Category: Electronica

Magnétophone: Relax, Its The End Of Electronica

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Static Caravan 2002.  VAN 40

Discogs

Magnétophone usually record for 4AD so this beautifully presented and very limited 7″ was slightly surprising, although their geeky, glitchy electronica fits rather better here than there.  Perhaps it’s because it’s less accessible than their usual stuff, especially the B sides which have little in the way of conventional structure.  Regardless, the band are probably the most effective exponent of this genre.

Unfortunately Static Caravan’s love of the 33rpm 7″ continues here.  It really is the most abominable format this side of the cassette tape.  Still, it’s worth a listen.

Coil: Musick To Play In The Dark, Volume 2

Musick To Play In The Dark

Chalice 2000.  Graal CD 005

Discogs

Having posted the first volume of this series yesterday, it seemed only right to post the second today.  They work superbly together – it’s a shame to have one without the other.

That this doesn’t work quite as well as volume one is hardly a criticism.  It means that it’s the second best Coil album, and for me the second best electronic album of the 90s – still essential listening.

It ploughs the same dark furrow as the first volume, which it does more effectively than any other artist I’m familiar with.  Standouts for me are Something and Ether.

Coil: Musick To Play In The Dark, Volume 1

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Chalice 1999.  GraalCD003

Discogs

I’d intended to put much more Coil on this blog than I have. I love Coil and have most of their catalogue, but the problem is that I find them very difficult to write about.

Many people say this is their best album, and today, I’m inclined to agree, although tomorrow I’ll probably have a different view.  It’s not as industrial is much of their output – you could even describe it as pretty easy to listen to.  Stylistically, it’s very varied.  Sometimes it sounds like early Tangerine Dream, sometimes it’s much darker electronica, but always with an intense humanity.  This is dark, otherwordly music which is best listened to, as the title suggests, in the dark with headphones.   Is it one of the most important electronic albums of the 90s?  Well I think so, and it was certainly influential.  However typically for Coil it was pretty hard to come by at the time, and much more so now, so few have ever heard it.

My copy is a second edition, which has different (but still terrible) artwork.  The music however is the same.  I’ll post Volume 2, which is an essential comapnion to this another time.

Cabaret Voltaire: Drinking Gasoline

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Virgin 1985. CVM1.

Discogs

I guess you could call this an album – it’s actually two 12″ singles, but the total playing time is almost an album.  Actually the 2×12″ format is superb because the sound is better, especially with music like this.

It represented an interesting transition for the Cabs, between the obstinately experimental sound of their earlier records (like Nag Nag Nag) and the more commercial sound they’d later embrace.  So it has that heavy industrial sound and chanted lyrics they were known for but with dancefloor friendly bass heavy riffs. At over 8 minutes per side they’re perhaps a bit long, but it works for me.

It is apparently the soundtrack to a video called Gasoline In Your Eye which I’ve never seen.  My copy is mispressed – according to Discogs all the UK copies were, so I’ve corrected the tagging to reflect what is actually playing rather than what the label says.  I’ve sequenced them in the order they appear on the cover.

Various Artists: Not Alone

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Durtro Janana 2006.  Durtro Janana 1963

Discogs

I’ve been listening to compilations a bit lately, mainly because I usually neglect them and forget the hidden gems they contain.  This one is a bit of a beast; five full CDs and 75 artists, so it is a bit overwhelming but there’s so much interesting stuff it’s essential if you’re into the offbeat.

It was put together by David Tibet (of Current 93) who obviously has a hell of an address book as a benefit for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).  While it lacks the stylistic coherence of most of the compilations I’ve posted here in the past, the quality is mostly very high, and some effort has been made to make to album flow.  Realistically, you’ll never play the whole thing in one sitting, so the CDs are made to work pretty well as standalone albums.

It’s so vast and so varied I don’t really want to attempt a description – I’ll be typing all day.  I bought it for the Bonnie Prince Billy track, but soon realised it’s full of stuff I like, or at least stuff I would like if I’d heard it.  There are the avant garde names you’d expect, but also people representing his interest is the weirder end of folk, such as Bill Fay.

Really the best thing to do is look at the tracklisting below and to trust me that there’s very little filler.

Posting a charity album here might seem like a really bad idea, but it is sold out now.  If you enjoy it, you could assuage any guilty feelings you might have by donating to Medecins Sans Frontieres here.  They do really useful stuff providing medical help in places where it wouldn’t otherwise be available.

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Various Artists: Isolationism

Various Artists - Isolationism

Virgin Ambient 1994.  AMBT4

Discogs

This is another installment of Virgin’s groundbreaking Ambient series.  This one was so influential that it spawned a whole new genre, or at least gave it a name.  Like the previous albums I’ve posted from this series, it was compiled by Kevin Martin and, as far as I can tell, features all exclusive tracks.  Isolationism is ambient music, but with a dark, threatening edge, and this album contains all the most important musicians in that area.   Like most of the albums in this series, it’s carefully compiled to function as a coherent whole, while the quality of individual tracks is high.  These aren’t discarded tit bits left from other projects, even from the big names; Aphex Twin’s contribution is as good as anything he’s done.

 

Modified Toy Orchestra: New Sounds From Old Circuits

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Static Caravan 2002.  VAN35

Discogs

Ah, the Modified Toy Orchestra.  Hilarious, totally original, inventive, funky….  MTO is the brainchild of sound artist and ubergeek Brian Duffy.  He gathers together old children’s toys which produce electronic sounds of one sort or another, alters the wiring (called circuit bending) and uses the sounds they produce to make records.   On one level it’s hilarious – a wonderful novelty band: grown men on stage playing Speak and Spell machines and plastic guitars, but there’s much more to it than that.  The toys provide an entirely new sound palate from electronics which have nothing at all in common with the usual sources of electronic sound.  Yes, those toys sounded tinny and awful, but that was mainly because of the tiny speakers they used – hook them up to a decent PA and you have an entirely different proposition.  It follows the same rationale as the craze for tracking down obsolete keyboards but takes it one stage further.  Those ancient (and very valuable) keyboards were intended to be musical instruments and became obsolete.  The toys were never intended to produce music and have never been used in this way before.

All of this would be nothing more than an interesting art project were it not for Brian’s skill at turning these insane sound sources into something worth listening to – MTO works musically, not just conceptually.

This is the first MTO single, and is musically more experimental and less developed than what was to follow.  It sounds not unlike the sort of glitchy electronica I’ve posted previously on the blog, which is no bad thing of course, but it wasn’t until the first album, Toygopop that Brian created the pop/experimental electronica hybrid which works so well.  It suffers slightly from Static Caravan’s love of the 33rpm 7″ single, a truly awful sounding format – fortunately only affecting the B side.

While Brian is the creative force and produces the music himself in the studio, live performances require more people.   A good friend of mine is in the live band and brought his two boys around who’d been busy circuit bending an old plastic guitar from a boot sale.  The process it turns out is pretty random – it just involves messing around with the electronics until something interesting comes out of the speakers.  A few extra switches, dials and LEDs complete the transformation to something both bonkers and wonderful.  I also have to mention the rather alarming Barbie Doll Brian uses on stage.  It produces sound of some sort, but the red LEDs he’s fitted where her eyes should be are truly scary – she looks like the devil.

Both their albums are utterly original and, I think essential and you can get them from Warm Circuit. For the full effect you really need to see them live. They don’t play that often – the toys are rather fragile, but there are a handful of dates on their web site for this summer. Go see them – it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen.

Update: Well it seems there are no dates for this summer. The stuff on the web site is from last year. However the good news is that Brian has finished a new MTO album. I’m sworn to secrecy about the title, but it should be out soon via Warm Circuit.

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A Guy Called Gerald: Voodoo Ray EP

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Rham! 1988.   RS8804

Discogs

I’ve never been much into clubbing, so the whole acid house thing from the late 80s largely passed me by, but on the few occasions I did go, this made the whole thing worthwhile.  It’s also one of the few tracks from that era that works as well at home as it does in a club when you’re up to your eyeballs in illegal stuff.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll already know that I’m very much into Gerald’s stuff.  He transcends the genre he works in – that this is a kind of proto-acid house record is really irrelevant.  It’s a Gerald record and he’s a giant of electronic music of the minimal type I usually go for.

This is the original issue of the track, not the clumsy remix which bothered the lower reaches of the charts a year later.  Legend has it that it was called Voodoo Ray because the intended title Voodoo Rage wouldn’t fit on Gerald’s sampler; it missed the last syllable and became Ray.  No idea whether that’s true, but it’s more plausible than the other legends surrounding the track which circulate about Gerald hiding from exploding interest from clubs and radio stations behind his anonymous moniker and a job in McDonalds.

According to Warp who re-issued this as part of a superb compilation of tracks which had influenced the formation of the label, the master tapes are lost, but looking this up on Discogs, it seems it had a CD issue, although that seems unlikely.  Whatever the truth of this, the Warp CD was mastered using a vinyl copy in worse condition than mine…

Cathode: Chad Valley

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Static Caravan 2002.   Van46

Discogs

This is a great example of bedroom lo-fi electonica from Newcastle’s Cathode, aka Steve Jefferis.  I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and Static Caravan is a reliable purveyor of the genre, usually on nicely packaged 7″ singles.

This is more musical than is often the case with these things, but it has the usual glitches, pops and crackles, off-the-wall sounds and distorted melodies and all sounds pleasingly fragile.

More info and a few free downloads at his web site.

Various Artists: Folds and Rhizomes for Gilles Deleuze

Various - Folds And Rhizomes For Gilles Deleuze

Sub Rosa 1995.  SR99

Discogs

The second of three tributes I have to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze from the electronic music community (The first is here).  This one is slightly different as it was put together while he was alive as a present, but Deleuze committed suicide before the release.  The label, Sub Rosa feels a similar sense of affinity with Deleuze as Mille Plateaux, and the artists they present are similar: only Main and David Shea don’t appear on the Mille Plateaux tribute.

The title of the album refers to a philosophical concept Deleuze developed which fits well with the music presented.  It deals with the idea of culture being a complex web of inter-relationships rather than a hierarchical structure.  This makes it resilient because breaking or damaging parts of it has no impact because there are other connections linking the same places, but it also rejects the idea that you can trace culture back to a “root”.

Other than that, I can only repeat what I said last time – the music is from the intellectual end of 90s electronica, and is essential listening if you’re into that kind of thing.  All the tracks here are exclusives.