Alternative music reviews

September 3, 2008

Ferndorf by Hauschka

Filed under: hauschka — @ 9:23 pm Comments (2)

Ferndorf by HauschkaI’m pretty familiar with John Cage’s prepared piano. He would take a handful of screws, nuts, bolts and throw them onto the piano strings. When the pianist played his compositions, the notes would sound very different depending on wherethe detiritus ended up. All sorts of plinks and plonks got introduced. This introduced chance (the fancy word is ‘Stochastic’) into a composition. Every time it was played then it would sound very different.

I always suspected John Cage of being a bit of a trickster – he would take a radical approach to composition but often maintained recognisable melody. The end result was was actually rather pleasant – the opposite result of much contemporary ‘classical’ music.

Hauschka is modern composer who, on his latest album Ferndorf, uses the prepared piano as his main instrument. The piano also underlies the music rhythmically and allows extensive use of the cello and even a bit of brass to allow the music to soar off into the distance. And it does soar, it takes you off on a daydream-like journey like only the best instrumental music can.

Freibad by Hauschka

Freibad by Hauschka (clip)

Certainly this isn’t an experimental work. Cage did the experimenting and Hauschka profits from that and uses the beauty and surprise of Cage’s work as part of his creation. He adds a touch of the Phillip Glass/Michael Nyman use of motifs and what you end up with is interesting, entrancing, and rather beautiful.

Schiones Madchen by Hauschka

Schoenes Madchen by Hauschka (clip)

Hauschka on MySpace

August 28, 2008

Electic Eels

Filed under: electric eels,vinyl — @ 10:24 pm Comments (0)

How different things were before the Internet. Back in 1977 I bought a single called Agitated by Die Electric Eels. A few months later I found another copy in a record shop and was so surprised that I bought it again, just in case my first copy ever wore out – it was that good. Apart from the fact I liked it, I knew nothing more about Electric Eels and had found no information about them in the music press apart from a very short review- NME didn’t talk about them until twenty years later in a short article.

Now, all I have to do is type their name into a search engine and I can find out plenty. I get confirmation that despite the pseudo-German on the cover they were from the States – Cleveland in fact. Although it came out in 1977, it was actually recorded in 75 and so pre-figured Punk significantly so it is really a violent aberation of Glam-Rock. It sounds like a hell of a band. I particularly like this story from the Scat records Electric Eels pages.

Their first gig was in August of 1974 at the Moonshine Co-op in Columbus. McManus adorned himself in rat-traps for the occasion and Morton was wearing a jacket held together with safety pins, earning them the tag “Ratman and Bobbin” from the police they encountered when leaving the bar at the end of the night. Morton took offense and kicked the nearest policeman in the balls as hard as he could, despite being handcuffed at the time. As a result of the inevitable beating that ensued, Morton performed their next show three weeks later with a slide and wrench taped to his broken left hand in order to play his guitar.

Despite only playing five gigs they had significant influnce on Peter Laughner of Pere Ubu and Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys but this astonishing piece of catatonic guitar and vocal was never equalled by those better known bands.

Agitated by Die Electric Eels

Agitated by Die Electric Eels

August 26, 2008

I See A Darkness

Filed under: johnny cash — @ 11:03 pm Comments (0)

I’ve just finished reading “Things The Grandchildren Should Know” an autobiography by the bloke from Eels. I enjoyed it a lot but I was struck by one passage:

things are so fucked up in the music business that in order for a truly great artist like Johnny Cash to seem relevant, he has to record cover versions of young hipster songs to appeal to young hipsters. Here’s one of the greatest natural talents of his time, awkwardly singing songs that don’t come naturally to him at all.
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What struck me as wrong was that one of my favourite songs of all time is his version of I See A Darkness by Will Oldham. I’d owned the Darkness album for years and liked it but I had never really HEARD the title track. Johnny Cash opened my ears to what the song was about because the way he sings it I really believed that he knew about those dark thoughts, Guaranteed loan approval with us visit our link to learn more

Well, you know I have a love, a love for everyone I know.
And you know I have a drive to live, I won’t let go.
Can you see its opposition comes rising up sometimes.
That its dreadful imposition, comes blacking in my mind.
And that I see a darkness.

When Johnny Cash sings the song I hear a man who has lived through this and a good few other experiences besides.

I See a Darkness is the sixth studio album by American musician Will Oldham, released on January 19, 1999 on Palace Records as the first album under his moniker Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Johnny Cash recorded the titular track on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man, with Oldham providing background vocals.

I See a Darkness received generally positive reviews from music critics. Samir Khan of Pitchfork awarded the album a rare perfect score and described it as Oldham’s “consummate offering” and the “type of record that demands solitary reverence”. Gregg Rounds of AllMusic wrote that it showcased “a more melodic style than the veteran Palace listener might be used to”, while at the same time noting that Oldham “hasn’t abandoned his foundation of mordant lyrics and minimalist arrangements, but he has built a variety of different layers that make this album an emotional and pleasurable listening experience. The A.V. Club’s Stephen Thompson remarked that I See a Darkness was the “most appropriate synthesis yet of Oldham’s vocals and backing band”. Matt LeMay of Stylus Magazine wrote that “by addressing concepts so grand with such sincerity and skill, the album is incredibly powerful under even the most mundane of circumstances”.

I See A Darkness

I See A Darkness (clip) by Johnny Cash

August 7, 2008

Broken Hymns, Limbs And Skin by O’Death

Filed under: o'death,reviews — @ 10:36 pm Comments (1)

Broken Hymns, Limbs & SkinsI think my first introduction to Gothic Country (if that is the right description – you know, the twisted take on the Southern Bible Belt hoe-down) was with the Violent Femmes. Their Country Death Song was a sick little tale of murder and madness, emphasised by the music that brought up associations from that long history of films that paint the Deep South as a Banjo-playing, incest-ridden, and Bible-inspired den of Rednecks.

Country Death Song

Country Death Song (clip) by Violent Femmes

To come straight up to date there is a new album by O’Death. This is a band from the East coast rather than the Deep South (so that may mean Appalachian Folk influence?) but what they do is play Country/Bluegrass with lots of fiddle and banjo. They like to ramp things up a bit but the hoe-down atmosphere is not of a local dance and having fun but an exploration of sin and retribution. It’s like the music from the O Brother Where Art Thou but with added darkness.

Fire On Peshtigo

Fire On Peshtigo (clip) by O’Death

I imagine that the vocals could get on a few people’s nerves but the music is never less than inspiring. The songs are mostly at breakneck speed and intensity so there is little respite except for some moments that remind me of The Handsome Family.

Grey Sun

Grey Sun (clip) by O’Death

I was just beginning to get a little bored with current Americana when along comes a record like this that just reminds me of why I love it so much. Banjo, violin, and a little bit of Punk spirit – the perfect cocktail.

O’Death on MySpace

August 1, 2008

Obviously 4 Believers

Filed under: nostalgia,Obviously 4 Believers,Only Ones,vinyl — @ 10:51 pm Comments (1)

Today, Obviously 4 Believers release their debut single Then I’ll Be Leaving You (download only). They are a young band originally from Lancaster who play a sort of updated blues that has its roots in the guitar rock the Rolling Stones used to play.

Then I’ll Be Leaving You

Then I’ll Be Leaving You (clip) by Obviously 4 Believers

There’s some really good guitar work going on there and a certain swing that reflects what Madchester brought to the world. I particularly like the singer’s voice and the fact that it reminds me of Peter Perrett of The Only Ones. The Only Ones were never part of Punk or New Wave, being a more traditional Rock band of the old school – but they played such good songs that they were still allowed to be in your record collection. Obviously 4 Believers maybe share that slightly ‘out of time’ feel but this single is refreshing and certainly beats the crap out of most current Indie.

That gives me the perfect excuse to dive into my vinyl and get the first Only Ones 12″.

Lovers Of Today

Lovers Of Today by The Only Ones

Obviously 4 Believers

July 31, 2008

Life Processes by Forward, Russia

Filed under: Forward Russia,reviews — @ 10:08 pm Comments (0)

Life ProcessesThere is nothing quite like the sound of Forward, Russia in full flow. Gone are the days when every track is just a number and they are released to fully expose themselves as chroniclers of existential angst. I am actually reminded (in a very abstract way) of some Prog music like Van Der Graaf’s Pawn Hearts because of the sheer ambition of the songs and the use of changing musical motifs within them.

We Are Grey Matter

We Are Grey Matter(clip) by Forward Russia

Full to overflowing with passion and making noise like no-one else, Forward Russia create their own musical world. The sense of dynamic tension and release is stunning and the disturbing atmospheres created by all these musicians together is quite unique. It is almost impossible to illustrate the way the songs develop with just the 30 second clips I use but I’ll try again:

Gravity & Heat

Gravity & Heat(clip) by Forward Russia

I don’t know whether this is destined to be one of those masterpieces that is only known to a few people – but masterpiece is the word I would use.

Forward, Russia

Album Preview Video:

July 14, 2008

Should I publish non-complimentary reviews?

Filed under: ramblings — @ 12:10 pm Comments (2)

I don’t like everything I get sent but I tend to just review the CDs I like. It seems unfair to give a band a bad review when they are unsigned or on a small Indie label – but different if its Colplay. So should I publish reviews like the ones below?

It’s a great cover to the CD but there’s something about this album that just doesn’t work for me. The vocals are very 80’s but it’s more than that. Despite all the inventiveness and cleverness, the basic sound just gets up my nose. I suspect this could have been a reasonably good Psychedelic record but the mix is all wrong – way too up-front. It just sounds unpleasant most of the time.

(album) is an attempt at quirky Indie Pop. That is a hard target to hit and (band) haven’t pulled it off in my opinion. Sometimes the melodies are only just beyond the playground and the juvenile sounding vocals on a track like (track) have little charm. There are hints of good things but once I was reminded of David Essex (a reference the band won’t understand) all was lost.

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