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// June 2006 archive

// 06.15.06

Hybrid

Hybrid (Disc 2)

Gary Numan didn't invent the idea of synth-pop--Germany's innovative Kraftwerk had a high-tech electronic sound half a decade before Numan's first Tubeway Army album came out in 1978. But he was definitely a major player in synth-pop and new wave and became amazingly influential; everyone from the industrial-oriented Nine Inch Nails to pop-rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot has claimed Numan as an influence. Electronica, as we now call it, has evolved considerably since Numan's late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday, and this two-CD set addresses some of those changes. Recorded in 2002, Hybrid re-examines many of the British innovator's ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s recordings and does so from an early 2000s perspective. Anyone who expects Hybrid to be a best-of in the conventional sense will be disappointed; this double-CD offers new versions of familiar material, not the original versions. Some of the songs were first unveiled in the ‘90s, including "Absolution," "Dominion Day" and "Dark". But many of them go back to Numan's late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday, and it's intriguing to hear new wave/synth-pop classics like "Are ‘Friends' Electric?," "M.E." and "Down in the Park" getting an early 2000s makeover. These are hardly carbon copies of the original versions; on Hybrid, a song that started out as new wave is likely to receive the industrial, techno, aggro or darkwave treatment. "Everyday I Die" (originally recorded in 1978) acquires a Stabbing Westward-like appeal, while "Cars" (Numan's biggest hit) loses its new wave bounce and becomes surprisingly moody. Hybrid isn't recommended to casual listeners, who would be better off starting out with a best-of that focuses on the original versions of Numan's late ‘70s/early ‘80s songs. But the singer's hardcore fans will find this double-CD to be an interesting, if less than essential, addition to his catalog.

— Alex Henderson, allmusic

Viroon

Vrioon

During his first live tour in Japan Carsten Nicolai met Ryuichi Sakamoto in Tokyo. A year after it happened that he was asked to remix material from Sakamoto for the Japanese magazine Code Unfinished.

"… the material that was given to me was already layered with digital effects. From one little clean piano piece I made the first track. Those simple piano chords i combined with a clear rhythm constellation. … somehow ryuichi was very surprised and really liked my work. Weeks later he sent me another specially for this project recorded track."

This was the beginning of an almost 2 year process of music exchange and creation. Vrioon is very relaxing, it opens rooms, landscapes blur before listeners eyes. Static rhythmic pieces circle round and vary one and the same theme that, with its impressionistic sphere, reminds of soundtracks and ambient compositions.

In this cooperation 2 different generations meet and share the idea of electronic music as an inspiration source for new musical structures.

Ruyichi Sakamoto can already refer to an enormous productive achievement. In 1978 he founded The Yellow Magic Orchestra together with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi which later went on world tour with Kraftwerk. Since 1983 he has been working in the film branch and has written soundtracks for Merry Christmas, Mr. Laurence, The Last Emporer and Little Buddha. He also worked with famous artists such as David Bowie, David Byrne, David Sylvian, Iggy Pop, Robert Wilson and William Burroughs.

Carsten Nicolai can be seen as one of the most significant artist of the new electronic music generation that shows new attempts in sound composing with its radical reduced style. Besides several solo releases he also worked with ultra minimalist mika vainio from pansonic and the japanese sound artist ryoji ikeda. Carsten nicolai is one of the founders of the label raster-noton that was awarded the Golden Nica for digital music from Ars Electronica in 2000.

— Raster Noton

DJ-Kicks: Tiga

tiga_kicks

When he gained a surprise hit in Europe with his jokey cover of "Sunglasses at Night" (produced with Jori Hulkkonen, as Tiga & Zyntherius), Tiga began receiving the kind of attention most techno producers don't want: mainstream attention. The campaign to rescue his underground reputation began with this edition in the increasingly essential DJ-Kicks series. His third mix album, it doesn't have much in common with the mimimalist techno and electro of Mixed Emotions (on his own Ultra label) or the throwback American Gigolo (another favor to the Gigolo label he'd blessed with its biggest hit single in five years of business). Tiga spends his time on DJ-Kicks digging deep into the dance underground, staying far away from the type of crossover electro that soon became more about fashion spreads than phono jacks, and quickly halted the momentum of true artists like Felix da Housecat, Christopher Just, and DJ Hell. An understated blend of tech-house with streamlined electro and occasionally a synth-pop nugget, DJ-Kicks aims for the mind instead of the gut and deftly hits its target: to avoid the present tense of contemporary musical trends and simply exist as great music. Easing the way are remixes from a trio of artists with the same viewpoint as Tiga's on the existence of electro as a blessing and a curse -- Detroit neo-electro heroes Adult. and Mo' Wax survivors Playgroup and DFA (the latter with a crucial version of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon"). Still, listeners will have to wait nearly an hour for the best (remix, that is), of Märtini Brös' "The Biggest Fan" by Black Strobe. By making sure any commercial impulses are subverted to the will of musical excellence, he's ensured he won't be forgotten by the fans; bring on the Tiga & Zyntherius cover of "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"! [A reissue of DJ-Kicks added to the program Tiga's surprisingly successful cover of "Hot in Herre."]

— John Bush, allmusic

Incest: Sutekh Live

sutekh_incest

What has the field of electronic music come to when buyers must break the outer seal of a CD only to find that the promise of live Sutekh material is actually nothing of the kind? Well, ethical considerations aside, Incest: Sutekh Live actually trumps any live recording by being a stand-alone work that uses the materials of a live album to create a vital new work. Sutekh producer Seth Horvitz created it by working in the manner and method of his live shows, which is good enough by far for these circles. The clean, surgical style of experimental techno on display here will be familiar to fans of his previous material, though Sutekh takes it a bit farther, while nodding to the concert theme, by integrating tracks and transitions to make a kinetic set that demands listening.

— John Bush, allmusic

Martes

murcof_martes

Fernando Corona had a stated purpose for his debut album as Murcof: Take contemporary composition and introduce it to the world of minimalist Mexican techno. Originally released only in Mexico in late 2001, Martes didn't see broader distribution until the middle of 2002, when the Leaf label saw fit to reissue the record in North America and Europe. The album was quite a departure for Corona, already widely known in Mexico as Terrestre, whose decidedly funkier fusion of traditional norteño and electronica had already become a staple of Tijuana's Nortec Collective. Martes (Spanish for "Tuesday") is far afield of Terrestre's bootylicious grooves. In this much more intimate affair, Corona isolates the smallest elements of select classical works, such as a plucked string, one bow length across a cello, or a furious pound on a piano's keyboard, and integrates them with beats similar to those programmed by Morr Music or blip-hop artists. The result is a moody recontextualization of contemporary classical music, in which, though dismembered, the original pieces find new life and space to breathe while somehow maintaining their original mood.

— Bryan Carroll, allmusic

Tiny Colour Movies

foxx_tiny

Tiny Colour Movies is John Foxx’s most interesting project since his choral, ambient Cathedral Oceans album(s). Here we find 14 pieces of music tied to movie shorts viewed by Foxx at a screening by private film collector Arnold Weizcs-Bryant in Baltimore, USA, with each piece of music given a detailed representation of its original conception in the CD booklet.

The first thing to say is that without having access to the movies, it’s sometimes difficult to tie up Foxx’s visual interpretation of the movies with his music. The explanations in the booklet, although interesting, are not really sufficient linkage; it’s therefore a pity that this could not have been made into some sort of audio-visual project

The album opens with the ghostly ambient track, Stray Sinatra Neurone – the subject of which is the discarded film stock collected by Max Forbert, a janitor that worked in several Hollywood cutting rooms. In fact, many of the film subjects appear fascinating, representing cities before dawn, time-lapsed images of skyscrapers, hybrid images of animals and humans, and dusty old Super 8 films. Other subject matter includes the unexplained phenomena of charred clothing found in London streets, movies of psychic transference experiments, and secret intelligence survey footage of the often bizarre behaviour of minor political and public figures in hotel rooms – yes, we need to see the films!

On a purely musical level, Tiny Colour Movies is also one of Foxx’s better albums, which have swung between some well known post-Ultravox eighties synthpop to the quite superb Cathedral Oceans series, and a collection of less appealing – some might say, disappointingly out of touch, electronic albums in collaboration with Louis Gordon.

In tune with the scratched, bleached out imperfections of the movie films that have inspired this album, Foxx has turned to the gritty, authoritative resonance of analogue synthesis for most of his compositions. The tracks swing between introspective, shadowy soundtrack-style frameworks – as you would expect considering the subject matter – to some surprisingly melodic electropop. The lengthy Kurfurstendamm merges the clinical tones of Kraftwerk with the grandiose analogue filters of Klaus Schulze – sometimes cheesy, but irresistibly listenable and nostalgia-fuelled nevertheless. The track Looped Los Angeles even more so; treading on Jean Michel Jarre territory, with thick, juddering synth tones bouncing around with opulent playfulness.

The lush, heavily layered one-fingered synth salutes of Skyscraper remind me of old Gary Numan b-sides. Thankfully Foxx is more experimental and intelligent in his choice of instrumentation – he embraces and understands the value of analogue synthesis, rather than lazily turning his nose up at what still remains a unique sound source. Meanwhile, Points Of Departure and Underwater Automobiles, are more modern, using choral vocal samples and heavy effects to depict their subject matter, reminding me of some of Foxx’s latter-day ambient ventures.

As mentioned, this is definitely one of Foxx’s more listenable and enjoyable albums, even though I feel an opportunity has been lost to create something far superior - a CD/DVD project. As it is, Tiny Colour Movies works well, accutely reliant on Foxx’s wealth of experience as an electronic sound designer, still inspired by new ideas – and one who knows how to get the best out of analogue and digital sound sources to create interesting sound palettes.

— Barcode

Chasm

CHASM

"My music has been acoustic or electronic, classical or non-classical, somehow always divided largely into two types. My own goal for a long time has been to somehow fuse these into one music rather than juxtaposing them. I really haven’t wanted to keep on presenting them separately. I love both types of music and doing both is what I’m known for. Plus, creating a fusion of my own would be the sort of thing I could do; I think it would be the music closest to who I am, so I’ve really made an effort. I feel that this time, with Chasm, I’ve gotten the closest to resolving the issue. At the same time, for these past few years I’ve felt very frustrated and stifled trying to create new music using a trial-and-error approach. I experienced a strong feeling of being blocked in the real world of post-9/11. On top of this, for the 3 years-plus that I’ve been working with Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto it’s been difficult for me to physically do my own music, and so I think I’m expressing a sense of all this frustration in Chasm. Consequently, of course, in the arrangements the sounds aren’t jammed in, and the music has an open feel, a sense of refreshing simplicity."

— Ryuichi Sakamoto, amazon

Singles Going Steady

buzzcocks_singles

If Never Mind the Bollocks and London Calling are held up as punk masterpieces, then there's no question that Singles Going Steady belongs alongside them. In fact, the slew of astonishing seven-inches collected on Steady and their influence on future musicians - punk or otherwise -- sometimes even betters more famous efforts. The title and artwork alone (the latter itself partially inspired by the Beatles' Let it Be) have been parodied or referred to by Halo of Flies and Don Caballero, which titled its own singles comp Singles Breaking Up. As for the music, anybody who ever combined full-blast rock, catchy melodies and romantic and social anxieties owes something to what the classic quartet did here. The deservedly well-known masterpiece "Ever Fallen in Love" appears along with Love Bites' "Just Lust," but the remaining tracks originally appeared only as individual A and B-sides, making this collection all the more essential. The earlier numbers showcase a band bursting with energy and wicked humor - the tongue-in-cheek "Orgasm Addict," details the adventures of a sex freak with a ridiculous fake orgasm vocal break to boot. However, the slightly more serious but no less frenetic singles are equally enthralling. "What Do I Get?" with its pained cry about lacking love, the deeply cynical "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" and Diggle's roaring "Harmony in My Head" are just three highlights on an album made of them. The final songs show the band incorporating their more adventuresome side into their singles, as with the slower, very Can-inspired "Why Can't I Touch It?," the semi-jokey stop-start thrash "Noise Annoys," and the Murphy's Law worries of "Something's Gone Wrong Again."

— Ned Raggett, allmusic

Beautiful Tomorrow

Beautiful Tomorrow

Blue Six is the brainchild of Naked Music founder Jay Denis, a former New York City rock musician who saw dance music as his ticket out of obscurity. His Blue Six debut, Beautiful Tomorrow, is a virtual world of pristine house groove and ambient soul mood, with live instruments and sensual singers creating a glowing sonic tableau. Whether dancing or chilling, you'll find that Beautiful Tomorrow is a luxurious soundtrack for greeting the dawn. Beyond an occasional minimalist vibe, the only differences between tracks are the singers, who offer individual takes on the soul-diva template. Lisa Shaw opens the album with "Let's Do It Together," followed by Monique Bingham singing "Close to Home." Catherine Russell adds a personal touch to the title track and "Very Good Friends." Beautiful Tomorrow's tracks morph together, but with its sublime blue-mood message, grooving in place works like a charm.

— Ken Micallef, amazon

Drums and Wires

Drums And Wires

Following Go 2, keyboardist Barry Andrews left XTC and, rather than finding a replacement keyboard player, the band opted to recruit another guitarist (who could also play keyboards), Dave Gregory. The album that followed the lineup change, Drums and Wires, marks a turning point for the band, with a more subdued set of songs that reflect an increasing songwriting proficiency. The aimless energy of the first two albums is focused into a cohesive statement with a distinctive voice that retains their clever humor, quirky wordplay, and decidedly British flavor. Musically, Drums and Wires, titled to reflect the big drum sound they developed for the album, is certainly driven by the powerful rhythms and angular, mainly minimalistic arrangements, but the addition of a second guitarist also allows for some inventive and interesting guitar work (the "wires") that made up for the lack of Andrews' odd flourishes -- the tension between the two sounds creates some truly inspired, nervy pop. Colin Moulding also comes into his own as a songwriter, penning XTC's first substantial hit, the new wave classic "Making Plans for Nigel." [The CD reissue contains tracks from the bonus single originally included with the LP -- "Limelight" and "Chain of Command" -- as well as "Life Begins at the Hop."]

— Chris Woodstra, allmusic

Black Cherry

Black Cherry

In an admirably daring move, Goldfrapp's second album, Black Cherry, takes the duo in a very different direction from its instant-classic debut, Felt Mountain. Instead of just serving up more lush electronic torch songs -- which certainly would've been welcome -- Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory continue in the direction that their cover of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" suggested, adding digital-sounding synths, electroclash-inspired drum machines, and more overtly sexual lyrics to their music. While their artistic risk-taking is commendable, unfortunately the same can't always be said for the results: Black Cherry sounds unbalanced, swinging between delicate, deceptively icy ballads and heavier, dance-inspired numbers without finding much of a happy medium between them. It's true that Felt Mountain's cinematic sweep owes a debt to the likes of Portishead, Björk, John Barry, and Shirley Bassey, but its mix of old-school glamour and more modern arrangements -- not to mention Allison Goldfrapp's charms as a futuristic siren, at once sensual and aloof -- were so compelling that the album felt fresh despite its roots. Black Cherry, however, is so dominated by its influences that all too often there doesn't seem to be enough room left in the music for Goldfrapp to really make the music its own. To be fair, most of the album isn't bad -- it's just not as consistently amazing as Felt Mountain. Songs like "Crystalline Green," "Tiptoe," and "Train" are among the better synth pop-inspired tracks, keeping enough of Goldfrapp's previous sound to give a good balance of familiarity and invention, but they don't really show off the expressive range of Goldfrapp's voice that well.

Not surprisingly, Black Cherry's highlights apply Felt Mountain's eloquent restraint to a slightly different sonic palette: The title track has a spacy allure thanks to the flute-like synths and lighter-than-air drums and strings, while "Deep Honey" mixes harpsichords, strings, and foreboding analog synths to ominously beautiful effect. "Hairy Trees" conjures a digitally pristine utopia (though it does include the rather embarrassing lyric "touch my garden"), and "Forever" is one of the few tracks that really allows the pure tonal beauty of Goldfrapp's singing to shine through. Problems crop up on Black Cherry when the group works too hard to change its trademark sound: Despite its very danceable groove, "Twist" overplays its hand by adding too many buzzing synths and operatically orgasmic vocals (though, admittedly, they do show off Goldfrapp's impressive pipes better than some of the other songs). "Strict Machine" and "Slippage" share a similar fate, piling on dominatrix-y drum machines to give the songs a dance edge but eventually sound weighed down by them in the process. It's possible that Black Cherry disappoints because it tries to go in two different directions at once; it might have been a more coherent listening experience if it were either more ballad-based or featured more synth pop homages. As it stands, it's merely a not-entirely-successful experiment that suffers from its ambitions and in comparison to its brilliant predecessor. While some Felt Mountain fans may not have the patience for this album's radical departures, Black Cherry is still worthwhile for those willing to take some risks along with the group.

— Heather Phares, allmusic

Folder

Demo

Plastic Operator are the perfect pop group for our times. Internationally minded, technically savvy and most importantly blessed with the ability to sculpt sublimely soulful pop moments from raw digital clay, Plastic Operator may exist in a parallel space to the tired pop pap in the Top 10, but what a wonderful space it is.

Mathieu Gendreau (electronics) & Pieter Van Dessel (vocals / electronics) are Plastic Operator. Respectively hailing from Montreal and Antwerp, the pair met at London's Westminster University in 2001 where they were both studying audio production. Bonding over a shared love of two decades of fine electronic pop music (influences include Jean-Michel Jarre, Akufen, The Pet Shop Boys, Vangelis, Boards of Canada, The Postal Service...) the pair began to make sweet music together.

When the course finished Pieter returned to Antwerp to work on sound design for both theatre and websites, and Mathieu remained in London to work as a sound engineer, working with a broad cross-section of the UK's musical talent. The pair kept up their collaborative efforts over the internet, meeting face to face in either London or Antwerp once a month.

In 2004, their efforts came to fruition when then the pair released their debut three track CD through a handful of record shops, with Rough Trade making it their CD of the week. Once the tracks were out there in the public domain, things accelerated at a pace no-one could have predicted. The lead track from the CD, 'Folder', had been posted on a web blog, and within weeks Plastic Operator were receiving emails from fans in New York, Mexico City and Bangkok enquiring about the group. Radio stations as far apart as California, New Zealand and Tijuana began championing the song. In London Radio 1's Rob Da Bank began playing the track on his Blue Room show, eventually signing the track to his Sunday Best label.

Already picking up admirers from its inclusion on Rob's latest Sunday Best compilation, 'Folder' is released as a single in its own right this November. Featuring loving remixes from a range of Sunday Best friends and family (namely Subway, Styrofoam and Shepherds) this is sure to see the pleasures of Plastic Operator become apparent to an even broader audience.

In other news, Pieter & Mathieu continue working on their forthcoming debut album and their music continues to grab the attention of a global audience, recently being licensed for the soundtrack of hit Canadian film 'L'Horloge Biologique". Plastic Operator are hatching plans for more live shows after their recent London debut. If reactions to 'Folder' are anything to go by, they should pack their suitcases in preparation for an extensive global tour...

— Plastic Operator

2001: A New Beginning

2001 A New Beginning

2001 has brought fans of electronic dance music in the progressive trance/house style a veritable embarrassment of riches, particularly from relatively low-profile American dj's. While many devotees of progressive have waited with bated breath for the "big" releases from the likes of John Digweed, Dave Seaman, and Seb Fontaine, terrific mixes from guys like John Debo, Liam Kennedy, Jerry Bonham, Wendel, and Max English have made 2001 perhaps the best year ever for "progressive."

Packaged with a curious "Red Cross" pattern across the outer cover, DJ Hardware's new two cd mix of hard-driving progressive tunes adds yet another fine release to my growing stack of "gotta listen to it again" recent discs. Hardware has titled his package "2001: A New Beginning." Perhaps this refers to a shift in his own musical style away from tweaky-ravey material (as in his previous mix, "DJ Hardware: The Trance Edition.") His decision to embrace a "new beginning" is a fortuitous one, indeed, as he has selected twenty fine tracks this time around and his sequenced and mixed them nicely.

There are a few tunes included that will be familiar to those of us who follow the progressive releases and buy a lot of dj mixes in this style. DJ Nukem vs. Chab's "Shiva," Mara's, "Fall From Grace," and Soul Mekanik with Jam D.'s "Diskostatic" are terrific tracks that have been used a lot in recent mixes. However, the vast majority of DJ Hardware's material is fresh and new, and this makes the package overall an attractive one for progressive fans. Some of the producers' names featured prominently include Steve Porter, Natious, Christian West, Moogai, Pappa & Gilbey, and Chab. The sound here is uptempo and high-energy, yet definitely complex, percussive, and progressive.

If you enjoy the high energy type of progressive trance and progressive house, you'll likely find this release a fine one and a bargain, to boot.

-

— Douglas A. Greenberg, amazon

A Secret Wish

A Secret Wish

With guests including David Sylvian, Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory, and Steve Howe, A Secret Wish is synth-rock with an eye toward orchestrated pop as well as a bit of sampler experimentation in the grand ZTT tradition of Art of Noise. There's a distinct lack of songwriting on the album, and though the synth-grooves are tight enough to keep it flowing for most of its length, A Secret Wish occasionally falls flat from its own weight.

— Keith Farley, allmusic

Avantgardism, Vol. 1: Bass 'n Drum

avantgardism_vol1

Exhaustive, yet frequently generic, Avantgardism is a double-disc compilation in the who's who of jungle/drum 'n' bass, with sputtering, hammering snare rushes, mysterious sound bytes and scarcely more than the occasional hint at song structure. Several tracks sneak by undetected, but there's redemption tucked away here and there. Luke Vibert, an exceptional talent, contributes two tracks; one as Plug with a rarity called "Snapping Fuss" (which would show up later as a Wagon Christ track called "Natural Suction" from his 2001 album Musipal), and the other is "Spotlight," almost completely deconstructed by his mate Richard (Aphex Twin) James. Both tracks raise the value of this CD, alongside a handful of other gems...Bedouin Ascent's "Cat Can't Blow" is a gloomy burn through the earholes, Milkyboy does a convincing imitation of Jake Slazenger with the jazzy hopscotch of "Dognuts," and Environmental Science pulses like an acid-drenched laboratory with "Nonsense." Another superstar appearance comes from Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher), with the second disc's closer "Happy Little Wilberforce." A powerful cluster of human beatbox samples and rusty drums that splinter apart beneath mellow electric piano chords (somewhere between Conumber and Port Rhombus). Other tracks seem all the more pale by comparison. Witchman once again proves that his strength is remixing rather than original composition. Force of Angels have two tracks, both of which are only noteworthy because they implement dreamy chords and basic melodies to their excellently generic spray of percussion. Moondog's unusual rock-blues number features haggard vocals by Elizabeth Eastwood and twangy guitar slides and, frankly, were it not for the hyperspastic drum tracks, this song belongs on a completely different record. In 4/4 time, it would be more in line with Bauhaus or Tricky or some slow-burn gothic 4AD outfit. Many of the lesser-known contributors display the programming chops necessary to lay down complicated polyrhythms, but they spend so much time trying to fit the genre that they forget to test the boundaries of it (which is what typically makes the best material in electronics). As hyperactive as the disc may be, the blandness of some tracks may overshadow the diamonds in the rough, and Avantgardism lays out a lot of "rough" to sift through.

— Glenn Swan, allmusic

Apparat Organ Quartet

Apparat Organ Quartet

Apparat Organ Quartet is a 5 piece band: 4 organists and 1 drummer. They sometimes describe their music as “Machine Rock and Roll" but the standard definition of their sound is “Organ Quartet Music", a completely new genre. They have been compared to such different acts as Kraftwerk, Wagner, Goblin, Terry Reilly, Steve Reich, Sigur Rós, the Glitter Band, Stereolab and Trans Am.

Their sound has been described as quite unique and their concerts frequently inspire high praise: "Apparat Organ Quartet has grown into a phenomenal force, playing soul-stirringly portentous mechanical music, equal parts progressive rock and horror film soundtrack, reminiscent of older acts like Kraftwerk and Goblin... as innovative and meticulous as Sigur Rós but who sound nothing like it." Neil Strauss The New York Times

Apparat Organ Quartet released their second single on June 9th 2003 in the UK. "Romantika", on the Duophonic label, is a song taken from their eponymous debut album. They have also released tracks on compilation albums from Kitchen Motors, a pioneering label/art-organisation in Iceland, and a limited edition 7 inch of the single “Stereo Rock and Roll"’ on the 13amp label in the UK.
Apparat Organ Quartet was originally formed to take part in a series of improvised concerts organized by Kitchen Motors in September of 1999. (Apparat member Jóhann Jóhannsson is a founding member of Kitchen Motors). The idea was to put together an electric organ ensemble, in part inspired by Steve Reich´s pieces for electric organ (e.g. "Four Organs"). The band was in fact initially motivated by a desire to play these early minimalist works in concert. These ideas never came to fruition and instead they started to compose their own pieces, slowly evolving their unique sound through trial and error.

Apparat Organ Quartet´s debut album, simply entitled "Apparat Organ Quartet" was almost 3 years in the making, a long but happy process. The Quartet´s members say it took so long because they had to discover by themselves how to record an organ quartet. “We couldn't just go to the record-store and ask for an organ quartet album. We had to invent the genre." The album seems to have many layers. The oldest takes date back to 1999 while some of the songs underwent major changes during the last few days of mixing. The many strange and beautiful sounds heard on the album come from AOQ’s vast collection of antique synthesizers, Farfisas, Hammonds, home-organs, cheap portable keyboards and all sorts of malfunctioning machinery.

AOQ use old discarded technology, home organs and cheap consumer cast-offs often salvaged from garbage dumps and then customized by the band for the rigors of live use.

Their passion for out-moded musical machines and ancient communication technologies is clearly reflected in their collaboration with TF3IRA, a trio of ham radio enthusiasts. This performance, documented on the Kitchen Motors CD "Motorlab 2", featured an enormous electric sound sculpture involving shortwave receivers and morse code transmissions mixed in with the organ quartet´s ethereal soundscapes. The album cover art features oil paintings of the band as Playmo characters by the artist Markús Þór Andrésson.

Apparat Organ Quartet has been invited to numerous festivals and prestigious venues in Europe before even releasing an album, including the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, London´s ICA, Batofar in Paris, as well as performing in St. Petersburg and Helsinki to name a few places. Recently, the band have played New York´s Central Park Summer Stage, Denmark´s Spot Festival, Stockholm´s Kulturhuset as well as Holland ´s Lowlands and the Belgian Pukkelpop festival.

Apparat Organ Quartet´s members include:

Musikvatur, who has collaborated with Múm and has released several solo singles. Hordur Bragason, a former associate of Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch and by day, an organist in Reykjavik´s largest church congregation.

Jóhann Jóhannsson, who has worked with among others Marc Almond, The Hafler Trio, Barry Adamson, Pan Sonic and Mum. He has also released two critically acclaimed solo albums, 'Englabörn' and 'Virthulegu forsetar' on Touch. Ulfur Eldjarn, also a member of the group Trabant and former member of Kanada. Arnar Geir Omarsson, who has worked with Magga Stina, Ham, Lhooq and others.

Apparat Organ Quartet is a part of a closely knit collection of musicians working in Reykjavik. This extremely active and vibrant scene includes members of Sigur Rós, Múm, Kanada, Trabant, Funerals, Slowblow and others. Some of these bands share members and frequently collaborate on other music and art projects.

— 12 Tónar

Witching Hour

Witching Hour

Despite a three-year wait, Ladytron sounds fresher and more vital than ever on their triumphant third album, Witching Hour. While the label problems that sidelined the album's release must have been frustrating, in some ways the delay works in the band's favor: though they were momentarily (and somewhat opportunistically) lumped in with the electroclash movement, Ladytron always had a stronger sense of melody and pop songcraft than most of the other artists associated with that style, and with electroclash all but dead, the band's identity comes through even more clearly. Much darker and less overtly synth pop than any of their earlier work, Witching Hour is almost unrelentingly gloomy, covering topics like the fleeting nature of relationships, destruction, and war. However, the album wears it well, conjuring a glamorous dystopia with songs like "High Rise" and "Soft Power" -- it's not often that bleakness sounds this pretty. It also helps that Witching Hour boasts some of Ladytron's finest songwriting to date, including the brilliantly melodramatic, ever-so-slightly gothy "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "International Dateline," which shows the band hasn't lost its touch when it comes to writing affecting breakup songs. By stripping away some of the synth pop veneer of 604 and Light & Magic, the shoegaze/dream pop influences that bubbled underneath the surface of Ladytron's music come to the fore on this album. My Bloody Valentine's brilliant "Soon" was the first track of the band's Softcore Jukebox mix album, and that song's fusion of guitar haze and dance beats forms a large part of this album's musical DNA. "Sugar"'s trippy blur of buzzsaw guitars and mechanical rhythms take this sound in a noisy, poppy direction, while "WhiteLightGenerator" and the wintry "All the Way" end Witching Hour with a trancelike serenity. While the album loses some of the impressive focus of its first half as it unfurls, the layered, intricate production on tracks like "Beauty*2" and "CMYK" -- one of Ladytron's best instrumental interludes -- remains interesting. While Helen Marnie's ghostly vocals are as lovely and effective as ever, Mira Aroyo's small presence on Witching Hour is one of the album's few disappointments, although she shines on "Fighting in Built Up Areas." Nitpicking aside, Witching Hour is the album that Ladytron always seemed capable of, and its dark, dreamy-yet-catchy spell makes it the band's most sophisticated, and best, work to date.

— Heather Phares, allmusic

Metropolis Present Day?

felix_metropolis

Metropolis Present Day? is an intriguing LP, one of Felix's first stabs at a conceptual album, including past singles like "Footsteps of Rage!" and "Metropolis" as well as interesting stylistic excursions like the airy, meandering "Marine Mood." Robert Hood provides a remix of "Footsteps," among other highlights including "Somekinda Special" and "B 4 Wuz Then."

— John Bush, allmusic

IBM 1401, A User's Manual

johanson_1401

Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic musician, composer, producer and an active member of the country’s artistic community (as the founder of the Kitchen Motors label / think tank / art collective, founder member of Apparat Organ Quartet and also as a serial collaborator).

Jóhann’s stately and hauntingly melodic music has been quietly bewitching listeners for some time and his new album, IBM 1401, A User’s Manual - his most ambitiously-orchestrated composition to date – is sure to expand his audience still further.

Inspired by a recording of an IBM mainframe computer which Jóhann’s father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, made on a reel-to-reel tape machine more than 30 years ago, the piece was originally written to be performed by a string quartet as the accompaniment to a dance piece by the choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir. For the album version, Jóhann rewrote the entire score, and it was recorded by a sixty-piece string orchestra. He also added a new final section and incorporated electronics alongside those original tape recordings of the singing computer.

— 4AD Records

// 06. 7.06

walking by

Walking2

This morning I noticed a groovy public photo exhibit on four walls across from the entrance to the 16th street BART station. It's called looking, and asks you to slow down and see what's happening excatly where you are standing.

Walking1

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