Darkside – Psychic: Round 55, Nick’s choice

DARKSIDE-PSYCHICOnce again without a theme I was free to choose whatever the hell I liked. Two factors made me pick this super-current release, which had only come out two days before: the fact that Rob, when confronted with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time ever the other week, claimed it sounded like “half the stuff in Nick’s record collection” despite my prolonged dislike of all things Floyd; and the fact that I’d arranged to review this record for The Quietus, and was planning on writing it up the next night so needed to get some serious listens and cogitation in!

If you’re unaware, Darkside is Nicolas Jaar, who’s debut solo album I played here a couple of years ago, plus Dave Harrington, a jazz guitarist college friend from their only-just-finished student days at Brown University. This is not, though, just a Nicolas Jaar album with some guitar over the top; Harrington plays as wide an array of instruments as Jaar, and shares writing and production credits with him equally too.

Psychic is every bit as, ahem, phenomenologically beautiful as Space Is Only Noise (and probably less, um, non-diegetic, on the whole), but there’s something a bit more linear, consumable, and compelling about it, perhaps. Maybe it’s the guitars, but I’m not sure they’re quite as important as some people are suggesting; Harrington’s playing on Psychic is a long, long way from John Squire’s on Second Coming, for example. It’s a krautrock linearity rather than a jam band linearity, and thus much more palatable to people who find the idea of Phish offensive, but who can fully accept 20-minute freak-outs if the singer is Japanese and the musicians are German. There’s nothing like festishisation of the ‘other’ to bring out the music fan’s inner hypocrite?

This has arguably been a stonking year for records that sit somewhere in that weird genre-less area that one might call post-dance the same way we called Bark Psychosis post-rock; Holden, The Knife, Boards Of Canada, The Field, Four Tet, Brandt Brauer Frick, Pantha Du Prince, Jon Hopkins, Fuck Buttons, Atoms For Peace if I’m feeling generous. Maybe even stuff like These New Puritans, Melt Yourself Down, and Sons Of Kemet kind of counts on there, too; they certainly all share headspace in my esteem. Darkside have made an album every bit as good as anyone else in that list.

Rob listened: I’d heard this before the meeting, having read a review on Pi***f**k. I liked it. It sounded nice. I’m intrigued by Nicholas Jaar and found his solo album pleasantly enveloping. I wish I felt more drawn to this stuff, as I always seem to enjoy it, but the fact is I don’t. Of Nick’s list above I’m familiar with three or four and  those which draw me back are always the ones which at some level deliver a punch to the solar plexus, i.e. Fuck Buttons or The Knife. There’s something academic about Jaar, Pantha du Prince, Jon Hopkins, or at least I impress that upon them, which puts distance between us. I guess there’s also something around close-listening. These are all lean-in records and I think I prefer to sway back as if dodging a knock-out punch. Perhaps ultimately this is my problem. I sometimes feel slightly inadequate for preferring the music which goes for the throat rather than the brain. I should get over that. It’s completely stupid.

Tom Listened: Last meeting was a strange one. William Basinski’s 5 seconds of music (that lasted an hour – that’s about 720 loops by my calculations…and it felt like it) overwhelmed proceedings to such an extent that the other records played on the night quickly became lost in the ether. The other meeting that felt similar to me was when we played Zaireeka – everything else seemed far too conventional and consequently a bit flat after that record too. However, the two other records from Zaireeka-gate went on to be my albums of the year (Apocalypse and Smoke Ring for My Halo) and if my recollection of the way I felt about the Darkside record (I can’t actually remember what it sounds like, just how I felt when it was being played) was that it sounded phenomenologically beautiful – God it feels great to write that! – and not really all that similar to Pink Floyd. I also remember thinking at the time ‘I might go out and buy this’ but then I thought about all those Smog albums I need to have and recalled that I don’t have any money and then also considered that it sounded possibly just a teensy bit too nice on first listen to really have sticking power and so, for now, I might have to ask that nice Mr Southall for a lend instead.

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Boredoms – Super Roots 7: round 45, Nick’s choice

Boredoms_-_Super_Roots_7Boredoms started life in the mid-80s as some kind of crazed punk band, and the word ‘Japanoise’ has been used in relation to the sounds they’ve made since on numerous occasions. Of their early music I only own Pop Tatari from 1989, which is nuts – unintelligible (to me anyway, though I suspect even Japanese speakers will struggle to decipher it) screaming, ragged guitars, head-snapping changes of pace, direction, and texture.

Slowly but surely, though, Boredoms, lead by the literally inimitable Yamantaka Eye, have transmogrified into something else – over a decade and a half they’ve incorporated elements of shoegaze, techno, prog, tribal drumming, jazz, and, seemingly, every other genre ever, into their music. The result, at its best, is a seething, molten mass of momentum that reaches absolutely transcendent peaks. (Live shows like 77 Boadrum have featured mass phalanxes of drummers and been quite the spectacle / phenomenological ‘listening’ experience, I gather.)

1998’s Super Roots 7 is, oddly enough, the sixth in a series of experimental EPs released by Boredoms in-between and around their studio albums ‘proper’, wherein they explore new textures and ideas. 7, of the four Super Roots releases and five full Boredoms albums I’ve heard, is perhaps the most successful realization (whatever that means) of their middle phase. Which is to say, that it’s a pretty astonishing krautrock riot, 33 minutes of slashing guitars, driving rhythms, and crazed sound FX.

Comprising three different versions (a 20-minute ‘Boriginal’ and two ‘remixes’) of the same song, the sleeve gives “Special Big Respect and Super Cheers” to The Mekons, Leeds’ finest punk survivors, whose song “Where Were You?” is the inspiration behind the original. It’s NOT a cover, though; if you listen to The Mekons’ original, you can detect a similarity in the thrashing chords, but Boredoms do something radically different.

The first 20 minutes of the EP (the first remix and the first 16 minutes of the ‘Boriginal’) are unrelentingly rollicking and crazed, a succession of drum rolls and motorik pulses and punk guitars that continually ramps up the excitement. The final five minutes of the ‘Boriginal’ beatifically switch pace though, to a tranquil, crepuscular cicada groove, which is bucolic and serene. The final remix takes all those crazy breaks and motorik pulses and slashing guitars of the first 20 minutes and, somehow, calms them down into something pseudo-ambient, the beats now soothing and calm even when occasional bursts of jet-engine-noise spike through the mix.

Rob listened: Boredoms and I missed each other. There was a period when I was waving goodbye to Sonic Youth and Pavement and dallying with much that was free and noisy, from Truman’s Water to Beefheart and back to God Is My Copilot, when they were right in the middle of my radar screen. Despite this, I somehow never managed to lock onto the target and, as such, they remain almost totally unexplored. This sounded unexpected and terrific, essentially striking me as a souped up freakadelic Stereolab, but without any of the annoying digressions, explorations and noodle nightmares that might have befallen it. The middle track particularly was pulsating and driven. Tom and I had fun hopelessly trying to guess which Mekons track these were based on and in the end it didn’t matter. Loved it.

Tom Listened: I suppose it is what happens when listening to records that basically consist of an extended groove, but about half way through this thing really took hold and I found myself feeling the effects long after the play had finished. It was fun, energetic, slightly bonkers and totally unpretentious as far as I could tell – definitely reminded me of some of Neu’s noisier offerings (crossed with Sister Ray/Roadrunner) but I preferred it as it felt more visceral and human. Judging by the amount of wrong guesses I made regarding the original Mekons’ song, it also highlighted how many of their songs on Rock ‘n Roll (the only Mekons album I own) emanate from the same source!

Graham Listened: Whacky is not a word I use lightly but seems appropriate in this case. Despite suffering the takeaway slot, this kept my interest throughout. In Jilly Goolden terms, rather than school desks and raspberries, I was tasting Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles, at times. Great full-bodied groove.

CAN – Ege Bamyasi: Round 24, Nick’s choice

So, at long last, the motherlode of Devon Record Club; the artist we’ve spoken about more than any other.

Before recording Ege Bamyasi in 1972, Can scored an unlikely pop hit in the German charts with Spoon, which sold some 300,000 copies due to being the theme tune to a television program. They used the earnings from Spoon to buy an old cinema, which they both lived and recorded in for the next few years; prior to that they’d recorded in a castle, because the owner of the castle thought they were great, or something. Recording Ege Bamyasi was fractious – two of the band obsessively played chess during the sessions (if you can call them sessions), driving the rest of the band to distraction, and a shortfall of finished material meant they superglued Spoon to the end of the album in order to flesh it out to 40 minutes and seven tracks in length.

Ege Bamyasi is my favourite Can album, I think, possibly because it’s the first one I got, some 15 years ago as a wide-eyed 18-year old, and possibly because it’s also the most fun. I played it at a party once, years ago, and everyone else complained that it was weird. It’s Can’s poppiest album, even though it sounds like aliens hearing the entirety of 20th century music at once and mashing it all together to make their own music, which contains everything (German youth post WWII desperate to split from their country’s past and create something absolutely new). So you end up with something that borrows from jazz, from rock, from the beginnings of electronic music, from Vietnamese music and various other musics from across the globe, long before World Music became a section in HMV. There’s guitar as wild as anything Hendrix committed to tape, synths and electronics as innovative as anything you’ve ever heard, Damo Suzuki’s unrivalled, inscrutable vocals in any number of made-up tongues, and always, always, Jaki Leibzeit’s incredible, pulsating drumming, repeat repeat repeating into delirium, making you twitch and jerk and spasm with little, replicating jolts of percussive joy.

Pinch, the alum’s ten-minute opener, is a shuttling roll of drums and electronic squeaks, the first thing I’d ever heard by Can, and the summation of everything I’d imagined they would sound like after reading about them. I’m So Green is a liquid funk thing that got nicked by The Stone Roses. Sing Swan Song is a bona fide, blissful pop song, delicate and beautiful and oh so very strange. After 15 years I still find new things every time I listen.

Tom Listened: You have to hand it to Can, they certainly knew how to open an album! All the Can albums I own (the four biggies of the early seventies) kick off with an amazing song – Tago Mago has Paperhouse, Soon…the wonderful and, possibly, underrated Dizzy Dizzy, Future Days begins with Future Days and then there’s Ege and its opener, the remarkable, mind blowing swirl of squonk that is Pinch (squonk is a technical term for the sound that Can make on Pinch). It was my first encounter with the band and I can still remember being incredulous that the sound coming out of the speakers could be being made by (a) humans and (b) humans of the 1973 variety.

Although Pinch is undeniably incredible, there are many other outstanding moments on Ege Bamyasi and it feels disloyal to single one or two out and tedious to run through the lot. I suppose it’s easier to say that the last 5 minutes of Soup – it’s a free-form freak out (to use a phrase coined by the Red Crayola) – is the only part of this amazing album that is less than outstanding and ironically (given that I’m sure the band thought this would be, like, totally cutting edge at the time), it sounds far more dated today than any of the more conventional soundscapes that the band conjured up on the rest of the album! So to sum up: a must have album from a band that gets talked about a lot at DRC (but not as much as Talk Talk).

Rob listened: It’s not the motherlode, it’s just another record. I was both relieved and I guess disappointed that Nick, who seems intent on bring as much of the canon as he can haul to our meetings, dragged along the only Can album I know. I rarely ever go back and listen to it, but when I do it’s always a pleasure and tonight was no exception. Amazing to think they were putting this stuff together when they were, and delightful to try to trace the lines of influence down through the years. I was disappointed not to have ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ in my glove box so I could play Tom and Nick ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’. It’s just the two of them who have spoken about Can more than any other artist, but I’m sure they would have enjoyed MES’s gag-filled yet genuine tribute. Maybe next time.

Graham listened: First listen for me left me very confused. Nick has in one fell swoop managed to wipe out a significant portion of my musical reference points. No one told me bands were alowed to sound like this in 1972! Some parallels to the first time I heard Spirit of Eden (which is in no way a a crude attempt to get Talk Talk back to the top of the most talked about band charts, oh no…).