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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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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