Land Observations – The Grand Tour (Mute Records album, 2014)

Land Observations 'The Grand Tour' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/i stumm369 | 28/07/2014

2012’s Roman Roads IV – XI by Land Observations (aka James Brooks) was among this reviewer’s favourite albums of that year. Having spent a pleasant hour or so wandering round James Brooks’s exhibition The Information Exchange at the Domo Baal gallery in London that same year, Brooks’s compositional approach, like his approach to his artworks, was much clearer to me than if I’d just listened to the album; the works on display at his show were intricately layered, imaginatively conceptual and yet somehow deceptively simple, precisely the same as the music offered up for scrutiny on Roman Roads IV – XI. Later still, at an intimate show at London’s Rough Trade East, I was able to see the artist at work as he faithfully reproduced the album’s layers and textures live on the venue’s tiny stage using only a guitar and a bank of pedals. To suggest he was focused would be an understatement.

For this follow up, Brooks once again returns to the layered networks of melody, rhythm and rich textures of the first album, only this time the conceptual departure point is rather more, well, grand.

At EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth attraction, the narrative from Dame Judi Dench describes the original, pioneering roads built across their empire by the Romans as ‘the first information superhighway’, a web of interconnecting routes that revolutionised the transportation of troops, cargo and messages. Just as with today’s internet, it wasn’t long before the application of those roads became something that allowed for altogether more leisurely pursuits – namely travel for recreational purposes, usually by the wealthier citizens who could afford to do so.

Brooks’s second Land Observations album takes its inspiration from the Grand Tour, which saw rich 18th Century university graduates schlepping off to Africa and Europe to experience Old World culture and broaden their horizons. (Quite how this changed from being a wealthy pursuit to the pre-university ‘gap year’ beloved of impoverished students heading out to Thailand with nothing but a few baht, a rucksack and a supply of Rizlas is beyond me.) Thus The Grand Tour, taking in everything from the streets of Vienna and the mountains of Switzerland, is a generally more austere album than its predecessor, less urgent perhaps, more languid, evoking the lazy, unhurried passage of the environment from a carriage window rather than the firm, resolute industrious progress suggested by Roman Roads.

Though his raw materials are of the stringed variety, there is something distinctly ‘electronic’ about James Brooks’s music, a Kraftwerkian simplicity and starkness perhaps. On the faster tracks, the ghost of Neu! and sundry other German bands can be heard in his long-form, repetitious guitar melodies, while the textures evoke the ideas of Robert Fripp only with more structure and less inherent Progishness. The opening bars of ‘The Brenner Pass’ even have an almost bluesy, early rock ‘n’ roll dimension, and for a brief moment you expect a jazzy beat to creep in; but Brooks is far too clever for that. Through the continual layering, these tracks are adept at giving the impression of height and depth, as well as the wide-screen expanse of open landscapes. That’s a significant sleight of hand on the part of Brooks, and one that would be easy to overlook.

In context, Brooks calling himself Land Observations for what is hopefully becoming a series of such albums, is utterly appropriate, all told.

Track listing:

lp/cd/i:
1. On Leaving The Kingdom For The Well-Tempered Continent
2. Flatlands And The Flemish Roads
3. From The Heights Of The Simplon Pass
4. Nice To Turin
5. Ode To Viennese Streets
6. The Brenner Pass
7. Walking The Warm Colonnades
8. Return To Ravenna

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Simian Mobile Disco & Chris Keating – Audacity Of Huge (Wichita, 2009)

Simian Mobile Disco 'Temporary Pleasure' album artwork

Temporary Pleasure album | Wichita | 2009

Get past the processed vocal that sounds a little like an Adam Buxton pisstake of a Basement Jaxx track and you’ll find Yeasayer‘s Chris Keating namechecking everything from Bill Murray to Peter Tosh, to minidiscs to robot vacuum cleaners. Keating here sounds like a Nineties Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman in hyper-privileged savvy metrosexual overdrive (sorbet, high fashion, exclusive social set), only tinged with anguish with the question ‘I’ve got it all / You know it’s true / So why don’t I have you?‘ Simian Mobile Disco sculpt a bleeping, jerky techno pop backdrop to Keating’s tortured soul-pop performance.

Thanks to M for telling me about this one. I’m re-posting this short review since I’m currently writing about the new Simian Mobile Disco album (Whorl) for Electronic Sound.

First published 2012; re-edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Erasure – Am I Right? (ITV Chart Show gossip, November / December 1991)

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Erasure 'Am I Right?' - gossip freeze frame from The Chart Show, broadcast November / December 1991

I was recording some bits and pieces from old VHS tapes last night. On one tape, in amongst a bunch of Erasure performances, I came upon an edition of The Chart Show, the long-defunct ITV show that was the broadcaster’s alternative to the satellite-only MTV.

On this edition was the promo video for Erasure‘s ‘Am I Right?’. I was about to skip straight past it to the ‘live’ performance of the track on the Des O’Connor show that I’d recorded after this on the tape, but then I remembered that The Chart Show always included some pretty random ‘gossip’, usually within the middle eight of any track they were showing the video for. So I fast forwarded to that point and the photo above shows what they had to say about Erasure at this point – namely a small reveal of the venues for The Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour that would hit the road in 1992 and a weird list of animals that Andy Bell would like to keep as pets. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure pandas don’t make great pets.

Seeing this in turn reminded me that during a promo for ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ the following year, The Chart Show gossip was – and this now clearly seems ridiculous – that Andy Bell and Debbie Harry were due to marry. And so you can take Andy’s animal list above with a sufficiently large pinch of salt.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

HTRK – Chinatown Style (Ghostly International short film, 2014)

HTRK 'Psychic 9-5 Club' LP artwork

In my Clash review of HTRK‘s third album (Psychic 9-5 Club), I likened the smooth, sensual dubby soundscapes of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang‘s music to the ‘aural equivalent of Prozac’, an effect that leaves their music devoid of any discernible ups and downs.

The duo have worked with director Nathan Corbin on a short film for the track ‘Chinatown Style’, which finds the viewer following various Chinatown residents around seemingly quotidian pastimes – cooking octopus, jazz dancing and so on – all jarringly set to Standish and Yang’s ethereal ambience.

Here’s what Corbin had to say about the film: ‘I worked as a delivery boy in Manhattan in my early twenties. It’s an intimate way to experience the city. The delivery is a conduit into an extended, physical exchange. It can be erotic and psychedelic; the repetition of “opening” in a city full of guarded skyscrapers and locked doors. You float invisibly, drifting from one ambiance to the next.

‘In NYC there is fluidity between everyone. You’re constantly “encountering”people. Always entering. The energy can vary wildly with successive shifts from light to dark to light like yin-yang. You found luck! You find yourself in a utopian center: a Psychic 9-5 Club.

‘People are dancing.

‘I chose to work with people I didn’t know for the most part..so that our interaction was new, innocent..like a delivery.

‘The cinematography concept was crucial. Shoot with a wide angle lens to create that innocence. You see everything so the “gaze”… the obsessive and voyeuristic part of looking is reduced. The eye of an open heart.’

Chinatown Style can be viewed below. Probably not one to watch at work (or if you’re a vegetarian).

Thanks to Matthew @ Ghostly.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

cd:
1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Thomas Cohen – Honeymoon (unreleased single, 2013)

Seeing images of Thomas Cohen splashed all over the front page of yesterday’s Evening Standard – following the reports confirming that his wife, Peaches Geldof, died as a result of a heroin overdose – prompted the recollection that Cohen’s debut solo single had been unveiled on YouTube in October last year. To date the track has not seen the light of day through an official release, and presumably the tragedy in his personal life has quite rightly put any promotional activity to one side for now.

‘Honeymoon’ is a long, woozy number that’s impossible to consider now without thinking about Cohen’s loss. The song is a languid, heartfelt, romantic song that finds the singer dispensing with the gloomy goth overtones for something bordering on Leonard Cohen’s particular brand of introspective, poetic torch song. There’s a sense of Cohen here cradling his wife, telling her he’ll keep her safe from harm, that all they need is one another and nothing more; whether that’s just something you hear filtered through what you imagine he must be going through today is debatable, but irrespective, with its sparse arrangements, monolithic guitar riffs and plaintive sax, this shows that Cohen’s post-S.C.U.M work was likely to be heading in an interesting – if unexpectedly tender – direction.

The track can be heard above.

Stay strong Thomas.

Thanks to Jorge.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Crown Estate – Lazers (Driver Sounds single, 2014)

Crown Estate 'Lazers' download artwork

driver sounds | download | 30/06/2014

‘Lazers’ is the follow-up single to last year’s ‘Battlesbridge’, Crown Estate‘s critically lauded debut single. For their second release, the duo of Julie and Sacha fuse the quirky electronics and sensibilities of today (references to texting, Twitter and Facebook) with a vocal vibe that stretches way, way back to the wry, detached style of classic Blondie.

Pop music doesn’t come more perfect than this: ‘Lazers’ is a vibrant, upbeat track with a wall of sound that positively shimmers with all manner of pretty glimmering textures and cutesy melodies. Stylistically, its themes of craving contact links it to Yazoo‘s ‘Bad Connection’ and Vic Twenty‘s ‘Txt Msg’, but this is at once something far fresher and more uplifting, propelled ever forward on a intricate beat that can’t help but make you smile.

Perhaps it’s the talk of heatwaves and transport meltdowns in the media today, but ‘Lazers’ could well be this reviewer’s summer anthem.

Get ‘Lazers’ on iTunes here. It could be the best 79p you spend.

Thanks to Clare at 1-2-hear and Julie.

Track listing:

Download:
1. Lazers

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence