Sad Man – Daddy Biscuits

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In May 2020, Sad Man – the alias of Bournville’s Andrew Spackman – ran a Twitter poll to ask fans to suggest the name of his next album. The options were Sad Man 13, ISO-Nation, Wonky Heights and the winner, with a cool 50% of the vote – Daddy Biscuits. It arrived in my inbox, just three months after his last release, with the description that it was a ‘wonky banger’.

Spackman has done most of the legwork for me with that, to be honest, as those two words perfectly sum up the sound of the twelve songs on this new collection. These are pieces that jerk around like they’re being attacked with an electronic music cattle prod, all quirky beats, skewed melodies and sounds that feel like they’re splintering and fragmenting inside your ear canal.

The jazz influence that can be felt on other Sad Man releases is here suppressed ever so slightly, emerging in the background on pieces like ‘Fump’ or in the coda on the icicle-sharp ‘Illustration’; instead, the only way I can describe a track like the nine-minute title track, or ‘Wonder’, or the effervescent ‘So So’ is how I imagine it might sound in the nightclub of a ship that’s about to capsize in a storm. Or a ‘wonky banger’, I guess.

Buried deep here is the minuscule ‘Water’. It’s a track that seems to pack so many disparate ideas into its brief, sixty second existence, from muted house-style riffs, deep beats and a frantic jumble of melodies that sound like a stroll around a dimly-lit games arcade.

Daddy Biscuits by Sad Man is released June 5 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Greg Nieuwsma – Travel Log Radio

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Travel Log Radio by US-born, Krakow-based sound artist and electronic musician Greg Nieuwsma arrives at a point where travel, either for work or pleasure, has become an almost entirely alien concept. Whereas there was a time before lockdown when you ignored planes in the sky because of their ubiquity, nowadays you see a pair of isolated vapour trails high above you and reflect on their rarity, as if we were transported back thirty years before skies were crowded and travel was commonplace ritual, not a privilege. Today, the only travel most people seem able to do involves switching their Zoom backgrounds for photos of somewhere far afield containing perfect vistas and idyllic, untroubled, virus-free sunsets.

Nieuwsma is part of Krakow’s vibrant music scene, primarily as a member of the band Sawak, and professes an interest in the ethnographical aspects of music. You can hear that creeping into the music he makes with Sawak, and it forms the exclusive concern of his new album, which consists of four pieces recorded in four specific locations – Italy, Morocco, India and the US – over the period 2015 to 2019.

These pieces are either constructed from straight, unaltered field recordings, or are subject to subtle processing and adornment. The effect is akin to sonic postcards, each one taking a dreamy, otherworldly resonance, like flicking through photos of trips and barely-remembered memories, made all the more poignant by the absence of specific location or temporal detail.

Even in the most joyous moments – snatches of choral singing in Italy, prayer calls or the bustling hubbub of a Moroccan souk – there is an inevitable poignancy here as you reflect on not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. There is also drama in these recordings – street sounds and radio broadcasts from India evoke the sensory overload that comes from finding yourself in an unfamiliar place; the interaction with an overzealous authority figure, or a series of hypnotic platform announcements in the US brings to mind the strange detachment and uncertainty that comes from jetlag; a recording of reverberating saxophone transports you to the serenity of a late night New York subway platform.

The sound of water features in several places. It is a strangely unifying, universal interjection, free of specific language or identifiable sonic provenance. It serves to remind you, in a way, that the borders we cannot presently cross are entirely abstract, artificial constructs that nature has no need to observe.

Travel Log Radio by Greg Nieuwsma is released June 5 2020 by TQN-aut.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Erland Cooper – Hether Blether

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At some point in May, a letter dropped through my letterbox with a handwritten envelope that stood apart from the endless clusters of bills that seem to be our only engagement with the UK postal service these days. Inside was a signed map of Orkney created by musician Erland Cooper containing walking routes and birdspotting locations. That delivery accompanied the imminent release of Hether Blether, the concluding instalment of Cooper’s trilogy of releases that celebrate the collection of islands where he grew up.

Where 2018’s Solan Goose eulogised the islands’ birdlife and 2019’s Sule Skerry the sea, Hether Blether turns its attention on the land. Sort of. The land in question is the mythological island of the album’s title, a folkloric, missing location that naturally does not appear on the map that Cooper sent me. What does appear on that map, however, are the likes of ‘Noup Head’, ‘Longhope’ and ‘Rousay’, all tracks on the new album, continuing the theme of the previous two albums wherein Cooper named pieces of music after specific locations.

Resplendent in lush, yet fragile string arrangements and choral texture, the tracks on Hether Blether are joyous, celebratory even, albeit in a self-reflective, muted fashion. The synth passages and field recordings that ran through Skule Skerry here take a backseat, emerging briefly on pieces like the stirring, slowly evolving ‘Skreevar’, one of the most beatific moments here. We once again eavesdrop on the local, distinctive Scottish / not Scottish accents on ‘Longhope’ and explore Orkney’s mythology through the strangely affecting poetry of John Burnside on ‘Noup Head’, each word in Kathryn Joseph’s narration containing a sort of gravity and poise that makes you yearn for the islandscape of Cooper’s youth.

Appropriately enough, it is Cooper’s own voice that we hear more prominently throughout Hether Blether, most notably on the album’s centrepiece, ‘Peedie Breeks’, where he is accompanied by poignantly seesawing strings, bells, and operatic vocals that drift in like an icy breeze. His is a lilting, tender voice, effortlessly tugging at your heartstrings as he delivers this song of innocence, playfulness and the unbridled, unshakeable optimism of youth.

Hether Blether by Erland Cooper is released May 29 2020 by Phases.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Various Artists – Latibula

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Latibula is Marionette’s first label compilation, offering a window into the eclectic artists who call the label home as well as providing a sneak preview of where the Toronto-based imprint might go next. All proceeds from the digital compilation will go to Médicins Sans Frontières.

Sans frontières is also an apt way of describing Marionette’s approach. The label was founded in 2013 and swiftly made a mark through releasing complex electronic music that was unafraid of borders, genre limitations or jaded notions of purism, with most releases given their own visual identity by label stalwart Benjamin Kilchhofer. The Basel-based electronic adventurer has released four distinctive solo and duo releases for the label over the past few years, each one characterised by his approach to fusing modular sound design with acoustic instruments. Kilchhofer’s ‘Kloen’ is one of the natural highlights of this collection, led by a synth sequence that feels more like a soprano saxophone line than something that might have emerged from a nest of writhing patch cables.

Elsewhere, musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien follows up last year’s playful Tinkle, Twang ‘n Tootle with ‘4hands 1breath’. A collaboration with jazz drummer Steve Argüelles and pianist Benoît Delbecq, the piece includes Bastien’s pocket trumpet played through running water against a backdrop of abstract percussion and wandering piano. Another brilliant Marionette release from last year was Giraffe’s Desert Haze, which found the Hamburg trio tapping into German rock reference points from Can to Manuel Göttsching; the trio follow that up with the brilliant ‘Lines Across The Still’, a mellow exploration of wavering melodies, stuttering guitar and polyrhythmic percussion.

One of the most interesting pieces here is ‘Serpentina’ by another Basel-based musician, Marco Papiro. Papiro is a fan of vintage kit, as evidenced across the many albums he’s released to date, but he’s also a DJ, and that tends to mean his tracks are infused with a sense of motion and finely-controlled tension. The brief ‘Serpentina’ is perhaps the most outwardly electronic track here, rolling forth on springy sounds and simple chiming, expressive melodies that feel like they belong in a pivotal scene in an 80s teen movie.

Papiro’s piece slots in alongside other hidden gems from Twinkle3 (Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell), MinaeMinae, Julian Sartorius, Soundwalk Collective and others, pointing to a vibrant future release schedule for Marionette.

Latibula is released by Marionette on May 1 2020 through Bandcamp. Find Marionette at Bandcamp here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Audio Obscura – Self Isolation Tapes

Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, Etsy took down a t-shirt design emblazoned with the words ‘I Survived Coronavirus’ on the grounds that it was poor taste amid the progress of the disease. We are only four months into this – whatever this will eventually become – and despite government plans to try and progress toward a return to normality, when I think of that t-shirt I’m reminded chiefly of Captain Darling’s line at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth: ‘We lived through it! The Great War, 1914 – 1917!’

So it may also be that releasing music made at this point in isolation, when we could well just be at the start of something that, unlike Blackadder, runs and runs and runs (I’m thinking The Archers, perhaps), may also prove to be similarly premature. Fortunately, amid the slew of self-indulgent self-isolation releases are some genuine gems, and of these is Norfolk-based Neil Stringfellow’s Audio Obscura release, Self Isolation Tapes.

Electronic musicians, as a rule, have never had a problem with self-isolation of course. Theirs is a life of relative solitude, and so it is often hard to see what’s different between music made before isolation, during, and how it might sound when things return to whatever normal we’ll face after this. In Stringfellow’s case, a precedent for the sounds here could be found on his June 2019 Bibliotapes-released imaginary score for George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not prone to self-quoting, but this is how I concluded that piece: ‘Something about the way that Stringfellow has crafted these pieces seems to simultaneously remind us of the unflinching horror of daily life … while also presenting a sense of resignation and dismay that this is the world we currently occupy.’ I’m not saying that this is prescience on my part; more that Stringfellow’s music already seemed to be perfectly suited to dystopia, and so it goes that these seventeen pieces (plus three remixes) are perfectly suited to the current bleak outlook.

Talking of bleakness, not for nothing does Stringfellow include a track nodding in the direction of another savage work of fiction (or is it, now, biographical?) – Albert Camus’s The Plague, a depiction of a highly infectious disease wreaking devastation on an Algerian port. ‘Life In Oran’ is an unsettling listen amid unsettling pieces, beginning with the sounds of Stringfellow’s children playing innocently, which he then frames with murky pulses, dread-ridden haunted tones and a general sense of urgency and insistence. Stringfellow’s children appear again on ‘Each Day The Radio…’, calling for his attention against a backdrop of the daily news stories charting the progress of COVID-19 on the radio. (As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like the daily governmental proclamations feel a bit like something from 1984.)

Fortunately, Self Isolation Tapes isn’t a wholly bleak listen – it just mostly is. For example, buried deep in the track ‘Ghosts, Dusk, Decay’ is a solitary, tentative, almost hopeful synth note which appears fleetingly, only for the track to return to more discordant territory by the end; elsewhere, ‘Quiet World’, one of the shorter tracks here, is a piece floating forth on a delicate, soothing ambience. The pair of tracks ‘The 33rd Of April’ and ‘The 44th Of May’ may be titled with sardonic humour, but are presented with brooding textures and muted beats that become sonic approximations of industrial, noxious soundscapes or the fading broadcasts of horror soundtracks heard across post-apocalyptic wastelands.

‘One Day I’ll Grow Nostalgic For These Days’ is one of the most memorable pieces here, containing wistful piano and scratchy little sounds, a little like static coming from an old radio transmission. Here you find little melodic lines that seem to belong elsewhere, stuttering vocal segments and pretty bird song, a sparse rhythm outlining the weird sense of nostalgia embedded in the piece’s title.

It is a collection that is necessarily dark, even in the context of Stringfellow’s work. But perhaps it’s worth returning to ‘Life In Oran’ to put this all in context. Alongside the more negative moments are the interjections of real life – washing up, maybe, along with other quotidian tasks. Initially these throw you off and confuse you, but between those sounds and Stringfellow’s kids playing, they serve to remind you that life does indeed go on, even in the strangest of circumstances. Long after this is over, these sounds will be our reminder of how we felt while COVID-19 took its toll on us, with Self Isolation Tapes a diaristic time capsule into collective self-isolation.

Self Isolation Tapes by Audio Obscura was released Friday April 24 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Listening Center – Diaphanous Structures

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Listening Center is the project of Beacon, NY electronic musician David Mason, and Diaphanous Structures is the follow-up to last year’s Retrieving.

Where Retrieving was an album that managed to straddle the elastic explorations of 1970s Moog excursions and the fragile architecture of 1981-vintage synthpop, Diaphanous Structures is a much more meditative exercise. Built, for the most part, on delicate, almost wistful layers of gentle, swaying electronics, these eleven pieces nevertheless proceed with a sense of purpose, sidestepping any notion of directionless musing on the part of Mason.

Devoid of beats and obvious rhythms, pieces like ‘Sapling Three’ rely on a languid form of forward motion, buzzing with latent energy and overlapping, effervescent arpeggios. With the addition of soft reverb and subtle modulations and a coda filled with urgent bass sequences, these pieces take on a melodic intricacy without ever sounding anything other than minimalistic.

Elsewhere, ‘Concentric Circles’ carries a gauzy, melancholic edge, the sparsest of patterns creating a stirring, heart-wrenching micro-masterpiece, while ‘A Torn Hedge’ ripples with a brooding mystique and sense of compelling danger; what can Mason see through that hedge? What lies just behind its frontier? Was that tear placed there precisely to permit a voyeuristic glimpse of something elusive?

The album is punctured by three short, sub-one minute vignettes, wrapping complete and intense emotion in the briefest of statements. While ‘Sad Center’ has a profoundly moving quality, the wonderful ‘Interior Hue’ is a classically-leaning piece nodding contentedly in the direction of early electronic albums and the long shadow cast by their innovative sound palettes.

Diaphanous Structures by Listening Center was released April 9 2020 by Temporary Tapes.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Johannes Burström – Dyad

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In sociological terms, a dyad is the smallest possible social group, consisting of just two counter-parties. In the case of Stockholm-based Johannes Burström’s latest project, those two elements are his double bass and electronics, the result being a thirty-seven minute exploration of the sonic potential of an instrument, well beyond its normal, familiar setting.

The approach Bürstrom took reminds me chiefly of Toshimaru Nakamura’s work for no-input mixing boards, here using a microphone to record the sounds of the bass as it was subjected to a loop played through a device placed above it. As far as one can tell from the notes on Burström’s Bandcamp page, the similarity with Nakamura’s work is that the process seemed to involve no actual playing of the bass in the traditional sense, only that the bass responded using tension, resonance and vibrations to the pre-programmed loop from a computer.

In spite of that, it remains possible to discern that the instrument being ‘played’ is a bass. There is an earthy, elastic quality to the resultant sounds that are immediately recognisable, whether in the context of expressive jazz motifs or in the whole-instrument manipulations used by improvising players like Tom Wheatley.

For the most part, however, the chance-filled sound world that emerges here is a dirty, slowly-evolving, almost industrial bed of beautiful noise somewhere between a rapidly-spinning washing machine and quietly humming air-conditioning unit. To do that with an instrument like a bass, with all its distinctive, springy tonalities is a testament to Burström’s interventions and sense of sonic adventure.

Dyad by Johannes Burström was released March 27 2020 by BoogiePost Recordings.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.