Electronic Sound 34

Issue 34 of Electronic Sound is now available. Focussing in on the world of soundtracks to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049, the latest issue includes an exclusive 7″ containing extracts from Louis and Bebe Barron’s genre-defining soundtrack to the sci-fi landmark Forbidden Planet.

My major contribution to the latest issue was an interview with Clint Mansell. Mansell was formerly a member of Pop Will Eat Itself, a band I got into in the mid-90s thanks to a friend at the after-school office jobs we both had, whereupon he plied me with each and every one of their releases up to that point. So smitten by PWEI was I that I did that very 90s thing of buying a t-shirt to show my allegiance, a lovely navy blue Designers Republic thing containing the cartoon band mascot. I was wearing that t-shirt the day I started university, which attracted the attention of another freshman who recognised the logo; we’ve been lifelong friends ever since.

This is a longwinded way of saying that Mansell’s music really matters to me, and so getting the chance to speak to him was a real privilege. Mansell’s inclusion in the Electronic Sound soundtrack issue arises because of his post-PWEI work as a composer for the films of Darren Aronofsky and Duncan Jones’s, developing scores for the harrowing Requiem For A Dream, Moon and the upcoming Mute. And speaking of Mute, which I often do of course, Mansell is pictured in a Mute ‘walking man’ logo in the photos accompanying my feature, and this issue includes a new interview with Mute founder Daniel Miller.

Elsewhere in this issue I wrote a short piece introducing the work of Lithuanian electronic producer Brokenchord, whose new album Endless Transmission is a robust, trip-hop embracing work of great weight. I also wrote short reviews of albums by livesampled piano duo Grandbrothers, the sexually-charged Blade Runner-inspired debut album from Parisian François X, a slinky 80s-inspired R&B album by Submerse, a thoughtful new LP from Aris Kindt and a grainy industrial / minimal release by Vanity Productions issued through Posh Isolation, one of my favourite small labels. To round the issue out, I reviewed the Front & Follow label’s fantastic ten year anniversary compilation Lessons, and surveyed the varied career of Auteurs founder Luke Haines through a new 4-disc box set. Having written the press release and an interview to support the release of Alka‘s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal on Vince Clarke‘s Very Records, it was pleasing to see the album get a deservedly positive review in the latest issue.

You can pick up a copy of the new issue at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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Alka – The Colour Of Terrible Crystal – Interview (Very Records, 2017)

Earlier this year I spoke to, and then subsequently met up with, Bryan Michael to talk about the Alka release that is being released next week by Vince Clarke‘s Very Records.

The original intention was to have a brief telephone conversation to inform the press release, but the conversation ended up yielding so much detail and colour that I offered to put together a full interview to support the release. Over a couple of beers a month or so later at a nice, old-fashioned English-style pub in Philadelphia, Michael offered yet more detail that told a more complete story about how the album had come together, the presence of angels and his love of books. (We also spoke about the differences between American and UK traffic systems and the merits or otherwise of any project undertaken by the sundry members of New Order, but that’s not relevant for this.)

The full interview can be found over at the Very Records website. The Colour Of Terrible Crystal will be released on 13 October.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Very Records

Electronic Sound 33

Issue 33 of Electronic Sound is now available, complete with an extensive cover feature on Gary Numan and an interview with the inimitable Sparks. The special print edition with 7″ includes a two-part Meat Beat Manifesto remix of Gary Numan’s ‘My Name Is Ruin’.

I wrote two features for this issue. The first was an interview with Sanaya ‘Sandunes’ Ardeshir about her Different Trains 1947 live collaboration with Liverpool’s METAL, Jack Barnett from These New Puritans and Darren ‘Actress’ Cunningham; Different Trains 1947 takes Steve Reich’s 1988 composition Different Trains but changes its context from being about American and European train journeys during World War II to being about the thorny topic of Indian independence and partition from Pakistan. You can catch Different Trains 1947 at the Barbican in London on 1st October.

The second feature was an interview with Graham Sutton about his band Bark Psychosis and their landmark post-rock album Hex. I love features like this and the Different Trains piece above, mostly because they cover topic areas I knew very little about before picking up the phone to speak to both Ardeshir and Sutton. Bark Psychosis were a band I was aware of from reading The Wire in the 1990s but who had never quite made it from my Long List – of bands I’ve read about, know I must listen to, but never have – to the Short List. The objective of the Bark Psychosis feature was to lift the lid on a band and tell its story, which I humbly think we did rather well.

Elsewhere in issue 33, you’ll find my reviews of new albums from Mary Epworth, Mute alumnus Zola Jesus, a remix compilation on Sheffield’s wonderful CPU imprint, Khalil and a lovely new record from Jaws Of Love, the solo debut of Kelcey Ayer from Local Natives.

Electronic Sound can be ordered here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Tricky feat. Alison Goldfrapp – Pumpkin (from Maxinquaye, 4th & Broadway album, 1995)

Back in the day, Alison Goldfrapp could occasionally be found adding her vocals to all sorts of tracks, the most prominent of which tended to be by Orbital and where, for no discernible reason, she went under the name ‘Auntie’. One of my favourite pre-Goldfrapp Alison Goldfrapp collaborations is this track with Massive Attack alumnus Tricky. I can’t fathom a word she’s saying since it has that jazzy wordless style that Orbital liked to deploy as a textural component of their tracks, but which is here presented as a foreground to this sluggish trip-hop piece. Her strange, Shirley Bassey-esque vocal is the perfect foil to a delivery from Tricky that rasps with a stoner’s ramblings. In the background, the samples run from folksy ethereality (something Goldfrapp would investigate years later with Seventh Tree) and a scratchy grunge passage not dissimilar to Butch Vig’s mix of Depeche Mode’s ‘In Your Room’. It might not be patch on other tracks on Maxinquaye, but it all adds to the quiet confidence exuded by Tricky on his first solo record.

Elsewhere on the album, occasional Mute producer and Rhythm King stalwart Mark Saunders adds his production nous to most of the tracks here, including the seminal, much-quoted ‘Brand New You’re Retro’.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Alison Moyet – Other (Cooking Vinyl album, 2017)

Other should be heard as a companion album to Alison Moyet’s The Minutes from 2013. Both carry with them a sense of freedom and experimentation thanks to the fluid working method Moyet has serendipitously developed with Björk and Madonna producer and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Guy Sigsworth. Moyet herself believes these last two albums represent the best material of her career, and, in the case of ‘Other’ specifically, proves a contended reflection on what it’s like to be a middle-aged woman observing the world instead of being observed in the limelight of success.

Central to Other’s, er, otherness, is a deeply poetic approach to lyric writing and phrasing that means these songs are loaded with intrigue and complex, often impenetrable and highly personal ruminations. Moyet prefers not to explain the themes at play in her songs, and that somehow adds to the slightly curious way these songs appear to us as listeners.

However, we know that the languid, soulful trip-hop of ‘English U’ is a tribute both to her mother and the English language generally; that the stirring, towering ‘The Rarest Birds’ deals with diversity and the right to be whoever you want to be, and was a product of watching life go by in her adopted home of Brighton – the evocative line ‘navigate the city walks by gum-grey constellations’ coming after watching a woman walking along a gum-strewn pathway in the town. References to Brighton also pop up in the deeply affecting reflections etched into ‘April 10th’ and the opener ‘I Germinate’, itself a metaphor for new life, something which feels apt given the way that upping sticks to the south coast seems to have given Moyet something of a creative rebirth.

If Other showcases the many fibres and facets of Moyet’s voice – the raw, bluesy intonation, the complicated balladry, the West End-honed chanteuse – musically, we find Other delving carefully into electronics, atmospheric soundscapes and clever, almost glitchy beat structures which enrich these songs with varied textures and hues. For anyone desperate to know what a 2017 version of Yazoo might sound like, the skittering, dense, moody synthpop of ‘Reassuring’ or the angsty, stop-start disco euphoria of ‘Happy Giddy’ are about as close as one might ever get.

The talented Sigsworth, like, say, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, is adept at blurring the lines between the programmed and the organic, imbuing these songs with as many pianos, strings and guitars as he does carefully-wrought electronics. The vaguely dubsteppy ambience of ‘April 10th’ sets a spoken-word poem to an exciting tapestry of noises and non-rhythms, with cadences in Moyet’s delivery that would have made this a compelling addition to Rufus Wainwright’s recent collection of reimagined Shakespeare sonnets. The creeping, edgy ‘Alive’ that concludes the album nods to Sigsworth’s work with Massive Attack, setting Moyet’s aching vocal to a haunting, cinematic noir-ness that feels like it’s where her voice belonged all along.

With an album as deftly-executed as this, It would be all too tempting to see Other as Alison Moyet’s creative nadir; instead it has the feel of a new beginning, of an artist working furtively with a like-minded collaborator and approaching her unique talents – as a vocalist and as a songwriter – in utterly unexpected and enthralling ways.

This is the second of three pieces I wrote to coincide with the release of Other, but it is only now being published. The first was a full interview with Moyet that ran in the issue 30 of Electronic Sound. The third piece, which focuses on her influences, will be published in a later issue of Electronic Sound. The two feature articles were drawn from an interview with Alison a bar in Chelsea in May 2017.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Originally written for This Is Not Retro – previously unpublished

Vince Clarke’s Very Records announce Alka ‘The Colour Of Terrible Crystal’ album

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Very Records are delighted to announce details of their third album release, The Colour of Terrible Crystal by US artist Alka, which will be released on October 13th 2017.

“… and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. They move through the firmament which is the colour of a ‘terrible crystal’, and around a throne like sapphire, on which sits Metatron, suffused in the radiance of the rainbow.” – Peter Lamborn Wilson, Angels (1980)

The fact that the name of Philadelphia-based Bryan Michael’s third Alka album, his first since 2009’s A Dog Lost In The Woods, was named after a quote from anarchist philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson’s vast study of angels says a lot about the diverse interests of its creator.

Bryan Michael is not an artist to be conveniently pigeonholed within electronic music, and The Colour Of Terrible Crystal showcases the many facets of its creator across 12 captivating tracks. “It happens with music in general, but specifically in electronic music – people get caught up in this strict need to identity something with a specific genre. That’s good in some ways, but I always prefer to hear a much larger cross-section of things,” he says.

Here you will find the same melodic sensibilities that coloured the two earlier Alka albums, but you’ll also hear the sound of a restless, mercurial musician unafraid of crashing together diffuse elements – faltering stop-start rhythms, glitches, drifting ambience, near-pop and crisp beats inflected with the boldness of early electro. The serene ‘Melancholy Lasts’ is the closest Alka’s music is likely to get to delivering pure vocal synth pop, while the paranoid textures of ‘Collusion’ feel like the nervous, fear-inducing synth horror score that never was. The unexpected upbeat disco-funk of ‘Truncate’ marries a robotic instinct with a human looseness that serves as a full revolution away from Bryan Michael’s IDM roots.

Amid all of that are two interlinked soundscape pieces, ‘Over Hills And Vales’ and ‘Under Waves And Seas’, taking the form of reverential nods to musique concrète and the early pioneers of electronic music, back when making machine music was much more of a science than an art. “I really wanted to get to the roots of what electronic music was doing back then, in the late Forties, early Fifties, into the Sixties,” says Bryan Michael. “It was more experimental. When Wendy Carlos released the Switched On Bach album, electronic music creators and aficionados at the time were pulling their hair out because the synthesizer, with this endless range of possibilities, was being confined to this classical music tradition. Those two tracks were a direct connection to that earlier electronic sound.”

The Colour Of Terrible Crystal is an exercise in electronic eclecticism; dark and moody, at times broodingly cinematic, at times carrying subtle layers of delicate optimism alongside edgier, experimental moments. Few can make albums where so many apparently incompatible stylistic switches appear so coherent, or make music whose clashing juxtapositions continually reveal themselves with successive listens. With The Colour Of Terrible Crystal, Alka just did it.

About Very Records

Very Records was founded in Brooklyn by Erasure’s Vince Clarke in 2016. We are a small record label dedicated to releasing very fine electronic music. The label was launched with 2 Square by Vince Clarke and Paul Hartnoll, which was then followed by Buchla & Singing by Reed & Caroline. Alka’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal will be the third Very Records release.

Press release (c) 2017 Mat Smith for Very Records

Jono Podmore – Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory And Practice Of A Master Drummer (book, 2017)

Jaki Liebezeit, photo courtesy of Jono Podmore

Metamono‘s Jono Podmore (aka Kumo) has arguably done more than anyone else in recent years to keep the legacy of Can alive, whether in groups like Cyclopean with Can members Jaki Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt, or remastering the Can back catalogue and sundry unreleased cuts with Holger Czukay and long-standing Can supporter Daniel Miller.

To those initiatives can be added a new book that Podmore has assembled with US music journalist John Payne, Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory & Practice Of A Master Drummer, which seeks to document the unique approach practiced by Can’s late drummer, who passed away in January of this year. The book is currently subject to a crowdfunding campaign via Unbound which can be found here.

I wrote a news piece for Clash which explains more about the book and which can be found here.

In the process of putting my news piece together I asked Podmore for his recollections of working with Liebezeit, and that insight can be found in the Clash piece. “While we were having dinner one night, I was putting on some music,” Podmore also recalled. “At one point I put on some Charles Mingus. Without looking up, Jaki said, with a mixture of confusion and disgust, ‘Jazz? Been there. Done that.’ With that in mind I asked him if there were any other drummers that interested him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘808 and 909.'”

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash