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11 July 2012

Tod Dockstader - 'Quatermass' (Owl)

Here's a classic of musique concrete where it's wonderful to have the original LP - not just for it's aesthetic value as B&W creepy otherworldly sound artefact, but for the liner notes. Sure, you can probably find them online, but it's wonderful to read them while hearing the nearly 50 year old drones and tones float off the surface of the platter. This is one to listen to with turntable dustcover UP! Quatermass sounds a lot like the other pieces of its time - the San Francisco tape music experiments of Ramon Sender, Pauline Oliveros, etc; the 50s work of Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luenig; and all the other stuff compiled on that Ohm box set from awhile back. It sounds a lot like them in that it's recorded to showcase the new possibilities of oscillators, close-mic'ing everyday objects (Tod says in the liner notes that some of the sounds are just balloons and adhesive tape!) and tape loops. But every one of these artists has their own distinct personality, which is why this is music and not just a technical experiment. Quatermass is a 5-part movement and it begins and ends with 'songs', the term used fairly loosely though there is a harmonic and melodic structure evident. Warbles, wiggles and burps underlie the soaring high-pitched assonance, and it establishes a mood, wrought with drama and lurching. Sometimes it sounds like a gong or some other acoustic percussion is used, often to quickly change the feel of a sequence - there's silence and then space, and the reverberation can take its course before the next sound comes in. When it gets thick, it's never too much - the dense slabs of sound have their place and the more active busy parts all have such clear purpose that it's not a noisy freakout. I love the motion here, particularly in 'Tango', when there's a dizzying array of back and forth. This is a stereo LP, recorded in 1966 though the original tapes were from '64, and I wonder how much variation we get. 'Parade' closes out side 1 with some of the harshest bits, a true cataclysm of darkness, though Dockstader's sci-fi tendencies are quite enjoyable, never as apocalyptic as they could be.

Dirty Projectors - 'Bitte Orca' (Domino)

How timely to alphabetically stumble across this, just as their latest release, Swing Lo, Magellan is hitting the street and likewise the critical sphere. I'm unabashedly in love with Bitte Orca, which stroked the perfect apex between brainy broken pomo constructions and sweet folk-pop songs. The earlier releases I heard, Gettysburg Address and Rise Above I found to be curious experiments but lacking something to sink my teeth into; my jury is still out on Swing Lo, Magellan though there's a few gems for sure. But this one, wow! Somehow it all adds up, though my highlights are the ones where something tangible emerges - some fragments of feeling, or just a few tears. 'Two Doves' is my absolute favourite, a song that pulls real pain out of it's string arrangements and fragile construction. Much can be made of Dave Longstreth and his deconstruction techniques, but a line like 'But our bed is like a failure' transcends everything, It's probably the most conventional cut on here, but that's not to say I don't like the unraveling guitar licks; 'Remade Horizon' and 'Temecula Sunrise' are axe-shredders that do something amazing I've never quite figured out. The female vocalists go a long way to making this a record I enjoy so much, though the single 'Stillness Is the Move' never did anything for me. I don't mind it's influence of top-40 pop - why is that such a bad thing for so-called art rock to embrace? -- but the tune feels too detached from the organic core of Bitte Orca. 'Flourescent Half Dome', the album closer, took me a long time to warm up to, but when I finally did I found an insecurity in the open, loose steps that truly appealed to me. I suspect I might grow to love Swing Lo, Magellan equally or greater than this with time, so expect to see it in Dislocated Underbite iteration #2, coming (at this rate) in 2023 or so.

10 July 2012

Michel Dintrich / Philippe Drogoz ‎– 'La Guitare Au-Delà...' (Classic)

The acoustic guitar is hereby reinvented; played in totality, an osteopathic approach to a sound instrument. Side A finds Dintrich tapping, wobbling, and breathing through his guitar. The strings are an essential component of a guitar, sure, but here they are not the only one. I'm reminded of Tetuzi Akiyama, who shares a similar sparse, minimal approach, but Dintrich is more woody, earthy; with deep reverb and bending harmonics, he stakes out a language of his own. On the flip is a collaboration, I think - it appears to be Dintrich on a 10-string guitar, performing a composition by Philippe Drogoz, though Drogoz is not credited on the front of the record and the whole thing confuses me. Here is some true dark yoga; Drogoz's tape work is sometimes screeching, sometimes plotting, and always a thick counter to Dintrich. In the middle of it all, things decelerate to nothing and then slowly build up again, based around an ever-so-creeping Drogoz drone. Dintrich here is going mad - thrusting backhands against the stringboard, scraping, bending, plucking errant notes out of the air and then receding back to nothing. It's a duo interplay unlike any other, a battle royale, but Drogoz's whirring wins out. Or does it? This was recorded in 1970 which is freaking amazing to think about, as it's so contemporary (or maybe contemporary is just so retro). An eBay search turns up some other work that seems to be straight classical guitar pieces, which I'd love to hear after this gem.

9 July 2012

Dif Juz - 'Extractions' (4AD)

This was it, really - the only proper Dif Juz record -- but a confident step forward it is, especially when compared to the EPs, which are more like sketches. The opening cut, 'Crosswinds', is built from saxophone drenched in wet reverb. It looks towards New Age music as well, but also is an early beacon towards the pop side of British electroacoustic music from later in the decade (I'm thinking O.Rang for example). 'Crosswinds' is lovely - the timbre of the saxes makes waves, a beautiful blanket of wet ear candy. This atmosphere is but a tease - the rest of Extractions is significantly more upbeat, driven by live drumming which is mostly free from the studio effects and processing which seem to affect every instrument. Yet Extractions is not an artificial chunk of computer love - it's welcoming and tries out musical ideas within the framework of this genre. 'A Starting Point' has quick-moving counterpoint; 'Silver Passage' is a quest.'Echo Wreck' feels like the major statement, with it's quick tapping drumming, soaring keyboards, and crafty melodic structure. The Cocteau Twins' vocalist makes an appearance on 'Love Insane', and her voice is a beauty; the vocal treatment sits much better with Dif Juz's music than the vocals on Vibrating Air, but it's good that most of the record stays instrumental. The tempo is somewhat uniform, and the sound is a pretty major step away from not just punk but from new wave at all. But while a lot of music like this - which later gets labeled as post-rock - becomes a bit too mellow, Dif Juz somehow stay energetic throughout. A whole lot of what I think of as the '4AD Sound' comes from music like this - this strain of (mostly British) 1980s musicians looking at texture, tension, ad soundscape instead of vitriol. The path leads though the Durutti Column and all the way to Talk Talk before the Americans started paying attention.

8 July 2012

Dif Juz - 'Out Of The Trees' (4AD)

Dif Juz is a tough one to place - hard to say as well, but I've always pronounced it like 'diffuse'. This is their last release but chronologically drawn from their first, so I place it here. Out of the Trees takes their two 1981 12" singles and combines them into an LP, with some parts of the Vibrating Air 12" re-recorded in 1986. That material is the A-side, even though the Huremics 12" predates it, so the whole chronology is a bit messy. But that's ok, because this is music that's easy to slip away from consciousness. I don't want to call Dif Juz "slight" but that comes to mind - it's undeniably pleasant, even when vocals creep in (as on 'Heset') and create an odd, atmospheric post-dub 4AD soup. The bass is prodding, there's ripping rack effect textures on the guitars, and errant keyboard notes paint a perfect backdrop to the somewhat forgettable lyrics, which mention the title conceit of 'vibrating air' (isn't that what all sound is?). I really like Dif Juz though - they are a missing link between post-punk experiments such as Rip Rig and Panic and the second Slits album, and What We Talk About When We Talk About 4AD in the  1980s. The dub saturates the Vibrating Air tracks, but the flipside, Huremics, has a more driving feel, like Savage Republic gone surfing in Manchester clubs at the time. It's a bit simpler - 'Re' has triumphant guitar arcs over a solid bass foundation, and 'Mi' is populated with little guitar sounds, dancing in and out of the niches made by rhythm. 'Cs' is a great closer for the record, with psychedelic (almost sci-fi shimmer), bright sky dance beats, and a positive outlook - so maybe that's why it was sequenced here.

4 July 2012

Don Dietrich/Ben Hall - 'Spitfire' (What The--?)

Three blistering tracks of free-skronk fury, allowing Dietrich to rip it up without the Borbetosoup around him (I've seen it live but think this is the only recording I've grokked). Ben Hall plays the drums real well, on the first track actually propelling things melodically and on the flipside being an absolute fury of the racktoms. It's a plundering of Sunny Murray's legacy, but I mean that in a good way - the beat is always falling through the centre, like a cylinder spinning so fast you don't know the bottom drops out (remember that amusement park ride?). Dietrich's tone is absolutely sick; on the second track it starts to mellow slightly, but the side-long second half of Spitfire is firmly in the upper scratch channels. Ayler's the obvious comparison because of the tone and construction, though this surprises me a bit - Dietrich always struck me as one step further away from the jazz tradition, though maybe this is Hall's influence. The tempo never drops, not even for a second, and while I often would cite that as a criticism, in this case I'm quite satisfied with the fury. The recording is just the perfect level of fidelity and I like to think of the three planes on the cover as representing three tracks.

3 July 2012

The Dictators - 'Go Girl Crazy!' (Epic)

"Smart" stupid music is genius, and this might be where it really started. Though I guess the Stooges could be argued for, yet they are more avant-garde leaning than most give 'em credit for - the Dictators can speak to the common man and celebrate rock music's pyrotechnics as much as they mock them. Go Girl Crazy was a record I wanted to hear for years, because when I was about 11 I bought Chuck Eddy's genius book Stairway to Hell, a chronicle of the best "heavy metal" records of all time. Much has been made of Eddy's idiosyncrasies, such as putting two Kix albums and Teena Marie in the top 11 - but this book stayed with me for years, and I'm still uncovering gems that I first read about in the early 90s. #18 was this album, which boasted a picture of this brilliant cover and looked sorta like a joke but possibly one that I wanted to get in on. I used to think of this as pre-punk, something bridging the Velvets and the Ramones maybe, but there's more fun involved than either would have. Melodies and harmonies and the tinge of romanticism are all OK because this is music from the suburbs of America, for sure - it's descended more from Bruce Springsteen, whose Born To Run I guess came out this same year (1975). 'Back to Africa' and 'Master Race Rock' are back-to-back cuts that toy with political incorrectness, but I don't know that the master race has anything to do with skin colour. The liner notes boast that the lyrics may prove hazardous to your health, but they have some great guitar solos so who cares? The Dictators could sure play, but they're not overly musical; they're funny but not overtly ha-ha - and there's an energetic spirit that's certainly not for everyone but I like it lots. '(I Live For) Cars and Girls' sums up the ethos about as perfectly as possible, but 'Teengenerate' is the real winner; it's a bit Sparks, a bit 90s pop-punk, and a lot of that recent revival of bands like Nobunny. 'California Sun' really opens up this pipeline, and Handsome Dick Manitoba's spoken monologue at the beginning of 'Two Tub Man' I think namedrops E. Bloom from Blue Öyster Cult, who was also produced by Sandy Pearlman. Maybe this should be a litmus test, a record to play for anyone if one wants to determine if they like rock music or not. Cause it's smart to be dumb, and it can be dumb to be smart (though I love my Eno records even more than this). I used to think I had to choose one of these camps but now I try to lumber between both. That's another reason I like music so much - there's a zillion personalities for us to choose from.

2 July 2012

Devo - 'Duty Now For the Future' (Warner Bros.)

The inexorable progress towards new wave! Devo's second album is pretty hot but it's definitely a change in sound. The really brutal, primitive broken stuff is less prevalent - no 'Too Much Paranoias' here -- and the keyboards are more prominent. Devo seems to have taken on their sci-fi influence more overtly, as these songs suggest robots and space travel more than they seem to be about Devolution. Exceptions, of course - opening cut 'Clockout' and 'Smart Patrol' have that sense of regression, but otherwise this is a 'Wiggly World', with faster and sharper guitar turns, thick digital keyboard assonance and a significantly more intelligent vibe. Don't worry, though - 'The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize' is about V.D. (I think) and 'Pink Pussycat' has the high-school sex-starved nerd imagery that began on the Hardcore-era cuts. 'Day My Baby' contains a 60s (or maybe 50s)-influenced chorus that shows Devo are capable of utter pop brilliance if they want. The opening "Devo Corporate Anthem' (surely performed at the beginning of every Devo cover band concert, or at least the two that I've played in and/or attended) sets the tone - Devo really are a corporation, active to this day in jingle-writing and other such work, and this philosophy seems to merge well with the misanthropic art-fuck of their origins. 'Mr. DNA' has a punk edge, and also contains the beautiful lyric 'He's an altruistic pervert', which is the best kind, right? Every song on here is a winner, pretty much, except for the cover of 'Secret Agent Man', which lacks the irony of 'Satisfaction' - though its still competent enough, I suppose. At the same time, this feels like the beginning of the end - I've never hung around for the 'Girl U Want'/'Whip It' era, though it's still wonderful and amazing that they found chart success. If I were a Devo conspiracy theorist, maybe I would point to this as being the point in which Mark Mothersbaugh asserts himself as proper 'leader' of the band, having swung away from Jerry Casale (where the balance was probably felt perfectly on the first album) - but that's not to say I don't like Mothersbaugh as a musician, artist, and overall renaissance man.