Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Living Music Duplication – 17th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor Harris continues to keep himself more than vaguely occupied in the post-Swans era, and also continues to demonstrate just what a versatile percussionist he is. The collective, centred around Harris, who not only contributes diverse and eclectic percussion, but also wind instruments including some of his own devising. features at its core, Peggy Ghorbani on marimba, and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano.

Anyone on the market for Swans-style brutal percussive bludgeoning should leave now. Thor and Friends are pitched as an ‘avant-chamber ensemble’, drawing on ‘the classic Minimalist composers including Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but also amalgamate such diverse influences as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone’.

There’s a lighthearted, skipping melodic heart beating beneath the eddying synths and weirdy whistles and subtle strings which are all interwoven into one another on the hypnotic and ever-shifting ’90 Metres’. Ominous and eerie tones and echo-heavy chimes dominate both ‘Creepy Carpets’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, while elsewhere, ‘Mouse Mouse’ explores a more playful side, manifesting as a sing-sing tune that has an almost nursery rhyme / lullaby feel to it.

In the fucked-up, brutal world in which we find ourselves, where it’s everyone for themselves while each and every citizen is shafted by governments and multinationals and consumerism, kindness does feel subversive. And in their own quiet way, Thor and Friends offer their own subversive resistance. It’s a gentle, mellifluous collection of compositions which are neither overtly contemporary nor steeped in traditionalism. It’s this sense that the music exists out of any place in time, and that it doesn’t obviously connote any concrete physical space that makes it so very appealing.

Thor and Friends

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Front & Follow – F&F046 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Having followed Mark Kluzek’s Doomed Bird of Providence for some time now, I was keen to hear the latest instalment. Over the last six years, he and his collaborators have produced a series of concept albums centred around Australian history, all using the medium of dark folk with heavy echoes of Nick Cave. Burrowed into the Soft Sky is very much an album devised as being suited to a vinyl release, and is perhaps the most challenging Doomed Bird release yet, consisting as it does of just two tracks each with a duration of some twenty minutes. While still pursuing what the bio refers to as ‘Kluzek’s obsessive and singular foray into early colonial history’, Burrowed into the Soft Sky discards the vocal element, meaning the narrative, such as it is, is purely musical.

To understand the objective and the context of the album and the individual tracks, it’s beneficial to quote liberally from the accompanying press release.

‘The underlying themes for each track are contrasting yet tie together via their historical context; a period where indigenous Australian belief systems and day-to-day lives were irrevocably assaulted. The song Burrowed into the Soft Sky is based on a passage from Patrick White’s novel Voss. The book is very loosely based on the final (and fatal) journey through the northern regions of Australia by German explorer Ludwig Leichardt. Kluzek took a passage from the book where a comet passes over and Voss, his team and a tribe of Australian Aboriginals engage with and interpret the experience until it is ‘burrowed into the soft sky’.’

How this manifests is in a piece which exits as a sequence of gradually-shifting transitions, sparse and haunting woodwind drifting across an urgent acoustic thrum, while percussion builds, and then draws back again. Around the mid-point it bursts into a sustained crescendo, with sweeping strings cascading over an insistent, energetic beat, but for the most part, it’s less about overt drama and more about the brooding. The closing segment is a dolorous fanfare, with nostalgia-evoking horns sounding out over a slow march that finally tapers to a twinkling glockenspiel that does evoke something approximating a soft sky.

Mark Kluzek- The Doomed Bird of Providence8

The press release provides the following explication for the track which occupies side B: ‘The Blood Dimmed Tide is Loosed takes a significantly darker turn shining a light on a pattern of atrocity that took place in the north east of Australia at a time where a dynamic of back and forth, invariably initiated by colonists, took place and culminating in a “dispersal” of a tribe, “by shooting them down – men, women and children, the object being to destroy as many as possible.” This is based on accounts of such events in the book Exclusion, exploitation and extermination: race relations in colonial Queensland (Raymond Evans, Kay Saunders, Kathryn Cronin). Attacks of this nature on tribes were commonplace.’

As indicated, the track immediately plunged into darker territory, uncomfortable, tense tones forging a claustrophobic atmosphere. Strings scrape like nails down a blackboard over ominous fear chords before a militaristic imperial march emerges from a tempest of percussion and screeding feedback. This in turn coalesces into a repetitious throb, imposing and intense, which bludgeons the listener’s senses as cymbals crash violently, and by the mid-point it’s collapsed into a wash of hums and drones, interrupted by clattering flickers and subterranean moans and skitters. The closing section again builds an oppressive mood, the thudding percussion partially submerged by a swell of ever-thickening noise.

A priori knowledge of the context is by no means essential to the appreciation of Burrowed into the Soft Sky. It does of course benefit the listener to have a sense of placement, but given that the correspondence between the tracks and their inspiration / meaning is far from obvious in any case, it’s an album which can readily be heard – if not necessarily ‘enjoyed’ – on its own merits. As a work which wanders through a number of instrumental musical territories, Burrowed into the Soft Sky is interesting and rewarding.

DBOP_coverFINAL

Symbol Of Domination – 30th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The album’s title translates as ‘through difficulties to honours’, and this collection of Iberian folk songs, popular in the late 19th and the early 20th century conveys nothing if not the supremacy of strength of character, and a sense of journey, through adversity to triumph in a way which speaks of the resilience of the human spirit, and the human soul.

The album’s accompanying blurb sets the scene: ‘A travel through the rural Spain watered by our ancestors’ sweat and blood, an approach to the magical Spain with its lights and its shadows, and a gaze in to the abyss of the black and tenebrous Spain with the inner cruelty and brutality of human beings. Pieces of memory, tradition, secrets and myths transmitted over the years from generation to generation, around bonfires, while long working days under the sun or during celebrations. Small samples of popular wisdom which, unlike others already entered into the mists of time and have been rescued from our elder memory before their demise.’

Folk music, by its nature, tends to be narrative, but also dramatic and allegorical. While the lyrical content is, admittedly, entirely lost to me, the sentiments conveyed by these ambitious reshapings of traditional compositions remain intact, and, using contemporary rock instrumentation Aegri Somnia succeed in rendering them powerful and moving in an alternative context.

To unravel the workings of this project, which was pieced together over the course of some five years, some biographical detail may be useful: formed by Cristina R. Galván “Lady Carrot” from the Castilian folk music scene and Nightmarer from the avant-garde metal projects As Light Dies and Garth Arum. Aegri Somnia is a folk / dark wave duo from Madrid, Spain.

If it sounds like a curious hybrid, Ad Augusta Per Angusta is proof that it’s one that can work well. It’s loud, dark, metallic. It’s contemporary, but also timeless.

‘Seran’ launches the album with an immense swell of theatricality, huge swathes of post-metal guitar propelled by a spiky drum machine bringing force and layers of drama to the gothic symphony.

‘Señor Platero’ is a beautiful, graceful folk song – played in a full-throttle metal style. The guitars burn, slabs of molten lava over which Galván’s operatic vocal soars s if swooping from the heavens to grace this interzone between the earthly and the ethereal. The loping drums and serpentine vocal of ‘La Niña de la Arena’ is high-tempo and high-power, but features some neatly executed techno-industrial percussion breakdowns. Entirely incongruous with the origins of the material, such features serve to highlight the versatility and absolutely timeless nature of traditional folk music.

Elsewhere, on ‘Charro del Labrador’, the violent, top-end-orientated drum track duels with a chorus-heavy picked guitar line to create a sound that will resonate with anyone who’s heard – and enjoyed – a bootleg containing demos by The Sisters of Mercy from circa 1984. I’m probably writing for myself alone at this point, but this is by no means an album exclusively of interest to old goths. Far from it.

The album’s sound is dominated by big, grainy, up-front guitars with a thick, metallic edge: sometimes almost overbearingly so. That’s by no means a criticism per se: the production values are unusual, in that the guitar sound is as ‘unfiltered’ as it is up-front, a shade messy, and prone to burying everything else in the mix, including the vocals. All of this adds to the potency of Ad Augusta Per Angusta, an album which yields rewards through perseverance. Exactly as the title foretells.

 

Aegri Somnia

Makkum Records – MR17 / Platenbakkerij Pb 006 – 17th November 2016

James Wells

In these times of accelerated media and an exponential growth in the volume of mew works being cast out into the world, it’s often easy for lesser-known items from the past to be lost to history, to be buried and forgotten. And yet the archive is an eternally rich source of gens which so deserve rediscovery. This album – released simultaneously on 10”vinyl, CD and download – is very much a labour of love. The origins of its existence lie in the past: Komitas Vardapet penned a cycle of pieces for piano – Six Dances – based on Armenian dances, in 1906.

Makkum Records’ Arnold de Boer writes how, on hearing Keiko Shichijo perform Vardapet’s compositions, he fell in love with the music, and how Internet searches revealed other performances of Six Dances but none which touched Keiko’s. and so he made it his mission to capture Keiko playing the pieces, and how it came to pass that Keiko played them on a Steinweg Nachf piano, built in 1880, in the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis in Amsterdam, a 16th Century house along the city’s canals in December 2014.

In using such a vintage instrument, the recordings are imbued with a deeply ingrained and palpable sense of the origins of the work. ‘Unabi’ sounds like a child learning ‘London Bridge’: the notes are not so much tentative as prone to wandering, but there’s something compelling about the seemingly innocent disjointedness which sometimes creps into the refrain.

The looping motifs of ‘Shushiki’ are delicately charming, and draw the listener’s attention with their easy grace. The heavy timbre of the low notes at the beginning of ‘Het u Araj’ is compelling, and Kieko captures the spirit of the composter’s direction to perform the final piece ‘Shoror’ .The performances are wobbly, wonky, yet delicate and sincere, and this is an integral part of their mystical, dust-coated appeal.

 

Komitas Vardapet - Six Dances

Skipstone Records – SKPST023

James Wells

Although Rings is credited to Erik Friedlander, it’s the first release from a new trio, Black Phebe, consisting of Friedlander (cello and composition), Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion and electronics) and Satoshi Takeshi (percussion) ‘with live looping as a compositional tool and featuring multiple trios within one’.

Rings is certainly a diverse album, and the trio’s multi-instrumentalism means there are a vast array of permutations for arrangements, and, in turn, styles. At times playful and whimsical, at others theatrical and dramatic and at others still mellow, Rings explores a host of different sonic experiences. With the accordion accompanied by plucked cello and tribal drumming, ‘The Seducer’ is a world/folk music crossover. Elsewhere, hints of jazz inform ‘Black Phebe’ and ‘Fracture’, the latter with a wandering bassline that sashays seductively hither and thither. Some of it’s really quite nice, and while some of it’s perhaps not so nice in the light and fluffy sense, the quality of the musicianship and the vigour of the diverse compositional styles is impressive.

 

ErikFriedlander-Rings

MIE (Vinyl) / Clang (CD) – 5th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Classics, standards, call them what you will. There are so many songs that have been performed and recorded and everyone, songs that have become in some sense the canon of American musical history. The majority of the tracks featured on Knock on Life’s Door will be familiar, and if not immediately so, then they will be subliminally engrained.

The songs are all woven into the heritage of American music. These are not traditional folk songs, but examples of ‘modern’ American songwriting (context is important here: modern does not mean contemporary or recent in generational terms, but in the longer view of history (even America’s comparatively short history), the twentieth century is modern. These are songs the origins of which have been largely forgotten, the songs themselves having taken on a life of their own and become a part of the collective (sub)conscious or the canon.

The press release comments that ‘Cara and Mike Gangloff don’t so much reimagine old American music as infuse it with the life it’s always had. A life always just below the surface and a life far beyond the stars.’ It’s perhaps fair to say that as a European – at least geographically and spiritually – my comprehension and cognisance of ‘America’ is somewhat simplistic. However deeply I immerse myself in American music and American literature created in the twentieth century, I remain completely distanced, unable to truly grasp the disparity between the America of TV and film, even the America of art and literature and news reportage and documentaries, and the ‘real’ America, the experience of the American everyday and the true core of American culture And so the life below the surface, the life of these songs and the significance they hold is something I have to ultimately accept is something which will forever elude me. But this does not preclude me from enjoying and appreciating not only the spirit of the album, but also the intent behind these radical reinterpretations of what might reasonably considered ‘important’ songs.

So, as I said, the songs on Knock On Life’s Door will likely all be familiar, at least through the medium of one or another previous version. That’s the nature of classics and standards: so often their origins are lost, the original creator’s input usurped by another or numerous others. The artist – or at least the writer and original artist – is eclipsed by the song. But of course, herein lies the road to immortality as the art takes on a life of its own. Nevertheless, that familiarity will probably be strained on hearing their interpretations, and I do mean this as an unequivocally positive thing. Cara & Mike Gangloff have paid a heartfelt homage to each of the songs, and by no means set out to do them damage or disservice. And yet it’s safe to say no-one will have heard any of the songs played in the way they are here.

The nine-minute rendition of ‘Moon River’ finds Cara weaving around the tune, slowed to an opiate crawl of woozy, undulating drone. The meditative Eastern-tinged blues of ‘Misty’ is a long way from both Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis, the scratchy strings scraping out a hypnotic sway that transforms the jazz standard into something completely non-standard from whichever perspective one views it. Calamitously crashing percussion and shrieks of feedback punctuate a manic freeform arrangement of ‘All of Me’, which features a vocal performance that’s little short of terrifying in its intensity, sounding more like a challenge than an invitation. The strolling stop/start bassline of ‘Cry Me a River’ hints at something approaching conventional, until the tortured strings and rattling percussion threaten to derail the dual – or should that be duelling? – vocals. ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ concludes the album in a more upbeat, melodic fashion, but the song’s jaunty folk skeleton is crooked and bent out of shape.

Knock On Life’s Door is an album which will perplex a lot of people, and many purists and fans of well-known versions of the songs presented here will likely be affronted by such unconventional interpretations, not only because of what may be construed as Cara & Mike Gangloff’s anarchic irreverence but also the alternative musicality of their arrangements. These are precisely the reasons Knock On Life’s Door is a good album: it’s bold, it’s challenging, and above all, it’s very, very different.

Cara & Mike Gangloff & the Great American Drone Orchestra cover