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David Baker (Komputer) – Dirty Contacts 2 DJ Date

Dave Baker from Komputer / Fortran 5 / I Start Counting DJs at London electronic music night Dirty Contacts 2 at The Boogaloo in Highgate, London on 1 May.

Details can be found through this link, which also includes an extract from my Mute Short Circuit review from 2011.

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At Rebel Rebel, Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, NY

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At Rebel Rebel, Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, NY

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

At Rough Trade NYC, Williamsburg

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At Rough Trade NYC, Williamsburg

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Rema-Rema – International Scale / Short Stories (Inflammable Material / Le Coq Musique single, 2014)

Rema-Rema 'International Scale / Short Stories' 7" artwork

inflammable material / le coq musique | 7″ burn017 | 04/2014

‘Can you imagine what these beautiful songs would sound like if we’d done them in a 24-track recording situation?’ ponders Gary Asquith by email when I let him know that the copy of Defiant Pose Eight with its accompanying Rema-Rema 7″ he sent me has arrived. ‘It’s so sad that the most beautiful creations that I’ve ever made are just demo quality-lo-fi. They’re the pinnacle of my musical thinking.’

Rema-Rema’s recorded output, until the release of this 7″, was confined to the Wheel In The Roses 12″ that effectively properly launched the 4AD label; apart from a couple of live tracks on a very underground cassette and an alternative version of one track on a Japanese 4AD compilation, that was it. And yet, as future Wolfgang Press member and Rema-Rema founder Mick Allen recounts in the interview with him and Gary Asquith in the Defiant Pose fanzine, this post-punk unit seemed to have developed a cult following that even these two members are surprised about. Allen recalls Nick Cave talking to him about his time in the band whilst his Bad Seeds were on tour with Allen’s Wolfgang Press, and Steve Albini‘s Big Black covered one of their tracks. I can vouch for their status: when I posted a review of Wheel In The Roses last year, including some insightful information from Asquith, I received emails from people enquiring about whether the band had any other recordings that might see the light of day.

Which brings us on to the exciting prospect of two hitherto unheard Rema-Rema tracks, rescued from cassette demos and pressed onto heavyweight vinyl to accompany the Defiant Pose feature and interviews. ‘International Scale’ is a breathtaking moment of sparse robotic motorik rock underpinned by squealing synths from Mark Cox, a taught, sinewy guitar riff from Marco Pirroni and a Mick Allen bassline that dominates with ground-out, low-slung angsty prominence. Asquith prowls above the mix, his vocal somewhere between punky snarl and wide-eyed wonder, offering repeated phrases and complex wisdom. Like all the best post-punk this feels like a head-on collision of ideas: the edginess of punk and the regimented rhythms of German electronic pop (thanks to a skeletal beat from Max) and a leaning into artsy esoterics. It’s not hard to see why Asquith considers his Rema-Rema period his best – ‘International Scale’ suggests a raw confidence and effortless cache of ideas that could have served this band very well had circumstances been different. It’s a travesty of grand proportions that we’ll never get to hear a finalised version of ‘International Scale’ but this is more than adequate aural evidence of what makes Rema-Rema so compelling a proposition.

‘Short Stories’ clocks in at just under two minutes and has a much rawer, embryonic sound to it, Asquith sounding not dissimilar to Wreckless Eric with an emotional, almost anguished vocal. Slow, gravelly and murky, ‘Short Stories’ feels like a single evolution away from the pure punk of The Beastly Cads / Models and Manic bands from which Rema-Rema were formed. No surprise, perhaps – in the accompanying interview we learn that Allen and Asquith brought fragments from unused songs from their former bands to the studios as the genesis for the Rema-Rema material.

Asquith turns more sanguine as our brief email exchange concludes. Hey, we have these moments and we get respect – because you can’t be in a band with Marco Pirroni and Michael Allen playing guitar and bass that isn’t worth a listen. Because those two people exude class. That’s the moment I live for, and when I die I will say “please God, can we cut a deal and you play me some Rema -Rema?”‘

Buy this; it’s important.

Get it at Defiant Pose

Track listing:

7″:
A. International Scale
B. Short Stories

Thanks to Gary

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us (Mute Records album, 2013)

Goldfrapp 'Tales Of Us' LP artwork

mute artists | lp+cd/cd/dl/box stumm356 | 09/09/2013

Apparently neither Alison Goldfrapp nor Will Gregory were happy with Head First, their 2010 ballsy, largesse-filled electronic disco album. Tales Of Us is, compared to that record, a much more subtle affair, closer in hue and texture to Felt Mountain‘s glacial soundscapes or Seventh Tree‘s naturalist folk leanings.

Subtle is the operative word here. Throughout Tales Of Us there’s an impression of much larger songs, great, strident moments even, but with few exceptions everything feels like it’s been rubbed away, leaving just an ethereal impression of what might have been there before. Guitars are strummed gently, sounds quietly murmur in the background fleetingly and Alison’s voice is delivered as little more than a ruminative whisper throughout most Tales Of Us. I’ve always found it difficult to decipher what she is singing about, and that’s even more of a challenge here; short of the word ‘caribou‘ on ‘Ulla’ which stands out almost preposterously on ‘Ulla’, I really struggle to crack the quiet musings across Tales Of Us.

Tales Of Us is presented as a series of ten character studies, each one a story about, or delivered by, the person named in the track’s title, making for – at least on paper – a personality crisis of multiple imagined identities, while the list of names might be the register of a private school classroom in a posh part of West London. As above, I can’t really make out anything in particular from the lyrics I can hear, but suffice to say the resultant theme is one of mournful serenity. That theme is evoked most prominently by the use of string arrangements, which I’m sure will get described as ‘lush orchestrations’; combined with the gentle guitar chords Tales Of Us runs the risk of sounding a little bit like it should be filed under the easy listening section (‘Drew’ even seems to remind me of ‘Strangers In The Night’ at one point).

Aside from the unassailable, ephemeral beauty of ‘Annabel’ or the ‘Blue Room’ dub pulse of ‘Thea’, taken as a whole I do find Tales Of Us a little safe. That these songs are pretty, delicate things is without question, but it just doesn’t feel terribly new. ‘Stranger’, for example, sounds like it was lifted straight from Felt Mountain. It’s undoubtedly arresting, undeniably emotional, but just a bit unadventurous after the brash pop of Head First. For me it proved to be the perfect soundtrack to watching clouds moving imperceptibly from 30,000 feet up.

Tales Of Us was released in several formats including the by now obligatory overstuffed, expensive, probably handmade boxed edition. A video was made for ‘Drew’, which can be viewed below.

Track listing:

lp+cd/cd/dl:
1. Jo
2. Annabel
3. Drew
4. Ulla
5. Alvar
6. Thea
7. Simone
8. Stranger
9. Laurel
10. Clay

First published 2013; edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

S.C.U.M – Again Into Eyes (Mute Records album, 2011)

S.C.U.M 'Again Into Eyes' LP+CD artwork

mute artists | lp+cd/cd/i stumm327 | 12/09/2011

Things I’m reminded of when listening to S.C.U.M‘s Again Into Eyes – Joy Division, Gary Numan, Sheep On Drugs, early OMD; when I look at the layered, intertwined half-naked bodies on the sleeve of the gatefold LP, I’m reminded of the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel The Informers. In fact I’m reminded of most of Bret Easton Ellis novels when I look at that sleeve. Plus, for some reason the pastel colouring reminds me of fruit Mentos.

But those synaptic connections are not intended to imply that this debut album for Mute makes me think I’ve heard (and seen) this all before. Far from it. Again Into Eyes is a truly original suite of ten tracks, and none of them sound anything like Joy Division, Gary Numan or Sheep On Drugs – it’s just that I hear an essence of Joy Division’s flatline pulse and restlessness, the robotic detachment of Gary Numan’s vocal entwined with the cynical snarl of Sheep On Drugs’ Duncan X / King Duncan and the synths – especially on the second single ‘Whitechapel’ – of OMD. Meanwhile, the effect, the personal impact if you like, of listening to these obliquely nihilistic tracks is similar to how listening to Interpol always affects me, namely nudging my mood in negative directions and making me want to pick up the pieces of my as-yet-uncompleted novel. But again, S.C.U.M are nothing like Interpol. They are like S.C.U.M.

Key to the mood here is the grinding, itchy drone-punk track ‘Summon The Sound’, which was in circulation much earlier this year and which featured on the Mute Artists compilation Vorwärts. ‘Summon The Sound’ is the connective tissue that binds this LP together; it sent out a very clear signal (pun intended) that S.C.U.M are anything but cheerful optimists with its beautifully cloying stop-start rhythm, urgent low-end and mysterious, sneering vocal. Then again, naming your band after Valerie ‘I shot Warhol’ Solanis’s feminist manifesto – her Society for Cutting Up Men – was never likely to produce anything remotely upbeat. Just a glance at the lyric sheet reveals the elusive, poetic depth of these songs. The spiky ‘Amber Hands’, the first single proper from Again Into Eyes, likewise pointed to a richly bleak outlook for the album. In fact, it’s only the second single ‘Whitechapel’ that has anywhere near a sense of positivity attached to it.

Again Into Eyes, metaphorically speaking, is an album of two sides. The first five tracks are uniformly dark. ‘Faith Unfolds’ opens with some shimmering, elegiac keyboard patterns from Bradley Baker – cf OMD’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ – which remain throughout the song but soon get subsumed by whining guitar textures from Samuel Kilcoyne (son of Add N To (X)‘s Barry 7 and also credited with keyboards), Psychocandydrumming from the elfin Melissa Rigby and a powerful bass undertow from Huw Webb. Meanwhile vocalistThomas Cohen sings an elliptical tale of faith and fate and love. There’s barely a pause before the colour washes away into ‘Days Untrue’, all icy synths, twitchy drums and heavily-reverbed vocals. ‘Cast Into Season’ begins with those ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ textures and appends cello sounds, ‘Atmosphere’-esque funereal drums and a prominent vocal in the mix from Cohen; it feels like a ritual or a sacrifice or an alternative soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut. Or The Informers‘ vampiric passages. It’s also my favourite track on Again Into Eyes.

The second half of Again Into Eyes is less obviously dark, but nevertheless retains a seam of black colour. ‘Sentinal Drift’ starts with subtle drumming and gentle, polite synth melodies a la Yazoo‘s Upstairs At Eric’s, but in the end – almost inevitably – the song becomes dominated by swathes of droning noise and pounded drums; the brief ‘Requiem’ may have beautiful piano passages from Huw Webb, but those notes are submerged under hissing distortion and reverberating processed noise in the foreground. ‘Paris’ was previously available in far simpler form as part of the Signals series and was originally produced by Gareth Jones. It is a poignant, reflective ballad – again dominated by Webb’s piano and still containing plenty of gritty noises – which seems to strain toward the light but alas never quite reaches it. ‘I will never bear my skin for you,‘ sings Cohen in one of the most evocative lyrics on the album. ‘Water’, in contrast, is just harmonically-interwoven droning noise, but it makes complete sense after the emotional ‘Paris’.

Again Into Eyes was produced and mixed by Ken and Veryon Thomas, with additional mixing by Mute MD Daniel Miller. Keeping it in the (Mute) family even more, the album was pre-produced by Jim Sclavunos, he of recent Bad Seeds / Grinderman fame.

Note
Thomas Cohen & Peaches Geldof (c) Getty Images

I listened to Again Into Eyes today in the wake of the death of the death of Peaches Geldof, wife of S.C.U.M’s Thomas Cohen and the mother of their two sons. Cohen and Geldof married in 2012, by which time S.C.U.M had either already split up or were on their way to being so.

The news sites quoted Cohen’s heartfelt statement about his wife’s passing: ‘My beloved wife Peaches was adored by myself and her two sons. I shall bring them up with their mother in their hearts everyday. We shall love her forever.’

Track listing:

lp+cd/cd/i:
1. Faith Unfolds
2. Days Untrue
3. Cast Into Seasons
4. Amber Hands
5. Summon The Sound
6. Sentinal Bloom
7. Requiem
8. Paris
9. Water
10. Whitechapel

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Residents – Santa Dog (Superior Viaduct single, 2014)

The Residents 'Santa Dog' 2x7" artwork

reissue: superior viaduct | 2×7″ | 29/04/2014
original release: ralph records | 2×7″ rr1272 | 20/12/1972

It would be misplaced to state that Santa Dog, a double 7″ released in 1972 by the new Ralph imprint, firmly impressed the strange world of The Residents on the contemporary conscience. Misplaced, because hardly anyone heard it: 500 copies were pressed and mailed out by the label, a lot of them were returned and a further batch can be presumed to have been discarded, like unwanted Christmas gifts, by the baffled recipients of what looked like a strange corporate gift. The sleeve indicated that Santa Dog was an advert of sorts for the film Vileness Fats, a 14-hour epic that has never fully seen the light of day.

Given the few copies in existence, it’s no surprise that Santa Dog has become an expensive, sought-after artifact, much bootlegged and any copies that do come up for sale are pounced upon by moneyed fans of art-music-weirdness with intense zeal – one copy went on Discogs for GBP650. Mercifully, the Californian reissue label Superior Viaduct – a name which has all sorts of Residential nonsensicality about it – can now rescue us all from either financial ruin in the pursuit of this eleven-minute curiosity or horrible YouTube rips of the tracks, thanks to a new replica pressing of the original gatefold double 7″ which will set you back a mere fifteen dollars.

The original release was weird to its very centre; side D followed side A, side C more naturally followed B. Why Ralph did this, we’ll probably never know. Why The Residents decided to attribute the four songs here to four fantastically-monikered pseudonyms we’ll also never know. Check them out: Ivory & The Braineaters, Arf & Omega (featuring The Singing Lawnchairs), Delta Nudes, The College Walkers. All four ‘bands’ are linked by a uniform oddness or archly experimental aesthetic, but each does indeed sound like an individual band, of sorts. We assume, of course, that these really are pseudonymous groups of this supposedly San Francisco-based unit, but can we really be sure? With The Residents you can never be totally sure, and that’s part of the fun of the chase.

Each of the four pieces here are, effectively, collages; nothing stays in place for long, almost as if the technical limitations of specific tape-loop lengths meant that the layered recordings only had a short lifespan before being abruptly moved out of focus in favour if something else – a tropicalia-flecked rhythm, a chorus of vocals singing about (I think) kicking a cat, clattering distorted noise bursts. Heard as a whole, Santa Dog is both lighthearted, one might say almost twee, and yet malevolently dark at the same time; a subversive hand gesture whilst grinning innocently simultaneously. The Beatles, whose album sleeve The Residents would shamelessly co-opt later, did this more or less contemporaneously with ‘You Know My Name’, itself an assemblage of sundry disembodied short studio vignettes, and achieved the same effect with swathes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; but whereas the Mop Tops flirted with the possibilities of musique concrète from within the confines of the richly-equipped Abbey Road, The Residents commenced their journey in that gear and never really changed it (a lidless eyeball cannot blink, after all).

‘Fire’, credited to Ivory & The Braineaters finds our vocalist delivering a performance that sounds like Bryan Ferry at his most tremulous, blended with assorted plunderphonics and an effortless wonky garage rock groove, almost as if The Residents might have been a straight R&B group at some point in their shrouded past. ‘Fire’ is the most accessible track here, if you squint; ‘Aircraft Damage’ has the feel of a radio play where the script had been crafted entirely from advertising slogans for mythical products, a (Santa) dog yaps in the background, a military drum rattles and ghostly voices fill the void left by the players; familiar Christmas melodies open ‘Explosion’ before things descend into a skronking over-amped free jazz stew – with manically-treated horns – and finally a queasy klezmer-style fiddle and chimes; ‘Lightning’ finds wandering Moog of almost cartoon-ish proportions getting jump-cut into a cycle of ominous drums and Latin rhythms spiked with clipped voices and the sort of future-facing sloganeering that might have graced a promotional video for Walt Disney’s original vision for his Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow before an apocryphal newsroom tale involving a turkey and some cranberries concludes this (sort of) festive brain-melting record.

Superior Viaduct’s re-release of Santa Dog is faithful to the original, maintaining the double 7″ gatefold format, the quirky sequencing and the same faceless anonymity that surrounded the original mailing of this record. The Residents would return to Santa Dog many, many times over the years, becoming a seasonal staple like a Dickens novel realised by Zappa. Nevertheless, it is fitting – on a very wry level – that Superior Viaduct have opted to release a Christmas record at Easter.

Buy at www.superiorviaduct.com

Track listing:

2×7″
A. Ivory & The Braineaters ‘Fire’
D. Arf & Omega (feat. The Singing Lawnchairs) ‘Aircraft Damage’
B. The College Walkers ‘Explosion’
C. Delta Nudes ‘Lightning’

Thanks to Sam / Superior Viaduct.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence