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Saturday, 18 June 2011

Frederik Croene and Esther Venrooy - 'Hout' (Robo)

I don't know who these Dutch experimentalists are but this CD is a great exploration of electroacoustic space, built around intense miniature interactions. There's a lot of acoustics - piano (played by Croene) is the dominant instrument, but there are plucked and bowed strings, metallic resonances, and occasional field recordings and vocal samples. There's a stop-start jerkiness that keeps this lively, avoiding AMM-soup while retaining a delicate balance. At times, Venrooy's computer processing takes over and the pieces feel overly worked-on, but nothing lasts too long (the 11 pieces, with confusing two-column titles, make this "classic album length"). The movie dialogue samples are the nadir of this, just because it doesn't make thematic sense with the dancing prepared piano sounds. I'm more of a fan of Hout when the musicians actually feel things and respond to each other, even if I know this to be layered studio work instead of live improvisation. There's a lot of reversed/backwards tonalities - echoes that fold in on themselves, and ringing tones that seem to disintegrate instantly. They know when to hold a note and let the soundwaves reverberate. It's slightly academic, yeah, but has a spontaneity despite being delicate and (mostly) quiet. The final/epic track, 'Pine::Lodge', gets more built-up in terms of white noise/hiss than anything else, eventually opening into a shining bolt of what sounds like zither strings (though I assume is just piano, processed in some way). It rises and falls majestically; the focus and craft of these two is most apparent here on the juxtaposition between echoing room-sound and thick electronic density. You'll never get me to say anything should be on CD instead of LP, but this is definite "CD" music - a sadly obscure treasure from the world of electroacoustic composition.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Consonant - 'Love and Affliction' (Fenway)

Promo copy with no cover, hence this photo of the back. One of the justifications for these blogs is to rediscover all of the music I've accumulated in my life and revisit/reevaluate old memories. The previous post on Consonant clearly shows that my feelings from ten years age are still strong; just like then, the dulcet tones of 'What a Body Could Do' are now lodged in my day-to-day consciousness, and the song's melodic beauty and romantic longing ring more true than ever. I loved that Consonant album, almost irrationally, except it's really actually fantastic and worthy of the love, so there's nothing irrational here. So how to deal with Love and Affliction, the followup which I never really listened to in 2003? I mean, I did listen to it, several times, but it just never grabbed me like the first album. Or more accurately, I thought it was fine, but it just made me want to listen to 'Post-Pathetic' again instead of these new songs. Revisiting it with fresh ears, I feel pretty much the same. This isn't a radically different record than its predecessor - the lineup is the same, the songs are written again in collaboration with Holly Anderson, and the production is almost identical. There are maybe a few darker tinges to the rocky cliffs of guitar chords - opener 'Little Murders', named perhaps after one of my favourite films in history, is stark in it's raucous crashing, a theme returned to in 'Cauldron'. There are still pop hooks and vocal harmonies layers with the fuzz, with 'Mysteries of the Holiday Camp' holding a particularly brittle beauty. 'Cry' brings in the slightest country tendencies, but it's familiar, confident indie guitar rock otherwise. I think this was it for Consonant; Conley's been busy with Mission of Burma again, whose newer output hasn't interested me much either, but I admit I haven't given it a fair listen. Love and Affliction will stay on this CD shelf forever, because I can't find a bad thing to say about it; it's just never going to have the familiar, sentimental resonance of the first album.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Consonant (Fenway)

This Consonant album was one of the biggest surprises of 2002 for me, surfacing as a new Clint Conley-penned album of rock songs which was magic to those of us who worship at the altar of Burma. Nineteen years is a long time to hide away, and expectations were understandably low. The band had a guy from Bedhead and a guy from Come, but how good could the songs be? I guess if you spend nineteen years writing stuff, you're going to have twelve good tunes for a CD. But nothing could quite prepare me for how good this actually was. Or IS - because it still sounds absolutely great, a perfect merger of classic rock, 80's and 90's American guitar indie and a bit of the Burma fire. It's all love songs, of course, or rather contemplations of love and loss structured somewhat around these weird acrostic poems by Holly Anderson. There's bitterness seeping out of tunes like 'Call it L---' and 'Who Touches You Now?', but it's the more lunar language that kills me - a hopeless 40something romantic who is struggling to put things into context. Anderson's poems are built around the names of flowers and Conley has certainly adapted them well into rock phrasing, managing to sing lines like 'Cured but curious we embrace post-pathetic happiness: neutered, fixed, companionable' without it sounding as strange as it probably just did to read it. The fuzzy guitars, drum fills and amped-up energy ('Buckets of Flowers, Porno Mags'; 'That Boston Life') are raging with confidence and mastery; for an aging punk, there's no element of embarrassment. Chris Brokaw's guitars find the right places - for those of us who grew up with music that itself grew up on Burma, it's all just perfect. There's oodles of 'Trem Two' style moodiness, but still a hint of 'That's How I Escaped my Certain Fate'. And Roger Miller turns up a few times too. The pop hooks are there - not singsong like the Beatles but subtle, mind-burrowing lyrical fragments that I had bouncing around in my head for much of 2002. I remember having the 'We couldn't ever make enough / time for lips and hips and arms' following around my consciousness for so long that I was starting to go nuts; of course, for a song about the ghost of a relationship (and the song I refer to is the closing tune 'What a Body Could Do'), it's practically supernatural. 'Post-Pathetic' is an absolutely brilliant song, with a bit of college 80s jangle, sharp sharp sharp words, and a self-deprecating sexuality that gets better with every listen. It's the influencer meeting his influencees, and I was pretty much obsessed with this CD when it came out - my digipak is dinged and dented from taking it to work every day. Of course, I haven't played it for a few years which is why it feels so good and familiar now - I actually am on the third consecutive listen. Rock music connects when it's music and lyrics meeting in perfect balance, and that's what's here. I love lines like 'Wasn't she full of wild want / for is he and her she?' but even more when the band is providing the perfect presentation of it. My love for Consonant is pretty strong, and I realise a bit idiosyncratic, but just wait, cause there's gonna be lots of these as we go along.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tony Conrad with Faust - 'Outside the Dream Syndicate' (Table of the Elements)

I like to say that Tony Conrad invented minimalism, when of course I know that's not true, and it's far more complicated than that, and I would never write such a statement academically, or on paper at all. This cyberspace world of blogspot is somewhere in between "provocative conversation line" and "something I would actually say, and mean" so i can write it here. So yeah, Tony Conrad invented minimalism. Which of course he didn't, but at times I think his Table of the Elements output is trying to make some sort of case for his lost place in history. Which is totally fair, because the stuff is brilliant and dense and when I first heard of Conrad back in high school still, it actually sounded dangerous and scary. An older girl I knew from the local liberal arts college told me her roommate had Four Violins on LP and to piss off someone else in their dorm, they went out, leaving it playing at full volume from their empty room. She described the record as four violins playing the same note really loud with screeching overtones, and I thought "gee, what is an overtone"? But I also thought this was maybe too extreme for me, and why would anyone want to listen to that, but she said it was amazing and because she was older than me, a cultural sherpa of sorts, I was interested. Now I didn't actually hear this for a few more years, but by that time, I think I had read the Nyman book and was pretty much ready to sign the dotted line for experimentalism in music. You can't listen to indie rock forever. Anyway. It's not quite as simple than that, but there's lots to hear in Outside the Dream Syndicate to reflect a complex, multi-faceted musical world. There is the sheer density of such a work, which with Faust's plodding rhythm section it feels even more endless and monotonous. And there is the attitude conveyed through aesthetic, because I still hear a little of my sherpa's "fuck you" that was described to me so long ago. But of course there's the innovative exploration of sound properties - the focus and dedication to unlocking new crevices in what we hear - that is really what makes this so amazing. This CD reissue (which I think was later expanded to a box set, but I just get 71 minutes here) tacks on an alternate version of 'From the Side of Man and Womankind', called, ready -- 'From the Side of Woman and Mankind' - which makes a nice sandwich with 'From the Side of the Machine'. I love em both, and would definitely love an LP for the symmetry, but I think the titles are inaccurate. Conrad is Conrad, and the sounds layer beautifully throughout, which I can't even write about really. The mix is somewhat less Conrad focused - the violin is of course central, but it's not overbearing and the drumset has room to reverberate. The distinction between the two compositions is most notable in Faust's rhythmic contributions. It's through these that I find the titles to be backwards. 'Man and Womankind' is machinelike; 'Machine' is organic. Both are unwavering in their forward progress, yet 'Machine' is focused around a bending bass guitar part. It's flexible, crouching under its own weight and threatening to slip off into another direction, but it never does. Of course, one could argue that Faust doesn't get room to be Faust here - there are no crazy explorations of collage and pastiche, no vocals, no guitar solos -- but the atmosphere is enormous, and this is one of the rare occasions of titans meeting and actually delivering the goods.