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Monday, 27 August 2012

Tracks and Traces – Harmonia & Eno (1976)

This release is totally fascinating, absorbing and beautiful. Harmonia, whose members consist of musicians from the legendary Krautrock bands Neu! and Cluster, teamed up with Brian Eno in 1976 and recorded this music; which wouldn’t be released until 1997. Although the music does sound like a true collaboration, you can hear both future and past Eno in these analogue saturated tracks. Eno looks pretty pleased with himself on the cover and I don’t blame him – these Germans were at the forefront of electronic music. Also, not many albums have the members of the band drinking tea on the cover.

This 2009 re-release on vinyl is re-mastered and contains three tracks not found on the original 1997 issue. Side one starts with Welcome, one of the tracks not on the original release. It burbles and washes with keyboards and primitive synthesizers. Vampos Companeros chugs along like a menacing night train that, by the song’s end, sounds like it can’t stop. In contrast By This Riverside is an absorbing epic with beautiful analogue synth tones and rhythmic pulses.

Luneburg Heath is the only track with vocals, beautifully sung by Eno, but despite this I prefer the instrumental aspect of this collaboration. Sometimes in Autumn sounds like music made by a submarine and remixed by a stoned squid – it’s aquatic and definitely squelchy (a reference to Eno’s book of the same name?) Weird Dream is like wandering around in a fog on downers, but not being too worried about it even though you are hearing some strange noises coming from who knows where. The languid and elegiac sounds of Almost reminds you of parts of Eno’s excellent Before and After Science (1977), in particular the keyboards.

Les Demoiselles displays a stately jauntiness and could easily be the soundtrack to parading royalty from pre revolution France. When Shade Was Born and Trace are very short instrumental excursions, with repetitive unfolding keyboard motifs. Very tasteful but they sound like a warm up for grander ideas.

Aubade sounds like it is trying to reign itself in, which in some ways sums up this collaboration. Eno and Harmonia do sound like they were trying to pull each other in different directions, but it works and gives the music an edge despite its ambient textures. For someone who deliberately works behind the scenes, Brian Eno is so well known that it almost seems pointless to champion his musical achievements. If you are new to Eno then this isn’t really the place to start – the same can be said of Harmonia. But anyone who enjoys either artist should seek out this release. It’s a fascinating and obscure part of electronic music’s history. 


Friday, 10 August 2012

David Neil ”The Wilderness Years” – Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi (2011)

The Wilderness Years is Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi’s idea of a joke, and it’s a pretty good joke too. Steve Kilbey apparently joins David Neil - an obscure failed rock star, for a U.S. tour in 1974. Soon after Neil has the “dubious distinction of dying three deaths at once.” The songs on this album are supposedly Neil’s songs that have been resurrected from unfinished tracks and lyric books. Never mind that below the hilarious liner notes it states – all songs: Kilbey/Maymi. For a brief moment at the record store they had me fooled.

So being a huge fan of both The Church (from where Kilbey hails, if you didn’t know) and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Maymi) it was a given that I’d be taking this particular record home. Unsurprisingly this record is a total gem. The songwriting is superb and it really does come across as a combination of their respective bands, although the sound does lean more towards that of The Church. Guitars chime and jangle, Kilbey sings with his bedside baritone and the melodies are superb, but also many of the songs have that slightly ramshackle chug that the BJM do so well.

Of the ten songs Hollywood Ending is an early highlight, with insistent vocals and fast acoustic rhythms giving way to a blissed out reverie and then back again. Walk With Me (note - the song is miss-labelled on this video) follows and it’s a classic. Kilby’s singing is pleading and intimate and the female back up vocals are perfect. The other three tracks on side one are just as enjoyable and are typical of the songwriting consistency displayed by Kilbey over the years.

Side two begins with piano and the blissed-out country guitar stylings of Higher Than Yesterday. The tune has a melancholic feel and as usual with anything Kilbey writes it has quality lyrics. Lowboy is my favourite and it’s catchy as hell. It comes across as a lost Church song and that is the great thing about this LP – it reminds me of the early to mid period Church albums before they got all atmospheric with Priest = Aura (1992). I really hope that Kilbey writes more songs with Maymi, as they obviously bring out the best in each other.

The Equator is a bittersweet lament with a perfect blend of acoustic and electric instruments and a nice backwards guitar interlude. Was There Ever features superb vocal interplay coupled with a minor key shuffle and slide guitar. The album ends with So Long, another classic of bittersweet understatement.

If you are a Kilbey/Church fan then this LP is an essential purchase. The album is one of those that you can play right through without worrying about having to skip a track or two. It’s beautifully produced – warm and full with no sign of the over the top compression that spoils new releases these days (something you can blame on MP3s). The vinyl copy is a limited edition blood red pressing – check it out, it’s beautiful and you know you need it. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Rocket Juice and the Moon – Manuela 10” (2012)

Everyone knows how prolific Damon Albarn is and Rocket Juice and the Moon is a finger in yet another musical pie. This time his fellow core musicians are Flea and Tony Allen. When I first heard about this I thought that putting Albarn and Flea together was madness, but really it makes perfect sense. Check out the self-titled album if you like loose funky jams that fuse different styles.

This track is an off-cut from the main album - an alternate version of There. The A side - Manuela features Erykah Badu and as on the album her rich vocals perfectly match the loose funk on display. The track sports an insistent funky beat with interjecting horns and squelchy keyboards. Badu’s minimalist vocals come and go, sometimes sounding as if she’s trapped in an echo chamber. Great track – you could dance to it but it makes me want to sit in a deep leather couch with a cocktail in one hand.

The B-side is a dub version by Mark Ernestus. The track is slowed down with thick bass vibes, keyboard riffs and disembodied vocals coming in and out saying things like “There we go.” Not that different to the main track, which means that it is just as awesome really.

This one’s definitely worth seeking out - a 10” record is hard to resist, plus you get a mutant Mickey Mouse claiming “Nothing spoil” on the cover, which has a textured feel to it when you run your fingers across it. Cool labels as well – thanks Honest Jons Records!