The Cobweb by Raymond Carver

A few minutes ago, I stepped onto the deck
of the house. From there I could see and hear the water,
and everything that’s happened to me all these years.
It was hot and still. The tide was out.
No birds sang. As I leaned against the railing
a cobweb touched my forehead.
It caught in my hair. No one can blame me that I turned
and went inside. There was no wind. The sea
was dead calm. I hung the cobweb from the lampshade.
Where I watch it shudder now and then when my breath
touches it. A fine thread. Intricate.
Before long, before anyone realizes,
I’ll be gone from here

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The Japanese War Effort – Sings Of A Dear Green Place

Very much like his beloved Inverness Caledonian Thistle, The Japanese War Effort has, over the past year or so, pushed himself into the top flight of new Scottish music to keep an eye on.  His survival at the top, like his club, will be dependant on the quality of output from now on.  And, much like his club, the signs are very promising indeed, with the release of this new EP.  At this point, I would quite like to rip into Caley Thistle a little but, given the 4-0 humbling they gave my own beloved Dundee United recently, I shall refrain from saying anything bad.

Football analogy – which I think James may like  given the samples on his various records –  out of the way,  let us turn our attention to the endless stream of music that seems to spout forth from one James Ewan Scott.

It’s kind of weird.  Though The Japanese War Effort was the first thing I heard from James after the split of Boyfriend/Girlfriend, given that he is one half of Conquering Animal Sound, it does feel like it has become almost a side project for the man.   Music created in his spare time if you like.   Which seems a little unfair then that the man has such talent that he can constantly produce quality records, and whats more, give them away for free!    

If I’m perfectly honest, whilst I liked previous ep “Surrender To Summer”,  it just never really grabbed me the way that album “I Will Leave You Now, And Two Loud Speakers Will Take My Place” had.  So for me, this new ep is a bit more my cup of tea.  It’s more gritty than its predecessor perhaps.  Maybe the influence of Glasgow on an artist?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the move has done The Japanese War Effort not one bit of harm.

The record starts with ‘The Cathcart Circle’, an ambient start to the record which merges nicely into ‘I Hate Glasgow’ – a track which kind of washed over me until towards the end when the gritty undetone of this record starts to show its face.  A wonderful moment occurs at the end of this track when a jaunty wee version of ‘I Belong To Glasgow’ is overlayed with some pretty sinister spoken word.  I remember this tune being sung to me as a kid by my Glaswegian father, but I never knew it could become so creepy!  Brilliant.

The ambient feel of the record doesn’t really change until the more up tempo, and wonderfully titled, ‘Fake Tanned Out Yr Tits’ kicks in and from that point on the mood is much more uptempo, only pausing for breath on ‘Cake Face’ before launching in to EP closer and stand out track ‘Sunglasses Sucka’.  The record finishing with the lyrics ‘Glasgow’s not so bad’ I guess sums up how Scott feels about his new home.  Throughout, as we’ve come to expect, glitch rhythms, atmosphere and static pepper the music, giving it a stage on which to perform.  

If this is the influence Glasgow has on his music, maybe he should stay there.  This is another fine installment of free download music from The Japanese War Effort.  Well worth the 5 minutes or so it takes to download.  Check it out here.  Enjoy.

Linkous, Smith, Chesnutt Update

Some of you may remember that a while back I started a project to raise money for Depression Alliance UK.  Basically, I asked various artists to record a version of a song by either Sparklehorse, Elliott Smith or Vic Chesnutt.  All 3 artists suffered from depression which ultimately resulted in them taking their own lives.  Tragic losses to music and music fans everywhere.  Many wonderful artists contributed to the project and it can be downloaded in full for the price of £7 for the lot or £1 a track HERE.

So far, the project has raised approximately £180 for the charity but I am keen to raise as much as I possibly can for this important cause.  So, if you care, if depression has affected your life in some way, or even if you just want to help out cause you like the songs then please, please, please go to the bandcamp page and download the music.  Even downloading one track is a big help.  Every pound counts.  To all of those who have downloaded the music, a massive thank you.  To those who have not, please do so.  And thank you.  Enjoy.

Wive – PVLL

If I am honest, I have found writing this review quite difficult.  And I really don’t know why, as it is not that difficult to like this record very, very much indeed.

It has been a constant favourite for me now for the past few weeks, in direct competition, on my rotation of favourites, with Goldmund ‘Famous Places’ (see review below), Ulises Conti and the new Nils Frahm & Anne Müller record.  As well as ‘I’ll Fight’ by Wilco, which appears to be lodged in my brain permanently at the moment.  Never can get enough of Wilco though.

Anyways, Itunes describes this as “avant-garde”.  I guess if you take that to mean forward thinking rather than “out there” then I can understand where they are coming from.  But what is it that makes this record so good?

Well, for one thing there really is an awful lot going on with this record but what is so good, for me,  is what it doesn’t say, as much as what it does.  The songs do seem stripped of unneccessary instrumentation – basing most of the record around the piano, acoustic guitar, violin, glitch rhythms and sparse drumming.   Take opening track ‘Toast To Famine’ for example.  It takes a while to reach where it’s going, but all the while it builds interest on its journey and then, all too sudden, it’s over.  But not to worry ‘Teethy’ kicks in quick smart and drives the record forward in some style.  The vocals on this track, the way the male and female vocals combine, are just perfect.

‘Langvage’ doesn’t really appear to go anywhere fast, as is the case with much of this record, yet the atmosphere and tension built around the vocal line is superb.  This, more than anything I can think of, sounds like a song constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed and it works well. In fact, much of this record has the deconstructed/reconstructed feel to it.

Then comes one of the album higlights ‘Lazarvs and Dives’.  Piano and glitch rhythms combining with the wonderful interplay of the vocals building to the moment when full drums enter and lift the song to new heights.  Brilliant.

‘Come Join The Sea’ is a beautiful piano lament complimented by lovely strings.  Simple as that.  Whilst  ‘Attrition’ brings back in the electronic element with yet another excellent and memorable vocal melody leading the song forward.

‘The Day Bvrnt To Death’ is just stunning.  The violin leading the way on this song.  However, possibly the moment of the album comes when the vocals which, for the majority of the record, have been front and centre suddenly fade to the background with a solitary piano and eerie violin.  It is a stunning end the song, and a wonderful bit of production and composition.   ‘Widows’ is a wonderful mess.  Whilst ‘Tongve of Callvs’ is driven forward by imaginative drumming.

In a similar manner to Ulises Conti, album closer ‘Slvumber’s Edit’ is a complete surprise.  Vocals stripped away, making way for piano and soundscapes and ending the record in a memorable fashion.  I like albums that do that.  Memorable start.  Memorable end.  Fortunately, in this instance, brilliant in between also.

You know, without all the glitch rhythms, beats, field recordings and madness, this record could be very pop indeed.  It really could be a polished affair but for me, in the process, it would lose much of what makes it so appealing.

The friend who introduced me to this record told me it was the most original thing he’d heard in ages.  I’m not sure I totally agree with that.  I think this is ground that has been trodden before.  The Notwist, for example, are a band I would suggest have similar tendencies and style.  However, I would highly recommend this record as it is more and more rewarding with each listen.  Often what it doesn’t say being as important as what it does say.  A great debut record.  Do check out Wive here.  Enjoy.

Ulises Conti – Los Paseantes

Well, apart from having one of the most beautiful websites which you can view here, Ulises Conti’s music is simply refreshing and beautiful.  The record I am currently listening to ‘Los Paseantes’ dates from 2007, but as I’ve said before; on this blog the year of release is irrelevant and secondary in importance to the sharing of wonderful music.

Argentinean in origin, when he plays, Ulises Conti makes the piano come to life.  He really does.  He makes it sing more than most modern composers that I listen to.  I love that.  When you can really tell that an artist is one with an instrument.  It takes years to be this good at an instrument let alone as a composer and multi instrumentalist like Conti.  And there is something genuinely intriguing about this record.  I think this is mainly due to the diverse range of styles that are incorporated throughout.  It’s a pretty mixed bag, never settling down to one style.  Never accepting one genre as the centre piece.  It’s a bit of a chameleon to be honest.  It changes colour so regularly and with it, somehow, I noticed my mood changing in time to the music.

It starts in almost out and out true classical fashion; repetitive strings surge forward before a lilting piano line enters and the hypnotic impact is complete.  A modern symphony in the making.  Suddenly though, the tone becomes heavily influenced by jazz as trumpets enter the fray to create an almost lounge feel, before it’s brought sharply back into classical focus by another brilliant string composition.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Conti appears to enjoy using the full palette of instruments found in an orchestra, flute and clarinet combining beautifully to create melody over yet more hypnotic strings.  Suddenly though, these instruments disperse leaving a solitary piano to sing it’s solem song. 

At times the record is exceptionally minimalist too, echoing contemporaries like Rafael Anton Irrisari or Library Tapes, possibly even referencing the work of Danny Norbury, as the piano almost drops out totally simply sprinkling the music with fragments, rather than leading the songs.  Then suddenly piano and strings burst forward together, driving the record towards a climax.  Or so it would seem, until without warning the music changes pace again yet again and the strings and fragmented piano return.  Closing the album, Conti turns to the glockenspiel and xylophone, creating a lovely soundscape, which is both unexpected and appreciated at the end of such an assured piece of classical composition.  The sudden appearance of a voice repeating “shhh” brings this wonderful record to a perfect close.

Sure, this record may be old(ish), but it’s well worth checking out.  I will certainly be keeping tabs on Ulises Conti’s music in the future.  Have a listen yourself here.  Enjoy.

Nils Frahm and Anne Muller – 7fingers

Nils Frahm is a wonderfully talented pianist.  Seeing him play piano at the Captain’s Rest earlier this year was one of the most fantastic live experiences.  Put simply, the man is an incredible talent and if you do like piano playing at its finest then you have to make sure you catch him live when he plays near you.

What many people don’t know is that he fell into modern classical piano composition pretty much by accident.  He was in fact, focused on being an electronic artist and I believe it was only after advice from Peter Broderick that Nils decided to focus on the world of piano.  Based on his two previous releases ‘wintermusik’ and ‘the bells’, listening to Broderick was a very, very wise move.  Both those records are delightful exhibits of what the man is capable of.  ‘The Bells’ in particular, is simply stunning.

Be prepared then to be surprised by this new record.  Recorded with the help of Anne Müller of Wolf-Ferrari Ensemble, the piano is all but non-existent for the majority of this album, with strings taking the central role as glitch rhythms and sound scapes add to the overall atmosphere throughout.   When the piano does eventually appear, it is almost an accompaniment to the rhythms, intertwined beautifully to create tracks reminiscent of pieces from Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Insen.’ 

For me, this is a fantastically thought out and executed album.  What I love most about it is the fact that there is a conscious decision to make the piano a bit part player in the overall sound.   Müller’s talent for string arrangement combined with Frahm’s fantastic compositional skill really work brilliantly together.  When at the forefront, the strings are mournfully beautiful. When an accompaniment they add evocatively to the overall sound and texture.  The subservience of the piano though is a masterstroke as, when eventually it does arrive, it adds such beauty and a lovely change in tone and texture.   The overall result is a record which highlights that Frahm may be a master on his instrument of choice but when it comes to composition and arrangement he is equally assured.  Müller is clearly a talented string composer and one to keep an eye on in the future.  When all the elements are brought together on this record, Frahm and Müller have created something quite beautiful.  If there is one criticism I have it would be that the vocal line on closing track ‘Long Enough’ feels a little unnecessary.  That is my only one slight issue though and this record has captured my heart and mind.  Please check it out Nils Frahm here.  Anne Müller here.  Enjoy.