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Moonlight Agency 2: serene

20/08/2011

This edition of Moonlight Agency features songs that wash over you gently but surely, the tracks that sound gorgeous and/or beautiful, lush, melancholy and so on, and so on. Listening to them may imbue you with an uncanny sense of inner calm and serenity. And yes, I did miss on some of the songs and bands that could have easily ended up on here, but I’m saving those artists I could include for later – including Saint Etienne, Radiohead, The Depreciation Guild, The Chameleons, and lots more.

1. Boards of Canada – 5:9:78
One of the greatest Boards of Canada tracks, and an unreleased one at that. If even their unreleased tracks are that great?.. Mere words don’t suffice.

2. Lee Hazlewood – My Autumn’s Done Come
While this would sound much more natural if it was faded into from the previous edition’s “Bonfires on the Heath” by The Clientele, this autumnal, melancholy dirge about growing old still sounds at home in this capacity.

3. Death in Vegas – Girls
I’ve watched “Lost in Translation” three times already over this summer, and this track, that opens the film, still manages to send unbelievable goosebumps down my spine. It’s associated with Bill Murray looking in awe at the dazzling flashing lights of Tokyo from the taxi cab forever, at least for me.

4. Slowdive – Sleep
Another unreleased track that could easily rival the released oeuvre of the band. Well, to be completely honest, the entire recorded works of Slowdive could fill up this list, but with me sticking to the one song by artist per list, this isn’t happening. Just yet.

5. Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent)
Yet another track, for which mere words don’t suffice. In fact, it is so becalming, that lots of people wish for it to be played at their funerals, including Coldcut and yours truly.

6. Orbital – Halcyon + On + On
This is my alternative choice for a funeral/deathbed soundtrack. Whatever you couple it with, whether it is images from nature or 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s guaranteed to have the same hypnotic effect every time you hear it.

7. Thomas Dolby – Screen Kiss
If we discount it’s completely horrifying context in the Jam series by the ever so brilliant Chris Morris, we still get a lush, sad song about failing to reach fame in Hollywood. Still, “I’m coming back, Martina!..” Shudder.

8. Rachel Goswell – Coastline (Ulrich Schnauss vocal remix)
Rachel Goswell’s voice is one of an angel – it has been thoroughly proven by her work as a vocalist in Slowdive and Mojave 3, her solo work, and her backing vocals for songs by the likes of Chapterhouse etc. This sweeping reinterpretation of her solo song drives the point further home.

9. Ride – Chrome Waves
Despite the fact that it’s tempo is much higher than any of the songs on display here (well, except the Orbital contribution), Ride’s last stand still resonates as one of their most serene – if not THE most – and bittersweet offerings.

10. M83 – Safe
Oh, how I anticipate “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”. Can’t even convey it in my native language! In the meantime, one of the standouts on “Before the Dawn Heals Us” wraps up this playlist in a grandiose, cinematic way.

Sorry for not writing more detailed descriptions – it’s just before midnight in Ukraine and my brain doesn’t function quite properly… hopefully, more of these to come soon-ish.

Sergey

Words of “wisdom”

18/08/2011

It’s not really a rant, but rather some thoughts that I’ve had recently. Well, I’m perfectly aware that I haven’t done anything meaningful on here in ages, but you could call that period of silence my “summer vacation” or something. Not that I’m going to post stuff regularly here from now on – it’s still very much a feeling thing.

People often ask me why do I have this self-deprecating attitude – that is, I often tell myself and folks that surround me that I’m no good at anything I do: make music that sucks, that I’ll never learn how to play guitar properly, have a bad taste and so on. For example, my good female friend (we have this schtick going on that we’re siblings) has always said to me that with my skill and knowledge and blah blah blah I should be conceited, not self-deprecating.

Being conceited is very much like eating a bag of chips. Both are delicious, but are they any good to your health? The only difference is that vanity (or whatever you call it) is an abstract / psychological concept, and eating a bag of chips is an exactly defined, physiological one. While I don’t really care about the consequences of me eating a bag of chips with paprika (though I try to eat them as rarely as possible), I absolutely care about those of me acting snobbish and vain and rude to people around me – at least, what I can control personally, not their perception or anything related to their vision of me.

Also, last night I finished reading “The Catcher in the Rye” for the second time, and I’ve had these thoughts about me having bad taste and about the words Mr. Antolini said to Holden that I can’t really remember unless I use Google which is a lowly measure I don’t want to stoop down to and death and the Universe and everything. I’ll concentrate on “bad taste”.

What I thought was that if I looked at my taste really closely I’d see that it’s not as good as everyone – or even I – have thought. Sure, I love lots of obscure stuff, but they’re only obscure to those who don’t want to dig deeper into what interests them and just sort of take everything that lies on the surface as “the real thing”. That is one of the problems with Ukrainian music scene, by the way, but that will be the topic for a different post. And to those who know a bit more about music/anime/books/movies/whatever my taste can come off as shallow and terrible. It’s all relative, but still – another thing that I think would be criticised as all hell is that I find out about music from different sources that aren’t “hip”. Pitchfork, Wikipedia, rock encyclopedias, advice from friends – you name it.

The thing is, you’re supposed to be your own tastemaker. You have to be one, too. But still, people won’t give you the light of the day if they hear that you’re influenced by something they emphatically dislike for some reason.

But I don’t feel like going into detail anymore. Months of not writing anything have taken their toll. *sigh*

Sergey

Moonlight Agency 1: Rain Down

12/05/2011

I guess this starts a new series of articles. While I’m not really that inspired to write new reviews for the time being, I’ve been listening to various kinds of music pretty actively all the same – and I’ve decided to kind of follow in Thom Yorke’s footsteps and just post playlists that bring together all sorts of music in this space, with a specific mood in mind. Most of the time it won’t be exactly cheery, but it’s always going to adhere to the same atmosphere set in the title of the post. So, today’s theme is “Rain Down”, in stark contrast to the weather outside at the moment in Ukraine, and the tracklist is:

1. Mojave 3 – Love Songs on the Radio
The obvious inspiration behind this blog’s title. Also a lovely, spacey kind of song with stellar vocals by Rachel Goswell.

2. The Clientele – Bonfires on the Heath
A song in pretty much the same autumnal vein – lyrics like “late October, sunlight in the wood” kind of betray it anyway. A good song, all the same, and a natural progression from the Mojave 3 track.

3. Massive Attack – Weather Storm
I guess I have to thank heavens I didn’t hear it in its respective Jam episode (as far as I know, it accompanies what is known as “Little Girl Balls” on the Blue Jam CD I reviewed recently). For now, it’s just a perfect song for a rainy day, from a perfect album from a rainy day, that is “Protection”.

4. Оберманекен – В созвездии Льва
Here comes the choice out of leftfield. These guys, to my knowledge, were the most sensual Russian music group at the time. I couldn’t really appreciate their output, except this one song. It’s perfectly produced, at least as far as Soviet underground music goes.

5. Pantha du Prince – Im Bann
To wrap up the first part, the most recent song on the mixtape – released last year, in fact. Hearing on Resident Advisor that Pantha du Prince is influenced by Ride and comparing him to them only makes me want to get into him more than I’ve done so far.

6. Burger/Ink – Bring Trance Back (to Las Vegas) [Blue Hotel]
Another relatively leftfield choice, but Burger/Ink’s “Las Vegas” is one of the lucky few techno records that don’t create their own world, but rather try to replicate the already existing real one. Also, one of another lucky few that integrates guitars seamlessly into the whole four-to-the-floor pattern of most techno.

7. Браво – Старый отель
This one is more mainstream, concerning Russian music at least. This band is more known for its retro stylings, but this vaguely reggaeish song is actually among their best – sometimes I think that it actually would be better if it were performed three times slower, in the vein of Codeine, Low and Red House Painters. But it’s alright this way, too.

8. Chick Corea – Crystal Silence
Only electric piano, saxophone and spare percussion dominate this track. Any more instrumentation and its fragile beauty would break.

9. The Blue Nile – From a Late Night Train
Their saddest song, that seemingly captures the mindframe of a thirty-something, recently divorced man – as such, it’s their most evocative song; it captures the suburb of the big city late at night, in the rain, with empty streets as perfectly as none of their other stuff did.

10. Khonnor – Screen Love, Space, and the Time Man
This guy made IDM with a computer, a crappy microphone and acoustic guitar. It’s unbelievably emotional as a result, direct, covered in inviting white noise – a perfect way to close things and even a tear jerker on a particularly crappy day.

Hopefully, more of these to come soon.

Sergey

Album review: Chris Morris – “Blue Jam”

08/05/2011

When ee heads fall tails a thousand times, so call heads tails both. But coin then lands on third side… the inside… Inside…

When you fly, so wingish speed. Then thwack. Ee path be glass, and broke-beak slump on ground, all quiver-pigeon. While rattus rub hands in the shadows.

And when ee sing so full with bursting soul, ee heart fly out of mouth! And then bashed be bit by all with ears, who cry “shut, shut, shut it up, oo cackamuffin…”

Then welcome.
Mm, oo vuf welcome, in Blue Jam…

Throughout all of the 67 minutes of this CD you never know whether you should laugh, or cry, or throw up in disgust, or scream like a prepubescent girl because of the horror you’re experiencing. This album compiles some of the better sketches from the “Blue Jam” radio series, created by Chris Morris and aired on BBC Radio 1 in 1997-1999. Thoroughly confusing, at times downright frightening and alternately gutbustingly hilarious, “Blue Jam” combined themes like acupuncture with nails 9-14 inches long and 0.5 inches thick and ejaculating oneself to death with a disorientating ambient/downtempo soundtrack. The effect, needless to say, was… singular.

Anyway, the twisted genius of Chris Morris is on full display here, with the rambling, disturbing 12-minute monologue “Suicide Journalist” as the standout. A very detailed and twisted tale of a party gone wrong and a writer who couldn’t deal with his fanatic supporters (the titular “suicide journalist”), it starts out weird and gradually spirals out of control toward the end. Also of note are: “Bad Sex 2”, which is absolutely batshit (“whack my bonobo!.. push your balls up my nose!”), gruesome and creepy “Fixit Girl” (“four years and three months. chopped up man, chopped up man, chopped up man…”), but “Little Girl Balls” arguably takes the cake. In just over a minute, it makes its point swiftly and leaves an absolutely indelible impression – you are mortified to the extent that you don’t know if you should roll on the floor, laughing hysterically, or scream in shock.

Though, of course, there is more to “Blue Jam” than just that. The “Doc” sketches, that is, “Doc Phone” and “Doc Cock”, are the most comical of the bunch (read: the ones you can laugh at and not feel guilty for doing so), and the sketches are also interspersed by so-called “stings”, that ridicule the Radio 1 DJs at the time – all of them equally absurd, loaded with disproportionate retribution and made with AppleTalk (choice pick: “I can see Steve Lamacq / as a frail old man in a wheelchair / trying to shake hands with an elephant”. No offense to Steve Lamacq).

And, naturally, the music selection: absolutely brilliant throughout. Funki Porcini’s “Going Down” and “Luv Bungalow” by Kensuke Shiina are now forever associated with the respective sketches they soundtrack in my mind. A couple of tracks from Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Volume II” is also a nice touch, as well as one by Brian Eno (“Deep Blue Day” if you’re interested). And, to wrap it up, the actors for the series transmit Morris’ message perfectly well: don’t know the names, unfortunately, but the titular “doc”, the little girl in the “Fixit Girl” portion and the woman in the acupuncture section are perfect – and Morris as the man who reads the intros, monologues and conducts interviews with the sole aim to humiliate his opponents as much as possible is as great as he was in his previous series, “The Day Today” or “Brass Eye”.

Check it out, at all costs, but beware: you already should know from reading the review that this isn’t your Saturday Night Live fare. This is as dead baby comedy as it gets, and I can’t surely be held responsible for whatever you feel after hearing it. There is also the TV version, called just “Jam” – it adapts many of the sketches here, with even more disorientating visuals that heighten the impression that you’re high on something. You may give it a try, but not before hearing this. Good luck, and welcome in Blue Jam…

Highlights: “Suicide Journalist”, “Porn”, “Acupuncture”, “Fixit Girl”, “Little Girl Balls”

Lowlights: none

– What about, um, what about you signing a copy of the book, dedicating it to William and Harry, and we could send the book to Eton to be presented to the boys by a Diana lookalike?
– Well, I mean that’s… I really can’t…

Album review: The Bermuda Triangle – “Different Strokes for Different Folks”

25/02/2011

This is as close to The Bermuda Triangle’s best album as it gets. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t because it features a remix by yours truly in it (though some people think that it is one of the highlights, so thanks for that) – this is because it covers all the phases Ian Felpel’s style has been through so far. Even though he hasn’t been through much (and he’s going to go far, far further on his next album “If They Disappeared Today, Would I Be Happier Tomorrow?”), this can lay 100% claim to be “the portable Bermuda Triangle”.

Why exactly is it so? Out of all the full-length releases by Felpel, this is the most diverse. From the usual maximum sidechain electronica (about half of the tracks here) to downtempo stuff (“As Black As Sackcloth”) to fairly experimental (“Finnegans Wake” [originally on “Weird”], “Through the Void of Night”) it covers all the ground that Ian treaded as The Bermuda Triangle. It represents his humble beginnings (“Shining Siren”, “Finnegans Wake”, “Through the Void of Night”) to shoegaze techno of “Wonderland” (the two outtakes from the sessions of that album – “All the Good Things to Come” and “Sonic Anarchy”) and his current iteration, encompassing all the influences he’s been through into one recognizable style (“And So the Tale Begins…”, “Watercolour Ghost”).

And all the songs are actually great. Most of them, at least – don’t really like “Shining Siren” and “Finnegans Wake” too much (“Shining Siren” because a loop I used as well on one of my earlier songs when I was still a noob turns up on here… of course it’s screwed with but whatever – and “Finnegans Wake” is actually one of the weaker songs on “Weird”), and “Through the Void of Night” is somewhat interesting. If we don’t take the remix made by yours truly in attention, the rest six tracks are 360 degrees of awesome.

“As Black As Sackcloth”? The creepiest track by Ian to date. “We’ll Miss You”? Glitched out progressive house banger. “And So the Tale Begins…”? Electronica with BANJO! And “Wonderland”-esque guitars! “All the Good Things to Come” and “Sonic Anarchy”? Outtakes that had to be on “Wonderland”, however undiverse would they make that album (here they actually sound refreshing, so I guess that would only do the 43-minute “Wonderland” harm not good). Finally, “Watercolour Ghost”? Electro house that’s not monotonous.

Oh well.

This sort of stuff only makes me more excited for the big event that “If They Disappeared Today…” is going to be. Grindcore, dubstep with jazz improvisations, glitch/drum’n’bass… hoo boy, this HAS to be the mindf*ck of the year.

But for now, this portable The Bermuda Triangle will be perfectly alright for you.

Highlights: “We’ll Miss You”, “Watercolour Ghost”, “As Black As Sackcloth”, “All the Good Things to Come”, “Sonic Anarchy”

Lowlights: “Shining Siren”, “Through the Void of Night”

Download it here for however much you want before it’s too soon… NOW!
http://winter1212records.bandcamp.com/album/different-strokes-for-different-folks

Rant: Writer’s block

15/02/2011

Unlike some reviewers that never tire to pump out eloquent reviews one after another, (not intended to be a dig but rather a reference to The Death of CDs, obviously) I’ve got my limits. As of right now, I’ve got some ideas as to what I want to review, but I’m in serious doubt if I really should – because there is a whole lot of writers that reviewed the albums I want to cover before me and did it better, with more research and a stronger grasp on their English.

So, the next couple of posts here will be just this: rants on whatever makes my brain linger.

Writer’s block is one of them. Regardless, music writer’s block or blog writer’s, it’s the same thing all the time. When you feel like you have no juices in you for yet another helping of your most definitely interesting viewpoints on one album or another, or when you don’t have enough inspiration to finish yet another 25-minute long house track (yeah, self deprecation won’t bring me anywhere, like I care) – it’s all the same stuff.

But yeah, examples. Say, I want to review “Reggatta de Blanc” by The Police or “Rock Bottom” by Robert Wyatt, the former being my favorite album out of all the band’s works I have listened so far (with “Synchronicity” coming second, though that’s not really relevant) and the latter being among my favorite albums of all time. But there are also, respectively, reviews by George Starostin and Piero Scaruffi. The latter considers “Rock Bottom” to be one of the best albums of all time and lays out all he thinks on the subject in incredibly eloquent, and literate way – ultimately coming off as too scholastic or something. (Don’t get me wrong – I share his appreciation of Low, The Doors, My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground and a couple of other bands, and he’s surprisingly well-groomed for your average reviewer, but his somewhat unfair and skewed treatment of The Beatles’ legacy irks me a bit. Though, everybody’s entitled to his own opinion.) Won’t delve into the former’s reviewing taste details too deeply, because I really admire his reviewing style/whatever they call it and he’s pretty much the ideal reviewer for my tastes (yeah, I’ll drag on a bit).

And, here I stand. A 15-year-old from Ukraine with a somewhat good taste in music, with an average English level, and I have to provide a perspective that would differ somewhat from theirs. Sure, Scaruffi considers “Rock Bottom” to be on par with Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” as the rock’s ultimate masterpiece… how can I counterpoint that? By stating the same thing in simpler terms and lowering the personal “best albums ever” placement slightly? Seriously? Sure, Starostin gives “Reggatta de Blanc” 13/15 (together with “Ghost in the Machine”, only lagging behind “Zenyatta Mondatta”. Don’t know why, the latter I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would, based on his review) and calls it revolutionary. What could I add to that review? Tap-dancing?

Maybe, the thing is that I look too much back on the people before me in general. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the audacity to state that my point of view is the one to end them all and get away with it by posting caustic reviews and such. So does the writer’s block happen when you get exposed to too much stuff that you objectively can’t top or because thinking objectively is harmful for your creativity, thinking that you won’t be able to reach the heights they did and driving yourself further into the ground because of that? You decide. I guess I’m still a midget crawling onto the shoulders of giants, afterall.

Next rant will be dedicated to the issue of so-called “guilty pleasures” and cover mine in terms of anime I’ve watched and enjoyed. More self-deprecation and hilarity will ensue. Like, expect it or something.

Sergey

Album review: Стук бамбука в XI часов – “Легкое дело холод”

04/02/2011

Important note: this article contains words in Russian. All the people’s names and lyrics are given in English. The band’s name is in its original language all throughout the article, and the track names are first mentioned in Russian and then referred to as translated into English.

The time was 2 PM. It was warm outside, yet snowing as if it was the last hurrah of winter, trying to leave with a bang in form of a mild snowstorm. As I closed my door, an almost alien, marching rhythm started resonating in my headphones in all its relentless, unwelcoming glory. I stepped outside, and so began my long, solitary walk, with the bleak sounds of Стук бамбука в XI часов as my only companion.

Стук бамбука в XI часов (even if a bit corny, best translated into English as 11 O’Clock Bamboo Knock) was a Russian collective that only existed a couple of years before dissolving, just like many other bands in then already disintegrating Soviet Union. Hailing from the provincial town of Izhevsk, Стук бамбука в XI часов created a singular sonic world, that is only comparable to Brian Eno’s “On Land”, but with occasional surrealistic vocals courtesy of Tatiana Yerokhina. “Легкое дело холод” (“Cold is an Easy Thing”) was their only album, released independently in 1991, just after the band ceased to exist.

Having no musical knowledge, the three friends who originally started Стук бамбука, Konstantin Bagayev, Vasiliy Agafonov and Dmitriy Noskov, relied heavily on found sound and prepared instruments like guitar, bass guitar and piano. Having no access to high-end instruments like samplers or drum machines, they used Soviet-made synthesizers (that, in all honesty, just couldn’t compare to, for lack of a better example, Roland Juno-106 or Yamaha DX-7 that were already out in the West) and ran the various self-recorded noises through a chain of several tape recorders. Texts for Yerokhina were written by pulling together often meaningless words with help of an English to Russian dictionary and featured strikingly abstract, animal-themed and sometimes downright chilling passages. For example: “Surrounded by the lips’ bloodlessness / I’m going to cut the patch / Under which the diamonds are kept / Of your suns, and your stars, and your moons” (“Лоскуток”/”The Little Patch”); “The weak tiger / With wounded blood / And the eyes of a numb boy / Reached the moon / Through a tender radio station / And foolishly complained / Of a bullet” (“Слабый тигр”/”The Weak Tiger”).

Though “Cold is an Easy Thing” is often cited by Russian reviewers as the album that started trip-hop before Massive Attack, claiming this would be a stretch, because trip-hop had its origins in golden age hip-hop, unlike Стук бамбука в XI часов, who, as already mentioned, was practically its own distinct style, influenced more by Brian Eno and Throbbing Gristle than Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. It goes without saying that “Cold is an Easy Thing” is as depressive as, say, Portishead’s “Dummy”, if not MORE depressive – but if one compares the sound of the two albums, he will find out that trip-hop in general was more organic than virtually lifeless soundscapes of the Russian band.

…As I reached the intersection between Tankopiya street and Marshal Zhukov avenue, the album was into its eighth track, “Какавелла” (um… “Cacavella”?). The snow still fell down on the ground, and had no intention of dying out. I have already experienced the insistent, anxious rhythms of the opening track “Хрупко двух” (“Brittle of the Two”), intriguing aquatic “La Cheval de Ma Vie” (the track, unlike the rest of Russian-language album, is in French, but if you didn’t study French in school, “The Horse of My Life”), the absolutely creepy study for droning cello, artificial heartbeats and breathing sounds with field recordings of crying babies “The Weak Tiger”, “Снег мёд” (alternatively “Снежный мёд”, both translate as “Snow Honey”) with its refrain “Death isn’t the worst sin”, “Белый черт ландыш” (“Lavender the White Devil”), the aforementioned “The Little Patch” and the instrumental “Береговая осень” (“Coastline Autumn”) featuring Andrey Gostev and Dmitry Lekomtsev on bass and guitar, respectively, that conveys a depressed man’s lonely stroll on the autumn beach. In a way, my walk was close to what the that track tried to describe with sounds, but I could care less then – my hands almost froze off by then. The album had two more tracks to go, but technically, they were a bonus – the original album had nine tracks, and the CD release that came out in 2000 (and that I had on my MP3 player) contains eight out of those nine tracks. Just where is “Покойный” (“Deceased”) I have no idea. That said, these two bonus tracks, “Стены и туманы”/”Walls and Fogs” and “Тяга”/”Traction” feel like they are two parts of the same track – “Walls and Fogs” featuring synth stabs somewhat reminiscent of dub techno, and “Traction” featuring sustained piano chords.

When I finally reached home, it was 3 PM – just an hour after I left. My player had already skipped through some tracks on shuffle, but I didn’t pay much attention to them because I was still enveloped in the bleak, lifeless blanket of Стук бамбука and “Cold is an Easy Thing”. The snow had stopped by then. As I turned the key in my door I was relieved to see that I did close it tightly, and relieved that I’m finally home. My cat ran up to me and meowed plaintively…

…and looking back, I feel thankful for that. However annoying may my cat be, I’m sure that it will never follow the footsteps of the kitten on the cover of the album. The poor fellow looks at the sky, as if it expects something to happen. Suits the theme set by the album perfectly, and the sad eyes of the creature make it for me. Just as whatever this kitten waited for didn’t ultimately happen, so didn’t anything happen for Стук бамбука в XI часов. Noskov left because he felt that combining his business and rehearsals would be at least unfair. Yerokhina left because she was pregnant with her first child. Bagayev and Agafonov finished “Brittle of the Two” and abandoned the project quietly. Still as obscure as it was from the very start, though experiencing a sort of rediscovery thanks to the Internet and Alexander Kushnir’s “100 Magnet Albums of Soviet Rock” released in 1999, Стук бамбука в XI часов deserve more than just attention, but sheer, utmost respect. Because you’ll never find another album made like this, or that sounds like this. A perfect mood piece, and one of the best Russian language albums of all time.

Highlights: “Snow Honey”, “Lavender the White Devil”, “Brittle of the Two”, “The Weak Tiger”, “Coastline Autumn”

Lowlights: none

P.S. There are also videos for “La Cheval de Ma Vie” and “Snow Honey” floating on YouTube – check them out, they might be even better than the songs themselves! (Proving that there was more to this than music, as Bagayev was a professional director of photography, and making Стук бамбука в XI часов more of an art project than just a “rock” band.)