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

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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

Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria TV (Clash feature, 2019)

The third instalment of Barney Ashton-Bullock’s Torsten series kicks off at Vauxhall’s Above The Stag theatre on April 10 and finds Erasure’s Andy Bell once again taking on the role of the half-Norwegian, half-English polysexual semi-immortal Torsten.

Amid the maelstrom of press interviews that Bell has undertaken to support Queereteria TV, managed to get some time with Andy and Barney during rehearsals to talk in detail about the latest postcard from the hotspots of the 114-year old Torsten’s memory.

My interview went live on the Clash website earlier today and can be found here. A longer version will appear here on Documentary Evidence during the show’s run.

Queereteria TV runs at Above The Stag from April 10 to April 28. Tickets are available at abovethestag.com. A new album, Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria is released by Strike Force Entertainment on April 12.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

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

Small Doses 7 – Rema-Rema

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

And you thought that getting a copy of Rema-Rema’s Wheel In The Roses EP was like trying to locate rocking horse shit: in a painfully small edition of just 100, issue seven of Iv/An’s obsessively detailed, intensively-researched and beautifully-designed Small Doses is entirely devoted to telling the absolutely definitive story of a band who had already fragmented when their solitary EP was released, an act which simultaneously launched the 4AD label and which also started in motion the ongoing mystique and mythology surrounding the group.

For Iv/An this is, first and foremost, a highly personal endeavour and a work of love as a fan of the group; because of that this issue intertwines his own story of becoming intrigued by Rema-Rema with the story of the band.

Featuring interviews with four of the band’s five members (Mick Allen, Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior, Mark Cox, and Gary Asquith) providing a comprehensive first-hand account of the band’s history, unseen photos, a discography including compilation appearances and cover versions and a ‘family tree’ showing where the members of Rema-Rema came from and where they went onto after their eleven gigs and solitary EP. The fanzine is accompanied by a CD-R of unreleased recordings by the band culled from demos and live rehearsals, all sequenced into a single piece brimming with white heat and blistering energy.

Small Doses 7 – courtesy of Iv/An

More information on the new issue will be made available at Iv/An’s 0.5 Facebook and Bandcamp pages on May 1. I already have a copy. It’s signed by Gary and I’m not selling. Don’t even ask.

The latest issue of the fanzine comes hot on the heels of 4AD’s overdue Fond Reflections by Rema-Rema – a collection of unreleased live tracks, demos and studio material from the same rich archive as the Small Doses CD-R that approximates what should have been the band’s 1980 debut album, assembled by Gary Asquith and Takatsuna Mukai and released earlier this month.

The album’s launch was supported by a live Q&A with Max, Mick, Gary and myself at London’s Rough Trade West, just a few hundred metres from where they recorded their first demos in a Portobello Road basement on a tape recorder borrowed from Hazel O’Connor.

Rema-Rema and Mat Smith at Rough Trade West, March 1 2019 – Q&A for the release of ‘Fond Reflections’. L to R: Mat Smith, Gary Asquith, Max, Mick Allen. Used with kind permission of Trevor Pomphrett.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Apparat – LP5 (Mute album, 2019)

The recording of LP5 by Apparat’s Sascha Ring saw him unburdening himself of the grand, bold gestures that have become the domain of his Moderat trio. In doing so, and in trying to focus instead on the fundamental components of these new Apparat pieces rather than aiming after something anthemic, Ring has nonetheless created something where his quintessentially muted, restless power still offers an affecting, emotional dimension.

In the context of Ring’s other Apparat output, none of this is a surprise. However, compared to something like 2011’s The Devil’s Walk, there’s less of an emphasis on ephemerality. Tracks like ‘Heroist’ or ‘In Gravitas’ move forward on robust, clubby rhythms that give the piece an immediacy, even if Ring’s vocal and the unswerving synths in the background contain a mitigating, mournful quality. These are tracks where those offsetting gestures pull you in all sorts of different, competing directions at once, a dizzying, manipulative effect that leaves you feeling fully uncertain by the end.

The big departure for LP5 is its sheer breadth of vision and instrumentation. Ring has always operated at the more tolerant, eclectic end of electronic music, but LP5 finds him investing in a whole new sonic palette more akin to his occasional work for theatre – opening track ‘Voi_Do’ is like a cinematic free jazz experiment, an unshackled approach to sequenced structures and one where strings, guitar, piano and horns can co-exist with synths and processing.

The stand-out track ‘Caronte’ employs Philipp Thimm’s defiant cello where the temptation might instead have been to use a faltering, scratchy synth, giving the track a strident, expansive dimension, making its sudden lurch into buzzing electronics and urgent rhythms all the more thrilling. It’s those unexpected moves, those introductions of new sounds or sharp pivots in motion, combined with his diaristic lyrics, that once again means Ring has delivered another mesmerising album, and one whose vision allows it to stand slightly apart from everything else.

LP5 by Apparat is released by Mute on March 22 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Video: Alka – Live, PhilaMOCA – March 10 2019

2019-03-13 18.17.23

VeryRecords group AlkaBryan Michael, Erika Tele and Todd Steponick – performed at Philadelphia’s PhilaMOCA on Sunday, supporting Summer Heart and Brother Tiger.

During their set they teased a glimpse of a brilliant new Alka track, ‘Fractured Time’, alongside the stand-out ‘Melancholy Lasts’ and a Japanese version of ‘Truncate’ from from 2017’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal.

Watch three songs from their set below in crazy 360 video.

Video track list:
1. Melancholy Lasts (fragment)
2. Truncate (Japanese Version)
3. Fractured Time

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary