Bruce Gilbert – Monad (Touch single, 2011)

brucegilbert_monad

I was really looking forward to this release, I have to say. There is something about deeply experimental music being released on a 7” single that for some reason really appeals. I think it’s because the 7″ is so ordinarily suited to the ‘pop’ track that to hear anything other than pop music on a 7″ is quite exciting. Touch‘s Sevens series has included short releases by the likes of ex-Cabaret Voltaire sound recordist Chris Watson and Pan Sonic‘s sorely missed Mika Vainio. Bruce Gilbert‘s association with the label goes back many years, with albums like The Haring getting released on Touch (it was subsequently re-released by WMO). More recently the ex-Wire guitarist – as part of the group Souls On Board – took the B-side of a live split album with Savage Pencil, released on Touch sub-label Ash International. Monad is housed in a sleeve designed by Jon Wozencroft (as are most Touch releases) and lists out the instruments and tools Gilbert used boldly on the front (Korg Monotron Analogue Ribbon synth, Zoom RFX-200, Korg Kaos Pad 2, Apple GarageBand); there’s also a diagram by Gilbert himself on the back.

I looked up the definition of the word ‘monad’ and its meanings vary from being a small, single-celled organism, to – according to Leibniz’s metaphysics no less – an indestructible entity that is the ultimate fabric of the universe. This confusing word has little bearing on the two tracks included on the single, unless they refer to the songs as being solid and reasonably impenetrable soundscapes or their short duration (at 45rpm both are around two-and-a-half minutes long apiece).

‘Ingress’ is a dense drone whose layers are not immediately obvious unless you really concentrate; if you listen deeply you will pick out the various shifts in sound across the piece’s length, the changes in tone and the rich tug of the bass drone. The best way to describe ‘Ingress’ would be as an approximation of what loading tapes into a ZX Spectrum used to sound like, only this is more measured, more deliberate and more ostensibly ‘composed’ than that noise.

Over on the B-side, ‘Re-Exit’ is less constant, consisting of a throbbing, echoing bass loop offset by buzzing noises and a phasing, quiet drone out in the background. The bass loop provides a rhythm of sorts, but in essence its more of a thick pulse. It’s a style that Gilbert has deployed a number of times, both in his solo work and also with Graham Lewis as Dome. In it’s own, pretty sinister way, it’s beautiful.

First posted 2011; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Advertisements

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (Mute album, 1997)

nctbs_boatmans

I was tempted to write this review with just one word. That word is ‘beautiful’. Written by Nick Cave at exactly the same time as Murder Ballads, these songs were written with simplicity in mind, and as such the majority of these superior compositions feature a stripped back Bad Seeds, and a heavy dose of piano. The contrast with Murder Ballads could not be greater, taking a deeply intimate, romantic and often spiritual tone. No one dies here, one may be relieved to know.

But maybe a little part of Nick Cave died in order to make a collection of songs; that part of him would be the preacher, the aggressor, the dervish spirit howling and caterwauling over a maelstrom of sensational music. It genuinely isn’t a criticism – I happen to think that this is among Cave’s finest work. Everything about The Boatman’s Call is black and white – the Johnny Cash-esque Anton Cobijn photo of a particularly harrowed Nick Cave on the front cover, through the predominance of the piano keys across the LP, through to the downright clarity of Cave’s songwriting. What’s most clear about The Boatman’s Call is the often obvious theme of these songs, for this is Nick Cave’s most directly personal collection of songs, from the post-PJ Harvey reflectiveness of the quirky folk leanings of ‘West Country Girl’ and ‘Black Hair’, through to his ruminations on his failed marriage on ‘People Just Ain’t No Good’ or ‘Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere’.

However, aside from a fair amount of openness from our tortured songsmith, The Boatman’s Call also features two generally beautiful love songs – ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ and ‘Brompton Oratory’. Like much of the album, these have a musical accompaniment from The Bad Seeds that is directly informed by subtle jazz but the latter also features a perfectly twee Casio rhythm that sounds like it survived from Cave’s original demo. The latter describes a trip made by Cave to Kensington’s famous, and imposing, landmark, and finds Cave wishing he were one of the stone apostles therein, just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with his muse’s intense beauty. It perfectly captures the intensity of romance’s first flourishes, that feeling of not being able to cope anymore. ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ is just mystical and beautiful, its waterside setting making me think of Murder Ballads‘ ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, with all the same romantic longings, just none of the death; an alternative ending, perhaps?

The album features the full Bad Seeds line-up (Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, the late Conway Savage, Martyn P. Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis), albeit in controlled doses, and benefits from an unusually restrained production job from Flood, who also produced the oft-slated U2 album Pop the same year. The style of production is subtle and delicate, and Cave’s vocal is dominant in the mix, casting a personal, intimate shadow over proceedings. It feels like a one-to-one connection between the narrator and sympathetic listener. Warren Ellis’ violin is also an important element here, receiving greater space in the mix than it had been given previously, bestowing the gypsy folk of ‘West Country Girl’ with a rabidly maudlin edge. His work on ‘Idiot Prayer’, perhaps the track closest to a classic Bad Seeds ballad sees his violin overtaking Blix’s fuzzy guitar as lead instrument, a sign of the sea change that was to come.

I have my own, highly personal reasons, for counting this among my favourite albums of all time. Suffice it to say, many years on, it’s the more miserable tracks here – like ‘Far From Me’ – that I find myself reflecting on when I think of that period in my life. ‘Can’t you find somebody else / That you can ring and tell?’, Cave sings on that penultimate, delicately poignant song. Wise words that I wish my younger self had heeded.

First published 2004; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave – The Death Of Bunny Munro (Canongate book, 2009)

There are lots of questions that I ask myself while reading Nick Cave’s second novel.

The first is that I wonder what Cave’s wife must think of it. It is to her that this book is dedicated, and yet its lead character – the Bunny Munro of the title – is an adulterous, volatile and decidedly nasty piece of work; lewd, crude and morally corrupt, whose first marital indiscretion is to grope his sister-in-law on the very day that he brings his son home from the hospital. This sets in motion Munro’s wanton and unquenchable infidelity, all of which is only exacerbated by his wife’s early suicide. I think, if I wrote something like this, and even if I claimed it as art, I’d find myself taking up new residence at a family solicitor’s office, but maybe my wife is less tolerant than Cave’s.

The second is that I wonder what Nick Cave’s friend Kylie Minogue would think of this. Her ‘Spinning Around’, and the attendant gold hot pants from the song’s video, are recurrent objects of Munro’s attention throughout this book. Alongside friends and collaborators John Hillcoat and Warren Ellis, Cave offers thanks and apologies to Minogue – and Avril Lavigne, who is the subject of yet worse and morally reprehensible narrative – but it still feels a bit, well, icky. They clearly still get on, but even if the defence is that this is fiction, the voice of a character etc, it’s still written by one of her friends.

Finally, I wonder whether you could even write a book like this today. The world seems today spins on a different axis, one focussed ever more acutely on equality and where sexual abuse is no longer trivialised. Munro is not precisely misogynistic; I think he would argue that he simply loves women (a lot, frequently), and sex with women even more so, albeit even he recognises that it is like an addiction.

Nevertheless, he’s patently abusive toward his long-suffering and doomed, tolerant wife, Libby, and as the book progresses you begin to view Munro as less of a wild 2000s laddish and opportunistic Casanova and more of a dangerous sexual predator, underscoring your initial impression that Munro is a unlikeable, horrible character; the worst type of man, and the type of man that today’s society would not tolerate. Even the act of reading it left me feeling strangely complicit with anyone turning a blind eye to the whole #metoo thing, as if I was listening to a 1970s comedian ripping through a repertoire of racist and sexist ‘jokes’. And I’m not sure that passing this off as ‘art’ really washes its face on that basis.

Given the title, it’s no giveaway that Munro doesn’t make it through to the end of the book; he meets a particularly messy demise on the front end of a cement mixer, and then his lot worsens when up jumps the devil himself and decides to do unto Bunny what he has done to many women. Strangely, for all his terrible ways, you feel briefly sorry for the man; there is moment where he realises how bad he has been, how he tortured his wife, how he has been less than solid as a father to his son, and not a remotely good son to his equally despicable father. But that feeling is brief, fleeting, and in the end you’re just glad he met his maker, momentary pause for forgiveness and redemption aside.

Like Cave’s first novel And The Ass Saw The Angel – written during his drug-ravaged Berlin years – The Death Of Bunny Munro is a difficult read; And The Ass… required patience and undivided attention because of its deployment of a complicated Southern dialect, and I recall spending what felt like my entire early twenties wading through the book when I read it at university twenty odd years ago (I still haven’t re-read it). The Death Of Bunny Munro is different; shorter, but no less easy to read. In the place of tricky dialogue is the almost constant focus on sex, every page seeming to contain some sort of overt reference to coitus that never once feels sexy.

Perhaps Cave conceived this book as a statement of sorts. I don’t know. I haven’t bothered to look up any interviews he might have done around its publication, and I don’t particularly want to be forced to re-evaluate my repulsion for the sake of art. Nevertheless, for all its intensely nauseating detail, Cave remains a master of vivid prose, and the book is imbued with the same richness of language that his songs are. Amid the maelstrom of ugly detail, Cave somehow finds the space to draw out the powerful unconditional love Munro’s young, troubled and gifted son has for his father, even as he leaves him sat alone in a car in an unpleasant Sussex neighbourhood while his father tends to his despicable business.

Despite receiving this as a Christmas present from my parents in 2009 – I only hope they didn’t decide to read further than the frontispiece when they were writing their note to me in the front – I only just got around to reading this as part of an effort to get through many books, like this, that have sat unread on my shelves. Just like with And The Ass Saw The Angel, I won’t be rushing back to read it.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Residents – I Am A Resident (Cherry Red album, 2018)

I am not the best writer for this piece.

I know, conservatively, less than half a percent of The Residents’ songs, own a diminutive fraction of their 60-odd album releases and would struggle to identify some of their purportedly best-loved songs in a line-up, much as I – or indeed anyone – would struggle to identify an umasked Resident member in a line-up. Accordingly, given that I Am A Resident is almost entirely constructed from songs from The Residents’ extensive back catalogue, I hereby submit, once again, that I am not the best writer for this piece.

I am also the best writer for this piece for precisely the same reason.

I Am A Resident is both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. Its songs are constructed from cover versions of Residents songs, performed by a bunch of underground artists whose names read like they belong on Nurse With Wound’s infamous list, signifying just how prevalent the still semi-mythical San Francisco unit are as influences on what we might define as musical outsiderism. The tracks were then dissected, rebuilt, layered, and augmented with new sounds by The Residents themselves, thus creating something new out of other people making new stuff out of old stuff that you might or might not know. A Residents ‘best of’, both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. New, old, and new-old.

Got it? Good.

If you’re remotely interested in art history, think of this as sitting somewhere on the Warhol-Rauschenberg axis – Warholian because it involves enlisting the support of other people to make the art for you in your name, Rauschenbergian because it’s a collage of repurposed material that Bob would’ve approved of.

Bookended by two faux radio idents presented by DJ Denver Dolittle that sound like they belong on Welcome To Night Vale, the five long tracks here don’t feel like anything other than complete pieces, even though they are stitched together with a turntablist’s frenetic, magpie-like zeal. It’s messy, for sure, but done in a way that implies lots of painstaking studio polish. Like The Residents’ own material, what you get here are lots of musical ideas reflecting back their own relatively borderless and unconstrained approach to sound – wonky, crunchy electronica colliding with scratchy rock colliding with freaky jazz colliding with vaudevillian humour colliding with over-amped rawk colliding with a quintessentially Bay Area take on musique concrète. I’ve now listened to it countless times, and the material is no less familiar ten plays in than the first time I played it, and lots of new details seem to emerge with each and every play.

A special edition two-CD version came with 24 tracks of what is presumably the source material for the collage pieces. At some point when I have more time I’ll listen to each of those tracks alongside the original versions to compare them, but in my head – at least – they’re a mixture of faithful renditions and highly original takes on what would, in other circumstances, be considered uncoverable songs – not because they’re sacred, per se, but because they’re not necessarily the easiest of songs to cover. There’s a reason why The Residents aren’t natural Karaoke artists, although, on the recorded evidence, lots of these guys would pitch up at that weird Karaoke bar night after night.

“In true Residents form, we don’t always follow the rules,” says Dolittle on the concluding radio segment, which is stating the obvious, of course. “Just as it’s always been – the eye is on you,” he concludes. The inference is thus: I am a Resident, she/he is a Resident, you are a Resident and, heck, we can all be Residents, if we so wish… or, in the case of this wonderfully odd LP, if your cover version happened to be among those picked for the source material for this album.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound Issue 45

The ‘bundle’ edition of Electronic Sound 45 has already sold out, which means that if you didn’t buy it already, you’ve missed out on the opportunity to hear the exclusive Vince Clarke remix of ‘Magic Fly’ by Space that formed the A-side of the accompanying 7″ single. And believe me, that’s a pity – it ranks among Mr Clarke’s finest remixes and you’ll now probably never get to hear it. The B-side was the wonderful and moving ‘Before’ by Vince’s VeryRecords signing Reed & Caroline, marking the duo’s first time on a vinyl record.

For this issue I interviewed Didier Marouani, the classically-schooled musician behind the mysterious space helmet-wearing Space, marking one of those privileged opportunities that this magazine often gives me to write a story that hasn’t really ever been told before. My mum was dead proud too, because she bought ‘Magic Fly’ when it first came out in 1977 (I was a mere year old), and I think she believes that this had a major influence on my later interest in electronic music – and she’s probably right.

Elsewhere, for this issue I wrote reviews of albums by Julia Kent & Jean DL, Ghostly signings Helios, the marvellous Dutch group Go March, and Welsh non-pop artists HMS Morris. I also got the chance to review two absolutely stonking records – a jazz opus by Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas, and O.Y. In Hi-Fi by Optiganally Yours, fast becoming the record I’ve played more than any this year. The record was constructed principally from the original master tapes of sounds that would be used in Mattel’s Optigan, meaning it was made with sounds from the Optigan but in a high resolution form that the Optigan itself could never deliver.

And linking that back around to the 7″ you sadly can’t listen to – Pea Hicks from Optiganally Yours is the custodian of the only equipment in existence to manufacture optical discs for the Vako Orchestron, the zany professional version of the Optigan which Reed Hays used on Reed & Caroline’s Hello Science, turning Caroline Schutz’s vocal into lo-fi textural loops.

The non-bundle version of issue 45 is available at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) (Bad Seed EP, 2018)

It’s been a while since I wrote about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – I think the last thing I put online was a not especially positive review of Push The Sky Away, and Skeleton Tree consequently just passed me by. I feel that I’ve rectified that with this review of the new Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) EP that was released last Friday.

You can read my review for the Clash website here.

I also reviewed the new Marianne Faithful album for the latest print issue of Clash, which features a wonderful new composition – ‘The Gypsy Fairie Queen’ – co-written with Cave; Marianne’s new LP was co-produced by Bad Seed stalwart Warren Ellis.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Daniel Blumberg (Clash interview, 2018)

I have concluded that Daniel Blumberg is probably one of the most important signings to join the Mute roster in its entire forty years of releasing records. His debut solo album, Minus, written after immersing himself in London’s improvised music scene, towers above just about everything else around it, capturing a visionary songwriter and musician tearing up his own rule book for the sake of furthering his art.

To coincide with the release of ‘Family’, an unreleased song from Minus sessions, Clash have today published an interview that I did with Daniel Blumberg in July, wherein he explains the genesis of the album and the impulses that drive him.

In my humble opinion, it tells a story that needed to be told, and provides an insight into the mind of a prodigious talent; I am enormously proud of this feature.

Read the interview here.

Watch the video for ‘Family’ here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash