Today I'm reviewing the audio material I've been handed on this latest tour, plus stuff I found waiting in my mailbox when I got home. It's fascinating; just as Click Opera commenters tend to fall -- to simplify enormously -- into two broad categories (artistic hipsters and eccentric dandies, the progressive and the charmingly retro), so the music I tend to get given also divides quite neatly into formalist electronic experiment (often ambient) and music hall throwbacks (usually highly narrative) made by quirky oddballs too bright to be understood by the world. Which I suppose is apt, since my own work contains both those elements. I usually justify the "clash" in interviews by saying that it's precisely trad techniques like narrative, chord sequences and so on which can be used to "disorienteer" the audience somewhere formally interesting.
Let's start with the Black Light Orchestra. I became aware of a knot of Japanese girls at the first of my two Brussels concerts, and after the show met the centre of their attention: Yannick, the handsome drummer from Black Light Orchestra. It turned out the girls all came from pretty much the same district of Osaka as Hisae, and the band describes itself on its MySpace page as based in "Bruxelles / Osaka".
From the name, I expected them to be super-trendy electro-disco formalists of some kind, but the reference points that sprang to mind when I played material from their forthcoming album (and a DVD of their appearance on a Japanese TV show called Music Tide) were Brecht and Weill, Noel Coward, Frank Zappa, The Tiger Lilies and The Residents. This is a deranged, wide-ranging theatre music, with song titles like My Life is a Broken Bicycle, Midnight Milkman and A Happy Kangaroo Upon the Moon.
It's far too clever and disturbing and creative for pop or dance or fashion audiences (and in fact visually the group is currently a bit dowdy and over-inclined to gurn, though it obviously hasn't put the Japanese girls off), but I predict that Black Light Orchestra will have great success (on the scale of the Tiger Lilies, I mean) if they can find a literary property (something like "Under Milk Wood") and adapt it for the musical theatre. At the second Brussels concert I met the Black Light mainman, Mr Diagonal, self-described "last living survivor of the great Scottish-Jewish music hall tradition". He's clearly a genius.
Okay, let's switch traditions. Electro-formalism (quiet and noisy) here we come! After my New York show I met Nobuko Hori for the first time (she'd already been a Click Opera superstar). She was taller and more model-like than I'd expected. Before her friends whisked her away, I was handed a copy of her spanking new album, X to Your Milky Hair. How I love that title! Great sleeve too, by Nobuko herself (she's also a designer). Pity she's on Music Related, though, a label run by the most pointlessly pugnacious man since Alastair Campbell (Trevor -- the man in question -- has promised my friend Alin a bop on the nose the next time he sees him, which will be amusing, since Alin is a barrel-chested gigantor who eats mountains for breakfast).
The same tight-knit little group of New York Japanese friends (centred around Hikaru Furuhashi, who took the Monkey Town photo at the top of this entry) contains Sawako, a subtle ambient-electronic artist I know from my Tokyo days back in the early noughties. She's also released a new album, Madoromi (Anticipate 003), and it's quite interesting to compare and contrast the two records, hers and Nobuko's. They're both primarily electronic, they both contain some (but not much) singing, they both bubble away pleasantly in the background, adding a tint to the room (Sawako's tint is peaceful and wise, Nobuko's boisterous and bouncy). As a consumer, this is the kind of music I tend to buy and play over and over. Fujimoto's Mountain Record, for instance, was probably my most-played album of 2006. Madoromi is a slightly-less-ambient, slightly-less-fragmented version of the same thing: a scent that wafts through the room, borne on the drone of an electronic shruti box. Madoromi is destined to be played a lot in my house, but I suspect it won't leave many traces when the delightful scent wafts away. Nobuko's album is more spikey, and in parts reminds me of Hypo (why hasn't she collaborated with Antony yet?) in the aggression of her cut-copy-paste procedures. I think it's probably going to get played less than Sawako's album, but leave perhaps a more profound mark on what I actually do when I make music. At any rate, these are my two favourite albums of the moment.
One of the most exciting things for me, playing Brussels, was to see both Baudoux brothers standing out there in the audience. As Scratch Pet Land fans know, the brothers haven't been getting on too well since the electro-hippy bubble-drone unit split circa 2002 -- rumour was that they only spoke once a year or so at family reunions. It wasn't too disastrous for those of us who loved both Laurent and Nicolas, though: we got albums from their solo incarnations, DJ Elephant Power and Sun OK Papi KO, as well as Fan Club Orchestra productions. I titled a recent blog about them The energy of awkwardness, but on Tuesday night there was no personal awkwardness whatsoever: the two brothers seemed to be chatting away happily, and Laurent (who supported my show with a great set -- funky-clumsy, tactile, absurdist and very "black") even told me that Scratch Pet Land may be working together again soon.
As if to pave the way, Laurent gave me a wonderful artifact, a Scratch Pet Land CD-ROM called Qubo Gas, described as "a semi-randomized and interactive animation where users can interact on graphics and sounds". The multi-layered scribbly semi-transparent artwork is brilliant and the music seems to work the same way, taking the user from layer to layer of funky-crazy bubbly Scratch Pet riffage, as scribbles dance around on your screen. And hey, here it is online! Or do I mean here? Yes.
In London I went to an exhibition on Redchurch Street called Kill Matthew Barney. The title was painter Jock McFadyen's idea of a joke, or an attempt to bring the art world back to his kind of street-level (paintings of people carrying plastic carrier bags, coming home from the shops). Looking after the show was Glaswegian poet Gerry Mitchell, who I met at Tate Britain when I played there in January. Gerry gave me a copy of his new album The Ragged Garden (Fire CD105) and it's a mellow, surprisingly warming listen, like a swallow of good whisky. Over sentimental, lush, slightly plodding folk backing tracks by Little Sparta, Gerry mumbles his poetry (quite Joycean sometimes) in his warm Glaswegian twang, sounding a bit like an older, wiser, drunker version of Arab Strap. Nae bad at a'! He sounds more reconciled with life than he did on his last one.
I wasn't too taken with the Winsome Griffles album "Meet the Griffles". It's quite close to what Black Light Orchestra are doing (neo-cabaret), but with less genius, less quirk, and an American accent. So I'll pass directly to...
...HYPO 1995. Yes, Hypo sent me his (unreleased?) first album, and it's rather wonderful. Here be roughly-recorded indie guitars, girl singers, strategically-skewed riffs which always sound like they're just on the verge of turning into a Cure or New Order song. It's all rough-edged and deliberately clumsy, but somehow that "wrongness" gets centred, highlighted, and turned into brilliance. Definitely something I'm going to be playing a lot, and taking ideas from. Because I advance by appetite.
Oh, and Brian Szente's Brooklyn Werewolf Diaries -- what is that? I think it's this brilliant polymath reading his short stories. I'm going to put it on right now and find out.