Ellen Arkbro – CHORDS

Swedish composer Ellen Arkbro’s time studying with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at their New York Dream House is self-evident on her follow-up to 2017’s For Organ And Brass. CHORDS consists of two pieces, one for organ and one for guitar, both utilising the just intonation microtonal methodology which Young has espoused for the majority of his sixty-odd year career.

‘CHORDS for organ’ was recorded at Malmö’s Art Deco St. John’s Church on its early twentieth century organ, following its original realisation in Stockholm. The 15-minute piece consists of a series of long, held tones and a number of carefully-deployed harmonic additions that subtly alter the dynamic propensities of the organ tones, the intersections gently pulsing phasing like a soft breeze through the wood-clad nave of the church. Initially harsh and grating, as the piece concludes you find yourself experiencing a sort of meditative transcendence, the brusque edges of the organ turning into something altogether more enlightened.

Its companion piece, ‘CHORDS for guitar’ blends Arkbro’s playing with the addition of digital synthesis. The piece is resented as a sequence of constantly-evolving patterns, where the resonances between the metallic-sounding strings are not unlike whole, vast universes of intricate sound.

CHORDS by Ellen Arkbro is released by Subtext Recordings on June 7 2019. Arkbro will perform CHORDS at the church of St. Giles-without-Cripplegate within London’s Barbican Centre on June 22 2019. Tickets are available from barbican.org.uk

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Sweatson Klank – Super Natural Delights

Since arriving in 2009, LA’s Sweatson Klank (Thomas Wilson) has played around with hip-hop’s ever-flexible template, veering from heavily sample-based cuts to those built up from his own mastery of vintage synthesizer sound programming. For Super Natural Delights, this musical polymath offers up a sun-drenched series of twelve relaxed pieces showcasing his enduring ability to mix instrumental dexterity with engaging rhythms.

‘Walking On Air’ is the first of many highlights on the album, built up as it is on a bed of rich, elastic basslines and 808 beats, all carefully overlaid with gauzy strings and languid flute hooks to present a crisp, carefree, summery simplicity. Elsewhere, ‘What A Night’ captures a jazzy, 80s atmosphere with squelchy synth lines, snatches of vocals and uncluttered drum machine rhythms, while the sedate ‘Island Life Calling’ sounds like the kind of sultry, inoffensive jazz muzak played on the porch at a branch of Bahama Breeze, replete with the sound of ice cubes rattling around in a Mai Tai and a crisp beat prised straight from a vintage Sadé number.

Towering above everything else is the chunky, all-too-brief slowmo disco of ‘Fat Cookie’, containing a groove so infectious it could literally cause a musical pandemic.

Super Natural Delights by Sweatson Klank is released June 7 2019 by Friends Of Friends.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Fujiya & Miyagi – Flashback

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When I interviewed Brighton quartet Fujiya & Miyagi two years ago around the time of the reissue of their second album, 2006’s Transparent Things, singer and guitarist David Best expressed his admiration for Talking Heads and what he called their “awkward funk” sound. Perhaps more so than on any other Fujiya & Miyagi album, that reverence for that slightly off-kilter groove can be heard right across Flashback, containing seven of the band’s most precisely-executed cuts to date.

In the last couple of years, both Best and fellow F&M founder Steve Lewis have busied themselves with side projects – Lewis’s crystalline torch songs with Johanna Bramli as Fröst and Best with Fujiya & Miyagi bandmate Ed Chivers as the Terry Riley-inspired art-rock of Ex-Display Model. Surprisingly, none of that time out from their main group seems to have had any sort of influence on these new songs. You won’t find any fuzzy introspection here – just solid drumming from Chivers, elastic basslines from Ben Adamo and an effortless interplay between Best’s signature guitar styles and Lewis’s sinewy and infectious electronic patterns.

That tightness provides the backdrop to some of Best’s most oblique and deceptively humorous lyrics – a semi-political character assassination rant on the closing track ‘Gammon’, a bitter tirade against self-importance on ‘Personal Space’ and a brilliantly ironic (and astute) rumination on our modern obsessions on ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. The highlight among highlights is ‘For Promotional Use Only’, a low-slung, many-layered slow-builder that plays on one of the most mundane of piracy risk warnings and turns it into a hypnotic, restless epic, Best’s vocal taking on a distinctly paranoid hue as it progresses.

Flashback by Fujiya & Miyagi is released by Impossible Objects Of Desire on May 31 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Eluvium – Pianoworks

For the past sixteen years, Portland, OR’s Matthew Cooper has been issuing ambient albums full of dense layers and affecting emotional resonances. Pianoworks, as its name suggests, is an album made entirely with piano, a sequel to 2004’s An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death. The inspiration this time around was the notion of childhood innocence and the struggle to retain that as the gravity of adulthood reveals itself.

That heavy sentiment gives pieces like ‘Quiet Children’ a hopefulness, its central melody evoking the notion of looking back on early memories through the sepia-tinged lens of time. In contrast, ‘Carrier 32’ has a subtle stridency, portraying the determination of a child to talk, walk or grab at objects that you’d rather they didn’t touch. There’s also a prevailing sadness that those days seem like a lifetime ago, with that melancholic dimension existing most notably in the concluding, unresolved melodies of ‘Empathy For A Silhouette’.

By stripping back the layers Cooper normally deploys, he has created a precise, beatific album that will leave an indelible mark on anyone – even the most curmudgeonly of souls – who are prone to bouts of wistful nostalgia for those halcyon, simple, lost days of youth.

Pianoworks by Eluvium is released on May 31 2019 by Temporary Residence.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

David Toop / Jan Hendrickse / CUEE – Boundaries

Japanese composer and future Fluxus acolyte Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi was the founder of Group Ongaku, a spirited collection of likeminded experimental artists that she brought together in 1960 specifically to explore improvisation. After completing her studies in Tokyo, Shiomi returned to her native Okayama and began solo performances by the likes of John Cage, who Group Ongaku had previously invited to Japan to perform.

Cage’s influence is evident in Shiomi’s series of action poems penned in 1963 and 1964, wherein musical notation was entirely eliminated in place of specific, but necessarily vague, performance instructions. In the case of Boundary Music (1963), the instruction to the performer is “Make your sound faintest possible to a boundary condition whether the sound is given birth to as a sound or not. At the performance, instruments, human bodies, electronic apparatuses and all the other things may be used.

A new LP from the multi.modal imprint finds seasoned improvisers David Toop and Jan Hendrickse separately tackling Shiomi’s piece. In Toop’s case, his version is anything but quiet, but as he himself has pointed out, to assume that Boundary Music is about silence is entirely incorrect. Taking Shiomi’s instruction that any sound source may be utilised, his version employs field recordings of what are possibly prayer calls, inchoate percussion, electronic pulses, whistles, squeaks and a foundation sound in the form a high-pitched sound that runs with prominence through the entire piece. The result is a series of restlessly evocative events alternating between density and levity.

Hendrickse’s interpretation is much quieter, but not a bit less intense. In his hands, Boundary Music is offered as a series of low-level rumbles, thuds, scrapes and fuzzy tones that each lurk in the background until suddenly being thrust forward. For Hendrickse , the piece becomes fraught with unresolved tension, having all the notional silence of an empty space with all the atmospheric drama of a horror soundtrack, particularly when an ominously distorted drone emerges and rapidly cuts away again into squelchy, alien sounds.

Side two of the LP is given over to a performance by London’s City University Experimental Ensemble (CUEE) recorded at the IKLECTIK venue. Here, the 25-piece big-band improvising orchestra perform two works by saxophonist Cath Roberts (Off-World and March Of The Egos). Their placement alongside Shiomi’s Boundary Music almost acts as a form of confrontation, given how these pieces wilfully avoid faintness: clangorous synth splinters collide with plucked sounds, clusters of overlapping piano parts and expressive saxophone parts. This ensemble works best when they dive headlong into the maximalist sounds you would expect from this many musicians, with the thrilling denouement of Off-World taking the form of a vibrant, colourful, euphorically noisy collision between noir jazz and electronics.

March Of The Egos, meanwhile, is a discordant, joyously sprawling piece wherein each instrument and player seems to be vying for airtime. The initial winners are a 1920s ragtime trumpet solo and a sustained synth tone that seems to cut across (and through) just about everyone else until the horn section and wandering piano join forces with the drums for a massed, and ultimately successful, assault on the electronics.

Boundaries by David Toop, Jan Hendrickse and CUEE is out now on multi.modal. See Mieko Shiomi’s instructions for Boundary Music at the MoMA website.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

S. T. Manville – Somebody Else’s Songs

Somebody Else's Songs PACKSHOT

Sam Manville is a singer-songwriter dividing his time between Nottingham and Leicester. His debut album, as its title suggests, is a collection of covers; however, unlike most such albums, what shines through most clearly is Manville’s credentials as a talented arranger.

Think of these songs as the stylistic opposite of Me First And The Gimme Gimme’s Green Day-ification of songs into high-speed Ramones-y salvos; here, Manville takes eleven songs from the modern pop-punk canon – songs by Bad Religion, The Offspring, blink-182, The Postal Service and others – and presents them as delicate, sensitive acoustic pieces, each highlighting Manville’s beguiling voice, delivered with a quiet tenderness like a friend’s kindly whisper in your ear that everything will be okay.

Central to this type of album is an ability to surprise you, to offer a fully new perspective on songs that have become so familiar that they’ve become like aural wallpaper. Manville does that time after time here, drawing out qualities and emotions that were often buried in the originals. His version of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies’ are two signal highlights here, while his enthralling take on Weezer’s ‘Butterfly’ is recast as a regretful, mournful torch song.

Somebody Else’s Songs by S. T. Manville is out now on Difficult. The album is accompanied by a guidebook to the album – more information can be found here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.