Thursday, December 28, 2006

PANDA BEAR: Bros / ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: People (Fat-Cat Records)

Fat-Cat Records 2006
02 Tracks. 17mins47secs

12FAT060 / CDFAT060
Fat-Cat Records 2006
04 Tracks. 18mins55secs

Buy PANDA BEAR: Bro's: 12”
Fat-Cat Records | Paw Tracks

Panda Bear brought the Fat-Cat 2006 release schedule to a close with his solo debut for the label, Bro’s, so it was only fair that Animal Collective would lead the Cat’s 2007 parade with their latest offering. Both come only weeks after Paw Tracks re-released the band’s rare live album Hollinndagain.

Of these two releases, Panda Bear’s is definitely the most inspiring. Coming ahead of a split twelve inch with Excepter and his third solo album, both due on Paw Tracks, and recorded last year in Noah Lennox’s home in Lisbon, this EP features two versions of the title track. The original is a hypnotic thirteen minute epic composition built around two distinct sections which are seamlessly blended into one. The first part of the track is particularly characteristic of Noah’s solo work. Layered over a linear shimmering guitar strum, Lennox’s vocals, somewhat set slightly in the distance, carry essence of sixties psychedelic pop and give this piece a luscious warm hue, but, as the musical backdrop become meatier, a more tribal tone emerges and eventually takes over, pushing the track in a direction which recalls early Animal Collective work.

Formed of Black Dice’s Eric Copeland and fellow Animal Collective member Avey Tare, Terrestrial Tones evolve in a much more straightforward experimental field. Here, they give Bro’s a radical reworking by stripping it off its layers of sound and isolating Noah’s voice. The rest of the sonic space is filled with recurring elements which maintain a rhythmic effect all the way through. As these imperceptibly shift in and out of focus and the voice at times almost entirely disappears, Terrestrial Tones retain the atmospheric mood of the original but give the track a completely new dimension.

Although coming out over a year after Animal Collective’s enchanting Feels, three of the four songs featured on this EP, People, Tikwid and My Favorite Colors, were actually recorded during the same sessions. A slow-burning piece which builds up over its entire course, the title track shares more than a few common genes with songs like Banshee Beat or Loch Raven. Yet, as words are replaced with incantations and strummed drones seem to materialise, People recalls some of the band’s compositions circa Here Comes The Indian.

The short interlude My Favorite Colors further reinstates the Collective’s chanting tradition, proving that, despite investigating more accessible sonic terrains in recent years, the band have lost nothing of their boldness. In contrast, Tikwid is a much more upfront and openly happy song, with a short and snappy sparkling chorus while noises and samples constantly detract the mind from the piano and drums combination. The EP concludes with a live version of People, recorded in Boston during the band’s 2005 US tour.

While there is currently no information on a follow up to Feels and the forthcoming Panda Bear album is tentatively scheduled for winter 2007, the almost simultaneous arrival of these two EPs will undoubtedly be welcomed by fans. If neither Bro’s nor People depart radically from previous releases, the latter giving no real clue to which direction the band might be found digging their way next, they are both worthy addition to the Collective’s musical nebula.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The 2006 Review

1. JOANNA NEWSOM: Ys (Drag City)
This album sounds like nothing else. On Ys, Joanna Newsom lays her wandering folk songs onto lush orchestral backdrops. With Steve Albini recording, Van Dyke Parks arranging and Jim O’Rourke producing, she creates here a work of incredible substance and density.

Highlight: Only Skin
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Drag City

2. SVALASTOG: Woodwork (Rune Grammofon)
One half of Norwegian duo Information, Per Henrik Svalastog swaps electronics for acoustic instruments and creates an evocative soundtrack with strong folk overtones. Processed and assembled into beautiful sonic vignettes, this album, his second solo work, is impressionist music at its most compelling.

Highlight: Mouse Tracking
Review | Buy CD | Svalastog | Rune Grammofon

3. GEIR JENSSEN: Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings From Tibet (Ash International)
Geir Jenssen steps out of his Biosphere guise to present a realistic document of an expedition he joined in 2001 to climb Mount Cho Oyu, in the Himalayas, the sixth highest summit in the world. Field recordings collected throughout the ascension are assembled into an intimate and personal sonic diary, while the accompanying booklet gives an insight into the complete expedition.

Highlight: Palung: A Yak Caravan Is Coming
Review | Buy CD | Geir Jenssen/Biosphere | Ash International

4. CLARK: Body Riddle (Warp Records)
Now going under his sole surname, Clark came back fighting fit with his third album, his most accomplished to date. Gritty, greasy and textural, Body Riddle saw Clark assembling a string of unashamedly electronic compositions and affirm once and for all his place amongst Warp’s greats.

Highlight: Herzog
Review | Buy CD | Clark | Warp Records

5. VARIOUS: The World Is Gone (XL Recordings)
Mysterious duo Various emerged out of nowhere with a handful of intriguing EPs released between last year and this year, followed by this extremely convincing debut album. With elements of dubstep, electro, ambient, electronica and folk colliding all the way through, The World Is Gone was certainly a disconcerting record, but definitely one that continues to captivate.

Highlight: Hater
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Various | XL Recordings

6. THOMAS STRØNEN: Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon)
Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen took time off from his duties with Food, Humcrush and various other outfits to release his debut solo album. Pohlitz captured the imagination of many with its rich layers of sounds and textures and dense melodic patterns. .

Highlight: Heterogeneous Substances
Review | Buy CD | Thomas Strønen | Rune Grammofon

7. SVARTE GREINER: Knive (Type)
Svarte Greiner’s Knive could most definitely claim the title for darkest album of the year. There was very little of the soothing tones of Deaf Center, the band he usually officiates with on this stark collection. Instead, he exposed on his debut solo effort a series of dismembered soundscapes and broken ambiences which definitely put a chill in the air.

Highlight: Easy On The Bone
Buy CD | Buy LP | Type Records

8. MAX RICHTER: Songs From Before (Fat-Cat Records)
Contemporary composer Max Richter followed his hugely successful The Blue Notebooks with Songs From Before, a collection of pieces inspired by passing time, and sourced in music from various eras. The album features extracts of poems by Japanese author Haruki Murakami read by Robert Wyatt. Deeply moving and evocative record.

Highlight: Autumn Music 1
Review | Buy CD | Max Richter | Fat-Cat Records

9. COLLEEN & LES BOITES A MUSIQUES: Colleen & Les Boites A Musiques (The Leaf Label)
Last year, French radio station France Culture commissioned Colleen a series of compositions for their Radiophonic Workshop programme. She presented this collection based entirely on music boxes of all sizes. Sampled, treated and reassembled into thirteen ephemeral pieces, these compositions were a fascinating addition to Colleen’s already impressive discography.

Highlight: What Is A Componium Pt. 2
Review | Buy CD | Colleen | The Leaf Label

10. MOUNTAINS: Sewn (Apestaartje)
Brooklyn-based duo Mountains returned with the follow up to their 2005 eponymous debut. Made up of more compact and structured compositions, Sewn retained the pastoral mix of acoustic instrumentations and electronics of the pair’s first offering, but set within delicate pieces, these soundscapes took a totally different dimension.

Highlight: Bay
Review | Apestaartje

11. GRIZZLY BEAR: Yellow House (Warp Records)
With its multi-faceted psychedelic tones and its superb layered melodies, Yellow House was a triumphant follow up to last year’s lo-fi Horn Of Plenty. Now in full formation, Grizzly Bear hinted at anything and everything from the Beach Boys to early Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band. And, was there a more exhilarating song than Colorado all year?

Highlight: Colorado
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Gizzly Bear | Warp Records

12. BENOÎT PIOULARD: Précis (Kranky)
Last year, a very limited 7” single drew a lot of attention on Benoît Pioulard, AKA Thomas Meluch, a young musician from Ann Arbor, South Michigan. This year’s debut album, Précis, with its delicate scintillating melodies, acoustic motifs and treated textures, proved an even more substantial and enchanting offering.

Highlight: Needle And Thread
Review | Benoît Pioulard | Kranky

13. BURIAL: Burial (Hyperdub)
2006 was the year when dubstep was on all the lips and on all the playlists, and Burial was certainly at the forefront of the offensive with this self-titled debut album. The music ethic recalled that of early Photek with its clean cut grooves, sparse soundscapes and clinical sound treatments, yet there was a hell of a lot of life in there. This was the sound of the underground rising.

Highlight: Gutted
Buy CD | Hyperdub

14. VETIVER: To Find Me Gone (Fat-Cat Records)
Leading his band from gracious indie folksters to poetic acoustic pop without loosing an inch of credibility, Andy Cabic certainly hit the jackpot with this colourful selection of disarmingly simple gentle songs.

Highlight: You May Be Blue.
Review | Buy CD | Vetiver | Fat-Cat Records

15: NICO MUHLY: Speaks Volume (Bedroom Community)
Vermont-born composer Nico Muhly presented his first solo work following a string of collaborations with Philip Glass, Antony And The Johnsons and Björk. Making the most of rarefied instruments, Muhly’s take on chamber music gave this superb collection a truly modern feel.

Highlight: Honest Music
Buy CD | Nico Muhly | Bedroom Community

16. ADRIAN KLUMPES: Be Still (The Leaf Label)
Triosk Member Adrian Klumpes ventured on his own and presented his debut solo album, Be Still. Built entirely from one improvisation on the piano. Sliced, manipulated and reassembled into nine compositions, the original recording became dense and atmospheric in Klumpes’s hands.

Highlight: Unrest
Review | Buy CD | Adrian Klumpes | The Leaf Label

17. HUNTSVILLE: For The Middle Class (Rune Grammofon)
Norwegian trio Huntsville’s blend of improvised experimental jazz, noise and pop, sprinkled with flakes of country music is not only surprisingly accessible, but truly infectious.

Highlight: Add A Key Of Humanity
Review | Buy CD | Huntsville | Rune Grammofon

18. TIM HECKER: Harmony In Violet (Kranky)

With Harmony In Violet, his sixth album, Tim Hecker crafted an incredibly dense and layered organic textures with deep emotional scope as melodies drift in and out of the thick fog of treated noise.

Highlight: Dungeoneering
Buy CD | Tim Hecker | Kranky

19: JOHANN JOHANNSSON: IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual (4AD)
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s father was Iceland's chief maintenance engineer for the IBM 1401, the first affordable mass-produced home computer. He was also a keen musician and learned of a way to play music on the computer. With this album, Johannsson paid a moving tribute to his father and to the machine itself with orchestral swathes and discreet electronics.

Highlight: The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black
Buy CD | Johann Johannsson | 4AD

20: SQUAREPUSHER: Hello Everything (Warp Records)
Tom Jenkinson appeared all fresh and revived with this latest offering. While his trademark drum’n’bass was still shaking the very foundations of electronic music, Squarepusher turned his world on its head and collected here his most accessible piece of work to date.

Highlight: Planetarium
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Squarepusher | Warp Records


20 more albums, EPs, compilations and others things worth mentioning, in no particular order.

CALIKA: The Bright Spot (Benbecula Records)
GLIM: Aerial View Of Model (Karate Joe Records)
BROADCAST: The Future Crayon (Warp Records)
CONSOR: Mesantropia (Creaked Records)
MATMOS: The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast (Matador Records)
GESCOM: MiniDisc (OR)
OCHRE: Lemodie (Benbecula Records)
BATTLES: EP C / B EP (Warp Records)
TRIOSK: The Headlight Serenade (The Leaf Label)
SICKOAKS: Seawards (Type Recordings)

SOFALOFA: Melifluous (Bathysphere Recordings)
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG: 5:55 (Because Music)
VIZIER OF DAMASCUS: Badshadi (Rednetic Recordings)
RICHARD H. KIRK: Fear (No Evil) (Dust Science Recordings)
JIMMY EDGAR: Color Strip (Warp Records)
STEREOLAB: Fab Four Suture (Too Pure)
MARSHALL WATSON: Maths And Other Word Problems (Highpoint Lowlife)
EL PERRO DEL MAR: El Perro Del Mar (Memphies Industries)
ALOG: Islands Of Memory (Creaked Records)
KIERAN HEBDEN & STEVE REID: The Exchange Session Vol .1&2 (Domino Recording Co.)

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Comments moderation

I've decided to introduce comment moderation to keep track of comments posted on this blog. This means that your comments will not show up instantly, and I hope this will not deter you all from commenting on my posts as it is always good to know what your thoughts are.

WARP:2006 - What A Rapturous Party!

Warp have published the 2006 release summary I wrote for them. It is available on the Warp website as two pieces. The first one, reviewing their releases for the first part of the year, including Prefuse 73, Battles, Jimmy Edgar, Nightmares On Wax, Plaid and a few more, was published last week, and the second part, with bits on Broadcast, Grizzly Bear, Clark, The London Sinfonietta and the rest of the label's releases for this year, was published this week.

You can check the full article here:

Part one | Part two


Monday, December 18, 2006

GEIR JENSSEN: Cho Oyu 8201m (Ash International)

Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings From Tibet
Ash International 2006
12 Tracks. 48mins15secs

Buy it: CD
Biosphere | Ash International

Best known for his ambient work as Biosphere, Norwegian musician Geir Jenssen is also an accomplished mountaineer. In 2001, he took part, with five other climbers and a Sherpa, in an expedition to climb Mount Cho Oyo, the sixth highest summit in the world. Culminating at 8201m, the mount is situated on the border between Tibet and Nepal, a stone throw away from Mount Everest. This album and its accompanying booklet document the month-long expedition and give an insight into Jenssen’s state of mind during the trip. It also gives an idea of what mountaineers attempting such a journey are faced with, from freezing cold temperatures to altitude sickness and physical and mental pain.

Armed with a MiniDisc recorder, a microphone and a shortwave radio receiver, Jenssen collected field recordings through the whole ascension and they are presented here entirely in their naked form, documenting the journey from the moment the expedition crossed the border into Tibet to reaching the first base camp, various intermediate camps and finally the summit, thirty days later.

The recordings weave an intricate and, at times, oppressive, sonic web as the expedition progresses through the first stages of the ascent, ranging from urban noises and everyday life recorded in the last towns and villages crossed to herds in transit, music captured on the shortwave radio receiver, birds feeding, someone breathing through an oxygen mask and storms. As the expedition gets nearer to the goal, the accrued effort required due to the rarefied oxygen transpires through denser soundscapes and shorter selections, as if the simple fact of recording was progressively becoming too demanding.

While the recordings are stark testaments of the gruelling conditions faced by Jenssen and his companions, the accompanying essay, entitled Only Krishna & I, provides a much more personal and touching view on the expedition as Jenssen documents the journey, from the moment he finds an advert in a mountaineering magazine to being the only one, with his Sherpa, to reach the summit, to his return to Katmandu.

Click on the map for a bigger version. Map from

Geir Jenssen’s work has often been tightly connected with his environment, from the club slant of his debut album as Bleep to the subtle sounds of nature of Substrata to machinery noises on Polar Sequences, recorded with Higher Intelligence Angency's Bobby Bird. Here, he shows once again his ability at creating evocative sceneries from carefully selected and processed field recordings, but the purpose is entirely different. This album and the associated essay record a deeply personal journey, which undoubtedly has marked his work since, through the austere structures of Autour De La Lune or the richer soundscapes of last year’s magnificent Dropsonde, which was partly built around recordings made during this expedition. Here, Jenssen exposes his soul in a way he has never done before, and continues to charts ambient territories for others to colonise.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

HUNTSVILLE: For The Middle Class (Rune Grammofon)

For The Middle Class
Rune Grammofon 2006
04 Tracks. 50mins09secs

Buy it: CD
Huntsville | Rune Grammofon

Experimental country music, now that’s a concept that Norwegian trio Huntsville seem eager to stick their milk teeth into. Not that it represents the bulk of their debut album mind, but the band mention country music as being one of their many influences, and it certainly finds its way into Huntsville’s largely improvised compositions.

Formed by guitarist Ivar Grydeland, multi-instrumentist Tonny Kluften and percussionist Ingar Zach, who have been working together in a variety of outfits since 1998, including improv expanding ensemble No Spaghetti Edition, which they founded, and smaller formation HISS, Huntsville represents a shift from the demanding outputs of previous incarnations to much more refined and hypnotic playgrounds. For The Middle Class shows signs of a somewhat more traditional approach to composition, yet the two main pieces, The Appearance Of A Wise Child and Add A Key Of Humanity, develop from the excellent understanding that these three musicians have of each other.

The album opens on a series of white noise sequences which are progressively swallowed by growing cyclic rhythmic patterns and various interferences. As its hypnotic groove settles and its backdrop becomes less abrasive, The Appearance Of A Wise Child reveals a much warmer set of soundscapes upon which an acoustic guitar draws a hesitant melody. From there on, the piece takes on a slight tribal turn until it finally breaks up. Add A Key Of Humanity is much more melodic from the start. Although occasional coarse electric guitar distortions ripple out in the first section of the track, the mood is here somewhat peaceful and restrained. As the trio bring various elements in and build the runaway train rhythmic backbone of the track, it gains in strength and vivacity. Seven minutes in, making the most of a plateau of relative calm, Grydeland introduces a cyclical plucked banjo theme which sets the track on a completely different course. While Kluften establishes the groove on a tensed bass line in the background and improves the relief of the piece, the banjo becomes for a moment totally overwhelming and gives this track, and the album, a very distinctive flavour. Huntsville might still be miles from developing a form of experimental country music, but this certainly proves a curious and rather thrilling combination of sounds.

The two remaining pieces are much gentler and provide interesting counterpoints to these epic moments. Much shorter and entirely beat-less, Serious Like A Pope and the delightful Melon show Huntsville in a radically different light. On the former, the trio weave an intricate and dense soundscape from drones, electronics and a guitar, with just a sporadic bass marking a cautious beat, while on the latter, it is largely left to Grydeland to generate the haunting theme of the piece on his acoustic guitar. Only discreet layers of treated percussive noises and a monotone electric piano are brought in to bring some substance to this otherwise rather airy closing track.

While it is pretty obvious from the two substantial improvisations here that Huntsville can work from each other and build on their respective strength very well, For The Middle Class is a surprisingly accessible and melodic collection. The band experiment with various music forms in very effective and convincing fashion, making this album yet another flawless addition to the Rune Grammofon catalogue.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Drag City 2006
05 Tracks. 55mins41secs

Buy it: CD | LP
Drag City

No word can convey the emotional turmoil that Joanna Newsom’s Ys causes to this reviewer’s soul. Neither can words begin to do any justice to such a complex and tortuous piece of work. For her second album, Ms Newsom has seriously upped the stakes. Already, The Milk-Eyed Mender, released on Drag City over two years ago, demonstrated the extent of her story-telling talent and her musical capability. With Ys, she takes this to a completely new level and dares going where very few have gone before her.

A classically trained harpist, Joanna Newsom has, in recent years, been involved in a variety of projects, from playing keyboards with art rockers The Pleased to guesting for the likes of Smog, Cat Power, Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan or Will Oldham. Her solo work has however set her in a place all of her own. Newsom began singing almost by accident as she studied creative writing. Her unique, child-like voice proved something of an acquired taste, but it undoubtedly belonged with the delicate dreamy folk songs of The Milk-Eyed Mender, giving her work a truly individual identity.

On Ys, Joanna Newsom ditches traditional pop song structures for much more elaborate forms, sourcing strength in both classical and traditional folk music to allow for her tales to develop over several minutes. Freed from the confines of the classic verse/bridge/chorus form, Newsom creates here a world full of magic and wonders which continuously flourishes and expands as orchestral waves ebb and flow, at times washing over Newsom’s omnipresent harp, at others retiring into the most minute cracks. The songs were originally recorded by Steve Albini, with Newsom singing over skeletal versions of each piece. Van Dyke Parks then added orchestral swathes around voice and harp, creating the supporting structure for these songs to become epic wanderings, which were then brought to life by Jim O’Rourke.

Newsom’s voice has gained in maturity but looses nothing of its disarming innocence and charm. Here, it becomes a wonderfully adapted vehicle for her rich language and intricate melodies, painting vivid images of life and death through exquisite metaphors and harmonies. From the delicate arabesques of Emily and Sawdust And Diamonds to the vast expanses of Monkey And Bear, Only Skin and Cosmia, Newsom crafts some of the finest lyrics heard in recent years, building up her stories around impeccable rhymes, and drops them onto ever-changing melodies. Classical and folk structures are intricately assembled without ever conflicting. Harp, strings and woods wrap themselves around banjos, accordions and guitars, while the madrigal opening of Monkey And Bear, the constant time signature variations of Only Skin or the subtle melodic progression of Emily give each piece a particular depth and a unique tone.

While The Milk-Eyed Mender was often deceptively simple, Ys is majestic, openly complex and fascinating. Above all, it is an incredibly mature and honest piece of work. Already a timeless classic, Ys sounds like nothing else around and is likely to remain unique as it is set to leave a strong mark not only on Joanna Newsom’s burgeoning career, but on everyone it touches.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

SOLO ANDATA: Fyris Swan (Hefty Records)

Fyris Swan
Hefty Records 2006
10 Tracks. 62mins13secs

Buy it: CD
Solo Andata | Hefty Records

Electronic music was never meant to be warm and pastoral, but Solo Andata are the latest in a long list of musicians to use computers to do just that. Not that Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin, the men behind the project, limit themselves to artificial sound forms. Right from the moment they met, almost six years ago at the end of a gig in Perth, Australia, they opted for a much wider scope, involving the pair’s respective instrumental expertise. While Fiocco combines electronics with occasional drums and piano, Ikin, who has spent most of his formative years playing in a variety of bands, adds generous swathes of acoustic guitars. Since they formed, Fiocco has moved to Sweden, and the pair have been communicating and creating music using the Internet. It was therefore almost logical that they should choose to release their music on Chicago-based Hefty.

Fyris Swan is Solo Andata’s debut album and follows an iTurnes-exclusive EP published earlier this year. Feeding from a variety of genres, from folk to ambient to film music, Fiocco and Ikin blend them all into this distinctive series of compositions. At times using just the bare minimum in terms of sounds and melodies, while at others assembling more elaborated formations, Solo Andata craft wonderfully subtle, elegant and fragile instrumentals. Cinematic and pastoral, Fyris Swan is not without evoking the startlingly textural forms of Mountains’s Sewn, albeit developed over richer soundscapes.

The album opens with the gentle acoustic guitar swirls of Her Face As Soft As Sleep, upon which additional layers are applied over its course to give the piece a delightful sheen, which is found pretty much all the way through Fyris Swan. As the pair delve deeper into their atmospheric constructions, the mood settles, only disturbed by occasional blushes of ethereal jazz (Old City Crowd, Among The Olive Trees) or vaporous drones (A Ballet Of Hands). While the compositions often appear as if almost entirely static, Fiocco and Ikin develop melodic themes and musical structures over a whole track, making painfully slow but utterly satisfying progress as each element is brought in and carefully placed before another is being considered. This contributes to giving Fyris Swan its recurring cinematic feel. Solo Andata don’t look for instant ephemeral reward here. Instead, they are prepared to wait for their music to grow so as to achieve a much more sustained effect.

While there is no real narrative through the record, Fyris Swan doesn’t actually suffer from it as Solo Andata continuously refine their soundscapes and introduce new components to their music, allowing it to flourish in various ways all throughout, making this album a rather very convincing debut.

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