New Release on Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords: Alka – Regarding The Auguries

Album released today via Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Watch the video for ‘Faito’ below.

Regarding The Auguries is the portentously-titled fourth album from Philadelphia electronic unit Alka. It is an album that reflects back our myriad concerns about the world; a teeming, restless work surveying global civil unrest, freak earthly phenomena and a sense that order is slowly being dismantled around us. Although it was recorded long before lockdown, its grim outlook makes it a fitting release during the grip of an existential crisis that has impacted us all. 

After being a solo project of Bryan Michael since the early 2000s, for Regarding The Auguries Alka is re-imagined as a unit of Bryan Michael, visual artist Erika Tele and fellow Philadelphia electronic musician Todd Steponick, a line-up familiar from their recent, pre-lockdown shows. 

The eleven tracks on the album were written in what Bryan describes as “slow motion” – he would start an idea; Todd would respond to it; Erika would add her distinctive vocals, which would then be woven through the track like another instrument. A track might then be disassembled, deconstructed and rebuilt, or its atomised components could end up as the basis for another track completely. What emerged from this evolving, morphing, shapeshifting sonic conversation is a body of work that could not have existed without the interplay between the unit’s three members. 

From the outset, Alka wanted to make this an album encompassing human reactions to the times we live in. Fear, dread and unknowable mysteries might dominate its sonic architecture, but here we also find personal emotion and vulnerability on the tender ‘My Heart’, led by a delicate, emotive vocal from Erika, or a sense of being dismayed by an inability to decipher the fact from fiction on ‘Doubt’. 

Here we also can identify with the feeling of life’s certainties unravelling around us on the album’s gradually-evolving opener ‘Fractured Time’. The bold, robust ‘Faito’ deploys a Japanese word used to inspire confidence and encouragement, while ‘Scrapple’ finds Erika’s vocal positioned with shouty insistence on a spiky electro track inspired by the gilets jaunes riots in Paris. 

Throughout the album, we hear melodies that glitch and splinter into strange, unpredictable shapes. We hear sharp edits and off-kilter time signatures, horror movie samples and brief gospel interjections; on the widescreen ‘Earth Crisis’ we hear a chilling sample of unexplained natural atmospherics that sound like the earth foretelling of its impending final moments. 

“An augury is like fortune telling that comes from looking at the patterns of bird flight,” explains Bryan of the album’s title. “Those patterns usually prophecy some sort of doom. I’d come up with the title a long time ago, but when we were working on the album, it seemed to become more and more connected to the world around us. In the end, it feels like it’s become a very timely album.” 

More timely it could not be. Regarding The Auguries is a dark, contemplative electronic album made by three human beings staring fixedly at our suddenly uncertain futures. 

Regarding The Auguries will be released as a limited-edition CD, download and stream through VeryRecords on 9th October 2020. veryrecords.com

Track list:
1. Fractured Time
2. Widthchild
3. Faito
4. Earth Crisis
5. Scrapple
6. Sourcery
7. My Heart
8. Solfège
9. Doubt
10. Dead Like Me
11. King Card
12. Solfège (Fujiya & Miyagi Remix)
13. Faito (Vince Clarke Remix)
14. Fractured Time (DJ Jekyll of Shelter Remix)

Credits 
Bryan Michael – synths, programming, vocoder, worry 
Erika Tele – vocals, werds, projections, fear 
Todd Steponick – synths, programming, treatments, doubt 
Vince Clarke – additional synths and programming on ‘King Card’ 
Elizabeth Joan Kelly – guest vocals on ‘King Card’ 
Starkey – mastering 

Alka biography 
Bryan Michael started operating under the name Alka in 2000, tapping into the local IDM scene that centred around the city’s Broketronica experimental electronic music club night. With Principles Of Suffocation (2007) and A Dog Lost In The Woods (2009), he subtly railed against IDM’s restrictive covenants, offering a brooding, almost foreboding strand of electronic music. 2017’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal was released through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords, and found Bryan fusing together moments of broken electro beats and sparkling melodies, supported by stunning visual contributions from artist Erika Tele and sonic interventions from fellow Philadelphia electronic musician Todd Steponick. Alka is now a trio of Bryan, Erika and Todd. 

About VeryRecords 
VeryRecords was founded in Brooklyn by Erasure’s Vince Clarke in 2016. We are a small record label dedicated to releasing very fine electronic music. The label was launched with ‘2 Square’ by Vince Clarke and Paul Hartnoll, which was then followed by releases from Reed & Caroline, Alka and Brook. 

“Shaping up as a label to keep a serious ear on.” – Electronic Sound 

(c) 2020 VeryRecords. Press release text by Mat Smith for VeryRecords – press@veryrecords.com

Kumo – Euclidean Patterns

Kumo - Euclidean Patterns

I’m going to be completely honest here – I don’t get the maths and science behind this new EP from Jono Podmore’s longstanding Kumo alias. Here’s what Podmore has to say:

One of the many things that Euclid, the 4th century BC Greek mathematician and the Father of Geometry, left us is the first algorithm: a method to compute the greatest common divisor between 2 given integers. The algorithm is used in particle physics and computer science, but in 2005 Canadian mathematician Godfried Toussaint noticed something extraordinary when he applied it to musical rhythm. Using the algorithm to distribute beats and silences as evenly as possible in a bar generates almost all of the most important world music rhythms, from Sub-Saharan African music in particular. For example, if you have a bar with 8 pulses and you want to have 5 beats in that bar, the way the algorithm places the beats gives us the Cuban “Cinquillo” rhythm, which has its roots in West African music. 

The examples are endless: 13 into 24 gives us a whole series of rhythms used by the Aka Pygmies of the upper Sangha. Euclid lived his entire life in Alexandria in Egypt, and Herodotus said that the basis of Greek culture was African. Maybe there’s another strand to that relationship we’ve only just uncovered. 

The 3 tracks on this EP use all the Euclidean rhythms in bars of 9, 12, and 13, but going further, as the algorithm is used to generate the harmony too. Chords and modes can all be derived by spacing the notes across the octave, for example, 6 distributed evenly across 12 generates a whole tone scale. 

– Jono Podmore, notes to accompany Euclidean Patterns – https://sound-space.bandcamp.com/album/euclidean-patterns

See, it’s like I understand the words – individually – but when you put them all together into three paragraphs, that GCSE A in Maths from 1993 suddenly seems pretty useless. So I’ll do what I usually do and focus on what I can hear instead. 

‘South African Euclid’ begins with a wiry tendril of electrical current which provides the constantly-evolving thread weaving throughout the track, sometimes keeping itself quietly amused in the background and at others rising noisily to the surface; there it vies with a squelchy, acidic pattern, breathy vocal samples and a juddering African rhythm developed with the Euclidean method. The EP’s second track, the wittily-named ‘Euclid On The Block’, carries a latent urgency that could be a restrained form of drill and bass, all frantic percussion and murmuring synth sounds that threaten to coalesce into a club-friendly synchronicity but which instead prowl edgily around a menacing, omnipresent bass tone. 

The EP’s final track, ‘Thirteenth Euclid’, sits somewhere in between its two Euclidean siblings. Opening with overlapping organ tones, the piece opens out into what feels like a delicious electronic bossa nova, only with unpredictable synth interjections like alien transmissions issued from a distant galaxy where you might ordinarily expect to hear a Stan Getz solo. 

It should come as no surprise that Podmore has chosen to infuse this EP with this type of intellectual exploration of the science underpinning rhythms. He currently holds down a job as the Professor of Popular Music at Cologne’s Hochschule für Muzik, whose professorial alumni include Karlheinz Stockhausen; one imagines that Stockhausen would have approved of the deconstructivist approach to applying these mathematical concepts to musical theory and the exacting precision with which Podmore has developed the three tracks included on the EP, while also leaving room for sounds to float free of their grid-like shackles. 

Euclidean Patterns by Kumo was released August 14 2020 by Sound-Sense. 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence  

Isabella, Jasper And Simon Fisher Turner – Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody

Isabella, Jasper And Simon Fisher Turner - Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody

Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody is an album by Simon Fisher Turner and his two children, Isabella and Jasper. Its release was prompted by a conversation between SFT and Charles Powne from the Soleilmoon label about a specific album of children’s music, which in turn gave Fisher Turner pause to mention a project he’d been working on using the recorded voices of his children, which turned out to be this album.

It is a deliberately personal album, but one that is faithful to an aesthetic that Fisher Turner Sr. has been employing for the last few years under the banner of Guerrilla Audio; the concept also extends as far back as you care to look in his back catalogue, right back to when he first alighted upon a Revox tape machine. It involves making discrete, covert recordings that find their way into later sound works, adding a naturalistic, unpredictable quality alongside electronic structures; they sit somewhere between field recordings and the wiretapped conversations of vintage Scanner. 

In the case of Savage Songs…, the fifteen pieces included here represent the majority of the lifetimes of Fisher Turner’s two children, now deep into their teenage years. They are constructed from recordings that Fisher Turner made of them while they were growing up – little nonsense poems, overheard conversations, early attempts at French, the sounds of innocent young minds hard at work learning or playing or inventing fantastical worlds that they then inhabit, even if briefly. They are like tiny time capsules of Isabella and Jasper’s youth, otherwise lost to the mists of memory and age were it not for their father’s idea to recor them. The effect is both universally nostalgic for anyone who looks back with misty eyes on the all-too-rapid maturity of their children (and who wishes they’d preserved those memories better; more respectfully; more completely), yet also deeply personal for Fisher Turner who so attentively documented their growing up in this way. 

Nostalgia might abound in the mournfully-arranged pieces like ‘Cream and Latin Odor’, ‘The Sad Skipping Story’ and ‘The Mighty Dinosaurs’ (the latter with The Elysian Quartet), which have a sweetness and poignancy in the musical accompaniments, but a sense of inevitable playfulness can also be found here. ‘OH YEAH, forget about it, YEAH’ judders along on fragmented electronic patterns like sonic hopscotch, underpinned by a dismissive refrain from Isabella that, from a teenage mouth, would sound cutting and hurtful; ‘BlahXBlahXBlahX’ is noisy and rambunctious, nudged forward by retro computer game chip sounds and a processed “blah-blah-blah” refrain that suggests young Jasper was completely oblivious to his dad following him around with a microphone; ‘Squirrel Song’ is a stentorian waltz set to springy synths that commences with some gentle harmonising from the two young Turners; ‘JAZZ JAM corner’ sounds like a short offcut from The ResidentsCommercial Album

In his honest, truthful and tender press release Fisher Turner says that there will be no second volume, in spite of the hours of unused recordings that remain on his overflowing hard-drive. His children are now 17 and 15, and the idea of being trailed around by a doting father with sound intentions no longer seems as fun as it did when they were tiny. Savage Songs…, then, represents a loving gift; a one-off; a unique paean to unique childhoods and the unstoppable act of getting older. 

Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody by Isabella, Jasper and Simon Fisher Turner is released September 4 2020 by Soleilmoon.

An email to Simon Fisher Turner, 6 August 2020. 

Dear Simon, 

Thank you for sending this across. 

I have to say, for all sorts of reasons, the press release moved me profoundly, and I confess to having shed a tear while reading it. Anyone with children who have suddenly grown up almost without you noticing – because it wasn’t sudden; never could be; you just didn’t see, or perhaps refused to accept, the signs – would recognise some of the sentiment in that. And that’s before I have even listened to it. My two daughters are 14 and 12. I don’t recognise them. I’m just some old fart whose music tastes they do not want to understand and who is boring because he tries to work hard to provide for them. 

I remember once, probably in 2008 or 2009, sending you a text from St Albans. I was waiting outside a uniform shop where my now-14-year-old was being fitted out for her first school uniform. I have no idea why I said this to you, nor what conversation we were in the middle of at the time. You told me you could relate. It felt like her future and her sister’s future were starting in earnest. Now they try to customise their uniforms, skirt length, hair length etc to the limits of what might get them a detention and I’m still waiting outside shops while they try on clothes. 

Strangely, too, something in your press release text made me nostalgic for my own childhood. It was the reference to Soleilmoon asking about an album of children’s songs. I had such an album as a kid. It was called All Aboard, a beautiful LP that had all sorts of classic songs on it, like Bernard Cribbins singing ‘Right Said Fred’. It also had ‘The Laughing Policeman’ on it, which got scratched on one of the policeman’s laughs, creating a locked groove that was utterly disturbing for this toddler playing nearby and might explain why the cut-ups of Burroughs and loops that I read about (before hearing them) fired up my imagination so much. I kept meaning to buy a second-hand copy while the girls were small, and now they’re not. And neither am I. 

I look forward to listening to this and writing about it before release. You can probably guess the thoughts and nostalgia with which I will approach it. Think of this as a preview. 

Thank you, 

Mat 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence 

Dark Days: Thomas Leer – Emotional Hardware

Thomas Leer

‘Do you like music?’ she asked me.

‘I do if it’s nice music in a nice world,’ I said.

‘In a nice workd there is no nice music,’ she said. ‘In a nice world the air doesn’t vibrate.’

Haruki Murakami, ‘New York Mining Disaster’ (1980-81). From ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ (2006)

This is not a nice world. Everywhere you go you hear the vibrations of anger, disenchantment, disappointment, disillusionment and hatred. The world was in a parlous state going into this year thanks to populism, the rising spectre of authoritarianism, a disbelief in the ability of politicians to do the right thing, gross inequality and environmental disaster. The first reports of Covid-19 that arrived from China late last year suggested things would become further destabilised. 

Scottish electronic musician Thomas Leer was fully aware of the terrible state of the world when he issued ‘Dark Days Are Here Again’ in 2019. A twenty-one minute brooding techno track, ‘Dark Days Are Here Again’ used a framework of rigid beats and menacing electronics as a bedrock for processed samples of Trump; like in a Seth Meyers or Stephen Colbert political satire segment, out of context these samples sound almost laughable, but in their grim rhetoric you can hear the divisive catalyst for so much ill feeling around the world. 

Thomas admits that he was “lashing out” with that track. It would prove to be the opening salvo in what would become his latest album, Emotional Hardware. Recorded in late 2018 and early 2019, it was created during a period of intense turbulence that has only become more turbulent since. It is unpleasant music for an increasingly unpleasant world. 

— 

Emotional Hardware couldn’t be more different from Thomas Leer’s previous album, Reaching Never Quite. “That was a kind of a tone poem to the Clyde,” he explains. “The music on that is quite restful and fairly easy to listen to.” The album found Thomas, who spent the bulk of his career in London, reflecting on his surroundings after moving back to Scotland. Now based in Greenock, not far from where he grew up in Port Glasgow, it seemed like he was set to use the local environment as the primary basis for his future material.  

Thomas Leer doesn’t do what you expect, however. Throughout his career he’s made conscious, deliberate left turns, which means that the harder edges of Emotional Hardware almost feel expected after the relative serenity of Reaching Never Quite. “I do these departures all the time,” he says “I just don’t always bother releasing them. I’ve got a jazz album that I recorded about ten years ago, and I keep meaning to put it up online, but I just never get around to it.” He suggests that his next project will probably being a fully acoustic folk and blues album with no electronics on it at all, but reaffirms that his main love will always be electronic music, delivered in “whatever form feels right at the time.” 

Irrespective of how they ultimately might sound, all of Thomas’s tracks start in the same way – as improvisations. “I usually start off with an idea,” he explains. “I have an idea for a sound, or a mood that I want, then I just mess about until I find something that I think fits. It could be a rhythm, a drum part, or it could be a drone, or just some kind of noise. It can be anything, really. I find the more abstract it is the better because it triggers other things more. It throws you off in different directions. I like to just chuck things into the mix to see what will happen, and to see if it fries up or not.” 

The idea that emerged ahead of what became Emotional Hardware was a sense of negativity. “Over the past couple of years, I’ve just felt dark,” he says. “I’ve had really dark feelings about things, politically and socially, and I think that’s just what came out in the music. I wasn’t really intending to do anything like that, but that’s what happened. 

“It really just is an expression of how I was feeling at the time,” he continues. “You could see the political situation getting worse and worse, but even so I didn’t expect it to get as bad as it has. I wanted this to be music that inspires thought, to some degree, that inspires you to think about things a bit. Without writing actual songs about it.” 

When I last spoke to Thomas a couple of years ago, he expected that his next project would be much more song-based, and he’d rediscovered his love of playing the guitar. Thomas’s distinctive vocal hasn’t been heard since 2015’s lounge pop album From Sci-Fi To Barfly for Klanggalerie, a collection of tracks that sounded nothing like anything he’d released before, all light jazz and swung beats – but remember, Thomas doesn’t like to stay in any one musical lane. Around the time that Reaching Never Quite was released, he’d started singing again, mostly at gigs to support a gallery exhibition celebrating his pioneering work with fellow Port Glasgow DIY musician Robert Rental

In the end, while he’s continued to write songs for voice and guitar, Emotional Hardware only contains one vocal song – the album’s title track. It is a voice that it almost completely unrecognisable from any of Thomas’s pop songs, processed into an angry, spoken word blues that sounds like late-period Iggy Pop.  

“I’ve always loved the blues,” he says, noting that it’s the traditional music of resentment and oppression. “‘Emotional Hardware’ was meant to be a kind of electronic blues track. When I was writing it, I was thinking a lot about David Lynch, and I wanted to make into an aural David Lynch film, which is why the voice is the way it is. The music that Lynch produces himself is blues-based. So there was a kind of a connection there in terms of an inspiration, and influence.” 

At first listen, the album’s title track could be read as some sort of comment on device dependency and how we’re so eager to express our feelings, demons and secrets to anyone who’ll listen through technology. “When I write lyrics, I usually like to make them have double-meanings, and there is a sort of double intent in that song,” he explains. “To me, ‘emotional hardware’ alludes to having to create a hard shell for yourself, and arming yourself up for what’s coming at you. Life is hard, for a lot of people, not just financially, but emotionally. We all go through hard times. You need to develop some kind of defence. I was thinking about that scene in Apocalypse Now, where Marlon Brando is talking about horror, and making fear your friend, because if it’s not your friend it’s your mortal enemy.” 

‘Emotional Hardware’ sets the scene for the rest of the record, full of bludgeoning beats and angry synth sounds that continues into ‘Factory Ghosts’. From then on, there are few moments of respite, and any flashes of gentle melody sound vaguely uncertain when heard in the context of the feisty sounds that surround them. “There was a sort of shape to the way I sequenced the album,” says Thomas. “Those first two tracks put you right into the darkness – they’re pretty much hitting you on the head and telling you what this album’s all about.” The album then proceeds into an edit of the ‘Dark Days Are Here Again’ track that presaged the album, its central premise suddenly sounding more disappointed, jaded and sad at the turn of world events than angry. Thomas says that it was intended to lift your spirits after the onslaught of the first few tracks, but it’s hard to see precisely how – once you put on this album, you’re plunged into Thomas’s grim state of mind and it’s hard to escape.  

On ‘Civilised Language And Thought’, Thomas uses samples of readings by the philosopher Alan Watts, among other things known for bringing the teachings of Buddhism to Western audiences. “That’s me trying to make some sort of sense of things,” muses Thomas. “On that track, Watts is talking about how we’re sort of programmed, pretty much from birth, by governments and the education system to be what we’re going to be, and how we’re sort of powerless to fight it. That’s a big thing for me. I feel that people don’t do enough to break their pre-conditioning. I’ve spent most of my life doing just that, or attempting to do that – making my own mind up, and making my own decisions.” Let us not forget, after all, that his musical instinct was formed during the punk scene that attracted him down to London; a scene that enabled people to become something other than what society expected of them. 

By the time we get to the album’s concluding track, ‘Sculpted Modulations No. 1’, we’re squarely back in what Thomas acknowledges as “pretty depressing” territory. The track is a good example of something that has run throughout Thomas’s way of writing and releasing music – namely, not doing the expected. On ‘Sculpted Modulations No. 1’, after being subjected to more layers of uninterrupted electronic noise, a trip-hop beat suddenly presents itself, giving a completely unanticipated moment of levity before subsiding once more into a dangerous sonic swampland. 

“I’ve always tried to be that way, all the way through my career, musically,” he affirms. “I was just thinking about that the other day. One of the very first things that inspired me to write my own material was when I was in music class in school. We were studying Haydn, and his Symphony No. 94, which is known as the ‘Surprise Symphony’. The whole idea was that he would lull you into a sense of security, and then hit you with these really big chords. 

“That fascinated me. I thought to myself, ‘Well, if I ever make music, that’s what I want to do: make music like that that surprises you all the time.’ So there’s always that intent when I start to write anything. I always try to put something in there that will take you off in different avenues.” 

— 

In a way, the themes on Emotional Hardware are far from a surprise. They reflect back an undercurrent of what all but the most ardent optimistic – or maybe deluded – person is feeling right now, and if you look around there are more and more albums being released that tap into this undercurrent of anger and dejection. I suggest that Emotional Hardware is the perfect soundtrack to the state of the world as it balances on a knife-edge. 

“I suppose you’re right,” concludes Thomas with a slightly nervous laugh. “If you enjoy atonal music, that is.” 

Emotional Hardware by Thomas Leer is released August 29 2020 by Smitten Kitten. With thanks to John.

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Producer Gareth Jones to release debut album ELECTROGENETIC

Gareth Jones - ELECTROGENETIC.jpg

GARETH JONES – ELECTROGENETIC

Album released 18th September via Calm + Collect

 

ELECTROGENETIC is the debut album by producer and noise maker Gareth Jones.

Gareth is perhaps best known for adding his distinctive studio technique to albums from Yann Tiersen, Interpol, John Foxx, Erasure, Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode and countless others. More recently he has collaborated with Nick Hook in the duo Spiritual Friendship and with Christopher Bono as Nous Alpha. After many years spent in legendary studios in Europe and the US realising other people’s projects, Gareth decided now was the time to record his first solo album.

ELECTROGENETIC is immediately and necessarily personal. Recorded over a year-long period following the passing of his mother and mother-in-law, reflections on life and death hang heavy over the album’s nine pieces. The emotive and stirring ‘Farewell’ and ‘Safe Travels’ were recorded in his mother-in-law’s home in Michigan during a house-clearing visit following her passing; his photograph on the sleeve shows a view from the desk in London where many of the album’s pieces started, containing his late father’s wedding ring and an ankh, a symbol of fortitude that Gareth has been drawn to from his teenage years right through to his recovery from cancer over a decade ago.

Across the record you hear delicate, simple melodies, each one fashioned from lovingly-tuned samples of his mother’s piano that he played as a boy. Here you will also find motifs played on the recorder, an instrument that the infant Gareth learned to play, evoking a sense of youthful innocence, and complementing sections of spoken word.

These naturalistic elements – piano, recorder, voice – sit on top of intense, writhing nests of searching electronics that unfold with an understated forward motion. Those pulsing, criss-crossing patterns acted as the starting point for ELECTROGENETIC’s tracks, which in turn inspired the album’s title. “The name embodies my creative interaction with the machines,” explains Gareth. “These pieces each started with me building a patch with my modular synth. Building a patch is a creative act, but in a way you’re not really in control of what it does. Each time I started a piece the modular gave me back something that I would never have done consciously, or deliberately.”

The process gave Gareth hours of material to work with, which was then edited down into the seamless sequence of far shorter pieces presented on the album, with the other elements added on top. Tellingly, the album’s logical opener, ‘The Beginning’, finds Gareth reading from the Book of Genesis in Wesley’s Chapel in Islington, its familiar creationist text acting less as a statement of religious belief but as an allegory for the creative process that he went through while developing these pieces – namely taking a modular patch that was without form, and transforming it into something exuding brilliant light.

‘Mercury’, the album’s dramatic, yet meditative, centrepiece finds Gareth ruminating on the dualities of life that he is continually drawn to. Here he toys with the idea of Mercury as the Winged Messenger of the ancient Roman religion, while also reminiscing about the thermometers of his youth, the mercury’s rise and fall representing our perpetual ups and downs, of our continually fluctuating emotional states. The piece ends with a poignant ode to Mother Earth, an offering of thanks to the planet we call home, but also an appreciation of the mother figures whose passing fed into the creation of ELECTROGENETIC.

“The record is about death, commemoration, celebration, separation and transition,” reflects Gareth. “I’ve always been conscious of mortality, and of course I’m more and more conscious of that as I get older. I turned 65 last year, and the symbolism of that, plus an appreciation of the ongoing cycle of life, is what informed this album. I wanted to make something that was authentically me, something that was utterly personal yet whose themes would be relatable to everyone. I like to think that’s what I’ve achieved with this album.”

ELECTROGENETIC will be released as a download, stream and limited-edition cassette through Calm + Collect on 18th September 2020.

For more information on ELECTROGENETIC, including Gareth’s notes on each track, visit the album website – electrogenetic.com

Visit Calm + Collect at Bandcamp

Track list:

1. The Beginning
2. Trinity
3. Mercury
4. Michigan
5. Farewell
6. Goonhilly
7. Safe Travels
8. I Believe
9. Alone Together

Calm Collect.jpg

(c) 2020 Mat Smith for Calm + Collect

Residential Homesick Blues: The Residents – Metal, Meat & Bone

The Residents - Metal, Meat & Bone

It’s a bright, early Bay Area morning and Homer Flynn, the official spokesperson of The Residents, is sat in front of what looks like a monochrome vortex, a swirling pattern full of motion like a Bridget Riley painting infused with psychedelic properties. It has the effect of disorienting you, distracting you, and you feel yourself being drawn into its invisible centre. At its centre is Flynn and The Residents, a world of secrets, obfuscation, obscurity, myths and experimentation, and, like the gravitational pull of a black hole – or the arcana of The Residents – it’s impossible to resist.

The vortex is not designed to confuse or prompt speculation, or even evoke the colour scheme of The Residents’ infamous black tux / white shirt eyeball head era. It is mostly for practical purposes: Flynn, like the rest of the world, has been forced to spend lockdown communicating by video calls, and he’d gotten fed up of the boring backdrop of his office wall that he could see behind him whenever he connected to a call. “You know, I’m a visual guy,” he says in an accent rich with his Louisiana origins. Flynn is not only the spokesperson for the band, but also their principal designer, usually attributing his work as Pornographics, though it is rarely spelled the same way twice. He is both laconic and earnest, carrying a business-like efficiency but exuding a friendly warmth that might be best described as Southern hospitality, a trait that cuts through the impersonality of a Skype call.

“I thought I should have something more interesting behind me,” he continues, gesturing at the mesmerising spiral. “The Residents recently did a performance of their God In Three Persons album at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York. I did a lot of artwork for that, and I used various iterations of these weird spirals a lot in the artwork, so it seemed like it would be nice. It’s actually a piece of cloth. It’s a big piece of cloth that’s tacked up on the wall.”

Though it’s off-camera, Flynn is surrounded by The Residents’ rich archive. He indicates that there are filing cabinets in his office containing letters, documents and other artefacts, while his attic contains yet more. One day these will each be pored over and scrutinised in an attempt to make sense of this enduring group of artistic conceptualists, a unit whose anonymity has somehow – mostly, intentionally – been preserved, from their initial experiments in the 1960s to today.

It is the time of those early, tentative breaths of The Residents’ existence that is the focus of Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs Of Dyin’ Dog. A collection of blues songs originally recorded in the early 1970s by a singer that only The Residents appear to have heard of, this is an album that returns them, metaphorically, to Louisiana from whence they made their journey to California in 1965.

The Residents, St. George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents, St. George’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents formed in Shreveport, Louisiana, so the story goes, in the early 1960s. Shreveport was founded the century before as a strategic trading town on the passage between the important Red River commercial waterway and Texas, a territory hewn forcibly from Mexico. The later discovery of rich stores of oil made Shreveport the centre of a modern-day goldrush as the big oil producing firms moved in, creating one of Louisiana’s mostly economically valuable and socially thriving locations.

The group of high school friends and musical auteurs that became known, serendipitously, as The Residents opted to follow the route of the original goldrush, initially decamping to San Mateo thanks to their truck breaking down, and then finally completing the extra twenty miles to San Francisco itself (which had been their destination all along) about seven years later. Where their ancestors might have been drawn to the Bay Area to pan for gold and make (and often squander) their fortunes, The Residents were drawn there for its free and easy lifestyle. This was the time of Beats, hippies, Kerouac, Ginsberg, the City Lights Bookstore, free love and the counter-culture; a city that was On The Road, yet squarely, and wilfully, off the grid.

One of the first people The Residents worked with, back in Shreveport, was fellow musician Roland Sheehan. “He was friends with The Residents, and was involved with them in the beginning when they first started experimenting,” explains Flynn. “He actually spent a summer with The Residents – I think it was maybe the summer of 1970 or something like that. When he drove from Louisiana to the Bay Area, he brought a lot of musical instruments with him. It was these instruments that The Residents started recording and experimenting with, and so he claims this territory of being there at the very beginning of the band.” The band reconnected with Sheehan after decades of not being in touch while making The Theory Of Obscurity, a 2015 documentary about The Residents.

Sheehan had performed in a local Dubach, Louisiana group called The Alliance, managed by departed Resident Hardy Fox. In fact, The Alliance’s garage rock cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Somewhere They Can’t Find Me’ features four individuals on its sleeve who, if you were minded to squint, could be the future Residents sans eyeballs. Or just four guys. Or maybe Sheehan didn’t just make a roadtrip to meet up with his old buddies in 1970 but stayed on in San Mateo. Or maybe these are just the sorts of thoughts that go through your mind with The Residents where everything feels like it might be part of a grand artistic conspiracy. Either way, Sheehan was part of The Residents’ early story.

“After he’d spent that summer with The Residents, Roland went back to Louisiana,” continues Flynn. “He got involved with a local albino blues musician called Alvin Snow who performed under the name Dyin’ Dog, and Roland put a band together for him.” The nascent band cut some demos, which sat, unreleased and mostly forgotten about in Louisiana.

The story of Alvin Snow is the stuff that blues legends are made from. Abandoned by his parents, Snow was left for dead on the steps of a Mississipi orphanage, mercifully receiving the benefaction of a kindly group of nuns. From the off, the young Snow was an outsider, and in adolescence fell into drugs, crime – and music. He wound up in a Louisiana town where a kindly old lady, a certain Ms Lillian Underwood, took him under her wing and nurtured his nascent talent as a blues singer; later, a chance encounter on the street with the youthful Roland Sheehan led the talented, yet challenged, Snow to a local recording studio whereupon Sheehan and the studio’s owner gave him the Dyin’ Dog moniker. A showcase gig was booked at a local Dubach theatre, the Gem, for Snow’s 37th birthday in 1976 but by the date of the concert he’d mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again.

The Residents themselves were drawn to the blues, despite their early experiments sounding nothing like that, being fashioned from tapeloops and a borderless approach to sonic technique. “The Residents grew up in blues territory, and always had a great affinity for it,” asserts Flynn on behalf of the band. “They were big fans of Bo Diddley, you know, even though he was more crossover, really, but he came from a blues tradition – he was one of the ones who took blues into rock ‘n’ roll. The Residents were also big Howlin’ Wolf fans. They just really appreciated the form, especially as it evolved from blues to R&B. It was music that they always wanted to explore, but just never got around to.” Anecdotally, Flynn says that there are many, many ideas that The Residents come up with, but that only a tiny fraction of those actually ever materialise. Given that they have released somewhere in the region of 75 albums, we think, the idea of all those notions that didn’t get recorded is staggering.

Despite a mutual connection in the form of Sheehan, none of The Residents came across Alvin Snow while they were in Louisiana. All attempts to Google him seem to return you to The Residents, making this a sort of meta-mystery in the story of the band, and leading you to pore over the pictures of Snow in the booklet for Metal, Meat & Bone to see if they’re faked. And then, just like with The Residents’ own story, you shrug, accept that it’s best to just accept that you’ll never know the complete truth about anything to do with the band, and enjoy the story, even though it does mean – in my case – that you might be asking questions that simply add to the story’s dubious legitimacy, almost like you’re the one creating the trail on The Residents’ behalf.

“Alvin was kind of the mysterious type,” says Flynn. “He eventually just disappeared, but Roland still had these demos. Roland had a conversation with one of The Residents, who still had this interest in doing a blues project, and Roland thought, ‘Well, you know, maybe I have something that might be interesting to them.’ When he mentioned it to them, he dismissed it. You know, it was a bunch of demos from the 1970s – who cares? But, at the same time, he ended up bringing them in, and playing them for The Residents, and they loved them. The whole project took off from that point.”

The Residents Presents Alvin Snow aka Dyin' Dog... or is it James Dean?

The Residents Present Alvin Snow aka Dyin’ Dog (2019). Any likeness to a famous James Dean photograph is purely coincidental.

Before recording Metal, Meat & Bone, the band issued the demos as a highly limited five 7-inch single box set on Germany’s Psychofon imprint in 2019. It looked and felt like a time capsule, the discs presented as large-centre singles with scrappy labels, the only concession to modernity being the coloured vinyl some editions of the demos were pressed on. Those raw Alvin Snow demos now form the second disc of Metal, Meat & Bone, rounded out by other demos that Sheehan discovered while rooting though the Gem Theatre in Dubach.

The first disc finds The Residents interpreting those original Alvin Snow demos, as well as adding extra tracks inspired by Dyin’ Dog’s music. The result is uniquely recognisable as the band, with churning electronics and an angry, almost confrontational edge. Guitars splinter and crack with commanding, stentorian energy and the songs are thrust into a sort of sinewy industrial post-modernism. You hear the distinctive sound of the blues but it is recast as a distinctly modern artform, mostly fronted with feisty, blistering power by The Singing Resident. (The Singing Resident has been known as Tyrone since 2017; prior to that he was known as Randy Rose, Roger ‘Bunny’ Hartley, Mr. Skull, Seymore Hodges, Mr. Red Eye, and The Enigmatic Foe; some have noted the similarities between The Singing Resident’s voice and that of Homer Flynn’s.) Elsewhere on the album are quieter, more reflective moments, sung in a harrowing, affecting style by an uncredited female vocalist, full of bleak drama and visceral narrative.

“The Residents have always enjoyed reinterpreting other music,” explains Flynn. “They’ve always enjoyed exploring other forms, but somehow they always come out Residential. They don’t come out like they started.” I comment on how well the electronic elements seem to suit blues songs, even though they maybe shouldn’t fit together so easily. “Well that’s good,” says Flynn in response. “That’s certainly what we like to hear. They wanted to see if they could make that work.” This is the business-like, third-person voice of Flynn, spokesperson for the band and de facto head of the Cryptic Corporation, the organisation that oversees The Residents’ various activities.

Typical of The Residents, Metal, Meat & Bone finds the group working with some of their coterie of collaborators, easily identifiable by having, for the most part, actual identities: Nolan Cook, Carla Fabrizio, Sivan Lioncub, Peter Whitehead and Rob Laufer. Added to the list of likeminded friends and relations for the album is Pixies’ Frank Black, himself a user of an identity-disguising pseudonym in the form of Black Francis. Black adds his distinctive, angry preacher voice to one of the album’s many highlights, the emphatic ‘Die! Die! Die!’.

I ask Flynn how it’s possible that The Residents manage to attract so many collaborators considering their reputation for being somehow inaccessible. Is it the case that people who share their weltanschauung just seem to gravitate toward them? “Well, actually I think that’s more the case,” he says. “Most of The Residents’ collaborations come about kind of organically, one way or another.

“The connection to Frank Black came through Eric Drew Feldman,” he continues. “Eric is the prime producer with The Residents at this point – he’s really the architect of their sound. He has a longstanding relationship with Frank and he played with The Pixies on tour. It was right at the very beginning of the recording of the album, and they were looking for one or more guest people to come and do things, and as fate would have it, The Pixies played in San Francisco. They just happened to be in town. And so Eric got in touch with Frank and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a vocal on The Residents’ album?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, that sounds like fun.’ So, it really came about through Eric’s relationship with Frank. Frank did a fantastic job – he did a great job with that song.”

It is easy to break apart The Residents’ back catalogue into two convenient halves – the wildly experimental side wherein technology plays a huge role, and then the more song-based, story-telling side. In a way, Metal, Meat & Bone follows on from George & James (1984) and Stars & Hank Forever! (1986). On those albums, The Residents were recreating – in their own, inscrutable way – the music of George Gershwin, James Brown, the American folk music of Hank Williams and the marching band music of John Philip Sousa. These records were intended to form a series that would explore the American music tradition. Those two albums turned out to be the only albums in that series, suggesting that this became one of the ideas Flynn talked about that never got completed properly, or they enjoyed the idea of raising (and then thwarting) expectations. While they could have maybe gone about their interest in the blues through a straight reinterpretation of one of the artists whose music they admired, like they did on The American Composer’s Series, instead they opted for a different route, telling the story of an essentially unknown – or possibly unknowable – musician. And after all, who would want The Residents to do what you expect of them?

The Residents - Stars & Hank Forever!

The Residents – Stars & Hank Forever! – The American Composer’s Series Volume II (1986)

Years ago, Flynn was interviewed as one of the talking heads (talking eyes?) in The Eyes Scream, a 1991 pseudo-documentary and promo video best-of. He was featured alongside the departed Hardy Fox, later unmasked as Chuck Bobuck from The Residents’ Randy, Chuck and Bob phase upon his passing in 2018. In his interview, Flynn talks about the band’s constant efforts at “creating their own reality”.

Flynn returns to that notion as we finish our conversation about Metal, Meat & Bone. “At their core, in a way, I think The Residents are storytellers,” he says. “They love having a narrative to spin something around. Sometimes the narrative is more inherent, in the content, and sometimes the narrative is the container that the content goes into.

“Sometimes it’s a bit of both. And, with Metal, Meat & Bone, I think that’s definitely the case,” he concludes, leaning back in his office chair with a smile.

My eye is once again drawn to that swirling vortex behind him; it is a place of tall stories, semi-mythical characters, wonky, filtered versions of the truth and the weird, wonderfully indefinable – and continually fluctuating – centre of this enduring band’s idiosyncratic universe.

The Residents, St. George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents, St. George’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs Of Dyin’ Dog by The Residents is released July 10 2020 by MVD / Cherry Red.

With thanks to Matt and Andy.

Interview: Mat Smith.
Photos: Andy Sturmey (Brightlightspix)

Text (c) 2020 Documentary Evidence // Photos (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey

The Birdman Of Islington: Stubbleman – The Blackbird Tapes

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Saturday March 14 2020: Pascal Gabriel is performing pieces from his Stubbleman album Mountains And Plains at the Union Chapel in Islington, as part of the Daylight Music concert series. He is accompanied by the various automata he built for live performance; they are an essential factor in realising the many complex layers present on Mountains And Plains, a diaristic album that recorded Pascal and his wife Pippa’s journeys across the USA.

It is a few days before London went into full lockdown. The audience is about half what it should have been in ordinary circumstances, but these are far from ordinary circumstances. That Mountains And Plains concerned itself with travel and the freedom of movement is perhaps ironic in the face of the travel bans and flight cancellations that characterised the coming days. From the stage of the Chapel, Pascal could see a smattering of audience members wearing masks, then still a rarity, but something that would become ubiquitous over the next three months.

Friday May 1 2020: Pascal Gabriel is at home, as we all are by then. He is livestreaming the debut performance of The Blackbird Tapes, a new Stubbleman EP from his London home studio. “It was weird,” he reflects. “From my point of view, I was really just playing to my wife and three iPhones. There was no way of knowing whether people liked it until afterwards. At the time you have no idea what the feedback is.”

By May, with gigs and concerts cancelled and venues shuttered indefinitely, the livestream has moved from the novel rarity to the only way that musicians can perform their concerts to fans. Seeing inside the homes of musicians has become a new normal, in an extended period of such new normals.

Another thing we have become used to is quiet. Noise levels in cities across the world have been reduced to a slight murmur. It’s as if nature is reinforcing its power on the world of sound that we have inhabited in urban environments for hundreds of years; if you pay attention, one sound you will hear more prominently than ever before is birdsong. It has become the unexpected soundtrack to life in lockdown, and it became the inspiration for The Blackbird Tapes.

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Pascal Gabriel (c) Pippa Ungar

April temperatures in London were unseasonably warm. It was a small consolation for the removal of our freedoms, but it was a consolation, nonetheless. One morning, with the windows of their bedroom open, Pascal was suddenly roused out of his sleep. “At about 4 o’clock I heard this blackbird talking to a friend,” he remembers. “I think the nearest blackbird was on our roof, and the other one was probably about 200 metres away. They were obviously having some sort of conversation.” Pascal sprang out of bed and grabbed one of the Hairy Guys – the portable digital recorders that captured the atmospheric field sounds that inspired Mountains And Plains – and he recorded the two birds chatting to one another.

“The blackbird has a beautiful song,” he says, “but I really didn’t think much of it; I just thought I’d record it.” Encouraged by Pippa, Pascal was convinced that he could use the recording as the starting point for a new track, which became the opening piece on The Blackbird Tapes, ‘4am – Conversation’.

Pascal took the recording and then began to manipulate it. “I recorded it straight, as a straight conversation between him and his friend, and then I copied the audio and slowed it down to half-speed. I then copied it again and slowed it down to quarter speed, and then slowed it down again,” he explains. “By doing that, you always have the octave lower each time, and obviously it’s really slowed down. Listening to the four recordings, at those different speeds, it suggested melodies to me.”

Sitting down at his upright piano, Pascal began to lightly compose accompaniments to the layered birdsong, gently augmenting the sounds he’d recorded but never overwhelming them. “I did it very quickly,” he says. “It probably was no more than a couple of days and then I was done.”

When I spoke with Pascal about the genesis of Mountains And Plains, he explained about his ‘Ten Commandments’, the rules that he sets himself at the start of a project which then guide its development. “I don’t think I had ten on this one,” he laughs. “I had only a few, and one of them was ’Don’t distract the birds,’ – basically, don‘t detract from the sound of the birds. I wanted to keep it really simple, to not distract too much from the conversation that was going on, and the magic and unpredictability of what the bird is going to do next. And so I kept everything very delicate and very simple.

“Another of the commandments was that I would only use one piano riff of five or six notes, which are then repeated,“ he continues. “The timings can change, and where the notes go can change, but that’s it – five or six notes, and they repeat, and that’s it.”

When Pascal sent the EP over, he counselled me that I needed to listen to the three tracks with decent headphones, and most definitely not laptop speakers. That was because of the bass sounds that make up the third element of each of the three pieces, made using an Oberheim Two Voice Pro. The synth provides a rich, resonant low end perfectly matched to the topline provided by the blackbirds and the piano melodies crafted in response. “On the bass sound, I just wanted two or three notes and nothing more,“ he adds. “There’s a real jollity between the bass synth, and the piano, and the birds. It really works.”

Having completed the first piece, Pascal then used the same approach for the EP’s two other tracks, ‘6am – Chorus’ and ‘8am – Soliloquy’, each time using the layered birdsong recordings, but leaving them largely unaltered. “It just created something that I couldn’t create myself,” he says. “When you listen to birdsong, you realise how precise it is. It’s random, but it’s also really controlled. I found it fascinating to hear it slowly. I’d just sit on my chair here in the studio, and listen to it over and over again and think, ‘What am I going to do on this? It’s amazing.’ And so, when I did the synths, for instance, I didn’t want them to change very much. There’s a bit of filtering, but it’s very delicate and very minimal.” The only other element that Pascal subtly weaves in from time to time is a sequence created using a GRP Synthesizer A4, its fluttering quality evoking birdflight.

Pascal is here tapping into a tradition in classical music of using birdsong as a motif within composition, something that extends back to the 14th Century, and which can be heard in works by Beethoven, Mahler, Handel and countless others. More recently, Olivier Messaien turned to birdsong many times during his career, basing whole pieces such as Réveil des Oiseaux on the specific calls of certain birds. Perhaps closest to The Blackbird Tapes is Ottorino Respighi’s I Pini di Roma from 1924. The third movement of Respighi’s suite, The Pines of the Janiculum, includes a recording of birds made on the Janiculum hill above Rome, with instructions that the recording be played specifically on a Brunswick Panatrope phonograph.

The EP takes us from the fragile unreality of early morning and concludes with the chiming of bells near to Pascal’s house, indicating that the day must begin. “There’s something sad about it,“ admits Pascal. “It’s like the magic is slowly ebbing away from that twilight morning moment. Early morning is a very special time, even more so because of the lockdown. We’re not going out for work. We’re not so keen to catch the Tube, or bus, or whatever, and we are much more aware of our surroundings.

“And there’s definitely a lot more birds around, and they can hear each other,” he continues. “I mean, this guy, on the 4am piece, was definitely having a conversation with another bird. You probably wouldn’t be able to hear it, or you just wouldn’t notice it at all, if it was as busy as it normally is.”

The Blackbird Tapes wasn’t supposed to be Pascal Gabriel’s next release. Instead, it was intended to be 1:46:43, a three-movement piece inspired by his best time ascending Provence’s Mont Vontoux, the punishing mountain leg of the Tour de France.

Those attending the Stubbleman show at the Purcell Room last year heard the premiere of the third movement, concerned with the final climb to the summit of the mountain; the Union Chapel audience was treated to the first performance of ‘The Green Cathedral’, the second movement, which focusses on the tree-covered middle section of the route.

We have lockdown to thank for giving us The Blackbird Tapes. Just as with the source material that led to Mountains And Plains, this EP would not exist without the confluence of a specific location, caught at a specific time, that would go on to provide the inspiration for a musical response. It provides us with a lasting, poignant memory of the stillness and quietude of the strangest moment in our collective personal histories, giving The Blackbird Tapes a profound, moving and universal significance.

The Blackbird Tapes by Stubbleman is released June 5 2020 by Crammed Discs.

Interview: Mat Smith. With thanks to Sally.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Barnaby Ashton-Bullock – Café Kaput!

Café Kaput Banner

“Viva l’assemblage of husked soul eggshells
Smulched to fag ashen grain
A jackbooted silty compresse in the pavement cracks of les grandes boulevards,
A slur of arid sediment waiting for rain…”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Odd Oeufs (de Saint-Denis)

Anyone fortunate enough to see any of three parts of the Torsten series will be familiar with the work of poet and playwright Barnaby Ashton-Bullock. As well as featuring an exceptional, career-defining performance from Andy Bell as the doomed, semi-immortal, polysexual lead character, Torsten’s writer Ashton-Bullock imbues each and every line, every lyric and every scene with an unrivalled wealth of language, from the most unadulterated erotic encounter to the most wistful, heartwrenching and nostalgic look back at Torsten’s past.

That same skill can be found in Café Kaput!, a poetry pamphlet published by Broken Sleep Books. Containing 24 poems running from first time sexual experiences to mournful trips to Cotswold country homes, Café Kaput! is a vibrant, colourful, unflinching trip through linguistic possibility, brutally updating the poetic discipline for the modern era. In these verses, nothing is hidden: everything is visible, little is off-limits.

“My influences from a very early age were Harold Pinter, Derek Jarman, Steven Berkoff, and the ability that they had in their writing to pattern the world and to be viscerally honest about things,” Ashton-Bullock explained to me last year, during the rehearsals for Torsten In Queereteria. “I could never read novels. I had to, for A-level, but the language just wasn’t concise enough for me. It was like I’m reading all of this to get this kind of hit, but I’m not getting it. From early on I thought that poetry was the most immediate and violent expression of language.”

“Wotcha m’putrid popsicle!
Sorry the sherbet pips got wet.
Was those lolloping licks at the ‘Welcome Desk’
Like the motel staff’s tongues all had palsy Slurping a rippling slurry of saliva into my knapsack”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Motel Strange

“Read it if you dare!” cautions Andy Bell in his opening endorsement, and these verses are truly not for the easily embarrassed. Whereas poetry may have a long tradition of obfuscating meanings under layers of calculated, deliberately impenetrable wordplay, with Ashton-Bullock’s pen you have the equivalent of voyeuristically pulling back the duvet covers on the most vivid liaisons.

Café Kaput! Can be ordered directly from Broken Sleep Books here. On Sunday May 17 2020 at 7pm, Ashton-Bullock will be hosting a live online launch party for Café Kaput! – book your virtual seat here.

Ashton-Bullock, his musical partner Chris Frost and Andy Bell recently uploaded a video compilation of songs from the Torsten series which can be viewed below.

Related:

Andy Bell – Torsten In Queereteria : Redux – Documentary Evidence feature, 2019

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Klara Lewis – Ingrid

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A couple of years ago, a cellist friend said to me, of his principal instrument, that “you have to be careful not to get too sad with it.” The inference was that it’s all too easy to make the cello sound mournful. Ever since he told me that I’ve become much more aware of that quality whenever a cello is involved; it may just be my general curmudgeonly outlook, but I often find it hard to identify something other than a nostalgic, wistful or maudlin dimension to music made with the instrument. It’s with that in mind that I approached the latest piece of music by Klara Lewis.

Ingrid is a single twenty-minute piece that uses a brief yet characteristically expressive cello segment as its foundation sound source. My cellist friend reliably informs me that it is “from the Sarabande movement of Bach’s fourth suite for unaccompanied cello”. Who plays the cello, whether this is a passage played specifically for Lewis or sampled from an existing performance are undisclosed details; neither is it apparent why the piece is so titled. Is Ingrid the person playing the cello? Is Ingrid the person this piece is dedicated to? Does it even matter?

These are the kind of questions you ask yourself as you listen to this piece. So focussed do you become on those questions that it isn’t immediately obvious that the cello loop is being subjected to – and placed under significant duress by – increasingly violent levels of distortion. It’s only after about ten minutes that the distinctive qualities of the cello get mangled fully out of shape, becoming growling, snarling, aggressive blocks of over-amplified noise: up to that point, it just sounds like the cello’s plaintive stylings augmented by hollow, distant electronic interventions.

By its denouement, the piece has morphed into loud, almost unbearably brutal sound, the original source passage unrecognisable; stretched, skewed and misshapen; reduced to elemental, metallic impulses on the most beautifully harrowing fringes of sonic entropy.

Ingrid by Klara Lewis is released May 1 2020 by Editions Mego – available here.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Reed Hays.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Easy – Radical Innocence

Easy - Radical Innocence (cover)

“Their debut album sold more than Sonic Youth’s ‘Sister’. Nobody noticed.” – MuteBank Statement #1, June 1996

I wonder to myself: how many times did I play 1990’s debut Easy album, Magic Seed, after I found it in a second-hand shop in Colchester in 1997? Between that LP, singles by Foil and Technique by New Order, I don’t recall listening to much else for the duration of that long, endless summer at the conclusion of my second year at university; it was a summer of warm days at the beach, cycling to work across town and youthful abandon, and Easy’s Magic Seed became the de facto soundtrack.

At that point, MuteBank’s Statement #1 was my Bible. I had no idea, in those early internet days, that by then the Swedish band had released a second album (1994’s Sun Years) after things didn’t quite work out for them at Blast First. I had wrongly assumed until about two weeks ago that they’d essentially called it quits after Magic Seed didn’t set the world of punky, jangly guitars on fire as it should have done in 1990.

Easy 2 - photo by Eyleen Kotyra

Radical Innocence  finds the six-piece band – Johan Holmlund (vocals), Tommy Ericson (guitar), Anders Petersson (guitar), Rikard Jormin (bass), Tommy Dannefjord (drums) and newbie Ingvar Larsson (keyboards) – showing that the world may have changed immeasurably, we may well be living through extraordinary days, but Easy’s music is dependably unchanged. Matured they may well be like the rest of us, giving songs like the string-laden ‘Golden Birds’ and lead single ‘Crystal Waves’ a wistful, mournful and subtly uplifting dimension, but aside from Holmlund’s voice becoming stronger and less tentative, more confident and more strident, this is still the band that I fell in love with far too late far too many years ago.

These eight songs are poised with a delicate precision, full of their trademark guitar sound but also a vibrancy and energy, best exemplified by the blisteringly good track ‘Memory Loss Revisionism And A Bright Future’. Elsewhere, we encounter the beautiful sensitivity of ‘Day For Night’ led by Dannefjord’s thunderous drumming and atmospheric textures, a savagely open tale of loss and regret bordered by a stirring quality that is utterly heartbreaking. Meanwhile, the title track shuffles along upon fuzzy guitars, grubby bass and vamping organ tones, its lyrics foretelling the one-way street that is the loss of youthful innocence.

Radical Innocence by Easy is released April 24 2020 by A Turntable Friend Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence