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…

The cement mixer – I like it, so I will play it and try to go a bit deeper

faust-newOnce you’ve missed a self-imposed deadline, it becomes a little tricky to pick it all up again, no?

My actual Christmas, however, was pretty darn good, thank you. Christmas as a blogger was pretty poor, even by my own ragged standards. In the Bloggers contract that you sign at the outset, you’re supposed to do a series of lists for the year, and at the very least a best records of the year post. And I kind of started this with the last post about Commontime, but, well, other stuff got in the way, and I never quite got around to putting together the posts about the other two albums I really enjoyed from 2016 (Ryley Walker and Meilyr Jones, as you’re asking).

But… as I did do posts on both these artists earlier on in the year, let’s just imagine that the “2016 – Phew! What a year that was!” ship has sailed and wave a rueful hankie at it, as it disappears.

Time to move on, methinks…

As a miserable old lag of uncountable years, Christmas and birthday presents these days are mainly comprised of books, DVDs and whiskey (who’s complaining?). And of course a fair smattering of music (although most people are a little wary of my snooty tastes). Nonetheless, I’ve acquired some cracking music over December – West African highlife; Czech funk; Spanish garage punk; a great Move CD and a whole collection of Jimmy Webb records. I’m truly a lucky feller…

I’m also very much enjoying this, at the moment.

Faust IV

Maybe it’s me, but the music world seems over the past few years to be awash with Krautrock. It’s everywhere: in the bands you hear about, the reviews you read, the liner notes you pore mi0002187528over. To avoid cliché, new (to me) words – “motoric” and “kosmische” for instance – have appeared. Loads of today’s new things have nailed the black, red and gold to their masthead and it’s become a pretty routine part of our 21st century melting pot. I’m not really complaining, it’s a genuinely interesting genre, as experimental and edgy as any other movement and one that was obviously massively influential on the coming bands of my own youth. It’s impossible to imagine, PiL and the rest of the fresh-faced Post-Punk crowd, straying from their limited palate without their European uncle-pioneers.

The first time I remember reading the term was in an interview with a fresh-faced Julian Cope (one of my first pop heroes), way back in the days when he was still a Teardrop and before his book started changing hands for eye-watering sums. In an interview with Pete Frame, he referenced “Can, Neu!, Faust, you know, those sorts of bands”.

I most certainly didn’t know. In fact, the first three words seemed entirely random collections of letters which in those pre-Internet days it was hard to check up on. In the head of an impressionable, not to say feverish, punter, they became the stuff of myth and allegory. Not to mention that bloody exclamation mark…

It’s all much easier, these days, of course; I own quite a few Can and Neu! records, but Faust I’d somehow not really got on board with. Until this year, when my sister bought me a birthday copy of Faust IV, and I really, really love it.

The well-informed folk who come here will, of course, know all about Faust, so I’m not going to run through the obvious (or, indeed, pretend that I’ve known it all for ages); but if you do need a little pick-me-up…

 

(And if you want more, this is quite good.)

The most well-known track on Faust IV is the monstrous opener, “Krautrock” itself (named presumably in defiance of the offhand British label which many of their compatriots found offensive).  I’d like to think they went out of their way to write the definitive Krautrock track, here, and, well, if they didn’t…

It’s a fuzzy, magnetic beast and for a track which does without drums for the first seven minutes, it’s conspicuously driven by the sturdiest of rhythms. In and out of the distortion, modified sounds appear (squawking guitars, metallic segments and backward loops). They mooch around a while and grudgingly slope off after a while. Perhaps I’m making it all sound a bit psychedelic but, really, it’s so damn harsh, so unforgiving that nothing could be further away from the innocent larks of the sixties. (And, by the way, the outtake of the same track, included on disk 2 of my version, is if anything muddier, nastier and more obdurate.)

faust_02I’ve frequently bought albums with one standout, famous track before and been disappointed by the rest of the record, but although “Krautrock” is still my favourite track, there’s really no rubbish on the rest of the record. There are moments which come close to the craziness of the opener, but many other strange, intriguing segments throughout. “Jennifer”, for example, starts off as a slightly curious song with actual lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on other people’s records. After its four-minute pop single phase, however, it moves characteristically into a howling, rasping segment of feedback, that eventually yields to some sort of irregular barrelhouse piano outro, all of which would most definitely have been out of place anywhere else.

From “Jennifer”, the record moves into “Just a Second (It starts like that)” which to my mind sounds a lot like Can, and makes me realise that for all the talk at the time of moving away from American R’nB and creating a uniquely European sound, a lot of the German bands spent a lot of time jamming, Dead-style. Within about a minute, however, the song sheds its skin again and is taken over by experimental synth sounds, again, with distorted cameos from different fragments of the band. I read somewhere that this second, third and fourth phase of a song is something the band delighted in, preferring, in fact, to think of these being bone-fide, distinct songs concealed within others.

The second disk actually has a ten-minute version of the first half of “Just a Second” which is all uninterrupted guitar freak-out. I’d say the fact that they didn’t use very much of this version in the original release is significant, preferring instead, to rough up the freak-out version, giving it a right old shoeing. There are other notable tracks too (“It’s a bit of a Pain”, for example, which would again look like a straight (-ish) seventies folk song, where it not for the shrieks of dissonant, digital nonsense that poke their noses in, periodically) but I’ve gone on enough.

There’s not a lot of seventies Faust on YouTube, which is a massive shame. Perhaps predictably, however, they’ve reformed and there’s footage of the new version (less predictably, they still sound way, way out there). Here’s a clip of the regrouped Faust, playing to a live backdrop of the 2012 Presidential Debates. Regrettably, there’s no Trump (now that’s a fist-fight, I’d pay to see), the cement mixer, however, is definitely out of retirement.

This is as close to worth it as we’ve been hoping for

field-music_creditandymartinActually, I do feel better for that.

Got a few comments about last night’s post and the, erm, tone of it. So I thought I’d probably better get in and talk about some of the records I actually liked from this year.

Like this one…

Commontime – Field Music

When I started to go through the aforementioned end-of-year lists I was struck by the fact that Field Music’s latest gift only came out this year – it seems like it came out ages ago. I’m tempted to think that Time really is a relative concept when it comes to Field Music records. They pack such a lot into every moment of every tune that the Old Feller does some sort of double-take, holds up for a moment and rewinds the tape. (You’ll notice that in my stuffed, overdone metaphor, for some reason Time still uses a shonky old cassette player…)

Talking about Field Music making one of the best records of the year is a bit like suggesting Barcelona could win the Champions League this season – not exactly sticking your neck out, are you? But there you are, if it’s quality, you might as well call it.

So another Field Music record, another ambitious record choc-full of twitching time signatures, bold but sparingly-used guitars, taut drumming and all manner of muted jiggery-pokery dancing around the edges. Such is the regularity and consistency of the Brewis’ output that at first I was tempted to add this to my “treading water” list of yesterday. Thankfully for my shot-to-pieces credibility, I gave it another listen and all manner of technicolour fantasia figures reintroduced themselves through my headphones. What beautiful, clever chappies they are.

One of the things that struck me at the time and even more so yesterday is the immediacy and warmth of the lyrics. Snatches of conversation fresh from the Brewis kitchen (I like to think) waft in and out of the songs, some of them alarmingly candid, almost ill-advisedly frank. Kind-hearted counsel, which in other less-skilled hands would sound arch or cheesy, is instead dispensed with tenderness and sympathy, and such is the legendary niceness of the brothers that I take it at the fullest of face values.

Some of the songs are damn funky (in spite of what they say), some are tricky listens (not going to lie to you…) and some pass you by completely until you take a moment, but all of them are intelligent and reward you for a careful listen (not always my speciality), new white horses rising to the surface with every listen.

Here’s a belting video of one of those KEXP sessions (God bless those folk) with a great interview with the brothers in the middle (where they talk about the “F” word) and the best version of Disappointed with its clever vocal interplay and heroic bassline.

The comments on any Field Music video are quite illuminating, siting all sorts of bands as influences almost all of whom I’ve either never bothered with or have high-handedly dismissed as beneath me.

Well, thank God for the Brewises!

I look around, nothing’s what it seems

angrykidDecember’s regular trawl through the various end-of-year lists leads me inevitably to a couple of thoughts:

”I should probably do one of these.” (Oh God…)

and, when the penny dropped,

“It’s been a pretty thin year, hasn’t it?”

I’m guessing at this point, there’ll be a few outraged hipsters jumping from their seats, tipping over metaphorical tables and storming out of the room, muttering dark words about the Cavern of Anti-Matter record or Amber Arcades’ Green Man set. But… I think I’m standing by it.

I say “I think” but I’m actually pretty sure – I know this because I wrote a list, although not an end-of-year list, ooh no:

2016 – Six Records I Hated:

 

MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen

OK, that’s a bit strong, it’s not at all bad, just not nearly as good Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which I really only discovered this year and to my ears sounds way better. Nothing on the new one is half as clever or witty as “Hi Five”. And while we’re on it, I disproportionately hate those bloody capitals.

FLOTUS – Lambchop

Again capitals? Really? And who had the bright idea to “correct” Kurt Wagner’s soulful, conversational vocals? This is the only record on the list I couldn’t bring myself to buy – couldn’t get past the wretched samples…

Void Beats/Invocation Trex – Cavern of Anti-Matter

Tried pretty hard to like this record (including another listen this morning), but I just don’t (no matter how many times Neu! are referenced in reviews)

IV – Black Mountain

Really, really liked their first album and remember playing the bejeezus out of it at the time, but this is awful – none of the cool fun, none of the loopy graceful style. Hard to believe this is the same band to be honest.

Modern Country – William Tyler

Read the reviews of this and was charmed by the “modern country” idea, but really, there’s just nothing there. One of those records that is good because people say it is. If you heard this playing in a lift, or at an airport, you’d probably wonder how on earth Pitchfork gave it an 8…

Fading Lines – Amber Arcades

Another record I tried and tried with, but tossed it away when I realised what I was doing. If only the rest of the album was as good as the title track…

2016 – Seven Quite Good Records by Bands I Cherish, that’ll *do*…

… but

 

Stiff – White Denim (highlights “Holda You (I’m Coming)” and “Big, Big Fun” but it’s no D)

Schmilco – Wilco (highlights: the line “Cry, like a window pane”, actually the whole song, but a few tracks that are pretty forgettable)

Here – Teenage Fanclub (hardly fair, I know. They’re Teenage Fanclub – if I wanted progression, I’m in the wrong relationship)

Singing Saw – Kevin Morby (Can’t understand this one’s appearance in all the lists – did no one hear the previous two records? Or his stuff with the Babies? Pretty thin stuff compared to these…)

City Sun Eater In The River Of Light – Woods (love this bunch, but, meh…)

Calico Review – the Allah-Lahs (memories of seeing them at Psychfest one year, possibly the coolest band I’ve ever seen. Where are they now?)

Hold/Still – Suuns (actually, Suuns may well be the coolest band I’ve ever seen, but I’ve gotta say, they’re losing me…)

 

2016 – Four Records I’ll Not Be Buying

(This is my Blog, and these are my prejudices)

 

22, A Million – Bon Iver (Sorry, but no.)

Blackstar – David Bowie (nope)

Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave (nope)

The bloody Radiohead record (I’m an old man, not going to change now)

 

D’you know? I feel a little better for that…

I can’t for the love of Jehovah comprehend why you knock at my door

hqdefaultOh cripes.

We’re mid-December already, and I’ve got those end-of-year lists to sort out. They really are everywhere and I feel bad about it, but I’m not sure I can be arsed…

How about something not 2016, not festive and not especially relevant to, well, anything? Yeah, back on home territory, thought you’d go for that…

Evan Dando

Was languidly thumbing through the CD pile the other day and I chanced upon Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame about Ray – a record I listened to a lot at the time but I don’t think I’ve touched for many, many years. You will, of course, know by now what a lovely group of songs it is, but it’s always a joy to revisit an old standard. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed belting out “Alison’s Starting to Happen”, crooning along to “It’s a Shame about Ray” and bawling “I… JUST…WANT… A BIT-PART… IN YOUR LIFE!” at the top of my voice, as I’ve driven around the ‘Shire over the past week.

But you know all this, and have presumably done the same yourselves. (That’s not just me, right?)

I’ve only just realised, however, that there’s an actual Evan Dando solo record – Baby, I’m Bored – which was released in 2003, and got into the UK Top 40 (so no real excuse for missing it, apart from the obvious). It’s a gap in my knowledge that I’ve been enthusiastically putting right over the last couple of days

And really, there are some picture-perfect songs on here, like this one, a ridiculously flawless ditty from an imaginary Gene/Gram songbook.

 

There are about three or four songs as good as this on the record (plus a bunch of only-slightly less successful ones). Songs such as “All My Life”, “Why do you do this to yourself?” and “Shots is Fired”, all of which deserve to be massive classics in anyone’s collection. They really benefit from the sparer sound solo work can give a writer, and show a temperate, self-knowing tone. Many of the songs are apparently directed at another but such is the man’s notoriously reckless approach to his own well-being that it’s impossible not to read into them a sense of self-rebuke (“whatever part of you that’s been calling the shots is fired…”.) And if it wasn’t already almost as well-known as his drug addictions, you’d have to realise pretty quickly that Evan Dando is a massive Hank Williams fan, with an intuitive sympathy for an old-school outlaw life – there’s apparently a whole album of Hank Williams covers recorded but never released.

You wonder about the man, really. A cursory trip around YouTube will deliver any number of pretty ragged live performances (including a gig he apparently did in his pyjamas), all of which make you worry a little for his state of mind, but then again the recently reformed version of Lemonheads has given us a couple of more than decent records.

Nothing as good as this, mind… (if you want to skip the slightly inane interview, and go straight to a terrific, sympathetic acoustic version of the song, go to 6:10)

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