustic and organic side to superb effect. There are guitars, harmonicas, wheezy organs and a wonderfully fuzzy and warm envelope of sound. These tracks veer from soundtrack stlye, to post rock, folk, psychedelic 60s rock and beyond, and are remarkably evocative of hazy summer, the countryside, and something just beyond my comprehension that is everso slightly tinged with melancholy. There are many moments of beauty - 'Cornershop Candy', which presumably features Maslen's own (very nice) tremulous vocals, with a deeply reverbed and harmonic guitar backing, along with sepulchral rumblings and mystic ambience creating a raga-like atmosphere. Indeed, much of the feel and pace of the tracks is raga-like, as 'Cornershop Candy' fades into the similarly brilliant 'Train To Katoomba', which is embellished by some 70s cosmic keyboard flourishes. 'Still' actually uses some sitar, along with ethnic percussion; calling to mind eastern tinged folk, but with some backwards loops on top, and a wonderful chant.
There are plenty more high points on this gorgeous album. It will keep your brain warm in winter.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Portal - Outre

I haven't posted any metal in a while, and thought that this would be an apt choice, as they have an excellent new album out, called Swarth. Although this this is labelled as death metal, don't let that put you off if you are interested in exploring the artier and weirder end of extreme metal.
This band is pretty unique, creating an abstract and disturbing miasma of sound. Grinding and atonal guitars comprise most of the mix, with fairly restrained acoustic sounding drumming - as opposed to the clicky and springy sounding kits you hear in more conventional death metal. The vocals, although guttaral, are more of a despairing roar than a belching cookie monster. Even though the song structures involve time changes, and the playing appears to be excellent, there is a murky mystery, and it's often hard to grasp just what is being played - it seems just beyond the ear's reach, like an unholy mix of My Bloody Valentine and Deathspell Omega with added wrongness.
The result is a weird and unsettling album, and the imagery used only adds to this nightmarish feeling. Definitely a one of a kind mob; I hope they play in London soon.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Rhythm & Sound - The Versions

2003 compilation of tracks previously released on vinyl. R&S are the dub incarnation of Basic Channel - Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, and have released a succession of spellbinding dub discs since 1996; they have been one of the most consistent acts of the decade, and this is one of my favourite albums of teh last 100 years. There is a sister album to this - "With The Artists", which has the full vocal versions, and is brilliant. This album, though, is utterly sublime. Adorned with only minor snippets - the perfect amount - of the original vocals, the rock solid rhythms, subtle tunes, and brilliant textures are allowed to gently work themselves into your consciousness. Most tracks are fairly skeletal, usually only have two chords, and very minimal bass lines; but they all totally rock. The use of reverb and delay is masterful; the hi-hat sounds are perfection and the grooves are unstoppable. Despite being largely electronic creations, an organic warmth permeates this wonderful album.
All their output that I've heard is worth checking out, including the albums 'Rhythm & Sound', and 'Showcase' with Tikiman.