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…