Underneath the Stars, the engaging new release from Tom Honey’s Good Weather for an Airstrike project, is immediately pleasing to the ear even as it perhaps takes some risks with its image. The release notes remind us that Honey began recording in connection with his aim of relieving his own tinnitus, and the tone of the new album is consistently soothing and almost entirely free of dissonance. The Goldberg Variations notwithstanding, if music was composed for therapeutic purposes it’s easy to wonder if it will also succeed as art. Add to that an ambient concept album based around the phases of sleep and including field recordings of gentle rain and thunder, and casual associations with faceless New Age collections of nature sounds and insomnia aids rather than serious listening might be forgiven. The fact that the album is released on the estimable Hibernate label, however, is considerable cause for optimism, and indeed there is more here than might first meet the eye (or ear). You can stream it below as you read.
Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by Parisian collective FareWell Poetry is one of the more absorbing musical journeys of 2011. It is also an album that wears its ambition on its sleeve. A Super 8/16mm black and white film on DVD (trailer here), filled with images of compulsive self-absorption and erotic obsession (warning: nudity), accompanies the 20 minute opening piece, and there’s also an iPhone app to go alongside both. The lyrics take the form of extravagant spoken-word poetry boasting a lofty lineage:
‘As True As Troilus’ takes its title and mythology from Chaucer’s important 14th century poem ‘Troilus and Criseyde’, a retelling of a ‘faux’ Greek myth with Medieval origins, in which the main protagonist Troilus falls in love with Trojan Cressida who finally deceives and leaves him for the Greek soldier Diomedes. The narrator of ‘As True As Troilus’ (just as Chaucer’s narrator) uses this myth to explore his own romantic mythology, using the characters and their situation to recount his own plight, illustrating the destruction of his own failed relationship with tableaux from the Trojan tale.
Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which portrays the same doomed love affair, also plays a role, and Ovid is cited in the film. Described on the band’s site as a “bold and electrifying project,” we are left in no doubt that this is a work of substance.
Don’t believe the opening notes of Lama‘sOneiros… they’re a lie and they’ll steer you the wrong way. The pronounced bounce and charge of trumpet and bass is like a doorway into a confused Ringling Bros. tent. It’s the opening statement to both song and album. It says, hey, this is what it’s all about. But it’s a lie. Because after the first 30 seconds, the carnival packs up and leaves town, and all that remains are long beautiful trumpet calls, low and serene, over a sea of electronics and gentle rhythms. It’s a dramatic moment on a dramatic album.
After gathering a selection of music that survived Christmas recently, I found myself wondering what a good ambient/drone Christmas album would sound like. That thought immediately requires clarification. Just about every kind of Christmas music takes on the ambient mantle at this time of year in the thin sense that it burbles away in the background and submits to being ignored. Even narrowing the notion down to music likely to get tagged as “ambient” at the online store, unappealing possibilities lurk: it’s not hard to imagine Christmas standards invoked in a syrupy, sentimental wash of insipidly cheerful chimes – Santa goes New Age, as it were. But what would a Christmas album sound like that was also serious ambient/drone music? Could it stay recognizably tethered both to Christmas and to the grainy soundscapes generated by the likes of Tim Hecker or Kyle Bobby Dunn? Well, no sooner had I begun to ponder than an answer arrived in the form of a Christmas release from the Hibernate and Home Normal labels titled Festive Greetings.
I was an easy recruit. I stumbled across a new label called Wist Rec and one of its early projects, the Book Report Series. The series consists of releases of music inspired by literary works selected from among the Penguin Mini Modern Classics. Each release takes the form of a 3” CDR attached to a copy of the book upon which it was based. A translucent dustjacket mingles the names of musician and author. This combination of book and music is, according to the Wist Rec site, intended to “allow one to glean new, immediate connections between differing art forms,” and each release is limited to 100 copies. This was already intriguing. Add the twin facts that one of the works chosen was a short story by H.G. Wells that I remembered particularly admiring some years ago, and that the artist who would be covering this work was one already responsible for well over 200 tracks in my music library, and it was an easy decision to order The Door in the Wall by offthesky.
I’ve been waiting for this album for 45 years, virtually three quarters of my life, but it is still not the finished article! Back in the mid 1960s, The Beatles reigned supreme in the world of popular music. But if any group (as we then called them) came close to taking that crown, it was the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys’ previous album to the Smile sessions was Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s answer to Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Beatles had raised the bar with their albums; until then, LPs were usually collections of singles, b-sides and fillers. But a few months after the release of Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper raised the bar even higher for Wilson. He wanted something even grander, and Smile was to be his answer. As he describes it in the notes published for this new release, “Each Beatles album had sounded different. The way I saw it we were in a race, a production race.”
If the phrase “avant-pop” wasn’t already claimed, it would need to be created to describe Micachu and the Shapes. On their 2009 debut, and thus far only studio full length, Mica Levi and her bandmates Marc Pell and Raisa Khan (who both joined Levi in the middle of recording Jewellery, hence the crediting of only some tracks to Micachu and the Shapes) create a sound that can only be described as a cacophony of sounds and genres. The noise made by the band can be harsh and dissonant, but somehow the songs still manage to have pop hooks and to be quite catchy.
“People were more interested back then than today in this serious electronic music” comments former Kraftwerk member Klaus Röder in an interview for the recent documentary film Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution. “Yes, people today are interested in techno and so on, but I’ve had the feeling…that no one knows that it exists, the serious or so-called serious electronic music.” He may have a point – I’m guessing that most of the crowds at Germany’s famous “Love Parade” were not thinking “Ah, Stockhausen!” when they geared up to party. But the opposition of “techno” and “serious” is a little too easy. Alva Noto (the main recording alias of German electronic artist Carsten Nicolai) is one of the more significant reasons why.