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Jan. 19th, 2016

cyberinsekt

Owiny Sigoma Band - Owour Won Gembe

Like this a lot. Kenya singer and nyatiti (it's a kind of lyre) player Joseph Nyamungu is joined by the electronica act Elmore Judd to make some fascinating crossover music. Buzzing strings, edge-of-hearing found sounds, and Nyamungu's high, worried voice all play over uneasy drifting pure keyboard tones. I love the way the rhythms don't seem to properly mesh, and everything sounds hurried and urgent, musically vital. No idea what it's about, let's keep it that way. From the 2015 album Nyanza.

Owiny Sigoma Band - Owour Won Gembe
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Jan. 18th, 2016

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Black Dice - Live Loop

Just a little musical vignette for you today. Black Dice, in case you didn't know, are a noise rock act probably best known for their collaborations with Animal Collective. They founded as a violent power noise ensemble before adopting more industrial textures, and finally making a name for themselves for some wholly original sounds.

Live Loop is one of those, taken from their 2004 album Creature Comforts. It's little more than a single loop of sound played in front of a crowd. But the sound is that of someone emulating the world cheapest pedal steel guitar, making it simultaneously melancholy and rather pathetic, and the crowd add to the results with a genuine sense of danger and menace. It's such a peculiar combination. Quality stuff.

Black Dice - Live Loop
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Jan. 17th, 2016

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Destroyer - Grief Point

I grew up on indie music, years before it ever got that name. Consequently I find most of it completely impossible to listen to these days. Have done for years. All so fucking predictable. But Grief Point is anything but, and while it's not indie as such, it's got something of a shared manner with that genre.

Grief Point is a collaboration between Dan Bejar, lead singer of Destroyer and Loscil, the alias of ambient/drone musician Scott Morgan and also the band's former drummer. Over a rippling sea of softly pulsing keyboards and found sound, Bejar recites dreamy and distracted poetry that seems in part to be a commentary on the music. The effect is distracted, isolated, slippery. It's rare for ambiguity to carry such emotional weight, but the music and meaning remain so elusive, so hard to pursue or even concentrate on, that it feels as if a tragedy is unfolding around our ears. Really fucking good. From the 2010 EP Archer on the Beach.

Destroyer - Grief Point
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Jan. 16th, 2016

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Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guebrou - The Homeless Wanderer

You won't find many stories like that of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guebrou. She's an Ethiopian jazz pianist with a background in classical music, having studied in Switzerland and Cairo. Still in her teens she became a nun, and started making records in the 1960s, putting the profits towards building an orphanage. These days she lives in seclusion in a monastery in Israel.

I love her solo piece The Homeless Wanderer. She plays it tentatively, as if waiting to hear the note under her fingers before deciding on the next. Even when the music starts to cascade it's still rather arrhythmic, albeit decidedly naturalistic. There are echoes of Delta blues, and some of the blue note choices seems to come straight out of Thelonious Monk, but the whole is a quiet and contemplative affair. Unique stuff, and most worthy of your attention. From the album Éthopiques 21: Piano Song.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guebrou - The Homeless Wanderer
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Jan. 15th, 2016

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Brian Joseph Davis - Eula

In 2005 Sony was caught hacking millions of home computers. They'd included a particularly malicious bit of DRM on their music CDs. Any PC set to automatically play an inserted disc (NEVER LET YOUR COMPUTER DO THIS) would install a rootkit on the machine. It was a piece of software that completely bypassed the operating system, prevented the user from ripping discs, and spied on the machine and sent data back to Sony BMG. Even if the user declined Sony's EULA, the malware was installed regardless, leaving security vulnerabilities in every computer it touched. How they avoided a class action lawsuit I have no idea.

Here is that End User Licence "Agreement", set to music by Canadian artist Brian Joseph Davis. He's arranged it for women's choir, and filled the space with an ethereal drone and decidedly sinister dissonances. To stay true to Sony's original you shouldn't strictly have to listen to it to become infected, but I think in this case we're holding Davis to a slightly higher standard. Fascinating cultural plundering from his 2007 release The Definitive Host.

Brian Joseph Davis - Eula
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Jan. 14th, 2016

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Nomo - Brainwave

Damn, this is intense. Nomo were a band who followed in the afrojazz tradition of Don Cherry. Unusually for a jazz act they had the electronics right up at the front. That sound completely dominates Brainwave, the opener to the band's 2008 album Ghost Rock. I can't tell if it's an electric mbira hitting some dirty harmonics, or if it's a single oscillator spinning crazily in its pot bringing the squeaky funk. Whatever it is making that noise, it's just fucking magnificent. Back this with a serious conga and bass groove and you've got the makings of an absolute monster of a track. But this is way more than just that. The whole piece is built around these nasty long drones building in cacophonous glory like Miles' Rated X. Cut short at only 4 minutes, in any fair world you'd get no change from 25.

Nomo - Brainwave
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Jan. 13th, 2016

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Pancho The Parrot Sings! - I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Pancho the parrot lived in San Diego Zoo. Maybe he still does. They're a particularly long-lived species of animal. His keepers had trained him to sing a number of songs, or at least phrases from them. He ended up, as everything eventually does, on television in the 1980s. Naturally this led to someone deciding it would be a good idea to hire a full orchestra and backup singers to accompany him on a record.

Well thanks, someone.

This has television all over it. Close harmony singers, lush strings, all the cloying staples of light entertainment. And over this narcoleptic morass, Pancho sings fragments from the popular songbook in the club style, sounding rather like a constipated child croaking through a megaphone. Undoubtedly one of the strangest animal songs you'll ever hear, and also one of the more gloriously stupid. Fantastic. Thanks to Dana Countryman and WFMU for making this one available.

Pancho The Parrot Sings! - I Left My Heart In San Francisco
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Jan. 12th, 2016

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Steeleye Span - To Know Him Is To Love Him

Well damn, I can't write about David Bowie. Of course I loved his music, but I loved it in exactly the same way that a million other adolescents loved it. I loved the experimentation, the glamour, the sexual liberation in all the ways that you will have read about far too many times before. He touched so many lives that the story became commonplace.

So instead, here's the final track from Steeleye Span's 1974 album Now We Are Six. The doyens of the English folk scene make a creditable go at the Phil Spector song. It's an unlikely combination, made even more so by the presence of David Bowie on saxophone. In the same year Bowie made the sexually charged dystopia of Diamond Dogs, he was also larking about in the studio with Maddy Prior and friends. We all have our idea about who the man was, and frankly he made every guess as valid as the next. And, as this shows, equally partial.

Steeleye Span - To Know Him Is To Love Him
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Jan. 11th, 2016

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Television - 1880 Or So

Television's eponymous third album is their overlooked one, am I right? It was released in 1992, some 14 years after Adventure so there was so way they were going to be able to persuade people they were still relevant. It's all about they heyday. Well, anyone who believes that is missing out. 1880 Or So is a pop gem, a beautifully clean and understated little number with an irresistible guitar hook. Gotta give credit to drummer Billy Ficca too, who keeps things precise and minimal and yet does so much with it. Moody and literate and definitely not looking back.

Television - 1880 Or So
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Jan. 10th, 2016

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Gnod/White Hills - Drop Out

Do you like that sweet spot between krautrock and space rock? And do you like it when it is magnficent? If the answers to both these questions is 'yes' then you're going to love this collaboration between Salford-based psych collective Gnod and New York's stoner astronauts White Hills. Drop Out sits at the cosmic heart of their 2010 album Gnod Drop Out With White Hills II and it's 11 minutes of repeating grooves and cascading sonic debris. Most enjoyable.

Gnod/White Hills - Drop Out
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Jan. 9th, 2016

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Dengue Fever - Sleepwalking Through The Mekong

I've never been comfortable with the idea of Dengue Fever. Their indie psychedelia influenced by Cambodian pop music always seemed to sail a little too close to Orientalism. Nothing wrong with the music though, although it never really grabbed me.

It turns out I should have been listening to their earlier recordings. Sleepwalking Through The Mekong comes from their 2005 album Escape From Dragon House. It's all in Khmer, so I have no idea what Chhom Nimol is singing about, but her clear and powerful voice contrasts brilliantly with the lethargic guitar lick. The same 10 note pattern gets repeated throughout, with only voice and a bit of decorative flute to carry things along. This sparse material evokes a peculiarly humid setting. Recommended.

Dengue Fever - Sleepwalking Through The Mekong
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Jan. 8th, 2016

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Abner Jay - Cocaine Blues

Abner Jay was a travelling minstrel, outsider musician, one man band and the world's worst business man. He's a really disconcerting listen, and it's all down to his timing. He's accompanying his own singing, guitar and harmonica on the drums, and while he keeps good time he's an even mile away from the beat. We're used to hearing this as a sign that a song is about to speed up, but with Jay it's a permanent thing. His music sounds as if it's perpetually accelerating, while never getting any faster.

Idiosyncratic timing aside, he's a great listen. His repertoire is mostly original blues and folk numbers, and his lyrics run to the literal rather than the figurative. Cocaine Blues comes from his self-released 1976 album Swaunee Water and Cocaine Blues. There's a frailty to Jay's voice that gives this tale of addiction a strange charm, as if he's oversharing through naivety. I find I just can't help but feel affection for the guy.

Abner Jay - Cocaine Blues
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Jan. 7th, 2016

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Pierre Boulez - Incises

Pierre Boulez: 1925-2016

In all of 20th century classical music, no figure attracted as much snide carping as Pierre Boulez. Not Schoenberg, not Birtwistle, not even Stockhausen attracted so many mediocre minds to rally against them. So of course I was predisposed to love his music.

It must be said though, that Boulez didn't always make that easy. He was an uncompromising figure, a composer of massive stature who only gained the begrudging respect of his detractors from his work as a conductor. His music was difficult, and often deeply unfashionable. He started his career writing piano music, but took a break from in in the late 1950s. He wouldn't return to the piano for nearly 40 years, and when he did it was with Incises (1994).

It's a dramatic piece, full of swoops and sudden gestures. The opening section requires terrifying virtuosity. It's blisteringly fast, full of half patterns which briefly offer some structural promise before becoming subsumed in the rush of notes. This becomes broken up by a rhythmic swaying, full of jagged contemplation. Finally it reveals the dread and horror of held chords and their interruptions. It's as if Incises is ageing before us, going from birth to death in 11 short minutes. Thrilling and awe-inspiring music.

Pierre Boulez - Incises
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Jan. 6th, 2016

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Richard Dawson - Black Dog In The Sky

Over the Christmas break I was listening to the radio and caught an interview with Karim Wasfi. He's an Iraqi cellist who caught the world's attention last year for one particular act. A car bomb had just exploded in Baghdad, but rather than fleeing Wasfi went towards the site of the explosion. He waited for the worst of the debris to be cleared and then placed his chair in the middle of the blackened road, opened his cello case, and played with defiance.

One thing he said really struck me: "Music is not limited to entertainment."

I think perhaps once I believed that music could change the world. But I heard the music and yet saw the world stay much the same, and I stopped. When you know that David Cameron grew up listening to The Jam and The Smiths it's time to lose the concept of the power of music.

But still, music is not limited to entertainment. And that's certainly even more true when it comes to motives for creating it. What drives the musicians we love? In the case of Richard Dawson I doubt it is anything as facile as pleasure.

Black Dog In The Sky is an amazing song from his 2011 album The Magic Bridge. Let's say, for the sake of the convenience, that it is folk music and also acknowledge that's an entirely inadequate term. It's the sound of a broken guitar. It's the sound of a man who knows what it is like to be similarly broken. The "black dog in the sky pisses and slobbers all over the world", it is an implacable, relentless and frustratingly intangible foe. It cannot be defeated, but it can be survived. You won't find beauty here, not of any kind; Dawson is an artist who is not afraid of despair and distress. But what you will find is hope. You can get to the other side. Black Dog In The Sky is one of the most powerful songs of the decade.

Richard Dawson - Black Dog In The Sky
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Jan. 5th, 2016

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Øyvind Torvund - Wilibald Motor Landscape

Are you up for some challenging modern chamber music? Asamisimasa are an ensemble who play music by people such as arch minimalist Alvin Lucier or that baffling obfuscater, Brian Ferneyhough. Wilibald Motor Landscape comes from their recent album Neon Forest Space, devoted to the works of Øyvind Torvund.

I'm not familiar with Torvund, but I've got to say I love this piece. It's a complex and demanding 15 minutes of live instruments playing across tapes of mechanical sounds. I love the subdued whirring of the power tools and the glissandi of servo motors. Absolutely not industrial music, think more of the playfulness of some of Matmos's works, but realised in a classical setting. I really like the way the instruments are used to highlight the inherent tonality of some of the found sounds by playing in unison with them. And check out the amazing pulsing clarinet duet with the caustic sounds of failing machines towards the end: absolutely terrific.

Øyvind Torvund - Wilibald Motor Landscape
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Jan. 4th, 2016

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Pierre Cavalli - Un Soir Chez Norris

Is Un Soir Chez Norris the greatest tv theme tune ever written? I don't know, but it's got to come close. It's a piece of freakbeat funk from the 1971 French programme, full of tremulous psych guitar and spooky wordless vocals. It's the incredibly solid beat that makes this one a classic. Astonishing production work gives the bass an IMMENSE sound that will grab you from the very first note. Cavalli was a Swiss jazz guitarist who can be heard, if you're so interested, wigging the fuck out on Wolfgang Dauner's The Oimels album.

Pierre Cavalli - Un Soir Chez Norris
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Jan. 3rd, 2016

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Julian Lynch - Natalie Barney's Salon

Julian Lynch is an ethnomusicologist who tends to gravitate towards the outer fringes of artpop. Natalie Barney's Salon is something quite different though. It's from the EP that Lynch released of his soundtrack to the short film How Mata Hari Lost Her Head And Found Her Body. It's short, gorgeous and surprisingly rich: a lazy cocktail of gamelan and spiritual jazz. Oh sure it's 'minor' music, whatever that might mean, but it's also just the thing to crack your face into a big blissy grin. Give the music its due, that's a rare thing.

Julian Lynch - Natalie Barney's Salon
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Jan. 2nd, 2016

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Etat Brut - Allright

Here's an old fave from pioneering Belgian industrialists Etat Brut. Allright (sic) comes from their 1982 cassette Géométrie d'un assassinat. Crude and bleak keyboards play an uneasy riff, interrupted by the obligatory indecipherable shouting and passing heavy machinery. Most notably dialogue from the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter play over and over again, not via any sampling technology but from a cassette tape played and stopped with sadistic intensity. You can hear the buttons clicking which adds to the lofi physicality of the music. Actually really disturbing.

Etat Brut - Allright
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Jan. 1st, 2016

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Paul Metzger - Sepulchre

Happy new year to all of you. It's probably no longer accurate to call Paul Metzger's instrument a banjo. Oh, it may have started life as one, but it's acquired so many extra strings and bridges that it surely needs its own name by now. It's currently at 23 strings, and while it certainly has some of the sonority of its original form, the shuddering pitch bends of the sitar and the nasal harmonics of the guzheng can also be heard in there.

You can hear both of those in Sepulchre from Metzger's 2013 album Tombeaux. It spends 12 minutes being stately and sombre and elegant, and then finally decides it's had enough. The powerfully deep low strings come into play, Metzger sings "This is the way we rise we fall," and suddenly the piece is an offering to the gods of metal. Breathtaking.

Paul Metzger - Sepulchre

Dec. 31st, 2015

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Ananda Shankar - Streets of Calcutta

Here's the late Ananda Shankar, sitar player and nephew of Ravi. He's probably best remembered for the slightly ropey cover version he did of Jumpin' Jack Flash. It's fun but nothing particularly special. The same can't be said for the extraordinary instrumental Streets of Calcutta taken from his 1975 release Ananda Shankar And His Music. It's a continuation of his east/west fusion music but with the exuberance turned up to 11. It's got vintage synths, massive rolling drums, go-go psych sitar, traditional flute breaks, tabla, the works. It really is the musical equivalent of the proverbial explosion in a paint factory, crammed full of vibrant technicolour life. Cheesy? Dear me yes, but also fun on a stick.

Ananda Shankar - Streets of Calcutta
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