Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Magical Power Mako - Magical Power [1973]



Artist: Magical Power Mako
Album: Magical Power
Label: Polydor

This is the debut album of the prolific composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Magical Power Mako, born in 1955 and still recording and releasing music today. MPM's debut LP Magical Power is comprised of music composed during Mako's childhood up to his early twenties, alongside field recordings and studio tape experiments. The variety of techniques employed by Mako on the record makes for an incredibly diverse LP and the tracks contain traces of world music, Japanese folk, which is a recurring theme in Mako's work; western pop; psychedelic rock and free improvisation. Best of all, Mako is completely unafraid of fast musical transitions, and the resultant effect of this is a narrative-like sound, set up all too conveniently by the introduction.

As is often the case with other MPM releases, Magical Power almost sounds more like a compilation of different artists from different continents. For me, the fact that Mako manages to fuse these elements into comprehensive releases without fail never ceases to amaze me. Interestingly, Magical Power features vocals on two tracks ('Restraint, Freedom' and 'Look Up the Sky') by Keiji Haino, a childhood friend of Mako's, who offers his somewhat uncharacteristically beautiful, angelic vocals to two of the best tracks on the album. This is a must-hear not only for seasoned Magical Power Mako fans, but also for fans of Keiji Haino's earlier work and fans of Japanese-psych in general.

Tracklist:

1) The End Amen
2) Cha Cha
3) Tsugaru
4) In a Stalactite Cavern Astoronaus
5) Town
6) Flying
7) Restraint, Freedom
8) Open the Morning Window, the Sunshine Come in, the Hope of Today Is Small Bird Singing
9) Ruding Piano
10) Shukuyakushi Nenbutsu Kane-Hari
11) American Village 1973
12) Look Up the Sky

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

My Bloody Valentine - Sunny Sundae Smile [1987]



Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Album: Sunny Sundae Smile
Label: Lazy Records

This is one of the earlier My Bloody Valentine EPs, which was released somewhere between Strawberry Wine (1987) and after This Is Your Bloody Valentine (1985). The lineup was still in mid-mutation, and Conway still assumed the role of vocalist. Conway's influence is undoubtedly prominent on this record, and there isn't much sign of the shoegaze sound that the band later became notorious for, perhaps due to the fact that Shields had yet to assume his duties as lead singer, and Bilinda Butcher hadn't joined the band at all. I remember reading in an interview somewhere about the band pre-Strawberry Wine; Shields said that they were a totally different band and that he had wanted to drop the name which had been Conway's idea in the first place, but they had, for one reason or another, kept the name. In knowledge of this, it is perhaps wise to respect My Bloody Valentine on Sunny Sundae Smile as a completely different group altogether, regardless of the fact that three quarters of the future lineup are present here.

Sonically, Sunny Sundae Smile sounds a lot like 60s pop combined with screeching guitar feedback - it's almost like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but far more musically proficient. Shields' guitar work is a potent concoction of jangle-pop and fuzzed-out noise, and together with Debbie Googes pounding basslines and Colm Ó Cíosóig's frantic and thrashy drumming their sound is truly one of controlled chaos. Although many fans of Loveless-era MBV shun Conway's vocal and lyrical style, I must say that on Sunny Sundae Smile, I feel that he is absolutely at his peak in terms of both lyrics and vocal delivery. Lyrically, Sunny Sundae Smile appears on the surface to be a collection of light-hearted pop songs, based around naïve and childish themes such as ice creams and rainbows. However, this façade is stripped away when Conway's direct tone reveals the true meanings of the lyrics; 'Sunny Sundae Smile' is about blow-jobs, 'Paint a Rainbow' is about necrophilia, but I won't steal all the grotesque fun, the pleasure is in listening for yourself!

Tracklist:

1) Sunny Sundae Smile
2) Paint a Rainbow
3) Kiss the Eclipse
4) Sylvie's Head

Natural Snow Buildings - Ghost Folks [2003]



Artist: Natural Snow Buildings
Album: Ghost Folks
Label: Hinah

Ghost Folks is Natural Snow Buildings' first ever release, and coincidentally my first experience of the band. It was originally released as a limited CDr/free download by the Hinah label in 2003, which doesn't really feel like that long ago, but in terms of the band's sound seems like a long time indeed. The music found on Ghost Folks differs hugely from the current NSB sound; there is a lot more focus on the folk elements provided by Mehdi, than on Solange's cello drones that now take a more central role in their releases. That's not to say that there is no trace of Solange's idiosyncratic cello techniques; her performance on this record is as wonderful as ever; the main difference is that a purer tone is adopted, there is much less reverb and delay, and her instrument can be more clearly identified in the mix.

Perhaps my opinion of this album is clouded by my sentimental attachment to this album, as I can vividly recall listening to it for the first time on a car journey through the French Alps, and now the sounds and that landscape seem to be inseparably connected in my mind. Although Ghost Folks is regarded by many as a mere stepping stone from their early style to their now well-known brand of drone-folk, I believe that this is infact one of their stronger releases - even more so perhaps than their epic two-and-a-half-hour work The Dance of the Moon and Sun (2006), which is generally regarded as their masterpiece.

I would say that if you generally prefer TwinSisterMoon to Isengrind, then you will enjoy the folk flourishes on this album immensely. If you also prefer the rawer side of NSB, then Ghost Folks is for you.

Tracklist:

1) Nuclear Winter (Dispatches)
2) If I Can Find My Way Through the Darkness...
3) ... I Came Down Here
4) Sun
5) The Haunted Falls / (Let Us Now Praise Harry Powell)
6) Fallen Lords Were Riding Half Horses
7) With a Stolen Red Lipstick Bible on Her Side
8) They Are Still Hanging Around
9) (...)
10) Guns & Rifles
11) Nuclear Winter

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [1987]



Artist: Various
Album: Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I found this on Spotify when I was looking for some recordings of overtone/throat singing and was really lucky to find these recordings. The recordings from Folkways are invariably incredibly useful documents of music from all around the globe, and this is of course no exception. The recordings are all really well done, especially considering that it was all done outside of a studio with field recording equipment in the environments that these pieces are intended to be heard. Tuvan singers mainly sing in places where they feel a strong bond with nature and spirits, and this usually means places like caves where they can use the acoustics of the space to improve the sounds of the overtones that they produce with their voices.

There are a variety of instruments present on this album, as well as tracks which are purely a cappella performances. Some of the instruments used are mouth harps, which are used by the performers to generate overtones, a hunting horn, known in Tuvan as an Amygrga, and a lute-like instrument which sounds very much like a primitive guitar or similar string instrument. Although these instruments do add nice flourishes to the pieces, the real magic lies in the vocal techniques employed by the singers.

Tuvan singing involves using the voice box to lay down a drone or simple series of notes, while a melody is made using the resonance created by the space in the mouth and the shape of the lips. The sounds created are incredible and allow the singers to essentially sing two completely different notes at the same time, often singing a bassline and melody simultaneously. Obviously, the environment in which the music is performed is paramount to fully hearing all of the sounds on offer, and that's why I feel that the recordings work so well; all of the pieces are given the naturally silent background that they need and deserve. The second half of the album documents many traditional hunting, funeral and other ritual songs, giving the listener a rare and beautiful insight into the culture of the Tuvan people.

Tracklist (track name followed by artist name):

1) Steppe Kargiraa - Fedor Tau
2) Sigit - Mergen Mongush
3) Sigit "Alash" - Mergen Mongush
4) Sigit with Igil - Anatolii Kuular
5) Khoomei - Fedor Tau
6) Khoomei - Sundukai Mongush
7) Tespeng Khoomei - Sundukai Mongush
8) Kozhamik (medley) with Khoomei, Sigit, and Kargiraa - Tumat Kara-ool
9) Kargiraa Duet "Artii-Sayir" - Tumat Kara-ool and Andrei Chuldum-ool
10) Khomuz Melodies - Anchimaa Sonat, Anchimaa Khert, Achyimaa Targin Chandanmaa Torten-ool
11) Borbannadir - Mikhail Dopchun
12) Borbannadir - Tumat Kara-ool
13) Borbannadir (with finger strokes across lips) - Tumat Kara-ool
14) Borbannadir - Anatolii Kuular
15) Ezegileer - Marzhimal Ondar
16) Sigit with Khomuz - Oleg Kuular
17) Medley of Various Throat-Singing Styles - Ensemble "Amirak"
18) Kargiraa "Artii-Sayir" - Vasilii Khuurak
19) Melody: Luring of the Stag - Vasilii Khuurak, Shozhul Salchak, and Polina Ore-ool
20) Imitation of the Roe Deer, the Musk Deer, the Reindeer, Owl, Wolf's Howl; Appeal to the Patron of Hunters Before the Bear Hunt; Reindeer Herd - Vasilii Khuurak, Shozhul Salchak, and Polina Ore-ool
21) Domestication of Sheep to Lamb - Doluma Lopsanchap
22) Domestication of Goat to Kid - Doluma Lopsanchap
23) Domestication of Cow to Calf - Khuren Oorzhak
24) Domestication of Camel to Calf - Shimet Soyan
25) Excerpt from Shamanic Healing Ritual - Alexander Davakai
26) Funeral Lament - Tatyana Sat
27) Lullaby - Tatyana Sat
28) Wooden Jew's Harp - Balgan Kuzhuget
29) Lullaby with Khoomei - Bilchit-Maa Davaa
30) Don't Frighten the Crane - Sundukai Mongush
31) When I Graze My Beautiful Sheep - Khuuren Oorzhak
32) Kozhamiktar - Group of Men and Women from Chadan, Dzun-Khemchik Region
33) Ceremonial Song: "Hymn to the Mountains" - Kazak Sandak

Skullflower - IIIrd Gatekeeper [1992]



Artist: Skullflower
Album: IIIrd Gatekeeper
Label: Crucial Blast Records

Skullflower is an ongoing group led by Matthew Bower of Sunroof!. Formed in 1988, they were one of the first British noise bands, and although they were primarily associated with the noise and power electronics scenes, they mix a wide range of different genres into their sound. This particular album was one of their first, and is seen by many to be their best. On IIIrd Gatekeeper, they almost sound like a doom metal band, but slower, heavier and with much more emphasis on psychedelic guitar improvisation and minimalist riffing. The lineup at the time of recording was Stuart Dennison on drums and vocals, Anthony Di Franco on bass, and Matthew Bower on guitar.

Whenever I listen to this record, I always imagine the band playing in some huge, dark space like an abandoned church or warehouse because of how huge all of the instruments sound: Dennison's drumkit sounds monolithic and tribal as he slams his kit in a precise, and yet primitive manner, Di Franco's bass spews out evil, drawn-out riffs, while Bower's guitar squall sounds like the aural projection of a possessed shaman powering it's way through all of the tracks. Best of all, my description does it no justice; their sound simply can't be put into words. In light of this, everyone needs to check this out and experience it for themselves.

Tracklist:

1) Can You Feel It?
2) Black Rabbit
3) Larks Tongues
4) Center Puss
5) Saturnalia
6) Rotten Sun
7) Vanadis
8) Godzilla
9) Spoiler

Download part one and part two

Sunday, 7 March 2010

maudlin of the Well - Part the Second [2009]



Artist: maudlin of the Well
Album: Part the Second
Label: [self-released]

Part the Second is Boston-based maudlin of the Well's fourth full-length album, released last year and completely funded by fan donations. Over the course of four albums and thirteen years, their sound has changed enormously from what used to be a pastiche of death metal, contemporary classical and indie rock into a sound which is much softer, and with far more emphasis on contemporary classical-style composition. The group has always revolved around Toby Driver, the composer/singer/guitarist for both motW and Kayo Dot. motW was formed by Driver with the intention of making music based around the idea of astral projection; bringing back pre-existing music from one's dreams and subconscious mind through techniques such as lucid dreaming. Most of the compositions are constituted of various pieces of music that the members have dreamt about; the best example of this being the fourth interlude from Leaving Your Body Map, which Driver claims is an almost exact reproduction of a piece that he heard in a dream.

The first incarnation of motW was comprised of Driver, Greg Massi and Jason Byron as the core lineup, with other musicians coming and going throughout the course of their three albums: My Fruit Psychobells... A Seed Combustible (1991), Bath (2001) and Leaving Your Body Map (2001). Following the release of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map, the band experienced substantial lineup changes, with many long-term members leaving and an influx of new members, culminating in the release of Choirs of the Eye (2003), released under the new name of Kayo Dot.

Part the Second is made up solely of material composed between 2001 and 2003, and can be seen as the second incarnation of motW, with the original lineup reforming for the recording of the album. Thanks to fan donations, the band were able to release the album in its entirety for free on their website.

Tracklist:

1) Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, The Revisitation of the Blue Ghost
2) Another Excerpt - Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying
3) Rose Quartz Turning to Glass
4) Clover Garland Island
5) Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Jazzfinger - Grief to Grind the Fire [2008]



Artist: Jazzfinger
Album: Grief to Grind the Fire
Label: Blackest Rainbow

Jazzfinger is the duo of Ben Jones and Hasan Gaylani, who have been making music together as Jazzfinger since 1996. Over the years, occasional floating members have come and gone, and their sound has evolved from what can be heard on their early releases such as The Little Girl on the Plane Who Turned Her Dolls Head Around to Look at Me, which shows an intentionally more disjointed and atonal side to their sound, as opposed to more recent releases such as The Metal Eggs which explores low-end harmony and imagery of the steam-age.

Although I have yet to find a Jazzfinger release that I have not enjoyed immensely, Grief to Grind the Fire always seems to stand out in their discography for me. What is captured on this CDr is something of both incredible force and power, and yet at the same time, immeasurable beauty. Throughout the whole record, there is something very subtle and delicate taking place: Jones' guitar seems to teeter on the edge of harsh washes of feedback, while Gaylani's toy organ provides an incredibly powerful harmony, that mixes beautifully with the high-end feedback produced by the guitar and amp. It sounds like there is some ethereal presence that is floating somewhere inbetween the sound, and they must do all that they can to retain its presence; and that is precisely what they do: for the first forty minutes they pump out their own brand of pure ether. The second track 'Burnt Hole' takes a different turn, while still retaining the delicacy of the first piece, it feels to me like the evil twin of the two tracks: the bass is so loud and intense that you can almost hear the cab shaking itself to pieces, while the toy organ colours in a bleak apocalyptic landscape where terror reigns all around.

On first impressions, the record feels somewhat cold, like the music is 100% machine-driven - which it is. This album really comes into it's own though, when it becomes apparent that Jones and Gaylani have taken cold machinery and transformed them into living, breathing beings. This is where the true magic of the Jazzfinger sound lies for me and I feel that Grief to Grind the Fire allows this magic to flourish so naturally and beautifully that it deserves limitless praise. In an age of technology and civilisation, one could be fooled into thinking that we have lost all connection with our primitive roots. However, through listening to Grief to Grind the Fire, it is evident that we can not sever our link to the past, and that ultimately, we will always be inextricably linked to our animalistic roots. Even things which seem on the surface to be cold and inanimate are, in reality, brimming with life that beckons to be exorcised.

The album was released as a CDr in two editions, both by Blackest Rainbow. Although the first edition is now out of print, the second is still available from the Blackest Rainbow site and on Discogs.

Tracklist:

1) Legs in the River
2) Burnt Hole