Like June before it July was a fairly quiet month musically but there was still a couple of recommendations to check out and there was an album that completely surprised me, that I will also cover. Plus August has a health 7 recommendations.
When I heard about “Ghosts Outside” it was an intriguing concept ex-Beta Band leader Steve Mason’s latest album ‘Boys Outside’ turned into a Dub album by U.K. Dub and Reggae legend Dennis Bovell (who also produced the likes of The Slits, The Pop Group, Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins during the late 70’s and through the 80’s). While the resulting album certainly has its moments and grew on me over time, I have to say that overall I always came away feeling a little underwhelmed. The combination of Mason songwriter-songwriter meets electro meets modern beats and Bovell’s Dub mixes makes for an interesting blend and is one of the most unique Dub album’s since its 70’s heydayp However, the long tracks feel overly repetitive, some like ‘Dub Her In’ seem to go nowhere, in fact for most of the second half of the album Bovell seems to have run out of interesting ideas and ‘Dub on my Heel’ and ‘Dub, I Just a Man’ seem just like standard Dub tracks. I think this one of those albums that will divide listeners some like me will find little wrong with it but not find it leaving a little to be desired, while others will see it as a great unique album that proves that Dub can be modern and different. It’s certainly one to give a go if it intrigues you.
The latest instalment in the FRKWYS series (“Volume 7”) by RVNG Intl begins together various names (Laurel Halo, Daniel Lopatin (of Oneohtrix Point Never/Ford and Lopatin fame), James Ferraro, Samuel Godin) at the head of the current renaissance in synth driven music influence by ambient and new age music of the 80’s, rave and chill out music of the early 90’s and experimental composers from the last 60 odd years with David Borden who was an innovator at ambient/new age music and influence his collaborators. Across six tracks they explore territory familiar to fans of the work of those involved; in fact on first listen it almost seems as if the players take it in turns to dictate the direction of the tracks. However, further listening reveals extra layers of detail that demonstrate a more democratic way of composing. All the pieces sound very complete and it would be great if these five could work together again on another project. They save the best for last with ‘Just A Little Pollution’ on which Halo stamps here mark with most of the sounds recalling her solo work and her vocal contribution lifting the track from quality synth lead piece to a hidden pop gem that the previous tracks seem to have led to.
Now for this month’s surprising release. I’ll admit to never having been taken by The Horrors and other than the excellent ‘Sea Within a Sea’ didn’t see what all fuss was about their last album “Primary Colours”. However, their new self-produced album “Skying” finds them striking a balance between clear melodic lines and the thick, swirling psychedelia. Previous the band sound mud with the melody submerged low in the mix. There’s also a new feeling of purpose to tracks like ‘Still Life’, ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Endless Blue’. The band combine the motorik rhythms of Neu!, the English psychedelia of late 80’s Julian Cope and the power ballad dynamics of Simple Minds (not something I thought I’d ever be recommending) into a punchy pop-rock package. They’ve lift behind the restrictions of recreating gothic post-punk sounds and doom laden, muddy psychedelia of previous albums and have emerged as a band that delivers were once they merely promised.
Classics Critiqued – ‘Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock’ by Neotropic
Recommendations – August
Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Watch the Throne” 8th August (Mercury)
Jay-Z and his producer Kanye team up to trade verses across a whole album for the first time. With Jay-Z dominating 2009 and Kanye dominating 2010 this could be the peak of an incredible period for the pair. Even if it isn’t a great album, it’ll be a spectacular failure.
Wooden Shijps – “West” 15th August (Thrill Jockey)
Though some early reviews have been lukewarm and questioned the need for another album of more of the same (albeit better recorded and produced) from Ripley Johnson and co. this is still a big alternative rock release and we’ll be able to decide for ourselves soon enough.
CSS – “La Liberacion” 22nd August (V2)
Brazilian post-punk/electro five piece CSS are returning this summer. After the patchy ‘Donkey’ expectations have significantly lowered for the band and this may well play into their hands. Pre-release track ‘Hits Me Like A Rock’ features Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) backed by an electronic reggae/Lover’s Rock backing is certainly intriguing enough to make me want to see if the band have found their mojo again.
Steve Malkmus and The Jicks – “Mirror Traffic” 22nd August (Domino)
When this album was announced I wasn’t personal excited by it but many plays of ‘Senator’ later and I’ve been remained of the Malkmus’ great sense of humour, spiky riffs and his super tight yet loose backing band the The Jicks. I’d previously written Malkmus off and got bored with his sound and style and those that ripped it off, now however I’m looking forward to this release with great anticipation!!
Sun Araw – ‘Ancient Romans’ 22nd August (Sun Ark/Drag City)
Last year Sun Araw created his finest hour “On Patrol” and set himself an incredible feat to follow it up. Though I’ve been disappointed by the pre-release track ‘Crete’, mainly as its cluttered up with too much fast-moving percussion which isn’t Sun Araw’s strong point in my opinion. Despite that these track are rare in his catalogue and this could prove an interesting release in where he takes his sound next.
Balam Acab – ‘Wander/Wonder’ 29th August/6th September (Tri Angle)
One of Sonic Fiction’s Tips for 2011 delivers his début album following on from last year’s excellent “See Birds” EP. This unique combination of modern production techniques and classical music training creates an interesting musical tension on Acab’s tracks. The EP showed massive potential which he could well fulfill on this release.
Tinariwen – “Tassili” 29th August (V2)
The figureheads of the Taurag (desert blues) music scene return with new album which reports suggest sees them returning to their roots via the use of 100% acoustic instrumentation. There are also guest appearances from TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, Nels Cline of Wilco and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. With Tamikrest having already released the excellent ‘Toumastin’ and Amadou and Miriam potentially releasing a new album before the end of the year, there could be a triple whammy of Taurag!!
I observed a phenomenon in music in 2010: a selection of artists who worked under the genre names of ‘witch house’, ‘drag’ or ‘haunted house’, all equally unhelpful in defining what these artists were achieving musically. As the year progressed more and more artists emerged with a similar template of ethereal voices, which were sometimes reminiscent of Cocteau Twins, 808 drums with the clap being particularly prominent and washes of cold synthetic sound. I will cover the main artists of these genres and discuss the idea that they may be unconsciously creating a new form of musical rebellion and exploring emotions and tempos rarely explored by others and their predecessors. In addition, I will reflect on the virtual social context that these artists and their music exist in.
‘Drag’ music first came to my attention via an article written by Joe Colly called ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ on Pitchfork. Colly highlighted the scene’s leading lights: Balam Acab, OoOOo, White Ring, Creep, Void, xix, Silent Diane and Fostercare, recognising the influence of DJ Screw as the inventor of the chopped and screwed version of hip-hop and the music’s sluggish pace. He observed its juxtaposition between dreamy, beautiful sounds and the upfront violence of gangster rap. This roots ‘drag’ in the rebellion of the violence, crime and drugs associated hip-hop style.
“…from where I’m sitting, the past 10 years have been dominated by that hyper mode, the mindset of stimulants, alertness, and awareness, everything snappy, ambitious, hectic.” – Nitsuh Abebe, Why We Fight #9, Pitchfork, 2010.
This isn’t, however, a detailed explanation of this hard to define music. It is psychedelic and moody; it deals with sickness and death, subjects that are rarely covered in popular music let alone rap or club music. Longing and despair are omnipresent in the vocals. In many ways it’s the subject matter and pace of the music that are the most rebellious aspects. This generation have been born into a world that is ever increasing the speed of life and volume of information available. It is accepted that young people almost exclusively create and listen to the fastest and in turn the most rebellious music, starting with rock ‘n’ roll to punk, rave, drum ‘n’ bass, gabba and more.
There is a pressure and expectation to create this music but the people working in the genres witch house, drag and haunted house etc. have dared to slow down and deliver something more considered and explore complex and deep emotions not typically associated with younger artists. Anxiety, depression, sickness and death: conditions and emotions that few people are ready to express and discuss are bravely communicated by these artists. They are laying themselves bare to potential ridicule but finding themselves embraced by a generation that empathise with their difficulties.