Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John Cale "Paris 1919" (Reprise Records, 1973)

Artist: John Cale
Album: "Paris 1919"
Release Date: March 1973
Label: Reprise Records
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Baroque-Pop, Chamber-Pop, Art-Rock
Mood: Nostalgic, Gloomy, Literate, Somber
Reminds Of: David Sylvian, Robert Wyatt, Nick Drake, Nico

Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Child's Christmas In Wales
2. Hanky Panky Nohow
3. The Endless Plain Of Fortune
4. Andalucia
5. Macbeth
6. Paris 1919
7. Graham Greene
8. Half Past France
9. Antarctica Starts Here

Like Frank Zappa, John Cale is a fascinating, mercurial figure. Everything he has done over the years—from his electric viola work and his development of destructive sound effects for the Velvet Underground onward—bears witness to a formidable intelligence and a commitment to what remains viable in the avant-garde tradition. Last year, Cale released his first Reprise album (following two excellent albums for Columbia), The Academy in Peril, which Warners justly called their first "classical" album. Paris 1919, by contrast, is pop-oriented with strong classical underpinnings. Indeed, it comes far closer to being a finished work of art than any previous attempt to effect a rock-classical synthesis.
The subject of Paris 1919 is nothing less than the entirety of Western European high culture, viewed roughly from a post-World War I, Dada-Surrealist perspective. The album is an epic reassessment of history, geography and art itself. Much of its music is in the Pink Floyd-Procol Harum genre—densely textured and post-Romantic. (Paris was produced by Floyd-Harum wizard Chris Thomas.) The strings of the UCLA Symphony Orchestra are used to magnificent effect, enhanced with what sounds like a mellotron.
Cale's lyrics are something else entirely. He has scored a major coup by adapting, often brilliantly, the spirit of Dada-Surrealist poetry into the pop idiom. The contrast between the somewhat destructive playfulness of Dada and the Romantic thrust of the music sets up tensions that are never resolved, nor are they meant to be. At its most accessible, the poetry is highly allusory and multifaceted. The clearest example is in the album's most beautiful cut, "Andalucia," in which impressions of a woman, a place and history are woven inextricably into a moving and mysterious entity: "Andalucia, when can I see you/When it is snowing out again/Farmer John wants you/Louder and softer closer and nearer/Then again/Needing you taking you keeping you leaving you ..." The song and the arrangement are ravishing, and to top it all off, Cale sings with a plaintiveness reminiscent of Steve Winwood.
On other cuts that have a similarly heavy sound, the lyrics are more playful: "There's a law for everything/And for elephants that sing to keep/The cows that agriculture won't allow ..." is one of several hilarious pronouncements made in Cale's "Hanky Panky Nohow," a song that, paradoxically, has a mystical, sensuous musical setting. The central image of the title cut, whose arrangement is somewhat similar to Nilsson's wonderful "Mourning Glory," is that of a woman appearing as a ghost "from the clock across the hall." And a typically Surrealist fascination with time appears again in "Half Past France." The album's one all-out rocker is the screaming, tearing "Macbeth," which perfectly conjures up the ghostly violence of the play.
Though at first all of this might seem simply to be sublime nonsense, much of it improvised, Cale employs imagery that is fundamentally cohesive in an impressionistic way and further unified by its elegiac spirit. His cerebrations are as Romantic as they are anti-Romantic, perhaps more the former, since the music finally impells us to take him very seriously. Wit, humor and irony are here in abundance. So too are metaphysical contemplation and sadness.
Paris 1919 is one of the most ambitious albums ever released under the name of "pop." In spite of and because of its irreconcilable contradictions, it requires a great deal of listening in order for its full implications to be perceived. As usual, John Cale is several steps ahead of the times. It is up to us to catch up with him. Paris 1919 is a pop masterpiece. 


“I don’t care…People always bored me anyway…”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yasushi Yoshida "Little Grace" (Noble Records, 2008)

Artist: Yasushi Yoshida
Album: "Little Grace"
Release Date: April 25, 2008
Label: Noble Records
Genre: Neo-Classical, Post-Rock, Instrumental
Mood: Literal, Intimate, Elegant, Sophisticated
Reminds Of: Max Richter, Balmorhea, Tape, Rachel's
What People Think: The Milk Factory Review, ToKafi
Definitely Worth Buying:

1. Permanent Yesterday
2. Greyed
3. Little Hand
4. Thread Still
5. Lasted In Different View
6. Three Winters Our Trace
7. Under Calf, Winged Steps
8. Lullaby For Rainsongs

Few areas of the world have been as exciting to watch as the experimental community in Japan over the past half a decade. What was originally dominated by noise and psychedelia-oriented music has slowly transformed into a sea of post-rock, ambient, and electronic artists, exposing a magnitude of creative musicians with large ambitions and a wealth of talent at their disposal. While this is undoubtedly a counter-culture movement amongst the very pop focused Japanese mainstream, it is having a much larger and significant impact on the global scale.

Although many have celebrated the evolution of ambient music within the boundaries of Japan, which has broken through a decade-old stagnation of the generation with a more humanistic approach to the whole process, it has really been the electronic circuit which has received the most critical acclaim and will probably leave a lasting impression decades to come. The innovation comes in the natural blending of unnatural pairs of genres, particularly the classical and glitch IDM influenced genres. The two most noteworthy pioneers of the field are undoubtedly found in Katsuhiko Maeda (a.k.a. World's End Girlfriend) and Kashiwa Daisuke, both label mates of Yasushi Yoshida.

Maeda is the eldest of the group, with a discography that now spans almost a decade and a career that demonstrates strong sonic development through time. His work is the strongly influenced by the avant-garde, and, in general, his compositions represent sketches or snapshots of a sonic landscape that is constantly evolving and largely chaotic in nature. Daisuke's approach is much more narrative in nature, as he takes a longer form to allow the pieces to fully illustrate his themes and paints a full portrait for the listener. While both pull from very similar worlds for influence, they achieve stunningly different results, although comparisons between their work is surely evident.

Yasushi Yoshida's debut, Secret Garden, was very much in line with this world. Little Grace, his newly released sophomore effort, is as well, but it'd be difficult to draw such a conclusion without knowledge of Secret Garden and seeing the progression in action. On the surface, much of Little Grace sounds like it's in comfortable proximity to the works of contemporaries Olafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick, and maybe even Balmorhea (and, let's be honest, they all love Rachel's). It has all the required ingredients -- piano, strings, a slow, emotional air -- and the pieces are composed in the general neo-classical style that has now become standard. However, tracks like "Greyed," "Under Calf, Winged Steps," and "Untitled" should tip us off that there's much more going on below the surface than just pretty neo-classical music (not that there's anything wrong with that...), harking back to the works of his Maeda and Daisuke in true cutting-edge style.

Indeed, on closer inspection, even the seemingly straightforward classical pieces are less predictable than Yoshida's peers. The lengthier pieces ("Thread Still" and "Three Winters Our Grace") are accomplished tracks that stretch the imagination and offer a few extra tricks during the expanded time frame. Meanwhile, the shorter tracks ("Permanent Yesterday" and "Lullaby for Rainsongs") adhere closely to stock neo-classical formulas and provide a solid foundation/anchor for the album to flourish from. Essentially, Yoshida provides a spectrum of tracks that highlight the movement of his music from the experimental to the conservative, but in doing so he also doesn't give up the things that made him love the combination thereof in the first place. Although the electronic component is drastically reduced in Little Grace, it is still present and, for the most part, used subtlely. This is brought to the fore in the more experimental tracks, but then fades back into supporting role (if any at all) during the rest of the album.

There's no denying that Yoshida has created a timeless, exhilarating album that many will quickly fall in love with. But, for several reasons, I'm unable to give this album my full support. First of all, I feel that Yoshida is, at times, trying too hard to distance himself from Daisuke and Maeda, and in the process sacrifices the electronic component which is largely what gives his work a voice and separates it from his Western peers. There are many moments on the album that slide into generic neo-classical territory, which is not something you typically see on many Japanese releases. Secondly, his newfound style hasn't quite been developed as fully as his older work, which had the benefit of appealing to the work of his influences. A little more tinkering would flush out the Yoshida sound to great lengths. Lastly, upon analysis of the album and the progress of Yoshida's work, I can't help but conclude that this is a transitional album and his next will be a more satisfying release. Little Grace looks to be wedged between his past work and a more organic work that awaits in the future; we've yet to see his masterpiece, but we're still getting a pretty good view in the meantime.


“The human capacity to suspend disbelief and get caught up and live through such travails…”

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kim Hiorthoy "Fantasin Finns I Varkligheten-Japan Selector" (P-Vine Japan, 2002)

Artist: Kim Hiorthoy
Album: "Fantasin Finns I Varkligheten-Japan Selector"
Release Date: 2002
Label: P-Vine Japan
Genre: Folktronica, IDM, Minimal-Techno
Mood: Fractured, Sophisticated, Enigmatic, Intimate
Reminds Of: Four Tet, To Rococo Rot, Lars Horntveth, Xela
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon

1. Door Open Both Ways
2. Jeg Er Bare Her
3. Juli
4. Politiska Dikten Atervander
5. Det Var En Fridfull Och Mycket Spannande Dag
6. Giving And Taking Book
7. Nu Kommer Kathrine Inn, Hon Lutar Sig Mot Dorrposten
8. Ingen Vet Om Fremtiden Kommer
9. Forskjellige Gode Ting
10. Hip-Hop Is A Way Of Life
11. Institutt For Kritisk Praksis

On his records Kim Hiorthøy combine weird beats, lo-fi/leftfield electronics, field recordings, electro-acoustic sounds and samples, resulting in a sound all his own. His debut album "Hei" was released in 2000 to rave reviews around the world. His second record, "Melke", a collection of remixes, 7 inches, rejected tracks and tracks for compilations, was released in 2002. His live sets differ somewhat from the records; with faster speeds and louder beats they sometimes end up as tiny techno raves, if perhaps weird ones at that. Hiorthøy is also a graphic designer, mostly recognized for his work for the Rune Grammofon label and rock group Motorpsycho. A book, "Tree Weekend", was published by Die Gestalten Verlag in 2000.


This Japanese-only release from Kim Hiorthøy combines tracks from his first two albums with some exclusives—is it worth tracking down? Well, depends on how much you like your electronics on the experimental side. Me, I love it, so it was worth it. “Jeg Er Bare Her,” for example, glides along on a lovely electronic melody, grounded by a mid-tempo kick drum, and augmented by samples of high-pitched squeals and low thrummings. Hiorthøy’s combination of techno rhythms with simple but effective melodic lines at once sounds unfamiliar and soothing (like the near-pastoral tones of “Ingen Vet Om Fremtiden Kommer”). In terms of the previously released tracks, “Politiska Dikten Återvänder” skitters along on its xylophone-enhanced drum ‘n’ bass beats, while “Nu Kommer Cathrine Inn, Hon Lutar Sig Mot Dörrposten” layers on an intercepted phone call. The short and quiet “Det Var En Fridfull Och Mycket Spännande Dag” is a mini-meditation on rhythm and repetition, while “Forskjellige Gode Ting” takes that idea through a nine-minute journey. Despite the inclusion of tracks that appear elsewhere (every trainspotter's nightmare), FANTASIN FINNS I VARKLIGHETEN - JAPAN SELECTOR is a completely worthwhile collection.

(source:, user: scoundrel)

"Weird fun, Scandinavian style - clean, convival and utterly wonderful" (Mojo)

“I don't know if it is behind everything I do, but I definitely believe in working with an attitude of knowing as little as possible about what you are about to do in order to not be constrained by efforts to 'prove' anything and also to be as open as possible to whatever it is you are about to do. To approach things without the limitations of professionalism.”

Read the Milk Factory interview with Kim Hiorthoy…

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Steve Reich "The Desert Music" (Nonesuch, 1985)

Artist: Steve Reich
Album: "The Desert Music"
Release Date: December 11, 1985
Label: Nonesuch
Genre: Minimalism, Avant-Garde, Chamber-Music, Modern-Composition
Mood: Theatrical, Hypnotic, Eerie, Detached
Reminds Of: John Cage, Terry Riley, Philip Glass
What People Think: Wiki, Amazon Editorial Review
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. The Desert Music: First Movement (Fast)
2. The Desert Music: Second Movement (Moderate)
3. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part One (Slow)
4. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part Two (Moderate)
5. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part Three (Slow)
6. The Desert Music: Fourth Movement (Moderate)
7. The Desert Music: Fifth Movement (Fast)

Borrowing its title and text from a book of poetry by William Carlos Williams, Steve Reich's The Desert Music (1982-1984) is not a pictorial work, but is, nonetheless an evocative one. The Desert Music addresses the idea of mankind's awareness of his own condition, a subject that appears in one way or another in each of the three included poems. From Theocritus: Idyll/A version from the Greek, Reich sets the words "Begin, my friend, for you cannot, you may be sure, take your song, which drives all things out of mind, with you to the other world." Part of the text from The Orchestra reads: "Is there a sound not addressed wholly to the ear?... I am wide awake, the mind is listening." The connection between these phrases and the desert is indirect but sure; as Reich points out, it was in Sinai, not Jerusalem, that the children of Israel received revelation and guidance from God, and in the wilderness that Jesus confronted his temptations. And, referring indirectly to the deserts of Alamagordo, New Mexico, where the first A-bombs were detonated, Reich quotes again from The Orchestra: "Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them, he must either change them or perish."

The Desert Music is characterized in part by a recurring element: harmonic progressions that unfold as rapidly repeated chords, without melodic or rhythmic adornment. The work's episodes of development and reflection are arranged into an arch form (ABCBA). The first and fifth movements share the same harmonic material, while the second and fourth -- settings the same text -- are both in a moderate tempo and use similar harmonic progressions. The central movement, the longest in the work, exhibits its own symmetrical form, beginning and ending with the same text. The middle portion, the work's focal point, sets a text from The Orchestra that sheds light upon the relationship between text and tone in The Desert Music: "It is a principle of music to repeat the theme. Repeat and repeat again, as the pace mounts. The theme is difficult but no more difficult than the facts to be resolved."


“The particular is the nub of the universal…”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

For Against "December" (Chameleon, 1988)

Artist: For Against
Album: "December"
Release Date: 1988
Label: Chameleon
Genre: Indie-Pop, Dream-Pop, Shoegaze, Post-Punk
Mood: Intimate, Gloomy, Bitter, Wintry
Reminds Of: The Sound, REM, The Chameleons UK, Echo & The Bunnymen
What People Think: SplendidMagazine, PopMatters
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, RedSunRecords

1. Sabres
2. Stranded In Greenland
3. Svengali
4. They Said
5. The Effect
6. December
7. The Last Laugh
8. Paperwhites
9. Clandestine High Holy

Nebraska's lone entry into the dream pop world, For Against initially consisted of bassist and vocalist Jeffrey Runnings, guitarist Harry Dingman, and drummer Greg Hill. Dingman and Hill left after 1988's December to form the Millions, and they were replaced by Steven "Mave" Hinrichs and Paul Engelhard after a replacement lineup failed to work out. (Dingman later returned for 2008's Shade Side Sunny Side.) Since its inception, Runnings' band has consistently produced a drifting yet distinctly rhythmic sound, soldiering through the myriad alternative scenes of the '80s and '90s. With one foot in the British post-punk of Joy Division and the other in the gliding atmospherics of Kitchens of Distinction, For Against are treasured by shamefully few; geography and infrequent touring have not helped.

For Against's stark and chilling second album is their best, one of the most powerful dream pop releases of the late '80s. Harry Dingman's icicle shots of chiming guitars, Greg Hill and Jeffrey Runnings' agile rhythmic thrust, and Runnings' boyish (but every bit as forceful) vocals rarely combine for a less-than-riveting listen. With its fluid bass-and-drum punch and enveloping twists of guitars, December's most fitting reference point is the Chameleons' Script of the Bridge. Balancing the aggressive with the reserved just as well as its prime inspiration, December's nine songs float, skip, and roam with a level of immaculately-paced grace that can't be heard on most albums of the era. Runnings' anguished expressions of despair, resentment, and embittered bile hit with the same scythe-like precision of Bob Mould's best output -- in fact, given the atmospherics and complementary production at play (including the ideal amount of reverb), the songs are even more haunting than Mould's relatively pure-pop leanings. "The Last Laugh" is one of the first places to go for an example of the album at its best. After Runnings accuses a partner of giving him a nervous breakdown and pleads to get his life back, the song shifts into a dextrous tempo change that recalls the controlled jerkiness of post-punk's upper tier and spins catharsis back into fraught tension. At 36 minutes, December plays briefly but leaves the effect of an epic. Understated but full of ambition, it's a sticky trap. Though it was released on a respected label -- albeit one with limited distribution and exposure -- it's frustrating to think of how revered it would've been if it had instead featured a 4AD catalog number.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“Deceptively boyish delivery…”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

June Of 44 "Four Great Points" (Quarterstick Records, 1998)

Artist: June Of 44
Album: "Four Great Points"
Release Date: 28 January 1998
Label: Quarterstick Records
Genre: Math-Rock, Post-Rock, Indie-Rock, Post-Hardcore, Noise-Rock
Mood: Cathartic, Brooding, Nocturnal, Detached
Reminds Of: Slint, Tortoise, Rodan, Gastr Del Sol, Trans Am
What People Think: MusicCity
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Of Information & Belief
2. The Dexterity Of Luck
3. Cut Your Face
4. Doomsday
5. Does Your Heart Beat Slower
6. Lifted Bells
7. Shadow Pugilist
8. Air #17

OK. I'll admit it. I cried during "Titanic." So laugh, tough guy! I won't be in the theatre while you're watching "Firestorm."

But like yourself, I also thought it really kicked ass when all those people died. Come to think of it, Four Great Points' opening track is pretty analogous to the emotional ebb and flow (and sink) of America's celluloid zeitgiest extravaganza, "Titanic." Twin guitars sparkle off each other like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The bass (arctic water) splashes and upholds the gargantuan drums (steel hull). Beautiful, breathy vocals waft over the bow... Lookout! The Chorus! (Iceberg!) Guitars scree distress signals and resonate cacophonous pangs! Lead vocalist Sean Meadows (cruel fate) screams, "Your time! Has come!" Then the baby blissfully sinks into Aqualand. June of 44's rock proves there is grace in disaster.

Songs like "The Dexterity of Luck" and "Cut Your Face" are standard math rock, but these equations are fueled by chaos theory and funky fractals; they're not the sleepy pre-Algebra of JV bands. June even dabbles in dub (ala Tortoise) without trying too hard. I could go on and on about the bands June of 44 brings to mind -- Rachel's, Fugazi, Tortoise, Polvo, Slint -- but they rise above simple fusion. If indie rock is Greek mythology, June of 44 is Neptune.

OK. I'll admit it. I wept to the opening melody and lyric, "This is the greatest place on earth." So laugh, tough guy. I won't be in the room while you're listening to the Deftones. But hey, I also air guitared and ruptured my third vertebra headbanging to the thick riffs.

(Source: PitchforkMedia)

June of 44's fourth full-length, Four Great Points, is their most experimental effort to date -- fractured melodies and dub-like rhythms collide in a noisy atmosphere rich in detail, adorned with violins, trumpet, severe phasing effects, and even a typewriter.

(Source: AllMusicGuide)

“June Of 44s’ name refers to June Miller, wife of author Henry Miller, and the year author Anaïs Nin began writing about June in her diaries…”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Slowdive "Just For A Day" (Creation, 1991)

Artist: Slowdive
Album: "Just For A Day"
Release Date: September 2, 1991
Label: Creation
Genre: Dream-Pop, Shoegaze, Indie-Rock
Mood: Intimate, Ethereal, Gentle, Bittersweet
Reminds Of: Ride, Mojave 3, My Bloody Valentine
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, Boomkat
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon

1. Spanish Air
2. Celia's Dream
3. Catch The Breeze
4. Ballad Of Sister Sue
5. Erik's Song
6. Waves
7. Brighter
8. The Sadman
9. Primal

Named after a word in one of Nick Chaplin's dreams -- not from a Siouxsie and the Banshees single -- Slowdive formed in Reading, England, in late 1989. The group orginally consisted of Neil Halstead (guitar/vocals), Rachel Goswell (guitar/vocals), Christian Savill (guitar), Adrian Sell (drums), and Chaplin (bass). Formed when they were mostly in their teens, Slowdive was initially lumped in with the remainder of the early-'90s British shoegaze scene; Slowdive's later releases extended upon the likes of the Cocteau Twins and the more atmospheric sides of post-punk, and they closed out their career with an excellent and misunderstood ambient LP.
Signing with Creation, Slowdive's early singles received glowing press and chart placement. Their debut single, Slowdive, thinly veiled an indebtedness to the Byrds and My Bloody Valentine, with no traceable punk influence. (In fact, they were probably amongst the first batch of young rock bands to ignore the movement.) Just after Slowdive's recording, Sell left for university. Neil Carter subbed for less than a year, lending his skills to the follow-up single, Morningrise; former Charlottes member Simon Scott hopped on board prior to the band's third single, Holding Our Breath. The sleepy escapist psychedelia of both Morningrise and Holding Our Breath made significant impressions on the British indie chart. The press dubbed them part of "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" -- a small, loose, conglomerate of like-minded bands who could be seen at each other's shows, frequently hanging out together within the same circle. This "scene" included Lush, Moose, Swervedriver, Curve, and Blur. Not associating with themselves as a move of self-importance, grandstanding, or high society, it was merely a means for those involved to get into shows for free. Most of those involved were university dropouts on the dole. A dastardly move by the press, the tag just made it easier for them to lasso a group of bands into the to-be-expected derision. With the Brit-pop trend close behind, they could cast aside their champs of yesterday with one fell swoop.
For some, Slowdive will always encapsulate all that is wrong about the so-called shoegazing movement. The disaffected vocals, bowl-headed haircuts, the over-reliance on FX pedals and their vague lyrics were all at odds with the music media's then obsession with grunge and Britpop. Certainly, Slowdive weren't to everyone's taste but in a relatively short time they produced three largely excellent albums; each of which featured a signficant development in their sound and now well-respected as essential references in the dreampop movement. As if to prove that Slowdive were always more concerned with melody than they were given credit for, founder members Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell now ply their trade in the spare, more countrified work of Mojave 3.
Their debut album 'Just For A Day' has - on the whole - aged surprisingly well and is a more focused effort than one could reasonably expect from the band members who were still in their early twenties at the time. Granted, the vocals tend towards the effete but there were already signs of the tougher, more robust effects which would be perfect by their second album. Evidence of this is plain to see on the sinister finale 'Primal' and three minutes in to 'Catch The Breeze' as the floating melody is cruelly overtaken by a heavier, darker surge of guitar. In contrast, at this stage of their career, Slowdive were more comfortable with glacial soundscapes of which 'Celia's Dream', the mournful 'Ballad Of Sister Sue' and the gorgeous instrumental 'Erik's Song' stand out the most.


“For all that I have is written in waves…”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charalambides "A Vintage Burden" (Kranky, 2006)

Artist: Charalambides
Album: "A Vintage Burden"
Release Date: May 23, 2006
Label: Kranky
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Psych-Folk, Post-Rock, Freak-Folk
Mood: Brooding, Literate, Fragile, Autumnal
Reminds Of: Tunng, Flying Saucer Attack, The Sunburned Hand Of The Man
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, PitchforkMedia
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, CdUniverse

1. There Is No End
2. Spring
3. Dormant Love
4. Black Red Blues
5. Two Birds
6. Hope Against Hope

Texas group Charalambides, considered by many to be the quietly serious godfathers of the whole freak-folk movement, have been turning out shimmering hush-folk masterpieces on cassette, CD-R and CD, since the early ‘90s, way back before there was any kind of movement to lead. Their journey has found them pursuing a singular vision of the transporting possibilities of simple repetition, uncluttered melody, largely acoustic instrumentation and freely expressive vocals. Eschewing drums or swollen band line-ups, Charalambides has remained a duo, sometimes a trio, dedicated to exploring the spaces between notes, the significance of silences, the subversion of expectations within the basic idea of the song. Along the way, on albums like 2004’s Joy Shapes, they have charted some extreme regions, unearthing strange ghosts, almost falling off the edge of the world in their pursuit of unfettered exploration. So, it’s not too difficult to see A Vintage Burden—recorded by the core duo of Tom and Christina Carter—as a return from the outer edges, back to the warm certainty of lyrics, verses, structure. It is certainly their most accessible album in quite some time, with the exploratory impulse subsumed into the confines and comfort of song. If anything, this album almost sounds like the weary come-down after the trip’s strange and unsettling peak. Which isn’t to say that this is anything like a mainstream rock or folk album: this is still pretty unusual stuff and the six tracks here demonstrate a distinctly skewed take on the song cycle with a deliciously psychedelic flavour, much of it due to Christina Carter’s beautiful, haunted vocals and particularly her penchant for multi-tracking—as on the spacious opener “There Is No End”. Here, against a simple, unhurried six-note motif plucked out on a muted electric guitar, she creates a wispy, ethereal, many-voiced presence, which she wraps around herself like a cloak, giving her the security to really stretch out in wordless abandon without making herself vulnerable. It’s a wonderfully rich and enveloping technique, coming on like a more organic version of Fursaxa’s experiments with the time lag accumulator. Elsewhere, though, there are more conventional approaches to the notion of song, yielding genuinely moving results. “Spring” is like a shower of refreshing rain on a dusty landscape, with its hopeful message and almost unbearably beautiful delivery. Christina sings “Do not wait / Go outside / Sky is blue / Full of stars… Love is in the air / Let it shine / It will shine.” Tom’s guitar actually sounds like it’s smiling, right up until an almost impossibly happy ‘60s riff comes in just 30 seconds from the end of the tune, assuring us all, once and for all, that everything really is going to be alright. While Christina’s style and delivery remains utterly her own throughout these acoustic country dirges and psychedelic blues-folk ballads, the closest point of comparison to any other vocalist is on “Dormant Love” where she burns through an atmospheric electric mist to sound almost like a free-folk reincarnation of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. The one instrumental track here is a 17-minute showcase of Tom Carter’s shimmering guitar styles. Starting out with rudimentary acoustic strumming, the piece gradually accrues layers of pedal steel wails, electric finger picking, and blistering fuzz soloing—coming on like a one-way donkey ride into the Texas desert with the hallucinations cascading down around you and the horizon bending in the heat. This album is like a vivid dream of once-lost items falling gently like leaves from a clear blue desert sky: familiar and strange, happy and disconcerting, beautiful and unsettling—and with a deeply trippy soundtrack. What’s not to like?

(source: PopMatters)

“A Vintage Burden’s embrace is still emotional, still heartbreaking, still sad, and at times still chilling, but somehow, it’s less of an exercise to wrap your arms around it.”

“Let it wash over you, let it slowly but surely catch your attention, and steadily let the music build its case for how engrossing it can be.”

“Picking up the pieces isn’t a speedy process…”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Pop Group "Y" (Radar Records, 1979)

Artist: The Pop Group
Album: "Y"
Release Date: April 1979
Label: Radar Records
Genre: Post-Punk, No-Wave, Experimental-Rock, Noise-Rock
Mood: Dramatic, Intense, Cathartic, Literate
Reminds Of: The Slits, Sritti Politti, Public Image Ltd., Swell Maps
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, Boomkat
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon

1. She Is Beyond Good And Evil
2. Thief Of Fire
3. Snow Girl
4. Blood Money
5. We Are Time
6. Savage Sea
7. Words Disobey Me
8. Don't Call Me Pain
9. The Boys From Brazil
10.Don't Sell Your Dreams

When The Pop Group first came onto the scene in late 1978 they were being hailed in the UK press as one of the saviours of rock and roll, and with good reason as the group's music made almost everything being created at the time seem old hat over night. The Pop Group's debut single "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" released in 1979 was an instant classic and one of the landmark recordings of the 1970's, it was a seething tense piece of aggressive funk/punk/dub/free jazz that demanded attention. It sounded like nothing in the world at the time of it's release and gave me the same feeling as when I heard Public Image Ltd.'s first single, it seemed to hint at endless possibilties for rock and roll. The B side "3:38" should also mentioned this was a pulverizing dose of mind-numbing dub that seemed to look ahead to Pop Group lead singer Mark Stewart's trailblazing work in the 80's with Mafia. A CD re-issue of "Y" in 1996 strangely omitted this great track from the release, WHY?
Anyway the original release of "Y" opened with a stick of dynamite called "Thief of Fire" which was the group at it's best, this is a blistering ride through the bushes of Viet-Nam highlighted by Simon Underwood's funk/dub bass playing, the twin Beefheart guitar attack of Gareth Sager and John Waddington, and Mark Stewart's shrieking "my face is on fire" vocals, Sager also provides some squealing saxophone in the song's mid section. I remember a Melody Maker piece on the group around the time of the release of this album where the band admitted to listening to loads of King Tubby and Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" while they recorded the album, which makes perfect sense.
The next track on the album is a very experimental piece called "Snow Girl" which is driven by some Cecil Taylor type piano, shotgun blasts of guitar from Waddington and Sager and gutwrenching bass slaps by Underwood, Stewart provides a bizarre but strangely catchy vocal. The next track is the truly frightening "Blood Money" which is a nightmare soundscape where Stewart screams bloody murder in the background, he seems to be screaming about spiders being all over his chest, he sounds like Damo Suzuki on that track on Can's "Tago Mago" where Damo seems like he's being tortured, the music on "Blood Money" is thrilling it's a real meltdown of all the instruments into one, Gareth Sager plays some sax lines that sound like the bagpipe wizard Rufus Harley.
"We Are Time" is my favorite track on the record and comes at you like a commando raid on your brain, this track is truly terrifying and singer Stewart sounds like he is coming out of his own skin, the guitar playing by Sager and Waddington is dazzling. The group then throws you a big league curveball called "The Savage Sea" this one opens with an almost melodic piano and it could almost be a Pop Group ballad!, Stewart is a little more restrained on this number, I think the piano part was nicked by The Teardrop Explodes on their great B-side "Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns" and The Pop Group's influence can also be felt on the Teardrops other freakout B-side "Strange House In The Snow".
"Words Disobey Me" is another wildly experimental piece in the style of "Blood Money". "Don't Call Me Pain" opens with a sax riff that sounds like it is being played by Traffic's Chris Wood, on this one Stewart screams "Don't Call Me Pain, My Name Is Mystery" and who am I to doubt him, the song is wrapped up with a fine free jazz baching track. With "The Boys From Brazil" it's back to free jazz territory, again Sager's sax reminds one of Chris Wood while Underwood plays a great funky bass riff, the guitars collide with each other at the end and it is just plain awesome. The record finishes with a stripped down dirge called "Don't Sell Your Dreams" where Stewart sounds totally spent and on the verge of collapse, the musical backing is superb, full of space and it reminds me of the Pharoah Sanders group on "Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt" the guitar playing is full on Sonny Sharrock!, the record then just fades quietly into oblivion leaving you feeling totally drained.
After playing "Y" you wonder how the group ever hoped to top it, they never did, but their second album was great as well but just not as good as "Y", few albums are. The Pop Group finished in 1981 and splintered into groups like Rip, Rig and Panic, The New Age Steppers and most importantly Mark Stewart and Mafia, Stewart really carried the flame from the original Pop Group and much of his work with Mafia is on par with the best of The Pop Group yet his records have been totally ignored.
"Y" is the best place to start to get to know the music of Mark Stewart and company, in my opinion it's one of the most original and inspiring records ever made.


"It was a very young attempt to mix up poetic, existensialist stuff with political yearnings. The idea of love as a revolutionary force-the way it kind of switches on a light, makes you hope for a better world..."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Television Personalities "And Don't The Kids Just Love It" (Rough Trade, 1980)

Artist: Television Personalities
Album: "And Don't The Kids Just Love It"
Release Date: January 1981
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Post-Punk, New-Wave, Indie-Pop
Mood: Rousing, Witty, Boisterous, Freewheeling
Reminds Of: Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett, Swell Maps
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. This Angry Silence
2. The Glittering Prizes
3. World Of Pauline Lewis
4. A Family Affair
5. Silly Girl
6. Diary Of A Young Man
7. Geoffrey Ingram
8. I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives
9. Jackanory Stories
10. Parties In Chelsea
11. La Grande Illusion
12. A Picture Of Dorian Gray
13. The Crying Room
14. Look Back In Anger

The first full album by Television Personalities, recorded after a four-year series of often brilliant D.I.Y. singles recorded under a variety of names, including the O-Level and the Teenage Filmstars, is probably the purest expression of Daniel Treacy's sweet-and-sour worldview. The songs, performed by Treacy, Ed Ball, and Mark Sheppard, predict both the C-86 aesthetic of simple songs played with a minimum of elaboration but a maximum of enthusiasm and earnestness and the later lo-fi aesthetic. The echoey, hissy production makes the songs sound as if the band were playing at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, recorded by a single microphone located two houses away, yet somehow that adds to the homemade charm of the record. Treacy's vocals are tremulous and shy, and his lyrics run from the playful "Jackanory Stories" to several rather dark songs that foreshadow the depressive cast of many of his later albums. "Diary of a Young Man," which consists of several spoken diary entries over a haunting, moody twang-guitar melody, is downright scary in its aura of helplessness and inertia. The mood is lightened a bit by some of the peppier songs, like the smashing "World of Pauline Lewis" and the "David Watts" rewrite "Geoffrey Ingram," and the re-recorded version of the earlier single "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," complete with deliberately intrusive prerecorded bird sounds, is one of the most charming things Television Personalities ever did. This album must have sounded hopelessly amateurish and cheaply ramshackle at the time of its 1981 release, but in retrospect, it's clearly a remarkably influential album that holds up extremely well.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“Can you hear this angry silence…?”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Eternity And A Day" [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (ECM Records, 1999)

Artist: Eleni Karaindrou
Album: "Eternity And A Day" [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
Release Date: 1 October 1999
Label: ECM Records
Genre: Soundtrack, Classical, Chamber-Jazz, Instrumental
Mood: Elegant, Sophisticated, Passionate, Spiritual
Reminds Of: George Russell, Henry Mancini, Don Ellis, Jan Garbarek
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon

1. Hearing The Time
2. By The Sea
3. Eternity Theme
4. Parting A
5. Depart And Eternity Theme
6. Borders
7. Wedding Dance
8. Parting B
9. To A Dead Friend
10. Eternity Theme Variation I
11. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation I
12. Bus (Pt. 1)
13. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation II
14. Bus (Pt. 2)
15. Trio And Eternity Theme
16. The Poet
17. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation III
18. Depart

Film composer Eleni Karaindou was born in the Greek mountain village of Teichio and raised in Athens, going on to study piano and music theory at the Hellenikon Odion. Relocating to Paris in 1969, she studied ethnomusicology for five years before returning to Greece to found the Laboratory for Traditional Instruments at the ORA Cultural Centre. Karaindrou's most successful collaboration was with filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos, with whom she first teamed in 1982, going on to score features including 1991's The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1995's Ulysses' Gaze and 1998's Palme d'Or-winning Eternity and a Day. Although primarily aligned with the Greek film industry, Karaindrou also worked with noted European directors including Jules Dassin and the great Chris Marker.

Eternity and a Day is about an elderly writer, Bruno Ganz, who discovers he has only a short time to live and must decide what to do with his remaining time on earth. The album is both shorter and considerably more varied than its predecessor. Again the music is scored for string orchestra and soloists, this time oboe, bassoon, French horn, mandolin, accordion, piano and two clarinets. Over the course of 18 tracks Karaindrou weaves a series of melodies around a central "Eternity" theme, cues ranging from the eloquent piano solo (played by the composer) "By the Sea" to a traditional wedding dance, various ensemble pieces, a touching elegy for string orchestra and clarinet, "To a Dead Friend" to finally a wind trio against strings for the moving finale, "Depart". More varied and thus more accessible, it is perhaps the better choice for the newcomer to Karaindrou's music.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“As you are writing…The ink grows less…The sea increases…”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ornette Coleman Double Quartet "Free Jazz ( A Collective Improvisation) (Atlantic, 1961)

Artist: Ornette Coleman Double Quartet
Album: "Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation)"
Release Date: 1961
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Free-Jazz, Improvisation, Avant-Garde
Mood: Passionate, Knotty, Sophisticated, Provocative
Reminds Of: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Louis Jordan, Arnett Bobb
What People Think: Wikipedia
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Free Jazz
2. First Take

One of the most important (and controversial) innovators of the jazz avant-garde, Ornette Coleman gained both loyal followers and lifelong detractors when he seemed to burst on the scene in 1959 fully formed. Although he, and Don Cherry in his original quartet, played opening and closing melodies together, their solos dispensed altogether with chordal improvisation and harmony, instead playing quite freely off of the mood of the theme. Coleman's tone (which purposely wavered in pitch) rattled some listeners, and his solos were emotional and followed their own logic. In time, his approach would be quite influential, and the quartet's early records still sound advanced many decades later.

As jazz's first extended, continuous free improvisation LP, Free Jazz practically defies superlatives in its historical importance. Ornette Coleman's music had already been tagged "free," but this album took the term to a whole new level. Aside from a predetermined order of featured soloists and several brief transition signals cued by Coleman, the entire piece was created spontaneously, right on the spot. The lineup was expanded to a double-quartet format, split into one quartet for each stereo channel: Ornette, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Billy Higgins on the left; trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell on the right. The rhythm sections all play at once, anchoring the whole improvisation with a steady, driving pulse. The six spotlight sections feature each horn in turn, plus a bass duet and drum duet; the "soloists" are really leading dialogues, where the other instruments are free to support, push, or punctuate the featured player's lines. Since there was no road map for this kind of recording, each player simply brought his already established style to the table. That means there are still elements of convention and melody in the individual voices, which makes Free Jazz far more accessible than the efforts that followed once more of the jazz world caught up. Still, the album was enormously controversial in its bare-bones structure and lack of repeated themes. Despite resembling the abstract painting on the cover, it wasn't quite as radical as it seemed; the concept of collective improvisation actually had deep roots in jazz history, going all the way back to the freewheeling early Dixieland ensembles of New Orleans. Jazz had long prided itself on reflecting American freedom and democracy and, with Free Jazz, Coleman simply took those ideals to the next level. A staggering achievement.

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something...”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Arnold Dreyblatt "Animal Magnetism" (Tzadik, 1995)

Artist: Arnold Dreyblatt
Album: "Animal Magnetism"
Release Date: 23 May, 1995
Label: Tzadik
Genre: Avant-Garde, Microtonal, Minimalism, Sound-Collage
Mood: Playful, Manic, Cathartic, Quirky
Reminds Of: LaMonte Young, Alvin Lucier, Elliott Sharp
What People Think: AllMusicGuide
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Point Rotation
2. Next Slide
3. Animal Magnetism
4. Group Velocity
5. Side Band
6. Flashbulb History
7. Epilogue

Arnold Dreyblatt's compositions have been recorded for such leading avant-garde music labels as Hat Hut, Tzadik and Table of Elements. The New York native studied film and video at SUNY with Woody and Steina Vasulka, and earned his masters from the Institute for Media Studies. In the mid-'70s, he studied composition with Pauline Oliveros and LaMonte Young, then learned from Alvin Lucier until getting his masters in composition in 1982. By that time, Dreyblatt had already been directing his own music ensemble, the Orchestra of Excited Strings, for three years. In 1984, he moved to Europe where, in addition to composing, he began using texts and images in his installations and performances. He has received numerous grants and stipends including the Overbrook Foundation, and the Philip Morris Art Prize. Dreyblatt has been a guest composer at Amsterdam's STEIM, Berlin's Kunstlerhaus Bethanien and more. He has been commissioned by Ars Electronica, Podewil/US Arts Festival, as well as for his production 'Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933' for Berlin's DAAD-Inventionen '91. He has also created two independent yet interrelated art works in collaboration with the University of Lüneburg's Kulturinformatik Department, entitled "Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933" and "Memory Arena." As of the late 1990's, Dreyblatt still resided in Berlin.

"While I really like everything of Arnold's, especially the more "heroic" parts of Nodal Excitations and Propellors in Love, this is the record that really steps out as the first genuinely new sound in maybe 10 years. It's as if the Dirty Dozen Brass band got a hold of some of Arnold's records and decided to give it a go. I cannot overstate how unbelievably brilliant this record is. When played loud, I firmly stand by my declaration that it is one of the 4 or so best records ever made". - Jim O’Rourke

"The bright, punchy staccato nature of Dreyblatt’s compositons allude to some of Michael Nyman’s early ensemble works, a character further emphasized by the dynamic constraints of the instrumentation... ...Dreyblatt wants you to listen through the beats in order to connect with the overtone structures and resonant sound features bouncing off the rhythmic surfaces... ...I’ve certainly grown to love it.“ - David Illic, The Wire Magazine Soundcheck Winner October, 1995

"This particular release from 1995 is initially striking because of its pure energy. I guarantee that it's one of the few releases you'll find featuring "classical" instruments which encourages you to "listen at maximum volume!" Dreyblatt also uses a wider palette than most Minimalists, as his Orchestra of Excited Strings actually consists of strings, horns, percussion, and just-intonation guitar. Yet he holds the same concern with microtonal structure that Conrad does, just through more propulsive music. Some people back in the Seventies used to talk about how the music of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass was somehow related to "rock," but those charlatans don't have anything on Arnold Dreyblatt. - Pataphysics Research Journal

“If you REALLY wanted to scare somebody, wouldn't you find a new way to do it…?”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Scott Walker "Tilt" (Drag City, 1995)

Artist: Scott Walker
Album: "Tilt"
Release Date: May 1995
Label: Drag City
Genre: Avant-Garde, Experimental, Baroque-Pop, Minimalism
Mood: Brooding, Theatrical, Bleak, Autumnal
Reminds Of: Jacques Brel, Nico, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg
What People Think: SputnikMusic, WorldSocialist
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Farmer In The City
2. The Cockfighter
3. Bouncer See Bouncer
4. Manhattan
5. Face On Breast
6. Bolivia '95
7. Patriot (A Single)
8. Tilt
9. Rosary

Tilt was Scott Walker's first album following over a decade of silence, and whatever else he may have done during his exile, brightening his musical horizon was not on the agenda. Indescribably barren and unutterably bleak, Tilt is the wind that buffets the gothic cathedrals of everyone's favorite nightmares. The opening "Farmer in the City" sets the pace, a cinematic sweep that somehow maintains a melody beneath the unrelenting melodrama of Walker's most grotesque vocal ever. Seemingly undecided whether he's recording an opera or simply haunting one, Walker doesn't so much perform as project his lyrics, hurling them into the alternating maelstroms and moods that careen behind him. The effect is unsettling, to put it mildly. At the time of its release, reviews were undecided whether to praise or pillory Walker for making an album so utterly divorced from even the outer limits of rock reality, an indecision only compounded by its occasional (and bloody-mindedly deceptive) lurches towards modern sensibilities. "The Cockfighter" is underpinned by an intensity that is almost industrial in its range and raucousness, while "Bouncer See Bouncer" would have quite a catchy chorus if anybody else had gotten their hands on it. Here, however, it is highlighted by an Eno-esque esotericism and the chatter of tiny locusts. The crowning irony, however, is "The Patriot (A Single)," seven minutes of unrelenting funeral dirge over which Walker infuses even the most innocuous lyric ("I brought nylons from New York") with indescribable pain and suffering. Tilt is not an easy album to love; it's not even that easy to listen to. First impressions place it on a plateau somewhere between Nico's Marble Index and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music -- before long, familiarity and the elitist chattering of so many well-heeled admirers rendered both albums mere forerunners to some future shift in mainstream taste. And maybe that is the fate awaiting Tilt, although one does wonder precisely what monsters could rise from soil so belligerently barren. Even Metal Machine Music could be whistled, after all.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“If I’m using politics, I’ll use it to talk about an inner state rather than a political state. They’re related. It’s a way to break out of the [traditional] songwriting format. I’m looking inward—that’s why you get a solitary feel from the music. I’m composing something of myself through fragments.”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jackie O-Motherfucker "Fig. 5" (Road Cone, 2000)

Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker
Album: "Fig. 5"
Release Date: 2000
Label: Road Cone
Genre: Experimental-Rock, Post-Rock, Improvisation, Noise
Mood: Theatrical, Uncompromising, Searching, Confrontational
Reminds Of: Volcano The Bear, Vibracathedral Orchestra, White Rainbow
What People Think: TheBrokenFace, AllMusicGuide
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, Emusic

1. Analogue Skillet
2. Native Einstein
3. Your Cells Are In Motion
4. Go Down, Old Hannah
5. Amazing Grace
6. Beautiful September (We Are Going There)
7. Chiapas! I Must Go There!
8. Michigan Avenue Social Club
9. Madame Curie

In America, we have monuments instead of mythology: bright obelisks and classical statuary erected as perpetually new in the place of the perpetually old. This is, after all, the New World; we dedicate these talismans against ruin across the landscape almost as if to keep history itself at bay, to keep time from catching up with us. Underfoot are bones and detritus, though, the debris of the little nameless events that are excluded from American history. It's all a rather shallow grave when you think about it. Jackie-O Motherfucker's unprecedented Fig. 5, the group's first CD release, presents a dim and unsettling archaeology of American music. Released in the wake of the American century, it's the first unapologetically brilliant piece of experimental music I've heard this year. Somehow constructed bereft of any postmodern irony, Fig. 5 transforms a commanding grasp on the celebrated tributaries of American music-- jazz, Appalachian folk, soul, African-American spirituals, West coast surf-rock, Protestant hymns, Louisville post-rock, bluegrass, electronic noise-- into an autochthonous gospel. Jackie-O Motherfucker-- two multi-instrumentalists, Tom Greenwood and Jef Brown and the cadre of eclectic talents with whom they surround themselves-- abandoned the remix loop jazz-fusion of their first two albums (available only as LPs) and literally emerged from the basement and the soil with a masterpiece. The gust-blown digital hum of the first track, "Analogue Skillet," underpins plucked and scraping strings, like a bow on the nervous system itself. It's buzzing neon yielding to something like a screen-door creaking on its rusted hinges behind wind chimes in "Native Einstein," a kind of front porch minimalism. There's a faint chorus of young girls counting down in the recesses, playing Double Dutch in the road. The strings sound like saws; the lone sax whines like an animal. The scene is replaced by the solemn repetition of guitar twang; "Your Cells are in Motion" is the working man's Mogwai: a funereal procession of rising guitar and faint vocals coalescing steadily into shantytown post-rock, tarnished but true. Labradford will spend the entirety of their career trying to create this song and never get it right. The choral "Go Down, Old Hannah," performed here by the Amalgamated Everlasting Union Chorus Local #824, is a prison camp work song dating back to the turn of the century-- a plea for sunset to end the workday. "Amazing Grace," the slave trader John Newton's ubiquitous 1779 hymn to God, is barely recognizable as Appalachian free jazz: steely banjos and twittering horns that sound like bagpipes are equal parts mountain folk and Pharoah Sanders. The lilting "Beautiful September" provides an interlude of catchy No Depression dream-rock. But the album's centerpiece is clearly the tribal 24-minute "Michigan Avenue Social Club," a track that sounds at times like dismembered Gershwin, and at other times like Cul de Sac with horns. Fig 5. fades out on the brief, chirping "Madame Curie," dissolving into the earth from which the whole work arose. For all its disparate strands, Fig. 5 is surprisingly cohesive, constructing some ratcheted new sound with junk and memory rather than laundering old sounds with the irony and veiled contempt of other pastiche exercises. The disc itself is packaged in an oddly fascinating die-cut cardboard folio, complete with snippets of Alan Lomax's celebrated American ethnomusicology. Fig. 5 is slow and plodding like time itself. This work, again, simply has no precedents. Or rather, its precedents lie in the dusty anonymities of American musical history, instead of the proud and touted monuments of our cultural past. Listen to it once if you can. It is our secret national anthem.

(source: PitchforkMedia)

“Apocalyptic dirge, the monotony of life, light the whole world on fire and destroy it…”