Category Archives: music

harold budd and robin guthrie

harold budd and robin guthrie
the new pair of albums by harold budd and robin guthrie are called before the day breaks and after the night falls. they are precisely what you would expect from this duo, given their past work, and that’s a good thing, for the most part.

i will admit to being a 4AD and shoegazer fanboy. i have been entranced ever since the first albums by slowdive and lush, ever since i first listened to the dreaminess of the cocteau twins and was spellbound by clan of xymox. i’ve been an easy mark when it comes to the kind of thing created by budd and guthrie.

two of robin guthrie’s solo releases (imperial and continental) have both been on my heavy rotation list for awhile. they both satisfy as ambient guitar soundscapes, although my preference is for continental (which he titled based on his extensive travels in the US and Europe).

this new work with budd is a perfect fusion of guthrie’s solo work and albums like Budd’s lovely thunder. in my mind, these albums are a great manifestation of brian eno’s definition of ambient music: that which can be "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener." in this case, ignoring or listening both produce the same pleasurable result.

year zero

Year Zero

Nine Inch Nails (aka Trent Reznor) have released their latest album: Year Zero.

the nutshell review? there isn’t one. it’s a distressing, thought-inspiring, sprawling, frustrating, visionary effort put forth by one of the great innovators in electronic music. it’s an attempt to merge art and political statement using digital tools and trickery. it’s an alternate reality game. it’s a brilliant "concept album," but it’s not an album in the LP-sense of the word – it’s an aggregate of ideas and media and information whose combination reveals an unsettling and dystopian vision for modern society, all wrapped in an aurally compelling package.

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stranger on the sofa

barry adamson - stranger on the sofa
barry adamson is a cool, very dark, cat.

ok, i know that sounds dorky, and yet for the style of music he produces, it seems appropriate. what he creates is an anachronism; it seems to belong in the 50s and 60s, with gangsters and frank sinatra and femmes fatales sporting 38s and lipstick-laden smiles that kill. at the same time, his noir sensibilities are balanced with a wink and a nod by his playful, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which are in turn countered by a darkness and cynicism that run deep. there is a modern awareness in everything he does, a black-gold thread woven throughout his enigmatic tapestry.

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campfire headphase

boards of canada - the campfire headphase
i tend to collect things: books, CDs, movies. with a few notable exceptions, i am not overly obsessive in my acquisitions (although i’m sure certain other people might disagree). boards of canada is an exception.

i’ve done my best to acquire everything they’ve ever released (see the wikipedia reference for BoC for the complete listing). while it’s not an exhaustive catalogue, there are a few pieces that are harder to come by than others. a total of 3 albums, 4 EPs, and one unreleased collection is what i’ve got; looks like i’m missing a few LPs and odd cassettes. the campfire headphase is their latest release, following the stunning geogaddi by three years.

the reviews are generally good (see metacritic for a quick synopsis). i can certainly see how this record would underwhelm some BoC fans. when a band generates so much fervor, such rabid adoration, it becomes harder and harder for them to impress over time. in fact, almost impossible. they can’t penetrate the fog of mystique and reverence that has built up around them.

this is partly their own doing. the two brothers who make up BoC have been noticeably reticent when it comes to either touring or doing interviews. they make their music, and that’s it. that is their statement, and they’ve done it in such a way as to wrap a riddle inside an enigma, hidden in a puzzle. as a result, people have analyzed their music beyond reason, flogged it until it’s dead and bleeding beside the road, stripped of any mystery. while some of this analysis is interesting, maybe even insightful, it’s still just mental masturbation, and it sets a standard that no band could meet with their next release. with geogaddi, they set a standard that would be difficult to follow, and then there was silence. three long years of silence, punctuated by two EP releases.

and then, after this long silence, they return with the campfire headphase, doomed to both fail and succeed, regardless of what it contains. in this writer’s humble opinion, it’s a brilliant and rewarding soundscape, an exploration of territory that seems simultaneously new and familiar.

it’s a different album for BoC. i would say drastically different from their work released to date. and yet, their signature sound is still there…it’s still possible, through a few simple sonic structures, a few unique sounds, to identify this record as theirs. and those sounds, in combination with new textures and seemingly infinite layers, make this album worth seeking out.

first and foremost, the samples are gone (or at least faded so far into the background that you don’t notice them consciously). geogaddi and music has the right to children were rife with odd samples, references that fed the imagination of the hungry listening masses. those samples added interesting punctuation marks to the composition, gave it another dimension, something to be puzzled over and interpreted. maybe that’s why they chose to drop them: too much analysis.

the second thing of note is the guitars—they take a prominent place in the sonic landscape of this new album, carving vast valleys and echoing canyons where other sounds can play within and beneath. they add a texture, a substrate that other sounds can attach themselves to. they also heighten the fuzzy warmth that has permeated most BoC releases.

the last thing i would note is the absence of less prominent beats. Hi Scores, MHTRTC, and maybe even Geogaddi had some beats woven through the narrative. this is not the case on the campfire headphase—no beats. (see Correction below)

when i talk about BoC, my tone becomes filled with rapture, and i speak nonsense. words fail me while i foam at the mouth. i can’t describe what their music makes me feel, how it envelopes my thoughts and washes away everything else. when i listen to their music, it takes me to a place that is joyous and melancholy at the same time, a place of warm, fuzzy, beautiful sadness.

maybe, in a way, Boards of Canada is a sonic subsitute for the frailties of language. they express things through meticulously textured sounds that could not be expressed otherwise. theirs is an electronic poetry that defies analysis. you just have to listen. and i do—over and over and over. when i listen, i’m taken back to my childhood, to a time of innocence. i feel that happiness again, all the while carrying in my heart the bittersweet knowledge that it lives only in my memories. for me, this is the tension that BoC somehow express with their shimmering strands of sound.

CORRECTION (10.25.05): i have been taken to the mat for saying that there are no beats on this album. at least two tracks have percussion (dayvan cowboy and oscar see through red eye) and some electronic beats. saying the album has fewer beats was not meant as a criticism. sincere apologies for ruffled feathers and potential confusion. ;-)

nouvelle vague

nouvelle vague
as someone who spent a lot of time listening to 80s music, i can occasionally appreciate a good cover band. in most cases, though, the cover pales in comparison to the original. it’s rare that a cover can thrive in its own right, without reference to the work that inspired it.

nouvelle vague has created a cover album that reaches this lofty goal—their music is wonderful, enchanting, fun, and only just slightly kitschy. their covers pay tribute to new wave hits from the 80s, and they do it bossa nova style. imagine the cure and the sisters of mercy rendered with delicate female vocals, sultry guitar, and waves washing across a warm shore, and that’s what you’ve got with nouvelle vague.

i was skeptical at first, but their version of "a forest" (my favorite song from seventeen seconds) had me sold in a heartbeat. there are a few misses (not so sure jello biafra ever meant too drunk to f*** to be done to a bossa nova beat). in general, though, this CD was one enjoyable hit parade for me. part flashback, part flash-further back, part modern-day lounge album, nouvelle vague is de rigeur if you’re an 80s kid with bossa nova leanings.

ulrich schnauss

ulrich schnauss - a strangely isolated place
ulrich schnauss - faraway trains passing by

i’ve been listening to ulrich schnauss a lot lately. both of his albums are excellent; the first (faraway trains passing by) is a bit hard to find, unfortunately. the second (a strangely isolated place) is available at your local amazon outlet.

reviews elsewhere will probably give you a better description than i could. for me, i just find his music eminently enjoyable. it creates a warm fuzzy atmosphere, one that envelopes you without suffocating or being overbearing. i find it the perfect cross between Boards of Canada (one of my top three desert island bands) and a lot of the old shoegazer stuff i used to listen to (Slowdive, Ride, MBV, Lush, etc.). it’s more ambient than the latter, and less sampled than the former…an ideal blend, in my opinion.

highly, highly recommended. if you can’t find the first album, at least do what you can to find the track Molfsee. if you can’t find that, then i suggest just putting ASIP on repeat and blissing out until FATPB is rereleased in the US.

thomas koner – nuuk

thomas koner - nuuk

i first heard thomas köner on a 1994 darkwave ambient compilation called ambient isolationism. he contributed ‘kanon (brohuk),’ and while i enjoyed it, it didn’t captivate my attention as much as the tracks by :zoviet*france and Lull. a few years later, i was at a local favorite indie record shop (Aquarius Records on Valencia), and i spotted a special köner post–vinyl–only CD-release of an album called ‘unerforschtes gebiet’ (which translates roughly as ‘uncharted territory’). based on their recommendation, i picked it up.

i couldn’t stop listening to it. in fact, i still can’t stop listening to it. although now, i probably listen to Nuuk a lot more.

greenland
the country that inspired Nuuk

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neotropic

neotropic
dj shows are a mixed bag, at best, but when i saw that one of my favorite ninja tune acts, neotropic, was playing at club six, i decided to brave uncertainty and go hear the mix…

the good news? i got to meet riz maslen, enigmatic front woman of the "band". the bad news?

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