Friday, 29 December 2017

Party Time - Euro Disco Style (compis rel. 2009-11)

Why not have something nice and uplifting to go into the new year with?  Well, parts of these three compilations by Reckless Records' Disco Discharge series kind of fit the bill, but the more I've discovered (and absolutely loved) about late 70s-80s Euro Disco this year, the more I've found it's just as likely to be suffused with melancholy and/or just plain strange.  Which suits me just fine. 

Besides getting hold of these discs, my interest in Euro Disco has definitely been helped by Opium Hum for posting a fair bit of this stuff, so go seek there for full albums by the likes of Space and Change who feature here in some of their best tracks.  Other highlights for me of 'Euro Disco' (the 'pink' volume, links immediately below) include Sparks' Number One Song In Heaven, and Giorgio Moroder's perfect From Here To Eternity.

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Highlights for me on 'Euro Beats': Ryan Paris' Dolce Vita, Modern Talking's Atlantis Is Calling, and Fun Fun's Baila Bolero.  One criticism of this series among those in the know has been that the sound quality can be variable, and the source/master lineage of some of the tracks a bit suspect (almost everything here ends up being labelled "Original 12" Mix", which might not always be the case - but if, like me, you just want an introduction to some great pop/dance music, it's really a moot point.

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Highlights for me on 'European Connection': Space's Carry On, Turn Me On, sounding at the start like a missing piece of Air's Moon Safari; another great Moroder track, If You Weren't Afraid; the epic 16 minutes of Tantra's Hills Of Katmandu.  In fact, this volume is probably my favourite of the three - there's just so much buried treasure: the 'dub' B-side of Sylvia Love's Instant Love; the instrumental bombast of Hypnosis' Droid, and the gorgeous melancholy of Alba's Only Music Survives.

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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Azimuth - The Touchstone (1978)

Hope you're getting a chance to relax and reflect this week - I am for once; I'm usually at work this week and always wishing I'd just taken the days off.  Managed to think ahead this year, so here's some more Azimuth, this time even more mellifluous and ambient than usual.

Recorded a year and half prior to Départ, The Touchstone ticks all the Azimuth boxes.  It starts with an organ drone (this is where John Taylor started adding the instrument to the Azimuth palette) and Kenny Wheeler's melancholy trumpet smears, before giving way to those circular piano figures and Norma Winstone's soaring voice.

Things then pretty much carry on like that, with one exception - this is the sole Azimuth album (at least out of the original trilogy; my memory's slightly hazy on the '85 and '95 reunions) where Winstone doesn't sing any lyrics at all, but just fills each track with wordless, heavenly vocalising.  This is Azimuth at their most supremely chilled - enjoy.

mega / zippy

Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Have a great one.  For a gorgeous and relaxing soundtrack to wind down to today, may I recommend this recording of a European Broadcasting Union Christmas concert from last year, recorded at Vigadó Concert Hall, Budapest.  The programme was as follows.

Arvo Pärt: Magnificat
Kodály: Miserere
Javier Busto: O Magnum mysterium
Levente Gyöngyösi: Magnificat
Reger: Vater unser
Arvo Pärt: The Deer's Cry
Hungarian Radio Chorus
Péter Erdei (conductor).

Friday, 22 December 2017

Nurse With Wound - Soliloquy For Lilith (1988)

Been meaning to post this one for a while now.  What to even say about one of the monumental epics of pure electronic drone, that arose from an accident of technological serendipity and remains the artist's favourite in his vast catalogue?

Simply put, the 106 minutes of Soliloquy For Lilith (now expanded to 2½ hours by outtake and/or remixed material) are an object lesson in chancing upon a simple technical quirk - a closed loop of effects pedals undergoing subtle electromagnetic changes as the air above them is disturbed - and crafting that single idea into a masterpiece.

Stapleton found that he could "play" this setup, theremin-like, to manipulate the huge, swirling soundwaves and ghostly overtones that comprise the six-part Soliloquy, and split the different sounding sections into six sides of vinyl, each 17-18 minutes in length.  In parts 1 & 2, the massive drone draws you in to its hypnotic orbit whilst the overtones stab and shriek in the vastness of space; in parts 3 & 4, the overtones have become almost melodic, resulting in an almost ambient bath in primordial sound.  Simply one of the greatest immersive listening experiences ever made.

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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Tigran Hamasyan with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir - Luys I Luso (2015)

Armenian for "light from Light", Luys I Luso was the brainchild of pianist Tigran Hamasyan (b. 1987) in which he wanted to fuse together Armenian sacred choral pieces from the 5th - 20th centuries (including ones by Komitas) with classical composition and improvisation.  The results were gorgeous and spellbinding, with the austere beauty of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir blending perfectly with Hamasyan's piano.

Sometimes providing minimal piano accompaniment, sometimes letting rip in more jazzy runs (Voghormea indz Astvats is the most eyebrow-raisingly energetic thing here), Hamasyan's skill is that this potentially clashing mix just works, and pays off in spades.  Whether he's taking a brief diversion into prepared piano (Nor Tsaghik) or closing the album with a sampled recording from 1912 ('made in the presence of Komitas'), Luys I Luso is superbly arranged and just hugely enjoyable in its otherworldly, transportive magic.

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 December 2017

Orlando Jacinto Garcia - La Belleza Del Silencio (1991)

I'm pretty familar with electronic/electroacoustic albums that demand to be "played at maximum volume", or at very least "played loud", but this one's a nice oddity in its direction that "This compact disc should be played softly".  It's a recommendation that works just fine for these two vocal works and two percussive/tape works by Orlando Jacinto Garcia, born 1954 in Havana (emigrated to the US 1961).

First up is a choral tribute to Garcia's early mentor, On The Eve Of The Second Year Anniversary Of Morton's Death (1989).  The sole text is 'la belleza del silencio es mi inspiracion' - the beauty of silence is my inspiration - sung and whispered in little fragments.  Definitely a worthy tribute to Feldman.  In the following Improvisation With Metallic Materials (1990), the tape part is composed from piano timbres and then overlaid with sounds from a Yamaha WX7, a digital MIDI wind instrument.  As per the 'Improvisation' indication, there's a nice, almost wind-chime-like formlessness to the piece, and not always mellow - it does clang around a fair bit, even at the suggested low volume.

Avant-garde vocal legend Joan La Barbara is the performer for Sitio Sin Nombre (1990), with her synthesized voice slowed down to an eerie groan before moving on to more plaintive and meditative cooing, and a little more out-there weirdness later on.  I'd go for that piece as a really lovely highlight of this collection.  Lastly, Metallic Images (1991) samples and manipulates bells and vibraphone tones for its tape part, and has a similar ambient drift to the Metallic Materials piece, but in an overall much more gentle vein.  All in all, this is a really nice collection of Garcia's work, at any volume.

mega / zippy

Friday, 15 December 2017

Ghédalia Tazartès - Une Éclipse Totale de Soleil (1984)

Third album by French sui generis oddball Ghédalia Tazartès.  Like its predecessor Transports, there's no track titles here - just two album sides of whatever Tazartès felt like pasting together into a mindbending journey into vocal and musical sound warping.  Éclipse Totale's original release confuses me a bit when trying to learn more about it - was it released in 1984 by Celluloid records as discogs says, or was it released in 1979 as the CD reissue and a couple of other websites seem to claim?  I'll take a guess that it was recorded in '79 and released later - any clarity welcome.

Perhaps it's just an apt record to be slightly bamboozled by before even listening to it.  As with all the Tazartès music I've heard, the best thing to do is just sit back and follow where he leads with all the jump-cut sections of each record fusing into something truly unique and memorable.  Éclipse Totale starts with a chugging and hissing mechanical rhythm, then a child singing, then Tazartès singing over bleeping and a female voice, and so on.  The second side also starts rhythmically, with a bit more bounce and musicality, before plunging into some dark, grinding electronics and unsettling screams, and just keeps getting weirder.  I live for albums like this.  Don't miss it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Iannis Xenakis - Synaphaï (2013 compi rec. 1975 & 1992)

Nothing quite gets me through a long week like a nice slab of Xenakian mayhem - or four.  The first three pieces on this disc were originally released on LP in 1976, and the fourth is from a compilation from 20 years later, but thematically and stylistically, it's all good.
Original UK LP, 1976
Synaphaï, Greek for 'connexities', was written in 1969 as a piano concerto of sorts.  In Xenakis' hands, naturally, this meant a grinding, stabbing 86-piece orchestra being overlaid with a jaw-droppingly acrobatic piano part.  Aroura ('earth') (1971) is for string orchestra, and slithers and judders around nicely.  Both of these pieces are just under 12 minutes long.

The 20-minute Antikthhon, also from '71, was written as a ballet, the title being a Pythagorean term meaning 'counter-earth'.  It's textbook orchestral Xenakis, and my favourite thing here, with all of his usual staccato jitters, glissandi and percussive thunder making for a stunning experience.

As noted above, Keqrops (1986) is a kind of bonus track to this compilation, being the only one not from the '75 London recordings with the New Philharmonic.  It's a 1992 recording by the Mahler Youth Orchestra of one of the best orchestral epics of 80s-era Xenakis, and like Synaphaï, is a bit of a piano-concerto-gone-insane undertaking in its structure and sound - well worth its inclusion here.

mega / zippy

Monday, 11 December 2017

Tomasz Stańko Quintet - Jazzmessage From Poland (1972)

The 70s fusion-era Stańko Quintet recorded live in Iserlohn, Germany in May 1972.  Other than a change of bassist, this is the group that would go on to record Purple Sun the following year.  The music here is therefore in a similar trumpet-violin-flute-sax vein, if perhaps a bit more laid back and exploratory across these two side-long tracks.

AEOIOE/Heban settles into a nice shuffling groove for most of its duration, with Zbigniew Seifert's violin to the fore for much of it.  Things become much more free towards the end - presumably the 'Heban' part, for which Seifert is credited as the writer.  Piece For Diana/Wood's Music Serie starts off quite free and mellow too, with some extremely odd noises being coaxed from the reeds.  There's some nice flute, but again the star soloist seems to be Seifert for much of the track.  Not that I'm complaining - Seifert (1946-1979) was a wonderful musician, and I definitely need to give his solo work more of a listen sometime soon.

Perhaps it's a bit odd for a Stańko Quintet album to have the band leader taking a back seat so much, but to be honest I quite like how Stańko doesn't dominate proceedings here, but leaves room for everyone.  He does ignite properly about halfway through the second track, but even then it's as a contributor to a free-for-all rather than a full spotlight.  If you're wanting to listen to Stańko for his trumpet playing then, this is maybe not the ideal album to seek it out - but if you're after some great Eastern-European jazz fusion being played by an open, organic-sounding group, then this is a jazzmessage well worth receiving.

mega / zippy

Friday, 8 December 2017

Lumen Drones - s/t (2014)

Anyone for some nice wintry Nordic drone rock?  This collaboration between Nils Økland, specialist in the 8-string hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), and Ørjan Haaland (drums) and Per Steinar Lie (guitar) of Norwegian post-rock band The Low Frequency In Stereo was recorded in November 2011 and released three years later.  Almost every review I've read of this album makes comparisons to an Australian band called The Dirty Three, who apparently have a very similar MO - I'm sure I'll get around to checking them out eventually (anyone in the know have any recommendations?), but for now, here's Lumen Drones.

Even by ECM's eclectic standards, this album feels like an odd thing for them to release - I'm guessing Økland's previous associations with the ECM stable helped.  In any case, the music is striking, driving and invigorating stuff that more than merited a release.  Skeletal guitar themes give way to grinding chords that move the tracks forward along with the pounding drums, overlaid with Økland's melodies, the extra drone strings of the hardingfele suiting this style of music perfectly.

The trio's sound is arguably at its most effective when they really stretch out and get lost in the groove, and the two longest tracks, Ira Furore and Echo Plexus, are accordingly my favourites on the album.  That's not to dismiss the more compact and subtle tracks in the album's second half, though (Lux, Husky and Keelwater), which show an equal talent for understatement and atmosphere.  Hope they make another one sometime.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Qluster - Tasten (2015)

For their fifth album as Qluster, Roedelius and Onnen Bock - by now expanded to a trio with Armin Metz - decided to forego the electronics of previous albums for this sublime album of music for three pianos.  Sound familiar?  What you get here, though, is first of all nearly twice as long, and as distinctly European as the Budd-Garcia-Lentz minature masterpiece was distinctly American/Latin American.  Tasten is also more sparingly produced, largely allowing that timeless Steinway resonance to speak for itself in triplicate.

As might be expected, the result of this setup - and one of course that involves Hans-Joachim Roedelius - is absolutely gorgeous both melodically and harmonically.  Picking standouts is difficult on such a strong programme of material, but I'll plump for Brandung, the longest track, with the perfectly evocative Spuren im Schnee a close second.

Here and there, little interesting touches flesh out the nine pieces on Tasten, such as the string plucking on Über den Dächern, and more subtly so on the following Il Campanile.  That track actually brought to mind for me Zeitkratzer's treatment of Kraftwerk's Wellenlange (see last week) in the way it takes the minimal material somewhere sublime.

mega / zippy
Previously posted: Fragen

Monday, 4 December 2017

George Crumb - Voice Of The Whale / Night Of The Four Moons (1974)

Vox Balaenae, better known as Voice Of The Whale, is probably one of the best known works by George Crumb (b. 1929, Charleston WV) - it's pretty accessible in its mostly languid, Debussyian drift, whilst still getting pretty far out there in its odd performance requirements.  Players are directed to sing into the flute, strum the piano strings with chisels, paperclips and glass rods... oh, and play under blue light whilst wearing black masks.  As the title suggests, the piece was inspired by recordings of actual whale song that Crumb heard in the late 60s, and the mysterious undersea world that it conjures up is beautifully absorbing.  Perfect for listening to whilst watching Blue Planet II with the sound off (which I've been doing for weeks with a wide selection of music).

The other work on this 1974 release was Night Of The Four Moons, which was composed during the Apollo 11 flight to the moon and is set in four sections, each taking a fragment of text by Federico Garcia Lorca (whose words Crumb frequently set to music around this time).  Musically it's as wonderfully strange as Whale, if not more, as the mezzo-soprano intones eerily over a fractured dreamscape of flutes, banjo, percussion and amplified cello.  Totally must get myself Crumbed up to the max, I love his stuff more and more every time I give it a go.

mega / zippy

Friday, 1 December 2017

Duke Ellington - Ellington Uptown (1952)

A stone-cold classic from the dawn of the LP era, and my personal Ellington of choice.  Ellington Uptown, and its almost-as-awesome predecessor Masterpieces By Ellington, were released in the early 50s as featuring, for the first time, "full-length concert arrangements".  And boy did The Duke  and His Orchestra know how to get the most out of the new format, recording albums like this that still burst out of speakers sounding fresh and vital today.

There's reinventions of (even then) old classics from the Ellington playbook like The Mooche, Perdido and Take The A Train, with the latter now featuring a great Betty Roche vocal, and freshly-minted material too in the stunning curtain-raiser.  Skin Deep had been penned by drum prodigy Louie Bellson, whose double-bass-drum attack punctuates the track with solos that could give your average death metal drummer a run for their money in an era before most of them were even born.

The three suites that comprise the remaining material on the album, as far as I'm concerned, makes Ellington worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as Gershwin in terms of writing and arrangement.  The Harlem Suite was commissioned by Arturo Toscanini, and in Duke's words depicted a Sunday morning walk through Harlem's Latin and West Indian neighbourhoods up to the business district, with the sights and sounds of civil rights marchers along the way.

The two suites at the end of this CD only appeared as part of the original album on certain releases, so this 2004 reissue was really the first 'complete' Uptown.  The Controversial Suite takes a sideways look at rival factions in jazz - traditional vs. modern - by making both sound equally out-there.  Lastly, the Liberian Suite is the oldest recording here (1947) with its gorgeous vocal introduction 'I Like The Sunrise', and was a tribute to the first African-American settlers in the Liberian Republic a century beforehand.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Zeitkratzer plays Kraftwerk, live at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (2017)

Berlin-based new music ensemble Zeitkratzer have been around since the late 90s, releasing numerous albums of work by Stockhausen, Cage et al, as well as two volumes of tracks by Whitehouse, and even a fully scored version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.  Artistic director Reinhold Friedl jokes that "everybody thought Zeitkratzer is a cover band" following the success of the latter, which made a friend suggest to him that they should cover some early Kraftwerk, leading to an album earlier this year.

I don't have any of those albums at present, but I'm definitely keen to stock up on the evidence of this concert held on 18 November, as part of the 40th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.  How about this for a setlist, Kraftwerk fans: Harmonika, Stratovarius, Wellenlange, Vom Himmel Hoch, Atem, Ruckzuck.  Half of those didn't feature on the album, hopefully suggesting a second volume to come.

Friedl agreed with his friend that early Kraftwerk would be a good idea, and an important one, given the continued absence of their first three records on any official reissue - he wryly takes Ralf & Florian to task here for "a falsification of their history".  No disagreement from me there, but most importantly, how does it sound?  Pretty damn good on this evidence.  The material taken from the first Kraftwerk album is inventively arranged whilst sticking faithfully to the structure of the originals.  The stuff from Kraftwerk 2 however is in a different league.  Always Kraftwerk's most experiemental record, this leaves plenty of room for Zeitkratzer to take the sparse source material somewhere unique - in particular, the lazy jamming of Wellenlange being transformed into a thing of understated beauty (just listen to that piano part!) was a revelation to me.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 27 November 2017

Ralph Towner - Solo Concert (1980)

Just before heading to Oslo to meet up with Azimuth for Départ, Ralph Towner was performing solo in Europe, with dates in Munich and Zurich providing the recordings for this spellbinding live album.  Sometimes known as 'Köln for the guitar', the comparison only really works inasmuch as they're both high watermarks in ECM's catalogue of concert recordings; there's no epic improvisations here, just seven perfectly rendered compositions, four of them Towner originals.

Opening with a flourish of echoing harmonics, Solo Concert grabs the listener right from the off with its longest and most spectacular track - the shimmering 12-string waves of Spirit Lake.  The rich, reverberating acoustics of these recordings also illuminate the nylon-string performances like Ralph's Piano Waltz (one of two John Abercrombie compositions here) that follows next.

Things get more intricate and spidery with Train Of Thought, one of the best explorations of Towner's virtuoso technique here, but to be honest that could be said of the whole record.  The Miles Davis standard Nardis hits a fresh new groove, and the closing take on Abercrombie's Timeless is just... timeless.  If you only own one Ralph Towner record, make it this one.

mega / zippy

Friday, 24 November 2017

Organum - Volume One/Volume Two (compis rel. 1998 & 2000)

(both Volumes have plain black covers)
Had you picked up an original vinyl copy of NWW's A Missing Sense in '86 (cover art below), on flipping it over your ears would've been greeted by what sounded like 18 minutes of close-miked dental work.  This piece was called Rasa, and its grinding, hissing and vocal swishes were the work of British drone artist David Jackman, aka Organum.
A Missing Sense/Rasa, split LP between NWW/Organum, 1986
After cutting his musical teeth in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra in the late 60s, Jackman began releasing short cassettes under his own name a decade later, and went on to use the Organum name from 1983-2010 - he appears to have since retired from music.  The two Volumes in this post gather together LP and EP material from 1985/6.
In Extremis LP, 1985
It's pretty heady stuff too - I had the 'Ambient' tag on for this post, then removed it on deciding it wasn't appropriate.  Especially not for the 1985 LP In Extremis (as in, 'close to death'), which straddles the two CDs - the 20 minute Valley Of Worms was a collaboration with fearsome noisemongers The New Blockaders.  The EP track Horii is about as relaxed as the sonic terrain gets here, and even that one's a dark, droning vocal and flute piece that does a pretty good job of evoking some lost unspeakable ritual from ancient Egypt. (Amusingly, though, it does have a cheekily rockist 1-2-3 count-in.)
Horii 12", 1986
Elsewhere, the metallic droning, creaking and clattering that underpins so much of the early Organum sound brought to mind Iannis Xenakis at his most electroacoustic, eg Bohor or Persepolis.  Much like those grand slabs of sound, Jackman's work here, from the Tower Of Silence EP right through to the 1989 bonus track that ends CD2,  might seem on the surface to be a solid, impenetrable wall, but as soon as you get into it you're transported to its hypnotic depths.  Out-of-body dronescapes of the highest order.
Tower Of Silence 12", 1985
Volume 1 mega / Volume 1 zippy
Volume 2 mega / Volume 2 zippy

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Nurse With Wound - A Missing Sense (1997 compilation)

As promised on Monday's writeup, here's Steven Stapleton's 'tribute' to Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing.  Over to you, Steve:
"A Missing Sense was originally conceived as a private tape to accompany my taking of LSD. When in that particular state, Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing was the only music I could actually experience without feeling claustrophobic and paranoid. We played it endlessly; it seemed to become part of the room, perfectly blending with the late night city ambience and the 'breathing' of the building. I decided to make my own version using the basic structure of Ashley's masterpiece, but making it more personal, adding natural sound that I could hear in my environment. It should be played at very low volume."
What we get with the NWW take on Automatic Writing then, might be 20 minutes shorter, but is still a wonderful ambient drift that sits alongside the very best of Stapleton's work in that mode.  There's less focus on the vocalisations (I'd guess because they were very much Ashley's signature, and the best Stapleton could do was imitate them), but plenty of NWW signatures - electronic whirring and clicking, mutated smears of trumpet, and a highly atmospheric take on the Farsifa organ sound from Automatic Writing.  Far from being just a knockoff of a superior work, A Missing Sense is magical stuff in its own right - the influence from Ashley is obvious, but the NWW fingerprint is unmistakable.

On this compilation CD, A Missing Sense is followed by a work from a year later (1987) called Swansong.  Purportedly inspired by the anger and hopelessness felt by Stapleton after watching a documentary on the original A-bomb tests, it actually comes across as an oddly calming ambient work mostly comprised of electronically-generated rushing waves and eerie, distant synth melodies.  Near the end, the waves suddenly stop, and the remaining music introduces a bizarre interlude in which a girl (possibly the same one from the Homotopy To Marie title track?) talks about puberty or something like that.  The electronic waves then condense into a constant sea wall of static that gradually fades away.

Lastly, the disc is rounded out by a remixed version of Dadaˣ from Merzbild Schwet.  This mix originally appeared on Ostranenie 1913, released in 1983 to help a friend of Steve's launch their label, and is one of the few NWW records I've been lucky enough to get hold of on vinyl.  The LP cover was a monochrome version of what you can see above, that Stapleton used for the Missing Sense CD.  It's a good mix of Dadaˣ, but I think I still prefer the more spare and spacious original.

mega / zippy

Monday, 20 November 2017

Robert Ashley - Automatic Writing (1979)

An absolute classic of avant-garde ambient, Automatic Writing was the result of Robert Ashley's fascination with 'involuntary speech', the mild form of Tourette's syndrome that he had.  Eventually getting some close-miked recordings of vocal sounds and phrases that he liked - more for their texture and cadences than any actual words - Ashley processed them electronically and built this 46-minute piece around them.

The result was this beautifully ghostly, formless drift in which Ashley's words are whispered back to him in French by a female voice, whilst sounds from a Polymoog chirp and click away in the background, and intermittent snatches of music from a Farfisa organ appear to be coming from an adjacent room.  Whether you listen to this on the threshold of audibility as ambient music, or turn it right up to study the details, Automatic Writing has a unique, hypnotic effect that makes it endlessly listenable.  It even inspired a 'tribute' piece by a certain SGTG regular - that'll be Wednesday's post.

For now, just enjoy one of Robert Ashley's finest ever extended recordings, plus a couple of CD bonus tracks that I've left in as they're quite interesting - both are from a 60's 'opera' project, That Morning Thing, which Ashley wrote in reaction to the suicides of three female friends.  She Was A Visitor, in which phenomes of the words are bounced around the voices of the performers, was actually featured right at the beginning of this blog.  Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon, all tape hiss and an extremely unsettling monologue, will stay with you for a while afterwards - if you've been listening to Automatic Writing to chill out, perhaps best to hit the stop button at the end of it.

mega / zippy

Friday, 17 November 2017

Ghédalia Tazartès - Tazartès' Transports (1980)

Second album from Parisian outsider legend Ghédalia Tazartès, whose beautifully strange music I was first introduced to via - you guessed it - the Nurse With Wound list.  Recorded in 1977, and first released in 1980 on clear vinyl with no track titles, Tazartès' Transports on CD is split into 15 tracks with... no track titles.  So, one to just dive headfirst into for sure.
That LP cover isn't the only thing that brings Faust to mind for me - listening to these tracks, with each sudden jump-cut going off at a totally new tangent, is quite a Faust Tapes-esque experience.  The opening moments of the album throw up a couple more German reference points - a pretty Roedelius-like piano incongruously paired with a harsh, Tietchens-ish rhythm - before Tazartès speed-shifted voice replaces the piano, and we're plunged into his wonderfully weird sound world.  Chiming cathedral bells, electronic squiggles, more loops of different voices, a mournful wind instrument emerging from the embers of a noise onslaught - that's just track two.

Listing the many delights of the remaining 13 tracks would be a pointless exercise - just listen, enjoy and discover the many looped elements, found sounds and little snatches of actual music, and on repeat listens, hear something different every time - that's the enduring magic of Tazartès' music for me.  His singing is a constant joy in whatever form it takes - plaintive wailing, throaty droning, or rasping Dada-esque nonsense in one of his comic personae.  Don't miss the spoken word closing track, intoned in English - "All animals have a personality, a personality, a personality... I'm a dancer,  I'm a dancer, moving on a stage, moving on a stage...".  A memorably bizarre ending to a magnificent, absolutely essential record.
alternate CD cover
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Azimuth with Ralph Towner - Départ (1980)

Autumnal ECM loveliness of the highest order.  Of course, that description could apply to about half of the label's catalogue, especially from its mid 70s to early 80s golden era.  This album though, recorded in the last month of the 70s, even has a track named Autumn, complete with suitably evocative lyrics from Norma Winstone.

Winstone, along with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, had by this point recorded two wonderfully airy, hypnotic albums as Azimuth, taking as much inspiration from Reichian minimalism as from the British jazz scene of their backgrounds.  For this third outing, ECM 's Manfred Eicher suggested adding a guest guitarist, and all three requested Ralph Towner, who they'd met the previous year.

Towner's chiming 12-string is therefore the first accompaniment to be introduced to album opener The Longest Day, over the top of Taylor's circular piano figures, before Winstone and Wheeler begin to take flight.  He switches to classical guitar for the aforementioned Autumn, and for the first two parts of the Touching Points suite.  This mid-album four-parter is particularly interesting as there's increasingly less typically Azimuth drift and more choppy free improv (especially in the third section), plus a chance to hear Taylor on Terry Riley-esque organ on the fourth section.  He sticks to organ for the gorgeous title track's intro, returning to piano for Winstone's brief haiku-like lyric, before everyone soars into the stratosphere again.

mega / zippy

see also: 
Sounds & Shadows (Towner)
Somewhere Called Home (Winstone with Taylor)
Double, Double You (Wheeler)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Martin Davorin Jagodic - Tempo Furioso (Tolles Wetter) (1975)

Sole album release by Martin Davorin Jagodic (b. 1935, Zagreb), who settled in France in the 1960s.  Having apparently worked at GRM, been involved in installations and performance pieces and composed numerous Cage-esque graphic scores, it's a shame there isn't more recorded evidence of Jagodic's work.  What is available here, though, is 42 minutes of top-notch sound manipulation that more than justified Jagodic's place on the Nurse With Wound list (see last Monday's post).

Starting from a stew of queasy, gently pulsing electronics, it soon becomes clear that the 'Tempo Furioso' title doesn't have anything to do with the pace of the work, and may have just been applied for ironic/comic value.  Adding to the mix are various voice snippets and loops, naturalistic sounds of lapping waves and birds (Jagodic must've been out taping in the 'great weather' of the album's subtitle), and samples of classical and rock music.  An early highlight of the second track is a lengthy sample from a period-drama radio play, surrounded by more agitated electronics, before things settle down again.  A highly recommended sound experience from start to finish.

Update!  Have received the following comment:
A website will be open for Martin Davorin Jagodic in the following month with a lot of new music, graphic scores, videos and more.
If you want to get the link when it will be ready, just send an email to

mega / zippy

Friday, 10 November 2017

Laura Nyro and Labelle - Gonna Take A Miracle (1971)

Absolutely love, love, love this little gem.  For her fifth album, Laura Nyro took a break from songwriting to put together a heartfelt tribute to the music she grew up listening to in The Bronx in the 50s and 60s.  With new friend Patti Labelle and her group singing backup, and Gamble & Huff producing at Sigma Sound, the result was a perfect mix of classic girl-group and soul material with a now-legendary Philly sheen.

A huge part of this album's charm for me is its spare instrumentation and production, and just how alive and joyful each track sounds.  According to legend, everything was recorded first-take in a single day, after almost all the studio time had been frittered away just goofing around and enjoying the songs that everyone knew so well.  This freshness makes the uptempo selections absolutely burn through their grooves (Jimmy Mack, Nowhere To Run, the medley of Monkey Time and Dancing In The Street) and the ballads shine in their ethereal, stark beauty (Desiree, and my personal album highlight The Wind).  And if anyone's recorded a more perfect version of Spanish Harlem that just drips with languid, urban midsummer eroticism, I've yet to hear it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Tomasz Stańko/Freelectronic - Freelectronic In Montreux (1987)

Stańko's mid-80s fusion ensemble in action at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival.  Possibly not the full performance, unless they did only appear for 35 minutes, but enough to get a flavour of their nicely odd trumpet-bass-synth-synth sound.  Yep, there's no drummer here, with the rhythmic drive being provided by Witold Szcurek's bass slapping and Tadeus Sudnik's arsenal of tweaked synths and 'self-made electronics'.

I'll readily admit that my initial listen to this recording just elicited a response of 'arrrgh 80s cheese', and I even referred to it in a previous Stańko writeup as 'hilarious', but scratch below the surface sound (the twanging bass, and a very much of-its-time DX7) and repeated listens throw up the little idiosyncrasies that keep me coming back to Freelectronic In Montreux.
Alternate cover
Most of this is down to Sudnik, whose little whooshes and burbles take the group's sound into a weirder dimension than upbeat opener Lady Go would otherwise suggest.  The atmospherics of Asmodeus and Too Pee are more interesting still, suggesting a definite Vangelis presence in Sudnik's record collection.  Stańko himself is on fine firey form on the uptempo numbers (and on the loose soundscape of Too Pee), and coolly melancholic elsewhere, looking forwards to his mature ECM years.  The MC at the end appears to say "rebel of Polish jazz - Tomasz Stańko", and on this evidence he very much still merited that crown in the 80s.
Another alt cover - had they employed the guy who drew for Ozric Tentacles or something??

mega / zippy

Monday, 6 November 2017

Trevor Wishart - Journey Into Space (1973)

Described as an "audio movie" on the original self-released vinyl labels, Journey Into Space was the first release by English electroacoustic composer Trevor Wishart (b. 1946, Leeds).  The charming DIY-ness of the double-LP's back cover is reproduced in this CD reissue, with sleevenotes very much of their time (see below), and advice that copies of the album could be obtained directly from the composer at his York University department for £3, plus 40p P&P - not exactly a bargain! - but fair play to Wishart, he'd completely self-financed the album.

One of those copies (or a subsequent release) may well have found its way into the hands of a trio of teenage sound-hounds in London, as Wishart features on the original Nurse With Wound list.  The massive amount of tape manipulation involved in Journey Into Space is a clear precursor to NWW, but in the early 70s Wishart appears to have been much more interested in making the mundane and everyday gradually warp into a fantastic dreamscape, as opposed to Stapleton's full-on surrealism.
"Journey-into-Space is the allegorical journey of a man towards self-realisation.  It begins in a strange landscape of Birth from which emerges the cry of a baby.  The man, as if waking from a dream, sets off in his car with the sounds of a space-rocket launch on his car radio.  The two journeys coalesce in his mind as he continues through many strange musical landscapes, eventually arriving at a doorway. 
On passing through the entrance-hall he emerges once more into the birth landscape, but now the music develops in an entirely new direction as the threads of the dream are drawn together."                                (from original LP liner notes)
The LP release just had four untitled sides, but this has been tidied up for CD to make Birth Dream the 13-minute introductory piece.  Comparisons to Throbbing Gristle's Medicine are perhaps inevitable, but Wishart's evocation of birth is far less, well, medical.  The main meat of the work follows - The Journey on CD runs for an uninterrupted 47 minutes, as the character's journey progresses as above from the mundane to the magical.  The 'music' as such was derived from blown bottles, children's toys and many other found objects, as well as the occasional brass honk and lots of evocative vocal sounds.  Lastly, the 18 minute Arrival does indeed draw the dream together in style, pulling together the various sound sources into a mindbending finale with an abrupt ending.  In short, fellow NWW fans will love this one - but it's also well worth anyone's time for the ingenuity in sound manipulation that Wishart was conjuring up in his University of York Electronic Music Studio.

mega / zippy

Friday, 3 November 2017

Steve Hackett - Defector (1980)

Having previously posted my favourite and close-second favourite of his albums, let's round up with my third Hackett-of-choice.  The very loosely Cold War-themed (it only really works for the first two tracks, although some fan reviews try to stretch the concept to the full album) Defector received a mixed critical reception, but IMO is still essential Hackett.

For starters, two of his most unmissable instrumental mini-epics are here: the lovely swirling jazziness of Jacuzzi, and the suitably stark and windswept atmospherics of album opener The Steppes.  Aside from the bonkers robot-rampage of Slogans, the remaining instrumental material is of a mellower, soft-focus nature, making Defector stand out in Hackett's Charisma era as the late-night atmospheric one.

This extends to the vocal tracks too, which more than once recall the guitarist's final Genesis era.  Leaving and The Toast respectively invoke Wind & Wuthering and Trick Of The Tail; the latter song could almost be a mini-Entangled, with the wooziness of anaesthesia being replaced by a more everyday, self-imbibed wooziness.  Comparisons are also often noted to Camel of a similar vintage, who I haven't really listened to enough to comment.  Don't miss the cute little closing gag of Hackett using an Optigan keyboard and period-piece vocal to evoke 1940s novelty jazz - I really don't get all the hate that Sentimental Institution receives from some fans, it always makes me crack a grin.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hugues Dufourt - Erewhon (1999 recording, Les Percussions De Strasbourg)

Staying with Les Percussions De Strasbourg for today, and with Hugues Dufourt; here's Erewhon - Dufourt's percussion epic written between 1972-76, its title taken from Samuel Butler's novel of the same name.  Originally in five parts, one section was taken out to become a piece in its own right - Sombre journée, which we heard on Monday's LPDS post.

The hour-plus Erewhon allows Dufourt's evocative writing for percussion to stretch out and show its full dramatic range - right from the thunderous eight-minute introductory section that focuses on skin percussion.  This is followed by the longest section at 27 minutes, described by Dufourt as "an essay in fantastic stereo dynamics", which leaves much more room for the percussion, metallic this time, to resonate in space.  Erewhon III is more atmospheric still, and definitely my personal highlight of the work; Dufourt called it "an imaginary landscape in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, the far-off resurgence of a residual echo".  Lastly, Erewhon IV draws together the full ensemble for a stunning finale.

Given its structure, Erewhon as whole brought to mind for me a version of Steve Reich's Drumming where all the strict rhythmic drive was removed, and the focus was instead on the dynamic and atmospheric qualities of the different percussion types.  Dufourt's Erewhon is certainly an astounding work, full of variety, and rewards repeat listens.

mega / zippy
see also: Dufuort's Saturne, for orchestra & electronics

Monday, 30 October 2017

Les Percussions De Strasbourg (2CD compi 1993, rec. 1967-71 + 1992)

Founded in 1962 as the first ensemble dedicated to contemporary percussion music, Les Percussions De Strasbourg's modern-day lineup is still going strong.  This 2-CD set was released to mark the ensemble's 30th anniversary, with the first disc being freshly recorded and the second featuring recordings by the original lineup from 1967, 1970 and 1971.  The common thread between almost the works on these discs is that LPDS regularly sought commissions for new material from contemporary composers, and these are just a small sample of the unique results of material written specifically with the ensemble in mind.
Disc 1, recorded in December 1992 by the lineup pictured above, starts with Hiérophonie V by Yoshihisa Taïra, a Japanese composer who settled in France.  Punctuated with martial shouts from the performers, it's a striking and powerful piece interspersed with some quiet passages.  Next up is a half-hour suite, Le Livre des Claviers, by Philippe Manoury, with mostly mellower tones from the vibes and marimbas.  François-Bernard Mâche's Khnoum is fairly interesting, but the disc ends on a high note with Sombre journée by a composer posted here not long ago, Hugues Dufourt.  The introductory rolls gather steam into a piece of great momentum, before an eerie atmospheric end.
Disc 2, as noted above, collects vintage recordings, and starts with the oldest piece, which actually predates the formation of LPDS by some three decades, but which was startling in its day and still sounded fresh - Edgard Varese's legendary Ionisation.  Hailed by Frank Zappa as the spark that inspired him to pursue a career in music, this siren-pierced cityscape owed as much to the noisemaking Futurists as it did to its structural inspiration of molecular ionization.

LPDS included Ionisation on their 1970 album 'Americana', one of several they recorded for the Prospective 21e Siècle series released by the Philips label, with their striking reflective covers created on engraved aluminium foil.  The remainder of the CD here gives us two of these albums in full, the first of which paired Maurice Ohana's Quatre études chorégraphiques with Miloslav Kabeláč's 8 Inventions.  Both suites are highly listenable and almost deceptively straightforward - just as well, as you need to brace yourself for what's to come next.  Yep, it's SGTG favourite Iannis Xenakis. 

Xenakis' 1969 work Persephassa, like Persepolis, was written for the Iranian Shiraz Arts Festival, and was performed there by LPDS in scorching desert heat.  As with many Xenakis works where the performers were scattered throughout the audience, you can only get a tiny approximation of Persephassa's spatial majesty on a stereo recording, but the insane intensity of the work is still enough to require a bit of a lie down afterwards to recover.  Unmissable stuff to cap off a great and wide-ranging compilation.

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

See also: Pléiades/Psappha by Xenakis (not performed by LPDS) 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert (1975)

How can I possibly resist a request to post one of my absolute favourite albums of all time?  It's difficult to think what I can even write about Köln, but here goes.  Let's just keep it simple, rather than a 'saved my life more than once' emotional gush.  29 year old pianist arrives at the Cologne Opera House tired and sore, only to find that the house staff have wheeled out a crappy old rehearsal piano by mistake.  Has to be just about coaxed into even playing by 17 year old concert promoter.  Goes on stage at 11:30pm (following the evening opera) and makes the most of the piano that he can; captures lightning in a bottle for an hour.

The irony continues to this day that two lengthy improvisations (the encore [Part IIc] was a Jarrett composition, Memories Of Tomorrow) that were born out of making the best of the circumstances above have become so indelibly etched, note-for-note, in the minds of millions of listeners, me included.  That could largely be said of any recorded improvisation, but the 'millions of listeners' bit is down to Köln's enduring magic.

From the smallest germ of an introduction (the melody played by the opera house bell to summon the audience for a performance, hence their just-audible recognition at the beginning), Jarrett goes on to create 25 minutes of sheer melancholy transcendence, ending in a triumphant, life-affirming finale.  Suitably energised, he starts the next half hour on a rollicking bluesy note, before settling for largely calmer waters for the rest of the second improvisation, then, as mentioned, delving into his written repertoire for the crystalline gorgeousness of the finale.  Jarrett might have started out this concert being not entirely pleased that the tape was running, but the world should be grateful that it was.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Popol Vuh - Coeur De Verre ("Singet, Denn Der Gesang Vertreibt Die Wölfe") (1977)

Or indeed, 'Herz aus Glas', or any of the other permutations of the title over the years...  The original name for this 1977 album, which translates as 'Sing, for the song drives out the wolves', was put aside when Werner Herzog once again tapped Florian Fricke for some new Vuh music for his latest beautifully bizarre movie, and it was decided to market the album as a soundtrack.

As my memories of the Heart Of Glass film are a bit hazy (and to be honest, still would be if I'd just finished watching it five minutes ago - it's a bit hard-going even by Herzog's standards), let's just focus on the music.  As the follow-up to Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte, Popol Vuh were still in rock mode, with Daniel Fichelscher's guitars up front and centre.  And top, bottom, sides and background too.  This album has often begged the question - is Florian Fricke even on it?  He's credited with piano as usual, but is so far back in the mix as to be virtually inaudible.

If Coeur/Herz/Wölfe is very much the Fichelscher show then, that's no bad thing, as he's on fine form, letting his chiming layers of guitar and ringing lead lines create another minor masterpiece in the Popol Vuh canon over the drums and percussion (also played by Fichelshcer).  Al Gromer Khan drops by on sitar for Das Lied von den hohen Bergen to round out the album's majestic first half on a nice mellow note, before things get even more amped up.  Hüter der Schwelle and Der Ruf in particular are the rockiest this band ever got, but the closing Gemeinschaft with its guest flute part points towards their progressively mellower future.

mega / zippy

Monday, 23 October 2017

Țăranu / Bentoiu / Nicolescu - Romanian Contemporary Music (1991 compi)

Last week's foray into the Romanian avant-garde seemed to go down well, so here's another from the same series of UK-produced CDs that gave wider exposure to some essential Electrecord (and Melodiya) recordings.  No Daniel Kientzy this time I'm afraid, but definitely more of the same gloriously weird, hallucinogenic-sounding writing for orchestra.

Three symphonies make up this collection, averaging about 20 minutes each.  Cornel Țăranu's enjoyably strange 'Aulodica' is up first, and shares with the Niculescu work from last week an electric guitar part, albeit briefly.  Pascal Bentoiu's 5th Symphony follows, and is the most mellow, lush and romantic of the three until some swelling organ chords knock it up a few notches in its last few minutes.  Lastly, Stefan Niculescu is represented by his 'Opus Dacicum'.  There's some choppy staccato writing reminiscent of early Xenakis, and a great droning middle section in the very low registers with the ominous melody line being taken by a bass clarinet or possibly saxophone.

mega / zippy

Friday, 20 October 2017

Meredith Monk - Turtle Dreams (1983)

Meredith Monk's second release for ECM again selected pieces from theatrical and film works to produce a great album experience.  The sonic palate is more varied than on Dolmen Music, so even though this album is ten minutes shorter than its predecessor, you actually get a broader snapshot of Monk's sound-world of the period.

The first half of Turtle Dreams is taken up by its title track.  In its original conception, the four performers shown on the album cover above provided the focal points of sound and movement, while the backdrop was intermittently superimposed with images of a turtle crawling across cityscape footage.  A made-for-video reduction has survived, and remains one of the most wonderfully weird YouTube experiences I've ever had.  Musically, Glass/Reich-esque organs provide a sedate backing to Monk's voice, just on the edge of comprehensibility, before the rest of voices join in and the singing switches to the much more primal vocalese that Monk excelled at.

The four pieces on the album's second half are ran together in a varied and fascinating patchwork.  View 1 is first and longest, and starts with rippling piano arpeggios before settling down.  This isn't just a straightforward voice-and-piano ballad like on the first side of Dolmen Music though - the voice parts are more treated, mostly with echo, and little bits overdubbed.  Sped-up overdubs of the opening piano riff are also dropped in at times, along with a low growl of didgeridoo in the background.  After a loud synth fanfare closes this amazing piece, we're next offered two minutes of mechanical, industrial sound in Engine Steps, then Ester's Song, a minute of keyboard and voice.  The closing track on the album, View 2, was also taken from the original Turtle Dreams production, and winds this album up in style as Monk's amazing voice coos and soars over a flutey synth backing.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Régis Renouard Larivière - Futaie / Tchernoziom (2000 compi of works from '96 and '98)

Nice little EP by electroacoustic composer Régis Renouard Larivière (b. 1959, Paris), which appears to be the only release under his name.  One track, Futaie, won an Ars Electronica prize for computer music in 1996, and the other, Tchernoziom, takes one aspect of Futaie and plays around with it, totaling 32 minutes of sound manipulation that are well worth getting immersed in.

The short liner note is a bit on the academic side in a pretentious kind of way - or perhaps its just come out like that in the English translation - but the opening sentence about Futaie is nicely evocative, saying that it "unfolds like a long, slow sentence of which only the punctuation remains".  This describes pretty well the spare, stop-start sound of the first few minutes, which are based around chunky percussion and wind instrument sounds.  These slowly reverberate around in space as the track starts to mutate over its 14 minutes.

Tchernoziom, apparently named after the fertile black soil of the Ukraine, is even more interesting.  It's more rhythmical, in the computer pulses that run through it, and creates a sustained, eerie atmosphere.  If it weren't for the occasional presence of (albeit still heavily treated) acoustic instruments, presumably the source material taken from Futaie, I might think I was listening to latter-day Autechre or something.  A really striking and engrossing alien soundworld that makes me wish there were more releases available by Larivière.

mega / zippy

Monday, 16 October 2017

Daniel Kientzy / various orchestras - The Romanian Saxophone (1990 compi, rec '84/'86)

French avant-garde saxophone player Daniel Kientzy has been featured on these pages once before - and here's another phenomenal disc highlighting his close ties to some of Romania's most out-there composers of the 20th century.

Ștefan Niculescu, who was featured last on the Kluj disc, comes first this time, with his enjoyably mind-bending Cantos symphony, which also has variants for clarinet and orchestra, and for oboe, horn and clarinets.  Naturally, this is the sax one, giving Kientzy plenty of room to drone and skronk over the hallucinatory backdrop.  In the opening moments, which brought Vangelis to mind, I genuinely wondered if there were synthesisers involved, but nope, it's all orchestral.  A highly memorable and wonderfully weird trip through Byzantine-inspired melodies and musical forms.

We've also heard from Myriam Marbe before on SGTG, and her half-hour Concerto For Daniel Kientzy And Saxophones here is a good counterpoint to the brilliantly oddball works on that collection.  Kientzy starts solo, giving a great display of the range of his genius, before the ominous, fractured orchestral writing starts to fill out.  Plenty of long sax drones here too, intended to imitate bagpipes at one point and featuring Kientzy on two saxes simultaneously (eat your heart out, Beefheart/VDGG!).
The disc is rounded off by Anatol Vieru's Narration II, another nicely bonkers piece of orchestral surrealism that subjects "Frère Jacques", of all things, to a series of chromatic mutations.  Meanwhile, what sounds like a sozzled surf guitarist starts to stagger through the orchestra.  The remainder of the work is nicely trippy and off-beam - Vieru sounds like he's mildly spiked the whole ensemble.  Unique stuff, even in 20th century classical music, and really enjoyable.

mega / zippy

Friday, 13 October 2017

League Unlimited Orchestra - Love And Dancing (1982)

I've had a genuine affection for The Human League most of my life, from taping their singles off the radio as soon as I was old enough to operate a tape recorder, to discovering the much darker wonders of their first album in my teens.  Later on, Reproduction lost my interest a bit on discovering that Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle et al were what I was really looking for in that direction, but getting into Dare as a complete album made me realise what a true classic it was from start to finish.

Love And Dancing, though, is in a different league altogether (pun very much intended) and has become my absolute favourite thing associated with the band.  Taking on a different guise - one whose name was apparently in homage to Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra - Oakey and crew pulled together nearly-instrumental versions of seven Dare tracks and one B-side into two continuously mixed sides that made their electronic pop genius shine all the brighter, burnished by Martin Rushent's immaculate mixing & production.

The result on the perfect first side sounded like Kraftwerk circa Man Machine taking time out of a UK tour to stumble into a Northern Soul club and feeding the sheer euphoria into three new songs.  The Human League had of course been influenced by Kraftwerk from day one, but this is almost like a full-on homage (is that a cheeky little Europe Endless tribute at the start of Love Action?).  I've almost no words to describe the 7-minute version of Don't You Want Me - just sheer perfection in every second, turning a nowadays over-exposed pop evergreen into peerlesss dancefloor magnificence.

On Love And Dancing's second half, the darker tones of Dare mostly hold sway - the tracks that were most obviously a progression from their first two albums.  The JFK-assassination inspired Seconds and The Things That Dreams Are Made Of sound particularly ominous here, although the latter does drop in some of Oakey's most humourous lyrics ("Norman Wisdom, Norman Wisdom" dub-style almost makes me crack a smile).  Following up Seconds with the bright, chirpy melody of Open Your Heart was yet another stroke of genius.  I haven't used the 'favourite albums of all time' tag for a while now, but Love And Dancing sure as hell deserves it.

mega / zippy

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Nurse With Wound - Merzbild Schwet (1980)

Back into NWW formative history today, to June 1980.  With the friendships of the inaugural trio of Steven Stapleton, John Fothergill and Heman Pathak starting to drift apart, Merzbild Schwet was the first occasion on which Stapleton went into the studio alone.  With a growing confidence in finding his way around a mixing desk, and a singular vision that would establish NWW as Staplteton's project (plus whoever else he wanted to work with), Merzbild Schwet is really the start of the Nurse With Wound story proper (even if Stapleton prefers to start it with Homotopy To Marie, as the first one he was fully satisfied with).

Released later that year, Merzbild Schwet offered two 24-minute tracks, their titles (Futurismo and Dadaˣ) reflecting Stapleton's artistic interests, and one of his most wonderfully macabre album covers.  My CD, from a reissue box set, has this as the back cover - apparently a printer error.  The track titles seem to switch order between various editions too, confusing many a listener - to this day there's stuff on about liking 'the post-apocalyptic story on Futurismo' - nope, that's Dadaˣ, but easy mistake to make... you start to wonder if Mr S did these sorts of things deliberately...

Futurismo, then, is the one that starts with the inspired gag of recording a record scratch into the piece, making buyers of the original vinyl think they had a defective copy - until it speeds up and becomes obvious it's part of the track.  The background for most of Futurismo is a mangled tape of a jazz band slowed down and slurred into a sort of tipsy queasiness, whilst various sounds gradually pile on.  Electronic noises, spoken voices, unraveling sticky tape, a smear of organ that eventually becomes quite pleasant when it radiates a full major chord... etc etc.  The last four minutes change tack entirely to choppy piano and humming static.

All great stuff, but Dadaˣ is arguably NWW's first dark drifting masterwork.  Eerie echoes of backwards percussion and assorted honks and creaks provide the backdrop for the main spoken monologue, performed by Eve Libertine of Crass.  This short, surreal piece about non-communication gets further reduced into fragments in between another voice speaking in French, stabs of piano, more skronking and howling, and periods of ominous silence before Libertine's full monologue repeats near the end.  A kind of ghostly accordion shanty finishes off a track of absolutely essential dark-room weirdness to be creeped out by.