Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Orbital - s/t [aka The Brown Album, or Orbital 2 in the US] (1993)

Dug out this album thanks to Acid Brass from last week - went on a wee nostalgia trip of late 80s/90s dancey electronica.  An hour of classic Kraftwerkian techno bookended by a couple of jokey nods to Steve Reich's early tape work - seems ideal for posting here.

By 1992, Orbital's Hartnoll brothers had broken on the dance scene with a home cassette-deck recording (the immortal Chime) and released a solid first album.  The second was produced with a new level of confidence and skill, from the introductory tape-phase looping of Worf from Star Trek TNG (introduced on their 'Green' debut) to the more fully-realised album coherence and buildup of each track's elements.

There's enough acid squelch on the likes of Remind and Lush 3-2 to link to Orbital's roots,  but throughout the Brown Album lots of other details reward deep listening.  The sitar colourings on Planet Of The Shapes, which also has a sample from Withnail & I synced in perfect rhythm; on Walk Now, the only time I've ever enjoyed listening to a didgeridoo.... it's an album offering great variety.  My absolute favourite thing here is the 20 minute stretch that takes in the gradually-mutating Lush 3-1/3-2 and melodic highlight Impact (The Earth Is Burning), but the lovely Halcyon + On + On isn't far behind.  A hugely recommended album to anyone wanting to hear a classic of 90s electronic music that continues to age well.

mega / zippy

See also at SGTG: Underworld - Everything, Everything / Polygon Window - Surfing On Sine Waves

Monday, 16 July 2018

Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise (2005 compi, rec. 1973 - circa 1981)

Some more of Julius Eastman's wonderful, singular music (previously posted: Femenine), in the first major excavation of recorded work from his lifetime.  Eastman can be heard at the end of this collection describing his style as "organic music", in which material is carried across from segment to segment before being gradually replaced by new material, in a distinctive, personalised take on the Downton NYC minimalist circle that he moved in.  Like Femenine, the six works in three hours contained here can sometimes require patience, but the payoffs are magical.

The compilation starts off in 1973 with Stay On It for voice, piano, violin, clarinet, saxes and percussion.  The central theme, sounding like an uplifting gospel/soul refrain, acts as a framing device for the increasingly abstract and improvisational sections, before the saxes start to play a more solemn reduction of the theme and piece ambles bluesily toward a quiet, reflective ending.  If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? (1977) for a larger, brass-dominated ensemble, isn't as immediately accessible - its focus on simple ascending chromatic scales can feel a bit spartan for a while, but it's well worth sticking with.

Next we get to hear Eastman's wonderful baritone voice in his unaccompanied prelude to The Holy Presence of Joan D'Arc, as the title figure is exhorted by various saints to "speak boldly".  The rest of the 1981 work is a formidable inquisition by ten cellos, and another highlight of the collection.  Lastly, a full concert from Northwestern University in 1980 (with its spoken intro tacked on the end, for whatever reason) presents three of Eastman's most iconoclastic pieces, played on four pianos.  Eastman explains that his use of the N-word in two of the titles (apparently part of a longer series) was as reappropriation; likewise, the rhythmically strident Gay Guerilla a call to activism.  All three are absolutely stunning to listen to, and occupy a sweet spot between the tightly formalised piano work of Reich and Glass and the abstract, textural drones of Charlemagne Palestine.

Disc 1 mega / zippy
Disc 2 mega / zippy
Disc 3 mega / zippy

Friday, 13 July 2018

Sensations' Fix - Fragments Of Light (1974)

Great cult album of floaty and burbly synths galore, recorded - depending upon which sources are correct - either by Italian musician/producer Franco Falsini alone during a short period in Virginia, or as the first album proper by Falsini and new Sensations' Fix bandmates after he returned to Italy.  Yep, even researching this album was weird.  Odder still are the Amazon/iTunes downloads of the handful of Sensations' Fix albums available, with atrocious remixing and track shortening, even cack-handed overdubbing.  I've therefore had my eye on this long-deleted Polydor CD for a while, and finally got one that wasn't going for silly money.

Whether recorded by Falsini alone or not, Fragments Of Light is a gorgeous little oddity of 11 short tracks based around guitar and Eminent and Minimoog synths, all instrumental bar two tracks.  To deal with those two first, Space Energy Age is a cute little piece of space-pop with an early drum machine, and Do You Love Me sounds oddly out place, with a more tuneless vocal and what does seem like a full band (could still be Falsini overdubbing everything, dunno).

The rest of the album is a quite lovely trip through accessible, melodic electronics, basic rhythm guitar and little bits of psych-influenced lead guitar.  Squint a little and it could occasionally be Heldon without the darkness, or a more succinct, clear-eyed Cosmic Jokers session. Falsini was a definite Fripp fan too, with the LP including the message "Dear Robert, you'll be glad to know that the heavenly music organisation has branches here too".  Brilliant, evocative track titles abound - my absolute favourite is Music Is Painting In The Air, with its basic four chords and an echoey lead guitar over a floating bed of synth clouds.  Space Closure is the longest and most prog-like at 6 minutes, and Telepathic Children the perfect kosmiche closer.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Ensemble Belcanto - Come Un'Ombra Di Luna (2001)

As mentioned last month, German mezzosoprano Dietburg Spohr founded this vocal ensemble in 1986, and this was their first ECM New Series release.  Spohr formed Ensemble Belcanto to fill a gap that she saw, that of a group of female voices concentrating on new music.  They'd go on to delve way back into the medieval on a 2013 album of Hildegaard von Bingen's music, but before that came this July 2000 recording of four 1990s works that had been written for the group.

The first of these is a four-part suite by Haim Alexander (1915-2012), of settings of poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), who Alexander had met when both were German-Jewish exiles in Jerusalem.  The complex wordplay of these four excerpts from Lasker-Schüler's final published volume, Mein blaues Klavier, is rendered in wonderful dramatic shapes by Alexander and by Ensemble Belcanto's voices and percussion.

Next up are two short pieces: Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014), who was posted here way back in electroacoustic mode, contributes a great exercise in minature polyphony, set to the text of Un Monde Abandoneé des Facteurs by Michel Robic.  Fabrizio Casti's (b. 1960) mournful, acapella setting of Cesare Pavese's post-apocalyptic desolation gives this album its title.  Closing the album in memorable style is the 18-minute Séraphin-Stimmen by Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952).  Influenced by Artaud, the clave-punctuated wordless piece is a madrigal of sorts, with haunting gaps of virtual silence.  Séraphin-Stimmen was by far my favourite piece here, but the whole album hangs together very well and makes for rewarding repeat-listens.

mega / zippy

Monday, 9 July 2018

Williams Fairey Brass Band - Acid Brass (1997)

Picked up a classic charity shop find the other week.  And yep, it's exactly what the cover says - acid house anthems performed by a brass band.  This was the brainchild of London artist Jeremy Deller, who intended the project not to be a comic novelty, but a serious endeavour in drawing commonalities in British working class culture.  Deller went as far as including an elaborate flowchart in the CD booklet, with 'acid house' at one side and 'brass bands' at the other; the various links sometimes interesting, sometimes perhaps a bit spurious in driving his point home.  But enough sociocultural high-concept - as always, I'm more interested in the music.

Deller eventually found a brass band that were game for the challenge in Stockport's Williams Fairey Brass Band, formed in 1937 (I'm guessing this isn't the original lineup on Acid Brass).  Arranging Deller's chosen tracks was composer/arranger Rodney Newton, who also gets an interesting liner note about the challenges of the material, for instance, getting a group of brass band blokes to chant 'voodoo ray' in "low, guttural voices".  A live performance in Liverpool followed, seemingly well received by an audience of all ages.  A limited edition recording of the concert, also titled Acid Brass, was followed by this studio album.

So what does it sound like?  Well, to be honest, mostly like a cod-Mission Impossible/Austin Powers film score (What Time Is Love made me laugh out loud), but no less entertaining for that.  Newton does capture well the main themes and the tension-and-release of the originals, and purely from a melodic standpoint, A Guy Called Gerald's Voodoo Ray and 808 State's Pacific 202 sound lovely, proving their durability as highly original pieces of dance music.  The success of the arrangements can vary - I do like the tuned percussion (glock? marimba?) on those two tracks, and on Nitro Deluxe's Let's Get Brutal.  Derrick May's Strings Of Life doesn't translate quite as well, with its immortal string stabs rather weakly rendered - if anything, a testament to what a stunning work of genius the original was and still is.  Regardless, Acid Brass is a fun listen, especially in the summer sunshine.

mega / zippy

Friday, 6 July 2018

Chick Corea - Children's Songs (1984)

A year before setting off on his wondrous Voyage with Steve Kujala, Chick Corea recorded this beautiful, intimate solo piano album.  The concept was to tie together several short compositions that he'd been accumulating since the early 70s into a suite that would "convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the spirit of a child".  The result was 20 pieces covering a wealth of different moods in just over half an hour, the many subsequent comparisons to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos well justified.

Longtime Corea fans will recognise earlier appearances of a few of the pieces: Nos. 1, 3  and 6 are reworked Return To Forever themes, Nos. 5 & 15 appeared (with those titles already in place) on 1978's Friends, and No. 9 is Pixieland Rag from 1976's The Leprechaun.  On this album they all find their ideal home alongside the others, to the point where everything runs together so perfectly it's hard to pick out favourites.  Perhaps it's even counterproductive to do so (although 4, 6, & 10 always come to mind for me, for starters), as Children's Songs is best enjoyed as a suite.  And it's a suite with a great postscript on CD editions, in the five minute Addendum for piano, violin and cello.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Milton Nascimento - Milagre Dos Peixes (1973)

Milton Nascimento's follow up to Clube Da Esquina was this, his most experimental album.  Even the presentation of the original release was out of the ordinary - an elaborate fold-out sleeve and colour-coded inserts for each track, and eight of the album's 11 tracks on LP, the final three on an accompanying 7".  This was a good three years before Songs In The Key Of Life - anyone know of any other precedents, or was Milton the first to do the LP+single package for an album?

The music was much more exploratory, earthy and percussive (Nana Vasconcelos is on fire throughout) than Milton's previous releases.  Highlighting this was the complete absence of lyrics on all but three tracks, the result of censorship from Brazil's military dictatorship of the time.  What remained were repetitive incantations from the vocalists, reaching their most primal on A Chamada, and just exhilarating and celebratory elsewhere.  The jazziness of Native Dancer is prefigured on the longest track Hoje É Dia De El-Rey, and that album would of course see a reworking of the Milagre Dos Peixes title track.

One of three tracks here left with its lyrics intact, the title track remains one of Milton's most enduring and gorgeous songs.  The other two are Pablo, sung by Lô Borges' youngest brother Nico (13 at the time), and a cover of Nelson Angelo's Sacramento, but this album is primarily about the music.  The uplifting rhythms and chants; the occasional string arrangements on Hoje É Dia De El-Rey and the title track; the barroom atmosphere created on A Última Sessão De Música - Milagre Dos Peixes is, in spite of the circumstances in its home nation at the time, a joyous experience, and unique in its creator's lengthy discography.
Alternate cover for European reissues - some with altered running order.

mega / zippy

Monday, 2 July 2018

Milton Nascimento/Lô Borges - Clube Da Esquina (1972)

Back to Brazil, with possibly the most stunning high water mark in MPB (música popular brasileira).  Clube Da Esquina (corner club) was a collective of musicians from the Minas Gerais state, led by Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges, the latter just 20 when this double-album was recorded.  With 21 songs in 64 minutes, Clube Da Esquina is like a fat-free White Album or stripped-down Manassas.  Over the succinct running time, it manages to take in regional folk influences, hazy, languid psychedelic pop and a huge dash of Beatlesque styling in a journey that feels more perfect with every listen.  Even the album cover has a great story behind it.

A track-by-track is pointless on an album like this; picking out highlights near-impossible for one with literally no duds - even the two tracks that don't break the minute mark are necessary, rather than jokey filler.  So here's a handful of favourites.  From Lô Borges' seven compositions, I'll go for the sun-dappled goodbyes of O Trem Azul with its gorgeous harmonies, and Trem De Doido, a poignant ode to mistreated psychiatric patients, with Beto Guedes' stinging lead guitar.

Out of Milton Nascimento's phenomenal songwriting and legendary voice... what to choose as favourites?  I'm going to plump for his more impressionistic side that comes out in the Side 3-4 split, on Um Gusto De Sol's woozy, sleepy personification of a pear in a fruit bowl, and the swirling production effects of Pelo Amor De Deus.  But then he's just as good as an interpreter, of Spanish songwriter Carmelo Larrea's bolero standard Dos Cruces, or duetting with Alaíde Costa on Me Deixa Em Paz.  Or indeed with no lyrics at all, on the near-title track or on the ode to his adoptive mother Lilia, soon to be re-recorded with Wayne Shorter (Wagner Tiso from Native Dancer is also all over Clube with his great organ style). Stay tuned for more of the near-instrumental side of Milton later this week, but for now make sure to download this perfect album.

mega / zippy

Friday, 29 June 2018

Michael Price - Entanglement (2015)

More Erased Tapes loveliness, this time from English composer Michael Price.  Having amassed several film and TV scores to his name in the past 20 years, often in collaboration with David Arnold, Entanglement gave Price his first opportunity to create an album in its own right.  His guiding principle here was "to make an album that sounded like a dark, Berlin record store discovery from the 30s. Something that had timeless emotive power, and pre-digital rawness".  And this he did, with a string orchestra, synths, electronic and tape effects, using vintage technology whenever possible - that wobbly fragility at the beginning of The Attachment comes from using a 1940s magnetic disk recorder.

Fans of Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter et al will find a lot to love here.  As in their case, it's obvious that a seasoned soundtracker is at work, but on an album untroubled by outside commissioning, the composer's ambition and love for their craft can really let loose.  Entanglement's nine pieces find Price in an often melancholy, but always evocative mood, whether focusing in on his own piano playing (the church bell-like tones of Easter) or filling out the sound with various shades of strings.  Ambient city sounds, recorded by Price on his phone, give Budapest an extra travelogue authenticity.  On two particular highlights, Maitri and The Uncertainty Principle, a guest soprano is featured (words below), which brought to mind for me Hans Abrahamsen's Let Me Tell You, or even Górecki's 3rd.  Don't miss this gorgeous album.

mega / zippy
No one minded that
The flowers' beauty faded.
And I saw myself in the world grow old
As the rain went on falling.
(a waka by Ono no Komachi, 825-900)

The Uncertainty Principle
Autumn evening.
With her sleeve
She wipes a mirror.
(a haiku by Yosa no Buson, 1716-1784) 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Gerard Pape - Electroacoustic Chamber Works (1998)

Five ear-bending and mind-bending journeys into transformed sound today, courtesy of Gerard Pape, born 1955 in Brooklyn.  These works all date from the mid-90s both in composition and in recording, giving this disc the homogeneous feel of an album rather than a compilation from disparate sources.  Furthermore, they all display Pape's talent for using tape and/or computer to forensically investigate and transform sound at every possible micro-level; harmonics, timbre and so on.

Two Electro-Acoustic Songs, for soprano, flute and tape/sound projection, is featured first.  The tonalities of the voice and flute start out with their pure sound before Pape subjects them to various levels of alien warping, using the UPIC system developed by Xenakis.  This is followed by Le Fleuve du Désir for string quartet and tape.  Pape makes his inspiration erm, explicit, evoking not just water and rivers, but also applying Freud's writings on the libido to "my 'river of desire'... inspired by fluid flow, real and fantasised".  Bit too much information there, Gerard, but thanks all the same.

The longest piece is next, in the 32 minutes of Monologue for bass voice and tape/sound projection.  The libretto is taken from Samuel Beckett's A Piece Of Monologue, and Nicholas Isherwood's voice has great versatility for the dramatics of the performance.  Pape's soundworld swirls and hisses around it unobtrusively, providing a suitably unsettling atmosphere.  A choral piece, Battle, follows, performed by Vox Nova with Pape on tape - the inspiration here was a dramatic scene from Clive Barker's Weaverworld.  Lastly, our old friend Daniel Kientzy is the featured soloist on the ensemble piece Makbénach, the title apparently meaning 'flesh leaving bones'.  Ensemble 2e2m provide an ever-shifting backdrop for Kientzy's unique sax sound, as Pape warps the whole thing into outer space.

mega / zippy