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Utility Fog

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Sunday, 23rd of May, 2021

Playlist 23.05.21 (8:06 pm)

Strings at the forefront, and strings hinted at, electronics tattered & shiny tonight...

Come float through the cosmos with me... Stream on demand at FBi, podcast here.

Happy Axe - One Morning (feat. Butternut Sweetheart) [Spirit Level/Bandcamp]
Emma Kelly's second album as Happy Axe, Maybe It'll Be Beautiful, is coming in July from Melbourne's Spirit Level, and we've now got a second single, the utterly gorgeous "One Morning", which features her friend Luke Moseley aka Butternut Sweetheart on drums, and also providing the very sweet vocal harmonies. Typically for Kelly, it's centred around her versatile violin playing and also lots of detailed electronics.

Sarah Neufeld - Tumble Down the Undecided [Paper Bag Records/One Little Independent/Bandcamp]
Sarah Neufeld - Hero Brother [Constellation/Bandcamp]
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - With the dark hug of time [Constellation/Bandcamp]
Sarah Neufeld - With Love and Blindness [One Little Independent/Bandcamp]
Earlier this year we were given a new album from Toronto postrock/post-classical legends Bell Orchestre, over a decade after their last. Formed from people associated with The Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre features Sarah Neufeld (of both bands) on violin, so it was a nice surprise to find a new solo album from Neufeld coming out this year too. After a few releases on Montréal's great Constellation, Neufeld's previous solo album was released by Toronto's Paper Bag Records, and Detritus follows suit, along with One Little Independent in Europe. It's very much a continuation of what she's done since 2013's Hero Brother - solo amplified violin throwing off pastoral melodies and fluttering, see-sawing chords, with occasional vocals and drums & other instruments thrown in at times. While he doesn't appear here, back in 2015 Neufeld released a stunning album with her husband Colin Stetson, a true meeting of minds in which two very singular, technically accomplished musicians meld their styles together. I decided to revisit one track from that tonight as well.

Colleen - Gazing at Taurus - Santa Eulalia [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Colleen - blue sands [Leaf/Bandcamp]
Colleen - Hidden in the Current [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Cécile Schott aka Colleen is a truly chameleonic musician, who over the years has made purely sample-based music, an album from music boxes, extraordinary layered acoustic music featuring the viola da gamba, and more recently a series of albums from analogue synths, drum machines and echoes & delays. The Tunnel and the Clearing, just released on Thrill Jockey, comes 4 years after her last, and follows a period of readjustment after being knocked down by an illness and then locked down by, well, we all know... From very constrained materials - a Moog synth, a Yamaha Reface YC (basically a retro electric organ), some delays, a drum machine and a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, along with her gentle vocals, Schott constructs pieces of strangely emotive beauty. Drawing a line between this, the mystical acoustic visions of les ondes silencieuses, and her earlier work is not as hard as it may seem.

Isambard Khroustaliov - Lewdown Incantation [Not Applicable/Bandcamp]
In the mid-'90s cousins Ollie Bown and Sam Britton formed the drum'n'bass duo Icarus, releasing two immaculate Photek-tinged drum'n'bass albums and then melting into bizarrely broken-down forms over many years since, drawing on musique concrète, sound-art, folktronica, generative programming and more, while never quite losing the accelerated, syncopated pulse. Bown is now the laptopist in Sydney's Tangents (full disclosure: with me), and Britton plays in a number of jazz/electronic-fusing ensembles in London as well as releasing music under the pseudonym Isambard Khroustaliov. Britton has undertaken research at the venerable IRCAM in Paris, as well as STEIM in Holland. With these credentials, he crosses over between IDM, the dancefloor and the academy, but it's jazz and science (fiction) which fuel his latest album Transhuman Harmolodics. I can't pretend to understand much of the theory behind Ornette Coleman's "harmolodics", but it's a philosophy as much as a musical theory, and Britton sees it as harmonious with the philosophy of transhumanism, which seeks to transform humanity into a new evolutionary pathway by merging with technology. There's some otherworldly beauty in this work, and I wish it had a physical release, but I hope this long piece, featuring the sampled & transformed voice of his young son Kip, will tempt you to check the rest of the album out.

Seefeel - Spangle [Warp/Bandcamp]
Seefeel - Cut [Warp/Bandcamp]
Seefeel - Monastic [Warp/Bandcamp]
Scala - Naked [Touch/Bandcamp]
Seefeel - Dead Guitars [Warp]
This week sees Warp Records release a big, generous box set of works by the legendary Seefeel from 1994-96 - their EPs and album Succour on Warp, and the follow-up (Ch-Vox) originally released by Rephlex, collected on 4 CDs and 6 LPS. At the time, their signing to Warp was a little controversial as they were seen as a guitar band (quite amusing looking back from 2021), but it was clear right away that Seefeel were becoming a very "Warp" band, even before the marvellous Starethrough EP came out on Warp, featuring the otherworldly "Spangle", which many of us discovered on Warp's Artificial Intelligence II compilation the same year. Sarah Peacock's vocals, and the guitars and drums were all cut up, sampled and looped, primarily by Mark Clifford, constructing minimalist works which owed more to dub, hip-hop and techno than shoegaze or indie rock. The influence of Warp pioneers Aphex Twin and Autechre (the latter of whom swapped remixes with Seefeel around this time) is deeply felt, but Seefeel themselves were highly influential on the following generations of electronic and postrock musicians. It's a shame that the release of these boxsets is marred by some mastering issues. Bogglingly there's been a 2sec gap introduced between all tracks, not just on the CDs but also digital and even on the vinyl, which messes with the continuity between some tracks. And the wonderful dubby "Monastic", otherwise unreleased, has a tiny gap around 0:55 which apparently appears on all formats(!) - I managed to repair it with a matching bar a couple of phrases after this glitch, so you get to hear the "Peter Hollo edit" tonight!
The earliest incarnation of Seefeel featured the brilliant electronic producer Mark Van Hoen (aka Locust), and after Seefeel's run of '90s albums the members reconvened with Van Hoen with a new name, Scala, releasing three brilliant, overlooked albums on Touch and Too Pure. Peacock's vocals break out of the stuttering samplers more here, and the music is less minimal, owing more both to techno and to indie. And then in 2010 Seefeel released an EP and album back on Warp, with all the expected parts present and correct. One can only hope that another decade later there's more to come.

Jack Prest - Test Tone IV [Jack Prest Bandcamp]
Jack Prest - Test Tone VII [Jack Prest Bandcamp]
Ambient music can mean so many things, but whatever it is, Sydney composer, producer & musician Jack Prest has got it down pat with his Test Tones. A series of short tracks created with soft-focus generative video as an iPhone app, a selection of these pieces are now available on cassette and digital from Prest's Bandcamp. This is mostly gentle music that works just beyond perception, but as with the best ambient, it's mind-altering, and not always calming. The crescendoing growls and jolts of "Test Tone VII" in particular point at some interesting stuff going on below the surface here.

de portables - Uuflaki Space Station (Life is Tidal at USS) [Gazer Tapes/de portables Bandcamp]
Belgium's de portables have a pranksterish reputation in their home country - they started as a perfectly-pitched postrock band, but they've released oddball pop, krautrock and electronic experiments (one of their members is Jürgen De Blonde, aka glitch maestro Köhn). During lockdown, de portables have been steadily releasing a series of cassette (and digital) EPs, the Silver Series, through Belgian label Gazer Tapes and on their own Bandcamp. Each sports a "Version/Virgin" punning title and the version theme is carried through with dub-influence krautrock jams - but with enough time in the studio there's plenty of accomplished writing and producing coming through. I couldn't quite play the entirety of the near-15-minute epic "Uuflaki Space Station (Life is Tidal at USS)", but I got enough in for you to get the picture I think. A head-nodding good time, yes?

Listen again — ~196MB

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