Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Steve Hackett - Voyage Of The Acolyte (1975)

Three years prior to Please Don't Touch, Steve Hackett was making the most of the downtime whilst Genesis were between vocalists by recording and releasing this, his debut solo album. A masterpiece of composition and playing technique, Voyage Of The Acolyte is sophisticated, punchy progressive rock of the highest calibre, and couldn't have been a better calling card to kick off a solo career that continues to this day.

Straight out of the gate, Ace Of Wands cracks into a offbeat groove and manages to pack about 15 minutes of ideas into five, ably assisted by Phil Collins' jazz fusion influence.  With Collins on drums and Mike Rutherford on bass throughout, Voyage is often thought of as a lost Genesis album - more of that to come in the album's second half, but first Hackett shows off his acoustic skills on Hands Of The Priestess and The Hermit, with the former establishing the long-term pairing with his brother John's gorgeous flautistry.  Halfway through, though, Steve drops in the King Crimson-like crunch of A Tower Struck Down, filling it out with an ominous synth sequence, odd little tape cuts of studio noise and even what sounds like a sample of a Nuremberg rally, before a bomb blast leads into a quiet outro and the remainder of Priestess.

The final two major tracks on the album are the ones that really lay claim to Voyage Of The Acolyte being the greatest album Genesis never made.  Star Of Sirius even has a Phil Collins lead vocal, making it effectively a Banks-less trailer for Trick Of The Tail.  The very best gets saved for last though, in the 12 minutes of Shadow Of The Hierophant, co-credited to Rutherford and apparently rehearsed circa Foxtrot.  A grand mellotron and guitar swell gives way to an acoustic section and Sally Oldfield's vocal.  Eventually, a hammering/tapping solo from Hackett leads into another short instrumental, before fading away to a glockenspiel theme, which will gradually fade back into one of the most stunning finales I've ever heard on a record like this.  Simply, truly magnificent progressive music in the truest sense, with not a note wasted - don't miss this album if it's new to you, prog really doesn't get much better than this.

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 September 2017

Nurse With Wound - Insect & Individual Silenced (1981)

Been listening to a ton of Nurse With Wound this past week or two, and there hasn't been any posted here for ages, so here goes - with the one that Steven Stapleton famously hated so much that he burned the master tapes.  Finally relenting in 2007 on hearing a near-flawless vinyl rip, Stapleton decided that the album, although still a failure by his standards, wasn't half as bad as he remembered, and allowed the vinyl rip (by Kevin Spencer of Robot Records) to become this official reissue.

Listening to it now, especially in context with the three earliest NWW albums that preceded it, and Homotopy To Marie that came after, I certainly don't see a dip in quality with Insect - if anything, it's just a blip on the trajectory by which Stapleton's surrealist editing & mixing craft had been steadily increasing from album to album, which would lead to Homotopy being the first full-on masterpiece that he remains justifiably proud of.  The much freer, anarchic sound of Insect lies in the recording circumstances, as recalled in Stapleton's detailed reminisce in the CD sleevenotes - reproduced here, about halfway down the page, headed "1980: A Year Of Change".  TL;DR: Stapleton, and mates Trevor Reidy and Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell go into a studio for two days to "see what would happen".  Record ensues; Stapleton mortified - until latter-day reappraisal.  So let's listen...

Kicking off with a roar of reverberating feedback, which will reappear sporadically throughout the track's 27 minutes, Alvin's Funeral (The Milk Was Delivered In Black Bottles) is heady, classic early NWW.  Plenty of noise and tape mutilation, voices in different languages, and other barely identifiable clankings and howlings.  Anyone familiar with Part 2 of Bradford Red Light District, Stapleton and William Bennett's experiment in cranking up every reverb setting in the studio to 11, will recognise the source that those roars of feedback have been 'borrowed' from...

The second track, Absent Old Queen Underfoot, was the first to be recorded when the three participants rocked up in the studio to let loose on a reduced drumkit (Reidy), bass amp and jack plugs (Thirlwell) and a crappy guitar (Stapleton).  The result sounds almost like industrial jazz of the most wonderfully inept variety - something to tap your foot to in a jazz club, if you happened to be Jack Nance in Eraserhead.  Lastly, there's the shorter, slightly more recognisably Nurselike Mutilés du Guerre, with more tape-bent squeaking, screaming and the looped voice of Brigitte Fontaine, and the most magnificently surreal ending possible, an arrangement of Ode To Joy for voice and... banjo.  Essential weirdness that deserves full recognition in Stapleton's long, surreal career.
CD reissue cover, 2007
mega / zippy

Friday, 15 September 2017

Hugues Dufourt - Saturne / Surgir (1993 compi, rec. '80 and '85)

As the Cassini spacecraft makes its final descent into Saturn's atmosphere, what better music to celebrate its voyage with?  Well, maybe Holst's Saturn, a classic seven minutes of grand old melancholy in its own right; but I'm going to go for 43 minutes of epic, electronically-inflected orchestral atmospherics courtesy of Dufourt (b. 1943 in Lyon).

One of the co-founders (who included Murail and Grisey) of the French-spectralism-focused Ensemble l’Itinéraire, Dufourt wrote Saturne for them in 1978-9.  It was also the time of the launch of his own Instrumental Research and Sound Synthesis Group (CRISS), which gives a clue to the content of this masterpiece.  Eerie orchestral swells and bell-like percussion are swathed in gaseous synthesiser swishes from the beginning, evoking the descent through Saturn's outer atmosphere to the unknown world below.  The percussion gets periodically more thunderous, there's judicious use of a staccato electric guitar, and the developing synth tones blend in perfectly with the rising and falling orchestral swells.  This sustained atmosphere is wonderfully evocative on headphones in a dark room - highly recommended.

Saturne is supported on this CD by Surgir (1985), a half-hour orchestral work in a similar vein, but without the synthesisers and guitar.  It's worth a listen, but it's the main work that I keep going back to with all its great swirling electronics.
Original LP cover for Saturne, 1980
 mega / zippy

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Egborto Gismonti & Academia De Danças - Sanfona (1981)

Fancy a concept album about a travelogue through the festivals and folk dances of Brazil?   How about two, one with a full band, and one completely solo, both exquisitely performed and achingly melodic in their bittersweet evocations of life and celebration?  Stop right here then - Sanfona, named for a Brazilian relative of the accordion and also intended to metaphorically symbolise the sheer breadth of Brazilian popular culture down the ages, sits high up in Egberto Gismonti's back catalogue as a stunning example of a master craftsman at the peak of his evocative powers.

The first disc of Sanfona, featuring Gismonti supported by a three-piece version of his Academia De Danças band, takes us through the birth and refinement of the samba, forró and seresta musical and rhythmic forms, whilst giving the musicians plenty of space to stretch out and make Gismonti's wonderful compositions sparkle with life.

The second disc is Gismonti entirely alone and recorded live, inevitably spotlighting his stunning guitar technique, especially on the 16-minute De Repente.  After this comes Vale de Eco, an atmospheric performance on Indian organ, before the last of the album's original four sides turns inward for some truly gorgeous music.  12 de Fevereiro was written to commemorate the birth of Gismonti's first daughter, and Carta de Amor a few weeks later - both feature achingly beautiful, keening vocals and close the album on a perfectly intimate high note.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Circense

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tristan Murail - Gondwana, Désintégrations, Time and Again (1989 compi, rec. '80/'86'/87)

Tristan Murail (b. 1947 in Le Havre) occupies the same upper echelons of French spectralism as Gérard Grisey, meaning that these three works from the 80s are all built on the microscopic properties of sound, subsequently blown back up into unexpected shapes to create otherwordly, spectacular pieces of music.

In the purely orchestral Gondwana (1980), the gradual drift of the ancient supercontinent is represented by small textural elements of the music being reconfigured and arranged into new, more striking layers.  If this wasn't spectacular enough, the other two works were even more fascinating for me.  Time And Again (1986) adds a Yamaha DX7 synth to the orchestra, and again the musical textures and themes are transformed and mutated all over the place.

Désingtégrations (1982-3) is the definite highlight of this disc IMO, with a smaller ensemble playing against tapes generated by computer at IRCAM.  Original tones and timbres from the instruments were fed into the computer and analysed to the smallest detail, with the resultant tapes meshing eerily with the ensemble and painting the tone colours with a wonderfully weird, alien luminosity.  I'm reminded occasionally of Vangelis circa Invisible Connections.  Download this one to enjoy the two orchestral works of course, but Désingtégrations is utterly unmissable.


mega / zippy

Friday, 8 September 2017

Rune Lindblad - Objekt 2: Electronic & Concrete Music 1962-1988 (1998 compi)

As promised, more Rune Lindblad - covering a wider timespan this time, making for an even more varied and interesting collection.  We pick up just after the Death Of The Moon compilation left off, with Objekt 2 (the title track) offering some lo-fi string-sawing from 1962, then there's only one further piece from that decade, the choppy, echoing voice experiments of Plasibenpius (1968-9).

Four pieces from the 70s follow, where Lindblad appears to have taken a darker, more unsettling turn.  The burbling and whirring electronics of Hälften Av Någonting are periodically interrupted by a disturbing tape recording - possibly from a horror film, but who knows?  As the Swedish title seems to suggest, it's like we're only getting 'half of something'.  Frage, from 1972, and Maskinlandskap, 1975, both suggest early Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle - the latter title in English is, appropriately, Machine Landscape; and Tora (1972-3), given Wednesday's sad news, is now sounding rather poignant to my ears - it could've jumped in straight from the recording sessions for Can's Aumgn.

We then jump forward a decade for the last three tracks, where Lindblad seems to have got more into synths.  The tech might be more modern, but the recording is still slightly on the lo-fi side, making Innan Konsert, the longest piece here at 12 mins, sound like a bedroom synth aritiste of the very highest calibre, taking their Berlin-school influences somewhere unique.  Lagun I Uppror (lagoon in revolt) (1987) is as supremely bizarre as its title.  A sequencer pulse takes on some wild percussion rhythms and synth squeals in ever-escalating combat, before finally calling a truce to the unhinged frenzy right at the end.  Lastly, Dimstrak (1987-88) is perhaps the oddest piece of all - it's practically a sweet little new-agey folk song featuring flute-like synth accompanied by acoustic guitar.  The guitar plays the final melody just after the three-minute mark, wrapping up this fascinating collection in possibly the most weird and wonderful way possible.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Can - Soundtracks (1970)

R.I.P. Holger Czukay, 24 March 1938 - Sept 2017

Danke schoen, Holger, for all your great music; for a full life packed with phenomenal, metronomic bass playing, pioneering short wave radio and tape work, great production, inspired collaborations, and so much more.  Sorry that I spent the second half of the 90s thinking your surname was pronounced Kazooki - I'd just never heard anyone say it, and had much less access to information back then.  Speaking of which, I still remember the first ever webpage I searched for when my high school got its first internet-ready PC: nice to see it's still available 20 years later.

Folks, it's time to celebrate the music of yet another true pioneer who has sadly left us.  For starters, may I recommend turning up Mother Sky as loud as possible.  If you don't have access to it, grab it right here.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Canaxis and Monster Movie

Monday, 4 September 2017

Asmus Tietchens - Biotop (1981)

By request, here's Asmus Tietchens' first album for Sky records - a perfectly timed request, as I'd been pondering the recent lack of classic German electronica on this blog and trying to figure out what would be a good one to go for.  Between '81 and '83, Tietchens would make a quartet of albums to represent what he called his 'Zeitzeichen' (time-signal) phase, of "rhythmic-harmonic set pieces and gaudy records sleeves".  Previously posted at SGTG are the third one, In Die Nacht, and the fourth, Litia, so that just leaves Spät-Europa to post someday.  

Gaahh, bloody Spät-Europa... it was the first of all of the four that I bought, but every time I try to give its gleefully obnoxious 20 tracks an airing it still just ends up annoying the crap out of me.  Which probably means I do actually like it, in much the way that Tietchens may have intended.  But anyway, for now, here's the somewhat more accessible 16 tracks of Biotop.  Tietchens certainly gave his Zeitzeichen project a memorable curtain-raiser with In Die Zukunft, sounding like the theme to a suitably futuristic sci-fi movie, especially in its wonderful, propulsive second half.  

From there in, the electro-weirdness just gets dialed up to the max, sounding like a hyper-caffeinated version of Cluster's largely energy-deficient release from the same year.  The garish album cover couldn't be more perfect for the music it contains, and fluent German speakers (i.e. not me) will probably get the most out of what seems to be an overriding concept of mocking contemporary consumer society, in the punning track titles and the satirical vocals on Moderne Arroganz, the lyrics of which are apparently a list of different types of insurance. 

Biotop does eventually wind down to offer a bit of respite in the gorgeous, melodic penultimate track Träumchen Am Fenster, before ending on the beatless title track.  Biotop, the track, points both backwards to Tietchens' first (pre-Sky) LP Nachtstucke and forwards to the more avant-garde stuff to come.  As he says (in German) in the final moments, which formed a lock-groove on the original LP, "Let's see how things go".

mega / zippy

Friday, 1 September 2017

Nils Frahm - The Bells (2009)

Looking for the ideal wind-down for this first September weekend?  May I suggest 40 minutes of exquisite solo piano, courtesy of pianist/composer/producer Nils Frahm, born 1982 in Hamburg.  In November 2008, Frahm and composer friend Peter Broderick rented a Berlin church for two nights, capturing over five hours of Frahm's improvisations with Broderick providing idiosyncratic musical direction (at one point lying down on the piano strings).  The best of these sessions was then trimmed down to album length.

The end result clearly displays Frahm's talent for melody and harmony, and a Jarrett-esque knack for pulling instant classics out of thin air.  But even more than that, The Bells is primarily an album about exploiting the resonances of the piano and the ambient atmosphere of the church to their fullest extent.  It's certainly no mellow, Harold Budd-like chillout experience, although these moments are evident - but if you were to use this album for relaxation you'll frequently find the mood punctured by several instances of Frahm letting rip at full power, like someone taking a snooze on a churchyard bench only to be jolted awake by pealing bells.

Inspired by the recording venue, Frahm seems to enjoy these bell-like piano tones ringing through the reverberating space as majestically as possible.  I'm reminded more than once of Erik Satie's Ogives, especially a recent ECM New Series rendering by Sarah Rothenberg (the album centered around Feldman's Rothko Chapel; may post it at some point).  Stirring, invigorating stuff.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Rune Lindblad - Death Of The Moon: Electronic & Concrete Music 1953-1960 (1997 compi)

Pioneering electronic/electroacoustic/concrete works from a composer who refused to see any boundaries between these kind of tags - Gothenburg-born Rune Lindblad (1923-1991).  His first concert in 1957 saw audience members demanding refunds and critics panning the event as 'pure torture' - just the sort of thing that gets people like me mashing the 'Buy It Now' button six decades later to get hold of this compilation CD (despite its atrocious cover art - couldn't Pogus Productions have used another of Lindblad's nice woodcuts, or even the same one they had access to for the 1989 LP shown below?).

Far from sounding tortuous though, the recorded evidence on this collection is engaging stuff throughout, starting with the tape cut-ups of a social gathering mashed together with radio broadcasts, short wave noise and tape squelches of Party (1953).  Månens Död (Death Of The Moon) (1954-55) is subtler still, consisting of restrained, mournful-sounding electronics and ritualistic percussion.

Given the vintage of this material, vast cloudbanks of tape hiss are par for the course, but this just enhances the charm and un-academic accessibility.  The 'Fragment' pieces are particularly lo-fi, providing yet another uncanny missing link between '68 AMM, '71 Kluster and '75 Throbbing Gristle - apart from the almost prettily melodic mid-section of Fragment 1, and of course the fact that all three Fragments date back to 1955-56.  Lindblad's style was beginning to mature sonically and texturally by the time of Nocturne (1958), the highlight of this collection for me; and don't miss the closing Optica (1959-1960), created using damaged 16mm film and sounding like computer music way ahead of its time.  Coming soon - the other Lindblad compilation that I have, spanning the years 1962-1988.
Cover art for 'Death Of The Moon and Other Early Works' LP, 1989
mega / zippy