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Feb. 26th, 2018

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Negativland - Favorite Things

As people around me are frequently reminding me, I need to grow the fuck up. It's not my fault that few things in our culture bring me so much joy as Negativland committing musical damage on Julie Andrews. These are important questions being asked here. Sooner or later we're all going to have to work out what to do when the dog bites.

From the 2005 album No Business.

Negativland - Favorite Things
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Feb. 25th, 2018

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Edward Hamel - Grey Neon Life

Grey Neon Life is a piece composed by Edward Hamel for the cellist Seth Parker Woods. It's a particularly interesting score, in that it's very difficult to read. Not difficult as in requires a lot of talent or knowledge, but actually physically difficult. What didn't begin as illegible scribbling has been deliberately eroded, smeared and otherwise damaged. There are a few brief notes setting out the very beginning of the piece, but other than that it's all entirely to the performer. I can't decide if it's a cop-out or inspired.

As featured on Woods' 2016 release asinglewordisnotenough it becomes an intriguing assemblage of unrelated musical fragments, each one dramatic on its own and liberated from the necessity of meaning. Interspersed with these are vocal interjections and utterances, intakes of breath, the sounds that accompany a language while not being a part of it. It's demanding music, but thoughtful and rewarding.

Edward Hamel - Grey Neon Life
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Feb. 24th, 2018

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Lorenzo Senni - Zeroth-Order Approximation

Don't be intimidated by that song title. It's just a mathematician's way of saying a rough guess, not particularly accurate.

For the last decade or so, Lorenzo Senni has been working with his own personal deconstruction of trance music. Some times it's recognizably such, at least in as much as he uses a Roland JP8000 to generate all the sounds. Other times, it's rather more tangential. That's certainly the case with Zeroth-Order Approximation from his 2014 album Superimpositions. It sounds as if he's started with his usual experimental take on the form, and then cut micro-holes of silence through it, like some kind of audio Cantor set. I could be entirely wrong and it's been made additively rather than subtractively, but either way it's still a fascinating listen. Even, god forbid, if you've no interest in the music of mathematics.

Lorenzo Senni - Zeroth-Order Approximation
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Feb. 23rd, 2018

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Gamardah Fungus - Opium

The idea of Gamardah Fungus doesn't wash. The Ukrainian duo of Igor Yalivec & Sergey Yagoda make music that is not so much dark ambient as it is gothic ambient, long rumbling drones full of emotion, tragic guitar, even a bit of doom jazz. It's music that takes itself quite seriously. Like I say, shouldn't work. The thing is though that the sound they make is quite fantastic, as you'll hear from the first moment that the bass on Opium courses through you. Definitely one for speakers rather than headphones, from the 2013 album Night Walk With Me.

Gamardah Fungus - Opium
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Feb. 22nd, 2018

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Amjad Ali Khan - Maa Durga

The sarod is meant to be the moody teenager of classical Hindustani music. It's usually used for introspective, slightly meandering performance. None of that on this piece from Amjad Ali Khan's 2005 album Moksha, and if anyone has the means to break the stereotype it's him. He's a sixth generation sarod player, and his family are often credited with the creation of the modern instrument.

Maa Durga wakes in typical sarod fashion, with tired slides up and down the fingerboard. Khan's instrument is close-miked to pick up the resonances of the strings and the long reverb of the room. But before long Durga is fully awake and charging about the place on the back of her tiger, arms flashing and vibrant. It's joyously melodic and full of life.

Amjad Ali Khan - Maa Durga
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Feb. 21st, 2018

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Dictaphone - Maelbeek

Here's a track from the 2012 album Poems from a Rooftop. Dictaphone are the trio of Oliver Doerell, Roger Dörin, and Alex Stolze, and their music somehow manages to mix late night jazz with tightly wound electronica. The clarinet in Maelbeek might be tired and on its last legs but the ambience is quite deadly, rippling with sonic threat or maybe just the sound of a passing train. Released four years before the terrorist bombing at the Brussels underground station of the same name, it's an unfortunate coincidence. Let's hope it's the train.

Dictaphone - Maelbeek
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Feb. 20th, 2018

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Tzusing - 日出東方 唯我不敗

I don't make a habit of listening to Malaysian/Taiwanese experimental techno, but lately I've been listening to 日出東方 唯我不敗 over and over again. It's as tense and exciting a song as I've heard in ages, filled with the extraordinary sound of vibrating strings. Not sure of the instrument - it sounds like it might be a guzheng or something like that, except the strings are clearly being hit rather than plucked. And the results are absolutely visceral, with this sheet of sound floating in the sky above the flat, hollow drums. It's apocalyptic and devastating, and dramatic as fuck. Absolutely wonderful stuff from Tzusing's 2017 album 東方不敗.

Tzusing - 日出東方 唯我不敗
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Feb. 19th, 2018

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Exit Oz - Zurobara Spre Orient

You probably didn't realise you were ready for this, but you are. Exit Oz are a Romanian post-rock outfit who work extensively with drum machines and keyboards, which should count against them. And maybe it would, if they used them in any clichéd sort of fashion. But there's none of that here on Zurobara Spre Orient from their 2014 album Împământenit. It's a seductive spiralling dance, with a long melodic tenor sax line and guitars that sound like Romani cimbalons. This is music that's fully saturated with colour: minimum subtlety, maximum reward.

Exit Oz - Zurobara Spre Orient
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Feb. 18th, 2018

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Night Beats - Celebration #1

Classic bluesy psych rock from this Seattle trio. Celebration #1 is pretty much a groove for Danny Rajan Billingsley to go on an extended vocal and guitar solo journey over. Reminds me a little of the great Zamrock musician Chrissy Zebby Tembo. This is four minutes of constant invention, heavy on the reverb and the vintage atmosphere. From the 2016 album Who Sold My Generation.

Night Beats - Celebration #1
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Feb. 17th, 2018

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Stereolab & Nurse With Wound - Simple Headphone Mind

If you give a recording to Steve Stapleton and let him do what he wants with it you can be sure of one thing: it's going to come back creepy. That's how this collaboration came about, and that's what happened. Still, Simple Headphone Mind is still for the most part Stereolab in space rock mode, rather than the loungier climes they sometimes occupied. But what has happened is that NWW have blown the soundscape apart, with the motorik density fractured and fragmented. It's probably not the best thing either side has done, but as a collaboration it's actually remarkably effective. Originally released as a single back in 1997, this is 10 minutes of a tune that gets thoroughly deconstructed and reassembled. Much less forbidding than I'm probably making it sound.

Stereolab & Nurse With Wound - Simple Headphone Mind
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Feb. 16th, 2018

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Jozef van Wissem - To Lose Yourself Forever Is Eternal Happiness

Okay, let's listen to Jozef van Wissem play his lute for a while. Do you like the way it sounds ever so slightly out of tune and yet that discord is the sound of a melancholy smile? Do you like the slight hesitancy? Do you like the way the wordless vocals are currents of air, and the plucked strings are little tugs on your heart that lift you up and send you flying?

Yeah, me too.

To Lose Yourself Forever Is Eternal Happiness is from the 2016 album When Shall This Bright Day Begin.

Jozef van Wissem - To Lose Yourself Forever Is Eternal Happiness
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Feb. 15th, 2018

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Jerry Paper - Reprogram Ourselves

So Jerry Paper is this guy who uses keyboard sounds so old and hokey that it's almost as if he's trying to rediscover the parameters of pop music with them, building it again from the roots up. Either that or he's an ironic appropriator of soft rock tropes who's here to threaten your children with smooth sounds. Or perhaps he's simply trying to accommodate postmodern distance with the sincerity necessary to genuinely enjoy music. All I know is that Reprogram Ourselves sounds like very early Brian Eno, and hell, that's good enough for me. It's from his 2013 release Fuzzy Logic.

Jerry Paper - Reprogram Ourselves
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Feb. 14th, 2018

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Thurston Moore - Vocabularies

On the one hand Vocabularies is a surprisingly gorgeous bit of guitar work, filled with birdsong feedback and acoustic clawhammer. On the other, it's so immediately recognisable as A Thurston Moore Song that it's impossible to suspect that's not part of the artistic intent. There are lyrical rhythms he's used many times before, bit of guitar phrasing... it's almost as if he's commenting on or at least acknowledging the fact, that all these elements are part of his standard vocabulary. As theories go, it's as on par as anything you might get from listening to the lyrics, I suppose. From the 2014 album The Best Day.

Thurston Moore - Vocabularies
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Feb. 13th, 2018

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Monoton - Leben im Dschungel

Konrad Becker's Monoton have consistently been amongst the more experimental electronic acts of their era. Formed in 1979, they released their first record, Monotonprodukt 02 a year later. It was all very pared back and minimal, but definitely did not subscribe to the cold/dark aesthetic of the era. Leben in Dschungel comes from that release, and the thing that's impossible to ignore here is the enormous bass - the regular thud of a flattened slap is pared with a tremulous drone, and for much of the track there's nothing else except for perhaps a high pitched whine right at the top end. It's uncomfortably claustrophic, but not exactly what you'd call bleak.

Monoton - Leben im Dschungel
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Feb. 12th, 2018

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Blue Hawaiians - Martini Five-O

It might be possible to go wrong doing a cover of the Hawaii Five-O theme. I mean, it might. It's one of the most immediately recognisable TV theme tunes ever, which sort of gives you licence to claim it as your own territory. You could do all sorts of bad shit to that tune, and people would still like it.

What the Blue Hawaiians do is take the beach indoors with them, moving the surf into the lounge. It's slowed down and smoothed out, but gets some super eerie steel guitar laid over it. The title makes it sound as if you're in for a pastiche but to their credit the band seem to be taking this seriously. And so they fucking should. It's on the 1998 album Sway.

Blue Hawaiians - Martini Five-O
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Feb. 11th, 2018

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Otoboke Beaver - Love is Short

Super joyous shouty Japanese all-female punk: Otoboke Beaver make music full of fury and energy that still has a pure pop delight. No time for long songs. Love Is Short clips along at an incredible pace considering its outsider rhythms, a testament to the communication between all four band members. And putting in the hours in rehearsal, obvs. From the 2017 EP Love Is Short.

Otoboke Beaver - Love is Short
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Feb. 10th, 2018

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Blind Willie Johnson - You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond

No musician in history has had a better batting average than Blind Willie Johnson. Between 1927-30 he recorded something like 30 songs, perhaps 20 of them are stone cold classics, and a handful rank amongst the greatest things ever recorded. You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond perhaps isn't up there with John The Revelator and Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground, but it's still an essential piece of gospel/blues history and the only song Johnson ever recorded twice. This is the more forceful, more vigorous of the two versions, with his astonishing vocal growl and slide guitar. Beefheart adapted the tune for his epic Tarotplane, but never quite matched the emotional heft of the original.

Blind Willie Johnson - You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond
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Feb. 9th, 2018

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Ikue Mori - Slush

I love the music of Ikue Mori, but sometimes she's just a little too subdued. Slush is not subdued. Slush is cheeky. It's the opening track to her 1995 album Hex Kitchen, and it's a fun experiment involving lots of drums and some running water. Criss-cross waves of rhythms, as if a handful of instruments had been thrown into a still pond to ripple the surface. Guaranteed to bring smiles.

Ikue Mori - Slush
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Feb. 8th, 2018

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Elvis Costello - My Funny Valentine

Allegri's Miserere is one of the most immediately familiar pieces of music ever recorded, but it wasn't always so. For over a century it was only ever played on special occasions inside the Vatican. The church jealously guarded the score, and refused to let anyone make copies. That was blown apart one day in 1770. A teenage Mozart attended a performance, retired to his room, and transcribed everything he had heard note for note.

So the story goes, at least.

What's rather better documented is that one day in 1979 Elvis Costello was sitting in a pub, heard My Funny Valentine on the jukebox, and immediately nipped out to the recording studio to do his own version. It's only 90 seconds long, but it's a tender performance and the immediacy really shows. Just one man, his bass, and a bit of vulnerability. It does wonders.

Elvis Costello - My Funny Valentine
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Feb. 7th, 2018

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The Whitefield Brothers - In The Raw

You know what I really hate? The Eurovision Song Contest. It's a loathing that refuses to be lessened by kitsch, by layers of meaning, by the false promise of camp. Over the years it has slowly poisoned the world, painting a picture of Europe as a continent of musical naff. I think that's fair? I know one of the reasons we typically ignore 99% of music from the continent is anglophone arrogance and incuriosity, but spreading the blame a little feels right in this situation.

Anyway, I'm going to let you in on a little known secret. Much of the best funk of this century has come out of Germany. Call it appropriation if you wish, but nowhere else has embraced African culture so wholeheartedly and taken it into the mainstream in the way that Germany has. When Max and Jan Weissenfeldt make the raw and dirty funk, they do it with heavy African percussion that towers over their psych organ lines. So good.

The Whitefield Brothers - In The Raw
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