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This Week's Free Song Download
It Hurts Me All the Time
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Free Song Download of Faunts' "It Hurts Me All the Time," taken from their forthcoming album, Feel.Love.Thinking.Of, out February 17th on Friendly Fire Recordings. The Edmonton quintet have fine-tuned their soaring, post-rock guided pop, turning up the electronic elements and delivering a new set of songs that are as smart as they are catchy. It's not often that indie rock is this richly textured and atmospheric.
This Week's Featured Downloads
From an Ancient Star
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Like early Factory and 4AD records, and more recently releases from labels like Finland's Fonal, there's a mystical quality to the music (and artwork aesthetic) of any album bearing a Ghost Box stamp. Founded five years ago by graphic designer Julian House and Jim Jupp, the UK-based imprint specializes in what has become known as "hauntology," its small roster of artists creating visceral pop-sounds inspired by old educational film scores, psychedelia, musique concrete, and early electronic music, a la the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In lesser hands such endeavors would more than likely be cartoon-like appropriations of the real thing. That's not the case here, though; from the Focus Group's loose fusions of jazz, folk and psych-pop, to the Advisory Board's eerie blend of chilly, analog synthscapes and Cold War-era public service recordings, each Ghost Box release transports you into a surreal world of their own making. Jupp's Belbury Poly is the perfect amalgamation of everything that the label is about, his latest being a diverse journey through early Moog music, synthesized prog rock and what sounds to be incidental songs for '70s children's television programs. During "The Hidden Door," motorik, Kraut-inspired arpeggiations pulse underneath mysterious hammered-dulcimer melodies, the song coming across like a collaboration between Goblin and Tangerine Dream. In contrast, "A Year and a Day" is reminiscent of the psychedelic-futurism of Alain Goraguer, with wah-guitars accenting the analog synthesizers, while "Seed Ships" hovers in Vangelis' Blade Runner territory. Not everything is as dark as one might expect, however. The spacey title-track and the vocoder-filled "Remember Tomorrow" both glide on a dance beat, flirting with cosmic disco, while "A Great Day Out" playfully blends the groovy Moog whimsy of Jean-Jacques Perrey with samples of children singing before making an unexpected detour into futuristic, dubbed-out reggae. All these descriptions are mere reference points, however, as From an Ancient Star is not easily summed up in a paragraph; and one doesn't need to be a fan of any of the aforementioned artists to be lured in by Belbury Poly's magical sounds.
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The debut of 22-year-old Glasgow-based Hudson Mohawke is a dizzying, genre-blurring cluster of nostalgic, fractured schoolyard hooks and infectious glitch and grime beats, all deconstructed to a point of frenzied brilliance. There's an mechanical, even architectural breed of intuition inherent in Polyfolk Dance that's refreshing -- definitely a name to watch out for in 2009.
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Wolfgang Voigt is probably better known around these parts as the man behind some of the finest ambient music of the 20th century -- Gas. Newcomers to his work might not be aware, though, that apart from Gas, Voigt was incredibly prolific and whilst co-running Cologne's influential Kompakt label, the man was also busy throwing releases out left, right and center under hundreds of different monikers. The finest of these were the legendary Studio 1 records -- a set of color-coded 12"s released in the mid '90s to huge international acclaim. This was techno, but not the techno we had come across before -- Voigt used the techno idiom to facilitate an exploration of stripped down musical forms from dub to speed garage and beyond, and he succeeded. The tracks were distilled and reduced to a level almost unparalleled in the genre (even by his contemporaries, Basic Channel), leaving just the cycling pulse of a drum machine and a bass line to accompany it -- but that's all he needed. There is no gloss here, and the sentimental schmaltz of what would later pollute the scene was thankfully absent. Instead we have simply the bare minimum, leaving Voigt's expertise exposed for all to witness. "Blue," for example, takes the framework of speed garage (echoing stabs and swung 808 house beats) and transforms it into something almost sinister. The Germanic re-interpretation of the Chicago mode gives the track a distinctly odd resonance and even now, some fifteen years later, it still sounds shockingly fresh. Elsewhere, on "Orange" Voigt allows a throbbing proto-dubstep bassline to form the backbone of the track, slowly building distorted tape-worn chords on top to create a clean, propulsive foil to the comparative ambience of Ernestus and Von Oswald. Studio 1 isn't going to make any new converts to the cause, but this is uncompromising German techno of the highest order, without any of the gloss and overproduction that pollutes the genre these days. Anyone who has had their interests piqued in recent years by Ricardo Villalobos, Marcel Dettmann or Shed need to grab this without delay -- it's not aged a bit.
Prince Jammy vs. King Tubbys
His Majestys Dub
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These are two names that will always raise the eyebrows of dub and reggae connoisseurs -- especially when placed together. Recorded in the late '70s and produced by Jah Woosh, His Majestys features a heavy hittin' band whose players include names like Sly, Robbie and Ansell. Woosh handed the tapes over to the Tubby studio, where the team of mad scientists (Tubby, Jammy and Errol Thompson) gave it the business. What resulted was reverb-drenched roots reggae at its finest. Jammy, in particular, was on a roll during the time of this session as he was fresh from producing Black Uhuru's watershed debut, Love Crisis, and engineering classic sides for Horace Andy and Bim Sherman. Not unlike the Yabby You and Bunny Lee sessions he worked on with Tubby, His Majestys' heavy, slinky instrumental workouts feature lots of flanged rim shots and clean, atmospheric whooshes of thunderclaps, wind and panoramic riffs that echo into infinity. Highlights include "King Tubby's Salute," a dub re-working of Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," and "His Majesty," a spooky, stripped-down version of a classic Bim Sherman cut. The whole album's a highlight really -- for those who like their dub righteous, instrumental and dark, take note. (Previously only available as an expensive, vinyl-only reissue.)
Bim Sherman Meets Horace Andy and U.Black
In a Rub-a-Dub Style
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Yet another solid release from the late '70s and early '80s collabos of Neville "Jah Woosh" Beckford, Prince Jammy and King Tubby. This is largely a Bim Sherman affair, his sweet and smooth lovers-style tenor gracing five of the 10 tracks. Like the title suggests, the tunes here are soulful, rootsy, stepper-style rhythms and the dubs were constructed to "nice up the dance," rather than make you sink into your chair. "Dread Pan Some" and "Power Chant" feature the rub-a-dub toasting courtesy of U.Black. The true gem comes from Other Music fave Horace Andy, who turns in a KILLER proto-digital reggae cover of Bim Sherman's "lighters-up" roots anthem "Tribulation," renamed "Fit to Survive" for this album. This tune has long been one of my favorite Prince Jammy productions, and is an early hint of the digital dancehall and dub sound he would pioneer less than five years later with "Under mi sleng teng." Highly recommended.
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Although originally released in 1970 as a solo/duo album from
Gong mainman Daevid Allen and partner Gilly Smyth, Magick Brother
has come to be regarded as Gong's proper debut. Allen was already
a fixture on the burgeoning hippie/improv scene in the UK and
France, performing regularly as a solo artist, bandleader, and
also with early versions of the Soft Machine with Kevin Ayers
and Robert Wyatt. Although the Pot Head Pixie Trilogy has
come to be seen by many as the essential Gong, Magick Brother
clearly gives those later works, and really ANY early psychedelia,
a run for the money. Comparisons to Pink Floyd's Piper at the
Gates of Dawn are on point, with Allen's free-association
wordplay and shambling pop aesthetic alternating with spacier
freakouts more in the vein of Soft Machine or post-Barrett Floyd.
The international cast of musicians includes Barre Phillips, Burton
Green, Rachid Houri and several others in varying line-ups, adding
to the abstract, loose, druggy and intense commune-jam vibe that
pervades. Psychedelia was not new at this point, as several of
the world's most popular pop bands had "gone psych",
but Gong's approach was anarchic, progressive and inspired. Truly
mind-expanding and definitely a classic!
Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink
Unheard Music Series / Atavistic
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The older I get, the more I appreciate Peter Brötzmann.
At first, like any other rock and roll kid, I was attracted to
the pulverizing assault of works like Machine Gun, etc.
Now, however, I'm beginning to see the human side of his music. Schwarzwaldfahrt
was one of those FMP dates I couldn't quite commit to hunting
down on LP due to its often nosebleed-inducing price tag. I was,
however, aware of its story, which is a good one. In the mid-'70s,
Brötzmann, Bennink, and their varying associates played a
number of shows in towns such as Loerrach and Villingen. Along
the way, they would often pass through Germany's Black Forest
and one day it occurred to them to record some duet sessions alone
in the woods. That they decided to do this toward the end of winter
was an especially interesting decision given that 20°F is
a seasonal average high for the region. (Yes, I looked that up.)
Anyway, they borrowed some mics and a tape recorder, packed some
horns, and hit the road. Bennink, it should be noted, left his
kit at home, choosing instead to use the Earth itself as his instrument -- something
that anyone who's seen him perform live knows he's more than capable
of doing. The results of this effort are both exactly what you'd
expect and pleasantly surprising. Sure, there's enough squeaking
and skronking for nine Sun Ra records and Bennink sticks largely
to that thing he does where he alternates between 16th and 32nd
notes -- a sort of quasi-drum roll over whatever surfaces happen
to be nearby -- but one also hears birds, running water, and any
number of other naturally occurring sounds of the landscape. Let's
face it, European free jazz of the order discussed here can sometimes
sound cold and detached. Hearing it in this manner really drives
home the fact that, at the end of the day, this was (and is!)
music performed by two living, breathing mammals in conversation
with one another...the very sound of life.
Joe McPhee Quartet
Unheard Music Series / Atavistic
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Sometimes it seems that we're so busy mourning the loss of great musicians long dead that we overlook the work of mind-shattering artists who are alive. Joe McPhee is one of these: a visionary multi-instrumentalist who has flown under the radar of collective consciousness for far too long. After Coltrane's death and a recording date with Clifford Thornton's New Art Ensemble, a young McPhee left NYC and headed north to develop his craft alone in the wilderness of Upstate New York. As opportunities were sparse, McPhee rarely played concerts in the U.S., opting instead to play with a group of steady friends (mostly French and Swiss) in Europe, where his vision was appreciated. Collaboration across artistic disciplines has always been a central practice for McPhee, so it was only natural that he would release his first recordings as a leader on painter Craig Johnson's CJR label. For a long time, documents on this label were delicacies to free jazz record collectors -- much talked about, but rarely heard. Only through Atavistic's Unheard Music Series has this stuff seen the light of day. Underground Railroad was CJR's first release and McPhee's first as leader. The sound here is raw and impassioned -- with horn lines darting through dense layers of percussion like rays of light penetrating clouds. A true product of its time, a strong concern for civil and human rights is in evidence, from the title cut to the gorgeous, mournful "Harriet" to "Birmingham Sunday" (which opens with McPhee reading one of his poems); the whole record is dedicated to "the black experience on the planet earth." The churning, rhythm and blues feel of "Windy City Head Stompin' Blues" will be familiar to anyone who's heard McPhee's Nation Time record. Joe McPhee's a musical chameleon, a player who can go from covering Billie Holliday and Coltrane to jamming with
Pauline Oliveros or the Nihilist Spasm Band, and he deserves our attention.