Danny Brown – ‘Atrocity Exhibition’: Round 102 – Rob’s choice

WRP276LP_1024x1024I don’t follow hip-hop closely. In fact, so intermittent is our relationship that I’m pausing now to check whether I’m sure hip-hop is still the preferred tag. I love it, but we just don’t see each other very often. (Come to think of it, I don’t follow any music closely, do I?).

One of the plus points of this infrequent contact arrangement is that when we do see each other, maybe once or twice a year, the music has almost always changed, mutated and spun off in some unpredictable direction. Add to this that when you’re dipping in, then you tend to go first for the most acclaimed artists and records, hopefully a short-cut to the cream of the crop, and it all adds up to me having my socks blown off most times I actually sit down with hip-hop albums.

This, and a fulsome appreciation, grown steadily over the 30 years since I first heard ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, for hip-hop’s sense of sonic adventure, the detail, the ambition and the sheer amount of work and that goes into producing a record as dense and packed as most of these albums puts almost all other musicians to shame.

In 2015, having been wowed by both ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and Vince Staples’ exceptional ‘Summertime ’06’ I considered making 2016 a hip-hop only year. I didn’t last too long but in the midst of exposure to Future and Young Thug, the glorious return of A Tribe Called Quest and a joyful mixtape from Chance The Rapper, the record that stood out, that pounced from the pack and got its steel hooks into me, was Danny Brown’s thrilling, disorienting ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.

From the opening ‘Downward Spiral’ this is a different proposition from any album you’ve heard before. A warping guitar chord is crudely overridden by Brown’s unhinged Wile E Coyote psycho-babble. “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave/ Been in this room for three days/ Think I’m hearing voices/ Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es/ Oh shit”. The guitars bend and bow around him, the voice grating like an ice cold fever. The tone is set for a descent down one man’s personal brain drain.

The second track, ”Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ is more straightforward but no less stretching, the verite tale of kids dropping out of school to sell drugs, and the death and destruction that follow. This counterpoint to the opener, and the space that opens up between them, offers a potent expression of the function of contemporary hip hop. Here is an artist seeing a nightmarish real world as a trap from which the only viable escape is into psychedelic hyper-reality, via drugs and sex and into an imagination rotten with wormholes.

As if the paranoia, dislocation, drained cold possibilities aren’t explicit enough, then Brown also begins to makes good on the album title by drawing out clinical descriptions of debauchery that would have JG Ballard nodding in admiration whilst referencing Joy Division, who had their own ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ in more than one place. “This is the way N****, step inside” he snaps and shoves on ‘Golddust’, whilst ‘Rolling Stone’ rocks and shivers to a bassline that could have been lifted straight from a Martin Hannett production.

The soundscapes elsewhere are just as stunned and stunning, from the contrapuntal hammering of ‘Pneumonia’ to the pounding of ‘Aint It Funny’, hitting you like stepping through a street door into a club, and immediately realising you’ve made a big mistake.

The album, although not long, is way too dense and detailed to take in on one pass. It’s smothering, stunning, dislocating and intoxicating in all the right ways, and takes you to places that you are unlikely to have been before.

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Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – ‘World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’: Round 106 – Rob’s choice

download (2)The album of the 2018 in our house, in that it is the record we’ve played the most, by some considerable distance, and, by dint of this, it’s been a subtle soundtrack to our year.

I’m not sure what prompted me to check out the reviews for the album when it was released in May. The cover art helps – it’s gorgeous, bursting with colour and with Coltrane Turiyasangitananda beaming at its centre. I also heard NPR’s interview with Ravi Coltrane (https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/05/15/527975501/all-songs-1-alice-coltranes-astonishing-ecstatic-music), which was so warm and engaging, and which included a performance of ‘Triloka’, a duet between his mother Alice, and the bassist Charlie Haden. It caught me at just the right moment and I found it extraordinary. I can still remember where I was when I heard it, and if loading bags of bricks into the back of a van is not the perfect context for a revelation about ecstatic religious music, then I don’t know what is.

Spotify did the rest, and the record just never left us once we’d let it in to our lives. It became the music we played to help children get to sleep, to fill the background while we ate dinner, and to act as the soundtrack to almost anything we needed to get done. Eventually I bought the vinyl to recognise the impact that the music has had on our family, and to throw something back to Luaka Bop and the people who managed to bring this collection together.

Having said all that, I realise now that I come to write about it, that I have absorbed a few half-heard details, but essentially I know nothing about it.

The story as I have chosen to remember it is that Alice Coltrane became the leader of an ashram at some point in the 1980s and, as one might expect, found herself at various moments surrounded by worshippers with more musical tendencies than the average congregation. In my version of events, these serendipitous jazz super bands got up to perform music as part of the daily rituals, and these joyful jams were recorded, started to circulate on cassette amongst Coltrane aficionados  and 30 years later finally got an official release.

The record comes with copious liner notes including, I kid you not, the equivalent of the Ashram’s parish magazine. I haven’t read any of them. I’m curious about the origins of the music, honestly I am. I just haven’t got to the stage of wanting to dig yet. After 8 months. Thinking about it, as I do now for almost the first time, perhaps the music has a now-ness to it that deters me from wanting to break through the surface. Perhaps in keeping with its religious inspirations it encourages a meditative experience, listening in the moment, not allowing oneself to become distracted by narratives and viewpoints.,

[Now, give me a second… wikipedia is calling…]

Actually, no, still can’t be bothered. I’ll just listen to the record instead. There I’ll find what I imagine to be space age trance jazz interpretations of sacred music, swimming with massed chants, handclaps, swirling 90s synths, twinkling harp and countless other intoxicating, mesmerising sounds I’m unable to decode. Woven through much I’ll also hear the album’s major revelation: Coltrane sings,in a strong, warm voice, confident, powerful and assured. When she does, it lifts an intriguing and captivating record into a beautiful and moving one. Meditative, boundless music, worth retreating for.

Tom listened: Good to have you back Rob. Your moratorium on writing had been for far too long!

Well, what an awesome record this is. Nothing like I would have expected (prior to this meeting knowing only that Alice had been the wife of John I thought it would be, at the very least, awkward, if not downright challenging), this record with the ridiculously convoluted title was, in fact, accessible, enveloping and immersive; sounding great from the off, the tracks, though long, never outstaying their welcome. To sum up then, a wonderful surprise and one of the reasons DRC is such a great thing to do (after the curry and the Exeter Uni based chat that is!).

 

Meat Puppets – ‘Meat Puppets II’: Round 105 – Rob’s choice

c6eb4e4b3fc37f53c006dcc62e542dd6We have instant access to all of recorded music, more or less. As a result, genres are collapsing and fragmenting, subcultures are mutating and combining at a rate beyond the capacity of any reasonable follower to keep up. Dizzying music is being made, but with pandora’s box now irreversibly open, I wonder whether a band like Meat Puppets would be possible in the 21st century.

I don’t know too much about the context in which brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood grew up but if, as is reasonable to expect, the music they made is infused with their influences, then as a listener to that music, I think I’m allowed a little license to colour in the gaps.

I see two brothers, kicking their heels in a distant corner of the continental United States (Phoenix, Arizona), baking in the heat, wondering how to occupy their gently frying teenage minds. From the air, from passing trucks, from a hundred radios and whispering TV sets they are picking up sounds from distant broadcasts, drifting in across the mesa and finding ways to put hooks into them as, in turn, the brothers begin to hold on to them like lifelines.

Actually, that’s where my romantic notion veers from the tracks. I’m sure it’s all wrong, but the idea that the boys who would be Meat Puppets grabbed onto music as a lifeline just doesn’t ring true. For here, plainly, is music made without any expectations whatsoever, with no care for who might hear it and what they may subsequently do with it. No-one could have created this stuff thinking it was going to offer them a way out or open up an escape route. The songs are so internal,. so personal, so unique.

When Meat Puppets formed in 1980, the brothers were in their early 20s. It’s entirely possible that by this age all they had heard was country music and, recently, hardcore punk. Taking these two forms, they set out to make some music that would make them happy. That lack of exposure, that insularity, is almost impossible to imagine these days. And yet in these hands and mouths and minds is turned into wonderful, charming, surprising organic shapes, combining the naivety of school children with the assured playing of alien virtuosos. The thrashing stumble stomp of ‘Split Myself in Two’ staggers into the whirling reel ‘Lost’ and then on into rich and wild meadows. ‘Plateau’ discovers undiscovered lands. lyrically and musically, and its playing is deft and intoxicating, as is the ‘Aurora Borealis’ that blooms after it. Everywhere you listen there are new forms of life growing from familiar places.

And here, I think, is where things are different now. I wonder whether it is still possible to make music that feels as unexposed to and unconcerned about the world as this. Truly this was a strange and wonderful nirvana, where unique and fleeting conditions existed.

Burial – ‘Rival Dealer’: Round 104 – Rob’s choice

a2179941635_16Adam Curtis is a film-maker who has made his name by assembling disparate, incongruous, often dissonant, images, sounds and stories into palettes and pieces that lay claim to hidden realities and subterranean narratives that may or may not lie beneath the post-war, neo-liberal consensus. When his films are at their best, they bring together wildly divergent elements to illustrate the completely unexpected, in ways which may not otherwise have been directly approachable.

The use of music – surprising, cinematic, evocative, contrapuntal – has always been central to his work. He uses it to open up emotions, to manipulate mood and, in combination with often dizzying, disorienting film footage, to suggest what seem to be entirely new ways of seeing, hearing and interpreting the world.

And so, when he speaks haltingly, gushingly of an artist like Burial, as he did (see below) to Adam Buxton last year, it’s clear that he feels he has found a common spirit.

“I think Burial is the genius of our time… The most important Burial song to listen to, which will tell you everything about him, is Come Down to Us… Why it’s so incredible, because what Burial does is he takes what is essentially industrial noise – and songs – but fuses them together to create something that is epic and romantic, and sort of gives you a clue of the sort of thing that might be coming, culturally – which is a higher system, I think. And I think he’s there ahead of everyone. It’s so emotional; yet, at the same time, just noise. And, I don’t know, it’s just, I can’t – sorry, this is me being inarticulate – it’s just… wonderful… It takes you into another world.”

‘Come Down To Us’ is the third and final track of the ‘Rival Dealer’ EP. By the point of its release, Burial’s approach had shifted radically from his beginnings in rainswept garage and two-step, but which retained throughout a constant, imposing sense of the cinematic possibilities of urban existence, For Curtis to describe the music as ‘just noise’ is misleading. The EP’s 28 minutes bristles and sways with ambient atmospherics, underscored by vinyl crackles, metallic weapon clicks and the sub-sonic alien buzz of concrete. But the two counterpoints of the set, the 10 minute title track and the 13-minute ‘Come Down To Us’ are compelling pieces of music, first and foremost, not noise. ‘Rival Dealer’ bustles and sprints, stumbles and surges, a flurrying beat pulling the track through what feels like a hurried escape. ‘Come Down To Us’ is entirely different, a mesmeric, devotional head-nod, underscored by a heartbreakingly delicate melody and skated over by a yearning vocal. It’s intoxicating and incredibly affecting. The entire EP is spun through with spoken snatches dealing with identity and the closing sampled speech from transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski throws everything that has preceded it into a breathtaking new light.

“It’s just… wonderful… It takes you to another world.” And put together with the EPs that have followed in the 4 years since Rival Dealer, it really does seem as if Burial may have found a new way forward, and got there ahead of everyone.

 

Fuck Buttons – ‘Slow Focus’: Round 100 – Rob’s choice

220px-Fuck_Buttons_-_Slow_FocusOn only one occasion as a young man did I sit down with my friends and try to make music. Only one of us could play, and he the guitar, but the rest of us had a go. I found myself noodling around on a keyboard finding simple melody lines to decorate a steady snare beat and repetitive, wannabe hypnotic, chords. It was no good, but we had an enjoyable afternoon. That’s probably the story of 95% of all bands, those that come together in the minds and back bedrooms of their so-briefly aligned members. The other 5% go on, and turn what rough clay they find in their hands into something more permanent. Probably 4% of those are awful too, but at least they’re trying, which really, genuinely is something.

Fuck Buttons are not like our band. They are, to my mind, a perfect creation, using complex palimpsests of sound to create music that is unnaturally direct and powerful. My mayflower-like musical efforts categorically were not perfect. However they come back to mind now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I think that had we had the spirit, talent, energy or time to go on, then this is the kind of music we may have felt we were trying to make, had we the imaginative capacity, which we almost certainly didn’t. Nonetheless, our approach had the basic germ. We started with one thing, a chord sequence, and then added to it gradually, a rhythm, a synthesizer, some words. Over the course of 20 minutes we built towards something.

Secondly, and crucially, I think about that afternoon because when I listen to Fuck Buttons, which I often do, I am always struck by how simple the proposition sounds – just start with one thing and then add more on top until you have something bigger, and bigger, and bigger – and just how startlingly difficult it must actually be to pull that trick off.

All three Fuck Buttons records have taken a similar approach, each using different sets of building blocks and achieving different ultimate outcomes. ‘Street Horrrsing’, still one of the more physically unbalancing records I own, built out from twinkling keyboards, human screams and the sound of an exterminating alien spacecraft to produce a soundscape for a post-human planet. ‘Tarot Sport’ dragged the sound through the doors of a warehouse party, creating hypnotic and crushing beats. ‘Slow Focus’ seems to me the richest, most satisfying record of the three. Each track starts with a simple element, a pounding piece of percussion or a choppy synth line, and adds more, steadily getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Each time a new element joins the picture it sounds to have become impossibly huge, and only after a few minutes more have passed do you realise just how much more massive the whole machine has grown since then.

Let’s pause to acknowledge the name and cover art of this record, both helpful encapsulations of what the band do so exquisitely. ‘Slow Focus’, a sense of pulling out from, or in towards, an object, steadily to reveal an encapsulating super-structure, or zooming to uncover layers beneath layers beneath layers. And that adorning piece of jewellery that stares out from the sleeve: It starts with an apparently huge stone at its centre, which should have been enough by any measure, but its creator then added a setting, and then some decoration and then crenellations and some filigree until ultimately the whole piece is five times the size and weight it ever needed to be. And yet, somehow, where it should be gaudy and overloaded, it feels rich.

Throughout this album, Fuck Buttons consistently create a sense of ecstatic intensity, which is as beguiling as it is overwhelming, never repetitive, always physically consuming. It’s quite a trick.

Julian Cope – Fried: Round 105, Steve’s choice

Julian CopR-372058-1380454394-9742.jpege turns 60 on 21st October 2017. The reaching of a milestone, you might say, along the leyline of life for the Archdrude, Krautrock, Japrock psychedelic traveller, rock-pop star and general mad dude. Mr Cope has been many things to many different people. I covered his time in the Teardrop Explodes at previous meeting, chronicling his descent into madness and general chaos. All the pre-solo shenanigans are detailed in his autobiography – Head On. Post-Tears breakup was hard on Julian. Dumped by most of whom he thought were friends, and exiled to his childhood home of Tamworth having been resident both in Liverpool and London, he finds himself in an artistic moment of enforced freedom. ‘Fried’ was his second solo album, having been preceded by ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ (which doesn’t contain the song of that name itself – that appears on St Julian). On ‘World…’ he retains much of the febrile high-tempo sounds found on Kilimanjaro. When that failed to stick, he went into the studio and recorded ‘Fried’. Much under the influence and striking a chord with his visions of himself within a mythological England the tracks on this album have a folksy quality about them, not a million miles from Syd Barrett’s solo ventures. You can draw a line from Barrett, through ‘Fried’ to Blur. On ‘Reynard the Fox’ he embodies himself (perhaps a reference to his shamanic spirit animal) in the folk character of a wise anthropomorphic animal who is outwitting his enemies. Being caught eventually he cuts his stomach open and “spills his guts out onto the stage”, again referring to an actual event in JC’s live performance where he did just that. The music itself is frenzied and despite its gory lyrics it’s a favourite of my children’s! ‘Bill Drummond Said’ is also a list of things that, well Mr Drummond is alleged to have said e.g. “If I pray enough my Christmas tree will die”. So outlandish are these sayings that it’s quite possible that they’re made up. But then it’s not clear that he couldn’t have said them, and so the legend goes. It’s a jolly little ditty, and Bill followed it up a few years later with a folk song riposte entitled “Julian Cope is Dead”.

On ‘Fried’ Julian is not scared of being completely experimental. Later on he would carve out his rock star persona, and have hits with “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Try Try Try”. So, this album is odd in that it diverts from both the successful pop of Teardrops, and his later more accessible work, and hints at an altogether artistically adventurous JC. Tracks from this album still survive as live favourites, such as ” Sunspots” and “Reynard the Fox”. His march into full on shamanic Druidry is attempted here in a less mature way on “O King of Chaos”. Religious ramblings abound on “Holy Love”

“Who’s that rolling in the hay
The baby Jesus or the cavalry?”

He deals with betrayal by his friends and the dropping of him by the record label (he was dropped again after this album) on ‘Laughing Boy’

“Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out, I said “No”
I’ve got no place to go.”

and with the very fact that having success has changed him from the person he was, so much that he can’t go back (on ‘Me Singing’)

“I try my hand at work
Oh, work seems to be for an earlier person”

Musically the album is truly solo, with Cope often playing his own instruments. So, it is quite simplistic in composition, but nevertheless there’s plenty nice tunes here. Lyrically there’s a heavy dosage of pathos, emotion and introspection to take you into the inner workings of his mind. I find its autobiographical and yet legend-spinning approach to be quite refreshing and honest. It was certainly not well-received at the time, hardly selling any copies. Polydor dropped him after this, and perhaps the necessity of having to work to make ends meet he diverts from this style to something much more accessible. People focus too much on the front cover of this album, and are perhaps put-off from listening to it, thinking this is perhaps just the ramblings of a mad-man who got under a turtle shell on a rubbish mound. Much like Mr Cope and his very varied 60-year old CV, it’s much much more than that….He’s a legend, and dare I say it an English treasure. At 60 he ought to be honoured with more than just a free bus pass. Happy Birthday Mr Cope!

Rob listened: I have great affection for Julian Cope. Back in the mid to late 80s when I was exploring the idea of being an ‘alternative’, Saint Julian was one of the first dozen or so albums I really got to grips with. I had it on cassette. I really liked it, but never quite felt as if I connected properly with it. I used to see ‘Fried’ and ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ kicking about on vinyl, but although I did go heavily for ‘Peggy Suicide’ and ‘Jehovakill’ (via ‘My Nation Underground’ which was easily ignored), I never went backwards. Hearing ‘Fried’ now for the first time I found it a little difficult to get to grips with. I felt it needed a close listen and, ideally, as deep an immersion in Cope lore as Steve has. Still, lots of surprising sounds and words, all quite a marked contrast with the album that would follow it, and clearly the work of a national treasure in the making.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – A Kid: Round 105, Nick’s choice

akidkas“Phenomenologically beautiful” is a phrase I use with alarming frequency (probably more than anyone else who has ever lived, I imagine), particularly at record club, where I deservedly receive a ribbing for it every time. (In fact, if you google the phrase, most of the results are me being an idiot. I’ve probably upset some philosophers by mangling what they think it means.) Sometimes it’s really appropriate, though.

It’s really appropriate for this Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith record, her sixth in six years, because A Kid is beautiful: the direct moment of experiencing it, shorn of context or analysis or discussion or wider epistemological considerations, is physically beautiful, on a sensory level of consciousness.

It achieves a similar goal to the James Holden record I played last time we met, but from a different direction and by different means. They both head for sublimation, that experience of forgetting who you are, feeling your own insignificance in the face of the universe. They both kind of get there through sensory overload, but instead of the energy and edge-of-chaos, dancing-uncontrollably-in-a-forest hysteria of The Animal Spirits, A Kid gets there by being… nebulous, difficult to touch, extraordinarily pretty, calm.

Excuse my guff at the start, though, because Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith makes the kind of music that inspires people to delve into breathless hyperbole; in fact there’s an entire, mealy-mouthed, patriarchal, joy-shaming thread on I Love Music dedicated to the things people wrote on the forum about her previous record.

And some of the phrases polled are pretty ridiculous, taken out of context, but they’re also brilliant, and my favourites are also the ones with the most votes:

“superoxygenated synth fantasias”

“we looked at each other and wondered aloud how we were going to put on another album after this one.”

“a cornucopia of wondrous sound, and i’m excited to have it accompany my life in these next few spring and summer months.”

“I’m going to have to download this and go and sit quietly in a forest with it for a while.”

Far from being shamed, the authors of these lines should be pleased that they’ve
inspired other people to go out and listen to this music, because they have.

Some bio in case you can’t be bothered to google for her wiki page: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is from Orcas Island, an isolated part of the Pacific North West, and studied composition and sound engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston (not Berkley in California, as I’ve seen referenced in a couple of locations), before moving back to Orcas Island and discovering synthesizers, especially the Buchla, which she does most of her work on. From pictures on the internet, Orcas Island looks like the kind of place where a creative kid would grow up with an appreciation of the vastness of nature and the insignificance of the self.

Her last album, 2016’s Ears (the one that people were so unreasonably shamed for enjoying on that thread), was on my list last year of things to buy if I ever saw it anywhere, but I never saw it anywhere. So I’ve ordered it (and the preceding Euclid) from Norman now, and hopefully will soon be able to bask in its pleasures.

She recently did a Baker’s Dozen for The Quietus, and there were a couple of key quotes about other people’s records that I thought could be used to describe her own rather well:

“music that… confuses the listener in a way that they can just relax and listen…”

“I love music that I can just play like that, where it can continue going and my brain won’t hold onto it too much…”

So what does it sound actually like? Who or what might be the frames of reference or comparison points or “like that? Try these” pointers that will make you go “ahhhh” and want to listen to this wonderful record?
Well, imagine if Julia Holter’s Ekstasis had evaporated, or Panda Bear’s Person Pitch had dissolved. Make Anna Meredith’s Varmints really vague.

But really she sounds like someone with a phalanx of synths, a universe of ideas, and a belief that music can and (sometimes) ought to be exceptionally beautiful. Her music is.

Steve listened:
I found this quite beguiling and would like to listen a little more closely. It felt it could be good mood music. I would agree that it’s music that my brain didn’t hold on to much and so I would probably listen again and again having forgotten what it was that intrigued me. There was a rich texture to it and many layers that would allow you to explore more and more. I’ve not yet hit the “buy” button but I may keep it in reserve.

Rob listened: Nick, in his attempt at evocative dissembly, has mostly nailed this one. I came across Kaityln Aurelia Smith the previous year, and ‘Ears’ was one of my favourite records of 2016. Luckily I didn’t bring it to DRC or I would undoubtedly have been caught in Nick’s Hall of Hyperbolic Shame. I did just love the way it sounded though and, as chronicled tediously across many of my posts to this archive, I am increasingly attached to apparently formless musics like this. I also loved, when I first heard her introduced by Lars Gotrich on ‘All Songs Considered’, the description of Smith as someone who had found and become virtuosic on one old synthesiser, the aforementioned Buchla 100. It gives me great pleasure to think of her as the Colin Stetson of this box of knobs, able to twist and regenerate it into endlessly fascinating forms, each of which, so far, it also gives me great pleasure to listen to.