Thursday, 17 January 2013

X-TG - Desertshore/The Final Report

This final statement from most of the remaining members of Throbbing Gristle (the "TG" of X-TG) is a tribute to founder member Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson who died suddenly in 2010. Containing 2 CDs in a typically esoteric and artistic cover, Desertshore is a cover of Nico's 1970 album of the same name, and Final Report is as it implies, the last offering of TG, although the notes say that there is more to come from the sessions and a live album is also on its way.

More on that later, but for those of you unfamiliar with Throbbing Gristle here's some background:

Punk was essentially a load of spotty yoofs giving society the finger. Revolutionary? Not a bit of it, most of us grew out of it, I certainly did. No, if you want revolutionary look no further than the art terrorist collective COUM Transmissions that became Throbbing Gristle. Now there was a scary "band", although they were much more than a band in the conventional sense, mixing confrontational performance art and film into their repertoire from the beginning. However, TG as a group would probably not have existed in the format we knew were it not for punk; as ever, the nihilistic movement acted as a catalyst. The people who made up TG were put off by the faux-intellectual snobbery of the street art movement of the time, instead preferring the more direct and honest methods and attitudes displayed by the do-it-yourself troupe of spiky-haired urchins of the nascent indie record industry.

The members' awareness of the punky stirrings happening around them led to TG as a band, and to the very weird musical statements it made. Musical statements that were far far out on the fringes, wilfully staring over the precipice. Far too weird for this spotty yoof of the time, that's for sure. Their live act included all manner of confrontation, as this entry in Wikipedia attests:

"The first Throbbing Gristle performance was at the Air Gallery in London on 6 July 1976. The band performed in one room with the music "appearing" in an adjacent room. Peter worked in special effects and provided the performers with simulated scars; meanwhile, Chris actually used a razor to slash himself" (it should be pointed out that the "razor" incident is awaiting confirmation, but it is highly believable if you know anything at all about this merry collective!)

In 1977 with their introductory sonic blast, the suitably perversely named Second Annual Report, subsequently re-released in many formats and in many altered guises, TG invented what became known as "industrial" music, creating in the process a kind of modernistic musique concrete. Always very experimental, to the point of building their own instruments, those early albums along with their unusual packaging were genuinely revolutionary in a way that makes the Sex Pistols look like the musical hall puppets that they actually were. Being utterly and resolutely uncommercial they made little impact beyond a niche audience, but the influence of the band remains in the avant-garde to this day.

Of course, no words on Throbbing Gristle would be complete without mention of the visual focus of the group, one Genesis P Orridge. For those not familiar, GPO came across as if Peter Gabriel circa Foxtrot had been filtered through an outrageously sexually ambiguous nightmare of your worst imaginings. The band originally split in 1981 and re-formed in 2004, GPO leaving in 2010. The fact that he is not even mentioned in the extensive notes with this issue indicates that the parting of ways was maybe less than friendly, but then again would you expect anything less?

And now to the record...

Desertshore is a "re-imagining" of Nico's third solo album, re-positioning the work in the 21st century, and a damn fine thing it is too! Given my ramblings above, you may wonder that the noise made will be a terrifying cacophony, but you would be wrong, try the sample below to put your mind at rest:

Back in 2006, Peter had the idea to make this record with the intention of inviting several different vocalists to feature on selected songs. Through the next 4 years musical parts were added, performed, recorded, tinkered with again, and in November 2010 Peter resumed work on the album utilising "equipment acquired for the project" when his unexpected death led to the work being put on hold until it was once again re-started by his friends and band colleagues, Chris Carter and Cosi Fanni Tutti. The result of all that work is what we have here. A cast of Peter's friends from many different artistic fields intone their tribute to him, one by one, on the new title track - there was no "title" track on the original. "What is beyond the Desertshore?" they may ask, where the endless desert ends and endless sea begins. A metaphor for passing on to the next world, perhaps. A sad lone piano fades away in the mist...

Whereas Nico's album is a glacial and minimalistic construct, the light and shade of voices, including that of her then 8-year old son, backed with harmonium or John Cale's keyboards and basic electronica, X-TG's soundscape offers a fuller and more experimental picture.

A lone cornet, mournful over swathes of dark synth introduces Janitor Of Lunacy, Anthony's (of The Johnsons) angelic soaring voice being in delightful and perfect contrast to the swirling maelstrom of the music. Lovely, in a very black way. The pace is never rushed, but sometimes insistent. Blixa Bargeld's declamatory Mütterlein barks to the march of robots. Blixa also gets to star on Abschied, his Germanic tones fitting perfectly over another but less scary marching beat.

Some of the guests are not singers in their "day jobs", Argentine film maker Gasper Noé taking on the part originally sung by Nico's son on Le Petit Chevalier, which lends the threatened innocence of the original an altogether different aspect. Sasha Grey, a former adult film star, semi-speaks/drawls her way through the funereal paced Afraid, a threatening tale of subjugation. Performance of the album for me is Marc Almond's The Falconer, coming over like the evil alter-ego of no-man, as fronted by Scott Walker.

The remaining two songs are fronted by fine performances from Cosi Fanni Tutti. All That Is My Own was the de-facto title song of the original album, ending side two, and the enigmatic repeated verse that ends the song encapsulates the lost soul of the protagonist.

Your winding winds did sow
All that is my own
Where land and water meet
Where on my soul
I sit upon my bed
Your ways have led me to bleed

X-TG's version is less musically spartan but more dystopian, screeching treated guitar (possibly?) and dark waves of strangeness swirling all around the stately rhythm, while Cosi does an almost straight Nico impersonation. The other Cosi vocal is the nightmare nursery rhyme of My Only Child, looking out over frozen musical tundra, "Their bodies close to freezing".

I bought this album on the strength of the songs from Desertshore I had heard on YouTube, having been led there by the CD's appearance on Steven Wilson's Best of 2012 list. I'll admit to not being at all familiar with TG's sound, so was not sure what to expect from the second CD in this set. The Final Report is a collection of parts recorded by Peter at his base in Thailand and also from the group's final sessions together in the UK 2009/10.

Experimental to the end, the results are always engaging. Stasis introduces itself over a looped industrial drum rhythm, topped off with synth patches, echoes and swoops; and so we enter a strange world where everything is not quite as it seems. As I said earlier, the cacophony is kept to a minimum, and what is left can be eerily spartan as on Breach or Kraftwerkian on Um Dum Dom right down to the robotic vocals.

A knowing smile greets the fact that the "bonus track" is in the middle of the album, but the track is called Trope which kind of explains it all. They're fond of marching, or in this case slightly lurching rhythms, and this piece is another example.

I was looking forward to the track Emerge To Space Jazz purely because of the title, and preceded by the shamanic and frightening Gordian Knot with its treated voices writhing through the mix, Emerge... has a synth beat that ebbs and flows, stopping suddenly, the cornet bleating lone notes across treated guitar strumming, flying off to the infinite beyond. As odd as I would have anticipated.

This is the kind of record you might want to play as a come down from Scott Walker's utterly fascinating but exhausting Bish Bosch. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely rewarding.

Buy at Industrial Records

1. Janitor Of Lunacy (6:47)
2. Abschied (4:32)
3. Afraid (4:38)
4. The Falconer (6:04)
5. All That Is My Own (4:58)
6. Mütterlein (5:17)
7. Le Petit Chevalier (4:24)
8. My Only Child (5:16)
9. Desertshores (4:54)

The Final Report
1. Stasis (6:38)
2. E.H.S. (4:00)
3. Breach (5:04)
4. Um Dum Dom (2:03)
5. Trope (bonus track) (6:12)
6. What He Said (6:50)
7. In Accord (5:56)
8. Gordian Knot (3:55)
9. Emerge To Space Jazz (6:03)
10. The End (1:42)

Line up:
Chris Carter - rhythms, synthesisers, keyboards, radiophonics and special effects.
Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson - vocalisations, samples, Eowave Persephone, keyboards.
Cosi Fanni Tutti - vocalisation, guitars, bowed guitar, cornet, melodica, harmonica, percussion, keyboards.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Human Factor - 4 Hm.f

Human Factor is a Russian band whose drummer and bassist, Konstantin Shtirlitz and Alexander Meshcheryakov respectively are former members of instrumental prog band Infront, while keyboard and guitar player Sergei Volkov and guitarist Ivan Ivanov both have backgrounds in the burgeoning Russian prog scene.

On this enigmatically titled debut album, released last year on Russian eclectic music label R.A.I.G. (appropriately enough standing for Russian Artists of Independent Genres), they create a vista of melodically instrumental spacious rock music, the guitars and keys eschewing soloing and taking on mainly textural roles.

Although separate entities, if you close your eyes the tracks meld into one long trip through a sodium streetlight-lit urban landscape at 3am, cold and damp, no-one about, a mood of contemplative melancholy taking over.

Combining influences from Quark-era Hawkwind, Porcupine Tree, classic space rock and straight-ahead hard alt-rock, the band are propelled along by Konstantin's powerful drumming and Alexander's melodic bass lines. Sergei's keyboards create the atmospheres while simple but effective lead lines are played out by Ivan, building to climatic rushes built on expansive powerchording.

The good thing about this record is that it works both as background music and also as an in-yer-face turned up to 11 headbanging session, albeit suffering slightly from maybe being a bit too one-paced and instrumentally similar-sounding. An exception like Polaris shows what the band can do when they shift up a gear from the usual mid-tempo, which works best on Tika, a big sprawling expansive space rock symphony in E (possibly!).

While there is nothing particularly innovative here it is nonetheless a good listen and at 51 minutes is just the right length. It will be interesting to see where the band go from here, as I would hope to see a little more variety enter their sonic palette.

Find out more, and buy from RAIG Records


1. Revealing Secrets (7:14)
2. The Mist (6:13)
3. Polaris (5:09)
4. Yellowstone (8:02)
5. Stargazer (6:16)
6. Tika (6:44)
7. Objects In The Mirror (5:32)
8. Equilibrium (6:40)

Total running time 51:52


Alexander Meshcheryakov – bass
Ivan Ivanov – guitar
Sergei Volkov – guitar, keyboards
Konstantin Shtirlitz – drums

Monday, 7 January 2013

Ummagma - Ummagma & Antigravity

Announcing itself with the charming Euro synth-pop of BFD, this self-titled album is the "pop" album of the twin debut releases from Canadian-Ukranian duo Ummagma. Shauna McLarnon hails from Canada and sings and writes the lyrics, while Ukranian Alexander Kretov twiddles knobs, plays keyboards, guitars and bass and contributes some vocals, taking occasional lead as on the Depeche Mode-goes-post-rock of Upsurd (great title!).

Human Factor has some nice bottleneck guitar and almost rocks in the traditional sense, fretless bass lends Orion a jazzy grounding over which a star-point synth melody plinks and plonks dreamily. The shoegaze influence is apparent on a lot of songs and having a female lead it is inevitable that comparisons to the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and the like will be made. Ummagma manage to stamp their own modern identity on the classic British sound of years gone by, and Alex's guitar on Outside shows an almost Bill Nelson-like quality, and there are few better influences to have in my 'umble opinion.

I suppose the most snugly fitting description to use for this album is dream pop, especially with a song like NIMBY, restrained electronic percussion to the fore over which Shauna gets all wistful, and it's really quite lovely! But for the heavily reverbed guitar, River Town could almost be folk-rock, with an early Floydian bent.

BFD (4:23)
Upsurd (4:45)
The Road To Lees (3:48)
Human Factor (2:35)
Orion (2:36)
Outside (4:17)
Rotation (4:18)
Risky (3:23)
NIMBY (5:18)
River Town (3:14)
Talk To Her (3:46)
J.S. Bach (4:53)

Total running time 47:23

Antigravity is the slightly wilful experimental twin to Ummagma's pop stance, but it is still infused with the ghosts of shoegaze past, going right back to the proto-gazers Altered Images and their trademark jangly guitars and girl vocals on Live And Let Die, hazily filtered through a fuzzy gauze, giving the song an otherworldly feel. The swampy echoes and reverbs continue on Colors which swirls around mist-like occasionally revealing itself as a building ballad of fairly simple construction; but nothing is quite what it seems on this album, the song soon going under the waves again. More Galaxie 500 than MBV, this is the sound of dreaming.

The usual adjectives tend to get wheeled out when describing this sort of sound but "ethereal" and "gossamer" would certainly apply. Fittingly given the album title "floating" is another one that you wouldn't be wrong in using, as a song like Beautiful Moment slowly swings through the air feather-like to the ground. Things turn post-rock on the following vocal-free Autumnmania, a playful song that dances around your ears.

The next one, Balkanofellini, is for me both the surprise and the highlight of the album. Shauna, sounding as if she is singing through the wrong end of a megaphone is backed by an off-kilter (synthetic?) brass sound not unlike a euphonium, which lends the all too brief song a kind of Tom Waits vibe, overlaid with sundry electronica. More of this please!

Ending with the longest song 1+1=3, all dark ambience and brooding synthscapes, this has been a strange and enjoyable trip, and given the numerous influences present and the briefly hinted at future directions this duo should go far.

Lama (5:00)
Micro Macro (3:34)
Back To You (2:52)
Kiev (3:33)
Live And Let Die (4:59)
Colors (3:38)
Photographer (3:36)
Beautiful Moment (2:33)
Autumnmania (2:51)
Balkanofellini (2:48)
Titry (2:13)
1+1=3 (4:15)

Total running time 41:59

You can grab both albums for free from Bandcamp, so what have you to lose?

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