Sven Kacirek – The Kenya Sessions (world music)

Altin Village & Mine will shortly (at the time of writing) be releasing The Kenya Sessions as a vinyl album, but they will be doing so about a year after its original CD and MP3 release on Pingipung, which gives me a welcome excuse to cover a recording that managed to pass me by on its initial foray. Sven Kacirek is a drummer/ tuned-percussionist and composer with a conservatory training, and a CV full of experimental and avant-garde collaborations. His working practice on this album is one that invokes a variety of discourses and debates around ‘world’ music and its appropriation, which must inevitably have a bearing on …

Dementio 13 – Crash St (electronic post-rock)

Our statements have meanings only inasmuch as they indicate distinctions or differences. Words, and other meaningful gestures, draw lines around pieces of our conceptual universe, and say ‘x means y because it doesn’t mean z’. A piece of music that sounds very similar to another, has a very similar meaning; in the context of a unified style, when lots of pieces of music sound the same, they really don’t mean anything much. They are generic. But there’s a danger of flinging the baby out with the bathwater if we reject every piece of idiomatic art on that basis: generic conventions can be manipulated to profoundly meaningful effect as well. It behoves listeners to be alert to difference, and those without an understanding of a particular style …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

There’s more than a nod to dreampop and shoegaze in this music, but Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo are clearly too in love with the raw and ragged sound of a distorted electric guitar to tame it to the extent that might imply. Some of Wish You Were A Pony is downright heavy! This is pop music, but not lowest-common-denominator, mass-market pop; it’s pop because it’s all about simple, accessible melodies, infectious, danceable rhythms, lush, inviting soundscapes, and, well… fun.

Monday Musing: Listening Communities And DIY Culture

My last Monday Musing was on the topic of music scenes; this time it’s on a closely related theme. Just as there are social networks of musical production and consumption (a confusing multitude of inter-related networks), so there are networks of cultural practice that contextualise our listening. It’s apparent to anyone who takes an interest that certain sounds are associated with particular demographics. Take a random sampling of ten people who listen primarily to new-folk, another ten who listen mainly to hip-hop, and another ten who mostly listen to post-hardcore, and as much as we might want to pretend that it’s all about …

Janne Hanhisuanto – Circles In 3D (ambient)

All music has an atmosphere. I’d go so far as to say it’s a central aspect of all musical meaning, although it’s obviously not the only meaningful element in music. Words, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, timbres and so on, all have their particular capacities, but the atmosphere of a piece of music falls somewhere in the cracks between all these things. There’s a sense in which that elusive quantity, musical meaning, is the same thing as mood or atmosphere, in as much as meanings are in the experience of listening, and music that addresses itself directly to atmosphere is cutting straight to the chase in some respect.

trillian – creature teacher (progressive/ post-rock)

Textural rock music, crafted in painstaking sonic detail, utilising intricate and unusual rhythmic structures, has become a ‘thing’ in recent years; but it has generally been a thing in which vocals, while not necessarily altogether absent, take a back seat to the other elements. Not so with trillian: these songs are really songs, in the fullest sense, with well considered chord sequences, lyrics that seem to actually be about something, and melodies that provide each track with its central narrative. The vocal is an equal partner, rather than the dominant element, and for some reason that’s a relative rarity: bands tend to emphasise either their song craft or their arrangements.

Creature Breath – I Am Creature Breath (avant-folk)

There’s a simple poetry to this album, an economy of orchestration, of ornament and of lyrical statement. Given that the lyrical themes are of an overtly devotional nature, expressing a sense of rootedness and connection to the ‘Mother’, to the natural world conceived as a person, I find that economy something of a relief. Not that there is any particular reason why Shawn Marie Westendorf, sole author of I Am Creature Breath, should conform to my prejudices on this, but my experience of ‘neo-pagan’ art is that it tends toward the trite and sentimental, the uncritical valorization of the ‘old’, ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’, and in song lyrics towards the obvious and redundant. Fortunately, Westendorf’s writing is neither sentimental nor obvious.

Monday Musing: Music Scenes And Global Localities

There’s a music scene in your local town or borough. People obsessive or foolhardy enough to make the effort are inventing noises, and making them at other people. The chances are (particularly with small town scenes) that there’s a fair diversity of styles and genres involved, and you’ll probably find pub gigs where sludge metal bands share the bill with indie rock outfits, or punk bands with funk acts. This is the beauty of geographically specific scenes, because it’s always good, for musicians and audiences both, to make connections between musics: that’s where exciting new sounds come from.

Various Artists – Singles & EPs

This three track EP seems to be Septic Trauma’s entire recorded output. A shame, as I could happily listen to a few dozen tunes in this vein. Many heavy rock bands lay claim to terms like ‘technical’ and ‘progressive’, but few have any reason to do so. Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of using a term like ‘technical’ to describe a style of music, most of the metal thusly classified makes no more taxing technical demand on its performers than that they should play fast and stay in time, which quite honestly is something any well trained monkey with a floppy pick can manage.

The Ruby Kid & Dan Angell – Maps (rap/ poetry)

Poetry isn’t the same thing as lyrics; lyrics are not poetry; and rap is neither poetry nor song lyrics. All of these things have their own uses, their own conventions and their own needs. You can take a beautiful example of one, you can use it as the other, and it’s most likely to end up sounding stupid, and failing to convey the meanings it channelled in its native context. Obviously there are exceptions: poems have been successfully set to music (leaving aside the classical tradition, where singers’ texts have fewer idiomatic requirements), and, less frequently, some lyrics have stood up well on the page; rap lyrics are less likely to survive the loss of rhythm, but more likely to work in the absence of accompaniment. Then of course, there are the writers whose works …