FITTED – First Fits

FITTED is a spontaneously-established quartet of Graham Lewis and Matthew Simms from the current Wire line-up, Minutemen’s Mike Watt and Bob Lee from Fearless Leader. The group came together during the LA date at The Echo on Wire’s DRILL 2017 festival tour, rehearsed just once and then took to the stage for a blistering performance loosely based on Dome’s ‘Jasz’, which, after several iterations in the studio, emerges on the group’s debut album as the biographical ‘The Legend Of Lydmar Lucia’.

That track acts as a logical centrepoint to a collection of six tracks that operate on a unique pathway between spacey, acid-fried grooves, the upstart urgency of punk and art-rock. ‘The Legend Of Lydmar Lucia’ finds Lewis intoning a diaristic spoken-word recollection of a particularly vivid art happening at Santa Lucia’s Lydmar Gallery, his delivery carrying the kind of oblique, unfathomable wordplay that is highly familiar from his occasional lead vocals with Wire. The unfamiliar aspect of this track is the swirling, turgid, many-layered bed of sound upon which his vocal rests; murky, impenetrable, thrilling and restless, the sonic stew created by the four musician’s is a breathtakingly complex listen, and a perfect foil for Lewis’s intonation.

Something similar happens on the ultimately incendiary and boisterous opening track, ‘Plug In The Jug’, with lead vocals from Mike Watt. ‘Plug In The Jug’ starts out in tentative, atmospheric territory, sound washing in and out but building, building, building toward something initially unclear but finally coalescing into a groove somewhere between The Doors at their most focussed and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley at his Krautrocking, cyclical drumming best.

Elsewhere, ‘The Chunk That Got Chewed’ is a sprawling, beautiful mess of a track with Watt sounding a lot like Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, while closing track ‘The First Fit’ is a mesmerisingly deep piece led by an especially emotional Lewis augmented by wandering, languid jazz rock fluidity buried under treacly reverb.

It’s not clear yet whether FITTED is a one-off project or the start of something that the group will return to whenever schedules allow. What’s immediately clear from the symbiosis of these four talented minds on the six tracks here is that their capacity to produce interesting, engaging, surprising music is probably limitless.

First Fits by FITTED is released November 8 2019 by ORG Music.

Catref: ORGM-2147
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Joséphine Michel & Mika Vainio – The Heat Equation

An equation requires both sides of an expression, no matter how complex the operations, to be precisely matched. It is what gives mathematics, and by extension, science, its essential logicality and precision. It is the quintessence of balance and predictability, allowing clarity and certainty even in the most chaotic and unpredictable of scenarios.

On face value, it might be hard to see what it is about French photographer Joséphine Michel’s subdued imagery and the sounds of the sorely-missed Icelandic avant garde electronic musician Mika Vainio that gives The Heat Equation that necessary sense of balance. The pair were collaborators (Halfway To White, 2015) and had discussed another symbiotic project in 2017 just prior to Vainio’s untimely death. The Heat Equation is not necessarily that project, but it could have been, taking the form of a book and accompanying CD and featuring an essay on music by Jeremy Millar.

Michel’s earnest photography, presented in harsh monochrome hues, concerns itself principally with nature and science. We see images of birds flying above a shore so dark that it looks like the interior seams of a coal mine, plaintive shots of solitary figures against the backdrop of harsh, barren terrain, and other, less easy to determine things: the amorphous aftereffects of moving lights, looking for all the world like live cultures writhing under a microscope. These photographs exist without explanation, with no narrative, no timeline, just the barest of footnotes from their curator. In a world where we are obsessed with geotagging out every move and using locational data as a means of expressing our passage through life (the inference being that if you didn’t put it on Instagram, it didn’t happen), such absence is initially hard to understand, before taking on a comforting ambiguity.

Vainio’s absence is, perhaps, harder to make sense of. Since his formative years with Panasonic / Pan Sonic, Vainio had operated at the vanguard of a form of electronic music that relied on subtle impulse and an almost heavy metal approach to sound design. Arriving at a time when the syncopated rhythms of dance music had been dissected and shattered into a sound field of seemingly randomised pulses, glitches and white noise, Pan Sonic dealt in a coldness that was less about their Finnish roots and more about the starkness of their electronic noise.

The hour-long CD hidden in The Heat Equation’s luxuriant art book exterior is audio evidence of Vainio’s performance at Ramsgate’s Contra Pop Festival in August 2016. In part, the music is resolutely familiar as a Vainio suite in its palette of sources – the glitches, the nagging bass drones, the snatches of found sound and muted overheard voices. These vignettes were intended for Vainio’s next release for the venerable Touch label, but were stalled and considered entirely lost following his death in April 2017. Whether they were completed pieces or simply a document of Vainio working on new ideas is, like Michel’s photographs, devoid of specific explanation.

What emerges, strangely, is a not a coldness per se, nor a warmth – after all, it would be hard to ever conceive of Mika Vainio ever producing music that gave you a fuzzy feeling of contentment and security. Sure, there are moments where the only melodic input comes from carefully-controlled white noise, existing in a no man’s land of jarring distortion and grainy texture and beats that are merely beats because they provide a vague sense of forward momentum and order, but there are also moments of ambience and a less frantic approach to his essential glitchiness. Many of the pieces progress on a strangely delicate path, one segment thirty-six minutes in sounding like a haunting take on The Nutcracker wherein familiar melodic gestures are fractalized into razor sharp splinters.

It would be easy to regard The Heat Equation as an epitaph, a eulogy or a full stop. Instead it acts as a multi-disciplinary project that resides in an artistic hinterland where music and imagery both complement and rally against one another. The essential ingredient of an equation is the equals sign that balances either side; in the case of The Heat Equation, that sign is a haunting postcard of Vainio shot by Michel, the only true collaborative moment in a project created across the distance of life and absent friends.

The Heat Equation by Joséphine Michel and Mika Vainio is released November 1 2019 by Touch.

Catref: codex2
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Piney Gir – You Are Here

The choice of a title for a record can materially influence how you expect it to sound. In the case of the new LP from Piney Gir, the working title was It’s Been A Shit Year For Everyone. Had she stuck with that, the ten pop songs here would have sounded brooding and sullen, sloping their way through the album with a world-weary miserablism and mopey outlook. Fortunately, Piney pivoted and opted for the much more ambiguous You Are Here, its cover finding her draped in white, against a white background, holding a white guitar: it seems to say, ‘Yep, you’re here, it ain’t great but you can at least make something good out of it – if you want to.’

The album was trailed by the fine single ‘Great Pretender’, carrying a dreamy, vaguely surreal popness thanks to its inspiration coming from a weird party at Rick Rubin’s Hollywood pad. A similarly wonky obliqueness can be heard across You Are Here, it’s songs being easy on the ear but hard on the mind if you listen closely enough. Here we find Piney playing with styles ranging from the gentle balladry of ‘Variety Show’ (a duet with Sweet Baboo) to the spiky tenderness of ‘Puppy Love’, via the Fifties slow motion rock ‘n’ roll embrace of the standout ‘Peanut Butter Malt Shop Heartthrob’ – replete with finger clicks and saxophone beamed in from Vince Fontaine’s National Bandstand in Grease – and concluding with the impassioned, gauzy exotica of final track ‘Evensong’.

Piney’s voice has always had the capacity to have a cutesy sweetness, a bubblegum charm, which is why it’s hard to find her chewing over themes of missing out and being unlucky in love on the buzzing ‘Careaway’ or the careworn, embittered ‘Admiral Fleets’ that opens the record. The alien, unresolved tonalities of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and the languid, louche detachment of vintage Roxy Music provide the textural fabric of these pieces, lacing many of the songs here with an uncertainty that makes them less pop than they first seem.

The album’s most towering moment arrives in the ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’. Here we find Piney taking a wistful, regretful look back through a tragic love story, its diaristic lyrics offering an insight into a relationship that suggests its individuals were doomed from the very start, the memory of Paris the only bright spot in an ill-suited pairing full of opposite viewpoints and never quite arriving at the same point on a map.

We have become accustomed to Piney Gir’s restless stylistic eclecticism, and You Are Here clings to that ‘anything goes’ ethos faithfully. Amid the album’s rich, broadminded musical accompaniment it is Piney’s plaintive, delicate, fragile voice that steals the show, drawing you in time after time and once again highlighting her idiosyncratic, honed form of evocative and often heart-wrenching storytelling.

You Are Here by Piney Gir is released November 1 2019 by STRS Records

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Minimal Compact – Creation Is Perfect

Not exactly a Best Of Minimal Compact album in the truest sense of the word, Creation Is Perfect contains seven tracks from the catalogue of this enduring post-punk quintet, each one updated and re-recorded with shiny new production nous from Wire’s Colin Newman.

Between their formation in in Amsterdam in 1980 and their cessation of activities in 1988, Minimal Compact released five albums and a live document, their approach to what issued forth from punk’s messy entrails being highly individualist, fusing the solid rhythm section of bassist / vocalist Malka Spigel and drummer Max Franken with Middle Eastern melodies and the purring vocal of Samy Birnbach. Augmented by Berry Sakharof and Rami Fortis’s guitars and electronics, Minimal Compact was a stylistic force to be reckoned with, even among an era that produced far more important groups than punk ever could.

Colin Newman is no stranger to Minimal Compact. He produced their 1985 commercially successful album Raging Souls, which yielded two of the songs included here, the emphatic and insistent title track of their third album and the hypnotic and wistful ‘My Will’. He’s also toured as a jobbing member of the group, and his marriage to Malka Spigel has also yielded many collaborations between two like-minded creatives, including the recently-reactived Immersion and the group Githead, which also included Max Franken on drums.

The genesis behind Creation Is Perfect is not dissimilar to the thought process behind Wire’s IBTABA, namely that their recorded output lacked the same sort of visceral impact as their live shows. Less about updating the back catalogue pieces for today’s ear, this album is about capturing that live energy, beginning with the urgent, gleeful and spiky punk-funk of ‘Statik Dancing’ and carrying on through other stellar moments like the chiming guitars and menacing motorik foundations of ‘Nada’. The result is an evenness, a precisely-executed delivery encased within rich, layered studio smoothness but also a certain rawness as the five musicians collide and overlap along paths which are uniquely their own.

The collection concludes with a new track,’Holy Roller’. Beginning with fairground melodies, the track characteristically progresses along a grubby, low-slung bassline offset by layers of whining synths, shimmering melodies and an emphatic, detached vocal. Slow-building and dramatic, the track is the summation of everything that Minimal Compact ever set out to achieve, its skeletal, rattling guitar interplay sounding as beautifully nihilistic as it did at the start of the 1980s.

Creation Is Perfect by Minimal Compact is released October 25 2019 by Minimal Compact.

Catref: mc01
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Swans – Leaving Meaning

How to interpret the title of the new Swans album? Is Michael Gira – the only consistent member of the group he founded with unassailable, blistering New York No Wave urgency in 1982 – asking what the meaning of the word ‘leaving is’, in the manner of a child unwitting asking aimless questions that take on a metaphysical hue? Or is he concerned with the idea of somehow leaving a legacy? One can spend too long trying, pointlessly, trying to decode such things, but if Gira is any way concerned that Swans won’t somehow leave an enduring impression after all this time, the bold grandeur of this LP should ensure that he needn’t worry again.

We throw away adjectives in this reviewing game with careless abandon, but Leaving Meaning is unquestionably stunning and justifies the following gushing praise, and more. It is redemptive; searching; uncertain yet confident; ruminates on mortality yet is unquestionably alive; both humbled and humbling; vast yet sparse; personal yet universal; occluded throughout yet as clear as crystal; quiet yet impossibly, irrepressibly, almost violently loud. It is everything that Swans have ever proposed to be and everything Gira has ever striven toward; faithful yet original. And so on.

Perhaps the only predictable thing about Swans is Gira’s insistence on changing the band’s line-up whenever he feels like it. Leaving Meaning is the first record he’s made after dissolving the group that was Swans from 2010 to 2017 – a comparative period of stability for the band. The new line up features old friends from former iterations of Swans, as well as members of Angels Of Light, the group Gira formed when he put Swans on ice between 1999 and 2010. Gira suggests that Swans will now just consist of a “revolving cast of musicians, selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented.” The cast this time includes Nick Cave’s keyboard player Larry Mullins, Mick Harvey bassist Yoyo Röhm, Mute labelmate Ben Frost on synths and guitars, Swans / Angels Of Light confidante and guitarist Kristof Hahn, all three members of New Zealand’s The Necks, both members of A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Baby Dee, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff and a supporting cast that would frankly make this sentence even more obscenely long than it already is. (An accompany press photo suggests a team of 32 contributors, with Mute founder Daniel Miller occupying the lower left corner.)

The musicians and vocalists assembled for Leaving Meaning are predominantly European, with many of them living in Berlin. Consequently it’s hard not to liken this record to those pivotal albums that emerged in the early 1980s as Nick Cave and a bunch of other Aussie waifs and strays found themselves in the Kreuzberg district, fusing together punk, noise and musicianship in a way that was entirely visionary.

This is a long album, filled with several songs that effortlessly break the ten-minute mark without ever losing interest. Some of these songs are genuinely, forcibly arresting – the rest are simply brilliant. ‘The Hanging Man’ issues forth on a low-slung, unflinching groove laced with menace and vivid, uncomfortable imagery, while ‘Amnesia’ carries a strange tranquility delivered with an uncompromising, unfiltered verbal panache reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed at their most visceral. The title track is tranquil yet disturbing, reflecting on slipping away, its sparse, languid tonalities and gauzy fuzz akin to listening to The Doors’ ‘This Is The End’ while under the influence of heavy antidepressants. ‘The Nub’ – led by and written specifically for Baby Dee – is bewitching, theatrical and ominous as fuck, the line ‘I’m leaving by distortion’ presaging a coda of intense, heavy drone and rattling guitar and violin dissonance that the moody, haunting serenity of the the first eight or so minutes could never have anticipated.

The evocative ‘Sunfucker’ is a sort of ravaged punk blues centrepiece, like ‘Louie Louie’ recast as a pentagram for summoning all the devils of this world (and others) to cause utter, irreversible havoc. Honed yet frazzled, Gira’s voice here contains a control and even-handed resoluteness, even when the words seem turn to gibberish in his mouth.

Catref: stumm446
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

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

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