Video: Alka – Live, PhilaMOCA – March 10 2019

2019-03-13 18.17.23

VeryRecords group AlkaBryan Michael, Erika Tele and Todd Steponick – performed at Philadelphia’s PhilaMOCA on Sunday, supporting Summer Heart and Brother Tiger.

During their set they teased a glimpse of a brilliant new Alka track, ‘Fractured Time’, alongside the stand-out ‘Melancholy Lasts’ and a Japanese version of ‘Truncate’ from from 2017’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal.

Watch three songs from their set below in crazy 360 video.

Video track list:
1. Melancholy Lasts (fragment)
2. Truncate (Japanese Version)
3. Fractured Time

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary

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Electronic Sound Issue 50

The new issue of Electronic Sound is now available, and this one is rather special. Initially available as a bundle with an exclusive Karl Bartos 7-inch (now sold out), this month’s magazine marks Electronic Sound‘s 50th issue.

Pulling off a specialist print title at a time where most people seem to think the future is digital paper is no mean feat. Indeed, Electronic Sound started life as an iPad-only magazine before realising that there was a gap for a beautifully-executed, smartly designed item created by an editorial team with intense passion and specialist knowledge of the subject matter the magazine covers. If it seems vaguely oxymoronic that a magazine celebrating music made with technology should find its niche as a resolutely analogue offering is because it is, and it’s all the better for it.

I joined the writing team for Electronic Sound in 2014 with a review of Apt’s Energy, Light & Darkness, back when the magazine was still a digital title. That I wrote this review at all is entirely down to the magazine taking a chance on me when I approached them, and that chance arose simply because another writer had let them down that week; that left them with a gap that needed to be filled at short notice, and they trusted me with the job, for which I am unendingly grateful. I figured it was a one-off, but I have written for them ever since. It is both a pleasure and honour to do so every month, and to play a small part in this wonderful magazine’s success and it’s broad minded approach to electronic music and the many stories that deserve to be told.

For this month’s magazine, I wrote a feature on Mattel’s weird 1970s home keyboard, the fabled Optigan, an instrument using optical discs that was meant to usurp the humble organ but didn’t.

The impetus for this piece arose through my good friend Reed Hays, who used the Optigan’s cousin, the Orchestron, on last year’s Reed & Caroline album Hello Science. Reed introduced me to his friend Pea Hicks – the foremost expert on the strange birth, life, death and resurrection of the Optigan – and his band Optiganally Yours, whose amazing O.Y. In Hi-Fi I reviewed for Electronic Sound. My editor figured that this was another one of those stories that needed to be told, and I was deemed the writer for the task.

I can’t hope to tell the story as well as Pea can (and does), and I am forever indebted to him his help in putting the piece together. The piece involved contributions from original 1970s Optigan user Alan Steward, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Tom Waits producer Tchad Blake and Sparklehorse collaborator and Nadine Khouri producer Al Weatherhead, each of whom have been drawn to the instrument’s curious and unpredictable charms over the years.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the fifth volume of Front & Follow’s Blow series, with a remarkable piece of mechanical music by Dunning & Underwood and their Mammoth Beat Organ; the return of Bill Leeb’s Frontline Assembly with Wake Up The Coma; Simon James‘s Musicity 003 Shenzhen / Shanghai cassette of Buchla and field recordings; Blood Music‘s inventive and dextrous GPS Poetics.

I rounded out my contributions with a review of Fond Reflections, a long-overdue compilation of unheard material by Rema-Rema on the 4AD label. The label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell has oft said that it was the solitary Rema-Rema release, 1980’s Wheel In The Roses EP, that set the benchmark for his label, despite the band already having split by the time the 12-inch was released. The album is released on 1 March and I will be hosting a special Q&A with members Gary Asquith, Michael Allen and Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior at Rough Trade West on the evening of its release.

Buy Electronic Sound 50 here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound Issue 50

The new issue of Electronic Sound is now available, and this one is rather special. Initially available as a bundle with an exclusive Karl Bartos 7-inch (now sold out), this month’s magazine marks Electronic Sound‘s 50th issue.

Pulling off a specialist print title at a time where most people seem to think the future is digital paper is no mean feat. Indeed, Electronic Sound started life as an iPad-only magazine before realising that there was a gap for a beautifully-executed, smartly designed item created by an editorial team with intense passion and specialist knowledge of the subject matter the magazine covers. If it seems vaguely oxymoronic that a magazine celebrating music made with technology should find its niche as a resolutely analogue offering is because it is, and it’s all the better for it.

I joined the writing team for Electronic Sound in 2014 with a review of Apt’s Energy, Light & Darkness, back when the magazine was still a digital title. That I wrote this review at all is entirely down to the magazine taking a chance on me when I approached them, and that chance arose simply because another writer had let them down that week; that left them with a gap that needed to be filled at short notice, and they trusted me with the job, for which I am unendingly grateful. I figured it was a one-off, but I have written for them ever since. It is both a pleasure and honour to do so every month, and to play a small part in this wonderful magazine’s success and it’s broad minded approach to electronic music and the many stories that deserve to be told.

For this month’s magazine, I wrote a feature on Mattel’s weird 1970s home keyboard, the fabled Optigan, an instrument using optical discs that was meant to usurp the humble organ but didn’t.

The impetus for this piece arose through my good friend Reed Hays, who used the Optigan’s cousin, the Orchestron, on last year’s Reed & Caroline album Hello Science. Reed introduced me to his friend Pea Hicks – the foremost expert on the strange birth, life, death and resurrection of the Optigan – and his band Optiganally Yours, whose amazing O.Y. In Hi-Fi I reviewed for Electronic Sound. My editor figured that this was another one of those stories that needed to be told, and I was deemed the writer for the task.

I can’t hope to tell the story as well as Pea can (and does), and I am forever indebted to him his help in putting the piece together. The piece involved contributions from original 1970s Optigan user Alan Steward, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Tom Waits producer Tchad Blake and Sparklehorse collaborator and Nadine Khouri producer Al Weatherhead, each of whom have been drawn to the instrument’s curious and unpredictable charms over the years.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the fifth volume of Front & Follow’s Blow series, with a remarkable piece of mechanical music by Dunning & Underwood and their Mammoth Beat Organ; the return of Bill Leeb’s Frontline Assembly with Wake Up The Coma; Simon James‘s Musicity 003 Shenzhen / Shanghai cassette of Buchla and field recordings; Blood Music‘s inventive and dextrous GPS Poetics.

I rounded out my contributions with a review of Fond Reflections, a long-overdue compilation of unheard material by Rema-Rema on the 4AD label. The label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell has oft said that it was the solitary Rema-Rema release, 1980’s Wheel In The Roses EP, that set the benchmark for his label, despite the band already having split by the time the 12-inch was released. The album is released on 1 March and I will be hosting a special Q&A with members Gary Asquith, Michael Allen and Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior at Rough Trade West on the evening of its release.

Buy Electronic Sound 50 here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Cosey Fanni Tutti (Clash interview, 2019)

Cosey Fanni Tutti – photograph by Chris Carter

I was privileged to talk to Cosey Fanni Tutti about her new solo album, Tutti, which is released this Friday by Conspiracy International.

Realised at the home / studio she shares with partner and collaborator Chris Carter, Tutti was originally created as a live soundtrack to a video Cosey developed for a retrospective at Hull’s International City of Culture in 2017. Reworked as standalone album, Tutti is intensely personal, though its impulses are intentionally shrouded, drawing on the same vivid recollections that Cosey gave to the world in her unflinchingly honest memoir, Art Sex Music (2017).

My interview with Cosey can be found at the Clash website here.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (Mute album, 2012)

bjhytcn

Chances are if the weird naked-girl-with-animal-head sleeve doesn’t grab you then the anticipation would have already have got you: Beth Jeans Houghton is one of those artists, a bit like labelmate Josh T. Pearson, whose first LP was greeted with angsty expectation by the music press, that expectation cultivated over an extended period; in this case, that period is almost four years from when Houghton’s first music appeared in 2008.

It also helped that Mute kept the album under wraps far longer than reviewers would ordinarily tolerate; if this was a Hollywood movie, the critics would have already drawn the unassailable conclusion that the movie was a stinker, otherwise the studio would have readily let the journos in to watch. For some reason, not making this available to the press much earlier than its actual release seems to have just heightened the hype surrounding Houghton’s first album.

Produced by Ben Hillier, the inexplicably-named Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose finds Houghton, a talented lyricist and multi-instrumentalist judging by the sleeve, and her Hooves Of Destiny (Findlay MacAskill on violin, Dav Shiel on drums, Rory Gibson on bass, and Edward Blazey on trumpet and guitar) cutting a distinctive path through modern music’s more folksy places.

Houghton’s style appears to draw upon the weird mysticism of British folk groups from yesteryear blended with the downright unhinged kookiness of the likes of Tori Amos. A quick run through the lyric sheet provides few clues to what these songs are all about, almost as if Houghton was writing down particularly vivid and strange dreams, lots of strange imagery and oblique references. My favourite lines come during the spoken-word section of ‘Nightswimmer’, an early version of which first appeared on Houghton’s ‘Golden’ single in 2009, whereupon she mouths ‘And the cracks in the pavement sweat like the crust / Of a toffee pecan pie‘.

Hillier certainly wrings out an organic quality from the ten songs here, Houghton and The Hooves (and occasionally Hillier himself) laying down a multitude of instruments, giving the tracks a casual feel, almost as if everyone was content to grab whatever instruments were hanging about the studio and muck around while Hillier expertly captured the whole affair. A sense of warmth and often dark beauty seeps from every track, augmented on most tracks by a string quartet formed of Ian Budge on cello, Everton Nelson and Sally Herbert on violins and Bruce White on viola.

I said in the single review of ‘Liliputt’ (which I’m no closer to fathoming after reading the lyrics) that the song reminded me on some level of Dexy’s or their modern counterparts The Rumble Strips, and that same sense of joyful abandon colours all but the quietest tracks on Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. I asked my music-loving, ukulele-playing daughter (then just five years old) what she thought; after the inevitable request to add the songs to her iPod, she described the songs as ‘jumpy’. I suspect if she knew what ‘jaunty’ meant, she’d probably have employed that adjective instead.

The track that was playing when I asked my eldest daughter for review input was ‘Atlas’, which is one of the strongest songs on the album, featuring pounded layers of intense drums, skinny funk guitar culled from Vampire Weekend or their antecedents Talking Heads. ‘Dissecting the atlas for places we’ve been / Your list is longer but you’ve got more years on me,‘ is one of the most evocative lines here, coincidentally echoing a conversation around our household dinner table a weekend or so before the album was released. Houghton’s voice here effortlessly shifts between the hyper-falsetto and warm, sweet tones that pervade many of the tracks here, while a spoken word section by Neesha Champaneria provides a dark counterpoint to the more joyously carefree sound elsewhere on the song.

Another big highlight is ‘Humble Digs’ with its rolling drums and plucked countrified ukulele, expressive strings and a chorus of Houghton and The Hooves that sounds like a miners’ choir or Annie Get Your Gun chorus line; ‘Humble Digs’ is upbeat and infectious. A couple of listens and it’ll feel like an old friend.

A sense of wry breeziness dominates tracks like ‘Franklin Benedict’ wherein Houghton offers up lines that evoke summery warmth (‘Roasting peppers in the back yard,‘) and the downright creepy (something about a unitard, singly the most unpleasant thing ever invented). This is in direct contrast to the album’s official closing track, ‘Carousel’, which is a short track with a weird, harpsichord and piano rhythm. There’s also gorgeous strings, scary cackling, crackling noises and bells. It should feel upbeat but feels unsettling on some level, as if it masks something dark and unpleasant; like a track from Poses by Rufus Wainwright. It also sounds like something from a fairground, and that’s always guaranteed to creep me out.

The new version of ‘Nightswimmer’ retains that track’s producer Adem’s spiralling synth curlicues, but Hillier polishes the track with a new depth compared to that tentative original, the enquiring bass in particular gaining a blissful prominence. While on face value it sounds as ethereal as anything else here, Houghton’s detached lyrics seem to indicate a metaphorical drowning. Of this track I have said previously that it reminds me of both Depeche Mode‘s ‘One Caress’ and ‘Trilby’s Couch’ from AC Marias‘s solitary Mute album, One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing, sharing a similar sense of dark Twin Peaks-style mysteriousness.

A sense of mysteriousness also dominates ‘The Barely Skinny Bone Tree’, which sounds vaguely like a traditional Russian or Greek dance song, all plucked violin and the sense that at any second it could accelerate into a manic and out-of-control fervency, only offset by Houghton’s floating, dark vocal. The chorus sees the plucking replaced by mournful strings and a sense of weariness and strained sadness. ‘The Barely Skinny Bone Tree’ has a deeply affecting quality, though it’s queasily unsettling at the same time.

As if to confound further still, once ‘Carousel’ winds down, an uncredited song suddenly snarls into view. This bonus track (I’ve been advised that it’s called ‘Prick AKA Sean’) sounds like Green Day’s take on grimy punk rock, Houghton’s voice barely audible underneath the Hooves’ ramshackle harmonies. Against all the odds, this song is angry, joyous, a little bit glam-rock and evidently a whole lot of fun after the more studied pieces elsewhere. It provides a fittingly baffling conclusion to a brave, adventurous and above all, well-realised debut album, and one that was truly worth waiting for.

First posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019. This archive review was brought to you by the letter H, as chosen by Jorge Punaro.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

I’m From Barcelona – We’re From Barcelona (Interpop single, 2006)

barca

‘We’re From Barcelona’ by I’m From Barcelona received a physical release on Mute‘s Interpop imprint in September 2006. The track had been available on iTunes earlier in the year, first as part of the EMI Sweden Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams, Buddy! EP, and then again as a single track download. The sleeve photo captures all 25 of the members of the band, like some sort of yearbook photo; the sleeve helpfully lists out who all the members are, but doesn’t go so far as to tell you what they all actually do in the band.

Kitsch sleeve aside, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is a highly original pop track. Taking its cues from grand, Phil Spector or Van Dyke Parkes-style productions, the song is multi-layered to the point where it is often difficult to identify individual instruments, something that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did to much more commercially-successful effect on Pet Sounds.

As songs go, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is one of the happiest, most upbeat and inoffensive track ever conceived, with pretty, tinkly, sincere melodies and a chorus that only the most depressed individual would fail to be moved by. The CD single version includes a different version of the song, minus the lead vocals.

B-side ‘Glasses’ also appeared on iTunes as part of EMI Sweden’s digitial release of ‘Collection Of Stamps’. Beginning with the sound of cicadas, the track evolves into a gentle, rousing folk ballad about not wanting to wear spectacles. Quite how the group’s founder Emanuel Lundgren manages to be able to write songs about the most mundane feelings and objects is well beyond me, but the delicate ‘Glasses’ – all simple percussion, big sweeping vocal harmonies and relaxed, bluesy guitars – is another example of a very individual talent.

First posted 2011; edited and re-posted 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Foil – Never Got Hip (13th Hour album, 2000)

foil

While all of the trademark Foil elements – heavy drums, rapidfire punk guitar riffs and tense and intelligent vocals – are present on Never Got Hip, their second album for Mute‘s 13th Hour sub-label reveals a more emotive quality to the Scottish fourpiece.

At times, Never Got Hip has an unexpected pop twist, and at others – on the string-soaked ‘Groundwork’, or ‘The Ghost Of Vernon Howell’ – a maudlin, almost weary tone. Like vintage whisky, it’s a perfect blend, a well-executed masterpiece that also now appears to be their swansong, since no new Foil releases have appeared since this album came out in 2000.

Melody is an integral, and unchanged aspect of the Foil sound, demonstrated on tracks such as ‘End Of The World’, which also features Hugh’s familiar half-spoken, half-sung narrative and a midsection reminiscent of many a tumbleweed and dustbowl scene in classic westerns.

At times, this is uncomfortable, depressing listening, reminiscent of the kind of bitter, bleak music favoured by Joy Division or Nirvana, despite the inclusion of the pop gem single ‘Superhero No 1’, or the supreme upbeat thrash of ‘Half Life Bunker’. When they do let rip with their particular brand of high-speed rock, it is with a controlled and clipped professionalism borrowed from their influences (e.g. Fugazi, Minor Threat). With Hugh Duggie‘s refreshingly restrained vocal rarely straying into shredded rage territory, the duelling guitar interplay and drum fills are reminiscent of both Pixies and Sonic Youth (check out the Thurston Moore-isms embedded into ‘Weird Kid’).

What’s frustrating about Never Got Hip, is that if this record was released – and better-marketed – just a couple of years later, it would possibly have garnered a degree of pop chart success. In the light of rock’s sudden resurgence in the mid-2000s, a single like ‘I’ll Take My Chances’ was miles better than some of the rubbish faux-punk that our ears had to contend with at that time. That track represents an emotional masterpiece with a punk rock core; it rocks out whilst tugging at the heartstrings. The chorus on the final track ‘Claremont Junction Optimist’ perfectly encapsulates the contrast : ‘You breathe new life into me / And I’ll do what’s necessary‘. It’s the sound of a reluctant coming of age.

Foil were Hugh Duggie (vocals, guitar), Colin McInally (vocals, guitar), Alan Findlay (drums) and Shug Anderson (bass). Never Got Hip was recorded at Edinburgh’s Chamber Studios.

First published 2004; edited and re-posted 2019. This post was brought to you by the letter F, chosen by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence