October 30, 2015

Monks Of The Monastery Of Gyütö - Tantras Of Gyütö: Sangwa Düpa / Mahakala, 1988

The most frightening thing I've ever heard. Makes the entire pretense of heavy metal look like Sesame Street. Recorded at Gyütö Tantric University, one of the great colleges of the Gelugpa, the Established Church of Tibetan Buddhism, by David Lewiston, protégé of Thomas de Hartmann, decade-long resident musician at the Gurdjieff Foundation, impetus behind the Nonesuch Records Explorer Series (fans of the Voyager Golden Record are familiar with his work), and responsible for a huge body of recordings of world music made in the very small window of time during which lightweight portable recording equipment allowed for high-quality recordings to be made in remote places and traditional music hadn't yet been ravaged by globalization. Happy Halloween, y'all.

October 26, 2015

Severed Heads - City Slab Horror, 1985

We try to focus on records that appeal to a wide range of people and are super listenable, on-repeat records. This is an exception. Severed Heads was (for the most part) the brainchild of Tom Ellard, and their early recordings are experiments in tape looping, distorted synth, and proto-techno drum machine backbones. The results are way ahead of their time, a body of work that belongs in the same sentence as Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and the Art of Noise. In addition to being musical pioneers, Severed Heads boasts a collection of bitingly clever song titles ("Hello Donald, Merry Xmas," "Mambo Fist Miasma," "Larry I'm Just An Average Girl," "Now, An Explosive New Movie," etc.) and a daunting collection of psychotic video work, largely thanks to Stephen Jones, who developed the analog video synthesizers that he used to make music videos and manipulate live footage of Severed Heads performances. (Hard to know where to start with these, but here are a few favorites.)

City Slab Horror features plenty of tape looping, but Ellard's growing taste for pop structures and more cohesive rhythms make the record more song-centric and less noisy, though dissonance and gritty textures still run rampant. Standouts are "Ayoompteyempt" and the luminous classic "We Have Come to Bless the House," though the record as a whole functions as a tunneling trip through a cynical morbid fascination. Buried in frenzy are moments of sublime joy ("Guests"), though I can confidently say that I'm happy to be a tourist and not a permanent resident in the deranged world of Severed Heads.

Note: This version includes additional tracks from a 1989 reprint on Canadian label Nettwerk, which are advertised as "tracks from Blubberknife," though in actuality only "Umbrella" is taken from Blubberknife, with the rest pulled from the 1985 Goodbye Tonsils 12" and the 1985 double LP, Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live In The Past. I chose to share this version rather than the original release because it includes the monstrous "Acme Instant Dehydrated Boulder Kit."

October 23, 2015

Tim Blake - Crystal Machine, 1977

The first in a total of 8 solo albums by Tim Blake. An influential synthesist and composer, Blake worked on all three albums in the Gong trilogy. He had a critical role in the formation of another formative space rock band, Hawkwind. Blake is also credited with being one of the first musicians to bring the synthesizer out of the studio and on to the stage on his 1972 tour with Gong. Interestingly, when he began touring as Crystal Machine with the release of this album, he became the first artist to introduce the use of lasers to live entertainment. 

Named after the moniker he assumed when playing live, Crystal Machine is a synthesizer tour de force. Newly emancipated from the collaborative confines of Gong at the time of this partially live recording, you can hear Blake's youthful energy as he blasts off into space. Give a listen and if you close your eyes, he'll take you along.

October 21, 2015

Joe Hisaishi - Curved Music, 1986

Gorgeous album from Joe Hisaishi, the mind behind the massive soundtracks to Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess MononokeSpirited AwayHowl's Moving Castle, and around one hundred other things, which is to say that if you've ever watched anime you've probably heard his work. (Fun fact: Hisaishi, née Fujisawa Mamoru, takes his stage name from a Japanese re-transcription of the name Quincy Jones: Quincy is pronounced "Kuinshi," or "Kuishi," which can be approximated in Japanese using the same kanji as "Hisaishi.")

Curved Music alternates between new wave-tinged synth pop songs and shorter instrumental vignettes, often employing more traditional Japanese folk and classical instruments. Highlights include the aching, anthemic “The Winter Requiem,” Sakamoto-esque rolling synth-organ on “Tsuki No Sabuku No Shoujo," and the minute long plastic violin cream puff “White Silence.” Elsewhere, find a baroque faux-flute interlude (the brilliantly titled “Classic”) and what might be a Terry Riley homage (“A Rainbow In Curved Music”) that seems to nod more explicitly to Art of Noise and Depeche Mode. Ignore the album artwork and enjoy!

October 14, 2015

Joël Fajerman - L'aventure Des Plantes, 1982

Classic! The opening track of this record, "Flowers Love," was used as the theme for the French documentary series L'aventure des Plantes--it's unclear whether any of the other tracks were included in the series, though the whole record is excellent. Joël Fajerman is a classically trained French keyboardist who was apparently nicknamed "Flangerman" (no mystery why). Ranging from baroque organ lines to towering, sinister synth arpeggiations, L'aventure is cosmic, dense, and cinematic. For fans of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, or the beloved Plantasia! (Note: pictured above is the Spanish reissue; hi-res images of the original French cover don't seem to exist).

October 12, 2015

Mkwaju Ensemble - Mkwaju, 1981

This group of Japanese percussionists, led by Midori Takada and Yoji Sadanari, only released two albums, both in 1981. They're joined on their first release by Joe Hisaishi (more from him soon), who's credited as keyboardist and producer, as well as Hideki Matsutake (of Logic System, though he's often referred to as the "fourth member" of YMO) as computer programmer. With such forward-thinking musicians, Mkwaju (the Swahili word for tamarind) takes you for quite a ride. African rhythms and instrumentation combine with synth sounds in a repetitive but ever-evolving flurry stopping just short of cacophony. More information here; listen to the expansive proto-house "Tira-Rin" below. 

October 9, 2015

[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan: Rare & Experimental Japanese Pop

cover image by whtebkgrnd

We're so excited to release this mix of experimental Japanese pop, up today on Self-Titled Mag.
"This is a mix of Japanese pop songs, most of them with a synth funk backbone. The most exciting aspect of this era of music, though, is how unafraid these musicians were to push the limits of genre: They loved Van Dyke Parks, Kraftwerk and Martin Denny, but they were never confined by any one sound, nor were they afraid to poke fun at western constructs of the 'oriental' or Japanese fascinations with Western cultural novelties." Read more HERE, and if you like it, download it HERE.

1. Chiemi Manabe - Untotooku
2. Miharu Koshi - L'amour...Ariuwa Kuro No Irony
3. Hiroshi Satoh - Say Goodbye
4. Colored Music - Heartbeat
5. Minako Yoshida - Tornado
6. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Kacha Kucha Nee
7. Mariah - Shinzo No Tobira
8. Yukihiro Takahashi - Drip Dry Eyes
9. Sandii - Zoot Kook
10. Haruomi Hosono - Ohenro-San
11. Osamu Shoji - Jinkou Station Ceres
12. Kisagari Koharu - Neo-Plant
13. Inoyama Land - Wässer
14. Aragon - Horridula
15. Asami Kado - 退屈と二つの月
16. Tamao Koike & Haruomi Hosono - 三国志ラヴ・テーマ
17. Hiroyuki Namba - Hiru No Yume

If you like this, check out Clandestinations, the mix
we made for Mexican Summer's Anthology Recordings.

October 7, 2015

The Congos - Heart of the Congos, 1977

It's a little weird for me to write about what is arguably the greatest roots reggae record of all time. I avoided reggae for most of my life after too much exposure to some pretty uninteresting reggae at the hands of my pretty uninteresting adolescent stepbrother. The Heart of the Congos is the first reggae record that I connected with, and while I'm no aficionado, this is unlike anything I've ever heard (more knowledgeable writeup here, nice interview here). It's odd that the exaggerated stoner aesthetic that reggae got saddled with has clouded the recognition of the music itself as an intensely mind-altering experience, sans drugs. This serves as an excellent reminder of its psychedelic nature, in the more honest sense of the word. With dense, melted reverb, Heart sounds as if it was recorded under a few feet of water. Brilliant vocal interplay and amazing diversity of sound, from the sprawling aquatic bass groove "Congoman" to the sinuous, fizzed-out "Can't Come In," with the famous robo-cows lowing throughout. The range of emotion is equally bewildering, from cripplingly pointed mourning to the peaks of joy with intense spiritual potency in between. The title means business: this is thick, this plumbs deep.

Note: there are quite a few different versions of this floating around--apparently Perry himself was unhappy with the original mastering and made some dramatic changes, and of course there have been a slew of reissues. Of the versions I've heard, I'm pretty happy with this one.

October 2, 2015

Hildegard von Bingen - A Feather on the Breath of God, 1984

Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, poet, doctor, visionary, Christian mystic, and polymath. She founded the practice of scientific natural history in Germany, lived to the age of 81 at a time when the life expectancy was early 40s at best, and wrote the oldest surviving morality play (sometimes called the first musical drama). Despite having no formal musical training, she was responsible for some of the most hauntingly beautiful and enduring music to come out of medieval Catholicism. Her compositions broke many of the existing conventions of plainchant, using extremes of register, dramatic leaps of pitch, melismas and flourishes to express rhapsodic, overflowing emotion. Sublime delivery of this collection of her songs by UK ensemble Gothic Voices and soprano Emma Kirkby, globally renowned early music specialist. Perfect hurricane soundtrack music.