Posts Tagged ‘Remaster’

9th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The remastered re-reissues of avant-experimentalist oddballs Photographed by Lightning continues apace with the emergence of Dust Bug Cecil (or, to give it its full title, The Rise and Fall of Dust Bug Cecil and the Winking Cats, supposedly taken from an obscure book about a direct to disc recording pioneer, and may in turn be a skewed play on Ziggy Stardust. Of course, everything is skewed in the world of PBL, and if Music From the Empty Quarter wasn’t evidence enough of this, then this should be enough to convince anyone: presented here as a whopping thirty-eight track document (2 CDs worth), Dust Bug Cecil is augmented with the entirety of their other 2002 album, Let Me Eat the Flowers. On the strength of this, it vocalist Syd Howells and co (here represented by Dave Mitchell (vocals, bass, keyboards); Bionio Bill (drums & percussives); Roland Ellis (saxophone); Chris Knipe (mandolin & fiddle), and Rev Porl Stevens contributing vocals to ‘White Master’)) had perhaps ingested more than just pansies prior to these sessions.

As Howells recounts it, ‘following the behemoth like Music From The Empty Quarter we went in search of tunes. Found some too. Glued them together with words and somehow found ourselves making a ‘pop’ album.’ In comparison to its predecessor, Dust Bug Cecil is a pop album in that there are none of the sprawling ten-minute epic headfucks on offer here, with most of the songs – and, indeed, they are songs – clocking in around the three-minute mark. It’s ‘pop’ in the style of the dark pop of post-punk, but its values are ostensibly altogether more punk, and its sound is primitive and murky. It’s pop in the way The Jesus and Mary Chain write breezy, surfy pop tunes and bury them in is a squall of noise that renders them almost indistinct.

There are melodies and choruses bursting out from every corner, but in context of 2002, songs like the album’s opener, ‘Eyes on Stalks’ and ‘Numb Alex’ sound like early 80s new wave demos: driving Joy Division-esque bass dominates a rhythm pinned down by a frenetic drum machine that sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the throbbing energy, and there are hints of The Cure and B-Movie in the mix here.

The guitars buzz like flanged wasps on the vaguely baggy / shoegazey ‘Lady Lucifer’, prefacing the sound that A Place To Bury Strangers would come to make their signature. Elsewhere, the sound swings from almost straight 60s-tinged indie on ‘Let Me Eat the Flowers’, while ‘The Remains of a Tramp Called Bailey’ sounds like a head-on collision between The Pixies and The Psychedelic Furs, and ‘The Risen’ comes on like early New Order. If it reads like I’m chucking in a list of seemingly random and incongruous artists by way of confused and confusing reference points, it’s because that’s what the listening experience is like. None of the elements of the album are unique by any stretch, but their hybridisation very much is. The 60s garage vibe of ‘Untitled (for Dylan’) and the Fall-like scuzz of ‘David Dickinson Said’ (with its obvious but necessary ‘cheap as chips’ refrain) are well-realised, and suit the lo-fi production values.

Sonically, Dust Bug Cecil is nowhere near as challenging as Music From The Empty Quarter, and it was almost inevitable that they had to do something different, having taken the avant-jazz oddity to its limit. Then again, of course, there’s still the customary weird shit, like the squelchy racket with spoken word of ‘Bob’ and ‘Pablo’, and the doomy industrial synth robotix of ‘Be This Her Memorial’, which mean it’s hardly the most accessible album going and it is quite bewildering just in terms of its stylistic eclecticism.

It’s unquestionably a mixed bag, and not all of the efforts are completely successful or gel quite as hoped, something the band themselves acknowledge with hindsight. But it’s still very much a musical, if not commercial, success, showcasing a band capable of wild diversity in their creativity, as well as a band who’ve spent a career making the music that pleases them over anyone else.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Originally released in 1999, Music from the Empty Quarter was Photographed by Lightning’s fifth album. The band described it as ‘their Troutmask Replica, their Tago Mago’, forewarning the listener that it’s ‘a monstrous slice of avant jazz, musique concrete Lovecraftian horror and should under no circumstances be listened to while under the influence of ‘substances’, and it’s immediately clear why. Like Trout Mask, it seems to be an album intended to be as difficult and challenging as possible, the sound of four musicians playing four different tunes in different keys and time signatures at the same time.

A strolling bassline stops and starts, runs and halts against a thunking beat. Everything’s up to the max, resulting in a slightly fuzzed-out sound, murky with the edges frayed by distortion. And over all of it, horns honk and parp, weaving weird patterns. This is the first of the four parts of ‘Al Azif’, scattered at strategic points across the album, with the same nagging bass motif recurring on each, as if in some attempt to give some sense of structure or cogency to the deranged, sprawling mass of weirdy noise. While three of the four parts are comparatively short, ‘Al Azif 4’ is a colossal twenty-one minutes in duration, but there’s a hell of a lot to wade through before – namely the whole of disc one.

‘Reptiles Invent The Amniotic Egg’ is a slow-trudging grind, somewhere between Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin’s GOD, and SWANS, and ‘Foehn’ occupies similarly dark, weighty territory. Meanwhile, ‘Pop Song’ stands out as the most accessible track here, a snappy number with an actual semblance of a tune that’s reminiscent of early Public Image – but after a minute and a bit, they’re done, and back to making the most chaotic racket going with the frenzied discord of ‘The Assembly of Membranes’, and taking things up a notch on ‘Timing of Cellularisation’ which sounds like The Fall playing next door to Merzbow, and they’ve both left the door open and you’re standing in the corridor between the two.

By the time you’ve been battered by the murky wasteland that is the noodling delirium of ‘Mosses Invade the land’, with its impenetrable vocals, and the unexpectedly folksy lo-fi indie of Sugar Fist – part Silver Jews, part Syd Barrett, you arrive dizzied and dazed at ‘Al Azif 3’ with a strange sense of déjà-vu, before disc two arrives with more of the same – literally. That sensation of being on an endlessly recurring loop is a headfuck almost on a par with Rudimentary Peni’s Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric, but perhaps more realistically an approximation of The Fall’s ‘Bremen Nacht’ repetitions on The Frenz Experiment and accompanying 7”.

The demented, snarling vocals, that gibber and gnash away into the drifting fade of horns is most unsettling as disc two gets dubby and deranged on the fourth instalment, and after the brief interlude that is ‘Hypoxia’, the fifteen-minute title track is a yawning, droning swirl of somnambulance, a ritualistic swell and groan with laser rockets arcing over its bubbling, swampy expanse.

This is fucking heavy stuff: not heavy in the metal sense, but in the sense that’s it’s relentlessly oppressive and lasts an eternity. It’s absolutely bloody great, but it’s also probably the soundtrack to life in purgatory. You have been warned.

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2nd December 2019

On its release in 2008, the second album by New Zealanders Die! Die! Die! received critical acclaim from the NME and The Guardian here in the UK. But the artwork wasn’t quite as intended, and, well, there’s always room for improvement with a remastering in hindsight. This version comes fully remastered courtesy of original engineer and co-producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Fat White Family) and with the artwork restored to its full glory, and emerging just a few months after their new EP, it’s seems like Die! Die! Die! are at not so much at a crossroads, but a point of reappraisal while entering a renaissance period.

I reckon I have fair ears and am capable of a fairly obsessive attention to detail when it comes to it – although it’s easier to be obsessive when your listening is limited to a narrow range of bands and albums. Nowadays, I rarely get to listen to albums more than a couple of times, and having – shamefully – not heard the original release, I’m not in a position to explore the details that differentiate this from the original. But I do have ears, and am in a position to consider how a 12-year-old album stands up now.

As a set, in terms of production and mix, Promises Promises pitches the rhythm section very much to the fore, which apparently was ‘partly due to the influence of new bassist Lachlan Anderson, but also because a broken hand limited Wilson’s guitar-playing’ if Wikipedia is accurate. What this achieves is a real solidity of sound, and imbues the songs with a particular sturdiness.

The album is very much geared to uptempo, high octane punky, shouty thrashabouts that are dispensed in two or three frenetic minutes, but elsewhere, there are a number of more considered songs that show – beneath the fuzz and crashing cymbals – a degree of craft in the compositions, despite the fundamentally primitive arrangements.

‘Britomart Sunset’ nicks the bassline to Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ and whacks up the tempo and steers it back into the driving dark punk territory of JD’s Warsaw years, and it’s killer. There is absolutely nothing more exhalating that a thumping bass groove placed front and centre. ‘Whitehorses’ is a standout with its mechanised, motoric drumming which thumps away as the rest of the band push away at a couple of chords with remarkable patience. The again, the title track lays sinewy guitars interweaving over a driving bass and powerhouse percussion, a collision of frenzied punk and icy new wave paranoia to create a perfect tension.

Promises Promises – reissued, remastered, whatever – is simply a corking album, and if its being remastered and reissued gives it a new lease of life, then it’s all to the good.

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