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
Boomkat
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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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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

iTunes Music Store

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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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.