Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Skatalites - Ball Of Fire

Totally vital 1997 album by these Jamaican legends. Augmented by the brilliant Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, these venerable musicians are at the top of their game on Ball Of Fire. They play many of the classics they made famous, although they are in a far longer form here than their original 7" vinyl format. Most tracks feature solos from the horn players as well as Ranglin, bookended in joyful fashion by the classic themes played in unison. This pushes the album into jazz territory, as does the crystal clear recording style, not to mention Lloyd Brevett's use of upright bass. All this serves to breathe glorious new life into what are already great compositions. I'm sure there is dubious providence surrounding who authored these classic tunes, as the producer no doubt garnered a lot of credit in the history of Jamaican music. Anyway, between the late Don Drummond, the rest of the band, Duke Reid and Clement Dodd, they created timeless classics like Occupation, Eastern Standard Time, Latin Goes ska. Actually, every horn arrangement here is magnificent, and when the band come back to playing each one aftere the extended solos, it is never less than joyous.
I saw The Skatalites around 1997 or 1998 - they toured this album around the world, giving lots of lucky people a precious glimpse of a legendary group. The whole band were terrific, and I still maintain that it was one of the best rhythm sections I've seen live. Also I was fortunate to witness Roland Alphonso who sadly died shortly after.
As another fairly rubbish summer peters out (for us in England, anyway), I prescribe this album as an auditory replacement for sunshine.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Ken Ishii - Garden On The Palm

Debut 1993 album by prolific Japanese techno producer, released on the legendary Belgian label R&S (although this is ripped from the Japanese cd).
This is definitely techno of the abstract persuasion - the title track opens the album with some queasily wobbling bass and weird stabs over an offbeat rhythm; then a warbling computer whistle ushers in some very monged mid-range synths. Definitely one for adventurous DJs back in the day, although it does have a totally serviceable techno beat. I have no idea what the Japanese techno scene was like in 1993, but this album certainly has quite an alien sound to it: none of the snare rolls, bouncing bass lines or pummelling beats that were so common in UK and Euro techno (not that I dislike those things in the slightest). The next track 'Loop' is a superb spaced out synth exporation, with no kick drum, then 'Prodrome' brings back the weird-beard techno in terrific fashion. 'Nil' then ramps it up with the most banging kick drum on the album, with slightly 'Relief'-sounding percussion. The album displays class throughout, and is marvellously produced. Even a housy vocal snippet on 'Popgun' fits in with its odd backdrop: invoking tension and alienation rather than euphoria. I have very ambivalent feelings toward vocal samples in dance music, and could probably ramble about it for ages. Felix Da Housecat used them to really nasty effect on contemporary tracks like 'Pussn Meow' and 'Venom', but I digress. This is all about Ken Ishii and his intricately warped take on 90s techno.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Moondog - H'art Songs

A 1978 collection of songs by Louis Thomas Hardin. Tuneful and simple, these songs generally consist of piano and voice, but are much more than the sum of their parts. Other than the superficial similarities of a beard and a disability, I can't help comparing the Moondog of this album to Robert Wyatt. They both have a beguiling quaver to their vocals, and share a lot of the sibilant characteristics in their delivery. Also, they share a similar commitment to what I would consider to be the correct things in life: decency, in a word; and a kind of fundamental goodness seems to emanate from their music.
Their are some minor embellishments - a squealing pig helps open the album on the excellent 'Pygmy Pig'. There is also some very minimal percussion - apparently Moondog would play a minimal backbeat on a drum when his more classical pieces were being recorded in the studio. Generally the songs are unadorned, and allowed to stand alone. They occupy a strange and satisfying space between somber and jolly; serious and lighthearted.


Saturday, 19 September 2009

David Tibet & Steven Stapleton - The Sadness Of Things

Aptly titled 1991 album from these two titans of the British post industrial avant garde. This consists of two long pieces which are very minimal. Listeners with a deficit of attention should probably avoid this.
The title track is propelled gently by slow and simple percussion, over a drone created by various woodwind, with occasional interjections of spoken phrases, and assorted echo effected noises. It evokes a Himalayan temple kind of vibe - desolate, but with dark and mysterious recesses, lit by the fading shimmers of softly struck gongs. 'The Grave And Beautiful Name Of Sadness' is a more traditional drone piece, which ebbs and flows with dark waves of sound comprised of chants, strings, synths - who knows what else. It's hard to tell because the overall sound is such an organic whole, and so well executed. This is a haunting piece, although the general texture of the sounds, and throbbing ambience make it quite meditative and relaxing.
Utterly excellent artwork, too, by Steven Stapleton - I wish I had this on vinyl!


Thursday, 17 September 2009

Einst├╝rzende Neubauten - Ende Neu

Superb 1996 album by the German legends of industrial, which takes many of the sounds from the band's past, but deploys them in pursuit of a far more melodic end product. I'm sure there are many Neubauten fans who only prefer the noisy early stuff - I just prefer the later more melodic sound with a broader sound palette.
The first two tracks are a concise summation of their sound in 1996 - the frenetic opener 'Was Ist Ist', with thrashing metallic guitars and Blixa Bargeld's strident vocals, is followed by the lush string-led 'Stella Maris', where Blixa sings a gentle two part harmony with actress Meret Becker.
Throughout the album, the songwriting is excellent, the tunes are great, and there is a palpable sense of the band being absolute masters of their sound. The percussion is superb, as always, as is the use of non-music sounds, such as a pencil writing on paper. There are some propulsive grooves, too, that hark back to their motorik musical ancestors - on 'Installation no1', and most notably the 11 minute epic that is 'NNNAAAMMM' - which is chanted both as spelt - suggesting a car passing on the motorway, as well as being the initials of 'New no new age advanced ambient motor music machine': also chanted throughout. The rhythm of this track is helped along with some kind of chugging machinery to great effect. The title track is probably my favourite: a blend of distorted vocals, industrial percussion, and dramatic, ominous strings.


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Pump Panel - Ego Acid

Banging acid tune from 1994. Fantastic stuff: pounding kick drum, crashing cymbals, and lashings of 303. The 'Floatation Mix' on the B-side is only slightly more laid back, with a trancy arpeggio spacing it out, somewhat.
Also included is the Reconstruction Mix of New Order's Confusion, which is even more banging, pounding, and relentless, at over 10 minutes. The acid is even more full-on and brain mashing, while the vocodered vocal loops add a bit of depth. This beast is an all-time favourite of mine.


Friday, 4 September 2009

Terminal Cheesecake - Gateau D'Espace

1992 EP of psychedelic industrial dub. A blend of pounding bass and drums, with heavily echoed shouty vocals, some grinding noisy bits, and primitive samples and loops forming a sludgy mass. Primitive is a great word for this band, as is monolithic. There is a kind of bloody mindedness that propels these cavernous grooves. I wish I'd seen this mob live, but I was too busy getting into techno at the time. I'm sure they would have been bowel-quakingly intense. Track titles give you a clue to their influences: 'Oily Bud', 'Herbal Alien Flavour', 'Extra Oily'. If you think they are heading into weed-nerd territory, they reveal the lack of seriousness with 'Blatant Drug Reference' and it's sampled chant of 'Marijuana'. Although they began as more of a noise rock band, I thought they really hit on a good formula with this relentless dub weirdness.
Excellent cover art is by Jim Sawers, who used to work at Tower Records when I did, in a different department. A top bloke - he's actually responsible for me owning the Bill Laswell album I posted a while back, too.


Cardiacs - On Land And In The Sea

Quite how I have managed to reach the fourth month of a blog without posting this, I don't know. One of my favourite albums ever, and almost certainly the most listened-to.
Cardiacs are an acquired taste, certainly. Their near-obsessive band of fans experience such joy from their music and amazing live shows, that it is undoubtedly easy to lose sight of this, and wonder why they aren't massive. If you do acquite the taste, though, there are unrivalled joys to be had. I think this album is their best, because it is the most psychedelic, with the most amazingly layered and detailed production, yet is still chock full of brilliant tunes. The mix is almost head-spinningly overloaded at times, with tiny little voices and distant exclamations vying with saxophone parps, pots and pans, and fine-tuned kitchen sinks rattling around. All this detail, though, is cleverly orchestrated chaos that never forgets that it is there to embellish the songs, and it never drowns them out. Produced by Tim Smith (vocalist and main songwriter), this full-on style was reined in on subsequent albums (all brilliant) in favour of a more stripped down sound. As usual, the songs veer from snotty, jittering stop-start punkers; to grandiose prog anthems, from one line to the next. The addition of sax player, percussionist and keyboardist to the traditional band line up meant that they could pull this off live, too. I was lucky enough to see them with this line up 20 years ago: although Sarah Smith and William Drake would continue to contribute to albums, the live band would soon slim down, before expanding again in later years.
I forget how many versions of the band I've seen. Living in London has its tedious sides, but being able to see the Cardiacs regularly over the years has been fantastic, and I feel very grateful now.


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Droopy - Northwest Hounded Police

A brilliant episode of the classic cartoon Droopy from 1946. I always used to love Droopy when I was a kid (and it has been a joy to watch them recently): his ultra laid back and understated approach; the casual surrealism; his brilliant voice (Bill Thompson). All these are shown to great effect in this episode. Droopy is Sgt McPoodle, a mountie who is sent to track down an escaped convict. The convict escapes to ever more remote places, and Droopy always turns up. Droopy actually borders on creepy in this one, as the weirdness factor is cranked up.
Thanks to Spazcreations and Surrealmoviez for the original uploads.

.avi format, 100mb

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sinoia Caves - The Enchanter Persuaded

Blissful, beautiful and deeply spaced album by Jeremy Schmidt, keyboardist for the excellent psych/70s/space/prog-rock-influenced Black Mountain. Mr Schmidt has some wicked keyboards, and uses them brilliantly. 35 minutes of this album are taken up by two epic tracks, which are influenced equally by the current drone/space rock scene; and 70s synth masters like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. There are definitely similarities to the opening on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, which is of course a good thing. In between are a small collection of gorgeous ghostly songs, with touches of vocoder, and shimmering hammond, sounding not too dissimilar to Air, but with more emphasis on the psychedelic elements.
One of my favourite albums of recent years; thanks to Sam for introducing me to this.


Disrupt - Foundation Bit

Disrupt is a one man digital dubmeister. Some purists are put off by any digital element in dub, but as far as I'm concerned: if it rocks it rocks, like this album does. Jan Gleichman (Mr Disrupt) can create great grooves, and they are embellished superbly with the requisite space invader noises, odd edits, and plenty of echo. On top of this are some great film samples, from Tron (the brilliant 'Blast You To Bits') and Dark Star. The bass is unashamedly digital, but this just means that they shake the room all the more when you turn up the volume. Great spaced out fun.

Disrupt has a 2009 album out, called The Bass Has Left The Building. I fell asleep halfway through listening to it last night, but was thoroughly enjoying it, especially the samples from classic arcade game Berserk. Check out the Jahtari website - they have a flash player where you can listen to the entire catalogue, and the website design is a smart tribute to all things 80s digital.


Gerhard Potuznik - Florida Optical EP

Superb EP released on Austria's Cheap records in 1994: a great year for all things techno. I played this a lot, so there are a few crackles on this vinyl rip. It begins with the swirling subterranean synths and fuzzy stabs of 'Shine', whose only rhythmic element is some hissing hi-hats. The kick drums appear on 'Make Up Doll', which is a minimal moody stomper. The B-side was what I played to death - particularly 'Gangway'. This is a pretty trippy affair, with strident, acidic moogy lines introducing the tracks, with some sweet, dubbed out stabs counterbalancing them. The percussion keeps building, a thick drone is introduced, and more heavily reverbed keys come in, creating a disorientating effect. Quite intense, and fades out a bit too early in my opinion. The ep is rounded off by a classy and rather lovely little number with elements of early 90s trance, and a bouncy prog-house bassline.