TORTOISE, "IT'S ALL AROUND YOU"
Tortoise are the undisputed heavyweights of that hopelessly overpopulated field of instrumental music dubbed post-rock. After virtually christening the genre with their 1994 debut, then pushing out the boundaries with the superlative Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise seem somewhat content to rest on their laurels. Their new effort, It's All Around You, the band's first full-length album since 2001's Standards, shows the band attempting new strategies, and falling back on old reliable techniques. Following a similar blueprint to Standards, this new album is yet another step back from the techno and dub influences that saturated Millions and TNT; most digital processing has been concealed in favor of stressing the typically harmonious group dynamic. The deliciously over-mic'd drums, distorted keyboards and fuzzy guitars of Standards have been carried over into this album. As ever, producer John McEntire is extraordinarily proficient in his ability to turn what amounts to high-concept elevator music into alchemical gold. If Krautrock, dub and IDM influences flavored their past efforts, the primary inspiration on It's All Around You appears to be film music. Many of these tracks have an epic, cinematic sweep redolent of film composers like Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota. "Crest" swells and subsides along with emotive string arrangements, with squalls of anthemic guitar punctuating each passage, like Hendrix jamming along to a soap opera soundtrack. The album maintains a consistent MOR sunshine-pop vibe, with a sparkling atmosphere of heroism and patriotic grandeur. The sampled chorus of breathy "aahs" on "The Lithium Stiffs" recalls the atmospheric light-rock of 10CC's "I'm Not in Love," not exactly a popular reference point for cutting-edge indie rock. Much care has been taken in sequencing these songs, with the first half of the album threaded together into a continuous narrative. "Stretch (You Are All Right)" is pure Tortoise-by-numbers, with its point-counterpoint conversation between vibraphones and guitar. The songs on this album seem more composed than ever before, excising the elements of chance and improvisation almost entirely. This results in an album that at times feels a bit calculated and over-composed, the same problems that have plagued recent efforts by Stereolab. However, with musicians as talented as Tortoise, even an effortlessly tossed-off record like this one can prove to be quite engaging. Although the album loses much of its momentum in its last half, "Salt the Skies" reconnects with the themes from the opening song suite and serves as a fittingly bombastic conclusion. There is no doubt whatever that Tortoise are an immensely gifted group of musicians, and it seems a shame to complain that an album as lovely and accomplished as It's All Around You seems phoned in, so I'm not going to. I'm just going to shut up and listen to it. - Jonathan Dean
mÚm, "summer make good"
The howling winds which open MíQ's third full-length record are ominously foreshadowing of what lies within. The group, now down to a core trio, have moved even further away from their first releases of pretty prancing techno fairies sprinkling happy dust over the morning dew, delving into deeper exploration of a more sad beauty that doesn't come without a sting. It's like admiring the beauty of the blue sky and bright sunlight after drowning, sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The first real song, for example, even aches of sadness with the title alone, "Weeping Rock, Rock," and with an arsenal of instruments, the sound swells to a thick heaviness the group only let bleed through occasionally on 2002's Finally We Are No One. In the studio this time are live drums and percussion, guitar and banjo, mandolin, accordion, organ, horns, strings, and plenty of unidentifiable objects while the digital glitchery has been reduced to a bare minimum, used only ever subtly for effect. Taking center stage is the even more matured, bold choices the group is taking with song structure and production. Whispery vocals are brought to the foreground, allowing for every imperfection to be audible. Imperfection is, after all, what makes humans distinct from each other. The album's first single, "Nightly Cares," should be an indication for those lucky enough to find it, as it moves slowly, with doubled vocals and airbrushed drums and a muted trumpet that reminds me Mark Hollis is overdue for a second solo album. Fans of the first releases should be warned: MíQ have created a record which is almost completely void of predictable pop ditties that make for crossover radio hits, despite vocals appearing on nearly every song. Perhaps the group has taken some influence from the uprising in bands to challenge the almighty pop structure. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries, MíQ have effectively balanced that stretch for originality with a listen that's equally as captivating. Often times, things seem almost alien in nature, with bleak reality distortions that could even give Matt Elliott the shivers. MíQ have succeeded in making an album that's very shy at first, unassuming and timid. But, with a growing curiosity and openness from the listener, bit by bit, more gets revealed, and I'm still learning. Those who appreciate a nice package might want to hold off this week as some limited edition version in a book is due out but delayed due to manufacturing issues of some kind. - Jon Whitney
Bruno Nicolai, "Perche Quelle Strane Gocce di Sangue sul Corpo di Jennifer?" and "Il Tuo Vizio E una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io Ne Ho la Chiave"
A small Italian record label has answered the prayers of eurocult film and soundtrack fans everywhere. As part of their new series "Bruno Nicolai in Giallo," Digitmovies has just released the scores to two obscure 1972 thrillers bearing the unwieldy titles of Perche Quelle Strane Gocce di Sangue sul Corpo di Jennifer? (What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer's Body) and Il Tuo Vizio E una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io Ne Ho la Chiave (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key). Composer Bruno Nicolai's career has often been overshadowed by fellow countryman Ennio Morricone, for whose scores Nicolai often served as conductor, but slowly his own extensive body of film music is beginning to see the light of day decades later. These two discs mark the first release ever of this music apart from the films, are digitally remastered, and both contain extra material from the recording sessions that were ultimately unused.
The plot of Perche Quelle Strane ... involves a cheesecake photo model in a swingin' Italian metropolis who becomes the target of a mysterious serial murderer. Nicolai's effervescent theme is perhaps among the most catchy tunes of his repetoire, bouncing its way through scenes of sexy photo shoots and flirtatious rendezvous. From there, the mood changes to outright congo-driven exotica for a strip-show-turned-wresting-match, but moves swiftly on to rapidly pulsating strings and funky base as the bodycount begins to build. Nicolai adds creative flourishes to the mix like a soulful violin solo which ties in excellently with the plot twists within the film.
Il Tuo Vizio, composed for a very liberal film adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Black Cat," is accordingly somber and sinister, with more of a classical influence than Perche Quelle Strane. Its themes alternate between two slow movements using harpsicord and oboe with hints of harp and a multitude of strings, and create a mood that is haunting and seductive. There are, of course, energetic bursts when the tension is heightened. The results are beautiful, chilling, and often romantic. The pieces at times sound as if they could have influenced Angelo Badalamenti's score for Blue Velvet or In The Nursery's delicate orchestrations. Because each of the releases are based on one or two primary themes, listening to each as a whole feel repetitive on an initial listen. But once carried away, it's hardly noticable. Not only that, but it's entirely possible you'll be humming them in your head for days afterwards.
- Jessica Tibbits
GYS, "Art D'Echo"
Connecticut's Component Records is known for its releases from post-industrial acts like Somatic Responses, Dryft, and Codec, among others. Yet many fans of the label's output will undoubtedly be surprised by the dramatically different feel of New England's GYS. His debut album 'Art D'Echo', released in collaboration with the more techno-minded Zero G Sounds label, finds Component embarking into brave new terrain previously mined by Basic Channel and Force Inc., as well as the current king Kompakt. I for one consider it a great move on the part of both labels to have signed GYS, an artist whom I have known, performed alongside, and supported since my college radio days. From cold minimal clickhouse to more ambient techno adventures, GYS slathers his tasty tracks with creamy slabs of dub, chock full of spacey echoes and aquatic delays. Comparisons to some Drexciyan output are easily justified, as tracks like "Den" and "Listening To Yourself" sound as if recorded in underwater caves, submerged drums pressuring the ears. Opening cut "Beep" could fit comfortably among the tracks in the 'Total' compilation series, with sharp snares and buried basslines contributing to its easygoing dancefloor groove. "Pike" comes with a more clinical style than its companions, while "Lon" allows its pleasing synthesized textures to float to the surface with a prominence unlike the rest. Still, "Tried" stands out as the highlight here, with echo chamber melodies and muted rhythms merging with one another for a beautiful result worth drowning for. Remixes from Twine, Phil Western (aka Philth of Download fame), and Substance complement GYS's originals, fusing their own respective stylistic nuances with his. 'Art D'Echo' is the type of quality release that one expects from a Cologne maestro, and fans of Kompakt, Perlon, and similar labels would be doing themselves a disservice not to pick up this remarkable first album from a fresh new talent. - Gary Suarez
JUNIOR BOYS, "LAST EXIT"
Ten tracks of soulful, sophisticated synthpop by a Canadian trio with the cleverly unassuming name of Junior Boys might well be exactly what the world needs now. Recent attempts at reviving the urbane electropop of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and The Human Leagueby Erlend Øye, The Postal Service, and even The Human League themselveshave been halfhearted and largely uninspired. In their painstaking efforts to recreate the sparkling synthetic tones, drum machine rhythms and detached vocal style of 80's new wave, they seem to have completely forgotten about the qualities of innovation, creativity and originality which were the original watchwords of the new wave. Luckily, Junior Boys have not repeated these mistakes. Understanding the importance of the word "new" in the term "new wave," their Birthday and High Come Down EPs were beautifully crafted works of startling freshness, merging the romantic, cultivated elegance of David Sylvian's Japan with the jiggy, imaginative beat constructions of Timbaland. Now comes their full-length album on KIN Records, combining both EPs and adding a few new tracks. Pop music hasn't sounded this inventive and accomplished since New Order released Power, Corruption and Lies. I'm not exaggerating; I've had this record on constant rotation since I received it, and it continues to reveal new charms and ingenious dimensions with each listen. As I write this, I'm listening to "High Come Down," a stuttering, off-kilter beat with staccato bass hits and high-end synth flutters. Jeremy Greenspan wraps his soulful, androgynous voice around a sad, fragile lyric that recalls the finest by Marc Almond or Dave Gahan. Junior Boys appreciate the value of silence and space, and they keep their songs refreshingly unadorned by extraneous composition, analogous perhaps to European MicroHouse artists but without the same annoyingly rigorous asceticism. There are subtle sonic flourishes that seep into the music almost subliminally - a rattling dub echo or a synthesized chorus that underscores each breathy vocal refrain. Of the ten tracks on Last Exit, about half are pure pop genius, and the others aren't too shabby either. "Under the Sun" is a song that I keep returning to, a hypnotic seven-minute synthscape with one line repeated like a mantra: "You're the sweet one/The sweet one under the sun." This is repeated, trance-like, over a dark, Moroder-esque disco groove that slowly unfolds to reveal a bright vista of clouds and sun. Junior Boys have created an impressive debut album that goes on my shelf right next to Violator, Dare, and Architecture and Morality. - Jonathan Dean
"fabric 13: michael mayer"
I'm not usually one to buy DJ Kicks or DJ mix records but when I saw this collection from the Kompakt label boss sitting in the used bin, I couldn't refuse. Usually, these collections are from artists, who, more often than expected, have pretty poor taste in music and rarely acknowledge any of their contemporaries. It often results in a comp which is of friends and buddies and doesn't hold together nicely as a unit. Meyer, on the other hand, being the head of a label I adore, is an interesting pick, as with his picks, he might choose a bunch of stuff he likes but wouldn't find a place for on his label. It is a proverbial (nearly) continuous mix with the definitions of the songs mildly unclear, and a lot sound like they could come close to appearing on a Total compilation, with smooth rhythms and deep sounds, but a number of acts threw me a welcomed curve ball. "Oldschool, Baby," by WestBam and Nena are the first of these curve balls, as I've never cared much for WestBam and I'm scratching my head wondering if this is the same "99 LuftBalloons" chick. (But that's more of a curiosity than much else.) After it's over, the theme returns to the staccato beats of Richard Davis through his "In the Air" track. Through more languid beats and a couple break downs the collection moves like a train passing through different landscapes and countries, maintaining a constant motion without stopping. It seems that on journeys like this, certain familiar things seem to make their presence known, like the sequencing 303 on "Killerteppich" by Robag Wruhme and Wighnomy Brothers, and the sprinkling of Kompakt acts like Superpitcher and Magnet. (Get your cameras ready.) All bets are off, however, when the train makes a second round througvh Thomas Schaeben. The track "Really Real," done with Geiger Ft Schad Privat. The beat changes completely, as the previous track fades out, this fades in and Germans funk out completely to a story about a friend addicted to accident black spots. Words of the steering wheel and cold steel makes me think it's a tribute to the book or film Crash and/or "Warm Leatherette" by The Normal. The cowbell and bass are enough to make me want to seek out more from this Schaeben guy. What follows are more tracks that follow in a funk-influenced style, with more authentic sounding drums and vibrant basslines, and the disc doesn't return to the deep techno sounds that populated the opening. If these compilation albums are here to serve as an introduction to some unfamiliar acts, the prices should be far lower. At a used price, I'd say a mix like this is well worth it, but I am jaded enough to think they're not much more than a fancy packaged sampler. - Jon Whitney
RAMMELLZEE, "BI-CONICALS OF THE RAMMELLZEE"
Rammellzee was among the original NYC subway bombers, not only an important graffiti artist, but a key figure in the downtown scene that gave birth to the five elements of HipHop culture. With Jean-Michel Basquiat as producer, he created one of early HipHop's monumental achievements: the ten minutes of "Beat Bop," with Rammellzee adopting his "Gangsta Duck" vocal style, trading elaborate linguistic puns and complex rhymes with fellow urban wordsmith K. Rob over a hypnotic avant groove constructed from minimal violin and guitar. "Beat Bop" was an unparalleled classic of the original cultural zeitgeist of HipHop, so its strange that Rammellzee has only now, nearly 25 years after recording "Beat Bop," released his first full-length LP. The intervening decades of obscurity have apparently provoked Rammellzee to travel further down his own idiosyncratic wormhole, combining his Gothic Futurist philosophies with baroque linguistics, bizarre humor and a clear penchant for the "black folks in space" imagery of electro-funketeers like P-Funk, Afrika Bambaataa and The Jonzun Crew. Legions of critics and old-school HipHop enthusiasts have been heaping pre-release praise on Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee, hailing it as a ingenious comeback by an influential artist. Unfortunately, the quality of the music on the record just doesn't warrant this kind of enthusiasm. In fact, the album seems weirdly disengaged, a series of turgid, verbose monologues in search of a hook. Instead of hooks, producers Death Comet Crew and Munk provide a series of retrofitted electro tracks that aimlessly wander through "Planet Rock" clichés and never find their footing, with sudden mid-track tempo changes and arrhythmic laptop edits that don't help. Rammellzee's growls are processed and vocodered for the most of the album, which seems a poor choice for such a talented linguist. The messy aggro beat constructions constantly overwhelm the rhymes, which never fully integrate with the music. That's not to say that this album is completely without merit. I enjoyed the too-brief "Pay the Rent," a standout track featuring Rammellzee's old colleague Shockdell, the one instance on Bi-Conicals where producer and MC appear to be listening to each other. The liner notes are also fun, containing Rammellzee's eccentric metaphysical exegesis in the form of a fold-out, Paul Laffoley-style diagram explicating the connection between the human reproductive system and the cosmos. Unfortunately, a definitive album-length musical distillation of Rammellzee's peculiar genius has yet to be released. Perhaps if I wait another 25 years, my patience will be rewarded, but that's wishful thinking. - Jonathan Dean
the clientele, "ariadne ep"
Somebody was right when they thought, "you know, we're really going to piss some fans off with this one." I don't mind so much the two piano-only bits which hint at a person taking a collegiate level composition course, but the songs that have been the Clientele's strength for years are nearly completely absent. The new EP on Spain's Acuarela label is inspired by the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and could have been either left in the group's archives or filtered in to a future album. As a standalone EP, however, it's completely avoidable. The first real song, "Summer Crowds in Europe," is way too short and instrumental. It's the pretty fanfare Clientele are good at with a resonant guitar leading a talented bassline and steady drum. However, the EP's middle piece can be completely thrown away. I have listened to a number of drones in my lifetime and will occasionally love them, but "The Sea Inside a Shell" completely sucks beyond belief. It's somebody sitting at an organ for 8½ minutes, adding one note at a time until the thing's a complete unlistenable mess. (God my ears hurt more than the new Pan Sonic record at only three minutes into the track!) This could be the longest 8.5 minute track known to man. (Only once have I made it through without skipping the track.) The second piano bit follows and finally, at last (and after what seems too long), the group emerge with their only vocal track, "Impossible," which could easily make their next album great. The price of admission for this EP isn't worth it, however. - Jon Whitney
throbbing gristle, "mutant tg"
Sure, Mute are trying to muster up enough support for Throbbing Gristle for the festival at Camber Sands or to buy those expensive boxed sets, but is this the answer? Mutant is a pointless collection of people who generally bore me to tears like Carl Craig, who's version of "Hot on the Heels of Love" does nearly nothing to the original other than loop a couple parts for an endlessly drawn out house tune which goes nowhere. Two Lone Swordsmen don't really remix "United" but do a lame ass cover which is equally as boring as Carl Craig, but, well, completely nauseating too. There have already been three full-length albums of TG cover tunes: Entertainment Through Pain on RRRecords, We Hate You CD+7" on the Norwegian Jazzassin label, and In-Formation on Attention Defecit Recordings (later issued by Invisible); and all three got the point: they're all entertaining while being completely painful. As for the remixers collected here: Simon Ratcliffe: crap; Hedonastik: crap; Motor: crap! Carter-Tutti: didn't they already remix/reinterpret TG on the EAR releases a couple years ago as Chris and Cosey? I actually liked those versions. The second Carl Craig mix comes around and opens with a little bit of promise, but it seems the only thing he discovered in this version is the echo/reverb unit and panning. Maybe I'm completely wrong, but I don't think TG was about homogenization on the dance floor, but completely hijacking culture. At least with Mute's Can remix album, Sacrilege, there were plenty of remixes so far removed and individualized and re-interpretized, that a lot of tracks stood on their own merits. Even the "Yashar" and "Nag, Nag, Nag" remixes of Cabaret Voltaire were pretty good. Maybe with the arsenal of talent at NovaMute's fingertips, something good could have been made, but this is just utter crap. Save the agony of 52 minutes and download the 60 second version free from Mute's site and enjoy all of this rolled up into one mix. - Jon Whitney
We know that our music picks may be somewhat challenging to find, which is why we have a community section which can be used to obtain nearly everything available on this site.
Bobby Conn and the Glass Gypsies
Mousonturm Frankfurt, April 2nd, 2004
Due to a theater performance in one of the venue's other rooms the band had a late slot at 10pm, after the theater perfomance had ended. The room was well packed with about 200 people, but there was still enough room for everybody to stand comfortably. When the band walked on stage, the great outfits were the first thing to notice: bright yellow or orange pants, neon rainbow belts, matching blue or green shirts, and platform boots. (Even the drummer was wearing a pair of them, probably making it difficult to play.) The band itself is a sight to behold, with the bass player looking like Beck himself, tall guy Pearly White manning the keyboards, the drummer looking like a copy of John Bonham (complete with moustache), guitar player Sledd looking like he used to play in a hair metal band (and boy, the stuff he played sure sounded like that, too) and Monica Bou Bouthe only girl in the bandswitching between keyboards, violin and recorder. The real star, however, is 5' 4" singer/guitarist Bobby Conn. Looking like a cross between Lou Reed and a smaller version of early 70s Bowie, he immediately took command of the stage and the audience, ordering everybody to move closer to the front.
The main set consisted mainly of material from the latest album The Homeland, with a couple older songs thrown in. Highlights were the album's prog rock opener "We Come In Peace," the single "Relax," with its funky rhythm and the title track, "The Homeland," which was announced as being the 'official sing-along anthem for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.' For the ballad "Home Sweet Home," Bobby descended from the stage and performed the song amidst the audience. Musically, the set was a mixture of Queen, Led Zeppelin, Iggy And The Stooges, David Bowie, and T Rex, with some funk and disco thrown in for good measure. Quite a few people critizice Bobby Conn for delivering his political messages "disguised" as 70s glam rock, but in concert this worked out fine, with Bobby commenting on the current political situation in the US and talking with the audience between songs.
When the main set ended after a short 75 minutes, it still felt complete and they could have ended it right there. After much cheering, the band came back, performing a few older songs, with "Whores" (from the previous album The Golden Age) being the last one. After that, the band left the stage and Monica started selling merchandise, but the audience was still screaming for more. When the cheering didn't stop after five minutes, Monica left the stage and went looking for the boys to come back for some more. She must have pulled them right out of the shower, for they returned half naked, wearing sweat pants and sneakers, but they did another two fast and loud songs, which Bobby announced with the words "After these, you don't wanna hear anything else." When they finished, the band was finally released to the well deserved showers.
It was a great night with an excellent performance, and it was pretty cheap, too. (Hey, and you can't go wrong with a concert where a platform boot-equipped guitarist is doing jumping jacks on stage, right?) The remaining tour dates can be found on the Thrill Jockey web site. - Nils Winkler
counting can be fun
Subject: the brain
1) You guys seem to only publish positive (gushing?)
reviews. Is this true or have I not read enough of
your reviews? If it's true, is it by design?
2) Is Brainwashed the U.S. answer to The Wire?
3) Is Brainwashed going to start throwing some parties
(or are they called 'events' now? or is it cool to
call them 'raves' again?)
4) wanna buy my car?
Jonathan Dean writes:
1. This guy is stoned, and he is not reading our
reviews very carefully. I personally have written at
least 10 unfavorable reviews since the year began, and
I'm sure other contributors have done the same. We
can't be blamed because this fucknut doesn't pay
2. US answer to The Wire? The Wire is totally coming from this avant-free-jazz-improv
perspective, and they cover more American music than
they do English music. Also, all of The Wire's writers
have this weird pseudo-academic style of critique that
usually leaves you confused as to whether the writer
liked or hated the album. The Brain doesn't do that.
We are usually pretty straightforward.
3. Brainwashed should throw a party.
4. I don't want to buy his car, but I want to buy his
Jon Whitney writes: oh we throw parties, but this jerk isn't invited!
Subject: good eye!
Hey Brainwashed folfs!
The Album Leaf Eye was terrific! I was at that show and came away feeling
wonderful. Your little mini-documentary vignette absolutely captured that
feeling. The sound was great during the interview and the performance and I
think that the visuals obscuring the band added to the mystique. It would
have been nice to be able to see the folks from American Analog Set on stage
with Jimmy Levalle on film from the documentarian point of view, but the
projections where an integral part of the sound produced by the band, which
is more important in my estimation. The crowd for the show didn't applaud
until the very end, much like a symphony, because they were so impressed.
Keep Up the good work!
Or there wasn't a break between songs.... But thanks anyway!
Subject: the eye
i would like to purchase the eye vol. 1 and 2, but can't figger out how to do
it through paypal. it's probably something easy i'm overlooking, but if you'll
give me some feedback i'd be more than happy to order them thanks!
Just go to the commerce page and click on whichever country applies to
you (ie: click the US flag if you're in the USA, Canadian if you're in
Canada, and globe if you're in the rest of the world) and it should plop in your PayPal shopping cart.
Subject: dear webmaster;
i am japanese composer. please listen to my music.
i like nnw and coil and detoni and morphogenesis indeed.
Look, we mean no offense, but if you read all of our disclaimers before you hit "send" you would have known we're not out to go scouring web pages for MP3s. So, since you don't care to follow instructions, consider us not interested.
our band is new, unsigned, and trying to get some
reviews. I thought this music might of interest. It
fits loosely in the experimental jungle category.
please listen to a few short samples and let me know
if you want me to send a full cd.
Experimental jungle? Is that like doing animal testing in the rainforest? If so, then we want no part in it.
Subject: the brain
Thank you Jonathan Dean for sharing your political views on so many occasions.
Jonathan writes: I don't come down to where you work and slap the dick
out of your mouth.
Subject: the brain
Hello There, this is in regards to the review of the Sublime frequencies DVD
Folk music of the Sahara.
thanks for the kind words, but the DVD was not "captured by Bishop" but filmed
by Hisham Mayet. It would be appreciated to clearly note that in the review.
there was a lot of work and intense communication to get that close to the
action being filmed. So a mention of the actual film maker would certainly be
This has been corrected, sorry for the mistake.