Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Fathmount - '6-string Renderings' (New American Folk Hero)

I still have a CD player! It's just that, see, I moved, and when I got to my new place my CD collection sat in boxes in the closet for a few months until I finally constructed some sort of shelf for them. And now they sit here again, but are flanked by a bunch of things in front of the shelves, which is the nice bonus that I don't have to look at them (cause who wants to look at CD spines in 2015, amirite?) but also means I often forget I have them, and thus this Elbow Cinderblock Glass Mastered Constructor Bags universe I've been chipping away at over the years gets neglected. Picking up where we left off, we being me of course, I/us find this jewelcased CDr by Fathmount, who is apparently someone named Wilson Lee. I found this out with Google, see, which has little else to say about Fathmount. But the title give you a hint of what's inside; it's electroacoustic improvisation, built around hammered string, and recorded in a close-mic'd manner for some high spritzy parts and in an ambient room vibe for the deep lows and low-mids. The five tracks all have names like 'Rendering acoustics' and 'Rendering Feedbacks', and the tendency is towards the building of a personal soundworld rather than any flashy showoff guitar techniques or clever editing. 'Rendering Acoustics' has very irritating interruptions in the vibe, some cheap DOD-fuzz, and a plodding monotony that, despite the language I used in this very sentence, is pretty great. 'Rendering Feedbacks' is a dense wall of electroacoustic buzz, with some screaming electronics (or, I guess, feedbacks) gesturing towards an overcast night sky. It's a bit of Birchville Cat Hostel. 'Rendering Pitches' has a staticky assonance around its various tones, and then 'Rendering Layers' comes crashing in like a teenage fuzz guitar symphony - it's a series of power chords played with 4-track line-in majesty, and it could be a demo from the grunge years, eventually attaining a buildup of overtones and making it resemble a minimalist composition. The closer, 'Render harmonics', is pretty much what it says; it's not completely clear what the difference is between 'rendering' music and simply 'playing' it, but the overintellectualisation of Fathmount really ends there. The harmonics are nice and irregularly spaced, making this feel akin to a pastoral, environmental experience as opposed to some rigid, mathematical exercise. Most of the pieces on this disc outstay their welcome, and there was such a glut of string-based electroacoustic drone people from this time people that it's hard to make this really stand out. But it's relatively controlled, and makes nice work with the amateurish home-recording tools that were so commonplace.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Zusaan Kali Fasteau & Donald Rafael Garrett ‎– 'Memoirs Of A Dream' (Flying Note)

You can count me among the fans of the Sea Ensemble's 1974 ESP-Disk album We Move Together; it's one of the less heralded ESP titles, coming so late, and maybe due to it not really fitting into any prevailing jazz scene at the time. Don Garrett is one of those figures who was integral to the 1960's free jazz movement without being recorded that many times. He played on Coltrane's Kulu Sé Mama and in the Archie Shepp band for a bit, and was generally described as being an energetic, visionary figure who knew and worked with just about everybody, without ever carving out much of a name for himself as a band leader or soloist. His long-term relationship with Kali Fasteau (they were married during the 70s) led to the Sea Ensemble, a duo group that somehow sounds like so much more. I came across this double CD at some point in my exploratory jazz phase and often throw it on when I want to escape into the fluid movement of wind. These are two live concerts, and they are flowing, evocative improvisations. The first disc is live in Leiden, 1975, and in two 15-minute tracks they start a whirling ball of organic sounds rolling that never really stops, though it has its ebbs and flows. It finally comes to a gentle, slow resolution where the air, channeled by these two, finds a resting place. The second disc is live in Turkey, 1977, towards the end of their relationship. This is divided into twelve tracks, all untitled, and has a less crisp, more woody fidelity. They start by speaking an introduction with some abstract language and then blow through some intense interactions. There is a lot of piano and upright bass, as well as the wind instruments heard so prominently on the first disc. The fidelity makes it sound a bit like a recording from the 1920's or at least the pre-modern times; this gives it even more of an otherworldly feel than the instrumentation does. There's a good bit of vocals here, sprinkled overtop like a spice, and the two get into a push-pull thing sometimes, particularly when both on wind instruments (I can't always tell what's what; some of the flute-like sounds feel too wooden in origin to be a proper flute, but then not quite a shakuhachi sound either). When it gets more of an edge (the double-bass bowing is warm and wet, but there's a more sharp, grating bowed instrument later on that when plucked sounds like a sitar or something Indian), it stands out from the other tracks. This musical freedom, where a jazz basis is synthesised with the pulse of worldwide traditional music, feels more like a way of life than a genre. Though many of my favourite 'jazz' artists trend towards this type of output (Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, etc.), they're really outliers when compared to the standard jazz narrative, of Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Centre and public radio and all that shit. Maybe this is just a bunch of hippie shit, but these artists found their path and stayed committed and true, and you can hear it between the notes and spaces of the recordings. The passion here is expressive, but it's as much about the overall artistic vision (visually, as well as in the way they lived) as it is about the sounds themselves. I find inspiration here more from that aspect than from the actual recordings, because as pleasurable and psychedelic as it can be to be carried on Fasteau and Garrett's flying carpets, it's more of a call to arms, to get off this laptop and pick up my busted-ass clarinet and start exploring my own outer spheres. That's not to diminish how great this is - it's an hour and a half well-spent, alive and breathing.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Fall of Saigon (Gazul)

By the time the first minute of Fall of Saigon has passed, the punchy opener 'Visions', I feel like I am listening to a slightly more aggressive version of Young Marble Giants. The simple synth pulses, gentle rhythms, and Florence Berthon's earthy, intimate voice are certainly from the same playbook, and this comes a few years later (1981-1984) so the influence is probably undeniable. But this was reissued probably due to the presence of Pascal Comelade, who later built a career performing in more experimental and improvised arenas, and these nascent tendencies are heard throughout. And when guitarist Terry Den takes over vocals, as on 'On the Beach at Fontana' (chanting a James Joyce poem) or 'She Leaves me All Alone', we get a more industrial, trance-like feel. His dour voice recalls the Cure or just about anyone else making dark punk-edged pop in 1982. (Could the band name refer to the This Heat song, or is it a reference to French political history?) This music is familiar through its obscurity, being another one of those rediscovered gems that keep surfacing at fairly regular intervals. That balance of serious and heavy lies throughout - there's fun live recordings of covers (Kraftwerk's 'The Model', TV Personalities 'Part Time Punks', and The Doors's 'The End') sequenced together in the middle, but it doesn't feel like filler, instead like a fleshing out of the personality of this band, represented 30 years later by this single CD. I don't know how Fall of Saigon fits into the trajectory of French art-rock; I so want to shoehorn them into some lineage between Mahogany Brain and Cheveu, but that's just forcing myself to rationalise great music into a historical narrative. The of-its-time sound and the covers inevitably situate this as a product of its time, but it's a time that we've been celebrating for three decades and I see no reason to suddenly stop.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Fall - 'Grotesque (After the Gramme)' (Cog Sinister)

This is a weird CD release because it pre-pends some early singles ('How I Wrote Elastic Man', 'Totally Wired' plus b-sides 'City Hobgoblins' and 'Putta Block'), but without anything in the liner notes indicating that. So 'Pay Your Rates' actually kicks in as track 5, and then Grotesque proper begins. Not a problem here - the singles complement the album perfectly - it's just that I only know what the song titles are thanks to my familiarity with the tracks (and the Gracenote CDDB database, of course). Repetition, cited often as an early Fall motif, is maybe most prominent here of any of these early releases - 'Pay Your Rates', 'New Face in Hell' and 'C n CS Mithering' (not to mention 'The NWRA'!) are insanely monotonous, drilling into one's brain with their back-and-forth soul-sucking. It's like a Michael Snow film, except with Smith's sneering lyrics providing a wild unraveling. 'English Scheme' has always been one of my favourite Fall songs, maybe due to the way that the carnivalesque keyboards blast over everything and the geographic evocations within the lyrics tweak my own fascination with British maps By this point, The Fall have evolved out of the punk thing entirely and arecreating something intangible but about their lives in Manchester. It's more confident, perhaps, less prone to hiding between Smith's bile. The keyboard and guitar interplay on 'New Face in Hell' is practically jazz. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Fall - 'Dragnet' (COG Sinister)

I guess this is the second Fall album and it's just about perfect. It's recorded with a bit more of a gritty feel than Live at the Witch Trials and the songwriting seems more obnoxious (that's a good thing!) and the great Craig Scanlon has joined the band at this point, able to exude the maximum dissonance within what is still technically a pop song. You can hear it in 'Psykick Dancehall' which builds up a repetitive, annoying high-pitched riff during it's climax. Mark E. is ripping it up too, snarling throughout stuff like 'Printhead', a dark mishmash of punk and DIY singles and whatever else was happening in 1979 Britain. The original liner notes are reproduced here in annoyingly small CD quality, and maybe it's best summed up by Mark E.'s own bio, about his visit to the dry cleaners: 'How did your coat get so dirty, Mr. Smith? What do you do for a living? Answer: I hang around old buildings for hours and get very dirty in one of those hours.' Genius, I guess; dirty buildings do fill the corners of Dragnet, even if it's the 'Flat of Angles'. The longer form jams ('Spectre vs. Rector' and 'A Figure Walks' which is utterly brutal in its monotony) take the promise of early single 'Repetition' and run the course. The people making this would probably never have imagined that anyone would consider it a 'classic' today.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'House Full' (Hannibal)

Here's one I got for free somehow, which is a live recording of the 1970 Fairport lineup, post-Lamble, post-Denny. Just five guys trying to make the best of their iconic vocalist's departure. The liner notes, written by Joe Boyd in the 60s, are somewhat dismissive of the Full House album and of later Fairport in general (referring to a 'long, slow, sometimes ungraceful but always spirited decline'). But he insists that this 1970 band was a tight unit, not captured on the studio recording, and thus this live gig from Los Angeles in September 1970 is presented to support his argument. It's a good live recording - a bit lacking in the low end, but this is a CD after all - and the 'reluctant vocalists' Thompson and Swarbrick (again, Boyd's words) sound pretty confident to me, especially on 'Banks of the Sweet Primroses' where they exude a casual confidence which sounds striking, or maybe I just like English accents. The band is overall playing a bit fast, or at least with a spring in their step. The instrumentals are particularly fierce - 'Mason's Apron' sounds like something off Camper Van Beethoven's second album, and the climax of 'Matty Groves' never sounded better. As a band, the material has shifted really strongly towards the 'folk' in 'folk-rock' (which is a nice juxtaposition with the Heyday CD we just listened to) and also leads to more extended meandering solos by Thompson, which are always welcome. He seems to just stick some extra notes in hidden places, here and there, and it's a casual grace that he masters when he starts making solo records a few miserable years later. The centerpiece, of course, is 'Sloth' - I've already proclaimed my love for this song elsewhere, and that remains on this version, if it isn't amplified. The fierce buildup about 8 minutes in is even more aggro than the studio version, and the raw live edges are perfect for the come down, when Swarbrick starts to delicately pluck the violin strings around the cadence. It's like he's trying to tease the beast of a melody into revving up again and it works wonders. I love this song and even though this lineup of Fairport is slightly lackluster,  I can't imagine 'Sloth' with Sandy Denny -- the sense of resignation and frustration is distinctly male. The closing cut, 'Battle of the Somme', is delicate in a way that it feels out of place, especially after 'Mason's Apron', but maybe that's just my own itchy nervousness coming into play.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'Heyday - BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69/Extended' (Island)

Heyday was Fairport's album of radio sessions from the early era of the band, but not the earliest - it's all Sandy Denny here, sans-Dyble, and while they were theoretically writing material like 'Meet on the Ledge' and recording albums as great as Unhalfbricking, this collection shows them cutting loose and mostly delivering rave-up cover versions. If Fairport was folk-rock, this shows that the rock came first; the only British traditionals appear as the bonus tracks, though this CD is all about the bonus tracks. I actually had the original Heyday CD, which was only the first 12 cuts here, and then upgraded to this expanded reissue when it came out. The album proper is almost a classic of its own - the band goes through Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Gene Clark songs with varying aplomb, and there's a few originals such as the great 'If It Feels Good, You Know It Can't Be Wrong', by Thompson and Ashley Hutchings. Of course, no more false words have ever been written, but on that track, the debt to American rambling folk-rock is laid on thick. This is perhaps the least British Fairport Convention ever -- their smashing version 'Reno, Nevada' shows how much they fetishised American folk culture -- but some of the most fun. And Joe Boyd contributes to the liner notes, explaining how he pushed them to define a more distinctly British sound, which I think everyone can thank him for. These are Peel Sessions from before the term really existed and thus have that thin, spontaneous Maida Vale sound, with reverb on the live vocals (most evident on 'Fotheringay's haunting background voices and 'Si Tu Dois Partir'). It's only the bonus disc that starts to creep later, material-wise, into 1969 and into far more British fare. Here we get 'Nottamun Town', 'Fotheringay', 'Reynardine' and 'Tam Lin', all of which defined and distinguished Fairport Convention from the other masses of Dylan-gazing folk-hippies, and you can hear why. Thompsons's shredding on 'Nottamun' is great with Martin Lamble's congas, and it's like a hash den at times, all the more affecting when juxtaposed with a strident Jackson C. Frank cover. The version of 'Tam Lin' to close it out is a scorcher, as good as the album version and a million miles from 'Gone, Gone, Gone' earlier on the disc. It's an appropriate finish to something as conclusively 'fun' as this album, with a burning light that lingers after the disc has stopped spinning.