Monday, 16 May 2011

Family - Music In A Doll's House

I was going to post this on the 12th - the 2nd anniversary of starting this blog - but Blogger wasn't working. Here it is anyway: a classic psychedelic debut album from 1968, one I still get huge enjoyment from 20 years after I first heard it. There is plenty to love about it, most of which is displayed in the opening bars - Roger Chapman's amazing crazed vocals (double tracked, phased), unusual prog arrangements with strings and woodwind of a great song; and a general air of hash smoke and musical adventure that doesn't let up until the end. There is a lush string arrangement by Mike Batt for the hazy second track 'Mellowing Grey', and it's all produced by Traffic's Dave Mason with no oppurtunity to add some phaser or delay to that harmonica riff, or some bowed double bass. Indeed, virtually everything on the eastern-tinged 'Me My Friend' seems to be phased to varying degrees, which gives a very weird impression of the different phases of the song being recorded in different rooms, times, spaces. Later Family albums would all have a heavier R&B/Blues influence, but the music of the band's formative years is never that far from the surface, and bursts out on groovers like 'Old Songs New Songs', which rocks out with horns from the Tubby Hayes Quintet. Side two features the most psychedelic tracks - the strange guitar/harmonica riff that drives 'See Through Windows', and especially 'The Voyage', which is pretty far out. There is some great tape, feedback and voice manipulation in this one, and it is very trippy indeed.
The album tracks are programmed perfectly, and a nice touch are the handful of miniatures, under a minute each, that are variations on themes of songs on the album. These make it all hang together beautifully, and the album finishes with the band almost sending themselves up as a rather lovely song descends into a comedy vamp interspersed with an eastern sounding psychedelic groove before a farcical fade.
I recommend all family albums, as well as Chapman/Whitney 'Streetwalkers' - their first post-Family album, but in particular 'Fearless', 'A Song For Me', and 'Bandstand'.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Released back in 1996 as the burgeoning post rock scene was rising to prominence, this contains what I think is still one of the genre's greatest ever statements - 'Djed'. This was the 21 minute epic that took up the entire first side of the album. At the time, it was a common characteristic of post rock that the bass would often lead the melody, and this piece is driven by a monstrous chugging bass line that provides rhythm and melody in equal measure, as an electric piano slowly comes in riffing over the top. Obviously a 21 minute track has to progress, as in Prog-ress, like all great tracks that take up an entire side of an LP. The beat slows down as the bass mongs out on one note, before some slightly Phillip Glass-esque syncopated keys and vibes arpeggiate all over the place in a rather epic section. Everything then spanners out as if your stereo has broken, then these broken sounds are looped into their own groove, while more instruments are brought in, until this, too breaks down into an ultra-low, slow pulsing bass groove. An awesome track, an inspired construction.
The rest of the tracks are also excellent, combining clenched brain jazzism with piles of bass blocks and electronic smudges vibraphones and a lush closer. The desertified beauty of 'Along The Banks Of Rivers' soundtracking an imaginary western where all the protagonists are having an afternoon kip in a hammock for the film's duration.


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Various - Reggae Vocal Groups

We've been hit by summery weather for weeks now in London, and I've been enjoying myself compiling reggae favourites. I had so many tracks that I had to separate them into vaguely themed groups, the first one being comprised of vocal groups. I've cheated a bit here, as some tracks aren't really much more than two part harmonies, and not all the tracks are by recognised vocal groups, but it all hangs together quite nicely. I think all the tracks are fabulous, but there are some of my all-time favourites in here; namely The Congos, Israel Vibration and the masterpiece that is 'Mystery Babylon' by The Heptones.
Hot weather is not necessary to enjoy this glorious music, but it does help. Also, that isn't London in the picture: I don't know where it is, but I would very much like to be floating on that boat listening to these tunes.
Album artist on all tracks = 'White Dot Reggae vocal groups'

1. The Congos - Don't Blame On I [V/A - Arkology]
2. The Upsetters - Natty Take Over [Baffling Smoke Signal]
3. Yabby You - Conquering Lion [Conquering Lion]
4. Culture - Natty Dread Naw Run [Cumbolo]
5. Byron Lee - Rat Race [The Essential...]
6. The Heptones - Mystery Babylon [Unreleased Black Ark Sessions]
7. The Meditations - Rebounce [I Love Jah]
8. The Gladiators - Dreadlocks The Time Is Now [Proverbial Reggae]
9. African Brothers - Hold Tight [V/A - Randy's 17 North Parade]
10. Watty & Tony - Rise & Shine [V/A - Rastafari Liveth In The Hearts...]
11. Lee Perry - Dyon Anaswa [Return Of The Super Ape]
12. Israel Vibration - I'll Go Through [The Same Song]
13. The Abyssinians - Abednigo [Satta Massagana]
14. Black Brothers - School Children [V/A - Studio One Roots]
15. The Gladiators - Belly Full [Trenchtown Mix Up]


Saturday, 7 May 2011

Michael Rother - Sterntaler

From 1978, this is the second solo LP by the Neu guitarist. He is quite clearly revelling in his freedom to be both more expansive, and more tuneful than he generally was in Neu. He has a good ear for melody, and the tunes on this album are very redolent of the period, too. Sometimes the songs veer toward the wistfully epic, especially combined with the driving, post-Kraut rhythms, which almost prefigure the headband-wearing sleeves-on-the-jacket-rolled-up excesses of bombastic 80s rock. However, these tracks always stop way short of cheese, because they are gorgeous, and because the love and enthusiasm of Rother is always shining through. Also it has Jaki Liebezeit on drums, but more importantly, is produced by Krautrock superhero Conny Plank, and therefore sounds lush, luminous and beautiful. What you have, then, is a set of guitar-led intrumentals with glorious melodies over driving, minimal grooves with shimmering, spectral synths, and it is rather wonderful.
I've seen Michael Rother play live with Moebius a couple of times, back in the early 2000s when Moebius was still using lots of analogue synths. They were both excellent gigs, but definitely had moments high on the cheese-ometer as Rother went into guitar hero mode, before reining himself in as the track gradually morphed into some warped analogue noodlings. They seemed to be semi-improvised sets, and hopefully they will team up again in the future.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Senking - Ping Thaw

During a long-overdue rewatch of John Carpenter's The Thing last night, I thought of this excellent album, which is strongly influenced by both the soundtrack and the general ambience of the film, and contains some speech samples on 'Thaw'. This is a cd compilation of two 12" EPs from 1999 and 2000, both of which are highly atmospheric, with a sense of looming dread. There is a definite sense of Arctic isolation, and heavily reverbed sounds of ice cracking, and glaciers colliding, under washes of spacy synth. 'Risk' from the first EP heads into quite heavy industrial territory, but it's the later 'Thaw' EP that shows a more assured touch, and mastery of foreboding atmospheres, with growling low synths, and syncopated, dubbed out delay - definitely fits nicely into the Chain Reaction/Uusitalo/Vladislav Delay spectrum. Jens Massel is still producing quality electronica as Senking - last year's 'Pong' is excellent, and highly recommended - veering into the more abstract outreaches of dubstep.