Tag Archive: Philip Jeck


In recent months I’ve been trying to reduce the size of the ‘2010 through my (biased) eyes’ series because I didn’t want them to become a dispassionate list of what I had listened to that month. As they have mostly concentrated on new releases this post will round up other music I have enjoyed recently.

The Fall – ‘Perverted by Language’ (1983), ‘Extricate (1990) & ‘The Infotainment Scan’ (1993) (Reissued by Castle Communications)

An interesting selection of Fall albums. The first, ‘Perverted by Language’ was the start of the Brix Smith era when the American guitarist joined the band and began a relationship with Mark E. Smith and the last album before Mark E. Smith went into overdrive with the constant hiring and firing of band members. Brix’s influence, which would later assist the band in achieving their highest album chart positions and adopting a more Americanised commercial sound, is barely traceable on this release save for her vocals on ‘Hotel Bloedel’. Indeed ‘Hotel Bloedel’ is the exception in what is an album full of great songs and guitar/bass riffs and Smith on top lyrical form. ‘Extricate’ was the beginning of the Fall exploring computer technology and modern synthesisers (previously they had only used cheap organs) and there is a new sheen to their sound yet this doesn’t detract from the sharp riffs and even sharper lyrics. Despite the common perception of Mark E. Smith as the group’s dictator on ‘Extricate’ and ‘The Infotainment Scan’ he competes with and allows space for keyboardist Dave Bush and collaborators Coldcut on single ‘Telephone Thing’.

Solex – ‘Solex vs. Hitmeister’ (1998), ‘Pick Up’ (1999), ‘Low Kick and Hard Bop’ (2001) (Matador), ‘The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock’ (2004) (Arena Rock Recording Co.) & ‘Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown (2010) (Bronzerat)

Solex (aka Elizabeth Esselink) is an artist that I have been curious about since hearing ‘Solex One Louder’ on a Matador compilation back in ’99 from her excellent debut album ‘Solex vs. Hitmeister’, which blends together an eclectic selection of samples sourced from the record shop Esselink owns. This is music that works where it shouldn’t and is danceable to boot! The formula is refined and given a jazzier edge on ‘Pick Up’ and ‘Low Kick and Hard Bop’ and though the latter is a little repetitive it is worth a spin. On ‘The Laughing Stock…’ a dramatic change occurs with pared-down samples and Esselink taking centre stage playing guitar and keyboards and sharing vocals with new collaborator Stuart Brown, which was disappointing and didn’t come together. This and ‘Amsterdam Throwdown…’ made with Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez showcase a bluesy downbeat and upbeat feel respectively. I recommend ‘Solex vs. Hitmeister’ and ‘Pick Up’ but feel that despite some great moments ‘Low Kick and Hard Bop’ and ‘Amsterdam Throwdown…’ are overly repetitive but if you like the first two albums check them out.

cLOUDDEAD – ‘cLOUDDEAD’ (2001) (Anti-Con)

Created by Doseone, Why? and Odd Nosdam, three members of the Anti-Con collective/record label, the eponymous album sounds unlike anything on any hip-hop album before or post its release and the material the members have made individually. The atmospherics range from sinister to pastoral and the lyrics from simplistic to wordy and metaphorical and this unique sound draws upon ambient music, electronica, the experimental rock of The Residents, Frank Zappa and includes hints of Cluster or Faust’s moments of krautrock clarity. Think Boards of Canada and that only tells half the story. The tracks were originally released on six double sided 10” singles which were intended to be listened to in order which explains why the album shifts focus every couple of tracks, though this can happen within a song too. Due to this the album is not the easiest of listens but the effort is worthwhile.

Subtle – ‘A New White’ (2004) ‘For Hero: For Fool’ (2006) & ‘Exiting Arm’ (2008) (Anti-Con)

Rapper Doseone of cLOUDDEAD formed Subtle in 2001 with friend and percussionist Jel. Later the band expanded to feature Dax Pierson (keyboards), Marty Dowers (woodwind), Jordan Damrymple (guitar) and Alexander Kort (cello). Three years on the band debuted with ‘A New White’, an album that consolidated the achievements of cLOUDDEAD and gave their ideas a greater concise song-based style. They only really began to establish a sound that was their own on ‘For Hero: For Fool’ which balanced tongue twisting raps, wonky backing vocals, warped electronics, psychedelic guitars and beats that ranged from solid hip-hop to liquid rock. ‘For Hero: For Fool’ is probably the hardest Subtle album to get your head around but your efforts are greatly rewarded. ‘Exiting Arm’ saw a more stripped back and consistent sound while keeping enough variety to maintain interest until the end. The closing track ‘Providence’ reminds me of the track of the same name by TV on the Radio, a coincidence as Tunde Adebimpe contributed to ‘Yell & Ice’ a remix album of ‘For Hero: For Fool’. Who knows where Subtle will go next but the future seems bright.

Tony Allen – ‘Black Voices’ (1999) (Planet Woo/Comet), ‘Lagos No Shaking’ (2006) (Honest Jon’s), ‘Homecooking’ (2009) (Planet Woo/Comet)

An interesting selection of albums from the man who Brian Eno said is ‘perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived. ‘Black Voices’ is a remix/dub album by Doctor L of previous Tony Allen tracks. It occasionally feels a few years behind in terms of techniques and technology but is still a great album that brilliantly marries Afrobeat rhythms with modern dance music. ‘Lagos No Shaking’ sees Allen return to Afrobeat after many years experimenting with other styles interestingly ‘Isa Nla’ and ‘Lo Sun’ contain a Talking Heads-esque touch. For last year’s ‘Homecooking’ Allen switches styles again working with the cream of London’s hip-hop talent like rapper Ty and Matthew Herbert collaborator Eska in which the organic hip-hop meshes with his natural breaks perfectly and like all great drummers he knows when to go for it and when to lay off and let a track breath.

King Sunny Ade  – ‘Best of the Classic Years’ (2003) (Shanachie)

This compilation collects some of King Sunny Ade earliest and most brilliant work in the genre of juju, a form of Nigerian music he helped develop and make popular in UK and US in the 1980s. His clean guitar tone and technical ability are a joy to listen to and may well be an influence on modern bands such as Vampire Weekend and Foals. Sunny Ade and his band expertly balance virtuosity and danceable grooves and even long tracks such as ‘Synchro System’ and ‘Inbanuje Mon Iwon’ never get boring or predictable.

Philip Jeck – ‘Surf’ (1999) & ‘Sand’ (2008) (Touch)

Jeck is an expert sample manipulator who uses his own avant-garde turntablism techniques to change the speed of recordings and then overlap and mould them via effects. ‘Surf’ is literal in the evocation of the sound of the surf at a wave’s edge, yet doesn’t sound like a lot of ambient music that exploits the actual movement and rhythms of this. ‘1986 (Frank was 70 years old)’ approaches the idea of surf from a different angle, seemingly utilising a surf rock record to create a new abrasive texture that propels the song forward. Nine years later Jeck produced ‘Sand’, which appears to be related to ‘Surf’ in conception and he again pushes the definition of ambient music into new territory.

Spotify playlist:

Through my (biased) eyes: Catch #1

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For many years ambient music existed on the fringes of contemporary music, an underground concern often maligned as background muzak. In this article I explore the origins and ideology of ambient music and its recent resurgence at the hands of new and established artists.

There are some conflicting ideas about who invented ambient music and why but its origins are traceable back to the Futurism and Dada art movements of the early 20th century. Though widely known for creating new ways of painting and sculpting and pushing the boundaries of what could be classified as art, artists of these movements also experimented in music, sometimes incorporating non musical elements into compositions. Erik Satie is the most important of these composers. As a creator of what he named ‘furniture music’, described as being suitable for generating a perfect background atmosphere that would not distract the diners at a dinner party, Satie links Dada and Futurism with the beginnings of contemporary ambient music. Satie’s ideas influenced Brian Eno who having studied at art school gained an understanding of art, artists, like the Futurists and Dadaists, and music and later coined the term ‘ambient music’ in the mid 1970s.

The ambient music standard-setter is Eno’s universally critically acclaimed ‘Ambient #1: Music for Airports’ from 1978. Eno believed ambient music could be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener” and referred to “Ambient #4: On Land” (1982) as “environmental”. Both statements seem appropriate though there is a strong case for a strain of ambient music that doesn’t solely sit in the background with a recent development of artists such as Biosphere who put greater emphasis on the music’s emotional content. From the commencement of ambient music’s Eno era the divide between environmental and emotional ambient pieces has existed: Cluster’s ‘71’ and ‘II’ from 1971 and ’72 mixed synth washes and melodies with recordings of domestic appliances, kitchen utensils and industrial machinery and, conversely, the arpeggios and melodies of Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’ instil a dreamlike state of emotion and reflection.

Ambient releases were initially infrequent but when rave music was forced indoors due to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a separate ‘chill-out’ room in clubs was created to allow attendees to come down while cushioned by ambient music and though there is now a distinct difference between what is called chill-out and ambient music the performers in these rooms became the ambient music leaders. This included The Orb with 1991’s ‘Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and ‘U.F.Orb’ from 1992, The Irresistible Force’s ‘It’s Tomorrow Already’ (1998) and ‘Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92’ by rave pioneer Aphex Twin. Via these albums clubs, major record labels and corporations were shown the commercial potential of ambient music and the genre became overrun with sub standard cookie cutter releases and advert soundtracks, eventually leading ‘chill-out’ and its cash-in compilations to flood the late 90s-early 00s market. Commercial (over)exposure pushed many ambient artists underground and record labels like Touch specialised in finding the best new artists and revitalised the genre with releases from Biosphere, Chris Watson, Phillip Jeck and B.J. Nilsen and though these artists received acclaim the genre remained deep underground, until recently.

We are now experiencing a resurgence in ambient music, evident in recent releases from The Black Dog, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Sun Araw, Emeralds, and there are similarities to 80s new age music, and chillwave artists such as Washed Out. The Black Dog’s ‘Real Music for Airports’ challenges Eno’s original utopian vision and is in many ways more effective in realising and expressing the sounds and feeling of airports. Like The Black Dog, Sunn O))) create a heavier atmosphere and though these acts are not often categorised as creating ambient music they represent ‘dark ambient’, a rarely covered subgenre that is as engrossing as it is intimidating. ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’, the latest release from Sunn O))) evokes the sound of the earth’s crust splitting and reference Miles Davis on ‘Aghartha’, the brass and woodwind are utilised in an unconventional form to create texture and atmosphere. ‘Big Church’ employs droning guitars and bass with a colossal-sounding choir to create the feel that you are in fact in a cathedral but this is a simplification of what the group musically achieve, which is difficult to describe accurately. Sunn O))) are not for everyone but well worth listening to. ‘Returnal’ by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) and ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ by Emeralds share a similar affection for the sounds of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis but both artists stamp their own mark on these familiar instrumentations. OPN’s skill is being able to evoke places, emotions and memory. Glistening waves of synths effortlessly flow though the tracks due to his seamless manipulation of recordings and computer editing. ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ is a milestone for Emeralds as they have adapted a stronger song based approach and allowed guitarist Mark McGuire’s riffs and melodies more space in the mix. Here the songs flow easier than on the previous album ‘What Happened?’ and there is a greater sense of direction. Sun Araw’s albums all inhabit their own worlds and space: ‘Beach Head’ is like a super slow motion version of the Hawaiian scene depicted on the cover, ‘Heavy Deeds’ is urbane in vibe, revealed by the title, is indeed heavy as his wah-wah symphonies stretch out to infinity and latest album ‘On Patrol’ takes his techniques deeper and further out than ever before.

When writing and researching this piece I have discovered much about ambient music and its preconceptions. I’ve been guilty of paying too much heed to them and until last year I had not bothered to look beyond them. However, I’ve come to realise that ambient music is currently and historically rich and diverse despite lesser artists diluting its form and corporate misappropriation. The present selection of artists is further evidence of ambient music’s wealth and they promise an interesting, bold future.

Spotify playlist:

Altered States playlist

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