Monday, 22 March 2010

Boredoms - 'Vision Creation Newsun' (Birdman)

My god, it's been ten years since this beast from the East was unleashed! This was the Boredoms' big reinvention, or for those listening more carefully, the next logical step in their progression. Super Roots 7 (or was it 8?) started off with the formula - long, extended pieces built around polyrhytmic insanity, with the usual shrill electronics, pulsing organs and disembodied voices layered in slow crescending waves. Vision Creation Newsun expands it to a whole double album-length, and the result is astounding. I remember getting this CD back in college and totally losing my shit over it. It was also one of the first "big" albums that I heard in its entirety via NAPSTER before it was released domestically though I don't know if that is somehow significant. Maybe I can say that this was a record that changed the way I heard music, arriving at a time when the ways we listen to music were changing. Ugh, I'm starting to sound like one of those shitty Sirius/XM sattelite radio commercials! So on to Vision Creation Newsun: If you wanna talk about a perfect melting between the electronic and organic, this is it. The untitled tracks flow together into one cohesive whole, though there are certainly highlights. The opener is a statement of purpose, with it's sweeping filter banks defining the Boredom's new temple. Track 3 builds up a repeating, ascending riff like something out of Can or Neu! but filtered through Marginal Consort. Throughout everything, the 'anything goes' mentality is scaled back a bit and the emphasis is on duration instead of the short-attention span pyrotechnics that the Boredoms practiced in the early 90s. And oh, what a result. There's thick waves of organ, reverb-affected guitars, bells and percussion galore, and lots of voices that slip away into a distant sea. Best of all are these weird parts that go into power-rock sections - jamming on one long riff over a steady 4/4, or the recurring two-note monotony that makes up track 6's main theme. This organic onigiri is also wrapped in a great deal of digital processing, but somehow the choppy skipping feels more akin to a tremelo effect, the disjointed ebb and flow of accelerated consciousness. Talk about music for a new millenium, that simultaneously looks ahead and back! Energy courses through everything - even the ocacsional acoustic instrumentation that pops up, or the smooth groove singing on track 7 -- it's still raging with a spastic fury. What's different from Pop Tatari is they've learned how to channel this energy into some cosmic third eye consciousness without compromising their uber-modern exuberance. This pumps me up as much as the greatest hardcore records, and somehow stirs my soul in the same way as the greatest works of Riley, LaMonte, etc. After this, the Boredoms never were quite as special for me - the bang-on-everything percussion attitude was taken a bit further and the results, while occasionally very impressive, somehow lack the magic of this.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Boards of Canada - 'Music Has the Right to Children' (Matador/Warp/Skam)

I could go on and on about this CD but everyone else already has, so I'll give you my personal take. It's always something special when there is some newly mined "genre" that is popular and along comes somebody who just totally melts everything else around it. This record did that, and I can compared it maybe to what This Heat did to the post-punk field with Deceit or maybe even Dylan in some way. In this case, the genre was the whole 'IDM' thing, which never clicked with me (despite all of the clicks in it). But Music Has the Right to Children sure resonated with me back in '98 or whenever this came out. Perhaps that's because it came, for me, at a time when I was looking to expand my horizons a bit, and I was no longer afraid of the world of electronica. It sure helps that it sounds like all of the music I listened to anyway back then, except recorded better and with electronic beats. I still find some of the more overtly dancey beats, particularly the ones at the beginning of the album like on 'Telephasic Workshop', a bit harder to digest. What I really love is what I call that 'classic' Boards of Canada sound - the way a steady, midtempo rhythm will just come in like the sun rising over a mountaintop ('Aquarius', perhaps). But their perfectionism is totally welcome - it touched on the guitar-futurism I admired about My Bloody Valentine, embraced the same warm aesthetics that I found to be missing from just about everything else in their genre, and most importantly (in retrospect) a real style of mythmaking that magnifies the artistry of the music. I mean, let's look at the cover - a beautifully monochromatic image, simultaneously warm and cool, and weathered just as the music is. Faces blurred out; creepy yes, but moreso I'd say 'enigmatic'. And there's so many little details in the way the songs will change direction - one channel will get more distant, an electric piano note will be able to ring out longer - it's obsessive sound creation for sure. There's actually quite a lot of melodic noodling here ('Turquoise Hexagon Sun') though maybe 'noodling' is the wrong word for these guys. When voices are sampled, which they are quite a lot here, it's so tasteful you barely even notice. Geogaddi didn't do it for me but I used to work with a dude who swore by it, and to be fair there was no way it could have slayed me as much as this record did. It simultaneously opened up a door to a whole soundworld, and then closed said door by being so satisfying I had little interest in the other giants of their peer group. Though I loved Campfire Headphase more than most, so I can see myself falling in love with Geogaddi one belated day. I think Boards of Canada are best experienced on vinyl, and probably with headphones; therefore it's somewhat paradoxical that I'm listening to them on CD through bookshelf speakers. I can draw a straight line between Terry Riley, AR Kane, most of the early Kranky records roster, and this. But that's confining; they wiggle around and draw many retro-cultural images that I didn't even fully understand until I lived in Scotland myself.

Blue PIne (Global Symphonic)

History will remember Blue Pine, if at all, as the precursor to Frog Eyes. I like Frog Eyes a lot, and I am intimately familiar with some of their records despite owning none of them. Blue Pine though, I remember far less about. I think I got this as a promo and enjoyed it as some sort of R.E.M.-Beefheart hybrid. This darkwoods Canadian weird-indie vibe is certainly an affected, acquired taste but it's not really anything too challenging - there's still guitar and bass and drums, and an adherence to song structures and singing, And lyrics even about love 'n stuff. But it's a solid release, and one that probably has a lot to reward those investing the time. I think when I found this as a promo back in 2001 or so I realised the potential and kept it around for when the time would provide itself. It still hasn't, and this post only afforded it one front-to-back listen, but I again felt some real tingles at a few moments. Now the gruffly tortured vocals are so constantly acupunctured by the guitar shards that it really takes away any comfort zone that might be created. But somehow, there's still the backwoods lumberjack sensibility that they obviously strive for (as the artwork and general name of the band indicates). You'd almost think this was horror-rock or some drunken ethnic/trad thing. Now, if lyrics like 'Raise your hands if you are a believer in a salad bar/Cincinnati, I believe you now/Woe to the father that was built on straight lines' (from 'Benjamin Windsor: Attorney at Law') are something you can connect with, more power to you. Personally I find it's just the right balance of that whole obtuse magic that Wallace Stevens used to do - and Destroyer (a fellow Nuck to Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer) is a modern master of. But if you find it a pile of pretentious shit then you don't have to pay attention, even though the closing epic 'Slowhorse or Traversing the Canadian Wilderness: Father and Son Search for the Elusive Mother' almost forces you to, through its urgency. I do think this is a modern rock band of true artists and they found a sound that is unique and accessible at the same time. Maybe this is just seen as Chapter Zero in the Frog Eyes saga but it's a great place to start. The keyboards and organs, a lot less prevalent than in the later band, give just the right amount of colour. I want to use the label 'Gothic' but that just seems a bit too easy. Maybe it's a forward-thinking retroaesthetic, or maybe I just can't help but think that way because Guy Madden is also from Canada.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Bloggs - 'Music for Multiples' (Fresnl)

Somewhere in the murky depths of early 00s West Coast experimentalism, this kickass Bloggs CD got lost in the shuffle. Google barely returns anything about it, but then again, the guy had the misfortunate to be named Bloggs just before a similar word hit our wavelengths. But let's talk about his wavelength - it's a studious one, clearly driven by sound constructions without much faffin' about. The liner notes list the equipment used on each of these ten tracks, partially reminding me of Aube (in the way Bloggs builds sounds from non-traditional sound-making items, like plastic wrap, PVC pipe, or an aluminum pot lid) and partially like a prog record that studiously lists all the gear. I'm pretty sure this is one of the guys from rhBand, another totally awesome bunch of modern minimalists that you never hear anything about anymore. The horizontal construction of the pieces is similar to rhBand's ur-drone, but the more eclectic nature of the source material makes this kinda, well, fun. Another reviewer compared 'Steppe (Process)' to Phil Niblock and I think that's an apt comparison; being built around wind instruments, there's a great deal of extended breaths to create a piece that feels far more epic than it's 8'41" running time would suggest. 'Obscured by Circles' is a pulsing bit of harmonium drone that accompanies 'Steppe' and the 'Untitled Piece for Bowls' as the three long minimal efforts which, if turned up loud enough, can completely bury you. The shorter pieces are built around more unusual sounds - some tape pieces, some 'real' instruments, and some noisy bits which still feel focused and calm. I think Music for Multiples actually strikes a fantastic, if not perfect balance between transparent sound experimentalism and artful, powerful construction. I don't think Bloggs ever made another album (and this one is hella-obscure - I grabbed it out of a mega-discount bin at some shitty mall record store that I was killing time in, I think paying 20 US cents for it) which is a shame, because this is the type of record that (if it had come maybe 10-20 years earlier) would be spoken about in hushed, reverent tones now instead of being mostly forgotten.

Black Swan Network - 'The Late Music volume 1' (Camera Obscura)

For those of us who loved the turn of the Millenium because the Olivia Tremor Control serenaded us through some of the highest and lowest points, the Black Swan Network recordings exist as a weird afterthought. Appreciated at the time, yes, but a bit forgotten. I remember the "split" with OTC being the high point, but since the membership is essentially identical it's just a choice in styles. And listening to The Late Music volume 1, Camera Obscura's 61-minute release of OTC sound experiments, I'm left feeling both enamored by the sound collage construction and a bit surprised at how amateurish it sounds. You can hear the residue of cheap delay/reverb boxes and layers of 4-track narcolepsy. Clarinets, strings and horns poke little jabs into the soundsoup but rarely get the chance to scream. Track 4 is a cello improvisation saturated with tape manipulations and other electronic effects, and it stands out as the high point - a bit of LAFMS-styled fuckery. Ten years ago (which is probably the last time I listened to this) I was struck by how intense and focused it was - two qualities I don't hear at all now. A quick assessment would be that it sounds like all of the parts of the Olivias records that aren't the pop songs but that isn't completely true because there's an economy to those interludes that isn't as constraining when they have an hour to mix it up. Despite the low-budget feel, the layered tape hiss and pause button edits are a beautiful aesthetic that stuck with me for all of this time. The more raging, thick sections aren't what I like; it's more the hints, the distant echoing bells and smoggy cloud formations that paint the best images. Late night music? Maybe that's the intention, or maybe 'late' means 'dead' as in 'the late Marlon Brando' but I stuck this on first thing in the morning and found it still had some ability to transport me.

Black Sun Ensemble (Camera Obscura)

Guitar Jesus comes to life in this debut release, reissued in the 90s with some bonus tracks and resequencing from the original mid-80s private press. Black Sun Ensemble occupy a unique, sun-drenched southwestern band of instrumental psychedelia. They're confident enough in Guitar Jesus's licks that there's little need for effects, studio fuckery or vocals. What this really is about is the guitar playing, and some of the songs are fairly improvised over a rhythm section that locks into similar chord progressions and patterns on every song. The end result is a patchwork of blistering electric guitar solos, glistening hollow-body/12-string blankets, and tunes that all kinda sound the same. The liner notes subtitle each track with descriptions like 'Wacko guitar solo', 'Improvisation in C scale', 'Blues in B Minor' etc. but somehow it all melts into a unified whole. I bought this when it came out after reading a review that praised it as first-rate psychedelia, but at the time I thought all psychedelia had to be insanely exaggerated mind-bends or maximallist pop like Mercury Rev or something -- I found this kinda downbeat, not disappointing per se, but not what I expected either. But I still liked it because I was also going through my Fahey/Americana-guitar phase, and I realised that this was a record to bridge the two schools. Guitar Jesus knows he's the star and he's mixed so far up that everything else sounds like an afterthought. If there's one criticism it is that the Black Sun Ensemble defined their sound too much, because the weird strum-pattern is so similar from track to track that it feels almost limiting. I know they made later records and I think still exist to this day (though Guitar Jesus is the only one remaining) so maybe they branched out since this was recorded (which was 1985). Much of the 'success' of this CD, to these ears, is owed to the early 80's DIY recording quality. You're really in the room with these guys, yet it still somehow captures the 'Dove of the Desert' feel (to borrow a phrase from track 5). There's something 'inside' about this psychedelia and it's a great mood-setter in the midst of a long winter. Liner notes by Byron Coley!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Black Forest/Black Sea - 'Radiant Symmetry' (Last Visible Dog)

The duo of Black Forest/Black Sea clearly did some traveling (outside of their native Providence) in 2004, because Radiant Symmetry feels like a tour diary. Three of the nine tracks feature the band alone, while the rest is abundant with guest musicians, and the unnamed tracks are listed by where they were recorded. Despite being taken from a bunch of live recordings, this is edited together quite well. Most of the pieces flow together, and a few times you wouldn't guess that you were jumping from country to country. There are a few times when I start to get bored by the thick bed of cello and guitar notes, although it's a pleasant, welcoming sound. Nick Talbot's acoustic guitar is a welcome addition to the Bristol session, and grounds it just enough to keep things from devolving into that noodly neo-folk experimentalism that often knocks me unconscious. There are a few moments of real tension, particularly in the opening track recorded with Glasgow musicians from Volcano the Bear, Nalle, and Traveling Bells (though in 2004 before those latter two project existed). Here the five musicians are all pulling away from each other and it's a pretty intense way to open the disc, suggesting things to come which actually don't. The final track, recorded in Stoke-on-Trent, is thickened with an Indian harmonium and it somehow is the most focused and most meandering track of the disc. While I'm tempted to get impatient and the musical noodlings, the waves of cello and harmonium keep pulling me back under the surface. As a document of communication and music exchange, probably particularly significant to them as it chronicles their friends, this is probably an important disc. For the rest of us, I'm not sure it's the most necessary recording ever, as its inconsistency makes it occasionally frustrating. But I'm no hater so this remains in the Elbow Cinderblock Glass Mastered Constructor Bag, cause you never know when you might want to dip yourself in its sonic tar.