Goldfrapp – Black Cherry

Goldfrapp’s second album finds the duo moving from the chilled ethereal ambience of Felt Mountain into a sort of robotic retro-modernism. There are moments that nod in the textural direction of their debut, such as the serene title track or the beautiful ‘Deep Honey’, but on the whole Black Cherry is a harder, more direct affair.

Black cherry was always the flavour of yoghurt that no-one else wanted from the fridge in our household, a weird vestigial throwback to 70s faux sophistication, no doubt achieved via an array of bitter E numbers; it’s one of those ‘love it or hate it’ flavours, and I guess this analogy works well regarding this album. In many ways, the disparity between Felt Mountain and this may not taste good to some who only bought their debut for its chilled vibe and its placement in the voguish late 90s chill out compilation canon. Personally, I loved black cherry, and I love Black Cherry.

Alison Goldfrapp‘s voice has always possessed a certain sensuality which has the capacity to draw you in and surround you with half-whispered temptations. That tone is best evidenced on the penultimate track, ‘Forever’, which is full of achingly seductive promise, Alison’s captivating vocal expertly accompanied by Will Gregory‘s chastened electronic textures and a sort of Beatles-y psychedelia. Elsewhere, the opener, ‘Crystalline Green’ is a hypnotic stream of words set to a jerky electro rhythm, while the prowling multiple climaxes of ‘Slippage’ that end the album edge forward with a nagging, ‘Nightclubbing’ pace and a large pinch of burlesque noir.

At times, Black Cherry is a thoroughly over-sexed, occasionally grubby affair, with the single ‘Twist’ getting as close as the duo ever dared get to the sound and imagery of Peaches. The gritty square wave-dominant sound that dominates parts of the album is both extreme and a shock to the system after their spell working the ambient torch song ephemerality of their debut. Singles like the glam-infused ‘Train’ and the deftly ubiquitous – yet utterly subversive – ‘Strict Machine’ more or less defined a new, more urgent and confrontational dimension to the Goldfrapp sound, one that allowed them to slip effortlessly – but perhaps unexpectedly – into a new and eclectic early 2000s anything-goes pop movement.

Catref: stumm196
Words: Mat Smith

Originally posted 2003; edited and re-posted 2019 to coincide with the vinyl reissue of Black Cherry.

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

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GUO – GUO4

Daniel Blumberg could well be seen as the most sonically challenging addition to Mute’s present-day roster. His prolific release schedule highlights both a limitless improvisatory imagination and also a huge amount of trust and freedom by the label that he joined last year with his Minus opus.

In parallel to his work under his own name as de facto band leader, his output as GUO with tenor saxophonist Seymour Wright represents an ever-adaptable framework that allows the pair space to collaborate with other like-minded musicians. After previous releases with friend and muse Brady Corbet, GUO4 pitches the Blumberg/Wright duo together with drummer Crystabel Riley, accompanied by a text from Fran Edgerley. The impetus for the session was a new short film by Peter Strickland concerning itself with an altercation between two men in a locker room.

Violence, then, is to be expected from this atypical soundtrack, which is, for the most part, led by Riley’s evocative, sheet metal-esque percussion. Taken as a sympathetic and wonderfully noisy response, Wright’s atonal squalls of upper-register bleating and Blumberg’s signature guitar un-playing – ranging from low distortion rumbles to metallic splinters to an undercurrent of angry note clusters – make the single 22-minute piece both expressive and beautifully uncomfortable.

To paraphrase what another of Mute’s noisier pairings might have dubbed it, this is easy listening for the hard of hearing. Whether it acts as a portent of what we can expect from Daniel Blumberg’s next LP under his own name remains to be heard.

Catref: stumm444
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Teho Teardo – Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Specula album, 2019)

Blixa Bargeld and Balanescu Quartet collaborator Teho Teardo has charted a singular course through electronic, classical and industrial music since he first emerged with a self-released cassette album in 1985. His approach to works for strings and sound design can be linked back to his early days as an Italian punk, his music containing a visceral weight coupled with a blunt, almost antagonistic command of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic.

His latest work is arguably the most complete realisation of that vision. Inspired by Max Porter’s book Grief Is The Thing With Feathers and used in its subsequent stage adaptation by Enda Walsh, the eight pieces here chart the narrative of a crow and his family as he struggles to cope following the loss of his partner and the need to raise his two chicks by himself.

Here we find Teardo offering up recurring passages of staccato cello that carry the sonic attack and challenge of heavy metal guitars, blended with jangly guitars, dramatic percussion and intense violin, best exemplified by standout moments like ‘London Offered Us Possible Mothers’. Elsewhere, the interplay between processed wind instruments and modular synths on ‘Hop Sniff And Tackle’ creates a nauseating, ominous tension wherein a serene string section toward the end is just about the only relief from a darkness as intense as a crow’s feathers.

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Teho Teardo was released in March 2019 by Specula.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound 53 – including my Mute STUMM433 feature

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The latest issue of Electronic Sound is now available in the usual high street retailers and as a bundle with an exclusive 7″ from their website. This issue has a primary focus on Berlin, featuring conversations with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten, Mick Harvey, Simon Bonney and others who recall the vibrant creative melting pot that the divided city represented in the late 70s and early 80s. The accompany 7″ features Berlin legends Malaria! while Gudrun Gut from band offers her take on sometime Berlin resident David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ on the B-side.

My major contribution to issue 53 was a feature on John Cage’s seminal composition 4’33” and the incoming Mute STUMM433 project. For this feature I interviewed K Á R Y Y N, Daniel Miller, Simon Fisher Turner, Irmin Schmidt, Laibach, Pink Grease and Maps, each of whom explained how they approached their performance of Cage’s distinctive piece – where they recorded it, and what instrument they didn’t play. Each of the 58 versions on STUMM433 is wildly different from the next, each one includes its own individual story and accompanying visual, and only one of the inclusions is actually silent – just as Cage would have wanted.

This feature involved me diving back into Cage’s Silence book – something I’d first tackled in my late teens when I found a copy in my local library and studying the score. One took much longer than the other. It also awoke in me an interest in Zen after reading about Cage’s following of these ascetic Buddhist principles.

Elsewhere in this issue I reviewed Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. by Maps; the score to Marnie by Bernard Herrmann; David Tibbet and Andrew Lisle’s debut Nodding God album; the latest Blow collaboration on Front & Follow by Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer; and a fantastic new Buchla-based concept album by Simon James.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Comicide – Moral Improvement (Live 1984CE) (Cruel Nature album, 2019)

Comicide were a duo of Eric Jurenovskis (guitar) and Stephen Àh Burroughs (synths and vocals), who would later go on to form celebrated Blast First unit Head Of David. They formed Comicide in 1984 specifically for two gigs, each consisting of the same set list of four tracks, opening for CON-DOM at two venues in their native Midlands – the Star Club in Birmingham and the possibly unlikely setting of the Eve Hill Afro-Caribbean Community Club in Dudley.

A new archive limited edition cassette by Cruel Nature puts these eight live tracks into the cassette players of Head Of David completists for the first time, as well as providing another insight into the early Eighties noise movement. These tracks are, as might have been expected, noisy and uncompromising affairs. Each track is built up from ground-out guitar riffs and disturbing synth shapes that have been subjected to the same extensive distortion as Jurenovskis’s guitar. Tracks like ‘Hatehouse’ swell with layers of dubby reverb, each time adding an element of compelling dissonance, finally becoming nothing more than bleak echoes of the racket Burroughs and Jurenovskis were curating.

The second set introduces Burroughs’s angry, shouty vocals to the tracks ‘Bloodmeat’, ‘Muscular Jesus’ and the aforementioned ‘Hatehouse’. Those vocals aren’t obviously missing from the Star Club set, but when added in they have the effect of making the duo’s loud, repetitive riffing less uncomfortable somehow – even though Burroughs’s voice could never really be considered comforting. Though still a challenging, impure experience, the Eve Hill set sounds more polished, perhaps more studied, probably because the pair had longer to develop the songs. The instrumental ‘Bruised Organon’ takes on an atmospheric, installation-like tone, as if the two were actively countering the maximalism of their other pieces and seeking to channel the cultural echoes of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Stubbleman – Mountains And Plains (Crammed Discs album, 2019)

Stubbleman is the alias of Pascal Gabriel, formerly of Mute electronic pop alumni Peach, a central figure in Rhythm King via S’Express, Bomb The Bass and others, and a producer to the stars. Mountains And Plains was inspired by a trip across the breadth of the United States and finds Gabriel in deeply reflective territory, the eleven pieces here tapping into a voguish, borderless modern classical style wherein an array of analogue synthesizers sensitively accompany stentorian piano. The album was mixed with the knowing ear of fellow Mute stalwart Gareth Jones.

Despite the grand scale of the vistas, buildings and infrastructure that Gabriel was enthralled and captivated by, there is a deeply introspective tone here, one that only slips into uplifting territory on the closing piece, the ephemeral ‘Piety Wharf’. Could it be that he is silently commenting on some sort of quasi-political squandered environmental opportunity as he looks out from car and train windows between New Mexico, California and the relentless flatness of the Mid-West? Did he not enjoy the trip? Or was it simply that I played these tracks on a particularly sullen, overcast Tuesday after a warm public holiday where nothing in my life seemed to make much sense anymore as I trudged to and from work?

Maybe that’s oversharing on my part, but such is the effect of the beguiling detail available to the listener on Mountains And Plains. Pieces like the stillness of ‘Great River Road’s upright piano motifs, sensitively-deployed modular synths and found sounds prompt you to consider your tiny place in the world; ‘Griffith Park’ moves forward on a particularly absorbing, ever-changing synth pattern, a perfect allegory to the unsleeping vibrancy and disposable creative hustle of the Los Angeles that the park overlooks; ‘Badlands Train’ has a quiet grandeur, water-like synth sprinkles evoking the incessant slow-motion dance of the derricks as they suck oil from below the Texas bedrock.

It shouldn’t comes as the remotest surprise, when you consider Gabriel’s CV, that this album is a highly accomplished body of work. It is more than just a producer’s pet vanity project and opportunity to deploy a mouth-watering array of kit; it is a highly personal, evocative, thought-provoking, affecting and arresting endeavour that seems to transcend just about every single expectation you might have about what it could sound like.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

K Á R Y Y N – The Quanta Series (Mute album, 2019)

The music of K Á R Y Y N first appeared on my radar two years ago when she’d just released a new track, ‘Yajna’, in what she was already calling her Quanta series.

That track, a fragile, sparse piece that tapped into a pulsing, shifting minimal techno-inflected sound world, showcased two things for me – a mastery of the diffuse potential of using electronics in a way that nodded to the framework and stricture of contemporary pop while deploying a edge that could keep po-faced art fanatics happy; but, perhaps more importantly, ‘Yajna’ showcased a compelling, mesmerising voice that you couldn’t help but be moved by. I wrote a glowing Introducing… piece for Electronic Sound and looked forward to hearing more music in the Quanta series. That she decided to sign to Mute and compile the whole series into one album for them was frankly just a bonus for me.

K Á R Y Y N was born in Alabama, spent her childhood summers with relatives in Syria and wound up living in Los Angeles. Not for nothing was one instalment of the Quanta series called ‘Aleppo’, written in the wake of the death of two relatives in a city that has become synonymous with the humanitarian and cultural devastation of the Syrian civil war. The track blended glitches, stop-start rhythms and carefully-crafted detail alongside K Á R Y Y N’s heavily processed voice, resulting in a deceptive four minute slice of artisan sound design.

The Quanta series draws tracks together recorded after K Á R Y Y N had left LA and didn’t settle anywhere for long, beginning with 2011’s ‘Today I Read Your Life Story 11:11’. The fact that the pieces were written over a seven year period means that listening to the entire series as a single album is like watching the gestation of K Á R Y Y N’s creative sensibilities in slow motion. A pivotal point came in 2016 with the music she composed for Samantha Shay’s Of Light, her score attracting the patronage of Marina Abramovic and Björk.

Taken as a whole, this can, at times, be a troubling , difficult listen. The first pieces she wrote, placed at the end of the album, are heartwrenchingly raw, with no attempt to mask or shield you from the reclusive, mournful state in which K Á R Y Y N wrote them. In contrast, there are moments of towering beauty, moments of sensitivity, moments of contemplation and, in the frantic rhythms and lush synth pads of ‘Ever’, a yearning, romantic, delicate spirit. On the strength of that track, K Á R Y Y N could easily pivot into the sort of pure, intelligent pop proffered by the likes of Lucy Mason, but I get the sense that this restless soul would never concede to being so easily pigeonholed, and may she be justifiably celebrated for that.

The Quanta Series by K Á R Y Y N is released by Mute on March 29 2019.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence