Monday, 21 November 2011

Hollow Pigeons - Birthdays [2011]


















Artist: Hollow Pigeons
Album: Birthdays
Label: n/a

Hollow pigeons is the moniker of Ryan de la Cruz, a prodigious beatsmith hailing from Toronto. Building on the successes of his first EP, Letters to Kiko (2011), Birthdays mixes the reverb-washed sounds of dream pop with skittering hip-hop beats, amidst other influences, some more prominent than others.

Birthdays is full of the nostalgic sounds of youth; all of the sights, sounds and smells condensed into a four-track EP. The whole listening process itself is not at all unlike looking back at the days spent in the playground at school and at house-parties getting drunk for the first time. All of these memories fade into a haze, just as Hollow Pigeons' beats have already begun drowning in the swampy depths of the brain. Any sense of these events as temporal and spatial go straight out of the window and are replaced by only the thin glossy film that envelopes them.

In this way, Birthdays is this film that is impenetrably wrapped around the body of our memories, any omitted memories simply filled in by reverb, giving a pleasantly ethereal sheen to the days of our youth and washing over the moments we'd rather forget. But anyway, a birthday should be about celebration! And there's plenty of that here. The joyous "You(th)", probably my favourite track from the record, sounds so gloriously happy that the beats sound like a train almost ready to shake itself off its tracks, the vocal sample dances around unable to help itself from playfully pitch-shifting around the place while the hi-hat fades and pans like it's running in circles around the room. Meanwhile, "Lullabye" shows a completely different side to Hollow Pigeons, without unsticking itself from the cohesion that the EP displays; it is the soundtrack to running outside into the snow naked, lying on the grass on a cool summer night getting bitten by midges or swimming in a river in the spring darkness. It doesn't get much more euphoric than this.

Tracklist:

1) 1996
2) You(th)
3) More Affection
4) Lullabye

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Curren$y - Pilot Talk [2010]


















Artist: Curren$y
Album: Pilot Talk
Label: DD172

While I'd bet that a lot of this blog's followers have already heard this record, I feel it's almost my duty to enlighten those who haven't yet been blessed by the sounds of this hip-hop masterpiece. I like to think that I'm a person who doesn't just carelessly throw words around, and I genuinely do think that this is one of the most solid and cohesive examples of a great hip-hop record that I've ever heard. Every aspect of the record works incredibly well; Curren$y's rhymes are simply unparalleled by any other MC, while Ski Beatz offers up some of the freshest, crispest beats one could ever hope to hear. If you can listen to the first three tracks of Pilot Talk and deny that they form one of the strongest openings to any album, then you are on a very different page to me musically.

I suppose the first point to talk about with any hip-hop record is the lyrical prowess of the MC behind the project and Curren$y consistently delivers pure quality on Pilot Talk. One of the most interesting aspects of Curren$y's lyrical style is his unique use of phrases and expressions that can only really be understood after hearing several of his mixtapes. From unusual observational expressions of everyday things to really abstract metaphors, Curren$y effortlessly creates a dictionary of his own, personal language (or "Pilot Talk") that reveal new details and meanings on every listen. Subtle humour is also peppered throughout Pilot Talk, and Curren$y's delivery alone has often had me laughing out loud at his understated wit and, at times, bombastic sense of humour. While there is a plethora of examples that I could give of Curren$y's best lines, there are so many highlights that it would be more productive to get your teeth into Pilot Talk (and ideally his other mixtapes) as soon as possible to unravel the complexity of the Jet lingo.

During his already long career, Curren$y has been involved with a number of labels, most notably Master P's No Limits and Lil' Wayne's Young Money and during this time he has spitted over a variety of beats. Having heard this record first and subsequently delving further into his history, it really hit me that Curren$y's partnership with Ski Beatz on the Pilot Talk series (the third installment being in the pipeline at this time) is as close to perfect as I have heard in a producer-MC relationship. Ski backs Curren$y with smooth and polished beats, which range from the huge brass sounds of "The Day" to the heavy-hitting steel drums of "Audio Dope II" and the stadium-sized riffs of "Example", Ski offers variety while managing to keep a certain languid quality throughout, making Pilot Talk a really cohesive effort.

To finish, some words from the Hot Spitta himself:

"Tearing through the city, snatching bitches, top of the building, King Kong ain't got shit on me."

Jets... Fool.

Tracklist:

1) Example
2) Audio Dope II
3) King Kong
4) Seat Change (featuring Snoop Dogg)
5) Breakfast
6) Roasted (featuring Trademark & Young Roddy)
7) Skybourne (featuring Smoke DZA & Big K.R.I.T.)
8) The Hangover (featuring Mikey Rocks)
9) The Day (featuring Mos Def & Jay Electronica)
10) Prioritize (featuring Nesby Phips)
11) Chilled Coughee (featuring Devin the Dude)
12) Address (featuring Stalley)
13) Life Under the Scope

Download
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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Os Mutantes - Os Mutantes [1968]


















Artist: Os Mutantes
Album: Os Mutantes
Label: Polydor

As of late, I've been listening to a lot of MPB, Bossa Nova and Tropicália, and when I think of Brazilian music, Os Mutantes are usually the first band that come to mind. The group's first, self-titled record Os Mutantes is the perfect place to start for the uninitiated. Perhaps the best description of their sound that I've heard to date is "imagine the Mamas and the Papas singing in Portuguese and adding psychedelia and samba to their harmonious pop tunes." And while this is obviously a simplification of what is a beautifully varied, joyous and at times naïve record, the whole 60's sunshine vibe is omnipresent alongside buzz-saw guitar work.

My first encounter with Os Mutantes was through a Tropicália compilation that I borrowed from a friend, and from the moment that the sloppily distorted seven-note guitar riff came through the speakers, it was love at first listen. It felt the same as the first playing of other classics like The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), The Beatles' Revolver (1966), or Les Rallizes Dénudés' '77 Live (1991), and comes across as Brazil's answer to these early experimental psychedelic records.

As proponents of the now legendary Tropicália movement, Os Mutantes' music was created under the extremely oppressive, authoritarian military government that controlled Brazil following the 1964 coup d'état. Amidst the chaos, a group of activists, musicians, experimentalists and hippies formed the Tropicália collective and for a brief period, were at the epicentre of an explosion of creative forces in São Paolo.

I think that an artist's best work is often created whilst in a state of oppression, whether through personal pressures, or a greater political struggle. In one form or another, I think all art is a vision of what could be. Os Mutantes' vision is one of peace, love and partying and I, for one, am with them all the way.

Tracklist:

1) Panis et Circenses
2) A Minha Menina
3) O Relógio
4) Adeus Maria Fulô
5) Baby
6) Senhor F
7) Bat Macumba
8) Le Premier Bonheur du Jour
9) Trem Fantasma
10) Tempo no Tempo (Once Was a Time I Thought)
11) Ave Genghis Khan


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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Smoke Jaguar - Live at the Halt [2010]


















Artist: Smoke Jaguar
Album: Live at the Halt
Label: Nyali Recordings

Having just moved to London, it's been a while since I last wrote. The whole process of packing my room into a car and unloading it in an unfamiliar place has taken up a lot of time. Taking the past two weeks to adjust to my new surroundings and to socialise with groups of new people has also meant that I haven't been listening to as much music as I usually do, so instead of sharing something I just found out about, I thought I'd share something which I've been listening to for some time already.

Smoke Jaguar is a Glasgow-based guitar-duo specialising in reverberating layers of noisy fret scrambling and squealing feedback. I think that the best way to describe it, would be like an even more densely heavy interpretation of metal than Boris' Boris at Last: Feedbacker, working largely from the same palette of excessively distorted and reverb-drenched, but removing any sense of a consistent attention to rhythm. Instead, Smoke Jaguar take these obvious Japanese psych influences and carve a line from them to more British-sounding harsh noise, keeping true to the guitar-heavy setup of the former.

While it's definitely not an exaggeration to say that the Smoke Jaguar is overloaded, extremely heavy and atonal, their sound is also very pure, with minimal effects being used and the focus undoubtedly being on the interplay between the two instruments and amplifiers. The pedal-twiddling tendencies of so many in the noise-fold is completely eschewed on Live at the Halt and as a result, the album sounds more energetic, like pure electrical forces bouncing back and forth between the performers and their instruments. And this certainly isn't "harsh" in the sense that it aims for aural discomfort either; Live at the Halt is a subtle beast, revelling in the delicacies of the two instruments throwing harmonic drones back and forth between one another like fire-spitting dragons.

A real rollercoaster-ride of a performance, the duo begin by trading-off feedback screeches before dropping into a more structured droning passage, at which stage something that could be very loosely described as a riff begins and a drumkit drops in for the middle-section. Then the droning gets a lot more intense, with both guitars descending into monolithic low-end noise-machines, before a Scotsman shouts "You've got balls" at the band repeatedly to round things off. And if that's not a good reason to buy this, then I don't know what is.

Alt. Vinyl
Volcanic Tongue
Discogs

Monday, 29 August 2011

Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva [1999]



Artist: Various
Album: Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I always think that despite the vast array of genres we have over here in the West, indigenous music is something completely outside of the structures that we've given to modern musical styles. Even more so than harsh noise or lowercase music, indigenous music seems to me more alien than any other sound in the world. The music of primitive cultures often serves a purpose, be it religious or for pure practicality (such as attracting animals using calls), and in a culture where music is used almost solely for leisure or entertainment, this can be a hard concept to fully grasp. I find this thought uplifting, because it affirms that music is not something that has sprung up out of society or civilisation, but out of a far more primitive part of ourselves as animals. Music is innate in us as human beings, not brought about through cultural conditioning.

I've already posted another album of Tuvan folk music, which was also released on the absolutely fantastic Smithsonian Folkways record label, who have released hundreds of records exploring the indigenous music of cultures from all over the globe. Tuvan music is very special both to me personally and to the history of music as a whole. The music of the Tuvan people is primarily vocal-based and ranges from bird calls and animal imitations to stringed instrument pieces and vocal drones. Obviously a huge point of interest is the unique singing style called "throat singing", "overtone singing" or "harmonic singing", which essentially allows the throat singers to sing two notes at once. The actual mechanics behind throat singing are very complicated, but in simple terms, it's achieved by manipulating the voice-box and changing the shape of the mouth to create overtones (there's a full explanation on Wikipedia). The resultant sound is unlike anything else, and in many ways like an imitation of the harmonics of the wind.

This knack for imitating sounds from nature is something that the Tuvans are especially good at, and this CD reflects that, with several tracks showing the peoples' beautiful emulations of natural sounds. The track "Harmonics in the Wind" is like a jam session with the wind, with what sounds like a xomuz (Jew's Harp) player and another stringed instrument (could be either an igil or a byzaanchy) mimic the harmonics of the wind and try to tune their playing to the tuning of the wind. On another track, "Xomuz Imitating Water", a xomuz player improvises along to the sounds of a stream, copying the little sounds that the water makes with his xomuz to convincing effect; it's like two great improvisers meeting to play together, only one of them is nature itself.

I personally prefer this compilation to the one I previously posted, Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [1987]. This is partly do with the fact that I much prefer the pieces on this disc and the way that they are arranged, but it is also because the quality of these recordings are far better. This is to be expected, as the material for this CD was recorded 12 years later, and obviously the equipment that can be taken out into the field had vastly improved. While recording quality may not always be of great importance, when it comes to field recordings, especially field recordings of Tuvan music, it is paramount that the spaces around the performer be properly audible, and here it's possible to hear every bird, every rustling tree, and every drop of water that falls around the recording space.

Tuvan musicians will travel far to find the perfect acoustic spot for performance, and these recordings let you sit right next to them in the caves, on the mountains and by the streams of rural Siberia.

I won't post a download link for this one, because I've seen the people from Smithsonian Folkways scouring the web to remove links. Since Spotify is now available in the US and a lot of other countries, try downloading that to listen to it. If all else fails, you know where Google is.

Tracklist (track name followed by artist name, where artist name is not noted, the artist is unknown):

1) A Reverberant Valley
2) Sakha Animal Imitations - German Khatilaev & Klavida Khatileava
3) Tuvan Round-up
4) Fantasy on the Igil - Kaigal-ool Khovalyg
5) Birds and Bird Imitations - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Alexei Saryglar
6) Xoomei on Horseback - Kagail-ool Khovalyg & Anatoli Kuular
7) Borbangnadyr with Steam Water - Anatoli Kuular
8) Xomuz (Jew's Harp) Imitating Water - Anatoli Kuular
9) Home on the (Mountain) Range
10) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Imitation of Wild and Domestic Animals) - Albert Saspyk-ool
11) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Reprise) - Alexander Chambal-og Tulush
12) Harmonics in the Wind
13) Sonic Landscape - Grogori Mongush
14) The Legacy of Ancestors - Tos-Khol
15) Cave Spirits
16) Kyzyl Taiga (Red Forest) - Kagail-ool Khovalyg
17) Talking Xomuz - Anatoli Kuular
18) Chiraa-Xor - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Sayan Bapa
19) Epilogue

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Smithsonian Folkways
Discogs
Amazon

The Bilinda Butchers - Half Open [2011]



Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Single: Half Open
Label: Beko DSL

I'm pretty quick off the bat with this one; the new Bilinda Butchers single, released today on the Beko Digital Singles Label. Those who know me will know that I adored their EP Regret, Love, Guilt Dreams [2011] (which I reviewed on here pretty recently) and that it was love at first listen. Well, fans of the band won't be disappointed as they clearly don't plan on resting on their laurels any time soon.

Interweaving synth hooks, nostalgic soundscapes, lyrics about love and loss, swathes of reverberation and noise washes make up the A-side, "Half Open" a slow-dance through a crumbling relationship which is mirrored by the music's constant builds ands falls, which eventually give way as the words "hold on until you're gone" echo off into infinity and the coda kicks in for an epic one minute epilogue.

"Seafoam Green" is a different beast altogether, with a milky texture and a languid tempo; it's music that is happy to float on the top layer of your consciousness and ebb and flow along of it's own accord. The sounds of tidal pulsing in the background, seashells put to your ear, dry kelp brushing the sand, sunburnt synthesisers, aqueous guitars; all part of the effect that brings you closer to the events of this track, themselves captured in sun-bleached high fidelity.

God Bless The Bilinda Butchers.

Tracklist:
1) Half Open
2) Seafoam Green

Download

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Supercar - A [2005]



Artist: Supercar
Album: A
Label: Ki/oon

The first release in a double compilation by one of my favourite Japanese alternative rock bands Supercar. The great thing about this album (and it's counterpart, B [2005]) is how to shows the fluid progression from the early britpop influenced records through to the electronic experimentalism of Futurama [2000] and Answer [2004].

As the title suggests, A is a singles collection of all of the A-sides of the band's career. Friends of mine often wonder why I'm so fond of Supercar, and true, on the surface they do kind of sound like a bunch of Japanese teenagers imitating their Western idols, but if there's one thing that this record shows more than anything, it's that their singles of were of consistently high quality, even in the early days, where the compositions are far from simple and they come off like a shoegaze band with a high budget, bundles of ambition and a penchant for epic orchestrations (see the track "Planet").

In spite of the fact that the band really wore their influences on their sleeves pretty heavily for the first half of their career, as soon as the Futurama-era tracks kick in (with "Fairway"), it's clear that the band are going far deeper into their music, and digging up some really bizarre and unique stuff, like bookending an electro-pop track with samples of African drumming. The synth programming on Highvision [2002] and Answer is sublime, and examples of it can be heard towards the end of the compilation, with the space-age beauty of "Yumegiwa Last Boy", "Aoharu Youth" and "BGM" punctuating the latter sector of the record.

If you've yet to become acquainted with Supercar, then this is probably the best way to do so. Here is some of the band's greatest moments in a compact package that serves as a great glimpse at the band's ten-year history.

Tracklist:

1) Cream Soda
2) Lucky
3) Planet
4) Drive
5) Sunday People
6) My Girl
7) Love Forever
8) Fairway
9) White Surf Style 5
10) Strobolights
11) Yumegiwa Last Boy
12) Aoharu Youth
13) Recreation
14) BGM
15) Last Scene
16) Wonder Word

Download
Amazon Japan
Discogs

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Marlena Shaw - The Spice of Life [1969]



Artist: Marlena Shaw
Album: The Spice of Life
Label: Cadet

Whenever summer comes around, I inevitably go to listen to big summer albums, and that usually means Motown, hip-hop, soul, funk, etc. Marlena Shaw is a soul singer, perhaps most famous for her version of the song "California Soul", which itself features on this record. The Spice of Life is Shaw's second album and is, from what I can gather, the most popular and critically acclaimed release of her career. I'm not all too knowledgeable about soul and funk, mainly because it's a lot harder to find information about it on the 'net than it is with other genres, but this record is up there for me with Curtis Mayfield's stuff and if like I was, you have yet to find a way into the seemingly vast amount of classic soul records that are out there, this is definitely a good starting point.

It's pretty much impossible to discuss The Spice of Life without talking about this record's finest cut, "California Soul", a stone-cold classic that pays homage to the spirit of the west-coast. Having never been to California, and living in the North of England, I think I'm probably least qualified to say whether or not the song actually evokes the spirit of the west-coast, but when I hear gorgeous lines like this:

"They say the sun comes up every morning / and if you listen oh so carefully / the winds that ride on the high tide / whistles a mellow beat / and so the people started to sing / and that's how the surf gave birth, I'm told / to California soul"

I really don't care whether or not it's realistic or not; it's just a great lyrical distillation of the essence of the endless summer. I had to actually hold myself back from writing out the lyrics to the whole song, because each line is really as great as the next one. Instrumentally, it's spectacular too, slamming together blaring brass parts and climactic strings swells, all wrapped up in a Spector-esque wall of sound reverb wash. I think one would actually find it hard to pick out something about the track that's not iconic.

Shaw isn't limited to the feelgood vibes of "California Soul" however, showing a remarkable range of styles and subject matter over the course of the record, from the politically driven "Woman of the Ghetto", to the slower romantic ballads like "Go Away Little Boy" and the jazz-tinged "Looking Through the Eyes of Love". I'm a total sucker for those massive-sounding soul orchestrations and there's plenty of that to get your teeth into here. On top of that, you really couldn't hope for a better voice than Shaw's to guide you through the whole album.

Tracklist:

1) Woman of the Ghetto
2) Stormy Monday
3) Where Can I Go?
4) I'm Satisfied
5) I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)
6) Liberation Conversation
7) California Soul
8) Go Away Little Boy
9) Looking Through the Eyes of Love
10) Anyone Can Move a Mountain

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Discogs

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Bilinda Butchers - Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams [2011]



Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Album: Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams
Label: n/a

For me, one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year, Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams is the first EP from Californian dream-poppers The Bilinda Butchers. Having already released a handful of tracks via BandCamp, MySpace and their official blog, it was already pretty clear that this was going to go down as one of the best releases of the year. Although the band have been compared to other European dream/indie pop groups like the Radio Dept., the place that the music takes you to is wholly different and to me, very Californian. I remember reading an interview with the London group Hype Williams where they talked about their love of "chillwave" and all of the sunny west-coast electronic music coming out of California, but that they could never make it themselves. As Londoners, they just couldn't sincerely emulate the sun-bleached optimism of their American counterparts. To me, The Bilinda Butchers represent the same polarity, but reversed.

Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams is an incredibly well-balanced record, moving delicately between moments of youthful melancholy and the bliss of long summers. The Bilinda Butchers capture all of the emotions of youth through their California-tinged glasses, which incorporates funk basslines, electro pop, dream pop, ambient music and even echoes of hip-hop, house and Japanese music. It is the blend of these influences into a seamless, beautifully produced EP that makes The Bilinda Butchers stand out from the hoard of indie pop upstarts.

Having heard three of the six tracks already (two of which, "Tulips" and "Sigh" benefit greatly from a remaster) I was already sure what to expect from the group; "All My Friends" is a bouncy summer anthem, which to me is about those summers spent indoors alone surrounded by friends that aren't really there. "Tulips" is winner of the most bad-ass bass line competition, and throws together elements of funk, the band's own signature style of dream pop, 80's synth pop and some brilliant little nuggets of lyrical gold ("she said 'I don't give a shit about you'"). "Sigh" has a very Japanese feel to it, with the melody being driven by the sound of a koto. The song is also one of the most climactic tracks that the band has ever written, with huge white noise washes, chiptune interference, reverberating vocals and absolutely huge drum fills, all of which culminate in the outro; a massive wash of guitars and synths. And it's not even the end of the record yet. The three tracks that I hadn't heard were a welcome surprise to me. "Boyfriend", undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the EP (and according to all my friends "DEFINITELY SINGLE MATERIAL") pretty much summarises everything I love about The Bilinda Butchers, some of the best synth designs I've heard in a long time, gliding shoegaze guitars, samples of what sounds like cheerleaders or children playing and some of the most downright romantic lyrics that never suffer from sounding tacky or overwrought. "Careless Teens" shows a slightly different side to the band, where acoustic guitars clash with mechanical beats in a joyous pop cacophony.

The final track of Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams really blew me away, and continues to do so. "Secrets" is a slow moving ambient piece, based on one long synth drone, a subtle drum beat, simple bass line and one lilting acoustic guitar loop. For me, it is the most moving piece on the record, and by the time the Chinese film sample comes in at the end, you've practically broken down in an emotional heap. This final track represents to me everything powerful about music. It is so remarkably simple, and yet through an awareness of the passage of time in music and an ear for the interplay between a drone and a simple guitar phrase, something so straightforward can be turned into an experience of great catharsis.

This goes down as one of my favourite dream pop records ever. It's concise, but forward looking and delicately done. Thus far, it's a definite contender for my favourite release of 2011. Best of all, it's available for however much you think it's worth via The Bilinda Butcher's BandCamp page.

Tracklist:

1) All My Friends
2) Tulips
3) Careless Teens
4) Sigh
5) Boyfriend
6) Secrets

Download

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Various Artists - A Little Something [2011]



Artist: Various
Album: A Little Something
Label: n/a

Here's a beautiful little compilation of Japanese ambient music, organised and compiled by musician Izumi Misawa. The focus of the compilation is mainly on ambient artists from Japan, such as Moskitoo, Filfla, Small Color, Paniyolo, etc. offering up new tracks from all artists, making this a very worthwhile purchase. All of the proceeds from the album go directly to helping victims of the earthquake, via the Think the Earth Project, allowing listeners to donate however much they'd like to the project.

Aside from simply being a charity project, A Little Something features some of the best recent work by each artist, with Small Color's contribution in particular striking me as one of their best pieces to date. With a refreshing range of sounds, the compilation darts and dives through the more low-key side of the Japanese underground; double-bassist Hiroki Chiba provides a gorgeous 12-minute piece of droning, skipping electro-acoustic tones that swirl in a reverent, lulling underwater waltz; Filfla's track "Joyful" is just that, a bouncy mix of acoustic guitars, glockenspiels, glitching acoustic percussion and even some hardcore influences, with crunching riffs that sound strangely at home.

Amidst this abundance of highlights, Small Color and Moskitoo both put down what are in my opinion, two of the best works by either artist to date; Small Color's track is just what one would expect from the group, a heart-wrenchingly nostalgic five minutes of toy instruments, banjo, electronics and stuttering drum patterns. Moskitoo's piece is a dark, solemn, acoustic ballad. The vulnerability of her raw, unaffected voice is set against a backdrop of one minimally plucked guitar while field recordings shoot around, shaking one's field of vision and creating a disorientation that orbits around Yamasaki.

Rarely do opportunities come along when it is possible to give something and take something in such a profound way. A Little Something is a chance to give to a good cause, and to enjoy some of the best music from Japan's ever-growing ambient underground.

Tracklist:

1) Filfla - Joyful
2) Yoshio Machida - Skating
3) Kuricorder Quartet - Come Again
4) Paniyolo - Landscape
5) Small Color - Hibi
6) Trico! - Katahare
7) Hiroki Chiba - Serenade for Daybreak, That Seen From Freeway
8) Yoshifumi Asa - Requiem 0311
9) Miroque - Kokoro
10) Itoken x Izumi Misawa - Libra (Remix)
11) Naoya Izumi - Ocean Meadow
12) 34423 x Izumi Misawa - Flowing
13) Moskitoo - Night Hike

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike [2004]



Artist: The Go! Team
Album: Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Label: Memphis Industries

English readers, you probably already heard this album when it came out and played it to death, but I thought that there was a decent chance that my friends from over the pond have been deprived of this little gem. I was 12 when I went to see The Go! Team in the basement of Newcastle University and it was the same year (2005) that I first began to really pay attention to music. The experience feels ingrained in my head now; sticky floors, disco lights, and a group of people jumping around onstage having the time of their lives. I suppose it was a revelation to me that bands could, even to such a small extent, subvert the traditional "audience stand there trying to push to the front while staring at a band" format. The show was really interactive, there was an abundance of crowd-surfing, tacky yet brilliant call-and-response singing with the audience and a real dance-party vibe as opposed to the serious tone of the other gigs I'd been to around that age.

The Go! Team specialise in a nostalgic mixture of 70s TV themes, old-school hip-hop, and cheerleading chants, essentially culminating in a lo-fi, plunderphonic trip through founder Ian Parton's musical childhood. Combining turntablism, really raw, heavily layered bedroom drum recordings; banjos; recorders and warbled string samples, The Go! Team manage to weave together the essence of all things youthful and nostalgic, resulting in some of the most genuinely uplifting music ever committed to tape. Still going strong today, the group have released three albums: Thunder, Lightning, Strike, Proof of Youth (2007), and Rolling Blackouts (2011) and continue to tour.

Around the time of its release, the English media was very geared towards the sounds of indie rock bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines, all of whom had a pretty serious approach to their music. Having been to see a few of the typical NME reader's darlings play live, I got quite bored of how inanimate they were, and how little the crowd seemed to respond to what was happening onstage. In this respect, The Go! Team's live experience was something completely new to me, everyone in the venue was actually having fun, and there was no emphasis on dress-sense or hip moodiness. And while The Go! Team were adopted by the NME, I've always felt them to be pretty singular in the English music scene, without any real contemporaries doing the same stuff anywhere near as well.

Thunder, Lightning, Strike is an incredibly consistent debut album that is often chaotic and ecstatic, but also has its moments of melancholy, such as on the gorgeously liminal "Hold Yr Terror Close". I haven't grown tired of this record in the past six years, and I don't expect I ever will; it's one of those records that it's impossible to overplay, and seems to become only increasingly familiar with repeated plays.

As a side note, it's worthwhile hunting out the original 2004 version of this album. I own the CD of this version of the album so I don't know which version the download link is, so just beware. On the reissued version the band were forced to remove all of the unauthorised samples, meaning that they had to try and replicate the samples with live instrumentation, and this inevitably didn't work as well as the samples which are an integral part of the record's sound.

Tracklist:

1) Panther Dash
2) Ladyflash
3) Feelgood by Numbers
4) The Power Is On
5) Get It Together
6) We Just Won't Be Defeated
7) Junior Kickstart
8) Air Raid GTR
9) Bottle Rocket
10) Friendship Update
11) Hold Yr Terror Close
12) Huddle Formation
13) Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone

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Discogs
Norman Records

Monday, 9 May 2011

Dead Pilot Records



Label: Dead Pilot Records

This is my first time writing about a record label as a whole as opposed to individual releases from a larger catalogue of work. Dead Pilot Records first entered my periphery via Novocastrian experimentalist Richard Dawson, who, under his Eyeballs guise had released a beautiful CD-R on the imprint, entitled The Roof of the World (2008). After finding out that the label had also released music by Plurals, Deadwood and Sindre Bjerga (all of whom coincidentally are affiliated with the Striate Cortex label, with whom I'm set to release some music in the coming months), I was seriously intrigued. Following a call to bloggers to hear an exclusive label showcase mix, I pounced on the opportunity.

Judging by the artists that I had seen on the label's roster, I was expecting some pretty heavy UK underground noise/drone stuff to make up the majority of the sampler, but instead, on opening the file, I saw a host of names that I wasn't at all familiar with. After listening through to all forty minutes of the showcase, I know that this is a label that deserves a great deal of attention and exploration. Seldom am I confronted with such an abundance of sound so fresh and compelling.

Perhaps having grown up just outside of Newcastle and having been obsessed with the local music scene there all through my early teens, I simply grew accustomed to the sounds of the city's underground, which still reflects all of the churning machinery, bustling docks and murky waters of its industrial past. Much of the music coming out of Newcastle's very active underground scene revels in a kind of darkly industrial romance, and perhaps this isn't representative of where the English underground is at the moment. This sampler certainly caught me off guard in that respect. Although I can't help but contextualise the music I'm hearing with my own experiences, the sounds of this sampler really feel singular to me; like a musical statement that cuts through a lot of other genres and sounds, occupying its own little niche.

There's really something for everyone here, minimal piano constructs, with distantly whirring machinery and flowing drones ridden with delay moving through a dark cave at night time; ecstatic, free-form, cosmic space-dance, which sounds like a cross between a metaphysical lullaby and the theme to deep space exploration in red dunes; effect-laden guitars which tentatively walk the high wire between noisy skies above and melodic depths below. And if that isn't enough variation for one label mix, we even get flavours of folk, deep beat-based music and some very crushing hardcore influenced stuff to finish off with.

I'm really glad that I took the time to listen to this sampler, and it has really opened my eyes to a whole new side of the underground that I really need to tune into. It has definitely come to be that a lot of ambient music focuses on a clean and minimal aesthetic, which in some cases ends up suffering from feeling overtly sterile. Dead Pilot tread a unique line between the handmade aesthetics of the tiny boutique labels and the clean designs of the aforementioned to create something which is beautiful, without crossing over into fetishisation of the physical packaging itself. More than simply being a label I need to hear more from, I feel that Dead Pilot may very well be one of the most important labels in the English underground at the moment.

Tracklist:

1) Ekca Liena - Missing Weeks
2) Jannick Schou - Departure (Antonymes Remix)
3) Message to Bears - November
4) Stray Ghost - The Liberation of Vision
5) Mountainhood - Whales Visitation
6) Guillaume Gargaud - Rever de Courir
7) Timothy C. Holehouse - Harmony & True
8) One Man Team Dance - Lungy Media

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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Fourcolor - As Pleat [2011]



Artist: Fourcolor
Album: As Pleat
Label: 12k

As a big fan of the 12k label and the work of Keiichi Sugimoto, I was always going to be biased approaching this record. Sugimoto has become known for an array of work both under his solo guise Fourcolor, work with electro-acoustic ambient group Minamo, the beat-driven duo of Fonica with Cheason, and Filfla, a more tightly song-based group. Having worked with 12k label-mate Moskitoo (whose voice also appears on this album), Piana on 2006's Letter of Sounds and recently being included on 12k's Tasogare: Live in Tokyo (2011), Sugimoto is prolific as ever, keeping his output pure and compelling.

While I may well be one of few to call an ambient record "highly anticipated", this was certainly the case for me with As Pleat. Having seen Taylor Deupree tweeting during the mastering process that this was the best Fourcolor album to date, my brain started skittering all over the place trying to think back to Fourcolor's previous albums and trying to gauge how good the new album would actually be. My first taste of Fourcolor was with the very understated Water Mirror (2004), which removed the guitar from its context by extending the instrument's sustain and taking away the harsh edges that could be created with plucking or strumming, instead using it almost as a tone generator, creating pure swells and microscopic, pitch-shifted blips. Next came Air Mirror (2004), a far more structured effort that raised Fourcolor's on-record presence with a newfound intensity. Letter of Sounds (2006) moved into lusher territory, showcasing a new side to the Fourcolor sound with "Rowboat" which featured the vocals of Piana, and covered sonic ground more commonly found in his FilFla project.

At this point I'm sure many of you are thinking "HE'S GOING TO DROP THE POP ALBUM". We've had two FilFla albums in the time between Letter of Sounds and As Pleat, so it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that. But to me, this is really a return to the initial ambient purity of the project. Moskitoo's voice gets dragged into far more abstract territory this time around, punctuating Sugimoto's increasingly experimental guitar-work. Plus whereas Water Mirror was a very aqueous album (song titles include "Snow Soup", "Steam" and "Soaking") and Air Curtain felt very gaseous (with titles like "Empty Sky 1", "Curves of Air" and "Cloud Whereabouts"), As Pleat is very much an earthy, solid record. While previous Fourcolor records have focused on wave-like soundscapes, As Pleat packs more of a punch, with a sound-palette more reminiscent of wood and fabric than water or air. In doing this, Sugimoto has moved away from a lot of the cliches present in ambient music.

Rather than presenting listeners with the ephemeral beauty of water, which can be briefly experienced but not held, we are offered something very solid and tangible to get involved in. As one might expect with a five-year gap between albums, there has been a lot maturing in Fourcolor's sound. It is evidently the same project; all of the hallmarks are there: the skipping guitars, the unmistakably pure guitar tone, the unscrupulous attention to detail... but here they all operate under different laws. As the title suggests, this is far more layered and intricate, with a huge variety of guitar tones that simply haven't been heard on a Fourcolor record thus far. Things like violin bows and other applications are quite prevalent, often interejecting just briefly before decaying into the distance. Then there are tracks like the gorgeous "Snow Petal", which may be the most effect-laden Fourcolor track to date and sees plucked harmonics, tremolo-wavering guitars and triumphantly reverberant treble swells all dancing and twirling quietly in a downwards spiral that lasts 8 glorious minutes.

This is something you can really get your teeth into. It's solid without being overly intrusive, and offers such a plethora of sounds that it demands replaying an infinite number of times. Perhaps most importantly of all it shows the maturation of an artist unafraid of new sonic territory. Sugimoto is bringing ambient music out of its shell, and from here it can only keep on growing.

Tracklist:

1) Quiet Gray 1
2) Skating Azure
3) Bleach Black
4) Frosted Mint
5) Carmine Fall
6) Ecru Diver
7) Snow Petal
8) Iris (Familiar)
9) Canary Breath
10) Quiet Gray 2

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Saturday, 2 April 2011

水晶の舟 - 祈り / ちびへ [2008]



Artist: Suishou No Fune
Album: Prayer for Chibi
Label: Holy Mountain

Probably Suishou No Fune's definitive work, Prayer for Chibi is a two-hour psychedelic masterpiece. With jams sprawled out across twenty-minute sections of the record, it is definitely a release which warrants being pressed to a double-CD edition. Although the group have only been releasing music since the early '00s, their sound is a perfect blend of the lighter, reverb drenched slow-motion rock of bands like Shizuka and the full-on guitar assaults of High Rise and Fushitsusha. With these two elements in mid-collision, guitarist Kageo and singer Pirako Kurenai take a drumless, twin-guitar approach to psych-rock, abstractifying the whole idea of a rock band and creating free-flowing jams that ascend into eternity.

Like all great psychedelic rock records, Prayer for Chibi is a really dynamic and intense experience which explores an almost unbelievably wide array of textures and timbres with a relatively small number of instruments. Especially in the case of Suishou No Fune, their equipment is really pared to back to the dual-guitar core around which their music is based. That's not to say that flourishes of other things are not present; bells, gongs and ritualistic percussion introduce and augment several tracks, conforming to psychedelic music's tendency to delve into the ethnic music of other countries to create a sound steeped in ancestry and history, almost like fake ethnomusicology.

Emotionally, the record grips and refuses to release, starting slowly, before bringing you on a 12-minute spiral to the top of the mountain, showing you the view and then throwing you off the cliffs in a torrent of string-scraping, effect-laden sludge, with Kurenai's oddly familiar voice in your ear and holding your hand all the way down to the bottom and the beginning of the next track. From more serious moments like disc 2's opener "Resurrection Night", a sorrowful lament, to more light-hearted pieces like the gorgeous closer "Cherry", Suishou No Fune are masters of cathartic, emotionally-fueled guitar improvisation and whether listened to track by track, or as a monumental whole, Prayer for Chibi continues to astound me with its heart and soul.

Tracklist:

1) 祈り
2) 雨が降る
3) また会う時まで
4) 花になって
5) 復活の夜
6) 空よ
7) 星は何でも知っている
8) チェリー

Boomkat
Norman Records
Suishou No Fune

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Mark Fry - Dreaming With Alice [1972]



Artist: Mark Fry
Album: Dreaming With Alice
Label: It

Mark Fry is an English folk musician who has only released two albums in his time: this, his debut in 1972, and his second, entitled Shooting the Moon in 2008. A 36 year gap separates the two, and this is noticeable in both albums' respective sounds, his second record being a huge departure from the first.

Dreaming With Alice is considered by many to be the greatest psychedelic folk record ever made. Its structure is quite unique, with the title track broken up into 8 sections and interspersed through the album, each verse being sung before fading out into the other acid-tinged folk jams which make up the main body of the album. Comparisons to Donovan are easy to make, journalist Richie Unterberger said that Fry's style is "heavily reminiscent of Donovan's forays into [acid folk], but not as interesting.". While Fry does hint at something similar to Donovan, to think that his sound is a poor imitation of the aforementioned artist is simply misled; Unterberger seems to fail to see past the fact that they both have English accents and probably sees this as a stylistic similarity or some shit. But then he does write for allmusic so what can one expect?

This is all summer, but with a hidden edge. The jams get really deep at times with Fry's guitar playing off percussion, sitars, lutes and flutes in a psychedelic whirlwind. Despite its variation and journeying into instrumentally dense sections though, Dreaming With Alice consistently retains a very pastoral vibe; there's no real effort to evoke spacey imagery or anything like that, no, it's all English countryside in the summer with the dried out grass stalks, ladybirds, and midges swarming in the late afternoon sun. Songs like "Down Narrow Streets" and "Song for Wild" are perhaps the most intimate and beautiful moments on the record, when other instruments fall away and Fry is allowed the space to paint a picture of his own, with his gentle guitar finger-picking technique and his youthful, naïve voice. On the flip side of the coin there are also some pretty heavy psychedelic jams like the 8-minute "Mandolin Man" and the strange album closer "Rethorb Vm No Hcram", which is essentially the tapes of "Song for Wild" reversed.

Highly recommended for English folk aficionados and fans of the lighter side of psychedelic rock music.

Tracklist:

1) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 1)
2) The Witch
3) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 2)
4) Song for Wild
5) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 3)
6) Roses for Columbus
7) A Norman Soldier
8) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 4-5)
9) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 6)
10) Lute and Flute
11) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 7)
12) Down Narrow Streets
13) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 8)
14) Mandolin Man
15) Dreaming With Alice (Verse 9-10)
16) Rethorb Vm No Hcram

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here? [2010]



Artist: Emeralds
Album: Does It Look Like I'm Here
Label: Editions Mego

Having seen Emeralds live and in the flesh, and having experienced their sound at its eardrum crushing best, I felt fully prepared to listen to this record, expecting it to bring more of the slow droning lost-in-space sci-fi vibes that can be heard on so many past releases. What I got with Does It Look Like I'm Here? was something completely unexpected.

For a start, opener "Candy Shoppe" hits the ground running on a totally different angle for the group. Gone are the ominous ultra-dronescapes of releases like Solar Bridge. Suddenly it's all neon lights and sugar-highs. Before long, some of the common themes of their work seep back into the picture, with tracks like "Double Helix" and "Genetic" being more recognisably connected to past material. And while these moments are present, they don't guide the record, and there are plenty of glimpses of the band moving out in new directions, putting a greater emphasis on melodic passages and pulling some of the focus away from sustained synthesiser drones. In fact, one of the biggest changes in sound is the choice of the band to push Mark McGuire's guitar work further to the forefront and allowing the synths to supplement his playing at times instead of the other way round.

For me, this is their strongest sounding record to date. So much new ground is explored, from 8-bit vibes on title track "Does It Look Like I'm Here?" which develops into a kind of epic video-game dronescape courtesy of McGuire's overdriven guitar-soloing, to the surprisingly rhythmic and structured "Now You See Me", which is guided by McGuire's strummed guitar chords, allowing the synthesisers to take a backseat and colour the music in an in unobtrusive way. Fusing these elements together to create a work that is both cohesive and progressive is what makes this album a cut above the rest of Emeralds' catalogue.

Tracklist:

1) Candy Shoppe
2) The Cycle of Abuse
3) Double Helix
4) Science Center
5) Genetic
6) Goes By
7) Does It Look Like I'm Here
8) Summerdata
9) Shade
10) It Doesn't Arrive
11) Now You See Me
12) Access Granted

Editions Mego
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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sylvain Chauveau - Nuage [2007]



Artist: Sylvain Chauveau
Album: Nuage
Label: Type

Quite simply one of my favourite minimal modern classical albums ever, Nuage is a collection of pieces composed for film by French composer Sylvain Chauveau, whose work varies from minimal classical compositions to post-rock and ambient music. The music on this record was originally composed for two films: Nuage and Les Mains d'Andrea both by French director Sebastien Betbeder. Unfortunately, the two films are not at all easy to find, and as a result I've never actually heard Chauveau's music in its intended context. Luckily, the pieces work so well on their own that I don't feel that I'm missing a crucial element of the record.

First and foremost a guitarist, Chauveau played in post-rock duo Arca before moving into his better known work as a composer of minimal music for chamber ensembles. There's definitely a post-rock feel to his recordings, which comes to the forefront more on his guitar-led pieces like "Fly Like a Horse", a lulling minimalist ballad of sorts. Other than that, his compositions still feel tied to the post-rock tradition harmonically, not really straying into more conventional classical ideas of harmony. Maybe the best way to think of Nuage is like post-rock at its most cinematic and minimal; all of the tumultuous waves of distorted guitars and pounding drums stripped away to leave the bare essence of the genre; simple ideas which evolve over the course of an album and evoke strong emotions in the listener.

Tracklist:

1) Pauvre Simon
2) l'Approche du Nuage
3) Troubles
4) Nuage II
5)Marianne
6) Symptôme N°2
7) Symptôme N°1
8) Vers les Montagnes
9) l'Orée du Bois
10) Le Tunnel
11) Marianne (Variation)
12) Fly Like a Horse
13) Clara et Simon
14) Nuage III
15) Andréa's Hands
16) Staring
17) Andréa
18) An Old Friend
19) Andréa's Hands II

Type
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Monday, 14 March 2011

Midori Hirano - Lush Rush [2006]



Artist: Midori Hirano
Album: Lush Rush
Label: Noble

Midori Hirano is a Japanese composer, born in Kyoto and now residing in Berlin, Germany. Initially studying as a classical pianist at university, Hirano later moved into electronic music, working as a composer of music for film, as well as working on her own compositions.

Midori Hirano's first album, Lush Rush is a focused and measured work, spanning a few genres, but resting somewhere in the realm of ambient music, driven by minimal, modern classical instrumentation. My first experience of this was in a car driving through the Northumbrian countryside. The strange autumnal glow of the sun around dusk, casting shadows on the spring landscape served as the perfect backdrop to Hirano's music.

In many ways, Lush Rush reminds me of Sigur Ròs, but completely different in its minimalist approach. Instrumentally, the album is very strings-heavy, with the sounds of a string quartet being the main driving force, accompanied by piano, drums and Hirano's beautifully breathy vocals, while her penchant for field recordings, which filter into the foreground during the album's more stripped back sections, lends the whole piece a cinematic feel.

Lush Rush is a deeply moving experience, drawing on the best elements of glitch, modern classical and ambient music, condensing them down to their purest forms and delivering as little excess as possible.

Tracklist:

1) Lush Rush
2) Ancient Story in the Room
3) Calling
4) Secret Aria
5) Night Wish
6) Inori
7) Another Root
8) Dim
9) Leaving

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Sunday, 13 March 2011

はっぴいえんど - はっぴいえんど [1970]



Artist: Happy End
Album: Happy End
Label: URC Records

Happy End were a Japanese psychedelic folk rock group, notable for featuring the young Haruomi Hosono (later of YMO) on bass guitar. This, their first record was notable in Japan for being one of the first rock albums sung entirely in Japanese. At the time, this was quite controversial as all rock albums from Japan were being sung in English, with the only Japanese-language albums being in the Enka genre (old-school J-pop). However, it was later accepted by labels that Japanese-language rock music was commercially viable, making this album particularly influential in the continuing growth of J-rock.

To me, this debut effort has all the hallmarks of a classic. The songs themselves are really well arranged and recorded, with some particularly badass Michio Kurihara-esque tones for the lead guitars. Hosono's basslines are always right on the money too, ranging from very simple one-note-per-beat parts to quite complex runs. Like all great rock bassists, Hosono's input is non-intrusive, but holds a subtle intricacy. Guitarist Shigeru Suzuki provides some great lead guitar work, particularly on the heart-achingly beautiful "しんしんしん" where the acoustic guitar holds the whole thing down with a really sweet-sounding chord progression and his perfect little mini-solos during the call and response with singer Eiichi Ohtaki.

Happy End have been compared to The Beatles in relation to their influence on the music of their respective countries. While I wouldn't say that they sound all too similar, it is easy to see how the comparison has arisen; both bands were capable of taking simple musical ideas and making them complex and potentially challenging, depending on the mood and inclination of the listener. This is definitely the quintessential Japanese folk rock side.

Tracklist:

1) 春よ来い
2) かくれんぼ
3) しんしんしん
4) 飛べない空
5) 敵 TANATOSを想起せよ
6) あやか市のどうぶつえん
7) 十二月の雨の日
8) いらいら
9) 朝
10) はっぴいえんど
11) 続はっぴーいいえーんど

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Friday, 11 March 2011

Incapacitants - As Loud As Possible [1995]



Artist: Incapacitants
Album: As Loud As Possible
Label: Zabriskie Point

Hands down one of my favourite noise albums ever, Incapacitants take their sound to another level with As Loud As Possible, one of a countless number of releases the group has unleashed on the noise underground. Being one of the earliest and most prolific Japanese noise groups, Incapacitants have a lot to live up to. When I heard they were playing in London, I took the 300 mile journey without question. After seeing the group live alongside Hijokaidan, my faith was confirmed.

Although noise does have reputation for being "THE HARSHEST SHIT EVER!!!!111!!!!1", I really resent this. I really find all of the ultra-masculine noise-poseurs pathetic. To me, noise has nothing to do with being really testosterone-pumped and ultra-hardcore; it's about expressing something of the deepest essence of oneself. When Incapacitants hit the stage, you can be sure that any idea of being a man (or even a human for that matter) go out of the window. They get onstage and just release a sonic interpretation of their souls, and it really is one of the most powerful experiences imaginable. Shakerboxes in hand, Toshiji and Fumio release some serious thunder; pedal-twiddling joy and crowd-surfing galore.

During my time in London, I had the chance to take part in a workshop with Vetza, the vocalist and general wonderwoman of Airway. She was an incredibly fascinating person and had obviously had a huge influence on the music of Hijokaidan and Incapacitants. During the workshop, we were joined by all members of Hijokaidan. I ended up sitting knee-to-knee with Fumio singing garbled nonsense. It was a lot of fun. A highlight of the workshop was getting to hear Junko sing without a microphone; the sound was simply beautiful. Her strange screaming technique was just beyond anything I'd heard before. It was very harsh and immediate, yet at the same time, it was so well placed in her range that it sounded completely natural - almost calming.

I believe As Loud As Possible to be a fairly accessible record, and the perfect way not only into Incapacitants catalogue, but into noise in general. To me, this record never sounds sinister; only jubilant. In many ways, it feels like an ambient album; textures crossing over each other, a plethora of frequencies colliding in a joyous way. It's all of the frustrations of everyday life erupting in waves of urban sound. This is the antithesis of any kind of academic sound art, it's pure, cathartic expression, with no thought for any concept of art.

I personally like to enjoy this album in 20-minute sections, listening to a single track, then sitting for a while to think about it before moving on to the next one. I love listening to this and thinking about the fact that all of the sounds are being made by people. It's all so very real and human. And yet at the same time, it can be so background. There is a certain ambient quality to this album, but when listened to at high volume (literally as loud as possible) I am filled with an overwhelming sense of intimacy, like I'm beyond face-to-face with the noise-makers themselves. I feel like I get further than any conversation or ordinary human interaction could take me. This is something heavier. Deeper. More real.

Tracklist:

1) Apoptosis
2) Necrosis
3) Live 950401

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Discogs

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sugar Plant - Happy [1998]



Artist: Sugar Plant
Album: Happy
Label: Wonder Release

Dreamy textures, long-form tracks, endlessly looping guitar melodies, breathy female vocals and sublime lyrics form the backdrop for this, Sugar Plant's third EP released five years after the band's inception. Although they remain obscure in both their homeland and overseas, Sugar Plant has recorded some of the most beautiful, memorable dream pop songs of the genre.

I'm always struck by the band's approach, as it seems to me to be vastly different to most dream pop bands in that the effects and ambience aren't the central point of the sound, and there is a heavier focus on clean instrumentation and structure. While it is all too common to find groups in both dream pop and shoegaze that use effects as a way of covering up the traits of poor songwriting, Sugar Plant do not fall victim to this, and use effects sparingly, with the intent of augmenting the ethereal warmth already established by the music itself. The longer tracks, like the eponymous "Happy" are based around guitarist Shin'ichi Ogawa's penchant for seamlessly self-resolving melodic patterns which seem to warp one's sense of time and go on through infinity.

Ultimately, I feel that this album can be summed up in a single experience that I had with it: Last summer I had been working before my exams and went back to my boarding house room which had this huge window letting in loads of sunshine. I put this CD on, lay down on my bed and fell asleep with the sun on my face. I woke up an hour or so later with light sunburn and a feeling of euphoria. That's what this record is, it's sunny and optimistic, and as ethereal as clouds on a summer's day.

Tracklist

1) Happy
2) Rise
3) Rainy Day
4) Butterfly
5) Stone

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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Lil B - The Based Chef (Selector Freestyle) [2011]



Artist: Lil B
Single: The Based Chef (Selector Freestyle)
Label: n/a

This is a rip of Lil B's freestyle that he performed on Pitchfork TV. On the show, he was offered two beats to freestyle over: Sufjan Stevens' "I Walked" and Mimosa's "In the Trap". After being evidently moved by both pieces, B let the interviewer decide for him. He eventually freestyled over the Mimosa track.

I love Lil B's conversational tone on this one. It's a lot different actually watching the video and listening to the rip, because he communicates a lot through his gesturing when he actually freestyles and obviously some of that is lost on the rip. He said that he hadn't freestyled in a while when this was made, as he has been evidently writing down the lyrics to his recent tracks on Angels Exodus (2011) and Red Flame: Devil Music Edition (2011) and doing less based freestyles. Still, his ability shines through, and although the track is too short for him to go really deep into any single topic, he gets into some quite interesting stuff, like a recounting of when he was assaulted by a fan at a sold out New York show.

Lil B continues to amaze me with his beyond-prolific, incredibly hard-working attitude and approach to life. More than anything else, it's genuinely inspirational and certainly encourages me to work much harder and do everything that I can with what I have.

Tracklist:

1) The Based Chef (Selector Freestyle)

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新裤子 - 龙虎人丹 [2006]



Artist: New Pants
Album: Dragon Tiger Panacea
Label: Modern Sky Records

Pretty much the best pop album I heard last year, Dragon Tiger Panacea is a weird trip through Beijing's underground, seen through the lens of a mutant electro-man. The whole album is just completely nuts: with song titles like "Mysterious Shampoo" and vocalist Millionaire Peng making sounds of mock-horror and calls to the dancefloor. Then just look at the cover. It's just a few guys freaking out in full new wave athletic suits and laser-glasses on the streets of Beijing. What could be cooler?

But seriously, this album packs one hell of a punch. Filled to the brim with instant pop classics like the melancholic "Two Boyfriends", the pumping "Bye Bye Disco" and the electro-punk of album closer "Otaku", with nods to artists as disparate as Joy Division and the Ramones. The record has a pretty rough feel to it, with genuinely affecting electro-pop songs sitting comfortably next to semi-tongue-in-cheek disco tracks. Fortunately, the whole group have the audacity and personality to pull it off, never taking themselves too seriously but being equally unafraid to dip their toes into post-punk melodrama.

Two things that I keep coming back to with Dragon Tiger Panacea is the infectious melodies (on both the synths and vocals) and the often minimal but always perfectly placed drumming. The melodies are definitely playing in Chinese scales at some moments, while the synths are all turned to fake-Chinese-instrument mode giving the album a very distinctly Chinese feel to it. Millionaire Peng's lyrics in both Mandarin and English are always engaging while his voice goes from falsetto to Ian Curtis baritone at the drop of a hat, making for a really varied experience. As for the drumming, there's just a load of really simple stuff which works perfectly, like the little fills in "Two Boyfriends" which kind of go over ones head on first listen, but eventually stand out as one of the key elements that makes Dragon Tiger Panacea such a fun listen.

This is a must-have for those interested in Beijing's music scene. New Pants are renown all throughout Asia now and are far from being an underground band, but this album still has that raw, uncompromising feel, which Beijing's underground scene do so well.

Tracklist:

1) You're My Star
2) Bye Bye Disco
3) Two Boyfriends
4) Mysterious Shampoo
5) Dragon Tiger Panacea
6) Need Love
7) Love Brings Me Home
8) Everybody
9) I Miss Her
10) Otaku

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Supercar - Highvision [2002]



Artist: Supercar
Album: Highvision
Label: Ki/oon

I'm never completely sure why this album always hits me in the way it does, but I always find it really powerful on an emotional level. Supercar were a Japanese rock band who fused a lot of electronic elements into their sound, and this is arguably their creative peak, as well as their most electronic release (maybe excepting Answer (2004) which followed Highvision). Fronted by Koji Nakamura and Miki Furukawa, their early albums were fairly straightforward alternative rock albums, with elements of shoegaze and some great duet-harmonies from Koji and Miki. As time went on, they began to experiment more with electronics, leading to their 2000 release which was a real turning point for the group. Highvision followed, and in my opinion it achieves the perfect blend of alternative rock and electronic elements, combined with Nakamura's great songwriting and some gorgeously cinematic synth designs.

There is something incredibly attractive and iconic about the cover, an image of the earth in its most raw, natural and beautiful state, while within the packaging is contained an album which really is a product of urban society. While Highvision is an electronic album, it succeeds in not sounding overly mechanical or soulless, perhaps showing the beauty of humanity hidden behind the six-floor-high screens of Shibuya and the sprawling urban metropolis of Tokyo that the band operated from. Strangely the cover seems to have permeated my brain so much that when I listen to the record, synths are playing, but all I can hear are sounds that originate in nature, which is ironic but also, I feel, suitable.

There are so many highlights on the album it's hard to pick just a few. This really is one of those albums where every track is so great that once one puts it on, it's almost a pain to turn it off halfway. Opener "Starline" is a brilliant way for the band to open the record, the music drags its feet wearily across the ground to the mechanical thud of electronic drums, while a sky is painted above by the almost anthemic string section and pounding, insistent distorted guitars that strum endlessly. "Aoharu Youth" has one of my favourite synthesiser parts in any piece of music ever. The rhythm section is brilliant, with the drums playing a strangely jarring rhythm while the guitar chugs away quietly in the background, smothered in delay. Nakamura's vocals on this track are just perfect, and seem to emit the quiet warmth and optimism of youth, while also being self-consciously dragged beneath the music in a shy, reserved kind of way. Finally, the album comes to a close with "Silent Yaritori", which seems eternal in so many ways, with Furukawa's vocals leading you off into infinity.

Even in the future, it seems it will be impossible to escape from nature, biology, and the beauty that seems to be so inherently stuck to the earth.

Tracklist:

1) Starline
2) Warning Bell
3) Storywriter
4) Aoharu Youth
5) Otogi Nation
6) Strobolights
7) I
8) Yumegiwa Last Boy
9) Nijiiro Darkness
10) Silent Yaritori

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Discogs
I started a tumblr blog recently called Eri Is Asleep because I felt that I wanted to write more informal reviews and include more daily life type of stuff on it. Although this was my initial idea, I've ended up doing mostly music on there, unsurprisingly. Then I realised that the reason I wanted to start another blog in the first place was because I felt that I wanted to write in a different style to how I do on here.

I started this blog first and foremost to discuss music that I like, and shed some light on artists that I love. With school commitments and such, I ended up writing reviews in an increasingly academic style and trying to make my reviews objective and as impersonal as possible, but looking back over the past few months worth of writing, I realised that this usually just make the reviews seem ultra-mechanical and not at all enjoyable to read. On top of this, a friend of mine said he preferred my style on Eri Is Asleep, which was kind of depressing because although I got to the stage recently where I preferred writing on there, I definitely put more work into maintaining this blog.

But no! I'm not announcing I'm going to stop writing on here. I'm announcing that I'm changing my writing style. No more stale reviews. I watched an interview with Ebert and Siskel where they said that reviewing film is a very personal thing, so it's impossible not to include oneself in the reviewing process. School has kind of made an essay-production machine of me, but that dull, formulaic style of writing shouldn't extend to my own, extra-curricular writing. So, fuck academic essay writing technique, from now on I'm just going to write however I want, even if it ends up as me talking about myself in relation to an album. That Rain in England review was the first one I feel that I wrote well. I would have got an F in my English class for it, and right now I think that's what I should be striving for. Writing in a way that teacher's would wholeheartedly disapprove of.

So it's a change in direction for Welcome to the Space World, hopefully in the right direction, and back towards what my original mission aim was.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

I Am a Lake of Burning Orchids - Summer in My Veins [2011]



Artist: I Am a Lake of Burning Orchids
Album: Summer in My Veins
Label: n/a

I Am a Lake of Burning Orchids' debut release, Summer in My Veins shows the artist taking an interesting musical route, residing somewhere between the cathartic harsh noise at its most soul-crushing, dream pop at its most fuzzed out and experimental music in its most tightly structured form.

I found out about this through the Yūko Imada Last.fm page, who has undoubtedly inspired this beautiful little six-minute EP (I'm thinking particularly of "Flowers of Flesh" from Ōme (2009)). I Am a Lake of Burning Orchids takes the blueprint laid out by this track, builds on it and develops it into something really beautiful. I detect a lot of 8-bit type stuff going on here, but it could just be that the distortion is spooned on so thick that it has completely destroyed the audio resolution, and I mean this in the best possible way. Like great shoegaze music, the distortion on Summer in My Veins serves to confuse the sound to the point that new layers of implied harmony creep into one's subconscious, revealing something new on every listen. To me, it feels like Final Fantasy being played through the eyes of a noise artist, which can only be good really.

While the longest of the four tracks is 1:58, I feel that on one level, it works really well as a concise statement. In any case, this is a strong debut release and is certainly recommended listening.

Tracklist:

1) Summer in My Veins
2) I Hereby Promise...
3) All You Did Was Love Me; All I Did Was Hurt You
4) My First Kiss Was in the Rain. It's Gone Downhill Since Then.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lil B - Rain in England [2010]



Artist: Lil B
Album: Rain in England
Label: Weird Forest

It's 1:30AM and I've just been listening to this album. I don't know if it's just the state of mind I've been in lately, but this always seems to hit me at a deeper level, particularly tonight. It's easy to dismiss Lil B on account of hypocrisy, but that's avoiding the matter at hand: he just says what he feels, and like everyone, when he's in a certain mood, things come out a certain way. That's the simple reason why he's so great. He has no concern for how he comes across, and whether people see him as an artist following a consistent line of thought and trying to deliver one message. He's just a person.

Tonight I've been thinking a lot about my own perception of things and how I'm choosing to live my life. Listening to B's musings at these times is perfect, because you're hearing someone else's experiences delivered to you in a comparatively unfiltered way. Even when you talk to someone you're close to, you don't go that deep. That's what music should be about, communicating in a way that is impossible through everyday methods. Music has the power to transcend and Lil B knows this. And at the same time, he's just a person.

Tracklist:

1) Birth to Life
2) Everything
3) Just Dream
4) Love Is Strange
5) My Windowsill
6) All Women
7) Earth's Medicine
8) I Am the Hellraiser
9) My Business
10) Hate Is Fear
11) Letter to Family
12) All My Life
13) Death
14) God Kissed Me

Download
Weird Forest
Boomkat
Norman Records

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Various Artists - My Private Space [2010]



Artist: Various
Album: My Private Space
Label: p*dis

Japan's p*dis are one of the most renown ambient labels in the world, and My Private Space is compilation documenting the music of their current roster, which includes Akira Kosemura, Aus, Haruka Nakamura and Fjordne amongst other names. All of the artists work within the confines of contemporary electronic music, but focus on making really organic sounding pieces with a heavy emphasis on warm and nostalgic atmospheres.

To start the record, Haruka Nakamura and Akira Kosemura collaborate on a track ("Azure") which mixes Kosemura's signature style of evocative, minimal piano compositions, while Nakamura spins a web of field recordings; wind chimes, reversed cymbals and light acoustic guitar chords; making a lazily beautiful ambiance that essentially sets the tone for much of the rest of the record. No.9's contributions are considerably more beat-orientated than Nakamura, utilising skittering samples and chopped-up acoustic drum sounds to similar effect, but turning the tempo up and making fast grooves with laptop-loops. Aus contributes one of my favourite tracks from the compilation, "Halo" taken from his 2006 LP Lang. Electronics and acoustic instruments collide in perfect harmony as he mixes lush acoustic guitars with swelling synths and all manners of pops and clicks in a polyrhythmic glitch-pop symphony, breaking itself down and building itself up in a constantly revolving dream-cycle. Other highlights include Akira Kosemura's "Petrarca", bringing him closer to the collective sound of the compilation and certainly residing on the more electronic side of his body of work, creating an insistent groove with vocal fragments, piano and quantised drums. Fjordne, also known for his releases on Kitchen. Records, ends it on a high with a very crackly, glitchy moment ("Wood, Cluster"), which feels more abstract than the rest of the compilation but works well to bring My Private Space to a close.

Tracklist:

1) Haruka Nakamura & Akira Kosemura - Azure
2) No.9 - Left the Wind
3) Aus - Halo
4) No.9 - Good Morning
5) Uran Okajima - An Old Story
6) No.9 - Small Promise
7) Akira Kosemura - Petrarca
8) Kadan - Distance
9) Fjordne - Will You...
10) Yna - Tangeline
11) Haruka Nakamura - Sign
12) Fjordne - Wood, Cluster

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Spotify
Boomkat