FRED FRITH – Gravity (1980)

Review by: Ivan Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Preface: on the day of writing this review, i ingested a large amount of the substance lysergic acid diethylamide. Evidently, I thought it would be a reasonable idea to write my review of this album while feeling the effects of that particular substance. It was a wet night when this happened, and I was in the dark, in some public space, wandering around like a child when I was coming up. The friends I had needed to go home, so I wandered around the city for a while, looking in wonder at the fluctuating world around me before deciding that walking home in this state was not necessarily optimal for my sanity. I made the most sensible decision I could, which was taking a taxi home as the rain worsened. The ride was hellish – I had no idea where I was in the city. It had become an abstracted maze of grey shapes, formless hulks looming out of the fractalised dark. We drove through a park and the green of the wet, dusky leaves perhaps saved me from insanity as it was filtered through the harsh electronic light of the lamps. When I emerged from the taxi, the rain had stopped to a drizzle, and the pastel fish on my raincoat smiled at me as though we shared some obscure, nameless secret. I listened to the first half of this album pacing up and down the hallway of my apartment, and the carpet felt almost like a holy land as I walked on it. I sat down at my computer around the time the song Hands of the Juggler was beginning, and aside from the brief note at the beginning, I was almost possessed by the album. It was automatic writing in its purest, untainted form. The review you are about to read is perhaps a quarter of the size of the original review, which contained pointed remarks towards people I knew, and whom I did not know (The person who assigned me this album gets a mention as both “the master of lies” and “the gouda dispensee”, two occupations I am not sure Eric would actually qualify as), dipping in and out of gibberish until it comes until the flaming wreckage which I have preserved as the ending three paragraphs. The repetition of the word “eleven” is the high me assuring the reader that I am not panning the album, working under the assumption that they have managed to work through the rest of the review.

(beginning with a query: why are the first two bonus tracks of this album by art bears and aksak maboul, respectively? both feature frith as a player, if not necessarily guitarist (giving fred frith the title of a guitarist seems mildly belittling in itself, does it not?), but when they are both on rather well-respected albums of their own, is it really a necessity? on.)

so, this is gravity, an album from 1980, which doesn’t sound like it was from 1980. it doesn’t really sound like it is from any time. it is maddeningly ageless, and maddening in a good way. gravity transcends genre and time, as testament to frith’s skill; jumping from one mood and locale to the next with freakish dexterity. it’s generally just hard to posit what you’re listening to when it transposes as many moods as this does.

(oh, mr frith, you are classically trained! the deformed body of rock in opposition suddenly seems more crudely exposed to me than ever.)

klezmer, polka, calypso, is something wrong? then dancing in the street, oh! is something wrong! (that strange rhythm! dance your sins away in the swirling dervishes’ palace of sin, for christ’s sake, you heretical bastard.) have i committed a crime? is something wrong?

we see mr frith and madam krause (of art bears fame, for as of album time, she has not been claimed by the fearful mr brecht of berlin). they both wear pastel-pigmented dresses with polka dots splayed into spontaneous rows. (see: leigh bowery, or something in their style)

krause: die strasse est bedeutungslos. alle ewigkeit ist in der decke de wolke verloren, und ich juckreiz.

frith: for god’s sake woman.

(the members of SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA shamble onto the stage, dressed as an elaborate pantomime horse, and conversing softly in mannered swedish about the latest tuxedomoon album. legend says that an unnamed member of the famous residents sew the costume for them)

frith: what the fuck is this shit doing on my album you fuckers. i wanted joy, not nonsense.

krause: for these are dangerous times.

frith: go piss up a rope.

frith walks off the side of the stage, and the magician of the music vanishes. the ghosts of the ronettes, bleached bone-white by collegiate bastardism and commercial overuse, surreptitiously appear and vanish in front of krause, who faints, if only to mold with her gender role.

10 glorious years later, on the outskirts of joujouka, the ghost of mr brian jones is spotted by an unnamed british traveller who sells her story to the sun and sells it for millions. she uses her proceedings to buy a new house, where her life becomes a dreary retelling of a roxy music song. en perpetuitas. in the same storied pages of that hallowed publication, shocking details are revealed of a mr frith’s barely concealed affair with that cad vivian darkbloom; the story is ignored because neither person is popular or very personally interesting at all outside of some leftist rubbish recorded in the seventies.

and they say there are other things to come from this unholy union too. a crew of undergraduate students locked in their conservatorium room by a crazed professor soon learned how to make shards of broken beer-bottle glass adopt the sound of a weeping xylophone. (enough with your soulless vienna school claptrap, get to the fucking point, you cunt.) they felt as though the whole universe had given them a nudge. they were also not yet ready to die.

so gravity is all at once full of (teeming with, bursting with, as though it were a hornets’ nest) life, which is taken away by the experimental tendencies which yea, even the best of us are prey to.

i hear the deluxe remaster comes’ with herr frith’s piss samples.

(eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven)

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WEATHER REPORT – S/T (1982)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Sam Belden

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I admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for this sort of 1980s sitcom opening music. I have both Heavy Weather and Mister Magic in my collection, and they are surprisingly cool albums.

However, while this album goes on with the same sort of sound, it feels more unfocused. Considering that the main redeeming factor of the aforementioned albums are their melodicism, this makes it a bit dull to listen to. “Dara Factor 2” has some melodic flair to it, but that’s about it. However, it still remains entirely fine background music, and there’s nothing to really hate about it.

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

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Alex Alex

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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.

XIU XIU – La Foret (2005)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Often, when I’m asked to listen to something I’ve never heard before, rather than listen with open ears, I do some desk research. Must be the academic in me: opinions better be grounded in reason and arguments. Looking at Wikipedia (for both the album and the band), one notices that many people, and even more instruments, contribute to the album. Still, it has a somewhat minimal, lo-fi, indie sound, with the lead vocalist hyperventilating in a nearby phone booth. There is a drummer, but it sounds very much programmed.

During the first three songs it slowly dawned on me that this was a bit like a mix of Wilco and Eels, but far worse than both. Once this sort of conclusion enters your mind, it’s difficult to lose it, but I was trying! Low and behold! The fourth song (Pox) was actually a bit more like the Flaming Lips, with a different singer. But then Baby Captain is actually more Ween playing a Sigur Ros song.

Saturn starts with a crashing and indeed, spacy, piano chord, suitably menacing. Some voices are heard as well. The chord returns, interspersed with some pc game bleeps. And after the whistling part, that comes as a relief, the voice returns, with some light industrial percussion. I don’t know, it may be their Revolution #9 or something.

Rose Of Sharon starts nice enough, with what sounds like a pipe organ. Again, the silly voice tries to convey something dramatic. Something Nico did 45 years ago. After the two-minute mark, some processed piano (?) enters. That part is not bad, but it only lasts a minute, the singer returns, only to be slaughtered in some ritualistic way.

Ale, again starts nicely, with some musical interplay. But far too soon that voice starts again. Too bad, as the first two minutes would make a great instrumental interlude whether it’s early Amon Düül or Friends-era Beach Boys. As it is, it meanders along, with the singer sounding a little like the singer of MGMT.

Bog People sounds more up tempo and guitar driven. After a fun intro, unfortunately the singer starts again. Some people may call the voice an ‘acquired taste’. Not only did I not acquire it, to these ears this guy simply cannot sing. He’s using all kinds of effects, and whether it is to improve a poor voice to begin with or to make a perfectly acceptable voice sound like it does on purpose, I don’t know, but the effect is horrendous.

Dangerous You Shouldn’t Be Here is totally minimalistic again, with no real singing but more preaching. The music is not totally bad here, by the way: the organ, the plucking of an acoustic and the sound effects create a somewhat creepy atmosphere that works. But Jeff Tweedy (or Roger Waters) could have a created something far more impressive with this piece of music.

Yellow Raspberry again offers some acoustic guitar. Some possibly acoustic drums (or cardboard boxes) and other effects join the vocals and end the album on a sad note.

Which is how this review will have to end. For me, this album, and indeed, possibly this genre of music, does not serve any purpose: it’s not fun or uplifting to listen to, you cannot dance to it, it’s not relaxing background music to work by and it’s no party music. If you’re an adolescent, bordering on depression, this may be the album for you (although I suggest The Wall). To me, this sounds pretentious and contrived and it is no serious artistic statement (like Guernica, to name a work of art from a totally different field that (equally) does not necessarily give pleasure).

THE REDSKINS – Neither Washington Nor Moscow (1986)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Gus Ootjers

Overall, the album sounds like an evolution of what The Jam or Orange Juice were doing late in their careers. Basically, it’s just blue-eyed soul stuff. This particular effort adds political lyrics to the mix. 

Unfortunately, this shares the same problem as a lot of blue-eyed soul stuff, in that the vocalist is trying way too hard. I could forgive that with The Jam or Orange Juice because the music held up, but the music doesn’t really hold up here. While there’s nothing really wrong with it, there’s nothing really special about it either.

That forces me to pay attention to the vocalist, who sounds pretty unbearable. He honestly sounds like an (admittedly) less annoying Mike Ness to me.

Basically, I can see why someone would like this, but I unfortunately cannot. I’m sorry, Gus.

CAPTAIN AHAB – After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams (2006)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

I don’t know, based on the title of the album and the name of the band I was expecting like, dream pop or something indie. Then I read about it on RYM and see that one of the guys from Clipping is involved, so its probably not dream pop. I also get kinda excited, I really like Clipping. 

BUT BOY DOES THIS ALBUM SUCK.  

You know how Frank Zappa done those albums to mock sleazy 70s rock music with Flo and Eddy, but often came across as equally sleazy and (i’m listening to this as i write it and one of the songs just made me physically cringe. Like for real, i’m not exaggerating) repugnant so not really enjoyable anyway. This album does that for sleazy EDM and shit like LMFAO and its much worse than anything Zappa done in the same vein. 

Okay, so not to be too politically correct or anything, but a lot of the lyrics are fucking sexist. Now, i’m assuming this is intended as satire, but if it’s a satire of teenaged girls it is sexist, and if it’s a satire of people’s perception of teenaged party girls it still sucks. 

Some of the songs have good parts, the occasional catchy part or interesting synth part betraying that this was made by, you know, an experimental musician with a goddamned thesis on noise music. But on the whole it’s a lot of annoying clubbish synth parts with a really obnoxious singer SHOUTING EVERYTHING. The album is the equivalent of a spastic child running around a shopping market with shit in their pants pushing everything over and attacking the shoppers. It’s not to my taste is what i’m trying to say. “U Want Me” is kind of pretty i guess, but even then it sounds more like an attempt at depth than you know, depth. And the vocals and lyrics are fucking obnoxious.

I mean, okay, there’s the occasional amusing line, but fuck it. 

Anyway, this album is an hour long and I honestly don’t know who it was intended for. Maybe check it out if you’re just like really into experimental music and willing to try anything, even if the album isn’t really experimental. 

I guess i would summarise it as smug hipsters try to parody obnoxious EDM and end up sounding worse. 

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS – Flood (1990)

Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

This is a record about the small things but the things that are also perversely the most important things in the world-like particles!
First a bit of background, ‘They Might be Giants’ (TMBG), ‘Flood’ is their third album and their first for a major label, it’s also probably their most well known and, full admission, the only album of theirs that I’ve heard all the way through. There were only two guys in TMBG at this point John Linsell and John Flansburgh, and they split most of the instruments between them with a few parts played by session musicians. Notably all the percussion on this album is provided by various drum machines. The sound picture is coloured by various synths and organs which combined with the drum machine, lends some of album the feel of an early Magnetic Fields LP or a less frantic Devo. Not that the album is monochromatic, some songs such as ‘Your Racist Friend’ and the closing track ‘Road Movie to Berlin’ tip the balance more strongly towards guitars. A lot of the tracks feature prominent accordion melodies and this combined with the tight songwriting lends the album a good sense of diversity. Binding together the various musical threads on this album is an atmosphere of DIY experimentation. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a band record, more like, perhaps, a group of intelligent (but emotional) scientists piecing together songs together using diagrams, test tubes and a wide range of slightly archaic instruments.
What stops the album turning into a piece of experimental art musik like Throbbing Gristle or Coil is that musically this album also harks back to simpler forms of American music from the 50’s, 60’s and in some cases even earlier. Songs by Carol King and the various Rogers, Hammersteins and Schopenhauers who seemingly wrote all the songs back in this halcyon era are often brought to mind when listening to many of these tracks. By that I mean the songs have simple and catchy melodies that nevertheless bound to formally conservative structures. Verses, choruses and middle eights are all well in evidence here. TMBG even include a 50’s cover ‘Istanbul’ that makes the connection to older forms of music explicit. This combination of high quality songwriting in the ‘classic’ mould combined with somewhat modernistic and unorthodox arrangements helps create a quirky but overall charming aesthetic that draws you in even as it surprises you. Much of this surprise is conveyed by the lyrics.
Lyrically, the songs on this album address potentially trivial subjects but these themes mask deeper and more essential emotions that come to the fore after repeated listens. ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’ is both about a night light and sung from the perspective of the object itself. Other songs on the album are about being reincarnated as a bag of groceries and the need to wear prosthetic foreheads. When first listening to this album (at least for me) I didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics but I really enjoyed the melodies and the arrangements. After listening a few times I came to notice the quirky subject matter and I was amused. However the problem with ‘funny lyrics’ is that they often they are only funny or interesting in the short term and after that rapidly become tedious (Weird Al et. al.). With these lyrics it’s the fact that they’re often used as cover to talk about some deeper emotional stuff. For example ‘Birdhouse’ is really a plea for companionship and ‘Dead’ is a song about deep regret. Obviously the songs are also funny and quirky but if you scratch through the surface there’s often real emotional resonance buried inside.
Take for instance ‘Particle Man’, which might be the signature song on this record. On first listen it’s easy to get caught up in the bouncy accordion and child like references to a cast of characters that wouldn’t be out of place on a Nickleodeon Cartoon. But have a read of this verse:

Person man, person man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Person man
Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with person man?
Degraded man, person man

The song is actually about the vacuity of existence in modern late capitalist society and how it leads an unsatisfyible sense of longing and questioning within people at the bottom of the economic pile. Adorno would be proud.

In conclusion this album will worm its way into your head like a tiny particle and then beat you over the head like an angry triangle.