For those about to rock

Best New Reissues

Emite conţinut
The best new reissues and releases from Pitchfork, the most trusted voice in music.
Actualizat: în urmă cu 1 oră 44 minute

Tony Conrad: Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain

3 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

For half a century, Tony Conrad was anonymous by association. The composer, violinist, filmmaker, mathematician, teacher, and playful provocateur at large made essential contributions to half-dozen vital American art movements. Conrad, who died last year, helped organize the principals of the Velvet Underground, a band he named but then declined to join. He made experimental films that challenged the technical and textural boundaries of the form and inspired Andy Warhol, but his diverse enthusiasms and staunch anti-authoritarian ideals virtually sealed his status as a mere cinematic footnote. And as a musician and theorist, he made records and played in projects that helped to jumpstart American musical minimalism, harsh noise, and homespun drone, though his reputation still pales in comparison to those of contemporaries such as La Monte Young and Steve Reich or descendants like Thurston Moore. As many of Conrad’s interests moved from the edge toward the center, he remained for decades on the fringes, an avuncular professor with a wit as sharp as his violin tone and an intriguing past.

But during the last quarter-century, several batches of archival releases, reissues, and performances slowly pulled Conrad from the wings, putting him in front of new audiences and extending the influence of both his sound and spirit. In the early ’90s, Table of the Elements—a sorely missed bastion of avant garde Americana—made a case study of sorts with Conrad, releasing old and new recordings to help launch a revisionist history of experimental music. Table of the Elements smartly positioned Conrad at an intersection of classical music’s high-mindedness and indie rock’s DIY spirit.

This new currency established him as a countercultural antidote, an iconoclast who connected with a new generation in order to pull minimalism out of the concert hall or classroom and into the rock club. He opened for Sunn O))), palled around with Jim O’Rourke, and collaborated on the stage and in the studio with abandon and intensity. Since Conrad’s death after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, his esteem has grown. He got a Rolling Stone listicle, a long-in-the-works documentary, and even the bold New York Times headline “Tony Conrad Was Such a Good Minimalist, He Was Almost Forgotten.” But the music isn’t finished just yet.

A newly unearthed recording of an audacious but somewhat overlooked Conrad masterwork for a small droning ensemble and black-and-white film, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain, is the most important shot in the arm to Conrad’s legacy to arrive in more than a decade. Recorded at the seminal New York art space the Kitchen in 1972, Ten Years Alive backs Conrad’s microtonal arcs of precise violin with a rhythm section of sorts. Laurie Spiegel plunks along on a bass, keeping a barely there beat, while Rhys Chatham plucks a one-stringed instrument Conrad built in a kind of countrified counterpoint. As they played for nearly 90 minutes, projections of vertical lines converged and diverged, creating a visual corollary to an entirely absorbing and rapturous listen. In 1972, Steve Reich had just finished Drumming, and Philip Glass was in the midst of composing Music in Twelve Parts. Ten Years Alive is another overdue reminder that Conrad’s music belongs in the canon. For someone who extolled prolificacy while occasionally sneering at publicity, its complete release is more meaningful than any newspaper’s breathless reappraisal.

With rare exceptions, Conrad’s most captivating music is at once magnetic and repellent. He privately lamented that his fabled recordings with Faust, Outside the Dream Syndicate, were too soft, the dampened sound of hippies who didn’t quite get the ecstatic astringency of his tone. His brilliant Four Violins, an early document of his explorations with just intonation and layers of looped sound, unspools across a tormented, tantalizing half-hour. When it ends, you’re torn between feelings of relief and mercy and the masochism of instantly wanting to hear it again. His wobbly solo organ score for Joan of Arc is at once vertiginous and comforting. Likewise, his canonical strobe-like experimental film, the Flicker, is devilishly disorienting and yet somehow hard to turn off.

Ten Years Alive, though, is oddly accessible, with moments of Conrad’s razor-sharp playing sheathed in more gentle passages. The tiny harmonies of his tuning system are clear, so you can trace the lines of thought much more readily than on the more aggressive Four Violins. Together, Chatham and Spiegel provide simpatico support, their barely prepared accompaniment adding a touch of exotica to Conrad’s fixed aesthetic. They listen closely but play casually, their every move emboldening the violin without distracting from it. Ten Years Alive is academic, to an extent, but it feels deeply psychedelic, too, a cosmic vamp built around an eternal groove.

The presence of Chatham and Spiegel, who arguably achieved levels of attention Conrad is attaining only posthumously, is an obvious selling point, a built-in marketing hook for an esoteric archival release. Still, Conrad is clearly at the center of Ten Years Alive, his mesmerizing but sometimes hairsplitting violin bleat pulled taut from one end to the other, just as it animated and connected the ends of his fifty-year career.

To listen to it is to get lost in it, to enter a slipstream of sound where notes seem to self-replicate as if they were always there and will forever remain. It’s like watching an army of tossed stones create so many ripples on a pond that the commotion becomes the accepted state of being, or like meeting a new friend who instantly feels as if he or she has been a lifelong companion. Twenty minutes in, you stop caring about personnel or context or even revisionist histories and simply notice the minuscule variations in sound, the way a fraction of a musical interval can make your hair stand on end. Conrad, then, becomes anonymous yet again—this time, by design of his art, not association of his friends.

Categoria: Rock news

Look Blue Go Purple: Still Bewitched

2 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

In the late 1970s, punk swept through the UK and washed away any remaining mop-top mods. In Dunedin, New Zealand—among the furthest possible cities from London—kiwi punks applied this self-sufficient ethos and wrote pop songs. Their lo-fi jangle pulled from the Byrds’ ’60s pop melodies, the psychedelia of Pink Floyd circa Syd Barrett, and the Velvet Underground’s corporeal dronings. It would be dubbed the historically influential Dunedin sound after a 1982 compilation from its most iconic label, Flying Nun Records. Two of the bands on that comp, the Chills and the Verlaines, along with their Flying Nun labelmates the Bats and the Clean, would come to define New Zealand’s mid-1980s indie rock scene. Amid all these humbly named acts, Look Blue Go Purple—Francisca Griffin (formerly Kathy Bull), Norma O’Malley, Kath Webster, Denise Roughan, and Lesley Paris—were bound to stand out.

Like their optimistic, kaleidoscopic moniker suggests, Look Blue Go Purple poured vivacity into a scene that was already chock full of cheery, sparkling songs. But unlike a majority of their peers, the quintet never released an LP, which prevented them from finding a foreign audience despite their mainstream success on the New Zealand pop charts. Still Bewitched, a recent compilation of Look Blue Go Purple’s three EPs and unreleased live rarities, promises to expose a new crowd to the band’s enchanting style.

After forming in 1983, Look Blue Go Purple debuted with a tight, distinct sound on 1985’s Bewitched EP. The five women fused the gentle guitar pop that was then well-established by their Dunedin/Flying Nun labelmates with the post-punk experimentation of the Slits and the Raincoats, and to a lesser extent, Swell Maps and Television. Three of Bewitched’s four tracks each focus on a different sound: the whistling synths of “Safety in Crosswords,” the new-age flute and staggered drumbeat of “Vain Hopes,” and the cloudy chill of “As Does the Sun.” But it’s “Circumspect Penelope” that gathers these elements together and affirms Bewitched’s pleasant distance. “She’s been waiting 20 years/And you just walk in/Telling stories of the sea/She should hate you, your Penelope,” the band bitterly scold The Odyssey’s titular character, whose wife has been waiting years for Odysseus’ return. Thanks to the crystalline sound of O’Malley’s organ, Webster and Roughan’s saccharine guitars, and the tight interplay between Griffin’s bass and Paris’ quick crashing drumbeat, Look Blue Go Purple’s condemnation is by far the poppiest, catchiest track on the EP. But their layered vocal harmonies seem to be the murmurs of sirens from a world beyond.

When Look Blue Go Purple returned the next year for LBGPEP2, the band shed their winter coats for a bright new life. A whimsical song like “Cactus Cat” would have been a shock on the staunchly post-punk Bewitched, but on the LBGPEP2 it feels right at home. “Cactus Cat”’s sun-streaked bubblegum style flows into “Grace,” a hypnotic, lilting tune about a girl whose beauty has faded from her namesake to something far more foul. “100 Times” and “Winged Rumor” recall Bewitched’s subdued mysticism thanks to the former’s hushed, airy chorus and the latter’s reverential flute. But the gossamer feel of both songs give way to a ramshackle groove, something Bewitched’s songs never achieved. The spoken-word incantation “Hiawatha” is the band’s most new wave song, though its punctuations of shrill synths and howls surpass in imagination anything their peers were making.

“Cactus Cat” in particular propelled LBGPEP2 to No. 26 in New Zealand’s pop charts in January 1987. The band used the track’s popularity to address a topic that had haunted their press. At the end of the song’s succulent-stocked music video, an anonymous interviewer queries whether there are any difficulties being a female band. “Only the presumption that it means something, that it’s a bunch of females together,” says Webster. “But we just happen to be five musicians who get on well and play music together but it can be a hassle.” Look Blue Go Purple never labeled themselves as feminist, nor was the content of their music remotely political. The only people who seemed to find the band’s gender worth noting was the media; players in the New Zealand indie scene considered it a non-issue. Women “were very active participants in a very creative and politically active era, charged with post-sexual revolution and determination to create anything but typical male music,” says the Chills’ Martin Phillipps. That said, “[It’s] rock’n’roll, gender has got nothing to do with it,” Griffin concludes in the video.

Shortly after the release of 1987’s This Is This, Look Blue Go Purple broke up to pursue other personal and professional ventures (notably, Paris became the manager of Flying Nun). The quintet’s final release is their most indie pop record, and echoed the concurrent work of England’s C86 bands like the Shop Assistants and the Pastels. The bouncy “I Don't Want You Anyway” makes rejection seem fun while the docile “Year of the Tiger” could be a Sarah Records cut. Perhaps because of its spare compositions, for the first time the band’s eloquent lyrics are placed in the limelight. “I’m a fool to believe in love and its channels/I’m a fool to believe in it at all,” Griffin sings on “In Your Favour.” But by the end of This Is This, Look Blue Go Purple fall into the same pattern as LBGPEP2 and return to the sleepy melancholy of their first EP.

Still Bewitched ends with seven unreleased live takes handpicked by the band from their final years—all originals except for an impassioned cover of folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Codeine.” The most intriguing of these are the funky sleuthing “Spike” and “A Request,” which show the Raincoats’ abstract influence more discernibly than any of their official releases. The inclusion of these tracks on the compilation is a refreshing peek at what Look Blue Go Purple sounded like in their prime: a little mythical, a little goofy, overflowing with wistful indie pop hooks and eloquence. Without Look Blue Go Purple, any definition of the Dunedin sound is insufficient.

Categoria: Rock news

Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Of Ethiopia

26 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

Just about a decade ago, amid the faded 1960s grandeur of Addis Ababa’s Ghion Hotel—Mulatu Astatke’s favorite spot for coffee—the man himself leaned over and asked, “What exactly is the Red Bull Music Academy?” This was after a wide-ranging interview about his career as composer and musician, traveling from the UK to the U.S. to Ethiopia and in between. Mulatu had been tapped to give a lecture in Canada, but he didn’t understand exactly why he was being asked to talk about his music—the bulk of which was recorded between 1966 and 1974—for a bunch of young people.

Originally released in 1972 and newly-reissued, the groundbreaking Mulatu of Ethiopia easily answers that question in under 30 minutes of adventurous, head-nod-inducing music that still sounds new today. These seven melodic tracks take the listener down moody rhythmic paths, all the while accompanied by organ, flute, horns, and Mulatu’s trademark vibraphone.

Born in western Ethiopia, Mulatu planned to study engineering. But upon moving to Wales, and later London, his field changed to music. He became the first student from Africa at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, focusing on percussion as well as vibraphone. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Mulatu recorded on trips to New York, working with a range of session musicians, many schooled in Latin rhythms; playing alongside Cubans and Venezuelans, he observed their experimentation. It sparked his desire to invent his own style, which he called “Ethio-jazz.” “I used the Ethiopian structures to create melodies, but instead of using cultural instruments, I used western instruments like the piano and the contrabass,” he once said. “I somehow created ways to use the Ethiopian modes, being very careful not to lose the feeling.”

Mulatu’s style—he really is the originator and sole exemplar of “Ethio-jazz”—is unmistakable. First, unlike most Ethiopian music of various traditional and contemporary genres, Mulatu doesn’t use vocals. He’s unique in his instrumentality, and his mix of styles was crucial. There is a clear ’70s funk influence at play—with the wah wah on “Munaye,” the driving tempo paired with rolling saxophone on “Chifara,” the floating flute on “Mascaram Setaba.” Afro-Cuban rhythms also appear on “Mulatu” and “Kasalefkut-Hulu.” And those familiar with the Ethiopian washint (flute) will recognize the different wind sounds on “Kulumanqueleshi.” It all joins the melancholic minor rhythm and handclaps, which are reminiscent of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox church music. The melodies, too, use the five-note-scale pentatonic mode common to Ethiopian music.

Though crate diggers developed an enthusiasm for Mulatu’s music in the early 1990s, wider acclaim occurred initially in Europe through the 1998 release of the fourth in the Francis Falceto-curated Éthiopiques series, entitled Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974. A number of tracks from the compilation were then used in the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film Broken Flowers (those paying attention will identify that the cinematic “Mascaram Setaba” appeared first on this record). But Mulatu of Ethiopia showcases perhaps the widest range of Mulatu’s talents—including jazz, funk, and what sounds like atmospheric soundtracking—and acts as an excellent initial entry into his catalog.

What is perhaps most significant about this reissue—and for this one needs to purchase the 3xLP set—is how it illustrates the process that went into the creation of Mulatu of Ethiopia. The CD and LP versions include the original stereo release and the pre-mix mono master, but the 3xLP gatefold set adds a whole other LP dedicated to the outtakes of four songs: three of “Mascaram Setaba,” three of “Kulunmanqueleshi,” two of “Kasalefkut-Hulu,” and an extra “Munaye.” These glimpses into the studio provide insight into the explorations that led to the final versions. Some outtakes place the wind instruments out front, others focus on the percussion. These are looser attempts that play with motifs and melodies.

Mulatu, however, is audibly the bandleader. Before laying out the rhythm and counting the band in on “Mascaram Setaba,” you can hear him arguing with the musicians: “No, no, no,” he says, telling the bassist exactly what he wants to hear. After a minute or so, he stops the music again: “Watch me for the chords, ok?,” he instructs. From this three minutes of tape, it’s quite clear that Mulatu knew exactly what he wanted in order to fulfill his concept of Ethio-jazz.

Since Mulatu’s 2007 lecture in Toronto, more and more people have become acquainted with the funky, atmospheric stylings of his Ethio-jazz. This has spurred Mulatu’s recent work, born of connections with London’s Heliocentrics and Boston’s Either/Orchestra. There has also between a rash of recordings sampling Mulatu, and for good reason. Nas, Damian Marley, K’naan, the Gaslamp Killer, Four Tet: all have added in bits and pieces of Mulatu’s music. If there’s one way to invigorate a style, it’s by drawing from the unique cadences of Mulatu Astatke’s inventive sounds, showcased on this 45-year-old classic.

Categoria: Rock news