Friday, November 24, 2006

Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir leaves Múm

Múm's vocalist Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir has left the band earlier this year it was announced on the Fat-Cat website. In a letter posted on the site, she says that she hasn't been working with 'the boys' since June 2005 and will not be featuring on the band's next album, due out next year. She has since been working on a modern dance piece with Eirikur Orri, who often plays with Múm, and with Animal Collective's Avey Tare, with whom she has recorded a few songs which could be released some time next year.

Kristin Anna's twin sister Gyða left the band before they began working on their third album, Summer Make Good.

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GESCOM: MiniDisc (OR)

Or 1998/2006
45 Tracks. 66mins18secs

Buy it: CD
OR Records

Audio visual history is full of obsolete formats, and recent years have been particular harsh, with audio cassettes, DAT, VHS, S-VHS, betamax, videodiscs or Philips’s ill-fated DCC, to name but a handful, all biting the dust in a matter of years, while the CD is getting under constant attack from MP3 players and computers, and even the DVD seems doomed as hard-drive recorders become more common and broadband is more widely available and faster. Only the vinyl record has regained some market shares.

One of these almost entirely extinct formats is Sony's minidisc. Launched only fifteen years ago, it looked for a while as it was here to stay, but, with the arrival of the iPod and other MP3 players, the format rapidly became doomed. It was different when Gescom released Minidisc back in 1998. While albums had been issued on minidisc before, this was the first ever minidisc-only release. Composed especially to make use of some of the format's specific characteristics, the album featured forty five tracks divided into eighty-eight segments destined to be played at random and looped at will, therefore creating an ever changing piece of work. With the demise of the format, OR and loose collective Gescom have decided to transfer the piece onto CD, described as the next best format available.

Formed around the nucleus of Autechre's Rob Brown and Sean Booth, Gescom has remained a mysterious formation, with very little information on the various contributors (allegedly up to twenty). Connections with the Autechre sound have perhaps become clearer in recent years, with Confield, Gantz Graf and Draft 7.30 especially displaying some of Gescom's characteristics, yet the collective's approach remains in most part more experimental. The very nature of this project, a radical digital cut and paste with open ends, makes it an intense experience.

Sound particles of various sizes and consistence are slotted alongside each other without apparent logic into fragments of tracks ranging from just a few seconds to a couple of minutes. These are placed in such a way that it is very difficult to understand where a piece ends and another begins. Glitches, statics, samples, found sounds and noises cross the range at random, sometimes arranged into vague melodic or rhythmic formations, at others left to decay into silences, which in turn become sonic components. This vast collage however is much more coherent than could be expected. Either played in its original order or at random, MiniDisc is a fascinating piece with a surprisingly potent narrative, which, at times, evokes the work of the Radiophonic Workshop. Playing on the unpredictability of the medium, Gescom create here a truly magnificent, if somewhat difficult, piece which loses nothing of its substance on CD.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

MÚM: The Peel Session (Fat-Cat Records)

The Peel Session
CDFAT057 / 12FAT057
Fat-Cat Records 2006
04 Tracks. 21mins14secs

Buy it: CD
Múm | Fat-Cat Records

Icelandic purveyors of fine dream soundtracks Múm fill the gap between their last record, released two years ago, and their next opus, due out next year, with the publication of their sole Peel Session, recorded at the world famous BBC Maida Vale studios back in 2002 following the release of their debut album, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK. The session captures the band as they begin to blur the boundaries between their electronic roots and the more delicate acoustic and textural sound they have showcased in recent years. Here, while they still largely rely on electronics, as the opening sequence of Scratched Bicycle/Smell Memory attests, Múm dress their songs in slightly more contrasted tones.

Múm have developed a stage persona which has progressively been infiltrating their records, and this early testament clearly documents how the band’s sound lends itself perfectly to the live environment. The melodies retain the fresh envelop of the original versions yet the arrangements appear fuller and more ethereal, while the voices of twin sisters Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir take on a much more vaporous and dreamy turn on Now There Is That Fear Again. As they combine electronic and acoustic instrumentation into tight soundscapes, Múm draw a series of sonic arabesques which contrast greatly with the more subdued originals. On the opening track, which pertinently brings two songs into one, Múm layer slices of glitches and noises over frenetic interferences and beats, yet the main melody floats well above, and when liberated from the cloud of ambient hums and buzzes, develops into a wonderfully strolling piece. Awake On A Train is a more straightforward and pastoral installment, with gentle vocals set against sharp electronics while an accordion traces a series of melodic themes and takes this track in a variety of directions.

Now There Is That Fear Again is the most elaborate track on here, with multiple layers of accordion dripping over the sisters’ vocals, guitars and live drums to form a vivid organic piece. The song’s gentle opening moments reveal a rich backdrop which flourishes further as the track progresses and more layers are applied. The Ballad Of The Broken String finds the band in more subdued and reflective mood and brings this all too short Peel session to a beautiful close.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CONSOR: Mesantropia (Creaked Records)

Creaked Records 2006
11 Tracks. 60mins32secs

Consor | Creaked Records

In just a handful of releases, including the publication of Alog’s long-lost Islands Of Memory EP earlier this year, Creaked Records are slowly growing to be a reliable source of excellent electronic music. From the Alpine heights of Switzerland comes Samuel Vaney, who officiates as Consor. Following a first EP released last year, Vaney signed to Creaked. His first album, Mesantropia, reveals a somewhat dark and experimental take on contemporary electronica.

Working from field recordings, noises, electronics and samples, Vaney creates here a series of dense and gritty soundscapes tempered with delicate drapes, which he applies onto rarefied melodic formations and develops in unpredictable ways all through the hour long Mesantropia. The album opens with a scintillating music box theme gently underlined with discreet percussions. This apparently innocent piece seems brought to an abrupt end and all the listener is left with is the remaining echo of an evaporated melody. While Aikon sounds too much like a gimmick with its mobile phone interference routine, Monoski is a rather more intriguing offer. Nothing much happens for a while apart from a distant drum beat pattern, but as the beat grows stronger, the background starts filling up, first with deep noises, then with a budding melody, but it is not until three quarters in that Vaney finally releases the tension by suddenly cranking the volume up and sharpening up his knives. While this is undoubtedly a risky strategy, it creates a sense of anxiety which is developed in similar way, although not to the same extent, later on, on Godmorgon.

Elsewhere, Vaney plays with sombre soundscapes and assembles claustrophobic pieces. While Valmo’s first half is rather gentle and airy, it progressively becomes heavier in its second half to the point where the rarefied atmosphere becomes almost unbearably oppressive toward the end. Sashimi, Satelitte and Minotaur’s Fall are all dense and thick and only progress through the sheer pressure of their respective weight. Springbok and Niqorb denote a lighter approach, with the former developing around a guitar line while the latter’s intricately woven electronic structure recalls Autechre circa Tri Repetae. If these don't quite manage to entirely relieve the pressure, they nevertheless provide a welcome breathing space half way through the record and ensure Mesantropia doesn’t veer into absolute paranoia.

Samuel Vaney’s first full length as Consor offers an interesting range of atmospheric moments and soundscapes, and his approach to experimental electronica reveals a certain amount of maturity. Vaney carries this album pretty well and maintains a good level of consistency all the way through. While Mesantropia is not original in scope, its execution is pretty much spotless, making it an overall thoroughly enjoyable work.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gescom's MiniDisc... released on CD

Gescom’s seminal MiniDisc, the first ever MiniDisc-only release, originally published in 1998, is being issued on CD for the very first time. The album was specifically assembled to take advantage of the format’s versatility, collecting forty-five tracks split into eighty-eight PQ points set to be played in random order. The format, which was once at the forefront of Sony’s strategy, has since almost totally fallen into oblivions, prompting Sean Booth, Rob Brown and OR to reissue the work on the next best format. The sleeve shows Alan Phillips of Sony showing off MiniDisc in a Sony Conference. MiniDisc, the CD, is out on 13 November.

For more information, check out the OR website.

Buy it: CD

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

BENOIT PIOULARD: Précis (Kranky)

Kranky 2006
14 Tracks. 36mins52secs

Benoît Pioulard | Kranky

Despite what the name and album title could suggest, Benoît Pioulard is not the latest French talent to make it to these shores. Instead, Thomas Meluch, who hides behind the Gallic-sounding moniker, hails from the South Michigan city of Ann Arbor. For years, he has been assembling precious little vignettes which he has then collected into very limited self-released albums and EPs, yet, Précis, released on Chicago-based imprint Kranky, is Tom’s first record to benefit of a wide release. The album follows Mr. Pioulard’s debut Enge EP, published earlier this year on Moodgadget. While released at just three hundred copies, the EP received praises on both sides of the Atlantic and introduced Benoît Pioulard’s delicately contrasted soundscapes. With Précis, he expands on his sonic scope by adding rich layers of electronica and shoegaze to swathes of pop and folk.

The album opens with the scintillating psychedelic drone of La Guerre De Sept Ans which sees clouds of acoustic sounds slowly merging into a dense noise formation, yet rapidly, the tone changes entirely with the pop-infused Together And Down and Triggering Back. While the former is an introvert piece with lingering motifs, the latter reveals a more upbeat and pastoral approach, with subtle undertones adding delicate relief to the main melodic theme. The process is repeated at regular intervals and various density all the way through this album, from the laidback Alan And Dawn or Palimend to the lush and expensive Needle And Thread or Ash In The Sky.

In between his perfectly formed pop songs, Tom inserts a series of experimental sonic vignettes. While using the same mixed palette of acoustic instrumentation, treated acoustics, electronics and found sounds, he indulges in more introspective soundscapes and arranges them into dense formations which, at times, evoke the granular sound of Fennesz or label mate Tim Hecker. Elsewhere, echoes of Simon & Garfunkel, Slowdive and Greg Davis trickle down Meluch’s compositions and give this album its true identity.

Précis is a mature and convincing follow up to Benoît Pioulard’s debut EP and shows a great deal of control on sounds and melodic structures. In just over thirty six minutes, Meluch assembles a fascinating collection of songs with clear evocative scope and creates one of the most interesting debut albums of the year.

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