Saturday, 31 October 2009

Deathspell Omega 'Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice' (2004)

What's that? Black metal is a silly genre and about as far removed from 'frightening' as I could post on All Hallows' Eve?
Well slap on your best over-ear heddfones because you've clearly not heard what France's most innovative extreme metal group have to offer. This breaks the Norwegian monopoly on a fading, self-parody of a sub-genre.

I never thought I'd truly enjoy a black metal album in my lifetime, but y'know what? I was wrong. First there's the guitar work, a lot of characteristically high-end, dissonant stuff with murky lo-fi production that just sounds otherworldly and hellish - about as far removed as you can get from thrash-derived cliche, with its own kind of beauty.

Then the mixing and 'ambience' of the album holds everything together and drowns out any potentially embarassing secular rambling. Strangely enough, the end product really is unsettling; primarily because it doesn't summon the image of greasy-haired misanthropes in smelly leather trenchcoats so much as it does demons eating babies. Deathspell channel Hades in ways that speed metal has never attempted before: atmospheric sampling, reverse guitar, various unidentifiable tics and sound degradation effects (à la Burial) and a Wall of Sound so devastating it would flatten the business district of Manhattan in a Roland Emmerich movie. In fact the wall of sound is literally a wall insomuch as they seem to have flattened the onslaught, ironed out the spikes that normally make various extreme metal subgenres difficult to endure for long periods - the album washes over you like an oil slick (stopping to punch you in the head a few thousand times on the way).

Speed is by no means the order of the day (although of course there are blast beats aplenty) but neither do Deathspell lapse into the tacky keyboards and melody of many contemporaries... This is punishing stuff for the uninitiated - and the overpowering delivery from the fringes of sonic reason and (shockhorror) lack of guitar solos is, I think, what earns Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice its acclaim and reputation as a 'scary' album. It's a bona fide 'Reign In Blood' for the 21st century, and equally suited to clearing every last muthafucka out the room.

It's also great to study to. Or maybe that's just me...
I meant what I said about over-ear phones btw - you'll miss a lot of the subtleties otherwise. Youtube samples fail to capture this.

satan's all about the free will and junk

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Themed Mix: Marshmallow in Space

Originally posted to my Tumblr, Neon Sigh, Marshmallow in Space
reflects a particular feeling I get from certain tracks / track combinations that is both dreamlike and cosmic, both warm and cool, and also bittersweet. It wasn’t my initial intention, but the mix also kind of ended up being like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist, and sorta (well, really) about love, which when I realized where it was going I just ran with it. I hope you hear some things on here you haven’t heard before, and feel like you’re drifting along on a cozy marshmallow amongst the stars!

Various Artists - Marshmallow in Space
1. Broadcast - “Until Then”
2. Depeche Mode - “Never Let Me Down Again”
3. Dead Can Dance - “Wild in the Woods”
4. Tones on Tail - “Lions”
5. Suicide - “Touch Me”
6. Chromatics - “Mask”
7. The Glove - “Mouth to Mouth [Landray Vocal Mix]”
8. My Bloody Valentine - “Lose My Breath”
9. Strawberry Switchblade - “Deep Water”
10. Cocteau Twins - “The Itchy Glowbo Blow”
11. Goldfrapp - “Lovely Head”
12. Sad Lovers and Giants - “Your Skin and Mine”
13. Lush - “Love at First Sight”
14. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Nine Million Rainy Days
15. Spectrum - “Then I Just Drifted Away”

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Better Than the Beatles #234: Cardiacs


30-year-old (and counting) cult institution from my old hometown of Kingston Upon Thames, brought to you by the ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN.

Despite the fact that Tim Smith (the brains of the operation) has always vehemently rejected the 'progressive' label (he prefers simply 'pop' or 'psychedelic') it is a reasonable point to raise: in Cardiacs' music there is a fondness for unusual chord progressions, chord modulation, and compressing the equivalent of a prog epic into 4 minutes or less... All with the energy of a '77 band. Cardiacs also opened for Marillion in the 80s, apparently Fish was heartbroken when the fans did not take to them...
It's natural that an amateur such as myself who can't write for toffee should always seek to pigeonhole a sound for n00bs, but the Cardiacs are infamous for being one of those idiosyncratic oddities who sound remarkably similar to nobody except Cardiacs. The only comparisons I can come up with are the more anarchic, ambitious New Wavers like XTC and Split Enz (particularly the latter's early years), mixed with the avant-rock of Henry Cow... Infact they straddle all types of 'progness' whenever they feel like it, perhaps playing symphonic Yes-ness one minute and unhinged Gentle Giant sing-songs the next. That's the remarkable quality of this band, there are seemingly no limits. But you can always relying on the delivery being OTT to the point of ridiculousness and bewilderingly melodic - you know that this is Tim Smith's idea of how pop music should be.
They are also obscenely tight live. Unfortunately Smith suffered, erm, a cardiac arrest in 2008, and it's unlikely you or I will ever experience a 'religious' Cardiacs performance.

I think this is as clear-cut a case of love 'em or hate 'em as you will ever encounter on this blog... Unacknowledged genius or bad acid trip in a fairground? Or are they just trying too hard? I don't think so personally, plus buried in the lyrical abstractions are some statements somewhere I am sure of it, which keeps me listening.
Presented here is 'Sing To God', a 1995 double album which will leave you laughing hysterically, then slack-jawed in disbelief as each track reaches new heights of structural insanity and musical prodigiousness. And then the injustice of it all hits you, that by this time the 'classic' Cardiacs line-up had shrunk to a quartet, and they actually somehow played this shit onstage, constantly, to comparatively tiny audiences of loyal fruitcakes. It's just not fair. God bless Cardiacs.
This is from the album, easily the most insane piece of music I have heard in a long time

Groundhogs 'Thank Christ For the Bomb' (1970)

I say this often, but this time I've really got something special for yuz.
Once upon a time, albums like this got to number 9 in the pop charts. I suspect it had something to do with the fading 60's counterculture - that era of cultural identity crisis, political activism and constant fear of nuclear holocaust... And the stoned white-blues pretenders that helped to herald heavy metal, of course.
But Cream and Led Zeppelin this ain't, in fact Groundhogs were in a league of their own. Aside from the best album cover/title ever for what is first and foremost a leftist, anti-war concept album, stylistically the band were carving their own niche with this record which they would further explore on their next two albums Split and Who Will Save the World?. This very special sound falls somewhere between prog rock, hard rock, psychedelia and an advanced strain of blues, all delivered with the kind of raw production that (combined with the imagery in their artwork) no doubt played a large part in the Groundhogs being looked on today as somewhat 'proto-punk' - for their acknowledged influence on many first generation UK punk luminaries in this decade. A young Mark E. Smith was particularly smitten, and the Fall have covered the first track here 'Strangetown' (hear below), as well as 'Junkman' from the subsequent LP.

^sound quality's better in upload

So Thank Christ was a turning point for Tony McPhee (jaw-dropping guitar, vox) and co; having been a semi-successful blues band in various forms since '66 and earned their stripes, they were going down a path nairy travelled, opposed the cheesy machismo and studied wankology of their peers. Perhaps this was to their detriment financially (McPhee is conspicuously lacking in phoney Hall of Fame tokens of commercial achievement, when he should be remembered as one of the greats), but ultimately to those in the know, the classic run of albums speak for themselves as some of the most remarkably fresh and emotionally-charged rock albums you'll come across. At their best Groundhogs are not clawing to capture the blues with over-acted guitar solos; a world-weary fatigue just emanates naturally from the songs and playing technique, especially on this album.
I've got time for the rest somewhere, don't get me wrong, but when you hear Groundhogs you'll just wonder what those other groups were playing at...


Monday, 19 October 2009

Martin Galway - Project Galway

Project Galway is a compilation of songs from Martin Galway, a chief composer of Commodore 64 video game tunes, "recorded directly from his very own chip, as they were meant to be heard: with the most sensitive and well-balanced 6581 filter ever heard." (purchasable as a hard copy double-disc at, including some previously-unheard pieces and alternate versions. Despite being somewhat of a video game aficionado for much of my life, I've never played any Commodore 64 games (!), though the fact that I think this is some of the greatest video game music ever just goes to show that soundtrack material can be enjoyed apart from associating it with what the songs were made to accompany. "Comic Bakery" is the most SERIOUSLY EPIC track of all, though other highlights include "Helicopter Jagd", "Ocean Loader v2", and "Mikie". Grab it!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Vangelis - Blade Runner OST, Esper Edition (1982)

The release history of one of cinema's most celebrated soundtracks (and groundbreaking electronic album in its own right) is a long and complicated one, with large swathes of the most memorable score left unissued, alternate track titles, blahblahblah. All you need to know is that this incorporates the entire original soundtrack - nothing is left out and it's all noirish, cyberpunk, sci-fi synth-classical genius. The tracks are in chronological order as they appear in the film. I can't remember whether I included the artwork as this is an old upload, but it's likely =D
The remit is broad: Moog jazz/blues, grandiose synth compositions, Middle Eastern modes with uncanny synthesized bazaar orchestra...
For fans of the movie (if you haven't seen it go buy the tin box final cut edition or watch here, you mug) you'll appreciate the fact that this 320kbps bootleg includes everything from the geisha billboard music to Vangelis' spot-on speculation of what clubbers would be dancing to in 2019 dystopian Los Angeles. These tracks are possibly the best feature for me, the ones where the musical cues were never issued separately, so you still get to enjoy the subtle genius of the sound effects department: rain falling, wind chimes, etc. The bootleggers obviously made a conscious decision to extricate the dialogue track but keep in alot of these sounds, and they only serve to enhance the atmosphere.

Tyrell Records

^(This is just the main title theme and closing credits,
doesn't quite do justice to the scope of the soundtrack)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Tom Lehrer In Concert (1959)

My father was never a punk rocker. And I'd never wish him to be... In fact I get mildly embarrassed at 75% of my music collection whenever our conversations turn to music - he is an austere classicist through and through, with a deep knowledge of classical (but not Stravinsky, he's got not melody you see) and a passion for light opera (Gilbert & Sullivan etc). We even got the marching band treatment as kids. I always loved it. Rock n' roll and doo-wop vinyl, recorded to cassette to put on in the car - that's as close as he got to letting his hair down. Don't get me wrong, he's not a blinkered old fart, just musically conservative, or at least uninterested in the frivolous nonsense I waste my time on. Sometimes I agree with him.

But this is all before you take account of Tom Lehrer. My father broke his leg in a motorcycle accident in the late 70's and Lehrer's literary brand of satirical sing-song kept him sane, apparently, and it's easy to see why: there's something very comforting about the best musical satire of the 20th century - it makes you realise you aren't insane after all and everything really is fundamentally fucked.

Don't let the cover fool you either, Tom plays a mean piano and has a meaner lyrical repertoire that covers everything from drugs and nuclear holocaust to rednecks and 'poisoning pigeons in the park' - which perhaps explains his popularity with 60's subculture.
Lehrer was infuriatingly educated, funny and conscious, with a head-spinningly deft playing technique and an ability to mimic other styles. This bloke and a piano could bring the house down and he was, predictably, bigger in the UK than his native land, I guess he was too much to stomach for a Cold War audience. At the time, the mainstream press deemed Lehrer tasteless. This is poppycock, obviously. His wit shines in the spoken interludes and the total lack of frills on this live compilation give it a warm and jovial atmosphere.
Not much here has dated, as long as you have the vaguest grasp of where the world was at in 1959. Step outside yourself, laugh and enjoy. If this was big with the hippies you mugs'll love it. I'll end on a quote from the 81-year-old himself. 'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W. Bush, I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them'

This is a sizeable upload and probably all the TL you'll ever need.
Part the first
Part the second

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Passage - Seedy: The Best of the Passage

The Passage were a post-punk Mancunian post-punk group, appearing on the impeccable Cherry Red label with a handful of albums and singles. Despite their brilliance, they continue to remain fairly obscure (currently less than 3,000 listeners on - I only had heard them when I was putting a post-punk box set together and had been recommended their stuff. Although there are certainly similarities between this group and contemporaries of the same scene, the difference with The Passage is that there is a certain standoffish sarcasm present that is uniquely theirs (comparable to the role The Cars served for new wave). Favorite tracks on *this compilation*, Seedy: The Best of the Passage, are "Carnal", "Devils and Angels", "Armour", and "Drugface" (sampled by Moby, apparently).