Tag Archive: Dennis Bovell


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.

Spotify playlist:

July playlist

Coming up in August:

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!!

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June was a relatively quiet month (as July will be) but there’s still four albums to report on, starting with….

This month’s biggest disappointment is the self titled début album by Blanck Mass aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons. This ambient album’s main problem is that apart from the devastating ‘Land Disasters’ and ‘Sundowner’ the rest of the album all sounds very similar and a lot of it recalls Oneohtrix Point Never, whom it has to be said has pretty much perfected this corner of ambient music. The tracks are overly repetitive and where other artists use this aspect to create hypnotic music this release feels boring and staid. The reoccurring use of field recordings of water and the wave-like synth sounds are a cliché within the genre and they aren’t deployed in any new or interesting way on this album. The digital feel of the album and the fact it was made 100% on a laptop makes it a polar opposite of Fuck Buttons’ hands on analogue approach, this might explain why I came away feeling the album lacks impact and anything truly engaging.

Next  “Perfect Darkness”, the new album from Ninja Tune’s troubled folk troubadour Fink. Though not an album that will grab most people on its first play there’s plenty of positives in favour of this release. First of all Fink proves he’s no one trick pony showing that he can enhance his trademark sound with strings (‘Perfect Darkness’) and electric guitar (‘Honesty’, ‘Warm Shadow’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’), he also manages to show a new lighter side on ‘Warm Shadow’, ‘Save it For Somebody Else’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’. In addition to this there is extensive use of extra effects and textures all of which means this is Fink’s most varied album yet. Not an instant hit but definitely a grower that could reveal much on repeat visits.

To mark the tenth anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death German label SPV have put together a two disc package. The first disc collects classic Popol Vuh tracks across the band’s 30 year career and the second disc is comprised of remixes. The first disc features tracks from the albums that were used as soundtracks to classic Werner Herzog films of the 1970s and early ’80s. This disc definitely does what it set outs to; to group the best moments but also be varied in the style, mood and textures. Included are the haunting opener ‘Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei’, the peaceful closer ‘Kailash: Last Village’ via the medieval ‘Bruder Des Schattens’, the shiny ‘In Your Eyes’ and everything in between. A great introduction to this underrated band and one that could entice some buyers to explore further.

The first half of the second disc is a disappointing selection with the exception of the Thomas Fehlmann mix, though that does sound like a Thomas Fehlmann track. These remixes adhere to a formula of focusing on particular elements of the songs and then writing a four to the floor track around them, some tracks acknowledge the mood or atmosphere of the original but a lot don’t and these come across as very lazy. Only a few remixers such as Mouse on Mars, Stereolab and A Critical Mass do anything interesting rhythmically with the mostly beat-less originals. The second half is an improvement with Mika Vaino’s ambient mix, Mouse on Mars glitch hop mix and Stereolab’s subtle interweaving of their own brand of analogue weirdness being particular highlights. The final track is an extended version of ‘Train through Time’, a track the most directly links Popol Vuh with dance music and this version gets to the dancefloor destination that the original only hints at.

The remix disc makes sense in a lot of ways with many of the contributors being signed to progressive German labels such as Kompakt who can be linked back to the philosophy of Popol Vuh and their fellow Krautrockers. Despite the second disc being a bit of a disappointment the first disc and the few good remixes make this a package worth exploring.

In addition to my initial thoughts which you can read in last month’s 2011: through my (biased) eyes Battle’s “Gloss Drop” has continued to grow on me and inspire new thoughts. The main one being that some tracks feature a concrete sounding backdrop that is juxtaposed with  Caribbean/Calypso rhythms and melodies playing over the top. This shouldn’t work but the band have bent these opposing sound to their will. The more I play the album the more enjoyable it is and the more Battles sound at ease with their experimental new sound. Like Gang Gang Dance’s “Eye Contact” this has barely been off the stereo and could be serious competition for the number one spot in the end of the year review!

Spotify playlist:

June playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Low” by David Bowie

Recommendations – July

A very quiet month in terms of new releases of note but here’s a couple that are worth checking out:

David Borden, James Ferraro, Samuel Godin, Laurel Halo, and Daniel Lopatin – ‘FRKWYS Vol.7′ 18th July (digital 30th July) (RVNG Intl.)

The latest edition of the brilliant FRKWYS (Freakways) series on RVNG Intl. is a collaboration between electronic music pioneer and composer David Borden and four stars of the current boom in solo synthesiser music. The track ‘People of the Wind Pt. 2′ is streaming at RVNG Intl. website and offers a preview of what is to come.

Steve Mason and Dennis Bovell – “Ghosts Outside” 18th July/25th July (Double Six)

Steve Mason (ex Beta Band) released joined forces with the much respected reggae artist / producer Dennis Bovell (producer of Linton Kwesi Johnson and U.K. Dub legend) to create the album “Ghosts Outside” which is released July 2011 through Double Six. The album is a radical ‘dub’ reinterpretation of Steve Mason’s “Boys Outside” long-player which was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2010. Download a free track ‘Yesterday’s Dub’ here.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

The Pop Group – ‘Y’ (1979, Radar Records)

This month’s selected Classics Critiqued  is a post-punk masterpiece that has bemused and divided critics and music fans alike for over 30 years. The Pop Group a four piece from Bristol consisted of Mark Stewart (vocals), John Waddington (guitar), Garth Sager (guitar/occasional saxophone), Simon Underwood (bass) and Bruce Smith (drums), what their line-up lacked in originality was made-up by the melting pot of influences they utilised. An (almost) completely untutored musical collective (Waddington the only trained musician) they burst onto the music scene and made the cover of the NME before they’d ever released a single. Yet the best was still to come as the band cooked up their début album with British dub producer Dennis Bovell.

‘Y’ was released at a time when punk music had become repetitive and had failed to achieve its goals, bands such as Public Image Limited, Wire and Gang of Four were emerging and attempting to explore new paths. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘Where Next?’ The Pop Group answered emphatically ‘everything!’ and unleashed a sound that took on free jazz, dub, reggae, funk and 60’s beat poetry. This monstrous maelström heralded a new era of music outer limits and ‘Y’ served as a prime example of how far the term ‘music’ could be stretched within becoming tuneless. As Bruce Smith told the NME, September 30 1978, “we want people to question as much as possible. All the rules, conceptions, everything…. It’s a question of setting yourself free and not worrying about inhibitions and people saying you can or can’t do that.”

With all these elements flying around the mix The Pop Group needed a steady hand to guide them through recording ‘Y’, someone who understand the band’s hybrid sound and could translate their chaotic live sound into a cohesive and more palatable one on record. Dennis Bovell an experienced British dub producer who also love rock music and had a good grasp of jazz was the man given this job. Bovell recalls the band “were loose and they needed to tighten up. In their own right they’re all great musicians… The thing that was not together about The Pop Group was the guitars. And then Mark Stewart would drift across the frame of the thing. And being near to a seven-footer, and having that kind of voice tone that commanded, ‘You will listen to me’… those were the elements that made it very interesting and made me want to do The Pop Group.” Despite this enviable task the album is incredible well produced harnessing the band explosive grooves and allowing the ‘free’ elements space to roam but not meander. The dub influence is employed throughout but sparingly with the use of space and reverbs, delays and a deep throbbing bass sound the key examples. Bovell even went as far as describing “Simon Underwood and Bruce Smith, they were the Sly and Robbie of the post-punk period – tight”.

The band didn’t only question what was permissible musically but also lyrically, Stewart didn’t believe in “the compartmentalization of experience that places ‘politics’ here and ‘poetry’ over there.” The band cited Rimbaud, Burroughs, and Blake, as much they did King Tubby, Funkadelic and Neu! This poetry was matched with Stewart trademark howl and provocative political subject matter; they were “questioning everything, challenging everything, right down to the core of personal relationships and the relations between the audience and the band.” Stewart described “Thief of Fire as being about “idea of grabbing at something really far away. Finding out about things you thought you weren’t meant to find out about or allowed to find out about, prohibited knowledge. It’s the Prometheus legend, but I twisted it to be about going into the unknown areas. I remember people saying stuff like ‘To be alive is not enough; I want to live. So it was against all the constrictions.” The lack of constrictions applied to the clashing political ideals the band adopted and discussed from “Wilhelm Reich’s libidinal liberation, Antonin Artuad’s threatre of cruelty, Situationism’s revolt against boredom” all this collided and was added to their fiery “Dionysian protest music”. The band viewed themselves as the next in a long line of “politically engaged avant-garde artists” including the Dadaists, the Surrealists through “to 1960’s movements such as Fluxus and Situationism who saw radical art and political revolution as inseparable.”

Such is the uniqueness of The Pop Group’s fusion of disparate genres that there aren’t any bands/artists that could be said to have been directly influenced by the band. In fact, whenever a new band emerges who take on post-punk influences they roll out the same familiar names Gang of Four, Talking Heads, Public Image Limited and Joy Division, The Pop Group never seem to get a look in. However, they have indirectly influenced and had a hand in the creation of the Bristol trip-hop sound. Stewart lived with and mentored Tricky helping him create his first demos and début album ‘Maximquaye’ and was friends with Daddy G of Massive Attack (he is mentioned in the sleeve notes of ‘Blue Lines’ and worked “behind the scenes on “Heligoland”). Another band who Stewart is friends with in Asian Dub Foundation who’ve fused drun’n’bass, dub, hip-hop, Indian music and rock for 20 years and could be seen to carrying the torch that The Pop Group lit with ‘Y’. More recently Italian dance duo Crooker’s remixed the band’s 1979 single ‘We Are Prostitutes’ to much praise from Stewart. This and the rapturous response to the band reformation last year, show this is a band that are still very relevant and may yet produce another incredible statement. Watch this space.

Spotify playlist:

The Pop Group – Y

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