Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ten Songs No. 2

1. Burial - 'Etched Headplate' (from Untrue)

A conversation with T. the other week reminded me that I still hadn't heard the second Burial album. Of course, anyone in the least still interested in crackling melancholy as opposed to toxic-technicolor synths is outmoded, dead, living-in-the-past. Apparently. There's much less of a sense of science-fiction desolation than on the first album, now flooded by a real, familial grief - when the sample at the beginning mentions "hardcore", it's very different from the "ancient ways, the old skool ways" on Burial's 'Gutted'; "he's not setting out to hurt people. He's got a lot of love in him". Now, even the streaks of voice from 'Archangel' have devolved into blurs, high feminine syllables like gas escaping over barely-there tinkles of percussion, pulverised by what would be hoover bass if it weren't so amorphous, erected like walls to either side of the main track. It's impossible to tell whether, on the chorus, the voice is saying "I can't take any more of this life", or "your life" - the object of desire indistinguishable from the subject, sound and body smashed by a desire unfulfilable in a world as cold as this.

2. Tricky - 'Aftermath' (from Maxinquaye)

It is the LP's pivot in more ways than one, in which all voices become equal in the endless replay/relay of the technological ether; in which anything can come back to haunt you, in which anything can become haunted. Just as Voodoo redeploys harmless images of Catholic saints, so Tricky plus Martika [sic] plus Mark Stewart use a David Cassidy lyric, no less, to essay ontological uncertainty: 'How can I be sure? In a world... that's constantly changing?'... 'Let me tell you about my mother'... 'Ghosts'... Replicants? Electricity has made us all angels. Technology (from psychoanalysis to surveillance) has made us all ghosts. The replicant ("Your eyes resemble mine...") is a speaking void. The scary thing about "Aftermath" is that it suggests that nowadays, We All Are. Speaking voids, made up only of scraps and citations... contaminated by other people's memories... adrift..." - Ian Penman.

3. Public Enemy - 'Night of the Living Baseheads' (from
It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back)

One of my favourite memories is of the one time I DJed, back in the days when I actually had friends in Bournemouth, and dropping this. The percussion and piercing sax loops, occasionally cutting out into torrents of scratched voice-fragments and crackly samples, are as beautifully and intricately sculpted as any symphony; indeed, it exceeds and rejects standards of 'musicality', a vector to another and wholly stranger realm of sensation.

4. Frank Wright - 'One For John/China, Part 2' (from
JazzActuel, disc 2)

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley may not be able to write for shit, but they know a good record when they hear it, damn them. One of the best songs on a fine boxset, a firestorm of sound from Muhammad Ali's torrential drums and Bobby Few's piano, both of which have ceased, by this point, to be anything even vaguely resembling rhythm instruments, and become sound-sources and massive timbre-generators in their own right. Wright and Noah Howard on the horns recreate the Trane 'n' Pharoah double act with stunning aplomb.

5. Kate Bush - 'All The Love' (from
The Dreaming)

You know, I'm still pissed off at Michael Bracewell describing Kate as "pop's equivalent of the mad girl in the attic" exuding "a mixture of mawkish sentimentality and ultimately seductive melodrama" in
England Is Mine. Patronising much? (Then again, Lord alone knows why he's allowed to write about music - all his other descriptions in EiM are dull, and his Wire review of the Joy Division reissues two years ago managed to make even them sound unexciting.) This is from one of the albums Bracewell passes over in silence, presumably because it's too 'eccentric' for his delicate taste. The verses are as strange and delicate as an exotic spider's web, Bush's voice, a fragmented whisper, weaving a Gothic monologue ("The first time I died/Was in the arms of good friends of mine") among empty spaces dotted with a choirboy's eerie ululations, piano and radio crackle that anticipates the Burroughsian disco of 'Waking the Witch' three years later.

6. Tony Oxley Quintet - 'Stone Garden' (from
The Baptised Traveller)

First, a rhetorical question: WHY IS THIS OUT-OF-PRINT, AND NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH SHARING BLOGS? No doubt it's available on some torrent somewhere, but I always feel vaguely ill when using those things, so this is the only song I have from this album (via the always excellent Destination:Out). It's still indisputably wonderful, though: a combination of the most exciting edge-of-the-seat powers of free-improv, from a line-up containing most of its luminaries (Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Oxley), and the tenderness and melodic capability of the best of British jazz (Kenny Wheeler, who'd later help to define the ECM sound, contributes some extremely sharp and malleable flugelhorn). Such a beautiful sense of space, texture and motion.

7. Scatter - 'She Moves Through The Fair' (from The Mountain Announces)

"Scatter’s version of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and Directing Hand’s of ‘Lowlands’, both songs of death, haunted by the ghosts of the loved, are heartbreaking, as mysteriously sad and resonant as the photograph in Ted Hughes 'Six Dead Men'; ‘She Moved…’ is savage in its building intensity, Finnish expat Hanna Tuulikki attacking the lyrics like an ecstatic text, chomping words into ululating syllables, Neilson’s free percussion erupting all around as massed stringed instruments build a laminate wall of noise... the ghosts of the past reiterating in the future of avant-garde art bleeding back into the present."

8. C. Spencer Yeh/Ryan Jewell/Jon Lorenz - 'Untitled' (from Krayon 7" 'Live At the CAC 7.21.08')

Seeing as Krayon haven't labelled the two sides of this single, you're never quite sure which you'll get before you drop the needle. Which is actually rather marvellous - a simple aleatoric tactic worthy of Cage. One side, though, is distinguishable by a thin band of denser grooves near the centre. What it represents, after several minutes of menacing insectoid scrape and chatter, is a minute-long blow-out that, if like me you've been turning the volume up in order to hear more closely, will pierce you through the skull.

9. John Coltrane - 'Love/Consequences/Serenity' (from

Well, after Rashied Ali's death, I had to listen to it again - the only studio recording made by the sextet line-up, including Pharoah Sanders, before the departure of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, who objected to having to play above the young firebrand percussionist. In contrast to the relentless assault of the first side, it moves from a pleasant Jimmy Garrison bass solo to Trane picking up the melody, so intimately played you'd think the sax was right up against your ear. And, gradually, the luxurious draperies of piano and minor percussion gestures build up behind him as the horn grows sharper and more piquant. The perfect structural support of Jones and the almost textural approach of Ali offset each other as Sanders joins in with Trane's almost effeminate flutters of breath and the song builds into a rave-up of stunning proportions. (Also recommended is
Interstellar Space, the last full studio recording made by Trane, a decidedly astringent duo album with Ali.)

10. AMM - 'Metamorphic' (from
The Nameless Uncarved Block)

I think is the one I was listening when this gestated. The strange, groaning emptiness of its soundworld certainly made the isolation of Warwick seem more bearable at the time: clouds of metallic colour, steel and verdigris; the sudden rattling bursts of Eddie Prevost's snares and Keith Rowe's alien howl, the perfect touch of John Tilbury. It all seemed to hold together with the
rightness of organic sound. It was hard to believe the outside world shouldn't sound like it. ("The music's different here, the vibrations are different. Not like Planet Earth. Planet Earth's the sound of guns, anger, frustration. There was no-one to talk to on Planet Earth." - Sun Ra.)


Anonymous Al said...

If you want the complete Tony Oxley album leave me a reply here and I'll put it up on Rapidshare or something similar - it's well worth hearing.

August 31, 2009 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Excellent, thank you - I'd love to hear it.

September 1, 2009 at 2:40 AM  
Anonymous Al said...

OK then, it's here:

It's not my rip; I picked this up off slsk a while ago so there's some kind of encoding problem with the first track. It plays fine, but the track length is given as 4:32 where it actually lasts just over 17 and a half.

September 1, 2009 at 8:08 AM  

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