August 9th, 2006


The iceberg listens, melts

Living like an iceberg, with 90% of my music collection "underwater" (in storage somewhere), means that I focus a lot of attention on the things that people send me. In my new flat, the stuff I've received in the post from people is pretty much the only music I have to listen to. I rather like the freshness of that feeling, the way it cuts me off from my roots and habits. So this is an entry documenting the records I've been sent recently.

(Advance CD)
Active Suspension
Release date "Fall 2006"

The intro and first track "Genius Boy" suggest a Cornelius record from 1998 or so, with cute Japanese voices (Yoshimi Tomida and Kumi Okamoto), edit-frenzy collage and what I can only call "Trattoria harps". A real Akihabara sound, fun and hyperactive. It's odd that a Parisian artist would take up the baton of electro-Shibuya-kei, after the pioneers of the sound imploded into low-key LOHAS. Then again, I can hear shades of Daft Punk and Hypo and Digiki here too, so it's "Parisian" too.

The editing gets close to drum'n'bass at times. This is a pop record with ADD in its DSP. It jitters and it genre-flits in a friendly, funky way. The beat is central, and the orientalism constant. Mostly the textures are cute game-arcade 8-bit sounds, but they often go to amazing places, like when the end of "The Macguffin" turns into a pop-pollution version of Boulez' "Marteau Sans Maitre". Any recognizable songs sound like the detritus of "real songs"; everything here is an eccentric remix, full of sonic inventiveness. Zoe Wolf's track sounds like Martina Topley-Bird (Tricky's bird) jamming with late 70s Sakamoto (B2 Unit period, gold!) and the Momus track "Syllabus of Errors" also sounds a bit Tricky-like, veering from vaudeville menace to cheerful blippy funk chundering. My favourite track, though, is "Silviphobia", a really remarkable piece featuring Midori Hirano. It starts as a Japanese folk song sung to the melody of "Good King Wenceslas", then becomes a sort of brass band number, then gets obliquely funky, then turns into another Japanese folk song, then a field recording of summer insects, and so on, ringing the changes, turning surprising and delightful corners. It's much less hyperactive than the other tracks, more songlike, using editing to carve the different sections into brilliantly-textured pieces, like a succession of slightly disorienting, but welcoming, rooms. If one track on this album leads to O.LAMM's next album, I'd love it to be this.

Midori Hirano
Lush Rush
Release date 2006.09.25
Noble Label

After loving "Silviphobia" (which I think translates as "fear of forests"?) so much, I had high expectations for Midori Hirano's new solo record. Would it be nine "Silviphobias" back-to-back? Well, no. Midori's voice is distinctive, but this is a much more low-key record with less processing. Again the idea of LOHAS comes up: all the people in Japan who were doing high-edit music in the 90s, then DSP stuff in the first few years of this decade, seem to have gone much more natural and organic in their sound recently. Midori's record consists of mid-tempo piano and violin numbers, warm and acoustic-sounding, although if you listen closely you can hear a lot of subtle processing going on. Mostly simple two-chord alternations, the pieces wander in a melancholy way, sounding loose and semi-improvised. There's more going on than in, say, The Mountain Record by Yuichiro Fujimoto or Sawako's Hum, but we're in a similar landscape. Some of Midori's vocals sound a bit Meredith Monk-like, and sometimes she's slightly out of tune, or mixed so low that her voice just sits in the mix like another instrument. I think also of Gutevolk / Hirono Nishiyama -- there's something dreamy and schizoid, as if a kind of utterly rock- and soul-free music were taking over the singer. Here, Anglo-Saxon commercial music just doesn't exist; instead we get traditional Japanese folk run through machines, with a bit of experimental-jazz-improv going on (I think of Jan Steele's "Voices and Instruments" on Eno's Obscure label, or the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). Field recordings add crepuscular atmosphere here and there. I like this, but I have to say I think it works better on the more minimal Yuichiro Fujimoto record, where there's more charisma and fewer chords. And I rather hope Midori's next record also goes somewhat in the direction of "Silviphobia"!

Concept Bureau
Identity Encoder
Selected Encodings

This is a CD (in a limited edition of 50, of which my copy is the 24th) recording an installation-performance event that happened in March 2004 at Artists' Television Access in San Francisco. "Come to the opening and have your identity encoded onto a compact disc!" said the flyer. Concept Bureau is a collective consisting of James Lucas (aka Rroland), Erik Seidenglanz, and Sean Talley, and for the month that they were in residence at ATA Sean and James apparently hooked up an electronic card reader to a monophonic analog synth in such a way that personal information from the ID cards of visitors could be turned into gloopy music, thus forming a sort of "information portrait". Some people I know visited, like curator Betty Nguyen, but I certainly wouldn't recognize her from this portrait; the tracks all sound somewhat similar, and somewhat random. The record doesn't really stand up on its own as music; I guess you had to be there. But the sleeve is gorgeous, a handcrafted piece of white-threaded cardboard with lovely lettering.

New Humans

The New Humans are my favourite new band. That's saying a lot -- and not a lot -- because I hate bands. I met them at the Whitney, at the otherwise-disastrous Peace Tower event dominated by the horrible Japanther, and was blown away by the measured, visually-compelling discipline of New Humans' performance, which mostly consisted of a slowly-growing feedback drone which gradually grew to a waterfall-like roar as clean, white and cool as the fluorescent floor lights that cast a spectral glow over the band's concentrated faces. "Disassociate" contains that piece, and some other ultra-minimal guitar-bass-drums pieces which manage to take rock to new places. The animating spirit in this group is a visual artist, Mika Tajima, and I have to say that the attention to visual presentation is at least half the point here: the sleeve of this vinyl record is so gorgeous that it's become the centrepiece of my living room (along with the poster insert that came with the record), and the music works rather the same way. I put it on my turntable as a kind of subtle coloration, a talismanic vibration, to banish the spirits of ugliness (some crappy German rock record ringing around the courtyard, for instance). It's no surprise that this group has worked with fashion designers United Bamboo, and you can see their excellent live visuals here and here.

Bill Wells and Maher Shalal Hash Baz
Osaka Bridge
Karaoke Kalk
LC 10028

You know when music sounds like it's made by morally good people? This is one of those records. It's just so warm, you imagine it could save the world, ending war wherever it was played. Like a mellow Fellini film soundtrack it's heart-warming and wonder-filled. Hesitant brass, subtle slow jazz chord sequences, and a feeling of being amongst friends carry you through this on a wave of empathy, and it feels like being tipsy on red wine after an excellent meal. At times the ragged edges make it feel like the Portsmouth Sinfonia or even the Langley Schools Project, but the amateurism here is actually highly professional; these people can play, but they just like patina, the same wabi sabi way Tori Kudo likes the pots he thows in his home kiln to have some quirks and cracks. I had a chance to see the shows this record came out of, since I was in Osaka in August 2004, but stupidly missed it. This record is the next best thing. Heartwarming music by heartwarming people.