Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 3. LNZNDRF ‘LNZNDRF’

lnzndrf

“In thrall to the methods of Can, if not their actual sound.” – Electronic Sound

I heralded the trio of Scott and Bryan Devendorf (from The National) and Bryan Lanz (from Beirut) as my new favourite band upon the release of their self-titled album for 4AD earlier this year. It would the first of three such occasions where I made that claim.

This was a frighteningly inventive LP, formed out of the same sort of long-form improvised jams that Can used nearly fifty years before in the creation of their seminal early records, only then treated and manipulated to take on a relatively ‘composed’ form. The output was a sort of Krautrock / electronic hybrid whose details reveal themselves over repeated listens.

I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound and interviewed Scott Devendorf for Clash. Back issues of Electronic Sound are available at http://www.electronicsound.co.uk while my interview can be read here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: The Departed Ones

We lost some incredible musical luminaries in 2016, chief among which were David Bowie back in January and Leonard Cohen in November. Both artists released powerfully creative albums this year, underlining talents that seemed to have been snuffed out far too early, yet both records seemed to contain clues – in coded form (Bowie’s Black Star) and more obvious form (Cohen’s You Want It Darker) – that death was just around the corner.

I wrote a piece for Clash about David Bowie that was published just two days before he was announced to have passed away. It was written from the point of view of someone who was enjoying a new phase of life whereas in fact it was already over. For Cohen, moved though I was to write the piece below, I never placed it anywhere.

youwantitdarker

In was in Toronto when the news broke that Leonard Cohen had passed away. My first reaction, upon reading the news was somewhere between surprise, anger and sadness.
It was a little like the passing of a distant relative – someone who had always been there in the background, who you’d spent some time with but not enough, and who you just figured would always be there.

The front cover of Friday’s Globe & Mail was turned over to Montréal’s renegade troubadour, and it felt like the whole of Canada was undergoing a day of national mourning. Flags were flying at half-mast and there was a general feeling of glumness about the place; this was, of course, little more than optics and coincidence, since Friday was the 11th November and Canada was set for its annual remembrance of those who had lost their lives in the two World Wars of the twentieth century, but it felt like it could have been – should have been – all for Cohen’s benefit.

I never thought I’d get into Leonard Cohen. Growing up, immersing yourself in music magazines, you alighted upon Cohen’s legacy and legendary status, but he just didn’t seem like an artist I’d ever fully understand or whose music I’d ever be able to appreciate. This was mere narrow mindedness on my part, but such is the opinionated arrogance of youth.

Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ was covered by Nick Cave on his debut album in 1984, but it was never my favourite track on that LP and, besides, at that point (I bought that album in around 1997) it was hard enough for me just to have made the switch the Mute electronic acts to Cave, let alone try to wrap my head around the music of Leonard Cohen as well.

It would take the purchase of Rufus Wainwright’s Want almost a decade later to fully start my appreciation. Wainwright, also coincidentally Canadian, covered Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ at a tribute concert assembled by Hal Wilner, at which Nick Cave also performed. Wainwright’s live version of the song was included on the second part of his Want opus, and completely floored me when I first heard it. It helped that it was about New York, which will always get my attention, but it was the nakedness, the bluntness if you will, of Cohen’s lyrics that truly grabbed me. The Songs Of Leonard Cohen quickly came into my possession, and I’ve been collecting sporadically ever since.

Maybe I still haven’t completely ‘got’ him, but I’ve gotten a lot closer. What you start to appreciate as you spend quality time in the company of his music is that the stereotype of Cohen as this abject, depressed miseryguts is woefully misplaced. Upon announcing his passing, Cohen’s son drew attention to his father’s incredible sense of humour. It’s the only way to explain the song ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On’ and some of the verses in ‘Hallelujah’ (a song that is both spiritual and utterly out-there, something lost on the multitude of pop acts that have covered it). Sure, it’s dark humour, but it’s humour nonetheless.

There’s also this theory that Cohen was just a hapless, thwarted romantic, but that’s also incorrect. A lot of Cohen’s lyrics were unashamedly, nay eyewateringly, frank and open about sex, so one could assume he wasn’t as unlucky as his wistful balladeering would have you believe. Let’s hope the smooth-talking, gravel-voiced, romantic is having the same fun he had in his corporeal existence up there in the heavens.

The untimely death of a perpetual ladies man.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing (Little Idiot album, 2016)

moby_thesesystemsarefailing

I reviewed the new Moby album for Clash. As any longstanding readers of this blog will be aware, I have something of a troubled relationship with Moby’s music, mostly driven by the fact that I got into him upon the release of ‘Move’ and haven’t always agreed with his stylistic shifts. And so, somewhat negatively I admit, I really wanted to dislike These Systems Are Failing, I really did.

It turns out that it’s really, really good.

My review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

onDeadWaves – Dusk Sessions #1 (Mute single, 2016)


The debut album from onDeadWavesPolly Scattergood and James Chapman / Maps – has been one of the major highlights of this year, a very special record that is definitely more than the sum of its parts – a major compliment since those ‘parts’ represent two very accomplished musicians in their own right, presiding over back catalogues full of towering emotional moments.

For Dusk Sessions #1, onDeadWaves offer up a new version of ‘California’, one of the few truly upbeat songs (albeit one about death) on the album. Here, everything is reduced to a whisper, giving the track an intimate edge that feels like little more than wind rustling through fallen leaves, or a quiet nighttime acoustic beach singalong for depressed Millennials.

The track is backed by an equally fragile cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, whose ethereality makes the version of ‘California’ seem weighty in comparison. Here the pair give a curious optimistic edge to a song that is essentially about having no emotional or capacity for feeling at all.

Dusk Sessions #1 is available on iTunes.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sun Ra – Brother From Another Planet (dir. Don Letts, BBC film, 2005)

Brother From Another Planet is a 2005 film by Don Letts about the inimitable Sun Ra, telling the story of the pianist and band leader as he migrated from a traditional brand of jazz to something altogether other.

Through contributions from fans like MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore, Ra biographer John F. Szwed, poet Amiri Baraka and sundry Arkestra members, Letts’s sympathetic documentary highlights Ra’s distinctive spirituality and his ruthless work ethic, as well as a pioneering approach to composition that found him an early experimenter with synths and electronics. 

Central Arkestra member and his devoted successor Marshall Allen recounts how intense rehearsals with Ra were, often lasting over 24 hours, with the band playing while walking from their communal living / rehearsal space right down the street to whichever venue they were playing that evening. Drugs were eschewed in favour of workmanlike discipline, even though, to look at the band dressed in glittery, space-meets-Egyptian garb, you’d think the band were off their faces the whole time.

Ra comes across as a sincere and avuncular perfectionist, using astral spirituality as a means of channelling the energy of his particular big band toward an enlightenment that it still might be impossible to fathom today. “People have no music that is in co-ordination with their spirits,” says Ra during the film. “Because of this, they’re out of tune with the universe.”

Thurston Moore, a massive Sun Ra fan and collector, describes Ra’s level of independence and massive body of self-released recordings as the original “music from the bedroom”; a pioneer of the independent spirit that would influence everything from punk to electronic musicians bashing out tracks from next to their beds.

Through archive footage, interviews, live footage and extracts from Ra’s Space Is The Place film, Letts paints a compelling portrait of this incredible, misunderstood visionary, the likes of which we will more than likely never see again.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – It’s A Bit Complicated (EMI / Mute album, 2007)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | lp/cd/dl | 25/06/2007

Art Brut‘s It’s A Bit Complicated was released and marketed by Mute as part of EMI / Labels. Consisting of Eddie Argos (vocals), Ian Catskilkin (guitar), Freddy Feedback (bass), Mikey Breyer (drums), and Jasper Future (guitar), Art Brut were a band unafraid to take musical cues from disparate parts of the rock music spectrum – metal, punk, ska, emotional power rock, you name it.

Their musical magpie tendencies were fronted by the truly original Argos, whose spoken vocals are both as punk as you can imagine while also having an unerring capacity for amusing couplets, wry observation and the sort of poetic musings that rarely find their way onto records, such as using late-running trains as an excuse for sleeping in; the closing track, ‘Jealous Guy’ – not the John Lennon song, just an opportunity to rob a good song title – finds an angsty, desperate Argos trying to wake up his girlfriend because he’s concerned that they don’t have sex any longer, getting manic and jealous that the same pattern didn’t emerge when she was with her ex. I can’t think of another band and vocalist capable of such dry, detached musing.

Elsewhere, there are preoccupations with pop music on the single ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Sound Of Summer’. The latter has a relaxed, laidback sound with a chorus that talks of making mixtapes, fetishising the act of pressing play and record, a process that pretty soon no-one will remember; in less optimistic fashion, there’s also negative talk about how all pop songs are about a boy meeting a girl but that the narrator’s life didn’t turn out that way. There’s also a small nod toward false optimism with a belief that taking the tabs out of a cassette will stop it getting recorded over. ‘Sound Of Summer’ links neatly to the single ‘Nag Nag Nag Nag’ which immediately follows, a song which is much less positive about reducing a record collection down to mere mixtapes; meanwhile, the Fratellis-esque ‘I Will Survive’ (another cheekily borrowed title) includes a line about selling a record collection just to pay for a party. Further cynicism comes through on ‘People In Love’ which finds Argos getting down on the whole love thing and its futility. ‘People in love lie around and get fat,’ he says in the song’s opening moments. Musically, ‘People In Love’ has nice Sixties references mixed in with dirty guitar. ‘Late Sunday Evening’ has a tidy Dexy’s ska-punk vibe – complete with brass from The Kick Horns (familiar from their contribution to Mute albums including Erasure‘s The Innocents) with ‘Love Cats’-esque jazziness. It makes for a refreshing, truly euphoric sound.

Two clear highlights emerge in the form of ‘St. Pauli’ and ‘Post Soothing Out’. The former features heavy, prominent bass from Freddy Feedback and Franz Ferdinand-style preposterous guitar riffs mixed in with raw, unbridled energy. ‘Sorry if my accent’s flawed / I learned my German from a 7″ record‘ is one of the best lines ever committed to a song, delivered in response to the chorus about punk music which is sung in faltering German. Like some of Graham Lewis‘s best lyrics, ‘St. Pauli’ jumps from one theme to another, here being a mix of talk about family, talk about love, and then the chorus about punk. ‘The kids don’t like it / What else can we do when the kids don’t like it?‘ ponders Eddie Argos with a shrug, all delivered over snarling effervescence. ‘Post Soothing Out’ possesses some truly fantastic riffs, as well as a few handclaps, and a mood that sits somewhere between joyfulness and breakup-inspired negativity.

It’s A Bit Complicated was produced by the band with Dan Swift, who had previously worked with The Futureheads, Snow Patrol and many others. The album would prove to be their only release for EMI / Labels / Mute, which may or may not have been something to do with EMI releasing the album’s third single, ‘Pump Up The Volume’, without any discussion with the band.

Originally published 2012; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Perplexer – Acid Folk (DEF single, 1994)

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def | 12″/l12″/cd eef100 | 1994

A while ago a friend told me that every London map designer includes a fake road somewhere in their maps, the purpose being that it allows them to tell if anyone has copied their version illegally. One can only imagine how much of a wild goose chase you’d find yourself on if you actually tried to find that road or asked a cabbie to take you there.

I found myself thinking about that when a copy of Perplexer‘s ‘Acid Folk’ arrived through my letterbox in 2011. ‘Acid Folk’ is listed in my copy of Mute‘s Statement 2 2001 catalogue, but nothing about the CD tells you it’s a Mute release at all. No mention on the label, it doesn’t appear to be licenced, and the address for the record label is a completely different part of London from where Mute were based at the time. So I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just the version I bought, or maybe it was issued by Mute on behalf of the label (Deutsch-Englische-Fruendschaft, or DEF) without wishing to draw any attention to the Mute connection. Not much is known generally about DEF, but as they seemed principally to have been a home to Eskimos & Egypt prior to them releasing stuff on other labels, perhaps it was their own label; I’m pretty sure it was in no way connected to the management company, also known as DEF, that Moby was part of for most of his career.

But enough of the mystery. Perplexer’s public face was ‘enacted’ by Marc Olbertz. ‘Acid Folk’ was written and produced by Alexander Breuer, Andreas Schneider and Ramon Zengler; Zengler is most familiar to me as one half of the seminal Hardfloor, whose ‘Acperience’ EP was responsible for stimulating acid house’s second, enduring renaissance on dancefloors. Unsurprisingly, then, that ‘Acid Folk’ should have a lovely set of 303s running through it. However, it plays second fiddle to the bagpipe drone that dominates the track; that’s right, acid house meets traditional Scottish folk music. Just when it seemed that every possible novelty permutation of dance music had been exploited, along comes a track which mixes the sort of happy hardcore beats that used to get skinhead Dutch ravers very excited, bagpipes and acid house grooves. I used to think that you could add a 303 to anything and it would make it sound superb (see acid head Ege Bam Yasi’s How To Acid An Egg for evidence of that); that’s evidently not the case with bagpipes, or at least it doesn’t feel that way to me. I’ll be relatively upfront and say that I don’t really like ‘Acid Folk’.

The vocal mix is too fast for my liking, plus – despite some Scottish roots – I don’t really like the sound of the bagpipes anyway, so it’s sort of difficult to listen to; the Low-Speed mix is slightly slower and I would really love this mix were it not for the bagpipes, since it would just be a constant acid rush. I’m also not a fan of hardcore DJ Ellis Dee’s breakbeat-and-drone version although the rave stabs and 1992 ‘ardcore vibes are quite good.

The House mix starts with some nice sounds, a deep house beat / bassline and processes the bagpipe riff into the equivalent of the euphoric clipped sax samples that used to be a favourite of house producers back in the day. It’s my favourite mix overall, mostly because the bagpipes are treated and not too irritating; I was never a huge house fan back in the day and yet I really like this. The Pro-Gress mix is a bit all over the place for my liking, blending some ear-friendly aesthetics with some deeper sounds to create a hybrid that would probably appeal to fans of trance. Once again it’s the bagpipe drone that stops this from being better than it should be. I do find it quite strange – in 1994 remixers usually went out of their way to dispense with most of the original elements of a track yet here all the mixers keep the bagpipes in. There are other mixes available on the 12″ and limited remix 12″; I’m not that much of a Mute completist to bother with those for this release.

Perhaps I’m starting to understand why Mute didn’t properly affix their name to this after all…

My version of the CD single is now up for sale on Discogs.com under the username nominalmusics. If you’re desperate to own it, head here.

12″:
A1. Acid Folk (Low Speed Mix)
A2. Acid Folk (House Remix)
B1. Acid Folk (Vocal Mix)
B2. Acid Folk (DJ Tom & Norman Remix)

remix 12″:
A1. Acid Folk (Ellis D. Remix Edit 2)
A2. Acid Folk (Cream & Candy Remix)
B1. Acid Folk (Exit EEE Remix)
B2. Acid Folk (Pro-Gress Remix)

cd:
1. Acid Folk (Vocal Mix)
2. Acid Folk (Low Speed Mix)
3. Acid Folk (Ellis D. Remix Edit 2)
4. Acid Folk (House Remix)
5. Acid Folk (Pro-Gress Remix)

First posted 2011; edited 2016

(c) 206 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence