Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S / Apollo, 1992)

I wrote a Spotlight feature for Clash about Aphex Twin’s seminal Selected Ambient Works 85-92, a release which still mystifies me to this day, some 24 years after I first encountered it.
Around this time I was to be found mostly to be listening to a bit of dance music, Erasure, Depeche Mode, New Order and Pop Will Eat Itself. Clint Mansell from PWEI retweeted Clash‘s link to this at the weekend, which is a curiously circular honour for me.

My piece for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women (Mute album, 2017)

“Does much to alter the misconception that Gainsbourg was little more than a louche, womanising so-and-so only capable of producing kitsch-y songs dominated by sex and decadence.” – Clash

Mute stalwart Mick Harvey has released the fourth and final album in his project to translate the work of Serge Gainsbourg, this time focussing largely on the songs Gainsbourg wrote for female collaborators.

I reviewed the album for Clash. My review can be found here.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Daft Punk – Homework (Virgin album, 1997)


I was sat in my pokey little room in Eddington Tower at the University of Essex in Colchester in the autumn of 1995 when a guy from my economics course turned up out of the blue. I rarely had visitors but Michael wasn’t really popping over to hang out – he’d missed a couple of econometrics classes and hadn’t been able to understand the homework we’d been set. He knew I was the kind of dull student who always stayed on top of his homework, so he knew that if he wanted to catch up via the dubious act of copying someone else’s work, I was a pretty safe bet.

As well as sharing a degree subject or two, the other thing that Michael and I agreed on was dance music. I’d fallen head over heels into dance music properly in 1994 and since then it had become what I’d listen to whenever I got a chance. That and punk, which I’d gotten into after recognising the similarities to techno. On Michael’s visit I was just putting on a new 12” I’d picked up from Colchester’s Time Records earlier that week – ‘Da Funk’ by Daft Punk. I must have heard about that in a music magazine, as the campus radio station was only into playing indie, and the only dance music I listened to on national radio was the guest mixes that Pete Tong used to curate on Saturday nights. Back then I heeded the words written by journalists and would seek out records based on their recommendation. Something about the write-up of ‘Da Funk’ appealed to my sensibilities, especially in Muzik, and I probably ordered it in especially from Time when it was released.

Anyway, Michael was absolutely floored when the main hook of ‘Da Funk’ casually wandered into view. We listened to it maybe three or four times before switching to the B-side, the crazy squeal of ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’, which Michael thought was flat-out incredible. As well as weed (not my thing), Michael always had lots of cash on him thanks to his rich parents, and I recall he tried to buy the 12” from me on the spot. I refused, but let him copy my homework instead.


By the time Daft Punk issued their own Homework in 1997, my snobbish aesthetic meant that I’d turned my back on them upon Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo signing to a major label and dumping Slam’s Soma imprint. This meant I overlooked just how great that record was at first, but slowly caught up and became every bit as much of a fan as, it seemed, everyone else was among the dance music community.

It seems scarcely possible that Homework can be 20 years old, but it is. I had the opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of this seminal record by writing a lengthy piece for Clash, during which time I was transported back to my humble student hovel to recall vividly how jaw-droppingly brilliant Daft Punk were back in the day. That was half a lifetime ago for me, but my memories of that time are as clear as if they happened yesterday. And that sense of freshness, that newness, is what characterises most of Homework – aside from some flimsy house cuts that feel a bit basic now, most of this record sounds as innovative and uniquely placed as it did back then, something that few period dance music albums from the same period can boast.

Nowadays my daughters dance to ‘Da Funk’ on the Wii, I help them with their homework, I sold my ‘Da Funk’ 12″ for considerably more than Michael offered me, at Electronic Sound I write for the very guys whose words I thirsted over when they wrote for Muzik, and I feel desperately old and nostalgic most days.

Eddington Tower, University of Essex (right)

My piece for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Brian Eno – Reflection (Opal / Warp album, 2016)

I like to that that I was a very good student of electronic music history, all told. When I understood that synth music didn’t come into existence with the likes of ‘Tainted Love’ in 1981, or even with Kraftwerk’s experiments in the previous decade, I was fastidious about trying to absorb all of the points along the genesis of the genre. I’m still doing that.

At some point in the 1990s I went headlong into the work of Brian Eno, probably around the time of the the second Future Sound Of London album where they’d used some of Robert Fripp’s ‘Frippertronics’ on that record. You read up about Fripp, you get to Eno, but then again most electronic music roads at some point will likely lead you to Eno. As soon as I found out about his electronic music, my local library’s collection of his CDs was rapidly depleted.

I liked most of what I heard, but the one that jumped out was his 1988 album The Shutov Assembly. I remember renting this the same day as Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II, and being surprised at how similar they both were; both being largely formed of weightless, serene pieces that seemed at times to border on the classical in their melodic content. Since then, The Shutov Assembly has become a go-to album for me at times when I need to chill the fuck out; usually this is at the start of an overnight flight back from the States, or a 4.15 train to St. Pancras before a Eurostar connection. I’m normally fast asleep by the start of the second track, ‘Alhondiga’. I know it’s a complete disservice to the album not to actually listen to it all the way through, at least not consciously, but I sure appreciate the album for helping me to sleep.

Over the years I’ve become an Eno collector, but not to the extent that I wish I could. Nevertheless, when the opportunity came up to review his new single-track Warp album Reflection for Clash, I was all over it. My review of this supremely beautiful record can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Tycho – Epoch (Ghostly International album, 2016)

“At its best, Epoch has a delicate, introspective fragility via overlapping waves of sound and crisp, dependable beats.” – Clash

As I’ve said a few times here, I’ve become something of a fan of the music issued by the Ghostly International label. One of their recent big releases was Tycho’s impressive Epoch album, representing the fourth record from Bay Area sonic prodigy Scott Hansen and his musical accomplices.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

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

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