Joe Talia – Tint (2018, Black Truffle)
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Having first become acquainted with Joe Talia by way of his drum work on Hubris, the 2016 release from compatriot Oren Ambarchi, I was excited to hear this solo release from the Tokyo-based Australian multi-instrumentalist. Rather than being an exercise in neue kosmische a là Ambarchi’s Hubris, Tint is a brooding, cinematic affair which would not be out of place as a film score in Andrei Tarkovsky’s work. Comprised of two electroacoustic pieces (two parts of the same suite), Talia, one part mystic sage, one part sonic observer, crafts hypnotic and somnolent soundscapes which are masterfully composed from/using an array of analogue tools. Futuristic electro-chirps, wooly synthesizer textures, and heavily manipulated cymbal strokes swirl together to engulf the listener in a work that sounds ahead of its time, whilst remaining unburdened by the implied artistic fatalism or teleology of such a (clichéd) statement. Similarly, Tint escapes feeling anachronistic; while the earlier suggestion of serving as a score for some weathered Soviet science fiction film certainly fits, the work still feels spry, malleable, and fresh despite its density. Innumerable sonic points of experimentation are visited and Talia presents rich, dynamic junctures, which despite the variegated form, remains coherent as a whole. The results are sufficiently interesting and keep the listener (this one, at least) engaged for the duration (40 minutes) of the release.
Fire! and Oren Ambarchi — In The Mouth – a Hand (2012, Rune Grammofon)
Don’t yell it in a movie theatre, but Fire! (Mats Gustafsson, saxophones/Fender Rhodes and live electronics; Johan Berthling, bass/guitar/ organ; Andreas Werliin drums and percussion) are a heady and paroxysmal ensemble, whose 2012 release featuring Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, In The Mouth – a Hand, is archetype of what contemporary psychedelia should be. At times reminiscent of Mats Gustafsson’s work with Italian experimental rockers Zu, this quartet effectively bridges the gaps between contemporary improvised music(s), the free jazz of the 1960s and 1970s, and the pulsing hypno-psychedlia of the MC5 in their most incendiary moments or early counterculture kosmische. Throughout the record, moody bass grooves, taken straight out of UFO’s Guru playbook combine with hypnotic, in-the-pocket drumming, flowing strokes of guitar feedback, and Rhodes keyboard fragments to create works that are immersive, immense, and generally relentless. The psych-rock of yesteryear always remained firmly moored within the idiom of rock music, but this quartet have no inclination to do so. They are content to use the tools and motifs of 1960s psychedelia, but use them instead to traverse a landscape more consistent with Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders’ frenetic playing on Om than with the insipid neo-psych drivel in the contemporary rock zeitgeist.
Ute Kanngiesser Geäder (2015, earshots)
Boldly speaking, musical performance reaches its apex when an artist is both able to demonstrate precision and mastery, and more fascinatingly, possess an evident ability to manipulate their instrument in such a way that negates its original functions, thus expanding its sonic capabilities well beyond those initially conceived. On her 2015 debut, Geäder, German cellist Ute Kanngiesser, brilliantly achieves both feats without breaking a sweat. Tracked at two separate locations in London, both tracks show the cellist in top form. “Project Space” demonstrates Kanngiesser’s ability to tease flute-like swirls and harmonic drones from her cello. The final three minutes of the piece feature plucked notes, the tensile strings resist Kanngiesser’s nimble fingers, making for an unnerving but engrossing performance which abruptly ends, presumably when the artist runs out of tape. “Clock Tower” initially saunters out of the speakers, recalling the works of Kiwis A Handful of Dust. Far from derivative, Kanngiesser’s approach to the strings vary wildly from those of Alstair Galbraith and ultimately demonstrate greater range, restraint, and virtuosity. At times “Clock Tower” resembles some lost form of string-based kosmische / psychedelia (far more interesting than John Cale and the Velvets, however). One notable trademark of the second piece is the soft, yet near constant tapping throughout the piece, which provides a loose sense of continuity that wonderfully compliments Kanngiesser’s open and interpretive playing. The second track also ends rather abruptly, which results in both tracks feel a bit unresolved (perhaps the desired effect). Regardless, Geäder remains a great release and would likely appeal to a wide swathe of improvised music fans from drone-heads, antipode-enthusiasts, and string-bowers, to those whose ears, as a rule, generally perk up for marginal sounds.
Exmagma — Exmagma (1973, Neusi; reissue on Longhair)
Analog saturation, nature sounds, free jazz melées, deep pocket grooves — all lined up and at attention on Exmagma’s 1973 eponymous debut. More prog than their compatriots and weirder than their British Contemporaries, The Stuttgart trio are light on the motorik and generally forgo the repetitiousness, savory as it may be, ubiquitous with their peers. Instead, they’re skronky, noisy, and off-kilter. Hard to tell if they’re delusional or ambitious at times, but they’re on the Nurse With Wound list for chrissakes, so that’s to be expected. These fellas know how to incorporate dissonance (check out the discordant closing bars of “The First Tune” or the odd airplane engine bursts in “Tönjès Dream Interruption”) or lock into a groove and let fly. B Side is live set and feels a bit more measured, but generally, has still got the goods. I get the feeling that Tatsuya Yoshida and Ruins have thrown this on the platter a time or two or three. Three guys with a handful ideas and set the mics ups and go. It’s raw and unpolished and that’s a big part of its allure. Whether you call it arrogance or call it poise, Exmagma has a pretty decent set of tunes which over here at Marginal Brev, we like to think of it as a less influence Bitches Brew of the Wirtschaftswunder.
No Neck Blues Band — Qvaris (2005, 5 Rue Christine)
Far and away the most approachable release by the New York 7-piece, No Neck Blues Band’s 2005 release Qvaris is a multilayered, dense, and challenging set of jams, which is still tame enough to capture the hearts and minds of yr standard-issue rock aficionados. I am certain beyond a doubt that somewhere, one of those
highbrow music journos or parent’s house posers has happily ascribed No Neck as the bonafide front runners of postmodernist post-rock — which I am decidedly post-the bullshit. Not your typical snail’s pace digital delay-laden indie ballad snooze fest, NNCK instead knock out some of the most solid groove-oriented improvised rock music since the stellar kosmische groups of postwar Germany. Vibes a là early Holger Czukay and This Heat, but still singular and interesting in its own right. The swaggering “Live your Myth in Grease” recalls early Blonde Redhead before evolving into an ethereal alien soundscape of heavily modulated, dripping guitars or keys or theremins— who fucking knows. One of the most endearing and exciting elements of NNCK, is their seamless ability to erase the distinctions between instruments and instead perform as a collective unit. Check your ego at the door. “The Caterpillar Heart” sounds a like a scene from a Terry Gilliam film, while “Boreal Gluts” and “Lugnagall” take pages from Faust’s playbook, glazed with a thin a patina of New York City filth, natürlich. Improvised music at times has a degree of seriousness to it, and for some, that’s surely part of its allure. That said, Qvaris has a clear sense of humor and the band well and truly sound like they’re having fun. As witty as a palindrome, this. I like to think that the band burst in laughter when they put down their instruments. A rock record at the end of the day, just not a big, dumb rock record.
Harmonia – Live 1974 (2005, Grönland)
Having grown up in the wake of World War II and come of age during the Wirtschaftswunder, it should perhaps come as a little surprise that a slew of groundbreaking musical groups emerged from Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Just as the country itself lay in ruins, German culture did not emerge from the war unscathed. The home of Göthe, Kant, Bach, Beethoven, et al. had in some way, been tainted by the poison of national socialism. Paraphrasing his friend Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno claimed that “the palace of German Culture was built of dogshit.” Recognizing the glaring contradiction between culture, the enlightenment, and the inheritance of a continent in ruins, the immediate postwar generation sought to break with their forefathers and craft a new culture all their own. Of the German kosmiche groups which appeared during this period, Harmonia stand out, no small feat when considering Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Popul Vuh, Faust, Amon Düül, and Tangerine Dream are among those on a long list of contemporaries. While countless bootlegs and live recordings have been passed to and fro on the vast plains of the internet, this official release by Grönland is a treat and captures the band at their apex. The live setting affords the group greater latitude to really let the tunes breath. “Veterano” clocking in at a tame four minutes on Musik Von Harmonia is an exploratory 18 minute jam retitled “Veteranissimo” on Live 1974. Beyond the confines of the studio and the limits of a formal LP release, the extended jamming on Live 1974 allows the band to bring their tracks to life and carry the listener off to some distant world. Harmonia’s freewheeling brand of electronic psychedelia in general and this release, in particular, is a must for any fan of psychedelic rock, ambient music, electronic, sound art, and the like.
Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1981, Electrola; 2013 reissue, Grönland)
Listen [partial playlist of the album on youtube]
More restrained and less bizarre than Czukay’s 1979 Movies, 1981’s On the Way to the Peak of Normal feels like the lost alternate soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train. If Movies was a carnivalesque appraisal of rock music, On the Way is an acid trip, wondering through the vacant lot where the big top has just up sticks. Side A kicks off with the brooding title track, which grooves and moves like a a tune culled from the Suzuki-era Can catalogue, featuring an amalgam of distant horns and whistling oscillations. “Witches Multiplication Table,” a tune penned by producer extraordinaire Conny Plank, no less, keeps the creeps going. Had Count Dracula ever been chronicled in a film by Sergio Leone, I’d expect to hear the brief and enigmatic “Two Bass Shuffle,” as the accompanying score. Public Image Ltd.’s low-end agitator Jah Wobble assumes bass duties with Czukay on drums, not your Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor bullshit by a long shot. Side A is thematically consistent and it’s rather easy to lose yourself in Czukay’s grooves and off-kilter sonic motifs. The flip side, is arguably one of the greatest tunes of all time, the sultry “Ode to Perfume.” An 18 psych-kosmiche slow-burning come down. This is Sgt. Pepper’s, if the Beatles had come from Mars. Imbued with a near operatic sense of grandeur, yet ultimately retaining a sense of intrigue and risk, the track manages to be that rare feat, a work which is both sexy and artistically engrossing at once. Dark and spooky vibes permeate this release, but not in an unsettling way: it’s the end of the night, your head is swimming, and you want to fall asleep, but can’t. This record is playing square in the middle of that head space.