Friday, June 23, 2017

Peter Hook & The Light - “Closer - Live In Manchester 2011” 2xCD, “Unknown Pleasures: Live in Leeds 2012” 2xCD, “Movement: Live In Dublin 2013” CD, “Power, Corruption & Lies: Live in Dublin 2013” CD

Co-founder revisits Joy Division and New Order classics

Peter Hook and his band The Light have a right, a legacy and a license, to cover the immortal Joy Division (and early New Order). Even more so as the rest of New Order are busy releasing tedious and vapid disco pop and generally ignoring their inspirational and innovative roots.

Fans like me were either too young (me) or just not around during the prime eras of the Manchester bands’ heydays, so Peter Hook and The Light are the closest we’ll ever get to seeing and hearing Joy Division’s material or the earliest (and best, in this writer’s opinion) New Order tracks in a live setting. Hook had a prominent part in these band’s sounds, and his re-claiming of them is a true godsend for fans of all ages and eras. 

All that said, these 4 CD releases of live shows from 2011-2013 capture the feels and vibes of the great studio recordings in top quality. Hook’s vocals are admirable and quite close approximations to Ian Curtis’, and his band, which includes his son Jack Bates on bass, cover Joy Division and New Order’s finest work with respect and power. 

“Closer Live Tour 2011: Live In Manchester” is a 21-song, double-CD set of album and single cuts, closing with (pre-Joy Division) cuts “Warsaw” and “Failure”, and climaxed by the legendary “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. “Colony” and “Atmosphere” are sung by former Happy Mondays and The Light collaborator Rowetta, bringing a soulful and reverential side to the “covers”. Overall, a great addition to any Joy Division collection, and a riveting live set.

“Unknown Pleasures Tour 2012: Live in Leeds” is another double-CD, including 24 tracks (with minimal overlay of the “Closer” set). The entirety of the great “Unknown Pleasures” LP is performed here, of course, alongside another wealth of other cuts from the era. As with the “Closer” set, it all sounds top-notch, with a post-punk fire that does the originals proper justice (and even reanimates them into a new era). “Interzone” or “The Drawback” out-punk the younger generation, and classics like “Transmission”, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and “Ceremony” close it all out with intensity and passion. Hook and his boys know these songs inside out, and these albums do them a great service, bringing it all back to life again.

“Movement Tour 2013: Live In Dublin” is a single disc and opens with 7 Joy Division cuts, including faithful and intense covers of “Incubation” and “Autosuggestion”, as well as “Ceremony”, before hitting the New Order debut LP, “Movement” and the album’s great opener, “Dreams Never End”. This album was a sort of middle ground from the band’s previous Joy Division incarnation and their more electronic and dance-worthy future as New Order. It echoes Joy Division’s starkness and raw post-punk sound, only hinting at the group’s lighter future. Hook’s band pound through the brief album’s 8 cuts before hitting a few New Order single B-sides. In all, it’s 18 tracks here, well worth any fan of either band’s time and cash.

“Power Corruption & Lies Tour 2013: Live In Dublin” is another single disc, with 14 tracks beginning with early New Order favorite “Everything’s Gone Green” before hitting the band’s second album in it’s entirety. The band transitioned from the darkness of their earlier work with this electro-pop album that had great tracks like “Age Of Consent”, as well as lighter, funkier cuts like “586” that don’t hold up as well. Favorites like “True Faith”, “Temptation”, and “Blue Monday” are used as finales alongside “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, closing this chapter in Hook’s homages to his past works. Of the 4 albums released here, this is the one that to me seems a bit less necessary. Nonetheless, it’s a solid work that invites further re-investigation into New Order’s earlier releases.

Overall, Hook and The Light do great justice to these classic albums, leaving any serious fan impressed and relishing the originals, yet making a new life for them as well, keeping them alive and making them as much about “now” as “then”. Bravo.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dean De Benedictis - “Salvaging The Present” CD

Inventive surrealist sound

Veteran composer De Benedictis has been around for some time, and “Salvaging The Present” is a unique melding of elements from various musical streams, gelled into an immersive and uniquely inventive and personal mix that would easily function as a soundtrack to a playful surrealist film.

Opening with the curious “To The Ends Of Elation”, which joins elements of prog-rock with immersive ambiance, De Benedictis brings together unusual and often disparate elements into his hallucinogenic sound stew. “Micro Souls Anthem” has a similarly upbeat and lively vibe with nicely deep mixing. “Pagoda Tiempo” uses a sampled and effected slice of dramatic orchestral strings before drifting into a more celestial ambience. Just beautiful and so very effective. “Never The Sacred Stretch” could easily function as an electronic soundtrack to a surreal interpretation of “Alice In Wonderland”. “The Purity Of Season 279E” brings to mind a rolling Western desert landscape, somehow, whereas “Whisper County” is a gentle reverberation from times past, as remembered from a wooden porch and a rocking chair. “Regret In G (The Sky Remembers)” closes it out with a drifty, almost shoegazey haze. 

De Benedictis isn’t afraid to cross genre boundaries, and calling this an “ambient” album is a disservice. Aspects are there, but “Salvaging The Present” is a modern electronic music journey that doesn’t have limits or boundaries. It’s a journey that I’ll want to make again.

En Esch - “Spank!” CD

Cool electro-rock from former KMFDM wildman

The enigmatic former co-frontman for KMFDM and Pigface here releases his second true solo album, and it’s a solid, enjoyable electro-rock album that falls right in line with his past work, with elements of hard rock and metal as well as clubby dance elements.

Opening with the club-metal of “12345” (which features a guest appearance from Tim Skold), the album heads into the anthemic “Hard On”, which would fit well on any KMFDM album. “Give The People What They Want” recalls Esch’s 1993 solo album, “Cheesy”, with a groovy electro-funk grunge sound. “Soul To Steal” is a trance-electronica cut that brings the exotic vocals of Trixie Reiss to the forefront. Further cuts bring present En Esch’s sense of humor (as in the silly interlude “I Hop”) before diving back into his aggressive rock-dance melding (the menacing “No Guts No Glory”). En Esch has retained the sound(s) that made him famous so many years ago, as well as kept the sense of experimentation that seems to have left Sascha’s KMFDM a long time ago. As much as I hate comparing En Esch’s work 20 years later to his formative act, the link is still there, and En Esch does it as well or, in many cases, better. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

John Gregorius - “Still Voice” CD

Wonderful ambient guitar pop

Veteran guitar player and producer Gregorius has found his niche with this collection of melodic, ambient guitar works that generates a warm and pastoral existence, uncluttered by trends or genre. The opener, “Grounded In Mystery” is simply a beautiful and gentle wisp of soft harmonics and fleeting guitar. 

Gregorius’s songs are essentially heart-lifting soundtracks to films that don’t (yet) exist. His soft guitar melodies are placed simply atop beds of electronics and processed guitar, crafting an instrumental pillow of dreamily introspective ambient “pop”. “Benevolence” picks up a wafting rhythm, but remains a positive and reflective tone. “True Self” brings an almost droning post-rock, shoegaze vibe and works amazingly well. 

“Still Voice” is a lovely, heartfelt, and emotive album of gentle ambient guitar compositions that I very much appreciate after too much angry noise and cluttered sounds. It’s the perfect album to wind down to, and Gregarius is a highly skilled composer who I’d love to hear more from. Bravo!

Nick Cave - “Maximum Nick Cave” CD

Shady audio biography, not music...

This unauthorized “CD-Audio-Biog” is basically a rather dated 55-minute narrated history of Cave’s career up until 2005 or so. There are several interview audio clips, with Cave himself here, but overall, this CD is a rather thin and unnecessary document that seems aimed at fooling Cave fans into unwitting/unwilling purchase.

The rather basic biography of Cave’s history is spoken by Sian Jones, whose voice recalls a British newscaster, and incidental music by Amanda Thompson are only slightly interesting. Jones’ gross mispronunciation of Einsturzende Neubauten is pretty awful, and this package’s lasting impact and replayability are quite limited.

Serious Nick Cave fans — pick this up only at a drastic discount, as there’s very little here to learn about the legendary songwriter and frontman.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Controlled Bleeding - “Body Samples” 2xCD

Early sounds from legendary avant group

Controlled Bleeding’s 1985 debut LP for Germany’s Dossier Records is here reissued into a definitive double-disc edition, thanks to the wonderful ArtOfFact/Storming The Base label. “Body Samples” was an early breaking of tradition for the experimental group. Prior to this LP, the band had become known more for brutal power noise and agonized feedback with albums like “Knees And Bones” and a series of limited cassette albums. “Body Samples” showed the group opening their sound up with more subtle ambient textures alongside their post-industrial electronics. 

Opening with the ambient-oriented “Chote/Wheels/Hair”, the band quickly dissolved minds with the brief harsh feedback piece “Lungs Half” before heading into different waters with the percussive Neubauten-inspired “Experiments With Fuck”. “Blood Sack” is another hard noise cut, before “Scourge Sack” throws some tape loop atmospheres into the mix. “II” is a brief mournful ambient piece that anticipates the band’s later interest in dark proto-classical atmospheres. “Wall Shine Seed” sounds like Middle Eastern music behind a wall of screams and feedback. “Bulges Fakes” closes the initial disc with an upbeat melodic guitar sketch.

The second disc here is 39 minutes of other tracks recorded around the same time period (1983-1985), and with a similar mix of textures and noise. The ominous “Rust Bag” was recorded for a Broken Flag compilation but was left unreleased. Other tracks were either unreleased or originally bonus tracks on the initial “Body Samples” CD release on the now-defunct Dossier label. 

The diverse textures of “Body Samples” were still raw and certainly harsh, but the forceful insistence and unrelenting nature of the group’s earliest releases was held back a bit in favor of different moods and more subtle textures. Hints of the band’s later forays into ambience and beat-driven songs can be found here alongside the jagged feedback and screams. “Body Samples” is a challenging recording, sure, but it’s a classic and unique listening experience, and one that takes some unpredictable turns and diversions into areas of relevance for any fan of experimental and early electronic music. Cheers to Paul Lemos and all involved in bringing this landmark recording back into consciousness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Controlled Bleeding - “Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps” 2xCD

Explosive new work from reformed experimental group

After some years of sporadic activity and the unexpected deaths of primary members Chris Moriarty and Joe Papa, this double-length album marks a serious return for Paul Lemos’ venerable noise-prog-jazz-ambient-dub behemoth. Through the years, Controlled Bleeding have provided a rather schizophrenic mix of genres, from outright power electronics to industrial dance to ambient to sacred music hybrids. Now, with new members, the band has found a focus on a wild out-jazz, prog-rock, post-rock madness that refuses to “fit” anywhere comfortably, but it sounds just amazing.

Opening with the frenzied prog-rock intensity of “Driving Through Darkness”, the album leans in for a darker, funky post-punk grind in “Carving Song”, which will more than please fans of “Filth”-era SWANS a bit. “Trawler’s Return” is a feverish jazz-thrash attack that careens headfirst into a Lemos guitar shredding, set to a pace that would please any classic punk rocker. “As Evening Fades” is a sweet and mellow ambient dub piece, leading into the 22-minute closer, “The Perks Of Being A Perv”, which ends the first album in a tour-de-force of pounding post-industrial rhythms lashed alongside Lemos’ maniacal guitar. Call this one more jazz-prog-thrash, every bit as intense as any metal could hope to be. The track evolves/devolves into pounding experimental improv noise, a sort of harkening back to the band's famous days as one of America's premier industrial noise groups.

The second disc is “The Bisi Sessions”, recorded live in the studio back in 2011 with legendary NYC producer Martin Bisi (known for his work with SWANS, Sonic Youth, Live Skull, and tons more). These 7 tracks (well, 8, as there's an unlisted bonus cut) are an ideal accompaniment alongside the initial “Larva Lumps” disc — weird, complex rhythms and genre-busting arrangements all centered around the remarkable guitar chops of Lemos himself. Approaching a kind of hyper speed-core on most cuts, Controlled Bleeding’s potent musical ramblings (all instrumental here aside from a rather pop-oriented "Trang's Song", with sweet vocals from longtime collaborator Trang) are both befuddling and somehow invigorating. 

Music doesn’t need to belong to any category or genre, and Paul Lemos and company have spent many years proving that great music comes, rightly, from far outside the mainstream. Cheers, Paul, and here’s to many more releases and reissues.