Empire of Signs present the premiere compilation of dreamy work by Masahiro Sugaya, an unsung mainstay of Japan’s ambient environmental music or kankyō ongaku scene in the ‘80s.
“Almost completely unknown in the west, Masahiro Sugaya has been composing and producing music since the 1980s in an exceptionally wide range of fields and practices. From arrangements for musical acts like the acoustic guitar duo Gontiti to acousmatic diffusion at spaces like Paris’s Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), Sugaya's reach is almost exhaustive in its breadth, but it was in the 80s bubble-era kankyō ongaku scene that he first found his musical voice. Horizon, Volume 1 presents a window into these works, culled from Sugaya’s early scores for experimental Tokyo theatre group Pappa Tarahumura.
As a teenager, Sugaya would visit the avant garde hub of record/book shop Art Vivant run by Satoshi Ashikawa of Sound Process, guided by Ashikawa’s recommendations into the worlds of experimental composition, jazz and ethnographic music. It was there he also met musician Yoshio Ojima—the two would become close friends and contemporaries, working within a circle of Tokyo musicians that also included Midori Takada, Hiroshi Yoshimura and Satsuki Shibano. Ojima, an early adopter of new musical technology, would introduce Sugaya to the possibilities of composing with computers, synthesizers and samplers, which would become a trademark in Sugaya's early works. Surprisingly, the sound sources on Horizon are entirely digital, showcasing Sugaya’s ability to organically recreate complex musicianship approaches via keyboard using hyper-realistic samples. Much like Ojima and Yoshimura’s work, the results eschew electronic music’s usual coldness for something more warm and inviting, the feeling of a human in deep conversation with technology.
Flourishing within the boom of experimental theatre subsidized by corporations during the bubble economy, Pappa Tarahumura forged a unique dream-like style that merged performance art, modern dance and fantastical installation-like stage sets. Sugaya fashioned multiple soundtracks for their productions in collaboration with director Hiroshi Koike, the first two of which, The Pocket Of Fever (熱の風景) and Music From Alejo (アレッホ - 風を讃えるために), he self-released in 1987 on cassette, handing them out at Tarahumara performances. The third, The Long Living Things (Zoo Of The Sea) (海の動物園) followed in 1988 as a CD on Yukio Kojima’s ALM records. Aside from his brief inclusion on Light in the Attic’s Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 (compiled by Empire of Signs’ Spencer Doran), Horizon presents this work outside of Japan for the first time.”
130 year old Tchaikovsky chorales are rendered sublime and ghostly by Craig Tattersall & Emmanuel Witzhum, aka E And I, on a hauntingly gorgeous 2nd release for Letra Rec - the label set up by Craig and The Boats’ Andy Hargreaves for “closer listening.” A big look for fans of Stars of The Lid, Pinkcourtesyphone or William Basinski.
Proceeding in stately fashion from Kira Kira’s mantric soundscapes, Letra Rec’s 2nd CD lives up to the label’s aim to “allow listeners to fully immerse themselves in the music” with an unbroken 43’ piece that draws you in and holds you there for what feels like eons. Using techniques transposed from print and copy making (a speciality of Craig Tattersall), the duo subtly create a facsimile of Tchaikovsky’s Nine Sacred Pieces - a series of choral works written between 1884-1885 - which they treat to create a gauzy sense of detachment between the religious connotations of the source material and the music’s elemental, emotive pull, in the process effectively resulting a collection of songs that are the same but new, dreamily different.
While neither half of Tattersall and Witzhum can actually sing (or in a way that you’d want to hear at least), it’s fair to say that their musical voices and thoughts are conveyed thru the music, and in a way that resonates richly with their slow-cooked and secular, spiritualist worldview. They achieved this effect thru handling the original choral voices, in their own words “…like an audio photocopy working with only contrast and zoom.” With a little bit of maths, digital editing and analogue tape work, they were able to open acres of billowing space where their own presence manifests as the decaying ephemera of time, metaphorically suggesting the haunting quantum effect of being at once within, yet detached, from the music, and by turns applying that effect to the listener, who may well be transported to an out of body experience.
Classy debut album of ephemeral ambient-pop and groggy rhythms from SSIEGE, an Italian producer lending his romantic touch to Andy Lyster’s ace YOUTH label. Recommended listening if yr into 1991, Casino Vs Japan, Lorenzo Senni, Black Zone Myth Chant, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Adding a snugly seasonal vibe to YOUTH following their cranky and cinematic turns by FUMU, Hoshina Anniversary and L. Lund in recent months, SSIEGE explores an endearingly warm and melodic style of electronica to soundtrack transitions from summer to autumn.. For anyone who picked up on SSIEGE’s vinyl outings for Rome’s La Beauté Du Négatif, it’s nice to hear him expand those styles into more expressive, weightless zones on the longer format release.
Crafted for an end-to-end listen, rather than a collection of DJ cuts, the album flows with an enchanted/enchanting quality from the plucked pointillism of ‘Turbe In Sviluppo (version)’ to the weepy, 1991-esque gauze of ‘Miss You’, taking in the vulnerable peal of ‘A Man’ alongside what sounds like The Cure jangling with Black Zone Myth Chant on ‘Angelo Azzurro’, and some deft yet detached drum machine workouts in the noirish junglism ‘Chromatic’ and the listing ambient breaks of ‘Swan’.’ However the best parts are those ambient bridges that join it all together, as with the puckered introspection of ‘Biscotti 180’, the angelic coos of ‘Regina’, or the seductive iridescence of works such as ‘Boxe’ and ‘Delete Instagram.’
“Tokyo Stories” captures Francesco Tristano’s deeply held admiration for the city in 15 original compositions for piano, synthesizers and electronics.
"The album reflects his long personal connection to Tokyo, with each piece or ‘story’ crystallizing experiences that range from the profound to the happily serendipitous.
Composed by Tristano and recorded primarily in Tokyo, the album features a variety of guest artists on several tracks, including the Japanese musicians U-zhaan, Keiichiro Shibuya and Hiroshi Watanabe, Argentine electronic artist Guti and legendary French musician Michel Portal."
Angel Bat Dawid is an enigma; her debut album 'The Oracle’ (released earlier this year on tape) is a total anomaly. Dawid recorded, overdubbed and mixed the album on her own after a brain tumor diagnosis disrupted her music studies, she plays every instrument you hear (except for some drums), appears on the cover and produced every flawless twist and turn you’ll find inside. 'The Oracle’ is basically a head-slapping, tear-jerking introduction to the spiritual jazz cosmos of an artist who has become one of Chicago’s most revered and ubiquitous players in recent years, beckoning classic comparisons with everyone from Sun Ra to Nina Simone, or Matana Roberts to Moor Mother in the modern day, but ultimately revealing her own path with shockingly natural ease.
From the opening bars of ‘The Oracle’ it quickly becomes apparent something special is about to happen, and that feeling burns until the end of the LP. Variously designated as “celestial psalms, spiritual jazz experiments & homemade hymns” on the obi strip, Angel is truly channelling something from above and beyond in her incredibly earthy but skyward style.
One gets the feeling that music comes as naturally as breathing to Angel. So it makes sense that she favours singing and playing the clarinet, but that’s only half of the story to ‘The Oracle.’ Apart from the sizzling drums on ‘Cape Town’, Angel remarkably plays all other instruments on the record, as well as overdubbing and mixing everything by herself, too (not to mention appearing on the front cover), which is a rare proposition in many musical fields, not to mention free jazz, which often favours recording engineers and post-production to “get it right.” Safe to say that Angel gets it more “right” than most thanks to her proximity and ease with the material, and the way she ultimately conveys her experience with an unbroken sense of urgency and concentration.
From the quizzical melodies and effected vocals that flow out of ‘Destination (Dr. Yusef Lateef)’ to the incredible catharsis felt at the close of ‘Cape Town’, and cemented in her subsequent closer ‘The Oracle’, the album leaves us ragged and with a lump-in-the-throat, with thanks to the rarely paralleled conviction and utter freeness of her playing and arrangement. Frankly, fans of everything from John and Alice Coltrane to Ornate Coleman, thru the South African styles of Ndikho Xhaba & The Natives and up to Matana Roberts are bound to be bowled over by the ancient but timeless emotive clout of Angel’s solo debut. Incredible.
First released in 1984, Osondi Owendi is a cucumber-cool highlife album that was instantly received as Osadebe’s magnum opus, the crowning event of an exalted career stretching back to the early years of highlife’s emergence as Nigeria’s predominant popular music.
"Stephen Osadebe first appeared on the music scene in 1958 as a spry, twenty-two year-old vocalist in the Empire Rhythm Skies Orchestra, directed by bandleader Steven Amechi. With his dapper suits, urbane Nat King Cole-influenced vocal stylings and jaunty, uptempo, calypso-scented dance tunes, he personified the frisky spirit and anxious aspirations of a young, educated generation that had come of age in the wake of the Second World War, in a Nigeria that was rapidly shaking off British colonization and marching towards an independent future. 1959 would be the year that he truly made his mark in the business with his debut solo single “Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment.” A giddy exhortation of the music, sex, fun and freedom availed by life in the big city, the song became a sensation and an anthem, and Stephen Osadebe became the leader of his own popular dance band, the Nigerian Sound Makers.
Osadebe would ride this wave of acclaim through most of the nineteen sixties, but a change in direction would be called for at the dawn of the seventies. As Nigeria emerged from a devastating civil war, so did a new generation of youth inspired by rock and funk, confrontational sounds reflective of a more violent, less idealistic era. All of the sudden, the idioms of the post-WWII dance orchestras that nurtured Osadebe’s cohort seemed quaint, the stuff of nostalgia. Osadebe needed to evolve to respond to the new tumultuous, turned-up times. His response? He cooled it down."
‘Somebody’s Knocking’ is the eleventh album from Mark Lanegan. The album pulsates with energy echoing the punch of Eighties garage metallers Raw Power and the sweep of brooding atmosphere concreted by late Joy Division.
"With his love for electronic dance dating back his youth, tracks on ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ act as a callback to these days whilst simultaneousl signifying a definitive shift in his sensibilities and very approach to songwriting. It’s unsurprising then that ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ was cowritten by Rob Marshall - of Exit Calm and collaborator on 2017’s Gargoyle - alongside Martin Jenkins of electronica project Pye Corner Audio.
In Lanegan’s own words, he approached working with the two “from the perspective of a fan.” This is unsurprising; Lanegan’s love for European dance music even led to Jenkins contributing album remixes for both 2015’s ‘A Thousand Miles Of Midnight’ and 2017’s ‘Still Life With Roses’, Pye Corner once again proving to be the perfect foil for Lanegan’s more overtly electronica infused approach. Mostly recorded in LA over an eleven-day session, ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ is a shift in perspective for Lanegan, showcasing his maturing approach to songwriting and remaining instinctive, elusive and unflinchingly honest."
Russian-style bass music from Champion Sound on Leipzig’s Defrostatica label, including remixes by Nmesh and Sun People
Featuring a vocal by Kingston, JA’s Hawkeye, ’Ghetto Youth’ comes off like a dubstep tune that just woke in a panic from a K-hole in 2009; ‘Talk’ follows on an Eski-meets-footwork tip; Nmesh provides a skittish halfstep rework of ‘Ghetto Youth’, and Austria’s Sun People spank ‘Talk’ with a ghettotech D&B spoon.
The artist behind The Boats, Tape Loop Orchestra, and The Misty’s entwines his myriad pursuits in a haunting book of found images and two-word poems, plus a 39 minute swell of spectral music featuring vocals by Beth Roberts.
With ’Concrete Handbag’ Andrew Hargreaves effectively distills his various artistic interests into a form of fictive memory that will appear differently to each participant or listener. Presenting a range of found images, recombinant wordplay, concrete poetry, music and field recordings that will be familiar to listeners in some ways if you’ve followed any of his projects over the years, he creates a mazy soundsphere of suggestive cues pulled from the mists of non-time and intended to jog the user’s memory to make new connections between the images and sound, and in turn create their own form of a third narrative or fictitious memory bank.
Acknowledging the formation of memory as fluid, permeable, and ever in flux, his series of prompts reach back to early ideals of recorded music as a portal to bygone dimensions in a way that echoes Marconi’s own attempts to ultimately divine Christ via residual, entropic traces of sounds that never actually die, but just keep fading out. While Hargreaves isn’t really bothered about listening to the big man, he is intent on getting you to listen outside yourself, to have an empathy for voices in the ether, and his beautifully evocative series of cues, both visual and aural, are bound to gently colour the imagination and conjure hidden meanings and connotations with each and every recipient.
This is Clipping’s transmutation of horrorcore, a purposefully absurdist sub-genre that flourished in the mid-90s.
"If some of its most notable pioneers included Brotha Lynch Hung and Gravediggaz, it also encompasses seminal works from the Geto Boys, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and the near-entirety of classic Memphis cassette tape rap. The most subversive and experimental rap has often presented itself as an “alternative” to conventional sounds, but Clipping respectfully warp them into new constellations. There Existed an Addiction to Blood absorbs the hyper-violent horror tropes of the Murder Dog era, but re-imagines them in a new light: still darkly-tinted and somber, but in a weirder and more vivid hue. The album contains interludes with hissing recordings of demonic invasions, and guest appearances from Griselda Gang’s Benny the Butcher and Hypnotize Minds horror queen La Chat.
Other tracks feature contributions from noise music legends The Rita and Pedestrian Deposit. It all ends with “Piano Burning,” a performance of a piece written by the avant-garde composer Annea Lockwood. Yes, it is the sound of a piano burning. There Existed an Addiction to Blood fits neatly into the broader scope of the band’s career, which has seen them expand from insular experimentalists into globally recognized artists. Since the release of their first album in 2013, Diggs has won a Tony and a Grammy (both for his acting/rapping work as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton), as well as co-written and starred in 2018’s critically hailed Blindspotting, while Snipes and Hutson have scored numerous films and television shows. Clipping’s last album, the 2016 afro-futurist dystopian space opus Splendor & Misery was recently named one of Pitchfork’s Best Industrial Albums of All-Time.
Commissioned for an episode of This American Life, their 2017 single “The Deep” became the inspiration for a novel of the same name, written by Rivers Solomon and published by Saga Press. But their latest masterwork embodies what the band had been building towards — a work that finds them without peer. This is experimental hip-hop built to bang in a post-apocalyptic club bursting with radiation. It’s horrorcore that soaks up past blood and replants it into a different organism, undead but dangerously alive. It is a new sun, blindingly bright and built to burn your retinas."
Bill MacKay is back to harmonic atom-splitting with all six of his guitar strings in this new collaboration with cellist Katinka Kleijn, ‘STIR’.
"Bill is an avid collaborator (see ‘SpiderBeetleBee’, with Ryley Walker) and over the past seven years he and Katinka have used live performance to build their chemistry into a surprising, organic density, with sharply-etched colours drawn from avant-rock, folk, jazz classical and experimental music. It is at once an unlikely and perfect pairing as both musicians are known not only for their chops but for their creativity, curiosity and range.
Together they form a fluid, intuitive, dialogical and improvisational pair. ‘STIR’ is centred on a series of MacKay’s compositions, partially inspired by Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf. You can try following along with the book but don’t expect any ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’/‘Wizard Of Oz’-type moments. This is a concept unhindered by the conceptual but it has a beautiful through-line to its organization. The repetition and expansion of themes borrows from the chamber music world, while the distortions, free play and edge of much of the work clearly draws from the duo’s friends in noise and the avantgarde. Were Jim Hendrix, Henry Flynt, John Cage, PJ Harvey, Duke Ellington, Eric Satie or Body/Head to appear in your mind as this disc was spun in your house - no one would less than inspired. Bill MacKay is a guitarist-composer-songwriter who has vitalized the experimental rock, avant and folk scenes for over a decade.
He gre up in Pittsburgh and has made Chicago home since 1998. Katinka Kleijn is cellist and veteran of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and International Contemporary Ensemble among many other groups. She hails from The Netherland and has lived in Chicago since 1995. Both musicians have appeared as guests on numerous records andtour domestically and internationally, when they are not playing concerts in Chicago. ‘STIR’ is their first full-length record together. All music is arranged by MacKay and Kleijn."
Mosca unbuckles the dancehall thru a wicked modular prism on his shockout debut for Fluf
One of the UK’s unique dancefloor experimenters since his tempo shifting debut for Nightslugs in 2010, Mosca really pushes the envelope of his sound in mad ways with ‘Touchie Riddim’, seemingly spinning the dance in a haywire gyroscope to the nuttiest ends.
If The Sprawl and Tapes hotbed the studio, the result may sound a bit like the decimated Pt.1, while Pt. 2 sound like Russell Haswell going in with Joachim Nordwall as The iDEALIST, Pt. 3 resonates like a Chernobyl bashment, and Pt. 4 attempts to scrape out both your bassbins and your skull.
The Twilight Sad’s ‘Òran Mór Session’: a collection of reworked, stripped-back versions of tracks from the album, B-sides and a cover of Arthur Russell’s ‘I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face’. Now repressed on white vinyl.
"Recorded upstairs at Glasgow’s Òran Mór, a popular arts and entertainment spot in the west of the city, we see the skeletons of the songs that comprised the bulk of ‘Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’ presented as they were initially composed: stark, unadorned and with their melodies laid open and their meanings made clear; a chance to hear another side to the band’s repertoire but also to revisit what made the originals so special in the first place."
Elena Colombi’s Osarè! Editions kicks off with a batch of gunky machine offbeats by US/Lithuanian duo Free Range - a strong look for fans of Beau Wanzer, early Powell, Tolouse Low Trax, Trevor Jackson.
Trading in 6 stripes of bilgy pump, blunted vocals and discordant klang, ‘King Of Snake’ cranks into action as the first example of of Elena’s curatorial skills, tying up her various disciplines as a daring NTS radio host/DJ/digger and art designer in one canny package.
Leading on from Free Range’s turns with 2MR, Pinkman and Night People, they come into their own with a set of coruscating, cranky rhythm mechanisms riddled with oddball spirit. They barely get out of first gear in the groggy slump of ‘Home Security System’, but more nimbly find their feet in murky alien steppers styles on ‘Relax It’s Just Eggs’, while the quagmire swag of ‘Washing Machine Speaking’ conveys a mistrust of modern technology. ‘Toyota Mirror’ follows a grubbing acidic hunch for slow, pendulous dance moves into the possessed psych churn of ‘Translucent Ashtray’ and ‘Trip To Nairobi’ wraps it up with a wickedly soggy slug no dissimilar to Nate Young’s trip metal rollers.