Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Link to This Is Not A Scene
The Stranglers sound has, remarkably well, it could be argued, matured significantly over the years. It would be reductionist to review a 2012 release from the band and continue to compare their sound to that of releases from 1977. “Giants” does, however, bear all the hallmarks of the personality that admirers of the band continue to respect. From the throbbing, strident bass line and instantly recognisable keyboard of ‘Another Camden Afternoon’ instrumental opening, to insanely melodic, yet brooding ‘Freedom is Insane’ there is no mistaking that this is an album by The Stranglers. And that, to many, is their strength. This band has undergone many a metamorphosis in both line up and sound over their history, but at no time have they been influenced by whatever is considered chic.
There has always been, and always will be, we should hope, The Stranglers “sound”. That sound is evident throughout “Giants”. No nonsense, motornik drumming from Jet Black, instantly recognisable keyboard runs from Dave Greenfield and, of course, the authoritative bass of Jean Jacques Burnel. ‘Lowlands’ and ‘Time Was Once On My Side’ features all these, and the scratching, scything guitar riffs that characterise some of their earlier work. Baz Warne’s vocal delivery complements these characteristics in the snarl and swagger that he has made his own within the group. Even slower, gentler paced tunes such as ‘My Fickle Resolve’ featuring that omnipresent bass and handsome keyboard sound, are stamped with “the sound”, but with an additional perception that comes with maturity.
‘Mercury Rising’ is a quirky piece that appears to spin off in tangents and changes of approach that only a band as self-assured as The Stranglers could effectively achieve. The term “heavy metal tango” has been applied to ‘Adios (Tango)’ and on hearing it for the first time the listener can understand why. The vocals ooze passion, melancholy and virility, in an approach, again, only The Stranglers could accomplish. The album closes with ’15 Steps,’ which is lively and fresh yet still holds that familiar danger.
Any criticism, however redundant, that The Stranglers sound has mellowed or become trite over the decades should be dismissed immediately on hearing “Giants”. There is a palpable energy and attitude to the album which goes some way to indicate a band who are not prepared to compromise their art. Indeed, the album cover itself, should dispel any myths that the band have become diluted.
The production throughout is razor-sharp yet unrefined, which is the perfect medium for this assortment of tunes. One could argue that the highest compliment anyone could pay would be to say that there is conventional, pedestrian music, and then there is The Stranglers. Free from expectation, free from outside pressure, simply, The Stranglers.
Sunday, 26 February 2012
With an American Music Award, 2 Grammy nominations and a variety of gold and platinum records to his name from previous incarnations, Allen Wentz, in his own words, now produces music with “…electronics, free form instrumental arrangements and a little vocal ornamentation”. The Periodic Table Vol. 1, as the title suggests, is the first instalment in a series of projects that are based upon the each of the elements in the Periodic Table. Some of the pieces that make up this collection are improvised and some are constructed for purpose. It is one of the strengths of the album that the listener would find it difficult to decide which pieces were composed spontaneously and which were prepared. Some of the compositions included were directly influenced by the elements they were named after, and some were not. But the essence of the collection is not lost whatever the circumstances they were created in.
The Periodic Table is a fascinating collection of vignettes, soundtracks to the elements they represent. “Sodium” has a tranquil feel about it that allows overlapping lines of electricity to dance throughout the track. Both “Chromium” and “Cobalt” have the spirit of drama about them that reminds the listener of the soundtrack to a police show, both suspenseful yet exhilarating in equal measure. “Cesium” bubbles along merrily before descending into a frenzied network of wires, before returning to more affable ground. “Einsteinium” is thoughtful and enigmatic, whilst “Lithium” is soaked in anticipation and further drama. “Helium” is abrasive, yet is propelled along on repetitive lines which hold it together, but, as its namesake suggests, has a light, effervescent quality. Whilst “Scandium” has a straight forward jazz piano soul, which somehow sets it apart from the other elements, but does not allow itself to interfere with the personality of the project. “Scandium” could almost be the incidental music to a children’s “learning to read” instructive television programme and “Beryllium” could be argued to be what Ennio Morricone would sound like if he were to be composing Western soundtracks in the 21st Century.
Each piece that makes up this first collection has a cinematic ingredient which in effect follows a narrative. It is the mark of a gifted composer, and possibly one who has an understanding of soundtrack composition, that each short piece of disparate music that makes up this volume of The Periodic Table stand up as a cohesive piece in its own right. The album is further enhanced by the adaptation of the Periodic Table by artist Linda Palmer, who has manipulated the table into an image which flawlessly suits the personality of what the composer has sought to achieve.
Imagine if you will an EP of tunes that batter you from your speakers with colossal, thrashing guitar riffs that scythe through each piece, over frantic drum patterns in a variety of awkward and disparate time signatures and blastbeats. Add a hammering bass line and a side order of discord, and you get some idea of what to expect from this eventful debut release from Oakland, California based Dimesland. Featuring former members of The Residents and Wild Hunt, Dimesland were formed in 2006 by guitarists Nolan and Drew Cook, and, after a number of line up changes, have established themselves together with bassist Greg Brace and drummer Harland Burkhart.
“Trophy Wives under the Influence”, “Unseen Architects” flow through the listeners ears with a hint of chaos, but, afforded enough time and effort, indicate technical proficiency and efficiency that is hard to dismiss. “Revlev” “Degradation Suite” provides a short interlude of dissonance, with a hint of science fiction, desolation and the occasional peculiar extraterrestrial voice sample, before “Ghastly Manoeuvring” and “Orange” brings us back to more recognizable terrain.
The production is flawlessly crude in nature and is not too clinical, which suits the mood of this EP perfectly. Creepmoon is hard to categorise as traditional progressive music as it transcends the accepted boundaries that that term implies. There is an immense amount of chaos and excitement about these 18 minutes, but the chaos never at any time feels uncontrolled. Dimesland may have released a truly original piece of abstract and tentative work that goads the listener away from mere genre defining and into unsullied, exhilarating territory. “Puzzlement, Dissonance, Vexation” their biography claims. Quite.
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
On first hearing “Aurora” and glancing briefly through the press release there are a number of influences and emotions that become apparent. Compared, not unreasonably, to early Human League and Depeche Mode, as well as more predictable comparisons to Kraftwerk, Formed in 1994 WeirdGear are a live analogue synthesiser trio from Essex, featuring Paul Barlow on bass, synthesisers and vocals, Lee Maher on drums, synthesisers and vocals and Paul Wolfe on drums, effects and soundscapes.
From the opening phrases of “Heat of the Middaysun” there is a palpable sense of nostalgia for a time when purely electronic driven music was in its infancy, and spoke to a generation of people of a promising future in the way music could be conceived and performed. Simple lines of pure electricity weave in and around the vocal lines, and the ominous repetition which featured so heavily in those early pioneering pieces, compliments these tunes, rather than detracting from their eccentricity. The heavily distorted voice, as used on “Coffee Girl”, and so reminiscent of a time when the technique was widely used, is totally apposite to the overall mood. “Game”, “Germs”, “Osaka Knights” and “Holding On” are reminiscent of murky, cloudy “alternative” discos of the early to mid 1980’s. yet are danceable in their own right in a contemporary setting. Whereas tracks such as “Wals” and “Rocket Ranger” bring to mind ghostly images and memories of mid 1970’s music for schools programmes or low budget science fiction television. The use of analogue equipment throughout gives the album a warmth and humanity which can often be sadly lacking in an era of digitally encoded sound.
In his 1993 work “Spectres of Marx” Jacques Derrida described a philosophy of history he referred to as hauntology, which suggested the present exists only with respect to the ghosts of the past. Aurora essentially bears this out in that it is capable of evoking a culture long forgotten by many. It could be argued that music made in this way, however, is retrospective and dependent upon the listener’s nostalgia. At a time in the history of music however, when we have access to a myriad of influences both in terms of culture and time, sounds that are being produced by bands such as WeirdGear are a gentle reminder of how the future of music was once viewed.
Monday, 20 February 2012
Formed in Mannheim, Germany in 2006, Hold On, Liberty! is the third release from The Intersphere. What strikes one initially on listening to the album is the multitude of influences that have gone to make up the personality of the band. Each piece is built upon multiple layers of complementary lines, and manages to be both intricate in detail and entertaining to listen to without spiralling into extended passages of technical wizardry. There are any number of melodies to please the casual listener, and there are any number of left field interjections to keep the enthusiast entertained.
“OPalinE” darts back and forth from jagged time signature changes to radio friendly passages with ease and skill. “Capitall” encompasses abrupt stop-start riffs without that technique ever distracting from the overall experience of the track. The first single from the album “Sleeping God” rides upon hectic guitar lines and raucous chord structures that are the ideal vehicle for the vocal lines. Indeed, the vocal intensity of Christoph Hessler is totally appropriate to the intensity of the music, as can so often not be the case with music of this nature. Unusually, it could be argued, one of the weaker tracks in terms of dynamism is to be found opening the album, but in a world in which album running orders are being overshadowed by “shuffle play”, criticism such as this may slowly become redundant.
Hold On, Liberty! is brimming with festival and/or stadium friendly tracks, which also manages to transfer well to personal listening and features a dazzling array of dynamics and sonic depth. There is never a sense with the album that the tracks become too impenetrable and pretentious. There are a limited number of albums that manage to transcend both arenas successfully. The production throughout is spotless, fresh and totally apt. Allegedly the entire album was recorded live in the studio within a seven day period. Within this context one gets the sense that as a live experience The Intersphere have perfected their technique and expertise to a particularly high standard. A cursory search for information on the band inevitably yields comparisons to bands of the calibre of Incubus and Muse, but this comparison should in no way detract from the character that The Intersphere have created for themselves.
Friday, 10 February 2012
Artificial Sun Project is the pseudonym used by Newcastle based Sean Cotterill to release what he has describes as “dark electronic music to ambient and field recordings”. The music that makes up his latest release “Sleep” may be categorised as such but deserves further deconstruction. “Recovery” which opens this release meanders slowly at first through a landscape of drones and waves which become reminiscent of birdcall, and suggest an organic element at work. Gently a guitar picks its way through the background, bending and swerving through the undergrowth. The listener is led forward into “Sleep” which unnervingly opens with a degree of dissonance and uncertainty, before the repeating motif that identifies it becomes apparent. Roaring waves of sound break through the motif and lift “Sleep” beyond mere ambient sound into a piece that possesses authority and charisma.
The pace eases slightly as we encounter “Shift” which rides over an electronic wave of beats and pulsating patterns, masking the softly throbbing lines that personify it. Layer upon layer the track builds into a grandiose mixture of rhythm and electronica. “Gap” is an altogether darker place to listen from, and features slabs of unnatural reverberation to create an ambience of promising potential dystopia. The closing track “Danger, Keep Away” reassures the listener that this possible future is now manifest and is more or less hauntological in its composition.
The “Sleep” EP as a whole indicates that Artificial Sun Project can build and develop crystal clear productions which are not afraid to take risks or explore areas of composition which can be both divergent and complementary. The influences cited range from Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack to Wolf Eyes, and the curious listener may identify all these elements in this release. A journey through “Sleep” is a journey through a potential urban landscape that the listener may have encountered within a dream or within a tale of post apocalyptic futures. The mood is unsettling but tangible.
Link to Artificial Sun Project Bandcamp page
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
The opening track on this latest EP release from Duality Chaos Introspection leads the listener to consider they are in for some good old fashioned rasping vocal riding on angular, mathematical riffs and blast beat drum patterns. “01 10 66 40_5” however is broken up with passages of what can only be described in terms of jazz phraseology and ambient cycles of mood. The second track “Chaos Introspection” additionally confuses the listener with a minute of Latin flavoured rock that would not be out of place on an early release by Carlos Santana. When the gypsy violin is brought into the mix, the listener, by now, is either bewildered beyond reason, or intrigued to explore further. Whereas now “Institute of Disorder” returns to familiar ground with multifaceted time signatures riffs and guitar lines that veer off at tangents and commanding, whilst intricate and defined, percussion. That is, until the track again turns a corner and slows into something more ambient in nature, again to return to violent and dissonant passages.
“Natural Seizure Syndrome”, “Hybrid Regression” and “Institute of Disorder”, the final three tracks on this EP are lengthier and essentially allow the songs to jump from genre to genre, tempo to tempo and mood to mood without them feeling crowed and frenzied. Each one of these pieces is similarly fabricated from passages of wildly disparate styles, but which together, form the character and the spirit of the sound of Duality. Formed in 2003, this is their second EP release after “Dual Aggression Seed”. Academically, mixing Latin, jazz, ambient and metal into one short collection of tunes could send the regular listener running for cover behind more pedestrian material, but this release, however, proves that what looks chaotic on paper, can sound glorious to the enthusiastic ear.
Lately ambient music has made its home here at Alternative Matter. Wolfgang Merx and John Toolan took the opportunity to have a friendly chat with Portuguese ambient composer Leonardo Rosado about his working and composing methods, his own label and his various musical projets.
The term “ambient” music has been used for a number of years now as an almost umbrella categorisation for quiet or introspective composition. Music described as “new age”, particularly in the UK, is often dismissed as whimsical and quirky. Is this the case in Portugal too, or do you feel there is more acceptance there?
I think this idea of new age and also chillout music is present also in Portugal, but in general ambient music of any kind is dismissed a lot. There are very few spaces where an “ambient” artist can play live, implying that this music as a very small impact on the music scene here.
When you set out to create a piece of music, do you have a mood or a situation that inspires you, and is the creative process improvisational to you?
I always make music based on underlying concepts. It might be a poem, a photograph, a movie or a situation in daily life. What I think might be the most common aspect to this is the abstraction process I put into it. The stimuli I use are transformed in abstractions that I use to make the music. With this mood I often improvise a set of pieces, that latter are cleaned, fragmented and then reassembled to attain a form that serves my purposes.
In my review of “Mute Words” I remarked on how that album, taken as a whole, was able to engage the listener throughout and maintain their attention. Is this something that you actively set out to create when arranging the pieces for a release?
When I make an album or a set of “songs” I like to think of them as pieces of a whole, meaning that they should tell a story but be focusing on different aspects. It might not be a linear story, but nonetheless a story.
What inspired you to create your Heart and Soul label project?
After releasing only digital music through FeedbackLoop Label for 2 years I started to feel something was missing, even though I made several projects such as the Brave New World compilation which was an invitation to several musicians to make a music inspired by poetry and photography. But even that felt short and I thought that I wanted to make physical objects, and there it is born Heart and Soul.
Where do you find artists to showcase on your projects Feedback Loop and Heart and Soul?
Normally I listen to several musicians through Soundcloud or Bandcamp and when a particular work draws my attention I check my release schedule and if it fits I invite them. But there are cases where it happens the other way around, musicians send me a demo and if I like it I release it.
The artwork to your releases on Feedback Loop and Heart and Soul appear to perfectly encapsulate the music within. Where do you find the images that are used, and how do you match them to the releases they are associated with?
The process for the construction of the covers is always to support the music. Normally, I send the demo of the EP/album to my collaborator Jessica (she is an amazing photographer) so she can listen and send me several images that she feels adequate to the specific release. With that in mind I work the design and try to keep a compromise between the whole set of releases and the particular release.
With the vast amount of music available now on various sites throughout the internet, where do you see the challenge for the artist and label curator such as yourself in selecting who and what to put your name to?
For the curator the process is somewhat easier because since there are a lot of musicians it is easier to find music I enjoy. The biggest challenge is for the artist because he needs to choose carefully where he wants to release his music, so he can have the largest exposure possible. But that is a very personal challenge, because what might be true for some might not be for others. For instance, there are a lot of musicians that just want to put their music out, not worrying about a lot of exposure, others need to have the release out so they can promote it in their live acts, and so on.
Sites such as Bandcamp that allow the consumer free or “pay what you want” access to music, one could argue, are bypassing the need for traditional record labels as such. How far do you think this is true, or do you feel there is merit in showcasing music in a certain field?
I know that there is a lot of thinking about the role of labels and how they are becoming obsolete, but when we are talking about very small niche music types I don’t think that still holds true. Labels that release ambient, drone, contemporary classical still play a role on promoting the music for the fans of the label, and that is important for an artist, because otherwise he will have to promote its music not knowing exactly who are its listeners.
Which artists in particular have you looked to for inspiration in the past?
When I make my music very seldom do I feel there is a direct inspiration, but sometimes I find myself amazed by the coincidences with some parts of other artists. For instance, “Here’s lookin’ at you Kid” (from my collaboration with Birds of Passage) reminds me of Tricky’s early work. So in a sense, surely I listen to a lot of music, particularly now, drone music, and surely you might find some inspirations there, but my muso is poetry and everyday life, that’s where I draw my inspiration from.
How important to you now as an artist and curator is social networking on sites such as Twitter and Facebook?
Social networking is the key for an artist and curator, but you have to invest a lot of time and effort in it. Because if you are in Twitter, Facebook or any other place such as that just to spam everyone else with your work, then you will not go anywhere. Again, you need time and connections to use these tools more effectively.
Are there any plans of taking your music on the road?
Yes, definitely, as soon as I have more time I will concentrate on a new piece specifically tailored to play it live, and will hopefully push it forward.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Link to This Is Not A Scene
Violinist/viola player Eyvind Kang was born in Corvallis, Oregon, and spent most of his youth travelling around Canada before settling in Seattle. Over his reasonably brief recording career he has collaborated with a number of disparate artists including Sun City Girls, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs, Animal Collective, Mr Bungle, Laura Viers, Sunn O))) and Laurie Anderson.
Allegedly, his two chief musical mentors were Michael White who has performed with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Pharoah Saunders and Indian Maestro Dr N Rajam. Both these influences may be heard on his latest album release for Ipecac Records “The Narrow Garden”. Taken as a whole, the album could be mistaken for a film soundtrack, as the opening piece “Forest Sama’i” has a particularly Eastern ambience made possible, in part, through intelligent use of space and instrumentation. There is an inherent joy to this opening piece which more or less gives the album a sacred essence. “Usnea” on the other hand utilises dissonance and disharmony, and somehow finds itself brought through these elements with the sound of ethereal woodwind.
The title track itself “The Narrow Garden” is built upon an ascending maelstrom of instrumentation and discord, which never feels out of place amongst the overall fragility. There are a number of song based pieces on “The Narrow Garden”, “Pure Nothing”, “Mineralia” which suggest to the listener a narrative with the intention of telling a tale, possibly of love lost or found, through the course of the album. Despite the number of musicians on a variety of instruments present on the album, there is a palpable sense of intimate space. There is never a sense at any time that the pieces that make up “The Narrow Garden” are busy or overloaded.
The closing piece “Invisus Natalls”, indeed, seems to fuse all the preceding elements together into a cohesive conclusion. Beginning with a gentle motif that builds gradually into a crescendo of disturbing yet wholly appropriate chaos, the album ends dramatically and unforgiving.
Listening to “The Narrow Garden” in its entirety, one gets the overwhelming sense of organic growth and responsiveness to the natural world. There are moments of sheer exquisiteness, and these are tempered with moments of violence.
As Eyvind Kang himself has explained:
“I composed most of the songs at a pond on Vashon Island…I also went down to Yelp and Olympia and music just came into my head. There were birds, plants and flowers. It’s a concept of love, of poetry like a troubadour or ashugh, courtly love that goes in two directions – one the more effable kind of delightful which is the idea of “Pure Nothing” and the other direction is the implication of a kind of violence.”
Originating in Milwaukee in 1997, The Danglers are that strangest of beasts that academically should not, on paper, work cohesively. Featuring Jason Loveall on violin and vocals, John Sparrow on drums and percussion and David Gelting on contrabass and vocal, they successfully combine the attitude of punk, the bravado of metal, the virtues of classical, “avant garde”, jazz and, somehow, passages of extended improvisation. As an illustration of how much respect they command amongst their peers, they have shared the stage with members of the Allman Brothers and King Crimson. Listen to the chord progressions and use of instrumentation on tracks such as “Blacklava” and there is no need to wonder why they have been associated with the likes of King Crimson. On tracks such as “Ascend” however, any such comparison seems meaningless, through the onslaught of garage band production and demented violin soloing.
Further on through “Decade” the listener can listen to “Resolute”, an acid drenched 4 minutes of spaced out, psychedelic rock, supplemented with sound effects and dissonant landscapes more suited to any number of Hawkwind albums. Again, “Winter Sheets” is mournful in pace, but is loaded with enigma and a sense of unease, and is augmented with passages of raucous electronica which rather than distracting from the mood only goes to enhance it. “Sundays Son” is a short spoken piece over the abstract background of a myriad of indefinable instruments, whilst “Intermission Music” could have been lifted directly from an album by the Mothers of Invention.
So many direct comparisons may seem unfair and slightly reductionist, but there is no easy way to describe the many ingredients that go to make up the sound of a Danglers album. That such a glorious combination of styles and references can emanate from three musicians is remarkable in itself, and is due in part, to the alchemy between the artists throughout; an almost intuitive wisdom that is honed in performing improvised music. A voyage through an album of The Danglers music is a journey through the history of the key acts in the development of progressive and experimental music.
To play this album in context one must first realise that Al-Namrood (allegedly meaning “the non believer”) are a Saudi Arabian “symphonic” death metal band which is in itself remarkable. Next, one must then try to imagine death metal skilfully fused with traditional Middle Eastern folk music. From the opening few bars of “Mirath Al Shar” with its Eastern flavours underpinning the traditional black metal sound, the listener realises that this release is something to pay attention to.
The production of the album is unusual in that the guitars are generally very much in the background and could be argued to benefit from more bass, as could the percussion. The vocals are very much to the fore, which again can often detract from the interplay of East meets West. This is not to say that Al-Namrood are merely a novelty act to titillate Western ears. Percussion and guitar passages combine styles recognizable to Western ears with techniques of assembling music that are unfamiliar, and therefore intriguing to discover. As each track unfolds the visceral energy increases, and the interplay of styles becomes more astounding. Indeed one could even claim that the Eastern elements, in terms of production, are those that are most successful to the atmosphere of the album as a whole. The stand out track for this reviewer at least “Bani La’em” incorporates such disparate cultural elements so successfully, over a rolling riff and frenzied percussion, that the effect is both unsettling and overwhelming.
Whilst taking Middle Eastern influences and incorporating the imagery and culture into death metal may seem as nothing new, there appears to be an authenticity to Al-Namrood that is difficult to manufacture artificially. Hopefully the band will continue to pave the way for releases of this nature in their native setting and go some way to introduce the rest of the world to their sound. Maybe even to be seen at a future WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) festival?
Monday, 6 February 2012
Music originating from the Swiss mountain town of La Chaux-de-Fonds should, under normal circumstances, sound as brutal and left field as the music that is being made by Coilguns. Created from members of progressive metal band The Ocean, Coilguns are Jona Nido on guitar, Luc Hess on drums and Louis Jucker on vocals and hoarse screams. Recorded live over one day and mixed and mastered in a few short hours, their latest EP “Stadia Rods” shows how music so visceral yet intelligent can originate from any given habitat.
The opening “Parkensine” rides upon blasts of razor-sharp, tangential riffs and the interplay between screaming, desolate vocal and guttural barking. Throughout the opening piece, there are several changes in mood, tempo and ultimately atmosphere, which rather than come across as schizophrenic, fuse together into a well crafted whole. The second track “Zoetropist” displays a more hysterical assault, whilst still managing to maintain the organisation and detail of the previous track. A shriek separates this and “In the Limelights”, which slows the pace down to a sludge drenched march through a landscape of “post-rock”. “Witness the Kern Arc” brings the pace back up with mathematically tight changes and squalling vocal release, which closes in a crescendo of vigour, ultimately giving way to the multifaceted closer “The Shuftan Process Parts 1 and 2” which essentially brings the EP back round to where it began.
The complexity of each piece together with the dynamic range on display, indicate that Coilguns are firmly within the arena of intelligent yet belligerent metal. Atonal riffs, dementia and discord blended so skilfully together are generally hard to come by, and bands with such dexterity and craftsmanship are one of the many possible futures of the metal scene in our day.