Kieran Hebden, Steve Reid and Mats Gustafsson : Live At The South Bank

Live at the South Bank

When renowned jazz drummer Steve Reid passed away in April 2010 from throat cancer, it cut short not only a glittering fifty-year journey that had seen him play with such legendary names as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, James Brown and Fela Kuti, but also an all-too-brief late-career renaissance that the former Motown session player enjoyed thanks to his particularly fruitful partnership with young electronic producer and DJ Kieran Hebden. Collaborating first on his 2005 Soul Jazz release Spirit Walk, Reid and the man better known as Four Tet bonded so well – both musically and personally – that Hebden was moved to describe the drummer as his “musical soul mate”. Live At The South Bank documents an extraordinary show at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall from June 2009, where the pair were joined by The Thing/ Fire! saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, but whilst the latter’s contributions certainly lend proceedings an air of raw spontaneity, it’s the fluid, almost telepathic interplay between Hebden and Reid that really thrills. Jamming their way through extended versions of six tracks from their four studio albums, Hebden – for the most part – lets Reid steer the ship, complementing whatever rhythms emerge – be it free jazz, funk, Afrobeat, disco or Krautrock – with the kind of whistles, bells, dub FX and spacey synths you’d expect from a Four Tet record. When Gustafsson does let loose – honking along with Hebden’s jet-engine power electronics on “Lyman Place” or taking an uncharacteristically melodic bebop solo towards the climax of “The Sun Never Sets” – the electric chemistry between all three makes it hard not to dwell on what-ifs, but the sad fact the trio never got the chance to take to the studio cannot detract from the spectacle of the occasion. As a live album, it stands alongside classics like The Who’s Live At Leeds or Coltrane At The Village Vanguard, but it also serves as a souvenir of a magical night, as well as a fitting tribute to a brilliant partnership and a great man.

Listen: “Lyman Place”

Live At The South Bank is out now on Smalltown Supersound


The Flaming Lips : Strobo Trip

Track artwork

As someone who has followed Oklahoman psych-pop pranksters the Flaming Lips on and off for the past fifteen years, I find it hard to believe anyone could be genuinely surprised by their latest bizarre stunt. I remember, back in the days before mp3s, the band releasing their single “This Here Giraffe” on a star-shaped CD. Not long after that they conducted the infamous “parking lot boom-box experiment”; then they released Zaireeka, an album spread across four discs intended to be played simultaneously. Next came the Top Of The Pops appearance where they were joined onstage by Justin Timberlake (dressed in a fluffy dolphin costume, obviously), the Christmas On Mars movie and the track-by-track cover of Dark Side Of The Moon (featuring Henry Rollins, natch), while 2011 alone has seen collaborations with The Books, Neon Indian and Lightning Bolt, as well as songs on flash-drives embedded in strawberry and marijuana-flavoured gummy skulls. So while a six-hour – yes, that’s right, SIX HOUR long – song is undeniably a pretty remarkable feat, you’ll forgive me if it fails to cause any raised eyebrows. What is surprising, however, is the way “Found A Star On The Ground” – the monstrous centerpiece of the Strobo Trip “EP” – manages to maintain a steadfast grip on the listener’s attention: riding a lurching, propulsive groove centered around Kliph Scurlock’s tireless, martial drumming, the piece expands on ideas first explored on 2009’s Embryonic, shifting and mutating almost imperceptibly as various instruments and recurring motifs drift in and out of the mix, forming several distinct movements. To try and describe the track beyond that seems pointless: it’s something that needs to be heard – to be experienced – to be appreciated, but for a simplified point of reference think the driving Krautrock rhythms of Can’s “Mother Sky” interspersed with nods to Tangerine Dream’s droning komische mood music. Besides the relentless, rolling drums, the only real hook is Wayne Coyne’s repeated, shakily-crooned intonation of the titular phrase, but astonishingly “Found A Star” still stands alongside “Do You Realize” and “Race For The Prize” as one of the Lips’ most addictive earworms; in fact, strip away the spectacle – the sheer size – of the song, and it holds its own against most of the greatest music of the past forty years. And therein lies the problem: the size of the thing defines the song, making it virtually impossible to see past, and unless you have an abnormal amount of spare time on your hands it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear it more than a couple of times the way the band intended. Were it edited it down proportionally into a 70-minute or double LP-length suite, it would probably be the album of the year (hell, of the decade). As it is, the best approach is probably to skip to a random point, listen for an hour and hope that you don’t land on one of the 45-minute ambient interludes. It would seem, however, that the group themselves disagree, as they have already gone one step further: currently streaming on their website is a new song lasting 24 hours…

Listen: “Found A Star On The Ground”

Congratulations to The Quietus

Last night, the always awesome Quietus won Record Of The Day’s Digital Publication Of The Year award for the second time. At the ceremony, presented by DJ Huw Stephens, Slayer’s “Angel Of Death” was played as John Doran accepted the honour with the choice line: “Listen to Electric Wizard.” Obviously I’m biased (I will be contributing more full-length reviews in the new year), but in my opinion TQ is by far the best UK-based music site on the interweb, and I’d like to offer my congratulations to John, Luke, Rory and the team, as well as the many talented contributors. If you haven’t already got the site bookmarked, I suggest you sort that out forthwith.

Co La : Daydream Repeater

Stream Co La's Daydream Repeater

Matt Papich is one talented dude; ask anyone who has ever seen him perform live or heard any of his work as founder – and, eventually, sole – member of Baltimore’s Ecstatic Sunshine. Originally conceived as an electronically-enhanced guitar duo, the project gave Papich and band-mate Dustin Wong chance to show off their chops whilst indulging some serious tech-geekery, weaving intricate patterns with their dueling six-strings and then using various pedals and samplers to process, loop and layer the threads into dense tapestries of lush, droning psychedelia. After Wong left in 2008 to focus his energies on main concern Ponytail, Papich tried out a couple of replacements before deciding to carry on alone, only to conclude soon after that his relationship with his instrument had reached the end of the road. Marking the change in direction with a change of name, he set about releasing limited run cassettes and making tracks available for free on his website as Co La, and official debut Daydream Repeater encapsulates Papich’s new approach perfectly: using little more than Ableton Live and the music from his own record collection, the (now ex-) guitarist has created a master-class in plunderphonic pop, splicing and looping fragments of well-known standards and obscure nuggets into hypnotic, rhythmic sound collages. Moving smoothly from Afro-jazz to Basic Channel-style minimal techno, onto grimy electro, stoned reggae and space age lounge music, Daydream Repeater is like an aural travelogue through lands both far and familiar; “Wanna Say Faux”, for example, takes the instantly recognizable Wall Of Sound drums from the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and warps them into something resembling Chicago footwork, whilst “My Jamaican” shuffles a Grace Jones sample into a stuttering disco/ dub hybrid. In many ways, the album occupies the same mind-bending territory as recent releases from fellow loop-lovers Panda Bear and The Field, but as well as being more playful it also – arguably – exhibits a better understanding of traditional pop dynamics, with most tracks building methodically to a satisfying climax. It would seem this young pup could teach the old dogs new tricks, and with Daydream Repeater proving he is as adept at programming and digital manipulation as he is with the guitar, Papich’s future looks very bright indeed.

Listen: “Vanity Plate”

Daydream Repeater is out now on NNA Tapes

Ten In Twenty

Ten albums that have been on the Foam Hands playlist this week, in no particular order, described in 20 words (or thereabouts):

1. Fred Falke Part IV (Work It Baby) – Twelve years into his career, German-born French house mainstay finally releases his debut solo album of glittery, euphoric disco pop. Listen: “Love Theme2

2. G-Side Island (Slow Motion Soundz) – Second sublime album of the year from Huntsville, Alabama rap duo; emotive and tirelessly creative, with soulful, bumping Block Beattaz production. Listen: Island (full album)

3. Julia Holter Tragedy (Leaving) – Epic, theatrical sound collages from L.A. conceptual artist, reimagining Euripides’ Greek tragedy Hippolytus for neo-classical strings and buzzing electronics. Listen: “Goddess Eyes”

4. Woodsman Mystic Places (Fire Talk) – Album-length EP of New Age psych from ultra-prolific Denver outfit, whose double drummer set-up compliments their propulsive new Kraut-beat direction perfectly. Listen: Mystic Places (full EP)

5. Container LP (Spectrum Spools) – More brutal acid house and disorienting synth noise from label whose remit seems to be making dancing as uncomfortable as possible. Listen: “Protrusion”

6. Feist Metals (Interscope) – Four years after her Apple-assisted mainstream breakthrough, the Canadian songstress returns with a subdued but seductive collection of late-night torch songs. Listen: Metals (full album)  

7. Elite Gymnastics Ruin {Parts 1 & 2} (Acephale) – Minneapolis duo pay homage to hip hop, electro pop and 90s rave, complete with “chopped and screwed” remixes on Part 2. Listen: “Omamori”

8. Rhys Chatham Outdoor Spell (Northern Spy) – Thirty year veteran of New York’s punk/ improv scene puts down his guitar for an album of droning compositions for voice and trumpet. Listen: “Corn Maiden’s Rite”

9. Bry Webb Provider (Idee Fixe) – Former front-man of the much missed Constantines breaks six year silence, taking a turn towards dark – and surprisingly tender – minimalist folk. Listen: “Rivers Of Gold”/ ”Undertaker”

10. Drake Take Care (Young Money/ Cash Money) – Love or hate him, the ambitious sophomore album from Lil’ Wayne’s precocious former protégé is undeniably one of the year’s best. Listen: “Take Care ft. Rihanna”

Korallreven : An Album By Korallreven

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but there is something about Korallreven’s debut long-player that sounds – or perhaps feels – very Scandinavian. It’s in the way the vocals linger and fade like breath in the cold air, and in the strobing arpeggios that flicker and flash like sunlight reflecting off the ice; it’s there, too, in the Swedish duo’s juxtaposition of clinical, precise beats and warm, textural melodies. But there’s an “endless summer” vibe here too, and it runs deeper than the odd Balearic guitar flurry or field recording of waves lapping at some distant shore: as a child, Marcus Joons dreamed of visiting the South Pacific, and it was the realization of this ambition – a spiritually rewarding trip to the still (relatively) unspoilt island of Samoa – that inspired this collaboration with Radio Dept. keyboard player Daniel Tjader. The resulting record, two years in the making, combines subtly insistent, 80s-inspired synth-pop with the kind of down-tempo post-club dance music that was everywhere about a decade ago, but whilst it might sound, on first listen, like a functional but unremarkable genre exercise, subsequent revisits reveals An Album to be much more than your standard chill-out fare. Hiding underneath every slow-motion piano house riff are layers of billowing MIDI orchestration, behind every straight-up 4/4 rhythm a quiet storm of hand-drums and whirring programmed percussion; elsewhere, choppy funk guitar licks rub up against fluttering pan-pipes, whilst guest vocalists Julianna Barwick and Taken By Trees’ Victoria Bergsman coo soothingly alongside angelic choirs and crickets chirp in the background. Injecting all these quirky elements into a tired, overused format, Joons and Tjader have produced something that sounds decidedly original, and that ­– quite literally, these days – is something rarer than an October heat-wave.

Listen: An Album By Korallreven

An Album By Korallreven is out now on Acephale

Blackout Beach : Fuck Death

Carey Mercer’s stock may have risen somewhat over the last few years as a result of his participation in “indie supergroup” Swan Lake with Dan Bejar of Destroyer and Sunset Rubdown’s Spencer Krug, but his finest moments have always risen from situations where he has had the spotlight all to his self. Last year’s Paul’ Tomb: A Triumph was the latest in a long line of consistently excellent albums from Frog Eyes, the band the former English teacher formed and has fronted in various incarnations for the past decade, but it’s his solo material, recorded under the Blackout Beach alias, that really showcases the singer’s singular, multi-faceted talent. Two years back, Mercer followed up 2004’s deliciously dark Light Flows The Putrid Dawn with Skin Of Evil, a trippy song cycle about a siren called Donna and the devstating effects of her charms on a multitude of ruined young men. Now comes the project’s latest installment, the charmingly-titled Fuck Death, a collection of what Mercer calls “deserter’s songs” focusing on the “alien concepts” of beauty and war. Recorded using just three synthesizers, two drum machines and one guitar amplifier, it’s a sparse, stark affair whose gaseous drones and clanking, piston-driven beats are haunted by the spirits of Bowie’s Berlin-period albums and Scott Walker’s more recent, avant-garde work. “Haunted” being the operative word: Mercer has never sounded as ghostly as on these bleak, industrial tone-poems. Indeed, whilst his swooping, snarling vocals often call to mind the territorial battle cries of some ferocious wild animal, here Mercer – echoed occasionally by Frog Eyes’ Megan Boddy – seems genuinely pained, howling into the void like the soldiers in his songs, alone on a raft, adrift on a cold, dark sea.  

Listen: “Beautiful Burning Desire” 

Fuck Death is out now on Dead Oceans

Ten In Twenty

Ten albums that have been on the Foam Hands playlist this week, in no particular order, described in 20 words (or thereabouts):

1. Sepalcure  Sepalcure (Hotflush) – The brains behind Machinedrum and Braille fuse footwork and funky house with techno and dubstep on their impressive debut. Listen: “Pencil Pimp”  

2. Pusha T  Fear Of God 2: Let Us Pray (G.O.O.D. Music) – Clipse rapper’s long-awaited official solo debut doesn’t disappoint; West guests, as do Diddy, Jeezy, Tyler, Fiddy and Rick Ross. Listen: “Changing Of The Guards” ft. Diddy

3. A Classic Education  Call It Blazing (Lefse) – Italian quintet’s jangling shoegaze- and post punk- tinged debut, inspired by biker gangs, beat poets and good old-fashioned rock & roll. Listen: “Baby, It’s Fine”

4. Chris Connelly  Artificial Madness (Relapse) – former Ministry and Revolting Cocks screamer combines slick stadium rock and industrial noise, recalling Tin Machine-era Bowie in the process. Listen: “Wait For Amateur”

5. Steve Hauschildt  Tragedy & Geometry (Kranky) – Second album proper of hallucinatory Krautrock drones and mind-bending synth oscillations from shy and retiring Emeralds sound scientist. Listen: “Batteries May Drain”

6. Freddie Gibbs  Cold Day In Hell (self-released) – Yet another free mixtape; how do these rappers ever make any money? Clever wordplay from gangsta Gibbs, with big production all round. Listen: Cold Day In Hell (full album)

7. Canyons  Keep Your Dreams (Modular) – DFA-approved Aussie duo mix bedroom pop with classic house and techno sounds; like Cut Copy tripping on acid in the desert. Listen: “See Blind Through”

8. Eleanor Friedberger  Last Summer (Merge/ City Slang) – Fiery Furnaces sibling’s debut solo album evokes Joni Mitchell and Carole King, fusing soulful, jazzy ‘70s AOR and kooky, idiosyncratic pop. Listen: “My Mistakes”

9. Hubble  Hubble Drums (Northern Spy) – Hypnotic, psychedelic minimalism from Zs guitarist Ben Greenberg; tapped riffs loop and overlap, twisting and turning with a glacial grace. Listen: “Nude Ghost”

10. King Midas Sound  Without You (Hyperdub) – Dubstep with the emphasis on “dub”; Kevin Martin’s 2009 album gets remixed by Flying Lotus, T++, Nite Jewel, Kuedo and more. Listen: “Earth A Kill Ya (Gang Gang Dance rework)”

Los Campesinos ! : Hello Sadness

It might be the indier-than-thou anti-cool that colours both their music and their image (geeky university students in specs and nice jumpers playing glockenspiels and cellos), or the lyrics that perch precariously on the fine line between genius and bad teenage poetry. Maybe it’s the over-protective, rabidly obsessive fan-base, or perhaps it’s just the entirely unnecessary exclamation mark they insist on tacking onto the end of their name. Whatever it is, there’s something about Los Campesinos! that makes them the kind of group a lot of people will love to hate. The Welsh septet’s fourth long-player, Hello Sadness, is unlikely to change any already made-up minds, but if you’re still on the fence it’s certainly worth putting any preconceived prejudices aside: written and recorded amidst considerable personal – and personnel – upheaval, these ten tales of young love gone to shit are the perfect introduction to one of Britain’s best bands. Going through a tough break-up and having three band-mates depart (for varying reasons) in quick succession has brought forth a more mature side to front-man Gareth’s songwriting, but his lyrics are still chock-full of witty puns, pop culture references and incidental details like football scores and bus numbers; for every bleeding, open wound (“We burnt all the skin from the palm of my hands/ With an old zippo lighter and deodorant can/ I went to the palmist and asked her to read/ No heart line, no sun line, no life line, no need”) there’s a bit of clever, multi-dimensional wordplay (“Over time they build up the city and our arguments show it all/ Every ring road, every motorway/ Displayed in crease and wrinkle/ Until my face is a map you have folded up/ One hundred, one thousand times”) to take the edge off. Musically, too, it’s an album of eclectic extremes, flitting from chaotic punk-pop (“By Your Hand”, “Songs About Your Girlfriend”) to propulsive DIY disco (the excellent, “All My Friends”-on-a-budget title track) to darker, more dramatic numbers (“The Black Bird, The Dark Slope”) like an ADD-afflicted magpie; it’s certainly easy to see why former touring buddies Broken Social Scene felt enough of a kinship to sign the group to their Arts & Crafts label in the U.S. Their Belle & Sebastian-meets-Blink 182 sound (tweemo?) might be something of a niche product, but with age the band’s horizons are clearly broadening; Hello Sunshine is a great record, and – even better – one that suggests the best is yet to come.

Listen: “Hello Sadness”

Hello Sadness is out November 14 on Wichita