Categories
Art Pop Experimental Song of the Day Synth Pop

Song of the Day (The Chain): The Art Of Noise – Close (To The Edit)

Day 39. Sticking with Buffalo Gals & Video Killed The Radio Star composer Trevor Horn for todays entry. The Art Of Noise were/are an Avant Garde/Synth Pop/Sampled Sound Collage group formed in the early ’80’s. Named after a book on Italian Futurism, their Spotify artist bio describes them as “futurists in the sense that they were interested in the future, in making the future a better place, in the technology of the future, in turning up in the future, in sounding like they belonged in the future.”

Close (To The Edit) is a chaotic sound collage of funky, synthetic breakbeats. It’s video depicts the band & a young girl destroying a Piano in an industrial looking location. This says more about the track & its intent than words ever could.

Hey! Yeah!

Dum! Dum!

Tra la la

Clo-clo-clo-close
To to to to the edge
To to to to the edge

To be in England
In the summertime
With my love
Close to the edge

Keep up to date with the Song of the Day (The Chain) Spotify playlist.

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Electronic Music Experimental Indie Rock Overlooked Classics

Overlooked Classics: Ian Brown – Unfinished Monkey Business

Overlooked Classics: Ian Brown – Unfinished Monkey Business

Music journalists writing about Ian Brown’s solo debut in ’98 made a huge deal about two points. First, they waxed lyrical about the acrimonious bitterness between Brown & Stone Roses guitarist John Squire. Many of the snarkier, angrier lyrics were assumed to be about him. One of the track titles, Ice Cold Cube, was said to be a nickname Stone Roses drummer Reni had for Squire. Secondly, all of the reviews mentioned the Lo-Fi production of the album. Recorded & produced by Brown with just a handful of collaborators, Brown recorded the majority of it at home, playing most of the instruments himself, learning to play each instrument as & when he needed to for the production.

The Lo-Fi production is, in my opinion, one of the albums key strengths, after the excellent songwriting. Placing Unfinished Monkey Business in context, we see that, around the time it was released, unconventional & experimental music was taking British subculture by storm. Radio One’s Breezeblock, hosted by Mary Anne Hobbes was promoting & breaking everything from the sampled smorgasbord of breakbeats & funk of the Lo Fidelity Allstars, the proto-Post Rock of early Mogwai & the frazzled alt-country of artists like Scott 4. In a year in which The Beta Band could release a song like Inner Meet Me, Unfinished Monkey Business fit in just fine.

The broken drum machine sound collage of the opening track Under The Paving Stones: The Beach, with its distorted toy noise & allusions to the Situationist International slogans, it was a perfect fit in the contemporary morass of underground experimental music. Its segue into the sampled sitar & Sci-Fi shenanigans of lead single My Star is truly thrilling. Psychedelic soundscapes fused with solid, low frequency rhythm section which owes as much to Dub as it does to Indie. Can’t See Me is a leftover Stone Roses tune (they played it live in their later shows) in the same vein as the funk-enthused singles like Fools Gold or One Love. Stone Roses rhythmists Reni & Mani guest on this, lending the album feeling of continuity with his precious band. Ice Cold Cube is Psychedelic, Sergeant Peppers stomp with snarky lyrics taking aim at John Squire. Sunshine is a kind of Psychedelic folk strum along, likened in the ’98 NME review to ‘60’s hippy troubadour Donovan. Lions, employing the vocal talents of Denise Johnson (of Screamadelica fame), is rough & raw Synth Pop with distorted noise bursts & jagged edges which a “professional” producer would have probably smoothed out.

Corpses In Their Mouths is slow burning Psychedelic Pop with guitars that morph between rhythmic & ambient, rock steady Dub rhythms & atmospheric harmonica blasts. Its title is another reference to Situationists International sloganeering. What Happened To Ya Part 1 is upbeat Folk Pop while Part 2 is the kind of Funk-infused, Psyche guitar jam that John Squire should have been making. Nah Nah is fuzzy Folk with handclaps, melodic lead guitars & echoing handclaps. One of the most memorable choruses of the ‘90’s too. Not sure why it wasn’t released as a single. They’d still be playing it on daytime radio today. Deep Pile Dreams is the most blatant of the anti-Squire tunes here. Its caustic lyrics attacking his alleged drug issues (“I only ever wanted the one with the flag/all you ever wanted was a $60 bag”) over a downtempo, Lo-Fi drum machine & synth soundscape. The closing track, Unfinished Money Business, is the deepest into Dub territory that the album dares to go. Bold, heavy drum machine patterns, subterranean bass lines & echoey analogue synths create a moody & atmospheric sonic terrain.

I found that these videos of Top Of The Pops appearances were charming & help to place the Unfinished Monkey Business into temporal context, so give them a watch. I especially like the guy “playing” eggs in the My Star performance.

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Categories
Electronic Music Experimental Folk Hauntology

Intermission – Ghost Box Recordings

Ghost Box is as much a parallel universe, or an alternative present, as it is a record label. It’s music, the achingly niche Hauntology, is a cross-dimensional transmission from a world where the postwar consensus of democratic socialism was never subjugated by the negating homogenisation effects of Neoliberalism. Instead, the warm, parental powers of a benevolent bureaucracy would have carried us forward into near-utopian levels of prosperity & comfort.

Hauntology, & Ghost Box particularly, is the sound of musicians & artists mourning the loss of that particular present. It’s a futuristic sound which hearkens backwards to the last time that futuristic sounds actually sounded ahead of us, chronologically. It is a sound which is equally steeped in warmth & stasis. A nostalgic cry for a better world in this age of stillness.

from O.E.D.

Intermission, the new compilation album consisting of new material from many of Ghost Box’s top tier artists – The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly, Plone, Roj to name a few – comes during an intermission forced upon us by the global Pandemic, & as a result of it. It’s songs draw from both forthcoming Ghost Box releases & ones which were specially recorded/produced for this compilation.

The record starts with reverb soaked drums, a ’70’s style TV ident melody & the following reading by writer Justin Hopper over a shifting, warm soundscape:

What are the dimensions of a memory? What is its square footage? And where do its boundaries lie? We speak, sometimes, of gaps in our memories, as though our past exists only in what we can still see in our minds eye. But what if there are no gaps? What if they are, instead, memories themselves? Memories of a pause. Let’s experiment together. Let’s take a moment to forget all the actions and events of our lives, and gather up instead all of the gaps, string them together into one long memory of intermissions. And if we do, will it be silent? I don’t think so. I think it will sound of a hum. A hum that slowly builds until it begins to buzz, and eventually, quietly, to roar.

It’s both comforting & unsettling. The warmth of the soundscape is undercut with a sense of foreboding that it’s hard to place. It’s also pleasant to think of intermissions, pauses, as being important enough to form together into a buzz, a roar. It’s a welcome reminder that banal balance of pandemic lockdown is important. You might not be able to do what you want to do but you are still living your life, & time at rest in the age of Neoliberalism is a rarity we must treasure while we can.

Melancholic beauty abounds on Intermission. The Advisory Circle’s Airflow is downtempo analogue synth lines & Lo-Fi drum machine loops bubbling away deep beneath the comfort blanket of the nostalgic melodies.Woodbury Vale by The Hardy Tree is bucolic beauty & sugar sweet analogue synth tones. Beautify Junkyards (excellent name) is adventurous synth Folk, drenched in atmospheric reverb & whimsical, slow motion tropicalia percussion. Sharon Krauss’ Tell Me Why is gorgeous droning, folk, infused with recorder & melodic bell tones.

Justin Hopper delivers another spoken word on soundscape track in the middle of the album. An intermission in Intermission, I guess. A brief, relaxing walk through the Recreation Park. A macabre story of walking home from school after some momentous event involving an explosion.

The Animal Door by Roj (Stevens of Broadcast) is somewhere between a mangled tape experiment & warped ’60’s Psychedelia. Jangly guitars & winding organ melodies set against a backdrop of electronically manipulated drums, it’s as upbeat & relentlessly happy as it is druggy. ToiToiToi, with two songs, utilise simple, percussive melodies looping over library recording style found sound collages & Lo-Fi beats. It’s very lowkey & subtle.

Modern Reels, by Pye Corner Audio, is spectral, dubby, minimal techno while Photon Dust is the analogue sound palate of Hauntology applied to the downtempo heaviness of Hip Hop. If DJ Shadow had room full of analogue synths rather than a pile of Vinyl & an MPC. Plone’s Running And Jumping is manic depressive video game music which reminds me of the wonderful soundtrack to the fictional videogame Petscop.

The Focus Group, with Focustone 1 & Focustone 2 offers a couple of short but sweet electronic sketches. Belbury Poly’s They Left On A Morning Like This, the penultimate track, sees widescreen, cinematic synth strings juxtaposed against analogue arpeggios & lowkey drum machine patterns. The whole song is enveloped in a kind of slow, graceful melancholia which seems to encapsulate the tone of the whoel album.

The album ends on another Justin Hopper reading, this time with sounds from The Focus Group. Intermission Conclusion has more than a hint of The Twilight Zone about it.

Memory isn’t boundless, and it isn’t perfect. We all know that. But is it even on our side? Maybe it’s closest to right when we remember the unmemorious. The gaps, the ice glare, the sheet wind, the circuits and ash. Maybe the gaps are where memory comes into its own, when its partisans join us in the struggle, in those in-between hours. Maybe it’s at its most accurate when it joins us, here, in the intermission.

Intermission is out now on Ghost Box.

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Categories
Experimental Indie Rock

The Flaming Lips – Dinosaurs On The Mountain

The Flaming Lips take the concept of social distancing to its psychedelic, yet logical, conclusion in the video for new single Dinosaurs On The Mountain. Vocalist Wayne Coyne has been using a giant hamster ball as part & parcel of his stage show for absolutely years now, I saw it in person in 2006 at the O2 Wireless Festival. He used the prop to roll around on the heads of the crowd, it was quite thrilling. In the Dinosaurs On The Mountain video the whole band ha been given their own personalised hamster balls to perform the song in (except for the drummers, they have to share one big ball, but as a concession they wear facemasks). And not just the band. The audience watching the performance are in hamster balls too. It looks weird but not in a good or a bad way. Just weird. Wayne is wearing disposable surgical gloves too. It’s a great way of acknowledging current events & temporally anchoring the song/video in 2020. s

The song is in similar vein to the previous two singles from forthcoming album, American Head, blending Psychedelia & melancholia into a sad but stirring ballad. Arpeggiated synth squelches & ticking clock rhythms, warm piano chords & gently strummed guitars shimmer & float over a rocksteady dual-drummer beat. Wayne Coyne’s vocals on the chorus see some artistic use of autotune, swathed in fog banks of echoey reverb to give them a distant, faraway effect. They sound displaced, temporally. Lost in time with the dinosaurs, on Coyne’s chidhood hillside, silhouetted against the starry sky.

Taken together the song & the video add up to one of the most compelling, & weird, audio/visual art experiences of the year. It’s by far my favourite out of the three new singles too.

So tell me now
So tell me now
How’d it happen
After the lava flows
Maybe no one knows
Now that it’s burned off the scum of the Earth

I wish the dinosaurs
Were still here now
It’d be fun to see them playing
On the mountains

Up on the mountain they’d be all alone
You can’t just leave them
On the side of the road
You know they’ll never make it on their own
All alone, all alone

Up on the mountain that mountain’s too high
You can’t just leave em there you
Know that they will die
They won’t make it even if they try
All alone, all alone

Oh I’m just wishing
Oh wishing
Something else had happened
All those years ago
Things could have been so great
But now I think it’s too late
To see them playing on the mountains

Up on the mountain they’d be all alone
You can’t just leave em on the side of the road
You know they’ll never make it on their own
All alone, all alone

Up on the mountain that mountains too high
You can’t just leave em there you know
That they will die
They won’t make it even if they try
All alone, all alone

In an accompanying video Wayne Coyne explains the inspiration behind the song, which I briefly alluded to above.

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Categories
Experimental Triphop

Song of the Day (The Chain): Massive Attack – Angel

Day 20. From Rufige Kru’s futuristic, darkside Jungle to Massive Attacks’ widescreen epic, Angel. The link in the chain is that Rufige Kru -aka Goldie- & Massive Attacks’ producer Robert Del Naja both came from Bristol based graffiti crews & knew each other.

Based on a song by -and featuring- Reggae artist Horace Andy, Angel is a druggy, dubby crawl. What separates it from other Triphop though is the huge wall of distorted guitars, which one journalist likened to early-Cure. Perhaps, in many ways, this marriage of Dub, Triphop & Post-Punk is the latter genre’s truest expression.

Casual music fans, unaware of Massive Attack, will probably recognise it as the song which plays in the Guy Ritchie movie Snatch, as Mickey’s (Brad Pitt) mum’s caravan goes up in glorious, slow motion flames.

You are my angel
Come from way above to bring me love
Her eyes, she’s on the dark side
Neutralize every man in sight

To love you, love you, love you

You are my angel
Come from way above

To love you, love you, love you

Keep up to date with the Song of the Day (The Chain) Spotify playlist.

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Drum And Bass Electronic Music Experimental Jungle Song of the Day

Song of the Day (The Chain): Rufige Kru – Ghosts Of My Life

Day 19. From the early ’80’s Art Pop of Japan’s Ghosts to the early ’90’s darkside Jungle of Rufige Kru (an early alias of legendary Jungle/D&B producer/personality Goldie) & Ghosts Of My Life. The link, obviously, is that the Rufige Kru track samples (heavily) the Japan track.

I’m loving how this “theme” for Song of the Day is taking me in all sorts of unexpected, & welcome, directions. it’s incredible to think that we started with Sonic Youth & we’ve arrived at darkside Jungle.

Obviously, there’s no lyrics to speak of in Ghosts Of My Life, so this section is looking a little bare. As a placeholder, where lyrics would be, here’s a paragraph of Mark Fisher taking about how he feels about this tune, from the book which is named after it.

I bought any Rufige Kru record that I came upon, but ‘Ghosts Of My Life’ brought a special tingle of intrigue because of its title, with its suggestion of Japan’s 1981 art pop masterpiece, ‘Ghosts’. When I played the ‘Ghosts Of My Life’ 12″, I quickly realised with a shiver of exhilaration that the pitched down voice repeating the title phrase did indeed belong to Japan’s David Sylvian. But this wasn’t the only trace of ‘Ghosts’. After some atonal washes and twitchy breakbeats, the track lurched to a sudden halt, and – in a moment that still takes my breath away when I listen to it now – a brief snatch of the spidery, abstract electronics instantly recognizable from the Japan record leapt into the chasm, before being immediately consumed by viscous bass ooze and the synthetic screeches that were the sonic signatures of darkside Jungle.

Mark Fisher, Ghosts Of My Life: Writings On Depression, Hauntology And Lost Futures

Keep up to date with the Song of the Day (The Chain) Spotify playlist.

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Categories
Experimental Folk Hip Hop Indie Rock Overlooked Classics

Overlooked Classics: Beck – Mellow Gold

I’ve just found out that today is Beck’s 50th birthday. Happy Birthday to one of the greatest & most innovative musical artists of the last 30 years. By way of celebrating the great mans birthday, we’ll take a look at his debut studio album, the incredible Mellow Gold.

Mellow Gold is a glorious, ugly mess of Lo-Fi country, Hip-Hop, psychedelia & surrealistic lyrics. This visionary mash up of sounds, samples, textures & its schizoid sound palate are held together by great songwriting. This is a Pop album that you can play to Lo-Fi fans, a Hip-Hop album you can play to Country fans, an avant-garde noise experiment you can play to Hip-Hop heads. It’s incredibly ambitious, & even though it may not quite hit what it’s aiming for, it’s still one of my favourite albums of all time. A Discogs article describes it, dismissively, as sounding “like Beavis and Butt-Head cacophonously flipping through channels”. The tone of the whole piece is quite dismissive actually, also describing it as “a charred coda to “Loser,” leaving the innards of that song on the operating table for all to see”. As if thats a bad thing. Some of us actually love the eccentric, junkyard aesthetic.

The whole concept of Mellow Gold is that it’s like a satanic K-Tel record that’s been found in a trash dumpster. A few people have molested it and slept with it and half-swallowed it before spitting it out. Someone played poker with it, someone tried to smoke it. Then the record was taken to Morocco and covered with hummus and tabouli.

Beck on Mellow Gold, Rolling Stone, 1994

Nowhere else could you hear a song like Beck’s MTV takeover mega hit, Loser, but on Mellow Gold. A YouTube commenter described it as like Kurt Cobain if he’d been on LSD instead of Heroin. It’s based around a sampled drum break, a looped sample of Beck playing slide guitar & a live sitar track (played by producer Karl Stephenson). Into this, at the time, previously unheard of sonic architecture Beck performed some nonsensical rapping & a chorus which, he later explained, was referring to how terrible he was at rapping. “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me”. Despite this being a throwaway line, it somehow evolved into a kind of ethos for the music of the ’90’s. The anthemic “battlecry” of what became known as Slacker culture (I guess).

Elsewhere we have songs like Pay No Mind (Snoozer), a tape-hiss filled Lo-Fi folk song with bizarre lyrics about “shopping malls coming out of the walls” & “a giant dildo crushing the sun.” All over a Hip-Hop inspired drumloop. Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997 is a morose sound collage, mixing spoken word sections with harmonic “ahh ahh” vocals. Steal My Body Home & Blackhole add a touch of psychedelic ’60’s atmosphere to the morose Folk formula, utilising sitars (sampled or otherwise) to great effect. The former feels like a tie-died throw gently laid over a slow drum machine pattern.

There’s plenty of Loser-esque Slacker Hip-Hop here to keep the casual listeners happy too. Soul Suckin’ Jerk & Beercan being the most obvious fit into this formula. Truck Driving Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Street) sees darker, sinister overtones added to this formula. It’s opening sample a glorious call of “come on motherfucker, put your clothes on, c’mon.” Nitemare Hippy Girl is Syd Barrett-style Psyche Pop, but married to desolate, heartbroken melodies & mock horror movie lyrics. Mutherfucker is an incendiary blast of Grungey Noise Rock with pitch shifted vocals all over the register. It’s quite cathartic & a bit of a shame that Beck never really experimented with this style again (except, maybe, for the much less aggro Minus, on Odelay).

After the morbid opiated psychedelia of the aforementioned Blackhole, Beck dives head first into avant-garde noise territory with the short but oh-so-sweet Analogue Odyssey. A blast of delayed, decaying, pitch shifting synth noise. If you close your eyes, you can still see the image of Beck hunched over an analogue synth, generating terrifying walls of mangled noise, burned onto the back of your eyelids. After all my effort trying to describe Analogue Odyssey, the Beck fansite Whiskeyclone described it like this: “Whatever, it’s just some electronic whines and noises.”

Check out this hilariously clip of Beck being interviewed by Thurston Moore at around the time of Mellow Gold on MTV’s 120 minutes.

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Categories
Electronic Music Experimental

Shameless Self Promotion: Home Taper – Satellites EP

In addition to the compilation of old material I released earlier in the week, I’ve just released this new EP of material produced between 2017-2019.

Check it out on your digital distribution or streaming platform of choice or Bandcamp. Cheers.

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Electronic Music Experimental

Naomi Perera/Adam Langley – Strata

Naomi Perera & Adam Langley are ordinarily a gigging, live performance based outfit. Naomi plays imaginative, improvised flute over Adam’s evolving soundscapes of bubbling, swelling electronics.

Strata is the sound of these two musicians, who would normally work together in person, isolated apart by the current pandemic. This is a science of file swapping & overdubbing, one improvising along to what the other has produced. The results are an excellent EP of experimental drone textures.

There are moments in the tracks on Strata when the breathy flute melodies seem to morph into bubbling arpeggios of synth noise & you’re left uncertain whether what you’re hearing is a synthesised sound or the flute. These moments are incredibly effective, in my opinion, the textures overlapping in transcendent swells of noise.

Embedded in the soundscapes are all manner of day-to-day sounds such as birdsong & the mumbled conversations of neighbours heard through the walls. These sounds add to sense of isolation experienced during the lockdown & strikingly emphasise that we are actually at home & not in a recording studio.

The combination of these warm tones (bassy synth swells & flute) with harsh, buzzing, digital sounds gives several of the tracks a sense of underlying, building menace. This reflects for me the way the Coronavirus pandemic slowly built in seriousness throughout the month of March before the full blown bleakness of lockdown. There’s an almost hauntological aspect to these sonic textures that I can’t quite put my finger on but, nevertheless, I’m utterly captivated by.