GOLDEN EARRING – Moontan (1973)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn 

This is an album for depressed, balding middle aged men who stagnate in their rumpus rooms behind a disused pool table, swimming with flies and their own filth, as they shoot back more beers in a desperate attempt to forget the traumas of ageing and their ageing wives.

This is an album for beige-and-tan diners on the motorways of flyover states with tattered PVC seats in need of replacement, where the cigarette ash of the underpaid and angry women who work there (some are single mothers, all are jilted lovers) falls with an angered and dissatisfied plop into the coffee percolator as they strain to wipe the thick and browned layer of fry-grease of the table tops.

This is an album for horny teenaged boys with dirty mussed hair and thin, sad lines of hair on their upper lips who see women as sex objects and have semen-encrusted girlie mags stuffed, haphazardly and rather off center under their beds.

This is an album for failures. Only the everyday ones, though.

DANIELLE DAX – Pop-Eyes (1983)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky 

Art. No, no that’s not right. ART! Still, not feeling that. Maybe @ur(T). Yeah, that’s it. That’s what Danielle Dax plays on Pop-Eyes, @ur(T). I know, I know. That’s a weird pretentious misspelling of art, and not a music genre, but i think it sounds better than experimental post punk progressive pop ART SCHOOL music. 

Because seriously that’s a lot of words to describe music that says only one thing, and that’s “I went to art school and You need to know about it.” It’s weird, It abandons the rules. It’s very satisfied about itself. When it clicks two simple acoustic guitar chords to a saxophone solo, you know it’s done for the ecstacy of all the chin scratching intellectuals in the world.  It’s @ur(T). Love it because it makes you interesting and different. Love it even more because most people will never get it. Your special. The world will never understand your innate genius. Stupid world! More saxophones pls!

This is not the first @ur(T) release I’ve encountered, and it won’t be the last, but it’s definitely something I try and avoid. See I’ve never really fully got this type of music. I can dig the artist that dip their toes into art school shenaniganry like say Sonic Youth or Crass, but full on @ur(T) turns me off. I have nothing against experimentation in music. Hell, Can is one of my favorite bands (and I do indeed on occasion listen to the second record of Tago Mago too). But the experimentation of @ur(T) always seems egoic, like the strangeness is done for a “look at me, I’m deep” effect rather than any actual boundary pushing. 

And that is all the experimentation on this record. Dax twists her voice in affected mannerisms. Dax recites nursery rhyme lyrics over a simple synth riff with clanking spoons percussion. Etc etc. This record reminds me of Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam, and Dagmar-led Henry Cow, except a more minimalistic and synth heavy. 

Okay, okay, I’ve been pretty hard on this lady, but it’s not all bad. This album opens with a brilliant post punk take on Indian music. It’s pretty brilliant and i have never heard a mashing of post punk style guitars and indian classical music, all wrapped up in a catchy pop structure. Kudos. Also, throughout the rest of the album there are interesting textures here and there. The odd bottom basement synth will stumble on some cool sound or the odd guitar or sax will play something else interesting. But these pieces are few and far between, and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that each time i listened to this, I was constantly checking how many songs were left, and wishing there were fewer. That’s especially damning considering this record is only 35 minutes long. 

So in other words. This is great high @ur(T). I just wish this record came with a performance art piece featuring excrement, nudity, and a condemnation of Bosnian war crimes.  A+ will use at future parties to intimidate hipsters. Animal Collective? That’s cute. Come back when you listen to real @ur(T) like Danielle Dax.

CORDEL DO FOGO ENCANTADO – Cordel do Fogo Encantado (2001)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Album assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

and Arcadio could not find his shoes in the thick afternoon heat, sweltering in dread, as they were not on the porch like Valentina suggested. Valentina escaped admonishment by slithering across the smooth polished floors of the upper part and clinging to the sides of the walls. Alberta clapped her hands in the cool murky downstairs salon, her thin leathery fingers gleaming with fresh water from the fountain, and announced that it was time for piano lessons, and Arcadio, without shoe or delicate beautiful tweed coat from the far-off England of the norman men kicked himself out of the low window onto the garden bed, where the thin weeds and ugly flowers that grew and stagnated there wound themselves around his bony legs and tickled his pink flesh, and he let out a girlish little displeased scream, and Valentina rushed to the bedroom window and saw her delicate brother rushing down the lime-green hill, kicking off reeds of tall grass that caught upon his legs. Valentina called for mother mother moTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER ALBERTA quickly, and slammed her delicate little fingers up and down upon the windowsill with a primal anticipation of Arcadio’s capture. She wailed about escaping piano lessons and not being fed dinner and possibly even worse things to come, and banged upon the wooden frame so hard it was audible for miles around, but to Arcadio it sounded only like drums and a joyous singing, a shouting perhaps, almost half in mourning and half in celebration, in a language from another place that he couldn’t understand. 

TUXEDOMOON – Desire (1981)

Review by: B.b. Fultz
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky

I’m not sure how to best review this, because it’s pretty experimental. I’m going to default to “safe mode” and write a general impression of each track, since there are only 7.  

“East/Jinx/…/Music #1” (I assume these are section-names?) opens the album on a brooding bass/synth track that reminds me of Bauhaus. A LOT. The beginning is right out of “Hollow Hills.” After about a minute and a half, Manzarek-like keyboards spring up abruptly. Of course, Goth borrowed a lot from “baroque” 1960s music by the likes of the Doors, the Zombies, the Animals (et.al) so the two styles go well together. A sax comes in a minute later, making things suddenly jazzy, another layer on the continuing goth motif. After about 4 minutes total the goth transforms into a weirdly middle-eastern sounding (to me) synth/jazz thing. Vocals enter out of nowhere. The voice reminds me of Bowie circa the Berlin trilogy (eg. “Secret Life of Arabia.”) The voice is hoarser though, going almost Joe Strummer-ish at times. The whole thing is an odd amalgam, although after the initial goth/doors intro it loses something. But it gets interesting again around the 10 minute mark, where it goes dissonant and I guess ambiant — my impression was “Secret Life of Arabia” going backward into “Moss Garden.” It has an Eno type of SOUND (electronic for the sake of being electronic) but it’s far more dissonant and trippy than classic-era Eno. Best analogy I can come up with is someone trying to be Pink Floyd and Devo and some unknown third thing all at once. Not sure if they succeeded or not, but it’s interesting to see them try.

“Victims Of The Dance” is another Bauhaus-sounding track, but this time it sounds like one of Bauhaus’s more experimental songs (considering this was released in the same era of classic Bauhaus, I’m wondering how much the two bands influenced each other). The vocal style varies between Murphy (in the chorus) to Bowie (most of the rest). The vocals are probably the most interesting part of this one.

“Incubus” is … another Bauhaus song?!? Did I upload a Bauhaus album by mistake?  No, the stuff going on in the background is probably too complex and jazzy. Bauhaus usually made their point in a simpler way. Incubus is like “Bauhaus mood” + “DEVO syncopation” x “punk-era Alice Cooper production values” … and this album came out right when Alice was smack in the middle of that era, BTW. Tuxedo Moon seem to have soaked up influences left and right, but I wouldn’t call them rote copyers — their twist on these “early-80s motifs” is pretty unique. 

“Desire” is a mid-tempo song that sounds a little like having a bad drug trip on a merry-go-round and being too disoriented to jump off. This song is an unsteadying experience. There’s a deceptively fast synth percussion-track going on underneath it, leading to a sense of fast/not-fast that makes your stomach do a double-take. The more they embellish it with saxes, keyboards, etc, the more they increase that vertigo of being swept up and down and around on a runaway machine. Every instrument on this is like a different part of that machine moving at a different speed and in a different way. Including the vocals. There are many interesting vocal overlays as well, which perfectly suit this song, because everything seems like it’s riding on top of everything else. If this song is “Desire,” it’s the kind of desire that makes your head spin and your stomach turn. It’s pretty amazing they were able to effectively translate that lovesick feeling into music. 

“Again” might have been called Bowie Again — the Bowie vocals are back. The background is different this time around, a spacy astral jazz that reminds me a lot of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” (the song), except sort of collapsing at the end, rather than reaching a melodic resolution. Not a bad song but that collapsed ending is probably the most interesting part.

“In the Name of Talent” is a really interesting one. The intro is slow and jazzy and moody, a lot like something off Pink Floyd’s “More” album … then a guitar comes in and the song enters this weird 3/4 timing and speeds up to a gallop. Yet the vocals are slow and relaxed, drawn out even. There’s all of these interesting little melodic “pings & pongs” during the middle instrumental break, like a solo played on some weird alien harp that it would hurt your brain to imagine. I like how this song doesn’t sound much like Bowie or Bauhaus, or even the Doors … it’s a weird mix of early techno/dance with ambiant with something else I can quite define. It’s more Tuxedo Moon than anyone else, I guess. Which is cool because all the Bowie/Bauhaus tributes were getting redundant. 

“Hollywood for Plywood” is — oh wow! Cool ! The soundtrack from a high school science film! No, wait, it’s some kind of bassy/brassy jazz with swooping strings. Wow, interesting segue there. Both themes have a slick and glossy and slightly cheesy feel to them, especially with all the pretty strings. But where the first theme just sounds like anything from a random 1950s educational film, the second theme sounds like the students got bored, ate large amounts of mind-altering drugs, and tried to reproduce the first part on their school band instruments … transforming that impossibly optimistic and idealistic 1950s music into some deranged musical mindfuck for the 1960s/70s/80s/beyond. In a way I like this song the best, maybe because after all the unexpected twists and turns of the other songs, this last song still managed to surprise me.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: an album worth hearing. I might have shortened one or two of the songs just a little, because these fellows do tend to draw their grooves out, but usually there’s enough change-ups and interesting little touches to keep things interesting. If you like original Goth circa the Bauhaus days, or the Bowie/Eno trilogy, or jazz fusion, or electronica, or even if you just like musicians with an ear for detail, I’d recommend these guys. They sound like other early 80s music I’ve already heard, yet at the same time, they’re not quite like anything else I’ve ever heard. Pretty cool stuff. 

UNIVERS ZERO – Heatwave (1986)

Review by:Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

Save for the topiary, everything shifts and changes at random within my line of vision. Outside, the heat rises from the ground and makes everything seem almost liquid, as though I am dwelling underwater in a glowing palace of glass and gold. The world stretches and distorts and makes itself into new shapes without my influence and I am caught up in the rhythm of the funeral march once more, stretching eternally, seemingly without end. Ah, to say that it were painless would be to lie and pretend that nothing had happened; to smile and pretend that it was over, the chairs packed away, the curtains drawn, but from here, I can see everything as it becomes due to me. The music draws to an unnatural lilting halt, and somewhere a woman laughs and a glass is dropped, for these are indeed dangerous times.

LAURIE ANDERSON – Bright Red (1994)

Review by: Dominic Linde
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky

Pairing Brian Eno with Laurie Anderson seems like a better idea than pairing Brian Eno with Coldplay—and needless to say, it makes more sense than joining him with Paul Simon. It makes sense, because Laurie Anderson is herself a cutting edge electronic artist, albeit one who takes more from the New York performance art scene than the ambience championed by the aforementioned producer.
            
All this being said, Bright Red simply sounds like a Laurie Anderson album. I had no idea Brian Eno had anything to do with the album until I opened the liner notes a few listens in. So then, why even mention the man? I wonder if Laurie reached out for external assistance after writing the pieces or if they were written for/with Brian Eno? Gone are the pop melodies appearing on Mister Heartbreak and Strange Angels (And even to an extent on Big Science) and left is mostly spoken-word pieces with instrumental accompaniment of varying quality. Adrian Belew adds nice noise guitar to “Firefall,” and Joey Baron adds drums as the only accompaniment to the interesting (and melodious!) “Muddy River.”
            
A reliance on digital keyboards makes some of this sound dated, especially on tracks such as “Bright Red” and “Speak My Language,” which seem like they could be created largely on MIDI programs. “Speak My Language” in particular reminds me of releases by the Residents from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, with vocal samples, almost-tribal drumming, and cheesy synthesizers. There are neat little touches with the instrumentation that save the album from being too monotonous and digital: the accordion in “Beautiful Pea Green Boat,” the percussive distortion in “Puppet Motel.”
            
Of course, neither Laurie Anderson nor Brian Eno would allow a project to be a disaster; cheesier-sounding tracks still create nice atmospheres and boast inventive production, but I feel little emotional attachment to this recording like I could with the more rhythmic parts of Big Science (Many tracks on Bright Red lack rhythmic drive) or the pretty melodies presented on Mister Heartbreak. Some of the backing is warm, but much of it feels too sterile to evoke emotion. Her poetry can be enjoyable, and songs like “Firefall” and “Speechless” feel very emotional. Sometimes her lyrics are too abstract, and her voice too distorted or broken—as with “In Our Sleep,” which trades lines with her future-husband Lou Reed, to glean much meaning.
            
There’s a lot of complaining in this review, but all-in-all it isn’t an unenjoyable experience listening to Bright Red. It has atmosphere, a healthy amount of experimentation, mostly nice production, and the lyrics are fine. It’s just missing the melody.

BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE – At Least for Now (2015)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

God, how utterly cold.

I get it, At Least For Now is emotional, it’s desolate in lyrical content yet incredibly lush in terms of production, Clementine has a rich, beautiful, emotional voice that drips with passion, and his piano playing is beautiful and stark and fragile – but I just don’t like this album at all.

If one reads about the accolades the album received upon release, reaching high places in iTunes charts in Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland and Greece, even going as far as to reach the coveted place of #1 and a tidy little gold certification in France, I can merely purse my lips and think about how incredibly suited the album is to such titles. 

It reeks of the benign popularity and showmanship that musicians like Antony and Adele bring to the charts, a sense of being forward-thinking while making no innovation, expressing such emotional angst while not expressing any sort of true emotion at all; every attempt at meaning being brushed over by a uniform brown with which anything that is too startling is kept at bay, out of sight and out of mind for the general music consuming populace, who are seemingly unable to stomach actual sadness.

That isn’t to say either that Clementine possesses more talent than those artists; although such a statement might not be controversial, I shall not deny that both Adele and Antony are in possession of voices only slightly less powerful than Clementine’s, I will even be kind and say that the sort of bland indie posturing is much more interesting than a lot of modern mass-produced dancepop. Alas, Clementine, the blandness of this album makes my heart hurt. There are moments – during “Then I Heard A Bachelor’s Cry”, “Nemesis” and the interlude “St-Clementine-on-Tea-and-Croissants” especially – where the sameness of the affair is briefly escaped, and we glimpse his truly arresting talent, heart-rending and transfiguring, for brief glimpses of time, but the veil is quickly brought back down and we are shown normalcy once more.

I can barely even produce the sort of visual element that I would normally posit in a review, as I don’t even feel passion radiating from the music that’s sufficient to produce an image. In sublime moments? An androgynous figure in a dark, spacious apartment, indistinguishable as either man or woman, weeping silently to themselves. They have a cigarette, slowly burning between their pursed lips, and they swirl scotch in a small crystal glass, thinking about their situation. Occasionally, they glance to the telephone on the table next to them, and as they are about to pick up the receiver- then it cuts out again, and the lack of image, the brown colour that consumes the album, resumes.

Oh god. Clementine has talent enough to make a beautiful tragedy of an album, but he wastes it on this LP. Hope springs eternal for the next, though.