Live / Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin.
Nik Bartsche’s Ronin plays regularly at the live house in Zurich on Monday night, unless they are out of town on tour. It’s their ‘dojo’, where they train and discipline their skills and music, and Bartsche calls a concert ‘meditative and explosive from collaboration’. This live album, which is their 4th outing from ECM, is a collection of their live performances from their world tour between 2009 and 2011, and is a best-of album as well as a great introduction to what they call ‘ritual groove music’. There may be shadows of Steve Coleman and Steve Reich, but this ascetic groove, which is often played in an irregular time, is totally original and unique. It may be described as a fusion of modern minimal music and funk, and always brings cool air with it even when the performance gets hot and high. That is why some call it ‘zen funk’. One and only best.
Since moving to Warp label in 2010, Brian Eno has been very creative and productive. The previous two albums (Small Craft on a Milk Sea and Drums between the Bells) are wonderful efforts and here his first ambient music in this century proves once again that he is the master of its kind. This is the latest project of his ‘Music of Thinking’ series and is a sound image of ‘time’ and ‘light’. Four parts, ample 75- minutes-long-composition plays seamlessly, and it’s like an utmost ‘discreet music’ which he pioneered. Melodies are melted into the sound scape and images are constantly drifted, as the leaves of a tree change their colours and brightness by the effect of the light. Although there is nothing radical, it’s a masterful work.
Pour une âme souveraine : a dedication to Nina Simone.
Despite being admired as an influential black female artist as well as a social activist, Nina Simone may be still underappreciated. She never stopped searching for her artistic expression and experimenting with something new. It perhaps makes it difficult to understand her music. The same could be applied to Me’Shell Ndegeocello, who is highly talented but refuses to be categorised, and this tribute album makes perfect sense in that regard. Although Ndegeocello invites notable guests including Lizz Wright, Cody ChesnuTT and Sinead O’Connor, she takes a low-keyed, ascetic approach in her usual manner. The mainstay of this beautiful, dark-ambient world is Ndegeocello’s bass play. It seems as though her deep, blackness bass sound represents the Simon’s spirit, that is, the independence of black women.
Port of morrow / The Shins.
Almost James Mercer’s solo project, this The Shins’ new album was the most joyous find in 2012 for me. The key of this project is the producer Greg Kurstin (from The Bird and The Bee and the producer of Lily Allen, Sia etc.). His pop-sense and multi-instrumental, colourful arrangements bring fresh insight into Mercer’s songs. It’s simpler than the previous albums but larger in scale, and this music seems to last. This could be a new departure of this much-loved indie act.
The idler wheel is wiser…
While new artists emerged that seemed either influenced by her style, or happy to stake-out her position in the music spectrum (Feist, Regina Spektor, Florence & the Machine), none seemed to possess the edge or rawness that made Fiona Apple’s work so interesting. ‘The Idler Wheel’, her first release in 7 years, is even more of an exposed nerve-ending than her previous albums; a ragged journey through her tortured psyche which, from any one else, would come off as an exercise in pretension. However, Apple manages to weld dark minimalist arrangements to even darker lyrics focusing around inner doubts, turmoil, & fractured relationships without sounding self-indulgent. It sounds distinctly un-melodic, even atonal, at some points; however the songs sink under the skin after a few plays and, as a whole, the album has a raw power that few other artists can manage. Uncomfortable, chaotic, intense, but ultimately rewarding.
‘Big Inner’ is the first record from Matthew E. White’s own label Spacebomb, which was set up in the style of 60s soul labels like Motown. That means a house band with a horn section, and a house arranger and producer. The result is what sounds like a soul record sung by a soft-voiced, portly, young white man. A bit like the Four Tops meets Yo La Tengo.
Lambchop continue to deliver their own eclectic brand of pop/lounge/jazz/soul but Mr M gains extra emotional force and lament from its dedication to anti-folk anti-hero Vic Chesnutt.
Songs like ‘If not I’ll just die,’ and ‘The good life (is wasted)’ seem to reference Chesnutt’s early self inflicted demise but never obviously, whilst instrumentals ‘Betty’s Overture’ and ‘Mr Met’ get into that effortless, soulful Lambchop groove you wish would never end. So, we’re left with careful, intimate, reflections on the darker side of life and taken as a whole, the effect is cathartic, even spiritual in the widest yet most personal sense. The album ends with ‘Never my love,’ possibly Kurt Wagner’s least ironic and complete statement on the potential of love to sustain and a fine end to a complete album.
After a four year break and threats of disbanding, Sigur Ros have released this lush and occasionally transcendent selection of songs. Valtari is dreamy and ethereal, ambient and touching and Jonsi Birgisson’s delicate, immaculately controlled vocals have never sounded better. It’s an album that is consistently and uniquely Sigur Ros and sometimes you wish for greater intensity but the intension and execution are clear – this is elemental, thoughtful music and if you miss the exultant, tribal version try brilliant third track ‘Varuo.’ A plaintive, immersive collection of songs that will happily sustain Sigur Ros fan’s till the next.
I love Home Brew. I think I’ll keep loving Home brew too, because their funny and their serious. Here are my top eight favourite bits:
1. The beautiful piano at the start of ‘Listen to us’ and Rob Muldoon’s evil mastermind laughter to end.
2. Good God being fearless on religion and building up from funky anger to a choir-like insistence for something greater because, ‘I don’t wanna go…’ and the almost perverse gospel piano – talk about irony.
3. This line from State of mind – ‘If prison is a state of mind, I’m doing time – Misery is a mate of mine.’
4. The unbelievable, unsettling groove and deep, deep tension of ‘Plastic Magic.’
5. Track ten, side 2 – Space. That Miles Davis trumpet. Not the first time space has been used as metaphor for isolation and existential uncertainty but never better than here.
6. That jazzy ‘Dedicated to’ is dedicated to ‘the hustlers scabbing off of the government, wandering in the street playing cricket with the rubbish bins,’
7. The way the chorus for the delicious Datura/White flowers slides up an octave on the words, ‘So Higgghhhh…’
8. That Home Brew by Home Brew is two albums, instead of one – man!
‘Allelujah! Don’t bend! Ascend! / Godspeed You Black Emperor!
An eagerly-awaited collaboration between Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, this six-track CD sounds like nothing else in the library’s collection. By turns folky, orchestral and experimental, it is a wonderful, unnerving and eerie masterpiece that points the way forward for a whole new direction in popular music.
Axiom of the elite. #1, 2012.
A comprehensive CD compilation featuring tracks from a selection of NZ’s best underground metal bands. Accompanies the excellent independently produced zine of the same name.