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Music Reviews

Camping – “Suburban Shore ” – [Plug Research]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Cultural disorientation is the name of the game on this Plug Research release, which finds German vocalist Henning Fritzenwalder crooning Brazilian bossa nova (in German!), with electronic backing textures provided by the American duo previously known as Chessie. Guaranteed to make you prick up your ears on first listen, this seemingly incompatible juxtaposition eventually begins to work its magic. Camping’s languid melodies and delicate acoustic guitar sounds lure you into a world that’s simultaneously familiar and alien, yet totally unique.

Jeck, Philip – “Surf ” – [Touch]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

SURF is a 1999 release from sound sculptor Philip Jeck, utilizing turntables, tape decks, and Casio keyboards. Originally recorded to accompany live theater and dance projects, these dark ambient soundscapes lose none of their power by sacrificing the visual element. Like fellow deconstructionist Christian Marclay, Jeck is just as concerned with the processes of analog recording and playback as he is with the content. Consequently, you’ll hear lots of analog skips and scratchiness in Jeck’s sampled source material. My favorite track is ‘Spirits Up,? an 11-minute investigation into melody and distortion. The album’s final track, ‘I Just Wanted to Know,? is very unsettling, beginning with some quietly whispered words to a dying loved one, then gradually mutating into an electronic requiem. Powerful stuff.

Carter, Christina – “Bastard Wing ” – [Eclipse Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

First solo recordings from Christina Carter of Charalambides, recorded in a Houston boathouse in 1995. Primarily consisting of improvised piano and voice, this is a late-night album if there ever was one. Wistful and dreamy, melancholy and haunting, BASTARD WING is an impressionistic musical vision made all the more so by a post-production mix that adds some well-placed reverb and environmental sounds.

Home Video – “That You Might/Dialogue Box ” – [Warp Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   10-inch, A Library

The debut release from NYC-based Home Video is a pop/electronica hybrid that fits right in with a lot of New York’s output of late. ‘That You Might? features a thudding, retro synth beat straight out of New Order and some faintly croony, Thom Yorke-ish vocals, culminating in a crescendo of electronic distortion. ‘Dialogue Box? on the flip is a little more atmospheric and electronic, Boards of Canada style, with multi-tracked, dubby vocals. Still not sure what they’re singin’ about, though!

Voices in My Lunchbox [coll] – [Plug Research]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Plug Research returns with what is surely one of their most interesting projects to date. “Voices in My Lunchbox” features four tracks–no, wait–four songs (my god, when was the last time we used that term in electronic music?) from a variety of producers, each exploring the possibilities of vocals in an electronic context. First up is Carmen Tejada, grafting operatic vocals onto some minimal electronic beats and jazzy electric guitar. Next is Quarks, with not much more than a snatch of koto and a metronomic ticking to accompany some whispery female vocals in Japanese. Smyglyssna and Cornelia open Side 2 with a track that begins with an insectoid buzzing and ends with a long, low hum. And finally there’s Kit Clayton, offering up some abstract dubbiness along with slurry vocals from Mike Donovan. I’m not really sure what all these people are singing about but it’s sounds good to me. Anxiously awaiting Vol. 2…

Negativland – ?No Business? – [Seeland]

Hunter Gatherer   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

The Bay Area’s Negativland celebrate their 25th year as a recording entity with a special enhanced CD containing a video, a 56-page essay, and a whoopee cushion. (The latter two are not included in the station’s copy.)

The subtext of the CD and the straight up text of the essay and whoopee cushion is the conflict between the common cultural domain, copyright ownership, and technology that makes sharing copies of music and video easy. Copyright infringement is a topic that Negativland is no stranger to, due to their release entitled ‘U2.’ And with the recent Supreme Court decision about file sharing, this release couldn’t be timelier.

Negativland use their trademark humor to address these issues as they take hammer and tong and editing tools to found sound, artfully splicing it to crate new (and often hilarious) meanings.

1. Old Is New – cuts up Because by The Beatles and lets us know that the arguments and controversies we are being fed are the same old ones (previously used against cassette taping, VHS recording, and lately Google Print) with a new face

2. No Business – not even Ethel Merman is sacred to these technology savvy pranksters as the lyrics twist into ‘There’s no business like stealing!?

3. Downloading – the ‘serious? piece, featuring a hopelessly square Michael Green (in Al Gore mode) talking about downloading mp3s and bringing to mind 50’s scare films like Reefer Madness as sound bites float around his speech like angry hornets.

4. Favorite Things – one of my daughter’s favorite songs becomes a paean to light bondage and nose cream. A vast improvement, frankly.

5. God Bull – After Ethel Merman it is a short step to God, Who is instructed to commit suicide.

6. Keep Rollin’ – a commercial that had the misfortune of containing the word ‘reefer?; the least funny pot humor since ‘You put your weed in there? from SNL about 10 years ago.

7. Piece A Pie – hilarious cut up radio play from the 50’s that makes perfect sense within its paranoid, circular 3:00 a.m. logic.

8. New Is Old – back to The Beatles; in sonata form this would be the recitative.

9. No Business Again – Judy Garland pre-empts Negativland by rearranging the lyrics herself

Check out the video called Gimme The Mermaid. It starts out normally enough with a cat in a suit brandishing a red stick. Then Ariel, The Little Mermaid, appears with a voiceover provided by a Disney exec who threatens and berates the listener throughout. Then it morphs into Gimme Gimme Gimme by Black Flag.

Throughout this CD you can feel the strength of their conviction. And with the ridiculous copyright laws that were passed to protect Disney and other corporations, I am inclined to agree with them. But being passionate about something doesn’t automatically mean that they are right. I’m looking forward to reading the essay that comes with this CD.
–Hunter Gatherer

Poor Boy [coll] – [Songlines Recordings]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

It’s Nick Drake covers, but totally out of left field! Songlines and producer Tony Reif have corralled an impressive roster of jazz/avant-garde talent from the Pacific Northwest to pay tribute to this legendary British singer/songwriter. And the result is something quite haunting, yet familiar: old songs completely reimagined and sounding fresher than ever in this new context. Though jazz is the central pulse, many other elements are woven into the mix, including a bit of electronica, psych, folk, and rock. Personal favorites include two tracks featuring the sensual vocals of Kate Hammett-Vaughan (“Clothes of Sand”, “Poor Boy”) and a 14-minute improvisational piece that isn’t technically a cover, but more of a tribute (“For Nick/Horn/Know”). Totally unique and successful on its own terms, this is a covers album that should appeal to both fans and non-fans of the original artist.

Osmosis [coll] – [Leaf Recordings]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Leaf is another one of those genre-defying U.K. labels, like Fat Cat or Lo Recordings, that operates at the fringes of modern electronic music. And the music on OSMOSIS, a budget-priced preview of forthcoming Leaf releases, is appropriately hard to categorize. As a sweeping generalization, though, most of the tracks here feature downtempo or subdued beats, and offer more than just electronics, whether it be live instruments or samples or vocals. No particular tracks stand out from the others… it’s pure quality through and through. Put this album on …relax…and let the music flow selectively through your auditory membranes.

Interstellar Fugitives [coll] – [Submerge]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

The latest manifesto from Detroit’s Underground Resistance posse is a new take on the classic electro sound, replete with vocodered vocals and stabbing synths. Alongside veterans like The Suburban Knight, Drexciya, and UR themselves, this compilation features several newcomers: Chaos, Perception, and Chamaleon, just to name a few. For a compilation, the sound is remarkably consistent, particularly over the first three sides. Favorites here include the funky opener, “Maroon,” and the electro house of “Soul Saver.” With Drexciya’s unique aquaticisms on Side D, things start to go a bit pear-shaped, and Side E even features two tracks with a Middle Eastern flavor! Rounding out the compilation are a brooding instrumental track by Chamaleon and a funky closer by UR. In short, an album that documents Detroit’s continued musical vitality.

Build An Ark ?Peace With Every Step? [Plug Research]

Hunter Gatherer   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

This collective of 20+ musicians was formed shortly after a post-9/11 concert called ‘Our Cry For Peace? put together by Carlos Nino (Ammoncontact, Hu Vibrational) and Dwight Trible (Pharoah Sanders Quintet).

They are called Build An Ark and their mission is to inspire peace and love throughout the world. Okay, so they failed at that. But how is the music?

Very good with a definite seventies-feel, unpretentious, earnest, freewheeling. Soulful jazz loaded up with African rhythms and influences. A sunny afternoon jam session among friends. It starts with a life-affirming cover of Pharoah Sanders‘s You Gotta Have Freedom and continues in that vein for an hour. The album is dedicated to Sun Ra and everyone who played in Arkestra to give you a further idea of the musical inspiration.

If you can handle lyrics like ‘put down your gun and pick up your baby? and ‘swallow your mushroom cloud? then this CD is for you. I like uplifting music, but maybe not this uplifting. After listening to a few songs, you will think twice before stomping to death a defenseless hippie.
–Hunter Gatherer

Battery Park Cologne.. [coll] – [Emi]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Here’s the first of two 12″ EP’s featuring artists from the second annual Battery Park electronic music festival in Cologne, Germany. The first track, by Dr. W and Mr. Fluex (sic), is a fantastic electro-soul workout with computerized vocals from Nik Frost. We’re talking “Prince meets Kraftwerk” here. The last track, by Computerjockeys, is an amazing rhythmic tour de force, almost drum’n’bass-like, incorporating the sampled sounds of a ping pong game. You have to hear this one to believe it! In between these tracks are two more from Dr. Walker and M. Flux, probably fine tracks by themselves but completely eclipsed by the aforementioned two. Bring on the second volume!

Young, Claude – “Numbers Ep, the ” – [Deta Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Detroit icon Claude Young (aka The Brother from Another Planet) checks in from London this time with an EP on the brand-new Deta label. Five tracks total, but really only two proper tracks and a bit of fiddling. “The Numbers” on Side A is a propulsive, moody, and multi-layered groover, bracketed by a short preample and coda. “Ghost” on Side B is a throbbing slice of dubby, filtered tech-house, followed by a bit of reverse-mastered soundscape to wind up the EP. Overall, this is about as experimental as the dancefloor gets. Sad to note that, like many of Detroit’s greatest, Claude had to go overseas to get this released.

Why? – “Oaklandazulasylum ” – [Anticon]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

With only the most tenuous connections to hip hop, this solo album from Anticon’s Jonathan Wolf (aka Why?) further expands the stylistic palette of that adventurous Bay Area collective. It’s a bedroom production that sounds a lot like the softer side of Shimmy Disc in their glory days. Quirky melodies, constipated and otherwise processed vocals, acoustic guitar strumming and oddball samples all mix together to keep things varied and interesting throughout. Programmed beats surface here and there, but mostly the album has a folky tripout vibe, flowing seamlessly through a variety of half-baked and fully-baked ideas.

Various Artists – “8, 8.5, 9 Remixes ” – [Fat Cat]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Not a compilation, but…no, wait…it is a compilation: a limited-edition CD collecting tracks from two previous Fat Cat releases by the Berlin-based Thorsten Profrock, aka “Various Artists.” Here we have the original tracks “8,” “8.5,” and “9,” plus remixes of same by Arovane, Funkstorung, Autechre, Pole, and Monolake. (For the trainspotters, the Autechre remix here is different from the original release, and the Arovane mix was originally released on Din, not Fat Cat.) The original tracks are firmly in the minimal electronic/dub mode of German labels Chain Reaction, Rhythm & Sound, etc., and the remixes are exactly what you might expect from the remixers involved. The Monolake mix in particular is awesome.

Transient Waves – ” ” – [Fat Cat]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

This latest release on Fat Cat Records comes from a trio out of Dearborn, MI. The A-side is an epic of trance-funk, looping a single guitar riff over and over, at times filtering it and at other times fading it out altogether to reveal a naked underbelly of dub. Throughout, the track is embellished with an occasional instrumental flourish but more significantly with female voices, double-tracked and oh-so- precious. They mumble and they whisper, they sing and they scat, adding just the right amount of off-kilter-ness to the beats. This track made me smile! On the B-side you get two deconstructions (uh, I mean “remixes”) of the original, courtesy of Skye and Two Lone Swordsmen, which are interesting in their own way but, really, it’s the A-side that captured my heart.

T-Cisco – “Destructive Edit, the ” – [Ubiquity Recordings]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

According to his press release, T-Cisco (aka Theodore Feyder) is currently a bartender at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge. Judging from the quality of his debut CD, that gig won’t last for much longer! This is one of those albums for which the term “musical stew” was invented. Mr. T takes elements of hip hop, salsa, drum’n’bass, techno, soul, jazz, and maybe a few more styles I’ve overlooked, and blends them all together in a flurry of rapid-fire edits that, contrary to the album title, are VERY constructive indeed. Not content to merely orchestrate samples, T-Cisco also lays down his own live guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards on here as well, resulting in a full-bodied musical experience that resonates more with every listen. You can even hear the musical stewpot bubbling on a few tracks. No, wait…that’s a water pipe. Never mind!

Tarwater & Tikiman – “Like a Miracle Ep ” – [Soul Static Sound]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

I LOVE THIS RECORD!!! Raggamuffin rapper Tikiman, fresh off his collaborations with the dub-house posse Rhythm & Sound, here teams up with German post-rockers Tarwater for a totally unique and engaging musical hybrid. “Like a Miracle” combines a repeating violin motif with some downtempo beats and Tikiman’s vocals: part toasting and part singing, with the occasional outburst of “rock!” interspersed throughout. Following this up is an electro-dub version, “Miracle Electric,” which features some amazing interplay between an electro synth and the violin from the original. On Side 2 you get “The Bridge,” a bluesy downtempo number that recalls Horace Andy’s excellent work with Massive Attack, and “Miracle/Bridge,” a VERY heavy dub which combines both tracks. Awesome stuff.

Supersoul – “Soma-Rasa 1 ” – [Metatronix]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

An excellent four-track domestic EP from this mysterious new label and artist. Side One features two electronic/breakbeat hybrids not unlike the output from Miami’s Schematics/Chocolate Industries camp. Side Two surprises with a dub reggae track sampling Burning Spear, and a string-laden DJ Vadim remix of one of the tracks from Side One. Nice!

Solvent – “Solvent ” – [Suction Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Another bedroom producer enters the electronica sweepstakes and comes out a winner. Solvent is one Jason Amm from Toronto, but beyond that I can offer no personal details. His debut release is a playful and melodic excursion through analog and digital soundscapes. Many of the tracks have a childlike quality to them, echoed in song titles like “shifty uncle giggles,” “googly eyes,” or “nuf si gnippiks.” (Think about it.) Jason would obviously rather be playing with his electronic toys than hanging out with the guys and for that we can all be grateful.

Slits, the – “Typical Girls Live in Cincinna ” – [Basic Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Wow! Under the bootleg-quality exterior of this album lies one of the GREATEST documents of the post-punk era from original riot grrls The Slits. At the time this live album was recorded, the band had progressed beyond their original punk sound into a sparser, reggae/dub groove under the influence of legendary producer Dennis Bovell. Bovell was obviously on hand for this tour, as evidenced by the startling dub effects here. In addition to several original tunes, the album features solid covers of “Man Next Door” (John Holt) and “Fade Away” (Junior Byles), plus a near-definitive rendition of “(I Heard It Through the) Grapevine.” Vocalist Ari Up is a true original; with hardly ANY technical proficiency, she yelps, yodels, whispers, moans, and shrieks, coaxing every last ounce of character out of her chosen instrument. Unfortunately The Slits broke up after only two studio albums. Ari went on to sing with New Age Steppers.

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