Lest you all think that I only listen to Ambient and Progressive Rock music, I also listen to many other genres including Country music…wait, WAIT, don’t close the window–you won’t regret it!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain): This new album by SS is the real deal. Great country songs about real stuff with great music, and even better the first single released is Turtles All The Way Down (with a nod in the title to Stephen Hawking) and it’s deliciously psychedelic with reverb, phasing-shifting and Mellotron. Give it a listen:
Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (SubPop): From Record Store Day 2013, I missed this single, but I found it on RSD 2014 in the back of the singles bin—aha! The A side is by Tom Petty (which I can take or leave), but the gem is Jonathan Meiburg’s A Wake For The Minotaur—it’s just plain stunning. This live version features vocalist Jesca Hoop.
Songs: Ohia – Journey On Collected Singles (Secretly Canadian): Not much I can say about the tragic loss of Jason Molina that hasn’t already been written. Thank goodness we have Molina’s musical legacy, including his last band Magnolia Electric Company—great songs and music and many of subjects of Molina’s songs turned out to be prophetic. Long before he died, his last label Secretly Canadian was discussing releasing a boxed set of the early singles of Songs: Ohia, many of them quite rare and long out of print. Unfortunately Jason didn’t live to see it. It’s a beautiful blue cloth wrapped boxed set of nine 7” singles with a separate book of the original artwork and song histories and a CD compilation of all the singles. These were available on Record Store Day 2014 and they disappeared quickly…I was very fortunate to find a copy. Here’s a video on the set. If you can find one, buy it, you won’t regret it.
Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond (Other Music Recording Co.): Bob Boilen from NPR’s All Songs Considered got me to this album. Part folk, part psychedelic and reminds me a bit of a softer Grizzly Bear (the band) at times.
Ben Watt – Hendra (Caroline – Unmade Road): I’ve been a fan of Everything But The Girl (ETBG) since their early days and then Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt put that project on an indefinite hold while they pursued other musical endeavors and had a family. Tracey has released a number of excellent solo albums and this is Ben’s first solo album—very introspective. My favorite song is The Levels and David Gilmour plays slide guitar. This is a live version:
Lee Gobbi – Purple Prose (www.leegobbi.com): Lee is a fan of Progressive Rock music and the influences are clear on his self-produced debut album of mostly original songs with guest appearances by alums of the original 1970s and 80s Steve Hackett band. There are strong shades of The Beatles, ELO and the vibe of George Harrison’s work in this album. There are a couple of covers, a Stu Nunnery tune Madelaine (remember Stu Nunnery from the early 1970s?!) and a haunting version of Nick Drake’s Parasite. A brilliant first album, and I hear that there is a second album in the works—stay tuned. I’ll post some sound samples when they are available.
John Pizzarelli – Double Exposure (Telarc): This album from 2012 is of song interpretations and some pairings by Jazz guitarist (and son of Bucky Pizzarelli) and Popular song-man. The album is largely covers, with an original by Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey Take A Lot Of Pictures (picking up where Michael Franks left off with his song Popsicle Toes). My favorite is the soulful Neil Young song Harvest Moon.
Elaine Radigue – Trilogie de la Mort (Experimental Intermedia): When I reviewing Nicholas Szczepanik’s latest album Not Knowing, I noticed the dedication to French composer and electronic music pioneer Elaine Radigue (born 1932) and I was reminded of this 3 CD trilogy that was composed as a tribute to her son upon his death. It’s very minimal with gradual layers in parts and intense at others. Like most of her other work it was composed on an Arp 2500 modular synthesizer. Since 2001 she has composed on and for primarily acoustic instruments.
Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge Records): This is the band that started Merge Records (http://www.mergerecords.com/i-hate-music) and if you have a chance read their book Our Noise – The Story of Merge Records. I heard FOH (stands for Front of House) just before the album was released and ordered it instantly (and then waited, since it was a preorder). Be careful, it’s raucous!
Tomotsugu Nakamura – Soundium (Kaico): I have Tench and Words On Music label’s Marc Ostermeier to thank for getting me to Nakamura’s work. He is a sound artist from Tokyo and Soundium is an album of microtones, springy and glitchy rhythms and fractional sound samples. The sounds and instrumentation are so pure—this is a great album and delightfully quirky at times. http://naturebliss.bandcamp.com/album/soundium
Lateral reference: Soundium reminds me of the absolutely enchanting album In Light by 12k label’s Small Color (and I think that everyone should buy this album): http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/in_light/
Federico Durand – El estanque esmeralda (Spekk): I find this album to be Durand’s most melodic work so far. Many of his previous albums and collaborations focus on longer form field recordings combined with bells, wind chimes and other instrumentation. This album concentrates on childhood memories of places and times, presented in delightfully concise pieces . The three latest Spekk label releases are in the larger format CD sleeves and they are a welcomed change from small digipacks, jewel boxes or (worse yet) plain sleeves. The music AND the art matters. http://www.spekk.net/catalog/esmeralda.html
Celer – Zigzag (Spekk): Will Long AKA Celer is well known for his extensive ambient works and soundtracks. This is a more rhythmic (albeit subtle) electronic work. Have a listen: http://www.spekk.net/artists/celer.html
Melodia – Saudades (Kaico): Melodia is a collaboration of Federico Durand and Tomoyoshi Date. I missed the original LP on the Own Records label, so I was quite pleased that Kaico released a CD version. More here: http://kaicojapan.tumblr.com/
Opitope – Hau (Spekk): This is the first album by Tomoyoshi Date and Chihei Hatakeyama. Micro-tones, found sounds, ambient and field recordings along with instrumental (acoustic and electronic) improvisation make up Hau. The album is charmingly subtle at times and crystalline at others. The pieces are observations and explorations of places and experiences. http://www.spekk.net/artists/opitope.html
Opitope – Physis (Spekk): This is the latest CD from Opitope. The pieces are longer form than on Hau and curiously feel more like minimalist Jazz, at times. The instrumentation is more direct (recognizable), yet the environmental and visual influences are still present.
William Tyler – Lost Colony 12” 45 RPM EP (Merge Records): Unlike Tyler’s recent (and fabulous) album Impossible Truth, which is a solo guitar album, this EP is a band release and Tyler reinterprets the track We Can’t Go Home, covers Michael Rother’s Karussel and the entirety of Side A is devoted to Whole New Dude. Dude is a ramble with a meandering opening (with excellent pedal steel by Luke Schneider) and then sets off on a driving rhythm (drums, guitar, pedal steel and bass) for the duration. It’s a traveling song, heading out “there” to explore, and Tyler lets it rip towards the end. http://www.mergerecords.com/lost-colony
Orcas – Yearling (Morr Music): Orcas are Benoit Pioulard (another guise of Tom Meluch) and Rafael Anton Irisarri. This is the follow-up to their first eponymous collaboration in 2012. Yearling is part environmental instrumentals and part songs. The opening instrumental track Petrichor reminds me of Brian Eno’s The Spider and I from the 1977 album Before and After Science. I complained about the tone and mastering of BP’s most recent album, but this album sounds MUCH better. The songs are lush with vocals and harmonies by Pioulard—really nice music with oft-catchy refrains.
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
Tympanik Audio: CD TA079 Time: About 49 minutes
Music – Zinovia [Arvanitidi]: www.facebook.com/ZinoviaMusic
Label – Tympanik Audio: www.tympanikaudio.com/artists/zinovia
Artwork – Shift: http://www.futurorg.com/
Mastered by Alexander Dietz Mixed by John Valasis
Tracks: 1) The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin, 2) Communicating Vessels, 3) Chimera, 4) Entangled, 5) Emerge To Breathe, 6) Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open, 7) Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips, 8) Beneath A Stellar Sky, 9) A Time To Make Amends
I suspect that most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but every once in a while finding oneself on the cusp of an adventure seems rather tempting. A while back, author David Schickler wrote a book Kissing in Manhattan; it’s mysteriously haunting and strange—as if eavesdropping on people, places and their situations; the kinds of experiences that only happen to others. So, imagine arriving at home some night and seeing a note pinned to the door: “Meet me at ___ at 9 pm”, signed “___” (you fill in the blanks). Would you go?
I’ve mentioned it before: my strongest connection to music is when it takes me somewhere—whether an escape, a fantasy, to relax or to find a groove, and Zinovia’s The Gift of Affliction is a nearly perfect connection; even better, it’s beautifully recorded and produced. This album has the broad pulse of a city, its dark spaces and verve with occasional tender moments. It tells a story with many possible beginnings and endings.
First, I posit that the sounds in this album have a connection to the vast works of fellow Greek countryman Vangelis Papathanassiou (listen to his 1990 album The City, and passages in the dark soundtrack to the film Bladerunner)—if only for historical influences or connections, yet Zinovia’s album has a clear and freshly expressive voice of its own. I also wonder, given the recent political and economic times in Greece, if there are any political undertones or foreboding woven into the narrative.
Second, I am most familiar with Zinovia Arvanitidi’s recent collaboration (on Kitchen Label) with Hior Chronik as the duo Pill-Oh, their Kitchen Label release Vanishing Mirror was a favorite of mine in 2012. I love the reflective track Melodico. It’s a compassionate album, but The Gift of Affliction is quite different in every way, except in the strong musicianship and production.
Throughout the entire album there is a constant shift from the ethereal to the grounded, reality to fantasy, electronic to acoustic; and as quickly as we are in a sonically amorphous zone, the vibe moves from solitary to a full ensemble of electronica or jazz undertones—a genre-bending and cohesive swirl.
It could be late at night or in the early hours of a morning; from the first plaintive beats of The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin all the characters are furtively introduced into the narrative with an broad ambience, beats, melodica and piano (the latter two, perhaps being the voices of the main characters). Unexpected sounds enter and vanish in Communicating Vessels; there is movement of people, vehicles and information in this new place, yet despite all the motion there is a comforting presence of the familiar (the recurrent melodica and piano). One doesn’t want to be swept-away too quickly. But adventures are not without complications, but why not enjoy the ride?
The mythic shift begins in Chimera, a fantasy of sound and voices, expansive, getting absorbed into the experience and the implausible. Momentary introspection follows in Entangled—the deep and centered beats, one of the most absorbing (and longest) tracks on the album—I think my favorite too. The narrating melodica returns, in conversation with the piano, they weave into each other, in and out of the pulse. Emerge To Breathe is a shift from interiors to exteriors, traveling, sounds of rails and stations (like Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, but more ominous).
Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open is the darkest and most vulnerable of scenes on the album, yet there is an alluring comfort in the melody of a solo piano (with string accompaniment). Key shifts are slowly introduced, along with an emotional realism and sense of doubt, yet still one is drawn further into the fantasy of…
…Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips and its out-of-focus depth of field with moving colored lights—a sonic tilt-shift in a smoky jazz club with the liberation of dream-like voices. The adventure nears its end with Beneath A Stellar Sky, out in the open, holding onto the escape. It’s a reluctant emergence and one last taste of the vibrations of the night. A Time To Make Amends is the return from fantasy, the pensive melancholy, with a reflective and intimate close, accentuated all the more with the sounds of the internal workings of Zinovia’s piano.
In case you’re wondering, I did take the note from my door and went on the adventure, and you should too.
This is a solicited review.
Hush Hush Records # HH011 CD: About 38 minutes
Tracks: 1) Following, 2) Secret Angle, 3) Animal Totem, 4) Night Valley, 5) Looking Out, 6) Red Touch, 7) Inner Portal, 8) Kicking In, 9) Melt Down, 10) I’ve Got A Feeling, 11) Night Rising, 12) Myself Inside
I’m thrilled that Cock & Swan have a new album. With each release it’s apparent that their confidence is growing, and even better, they’re still experimenting. From their earliest albums like Drawing From Memory (2007) and Unrecognize (2010) their sound ranged from rough synthesized foundations, tape and microphone experiments to nearly extreme lo-fi acoustic recordings. The 2012 album Stash (I reviewed early last year) had moved their sound from more electronic towards “…a record focused on acoustic instrumentation…” For their forthcoming album (to be released on September 10th) Secret Angles they are combining the acoustic instrumentation with more of their electronic roots—the sound is fuller, rhythmically engaging and more up-beat. Secret Angles moves between many different genres: progressive, electronica, acoustic and electric folk, house, dance and many others—it doesn’t dwell in one realm for long, but the album is not at all disjointed—it’s quite cohesive.
The acoustic and analog roots of Cock & Swan are still strong, and they appear as Following begins with the sound of tape mechanisms and immediately a seductive pulse, electric guitar riffs and Ola’s soft voice initiate their hypnotic spell. By contrast the title track shifts to a darker, looped and gritty electronic foundation (and we are awakened briefly from our pastoral spell). Animal Totem is quite reminiscent of the latter day Everything But The Girl’s track Before Today from their album Walking Wounded, when ETBG’s music shifted from coffee house to a darkened house vibe, but C&S’s Animal Totem is earthier and more acoustic with broad clarinet washes added by Hungerford.
With Night Valley, the album shifts to an even glitchier more experimental sphere where Ola’s voice and some of the instrumentation are bent and shifted and the sound enters a mysterious territory. Looking Out continues with electronic, vocal loops, an almost Mellotron Brass sound and what I call “heavy drums.” As I noted with their album Stash—tracks like these are reminiscent of King Crimson’s earlier work as on In The Wake of Poseidon. The album also contains some short instrumental and vocal links (Red Touch and I’ve Got A Feeling) which are samples disguised elsewhere in other tracks.
Tracks often start with samples and a vibe that are then absorbed into the mix of a song; Inner Portal illustrates this with Ola’s vocal and breath loops coupled with what almost sounds like a ship’s steam-powered horn and it’s woven together with a heavy dub beat and coarse under-pinnings. The chorus adds an acoustic guitar (a contrast of the heavy with the delicate). This is a great track and one of my favorites on the album, along with the first three. By comparison Kicking In is quite stark in its percussion and rhythm section before gathering momentum into the vocals. Melt Down is the most electronically layered of the songs, and Ola’s vocals calm the mood and fill the spaces.
Only once did I feel like I had a sense of some monotony drifting in during the track, Night Rising—after a while it didn’t really take me anywhere…a bit like some of Edgar Froese’s (Tangerine Dream) solo work of the late 1970s. It’s a vocal and rhythm-section drone. The album closes with Myself Inside, which harkens back to Cock & Swan’s stark early work—an acoustic guitar (in the character of a child’s toy piano), a simple rhythm and Ola’s vocals layered with deep breathing.
Since I’m working with a promo recording, I don’t have access to the lyrics or the personnel list for the album, so I’m not sure if there are other musicians on the album besides Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford. It’s also worth noting that Johnny Goss provides engineering and recording support for other Seattle-based musicians, including one band that recently caught my attention, La Luz (absolutely infectious 60s surf-pop) fronted by Shana Cleveland.
After Secret Angles, I’ll be very interested in hearing where Cock & Swan takes us next. Don’t miss this album, and seek out a copy of their last, Stash too.
Cock & Swan – Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss – Photo by Angel Ceballos
This is a solicited review
CD: Emarcy B0018605-02 Time: About 62 minutes www.johnscofield.com
Band: John Scofield: Guitar, Avi Bortnick: Guitar and Samples, Andy Hess: Bass, Adam Deitch: Drums, Louis Cato: Drums, Special Guest: John Medeski: Organ, Wurlitzer and Mellotron
Tracks: Camelus, Boogie Stupid, Endless Summer, Dub Dub, Cracked Ice, Al Green Song, Snake Dance, Scotown, Torero, Curtis Knew, Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely
Between his solo and collaborative work, John Scofield has appeared on more than a hundred albums since the 1970s (including his early work with Miles Davis). His first Überjam album was released in 2002. As with the first album, Scofield moves all around and in between music genres, Jazz, Rock, Blues and Funk. Many of the tracks on Überjam Deux start with a sound or rhythm sample and the quartet (switching between drummers Adam Deitch and Louis Cato) build a groove and just chill there or get their funk-on. My two favorite tracks are Boogie Stupid (which reminds me of Roy Buchanan’s work) and one of the five tracks with John Medeski Curtis Knew, where Medeski brilliantly has his way with a Mellotron—just delicious. In recent years I’ve greatly enjoyed Scofield’s collaborative work with Medeski, Martin & Wood. Überjam Deux is a joyful album and I can’t help but think that John Scofield was sending positive vibes to his son Evan during the recording of this album earlier this year (Evan died far, far too young in July, from a rare form of cancer). A bitter-sweet album, yet excellent for a road trip or listening at home.
Rest in Peace, Evan.
More on the album in this video
RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53 (LP version coming soon)
Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued
Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums
Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today. Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance. Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.
A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010). Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever). Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:
Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction. In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film. There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble. The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*. There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”
The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies. As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album). One can make up their own story to accompany the music.
The Vindicator Returns
There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts. Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates. The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp. The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.
Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano. There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days. The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.
This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!
Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords
* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA
This is a solicited review.
Volume One – SoundSignals – #HCC001
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/soundsignals/
CD 1 (Time: 39:08): Sound Signals: Act 1: On Land, Act II: On Water, Act III: A Year, Coda: Route Six
CD 2 (Time: 46:24): Signals Remixed: 1: Goldmund, 2: Marcus Fischer, 3: Loscil, 4: Taylor Deupree, 5: Neara Russell, 6: FourColor, 7: Steve Wilkes, 8: Simon Scott, 9: FourColor & SoundSignal
Volume Two – Upstream by Fordham Wilkes – #HCC002
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/upstream/
CD (Time: 37:08): 1) Gates of Summer, 2: The Language of Birds, 3: GP Road Resonator, 4: Dive Down, 5: Upstream, 6: June, 7: Shifting Sand, 8: Fog, 9: The Message
Sound Archive: http://www.hearcapecod.org/ListView.php
Recordings mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering
Since the middle of 2011, Berklee College of Music professor, percussionist and Blue Man Group alum, Steve Wilkes has been working on a project to capture the sounds of Cape Cod over a year and to map those sounds as an aural history of the region (the far eastern end of Massachusetts in the northeastern United States). The project was funded in part by the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship. The region has undergone many environmental and man-made changes, from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to residential development. It was Wilkes’ feeling that the region is measured and analyzed in many ways (like bird population counts, temperature and sea levels), but there was yet to be a base-line environmental sound analysis examining animal, environmental and cultural activity in the region.
At this point, the project consists of 3 CDs: 1, a collection of regional sounds; 2, the sounds remixed by a number of musicians who will be familiar to many, and 3, a song-cycle inspired by the region at various times throughout the year (which also incorporates many of the environmental sound recordings and the detailed credit links give an excellent overview of the variety on-location recordings). The album artwork evokes pleasant memories of worn edged blue-green beach-glass.
CD 1 is a sonic time capsule, and at first it reminded me of a number of sound effects and spoken word recordings of the 1940s and 50s, and for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing a snippet of the old records by Bert and I. It also had the immediate effect of taking me back in time to the days when I summered on “The Cape” as a child with my parents in the early 1960s. The documentation of the region also harkens back to some of the expansive sound archive work by Alan Lomax. This CD chronicles the sounds of land, water and activities that mark the course of a year from a First Night Noise Parade to the calming summertime beach surf. It closes with the reading of the poem Route Six by Stanley Kunitz (being the road that travels down the center of the “flexed arm” of Cape Cod, reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean).
Having lived in a beach-town region in nearby southern Connecticut, I am also reminded that a resort region like The Cape has two lives—the times when the summer-folk occupy and the off-season when only the locals remain. The off-season is the time when locals can take long walks on the shore beaches and see very few people. Life goes on in a different way after the tourists have left in the autumn.
Taylor Deupree’s Remix
Wind Chimes Field Recording That Inspired TD’s Remix
CD 2 is a sensitively created set of interpretive remixes by many well known artists in the current electro-acoustic, ambient and electronic music communities (see list above). The field recordings from CD 1 are delightfully co-mingled with the offerings from each of the artists (well documented at the web link also noted above). I was immediately struck by the opening notes of the first track by Goldmund (Keith Kenniff), the piano melody being very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ Death of a Knight from Henry: Portrait from Tudor Times (from the album The Geese and The Ghost), before drifting into a dream-state with seaside, night-time crickets and Morse Code pulses.
Field Recording for FourColor Remix
Most of the remixes are by artists who have done work strongly connected with outdoor environs and water (as in the Flaming Pines label Rivers Home series), like Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree and Simon Scott (to name a few). The character of this disc ranges from contemplative to glitchy (FourColor) to playfully rhythmic (as in Loscil’s remix). The remix by Steve Wilkes includes the first HearCapeCod recording made in Truro at Corn Hill Beach in the summer of 2002. The CD closes with a collaboration of FourColor and SoundSignal (Wilkes) and is the most melodic and rhythmic of the tracks of the album. This CD forms a strong connection to the foundation provided by Wilkes’ research and recordings. As much as I’m tempted to suggest that this CD be made available separately, after spending time with the entire set, it is actually a quite inseparable part of the whole.
CD 3 Upstream, is a song cycle by the duo Fordham Wilkes (Ginny Fordham: vocals, Steve Wilkes: drums with Crit Harmon: guitars and Keiichi Sugimoto: guitars) and is inspired by years of memories of time on Cape Cod and it is the most personal of the three discs. Fond recollections of places run deep for many and they have different effects on people. This is where the project transforms from being objective (CD 1) to the most reflective and personal (while avoiding sentimentality).
The album has a sense of welcoming and ease, enjoying summer breezes, wading in tidal pools, walking in sanctuaries or along beaches. There is no heavy foreboding or hand-wringing of what was or could be; the feeling is that of the now and hopefulness, and Ginny Fordham’s voice brings a relaxing calm to the album. Gates of Summer opens CD3 and is forms an instrumental and melodic transition from the last track of CD2. The Language of Birds plays rhythmically with a juxtaposition and syncopation of the instrumentation and avian field recordings.
GP Road Resonator
The Field Recording Forming Basis for GP Road Resonator
The ever-present drone of automobile traffic is also a reality of summers on The Cape (whether passing over the Sagamore or Bourne bridges before necking down to Route 6 or at the half-way point to Provincetown, in Eastham) and these sounds are merged with fleeting views to salt marshes in the pensive GP Road Resonator. As in CD 1, there are songs of Land as well as Water, as in Dive Down and Upstream (as much a metaphor for returning to and rebirth of the area as it is the traffic on Route 6 that one is “swimming” against!).
CD 3 is also a reflection of CD 1’s A Year, The Cape in song over the course of a single circumnavigation of our Earth around the Sun. As the album progresses through the summer and into the end of a year (June, Shifting Sand and Fog) it grows more contemplative with the advancing of the calendar, melding dreams with reality. Each Spring many look forward the approaching time outside and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, Summer is over. The album closes with The Message, an inspiration left in a voicemail, which ultimately is the beacon announcing the sense of place of The Cape that inspired the HearCapeCod project.
The release date (May 28, 2013) for this set is at the unofficial “gate of summer” season, just after Memorial Day weekend. These albums will be available at: Booksmith Musicsmith, Orleans, MA: https://www.facebook.com/BooksmithMusicsmith , Muir Music, Provincetown, MA: https://www.facebook.com/muirmusic5 , The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: http://ccmnh.org/, CD Baby: SoundSignals On CD Baby, iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes/ and Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/
RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)
Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water
Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.
We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies. The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind. Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.
Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often. The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!). There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.
Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”. The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp). The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard. The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame). Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.
The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton. Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2. There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip. The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!
Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen. I think you’ll feel better.
This is a solicited review.
Anthony Phillips: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/
Ant’s friend and illustrator Peter Cross: http://petercrossart.com/
Ant’s (too occasional) collaborator Enrique Berro Garcia: http://quiqueberro.com/
Although he was 18 when he departed from the band Genesis in 1970, many still associate Ant Phillips almost exclusively with that band (despite his approximately 40 commercially released solo albums and collaborations since 1970 in addition to his vast output of library music compositions and commission work). I have been very fortunate over the years to acquire all of these albums, and each time I place one of Ant’s albums on my turntable or a CD player his music takes me to another place and time (the ups and downs of a life). Ant’s music has been a big part of my life and I owe a great deal of my own creative work to being inspired by his. I think Ant said it best on his second Private Parts and Pieces album Back To The Pavilion (released in 1980): “This album is dedicated to all those who still champion the “old fashioned” ideas of beauty, lyricism and grandeur in art against the tide of cynical intellectualism and dissonance.” Many of Ant’s earlier albums are now being completely remastered (from the source tapes) and reissued (often in double CD releases).
Ant and Quique from PP&PPIII – Antiques: Old Wives Tales
Also spinning these days are albums by:
Three Metre Day – Coasting Notes
I have a ceramic artist friend (Hayne Bayless at Sideways Studios) to thank for getting me to these folks (often the best music comes from referrals by friends). At times their music is somewhat mournful, but always reflective and passionate—this trio from Canada is Michelle Willis, Hugh Marsh and Don Rooke with guest appearances by bassist David Piltch and drums by Davide Direnzo. The album is up-close, largely acoustic in instrumentation and delightfully musical.
Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere
At times the music is delicate and others it’s intense, but it’s always inventive and beautifully recorded. Rhian Sheehan is from New Zealand and has released 7 albums under his name as well as appeared on many compilations and soundtracks.
Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
I sometimes find Samuel Beam’s work to be a bit too intense and serious, but his latest album is open, hopeful and at times playful. The first single Joy is beautiful.
Wire – Change Becomes Us
I kind of lost touch with Wire after their albums Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, but I rediscovered their more recent albums when I updated my original recordings with CD reissues. If this new album sounds a bit like it comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s post punk era it’s because many of the songs were written back then, and haven’t seen the light of day until now. The recordings and production are full, with great clarity and this album just makes me want to turn up the amplifiers.
You can listen to the entire album here: https://soundcloud.com/wirehq/sets/change-becomes-us
Montt Mardié – Skaizerkite
Record Label: http://hybr.is/
David Olof Peter Pagmar has taken many identities and until a few years ago he was Montt Mardié (his website is now defunct) and he has since moved on to new projects, but in early 2009 this was his album of excellent pop tunes and ballads—beautifully recorded and produced. The entire album can be streamed here:
Jonas Munk – Searching For Bill (Original Soundtrack)
Jonas Munk has released many great albums and collaborations as Manual and more recently as Billow Observatory, but this is his first soundtrack. The documentary Searching For Bill is Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s debut and it explores the meaning of life for those living on the edge of American society. It’s a sensitive and contemplative soundtrack.
Many of these albums are available directly from the artists’ websites or at online merchants like http://darla.com/
Happy Listening and Spring (finally)!
Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
Please note that all photos are by wajobu.com unless the image is suffixed with “IAB”, in which case it’s by Isaac Burns. We retain all copyrights to the images, but if you choose to borrow or share an image, please at least credit one or both of us. Thank you.