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HAZARD / FENNESZ / BIOSPHERE, "LIGHT"

As a taster cum sampler for the current Touch UK tour featuring thesethree audio explorers in cahoots with three different visual artists,this works up an appetite. It's just a shame it's missing Manchester bysuch a distance as the Fennesz track here is particularlymouthwatering. The Viennese maestro has surpassed himself again. Wherehis previous excursions into sampled guitar noise sculpting have maybehad precursors in the shape of Bruce Gilbert's seismic groundshifter'Ab Ovo', the overloaded sensory bombardment of prime My BloodyValentine and the digital lock skips of Oval, Christian Fennesz iscertainly carving out a distinctive niche. This track his perhaps hismost evocative evolution to date and is subtley emotive in a candlelitmemory haze reminiscent atmospherically of Labradford's 'Mi MediaNaranja' peak, but as if the whole album had sped by in a heat hazedfive minute blur. Hazard specialises in bleak ambient drones with snowyclose miked rumbles suggestive of vast deserted frozen expanses.Biosphere seems quite ordinary and inorganic in comparsion, presentingtwo remixes of precise clinical beat politeness underpinning sampledspeech. The cover is another nice bit of Touch co-conspiritor JonWozencroft's conceptual photography. Three images of trees at differentangles and diurnal illumination make apt visual accompaniments for thethree sonic experimenters.

 

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4087 Hits

RYOJI IKEDA & CARSTEN NICOLAI, "CYCLO"

Like-minded minimalists Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai first performedtogether in 1999 as part of the Raster Noton 'New Forms' series. In theyears since data was exchanged back and forth between the artists,resident to Japan and Germany respectively, to create the Cycloproject. The purpose of their work is the same as much of modernminimalist composing: seeking out and embracing the (oftenmathematical) errors. Ten untitled tracks ranging 1 to 8 minutes makeup the 41+ minute, 'Vario Pac' encased disc. As would be expected, allthe usual sort of clinically clean and precise digital sounds from eachof the artists repertoires are present: high pitch signals, staticnoise, clipped tones, sine waves, sub bass pulses, snaps, crackles andpops all dance about the stereo field. The most notable sound lackingis no sound at all, i.e. silence. These are songs, very active andoften rhythmic and climactic, leaning more toward Nicolai's work asNoto than Ikeda's pure frequency drones. And as with Noto CDs, thevariation across the duration of the disc is noted and muchappreciated. Minimal excess for minimal success

 

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4758 Hits

KINGS OF CONVENIENCE, "QUIET IS THE NEW LOUD"

Norwegians Eirik Glambek Boe and Erlend Oye have made a remarkabledebut with this 45-minute modern acoustic gem of an album. Some of theinfluences are apparent in the vocals — from Nick Drake to Pink Floyd'smore quiet moments. They manage to capture an air of romanticism inbeautiful tones that can either uplift you or bring tears to your eyes.The disc as a whole is quite mellow — a perfect lazy summer album.Their lyrics (such as "...there are many places that I would like to gowith you / but I can't find the key to open my door...") are excellentto the point where even Mark Kozelek couldn't have said them better.Their chord progressions range from sounding somewhat Tortoise-esque todefinitely Belle-and-Sebastian-like, though there is a level of uniquestyle that blends them and produces peaceful daydreamy feels. Lately,too, they have been known to hang with the Badly Drawn Boys, and evengot their Ken Nelson to produce "Quiet is the New Loud." This album isthe perfect example that music does not have to be ground-breaking tobe simply beautiful.

 

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4318 Hits

third eye foundation, "i poo poo on your juju"

Over the last few years we have listened to Matt Elliott develop hissound under the Third Eye Foundation guise. One of Bristol UK'sfavorite sons has come a long way from the early days as a supportingcast member of Amp and Flying Saucer Attack. As Third Eye Foundation,he has progressed from the early days of organic sounds cleverlycoupled with electronic breaks to being one of the indie electronicscene's premiere technicians, composers and constructivists. With thisrelease, Elliott has made hints that it will be his own rather quietcurtain call, as he either ends this mission only to start new musicalventures, or turns to devote his full time to fatherhood. Theeight-track 18-minute slab is a collection of a couple collaborativeefforts as well as remixes of music from Blonde Redhead, The RemoteViewer, Urchin and Tarwater. Surprisingly enough for a collection ofthis nature, this disc flows with a keen sense of continuity —consistent with itself, like many albums of original material. From thefirst track, a piece noted as a 3EF remix of Yann Tiersden,breathtaking is the only word I can use to express my personalfeelings. The man who was once described to me as combining drum andbass elements with distorted guitars delivers something with neitherdrums nor bass, filling the room with accordion, swirling piano andsoft vocal samples used in the last album on the track "List". Movingonwards, the rest of the disc screams more of more recent Third EyeFoundation than any of the other names credited to each track,incorporating a fine blend of organic samples, strong foundation andhypnotic beats, admittedly constructed from others' songs. Intoxicatingare other offerings like the Blonde Redhead mix and collaboration withChris Morris. The music community doesn't know what it's missing fromElliott if he indeed chooses to retire at this point. I'm saddened tohear this news given his incredible progression from his beginnings.With any luck it's simply a rumor and he'll be able to find timebetween baby feedings to tinker with more captivatng ideas.

 

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6444 Hits

Chicks On Speed, "Euro Trash Girl"

From the quiet opening "Damned for a bribe!" you know there's something fun coming up in this club remix of the Chicks hit. And when those beats do kick in, you know that this song is meant to be heard full-blast amongst flashy lights and jumpy speed-induced clubbers.
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5189 Hits

mark eitzel, "the invisible man"

There was a time in the late 1980s/early 1990s that American Music Club would release albums which would cut through the trendy indie rock scene like a rusty knife. The group meshed an influence of introspective artistic post-punk with American twang long before Bedhead and Low were recording Joy Division covers, or Ida and Red House Painters were releasing albums.

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4286 Hits

Portastatic, "Looking For Leonard" Soundtrack

Mac McCaughan is just one of those guys. He's the guy who runs therecord label (Merge). He's the guy that plays in Supechunk. Now, he'sthe guy that scores films. McCaughan returns as Portastatic for thislovely instrumental soundtrack in an almost spaghetti-western style,although variations abound. Through most of the release, reverbedguitar lines and whistles are complemented by kettle and brush drumsounds and occasional strings and keyboards. Elsewhere, simplesynthesizer and organ lines are forged with thumping beats and snaredrum. The only vocals appear on one track ("Do You Speak English?")that sounds like dialogue straight from the film. Lush, poppy andmoving, this collection probably has a much greater effect whilewatching the motion picture the music is featured in (as manysoundtracks do), but on its own the record is a fine piece of work.Things get a bit repititious on a few tracks, and there are a few"throwaway" tracks — and at just over 34 minutes total, that's a shame— however the sheer variety of sounds makes it an extremely pleasurableand worthwhile listen. There is nothing more inherently hummable thanthe "Looking for Leonard Theme" while walking down the streets of yourtown. I know nothing about the movie, mind you, but it has a glory andtriumph in it that make you want to carry your head high and strut. Ihope it's the theme for that reason, and I look forward to seeing thefilm for that extra emotional impact. All in all, a release well worthchecking out. It's at least enough to keep you engaged, and prettyenough to move you.

 

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3850 Hits

low/dirty three "in the fishtank"

My first impressions were "there's no suprises here." Take two of myfavorite bands and combine their elements: mesh the shuffling drums ofJim White, sparse guitar work of Mick Turner and gentle violin of andcombine that with the wonderful harmonies and obscure references fromLow, the world's premiere songwriters/singers and hear two greatentities together. But upon deeper subsequent listenings, the whole is,in actuality, more than the sum of its parts. Recorded in Holland, inbetween performances and airport arrivals this edition of the "In theFishtank" series is once again about a half hour of bands taking abreak from their regular schtick to do something they enjoy doing. TheEP on the chopping block encompasses the finer elements of both groupsand brings them to a different level. It's strange how a trio ofAustralians make a trio of US Americans sound more in touch with theirAmerican heritage while vocals and harmonies gracefully compliment analready impressive canvas the Australian trio have been painting foryears. Included here are six tunes, including a haunting cover of NeilYoung's "Down By the River," sung by Mimi Parker and completelyunrecognizable until she begins singing, approximately five-minutesinto the track. With this, neither band are gonna win new fans,die-hards will buy this no matter what they hear, so my message is tothose fair-weather listeners: this is good for you and won't disappointyou like the Tortoise/The Ex EP from the same series.

 

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4567 Hits

k/low

Low may now be superstars, (yet they're not too big to still appear ona multitude of compilations and singles) but the shining moments onthis split single belong to Karla Shickele's new project, K. The lineupof K features a mixed cast of friends, including Tara Jane O'Neil (ofRetsin, Rodan and solo fame), Cynthia Nelson (of Retsin, Ruby Falls andthe Naysayer), Ida bandmate Michael Littleton, and Ida Pearle. Over thelast year, there have been some random K shows in the northeast US aswell as a couple home-manufactured CD-R releases, each time gatheringmore attention, leading up to an anticipated debut album. K's "RegularGirl" opens the disc on a strong note, a brand new song worthy ofaffection from any Ida appreciator. What follows are two from Low,includning a touchingly sweet track from 1997 titled "Those Girls,"which could almost be a speech directed to teenage girls. Also from Lowis a 3/4 time reworked "Venus" recorded by Warn Defever, which is niceto have for the fans, yet the voices sound kind of off. Defever alsoremixed the closing track, a short Flashpapr cover tune, "Were We toDance," a basic tune which could have been recorded straight tofour-track, powerful yet humble. "Were We to Dance" originally appearedon the 'Your Name and Mine' CD-R from K released last year. K is ontour right now with Retsin, check the dates at Tiger Style's website, and the full-length album is due in July.

 

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4188 Hits

Mark Lanegan, "Field Songs"

The former lead singer of the Screaming Trees returns on this, hisfifth solo release overall, with a set that blows all his previous workaway. This time, Lanegan's main partner in crime is former Soundgardenbassist Ben Shepherd, giving the release a sort of "Return of theGrunge Masters" air. Fortunately, that doesn't get reflected in thesongs, and Shepherd doesn't take the mic much — as he has in Hater andon one track of Soundgarden's "Superunknown," both of which I'll passon every chance I get. The songs are dark, moody, and dare I sayLeonard Cohen-esque, which is always a good thing in my estimation. Thevoice is what does it. Mark Arm recently made the comment that he'd goso far as to have a team of surgeons hold down Lanegan just so theycould try a throat transplant, of which Arm would be the beneficiary.That's a bold statement in and of itself, as Lanegan could easily wakethe dead or woo the ladies with his gritty, spooky crooning. All inall, the release is an amazing growth turn for Lanegan, as thesongwriting, lyrics, and melodies are awe-inspiring. The only complaintI might have is acutally a bit of a tip of the hat: the album has someof the best chances for misheard lyrics of any I've heard. And isn'talways the great artists who are misunderstood ("Excuse me while I kissthis guy," anyone?). On the opening track, "One Way Street," I couldswear Lanegan was saying "Can't get a dog without crying" — he's reallysaying "Can't get it down without crying," apparently. Does it detractfrom the power of this collection? Not even close. This release is justthe latest in a trend of similar artists leaving their old sounds for amore subdued, darker tinge — except Lanegan's been doing it all along.This time, it's clear he'll only get better.

 

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4034 Hits

JAKE MANDELL, "LOVE SONGS FOR MACHINES"

"After many frustrating years writing computer music," Jake says, "Irealized that in order for my music to have the emotional and physicalimpact I was hearing in my head, I would have to learn to let my lovefor machines escape its tempestuous confinement." This CarparkRecordings release, though filled with passion and what-have-you, isstill a much more embraceable concept than an actual listen. Somethingabout it just doesn't catch my attention — while the repetitiousmelodies and cleverly constructed beats do blend nicely, they all tooeasily fade into the background of the room. In songs such as "ThePrincess Speaks of Love," a quirkiness shows up that is enough to leavea smirk on your face, but still nothing progressive enough to be quitecaptivating. In all, the album is something to bob your head to, butnothing to get excited about. Perhaps his computer love is still in itsearly stages, showing promise but not quite maturity yet. I'd pass onthis Dating Game match-up, and wait to catch Mandell a little furtherinto the relationship.

 


4085 Hits

KHAN, "NO COMPRENDO"

Hard to disagree with a lineup which features guest vocalists like KidCongo Powers, Julee Cruise, Jon Spencer and Diamanda Galas, right?Unfortunately I don't see myself listening to this disc all too often.While the last few Khan releases have been rather hypnotic explorationsof beat-filled electronics, this offering seems to try to accomplishtoo much with too little backup, going for that 'crossover potentialmarket'. Khan has fallen into a gap, traveling down a beaten path whichhas proved disappointing for predecessors like U.N.K.L.E., Bomb theBass and Recoil: overloading an album with a different singer on everycut. In all cases each artist had established themselves in aninstrumental capacity but when they added the voices, the musicsuffered, gaining sound effects while losing the power of a good tune.To its credit, it grooves with a sweaty, dirt-bag sleazy style which isnot entirely like Khan's previous releases on Matador. On the wholehowever, I'm not moved.

 

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4007 Hits

Manitoba, "Start Breaking My Heart"

One really negative thing I can say about this debut from Manitoba isthat it sounds like so many other artists I've already heard. Sure,it's catchy. It's toe-tapping, energetic and pulsating. But it was allthese things the first time I heard [insert electronic/remixer/DJartist here] do it. There are moments here that remind me of Tortoise,Daft Punk, Moby, Mark Isham, Bob James, Phil Collins (ack!) and more.That they're all together on the same record isn't a bad thing (exceptfor Phil Collins), but it also takes the originality out of theexperience. If I was in a coffee bar and heard this music on thespeakers, I wouldn't complain. Nor would I rush over and ask who itwas. It's that ineffectual to me. The album has it's moments, however.I really like moments of "Paul's Birthday," and "Mammals vs Reptiles"is mildly intriguing. The major difficulty is that the music neverreally seems to engage the listener. I felt very little while listeningto this release. In fact, "Start Breaking My Heart" seems to go out ofits way to distance you. The constant big beat wonderness and cut andsplice "magic" is lost on me, and most of the songs would TOTALLY WORKWITHOUT IT. It feels like the work of an artist who started out tryingto impress rather than develop a unique sound. I'm sure Manitoba wouldbe a great remixer. But with original material, I'm just left wantingmore. More originality, more substance, and more cohesiveness. So muchof it just feels thrown together. I'd file this one under "BuyerBeware": worth a listen, but try before you buy.

 

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3821 Hits

Autechre, "Confield"

"-Ma femme a des visions de grands chandeliers. Nous pensons aussi à detrès beaux escaliers... Mais on ne peut pas forcer les choses voussavez, elles se font naturellement."
L'argument tourne au drame. Il leur a déjà proposé une bourgadesympathique sur Pluton ("on est presque déjà chez les ploucs là-basaujourd'hui"), mais les deux autres ne captent rien. Il faut dire quela transmission se fait mal. Ils ne parlent que de faire le vide, etaucun degré de gravité ne pourra les aider à atterrir. Il pourrait leurdénicher l'appartement de leurs rêves avec vue sur aurore boréale encontinu, ­ça n'y changerait rien. D'autant que de nos jours, même lescampagnes sont boudées. Les ruminants s'y font kidnapper si souvent quela traite en devient une gageure. Les vaches tourmentées font tournerle lait. On les voit s'élever par troupeaux entiers, prenant un airbéat, ou plutôt ébahi, tandis qu'on les soustrait à la gravitation. Demal en pis, la voie lactée apparaît comme la meilleure perspective,hélas qui sait où elles sont emmenées. Quand les mamelles s'emmêlent...
"-Peut-être un de ces nouveaux lofts ? On leur prête un tel succès..."
Allez, encore deux gogos au ciboulot désactivé... On n'en sortira pas !Personne ne semble réaliser que dans l'eau cristalline de leurspiscines, les aliens ont toujours la voix qui tremblote. Ca vous prendpar les cheveux, c'est la nouvelle mode pour détrister les esprits. Ceslongues petites choses vertes au mouvement pendulatoire ne sont pastant des haricots que d'adorables petits lézards. Phobie ou consensus ?Les moyens modernes de déridation oxygénatrice ont dépassé toutes lesespérances primitives ! Ca vaut bien le détour...

 

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4143 Hits

Lumen, "The Man Felt An Iron Hand..."

Whatever you've heard about this band, it doesn't do them justice. "TheMan Felt An Iron Hand..." is actually a shortened telling of the realtitle for the album, one that would make Fiona Apple cringe. It seemsan unlikely combination, this band called Lumen: stand-up bass,acoustic guitar, heavy-hitting drums, and accordion/organ. But it worksas a unique and vibrant sound. Little is known about the band exceptthat they are from San Francisco and two of the members are/were inother bands: Andee Connors from A Minor Forest and Jeffrey Rosenbergfrom Tarentel. And the song titles, simply roman numerals representingtheir track number, don't give anything away. The formation that isLumen exceeds all comparisons to any other bands, including those itsmembers are from. Supposedly, the members "collectively despisepost-rock," and it shows in the choice of instruments and often spaceycompositions. It's purely fascinating how they get some of these soundswith the bare instruments they've chosen! Sometimes, the arrangement istoo repetitious, as on the almost annoying "VII." But "III" and "V" arewhere the sound comes together in an amazing display of unity betweenthe band members. Intricate, pulsating, driven, and melodic as allhell, "The Man Felt An Iron Hand..." is as original an album as I'veheard this year.

 

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4342 Hits

John Hughes III, "Scarlet Diva"

The man behind Slicker and Hefty Records steps out from his protective shell to produce one of the finest soundtracks I have personally heard in a while. Hughes has certainly expanded his range from what has been the electro punchiness of previous Slicker releases to a conceptual effort which encompasses various styles of retro-fitted pseudo-pop post-electronica jazz-influenced multi-instrumentalist filmscapes. After about four listens in a row, my only complaint is that it's TOO DAMNED SHORT!

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6300 Hits

cerberus shoal, "garden fly, drip eye"

The quasi-anonymous Cerberus Shoal seems to be one of the most prolific and diversified bands that I've encountered. This Portland, Maine collective — and the constantly evolving lineup of the band merits that term — seems to have mastered a new style with each release. With 1999's "homb" cd on Temporary Residence, Cerberus Shoal delivered their exemplary thesis on dark, ambient rock. The dynamics and instrumentation, combined with minimal but rythmic percussion, fused together to make one of the most beautiful and original releases of recent years.

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4442 Hits

"COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS"

The debut release from Australia's Vibragun label is a 12" four tracktaster of the forthcoming 2cd various artists compilation of the samename. The rather loose guidelines for the project stated that a trackcould be in almost any style, "the one requirement is that it be athoughtful interpretation of the theme." So with that in mind, AtomHeart and 3 Australian artists - Pimmon, 8bit and Oren Ambarci - wentto work. Pimmon's "Morse:Fin" drearily drones along with Morsecode-like blips and an intermittent scratching sound. Atom Heart's "SEA(Stuffit)" is by far the best track (and, of course, the shortest) witha happy assortment of bass and machine sounds. 8bit's "Can't U Hear theRave?" (the worst title ever?) is a clippity clop chunk of techno withsonar bleeps that drags on for 6 and 1/2 minutes. Oren Ambarchi's "RingKing" (exclusive to this EP) is a very annoying 5 minute collection ofrandom metallic bangs. Yuck. Side B will never see my turntable'sneedle again. Neither will Side A now that I've made an mp3 of the AtomHeart track. Hopefully the 2cd will have more to offer than the 12".

 

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4328 Hits

ATOM TM, "HARD DISK ROCK (DON'T STOP)"

Atom TM is yet another pseudonym for Uwe Schmidt, the uber prolificChile based German expatriate best known as Atom Heart (and betterknown to me as Seøor Coconut and one half of Flanger). "Hard Disk Rock"was previously released on Rather Interesting's "Real Intelligence III"compilation in 1998 and I believe this 12" was also released by SpinylRecords in the US in 1999. Now Australian upstart Vibragun has seen fitto put it out again as their second release. Side A has 2 four minutetracks of robotic electro funk with sliced and diced glitches, beatsand computer generated voices repeating the title phrases. The titletrack is especially fun and funky while "8-Bit Boogie" is less so. SideB requires a slow down from 45 to 33 RPM. "HD Endless" is much thesame, mimicking the Kraftwerk classic for nearly 12 minutes andculminating in a pseudo locked groove. Pretty cool, though I do preferSchmidt's work as Seøor Coconut and with Flanger over this.

 

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5283 Hits

DISCO OPERATING SYSTEM, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORK TO BE MAD HERE"

The more attentive experimentally-minded Manchester electronicaenthusiast might be able to spin yarns of Rotations nights upstairs ina small pub room just round the corner from where the Hacienda isboarded up. Organised by Gareth Bibby of RSI Recordings, these havefeatured appearances from the likes of Mild Man Jan, Magic City,Pendro, Modified Toy Orchestra and his own pedal hopping samplingproject Disco Operating System.
The first time I caught DOS in performance, the Pan Sonic influence wasapparent, and this was born out by the opening track on the Phonia 12",which also trod similar ground to some of Mick Harris' darker tracks.The System was certainly operating under its own steam by the time ofthe dynamic 'compact disc digital audio' CD-R, but following this acouple of live appearances saw whatever small Disco portion there everwas in these technoid endeavours dwindling. Stripped down minimal loopswere well to the fore.
This disc follows that trajectory, whirling round and round in a seriesof skillfully edited rhythmic loop constructions which revel intextural exploration underpinned by a playful but subtle sense ofhumour. Each of the fifteen tracks is an exploration of repetitionusually juxtaposing two different timbres, occasionally three. Tapsdripping in robotic precision give way to twittering comfortable sinewaves clogging the ether. Bells ringing joyfully 'Because Children AreMatter' back on to an accurate simulation of the hum of the crankyportable computer from BBC space opera Blake's 7. Well that broughtback some sonic memories, but now I'd like to hear the telephone cablelaser guns and teleport too. The pumping kaga-chug of the 'Weiss Squad'makes me feel like I'm resting my mindbrain on the engine of aspaceship made out of a discarded air freshener, as I try to download afrosty chunk of cryogenic toast. Have I earnt my final reward foracceptable behaviour yet?

 

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4247 Hits