Manafonistas

on music beyond mainstream

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2014 14 Sep

Robert Wyatt and me

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I’ve never bought a record on the strength of a press review, apart from a Kashif album that was so comprehensively slated by the NME that I thought “I have to buy this!”. So I bought the Kashif album, and it was totally great.

Any time music comes to me it’s through the ether. All of my biggest finds have been purely accidental. Switching on Radio Scotland one night and hearing Tinseltown In The Rain, and being transfixed. Managed to tape some of it but the DJ didn’t say what had just been played. It was only months later, in a record store, that I heard the record being played and was able to ask who the artist was.

All of the music I loved as a kid, I still love now. No idea where this loyalty comes from – but I can’t think of one single piece of music I have ever fallen out of love with after falling in love with it.

An example of this is Robert Wyatt’s “At Last I Am Free”. John Peel played it, I would have been 14 years old. I didn’t know it was a cover version – and an unlikely one at that. (Although I could now imagine Wyatt doing justice to a Kashif composition. Lol.) It was the bleakness of the rendition that got me. You could smell cold, mossy air off it, and yet, and yet, it sounded like weary catharsis. It sounded like things my 14 year old’s vocabulary had no words to describe.

The register Wyatt sings that song in, and the vocal timbre. Just wow. So I bought the vinyl LP out of the Virgin Megastore on Princes Street a few Saturdays later. I loved its uncompromising socialist stance, despite being then – as I remain now – apolitical. The record was a thing of beauty – its sleeve depicting a Rolls Royce bonnet with the mascot a production line worker. Such a great piece of art – the title Nothing Can Stop Us plus the Rolls Royce equals a great socialist pun. It also had a lyric sheet, which in those days was a sign of generosity, and something else to hold the attention.

But beyond the Chic song, it’s not an album I ever really got into – its experimentalism, artwork and sentiment are all great – it just didn’t press all of my buttons. The Wyatt album that did that is Rock Bottom. My copy of it has fascinating liner notes about the record’s production, and a picture of Alfreda Benge and Robert Wyatt that I think is great. Look at the expression on Benge’s face. That is the look of love, and no mistake.
 
 
 

 
 
 
On Sea Song, Wyatt’s voice is used as an instrument, counterpointing the synth lines – shoals of vowels shimmer past, and it draws you right in. Glaswegian humourist Ivor Cutler makes an appearance on the closing track. And in between you get everything from trumpets that have (to my mind) a tang of Spanish Civil War anarcho-syndicalism (or maybe that’s just me?) to otherworldly tropical fish jazz, and the wonderful wordplay in the song titles, like Alifib and Alife. Both are diminutives of Alfreda, of course. But Alifib, when you break it down, ‘fib’ is vernacular for a lie. And Alife is both ‘alive’ and ‘ a life’. The inference that I draw from this is that the two songs are about a kind of Doppler effect that love places on life. So, the ‘before’ is a fib, but then he finds love and it becomes ‘Alife’ – a qualitative difference. Or I may just be talking shit. Either way, I have my Kashif album, My Robert Wyatt albums – and some great Nile Rodgers productions in my collection too.
 
 
 

 

2014 20 Aug

On fandom, lists and SYRO

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On fandom. No, I’m not a fan (as such) of Aphex Twin. I’ve known and know people who are acquainted with celebrities as diverse (and sometimes remote) as Banksy (no, really) Benny from Abba (yep) Brian Eno (wow) and Boards of Canada (och aye). Oddly all those start with the letter B but that’s entirely coincimental. But anyway: I’ve never run into anyone, ever, who knows or has even met Aphex Twin. To me, being a fan means taking someone’s work at too high a level. Investing it with too much, like it’s sacramental. Probably easier to do if the artist is as elusive as Aphex Twin. But nah, still not a fan. Or rather, not a fan as such. I couldn’t give a fuck what the guy’s views on politics are, where he buys his insurance, or whether he shops at Aldi or Waitrose.

On lists. Lists are useful. They don’t seek to justify a career, or join the dots. They provide a useful set of reference points. Like this list below. You’ll see it doesn’t venture into the Rephlex releases. It’s just what I listen to most by the artist.
 
1. Xtal
2. Mookid
3. To Cure A Weakling Child
4. Btoum-Roumada
5. Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michael’s Mount
6. If It Really Is Me
7. On (mu-ZIQ mix)
8. Donkey Rhubarb
9. Flim
10. Bucephalus Bouncing Ball
11.Tamphex – Headphuq mix
12. #20 [this was, I think, untitled. It's the 20th track on Ambient Works Volume 2]
13. Windowlicker
14. I
 
On SYRO. If it’s all great – job done. If everyone hates it – job done. Either way, I’m all ears. But if it’s all been a hoax? Well …
 
 
 

 

According to the record label’s website, Dalhous’ Will to be Well reflects the artist’s ‘continued interest in the life and arcana of R.D. Laing, but also alludes to more universal and enduring mysteries: the relationships between body and mind, illness and wellness, the physical and the metaphysical’.

If you’ve ever spent any time in an Edinburgh second-hand book shop (there are loads of them, and you can get lost for hours in these places, time itself stops in them, sometimes) then you’ve probably picked up and had a quick leaf through one of Laing’s books in Penguin paperback, its edges oxidised as if dipped in nicotine, an almost chocolatey dust aroma rising up from the pages.

Laing, like Freud or Jung or Wertheimer (or Sartre), always had interesting things to say. Whether you agree or not is entirely another matter, of course. “In [a human] seen [solely] as an organism, there is no place for [her or his] desires, fear, hope or despair as such. The ultimates of our expressions are not [her or his] intentions to [their] world, but quanta of energy in an energy system”. Indeed!

Moving away from inner space, much of what Laing says about the broader shores of human psychology (to my admittedly uneducated mind) echoes a lot of what Aleister Crowley had been saying decades earlier: that a viciously, pathologically normative society is the real aberration. “A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university … This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad.”

Time has marched on since Laing’s passing, and the old Victorian asylums are now long since emptied. Some, such as the vast Friern Barnet Mental Hospital in north London (and it really was vast – one of its corridors was three quarters of a mile long) have been repurposed as middle-class housing. Others lie abandoned, their flaking and rotting inner rooms photographed and posted on urban exploration websites.

Listening to Will to be Well means at times visiting this territory, albeit in an indirect/thematic way. Track 5 Lovers of the Highlands evokes feelings of bricked-in darkness and oblique thought-forms rather than mountains and streams. Track 10, Someone Secure is one of very (very, very) few electronic compositions from the UK that you could place in a Detroit compilation and wouldn’t sound out of place. I doubt Steve Hillage/Derrick May’s System 7 collaboration is even a reference point here, but this just makes it even better.

Will to be Well is an involving listen. For more information on this release, go to Blackest Ever Black and have a read.
 
 
 

 

 
 

 
 
 

In the 20th century, this area was pulled down and rebuilt piecemeal around the motorway that now runs through it. But this one small bit of tenement still stands. Out of the once surrounding thousands of tenements that met the wrecking ball, why did this corner survive? Its sandstone almost glows, and why is its face not pale great from fumes?

Luc Besson and Bertrand Tavernier both set films in this city, and it’s easy to see why both of those films (Danny The Dog, La mort en direct) used this area of the city in particular. You are breathing the past and the future, walking through a space where the present is pulled into the ether by both, strongly. A liminal zone, a psychogeographer’s church.

2014 28 Jul

last.fm

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2014 19 Jul

The Afghan Whigs, live in Glasgow 18/7/2014

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2014 18 Jul

There’s A Blue Bird In My Heart by Anders Parker

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… and then, every so often, a record comes along that reaffirms your faith in recorded sound, with a jolt. A record that makes your heart burst.

Diligent Manafonistas readers may remember my previous post about Varnaline’s Man of Sin, which was Anders Parker’s first record. Nearly two decades ago (… the LP, that is, not my post). How different could two records be? The debut, lo-fi and amateurish to the point of shambolic – and this: professional and miraculously un-jaded despite the passage of time.

Every single track on this record is a winner.

 
 
 

 

2014 16 Jul

Ghostface Killah, live in Glasgow 15/7/2014

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There’s a great review of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (Deutsche Grammophon C20 series reissue) on the Amazon US site, and it’s informative lucid writing. The writer of the review states that the some of the stories told in the work are rendered in a way that is unintelligible: ‘made so vague that only the phonetic properties matter’.

Phonetic properties is a great phrase. And Berio’s Sinfonia is genius. And Sinfonia‘s reviewer is right – only the phonetic properties matter. Much of the time. Words under water, messages in bottles, the tongue set free. Words appropriated and re- ( or is that ‘de-‘?) contextualised are central to Berio’s Sinfonia in a way not dissimilar to Heiner Goebbels’ Eraritjaritjaka, Museé des Phrases. The latter is a stage production, of course, its words all Elias Canetti’s, and all discernible, but the similarity remains: words under water or thrown into the air, where they fly around overhead. Le Seagull, le trawler, le kung fu kick of language.

Unholy Soul by The Orchids was described by Ian McCann in the NME as “a Pet Sounds for the 90s” and is an unclassifiable work of wonder. (I’ve never listened to Pet Sounds so no idea if McCann’s comparison was on the mark). Much of Unholy Soul is straightforward guitar-based pop, but it constantly pushes at the form’s limits and what we have here is cathedral like in its invisible structure, when we’d have expected a shed.

Sung in a mumbled, diffident Glasgow voice, the songs phonetic properties are unusual and lend the songs a timelessness/ otherworldliness. It’s difficult to believe that this was a real band and not a portrayal from a work of fiction. Singer James Hackett’s vocal style means that much of the lyrical content is lost to me in terms of its meaning, but we can take this as a positive, like Berio’s words under water.

The LP starts off with a strong vibe of the oneiric, and (in a way) like the film Inception, never quite opens its eyes. Could these be dreams within dreams? From Me And The Black And White Dream:

Picture this. A thousand people with no eyes, staring at you
But you had a [...] and I had a [...]
It’s gotta be me
In the black and white dream

More dreams, this time from the song Peaches:

Dreaming dreaming dreaming, baby
Dreaming dreaming dreaming, baby
Dreaming, baby

A lot of these songs suggest the vibe of a place, but without the specifics that define it. They conjure a world of stone buildings, viaducts, rain and shelter, moss and lichen, a liminal zone between adolescence and adulthood. A slightly bleak urban landscape peopled by musical geniuses and machine elves. An almost – but not quite – monochrome world, where colour explodes  in unexpected places and in vividly weird combinations.

Things take a turn for the surreal during The Sadness of Sex Part 1. I dunno if it’s some production trick using stereo, but this track has that feeling you get when you listen to Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – that the room has turned upside down and gravity has temporarily stopped doing its thing. More great, if not always audible lyrics:

There’s a cat in my window, where the light had been
And she’s telling me secrets, [...]
And the last time I saw, well it was a [...] time
Gotta stop gotta stop gotta stop
Stepping over you

The song also contains short phrases of sampled dialogue from diverse sources including the films Arsenic and Old Lace and The BFG. Part love song, part sound collage, complete fucking genius. But – maybe because of the diffidence thing – you get the feeling that The Orchids had no idea they were painting a late 20th century masterpiece with Unholy Soul.
 
 
 
unholy soul
 
 

Notes:

Unholy Soul was reissued a while back and is easily available on CD.
The Orchids have a great website. My second favourite website of all time, in fact – www.theorchids.net. What’s my first favourite website of all time? Why, www.lunkhead.net of course!

2014 11 Jul

Lost Classics, #7: Burrell

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My introduction to the Burrell Brothers’ music was the way the best musical introductions happen – out of the blue and without hype. John Peel played a track from the N.Y. House’n Authority record Apartments on the radio one night. The track, Apt. 1b was – and remains – one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Intended or not, when you payed the 6 quid for the vinyl, shrinkwrapped and bearing the intriguing Nu Groove records logo, it felt like you were buying a piece of art. Each track is named for an apartment, or rather its number: APT. 1A, APT. 2A, APT. 3A, APT. 1B, APT. 2B, APT 3.B. The record never quite captures a Manhattan feel, and has instead a vibe of the city being viewed from the second zone, from the bridge-and-tunnel surrounds: maybe from Jersey City or Long Island City. Real ambient. The river runs right through this EP like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock. N.Y. House’n Authority was a Rheji Burrell project (he’s the guy pictured on the CD inlay below, on the left, wearing a hat). Rheji Burrell was also responsible for the haunting, slightly disturbing $1.15 Please EP by Metro, another slice of deep, dark ambient that conjures a world of the old, highly dangerous NY, steam billowing up from the streets – a world of infinite possibility for those who can make it (if you can make it here …) and a sense of danger everywhere. Ronald Burrell (aka Rhano Burrell, to the right in the picture, the dude without the hat) was responsible for a number of equally memorable Nu Groove productions, like Aphrodisiac’s Just Before The Dawn, which sounds on the face of it like club stuff (which maybe it was intended as?) but also manages to sound avant garde. Avant garde in the best way, though: experimental and innovative without any tiresome left bank of the Seine weight bearing down on it or purist pretension burden. Complete fucking genius. The label of the Aphrodisiac’s EP also credits someone called Judy Russell as a “Finger snap co-ordinator” (good detail, good humour. Wherever you are, Judy, I hope you’re well). Anyway, the Burrell album is a record I love so much that I have three copies of it. A Virgin Records America vinyl LP (unplayed, mint condition) a Ten Records (UK associated Virgin label) vinyl LP played so much that its shiny vinyl is now matte and scratchy sounding, and after years of searching, and a Virgin Records America issue of the CD (pictured below). Much of the Burrell album probably only makes sense if you know the brothers’ later work for Nu Groove records (Apartments was released a year or so after this LP, after Virgin wisely dropped them, knowing that this stuff was too cool to sell in millions). What you get here is 10 tracks, the first side is mainly ‘dance’ numbers – and from the first bar of the first track, Trust In The Music, you do just that. Rheji Burrell’s percussive deployments – elemental, intricate, hypnotic. The uptempo songs on the first side of the album have dated, for sure. But they’ve dated like a fine wine. There’s just too much mathematics in this music for it not to have the longevity of the outlier, the longevity of true genius. Track 3, I Really Like, for instance, creates its own universe in miniature: the eternal and familiar narrative of romantic love’s vicissitudes, but with the flashes of light and darkness woven into the programmed base and its interaction with the dull thud of the electric bass drum and a vocal that spans octaves as the love weather changes. Did I say genius? Side 2 of the record – the entire second side – juxtaposes with the first. The first 4 songs – Sunshine, Let Me Love You Tonight, No Greater Love, and Calling are all variations on the same theme, with the last of these taking that theme to its apotheosis. And after that, the final track – if the preceding has been an amazing film, then One And Only Lady is that zone of comfort as the credits roll, and we stand up and shuffle out of the cinema, a brilliant parting shot. To untrained ears, Burrell might sound like your average R&B record. Believe me, it ain’t. It’s a classic, and no mistake. A fair number of the songs mentioned above are on Spotify and YouTube, so check them out.

 
 
 

 


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