Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lerin/Hystad - Amaterasu

One of my many trawls through that bottomless pit of the obscure that is Bandcamp ended up at this album.

Simon Torsell Lerin and Bettina Hvidevold Hystad are a Swedish/Norwegian duo who explore the world of modern electronica and sampling. Since starting in Bergen in 2010 the duo have used music and other media to tell impressionistic stories that in their words explore a "borderland between music and art". They have also toured with Damo Suzuki in Japan, and in December 2013 German label Clouds Hill released a box set containing the duo's book about Suzuki together with a live LP recorded in Stockholm with the iconic Japanese musician. This intriguing project is available through the duo's Bandcamp page, but at €89 I will have to leave it alone!

Amaterasu is the duo's second album and is released on their own aptly named Extemporaneous Recordings label. Continuing their now long established connection with Japan, the concept behind it centres around the legend of the mythological Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu. As the press release explains "Amaterasu hid inside a cave after her brother Susanoo had destroyed her rice fields and killed her attendants in a fit of rage. In order to get Amaterasu to come out of the cave the other gods threw a party outside luring her out with music and noise."

Using streetlife recordings from Tokyo and Osaka entwined around their bubbling and occasionally meditative electronica, the duo paint a vivid picture tinged with Eastern promise.

Clever use of looping makes tracks like Harajuku compelling and hypnotic experiences, and much varied instrumentation, including some great guitar on Kabukicho, and indeed throughout makes the album much more than a merely instrumentally synth and laptop dominated experience. The Deutschrock influence from their long association with Damo Suzuki has rubbed off, and in places a cut-up technique not far removed from Faust is in evidence, as well as the useful deployment of motorik rhythms.

The combination of modernistic ambience, electronica, and Simon's shards of psychedelic guitar share a commonality with our own Bill Nelson, and like the highly prolific Yorkshireman, Lerin/Hystad show no little skill behind a mixing desk, and although the duo are coming from an entirely different place, perhaps unwittingly they continue Bill Nelson's traditions into the 21st century.

What will later develop into an urban atmosphere is leavened with pastoralism on opener Shibuya, and from the start of this intriguing album the combination of cutting edge technology and an ancient Nipponese meditative atmosphere draws the listener in. The duo's more experimental instincts are to the fore on Harajuku, which could be the soundtrack to a party attended by the shrunken humanoid inhabitants living inside a pinball machine.

Ueno uses its longer existence to leave the crazed cityscpape by way of meditation and stretches out into arthouse soundtrack territory. A hypnotic backward guitar loop leads to another plane of existence. An expansive Zen calm in the eye of the surreal Manga maelstrom leads to a calmer melodic guitar loop, preparing us for re-entry into the ceaseless urban neurosis.

Roppongi begins as a simple exercise in repetition, with guitar, synth, and rhythmic loops, before changing tack into a chattering and arhythmic conclusion. The recurrent pastoralism reappears on Ebisu, where contemplative keyboards and a post-rock guitar melody backs a repeated found sound spoken refrain, the calm of one part balancing the anxiety of the other. This album seems to set out to balance the yin and the yang, and it achieves it. Throughout the album there is a balance between the ancient mythology and the thoroughly modern means through which the story is conveyed.

Amaterasu is never less than an interesting listen, and I will be looking out for future releases from Lerin/Hystad, who are yet another example of the vast, flourishing, and extremely diverse Scandinavian music scene.

1. Shibuya (3:53)
2. Harajuku (4:45)
3. Shinjuku (1:24)
4. Kabukicho (3:45)
5. Ueno (8:14)
6. Roppongi (3:03)
7. Ebisu (3:42)
8. Akihabara (5:56)
9. Nippori (8:55)

Total running time - 43:38

Line up:
Simon Torssell Lerin - Guitars, synthesizers, percussion, sampling and sequencing
Bettina Hvidevold Hystad - Synthesizers, percussion, electronics and noise making devices

Extemporaneous Recordings


Friday, 17 April 2015

Anekdoten - Until All The Ghosts Are Gone

With Anekdoten albums being occurrences as rare as Everton FC trophy wins...well, ok not that rare...the arrival of this, their first album in eight years is something of an event for me and the handful of fans who are aware of this band. Even amongst the prog family a not infrequent answer to the statement "Anekdoten have a new album out" is often "Who?" It seems this long-running  band have a profile as low as Holland.

Most if not all of this seminal Swedish outfit have careers and of course families out there in the real world, and Anekdoten is an occasional indulgence for those rare occasions when the four members can synchronise their diaries and get together. This they have managed to do, and this time for long enough to write and record an entire album.

If any of you follow my witterings, then you will be well aware that this band and Änglagård are the reasons I got back into prog just over twenty years ago. Whereas Änglagård lurk under giant mushrooms in the darkest corner of the pine forest, building deftly intricate constructs of complex and dark prog-folk, this lot stomp that mofo wood down with giant hobnailed boots whilst wielding chainsaws. They are indeed the yin and yang of Scandi-prog, albeit linked by the commonality of a dominant bass player.

To be honest, of the two bands I always had slightly more of a penchant for the headcrushing might of Anekdoten, but their last album A Time Of Day didn't quite hit the heights of former glories for me. After all, this band are responsible for two of the loudest and heaviest live recordings you will ever encounter. 1997's Live EP and the following year's Official Bootleg: Live in Japan are must buys if you are into heavy, and I mean HEAVY prog. These are the kind of albums that deafen even at low volume, and bloody brilliant they are too. As is perhaps inevitable, after their peak of studio-bound heaviosity achieved with sophomore album Nucleus in 1995, the three subsequent albums, each released a steady four years apart witnessed a gradual lessening of the sonic assault. However, the eight year gap to this sixth album Until All The Ghosts Are Gone appears to have recharged the collective battery, and then some.

Riding an interstellar wave, originating at the dawn of time, suddenly Shooting Star crashes into the surface of a benighted planet of your worst imaginings. This is a righteous and thunderous declamation that announces the arrival of a new Anekdoten album in a manner to which we have become accustomed. The eight year wait for this album is instantly forgotten as the tune charges around smashing furniture and breaking spirits at will. An atypically optimistic lyric from bass monster Jan Erik Liljeström tells us to "Hold your head up high", and another new layer is added by the organ embellishments of ex-Opeth man Per Wiberg.

"Hello my friend, tell me how you've been" brings forth a smile and a sigh as Jan Erik introduces Get Out Alive, and like meeting up with a good mate you've not seen for...well, eight years, it's as if the old conversation is taken up without so much as a pause for breath. Yep, I'm going to enjoy this ride.

Rekindling the old sense of power, the mighty weight capable of crushing buildings evident on the likes of Our Days Are Numbered is countered by the maturity of the passing of years, reflected in straight ahead great songwriting, as on the title track.

Fleshing out the sound this time around in addition to Per Wilberg is Theo Travis, go-to reedsman of choice for the prognoscenti, adding his subtle but striking flute playing to If It All Comes Down To You and Until All The Ghosts Are Gone. Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church and All About Eve fame is all over the title track - I was going to call Marty a "veteran" but as I am virtually the same age I thought better of it! Finally we have some great saxophone on the pummeling Our Days Are Numbered from Gustav Nygren, whom I last encountered as part of the rather fine but sadly short lived Swedish heavy prog outfit Makajodama, who released one eponymous album back in 2009.

Bearing in mind the presence of a former Opeth keyboard man on the opening track and listening to this album as a whole it would not surprise me if Mikael Åkerfeldt was a fan, for his band's latter adventures into heavy prog certainly display Anekdoten hallmarks, given that Anekdoten have consistently developed this sound over a period of time that begun before Opeth released their first record, and certainly well before their current heavy prog fixation.

A more rounded sound, added to by the guest appearances, and a less up front bass guitar take the album into a more relaxed but still occasionally brutally intense territory. Once again Jan Erik's voice plaintively cries above the swirling maelstrom, a juxtaposition of styles that has become one of Anekdoten's trademarks. 

Finely balanced around some marvellous flute playing from Theo Travis, replied to in keening fashion by Niklas Barker's lyrical guitar makes If It All Comes Down To You an early album favourite, and takes the band to a higher level of musical repose. As does the subtly grandiose and cinematic title track, played as the hero of the film fades into the sunset. Marvellous!

Central to Anekdoten's music over the years has been the meshing of a thunderous guitar and bass melody with tumultuous melancholic waves of ye olde Mellotron, and this record does not disappoint in that respect. Just listen to the typically and bleakly titled Writing On The Wall for primary evidence.

Too soon we reach the last song on the album. We are lulled by the eerie and creepily quiet start to Our Days Are Numbered, and then suddenly the force hits you and you are unceremoniously flung upwards and sucked backwards through a vortex, back to the scorched Earth left in the wake of Nucleus. Niklas' guitar does justified and ancient battle with banks of Mellotronic lovliness and one of THOSE menacing bass lines from Jan Erik. This track proves, if nothing else, that Anekdoten do indeed remain mighty.

The last time I had contact with the band was close to a gig I had long anticipated, which for unfortunate personal reasons they had to cancel at the last minute. The 6th of October 2011 was to have been the date of what remains their only planned UK appearance, ever, and it is a date I hope one day will be rescheduled...we live in hope! 

1. Shooting Star (10:10)
2. Get Out Alive (7:32)
3. If It All Comes Down To You (5:52)
4. Writing On The Wall (9:03)
5. Until All The Ghosts Are Gone (5:07)
6. Our Days Are Numbered (8:36)

Total running time - 46:20

Line up:
Nicklas Barker - Electric & acoustic guitar, Mellotron, organ, vibes & voice
Anna Sofi Dahlberg - Mellotron, organ & Rhodes
Jan Erik Liljeström - Bass guitar, voice
Peter Nordins - Drums, cymbals, vibes & percussion

Per Wiberg - Keyboards
Theo Travis - Flute
Marty Wilson-Piper - Guitars
Gustav Nygren - Saxophone

Anekdoten website

Buy from Burning Shed

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Julian Cope - One Three One

One Three One is so named after the route number of the "only" major road on the Italian island of Sardinia, and as this is Cope's alternate reality where Jim Morrison is still alive, but Van Morrison isn't, partly as a result of Jim Morrison's way with words, we will accept the dramatic licence. The book is the tale of a walking wreck and alternative culture star by the unlikely chosen name of Rock Section and his thoroughly repugnant mates, a bunch of Liverpool FC football hooligans, and their collective disastrous shenanigans at the World Cup of Italia '90. In 2006 Section, in what are inferred to be his final days, returns to Sardinia in order to hopefully find answers to the whys and wherefores of the tragic events that unfolded 16 years earlier when Section and his chemically enhanced posse became the hapless victims of a mass kidnapping by a now incarcerated Dutch hooligan-come-shaman by the name of Judge Barry Herzog. Or at least, that is what this weighty tome is about on the surface.

Rock Section acts as the narrator. Unlike his mates, it seems he is a football hooligan more by association than action, and an 80s indie rock star turned rave-remix DJ to boot, on whom the finer points of being human are utterly wasted, a particularly appropriate choice of adjective. Mr Section is self-serving, nihilistic, and a permanently drugged-up fucker, whose sole purpose in life seems to be the obliteration all traces of humanity from his perma-monged body and soul. This he achieves by constantly ingesting any and all forms of consciousness altering chemicals in unfeasibly vast quantities. If Rock Section's body is a temple, then he obviously takes great delight in repeatedly shitting on its altar. This putrid mess of a man is introduced to us in stomach-churning fashion having fulsomely and noxiously followed through on a fart into his brown leather kecks while sitting in a plane on the way to said Mediterranean island. Sympathetic he most definitely ain't.

Section is obviously based on the author, right down to his Midlands upbringing and his friends' Liverpool roots. It would normally be the case in books of a similar character set up to say Section is an exaggerated version of the author. In Cope's case it is difficult to know where or indeed if the exaggeration begins, in which case "parallel version" is probably a better description. One can only hope that Cope is somewhat less self-absorbed than his fictional reflection! By the book's end Section, having had to cope (heheh) with his time on Sardinia without the assitance of his usual diet of chemicals, has redeemed himself somewhat, via justified revenge on his and his mates' tormentors from 1990 and by the healing power of lurve, baby.

Reading reviews on Amazon, it becomes clear that many of those who struggled with One Three One have never read any of James Joyce's streams of consciousness, or any of the Beats' prose as that is definitely where this rambling tome is coming from, but on far more drugs, both in variety and quantity. Yep, even more drugs than Burroughs. Unfortunately, Jack Kerouac this most certainly is not, although an appreciation of the great drunk would definitely help where One Three One is concerned. It is the opposite of his two autobiogs, Head On and Repossessed, which were the kind of books you'd pick up mid-evening, and put down reluctantly at 1am, as it's work the next day...but sod it there's only a couple of chapters to go, and finish them anyway to arrive at work the next day bleary eyed and irritable. No change there, then! One Three One on the the other hand starts off as hard work, as Cope's clattering and rambling verbiage takes some getting used to, especially if you have never encountered his thoroughly entertaining and out-there reviews in Ur-pagan rock star speak over on his Head Heritage website, where it works far better in a journalistic context. Unlike Kerouac at his best, whose paragraph-long sentences flowed with a poetic beauty, One Three One jerks along like a clapped-out car with a clutch problem, steered by a driver blessed with only a rudimentary sense of direction. However, once the novel has crunched through the gears and settles down and you become accustomed to the scatter-gun language, it is an entertaining if overlong tract.

Back to the narrative - most of Section's mates were themselves involved in the rave scene and lived parallel lives in the music biz alongside their righteously violent existence as Liverpool FC hardcases. The ongoing football theme includes a particularly harrowing chapter of first-hand description of the Hillsborough disaster, and the burning sense of injustice that came out of it. This is particularly poignant now, as the chief police culprit has finally admitted responsibility back in the real world. Of course as is often the way with Liverpool fans, no mention is made of the Heysel disaster. J96? Yes of course, but J39 is just as relevant.

I digress...The imaginary soundtrack to the tale is provided by DJ Jesu Crussu on 89.9 FM Radio, where "bands" that would fit right in to Head Heritage's long list of obscurities in the reviews section blast out whole LP sides at a time of righteous rock'n'roll. In a novel twist (ahem), Cope has constructed a website where you can read descriptions of these fictional bands, and in most cases sample the "work" of the Brit contingent via Bandcamp, mostly for free. The music is basically Cope messing about with synths and beat boxes and anything else lying around in the studio, and is mostly practically unlistenable. It is indeed a shame that "Slag Van Blowdriver" does not actually exist, but on the website one can enjoy the world's "First Indie Football Hooligan" with his only slightly headache-inducing eponymous toy-synth racket bangin' away in the background while you read...or the foreground if you like that kind of thing. It is probably the most palatable "tune" on offer.

I had to laugh when I discovered the only track not being offered for free was all of 28 seconds long, for which you have to pay £1. Unlike the other fictional bands, this "band" has a discography on Bandcamp of three releases, all of which will cost you real money. They are called "Nurse With Mound" - yes, I see what you did there...very funny, Mr C! And, no I didn't buy them, playing them on streaming was quite enough thank you very much.

As well as Rock Section reminiscing about Italia '90 and his mates, those hooligans-turned-rock stars-turned-hooligans again (Happy Mondays parallels, there?), the rather thin plot in the here-and-now is fleshed out with a succession of classic cars, (dis)organised crime, and sundry other devices. A running theme is Section's growing attraction to his travel guide cum chaffeur Anna who acquires the prefix "Blessed" as Section increasingly deifies this picture of Latin beauty. The psychedelic parallel plot diversions involve Neolithic Doorways that facilitate headless time travel back to a world 10,000 years ago where everyone is chemically enhanced by ephedra, a natural amphetamine, and our hero is a pre-history tribal leader...possibly. Flitting between two timeframes, Mr Section has to face all this without his usual supply of drugs, and becomes ever more strung out as the fantastical tale evolves. Actually "unravels" might be a better word.

One of the funniest parts of the book is where Section describes how back in 1990 he avoided the fate of his witless friends and fellow kidnap victims, that is, being buggered by their captor. This our hero achieves because he is lactose intolerant - you'll have to read it to find out how or why! When Cope gets it right he can be a wickedly funny author, but the reader has to hack their way through some dense prose jungle to arrive at the witty bits. The book was edited by his daughter, but I get the impression she dropped her machete about 20 pages in and hoped no-one would notice, least of all her dad.

It says something about Cope's standing as an alt-culture underground icon that a publisher as big as Faber & Faber took this on, as you can bet your last spliff that had this been an unknown author the only way it would ever have seen the light of day would have been via the dark arts of self-publishing. I acquired this as an Xmas present, and frankly I'm glad I did, for had I bought it I would have felt somewhat shortchanged. A definition of the word "gnomic" reads "difficult to understand...enigmatic or ambiguous" and that would have been a far more apt choice than the word "gnostic" featured in the book's subtitle.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Bad Elephant sampler

A short pointer for Easter...those nice folk at Bad Elephant Music have put up a sampler of their wares on Soundcloud. Vaguely linked by a progressive sensibility, the Bad Elephant roster is home to some of the better examples of the dreaded prog genre. Not everything on here floats my boat, but then there are few labels anyone could say concurred with their tastes 100%. Still, there might be something here you like, who knows?

Happy Bunny Day!

2019, the insanity grows...

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