Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America, Post-Can Edition: Phew- Phew (with Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit, & Conny Planck) 1981

from allmusic: This is a superb, virtually unknown album by the Japanese vocalist Phew, formerly of the punk/no wave band Aunt Sally. Backed by members of Can -- Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit -- and recorded at Conny Planck's studios in Germany, it has the earmarks of an album Can could have made, had they taken a different path after Ege Bamyasi. Phew's vocals are not by any formal standards very expressive, but they fit the icy urgency her compatriots create, and pitch the song-oriented cycle towards a more approachable form even for the casual listener. The mostly minimalistic landscape of the record is repetitive, rhythmic, and spacious. "Doze" adds an eerie child-like keyboard melody to a wonderful effect, and "P-Adic" is a disjointed, unlikely pop song, with an insistent beat and an off-kilter synth solo. "Signal" come closest to popular music, with Phew's insistent vocals chanting in Japanese over the expansive backbone Czukay and Liebezeit effortlessly create. With small variations in the beat, enhanced by subtle keyboard flourishes and echoey production, the sound manages to capture both the wide surrounding expanse as well as the tight clarity necessary to distinguish even the smallest nuance in the music. The crispness of the production creates a hypnotic loop that insists you pay attention. The mood varies from song to song, most of which are around the three-minute mark, and when the 35-minute record is over you're eager to repeat the experience. Phew's future albums would add more elements to her sound with some success, but the precise organic cohesiveness of her self-titled debut is difficult [to] top. -JT Lindroos

This is intensely awesome music. Primitive, minimalist, naked, avant-japanese, post-krautrock. While all the kids are grooving to the plastic boring inevitable of Joy Division and talking about post-punk like it actually exists in any meaningful way, you can be splitting the universe in half with your Phew record. So recommended.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America, Post-Can Edition: Holger Czukay- Movies (1980), On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1982)

Holger Czukay's first solo album. In a way, it's almost a Can reunion (every single German member of Can is present here, as well as late-period sort-of member Rebop Kwaaku Bah), or perhaps a vision of Can as an instrument wielded more exclusively by Czukay, acting as composer, chief instrumentalist, producer, and conductor. Some of the songs basically are Can songs, retooled in the Czukay style we might call inimitable-- if Brian Eno, David Byrne, David Bowie and all the other boys hadn't run so far with the formula. "Oh Lord, give us more money," in particular, is a dynamite track that recycles the structure, tone, and hot licks of Landed's "Hunters and Collectors," yet never feels like a retread so much as a naturally occurring mutation.

Rife with ethno/film soundbite samples, shortwave warbles, woozy french horn, juicy guitar (from both Czukay and Karoli), mustache-twirling cartoon vocals, and the mind-boggling power of Liebezeit's drums, this is a crazy, fun and exhilarating record. Equal parts wacky and cerebral, primitive and sophisticated, this is essential listening for the Can fan who needs to see the light at the other end of Saw Delight. This is both a fantastic continuation of the energy of Can, and something new and separate altogether as well.

MOVIES (192)

Mr. Czukay's follow-up, a collaboration with Liebezeit and Wobble that precedes the previously featured Full Circle by a couple years, is almost as excellent as Movies and even more "cool". The infusion of Wobble may account for the more laid-back, druggy atmosphere (as opposed to Movies' hyper-creativity). The first song in particular, the 13-minute "Ode to Perfume," is the perfect soundtrack to the act of being a stoned genius, a sustained exercise in deceptively gnarled mood music. The sampling-- as you might expect from the man who damn near invented it-- is superb. Executed with devastating restraint, it's a god damn masterclass in the subtle potential of the craft. Another standout is "Witches' Multiplication Table," its foreboding black magic German dubbiness and UFO synths achieving at the highest levels of intelligent trippiness. This is a real favorite of mine, all.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America, Post-Can Edition: Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, & Jaki Liebezeit- Full Circle (1982)

Listening to post-Can solo records, it begins to seem that Holger Czukay was perhaps the standout of the band, in terms of radical yet listenable ideas and sheer creativity. Yet to call any member of Can greater than the other is sheer madness to the reasonable mind-- each man stands tall as a necessary and brilliant contributor to the powerhouse collaboration of the band-- so perhaps this impulse is due to Holger's ability to maintain relevance and a largely consistent high standard of quality in his solo projects and post-Can collaborations. This is not particularly true of Karoli, and I've never much cared for Irmin Schmidt's later albums (though there is some good stuff to be found in his ouvre, to be sure). Liebezeit, who is actually all over this record, was always too much the consummate collaborator to be said to even have a solo record, although he is the major force of Phantomband (which is pretty hit or miss for me).

Czukay himself, while an exemplary bassist to be sure, always made his mark more profoundly in the editing room and the conceptual sphere, a quality that makes him a lot like a certain Mr. Brian Eno, another painterly, tape-cutting, instrument-treating, ethno-sampling musical artist... a man who definitely owes a large creative debt to Czukay. Maybe Holger's vision as a composer and an artist, rather than strictly as a musician (which is not meant to slight or omit mention of his remarkable abilities as a multi-instrumentalist), are what make his solo records so fascinating and enduring for me, personally.

Anyway, I'm going to start posting some post-Can projects from these godlike geniuses, especially my main man Czukay, and this can be the first one, since it's one of my favorites. The "dub" elements are tasteful and abstract, and the whole thing has a contemporary feel to it, at times sharply predicting the kraut-influenced spacy/repetitive weirdo-pop of current artists like Ariel Pink, Sun Araw, or Indian Jewelry, feeling precisely like a direction so many Krautrock acts could and perhaps should have gone, with more verve and creative energy than they did.

Here's a pretty thoughtful review from Julian Cope: I have never understood why this record has always been so overlooked and severely underestimated. Even in the tons of praise heaped on Can in recent years the cursory mention given to the solo recordings of Can members tends to ignore or dismiss this fantastic disc.

During Can’s later years the influences of dub and ‘world’ music watered down the unhinged aggression and sheer naked artistic intent of their earlier recordings. However, here those influences give the record a hue, rather than sloppily splashing gaudy colour all over the place. The zany professor tendencies which Holger exhibits to occasionally irritating effect in his solo work are reigned in here as he has to restrain himself in the context of his collaborators.

Reading between the lines of the statements made about this collaboration by all concerned it seems that Wobble’s relationship with Czukay and Liebezeit wasn’t totally harmonious. Maybe this is the reason why there is a distinct lack of the mawkish sunniness which ruined later Can records, although the fallout from Jah Wobble’s involvement in PIL’s ‘Metal Box’ is also a major factor. Whatever the reasons, there is definitely a darker, more sinister edge to this record than anything the Can members had recently recorded.

‘How Much Are They?’ is a dubby dance tune with klanky rhythm-box and beautiful, warm bass. The music flies all over the room. Infact the same could be said of all the tracks on this LP. Tapes play backwards, instruments sound like they’re being played outside one minute, then right next to your ears the next. Wobble’s vocals are Shaun Ryder rough (specially on ‘Trench Warfare’). There’s dissonance all over the place. Guitar pickings, french horn, keyboards and tapes drop in and out with no immediately apparent logic. I’m making this sound like a mess, I know, but don’t forget that Holger Czukay’s in charge of the tapes, so the chaos is never allowed to take over. This album is one of the best editing jobs in music. Jaki’s fluid yet precise drumming is the glue holding it all together. The wanky EFS concept Can loved so much is mutated into the RPS (Radio Pictures Series) concept on two of the tracks on this record. As the name suggests radio samples fly around the mix as the Jah bass and Liebezeit sticks keep a head-nodding dub a-rolling. ‘Mystery RPS (No.8)’ is one of the most strangely beautiful pieces of music. It’s like Stockhausen’s moment form, but with gorgeous, stoned, seductive sounds instead of spiky, confrontational noises. Beguiling is the word. ‘Can you feel the wind?’ indeed.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Exotic Triptych: Martin Denny- Exotica Vols. I, II, & III (1957, 58, 59)

In order to properly finish what a previous post had started, here's the three Exotica records. Here, Denny issues his Tiki Manifesto, taking what Les Baxter had previously invented for the vast lushness of the orchestra, and scaling it down to a small jazz combo... thus creating arguably the most archetypal and influential work of the genre. This is essential stuff, so grab it, fellows.

Vol. I

Vol. II

Vol. III

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beautiful and Horrible With Life: Sabu- Sorcery! (1958)

I was going to tell you what a thoroughly gripping blast of furious jungle jazz exotica this is, but then I read the back cover literature (kindly transcribed by Mr. Bacosco over at Orgy in Rhythm), and realized that this mammoth black magic monster can very well speak for itself:

From the shores of the rivers of the sun come sounds, sounds various, beautiful and horrible with life, sounds as old as time, heard when brute creatures trod the earth, sounds that owe nothing to civilization and everything to rank and teeming biology. Product of a thousand animal and insect chirps, creeks, wails, thuds, thumps and stricken cries, they are an aural anthology of nature in its true guise, that nature that owns the earth and speaks for it, nature that is as ancient as the planets and as endless as the sun itself. The brooding heat that makes fecund every mite and molecule it touches has teemed into being a million forms of curious life, forms in the water, on land, in the earth and in the air, forms that live on other forms, or within them. Even their diseases are themselves new forms of life, life spongily multiplying amid death everywhere in an eternal cycle that produces its own whirring, multi-farious cacophony like the inner workings of a monstrous biological machine turned loose and run amuk. Man, the white-collared animal, occasionally dares to insert his prying boat, a lone dugout or a venturesome canoe, into these regions hung with vine where waters run that are grown to their surfaces with vagrant lilies, errant bitter ferns of musty odor, slime-decked pools of dead life rising with the swell. Man, the technical beast, opens an ear to the voice that sounds and he hears the original black and sordid magic of life, that sorcery he too came out of and now fears.

Here a mating call and a death rattle uttered by separate and independent beasts combine into a peculiar, haunting chime. The whine of a mateless mammal and the ticking of some hundred tiny pests occur haphazardly together to give an orchestra of blood and friction music indiscriminately scored for fauna and winds. The earth moves and the air moves with it and the whole regenerate pulsing and green-grown ball of firmament plunges through space as though it had a destiny. The tentacles of insects tickle the fringes of the cosmos and the beards of hairy animals wave freely in the gaseous envelope in which we and they float as we highball around the sun. This is the sorcery of life in its rutting, elemental source-design. This is the rhythmic magic of birth and rot and the constant burning muddy indigestion of the cosmic super-imposition of life on life on life, all grown into a heap and dying while aborning, corpses and genes well mixed in a great stew of fertility and reproduction and decay.

Life grows apace in lands where men still know the joys of being eaten alive by other men and/or by small fishes in furious clusters. Life jumps and bounds along rivers that dump indiscriminate cargoes of matter and debris into deep green seas, oceans that swallow whole subcontinents as glibly, blithely as the alligator gorges on its young, seas that reach from subtropic to subarctic and balance at once the breathless reaches of the armpit regions with the frigidity of the poles. The Aurora flips and flows on top of the world, aching across the empty void like a great tautened tongue, magnetic and muscular in its wild energy, kissing the whole world.

In old jungles strange ache-hungry birds watch from trees that wilt and hang. Small loin-clothed men step brittly through overgrown verdure. Natural boleros sound in the teeth of giant crocodiles crunching the bones of careless waterfowl, while in the grass banks, the lice violate in aimless joy the matted fur of some dead, cold, warm-blooded species.

SABU ...

...has heard all this and much more. The rhythmic cadences of nature's boiler room are here, the aural history of the sex life of a cosmic corn popper, the wail and chime and gong sound of the eternal SORCERY.

That's some serious sleeve-writing, fellows, and it only barely overstates the Godly Power and Earthly Horror of this record's Exotic Delights and Monster Jazz. I highly recommend reading it, by the way. I know a lot of you impatient scamps probably skipped it, but it is not be skipped.

Consider these sounds infinitely essential.