Friday, April 25, 2014

The NME And The Never Ending Past.

‘In the two years that he’d spent there he hadn’t gone very far into American life. Still, he’d been touched in a way by their brand of music, where they, too, try to get away from the weight of routine and the crushing misery of having to do the same thing everyday … While it’s playing, they can shuffle about for a while with a life that has no meaning.’

Céline - Journey to the End of the Night.

[Random thoughts as collated during a week in Northumberland where internet access was non-existent and most days were spent listening to the radio {R3&R4 obvs} on a crappy radio at low volume whilst reading the papers and Céline ]

Thanks to the Sleaford Mods I bought a copy of the NME for the first time in decades. There they were staring out at me from within its meaningless pages. I read it and swore I'd never buy another copy as long as I lived. With any luck I may even outlive it.

I gave up buying the New Musical Express when it began championing conveyor belt Indie pap and drug-fuelled dance music. Judging by its circulation figures I wasn't on my own. From a height of 300,000 copies the once mighty weekly now struggles to shift a paltry 20,000, half of what Melody Maker was selling when the life support was turned off. Its website and a digital version may be just enough to save it from eternal obscurity.

As it stands now [and this is after last year's relaunch] the NME feels as flimsy as a tabloid freebie, a magazine that is as far removed from its inky broadsheet heyday as it is possible to imagine, a trivial pamphlet that is the musical equivalent of Take A Break. Tagging itself as 'The Past, Present & Future of Music', it still seems as reliant on the kind of male-dominant Indie landfill I gave it up for all those years ago [judging from the 19th April issue at least]. It clings to life like a faded aunt whose mansion has been flogged off to pay for her constant care. Care here being provided by several attendees whose Sisyphian task includes trying to convince its ever dwindling band of readers that it still matters. It doesn't. iTunes, Youtube, social media, blogging, and to some extent daily newspapers, monthly retro music magazines and its own digital presence, have made the last remaining member of the weekly music press gang irrelevant. It's out of date before it hits the presses. Its deceased rivals: Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror, all healthy weekly publications that covered a music scene that did matter, have all long since curled up their toes and shuffled off to join Punch and The Sporting Times.

Buying my first NME on the same weekend as the now yearly National Record Store Day banjoree gave further cause for thought. It's the only weekend of the year that record shops and vinyl get their day out in the mainstream press with many a floppy-haired journo sent out into the shires to find a record shop before filing copy that always includes the words 'they may be struggling, but the internet hasn't killed them off yet'. A yearly cut and paste ritual if ever there was one. Thanks to the resurgence in vinyl reissues and the continued resilience of £50-a-week man, record shops will no doubt continue a while longer, but I dare say that most of those queuing outside Rough Trade East on Saturday morning will be savvy investors who realise that their £50 can be turned, via eBay and Discogs, into a tidy bit more a week later. NRSD releases are deliberately manufactured rarities designed to titillate a market that is almost exclusively reliant on reissues - for one day a year at any rate. The record shops that stock them have become living archives, where you can buy plenty of old stuff but very little new stuff of worth. And whilst I'm here, £35 for a repress of Neil Young's ‘After The Gold Rush’ anybody? Even £50-a-week man winces at those prices.

But who needs new bands when you can have all the old ones that are much better in the first place? We now live in a musical world where the past and the present have never been more intermingled and with plenty of choice and not much in the way of competition, the past is oh so more appealing.

So who needs the NME when you can follow your favouritist, bestest, rock, pop, hip hop star on Twitter, 'like' their Facebook page and sign up to alerts so as not to miss out on those early ticket promotions and limited edition headphones? On the same weekend as NRSD, and the day I buy the NME, Jimmy Page announces he's found another Led Zeppelin barrel to scrape. Who needs the NME when a band that became creatively defunct 33 years ago is still churning out reissues?

The paper version of the NME and the reissue market both hide the fact that plenty of the new music that's getting released these days is also pretty much instantly redundant. The last Beyoncé album sold nearly a million digital copies in three days before disappearing into a black hole full of ones and zeros. Those who downloaded it moved on, updated their software, got excited about a new social media platform and flicked through a thousand Instagram pictures before sending everybody a tweet #reallybored.

Once everything that's ever been recorded has been reissued there remains but one option; reissue it again, this time with some newly discovered archival recording, an indifferent live show, a scarf, some marbles [see Pink Floyd Immersion box sets], a t-shirt that you’ll never wear, a physical item that can't be downloaded that makes you feel you have something of worth when in reality all you have in your hands is the same old turd in a shiny new box.

OK, if the Sleaford Mods ever make it on to the cover of the NME I will buy it again - they’re one of the very few bands of worth now breathing. I’ll pay my £2.50, no doubt read what I already know and chuck it in the bin. It's where its going to end up anyway.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Captain Super Scranchin


Captain Super Scranchin
Another Self Release Release. CDR

Every now and again an email arrives that goes something like this; ‘I’m a big fan of your blog and I’d like you to review a release that I put out twenty years ago that did diddlysquat and if I ever decide to have any kids you can be the Godfather and when I die I’ll leave all my worldly possessions to you or the charity of your choice. I don’t care if you like my release or not [though secretly I’m hoping that you do like it and write a glowing review so that I can get rid of the 98 copies I’ve got left under the bed] I just hope you get time to listen to it. Byyeeeeeeeee'.

Or something like that.

Its a tough job and you’ve got to say it like it is because if all you do is write about how great everything is you soon loose the respect of your readers - we’ve been here before, you know the score. My job is to inform and to [hopefully] educate. To point you good people in the direction of the great and to keep you clear of the crud. And whilst all forms of art are subjective you sort of get to trust someone with their the opinion. Its the critics job. When a critic you trust says something is of worth can be pretty sure thats its going to be there or there about in the quality stakes. When a critic says that a release is so bad its use as a bird scarer would be wasted then you have to trust them. Which is where Captain Super Scranchin comes in.

The Captains problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t really know what he wants to sound like. He obviously likes the sounds themselves but doesn’t know how to put them together. There’s a quite interesting 1950’s Sci-Fi synth sound that you could easily imagine coming from one of Xenakis’s more out there spatial works but he spoils it by smearing some squeaky Casio keyboard crap all over the end of it. And that is as near as I got to actually wanting to hear something again. Tapes get rolled in reverse and voices are slowed down but it all seems so aimless and directionless.

What Captain Super Scranchin needs to do is to get down and dirty and forget about the textured insert and jokey label name. He wants to come round Halifax with me on a Saturday afternoon and get blind drunk then go home and forget about it looking nice and just go for it and stick whatever comes out on a recycled Glen Campbell cassette and call it the first thing that comes into his head. Then we might just have something.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Artificial Memory Trace/Slavek Kwi

Artificial Memory Trace - Attracted by Light [Collection 7]
Sempiflorens. SF10. CD.

Artificial Memory Trace - Paradox of Paradox/Interception
Attenuation Circuit. ACR1019. 2XCDR.

Artificial Memory Trace - Amfibion Epilok/Kraufrog
Tentacles of Perception. 3”CD

I’m with Campbell in that I don’t like walking around with headphones on. I actually like the sound of the outside world and blocking it out with loud music not only disorientates me it prevents me from listening to whats going on out there, some of which, not always it has to be said, can be quite enlightening. Conversations between strangers can be fascinating in their mundanity, the sotto voce banter between old dears in charity shops ‘Our Herbert, y’know its his water works …’ [rest of sentence formed by mouth, a forefinger pointing towards groin area] as is the gormless talk of teenagers ‘she said, so I said and he said and I said, so she said … The ubiquity of mobile phones and the lack of privacy that some people give to their conversations gives rise to various pearls of social anthropology, as witnessed by me and Mrs Fisher on a recent bus ride to Leeds where a recently alighted spotty youth spoke with unbridled glee about his enthusiasm for purchasing and consuming whatever drugs it was his mate in Gomersal had lined up for him. Literally, probably. I point you all in the direction of the recent Vittelli release and the excellent London Sound Survey for examples of what its easy to miss.

I did wonder what it would be like though to wander around listening to field recordings at a volume that allowed conversation and general ambience to leak through though. The overlapping of these two worlds is something I’ve experienced before and I’m willing to give it another go. This time on foot and out and about in the big bad world not sat in the back garden as experienced a few years back now when one hot summer afternoon I was listening to Illusion of Safety only to find myself unsure as to what it was I was actually listening to; Illusion of Safety or starlings or swallows or the hum of Flymo, perhaps not the person recounting his experiences of torture but you get my drift. It’s an interesting proposition and one I’m willing to experiment with.

I might give it a go with Artificial Memory Trace. Slavek Kwi’s long running project finds the real world colliding with electronic treatments, layering and plenty of editing in what he calls ‘electroacoustic sound paintings’. We’ve been here before on these pages but as ever its with gleefully rubbed palms that I return.

Thanks to Kwi’s generosity I have here some new recordings and some slightly older ones, including a handful of CDR’s of his previous releases that failed to play on either of my stubborn systems. I’ve been busy and after a hectic two weeks of having someone shout at me its like dipping into a warm bath surrounded by scented candles.

‘Paradox of Paradox/Interception’ revisits work from 2004 in a release that came out a couple of years ago whilst ‘Attracted by Light’ emerged last year, both of them contain the kind of sounds I find it hard to tear myself away from. Its an entry to another world where frogs and jungle wildlife imitate electronica, where log fires crackle in empty rooms, where fireworks explode, where things get dipped in water, where the wind blows down chimneys and rusty pipes rub up against rusty pipes and rusty gate hinges creak in empty gardens, chirruping insects and rain on tin roofs all slowly pass and squeak by. At the moment I’m listening to ‘trainbow’ a 21 minute track thats a minimalist almost drone like numbed bowl ring. ‘paradox’ highlights Kwi’s interest in underwater recording and manages to capture the effect that water pressure has on your hearing once submerged. Ball bearings are rolled around the palm of your hand, a match is struck, a blast of radio static, table tennis balls bouncing on a hard surface and panes of glass being shattered, Kwi’s work is littered with such aural ephemera. ‘kristmax’ contains the recurring sound of a female yodeling choir that initially comes as a shock and shouldn’t really work but when you pair it to magnesium flares and static it does and the result is haunting.

The near hour long ‘Interception’ bears comparisons to Andrew Liles, Column One and Nurse With Wound. Disconnected whispering voices come and go, Tannoy announcements appear in foreign tongues, children can be heard playing, drips of rain hit an empty factory floor as a machine dies, a bongo is slapped with rapid hands and the very faintest of industrial rhythms plays yin to insect chatter yang. Put all of this on a limited to 50 copies Nurse With Wound double LP picture disc and it’ll sell out faster than you can say Payal. For now it languishes on a periphery where only the inquisitive and those with open ears tread. It deserves a wider audience.

Attracted by Light’s three tracks show what happens when you stick a recording device in an ants nest, a bees nest, a termites nest and the sea [amongst other places]. The bees are what you’d expect of course but Kwi layers it with the sound of ants actually inside the recording equipment thus giving it an entirely different slant, like the run off groove to a shellac 78 or it could be the termites, I’m no expert. But its not all full on blast masquerading as Noise [with a capital ‘N’], there a lulls where the sea comes in and fireworks [I think Kwi likes fireworks … a lot]. The longest track is ‘Hydrones 8’, 47 minutes worth and all of it recorded entirely underwater thus giving you the squeak of crustaceans and sounds of an unknown origin that crackle mysteriously along. ‘Pegamorsego’ is six minutes of micro-bats and insects recorded in the Amazon and the results are distinctly alien, more like a sci-fi landscape than a jungle with mysterious hums, pops and buzzes all in constant battle.

‘Amfibion Epilok/Kraufrog’ is, as you would expect, frogs. Lots of them. Which when you actually listen to them, all of them, in all their natural glory are truly amazing creatures.

Now where’s my boots.   


Contact ;

Artificial Memory Trace

Attenuation Circuit

The London Sound Survey