Tag Archives: Avant-garde

The Focus Group – The Elektrik Karousel (2013)

The Focus Group - The Elektrik Karousel (2013)

The Focus Group is the one-man project of British experimental musician Julian House.

Here, he is collaborating once again with Broadcast, following up their joint album, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (2009) and the outlook between the two groups seems very similar, as Broadcast released the soundtrack to Berberian Sound Studio, a somewhat experimental soundtrack utilising sound effects to great effect.

Here, the feeling is almost the same. Electrik Karousel reminds me a great deal of my early investigations into the obscure realms of music. I used to raid charity shops (and later the internet) for anything that seemed to be “interesting”. One of the main discoveries was the sound effects releases, particularly of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. These must have been impulsively popular for a time, because there used to be plenty of vinyl records in the charity shops.

And that is the mode for Elektrik Karousel; sampled music and voices is presented in a musique concrete way, reminiscent of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, library music, found sounds and the early electronic music pioneers. Occasionally, a prog influence seems to step in, but that might just be an extraction that I hear. On the whole, it is disorientating; the use of repetition to form a stable basis for the tracks is counterbalanced (or indeed offbalanced) by some of the shifts and that does evoke some kind of demonic carousel.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this album, the off-kilter nature is a good remedy to steadfastly predictable pop music. Individual tracks would not preview the album or do justice to it as a whole experience, so I won’t recommend any.

Spotify link: Focus Group – The Elektrik Karousel

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Klima Kalima – Finn Noir (2012)

Klima Kalima - Finn Noir (2012)

Klima Kalima are a German experimental jazz band consisting of Kalle Kalima on guitar, Oliver Potratz on double bass, and Oliver Bernd Steidle on drums. This album, Finn Noir, is inspired by and dedicated to the film noir of Finnish directors, Matti Kassila, Aki Kaurismäki and Mikko Niskanen; all the track titles on the album are named after films by these directors.

I was astounded by this album. To begin with, you would have a hard time discerning this as jazz, but scratch the surface and all will be revealed.

The first two tracks form a suite about the journey of struggling jazz musician from St Petersberg to Leningrad: La Vie De Boheme (Part I: Saturday Night in St. Petersburg) is an aggressive distorted guitar-led track, sounding almost like a garage rock band, but the bass is the jazz keystone tethering the riot and giving direction, and as it becomes bowed and the guitars become choppy and settle, the garage veil is lifted and the jazz influence becomes apparent, before finally going savagely stratospheric. La Vie De Boheme (Part II: Sunday Morning in Leningrad) is the second part and a more obviously jazz track. It begins laid back, with the guitar and bass wandering and exploring the aural territory. Homage is paid to Pink Floyd as the intensity builds and the opening riff to Shine On You Crazy Diamond is played; showing Klima Kalima in touch with the progressive side of rock as well as the experimental side of jazz. The track then calms and plays out with some more of the bass/guitar exploration.

Ariel is bittersweet, with funky rhythm sections interspersed with sorrowful guitars; like the rest of the world will not allow the mourner to be alone, but instead to get back to living their life. Blues riffs are used liberal as motifs by the guitar and the effect is startlingly effective on both this and following track, Things Will Turn Out Right, a cover of a song from the film Man Without Past.

The next track, Maister I Margarita, could be placed anywhere from avant-metal through to jazz, at times sounding like Ruins or even Fantomas as complexity rules, and Klima Kalima feel at the same time loose, relaxed and natural and tight, on the mark, and in perfect cohesion as a single unit.

Two tracks are dedicated to the films of Inspector Palmu, It Is Gas Inspector Palmu and Stars Will Tell Inspector Palmu; and both are fantastic progressive jazz numbers, less experimental than some of the other tracks, but just as engaging. They bookend Cafe Brutale, a fantastic track that takes on many dimensions as the bowed bass adds much expression and alongside a splendid drum solo, and passages again sounding like they could be in the domain of complex rock or math rock bands.

Penultimate track, Calimari Union is a free jazz odyssey, while Eight Deadly Shots closes up the album in suitable experimental style.

In all, I was really struck with this album. The raw nature, experimental wit and visceral passion present on Finn Noir combine to make a fantastic album. I am truly

Favourite tracks: Ariel, Maister I Margarita, Cafe Brutale

Spotify link: Klima Kalima – Finn Noir
Sneak peak (I think this track is actually La Vie De Boheme (Part II: Sunday Morning in Leningrad)): 

The Bell Laboratory & Pantha du Prince – Elements of Light (2013)

Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory - Elements of Light (2012)

I have to admit, I was a little perplexed when I started listening to this. I thought Pantha du Prince would be a dub artist from the Caribbean and I thought The Bell Laboratory referred to Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory, known for its early phonographic experiments and recordings. I must admit, I did look forward to what this unusual combination would bring, but was shocked when I started listening and then read about them.

Pantha du Prince is actually the assumed name of German minimal techno producer Hendrik Weber, and The Bell Laboratory are a Norwegian percussion four-piece. The album also features a 50-bell instrument called the carillon, usually found in the bell tower of a church and played on a keyboard of sorts.

With the ringing cadences of the bells, I am reminded of John Cage’s percussive works for prepared piano (1958-1967), especially on the two tracks which bookend the album, Wave and Quantum. At other times, I am reminded of Pierre Henry’s musique concrète experiments, especially the  well-known Psyché Rock (1967; later reworked as the Futurama title track), or parts of Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir (1963). However, while Henry was something of a music futurologist, I doubt he envisaged the electronic music revolution that he was a part of creating.

Despite my likening to Cage and Henry, this album sounds like those 60s auditory experiments only in passing, the beats making it more modern sounding. The five-track album is designed to listened as a single piece of five movements. The two main tracks, Particle and Spectral Split are surrounded by an intro, transition and outro. It begins with bells and other percussion, with the beats only coming in around 4 minutes into the second piece; to begin with, the bells create a trance-inducing peaceful drone-like canvas, and Weber’s beats act to break this reverie, subtly at first. Weber has sought to incorporate different sounds into electronic music and has certainly succeeded, and we are talking true incorporation, not some musical découpage; the bells and percussion certainly don’t play second fiddle to Weber’s beats.

I very much liked this album, both for its inventiveness and outcome. There is a lot going for it and, although techno is a get-up-and-go music, designed for dancing, Elements of Light is an album for any time of day or night, the interplay of beats and reverie is fantastic. This could well be a modern classic.

Favourite tracks: Particle, Spectral Split, Quantum.

Spotify link: Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light
Sneak peak: 

Pere Ubu – Lady from Shanghai (2013)

Ah! Pere Ubu, the perennially impossible to categorise band from Ohio. Are they art-rock? Are they Avant garde? Are they punk? What about Industrial? Mutant Disco? Well, they are all of these and more!

Lady From Shanghai is their 14th studio album and the first I have listened to in a long while (too long!).

The sound of this Lady From Shanghai is varied, shifting from accessible to out there and back again. Mandy sounds like the Kinks took too many psychedelics, The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed is an outsider groove, whereas 414 Seconds and Musicians Are Scum bring forth the spirit of Captain Beefheart. The latter title highlighting, to me, what I think the aim of this album is; it seeks to destroy/subvert/reimagine music; the opening track, Thanks, mutates the melody of Ring My Bell by Anita Ward changing the words to “you can go to hell; go to hell”, and And Then Nothing Happened begins sensibly enough and then descends into an industrial soundscape that Throbbing Gristle would be proud of.

This is a warped, desolate, bleak and sometimes cynical vision of what music for dancing should sound like. The bass and drums carry that theme so tightly in amongst the sampled madness and that leads me to comparisons with Public Image Ltd, especially on a tracks such as The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed and Lampshade Man.

The favourite tracks below are a guide only; I could choose any three at random, the whole album is fantastic!

Favourite tracks: Mandy, The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed, Musicians Are Scum

Spotify link: Pere Ubu – Lady from Shanghai
Sneak peak: 

The Residents – Coochie Brake (2012)

The Residents - Coochie Brake (2012)

The Residents are a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, pushed into a mystery, shrouded in a secret, wrapped up in an obfuscation, concealed in a… well, you get the point.

They are a visual arts and avant garde music troupe consisting of three or possibly four, or possibly even only two, no definitely four…

…or three eyeball-headed anonymous performers known only as Randy, Chuck and Bob; oh yeah, and Carlos. They have had a prodigious output in their four decades of activity, with over 45 albums to their name. For Coochie Brake, Randy was on tour as a solo act and Carlos had returned to the band from self-imposed exile in Mexico.

Anyway… the story goes that the young Residents used to go camping in a mysterious place called Coochie Brake, a swamp created when a meteorite landed in the Louisiana Bayou area. During the colonisation of the Americas, the Spanish would take all their looted gold and silver and store it at a fort hidden within the Brake, and in the surrounding caves.

One could quite easily imagine that instead of a meteorite, an alien spacecraft crash-landed in the Brake, and the teenage Residents discovered the craft and were imbued with some sort of otherworldly vision.

Coochie Brake, the album, is a mysterious and dark soundtrack that evokes the explorations of the Brake and the caves for gold (or perhaps ancient wisdom), with very low-key spoken and whispered vocals in Spanish. The whole album is dense like the swamp and is, rather fittingly I suppose, not immediately accessible; in the same way that the gold-filled caves had been blocked by the Spanish soldiers fleeing Napoleons annexing of Louisiana. There are expressions of ritualistic chanting and slow droning horns, steady rhythmic pulses that bring the feeling of deep, quiet exploration, as if trying not to wake some ancient evil hidden between the rocky outcrops, but then stumbling onto something one should not discover, being captured and eventually escaping… only to be trapped forever in the endless Bayou…

If I played you the more *ahem* “accessible” albums, The Bunny Boy (2008), Duck Stab (1978), The Commercial Album (1980), etc., you could be forgiven in thinking that they were not the same band. But, The Residents aren’t as easy as that to classify, and Coochie Brake fits nicely alongside Eskimo (1979) and perhaps The Ughs! (2009). It’s a little bit challenging but ultimately well worth it.

Favourite tracks: Gotta Believe, Rot of Ages, Runaway.

Spotify link: The Residents – Coochie Brake
Sneak peak: