Sunday, November 27, 2005

Journey's End EP - The Montgolfier Brothers

The Montgolfier Brothers - Journey's End EP (Vespertine and Son, 2005)

This latest release from Manchester, England-based group, the Montgolfier Brothers, heralds a true return to form. The Montgolfier Brothers is the brainchild of Mark Tranmer, who also records as GNAC, and RPM Quigley, otherwise known as 'At Swim Two Birds' or simply 'Quigley'. This is their first release of new material since "the World is Flat", which was released on Alan McGee's London-based Poptones label, this is also their first release on the recent "Vespertine and Son" label. Musically, they have always been inspired by the quieter aspects of work by French film soundtrack composers such as Francois de Roubaix, Michel Legrand and Philippe Sarde. Being from the Manchester area, the work is also heavily influenced by the heyday of such independent labels as Factory Records (longtime home of the another influence, the Durutti Column) and Les Disques du Crepuscule, the Montgolfier Brother's sound being more akin to the latter than the former in many respects.

The Journey's End EP opens with dense organ lines then minimal acoustic piano taking over the central theme, representing the steady march of time, a reflection on the loss of a dear friend. RPM Quigley's trembling, Manchester-inflected accent bringing a distinct Northern quality to the emotional content of the song. Journey's End is filled with vivid impressions of memory and existence, it focusses less on evoking the past, then the feeling of absence itself. It is a song that strikes the perfect tone for reminisence, never approaching the maudlin or bathetic. The second track, Bridestones Revisited, which comes across as rather similar to GNAC as if rewritten for a chamber ensemble, the sound is developed and expanded upon. It begins in a nearly baroque manner with organ and the occasional flute, with a clear emphasis on woodwinds primarily, the opening into echoes of guitar and piano. The third track, Koffee Pot Blues, retains the quiet mood of Journey's End, as it builds on a theme introduced by organ and flute, with a hint of Tuba and French Horn in the distance-- as if in remembrance or regret. A cello begins to play, driving the piece forward, with an acoustic piano finally picking up the main theme. However, it isn't until an electric guitar comes into focus that I recognize this theme as originating in Journey's End, the opening track. It is a march of sorts, an invitation to a journey. RPM Quigley sings "Sit and tell your problems to the Window, drown them in the sweet and stagnant tea.." It is an invocation for contemplation of time past. Again, he tells us "Always time for open-ended journeys, cast unintended looks at passers by..." He refers to the memories constructed by faded urban spaces. The distant history imbued in city life. This is a more poetic piece than Journey's End, as it it told through the production of concrete images, calling upon the senses to release memory. The EP ends with Koffee Pot Brass, a shorter version of Koffee Pot Blues, it begins with a harp-like sound, then ominous use of an organ in the foreground, meant to inscribe a solemn brass band, perhaps playing at a military funeral or some such affair. In many, was this is a denser version of 'Koffee Pot Blues' as RPM Quigley's vocals start almost immediately and use of the harp acts to emphasize an etheral quality inherent in his vocals.

For sheer consistency in mood and design, look no further than the Montgolfier Brothers to conjure heartfelt moments for rainy days. This is a perfectly composed EP. I cannot wait to hear the album.

Journey's End 8:09
Bridestones Revisited 3:57
Koffee Pot Blues 9:55
Koffee Pot Brass 4:37

Friday, November 18, 2005

Rip it Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds

The best new book about contemporary music history I've read is Rip it Up and Start Again: postpunk 1978-1984 by British music journalist, Simon Reynolds. Arguably the most exciting time in music since the late sixties, the postpunk era finally gets its due. This near complete version of postpunk independent music and how the subsequent labels, distribution methods and venues to deliver the new sounds came about (--and were gradually devoured by major labels and each other). This is a book that had to come out. This kind of music was only available for such a brief period of time before being trampled underfoot by a horde of commercially produced imitators. This is the music created by the generation that came of age in the mid-seventies. The sounds created were so new that independent methods were the only way to communicate their existence. People deliberately eschewed courting major labels in the name of having absolute control over their music. Reynolds chronicles all the successes and failures of the most consistently inventive (both sonically and visually) group of young artists and businessmen that tried to make a lasting impact on modern life.

To a certain extent, the simultaneous movements on both sides of the Atlantic (the book primarily deals with the United Kingdom and the United States-- deliberately leaving the project open for companion works discussing similar activity in Europe, Canada, Latin America and Japan) have left their mark on what passes for culture today. The timing of the book's release could not be more welcome, as a number of the labels mentioned recently celebrated anniversaries (Rough Trade, Mute and Les Disques du Crepuscule, among others) while primarily re-issue labels like James Neiss's Les Temps Modernes (LTM) have made a bulk of the long deleted music metioned in the book available to a wider audience. (The most recent of which being the double disc compilation of Eric Random's work titledSubliminal 1980-1982.)

Apart from filling in the gaps of my education in this expansive and somewhat personal study, this book helps to show the relationships between the people involved in the culture industry at that time. The book is really about a network for the production and dissemination of culture, that presented a near viable alternative to current methods of perception. It is not just about the artists and musicians involved but also the contributions of the label owners, journalists, and the public. Shifts in taste, budget, politics, and -- to a large extent -- technology, acted to create a unique cultural product. The emergence of so many young artists into the cultural arena at that time was astounding. A record label, such as Manchester based Factory Records was hyper-conscious not only of the quality of the music but also its packaging, often delaying releases for weeks so its delivery could achieve visual perfection. The goal amongst all these labels was to craft a--whether conscious or not--brand identity, to manipulate the public into the fold. This created a wonderfully red-hot tension between the musicians, the labels and the public resulting in the furious activity this book describes. It is this same commitment to quality and artistic integrity that fans of this period discuss to this day with the intensity of an erotic fever-dream.

Multiple criticisms can be leveled against the writer for spending too much time on certain groups and not enough time on others. While this is a valid concern, I do not see any glaring omissions in this work. This book is not only for anyone who wants to know about certain bands but it is also for those who want to understand the systems of interaction between the events discussed and how so many disparate elements influenced each other. In doing so, it provides a survey of the influential acts of the period.

One must never forget the lessons learned here of how it can be done. Applying these notions today one immediately sees distribution methods rapidly changing by the hour. Radio is still primarily dominated by commercial programming (check stopcbcpop for a current example of this). The template created by college radio in the United States (there is no such thing as an "independent music chart" in the United States--not to mention the absolute absence of a ministry of culture.) has been modified and turned into so-called alternative programming on commercial stations after someone recoginzed the viability of this demographic (circa mid-1980s). Today, the market is even further entrenched in this petty commercialism.

Then again, the knife cuts both ways, new independent labels are born daily. Nearly everyone involved in culture has a website or e-mail as technology enables things to change yet again. Disenchanted consumers of fine music are able to trace cultural activities that were previously inaccessible. In this sense, "Rip it Up and Start Again" is a worthy reference to the early days when it was all done via telephone, SNAIL mail, live performances and radio programmes (today, one is tempted to add music blogs to that list).

Our culture is on the mend, we desperately need free thinking creative people to wake up the underground once again.

Rip it Up and Start again
by Simon Reynolds
ISBN: 0 571 21569 6
Format: Paperback
Published: April 21, 2005
Pages: 608pp
Price: £16.99

Also due for publication in USA late January/early February 2006.

check out Simon's blog in the meantime.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Second Aspect of the Same Thing

I'll be on the air tomorrow night on WZBC, 90.3fm, filling in for Brian Carpenter.
That's Wednesday, November 16 from 7-10pm (19:00 - 22:00)EST.

Expect to hear a lot of music from Philippe Sarde, Francois de Roubaix, Ben Watt,
Quigley, the Montgolfier Brothers, and various artists from the Les Disques du Crepuscle stable. Oh, and of course, quite a bit of the Durutti Column, as their new CD, "Keep Breathing" will be released in early December on Artfull records.

Please listen and enjoy.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Old Favorites from last week

This was my last playlist as a 29 year old.

Nine Horses “wonderful world” from snow borne sorrow (samadhisound)
SFT “deum de deo / so long, isolated sunshine / youngtoolong” from SWIFT. CD
Ryuichi Sakamoto “1919” from 1996 CD ALBUM (Gut 1996)
Philippe Sarde “Cour d'immeuble” from Le Locataire (The Tenant) (1976)
Egberto Gismonti / Nana Vasconcelos “Don Quixote” from Duas Vozes
Bruce Gilbert “Epitaph for Henran Brenlar” from the shivering man
Emak Bakia “Smile in your mind” from Jane CD ALBUM
The Durutti Column “Lullaby 4 Nina” from Tempus Fugit CD ALBUM (Kooky 2004)
Les Hurleurs “Hotel Varlin” from Ciel D'encre (Barclay 2000)
Deadly Weapons “Jayne Mansfield” from Deadly Weapons LP ALBUM (NATO)
Howie B “Five Days” from Freezone 3 CD COMP (SSR 1996)
Nine Horses “snow borne sorrow” (samadhisound)
Peter Principle “Scissors Cut Paper” from Idyllatry CD
Wio “To Chose is to Lose” from (K-RAA-K)3 Festival 2002 CD COMP
Wim Mertens “DARPA” from Strategie De La Rupture (Les Disques Du Crepuscule 1991)
Arbol “Summer and You” from Acuarela Songs 3 CD COMP
Susumu Yokota + Rothko “Reflections and Shadows” from Distant Sounds of Summer CD
Steven Brown “sous quelle etoile suis-je ne?” from a tribute to polnareff CD
Martial Canterel “Ascent” from confusing outsides LP ALBUM (genetic music 2005)
The Wake “Recovery / Host” from Assembly CD
David Kristian “brief notes that wept red” from The City Without Windows / La Derniere Voix OST 12-INCH (Creme Organization 2004)
HYPO “relax max msp / the perfect kill” from Random Veneziano CD ALBUM (Active Suspension 2004)
Eric Random “Dow Chemical Co.” from Subliminal 1980-1982 (LTM 2005)
Tuxedomoon “Luther Blisset” from Cabin in the Sky CD ALBUM (Crammed Discs 2004)
The Durutti Column “Jacqueline” from Valuable Passages LP COMP (Relativity 1986)
The Durutti Column “the Missing Boy” from Valuable Passages LP COMP (Relativity 1986)
Seigen Ono “Julia” from Comme Des Garcons CD COMP (Saidera 1989)
Locust “Folie” from Morning Light CD ALBUM (R&S Records 1997)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Birthday Maakies

I know this is just coincidence but, Tony Millionaire has an interpretation of an Ode by Wordsworth as this week's cartoon.

A fine start to the day.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Five Days

In the midst of my radio show, keeping the sounds moderately coherent. Five Days to weigh the consequences of all my decisions so far. Hidden Resources, that sort of thing. Distributed access over a period of time. I run my fingers over multiple textures until I find the few that excite my sensibilities. People ask and I try to explain, but like so much in life, its a matter of subjectivity, a matter of personal preference. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I never sit down and take things at face value, or attempt to move forward by discarding my dignity. Perhaps that's unpractical, why not just submit to convenience at every possible turn? Is it so much a meditation on the nature of work or the passage of an object through space that affects people so much? Striving for coherence in belabouring the act, what is left, a few pictures, picking up vibrations, the need for the perception of distance and cover. Marks in the sand. The flow of water. The constant pieces I must pick up every day in order to stay relevant, ony just. No, that's not it at all. You must know this already. I haven't even begun yet. Existence as the accumulation and assimilation, more or less, of knowledge---disparate and obscure, however you like to put it. The ones who feel alienated clearly don't work hard enough perhaps, otherwise they must legitimately involve themselves in other all consuming tasks. After all these years, and all I've heard out there, the pressure to conform exists for some. It would seem the opposite should occur, things are more eclectic, not less. I highly doubt the concept of safety is fully responsible for this either. Probably just laziness. Then again it is so easy to criticize. I've spent a lifetime swimming in rhetoric only to construct very little. Belligerent and determined, resurrecting the old for one last play.

Five Days left.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Busy Week - the end of the 30th year

It has been a moderately busy week at work so I haven't had time to finish any detailed posts lately. As far as I know I will have my current radio show back again tomorrow night from 7-10pm on WZBC.

Recently, I finished reading a first edition of Martin Esslin's book on the Theatre of the Absurd (cover depicted above is of the most recent edition). What's interesting about him is that he studied in Austria and then went to live in England during WWII. During the war he became a radio programmer for the BBC's European Service. This ties in to his general theories of the Theater of the Absurd by applying its principles not only to the stage but also to radio. Some of the authors mentioned solely created works that are meant to be heard, and not seen. The atmosphere and general concepts deriving from this use of the radio reminds me of certain horror films where the best thing about them is the sound design. The slight exception to this is Robert Wise's "The Haunting", which is well known for its excellent sound design, because it is supported by a strong story and cast.

In other news, I purchased David Sylvian's recent project NINE HORSES. It is his collaboration with burnt friedman, Steve Jansen and others (including Ryuichi Sakamoto and Stina Nordenstam). I haven't had time to listen to all of it but most of what I've heard is in a uniquely pop vein.

The other bit of music news I have concerns two new releases on Montreal-based label intr_version. Désormais has a new album out called "Dead Letters to Lost Friends" and Avia Gardner's new album is out called "More Than Tongue Can Tell". This is exciting news, expect to hear me feature these releases on my radio show in the coming weeks.
The last bit of their copy reads like this:
désormais is playing in montreal at zoobizarre, tuesday, november 8th (6388 st-hubert, they (we) will be accompanying chicago's voltage. death from above 1979 for those who are way past vice? hella for the ladies? anyone? http:// - you decide.

The last bit is for the local people. I'm nearly approching my thirtieth birthday (November 8). Hopefully the weather will cooperate this weekend.

Say 'hello'.