Laibach – Nova Akropola (Cherry Red album, 1985)


Recorded in London in 1985 with, among others, Mute regular Richard ‘Rico’ Conning, the 2002 reissue of Nova Akropola is an excellently-presented special edition gatefold digipak from Cherry Red Records, and captures Laibach just prior to their Mute releases.

The album begins with ‘Vier Personen’ (‘Four People’), a veritable shot to the head comprising barked, parade ground orders and militaristic drumming, over which an electro-industrial drum machine pattern is repeated, slowly developing as additional banged pipes and other sonic detritus is introduced. A grim and slightly sinister track, this opener adequately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.

‘Nova Akropola’ (‘The New Acropolis’) takes the dark tone of the opener, but deploys strings (keyboards, judging by the repeat points) as the main carrier of its emotion. Horn refrains and a slow, reverberating drum pattern create a filmic atmosphere, with the trademark ‘devil voice’ vocals making their first appearance; the track feels mournful, funereal, conveying plenty of rage and sadness in its minimal sonic palette. Pounding Nitzer Ebb-style drums introduce ‘Krava Gruda – Plodna Zemlja’ (‘Bloody Ground – Fertile Land’), a percussive electronic and machinery-driven vocal track conjuring up memories of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s earliest experiments with air cylinders and heavy construction equipment. Unlike the previous two pieces ‘Krava Gruda…’ has several different themes, rather than a central, developed refrain.

Beginning with some organ discord, ‘Vojna Poema’ (‘War Poem’) quickly develops into an operatic piano song extremely reminiscent of some of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s compositions. Baritone vocals are mixed with what sounds like a full orchestra towards the end of this 1920s-styled piece of avant-cabaret. If ‘Vojna Poema’ was a departure from the earlier tracks on this album, ‘Ti, Ki Izzivas (outro)’ quickly returns us there – layers of stark percussion stalk through this short piece, fading out into ‘Die Liebe’ (‘The Love’), perhaps the closest to some of Laibach’s later Mute output: faster-paced and more aggressive, with those sinister vocals casting a dark shadow on the repeated phrase of the title. The track also features a wider array of electronic sounds, with one of the central melodies recalling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, once again reinforcing the ‘extreme soundtrack’ atmosphere of this album.

‘Drzava’ (‘The State’) sounds like a twisted take on the electro genre, wherein Mantronix-esque drum programming is mixed with horn flourishes and orchestral-style loops (sampled, I presume), and also features some vocal samples that appear to be of political speeches. The track is one of the liveliest on this album; certainly not euphoric, the track is just one or two shades lighter on the colour chart than the black of the previous material. The accompanying promotional video with dancer and some-time Wire collaborator Michael Clark is fantastically bleak, perfectly rendered in monochrome colours. ‘Vade Retro’ is positively terrifying, its rhythm recalling some sort of alternative version of the Terminator soundtrack as conceived by Throbbing Gristle. The ‘vocals’ here are otherworldly, alternately wheezing and ghostly and scratchy and insistent; the ‘melody’, on the other hand, appears to be church bells mangled and heavily-processed to near oblivion. Perhaps the most aggressive and extreme track here, ‘Vade Retro’ is an exciting collage of sounds that pushes Laibach into electroacoustic territory.

‘Panorama’ ushers in on kick drums that appear to have been borrowed from New Order’s seminal ‘Blue Monday’. Extensive use of synths and percussive samples make this one of the more accessible tracks on the album – the rhythm is tight and the sounds are less obviously harsh. At around three minutes, the track pares back to some percussion loops and spoken word English reportage, before quickly reassembling itself. The final track (‘Decree’) once again begins with some sampled marching band drums, over which another electro break is layered. With the exception of some fairly random atmospherics and the odd sample, the track seems to be nothing more than a stop-start percussive experiment or remix of a more complete work. Despite its absence of more concrete ideas, the track is strangely captivating, although you do feel that this represents something of a filler, a space that would have been better filled with a track more in keeping with the extreme sonic soundscapes elsewhere on the album.

Originally posted 2003; edited 2017

Notes: this was a pretty important review for me, as it represented one of the first times I’d been sent a free CD just to be able to review it. I was amazed at the time that Cherry Red responded to my email at all, let alone that they would part company with a batch of catalogue stuff just so that I could write about it for a website – my own – that was just launching and which was so niche it was never going to attract any readers. Whenever I take the notion of receiving music in my inbox every day via various PR firms for granted, I think back to how fortunate I was that Cherry Red sent me this and other CDs, even though this one has now been sold out of my collection.

(c) 20017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 1. onDeadWaves ‘On Dead Waves’

“Posesses a stripped-back, nascent, haunted bluesy quality, which is both arresting and intriguing by equal measure.” – Clash

I would love to say that identifying my favourite album of 2016 was a trial so painful I almost gave up the whole notion of doing this, but that would be a complete lie. I always knew this one would be it, pretty much from the moment I heard it.

onDeadWaves is a powerful collaboration between Mute stalwarts Polly Scattergood and James ‘Maps’ Chapman. They first performed together at the Short Circuit festival back in 2011 and finally put this album together for release this year. As I noted in my review for Clash, the concept of two singers coming together when their lyrics are usually so uniformly downbeat is, at least on paper, a terrifying prospect. But it’s not like that in reality.

This is an album that is borderline profound, completely moving and inventive at every turn, full of mesmerising fragility and cavernous emotional depth, daubed with an oblique Americana; an album that makes you appreciate music slightly differently after its played with your emotions so effortlessly; a music delivered with an intimacy that feels like eavesdropping on private musings.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 8. Yeasayer ‘Amen & Goodbye’

“At its best when it stops trying to be overly clever and instead rushes shamelessly into the slick pop that has run throughout Yeasayer’s career.” – Electronic Sound

Album number four from Yeasayer had a title that suggested some sort of full stop, but whose music suggested the trio were finding new ways of writing music and exciting experimental angles to exploit. In spite of that foray into slightly odder areas, opening track ‘I Am Chemistry’ and the stand-out ‘Silly Me’ are among this Brooklyn band’s finest moments.

I found myself listening to this album a lot over the summer, and kicked myself for not responding to an opportunity to interview Chris Keating from the band for a second time.

I reviewed this for Electronic Sound. Back issues are available from http://www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Soundescapes – An Interview With Espen J. Jörgensen (2011)

Noise Activity

Five years ago, Mute returned to its independent roots after separating from EMI. One of the first releases on the newly indie imprint was Soundescapes by Mute stalwart Simon Fisher Turner and one-time collaborator Espen J. Jörgensen. It arguably should have set the tone for Mute Artists’ new beginning, returning the label to the noisy, DIY, uncompromising point where it all began.

On the occasion of the fifth aniversary of Soundescapes, I am republishing my 2011 interview with Jörgensen. This will be followed in the next few days by the re-posting of a further interview with both Fisher Turner and Jörgensen from around the time of the album’s actual release. 


Soundescapes is a collaboration between musical auteur Simon Fisher Turner and film-maker / soundsmith Espen J. Jörgensen. The first fruits of this collaboration, the track ‘Noise Activity’, was released on 16 April 2011 as part of Mute‘s Vorwärts compilation; with that title, it is not a terrible surprise that the rest of Soundescapes explores the outer reaches of sound design.

‘I record whatever I like and Simon does whatever he likes with it,’ Jörgensen tells me from his home in Norway. ‘It’s the ultimate democracy; or maybe democrazy is a better word for it.’ Built on a mutual respect for each others’ creative vision, Fisher Turner and Jörgensen have an agreement not to challenge one another. ‘I do whatever I like, and Simon treats the material the way he wants to,’ says Jörgensen. and ‘I don’t comment on the outcome. So you could say that I’m the composer and he’s the re-composer.’

‘Noise Activity’ also appears on the forthcoming Soundescapes album, scheduled for release on a freshly independent Mute in November 2011, replete with a personal endorsement from Daniel Miller. ‘We’ve been working on this album for two to three years,’ explains Jörgensen about the album, recorded over an extended period in between both the composer and re-composer’s other activities, namely Fisher Turner’s scores and solo albums and Jörgenson’s work as a film-maker. ‘Noise Activity’ is our ADHD song. There are a couple of others which are ‘upbeat’, but not as crazy as that; some are very ambient, both light and dark.’

Already familiar with Fisher Turner’s work, I ask Jörgensen about his individual style. ‘I don’t actively try to pursue a sound, and I’m not trying to not pursue a sound. I think a lot of it comes from how I work, which is is more like an exorcism. I try to lure sounds out of devices and instruments. It’s all from intuition. I never write anything. I can have a five minute session one day and then I won’t touch an instrument for a month or two. I don’t do anything if I don’t feel like it.’

‘When I record things it’s mostly to hear what sounds I get if I hook up an instrument, be it circuit bent, analogue or digital, to an effects box or whatever; or it’s from an urge to play or record a beat. I try to record the first time I test an instrument to capture that first meeting or “moment”. I also think that art-by-mistake can be exciting, but I don’t call myself an artist.’

Artist isn’t the only term that Jörgensen doesn’t feel applies to himself. ‘I’m not a schooled musician and I don’t consider myself a musician, and so I can’t really say that I’m influenced by anyone.’

I ask Jörgensen whether his day-job as a film-maker means that the process of film making informs how he makes music. ‘They’re two different worlds, though they’re also not. I think it has more to do with my approach and attitude when I head into the different worlds. I want to be more free with music, so that’s what I do. With film you can improvise and play with the camera, editing and acting, but in the end it’s a lot of work. Music’s a lot of work, too, but Simon gets the hardest job of all – he’s supposed to make my noise work in a context, or a song, if you like. Then again, I wouldn’t call all of the tracks on Soundescapes songs.’

‘I like to write scripts which are more like skeletons,’ he says, returning to film. ‘I think it’s more fun to be open-minded when you work. If you’re not too tied to the script you can make room for things. I think visually, but when I work I often feel, or hear, what kind of music would work well without killing a scene. When I was working with [Faith No More founder / bassist] Billy Gould on the soundtrack for The Sequential Art, my documentary film about comics, he never got to see any of the footage. I told him what I wanted in the form of atmosphere and rhythm, and we worked from there.’

This sense of blind faith and trust also informs the Soundescapes collaboration. Whereas Gould never got to see a single scene, in the case of Soundescapes, Jörgenson and Fisher Turner have never actually even met one another. ‘When I think of it, I’ve never spoken to him either!’ says Jörgensen about this distance collaboration. ‘Our relationship is very text-based. It might sound very odd, but it works very well. I don’t always have control of the outcome with the stuff I record, but I don’t want to control what Simon does either because he does such a great job with putting it all together.’

First published 2011; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Goldfrapp – Twist / Train slipcases (Mute, 2003)

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Issued by Mute in 2003 to house the various formats of the ‘Twist’ and ‘Train’ singles by Goldfrapp. I’m selling both of these. They can be found on eBay here and here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – Pump Up The Volume (Mute / EMI single, 2007)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | dl | 11/02/2008

Is it so wrong, to break from your kiss to turn up a pop song?‘ is the ethical question posed by Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos on the third single to be taken from the band’s 2007 album, It’s A Bit Complicated. The song is an emotional, tender song that manages to merge youthful sexual experiences with a passion for records that seems to eclipse the singer’s interest in the former. Hence the question about whether it’s fine to be as focussed on the music coming from a radio as it is on the, ahem, job at hand. Throughout, Argos manages to paint a vivid image of teenage bedroom awkwardness while big, punked-up clanging guitar riffs and soulful harmonies dominate. The more I listen to Argos’s semi-spoken, semi-sung delivery, with all his clever double meanings and casual observations, the more I think of him as a poet rather than an accomplished indie band’s frontman. The answer to the question, by the way, seems to be a very firm ‘no’, judging by the reaction of the girl in the song.

Released as a single track download the year after the album was put out by Mute as part of EMI / Labels, like all of their material from this period it is no longer available on iTunes. Whether that’s anything to do with the band apparently not knowing it was even being put out is anyone’s guess. This is what Argos posted to the band’s website at the time: “It seems Art Brut have accidentally released a single. Yes, the rumours are true. But how could this happen, you may ask? Why were we not informed? Well, my friends, pick up any thread of incompetence and it will usually lead you to a record company. That’s right, it seems EMI have decided to release ‘Pump Up the Volume’ without informing either the band or myself, making any kind of widescale promotion rather difficult.”

Thanks to Z for help with the preparation for this review.

First posted 2012; re-posted 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence