Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Ears For Eyes - Best Albums of 2013


In a year of fantastic music, one album stood out - The Outer Church compilation on Front & Follow records.  This amazing assortment of artists, associated with Joseph Stannard's Brighton club night of the same name, has been collected into one of the most essential musical anthologies of this or any other year.  It is an album to glut yourself with, offering so many aural avenues to wander.  Really great compilations offer a platform from which to explore unfamiliar music, a guide to use in setting off on your own, a blueprint for future releases, and not a sealed hermetic capsule; this over-achieves on all fronts.  Rather than offering a summation of a scene, 'The Outer Church' presents an introduction to a fascinating and entirely absorbing world of sound.

However, 'The Outer Church' was by no means the only album worthy of our attention this year.  Below are (in no particular order) a number of albums that captivated this blog throughout 2013.

Áine O'Dwyer - Anything Bright or Startling (Second Language)
'Anything Bright or Startling' is Aine O'Dwyer's first recording with vocals, an album of bewitching harp compositions.  The arrangements are perfectly balanced, the intricate web of harp structures are hung with moist dew drops of piano and glockenspiel; Áine's voice stalks the threads like a musical spider; the whole construction expanding and flexing but always keeping its shape.  This is an album that will capture your imagination for its entire duration; once entered it is only reluctantly and temporarily left.  Find it here.

Fire! Orchestra - Exit! (Rune Grammafon)
‘Exit!’ by Fire! Orchestra is an astonishing record.  Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werlin have expanded their trio to encompass four drummers, four bassists, electronics, assorted massed reeds and brass, and some awesome vocalists.  They have together created something that will pin you to the wall.  ‘Exit!’ is the sort of record that makes you glad to be alive.  Explosive and ecstatic, it nevertheless possesses periods of calm and space amidst the chaos.  Ambitious, impassioned, furiously delivered music to make you squint your mind and flinchingly revel in the sheer excess and majesty of it all.  Buy it here.

Hacker Farm - UHF (Exotic Pylon)
'UHF’ is a brilliantly eerie follow-up to Hacker Farm’s previous ‘Poundland’ release.  This is an album sculpted from the debris of a post-boom economy: rusted trolleys in weed choked canals; tattered and urine soaked pay-day loan posters, fluttering in a non committal breeze.  A landscape made weird, dangerous and depopulated.  This is a soundtrack for the frayed edges of society, ballads for the edgelands.  Get it here.

6 & 8 - City Plaintive (Xylem)
6 & 8 are a duo of electronic music producer Rory McCormick and poet / vocalist Jessica Peace.  'City Plaintive’ is a brilliant, fascinating album.  Mysterious but not impenetrable, it promises a little more with each listen; new sounds, weird buried samples, previously unnoticed audio spaces.  Like the cities it wanders, new alleyways appear, buildings vanish, forgotten signs point to demolished tunnels; a magical sound-scrapbook of places in constant flux; an exploration of the weirder parts of the mind and cityscape.  'City Plaintive' is available from Xylem here.

Tom Jackson & Benedict Taylor - Songs from Badly-Lit Rooms (Squib-Box)
'Songs from Badly-Lit Rooms' by Tom Jackson (clarinet) and Benedict Taylor (viola) is a collection of excellent chamber improvisations recorded over two years at various locations.  No halting initial stall-setting seems to occur at any point, Taylor and Jackson launch into what sound like instant compositions, songs that seem to have an incredibly complicated exploded structure, like an "on the fly" set of Serialist frameworks, conceived algorithmically by generative music software.  Two remarkable musicians of huge talent and ability combine on 'Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms' with fascinating alchemy; they swoop and soar in exotic unison around this brilliant collection of turbulent music.  Listen to it here.

April Larson - Entressis (self released)
Sad and pensive but lushly beautiful, it seems to breathe organically. 'Entressis' is a paradoxical mystery, like a still but constant moment: the flow of a river caught in frozen movement. It sounds tapped and ancient.  Music of the spheres condensed into comprehensible form.  Explore April's albums on Bandcamp.

Maurice's Hotel Death - Hot Jone (Rano)
A fascinating stew of drone, noise, musique concrete, diseased tape howl, and field recordings from hell; ‘Hot Jone’ is deeply and vexingly surreal, a universe on tape, a universe that recalls Wolf Eyes with its creeping insidious construction, and Yellow Swans in their ‘Psychic Secession’ era with its sudden percussive bangs and rusted textures.  Listen to it here.

Gail Brand and Morgan Guberman - Dig A Ditch And Get In (Regardless)
Gail Brand and Morgan Guberman have created something special; two great artists in an inspired pairing have made a work of deranged and hilarious brilliance.  It is fun, fiercely intelligent and fearless in its pursuit of an almost Dada-like absurdity.  Listen to it here.

The Revenant Sea - The Revenant Sea (Auditory Field Theory)
This self titled debut by Matt Bower's Revanant Sea alter ego is another fascinating release from the weird and wonderful Auditory Field Theory label.  The whole album seems infused and burnt with radiation; like something withered and scorched.  A bleak but strongly evocative listen, this is music for dark and wintry evenings, preferrably one where you're unsure if the sun will rise in the morning.  Find it here.

Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo (MIE)
This album is a full-blown sonic sludge-assault.  Often savagely blunt but also hypnotically absorbing, it offers an escape from unambitious and derivative guitar bands.  'Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo' is unmissable.  Purchase it here.

Sarah Neufeld - Hero Brother (Constellation)
An album of staggering beauty, Sarah Neufeld has created a magical album of violin compositions ranging in style from austere minimalism to heart-tugging folksiness.  Find it here.

Raining Leaf - Gemini (Chapel Yard)
Reminiscent of 1970s German rock experimentation, but with a late 90s Warp slant, ‘Gemini’ taps incredibly fertile soil in a way that refences past groups without copying them.  Weighty but unpretentious, eclectic but focussed, this is a lesson in wide-minded generous music making.  Purchase it here.

Various Artists - Down to the Silver Sea (Gecophonic)
a compilation of summer evoking oddtronica commissioned from various artists and gathered on a spinning black vinyl disk by Moon Wiring Club.  The artwork itself, more than worth the price of admission.  Down To The Silver Sea’ is a wonderfully skewed album full of sonic delights.  This is a compilation that, along with the Collision/Detection and Outer Church collections, shows the electronica of these isles to be in rude and perhaps unprecedented health.

BLK w/BEAR - The Final Mapping Of New Constellations (Little Crackd Rabbit)
An album of deeply eerie and beautiful woodland instrumentals.  Electronica for long cold nights.  Find it here.

Laica - Environs (Alrealon Musique)
Environs’, the new release from Laica follows the excellent ‘Puls’ from earlier this year.  Like ‘Puls’, ‘Environs’ is split into two halves of absorbing electronica, this time sourced entirely from manipulated field recordings.  It builds on the excellent sound design of its predecessor while pushing its structures further into abstraction.  Mysterious and pulsing with menace; it consists of what feels like several distinct sections, but with the edges melted and smeared together; like Burial remixing Thomas Köner.  It has a hermetic structural logic all its own, a puzzle to unlock; avant-electronica that makes the listener do some of the hard work.  Listen to it here.

Grumbling Fur - Glynnaestra (Thrill Jockey)
This synapse-tweaking collection of psychedelic off-pop never falters.  Some of the tracks are like kitchen sink musique concrete; you can imagine hundreds of feet of tape wrapped around mugs, kettles, light fixtures, and whatever else litters Grumbling Fur’s house. ‘The Ballad of Roy Batty’ is a song of utter eyes-squeezed-shut beauty; a ballad based around the final dying words of the titular android set to a flurry of syncopated handclaps, wheezing synths and multi-tracked aching vocals. This is one high point among many, one crumb from a deep slice of brain soaking weirdness and melodic skill.  More info here.

Dead Days Beyond Help - The Game Face (Copepod)
'The Game Face' by Dead Days Beyond Help is an album to blow away the cobwebs from the ears of fans of off-kilter rock; it suggests an engagement with the past while offering something genuinely forward looking, an alliance with free-improv techniques.  This great album is a challenge to those who think art-rock has stalled or collapsed into self-regarding micro-genres.  It suggests a way out.  And will melt your face off, if that all sounds a bit high-minded.  Buy it here.

OH/EX/OH- Extant (The Geography Trip)
'Extant' by oh/ex/oh sounds transmitted from a bleak future or an alternative present, a post-catastrophe earth or one where the Rapture has occurred, with humans entirely or mostly absent.  'Extant' is packed with awe and wonder; an album to gaze at the stars with; a soundtrack to what comes after the end of days; a long unwavering stare at wide vistas of moss drenched rubble.  It is quietly and unassumingly wonderful.  Find out more here.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Ears For Eyes - 2013 Live Round-up

Me, displaying an ace gig entrance-stamp.
Ears For Eyes has been fortunate enough to publish many interesting end-of-year lists by some fascinating people.  Now, I'm afraid, it's time for you to read my thoughts on what has fed my nucleus accumbens throughout the year, beginning with a summary of my encounters with the music venues of London.

Luke Younger's noise gear w/ Paul Clipson projection

The Cafe Oto, situated in Dalston, continues to be an essential presence on the city's live music landscape, regularly putting on unmissable gigs.  The Thing were a band drunk on their own joyous noise, performing a set of such brilliance that it echoed in my head for days; ecstatically exciting, they are a band that trip the nerves like few others, they played a furious and exhausting set.  Slow Listener and Áine O'Dwyer performed on the same evening, both entirely different in their music but united in the execution of singular musical visions.  Áine O'Dwyer played a set of unforgettable beauty.  Performing songs from her recent album ‘Anything Bright or Startling’, absolute silence reigned in the audience; these utterly beautiful and deeply beguiling harp compositions were played with heart-stilling grace and a complexity that buried the attention of the listener; it was a rare performance of musical magic, totally captivating and hypnotic.  Slow Listener's sound was full of gonged water bowls, drone wobble, sudden clicks, rusted bloop and hiss, and steadily accumulating rumble; the pained aquatic bangs bouncing around the walls resembled forgotten tools in a dead person’s shed, moving and clanging together of their own volition.  Keith Fullerton Whitman conjured an insane poetry from the wires of his modular synth.  It was impossible to grasp any sustained patterns in the madness of electronic splatter that he created; the set was a masterful display, a stunning command of a mercurial process.  Beginning with a cushioned heartbeat and busted radio fuzz, Whitman made full use of the quad sound system; moving onto thunder cracks of fierce static, the bounce of ball bearings, sudden violent snaps, and frying-bacon pops; bubbles of human sensible rhythm occasionally emerged from a chaos of flickering machine strobe-decisions.  Luke Younger played a devastatingly good set of drone and rumbling menace with Paul Clipson providing a backdrop of dream-like projections, improvised live with the music.

Hugo

Similarly magical was Aether Music, a double-bill taking place in the lovely environs of the Horse Hospital, near Russell Square.  The artists involved  were not so much inhabiting the uncanny valley as dynamiting deeper trenches within it.  First act, Paul Snowdon's Time Attendant alias, stirred a cauldron of liquid beat driven electronic bloop 'n' hiss; alternately sweet and caustic, haunted and corporeal, structured and chaotic; Time Attendant was a stylophonic maestro, a wizard of wires.  Sarah Angliss' set was a miniature chamber-orchestra of bells, smeared voices, bowed saw, keyboard, and the whirring head of a ventriloquist's dummy.  Fundamentally strange but enticingly so, like an inviting haunted house, presiding over a series of sound-pieces and subtle torch songs that included some wonderful moments.  Among them were: Wolfgang the automaton thumping his drum pads, his "little heartbeat dispossessed" over a mossy pot of rotting loops, decayed melody and human panting; a flexing, breathing handbag at the side of the stage, expanding and contracting in troubling unison with the music; a duet with sister, Jenny, her partner in Spacedog, for a song about the Lankin, a baby snatching mythical intruder: the sound of a squelching infant gargle, effortlessly disturbing and thought provoking. My favourite part of the evening was a nautical love song with beautiful lyrics, addressed to a submariner , "I'll lick the minerals from your skin, if you'll lay upon this bed of mine"; the music encompassed washes of tide, sonar pings, and aquatic distortion; a magical, captivating electro-ballad.  Aether Music was entirely successful; it would be difficult to have found an evening of more beguiling, fascinating music.  An evening that conjured folklore and monsters from machines and robots, with a full beating heart nestled within a barbed nest of wires, humming with electricity.


Another arcane evening was had at the London launch of The Outer Church at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington.  The venue's sweaty basement stage acted as the altar for the invocation of some awesome music, the artists sourced from the compilation album of the same name, masterminded by Joseph Stannard and released on the Front & Follow label.  Kemper Norton was possibly the pick of a ripe bunch, his haunted tech-folk a revelatory thing to behold.  Andie Brown's These Feathers Have Plumes was another highlight: beautiful drones, hums and whispers, summoned from electronics and various-sized glass containers.


Isnaj Dui and Dollboy also performed underground, but in a deeper and older space.  On a hot early autumn’s night, 50 feet beneath the teeming surface of London, a place of total calm was sanctified with some remarkable and affecting music.  The Thames Tunnel Shaft  under the Brunel Museum is a decaying chapel of decrepitude; walking down a light-entangled scaffold structure, the audience enters a wonderful lichen-soaked concrete cylinder.  Dollboy's performance was an elegy to lost endeavours: a psycho-geographical chamber ensemble; haunted and haunting.  Isnaj Dui coaxed harmony from the mud, concrete and centuries of decay; a faded entropic journey; a tapping of musical ley lines.  A remarkable evening of music.


Swallowing two weekends in a scorching July and August, the London Contemporary Music Festival bestrode the months like a concrete leviathan.  The venue was a multi-storey car park in Peckham; the music was an adventurous selection of new music cornerstones and recent commissions, titans of the genre mixed with newcomers in a chaotic and wonderful blend.  Highlights included a storm-battered and bad-tempered performance from Glenn Branca and his guitar orchestra.  Jem Finer's Slow Player: a lengthy set that saw a number of records played at 3rpm or slower, radically altering their sound; a fascinating exhibition of time-suspending drone-hypnosis.  Russell Haswell's roaring circuits and raging magma filled wires.  A propulsive and gripping reading of Frederic Rzewski's 'Coming Together', an amazing group realised an incredible piece of music in a wonderful setting, causing an almost epiphanic moment for this stunned writer; the gathered musicians were a magical ensemble playing with passion and enormous ability; a heart-swelling triumph.  The festival climaxed with a performance of Phillip Corner's performance piece 'Piano Activities', an action of real power, a palpable tension in the room; the violent destruction of a piano shocking the audience out of apathy; that same audience then, at the close of the event, descending on the unfortunate instrument to explore its innards and smash it some more.


A Winged Victory for the Sullen, at the Village Underground, 1st October


A Winged Victory for the Sullen at the Village Underground in Shoreditch was a night to remember.  They played music of beautiful simplicity that quietly hypnotised, emotionally affecting and poignant.  Music in which to sink without trace.


Two of the most head-battering gigs of the year took place on opposing sides of the river.  South of the Thames, in Elephant and Castle's Corsica Studios, Hey Colossus were an un-ignorable sonic assault; aggressively carnivorous, they ripped great gory chunks out of everyone present.  The band channelled a psychic unease of almost physical tangibility, drenched in feedback, noise and mental turbulence. The triple guitarists ground out slow violent riffs over menacingly loping bass and drums, the vocalist steadily losing his mind over the duration of the set, convulsing and stretching his neck as he screamed incomprehensible lyrics, like someone waking up in a locked underwater box full of garish nightmares. Tremendous stuff.  Pete Swanson played in the basement of Birthdays; the sheer immensity of what he can produce with a few boxes and wires is incredible.  I have no idea how long it went on for, it could have been hours, minutes or days; I seem to remember my animal flight response instinct kicking in at one point when I had a weird urge to flee the venue; this compulsion wrestled with the pleasure gained from being obliterated by the screaming machine noise.  It was smothering and painfully confusing in the best possible way.  If ever an artist was to find the ‘brown note’, it must surely be Swanson. 


The river itself played host to what is the most enduring of my live music interests, Boat-Ting; a fortnightly music night held at Bar & Co, a boat moored at Temple pier, that manages to surprise, entertain and fascinate with every visit.  Captained by Sybil Madrigal and crewed by a rotating cast of awesome musicians, artist, and poets, it is without doubt one of the best uses for your ears.  Some of the many memorable moments aboard this year included, N.E.W.'s intense face-flaying noise; the spooky insectoid scrabble of Barrel; a quartet of Ian Smith (trumpet), Pete McPhail (saxophone), Charles Hayward (drums), and Dominic Lash (double bass), playing an electrifying set; Bread & Shed's deep weirdness; a brilliant trio of Ricardo Tejero (sax), Daniel Thompson (guitar), and David Leahy (double bass), instantly reactive and open-minded; and the surreal and affecting odd-folk of Silence Blossoms.  Even with all this fantastic music, Sybil Madrigal is what makes the night special, her funny, warm and inviting compering of the night completely dispels the notion that improv is a lofty austere humourless art form; it is simply for the sonically curious.  God's Mama, her rock group, is as sublimely good as you would imagine; the band sets her poetry to a soundtrack of fiercely grinding punk-funk contortions.  The set that stood out for me, in a crowd of excellence, was a trio of Steve Noble (drums), Alex Ward (guitar), and Shabaka Hutchings (saxophone); this was music of sheer joyful abandon, an inferno of molten soul eruptions and impassioned noise, astonishingly beautiful.  Boat-Ting really does need the continued support of improvised music fans so, if a Londoner, get yerself down there.  Keep the boat afloat!


A mention must go to Horse Improv, I only managed a single visit but saw one of my favourite improv sets of the year; a quartet of Sharon Gal (voice), Jennifer Allum (violin), Hutch Demouilpied (trumpet/flute), and Sue Lynch (tenor sax/flute).  The sound was full of fluttering, scraping, and thin wheezing; intricately and closely interlinked, playing as one multi-limbed organism; tense and still, like the edge of a storm.  A ghostly, hypnotising, intriguing performance; it ended far too soon.


With most of the above acts and venues established and, if not flourishing, at least surviving, we should look at a fledging venture, Lume, run by Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne.  Operating weekly, every Thursday, the programme is a great mix of jazz and improvised music.  Rachel Musson (sax), Hannah Marshall (cello), and Julie Kjaer (sax) played an amazing set at Lume in November that was one of the best I saw this year; a dynamic union of artists, breathing and thinking as one.


2013 contained an embarrassment of live music riches.  For me, it showed how many places I haven't been to: Mopomoso, London Improvisers Orchestra, and Arch 1 being among the many gaps.  However, far from being disappointing, this fills me with excitement for the next year. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Kay Grant's 2013 Round-up

 
Kay Grant is a vocalist, songwriter and free improviser whose work is informed by experience in a broad range of styles including jazz, opera, pop and rock. Her last release, Fast Talk with Alex Ward on clarinet, is out on Emanem (http://www.emanemdisc.com/E5021.html). 

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Here is my top ten for 2013: a collection of experiences, milestones, meaningful events and best recommendations, in order of appearance.

1. The Non-Verbal Voice: 

Back in Jan I gave a lecture at London College of Communication on 'The Non-Verbal Voice'. I came upon so many amazing and entertaining examples of songs and pieces with voices but without words it's hard to choose one, so here are three which have stuck with me: 

Drops of Melting Ice (Inuit Throat Songs and Drumming)

http://www.amazon.com/Drops-of-Melting-Ice/dp/B007IVYU50

Yakety-Eeph (Jimmie Riddle)
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5259589

Circlesong 1 (Bobby McFerrin)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVIens6U-GM

2. Pergolesi's Stabat Mater - "Cujus Animam Gementem"

I've been singing with Ad Libitum Chamber Choir, and in Feb we presented 'Italian Masterworks', which included Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. I hadn't heard this piece before, it's simply stunning, depicting as it does Mary's anguish at the foot of the cross. Even better I got to sing the solo "Cujus Animam Gementem" with an ensemble of period instruments. Here's a version of this short aria from the National Chamber Choir of Armenia: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3HpIxUXeGg

3. The Hauntological Orchestra

 In the words of Resonance 104.4FM's Ed Baxter, The Hauntological Orchestra 'offers a mix of radically arranged but crowd-pleasing cover versions, immersive electronics, a bit of bombast, bricolage and plentiful musical brio'. One of my contributions to our gig in Feb was "Anyone Who Had A Heart" by Burt Bacharach. Cilla Black's version is the best known on this side of the pond, but the tune was penned for Burt's muse Dionne Warwick, and hers was the original and most soulful rendition. Here's a real gem of an early live recording with Mr Bacharach introducing her himself:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_42QFD6zy7g

4. Mark Ribot guitar solo

Though best known for his work with Tom Waits, Mark Ribot has had a multifaceted career as a composer and bandleader with an extensive discography. I was lucky enough to know Mark from my days in New York, and his rare solo appearance in March at Cafe Oto was deservedly packed to the proverbial rafters. He is a charming, genuine and generous performer, with a unique guitar style about which our mutual friend and fellow guitarist Elliott Sharp once said 'only such a virtuoso could play so loosely and make it sound so together'. Here's a beautiful video of his version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QLbi4E3-hI

5. Olie Brice Quartet

In a city like London, brimful of brilliant bassists, relative newcomer Olie Brice is a notable presence. He's an alternating current of musical dynamics; his tone, rhythm, power, sensitivity, open mind and a stream of melodic ideas make him a deservedly popular player. I caught his own quartet at the Amersham Arms in March, with the outstanding lineup of Mark Hanslip on tenor, Alex Bonney on trumpet and Jeff Williams on drums. Here's a recording of them live at Charlie Wright's (with pianist Leon Mitchener rather than Alex Bonney):
https://soundcloud.com/olie-brice/the-olie-brice-quartet-the

6. Mopomoso On Tour

Mopomoso is the 'longest running unbroken series dedicated to free improvisation in the UK', thanks to the tireless efforts of guitarist (and National Treasure) John Russell. It hit 21 years in 2013 and was justly celebrated with a seven-city tour at the end of April, superbly supported by Sound and Music. My duo with Alex Ward was one of the five acts which had the honour to play for sold-out, enthusiastic houses - a rare treat for an improvising musician! It was a positive and memorable experience. Read all about it on the Sound and Music website: 
http://www.soundandmusic.org/projects/mopomoso-tour

7. Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth

In July BBC 4 screened this inspiring documentary of the extraordinary artist and humanitarian Alice Walker. Directed by Pratibha Parmar, the film traces her turbulent life and struggle for her own truth and personal vision to be accepted. 'All of Alice's writings urge us to think differently, and to think critically about those things we most take for granted' says activist and author Angela Davis in the film. A must-see. Watch the trailer: 
http://www.alicewalkerfilm.com/teaser/

8. Climate Radio on the Balcombe blockade

An entire village took control of their own destiny in August when they resisted the company Cuadrilla's attempt to force fracking upon them. After years of conventional opposition had been ignored and all democratic means had been exhausted, the people of Balcombe - supported by thousands of concerned and conscientious citizens - physically stopped the plan from proceeding. Climate Radio was there, as it has been in so many crucial moments of the fight against climate change, covering the stories and facing the hard facts which we simply must face if we want to secure a future for our civilisation and the survival of many other species on our planet threatened by the corporate onslaught of short-term shareholder profit-making. This is courageous radio doing what the medium does best and giving a hearing to those voices which the establishment media shamefully ignores. Listen to this show (and all the others from all the series over the past decade) online: 
http://climateradio.org/reclaim-the-power-3/

9. Duo with Ntshuks Bonga

This is a duo which has been evolving for a few years and in December we had our first live duo performance, which was a blinder. Ntshuks Bonga is a reed player of rare talent with an incredible ear, technical flexibility and a sackful of soul. He thinks clearly and plays passionately. We are looking forward to a release this year. You can hear us play on Monday 3 February at the award-winning floating concert series Boat-ting (www.boat-ting.co.uk). I'll be putting some of our December gig online in the new year too, but in the meantime here is a track we recorded last year with Mr Bonga playing bass clarinet:
https://soundcloud.com/kaygrant/kay-grant-ntshuks-bonga

10. The Genius In All Of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent And IQ is Wrong, by David Shenk

Okay, I confess this one is not in chronological order, as I read it over the course of the year. But it's a suitable one to end on, summing up as it does the twin - and entwined - mythologies of talent and genetics, the ingrained belief in an outdated system of understanding human potential and an even more outdated science. Epigenetics has shown that very little of us is engraved physically, but rather is the product of an ongoing conversation between our genes and external stimuli. Nature and nurture are interdependent. Nothing is pre-determined. What we become is a fluid process: a living improvisation. We are all ever becoming.

 
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Find out more about Kay's music on her website here and Twitter page here.



Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Alex Ward's 2013 Round-up


Alex Ward is a clarinettist and guitarist working in both composed works and improvisation.  A member of many scratch duos and trios, he also plays in N.E.W, Forebrace, Dead Days Beyond Help, God's Mama, and other bands.  This summer also saw the premiere of his composition for quintet 'Glass Shelves and Floor'.  A regular feature at London's amazing water-borne music night Boat-Ting, he is one of the most fascinating musicians currently on the scene.  Here are his 2013 end of year lists.
 
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LIST NO. 1:
Top 3 albums released by great metal bands in 2013 which, despite being really, really good, were not quite as good as I hoped they were going to be. Or maybe that should be albums that, despite not being quite as good as I hoped they were going to be, were still really, really good. Either way, these albums are all really, really good. Not quite as good as I hoped they were going to be, though.

1. Antedliuvian - Logos (Nuclear War Now!)
2. Portal - Vexovoid (Profound Lore)
3. Gorguts - Colored Sands (Season Of Mist)


LIST NO. 2:
Top 4 confirmations in 2013 that the time-honoured classic rock formula of guitars+drums+vocal-summoning-of-wilful-antagonism-towards-all-generally-endorsed-societal-values has not yet run out of potential:

1. Pere Ubu live at the 100 Club, November 11th
2. The Fall - The Remainderer EP (Cherry Red)
3. The Devil (self-titled album, Copy Records)
4. Cellular Chaos (self-titled album, UgExplode)
 

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Find Alex's music on Bandcamp and follow him on Twitter.  Keep up to date with the Boat-Ting programme here.

Kek-w's 2013 Round-up


Hacker Farm made one of the albums of the year with 'UHF'.  As well as being one third of Hacker Farm, Kek-w is a writer and blogger.  Here is his look back at 2013.
 
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Some random personal / musical highlights from 2013. In no particular order - ask me again tomorrow and they’d probably be slightly different:

Neil Campbell is an inspiration and a bit of a hero to me. So to get to finally meet him, hang out and chat was fabulous. His solo lunchtime show at TUSK was great – really physical - the way he chased and tamed mischievous, malfunctioning sequences of e-skronk through an array of flashing kit: whoo! – and that evening set as part of a ‘power’-trio with Mick Flower and Oren Ambarchi was pretty fucking special. That and Astral Social Club’s Electric Yep album.

Heritage Rock and Classic Albums Re-presented type shite doesn’t sit well with me normally, buuuuut, c’mon… Zappa plays Zappa turning Roxy & Elsewhere back into a living, breathing body of music again.

Richard Youngs: the Summer through My Mind album. Beautiful.

Hugh Metcalfe: within 10 seconds of meeting him at Salvage I thought I’d known him for 30 years. Hilarious, poignant, scatological, wonderful Hugh: “The Force is strong in this one…” Film-maker, musician, raconteur, comedian, organizer, lightning-rod, disrupter. Too many anecdotes - and some of them incredibly personal – the wee-stained long-johns, Bob Cobbing, broken abstract-Blues solos, chocolate brownie sandwiches, being serenaded by him at TUSK with a fart, etc, etc.  

Getting drunk with Rick Kemp in my old local and hearing some amazing first-hand stories about Mick Ronson and Michael Chapman. He even did Ronno’s voice.

Richard Abberline at The Cube, Bristol. Damn, he’s good. Really good. Focused intensity. The West Country Brel.

Smegma, live at TUSK. Fucking awesome. For forty years these dudes have been tearing up the rulebook. They said afterwards they thought it was a messy show – gear not working, etc, but - Christ, man - it sounded like a master-class in outsider psych-improv to me. And a bleary 1am aftershow minivan ride with them through Newcastle with the wonderful Toby at the wheel. Wonderful.

Ashley Paul at Salvage. The ‘silence’ in her music – the gaps; the gorgeous pin-drop quiet – the strange Anti-Cagean tension that built when she Went Quiet; the implied emotion, the gathering absent-presence of The Untold. The Unspoken.  
 
Hacker Farm road-trip to Den Haag, Holland. The people, the venue, the show: amazing, absolutely amazing. Everyone so warm and friendly. Wout and Jonny. Bumping into my old Flemmish friend Bart Sloow. 5am, drunk, up on a balcony, looking out across the park at the Russian Embassy from a squat in the former Swedish Embassy while a Canadian girl told us about the protests to get the Greenpeace 30 released. Drones in the basement, handmade modular synths, their own radio station. Gonna carry those memories to my grave.

 
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Explore the world of Hacker Farm on their site and Twitter. Also, Kek-w writes a great blog, which can be found here.

Free Kick's 2013 Round-up


Free Kick is a weekly free-form radio show broadcast on CKUT 90.3 from Montreal every Sunday at 11am-1pm eastern time; or alternatively, subscribe to the podcast - all links at the bottom of this post.  Here is a shared top 10 of 2013 from hosts Swan and Dave.

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True to the format of the show, each of us came up with a separate list of 5 Canadian releases that became favourites in 2013. A fair number were released in late 2012 but got most of their play in 2013. Items are listed in no particular order.

Swan's Top 5:

Alaclair Ensemble - Touladis -
http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Alaclair_Ensemble/Touladis/
A Tribe Called Red - Nation II Nation - http://atribecalledred.com/portfolio/nation-ii-nation/
Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson - Stones - http://www.runegrammofon.com/artists/colin-stetson-mats-gustafsson/rcd-2136-colin-stetson-mats-gustafsson-stones-cd/
Stefan Cristoff & Sam Shalabi - родина (Rodina) - http://howlarts.net/rodina
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - http://cstrecords.com/cst081/

Dave's Top 5:

Ratchet Orchestra - Hemlock - http://www.dripaudio.com/releases.php?release=33
Bernard Falaise - S'Enfouir - http://www.actuellecd.com/en/cat/et_19/
Drumheller - Sometimes Machine - http://mechanicalforestsound.blogspot.ca/2013/06/recording-drumheller.html
Land of Kush -The Big Mango - http://cstrecords.com/new-release-land-of-kush-%E2%80%93-the-big-mango/
Alex Lukashevsky - Too Late Blues - http://store.standardform.org/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=69

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Get yer Free Kick here, on Facebook here, and on their blog here.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Laica's 2013 Round-up



Laica (aka Dave Fleet) released the excellent 'Environs' earlier this year, an album which Ears For Eyes deemed to be "intelligent, mature and engaging", a belief that hasn't changed at all with several listens since then.  Here is Dave's look back at 2013.

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I'm starting to find end of year album lists a bit of a strange thing as a lot of people talk about the same albums which is good for those people that made those albums, then you get a lot of albums you have never come across, again a good thing, you read a list that has 5 or 6 albums you liked and then see something new and go check it out, if you like it and buy it its a win win situation.

Taking all of this into account I decided that I would try and present you with something different, the way that people buy music has changed, the way that people listen back to that music has changed but also since the dawn of the digital age I think that the way people present their physical or digital releases has changed and that's where I come in, what follows is a list of albums/Eps, all great musically but presented here because I like how they look (The fact that not all of these recordings came out in 2013 is to be ignored)

Francisco Meirino - An Extended Meaning For Something Meaningless (Auditory Field Theory)
This CD was sent to a month or so back, I have long been a supporter of Auditory Field Theory and had listened to the clips for this album on soundcloud, as soon as I said its was a very interesting listen I was promised a copy, sound-wise it does not disappoint, but also visually it is really nice album, simply printed on embossed card the minimalism of the cover really sets you up for an album made up of 3 extended pieces or really well constructed noise, there is no other way to put it, but its a really composed noise, it has very distinct movements within it, I keep coming back to it
http://www.auditoryfieldtheory.org/products/516038-francisco-meirino-an-extended-meaning-for-something-meaningless-cd

Production Unit - There Are No Shortcuts In A Grid System (Broken20)
I reviewed this album at the end of 2012 for Darkfloor, Its an album I fell for straight away, Its a really clever album and it is paced perfectly for home listening but its inclusion here is because of the brilliant way it was packaged, Dave Fyans who does all of the artwork for Broken20 went looking for the future and found it, the album comes on an engraved USB stick in a bespoke black box with many inserts that ask as many questions as the music contained within do
http://store.broken20.com/album/there-are-no-shortcuts-in-a-grid-system

Ujif_Notfound - Aneuch (Electroton)
I am a recent convert to the Electroton label that is run by Martin Weis they deliver sparse glitch electronics that will be familiar to those who have enjoyed the Clicks and Cuts albums or the early Raster Noton releases, some of it is more avant-garde than purely rhythm driven but all beautiful regardless, This album and indeed all 8 of the albums in this series are included here because they are presented as 3" cdrs in clear miniature DVD cases with minimal info typed across the front 
http://electroton.net/ton015.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQtEwWYiQ_8

Uschi-No-Michi - Ameratsu (Phatic Musk)
7" Singles fit inside 8" floppy disks, who knew? its such a simple thing but its a thing of beauty, each of these limited edition singles is different as these disks have all had a real life beforehand added to Uschi's voice this makes up to a beautiful package all round
http://phaticmusk.bandcamp.com/

Laica - Puls (Rano)
Including myself in this list is wrong I'm sure except for the fact that I didn't design the package for Puls, It had already been designed, also I honestly like all of the releases on Rano and thought putting my own up would stop it looking like I have a favourite, the part of the packaging I like isn't the design of the J Cards or tapes themselves but the simple addition of a banded and hand stamped box to contain everything, its the little things that really make it
http://rano.bandcamp.com/album/puls

Q U B E - Hacker Farm (hackerfarm.net)
This has to be one of the strangest musical objects I have ever bought, Q U B E is a Rubik's cube with each of the faces making up a QR code that you then scan to get to the content (musical or otherwise) contained within?
http://hackerfarm.net/q-u-b-e-qr-code-rubiks-cube-plus-content/

Madden / Dylewski - Works On Foil (Exotic Pylon)
This release takes things in a slightly different direction, this in an audio visual album that comes on an sd card in a foil bag, plenty of glitchwares contained within (glitchwares is my word but you can have it)
http://exoticpylonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/works-on-foil
http://vimeo.com/78834144

Sculpture - CD DVD (tapebox.co.uk)
The list so far, although being about music has all been focussed on the look of or the packaging of music, this is actually a DVD full of mind bending visuals from Sculpture, they could have filled this list themselves as they really do think outside the box as people say, but this DVD really is a joy to watch and it was free when I got mine, all you have to do is ask
http://tapebox.co.uk/
http://vimeo.com/54168416

Rave Wars - Various (Balkan Vinyl)
Originally pressed and sold out in 2010, this and Rave Wars II were both repressed early this year on coloured vinyl, each 7" comes with a cover mounted and randomly chosen Star Wars figure and as a life long fan i had to have them, bass, breaks the hoover sound and Star Wars figures, what could go wrong
http://balkanvinyl.bandcamp.com/album/rave-wars

OH/EX/OH - Extant (The Geography Trip)
Again I reviewed this album for Darkfloor but it is included here for an entirely different reason, it looks so good, as I said at the start, music is delivered in an entirely different way now to the way it was delivered when I first started to collect records, but when this record arrived it took me straight back to my youth, this album demands to be taken out of its protective sleeve looked at, studied and loved, this is what people used to do with records and a bit of me hopes that people continue to do so, Thank you
http://thegeographytrip.bandcamp.com/

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Explore the music and mind of Laica here and on Bandcamp, and also on Dave's Twitter

Friday, 20 December 2013

Corey Mwamba's 2013 Round-up


Corey Mwamba is a improvising musician playing the vibraphone in a group with Dave Kane and Joshua Blackmore.  They released an album 'Don't Overthink It' earlier this year.  Here are Corey's thoughts on 2013.

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Here are ten things I heard that I liked this year, in no particular
order. Most of them are live, although some of those were also recorded.

1. Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra: I was invited up to Glasgow with the
group I'm in, Sonsale. Hearing (and seeing) a large ensemble where you
don't notice its weight - where you hear considered improvisiation -
where there is a real sense of joy in the music making - these things
are rare: and GIO should be celebrated for that.

2. Lauren Kinsella: I was at Marsden with Batteries and caught some of
Laura Jurd's set, which was great; but I was blown away by this
vocalist, who moved between crystalline tones and guttural sounds, and
everything in-between.

3. Rachel Musson/Liam Noble/Mark Sanders: I really like this group and
its interaction. I - and indeed, anyone with ears - could talk about
how good Mark is for ages. It's great for me to hear Liam in a
different context than I'm used to; when I heard them live he was on
piano, but I'm very much looking forward to hearing him play synths.
And Rachel is one of the foremost improvisers on the tenor saxophone in
this country, if not further.

4. Louis Moholo and Alex Hawkins: I heard them in Newcastle: IMMENSE.
Is that not enough of a description? No? That's unfortunate, because
that's what the gig was. Every so often a gig is so big and
awe-inspiring that you can only use one word. It was that good.

5. Maggie Nicholls + Marilyn Crispell: I heard this the same weekend I
heard GIO. This was also IMMENSE: a lesson in joyful improvisation by
two masters of the craft.

6. Black Top + Walt Shaw: Black Top you'll know; but with Walt they
went another place. Walt's an artist and percussionist; and the way he
worked and interacted the sound-world that Orphy Robinson, Pat Thomas
and Cleveland Watkiss were creating was highly sensitive and dramatic,
making the music all that much better. And it was already extremely
good at the start of things!

7. Less and More by Alex Bonney & Dave Kane: this is a fantastic album,
that I have re-visited often. There's always a sense of narrative
within each of the small pieces which is compelling - pure music.

8. Alex Ward: I heard him at Lumen in London, doing an awe-inspiring
solo set. Very few people playing the clarinet with such range - but
I'm guessing (hoping?) we all knew that. What was mind-blowing was the
fine structure of the set - it was fantastically balanced, and he used
the space of the church beautifully.

9. Bennett, Cole & Fairclough Trio: this is something I heard on
Soundcloud, and I'd like to hear them live. Laura is one of the most
sensitive pianists around at the moment: she's a peerless accompanist
and it's great to hear her more up front in a trio setting, especially
with Seth and Pete - which is a great rhythm team pairing.

10. Ntshuks Bonga: you might think this is cheating, as I heard him
whilst on a gig and a session with him and Andy Champion, but look:
Ntshuks Bonga is one of the masters of the saxophone in improvised
music. Ntshuks is able to generate primal, otherworldly stories with
his sound. There are so few people on the instrument doing what he's
doing, and even fewer doing it as well. It's disturbing to think that
hardly anyone I speak to knows who he is, and this really has to change.

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Find out more about Corey here, and on his Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Geography Trip's 2013 Round-up


The Geography Trip is a label exploring the "the strange, the odd, and the ramshackle" through some amazing music. Here is their look back at 2013.

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Geography Rob’s Top Ten Tapes of Two Thousand and Thirteen.
Numerical position does not necessarily indicate preference. All of these releases are super.

1. Knock of the Shoe by Canonbury (Exotic Pylon)
Favourite track: Bodmin Fence (Kemper Norton via Wadebridge Remix).
Grip the barbed wire and wait for the pulse to spit you out.

2. The Works of Miss Charlotte Greave by Beynon Archival (I Had an Accident)
Favourite track: Lunar Downs Part II 1978.
Swallowed in one by the reflecting moon.

3. Hot Jone by Maurice’s Hotel Death (Rano)
Favourite track: Jone.
Life support miasma.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me Soundtrack (United Artists Records)
Favourite track: Bond 77.
Rushed hands on yellow piping.

5. Press Your Hand to the Sky by Lumbers (Self Released)
Favourite track: Hauntology.
Scenes from a photographer’s dark room (now disused).

6. Where Does it Come From by Looks Realistic (Constellation Tatsu)
Favourite track: Sleep Cadet.
Your eyelids, unfurling velvet sails.

7. Decency Rally by Run Dust (Tesla Tapes)
Favourite track: Got a Picture.
I plugged in.

8. CR - 08: Split II by Les Halles / Magnétophonique (Carpi Records)
Favourite track: Fotex
I hear voices in the water, running backwards up the valley.

9. Liverpool Festival of Psychedelia (Pzyk)
Favourite track: 'In Your Eyes' by The Lucid Dream
And now I got the devil.

10. Samekh by JG/BC (Fallow Field)
Favourite track: Hausos Awakes
The mountainside crumbles, hidden places revealed.

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Explore the wonderful music of The Geography Trip here, and through their Facebook and Twitter pages.