Saturday, 27 October 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #76 - Dave Miller (Algernon, Spam Filter, Lonesome Limos...)

If his solo album from two years ago, Old Door Phantoms, was a bit less impressive to my ears but still really good with his bluesy instrumentals blending classic rock, psychedelism and oddly dissonant bursts of guitar freedom inherited from his jazz musicianship, Dave Miller has been a consistently stimulating member of the Chicago improv scene this decade, from the freeform experiments of his short-lived quintet Spam Filter somewhere between dark ambient, jazz-noise anthems and tribal phantasmagorias, to the destructured beat-based grooves of Lonesome Limos' first EP alongside with Tom Perona, a weirder cousin of Red Snapper sampling Vertigo's soundtrack on the fantastic opening track Replicator, at the crossroads of abstract hip-hop and kosmische electronics.

However, my admiration for the guy stays deeply related to another project, the "post-rock" combo Algernon with Miller on guitar and the aforementioned Tom Perona on bass, joined by second guitarist Toby Summerfield, vibraphonist Katie Wiegman and drummer Cory Healey. Third and latest album to date, Ghost Surveillance made me call them "the new Tortoise" when it came out 8 years ago, which was, for me, pretty much the same thing as calling them the new best band in the whole universe. Nowadays, Australian quintet Tangents pretty much took up the torch as best heirs of the authors of TNT, since nobody heard of Algernon for years. But this album in particular remains a masterpiece of libertarian and playful instrumental rock, full of windy epics, cristalline melodies, dreamlike meditations and tense polyphonies rooted both in jazz, movie soundtracks and electricity.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

An ambient masterpiece of 2018 : Gimu - 'A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos'

I already wrote a lot about Gimu in French, here of course, there too and other there, so it was more than time to give it a shot in English. Whatever language you'd use to search the internet, you wouldn't find many reviews of Gilmar Monte's tremendous body of work anyway - about 60 releases in 8 years, that i know of : "tragically overlooked" is therefore the first thing coming to mind about his music, which couldn't be further from our collective unconscious' idea of what Brazilian music is supposed to sound like.

No MPB, bossa nova, samba or tropicália here, Gimu comes from the noisiest side of the experimental ambient spheres and washes away his torments with flows of dark textures, droning synth radiations and haunted harmonies, sometimes with underlying beats (cf. Entre A Sombra E O Detalhe), bits of field recordings and manipulated vocals. His third release for the UK label Assembly Field, A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos comes right after two of his greatest masterpieces, Gone Again, Haunted Again (Aurora Borealis) and Senses (Unknown Tone), and yet it doesn't disappoint. Not a bit.

Translated from Portuguese, the album title - "The Life I Can No Longer See In Your Eyes" - shows its intentions quite clearly, as well as track names like The Velvety Shelter Of Misery (almost a proper song, with Cocteau-Twinesque layers of dreamlike vocals floating within the humming and crackling drones and field recordings of a passing train), Era Só Um Ciclo, Terminou E Foda-se - "Just One Cycle, Finished And Fucked" - or Hora De Crescer (De Novo) - "Time To Grow (Again)". Gimu seems to have been through some painful changes in his life lately and the music on this new album translates this shakiness and frailty into sound with a crushing sincerity, from the swarming and seismic elegy of Era Só Um Ciclo, Terminou E Foda-se to the hypnotic arpeggiators of the melancholic closing track Abre!, whose retro-futuristic and rainy atmosphere somehow recalls one of the best scenes of the original Blade Runner movie.

Bleak and yet filled with the remnants of happier times (O Acaso Via TV), celestial and simultaneously massive and menacing like a scud of thunderclouds (Cerração), buzzing harshly over a background of delicate inner choirs (Atrás Do Tom) or slowly and violently disintegrating like radio waves crashing into solar eruptions on Hora De Crescer (De Novo), A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos conveys the same visceral intensity blended into visionary experiments as Tim Hecker's or Fennesz' best works, 10 to 20 years ago, or Lawrence English's pinnacle Wilderness of Mirrors. A truely impressive experience of shattered emotions, fleshly experiments and cosmological magnitude, and one of the highlights of 2018 in music. Let's hope it finally gets this amazing artist the acknowledgement he deserves.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #77 - Kreng

Definitely one of the most impressive composers from Erik K Skodvin's excellent dark label Miasmah, even if Kreng's best work to date, L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu, narrowly missed the decade, Grimoire alone would almost have been enough for Belgian musician Pepijn Caudron to secure a spot on this list, with its esoteric mixture of piano/strings based dark ambient, percussive horror-like imaginary soundtracks, darkjazz wishcraft and droning phantasmagorias, utterly frightening and filled at the same time with the infinite sadness of eternal damnation.

However, the compilation of theatrical and TV soundtracks Works for Abattoir Fermé 2007-2011, alternately haunting, distressing, sorrowful and over-the-top, was another must-have, and the beautifully dreadful The Summoner, an ode to deceased friends made of harrowing low-frequency drones, fateful doom guitars (on the title-track featuring metal band Amenra), resigned piano chords and Penderecki-like swarming strings, increased again the range of his roller coaster crescendos.

A sense of contrast pushed even further on his last soundtrack to date for the movie Camino, a quite preposterous but visually interesting survival flick set in the Columbian jungle where a photo reporter tries to escape a bunch of fake missionaries after she captured the truth about their traffic. From the modern classical sensitiveness turning ambiguous and haunted, to the dissonant string and brass menace, through drone shivers, funereal organ, synthetic anthems and the nighmarish bursts of electro-industrial tension during the chase scenes, Kreng did a great job managing to bend the picture's requirements to his own musical obsessions and textured pits of darkness, magnifying this B-movie' atmosphere like only a few composers like Morricone would have been able to.

Lately, Pepijn Caudron teamed up with like-minded German musician Yair Elazar Glotman to assemble the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's posthumous soundtrack for the action/horror thriller Mandy starring Nicolas Cage and featuring Sunn O))) on guitar, released last month... but what i'm really hoping for is a follow-up to The Summoner before the end of the decade, to make me regret not having put him much higher on this list !

Friday, 5 October 2018

My 10 favourite French-language "pop" albums of the 00s - part 1 of 2

Those years 2000 to 2009 have been such a blast for French-language music, i had to rule out blue chips like Bashung, Keren Ann, Françoiz Breut, Miossec, Valérie Leulliot, Les Hurleurs, AS Dragon, Mathieu Boogaerts and many more. I also chose to focus on a more pop side, putting aside hip hop (Monsieur Saï, Psykick Lyrikah, Non-Stop, Rocé), noisy rock (Expérience, New Paulette Orchestra) and experimental music (Programme/Arnaud Michniak, or Zero Degré somewhere between post-rock, electronica and spoken word). Noir Désir's last and best album was somewhere in the middle and will be absent from that list as well. I hope you'll enjoy that short selection nonetheless !

Bonus : Vincent Delerm - Kensington Square (2004)

Not a fan of Delerm's successful Rive Gauche songwriting filled with intellectual name-dropping and humoristic overdescription of the daily routine of relationships, but between his piano-based first album and the more arranged pop songs of Les piqûres d'araignée, Kensington Square unveiled a sorrowful side still unmatched since in his music, influenced by Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy. Natation synchronisée, Deutsche Grammophon - a duet with the graceful actress Irène Jacob - and Veruca Salt et Frank Black (with Keren Ann and Dominique A - see the second entry of this 2-part selection) ensure the continuity of lightness and casualness but Le baiser Modiano whose string arrangements and lyrics would make a heart of stone break into tears, the jazzy and moody Évreux, Anita Pettersen and the painful title track Kensington Square remain the real highlights of this album and Delerm's entire discography.

10. Martin Angor - Martin Angor (2009)

Within that selection, this one probably has the most ties with Anglo-Saxon indie pop. Only solo LP from David Martin, former Lucie Cries (gothic coldwave) and C++ (retro Frenchpop with electronic sounds), Martin Angor mainly draws influences from the later (cf. Dans ta bouche), despite the use of post-punk drum machines and hypnotic basslines (Je suis en promotion). From the Epicurian existentialism of the acoustic lullaby Je voudrais quelque chose to the warlike romantic hit AK-47 with its flood of electric riffs, through the colourful predatory courtship of Le garçon, the album handles an absurd and crude poetry made of oniric recollections of childhood (the synthpop gem Mon vélo), bitterness of time passing (Les jours étranges) and decaying relationships (the cristalline and bittersweet twee pop of Si la lumière change), revealing sentimental and sexual ambiguities (Sombre disco) and resentment (the Gainsbourg-influenced closing track La femme transparente) without any modesty or shame, which is even more pleasing to hear nowadays.

9. Arnaud Fleurent-Didier - Portrait du jeune homme en artiste (2004)

Quite discrete for 8 years since the release of his latest album, the inconsistent but endearing La Reproduction (2009), bittersweet and sometimes ironic hymn to his family's philosophical genetics and their commonly dysfonctional communication, Arnaud Fleurent-Didier surfaced again last year as an actor playing his own self in the movie Bonheur académie for which he also composed the soundtrack. Listening to his previous and best release, Portrait du jeune homme en artiste, it would be easy to categorize the Parisian songwriter as the typical socially advantaged "bobo" artist struggling with wealthy young man's "problems" like self-image (Ce que les gens disent de moi), artistic success (the humorous Mon disque dort) and existential questioning (Vivre autrement). However, with his falsely light-hearted and deeply ill-fated acoustics, vocal harmonies and orchestrations inherited from Michel Legrand, his compelling rounded basslines and the heartbreaking desillusions hidden behind the fake candor of his lyrics (Le XXIème arrondissement de Paris), Fleurent-Didier, sincerely obsessed with art (Les poètes ont quitté Paris), French Touch synthetic vibes (Rock critique) and the politics of relationships (Je voterai pour toi), carries this haunting sense of daily life tragedy made of boredom (Emploi du temps), regret (En vieillissant peut-être) and fear of change (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en pleurs) able to transcend his vocal mannerism at all times.

8. Pierre Lapointe - La forêt des mal-aimés (2006)

Probably the only musician both still active and consistantly great on that entire list, the Quebecois songwriter even surpassed this second album and first masterpiece, with Punkt in 2013 maybe and most definitely with the shamelessly tormented and depressed La science du cœur last year. From orchestral soundtracks (the title track with its ghostly harmonies and twisted harpsichord nodding to Danny Elfman's gothic scores for Tim Burton's movies) to 60s french pop (Deux par deux rassemblés), from western folk (Au nom des cieux galvanisés and its Morricone-esque choir) to piano ballads (Tous les visages, Au 27-100 rue des Partances), from heartbreaking instrumentals (the interludes 25-1-14-14 and 25-1-14-14-16) to some kind of shapeshifting electronic retro-pop Bertrand Burgalat could have made (Qu’en est-il de la chance ?), La forêt des mal-aimés was back in 2006 my entry door to Lapointe's playful yet desperate songwriting and his quite bleak take on relationships. A personal classic.

My review in French at the time.

7. Julien Ribot - Vega (2008)

Ribot's previous concept album La métamorphose de Caspar Dix (2004), considered by many as his masterpiece, probably could have made that list, half the tracks already showcasing that unique blend of surreal romance, outer space melancholia and oniric maximalism, but i must admit being a little bit less fond of its funky synthetic side, compared to the perfect Vega, his third long play and last to date. Tangy female harmonies (Le rêve de Tokyo) and retro-futuristic bedroom pop arrangements (La chambre renversée) float above haunting piano melodies (1982), epic cavalcades (Vega Part. II) and comforting vocals (Les jardins de Boboli, fantastic duet where Julien Ribot and Annabelle Jouot's loving empathy allow them to sing what each other is feeling). Julien's voice is here as its greatest, purest, most natural bittersweetness (Nouveau chimpanzé), the instrumental interludes are either out-of-this world musical fairy tales (Interlude hypnotique) or heartbreaking piano laments (Musique pour un éventail qui bat au ralentit) and even the Gainsbourg-like emphasis of Amour City works as an irresistible ode to the ambiguous excesses of love.

6. Laurent Barbin - Depuis la chambre (2009)

Named after his short-lived label responsible for Martin Angor's eponymous album reviewed above, this first and last recording from French photographer, graphic designer and traveler Laurent Barbin remains the worthiest legacy Dominique A's lo-fi beginnings ever begetted. Dreary drum machines and naked idiphones, crude and opaque poems about couples' decline, depression and existential mess, a sorrowful and edgy voice singing over somber and minimalistic loops of electric guitars and electro-acoustic arrangements... Barbin's musical idiom is nonetheless far more personal and idiosyncratic than that, evoking at times some kind of folky drum'n'bass (Entre la cuisine et la chambre, Une photographie), syncopated slowcore (Les filles), morbid techno (Les amoureuses), diseased americana (L'île), glitched acoustics (La paix) or gothic trip-hop (La vie est belle and its short breaks of lyrical, Ratatat-friendly, synthetic guitars). A truely unique record, and definitely not a joyful one but in periods of need it beats a bottle of whisky every time.

My review in French at the time.

To be continued...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Splinters of white noise and toxic punk from hell for Wizards Tell Lies and Lenina

I don't know the first thing about Lenina and couldn't find any info about her/him/them, but if Wizards Tell Lies doesn't share much about himself either, i have been familiar with his music long enough now to find my way around the mystery of the three forestry avatars - a fox, and owl and a hart - allegedly responsible for that dark and esoteric blend of post-rock, noise, drone and electronics, sometimes infused with elements of darkjazz or psychedelia.

Digitally distributed for free by Scottish label Herhalen, this split album follows the harsh path of the three-headed man behind the curtain Matt Bower's previous record Bad Nature published last april by Muteant Sounds, a nightmarish masterpiece of martial and doomy noise music - which i reviewed here in French - flirting with Skullflower (aka another "Matthew Bower", by some twisted trick of fate) and Justin K. Broadrick's most hellish projects. With maybe less massive drumming and more splinters of white noise sucking all the air out of our lungs, especially on Lenina opening and closing harsh beasts, two nefarious crescendos of pure sizzling abrasion.

On the first of his three tracks, Wizards Tell Lies invites a cellist, Simon McCorry, but make no mistake here, No I To No So has nothing to do with a walk in the park, more with a long, dissonant, nerve-wracking descent into the abyss of a very obscure deep-sea trench, 8 minutes of intensely disquieting dark ambient immediately shaken by the roaring harsh noise of In the Hive of the Lies Mind, filled with buzzing black light, cymbal drones and massive implosions of lo-fi drums. Finally, just as heavy, droning and larsening, Rip Obsolete is probably the pit of this whole underworld of toxic anti-rock, a true epic of punkish noise oozing of damned howls and lovecraftian synths.

 Brothers, the musical Leviathan of 2018 is at our door !