Friday, 22 July 2011

MUSIC: various minor releases & re-issues

Cultural Amnesia, Enormous Savages (Klang Galerie)

Ooh! A lost post-punk band whose handful of cassette-only releases (1981–1983) is now being made available. In theory, **Cultural Amnesia** should be of interest only to Coil completists, given that John Balance co-wrote three of the tracks, and the band are absent from all the Indexes on my music shelf. As it happens, this turns out to be a genuine discovery, from the period when British psychedelia and prog was being played with the energy of punk. Half the time, the vocals may be redundant – satirical sketches consisting of “I am a banker / I have a car” or pseudo-mysticism like “I can tell you nothing that you do not know / I can show you nothing that I have not seen”. As the band’s conceptual framework indicates, this might once have been a performance artist’s clever detournement of tribal fetishes and rituals, recreated in the First World – but after a few decades, such musical Desmoiselles d’Avignon have become emblematic of the avant-garde at its most static. So, ignore the lyrics, and check out a psych-rock band where the synths and rhythm section Drank the Lemonade, and the vocalist and guitarist Ate the Cake. Cultural Amnesia couldn’t reinvent music (and didn’t want to trick their audience with the novelty synth-sounds of the 80s) but they could at least change the ratios between rock’s components, growing hypertrophied mutant limbs to match their ambitions. If Camberwell Now are one of your Great Lost Bands of the Decade, this will reassure you that there are other fine lost bands out there.

De La Mancha, Atlas (Crying Bob)

In no way Quixotic, nor Spanish, **De La Mancha** (from Denmark) claim to be the next big thing after Sigur Ros, and the artwork of their new album has a suitably glacial feel, to ensure journalists pick their metaphors accordingly – that would be Atlas (out now, on Crying Bob). With their grandiose claims, and misleading influences before, De La Mancha are more likely to remind you of Oasis, and indeed inhabit a stratospheric realm between (early) Oasis and Ride, with a smidgen of Elbow or Doves. The Sigur Ros resemblance is apparent occasionally – in ambient, trumpet-led instrumentals – but mostly it’s a slow-build to wall-of-sound / hurricane guitars.

Flatline Skyline, All Sound / No Vision (Mechanoise Labs)

As far as contemporary comparisons go, this isn’t far off XinliSupreme or Tweaker (i.e. NIN-member, Charlie Clouser). Either way, it’s punishingly abrasive noise, with bursts of beauty. In their hydraulic-press rigidity, though, the rhythms hark back to Cabaret Voltaire, Coil, Throbbing Gristle; in between, the clean soundscapes that introduce many tracks (and continue beneath the grind) recall early Labradford. Nicely paired with Cultural Amnesia, it’s a sign that being on a micro-niche indie-labels never meant lacking in ambition, and perhaps these are the “genuine” indies, inasmuch as there’s no mirroring of major label formulae (with less gloss, or more attitude).

Greycoats, Setting Fire to the Great Unknown (Sneak Attack Media)

Astonishing – the Minneapolis-based Greycoats namecheck Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and claim that their singer “recalls Morrissey”. Couldn’t they have just said, “We sound like U2. U2, U2, and more U2. Oh, and Coldplay, but that kinda goes without saying.” In no respect do they resemble Sigur Ros, or Radiohead (unless track 8, ‘Watchman’, is supposed to be their crib of ‘Street Spirit’). In the first three tracks, we get plenty of “Woah-oh!” of the kind Bono quit before The Joshua Tree, and even a lyrical echo of ancient U2 track ‘Two Hearts’. On the sleeve, the boys dress up in military regalia, and occasionally batter the snares in something like a tattoo. Having only made it through one Coldplay record, this sounds similarly smooth and digestive; only distinguishing itself by swapping some of the crescendos for white funk breakdowns.

Lord Gammonshire’s Guide to Everyday Sounds (Bitter Buttons)

“File Under UNPOPULAR: Whimsical PROG” says the back-cover. How droll…! “For fans of Caravan, Stackridge, Vivian Stanshall, and others”, says the press release, with a daring degree of obscurantism that makes you realize there are some things worse than saying “prog” (which might at least imply the guitar work-outs of Yes, or the brain-scrambled weirdness of Gabriel-era Genesis). Sadly, theirs is far too accurate a description… Had [X + Y] who comprise Lord Gammonshire half the wit of Stanshall – whose Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End is one of the greatest feats of British Surrealism – there’d be ample reason to wade through their quirky musical porridge, but sadly not.

Odawas, The Blue Depths (Jagjaguwar)

At a time when the rhythmic and spiky synth music of the early-80s is being pillaged by popstrels and indie-bands alike, it’s good to see a few people recreating the smoother, organic sounds of the early-90s: Laurie Anderson (especially _Strange Angels_), Vangelis, the Pet Shop Boys (their album tracks rather than singles). As the title suggests (or sets mental alarm-bells clamouring) Odawas drift perilously close to providing a soundtrack for candle-and-crystal shops – there are songs here called ‘Song of the Humpbacked Angler’ and ‘Our Gentle Life’. What keeps you listening – and I do mean listening, rather than slipping into a coma, is the detail of the songs, the strength of the melodies, and the fact that these swooping, gliding, syrupy sounds have been painstakingly constructed, and not just played by using the “whalesong” pre-set on the keyboard, or turning the Decay dials to maximum. In keeping with the whimsical / magic realist feel of the song-titles, the vocals are very Jonathan Donahue (i.e. Mercury Rev); wandering wide-eyed beneath the waves in a way that says “gosh, look at the treasures of Poseidon…” whatever the actual lyrics might be about. With the Rev long since gone-ghastly, however, this could actually be the record 90s prog fans have been waiting for; Odawas have that extra hint of sadness that keeps them from cloying, their melodies playing out like sunbeams seen from a few fathoms down, where the darker waters are visible at the same time, and for all the colours on display, many of them will fade with the depth. It’s hard to say who’s going to make the first great synth record of the decade to focus on “glide” and “swoop” rather than “stab” and “batter”, but as an aquatic companion to SVIIB’s more aerial _Alpinisms_ or Ribbons’ alien worlds, this is a good sign of more directions to explore.

Proem, _Til there’s no breath_ (Non-Response)

Damn, that’s a sinister album cover – the HR Giger-ish alien worlds kinda clash with dedications to (solo artist) **Proem**’s young family. Perhaps he decided to make this album of “Sleepcore / Dark Ambient / Drone” (as the sleeve says helpfully) as a remedy for new fathers? On the first few tracks, think: those moments in Lynch films when a flame fills the screen, and the ripping sound it makes flickering suddenly explodes around you. These are the sinister sounds of the kingdom of the insects… but by the second half, the horror and Gothery has subsided, and you’ve entered the serene territory of Stars of the Lid, or Labradford.

Holly Throsby, A Loud Call (Woo Me)

These days, Will Oldham’s patronage is a valuable commodity… and a fair indication of potential stars in the making, who manage to retain their cult-status, more or less: Jason Molina, Devandra Banhart, and Joanna Newsom, have all benefited from an early blessing from the Bearded One. It’s no guarantee, of course, but it makes you raise an eyebrow, just as Holly Throsby’s list of support slots does (which includes Oldham, Banhart, Newsom, plus Mark Kozelek, Bill Callahan, Dave Pajo, Low, and many others). With her lulling, gentle strum, and mild-mannered vocals Throsby is pleasant enough, but most of the songs quickly drift into the background… well before the duet with Oldham that’s supposed to be such a selling point. Reminiscent of Oldham’s simplest songwriting (on _Master and Everyone_), ‘Would You?’ feels lazy (and a touch cynical); rather than develop the imagery or hint at some mystery, Throsby fills in the song’s gaps (Q: Would you have an affair? A: Nah, probably not…) with Oldham’s voice. All in all, the album feels like the work of a professional support act; the kind of self-effacing, pleasantness that guarantees repeat business, without any threat of taking centre-stage.

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