Sunday, September 11, 2016
This is one of my favourite albums of 2016, and it's by Finland's ORANZZI PAZUZU (which means 'Orange Demon', I am reliably informed). The name of the album: Varahtelija, released on the excellent SVART label out of Finland (certainly one of my fave imprints on planet earth, reissuing all kinds of stoner, Black Metal, Nordic hardcore, free jazz, weird prog/fusion, psych and all in between. I am not on a retainer for stating this: what they do is a very good thing). And then there is Oranssi Pazuzu (excuse me if I simply refer to them as 'OP' from now on). They're a Finnish quartet, and this is their fourth album. I've also been getting myself familiar with two previous efforts, 2013's Valonielu and 2011's Kosmonument, and to me they represent one fucking great band evolving, progressing and getting better with each release.
OP are nominally a 'Black Metal' band, but such a genre now carries such a broad umbrella of sound under its wing that it can be almost impossible to peg just exactly what a BM band is. I used to cover a fair bit of BM in this blog about a decade ago - and nothing too wildly outside of the big names (Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Enslaved; as well as US BM such as Weakling and Leviathan), other than some detours to the likes of End from Greece, Idjarn and Striborg (the last two I haven't listened to since BC - Before Children) - but I must admit I've barely given the 'genre' a listen in the last 9 years. Fatherhood may've been a deciding factor in that (you can't play that shit in the house when you have infants - it just doesn't work), but it could also be just a part of my listening habits: I tend to go through phases of a certain genre/sound, beat it into the ground for a few years then move onto something else, only to revisit that sound again years down the track (the same thing has happened with my total obsession with post-war R & B/blues/rockabilly from a number of years back - that obsession will come back).
So! To kick back and ensconce myself in some real-deal BM, even if it is of the 'arty' variety as slung by OP, almost feels like a breath of fresh air. OK, let's call OP a 'psychedelic BM band', for whilst grimness abounds, blast beats are had and growls can be heard, it's mixed up with a *gulp* almost post-rock sensibility, some of this sound like the orchestral sheets of sound you might get on a Godspeed disc, with Hawkwindish synth swirls, Flippery dirges and a hypnotic, cyclical churn not one thousand miles removed from the acid-fried goodness of a Miles ca. Agharta/Pangaea. Christ. Now that description probably just makes OP sound like a mish-mash of record collectors' wet dreams, but for the record: I am not and never have been a record collector; and 2) these comparisons are merely projections from my mind and very likely don't reflect the influences nor intent of the band. In other words, their ideas are their own. I still like noisy, anti-social shit when it's done well (and boy, it's the worst when it's done poorly), and OP appear to be serious in intent. They're not out there being 'extreme', 'radical' and trying to offend: it's simply about beautiful noise. They are one of the best things you will hear in 2016.
Below is an older dirge which you should sink your ears into...
Friday, September 09, 2016
'tis nearing mid September in the year 2016, and yet I still haven't heard a better album this year - or one released this year - which betters DAVID BOWIE's Blackstar LP. If you'd told me on January the 1st that I'd rate David Bowie's imminent and much-touted release as my favourite record of 2016, I'd have called you a smoking joker, and likely much worse. As with just about anyone and everyone I know with a modicum of discerning taste, I hadn't rated anything Bowie had done - bar maybe a single or two - since the late '70s. He went into mersh overload in the '80s (and, in my opinion, had a number of great pop singles in the first half of the decade), but slid considerably into nowheresville by the latter half of the decade, spent the '90s in some sort of faux industrial/drum & bass hellhole and then piffled around in the 21st century trying to play catchup with a handful of 'okay' musical endeavours (I 'liked' the The Next Day, but not enough to want to hear it more than twice).
Bowie is one of those characters who divides opinion amongst the rock cognoscenti, or at least the hardcore rockist elements of it. For some, the mere mention of him as a 'pioneer' or even a 'rocker' is something which brings out the guffaws. Wasn't he merely a musical thief, an opportunist and careerist who stole from other, far more worthy musical entities, and regurgitated it with a sheen for the masses? I give him more credit than that. I have never considered myself a hardcore Bowie fan, but his output circa 1969 - 1979 - just about any of it from that period - is something I can listen to and enjoy and appreciate, and surely that's enough. Bowie himself was at least self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that he totally sold out in the '80s, and for me one of his great mistakes in the '90s, when trying to get 'hip' again, was him hanging out and collaborating with a gormless Bowiephile nudnik like Trent Reznor - but this is all academic. Sometimes those with a great vision of what they want to do and who they are lose it and never get it back.
So, on the morning of the day he passed away, I was on the phone to a certain Warwick Brown, Greville Record proprietor and avid Bowiephile. He was raving to me about the new album, pleading for me to give it a ago, telling me about its avant-garde jazz leanings and its absolutely-no-doubt-in-the-world status as a RETURN TO FORM. I'd heard that before, as we all have, regarding various artists who once paved the way but have been coasting on a whole lot of nothing for decades (prime offender being the Stones, for which a 'return to form' amounts to an album which isn't totally fucking dreadful). I sat down on the toilet - true story - did my business, and streamed the first, self-titled 10-minute track in the meantime. I agreed that it was indeed quite good, but I had other things to do. I was not working that day, the sun was shining and the kids were on summer break, so I went to the beach for the day, vowing to listen to the rest of it when I got home. As I got in the door later in the afternoon, I received the text from a workmate that Bowie had died, social media went nuts and you either cared a lot, a little or not at all. I spent the evening quietly listening to Low, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory and, while not wanting to get caught up in some sort of mass mourning for a fellow I never even knew, had to acknowledge that life on earth would have been a whole lot more dull had 'David Bowie' - that character of creation from middle-class post-war Blighty - not been invented.
A few days later I came back around to Blackstar. I streamed and I streamed. I found myself devouring every bit of information I could regarding this mysterious album. It was a cryptic parting gift, for sure, but it was also musically the most interesting thing he'd offered the world since I was in short shorts and he'd even roped in some genuine 'jazz musicians' as his backing band, not as a simple gimmick, but because their musical contributions counted. Interestingly - well, it's at least of interest to me - there's some musicians from the ECM fold present, notably guitarist Ben Monder, who released an album on the label earlier this year. Bowie had a knack for much of his career in hand-picking a good band, a talent which shouldn't be dismissed. The vinyl edition went out of print immediately, so I had to wait a good month before I could procure a copy. I'm not a big advocate for format snobbery, but in this case, the vinyl edition is the way to absorb oneself in the release. This is not only because of the ridiculously lavish nature of the packaging (gatefold die-cut sleeve, embossed ink, deluxe booklet with beautifully extravagant ink work), but because the album itself - a mere seven songs in 41 minutes - has a side A and a side B. It doesn't sound like a release of the CD or streaming era. Whether this is accidental or deliberate, or whether I'm just reading that observation into it is up for debate, so feel free to do that amongst yourselves. At the very least, barring a few displays of modern technology, it sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years ago. Would I have found this album quite so fascinating had the man himself not passed away a couple of days after its release? Probably not, but context is much of what we hear when we listen to music, and in the light of what took place, Blackstar is one fucking special record, one which has brought me great peace of mind in 2016. For those with an open mind and a pair of functioning earholes, there is simply no reason why you shouldn't give it a listen.
Sunday, September 04, 2016
Welcome back to me. In the time I've been away, I've been doing... stuff. Well, I took a brief sojourn to Tokyo - on a record-finding mission - but all of that really relates to 'work', so it likely won't be discussed here. I would, however, like to briefly discuss a couple of records which have lit a fire under my ass. The first is JOHN SURMAN's Morning Glory LP. This one has certainly taken me by surprise. Norway-via-England's Surman has been releasing records for almost 50 years, starting off in the big band's of Mike Westbrook in the late '60s, but is probably most well know for his many records on the ECM label. I am, of course, very familiar with them, and indeed there's a stack of them I'd recommend you check out: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon from 1981, 1985's Withholding Pattern, Private City from 1988... Surman, on these discs would play a kind of pastoral, minimal form of 'jazz' using synthesisers and reeds (bass clarinet, saxophones of various stripes, even a recorder), creating a hypnotic, looping effect not a thousand miles removed from the likes of Terry Riley, but with an end result which is oh-so-English, and yes, oh-so-ECM. This may sound like I don't like these albums, but that is far, far from the case. Surman is an interesting character whose music has broached many forms: avant-jazz, jazz-rock, Minimalism, 'future jazz' and more, yet perhaps because he's never really stuck to one form - such as the 50+ years of art-brut from Brotzmann, Schlippenbach and co. - he doesn't enjoy the profile he should.
On that note, I bring you his Morning Glory LP from 1973. At this stage, he had released a string of albums with collaborators such as John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, Michel Portal, Mike Westbrook, Karin Krog, et al. Enough of a discography for the Island label to bankroll this non-seller. As for whether the artist itself is 'Morning Glory' or whether it is 'John Surman and...' appearing on the LP entitled Morning Glory - I've seen it referred to as both. For convenience sake, I will simply refer to it as Surman's Morning Glory LP. It seems odd that Island would throw money at such a project, but those were different times, money was there for the taking, and Island's roster was about as good as it got for a semi-major at the time. You can see the lineup of players on the front cover: fellow ECMers John Taylor and particularly Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal are ones to note. Terje later made his name with a zillion albums on the ECM label - some are good, a number aren't - but was, at this juncture, still indulging in outward-bound sounds (his old trio, Min Bul, released an incredible avant-jazz screecher in 1970 which was briefly reissued last year. It's well worth searching out; an original copy will set you back stupid amounts of money).
When this album was first recommended to me a couple of months back, I was told it was a 'spiritual jazz gem from Surman'. I haven't noted too many others referring to it as such, but if it must be pigeonholed, that's as good as any other hole to pigeon it with. There are elements of melodic, modal jazz throughout, fiery excursions into freeform noise - Rypdal really shines here, ripping out spiky, abstract notes in a Ray Russell/Sonny Sharrock mode - and elements of the kosmiche w/ Surman's synth (otherwise it's bass clarinet and soprano sax for him), but ultimately it's the sound of searching, of yearning - and that's about as spiritual as I get. Four lengthy tracks, one full-length long player. Jesus... there is so much to learn, so many stones left unturned. Surman also released the terrific Westering Home LP on Island in 1972 (minimal, synth-accompanied reeds, much like his ECM albums), as well as following up Morning Glory with two excellent free-jazz trio albums and I need them all. Morning Glory is a fantastic British jazz LP from the 1970s released on a major label. You heard it here last.
Sweden's BREMEN: where the hell have they been my whole life? Under m' damn nose, apparently. They've released three LPs since 2013, all three of 'em doubles: Bremen from 2013, Second Launch from 2014 and Eclipsed from this year. All black and white artwork, all instrumental. They also happen be a duo comprising of two gents from the 'legendary' noise-rock band of yore, Brainbombs. Hey, I used to like those guys! In fact, I even had their first three 7"s - purchased via Spiral Objective mail-order, in fact - but sold them a couple of years ago when I came to the conclusion that I would likely never play them again, anti-social racket that they be (actually, BB made a fine racket, in a kind of Stooges/Flipper/Whitehouse zone, but I was offered good money, so off they went). Bremen are something different: they are cosmic 'rock' of many different shades, encompassing ambient drones, Krautrock, space-rock, Necks-like piano minimalism and all in between.
Now, you may be shaking your head and saying SO WHAT? - as such things have been achieved, recycled and driven into the ground the past 40 years of recorded sound - and that is true. But Bremen do it better than most. In fact, in 2016, I can't think of anyone who does it better. This style of musical is prone to facelessness (I would accuse the Kranky label of being guilty in fostering a number of mediocre acts in this field upon an unsuspecting, and unwilling, public), but Bremen have identity, and most importantly, they know when the song is over. Over the space of three albums, they just keep on getting better and better, broadening their musical horizons yet still sticking to what it is that made them so good in the first place. Parts of what they do - quite a lot of what they do - reminds of me of F/i, and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then please remove the shit from your ears. No vocals required: it's just riffs, repeated motifs, delicate pianos, electrified feedback. Songs know when to cut, tracks develop and move over extended time zones. These two Swedes have done this to perfection. My highest recommendation regarding everything they've done.