Saturday, October 1, 2022

dubbing tapes (I am reggae hear me ROIR)

If we're not counting things like Jah Wobble's The Legend Lives On album, or the bonus 12-inch with UB40's Signing Off, then my first proper immersive encounter with dub would have been in the late '80s. I must have caught some on Peel before that. Heard the FX and tricknology at one remove in  postpunk settings or on electro-funk / postdisco 12-inch remixes. Another at-one-remove encounter would have been King Sunny Ade's track on this NME cassette Mighty Reel - seemingly an out-take or offshoot of Juju Music, whose production has a real swimmy dubbiness, apparently introduced by producer Martin Meissonnier. 

But proper dub reggae dub? The first things I acquired were a whole bunch of Mad Professor albums, bought in one batch at the Virgin megastore, and some ROIR cassettes I got sent. Among them was a Prince Far I tape featuring this mighty mighty tune -  probably the beginning of true dub love for me, setting me on the "Right  Way" indeed.

And here is the cassette itself. 

Must have been affection for "The Right Way" and the whole record that made me gravitate towards reviewing this reissue out of a whole batch of first-time-on-CD Virgin Front Line records that came into my possession in the summer of '91.

Among the ROIR batch - which included stuff like Raincoats live in NYC, Suicide 1/2 Alive, (with the great Lester Bangs sleevenote), early Television etc - there was at least one other dub tape, this collection of Japanese dub - about which I cannot recall much. 

Looking at ROIR's other reggae releases, which are plentiful indeed, a lot of the covers seem familiar, but I'm not sure if that's because I got sent them or just saw them in shops. Some of them do look so familiar from the design that I feel like I must have had them in the house, but no specific auditory memories adhere. 

This next one in particular feels very familiar and I think it came with that first batch that included Mute Beat and the Cry Tuff tapes. 

At some point in the early '90s, by this point often visiting NYC for long stays and then full-time living there, I  got friendly with the guy who founded ROIR, Neil Cooper. I was burbling about jungle and he actually offered me some some money to do a jungle compilation. But the amount was too small to pay for tracks, as far as I could ascertain what the going rate for tunes was. At least the type of killer tracks I'd want to have on a scene-representing comp. 

Nice guy though, Neil. And he put out some great archival documents on the label. He was a firm believer in the cassette and regarded high-quality chrome as a good a format as any.  The Prince Far I certainly sounded great. 

I believe Cooper's son carried on the label after his passing and it exists to this day, albeit no longer tape-based. 


Tapes! I have hundreds of them still and whether through repeat-play cathexis or nostalgia, the sound of certain things on that format often sounds better to me than the CD or digital-file or streaming versions. 

In some cases, the advance cassette version sounds better to me than the actual proper vinyl release a few months later, for the simple reason that this is what I fell in love with. 

Isn't Anything, on vinyl, has never sounded as good as the advance tape, which had a completely different sequence, a bunch of tunes that were on the Feed Me With Your Kiss EP at the end plus the bonus single for Isn't with the Public Enemy breakbeat and ghostly wavering tones. All shoved together on a C90 in an absolutely glorious surge. The sequence sounds right to me because it's what I listened to in blissed disbelief  over and over and over for a month or so prior to interviewing My Bloody Valentine. 


I'm not sure I ever played the vinyl Isn't Anything more than a few times. It just didn't sound right. Everything was in the wrong order. The sound was cleaner and more picked-out. I preferred the lesser-fi blur of the cassette - more amorphous.

So there's tapes like that I've kept. (Also advances of things that were never released at all).  And then there's all the mixtapes made by friends that you get attached to. And your own mixtapes made for parties or long-car journeys, that ended up getting a lot of use. Then there's another category of comp, which is the sort of  season round-up type of tracks in a genre. Taped really just to save the bother of getting up repeatedly to put a succession of jungle or speed garage 12-inches on the deck. These capture a moment in the genre nicely. 

So this is why I have not simply chucked all these tapes on the dustbin of format history -  even though  when it comes to it, practically speaking, when I want to hear a tune I'll go straight to YouTube or a streamer. I can't quite bring myself to toss them out.  It's sort of one or two levels below taking your pet to the vet to be put to sleep. No, it's not a living thing, but a once-beloved, much-played tape is saturated with cathexis. The cathexis of effort spent (your own or your friend's, or an acquaintance's) in the assembling of tape. The cathexis of repeat-listening in an era when music was still relatively scarce and wasn't on tap, in an instant, like it is today, so the convenience of the self-made compilation or the friend-made collection was invaluable. 

Plus you never know, do you?  The internet may collapse, streamers may go out of business, some kind of unanticipated digital corrosion might render the compact disc compilations and CD-singles unplayable... you may someday need the analogue repositories, the vinyl and the cassettes, to hear the things you want to hear. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Negative Approach - Tied Down - Melody Maker - March 16 1991


plus bonus Laughing Hyenas bashing from this Spin review 1995 paired with Royal Trux

Thank You (Virgin)       
Hard Times (Touch & Go)  

     Where could US underground rock 'go', after Sonic 
Youth's "Daydream Nation" reached the outer-limits of 
'reinvention of the guitar'? Why, back to 'the source', of 
course--black R&B (and the late '60s/early 70s white 
appropriations thereof), in a quest to relearn the lost 
fundamentals of 'groove' and 'feel'. 

Hence the backwards journey taken by a new breed of blues fundamentalists like 
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Come and Mule (formed, 
coincidentally, by two refugees from Laughing Hyenas). I can 
only marvel at the timelag syndrome that bedevils Amerindie's 
relationship with black music: unlike British bands, US 
rockers only seem comfortable venerating African-American pop 
when it's dead and buried, e.g. Big Chief vis-a-vis early 
Funkadelic. Doubtless, we'll have to wait twenty years before 
the US underground wakes up to the booty-coercing futurism of 
SWV, Craig Mack and Underground Resistance. 

Just to make sure we know exactly where they're coming 
from, Laughing Hyenas namecheck Howling Wolf and John Lee 
Hooker in interviews, and insert the word 'blues' into not 
one but TWO songs on their new LP--'Hard Time Blues', with 
its risible "I bin down since I could crawl" line, and the 
maudlin, country-inflected "Home of the Blues". The Hyenas 
used to be a noise-core outfit, whose sole distinguishing 
feature was the flamethrower vocals of John Brannon (who used 
to sear ears in the ultra-taut hardcore unit Negative 

Despite their blues affectations, the Hyenas 
purvey what used to be called 'high-octane rock'n'roll', 
firmly rooted in the late '60s sound of their native Detroit; 
Brennon now sounds like Iggy if he'd been fixated on Jagger 
rather than Jim Morrison. 

While the band can't swing for toffee, they do rumble 
effectively. But Brannon's slurred roar ('take me fo' a 
ride', 'reach out yo' han'', ad nauseam) has less to do with 
Robert Johnson than with The Stooges of "I'm Sick Of You" and 
"Not Right".  If heavily-amplified, fuzzed-to-fuck self-pity 
is your particular cup of poison, drink deep. Me, I'll take 
my blooze bastardisation from those who take Ozzy rather than 
Muddy as blues-print, i.e. Alice In Chains (who could really 
make something of Hyena titles like 'Slump' and 'Each Dawn I 
Like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (that other offshoot of 
garage-skronk pioneers Pussy Galore), Royal Trux have at 
least earned the right to go atavistic. Having proved they 
can push the envelope (with the drug-damaged lo-fi chaos 
theorems of "Twin Infinitives" and the "Exile on Main Street
filtered through "Daydream Nation" of "Cats and Dogs"), it's 
only fair that Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema should be 
allowed to contract their raunch'n'roll to fit the contours of 
Black Crowes-style retro. On their major label debut Thank 
You, Trux retain the supple boogie glide of "Thorn In My 
Pride", the baleful thrust of "Remedy", but purge the hokey 
Humble Pie over-emoting that makes Crowes stick in craw. 
Thank You is Sticky-Fingered to the max, its sinewy riffs, 
grinding bass and seething percussion harking back to 'Can't 
You Hear Me Knockin'?". 

What sets Trux leagues above and 
beyond Laughing Hyenas is that they funk, in that fierce 
white-boy fashion that early '70s rock had down pat, but 
which punk extinguished when it replaced syncopation with 

Song-wise, Royal Trux don't really write tunes so much 
as riffs; Hagerty & Herrema's elegantly wasted unison drawl 
functions as a vocal equivalent to rhythm guitar, just 
another twist'n'tug factor in the all-important groove. 
Herrema's haggard croon (you can practically hear the nodes 
forming on her distressed larynx) is at its vicious best on 
"You're Gonna Lose"--offset by Hagerty's gloating backing 
chorus, she expectorates the venomous put-downs, and proves 
herself one of the best 'bad' singers since Alice Cooper 
circa 'Elected'. 

Overall, though, what with lyrics that are 
as incomprehensibly Philip K. Dick-like as ever, Thank You 
isn't about songs and singing, but grooves and guitar. The 
album was produced by David Briggs (who worked on many of 
Neil Young's '70s albums), and appropriately Hagerty's short 
solo on "Map Of The City" has a jalapeno-sting redolent of 
'Southern Man'. Generally, Hagerty avoids the gaseous, 
mirage-like soloing that made 'Cats and Dogs' such a 
gloriously narcotic haze, and concentrates on a rhythm/lead 
hybrid that's tres tres Keef. 

 Best comes last with the aformentioned 'You're Gonna 
Lose' and the snakehipped, sultry 'Shadow of the Wasp'. The 
highest praise you can offer Thank You is that it's like 
time travel. While this ultimately underlines the inadequacy 
of the Amerindie state-of-art (basically antiquarianism, or 
at best, lo-fi's retro-eclecticism), it also indicates that 
Royal Trux have made a muthafunkin' fine record. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

World of Twist live - April 6 1991 / "Sons of the Stage" single of the week March 23 1991 - Melody Maker

in honor of Gordon King's memoir When Does the Mind-Bending Start? The Life and Times of World of Twist, which I'm eager to read 

bonus stuff, adding here this fun feature by Paul Lester on WoT

and Bob Stanley's original piece on WoT

and from the other paper The Material World of World of Twist (or should that be The Material World of Twist?) aka Portrait of the Artist as Consumer

Oh and why not - bringing up the rear, catching them just as the downward arc of their career starts to really plunge (ie. the mis-begotten, thinly produced - but I still loved it, made it my #1 album of '91 in fact - Quality Street comes out finally), here's my feature (note that it was a single page feature, a demotion after the P.Lester double page spread: 

WORLD OF TWIST, interview
Melody Maker, November 2nd, 1991

by Simon Reynolds

"When I went to see Hawkwind as a 14 year old kid," recalls Gordon King. World Of Twist's guitarist, "I was awestruck. I thought 'where the fuck do they live, what kind of people are they?!' I was fascinated. Seeing Nik Turner walking around with someone's head on a axe, behaving like a twat, or Bob Calvert narrating some of his drivel - I just thought it was a really heavy trip. 10 years later, you listen and you have a really good laugh."

That's as good an evocation of the confused drives behind 'kitschadelia' as you'll get. Kitschadelia is what happens when an aspiration to the monumentalism of pre-punk, is checked by post-punk irony. Seen through the primal gaze of the quintessential pop kid, The Sweet's plastic insurrection, Gary Glitter's barbarian bubblegum, Marc Bolan shrouded in Top Of The Pop's cheapo purple haze effects, were truly apocalyptic, genuinely alien. In retrospect, you have to laugh at the crass sensationalism, the naff, over-stated effects; at the time, your eyes were blown.

World Of Twist aren't alone in hankering for the lost innocence of what Nik Cohn called SUPERPOP. There's St Etienne, with their dreams of gold lame, limousines, and a Phil Spectoresque empire of puppet-proteges. There's Teenage Fanclub, whose Bandwagonesque is virtually a concept album about Seventies glam'n'metal. In the States, Urge Overkill's ironic-yet-awesome anthems like "The Kids Are Insane"
resurrect the stadium rock of their adolescence. Partly, bands are playing with the idea of superstardom, as a way of coming to terms with the insignificance of being a rock band in 1991. Partly, it's a genuine envy of the days when rock was titanic, hysteria-inducing, before punk demystified the process, enabled/obliged us to see through the spectacle.

"The finest age you go can through with pop is when you're thirteen," avers drummer Nick Sanderson. "It's all totally fresh, you're so obsessed."

"You can be so snobby about everything," adds Gordon. "You can be at school and everyone's into Gary Glitter and Slade - which I did like, I admit - but I'd sneer and say 'I like progressive'. I had long hair, an Afghan coat and a gas mask bag. I was three years ahead of my contemporaries, and hated by everyone. I didn't have a girlfriend til I was 18! You forget that that still goes on - there's probably some 13 year old kid with the modern equivalent of a gas mask bag with World Of Twist's logo on it, and he's sneering at the kids who like Carter".

Like Gordon, Nick was obsessed with Genesis, Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator. "If I'd known then, aged 13, that one day I'd be doing an interview with Melody Maker, the progressive paper, I'd have cried tears of absolute joy. It was my first music paper."

Gordon: "It's got the best name as well. Born in a different era. But I've got to pick you up on one thing, Simon - Melody Maker seems to have dropped the folk rock coverage. Why is that? There was some lovely, lovely bands on that scene. What happened to Gryphon?"

From their unlikely beginning as prog rock fiends, Nick and Gordon moved on to Northern Soul - all nighters, spending forty quid on rare singles. Then came punk. "When punk happened, I had to hide half my albums when people came round," remembers Gordon. "All the prog stuff."

Nick: "You had to rewrite history. It was very Stalinist. Me, I had to put all my albums at the back of the collection, make out I didn't listen to music."

Gordon: "During punk, the band that finally drove my dad into a fit of rage was XTC on So It Goes - the most innocuous of the lot. All his pent-up fury went on them".

Perhaps the most long-lasting effect of punk was irony; after the Pistols, you could never quite return to the life- and-death seriousness of imagining rock as a world-changing force. In some ways, the spirit of punk lives largest and most visible in Vic Reeves, who's as much a part of the kitschadelic sensibility as any of the bands. As it happens, Gordon's turn of phrase (lots of arch expressions like "super", "hopping mad", "slap-up nosh") is tres Vic.

Post-punk irony is both curse and blessing. Pre-punk, rock stars took themselves seriously to the point of madness.

"We recorded the album at Real World, Peter Gabriel's studio," says Gordon. "And he's a classic case of a man who's lost touch with reality. The title of the studio's so ironic. He was a childhood idol of me and Nick, and we were dead keen to meet him. But he was really shy. Worse thing is, he makes such strenous efforts to stay in contact with the real world. It's almost touching. Like he kept making cups of tea for everybody in the whole room. It's little gestures like that, where he's trying to say 'I am normal'. Yes all went mad, too."

Punk's more immediate effect, though, was to discredit the idea of spectacle, of the performer as superhuman or otherworldly. Apart from a few shamanic, glam-influenced figures like Siouxsie and Adam Ant, the main thrust of punk was demystificatory, icon-oclastic. The first group to break ranks and reinstate the idea of spectacle was The Human League - a big influence on WoT.

"The best gig I've ever seen was Human League at the Lyceum, just before the girls joined. It was just so strange. I used to go all the big, progressive shows - Hawkwind, Genesis, all the dinosaur groups - so I wasn't aware of the irony involved in the League. I just thought, after four years of sweaty pogoing and ordinary blokes onstage, that this was the kind of SHOW I'd secretly always wanted."

In fact, Human League were the first kitschadelic group, the first to go back to yesterday's idea of the future. They even covered Glitter's "Rock'N'Roll". WoT hate "politically motivated pop", bemoan the recent overdose of drab realism, lament the fact that TOTP is a barren zone, devoid of aliens and freaks. Acid house, great as it was/is, has only contributed to the new facelessness. Like the League back in '79, World Of Twist stand almost alone against the resurgence of "ordinary geezer-ism" (Carter, drongo bands, knob-twiddling rave technicians). WoT want to bring back awe, fascination, a gulf between audience and band.

"We're trying to do something a bit larger than what everyone else does. But it's not like we're really arrogant. It's just that, from when I used to go and see bands as a kid, the ones I remember are the really massive groups."

Quality Street, World Of Twist's debut album, sounds larger than life. At the risk of labouring the Human League analogy, I'd say it's a Dare for the Nineties.

"It's the only pop album available, isn't it?" says Nick.

World Of Twist dwell on a most peculiar planet of sound. The album ranges from monumental moog-mantras like "Sons Of The Stage", "The Lights" and "On The Scene", to glutinously saccharine love devotionals like "Jellybaby" and "Speed Wine". The stand-out track, "The Spring", cuts between mock- orchestral lavishness and seriously cosmic trance-rock, while cryptic lyrics conjure an Ecstasy-addled vision of pop utopia. Bubblegum sitar, corny horn flourishes, Northern soul beats, Dave Gilmour/Loop guitar curlicues, mucoid spurts of synth, aciiied frenzy - it ought to be a mess, but the absurdly motley inputs come together like a dream.

"We're all fired up by such different things, we're too old for that unity thing," says Nick. They're an absurdly motley crew. Visual technician and Catweazle-lookalike Adge's ideal night, says Gordon, would be a rave; "my ideal night would be a Northern Soul all-nighter." Nick's would be a weeekend in pre-glasnost East Germany. He used to be morbidly obessed with the late, unlamented DDR - with the dimly lit drabness, the all-pervading misery, the surly restaurant service. "Everybody wore crap versions of Western clothes, Finnish jeans - they all looked like Mark E. Smith. I went so many times, they wouldn't let me in anymore."

And then there's crooner Tony Ogden, who (according to Gordon) listened to things like MC5 "way back when they weren't cool like they are now", but who is now more enamoured of mid-Sixties pop cabaret like The Honeycombs. "They had very peculiar sound for the time, the vocals were recorded on ten tracks, sped up and slowed down". A jittery, cagey fellow, Tony's contributions to the interview are coded and evasive. Asked where the obsession with sweets (Quality Street, "Sweets", "Jellybaby") comes from, he replies "it's a purely accidental, confectionery connection." Nick adds "'cos, personally, I'm more of a savouries man."

A lot of songs about are the exhiliration of pop, the thrill of neon-blitzed Saturday Nite, being "on the scene". Does World Of Twist music come out of your life or out of a love of pop?

Tony: "We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it. Serious!"

What's your ambition for World Of Twist, your dream state of total achievement?

"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time." 


I don't believe there were any more WoT features in MM after this - probably Earl Brutus got one or two though. That's a group I always meant to do properly. Maybe now's the time... 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Bad Brains - Melody Maker - March 16 1991



Clarendon, Hammersmith, London

Melody Maker, May 16th 1987

by Simon Reynolds 

Live the Stupids are never quite as monstrous as on record. Tonight, hampered by the nonappearance of guitarist Marty Tuff, their frantic thrashing stirred up a strangely immobile cloud of noise that loomed in the distance rather than sweeping over to engulf us. Hard core should drown.
Bambi Slam songs are Pebbles tantrums. Sixties punk with tweaks of feedback and a beat like a little brat stamping its feet on the spot, or the Glitter Band at 78rpm. Interesting, but unfortunately made to seem puny and flat-footed by the noise and majesty of what followed.
Bad Brains double-stun with a tidal wave of their sound and the shock of their incongruity — imagine Burning Spear playing Anthrax. But the link-up of Rasta and speed core is totally appropriate; both sub-cultures have a total vision of the world, as unremitting tribulation and slavery, both imagine liberation in the form of apocalypse. Bad Brains' music similarly seems to consist in absolutes — of gravity, velocity, heat, cold. Blacks invented rock 'n' roll in the first place, so it's fitting that they're here at its outer limits, presiding over its ultimate super-nova, its whitest white-out. Their singer slashes out the beat with an outstretched arm, and it's like he's conducting the orbit of planets.
The shows are slick, as tautly rehearsed, as the Temptations or Zapp, right down to glib inter-song chat. An intensely glamorous bunch — the singer lashes the air with his dreadlocks, the guitarist wears a permanent gape of joy at his own brilliance, the bassist's bug eyes and Clinton eyebrows say "I can't believe we're doing this!" In a way, there's nothing of themselves in the music, it's anti-authentic: Bad Brains take the form of hardcore and perfect (exaggerate) it to the point where it's abstract art.
Such a fastidious assault, so exact, so exacting. Bad Brains are about astounding musicianship crammed within rigid parameters and so blazing all the more brightly. (The singer brings an almost scat feel to the straight-ahead melodies, throws in all manner of swerves and dips.) Similarly the emotional intensity of Bad Brains, of hard core in general, comes from when energy is caged, ricochets off the walls.
Bad Brains were like a visitation, a bolt from the heavens, and the vast sexless apocalypse of their music left even the grubbiest, most lumpen members of their congregation cleansed, elevated, re-born.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Cover versioning - Skip James versus John Martyn

 for The Wire cover versions mega-feature issue, November 2005

“Devil Got My Woman” (Skip James, rec. 1931)

Blues might be the most worn-out (through over-use and abuse), hard-to-hear-fresh music on the planet, but James’ original “Devil” --just his piteous keening voice and acoustic guitar--still cuts right through to chill your marrow. The lyric surpasses “Love Like Anthrax” with its anti-romantic imagery of love as toxic affliction, a  dis-ease of the spirit (James tries to rest, to switch off his lovesick thoughts for a while,  but “my mind starts a-rambling like a wild geese from the west”). Most singers would flinch from taking on this unheimlich tune. But John Martyn, reworking (and renaming) it as “I’d Rather Be The Devil” on Solid Air (Island, 1973) not only equals the original’s intensity but enriches and expands the song, stretching its form to the limit. It starts as a sickening plunge, a dive into seductive but treacherous waters. Roiling with congas and clavinet, the band’s surging aquafunk rivals anything contemporaneous by Sly Stone or P-Funk; Martyn moves through the music like a shark. Lyric shards come into focus now and then--“so much evil”, “stole her from my best friend… know he’ll get lucky, steal her back”--but mostly Martyn’s murky rasp fills your head like this black gas of amorphous malevolence. Then suddenly the bitches-brew  turbulence dissipates; ocean-as-killing-floor transforms into a barrier reef-cocooned idyll. Danny Thompson’s bass injects pure intravenous calm, keyboards flicker and undulate like anemones, Martyn’s needlepoint fingerpicking spirals in Echoplexed loops of rising rapture. Sonically traversing the distance from the Mississippi levee work-camps in which the young James toiled to Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, “I’d Rather Be The Devil” captures the ambivalence of “blue”: the colour of orphan-in-this-world desolation, but also of back-to-the-womb bliss. The two halves of Martyn’s drastic remake also correspond to a battle in the singer’s soul--between monster and water baby, danger and grace.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Cocteau Twins

Harold Budd Elizabeth Fraser Robin Guthrie Simon Raymonde 
The Moon and the Melodies 
Melody Maker, November 1 1986

Cocteau Twins + Mazzy Star - live in NYC - December 1 1990 - Melody Maker

typo alert - "foyer" should be "cover" (mistaken by Vaughan as a diss, nothing could have been further!)

entries from a listener's guide to 4AD, eMusic, 2006


The Moon and the Melodies


No one would claim this is Harold Budd’s finest half-hour (that would be his Brian Eno Ambient Series collaboration The Plateaux of Mirror), nor that it’s the Cocteau Twins’ peak achievement (too many contenders to list). But it is a captivating cul de sac off  the beaten track of both artists’ trajectories. And an apt pairing, given their idyllicism and mutual ardour for effects-saturated texture. Cocteau soundboys Guthrie and Raymonde do a good job of standing in for Eno on “Memory Gongs”, cloaking Budd’s piano in a mist of reverb to create an effect like the autumn dawn-mist slowly rising while a watery sun peeks through yellow-hazed sky. The instrumentals are nice but inevitably the most breathtaking moments come when Liz Fraser’s voice enters the soundscape. All updrafts, currents, tides and breakers, “Ooze Out and Away, Onehow” is a mermaid torch song, while the shatteringly lovely “Eyes Are Mosaics” would be regarded as a Cocteau Twins classic if it had appeared on one of their “proper” albums.


Blue Bell Knoll


It’s so hard to pick a Cocteau Twins album as the One. Head over Heels is their early classic, and EPs like Sunburst and SnowblindThe Spangle Maker and Love’s Easy Tears are mid-period highs. Still, Blue Bell Knoll is their most flawless record, and also the one that’s the most approachable for virgin listeners while still retaining the group’s bottomless mystery. You can hear a smidgeon of Kate Bush on the title track opener, but Fraser soon sheds all ancestral traces to assert her candidacy as one of the five or six most original vocalists of the rock era. Likewise the group, having started out as a sort of soft-core Siouxsie & the Banshees, now mature into a sound without parallel or peer. Lindsay Buckingham to Liz’s Nicks, spangle-maker Robin Guthrie drapes his lover in iridescent canopies of guitarstuff. Fraser’s sculpted gush of liquidized language is almost entirely indecipherable but always sounds rich in wholly private, non-verbalisable meaning.  Sometimes these sweet nothings seem like songs for swooning lovers, sometimes they seem literally like baby-talk, making you imagine an Eskimo mother chirruping to her newborn. The Cocteaus struggled after this album:  when you’ve made songs as sublime as “Carolyn Fingers,” ‘Cico Buff” and “Ella Megablast Burls Forever”  what do you do for an encore? They made a mistaken pop-wards move, with Fraser singing first in better enunciated gibberish and then in distinctly plain English. She said so much more when you couldn’t understand a word.

Oneohtrix Point Never, Elizabeth Fraser

“Tales from the Trash Stratum”

(Pitchfork, tracks of the year 2021)

The original “Trash Stratum” on 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never entwined distortion and euphony in fairly familiar Dan Lopatin fashion. This year’s drastic reinvention lovingly collages ‘80s production motifs: pizzicato string-flutters as fragrant as Enya, blobs of reverb-smudged piano that evoke Harold Budd, high-toned pings of bass that could be The Blue Nile or Seventeen Seconds Cure. It’s like Lopatin is a bowerbird building a glittering nest to attract a mate – and succeeds in reeling in the onetime Cocteau Twin.  Fraser’s contributions -  ASMR-triggering wisps of sibilant breath, chirruping syllables from a disintegrated lullaby – are closer to a diva’s warm-up exercises than an actual aria, and sometimes you long for her to take full-throated flight into song.  But it’s lovely to hear the Goth goddess brought into the glitchy 21st Century.

                                                                                                                                Simon Reynolds 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Electronic Panorama and the Prospective 21e Siecle series

THE INNER SLEEVE: Electronic Panorama 

The Wire, March 2009 

by Simon Reynolds 

It's tempting to pick a favorite record sleeve based on what a group or genre represents to me. 

For instance, I could point to the two grubby-looking photocopied paper inserts enfolding a 7 inch that is Scritti Politti's 2nd Peel Session EP. The first sheet carries the group's standard wodge of typewritten data about recording costs (demystify the means of production, to help others do-it-themselves), while the second is pages 179-180 of an imaginary book, Scritto's Republic, containing a lucid exposition of what were then (1979) pretty fresh and pretty mindblowing (to sixteen year old me) ideas about the relationship between language, power and the construction of self.

Equally, I might brandish an early '90s rave sleeve such as DJ Trax's 1 Man I DJ or 2 Bad Mice's Waremouse/Bombscare Remixes, both Moving Shadow EPs. Here, the goofy montaged snapshots of the teenagers responsible for the tunes exude a charming amateurishness that suits the made-in-two-minutes spirit of Ardkore.

With both Scritti and Moving Shadow, the sounds are fabulous and the movements--postpunk and rave--mean the world to me; made me, in a sense. 

But these sleeves aren't really things of beauty: graphic designers would frown, while I don't exactly gaze at them in aesthetic rapture. So I feel beholden to pick something that's both lovely-looking and personally meaningful. 

Which brings me to the series of albums released in the 1960s by Philips under the imprint "Prospective 21eme Siecle," which featured musique concrete and electroacoustic luminaries such as Francois Bayle and Bernard Parmegiani. All the albums are clad in futuristic-looking metallic gloss sleeves with abstract patterns. 

I picked up my first one (Pierre Henry's Voile d'Orphee I et II, Oxford jumble sale, 1983) unaware that it belonged to a series. To me, it was an eye-catching one-off, competitively priced at just one quid. I vaguely knew who Henry was, the fact that he was important, but my attraction was literally superficial, like a magpie greedily swooping down for a glittering foil wrapper. Which is pretty much what the cover is. (No one seems to know who the series designer was). I confess that at the time I only listened to the record once or twice. The sleeve, however, adorned the walls of my various digs for years (and as a result is BluTak-blemished on its back side).

It wasn't until 2003 when record-fiend/ blogger/Wire contributor/musician (and good friend) Matthew Ingram a.k.a. Woebot wrote a post about "The Silver Records" that the penny dropped. The hunt was on. I've now got thirteen from the series (only 22 to go). But which to nominate here? The obvious choice would be the initiating LP, Voile d'Orphee. But as sleeves I prefer Henry's Variations Pour Une Porte et un Soupir and Xenakis's Persephassa. Yet in those cases the music inside the packaging doesn't appeal as much.

Perhaps the solution is to nominate one I've not got but most covet: that collector's holy grail, Electronic Panorama, a box of four platters each dedicated to music from a different city (Paris, Tokyo, Utrecht, Warsaw). This beaut turns up on Ebay and Gemm regularly, priced way out of my league. One day, maybe… 

As a smashing-looking artifact and an assemblage of astonishing sounds, Electronic Panorama stands in for the entire Prospective series. It also says something to me about the pathos of collecting, its fetishism and folly. (See, I "have" all of Panorama's sonic contents, they're not hard to find on the web---why then do I crave the music's husk, gorgeous as it is?). Panorama speaks to impulses petty and lofty, childish and superhuman. On the one hand, the seriality of collector desire, the sadsack compulsion to get the complete set (coins, cards, stamps, or in this case, a label catalogue, even though the music can never be all gold--and there's definitely some duds in the Prospective series). On the other hand, Prospective 21eme Siecle embodies with supreme stylishness the awe-inspiring ambition of that post-WW2 drive to open up a new frontier for music. In some ways, the black-and-white sobriety of the back covers--portrait shots of the suit-wearing, bespectacled composers and sleevenotes about complex methodology and grand themes--resonates with me as much as the shiny-shiny fronts.

Consider that evocative imprint name. A French friend informs me that "prospective" is a philosophical term to describe the study of possible futures. It fuses "perspective" and "prospection" (as in a prospector exploring a new territory, searching for gold, or indeed silver). Here we are now, some way into the actual 21eme siècle, and there's an "after the gold rush" feel. And I wonder, will we ever again witness anything with that same Eureka!-like spirit of discovery and quest?

You can hear Electronic Panorama in pristine glistening flac at Avant-Garde Project 13 and 14

For a text for the exhibition Futur Anterieur, I wrote about the Prospective 21e Siecle covers and how the look inspired similar covers for the French science fiction publisher Ailleurs et Demain (which translates as Elsewhere and Tomorrow)

"In 1969, the publisher Robert Laffont launched the literary equivalent of Prospective 21e Siècle: the imprint Ailleurs et Demain, dedicated to science fiction and under the direction of Gérard Klein. Over the coming years Ailleurs et Demain would publish translations of works by giants of the genre such as Philip K. Dick, John Brunner, Frank Herbert, and Arthur C. Clarke along with novels by French s.f. writers like Jacques Sternberg, Michel Jeury, and Klein himself.  Klein was an admirer of the Prospective series and decided to package A & D fiction using the same process, called Héliophore and originally developed in the 1930s by Louis Defay to transform aluminum paper for printing. 

Some of the Ailleurs Et Demain designs closely resemble specific Prospective 21e Siecle sleeves, while others are new but clearly inspired by the series. (With both the albums and the novels, nobody seems to know the identity of the designers, who were in-house and uncredited).  The design style, which eventually extended beyond silver to gold and copper book covers, was maintained for over 20 years, before being abandoned."

More about the Heliphore process at Grapheine

Mine mine finally all  mine (thanks to the generosity of a dear friend). Ailleurs et Demain paperbacks picked up in Lyon.