Air Lows

Sivlia Kastel, 2017

Silvia Kastel Air Lows

Silvia Kastel is one of a handful of musicians courting synth-pop from a thornier higher ground. She represents half the noise duo, Control Unit, but on this mini-album, she’s concerned keyboard-driven sort of distended song-craft that retains at least some vaguely recognizable forms. Albums like Air Lows lead me to believe we might be living through a real moment in underground electronic music. Techno and dance continues its fragmented reign, but artists like Kastel are shaping an entire network of retro-synth-futurists charting new destinations from old routes. It distinctly feels as if we’re hearing the records, that 15-20 years hence, will be rediscovered by a new generation of obsessive crate diggers, finally prepared to hear it.

field report no.091618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Actual Cloud Formations

OBSERVATIONS:
I stumbled upon Shane Parish as the opening act for one of the first shows I attended in Asheville. I’ve since found out he’s something of a hometown hero (not mentioning he has a number of records on John Zorn’s Tzadik label). He plays around town often enough, it’s downright negligent of me to have not seen him since. (In my defense, I’ve twice had tickets to see his avant rock band, Ahleuchatistas, but life got in the way.) It finally came together, though, for this show: a record-release show (of sorts) for his new ambient guitar solo tape.

Parish actually opened the show up, solo, playing material from the new tape. Cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt played the middle set, solo. The night ended with Actual Cloud Formations, a sort of improvised folk trio featuring Parish and Hunnicutt alongside Ahleuchatistas, Ryan Oslance, on drums.

After the show I went straight to Cloud Formations bandcamp page to pick up their album. Listening back to it, I’d say they’ve improved by leaps and bounds. The album features Sally Anne Morgan on violin instead of Hunnicutt, and perhaps that’s a switch that has made a substantial impact. It could be Hunnicutt is a better fit, or perhaps the cello doesn’t compete with the guitar as much, tonally. The improvisations this night seemed much more focused—amorphous still, but with a sort of thrust of purpose and logical through-line.

NOTES: Actual Cloud Formations; Emmalee Hunnicutt; Shane Parish
PRESENT: AMS

hibernation listening

Most our tastes are cyclical. Like Seasonal Affectation Disorder, I crave moody music in the depths of winter and, at the first signs of spring, fall hard for some new, bright and shiny pop confection. For example, while I’ve come to absolutely cherish Damon Albarn’s solo LP, Everyday Robots—a glum and dispirited pop album. Not at first, though, it was released at the height of summer and it was months before I rediscovered it, when the weather (and my mood) suited it better.

I’m also keenly aware that I don’t re-listen to many records, at least not the way I used to. I have so much I follow now, it’s a full-time job getting it all in, let alone go back and listen again. This is fed by certain changes in how we, as a streaming society have changed. It’s hard to recall who sang what, or what song is on what album (or from what year).

A few years ago, I created an experimental remedy, though. I became utterly enthralled by Mary Timony’s Mountains—an album which had languished in my collection, only played a handful times before my little epiphany. Determined not to let the moment pass, I opted for a new challenge: I would forge a new bond with Mountains, branding it upon my brain by listening to it every single day for a month.

It’s a tradition I’ve kept up since. This February, I’m spending my time with Field Music’s fourth album, Plumb. It’s actually embarrassing for me to choose this one, since it appeared on my best-of list for 2012 —which begs the question whether I listened to it closely enough (I did, thank you). In the years since, though, it’s simply been overshadowed by Field Music’s turn towards sharper pop (and their epic, Measure, before it).

Listening to Field Music brother, Peter Brewis’ latest project, You Tell Me, I felt compelled to revisit Plumb. Like You Tell Me, it’s more stately and mannered—containing subtler pleasures. Compulsively listening to the new work made me wonder what discoveries were hidden in the older one.

Plumb is populated with small vignettes (15 songs in 35+ minutes). It’s less about individual, standout tracks and more about painting a complete picture with the whole. Within, Field Music paints a nuanced portrait. It ranges from the poppy charge of Who’ll Pay the Bills to an a capella interlude and a handful of chamber ballads. From Hide and Seek to Heartache splits the difference: a melancholy but bouncy number layered in strings and handclaps. All these turns make Plumb come off as one of their proggier dispatches, despite it’s brevity. (The vocalese solo on Sorry Again, Mate is a clear tribute to former Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt.) True to their trademark sound, though, the entire album is rich with hyper-detailed percussion, up front and center.

Plumb is a richly detailed work, worthy of spending more time with (but brief enough to not be a burden), which is exactly what I aim to do.

Remain in Light / Music for the Knee Plays / Remain in Light

Talking Heads, 1980 / David Byrne, 1985 / Angélique Kidjo, 2018

There are mountains of text on Talking Heads—whole books written even on individual albums. They’re a band of truly classic status, loved both very personally by multiple generations. To this day, when David Byrne plays This Must Be the Place, there’s hardly a dry eye in the house ( but each person is crying for individual, associative reasons).

The trio of records Talking Heads made with Brian Eno , More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light are generally accepted as the cornerstone of their canon. Remain overlaps not just my undying love all things Byrne but also my obsession with all things Eno—plus you can throw in my later in life love African musics, which this album under the sway of.

Remain is the height of Talking Heads as ‘big tent.’ They had more support musicians than official members, and trusted Eno enough to give him wide berth, as producer. It’s a dense album, from the outset. Swirls of percussion and guitars, backup singers and effects jostle for your attention. Little wonder Once in a Lifetime was the hit single here: it’s more pared back than anything else on the album.

More than just an album, thought, Remain was a roadmap for future revelations. Brian Eno is a pandora’s box. You could dig into it’s afrobeat influences and discover Fela Kuti. You could follow the guesting lead guitarist, Adrian Belew into the 80s incarnation of King Crimson. Or, alternately, you might just check out more by the Talking Heads, and maybe explore David Byrne’s first forays into solo projects that immediately followed Remain.

What stands as my favorite solo record by David Byrne (Look into the Eyeball) has yet to be released on vinyl. Even if it gets reissue treatment I don’t think I could part with my copy of Music for the Knee Plays. Talking Heads and David Byrne were one of my first musical obsessions, and Knee Plays was, quite literally the first LP I ever bought. At the time I couldn’t find it on any other format—but I was obsessed, and needed to have it all.

The work is a soundtrack (of sorts) written for a Robert Wilson play (or, more accurately, the interludes of a larger play). The album is scored entirely for brass band, with about half the tracks overlain with David Byrne’s clipped speaking voice. He dictates little prose poems that are imminently Byrne-ian. He ruminates on metamorphosizing into someone else (after stealing their groceries). A character agonizes about what to wear for a big occasion. In the Future is a list of often contradictory predictions for what lays ahead. It would be wrong to say Knee Plays is an oddity in Byrne’s catalog, it was just the first one.

Returning to Remain in Light: Angélique Kidjo said she knew it was an African album on first listen. In her hands, it’s a truth made plain. She re-colonizes the songs, but in truth, they don’t sound all too different. What really transforms is her voice: where Byrne is all nerves, Kidjo is gutsy swagger. When she bellows 'Some 'a you people just about missed it!’, she’s more preacher than snake-oil salesman. The force of her presence managed to return Remain in Light to me, as new, despite knowing every nook and cranny of it.

It’s so rare to enjoy a cover of a song or album you already have a deep relationship with. They’re something that fairs better if you like the covering artist more than the covered. She can’t unseat the Talking Heads for me, but she puts up a hell of a fight.

field report no.090618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Mark Hosler

OBSERVATIONS:
I have to admit, I haven’t heard that much Negativland. While they are an institution, a foundational plunderphonics group—like most people, I became most aware of them while they were waist-deep in a legal tussle with a certain band that rhymes with ‘you, too.’ By the time they extricated themselves from said kerfuffle, I guess my own interests had moved on. In truth, the early 90s—as I just starting to travel the outer limits of electronics with Zoviet*France and John Oswald—would have been the perfect timing. But, like ships in the night, as they say.

I’ve also moved on from New York City (to remote North Carolina) and I don’t get nearly as many opportunities to catch gonzo live sets—especially an artist like Mark Hossler, who, through Negativland, has a 40+ year history in the avant garde.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t just sampledelica—which can be fun but also always strikes me with a whiff of ironic distance or heavy-handed politics (or both). Most of his sounds were far more purely electronic-generated tones + effects and filters. If their origins lay in sampling, they’d been scrubbed clean. Hosler’s rig of devices was interesting, shimmed so his boards were tilted slightly towards the audience, giving us a window into how he was creating what we heard.

NOTES: Mark Hosler; Toybox; Okapi
PRESENT: AMS; Lily M.; Jackson A.

eat tang

Anyone who cooks vegetarian regularly knows, a portion of your kitchen time is spent turning recipes you find for sides into convincing main dishes. I had some fresh broccolini I was keen to use, and a recipe on NYT caught my eye. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but without much effort, it could work. My first goal was to make the rice itself a tad more robust. I also added caramelized onions and ricotta to the finished dish, for more complex flavor and texture.

1 cup brown rice
1 pat of butter
1 minced clove garlic
½ tsp mustard powder
2 cups vegetable stock
3 tsp dijon
1½ tsp tamari
¼ tsp sriracha
2 md. bundles of broccolini, trimmed from the long stems
½ an onion, sliced
⅓ cup fresh ricotta

intro:
Heat a pat of butter in a sauce pot over medium high heat. As it melts, add in the brown rice garlic and mustard powder, stirring frequently until the rice toasts slightly. Add the stock to the pot and bring to boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer covered for around 40 minutes.

interim:
Turn the oven on to 400˚. While your rice is cooking, heat up a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cover. Stir them as infrequently as you can mange. The point here is to sweat them out, until they are dry again and sticking to the pan, just slightly. When you get there, uncover them add a generous bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. They should turn golden as they quickly caramelize. Remove from the heat and set aside.

interlude:
As you’re sweating the onions, combine the dijon, sriracha and tamari in a large mixing bowl and whisk into a dressing. When the rice seems like it only has a minute or two left, lift the lid and place the prepared broccolini on top, then cover again to steam it slightly with what’s left from the end of the rice cooking process.

finale:
Dump the rice and broccolini into the large bowl with the dressing, tossing quickly to coat it well. Transfer the mixture to a medium casserole dish. Spread it evenly then make small divots in the top. Drop a tablespoon of ricotta or a teaspoon there, into the divots. Cover the top of the dish with the caramelized onions in a single layer then place in the oven until heated through (and maybe the edges of the onions are charring just slightly). Let cool a couple of minutes and serve warm.

epilogue:
If you want, cut the leftovers broccolini stems into quarter inch discs and fry them in a skillet of high-heat oil (like grape seed) for a minute until slightly charred , remove to paper towel, pat dry and toss with salt to make a snack, for later.

On Land

Brian Eno, 1982

Brian Eno’s landmark series, Ambient 1-4, is the perfect introduction for a young sprout testing the ambient waters but also and confusing to the uninitiated. I now view this series very much as an extension of Eno’s work running the Obscure label in the 70s. While he’s a major presence on each of the four records, only two are proper ‘Brian Eno’ records. One is a Harold Budd LP and another is by new age pioneer Laraaji. In that sense, these records are a great introduction to a broader field of ambient music, but confounding if you think you’re buying Brian Eno LPs, specifically.

The series starts with the much lauded Music for Airports—perhaps the most famous ambient work, ever. For my money though, it’s the last in the series: On Land. As much as I love Airports, it’s not as engrossing as Discreet Music, before it—or as sonically mysterious and rich as On Land, after it. As someone who came of age in the late-80s / early 90s, I immersed myself in the electronica renaissance of the post-rave era, and to my ears, 1982’s On Land sounds not only modern, but advanced. It’s structurally obfuscated, making its amorphous movements unpredictable. The sound palette is subtle, but profoundly deep, lain like layers of a drawing on successive sheets of vellum.

I don’t often worry, terribly, about which edition of a record I have, but I chose to upgrade my copy just recently. I had a used EG Records copy from the 80s and I couldn’t resist the new remasters cut at half speed / 45rpm. On Land is an album that actually promises rewards with better clarity.

Big Fun

Miles Davis, 1974

As numerous, archival boxsets have shown us, Miles electric period in the late-60s / early-70s, was masterwork of editing, as much as playing. The tracks heard on his albums are filled with fleeting moments from different components—jammed extensively, then stripped for parts. A process that left the cutting room floor knee-deep. While Miles retreated from view in the mid-70s, Columbia Records made good use of those scraps.

Which is a long way of saying that Big Fun, at its core, is a crass cash-in of leftovers. Of course, let’s keep in mind: these are the leftovers of some of the best players in jazz, or about ever. These bits and pieces are given a rough cut-n-paste treatment, showcasing a cut-n-paste feel that was radical in their day, and endearing now.

Perversely, even knowing this qualifier, Big Fun remains my favorite electric Miles LP. It’s four, sidelong workouts are atmospheric, like a funked up In a Silent Way. Given the extended length of each track, these are also some of Davis’ and Maceo’s most minimal constructions. Each track is built around small motifs, worried endlessly, and arranged cyclically.

I’m struck by side three, Go Ahead, John. As the title implies, it’s a vehicle for guitarist John McLaughlin, but it’s beat kills me. They collaged multiple takes, making hard drops that leap across the stereo field. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover Go Ahead was in fact a cornerstone influence in drum-n-bass’ development. That sonic comparison would put Miles & Co. about 20 years ahead-of-the-game on that one.

Blood on the Tracks / More Blood, More Tracks

Bob Dylan, 1974

You cannot reasonably argue which is the best Bob Dylan album. Sure, there’s a handful to choose from, and the distance between albums of such greatness and everything below is so vast. There’s so few records in that rarified air—by any artist—there’s almost no frame of reference. Objectivity becomes impossible. Scale halfway up those heights, everything after that purely personal preference. Thusly, I feel no reason to defend Blood on the Tracks as my favorite Bob Dylan album. It’s even hard to add much to the dialogue around such albums, as his classics are now the subject of actual academic study.

As someone who follows artists through their highs as well as their lows, Blood on the Tracks calls to me as a singular blip of brilliance in the midst of his flailing mediocrity of the 70s. Bob had eclipsed his glory days (he knew it as well as anyone).

I was listening to the latest collection of Dylan’s demos, rarities and live series, More Blood, More Tracks, collecting unreleased versions and material from the making of Blood on the Tracks. During the opening track, a stripped down version of Tangled Up in Blue, I couldn’t help but notice a shift in narrative perspective. Of course, it’s always ‘her’, but he toggles sometimes in the span of a verse between ‘he’ and ‘I’. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember if that was how it had appeared on the official album. I had to go back and listen to it. I can’t tell you what those shifts mean, but Dylan is a goddamn Nobel Laureate, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an oversight. For me, it felt true to how some things in our history feel very present, very real, and others feel like something that just happened to somebody else, like reading history—even if it’s actions we took.

That revelation is argument enough for the vault emptying Dylan’s empire has been up to for the last decade or more. The best of Dylan survives such scrutiny. I ultimately decided I wanted both versions of this phenomenal album on hand.

Don’t get me started on the excoriating, early version of Idiot Wind

2018 Recap

Here is my yearbook, a recap of 2018. I’ve collected songs from my 25 favorite albums of the last year into a wide-ranging mix. If you would like to keep up with future editions of this podcast, search for sndlgc in the app of your choice or you can subscribe manually using this link.

I’m in no position to say what 2018 was the year of. This site isn’t so much an endeavor in music criticism as the journal of a personal aesthetic journey. I’ve been obsessed with music since I can remember, and here, I’ve made a signpost of where almost 40 years of omnivorous listening has lead me.

If I’m allowed to pat myself on the back (just a little), I feel like I’ve yet to fully surrender to nostalgia. While there are bands I’ve followed closely for decades here (read: Autechre), almost every one of these recaps has included names that were new (or new to me). Granted, I still refer to Field Music as a ‘new’ band, but they’ve been around for 15 years (and have appeared regularly in my recaps for a decade, now).

For some time, I’ve been tracking, what I found as a glimmer of something new, in music. Since about the late 90s, music has been awash in retro-fetish. Not to say all of it is a rehash, plenty of artists, like Shopping, are revisiting the past to build upon it. There was this new thing brewing, though.—this sound that I can’t call a ‘style’ because it’s central premise seemed to be a disregard for the boundaries between styles. These artists weren’t mashing things up, they were making seamless hybrids—or better yet, uncovering the hidden connections between genres a layman like me had never noticed.

For me, 2018 was when this fascination blossomed into obsession. A healthy portion of the albums I’ve included here fall into this category: Ashley Paul, Hen Ogledd, Ben Vince, Sandro Perri and especially Eric Chenaux.

I first heard Eric Chenaux on his 2012 album, Guitar & Voice—which is an entirely accurate title that gives you no clue as to what you are about to experience. He’s appeared regularly in my year-end round-ups since, but Slowly Paradise felt like the one I don’t want to live without.

Slowly Paradise is a beautifully confusing album that doesn’t so much balance contradictions as refutes their very existence. To paraphrase the Quietus’ apt review: Chenaux’s love of Sade in no way conflicts with or confuses his love of Derek Bailey.

I would argue Slowly Paradise is a capital-z, Zen, album. It plays both outside and inside in perfect simultaneity, show us that there is no in or out to speak of. And all the while, still manages to have some memorable hooks along the way.

Screaming Females: Agnes Martin
Shopping: Asking for a Friend
Marker: French Dress
The Ex: Silent Waste
Ben Vince with Rupert Clervaux: Sensory Crossing
Hen Ogledd: Problem Child
DJRum featuring Zosia Jagodzinska: Creature, pt.2
Autechre: TT1Pd
Matthew Dear: Can You Rush Them
NHK yx Koyxen: Strange Gesture
Jako Maron: Fanali Dann Bwa
Field Music: Checking on a Message
Against All Logic: Now U Got Me Hooked
Thomas Fehlmann: Morris Louis
Neneh Cherry: Faster than the Truth
Mast featuring Jason Fraticelli: Blue Monk
Kristo Rodzevski: Out of Key
Eric Chenaux: There’s Our Love
Ashley Paul: Breathless Air
Roy Montgomery with Katie von Schleicher: Outsider Love Ballad, no.1
Sarah Davachi: Matins
Sandro Perri: In Another Life
Toshimaru Nakamura: NIMB 56
Angelique Kidjo: The Overload
Reidemeister Move: Arcanum 17

the Objective Flaws of Memory

Something was in the air between 1997 and 98.

I remember it as a banner year of electronica. Of course, memory can often serve under the yolk of nostalgia. For me, this period did not so much coincide with any notable time in my life, but instead marked the year many of the artists I'd been following—since my own coming of age—came to full fruition.

I was introduced to electronic music-proper my sophomore year of high school by the (now classic) Peel Sessions collection, by the Orb. I also quickly discovered Moby (which in retrospect is a bit cringe-worthy). After spending a good part of my junior year of high school at quasi-legal raves, around Portland. I graduated just in time to discover the advent of IDM or, as Warp would have it, Electronic Listening Music. This was when Aphex Twin, Autechre, µ-Ziq, Mouse on Mars, Plastikman and more all seemed to explode on the scene. They'd all been active for some time, especially in Europe, with a number of smaller releases under their belts, but here, across the pond, Warp's Artificial Intelligence compilation and Volume's Trance Atlantic Express introduced us to this new world, fully formed.

I collected this music obsessively, and many of these artists were prolific enough to make the task financially daunting. Things moved at a breakneck speed. Compare Autechre's debut with Tri Repetae which came out a mere 2 years later, or Aphex Twin's Surfing on Sine Waves (released as Polygon Window) with the Richard D. James Album.

Around 1995, as I was leaving Portland for Chicago, this lot started to be supplanted by the rise of drum-n-bass. My first find was a colored, double-10" collecting some of the landmark tracks from the nascent scene: including Omni Trio's Renegade Snares and 4Hero's Mr. Kirk's Nightmare. While I enjoyed the adrenal sound, it was all a little too close to house for me (a style I’ve a conflicted relationship with). I really caught on with the arrival of Squarepusher and his progish breakdowns.

In that first decade of electronica, since the advent of rave, the advancements in electronica are dizzyingly dense: from the rudimentary bang of Chicago Acid House to the beat dioramas of drill-n-bass. Most of this advancement was fueled by new tools. Look at the changes between the late-80s to the late 90s. In that time, personal computers became commonplace and were advancing exponentially themselves. This allowed new programs, effects and possibilities in electronica, almost monthly. Once you hit 1997-98, these new tools became more iterative, incremental. The changes we've seen in the music since is the difference between exploration and cartography.

I view this good turn positively. When you're grappling with new tools, you're inherently limiting your creative possibilities by placing creative choice behind discovery. The redoubling we've seen since the turn of the century has arguably produced much more expressive music with the same methods than anything that was released in that first decade. Sure, that slate of newer material lacked the radical thrill of the new, but it deepened everything you already knew.

The lines between genres begin to blur as well. Artists are no longer staking out new territory, but cultivating the fertile ground they’ve found. While everyone won’t hop on the same bandwagon, the zeitgeist from the reigning style seeps in on some level. Dubstep was the reigning subgenre of the aughties, defined by its rich, detailed bass-sculpting. While I’m not much of a dubstep listener, those artists’ work, furthered bass science—reaping many rewards for me, elsewhere. All of my favorites artists gleaned new tricks from dubstep.

It’s also worth noting that in 1997 these artists I was following—even though they were dealing with a volatile, constantly-moving musical landscape—they were, at this point, seasoned musicians. From 1997-98, you had a rare meeting of talent, possibility, experience and invention, together. Much of what’s been in vogue in the scene for the past 20 years were first seeded here. It’s why I see this one year as a totemic landmark in the scene’s becoming.

Resonant Spaces

John Butcher, 2008

I’m a sucker for albums by improvisors recorded in cavernous spaces. It rivals my obsession with duets of saxophone and electronics. Perhaps it’s a sense of place. No matter how unearthly and soft focused the tones may be, they are grounded in the reverberant echoes of a specific place. There’s a palpable sense of exploration, here, on Resonant Spaces, as John Butcher tests the sonic properties of his chosen locales. The pairing of Butcher’s deep well of extended techniques with the way the particular spaces respond mean only about half the album even sounds like a solo saxophone record at all. It teeters instead between musique concrète and electronic minimalism, despite its entirely acoustic origins.

Biscuits for… Beekeepers

This edition of the biscuits series includes a fresh selection of hive mind beats buzzing around your ear. If you want to keep up with all the editions of this podcast, search for sndlgc in the app of your choice or you can subscribe manually using this link.

I conceived of the Biscuits as a sort of rapid response tool. The idea was simple: to make themed electronic mixes with new tracks. I try to listen for a few tracks that hang together to my ear, and then start trolling new release listings for things that fit the developing theme.

That developing theme isn’t always easy to define—like trying to describe something you can touch but not see. This time around I was hearing something about dense, pulsating beats, but not necessarily four-to-the-floor. In these tracks, when you de-emphasize the traditional electronic elements—kick, snare, hi hat—other elements swell to fill the void: handclaps, toms, woodblocks, et al.

I’ve found it good to not have the idea overly defined. A path too narrow and I’d never collect the tracks as fast as I’d like, and it would be too… homogenous. Instead, the Beekeepers mix veers from the pummelling high tempos Oyeshack to the goofy footwork of Foodman to the laidback vibes of Dwart.

The unifying metaphor in my mind was this: these tracks could serve as soundtrack for an über-hip documentary about insect life. There was something about the way the dense, off-kilter clusters of percussion reminded me of swarms of bees coalescing into a suspended. heaving mound.

As with most all the Biscuits series, all these tracks are fresh, released (or reissued) in just the last six months, or so. Nearly all of them are things I found by digging—not acts I keep tabs on. They whizz by at a brisk pace: with 32 tracks in 80 minutes the average is two and half minutes. That’s all edited down from a total of three plus hours.

I hope you find something to dig into further. The podcast is loaded with chapters to let you know who’s who and links to find more. So here’s another helping of biscuits.

Shiken Hanzo: Khans of Takir
Bergonist: Conflict in Yemen
Osheyack: Untitled 6
Garies: Soda Springs
Nicolas Gaunin: Tumu Haari
Peverelist: Left Hand
Dauwd: Murmure Rouge (Mécanique Running mix)
The System: Vampirella
Isolated Lines: Trivium
Linkwood: Nae Drama
Toma Kami: Land of the Insane
Benoit B: Kimono
Grim Lusk: It’s My Nature
Gen Ludd: Marraskuu
Foodman: Percussion
Andrea Taeggi: Dinergy
Don’t DJ: Rag for Rudolf Rocker
Duckett: Magic Headlines Foul the Air
Randomer: Van Pelt
Boofy: Perfunktion
Ben Penn: Not Important
Palta & Ti: På Hovedet I Seng
Bambounou: Dernier Metro
Via Maris: CU2
Uwalmassa: Untitled no.6
Sin Falta: Diamonds
Dwart: Red Mambo (Impromptu)
Niagara: Siena
Arp: Folding Water
Inland / Julian Charrière: Up River
Beta Librae: Canis Major
Melly: Mineral Water

UkabazUmorezU

Sugai Ken, 2017

Techno has been a democratizing force, but in unexpected ways. As the technology advanced and its producers gained more acumen, the distance from rudimentary, banging acid-house to detailed sonic soundscapes became a shorter trip. It’s produced some interesting hybrids like Sugai Ken. On UkabazUmorezU, he delivers the tactile experience of sound found in musique concrète presented in a wrapper more of popular electronics.

field report no.082518

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Matthew Sweet

OBSERVATIONS:
Seeing Matthew Sweet in 2018 is an exercise in meta-nostalgia, which isn’t lost on Sweet himself. His entire aesthetic is rooted in nostalgia, evoking a shiny power pop, cherry picking from his 60s and 70s heroes. Sweet even kept himself busy the last while doing a series of decade-themed covers-records with Susanna Hoffs.

This show was also an exercise in his own history: Matthew Sweet hasn’t been a dominant force in music since 1994, at least. His moment came and went, somewhere just above one-hit-wonder. While he soldiers on, he also knows why his audience is there. The set was dominated by his first few albums, including every single from his breakout album Girlfriend.

I don’t say any of this as if I’m above it. I was a rabid fan of his early work—even caught him in Portland, 1994. Although I continue to collect (and listen to) his music, none of his new material has manage to grab me the way it used to. I cheered along when he rolled out cuts like Evangeline. How much of that is down to nostalgia, though? The only thing separating some of the hits, sonically from the smattering of new material he played was a lived-in, comforting familiarity.

I will say this, though, that crystal clear voice of his seems deathless.

NOTES: Matthew Sweet; Hard Rocket
PRESENT: AMS

Eruption / Curiosum / Lauschen

Kluster, 1971 / Cluster, 1981 / Qluster, 2013

The evolving entity, most famously known as Cluster, is a 50 year institution of ambient experimentalism. Originally, they were known as Kluster, centered on the core trio of Conrad Schnitzler, Hans Joachim Roedelius, and Dieter Moebius.

From 1969-1972, Kluster made a disjointed, improvised racket equal parts electronics and junk shop percussion. While Kluster was distant from what we now call kosmische music, their improvisational antics have been the aesthetic underpinning of every version of the band. Most of the Kluster discography is sadly out of print (especially two multi-platter box sets), but the Bureau B label has reissued one their definitive works—alternately known as Schwarz or Eruption (which was also an early name for the band).

When the band was paired down to just the duo of Roedelius and Moebius, they traded the K for a C, becoming Cluster. This variation continued continuously from 1971 to 1981—then on-and-off-again for the next few decades. As Cluster, the duo not only defined the essentials of what we consider kosmische music today, they also charted its boundaries. Cluster have slowly grown into my favorite band from their class of German experimentalism in the 70s. Their work is more emotionally nuanced than Krafwerk, more consistent than Can and more abstract than Tangerine Dream’s structured, linear suites.

No single Cluster record is too alike, while they are all still very much of a piece. Curiosum, the last album from their initial run is a collection of odd miniatures, as opposed to the side-long meditations they’re most known for. Curiosum is a clear leap forward technologically. They’d water-shedding, recording and collaborating near-constantly throughout the 70s. While the improvisational nature of their music isn’t as messy or chaotic as in Kluster, they retain a ragged element of unpredictability.

After Moebius and Roedelius last meeting in 2009, for Qua—preceded by a small handful of records in the 90s—the duo parted ways. Roedelius continued the evolution, this time to Qluster: a duo with Onnen Bock, who wasn’t even born when Cluster (let alone Kluster) started. This new duo’s records together have ranged from discordant and dense to a collection of piano duets. Lauschen—a live album for which they had keyboardist, Armin Metz in tow—is a complex work. It moves crabwise through a series of detailed, gaseous atmospheres, existing in both analogue and digital spaces.

Fifty years is a hell of a long time in either popular or avant garde music—a divide the various incarnations of Cluster regularly straddles. Dieter Moebius passed away in 2015, and Roedelius is now an octogenarian, but Qluster remains prolific: releasing 7 full length albums in as many years. We may not have many more years of records in this lineage, but the legacy of K/C/Qluster is secure among the titans in the outer bounds of sound.

Rhapsody in White

Love Unlimited Orchestra, 1974

Love Unlimited Orchestra

While the Asheville area has a handful of good record stores, I don’t find myself in them that much. As often as not, I’m in thrift and vintage stores, which always presents a haphazard selection of music. Vintage shopping has brought me everything from Rollins Band’s Hard Volume to this, Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Rhapsody in White.

Rhapsody caught my eye for the circuitous reason that when the Human League (of Don’t You Want Me fame) released an instrumental EP from that same album, it was billed under League Unlimited Orchestra, in homage to the Love Unlimited, the banner for Barry White’s instrumental releases in the 70s.

With me, still? Releasing your instrumentals back then was still a rarity. I know the Beach Boys and James Brown had both done it, prior. This is pre-disco, pre-12-inch single. Barry White may be all ironic schmaltz now, but he was no slouch with the orchestration. Rhapsody in White is saccharine but by no means asinine. Listening to White’s charts makes a case for his place in soul history (beyond novelty).

field report no.052118

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: the Sea and Cake

OBSERVATIONS:
I was caught off guard, way back when, by the Sea and Cake’s debut album. Amidst the aftermath of grunge and the rise of electronica, they sounded like nothing else. Nearly 25 years later, they’re still really only comparable to themselves. Their sound hasn’t so much changed as evolved. You wouldn’t mistake their new album, Any Day, for that self-titled debut, but neither would there be any doubt it was the same band.

Likewise, the Sea and Cake are not a normal live band. They have virtually no sing-along choruses. As such, the band is pestered with requests to play their cover of Bowie’s Sound + Vision all (and probably every) night. What originally set them apart from their grungier peers was the sheer softness of their sound. Their melodies are not buoying as much as fulfilling. Their sound floods the room as a slowly rising tide that seeps in from every corner. The Sea and Cake play music of spaces for living, and for this one night they turned the Grey Eagle into their lounge.

It seemed strange they did an encore. Not that the crowd didn’t demand one, but the entire performance seems so counter to such rote expectations…

NOTES: the Sea and Cake; James Elkington
PRESENT: AMS: Angela F.

Solo

Cecil Taylor, 1973

When Ken Burns’ controversial documentary series on jazz finally deigned to bother with the developments of free jazz, Cecil Taylor earned the most ire. The retrograde traditionalist Branford Marsalis referred to Taylo’rs style as, ‘self-indulgent bullshit’ (notably the only swear word in the entire series). I knew then, that I had to find out more about Taylor.

Cecil Taylor was the very image of avant garde. His aesthetic proved impervious to prevailing winds of trends or fashions. Unrelenting swells of tone clusters buffet the listener. Taylor’s performances were about endurance, and navigating the tune amongst the fury.

After immersing myself in much of Cecil’s career, I knew I wanted one of his solo records on vinyl. There is nothing quite these solo performances—especially from the 70s. I found this LP, Solo, used, at Other Music, when I lived in NYC. I’d never heard it before, in part because it was out-of-print (making it more appealing). It fit all the criteria: solo, 70s, live, with the added bonus of rarity.

Symphony no.3

Henryk Górecki, 1992

It’s no coincidence that I decided to pick up this review after my recent report on a David Byrne concert. One of the earliest times I caught Byrne, was a performance of his symphonic work, The Forest with the Oregon Symphony in Portland. The other work of that particular eventing was Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony no.3. It was just then catching fire as a popular work. Originally spurned by critics as a cloying saccharine variety of morose, it had the audacity to unabashedly embrace melody while John Cage still walked the Earth. The work has outlasted its naysayers. You could easily argue that it paved the way for the mainstreaming of other composers like Arvo Pärt, as well as influencing a generation of film composers.