Thursday, March 26, 2009

Abstract Index Playlist - March 25/09

Well, Senor Coconut it ain't.

Uwe Schmidt's return to abstract electronics is a mighty pendulum swing away from the mambotronica of his better known project. It may be too radical a shift for some.

Rigorously Teutonic, and utterly appropriate for the Raster Noton label, Liedgut has its ups and downs. At first, I found it hard to distinguish the music from the whirring of my CD drive's fan, but very close inspection reveals Schmidt's methods. Torturously granular vocoded recitations float on top of equally garburated synth pads. Rhythm is never far away; waltz-time flights of fancy arise from nowhere on a regular basis. At the same time, this isn't ambient music in the slightest, the obsessive attention is paid to pulse and timbre.

The album is well named, paying tribute to the German lieder tradition. This suite's sparseness upholds the form's historical 'art music' function for voice and keyboard. Described in the promo blurb as going for 'clarity and simplicity', the album absolutely succeeds on that level. Whether there's enough going on for fans who remember the drum and bass incarnation of Atom Heart some 10+ years ago is another matter.

'Funksignal' is one of the few tracks which acknowledges turn of the century (the 21st...) rhythms, albeit in a typically humourous, even parodic, way. It kicks off a segment which can almost be described as downtempo, and is certainly the most accessible part of the disc. As you can probably tell, I don't worship at the Raster Noton altar, but Liedgut is a suite that requires (and rewards) repeated listenings to fully absorb its highly focused intent. I've already received a few raves for playing this on successive shows, so it's obviously going down well with lovers of minimal electronics.


first revival - huelepega sound system (no label)
carpal tunnels - nicole lizee (cmc)
gassire's lute - wadada leo smith & gunter baby sommer (intakt)
crescent - nomo (ubiquity)
hymn - african head charge (on u sound)
tricycle - various production (various)
funksignal - atom tm (raster noton)
go bang! - dinosaur l rmx. by francois k (soul jazz)
africa - dennis brown (heartbeat)
makom shemesh - jaffa road (no label)
lost love - ammoye (no label)
don't leave me today - smoke (echo beach)
jah is my light - leroy smart/i roy (blood and fire)
rootsman dub - the red eyes (echo foxtrot)

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Abstract Index Playlist - March 18/09

Blowing the doors off the perception that Icelandic music is all about morose string sections, hushed vocals and the occasional blast of noise, Storsveit Nix Noites' second disc is one of the year's standouts so far.

Strictly speaking this disc has been available for a year and a half for download purposes, but Fat Cat is releasing it in physical form on April 7.

I loved Storsveit ("big band" in Icelandic) when I heard their first album a few years ago on the always cool & polyrhythmic Bubblecore label. The project is something of an all star lark from members of mum, Benni Hemm Hemm and many other bands with that sedate coutenance mentioned before. Whereas their first album featured a large group of musicians mostly holding their own with the super-tricky rhythms of the Balkans (Romania in particular), this recording, still lovably lo-fi, amps up the energy and skill level. If Beirut's Balkanisms are too melancholy for you (ahem), your jams will most certainly be kicked out by this Storsveit.

No kidding about the amps... the coda to this week's track takes a whole chapter out of the Sonic Youth playbook. But that's just the exclamation point to the band's improvement. The instrument voicings, the ensemble work and maximum rock n roll mayhem are all much more confident this time around. And of course, the rock mix (i.e. not too much bass, lots of action in the midrange) sets this apart from most Balkan beats which pump up the lower end - as with Ahilea, who immediately preceded Storsveit with his dancefloor orientation.

Could Nix Noites inspire a new generation of stage bands?


far sight - ras moshe quartet (kmb)
misterioso - radio i ching (resonant)
dark lights - bell orchestre (arts and crafts)
mittlere composition no. II - atom tm (raster noton)
burst - tanya tagaq (jericho beach)
tolon wilikan - n'gou bagayoko (frikyiwa)
rise - claro intelecto (modern love)
mostar angels - von magnet (jarring effects)
pajdusko - storsveit nix noites (fat cat)
drip drop march - drumheller (rat drifting)
cathedral sonar - preying mantra (under see)
mulembo - hallelujah chicken run band (analog africa)
trinidad - willie bobo (honest jons)
mosaico santero - fruko y sus tesos (discos fuentes)
if you're lonely now - bobby womack (charly)
halfway up the stairs - rodriguez (light in the attic)
halfway up the stairs - delroy wilson (heartbeat)
dub special - hasan badr (wackies)
walk away from love - ken boothe (trojan)
western promise - the mohawks (vampisoul)

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Abstract Index Playlist - March 11/09

I unfortunately didn't get to speak with Sublime Frequencies' Alan Bishop when conducting interviews for my recent "state of the world" article. The quotes in the article came from a detailed email interview which was quite interesting. He is rightfully cynical about the methods and motives of many players in the 'world music industry' while maintaining his admiration for the pioneers of the category: labels such as Folkways, Nonesuch Explorer, and Chant Du Monde.

While it is impossible to act completely transparently as an agent bringing musical obscurities to North American audiences, Sublime Frequencies does not over- mythologize its artists by lingering on exotic backstories that make for great editorial copy. One of Bishop's quotes in the interview cuts to the quick of the dilemma of the 'world music journalist' - it's impossible for any one person to have a strong critical knowledge of every single one of hundreds of genres which might end up on one's desk, so the backstory and the circumstances surrounding a recording tend to be written about disproportionately. Bishop said "most journalists are hardly qualified to discuss the music (we put out) simply because they’ve never spent any time listening to/researching it before. They tend to focus on the label itself; its methods, aesthetic, marketing, business practices, etc—or the personalities of those behind the label. This is due to the fact they are not remotely qualified to discuss the music itself seriously. Rarely are we impressed by a journalist’s knowledge of music."

Any music journalist will encounter music they can't get a handle on and one of two things will happen: they'll embrace the challenge and try to find out more about it to convey a more considered opinion, or they'll reject it because they can't understand it and won't try, usually for fear of looking stupid. I'll always take the former path, even if I run the risk of getting it wrong. I'm also guilty as Bishop charged - I haven't said jack about this music yet, I've only written about issues surrounding its distribution. In my experience, music nerds crave this kind of analysis, though it's easy to tip the balance too far in this direction.

As for the disc in question, Group Bombino, from Agadez in Niger, is even more live and lowdown than boogie shuffle of Tinariwen, and the presence of a drum kit reminds me of some of the more successful blues-rock-funk crossover sides of John Lee Hooker or Bo Diddley. Unlike Tinariwen, the recordings are super-saturated with noise which creates sympathetic (or wildly aggressive!) droning throughout the music, occasionally compressing other instruments lower in the mix. At times, as on this week's track, the guitars get into a nearly heavy metal thunder, which makes me wonder whether any Black Sabbath cassettes made it out to the Sahara.

SF wisely pressed this title on LP - Side B is electric, side A is acoustic but no less intense. I'm no vinyl acolyte, but this music sounds so sweet coming off wax... This label continues to do great work not just in celebrating underexplored sounds of the world, but in striking a balance between information and mystery.


blues for c - aki takase/konrad bauer (victo)
perdido - the clarinet summit (black saint)
counter vibes - the uncommitted (no label)
they - ddmmyyyy (we are busy bodies)
jardim dos deuses - joyce, mauricio maestro, nana vasconcelos (far out)
bulgun - ervena orgaeva (smithsonian folkways)
cafe svetlana - ahilea (essay)
ragga mami - shukar collective (eastblok)
broken jazz hands - biblio (5 1/4)
(re) produktiv - professor psygrooves (jarring effects)
eronafene tihoussayene - group bombino (sublime frequencies)
mrs. morris - charles spearin (arts and crafts)
brown dog - pau torres (testing ground)
shrugging into spring - clive bell/sylvia hallett (emanem)
sun cycles - nicole mitchell (delmark)
loonich - radikal dub kolektiv (no label)
one more draw - friendliness & human rights (no label)
to them - smoke (echo beach)
travelling man - digitaldubs & ras mcbean (digitaldubs)
breaking down the pressure - singers and players (on-u sound)
you don't care - cornell campbell (moll-selekta)
the world needs love - tommy mccook (treasure isle)

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Here It Comes...

Abstract Index Playlist - March 4/09

No doubt this is one of the better known albums I've blogged about. Discerning readers of this site should already know a little about Monsieur Gainsbourg, the brilliant and controversial dirty old man of French chanson and beyond.

This masterpiece is finally getting its first ever domestic release in North America, courtesy of Light In The Attic. LITA has always sought out rock solid beats within kaleidoscopic orchestration, and this is a brilliant addition to their catalog. A tip of the hat goes to Finders Keepers records, with whom they've partnered in the project. Hopefully the intended domestic audience to this hasn't already torrented this disc into uncommercial oblivion - maybe the outstanding and thorough liner notes will justify purchase.

I'm tempted to say that this is a lush remastering job, but the arrangements and mixing are so deep and delicious that this album would still sound good even if it were dubbed off a cheap cassette. Jean Claude Vannier is a key player here - at a time when orchestras in pop music were getting ever more massive, Vannier knew when to use huge choirs and churning strings judiciously. Beyond Gainsbourg's proto rap vocals (and you keep thinking that some MC with a convoluted, metaphysical flow is gonna start spitting at any minute), the orchestration actually amplifies the power of the beats rather than submerging them in a thick layer of honey. The rock n roll nastiness of his crack session team never got any deeper than this, either, with great, jagged invention in the guitars and non-stop funk in the rhythm section. The disc never overstays its welcome at a mere 28 minutes.

"Melodie", which led off the show this week, combines all the elements into seven and a half minutes of tension and (partial) release - you have to sit through another 15 minutes before you get to the tickle-gasm sounds, though. And that brief section is, er, anticlimactic, because it reminds the listener just how sleazy the concept is: Ol' Serge sexing up a 13 year old after nearly running her over with his car.

BTW, Gainsbourg's muse Jane Birkin is four months pregnant in the salacious cover photo, hence her unbuttoned pants. Why did you think they were unbuttoned, ya big perv???


melodie - serge gainsbourg (light in the attic)
tics - lars horntveth rmx. by four tet (domino)
anchors (by design) - jon irabagon's outright (innova)
african escape - alexis baro (no label)
family galaxy - tim exile (planet mu)
rehux - rumpistol (rump)
varashan - ziya tabassian (ambiances magnetiques)
mono hum - humcrush (rune gramofon)
orange peel - reuben wilson (blue note)
sidewalk doctor - jackie mittoo (soul jazz)
addis ababa dub - wackies allstars (wackies)
two face - ticklah (easy star)
hanky's panky - shirley scott (charly)
champion of the arena - jackie mittoo (blood and fire)
hot milk - jackie mittoo (blood and fire)
darker shade of black - jackie mittoo (blood and fire)
warrior - jason wilson (no label)
soul bird - jackie mittoo (light in the attic)
reggae magic - jackie mittoo (soul jazz)
black wax - pablove black (soul jazz)
dub rock - soundstorm (soul jazz)
trouble - citizen sound (VX)
truths and dub - improvisators dub (vicious circle)

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