albums - april 2017
“One becomes a critic when one cannot be an artist, just as a man becomes a stool pigeon when he cannot be a soldier”, said Gustave Flaubert. He also said that “you can calculate the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it”. We can be true in all sorts of ways and most writing is really only a way of describing yourself.
I think, if you were going to give the words meaning other than the name of this band, 'A-Sun Amissa' means 'the sun, having been let go'. I may have gotten my tenses wrong, or the entire meaning. This may be like when everyone thought a stadium in Portugal was called the Stadium of Light, when in fact it's just 'The Stadium in Luz'.
Having tried to work this out only after I listened to this album on several different occasions, and those occasions were different because of my mood, the locales and how I experienced it all each time, I'm inclined to think I may be ascribing my own thoughts to what is a pretty captivating work. The Gatherer, four pieces of music formed of string and horn and chant and drone, is not a huge departure from other things which one may have associated with or assumed was coming from the inventive and intelligent Gizeh records, but that is in no way unwelcome and not a critique. It is no surprise to learn that this was formed of collaboration with people who are certainly associated with each other anyway. It is no surprise that this is a collaboration with kindred spirits. Entirely whole and benefiting from the parts brought to it, I have found myself returning to this often.
That I am unable to speak ill of this work does not, Gustave, suggest that it is not important. But whether it is important or not seems moot when I can say easily that it is good and I enjoy it.
Before their next studio album sees the light of day in a month or so from now, a live set recorded four years previously is released to remind us that The Fall are a band that we like more than we would ever care to admit. The sleeve makes a jokey reference to comedian Jimmy Clitheroe, whom you need to be at least the same age as Mark E Smith to have even heard of, and it taps into something that a lot of people will always associate with The Fall, which is Mark E Smith's verging on surreal social observation, seeing and articulating the unfinished edges of the remnants of the industrial world without ever romanticising it, an occasionally nightmarish vision that not everyone could or indeed can share comfortably. Smith's lyrics are filled with shambling, damaged characters - 'Firey Jack', 'Elastic Man', the 'Bingo Master' and The Fall can always be relied upon to find the sinister in the least obvious places, the vaudevillian archness of the words empowered by, as this album reminds us, some urgently chaotic music.
I often thought that Smith didn't actually need a band, that he could
have rocked it as a performing writer, a more literary and (slightly)
less accessible John Cooper Clark, but while poetry never completely
took off as 'the new rock n roll', The Fall's recordings have always
existed at the experimental limits of the basic four or five piece
band format, which is what gives their earliest recordings the raw
energy and unresolved tensions that can be heard on an album recorded
some 35 years after 'Bingo Master's Breakout'. I haven't heard much
of their more recent music, but 25th April 2013 was a really, really
on form night for the continuation of the Mark E Smith backing band
and while his voice may occasionally crack in front of the mike, Smith
himself has lost none of his lyrical virulence and while the only
track I even vaguely recognise is 'Mr Pharmacist', 'Live In Clitheroe'
is a nerve wracking reminder of exactly what a band The Fall really
are, and next months' studio album 'New Facts Emerge' is probably
While I was doing some research on this album, I found an article written by Sonic Youth's other guitarist Lee Ranaldo, written around four years ago, and that puts some added perspective on what 'Rock N Roll Consciousness' is about. Writing about his teenage forays into music fandom, Lee Ranaldo has a lot of appreciation for the Grateful Dead, and writing about a 1972 concert that had just been released on video, he takes a mellow retrospective look back at one or two of his formative experiences, (https://tinyurl.com/1972-concert) and both Ranaldo's words and the music of the Dead themselves seem relevant when listening to Thurston Moore's new album, whose title and sleeve design announce the album as a countercultural artefact, in the late 60s sense of the phrase. With its colourful artwork, its guru-trail title and Moore himself gazing at the camera with his yoga face, it seems as if we're in for a lecture on cosmic awareness rather than any actual music, and certainly not the full-on detuned pyrotechnics that Sonic Youth made their reputation with.
Thurston Moore, of course, is perfectly aware of what reaction his latest album could elicit from some of his established audience, mostly the middle aged section that don't quite remember the 70s but do remember what they thought of the rejuvenated hippy gumbo of the 90s. We are, we know, in the presence of a musician whose career has always carried with it the added cultural significance that attaches to anything emanating from what we used to call Noo Yawk, and one quite prepared to play a little joke or two with the audience. So what's it all about, Thurston? Perhaps the titles give a clue : 'Exalted', 'Cusp', 'Turn On', 'Smoke Of Dreams', 'Aphrodite' ... the idea is got. Basically, Moore and (former SY drummer) Steve Shelly, joined by MBV's Debbie Goodge and sideman James Sedwards went into the studio and more or less did what they wanted to, and through some weird form of symbiosis 'Rock N Roll Consciousness' is A Very Important Album, with no less than the Financial Times describing it as a 'gripping set of dynamics'.
Now, a few of you reading this will be thinking, 'I probably know what to expect from a sort of Sonic Youthy instrumental album' and you will not experience any form of disappointment, as an inspired sounding Moore and accomplices make the Sonic Youth album you always wanted to hear, with additional guitar solos inspired by, variously, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana and Peter Frampton (look him up). That's opening eight minute instrumental 'Exalted', but 'Cusp' takes us off at a different tangent, a tour de force from drummer Steve Shelly powering a tune that recognisably originated in the Youth studios somewhere, and probably the actual best track you've heard from them since, I dunno, name your favourite track from 'Sister', 'Goo', even 'Evol'. That good, today in 2017, and the same can nearly be said for 'Turn On', a song that contains nearly everything that made you like Sonic Youth in the first place, and it's when an only too brief blast of guitar distortion appears and disappears as soon as it is heard that the compositional side of this music makes itself known. All those sessions jamming with Glenn Branca and Michael Gira weren't time wasted, and 'Rock N Roll Consciousness' is as sculpted a work of modern composition as its creators can produce.
Of course, this is where new questions arise. It's fifth and final
track 'Aphrodite' that has the atonal dissonance and experimentalism,
the brooding tensions and 'kill yr idols' nihilism that kept the original
Sonic Youth away from the mainstream, and right here we need to acknowledge
that while the Thurston Moore band don't need to revisit those ideas,
and that they could perform 'Bad Moon Rising' unplugged to similar
levels of applause, that the old instincts remain, and that Thurston
Moore, Steve Shelly and everyone else involved have made an album
which stands comparison with anything in their back catalogue. I still
don't completely get the 'album concept' though, and the title seems
to belong to a different album entirely, but Moore and his cohorts
appear to know exactly what they're doing on every other level. Maybe
it's just a Noo Yawk thing after all.
You really wonder what bands do with themselves. Fujiya and Miyagi are a name I recognise, from around 2011 or thereabouts, and a name is about all I know about them, based on a single track on a compilation that I vaguely remember hearing around six years ago. I didn't know, for instance, that they weren't actually a duo of Japanese dj's, or that they are in fact from Brighton, or even much about their music, although I would associate them with sort of funk based instrumental tracks. There's something equally anonymous and recognisable about Fujiya and Miyagi, and my own lack of knowledge is partly explained by the fact that they seem to do more in Europe than in the UK, and listening to the eleven tracks on their self titled 2017 album I realise that of course I've heard them more often than I thought I had, I just didn't recognise who they were.
After any band has been making music for approaching two decades,
and the first Fujiya and Miyagi album was 2003's 'Electric Karaoke
In The Negative Style', then no one should expect much in the way
of the unexpected, and the Brighton four piece aren't up for breaking
down any boundaries, at least not on this album. They definitely know
what they're about though, the music on 'F&Y' is consistently
fast paced, not too bass heavy and redolent of the synth and dance
classics of yore that a great many of their listeners are going to
recognise, directly or subliminally. It wouldn't be entirely fair
to describe their music as slightly too clinical in its approach,
repetitive or manipulative, as a lot of electronica has always sounded
a bit like this, but there is a moment when although the references
begin to seem too obvious and the overall album sound slightly too
samey, that the songs develop a compulsive existence of its own, and
when they channel the electrofunk of vintage Moroder and the verbosity
of The Streets' Mike Skinner into something that begins to sound very
little like either of them, then Fujiya And Miyagi are undeniably
It could catch on. Enthused by the success of Canadian enfant terrible Deadmau5, any number of electronica performers could begin giving themselves names that begin with the prefix 'Dead' eg: Deadskunk, Deadparrot, Deadbadger, the list is a potentially endless one. And aside from the assumed similarity of their pseudonyms, they would all of course be electronica specialists, adept at reconfiguring all and every specific digital music form, from Detroit techno onwards. I was listening to the newest Deadmau5 album just a week or two ago and it's really quite good, his legal tussle with Disney over the right to wear a large mousehead mask onstage having caused his music absolutely no harm whatsoever, and here's Manchester/Berlin based Deadbear with his own brand of sequential mastery, and while I am aware that the name thing is probably a bit played out, a lot of people are going to make that connection.
Thing is, you want to like Deadbear despite (or because of) his admitted
creative debt to Joel Zimmerman, partly because with the charts nowadays
filled with increasingly uninspired soundalikes, the random sampling
of someone like Deadbear is seeming a bit more edgy and subversive.
So it is with first track 'Holding Heart Aces', based as it is on
a song that would work well enough on the Capital playlist but which
Deadbear takes sufficiently far away from its origins to render it
more or less unrecognisable. Next track, the actual album single 'Modersohnbrucke'
shows us that Deadbear has a bit of a tight grip on the dubby loungecore
sound that he may have spent a year or two perfecting. The title track
is an elegiac, slightly downbeat tune that recalls Moby in his chart-bothering
heyday, and listening to the rest of the album there seemed to be
something a bit mid 90s going on with it, ambient trip hop with assorted
vocal samples and sound effects. Alright if you like this sort of
thing, although 'The Trees Are Dancing' is nearly a better album than
it actually is.
From Los Angeles, Wilding are a trio of musicians fronted by Dave Woody, who may or may not have at one time been a member of Grandaddy, of whom a few of you will have heard. 'Secular Music' isn't about folksy electronica though. Inspired by assorted 90s luminaries (MBV get a namecheck) and having had something of a music career over the preceding decade or so, Woody and his associates (don't have names for anyone else involved here) are at last able to make the noise rock music they've wanted to for, it seems, literally ages, and over the past year or two quite a large number of Shoegazey-fuzzpunk albums have found their way into my review intray and (I always ask this, although often metaphorically) the question is, what can Wilding do today with the sound of The Scene That Celebrated Itself Very Nearly Thirty Years Ago? I don't think I'm being unfair here, there are a lot of bands making similar music, in a style that needs regular inputs of innovation if it's going to continue to thrive.
And while some of the influences are immediately recognisable, Wilding
are too experienced and also too expansive with their own band sound
to be just mere copyists of the Cocteaus, Ride, Slowdive et al. Elements
of those bands (and others) are present throughout the tracks on 'Secular
Music' but add to the mixture the also present influence of those
effusive lyricists Mercury Rev and some minimalist electronics and
'Secular Music' moves away from its origins and eventually takes on
a life entirely of its own. The highlight here is very probably 'Haunted
Mouth', where Wilding actually sound entirely (and appreciably) like
themselves, with a display of controlled power and virulent energy
that doesn't much resemble anyone else.
Nine tracks from a well regarded alt.country musician, and the featured track on the album is a song that some of you will recognise, mostly from its versions by The Byrds and later by Robin Hitchcock, 'The Bells Of Rhymney', and as it's one that I know fairlywelll it seems reasonable to base my overall opinion of Jake Xerxes Fussell's music on how he has interpreted it. On it goes. Anyone expecting a folksy jangle is in for, not exactly a disappointment, but the laid back New Orleans blues bar treatment seems to jar very slightly with the lyric (written by Welsh poet Idris Davies) which namechecks more or less every large Welsh town you can name offhand, aside from Pontypool, and over a backing perhaps more suited to tales of chasing catfish around the bayou than lamenting the condition of the pit worker, one of the great folk protest songs of the 20th century gets an airing, for which we should definitely thank Mr Fussell.
Listening to the other eight tracks on 'What In ...' I was reminded
of how much southern US influence and imagery has found its way into
the indie world, the Southern Gothic themes that you can find in music
by Nick Cave, Alabama 3, and here's the actual darkness on the edge
of town, 'don't you grieve, little Eve / all the hounds have been
killed' sings Jake over some mid paced guitar picking, a band sound
that owes less to Lambchop and Lyle Lovett than to Merles Haggard
and, yes, Johnny Cash. There are other influences in this music though,
and if 'Pinnacle Mountain Silver Mine' really does sound like actual,
as opposed to alternative country music, the song seems to have emerged
from some or other Hootennanny tradition, from the songs of Woody
Guthrie and Pete Seeger. 'What kind of business has the poor man got
/ dealing with the furniture man' runs the opening of 'Furniture Man'
and let's just hope that Jake can find somewhere to sit without needing
to pawn that guitar of his.