04/11/19: This week I have been mostly listening to

The Black Dog – Spanners (1995). This has been on the to do list for ages, as by all accounts it’s an absolute classic of 90s electronic music – by y’all know how it is: so much music, so little time. Anyway, my sporadic listening on headphones while walking around doing other stuff is not enough to give this album justice. It’s clearly one to sit down with and savour. I know Bytes well, and two albums from their later catalogue in the post-Plaid incarnation, and from my brief listen, this one (Spanners) sounds the most Plaid-like. This is going to sound like a huge generalisation, but I feel that electronic artists these days tend to record albums that are much more narrow in style and sound. I mean, across an album – not that all electronic music sounds more samey these days. This album came at a time when it seemed electronic music could be whatever it wanted – if it wasn’t a club/rave record – then an album could encompass a huge array of sounds, styles, source material, etc. So artists like Vibert, Mu-ziq, Plaid etc would record albums with an acid track, ambient tracks, breakbeats, sampling ethinc vocals, weird instruments – the whole gamut. But now, it feels like an artist will craft a particular style and then work within that across an album (think Actress, Skee Mask, etc). There are merits to both approaches and as I said, sweeping generalisation…more thoughts to come probably. Listen to it on Spotify.

Calyx – No Turning Back (2005). Gave this a spin for a laugh. Unpretentious, unashamed banging drum’n’bass. I’m not getting into d’n’b subgenres, (neurofunk??) but it’s from that point in time when bass sounds transitioned from the classic womp-womp, really low in the mix, to this kind of rubbery, springy, twisty-turning elasticated bass that pings all over the mix. Some of the samples are a bit ‘naff’ and overtly macho – movie soundtracks and gangsta vox, “yeah I’m well ‘ard” – but with this kind of music you forgive it. 

Calyx, aka Larry Cons

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms (2018). After many listens, this is really clicking with me and I’ve reached a new level of appreciation. I listened to Dandelion Gum (2007) a lot last summer and, given the band’s distinctive sound, found that immediately engaging. This album got rave reviews, but it’s been a much slower burner. For one thing, the songs are all…very slow. They really limp along at a leaden tempo, and the album feels more lo-fi than Dandelion Gum – nowhere near as sundrenched and technicolour. Which maybe given the title, subject matter of the songs, and the backdrop of events in 2018 against which it was released, is not surprising. Anyway, you know it’s a sign that an album is sinking in when you find yourself singing lyrics to yourself when doing something else. I just managed to connect at an emotional level with some of the tracks. Bad Fuckin’ Times, plods along at a truly leaden pace, and the lyrics initially are vocodered and pitched down so low they just sound like crunchy distortion (maybe how a muppet would sound after some dental surgery). But when the ‘chorus’ comes through, and the line, ‘You’re even better than depression’ and then later ‘Feels even better than depression’ with the vocals pitched back up – it’s like a gale blowing the pitch-bender knob on the synthesiser round like a weathervane. Glorious.

The whole album is shot-through with a grinning-skull (glitter-studded), gothic (black eyeliner) macabre humour, and in my mind the lines are delivered sardonically by some deadpan, monotonal emo-goth. I’ve no idea if the actual band are like this, I assume they’re hippies since they live in a cult in rural Pennsylvania, and this album, among other things, is about climate change and impending ecological collapse. From New Breeze: “New breeze came, the evil won’t stay / New breeze came and drove it away / Fall-out rain wears down the paint / Doomsday downgrade, swallow nightshade.” You get the idea.

The High Llamas – Cold and Bouncy (1997). I’m persevering with this album, not that it’s hard going, but I’m getting the feeling they might be one of those bands that are more musically impressive than they are enjoyable to listen to. This is sunny, Beach Boys-influenced pop, with a lot of electronic squelching and slipping and sliding going on in the background. I can see this possible working once I’ve had time to subconsciously absorb the songs themselves, and then maybe all the electronic jiggery-pokery will come to the forefront and compliment everything else that’s going on – and there is a lot going on. But at the moment I feel like when I put this record on it just passes me by in a vaguely sunny blur. Listen to it on Spotify.

The High Llamas, Cold and Bouncy

Clinic – Free Reign II (2013). Clinic are an old favourite of mine, dating back to their excellent debut, Internal Wrangler (2000). I’ve been catching up on their later discography recently, and have only listened to this a couple of times. I’ll save more detailed comments for a full review or round up, but suffice to say: this is kind-of a remix album, made-up of re-versions of tracks from the original Free Reign, but mixed by the guy behind Oneohtrix Point Never (loads of hype around him, I tried and failed to get into his music). Anyway, from my very cursory listenings, this still very much Clinic – but more expansive, yet also more minimalist – it doesn’t sound like each song has the kitchen sink thrown in; the psychedelic drones open up their sound more and bring the vocals to the forefront. Given Ade Blackburn’s singing style, this sounds quite unusual. Will definitely be exploring further. 

Terrence Dixon – From the far Future (2000). Detroit techno. Those two words should say it all really.  I’m never going to tire of Detroit Techno: soulful, banging, emotional, tribal, futuristic, nostalgic – whatever, I don’t need to to wax lyrical further about Detroit Techno. As one Discogs review says, this is a different take on techno and it’s hard to say why, you just have to listen. And they’re right, this guy does have a unique (or at least different) techno sound. It’s something in the beats – the tracks don’t feel like they lean into the downward bass drum kick. It’s like they’re pushing the other way; it almost sounds arrhythmic at times, or some tracks are like a continuous drum-roll/snare rush. I lack the musical vocabulary to articulate the difference. I can imagine they’d be tricky to mix, and would be curious to see how they work on a dancefloor. Interesting listen, will definitely find a home in my Detroit collection.

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