Roger Deakin's shepherd's hut (image by Justin Partyka)
A couple of things have led me back to Roger Deakin of late - a trip to the soft hollows of Suffolk and tangentially a wedding gift of a book of his, and the re-reading of JA Baker's The Peregrine, a book which in many ways is a harsher, more obsessive version of Deakin's own slow drift into the fabric of nature.
In 2005, after the success of Waterlog and during the writing of his second book Wildwood (and only a short while before his death from a brain tumour in 2006), Deakin made two programmes for Radio 4. The premise for both was very simple - to make recordings in different areas of the land he owned in Suffolk, including the farmhouse which he'd rebuilt from a ruin. The results are remarkable, gentle records of his daily movements through the landscape: listening to the timber frame house creaking in a gale, the chatter of swallows in the chimney breast, a magpie on the roof of his shepherd's hut, Deakin swimming in the moat that bordered the property. The magic is in Deakin's inclusion in the landscape, his collusion with it. He does something so simple and so fundamental, you almost see past it: he makes himself at home in the world.
Download: Roger Deakin - The House
Download: Roger Deakin - The Garden
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The very excellent Room40 label turns 10 years old tomorrow, and they're celebrating with a free 40 track download album, featuring Chris Abrahams, Koen Holtkamp, Greg Davis, John Chantler, Grouper and more. Go get.
Image by Dan Morelle
It has been awful quiet in these parts. I'll confess to a certain amount of lassitude certainly, but really life has got in the way in all its prickly forms. Not least a hideous dose of uvula pustules (or tonsillitis to the school nurse) which left me feeling like I had a hedgehog nesting to the north west of my larynx. Not much fun. I did hear this cracking show on Radio 4 whist I was off though - Chris Watson's Search for the Nightingale's Song. He does seem to be everywhere at the moment (the interview in a recent issue of The Wire is really something and it's led me to TC Lethbridge, more of which another time) - and with good reason. His method seems simple and yet there is something close to perfection in his (and his equipment's) output. His recording of the nightingale is a signature occurrence - thorough, rapt and so clear and pure at times as to sound artificial.
A few years ago I was walking down by the River Test near King's Somborne. It was late April and getting very close to the arrival dates for our intake of nightingales. It was humid for April, the air clammy and dense; and one particular field, set just back from the river, was boisteros with bird song, the air full of the criss-crossings of repeating figures of trills and whistles. From what I could make out the bulk of the noise could only have been coming from two or three locations, and despite never having heard nightingales in the field before, I was convinced these had to be them. It was an intense barrage of noise, at times like extended raygun peals, at others like some cracked and slipped motorik - always fading away into a single reedy note before the next barrage began. It wasn't song so much as textile, a swarm of threads knitting the air around me. I was mesmerised.
Unsure of myself however, I spoke to a friend who worked for the RSPB. He was free and suggested we could go back to the same location and clear the matter up for certain. These could be very adroit song thrushes, after all. So back we went. It was some 10 days later and the air had cooled and thinned. The low scrub where I'd heard the singing, still leafless at this stage looked dirtier in the lessening light. There was a heavy silence, punctuated by the occasional blast from a desultory song thrush. A series of weak trills and bleeps - where were the fireworks? I was a little sheepish to say the least, and though we waited for the best part of an hour, nothing appeared. I started to think it must have been an aural hallucination, maybe I'd ingested some ergot? Then he had an idea.
At the time I was driving a Volvo 340, an utterly graceless squashed whale of a car, replete with the turning circle of an arthritic brontosaurus. Indeed so heavy was the steering that the previous owner had affixed one of those snooker ball sized black knobs (hereafter to be called the knob of joy) to the steering wheel to help him get the fucker round car parks and the like. I hadn't removed it. My mate, for his job (so he says) happened to have all four CDs of Jean C. Roche's monumental All the Bird Songs of Britain and Europe ('396 chants en 4 CDs') on his iPod and we figured if we could get the car close enough to the field and play the iPod through the car's (frankly superb) stereo we might be able to lure the birds from whence they may have fled. I pictured us huddled safe inside the car whilst hordes of these light brown beauties danced across the thick metal roof... So there we are, furtively pulling up to a gate, throwing the doors wide open pouring the recorded psychobabble of the nightingale into the milky light of evening. We pause it frequently, partly out of embarrassment, partly to hear if our sonic fiction is having any effect? The air remains shallow of song. We turn it up as loud as we dare - loud enough to scare a fallow deer that had been sheltering in an adjacent field. It must have thought this was the nightingale apocalypse. We try for a full five minutes before shame and bemusement takes hold. Nothing. Not even a rasping blackbird.
I'll never know if they were nightingales buried in that low thorny scrub. Something tells me they were and that maybe they'd been spooked, or were just passing through to other known haunts. Whatever their reasons, they'd flown and to this day I've still not heard a nightingale sing in the wild. Thankfully, I have Chris Watson to listen for me.
Download: Chris Watson - The Hunt for the Nightingale's Song
Artist: Black Breath
Album: Heavy Breathing
Label: Southern Lord
Label: Supernatural Cat
An observable truth about this place is that we simply don't feature enough metal. It is an appalling oversight. I tend to miss a good deal of metal stuff, I'm sure, partly through being old and ignorant, partly through simply not finding the time or the space for it. A couple of things recently have grabbed me though....
Heavy Breathing is Black Breath's second record, after last years' Razor to Oblivion EP, also released on Southern Lord. They're a nastly little prospect, sounding something like a post-hardcore Entombed, or like Converge if they were to replace their guitars with baseball bats strung with taut cheesewire and trade their iconography for some classy grindcore obsessions. Black Breath trade in occult and anti-Christian imagery, nailing it to the wall with skin-flaying guitars. It's simple, kinda primitive stuff but done with such conviction it's impossible not to get caught up with it. The Entombed thing has been mentioned a few times, but it is a striking comparison and the aesthetic similarities to Clandestine are there for all to hear (let it be said: what a record to choose as a jumping off point - still one of the finest metal/grindcore albums ever released): those tactile, gravelly guitars, the shifting undertow of the rhythm section. And yes, even some cowbell. Nicke Andersson was always an extraordinary drummer, and J. Byrum has nearly matched him here, beat for beat. I'm not entirely sure where this fits with the overall shape of metal to come, but if there is a movement in this direction then count me in.
That word, 'heavy': it tends to get overused, or at least in a genre sense, misplaced, and as such loses its weight, its heft. For the record, Ufomammut - an Italian 4-piece - are genuinely heavy. You find yourself searching around for earthy or bestial similies: elephantine, leviathanic, igneous. Their creations (such as they are) feel dragged out of the very fabric of the world around you. And the key to their presence is their grasp of dynamics - the ways in which they manage the sludgy tempo changes and the build and release of the tracks. The heavy is such because of the ways they manage light and dark. They've been creating these magmatic pulses for over ten years now, and Eve is their fifth album - a concept album no less, a paean to our first lady - and they feel very much like a unit that knows its trajectory.
The difference here, compared to say the crushing, suffocating weight of Idolum, is that Eve - effectively a circular 45-minute piece, broken down into 5 constituent slabs - does have a greater element of space about it, a near-psychedelic concentration on the layering of sound. 'Part 1' builds from a slow repeating guitar figure before devolving into an appallingly sludgy waltz, but in the background is a gothic wall of synths, and a well of distorted sampled voices. It acts a kind of microcosm for the record, or at least the rest of the record is a variation on this dynamic of light and dark. 'Part II' is probably the stand out track, and packs in all that low-level punch the band seem to create so effortlessly. It follows the same 3/4 pattern but when the wall of guitars come in... It's big and dumb and metal at its very finest. Amen.
Download/Listen: Black Breath - Escape from Death
Download/Listen: Ufomammut - II
A bunch of interesting stuff that's been up on the M*7 tumblr and Delicious of late:
Big picture images of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.
Robert Macfarlane on managing Roger Deakin's estate
Oneohtrix Point Never live podcast
Einstein's letter on atheism, written to Erik Gutkind
Klaus Dinger on the Dinger beat.
Frank Kermode on TS Eliot
David Sheppard interviewed about his Eno biography. Mp3 available here.
Marcus Boon's brilliant Wire piece on Pandit Pran Nath
Artist: Broken Social Scene
Album: Forgiveness Rock Record
Label: City Slang
There is something inherently absurd in the rhetoric around rock and indie music (like that needed saying) that there is even talk of an album being a ‘statement’ or a band being ‘important’; but there’s no denying that there seems to be a certain aura around Broken Social Scene, something that steps slightly outside of this usual flappy discourse. I think it’s partly borne out of them, at least historically, undercutting all that scene bollocks by messing with the iconography, by capturing themselves in process – using improv and jazz modes, including take fuck-ups, having a rolling membership, being lyrically obtuse. However deliberate and calculated all that may be, they do seem to have become something apart. And people, the scene, whatever, do seem to expect a certain amount. All of which, aside from internal strife, probably accounts for the 5-year hiatus, and the near-diabolical sense of anticipation around the release of Forgiveness Rock Record. No pressure then.
You can sense all that bubbling behind the album title: Forgiveness Rock Record. It’s both pompous and playfully self-referential – musing on all that daft overblown rock rhetoric whilst acknowledging that this has probably been as hard an album to convene and record as any in the band’s history. It’s also a pointer to the content of what’s inside, as the band have made their most straightforwardly obvious rock record to date – it’s big and earnest and structurally at least, generally pretty gleeful. Lyrically, aside from the titles it’s not imposed itself on me yet, but generally speaking, it’s stuffed, lyrically. For a band that are known for lyrical patterns that tended towards either the spartan or the repetitious, Forgiveness… is positively garrulous. The other big change for me is getting John McEntire – Tortoise wizard and general production Ubermensch – on board. He’s got them sounding sleek and clinical, quite a change from that trademark cavernous warmth that has characterized the band’s sound to date.
The McEntire influence is particularly evident early on. ‘Chase Scene’ is so John McEntire – remove the vocals and the track could have been on Tortoise’s last album Beacons of Ancestorship. ‘Texico Bitches’ has a similar sheen to it, sounding at times like it might have been produced by Trevor Horn – add in some Dan Deacon keyboard squalls and you’ve got an atypical BSS track that somehow still sounds completely natural. ‘Forced To Love’ takes this template and legs it adding more of that Horn influence. If it had some fairlight synths it could be Field Music or The Week That Was. So far, so full, then. But as the album progresses, those tell tale moments of light and air steal in, revealing that the band haven’t lost that ability to pace and to pacify. This is particularly evident on tracks like ‘All to All’ (the first track to feature new vocalist Lisa Lobsinger, who has to fill Leslie Feist’s sizeable shoes) and ‘Ungrateful Little Father’, which builds from a typical rhythm and synth pattern coupled with a bitter Drew invective (‘ungrateful little motherfuck, built you a breakthrough device’) to a gorgeous ceiling-scraping drone. That said, my reaction to the record after living with it for a few weeks now, is that there aren’t enough of these of areas of shade. It feels too on and as such, it feels like too much of the album zips away unnoticed. The shade may well reveal itself over time.
It’s in a trio of songs towards the end of the record though, that BSS seem to completely hit their stride, and it’s during these three songs – the broad clattering tumult of ‘Meet Me in the Basement’, the Emily Haines sung wooze of ‘Sentimental X’s’ and ‘Sweetest Kill’ – that the realization comes that Forgiveness Rock Record is actually something of a disappointment, and another triumphant Broken Social Scene mess. And I use the word mess in the most complimentary sense here: it’s what made You Forgot it in People so refreshing, and so other, and a record, to these ears anyway that is still revealing itself. Forgiveness Rock Record isn’t YFIIP – it’s too late in the day for that in many respects, too much has happened to the band, never mind the way we consume and listen, for an album like to arrive fully formed – but it is evidence that even with the framework of what is a fairly standard rock record, they’re still buzzing with enough ideas and enough zeal, and simple doing more than most to be worth sticking with.
Download/Listen: Broken Social Scene - Sentimental X's