Friday 3 February 2017

For Frank #4

I actually bought a whole lot of records over the last four months since I last did this, but you know what, I'm just going to review the things I like the best today, because I've decided for the moment to operate on a degree of positivity because art makes things better and right now the world doesn't need any more negativity frankly. Up there, that's a picture of QT, who did that one sci-fi bubblegum pop single in 2015 (described by one source as a "hipster novelty single" which is fair) and who has since disappeared... or has she? Either way, she's entirely irrelevant to this post, other than to say that just because you haven't seen an artist recently, it doesn't mean they're not making music, in much the way that a tree falling in a forest does make a sound if no one hears it. Or something to that effect.

(I tried to find a credit for the picture above. I am not sure, but it may originate here. If you took this picture and don't want me to use it, or you want me to credit you, please tell me and it's done, like magic.) 

Björk, Medúlla (2004)
First, the obligatory old record by someone established. My friend Rory Carr was having a CD clearout and among the things he was offering to the Frank's chums were two albums, this one and 2007's Volta, and I realised that while I was more or less familiar with Björk's stuff up to Homogenic, I didn't actually own a Björk album, just a handful of early-ish singles, so I jumped at the chance to grab a couple of albums gratis.

Volta isn't bad, but I think Medúlla is the better of the two, which is the one that she did almost entirely a capella, and all multitracked and stuff so she's her own choir. And it's musical like choral birdsong is musical, like wind and water, evoking the sounds of nature without being even remotely folk, and some of the songs, like "Who Is It?" are quite busy and jolly actually, with crooning and beatboxing and things and on some songs she's proper haunting, especially the ones she sings in Icelandic, and I think my favourite song on the album is "Vökuró" which sounds distant and cold and sad, although "Desired Constellation" also embarks on a good old tug on the heartstrings. 

This is the only album I have that has a songwriting credit for e.e.cummings.

Christopher Tignor, Along a Vanishing Plane (2016)
Christopher Tignor is a software engineer who wrote his own music software, and he plays strings too and he used to do slightly more conventional art-techno as Wires Under Tension (I recommend Replicant which is very good indeed and which features a sample of a remake of an homage on its first track, and I can't really express how interesting I find that).

I like this record very much. It is essentially a very modern, very minimal sort of chamber classical album, strings and a very reserved sort of production that makes it – well, either contemporary or timeless, I'm not sure which. It sort of introduces itself in a courtly, understated sort of way, and then politely blindsides you with expressions of inner turmoil and a deep, abiding sadness that engulfs the whole album. It speaks to a certain sort of low-level sadness that I've lived with and maybe the aural articulation of heartbreak is what makes this album so likeable. And it is an album, as in something designed to be listened to as a whole, a suite with a beginning, a middle, a climax and a coda rather than just a collection of tunes, so it's difficult to really pick any one track in particular as a thing to like, but by the time the album has built to the three-part "Artifacts of Longing" it achieves a sort of ascension. Since I bought this back in October, I've played this album in its entirety over and over and over again, dozens of times, and were I to compile a top five for 2016, this would be in it.   

You can listen to it in its entirety and purchase it via Bandcamp.

The Hare and the Moon, Wood Witch (2015)
I am of course going to have something that's spooky folk horror music here; that's been a constant for the last year or so, and here we are, Wood Witch, which is the witchiest album that ever witched a witch. On their Bandcamp site, Grey Malkin and co tell us that their hobbies are "knitting and necromancy" and there's a certain homemade necromancy to the music here, ambient Folk horror fans will appreciate the sample in "Come Unto the Corn" from The Blood on Satan's Claw (quoting the line which has become the Folk Horror Revival strapline) and the riff on the musical sting from that film. Whatever I might think of The Blood on Satan's Claw, sonically it's superb, and fertile ground for inspiration. Lots of traditional and traditional-ish songs given an echoey, spooky vibe with echoes and weird (wyrd) background noises. I mean, me, I'm immersed in this sort of thing right now, so I'm going to like it, but I think there's more than simply doing things that are spooky.

I bought a limited edition CD reissue from Reverb Worship, and a badge too because I like badges; sadly this is now sold out. But all of The Hare's stuff (and the Moon's also) is available on Bandcamp to listen to and buy.

The Stone Tapes, Avebury (2016)
This isn't so much an album as a sort of sonic drama, performed by Kat Beem and Matt Peach; the band knew this old chap who had a box full of weird stuff about the great Avebury henge and there's a vicar who knows more than he says and weird sounds coming from the stones. A week after I received the tape (and I admit it, I don't have a tape player anymore, so actually I just listened to the mp3s that came with it, which I somehow feel terrible admitting) I received in the post an envelope filled with everso slightly creepy ephemera, which I thought was hilarious and brilliant because I am the sort of person who finds things like that immensely entertaining. Buy it here.

Matt Berry, Kill the Wolf (2013)
Matt Berry is one of those people who you've probably seen on TV if you've watched a reasonable amount of British comedy in the last 15 years – you might have seen him in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd and a bunch of other things, and a load of voice overs on ads and things. He's mainly doing Toast of London now, which is a comedy about an actor, and which I think is very funny and has a sort of truth to it, although I recommended it to a friend who is an actual actor, and it left him absolutely cold, so it might be a sort of Marmite thing. For what it's worth, I am the sort of person who falls into helpless hysterics when I hear Matt Berry say "Yes!"

Anyway, he's also responsible for all the music on the shows he stars in, and this is his fourth studio album. Like its predecessor, Witchazel, Kill the Wolf draws upon a certain sort of singer-songwriter folk-pop from a certain period in history, and it's a vein that isn't really popularly mined, even though it was in many places the only thing to listen to. He evokes a not-quite retro, not-quite-modern world, but unlike Witchazel he dials back on the overt silliness (no more funerals for badgers) and prouces something that's just as listenable and catchy but which also makes me want to listen to it again, and I have! The ones I like the best are "Medicine", which is the nearest thing it has to a single, and "Solstice" which is a bit folk-prog but has the confidence to pull it off.

More briefly. My friend Simeon Smith released another album recently, All is Undone, and it is a fine piece of spiritual electronica. Full reviews are irrelevant because, well, he's a mate, but trust me, it is very good.

James Reichelt (Alone)'s marathon 52 week songwriting/art project, The Retro E-Waste Lifestyle Club, Vols 1-5 came to a conclusion with five albums, all great (Vol.3 is my favourite) and a piece of artwork for each song. James is now Kickstarting a nice art book for the project, along with all sorts of lovely E-waste if you back it enough. I think you should support him. You can support him here.

Also heard and enjoyed recently: The Mortlake Bookclub, Exquisite Corpse; Lux E Tenebris, Cyclizine; Icona Pop, This is Icona Pop.