September 25, 2015
It has been 20 years since I first reviewed David Bowie’s 1. Outside, which first saw official release on Sept. 25, 1995 in the U.K. (I believe it came out the following day in the U.S.). I was pretty critical about the album upon its release, and I have since grown to appreciate it more. It’s still not a perfect album, but what was hard for me to swallow was the ornate quality of much of the music, compared to his previous, lesser known album the soundtrack for The BBC television mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia. Released in late 1993 and only the U.K., mostly hardcore Bowie fans heard this album, which neatly bridges Black Tie White Noise, which came out earlier that same year, and 1. Outside.
Buddha was a rapidly produced album (Bowie has said it took him six days to write and record) with the only musicians besides Bowie being multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, pianist Mike Garson and, on one song each, Lenny Kravitz and a little known-UK group called 3D Echo. It recalled such high points as 1974’s Diamond Dogs, which saw Bowie playing most of the instruments, and 1976’s Station To Station, another quickly produced album. It also had instrumental pieces that sounded like the work he did with Brian Eno in Berlin for 1977’s Low and “Heroes.” The few songs on the album were quirky yet catchy, not unlike the songs off Low. Bowie actually reworked one of the Buddha songs, “Strangers When We Meet,” for 1. Outside, and it’s still a high point of the album.
The thing about Buddha that stands out from its bookends is how forward moving it feels without the self-consciousness of the other records. The influences of New Jack Swing in the Black Tie and industrial music for 1. Outside, not to mention this reach to bring back Eno for 1. Outside feel ham-fisted by comparison. To top it off, 1. Outside was driven by an ultra-high concept. It was supposed to be the first album of a trilogy that Bowie never completed (hence the “1.”). It also was meant as a testament to the turn of the millennium that looked back to the turn of the 20th century. When I wrote the review for 1. Outside, I happened to have been working on an independent study in college focused on late 1910s Italian Futurism, and some references in the album made an allusion to the art movement, which seemed perfect to kick off my review.
All these years later, I think it’s a better album than I originally gave it credit for. Many of the songs are counter-intuitively constructed, defying pop music conventions. They needed many repeat listens to grow accustomed to. In those days, music critics were more often than not given cassettes to review albums. I still have my copy. It was not easy to go back and forth and give particular tracks or moments closer listens with a tape, as opposed to the mp3s we get now.
These songs are complex and the album is one of Bowie’s most conceptual works in a long time. These tracks were also created organically during jam sessions among the musicians. There was also much hype about Bowie’s reunion with Eno, who worked with Bowie and the band in the studio, even co-writing some of the songs, like he did on those important albums Bowie released in the late ’70s. Just a few years prior to 1. Outside‘s release those albums had been reissued by Rykodisc, and the hype, as always, was that Bowie collaborated with Eno on them. Eno’s name was as big as Bowie’s on the promo material (note the cover art of the promo-only CD sampler for their reissue above).
There are many factors that cloud our perceptions as critics. We try to absorb the art in a personal vacuum, but history, personal experience, maturity and more often slip through the filter. The fact is, I was still a college undergrad when I wrote the review below, and I feel I short-changed some credit to the genius of Bowie at the time. Though much older than when he broke barriers in the ’70s, from Ziggy Stardust to the Eno trilogy, he continued to plow new creative ground in the 1990s, and it was a challenge to absorb such an experimental and progressive album as 1. Outside after Black Tie White Noise and Buddha of Suburbia, not to mention the end of the straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll side project Tin Machine.
Below you will find my original thoughts on the album. With hindsight, I would raise the rating by a whole additional star, as I have grown to appreciate the album much more since its release.
DAVID BOWIE – OUTSIDE
Virgin: * * * (out of 5)
by HANS MORGENSTERN
Filippo Marinetti wrote the first Futurist manifesto in 1909, telling us to never look back. He preached the importance of war as a cleanser and called for the destruction of all libraries and museums. Through this campaign the futurists would allow for the creation of art in its purest form, uninhibited and uninspired by the past, an immaculate representation of the current spirit of the times.
Outside, David Bowie’s first concept album since 1974’s Diamond Dogs, explores art gone to the extreme in the not-so-distant future. It’s December 31, 1999, and self-mutilating performance art, like Chris Burden’s nude crucifixion on the top of a Volkswagen van, has become passe. In a twisted move to take shocking performance art to another level, someone has decided to dismember a 14-year-old girl and “creatively” put her body parts back together, leaving “the work” at The Museum of Modern Parts.
Outside‘s story is hard to decipher as it is the first part in a trilogy that will make up the complete diaries of Nathan Adler by 1999. All the listener really gets is the murder of Baby Grace Blue under investigation by the art-crime detective/professor Nathan Adler and a list of suspects that could include a “tyrannical” futurist suffering a mid-life crisis and the man who fell back to earth, Major Tom.
As far as the musical pacing goes, the album takes awhile to get to any outstanding tracks. The first real interesting song, both lyrically and musically, is the sixth track, “Hallo Spaceboy,” sprinkled with subtle references to Major Tom, Bowie’s subject in 1969’s “Space Oddity” and 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes.” The music, co-written by Brian Eno, deftly connotes a rocket tearing through the Earth’s atmosphere as if Major Tom might actually be plunging back to Earth. The stomping booms of Sterling Campbell’s drum kit seem to echo off electronic walls of murmuring voices from ground control as Reeves Gabrels’ angular guitar riffing melts into saxophone-like honks.
Throughout Outside the production by Bowie and Eno has a futuristic metallic shine. The opening track, “Leon Takes Us Outside,” starts with a bunch of murmurs lost in an ambient wash of noise and then bursts into “Outside,” a cut that features each instrument gleaming with its own sound. The scarcity of reverb makes each string on Bowie’s acoustic guitar ring with its own separate note.
Besides slick production, Bowie and Eno, muffle the instruments on some tracks to get a dirty, industrial sound that seems influenced by Nine Inch Nail’s Downward Spiral. “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” buzzes with NIN influences, but with Bowie’s voice mixed so high above the murmuring instruments, the song makes for a weak industrial experience.
The music is at its best when its subtle and angular, coming at you with strange constructions that make for surprising listens. It makes perfect sense that Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson slip into a ska-like jam toward the end of the pounding “Hallo Spaceboy.”
Bowie and Eno worked together in the late ’70s, one of Bowie’s most prolific periods spawning the albums Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. They threw a lot of pop conventions out the window and created an avant-garde pop styling. They use this styling in Outside to reflect Bowie’s theme of art struggling to be creative. Bowie echoes the feelings toward 1920’s modernism, the parent of futurism, in lines like “There is no hell” and “We’re swimming in a sea of sham” in “The Motel.”
With Outside, Bowie sometimes falls through the trap doors of creating something new for the sake of creating something new, leaving the listener wondering if this album isn’t all a sham. One has to sit through about half an album’s worth of failed attempts at creativity that sound either like rip-offs or dull failures to get to anything ground-breaking. Overall, songs like “We Prick You” and “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” are worth the tedium.
I must thank my friend Pablo for pointing out this two-hour radio show on the BBC hosted by David Bowie in 1979. He pointed out this post on Dangerous Minds, who credit the find to John Coulthart. There have been several cannibalistic posts that share the link to the two-hour radio show on YouTube and the track list with not a lick of insight into why Bowie may have chosen some of the songs he did. If you want to read the tracklist, you can jump through the Dangerous Minds post (Update: I found a complete transcript of the radio show here). They buried it under the link to the video posted by a YouTube user over a year ago. Here’s the link to the radio show:
I’ll refrain from sharing the playlist because it’s so much more interesting to hear the songs by surprise with Bowie talking about each track before and after he plays them. However, I can’t help but share some of the revelations on the show, being a hardcore Bowie fan in tune to his influences and tastes. At this point in his career, Bowie had dropped the guise of putting on over-the-top personas. He just sounds like a down-to-earth music geek sharing some of his favorite music. You’ll hear him play a record by an early influence, for instance, as he challenges the audience to guess who it might be. He shares the genuinely surprising answer afterward. After revealing the singer’s name, Bowie says, “He had this strange thing where he threw away his rings and all that to become a preacher for a bit, and this was an outcome of that … How he changed his voice like that, he must have given up something else, I think.” It’s a bit of a delight to hear the so-called chameleon of rock ‘n’ roll marvel at another musician who changed up his identity before him.
You can tell Bowie likes some songs he plays more than others. He says of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I used to love this one” and cuts it short. However, he loves every last note of “For Your Pleasure,” by Roxy Music, calling Ferry’s repetition of “Tara Tara” at the end of the track, “a beautiful gesture.” After playing a Bob Seger track, though, Bowie remarks, “Now, I’m not sure about that one.” Then he admits he played it for the sake of his ego because it has the word “Lodger” in the lyrics, the same title of the album he was on the radio to promote. He also plays a few songs from that album, which had only come out two days earlier, that weren’t necessarily singles from the record. “D.J.” was not among the tracks, but wouldn’t that be too obvious for Bowie?
However, the lyric, “I am a D.J./I am what I play,” is so accurate. He plays music by former collaborators like Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp (the Crimson piece), Jeff Beck, John Lennon as well as a freaky, kinetic post-punk track from a band called Mars, off an album that Brian Eno had recommended to him. Bowie even plays some songs he covered in the past as well as the future. He covered Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” in 1975, but his version wouldn’t see release until 1989, as a “previously unreleased” track on the Sound+Vision box set. He also plays a song he would wind up covering way in the future, on his 2003 album Reality.
There are many great tidbits to be found in his wide ranging selection of music that varies from classical to soul to nursery music (no wonder his self-titled debut sounded like that) to punk rock. It’s worth discovering for yourself. I will end this post by noting that it’s quite funny that Bowie had to bring his own Mekons record because the BBC didn’t have it in its library. Like another friend of mine said in this post, “nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.” That was true even in 1979, at the height of the post-punk scene, but at least Bowie proves he was hip to them.
If you’re wondering where the still image is from, it’s of course his video, for “D.J.” Watch it below.
And that snapshot of Lodger is my personal copy on my turntable.
April 29, 2013
When Peter Murphy talks about his experience with music, a small part of him fears he is over-intellectualizing. Over the course of our 45-minute chat he occasionally seems to have the tiniest inkling he might be stating things that might go over the heads of readers or may be misunderstood. Toward the end of our conversation, after a rare laugh he says, “It might go over people’s heads, but so what? They’ll get it later, like a hundred years later.”
I spoke with Murphy last Sunday afternoon, as he rode on a tour bus toward the first date of his Mr. Moonlight Tour, which features a set list comprised of only Bauhaus music. After talking about the start and end of the pioneering Gothic rock band and lots in between … much of which you will find noted in my in-depth article on his decision to tour with solely Bauhaus music in the “Crossfade” music blog from the “Miami New Times (jump through the logo below):”
Up-date: the interview was so long, it was broken up into two parts. Here’s is part 2 (that’s a hotlink).
Our conversation also included the subjective experience of art, specifically music. It came from a mutual appreciation of Brian Eno’s 1974 solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). Bauhaus famously recorded a quite literal cover of that album’s “Third Uncle” during a BBC session, which they released as a single and also used as the opener on its 1982 album the Sky’s Gone Out.
“Those lyrics, they take you with them. Don’t they?” Murphy says of the songs on Eno’s second solo album. “They’re not didactic. They’re not literal in that sense. They open up the creative imagination within the listeners. So it isn’t actually selfish. In a way, the audience is the reason. For music there has to be the listener. Otherwise, the singer or the musician doesn’t matter. It’s a shared experience in a very natural way. That’s not an over-arching idea. But that is art.”
He agrees that some of David Bowie’s most interesting songs come from a decoupage technique popularized by William Burroughs but pioneered by the Dadaists from the turn of the 20th century. “They leave the creativity to the listener, as well,” Murphy notes, who transitioned from solitary poetry composition to Bauhaus frontman in late 1978 when guitarist Daniel Ash introduced him to brothers David J (bass) and Kevin Haskins (drums).
The A-side of the “Third Uncle” track was Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” Murphy notes something very interesting happens when he inhabits that song live, which he plans on playing on this tour. “Songs evoke very personal associations,” he says. “So I have my own experience with Bowie. You could have called me a Bowie fan or whatever, but when I met him I realized it was me creating my own inner world with that music. I was Ziggy Stardust. He’s just some bloke creating some theatrical thing, doing his own thing. It’s not him really. It is, but it’s beyond. It’s me really, hence the idea of doing ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ He just wrote it. We did our version, and we did it how it’s supposed to be done in our minds, and it was brilliant.” He pauses for a chuckle. “That was not a statement against him at all. It’s just the ultimate Bowie fan casualty that was sold. So I still become Ziggy Stardust in that three minutes, that seminal character in music culture, and I’m it.”
Watch the official video:
There was so much more we went over. It was a revelatory conversation. Bauhaus worked from a very primal pool of creativity, relying on their chemistry as musicians. He indulged me in an explanation of how they came up with the brilliant collage track that closes the Sky’s Gone Out: “Exquisite Corpse.” He said it comes from a surrealist game for children. Using a folded piece of paper a group sets out to draw a body but only a small bit of the end of the last drawing is visible to the next illustrator. The result is one exquisite corpse.
The band did something similar during the recording of the song that closes the album on a brilliantly abstract note. After programming a rhythm track, Murphy explained, “We each went in, and we gave ourselves a minute each to write whatever we wanted individually without any of the other members, and then the next person would play from the last five seconds, hearing the last five seconds of the previous person and continue, and then we’d all come in and gathered … and that was the result. So the title, ‘Exquisite Corpse,’ is exquisite. It’s the exercise in letting itself create its own venture.” You can hear the result right here:
Considering, backwards effects, the coughing, the snoring section and other bits, it will certainly make for a difficult, odd song to perform live, so I would not expect to hear it on the tour (did Bauhaus even ever perform this genius little oddity live?).
Only one day until the show (I had tons to transcribe and illness to battle) in Miami at Grand Central. Tuesday, April 30. Doors: 8 p.m. Tickets cost $26 / $60 (VIP) – VIP ticket includes a 7 p.m. pre-show, access to soundcheck, meet-and-greet with Murphy, exclusive edition T-shirt and a signed poster. All ages. There will also be a second post on the Crossfade music blog tomorrow morning, so be sure to check back there tomorrow.
Update 2: Show happened! To read my review click on the picture below by “Miami New Times” photographer Ian Witlen:
For those outside Miami, the tour will proceed as follows across the U.S., into Mexico, then Europe and back to North America:
Wed, May 1 – Tampa FL @ Orpheum Theater
Thu, May 2 – Atlanta GA @ Terminal West
Fri, May 3 – Charlotte NC @ Tremont Music Hall
Sat, May 4 – Washington DC @ U-Music Hall
Sun, May 5 – Boston MA @ Paradise Rock Club
Tue, May 7 – New York City NY @ Webster Hall
Thu, May 9 – Philadelphia PA @ Trocadero
Fri, May 10 – Toronto ON @ Lee’s Palace
Sat, May 11 – Buffalo NY @ Town Ballroom
Sun, May 12 – Pittsburgh PA @ Mr Smalls
Mon, May 13 – Detroit MI @ Magic Stick
Wed, May 15 – Indianapolis IN @ Deluxe at Old National Centre
Thu, May 16 – Chicago IL @ House of Blues
Sun, May 19 – Mexico City, MX @ Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli (to include Peter Murphy solo material, as well!)
Wed, May 22 – Bochum, DE @ Christuskirche
Thu, May 23 – Karlsruhe, DE @ Substage
Fri, May 24 – Zurich, CH @ Komplex Klub
Sun, May 26 – Rome, IT @ Orion
Mon, May 27 – Milan, IT @ Magazzini Generali
Wed, May 29 – Madrid, ES @ Sala Arena
Thu, May 30 – Lisbon, PT @ Coliseum
Sat, June 1 – Barcelona, ES @ Bikini Barcelona
Mon, June 3 – Brussels, BE @ AB
Wed, June 5 – Paris, FR @ Trabendo
Thu, June 6 – Eindhoven, NL @ Effenaar
Fri, June 7 – Hamburg, DE @ Knust
Sat, June 8 – Copenhagen, DK @ Loppen
Mon, June 10 – Stockholm, SE @ Debaser Medis
Wed, June 12 – Helsinki, FI @ Tavastia
Fri, June 14 – Nottingham, UK @ Rescue Rooms
Sat, June 15 – Glasgow, UK @ Oran Mor
Mon, June 17 – Birmingham, UK @ Academy 2
Tue, June 18 – Bristol, UK @ Academy
Wed, June 19 – London, UK @ Islington Academy
NORTH AMERICA II
Sat, July 13 – Phoenix AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
Sun, July 14 – El Paso TX @ Tricky Falls
Tue, July 16 – Denver CO @ Summit Music Hall
Wed, July 17 – Salt Lake City UT @ Urban Lounge
Thu, July 18 – Boise ID @ Visual Arts Collective
Fri, July 19 – Seattle WA @ Showbox Theater
Sat, July 20 – Vancouver BC @ TBA
Sun, July 21 – Portland OR @ Hawthorne Theater
Tue, July 23 – San Francisco CA @ Fillmore Theater
Wed, July 24 – Las Vegas @ LVCS
Sat, July 27 – Los Angeles CA @ Henry Fonda Theatre
Fri, July 28 – San Diego CA @ Belly-up
Poetry and electronica find cozy home in Rick Holland and Old Man Diode collab – An Indie Ethos Exclusive
March 20, 2013
It was a longtime coming, but more than a year since poet Rick Holland shared his first step beyond his collaboration with Brian Eno (Old Man Diode brings poetry of Rick Holland into “disco” territory), his work with UK underground electronica artist Old Man Diode has finally resulted in a full-length album. The King Krill will see release as a digital-only release via the London-based indie label WW Music on March 26 (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link) … and on limited edition vinyl on April 25.
The album might seem more accessible compared with Holland’s work with Eno. Where Eno had chosen “vocalists” like a secretary to recite the lines on the Drums Between the Bells, vocalists on The King Krill bring often soulful, soaring voices to the mix. Notable UK artists on the album include Chris James (singer/keyboardist/guitarist for Stateless who most recently worked with Deadmau5) and vocalists Onallee (a collaborator with Roni Size), I Am Fya, Beth Rowley and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Andrew Plummer. Still, even with more proper singing in the mix, Old Man Diode does not lean on the typical dance hall rhythms, choosing to explore more slippery beats inspired by such experimental electronica predecessors like Aphex Twin. For a limited time, you can listen to an exclusive stream of the whole album here (that’s a hyper-link).
As Holland and Old Man Diode (née Jo Wills) are in London, all three of us recently corresponded via email for a little question and answer session. They offer such beautiful insight into the care and approach to the music versus the words, the possibilities of interpretations and the creative process for the pure pleasure of experimenting and creating (Note: my questions are in bold, Holland’s responses are in plain text while Old Man Diode’s comments are in italics).
Hans Morgenstern: Rick, you wrote all the lyrics, correct?
Rick Holland: In some cases we wrote together, myself and the featured artist, so their ideas filtered through me, or fragments of our writing fused together.
HM: There is a dance quality to this record. Were you conscious of that when composing the lyrics used on the record?
RH: I always wrote to a beat-track, a skeleton of the track, and we wanted to keep the settings sparse and honest to their origin. I wrote from the instinctive response I had to Old Man Diode’s beats and bass pulses.
HM: What are some of the themes that you address in your words?
RH: These emerge after the writing. I’d like Jo to answer this one. There were powerful shared image banks for sure.
Old Man Diode: We didn’t have anything in mind at the start of writing, the starting point was wanting to collaborate, both of us (and the vocalists) talking and making and talking and making. In the end, the themes that have come through are about humanity really and the urban dichotomy of needing to be part of a group and an individual at the same time, trying to avoid becoming an automaton whilst seeing people being just that all around you. I think there’s a strong sense of being constantly being pulled in different directions, there’s beauty and desolation all around us. Maybe that feeling has come out through this strong oceanic vibe that infuses a lot of the writing. Somehow it’s part grimy concrete and barren cliff top at the same time.
RH: I like that. I would add that there are moments in there about being completely submerged and released, the ocean keeps coming back. And there is a love song in there too, an old-fashioned love lyric, but about shedding some of the more possessive elements of love.
HM: To what extent did the sound of Old Man Diode’s music influence your writing?
RH: It triggered and moulded the writing, it made it, in tracks such as “The King Krill.” “Clearing Song,” the words are the music passing through me, they are the music translated as instinctively as possible. In others, there is more input from my own life and experience, moulded to the atmosphere of the music.
OMD: Just to flip this question a bit and answer if from my perspective. I think we’ve both been influenced by each other and the process music I’ve written in the past has been very different to this. There’s a shared ethos in approach, a sort of minimalism that gives as much power as possible to each action. Also, one of the reasons I was keen to work with Rick was to make myself focus on words. My ears are drawn to texture when I’m listening. It’s hard for me to remember words in tracks I’ve just listened to or know really well. I hear them as part of the whole sonic, working with Rick has forced me to really focus on that content.
HM: Were you surprised by any results, the effects of the words turned musical? If so, where?
RH: I tended to listen to some of the work of a featured artist once I knew we were working with them, so in the writing process somewhere hidden in my back brain would have been an imagining of how that artist would sing the words, and whether they would “work.” Beyond that, though, all of them surprised me because they are all creative artists and all brought their interpretations to the process.
For some, the words took centre stage, for others they were more sounds to riff from, I love both approaches. Some less fluid “lyrics” on a page became beautiful through the artist, Chris James sliding over words springs to mind, and Onallee singing “Time hangs, like a torn sheet, we disappear through hopes” (OMD: is this not just in your head?!?!?!?!?!)* which may have started out as “holes,” but that lyric is just pure poetry for me, how it is sung, it could mean so many things to so many people.
OMD: It’s been great to see the words take shape, become melodies and textures. Sometimes it’s had a more operatic/libretto approach to setting and others have been more like writing a pop song with everything in between. Everyone has been great to work with, bringing their approaches and philosophies to the table.
RH: *quite probably, it’ll be what’s printed on the back of the vinyl though… haaa… and I prefer it.
HM: Rick, how much of a say did you have in the music that accompanied certain words?
RH: We have such an understanding of each other from years of working together and a shared sensibility that we usually just know when words and music were meant for each other, and this extends to production ideas too. We share ideas throughout the writing process, and our best work usually happens without over thinking. Luckily, we find effective ways to communicate in real time in the studio and most of the time we find the ground we both believe in.
OMD: Hahaha, some pretty funny ways of communicating as I remember, using words to describe sounds and vice versa. The best parts of the writing process have been when all three of us (Rick, myself and whoever’s singing) are in the room together, creating on the fly, everyone is influencing everyone else, that’s a real buzz, and the track comes pouring out.
HM: The vocalists vary a lot. Where did they come from?
RH: Wonderful mixture isn’t it? They are all just open-minded, creative artists drawn together by Old Man Diode’s vision and his life. There were a couple more surprising names interested in collaborating, we may hear from them later. This has been a dream team. They are all real artists.
HM: How different is working with OMD versus Eno (Eno collaborator/poet Rick Holland corresponds on craft – An Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 1 of 2])?
RH: This is such an interesting question. There are some huge similarities. Both believe in giving ideas space to become something without over complicating, yet both have some deep-lying beliefs in essential values of production. Both are constantly curious about their crafts and open to the input of other people. Both come up against their limitations from time to time yet accept and find new ways to circumvent them. Both believe very passionately in the fruits of good collaborative practice. Both remove the ‘I’ from the process.
In terms of less wooly specifics, it is different working with OMD because I grew from the same cultures and have a far more similarly mapped life to each other. Occasionally, with Eno, I would inadvertently suggest something that he felt he had covered before, or the essence of an idea would change entirely over time. I was in my early 20s when Drums Between the Bells started out, and early 30s when it was released. It was a really unusual process to turn that great a span of life into an album, fascinating and difficult all at once. With this album, Jo and I managed to finish it in just over two years (I think) and it is the shared work of two people in a more shared single world I think, less patchwork.
I could write a book about this question to be honest. Interestingly, I also think Eno may have taken some direct influence from this project, listening to some of his new work with James Blake, so the two subconciouses have certainly melded, feedback both ways.
Some of the best things that have come of this blog have been immaterial experiences. This is a labor of love and not-for-profit. Beyond the interviews, early film and album previews are the like-minded interactions with independent artists. Once in a while an incredible discovery arises. Thanks to interaction with members of the legendary Krautrock band Faust, their collaborators and fans, a couple of interesting albums I would have never otherwise have heard have appeared on my radar.
This morning it was a thing unabashedly called Kösmischen Hits! by a duo called Couvre-Feu from France. But the influence is undeniably German, as revealed by the title of the opening track: “Viva Düsseldorf!” It sounds like the best parts of early Kraftwerk and Neu! had been placed in a blender. A pulsing motorik beat is augmented by repetitive guitar lines, constantly shifting in sound by effects. It builds to a freak-out level as screeching electro solos and more repetitive melodies pile on. All the while the beat just goes steadily on.
The creativity and indulgence in all that’s Krautrock is shamelessly on display across the first half of Couvre-Feu’s instrumental album, created from improvisations. But it also has a freshness that will appeal to fans of Kraut-influenced artists like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The second track, “Ammoniac,” brings to mind the duo’s collaboration on Evening Star.
The final track, “Part of a diagram for Alpha Centaury,” has a decidedly more experimental side and carries on for almost as long as the first four, more bouncy, tracks do altogether. It indulges in phases and noise, meandering through moments of drone but mostly deconstructing any craft to the strangest sounds to repeat and pile up and then veer away from in surprising left turns. There are enough shifts in tone that also make it the most dynamic track on the record, and quite possibly the most interesting.
You can stream the entire album for free just below, and visit the band’s bandcamp site for a free download and link to their blog (get to following them for upcoming information on a limited edition cassette release of Kösmischen Hits!).
Another decidedly more experimental release I heard about via the same source came out last year, but I have not forgotten it. I’ll add another post about something called “Normal Music,” a collaboration between a Brazilian experimental artist and an avant-garde Serbian musician, tomorrow.
Spielberger has returned with a brand new album, and the duo has added guitars and drums to their wash of ambient noise. Where 2011’s Chrissie’s Last Swim existed in a world of droning hiss and white noise, Jazzy features driving rhythms and enthralling guitar showmanship. The product of Miami-based musicians Bert Rodriguez and Ed Matus, the duo’s third album kicks off with a grand statement, as far as the presence of these two new instruments in the Spielberger mix.
“Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” opens with the roar from a strike to the hot strings of an electric guitar, responded to by the growl of a bass. The instruments sizzle for a couple of seconds in that classic charged reverb only electric guitars can make before the musicians take off, following the thud of a kick drum and clang of a high hat. After a few bars of swelling chords, the rest of the drum kit comes to life and a melody of muddy reverbing guitars tangle and bound along in classic post rock fashion. Almost halfway through the piece, the groove seems to freeze and echo, as the drumming disappears. Throbbing in place for approximately another two minutes, the guitars emit roars and growls that seem impossible to create by the strokes of the strings, recalling shades of the earlier Spielberger. The piece sways and throbs in mid roar, as other sizzling drones grow almost exponentially, spinning off from the array of notes, throbbing, shrieking and pulsing at their own pitches and echoing at various tempos. The drum kit comes alive again with power and zeal, snares, cymbals and all. The shrieks of the ambient drones grow higher until they seem exorcised out of the piece, and the melody returns. After a few bars, the guitar breaks away to slowly start a solo that turns into a frantic pummeling of strings in an aggressive tremolo. As “Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” grinds to its end, the strings seem to emit little electric speckles of reverb, like the remnants of static hidden in a wool blanket.
The track makes for a thrilling opener to an album firmly in the contemporary world of post-rock, while still reflective of its early roots in minimal ambiance. It marks a positive sign of evolution for the duo. However, as Rodriquez reveals, do not call this a departure. “Actually, the first track, ‘Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone,’ is literally the first song we ever wrote together,” he writes via email from his new home in Los Angeles. “We put it aside because we hadn’t built up other tracks that related to it. The whole album is really the result of several jam sessions we had from before we even released the first EP [“Music for Cruises”]. Almost all of the tracks on this record came from those sessions. I guess we’ve been working on this album from the beginning of our relationship together.”
So guitars do not mark anything that new for the duo, as Rodriguez tells it. “We both play guitar so, whenever we got together, we would plug them in and just write parts until things fit together. We were also constantly experimenting with affecting the guitar sound.”
As described in my earlier profile on this band (Spielberger hold torch proud for ambient music), some moments of Chrissie’s Last Swim, composed mostly through altering sounds on an iPhone app called Mixtikl, sounded like electric guitars. However, the sound of contact between guitar string and pick seemed missing. “We were really obsessed for a while with trying to make the guitars sound as little as a guitar as possible,” Rodriguez states. “I wanted to be able to play guitar but have it sound like a synth.”
Though Spielberger mutated the sound of electric guitars into something original on Chrissie’s Last Swim, it was the first step toward the new album. “That experimentation really helped us find some pretty interesting sounds that you can hear on the record,” Rodriguez says of Jazzy. “In fact, now that I think of it, almost everything on this record, even the two ambient tracks, were created with guitars.”
In a recent phone conversation, Matus says the two recorded the album just as Rodriguez was in the middle of moving to LA, but the mixing took a while longer. Matus notes that it was also important to get the drums sounding realistic, though no real drumming took place. With Jazzy’s rollicking opener, one can practically visualize a drummer raising his arms as high as possible to beat the skins, however, Matus, says, it’s all computer-generated and very carefully produced. Matus had already turned artificial drums into something primal and real-sounding in the past. “Ritual #1,” an instrumental track on the final album by his previous project, the Waterford Landing, In The Heart Of Zombie City, features some nightmarish rhythmic pounding of something akin to an indigenous drum accompanied by tambourine, echoing through what sounds like a giant room inside a derelict building of some wasteland as some alien, mechanical screeching echoes in the background (stream and download the album here). It’s a visceral moment on that final, grand album by the Waterford Landing (also worth checking out is the Bay City Rollers meets chill wave number “Soft Revolution [Blue Flames]”).
Matus says some of the ideas for the pieces off Jazzy came from he and Rodriguez improvising together on guitar. The title track began with the simple, soft pulse of an electronic click track, he says. Matus starts it off with a luscious, grooving but repetitive guitar line and Rodriguez comes in plucking his part out, dropping down the guitar’s neck, like a series of soft, dripping bits of rain on a window’s edge. They wrote the piece as such: two guitars tangling together. They later added bass and rhythm, a move that might seem counter-intuitive to many musicians who piece together music via overdubs while writing or recording. “I don’t think I’ve ever recorded a song like that,” Matus says, “to just plug in our guitars and see what happens.”
Though ambient music pioneer Brian Eno was a major inspiration for the two earlier Spielberger albums, this one features the influence of another pioneer and cohort of Eno’s in the prog rock world: Robert Fripp. When asked about the similarity of “Jazzy” to the work of Fripp with Andy Summers in the early eighties, Rodriguez embraces it as a high compliment. “That was definitely an inspiration, without a doubt,” adds Matus. “A long time ago, when I first heard that stuff, I always thought it was so alien and otherworldly.”
“Jazzy” also found a life outside the album thanks to a famous beer company, and Rodriguez’ higher-profile reputation as a contemporary multi-media artist. Beck’s commissioned Rodriguez for part of its “Artist Series Bottles,” alongside M.I.A., Freegums, Geoff McFetridge, Willy Chyr and Aerosyn-Lex. Rodriguez designed the only text-based label with the loaded statement “Don’t Forget You’re Here Forever” in neon lights. Beck’s created a campaign promoting the artists in this limited edition series and produced a short video documenting Rodriquez’ journey and arrival to LA. The music used in the video is “Jazzy:”
Though the guitar-use is unmistakable, still prevalent in Spielberger’s sound is the creative use of Mixtikl. Though it features some frenetic guitar work, the sound of the guitar in “In the Museum,” sounds like some spasmodic little creature trapped in a gelatinous blob, composed of echoing reverb that washes and wanes over the poor guitar. “Part II – A Boundary Crossed” is a subtle thing of beauty, as the guitar echoes from below the whoosh and calm sparkle of electronics like a ghost. “We just decided to break out the guitars … There are still tracks that are largely Mixtikl-based,” Matus says. “We always wanted it to have that background quality where we wanted it to be floating in the background. Some songs started with a Mixtikl theme.”
Rodriguez sheds further light on the duo’s creative process. “It was never our intention to only use Mixtikl to make music,” he states. “In fact, Ed has hardly used it at all. He likes to use his phone mostly to make beats and use the synth apps that are on there.”
However, Rodriguez appreciates how one cannot completely control the resulting music via the program, as it is just one of many auto-generative applications that can produce its own music via programming. “I’m a little more obsessed with Mixtikl,” Rodriguez confesses. “I think it’s because it ties so much into my art practice. It’s a really unique and non-traditional way to produce compositions. I could use that thing to make music forever really. I really enjoy the fact that you can’t expect 100 percent how the composition will turn out. I like the chance at play there.”
Despite Rodriguez’ relocation, the distance has not stopped the duo from recording and planning follow-up projects to Jazzy. Though this latest album came out only three months ago, the duo is deep into work on follow-ups, including a third full-length album and a physical 7-inch single. “The next album is gonna be called That Championship Season,” Rodriguez says. “My gallery out here offered to produce a limited edition 7-inch so, we’re working on two new ambient tracks for that.”
The 7-inch will mark Spielberger’s first physical release, and will surely become a collectible considering the LA-based art gallery OHWOW would be behind it. As far as other physical media or even working with labels, the duo are happy with their independence. It allows them to release music when they want, no matter how close to their last release date. It also frees up their creativity. “We like a lot of different stuff, we like playing different instruments,” Matus says. “It’s just making music the old fashioned way. It’s the idea that this is us, and we’re going to do what we want. We don’t have anyone to answer to. As long as it comes out honest and real, that’s what matters.”
Spielberger likes to allow the music to speak for itself. Though for sale in cyberspace on sites like iTunes and Amazon (You can support this blog as well as the band by purchasing their album through Amazon links), Matus is fine about giving it away to anyone who might be curious. “It’s there for free if you want to take it,” he says referring to links on the band’s website. “If you want to donate and help us, that’s fine too, and there are people who do that. But the most important thing is for people to have it and listen to it.”