Sunday, July 31, 2011

Intrigue and Stuff

A strange musical week this week, as strange as the week itself. I had to contend with a certain lugubriousness in the face of too much work, over tiredness and little optimism about the future while the majority of my colleagues made their happy plans and their way to August summer holidays. The rest of the week was filled with diverse musical crystalisations on par with a sequence pf strange and seemingly random scenes and images.

Firstly, at one stage during the week I was called go the balcony of my fifth floor apartment by the drunken shouting of a man in the street. The man of African or French origin has been around a few times lately, always in the company of his beer and sitting tucked quietly away in one doorway or another. Our street is a rarity for down town Barcelona in that it has few shops and virtually no human or vehicle traffic, meaning it has been a convenient place over the years for people to step out of the rush and drink a few beers, roll and smoke a joint, or even hide from the police as many illegal street vendors do. The normally quiet man was this time surly, shouting racist comments against the Catalans. Many others had come to the window as is usual in such situations, including one neighbour from the building next door. He began retorting against the drunk in Spanish – perhaps an important consideration since if he was truly offended by the racist insults he might have used Catalan. As the man rained down his abuse, the drunk staggered to his feet and approached the neighbours balcony gingerly before grabbing his crotch and thrusting it at him

“Comme ça Catalan?… comme ça?” (Like that Catalan?... Like that) he yelled in French.

Needless to say the “Catalan” wasn’t impressed. Moments later he appeared on the street in sandals a pair of shorts and nothing else, but armed with a broom. He approached the drunk man and continued his own verbal tirade.

“Largate boracho de mierda. Fuera de aquí hijo de puta…. Vete ya…!” (Get  lost you drunk piece of shit. Get away from here you son of a bitch… go now!).

He pushed the drunk and when he staggered he used the end of the broom to knock the can of beer from his hands.

“No lo hagas Javier por favour. No lo hagas!” (Don´t do it Javier. Don’t do it!) came the cries of a woman from another balcony on the other side. Javier (a Spanish name with the Catalan equivalent being Xavier and pronounced differently of course) raised the broom several times and brought it crashing over the back and raised arm of the drunk. The drunk moved away and Javier, perhaps realising his folly, also stood back.

“Estoy llamando a la policía. No lo hagas más Javier por favor.” (I am calling the pólice. Please don’t do it again Javier).

The drunk clearly not hurt too badly staggered towards Javier and tried to push and continuing with his Catalan insults. The almost nude Javier easily side stepped him and prodded him back with the broom handle without wielding it fully against him.

“Basta ya boracho de mierda… vete o te pegaré de verded” (Enough you drunk shit, get out of here or I will hit  you properly). Javier abruptly turned and retreated to his flat while the drunk loitered quietly until all the faces had gone from the balconies and then started up again with his aggressive shouting.

I turned from this scene to my own flat where my girlfriend was watching the end of the reality tv show “Survivor”. The first thing I saw after turning from the fight was a helicopter landing in the sun somewhere near Madrid from out of out of which jumped four women in bikinis, three in their twenties or thirties and another pushing 50. All were excessively tanned and emaciated from being three months on an island scrapping for food with the only noticeable exception being their large silicone breasts which had survived the ravages of hunger.

This week I also saw a dirty looking man bend over to pull an ear ring from the gutter and almost be knocked over by a car in the process. What would he do with his treasure I wondered?

The contrast of images and image within image reminded me of J. G. Ballard’s book “The Atrocity Exhibition” which works like all the news reels you have ever seen distilled into one short novel of horrors. The contrast of “sexy” with “war machine”, “violence” with “decadence” and add to it  the whirling blood of fear from having been close to real violence makes for a disturbing combination.

“Take my hand and I will show you what was and what will be
This is the way, step inside”

Sings Ian Curtis in the last line of his famous tribute to the book.

Yesterday as well, was an unusual day: the forecast rains arrived, but not as a shower, but as the worst torrential down pour I have ever seen in person – and on the first day of summer holidays! The sky blackened to resemble night and the wind began to howl and tear up the trees. We were in the supermarket on La Rambla at the time and had to shelter there for 20 minutes with nearly a hundred others as the darkened streets became deserted. Some men entered and tried to sell the crowd stolen umbrellas for €1 each (how else could they be that price?). Eventually it began to ease a little and we took a chance. Running with 10kg of more of shopping was a difficult thing. All the drains had flooded and the street was submerged to the ankles and there was no avoiding it. Hours later the sun was out and the streets dried.

This episode at least reminds me of some music. M_nus is often a tedious label that all sounds the same and sometimes overly designed and/or intellectual, but with little freedom or feeling. Nonetheless, I am always drawn to it as there is usually something to be found. This is indeed the case with the new album “After the storm” by Argentina’s Mauricio Barembuem aka Barem. The track listing is like a vertical poem in the same way as Lucy’s “Wordplay for Working Bees”, reading “There is nothing better than a clear blue sky after the storm”. Barem’s production on the album emphasises the high end particularly. Sometimes it feels like half the mix or more is located there, squeezing out the midrange as is so common on minimal tracks, but especially on the first half of the album which is more jazzy with its heavy emphasis on intricate snares, high hats and other percussive noise that isn’t the kick drum. The best track in my opinion is the penultimate “Sky” which sounds both like M_nus and the rest of the album, but neatly side steps being trapped in either of these worlds. Droney, resonant and with a more balanced mix and equal emphasis on melodies and progression, and not siund design and texture, it easily stands above the rest, which is still actually quite good ofr a M_nus release.

Like many others I have also been appreciating the recent releases from James “Leyland” Kirby aka the Caretaker. However, I must confess tpo having been first put off a little by the title “Intrigue and Stuff” when the first volume came out. The title apparently comes from Martin Hannett who described the Factory Records operation in this way. It seemed a little cheap for the first volume, but it seemed only to make sense once the second volume arrived, with the intervening “An empty bliss beyond this world” album by the Caretaker also playing an important role. Putting on the second volume I was expecting it to sound like the recent Caretaker set, which in itself resembled the epic “Sadly, the future is no longer what it was” mega album from 2009. That nothing on “Vol. 2” resembles either the Caretaker or “Vol. 1” seemed to drive home the meaning of the title, that these releases were really a pick and mix collection of studio experiments that should not be interpreted to have any collective meaning.

I recently mentioned the Laurel Halo single as something completely unexpected for good reasons, but another recent  curiosity is the forthcoming/current Amon Tobin single for Ninja Tune called “Surge”. The RA editor informs me that Tobin was the highlight of the recent Mutek festival, but no matter what he plays live, it seems a strange choice to include a short, abstract electronic piece as the A-side to a new single.

However, whatever confusion the A-side might cause, you cannot fault the immense remix by 16-Bit on the flip-side which has some of the most evil sounds and heavy bass you have heard for a long time.

While on dubstep sounds, a rare 5/5 this week for an album from RA, for Machinedrums post-footwork mess up and mash down “Room(s)” that came out on Planet Mu. Much better than the likes of James Blake et el in my opinion, jittery and restless,

Seguing from dubstep to techno cannot be done in any other way, or by anyone better than Surgeon whose recent album “Breaking the Frame” has been number one on my personal radio of late. However, there are several things that many reviewers have not picked up on. On Resident Advisor, Michaelanelo Matos cleverly picked up the art gallery reference to the the title, whereas my good friend Josh Meggitt  intelligently picked out the anti-ambient feel to some tracks and the Basic Channel references. However, there are several other intriguing aspects to the album. One is that the vinyl version begins inside the run-in groove, especially for the techno track “The Power of Doubt” suggesting perhaps that it has “broken the frame” as it exists outside the physical space of the record. Careful nalysis of the track listing also reveals many references to darkness, doubt and negative concepts in true Surgeon style. However, it is “Radiance” that forms the middle section of the album and is the only track title to be written in capitals, suggesting that it might convey a special meaning. Finally, in the Sonar roundup, I mentioned Anthony Child has been fascinated with Alice Coltrane lately, but no one seems to have mentioned that “Presence” has some curious samples that sound particularly like a harp that might have been played by Alice Coltrane…

The new John Maus album “We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves” (in itself a very Leyland Kirby-like titlee) seems to be getting quite a lot of hyperbolic press which surprises me a great deal. I must confess to obtaining it by illegal download on a whim looking for “different” things, knowing nothing about it. Within days he seemed serendipitously everywhere, including the Wire (July 2011 Issue). However, I just cannot understand what it is all about. It seems just like synth waves hypnagogic retromania (sic) for 80s synth pop done by a guy brought up listening to indie music. “Streetlight” has some lovely synths, but the singing just isn’t up to it, while “Quantum Leap” (also known as “Dead Zone” is just a hidden cover of Mission of Burma’s “Academy Flight Song” done with a vocal delivery somewhere between Ian Curtis and Suicide.

The slow Demerol-like drawl of “Cop Killer” is perhaps my favourite track form the album despite its child-like lyrics inspired by too many B-films perhaps:

“Cop Killer.
Let’s kill the cops tonight
Cop killer
Kill every cop in sight
Against the law”

What is strange about John Maus in the Wire at least, was that while he receives a one page article and plenty of praise, the recent Joel Ford and Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin  album “Channel pressure” was given a bad review the previous issue, despite proferring a similar style of synth wave pop.  Here, the vocals enhance the pop sensibility, while the inclusion of rawkus 80s rock guitar samples and licks really completes the retro vibe while adding contrast to the smoother synths.

Ask yourself why isn’t this on the radio?

For a hint of guitars, look no further than “Joey Rogers”

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