Sitting on some grass drinkin’ beer…

It’s been a long time, no?

For this I can again only apologise and offer up the customarily weasely excuses of having great bucket loads of work and the occasional spell of just-can’t-be-arsed-ness.

I’m here now, though, and I like to think that’s what counts, eh?

What’s been playing up and down the grassy lanes and country roads of the Cotswolds, you ask? Well, I’m glad you brought that up…

Cool Ghouls

Stumbled across this group of jangling, frizzy-haired student types a couple of weeks ago, and immediately wondered how I’d not done so earlier – we’re already into a third Cool Ghouls record. This in itself is both haunting (all those lost, grey mornings of unwitting emptiness) and immensely encouraging, just when you feel there’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re scraping around for something fresh…

This third record, Animal Races, is wholly brimming with all the goodies I love in a band – psychy guitars, sixties harmonies, garage band attitudes, and all my favourite records referenced regularly – loads of Byrds, some Gram, some Love, some Elevators and the general languid, cool of the Parquet Courts debut, or maybe the Allah-Las one. It’s all good. Sometimes it bothers me disproportionately when an artist so openly shows his influences (took me ages to overlook Riley Walker’s obvious love of Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and John Martyn) but then other times, I’m good to go from the start, it’s just not a problem.

Here’s a song about goofing off…

 

According to this Fogg Fuzz interview, Cool Ghouls are bunch of self-consciously dudish Californians who just want to make a record a year and play. They drink beer, smoke weed, started their own college band five years ago and want to go into Space. That’s pretty much all you need to know, right?

But for the completists among you…

I’ve also given the even-more-garagey second record, A Swirling Fire Burning through the Rye, a good listen and there are some real gems on there too, the first track “And It Grows” being my favourite:

 

There’s a first album for me to explore yet and also a (ho-hum) cassette-only tour release, called Gord’s Horse which in spite of the title is also available for download or streaming from their Bandcamp page. All of this, and Summer, to look forward to…

School’s out!

Bathed in Sweat

Once again, this Blog is in danger of turning into one of those sniffy, crate-digging exercises in one-upmanship, as another obscure world beat thingamy takes over the car stereo, my footballer-style clumpy headphones and the faux record player that sits up in our top room. But with eMusic somehow keeping their heads above water and at the same time packing their catalogue with all sorts of saccharine goodies, and then plying me with credits, what’s a feller supposed to do?

It really is out of my control.

Alceu Valença

Alceu Valença trained as a lawyer in the late sixties in Brazil before (brilliantly) running away to record music in the Brazilian jungle state of Pernambuco, hundreds of miles to the north and east of Brasilia and even further away from Rio or Sao Paulo. While the world was watching Pele duping hapless Uruguayan goalies, Jairzinho scoring in every round of Mexico 70 and Carlos Alberto thumping in The Greatest Team Goal Ever, Valença was presumably twanging away on a selection of exotic stringed things and getting high with his mates. (Much as I enjoy compartmentalising things, life tells me that this oddest of niche musicians was actually, almost certainly in a bar, celebrating in traditional style with the rest of the country…)

By 1974, however, with Cruyff and Neeskens ending a sulky-looking, (blue-shirted!) national team’s reign, I prefer to think that Valença was by now properly getting it together in the country and getting on with releasing his first solo record, Molhado de Suor.

I don’t know enough about Brazilian indigenous music or culture to understand half of what’s going on here, but from everything you read about the record, it’s a right old melting pot of ideas and styles. To these western, middle-aged, 21st Century ears, however, it sounds like a frantic explosion of breathy rhythms and flighty strings and woodwinds, with each song packed full of imagination and playful energy.

Songs like “Punhal da Prata” and “Dia Branca” have a busy, locomotive get-up-and-go that are terrific fun. They suggest a feeling of eye-rubbing good fortune, that Valença was in something of a hurry to get his ideas out and onto vinyl before someone somewhere stopped him (not just wild-eyed paranoia, when you consider that a number of musical figures of the day were imprisoned or exiled by the military government of the day).

Other tracks (the title track, for example, which translates as “Soaked in Sweat”) are a little more leftfield – quirkiness hot-housed to almost grotesque levels, with a bewildering range of whirring rhythms and stringed beasties running around Valença’s frequently cracked vocals. Again, eye-wateringly good fun and more than a little catchy.

Unfortunately, if you search for Alceu Valença on YouTube, you get a loads of modern clips (he went on to have an enduring career which I’ve not explored) with the man looking more like Michael Bolton than an Amazonian freak bathed in salty paranoia and elicit substances. This is perhaps not a surprise…

Amazingly, however, just when you thought you’d imagined the whole unfortunate episode, there’s this:

 

Crikey!

Go and have a shower, I would…

“Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us!”

Over a couple of drinks last night, I got talking with a friend about the grim subject of lost music and lost generations – his son lives and works in Cambodia – and it got me thinking about the heartbreak of recordings which capture a single moment of exuberant, in-the-moment now-ness, and which have now become somehow all the more vivid for the gathering darkness that was to follow.

(Lest you think that West Country pubs are generally packed with earnest, gloomy individuals discussing their mortality over a pint of Mild, I should probably mention that conversation also touched upon pub crisp flavours; showing off at Sports Day (and hurting yourself); the cynical idiocy of Boris Johnson and Arsene Wenger’s new contract…)

But lo, I find myself this evening, back on this and feeling more than a little maudlin…

Amara Toure

Amara Toure was apparently a Guinean musician who moved to Senegal and then Cameroon in the sixties to make music.

And, well… that’s pretty much the entirety of what I know about him. Oh yeah, he may apparently have had something of a lisp, which he could only overcome when singing. But then that really is it…

This is not, for once, just me showing the habitual levels of Dianne Abbot-like research for which I imagine I’m known. On this occasion, not very much is actually known about the man, even by proper writers, who do their research and stuff. This includes his whereabouts or even whether the man is still alive. He has disappeared from view completely and leaves behind the scantiest collection of recordings. Fortunately, the peerless Analog Africa has gathered together in one place these ten songs (plus a scant biography), and even more fortuitously, it makes an absolute belter of a package. It’s put a smile on my face, all day, as I drive about my business. Absolutely loving it…

The first six songs were recorded with a group of gents known as Ensemble Black & White in Cameroon and released as three singles between 1973 and 1976. They feature Toure’s majestic, harsh vocals and some gorgeously abrasive honking from the Ensemble’s slightly ungainly brass section. Spidery guitars and Latin rhythms weave elegantly about in the darkness, but front and centre, the relationship between Toure’s voice and the clutch of saxes, rasping all over the recordings, like some sort of sprawling Dexter Gordon freight train, is damn near irresistible.

You can stream the album from Analog Africa, and I’d heartily recommend giving at least “N’nijo” a good listening to:

 

The songs that followed the first single blended his Senegalese rhythms with the Cuban sounds that were arriving in West Africa at the time, and caused something of a stir at the time for this very reason. Toure himself couldn’t see what the fuss was about, regarding African and Latin rhythms as having the same source. He sang these sides in Spanish and by all accounts started something of a blizzard of furious Cuban stylings in the clubs and bars of Dakar and Yaounde.

Later on he moved onto Libreville and teamed up with another group of like-minded souls, L’Orchestre Massako, and released an LP with them, which makes up the rest of the Analog Africa collection. These tracks are a little more up-tempo and not quite as darkly groovy, but still with lots of brass, and Toure’s distinctive vocals; and still very, very exciting.

And that was that.

By 1980, Toure had moved on again, only this time he seems to have stepped from the podium altogether. His whereabouts are still apparently unknown, the trail is very much cold. The only things he leaves are these ten exhilarating snatches of a bold time, and the memory of his voice.

A great, great voice, the voice of a king.

Soy la flor que nace arriba el cardon

Want to hear something different?

At this point, regular readers of this Blog will doubtless begin to rub their eyes wearily, feel their shoulders droop and breathe the deepest of sighs.

See, they know at this point that when I say “something different”, I actually mean “something absolutely bat-shit crazy” that we’ll all have forgotten about in a couple of weeks, and will be confined to one of the lesser-read pages of this admired and occasionally respected Blog.

And now I’ve said it, so do you…

Soema Montenegro

Soema Montenegro is an Argentinean folk singer from Buenos Aires, who (apart from being the “flower that blooms on the top of the cactus”) has, I think, two albums to her name, although I believe a third is currently being crowd-funded. Her second effort, Passionaria, has recently clambered onto my hard drive, courtesy of the improbable and still fantastic eMusic, and has been spiralling erratically from the car stereo all week.

It’s a crazy old listen, make no mistake. She croons like a witch, shouts like a delta bluesman, squeals like an animal and peaks and soars like a deeply disturbed opera singer throughout the twelve tracks that tumble together to make the record. She’s supported by her partner Jorge and a group of presumably long-suffering mates on a variety of off-kilter instruments, including pots, pans, a jew’s harp and for the following track a wilfully ungainly brass section:

 

I can’t decide whether the feller coming on at the beginning, dropping what appears to be dozens of tin trays and kitchen utensils at Soema’s feet is a moment of comedy or anarchy,…)

I’ve started you off gently, here, to be honest – I reckon this may be the most regular moment on Passionaria – but if you doubt my clinical assessment of the woman or think I’m over-egging the cake for comic effect, maybe try “Milonga de la Ensoñada” or “Invocación a la Passionaria” (go on, YouTube them), which are truly swivel-eyed and well out-there.

To the probable relief of Argentine journos everywhere, Fabiola Feyt, has done a great interview with Soema on the WUBA site (What’s Up Buenos Aires!), which does little to suggest that she’s just a normal gal, really.

The interview refers to Montenegro’s Blogotheque session with Vincent Moon which is, as ever, truly brilliant and opens with a couple of tracks recorded some five years later on Passionaria, the wonderful “Molecularemente” and “Cuando Pasa” (complete with kettle and frying pan accompaniment from Jorge for the first track and some sort of clay jug percussion for the second – and not in a Tommy Hall sort of way, if you were wondering).

Here’s the first part of the show, filmed in the kitchen before the pair start to wander the streets alarming passers-by:

 

I’d certainly recommend the others three parts too, as she walks the streets of her city, singing in subways, yodelling by railway tracks, busking on train carriages and talking about her calling (in a disarmingly frank manner):

“I wanted to be a teacher, but, well, life has led me to music… I feel a calling, a connection with myself in the sound in the voice, in what happens when I’m singing, and I feel like it’s also a gift for the others… when I say “a gift” I mean music is a ritual, a meeting, and in a show it’s a great excuse for being together and celebrate the music… to cry for what is no longer with us….”

This wind that blows, blows me nay guid…

james-printYou’ll have noticed a certain amount of Krautrock freebasing going on over these pages of recent, but I’m over all that for the moment. You’ll be glad to know I’ve weaned myself off the German experimental stuff, with the help of a strict Fall-only diet over the last week; and started off on something diametrically (almost macrobiotically) different.

Alasdair Roberts

Great news! The miserable old curmudgeon is headed this way next month, with a date in Stroud and another in Cheltenham. I shall certainly be there at one or both of those soirees. And now I’m back on to thinking about him, I find out belatedly he’s released another superb record to general muted flourish and the excitement and acclaim  of virtually no one.

And God knows why, Plaint of the Lapwing is another beautiful, nuggety affair, released with the support of Sheffield keyboard-player James Green. I’d be disappointed if a Roberts album wasn’t set firmly in the soil and cripplingly steeped in natural imagery. And Plaint certainly is that – winged  and crawling things feature heavily; seas, rocks, famines and sundry meteorological terms too. We’re also treated to a humble parade of blacksmiths, vine-pruners and cordwainers (I had to look this one up – cobblers, as you’re asking). There are other miscellaneous hapless characters who inexorably descend to the clay (if they’re lucky – the Left Hand Man ends up swinging from a tree, “free as air”). All, much as you’d expect, the stuff we know and love about Alasdair Roberts.

What makes this record a little more than just another standard AR disk is, I think, the contribution of Mr Green ar(hitherto unfamiliar to this punter), who manages to colour Roberts’ obdurate monochrome landscapes with all sorts of warm hues and sensitive and sensible contributions. Piano and organ parts appear and even, I think – incredible though it sounds – the odd reedy-sounding synth too – all to great effect. Even Roberts’ wilfully archaic language doesn’t sound quite so out of-time with the aid of a gentle sprucing from Green.

Claypipemusic has an interesting piece about the record, including an account from Roberts of how he and Green started collaborating. It’s here and it’s a good read.

I’d love to include a video of the pair of them playing from the video, preferably with Green on his outlandishly fabulous harmoniflute, but alas, there seems to be absolutely nothing around.

Do have a listen to this, though, the organ line on it is gorgeous…

21:32

 

 

cluster-moebius-and-roedelius-seventiesI think I may have passed some sort of rock-ist milestone this evening. I’m now about 2 minutes away from listening to Cluster ’71 all the way through. If this means nothing to you at all then, you’re alright…

No problem, you can move on, nothing to see here…

But if you are aware of Cluster’s first record since the departure of Conrad Schnitzler and the exchange of the “K” for a “C”, you’ll possibly be raising an eyebrow quizzically (most cases), snorting dismissively into your Friday evening glass of red (probably quite a few), or possibly wandering trance-like over to your CD / vinyl collection, scratching your chin and chuckling to yourself.

Cluster

Cluster ’71 is made up of 3 tracks, all of which you’d have to say are pretty “investigational” – long shapeless feedback and reverb-drenched explorations that occasionally use conventional tools like rhythm and tunefulness, but are generally only on the briefest of nodding terms with such orthodoxies. There are no vocals, no instruments you can identify and nothing you’d call a “song”. There aren’t even any song titles as such – the two tracks that made up side one of the record are called “7:42”, “15:43” and I’m currently listening to “21:32” which made up the second side and is … well, you’re smart, you get the idea…

My younger self would of course be turning in his grave at this news and would no doubt be lobbying for some sort of sci-fi divorce from his later self. I remember gleefully chuckling away to myself when a friend admitted he often dozed off listening to Tangerine Dream and Eno. This was not what I felt music was for – dancing and leaping, yeah; arguing and studying, for sure; impressing girls with, given a chance; but sleeping? An admission of boredom, surely. Music needs rhythm, words, chords and above all guitars, as loud and as demented as possible.

Cluster ’71 has no actual guitars that I can recognise, almost no drumming that fits my definition, certainly no chords. It is shapeless and has no structure. It would stretch the patience of many listener. And yet, it really is compelling, you’re drawn in surprisingly easily to what on the face of it is just a racket.

I guess the only grudging concession my former self would give it is that it is certainly loud and definitely abrasive –r-766860-1156671425-jpegpretty much impossible to sleep to. Jarring shafts of metallic synth parade up and down stage, awkward loops of futuristic sound bounce from one speaker to the next, great fuzzy waves of electronic noise throb across and behind the synthesisers creating a sort of rhythm (the best we’re going to get). You’re really a long way from home here…

If we’re looking for touchstones to compare this strange, uncompromising record to, you could probably think about Florian Fricke and the early drone-driven Popol Vuh stuff, only a fair bit harsher and not at all “ambient”. And without any native percussion. Or you could perhaps compare it to the echo-y relentlessness of Neu!’s “Negativeland”, in the sense that waves of unforgiving sound stagger back and forth through your headphones. But again, without the drums. Or the bass.

There’s certainly no “motorik” elements here – you wouldn’t play it in the car, or when you’re jogging. You’d definitely not play it with friends round (maybe friends you’d really fallen out with) and I’d not be expecting to see it on the jukebox of any of the pubs I go to. I’m currently struggling with a dizzying head-cold at the moment, which may well be significant. Maybe this is a record you listen to with a mug of honey and lemon, your senses already cack-handed and askew. Maybe when you are kind of OK hearing the world bounce and twitch in what would normally be an alarming fashion, the opening murmurs of “15:43” slinking into your unsuspecting headphones.

Cluster were Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, (and for the purposes of this record only, Conny Plank) who went on to make a whole bunch of other records, some of which are far less challenging (although Cluster II, which I’m yet to hear, is by all accounts more of the same). Other records include Zuckerzeit, a gentler, more melodic affair which appears on various “Greatest of the Seventies” lists and is generally considered their best. They also worked intermittently with Michael Rother as Harmonia, and went on to record with Eno, releasing the much-delayed Tracks and Traces which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

As far as YouTube or anything else is concerned, there’s predictably nothing out there at all, apart from whole album posts (hard to see Moebius and Roedelius doing a cheery KEXP session, although the between songs banter would’ve been an awkward joy…). But how about a tap dripping onto a spoon and cereal bowl in the sink (to the strains of “Caramel” from the Zuckerzeit album)? That oughta do it…

 

(As long as you realise, I’m not giving you the real shit here, I love and respect you all too much…)

If you don’t like it, it’s your problem. Get busy liking!

screen-shot-2016-04-13-at-10-28-50-amI’m right now downloading “71 Minutes of Faust” and I can feel myself in danger of going on something of a Faustian feeding frenzy… On top of that, I’ve somehow, in my eMusic wanderings, come across this strange piece…

Outside the Dream Syndicate

Tony Conrad was a proper avant-garde situationist artist with a career in experimental film and abstract art, and a bit of a name in the New York underground scene of the mid-sixties. He rubbed shoulders with (and was a little snooty about) Andy Warhol; took drugs with La Monte Young and John Cale, and was instrumental in the forming and naming of the Velvet Underground. All well and (presumably) good, but way beyond my ken.

So let’s catch up together with this trailer about his life:

 

As well as being an artist and film-maker, Conrad was incorporating his highly individual violin playing into his art. However, although he was playing a miked up violin and making experimental music with John Cale and the Theatre of Eternal Music in throughout the sixties, his first venture onto vinyl wasn’t until 1972 when he was introduced to Uwe Nettelbeck, the man managing and producing my new favourite band. He flew out to the old school house where Faust lived, rehearsed and recorded, and together they spent three days making a very curious record indeed. As his most recent work in New York had been done under the stage name of the Dream Syndicate, the recordings that were made with Faust were christened Outside the Dream Syndicate.

If you’re thinking that such a project would sound a bit like Cale and Klaus Dinger going on a gigantic weekender bender, you’d be pretty much right. Listen to the track that plays underneath the YouTube trailer and you’ll hear part of “The Sound of Man and Womankind” which makes up the first side of the record.

As far as I can see, the main difference between Cale and Conrad’s playing is that the Welshman in spite of his love of experimentation and all sorts of abnormality, still had an ear for a song and was not averse to having a crack at the odd three-minute ditty. You get the feeling that Conrad, however, had little time for such constraints. He was in his element playing (and playing) and would probably have carried on until the lights went out. He speaks in an interview of the private pleasure of playing single notes and chords repeatedly or in elongated sequences – effectively the originator of electronic drone music.

Here’s an interview with the man:

 

The record is pretty, er…,  unusual – two 27 minute slices of grinding, whining repetition, which on the face of it might sound like a pretty hard listen but is actually much more fun than that. Conrad often spoke of enjoying letting the tone and depth of a single note unfurl itself (and if this all sounds rather self-indulgent, he was under no illusions that that was exactly what it was – he considered it the listener’s responsibility to make something of it, if he or she didn’t like what they were hearing)

What rescues the whole venture from being an obscure art happening and gives it shape and structure is the gallant efforts on drums and bass of Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Peron. Considering the recordings were done not long before Faust IV was recorded and presumably in the midst of the rehearsals for it, a new project, although recorded relatively quickly, must’ve been something of a challenge in itself.

The real trial, though, was the heroic levels of self-denial the pair had to display in the monotone roles that they were given. Conrad’s Smithy-style instructions were: “one note, one beat, one hour”. (It’s not repetition…) This must have been a bitter pill for members of a ferociously ill-disciplined musical collective, well-known for their fanatical levels of self-expression, to swallow. Peron said afterwards:

“We were used to extraordinary music but had never come across anything like this. It was more of a trip inside. I went through all kinds of mental states: boredom, anger, ecstasy, doubt about myself and what I was doing.”

It’s actually a surprisingly compelling listen, with Conrad’s eerie wail floating heedlessly above Diermaier and Peron’s surly compliance. Hard to say much more about the two tracks (and I have no idea about the titles) other than that they are wordless statements of do-what-you-like-with-me that you don’t really want to leave unfinished.

There’s a well-written Pitchfork review of the album which sheds more light on it, here and a really good March ’16 interview with Conrad in the Guardian (“People thought we were on drugs, and we were!”) here. I’d recommend them both.

I’ll leave you with this track from YouTube which was recorded during the same sessions but somehow never made it on to the record (maybe it was too short, maybe it was Conrad’s stab at making a 3-minute “hit”?)

 

I’m not really one to have the patience or commitment to take modern drone music very seriously, but maybe I need to rethink this…

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