June 23 , 2004  




Kompakt 100 (Various Artists)
Black Dice
Oren Ambarchi

Mark Hollis


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Badly Drawn Boy
Children of Mu (Various Artists)
Pan American

Tilly & the Wall







Various Artists

"Zu Dicht Dran"

You can stop holding your breath; the Kompakt 100 compilation is here and it is SUPERB. The concept alone is mouth-watering: TWO CDs worth of Kompakt artists picking their favorite track from Kompakt's back catalogue and REMIXING it. It is amazing that so many CLASSIC tracks (many/mostly personal favorites represented here) are remixed in a way that simultaneously displays love (like serious, hardcore, Grandma-style home cooking) for the track as well as a desire to "do it one better," either by turning it beautifully inside out, making a stomper into a German house jam, and/or adding the most beautiful atonal drone in the background.

These guys worked the F*CK out of these tracks!! (Examples: Mayer's "17 & 4" remixed by J. Speith, two tracks from Dettinger's classic Intershop LP remixed by J. Bering and U. Lohmann, R.Voigt's "Zu Dicht Dran" remixed by Koze, Mayer's "Pensum" remixed by M.Guentner, Schaeben/Voss' ''World is Crazy" remixed by J. Paape, and especially R. Voigt's KILLER "Closer Musik" MEGAMIX!! Totally sick!). I haven't heard remixes done this lovingly in a looooooooong time.

Total (no pun) respect is ricocheting all the way through this one. The lasting quality of the Kompakt back-catalogue and the current quality of their stable is showcased heavily on this one. Oh, I almost forgot, this one is full of the CLASSIC Kompakt sound -- the sound that turned me on to this label in the first place!! My (somewhat wavering) faith in minimal techno was restored immediately upon first listen!!

That is all good enough for me, but besides redefining classics, this compilation has also managed to take tracks that I've been lukewarm about, or ALMOST loved, and turned them into full on JAMS. Justus Kohncke's "Weiche Zaune" remixed by the Modernist is a Kompakt Pop JAM. Ulf Lohmann's "Because Before" remixed by the Orb = Gorgeous! Superpitcher's "Tomorrow" remixed by Kaito and also Scsi-9… How did they do that!? Thank you Kompakt for making my day and not letting me down! This one is definitely in my top 10 of the year. Beyond recommended. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have a little something stuck in my eye. (Sniff, sniff…) [SM]







$14.99 LP


Creature Comforts

"Night Flight"

With each new release Black Dice somehow defy listener preconceptions and elude any easy comparisons. Creature Comforts continues this forward progression by sidestepping the swelling linear structures that were so beautifully explored on Beaches & Canyons. Utilizing either a newfound flexibility afforded by the improved recording technology or maybe just attaining a greater compositional maturity, these songs are even more complex and multi-latticed than ever before. The ragged edges of the once unbridled noise are still celebrated but now carefully compressed into raw thickets of burnt synapse and whimsy. It is an unexpected dose of conventional guitar playing that I believe could be the focal point that will draw you in.

It's probably not a stretch to conclude that the process in which the artwork/packaging was created could in someway be a reflection of how they write their songs. Cut and paste collage work tangles the analog within the digital, the obsolete shares signal pathways with the state-of-the-art, and suddenly the familiar is irreparably mixed with the frightening. These distorted -- yet strangely epicurean -- frequencies and loops are then subjected to often extreme processing where the maelstroms of texture are bounced right to left and back again. Provocative and uncompromising yet more playful than previous works, Creature Comforts succeeds because Black Dice have thankfully insisted on doing things their own way.

I feel obligated to trot out some obscure comparison but whatever I could come up with would ultimately do very little to describe this album. Aptly titled, Creature Comforts is unique and enjoyable. This is music that you don't need to think about and sincerity seems to have steered it clear from any pretentious or elitist baggage. The influence of Black Dice has served as a creative challenge for many of us and I believe that this new album is essential. If you have enjoyed any of their previous releases or even the recent work of their friends/followers (Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, Excepter, Sightings...) then you must pick this one up. [AG]







A Ghost is Born

"At Least That's What You Said"

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"

If I write this review do I have to choose sides? If you believe everything people tell you, Jeff Tweedy and Co. are without a doubt one of the greatest, most startlingly original, inspirational, honest, overrated, mediocre, lazy and dull bands alive. Is it possible to be brilliantly boring? Well if anyone can do it, Wilco can!!! Oh, sorry for the snide rock-criticism-criticism. I know, get to the point.

The point is that Wilco are back for the follow-up to their breakthrough 2002 smash hit Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Without stagnating, in many ways A Ghost Is Born is a similar record to that album, featuring a similar line-up of musicians (a small surprise for a band that has continually evolved since the breakup of Uncle Tupelo), including your favorite stuffed bunny producing (and performing on nearly every track), Jim O'Rourke. The band has fallen into an interesting niche, not foregoing their country-rock roots, but also unafraid of dissonance and other distinctly different sounds.

At the core, Tweedy's songs are plain and moody singer-songwriter excursions, and although they are often a little light on the catchy choruses, he still calls to mind classics like Nilsson or David Crosby. But the curve ball Wilco so effortlessly lobs at us comes in the secret little pockets hidden in nearly every song; you only need to listen to the first minute or so of the first track ("At Least That's What You Said") for a glimpse of their trickery. The gentle piano chords and Tweedy's melancholy vocals (and lovely poetry) are interrupted first by a distorted yet melodic guitar scratch, which is soon overwhelmed by the discordant crash of the band battling for airspace, as the lovely ballad becomes a battle, between soaring melody and leaden bombast, judged at the end to be an even tie.

And thus the grudge match begins, between Tweedy's sweet sad melodies, and the band's inspired left-turns and sharp edges. From laid-back country, to percolating pop, to the Neu-ish (Kraftwerkian?) chug-chug of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", complete with circular grooves and off-balance guitar freakout, Wilco has again managed to construct a coherent and moving album out of their many and varied musical passions. And I'm steadfastly refusing to love 'em or hate 'em, but instead am quite content to like them a lot. [JM]






Grapes From the Estate

"Remedios the Beauty"

After several releases as the drummer for the somewhat infamous Australian free noise combo Phlegm, and a duo release with drummer Robbie Avenaim on Tzadik in 1999 as a part of their Radical Jewish Culture series, Oren Ambarchi (apparently inspired by the Mego crew as well as Morton Feldman and Alvin Lucier) began experimenting with the electric guitar extending its tonal possibilities via a vast array of pedals and other electronics. These beginnings led to Insulation, his first solo release for the Touch label in 1999. A modest effort, its densely layered drones only hinted at the carefully sculpted sounds to come but exposed him to a new audience and a new host of collaborators including Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, and more recently Johan Berthling. It was not until his second full-length Suspension (2001) that Ambarchi fully began to define his overall sound. An unmistakably monolithic gesture towards blurring the lines between movement and stasis, Suspension defined a new kind of ambience that had more to do with presence and gradual shifting melodic patterns than the more detail oriented allusions of his previous solo full-length.

Grapes From the Estate continues where Suspension left off. The first track, "Corkscrew" slowly layers short electric guitar loops to haunting effect, a fitting introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the pieces to build off of. And building is in some respects the direction that Ambarchi's latest installment focuses on. Adding organ, drums, piano, tuned bells, percussion and strings to his already dense compositions, Ambarchi slowly weaves each layer into the mix. Shifting from moments of pure sound to almost song-like structures, Grapes From the Estate excels at pulling the listener in and rewards with subtle arrangements and melodic percussive textures. While this juxtaposition may seem to be jarring on paper, Ambarchi lets each sound evolve in such a gradual manner that nothing sounds out of place or forced. An intimate and personal document of one the more singularly focused voices in the contemporary experimental scene. Highly recommended. [KH]








"Memoria (Sutekh's Triagion Mix)"

In 2002, Fernando Corona's debut as Murcof marked a major stylistic departure from his previous project, and Martes was hailed as a favorite of the year by many electronic music fans. As Terrestre, he had displayed a funky fusion of electronic and traditional music of his homeland, and received acclaim as a part of Tijuana's Nortec Collective. But as Murcof, Corona made a surprising change exchanging booty-shaking Tech-Mex for a more minimal direction merging modern classical and compositional elements with organic, atmospheric electronic soundscapes.

The Leaf label has just released an essential collection of the Mexican producer's more recent Murcof tracks, culling together two magnificent 12" singles -- 2003's "Ulysses" and this year's "Utopia" -- with exclusive new songs and also featuring a varied roster of re-mixers. The almost 76-minute collection begins with a flurry of strings; with its subtle orchestration and slow electronic swells, album opener "Ulysses" could have been part of a dark soundtrack for a Stanley Kubrick film. Later, Helge Sten's Deathprod remix gives the track a deeper, more ominous tone with a spacious wash of sounds, while the Fax rework (first heard on the "Utopia" 12") adds a pulse of clicks and cuts.

Each re-mixer puts their unique stamp to Murcof's organic compositions, from Jan Jelinek's grainy gurgles to Icarus' digital glitches and backwards manipulations of a piano. (Both producers rework the "Maiz" track.) Colleen creates a haunting ambience in "Muim" as the washed-out crescendos of strings and piano are stretched into minimal pulses of sounds that almost seem to breathe, while Sutekh's reworking of "Memoria (also featured on the "Utopia" 12") is an indescribable collage of organic tones and skittering techstep. Of course, the two exclusive Murcof tracks, "Una" and "Ultimatum," prove Corona to be a master of creating cinematic electronica. During the latter, the factory-like churn of electronic beats further magnifies the almost silent spaces between the piano and strings. Quiet and often disquieting, there's plenty of room for your imagination to take hold. [GH]







Worn Copy

"Trepanated Earth"

Ariel Pink is a one-man dervish of quizzical knack. He refers to himself as an "entrepreneur," and he writes heartfelt secret classics apparently automatically. The new wolfking of LA? A more useful analogue might be Lindsey Buckingham.

Lindsey Buckingham is due for strong critical reassessment any day now. But speak nothing of this most disdainful current ideal of a Global Chillout Elite... O' that which has latterly appeared to have taken command, in various forms, among proud cosmopolitans everywhere. People who are in turn so proudly enervated by Wider Indie's relaying of queasily monochrome and suburban overtones, not to mention consequent (to them) lamer and lamer ethical imprecations. For we are made to wonder in the course of observing their quite dressed-up and oppositional antics whether such forms (there are others) of comfortable balkanization are going to be these days really constituting viable keys to an aesthetic unlocking so much as they are just going to resemble yet another form of rather haughtily looking askance at profound, and admittedly utterly craven, stigmas of present-day Capital Letter Rock.

In therefore taking account of Rock's apparent irrevocable status as pop yardstick, based on the evidence before us everyday of a surprising, adaptable function, as tool to even measure one thing or other AGAINST, it would seem that the terms-meeting songwriting nous of a champion like Buckingham is what the true order of the day might very well entail. Note to anarchists et al: this proposed "meeting of terms" would certainly be required in any successful dislodging of its perceived hegemony, natch.

In the meantime we have Ariel Pink('s Haunted Graffiti). Parentheses mine. To hear something such as this record, Worn Copy (and there are more on the way), which conflates a hazy acknowledgment of almost zero commercial potential with razor-sharp, absolute fidelity to an idea of at least some, has come as a shock to me. I had no belief that anyone out there had cared to even try it, frankly. It is brilliant! The baseline eight-track fog regularly subsides, in places, to such electrifying apparitions of only the greatest of West Coast would-be anthems, and ones typically pasted with some freeform chugging and then finally consumed by their own intuition. It is truly emotional to experience their potential being fairly tossed away for yet another baffling segue (and probably great skeletal instance of unconscious recognition thus rendered by song right around the corner). [DHo]





$28.99 CD
UK Import


One Plus One Is One
(Twisted Nerve / XL)

"One Plus One Is One"
"Easy Love"

Badly Drawn Boy (known to his mum as Damon Gough) has weathered the ups and downs of incredible hype -- Mercury Prize-winning debut; the much ballyhooed soundtrack for About a Boy, the second film adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel -- and emerged making the records, the gorgeous, studied, melodious records, that he'd probably have been making anyway. After spending time in L.A. recording About a Boy and Have You Fed the Fish?, a glossier, more deliberately produced disc, Gough retreated home to North England to make One Plus One Is One with Andy Votel, his early collaborator, his co-founder in the Twisted Nerve label.

The album is at once increasingly intimate and more expansive. Little here will surprise Gough's fans. His voice remains Lennonesque and his lyrics echo the beloved Beatle's effusive positivism on the title track, a swirling mini-symphony ("Please give me some peace," Gough implores). The Nick Drake/Elliott Smith influence in his acoustic guitar picking surfaces most apparently on the dreamy "Easy Love." The shuffling "Four Leaf Clover" suggests his jaunty About a Boy tunes, even romping through different segments in a soundtracky way. Even more redolent of his big-screen work is the instrumental, piano-based "Stockport," which'll have you squinting at the credits to rule out Vince Guaraldi as a contributor.

But it's his modest glories that first won fans for the ski cap-clad wunderkind, and their crushes will undoubtedly be rekindled here. There's the soaring chamber pop of "The Year of the Rat" and the eight-minute album closer "Holy Grail," both of which employ a children's chorus in a totally uncloying way. The demo-like "Life Turned Upside Down" is the flipside to the coin, a stripped-down affair with some playful production tweaks on Gough's vocals. Sometimes just being yourself sounds pretty damned good. [LV]







Autour de la Lune


On first listen, you probably wouldn't guess that the new album by electronic artist Geir Jenssen (a/k/a Biosphere) was composed entirely using source material from a 1960s French radio dramatization of Jules Verne's From The Earth To The Moon. Like his fellow Norwegian Helge Sten (Deathprod, Supersilent), Biosphere makes droning ambient electronic music that is deep, dark, and huge. While you might not recognize more than a few snippets of the story's dialogue buried behind the album's thick and ominous soundscapes, the music definitely evokes the loss through tragedy of an age-old romantic fantasy of space flight. One can imagine the sustained roar of burning rockets, the rumbling of a spacecraft escaping from the Earth's atmosphere, and the terrifying silence of outer space. Pretty intense stuff. [RH]







Various Artists
(Planet Mu)

"Homewerk" Luke Vibert
"Kahknkunt" Datach'i

Featuring two CDs with 26 tracks in all, Children of Mu is the perfect reminder of just how prolific Planet Mu really is. The liner notes acknowledge this by chronologically listing all 90 of the label's releases, which only go as far back as six or so years. Prolific indeed. Diverse is another word that is certainly reinforced with this collection. There's a lot of electronic territory covered, from Luke Vibert's spacey, break filled funk to Chevron's hyper-dub'ed "Swimmin' Lessons" to the improvisational techniques of Urban Myth and Steve Beresford to the hard drum 'n' bass of Datach'i to the noise assault of Japan's Guilty Connector. There are plenty of other Mu "children" featured on this disc including Patrick Wolf, Hrvatski, Venetian Snares, Ambulance, 000 and Shitmat. Jega delivers his first new track in four years and there are exclusive tracks from Lexaunculpt, Datach'i, Joseph Nothing, Leafcutter John, Dykehouse and the Frost Jockey and Nautilis. Surprisingly, the only artist not present is µ-ziq, also known as Mike Paradinas, Planet Mu's founder; but his guiding force is most definitely felt, and heard, throughout. [GH]






Quiet City


On Mark Nelson's fourth album as Pan American, he forgoes the dub textures that held those albums together for a more guitar driven cerebral soundtrack that is quite similar to his band Labradford's most recent output. Quiet City, as the title might suggest, is quite a subdued affair with the sound's reliance based on sparse percussion, upright bass, acoustic guitar, muted horns, and humming electronics. This is a record full of deconstructed rock music stripped down to its bare essentials and slowed to a snail's pace. It also seems that this is first time that a Pan American record has not been composed completely by Mark himself and that what started out as a solo project based in electronics has transformed into a fleshed out band situation. Could this leave Labradford's future in question? We'll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, Quiet City will please any fan of ambient music and also fans of Low, Codeine, and like minded artists. [JS]









Mark Hollis
(Polydor UK)

"A New Jerusalem"

Finally available again after a long a mysterious absence, this beautiful moody album deserves as much recognition now as when it originally was released in 1998. Mark Hollis, formerly of Talk Talk, uses space and silence as much as orchestrations in the creation of a haunting, desolate sound that inches along, each and every note and word glistening. The sparseness of the cinematic production coupled with Hollis' unmistakable vocal delivery and bleak lyricism makes for a perfect collection of sad, moody songs. As if the wind in the trees and the waves lapping the beach got together and formed a band. A gorgeous work, and we're jumping for joy seeing this one back in print. [JM/PW]








Wild Like Children
(Team Love)

"Nights of the Living Dead"

Birthed from a variety of Nebraskan groups including Park Avenue, Conor Oberst's band before Bright Eyes, Tilly and the Wall having been receiving a lot of press for not only their cheery, indie pop anthems, but for their percussion section. Lacking a drummer, the beats for this Omaha quintet come from a tap dancer. Charmingly original, Tilly and the Wall's memorable songs with lots of boy/girl vocals and energetic performances keep the album from being pegged as simple novelty. One of the most uniquely catchy records you've heard in a long time.



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[AG] Andy Giles
[GH] Gerald Hammill
[RH] Rob Hatch-Miller
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