Erasure – Snow Globe (Mute album, 2013)

As its Christmas, I’ve found myself listening to Erasure‘s 2013 seasonal collection Snow Globe more than anything else over the last few weeks. I truly think it is one of the best Christmas albums ever made.

Here is the small review of the album that I wrote for Clash upon its release.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The 7th Plain – Wishbone


The 7th Plain was an alias that future NovaMute / Mute artist Luke Slater used for a brief time, the first album issued under the name being the brilliant My Wise Yellow Rug released in 1994 by General Production Recordings (GPR). The 7th Plain found Slater operating in a firmly ambient mode, complementing the more dancefloor-friendly tracks he issued under his Planetary Assault Systems alias.

‘Wishbone’ doesn’t appear on My Wise Yellow Rug, but it sounds like it should have been included there. Here Slater lays down a rich, slowly-developing tapestry of mostly pleasant sounds underpinned by a hissing rhythm that sits somewhere between skeletal electro and the factory-like drum pattern from Depeche Mode’s ‘Ice Machine’. Toward the end Slater introduces a bassline constructed from a somewhat darker synth sound while a repetitive arpeggio sequence takes on a queasy insistence as the track concludes.

Throughout, even as Slater drops in what feels like a organic, jazzy looseness at the very beginning via vaguely piano riffs, there’s an underlying mechanistic, robotic quality to ‘Wishbone’; that reminds me of a review of one of the tracks on My Wise Yellow Rug which compared the track in question to Vince Clarke covering Vangelis’s theme to Blade Runner. In the interests of full disclosure, I actually bought the album on the strength of that line alone. At the time it wasn’t apparent that Slater would go on to become a Mute artist, but I was pleased he ultimately signed to the label, though I can honestly say that his work as The 7th Plain was always more interesting to me than the output under his own name.

Equanimity was released as a double compilation by the GPR label in 1995 and features some really good tracks from Max 404, D:Fuse, Beaumont Hannant, Russ Gabriel and other artists from the imprint’s roster. It sits squarely alongside the Warp series of Artificial Intelligence / listening electronica albums but at times seems to have much more of a concrete, robust edge compared to some of the ambient noodling that Warp’s series tended towards. With Max 404 and a crunchy Bari-speed rave track from the absurdly-named Radioactive Lamb being two possible exceptions, it would have been slightly inconceivable to find any of the tracks here finding themselves sitting comfortably in a techno set of the time, but an adventurous DJ could have probably found a way. They usually could.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Richard Hawley – Down In The Woods @ 33rpm (Mute / Parlophone single, 2012)

single // Down In The Woods

One of the many loveable things about John Peel was his tendency, with alarming regularity, to play records at the wrong speed. For the masterful Peel, this was a natural consequence of packing his late-night shows with so much adventurous music that the odd RPM gaffe here and there was to be expected.

Somewhat less excusably, I did exactly the same with the 10” copy of this Richard Hawley single from his Singles Club series which left my music collection forever last week courtesy of a Discogs buyer. Long gone are the days of me sitting down and sticking on an LP in my lounge; in these time-pressed parental days, I often record the vinyl into my laptop with the volume set to mute (pun intended) and then listen to it back on the train to work the next day on my iPod. I know, I know; and to think I call myself a music writer. Don’t trust anything I say.

That’s exactly what I did with ‘Down In The Woods’ when I first received it three years ago, except that I either misread the label or the label didn’t say what the speed was, or I just figured the turntable was set to 45 when it was actually still set to 33, and I never went and recorded it again. As a result, this review is of ‘Down In The Woods’ and its B-side ‘Kindly Rain’ – at the Peel-friendly wrong speed. Read it faster if you want to guess what it really sounds like.

‘Down In The Woods’ is a long, sludgy piece of psychedelic blues wherein a gravel-voiced Hawley does his best impression of a robotic heavy metal vocalist whacked out on tranquillisers. The guitars fizz with astral aspirations and feedback drones reminiscent of something the Jesus And Mary Chain might have developed in a vague homage to The Velvet Underground. The whole thing has an epic, heavy density; a cloying, foggy, slightly threatening stew that Hawley’s demonic vocal does little to dispel, especially on his echoey delivery across the sparse and slowly rebuilding middle eight. This is possibly what it sounds like when you listen to ‘The End’ by The Doors within a lab-controlled LSD experiment.

‘Kindly Rain’ is pure angelic, ethereal texture, with lots of shimmering, mellow grandeur and atmospheric touches, at least until it tries, abortively, to push upwards into another lysergic jam; it just happens to be fronted by someone who sounds a lot like Iggy Pop does these days. Even at the wrong speed I can tell this is Hawley at his ballad-toting best.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound – December 2015

Four of my reviews appeared in the latest issue of Electronic Sound.

Yokan System is a Japanese pop duo who make some of the classiest electronic music you’ll ever hear, so much so that it all feels rather effortless for the pair. Their debut album Whispering is released by Ample Play and is probably one of my favourite pop releases of the year.

Lilies On Mars are another duo, originally from Sardinia but now based in Hackney. Their second album  is released by Lady Sometimes and finds the pair dabbling with dreampop without surrendering themselves fully to drab shoegazery dullness. 

Shape Worship is the alias of Ed Gillett, and his debut album A City Remembrancer was released by the fantastic Front & Follow imprint. The album concerns itself with the constant mutability of London, from the windows to the past revealed in the mudbanks of the Thames to social disruption from the demolition of Corbusier-inspired housing, which we might be used to thinking of now as a failed social experiment. A complex album, for me writing this review allowed me to indulge two of my other passions – the history of London and architecture. I often say that I’d love to have become an architect if my actual career hadn’t gotten in the way.

‘Tppr’ by Laica is also a social experiment, though arguably more successful. For his latest release on his own Arell imprint, Dave Fleet sent a raft of friends and collaborators a small rhythm he’d tapped out on his desk while setting up his equipment. He asked them to mess with the sequence and send it back to him for further tweaking and re-assembly into a single track album. The result is, as I say in the review, proof that “mighty oaks from little acorns grow”. Fleet was a massive guiding presence in my MuteResponse compilation project and contributed a cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘See You’ to the album under his MO75 alias. Some of the artists he sent his inchoate rhythm to also appeared on MuteResponse – Thee Balancer, Joe Ahmed of Security and Simplicity Is Beauty.

I was delighted to get the chance to review Fleet’s album for Electronic Sound. I’ve championed his work for a while, and we featurd him in the 50 artists to watch in 2015. Both my piece on the album and ‘Tppr’ itself are among my favourite things I’ve written about / heard this year. In keeping with the original theme of the album, here is a picture of my writing environment for the review of ‘Tppr’ – a desk in my room in the funky Chambers hotel in New York in November. 

Electronic Sound is available from the iTunes Store or The latest issue also includes a lengthy extract from Kris Needs’s new book about legendary New York synth punks Suicide. 
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds – Conjure Man (In The Red single, 2012)

single // Conjure Man / Lose Your Mind

in the red | 7″/dl itr239 | 2012

Kid Congo Powers, as well as being Nick Cave‘s guitarist in the Bad Seeds and a founder member of The Gun Club, used to be in The Cramps. If you ever needed validation of his involvement in the band formed by the late, great Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, ‘Conjure Man’ is probably it, albeit what The Cramps might have become if they’d studied Morricone. Powers, or Brian Tristan to immigration, has a particularly distinctive tremolo guitar style which manifests itself here as a sort of desert-washed, dramatic blues, with all the insistent bleakness of a spaghetti western soundtrack in ‘Conjure Man’s spacious tumbleweeds-in-dystopia arrangement. His vocal may lack the stuttering jerkiness of Lux and the music some of the obtuse angles that made The Cramps such a compelling unit, but his echo-drenched Californian drawl has the same appealing blank weirdness, whilst lyrically here also recalling the wonderful anarchic mysticism of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put A Spell On You’.

The B-side is a cover of The Seeds’ ‘Lose Your Mind’ (misspelled, perhaps deliberately, as ‘Loose Your Mind’ on the 7″ label). That’s right, an ex-Bad Seed covering The Seeds. Powers captures the garagey rock ‘n’ roll blues of the original with ease, adding a lysergic, psychedelic quality to the arrangement via some sky-scouring synths and captivatingly frazzled, whining guitar trickery. It’s effortlessly cool, much like Kid Congo Powers himself.

The single was released in both red and black vinyl editions (100 and 400 copy editions), with both editions enclosed in a screen-printed sleeve printed onto cardboard cut from a Pabst Blue Ribbon box. If that doesn’t scream ‘carefully-produced lo-fi’ then I don’t know what else does.

First posted 2013; re-edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence