Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cate Le Bon "Me Oh My"

I seem not to have got round to reviewing this record, which is odd, as it was my favourite album of last year*. So I had better quickly say a few words about it.

I came to Cate Le Bon by a roundabout route. What piqued my interest was her cover version of Syd Barrett's 'Feel', on a compilation given away with Mojo. That had me digging up tracks by her on compilations and talking a lot about how interesting her voice was. Fortunately my birthday was upon me, so my beloved got me this album as a present, since when it has remained on heavy rotation here at Panda Mansions.

Le Bon could, broadly speaking, be classified as a singer-songwriter, in that she writes songs and sings them. I think she also accompanies herself on acoustic guitar. That may conjure up images of some dreadful woman singing songs with Deep And Meaningful lyrics. Fortunately she is not like that at all. The music is from a much broader palette, with keyboards and electric guitars playing a larger role than purely acoustic accompaniment. The unique selling point, though, is probably Le Bon's voice. She appears to come from a region (in this case, Wales), and her singing clearly suggests this, coupling with a slightly mannered delivery to give us something of real quality. The songs are appealing too, skirting the edge of melancholy and creating an attractively doomy atmosphere.

Alas, my limited powers of description fail me. I can only recommend that you seek out the music of Cate Le Bon yourself, or else ask me for a copy of my best of 2010 compilation, on which one of her songs features.

image source

*it actually came out in 2009, but I heard it first in 2010, and that's what counts.

15/11/2011 - edited to make record cover reappear.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Parque Prehistorico, Vinales

I have been known to talk about how great the Parque Prehistorico in Vinales is. Here is a YouTube video of a trip to it.


Trish Keenan

I was recently on holiday in Lanzarote. Flying home, I listened to two albums by Broadcast, Tender Buttons and HaHa Sound. Much of the music on these records has a spectral, ghostly quality, suiting the half-awake, half-asleep state in which I found myself.

The next day I discovered that Trish Keenan of Broadcast had died. This was sad news, on any number of levels. Keenan was about the same age as I am, and she died of an everyday infection that many people catch and fight off, so there seems like something cruelly random in her passing.

There are many obituaries of Trish Keenan out there, and you would probably be better off reading them than anything I have to say about her, Broadcast, or the music they made. I like the personal tone of this piece in particular, so maybe give that a go.

image source

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maybe It's Your Fault

My favourite music radio programme is Nova, on Lyric FM. It features an engaging mix of modern composition, wacky electronica, and generally odd avant garde stuff that does not get a look-in anywhere else. It is basically the only music radio programme I listen to regularly, so it is hardly surprising that Lyric keep moving it to ever more inhospitable time slots and have recently halved its weekly time allocation.

Nova, presented by the amiable Bernard Clark, has a variety of formats. Sometimes it just plays a random selection of musical pieces (kind of like other radio programmes, only with more Stockhausen), but sometimes he does themed programmes. Episodes focussing on the work of one composer or artist can be a bit hit-and-miss, as Clark can sometimes pick artists where I join the plain people of Ireland in their chorus of "what is this shite?" For all that, the themed programmes can still be interesting when a more promising artist or scene is given space for intense exploration.

A recent episode took a different tack again, bringing us a lot of yap and a lot less music. Clark had some people from the world of music in the studio with him (a composer, someone from the Contemporary Music Centre, maybe someone else; I do not have their names to hand), and they had a bit of a chin wag about The State of Contemporary Music in Ireland Today.

The discussion was interesting, but one thing I was struck by was the somewhat whiny sense of entitlement that seemed to seep from the participants. I do not mean an entitlement to the earning of a decent living, something most artists and indeed people generally share. It was more that they seemed to feel entitled to have their work listened to, and seemed implicitly or explicitly to see it as a monstrous injustice that contemporary music was not blaring out of the radio and being played in the National Concert Hall every night of the week. One of the participants drifted towards seeing the lack of contemporary music programming as basically the result of some great reactionary conspiracy. He also came out with a surprisingly rockist line about the mass audience being turned against modern composition by being force-fed "bad music". This is an oddly relativist position – if people can be made to like any music by having it forced on them, then what makes one type of music better than another?

The whole thing struck me as a bit strange. When I have come across the views of people involved in other forms of minority art (including other kinds of minority-interest music), they seem far more accepting of the idea that their difficult and unconventional work is never going to attract a mass audience. With contemporary music, I cannot but think that it is the nature of the music itself that confines it to the margins – much as I love modern composition, when composers abandoned melody and hummable tunes they largely left behind what most people consider music, so they cannot really be surprised when they find that they have left behind the audience as well.

I was also struck by the rather underachieving ethos that some of the participants in the programme had. The Contemporary Music Centre produces CDs of hitherto unrecorded work by modern Irish composers. When asked how they measured the success of any particular release they issued, the guest from the CMC replied that simply publishing the CD counted as success enough, seemingly whether or not anyone ever listened to it anywhere in the world. I wish that Clark had pressed her on this, as it seems colossally wasteful to be recording work and pressing up discs without any thought as to who is ever going to listen to them.

Another thing on the programme struck me as something to throw out to the the many people who read Inuit Panda. The panelists mentioned a couple of times how expensive it is to record orchestral works, something that sets modern composition aside from other forms of difficult musical endeavour. I can well believe that getting a full orchestra together to record something would cost a mint. What I found myself wondering, however, was whether the march of technology was showing any signs of allowing a reasonable simulacrum of an orchestral recording to be generated on a computer. I do not mean something that would be indistinguishable from a recording with a full orchestra, or even something close to that, but a synthetic recording that would at least give the listener a reasonable impression of what an orchestrated recording would sound like.

Does such a thing exist? If not, why not? It would surely be an invaluable tool to contemporary composers, as they could effectively produce demos of their work themselves and then post them on the internet as a way of touting for business from concert programmers and the like. It would also be a great way of getting a rough version of their music out there, which surely must be something they would be interested in.

This has been part of my series on making new friends in the world of avant garde music.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fever Ray [untitled Fever Ray album]

Hey, what's this? Me buying a record released in the last two years? Surely some mistake! Anyway, as you know, Fever Ray is the one-person outfit of the woman from popular Swedish band The Knife. People have been gamely including tracks by The Knife and Fever Ray on compilations for me for some time now, and I have gamely been ignoring them, until recently. Then I started listening to these tracks and was impressed enough to pick up the Fever Ray record when I saw it marked down to a tenner.

And srsly, what is not to like here? Spooky electronic music, heavily treated vocals, and a general air of doomy art-ponce action like mama used to make – where has this been all my life? This is easily one of the best records I have heard all year, and it will not be long before I pick up more from the Fever Ray-Knife axis.

This album is apparently some kind of concept album about childhood, making it especially fascinating to those of us who were once children. I am not sure I would have noticed this had I not read it in an interview with Ms Ray, but keeping it in mind does add a certain something to the rather odd lyrics here.

Anyway, I recommend this album unreservedly, it is awesome. I think it might also make a good winter record. Time will tell.

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edited to remove reference link to website blocking hotlinking to record cover; they obviously do not want the traffic.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dressy Bessy Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons

This is another record lying around in Panda Mansions for years but only recently added to the iPod. This is basically indiepop music, but a rather appealing example of the form. Dressy Bessy seem to have managed the pop aspect of the indiepop equation a bit better than some of their fellows, producing tunes that have catchiness and a certain sing-along quality.

This is actually from 1999, on the now probably defunct Track And Field record label. I wonder where Dressy Bessy are now.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Lady Gaga "The Fame Monster & The Fame"

Why look, it's another record picked up just before the a Frank's APA deadline, meaning that I am giving only initial impressions now and maybe will give some more considered thoughts on it in the future. Anyway, unless you have been living under a stone, you are probably aware of Lady Gaga, the saucy art pop sensation. The Fame is her first (and only album), while The Fame Monster is an extra disc tacked onto it in a new version. The combo has finally dropped to a price sufficiently low for Gaga curious people like me to take a punt on it. So take a punt I have.

Initial impressions on this are a bit mixed. The music is all a bit full-on – heavy production, heavily treated voices, etc. It is maybe not the kind of record to listen to in your living room while sipping a nice glass of sherry, but it probably sounds great blasting out of a nightclub sound-system. It is also so robotic and metronomic that I could imagine it being great music for Nazi stormtroopers to march along to, or for people to exercise to in gyms. And it might be good for me to listen to on headphones while walking to work in the morning.

Still, I am open to the proposition that the music is the weak link in Lady Gaga's drive for world cultural hegemony, for all that some of these tunes drill their way into the brain and remain there forever.

What do you think?

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Lady Panda

Saturday, January 08, 2011

German Jazz

As part of my love of all things jazz and all things German, I went to a concert by the Carsten Daerr Trio, who are from Berlin. Their drummer was in the wonderful jazz group [em]. I am not too much of a jazzer so so I cannot say too much about the music of this combo, but I liked them enough to buy their Wide Angle album, and not just because it has a photo of Banksy graffiti on the Apartheid Wall. Musicologists might be interested in their track 'Intuition', which manages to combine jazz rhythms to a motorik beat.

image source

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Dagmar Krause et al. "Some Questions About Dagmar Krause"

This is a compilation of music by Dagmar Krause, put together by a star of the internet that I am not at liberty to name here just in case the copyright Nazis get on her case. As you know, Krause performed with such popular bands as Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, the Art Bears*, and others, as well as releasing her own solo material. All of these are represented here. I have not listened to this very thoroughly yet, so these are just my initial impressions, which are favourable.

I like Krause's clipped German-accented singing voice (though I would rather that she sang more often in German). What I can say is that there is an interesting range of music in this collection, presumably driven by the range of groups and collaborators that Krause has been involved with. I can also say that I like some bits of this collection more than others. In particular, a thing I am coming to realise as I get older is that I am not really mad on all that Kurt Weill Weimar-Kabarett stuff – I mean, it is grand and all, but listening to it makes me afraid that one of Dublin's many shitey cabaret performers might suddenly appear in my living room. I am also less gone on the tracks that use a bit too much in the way of electronics, preferring the older tracks with the folky or avant-rock arrangements.

There are also amusing indications of the perhaps over-earnest political concerns mentioned separately in recent piece on Henry Cow by one of my Frank's APA correspondents. One song, 'The Song of Investment Capital Overseas' is about some guy who is, eh, investing capital overseas, while another ('Ballad of (Bourgeois) Welfare') encourages the proletariat (keen listeners to Dagmar Krause solo material) to reject the lies of the bourgeoisie and rise up against their masters.

It is also funny to listen to hear the original of 'War', a track I hitherto only knew as a storming cover by The Fall.

Mmmm, I seem to have written quite a lot about a compilation I ostensibly have nothing to say about. Even more Dagmar Krause action next time?

I actually wrote this ages ago. My less initial impressions are even more favourable

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*who might just be the only good bear band.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Return to Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev Boces
Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs
Mercury Rev All Is Dream

These are not new as such, but they are new to my iPod. I was thinking about this band I used to like so much and, now that our CDs are a bit more accessible, I have resolved to listen to them a bit more to see what I think of them now. As I have only just added them onto the iPod (where they join Yerself Is Steam, already there, but not the one before Deserter's Songs, as it does not get on with my computer) I cannot say too much about these right now. Maybe there will be an amazing "Mercury Rev and Me" piece in a future issue of Frank's APA and then here; let us see.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Electrelane "No Shouts, No Calls"

Another cheapo acquisition from Sheela-Na-Gig in Cloughjordan, where the local folk were proving resistant to the charms of the all-woman post-rock sensations. This is Electrelane's last album, amirite? I had thought that maybe with the Lane one would get diminishing returns with each acquired record, but this has considerable charms. I'm not sure if any of the tracks stand out as much as 'The Valleys', or their cover of 'The Partisan', or the train song on previous releases, but this is a most appealing record.

It is sometimes hard to pin down what is so likeable about this now defunct band. On one level they are pretty straightforward – guitar, bass, drums, vocals (with the odd bit of electronics and keyboards) and tunes that sound fairly straight-down-the-line on a first listen. Yet they certainly seemed to have something. One thing that always strikes me about them is their willingness to do songs without vocals, or with vocals without lyrics, something you do not get so much with this kind of instrumentation. But it is not as though their singer has a voice of high annoyance – when she does sing, her somewhat non-conventional approach does lend a considerable something to proceedings. So it is all a bit mysterious.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Road Records Farewell

Road Records was a popular Dublin record shop, but alas, it did not prove popular enough among people who actually bought records and now it has closed. It closed last year as well, but re-opened after a benefit gig raised enough money for it re-capitalise itself, but now it is gone for good, a victim of the shift of the young people from record purchases in shops to downloading or buying things online. I think the shop may also have taken its eye off the ball a bit when it came to picking stock and not done itself any favours with a focus on the lamer Dublin music scene - but then, what would I know? You've seen the rubbish I consider good music – now imagine if I was in charge of stocking a record shop.

As a final farewell to the much liked Dave and Julie who ran the shop, some Dublin musicians organised a farewell concert for them in the Button Factory, to raise a bit of cash that will hopefully help them through the slump that must surely follow the shop's closure. And I was there. The one band on the bill I actually wanted to see were Female Hercules, lured out of retirement to rock out one last time. But before them we had two guys on laptops (or one guy on laptop and one guy on drums – still a prodigious feat of balancing, I'm sure you'll agree). I do not recall their name or what kind of music they made (edit: they were Legion of Two - see comment below), but they were followed by Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands, basically some bloke making doomy electronic music. He was surprisingly Goth. If you are a member of Frank's APA then I refer you to my inamorata's zine for further details.

Female Hercules are (or were) a local swamp rock band with possible psychobilly influences. They still rock out, albeit in a slightly older way. I love them whenever I see them, though I accept that their appeal is a bit niche. One of the truly great things about them is their lead singer and guitarist, who has a great white-man fro hairstyle – oddly reminiscent of that boasted by well-known musicologist and Trio Scordatura leader Bob Gilmore. Many have commented on how the two have never been seen in the one place together at the same tyme*.

The Redneck Manifesto were last on, basically headlining the affair. They are a real fixture on the local music scene, but amazingly I had never managed to see them before. They play instrumental rock music (which seems to be the gold standard for bands of their generation), perhaps with the vaguest African tinge to it. They are however a bit more showy than some of the other Dublin post-rock bands, with their ubiquitous bassist Richie Egan acting like a miniature cheesy frontman.

The Rednecks are an odd band – for the first track or two, I was thinking "Wow, these guys are amazing, to think I could have been seeing them every night of the week for the last ten years!". By the third or fourth track, however, I was starting to register the fundamental Redneck Manifesto problem – all the songs sound the same. Maybe I was just imagining things, maybe I was a bit *tired* and unable to register the subtle variations in their music, but it did seem like we were getting the same funky rock tune over and over and over. OK, so it sounded like a good tune, but I rapidly got the idea. So what did I do? Why, what any red-blooded man would do – I made my excuses and left.

So farewell Road Records. I hope they are the last of my favourite record shops to close, though I fear I am doomed to further sadness on this score.

*I was going to include pictures of Bob Gilmore and the guy from Female Hercules but chickened out of it, for fear that one or other of them would start thinking that I was some kind of crazed stalker fan.

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