Summing up a palpable zeitgeist, J M S Khosah & JR Chaparro limn the feeling of ‘Global Paranoia’ on NCA’s latest killer tape...
For 60 minutes, the pair mulch a wealth of salvaged samples and original material into a groggy trip that keeps on keeping on, but with an ever looming sensation of impending fu**ry around the corner.
Smudged drum machines, electronics, hip hop instrumentals and fizzing deep house cuts are punctuated with sawn off samples likely culled from TV, radio and net Tubes, resulting a frayed patchwork of anachronisms that suggest a time out of joint, haunted by its past, and realising itself in a world of Orwellian surveillance and double speak. And that would all be really bloody depressing and reduce us to torpor if cats like Khosah and Chaparro couldn’t make us dance and chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all.
Joanna Newsom's new triple-album, defies the notion of fast-turnaround appraisals. Apart from sheer abundance of music here, it's also very dense and scrupulously laboured over, not only by Newsom herself but a select band of fellow musicians and arrangers - not to mention ace mixing engineers Jim O'Rourke, and Noah Georgeson (best known for his work with Devendra Banhart).
The end result is like a classic, old-fashioned album in the finest, richest sense. And in triplicate. After the ornate majesty of Ys (a mere double-album), you might expect a record of even larger proportions to pursue similarly baroque themes and concerns, and yet for much of the time 'Have One On Me' is a more approachable work, featuring shorter, more pared down pieces in addition to complex orchestral concoctions like the resplendent 'In California'. Georgeson's recordings of Newsom's harp are preposterously lovely, capturing her art at its most intimate on '81' and 'Jackrabbits', during which she performs solo to heart-rending effect, her voice sounding stronger and far more mature than on anything she's done previously.
The untamed, childlike quality that ran through The Milk Eyed Mender has transformed into something far wiser and more collected for this album - a factor that only heightens the authority and intelligence of the 28 year-old Californian's songwriting. In musical terms, the level of her accomplishment as a composer and instrumentalist is strikingly evident throughout her discography, but lyrically, Newsom's hugely impressive on this album. Ys charted the ascent of a truly great writer in-the-making but was, perhaps, occasionally excessive in its various whimsies and flirtations with fanciful anachronisms. Here Newsom is on startling form, lacing her achingly lovely narrative pieces with various lines that invite the inference of allusion to her break-up with fellow songwriter Bill Callahan. More intriguing still is the possibility of a furtive Will Oldham reference during 'Go Long': "There's a man/Who only will speak in code/Backing slowly, slowly down the road/May he master everything/That such men may know/About Loving, and then letting go" - a verse that seems to paraphrase three separate Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album titles.
Incidentally, 'Go Long' is a fairly special piece all-round, uniting Newsom's harp with kora and Bulgarian tambura for an otherworldly confluence of strings from various musical cultures. Regardless of its magnitude, and despite all of its complexities, this epic three-part undertaking shouldn't be thought of as unwieldy or intimidating prospect for a listener - far from it: scarcely has such an expansive record felt so welcoming and conducive to repeat listens. With this album Newsom sheds genre concerns (no more talk of 'freak-folk', please) and becomes a truly stellar writer of songs, continuing to forge a path that's very much of her own making whilst occasionally still acknowledging a debt to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Judee Sill (whose work springs to mind during the remarkable 'Good Intentions Paving Company'). A magnificent record that really shouldn't be missed.
Having long operated in orbit of the Cotton Goods label and it's constellation of related artists and labels, Thomas Shrubsole dilates definitions of his music with a sprawling solo debut of improvisations under his own name after years trading under various guises and in groups with Craig Tattersall (The Boats), and Jonny Russell (The Dissolving Orchestra). Highly Recommended if yr into Vincent Gallo, Moondog, Derek Bailey...
Coining his Parenthetical Activities label with ‘Themes and Variations’, Shrubsole reveals a series of acoustic snapshots recorded between 2011-2013. They range from Moondog to Sun Ra-esque jazz strains and Derek Bailey-ish free expressions, perpetually daring to intuitively head off on tangents and unafraid to challenge the listener to follow him, but only ever with a curious sense of playfulness, and not experimental obnoxiousness for the sake of it.
The majority of the set is given to works over 10 minutes in length (the album runs over 2hrs total), with each presented as-is and effectively capturing his mind in quiet flight from the charmingly glassy tinkle of ‘Instant Ellipsis’ to most barely-there, lower case gestures in ‘Jewels Of Obliquity’, remaining porous to all manner of freeness in ’Spectral Interior’ and the nerve-tickling dissonance of ‘Prismatic Obscurity’ in a softly uncompromising manner that’s going to win him new followers on top of anyone into his earlier, mostly field recording efforts.
RIYL Henry Caravan, Moondog, Sun Ra
Utilising the virtuoso talents of string arranger Van Dyke Parks (best known for arranging and co-writing Brian Wilson's 'Smile') for an album that's timeless and totally unique.
"The peculiar title, pronounced 'Ees' gives us some insight into the musician's mindset - apparently the title comes from a mythical French city built below sea level. The legend goes that the city was one of the most beautiful in the world, and due to the people's decadence the city was flooded and lost forever confining it to Chinese whispers, folk songs and poems. What better way to herald in an album dipped in fantasy and mysticism, and I'm not trying to say the album is jokingly old-world, rather her oblique and sometimes absurd lyrical content has never sounded so fitting when framed in this way. From the gold leaf coated pages on the cd booklet to the medieval-style cover painting which seems full of hidden signs and ambiguity, every part of the record is there for a reason.
The journey begins with 'Emily', a song dedicated to Newsom's sister (who guests on vocal harmonies) and we're already in simply heartbreaking territory with Van Dyke Parks' string arrangements making their first grandiose appearance. I'm in no doubt that this overblown, sometimes musical-like quality will polarise listeners but for me it makes perfect use of Newsom's ethereal vocal quality and her assured touch on the harp. The songs are now fully three dimensional and go through distinct movements using strange hooks which grab hold of you with both hands, refusing to let go. For me, the album's focal point comes on the earth-shatteringly good 'Only Skin'; a sixteen minute blockbuster containing more emotion and bravery than most artists will manage in a lifetime.
As Newsom takes us through happiness, sadness, sweetness and darkness the track begins again mid-way through helped along by current squeeze Bill Callaghan (of Smog) who lends his distinctive and masculine tones to the piece. It is one of those moments when you think a song couldn't get any better - and then, shockingly it does. Albums like this come along only so very rarely, give it time and space and trust me, you won't be able to leave it far from earshot for long."
Following a couple of sought-after EP's and repeated biggups from the Prince Billy himself Will Oldham, Joanna Newsom finally delivers her debut album for the Drag City imprint.
The lyrics are of much interest here, eccentric, playful and charming, weaving a sort of childrens story complete with a folk-infused childish vocal delivery that doesn't quite reflect the wisdom of the stories hidden within. Nice to come across a record that looks at the more deranged possibilities of Americana without seeming pretentious or contrived.
Panatype’s 4th physical release is an absorbing suite of electronica uniquely gelling ideas from 4th world ambience, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality in four lushly detailed scenes
Conceived in pursuit of an aesthetic that seeks to “blur the line between field recordings and synthesis in order to render invented and impossible landscapes”, Puech’s first release for Panatype extends an immersive invitation to his singular, simulated dimensions.
Using mostly modular synth, coupled with self-built devices, Puech plots out his imaginary world in electronic filigree. Blended with inspiration from the overgrowing chaos and mathematic logic of nature in a similar way to the Transflora project, his works are self-contained environments that could be considered different aspects of the same, alternate world.
As with nature, Puech’s music can veer from modest beauty to barely controlled attacks on the senses, with his favoured, extended palette of machines enabling him to emulate the complex sounds of animals, albeit mutant ones that you may expect to be limned by Ballard or Google dream, especially when it all comes together in the side-long title track.