Music taking it easy

Cocooning Javier BlanquezThe publication of this new instalment of Cocooning coincides with the release of Brian Eno’s album on Warp, Small Craft on a Milk Sea; so please excuse me for putting the name of this humble section ahead of the work of the man who dreamed, like Pythagoras, that with a point of support he could move the world. In Eno’s case, it has twice the merit, since he moved the world from his bed, dreaming of modern ambient as a still, horizontal space, free of intrusions, in which one could move, float, remain and walk around like someone moving through clear mountain air, which is thinner than down here. This piece of news is good for two reasons: it’s always good to know that Eno is there, watching, behind the scene pulling the strings, and besides, “Small Craft…” is his best album in perhaps twenty years. In the sway between storms of electric guitar and the peace of pianos as fragile as Bohemian cut glass, Eno slides in some of his most serene, cleanest pieces, harking back to his own prehistory, when he codified lazy pleasure—with his leg hanging over the edge of the sofa and staring off into space—in albums like “Discreet Music” or “Ambient 1. Music for Airports”. In general, Eno’s album isn’t that great, considering the rest of the ambiental albums being made, which are many and superb. But as an exclusively Eno album, it’s a warning: “I’m still here,” it seems to say, “I can be who I was, and forgetting about me would be a mistake.” In any case, one would have to be imprudent or rude to ignore Eno. Have no fear, it won’t happen here: Cocooning honours Eno like an oenologist bows before Bacchus. Having said this, let’s get on with the show, because all the new things are getting out of hand. Take your shoes off before you come in

Hype Williams: “Untitled” (Carnivals) / “Do Roids And Kill E’rything” (SLR007) Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting: “Bubblethug” (Weird Forest) It’s easy to fail when you’re trying to explain what Hype Williams is with words and transparent prose. The first thing to clear up is that this isn’t the Hype Williams who directed videos for Busta Rhymes, but rather an English duo, male and female, who for the time being are playing the mystery card, and who have installed themselves in a sound territory in which the moment and the impossible come together explosively. To start with, the there is a fog of disfigured memory, and an obsession with the 80’s in black and white—hypnagogia with something of 4AD, perhaps a touch of the instrumental songs of The Cure, the obligatory salute to AOR pop—but beyond this, Hype Williams are a labyrinth and a trap. It’s worse than deciphering hieroglyphics without a Rosetta Stone: in the 7” “Do Roids All Kill E’rything”, there’s a disintegrated hip hop undercurrent sliding in among drone loops and chopped-up voices, at times with the pinch of helium of an R&B diva, and at other times dragged through a guttural tonality several octaves below what would be a normal voice, in the purest screwed & chopped style of Houston. But that’s not all: a fine synthetic pop and proto-Gothic punk production (the beat boxes!) falls like a spring storm, sounding like a Cocteau Twins album produced by Swizz Beats and remixed by some witch house stylist like Balam Acab. They’re either on drugs, or they are several years ahead of their time—I’m more inclined towards the second possibility—and they leave your brain short-circuited. And speaking of the term “screwed & chopped” –that opiate sensation and those hoarse voices with a cough that are so like Southern United States rap—nobody interested in extreme slowness should miss “Bubblethug” by Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting (another alias of Pat Maherr, whom we had listened to as Indignant Senility tearing up Wagner recordings in a ton of sandy loops): IDM-ised neo-screw, with rhythmic sections that are unbearably complex, an exasperating pause, and tons of throats that seem to have come from the mouth of Hell—as long as Hell has a cold and a very stuffy nose.

Lil B: “Rain In England” (Weird Forest)One has to admit that “Rain in England” isn’t a good album. It seems long, heavy, and after a few minutes you feel like calling the police and having its maker arrested for being a bore. But the whole concept behind the album –another of the Martian landings of Weird Forest, the label where we usually find Emeralds and several of their parallel projects– is so wild that you can’t resist the opposite reaction of wanting to thank Lil B for the delirium. Lil B is one of the four members of The Pack, the California hardcore hip hop group sponsored by Too $hort and with an aesthetic somewhere between crunk and hyphy, but with the particularity (and don’t ask me why) that besides bouncy greats, the guy also likes atmospheric post-rock groups like Grouper. In fact, “Rain in England” is born from that obsession, and it takes arty exhibitionism further than several of the names associated with Anticon ever went. In “Rain in England”, Lil B recites the hippiest texts—about the sun, (earth) mothers, peace, and all that sentimental stuff—over forest drones, moonlight ambient, sighs and dreams that would be very good in a museum, but I’d like to know what they think of him in the ghetto. P.Diddy ok, but I doubt his “homies” would be into Enya.

John Elliott: “Colored Mushroom And The Medicine Rocks” (Wagon) Imaginary Softwoods: “Imaginary Softwoods” (Digitalis) Speaking of Emeralds , their slow reconverting of their sound and the good job they’re doing with selectively re-releasing their back catalogue merit a standing ovation. “Does It Look Like Here?” (Editions Mego, 2010) is growing little by little and positioning itself as something more than a transition album —from the flood of drones at the beginning to a more meditated, settled, composition cleared of noisy deadwood, in which the melodies even shine in spite of the progressive fug— and it helps one face the purchasing of the new material reclaimed with a different spirit. It also helps that the new solo album from Mark McGuire ( “Living with Yourself”) is an exploration of the anarchic use of the guitar —more Thurston Moore or Pat Metheny in the days of “Zero Tolerance for Silence” than Oldfield— a distancing manoeuvre from the followers of neo-new age. John Elliott, the handy man on the synthesisers for Emeralds, is also doing his own thing, and after the record as Outer Space last month, now he is back with a re-release — “Imaginary Softwoods”, a double record in which the more drone, darker, more uneasy variant of the joint project Emeralds became fixed; it’s an album that you have to go into with an oxygen tank if you want to come out alive— and a new release with more kosmische finishes, “Colored Mushroom…,” which is so similar to the synthesiser suites that filled entire sides of records in the old titles of Tangerine Dream (between the storm of “Zeit” and the anticyclone of “Ricochet”).

Brother Raven: “Diving Into The Pineapple Portal” (Aguirre) Innercity: “Future Life” (Aguirre) A label that calls itself Aguirre is saying it all, absolutely everything, without leaving even the smallest margin for the imagination. Like the conquistador Lope de Aguirre from Herzog’s film, we imagine ourselves listening to this music as if it were a symphony of fatalism, like a hindering rain, like a titanic, unequal struggle against the infinite. At Aguirre—they are Belgians—they take the kosmische sound as their point of departure, particularly that of Popol Vuh. These two new releases are put out on vinyl, sold in a “special edition”, which in this case consists of a gift cassette with more exclusive material both from Brother Raven (the duo that we met last month with their “VSS-30” on Digitalis; here they continue with their analogue, unpolished jam, although less opaque than in the previous vinyl, closer to the lyrical Harmonia than to Conrad Schnitzler when he was solemn) and from Innercity, the alias with house resonances behind which the Belgian musician Hans Dens hides himself. But there is nothing to dance to in “Future Life”: this is one of the most hardcore neo-new age albums that has been released, a shot of planetary psychedelics and prehistory of the synthesiser that will have people who think that the best human being who has been born since Buddha is Klaus Schulze drooling. For kosmische acolytes, Aguirre transmits that true feeling: hope.

Dolphins Into The Future: “Ke Ala Ke Kua” (K-RAA-K3) Skjølbrot: “Maersk” (Skjølbrot) Hans Dens is Belgian (as has already been mentioned above), more specifically, from Antwerp, the city of men’s fashion, diamonds, and a zoo, but also the city where the label K-RAA-K3, a cell of underground, experimental resistance, between glitch, melodic IDM, and clean noise has been putting out it’s albums for years; it’s a label that has released artists like Ovil Bianca or Köhn. Now, Lieven Martens, a.k.a Dolphins Into The Future, has landed there, the man who records the waves of the sea and the sounds of animals that swim, who mixes these two sources over and over again, with a spectral phasing effect and the blurring of the texture, as well as adding the occasional furtive synthesiser, to create a type of music that has had all sorts of labels put on it: field recordings, hypnagogia, chill wave—but which really only works as new age. It is a disconcerting, uncomfortable new age (if music is uncomfortable, can it be new age?), but with a deep calm in it’s bowels. On this record, Martens insists on the same formula as always, that which he had extended in “The Music of Belief” (Release The Bats, 2010): the sound of the aquarium and cetacean communication in mammal code. It’s still entertaining because it is the second time, but Dolphins Into The Future is going to have to tell some other joke here sometime. Since we’re talking about field recordings, Skjølbrot’s exercise is much more expansive; the name sounds Norwegian, but he’s from Bristol and his real name is Dan Bennett. He takes recordings of all kinds in public spaces, such as the noise of the street with the people and cars that fills the minutes of “Rue Victor Masse to Gare d’Austerlitz”, a real route –identical to the one that the composer Iannis Xenakis took when he lived in Paris. From that he extracts the hubbub and inserts it into asphyxiating arrangements of drones, pianos, and noise. The entire album is created in this way: recordings in Bristol or Singapore, in parks and streets, in underground cars or airports, later taken to a second layer of musical chaos. It’s a hard album to listen to, but it makes you feel alive.

Demdike Stare: “Industrial Desert” (Demdike Stare) Jonathan Uliel Saldanha: “The Earth As A Floating Egg” (Soopa)If you intend to listen to these two albums reading, we have to recommend one of the titles of “otherworldly teaching” of that erudite of the imagination Patrick Harpur. When you get into an album by Demdike Stare –whether it is creation out of nothing, or in the form of a mixtape like this “Industrial Desert”, which is the continuation of “Osmosis”, another mix CD to scare the shit out of us– we inevitably think that we are surrounded by intangible beings, spirits, and fairies dressed in black. The duo from Manchester already masters the art of electronic witchcraft like nobody else, and between the first album (convincing and valuable, but still tentative) and the current trilogy that they are putting out on Modern Love, with these mixtapes as hinges, there is a notable advance in hauntology. This session, which steps on sacred ground continually until bursting out into a final flash of free jazz, is a pagan ritual in which industrial mysticism like Coil is joined to funerary ambient, shamanic rhythms and other darkness. But with Demdike Stare there is always an order, a control that is not found in “The Earth as a Floating Egg” by the Portuguese Jonathan Uliel Saldanha (collaborator of Badawi and member of the project Mécanosphère). Here there is not only improv and elephantine neo-classical music, but also plays of drones, masses of strings, dissonant harmonies, and choruses from hell are wrapped in allusions to mythology, magic, lost civilisations, sun rituals, Babylon, and the Vikings. Normally, one has to be in favour of all of this.

Arkhonia: “Trails / Traces” (White Box) Celer: “Weaving Of A Rapid Disenchantment” (Basses Frequencies) Chubby Wolf: “Ornitheology” (Digitalis Limited Editions) Years ago, the musician who hides behind the alias Arkhonia –formerly in the duo jz-arkh– was asked for music for a documentary on the Norwegian postal service, and he gave them a piece titled “DDRhodes”. For awhile nothing happened, because nobody gets famous for putting music to a work like that, but “DDRhodes” is in the seed of this “Trails / Traces”, which has positioned itself as an ideal album for practicing acoustic diving, or deep listening with headphones. Several of the songs that now make up the album come from the original take of music for the postal service, while others are live segments that are re-released, and others are samples taken from other artists, field recordings, and other borrowings from nature or friends. But it doesn’t matter so much how it is made, but rather what a feeling of peace the album transmits, as serene and blue as the cover, and at the same time as imperceptible as a cat’s footstep. You have to sink with the music, look for its ground, force your ear when the intensity drops and all that remains is a simple thread of peace in the depth of a pond. You have to turn up the volume and cut off communication with the outside. The new releases from the environs of Celer are also like that. The 10“ titled “Weaving of a Rapid Disenchantment” connects the album already discussed here in the previous column ( “Panoramic Dreams Bathed in Seldomness”) with what will be the future release from Celer in 2011, “Dying Star”, diluting their dreamy ambient into a medley of low frequencies and light, transparent textures. But that’s not the important thing. The new thing is that the first posthumous material of Danielle Baquet-Long has appeared. When Will Long promised that everything would come to light, he wasn’t lying, and this cassette —45 minutes each side, a shot of analogue ambient that takes time to digest— brings together what Dani did on her own under the alias Chubby Wolf before her death, which suggests to us that perhaps the violence and turbulence one could see in the duo came more from her than from her husband. Another reason to mourn.

Philip Jeck: “An Ark For The Listener” (Touch) Murralin Lane: “Our House Is On The Wall” (12k) Seaworthy + Matt Rösner: “Two Lakes” (12k) We are at that point when releases from 12k, although they still dazzle us, are no longer a reason for surprise. Taylor Deupree’s label, which for some time was looking for its place on the post-digital experimental scene, has found a niche in cloudy ambient with shines strategically placed to cause that little Stendhal syndrome that can save an ill-fated day. What’s more: the moment has come that he even calls on contrasting names to nourish the label with new items. Behind Murralin Lane are two Swedish musicians. Ylva Wiklund isn’t well known, but David Wenngren is, because he has recorded ambient albums with a neo-classical cover as Library Tapes. Here, they do the usual: baroque ambient, a bit sinister, lovely, but with twisted shapes and a lot of grain in the sound. And although it doesn’t sound 100% original, it gives rise to a debate: do we prefer this, heard so frequently already on labels like Spekk, or the mixture between field recordings of aquatic fauna, ukuleles and folk improvisation from the duo Seaworthy + Matt Rösner on “Two Lakes”? The best answer, as usual, is the middle route: don’t miss the jewel that Philip Jeck, the Fennesz of Liverpool, has just put out (with turntables instead of guitars). With over ten years behind him squeezing loops in composition work based on old vinyl and drawn and quartered into high intensity ambiental sounds garnished with poetry, here it reaches an interesting balance between extreme darkness and placid calm, an even more depressed, and at the same time unconcerned, version of the material of “7” and “Sand”, his last two greatest works.

Chris Carter: “The Spaces Between” (Optimo Music) Bathcrones: “Psychorama” (No Pain In Pop) There were two trends in Throbbing Gristle: there was the racket, confusion, and aggression that made them famous as pioneers of industrial music—something that Genesis P.Orridge was the brains behind—but there was also the proto-electronic synth-pop that gelled in historic compositions like “Hot on the Heels of Love” and which owe all of their merit to the handling of the synthesisers by Chris Carter, who would later split from the group along with his wife, Cosey Fanni-Tutti, to form Chris & Cosey, another seminal band in the intersection between post-punk and industrial sound. Since the middle of the 70’s, Carter had already been playing with modular sequencers and synthesisers, and much of his later production has been re-released on CD in recent weeks, but the real jewel in the crown is “The Spaces Between”, originally published on cassette (1980), re-released by Mute on CD (1991) and now rescued by JD Twitch (Optimo) on vinyl with a bonus track. The contents are amazing: it has a vaguely cosmic appearance, it is undulating, instrumental music, synthetic like Tangerine Dream, but with that evil, cold edge—although it’s not as ugly as the early Cabaret Voltaire– of a man who then had the look of a tiger in his eyes. Beauty and evil, a sum that is also valid in the material of Bathcrones, a producer who is currently rescuing the taste for the sinister and beautiful. In his case, it would enter into that progressive variant of drag-house or witch sound–like when oOoOO gets disco — but with the composing ability of dream-pop. The record includes twelve miniatures, twelve possibilities to admire the irresistible beauty of Luzbel, the most beautiful and arrogant of the angels, the Fallen One.

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