Derek Bailey: Playbacks


Bingo Records 1999.  BIN004


This is one of a pair of releases in which guitar improv legend, the late Derek Bailey improvises over material sent to him by a range of artists.  The other one, Guitar, Drum ‘n’ Bass I’ll post another time.  It also works as a reverse of Thurston Moore’s Root project, where it was Moore who sent the music out.

I generally don’t find Bailey’s work that accessible, but in this context it’s much easier to deal with. Oddly, I once saw him play live and it made much more sense – maybe it needs more concentration than I can muster at home.

It’s also worth noting that he doesn’t play on two of the tracks.  John Oswald’s contribution was, as you’d expect, a cut-up of many older Bailey performances, which Bailey felt was complete when it arrived, and the hilarious last track where he talks (but doesn’t play) about his obsession with the name George.

Most of the other contributors, including producer Sasha Frere-Jones are luminaries of the 90s alt-rock scene, particularly people involved with Tortoise, although John French used to play with Captain Beefheart.  Even when the backing track is rather uninspiring, Bailey rescues the project – he seems to be able to play along to more-or-less anything.

Various Artists: Macro Dub Infection Vol 1

Various - Macro Dub Infection Vol. 1

Virgin Ambient 1995.  AMBT 7


This is another installment of Virgin’s excellent Ambient series from the 1990s.  Like Jazz Satellites, this was compiled by Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, Techno Animal amongst others.  Martin is always worth listening to; always innovative, always interesting.

There’s not much on this album you’d call dub in a traditional sense.  What it’s about is artists using dub ideas in other genres, in other words, the legacy of dub rather than dub itself.  A project like this is of course spoilt for choice given the overwhelming influence dub has had in experimental music, so the success of this compilation lies in Martin’s skill as a curator.  It spans electronica, hip-hop, jungle and even jazz, but what it all has in common is a spacey feel, thundering bass lines, and elements of the tracks, especially vocals  swinging in and out of the mix.

Standouts are Tortoise, Bedouin Ascent, Coil and Spring Heel Jack, but what makes this a great compilation is how it hangs together.

It’s a double CD ripped as though it was a very long single because it plays better that way.

Tortoise: Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters


Tortoise did something remarkable in the 1990s – they made Prog cool, although of course by then it was called Post Rock.  Not even Tortoise could rehabilitate that word.  You could also describe their work as jazz-rock, another spectacularly horrible form which Tortoise managed to transform into something people wanted to listen to.

Tortoise drew from and contributed to a cluster of bands, from Slint who were more rock orientated to Isotope 217 who were closer to jazz than Tortoise ever where, and Papa M, who were more like Bonnie “Prince” Billy to mention just three.  For me it was a fertile area of exciting new music, and I spent way too much money tracking down all sorts of obscure releases from them, many of which I hope to include on this blog.

Their absolute classic second album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die should be in everyone’s collection, but it’s still available, so I won’t be posting it.  Instead here’s a curious 1995 remix project, based on their first album, 1994’s Tortoise.  The remixes are radical enough as to make the album almost unrecognisable if you’re familiar with the original, although the Tortoise feel is still there.   It plays as a single 30 minute track, so I’ve pasted a tracklisting with times below so you have some idea what’s going on.

1. “Alcohall” (remix by John McEntire) 4:04
2. “Your New Rod” (remix by Rick Brown) 4:18
3. “Cobwebbed” (remix by Casey Rice) 4:39
4. “The Match Incident” (remix by Steve Albini) 5:31
5. “Tin Cans (The Puerto Rican Mix)” (remix by Brad Wood) 4:25
6. “Not Quite East of the Ryan” (remix by Bundy K. Brown) 5:09
7. “Initial Gesture Protraction” (remix by Jim O’Rourke) 4:47

It’s a beautiful album, beautifully packaged.