Junip – Fields (Mute Corporation album, 2010)

Junip‘s Fields presented a dilemma – to review or not? This whole site has tended to focus on Mute‘s UK releases, and I’ve never quite gotten around to looking at the Mute Corporation‘s US-only records. Fields was released in Europe on City Slang, yet released on Mute in the States. I’d heard ‘Always’, a quite beautiful track released as a single, but it didn’t make me want to buy and review the album necessarily. When a Twitter friend and fellow Mute fan said that he’d been listening to Junip and suggested it had a Krautrock sound, that was the clincher. I’d downloaded a few Junip tracks, including some unreleased stuff from rcrdlbl.com and the free Rope & Summit EP but they were just gathering dust on my hard-drive. When Chris said that about the Krautrock vibe, I decided it was high time I acquiesced; when I found Fields on sale in Fopp for a criminal £3.00 the decision to review was reasonably academic, especially once I’d heard it, as it’s excellent.

First, the proposition: Junip is a trio formed of three Swedish musicians, guitarist and vocalist José González (okay, Argentinian / Swedish), drummer Elias Araya and keyboard player Tobias Winterkorn. González is naturally familiar for his genteel solo work and classical guitar playing, with a body of work that includes covers of The Knife‘s arresting ‘Heartbeats’ and doom stalwart Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Prior to Fields they’d released an EP (Black Refuge) in 2004, the year before González’s solo début.

The Junip sound is difficult to place. There is, at certain points, a very evident motorik ethic. ‘Rope & Summit’ is one example; ‘Howl’, another, is so Can that the surviving members of the band could feasibly sue Junip for the rhythm’s similarity to their ‘Oh Yeah’; ‘Off Point’ rides on a beat that Neu! may well have cast to one side whilst writing ‘Heroes’ but straps on a skiffly, country twang.

What’s possibly more evident is a more broad ‘psychedelic’ or ‘prog’ folk sound, albeit without the huge keyboard soloing (check out the very end of closing track ‘Tide’ for the closest it comes). There’s something about the way that the album was recorded which sounds like a distant echo from forty years ago; a slightly muddy sound and vaguely trippy vibe pervades, enhanced by González’s echoing, ruminatively innocent vocal. ‘Without You’ is a case in point – a beautiful song which sounds like a type of psychedelic folk, augmented by a mysterious synth that drifts in in the second half; references to nature reinforce the folk angle, as does the weathered-looking sleeve design with its geometric hippy motifs.

‘It’s Alright’ can’t decide if it’s going down the trippy folk or trippy blues route, but while we wait for it to decide, it potters along with intent on a lovely bass line, while minimal percussion slowly and cautiously nudges into view. It’s dainty, especially when the hi-hats and tinkly keyboards usher in a muted beat. ‘It’s alright’ murmurs González, which rather sells this song short; for me, along with ‘Howl’ and ‘To The Grain’ it is one of the album’s highlights. ‘Sweet & Bitter’ has a deep, clipped funk edge with fat bass sounds and an ethereal web of synth sounds, which you almost wish would dominate the track completely, prog-stylee. Toward the end it feels like we’re approaching some such freak out, but it’s far too ordered and controlled for that.

‘Don’t Let It Pass’ is a beautiful, serene ballad, González’ voice floating delicately above a sweet folksy accompaniment. The synth solo here is laced with a heart-stopping emotion, while the harmonised title is freighted with a maudlin, weary tone. ‘To The Grain’ and ‘Tide’ mine the same sound, but both are much more dramatic in many ways; examples of songs where you can’t work out whether it’s positive and affirming or filled with poignancy and regret.

I’ll let you decide.

Fields was recorded and produced by Don Alstherberg and Junip; Alstherberg also supplies bass on ‘Always’, ‘Without You’ and ‘Tide’.

Originally posted 2011 / re-posted 2018.

(c) 2011 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Snapped Ankles cover CAN’s ‘Bel Air’ on Record Store Day Violations EP (The Leaf Label EP, 2018)

“On their sublime debut ‘Come Play The Trees’ you hear the group proffering buzzing drones, the kind of ritualistic psychedelia that future pagans will whirl round sacrificial bonfires to, David Bowie jamming with Neu! on the nihilistic impenetrability of ‘Johnny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’, sinewy synth lines gleefully vying with clattering percussion, and a general sense of a group channeling dark impulses through psychic rifts known only to a select few.” – Electronic Sound

Snapped Ankles‘ mysterious debut Come Play The Trees was one of the stranger albums I reviewed for Electronic Sound last year, and in its weird tones I heard something akin to The Residents mixed with a bit of Suicide. Anonymous, urgent, vibrant and one of those drawdropping crossover albums that blends synths and rock together like they always belonged together.

The band have prepped a politicised four-track 12″ EP for Record Store Day that takes tracks by The Fugs, Joey Beltram and overlooked Eighties cult band Comateens and plays freely with the lyrics to make their messages more relevant to a modern world that’s evidently going to – or possibly already gone to – the dogs.

The EP is rounded out with a version of CAN‘s ‘Bel Air’, originally from 1973’s Future Days, which takes the serene, hypnotic Californian chill of the original and adds a sinister edge, its repeated references to dressing gowns jabbing pointedly at Weinstein’s alleged Hollywood misdemeanors.

Check out the video for the band’s blistering take on The Fugs’ ‘CIA Man’ here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Jonteknik – Alternative Arrangements (The People’s Electric album, 2018)

Jonteknik will release Alternative Arrangements via his own label The People’s Electric on 16 March 2018. The album will be Jon Russell’s eighth album as Jonteknik.

Listen to a teaser of Jonteknik’s version of the Depeche Mode track ‘Nothing’ here.

Consisting of ten versions of ten songs by ten different artists, each of these alternative arrangements represents something highly personal for Russell. “I’ve been making music for 30 years,” says Russell of the origins of this project. “The songs featured on this album are just a few that have moved me in some way. They’re songs that have kept me striving to capture even the slightest hint of the magic that they possess in my own work.”

The result is a collection of songs that are immediately familiar, yet presented in a way that feels entirely original. From the funereal electronics of a new interpretation of Joy Division’s ‘Decades’ to the obscure Jeff Wayne music for ‘Gordons Gin’ (previously interpreted by Human League), Alternative Arrangements has a rare quality among covers albums – balancing the reverence with which Russell has toward these formative influences, while also emphasising qualities previously overlooked in the original song. In the case of a stunning re-imagination of The Smiths’ ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’, you can almost imagine that Morrissey and Marr always envisaged this song being fully realised by electronics.

Alternative Arrangements saw Russell working with a number of vocalists and musicians across the album – Martin Philip, Tom Sanderson (The Propolis), Stephen Newton (GLYDA), Peter Fitzpatrick (Circuit3), Bear Feathers, Jimm Kjelgaard, Sr (Eminent Sol), Tris Learmouth and Bob McCulloch. Together, Russell and his acquaintances take material by Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, OMD, The Doors, The Police – songs and artists that mean so much to a whole generation of listeners – and sensitively reposition their importance all over again.

Alternative Arrangements will be available on LP, CD and through digital / streaming services. Physical formats of the album can be preordered at [link]. The album will be released worldwide on 16 March 2018.

Russell’s notes for each track included on Alternative Arrangements can be found below.

Track listing:

1. Suffer The Children (vocal by Bear Feathers / guitar by Tris Learmouth)
2. Nothing (vocal by Jimm Kjelgaard,Sr. / guitar by Tris Learmouth)
3. Rent (vocal by Martin Philip)
4. Torch (vocal by Tom Sanderson / flugelhorn by Sam Sallon)
5. Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want
6. Decades (vocal by Stephen Newton)
7. Of All The Things We’ve Made (vocal by Peter Fitzpatrick)
8. People Are Strange (vocal by Peter Fitzpatrick)
9. Gordon’s Gin
10. Invisible Sun (guitar by Rob McCulloch)

All production / programming / mixing / vocals by Jonteknik unless otherwise stated. Mastering by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios.

About Jonteknik

Jon Russell is a programmer / writer / producer / remixer who has been making electronic music since 1988. His credits include co-producing and writing with Paul Humphreys (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) and Claudia Brücken (Propaganda), remixing artists such as Le Cliché, Nature Of Wires, Metroland, iEuropean (feat. Wolfgang Flür) and OMD.

About The People’s Electric

The People’s Electric is an electronic music community where everyone is welcome. Our artists like to release music on physical formats, but our little community will just as readily embrace those who love to download too. We exist to bring great electronic music to your discerning ears, whatever your listening preferences. The People’s Electric was founded in 2016 by Jon ‘Jonteknik’ Russell in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.

Track notes by Jon Russell

‘Suffer The Children’ was the first single by Tears For Fears. Their debut album, The Hurting, is one of my favourite albums of all time. I could have chosen any track from it but this song really touches me. It conjures up hope in some way, although on the surface it appears to be about emotional neglect.

‘Nothing’ by Depeche Mode. I was late getting into DM, It was in 1988. I collected so much vinyl and CDs of theirs. I remember the ‘Zip Hop’ mix of Nothing on a US 12” I had. I loved it. It made me see the song in a completely different way. I always felt there was somewhere else I could take it.

‘Rent’ was the first song I tried to cover, using a Commodore Amiga computer and tracker program at the end of the 1980s. The Pet Shop Boys gave me so many iconic tracks as my thirst for good pop songs grew. This is just a great song that tells a story – remember when songs did that?

‘Torch’ is my favourite song by Soft Cell. The flugelhorn melody is sublime and the added ingredients of Dave Ball’s minimal electronic pop matched with the unmistakable beautifully stylish vocals of Marc Almond make this an insatiable pop song.

‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ is one of the tenderest songs I know. The Smiths always made the best edgy music and this song demonstrates their diversity as premier song writers.

‘Decades’ by Joy Division. The song illustrates the poetical vulnerability of Ian Curtis so blatantly. His words sit magnificently upon the moody soundtrack, and it’s forever a thing of beauty.

‘Of All The Things We’ve Made’. Having been extremely lucky enough to write with Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, I wanted to choose a song of OMD’s that might not be an obvious choice. Luckily for me, they professed to have wanted to be both ABBA and Kraftwerk at one time. The album ‘Dazzle Ships’, their most ‘experimental’, features this song. I imagined it the way I’ve presented it on this album in a dream I had.

‘People Are Strange’ by The Doors. This is one of those songs that appeals to oddballs like me. You can’t help but sing along after a few listens. It’s one of my guilty pleasures.

‘Gordon’s Gin’ is an instrumental track by Jeff Wayne, originally written for an advertisement for that brand of gin. My version is inspired by a cover by the early Human League line-up which can be found on their Travelogue album. I found that keeping the tempo the same throughout the song, unlike the Human League version, it takes on an interesting life of its own. The melody is so addictive – I love it.

‘Invisible Sun’ is by my favourite childhood band The Police. The tour to support Ghost In The Machine, the album this is from, was the first concert I ever attended back in 1981. I was only nine years old and it was probably the first time I understood a meaningful song. When they performed it, they played the ‘controversial’ video about the troubles in Northern Ireland on a large screen. I then realised that music had a visual dimension too.

© 2018 Mat Smith for The People’s Electric

Electronic Sound 36

Electronic Sound issue 36 is available to buy / order now, and features a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s 70s forays into electronic music.

This month I wrote a short feature on up-and-coming Bristol electronic musician Henry Green and major feature on James Holden, whose album The Animal Spirits was far and away my favourite record of 2017. The interview took place in Holden’s studio near Turnham Green and found us talking about maths, spiritual jazz, the complexities of trying to add electronics to the music of Ornette Coleman, how to shrink a modular synth down to the size of a cabin bag, and the complex algorithms that explain duo playing. The result was one of my favourite interviews and consequently one of my favourite features to have written.

On the reviews front, this month I covered a reissue of Coil‘s Time Machines, the beautiful guitar processing of Martin Heyne‘s Electric Intervals, explorations of the fading AM radio spectrum by Conflux Coldwell, a lovely pairing of pianist Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno on Finding Shore, a scarily good release by Espectrostatic on the fine Burning Witches imprint and Null + Void‘s Cryosleep featuring Depeche Mode‘s Dave Gahan among other guest vocalists.

Electronic Sound can be purchased here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 1. James Holden & The Animal Spirits ‘The Animal Spirits’

One album this year stood apart for me and it was this record by former progressive house DJ James Holden, an endeavour that the word ‘epic’ was presumably designed for.

Assembled by Holden as bandleader and with his own electronics as the backbone, The Animal Spirits was executed through improvisations that were faithful to the questing spirit of jazz, specifically the spiritual music crafted by the likes of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry, and the similarly transcendent cycles of Moroccan trance music.

Electronics should act as a inflexible handbrake on pure improv, or at least that’s what we’re meant to believe, but Holden isn’t a typical electronic musician – not only did he build his own hand baggage-sized modular synth, but he also wrote his own software that was integrated with his drummer’s playing to ensure that he could keep up with the rest of the band. The fact that Holden would go so far as to work with a renowned physicist on the theory behind how a duo of musicians impact one another through errors in their playing, and then figure out how to program that, and then make it fit into a band concept, underlines just how different Holden is. There is a vibrant electronic jazz fusion scene going on right now, spearheaded by Holden and his Border Community imprint, Floating Points and others, but The Animal Spirits still stands apart.

I interviewed James for Electronic Sound. The interview took place at his studio near Turnham Green, a compact space filled with modular kit where The Animal Spirits was realised in what must have been an intense series of sessions. Holden is an educated, softly spoken, thoughtful individual. You get the impression when speaking to Holden that he’s only devoting part of his brain to the conversation – not because he’s disinterested, as he was perhaps the most engaging interviewee I sat with this year, but because he’s partitioned off the rest of his brain to resolve some new, complex algorithm simultaneously.

I’m convinced that, in years to come, people will consider The Animal Spirits to be a pivotal electronic music album, one that freed up synths from the linear shackles of rigid sequencers; don’t wait for everyone else to catch up – enjoy it now. Listen to The Animal Spirits here.

Buy Electronic Sound at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 2. Erasure ‘World Be Gone’ + Alka ‘The Colour Of Terrible Crystal’

“Effortless electronic majesty.”
– Electronic Sound

The release of a new Erasure album is always an emotional experience for me, but that’s what happens when you’ve been a fan for so long (nearly 30 years) and when everything else you’ve ever listened to can, on some level, be connected back to them.

However, even without that context – some might say bias – World Be Gone stands out. It’s the type of mature, bold pop that you’d want a duo like Andy Bell and Vince Clarke to make after this long in the business. It’s an album tinged with despair and disappointment at a world that seems to have turned backwards toward a more hateful, vengeful and intolerant version of itself; one that is occasionally hopeful but one that feels like all hope is gone.

None of this was a surprise to me when I heard World Be Gone for the first time, but some people commented to me that they thought the earlier demos for the songs would have been much faster and more uplifting rather than, as presented on the LP, slower and more thoughful affairs. That wasn’t the case – these songs were always intended to be thus, and World Be Gone is all the more coherent for it.

I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound, and I recall that the copy was all written during a flight to Miami with my family. A few days later I was told that a quote from the review would be used on posters to promote the album. I mentioned that to Vince Clarke just after the posters went up on the London Underground, and he refused to believe that there would be posters supporting the record at all. He also refused to let me show him the proof. Here it is (thanks Richard Evans).

Listen to World Be Gone here.

Buy Electronic Sound at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

I continued my work with Vince’s VeryRecords by writing the supporting press materials for Alka‘s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal album. This is truly a work of electronic genius by Bryan Michael and if you haven’t heard it yet, you should.

Given my involvement, albeit behind the scenes, I felt slightly conflicted putting it into my top ten, so I’ve grouped it in here with Erasure because Vince is the common denominator to both.

Listen to The Colour Of Terrible Crystal here. Buy it from VeryRecords here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 3. Ryan Adams ‘Prisoner’

When I started pondering what had been my favourite albums of 2017 I completely forgot about Ryan Adams‘s Prisoner. This doesn’t mean that it’s a forgettable album – far from it – but because, looking back, I couldn’t actually believe it was released this year. This year seems to have passed in such a blur that I would have bet my life that it had been released last year.

It took my Spotify Annual Report to remind me that, no, it was indeed released in 2017; and, just to reinforce its inclusion here, my Annual Report showed that I’d listened to this more than anything else this year. A bit like with The National, I find myself listening to Ryan Adams – when in a particular frame of mind – more than is necessarily healthy, and so it was during February and March when, according to Spotify, I didn’t really listen to much else.

Anyone who is similarly predisposed to Adams’s music will know the score and what to expect here; for any newcomers, expect heartfelt songs that never seem to fade with repeated listens with a introspection that makes The National sound like upbeat, chipper folks in comparison.

Listen to Prisoner here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence