Music Reviews



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Artist: Pram
Title: The Stars Are So Big... The Earth Is So Small... Stay As You Are
Format: 12"
Label: Medical Records
I missed this album the first time around, being four years old, and managed never in the years since to come into contact with the works of Pram at all. Now, thanks to present circumstances, I can at last get to know and enjoy this English band, who have turned out to be pretty superb.

First released in 1993 by Too Pure (also home to Stereolab and PJ Harvey), The Stars Are So Big... The Earth Is So Small... Stay As You Are was Pram's second LP. It's the first of two to have been reissued this year by Seattle's Medical Records, as part of a continuing project by the label to celebrate "seminal works" put out by Too Pure in the 1990s. In the case of The Stars Are So Big..., this reissue project takes the form of a red 180g vinyl repress, which I have not yet seen, but expect is a worthy labour of love.

Immediately evident when listening to this reissue is that it has not been remastered. This is distinct from some of Medical Records' other reissues, whose remasters have even been laudably restrained and clearly sensitive to the production of the original audio - showing taste and trustworthiness on the part of the label.
However, in this case, somebody involved decided a remaster wasn't necessary. The timbre of The Stars Are So Big... sounds soft and dated, muffled and a bit flat. It's possible that this sound was intentional even at the time, and that retaining it now is a conscious goal of the band's. I must agree, in any case, that there is no need to modernise these recordings. And this is likely true in most cases of reissuing music, however it was supposed to sound originally, unless we admit to participating in this period's fetishism for loudness and reappropriation, or devoting excessive energy to our commercial interests (if there's a difference). There is no 'right' way at all to do these things. But a listener's active acclimatisation to different kinds of recording and production styles, with their distinct historical and other kinds of grain, can be of great significance to the basic analyses and pleasures of musical experience. Both the process and any respect for it carry with them aesthetic as well as ethical importance.

To get to a more pertinent matter - the music itself - this album feels like a faintly twee, but rather opaque, mixture of dreamy art rock, kraut-like psychedelia and a little shoegaze. Through a filter of what sounds like no-budget, living-room production, the band's attention to detail and sonic experimentation are quite evident. Most generally, the album comprises distinct articulations of bass, guitar, electronics and drums, as well as the voice of Rosie Cuckson. On the opener 'Loco', she is nearly drowned out by noisy guitar and a throbbing, stop-start bassline. For the next tune, 'Radio Freak in a Storm', she spends the verses competing with a brilliant, metallic mallet synth motif; the guitar, this time, manifests as muted plucking. The sixteen-minute "In Dreams You Too Can Fly" is a splendid, relaxed jam. It falls quietly somewhere between jazzy stoner rock and what would later become known as post-rock, with horns provided by a guest musician known only as Verdigris. 'Milky' and the final piece 'Cape St. Vincent' are sweet and dreamy numbers, with Cuckson accompanied by cute melodies on glockenspiel, sprightly sinewave synth and, in the latter track, furry filtered piano.

Cuckson is often quite low in the mix on this record, a feature vaguely reminiscent of Belinder Butcher on MBV's Loveless. Another similarity is a prevalent emotional ambiguity, which at times Pram seem to take into outright obfuscation. Cuckson sings with an airy, aloof and shy manner, as if murmuring absently to herself. Particularly on 'Loredo Venus' and 'Dorothy', she conspires with the rest of the instrumentation to produce a beguiling, awkward and unsettling tone. It all feels fun and heartfelt, but also wry and quite uneasy. Somehow impenetrable, but deeply varied and enjoyable altogether.
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Artist: Big Hare (@)
Title: Hasyayoga
Format: CD
Label: Blowpipe Records (@)
Rated: *****
Big Hare is the duo of Luuk Ottenhof and Tim Fraanje from Ultrecht, Netherlands. I reviewed their 'Evening Rites' EP a while back and found it interesting, but after listening to 'Hasyayoga' it appears as though they were only getting started. There are only 8 tracks on this short album, but it seems quite sufficient. Right out of the gate on "Tahiti" and "Yellow Eyes" they show a quirky, wry pop sensibility akin to the more experimental side of Goldley and Creme, albeit somewhat more whacked-out and lo-fi. "Black Tape" is electro-funky with a chiming guitar strum borrowed from Bowie's "Fame", along with some steel drum. "Fun Face" gets into an electro groove ala Yello as if produced by The
Residents. The Snakefinger-ish guitar on "An Amazon" would seem to indicate the boys of Big Hare spent a lot of time listening to Ralph Records artists. Nowhere does the Dadaist influence emerge more fully than on the recitation incorporated into "Scissor Dance". Beeheart and Pere Ubu wrapped in a Middle Eastern motif as if done by Barnes & Barnes. "Lend me your hands, I ain't go no hands, I've taken part in the Scissor Dance." The weakest track on the album may be "Treehouse" but at least it has some eerie oscillating synth. It all ends with the lengthiest track on the album, "Follow the Lines" which is kinda coldwave, kinda industrial, done almost like the earliest Human League, but of course with Big Hare's innate quirkiness. There aren't many outfits making music like this anymore; stuff that's fun but not necessarily funny, unconventional without being outlandish, but most of all, enjoyable.
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Artist: Earl Grey (@)
Title: Dorsiflexsion / Karmic Sprain
Format: 12"
Label: Inperspective Records (@)
Rated: *****
The sample of a steamer, a somehow old-fashioned bouncy rhythmical pattern and a looped sampled trumpet sketched melody which adds a more antiquated shadow to the sound - it could let you think a secret amen break in the collection of Marlene Dietrich playing on the gramophone owned by that diva, while listening to this mixture - ignites "Dorsiflexion", the first tune of this tidbit by Mancunian producer and dj Jim Ehlinger aka Earl Grey for Christopher Walton's imprint Inperspective. The track seems to get off the round after the addiction of two percussive elements, but it gradually twists around itself without any real evolution. "Karmic Sprain", the other half of this release, is much more interesting: the tones of grey got added by a pitched synth-organ as well as by a sampled female vocals, which sounds like being in agony, the "narrative" setting got rendered by sampled dialogues of people talking about someone who "doesn't respect anybody" and the element of amalgamation is a really amazing rhythmical pattern - I'm not sure percussions are digital as they are so perfectly designed that they sounds played by "real" drums -. Besides a certain lividity of the sound, Earl Grey's infusion are really delicious.
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Artist: Mauoq & Medika (@)
Title: The First/Equator/Clusterfunk
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Aluminium Shiny Shin Side Shack Out Music
Rated: *****
Many bass-driven music fans guessed that the so-called drumstep should have been another passing fad, but more or less hidden outputs like the one that recently come out on the newborn label Aluminium Shiny Shin Side Shack Out are suggestive of the fact that many reviewers announced the death of this branch too hastily. This short ammo of drumstep bullets is co-signed by Rome-born Mauro Campana aka Maouq - I firstly met his name and his sound on labels like Diffrent and Dispatch - and Brixtonian DJ and VJ Milena Lukic aka Medika - I've honestly never heard her name before - and includes three very good tracks (two solo and one bicephalous) that could fade the above-described premature obit out. "Clusterfunk", the first tune by lady Medika, features somehow claustrophobic sonorities by means of a catchy blend of rising breaks running like a rusty train over cracks, hits, splitting rails and alien growls, where the insertion of a spooky female voice (Medika's one?) could let you think she made this tune after setting a VPN up in order to chat with the ghost of a girl found dead under a train in some peripheral station of the subway. The (bass)line by Mauoq on his solo tune "Equator" seems to render a sort of sonic parade through the imaginary red-hot belt of our planet by a sequence of liquefying sounds, muffled metallic hits and more or less disguised clues from inhabitants of equatorial forests. A couple of good tunes, but the best moment of this sonic cookie, in my opinion, is "The First", the co-signed one, even if its somehow creepy nuance could remind the thrilling atmosphere of the scariest videogames by Monolith.
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Artist: Hybris/Signs
Title: Carousel/Rotor
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Plasma Audio
Rated: *****
Besides the remarkable quality of the sounds that I spoke about on the occasion of the introduction of some past releases of Plasma Audio, the direction that the Australian label by badman Safire is going to take becomes clearer and clearer, whenever you check the sonic seeders he decided to host in his expanding catalogue. The ninth plasmic detonation by the label got planned by two acknowledged names of the more "tech-hey" bulge of contemporary drum 'n' bass. My favourite tune of this release is the one by Czech producer Evan Vischi, better known as Hybris, whose treatment over visceral low frequencies, chopped vocals and wisely fragmented rhythmical patterns on "Carousel" could let you imagine a battle against a slimy robotic Gila monster; Toulouse-born trio Signs keeps on hit you hard by their distinctively futuristic declension of nNeurofunk on "Rotor", whose sudden sonic clattering over hyper-nervous breaks - for some strange reason - makes me think of the growling of an aggressive cat. Do not overgroom it.
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