elevenshadows musicblog


music that makes my ears wiggle

---May 1999--


Air "Moon Safari" 1998 Source/Caroline
Recorded by Parisians Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, Air is, well, airy, and chockful of cool, lazy bass lines, Mini-moogs and other vintage analog synths, vocoders, rhodes, wurlitzers, and occasionally, airy female vocals by Beth Hirsch that are in both French and English. First, it was Autour De Lucie with their beautiful blend of tasteful guitars and lovely vocals, showing that the phrases "good" and "French pop" could be used in the same sentence. Now, with Air's "Moon Safari", we have what is a really pretty, wistful technopop album.

"Moon Safari" opens with the beautiful and groovy "La Femme D'Argent". Evoking a '60s/lounge sort of vibe, the song is driven along quite effectively by Godin's hepcat powerpop bass groove until anaesthetised moog solos and delayed organs swirl and fade with the song. Beth's vocals soar on "All I Need", buoyed by '70s string machines, acoustic guitars, Rhodes, and Wurlitzers. Very pretty. "Ce Matin La" has the distinction of having a wistful tuba solo before straying further into Euro-Muzak cheese.

Many of you may want to choose these songs for your requisite Panavision movie montage, replete with black turtlenecks and berets. As with pretty much all the songs, endless melodies begin where others leave off, creating a potpourri of vintage keyboard textures. Several times, Air even break out the vocoders and cheesy bass synths. Even with all the layering of textures, drum machines, bass, guitars, and other instruments, this debut release has a very floating, er, airy quality that is sneakily infectious.

---April 1999--

Kiln "Kiln" 1997 Room Tone/Kiln "Holo" 1998 Thalassa
Ambient music is among the more difficult sorts of music to attempt to describe. Nevertheless, here is a meager attempt. "Kiln" is not the blissed-out, "I'm-floating-on-a-cloud" sort of ambient. Kiln frequently use loops, be it drum machine or other sorts of loops, and vaguely unsettling keyboard textures, utilized frequently with drones. It's not particularly warm sounding, although it's hardly harsh or noisy, either. The drum rhythms stay far in the back while whooshing, slightly white-noisy, or other disquieting keyboard textures that are very long in duration appear. Kiln doesn't make music that is screwed-up, with lots of clicks, the way Oval or Dither does, nor do they create something that is blatantly analog sounding. It's digital-sounding, for the most part, but a rather interesting sort of digital. For those of you who like pretty, droney ambient-electronic music, this is worth seeking.

Kiln also have a newer release called "Holo", which has clean electric guitar arpeggios and drums, is more rhythmic, and in many respects is much prettier than "Kiln" ("Breezeplate" is particularly beautiful!), with its shimmering melodies and warmer textures. "Holo" doesn't really drone the way "Kiln" does, and quite honestly almost sounds like another musical group altogether. Yummy.

Email Kiln at:  neptune@rust.net


---March 1999--

One of my English friends has played percussion on stage with Gong, and has long been an admirer of their sound. He played an outstanding live album by Steve Hillage entitled "Live Herald" (Caroline), featuring recorded performances from 1977-78. I imagine that this would be categorized in the space rock/progressive rock genres. Whatever you want to pigeonhole it as, the performances are outstanding. I am especially taken with "Searching For the Spark", which starts out with spacy, repetitive analog synthesizer arpeggios, then suddenly launches into a quick, undulating drum and bass groove, then evolving into endless fascinating permutations rhythmically and texturally. It makes me think of The Orb's music played by virtuosic progressive rock musicians. It's stunning! The entire album is filled with very organic playing, but without excessive pretension or mindless noodling. It's really a breath of fresh air for me to listen to this. I have been playing this album constantly since I got it.

Then another one of my friends played Ornette Coleman "Free" for me, which was another mind-opening experience. I honestly don't feel qualified to review jazz records since I don't listen to a lot of jazz, which is why I usually don't. However, I know enough to know when something is truly good, and this is truly good. Sadly, I could not track down "Free", but I got a lot of the same songs by purchasing "The Shape of Jazz to Come" (Atlantic). The playing feels fresh and vibrant, and Ornette is joined by Don Cherry on cornet, Charlie Haden on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.

As a side note, I saw a Pharoah Sanders show at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood earlier this month, with Billy Higgins  playing drums. Passionate playing. The sheer joy of playing shows on his face.

Back to "Free"...especially with Coleman's and Cherry's solos, are beautifully fluid. It feels inspired, and it feels free. This was recorded in 1959, and at this time, Coleman's music was considered highly controversial. Even now, it feels somewhat different, but without any of the harshness that so-called experimental jazz often has. This is absolutely gorgeous stuff through and through.

My friend has been listening to African Head Charge for years. Why I didn't catch on to them before is beyond me, but nevertheless, I'm glad that I yanked this from his collection and listened to it. Two compilations, "Great Vintage" Volume 1 and Volume 2 have these incredibly infectious, groovy dub bass lines. Sounds, such as stringed instruments, voices, percussion instruments, and percussive sounds fed through delays float in and out of the primarily instrumental mixes. This is one of those things that is almost impossible to stop from swaying to. Almost every time I play either volume, someone stops, smiles, and asks who it is. Brilliant stuff. Both albums are on U-Sound and were produced by Adrian Sherwood.

Speaking of dub, there's Lee "Scratch" Perry "Arkology" (Island) 3-CD boxed set with its large booklet and almost equally groovy dub bass lines. What is especially interesting about this boxed set to me is that it includes many of the remixes and other artists that he worked with, and not only himself. The songs from this collection are all from 1975-1979, recorded in his Black Ark studio in what many people feel was his most creative period (according to the booklet). The first disc is quite raw in sound quality, with the two subsequent discs sounding a little more fleshed out. The compilation includes his production work and creative input with The Upsetters, Max Romeo, Jah Lion, Errol Walker, and others, as well as his own work. The grooves, like the African Head Charge stuff, are deliciously infectious. The difference to me is that the African Head Charge, besides not usually having vocals, is more experimental and textural, and that's one of the primary reasons why I personally would gravitate towards that instead of the Perry stuff. However, this is a really great collection just the same, and highlights the work of a producer who has made a huge impact on dub, reggae, ambient, house, and rap.

Throbbing Gristle's music was also introduced to me by an older friend quite some time ago by playing "Hamburger Lady". This particular release, "The Second Report of Throbbing Gristle" (CD) on Mute Records is raw, consisting of recordings from live performances, many of which were initially recorded on cassette. Perhaps due to the rawness, I actually like the sounds and textures more than on studio releases such as "Twenty Jazz Funk Greats", although that's a cool release as well. The release consists of minimalist waves oft factory humming type sounds, oddly distorted synthesizers, voices, distorted electric guitar (usually of the odd-noise variety) and miscellaneous electronic noises. It's not cacophonous, but rather, more droney.  Except for "United", there really are very few rhythmic beats on this release.  This is an interesting glimpse at music that predates the term "industrial", and along with Psychic TV, largely shaped what was to become "industrial music". Very cool.

Thomas Ferella and Kevin Schaefer "Effigy" self-produced (CD)
Improvisational ambient/experimental music recorded live to two-track. This is not static ambient music, but instead something that continually evolves, with new sounds drifting in and out regularly. Much of the music tends to be a bit moody. The instrumentation includes not only keyboards, but also various percussion, samples, flutes, Tibetan bowls, mbira, guitar, clarinet, and saxophone. Much of the improvisations are based on electronic drones, although a tambura is employed.

"Drumlin" uses a single-note bass pulse and eerie keyboards. Still other songs have more "whooshy" digital-sounding keyboards providing the colors over the drone. In "Tension Zone", a very spare, percussive keyboard (with many of the notes pitch-bent, warbling with delay thrown on it) repeats over and over about halfway about two and a half minutes into the song. Still another song uses some field recordings of cars honking fed through a delay while a large-sounding keyboard with a tone reminding me of a Tibetan horn hits occasionally. Some of the brass-sounding percussion, such as the bells and cymbals, can almost be alarming in their suddenness and directness, but is still in keeping with the mood set by the improvisations. This music is more interesting than most ambient music, and I believe that this is due to the constantly evolving textures and the complexity and organic quality of the sounds. 



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