A Different Daniel Miller

A different Daniel Miller. Still from 'Take The Money And Run' (1969, dir. Woody Allen)

A different Daniel Miller: still taken from Woody Allen’s madcap 1969 comedy Take The Money And Run.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Paul Kendall – Family Value Pack (Ant-Zen album, 2014)

Paul Kendall 'Family Value Pack' CD artwork

ant-zen | cd/dl act315 | 12/09/2014

Family Value Pack is the follow-up to 2011’s Angleterror (CatWerk Imprint) and finds Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on typically inventive form. Kendall has always been capable of manipulating technology, whether that be as an engineer, on his own recordings or through his countless remixes for the Mute roster and other artists, and Family Value Pack is no different: this is a super-sized audio trip filled with complex twists and turns and strange juxtapositions.

At the heart of this album is a thoroughly plunderphonic vibe, a series of controlled explosions of sound sources set off against one another and the results carefully documented and presented across the seven tracks presented here. Some may argue that the result is a sprawl, a messy stew of grating rhythms, uncomfortable phrases and harsh dissonance, and that isn’t a million miles from what it really sounds like. But what makes Family Value Pack an album worth persevering with is the depth of vision.

Tracks like the buzzing, hyperactive opener ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ take a familiar rhythm notion – on that track the beloved 4/4 beat-grid of techno – and thoroughly twist it into new shapes, creating a sonic gumbo of seemingly incompatible elements, in ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ those being fuzzy guitar riffs, skronking sax solos, dubby happenings and snatches of Kendall reading what sounds like some sort of heavy, expressive poetry. It is restless, certainly, but that’s no bad thing. Elsewhere the vibe is one of muted ambience or beds of glitchy electronica, all tied together by Kendall’s evocative and imaginative word pictures and his accomplished sense of space and texture. Every sound feels like it was created or delicately positioned within a mix so as to maximise its emotional and sonic impact, feeling more like a soundtrack composer’s work in intricate sound design than an electronic music album. ‘Family Value’ is a clautrosphobic piece of electronic musique concrete, all hissing and clanking noises, underpinned by a harrowing sound that sounds like breathing – if that sounds like an Eraserhead-esque exercise in industrial terror, a segue into a small child singing is a careful gesture that heightens the dark mood perfectly.

The amount of detail here requires repeated listens and patience to fully appreciate. ‘It’s OK’ is a lot like watching a time-stretched film of a high rise tower ascending upwards; in the first few minutes it’s all about deep excavations or putting in foundations, all of which is necessary for the building to take its final shape but not as attention-grabbing as the building rising up vertically floor by floor. In the case of ‘It’s OK’ the first half is all about individual sounds and tentative structures, those foundations finally leading to the rhythm and atmosphere that takes the track through to its final ascendant form. Without patience you’d miss the conceit completely, and it’s a trick that Kendall pulls off repeatedly on this album.

Thanks to PK.

Track listing:

cd/dl:
1. Scuba Dis Dat
2. Water. It Must Be
3. It’s OK
4. Family Value
5. Ex.Posed
6. There Min Major
7. Uninterrupted Monday

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sonic Youth – Hits Are For Squares (Geffen / Starbucks album, 2008)

Sonic Youth 'Hits Are For Squares' CD artwork

geffen / starbucks | cd 0602527781778 | 10/06/2008 | track listing

Hits Are For Squares is an almost career-spanning sixteen-track Sonic Youth compilation album. The album was released initially only in US Starbucks stores in 2008 in conjunction with Geffen, Sonic Youth’s home since leaving SST / Enigma (in the States) and Blast First (in the UK) following the release of Daydream Nation. Ignoring the obvious charges of ‘selling out’ by letting the mighty Starbucks put out a compilation album, what’s relatively unique about Hits Are For Squares is that the tracks themselves were all chosen by various celebrity fans (rubber-limbed Chili Pepper Flea, actress Catherine Keener, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and so on) or collaborators (Minutemen’s Mike Watt). Those choices, plus their reasons for choosing a particular track are explained in the liner notes alongside brief notes on the tracks and where they fit into the Sonic Youth back catalogue. And hey, the self-deprecating album title isn’t dissimilar to Hip To Be Square, the 1986 album from Huey Lewis & The News beloved by Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and that’s always cool with me. Meanwhile, the sleeve looks like it’s trying to be an Edward Hopper portrait, the suit drinking his Starbucks coffee shamelessly reinforcing the commercial nature of this album. A ‘caffeine-free’ vinyl edition was released by the band later in 2010.

What’s immediately evident from the selections is that there are way more choices from the Geffen ‘commercial’ Sonic Youth period rather than their earlier independent label period, aside from firm fan favourites like ‘Teen Age Riot’ (from Daydream Nation), ‘Tuff Gnarl’ (from Sister), ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’, ‘Expressway To Yr. Skull’ (aka ‘Madonna, Sean And Me’) and ‘Tom Violence’ (all from Evol) and the earliest track here, the raw ‘The World Looks Red’ (from the Confusion Is Sex EP with Grinderman / Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds / Silver Alert drummer Jim Sclavunos on the skins and lyrics by SwansMichael Gira). In general the tracks lean toward the accessible side of the Sonic Youth back catalogue rather than the more experimental, but that’s what you get when you try and shift your album in outlets of the ubiquitous Seattle coffee chain (Seattle resident Eddie Vedder, incidentally, has a bit of a rant about not liking coffee in his notes to ‘Teen Age Riot’, which is rather like biting the hand that feeds if you ask me, but it’s still funny). Also, most of the tracks are those sung by Thurston Moore; Kim Gordon gets a couple of her lead vocal tracks included (including the annoying ‘duet’ with Chuck D, ‘Kool Thing’ and the beguiling ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’) and poor Lee Ranaldo doesn’t have any of his sung / spoken tracks included at all. Diablo Cody chooses the cover of ‘Superstar’ from a tribute album to The Carpenters which, while pretty, still feels uncharacteristically kitsch for Sonic Youth; far better would have been something from the more radical Ciccone Youth album.

Personally, I’d liken this compilation to the type of coffee you get from Starbucks – in other words a bit watered down, vaguely inauthentic but nevertheless addictive all the same, precisely because it is so accessible. I approached this album having not listened to most of the Sonic Youth back catalogue for some time and it felt like I was hearing these tracks for the first time all over again, ‘Teen Age Riot’ (still one of my favourites from their entire body of work) and ‘Bull In The Heather’ (from Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star) in particular sounding really fresh and unfamiliar, just like I was listening to them for the first time again.

The album also includes a previously unreleased track, ‘Slow Revolution’, which mines a similar vein to Washing Machine‘s long-form ‘Diamond Sea’ (a track I’d definitely have included, though at twenty minutes it was clearly never going to make the grade while the single edit lacks the very expansiveness that makes the song so impressive); like ‘Diamond Sea’, ‘Slow Revolution’ is a languidly-paced number, all Jaki Liebezeit-style drums from Steve Shelley and layers of hazy guitar riffs and Kim Gordon wailing away somewhere in the middle ground like she’s singing in tongues. It’s a far cry from this band’s more blistering white hot punk tracks, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless; think the Velvets’ ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ passed through a Krautrock filter. ‘Slow Revolution’ is worth buying this compilation for in itself.

Gripes aside, Hits Are For Squares provides a great overview for anyone unfamiliar with Sonic Youth. It’s not as good as my own Sonic Youth compilation tapes that I made at the start of the last decade, but that’s personal choices for you.

I decided to re-post this because I’ve been listening to The Best Day, the new solo album from Thurston Moore which I’m reviewing this month for Clash.

Track listing:

cd:
1. Bull In The Heather
2. 100%
3. Sugar Kane
4. Kool Thing
5. Disappearer
6. Superstar
7. Stones
8. Tuff Gnarl
9. Teenage Riot
10. Shadow Of A Doubt
11. Rain On Tin
12. Tom Violence
13. Mary-Christ
14. The World Looks Red
15. Expressway To Yr. Skull
16. Slow Revolution

First published 2010 / re-posted 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Olivia Louvel – Bats (If You Cross The Line SFT Remix) (CatWerk single, 2014)

IMG_0027.JPG

Beauty Sleep is the new album from Olivia Louvel, representing a beguiling set of song-based tracks that showcase the distinctive soundworld she resides in.

One of the most fragile tracks on the album is ‘Bats’ which is here given a very different reading by Simon Fisher Turner. Listen to SFT’s remix at Soundcloud.

‘Beauty asleep’ is available from Olivia’s Bandcamp page and is released in a special DVD-sized case. The album also features ‘In My Shed’ which takes a sample from Recoil’s ‘Stone’ as its source. The album was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

My review of Beauty Sleep will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

MuteResponse 3 Update – New Track From Jono Podmore & Georgina Brett

MuteResponse

In 2013 Documentary Evidence compiled and released MuteResponse, a two volume collection of artists and tracks inspired – on some level – by the legacy of Mute Records.

Planning is currently underway for a very special third volume in the series, and Jono Podmore and Georgina Brett‘s ‘Toroidal Celeste’ is the first track to be taken from the album. The track is available for streaming at Soundcloud.

Podmore and Brett will be performing live on Saturday 13 September 2014 at the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank as part of the London Analogue Festival. For more details go to: London Analogue Festival – Saturday

Georgina Brett (vocals) creates music using nothing more than loops of her own voice, while Podmore (Theremin) has previously recorded with all-analogue group Metamono, Cyclopean (with members of Can) and as Kumo.

MuteResponse 3 will be released in late 2014 / early 2015.

The first two volumes can be found at nominalmusics.bandcamp.com

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
‘Toroidal Celeste’ (c) 2014 Jono Podmore and Georgina Brett

Gwen Stefani – Wonderful World (Interscope, 2006)

Gwen Stefani 'The Sweet Escape' CD artwork

The Sweet Escape album | Interscope | 2006

Mute alumni Martin Gore and Richard Hawley appeared on this upbeat closer to Gwen Stefani’s The Sweet Escape, both adding their guitar talents to a song which sounds suspiciously like Stefani trying to cover Depeche Mode‘s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ via Black’s song of the same name. Hawley and Gore’s contributions are quiet and not exactly distinctive: Hawley seems to offer ruminative slide guitar wheras Gore’s playing seems to be the kind of simple but devastating melodies he’s made his own. Unfortunately, they’re both just drowned out by the garish high energy pop of this Linda Perry-penned tune.

First posted 2013; re-posted 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (Mute Records album, 1997)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'The Boatman's Call' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/c stumm142 | 03/03/1997

I was tempted to write this review with just one word. That word is ‘beautiful’. Allegedly written by Nick Cave at exactly the same time as Murder Ballads, these songs were written with simplicity in mind, and as such the majority of these superior compositions feature a stripped back Bad Seeds, and a heavy dose of piano. The contrast with Murder Ballads could not be greater, taking a deeply intimate, romantic and often spiritual tone. No-one dies here, one may be relieved to know.

But maybe a little part of Nick Cave died in order to make a collection of songs; that part of him was the preacher, the aggressor, the dervish spirit howling and caterwauling over a maelstrom of sensational music, and that character wouldn’t emerge again until the later Grinderman project. It genuinely isn’t a criticism – I happen to think that The Boatman’s Call is among Cave’s finest work. Everything about album is black and white – the Johnny Cash-esque Anton Cobijn photo of a particularly troubled Nick Cave on the front cover, through the predominance of the piano keys across the LP, through to the downright clarity of Cave’s songwriting. What’s most clear about The Boatman’s Call is the often obvious theme of these songs, for this is Nick Cave’s most directly personal collection of ideas, from the post-PJ Harvey reflectiveness of the quirky folk leanings of ‘West Country Girl’ and ‘Black Hair’, through to his ruminations on his failed marriage on ‘People Just Ain’t No Good’ or ‘Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere’.

However, aside from a fair amount of openness from our tortured songsmith, The Boatman’s Call also features two genuinely beautiful love songs – ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ and ‘Brompton Oratory’. Like much of the album, these have a musical accompaniment from The Bad Seeds that is directly informed by subtle jazz but the latter also features a perfectly twee Casio rhythm that sounds like it survived from Cave’s original demo. The latter describes a trip made by Cave to Kensington’s famous, and imposing, landmark, and finds Cave wishing he were one of the stone apostles therein, just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with his muse’s intense beauty. It perfectly captures the intensity of romance’s first flourishes, that feeling of not being able to cope anymore. ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ is just mystical and beautiful, its waterside setting making me think of Murder Ballads’ ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, with all the same romantic longings, just none of the death; an alternative ending, perhaps?

The album features the full Bad Seeds line-up (Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, Conway Savage, Martyn P. Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis), albeit in controlled doses, and benefits from an unusually restrained production job from Flood, who also produced the oft-slated U2 album Pop the same year. The style of production is subtle and delicate, and Cave’s vocal is dominant in the mix, casting a personal, intimate shadow over proceedings, making this the closest Cave has yet come to the introspection of Leonard Cohen. It feels like a one-to-one connection between the narrator and sympathetic listener. Warren Ellis’ violin is also an important element here, receiving greater space in the mix than previously, bestowing the gypsy folk of ‘West Country Girl’ with a rabidly maudlin edge. His work on ‘Idiot Prayer’, perhaps the track closest to a classic Bad Seeds ballad sees his violin overtaking Blixa’s fuzzy guitar as lead instrument, a sign of the sea change that was to come.

I have my own, highly personal reasons, for counting this among my favourite albums of all time. Suffice it to say, seven years on, it’s the more miserable tracks here – like the personally chord-resounding ‘Far From Me’ – that I find myself reflecting on of that period in my life. ‘Can’t you find somebody else / That you can ring and tell?‘, Cave sings on that penultimate, delicately poignant song. Those would become wise words for my younger self.

 

I was minded to re-post this review after hearing the lead single from this album, the delicate ‘Into My Arms’ at the end of Richard Curtis’s About Time movie. It’s been a long time since I heard this album and for the personal reasons alluded to above, it’s one that I now find relatively hard to contemplate listening to. In the movie, Cave’s track is chosen by the dying Bill Nighy as the soundtrack for his own wake, lending the track a greater poignancy than perhaps Cave ever even intended.

A couple of years ago someone at Mute sent me a link to a YouTube rip of some songs that were recorded for The Boatman’s Call sessions but which have never surfaced except for on an expensive bootleg CD. The tracks that didn’t make it to the final album were every bit as perfect as the ones that were on the final release, a telling testament to the furious level of output that Cave was enjoying in this period of his life. The twin albums of Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call thus stand as one of the most pivotal periods in Cave’s career as a songwriter, marking a crossing place, a transition and the start of his wider public acceptance as one of the finest lyricists of our generation.

Track list:

lp/c/cd:

A1. / 1. Into My Arms
A2. / 2. Lime-Tree Arbour
A3. / 3. People Ain’t No Good
A4. / 4. Brompton Oratory
A5. / 5. There Is A Kingdom
A6. / 6. Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?
B1. / 7. (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?
B2. / 8. West Country Girl
B3. / 9. Black Hair
B4. / 10. Idiot Prayer
B5. / 11. Far From Me
B6. / 12. Green Eyes

For information on other formats go to: http://www.discogs.com/master/view/18393

First published 2004; re-edited 2014. This review focusses on the 1997 original release, not the remastered, expanded 2011 edition.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence