Various Artists – Album Roundup

Vincent Berger Rond – Elle Avait Raison Hathor (experimental)

Spectropol Records SpecT 11, 2012, DD & CD-R album, 53m 41s

$0+ (name your price DD) $7 (limited edition CD-R)

The five pieces collected on Elle Avait Raison Hathor take their inspiration from five female deities, from geographically disparate mythological traditions – ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Inuit and classical Greek. To exploit mythical archetypes in a way that respects the specificities of a modern subjectivity takes a deft touch and a nuanced understanding, both of the source mythology, and the way its discourses are articulated in the here and now. There is a great deal of material already in circulation that shoehorns lived experience into a generic New Age symbolism, without adding anything to its audience’s understanding; fortunately, the experiences conveyed by Vincent Berger Rond’s compositions, both musical and poetic, are nothing if not particular. The sonic materials he employs encompass modern chamber music and certain sounds from the popular tradition, such as drum kit and electric guitar, but they are treated in much the same way that William S. Burroughs liked to treat his text, as formally unanchored elements within an apparently stochastic sequence. To what extent this work is aleatory or improvised, and to what extent it is constructed, is impossible to determine, and doesn’t matter a great deal; the experience of listening is one that undercuts any comfortable reliance on a predictable resolution or cyclicity, while maintaining some narrative sense through the relative stability of the broad strokes of texture. The poetry that accompanies the release carries denotational meanings consistent with this approach, its female protagonists in seeming conflict with their worlds; while they display the strength usually ascribed to female deities, these archetypes are used to point at altogether more uncertain and dangerous experiences than is usual in modern reinterpretations of myth. It is a major creative risk for a man to tackle women’s experience in any depth, but here the composer’s courage makes for music that demands active engagement, and richly rewards it.

Atomic Farmhouse – Fortune Cookie (hip-hop)

Venomous Hamster, 2012, DD album, 27m 31s


Fortune Cookie is a dark contusion of semantic density that rips apart the syntax of hip-hop and lets the pieces lie where they fall. Like H.L.I.’s Omniglyph, which I reviewed  recently, it combines an ominous and comfort-free soundworld with a set of lyrical concerns far outside the usual scope of even underground hip-hop. On the cover two young boys watch a 60s or 70s TV on which a tiny naked woman, who has been sliced onto a green salad, is having her mid-riff picked up with chopsticks. Listening to this short album I feel rather like those two kids must: confused and disturbed in the face of a statement that I don’t really understand, that seems on one level to be gross and horrifying, and on another to be unfeasibly cool. The beats are deep and momentous, but the phrasing sounds fragmentary and inverted, the samples employed with unexpected loop points in almost perversely imaginative textures. Nothing here is unexamined or generic, nothing unthinkingly recycled, and this rigour is equally manifest in the lyrics. Atomic Farmhouse keep their humour a lot closer to the surface than the aforementioned H.L.I., but it never comes across as satire, seeming instead to be an integral part of a worldview founded on independent, critical responses to the insanity and cynicism of post-modernity. It’s hard for me to distinguish between deliberate absurdities and forms of speech that are just unfamiliar, but the album seems to undercut the listener’s expectations methodically. There’s a lot of music here that doesn’t even try to get your head nodding; although there are some excellent, off-kilter flows, and some insistently creative experimental production, it’s obvious that a display of skill is not the point, any more than pandering to mainstream tastes. Fortune Cookie throws together materials from such diverse sources, with such balls-out confidence, that it’s dizzying and disorientating to listen to, like a narcotic; the result is pretty challenging, but completely coherent, and a real pleasure for the ears.

Ill Move Sporadic & Joey Menza – Alpha Coda (hip-hop)

Starch Music, 2012, CD & DD album, 39m 58s

£5.99 (DD) £4.99 (CD)

Producers often get second billing in hip-hop, and I’ve repeatedly heard albums released under the name of a pretty pedestrian MC that were still an enjoyable listen thanks to the production. I’m not saying that MCs should never have their colours exclusively nailed to the mast, producing an album being a very different thing from producing some beats, but it’s hard for the listener to tell whether that accurately reflects the division of labour; I’m usually a little more comfortable with it when the ‘artist’ is a crew, or a collaboration. Joey Menza is easily charismatic enough to carry an album with his flows, but Alpha Coda is a decidedly collaborative sounding effort, replete with apposite verbal samples, and Ill Move Sporadic’s beats are neither more or less integral to its meanings. This is funky shit, made from samples of funky shit, with programmed beats that bounce across the pulse like a pebble skimming a pond; OneBoss and Ben81 (the production duo’s members) know how to build tension and exactly when to release it. Joey Menza is a knowledgeable man, who weaves references from literature, cinema, popular culture and the rest of the universe into an earthy flow of self-aware passion, and the guest MCs put in equally accomplished contributions. Whoever it is that says ‘no homo/ if you’re into that, then go Soho’ should probably be less interested in what other people get up into the privacy of their own bedrooms, and why it’s his business what part of London they do it in isn’t made clear; that reservation notwithstanding, the track it comes from, ‘Dump’, is likely the strongest on Alpha Coda. Beginningas an angry rant on urban dysphoria, it mutates into a kind of cynical paean to London, a collagist poem that takes a hard, unsentimental, but affectionate look at the city, its meanings accumulating rhythmically in overlapping skeins that eventually abandon syntax and lock into the tense momentum of the beat. This is altogether a very listenable and intelligent record.

Marley Starskey Butler – A Saffron History (avant-pop)

Naplew Productions, 2012, DD album, 24m 50s


Marley Butler is given to doing clever things musically, but the focus of his cleverness is usually in his manipulation of atmosphere, or in the way he exploits the symbology of pop music to access meanings beyond its usual compass. ‘1990’, the opening cut of A Saffron History, is positively mathy, with its initial riff built from four bars of 4/4 phrased as four of 7/8 plus one of 2/4, driven along by the soulful and technically adept drumming of Cedric Monzali, who provided the main element of muscular musicianly expression on Butler’s recent Opposites. That the piece also encompasses the opposite rhythmic pole before it’s done should come as no surprise to followers of Butler’s work, which is creatively consistent in its treatment of performative skill as one aesthetic effect among many. The atmosphere of this album is a light and airy one, not always founded in conventional musical values, but never abrasive or off-putting. It has moments of nostalgia, most notably in ‘It Ain’t Over Till The Children Sing’, arising through the superimposition of playground sounds on a gentle vocal ambience and water noises, and the use of a music-box, but this comes across more as an invocation of distance than a sense of loss. It’s more hypnagogic than hauntological, but I hear this music as too clear and limpid, too precisely stated, to sit comfortably in either of those camps. It is concerned with very specific times and places, rather than the a-geographic, a-historical cosmopolitanism that informs much music of the online era, usually to its detriment. Butler appreciates the beauty of a violin’s lower register, or of a human voice, and is comfortable valuing them as sounds created on particular occasions by particular musicians; he doesn’t need to trawl the recent past for roots like hipsters do in London, Los Angeles and New York, because he comes from Derby via Wolverhampton, places which have not yet succumbed to the semantic chasm of over-signification. This music (thanks in large part to his excellent collaborators) is all about sound, and the profound beauty thereof.

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