CD/Digital releases

The ambient tradition: Implex Grace – a searing demonstration of ambient noise

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i said before that there’s more to ambient than washes of sound, but of course this kind of texture is, for better or (more often) worse, very closely associated with it. Thankfully, having spent too many years trapped in the saccharine world of (God help us) “chillout” music, ambient’s potential for drift has grown up into something very much more mature and meaningful. In no small part, it has been affected by what some might regard as its nemesis: noise. It might be fairer to call the constructions found in noise walls of sound rather than washes, but these two extremes have been drawn together to forge something utterly new. i suspect, like most ostensible “opposites”, they’ve had more in common than was immediately apparent; both noise and ambient tend to place emphasis on broad gestures within long durational expanses; both tend to occupy dynamic extremes; and, of course, like any extreme, both have fallen prey to the moronic mumblings of the talentless who have purloined the style in the hope it might bestow upon them the illusion of something approximating ability. As a texture, noise is unavoidable, so for it to lend anything of value to ambient, it is going to need to be softened and tenderised, in order to retain some semblance of Brian Eno’s “ignorability” (the inability of the listener to “ignore” noise (in Eno’s sense of the word), perhaps explains why poor music in that genre is so incredibly irritating, whereas poor ambient is a mild irritation at best).

An interesting blend of these worlds can be heard in the music of Michael Perry Goodman, otherwise known as Implex Grace. He caught my attention a couple of months back when his self-styled “debut release”, Through Luminescent Passages I, became available as a free download. i say “self-styled”, because in truth there’s been a number of minor self-releases dating back to 2004 (they can all be streamed via the vibr website; link below); nonetheless, this album is his most ambitious release to date, worthy of being regarded as his “Opus 1”. Even before listening, the track titles are highly suggestive: “Gorgeous Pale Light”, “Starlight: A Distant Shimmering Particle”, “Beyond The Cosmic Gates”; nonetheless, many are the composers who have made astronomical connections to their work, only for it to fail entirely to live up to such a lofty association; vivid titles like these are best approached with caution. But it’s immediately clear that Implex Grace is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill composer. and it’s clear too that the radiance alluded to in those titles is not merely present, but omnipresent, permeating—no, saturating—the music with incandescence, often composed in roughly equal parts of ambience and noise. “Twilight: Diamond In The Sky” is an exercise in simplicity: a delicate fragment of material (the “diamond”?) is placed within a soft harmonic bath (the “sky”?), wherein it loops merrily away, glitching here and there; it’s as though we’re watching it slowly draw nearer to us, allowed a few precious moments of closeness, before it passes us back into the beyond. “Gorgeous Pale Light” is a tough title to live up to, but the music succeeds, presenting a sonic landscape that feels by turns autumnal and/or suffused with rain (a different kind of saturation). Even longer than the first track, it opens up the scope of the album, widening the horizons still further; it’s an epic pronouncement, almost a statement of intent. Read more

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Throwing down the gauntlet: t.A.T.u. – Beliy Plaschik

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If i was to admit that my love for t.A.T.u. began the moment the video for All The Things She Said was first shown on MTV, it would possibly send out the wrong kind of message. i won’t deny that i found the video surprising and controversial (i was in the company of friends at the time, and our conversation quickly became dominated by it); but above and beyond any pseudo-sapphic high jinks, i was both enthralled by the song and genuinely intrigued by the dark content of both the video and the lyrics. Following my last post, i don’t think it would be fanciful to suggest that what Dubstar was to the 1990s, t.A.T.u. is to the 2000s, their songs bristling with energy and excitement, but often being the vehicle for lyrics that explore and express some very difficult ideas and concomitantly angry emotions. Where Dubstar focussed on the comparatively insular dramas of relationship trauma, however, t.A.T.u. face outward at the world around them, their words directed at society itself. Say what you like about them being yet another “product”, but their songs go way beyond such banal intentions; they’re popular without seeking to please—pop it may be, but not in the least bit plastic.

t.A.T.u.’s newest release, the first single from their forthcoming album, is “Белый Плащик”, transliterated as “Beliy Plaschik” and known in English as “White Robe”. Unlike their previous singles (due to record label upheavals), this has only been available for purchase direct from Russia, which explains its relative anonymity. It’s surprising, considering the incredible success they’ve had, that they’re releasing their music like this—i.e. from a single country only—but it’s not the first time it’s happened (the “Truth” DVD was—bizarrely—only available from Japan, to the chagrin of many fans). Anyway, so much for the (im)practicalities…. While the single was only released last month, the video has been available for some time (since last November i think), so the song can’t really be disassociated from it. It recently came to light that this video is a “TV version” however; the DVD accompanying the single contains a more lengthy version, which makes for a fuller experience. Both, though, use imagery at once striking and deeply provocative. Read more

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Conflicted and inconsistent: the mentality and detriment of Venetian Snares

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Through the last few years, my opinion of Venetian Snares has been in the descendant. But from the outset, let’s be fair; while Aaron Funk has, on occasion, produced music that rarely rises beyond mere drivel—Songs About My Cats, Chocolate Wheelchair Album—he has also achieved some mind-blowingly brilliant creations: Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding and the wonderful Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. Venetian Snares’ output often gives the impression of listening to someone with Tourette Syndrome plugged into a cluster of samplers and effects boxes. At times, a sense of control is lost, resulting in a miasmic, dull mess (Making Orange Things)—but when the control is maintained, it can focus into a beam of shockingly vivid, effluvial rage (Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole). Funk, it would seem, is not always sure where the line is drawn between being extreme and being excessive. i think it has a lot to do with the fact that, since 2000, he has released no fewer than seventeen Venetian Snares albums, and around the same number of singles/EPs. Astonishingly prolific but, of course, quality and quantity rarely coincide. In this sense, i’ve come to regard Aaron Funk as something of a latter-day Darius Milhaud: a vast quantity of music, much (perhaps the majority) of which is formulaic and tiresome, but nonetheless containing a few gems that reveal the hand of an absolute master. Into this highly ambivalent context comes Detrimentalist, the first Venetian Snares album of 2008. Read more

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Versions, versions everywhere (plus a red herring): Autechre – Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae

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Early yesterday morning, after a number of the wrong kind of glitches at Bleep.com, the final tracks of Autechre‘s Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae became available. Versions, versions everywhere: and with this—after 44 tracks, totalling almost 5 hours—i think one can assume that the Quaristice project is at an end. i, for one, have found it to be a fascinating and thoughtful journey. As a whole, the project poses the question of whether any of the tracks from the original release should be regarded as ‘definitive’, or instead that all of the versions are different but equally significant expressions of a common (or even an uncommon) idea. My impression is that both contain some truth; there’s clearly some connection intended to be made, as the track titles bear similarities that invite comparison. Like its predecessor, Quaristice (Versions), then, this album may be heard both in its own context, as well as the wider one encompassing all three Quaristice releases. Read more

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An archetypal journey on a road from nowhere: The Hafler Trio – Dislocation

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Pretty much all of the music that qualifies for the lame but vital epithet “interesting” is found among the fringes and shadows of most people’s perception. Unfortunately, these days a great deal of dross and detritus lurk there too (the kind of feeble fodder served up on blogs such as “Deleted Scenes, Forgotten Dreams”), but that’s usually music that has placed itself at the edges actively, with the intention of disassociating itself from the mainstream. The best (or, rather, the best of the best) is there because it simply cannot be anywhere else; in fact, truth be told, it’s not even here: it resides precisely nowhere, and makes its point with a beautiful intensity of thought and bewildering clarity of utterance. With the literal meaning in mind, such as this may be called ‘Utopian’ music. The output of The Hafler Trio could be said to reside in just such a “no place”.

Various parameters need re-thinking and re-shaping in approaching The Hafler Trio’s works: this isn’t, in any conventional sense, ‘music’—nor, indeed, could it be described as ‘art’; it is something ‘other’ than either of these things. This need is, literally, mirrored in the plethora of paraphernalia that accompany many Hafler Trio releases, where text and image are frequently shown back-to-front; it suggests many things: the need to look at things in a new way, and that what appears backward may well not be; the backward writing also suggests Da Vinci’s practice of secreting his thoughts and concepts. and yet, nonetheless, these works have qualities that can be said to be both artistic and musical, and as such they provide a ‘way in’. It’s certainly a better approach than to question the author, Andrew McKenzie, who chooses to hide himself behind layers of pseudo-arcana and quasi-esoterica; this doesn’t matter, of course (outside of religion, when has it ever been profitable to shift attention from the creation to the creator?), it is the work that must command our interest (not our questions) and, in turn, it is the work’s response (not its answers) that we must face; then and only then, we shall be provoked for the right reasons. Read more

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Client B – Acoustic At The Club Bar & Dining

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Throughout the Easter season, Client have been releasing a free EP of “Client B” (i.e. the wonderful Sarah Blackwood (whose birthday was two days ago, so the timing is apposite)) performing an acoustic set, one track being made available per week. It’s a real treat, for many reasons, not least of which being the opportunity to hear Blackwood’s beautiful voice performing in a more stripped-down context; it’s something of a reunion too, with Dubstar colleague Chris Wilkie accompanying on guitar. The tracklisting is great, a mixture of songs by Dubstar, Client, The Smiths and New Order; Sarah Blackwood sounds nervous at first, but it’s clear after a short time that she’s really enjoying herself (she introduces “True Faith” as “one of my favourite northern folk songs”!). Hearing “Not So Manic Now” and “Stars” still sends a shiver down my spine after all these years… Read more

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NIN – The Slip

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Continuing the practice of Ghosts I-IV a few months back, Nine Inch Nails‘ new album The Slip (Halo 27) is again available entirely free of charge. The 10-track album can be downloaded in a variety of audio formats: mp3, FLAC, apple lossless and high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz WAV files (apart from mp3, these are all downloaded via torrents). The last of these is a remarkable offering; Trent Reznor seems to be the only significant artist at present who both acknowledges the reality of how listeners want to procure the music and also that they’re rather keen to have that music at the highest possible resolution. In truth, i can’t see many people downloading the high-res files, as it only makes sense if played back on high-end audio equipment. It’s possible to download any/all of the available formats, so i went for everything except the mp3; download speeds this morning were very fast, the FLAC and apple formats taking about 4 minutes each to download (the high-res files took about 40 minutes!). In addition to the music, a JPG of the cover art and a PDF booklet are thrown in; an advantage to downloading the high-res WAV files is that the individual track artwork is included in separate high-quality JPGS (as it can’t be encoded within the audio file). Read more

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