Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jukebox Juicebox #5

The Future Sound of London present The Amorphous Androgynous “Alice In Ultraland”
Here’s the short review: if you enjoyed the previous album(s), “The Isness” and “The Otherness” then you’ll like this; if you didn’t, then put your credit card away and stick FSOL’s back catalogue on ‘play/repeat’. There, now that that’s out of the way, here’s something a bit more substantial. “Alice In Ultraland” doesn’t seem to have garnered the same favourable reaction as it’s predecessor(s). Uncut went so far as to scathingly ‘thank’ the band for inflicting ‘progtronica’ upon an unsuspecting world, which seems a little unfair – didn’t Ozric Tentacles do this to us years back?! But, you have to admit, the evidence is there, from the album’s release on EMI’s prog offshoot Harvest, to the sleeve artwork and notes which define The Amorphous Androgynous as a “psychedelic band [creating] a samplerdelic funkoid roktronic cosmic ambient oozescape”. The album is heavy on instrumentals (nine out of the fourteen tracks) and the tracks merge and flow from one to another, with a few deliberate pauses - an “ambient oozescape” indeed. The opening salvo, “The Emptiness Of Nothingness”, is a mighty slab of sonic majesty and is perfectly complemented by “The Witchfinder”, the first to feature Garry Cobain on vocals. Cobain’s singing now seems some way between prime Led Zep-era Robert Plant and, bizarrely, The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz at his earthiest. “High And Dry” continues in this vein, but things do become slightly awkward with “In The Summertime Of Consciousness”. The almost spoken voice delivery may be aiming for Syd Barrett or Genesis-era Peter Gabriel, but the first thing that sprang to mind was Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge”… The album concludes in fine fashion with a typically epic-sounding “The World Is Full Of Plankton”, followed by the understated synth/toy piano instrumental “The Wicker Doll”. Whilst “Alice In Ultraland” is unlikely to win any new fans, and may well alienate several disgruntled FSOL loyalists, it remains a logical prog(rock)ression of the experimentation that has characterised Dougans and Cobain’s work. Listen again to FSOL classics “Accelerator”, “Lifeforms”, “ISDN” and “Dead Cities” and you’ll recognise the origins of the future sound of The Amorphous Androgynous.

R.E.M. “R.E.M.IX”
Whilst it’s de rigueur for most bands these days to release remixes as either shots at crossover success, single fillers or album stopgaps, R.E.M. are one of the exceptions. The few forays into remix culture that I’ve heard – the “Lengthy Club Mix” of “Finest Worksong” and 808 State’s rework of “King Of Comedy” – suggested that this should remain the case. Still, I was intrigued to discover that R.E.M. had handed their 2001 album “Reveal” over to a number of remixers and producers, then posted the fruits of these labours as a free download album on their website “R.E.M.IX” is an oddity in a number of ways. Yes, it’s a 50-minute album yet, out of ten tracks, there are four consecutive versions of “I’ve Been High”. Good though these are, a little variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. Matthew Herbert’s take on the aforementioned track is perhaps the most adventurous, with it’s playful use of samples and confidence in chopping and looping Michael Stipe’s vocals. Most versions adopt the same approach of replacing the typical R.E.M. sound with electronic minimalism and leaving the vocals largely untouched. The only time this really fails to work is on Knobody and Dahoud Darien’s remix of “The Lifting”, which is awkwardly welds Stipe’s singing to a leaden beat. Marc Bianchi, aka Her Space Holiday, turns in typically beautiful versions of “I’ve Been High” and “Summer Turns To High”. “Reveal”’s original co-mixing desk bod Jamie Candiloro surprises with “I’ll Take The Rain” (one of “R.E.M.IX”’s few uptempo tracks) and a sparse-yet-lush version of “She Just Wants To Be”. In keeping with the minimalist approach, the downloadable CD sleeve art is similarly spartan, but does signpost the remixers’ own websites if you like what you hear. All in all, “R.E.M.IX” is a bit of a curate’s egg, sounding more like a Michael Stipe side-project than an R.E.M. album, but worth investigation nevertheless. If you like “R.E.M.IX”, check out “Greenfields”, Michael Stipe’s contribution to the 2002 Faultline album “Your Love Means Everything”.

Burning Spear “Marcus Garvey / Garvey’s Ghost”
Where do I even begin to write about this CD? Twenty tracks, all killer, no filler and sounding so fresh and vibrant that it’s incredible that the songs are three decades old. I’m largely unfamiliar with Burning Spear’s back catalogue and bought this purely on spec, attracted by the coupling of the original album and it’s dub version. One listen and I was immediately hooked. “Marcus Garvey” is a life affirming set of songs, delivering a message with an infectious reggae rhythm. “Garvey’s Ghost” takes the songs to another level, it’s spacious dub atmosphere invigorating the listener and, amazingly, surpassing the original album. Each of the twenty songs is a classic, but particular favourites are “Invasion” and “Live Good”, and their respective dub counterparts “Black Wa-Da-Da” and “John Burns Skank”. I have an ever-growing love of reggae and dub, but am still pretty ignorant of it’s hidden treasures. Even so, it’s hard to imagine that music can get much better than this. Buy this, play loud and enjoy life.

Ultramarine “Companion”
A belated compilation of material recorded and remixed at the time of their 1992 album “Every Man And Woman Is A Star”, “Companion” is an understated delight, mixing downtempo beats with folk, dub and ambient music. Included in it’s entirety is the “Nightfall In Sweetleaf” EP, with Ultramarine’s ‘live’ excerpts bridging excellent remixes by Spooky, Sweet Exorcist (Richard H. Kirk) and Coco, Steel & Lovebomb, as well as their own US-only remix of “Weird Gear”. Other notable tracks include “Stella Connects”, a previously unreleased dub of “Geezer” and a 1993 Glastonbury performance of “Pansy”, which demonstrates their strengths as a live act. “Companion” is a consistently enjoyable collection and anything but an add-on. Ultramarine seemed to miss out on the critical and commercial success of similarly veined acts like Red Snapper and Groove Armada, and apparently called it a day in the late 1990s. However, if you enjoy this CD, then seek out Ultramarine’s “Barefoot” remix EP and their stunningly beautiful cover of Kevin Ayers’ “Hymn”, featuring vocal versions by David McAlmont and Ayers himself.

Pizzicato Five “Combinaison Spaciale EP – Pizzicato Five In Dub”
The introduction to this 1997 set is what appears to be a snippet of a Japanese radio interview with lead singer Maki Nomiya… until the ‘snippet’ continues for nearly four minutes. What might seem self-indulgent is actually compelling, and leads nicely into first track proper, “Baby Portable Rock (Baby Mexican Rock Version)”, a breezy song that typifies the Pizzicato Five sound. Subsequent track, the first of two remixes of “Icecream Meltin’ Mellow” by Sunahara Yoshinori, drops in an anonymous female English language rap, which works well with the rolling beats, samples and Maki’s vocals. Their covers of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Contact” and Plastics’ “Good” are given the downtempo treatment to great effect, complementing the hotel lounge-cum-70s soundtrack version of “Tokyo Mon Amour” with it’s vibrant organ sounds, lush strings and “Theme From ‘Shaft’”-inspired wah wah guitar. This EP is worth half an hour of anyone’s time and sounds perfect, day or night, come rain or shine.


Blogger Atom Boy said...

Only got the Amorphous album last week so I haven't really had time to pass judgement. Initial impression is that I like it, though perhaps not as much as The Isness.

If you like 'Marcus Garvey' you should check out 'Social Living' (think it may have been re-packaged as 'Marcus Children'). Virtually the same musicians as Marcus Garvey and another corker. If anything, I slightly prefer it.

I like Pizzicato Five, in patches, when they're not going off on a jazz fusion trip, but I prefer Fantastic Plastic Machine on the whole.

As you know, I'm not a big Ultramarine fan and though I tried to get into “Every Man And Woman Is A Star”, (on your recommendation) it never really happened for me. Will probably give 'R.E.M.I.X.' a miss, too!

9:48 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home