Barry Adamson – As Above So Below (Mute Records album, 1998)

Barry Adamson 'As Above So Below' artwork

mute records | stumm161 | 1998

Two years on from Oedipus Schmoedipus, As Above So Below added two further, intriguing, twists to Barry Adamson‘s palette of sounds.

The first found him using abrasive effects on the saxes and guitars, providing some tracks such as ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’ with an aggression that we weren’t hitherto used to hearing from this master of aural emotion. The twist gives the tracks a concise, straight-ahead atmosphere, delivering a short, sharp sonic punch to the senses. Take the opener ‘Can’t Get Loose’ which on some bizarre sounds like Andy Williams’ ‘Music To Watch Girls By’, commencing with some loud, boisterous guitars before moving into a rich easy-listening array of vibes and beats.

The second twist was perhaps the most surprising. After all, as the years went by we became used to Adamson reaching out into new musical areas in order to add greater depth to his textural sound design. The latest facet found Adamson actually singing on the majority of the tracks on As Above So Below, rather than using spoken word monologues or employing the skills of vocal collaborators.

Presented with the concept of Adamson as singer-songwriter, you may be forgiven for expecting the worst; I know I was – the first track I’d heard was ‘Jazz Devil’ on a Vox magazine promo CD, and I expected the whole album to be filled with variations on ‘Jazz Devil’ – namely humorous but kitsch story-telling. As a first foray, Adamson proves himself to be a talented singer, his voice capable of soaring impressively with a controlled emotion (as on the emphatic ‘Come Hell Or High Water’) or dropping down to a warm and confiding whisper. His time spent with Nick Cave obviously paid dividends.

The shift toward less instrumental sound design is borne out by the number of vocal tracks, which make up the majority of the album. However, the move toward the singer-songwriter genre has not prompted a move away from the luscious sounds Adamson is renowned for. We still get the jazz, the vibes, the perfect counterpoint string arrangements, the cunning deployment of stoned hip-hop beats, and we still get the wandering basslines and electronic experiments (check out the elongated effects on the intro to ‘Jesus Wept’). His cover of Suicide‘s ‘Girl’ is outstanding, more akin to his remix work with its intricate synth clusters and cracked metronomic drum machine rhythm, pushing his sound design into glitch-electronica territory.

An interesting and impressive move forward, As Above So Below had one major problem – its completeness and tightness actually casts a long shadow over its predecessor, Oedipus Schmoedipus. That’s not to take away the earlier album’s achievements, however that album now sounds somewhat ramshackle and inconsistent when heard immediately before this.

First published 2004; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

ADULT. – Detroit House Guests (Ghostly International)


ADULT. have today announced details of a new collaborative project with the musical heritage of Detroit at its heart. “We want this project to bring more positive attention to the city,” says Nicola Kuperus of the duo, referring to the social and economic woes that have left the once proud industrial city ravaged by bankruptcy (Detroit is the first American city to file for the equivalent of a corporation’s Chapter 11 right to creditor protection), poverty and unemployment of a scale befitting a developing nation, not the centre of America’s automotive expansion. “We want this to be a positive, collaborative experience here in Detroit.”

For Detroit House Guests, Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller will invite collaborators into their homes as guests while they record with them. Think of the collaborators as lodgers paying their board with creativity rather than cash. The six collaborators that will work with the duo over the next seven months will be Dorit Chrysler (NY Theremin Society), Shannon Funchess (LIGHT ASYLUM), Michael Gira (SWANS, Angels of Light, Young God Records), Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Lichens), Douglas J. McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb, DJMREX, Fixmer/McCarthy) and Lun*na Menoh (Les Sewing Sisters, Jean Paul Yamamoto, Seksu Roba).

The duo will also provide unmitigated access to the collaborative process through various social media outlets, effectively allowing both collaborator and the public access to their Detroit abode.

The resulting Detroit House Guests album will be released on the consistently fascinating Ghostly International label. The project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Listen to Nicola Kuperus describing her aspirations for the project via the video message below.

ADULT. Detroit House Guests from ADULT. on Vimeo.

ADULT. – / @adultperiod

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Hologram – Walking In The Air

Hologram are a Paris-based duo I wrote about last year on the release of their debut EP (Absolute Zero).

To celebrate the Christmas season, Maxime Sokolinski and Carla Luciani have recorded a beautiful version of ‘Walking In The Air’ from The Snowman. Full of wintery chill and festive warmth, their take on this Christmas staple is exactly what a cover should be, combining equal parts reverence and originality.

Listen to ‘Walking In The Air’ below or at Soundcloud.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Depeche Mode Photo

Depeche Mode photoI was wandering through our Edinburgh office last month when I came upon this collage of Eighties celebrities, presumably as part of some sort of guilty pleasure thing. Depeche Mode and Carl from Neighbours anyone?

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound: Issue 8 Reviews & Other Recent Writings

Electronic Sound - Issue 8

I haven’t updated Documentary Evidence for a while but that’s not because I haven’t been busy with other writings.

The latest edition of Electronic Sound for iPad is now available. This issue features my reviews of Erasure‘s excellent album The Violet Flame, Olivia Louvel‘s mesmerising Beauty Sleep (featuring one track based around a sample of Recoil‘s ‘Stone’) and a major interview with Simian Mobile Disco about their new ambient album Whorl.

Issue 8 also includes a feature on the fortieth anniversary of Kraftwerk‘s ‘Autobahn’, which includes input from Mute‘s own Daniel Miller.

To read more go to the Electronic Sound website.

Just lately I’ve found myself spending some time at the Milton Keynes concert venue that’s literally on the doorstep of the village in which I live (The Stables) and in the last month I’ve reviewed three gigs at the venue. This marks something of a tentative return to reviewing gigs after a long break. The first was something pretty special for me – Nik Kershaw, whose solo acoustic show I reviewed for This Is Not Retro. Kershaw’s music was what I grew up with and Human Racing, his first album, was the first album I ever owned. My review for that concert, with photos from the Worthing gig on the same tour by my good friend and talented photographer Andy Sturmey can be found here.

I’ve also written two pieces for a local Milton Keynes site – TotalMK – of my other two recent Stables gigs. Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans found the jazz drummer performing pieces from Subterraneans, which sees his band work through jazz versions of tracks from David Bowie’s Berlin period. Howe is a hugely talented drummer who has worked with many different acts in the jazz and rock world, including Nick Cave, for whom he drummed on songs to the soundtrack for I Am Sam with The Blockheads. The other Stables gig was Tom Baxter, well known for getting picked by movie and TV producers when a stirring song is ever required for a soundtrack.

As well as that little lot, you’ll continue to find my reviews in Clash each month – the latest issue includes a piece of mine on the latest Thurston Moore album, which is more than likely the closest we’re going to get to a classic Sonic Youth LP anytime soon.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A Different Daniel Miller

A different Daniel Miller. Still from 'Take The Money And Run' (1969, dir. Woody Allen)

A different Daniel Miller: still taken from Woody Allen’s madcap 1969 comedy Take The Money And Run.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Paul Kendall – Family Value Pack (Ant-Zen album, 2014)

Paul Kendall 'Family Value Pack' CD artwork

ant-zen | cd/dl act315 | 12/09/2014

Family Value Pack is the follow-up to 2011’s Angleterror (CatWerk Imprint) and finds Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on typically inventive form. Kendall has always been capable of manipulating technology, whether that be as an engineer, on his own recordings or through his countless remixes for the Mute roster and other artists, and Family Value Pack is no different: this is a super-sized audio trip filled with complex twists and turns and strange juxtapositions.

At the heart of this album is a thoroughly plunderphonic vibe, a series of controlled explosions of sound sources set off against one another and the results carefully documented and presented across the seven tracks presented here. Some may argue that the result is a sprawl, a messy stew of grating rhythms, uncomfortable phrases and harsh dissonance, and that isn’t a million miles from what it really sounds like. But what makes Family Value Pack an album worth persevering with is the depth of vision.

Tracks like the buzzing, hyperactive opener ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ take a familiar rhythm notion – on that track the beloved 4/4 beat-grid of techno – and thoroughly twist it into new shapes, creating a sonic gumbo of seemingly incompatible elements, in ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ those being fuzzy guitar riffs, skronking sax solos, dubby happenings and snatches of Kendall reading what sounds like some sort of heavy, expressive poetry. It is restless, certainly, but that’s no bad thing. Elsewhere the vibe is one of muted ambience or beds of glitchy electronica, all tied together by Kendall’s evocative and imaginative word pictures and his accomplished sense of space and texture. Every sound feels like it was created or delicately positioned within a mix so as to maximise its emotional and sonic impact, feeling more like a soundtrack composer’s work in intricate sound design than an electronic music album. ‘Family Value’ is a clautrosphobic piece of electronic musique concrete, all hissing and clanking noises, underpinned by a harrowing sound that sounds like breathing – if that sounds like an Eraserhead-esque exercise in industrial terror, a segue into a small child singing is a careful gesture that heightens the dark mood perfectly.

The amount of detail here requires repeated listens and patience to fully appreciate. ‘It’s OK’ is a lot like watching a time-stretched film of a high rise tower ascending upwards; in the first few minutes it’s all about deep excavations or putting in foundations, all of which is necessary for the building to take its final shape but not as attention-grabbing as the building rising up vertically floor by floor. In the case of ‘It’s OK’ the first half is all about individual sounds and tentative structures, those foundations finally leading to the rhythm and atmosphere that takes the track through to its final ascendant form. Without patience you’d miss the conceit completely, and it’s a trick that Kendall pulls off repeatedly on this album.

Thanks to PK.

Track listing:

1. Scuba Dis Dat
2. Water. It Must Be
3. It’s OK
4. Family Value
5. Ex.Posed
6. There Min Major
7. Uninterrupted Monday

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence