Voodoo Child – The End Of Everything (Trophy Records album, 1996)

The first album from Moby‘s Voodoo Child alias comes with a title that, like other things released by Richard Melville Hall around this time, is hardly filled with optimism. His first Moby album for Mute was titled Everything Is Wrong, he released a single under the alias Lopez around this time with the title ‘Why Can’t It Stop?’ and Animal Rights, whilst not necessarily negatively-titled, was filled with a real sense of bitterness, anger, disbelief and unbridled rage. I may very possibly have dreamed this, but I seem to remember reading that around this time Moby split up with his long-term girlfriend and so who knows whether these titles reflect a slightly embittered state of mind – lots of the titles on this album are suffixed by the word ‘love’, so it could be true. Equally, we know Moby is a huge fan of Joy Division, a band that made being miserable a career option.

In any case, for all the pessimism of that title, the sleeve images – aside from the gust of wind blowing at the palm tree on the front cover – are actually pretty tranquil. True, there’s no-one in the pictures, and sure, the unpredictability of the ocean can inspire fear in lots of people, but it looks like a nice enough beach. The sense of peacefulness I take from the images are a decent enough clue to the music on The End Of Everything. It doesn’t look like the worst sort of end to me.

Moby has done ambient before – a whole album of the stuff back in the Instinct days, the remix of ‘Hymn’, the bonus Underwater album that accompanied Everything Is Wrong, soundtrack stuff and plenty of other things since – but he’s never done anything like The End Of Everything. This is fragile, emotive electronica dominated by crisp beats, noodling layers of liquid synth modulation and those trademark string lines that really started to sound like a proper orchestra here rather than the occasionally bad looping evident on other Moby records.

‘Patient Love’ is what happens when the intro to Kraftwerk‘s ‘Neon Lights’ doesn’t suddenly open out into a shimmering cinematic pop soirée; instead this is gentle, lilting synth pop with all the analogue wobbliness an electronic music fan could ever need in their lives, and a patient, slowly-developing progress that seems several worlds away from the freneticism of earlier Voodoo Child tracks. It’s also rather jolly, in a wonky sort of way, though a sequence of unexpected chord changes around the halfway mark muck around with your senses cruelly. ‘Great Lake’ is ‘Go’ all over again, just with chiming synth notes and jazzy piano sprinkles struggling to know where they’re supposed to be heading, and that classic Moby moment deconstructed into the territory of textured nuance.

Elsewhere it’s all serene washes of colour, those heart-wrenching strings, gentle phasing, meditative bass lines, clusters of devastatingly accomplished piano sprinkles and beats that chug along wearily like they’ve been burned out from too many nights of intensive partying. Yes, there are moments of darkness that befit the mood evoked in the title of the album (‘Slow Motion Suicide’, somewhat predictably, is pretty bleak), but generally this is a slick, absorbing collection of listening electronica with enough quiet flair and looseness to separate it comfortably from the bland direction that some ambient music opted to take.

All taken together, The End Of Everything feels a lot like watching a big screen blockbuster on a mobile phone – it somehow seems far too bold and expansive a body of work to have been delivered as a low-key side project; it needs, almost demands, a larger presence than it rather anonymously has. Consequently, it stands as one of the most discreetly accomplished, enduring and satisfying releases in the entire Moby back catalogue. The End Of Everything was released on Moby’s Trophy Records sub-label of Mute and the US version of the album featured a different tracklist. In a typical Moby act of self-depreciation, the catalogue number for the Trophy release was idiot1. The inside of the sleeve includes a brief and heartfelt mini-essay from Moby on animal welfare.

First published 2013; re-posted 2018

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Frank Tovey & The Pyros – Grand Union (Mute Records album, 1991)

1991’s Grand Union should by rights be lauded as a masterpiece of alternative rock, however Frank Tovey’s reclusive persona ensured that this overlooked gem has slipped through the net. Produced with PK (Paul Kendall), the album is both musically and lyrically enveloping. Something of a ‘concept’ album, Grand Union is ostensibly a collection of skiffly, folksy and vaguely country tracks accompanied by Tovey’s East End stories of the old, the new and the salient. There are many themes here, but one gets the impression that Tovey’s vision of a re-developing East End, with Canary Wharf’s landscape-altering construction in full swing, and the docks that made Britain what it once was turned into luxury restaurants and appartments invoked in him some sort of passion to head back in time and preserve the dirty Docklands spleandour of old in song.

At times melancholy (the WW2-recounting tale on ‘Bethnal Green Tube Disaster’), at others joyful in a ramshackle fashion (the opener ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’), the album is largely subtle and blissfully easy on the ear. Semi-acoustic guitars, banjos and clever percussion evoke all manner of moods, and when they head into indie-rock territory, as on the Morrissey-esque ‘Cities Of The Vain’, The PyrosPaul Rodden (banjos and guitars), John Cutliffe (bass and acoustic guitars, plus strings on the closing track ‘The Great Attractor’) and Charlie Llewellyn (drums, percussion) – more than prove their adaptability around Tovey’s poetic lyrics. Additional contributions come from Steve Smith on various keyboards, Tracey Booth (bodhran on ‘IKB (RIP)’) and Elliot Carnegie, who plays Jew’s harp on the opener, ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’. Somewhat more unusual, Tozie Lynch is credited with ‘bones’ on the same track. One imagines those bones may be among the detritus dredged up by the great Thames on a daily basis.

It is actually quite fantastic to hear just how well some primitive music forms lend themselves so well to Tovey’s Cockney vocals. His vocal is somewhere between Wreckless Eric and James’ Tim Booth, both folk and punk at the same time. His hero-worship of the great pioneering British engineer Isembard Kingdom Brunel on ‘IKB (RIP)’ is one of this album’s many high points, a time-travelling trip that leaves the grey towerblock-dominated modern London skylines far behind to witness at first hand the master engineer’s many achievements. And while we’re on the subject of masterful achievements, Paul Kendall’s excellent productions deserve a special mention. Best known for his electronic production for many Mute artists, PK brings a depth and precision to these tracks, using occasional effects with considerable restraint, but pushing the rhythm high up in the mix in an echo of his work with Nitzer Ebb.

With Grand Union, I continue to be impressed by the quality of songwriting, playing and production on display here. Intensely captivating and wonderfully unique, it is difficult to hear it without feeling some great sadness over the fact that the erstwhile Fad Gadget is no longer with us. A truly emotive gem, filled with grief, joy and a yearning for simpler times. Ironically, I wrote this while heading glumly toward my own shiny modern City offices on a train wildly rushing through some of the tunnels that Brunel’s colleagues were famed for.

First published 2003; re-posted 2018

(c) 2003 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Simon Fisher Turner – De Dentro Hacia Afuera (The Tapeworm album, 2009)

Translated, literally, as From The Inside Out, Simon Fisher Turner‘s De Dentro Hacia Afuera was issued as a white cassette on the consistently interesting Tapeworm label in an edition of just 250 copies in 2009.

The pieces on the cassette date back to 2002 / 2003 and the pieces fill a side apiece of the cassette. Side A (‘Outside’) consists of a field recording made by Fisher Turner of the procession of the Virgen del Carmen at Carboneras in 2002. The B-side (‘Inside’) consists of piano improvisations for the soundtrack to I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which Mute released as a download in 2003. Both pieces were edited, with Fisher Turner’s full blessing, from the original recordings by Tapeworm’s founder Philip Marshall.

The procession of the Virgen del Carmen takes place on 16 July each year in many Spanish towns, and also in other Spanish-speaking countries, marking the day of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge. Stock was the head of an order of the Catholic church which had fled from persecution where they were quartered in Monte Carmelo, now Israel, to Europe. The appearance of Mary to Stock in 1251 was not the first time the Virgin had appeared in the history if the order; in fact, the order was established because of Mary’s likeness in a cloud to some men investigating two prophets. Though some have subsequently cast doubt on Stock’s claims, the reassurance that Mary purportedly gave him, namely that those who wore the traditional scarpel – a cloth garment more or less in the shape of the Cross – would be freed from the fires of Hell has stuck and developed into the festival of divine celebration it has today.

Not that you’d necessarily deduce any of that in the recording Fisher Turner made on 16 July 2002. Here there are segments of chattering crowds milling and thronging around; a rousing brass marching band fades in and delivers a particularly uplifting song that feels like the soundtrack to some sort of Andalusian black and white movie (‘It would be great to play this tune to mum,’ someone is heard saying) before slowly moving out of focus; children chatter; babies cry; birds whistle, so does a man; a lone trumpet lets out a solitary blast before another rousing processional starts up, this one containing a funereal, maudlin middle section and a slightly wonky, out of tune tone; someone speaks above the crowd, prompting others to join in rapturously; what could be a piano pings out a brief high-pitched note; fireworks thunder in the sky; street sellers proffer their wares with repeated and insistent cries; a Latin pop song drifts in and out of focus with a singer sounding suspiciously like Andy Bell from Erasure; a cycle of strange industrial clanking rhythms and atmospheric drones and echoes is unfathomable as a source; someone’s shoes squeak playfully on a pavement.

Divorced from any obvious religious essence, the processions recorded here could have been captured anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. The only real connection to divinity is the uplifting music, but none of those songs are exactly hymnal, and the church bells that toll at the very end of the piece. From the outside listening in, it feels like a public holiday that’s more or less forgotten why it was established, a bit like May Day, an excuse to kick back and unwind without knowing what you’re celebrating exactly. It all sounds pleasant, fun, the general buzz of people having a good time.

In 2003 Fisher Turner recorded the soundtrack to British director Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, starring Clive Owen. When I interviewed Simon just after the release of that album he advised that his process of creating the soundtrack involved getting on set, hitting props, talking to the actors, recording stuff and generally making a nuisance of himself to try and capture the essence of a scene.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead was pretty much improvised from my end,’ Fisher Turner explained to me back in 2004. ‘As they shot the film I worked at home on material that the editor was able to put in as a rough guide for the scenes. I had a good budget so I could test things out in the studio, bring them home, and rework them on the laptop, and then send them to the editor. I think finally I’d made up 9 CDs’ worth of music for the film. A lot of it is very atmospheric and distant, more ‘sound design’.’

The final soundtrack would contain familiar Fisher Turner elements in the form of tapes and contributions from the likes of former Blockhead Gilad Atzmon, but at its core were segments of noirish piano playing, the improvisations for which are documented on the second side of De Dentro Hacia Afuera. In recent times we’ve become used to Simon Fisher Turner almost dispensing with melody completely, but gathered here are a variety of modes and themes that evidence a unique skill at creating filmic moods with a minimal, discreet set of notes. Styles here range from tentative jazz to experiments that appear to involve sliding objects along the strings, clusters of evocative notes and ominous chords.

‘Solo Piano Improvisation #54’ is remarkable in two senses – first, as a piece of music (as opposed to considering it an assembly of sketches), it works just as dramatically as the fully realised soundtrack even without its additions and processing; second, it gives a rare insight into the early workings of a Simon Fisher Turner piece. Fisher Turner has himself said that his pieces are never really ever finished, often continuing to evolve further beyond the point where they’ve been submitted to a director and used in the finished film. The distance between early ideas and finished piece is thus immeasurable, making this document all the more intriguing. Though edited sensitively into a sequence and narrative by Philip Marshall, the result is still a recording of a work at its earliest stages, yet still capable of standing up as a complete work in its own right.

Thanks to Philip at The Tapeworm and Simon Fisher Turner.

Originally posted 2013; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2013 MJA Smith / Documentary Evidence

Kumo – Day / Night (The Tapeworm album, 2018)

The Tapeworm imprint has always had an unerring capacity to release interesting sounds from interesting artists, and Day / Night by Kumo is yet another fine cassette among many. Kumo is the alias of Jono Podmore, a multi-disciplinary talent known on this blog for his work with Spoon on the Can back catalogue, the book he is assembling on sorely-missed Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, the very fine Metamono albums and the Kumo and Cyclopean releases issued by Mute over the years.

For Day / Night, Podmore began with two field recordings taken from the balcony of his flat in South East London, adding synths and theremin later to the sounds he’d captured by chance – cars starting, dogs barking, planes droning overheard, snippets of conversation and so on. One recording was made during the day, one during the night. The effect is like listening to a microcosm of urban London life, never quiet for sure, but perhaps more peaceful than one might imagine.

Podmore’s electronic responses to the field recordings vary from sinewy synth arpeggios that wobble and flutter around the ambience to spooky, dead-of-night bursts of drones, tones and bleeps that feel like the soundtrack to existential dread. There is a certain muted quality to the sounds he added to his balcony recordings, as if he wanted the two components – the organic and natural and the composed and artificial – to live in harmony with one another, and neither has the capacity to overburden the other.

Day / Night is the embodiment, for me, of what Brian Eno conceived of for ambient music when he was laid up in bed listening to classical music and environmental sounds together. Podmore’s approach has a delicateness of touch, a sensitivity to his natural surroundings and a powerfully imaginative way of electronically responding to the sounds he hears.

Tapeworm releases are always issued in limited runs – get it now from the Touch shop before it’s gone for good.

Postscript: this review was finalised somewhere over the Atlantic as my overnight return flight home from New York approached the Cornish coast. It was started on the flight to JFK earlier in the week, probably in roughly the same place but during the day. Philip from Tapeworm asked me whether ‘Day’ or ‘Night’ worked best for the night flight. My response was thus: ‘Night’ made me more edgy as we came into land. ‘Day’ made me yearn for home after the best part of a week away from my own familiar daily environmental soundtrack.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

White Witches – Heironymus Anonymous (AWAL album, 2018)

White Witches is a duo of Rory Lewarne, former frontman of the sorely-missed 2000s Mute act Pink Grease, and Piranha Deathray guitarist / keyboard player Jeremy Allen. For their debut album they’ve added the miscellaneous talents of ex-Art Brut drummer Mikey Breyer, Bourgeois & Maurice bassist Charlie Webb, Desperate Journalist vocalist Jo Bevan, and All Seeing I’s JP Buckle. Some six years in the making, Hieronymus Anonymous was recorded with Buckle at Jarvis Cocker’s basement studio and Dean Street studios in Soho.

Lewarne and Allen both grew up streets apart on the westernmost edges of Cornwall and describe White Witches as “dirty glam rock with a dystopian heart and a Cornish spirit”. The music here is wiry, brazen and full of nervous energy, infused with reverential flashes of Ziggy, Bolan, Ferry and the brothers Mael. Itchy guitar, clever lyrics and energetic kitwork combine together here into an album treading a tightrope between opaque fun-filled songs and seriously ominous themes, all fronted by Lewarne’s instantly familiar histrionics.

The album contains a whole host of highlights, from the theatrical melodrama of ‘Estella’ to the swirling basswork and sinewy riffery of ‘Sandcastles’, wherein Lewarne adopts a crazy falsetto amid music operating on the very edge of chaos. The title track is a strident, pathos-laden ode to a life well lived, while towering closing track ‘Savages’ blends the now-familiar White Witches sound with an undercurrent of synths and a rousing chorus amid an album of rousing choruses.

The pair claim that the album was a product of growing up in a way that being in a band like Pink Grease didn’t allow, while in Allen’s case it also involved dealing with life-limiting alcoholism; in spite of what should be, on paper, a relatively mature album, HeironymusAnonymous is bratty, irreverent, original and punk as fuck.

Listen to Heironymus Anonymous here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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

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