Congo Natty feat. Beenie Man - Rastaman (from Rastaman/Blessed 12" 1996)
Joker - Psychedelic Runway (from Do It/Psychedelic Runway 12" 2009)
D Bridge - Seven Year Glitch (from The Gemini Principle 2008)
Rameses III - No Water, No Moon (from I Could Not Love You More 2009)
The Caretaker - Poor Enunciation (from Persistent Repetition of Phrases 2008)
Dirty Three - Lullaby for Christie (from Whatever You Love, You Are 2000)
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Artist: Leyland Kirby
Album: Sadly, the future is no longer what it was
This is up at TLOBF.
Leyland Kirby isn’t a stranger to the epic – in 2006 as V/vm he released The Death of Rave, a gruelling and bleak 94 track response to what he saw as the lack of innovation in dance music compared to the giant steps of the 80s and 90s; in the same year, as The Caretaker, he also put together another monumental and theory-heavy masterwork the Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia set, which stretched across 6 CDs and was an attempt, using the metaphor of a syndrome in which sufferers are unable to form any new memories, to portray a culture unable to map, understand – and crucially, portray – its own historical situation or place in time, and is instead doomed to nostalgia. Sadly, the future is no longer what it was, a 3 CD/6LP set and Kirby’s first release under his own name, is similarly monumental and can be seen as a continuation of this working out of the condition of our time. The difference here is that instead of a symptom chart, Kirby has given us what is explicitly a work of mourning – something he has called a document of loss.
So what is Kirby mourning for? In his great piece in The Wire from June 2009, K-Punk rightly placed most of Kirby’s work in a Jamesonian postmodern framework. Until now Kirby has been semi-playful, utilising plunderphonics and samples of old recordings to flag up a kind of ahistorical cultural amnesia. We exist in a timeless present, into which drift random disembodied elements of the past. As such a record like A Stairway to the Stars with its samplings of 78s from the 1920s and 1930s buried beneath a scurf of sound is a literal representation of (an aspect of) the hauntological: history is repressed and returns in the form of the spectral. Sadly, the future is no longer what it was despite that messing-with-temporality title is in many respects a step backwards from this, or at least predates our sense of the hauntological. To me, despite this being primarily about the failed promise of the internet, Kirby’s angst on this new set is more a straight modernist thing: a kind of misplaced fin-de-siècle paean to our degeneration, and a mourning for a lack of cohesion and connectedness, for our walled-in insularity.
Which, I’m sure is part of the reason Sadly… feels so damn huge, and huge in a way the earlier pieces weren’t. Gone are the piecemeal constructions and the anchors of song forms to be replaced by vast drifts of sound, all composed and performed by Kirby. In sound it is related certainly to William Basinski, but I also hear a good deal of Brian Eno’s early ambient work, both in the simple repeating figures and the hanging piano chords of Harold Budd and even Robert Wyatt. That vastness though: the shortest track here is 4 minutes 16, two of the tracks stretch beyond 20 minutes and you get the sense that this is supposed to be a challenge – to encompass the whole thing you’re forced to listen with a kind of tenacity, and in an ideal world find some near-forgotten space of contemplation; and as such it has something of the weight of literature. Yes, if there were world enough and time…All of which renders the mentioning of individual tracks, or even individual moments something of a folly – as in reality the chief method is one of emanation each piece part of a larger exhalation.
Yet there are moments were you can see structures through the billowing surface: ‘The Sound of Music Vanishing’ for instance, could be some sort of manifesto – it’s a swirling vortex of sound, as if the sonic fabric were being warped by a gravitational pull. It has an element of William Basinski’s experiments with decaying tape loops about it, but they at least have a sense of form, this is a study in formlessness. ‘As I Sat Beside You I Felt The Great Sadness That Day’ similarly seems to be collapsing in on itself, great bass chords churning beneath smothered organs. The track seems to reference Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings op.11’, circling the same figure again and again. ‘Days In The Wilderness’ (the shortest track here) is like reality malfunctioning, a bulging from the other side of the mirror. And there are also moments of great, near heart-stopping beauty: ‘Tonight Is The Last Night Of The World’ is barely there, a smile set of breath-like drones; ‘Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was’, arguably the centrepiece, is a throb of nasal keyboard pulses and plangent but buried chords, it ends like old old Tangerine Dream, wheezing out of existence.
The reality of reviewing something like this is that it’s simply impossible to come to any sort of conclusion about its merits. It’s certainly easy to be awed by its scope and conception; it’s also easy to be impressed at the critical weight it plays with. And yet I do have some nagging problems with it, part of which is to do with the overall tone. In Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, for instance, there is a sense of a real inexpressible sorrow, of subject and tone swelling to fit the subject matter; with Sadly, the future is no longer what it was one wonders what it is that Kirby truly mourns and whether the whole enterprise is founded on some abstract notion of grief. It seems too passive to me, too content to wallow in the supposed effects it purports to critique. I’m more inclined to believe that there is something more personal to this – that there is a Dark Lady to whom all this is a whale-sized monument. Not that that would make it any more impressive, just more believable somehow.
Either way, if this is to be Kirby’s folly, it’s good to know that artists are still aiming this high and with this much sonic invention. Where he goes from here though is anyone’s guess.
There are numerous free downloads around for all Kirby's different projects:
- The Death of Rave pieces are all available for download at the V/Vm site, as are the 72 'memories' that make up the Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia Caretaker set.
- You can hear numerous pieces at the History Always Favours the Winners site, including several from Sadly, the future is no longer what it was.
- Kirby gives away tracks quite regularly on his HAFTW blog, plus posts regular updates of the various things he's working on.
- As The Caretaker, Kirby recorded a track - 'What a world, what a life, what a love' - exclusively for The Wire. You can get it from The Wire site.
- Lastly, Kirby (as The Caretaker) did a cracking mix for FACT magazine - get it from the FACT website.
- If anyone wants a read of the K-Punk piece that was in The Wire, drop me a line.
A couple of dazzling galleries of images from the lens of Francis Wolff - from the peerless If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger blog. Woolf was an executive at Blue Note, a company set up by his childhood friend and co-German emigre Alfred Lion, and Woolff used his access to the rehearsal sessions to full effect. Awesome. Genuinely.
The Tallest Man on Earth (photo by j9j9j9)
There is something wonderfully elemental and simple about The Tallest Man on Earth, a Swede with a belly-whine and a guitar, that it's easy to overlook just how damn good he is. The fact that he comes out of comparisons with Dylan circa Another Side of Bob Dylanwith a certain amount of ease and grace should be all you need to know. The fact that he remains unsigned in the UK is a strange oversight that needs to be remedied soon... Check out his recent Daytrotter session (which, ironically is pretty flawless except the Dylan cover) and the curious video (below) for 'The Gardener' he shot for Le Blogotheque.
Album: Gather, Form and Fly
This was first published at The Line of Best Fit.
There is something vaguely unsettling about 3 folky weird-beards on horseback dabbling with electronic skronk, field recordings and musique concrete; it draws forth images of backwoods sadism, that well explored trope of the wrong-turn – the horror of the American unknown. That Brad and Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund – as Megafaun, on this their second album – not only pull it off but actually make the resulting mess into something warm and wholesome is quite some feat.
I probably shouldn’t overplay the experimental aspect of Gather, Form and Fly as in truth, at heart, this is a American roots record – its DNA is flecked with Déjà Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Big Pink. It’s the savvy way it manages to blend the experimental with this urgent pastoral that makes it such an intriguing album. And in terms of the way it seems to inhabit one age, whilst injecting the residue of another, the obvious figure in the background is Jim O’Rourke – both in his role as chamber-folk magus on records like Eureka, and also as the shadowy auteur behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Gather, Form and Fly, whilst not being as epoch-evocative does seem to have similar ambitions.
Take a track like ‘Impressions of the Past’: it starts with what could be a blast of Kinksian whimsy, though the muted horns quickly relocate the track from Muswell Hill to the Appalachian Hills. Then come those O’Rourke strings which quickly bend and mutate and herald a slide into a dirge lead by what sounds like a prepared piano. The track returns to itself via a simple (unprepared) piano line and a simple bank of vocal harmonies. It could be a Sufjan mini-epic. ‘Darkest Hour’ is similarly based around disparate elements – field recordings of rain (bathwater?) and bird song, a runaway tabla; harmonies finally kick in at around the two minute mark and are a shock and mutate into a round underpinned by some electronic skronk that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aphex Twin record. I appreciate these might sound like a fucking mess, and in some respects they are, but the band carry it off with enough grace that it keeps you listening, entranced.
What this interference also serves to do is set aglow the simple gorgeous melodies of tracks like ‘Worried Mind’ and ‘The Longest Day’ (a bluegrass track, lit up by female guest vocalist Christy Smith who gives Gillian Welch a run for her money). The standout track for me though is the 7-minute penultimate song ‘Guns’. You’re dropped into the song and as such it has the feel of an eternal coda – a yearning melody and lyric (‘all will ever be as one’) has them sounding so easy and relaxed it’s a slow lope into the tracks river-of-metal ending. It’s a hell of a statement and you wonder what else the band will be capable of in the future.
Problems? I guess the deconstructive urge does tend towards self-indulgence at times, and despite being 51 minutes it does feel overlong. I could do without ‘Columns’ – a galloping mess of cowbell (and I speak as a man who demands more cowbell in his music) and double bass that descends into a buzz of oscillator drones and feedback. Generally though, this is a bold and intriguing record. Go get.
Download: Megafaun - The Longest Day
Download: Megafaun - Guns
Hello! Just a quick heads up to say that the mighty Tortoise and Colin Newman from Wire recently teamed up and spent a day in the studio as part of a series of collaborations set up by BBC Radio 3's Late Junction. The show is on Thursday night (15th Oct) at 11.15pm and will be available on the iPlayer. Here's what Dan Bitney and Colin Newman had to say about the collaboration:
DAN: "This experiment could have gone wrong in so many ways, trying to basically improvise with someone you've never played with before...sometimes it just doesn't happen even with people you're used to playing with! I'm really happy with what we came up with. Colin was great to work with and I find it refreshing to make recordings that aren't 'fixed' with hours of editing, more of a 'that's what happened' recording experience."
COLIN: "What I can say is this. I don't think here was any way in which anyone could have predicted if this would work or not, the approach was to expect zero that way disappointment would be best avoided! However, in truth it came out way better than anyone had a right to expect. The pieces are not developed, mainly taken after a single or no run through and mixed on the fly but there is enough in their basic energy to make one wonder if this is a project which may well have a life beyond the confines of a single visit to the BBC studios in Maida Vale.... A couple of the tunes have refused to vacate my 'internal walkman'.."
Damn the snow.
Its senseless beauty
pours a hard light
through the hemlock.
Thelonious is dead. Winter
drifts in the hourglass;
notes pour from the brain cup.
Damn the alley cat
wailing a muted dirge
off Lenox Ave.
Thelonious is dead.
Tonight’s a lazy rhapsody of shadows
swaying to blue vertigo
& metaphysical funk.
Black trees in the wind.
Crepuscule with Nelly
plays inside the bowed head.
“Dig the Man Ray of piano!”
hot fingers blur
on those white rib keys.
Coming on the Hudson.
The ghost of bebop
from 52nd Street,
footprints in the snow.
Let’s go to Minton’s
& play “modern malice”
till daybreak. Lord,
wearing that old funky hat
pulled down over his eyes.