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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Mix Tape #16 : Vox Masculus (In Memoriam Ian Curtis)

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Thirty years ago, Ian Curtis, lead singer and prime mover of Joy Division throughout its short-lived existence, took his own life. i can’t and won’t claim to have known anything about this at the time (being a mere six years old, my own musical journey had barely begun, let alone made it as far as the emerging post-punk scene), and i continued to know nothing of Joy Division until around 1982, when the combination of buying the 12″ vinyl of “Blue Monday” (on a whim; i liked the artwork) and my growing fondness for the more gothic end of the growing indie scene made me conscious of Joy Division’s significance. Undoubtedly worthy albums, Unknown Pleasures and the posthumous Closer only begin to hint at where the band might have gone next; whether it would have led down the same path as that taken by New Order is impossible to guess. The death of a celebrity interests people for all the wrong reasons; what matters is that Curtis was a fascinating creative individual, whose talents as a singer and a lyricist had only just begun to reach fruition. It seems entirely appropriate, therefore, to dedicate this new mix tape—focussing on male vocalists—to Ian Curtis’ memory. Read more

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Interrobang – works by Ryoji Ikeda, Simon Cummings/Charles Tournemire and Steve Peters

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Regular readers of 5:4 will know of my interest in the music of both Ryoji Ikeda and Steve Peters. Later this week i have the privilege of directing works by both of these composers, at the next concert given by my ensemble, Interrobang.

In the first half, we’ll be presenting the UK première of Ryoji Ikeda‘s gorgeous Op. 1, one of his only works for instrumental forces (alongside Op. 2 and Op. 3, also for strings). Op. 1 has been played by Ensemble Modern, but doesn’t seem to have been taken up by other groups, which seems strange considering how lovely it is. Also in the first half will be the first performance of my own L’Ensemble Mystique (Book One), a suite of arrangements of music by Charles Tournemire, for chamber orchestra. Tournemire’s music is all based on plainsong, and the original chants will also be sung at the concert, putting my arrangements into context. The second half is entirely given over to the UK première of Steve PetersThe Webster Cycles, the CD of which came almost top in my Best EPs of 2008. It’s a mesmerising piece that takes words from the Webster Dictionary and turns them into abstract melodic fragments, which overlap each other in aleatoric fashion.

The concert takes place at 7.30pm on Thursday 6 May, in the Recital Hall of Birmingham Conservatoire. There will also be a repeat performance of The Webster Cycles the following day at St Martin’s in the Bullring, starting at 12.30pm. It would be great to see any readers of 5:4 at these concerts—do make yourselves known if you’re there!

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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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Mix Tape #15 : Late Night

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It’s been a while since the last mix tape, and i’ve decided to return to the theme of the the first two mixes, music particularly suitable for late night listening.

Steve Peters‘ work is always fascinating, and his field recording project Here-ings is a masterpiece. i wrote about it at length early last year, and its profound sense of hush, allowing the space and its environment to speak, is unparalleled, and a fitting way to start this sonic foray into the night. Lovesliescrushing have dominated my listening in 2010; their lavish 2CD box-set Girl. Echo. Suns. Veils. arrived a few weeks back, and earlier this week Crwth (Chorus Redux) arrived. As the title suggests, it’s a retake of Chorus, their superb classic from 2007, as laden with velvet gentleness as the original (the CD comes with a voucher to download the original free of charge, so you get the best of both worlds). Ambrose Field‘s Being Dufay was one of my best albums of 2009, and the whole release is arguably best heard at night, when everything else is still; this is especially true of “Sanctus”, which emerges from the solo voice into some breathtakingly beautiful textures. sc140 was a project in conjunction with The Wire magazine, where composers wrote short snippets of Super Collider code, no longer than the length of a tweet (140 characters). The result is a mixed success but Nathaniel Virgo‘s contributions are invariably engaging; the pink noise in this track, punctuated by deep booms takes on the transparency of a field recording, all rain and thunder. 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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Podcast #1 – Antichrist Soundtrack

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After thinking about it for far too long, here’s the first 5:4 podcast, devoted to an exploration of the soundtrack to Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist. If you’ve not yet seen the film, be warned that the plot is discussed at length, and in some detail (occasionally graphic). The podcast lasts just under an hour, and is available in FLAC and MP3 formats.

FLAC [175Mb]
MP3 [105Mb]

The soundtrack is only available as a digital download, from the below sites:
Play.com (recommended – 320Kbps)
iTunes store (presumably 256Kbps)
Zentropa (only 192Kbps)

Further links about the movie:
Official website
Infinite Thought
Les Films du Losange
Wikipedia

Podcast #1 – Antichrist Soundtrack by 5:4 on Mixcloud

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