December 10, 2003  



Dear Friends:
It's unbelievable that 2003 is drawing to a close and this will most likely be the last regular Update for the year. Next week we'll be e-mailing our second annual Year End Recap which features Other Music's choices for 2003's most essential albums and reissues. Because of the amount of releases covered in the list, we'll be sending this out in text format so that it will take up less space in your e-mail in-box and be easier to print out. Also, in the coming weeks keep a look out for our annual staff top 10s and a list of Other Music's top sellers for 2003.





Matthew Dear
Keren Ann
Pop Ambient 2004 (Various)
The L.A. Carnival
Faun Fables
Goodbye, Babylon (Box Set)
Regina Spektor

Sufjan Stevens
Hualampong-riddim Comps (Thailand Pop)
Futon (CD Single)
The National
A Secret History (Various Artists)
Interpol EP




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Leave Luck To Heaven
(Spectral Sound)

"Dog Days"
"Huffing Stuff"

Matthew Dear is definitely one of the most prolific artists in the micro house genre, this year alone releasing records on Plus 8 as False, Jabberjaw on Perlon, and 2 EPs on Ghostly/Spectral. Now the man brings us the first full-length under his proper name and it is a stunning cut-up tech house album to end this amazing year in electronic music. "Leave Luck to Heaven" definitely shares the same musical territory as Akufen, Herbert, Soft Pink Truth, and many of the artists on the Perlon label. His beats are diced, chopped and spliced every which way, all the while a 4/4 backbeat holds the rhythm as funky basslines weave throughout, and with vocals that are sometimes dark in an indie rock style, and at other times light and fun sounding like Prince. Dear's long anticipated album is gothic tech-house (if that makes any sense). It's kind of like if you took Colder's dark vocals and Akufen's tech house beats, threw them in a blender, out would come "Leave Luck to Heaven". If you are a fan of any of the aforementioned artists or labels, then pick this up; you will not be disappointed. [JS]







Not Going Anywhere

"Not Going Anywhere"
"Road Bin"

French singer/songwriter Keren Ann takes a giant step towards international recognition for the recently roiling musical talent emanating from Paris with her first album recorded in (perfect) English. Along with Benjamin Biolay (who's 2003 double album "Negatif" was one of this year's most beautiful efforts), Coralie Clément, and Thomas Fersen, Keren Ann has been on the forefront of the French musical talent wave infusing Gainsbourg-era chanson, with American folk and country stylings to create a hybrid genre that easily rivals much of the best contemporary American and English folk/pop output. With a simultaneously wispy and textured delicate voice, Ann's soft melancholia is powerful in its simplicity and easily evokes Joni Mitchell, Vashti Bunyan, Rickie Lee Jones or even Stina Nordenstam. Loping melodies (many co-written by Biolay), folk guitars and slight string sections weave elegant story songs, and cast a shimmering bittersweet folk beauty that deftly combines European and American folk and pop traditions and heralds a giant new talent. [MC]








Various Artists

"Audrey" Ulf Lohmann
"Damit Du Endlich Weisst" Markus Guentner

Yesssssssss! My favorite time of year has arrived and the fourth annual installment of Kompakt's "Pop Ambient" compilation series finally graces my CD player. Freed from the almighty 4/4 beat, the artists are left to roam the ambient universe to open the doors marked "Somewhere Else." All of the artists here do this through their own unique interpretations of what a pop song can be.

Perhaps no one on the enormous Kompakt roster embodies this more than Ulf Lohmann, Mr. Pop Ambient himself. His latest, ''Audrey" is his most sumptuous track ever, the most stunning on this comp, and screams for new adjectives to be created, for ''gorgeous'' and ''beautiful'' just don't do it justice. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Setting the mood for "2004" is Klimek, with a cosmic, spacious guitar-suspended-in-time piece called "Standing on a Beach (Gun in my Hand Mix)." Nope, not a Cure cover of "Killing an Arab." Dazzling, regardless. All's "Logopedie 99" is an older track culled from the last entry of the hard to find (Kompakt sub-label) Kriesel 7'' series. I had hoped for a new "Alltag" (cause last year's "Alltag 5" was, um... groundbreaking and insanely good!!), but this one, an ethereal, shimmering cymbal/synth/feedback drone, works perfectly in the scheme of things here.

Representing New Zealand is newcomer Andrew Thomas, and he's the missing link between Erik Satie and Dettinger. His two tracks are taken from his brand new debut, the awesome "Fearsome Jewel," and showcase his tickling, tinkling piano gestures submerged in soft, slightly-off beats, all lusciously dipped in reverb. Another newcomer is Japan's Pass Into Silence, and his sweet lullaby "Sakura" will only whet appetites for more from him in the future (and if I am not mistaken, he'll have a full-length come springtime on Kompakt). In my opinion, the best solo work Jorg Burger has ever done is under his Triola alias, especially on this PopAm contribution (see the wonderful waltz "Ral").

PopAm veteran Markus Guentner's ''Damit Du Endlich Weisst,....'' is anchored by a creeping, dark bass line and his trademark hazy minor key synth. It took me a minute to realize that there's a beat, barely there and super slow, and it changed the whole song for me. It also made me realize once again just how good this guy is. In fact, all these dudes craft sonic treasures of such beauty, that to dismiss Ambient Music as some hokey New Age thing would be a crime, really. (Hey, I've seen people cringe from the word "ambient"... oh well, they're missing out!)

Ireland's Donnacha Costello ends the affair with an inspired, 12-minute track of guitar melancholia that becomes entirely swallowed by a lambent glow of amplifier hum and tape hiss. Sigh. What did I do once it was all over? Well, I just played it again, and again, and again. Heavenly, amazing, and obviously recommended. [DD]







Would Like To Pose a Question
(Now-Again/Stones Throw)


The fine folks at Stones Throw have given us another "shoulda-been-classic" unreleased recording. This one tells the story of the funkiest band the Cornhusker state probably ever produced... and it ain't Bright Eyes. The L.A. Carnival (L.A. being the initials of the drummer/leader Lester Abrams) was a multi-racial hard funk band from the early '70s that hailed from Omaha. Their sound, attitude and line-up mirrored that of Sly & The Family Stone -- ferocious rock-inspired funk drumming, spirited accented horn lines, and socially conscious lyrics that expressed more of a need for respect for your brother man than any sort of "black & proud" defiance.

One of the things that made this band so special was the intense urgency and fire that they played with. On songs such as "Blind Man" and "Color," the band is playing so hard and heavy, it's almost overwhelming; but then the most sublime three part vocal part comes in and soothes it... like if the Impressions sang "Get into it, Get involved" with the J.B's.

Their chief songwriter (Lester Abrams) was also bi-racial, and within his lyrics you hear tales of frustration and sadness about growing up that way in a highly segregated Midwest town in the '60s. But what also shines through is the hope he still carries inside, and the joy in finding a way to express these feelings through music. This band only put out one highly collectible vanity single 35 years ago, and this album has never seen the light of day, until now. This record is truly, truly a joy to listen to, and it makes me proud to be a Nebraskan! [DH]







Rises and Falls


This has been an outstanding year for the Brooklyn label/collective Apestaartje. They released two fantastic full-lengths from Minamo and Anderegg (who lends his talents on two of these tracks), both albums that melded digital and acoustic methods of composing and recording with satisfyingly high results. This streak continues with the release of Aero's second album "Rises and Falls." (Aero is incidentally none other than Other Music's Koen Holtkamp.) Being a fan of his solid debut "Pretend," I can see the growth of his musical palette, and confidence.

"Rises," the opener, begins with a banjo riff (!?) that would make ol' Buell Kazee proud. Moments later, a woven radiance appears out from nowhere in the form of glowing tones, joining the banjo in a harmonious swirl of stunningly emotive melody that gradually gains volume while the banjo fades, to become a hovering mini-epic that literally dropped my jaw. There are many moments like this in here. "Falls" is a continuation, a variation on the opening theme, albeit with a slightly different hue. Eventually, Aero decays the melody until all that is left is another spectral, seductive drone. So, so good. And throughout, while the melodies are warm and soulful, they are always unfolding in unexpected ways -- one of the charms of "Rises and Falls."

This is not to say that everything on this gem is all about the floating tone. The tactile, silt-like textures of the movements in tracks like "Rinse" and "Coast" (how apropos for both, those titles!), nicely complement the compelling beauty of the dense swells of sound that permeate the album, and lends a wider range to the overall flow. Also, the short and sweet "Float" reminds me of something off Nuno Canavarro's "Plux Quba"(an all-time favorite of mine!). Hmmm... an homage, maybe?

The coda "After" introduces the album's only rhythms, appearing in the form of clipped chime-y tones, and it works very well, adding yet another dimension. I mean, you can tell he didn't just put them in there "just to have some rhythm", they are welcome, and belong there as one part of the whole. Another strength here is that the main themes of each piece work in that way. "Rises and Falls" is quite an achievement, an intimate, special acoustic/electronic record filled with affecting moods and subtle nuances, and that over repeated listens, still continues to reveal new treasures within it. Outstanding. [DD]







Mother Twilight

"Travelle Returning"
"Catch Me"

" When things are too spelled out, they become limited, dead almost. Better to sense something happening to you and you don't know why -- it's fresh that way instead of dogmatic."
-Dawn McCarthy

Dawn McCarthy is Faun Fables (with help from Nils Frykdahl). This record, recorded in 2000, is the musical result of a solo excursion she took through Europe in 1997. It is more of an investigation of consciousness than an album. Like the above quote from Dawn the Faun, the record is more of an experience. The songs have structure; in fact each one is like a poem or short story. However, the execution is very non-linear and maybe only one track sports verse-chorus-verse.

McCarthy's voice is deeply penetrating and at times sounds like a bizarre instrument -- think a folkier Maja Ratjke. All manner of actual instruments are employed from acoustic/electric guitar to piccolo and auto harp, even a broom. "Mother Twilight" is exceptionally creative and thought provoking, without ever sounding pretentious, self-indulgent or over intellectualized. She is not trying to make any statements, just creating. The results are like a first crush, beautiful and terrifying. There are definite scary parts, but somehow you are never left in the darkness, just led through it.

Here is a list of some things she sings of: Moonlight, lightning, shadows, dusk, unstable minds, lonely days, travels, madness. This is a list of words, (think "sound association") I came up with whilst I listened: Schizophrenic pagan priestess, midnight creatures, screeching banshees, lunar lullabies, Black Sabbath, Vashti Bunyan's spooky little sister, mountainside theatrics. [NL]







Various Artists - Box Set

"Lift Him Up That's All" Washingon Phillips
"The Bible's Right" Sister O.M. Terrell

Yeesh, just as you're finally starting to get a handle on the sheer expansiveness of Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" and Revenant's exquisite Charley Patton box set, along comes "Goodbye, Babylon," a lovingly crafted vessel that explores the hidden corners of American gospel song. The folks at Dust-to-Digital have ably picked up the gauntlet that the aforementioned releases threw down, and what they've come up with is a revelation (pardon the pun).

Gospel's influence on popular music is often taken for granted, or at best regarded as a poorly misunderstood byline of more popular country and blues styles. Frankly, a lot of the sounds on here won't be all that unfamiliar to anyone with a passing interest in old timey blues and country. But, I believe that what fuels many peoples' apprehension about gospel music is the ecstatic fervor with which these performers can lay their souls bare. In our new rational age, modern listeners can find this somewhat embarrassing or uncouth. But for those adventurous listeners looking to find the so-called "old, weird America", "Goodbye, Babylon" valiantly succeeds in placing gospel into a proper context -- one that doesn't shy away from the bizarre and dark places in religion, nor the spiritual heights that seem so concrete through the guidance of these often joyful performances.

The songs are rockin' (Sister O.M. Terrell), as sparse and pure as the holy ghost (Blind Willie Johnson), or as bright and chiming as what I'm sure will greet us all at the pearly gates (Washington Phillips). The tracks presented on five CDs are from 1902 to 1960, the sixth disc is composed of sermons (far more interesting than you'd think, this certainly isn't Sunday school). Packaged in a cedar box and encased in cotton with a 200 page book with copious illustrations and photographs. Destined to win design awards everywhere! Awe inspiring to say the least. [MK]







Soviet Kitsch
(Shoplifter Records)

"Ode To Divorce"

Regina Spektor's story thus far is the sort that bedroom rock-star dreams are made of, a story of talent and dreams triumphing in the crooked business we call "music," or something like that. Regina is a young Russian émigré living in the Bronx, a classically trained pianist and vocalist who turned her talents to pop music, writing and recording emotional original songs without connections to any scene.

She met up with NYC percussionist/producer Alan Bezozi, who brought in a few ringers on the recordings they worked on, including Jane Scarpantoni on cello, Oren Bloedow on guitar, and Strokes producer Gordon Raphael at the boards. Raphael played the tapes for Julian Casablancas and the band, and Spektor has spent the last several months touring the world playing arenas opening for both the Strokes and the Kings Of Leon. And this with just a website and a few self-released tracks.

Upon first listen, Scott said she sounded like Chan Marshall doing "Annie", and I still think that's the best description. At their core, these are quiet, sad, songs about rejection, love, lust, sickness and health, and divorce, with lots of evocative poetic imagery to roll around your mind. But Spektor's personality is slightly larger-than-life (hopefully enabling her to connect with the giant rooms she has been performing in of late), and she uses her classical background to full effect, amping up the emotion and dynamics, drawing out emotional silence, gently pumping her piano and nearly holding her breath as she breathes loneliness, before she snarls with pain.

"Cat Power On Broadway," Bright Eyes meets Tori Amos, Spektor has made a genuine and personal album primed for the bright lights and big stages. "Soviet Kitsch" was pressed in limited numbers to sell on her impromptu world tour, while supplies last available here exclusively. [JM]







Greetings From Michigan
(Asthmatic Kitty)

"Say Yes! To M!ch!gan"
"Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head"

I don't know if it is coincidence or what, but you know when some people say they have their favorite state-people like "Everyone I meet from Florida I like," or "People from North Carolina are always great"? Well mine happens to be Michigan. Never have I heard such a great homage to a state than Sufjan Stevens' "Greetings From Michigan." Although this record was released in July it just goes to show you, even the smallest of artists/labels, if they are as brilliant as this record, then they will show up all over the map slowly but surely.

Stevens wrote, produced, and played almost all of the instruments on this record, and instruments there are many. From spare, acoustic ballads using just trumpet and piano, to layer upon layer of xylophone, flute, oboe, electric organ, and banjo to name a few, all to create the most beautiful textures of this landscape, or should I say soundtrack. Members of the Danielson Family, who are fellow labelmates, also offer backing vocals.

Stevens has achieved in capturing the dignified grace of the American human existence that is the history of Michigan. Within the folds of this map, Stevens offers his memories allowing us to believe that we are the sum of our circumstances in the most earnest way. And in case you were wondering, my other favorite states people are people from New Jersey. But until I find a decent homage to the Garden State, I'll be listening to "Greetings From Michigan" [LM]




Simple Mornings


Sweet Afternoons



Extraordinary Evenings

Various (Hualampong-riddim)
The Photo Sticker Machine
Various (Hualampong-riddim)
Day Tripper
Various (Hualampong-riddim)
Hualampong Remix

We're excited to introduce a series from the Hualampong-riddim label, a record company based in Bangkok, Thailand, featuring a small but diverse range of music from Thai artists. Made up of three volumes, "Simple Mornings", "Sweet Afternoons" and "Extraordinary Evenings," the compilations provide a rewarding listen to Southeast Asia's interpretations of Western pop, quite often produced with the similar creative zest which can be heard in the music of Japanese acts like Cubsimo Graphico or Neil and Iraiza.

The dynamic of each installation reflects the mood of the day, "Simple Mornings" kicking the series off with a quiet variety of tracks. We're introduced to bands like the electro-lounge duo Photo Sticker Machine, the Bowie meets early-Radiohead sounds of Day Tripper as well as Skalaxy, which features label co-founder Narkarin on the guitar.

"Sweet Afternoons" picks up the pace with bossa-lounge driven dance cuts taken from the "Hualampong Remix" album as well as more rocking numbers from the artists featured on "Simple Mornings." Like a lot of the acts on Tokyo's Escalator roster, many of the tracks blend acoustic jazz guitars over light electronics and whimsical pop melodies. Skalaxy, who are reputed to be Thailand's first ska-rock band, turn out some of the most interesting songs on this volume, mixing traditional Eastern melodies over horns and hints of Jamaican influence.

"Extraordinary Evenings" is the most playful of the three volumes -- Photo Sticker Machine contribute two cuts, both songs blending Swedish pop and electronic-lounge reminiscent of Fantastic Plastic Machine and even Dimitri From Paris. The compilation includes a few tracks of Day Tripper's catchy British influenced rock as well as some Thai disco cuts also culled from the label's remix album.

Fans of J-Pop and Shibuya-Kei will love the sugary melodies and fresh take on pop music that the Hualampong-riddim's series offers here. We hope to carry full-lengths from several of the musicians featured in the series in the future, so keep an eye out for these up-and-coming Thai artists. [GH]







I Wanna Be Your Dog - CD Single

"I Wanna Be Your Dog (Donna the Dog Mix)"

Futon are promising to be Thailand's biggest music export in the coming months. Birthed from the scene of a very popular Bangkok-based electro party which the quartet started, the electro-punk band have a number one radio hit in Thailand and are receiving heavy airplay on several Singapore stations with their bi-lingual remake of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The band is made up of an international bunch, David and Bee Futon both being British ex-pats while singer Momo Futon is Japanese, and Gene Futon being the only member born in Thailand. The single, taken from their upcoming album "Never Mind the Botox… Here's Futon" is a glammy electro stomper that would probably fill the dance floor at any given night in Williamsburg. There are two alternate versions including a Moroder-esque synth pulse driven take that I actually prefer over the radio edit. "Bangkok Chemist" is sung in English, with a sassy shout-out to diet pills. Fun stuff! [GH]







Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers

"Cardinal Song"

With their sophomore release, Brooklyn's the National have created a subtle, haunting and accomplished record with real depth, full of passion and poetic melancholy. Matt Berninger's swooning baritone is the centerpiece here, and coupled with his slightly morbid, evocative poetry of failed relationships and lonely hearts it is hard not to think of the Tindersticks or Leonard Cohen. But despite the fine string orchestrations, swelling organ, reverb guitar wash and dynamic percussion, the band is also not afraid to intensify and accelerates beyond the relaxed pace of either of those artists at times, and they have several moods they show us within the 12 great tracks. Their gutsier numbers can recall Wilco, Interpol (whose producer Peter Katis worked on the album), or evoke classic '80s-era melancholia like Echo And The Bunnymen, or Joy Division. But the National have proven on this album that they are a band that is much more than a collection of influences; this is the work of a group of excellent musicians who have created a wonderfully produced, dynamic album that could be a sleeper hit on college radio and should turn up on a pile of top10 lists both this year and next. [JM]








There are certainly aspects of this 2-DVD, 1-CD release that truly are momentous, and others that, while probably essential, are also essentially extraneous. The participating members in, say, the newish documentary stuff (including the sadly departed Karoli), absolutely constitute the musical cabinet of planet Can, and they do get their pieces in, yet there is the little matter of the missing, superb vocalists of both prime-eras. Particularly Damo Suzuki, given his own remaining relatively active musically, would seem too obvious an omission to just shrug off, but that's what the recent footage and music basically attempts to do. I don't know what the situation is really but come on.

The very good news is that "Free Concert," from Cologne in 1972, is now on DVD. This is one of my very favorite films of the '70s, up there with Scorsese or whoever. Seriously. There's no doing anything when watching it except to tend to your dropped jaw. The TV performance footage which dots the also previously released and largely excellent documentary on DVD no.2 is as well full-on freakout material. When I watched this with a fellow Can fiend the other day we actually giggled in conspiratorial delight. Damo may well be the coolest person to have walked the Earth, and Can the greatest group (not "rock" group though, as Irmin Scmidt helpfully points out), and here's the now VISUAL evidence. [DHo]







Various / New Religion Presents

"Hypnotic Tango" My Mine
"Problemes D'amour" Alexander Robotnik

Like most good compilations, there's the wonderfully recognizable and the obscure all in one place. "A Secret History" compiles the '80s electronic dance floor goodies you've no doubt heard and maybe even waved your arms and shuffled your feet to, but somehow it ultimately got lost in the whitewash of '80s revival.

The secret of that era's staying power lies in all the different explorations of electronic music. With more than just with new wave's synth product, the '80s allowed artists like Alexander Robotnik, Ryuichi Sakamoto and even Paul McCartney to tinker around with sounds to make you move, albeit rigidly. Most songs here have an Italo-Disco flavor -- a taste much like disco, but hold grandiose production and overbearing melody, keep the cheese, and top with a spice that brings out the beat. On songs like Robotnik's "Problemes D'Amour" and Sakamoto's "Riot in Lagos" this recipe is measured perfectly. As a result, some modern techno can be culled from this dish.

Other songs like the comp fave "Peut Etre…Pas" from Liasions Dangereuses even hint of an even more paired down music from the '80s -- no wave. The folks at New Religion were certainly not out to make a trendy DJ mix as the inclusion Throbbing Gristle's minimally generated "Hot On the Heels of Love" attests. So "A Secret History" is for those curious about Italo-Disco and the almost forgotten origins of modern dance floor trax. You will definitely keep coming back to this one. [LG]







Black EP

"Say Hello To the Angels"

Interpol's "Black EP" is definitely geared towards their legion of diehard fans. Kicking off with the album version of "Say Hello To the Angels," the second track is a demo version of "NYC," slightly slower in tempo and more jangly and melancholy than the original. (This demo version also appears on the "Say Hello" single.) The last four cuts are taken from a live studio performance on French radio's Black Sessions. Aside from recording quality and audience applause, the arrangements don't stray too far from the official versions of "Obstacle 1", "Leif Erikson" and "PDA" found on "Turn On the Bright Lights." The inclusion of the non-album cut "Specialist" will make this a worthy purchase for the fans. The song begins with a dubby bassline but transforms itself into a track that qualifies the oft but overused Joy Division comparisons, especially with singer Paul Banks' tightly wound vocal performance. The "Black EP" is by no means a necessary purchase for casual fans, but diehards will love the rawness of these live recordings that lend an even moodier air of detachment to the group's brooding sound. [GH]




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