Saturday, July 08, 2006

Listening post

It's been a tough week, buddies, and it may be Saturday afternoon in the world, but if we adjust for the amount of stuff I've managed to cross off my task list in the past few days, it's actually still only Wednesday morning in real terms. There's a long way to go before I'm allowed out to play on the swings. On the other hand, my date for tonite just cancelled, and it would be fundamentally improper not to take this unexpected time-bonus and, frankly, wee it up a rope. And what better way than to follow the example of single geeky thirtysomething men ever since our prehistoric ancestors hacked and hewed in the noonday sun to create rudimentary Paleo-blogs out of coprolite and elk parts, by favouring the world with an account of the records I'm most enjoying listening to at the moment? Zilch better way, baby. Zip. Squat. Rien de rien. 57 varieties of nuh-uh.

So then. Here's what I've been cutting a sedentary rug to this week, Brian...

1. Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, CARTOOM! and Fakevox
I first came across this outfit maybe 18 months ago or so when their track 'The Martin Show' was pinging around the interwebulator: utterly gorgeous Rainbow Slinky-pop with the sort of laminated feel that only Japanese bands can really pull off -- its apotheosis possibly being the UFO's Brownswood Workshop compilations from the early-mid 90s. Unless, in fact, Plus-Tech are that apotheosis: which I like as a thesis because it kind of implies that Brownswood Workshop hasn't happened yet and my copies came from the future -- a much more plausible scenario than idly happening upon them in one of the 68 record stores that used to be on Kings St in Cambridge and have all been turned into hair salons. (How much hair can one bunch of students possibly generate? ...Actually, yeah, that's a lot of hair. But don't hairy students buy records any more? What's going on?) At any rate, Plus-Tech is irresistible at every level. You kind of have to imagine The Go! Team, miniaturised, turned into manga characters, scented with ethyl proprionate, ironed on to a Shibuya schoolgirl's pencil case, and triple-laminated by soft robots. ...I'm just saying, that's what you have to imagine. 'The Martin Show' -- a wonderfully hectic, crowded-out, groovy pop song that sounds exactly how a Jackson 5 milkshake with Deelite sprinkles might taste -- is actually by some way the most laidback tune on either of the albums. This stuff is (locally, at least) not too easy to track down but highly likely to induce a pink goo of self-replicating nano-summers wherever it's played. It's as close as I imagine I will ever come, now, to dancing with a bunch of happy pandas.

2. Paul Dunmall, Solo Bagpipes
I'm sorry to confess that until last year sometime, Paul Dunmall was just a name to me -- a name attached in my mind to Keith Tippett, and therefore to be reckoned with, but I hadn't begun to do the reckoning. And then I picked up a copy of In Your Shell Like on the strength of the involvement of Stevie Wishart on hurdy-gurdy (I've long been a fan of her work with Chris Burn's Ensemble and the stupendous Machine for Making Sense) and Paul Lytton, who's on one of my favourite improv albums LIKE UH EVER: Some Other Season, with Phil Wachsmann. I don't think I even noticed until I started to play it that Dunmall was on bagpipes as well as saxes. It was a complete revelation, it's a hugely exciting album but so attractive (in a gravitational sense) that I'm only now starting out on the rest of Dunmall's -- one would have to say, bewilderingly extensive -- discography (of which this is by no means all!). Solo Bagpipes is just knockout from beginning to end: strenuous, delicate, searching, settling, digging down and down and down... There is an intensity and a fidelity of attention that sounds (plausibly) devotional, and yet Dunmall's never afraid to be comical or colloquial, particularly on the tracks with Northumbrian pipes. As an exercise in gut chromatography I've heard very little to match it: though there are two further albums of solo bagpipe recordings in the oeuvre, which I shall be getting hold of when I've exhausted this one, some time in the 25th century. Admittedly, a lower panda quotient than the above, but I'm convinced very similar sounds to these pass through the transverse temporal gyri of Matthew Barney immediately before and during orgasm: which is, let's face it, more or less a dictionary definition of "close enough for jazz".

3. Mbube Roots: Zulu Choral Music from South Africa 1930s - 1960s
A lovely Rounder compilation [I initially wrote 'complication', which is a pleasing slip but not especially relevant] which I got hold of on the back of hearing, for the first time, Solomon Linda's 1939 recording of 'Mbube' on the radio a few weeks ago. Fascinating and kind of troubling to trace this song back to its source, having known only its eventual route via Pete Seeger's 'Wimoweh' and through various sixties pop renditions to the Tight Fit version ('The Lion Sleeps Tonight') which was, lamentably, one of the first singles I bought as a kid (I was eight, and therefore old enough to know better by about four or five years: though it was number one in the charts for a while that spring I seem to remember, so it can't have been bought only by infants...); and on, ultimately, to the splendid but presumably terminally stupid Dictionaraoke version by Myeck Waters. There are all sorts of questions about the appropriation of this song and the trajectory of crassness and cultural violence that that appropriation describes: though of course those questions are incredibly difficult to answer when you consider them in relation to Seeger, whose concerted internationalism probably ought to be above reproach. What the Rounder compilation also makes clear is how, so often, the pillaging was already well underway by the time these choirs and groups even made it into the recording studio, with producers adulterating the usual a capella performances by introducing piano or banjo accompaniment to make the music more palatable to middle-class tastes, and tending to strip out the vital working-class political context of the mbube tradition. ...Anyway, I really love 'Ina Ma Wala' by the Fear No Harm Choir, and I'll give it four pandas out of five.

4. Hans Appelqvist, Bremort
This is brand new (to me -- I think it came out a couple of years ago but I've only just got hold of it) so I wouldn't say I've got inside it yet, but its surfaces are strikingly attractive and the concept very appealing. 'Bremort' is a fictional Swedish town, and the music on the album is frequently overlaid and interspersed with what appear to be field recordings of dialogue and the sounds of domestic life, little fragmentary vignettes from different places in the town: no narrative, as far as one can tell, but the sense of music and daily life containing each other, or perhaps each an Escher hand drawing the other. The music is a genial mix of absent-minded piano, perky beats and nice offbeat family-size instruments -- there's some hot recorder action here -- in a coolly undemonstrative melange of acoustic and electronic, close-miked real and intelligently organised digital, and always this interplay of speaking, muttering, barely-singing voices apparently unattached to (and yet irreducibly belonging to) both individual people and the tonal life of this invented town. I can't think of anything quite like this soundworld: the music perhaps a bit like Patrick Wolf with the angst turned down to 2; the use of voices not really corresponding to the hip-hop skits or seventies rock concept albums that it might resemble in precis -- it does, in this respect, remind me somewhat of Barry Adamson's first album, Moss Side Story, but Bremort wouldn't be adequately described as an 'imaginary soundtrack' (that horribly overused phrase) because it seems to refer only directly out into the world, and not to any other artistic response to the world. It may be that Appelqvist really is sui generis: in which case one can only admire the complete lack of authorial gesturing. It's possible to imagine theatrical performance that approaches this kind of behaviour: but only just. It's extremely rich, its complexity is simply and kindly worn, and its unforced expansiveness seems to be designed to encourage a speculative response that is intelligent but not incursively intellectual. I like it more than I can (currently manage to) say. I know next to nothing about Appelqvist -- I only stumbled across him because he has a disc on Hapna, which is Tape's label (looks like Tape have been working with Minamo, btw, which is exciting news) -- but I'll certainly be keeping an eye on what he's up to.

That's probably enough for one go; I dare say we'll troll around this block again before long, my dears. For the record, I should probably note that two tracks have alternated, like Gladstone and Disraeli (say), in the gubernatorial regulation of my Internal Jukebox this week: viz., 'Going Homo' by The Dickies and, puzzlingly, The Fall's Peel Session crack at 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing'. So perhaps our next instalment will have more guitars in. For now, my work here is done: not least because some neighbour over the way has started playing 90's-build U2, which, as we know, blankly inhibits the appreciation or even the conceptual summoning of any other music or, indeed, anything bright or progressive in the human soul. Listening to late-mid Bono is like trying to eat an assortment of scouring pads in bechamel sauce while somebody harangues you about how fantastic the bechamel sauce is and why are you pulling that face when there are so many starving children who'd be grateful of a sauce that good.

Next time: dogs and Stephen Rodefer. Unless something prophylactic comes to mind in the interim.

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