Black Heart Procession–2 (1999)

r-668060-1395352929-9136-jpegReviewed by Franco Micale

Assigned by Alex Alex

Who are Black Heart Procession? They are a group. What kind of group? They’re a 90s indie rock group, who aren’t anywhere near popularity, but acclaimed enough to have a sizable following. The leader of this band is Pall. A. Jenkins, who, from what I have gathered, played nearly every single instrument on this album, and wrote all the songs. So essentially, this album comes close to being a one man project, yet it never feels like a one.

So, what is this album? It’s their second album, and it’s dark and dreary. It’s very much a singer-songwriter album, but full of all sorts of subtle, experimental atmospherics that are scattered throughout the tracks. Because of this, the album comes off slightly reminiscing neo-folk, such as Current 93 and The Tear Garden. However, with that being said, is the album actually any good? Well, let me give a run through of this work…

The album opens with a booming tampani mimicking the sound of the wind, and it immediately colors up an image of a lonely, desolate harbor along the sea, with the creakling of empty ships and the watery movement of soft waves being the only source of noise in the area. The music starts playing, and it’s sad, mournful, and depressed, but creates imagery of the group playing in an nearly empty bar, located in this empty era. Accompanied by a fender Rhodes piano, an echoic guitar, and changaling chain-like percussion, Pall A. Jenkins sings lyrics that reflect this atmosphere:
“In the time of this winter the waiter had not much to say
He could hear the clock but he could not find his way
If I’m so far from your heart why do I feel it beat
And time won’t wait for us”

Clearly, the waiter is not very happy. But why? Heartbreak? The fear of dying alone? Despair from the loss of a loved one? I honestly don’t know. I’m very bad with lyrics. However, the musical atmosphere in this track is extremely engaging, and does a great job of sucking you in within its first five seconds.

The next track, “Blue Tears”, is even better. This song further cements the imagery of a sad group  playing in a sad empty bar, not only because it has an accordion, but also a trumpet, and a very lovely melody. It’s augmented by a waltz-esque rhythm (though it’s in 4/4, so its not technically a waltz), and very beautifully raw singing from Pall.  The lyrics, again, and very sad. Here are some of them:

“Now I know that I must leave
And I can’t remember when I ever felt so great
It was my time spent with you before the war

But now these blue tears
They keep falling
Falling down from my lonely eyes
They’re falling for you”

After this track, we return back to the sea dock, with the song “A Light So Dim”, which may be my favorite song on the album. It chugs along at a slow, lengthy pace, but is undercovered by beautiful rhythmic piano lines, layers and tinkerings of guitar and organ chords, and a great melody at its core. It creates a picture of seamen rowing an old, broken up boat, on a darken red night.

Following this, comes the acoustic driven “Your Church Is Red”. There’s a lot of imaginary in this song I don’t understand, but it’s  a very beautiful acoustic driven piece that never ceases to sway positive reactions from me.

At this point the album begins to escape me, and I lose  the capability to write pretentious imaginary based on the album. To me,  everything interesting and captivating are condensed in the first four tracks, and after that, it just draaagggs. The music gets so subtle that it simply stops becoming subtle, and is just boring to sit through. It’s not just because the melodies are weak (though they really, really are), but mainly because the atmosphere the music is trying to create is just almost nonexistent. There are a lot of beautiful instrumentation and productional touches, but it never seems to move the music forward or create any sort of defined aural environment, or even any sounds that I find interesting. There’s also the fact that, while the Pall sounds good on the songs that are good, his voice really doesn’t work anywhere else. This is an issue, because this is very lyrically and personality driven music, and while Pall’s voice is fairly soulful, it sounds like a very average indie rock singer, with no distinct tone or mannerisms in his voice. After track four, the whole album just feels like a giant bland, uncolorful mush of pianos, organs, and delay’d guitar.

There is one really good track after the sea of absolute lethargy, and that’s “Beneath The Ground”. It’s a nearly instrumental track that tries to create atmosphere in a manner different from the standard piano + organ + guitar + generic singing routine of the other tracks. Set to the rhythm of a sparse drum machine, Pall uses guitar harmonics to create an illuminous sonic field of fuzz that I find very pleasing to sit through. And the last track is a reprise of the first track, which in of itself, since it’s a good song to begin with, but what sticks out is how fantastically it ends the album, with about 4 minutes of dead, blank windy atmosphere surrounding my headphone
All in all, this is a very tiring album that I’m struggling to review effectively. There’s some very great moments, but it’s such a chore to listen to all the way through that I’m unsure if I would ever desire to play this album again. Perhaps I’m missing something, because from what I can tell, this is actually a fairly well acclaimed album, but simply put, this is just simply not for me. If I depressing, atmospheric indie-folk music that I can genuinely enjoy, I’ll stick to Current 93. There may be quality moments on this record, but sorry Alex, I just can’t click with this. Except for the first three and last two songs. So I guess that’s a good slice of the album. But still, overall this album just as a very lethargic effect of me. I think you get the point.

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Britney Spears–OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN (2000)

81zgsth27ml-_sl1500_Revew by Alex Alex

Assigned by Marissa (Marissa, I can’t possibly remember your 2nd name, sorry)

Britney is the reversed Mowgli – raised by the future wolves she descends into the throne room of the present to declare law and order. Where Mowgli was of one blood with the mogwais she’s not that innocent, though. In its essence, however, the fairy tale is the same. Indeed, my Communist parents were always telling me New York is the jungle.

Children need Mowgli to model their behavior after – provided they are free to cry, run, jump, swim, climb trees and hunt for whatever treasures are hidden there in the old fashioned arbors of “et cetera”. Once you are bound by the chains of Capitalism to your gaming device you can only demand your joystick not be taken away from you – the Mowgli has already migrated into your TV but it’s not yet your turn.

A game must be realistic and if myriads of kawaii Lolitas will flock upon you from the crack in the skies made by the reversal of the time-arrow that would mean some bug – a human-centipede or the like. Instead, when all the trees have been cut off in the Mowgli Amazon forest, they hire teenagers from the Platonic Third World – to act in horror movies and music videos of the “past”. As much Platonic as it’s Third though – for there are endless demands on the reality from the actors and not much else.

It’s indeed a tragedy if someone not that innocent can not get satisfaction and as Britney is calling the service center to complain about that we realize it’s the same phone number as was dialed in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, the difference being the call is now answered.

Does anybody here remember Britney Spears?

The only way of remembering is still through the body, not the mind. As my body grows what it remembers are the things that are constant and have always been so. They stay the same – they are just out of reach now. It’s not that they don’t exist anymore it’s me who does not exist anymore in the places they still remain in. I say “this was the music of my childhood” as if I’m still that innocent.

 

ALEX ALEX’S COLUMN: SOUL ENEMA – Of Clans and Clones and Clowns (2017)

Review by: Alex Alex
Assigned by :Constantin Glanz

clowns

Following the history of “progressive” (mandatory including all the “inspired by”) rock bands is much like watching the entire Leslie Nielsen filmography: the only question to answer is “when we are supposed to start laughing?”.

The correct answer is that we are not – the existential tragedy of the “Airplane!” becomes obvious from the first utterance.

In a far away future, where airplanes all run on steam, how we are supposed to tell which one of them most resembles the present-day Boeing? The context, the hard disks installed in the invisible robots all around us, make us laugh at the heroic attempts of Mr Nielsen to, first, save the Airplane and then the Starship – but deep in our hearts we know that the man is as good as Jefferson, Washington, Trump or Dead Kennedy.

If it’s all a timeless mess now, how do we judge? When one is close to death one is close to the timeless. Death is a lonely business, let me steal from the SF businessman here, but the loneliness means no one around, no other businesses to compare with. And, if we do not have anything to compare Airplane! with then it’s not funny anymore. Then it’s just an airplane crushing, people dying and a brave captain trying to save them by doing what he must do.

Thus, I encourage you to give a listen to Soul Enema. I do not say that in a way the whore-like agents in the tourists agencies do. I do not promise you five stars but, in return, you are free to acknowledge that you never really deserved even three. Fuck, have you ever done anything yourself? Have you ever hunted baboons on Mars? Have you ever witnessed the last days of Rome? Do you know anything about Aral Sea?

Aral Sea is the Sea Inside and as we do not have any more “inside” so it’s here now. Once people thought there will always be enough room in hell for all the zombies. But then the walls (and the animals) changed their solid forms to that of Miku Hatsune, the room changed into the movie, and all the Hellboys are now here forever, comfortably.

So I encourage you, again, to listen to Soul Enema if not for anything else, then as a kind of a Greenpeace action. Consider it a fun, a challenge. How brave you are? Will you dare telling your friends that Soul Enema is a good group? Will you be able to explain why? Or, you don’t fucking know anything, right? There are lists of groups out there, Soul Enema is not on the lists? Tourist you are and a Greenpeace warrior you are not. They are coming to get you.

Bravery and insanity is all that’s left for us. Not an industry-manufactured insanity, sold as a series of “genius” figures with porcelain heads crushed by a bullet or made malfunctioned by the drugs. Olden times all people were brave and insane and that was the definition for sanity. I remember that from my childhood and you, probably, do, too. Back then we could have music as we pleased. But we never really wanted anything too original or too strange. We knew what music was.

Now, we do not really know that anymore. It’s good that Soul Enema does.

ALEX ALEX’S COLUMN: MATT ELLIOTT – Failing Songs (2007)

Review by: Alex Alex

The modern music industry, a hardest and a cruelest competition, much resembling the modern sports is not, however, openly presented as such. Had it been, then Matt Elliott, an English musician, singer-songwriter, and whatever else those sportsmen in disguise are labeled, could well have been questioned by some music anti-doping agency on the ways he obtains his astonishingly depressing, as well as suspiciously crazy, results.

Music business still masking itself as a creative activity, the sportsmen-artists are allowed any legal technique as long as it’s masked as illegal. Nick Cave used to come to the arena in a black suite and a white shirt, the raven wing color hair being all natural and the stories about his past as a punk or who those guys are – all very strange but absolutely comprehensible narrative. Hell, one could even present the proof of rationality post factum – surely Joy Division had some rights to do what they did – in cinemas and theaters you pay before you see the show but, well, there are many business places where you are supposed to pay after.

So, the anti-doping committee would then proceed with checking the rationale behind the Matt Eliott album “Failing Songs” (which has come immediately after his previous one called “Drinking Songs” on the record label “Ici d’Ailleurs”). Immediately the suspicions would arise. “Drinking Songs”, “Failing Songs” – those titles seem to be almost mirror opposites to, say, “Murder Ballads” or all those freaky titles of the black metal albums – surely there must be some drugs hidden in the sugarcubes? And what the hell does “Ici d’Ailleurs” mean if it doesn’t hint that these songs are not really that suitable for drinking?

But then, surely, “Failing Songs” is a collection of protest songs inspired by “the current political climate in Great Britain” as Wikipedia says? Surely “we’re free to do exactly what we’re told, we’re free to buy what we’re sold” is that type of lyrics which would allow “the times they are a-changing” chorus? Can the album be allowed to participate in the competition then?

Oh, wait there’s another song which starts with “When people ask me I always say/The targeted assassination is the only way”.. The protest seems now to be not that constructive – people can become worried a bit. Ah, wait! It must be a loud aggressive song because, of course, the political climate in Great Britain is that of the Queen being the head of the fascist regime a scientist turning into a fly – and all this will eventually be revealed in the happy-ending kawaii KISS masks kabuki show and the kids leaving the circus happily?

Hell, no. The “Planting Seeds” song is a very sad, very melancholy and there’s not a hint of that shameful positivity of the artistic protest in it. “Assassinate a corporate billionaire or their heirs” does not sound satirically (neither self-satirically) nor punkish – it does not even sound decadent, Lou Reedish or how – it sounds tired. And when the singing is over there’s the music and it’s very calm and it sounds crazy.

So what if the spectre of Communism, haunting Europe – is first and foremost a spectre? What if the spectral nature of it is much more important than the Communist programme the spectre happens to read. After all, The Third Eye Foundation, the previous project of Matt Elliott, does have an album named “Ghost” – of course, it’s very different from “Failing Songs”, purely instrumental, much less listenable but all the craziness is in there. In what sense does the spectre of Communism haunt Europe then? Surely we know what we protest for when but do we know what we protest against? Is our dissatisfaction with the existing conditions, in fact, a dissatisfaction with the existence itself? Are we protesting or are we just crazy? In that sense are we not always Ici d’ailleurs?

Well, anyway, for the anti-doping committee it will be absolutely clear that Mat Elliott shall not be allowed to participate in the competition. Indeed, no one can run so fast that “the future that we had is now the past” – this would mean exceeding the speed of light. No human artist, no matter what the circumstances are, can do that and what kind of formula should one discover to achieve that?

I think this is exactly the question we should ask ousrselves when listening to any of Matt Elliott works.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: GYORGY LIGETI – Requiem/Lontano/Continuum (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Alex Alex

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There is a perpetual problem of credibility with any type of the „new“ music. People want to learn new things, never a new language. A new language will fail, same as the old one – and we know it from our bitter, unsaid experience. Rather than helping, the new devices will stand in the way — it is not that «The Dark Side of the Moon» benefits much from the Wall of Sound — however the sight of that wall of sound resisting, in its quiet desperation, the tides of the old-fashioned, rhymed truths – that sight is spectacular.

Yet, what if there is something new in the “new” music? We must take the old instruments to reveal that which is new. Which is what Ligeti does or, rather, did at that moment of time – today we do not really understand why he didn’t use the plain old synthesizers as all those musicians of old. Time has flatten things – we can do ambient noises on all kinds of devices and it just so happens that the “electronic” devices fit for that much more than the plain old orchestra.

Yet, what is interesting, the music of Ligeti needs no handicap in the form of any explanation – no Stockhausen aliens, no Pink Floyd drugs, no John Cale’s Lou Reed, nothing whatever. Same as with pornography – once we hear a requiem we know what kind of music it is.

Of course, it was ideally suited for the Kubrick movie – as double-sided as the movie is – sci-fi and the evil AI for the young, a tale of an old man dying without acquiring a slightest understanding of ANYTHING – for the elder.

This is what music does – it defies language and thus glorifies human existence. It never cares about the new synthesizers-alphabets, the same musicians use the same instruments as before, – and for a brief moment we have something new, something which has not yet been labeled, tape-recorded and manufactured – which is still Requiem and which we understand without understanding. Something, which makes us the Kubrick astronauts for a very brief moment – just before everything gets buried under the monolithic satanic synthesizer falling down on this Earth from the skies.

VLADIMIR OIDUPAA – Divine Music from a Jail (1999)

Review by: Alex Alex
Assigned by: Ed Luo

frunt

«Divine music from a Jail» is a collection of, I believe, folk and semi-folk Tuvian songs featuring the throat singing – which singing style, I was told, is typical for the people of Tuva. There are also some traditional Russian songs executed in that interesting Tuvian mannerism.

More shit from Tuva. But, I can’t really say that and thus the marketing team has fooled me from the start. Feebly, I defend myself by changing the album title to “Divine. Music from a Jail” bringing up a John Waters reference but the marketing team is, I’m sure, consists of the native Tuvians and their American or other such capitalistic boss will ignore my unexpected and inapplicable erudition.

We had albums like that before, when the world was larger. In my country, we had Tom Waits because who the hell needs lyrics when everything is so divinely illuminated. As the time progresses, and if you pay for your English classes you are able to enjoy Tiger Lillies using the imaginable “lyrics on/off” button. After a while things become clearer in the same way as a little girl learns from her mother how to bake a birthday cake.

Same as with the birthday cake we soon realize that the in-house resources are scarce. And, after all, you can not really make a birthday cake for yourself unless you are in a horror movie. So we use the resources “reasonably” applying substitutes where possible since we actually know that the results are, anyway, guaranteed.

The results are the birthday of Satan. But before he arises, before that we will be having a nice divine birthday cake – this time from Tuva because, you know, there are jails in Tuva and because, you know, although here it’s mostly criminals we put in jails, but surely in Tuva they never admit you to their divine jail unless you are a bespectacled poet/lyricist and, surely, this is because “the regime” “out there” is so harsh.

Uh-huh. Those are not jails those are tourists traps, the inverted Potemkin villages. I am not buying this record. Not even illegally downloading it. There’s no regime. There’s no Tuva. There’s no divination. The Internet is not working since I forgot to pay for it.

JOHN CALE AND BOB NEUWIRTH – Last Day on Earth (1994)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Alex Alex

last_day_on_earth_cover

In 1993, John Cale and Bob Neuwirth got together to make an album about travel. I had never heard of Neuwirth before now, but he’s apparently done some important stuff in music too.

Neuwirth’s main contributions to this album are monologuing over it, almost in the fashion of a beat poet. His monologues are presumably supposed to be meaningful, but I can’t focus enough on them to understand what they’re supposed to say.

At first, I had just assumed that the album was monotonous and boring, but at about the halfway point, the album starts to take on an impressionistic quality and starts to really click. Once this happens, it doesn’t really matter what Neuwirth is thinking he’s saying, because his voice and Cale’s music are conveying the theme well enough on their own.

Basically, there’s a point in long trips where the boredom of being on a train or a bus or whatever ceases and the excitement of motion and witnessing new surroundings kicks in. Ocean Life represents the part where you start to settle in and enjoy the ride, and the momentarily slowed pace of life that the ride brings you.

Once that happens, everything starts to blend together in a delirious and wonderful fashion. The album then calms down during the last two tracks, which represents the train or the bus or whatever pulling into the station, and you having to leave the state of bliss and return to reality.

Considering Cale’s talent, I get the feeling this effect is meant to be at least sorta intentional, so I can call this album a total success. I probably won’t want to listen to it very often, but it is fun to put on when you just want to leave society for a while and reboot your mind.