Various Artists – Album Roundup

Being able to afford soap is the new bling. That’s not necessarily a satirical conceit most artists would consider hanging an entire album off, let alone their group identity, but BIG $OAP MON£Y CR£W are not ‘most artists’, and that’s exactly what they do. Not that this is overtly a concept album, despite its consistent use of all caps and currency symbols, but the identities adopted by its creators are maintained scrupulously throughout; it’s not pure comedy from start to finish, but WA$H YO FAC£!‘s unbroken satirical undertow betokens a refusal to take themselves too seriously, or to ape the street pomposity of the self-obsessed, machismo fetishising mainstream. This is funny, sometimes eye-wateringly so, and it pokes plenty of affectionate fun…

The Blackswords: Episode 3

Umbaral rode scout to the port, handing his lance to another rider and stringing his bow; being an archer usually let him keep a safe distance from the enemy, which was why he’d specialised as one, but there were other times it when condemned him to the van. It was a fair trade-off, he supposed, but it didn’t feel very fair right now. Luckily, in the confusion of the battle, nobody would be looking for their detachment, and he didn’t anticipate ambushes, but he was still alert to every alley and side turning that might let him leave the fight to his comrades if the situation looked alarming. The Suluf were large and ferocious, and he had no desire to cross swords with one if it could be avoided.

Asgeir & Mo – Danza de Andalucia (Flamenco fusion)

Flamenco is a music that lends itself to fusions, and that has been successfully fused in many different contexts, but it is also the site of a pronounced ideology of purism. The kind of cultural essentialism that has afflicted British folk music, or the blues, is still probably still the norm in Andalucia: this is not to say that Flamenco’s practitioners are unwelcoming to outsiders, but they are expected to come as respectful supplicants to the tradition, and those that skirt its fringes are clearly aware of this. I’ve heard Gabriela Quintero at a concert, sounding positively anxious to disavow any claim to the name of Flamenco, on the grounds that ‘those guys will go fucking mental’. There are reasons for this purism, beyond the usual ethnic insecurities …

H.L.I. – Omniglyph (hip-hop)

Rap is a form of spoken language; perhaps more than any other discursive art, it has no independent existence on the page; semantics are central to its meanings, but flow and orality are its material substance. It’s interesting then, that H.L.I. have chosen to title this release in a way that ascribes universal significance to a visual mark, and even seems to suggest that as a work, it intends to either represent, or present itself as equivalent to, such an infinitely polyvalent grapheme. It’s fair to assume that they’re not too hung up on the specific definition of a ‘glyph’, but all the same, taken as a general term for a sign or symbol, it clearly implies a static, atemporal locus of meaning, in stark contrast to the sequential unfolding of rap…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This is a record that gets straight down to business, a short, kinetic acoustic guitar intro prefacing a series of remarks, delivered with such visceral charisma that it almost doesn’t matter what they mean; the fact that they mean a lot imbues this music with a density that belies its simplicity and lack of frills. You Save You are a duo, performing material of a texture that might be delivered by a single musician (apart from some simple percussion, presumably operated by the singer), but it’s very clearly two people’s energy on Secondhand Suits And Cheap Sunglasses (or maybe ten people’s!). The guitar playing is raw acoustic rock ‘n’ roll, and the vocals hover between declamation and raspy punkish singing.

Coalition – In Search Of Forever (progressive rock)

I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity when I first saw this album, but I couldn’t work out why. The first thing I thought of was Return To Forever, but that band’s album covers had very little in common with this one. It was several days before it came to me: the fantasy artist Rodney Matthews published a book of his work by the same title in 1985, and although the album art itself doesn’t resemble his pictures, he was a prolific typeface designer, and the one used here looks very like his work. I don’t propose to labour this coincidence, but I think it’s inevitable that such associations colour our perceptions to some degree, and the strange visual worlds I explored at Matthews’ hands as a teenager may have an influence on my imaginative response…

Dementio 13 – El Lissitzky (electronic post-rock)

Composers of electronic music, if they wish to work with a relatively accessible aesthetic, face a particular set of challenges: to avoid a sense of impersonality, to make their music feel ‘human’, to make it breathe, when it may in fact move no physical air between the moment of composition and the moment of reproduction, requires the artist to attend consciously to aspects of the sound that occur automatically in acoustic performance. The uniformity of a repeated sound produced digitally in response to identical instructions is not completely compatible with the idea of music as an expression, as an act of affective communication; this characteristic of electronic music can be exploited as a positive (not just to evoke anomie), by addressing the …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Quietness has been an important trope in avant-garde music since the days of Minimalism I guess, but it has been articulated in many ways, within a diversity of musical practices. The near inactivity to which some free improvisors have gravitated, or John Cage’s invitation to listen to the contextual ambience for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, or the work of many ambient composers, all exploit the signifying power of low amplitudes. Place is also an important theme in many musics; in Cage’s famous piece, the performance space itself becomes composer, performer and material, whereas ambient music usually aims either to colour a place, or to invoke one.

Caution Horses – City Lights (pop-rock)

The songs on City Lights are tightly orchestrated in guitar driven arrangements of a sort that might be attract the irritating descriptor ‘soft rock’, but sound more to me like a species of post-punk, à la Joe Jackson. A prominent, mid-rangy bass weaves sinewy counter-melodies through a weft of cleanly recorded and crisply played drums, while bright and rhythmically precise (acoustic and electric) guitar fills out the harmony; a variety of other elements are added to this basic structure, such as analogue synth and multi-tracked trumpet in ‘Sound of America’, a guitar and scat unison solo in ‘Letting Go’, electric piano and flute in ‘So What?’ or organ in ‘Start A War’. On paper that sounds like a recipe for an elaborate mess, but …

Plum Flower Embroidery – Naki Bone Jangle (psychedelic)

I did a little bit of ‘research’ (a word that used to mean research, and now means believing the first thing you see on the internet), imagining that Naki Bone Jangle would turn out to refer to a ritual noise-maker made from bones by members of a native American tribe. Well, that may be the case, but I couldn’t find any reference to it. I could always have asked Richard Knutson to explain, but I think it’s worth trying to understand a recording as released; this one is enigmatic on many levels, and that is clearly a central plank of its meanings. Plum Flower Embroidery is a one man project, of the sort that I would almost certainly not have come across were it not for the way the internet has turned out…

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

In recent years the avant-garde fringes of metal have become one of the most fertile sites of musical creativity and invention; while my central musical inclinations might be towards other areas, such as jazz or folk, and while those areas certainly harbour some radically creative minds globally, the majority of music produced and performed locally to me is pretty conservative. Earthmass is one of several bands I have the opportunity to engage with directly (attending gigs, meeting the members, building an ongoing relationship as a music writer, etc.) that pursue a radical formal agenda, and really keep their eye on the ball creatively. There is no uncritical regurgitation of the tropes of heavy music here, no taking the language as given …