Monday, January 18, 2021

Music Reviews

Teho Teardo: Ellipses Dans L'Harmonie

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Artist: Teho Teardo
Title: Ellipses Dans L'Harmonie
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Specula Records
Rated: * * * * *
Italian composer/producer Teho Teardo (founder of Meathead and the composing half of the Teho Teardo / Blixa Bargeld duo that has gifted us 4 beautiful records so far) just released his latest solo album "Ellipses Dans L'Harmonie", which is a homage to the 1751 Enlightenment Manifesto "L’Encyclopédie" by Diderot & D’Alembert. The story goes that Teho discovered the many volumes of this encyclopedia at the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan (Feltrinelli is known mostly in Italy as one of the biggest book publishers, but its Foundation also hosts an impressive catalogue of antique books dating back centuries) and that he randomly picked up one of the volumes which included a number of scores that exemplify how to work with musical elements such as counterpoint, cadence, harmony and so on and so forth. This long forgotten book served as the inspiration to write new music around the audible archive of lost memories that Teardo recorded at the Villa Manin Passariano (near Udine) and the Fondazione Pietá de Turchini in Naples in 2018 with a slew of talented classically trained musicians from Italy plus a special appearance by cellist Erik Friedlander (with whom Teardo made an album in 2006 inspired by poet Pasolini).

The music in the 10 tracks that make up this beautiful album is dense with subtle arrangments that weave the memory of the unknown and reference the holism of those books that most of us have never seen. If you know Teho's albums with Einsurzende Neubauten's singer Blixa Bargeld you'll recognize his style in writing great string arrangements (like the slow and voluptuous glissandos of "Chant Primitif" or the imposing staggered harmonized pizzicatos of "Systehme de Mr Kirnberger" with its ambiguously looped harpsichord), but this album goes way beyond that and strides along post middle ages classical music, ensemble chamber music as well as a certain "new music" aesthetics (listen to the flute lines in "Césures Rélatives" with its beautiful billowing bass clarinet tones).

The opener "Cadence Féminine" quickly develops from a treated percussive piano and strings dance that almost reminded me Anthony Pateras' Tetema project (with Patton) into a full blown electro-industrial thumper that immediately sets the tone for the album and at once reminds you of who Teardo is, what he does, and the entire sonic palette he's capable to conjure.
But, after the first i'm-here-and-i-mean-business opening track, the album takes a quieter turn, a much more chamber-like dimension that feels very organic and acoustic, and at times is even almost completely devoid of electronic-sounding timbres (except for sonic treatments applied in post). It's almost as if throughout the album Teho slowly peels away more layers to reveal a more minimalistic nature, maybe in an attempt to get to the very core of the writings of this book, focusing more and more on its true essence, letting the juicy marbling fat that we all love slowly drip away to reveal the bones that symbolize the historical and political age of this publication, all the way to the final melancholic reveal...

The orchestral closing title track's somber crescendo/decrescendo swells remind of a similarly moving "Kol Nidre" composition by John Zorn and of some apocalyptic Jóhann Jóhannsson film scores... It almost acts as a reminder of how the inspiration for this album was conjured out of dust and darkness and in doing so is returned to the fog of historical memory, almost with a sense of abandonment and resignation, maybe as to remind ourselves of the age of darkness and obscurantism that the book in question tried to fight, but that three centuries later, we are still grappling with...

tētēma: Necroscape

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Artist: tētēma
Title: Necroscape
Format: CD
Label: Ipecac
Rated: * * * * *
Tetema is the cross-continental duo project by American composer/singer extraordinaire Mike Patton and Australian composer/pianist Anthony Pateras.
Patton needs no introduction, he's simply the the most amazing, transformational, eclectic and creative singer alive. Anthony Pateras is a composer and ground breaking pianist whose interest in analog synthesis and tape loops have sparked this collaboration into life.
Their last album "Geocidal" came out 5 years ago and this time they are actually joined by violinist Erkki Veltheim and drummer WIll Guthrie, effectively turning the project into a quartet.
The 13 tracks present their most stretched out visionary sonic voyeurism yet, a true kaleidoscope of influences, ideas and cross-cultural collision. Where on their previous record the piano (and all the sounds generated with/by it) where the fabric upon which Mike could weave his vocal acrobatics, on "Necroscape" the harmonic content gets a lot more intangible, like a bubbling magma of organic soundscapes ("Invertebrate", "Sun Undone", and the Morricone tribute "Funerale di un Contadino"), while the physicality comes in the form of a greater rhythmical dexterity and more defined pulse ("Wait Till Mornin", the Neubauten-ish "All Signs Uncensored", "Dead Still", "We'll Talk Inside A Dream") and aggression ("Cutlass Eye", the Geocidal-ish "Haunted On The Uptake", "Soliloquy" with its micrtonal buchla).
This broadness of approaches offers Patton an even greater field of action, so much so that you can hear him sing, scream, beat box, throat-sing, whisper and creepily lullaby you just like he starts off with in the opening title track.
Anything Patton touches is pretty much gold, so the question here is not whether it's good or whether it's gold, but what is built around the gold and with all that gold when 3 other creative people add fuel to an already highly combustible fire! I think you know the answer!

Randall Dunn: Beloved

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Artist: Randall Dunn
Title: Beloved
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Figure Eight (@)
Rated: * * * * *

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Randall Dunn is a fantastic producer, best known for his work with Sunn O))), Anna Von Hausswolf, Tim Hecker and many others. This is his debut as a solo artist and, as you can imagine, it comes loaded with years of his experience as a producer and as a connoisseur of all things analog and all things synth. Reading the credits of the album is like reading the history of analog synthesis (PPG Wave, Minimoog, Elka, Arp QUadra, Juno 60, Ems Synthi 100, OB8, OBX, Buchla, Roland system 700 etc), something Randall went looking for, exploring and recording all over the world, like in the South Tirol area of Italy bordering with Austria, in El Paso Texas and Brooklyn New York, where Randall lives and where his record label Figure Eight has the Figure8 recording studio owned and operated by label founder Shahzad Ismaily (who also played some bass on this record).

The seven cuts on the vinyl are dark and atmospheric, droney and melodic, melancholic and anguished, perfect for fans of Vangelis and Johann Johannsson. I can't help to think that it also reminds me (especially tracks like "Mexico City") of the latest BladeRunner soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch (which coincidentally was initially going to be done by Johannsson, and that Dunn was working on himself).

Some of my favorite cuts are the ones where organic old school synths are joined in by acoustic instruments, such as cello and bass clarinet (like in the fantastic "Lava Rock & Amber", where Jeremiah Cymerman plays the reeds and Will Smith plays the cello), although such pairings of instruments happen on almost every one of the songs on the record. There are almost no beats in the whole record, except for a subtle electronic heart beat in "Something About That Night" (which also features vocals by Frank Fisher of Algiers) and a pulsating EMU Emulator pattern in "A True Home" (featuring guests vocalist Zola Jesus). Other notable players are Eyvind Kang on viola, John McCowen on contrabass clarinet, Justin Morris on flanger boss, Ulfur Hansson on guitar and Buchla and Timm Mason on various synths.

Although you can listen to this record on Bandcamp, I would highly recommend getting the 180 gram vinyl album, which, other than obviously sounding better than digital, also features photography by Lauren Rodriguez and Una Blue, cover art work design by Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) and a zen poem by Gesshu Soko which he wrote close to death and became the lyrics that Frank Fisher sings.

Colin Stetson: All This I Do For Glory

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Artist: Colin Stetson
Title: All This I Do For Glory
Format: CD
Label: 52Hz / Factor / Kartel Music Group
Rated: * * * * *

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Colin Stetson is a force of nature. There are no two ways about it. This Canadian alto/tenor/bass saxophone and contrabass clarinet player has been making records from his studio in the woods of Vermont and when he's not playing on somebody else's record, or doing his metal projext Ex-Eye, or guesting with Arcade Fire or playing in duo with his partner Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire's violinist), he's either playing solo shows or recording this incredible music made uniquely with his instrument and his body, which are technically the same, or an extension of each other.
After his incredible trilogy of solo records and his beautiful Gorecki "Sorrow" symphony album, Colin is back with another masterpiece of physicality. But before we get into WHAT he does and HOW he does it, let's talk about what it sounds like. The music is beautiful. It's like the soundtrack for a Siberian landscape where something, or a whole herd of somethings, is inexorably advancing towards you and you don't know what it is. It can be scary, haunting and tense but once you embrace it it's also deeply calming and mesmerizing. There is rhythm and there is sound, there is tone and, yes there are melody lines that appear in the distance, like through the fog...
If you don't know what he's doing you'll assume there are overdubs of percussions, vocals and different types/sizes of saxophones, but in reality everything you hear is recorded live, without any overdubs or loops, and with a deep commandeering of his respiratory apparatus, which he puts through the wringer with seemingly endless circular breathing excercises that allow him to play a 13 minute song without ever breathing in once! He gets all these sounds by putting different mics on different parts of the saxophone and of his neck and his chest so that he can play the sax, while hitting the keys to achieve percussive sounds, while singing muffled melodies with his throat. It's truly special and unique.
Colin is one of my favorite musicians and I urge you to see him live to REALLY fully understand how amazing he is. His live performances are even more deeply transforming, transporting and transfigurating than his beautiful records and when you see him do his thing live, when you see his face get all red, his lungs contract and expand, his carotid artery bulge out like it's about to burst and his sweat drip, and all this while NOT using any loop pedals, NOT using any pre-recorded music, NOT using any band, and while NOT breathing, THEN and ONLY THEN you will truly understand!

Coppé: Milk

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Artist: Coppé (@)
Title: Milk
Format: CD
Label: Sweet Rice
Rated: * * * * *
The eccentric martian Tokyo-based artist known as Coppé relentlessly keeps putting out little jewels of electronic music, this time mixed with her beloved jazz influences (something she loves doing). After her 20th anniversary record of last year, her new album "Milk" is a collection of electronic renditions of jazz standards from the 20es and 30es such as "My Funny Valentine" or Gershwin's "The Man I Love" plus some original material. Aside from her rich sultry voice and her electronic production, several tracks feature live double bass by Jeff Curry and one track has drums by Zak Bond and piano by Fredric Viennot which adds to the overall jazz charm of this release. Other unique moments are the opener, which was recorded with 73 various microphones, and a few collaborations with MCs and other electronic producers from Japan and the US. When listening to some of these tracks one can't fail to draw a parallel between the smokey atmospheres of trip hop bands such as Portishead and electronic female-fronted artists such as Bjork, so if you can imagine what those two artists would sound like if they collaborated, you might have a decent idea of what "Milk" sounds like.
"Milk" is available on CD (with a sleek die cut cover art work), very limited edition vinyls (every copy has a unique design with color on color pressing and colored vinyl) and as a download. Check it out!