KFJC 89.7FM

Music Reviews

Beck, Thavius – “Decomposition” [Mush Records]

stingray   1/14/2005   A Library

While Mush Records is a hip-hop label, this doesn’t sound like hip-hop to me. I would call it pseudo-industrial trip-hop, if I had to call it anything. Mostly what I would call it is dark and heavy. It’s the sort of music that makes me want to go to Ocean Beach on the grayest day of the year and stare out over the waves and contemplate my own insignificance.
What impresses me about this release is that he manages to keep up this consistency of tone while changing beats and tempos like mad. Beats include Industrial (2, 6, 7, 10), Trip-hop (4, 5), pseudo-Drum and Bass (3, 8, 12), Electronica/Glitch (9), and Mellow/Ambient (1, 11, 13).
Track 1 features eerie spoken vocals. Tracks 2, 7, and 13 feature deeply voiced rapping. Track 10 has vocals (the lyrics are in the book), but they are mixed so low as to be incomprehensible.
All tracks clean.

Stingray

[coll] Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004 [Anticon]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, Hip Hop

An extremely long (almost 80 minutes!) compilation from east-bay hip-hop crew/label Anticon. Even though this is a collection, the tracks blend together, so careful at the start and end of tracks. I’ll split the review into three parts:
Singing: Some of the artists on Anticon are singers rather than rappers. The effect is that of indie-pop with a more hip-hip beat. Artists in this vein include Why? (2, 12, 22, 29) who answers the question ‘what if the Residents played hip-hop?, Passage (6, 18), Restiform Bodies (28), and the Alias track that features Markus Acher of The Notwist (31).
Rapping: In the more traditional hip-hop vein, Alias (4, 14, 20, 25), Sole (5, 13, 21, 32), Themselves (3, 11, 15, 27), Deep Puddle Dynamics (5), and Pedestrian (7, 19) feature skillful and dexterous rapping over backgrounds that vary from melodic and catchy (Pedestrian) to dark and mellow (Alias, plus 5 and 13 by Sole ? produced by Alias), to dark and heavy (Themselves, Deep Puddle Dynamics).
Instrumentals: Odd Nosdam provides dark, heavy, electronic instrumentals (10, 23) and a bit of comic relief (17, which features the Muppet Show bari sax baseline and sampled spoken vocals from TV/film); he also produces Sole tracks 21 and 32. Alias (26), Dosh (30), and Jel (33) provide smoother, trip-hoppier sounds.
Language: 4, 5, 12, 14*, 22, 27
*Only in the spoken outro. ‘Shit? at 3:20 of 3:37.

Stingray

[coll] 10 + 2: American Text Sound Pieces [Other Minds]

stingray   1/13/2005   A Library, CD

What it is: Vocal (but-non-singing) works of American avant garde composers.
What it sounds like:
1. The words ‘Rainbow? ‘Chug?, ‘Bandit? and ‘Bomb? sampled and looped.
2. A somewhat cut up speech about modern music that references track 1.
3. A cut up speech that talks about John Cage.
4. Vocal screeches, hisses and groans. Somehow based on the name ‘Merce Cunningham?
5. A woman reading a recipe and a fantasy novel edited together with a warbley echo. FUCK.
6. The word ‘bang? over and over again. Originally a locked groove.
7 and 8. Originally a single track. A synthesized voice repeating the same words with pitch shifting.
9. Quickly spoken words that are hard to make out over a background of electronic noodling.
10. The composer makes vocal noises (‘eh eh eh ah ah ih?) in the background while her mother speaks about her in the foreground.
11. A poem being read one word at a time while being written on a chalkboard.
12. Several conversations with telephone operators that overlap.
13. The word ‘crickets? over and over. Originally a locked groove.
About the recording: Rerelease of 1975 LP on the Arch label. Biographies included in the liner notes are c. 1975.

al-?Ajam?, Hasan, “The Singing of Sanaa” [Radio France]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, International

What it is: Traditional Yemenite Music
What it sounds like: Hasan sings and accompanies himself on a Yemenite lute, known as a tarab (it has a similar sound to an Asian lute, but has a somewhat richer tone). He is accompanied by Muhammed al-Kham’s? on copper plate percussion, known as a shn nuh’s?. At various times, the music is arrhythmic, in 11, in 7, and in 2. Each track is a complete piece in several movements (see the liner notes for details). The first track features vocals throughout, while tracks 2 and 3 have 2-3 minute instrumental introductions.
About the recording: The composition and performance of music was banned in Yemen in the 1960’s. Hasan is a third generation musician who’s predecessors kept the traditions alive. According to the liner notes, he is the only Yemeni musician who still uses the traditional Yemeni tarab, others having switched to the more common Oriental ?’d.

[coll] Gauguin Years, The: Songs and Dances [Nonesuch]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, International

What it is: Field recordings of indigenous Tahitian music.
What it sounds like: The most interesting tracks (to me) are some combination of chant, prayer and song (6, 8, 10, 17, 18, 22, 24). Most of them involve a kind of call and response with a ‘preacher? or storyteller and a chorus. It must be a similar experience to hearing a catholic mass in a language you can’t understand.
Some tracks are beautifully harmonized a cappella prayers and laments that can sound quite alien to western ears (2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 16, 21, 25).
Some tracks are ukulele/guitar accompanied by one voice (3, 15, 20, 23, 26), a chorus of voices (1, 14), or no voices at all (9). These sound like ‘traditional? Polynesian music (as opposed to the slicked up stuff presented to tourists, but you can hear the roots of that here).
Rounding out the collection are some tracks of drumming (5, 19) and a brief wind instrument (nose flute perhaps?) solo (7). I’ve indicated my favorites on the back, but everything is good and the recording quality is quite excellent.
About the recording: Originally released in 1968 as part of a series of South Pacific field recordings. All tracks recorded in Tahiti by Francis Mazi’re.

TULEAR NEVER SLEEPS

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This is the first compilation of music of the Tsapiky (Tsa-peek) guitars from south west Madagascar. They are handmade box shaped lutes. The gentle rhythmic lute-like musical style is similar to many of its African neighbors but it’s distinct. The tsapiky is at the center of the group which includes vocals, bass, drums and dancers. The vocal styles vary and the lyrics tell stories about people, relationships and aspects of life. A beauty! AArbor

CAPTAIN YABA – YabaFUNKRoots

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This music is ‘griot funk? from Sierra Leone. Originally released in the 1990’s this album apparently had little impact at that time. Yaba’s sound slowly grew in popularity by word of mouth. Yaba himself died of TB (in his early 30s) in April of 2001. For about 4 years from 1999 until 2003 the album was out of circulation. RetroAfric re-issued it re-packaged with added tracks from the original session. Funky African style beats underpin Yaba’s gentle 2-string gourd guitar (koliko) grooves, a muted trumpet & vocals. A beauty! AArbor

added: 03/31/04

Butcher, John/Robair, Gino “New Oakland Burr” [Rastascan]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Recently issued capture of two 2001 sessions between local
percussion-plus purveyor (and chief man at Rastascan) Gino
Robair, and UK sax whacker John Butcher. The album starts
with high-pitched twitting over a (bowed?) rumble droner;
it’s hard to tell if that whistling is amplified Butcher or
Robair sawing on some styrofoam or both. The key is that
both guys are willing to stretch their sonic repetoire to
the point of illusion. Thus at times on this you’ll get the
“drummer” squonking away, while the “horn” player is tapping
out a spit-rhythm or other percussion. On other tracks, both
guys approach an alien sound together, like on “Slug Tag”
where they are speaking metal slowscrape. Robair’s ebowed
snare appears on the “Pudsey Surprise” like a fly trapped
buzzing in window screen, Butcher bugzaps some electrosax.
A lot of turf covered here from the drone-tundra of “Fid”
and “Peal” to more squigglery on “Blagovest.” Humor not
to be discounted, hear the sax whinny on “Vug” and Robair
gets in on the joke, but I’m not sure on what instrument.
Would have been great to see this in person live, these
tracks are as short as they are strange…so they are very
easy to squeeze in and play musical ears.

Fontaine, Brigitte “Brigitte Fontaine” [Saravah]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

1972 a completely fascinating audio enchantment. Fontaine
sounds strong but soft, subtle yet striking. She’s always the
focal vocal point accompanied by sparse backing and sometimes
just naked by herself (or herselves as several tracks feature
great moments of Brigitte multitracked like the beginning of
#2, #6 & #8 which features gaspy sobs as well!) At other
times she’s pitched up against a more gravelly male voice
(Areski I believe who she would record more with). It starts
with a breezy folk-pop smile of a song but boom #2 kicks off
with a piercing shriek. On track #3 we have a few seconds of
audie realite babysitting, then #4 a ponderous chamber ditty
that recalls Nico. Before this scant 30 minutes is up you
will have heard incorporated a cuckoo clock approach, a
harmonium harmonizing with Brigitte and then protest shouts,
sad pining with an Arabic lilt (Areski’s influence?), other
moments that feel like hymns and it ends up with a kind of
proggy number. Lady Fontaine is a champion chameleon, an
artful performer and in my estimation an absolute and
essential genius. French and twisted! Worship her.

Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet Plus Two “Broken English” [Okka Disc]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Despite a leading gentle mantra guided by Hamid Drake’s vocal
prayer, frame drum and soul…do not be deceived, this is
**horsepower** jazz. Peter Brotzmann knows how to whip up a
stampede. He rides into the fray with a gypsy’s tarogato,
calming cycles to go with Drake’s dream chant… But just
shy of six minutes, skyscrapers of sound shoot up through
the idyll. Cue the lurching Longberg-Holm cello…unleash
the dual drumheart of Zerang and Drake pumping at more than
capacity, and the race has begun. Brotzmann has amassed
some mighty thoroughbreds…plenty of NRG and BBQ to keep
the fire music flaming…but “Stonewater” does have some
stillness running deep in pockets. Ultimately it is the
sputtering saxes that stand-out, I’m telling you I hear
horses…lip-flipping, braying, raging stags. So even when
we get a little clarinet soft-shoe around 18 minutes in,
and then a very faint cello/bass duo, I’m waiting for
the hoofs…which leap in almost like a bad edit. For all
the fine playing, track one is acoustically imbalanced.
The second tracks stays strong throughout, a nice brass
oven at the end of its first third. The piece pauses
for a trumpet soliloquy at 13:36 (McPhee?) then it’s
over to Gustaffson for his pyrotechnique. Late in the
piece a drum duet locks in, invites in a swinging set
from the whole twelve and boom, a cliffhanger ending.
Years of music barely fit into 67 minutes, escape words.
Listen, follow one player for awhile, repeat..

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