Stubbleman – Mountains And Plains (Crammed Discs album, 2019)

Stubbleman is the alias of Pascal Gabriel, formerly of Mute electronic pop alumni Peach, a central figure in Rhythm King via S’Express, Bomb The Bass and others, and a producer to the stars. Mountains And Plains was inspired by a trip across the breadth of the United States and finds Gabriel in deeply reflective territory, the eleven pieces here tapping into a voguish, borderless modern classical style wherein an array of analogue synthesizers sensitively accompany stentorian piano. The album was mixed with the knowing ear of fellow Mute stalwart Gareth Jones.

Despite the grand scale of the vistas, buildings and infrastructure that Gabriel was enthralled and captivated by, there is a deeply introspective tone here, one that only slips into uplifting territory on the closing piece, the ephemeral ‘Piety Wharf’. Could it be that he is silently commenting on some sort of quasi-political squandered environmental opportunity as he looks out from car and train windows between New Mexico, California and the relentless flatness of the Mid-West? Did he not enjoy the trip? Or was it simply that I played these tracks on a particularly sullen, overcast Tuesday after a warm public holiday where nothing in my life seemed to make much sense anymore as I trudged to and from work?

Maybe that’s oversharing on my part, but such is the effect of the beguiling detail available to the listener on Mountains And Plains. Pieces like the stillness of ‘Great River Road’s upright piano motifs, sensitively-deployed modular synths and found sounds prompt you to consider your tiny place in the world; ‘Griffith Park’ moves forward on a particularly absorbing, ever-changing synth pattern, a perfect allegory to the unsleeping vibrancy and disposable creative hustle of the Los Angeles that the park overlooks; ‘Badlands Train’ has a quiet grandeur, water-like synth sprinkles evoking the incessant slow-motion dance of the derricks as they suck oil from below the Texas bedrock.

It shouldn’t comes as the remotest surprise, when you consider Gabriel’s CV, that this album is a highly accomplished body of work. It is more than just a producer’s pet vanity project and opportunity to deploy a mouth-watering array of kit; it is a highly personal, evocative, thought-provoking, affecting and arresting endeavour that seems to transcend just about every single expectation you might have about what it could sound like.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria TV (Clash feature, 2019)

The third instalment of Barney Ashton-Bullock’s Torsten series kicks off at Vauxhall’s Above The Stag theatre on April 10 and finds Erasure’s Andy Bell once again taking on the role of the half-Norwegian, half-English polysexual semi-immortal Torsten.

Amid the maelstrom of press interviews that Bell has undertaken to support Queereteria TV, managed to get some time with Andy and Barney during rehearsals to talk in detail about the latest postcard from the hotspots of the 114-year old Torsten’s memory.

My interview went live on the Clash website earlier today and can be found here. A longer version will appear here on Documentary Evidence during the show’s run.

Queereteria TV runs at Above The Stag from April 10 to April 28. Tickets are available at abovethestag.com. A new album, Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria is released by Strike Force Entertainment on April 12.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

K Á R Y Y N – The Quanta Series (Mute album, 2019)

The music of K Á R Y Y N first appeared on my radar two years ago when she’d just released a new track, ‘Yajna’, in what she was already calling her Quanta series.

That track, a fragile, sparse piece that tapped into a pulsing, shifting minimal techno-inflected sound world, showcased two things for me – a mastery of the diffuse potential of using electronics in a way that nodded to the framework and stricture of contemporary pop while deploying a edge that could keep po-faced art fanatics happy; but, perhaps more importantly, ‘Yajna’ showcased a compelling, mesmerising voice that you couldn’t help but be moved by. I wrote a glowing Introducing… piece for Electronic Sound and looked forward to hearing more music in the Quanta series. That she decided to sign to Mute and compile the whole series into one album for them was frankly just a bonus for me.

K Á R Y Y N was born in Alabama, spent her childhood summers with relatives in Syria and wound up living in Los Angeles. Not for nothing was one instalment of the Quanta series called ‘Aleppo’, written in the wake of the death of two relatives in a city that has become synonymous with the humanitarian and cultural devastation of the Syrian civil war. The track blended glitches, stop-start rhythms and carefully-crafted detail alongside K Á R Y Y N’s heavily processed voice, resulting in a deceptive four minute slice of artisan sound design.

The Quanta series draws tracks together recorded after K Á R Y Y N had left LA and didn’t settle anywhere for long, beginning with 2011’s ‘Today I Read Your Life Story 11:11’. The fact that the pieces were written over a seven year period means that listening to the entire series as a single album is like watching the gestation of K Á R Y Y N’s creative sensibilities in slow motion. A pivotal point came in 2016 with the music she composed for Samantha Shay’s Of Light, her score attracting the patronage of Marina Abramovic and Björk.

Taken as a whole, this can, at times, be a troubling , difficult listen. The first pieces she wrote, placed at the end of the album, are heartwrenchingly raw, with no attempt to mask or shield you from the reclusive, mournful state in which K Á R Y Y N wrote them. In contrast, there are moments of towering beauty, moments of sensitivity, moments of contemplation and, in the frantic rhythms and lush synth pads of ‘Ever’, a yearning, romantic, delicate spirit. On the strength of that track, K Á R Y Y N could easily pivot into the sort of pure, intelligent pop proffered by the likes of Lucy Mason, but I get the sense that this restless soul would never concede to being so easily pigeonholed, and may she be justifiably celebrated for that.

The Quanta Series by K Á R Y Y N is released by Mute on March 29 2019.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Small Doses 7 – Rema-Rema

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

And you thought that getting a copy of Rema-Rema’s Wheel In The Roses EP was like trying to locate rocking horse shit: in a painfully small edition of just 100, issue seven of Iv/An’s obsessively detailed, intensively-researched and beautifully-designed Small Doses is entirely devoted to telling the absolutely definitive story of a band who had already fragmented when their solitary EP was released, an act which simultaneously launched the 4AD label and which also started in motion the ongoing mystique and mythology surrounding the group.

For Iv/An this is, first and foremost, a highly personal endeavour and a work of love as a fan of the group; because of that this issue intertwines his own story of becoming intrigued by Rema-Rema with the story of the band.

Featuring interviews with four of the band’s five members (Mick Allen, Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior, Mark Cox, and Gary Asquith) providing a comprehensive first-hand account of the band’s history, unseen photos, a discography including compilation appearances and cover versions and a ‘family tree’ showing where the members of Rema-Rema came from and where they went onto after their eleven gigs and solitary EP. The fanzine is accompanied by a CD-R of unreleased recordings by the band culled from demos and live rehearsals, all sequenced into a single piece brimming with white heat and blistering energy.

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

More information on the new issue will be made available at Iv/An’s 0.5 Facebook and Bandcamp pages on May 1. I already have a copy. It’s signed by Gary and I’m not selling. Don’t even ask.

The latest issue of the fanzine comes hot on the heels of 4AD’s overdue Fond Reflections by Rema-Rema – a collection of unreleased live tracks, demos and studio material from the same rich archive as the Small Doses CD-R that approximates what should have been the band’s 1980 debut album, assembled by Gary Asquith and Takatsuna Mukai and released earlier this month.

The album’s launch was supported by a live Q&A with Max, Mick, Gary and myself at London’s Rough Trade West, just a few hundred metres from where they recorded their first demos in a Portobello Road basement on a tape recorder borrowed from Hazel O’Connor.

Rema-Rema and Mat Smith at Rough Trade West, March 1 2019 – Q&A for the release of ‘Fond Reflections’. L to R: Mat Smith, Gary Asquith, Max, Mick Allen. Used with kind permission of Trevor Pomphrett.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Apparat – LP5 (Mute album, 2019)

The recording of LP5 by Apparat’s Sascha Ring saw him unburdening himself of the grand, bold gestures that have become the domain of his Moderat trio. In doing so, and in trying to focus instead on the fundamental components of these new Apparat pieces rather than aiming after something anthemic, Ring has nonetheless created something where his quintessentially muted, restless power still offers an affecting, emotional dimension.

In the context of Ring’s other Apparat output, none of this is a surprise. However, compared to something like 2011’s The Devil’s Walk, there’s less of an emphasis on ephemerality. Tracks like ‘Heroist’ or ‘In Gravitas’ move forward on robust, clubby rhythms that give the piece an immediacy, even if Ring’s vocal and the unswerving synths in the background contain a mitigating, mournful quality. These are tracks where those offsetting gestures pull you in all sorts of different, competing directions at once, a dizzying, manipulative effect that leaves you feeling fully uncertain by the end.

The big departure for LP5 is its sheer breadth of vision and instrumentation. Ring has always operated at the more tolerant, eclectic end of electronic music, but LP5 finds him investing in a whole new sonic palette more akin to his occasional work for theatre – opening track ‘Voi_Do’ is like a cinematic free jazz experiment, an unshackled approach to sequenced structures and one where strings, guitar, piano and horns can co-exist with synths and processing.

The stand-out track ‘Caronte’ employs Philipp Thimm’s defiant cello where the temptation might instead have been to use a faltering, scratchy synth, giving the track a strident, expansive dimension, making its sudden lurch into buzzing electronics and urgent rhythms all the more thrilling. It’s those unexpected moves, those introductions of new sounds or sharp pivots in motion, combined with his diaristic lyrics, that once again means Ring has delivered another mesmerising album, and one whose vision allows it to stand slightly apart from everything else.

LP5 by Apparat is released by Mute on March 22 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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

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