Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun (Heavenly)

CB | Liverpool band Stealing Sheep make complex indie (in its truest sense) music that could be seen to be rooted in the variety of traditional folk rhythms and singing techniques that have more to do with the Ewan MacColl songbook than the troupe of sixties US folk/rock singer songwriters currently inspiring much of the current folk revival. It’s not so much Simon and Garfunkel as Pentangle cross bred with Young Marble Giants in mediaeval dress.

The band’s music has been compared to the Mediaeval Baebes, and while the rhythms and vocal arrangements of early song ‘I Am The Rain’ (sadly not included here), ‘The Garden’, and single ‘Shut Eye’ would suggest an interest in madrigals and the traditional singing in rounds, this is not the whole story.
‘Rearrange’, for example, follows in the footsteps of Kenickie by recycling the drum pattern to the Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ and using it to add extra atmospherics to a brittle delicate modern indie song, and ‘Genevieve’ has more in common with Stereolab or late period Belle and Sebastian than with folk, what with its basic sixties groove.

Three of the most atmospheric songs on the album are opening track ‘The Garden’, which broods like a troupe of troubadours who’ve seen too much mud and rain of late, ‘Circles’, which builds magnificently and in its varied tempo is both hypnotic and transportive, and the elegant and complex ‘Bear Tracks’. All three songs make use of the albums clean and sparse production to showcase the bands ability to create mood and atmosphere with just three voices and the bare minimum of instrumentation. For a band from an area as distinctly urban as Liverpool, the music they make is distinctly pastoral. The catchy ‘Shark Song’ reveals the bands more down to earth side, and is an indie pop song, concerned with an expressed wariness towards sharks. The result is both highly imaginative and sweetly whimsical.

At just under forty minutes long, Into The Diamond Sun is the sound of a young band experimenting with sounds, lyrics and imagery. It’s the sound of musicians being left alone to formulate interesting new sounds from wide and diverse range of influences. There is folk and traditional influences, sixties pop, nineties indie, and echoes of years spent busking. In some ways Into The Diamond Sun feels naive and slightly incomplete, but this is part of its charm. The second album may well be slicker but it may also be more uniform and less imaginative, which would be a tragedy.

Posted in Cazz Blase, Folk, Indie | Leave a comment

DJ Marcelle – Another New Mess Meets Further Soulmates At Faust Studio Deejay Laboratory (Klangbad)

SH | Now here is vinyl vindication for my thoughts on the latest Bureau B material (see below). Original Faustian Krautrocker Hans Joachim Irmler combines with DJ Marcelle to do something which definitely isn’t stuck in ‘classic’ Kosmiche mode, to the point where they’re Karaokeizing themselves for a living.

That said, this is a DJ album, and one which collapses some hefty urban sounds into avant garde drift. Joachim Irmler’s Lifelike album on Staubgold was a revelation on the latter terms, and pretty much all the Faust family tree branches have grown outwards, at the same time as their original innovations have been labelled ‘classic’ and pedestalised long after everyone else has moved on. Statues crumble, at the same time as they are held aloft, and this, essentially, is my objection to the unexamined tropes of German 1970s rock, which are re-circulating endlessly these days, like so much bland cultural currency.

There’s nothing on this which will easily fit into anyone’s wallet. We go from People Like Us-esque scree to giant wobstep with a great toaster, and from the neo-folk creations of Daniel Padden and Avey Tare to some intense post-techno techno. Shall I mention the sleeping gerbil who dreams of chicken? Better not.

What this record does, formally – before we even describe what’s on it – was always the point of Faust and ‘where they were at’ at any one time: innovation of cultural form at the edges of the conversation, not creating something ‘cool’ and timeless at all. The idea of culture in play, which this record represents for me, is practical. It is social as well as cultural; I am now going to take segments of this and play them out myself, in-between sequences of my own, in my locale, which will be absorbed by others engaged in similar pursuits.

This kind of record even arriving to be reviewed is justification, for me, for setting up this whole site and the act of writing in the first place. This is the kind of ‘eurozone’ I want to inhabit. More please.

Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electro, Experimental, Folk, From the Vaults, Hip Hop, Jazz, Krautrock, Steve Hanson, Techno | Leave a comment

Ike Reiko – You, Baby (Bamboo Records)

SP | Of all the product I’ve encountered from the house of Bamboo, like, fer instance, reissues from Apryl Fool, Flied Egg and the sprawling box set by Magical Power Mako, the label’s oddest and most obvious niche market candidate(tress) must surely be Ike Reiko’s You, Baby album, which was initially released in Japan in 1971 under the title of ‘The Ecstatic World of…’

Ike was a seventeen year old porno starlet who swiftly became a big, big name in a sub-genre of films dubbed ‘Pink Violence’, which were an amalgam of ‘Ms. 45′-style revenge melodramatics and the claustrophobic beastliness at the heart of women-in-prison flicks.

Meanwhile, just to get some perspective, certain sections of the UK populace were in the embrace of the beer’n’fags furtiveness of Mary Millington (who died rather mysteriously in the eighties) and the slightly more refined, cucumber sandwich (with the crusts removed) touch of x-romper Fiona Richmond. But, I’d seriously doubt that either of those ladies, given a recording contract and years of extensive mentoring, could come up with something as, erm, left-field exotic as You, Baby. Though Betty Page fronting a rockabilly band, might run it close…

Surrounded by a mix and match of thriller incidentals, francophile pop and bachelor pad moves, Miss Reiko leaves a trail of breathy coos, sighs and moans that are underpinned by a strange groaning (and probably tape manipulated) sound that resembles a creaking ship’s timber, or possibly, a small rodent in some obvious distress.

A weird listen for sure and not a little unsettling… A coupla rekkid dealers have rubber stamped this as a psyche artifact, which strikes me as a bit fanciful. Instead it’d be more fitting to say that this is the disc that successfully extends the orgasmic vocab. of Serge and Jane’s ‘Je T’aime…’ and adds a little extra stamina to the closing minutes of Esther Phillips’ ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’.

Posted in Pop, Psychedelia, Steve Pescott | Leave a comment

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (Interscope)

CB | To complain about Lana Del Rey being a persona of Lizzie Grant is to complain about Alison Clarkson calling herself Betty Boo, or David Bowie (itself a pseudonym) adopting his most famous persona Ziggy Stardust. In each case such personas undermine the idea of gritty realism, of rock’n’roll authenticity, and we are firmly into the realms of theatre. But what we’re dealing with in each case is pop music, which doesn’t have a history of authenticity anyway.

Opening track ‘Born To Die’ features Del Rey’s best Nancy Sinatra impression and the sombre tone of the song is enhanced by mournful cinematic strings. Those parts of the song that are sung in a slightly higher register are notable for a kind of sexual urgency that is reminiscent of early Britney Spears, but there are also aspects of ‘Terry’ and ‘Leader Of The Pack’ lacing through the song, thematically speaking, and a strong sense of nihilism that owes more to gangsta rap, punk or grunge than to pop music. It’s a deceptively complex song and, had ‘Video Games’ not been such a success, would undoubtedly be Del Rey’s signature song.

The Spears and Shangri-Las influences are important, if only because, post Spears Del Rey’s team can concoct videos the like of which Shadow Morton could only dream of. This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is sadly indicative of an industry that increasingly relies on female flesh to sell its products. What is remarkable about Del Rey in this respect is that sex and sexuality are common themes of what she is doing, and that these have been integrated and expressed in a way that is strangely old fashioned, retro almost. Say what you like about gender roles in the twentieth century, but subscribing to a peculiarly giddy range of historical eras in Americana, from the ‘30s to the ‘60s, has at least enabled Del Rey to keep her clothes on, by and large, and to negotiate some of the more degrading outfits inflicted on artists by their stylists today.

‘Off to the races’ is a classic example of this giddy plundering of the past. Lyrically and thematically it is pure Raymond Chandler, with nods to Chandler’s filmic equivalent: film noir. It changes tempo and mood, switching from gritty Chandler rainy streets and grimy Brownstones to euphoric Betty Boop esque vamping (the giggle Del Rey employs when singing the words ‘harlot’ and ‘starlet’ is pure Betty Boop), and back again, that it does this to distinctly hip hop flavoured beats and has a definite ’18 With A Bullet’ attitude to it, despite its retro affectations, should be wrong but somehow comes off perfectly. This is a landscape where bad boys meets bad girls, and where they create their own existential inner world that is claustrophobic, inter dependent and fuelled by sex and drugs.

If ‘Off To The Races’ is pure Raymond Chandler then ‘Blue Jeans’ is Nick Kamon in the Levi’s ad channelled through ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and the Baz Luhrman version of ‘Romeo + Juliet’, but for modern US teens. Musically it has the yearning of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Summer Rain’ coupled with sixties girl group songs such as the Shangri-Las ‘Remember (Walkin’ In The Sands)’, but there’s a darkness and David Lynchesque discordance here too, which the sledgehammer drums help to hammer home. Del Rey’s flirtation with violence and masochism in the re-vamped video is regrettable, especially given that this is the age of ’50 Shades of Gray’ and even people who should know better have been pondering whether women get turned on by pain. But an industry that can’t understand why it wouldn’t be a good idea to get Rihanna to perform with Chris Brown is unlikely to understand why showing women being throttled isn’t sexy.

The song ‘Video Games’ needs no introduction and, compared to most of the songs on this album, it’s actually very simple in nature, and there lies its charm. There are echoes of Paul Young’s ‘Come Back And Stay’ in the synths and the unguarded emotional quality of the song has been at the heart of the fascination, not to mention the vaguely discordant cut’n’paste DIY video. No wonder it was the song of 2011 for so many people.

Perhaps the best song on ‘Born To Die’ is ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, a charming song that marries hip hop beats to Nancy Sinatra, resulting in something both sophisticated and grown up. The inclusion of a tinkling jazz piano coupled with the hip hop beats and driving strings is brilliant, whereas the lyrics are simple but effective, detailing exploration and speculation in the early stages of a relationship, at the point when both participants wonder where it’s all going (‘Do you think we’ll be in love forever?’) while not really caring (‘Maybe I like this rollercoaster, maybe it keeps me high’).

An off-key note is struck by ‘National Anthem’ in which Del Rey brings on the bling to almost excessive degrees. This is a hip hop flavoured tale of rich kids getting off with each other, and its queasy mix of wealth, lust and chest-beating national pride could well lead to it becoming the soundtrack to innumerable frat parties at Ivy League universities. This is not a happy mental picture. ‘Dark Paradise’ on the other hand turns out to be the missing musical link between Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Runaway Horses’ and Florence + the Machine’s ‘Ceremonials’, a melding that is echoed later by ‘Summertime Sadness’ and which, in both cases, is very effective.

The deceptively radio-friendly sounding pop of ‘Radio’ belies its raison d’être. It could maybe have been a single, possibly for someone else, what with its saccharine post Timberland tune, but when contrasted with Del Rey’s faux simpering on lines like ‘Now my life is sweet like cinnamon, like a fucking dream on Ritalin’ it’s clear that something more complicated is going on. The song also features a reference to an early Del Rey song, ‘How Do You Like Me Now?’ which had as its premise ‘I slept with your boyfriend, how do you like me now?’ and was a sparse Nirvana influenced slice of self loathing. ‘Radio’ could be seen as telling the story of then to now, the story of how Lizzie Grant became Lana Del Rey, and, incidentally a two-fingered salute at the same time.

The dark film noir atmospherics of ‘Carmen’ have us right back in the ‘40s. A tale of a drink addled teenage Gilda, it’s so dark in tone that it seems to belong more to Rasputina circa ‘Thanks for the Ether’ than to Del Rey, and in this respect it’s perhaps the biggest surprise of the album. ‘Million Dollar Man’ on the other hand sounds as though she was running out of ideas, and while it isn’t bad it just isn’t quite up to standard. It sounds like she was aiming for Julie London at her least playful and most mournful, but not quite nailing it.

‘This is what makes us girls’ is an absolute gem though, and it’s something of a departure in that it tells a story in verbatim detail rather than in abstract terms, in this case, of teenage girls going off the rails. In theme it bears relation to the film ‘Thirteen’, in detail it is firmly Lana Del Rey: two parts precocious young woman, one part film noir.

In 2012 we are well into the era of pastiche, mash-ups, and derivative works. That Lana Del Rey has managed to put together such disparate influences as Nancy Sinatra, the sixties girl groups, hip hop, modern R’n’B, David Lynch, Raymond Chandler and old style Hollywood and make something that feels fresh and new is an achievement in itself. Lana Del Rey hasn’t been the first to take on Sinatra, Candie Payne, for one, has taken her as a muse, but what Lana Del Rey brings to the mix is a collage in cinemascope, a sort of vivid emotional stylised and stylish soap opera that is highly compelling.

Posted in Cazz Blase, Hip Hop, Pop | Leave a comment

Jesca Hoop – The House That Jack Built (Bella Union)

CB | It’s been three years since Jesca Hoop’s debut album Hunting My Dress and since 2009 much has happened to Hoop, both personally and professionally. The House That Jack Built is dedicated to Hoop’s father Jack Dennis Hoop, and with the exception of current single ‘Hospital (Win Your Love)’, a joyously catchy slice of sixties flavoured indie pop kitsch, the most personal songs are also the saddest ones.

While ‘Hospital’ is a general piece rooted in personal observation, which focuses on childhood and the associated social cache a broken arm can give an attention seeking child, songs such as ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘DNR’ are bleaker affairs. The former is poignant in its description of raking over the ashes of a parent’s life upon their death, and realising how little you know those who brought you into the world, whereas the latter deals specifically with Jack Hoop’s final days. That these tracks don’t overwhelm the album is testament to the subtleties of Hoop as a songwriter, her tone is descriptive and unflinching, but never melodramatic and this is complemented by the sparse folk melodies of the two songs.

It is on ‘Peacemaker’, a song inspired by the theatre of Ancient Rome, that it’s possible to hear how far Hoop has come as a songwriter since Hunting My Dress. This complex tale of war and the evils perpetuated by soldiers in warzones also includes an inner narrative in which a woman withholds sexual congress from her soldier partner, and details the ways in which women and children are so often the victims of rampages by an avenging military. Ambushes of the flesh are contrasted with ambushes of both physical and sexual violence, and the military imagery used to discuss this makes it clear that Hoop is thinking about modern day warfare as well as the ancient kind. It’s incredibly complex, layered and analytical, but it’s also powerful and highly compelling, not to mention both haunting and very listenable.

Opening track, and first single from the album, ‘Born To’ is perhaps one of the most musically complex tracks on the album in that it sounds at once like a typical slice of post millennium Mancunia as well as a much more lyrically elusive and enigmatic beast.

The second single from the album is the aforementioned ‘Hospital’, which is as catchy as anything from the Brill Building circa 1966 and is full of the bratty self righteousness of Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’. This is Hoop at her youngest, and ‘Pack Animal’ and ‘Ode to Banksy’ are characterised by a similar whimsical skittishness, providing the light to the shade of ‘DNR’, ‘Peacemaker’ and the dramatic ‘Deeper Devastation’.

Perhaps the two most surprising tracks from a purely musical perspective are the garage scowl that is ‘Dig This Record’, which may be kin to ‘Four Dreams’ in that it is a song about the love of music itself, but which seems to owe as much to the Stooges as to, perhaps, the Kinks. And album closer ‘When I’m Asleep’, a shamanic tour de force that deploys bhangra rhythms in a rock context while exploring the unconscious mind.

With its mixture of folk, rock, pathos and humour, not to mention its overall lyrical and musical sophistication, this is a strong contender for album of the year.

Posted in Cazz Blase, Indie, Pop | Leave a comment

Martin Brandlmayr, Werner Dafeldecker and Christian Fennesz – Till the old world’s blown up and a new one is created (m=minimal)

SH | The title displays a very now blend of apocalyptic and utopian sentiment. The entirely instrumental recordings then unfold unhurriedly across Part I and Part II, at eighteen and fifteen minutes respectively.

This has been tagged as the ‘rebirth of cool’ on the m=minimal website, something which was ‘originally’ re-declared in relation to a blend of hip hop and acid jazz. Perhaps if we track the kind of social which underpinned that, and the move to this, we might get some sense: ‘hot jazz’, which Rebirth of the Cool counter-intuitively encapsulated, was about emotion, 1990s exuberance, as well as a kind of distanced chic, but Jeff Nuttall wrote about ‘cool jazz’ in the late-60s as the alienated, distanciated realm of the addict living under the shadow of the cold war and the bomb. Well, maybe we had one ‘rebirth’ at the start of the 1990s and another in 2012, one a kind of hot-cool and this one marking a return to a kind of ‘cold’, albeit not quite the one Nuttall described. This said, the conditions under which he felt the pinch have not evaporated, far from it.

Spurious, outrageous, excessive historical claims aside, I only really need declare my undying love for Christian Fennesz here: The blasts of noise display both his aesthetic and the beauty of his craft. The opening of Part I is the sound of a mature artist, collaging with large slabs of his trade undaunted, like a painter with a trowel, overlaying the ground put in by his collaborators with sheer confidence. What sounds like live guitar eats itself livid, winks out of existence, then just as immediately spews itself back out of the void again. Sparse acoustic picking threads the whole thing together very loosely. If you have listened to Fennesz’s early tapeworm experiments, you will immediately know which parts are his. Just by uttering the word ‘Fennesz’s’, one begins to conjure his music, and here he is joined by Martin Brandlmyar and Werner Dafeldecker, the latter having played with David Sylvian. I am deeply disappointed to find that ‘Atmospheres 4′, Touch 30 at Beaconsfield, has sold out – Fennesz is playing. 

There are vibes, shufflings, a brief attack on the inside of a piano, but there is space, space created by knocking out huge holes in time, not clean holes of pure silence, but ragged holes, like the sudden gap where a wall should have been in a ruined landscape: Maybe my historical claims are not so spurious and excessive after all, maybe this work shadows a different kind of outrageous. 

Maybe this is the re-birth of the freeze.

Posted in Drone, Experimental, Jazz, Minimalism, Steve Hanson | Leave a comment

Schneider TM – Construction Sounds / Kreidler – Den / Camera – Radiate! (all Bureau B)

SH | Here are three recent releases of the post-krautrock type from the Bureau B label.

It is possible to identify a spectrum of innovation across them, and it goes: 1) Schneider TM’s album takes the sounds of gentrification, literally a working class district in Berlin being ‘prepared’ for privileged occupation, and makes art out of it. In this, it plugs into the industrial grid of the late 70s and early 80s, into Faust’s interest in the drill, the piledriver, and the Wümme toolshed is clearly referenced, as is Einstürzende Neubauten’s Kalte Sterne work, which is another old bridge along that regenerated line. But track titles such as ‘Container Redux’ mean this is contemporary and about music history, at the same time; 2) Kreidler’s album mixes heavy beat and motorik sounds in a lush almost funky monologue – Thomas Klein’s drumming is just exquisite – although the work as a whole is much less original than Schneider TM’s, much less about ideas and politics, but much more enjoyable, a place you might want to live, in fact, a CD which may end up in the flats of those moving to the Prenzlauer Berg which Schneider TM critique, a CD which may even arrive there via container shipping, and; 3) Camera are facsimilekraut, the problem, neither art nor life. This, in many ways, is odd, because Camera have played with Rother and Moebius, but perhaps feeling touched by the hand of innovation, they see little need to actually undertake it. ‘What is the difference?’ I felt the need to ask, ‘between this and a bad package tour of Merseybeat has-beens, recycling a once-new aesthetic which has now been entirely emptied of its significance?’

However, it is quite possible that others may want to simply invert this hierarchy of mine, and put it in reverse order. This would read, roughly: Camera = Fun, Kreidler = less fun and Schneider TM = no fun. In many ways I find this reading just as acceptable as my initial one.

The final analysis though, for me, is that I already know I’m going to listen to the Kreidler album all winter, and the others will stay silent forever, art or otherwise.

Posted in Krautrock, Steve Hanson, Triple deckers | 2 Comments