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May. 29th, 2016

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Mark Leckey - Soundtrack for GreenScreenRefridgerator

Mark Leckey is a Turner Prize-winning visual artist. In 2012 he released the soundtrack to his excellent film about British fashion and nightlife, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999). Great film, but not the most interesting listen without its visuals. Much better as a standalone audio experience was the other side, again a soundtrack, this time from his 2010 installation piece GreenScreenRefridgeratorAction.

It's the sound of a machine developing self-awareness, a high end Samsung fridge trying to understand its place in the world. Technical specs are one thing, but when it tries to move beyond that we start to hear its confusion. As the pathos increases, so does the roar of the electric hum behind the voice. You're not supposed to feel sympathy for your kitchen appliances like this. It's a sonically rich and oddly emotional piece.

Mark Leckey - Soundtrack for GreenScreenRefridgerator
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May. 28th, 2016

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Westinghouse - Three Days In Eight Minutes

Industrial musicals: that strange genre of musical pep shows for sales executives, equal parts banal, embarrassing and creepy. They were the unacceptable face of corporate brainwashing. If you're familiar with them at all, you'll probably think of them as a product of the American '50s and '60s. But they survived for quite a while after that. Certainly long enough into the '70s that Broadway had been thoroughly usurped by disco in the lexicon of selling.

And on its own that would be enough to make the Westinghouse Corporation's Three Days In Eight Minutes something special. But it's even more amazing. It's not just a medley of disco tropes and sales patter. Dating from January 1979 it's from the closing plenary of a conference, looking back over the previous three days' excitement. Individual managers and executives are introduced as they (presumably) dance onto the stage to take a bow, with the backing singers getting excited as they sing bad rhymes to their names. And then they throw in about a minute of Randy Newman's Short People in the middle. It's the soundtrack to a nightmare. But hey, it wasn't your nightmare. You weren't there, and that makes it fascinating.

Westinghouse - Three Days In Eight Minutes
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May. 27th, 2016

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Terry Durham - Fryston Main

Terry Durham was a Yorkshire-born artist and poet. His one album was the 1969 release Crystal Telephone. There are Gainsbourg-like lounge numbers, pop art psychedelia, and even an early appearance by Evan Parker providing free jazz sax yelps over horrified strings. Yet even in a set as disparate as this, there's one track that stands utterly alone.

Fryston Main takes a traditional brass band performance and tells a tale of coal pit closure, and with it the dissolution of identity. It's unfashionably nostalgic, even though there's not a whiff of sentiment to be found. But most of all, it is bone-deep with stoic misery; ironically self-aware, yet no less maudlin for it. This one always hits me like a brick.

Terry Durham - Fryston Main
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May. 26th, 2016

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Staff Benda Bilili - Sala Mosala

You could dismiss Sala Mosala as a bit of feelgood nonsense. Fair enough. The rest of us will just shuffle off to the other side of the room and leave you to your sad existence. It's infectious and joyful music, which is all the more remarkable when you realise the band's circumstances.

Staff Benda Bilili live in Kinshasa, DRC, and they're all paraplegic. When they met, many of them were homeless. They were street musicians, making a living busking with their homemade instruments. Charmingly lo-fi wasn't so much an aesthetic as it was a fundamental economic necessity. They caught the ear of a European agent and released a couple of albums. Don't know how well they sold, but at least they seem to have proper wheelchairs now, rather than the hand-pedalled tricycles many of them used beforehand. The extraordinary note bending solos you can hear are the work of the teenage Roger Landau, playing his single-string fishcan lute. Thoroughly great. From the 2009 album Tres Tres Fort.

Staff Benda Bilili - Sala Mosala
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May. 25th, 2016

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Tonbruket - Mano Sinistra

You ready for some Swedish experimental jazz? Tonbruket were formed in 2009 by bassist Dan Berglund and their music is definitely a fusion of parts. Jazz is the glue that holds it all together, but in the midst of things there'll be hip hop, '60s psyche rock and even classical passages. Such a mix shouldn't work; yet is does perhaps because the band have learned how to do more with less.

Mano Sinistra marks the passage of an incredibly deep groove. So much of the rhythm is implied rather than explicit. You're given a few disjointed bones, and have to fill in the rest of the skeleton yourself. It's music that leaves space for you, right in the middle, although some ducking and weaving might be necessary. It might be impossible to avoid. Absolutely love this. From the 2016 album Forevergreens.

Tonbruket - Mano Sinistra
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May. 24th, 2016

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Henri Texier - Mad Nomad(s)

Henri Texier is a French jazz bassist. He's done a ton of work over the years, but perhaps nothing quite so memorable as Mad Nomad(s), from the 1995 album of the same name. It's built around Texier's astonishing bass tone, a regular grinding growl. It's not fancy playing, but it gives the piece a instant identity and a genuine sense of urgency. Meanwhile his band, the Soñjal Septet, do their best to recreate spiritual jazz from a '90s perspective. But everyone gets pulled into that bass beat. It's inescapable. Everyone orbits Texier in ever tighter orbits until the whole thing explodes into a burst of high speed intricacy. Really love the graffiti guitar textures of Noël Akchoté in there - he's definitely someone whose work you should seek out if you aren't already. Yeah, this is a good one.

Henri Texier - Mad Nomad(s)
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May. 23rd, 2016

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Su Tissue - Salon de Musique

Here's that Su Tissue piece I was on about the other day. I can only imagine how the post-punk audiences who knew her as the deadpan singer of post-punk outfit Suburban Lawns might have reacted to Salon de Musique. By then she'd left her SoCal roots for Berklee College of Music, and the result was an album of classical minimalist piano figures with a choral and keyboard backing, and occasionally, as on the title track, Tissue's own distinctive vocals. It's all rather lush, like a particularly opulent Terry Riley outing. The piano is credited to the mysterious Arspenlian Reeves, surely a pseudonym. And after this: nothing. Su Tissue had a brief role in a Jonathan Demme film and then disappeared from public life. Salon de Musique doesn't feel like anyone's final statement, but that's what happens when life gets in the way.

Su Tissue - Salon de Musique
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May. 22nd, 2016

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Fatoumata Diawara - Sowa

The truth is, all these years I've been encouraging you to listen to awful noises because of spite. I'm jealous of you, reader, and for that you have been made to suffer. But as I slide ever further past my prime, my cold heart sometimes softens. Sometimes I even stop wishing ill upon you, and on those days I take a deep breath, put malice aside, and listen to something lovely.

Not for your sake though. I just need a rest.

So here's something lovely. It's a song by the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara from her 2011 album Fatou. Female singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar is a bit of a played-out trope, and even with some subtle bass and drums Diawara was going to need to do something special with Sowa. Thankfully she did. It's got the clarity and ease of the best Wassoulou music, and is sung with something that I can only describe as grace. And the very end where she starts to duet with herself is something you're just going to have to discover for yourself.

Fatoumata Diawara - Sowa
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May. 21st, 2016

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Les Rallizes Dénudés - Enter The Mirror

Les Rallizes Dénudés were a Japanese art rock ensemble who never officially released any albums. Frankly, they had neither the time nor the inclination. They were too busy hijacking aeroplanes, alienating audiences and venues, and inventing noise rock. After their original bass player Moriaki Wakabayashi took part in the Japanese Red Army hijacking of flight JAL 351 not many people wanted a commercial relationship with the band.

Yodo-go-a-go-go (Flightless Bird Needs Water Wings) is a compilation of early recordings whose title is a direct reference to this incident. If you only know Enter The Mirror from the '77 Live album, you need to hear it again here, as it's a totally different beast. There's still the Velvets-inspired drawling beat, but it's a way more intense performance. The band push and pull either side of the feedback lines, and with massive levels of echoing reverb build towards a demented acid rock climax that blasts splinters of static at you. Not a gimmick in sight.

Les Rallizes Dénudés - Enter The Mirror
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May. 20th, 2016

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Manu Dibango - Ceddo 2

The vibraphone is, of course, the least fashionable of all the instruments. Just don't go telling Manu Dibango that. He'd laugh in your face and then treat you to an extended afrofunk freakout. With both sets of mallets.

In 1977 he recorded the soundtrack for the Senegalese film Ceddo. I'm sure it serves the movie well, which is a polite way of saying much of it isn't terribly memorable. But the final cut, designed to be played alongside the end credits, sees Dibango giving himself rather more leeway. Ceddo 2 growls along with a hint of psych wah-wah and some tricksy percussion. Best of all is when Dibango and his bassist start playing in unison and for a moment everything is unbearably heavy. This is the sound of musicians really enjoying themselves.

Manu Dibango - Ceddo 2
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May. 19th, 2016

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James Holden - The Caterpillar's Intervention

James Holden got his start cutting trance tracks and doing pop music remixes. I sort of want to hold that against him, but I won't, not as long he's making music like The Caterpillar's Intervention. With its mix of electronic and acoustic sources, its sharp rhythmic cutbacks and its slight edge of trippiness it's rather like an instrumental version of The Beta Band. At least it is until the saxophones that have been duetting with a retro synth drone take on a life of their own and erupt into a squall of aleatory disharmony. Way too short at only 4 minutes long; there are so many musical ideas here that could have done with more development, but it is a great 4 minutes. From the 2013 album The Inheritors.

James Holden - The Caterpillar's Intervention
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May. 18th, 2016

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Girls At Our Best! - I'm Beautiful Now

The 1970s don't get enough stick. In the UK we're now in a post-Yewtree state; we're starting to acknowledge the tip of the sexual exploitation iceberg. It's important to remember though that it wasn't just a handful of DJs, MPs and telly presenters. It was the entirety of popular culture, in all of its leery, bigoted swagger. There was lead in the petrol, Watneys Party 7 in the mini kegs, and sexism in everything else.

Part of the cultural reaction against this was the birth of indie pop in the post-punk era. Guitars became sharp and jangly, melodies became brighter and sweeter. It was music that was in opposition to rock'n'roll, to creepy crooners and to the commodification of sex. Girls At Our Best! were cool, breezy fun, making nonchalantly ironic earworms. Here's the delightfully tuneful I'm Beautiful Now, where singer Judy Evans is so caught up in her sophistication that she starts to spontaneously sing in French. Uh-huh. Affected, off key, and something of a subversive necessity.

Girls At Our Best! - I'm Beautiful Now
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May. 17th, 2016

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Bardo Pond - Tommy Gun Angel

Here's an old favourite. Tommy Gun Angel comes from Bardo Pond's 1997 album Lapsed. Those were the days when post-rock hadn't yet ossified and become a set of genre rules, when you could still hear the 4AD influences in this new sound. It's a wall of tragedy and guitar noise, but buried under everything there's still a pop innocence, as sweet as an open wound.

Bardo Pond - Tommy Gun Angel
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May. 16th, 2016

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Melt Yourself Down - Dot To Dot

New stuff from Shabaka Hutchings' "Nubian punk" outfit Melt Yourself Down. Dot To Dot is the lead track from their album Last Evenings On Earth and it's got all the heavy North African elasticity you could ever want combined with the arcing electric bounce of a London night out. But best of all is the opening riff; with its revving, sliding rhythms it sounds like a solid tribute to Bowie's Suffragette City. Your new 2am soundtrack.

Melt Yourself Down - Dot To Dot
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May. 15th, 2016

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David Thomas and Two Pale Boys - Fire

Fire comes from the magnificently irascible David Thomas' live 1997 album Meadville, and it's a stark and beautiful thing. 'Beautiful' may seem like an odd word to describe the intentionally twisted vocals, the accordion, the electric trumpet and the midi guitar of this band, but it's surely appropriate. And yet it seems it will never reach the beauty that it promises. The song starts in grinding, introspective blues, raw and mysterious and painful. But when Andy Diagram and Keith Moliné join in, the music starts to soar. It's no less painful, but it's an elated pain, a spiritual masochism. It certainly works for Thomas; when he returns he's virtually post-coital. Genuinely brutal music.

David Thomas and Two Pale Boys - Fire
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May. 14th, 2016

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Orangy - Let's Caw Someone

I will never tire of bedroom experimentalism. Oh, shut up. Bored teens will always be the musical frontier. Nothing drives creativity like boredom, and nothing drives boredom like adolescence. Orangy (who I know nothing about, not even if they're teenagers or not, but let's just say that they were at time) have in Let's Caw Someone created a unique blend of doomcore breakbeat bossanova and musique concrete. Cavernous lo-fi audacity from the 2010 release DIDNT CAR.

Orangy - Let's Caw Someone
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May. 13th, 2016

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John Zorn - Necronomicon: Conjurations

Here's John Zorn in classical mode from 2004. Necronomicon is one of his sporadic string quartets, and if I were to tell you that it's here being played by the Crowley Quartet you've probably got a fair idea of the thematic area we're working in. Personally I consider that all of that HP Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos business sits rather at odds with the post-Kabbalistic western hermetic tradition that informs Zorn's mysticism, but it still makes for a splendid bit of avant-garde musical theatre.

Conjurations is the opening movement and hits you straight off the bat with frenetic scratching, neurotic pizzicato and terrifying intensity. It's gloriously sinister, with a few nods towards horror music tropes towards the end. You can tell that he's written extensively for film, but mostly this is solid Second Viennese School modernism. A really exciting listen, and a beautifully dry recording from the album Magick.

John Zorn - Necronomicon: Conjurations
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May. 12th, 2016

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Tony Allen - Boat Journey

Tony Allen sounds forlorn at the best of times. When he's telling people not to get on refugee boats because they will either die, or get to their destination and be hated, he turns that up a notch. But then Afrobeat was never the party music that people seem to think it was.

Boat Journey comes from the 2014 album Film of Life. Allen was in his 70s when he recorded it, and a long way from being the unstoppable heart of Fela Kuti's band. It's deliciously funky, with some great bass playing from Cesar Anot, and Allen's largely spoken vocals have real humanity to them. It's just... I know he's supposed to be one of the greatest living drummers, but sometimes I wonder if he's there mostly to show off the breadth of his drum collection. It's a very eccentric percussion orchestration, but it's also a very memorable one. And with a song like this, that's what's important, I think.

Tony Allen - Boat Journey
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May. 11th, 2016

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Dave Burrell - Echo

Echo is a seminal 1969 free jazz blowout led by pianist Dave Burrell. A pretty star-studded lineup here including Archie Shepp and Sunny Murray. In fact, it's pretty much the same band that played on Shepp's Live at the Pan-African Festival, although they relocated from Algiers to Paris for the occasion.

It's... wild. From the opening piano crash to the exhausted collapse 20 minutes later, it's non-stop full-force skronk. You've got seven young men all playing at once, and yet it's muscular without being obnoxiously aggressive. The band aren't in any way competing with each other here, it's more like a shared inward journey. Quite breathtaking.

Burrell got to play Echo once again in 2004. He gathered a band including Steve Lehrman and Sabir Mateen called the Echo/Peace Continuum, and word is that they managed to surpass the original. It never made it onto disc as far as I know, but bootlegs are supposed to be available. If anyone knows how to get hold of a copy, hook me up? Thanks.

Dave Burrell - Echo

May. 10th, 2016

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Hot Dad - Randy Orton

Oh yeah, like I was going to be able to resist this. Wrestle is an album by Hot Dad. 22 tracks, all less than 1:40, all about WWE wrestlers, and all done in the style of 1980s TV shows. Here's the theme to the romantic sitcom Randy Orton, a heartwarming show about your favourite angry handbag-pooping man. It's got power chords! It's got syndrums! It's got no sense of proportion whatsoever! Will Randy Orton RKO the entire cast before the end of the episode? Will Hot Dad find true love before Randy dislocates his shoulder again? I'd love to say that only time will tell, but sadly this one never made it past the pilot. Inspired.

Hot Dad - Randy Orton
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