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

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

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 focused 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). 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

Tags: , ,

Bitter and strong: the legacy of Dubstar

Posted on by 5:4 in Retrospectives | 6 Comments

A few months back, the announcement was made that Dubstar were at work on a fourth album, due for release this year. This came from Steve Hillier, brains of the outfit, who has, in the intervening years since Dubstar’s departure from the music scene, continued to maintain webpages connected with their music. Perhaps Hillier’s prevalent nostalgia is what has kickstarted the Dubstar motor once again, or perhaps they just couldn’t help themselves (real musicians never can); either way, things are afoot. i think that history – with all the old-fashioned benevolence of a grandmother – has been kind to Dubstar: they are encased within a memory that finds playful melodies and darkly acerbic lyrics conjoined, a paradox perfectly encapsulated in the person of singer Sarah Blackwood, her strongly northern dialect colliding with her angelic, unwavering soprano voice. Dubstar, in short, are like one of Grayson Perry‘s ceramics, discreetly placing disturbing imagery within a context that at first seems familiar and safe. It’s been interesting, then, to revisit all their old releases, many of which have been untouched on the CD shelves for far too long; ten singles (all long out of print), three albums, plus one or two other odds and ends, totalling a little over seven hours of music. Released over a five-year period, this is a fair achievement. But how does the music acquit itself now? What is Dubstar’s legacy? Read more

Tags: , ,

Conflicted and inconsistent: the mentality and detriment of Venetian Snares

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

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

Tags: , ,

Ensemble Exposé: Brian Ferneyhough – Incipits (UK Première) plus Davies, Xenakis, Barrett, Dillon and Sørensen

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières | 2 Comments

Here’s a real treat for those who prefer their contemporary music to be at the more intellectually rewarding end of the continuum. It’s music from a concert given at the ICA in London by Ensemble Exposé (plus violist Garth Knox), under the direction of Roger Redgate, who also discusses the music being performed. The concert explored works by diverse composers, from the relatively gentle and meditative soundscapes of Paul Davies and Bent Sørensen to the more densely intricate textures of James Dillon and Richard Barrett (Barrett originally co-founded the ensemble with Redgate); Xenakis, as ever, stands apart, uniquely indescribable. It culminated in the first UK performance of Incipits by one of the greats of contemporary music, Brian Ferneyhough, a fascinating work exploring different ways to start a composition. Also included is a lengthy interview with the composer including a number of other short pieces.


Paul Davies – Genji’s Visit to Utsusemi


Iannis Xenakis – Embellie

The audio has been removed as a commercial recording is now available.


Richard Barrett – Anatomy


James Dillon – Siorram


Bent Sørensen – Funeral Procession

The audio has been removed as a commercial recording is now available.


Brian Ferneyhough – Incipits (UK Première)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

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

Tags: , ,

Bath International Music Festival, Bath Abbey: Dhafer Youssef – Les Ondes Orientales (World Première)

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, Premières | Leave a comment

Last Wednesday, the Beloved and i were at Bath Abbey, for a “Messiaen Centenary Celebration” given as part of the Bath International Music Festival. In addition to Messiaen‘s rarely-performed Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine and a keyboard concerto by J. S. Bach, the concert included the world première of Les Ondes Orientales by Tunisian composer Dhafer Youssef. Pianist Joanna MacGregor is the artistic director of the Bath Festival, and she also took part in the piece. Read more

Tags: , , ,

Mixtape #6 : Piano

Posted on by 5:4 in Mixtapes | Leave a comment

For years, the piano has been to me an object of fascination and awe; its range of capabilities, expressive potential and timbral variety are breathtaking. Also for years, these qualities were the very things preventing me from attempting to compose something for it. Listening to piano music is a supreme joy, and so this new mixtape is a concoction of some of the more interesting examples that have been occupying my ears of late. It also represents some of my favourite composers, all of them bringing something unique to the instrument. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Down with politics! : And One – Bodypop

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

If you were to combine Leonard Cohen, Laibach and Aqua with just a sprinkling (dare i suggest it) of The Village People, the result would go some way to resembling And One. To describe them as ‘peculiar’ is not really to say anything meaningful about Europop, which has never borne much resemblance to the pop music from Britain and America. In recent years, this fact is proving to be No Bad Thing; through the late 90s and 00s, ‘English pop’ (to include both sides of the Atlantic) has collapsed into a generic, uninspired agglomeration of meaningless plastic, vacuous/misogynistic randb, and the woeful efforts of pseudo-rock bands, who arguably try hardest to be interesting, but for the most part – due to a ‘retro’ mindset – succeed only in producing pastiche replicas of something older, better and far more genuine. Against such a pitiful backdrop, the often tawdry excesses of Europop (and its Asian cousin, J-Pop) have come to be a powerful blessing, albeit a mixed one; individuality and originality, at one end of the continuum, become a questionable understanding of “quality control” and a habit of taking oneself too seriously at the other. And One’s particular brand of EBM has fallen into this trap regularly, and yet when they avoid it it’s with such panache and conviction that it renders their flaws entirely forgiveable.

They have a substantial corpus of albums and singles, all of which meander freely within the no man’s land betwixt egregious and enthralling. However, their most recent album, Bodypop, suggests that, finally, they are grasping what aspects of their musical personality should be pursued, and which can be ejected. Political issues have always mattered to And One, and this has been reflected in much of their work; however, Europop – like all the popular genres – is a weak instrument for political discourse; it may, and does, stir up feelings, but only in the most superficial and transient way; in any case, the majority of listeners to this kind of music, i would imagine, do not come to it with political opinion among their principal concerns. The title Bodypop immediately suggests a different emphasis, and indeed this is their least overtly political album, allowing their highly danceable tunes to move in a less fettered way (although with an occasional tendency to march). Furthermore, a striking lyricism is prominent here; lengthy, moving melodies that demonstrate just how superb Steve Naghavi’s baritone voice really is. And One wouldn’t be And One if palpable campery and kitschness were absent, and a couple of songs – ‘So Klingt Liebe’ and ‘Body Company’ – will happily furnish the gay clubs of Europe with floor-fillers. They’re not so outré that they become silly, though; despite my allusion to The Village People earlier, Pet Shop Boys is probably a better comparison. Read more

Tags:

Interpretations on Record: Messiaen – Turangalîla-Symphonie

Posted on by 5:4 in Drama/Documentary | Leave a comment

Radio 3 now calls it simply “CD Review”, but a few years back it was known as “Interpretations on Record”. Each programme focuses on a particular composition, examining the available recordings with the intention of choosing one that is arguably better than the others. This is an edition of the programme dating back almost 12 years, when Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie was the work under the spotlight. Presented by Michael Oliver and lasting a little over 70 minutes, it includes fascinating information about the earliest performances of the piece, as well as a useful discussion on the difficulties it presents from a recording perspective. Read more

Tags: ,

Messiaen’s Méditations – the greatest organ work of all time?

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

Trinity Sunday, and an opportunity to share one of the most prized CDs of my collection. It’s a complete recording of Olivier Messiaen‘s organ cycle Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité, performed by Messiaen himself on the organ of the Parisian church where he was organist for most of his life, the appropriately named La Trinité. The nine meditations (which i shall be hearing in concert in a month’s time) are among Messiaen’s finest creations – still controversial for some due to his quirky creation of a “communicable language” that he then uses to “say” phrases from Scripture. Nonetheless, the sounds and textures are unique in the organ repertory, bearing little resemblance to conventional – or, indeed, any other – organ music. Despite taking liberties with his own score, Messiaen’s performances are incredibly exciting, and the recording is marvellously vivid, capturing the timbres brilliantly (the deep bass notes are, literally, breathtaking). Read more

Tags: , , ,

Mixtape #5 : Beats

Posted on by 5:4 in Mixtapes | 1 Comment

If music was my first love, then my fascination with rhythm was the first part of that attraction; beat-driven music—particularly early hip-hop and electro—dominated my earliest teenage years. My taste in beats has evolved since that time, of course, and the selection represented here (which may well come as little surprise to regular readers) is a selection of relatively recent music. Each of them has something distinctive, something that separates it from the terrible plethora of dance music that predominates the current musical landscape (at least, the popular landscape); each of them, too, is in my opinion one of the very best tracks by that artist. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thomas Adès – These Premises Are Alarmed, Concerto Conciso, Asyla (World Premières)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières | Leave a comment

i’ve been interested in Thomas Adès‘ work for many years, so here are recordings of the world première performances of three of his compositions. The tale behind his miniature orchestral work These Premises Are Alarmed is interesting, if disappointing. Adès was commissioned to compose a piece for the series of three inaugural concerts at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, which opened in September 1996 (i was fortunate enough to attend these concerts). For some time beforehand, the word was circulated that Adès was at work on a piano concerto, which – in Classical fashion – he would direct from the keyboard. As the concert approached, however, rumours began to fly that Adès was having difficulties with the piece and things seemed to be getting rather desperate. Eventually, all that could be salvaged from the project was a mere three minutes of music, a pretty meagre offering (George Benjamin, also commissioned for these concerts, wrote Sometime Voices, a substantial work). It’s difficult to be too praiseworthy about These Premises Are Alarmed; the orchestration is interesting and lively, but there’s the ever-present sense that this is material pieced together in haste. Nonetheless, it’s a testament to Adès’ abilities that the result has such aplomb. It was premièred at the Bridgewater Hall on 12 September 1996 by the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano.

Read more

Tags: , , , ,

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

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 2 Comments

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

Tags:

Client B – Acoustic At The Club Bar & Dining

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 2 Comments

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

Tags: , ,

NIN – The Slip

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

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

Tags:

Great Lives – Ian Curtis

Posted on by 5:4 in Commemorations, Drama/Documentary | Leave a comment

Today’s episode of Great Lives, on BBC Radio 4, was devoted to Joy Division’s lead singer, the late and much-lamented Ian Curtis. Many, many words have been spoken and written about this man, but the programme doesn’t stoop to probing his tortured remains or erecting pedestals to his memory.

Matthew Parris sensitively discusses Curtis’ life and legacy with poet Simon Armitage, and Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, and the result is touching and respectful, with some insights, but what comes across most—particularly from Hook—is a sad lack of understanding and palpable regret at Curtis’ suicide. The programme contains a fabulous highlight: an all too brief excerpt from an unreleased acoustic recording of Joy Division’s most well-known song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; Ian Curtis’ voice sounds mature, solid and entirely beautiful. Read more

Tags: ,

James MacMillan – Symphony No. 3 ‘Silence’ (Scottish Première)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières | Leave a comment

Here’s the Scottish première of James MacMillan’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Silence’, broadcast last Tuesday. Don’t be taken in by that subtitle; this piece does the exact opposite of “what it says on the tin”. MacMillan is more concerned with the perception – within the human experience of tragedy and cruelty – of God gone ‘silent’, inspired by the writings of Shusaku Endo and encapsulated in Christ’s cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Far from being silent, the symphony is, in fact, a work brimming with unrest, of Mahlerian scope and with suitably collossal tutti passages (fittingly, the remainder of the concert consisted of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, the two works sitting well beside each other). Read more

Tags: , ,

Deerhoof: confounding & clever

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

i detest the obsession to subdivide music into genres, and what excites me so much about Deerhoof’s music is that it’s absolutely impossible to pigeon-hole. i’ve seen them called “indie rock”, “post rock”, “avant rock” and “math rock”; but i don’t worry about such things, and choose rather to revel in some of the most confoundingly brilliant, unashamedly artistic and downright clever music i’ve heard in my life. There’s an omnipresent sense of anarchy lurking in their songs, the band often sounding as though they’re barely held in check by Satomi Matsuzaki’s simplistic vocals.

Their most recent album, Friend Opportunity, starts with “The Perfect Me”, the perfect album opener: fast, irregular, harmonically ambiguous, percussion everywhere; it’s also a perfect demonstration of Deerhoof’s approach to structure, veering between utterly different episodes with absolutely no attempt at smoothing over the joins. Play it loud, very loud! “+81″‘s opening trumpet fanfare shows a willingness to bring in unexpected instruments, which sound entirely at home; the middle portion of the song is them at their most obtuse harmonically, perhaps the most peculiar series of chords i’ve ever heard away from classical art music. Though i hate the term, Deerhoof exhibit a palpable ‘retro’ quality at times, and the opening of “Believe E.S.P.” is, dare i say it, the kind of thing one might expect to hear in a ’70s porn movie. But there’s nothing remotely embarrassing about it; it’s made to fit perfectly, melding among the laid-back percussion and dark guitar/electronic stings. Read more

Tags: , ,

More from The Pipettes – two live concerts

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

As an addendum to yesterday’s post, here are two excellent recordings of The Pipettes performing live. The first comes from the 2007 South By South West festival in Austin, Texas; two excellent reviews of the concert – with great pictures! – can be found here and here. The concert includes two non-album tracks, “Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman?” and “True Love Waits Patiently For A Miracle”. Read more

Tags: , ,

The Pipettes: changing once again

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

i’m in mourning at present. A few days ago, it was announced that two members of The Pipettes, RiotBecki and Rosay, are leaving “to pursue other musical projects”. i’ve nothing against change, of course, and in their five years The Pipettes have already experienced a fair amount of alterations, but these two together with Gwenno seemed to have achieved the ideal balance. Although there’s more than a whiff of being another pre-fab band (a fact their name hints at), they demonstrate an originality and talent which sets them apart from anything remotely ‘plastic’. The three-part harmonies that fill their early 50s-/60s-inspired miniatures are sumptuous, showing these girls really can sing, not merely perform (though they do perform brilliantly too, playing their own instruments and performing retro dance numbers). All the more sad that changes are afoot; the replacements are to be Anna and Ani (Gwenno’s sister), and according to Gwenno, the trio is demoing 20-25 new songs. Writing about the situation on the band’s website, Gwenno sounds both optimistic – “People may be confused by such a drastic change in line-up but please rest assured – if we were to be an imitation of ourselves we would stop” – and tantalising – “…we’re incredibly excited to be working toward bringing you a new album that will be unlike anything we (or anyone else) have ever done”. A change is probably a good thing; Rosay’s voice, in particular, has been central to the current Pipettes sound, so it’ll be interesting to hear how the new trio will sound. Either way though, The Pipettes as i’ve known and loved them are no more…

Tags: , ,