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30 August 2010

Kate Bush - 'The Dreaming' (EMI)

She's a household name in the UK, but resigned to "cult" (or even worse, "college radio") status in the US. This is a US issue of The Dreaming, definitely my favourite Kate Bush record as it strikes the perfect balance between big bold glossy pop record and major weirdo art-statement. Production-wise, Bush is rooted in 80's drums and bass sounds - specifically the Fairlight synth which is just everywhere to be heard. This is Bush's vision of music, which she's stuck to fairly consistently - I love how her 'comeback' record, Aerial, is fairly timeless in that it could have been produced in 1987 at the peak of her powers. Her weirdly synthetic bass, heavily compressed background vocals, and processed instruments are a really distinct place on the electro-acoustic axis. This record isn't dripping with hits like Hounds of Love, but it's chock full of near-hits. 'Sat in Your Lap' and 'The Dreaming' were the big singles, and both are ferocious. The former is thunderous and pounding and I always sing along in falsetto to the 'Some say that knowledge is...' banshee screech. 'The Dreaming', well, it's just an amazing tune, a bit of car crash and murderous stalker at the same time. No one would typically compre this to Brian Wilson's SMiLE sessions but that's as close of an antecedent as I can hear - just bathed in minor key hysterics instead of sunny Americana. The Aussie coda blends into 'Night of the Swallow' which is more of the Never For Ever piano balladry - the signature K. Bush sound. It's here where the production really separates these cuts from her earlier works. The strings on this album sound fake - but they're credited as "strings" and "fiddle" so I'm sure they're not MIDI. It all strangely works. The Dreaming edges out Hounds of Love for me because it contains my personal favourite Kate Bush tune, 'Suspended in Gaffa', the most fractured piece of bubble-gum imaginable. It's direct and driving, and in opposition to the lyrical stasis described. I've listened to it hundreds of times and it never gets tiresome. "This album was meant to be played loud", says the liner notes, and that distinct Bush bass warble sounds absolutely sick when you crank it. But the lesser-remembered cuts on The Dreaming have beautiful, mesmerising passages. 'Leave it Open' is a wonderful bit of melting energy, and the dark edge of lyrics like "Harm is in Us" sets a nice element of unknowing. 'Houdini' touches on the canyon ladies vibe, though maybe not intentional - and has a great dark growl at times. 'Get Out of My House,' has a bit of crunchy wobble in the 'This house is full of...' part and I love how it's pretty much all tribal echo-drums. 1982 was a hell of a year and I can only imagine walking into a record store that year and leaving with both The Dreaming and This Heat's Deceit under my arm. It's even more impressive that this record ends with Paul Hardiman imitating a donkey.

25 August 2010

Dave Burrell - 'La Vie de Bohême' (BYG/Actuel)

If we ever get to the end of Disclocated Underbite Spinal Alphabetised Encourager Templates and you've been paying attention closely, then you'll probably figure out that my own tastes in 60's and 70's jazz runs towards the anti-classics - the free-stompin loft gutbucket party jams. But if you look even more closely you'll see that my favourite moments are when the masters of this form turn back towards composition and melody, bringing their raging adventurism to an exploratory point. When they reference folk forms, traditionals and classical elements it's a fine line, but one that if tred carefully, can be extremely rewarding. Case in point - Dave Burrell's arrangement of Puccini's La vie de bohéme, in a band with Ric Colbeck (trumpet), Grachan Moncur III (trombone), Kenneth Terroade (sax and flute), Beb Guérin (bass) and Claude Delcloo (drums). I'm no expert on Puccini's original but this clearly refracts a classic through the same 1969 Parisian moss that infused so many of these wonderful Actuel sides. The first 20 minutes is the first act of the opera, which finds Colbeck and Burrell frequently quoting the melodic riffs in unison, and Terroade fluting around like a devilish fly. It's the Delcloo-Guérin-Burrell axis, though, which really breaks this thing open. This is a very free, loose reading of Giacomo's work, with rhythms often unraveling and the songs breathing in a unique space. Side two picks up the second act midway through and begins a pounding drumbeat with a dissonant left hand piano line, and the rest of the dudes flutter in and out. It's relentless, except it does relent, turning into a Claude Delcloo extended solo. At some point in this eardrum-rupturing tribal mediation, my stylus got stuck in the perfect way, right on the beat, skipping back to form a perfect loop. But the third movement is soon underway, with cymbals skittering around like birds, ringing piano chords that build up, and the occasional hop-skip-and-jump into other waters. It's a beauty. Movement four reminds me a bit of Vince Guaraldi's timless Peanuts soundtracks, showing how Burrell is capable of the most expressionistic playing, with a few stray voicings for flavour. Guérin is rather understated throughout this record but when it comes in, it hits hard. There's some bent Dixieland crabcakes just before the end, the truest expression of the Bohemian life, and then it goes all minor and austere, and then it turns into free-circus Dada music. It all feels very Pucciniesque again as it crashes to a halt, a Bohemian life lived, explored and extended.

Burning Star Core - 'Papercuts Theater' (No Quarter)

We've at long last reached the end of our Burning Star Core gauntlet, though if we were reviewing unspined CDrs we'd be here far longer. Look for Withholding Antiseptic Utilitarian Dental Inducers, our CDr blog, starting in 2013 after we get through everything else. But in the meantime we have this beautiful gatefold double LP of live material, where Yeh has taken the approach of collaging 11 years of various recordings together into four even sides. It's a 66-minute long behemoth that reminds me a bit of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Live in Mandel Hall record from '71, at least in size, construction and density. Or maybe Metal Machine Music because that's also four evenly-split 16.5 minute sides that resist description. The bulk of the credits are the core Burning Star Core players since 1997 - Yeh, Trevor Tremaine, Mike Shiflet, Robert Beatty, Jeremy Lesniak and John Rich. There's some other notable guests whose contributions are indicated, but for the main players, they're anywhere and everywhere. Because everything blends together it's hard to tell what comes from when, but Yeh's assembled this with a sure hand, without any obvious drops in sound quality or levels. You can jump in at any place and swim as long as you want, and the mastering and vinyl really bring to life the dense arrays of movement carried in these grooves. Which if you think about it, is a real feat since I'm sure a lot of this stuff was sourced from minidisc and/or cassette. There are certainly bits I witnessed live or have heard before on other CDr releases, but it's impossible to say as everything has been transformed into a monolithic juggernaut. That's not to say this is an impenetrable, solid edifice -- there are moments of extreme delicacy, with swirling violins, spacious echoes and cavernous soundpits anchored by thundering rhythms. I'm not sure if this is a case of the sum being more than its parts or vice-versa, since I didn't hear all of the little bits that made this patchwork. If you think of Burning Star Core live as a certain thing, which this record clearly presents it as, then it makes sense to do it this way - it's an everexpanding sea of sound organisation, with various collaborators all anchoring around Yeh's own vision. There's glimpses of the rhythms we've heard on Operator Dead or the textural scrapings of Very Heart of the World, and though the vocal component is downplayed (or just buried), it's hard to mistake this music for anything else.

4 August 2010

Burning Star Core - 'Challenger' (Plastic)

Another Burning Star Core LP, another label, another sound. This is one that is so incredibly precise in its vision that many consider Challenger to be the pick of the BxC litter. Certainly from a sound-quality point of view, this is the ultimate of intimate outer-awesomeness, permanently perched just over your shoulder when listening on headphones and fantastically in opposition with the rest of the world when heard on speakers. In my case there's a chainsaw audible outside my window which is just amazingly in-sync with Trevor Tremaine's guitar solo on 'Mezzo Forte'. Internally (meaning, inside the sleeve) we get some flatlined graphical scores, perhaps rough approximations of the soundforms on these eight tracks. And that's a fun thing to map out - the firecracker/percussion sounds on 'No Memories, No Plans' are certainly there, though it's the screaming voices in the background that make this track so compelling. This feels like a "fun" album, a party record, though the recordings are often somber -- reverb chambers and slowly rising and falling synthesizer/electronics parts make this anything but danceable, yet the consistency and track lengths solidify the proceedings. It's anything but filler here. There are moments of ur-drone concentration like ('Hopelessly Devoted') but they're sequenced just right, so when the drone breaks and 'Mysteries of the Organ' begins with it's melting, wispy organ pumping, it's a magically awesome trip. And 'Un Couer en Hiver' maximises the range of vinyl - processed industrial sounds of trebly, echoing field recordings - cut in and out around the windy, feather-like core. When they cut out it's practically shocking - a testament to the mastering and pressing process. And when they come back in, it's a giant boost, and a brilliant ending track. Great closers are ones that let the brakes off a little, but suggest/imply more than they show. 'Un Couer' is a gesture, beckoning towards possible worlds, perhaps a sonic transformation of the beautiful cover artwork. It's these tracks that cement the 'classic' status of albums -- for some reason what jumps to mind is 'Soon' by My Bloody Valentine, which the more I think of it, is not that far-off a comparison.

Burning Star Core - 'Three Sisters who Share an Eye' (No Fun)

Three Sisters is a somewhat less grandiose approach to art and packaging - coming from the minimalist paste-on style like the West Coast live LP. For all voice and electronics, Three Sisters is also a minimalist approach. Both sides begin with throaty, reverby sounds that coalesce into some thick, ecstatic drones. Side A's is dirty and low-level, while side B's is more deep-listening and mellow. Both drift into the ambient distance, but not without recalling thick caterwauls of machine-driven forcefield exoticism, tender pulses, emphatic murmurs and gestures galore; it's a recollection of potential futures and ad-hoc journeys. When you pick up the LP and tilt it, the grooves are uniformly spaced - an encouragement to feel, rather than to hear. Fuzz on stylus or uncomfortable crop-dusting? This is a humongous sound flattened between two slices of all-grain bread. It's not ever going to be the Burning Star Core records that jumps in my mind as "definitive", and after the schizophrenia of our last review this one feels also intentionally focused. But while album-length, this may always be relegated to 'sketch' territory for me.