The T-word

Featuring : Paco Sala

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Trip hop’s allure was its cryptic intimacy.

The feeling of intruding into someone’s psychic chambers, into their memories, obsessions and desires, there yet never fully articulated, shapes swirling in the shadows, breaking through the surface of consciousness like killer whales of emotion, muffled sighs and dark moods universal in their abstraction.

Of course, one can have too much of a good thing, and that’s what happened with Trip hop, turned coffeehouse and ad cliché by a myriad me-too-acts who turned its wasteland of feeling into a cookie-cutter ‘electronic music + lady (or dude, I’m looking at you JJ Johanson) singing’ formula.

It is a testament to the strength of that backlash that the T word is seldom mentioned (as if it would be an insult) when describing many contemporary acts whose music conveys the same mood of melancholy, abstracted alienation, return to the cocoon of the self in the face of a social + economic environment of multiplying complexity, and filmic aspirations.

Yet it is there, we see its imprint, and we don’t think it’s anything to be embarrassed about. Sonically, this new generation of pensive pathos-geographers draws on the millennial descendants of trip hop’s influences, dub (dubstep) and hop hop (via J Dilla, Boards of Canada’s drum OST for pseudo-scientific uncanny-land, and Juke’s voodoo spectre).

Some examples? Flying Lotus, Hyperdub’s forthcoming (and spectacular) 10.2 compilation and many of the artists therein contained, Laurel Halo. Also the protagonists of today’s post, our beloved Paco Sala.

In their new Digitalis release, ‘Put Your Hands on Me’, Paco’s Antony and Birch take us inside that psychic room, its stained-glass windows shuffling through potential use cases for this music – social media-mediated heartbreaks, Metal Gear Solid’s next theme tune, that gently suicidal night drive through conduits of neon, shot in Michael Mann-vision.

The melange of analogue flesh, cf. 1970s porn-classicist artwork, and digital layers, juke throb and multidimensional reverberations makes it timeless plus futuristic, dense plus dazzling, alien and weird plus strangely human.

Like exploring an emergent pan-human psyche brimming with strange colours, pillars of luminescence, a complex lattice of vectors describing the trajectory of holographic sirens caught in a strange loop, randomly exploding into flocks of bird-memories straight out of a William Gibson reverie.

Definitely T.

Paco Sala – Peace Keeper

You can get ‘Put Your Hands on Me’ digital/pre-order vinyl from Digitalis.

Aesthetics are Godlike

Featuring : 200 Years + 20jfg

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(art is by Anna Oguienko)

As much as – for  while at least – communal listening experiences seemed to be dominated by the shuffle function (you’d be round someone’s house and there would forever be a mac or iPod on shuffle, plugged into speakers, rather than an ‘album’ proffering a soundtrack) – one thing digital music collections can never quite replace is the “ohmigod! I forgot I had this!” factor.

For some reason, shuffle isn’t quite as good at “hiding” music as physical things are. Even when they’re big physical things, like 12″ records? And then when you find it you’re like: AHA!!

That AHA!! moment never happens with Spotify. Not hatin, just sayin.

So it was this weekend, when I uncovered one of the LPs from my subscription to Grapefruit Records’ first year, lurking about in the squish and dust of my record collection and had one of those moments. The concept behind Grapefruit is simple – you pay a subscription and spread across the year you will receive four vinyl LPs from them, featuring exclusive new works by relatively known artists, that cannot be bought elsewhere.

The LPs are great. And the aesthetics are godlike. It’s fair to say Grapefruit had a slight influence on our own Blue Tapes.

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The magenta record from that first year is by 200 Years – the duo of Ben Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio.

200 Years – Erred

It’s a piece of psych-folk mayhem that record shops would inevitably describe as “wonderfully out there.”

Looks like since I bought those records, Grapefruit have done three more years – though 2014 (the final year?) is just records by The Dead C.

2011 was 200 Years, Richard Youngs, Lambchop and L. Eugene Methe. I think that year had the best covers too.

Here’s a mixtape of some other music we were listening to around then:

XXJFG – 2011: A Drone Odyssey

 You can buy the Grapefruit releases here

The Man with Two Brians

Featuring : K Leimer

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The time that this has been sitting in our inbox seems inconsequential when compared to the 30 odd years it’s been in existence. After all, what’s a few months between friends?

Maybe the 21st Century approach to neglect shall be measured in internet time. Thus being missed by months is the new decades of obscurity. Which one has the more damning psychological effect I wonder. ‘I’ll go viral any minute’ versus the hulking machine of popular culture slowly heaving itself out of view like some gigantic, unmountable slug.

Thankfully we have a tonic for the wrongs wrought on these silent heroes and that tonic is RVNG.

K Leimer made loop-based music back in the late 70s. Partially inspired by Eno (as you’ll hear explicitly below) — who had a similar lack of musical training — Leimer started making ambient loops and putting them out on his own label.

Lonely Boy is the only out and out pop song on RVNG’s luscious compilation of Leimer’s work. And boy does it sound like pop-Eno. Not just the sound of an American doing his best British accent (which is pretty spot on actually) but that delay drenched piano floating in space.

What perhaps saves this from mere pastiche is twofold. The squelchy synth that skitters about underneath bring the whole an edge of post-punk running through its veins. The other thing, is quite how reverent it is. There’s a longing embedded in its very title. As if Eno and the energy surrounding him is out of reach. Denied to Leimer by oceans and time.

No Faustian pact with U2* for Leimer. No hook up with David Byrne. No Atmospheres.

Leimer still makes music and was involved in the re-mastering of this.

K. Leimer – Lonely Boy

RVNG released A Period of Review back in May. You can get it from them here. We must be well on the way to being the official RVNG mouthpiece by now. I hope we get a badge. And maybe a hat. A hat with a badge on it and some sort of uniform.  If only they stopped putting out so many great records.

*Brian Eno also still makes music and we’re definitely not setting up some either/or dichotomy, spiced with a fetishism of the obscure. We love you Brian. It’s just we were never sure about that whole U2/Coldplay thing.

This is not Science Fiction

Featuring : Constantina + Dustin Wong

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(photo taken from Chris Jordan’s series from the Midway Atoll on how disposable plastic is killing seabirds.)

Swirling like Jupiter’s eye in the middle of the Pacific ocean is a lost land.

Its landscape and topography are unlike that of any known in the solar system. Bright colours. Strange edges. It has been conferred immortality by its makers, and will outlive all civilisations on Earth.

It is ridges of pelagic plastics and gullies of chemical sludge. It spans an area the size of Texas.

It is not Atlantis. It is the Pacific Trash Vortex.

First predicted in 1988 – with an accuracy that correctly guessed even where it would materialise – by 1997 the Pacific Trash Vortex was a reality. A great expanse of plastic garbage that even when ground down into particle level remains stubbornly infinite and non-biodegradable.

The smaller the plastics get the – fatally – easier they are for consumption by birds, turtles and whatever other marine life is clinging desperately onto life in that floating wasteland.

“For me,” writes photographer Chris Jordan, “kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth.”

Jordan’s photographs look like the creations of a warped imagination – the closest art they recall are the creepy hybrid sculptures we saw at Jan Svankmajer’s recent Brighton exhibition. Possibly not even he could have calculated chimeras of animal remains and manmade detritus that were so mournful and disturbing.

This is not science fiction. This is our pale blue dot.

Constantina conceived of their wonderful Pelicano album – recorded in 2007, but released in 2014 – as a tribute to the pelican. The music is gentle, persuasive and determined. In combination with Chris Jordan’s haunting photography, though, those long lovely guitar narratives translate as an elegy for the pelicans, albatrosses and other non-human species who now resemble sigils of bones and plastic, and who will eventually be just plastic.

Constantina – Pelicano

Maybe that’s a grim juxtaposition for music so warm and otherwise comforting! We’re sorry. It’s a reminder for ourselves, as much as anyone.

For wishing a better world into existence, listen to Dustin Wong’s 2012 album Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads, and by the time it has finished, think of one thing you can do to make your own world a better one.

Dustin Wong – Pink Diamond

Buy Pelicano from Bandcamp

I won’t decrypt jackshit

Featuring : Kaval + Ray Lynch

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It is today that 20jazzfunkgreats gives up on Watch Dogs with a colossal yawn and, if we weren’t so polite, the digital gesture you see above.

It is not the first time we do this with a Ubisoft game, that sneaky ADD species of modern video game that lures the player with a promise of freedom, and then proceeds to bombard her with a barrage of objectives, options and distractions, like an informational version of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle. But whereas in previous occasions – Assassin’s Creed, the latest Splinter Cell, Far Cry 3 (almost, we actually finished that one)– the open world friction nudged us away slowly with its overbearing generosity, here we disconnect decidedly, and disappointedly.

What’s the problem? There are many problems – we could go on about the dour beige man Aiden Price (a bit like Batman, if Batman was a complete asshole who killed dozens of people in pursuit of his goal), or the rest of the cast (especially T Bone, the charming chap illustrating this post– if the Matrix had a Jar Jar Binks bro-grammer in its cast, that would be him), the mundane hacking and the unrewarding progression (the high level perks include more batteries for your smartphone, and the ability to get extra money from cash machines), the beautiful but listless rendition of Chicago, its pathetic attempt to be edgy, cool and mature, and the appalling licensed music (there is actually one good song in it, and it is Tortoise).  But it goes beyond that. Our disappointment is deeper. It concerns the game’s utter failure to convey through its story and its systems the mood of a society under complete surveillance.

Now, think of the triumph that was The Last of Us, and what it did with the concept of survival, and consider what Watch Dogs could have been if it had achieved something even remotely similar with themes like surveillance, privacy, transparency, anonymity or societal control. We would have had THE game for this day and age, instead of the video game equivalent of Die Hard 3.0, if we replaced Bruce Willis with a man with a cap stitched to his head.

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And what does this world we almost live in feel like?

Perhaps like Kaval’s dérives through regions of ambient dirge, mystery and melancholy. Tense with the flat fuzz of a synth drone, nocturnal sea where we swim over flickering presences that caress us with gossamer probes. Subtly plaintive, with a sub-dermal sense of loss, perhaps for those slivers of ourselves fading away trapped in distant algorithmic fortresses. Also eerie, haunted with the echo of a John Carpenter motif, as if we experienced the onset of Halloween through the multi-dimensional, rhizomatic architectures of the data city.

Kaval – Ze Zei

With this post, we celebrate the advent of a new Enfant Terrible related label, Vriestate. You can pre-order Kaval’s Zee van Gedachten LP here.

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Alternatively, one could conceive of an utopian scenario where we realise the potential of digital technologies by transcending romantic notions of privacy, and becoming enmeshed in the harmonious totality of our society’s collective intelligence. We join a cybernetic system, noosphere or macro-neural network whose performance can be optimised (like any other system composed of parts with measurable features and predictable behaviours), and optimised it is.

We sail into the deep unknowns of the universe as one, to search for more truths, atop positive winds with melodies joyous and aesthetically + mathematically beautiful like one of Ray Lynch’s compositions.

Ray Lynch – Tiny Geometries

Tiny Geometries concludes Ray Lynch’s 1984 landmark ‘Deep Breakfast’. We were reminded of it in Music for Programming’s latest mixtape (by  Abstraction).

The Good, the Bad and the Dead

Featuring : Death and Vanilla

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Death and Vanilla cropped up on 20JFG last year when they played The Outer Church in our fair southern hamlet. Unfortunately I was the 1/4 of 20JFG who didn’t go. Which I regretted at the time and will continue to regret below.

Kalligrammofon Recordings are reissuing on vinyl a tape that Moon Glyph put out a few years ago. Said tape was a live recording made in 2012 of Death and Vanilla scoring Dreyer’s Vampyr (from which we appropriated the ominous man-with-scyth above).

This is side C of the double LP:

Death and Vanilla – Vampyr (Side C)

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The first half of side C is anchored by low distant drumming, of a rolling rhythm that would have tormented Lovecraft in his more feverishly racist dreams. This bed of dread is punctuated by the occasional Moog, rising out of the mist. At times illuminating mere outlines of hulking stone shapes, at others: beams from space piercing the gloom and shedding light on distant horrors.

The second half of side C is dominated by a Morricone-esq melody between what sounds like a battalion of wind instruments and guitar. Slow building and utterly relentless, a saddled up assault on the night.

Death and Vanilla’s Vampyr came out this week on Kalligrammofon. You can get it right here.

Out and Out and Out

Featuring : Ben Frost + Daniel Avery

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(photography by Kaometet.)

More than his actual music, a lot of the time people seem to be mostly interested in whether Ben Frost is a douche or not, and how this might interface with his political intentions.

In 2010, while touring a ferocious noise album that resulted in a frankly ludicrous attempt to play Brighton’s Freebutt at the height of its resident-appeasing limiter-in-force infamy (two failed attempts to get started and then he was out the door) and burnt out speaker cabinets at a London show, he gave an interview to Resident Advisor that set nerves jangling, edited highlights below:

The thing I was most fascinated by in making that record was the collective aural memory of the human experience and our fascination with the malevolence of the natural world. By the Throat was always about somehow channeling those ideas, because they are powerful, musical weapons: rumbling bass, explosive distortions and growling, howling strings. It’s simple synapse—our brains hear music but we hear earthquakes, volcanoes and fear of predators in dark. 

About an hour’s drive from my house right now there is a volcano exploding. It’s the hottest (no pun intended) ticket in town. Everyone wants to get close to it, and to be afraid of it. I guess the same could be said of anyone who wants to get close to my music. It’s masochistic. I don’t see much of a line between enjoying the experience of my music, and the guy who pays a hooker to walk on him in six-inch stilettos while he rubs one out. 

Ultimately, I would prefer that my music comes through the door before I do, or that it’s experienced live first. Nobody cares what I call myself when it’s coming at you at 120db. 

The void is far more fascinating than anything I could fill it with. I just want to map out my territory, and piss in the corners so you know where the edges are. You can work out—and make up the rest—on your own. 

We seek experiences that fire our primal emotions. This is why we have bungee jumping, amphetamines and self-asphyxiation… 

Gozer was just there to fuck shit up. It was that simple. There was no explanation, and there is no discussion to be had with Gozer the Destructor. And Peter Venkman realized that. I suppose what I am getting at is that we have cerebralized our fears and that By the Throat does not work like that. In fact, none of my music works like that. I don’t want you to think about what I am doing, I just want you to be affected by it.

– Ben Frost, speaking to Resident Advisor circa By The Throat, 2010

This interview was again picked up by Dan Barrow in his recent Ben Frost cover piece The Wire, who confessed to finding Frost’s statements “troubling.”

“The concept of extremity,” Barrow explained, “circulating in the discourse of music since before Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, has been so often the vehicle for troubling power relations and pathetic machismo, so hackneyed in its secret alliance with the status quo, that it’s difficult to make anything productive of it now. To what end, people might ask, is Frost struggling? If Swans utilised volume, repetition and scale to articulate the agony and plenitude of identity – of being trapped in gendered, labouring, desiring, decaying bodies – then Frost’s extremity, flushed with a more conventional gorgeousness and stripped of what Keith Moline called Swans’ “harrowing stasis,” is more opaque and problematic.”

There’s a lot of question marks to be raised there:

  1. Is The Rite of Spring really an example of “troubling power relations and pathetic machismo”?
  2. Is Ben Frost in a “secret alliance with the secret quo”?
  3. Was/is the volume, repetition and scale of Swans actually an attempt “to articulate the agony and plenitude of identity – of being trapped in gendered, labouring, desiring, decaying bodies”? Or did they just like big noises?
  4. Maybe Ben Frost just likes big noises too?

idk.

But it’s a good piece and it made us think.

If anything, though, Frost’s music itself makes us not-think. It doesn’t fire thoughts in our multi-headed brain political or otherwise. At least not any more than Autechre or Jerry Goldsmith, or any other composer who makes loud/dissonant/pretty/consonant music with no words does. That isn’t just anti-intellectualism, if anything there is something audio wallpapery about Frost’s music – maybe more than he’d like to admit. But that isn’t intended as a diss. Some of my favourite artists used wallpaper as a medium – look at William Morris!

And Frost’s music is as detailed, thoughtful and precise as Morris’ art, and presumably little more complex in its motivations.

I guess it’s ultimately about texture, noise, shape and colour – or sometimes the absence of those materials. Sometimes it can feel like you want to touch it. That’s maybe when it’s at its best.

Sometimes it sounds like buildings and clouds.

Ben Frost – Venter

At other times, it sounds slick, produced and blockbustery. That’s good too. Like the soundtrack to a rave scene set on a moon. Lots of slow-mo dancing, suns collapsing in the background, orbital tracking shots of crater hedonism slowly spiralling out and out and out until everything’s just a dot.

Which is a sentence that also makes us think of this Daniel Avery tune, from 2012:

Daniel Avery – Drone Logic

Buy A U R O R A from Boomkat, or anywhere really