29 July

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Tashi Dorji —  Blue Twelve (2014, Blue Tapes)

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Comprised of a live session of wholly improvised tunes with no overdubs,  Blue Twelve is the first vinyl release from British cassette label Blue Tapes. And what a release it is. A native of Bhutan who has lived in Asheville, North Carolina for close to twenty years, Tashi Dorji is one of the most exciting and versatile guitarists active in improvised and experimental music(s). Spectral overtones of the Himalayas are present and inform Dorji’s playing, but scarcely dominate his stylistic approach. In other words, those who are quick to ear mark the guitarist as “world” or “Asian” music both miss the point entirely and subscribe to a highly reductive reading of both the artist and his work. Dorji’s playing at times recalls British improv wizards à la Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, et al. Whilst very much a continuation of this lineage, Dorji manages to forge ahead with his own artistic voice, sonic palette, and musical language. Splendid use of delay, looping, and volume swells demonstrate the artist’s craft and ability to construct self-contained and wholly engrossing improvised guitar works. “Attain” is surely the centerpiece of the album. Arpeggiated harmonic patterns with bassy overtones combine with Dorji’s percussive interrogation of his instrument. Sections of prepared guitar yield piano-like sustain. “Visible” vacillates between vague evocations of Ennio Morricone’s work in the great Sergio Leone films of the 1960s and sparse, heady ramblings punctuated with volume swells and brusque strums and plucks. “Remembering” is a twelve minute piece which can be interpreted as a summary of the album in toto. The listener again encounters metallic clangs, rich piano-esque chording, volume swells, percussive strums, and delicate picking, all of which help to demonstrate Dorji’s ability to tease out unconventional sounds from an instrument which remains a bastion of conventionality in popular music(s). Whilst the closing track meanders a bit, Blue Twelve is another superb cut from the artist.

26 May

iu

Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1981, Electrola; 2013 reissue, Grönland)

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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.