Archive | 1996 music RSS feed for this section

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’ album reissue (“opera singer, cat purr, wise seductress, vocal trapeze”)

27 Jul
Edwige: 'You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger'

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’

I seem to remember that that title is a Chinese proverb about fools missing the point: presumably this is a warning that Edwige is pointing to somewhere interesting, and that if you pay too much attention to the way she does it then you’ll miss the why. Certainly you can get sidetracked by trying to pigeonhole her music. Like any city-smart pigeon, it struggles and flits away from capture.

So what is this? It’s folky, but with at least one eye trained above the treetops. It’s French but it isn’t (despite the accent and the chanson/cabaret flutter, Edwige is London-based and Anglophone, aligned to the world in general, and open to angels). It’s poppy, but salted with the ascerbic willpower of a woman who’s lived long enough to have her own individual way of doing things. And while she’ll welcome fellow travellers, she’s confident enough not to be too worried about whether you go along with it or not. I think I like that.

It brings back a memory, too. When I was about fourteen, one of the key albums for my raging, hormonal inner life was Kate Bush’s ‘Never For Ever’. I used to have an odd relationship with that record. I’d play it all the time, never sure whether I actually wanted to or not. I remember it felt like a wayward friend on a perpetual mood swing: it was poised on a wobbly adolescent axis of feyness, promise and wisdom, and put me through bouts of frustration and love. How could one album zoom so unpredictably between cutesy kiddie fairy tales and vaginal vamping, between stardust fantasy and nuke-generation fears, vengefulness and nurture? And how could it tangle them all up in such a wayward, compelling way, but still make me want to smack the naivety out of it? No wonder I eventually ended up shoving it in the cupboard and heading for the more straightforward push and bump of indie-pop to soundtrack my later teens.

Many years of The Smiths, The Fall and My Bloody Valentine later, ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ reminds me of that early shamanic Kate Bush girl-pop. It’s not just because those arch, slanting vocals constantly recall ‘Never For Ever’s Coffee Homeground; or because I Am A Temple, from its Nile guitar twang to its waft of desert synth and the aerial-bending vocals, is a ringer for the storybook mystique Bush brought into play on Egypt. OK, Edwige’s music doesn’t carry the same weight of sensual bewitchment. It betrays its budget origins via keyboards that sometimes dip into tweeness and rinky-dink; and by a no-frills recording that sonically cramps her cosmic-tinged imaginings, cramming the cornucopia into a garden shed. But ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ does show the same fascination with the free-flowing mind that’s one of hippydom’s more useful legacies, and it can carry its eccentricity convincingly as well.

A lot of this is to do with Edwige’s voice: a wonderful, peculiar, obliquely beautiful thing. It curves itself round the tones of opera singer, cat purr, wise seductress, vocal trapeze… all with glass-etching clarity and weird ricochets. It’s like a combination of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins and a French Eddi Reader without the gawkiness or the broadsheet approval. Actually, don’t stop there: look towards the Strange And Flamboyant Women In Pop section. In spite of the two-dimensional production, Edwige also pulls off the trick of sounding a bit like Bjork’s long-lost boho auntie. She doesn’t possess Bjork’s genius spark of child-vision, or her way with a contemporary sound (it’s French cafe culture round here, not club culture: you’ll find no beats, samples or Trickies). But she does have that same bungee-elastic vocal yaw – admittedly delivered with Edith Piaf’s brand of declamation, and with the sort of melodies and poised guitar strums that go with ten-foot silk scarfs swirled round swan-necks.

The songs themselves fizz just on the right side of easy listening. They’re frequently soft and fluffy, but with deceptive bends. Each is a moment, polished and expansively lit, in a life that’s become a quest in which there’s no goal but an understanding – an ordinary life illuminated by extraordinary lights. Downtrodden and downbeat on No Shape For Love, Edwige can be revived enough to put on a spiritual throb of benediction for Be Blessed. She’ll caress you with a dedication of warm, supportive love on Serve You Well. She’ll also slap you down with a moment’s notice, scolding and instructing in slightly fractured English. “If I open up my heart, it’s not to please your fantasy… / You think you are my king, you’re just a slave of your own enemy.”

Throughout the album, Edwige slings assorted moods and styles around herself like hula-hoops, keeping a core of determination but remaining free-floating. She will go all Jane Siberry and produce fluffy-edged clouds of electric guitar for The Dearest – a fragile love song where the unselfconscious fairytale imagery teases out a winning pathos. If pushed, she’ll become flamboyant, defiant and unreachable, as she is on I Am A Temple (“don’t you dare pry into my life!”). Yet she’s happy – on If You Were The One – to suddenly ditch the eerie and mystical to trill away on the kind of cosy tap-dancing tearoom jazz that you’d have thought long-lost on 1950s lounge records, or to toss out a dash of Celtic sounds with ‘The Omen’ (Clannad harps and tricky jig-in-a-box/jump-into-the-sea rhythms).

Back in 1999, the original version of this album was also noisier. Edwige occasionally dabbled in a kind of accidental techno, or flew in some famished rock guitars to add roar. For this 2003 reissue, she’s ditched these particular quirks and re-recorded a couple of songs as acoustic versions. Something’s lost when Tune Up All Your Violins has its bull-in-a-china-shop clatter removed, but Edwige, strumming away solo and singing forcefully, still uses it to plunge through cosmic arcana like a costumed hero on her own cryptic spiritual mission. They Won’t Make Me Nervous is shorn of its crashing electric guitars and bendy orchestral fogs of synth, but keeps everything else, including the super-soaring choruses on which Edwige zips and kinks like a skidding comet.

The two songs at each end of the album unfurl Edwige’s searching musical and spiritual ambitions to the full, the instruments coming alive out of their budget politeness and warming the air. To Discover lounges in rich, luxurious music – lazy acoustic guitars, damask curtains of synth – but Edwige’s voice cuts through the slumber like a little silver knife. In the middle of comfort (“thinking love is here forever to remain… / and life has no more to offer than what you already knew”) there are breakdowns and hard lessons ahead: “you still have to discover.” And the climatic grandeur of Stillness suggests that she’s reached some sort of peace, looking back over the terrain of the life-quest with a sympathetic eye.

“You need to be loved, and you need to be told, but there’s no reassurance… / You feed yourself with books and beliefs / and stick on your windshield / pictures and maps / so you won’t see your direction… / And try to get peace rearranging confusion… / Still looking for Eden, El Dorado, still looking for a search / when in the stillness…is home.”

Then The Voice shoots up to ecstatic heights, hits the stars, ignites them in a wave of flame, and sees out the album with an ascending, aspirant note. Edwige is smiling and pirouetting somewhere on the pavement where Parisian cafe music (accordions and sparklers) meets the sussed cosmic chick (tarot, tai-chi and her own flat). Someone get her a decent producer and the space to fling a few more scarves around, and she’ll take us off to a brighter night, where a giant moon is untroubled by idiots pointing and where cats somersault over the chimney pots.

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’
Quasar Music, EDW1CD/KCA (634479459061)
CD/cassette/download album
Released: 2003 (originally released 1996)

Buy it from:
Quasar Music or CD Baby.

Edwige online:
Homepage YouTube

Podsdarapomuk @ The Hope & Anchor, Islington, London, November 13th 1996 & January 23rd 1997 (“passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge”)

29 Jan

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk onstage (photographer unknown).

On an early-November afternoon in 1996, I’d hopped out of a car travelling up from Kent and made my way to one of ‘Organ’ magazine’s “Vital Organ” gigs at the London Astoria 2. As usual, I was following their lead on where newer progressive and psychedelic rock was pushing at the door. At the moment I can’t quite remember who was playing. Some scribbled notes somewhere might tell me that it was Sleepy People (still tootling, yelping and gamely plugging away at their foothold on the capital), or Porcupine Tree (keeping a sharp grip on themselves and gathering speed at their own pace). Or perhaps it was Terry Bickers continuing on the slow, injured trajectory out of his House of Love and Levitation stardom – winding out ashy cigarette-coils of dream guitar with his recently trimmed-down, soon-to-vanish Cradle, he was avoiding eye contact, preparing to evaporate. However, that’s a story for another time, if I can dig the details up.

Over at the merchandise stall, I was leafing through the Organ stock of colour-splashed vinyl and obscure demo tapes – a typically eclectic, magical crop from bands with unknown names, complex influences and musical agendas ignored elsewhere (people were concentrating on Oasis’ gobby bloat, and on the sorry disintegration of The Stone Roses). It was then that I was collared by an earnest young German drummer called Claas Sandbothe: wiry limbs and granny glasses, a schoolboy’s fringe, a grinful of persistent little teeth. He tried to talk me into buying something by his band, Podsdarapomuk; an enthusiastic rave about it from Marina at ‘Organ’ clinched the deal. So I bought Claas’ band’s EP, and it just knocked me out.

Ten days later, and I’m in a pub cellar in Islington as the group takes the stage. Podsdarapomuk turn out to be five young gentlemen-longhairs in suits and ties; German-born (hailing from an out-of-the-way little town near Stuttgart) but London-based (up near Leyton, home to many an intriguing left-field band of late). They look like a young undertaker’s convention. They grin shyly, and sound like…

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

…well, hell, we really are onto something here. Imagine a band with the nervous jazzy edge and contemporary noisy indie-cum-art-rock punch of dEUS, but which also sounds like every period of King Crimson from 1969 to 1996 all rolled into one; apparently taking its melodic cues from Gentle Giant and its double-back musical bungee-jumping from Mr. Bungle or Primus, and stirring in more than a smidgin of John Zorn. That’s what we have here – something complex, wearing its hungry tonal erudition on its sleeve.

But don’t expect wackiness or calisthenics; and while there’s a strong dose of prog to the band, it’s the crepuscular kind. While Podsdarapomuk may have left home, they’ve also brought it with them – trailing sombre Germanic influences, their music prowls rather than jiggles. It has a peculiar, rickety-ghost-house unease to it. Studied, grotesque expressionism wells through the lyrics – images of puppets, of ships in peril, of flowers and beautiful paintings about to have huge, horrible shadows cast over them. Elusive, sinister pictures are etched by the beautiful haunted wail of Daniel Klemm, which rooftop-hops over Lars Puder’s sinewy bass, Klaas’ stalk-and-pat drumming and the dual punch of clawing guitars from brooding main tunesmith/spine-provider Thorsten Pachur and his sweeter foil Christian Schmidt. Debra Scacco (one of London’s art-school journeywomen), guests on flute, offering a sunny smile and journeying melodies which seem to follow their own sweetly oblivious path on top of the raging electric music underneath.

They’re scrupulously polite and smiling throughout: solicitously ensuring that we’re comfortable before they tear into our eardrums. A Dream & Rage In A Cage teeters briefly on Daniel’s eerie chant before the band plunge down into concerted action and a succession of metallic talon feints, as they were trying to blowtorch and harrow fresh life King Crimson’s ‘VROOOM’ via Captain Beefheart restlessness. Heavy jazz-electric riffage ransacks the room on A Fool’s Smile, like a threesome of John McLaughlin, Fred Frith and Hendrix turned bad, all stalking each other with Bowie knives. The punks in the room are confused and sulking. The little knot of proggies present are jamming themselves up near the front to drink it all in. They get it. Crimson-like, the Pods alternate passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge.

Podsdarapomuk's Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk’s Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

The effect is a bit like unscrewing the back of a magnificent antique clock, only for the clockwork to burst out and ambush you in a chaotic explosion of precision parts. Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue tumbles into grungy post-Fripp shapes, lunging haphazardly over Daniel’s slice’n’dice vocals and the bebop-y spine of Claas and Lars’ rhythms. On the hunched, hanging Make The King Laugh ( which sometimes sounds like the Shulman brothers soundtracking ‘Twin Peaks’ by way of stuttering trip hop), Christian adds to the unsettling shimmer by tricking alien insect-calls out of his guitar with his slide and the jack-plug.

Podsdarapomuk close the set with the comparative calm of Is It? – a spindled and vulnerable bit of near-acoustica which, again, is reminiscent of Gentle Giant, but which also has the ravaged prayer-feeling of Kurt Cobain. On the final whispering, jazzy chord, it’s as if a door has shut on a world of ever-so-slightly dangerous wonder: one you know you’ll soon want to open again.

*********

Two months and four gigs later… It’s January 1997, and I’m back at the Hope & Anchor watching a group that’s evolving at a frightening speed. Personally, they’re still as polite and amiable as ever, still given to mild surreal humour and little comedies of manners. (In a nod to ‘Don’t Look Back’, Daniel is now holding up cards with the song titles printed on them). In contrast, Podsdarapomuk’s mutable music seems about as stable as nitro-glycerine these days. Watching it go off is a rare thrill. Sometimes the band’s music explodes in a jagged flash of brightness: sometimes it’s just an ominous smoke-cloud rolling out from the stage, filled with glowing cinders and embers.

Thorsten Pachur - Podsdarapomuk's brooding heart (photographer unknown).

Thorsten Pachur – Podsdarapomuk’s brooding heart (photographer unknown).

There’s plenty of new material. The chippy guitar intro of Waiting For God leads into a mating of jazzy-walking with Beefheart word-slicing, and even if you could brush this off as being a little shapeless and jammy, they rock you back on your heels with the following I’m Your Dog, a blistering blast that could have come off the most ferocious moments of ‘Exposure’ via The Jesus Lizard. Another new song swerves along like a sprinter weaving through a minefield, Thorsten and Christian morse-coding their guitars over the kind of skittish body-blocking drum patterns that’d make Bill Bruford weep with joy. Later, they’ll be telling me that they’ve been saving every penny to catch Bob Berg gigs at Ronnie Scott’s: that they’ve been studying with Talvin Singh, and listening to Portishead.

It’s clear that their studies and their omnivorous hunger is flourishing into new creative heights. Most evidently, the restless electric jazz that was always percolating deep down in the Podsdaramomuk sound is starting to flood up now, raising the boats and crowding in at the windows. Songs are evolving – Make The King Laugh has somehow deepened, added layers of delirium and almost become a new genre of dub-prog. When A Dream & Rage In A Cage makes a reappearance, it’s been seductively greased and funked-up; Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue has become tighter, fiercer. Another new piece, Biscuit Murder Blues, is full of forbidding Bark Psychosis jazz-guitar swells, and effortlessly morphs from Daniel’s sleazeball lounge-lizard singing to frenetic pogo-punk in an eyeblink.

They finish up with the tap-dancing metal-mathcore of Little Bombs, with a shriek of John Coltrane saxophone flown in on tape. I finish up with a dawning belief that Podsdarapomuk could go anywhere from here. Unfortunately, it looks as if it’s going to be Berlin – they’re already planning for the end of their London sojourn, and we’ll only have them until the middle of the year. It’ll take us that long to remember how to pronounce their name properly. Perhaps we should spend the time appreciating what we’ve got, while we have it.

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk – concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk online:
Homepage MySpace Last FM

The Hope & Anchor online:
Homepage Facebook

Bunty Chunks: ‘Brain Ep’ mini-album (“violent eccentricity and an atmosphere of coded warning”)

16 Nov
Bunty Chunks: 'Brain Ep'

Bunty Chunks: ‘Brain Ep’

A bizarre, triple-jointed noise, ‘Brain Ep’ is twenty-two minutes worth of sixteen razor-honed two-minute songs. Any band of indie stoners could copy this note for note, slow it down by two-thirds and still end up with enough music for three years of releases. Bunty Chunks slam it all out at once. They’re probably one of the only groups who could deliver you a full concept album using only a split 7-inch with Napalm Death. And the Ep is short for Epilepsy.

So what kind of band would name themselves after a dismembered issue of a long-defunct girl’s comic? Well, theirs is a sound of seriously intense stunt guitar, twitchy hardcore tub-bashing and voice-of-doom Valkyrie vocals from Lisa Bailey. It’s as if Steve Vai (during his Zappa tenure, not his metal stardom) had skidded on the soap during bathtime, crashed through the window dripping and naked as a newborn, and finally fallen splat through next door’s roof, straigh into the middle of a women-only workshop of opera lessons. (Yeah, well, things like that happen to me most weeks…) I could also suggest L7 doing a jigsaw with Wire, Slapp Happy being forced to speak after being shut away and mainlining espresso for a solid month, or a Public Image Ltd. lineup with a Zappa complexity fetish. Otherwise there don’t seem to be many precedents for Bunty Chunks’ music. Which is a shame, because then life would be a lot more interesting than it actually is.

‘Brain Ep’ delivers a fruit salad stunt-punk, where the guitar weaves ridiculously complicated loops as Lisa vomits up hairball blasts of surrealist rhetoric. These in turn are decorated with scattered ad-slogans, one-liners and dismembered moments of sharp poetry. Seemingly taking as much influence from random cartoons and Rorschach blots as from real life, Bunty Chunks lean heavily into a disturbed world of childlike imagination and often topple into ludicrous playroom weirdness. Songs sport titles like Dog Made of Foam, Kojak Ring of Confidence or Fly Away Sausage Boy. Lisa’s lyrics are full of sinister, comical transformations: feet turn into chickens, stirrup pumps hurl abuse, and even Pavarotti reveals a hideous alter-ego. Yet there are stories in there too (embedded in the word-rashes) even if they do seem to have been tied in knots by a Turkish masseur and forced through a shattered kaleidoscope.

Lisa’s unstoppable voice – iron-hard and utterly committed, with a car-alarm urgency – is key to this. Taking what could otherwise be colourful whimsy, she pushes it out sounding like no-nonsense observation. She can navigate the paranoid mutterings and memories of a vagrant (in Hobo) or hurl out chattering expressions of rage at the demands of scrounging friends and partners (in Pay Up Ape). Similarly, she can also handle the put-upon fretting that sizzles in The Cat Tooth; the feverish dreams of mortality and aging in We Grow Up With Bones; and all of the bizarre characters that these songs suggest are marching in and out of her memory and life like a plague of amorphous, opportunistic aliens. (“Years later I would say I realise then, the only thing you can sell and still own… he was not a cripple, but he could pretend to be like no other.”)

While there’s little variety in her arresting, confrontational tone, its sheer conviction nails Bunty Chunks’ apparent flights of fancy down hard to the tarmac, rendering them as gritty as life in a rotting tower block. Despite the hallucinatory feel of the band’s songs, her edge gives them a visionary clarity. Lisa’s simultaneously the person who urgently buttonholes you for attention in the wasteland, and the woman who’s guarding and watching at the door, keeping a hard eye on the inside and the outside. Balanced between violent eccentricity and an atmosphere of coded warning, ‘Brain Ep’ comes across like a lifetime of very tricky parallel-dimension social work, carried out in a city of grotesques.

Considering that they’re the ones who got us into this, Bunty Chunks make pretty good guides to get us through. This in spite of the fact that they’ve junked verse-chorus-verse, and you’d better come in strapped up for a relentless (sometimes irritating) barrage of storm-tossed notes. But it’s worth the visit. At the very least you get to see Lisa and the other ‘Chunks playing with giddy intent: within sight of a million tunes yet never settling on any particular one, with eyes and ears stretched far too wide open to settle for anything as simple as boy-meets-girl. “Brain ep convulsions.” You said it, Lisa. Fits for a queen. So where’s the sixty-minute triple album, then?

Bunty Chunks: ‘Brain Ep’
Noiseburger Records, NB5 (5019148710073)
CD-only mini-album
Released: 1996

Buy it from:
Long deleted – look for this second-hand.

Bunty Chunks online:
LastFM

Moonshake: ‘Dirty And Divine’ album (“like ghost trains – whistling and rattling across the room”)

10 Oct
Moonshake: 'Dirty And Divine'

Moonshake: ‘Dirty And Divine’

Even as a small chunk of mid-’90s London rediscovered how to swing and posed for Time Magazine, life carried on as usual for most of the rest of us. The weeks of quiet desperation, the litter in the corners, the urges and the grinds that don’t match up. While the Britpop scene whooped it up in the happening neighbourhoods, Moonshake were sitting up late with whitened knuckles in rented high-rise rooms, or prowling the mean streets spitting out stories.

Moonshake’s intensely visual songwriting and soundcraft always seemed born of hard-boiled cinematic overload. On 1994’s stunning ‘The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow’, lead ‘Shake Dave Callahan rubbed the unsparing urban soul-mining of The The up against The Young Gods’ overpowering walls of sampled sound, and beat both of them for sheer grit and presence. Determinedly guitar-free, taking their cornered-rat savagery from Callahan’s paint-stripping sneer and Raymond Dickaty’s ferocious arsenal of treated saxes and flutes, Moonshake’s harrowing street-literature songs were heavily sample-textured: but they travelled light and fast, drawing on tooth-rattling, uptight, Can-inflected dub grooves. They were twenty-first-century urban blues, as tough and unyielding as steel wire. Most importantly, sound was everywhere: cramming into the ears, surrounding the head with a blurred, terrifying out-of-scale world.

For some, the methodology of post-rock has served as an excuse to get lost, to unshackle yourself from precision, swallow your own guitar, womb yourself up in universal sonic tissue and drop out of language altogether. For Moonshake, it goes the other way. Callahan’s bitter, precise, dramatic language – shading his harsh sorties into hard-times lives with a poetic flair reminiscent of a punk Dickens, or of Brecht and Weill – is central. It’s just that rock instrumentation is too imprecise, too blunt to do it justice. Post-rock possibilities, and the overwhelming landscapes regurgitated by samplers is the only sensible framework for the way this band captures the world. Moonshake songs are like ghost trains – whistling and rattling across the room on forbidding, chilling loops of warped and mangled sampled sound, whirling you through a clatter of noise; dropping you into the thick of things; fucking with your sense of placement and angles, and thrusting gritty reality into your face.

‘Dirty And Divine’ is – at first hearing, anyway – more modest in its scope than ‘The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow’, That album lunged out of the speakers and went for your throat, both the epic stinking script and score for a vast, hideous film about the downside of the London experience. In comparison, ‘Dirty And Divine’ is more Mike Leigh to its predecessor’s Terry Gilliam. The ram-raided orchestra samples are pared back in favour of metallic whooshes and industrial-sump bubbling; Dickaty’s been given a free rein to mutate himself into an ensemble of mangled brass and breath. Centrally, Callahan’s songwriting emphasis has narrowed down. The clank and snap of Cranes sets the agenda, capturing the ebb and flow of a locked-down, clock-watching workforce in widescreen: “the builders are earning their daily bread / and they make sure they eat it every day at one o’clock… / The housewife’s dreams evaporate / as her husband’s nightshift ends at eight.”

Yet ‘Dirty And Divine’ also provides the backdrop for rebellions against the timeclock and the grind. Most of the album homes in on the stories of individuals. Where previous songs were a pageant of strain, entrapment and stagnation (a whore and her regulars, a protracted divorce) this record deals with what happens when frustration breaks out and escalates into quests for further, greater stimulation. The chance-addict of Gambler’s Blues gropes for a chance to be empowered, to face a challenge he can respect (“sometimes I pluck order out of the form – / I slack for a moment, the moment is gone”) but pays the price anyway: “I’m a gambler, and sometimes I lose, / but the kick’s in the playing, not paying the dues. / Always an offer I cannot refuse, / always a time-bomb I cannot defuse.”

In Exotic Siren Song, a young man hits the wide world for a perilous life of opium-dens, brothels and high stakes, keeping company with gun-runners and fraudsters, dodging pirates and police. Initially rejoicing at the chance to live by his wits, he ends up jaded, complaining “nothing now is really new.” The adrenalin-hooked petty crook on Up For Anything lives by his instincts and his appetites – “I’ll balance on the balcony, twenty-one floors high, / swinging from the vapour trails, ropes in the sky… / I can’t count the conquests and I can’t tell the time.” The buzz is still strong enough for him to dismiss the damage that will come, when “in ten year’s time I’ll be the boy with the mashed potato body. / All this champagne living on beer money, / out among the bumper-car people who never say sorry.” His counterpart, the elusive criminal in House On Fire (think Nine Inch Nails meets ‘Badlands’) has perfected the art of living on the edge. His wife may break under police questioning, his invisibility may evaporate and the law pounce on him, but he’s already working on plans for manipulating his fellow jailbirds.

He’s the exception – in most songs the downslide is never far away. Throughout the album, speed and appetite are portrayed as a drive that becomes a monkey on the back. Yet while it lasts it’s a hell of a ride. Another of Callahan’s savage stress-head characters snarls: “You’re too open, and you’re too easy. / When I’m out, I do as I damn well pleasey… / The only light I need sweeps through the window… / Keeping a monster comes in handy. / Hard candy…” To stop and think in this rolling, callous world is to invite despair.

To do him credit, Callahan unflinchingly represents this as well, offering up a couple of his most intimate songs. The make-or-break musings of Nothing But Time ponder the next step (“now I come to a fork in the road”) and weigh up possibilities: “Shall I cause some destruction that none shall understand, / undyke my finger and flood the whole land?… / I let you go and then you come back. / Shall I pick at your nature until you react?” Ultimately, plans are left perpetually hanging in weary, lonely resignation (“I’ve got my own design for something quite grand… / You can appreciate even if you don’t understand,”) all wrapped in rolling Arabian horns and the gonging sound of empty vessels.

Too late. The Taboo (swathed in flugelhorn and rippling harpstrings) surfaces at the end of the album: the last moment of awful drunken clarity before the final fall. It’s a lament for the loss of honesty – for the lost ability to be vulnerable and unveil the tender truth of yourself. Cards should be on the table, but no-one will make the move. “If I were to be really careful, / and take pride in everything I do, / I would show you what ‘really’ is – / and I can’t, ‘cos it’s taboo.” The seasick backing music swirls: vision flattens. The loved one recedes across the table, behind a wall of well- worn gambling chips and smeared shot-glasses. “If I were to show you how I feel, / would you call me blue? / If we could reach out and touch each other? / But we can’t, ‘cos it’s taboo.” Almost touching, but out of sight. House wins.

This album is a brutally compassionate mausoleum to burnout, made from raw words and cracked sinews. Lay those dusty dreams to rest.

Moonshake: ‘Dirty And Divine’
C/Z Records/World Domination Records, WDOM028CD (5032059002822)
CD-only album
Released: 4th October 1996

Buy it from:
Various suppliers, or second-hand.

Moonshake online:
Facebook MySpace Last FM

Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’ album (“ambient emotional blackmail”)

24 Aug
Aqueous: 'Tall Cloudtrees Falling'

Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’

One thing ambient music is supposed to do is to be passive and let you play the unlistener. That way, you know where you stand. Put on an ambient record, flood yourself with the pastel light or shadow of your choice, lie back and just relax into it like a big cushion of sound waves. There might or might not be some gentle beats involved, you might get the odd trumpet or whale-song, it might be dark or it might be light… Whatever it is, you’ve got control and it’s tailored to one-size-fits-all. No problems. No thinking necessary.

Aqueous: ‘Catching Sight of Land’

At first hearing, Aqueous’ ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’ sounds as if it’s going to be one of those archetypal ambient throw-pillows. Listening to Andrew Heath and Felix Jay gently ping and buzz their way through Catching Sight of Land (whole-tone scale digital abstractions; robotic bass blobbing up in gentle ruminant belches) or Under a Heavy Sky’s dewdrops of Rhodes piano and wowing buzzes, you can settle down, open your book, drift off…

Hang about. Brain message, confused. Surely there should be something here to latch on to? The reassuring melody-ette, the heartbeat to the ambient womb? Either someone’s made off with it, or Aqueous have folded it up like origami – all the expected angles in the wrong place. You can’t read the book; there are gaps in the music which your subconscious is forcing you to listen to. Ambient emotional blackmail.

And eventually you have to respond. You put down the book, and you listen to this wandering, gentle collection of electronic shapes. A third of it makes sense. The remainder refuses to stay in your grasp, melting off into the air like an evasive scent. The ice has melted in your drink.

Back to the book. This time, the music creeps up behind you and gently, insistently – maddeningly – tugs at your shoulder. It demands, ever so gently that you listen to it: but as soon as you turn around, it’s gone again. Sub-audible – in the night-breaths of Antarctica as insubstantial, yet as unmistakeably there, as the shape a leaf-laden branch makes in the breeze. In Les Trois Jours D’Ete, capturing the silence of a sun-washed garden… with the eyes drawn up over the top of the wall in expectation of sudden, silent summer events. You shelter in it. It slowly sags and gives way at unexpected angles beneath you: turning you round, dropping you into Sweet Santoor’s zither of icicles and Stylophonic buzzes (amid snatches of disintegrating Satie).

Aqueous: ‘Within This Dream I Awake’

This carpet-slippered game of cat and mouse could go on for ever, while you attempt to either pursue or ignore Aqueous’ essence. You can draw a few comparisons if you like. The mingling, exchanging, misty patterns in Leaving Alexandria in the Cold Light of Dawn mixes Harold Budd’s still-air vistas with the insidious kind of fluting, droning analogue shapes that Vangelis cooked up during his mid-’70s Nemo peak, during quieter moments. The whole album has echoes of Cluster.

But attempting to pin Aqueous music down to absolutes is as futile as trying to pull that unlistening ambient-consumer’s trick on it. Like the various states of water, this music can both give and refuse to give; and it infiltrates the environment it enters, with the insidiousness of transient vapour or with the unyielding fragility of an ice sheath over a pond.

Aqueous: ‘Tall Cloudtrees Falling’
Hermetic Recordings, HERM 2222
CD album
Released: 19th August 1996

Buy it from:
Aqueous homepage store

Aqueous online:
Homepage

Tori Amos @ Royal Albert Hall, Knightsbridge, London, 9th March 1996 (“the Raisin Girl is not communicating”)

15 Mar

It shouldn’t be like this. Call Tori Amos kooky, pretentious, over-precious, almost anything you like – but don’t call her boring. Not possible. A woman whose mouth and piano strive to out-motor each other, a torrent of perverse creativity, a handful of sharp pins in satin – Tori is riveting even when she’s being irritating.

So why am I spending so much time – up here in the balcony seats – bored? Why the itching urge to check my watch, when on previous tours I’ve been hanging on the edge of my seat?

The reason is that tonight the Raisin Girl is not communicating. Webbed up in the twinkling Santa’s-grotto lights of her stage set, leaning hungrily into her piano or capering over the keys of her harpsichord, Tori is playing resolutely inwards. Hips raked backwards, fingers thundering out melody, head and neck curved to the hovering mike, her face is turned out to us with that familiar elfin, ever-so-slightly ruthless expression. Despite the thrumming love emanating out to her from the capacity crowd, despite the on-stage company of Steve Caton and the soft, sly voices of his textural guitar, she’s never seemed so alone.

For someone who’s opened herself up to us as much as Tori has, this is sad. It’s particularly sad when you consider that she’s playing in Britain, the country that cradled her when she was the unknown émigré and winced as it took the charged barbs of ‘Little Earthquakes’ to its heart. At certain gigs you can feel the heart of the audience, as if it were one huge collective animal. Here, as at all of the Tori Amos gigs I’ve been to, it feels like the love borne for someone you know intimately, quietly, unreservedly.

Tori, though, is having none of it. We sit patiently through some of her recent interminable doodlings (Little Amsterdam is not longer slinky, just tedious; Not The Red Baron is beauty in search of obscurity) and specks of nonsense (the pointless verbal confetti of Space Dog). She plays on. This year, she’s not responding.

No, it’s not blandness that she’s offering us. The fury in her songbook is served well: a scorching rampage through Precious Things with a carnal girl-growl, a twitchy Crucify. The demanding sarcasm of Leather and the tingling, surfing buzz of Cornflake Girl (in which Caton kicks up a silvery storm of rhythm guitar) kick in with that familiar strength. But the sharing that used to set Tori apart from the herd… gone. That grueling romantic break-up with her engineer and onetime confidante Eric Rosse; the red-tinged and ruthless period which spawned the ‘Boys For Pele’ album; both seem to have left her wired and defensive. There have been too many considered steps back from the poised-tenterhook tenderness of Silent All These Years (which, significantly, she doesn’t play tonight.

Maybe this is why Bells For Her – previously a trembling inward coil of twisted, conflicting love played out on a treated piano – has somehow changed into a horrifying banshee curse now that she’s conjuring it out of her harpsichord. Maybe this is why few songs tonight sound as flat-out relished as the vicious, vampiric Blood Roses; why the more restrained snarl of Doughnut Song falls flat; why her infamous, languorous cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit (still missing that essential final verse, but this time with a capricious insert from ‘South Pacific’) seems like a letter abandoned too soon. Oh denial, oh denial.

Tori can still touch and be touched, though. We’re reminded of this in a mutually terrifying moment, one that we’d rather have avoided. Her first-person rape account, Me And A Gun, brings an absolute silence down into this huge hall – and a sense of stretched, time-slowing horror. Suddenly, about four-fifths of the way through, she stops. Dead. Her hand moves to her face in a movement that seems to take forever. A century passes – a terrifying gap into which our attention tumbles. Then she pulls herself together, finishes the song. Swallows the last word, stumbles offstage into darkness and tears.

At a time when she’s professing the most arrogant creative strength, Tori actually seems to be – more than ever before – walking wounded. Despite an assured China, the encores fail to restore confidence. Putting The Damage On trembles and falters; the love-regrets in Baker Baker now seem as detached as a pallid watercolour. Sweet Dreams breaks off as she drums out the rhythm on the lid of the harpsichord and the words slump out of her memory. A harmonium finale of Hey Jupiter is broken-backed, limping off-pitch, beaten down beyond the point of hope. She may have claimed to grab the perverse power of the volcano goddess – from here, it looks as if it’s burning her up from within.

But… so much love filling that enormous Victorian barn. If only she could have brought herself to reach out and accept it.

Tori Amos online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace LastFM

The Royal Albert Hall online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

Make Weird Music

Because 4 chords aren't enough

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A lovingly curated compendium of the world's weirdest music

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

A home for instrumental and experimental music.

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: