It is with such alliteration that I announce a rare attempt to catch up on some of the albums that I have been wanting to write about more extensively, but have not really found the time to do. As always there have been some excellent new albums that have come out over the last few months, from a number of different labels and, also as always, do check the other releases by the labels mentioned here because they are generally goldmines in and of themselves.
Eight Fragments of an Illusion by Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk
It is some four years since the last release by these two consummate musicians, each having been away working on their own projects. Yet it appears that during that time they have also been working on a series of collaborative pieces that find fruition in this wonderful new collection. While the title suggests that these are not complete pieces, this perhaps undersells them because each is a little haven of engaged ambience in its own right. So while the pace never particularly hots up, you are cumulatively left with the feeling of having been be treated to something of a sonic spa day; where you come out feeling exfoliated and relaxed.
What I particularly like about this album is the way that it blends the best moments of Schnauss and Monk’s work in a way that is so integrated… you really cannot hear the join between the two, something which has a gestalt effect within this zoned out and ultimately rather indulgent (in a good way) album. Sure you could play ‘spot the genre’ here and come up with a host of styles… but I suspect that, ultimately, you are going to want to play this album to revel in the musicianship while enjoying its laidback vibe.
‘Eight Fragments of an Illusion’ is released by Azure Vista Records
PostHuman by Trees Speak
This is the third release by Trees Speak in about a year, and while their first two albums made my Essential list last year; I was a bit late to the party in terms of getting round to writing about them… and the fact that the band have released ‘PostHuman’ in such short order has almost caught me out again. It is a set which builds on the previous two in the way that it blends ‘Krautrock’ trips with later influences, perhaps 80s electronica in particular. As such it is not a million miles away from the Schnauss/ Monk release, although the latter has more of an organic feel through Monk’s guitar… an instrument which I think is absent here. However they do share that ‘zone out’ quality which is a very welcome aspect to any recording for me.
Trees Speak are duo Daniel Martin Diaz and Damian Diaz from Tucson, Arizona; and there is a definite ‘desert’ element to their music, often only fleeting but tangible all the same… and actually this goes for any number flourishes which appear on this album as you delve further into the sound. So while there is a nice pacey/ motorik feel to much of the music here, it seems to me that there is less of that than on the previous two outings as the duo expand their range and branch out into more experimental elements.
Overall this is a really convincing step forward from what we’re two already excellent releases, fulfilling the band’s aim to act as an improvisational sound laboratory… capturing sounds as they pass by. It is this process which seems to have resulted in their recent prolific output, an output which shows no sign of reducing the overall quality of their music.
’PostHuman’ is released by Soul Jazz Records
1971 by Krautwerk
Krautwerk is the moniker of musician Nico Seel, who regular readers may also know from bands such as Space Spectrum and Father Sky Mother Earth. As such it will come as no surprise to learn that this album is heavily moored in the music often known as ‘Krautrock’, and here specifically of Neu!. The clues are all there really with the cover, the title and the name all contributing to the overall vibe of early 1970s motorik…
…and this is mostly what you are getting here; a series of Neu!-inspired tracks which are in one sense nostalgic, but also very welcome. That’s perhaps because Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother never really made the most of Neu! at the time, with a lack of funds preventing them from being as productive as they might have been. Nevertheless, I want to be clear that this is also not just a Neu! clone of an album, but one which goes it’s own way; neither is it one speed motorik either… we are taken down quiet side-roads as well as down the autobahn.
While this was originally released in 2014, it is now getting the vinyl treatment from the excellent Tonzonen Records, and is available here.
Pick a Day to Die by Sunburned Hand of Man
This album is part of a series brought out to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Three Lobed Recordings, and is in good company with releases from the likes of Daniel Bachman, Six Organs of Admittance and Sonic Youth. For those unfamiliar with the Sunburned Hand of Man, they are a collective of musicians from around New England who have been releasing music since the end of the last century. Indeed, the tracks on here are a result of sessions from as early as 2007; and as such probably represent a good starting point for those who want to delve into the group’s back catalogue.
This set, then, tells the story of a band who are not only great musicians, but also not afraid to experiment and, well, just let themselves loose at any point in time. If I were forced to use one descriptor for what is available here it would probably be ‘fluid’ since I feel you get a real sense of freedom and easiness here amongst the constant changes in influences and genre. This is within a sort of ‘fuck you’ context which married together provides a wonderful listening experience which kind of hits you on all sides through blues, rock, jazz, pop, funk and dub perspectives as one style is easily folded into another.
‘Pick a Day to Die’ is released on Three Lobed Recordings.
The Holy Family by The Holy Family
One of my favourite books of the last few years was ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke (published in 2004, but I was late to the party), a beguiling and unsettling novel which wonderfully described a world of shifting reality and surreal happenings. It was something which was brought to mind when listening to this new album by The Holy Family. It is a fascinating listen, particularly in the way that, once you are within this double album, it does not really feel as if there is a beginning or an end.
Indeed, such is the dream-like state that you find yourself in when listening to it, the walls might just as well be shifting and the creepers growing up the inside of the walls. In short this music is pretty much what you want it to be… something which I do not think has happened by accident… nor, however, has this happened easily without the highly effective arrangement of what could easily be a film score, and the chilled out vibe that was clearly there when this was being recorded. A complete one off of an album that it going to take me many plays to completely unpick… although with each listen being radically different I may not totally get to the bottom of it.
‘The Holy Family’ is released by Rocket Recordings
Freshwater by DDT
This is the second outing for DDT, a sort of side project comprising members of the excellent Carlton Melton and White Manna (of which you can find out more from my review of their first album here). It is a vehicle which enables these musicians to explore broader and more experimental elements, although it is arguable that both the ‘parent’ bands are already leaning in that direction anyway.
As a result this is a fantastic melange of styles and approaches which works extremely well. As with many of the releases here, DDT manage to mix disparate styles together to create a sum that is far broader than its parts. Recorded during lockdown, presumably with the three members acting remotely, this is a heavy and intense set which really gets inside your brain and stays there like a brooding presence. And while I’m not going to unpick everything that is going on here in a couple of paragraphs there are some great moments that stretch from ‘Bitches Brew’ Miles Davis, through Can and Neu! to punk and beyond.
for more information check out Drone Rock Records
Schleifen by Zement
Back to ‘Krautrock’ again, something of a recurring theme in this post. Zement are a ‘neo-Kraut’ duo from Germany who mix traditional and contemporary beats together to create something that is both fresh and familiar. I actually think that, while they have done this quite successfully through a number of remixes recently, this comes together more coherently through this live set. Perhaps it is the added immediacy of the live performance that does this, or this improvisation that is clearly happening, but it just works.
Recorded in Kiel, Germany, in February 2020… this is a set that I am very sorry to have missed but am pleased to hear (the number one aim of a live album surely). It is at the same time exciting and, because of the reasons mentioned above, somehow timeless…. or at least multi-temporal as you find yourself at different times in an early 1970s ‘happening’ right through to a contemporary club environment as the beats get banged out. In summary, if you have enjoyed Zement’s earlier ‘werk’ you will appreciate the extra dimensions on offer here. If you are new to the band you will surely find concrete reasons here to get on board.
Lost Bones of the Holy Butterfly by Mienakunaru
Originally released on Drone Rock Records last year, and long sold out this album of stunning jams is now getting a US release on Echodelick Records, and will also be available in the UK (see below). It is a collaboration between Junzo Suzuki and Mike Vest, two extremely prolific musicians that have come together here to produce something that is intense and heavy… and which leaves you reeling after submitting yourself to the two long tracks that respectively make up either side of this album.
I mean, really, if you know these two guys (and let’s also mention Dave Sneddon’s great drumming which keeps the whole thing in check) you will guess that these improvisations unfold in front of you like massive stretches of dark space engulfing all that passes through it… you find yourself getting lost in the deceptively ethereal jams which are expansive yet somehow tight and personal. Heavy music for heavy times.
-270°c by Kombynat Robotron
Amidst a number of improv and live releases this is the second album from the band for Tonzonen Records… I make the distinction because it marks a slightly different approach for the band from their looser and more purely spontaneous works… and I mean ‘different’ rather than ‘better’ because each has its place. The four tracks here, each named after a different space telescope, feel tighter and more focused; perhaps more deliberate in terms of what the band wanted to achieve.
Each has its own distinct feel and, to my mind, is exploring different reaches of space… or at least different contexts.
The production also feels more punchy which also gives the album a more distinctive sound in the KR universe and this more than compensates for the sense of immediacy that might otherwise be taken away from the improvisational event. All in all this is a great set of songs which I’m only really just getting into, and I can only recommend that you do too.
’-270°c’ is out now on Tonzonen Records
Fengselsfugl by Trond Kallevåg
I am vaguely obsessed with the Norwegian label Hubro Records at the moment.. I have regularly found myself getting lost in the complex series of tunnels that makes up the rabbit hole of its output. There are dozens of albums that I would like to write about, but as this post is about more recent releases here’s something from 2021.
This is an incredible album, not least from the way it has been put together with Kallevåg exploring old Norwegian prison ballads, while also spending hours with prisoners inside Olso Prison, as he himself comments:
There is a strange and interesting mood inside Oslo Prison. Getting inside the prison walls is like entering an unfamiliar world yet only separated by a dozen inch thick concrete wall. The inmates told me stories and gave me insight into their innermost feelings. Feelings that we all share as human beings. But of course, a few times also nasty and bad stuff.
The music here, for the most part deep and tender, is an absolute revelation (especially when you know the back story) in a manner that makes you want to listen to it again and again. Hope and sadness are mixed together to form a sort of fragile melancholia which is beautiful and brittle in equal measure. Like most in the Hubro catalogue it is an album like no other… both heartbreaking and engaging.
‘Fengselfugl’ is released by Hubro Records
Wildfire by Mythic Sunship
This latest album my Mythic Sunship marks yet another change for the Danish band. Their previous release ‘Another Shape of Psychedelic Music’ is one of my absolute favourites from the last decade or so… but by the same example I am very pleased that they have not attempted to reproduce that here. ‘Wildfire’ feels more raw… more improvised, or at least less produced. It has a sort of garage/ punk aesthetic which, in conjunction with their previous work, is really effective in the way that it brings in new ideas to an already irresistible mix.
As a result I get the idea that Mythic Sunship are one of those bands who are not content to just sit on their past releases but continually push forward and seek to create new a fresh sounds by bringing in, here for instance, folk and sixties psychedelia in various places too. In short this is a totally refreshing release, and one that I really hope that they would make after their previous outing. Bloody excellent!
‘Wildfire’ is out now on Tee Pee Records
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