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Music Reviews

Isobella – “Surogate Emotions of the Silverscreen” – [New Granada Records] (CD)

lombard   7/19/2005   A Library, CD

Beautiful dreamscapy music from Isobella out of Tampa, Florida. Although it’s new, it has a sound akin to the late 1980s/early 1990s 4AD (Cocteau Twins, Lush) and shoe gaze scenes. Female vocals, with perhaps some buried male vocals too. They began working together in 1998 as Akasha, eventually changing their lineup and name to Isobella. Beautiful stuff!
(added 7-19-2005)

-Cynthia Lombard

Philippe Besombes “Libra” [MIO Records] (cd)

cujo   7/13/2005   A Library, CD

In 2004 Israeli treasure-hunters MIO re-released this 1974 soundtrack to the otherwise silent and obscure French avant-film Libra. You may know Besombes from his later efforts with P’le and Hydravion or from his inclusion on Nurse With Wound’s infamous list of influences (I didn’t), but this album made when he was 24 is surely his crowning achievement. The 20 short tracks left me salivating for more of this helter-skelter mix of spaced-out physics lab experiments, nearly unintelligible vocal babblings, driving blues, ambient Delta sitar, and pieces verging on folk and prog rock. You will find something interesting on here. Preview your track b/c cold finishes and cold starts still track together. Beware the 4 somewhat inferior tracks not composed by Besombes. And if all this wasn’t enough, MIO includes a bonus track of a well-constructed 20-minute meditation by Besombes on prepared piano.
Cujo, July 2005

Ramjac Corporation – “Analogue City ” – [Irdial-Discs]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, A Library

Irdial-Discs will probably forever be known as the label that gave us the CONET Project: an amazing collection of recordings from short-wave ‘numbers? stations. But they’ve also released some stunningly beautiful techno records, like this rare 12″ from the Ramjac Corporation. ‘Analogue City? is an 11+ minute instrumental of dubby electronic goodness that sounds as fresh today as when it was first released in 1992. And ‘Baby Got Soul? may well have been the first modern recording to use samples from Alan Lomax, as the prison work song featured here predates the first Little Axe album by two years. A timeless techno classic.

Smm Vol. 1 [coll] – [Ghostly Interntional]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, A Library

The ‘SMM? series from Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International intends to explore the more ambient/ethereal side of techno music from the Midwest. First up on this mini-compilation, Twine’s ‘Gliding In On? combines some languid guitar with electronic noises that will convince you your stereo is about to die. Next, Kiln brings us more of their pastoral techno, sounding a bit like Boards of Canada having brunch at the Penguin Caf?. Side B delivers two atmospheric tracks from Kosik, about whom I know f*ck-all, and wraps things up with a rather crunchy/industrial-sounding remix of Kiln by Mifune. Looking forward to Volume 2!

Triosk, with Jan Jelinek – “1+3+1 ” – [Scape]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, A Library

The intersection of electronics and jazz is THE most interesting musical vertex for me: thawing out the iciness of digital technology with the warmth of human improvisation and real musical chops. Australian band Triosk was formed around just such a mission, and they discovered a kindred soul in Germany’s Jan Jelinek via the latter’s ‘Loop-finding Jazz Records? release. After taking some samples from that album and working them into their own original compositions, Triosk hooked up with Jelinek himself to swap tracks and collaborate on original material via the mail. ‘1 + 3 + 1? is the result of that collaboration. If you’re a fan of the Tied & Tickled Trio or Isotope 217, you’ll probably dig these guys, too. It’s delicate, late-night music for smoky bars, or for home listening in the wee hours of semi-consciousness. Just let the music wash over and around you as you start to nod off?

Magnus Lindberg “Aura / Engine” [DG 20/21] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

2 pieces from Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who grew up Finnish but thankfully ended up with a decidedly more continental and experimental bent.
Tr. 1-4. Aura (36:51): A large work for a late-Romantic-sized (i.e., big) orchestra whose emphasis is on tone and overall harmonic structure (most of which I can’t grasp). The opening 2 movements are long, and the final 2 are short. Listening in its entirety you can sense (but not really hear) a carefully-planned underlying structure. The 4 movements differ enough in color, but careful, they track together. Overall, the orchestration is incredibly incredibly dense, the mood is heavy but not negative, and there are many brilliant orchestral passages, many involving an international array of percussion. A concerto for orchestra, really.
Tr. 5. Engine (14:19): Incredible etude by Lindberg., showing off his more experimental nature. This piece was essentially composed by software written by Lindberg. This alone is a feat, but the success is that it doesn’t sound all that different from Aura!
Both pieces ably handled by Olly.

-Cujo, January 2005

Luigi Nono “Voices of Protest” [Mode Records] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Once in a while a protest poem, this time from communist/anti-fascist resistance fighter/lawyer Luigi Nono (1924-1990), the leading avant-garde Italian of his time. He spent the 50s in Darmstadt experimenting with the avant-garde elite; the result was a lifelong interest in electronic and aleatoric music which he applied to highly political music. This CD is one major late 60s composition and two remarkable filler pieces. Factoid: Nono married Schoenberg’s daughter.
Tr 1. A floresta – jovem e cheja de vida (40:28): ‘The Forest Is Young and Full of Life?. This is the 2nd commercial recording of this sensory whopper for soprano, three narrators, clarinet, copper gongs, and tape. The text is a collage of fragments by guerrilla fighters, communist leaders, famously executed South Vietnamese, Berkeley students, factory workers, committees, etc. The overall work is a slightly bleak landscape of musical electronics, explored by the clarinet and soprano. Let’s go on a tour: slow beginning featuring tape, leads to serene passage starting around ~8:00 which lasts until a huge gong climax around ~12:20, text on tape leads until ~26:00 when the soprano sings brilliantly, things wind down with more great voice writing leading to a climax at ~33:00 then thing wind down from there. For an interesting comnparison, check out the original (Nono-overseen) 1979 DG recording featuring badass clarinetting by Bill Smith (SJPL has it).
Tr. 2. ‘Donde estas hermano? (5:19): A short chorus adapted in 1986 from an earlier opera, this time scored for 2 sopranos, a mezzo, a contralto. Otherworldly sounds emanate, but there is no electronic altering here, this is just brilliant singing by Voxnova.
Tr. 3. Djamila Boupach? (4:53): A solo soprano aria (from a larger work) to an anti-war poem by Pacheco. More brilliant singing by the Voxnova soloist, featuring huge pitch leaps and dynamic range.
-Cujo, Jan 2005

Sofia Gubaidulina “The Canticle of the Sun/Hommage to Marina Tsvetayeva” [Chandos] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Two 1990s compositions by Russian-Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina

The Canticle of the Sun (36 minutes)
This 1997 work is based on St. Frances of Assisi’s nature-praising texts and features a curious lineup of 1 solo cellist, 3 percussionists, and one each of SATB. Things get to a slow but not uninteresting start with chimes and upward glissandos on the cello’s C-string heralding new verses, along with a theme which sounds like the beginning of the Back To The Future song. Pot comes to a boil at track 8 with full sound from only 7 performers, after which the cellist becomes percussionist (must be fun to watch live), ‘playing? the bass drum and a flexatone(!). The finale (track 12) is a heavenly meditation featuring wavering cello, triadic chorus, and my favorite, the celeste. For full effect, this should be played in its entirety.

Hommage – Marina Tsvetayeva
This is a bleak a capella choral work based on the poetry of Marina Tsvetayeva, who ended her miserable Russian life (made all the worse by WWII and exposed adulteries) in 1941. The gravitas weighs heavy, aided by well-timed silences, sung sighs, and some striking staggered entrances by various members of the Danish National Choir. This also should be played in its entirety, but try the 5th movement alone if you must save time.

-Cujo, January 2005

Constellations: Electro-Acoustic Music From Sweden [coll] – [Phono Suecia] (2-cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Roll up your sleeves and let’s dig deep into the Swedish electronic music scene. This definitive eclectic coll is mostly what your ears would expect from such a title, except I found the offerings more dreamy and cinematic and less abrasive than expected. All the 5-15 minute compositions are of the ‘instruments and electronics? variety, check out the listings on the back for a combination that might suit your fancy. I starred 2, but leave it to you to find the other star-worthy ones (there are at least 3 more). The 1st track (1959) sounds a bit silver-apple-y, but by the late 80s where the rest of the tracks date from, the later generation seems to have found an individual voice.
Cujo, Jan 2005

Robert Ashley “Perfect Lives” [Lovely Music] (CD)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

A little ditty bout Raoul and Buddy, two kids in the American Heartland, as epically conceived by underappreciated American media artist Robert Ashley. This post-ONCE, post-Mills 1978 TV opera was commissioned by The Kitchen and premiered in the U.K in 1984. Runs 3 hours in 7 acts on 3 audio CDs. What you can be assured of: a near-constant bed of warm electronic blanketing. Non-stop delirious piano playing by ‘Blue? Gene, often in a boogie-woogie style. Ashley’s non-stop dead-pan sing-song delivery of a novella (really, what else can it be called?) about love, supermarkets, bank robberies, music, nothing, bars, cars, and life in the midwest. This is phenomenal.

-Cujo Jan 2005

3-Word Review: Titanic American Gesamtskunstwerk

Solvent – “Apples & Synthesizers ” – [Ghostly Interntional]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Toronto-based Jason Amm, aka Solvent, takes a break from his own Suction Records label to release his fourth album of retro synth-pop on Ghostly International. The instrumentals are very Kraftwerkian in feel, though the tracks featuring Amm’s vocodored vocals (3, 6, 7, 9) sound a little bit more personal. Of the latter, ‘My Radio? is probably the hit, with its infectious bassline, melancholy melody, and wistful lyrics about radio’s past. It’s all quite sweet, but not saccharine.

Koivikko, Sami – “Salmiakki ” – [Shitkatapult]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Lobbing another musical salvo in our direction, the Berlin-based Shitkatapult label presents some four-on-the-floor Finnish techno, courtesy of one Sami Koivikko. Named after a popular Finnish brand of schnapps, SALMIAKKI is Koivikko’s debut CD, an album pulsing with the influence of techno’s Detroit pioneers, as well as an occasional nod toward the more dub-infused sounds of Berlin’s Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, et al. Though all tracks here throb with the 4/4 beat, things tend to get a bit warmer and more reflective toward the end. Exactly what you’d want from an album that desires to work its magic on the dancefloor as well as in your armchair.

Notwist, the – “Lichter ” – [Alien Transistor]

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

The Notwist present music from the film ‘Lichter,? directed by Hans-Christian Schmid. This film, made in 2003 but not yet distributed in the U.S., weaves together several different stories of life near the Polish/German border. Immigration troubles, petty thievery, jealousy, and betrayal are just some of the day-to-day travails explored by the film. This soundtrack EP presents four different variations on a musical theme from ‘Lichter,? all very minimal and haunting, with heavy emphasis on Sebastian Hess? cello. Martin Gretschmann (aka Console) takes up remix duties on one of the tracks, resulting in a more electronic, beat-driven variation. All tracks are quite compelling and no doubt a wonderful accompaniment to the film.

Khan – “Sweet Pink Lemonade ” – [Mille Plateaux]

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

An ambient electro classic from 1994, courtesy of Can Oral (aka Khan) and the Mille Plateaux label. Part 1 of ‘Sweet Pink Lemonade? is a delicious 10-minute excursion into throbbing basslines, stuttering percussion, and oscillating, interweaving melodies. Flip the record over for Part 2 and you will find two shorter tracks, the first one a bit more rhythmically quirky (think Plaid, Black Dog, etc.) and the second one slightly more ambient. This lemonade may be over ten years old, but it still tastes mighty sweet to me.

Umod – “Tromboline ” – [Sonar Kollektiv]

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

Umod is yet another alias for the prolific Dominic Stanton (aka Domu), a veteran of the drum and bass scene who, in more recent years, has gravitated toward the more melodically-inclined genre of broken beats. (He’s also released tracks as Sonar Circle, Bakura, Realsides, Rima, Yotoko, and Zoltar.) Dominic’s Umod productions are more sample-based than his other work. In Dominic’s words, ‘Umod is about going backwards to go forwards.’ This 12″ features remixes of tracks from his ENTER THE UMOD album, released on Jazzanova’s Sonar Kollektiv label. The A-Side (at 33 RPM) features a techy Domu remix and a somewhat grittier full-length mix of ‘Tromboline.’ The B-Side’s Zoltar remix of ‘On the Down Low? (at 45 RPM) features a housier beat and an almost-recognizable hip hop vocal sample. (Maybe you can place it?)

Bucketrider – “L’evenements ” – [Dr Jim’s Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Inspired by the revolutionary events in Paris circa May-June 1968, L?’V’NEMENTS is the fourth full-length release from Australia’s Bucketrider. And as you might expect from that inspiration, there’s a riot goin’ on! The album’s central suite of 12 ‘events? alternates between unruly instrumental chaos and near-silence for most of its running time. Bookending this 12-step program are two opening and two closing tracks that I think are considerably more successful at integrating the rock and free improv influences motivating the band. Guitars, bass, drums, sax, trombone, synth, oboe, piccolo and even a toy piano all contribute to the energetic and muscular sound of this instrumental ensemble.

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!

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