Holger Czukay vs. Dr. Walker: Clash (Tone Casualties) Basically, the editing of spontaneity marks the separating point of the new way of making music from the old, and Clash’s shaped explosions of freestyle electronics and beats are absolutely state of the art; each and every note counts, as in the greatest symphony. Ho and Doc make Gagaku pipes collide with rhythmic dogs, discover sampled kinships between Tibetan monks, Hollywood actors and sub-bass frequencies. And when it’s none of the above, it’s exhilarating: Ho’s shortwave radio and Dictaphone-sampler make for the subtlest, most intuitive multiplicity, hairy peaks of sound triggering memories of a lifetime yet to be experienced. The continuous juxtaposition is profound within goofy, music-as-religion proselytizing humor as the greatest wisdom. Alternately cinematic, oblique and hubristic, this music celebrates not metaphor but the energy of the thing (life, music) itself.
Rhys Chatham, Jonathan Kane, DJ Elated System: Septile EP (N Tone/Ninja Tune) Three moderns, live in Italy. Chatham’s low-key, mute trumpet, Elated’s ambiguous drones and turntables, and Kane’s machine drums shape a “Domestik Life,” and a “Septile,” the interaction of harmonizer-delay trumpet with jungly-rapid sequenced rhythms — not “pretty,” very interesting. On another cut, slabs of sound from drum ’n’ bass
setups plus an exciting theme-melody on doubled trumpet = action. “Rotate,” conventional funky-tribal drums, parade horns (harmonizer), turntable samples (“Wizard of Oz”) = cultural comment of sorts. They deal in spaciality mixes, too, while abstraction reigns in their painterly splatters and rhythms. Not entirely fathomless, and soothing somehow.
Bruford, Levin: Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (Papa Bear) Here’s a warmly sculptural approach, with the ferocious interplay of drummer Bill Bruford, bassist and Stick man Tony Levin, guitarist David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti. Neither prog nor jazz, just four grown men looking for something new, and finding it in metrical devilishness, guitar as hair shirt and low-end ecstasy via bass and Drumbass (built from a huge drum — orgasmic resonations). It is indeed a kind of brainy machismo, but more than cock-of-the-walk: sheer joy in creation.
Add N to X: On the Wires of Our Nerves (Satellite) True wit mixed with true incompetence can produce great music, as we saw with the first Roxy Music album — you know, purposefully off, and anyway it couldn’t be helped. Here we have electronics in the creaky analog-synth sense, actually hard to take on headphones for the purity of the oscillations. But these jokey clanks and roboticisms revel in thrillingly perverse matchings of real (jazz) drums with Dr. Who sample & hold effects; note the classic bad-taste cover, surgical category. The music only makes reference to rhythm, like blues-rock swagger with electronics and cyborg-voice on one cut. Endearing; they do things that just aren’t done.
Kerosene: Teenage Secret (Caipirinha) Did I mention electronica? German kids like this one dig theirs as much as funky jazz and aerified Euro strings. They bury lyrics in digital mutilation, and hear new sonorities in mismatched samples — bypassing players’ instinctive musical biases is where it’s at. Eccentric, broken-wheel beat-loops anarchy, often too much jazzy-swing wankishness, cliché mysterious piano tinkling and brush beats, or hyperspeed drum rolls. So, each cut goes on way past its welcome, but none of it fits any style or camp because: It’s accidentally adventurous. In 1998, it has to be this way.
Hughscore: Highspotparadox (Tim/Kerr) Former Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, with e-bassist Fred Chalenor and accordion-vocals-piano from Elaine di Falco; Wayne Horvitz, Pigpen’s brain, produced, engineered and plays ring-modulator keyboards on one cut, as he likes to do sometimes. Hopper’s fuzz-bass-into-Lowrey-rinkydink-overdrive-organ sound is abundant, hallelujah, in these so quirky-but-cool songs laid out like mazes. All spiky-smooth, easy dissonance — the mellow Rhodes makes it easy on the ear; swingin’ art-drums, no defensive big “jazz” soloing; it’s jazz-informed, you could say, but broader harmonically (more Euro), emphasis on interplay and unison lines of succinct parts. Sentimental though good-humored, inquisitive, disciplined music — very satisfying. Hear also Pigpen’s Daylight.
Armstrong: The Space
Between Us (Melankolic) Scottish,
ex-Texas (the band), he did the string arrangements for Massive Attack’s Protection, wrote the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo and Juliet (and wrecked it, as film composers usually do). These lush orchestral pieces, with some electronic programming, are all about emotions, passions; he wanted high art, but pop-informed art. As usual, it doesn’t quite take — simple harmonies played by orchestras invariably come off simplistic, and melodramatic, like the background music for Marcus Welby, M.D. It’s plenty lovely, just not
that original; his emotional monochromes veer from portentous to sad and back again. Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins guests, as does Paul Buchanan of Blue Nile. They are “soulful.” The New Wistfulness — [sigh].
Sonic Youth/Jim O’Rourke: “Invito al Cielo”/”Hungara Vivo”/”Radio-Amatoroj” (SYR) The N.Y. beat combo has recently discovered that it was a new-music ensemble all along, so it’s back into sound for its own sake. Along with guest Gastr del Sol man O’Rourke, they make with the fuzz and distortion, tapes, radio, delays, trumpet toots, cheapo electronics, jamming things into strings of re-tuned guitars, tumbling oblique caveman drums. These are long improvs, intuitive and not about grooves, more juxtapositions of scrap-sounds, with terrible singing by Kim Gordon on the first cut, flat on purpose I guess. Discontinuity, ’cept for the flow of feedback, amp hum and general clank, scritch and whir. Thumps, mallets, distant guitar sobs can feel ghostly, blurry black and white, like the unconscious. Emotion? Tiny, hyperlinear, unrecognizable bits of it rub against others, especially in quieter moments. An invitation is extended.
Uzeda: Different Section Wires (Touch and Go) Sicilian four-piece, bassdrums guitarvoice, not rock, exactly, more harsh free expression. Limited color palette, splayed open in jagged rhythms, splintery guitar typhoons. Menace thru economy. Giovanna, the singer, is all screech and determined catharsis; the band is Gang of Four–ish — disciplined, dissonant barbed-wire caterwaul. Steve Albini produced it, and he is an absolutely boring producer, so it’s redundant, yet it will clean you out.
Dimitri From Paris: Sacrebleu (Atlantic) and Air: Moon
Direct/Caroline) There will always be French people and their love of color. Dimitri is kitsch-into-beauty, movie samples, pseudo spy-surf themes, a Bacharach cover, clichés of Frenchness (“Une Very Stylish Fille”), set to supremely well-crafted house/electro/cocktail jazz grooves. Sounds good because his jokes don’t swamp the ambrosial niceness. Funny, funky and pretty all at once, très uplifting. Air: Versailles duo offers a structured approach to electro (they play their instruments, don’t sample), have strong songs with haunting, moving themes. A bit of who-cares Francophilia: Air’s hit “Sexy Boy” turns Magma’s “Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh” evilness riff inside-out and makes it jaunty. Elsewhere, multiple references to Canterbury bands (Caravan, Hatfields, Softs) and, lest we forget, the British duo Ultramarine, in tersely arranged film-pop of shrewd economy and harmonic flair. Pretty stuff like this shows the guilty link between “important” music and our collective MOR memories; it pulls away the mask.
Marilyn Crispell, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian: Nothing Ever Was, Anyway. Music of Annette Peacock (ECM) Annette Peacock was and presumably is the gifted songwriter-lyricist who made two lovely and piquant jazz-rock-pop
albums in the mid-’70s and then disappeared into the ether. Her words and voice were nocturnal sighs and cool feminist proclamations (“I’m a woman/my destiny is not to serve/my destiny is to create”). Her songs are
ideal vehicles for the crisp, modern
piano lines of Marilyn Crispell, ex-husband Gary Peacock’s fluent double-bass and drummer Paul Motian’s imagistic blasts. Great loads of speedy jazz skronk and tweedle, but mainly lots of dolorous space, pedal tones like wisps of something bittersweet, and smoldering.
Annette sing-talks on “Dreams (If Time Weren’t),” for you and only you.
Electric Company: Studio City (Supreme/Island) Brad Laner is a one-man “electronic” band (with a coupla friends on guitar and keyboards), though he has good reasons for non-aligning with any techno, etc. camps — I don’t think he gives a toss about making people dance. While he’s using new tools similar to the drum ’n’ bass herd (interlaced sequences, intuitive self-sampling, implied beats, blah blah), savor his peerless ears for an actually different set of sounds. His are jarring combinations, distant-relative filters of electric screech and howl and yap, nervous-breakdown rhythms, big bowls of bass woolly, tearing cracks for terrifying beauty (not cloying) to surge through. It never reeks Art, but that’s what it is. Fantastic.
Los Amigos Invisibles: The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera (Luaka Bop) Funky cheese whipped out by six wise guys in white shirts and shades. Func en español: Kool and the Gang rides again, add congas and chicken-fat Hammond comps. Several choice disco au internationale cuts, very nice harmony vocals. Pat Metheny, Wes
Montgomery, Club 54 and scratchy
hip-hop all get reconciled, so Los Amigos must be the new
Attileo Mineo: Man in Space With Sounds (Subliminal Sounds) “As you listen to this album you are quietly lifted into . . . Sounds of Space.” Ayy-men. Exceptionally outasite kitsch: Mineo composed this music for the Bubbleator in Washington state’s “World of Tomorrow” exhibit at the 1962 World’s Fair. Eerie strings saw, vibes intone, bells chime, electronic boxes burp esoteric burps, in evocative mono. Your narrator explains how modern inventions will make life in the future much, much easier . . .
Une Very Stylish Musique:
Aube: Pages From the Book (E + J)
Big Muff: Music From the Aural Exciter (Snapt)
Boodlers: Counter Fit (Tim/Kerr)
Buckfunk 3000: First Class Ticket to
Telos (Crammed Discs)
The Four Blazes: Mary Jo (Delmark)
Freaky Chakra: Blacklight Fantasy
Hayley Mills: Let’s Get Together With Hayley Mills (Buena Vista)
Kismet: Wake Up Gods (Tone Casualties)
Little Caesar and the Romans: Toga! Toga! Toga! (Del-Fi)
Nels Cline & Devin Sarno: Rise Pumpkin Rise LP (Volvolo)
Sapho Chante Oum Kalsoum: El Atlal (Gorgone)
Solex: Solex vs. the Hitmeister (Matador)
Tube (Frank Heiss): Alive (Liquid Sky)
Ulf Langheinrich: Degrees of Amnesia (Sombient/Asphodel)
Various Artists: Ruckus Juice & Chitlins — The Great Jug Bands (Yazoo)
Various Artists: Secret Broadcast —
Pirate Radio USA (Pander Bros.)