Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Damon & Naomi - 'with Ghost' (Sub Pop)

The post-Galaxie career of Damon & Naomi is a gentle, beautiful one - they've made some great records, though none really as memorable as More Sad Hits, which I don't have, but this collaboration with Ghost ain't too shabby.  I remember D&N as being a more mellow, downbeat, and minimal group that Galaxie 500, but the opening cut of this ('The Mirror Phase') sounds almost exactly like the song 'Tell Me' from On Fire, except with slightly more ethereal vocals and an updated production from Kramer's whole thing.  Ghost isn't really on this record - just 3 of them - but to many, Masaki Batoh and Michio Kurihara ARE the meaty part of Ghost, and they're both here.  Despite the presence of a bitingly psychedelic Japanese psych band, D & N keep things pretty genteel.  Batoh limits himself to acoustic guitar, making this resemble his Ghost in the Darkened Sea record far more then the orange one with the long name.  And Ghost's more prog-rock tendencies, which really stuck out at me the one time I saw them live, are completely absent.  This is much more a Damon & Naomi record and the Japanese presence barely warrants the title this CD gets, but it's a wonderful balance.  It's only really the penultimate track, 'Tanka', where sounds converge into a large, powerful ball of magic - but even still, it's not a particularly dissonant one, and it doesn't overstay it's welcome.  Most of the tracks exist in a folk-pop strumniverse that recalls other artists at times - for example 'The New World' has shades of the Sallyangie - and actually has two covers   'Blue Moon' is the umpteenth cover of Alex Chilton but the melancholy is cut, quite a bit actually, especially compared to the His Name is Alive version I've listened to so many times.  Tim Hardin's 'Eulogy to Lenny Bruce' closes the disc with the lowest energy, most restrained psychedelic freakout that I can think of - it's repetitive and trippy, but it's laid back to the point that when it ends - with the slightest energy from Kurihara - I barely noticed.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dadamah - 'This is Not a Dream' (Kranky)

Welcome to the D's, and welcome to the murky 4-track atmosphere of Port Chalmers, New Zealand.  This CD compiles the recorded lifespan of Dadamah, a project of Roy Montgomery and Peter Stapleton in the early 1990s.  Vocalist Kim Pieters wrote the liner notes but they're pretty damn hard to read, and as much as I've loved this CD for years I've never really forced myself through them all.  If you're looking for crystal-clear psychedelia this is the wrong place; Dadamah are lo-fi and have that classic kiwi downer vibe, much like Nocturnal Projections or Montgomery's first band, the Pin Group.  There's churning guitar chords, military drum-tapping (courtesy of Stapleton who rarely gets to shine, due in part to the mix, but knows his place) and dense organ chords over it all.  The band works themself into a Velvet Underground-jammyness on tracks like 'Brian's Children' and 'Limboswing' and it's all quite inspiring, or was to a teenage dronehead like myself.  'Scratch Sun' is repetitive and builds to a manic pulse, but it somehow stays grounded in space. Hey, punk and minimalism can co-exist, and we don't even need  to be aggressive.  There are "hooks", or at least song structures that get lodged in your brain.  Throughout, the deep male vocals of Montgomery and Pieters' earthy drawl complement each other perfectly on songs like 'Papa Doc', even if she is just wailing in the mist.  There's beautiful layers of chorus and reverb on the guitar - this is before he started making all of those beautiful, shimmery solo discs like Temple IV, but the shimmer is there, and it's fucking electrifying.  I've loved losing myself in the epic chord progression of 'High Tension House', Dadamah's masterpiece.  There's a gentle pitter-pattern behind it all and the swirl starts to come in.  This isn't noise, nor is it punk, but it's a fucking vision, painted with the broadest strokes possible.  

Leo Cuypers - 'Heavy Days are Here Again' (Atavistic)

More Cuypers!  This was actually my introduction to the wonderful works of this Dutch pianist, and I think it stands out as one of the strongest (and most accessible) entries in Atavistic's Unheard Music Series.  This was recorded in 1981 by the quartet of Cuypers, Han Bennink, Willem Breuker and Arjen Gorter, and the title is a reaction to Ronald Reagan's campaign song.  Despite the bleak outlook on the emergence of neoliberalism, Heavy Days is a bright and lively album.  There's somber cadences for sure ('Blue Tango' is a lovely, sad dirge; 'Mischa' could pass as a standard, though with that same smirking energy the South Africans always bring) and the ballads are actually the highlights.  'Als dat de olifant's tand' is a masterpiece - a slowly building melody that continues to develop and, while only 5 minutes, feels like an hour of being suspended in sugar and grace.  Breuker is more prevalent here than on Theatre Music (which we reviewed on the Underbite blog) and the tension is a bit more sudden - the strong, melodic passages erupt into frantic, free breakdowns and Bennink's drumming is full of sparks, as to be expected.  The cover shot only shows the group as a trio which is odd; this is as unified a band as you can expect to hear in all of Dutch jazz.  Gorter's bass playing is thick and meaty over Bennink's thumps, and 'Be-Bach', along with the title track, is when they really open up the throttle.  It's too short, sure, but if that's the only complaint then this is a true winner.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Curtains - 'Flybys' (Thin Wrist)

Curtains' second album continues the rampant short-attention span post-Beefheart pyrotechnics of Fast Talks, though with a bit more keyboards, a bit more space, and even some singing! ('Saga' is a weird, broken a capella plea to Spider-Man which is wonderfully off-key and distant and somehow just fits amongst all the instrumental malarkey).  Everything is brighter than before and the songs are both more deconstructed and more accessible at the same time  There's 22 of em, and it goes by pretty quickly, so the term 'song' isn't exactly a great description.  Atmospheric moments begin to appear in Curtains work now, even if they are sometimes fragmentary linking tracks.  These merge with the biting anti-rock, often transitioning from track to track quite nicely.  'Blink, Professor' is just a lumbering beast that keeps stopping as soon as it starts, and then fades into 'Asterisks by Moonlight', a great title if I've ever heard one.  'Asterisks' is brief but warm, with synthesised spacefuzz coming as a nice coda.  'Moment with Plankton', as the title suggests, could be interstitial background music for an educational science film from the 1950s - but while there's been plenty of synth bubbles documented already in these pages, it sounds unique and integrated with the more rock moments.   The guitar lines on Flybys are like a biting, attenuated version of Zoot Horn Rollo; the structured songs sometimes get into call-and-response hysterics ('Bummer with Cakes') or snake-eating-its-own-tail meanderings ('Telegraph Victories').  A few moments are actually tender, with the guitar having glimpses of bluesy pain before the unnatural setting takes over.  It's occasionally a cacophony but more often a willing, controlled holding back that seems to go against everything rock music should be.  Carducci probably hates this, but I think the rewards are vast.