Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Another one for a mere $1 know it makes sense!

Pay $1 (or more, up to you) for 25 blasts of modern prog!

Be not afraid...

Monday, 22 April 2013

$2 for 7 hours of music? A Bargain!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Interview with Seven Impale

Following on from reviewing their rather fine debut recording, the EP Beginning/Relieve a few weeks ago, Stian Økland (vocals and guitars) and Fredrik Mekki Widerøe (drums) from Seven Impale, a new band from Bergen, Norway, join me for a short chat during a break from planning the recording of their first album. 

I wouldn't advise pogoing...

Roger: Your EP Beginning/Relieve, which came out on 5th April on Karisma Records has been on heavy rotate since I received it from Karisma Records. Tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how the band came to be. 

Stian: First of all we’re very happy to hear that you enjoyed our EP. Seven Impale was formed nearly three years ago in Bergen, Norway by me. I had been without a band in almost two years and was eager to start up something new and exciting. I was not to sure what I was aiming for musically, but in the winter of ‘09 I met Fredrik at The Mars Volta concert in Oslo. I knew him a little bit from before and knew that we had a lot of musical interests in common. Obviously the concert was a huge success both for what happened on stage and the relations that followed, which eventually led to Seven Impale. 

Roger: I must admit that the band name put me off a bit , as "Seven Impale" sounds like it should be a death metal band, but luckily for me, you are not at all death, or indeed any other kind of metal! Why did you choose that name? 

Stian: Hehe! The “plan”, if you could call it that, was actually to create some sort of a Hardcore’ish answer to Deep Purple, but with so many different backgrounds and interests in different music genres it just didn’t happen. Perhaps for the better we think. When it comes to the name and how to understand the brutality of it we like to compare it to religion and how it “impales” a weak mind. Seven is a symbolic number and heavily used in many of the world's different religions. We don’t mean to criticise a person's belief or religious view, but more religion as organization with hierarchies and political power. This topic is also often the things we want to communicate through our lyrics as well. 

Roger: Best of luck with that, sounds like difficult subject matter to get right. It's always great to hear new bands with interesting ideas. Tell us about the music that influences your sound. 

Stian: That is a LOT! Spanning from opera to drum’n’bass we have a lot of different music to use when we sit down and compose. 

Fredrik: There are a lot of different elements to pick up from music genres that are miles away from our own. The rythms of modern avantgarde/free jazz like Ephel Duath and TrioVD, as well as the electronic soundscapes and moods in genres like drum-n-bass and dupstep. We try to gather our differing inspirations into a “comprehenceable” piece of music.

Stian: What you hear on the EP; there is also a lot of heavier influences that gave ideas and inspiration for the songs. Especially for me bands like Alice in Chains, Enslaved and Soundgarden, which alongside with jazz informed me a lot as a musician and songwriter when the EP was written. 

Roger: So, was some of it was written quite some time ago? 

Stian: Yes, for example the title track Beginning/Relieve was written almost 4 years ago. 

Roger: I am told that you are in the middle of recording your debut album. How's that coming along? 

Stian: We haven’t quite started with the recordings yet, but hopefully we could start now in the end of April. We’re going to work with Iver Sandøy, who produced our fellow Karisma & Dark Essence colleagues Krakow's newest album; Diin, and co-produced Enslaved latest album, Riitiir. He is a man we surely look forward to work with, since he is very experienced in terms of both studio work and as a musician. The only thing that holds us a little bit back is, of course, money. But eventually we have sorted out that as well. Hopefully we’ll be ready for releasing the album early autumn. 

Roger: Good news, I look forward to it. The EP is download only, hopefully there will be a CD version of the album? 

Stian: We’re very sure that the album will be out on CD. Perhaps vinyl as well. It’s nice to have the EP out first to test the market and from there plan the formats of the album. The most important for us is that it will available for everyone, everywhere! 

Roger: In my review of the EP I made a comparison to American band The Tea Club and UK band inFictions. While all three bands are quite distinct from one another, there is definitely a post-prog common thread running through you all. Are you aware of those two bands I mentioned? If not, there must be something in the air, as the song goes, for, if you were all from the same country it would almost certainly be called a scene! 

Stian: Actually, that’s two new names for us, or at least me. In my case I tend to listen only to either opera or jazz so there’s a lot of exciting new bands I miss along the road. But since you mention them I will surely check them out. 

Fredrik: There seems to be kind of a “trend” with these post-prog bands, and there is definitely more bands for us to relate to musically when we get out of Norway. This is one of the main reasons that it is very important to us to get recognized internationally. 

Roger: Do you have any gigs planned, and have you ever played outside Norway? 

Stian: We’re trying to get some gigs, but it’s quite hard here in Norway. I think for a band of our size, being unproved and with a lot of gear makes the starting phase extra hard. But perhaps there will be more opportunities after the EP has been out a while. We hope that we could get some gigs outside of Norway quite fast. England would be perfect we guess; just give us a heads up and we’ll be on the first plane! 

Roger: Finally, the traditional food question - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian or home cooking? 

Stian: That is a good question. We’re all very fond of good food, and variety is the key to all that is durable and perfect, so I guess I’d have to say all of them.

Well, there you have it. An interesting young band whose album I can't wait to get my hands on, so with that in mind, we'll let them get back to work.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Churn Milk Joan - Without a Horse + a retrospective

Hebden Bridge, in the scenic Calder Valley of West Yorkshire is known to those of us of a certain age as the home town of a certain Bernard Ingham, once the bulldog-like press secretary to That Bloody Mad Woman, or Margaret Thatcher as she likes to be known.

For some reason I initially wrote "likes" in the past tense, can't think why.

Anyway, it is not the sort of place one would associate with the hive of artistic endeavour that is Colin Robinson's shed. OK he probably works in a slightly more comfortable environment, but the cottage industry that is the Big Block 454 studio yesterday issued the fourth album by Colin's project Churn Milk Joan, a mere 16 months since their debut. Also within that same timeframe Colin has released a further two albums of experimental minimalistic ambience influenced by the local landscape under the name Jumble Hole Clough, which I need to investigate properly at a later date. Somehow the first word in the band name Churn Milk Joan seems entirely appropriate!

Lets do this thing chronologically. I'll keep it brief with these older albums, then on to the new one...

Back in January 2012, just under a year on from the last album by Colin's previous group, the individualistic experimentalists Big Block 454, CMJ sprung their first attempt at aural dislocation on an unsuspecting and largely ignorant world. "One" it certainly is, as in "on the one", as the spartan Gang Of Four funk of Happier gets those dancin' feet twitching. Things are never that simple, and as it says on the Bandcamp page "Only one of the songs was pre-prepared; all the rest arose out of live improvisation recordings" and the result is a collision of Faustian scratchings and knowing white boy funk, with odd Zen-chanting vocals.

Colin plays guitars, eBow, lap steel, fretless basses, non-keyboard synths and groovebox, and his CMJ partner in the groove is American Richard Knutson, who has his own long history of experimental music behind him, releasing countless albums under the name Plum Flower Embroidery.

Richard throws vocals, guitars, 6-string bass and keyboard synth into the mix. His vocals veer from the strident to the becalmed, a Peter Murphy jiving with Malcolm Mooney throwing shapes, probably dodecahedrons, over the righteously funky backing. The fact that most of this is improvised and at the same time tight-as-a-nut is quite amazing.

Roll forward to May 2012, and out comes Black & Ginger. Taking the funky template to new heights, incorporating a knowing melodic sensibility, one is again reminded of Can.

A more musically accomplished effort than the debut, the opening track Eating Ice Cream In A Jowett Javelin hits the funk groove and will not be budged.

Less Is More sees a kind of white boy (and it is all very white) dub enter the house, all swagger and hip-shake.

The highlight is the title track, a minimalistic and drawn out trip through a soundscape populated by a lysergically altered version of The Blue Nile. Charming, eerie and lovely in equal measure. Suddenly waking up towards the end as if waking from a long dream, the tune skitters off over the moor.

January 2013 saw the release of
8 Black Postcards, a sonically classy and occasionally stripped back affair, steeped in sinuous bass lines. Richard restricts himself to bass and vocals this time, while Colin contributes guitar, synth, 6-string bass and groovebox. There are guest appearances from Pete Scullion on guitar and Marian Sutton who adds vocals and field recordings.

Robots dance at the break of dawn as something strange Fell Through The Sky. The love affair with Deutschrock and funky moves from the Gang Of Four/Cabaret Voltaire/Metal Box era PiL school continues, with added spidery Keith Levene-like guitar lines.

At 6:58 Fell Through The Sky is the shortest of only five tracks here, the longest being closer Boom Dipper Stick at 11:33. The length of these largely improvised extemporisations allows the listener to become fully immersed in the warm bath of spacious groove that Churn Milk Joan effortlessly conjure, the hypnotic effect of The Letter (episode 1) being a case in point. The female voice is a nice addition to the mix that serves to add another layer of mystery.

Much like all of CMJ's music, the lyrics here and on all the other albums are impressionistic and textural, as the beguiling and slightly scary Menagerie highlights. Ford Maddox Brown is quite bonkers and is the sort of thing Talking Heads might have recorded had David Byrne not been into the pop star thang.

And so we arrive at the here and now, and the new album Without A Horse.

This time round we strip back to the duo: Richard Knutson on lead & backing vocals, bass, guitar and percussion, and Colin Robinson striking guitars, basses, keyboards & synths and percussion, and adding backing vocals, groovebox and Buddha machine, which is a a Chinese box of tricks the size of a cigarette packet that plays tinny electronic loops for meditation purposes. Colin tells me he "just plugs one in and lets it go".

A naggingly familiar construction introduces opener Honeyman. Boy is it bugging me; not exactly very early Cure, but in that vein, or possibly Bauhaus, or Wire? Someone please enlighten me! Anyway, underpinning this tune and prevalent throughout the discography are the weird bleeps, swoops and swooshings generated by Colin's groovebox, essentially a series of user-manipulated electronic loops.

Success At The Flower Show actually rocks, a rare thing in CMJ-world, sludging out swamp blues for the 21st century, cheekily referencing another wildly experimental band from a previous era in the process, the mighty Edgar Broughton Band, both musically, and by ending on a chant of "Out, demons, out".

Elsewhere we have CMJ's trademark minimal space-Kraut-funk, Robert's Mooney-Suzuki-Beefheart voice and his deeply mysterious lyrics enunciating impressionistic scenes: "Alive at least, at least you passed, you're favourite to win, or not to come last", "You retain too much. How are you finding Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky, cast down, you pick it up", and "You got in further than anyone expected, without a horse. Defending the borders, against delerium, with a Porsche". Not forgetting the very surreal The 3-legged Dog Takes A Train; you'll just have to work that one out for yourself!

The marvellous Can vibe returns on 1952 which funks along accompanied by wah guitar and sinuous snake rhythms. More generous helpings of white boy dub reverbs and echoes bounce off the walls and into the firmament on The 3-legged Dog Takes A Train, a smokily draggin' trip through random fried synapses.

Fishnet Hooks has some ferocious fuzzed guitar and careens along like a bus speeding downhill with no breaks. A slab of unstoppable attitude that will strip paint at twenty paces. PLAY LOUD! This is the sort of thing that Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone on BBC 6Music should be playing. Send them a file! (why does that not sound anywhere near as good as "send them a tape"?)

The album ends with the gorgeous alt-ballad Defending The Borders, a song loaded with lyrical irony. Musically, this is another departure for the duo, coming across like electronica lounge music at the end of the universe. Charming and quite odd.

In a year which has seen mucho fawning over a certain shoeless "prog God", this maverick duo show us what the true spirit of real progressive music actually sounds like, and, along with the fab new Guapo album confirms that UK avant music is alive and well. Chew on that, Bernard!

Like a secret lover hidden from your disapproving friends, Churn Milk Joan could well end up taking up far too much of your attention, but you could never accuse them of being high maintenance, as all the albums are available for free, contributions on checkout being entirely voluntary.

As this is the new one, here's the...

1. Honeyman (3:32)
2. Success At The Flower Show (4:44)
3. "Not to be confused with People's Republic of China" (3:39)
4. The Line Thief (5:09)
5. 1952 (4:12)
6. The 3-legged Dog Takes A Train (6:19)
7. Fishnet Hooks (9:20)
8. Defending The Borders (4:59)

Hebden Bridge, worker-hive centre of avant-pop sensibilities; who would have thought it?! Get this, and find links to all the others, here. If enough downloads are made in the first few days of release the band hope to crack the Bandcamp charts. Spread the word!

Follow them on Facebook

Monday, 1 April 2013

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance

Having neglected my "Formative Years" series for far too long, here's an album that, after The Faust Tapes, was my second tentative step in the direction of the strangely strange. Suitably enough, as if an excuse is needed, this month sees the (gulp) 35th anniversary of the release of The Modern Dance by Pere Ubu.

Becoming something of a musical sponge since the sharp left turn that my musical education masterclass (aka The John Peel Show) took at the tail end of 1976, coupled with the influence of The Bible (aka the NME), I ventured into town in April 1978 and towards its indie emporium of choice already emboldened by a liking for the more accessible end of Beefheart, Zappa and Robert Wyatt, all thanks to Mr Ravenscroft, and took a plunge on the NME's recommendation and bought the Datapanik In The Year Zero EP by a mysterious and faceless band going by the name of Pere Ubu hailing from Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, the same state that gave birth to Devo, sweet little puppies in comparison to this odd bunch of socially excluded misfits, for sure.

Datapanik was an EP combining five tracks lifted off impossible to get singles from 1975 and 1976, a release only made possible by the championing of those same twin pillars of left-field music the NME and Peely, and put out in April 1978 on Radar Records. An odd choice of label really, the Stiff Records spin-off having been set up as a home for Elvis Costello and The Attractions. Anyway, I was hooked and the next week went back to Spinadisc and bought The Modern Dance.

If anything the album was in places even bleaker than the EP, which contained pleasant tales of the dropping of A Bombs on Japan, skewed visions of nirvana and the dark psychological outpourings from the troubled mind of guitarist Peter Laughner, who would die as a result of complications arising from drug and alcohol addiction in 1977.

All the songs on The Modern Dance are group compositions with the exception of side two opener Life Stinks, a short angry burst of misanthropy from Laughner: "Life stinks. I said I'm seeing pink. I said uh I can't wink and now I can't blink. I said I like the Kinks cuz I need a drink. I can't think cuz I like the Kinks. I said life stinks. I said I need a drink. Yeah life stinks. I said life stinks. I said Yeah", snarled to a wiry punky guitar scratching, which just about summed up his sorry exit from the world.

Fusing a mixture of punky aggression, wilful Faustian/Beefheart experimentation, and the knack of writing some very odd skewed pop songs, the music on its own was a treat. Undoubted instrumental star of the show was Allen Ravenstine whose occasionally violent sax honking and primitive synth lines slap the listener round the ears with alarming irregularity. Right from the off, when a very high-pitched synth pulse introduces and permeates the otherwise straightforward fast guitar chords of Non-Alignment Pact you know this isn't your average punky fare.

Of course, the lyrics of one David Thomas are what really makes this stand out. That opening song is a lyrically clever if musically simple call for a truce with numerous ex-girlfriends, but from then on in it is never that easy. The Modern Dance, an earlier version of which appeared as Untitled on the Datapanik EP, is a sideways glance at inertia-inducing inhibitions: "'Cause our poor boy believes in chance (merdre merdre) He'll never get the modern dance (merdre merdre)". Each line calls, and the response each time is a throwaway "shit shit", and it still makes me smile. The song mixes robo-funk on an electric piano with more Faust-like synth scratchings evoking a very disquieting atmosphere. Crowd laughter and applause presage a mad strangled guitar break, all the while David Thomas' tremulous warble bemoans our hero's self-consciousness.

Free-jazz sax wailing sprawls all over the loose-limbed intro to Laughing until it ups the pace to lurch along drunkenly. A romantic tale, David gets all wistful: "My baby says we can live in the empty spaces of this life"..."If the Devil comes, my baby says, shoot him with a gun". Street Waves is a fast-paced love song infused with urban excitement including another one of those "lets hit this synth patch and see what it does" moments that makes this so musically exciting, and, it hasn't aged in the slightest unlike a lot of music from that era.

Chinese Radiation is a very obtuse and strange song from the standpoint of star-crossed Chinese Communist lovers...possibly. After all these years I'm still not sure. If that was odd, by far the most unsettling thing on this record is Sentimental Journey, and to this day it remains one of the most genuinely scary songs I've ever heard, and I've heard more than a few. The sound of a psyche falling apart.

But, before that we have Life Stinks, as already mentioned, and Real World, my favourite piece of music on the record, sounding like Talking Heads on drugs aimed at controlling schizophrenia, a blurred visage of a warped mind in awe of the modern world. Over My Head is space rock for a rocket that never leaves the ground, with an almost conventional guitar break, and a very oblique lyric that is best left unanalysed.

Sentimental Journey starts with the sound of bottles being stacked and smashed to a very minimalistic backing, slow chording, sax wailing, David Thomas muttering and mumbling incomprehensibly, falling over his tongue with frustration building, spitting and tripping over the words that do come out. "Ah. Oh oh, unh-hunh. Table and chair and tvs and books and lamps and other stuff. It's home. It's a rug it's a home it's a rug it's a window. I don't...Phhght! Ah-pa. I'll go home. I'll go home. It's home. It's home. Umm", and wherever that home is David, I hope you are very happy there!

The album is shot through with very black humour, and as David says in the closing uptempo Humor Me, pop handclaps and all, "But what a world to be drowned in. It's a joke, man".

As far as I know, and I'll admit to not having heard every album they have released since, this was probably as out-there as Pere Ubu got, and although Dub Housing, The Art Of Walking and Song Of The Bailing Man certainly have their moments, and it could be argued that ...Walking was even weirder, it was the freshness of The Modern Dance that shocked this then naive listener.

The band later moved on to very left-field pop masterpieces like Cloudland and Worlds In Collision, and having never split up and releasing an album every few years their discography now numbers some 15 albums, with this year's Lady From Shanghai being the latest, and one I fully intend to hear.

As David Thomas has said "Pere Ubu is not now nor has it ever been a viable commercial venture. We won't sleep on floors, we won't tour endlessly and we're embarrassed by self-promotion. Add to that a laissez-faire attitude to the mechanics of career advancement and a demanding artistic agenda and you've got a recipe for real failure. That has been our one significant success to this date: we are the longest-lasting, most disastrous commercial outfit to ever appear in rock 'n' roll. No one can come close to matching our loss to longevity ratio." Except perhaps The Fall, eh?

All lyrics by David Thomas, © 1978 Ubu Projex, administered by Bug Music (US/Can).
© 1978 EMI Music (ROW).

Find out more than you ever wanted to know about Pere Ubu over at the ubu projex, and they are on tour in the UK this month. See gig dates here.

Track listing:
Side one
1. Non-Alignment Pact – 3:18
2. The Modern Dance – 3:28
3. Laughing – 4:35
4. Street Waves – 3:04
5. Chinese Radiation – 3:27

Side two
1. Life Stinks - 1:52
2. Real World - 3:59
3. Over My Head - 3:48
4. Sentimental Journey - 6:05
5. Humor Me - 2:44
Line up:

David Thomas – vocals, musette, percussion, production
Tom Herman – guitar, backing vocals, production
Allen Ravenstine – EML 101 & 200 analog synthesizers, saxophone, tapes, production
Tony Maimone – bass, piano, backing vocals, production
Scott Krauss – drums, production
Tim Wright – bass guitar on "The Modern Dance" and "Sentimental Journey", production

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...