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.
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.
As things like self-isolation and social distancing became phrases and concepts the majority of the world has quickly become accustomed to, it’s been the art of the hasty pivot that has characterised lockdown: businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions suddenly thrust themselves into the hitherto unknown territory of digital engagement, restaurants suddenly offered take-out where they previously relied on seated diners, wholesale retailers suddenly became direct-to-customer operations; we have moved from the need to see, touch and meet people to drinking espresso and gin over video conference, walking in the middle of the road to bypass another pedestrian walking toward you, and following authoritarian one-way systems around supermarkets. None of this we could have conceived of a few months ago, yet we are now all – mostly – suddenly expert.
The way we consume and enjoy music was almost immediately disrupted by the measures governments put in place. Gigs and festivals were cancelled; release dates got put back; pressing plants shut down; critical calendar entries like Record Store Day were postponed; venues were almost immediately shuttered. These are existential events for artists, bands, labels, designers and the countless individuals and businesses that support the music industry.
In response, all manner of COVID-19 projects quickly sprang up: compilation releases to support frontline essential workers; isolation playlists were hastily assembled, often comprising lots of soothing ambient music; live-streamed solo bedroom gigs delivered your favourite artist into your front room; noodling Soundcloud tracks appeared with high velocity, the product of idle fingers, a need for expression, boredom and the advantage of a broadband connection.
One very special and highly distinctive project to emerge from this is Touch: Isolation, announced last week by Touch. “The pack of COVID-19 cards came down quite quickly, and we wanted to respond to some immediate problems many of our artists were experiencing,” says Jon Wozencroft, who founded the label 38 years ago, later bringing in Mike Harding to work with him.
Available through Bandcamp for a minimum £20 subscription, all of which is divided up among its contributors, Touch: Isolation consists of at least twenty tracks from Touch artists, each one mastered by Denis Blackham – that, in itself, an example of the label’s dependable obsession with quality presentation despite the speed with which the project was conceived and realised. At the time of writing, releases have already come through from Jana Winderen, Chris Watson, Bana Haffar, Mark Van Hoen and Richard Chartier with tracks incoming from Howlround, Claire M Singer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Philip Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and others who have issued released material through Touch.
“By the nature of what we do, it’s quite hand-to-mouth,” Wozencroft continues. “For Mike and I, the project is also a declaration of intent in a personal sense because we’ve both been experiencing some highs and lows in recent months.” Those lows are self-evident and are common to most of us, yet uniquely personalised to our own lives; the Touch highs include recent releases like Eleh’s brilliant Living Space, nurturing new artists on the label and Hildur Gudnadottir‘s success at the Oscars. Wozencroft justifiably calls it the “culmination of years of collaboration and shared ambition”. The idea of Touch going on hiatus just because normal life has been paused would thus have been a terrible, terrible notion.
“Between Mike and I it was kind of a Eureka decision to step ahead and do this,” he continues. “In effect, we pressed the switch in the third week of March and in no time we had a strong response from almost everyone we asked.”
A critical signifier of Touch has always been Wozencroft’s photographic accompaniment to the imprint’s releases, which presented a challenge for Touch: Isolation. “I had to think hard about how the Isolation series could be given a visual counterpoint, given the lockdown restriction,” he says. The result is a series of photographs of trees, leaves, pools, each one of something strangely quotidian yet now, thanks to the lockdown, mostly off limits; each one was taken on March 25 on Hampstead Heath’s West Heath and Golder’s Hill areas, just as the lockdown began.
“I’d been going to Hampstead Heath since being a teenager growing up in North London,” Wozencroft continues. “It was always a special trip, and so it was a challenge to make this familiar space reflect a certain unreality; the suspended state of beauty in the full gleam of the recent sunshine. But also its rarity and rawness as an urban environment in the current conditions. I was also remembering the damage of the Great Storm of 1987 – seeing the evidence of regeneration and a landscape transformed, and that sense of faith in the future.
“For me,” he concludes, “it’s about hope and detail, the hidden and its brilliance.”
Today, Further. presents the first play of Matthew Barton’s new single ‘Christie Christie’, due for release tomorrow. Barton first hit our radar with the mesmerising ‘Orchid’, a sensitive slice of avant pop released earlier this year.
‘Christie Christie’ finds Barton in rockier territory while still showcasing a personal lyrical and compositional style that defies categorisation. “It’s a song about escape,” he explains, “whether that’s fleeing from a situation, another person – or yourself. Is the lyric an internal monologue, or an address from a lover? What has Christie done that means they must flee so rapidly? Or what has been done to them? Caught doing what? I wanted to explore in the song the meaning of loyalty (“the ties won’t sever but the will just might“), identity (“a misfit no more in a foreign land“), and memory (“inside I store the silhouette of your head in the light“) in the face of a seemingly urgent situation.”
Reflecting the inner anguish in the song, Barton’s evolving arrangement of keyboard, banjo and layered process is designed to augment the song’s themes of confusion, tension, conflict and paranoia while never letting his singular vocal style be subsumed. “I guess at its heart the song is about the ‘fight or flight’ impulse,” he says.
With dream-like artwork by the Dutch Expressionist artist Tinus van Doorn, ‘Christie Christie’ is another strange trip into Barton’s subconscious. Listen to ‘Christie Christie’ below.
Matthew Barton is currently working on his debut EP, which will be released by Knife Punch Records later this year. Barton has also contributed songs to some benefit compilations – Z-Tapes’ Hope For European Bedrooms to benefit DIY artists hit by COVID-19, and two compilations benefiting healthcare and community services in the wake of COVID-19: Brace Cove Records’ Quarantine Comp and Under The Counter Tapes’ Banders.
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.
Indigenous Mix 3 is the counterpart to The King Of Beasts, the latest album from Andrew Spackman’s Sad Man alias. The King Of Beasts offered all the expected characteristics of a Sad Man album in the form of jerky, vibrant electronic music that draws heavily on the legacy of jazz music, giving his pieces a natural freedom and looseness that is rare to find in music made on a grid.
Here, each of the album’s twelve pieces are given a substantial makeover, the approach varying between incorporating tribal percussion and throwing out some of the jazzier reference points in favour of a skewed, wonky electronica, and most points in between. That approach gives the mixes of ‘Carbonated’ and ‘Kalifornia’ an awkward, clipped, chunky quality offering a firmness in place of the original’s lightness of touch.
Elsewhere, ‘After After’ is re-rendered as a longform electro workout full of ringing motifs and buzzing melodies, while a standout new version of ‘Door’ becomes a metallic hip-hop groove knocked off course by springing, unpredictable electronic percussion and nauseatingly spiked vocal samples.
Indigenous Mix by Sad Man is released April 1 2020.
Read Further.’s interview with Andrew Spackman about ten of his musical influences here.
Somewhere along the lines, Nordic culture got a major overhaul, becoming shorthand for sleek minimalism and clinical modernism. Nordic Patterns, a collaboration between electronic musician Matthew Leigh Embleton’s Snakestyle alias and Tove Aradala seeks to redress that, delving deep into the essential fabric of Norse tradition with all its attendant mystique and rich, unique mythology.
Tove Aradala, or Tove Aradala Barbrosdotter Buhe-Stam to give her full name, is well-placed to comment on this. A High Priestess of the Temple Of The Eternal Goddess, a reconstituted religion which taps into the essential polytheism of Norse culture, a belief system which celebrated multiple spirits, gods and creatures. Using sections of Eddas (holy texts), songs and pieces written in the spirit of the region’s folkloric essence, Nordic Patterns affixes Aradala’s gentle singing and resonant chanting to an intricate, entrancing electronic backdrop crafted by Embleton. The album began with a series of field recordings on the Swedish island of Gotland in August 2019 before Embleton returned to London to complete the tracks.
Pieces like ‘Gnisvärd’ exemplify the approach. Here Aradala took traditional folk song rewrote it as the coda to a sparse backdrop of ebbing and flowing electronic sequences wrapped in hazy, frosty textures. Echoing sampled vocals wend their way through the piece, like voices lifted from an old Edison Cylinder, creating a subtle tension between the present and the past. Embleton reveals himself as a sensitive collaborator to Aradala, bathing her ethereal, yet commanding, voice in shimmering reverb and framing her vocal with structures built with a naturalistic fragility. On ‘Klangstenen’, that backdrop is fashioned from liquified, jazzy tones and beats reduced to a primal essence of clicks and pulses; on ‘Trullhalsar’ it is a landscape of dubby bass and wavering, tentative melodies.
The key piece here is ‘Hoburgsgubben’, a nine minute unlikely ambient pop song that flows with meditative purpose. Deeply poignant synth melodies, a shrouded, unobtrusive beat and a general air of serenity envelop joyous lyrics written by Aradala that beautifully celebrate midwinter, and all its frosty promise.
Nordic Patterns by Snakestyle & Tove Aradala was released March 27 2020 by Alex Tronic Records
Fragmentarium follows on from last year’s brilliant Salika, Molika album for the wonderful Hubro imprint. This new collection of seven delicately-assembled pieces finds Hardanger fiddle maestro Erlend Apneseth joined by Stein Urheim (guitar / bouzouki / electronics), Anja Lauvdal (piano / synth / electronics), Hans Hulbækmo (drums / percussion / flute), Fredrik Luhr Dietricshson (double bass) and Ida Løvli Hidle (accordion).
Opening with the mesmeric shapes of ‘Gangar’, Apneseth offers a rich tapestry of sounds straddling traditional Nordic folk forms with more modernistic flourishes – delicate synth sprinkles, arrangements that nod toward jazz and a sense of casual discordance. The album’s title track buzzes with an angry, claustrophobic noisiness punctured with layers of Jew’s harp and Apneseth’s evocative fiddle playing. Throughout that piece, and indeed across the whole album, we hear processed, floating voices drifting in and out, each one borrowed from the Norwegian folk museum in Prestfoss, creating an odd sensation of being adrift from time and place: who do these voices belong to? When were they recorded? What are they saying?
Apneseth’s skill is to ensure that his fiddle playing never stays too long in the mournful, stirring channel that it all-too-readily lends itself too. Here we find him offering playful, unexpected gestures and more aggressively-wrought passages, interspersed with sections that nod firmly in the direction of Nordic folk tradition. As a bandleader, he allows a sense of freedom and experimentation to develop among his accomplished group, resulting in incredibly tight playing but a flexible, evolving approach to composition.
The signature track on the album arrives in ‘Der mørknar’, a densely-packed sequence of heavy drones, fluctuating synths, spacey guitar riffs and expressive fiddle, all glued together with percussive restraint and plaintive piano clusters. The effect is one of constant, unresolved momentum, a feeling of pointing toward something that never quite arrives; in place of the wild pay-off, the track collapses into gentle fiddle shapes, a rare moment of introspection in an album that studiously avoids self-absorption.
Fragmentarium by Erlend Apneseth was released February 28 by Hubro.
Live At Cafe OTO captures the debut 30-minute live performance by sound artist and NKT cassette label head Nokuit, recorded at London’s experimental music epicentre during the summer of 2018.
Presented as a single piece, the set is a bold, antagonising stew of sonic motifs right from the get-go: snatches of news broadcasts, spinning and eddying sounds, recordings of parade ground preparations, noir atmospheres, predatory electronic tones, metallic distortion and squalls of what might be violins are all melded together into something that, in another artist’s hands, might have been noise for noise’s sake.
Instead, the set consists of brief segments of pieces taken from previous Nokuit releases, each one carefully and delicately composed with a curatorial zeal that gives the set a soundtrack-y tension and a claustrophobia-inducing awareness of the value of intricate detail. The result is a busy, restless urgency that is never still for a second and never anything but enveloping and engaging in the completeness of its sonic breadth.
As a piece of brooding, dark ambience, Live At Cafe OTO sounds vaguely like one of the imagined soundtracks for cult books issued by the Bibliotapes imprint, only here the narrative we have is entirely of our own design. Nokuit himself calls it a ‘soundtrack to a film that has left its screenwriters behind’; and yet, in the closing, piano and grubby synth symphony that edges us to the set’s conclusion, we hear faithful echoes of everything from the first Terminator movie to Blade Runner to any other film relying on shadowy, bleak representations of dystopian futures as its central concern.
Live At Cafe OTO by Nokuit was released February 21 2020 by NKT.
Kansas City’s Piney Gir delivered one of last year’s most memorable albums with You Are Here, the latest record in a body of work that showcases her deft, brilliantly obscure angle on love, life and everything in between. The album was originally titled It’s Been A Shit Year For Everyone, which was both utterly accurate and pretty miserable, so she changed it.
Her latest single from the album, the album highlight ‘Puppy Love’, was released on Valentine’s Day and features Piney accompanied by the distinctive Wille J. Healey. Following the release of the new single, Further. spoke to Piney about Muppets (I’m always happy to talk about the influence of The Muppets, FYI), Dolly Parton and the merits of writing on the move.
My earliest memory is kinda odd, because I was an actual baby; it was in our old apartment before we moved (we moved when I was two) so I must have been younger than two – and the memory is a bit inconsequential! I remember sitting in a high chair eating something (I’m not sure what) and watching Big Bird on TV.
The Muppets have always been a big part of my life and in the early years they educated me on pop culture. I wasn’t allowed much secular music or pop culture as a kid, but I saw Elton John on The Muppet Show singing ‘Crocodile Rock’ with a bunch of crocodiles and I thought Elton was a muppet dressed in feathers and colours with crazy glasses. I figured if he wasn’t a muppet he might have been from another planet… from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show and all the Muppet Movies: Caper, Manhattan, Christmas Carol – they have all been a huge influence on me over the years and I still love them.
The Dark Crystal was frightening at the time and really triggered some deep fears of the dark side when I watched it. I should re-watch it and see if it still has that effect on me! We didn’t have fancy cable growing up so I didn’t see Fraggle Rock until recently, and it’s great! I guess anything from the Jim Henson Studio makes me happy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Hmmm… I don’t feel like people give me advice very often; I wonder why that is? I’m very open to receiving advice if anyone has any for me.
I think Dolly Parton put it well when she said, “You’ll never do a lot unless you’re brave enough to try.” I guess she was certainly a brave woman who I really admire and her courage gives me courage… she also said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Which is great advice for anyone.
She’s a bit of a legend, Dolly! I once sang, not with her, but at her, on the One Show on BBC TV… Me and Mike Monaghan (my drummer, but he also drums with lots of people, Gaz Coombes, Willie J. Healey, Young Knives, St. Etienne…), we were invited to be part of a ‘human juke box’ and Dolly Parton was a guest on the show. When she arrived we sang her own songs at her. There was about 20 of us, including a really bossy Dolly Parton look-a-like. It was crazy to be about three feet away from Dolly though, breathing the same air and singing her songs to her – pretty surreal!
I have a signed, autographed photo of her in my studio. She inspires me every day.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
Oddly, I write a lot when I’m on the move.
Something about the rhythm of walking, or the boredom of sitting on the tube or a train or a plane makes my brain go all prolific. It’s mundane tasks where my brain and creativity can function separately from my body that somehow make room for my muse to shine. If I feel a bit creatively blocked I’ll go for a walk or take a train journey by myself and I’ll get inspired.
I guess that’s in regards to songwriting. When it comes to recording that’s best suited for the studio, and I like to change that side of the process up quite a bit, so it’s never the same twice. That keeps recording fresh and playful and fun.
Puppy Love by Piney Gir was released February 14 2020.