CD/Digital releases

A ferocious take on dubstep: Hecq – Sura

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Despite claiming, a little over a year ago, that “the whole beat-science cant go any further for me”, Hecq has unleashed a new EP, Sura, that is a ferocious take on dubstep. Far from turning his back on beats after Steeltongued, Hecq positively bombards the ears with them, barely held in check by—as ever—his trademark ambience.

This is not the familiar shambling, lackadaisical dubstep, however; the title track is thrown into existence amidst a plethora of relentless high-hats that propel the material on. It’s over this, like a warm liquid, that Hecq’s slow chaconne builds in substance, easily swallowing these opening beat-gestures. Everything subsides, and then, literally, explodes, shards of white-hot rhythms cascading outwards as if from a welding iron. The track then, essentially, goes through the motions a second time; the chaconne briefly re-emerges, distant and hauntological, and with even more violence the metallic beats resume their onslaught. Read more

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New digital release: the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars

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Out today is my new release, a 32-minute electronic work, the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars. The piece takes as its starting point the intricate stonework found on the ceiling of the Quire in Tewkesbury Abbey. The central idea explored in the work is encapsulated in this quotation from George Herbert’s The Elixer:

A man that looks on glasse,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.

More specifically, the piece is concerned with notions of imposed restriction (the ‘ceiling’ of the title), with the concomitant spiritual reaction to—and transcendence beyond—such blind barriers. This is heard most prominently in the work’s fundamental conflict between two types of material, one noise-based, the other pitched and bell-like.

the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is dedicated to Michael Perry Goodman, perhaps better known to readers of 5:4 as Implex Grace.

This release is only available in the form of a free digital download, in a variety of audio formats; to download, please visit simoncummings.bandcamp.com. Due to the extreme frequency range used in the piece, lossless (FLAC/Apple Lossless) is VERY strongly recommended. Download includes high-resolution artwork, PDF digital booklet and selection of desktop wallpapers.

An ultra-high resolution version will be available soon.

Copies of my first two CDs, Triptych, May/July 2009 and The Stuff of Memories are still available; for information, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, please visit www.simoncummings.com/shop. Both of these can also now be purchased as digital downloads from the Bandcamp site.

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Bang Goes The Quality Control: The Divine Comedy

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While 5:4 isn’t a forum where i’d like to spend much time discussing bad music, there are times when one feels compelled to say something, simply out of a sense of duty to one’s fellow humanity. This is especially the case when an artist who, generally, has received a fair amount of praise and respect, starts to lose their marbles and inflict audiences with something far less worthy. Apropos: The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood.

To be fair, signs of Neil Hannon’s creative decline have been evident for a while, nowhere more so than the inept and, frankly, bizarre farrago he proffered last year as one half of The Duckworth Lewis Method. It was a self-indulgent, shameful album, the one good song (“The Age of Revolution”) turning out to be a slap in the face when followed by such half-hearted, stupid effluvia. i can’t have been the only person shocked to find Neil Hannon actively involved in such an album; in hindsight, it did at least unwittingly prepare one for the experience of Bang Goes The Knighthood. Read more

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How To Destroy Angels: music on a magic carpet, but not elevating

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Trent Reznor’s side project How To Destroy Angels—formed with Year Zero/Ghosts henchman Atticus Ross, with Reznor’s wife, the impossibly-named Mariqueen Maandig, as vocalist—has released its first EP today. It’s a 6-track self-titled affair, lasting a little under 35 minutes, and it’s tempting to start drawing comparisons with Nine Inch Nails, rather than face the music on its own terms. But, having said that, i wonder how possible it is to distance oneself from NIN, and not merely through Reznor’s and Ross’ involvement. While Reznor’s voice is arguably the sine qua non in the multi-faceted NIN project, there’s now a sizeable body of NIN material that is instrumental (most notably Ghosts, of course, as well as numerous other tracks, especially on Still), so there’s something of an established ‘non-Reznor’ NIN soundworld. To some extent, first impressions would seem to declare that How To Destroy Angels’ first EP is a cluster of tracks directly from that soundworld, with Mariqueen Maandig simply placed on top (and the style and form of the lyrics is decidedly NIN-like). This isn’t meant as any disrespect to Maandig, who sounds entirely right in this context, although that might have something to do with the fact that she’s not, yet, taken her voice into territory more demanding than chesty whisperings and husky half-utterances. To be blunt, she seems in every way borne aloft on the textures created for her by Ross and Reznor; and while it may be an exhilarating magic carpet ride for her, it’s not quite so elevating an experience for us. Read more

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The tentative return of Dubstar

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Having documented my love of Dubstar‘s music in a fairly exhaustive retrospective of their music a couple of years back, i was excited to hear that—following some rather acrimonious goings-on last year—the group had decided to get together to record a song for the new Amnesty International fundraising compilation, PEACE. Overall, the project is an impressive one; a collection of 182 songs, which can be downloaded following a donation to Amnesty that starts at a paltry €5 (of course, you can pay more if you wish). You can read more about the project, stream songs and donate/download at their rather nicely-designed interactive website here. It became available earlier this week and, as yet, i haven’t even scratched the surface of such a vast compilation (which amounts to 12½ hours of music); but i had no hesitation in starting with Dubstar’s contribution, a cover of The Passions’ “I’m in Love with a German Film Star”.

In a rather fitting metaphor for the reality of the group’s members in recent times, the song emerges out of distortion and noise, settling into a restrained, rather minimal backdrop of bassline, guitar and soft drums. And then it happens: Sarah Blackwood opens her mouth, and immediately the tingles down the spine begin in earnest, and one is lost in a welter of feelings and sensations that propel me back a decade, to the last time my ears heard anything of the kind. Blackwood’s voice is unique and legendary, capable of astonishing purity of tone, without even the remotest whisp of vibrato; from lesser throats, the result would emerge dull and emotionless, whereas from Sarah Blackwood, i would argue, comes one of pop music’s most expressive voices, one that’s enhanced by the gentle edge lent by her delicious northern accent. Anyway, enough of the hero-worship.

It’s a wise choice of cover song; indeed, with its rather lovely poignant shifts of harmony it could almost have been written by Dubstar themselves. Read more

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Melodies from a quixotic ringmaster: Get Well Soon – Vexations

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If you were to combine the chamber pop trappings of Belle and Sebastian, the song-writing inventiveness (but not the sarcasm) of The Divine Comedy and top it off with the vocal stylings of Thom Yorke, the result might start to resemble Get Well Soon. The man behind this quixotic project is Konstantin Gropper, a classically-trained songwriter who’s been lurking in the wings from as far back as 2005, but in the last couple of years has begun to demonstrate in increasingly powerful fashion the weight and intensity of his musical imagination. 2008 brought two impressive releases, the kaleidoscopic album Rest Now, Weary Head! You Will Get Well Soon—which took three years to make, and threw together a courageously wide range of sources and manners, yet somehow found a way to make them all gel—and the outstanding Songs Against The Glaciation EP, an epic rollocking ode to life on the sea, picked out in songs that veer between soft, sublime delicacy and more hectic, rock-out gestures. Gropper’s vocals—treading a confident path between emphatic assertion and languid drawl—bring to these disparate sonic collisions a unifying force, like the ringmaster of a potentially unruly circus. But, surprisingly, that doesn’t mean he dominates the proceedings; in some songs, indeed, his contributions feel extremely succinct, stating their case briefly, allowing the instruments both to prefigure and extend his thoughts. Read more

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New CD: The Stuff of Memories

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My new CD, The Stuff of Memories, will be released at the end of this week; it comprises two electronic works made during the summer of 2009. Both address a related aspect to that explored on my previous CD, Triptych, May/July 2009; while that piece focused on the (perforce flawed) act of remembrance, the present works are directly concerned with the fabric of the memories themselves.

Ostensibly simple pieces, they each take their starting point from existing musical material (other works of mine), which has then been worked on extensively, worn and worried into its final forms. The emphasis, though, is very much on what remains, a celebration of the joy and fragility of the surviving original material, its voice continuing to sing through layers of damage and erosion.

The first piece, Memories are made of this, is dedicated to the Somerset artist Pat Clayton. The piece was in part inspired by her beautifully elaborate artworks, purposely aged and dirtied objects (often books and boxes); simultaneously naturalistic and artificial, they resemble items of flotsam washed up on a beach, waterlogged and etched with sand.

The second piece, becauseshewas (veteris vestigia flammæ) is dedicated to Will Long, of the duo Celer, whose experimental ambient creations readers of 5:4 will know i greatly admire. The title is a reference both to the circumstances pertaining to the original underlying material, as well as to Will’s wife Dani, who passed away in July 2009. The Latin quotation is from the account of Dido and Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid; it translates as “the traces of an old fire”, but i prefer John Dryden’s more poetic rendering: “the sparkles of my former flame”.

This release is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies. The price, including shipping, is:

UK – £10.50 | Europe – £11 | Worldwide – £12

For more information, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, go here.

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