Jaga Jazzist, "A Livingroom Hush"
Jaga Jazzist are somewhat of a Norwegian supergroup: a ten-piece ensemble of several multi-instrumentalists including drums and percussion, guitar, bass, keyboards, horns, woodwinds and tuba, with members from Röyksopp, Motorpsycho, Jazzkammer and BigBang. They manage to beautifully combine both modern and progressive jazz with rock and electronic music for some awe-inspiring compositions. The disc's opener, "Animal Chin," is a busy blend of live drum 'n bass rhythms with long-lined Wurlitzer and sax ostinatos under some cool, multi-layered woodwind arrangements that sound like Roni Size jamming with Oliver Nelson. "Going Down" is driven by some busy, yet subtle jazzy drumming and low-end pedals while some doubled up sax and organ lines weave through angular acoustic guitar progressions and space age bachelor pad-type synth and flute flourishes. "Airborne" would be the tune that had me hitting the back button on several listens, not only for its inherent coolness but also for its multiple layers in which something new is heard each time. The tune opens as a tender ballad, with shimmering keyboards and a melodic bass clarinette, gradually building to a scratchy electronic rhythm with upright bass and flutes adding tension until it blasts off into a full-on orchestral climax, complete with wailing sax solo and stabbing strings. "Lithuania" moves from a laid back rhythm section, vibes, twangy guitar and several ongoing melodies from the horns and woodwinds to a kicking, double-time samba feel that lets the orchestration and arrangements really shine. This disc grabbed me right from the first listen with its strong compositions and unique sound and is yet to let go. The best comparison in its direction would be in line with what the Cinematic Orchestra are doing, but on a much broader and larger scale. That in mind, Ninja Tune (the Cinematics label) are set to release this disc which should make it a little easier to find, even with a different cover. With the year end fast approaching I'm glad to state that this disc has made my top ten. - Gord Fynes
Christian Kiefer, "Exodust"
A single piece spread across 14 tracks and nearly 67 minutes, this is a conceptual record based on the American dustbowl of the 1930s. It initially builds from a drone to a looping cycle of a simple rural guitar lick and primitive percussion, with eerie whistles and ghostly vocals weaving in and out. As the music progresses, the focus shifts among parts that eventually dissipate into the fog of something else, with a constant musical loop remaining relatively constant. As monotonous as that might sound, it's actually an interesting listen. Ranging from sparse arrangement to lush drones, there is a good variety here that defies categorization. I am somewhat reminded of Gavin Bryars' "Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet," another long record built on a constant loop. While I'd have to say that Bryars' record is better, "Exodust" is a good effort and has actually improved in repeated listenings. Kiefer should have left out the spoken samples, though - it's obvious they were put in to reinforce the sense of time/place, but I think they are superfluous and distracting. It's the kind of CD that's great to have on in the background- simultaneously relaxing and challenging. - Jesse Niemenen
curve, "the new adventures of"
It's no secret that the pop music world owes an apology to Curve. In the early 1990s, the group recorded some of the most incredible albumsfusing distorted guitars with throbbing, punchy, dancable beats, topped off with super sexy vocals and abstract lyrics. The production dream team of Flood and Alan Moulder resulted in a number of noteworthy singles and EPs (see the compilation, 'Pubic Fruit') as well as their first two albums, 'Doppleganger' and 'Cuckoo.' (Additional producers over the years have included Steve Osborne [Happy Mondays, New Order, Placebo, Suede] and Tim Simenon [Bomb the Bass].) Their music was praised by critics, adored by fans, respected by numerous notable musicians, and used for TV commercials and futuristic movie previews. Their formula was soon completely (and admittedly) stolen, dumbed down and mass-marketed as Garbage, which may or may not have contributed to the gap in time between albums. In 1997, the core duo of Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday resurfaced as Curve and haven't slowed down one bit. After a somewhat lukewarm release last year on Universal's Hip-O imprint, 'Gift,' 'The New Adventures of Curve' is almost completely DIY, recorded and mixed at home and available currently only through mail order. Once again paired with Alan Moulder, the album shows an evolution of Curve, branching out into more daring territories. On the opening track, "Answers," the duo more deftly expands on the deep sounds of the beat-saturated minimalism they tried on previous releases than 'Open Day at the Hate Fest' and Dean Garcia's Headcase albums. Electro ballads like "Signals and Alibis," and the hypnotic "Sinner," are never weak or flat, while the Garcia-sung rocking closer, "Joy," is truly a shock. (I'm still not quite sure whether I think it fits or not but it sure is fun.) Their signature guitar sound and quiet/loud style is neither gone nor forgotten, rearing its head on songs like the powerful, aggressive future-pop gem, "Till the Cows Come Home," and the slower paced, balls-out "Nice and Easy." I sincerely hope they can piece together a touring band and come back around. In the meantime, however, the band are working on a remix for a Gary Numan 25th anniversary compilation, according to their web site. - Jon Whitney
gary numan, "i, assassin" & "warriors"
Speaking of Gary Numan, Beggars Banquet completes their remaster/reissue project this month with the final two albums Numan released originally on Beggars back in the 1980s. Originally released in 1982, 'I, Assassin' continues on themes Numan began the previous year with his 'Dance' album. Fashionably, Numan was still dressing like a 1930s gangster (a makeover after he got sick of looking like a Star Wars extra), while musically, the rhythm section is easily mistakable for the lineup on the prior year's 'Dance,' which featured Japan's Mick Karn on bass and Queen's Roger Taylor on drums. While this top 10 UK album was preceeded by three UK top-twenty singles, "White Boys and Heroes," "Music for Chameleons," and "We Take Mystery To Bed," the most timeless songs have got to be the side two openers, "This is My House," with a simple yet hauntingly famous synth melody blanketing the fretless bass guitar mastery, driving drums and Numan's neurotic vocals, and the catchy title track. Perhaps it's because these are the only songs on the original eight-song album which are -not- littered with the electronic drum sound exploited for years by Prince and the Revolution (you'd know it if you heard it). Seven bonus tracks grace the reissue, including both early versions and B-sides.
For 1983's 'Warriors,' Numan underwent another image reconstruction, stealing both the outfit and the backdrop of Mad Max from 'The Road Warrior.' (Click here to judge for yourself!) Ironically enough, this album has got to have been his woosiest to date. The rhythmic drive from the powerful drums was erradicated: either lowered in the mix or completely removed in some cases. In addition, female vocals were added, guitars were reintroduced in the form of undeniable wishy washiness and saxophone was more prominent. Perhaps this was partially to blame on the production by Bill Nelson (A Flock of Seagulls, Be Bop Deluxe, David Sylvian), but even the lyrics reflected a young Numan (only 25 at the time) who was already jaded and cynical, now probably near the point of exhaustion after eight successful albums in the course of five years. On earlier albums, Numan would assume a fantasy persona, the subjects of the songs on 'Warriors' sound more like they're from a man who's been completely trapped, caged, and is not in control of his own world. This can be seen from some of the first few minutes of the album as the first words out of Gary's mouth are "I fall down, no control somehow, no help now, my favour slides." It's unsurprising that in his own life, he was going through a number of struggles and by the end of the year, he had severed ties with Beggars Banquet. Mastered from the original tapes, the reissue of this disc features all the B-sides from 1983, along with a single version of "Sister Surprise," and the full-length version of "Warriors," along with the previously unreleased, "Nameless and Forgotten," a fate he seemed to have been sealing with this record. - Jon Whitney
love and rockets, "love and rockets/swing"
Also out this past week from Beggars is their remaster/repackage/expanded version of Love and Rockets' eponymous fourth album. Thanks to the top ten smash "So Alive," this was their biggest selling record to date, but it was hardly a fave among fans. In all honesty, this was the first Love and Rockets record that I had to skip tracks because I disliked them so much. The album opens with the clumsy, bleeped out "**** (Jungle Law)" but then jumps into one of my favorite single tracks ever, the thumping beat-driven slick-riffed "No Big Deal." "Motorcycle"/"I Feel Speed" was the album's first single and is just a pair of amazing tunes: both with the same theme - the first being the metal-esque driving anthem, the second being a tripped out, drumless bit with nearly the same exact lyrics. Bonus tracks on the first disc are all the B-side tracks from the singles and the killer extended remix of "No Big Deal." The second disc is purely for the fans as it contains the long-talked about swinging EP, 'Swing,' which consists of five unreleased songs from an impromptu session. I fondly remember the lyrics of "Wake Up" as their encore at a concert in 1989 when the trio came out in drag singing, "It's a drag, drag, drag in the middle of a dream,..." and feel some sort of closure now that I have the recording and know what song this is! Disc 2 is completed by the inclusion of nearly all of the radio session from KCRW, two songs of which appeared on a promo 12" back in 1989, except it's missing my favorite line: after the band finishes "1,000 Watts of Your Love," the interviewer says, "wow, I've never heard that song," and Daniel Ash promptly responds with, "Nor have we!" - Jon Whitney
Victory at Sea, "The Good Night"
Victory at Sea are not a cheery band. The darkness and rain that seemed to possess them on their Kimchee LP 'Carousel' has not subsided, and it even feels like the storm is getting closer. Theirs is a traditional rock sound, with guitar, bass, and drums, that is often augmented by violin and keys. Singer/guitarist Mona Elliott is out for blood, shrieking and smoldering each song into your brain and veins. There seems to be no hope, no relenting, on the first three songs, as the poetic lyrics and solid sounds pummeled at my ears. Mona sings on "Canyon," "I say this place isn't big enough for the two of us," and I believe it. The punishment continues through "The Liar," and then, things seem to mellow out a little. "Old Harbor" and "Proper Time" are simple, slow, and beautiful. Here, Mona's voice is stretched out, warbling and breaking, like this is the way it's meant to be: "Get on with my life!" The power returns even in the slow pace, on "Sunny Days," one of the album's best tracks, with crunching guitar and low, thick bass. It's gorgeous as she reaches for the sky with her words, singing of clouds and rain. Following that are a few tracks with varied sound and arrangement. "A Song for Brian" features only guitar, bass, voice, and piano, so it's nothing new for this album ("Old Harbor" has a similar palette), but is still a pretty song. "The Bluebird of Happiness" sounds more like Denali (never a bad thing), and "Kelly's Landing" starts off as a rock tune and ends with children playing in the rain. "Firefly" closes the album with its "watch you die" ending, bringing the whole thing into perspective with its simple structure and sound. Victory at Sea are still growing, approaching that perfect release, and 'The Good Night' is just a narrow miss. - Rob Devlin
Tujiko Noriko, "Make Me Hard"
It would be easy to dismiss Tujiko Noriko as a token female artist on a male-dominated record label and scene. But while neither her latest Mego outing nor her previous full-length, 'Shojo Toshi' is likely to blow minds, this former waitress is certainly not without talent. Her whimsical, airy electronic compositions have a warmth and expressiveness that is unlike her label mates. Noriko's Japanese vocals waft over slow and steady beats on nearly all of the tracks. Some of the most effective tools in her arsenal this time around include scratchy record atmospherics, otherworldly piano sounds, and fluttering digital sounds, all of which are sophisticated and meticulously arranged. The songs, however, simply tiptoe all over the place, without a clear direction, without going far from their starting point. There's a better sense of togetherness of the songs that wasn't clear before. - Jessica Tibbits
Synapscape have long represented the sound of Ant-Zen, the rather prolific post-industrial German label that has achieved a remarkable level of popularity and respect worldwide since the late 90s. The first project to release a CD on the label, Synapscape managed to, (and continues to) contribute a great deal to the catalog with 5 full-length albums, a handful of singles and EPs, and countless productions from their many side-projects and related projects (Templegarden's, Ars Moriendi, Morgenstern). Here on their fifth release, the duo present a collection of unreleased and compilation-only tracks from 1994 through 2001. As with any CD of this kind, there's quite a bit of material here better left for the home studio vaults or the obscurity of a limited edition CD-R packed in a clamshell with barbed-wire, spraypainted silver, and hand-numbered. Beat-less dark ambient noisescapes are the ultimate cop-out for industrial acts everywhere, and I, for one, fast-forwarded through the ones on 'Raw'. I scanned for the club-friendly (a rather loose term when discussing this type of music) tracks, and was rewarded with the unintelligible vocals and filthy beats of "My Distance" and "Stop Yield." Other heavy rhythmic cuts include "Once Again You Die," and "Peter The Repeater," a remix for former Ars Moriendi bandmate Asche. While this mediocre collection will certainly not entice too many new fans, 'Raw' will definately find a place in the hearts of Synapscape fans still awaiting newer material (which, as it turns out, will include another collaboration with fellow power noise kingpin Imminent). Considering how much I enjoyed their last album ('Positive Pop'), I expect nothing but high quality lo-fidelity sounds to come. - Gary Suarez
Rivulets, "Thank You Reykjavik"
I just can't get enough of Nathan Amundson's Rivulets. While Amundson is a relatively new voicewith only one album and a handful of EPs, singles, and compilation appearanceshe always sounds like he knows the deal. He's known it all his life and now, finally, he's expressing his feelings on the matter. This EP on BlueSanct, recorded live on Icelandic National Radio (hence the title) features recordings of four songs from the Rivulets self-titled debut performed by Amundson alone. Where the recordings on the debut were stronger for their arrangements and recording, this is the true Rivulets. The songs work best with just acoustic guitar and voice, as pleading and desperate as possible. It's funny, but they're more expressive this way, where Amundson can show off his most raw and emotional baggage. Where his solitary contributions on other releases have been sketchy, mainly due to weaknesses in the vocals department, he's more assured here, like he's finally protected by that blanket again and no one can touch him now. The lyrics on "Four Weeks" are even more appropriate, with the "desperate" refrain, so much that it seems Amundson is singing them out to anyone who will listen to join him, just so he won't feel so alone. The fragility of his voice on "How, Who?" and "Stead" is especially touching, even when he falters a bit. In fact, especially when he falters, showing us his weakness again. This EP works well for cold season, as it's clearly the most appropriate time. - Rob Devlin
"Tryptaphonic Mind Explosion"
We are living in a golden age for mind-expanding, foundation-rumbling psych chaos, as evidenced by this particular slice of aluminum. In spite of coming from all corners of the globe, all 12 participants here have obviously been huffing the same UFO vapors. Robot vs. Rabbit lumbers through a buzzing, Earth-like dirge. In perhaps the weirdest piece on the disc, Interferents wring out some insane toy vocals over a hallucinatory jam. Pine Tree State Mind Control exhume the corpse of early Chrome and turn it into a conveyer belt. Escapade's loose, sprawling improv whips up a fresh black hole. Sure to make this comp a bestseller, the ubiquitous Acid Mothers Temple crash land the mother ship into heavy metal histrionics. Reynols' shamanic drone prayer makes early Amon Duul seem coherent and tight (that's a compliment, by the way). Finnish band Circle finish things off by returning us to more familiar krautrockish territories, somewhat reminiscent of the live Can stuff released a few years back. What makes this comp so great is the heavy layer of outer space that all of this music travels through before it reaches your ears. No duds to be found here. This music is unhitched, but not at all inept. They know where they are taking you. Like the liner notes say: "The path of pure psychedelic noise awaits you." - Jesse Niemenen
The Grey Wolves, "Blood And Sand"
This is a reworked reissue of an early 90's tape which came out of a collaboration between
The Grey Wolves and Shockcity as a comment on the Gulf War. In these times, where a second one seems not very far away (depending on the daily news), it sounds astonishingly fresh and timely. There is a certain bleakness in these two lengthy pieces. ("Desert Storm" is slightly over 30 minutes long while "Gulf Breeze" is over 26 minutes.) There's a certain Rough Trade-era Cabaret Voltaire quality about the songs, not particularly in the music itself, but in the emotional landscape explored. The theme of war is clear, as is the breakdown of communication. The Grey Wolves do this with delays, electronic distortion, distant ramblings, hypnotic loops, and echoes. Samples are clearly identifiable as vocals but only fragments are understandable.
Absent are overused "aesthetic/artistic" shock tactics but the Grey Wolves clearly point out with this atmospheric work that we are nothing more than passive watchers from an armchair in (assumably) a safe distance. It's a subtly packaged critique which is an enjoyable listen at it's own terms. It both leaves me in thoughts and creates the space for it. - carsten s.
Drew Isleib, "Sounds Through the Wall"
Ernest Jenning Recording Co.
Drew Isleib is a singer-songwriter in the very traditional style who uses occasional untraditional (read: electronic) elements to bring his sound across. Recorded entirely by Isleib in his makeshift portable studio, his debut is chock-full of good songs, from the downtrodden album opener to the fun-loving jangly pop of "Orion." Isleib plays all of the instruments on these songs, and it is the true mark of the troubadour that he uses whatever he needs to get the song across. Programmed drums, guitar, electric piano, what have you; Isleib plays it with modest skill and intent. He's been billed as the guy who used to show up at your high school and college parties with an acoustic and start playing songs to anyone who would care, only better. I wish I could have had Drew at my parties, because these songs are meant to be heard by that crowd. There is a slight preoccupation with alcohol on this release (appropriate for high school and college parties), and enough variation that it would serve as a good mix. But I was particularly impressed with Isleib's voice and how expressive it is. Different songs feature a different voice, as his delivery changes appropriately to suit the song. It's a rare trait, as many vocalists get stuck in the rut of writing music to match the voice. And even if the sound strays from the traditional sounds of acoustic guitar and mild percussion, the voice still fits. Isleib even tours the country playing at people's houses on their couches. It's ultimately the way music this familiar is meant to be heard. So kick back, check out the samples, and relax. Cause Drew ain't goin' anywhere just yet. - Rob Devlin
Fat Jon The Ample Soul Physician, "Wave Motion"
Mush Records is churning out independent, largely instrumental hip hop records as if there was an urgent and fevered demand for crate after crate of lo-fi rare grooves distilled into abstract hip hop. While you can make the argument that instrumental hip hop is picking up the DIY torch that punks set down years ago, the unfortunate result is that the mass catalog of self-produced titles available offers the prospective listener with an impossibly broad range of records to weed through. Fat Jon The Ample Soul Physician has thrown his beats into the mix with 'Wave Motion,' a largely uninspiring nodder that pushes all the right hip hop buttons but fails to ignite anything. The low-fidelity sound of tracks like "Watch Out" undermines the essential groove that Fat Jon is trying to create by drowning the sampled beats and lazy jazz riffs in what sounds like a demo-quality mix. There is good distortion and there is bad distortion, and the muddied kick drums and muffled bass here are definitely the latter. I don't know if there's an overriding feeling in the abstract hip hop community that if a track is too polished, that it isn't 'real,' but most of these tracks fail to inspire anything other than a simple tap of the foot. More careful attention to the knobs during the mix wouldn't save everything on 'Wave Motion,' however. Similar releases by instrumental heavyweights like DJ Vadim and DJ Krush demonstrate that instrumental hip hop can be expressive sans vocals, and other releases on Mush live up to that standard, but 'Wave Motion' has a way to go. This is the perfect soundtrack to your neighborhood's trendy coffee house, but it doesn't offer much more than a beat to sip your drinks by. - Matthew Jeanes
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