Wednesday 21 September 2016

For Frank #2

This month's album reviews include two old albums by established artists, and a bevy of stuff from Bandcamp (you know about Bandcamp, right? I'm sort of obsessed with it right now), CD-R label Reverb Worship, and stuff from the back catalogue. This is part one of two.

Lykke Li, Youth Novels
This is the Obligatory Old Record of the Month, right. Lykke Li has done three albums now, and I had the other two for ages, the bassy, Spectoresque, occasionally filthy Wounded Rhymes, which I loved, and the more recent I Never Learn, an album entirely made of breakup songs, which I initially disliked intensely, but which grew on me. This one, the first album from 2008, I picked up only recently, and actually it's very different. It's recognisably the same artist, but she hasn't developed the knowing quality in her voice, the hoarse maturity that the other two albums showcase, even at times almost emulating something of artists like Björk in her vocal rhythms; it's less focussed, younger sounding, more fey. And for the most part, although bass and drums are central to the arrangements, the music is more minimal. Highlight for me is "Dance, Dance, Dance", which is one of the only pop songs ever that gains from having a saxophone in it; lowlight is "Complaint Department" which starts as an OK electro song but then just sits on the same spot, going round and round and round without any benefit.

Pefkin, Into the Beyond World, Black Mass, Liminal Rites

Sometimes, I'm listening to music and my Beloved walks in and reacts with an almost physical revulsion. Her asking what the hell I'm listening to is invariably followed by her demanding that I turn it off. Pefkin's Into the Beyond World fell firmly and solidly in that category. She managed about five seconds before she couldn't take any more.

I should at this point say that this is by no means a negative review. I actually really like this record, but part of the reason I really like it is that it falls into the category of music that creates in you a physical reaction beyond the purely audial. With a decent sound system (and although I don't use it much, I do actually have a decent stereo and was using it when Beloved walked in), the combination of deep bass and swooshy white noise attempts to create something of the deeply internalised sensation of being indoors when a storm is outside, or of being near the sea, or the like. It feels like the sound of wind. It's not the same, it can't be: the music comes from machines, it's artificial, a little more harsh, more ordered, and in the same way that I find having my back scratched (in the way that my Beloved loves so much) a deeply unpleasant experience, it creates strong reactions. It's subjective.

Only a couple of the pieces on the CD really qualify as songs in any conventional sense (the best being "I Am the Austringer", and who knew I'd be recommending dreampop drone about handling birds of prey?) although strands of melody occasionally glide through, beneath the dense waves of white and off-white noise. The experience is intense, hypnotic, the closest one can cleave to an altered state of consciousness without actually taking anything. You come out of it at the end like you're emerging for air after swimming underwater: breathless, cleansed. Were I in the position to recommend this as Music for Magical Rituals, I would.

Liminal Rites and Black Mass are both earlier albums, found on Bandcamp (Into the Beyond World is not currently featured on Pefkin's Bandcamp page, but I expect it will be eventually). They both sound like magical titles; in fact, Black Mass is a collection of pieces on the theme of crows and ravens, including a barely recognisable version of The Twa Corbies. Neither is quite as focussed or intense as Into the Beyond World but both would give you a good idea what to expect.

Jim Griffin, The Ranger and the Cleric

I saw someone I like writing about this album on the Facebook and I was like, but it's not properly done if you don't have a magic-user, a paladin and a thief, and then I felt guilty for making a gag like that, so I bought it. It's twelve songs, but it's recorded as one track, because it's not meant to be listened to as anything other than an album, which is either precious or an important artistic statement, depending on who you ask. Griffin is all about fusing classical guitar with some of the rustic feedback of acid folk. It sounds like it could have been recorded forty years ago; it is not so much a soundtrack for people who like Dungeons and Dragons as for people who are in it.

Gary Gygax gets a shout in the sleeve notes. I bet Jim Griffin is a bloody amazing dungeonmaster.

Sproatly Smith, The Minstrel's Grave; Greatest Hits Vol. 1

Sproatly Smith are an important part of the modern psych-folk scene. Proper Wicker Man music, this. The Minstrel's Grave goes from white-noise drone to whispered old-style folk songs with that overlaid drone noise thing that's pretty much indispensible in modern acid folk, to stuff that sounds like it was sampled from olde-time gramophone records to actual spacerock and it's all really pagan, really witchy stuff, music to sacrifice uptight Scottish policemen to. It's pastoral, foresty, watery.

Touchstones (the ones I recognised) include Circulus, and The Incredible String Band and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and all the psych folk you can imagine.

Greatest Hits, Vol.1 is available for pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp and weirdly, although there's less variation in musical style, it nonetheless feels less cohesive. Still, it's a good inexpensive introduction to the band.

Psychic Twin, Strange Diary

Strange Diary is essentially a record of four years in the breakdown of Psychic Twin/Erin Fein's marriage, from the first cracks through to divorce. It feeds my St. Vincent-inspired addiction to nicely done female-fronted electropop, but beyond that it is honest, and painful, and reflective. The icy coolness of the electro project frames the heartbreaking sadness of the subject matter. It is very, very good.

More tomorrow.