[RIP] Uku Kuut – Santa Monica, 2006

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of musician and producer Uku Kuut on September 22nd at the age of 51. Kuut was the son of Marju Kuut (aka Maryn E. Coote), a prolific Swedish-Estonian jazz singer, and while the two had important solo careers in their own right, they shared a long and fruitful collaboration, including a record that they made together. Quite a few tracks in this collection feature contributions from his mother by way of flute, vocals, keys, and co-writing credits. I don’t know exactly when these songs were recorded, but I know that at least some of them were made between 1982 and 1989.

Santa Monica is a showcase of Kuut’s brilliant breed of quirky and atmospheric electronic jazz-funk. Given his propensity for generating work in response to locations, it also feels like a moving tribute to a city in which he lived for many years (while also including a few nods to Estonia and Sweden).

Out of respect for his family, I’ll be removing the download link in a few days. Though I always encourage you to buy records that you love, in this instance there are a couple useful ways to support the artist. You can purchase Santa Monica from CDBaby below; you can purchase Maryn E. Coote’s excellent collection Maskeraad via PPU here, with proceeds going towards ALS research; or you can make a direct donation in Uku Kuut’s name to the ALS Association here. Thank you for everything, Uku–you will be missed.

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Soul Connection – Rough & Ready

The first of two full-lengths from Toyin Agbetu and Earl Meyers. Toyin Agbetu was the owner of four independent dance labels, including Intrigue, the label who released all of Soul Connection’s output; and between his work with these labels and his work as a musician and producer across a slew of groups, he’s been a defining figure of UK street soul. Still, his Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention his musical body of work, as he has risen to global prominence as a Pan-African human rights activist, artist, author, filmmaker, and community educator.

Rough & Ready is an unusual instance of ballooning rare record prices on Discogs that feel somewhat justified. It’s consistent and excellent all the way through, with slinky R&B grooves, housey drum loops, and slick vocals courtesy of Thomas Esterine. Some have called this an ideal makeout soundtrack, but personally I think it’s night time driving music: discrete, minimal, tasteful, monotonous (in a good way), and although it’s technically dance music, it never picks up too much speed.

Update: Thank you PAM for sharing a higher quality rip!

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Nuno Canavarro – Plux Quba: Música Para 70 Serpentes, 1988

One of the hardest and best parts about writing this blog has been running up against records that feel impossible to write about, avoiding them for months or even years, and then eventually writing about them anyway. This is exactly that kind of record, and fittingly I’ve been putting it off since day one: its influence is too far reaching to properly recount, it’s too elegant and precise to accurately describe, and I feel too gooey about it, too pierced to possibly set my feelings aside and attempt objectivity. I think that’s alright, though, because Plux Quba is too perfect not to share.

The story starts with a familiar format that, coupled with incredibly prescient music, feels like the foregrounding for a hoax. In 1991, Christoph Heemann brought a copy of 1988’s Plux Quba to (from what I gather was) an informal listening session with Jim O’Rourke, Jan St. Werner, C-Schulz, Frank Dommert, and George Odjik in Köln, Germany. It was music without context, laboriously made with just an Ensoniq Mirage, a Fostex 8-track tape recorder, and an early 8-bit sampler loaded with pre-recorded, highly modified samples of things like television, radio voices, and a melodica. The story goes that everyone present was floored by it; O’Rourke so much so that when he launched Moikai, his label dedicated to minimal and electronic music, Plux Quba was his first (re)release, remixed and remastered by Portuguese guitarist and composer Rafael Toral. Since then it’s been reissued a few times, most recently by Japanese label Inpartmaint Inc, and while it has had incredible bearing on two decades of experimental electronic music, it seems that Plux Quba hasn’t yet received the widespread acclaim it’s due.

Several reviewers have said that Plux Quba takes inspiration from Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing. I don’t know if that’s directly true, but I like to think of this record as hermetic, like the music of Charanjit Singh or Woo, bearing the kind of brilliance that often does write its own spontaneous language. It’s much too deliberate to be called an accident–Canavarro was already a well-seasoned musician by this time. And yet despite being recorded at home on very dated, simple equipment, it seems to exist outside of time. Having witnessed the subsequent deluge of glitch music and its offspring, this still sounds truly alie and exploratory, a kind of sonic alchemy. It’s more abstract than what I typically post, so if you typically gravitate towards things that are lyrical or poppy, I would absolutely encourage you to start here, preferably in headphones–though, for what it’s worth, Canavarro himself instructs on the back sleeve that this record must be heard “1. through speakers that are as far apart from one another as possible, and 2. starting from A-5, at a low volume (‘Wask’ and side 2).”

It explores similarly incandescent territory as Canavarro’s remarkable split with Carlos Maria Trindade, often employing the same textural palette and manipulations of vocal samples–slicing them up, stacking them precariously, drawing them out into ghost whispers, and running them backwards. But with a longer playtime and no collaborators, Canavarro is able to fully world-build, perhaps to even create something that feels more circular and complete. Comprised of 15 vignettes, mostly between one and two minutes long, not all of this record is unabashedly beautiful. Parts are deliberately jagged (“Alsee”), faltering (“Untitled 1”), or shrill (“O Fundo Escuro De Alsee”), but it’s precisely their inclusion that allow the record to reach sublime, sparkling heights. The stumbling, out-of-tune baroque of “Crimine” comes to mind–even here, after two and a half minutes of uncertainty, the song abruptly shifts to a perfect, crystalline music box lullaby. The record most perfectly exemplifies its own restrained breed of heartbreaking on the final track, Untitled 8. Slowly building, gently pulsing synthetic marimba, a veil of processed, indistinct whispers, a faraway oboe, and a ship’s bell that, when fully faded out, leave you perfectly positioned to restart the record.

If you’re interested in learning more about the recording process, in my Googling I found out that Fond/Sound has lovingly translated a rare interview that Canavarro gave to Fernando Magalhães into English. You can read it here.

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Veetdharm Morgan Fisher – Water Music, 1985

Morgan Fisher, a London-born musician and photographer, has had a long and dense career in which he’s covered a lot of ground–both literally and figuratively. You can read about it in detail here, but some highlights include touring with Queen, building an ambient music studio in Japan (at which Water Music was recorded, among others), and working with Hosono, dip in the pool (he plays piano on “Dormir”), Roedelius, Yoko Ono, Yasuaki Shimizu, and Julee Cruise. He is still very active.

It seems that he’s acquired many names over the course of his life, and I can’t find any information about the origin of Veetdharm, under which this and a few of his other releases are listed on Discogs, but my guess would be that it was given to him either during his time living in India or in Medina Rajneesh, a Suffolk commune of Osho disciples housed in a giant mock-Tudor manor.

Water Music is immediately reminiscent of Yoshimura’s Surroundthough it predates it by a year. If anything, it’s slightly denser and more piano-driven, but aside from an obvious thematic interest in water, the two records share a delicacy and a proclivity towards synth pads that seem to evaporate rather than decay. As I understand it, the entirety of this record was improvised and recorded over the course of two days on synthesizer, piano, tape delays, bowed guitar, and shell chimes. The original was released on the legendary Cherry Red label; this extended version is from a CD-reissue released in, I believe, 1997. It’s very, very beautiful. Thank you, Ian, for bringing me here!

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 17

Here’s my latest mix for NTS Radio. End-of-summer balearic, Latin textures, 60’s-inspired lounge, a bit of funk, and Bill Nelson doing his best proto-Enya impression. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here.

Also, I know it’s been quiet around here–I’m knee-deep in a few projects right now but am looking forward to sharing more music soon!

Tracklist:
1. Junko Ohashi – テレフォン·ナンバー
2. Ichiko Hashimoto – Le Beau Paysage
3. Quarteto Em Cy – Vida Ruim
4. Il Guardiano del Faro – Lei
5. Yoon Sin Nae – 이 밤을 즐겁게
6. Yukihiro Takahashi & Steve Jansen – Betsu-Ni
7. Sonia Rosa – Te Quero Tanto (I Love You, So)
8. The Slipstream Group – Bygones
9. Zabadak – Butterfly
10. Lena D’Água – Jardim Zoológico
11. Lydia Lunch – Spooky
12. Steely Dan – Do It Again
13. Maryn E. Coote – One Who Cares (Original 82-14)
14. Bill Nelson – Realm Of Dusk
15. Nuno Canavarro – Wask
16. Claire Hamill – Autumn: Leaf Fall

Guest Mix – “Tabby 003”

Guest mix by Poly & Kerf

Tracklist:
1. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Saru To Yuki Gami No Kodomo
2. Bill Nelson – Heart and Soul
3. Mori Ra – On the Edge of Flip
4. Leopold Nord & Vous – Les Hippopotamtam
5. Isabelle Antena – La Vie Est Trôp Courte
6. Patrice Rushen – Watch Out!
7. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Steppin’ Into Asia
8. Jah Wobble – Hold Onto Your Dreams
9. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Limbo
10. Blonde Mom – Neverhits 1
11. Pegmo – 10,000 秒の恋
12. Akiko Yano – きょうのわたくし
13. Anne Steel – Sparkling World

Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita – Pacific, 1978

A classic. While Hosono needs no introduction around here, I’m realizing that Tatsuro Yamashita has perhaps not been given enough air time. For the unfamiliar, Yamashita is iconic in his own right, not just because of his classic Japanese Christmas favorite “Christmas Eve” or his enormous output but also because of his signature early-80’s take on a wall-of-sound expansiveness crossed with a deep love for the Beach Boys, relentlessly clever songwriting, and of course, mirror-polished synth programming. Shigeru Suzuki is perhaps best known for his work with Happy End and Tin Pan Alley, and is also a wildly prolific session musician, who’s contributed to over 588 recordings as of 2006.

Which brings us to Pacific, for which each track was composed by one of the above three. It also includes plenty of of contributions from–you guessed it–Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi. Though YMO’s self-titled debut was also released in 1978, from what I understand Pacific came first, and feels very akin to much of the exotica and fusion that Hosono had already been fixated on across several projects. Still, Pacific is clearly the product of a handful of masterminds having fun together: its unabashed tropical nostalgia acts as a jumping off point for flitting between genres (lounge, funk, disco, rhumba, smooth jazz, Latin fusion, synth pop), all delivered in full-color with jaunty, winking songwriting.

Even with vaporwave and its kitsch-scraping genre contemporaries behind us, Pacific holds up as well as ever. It’s only in closer “Cosmic Surfin'” that we get a taste of the more hard-edged, crunchy electro that became YMO’s signature sound, and fittingly, a different version of the song went on to appear on YMO’s debut the same year. I highly recommend listening to this as much as possible before fall rolls around.

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Carl Matthews – Call For World Saviours, 1984

Weightless, shimmering ambient; sometimes dark and sometimes cosmic. A Steve Roach-esque floatiness, but stringier and more pastoral.

This was re-released by Sandpiper Records in 2003, but the label seems to no longer be active and has put all its releases up for free download on archive.org — there are a few other Carl Matthews releases available there if you’re interested.

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Koo Dé Tah – Koo Dé Tah, 1986

Guest post by Milena Nugget (Optimal Ripeness)

This album gives me the chills. With the expansive synth sound typified by other Australian synth-pop groups like Icehouse, and brutally catchy, Madonna-esque sugary dance beats, this is a record full of earworms.

At the centre is Tina Cross’s exceptional voice, which can range from the cool and gliding (“Over to You,” “Think of Me”) to the effortlessly bouncy (“Body Talk,” “Meant to Be”), and suggests Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper inspiration.

In several ways Koo Dé Tah stood in contrast with their contemporaries. Australian pop music in the 80s was heavily Anglo-Saxon male-dominated—whether by virtue of the pub rock circuit, insular cultural attitudes, or otherwise. Koo Dé Tah was comprised of two accomplished musicians with differing backgrounds (New Zealander Tina Cross with Māori heritage, and former Russian popstar Leon Berger). That they had a radio hit with “Too Young For Promises” and were still unafraid to take risks and experiment makes this record all the more remarkable.

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 16

Here’s my newest episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This is effectively about me wishing I had a car to drive around in all summer. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Enjoy!

Tracklist:
1. John Martyn – Hole In The Rain
2. Afro-Cuban Band – Something’s Gotta Give (Todd Terje Re-Kutt)
3. Mave & Dave – You Are Delicious
4. High Resolution & Paolo Del Prete – Sweepin’ Off
5. Gaznevada – I.C. Love Affair
6. Taro Tokugawa – Here My Dear
7. Felix – Tiger Stripes
8. Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy
9. Salif Keita – Koukou (Hober Mallow Remix)
10. Miki Matsubara – 真夜中のドア/Stay With Me
11. Key Tronics Ensemble – Calypso Of House (Paradise Version)
12. Roxy Music – India
13. Commodores – Nightshift