Music Reviews

Artist: Edward Ka-Spel (@)
Title: Tanith and The Lion Tree
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
The remastered reissue of "Tanith And The Lion Tree" by protean Edward Ka-Spel, mostly known as the co-founder of the long-lived band The Legendary Pink Dots, was almost a necessary commitment due to the undisputed importance within Edward's rich discography. The intrinsic and somehow arcane inner narrative structure of this sort of dusky tale about little Tanith and some esotheric ambiguousness and historical references as well as a remarkable lyricism of the songs - the main fictitious character of the record itself could be a reference to Tanit, a lunar ancient goddess, the chief deity of Carthage and wife of Baal, who was often depicted with a lion's head - could be a good brain-teaser for exegetes of similar records, but according to my opinion, the most likeable aspect is definitively the stylistical one, whereas the distictive voice of Ka-Spel is the proper center of gravity of musical scouting, oscillating from almost mystical climbing of "Hotel X" to the horrorific and charming tension and the vividly autobiographical rendering of a dramatic execration of the initial "'O' From The Great Sea", by which Edward histrionically draws the attention of listeners by means of sinister air of mystery at once ("I drove the train to Dachau, wore the hood of the Ku Klux Klan. I carve the cross into a bloody sword; I slice off the hand that feeds you - cook it slowly, lick it clean. I put it in my pie-don't you want to know the reason WHY?" he sings at the end), from the electronic paroxysm of the catchy monologue "Four out of Ten" to the weirdy invective "Prisoners of War", from the gracefully gathered love-ballad of "Prithee", where the melodic line on keyboards could remind some atmospheres by Syd Barrett, to the amazing off-beat prog-noir hooks of "The Bakersman", whose musical shell was perfect for the portrait of a sort of gangster ("Jerkov cuts it charismatic - strikes his match on his jaw. Smokes in threes (all Gauloises!), strokes his saftey clip + tips his tribly. Truly! Bad guys freeze at such a moment."), from the ambient inserts of "Loop 1" and "Loop 2" to the cloak-and-dagger industrial of "Old Man Trouble". Moreover Cold Spring added three bonus tracks: an harsher electro-noise version of the above-mentioned "Prisoners of War", a third previously unreleased "Loop" and a slicker version of 'Don't Look 'Til It's Gone' from "Travelogue" by Wolfgang Reffert's project Dark Star, which featured Edward Ka-Spel as a collaborator.
Artist: Herman Muntzing (@)
Title: ((Sjalksvalk))
Format: CD
Label: Treffpunkt (@)
Rated: *****
On ((Sjalvskalv)), Swedish electro-improvisor Herman Muntzing delivers a tangle of genre-bending electronics.

'How would a contemporary folk-electronica that was born in the country sound like?'

Herman Muntzing draws tiny tones and textures from the world around him, creating a microscopic electronica that bobs and grooves, as well as sizzles, hisses and fits. Sjalvskalv could be placed in the electroacoustic improv trajectory; it's easy to imagine the artist bowing metal, eliciting small taps on resonant chambers, gathering sounds like a magpie, and then splicing them together as an incongruous whole. Overall, the music exists in a grey zone where Autechre's glitch, Wolf Eyes post-industrial scrape, with Voice Crack's unpredictable crackle crawl beneath rusted barbed wire lines, looking for water. Muntzing seems like a direct descendant of the AMM school; idealistic, communist electronic music, full of radio crackle and grit. ((Sjalksvalk)) (which means Self Quake in English) crosses the boundaries of 3 decades of experimental music.

Most of the information I could find on this disc was in Swedish or in badly broken English, so I had to leave a lot to imagination. Half of the fun of listening to improvised records is imagining where it comes from, what's the context? To let cinematic landscapes unfold in your mind, to let yourself wander and lose yourself in wondering. So it's safe to say that Muntzing draws a lot from the traditional electroacoustic improv (EAI) toolbox of springs, tiny bits of glass, bowed metal to make an industrial clockwork mechanism that is wired up and made to dance like a twitchy marionette. It is unclear how much of this sequenced or how much is created in the moment, but ((Sjalvskalv)) seems composed, put together. The main thing that seperates this album from the legions of Onkyo imitators is that it actually grooves. It seems like Muntzing is using EAI as a source of interesting sounds, like a sound designer, and then spinning the results into unique but still traditional art gallery techno.

It feels like an Autechre/Oval/Warp Records glitch album, but a good one; unexpected rhythms and industrial sparks, a bit of a late '70s vibe. It's got a modern Juke/Footwork plastic sequenced drum machine sound to the rhythms, at the same time, that will appeal to younger music fans. It sounds like the sounds were triggered from a video game controller, a live-sampled techno. Standing at the crossroads between various genres, perhaps explaining the one to the other. ((Sjalksvalk)) sounds like a classic arthouse improv CD, the kind that you would mail-order from Sweden, but starting to cross over into the clubs. Which could really help to introduce some fresh blood into EAI, which it needs for survival.

Brings to mind this Hacker Farm record i reviewed the other day, U/H/F
. They're weird British duo that uses homemade electronics and found sounds to approximate the feeling of watching grimey CCTV surveillance cameras. It's a feeling in the air, people are looking for unpredictable dance music, i think we've burnt out a bit on slick club bangers. People are looking for tactile things, things they can hold on to. That's part of why we're seeing a resurgence in late '70s, Throbbing Gristle-style Industrial music. The post-punk axis continues.
If you also factor in that the mighty Autechre have released a new album, Exai, that's got everybody talking, perhaps this is a good time for Herman Muntzing's music to hit people's ears. It's got a good groove, oftentimes, and covers a wide range of styles, seems like it was recorded in a series of events. It's an interesting patchwork; I've played it around the house quite a bit, it gives a sense of malfunctioning appliances, reality falling into a lockwork rhythm, everybody's head starts to nod. The best glitch makes you listen to your environment differently, slows down time and attention.

Muntzing's music is a worthwhile addition to the canon. He is a talented sound designer, and seemingly a talented rhythmists. I applaud him for expanding the pallet of both techno and improvised music, both of which are so full of possibilities, but are so often limited by form and cliche. The press release says:

'So there is no refinement, just a great sense of style and design. The music also becomes a part of the debate of how improvised music sometimes tends to anxiously cling to their own conventions. With sounds that with closed eyes can develop pictures of chicken incubators and cowmilking units and impertinent flies buzzing around your ears, this is an improvised music that has moved away from the usual style exercises, and sustains an unpretentious approach to improv and who just wants to play on his own terms.'

Herman Muntzing is playing on his own terms, and making something worthwhile. Keep going!
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Artist: The Danse Society (@)
Title: Scarey Tales
Format: CD
Label: Society Records
Rated: *****
"Scarey Tales" is the second album of the reborn The Danse Society that, after their "Change Of Skin" happened one year and half ago, bring to the fans five new tracks plus a cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit". The new album's concept is focused on classic scary tales and if you think that many of them were transposed into movies, why not taking inspiration from classic tales like "Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde", "Alice In Wonderland", "The Raven", etc. for an album? Think about Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" that has been shot in the 1935 by Lew Landers and by Corman in 1963, "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" (this one had so many transposition in 1908, 1920, 1931, 1941, etc) and think about the atmosphere they were able to create. The Danse Society with "Message In The Wind", "White Rabbit", "The Scarecrow", "The Tale", "The Wof" and "Jekyll & Hyde" are able to make you enter a world made of mystery and darkness. They do it mixing their elements with sorcerers' ability: in thirty-seven minutes of music Maetheyiah, Pauk Nash, David Whitaker, Martin Roberts and Paul Gilmartin are defining their new sound even more compared to "Change Of Skin" and it's made of epic synth orchestrations, powerful drumming/bass lines and guitar melodic arpeggios that time to time tun into power chords. Last but not least we have Maeth's voice, that has a central role into their music. Tracks like the opening "Message In The Wind" or "The Tale" are powerful and sensual and I'm sorry to point it out like for "Change Of Skin", Maeth is the new Siouxie. Her voice is powerful, melodic, vibrant and expressive and even if I loved their 80s songs, I love also their new sound. Wrapped in a book which contains a rhyme poem and lots of fabulous illustrations by the best artists around, "Scarey Tales" is available at £ 7.00 (plus postage and packing) at the band's website.
Artist: Pixel (@)
Title: Mantle
Format: CD
Label: Raster-Noton (@)
Rated: *****
In spite of the relatively limited array of sounds, mainly venomous puffs, electrical clips from ammeters or plugs, mainly muffled bass bumps, plucked steel tongues, obscure suctions, buzzing surges, surgical incisions, Danish electronic music composer Jon Egeskov aka Pixel dishes catchy dynamics out on "Mantle", his fourth release on Raster-Noton, where he tempers his rhythm-driven approach to a series of hyphenation/articulation of electrons with recurring shifts and skips. Most of tracks sound quite obscure and somehow stifling and the rare breaks are snap-shots when his threatening electro-mechanical entities seem to get some air before they keep on drooling fused silica, neodymium, tantalum and corrosive magma. It's quite interesting to follow the strategies that some aggregrates of buzzes seem to enact to ensnare the whole sonic sphere, particularly on some tracks such as "Ericson Sandstone", "Steel Tape", "Nesting Screen" or "Plump Bob". This is another proof that even perturbing industrial machinery can sound somehow funk.
Artist: Kotra & Zavoloka & Dunaewsky69 (@)
Title: Kallista
Format: CD
Label: Kvitnu (@)
Rated: *****
Lovely Polish city Krakow must be really inspiring as "Kallista" (meaning "very beautiful") is maybe the third or fourth record which is somewhat related to one of the leading center of arts and culture in Poland. The involved artists, Kotra, Zavoloka and Dunaewsky69, got so stricken by its mysterious beauty during a visit in early 2012 that they tributed this record. According to their own words, Krakow is "an obscure area of inspiration and misunderstandings, old city of new art and technology, place of imminent comfort and lazy silence, convenient space for breeding bizarre and radical ideas". Those ideas have been poured into 24 astonishing tracks, which they assembled with the support of some friends in Studio of Electroacoustic music of renowned Krakow Music Academy, whose support consisting of giving the possibility to the trio to have access to its wide collection of old analogue synthesizers, modular systems and sound processors (some of them belong to that collection since early 60's) has been integrated by the precious collaboration of young Slovakian sound artist Jonas Gruska and two skilled Polish composers, Michal Pawelek, who helped Kotra, Zavoloka and Dunaewski69 in grabbing some field recordings, and Marcin Strzelecki, who built some oscillators. Such a choral effort made this release really heterogenous from the structural viewpoint and even though it was equally trebeled by the three involved artists, each contribution renders different strategies of coalescence between modular pulses, uncut noise, sharpened sine waves and electric shocks without lacking of a certain sense of amalgamation. Mottled electronic scalding of abrasive tracks by Dunaewsky69 such as "Krolewska", "Huta" or "Niesamowite" flow into the polymeric sonic pulsations, artificial vivid entities and unpredictable surreal inserts by Zavoloka ("Krak", "Cichy-Btonia", "Planty") and more epic-oriented flares by Kotra (I particularly enjoyed Kotra's "Emaus", "Bunkier", "Wyspianski 2000" and "Solvay", whose saxophone sample comes from Ayane Yamanke) in a fascinating aggregate of sounds, which sound like squeezed from history and places of a city "that always sleep and always awake". The psychotropic multicolored doilies Zavoloka adopted on the artwork wisely recap the collaborative spirit of this delicious hash that I cannot but recommend.
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