TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 11, 16th September 2018)
WHAT A DIFFERENCE HALF A MONTH MAKES !!!
It may be a mere sixteen days since the last edition of Trust-The-Doc but so much has gone down in that time. Not least Summer gave way to Autumn. The Fresh on the Net Uploader reopened after a month’s break and inevitably a deluge of new track submissions crashed forth into our ears and headphones. Meanwhile Demerara Records has launched a crowdfunder for a groundbreaking compilation album showcasing the thriving experimental music scene and TTD favourite Ben Vince has set off on a UK tour with the sound of Late Junction’s gushing praise for his live session on the show ringing in his ears. What else? Oh yes. The BBC must have heard our pleas because Unclassified is back on air. Not a moment too soon. And after declaring that Trust The Doc would move to one edition a month, I had so much material so soon that I have ended up sticking with twice a month!!
✦ ELIZABETH ALKER: Unclassified returns: a piece of truly awesome news
✦ HEKLA: Icelandic Composer uses her expert Theremin play to bend our minds
✦ APHEX TWIN: The Electronic and Ambient Sound pioneer has a new EP
✦ BEN VINCE: Late Junction’s ‘session of the year’ contender hits the road
✦ DORCHA: Birmingham Quintet whose music is brilliantly impossible to define
✦ CHIEDU ORAKA: Hull’s King of Northern Grime is back with a cracking track
✦ GAGARIN: Pere Ubu drummer & Velvets collaborator with new album out
✦ VANISHING POINT: Bi-monthly live music event gives birth to comp. album
✦ THE MUSIC OF SOUND: Only 6 weeks to go to the inaugural Lewisham gig
✦ AVANT WALES: Hwyl Nofio & Half Hour at the Hilton: Welsh Experimentalism
✦ MORNING MYTH: TTD’s favourite upcoming Dream Pop duo with new single
✦ THE CLEAR: West Coast inspired Pop & Spy Movie chic in sunny Sheffield
✦ YAKIMA: Glaswegian Pychedelic Alt-Pop grabs yours truly by the ears
✦ FUTURE WAR: Suffolk Jazz-Fusion Supergroup hit the airwaves
✦ PIERS JAMES: An eclectic mix of Urban and Pop vibes from East Anglia
✦ RUBBER JAW: Thoughtful sophisticated contemporary Pop from Suffolk
✦ BRIAN ENO & JON HASSELL: Remembering their groundbreaking album
✦ BILL EVANS: Cerys Matthews takes listeners in a time machine to 1979
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL & LEFTFIELD
THE RETURN OF UNCLASSIFIED
Regular readers of Trust The Doc [and those who have also read recent articles I have written for Fresh on the Net] will know I have been calling for the return of e Elizabeth Alker’s excellent radio show Unclassified which ran for six Sunday nights earlier this year, occupying the wide musical space where contemporary classical, electronic, experimental, ambient and leftfield genres converge - a function which, with the best will in the world, is not really fulfilled by Late Junction however much I love that show too. So I was delighted to see a tweet from Elizabeth confirming its return to the Sunday night slot on BBC Radio 3. Elizabeth will be a busy bee with presenting the BBC Radio 3 weekend Breakfast Show and the daytime BBC 6 Music News but Unclassified is completely her invention so I don’t think she will mind at all. The first edition of the new series is on 16th September (the same day as this blog is published).
HEKLA: STRIKING SOUNDS FROM ICELAND
I particularly enjoyed hearing the wonderful Nick Luscombe playing Icelandic composer, singer and expert Theremin player Hekla (aka Hekla Magnúsdóttir) (https://soundcloud.com/heklamag) on Late Junction (BBC Radio 3). The stunning title track from her 2014 album Hatur is characterised by mindbending glissandi, the haunting sound of the Theremin and her thoughtful deployment of it in such an alternative art music context. Against this backdrop her brittle understated vocals possess an unexpected power. It all lends the music a sparseness that fits with its detached melancholy character.
Her Soundcloud page contains a much newer track Muddle which also uses slow tempo glissandi [or portamento perhaps], rising into very high registers while the voice is used primarily as an additional instrument in an otherworldly atmosphere that is calming one moment, aggressively disarming the next. What she achieves using a relatively minimal set-up but with such inventiveness is breathtaking. I am going to have to spend some time getting to know more of Hekla’s imaginative music.
VANISHING POINT: WHAT’S IN STORE FOR OCTOBER?
Following the massive success of August’s Vanishing Point @ The Ivy House, the next one takes place on Thursday 4th October. We have four London-based artists with two Sound Art-influenced acts Precocious Mouse and Far Rainbow topping the bill and two contrasting acts, the enigmatic Indie-Psych-Folk duo Fenco and yours truly in my Electro-Futurist-World and Musical Sound Art guise as Environmental Sound Foundation opening the proceedings as usual before switching to the role of compere for the remainder of the evening.
It is a chilled out event with tables and chairs where the audience can sit and drink, eat too if they wish and soak up the lovely vibe of the venue and the music. The Ivy House is on the borders of Nunhead, Peckham and East Dulwich in an attractive and musically engaged corner of South London. There are still some tickets available at the time of writing. https://www.demerararecords.com/vanishing-point
… AND THERE’S AN ALBUM TOO !!!
Yes it’s true. We (Demerara Records) are curating and releasing a compilation album celebrating the experimental music scene which I wrote about in a recent edition of a special series for Fresh on the Net in August http://freshonthenet.co.uk/2018/08/emerging-from-the-mist-4 and I am stoked that some of the leading artists on the scene including Rothko; Ben Vince; Gagarin and Hwyl Nofio are all submitting tracks. Rothko’s Mark L Beazley will also be mastering the album prior to release. We will be crowd-funding a limited edition CD of the album so look out for news on our website - https://www.demerararecords.com and in the next edition of Trust-The-Doc.
THE MUSIC OF SOUND: A NEW EVENT IN LEWISHAM
Thursday 1st November sees the inaugural The Music of Sound @ Cafe of Good Hope, Ladywell Place in the pop-up space next to Lewisham Fire Station on the High Street. The Cafe of Good Hope is a lovely airy cafe owned and managed by the For Jimmy Foundation (formerly the Jimmy Mizen Foundation) who do inspiring work with young people vulnerable to the influence of crime and drugs. There will be hot and cold food and drinks served all evening in a cool cafe atmosphere and we have a mouth-watering line-up of Pere Ubu member Gagarin supported by Precocious Mouse and Environmental Sound Foundation in an evening of experimental music and sound art. Tickets are now on sale from https://www.demerararecords.com/the-music-of-sound
BEN VINCE: SEPTEMBER TOUR
It is exciting to see Ben Vince, who is headlining our Vanishing Point gig in April 2019, following up on a highly acclaimed Late Junction session and his guest DJ set on Alien Jamz (NTS Radio) [in which he kindly played a track from my solo EP] by getting out on a short UK tour taking in Crofter’s Rights (Bristol); Cobalt Studios (Newcastle); The Old Hairdressers (Glasgow); Fuse (Bradford); Audacious Art Experiment (Sheffield) and Centrala (Birmingham). Part of Ben’s session with Roger Robinson was replayed by Max Reinhardt on Late Junction where he suggested it might prove to be ‘the session of the year’. That is praise indeed from Max who I know well enough to know that he doesn’t make statements of that nature unless he means them.
AVANT WALES: EXPERIMENTALISM FROM THE VALLEYS
Being of Welsh Mining stock and having spent a significant chunk of my childhood and teenage years in Abercynon, I am always excited to see progressive music and art developments in the Principality. So it is doubly exciting that two bands from Wales are not only making intriguing music but will also be appearing on our Vanishing Point compilation album due for release on 1st November.
Half Hour at the Hilton are no strangers to TTD readers. I first discovered them through my Fresh on the Net role earlier this year and I have since written about them for that platform and this one. Their thirst for blending unusual influences, subverting conventional song structures and mixing Eastern and dissonant, rhythmically complex configurations with lush chords and harmonies and satisfying gongs all add up to a totally unique, original style. But this is not experimenting for experimenting’s sake. The thought and inventiveness that goes into their work is obvious and the results, if you share my passion for the ethereal and unusual, are worth the effort. Check out their Soundcloud page https://soundcloud.com/half-hour-at-the-hilton andI personally particularly recommend the fantastic Sphere and the brilliantly barking mad Welcome to my House as two extreme examples of their work.
I have known Steve Parry for a while but for some reason have only recently become properly aware of his excellent group Hwyl Nofio (https://soundcloud.com/hwyl-nofio). Unfortunately the tracks on their Soundcloud page are quite old although they are nevertheless well worth listening to as the compelling Drill with its gradual build-up of found sounds and sparse synth notes demonstrates. So check out their Bandcamp page (https://hwylnofio.bandcamp.com) which has newer material in similarly industrial style such as the excellent From Elevated Gangways Rivers of Molten Metal Flow
They have a Wikipedia page too which is impressive! Definitely deserving of the title Pontypool’s Finest. I am delighted to have both these exciting bands appearing on our groundbreaking Vanishing Point compilation album.
A BIT OF THE BRUM STUFF !!!
Alright, I apologise for the ambiguous alliteration in that sub-heading [and this sentence]. However, what you really need to know is that Birmingham quintet Dorcha (https://soundcloud.com/dorchamusic) are one of the most exciting bands I have heard in recent times. I came across them by accident really. I was having an insomniac moment and decided to stay up and listen to the Freak Zone Playlist on BBC 6 Music on which they were the guests. Their choices of tracks were eclectic, interesting and seemed to me to constitute precisely what a playlist should be about. I was also very taken both with their own tracks and what they had to say about other people’s.
So instead of going to bed I decided to check out more of their music and I quickly realised they were something very special. The timing was perfect too as it meant I was able to insert a couple of paragraphs about them into my bumper article for Fresh on the Net about the experimental scene (as referred to earlier in this edition).
Describing Dorcha’s music is a challenge because, as they have explained, their sound is shaped by the diversity of their individual tastes. They can sound quite like an edgy Post-Punk Alternative band one moment, driven by gritty guitar intersections and interesting melodies then, without warning, they can switch into a much more rhythmically complex and unstable setting with dissonant chords, explorative musical passages and dreamy echoing soundscapes. And of course it is that unpredictable character coupled with a seemingly effortless talent for coming up with striking tunes, cool riffs and unusual sound choices that makes their music so compelling and irresistable. It is interesting that I recommended them to another exciting artist and friend who I have also written lots about lately and she came back a short time later bubbling over with praise for their music too. So you see? It isn’t just me then! Ha ha!
I am particularly taken with the track Two Steps (https://soundcloud.com/dorchamusic/two-steps) which has a brilliantly unconventional drumbeat, what sound like quite delightful Bass Guitar chords that are added to by guitars and keys as the vocals come in and the song develops, sometimes punctuated by breaks in the flow. Midway through there is a marked change as what sounds like a church organ introduces long repetitious chords, the drums stutter and start while dual vocals interplay until one chord changes the key and it all drifts into a semi-Prog-Psych kind of thing! Long chords interrupt this process briefly. It is so hard to capture in words. On the one hand, the vocals remind me of Delta 5 and yet the complexity of the rhythms and the level of musicianship is something entirely different again.
Static Air (https://soundcloud.com/dorchamusic/static-air) is outwardly calmer but the intensity builds and once again it is full of surprise twists. Anna’s Minis: 1. Open Blues: 2. Axis Shift: 3. Ray (https://soundcloud.com/dorchamusic/annasminis), as its title suggests, is another great example of their detailed explorative musical constructions.
Dorcha’s Souncloud page says they are led by composer Anna Palmer. So I’m assuming, I hope not too incorrectly, that she is the primary driving force but the band’s collective creativity is what shapes their sound. Not that it matters. What matters is they are stunning. If you are motivated by hearing music that is original, visceral, diverse, unpredictable and ultimately just consistently of a really high standard, you should make time to discover them. Fingers crossed they may be headlining a Vanishing Point gig in 2019. Ooh I hope so. But if they don’t, I will find a way to get to see them live come what may.
BLAST FROM THE PAST !!
I was listening to a characteristically compelling edition of Cerys Matthews’ Sunday morning show on BBC 6 Music when she talked about and played Bill Evans & Toots Thieleman’s mind-spinning Jazz-infused instrumental piece Tomato Kiss. Evans has apparently talked about how some people need to be hit over the head by music ‘... until they feel something’ while others prefer to ‘... get inside the music’. I would presume this exquisite track is aimed at the latter with its gorgeous dissonances and rich unusual jazz-inflected chords and Latin undercurrent. Evans recorded the track with Belgian harmonica player Thieleman back in 1979 for the Affinity but I felt it was worthy of a mention after Cerys reminded of its existence.
Also see Pop Scene: section on Suffolk for contemporary Jazz Fusioneers Future War.
APHEX TWIN IS BACK IN TOWN
It seems fitting to follow that last piece by talking about some contemporary electronica. To that end, it is always good to hear about a new release by Aphex Twin (https://soundcloud.com/aphex-twin-official) so the announcement of his T69: Collapse is most welcome and having heard the lead track from the EP on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music, I can confirm it sees him in full-on mind-bending electronic art music mode with no concessions to the commercial music world that he once kept a foot in. You won’t find any of it on his Soundcloud page which has nothing newer than five years ago but I guess when you are a living legend you can be pretty picky about allowing your music to be streamed free of charge! But fortunately he has put the EP on his website for fans to listen to and buy.
GAGARIN’S NEW ALBUM HITS THE SPOT
This also seems like an opportune moment to talk about the new album by Gagarin (https://soundcloud.com/gagarin-1). I featured Gagarin [who incidentally was played on Freak Zone a fortnight ago] in my aforementioned Fresh on the Net article and I am delighted that he is headlining our inaugural The Music of Sound @ Cafe of Good Hope, Ladywell Place on 1st November.
Gagarin is Graham Dowdell, drummer with legendary New York Post-Punk pioneers Pere Ubu (now Brighton-based), former collaborator with not one but two former members of the Velvet Underground; namely Nico and John Cale. He is also a part-time member of Rothko.
Graham describes his Gagarin output as ‘composed electronica’ which it is but that does not do justice to the diversity of sounds, ideas and contrasting melodic and harmonic figures and exciting textures that make up his extraordinary sound and style. His album Corvud has all these qualities in spades as this superb redux amply demonstrates - https://soundcloud.com/gagarin-1/corvid-redux
BLAST FROM THE PAST 2
Stuart Maconie always includes a significant retrospective element to his Freak Zone roster which is very much a part of the show’s ethos; marrying the present with a [sometimes forgotten] past that has influenced and shaped it. So it was great to hear a wonderful selection of excerpts from the fantastic album Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics by one of my heroes Brian Eno and the enigmatic Jon Hassell released back in 1980. That it continues to sound fresh and futuristic tells you everything you need to know about the level of inventiveness and originality in their work. Hassell invented the fourth world concept and talked about a primitive futurism that could encompass various world and ethnic music and cultural references. Here we are thirty-eight years later and artists, myself included, are following a disarmingly similar template with our current works. Thanks Stuart for reminding us of this gem of an album.
It was the turn of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Introducing programme to take the guest slot on Tom Robinson’s Saturday Night show on BBC 6 Music at the beginning of the month and presenter Graeme Mac treated us to three excellent acts from the East Anglian Coastal County.
Future War (https://soundcloud.com/futurewarband) are apparently something of a local supergroup if you know your Suffolk bands, in particular Animal Noise. Certainly that explains the high standard of musicianship and writing skills on show on the excellent Cheesed which is possibly best described as contemporary Jazz Fusion with a trippy Pyschedelic edge. Their Facebook page currently only contains one track, the eponymously titled Future War which begins with a smartly syncopated groove, driven by busy drums and mellow saxes over punchy staccato keys. The time signatures are fluid and there are great contrasts between punchy primary themes and trippy explorations where funky bass mixes it with dreamy synths, occasionally throwing up mild dissonances amongst the otherwise rich jazzy harmonic language. I have the impression that the band has only recently formed so it is to their credit that they have so quickly grabbed the regional BBC’s attention. They will grab the attention of many more if they continue to build a repertoire of this standard. NB: Normally I would have covered Future War in the Jazz Journeys section but they are in this section because of the piece on BBC Introducing acts in Suffolk.
Piers James (https://soundcloud.com/piersjames) is a confusing entity. Presented to us as a Suffolk artist, his Soundcloud page declares he is from London and doesn’t include the track Pon Dem which was played on the show. There’s no confusion about his talent however. He is a musician, singer and rapper whose influences are drawn from a wide spectrum and used to create a thoroughly contemporary sound. There’s a video of an interesting slow minimalist Hip Hop track called Chump (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93X7sYR-S6E) which presents a darker side to his style compared the the poppy Reggae-infused Pon Dem. Definitely worth further exploration.
Last but not least we have the amusingly named Rubber Jaw (https://soundcloud.com/user-164839620) whose Feeling Funny is slow thoughtful Pop sung beautifully in engaging male voice and harmonies with keyboard chords prominent in the verses but a chorus that is much rockier and guitar-dominated. Drums and Bass are busy throughout. Unfortunately they don’t appear to have their own Soundcloud page [unless it is one of two that have the name Rubber Jaw but no content] so I can only comment on the one song for now. Hopefully there will be more material to judge them by soon.
A quick word to the wise here especially as we have just seen three promising artists who appear reluctant to share their best music with all those who need to hear it. If you are an aspiring band or artist trying to get heard, it makes little sense to hide your best tracks especially if this is all about not wanting your music to be streamed for free. The reality is that there are peanuts in record sales when streaming is the way most people access your music these days so unless you are a major artist who has the luxury of making such decisions, you are much better off allowing as many people as possible to hear your music, exposure being the most important thing you can have at this stage in your career. Look to play licensed venues, generate airplay and video play and make sure you claim your PRS and PPL royalties. Get out and play as many gigs as you can. And worry about making a stand on streaming when it might actually make a difference. Put getting heard at the top of your agenda. That is how you build a following. Just my opinion but there you have it.
WHAT’S FRESH ON THE (POP) NET?
There’s a new single by the fantastic Dream-Pop/Indie-Folk duo Morning Myth. Final Encore ( https://soundcloud.com/morningmyth/final-encore) is a little folkier than past tracks. A beautifully played triple time guitar arpeggio sets the scene for layers of spine-tingling harmony. The instrumental backdrop is relatively sparse, Ross’s guitar dominating with legato keys adding a dreamy quality although that particular [dreaminess] role falls mainly to Aimee whose voice floats at times, soars at others. It is a song that builds in layers and gets better and better as it proceeds. Check it out and hopefully you will be moved to buy a copy too.
A new name [to me at least] who appeared in the FOTN uploader this month are Glasgow’s Yakima (https://soundcloud.com/yakimamusic) whose gorgeous Psychedelic Alt Pop track Judy’s Lament is dominated by a fantastic trippy guitar sound and clever chordal interplay topped by floaty female voice and a robust band arrangement. The guitar melody that fights with the harmonic mesh all around it is simple but haunting and the atmosphere they cook up immediately sucks you into their alternative universe. Currently there are no other tracks on their Soundcloud page and the Bandcamp link takes me to an empty page but I look forward to hearing more soon from this fascinating band.
And it’s welcome back to another TTD favourite Chiedu Oraka. Hull’s King of Northern Grime and Brit Hop is back, duetting with his regular producer and friend Deez Kid on the excellent Darcy. It’s typically minimal in terms of sounds, Chiedu’s rapid-fire delivery matched by that of Deez. The lyric is characteristically edgy but humorous too. The production is fantastic and the synth sub-bass riff is beautifully understated, almost a nuance. If there is any justice, this will get some proper airplay. The world is missing out on an artist with true star quality and originality to match.
Another new band from my perspective is The Clear (https://soundcloud.com/clearmusic) whose new single The FInal Call has a haunting retro feel with its descending chords and edgy but wholesome Alto vocal. It really grabbed my attention despite the deluge of tracks from impatient artists diving in as the FOTN in-box reopened after a month (leading to the mundanely inevitable collective premature orgasm of hundreds of submissions most of which will be rejected as we can only put 25 through to the Listening Post - sometimes I really wish musicians would try to think a little more strategically and incidentally the week after also saw far more tracks than we could possibly prevent from pushing good material out of the running! I am going to have to insert something in the Demerara Records Guide about this). That it did so when I was tired and losing the will to live as tracks poured into the uploader is to the band’s great credit and it made me want to explore a little further.
That led me to Maria Brown with its male-female dual vocal and rich close harmonies and the more spy movie-ish Don’t break my heart with striking female voice and sumptuous guitar chords.
Intriguingly they describe themselves as a Sheffield band playing ‘... West Coast Pop’. They have certainly carved out a niche with that engaging mix of contemporary Indie with West Coast influences and a touch of Spy Movie chic [what Dee Rose and I dubbed Pop Noir in relation to our Dreamscape City Sinfonia material!]. I also hear a French influence creeping into Guiding Star possibly on account of the accordion sound. So plenty to get your teeth into here.
There is a 2017 album entitled Patchwork available on their Bandcamp page (https://theclear1.bandcamp.com/album/patchwork) and hopefully there will be more to come soon.
Well that’s it for Edition 11. Having said I would no longer produce two editions a month, I immediately had to go back on that declaration because of the sheer amount of material I found myself wanting to write about. So I am saying no more on this subject for the moment. We will just see how things pan out. For now, expect Edition 12 to arrive on 30th September. Until then keep on enjoying the music.