CD/Digital releases

A flawless reverie for the end of the world: The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Anthropomorphic

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From time to time, an album comes along that doesn’t just confound expectations, but actually goes so far as to widen one’s understanding of what music is capable of being. Scott Walker’s The Drift (which recently turned five years old) is, for me, the most memorable example of that; the most recent, released three months ago, is Anthropomorphic, from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, the live performance configuration of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. If you’ve not heard of them, and/or if the word ‘jazz’ in those titles puts you off, have no fear. In their original Kilimanjaro guise, stylistic mannerisms such as the muted trombone and double bass action raise the superficial spectre of jazz without its substance. As Mount Fuji, barely a trace remains; if anything, it’s almost like a palimpsest of jazz, over which multiple layers of obtuse musings have accumulated, and that’s particularly true of Anthropomorphic. Put together from three separate live performances (in, respectively, Utrecht, Wroclaw and Moscow), it is a single, hour-long piece divided into four equal sections, given the headings “Space”, “Dimension”, “Form” and “Function”.

Despite its 15-minute duration, the first part is something of an overture. Soft and calm at first, “Space” opens with a trombone making shapes while a guitar ebbs elsewhere. A few minutes in, an ultra-deep bass throb begins—more felt than heard—gently unsettling everything, and perhaps indirectly initiating all that follows. Five more minutes pass in relative quietude, the guitar gradually easing out of the shadows, after which some threatening electronic stabs briefly but brutally interrupt the flow. The trombone’s soliloquy splits in response, and its duties are continued by a new voice in the texture: a sliding sine tone (at first sounding like a bending trombone note); it starts an acrobatic counterpoint to the previous material, causing a series of aggressive, industrial surges beneath, increasingly electronic in tone. “Space” culminates in a focussed, forceful drone, the trombone joining in, buzzing and spitting on its surface. Read more

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Mind-bogglingly beautiful: Fovea Hex – Here Is Where We Used To Sing

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Clodagh Simonds likes to take her time. Following an early spell of musical incandescence in the late ’60s and early ’70s (in her own group, the fascinating prog folk outfit Mellow Candle), the Irish singer was content to hover in the fringes for three and half decades before taking centre stage again in 2005. But even then, her return was a gradual one; in a new guise, Fovea Hex, Simonds took a further three years to unveil a one-hour cycle of music, titled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent. But what music it was! the nine tracks—released as three EPs: Bloom (2005), Huge (2006) and Allure (2007)—did nothing less than reinvent from the bottom up the notions of what song is and can be. This was no irreverant act of avant-garde ruthlessness, however; Simonds’ folk leanings (and they are only leanings; she has repeatedly stated that she neither thinks of herself as a folk singer, nor does she feel part of a tradition)—despite their proximity in an apparently alien context—were loudly and proudly proclaimed seemingly at every moment. It was, in short, an almost incredible blending of ancient and modern ideas, an enterprise made all the more successful and telling by the contributions of such figures as Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Carter Burwell and The Hafler Trio‘s Andrew M. McKenzie, who also mesmerisingly reworked each EP for an accompanying CD series.

That choice of title, Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent, could not have been chosen more wisely; it encapsulates perfectly the paradox confronting the listener in Fovea Hex’s music. On the one hand, as already stated, the folk elements are emphatically foregrounded, and folk music is at its heart communal music, not to be sat back and listened to, thought about and critiqued; on the contrary, it invites our participation, we are compelled to join in, to speak. Yet equally emphatic is a profound sense of ritual—not exactly a religious sense, it’s more diffuse and unfocussed than that, but nonetheless a potent, perhaps pagan forcefulness that invokes a rather different kind of response. Rituals are communal acts too, of course, but participation here has more ebb and flow; at times, whether by rubrics or by our inner sense of the numinous, we are compelled to be silent. This unique, magical paradox has returned in dazzling fashion on Fovea Hex’s new album, Here Is Where We Used To Sing, released last month. Read more

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A complete counterpoint to untold destruction: Ex Confusion – Too Late, They Are Gone

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Sometimes, timing changes everything. Tomorrow sees the release of a new EP from Japan’s Atsuhito Omori, better known as Ex Confusion, titled Too Late, They Are Gone. That a work of such sublime quietude from a Japanese artist should come at such a desperate time for that country—which has, in the space of a few days, become synonymous with violent destruction, brought to the brink of despair—lends the music an emotional weight that is, admittedly, extra-musical, but no less real for that. This is to take nothing away from Omori; the timing is entirely coincidental, and i was marvelling at its beauty for several days before the earth shook. But music has an uncanny ability to escape from the clutches of its creator, becoming more and other things to its listeners than they could ever have imagined.

At a little under 18 minutes, and despite its ambient ethereality, Omori’s material is kept focussed, particularly through the three tracks at the EP’s epicentre. The opener, “Asking You Why” is contrastingly diaphanous, simple, drawn-out notes reverberating like distant brass through a dense fog. “I See You Breathe” continues in a similar vein, although higher, with a more mobile tonal centre, rocking back and forth beneath soft dissonances that are gently mesmerising. The title track swiftly follows, bringing an abrupt change of texture, more static, resonating outwards from a fixed central cluster. Despite the lack of anything approximating bass, it’s a rich, even slightly heady soundworld; occasional notes protrude sharply out, but their shimmer prevents them from jarring on the ear, adding to the entrancingly hypnotic tone that pervades this track. Read more

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The familiar and the strange playing together as friends: Radiohead – The King of Limbs

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As an occasion, Valentine’s Day is polarising enough, split between they who regard it with importance, and those for whom it’s little more than an overhyped, vacuous sham. But that polarisation was exacerbated further on this particular Valentine’s Day, bringing as it did Radiohead‘s announcement that their eighth album, The King of Limbs, would be forthcoming just a few days later. It’s surprising that so many music sites and blogs have been so precipitate in their quest to get out the earliest possible review (The Telegraph‘s Neil McCormick, as usual, being the most egregious; his track-by-track “review”, written on the day of release, was pointless, cliché-ridden doggerel)—Radiohead have demonstrated more times than most that their output takes no little time to speak, and even longer to be heard. In October last year, when i wrote my 10-year retrospective of Kid A, i couldn’t help feeling it had taken much of that decade to make sufficiently meaningful inroads to the material; from that perspective, to be responding to The King of Limbs barely more than a fortnight after its release seems absurdly premature. But the dust has finally begun to settle, and now one can at least start to try to make sense of those first impressions. Read more

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Unifying the abstract and the anecdotal: Yui Onodera & Celer – Generic City

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Ambient music, like all electronic music, often displays an uneasy relationship between the final composition and the source materials from which it was made. i believe it was Luc Ferrari who coined the term ‘anecdotal’ for sounds that immediately declare their origins; while field recordings, as an art form, have become an entity in their own right these days, for some, use of such anecdotal sounds is anathema, rupturing the delicate abstract surface for which they strive. There are times when it seems as though Celer echo this sentiment; one only has to spend a little time with Poulaine, for instance, which lists cello, violin, theremin, “contact mics on oil paintings” and field recordings among other things as its sources, all of which are entirely lost, unidentifiable in the resultant ambient soup. That’s not exactly a complaint; i know from experience that the significance of a source can be justification enough for inclusion, irrespective of whether or not its identity is retained—this is music, after all, not documentary footage—and, in any case, on other releases Will and Dani have, indeed, allowed their sources to be more obviously demonstrative, such as Poulaine‘s companion release Fountain Glider and Engaged Touches. Read more

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New digital release: at the magical hour when is becomes if / desert-tide

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The sonic poles of noise and pitched material are heard in delicate vein on my own new digital EP, which presents two works composed in June 2010. The shorter of the two, desert-tide, takes a gentle journey through a small, noise-based landscape. By contrast, at the magical hour when is becomes if focuses entirely on pitches, juxtaposing them in clouds and clusters ever in flux, drifting, dissipating and coalescing within a relatively narrow sonic space.

The EP is released at midnight on 2 October 2010, available only as a free digital download, through my own label Interrobang. It can be downloaded in a wide variety of formats from my Bandcamp site, here. Included with the download is a high-resolution PDF digital booklet, as well as a special offer to purchase both my CD releases at two for the price of one – an offer not to be missed!

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Flawless, stratospheric pinnacles: The Birthday Massacre – Pins and Needles

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While the majority of contemporary rock—regardless of what prefix it’s given—tends to pass me by as so much generic, posturing fluff, inject a healthy, industrial-strength jolt of electronics through it, and i’m very much more inclined to sit up and pay attention. Such music’s just as capable of factory-line posing as its more raw, guitar-driven cousin, of course, but it does give the music, at least, a veneer of novelty, while at best, produces some of the most exciting rock around. For some years, Evanescence provided my fix in this area, but their focus was lost long, long ago, and their place in my affections has been supplanted by Canada’s most splendidly purple goth-synth-rock group, The Birthday Massacre. Whereas Evanescence hit the ground running, producing outstanding work from their first single onwards, The Birthday Massacre have taken numerous releases over no less than a decade to reach a place of maturity, the latest and most outstanding example of which is their new album, released a few days ago, Pins and Needles. Read more

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