Posts Tagged ‘Crossover’

Super Secret Records – 25th May 208

Given the album’s title, I wasn’t exactly expecting jaunty jubilance. But then, having heard a million albums since reviewing their 2014 debut, A Mothers Work is Never Done, I wasn’t expecting a wild hybrid of-hop hop and jazz at first.

They’ve upped the edge and intensity for this second outing, going all out with a strong start. An insistent groove, dominated by a relentless ‘vintage’ hip-hop beat, hammered out hard provides the backdrop to the jazz-rap crossover of the eight-minute ‘Attica Black’. Breaking from some nagging guitar and angry vocals, it breaks into a cacophony of discord, with brass honking like braying elephants tooting all over a collapsing barrage of percussion.

‘Black Tar Caviar’ mellows the pace and goes big on the sax and the sleaze in the opening bars. That sax… sax not in the smooth jazz sense, not in the café PA sense, but big bold, raucous, gutsy sax – before a thick, tearing bass grinds in, and… woah. Blackened hop-hop-jazz-metal? It’s like fur songs playing at once. It’s roaring and savage and intense and utterly bewildering. I don’t even know if it’ any good: it’s simply too much to take in. But if a derangement of the senses of the desires effect, then they’ve undeniably achieved it in around two and a half explosive minutes.

The weirdness abates for the start of ‘Bodiless Arms’, but only slightly, as a braying sax honks rudely to disrupt a delicately picked guitar piece that evokes pastoral tranquillity.

And yes, it’s ultimately all about the sax… it’s wild. The two short ‘untitled’ composition are bursts of noise without overt structure or form, but while the drums are all over and there’s

Ironically, ‘Jazz Oppression’ the least overtly jazz tune on the album, manifesting more as a full-throttle hip-hop metal crossover, a driving, two-and-a-half minute bass-driven barrage with throaty hollers and a sinewy lead guitar that’s swiftly buried amidst the chaos and screaming feedback. It’s swiftly followed by the equally attacking (and brief) title track: ‘Fuck all that weak shit’ is the half-buried refrain on ‘Morose’, which barrels headlong from a throbbing, insistent groove into screaming metal noise amidst a cascade of off-key xylophone.

If there’s a formula to be found, it’s a loose one based around shifting perceptions and expectations, the way in which a song can begin as one thing and end completely as another. The moments of accessibility lull and woo the listener, before s sharp left-turn and a sudden swell of noise annihilates all semblance of order and location.

But then, the crooning closer disrupts much of that: despite its extraneous additions, a swirling vortex of feedback in the background, and its awkward industrial trip-hop leanings, it’s a remarkably pleasant and smooth piece of soul-soaked hip-hop. To remark that it’s incongruous feels pretty redundant: everything about this album seems incongruous with the rest of the album. And somehow, it works.

AA

AA

Young Mothers - Morose

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Radio Bongo

Christopher Nosnibor

The cover art – a photograph of the stump of a recently-felled tree – is one of those exercises in magnificent blandness. It’s the fact it’s clearly in an urban setting which perhaps gives the greatest clue to the music it accompanies; it’s the discarded trainer which actually makes the shot, however. The image really only makes sense in context of the liner notes, which begin ‘The spiral of a record. The routine of life. The growth rings of a tree. The rhythm of a drummer. The groove.’

Production credits go to a President Bongo, and Execution is listed as being the first volume in ‘Les Adventures de President Bongo’ – which, apparently, ‘is a unique work of art that will reveal itself over the next seven years, give or take, in the form of 24 LP’s.’ This is quite ambitious, and while I still have no real handle on the concept or direction after several listens to this album, ‘adventure’ seems to be an appropriate choice of word.

The album contains two tracks, ‘Drama’ and ‘Transmission’. ‘Drama’ certainly fulfils its promise, but in the most unexpected ways. It begins with gloopy electronic pulsations, a sort of semi-ambient dance vibe rippling, soft-edged and mellow. So far, so chillout-orientated, club-friendly mediocre. But then extraneous drones hover and scrape at oblique angles across it, at complete odds with the chilled waves. It takes a while to build, and before the beats kick in. ‘She can make it,’ croons Þormóður Dagsson, over and over again. It’s a cool groove, alright. His voice is so sweet, so smooth, so achingly soulful. He could probably sing a shopping list and still make you melt. But while the vocal sits with the mellow bubbling synth, it’s the discordant noise that swells to dominate the mix. The jarring incongruity of the clash forges less a dynamic tension than it serves as an apparent act of brutal sabotage. And then the drumming goes absolutely fucking berserk, and the whole thing whips into a brain-bending, bewildering mess of sound. The groove is buried in the tumult, from which eventually emerges a driving, bass-dominated jazz-rock groove. Where did that come from? Dagsson’s voice continues to float, untouched, surrounded by a halo of reverb, through the wild wig-out. It all goes jungle with added whistles and bleeps further down the line, and it’s fair to say you’re unlikely to experience a similar seventeen minutes of song anywhere else.

Well, apart from on side two, perhaps. ‘Transmission’ creeps in by stealth before taking a turn for the dubby. It strolls along, bouncing echoes hither and thither. The vocal performance is understated, low-key, yet all the more effective because of it. A note hangs in an echo as a kaleidoscopic spiral of synth notes swirls around the steady, toe-tapping beat. There’s none of the wild experimentalism of the previous track here, the focus instead being on building laid-back atmospherics and a smooching groove that shuffles on unassumingly.

Groove, then, comes in many shapes and forms, and some are less obvious than others. Tilbury take the groove and twist it, bend it, kick it around a bit, push it close to breaking point. The curious nature of the music indicates a curiosity about music on the part of the creators. The end result is pretty damn strange, but also strangely enjoyable. It’s all in the execution….

AA

Tilbury - Execution

30th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

On the strength of the cover, with its sombre-looking black and white image of a fledgling gull (I think – I’m not David Attenborough) perched atop a post with the sea behind it, all the way to the horizon where it meets a brooding sky, you would expect The Earth Swan Sings Again to mark a turn towards serious, introspective and altogether less hectic approach to music-making. And in some respects, it is.

While still incorporating the wildly disparate elements of his recent previous albums – of which there are many, and then some (he’s put out a full dozen in the last decade) – The Earth Swan Sings Again feels less manic, more refined, but no less magpie-like in its amalgamation of a broad range of genres. And on this outing, Reaks has gone even further out on the jazz trip he embarked upon with Track Marks last year. This may seem strange for an artist who doesn’t really like jazz, but Reaks is an artist who doesn’t allow genre prejudice to contaminate his creative process. This is postmodern art at its intertextual best: everything is equal, and it’s all material. What counts is how that material is used, recycled, adapted. Etc.

This all makes for a more accessible set of material, but of course it’s all relative, and songs with titles like ‘I Stroked Her Like a Leper’, ‘Her Body Convulsed’ and ‘Today Hurts More than Mercy’ are never going to have the commercial appeal of the mediocre shit of Ed Sheeran or Bastille or whatever cal R1 is spinning on an endless brainwashing loop these days, and that’s before you even get to the music itself. ‘She stretches open like a parasite’s echo,’ Reaks sings by way of a refrain on ‘She Stretches Open (Like a Parasite’s Echo)’. It’s vaguely disturbing, and entirely surreal, but in keeping with his abstract / cut-up approach to the creation of art.

Bringing a more low-key vibe that’s dominated by a post-punk atmosphere, The Earth Swan Sings Again is darker and challenges in different ways from preceding efforts. The basslines are still dubby but less rampantly wild, and more about driving by stealth. The guitars are still choppy, but veering toward the picked and understated – apart from the immense and brain-meltingly OTT jazz/prog wigouts that splurge all over the place unexpectedly and incongruously – they’re altogether more subtle. Well, the guitars, maybe: the OTT jazz/prog wigouts are maybe less so, but they work, and there’s a sense that Reaks knows all of this. As one of the most singular artist practising at this moment in time, Reaks knows what he’s doing, and also knows that one chooses art of commercial success. And this is art.

The Earth Swan Sings Again is dark and stark, low-key yet eclectic, and at times inexplicable. Of course it is: it’s an Ashley Reaks album, and when it comes to walking the line between genius and madness, Reaks has forged a career by joyously straddling it and raising two fingers to convention of any kind. Outré creative talents like Reaks are few and far between, and while the mainstream grows ever safer, ever more diluted, ever more background and by-numbers, the need to artists who rub hard against the grain grows ever greater.

AA

Ashley Reaks – The Earth Swan Sings Again

Ventil Records – V006

James Wells

I know next to nothing about this release. Here’s a moment of transparency: music reviewers receive absolutely shedloads of stuff to review. Press releases are handy, not just as a shortcut when it comes to research, but also for locating inroads into a work. But even with a press release to hand, details surrounding Wealth are sketchy.

Consisting of Michael Lahner (synths) and Manuel Riegler (drums, synths), Wealth draw on a range of different forms of electronic music to create what they consider to be a ‘highly organic mix’. Sonically, there’s very much a preoccupation with soft-edged pulsations: the beats are largely rounded, bulbous, and when more angular rhythms do emerge, as on ‘Plate LXXVI (Diagram for Lilies), they’re countered by altogether less aggressive synth tones with hazy outlines.

Subtle, stealthy, glitchy ambience with backed-off beats are on offer with Primer. Sonic washes and rippling, elongated, undulating bleeps eddy around agitated, juddering rhythms so backed off in the mix as to be barely subliminal. ‘Floor’ lays a deep groove; not so much one to get down to as to lie down and allow total immersion.

Primer is a delicate, balanced work, with considerable range beneath its more subtle, subdued surfaces.

Wealth - Primer

6th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Some reviews are seemingly fated. This is one such review: I was slow to get started, and then, having spent several evenings working on a detailed critical analysis, exploring the album’s wild eclectism on a more or less track-by-track basis in a discourse of some eight hundred words, my laptop crashed and most of the work was lost, with the only available version being a collection of notes which were days old. How it happened, when my word processor is set to autosave every five minutes, I have no idea. Thanks Microsoft.

Still, this is an Ashley Reaks album, and a man who can produce three albums in a year – and continue to produce art, and to gig relentlessly, under difficult personal circumstances – deserves the same kind of unbowing attitude from a reviewer.

Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, anything can happen. And it will. And it does. Following on from Reaks’ ‘punk album’ This is Planet Grot (and a remarkable credible and impressive punk album at that), Growth Spurts, on the one hand, could be considered a return to more familiar territories. But then, on the other, it could justifiably be tagged his ‘jazz album’. The familiar elements of reggae and post-punk inspired dub are present and correct, but this collaboration-based collection of tunes also brings in some wild jazz stylings. The collaborative element is also key here, not only to appreciating Growth Spurts, but to understanding Reaks as an artist, at least as much as it’s possible to grasp such an idiosyncratic and singular individual.

Like his collage artwork, his music is a mish-mash of elements drawn from here, there and everywhere, often bolted together at weird angles and demonstrating incompatible proportions and lines of perspective. He has very much his own slant on things, and his approach is also very much his own: Reaks is one of the few artists who consistently produces work which has the capacity to surprise, to confound, and, occasionally, confuse – which is a healthy response to something which is so staunchly unconventional. You get the impression that Reaks’ raison d’être is to produce art which surprises and confounds himself, as much as any notional audience. His mindset appears to be that if it’s not fresh, unexpected, and if it’s not sincere, then it’s worthless. Collaboration, when done right, yields an output which is greater than the sum of its parts, and draws out facets of each contributor which may not otherwise be known.

As such, Growth Spurts is a world away from his previous collaborative effort, Cultural Thrift (2015) with poet Joe Hakim, on which Reaks stepped toward the rear portion of the stage to provide a background accompaniment (which in itself was a departure given Reaks’ propensity for dizzying soundclashes). Five of the ten pieces – it would be wrong to refer to this as a collection of songs, given that they feature spoken word and poetry – feature writers and poets from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. They’re disparate characters, as varied as Reaks’ own sources of input, hand-picked to contribute to the album.

The result is dizzying, a rollercoaster journey through a vast swathe of cultural terrain. Each of the collaborative pieces is distinct and different, and finds Reaks attentive to the style of the different speakers. And as the strange, strangles vocal cacophony which introduces the album’s first track, the oddly ominous prog-dub drum‘n’bass neoclassical jazz mixup that is ‘Divorced from the Body’ shows, he’s digging deep to locate new and unexpected hybrids. And yet, amidst the chaos, he still whips up some killer hooks – something so many experimental / genre-smashing artists completely overlook in their quest to innovate, to dazzle with their imagination and technical prowess.

‘The Gentle Art of Ignoring’ with Sylvie Hill is the most outright jazz track on the album, and her sassy vocal delivery and confident Canadian accent brings another sharp dimension to an album which displays almost infinite dimensions, but there’s just so much to take in. But if you need a pointer for where to start, start with the basslines. The crashing jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass drumming, the wild brass, the myriad perspectives of the different vocalists all slot into place over those low-down basslines that stroll and groove and leap and boogie. Get on down.

 

Ashley Reaks - Growth Spurts

Karlrecords – KR025 – 23rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

If you though that free jazz couldn’t be brutal and punishingly aggressive, you clearly haven’t heard Painkiller. A three-way collaboration between three legends in their own rights – namely Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Napalm Death’s Mick Harris, the three albums they released in the early 90s represent the work of a true supergroup: not just a coming together of names, but creative powers combining convergent forces to forge something exceptional. Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets, both released on Earache Records, melded grindcore and free jazz to devastating effect, but it was their final album, the double-CD sign-off that was Execution Ground (1994) that saw them take things to another towering level.

That 1994 is now 22 years ago is hard to digest: not only are there kids listening to Nirvana who weren’t born when Kurt Cobain ended it, but adults too. Nevertheless, it’s 22 years since Execution Ground was released, and only now is it receiving a vinyl pressing, in a limited run of 500 (with the obligatory download code). And yes, an album of such sonic depth more than warrants a vinyl edition, and Karlrecords have done themselves proud, with the 180g double vinyl mastered and cut by Rashad Becker in Berlin. There’s a slight change to the original running order here, with ‘Pashupatinath’ being cut from the vinyl and tacked on at the end of the download, but nevertheless it works, and the key point to note is that this doesn’t sound like an album from 22 years ago. But then, it doesn’t sound like an album from any time.

Zorn’s alto sax playing in the opening minutes is beyond wild, and it’s underpinned by a thudding, gut-rumbling bass. Everything about the album is immense: ‘Parish of Tama (Ossuary Dub)’ works the full sonic spectrum and distils the most potent elements of grindcore and jazz, while bringing down the pace to a glacial grind. Simultaneously frantic and pulverizing, it pulls the listener in two different directions, and possesses a dark turbulence powerful enough to tear you in half.

‘Morning of Balachaturdasi’ begins with a slow, heavy drum beat, joined next by a dolorous chime of a repeated bass chord. Half Swans, half Shellac… and then the sax. Fuck, the sax! Its shrill, it has attack, and while the rhythm sections gradually dissolves into a sea of echo, quintessentially jazzy grooves rise up and the playing really wigs out. Over the course of its quarter-hour running time, it builds to punishing crescendos, drops back down to almost nothing, with extended semi-ambient passages which in turn yield to shrieking sonic assaults with the brutal rhythm section producing some deep, dark dub vibes.

The ‘ambient’ versions are darkly menacing, and swampy echoes drift and swirl, offering little by way of comfort. In the distance, sax honks parp and bray like a wild beast begging for mercy from within the belly of a whale. Drum breaks erupt and vanish into think, murky air, while tortured voices howl in agony from the depths. The bass is so low and edgy it’s positively stealthy and almost subliminal in its attack. But attack it does, as it nags away, strumming and thrumming and skipping and dipping. Thirteen minutes into ‘Parish of Tama (Ambient)’, a crescendo of crashing drums and satanic thrashing and gnashing offer a view into the black heart of purgatory.

It’s certainly not ‘ambient’ in any conventional sense, and nor do these epic sonic expanses conform strictly to the tropes of ‘dark ambient’, instead making for something altogether dense, more oppressive and more sinister.

It’s a brain-frying and utterly monumental work of epic scope, depth and dimensionality. However far genes cross, you’d be hard-pressed to find a work which pushes forward across seemingly incompatible genres, and even more hard-pressed to find one which succeeds like Execution Ground.

 

painkiller-execution-ground