Monday, 27 April 2015

ENNUI - What's Not On The Hi-Fi

I never thought when this blog began that I would ever write about music that I'm not listening to. I thought occasional articles about music I hated would have been written but you still have to listen to those. As I have written before, the glut of rap mixtapes and proper albums has become absurd, leading me to almost give up entirely on the genre. Perhaps I went too deep last year and over indulged in rap and, being a fickle bastard, got sick of it. Rap like ye olde reggae is more of a singles game these days anyway innit? Maybe rap's just not as good as last year. Innovation, good tunes and good albums come in waves with lulls in between. Twelve of my top twenty two LP/Mixtape releases from 2014 were from trap, ratchet, drill and other hip hop zones. Another six LPs/Mixtapes rated a special mention in my end of year list as well. I also went a bit mad on old stuff by Kevin Gates and BeatKing in particular. Perhaps my proclivity for these zones reached some kind of apex that could only then decline into a nadir. 2015 has only produced, for me, two ok/listenable rap releases BeatKing's Club God 4 and Ballout & Tadoe's Rise Of The Glo Gang Empire. Even these two aren't really getting mega airplay round here. Artists that I've previously held in high esteem such as Schoolboy Q, Chief Keef, Future, I Love Makonnen, Que, Juicy J, Iamsu!, Sicko Mobb and Rome Fortune remain on the sidelines unlistened to. While releases rated by others in 2015 that I would have usually checked out by now such as those by Father, AD, Rae Sremmurd, RJ & Choice, Drake, HBK CJ, Johnny May Cash and MPA Wicced also reside in the unplayed/unheard sector. I did listen to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and well it annoyed the shit out of me. Maybe I should give it another go but I can't bring myself to do it. Like an abstinent nihilistic hedonist I'm a vibe migrant without a destination.

This looks like it might be pretty good but will I ever listen to it?

Friday, 24 April 2015

On The Haunted Gramophone

Who can understand where your brain will go next with regards to what you are gong to listen to? I'm still really enjoying The Advisory Circle's excellent 2014 album From Out Here. Perhaps it's the best ever release on Ghostbox. It's definitely up there with The Focus Group's Hey Let Loose Your Love and Belbury Poly's The Willows in my book. I just wanna keep hearing it and I know I've already written about it a couple of times before but hey it keeps growing in my estimation. It's probably not very cool to be into GhostBox these days but I don't give a fuck. Hipsters can go and listen to their fka twiggles, shite z-grade house and whatever else.

Gesellschaft Zur Emanzipation Des Samples
Actually some other stuff from hauntological zones has had my attention also. I went back and had a listen to the G.E.S. album Circulations and fuck me, after having a reaction just a notch above lukewarm to it back in 2009, I'm starting to think this recording is one of the best in its field now. If you dig those first couple of Focus Group albums and haven't heard this you need to check it out. Circulations is a gloriously random sampleadelic collage and a mini-masterpiece. Apparently a couple years after this release G.E.S. did a second volume which passed me by but now I'm on the search for that.

Listening to that has in turn led me all the way back to 1999. Leyland Kirby's first release under The Caretaker pseudonym was issued in 1999 but I didn't hear it till the early 00s. Anyway those first 3 Caretaker albums Selected Memories From The Haunted Ballroom (99), A Stairway To The Stars (01) and We'll All Go Riding On A Rainbow (04) have had me captivated again. It's a bloody great concept ie. the haunted ballroom is The Gold Room in The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's novel The Shining. They made a movie too that you may have seen, directed by a guy you may have heard of. Of course The Caretaker is named after the caretaker Jack Torrance from the aforementioned ghost story. Concepts are pretty meaningless though, unless the music is the goods. They're sometimes meaningless even when the music's expertly executed too. On this trilogy though music and concept are in sublime synchronicity. These records are perfectly out of time, sentimental, nostalgic, revenant, disorientating and even sometimes quite lovely. The Caretaker's secret is to keep it subtle and let the music insidiously haunt you. This trilogy is a magnificent achievement. The mood The Caretaker creates lingers on long after you've stopped listening and I find myself going back time and time again to experience the inexplicable feelings this music elicits (sorry couldn't bring myself to say uncanny Mr Fisher). The Caretaker is possibly the most artistically successful of anyone who has been cast as hauntological.

Finally this brings me to Actress. I didn't mind their R.I.P. record from 2012 and I thought 2010's Splazsh was quite ace. I never would have imagined they'd end up in such exhausted zones as those on last year's Ghettoville though. Darren Cunningham's exemplary arty electronic melange was always a restrained version of tech, house, garage and other club styles. I don't know if tunes from Splazsh or R.I.P. ever got played out but you felt like it was maybe possible with some of them. I can't imagine anything from Ghettoville getting a spin in a club though, unless its a disco at a funeral or a zombie rave. This is post-millennial electronic music that's broken down, malfunctioning and barely able to transmit through its frayed circuits which is not dissimilar in spirit to Mordant Music's requiem for rave Dead Air from 2006. Ghettoville feels like the final death notice for rave memorial services. I mean 'wake for rave' has become a sub-genre hasn't it? With the likes of Burial, Lee Gamble, Mordant Music, Leyland Kirby's V/VM et al. This could be the final death knell for the technoid future in ruins or is their further sonic depletion on the horizon?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Lord Of The Rings - Bo Hansson

On The Hi-Fi Part 43

Bo Hansson - Lord Of The Rings
For years I've avoided this album for some reason. I mean I love me kosmische and synth based gear but I think it was the title that put me off. I thought it was probably music for Tolkien nerds and trainspotters. Anyway I finally took the plunge and hey, due to my ignorance, I've been missing out. There's way more guitar than I imagined but it's got plenty of Moog and organ too. Guitar-wise it's a little reminiscent of the more outre moments from Robbie Krieger, like if he'd been tripping on acid in the desert for five days straight sweltering in the hot sun. I guess for me this sound conjures up images of arid dusty plains, scorching heat, sand dunes and cacti rather than middle earth. In amongst the beautifully evocative atmospheres it even gets a bit groovy in places. Lord Of The Rings is just the right side of good psych prog. This is another Swedish gem from the early 70s along with LPs from Algarnas Tradgard, Harvester, Trad, Gras Och Stenar and Handgjort

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bad Moon Rising - Sonic Youth

I haven't been posting as much due to, you know, life and that but also because I've been doing some writing for a web site. This writing is eating into my blogging time, anyway whatever. So I've decided to include some of these writings here in a little series called Tim's Ultra Rough Guide To Rock. This first one is on Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising. I think I could write a major article by expanding this small piece or maybe being this concise is just right.

This is a weird album. Bad Moon Rising has a mysterious atmosphere that just hangs and engulfs all in its path. This is the most singular Sonic Youth LP making it unique in their catalogue. Like David Lynch did with Blue Velvet, Sonic Youth shine a light on the dark underbelly of the suburban American Dream. Perhaps coming to the conclusion that it may in fact be a nightmare. Sex, mental illness, hippie optimism and its ultimate disillusion, subversion, nihilism, death, transgression and power are all covered lyrically here. Sonically the clangs and the air of alienating dissonance mirror that of the urban sprawl and the squalor it entails. This LP moves at a creepy catatonic pace that parallels life in the sleepy suburbs. The pace only picks up with a burst of violence that is Death Valley 69. A bit like Charles Manson’s endgame to those dreaming of a hippie utopia throughout the 60s.

*This really is a concept LP which would have been very uncool at the time. How did it get past the taste police, I wonder? This has me thinking about a piece Simon Reynolds did a few weeks back about a Thurston Moore quote about 1985. The gist was that in 1985 Thurston thought it was quite radical to reference music from the rock no go zone of 1968-75, citing Green River as the catalysts for this move. Perhaps this double think allowed him to make a concept LP in 1985 as well.

*Bad Moon Rising got reissued a month or so back I've just noticed making this post quite topical and not as pointless as I thought.

*Then there's this (below) that everyone seems to be reading, even my Mrs who's not even a Sonic Youth fan (While she was a massive Pixies fan, she was more into your Guns & Roses, Temple Of The Dog, Mother Love Bone, Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Screaming Trees in your late 80s into early 90s rock period). I've only read the first paragraph and it's a fucking classic. She calls Thurston Moore a phoney. I sense it will be a great read with a start like that. She's has quite a gift for writing amongst her many other talents.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ex Machina - Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

Last week the OST to Ex Machina was released. I thought that 2012's DROKK album by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury was a one off but here they are again working as a duo. This time it's a soundtrack for a sci-fi thriller. Unlike the previous DROKK OST, I think this one actually got used for the film's score. For Ex-Machina they have expanded the sound palette beyond mere John Carpenter synth homages to include real instruments like guitars and brass. As there are no drums we end up in pretty much dark ambient zones on this soundtrack with occasional Berlin school style synth flourishes. Amongst the impeccable throbs and drones there's also....shhh!.... a bit of a post-rock vibe on some tracks where a guitar is utilised. Sometimes the drones mutate into into thick squalls of intense gloom. So we've got the 70s, 80s and 90s covered then. Depending on your point of view this is either a derivative throwback or retro(future)licious.

Friday, 10 April 2015

RE: Swagger Jacker

Here's that tune Swagger Jacker from Cam'ron. It's more like a piece of heavy handed investigative journalism than a song innit? Sure this expose is a little biased but that's bias based in fact. One man's homage is another's Swagger Jacking it seems. Hip Hop culture is largely based on sampling, pilfering, homages, tributes and appropriations. So perhaps Cam'ron took umbrage at Z for not owning up to his pilfering and/or his sledging of other rappers?? Cam'ron had to sample Jay Z, Slick Rick, Snoop Doggy Dog, Biggie etc. to make his own song. I wonder if that irony was lost on him though?

Funnily enough as Simon pointed out here Swagger Jacking used to be called biting. That's 'biting someone's style'. Jay Z is sampled in Swagger Jacker saying he's 'not a biter he's a writer' which is from What More Can I Say off Z's Black Album. As Cam'ron points out though he is a biter. Slick Rick says in The Ruler's Back from 1988 'They're bitin what I'm writin.' Thirteen years later Z bites what Slick Rick wrote on his very own similarly titled tune The Ruler's Back from The Blueprint. Hey Jay Z's pretty good at biting though as I've testified. Ironically Z spends the entire second verse of The Ruler's Back dissing rappers swagger jacking him, all in good humour of course.

*Unfortunately Jay Z's The Ruler's Back is nowhere to be found on the youtubes.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

New Terms

The Original revivalists in 1985.

Reviving the revival or was it reviving the revival of the revival in 2000?

In the last week I've come across two new little phrases I've not heard. The first one is revival spiral , which is the perfect way to describe revivals of revivals and revivals of revivals of revivals and so on....I came across this quote from Lauren Cochrane from The Guardian via Retromania. Here she is referring to fashion mainly but this can be used in relation to music, architecture, art etc.

"The Pulp look means the 70s as seen by the 90s, tweaked by 2015. It’s the latest example of a revival spiral, but one that, like Pulp’s albums, we’ll no doubt be playing again and again."

Er....I wish I'd come up with that snazzy little phrase.

Also noteworthy over at Retromania was the New York Times Style Magazine's feature article - The Revival Of Everything. I thought this revival started somewhere in the mid to late 90s. The interweb was taking off. The Beastie Boys were making eclectic records like ill Communication that had funk, soundtrack, rock, jazz, rap, latin, reggae, world, punk and many other vibes. Grande Royale, The Beasties own magazine was getting into all sorts of things that seemed to not make sense at the time. All of a sudden in the streets it seemed like anything from any era was up for grabs and hey why not mix and match eras too in fashion, music, furniture etc. This is where today's atemporality was forming. Back then it seemed like it hadn't been done before in such a comprehensive manner though. Whereas everything being hip at the same time and eclecticism is now the norm. Is there a paradox forming here? I guess the trend of incongruity can only last for a certain amount of time before it becomes congruous. Then what are you left with?

The other new term, to me, is Swagger Jacker. After consulting the Urban Dictionary I've found that this term has been in use since at least 2006. Ha, I'm only 9 years behind. It was used over at FACT to describe rappers who mimic other rappers unique style, flow and, well, their entire vibe really. It appears that in 2006 Cam'ron had a tune called Swagger Jacker that was a comprehensive dis of Jay Z. Cam'ron juxtaposed Jay Z's lyrics and flow against the swagger of Biggie, Snoop & Slick Rick to make the point that Z ain't too original. In the rap world last year many seemed to be Swagger Jacking Young Thug. This year it'll probably be someone else. That's a great way of describing these less unique performers who can't shake off their hero's influence in their own work. Here's an excellent article over at Complex about the phenomenon of Swagger Jacking.

The one and only Young Thug.

One of the many other Young Thugs.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cascade - William Basinski

Whoa I'm back after quite a little retreat from the outside world. Here's a beautiful record for the beginning of Autumn. Cascade was actually evoking wintry trees and slowly shifting clouds earlier. I guess if you know Basanski's work you'll know what your getting with this kind of thing ie. gentle repetitious piano drifting over subtle drones. Subdued bliss is the vibe, for me anyway. Different moods might evoke different feelings. Halfway through this 40 minute composition I started to wonder if it had changed at all since it had begun. This indicating that Basanski had done something to make minimalist echoing drones captivating and insidiously psychedelic. I got lost deep inside these mesmerising textures and time felt like it had slowed, leaving an anodyne feeling. Just when my mind was resigned to the fact that this tune would remain infinitely static, with five minutes left, Basanski dropped the pianos. This left just the subtle ambient drones that were underpinning the piano loops, which were then faded out to end this stellar piece. You might think you've heard it all before but there's an ineffable quality about the ebb and flow of Cascade's enveloping tones that keeps me coming back. Cascade is one of Basanski's most compelling works.