Not Einstürzende Neubauten but Eingestürzt Altbauten: Belong

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One of the most immediately powerful and communicative images of our time is that of the ruin. Whether it’s something prosaic and dark, like a human suicide, or profound and vivid, like the remains of a cathedral, the effect is similar: we’re made aware of, and irresistably drawn into, something that projects its history upon us. and if the ruin makes for a striking image, it is capable of being an even more breathtaking artistic metaphor—the suicide images of Rachel Howard and the juxtaposition of the new Coventry Cathedral alongside its wrecked sibling are wonderful examples. While concepts such as deconstruction, entropy and collapse are all too common in contemporary music—a worrying fact, worthy of study—the very different concept of ruin is rarely explored. Belong is a duo from the United States who seek to do just that; their music is a few years old now, so it surprises me that more people haven’t encountered it (including me; i did only a few weeks ago). Read more

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Delicate and damaged; broken and beautiful: Burial

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Listening to as much music as i do, it’s quite rare to come across something that’s truly surprising. While surprises aren’t as rare as shocks (which are becoming extinct, it seems), they’re elusive nonetheless, and when they do happen it’s exciting and compelling. Those two words apply well to the music of Burial, who emerged seemingly from nowhere in late 2005. Things haven’t changed much since then; somehow, he’s managed to remain anonymous—a handful of people, apparently, know who he is—which is a remarkable achievement. Not as remarkable an achievement as his music, however, which breaks apart the relatively flimsy ideas of dubstep and garage, and creates delicate, damaged objects from the pieces. In fact, brokenness is a quality that pervades all his work, an innate sense of the tragic; Burial is casting his eyes over the world around him and clearly finds the spectacle saddening.

It takes someone with acute sensibilites to say something so stark and emotive through a music of this kind; all the more reason, i suppose, why such a critical source as The Wire named Burial’s eponymous first album as its 2006 Album of the Year. From the opening, untitled, track onwards, there’s an air of mystery cloaking his music, and yet simultaneously it sounds very familiar, very British (a title like “Gutted” affirms its Englishness). Listening to Burial is to be transported to the streets of a city suburb, beneath nocturnal rain; the most telling tracks bespeak devastation in very different ways. Read more

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Floating back to happiness: Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree

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Good music likes company, it seems, as three CDs came through my letterbox this morning, Autechre‘s Quaristice—strange, as it’s not released until Saturday—and Gantz Graf (which i’ve loved for years, but only now got round to buying), plus Goldfrapp‘s new album Seventh Tree, released yesterday. i therefore took time off from my compositional/Autechre duties this morning, to hear finally what Goldfrapp has been up to. i have the deluxe edition, which is quite a package, coming in a small box…

…with the CD, …

…an accompanying DVD, …

…four postcards, …


…a small book of lyrics, all hand-written (just two of the spreads are shown below)…


…and a poster—which is too big to scan. Read more

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Mixtape #1 : Late Night

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There was a discussion on Radio 4 yesterday, about a possible link between creativity and the late night. i have no opinion on this, except insofar as i have had some highly productive late night composing sessions. A lot of my listening to music takes place at night, however, and i think it’s a very special time indeed to engage with it. To that end, and just for fun, i’ve compiled my own little mixtape containing a number of the things i’m listening to at the moment (some old, some new; many mentioned in my posts over the last few months), tracks which heighten in intensity when listened to (preferably, very) late at night. 68 minutes of wonder, seamlessly stitched together for your pleasure…

Here’s the full tracklisting: Read more

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Scandanavian sounds, part 3: AM and the UV

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Every now and then, a band appears that seems to bring together the most engaging qualities of several other artists. A delightful example of that—and proof that not everything coming out of these remote arctic regions is quite as intense or brooding as Deathprod and Biosphere—is AM and the UV, the relatively unknown collaboration of singer Anne Marie Almedal (AM) and obscure duo Ultraviolet (UV). The result is some of the most delicate and compelling songs i’ve heard, effortlessly blending the vocal lyricism of Alison Goldfrapp, the dark funkiness of Portishead (ok, so it broods a little) and the drifting washes of the Cocteau Twins, easily rivalling those artists, the songs are that good. Sadly, they only stayed together long enough to produce two EPs—Tomorrow Is All Like Flowers and Silently The Birds Fly Through Us—and an album, Candy Thunder. The titles of the EPs, in particular, point towards the ethereal aims to which AM and the UV are working. The songs communicate a kind of transparent (if perhaps world-weary) bliss, which grows with repeated listenings. Among the brightest of the highlights: “Whisper” is simply one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded, “Speak” features some spectacular melodic writing, “Wonderful, Beautiful” is a bizarre retro/modern combination (Almedal sounding a bit like Karen Carpenter), and the chorus is irresistible to sing along with, and “Everywhere We Go”, the final track from the album, is very mellow, with the most delicious ending.

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Irrational Appendage Expanding

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Back in the late autumn of 2005, when—in every sense—things were very much darker than they are now, i did perhaps the strangest music search i’ve ever done. Into Soulseek i idly typed the words “disjecta membra”, only half curious to see what it might find, expecting to see nothing; but a couple of moments later, one of the most remarkable track titles i’ve ever seen appeared: “A full desirous body, rendered disjecta membra through the application of dust pincher appliances”. Unable to resist a title as allusive as that, i downloaded it, and thus began my love of the music of irr. app. (ext.). Product of the feverish mind of american artist Matt Waldron, irr. app. (ext.) explores music in a surrealist, at times absurdist manner, juxtaposing the immediately identifiable and anecdotal with the obscure and almost arcane, combining field recordings with electronics. In a way not dissimilar from that of The Hafler Trio, image and text are an integral part of the sonic experience; Waldron is a talented visual artist, producing the dream-like visuals that drape his output. The texts are equally obtuse, bearing a sidewise relationship to the music and the images; indeed, it’s often unclear whether the accompanying words are designed to clarify and elaborate, or confuse and obfuscate. i like this lack of certainty, and find it makes the overall experience that bit more stimulating. Waldron’s experiences with record labels have not been terribly successful, with many planned releases delayed or cancelled; of the works that actually made it so far as to be released, most were released in relatively small quantities, and so are now out of print. It seems i discovered his work just in time to acquire everything before the copies ran out. As of 2008, things seem to be looking up, and a number of irr. app. (ext.) releases are scheduled for release this year. Read more

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Scandanavian sounds, part 2: Deathprod

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Deathprod—it’s a name both striking and strange, which is appropriate, as his music is both of these things too. There are obvious similarities to Biosphere—both are Norwegian; both explore large soundscapes; both create music that is immediately arresting—and yet there’s something very much more going on in Deathprod’s work. It’s even more dark, more remote, to the point of being mysterious, even ominous or desolate. But i think it’s the remoteness that is the most palpable characteristic of Deathprod’s output, neatly encapsulated in a 4-CD box set, released a few years ago. The set brings together three previously released but now hard-to-find albums—Morals and Dogma, Imaginary Songs from Tristan Da Cunha (remoteness even in the title!) and Treetop Drive—with a disc of new material, titled Reference Frequencies. There’s a fascinating low-fi approach taken in many of the tracks (some were transferred to phonograph cylinders), which somehow sit remarkably well beside more obviously electronic pieces—although, almost nothing on these CDs betrays exactly how it was created, which is quite a feat.

i first discovered his work about 4 years ago, and it still ranks as one of the most exciting, transforming encounters i’ve ever had. The most breathtaking of all is “Treetop Drive 1”, where a wide, orchestral string chord sounds again and again, pregnant and ominous, while slowly-evolving electronics splash and wail, like plangent seabirds over the foghorn of a melancholy ocean. Atop this imagined water, “Towboat” explores the same misty territory with a wider and yet more claustrophobic vision. “Burntwood” sounds like a decrepit audio tape discovered on a beach, filled with sounds that simultaneously beguile and disturb. and then, perhaps the supreme achievement of Deathprod’s sound-world, “Dead People’s Things”, an unbearingly poignant lament for something unutterably lost. All of these pieces reinvent music, expand what it can be, how it can speak. They are among the most rapturously beautiful and sad pieces one will ever hear.

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