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Swami & The Blind Shake Album ReviewInstrumental surf music has achieved a place in modern culture that seems to be at odds with its origins. The roaring breakers, the blue sky and the bright Californian sun suggest a music that should be joyous; however, within the lexicon of this genre there is an ever present dark undertow. It is this contradictory presence -- this sense of danger and even evil, that has, since it's emergence into the mainstream around 1961, given this music its enduring appeal. Bands like The Fireballs, The Spotnicks, The Ramrods and The Surfaris pioneered this unhinged, amped (oh yes, I am using original '60s surf slang here) celebration of the wipeout and the quasimoto. Their West Coast and Hawaiian sound, washing up as far away as the shores of the UK in the form of the Shadows, was popular throughout the world in 1960s and 1970s. The modern reinvigoration of surf rock is accredited by many to the use by Quentin Tarantino of "Bullwinkle Pt II" by the Centurions and "Surf Rider" by The Lively Ones in Pulp Fiction (1994). However, this peculiar and hyperactive music, that seems to go so well with murderous and terrifying imagery, influenced a good many bands much earlier, including the B-52s and the Cramps in 1980s. One thing is, however, certain: since Pulp Fiction this music has been overused in a great many media campaigns. Over the last twenty years, it has surfaced in adverts for everything from toothpaste to banks and, because of this, there was a distinct danger that this evocative music might just become a part of our culture's aural wallpaper and be stripped of any potency. Which brings us to the new album, Modern Surf Classics, by Swami & The Blind Shake. Both authentic and imaginative in its approach this album captures the spirit of the original music, whilst successfully recasting it for the 21st century. The combination of the propulsive and bombastic energy of Minneapolis' own psych punk combo, The Blind Shake, along with John Reis' instrumental brilliance, has produced an album that carries the listener forward on a groundswell of pure and brilliant energy.

 

Jack Name - Weird Moons
Effortlessly eternal, Jack Name's Weird Moons harnesses the same joyous commitment to polyglot musical experimentalism of the likes of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. Simultaneously evoking both the creaky wonder of lo-fi bedroom recordings and the organic richness of early 1970s "big board" recording studios, such as L.A.'s Sound City, it displays a masterful understanding of both songwriting and audio craft. These elements, coupled to his obvious exuberance at the creative potential of the arts at his disposal, make for an intoxicating and powerful mix. Enigmatic, and prone to the same promiscuity of naming that keeps fans of the Parquet Courts on their toes, Jack Name has released recordings under several different monikers. This choice is, we are told, a conscious one, reflecting as it does his current feeling that, regardless of status (he has worked with the likes of Ariel Pink, Cass McCombs and Tim Presley), his identity is only as important the sonic explorations he undertakes. It is fitting then that this man of many appellations should make such an album as this, with its many facets and styles.

 

In March 2011, the Norwegian author, Trygve Mathiesen, published his book, Sex Pistols Exiled to Trondheim. An account of the notorious punk rock band's tour of Norway in 1977, this story of rock n' roll in the cold north contained a significant contribution from Teddie Dahlin about her teenage romantic involvement with bass player Sid Vicious, whilst acting as the band's interpreter. At the launch of the book, the one question on everyone's lips was, "Who is Teddie?" Sid Vicious Today, thirty-five years after the tragic demise of Vicious of a heroin overdose and many years after a media obsession with his life and death had ceased, things were about to get a reboot, 21st century-style. Teddie Dahlin was to find herself at the eye of the storm, a focus for fan forum and social media troll bile and paparazzi disruption and intrusion.

"The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the very first time." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Bjorn Torske - KokOn his new EP Kok, occasional Röyksopp collaborator, Bjørn Torske relies on our abilities to remember, rather than forget, as the spur to engagement with and enjoyment of his music. Concerned, amongst other things, with aural and spacial effects, the record is born of experimentation with different instruments, objects, and their sonic footprints within different acoustic spaces. Merging a lo-fi folk aesthetic with elements of outsider experimentation this is an interesting progression from his last release of 2007, Feil Knapp. Whether through voice, instruments, or electronically-produced sounds, these emissions are deployed and recorded in various spaces to form an inspirational trigger in the creative process. Through this process of what is known as "worldizing", Torske seeks to escape the straitjacket of reverb plug-ins whose room emulations and mathematical logarithms are often predictable.

Das Fluff - Meditation And ViolenceMeditation and Violence, the new album by Das Fluff, explores subject matters both private, personal, and universal, head-on and without caveats or reservation. Timeless themes of isolation and loneliness are recast for the internet era, while the uncomfortable truth of social networking, and the distorted nature of friendship that come with it, are placed under the unforgiving glare of Dawn Lintern's unflinching lyrics and vocal delivery. Musically, Meditation and Violence is electropop with a grand and expansive feel that belies the stripped back, reduced elements that go to make it up. This is music that has been allowed to breathe and, because of that, it is all the more powerful. Das FluffDesperate to find the sound that best suited her intent, Lintern parted company with the keyboard playing producer from her debut album and, despite technophobia, dived into the world of digital audio software for herself. The resultant album is more direct and cohesive and gels perfectly, despite being diverse in its range and reference points. Recalling Suicide and even, occasionally, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the sound harnesses bi-polar collisions, track by track, as the music seeks to keep pace with the darkness of its messages.

Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum Album Review Cate Le Bon Mug Museum Wichita Recordings / Turnstile Music / The Elite Meat Supply (2013) For those of you who are familiar with classic BBC children's television programmes from the 1970s, the guitar work on Cate Le Bon's Mug Museum might remind them of the timeless landscape of Trumptonshire. Lying at the core of her new album, the interplay of these simple melodies combines to produce a music box complexity that clicks and shifts direction, calling to mind childhood memories and, perhaps, the comfort of established and familiar order. For the uninitiated, Trumptonshire is the fictional bucolic county in which the towns of Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green were located. The essential subtext for the Trumptonshire trilogy was the encroachment of modernity and modern ways on the rural idyl. Each town had its own series, and, like fly on the wall documentaries for felt and foam puppets, it followed the daily lives of the people who lived there. For example, in Camberwick Green, there was the laid back and possibly alcoholic, cider drinking, farmer-come-windmill owner, Windy Miller, who was subtly at logger heads with the go ahead farmer Jonathan Bell and his modern mechanical farm. An important component of many childhoods in the UK, Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green were reassuring for children whilst never becoming saccharine: there was always the threat of unwanted change on the horizon. Every character had their own song, sung by the legendary Brian Cant, that detailed either their personality or daily job of work. On "Mug Museum", this circular and childhood musical sound is complimented by a variety of other musical influences, all reinterpreted and deployed with imagination. There is some Beefheart and a dash of The Velvet Underground, such as on the twangy chaotic guitar, side drum beat driven and empty spaces of "Cuckoo Through The Walls". You might even find a sprinkle of Japanese musical phrasing, as in the track "Duke". There is also the laid back anthem that is "Are You With Me Now?", which recalls Bob Dylan in its rousing chorus.

Nik Turner - Space Gypsy Album ReviewNik Turner Space Gypsy Cleopatra Records The fabled saxophonist, flautist and frontman Nik Turner has always sought to defy the epithet "ordinary". His showmanship, sax and flute playing and great songwriting were an essential compound in the chemical reaction that gave birth to some of the most influential albums and live shows of the early- to mid-1970s. Anyone who has been fortunate to see him live with Hawkwind, or his other projects, such as Inner City Unit, Nik Turner's Fantastic All Stars, Space Ritual and Nik Turner (ex Hawkwind), will know that he is one of the most exciting, outrageous and innovative performers ever to take to a stage. Turner's new album, Space Gypsy, appears to have succeeded in working the elusive magic of channelling that extraordinary live energy and capturing it on a studio album. This was always the success of early Hawkwind albums, from 1971's In Search of Space through to 1975's Warrior On The Edge Of Time, which were bursting with power and originality of a kind that has not been replicated by many acts subsequently. There are many other good Hawkwind albums, but that period is regarded by some as being the peak of what was attainable by the group.

Vex Ruffin - Self-Titled (Stones Throw Records)Vex Ruffin Vex Ruffin Stones Throw RecordsVex Ruffin's music has been variously described as "post-punk", "minimal", "gnarly", "primitive" and "a loose end". It is all of these descriptions and much, much more. An artist who began making music in his bedroom on his own, using an SP-303 sampler, Ruffin was scooped up by the label Stones Throw after sending in a speculative demo. Subsequently he took his pared back reductionist genre-splitting music on the road with a four-piece band, taking in shows at SXSW and Coachella. With influences including labelmate Madlib and P.I.L.-era Johnny Rotten, he produces music that is a reflection of the ordinariness and mundanity of his day job driving trucks for UPS and living amongst suburban monotony.

Kwes. ilp. Warp Records Kwes.' new album, ilp., is an immersive experience. It begins with "purplehands", a soundscape created out of found and captured sounds that have been processed and manipulated, and then added to with lingering musical notes. An aural walk in an urban park, complete with honking geese and hissing swans, this track morphs to become a song that is laced with memory and experiences. Something of a protégé, Kwes., or Kwesi Sey, has worked with such musical luminaries as Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn and Micachu. However, in a touch that signifies this artist's commitment to the personal and private, the biographical material accompanying this release informs us that his musical journey was kickstarted by a gift of a keyboard from his grandmother. A keyboard that he still uses. I find this emphasis entirely appropriate: ilp. is an album of personal ballads. Touching, intimate, engaging but always surprising and intuitively odd, each track is like a memento. Backwards echoes and unconventional multilayering effects offset charming and traditionally framed tunes that are sung, sometimes in a crooning, sometimes in a soulful voice. Behind classic phrasing and homespun lyrics, a palette of tampered, tempered and distorted sounds make up the musical accompaniment. Whether it is the childhood sweetheart recollections of "rollerblades"; the elegant and apparently analogous songwriting of "cablecar"; or the gospel clap and soulful elegy to an out of reach beauty that is "flower" -- this combination of both "pop and mad sounds" delivers an album that is both highly listenable and unexpectedly strange, without ever becoming overly obtuse.

Phèdre Golden Age DAPS / Discos Tormentos (2013) Blurred, mildly distorted, catchy and strange, like a reflection of the past viewed through a dirty martini glass, Golden Age is a collection of playful tracks from musicians with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Inspired, loosely, by the Greek mythological story of Phaedre and the track “Some Velvet Morning" by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, Phèdre have produced a body of work that is often beguiling and sometimes enchanting. Incorporating a palette of sounds that is complementary and wide-ranging, this album is a kaleidoscopic journey into what is now possible and what was once probable. Reminiscent of the work of EAR PWR and Supertalented, you can also hear the electronic strangeness of The Residents coexisting alongside the rough cowboy and the vulnerable girl interplay of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Add to this the San Francisco psychedelia of Fifty Foot Hose, one of the first bands to combine rock and experimental music, and you have an idea of what to expect from Phèdre.