Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – Summvs

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto are responsible for one of my all time favourite pieces of music ‘Insen’.  Like all good partnerships they compliment each other beautifully.   Very different in styles and approach to music, when they come together the combination of their musical worlds combine to create music, which is nothing short of breath taking.

I was actually contemplating this morning, during a very boring training session, how if the only thing that could exist in my head was sound then the music that Noto & Sakamoto create would be pretty close to the perfect constant.   In fact, I think my head would be a pretty wonderful place if the only thing I heard all day was their work.

Noto would probably be best described as a sound artist.  It’s interesting to note that he originally studied architecture and landscape design, which lead to his fascination with the relationship between sound and space.  His work is packed with rhythmn and structure and is clearly as perfectly designed as the finest building or piece of landscape architecture.  His work is art.  Highly intelligent and packed with influences from within and outwith the world of music.  Though, at times, quite hard work, it is his skill with the manipulation of electronic sound that sets the perfect backdrop for the piano skills of Sakamoto.

When you listen to the work of these two men, it’s easy to imagine that it’s not hard to create something like this.  Piano backed by electronic soundscapes.  Simple.  Right?  Loads of people do it and do it well.  True.  But somehow, nobody seems to quite manage to do it as well as these two have over the course of 4 studio records since 2002.

But there is something very different about ‘Summvs’ in comparison to their previous work for on this occassion, Carsten Nicolai (Noto) seems to have developed a love of harmony and melody within his compositions.  This results in something that is much warmer and welcoming both to the listener and the piano work of Sakamoto.

It really is a fascinating piece of work and possibly their most accomplished to date.  Which makes it all the harder to hear that it is rumoured to be the last record in the set.  And if it is to be their last then they could not have signed out on a more emphatic note.  For me, ‘Insen’ will always remain their standout work but there is something wonderfully romantic about Sakamoto’s melodies taking more of a lead role on this finale.   Apparently Sakamoto even used a rare piano (one of only fifteen in the world) using 16th interval tuning, which just adds to the romance of the whole thing.

Noto & Sakamoto have failed to let us down during their musical journey together.  If you can, check out their work here and add their music to your collection do so.  Then add it into your head as a constant.  Wipe everything else clear and just live with their sound in there.  It will be a perfect place to exist.

Enjoy.

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Guy Gelem – Tides

Tides.  I love the name of this record.  And I love how each of the 6 tracks is titled as such; ‘first tide’, ‘second tide’ and so on.  This in itself is a lovely idea.  It’s lovely because as you work your way through each of these tracks you drift off into a world where each new track actually evokes the thoughts of the coming of a new tide.  As one ends, another begins and the circle continues.  It is this rising and falling within the record which engages the listener immediately and maintains your focus throughout.

Put simply, this is a beautiful record.  Yet again Quiet Design has unearthed a gem of an artist in Guy Gelem.  As a label boss myself, I am pretty envious of the artists they have on their roster.  Every single record Cory Allen has sent me to date I have loved, and this is no different.

There is a simple beauty about Guy Gelem’s work.  There is a formula for sure.  Electric guitar and strings.  The guitar often simple and repetitive.  The strings mournful and beautiful all at once.  It is a constant approach on all 6 tracks but that’s not to say that the record is in any way too similar.   The music soothes and calms but is never boring.  There is a wonderful sense of motion to the record.  As if you’re riding on waves.  It’s hard to pinpoint why it feels like this but the layering of instruments with repetitive fragments drifting in and out certainly contributes greatly to the over all feel of the record.  The movement is never rushed, it’s all beautifully controlled.  Reminiscent of the gentle crash of waves on the shore.   Tides come and go and the music on offer evokes this idea perfectly.  Not every tide is the same.  But every tide has its place.  The overall effect is a piece of music that everyone should own.  Just beautiful.

You can check out Guy Gelem here.  And the quite brilliant Quiet Design here.  Enjoy.

Planking

I am really not sure what to say about this other than it’s a craze that seems to be sweeping through my home town of Dundee at the moment.  It seems to be causing quite a lot of talk, although I’m not sure why other than somebody died doing it.  And it’s easy to see why, given some of these pictures!!  If you’ve never been to Dundee.  Well, let’s just say this doesn’t surprise me one little bit.  I miss that city a lot sometimes.  I really do.

Pointless post.  But amused me last night.

The Felice Brothers – Celebration, Florida

‘Yonder is the Clock’ was a pretty safe and boring record really.  I absolutely adore ‘Tonight at theArizona’ and then ‘The Felice Brothers’ was great because it felt like a step forward in sound, if not quality.  A fleshing out of the bones of the previous record to something bigger and different.  Then ‘Yonder is the Clock’ tumbled on in and kind of did nothing new.  Let’s play it safe was written all over that record.  And for that reason it really did disappoint.

This record, on the other hand, in no way disappoints.  It’s fresh.  It’s vibrant.  It’s modern.  It’s still The Felice Brothers but they’ve clearly decided to take a leap of faith and just have some fun with their sound (and their look!).  Push the boundaries a little.  See where it takes them.  For me it takes them on a journey that is thoroughly enjoyable.  Sure, the simplistic brilliance of tracks like ‘Hey Hey Revolver’ or ‘Wonderful Life’ may not be on show on this record but it identifies the band as willing to try something different.  Willing to adapt.  To change and to grow.  Too many people play it safe once they have a reputation and fan base.  Nobody can say that about ‘Celebration, Florida’.

This record kind of sounds like the band themselves felt that they had grown stale, predictable perhaps, and that they needed to embrace the madness a little.  It’s something Tom Waits did so successfully earlier in his career and the spirit of Island Era Waits is very evident on this album.

From the word go you know there’s something different on offer as the mad hoe down of ‘Fire at the Pageant’ batters your ears to attention.  The record is packed with industrial sounding percussion along with some pretty full on electronica, which sets it apart from its predecessors.  Songs like ‘Ponzi’ are brilliant in themselves but the samples and electronic techniques incorporated add a lovely change in pace to the bands sound.  Horns roar, drums clatter and what is created is a delight to the ears.  This is a band who have spent hours listening to certain records and realising that they were treading water with ‘Yonder is the Clock’.  It’s Americana.  Sure.  But it draws heavily from influences other than The Band, Dylan and co.  Yep, this is the sound of a band waking up and seeing the future and, if you ask me, that future is very bright indeed.  Sometimes you just have to stop writing though and let the music do the talking so check out the videos below.

You should check out Celebration, Florida here and enjoy the videos.

Free Advertising.

I guess the good thing about having a blog like this is free advertising for my own music and indeed the music we release on mini50 records.  This blog is not about mini50 records.  We have our own blog at the label which you can find here.  However, this blog does provide a good place to tell people about the label and our music.  I won’t bore you with details of artists and releases because all of that can be found at the mini50 records website.  There you can find all our artists as well as read reviews of their music and join the mini50 mailing list.  In addition, if you are interested in hearing the music available to purchase you can visit the mini50 records bandcamp page or indeed find us on soundcloud and you can keep tabs with us on twitter as well if you are super keen and into that sort of thing.

Thanks.

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

A number of years ago, I went to see Neil Young at the Playhouse in Edinburgh.  This review has nothing to do with Neil Young though.  Other than Aidan Moffat was also in attendance at that show.  And at that show he performed a manoeuvre that I’ve never seen work before or since.   And he did it with such ease and effortlessness.

Basically, the queue for the men’s toilets during the interval was quite significant.  I had been standing in said queue for about 10 minutes and was close to the front when I noticed Aidan Moffat wandering up the stairs.  As he did so, he assessed the length of the queue then, without anyone noticing (apart from me obviously) he slipped right in at the front.  It was one of the smoothest and sneakiest things I’ve witnessed and rather than piss me off, made me smile because only somebody like Aidan Moffat could pull off such a manoeuvre.  Quite how others didn’t notice this conspicuous fellow I will never know but it still makes me smile.

With ‘I Can Hear Your Heart’ Moffat produced one of the most original and stunning pieces of music I have heard in many a year.  So his follow up record, packed with proper songs and music, for me, felt like a massive let down.  I guess it was always doomed to failure.  Not avant-garde enough.  Not alternative enough.  Don’t get me wrong.  For what it is, it’s good.  But I have come to expect more from Aidan Moffat.  A master with words and language, it’s the interplay between this and the music that has always grabbed me most when it works.  This is achieved when the music is less full on and more of a backing.  A canvas for the words, as was the case with ‘I Can Hear Your Heart’.

Well, this is simply stunning.  A record that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as ‘I Can Hear Your Heart’.  Confirmation that Aidan Moffat is still one of the, if not the, most important Scottish artist out there at the moment.  This is no solo record however.  The contribution by Bill Wells should be over looked at its peril.

Wells creates beautiful soundscapes and backing to Moffat’s tales.  At it’s best the two are sublime.  A partnership made in heaven. The opening beauty of instrumental ‘Tasogare’ drifts in to ‘Let’s Stop Here’, a tale of a changed man tempted once again by his first love who has reappeared in his life.  All set to lovely rolling piano it’s the perfect introduction to what really is a special record.  It’s not all beautiful piano lines though as on ‘Glasgow Jubilee’ Moffat starts his tale of sordidness with a prostitute and soldier to some funky bass and synth.  The journey that follows takes us through a plethora of sexual encounters and all the way back to the whore. It really is a brilliant piece of narrative, set to the perfect music.  And I think that that is what makes this record special.  Every piece of music and every tale told combine to create something absolutely awesome.

As a whole, this record just makes me happy.  But ‘The Copper Top’ is, in my opinion, one of the most complete and assured pieces of music I’ve heard in a very long time.  The music and the words move me in the way music should.  This whole record does that though because again Moffat has come up trumps.  With Wells in tow I really don’t think he could fail.  You have got to check this record out.  You can do so here.  Enjoy.

Dreams Can Come True

I’ve been having some mighty weird dreams in the last 6 months.  I’ve always dreamt and my dreams have always tended to be on the weirder side of normal.  But in the last 6 months things have really taken an odd turn for sure.

There was the Mogwai dream where I was in a cafe drinking coffee when they wandered in with all their gear, set up and started practicing.  Thing was, it wasn’t very loud, even though it was – if that makes sense.  So anyways, I sat and drank my coffee and then when they started playing ‘Friend of the Night’ I sat down at the piano in the coffee shop and started playing along with them.  Stuart then wandered over to me and asked me to stop because I was too loud and they couldn’t hear themselves.  Odd.

There was the Harrison Ford dream.  But I don’t like to talk about that one.  Odd.

Then last night I dreamt that the Felice Brothers had come to town to play a show that I was promoting.  They arrived and I helped them in with their gear – not sure what the gear was but it was incredibly heavy as I helped Christmas with this big stack, which could have been a bass stack but looked more like a grand piano.  Once the gear was in, we settled down to watch a documentary on the screen behind the stage and the lead singer of the band started hitting on me.  Petting me and giving me big gooey eyes.   Eventually, after trying desperately to squirm away I had to tell him that I didn’t like boys in that way, which really upset him.  So I sat down at the piano and he started asking me if I could play Frankie’s Gun! – which of course I could and this made him feel better about my earlier rejection.  Odd and odd.

I do love dreams.  I have never been one for interpreting them, not interested, just enjoying the madness of them.  It’s kind of like you save up all the madness in your head and then when you go to sleep your brain releases a valve and a giant wave of crazy bursts into your brain.  Like pulling a stick out of a damn and watching it flood the normality below.  Kind of makes sleeping more exciting.

Recommended Listening

1. Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells – Everything’s Getting Older

2. The Antlers – Burst Apart

3. The Felice Brothers – Celebration, Florida

4. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto – Summvs

5. Carousell – Black Swallow and Other Songs

6. Guy Gelem – Tides

7. M. Ostermeier – The Rules Of Another Small World

8. Grouper – AIA Alien Observer/AIA Dream Loss

Everybody Calm Down, Please Stop Shouting

Quite excited today.  Been listening mainly to the new Felice Brothers and Death Cab for Cutie records.  Delighted to say that both these records have made me smile, for different reasons.

The Felice Brothers new record sounds like they listened to shit loads of experimental Tom Waits and shit loads of Kraftwerk.  Then drank loads of whiskey and invited all their friends round for a massive big drunken hoe down.  And recorded the results.  What they have conjured up is something that can surely only be regarded as a great change of pace, direction and massive return to form after the slightly disappointingly obvious Yonder Is The Clock.

Death Cab have clearly with their new record said a massive FUCK YOU to record label pressure and got back to doing what made them so good in the first place.  From early listens, their new record is quiet, interesting and contemplative.   There’s no sense of commercialism about it and the songs I’ve heard so far are better than anything they’ve done since Transatlanticism.  Seriously, good for them.  Gary Lightbody take note.