2017

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Films:

  1. Moonlight
  2. The Levelling
  3. Dunkirk
  4. Call Me By Your Name
  5. Get Out

 

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Music:

  1. Jlin, Black Origami
  2. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me
  3. Mica Levi, Jackie
  4. Pinkcourtesyphone, Taking Into Account Only a Portion of Your Emotions 
  5. Chino Amobi, PARADISO
  6. The Caretaker, Everywhere at the End of Time – Stage 2
  7. Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom
  8. Mogwai, Every Country’s Sun
  9. Ryuichi Sakamoto, async
  10. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
  11. Octo Octa, Where Are We Going?
  12. King Krule, The Ooz
  13. Yves Tumor, Experiencing the Deposit of Faith
  14. Jon Brooks, Autres directions
  15. Will Guthrie, People Pleaser
  16. Various [PAN], Mono No Aware
  17. Sex Swing, Sex Swing
  18. Bibio, Phantom Brickworks
  19. Animal Collective, Meeting of the Waters
  20. Stromboli, Volume Uno
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Audioscope (2017)

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Arrived with My and S at about 2.30 after leftover tagine and a quick walk around the kidneys. Caught the last two minutes of some allegedly pastoral post-rock outfit which appeared to have stan’s trawlerman twin on guitar. Glad we arrived late and left early because there’s something about standing still for 7 hours which does your knees no favours.

R Seiliog – Welsh guy; kosmiche midrange electronic spreads. Some of the plate-tectonic layering of bedroom enthusiasts but no shortage of variety, either across the layers of each piece or from track to track. My said mario kart; I felt like I was in my imagined garden in Silent Running, constructed natural abundance in zero gravity. Drifted into more housey territory which cut back a bit on the cerebral appeal but great zoned-out stuff overall.

Sexswing – guys from Part Chimp, Mugstar, Earth. Six of them, on drums guitar bass sax keys and shouting. The drummer looked like a mudrerous extra from Jesse James, the saxophonist looked like Todd Terje, the keys dude looked like Jason Day. The experience was comparable only to Teeth of The Sea at the Old Fire Station (whether or not because of the locational connection). The tightest possible mess, with everyone somehow hammering away at their (vocal) chords in precise unison, even when each part became more and more wayward and flailing. Plenty of Swans but more doomy and with added synth stuff; bought the CD and have read plenty of comparisons to Silver Apples, which is mostly spiritual but the live set is certainly more live and present. Nightmare Beak. The best rock gig I’ve been to in years. The guys all stuck around afterwards for pretty much the whole thing.

Daniel O’Sullivan – half of Grumbling Fur, plays in Ulver now! Looked very alone up on the stage. Tiny bells and intonation, then screwing around on a soundboard with tape samples (and a mobile phone?). Quite hypnotic but, perhaps appropriately, I didn’t remember much after it finished. Nice passage on a recorder which he carefully unwrapped from a blanket among the jumpers. Then he sat behind a Roland keyboard and started thanking the organiser, explained that he wanted to play a few recent tunes that he’d been working on for a commissioned piece, I think. All mawkish piano ballads. S not happy

JK Flesh – at work I’d told J it was gonna be 12–12 and I missed the irony of his joke, in reply, that it was going to be a ten second napalm death set. JKF is like a club for giants. It’s every twisted corner of sound in the techno palette stretched or crushed until it’s all rhythmic. Continuous morphing, martial pace. Put me in mind of Shapednoise but a lot less clever. Was fucking nasty, like the soundtrack to the short trip between your deathbed and the entrance to hell. D O’S literally had his fingers in his ears next to the merch table.

Patten – Planet Mu fare. They set up with a huge pane of clingfilm refracting extremely powerful and complex pinprick lasers. Heavier, more physical than I expected; more Sophie than Jlin, with some breakbeats and plenty of scarab pskittering but no air of V Snares. The sort of thing you can only zone out to after 7 hours. Brain-stretching and engulfingly good but could picture it in gitmo. Some questionable use of the Om symbol (My and I walked off talking about Electric Wizard — Sex Swing the obvious highlight here)

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (2017)

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Went over to Islington with M on 15 October to watch a live screening of The Cabinet as part of this event series celebrating and reconstituting the church organ. Adam Wiltzie performing a live score with half an orchestra. The space is octagonal, with pews curved round like a lecture theatre; the musicians were not sunken but lit and raised onstage, with a huge projector screen above showing the film.

What immediately became apparent – perhaps unsurprisingly – is that the score would follow not the rhythms and tempos of the individual actions onscreen. Overall it wasn’t far from Stars/Winged Victory territory with the pacing and the interweaving of live and synthetic instruments across swooping peaks and troughs. What AW nailed was tracking the emotional progression of a scene or a section, which sounds like an unremarkably desirable analytical exercise, but it’s actually quite rare in my experience of silent film scores (Nosferatu was a particularly frustrating lowpoint). In this it was productively alternative to the almost Mr Bungle-style generic and instrumental handbrake turns of the colourised youtube version of The Cabinet that M and I watched originally.

The other overriding impression was that the score was in some way not illustrative of the film itself but of our reaction to the film. This is obviously connected to the notion that it tracked our emotions as we received the film rather than the film’s movements as it was broadcast to us. I think it’s also connected to the almost equivalent staging given to the orchestra and the film (the poster above suggests that the film was almost anonymously subordinate to the music, or the composer). Like watching the film with the musicians – I could see the conductor had a tiny screen in front of him that showed the film in sync with the projection, so that he could keep time without craning upwards.

With this effect, points of disjunction between the macro-arced music and the micro-moving visuals frequently became quite suggestive. I remember well the first appearance of Caligari, painted in both a Shakespearean artificial-dramatic sense and a very literal wardrobe one, glowering cross-eyed and painful. The music was near an ecstatic peak; it seemed to be marvelling at the capacity of humans for wordless expression, expressivity which seems simultaneously campy and sincerely sinister today after 97 years. The feeling that the film was reaching out to us across that century was enhanced by a sound that could only be standing alongside us, looking backwards.

The film is great and always has been, but I found myself concentrating more on the score (M and I left babbling at cross-purposes about the two aspects of the performance; she picked out moments of discontinuity from our previous viewing [convincing ourselves that Cesare really did strike down decisively at Jane in her bead {what a scene this is though, with the receding dress like ectoplasm}; noticing new resonances like the chalked X across Cesare’s sweater vs the crossed arms of Francis’ straightjacket]) Still, it was an amazing setting and an unforeseeably satisfying artistic combination.

M made me this framed Caligari printout for my birthday. It’s an original German poster. The figures look more like Gorey waifs than chiaroscuro clowns. The rippling typography gives it a kind of futurist feel, too, above the angularity of the big top and the leaning top-hats. I really like it but she was having none of it.

Everywhere at the End of Time – Stage 3 (2017)

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: A First Reaction (I am not minded to spend my evenings typing as well, ok?)

With a drastic left turn, this is the first time the album artwork in this series has created a properly constructive link with the music. The form behind the shapes and mess has become almost indecipherable; your mind is drawn away from the base towards the gorgon coils and the daubed darkness. It’s teasing at the fringes of appreciation: the first track is a good example of this idea, with its briskly spinning but still tuneful strings swaying behind the sped-up blurting horns. The experience of believing that your reaction and enjoyment is as usual, struggling against too-tangible reminders of depreciation. Agree with the slightly snotty Norman review’s point about LK riffing on the almost cheeky continuity or similarity of Caretaker projects here – like a desperate clawing at the most solid memories (standards from An Empty Bliss bustle against riffs on previous EATEOT cuts until they become confusedly inseparable; titles like “Libet Delay” and “Aching cavern without lucidity”). There’s even some sickly self-similarity over onto the second side, including the final track, which goes down like a sinking titanic.

The A-side, at least, departs from the more lucid explorations of departure on Stage 2 (the excursions into nocturnal trepidation in particular). This is more cerebral, locked-in. There is a greater emphasis on noise and fuzz, particularly the illbient gramophone echoes towards the end of the first half: self-interrupting blass bluster like Ahnnu tones slipping out of their groove. Penultimate track on this side is a willy wonka hallucination of dangling bells, like B1 which shivers with unease beneath a dusty surface. Illbient is a particularly interesting and novel comparison here which brings up the sensation of the Caretaker as a sort of residually parallel hip-hop instrumental project (pulling chopped samples from the darker ages of jazz). Does create the sensation of intoxication rather than memory degradation at points.

Tracks like the last one on the first side and even B1 and B2 are quite straight-laced, departing from the narrative (but for B1’s hypnopompic abortive conclusion). Feel like I’m being outflanked, looking for consonance with the past where there perhaps isn’t any. B2 does revive the haunted ballroom with its piped, miasmic piano jaunts. The percussive skipping at the end was a real shock that segues perfectly into the wailing Gorey absences of B3 (a silent tap on the shoulder; the still-terrifying dream in Amour).

B6 is “An empty bliss beyond this World” which projects that project’s lullaby melodies through that thick, haunted-ballroom fog. Quietly ties in the cautionary luminescence from the beginning of the B-side, too; with some tumbling tones that sound like they’re from a xylophone or the mall at the end of Eyes Wide Shut after everyone’s left. The night-feverish “Libet Delay” constitutes the first real hit of poignance at the impending demise of the Caretaker project (making me realise that this had been lacking in the series’ actual music until now). This one’s emblematic, at least of the album that I expected.

Lacks the arc and structural conspicuousness of which made that instalment one of my highlights of this year. Despite a clear constructive strategy, it’s harder to see this as a standalone piece because of its context within the series (and the fact that it follows what I think are two more satisfyingly distinctive projects), but this is probably his most overtly personal release, and it features some of the standout textural explorations of this series in its forced intermixture of source and slippage. Typing is helping in my abandoned house on a Friday night.

Etched information in the central space after the grooves is almost illegibly small this time, like he’s goading us to play the B side first (an experiment for another day). You just have to remember that the later side is the one whose label’s grey shades can only be distinguished while they spin.

Probably the My Struggle: Book 4 of EATEOT.

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Halogen Continues (2017)

Sigurbjörn Þorgrímsson died six years ago; Trip have put out this retrospective comp. Aims to cover the idiosyncratic sweep of these scattershot releases (apparently he recorded more under other aliases and in groups). RA points out in their review that the label itself is testament to SÞ’s incubation of a national dance music scene in Iceland, with Bjarki among others on its roster.

There are, broadly, three approaches on show here: skittering and acidic IDM excursions, evolving techno-tinged suites, and blissful ambient pieces. The immediately ear-catching standouts come in the second group: ‘Borealis’ is structured with the linear but weaving flow of a chase sequence or a cut from a Wipeout soundtrack, but the queasy synth tones and mechanic percussion kind of remind me of the synthetic nightmares on The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual. ‘160 Techno’ has the same vibe of pursuit but sounds more urban and nocturnal like that Studio OST album from a couple of years ago; obviously its a lot more in your face, with some big-beat synths and a few ankle-breaking rhythmic shifts which skid through hardcore and breakbeat territory. ‘303 Ambient’ is the third triplet with its low-key start which crashes into a massive techy beat and starry synths.

Of the more cerebral cuts, ‘Lag 24’ is pretty distinctive with the interplay between its Mika Vainio-esque fuzz blasts, bouncy reverbed synths and impatient polyrhythms. ‘Lag 9’ sways, running in circles as the percussion plays catchup with itself. ‘Lag 8’ is good evidence of the compositional juggling-act going on with these shorter cuts; synths are often more percussive than melodic. Almost feels like the guy’s hammering everything out on an MPC at times.

The ambient pieces are generally pretty gorgeous. ‘Autofloat’ follows ‘Borealis’ with an equally playful ease but pushed through ebbing and flowing synths; it’s got the wonder of a particularly well-lit view of the night sky. ‘Bliss’s stupefaction is more new-age, maybe Jarre via Lopatin; it’s crisp but kinda sleepy, less immersive. The more abstract closer ‘Halogen Continues’ is perhaps the grandest and most beautiful, ending things with quite a poignantly elegiac note given the comp’s provenance.

Throughout a sense of wunderkind and almost amateuristic virtuosity, like the music is happening while you’re listening to it. Distinctive throughout despite ranging from crowd-pleasers to more leftfield tinkering. Perfect album art too given the otherworldly wonderment behind much of the ambience that sometimes serves as a floor for the beats and sometimes envelopes everything. HC is a nice testament to the variety in the talent the guy clearly had; feels like an anthology. Good for a boring train journey too.

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Black Origami (2017)

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Opener ‘Black Origami’ skitters and bangs with cascading chimes, breathy female vocals, scarab percussion, sonorous bass. Some North African sounds in the synths are joined by thumping hand percussion and claps – encircling instrumentation, reminds me of the inclusive medley of Africa Express’ rendition of Terry Riley’s In C. It’s a statement of intent as far as instrumental diversity goes, expanding the palette from Dark Energy but retaining that propulsive and relentless drive derived from footwork, a genre which Jlin seems to have transformed almost beyond recognition.

Love the mechanically rapid toms and serpentine shakers on ‘Enigma’ – succinct summation of the power of combining manual sounds and mechanical production. Looped vocal sample definitely cleaves to the DJ Rashad archetypal footwork style. Far more stripped back melodically with plenty of negative space, which reminds me of more British bass music trends like SOPHIE’s skeletal pop madness.

Middle Eastern synths on ‘Kyanite’ and perhaps South Asian vocal samples, although its hard to say given how fragmentary they are – poring over the sounds, some mysteriously partial some perfectly and entirely captured and repurposed. Gut-tightening revved synths introduced near the end, enhancing the aggressive feel of this opening stretch; does have that rollercoaster feel of entertainment done to you. These opening three tracks are distinct mostly in the geographical traditions they evoke. There’s a lot of similarity in the linear structures; they’re more like a sequenced stretch, an evolving kaleidoscopic trip for which we remain sharply awake.

‘Holy Child’ opens the B side with the surprisingly distinctive stamp of William Basinski on the sampled vocals (they do remind me of the mood on his recent, meditatively funereal release A Shadow In Time), which are much more foregrounded giving the track a more distinctive melodic component; the same distinctive approach is inflected in a more cerebral, less physical direction. ‘Nyakinyua Rise’ splits this difference in Jlin’s sound by shifting completely in the other direction, being almost completely percussion and bass – thumping snares and bruising shouts – until about halfway with the arrival of a vocal which could be sampled from a Japanese combat video game. It’s easy to sit here and narrate the album’s compositional diversity and complexity, but the effect of Jlin’s painstaking editing is to keep BO fresh in a way that few footwork albums or comps succeed at.

Buzzsaw synths on ‘Hatsheput’ recall the revving on ‘Kyanite’, though they’re much more foundational here, playing with that balance between fragmented and holistic sampling (which I usually associated mainly with percussively looped vocals, in footwork) (actually those ‘Kyanite’ revs do return; ‘H’ is probably the least distinctive track on BO.

If the album’s first half – with the exception of standout ‘Holy Child’ – finds ways to adapt and tinker with the same formula, the same new musical vocabulary, the second half brings it back with a crashing series of diversions and deviations which ramp up into an explosive finish. Short centrepiece ‘Calcination’ skulks with dubbed-out echoes which are transmuted into the to the fidgety atmosphere of ‘Carbon 7 (161)’; here spacey synths and rolling drum presets nod to Pearson Sound and Mark Pritchard (goes to show, with ‘Enigma’ especially, how much of an understated influence UK bass music has on BO).

‘Nandi’ shudders with opening M.I.A-style vocal blasts, increasing the building sense of threat since BO‘s midpoint with some percussion slathered in echo and reverb. We’re then attacked with the album’s violent zenith, Holly Herndon-collab ‘1%’, which finds a way to make US dubstep sound relevant in 2017 by dispersing its trademark peak/trough structure across an unrelentingly linear assault. Cartoonish and video-game samples, dial tones and answerphone messages, and a creepy vocal from a young girl play off each other perfectly in a Nintendo nightmare, a Bullet Hell abstraction.

‘Never Created, Never Destroyed’ does the same thing for trap, dialling down the genre’s obnoxious predilection for weapon-sound samples into the most fragmentary and suggestive shards, while tumbling through complex rhythms with the kind of spontaneous playfulness that made Aphex Twin’s inclusion of Jlin’s stuff in his recent DJ sets unsurprising (the vinyl release appears to have two different takes on this track, too). It’s hard as nails, a perfect gritty counterpoint to the fantasy madness of ‘1%’. BO leaves us with ‘Challenge (To Be Continued)’, whose title seems to reference Jlin’s opinion that music should be progressive and difficult to make. It’s an absolutely orgiastic cacophony of percussion, with some synoptic (there’s an elephant on it) cross-polination of geographical influences  and a return to the encircling communality of the album’s openers through human shouts and whistles.

This is a big step up from DE: the template is expanded and enriched while remaining distinctive, pushing African, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and South Asian sounds through the structural signature of footwork. It’s out on Planet Mu and I think the buried influences of UK bass and IDM have been underplayed; BO makes a convincing case for footwork as a central and connected piece in the jigsaw landscape of contemporary Western electronic music. It balances ascetic precision with an omnivorous and maximalist palette, tweaking and adjusting its way through 44 minutes of extremely fun and pumped up bass music. It’s hard not to gravitate especially towards the more eye-catching 5 or 6 bookending tracks (as well as ‘Holy Child’) but the parabolic flow of BO gives it a lasting appeal as an album played the whole way through.

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This Old Dog (2017)

 

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Mac’s back, on Captured Tracks.

Early singles This Old Dog and My Old Man suggested a melancholy and contemplative comedown after the slightly lurching romance of Another One. MOM swings out in the wise charm direction of Brother (see later the brotherly Salad Days jangle of One Another). It’s like the spirit of Salad Days blown into the images of KV’s Pretty Pimpin’ and left to cool to a cinder.

It shuffles into TOD which is more moonlit and almost grizzled; probably a better look for gloomy Mac in 2017, with his weary reaction to carefreedom refined to a reflection upon changeability and persistence (apparently there’s an over-arching narrative here about his dad, but on the rumbly bus back from Ox I can’t really be bothered to pick it out – actually it does come out nicely in the BoC-synthy ballad closer). All interesting but just fine (La Blogotheque did quite a good show with Mac playing these first two in a Parisian park, failing to converse with locals).

Baby You’re Out is funkier (Lough bemoaned the upstroke percussive blobs but I like the dominant skippy jaunt), and has a singalong hook that will go down well among the Being Mac Demarco crowds at the summer festivals. For the First Time starts sultry but ultimately feels like a dirge – however, the queasy Chamber-of-Reflection synths are the first glimpse (in the tracklisting) of the alternate-future TOD glimpsed in the album’s best single, On the Level (Homeshake has cut ties with Mac now, I believe, but still see the parallels with some of the best tracks off his effort this year). Comes in third-to-last, one of my favourites of the year – it’s almost garishly simple but still maintains a rolling determined groove (in the lyrics too).

One Another, again, is a minor SD cut. Still Beating is interestingly fragile but also feels brittle and fillery. Sister is an afterthought, a non-centrepiece. It’s followed by Dreams from Yesterday which infuses some of Mac’s mid-period stoner bliss into the dusky percussion of the opening singles. There’s also a slight return of the synths, picking up the string and unspooling towards On the Level (it’s coming). It’s better as a song than the others in this middle section but it still has that victory-lap sensibility which makes this a pretty arid central section.

Morning light on A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes; reads like an apology for (both senses) the album (“just trying to keep it light sometimes casts a shadow”). Has some of the upstroke pep of Baby You’re Out. One More Love Song starts like a return to that snoozy middle but it does have a nice piano-led hook (will take this over For The First Time – Mac I might just trim an EP out of your flabby album).

I’ll keep On The Level. “Boy, this could be your year…” Actually if it didn’t have such a great groove I’d be coming back more often to Moonlight on the River which has a weird meditative depth, an elegant hook and a discordant, valedictory fuzz-out. “It’s so strange / deciding / how I feel about you.” Almost summative enough to tie everything else together.

It’s not that the jig is up – Mac is always a good songwriter and I’m always happy just to sit with him. Last couple of projects have appeared a little naked without the proper Album clothing. Plenty of filler (how? without MOTR it’s 35 minutes), some variety that mostly seems to promise disappointingly unrealised sounds. Pleasant but I don’t really need it.

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