Various Artists – Album Roundup

Idiom, style and musical history are important to all of the releases in this roundup, but to none more than to Gorgeous. To Ben Walker the question of style is one to be asked in respect of every song, in the same way as key and tempo, and one that should be answered with the same technical accuracy. There is a very sophisticated and erudite use of idiom at the centre of his creative practice, and his songs are crafted in thorough, rigorous detail, but they are nevertheless expressive rather than rhetorical. There is a refusal of any attempt to ‘persuade’ the listener, letting each song sink or …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This is a selection of records that I’d like to review, but for one reason or another, it’s not going to happen. Some (in fact most) of them just didn’t quite make the cut, in light of the extremely high standard and preponderance of physical submissions I get now (these were all received as digital submissions). Others have just been sitting in the queue for too long for a review to be meaningful now, with their release dates receding behind us into historical time… All of them are well worth listening to however, although I do appreciate that most people reading this won’t have tastes quite …

The Grip – Celebrate (jazz)

This band make a sound with a great big gaping hole right through the middle of it. Conceptually, jazz has been (among other things) about the relationship between single lines and harmony, for a considerable number of decades – perhaps this became an overriding concern with the advent of be-bop, when harmonic complexity increased concurrently with a reduction in the resources commonly available for orchestrating the music. Don’t ask me, I’m not a jazz historian, and I’m far too lazy to do the research, but I reckon it’s plausible. Either way, there’s been an ongoing …

Tom DePlonty – Blake Pieces (experimental)

The music on this album is inspired very specifically by William Blake’s The Book of Urizen, but not in a programmatic sense. The short pieces that make up the suite ‘do not represent the content of the poem literally or symbolically’, Tom De Plonty tells us on his website, and they require or assume no familiarity of the listener with the poem; what the music represents is De Plonty’s own affective response to Blake’s writing, and presumably to his art as well, the engravings being an integral part of the work of which the poem forms a part. De Plonty is not a composer who …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Wayne Myers, singer, songwriter and principal instrumental culprit, sent me this mini-album in early February according to my records, but it somehow slipped through the net and never got reviewed. Well, better late than never. Sleeping Beauty is pure poetry. I intend that as a value judgement, but also a literal description; Myers is a poet who works in the medium of song. Now I’d think of it as a species of insult to say that this was an EP of poems set to music, but that’s not what I mean: these are songs, written as such, and the musical materials they incorporate are neither a commentary …

Ashley Reaks – Compassion Fatigue (1-8) (avant-prog)

‘Concept’ albums have been a mixed blessing on the history of rock music. The idea that an album might have some connecting theme running through the various songs collected on it has been a controversial one, bitterly opposed at times by those with a strong doctrinal commitment to a particular model of popular music, and of rock as a subset thereof. However, some very interesting music has been articulated over a longer term than the three minute single permits, and I think rock (along with most other varieties of popular music) has long since proved its capacity as a …

Stars In Battledress – In Droplet Form (avant-folk)

Music needs to be comprehensible; it is, after all, a form of communication. The more readily digestible it is, however, and the more easily it slips down, the fewer hooks there are to hang any unique meanings on it. There is an inherently unstable dialectic between the familiar and the novel, and somewhere around the mid-point of that duality’s oscillations are the sites at which it resonates with its listeners. The strangeness with which Stars In Battledress tend to strike the listener’s ear is not that of complete unfamiliarity; indeed, their music’s harmonies are primarily built

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Mark Harrison and his very capable band (whose members include the extremely talented duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker) play a curiously English take on American roots music. Their stylistic materials mine the cracks between country blues and old time country music, continuing a UK tradition that began with skiffle and was nourished by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and the pop-jug-band sounds of Canned Heat. There’s a sense when listening to American performers in such styles, particularly the older ones, that they are singing from beneath a heavy encrustation of …

Arch Garrison – I Will Be A Pilgrim (avant-folk)

A sense of native place is a sentiment most associated, in music, with folk styles, or with the strong blood-and-soil nationalist current in black metal, for example, and such sounds have sometimes been taken up by those with particularly unpleasant political agendas. Craig Fortnam is here to remind us, through his acoustic Arch Garrison project, that an autochthonous sense of identity, a strong sense of connection to the landscape on which one lives, can be inclusive and nourishing. These songs are informed by an awareness of the difficulties and ambiguities around such ideas …

Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins And The Wormhole (indie)

There’s a lot of quality songwriters out there, ones that write sincere and sophisticated songs, and that, without necessarily straying too far from the kinds of musical materials that audiences find digestible, manage to say something particular and illuminating. Trouble is, they all sound the same. I mean, however good the material is, and however great the performances, there are an awful lot of relatively similar voices clamouring for the listener’s ear. Although what usually happens is that audiences gravitate to artists who resonate with them for reasons extraneous …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Richard Pinhas and Yoshida Tatsuya are legendary figures in the French and Japanese experimental rock scenes, respectively. ‘Experimental’ is a term that implies a bit of diversity, and the projects they’ve been involved with have covered quite a range of approaches, so there is nothing predictable about this record, and nor would there have been, whatever it sounded like. Pinhas is a guitarist with a penchant for live looping technology, which he uses here to create shimmering skeins of sound rather than hard-edged rhythmic repetitions, mutating colour fields with texturally filigreed surfaces and pelagically roiling depths. He uses quite pronounced distortion, which takes the music into the fringes of noise, but it is soft and warm, amniotically …

Regal Worm – Use and Ornament (avant-prog)

‘Detail’ seems to be the watchword by which this album was conceived and constructed; I hesitate to say that it’s all about the arrangements, as it’s clearly about much more, but a conspicuously enormous amount of effort has gone into them. Ideas abound in every area, in an album which is clearly a paean to much of the best music that progressive rock has produced; stylistic cues come from many sources, including folk, jazz and sixties psych-pop, and melodic or harmonic devices are presented in a rapidly cycling kaleidoscope of nuanced affective conditions. However, it is in the constant, subtly modulated…

Paragaté – Pattern Of Light (experimental)

Paragaté is a fluid ensemble; its two permanent members are Tim Risher and Tom De Plonty, both of whose names may be familiar to you from the reviews I have written over the past few years, but the ensemble has a number of other creators associated with it, and a history measured in decades. Earlier releases have featured a number of pieces credited to each man, as well as some credited to both of them, and some in which credit is shared with other collaborators. Pattern Of Light is a novelty, inasmuch as all but one of its eleven tracks are credited equally to Risher and De Plonty, the sole exception …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Kibou Records is everything I talk about but don’t actually do. It’s a totally independent, DIY music label and online distributor, dedicated to uncompromising underground music, of the noisy punk variety. It’s basically the Revolution, as described by French anarchists The Invisible Committee, a parallel structure that is a challenge to the status quo simply by virtue of its existence. If everyone with music to distribute did this, and everyone bought their music from outfits like this, the corporate music industry would shrivel up and die. Of course the success of such an …