A Quietus Review: Pedwar by Rhodri Davies (October 8th, 2014)

Rhodri Davies is not a unique artist and musician, but he’s pretty close. Just like Okkyung Lee with the cello and John Butcher on the saxophone, Welsh harpist Davies totally deconstructs, reimagines and explores his instrument, at times to the point of making it utterly unrecognisable. At times on 2012’s Wound Response, the results were astounding, the harp practically transformed into a vicious noise generator, which Davies then manipulated in ferocious ways, creating one of the most explosively beautiful albums of that year.

Wound Response features in this new box set on alt.vinyl, along with two other previous works as well as his latest, An Air Swept Clean Of All Distance. While there are some similarities between these albums (with the exception of the one-track drone masterpiece ‘Over Shadows’, and even that bears the same formal curiosity and rigour that has long characterised Davies’ work), each one stands as a unique work of art in its own right, with rich details and colourations. The tools are often the same, mind you: harps of varying sizes are manipulated using fans, EBows and other implements, either extending or reducing notes into blocks of sound and texture that appear to rip the instrument’s rulebook up altogether. After all, the harp is perhaps more linked to past musics than any other instrument bar the harpsichord, so to hear it so transformed is both a thrill and a challenge. The term often used for Rhodri Davies’ music is “reductionism”, but the term seems unfitting when the results are so captivating.

Wound Response is, as I’ve written, pretty brutal, a series of crunching robust vignettes that are almost punk-like in their muscularity. Davies’ small harp sounds almost like a guitar, and it’s little surprise that he previously played with Derek Bailey. This is not mere noise, however, and the Welshman is a virtuoso musician, with each track following a dynamic path, as Davies plucks away furiously at the strings, tumbling from one motif to another with balletic dexterity. In doing so, he actually goes against the conventions of what harpists are taught, going so far as to attack the strings with a plectrum. I can see where the term reductionism came from given the probable repercussions of this method (harp’s aren’t exactly robust), but again, it doesn’t sit well given the heights Davies reaches. Trem (from 2001) follows a similar pattern, although it’s shorter and denser, with Davies using free jazz and free improv techniques (crocodile clips on the strings, holding a tamborim against a string whilst bowing close to the soundboard, depressing all seven pedals at once) in front of an audience who must have been as bewildered as they were thrilled. Once again, the harp’s sound is completely transformed, oscillating between clusters of feedback and parping notes that sound like a cross between a trumpet and a piano. Although in a way more minimalist and eclectic than Wound Response, Trem is equally potent and abrasive and a good insight into what a Rhodri Davies concert could perhaps be like.

In contrast, Over Shadows is almost delicate. Although Derek Bailey apparently wasn’t much impressed with Davies’ use of EBows, the latter persisted and the single 30-minute piece that constitutes Over Shadows is in its way as stirring as Wound Response or Trem. Eliane Radigue has previously composed especially for Davies, and there’s something of her patient, unflappable style on Over Shadows, as slow, hesitant drones slide in and out of perception like sluggish waves on a lakeside beach. Davies toys with varied tunings, almost in the “militant tuning” ethos of a LaMonte Young, Pauline Oliveros or Tony Conrad (only quieter than the latter) and the piece gradually builds up into a resonant sonic edifice in which details shimmer and surreptitiously shift like light playing across a window.

The same lap harp as on Wound Response is used again on An Air Swept Clean Of All Distance, but the results could not be more disparate. Eschewing amplification and limiting the number of strings used, Davies accentuates the instrument’s versatility and improvisational possibilities as he relies on his thumbs and fingers to extract texture and rhythm from the harp. An Air Swept Clean Of All Distance vaguely recalls Bill Orcutt’s recent solo acoustic guitar output, but also harks back in no small fashion to the traditional music of Davies’ native Wales, as if he’s reimagining folk for the improvisational age. On each of these albums, Rhodri Davies achieves marvels by almost counter-intuitively imposing rigid parameters on his music, from the tools he uses to the way the albums are recorded. In each case, he finds fresh ways to interact with his harp and fresh ways to jerk his listeners’ preconceptions. That, for me, is the mark of all truly great music and musicians, and Rhodri Davies is certainly one of the latter.

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A Quietus Review: Flatland by Objekt (October 7th, 2014)

It might just be me, but it seems there are few musical genres more fractured and disparate than modern electronic dance music. I know, I know, rock has also become hugely diverse, especially in the wake of punk’s year zero and with the advent of cheaper recording equipment, and even more “niche” genres like noise and metal (especially the latter) have splintered into many sub-genres. Hell, even pop, supposedly just a simple vehicle for mass consumption, has seen itself transformed into an underground phenomenon produced on lo-fi gear by bedroom enthusiasts with wide-ranging influences that have fully distorted its original aim in wildly interesting and mysterious ways. And of course, dance music’s basis in electronica, with all its twists and permutations, from ambient to industrial via hip-hop and kosmische, and the prevalence of laptops making it so accessible, was always bound to be open to countless perspectives. But despite all this, the evolution in the last decade has been remarkable, and all over the world a wealth of different clubs are gearing their sound systems towards a bewildering array of niche styles, from murky dubstep to clinical minimal techno, high-octane grime to jerky footwork. It’s hard to know where to start, and I admit that sometimes I find myself lost amongst the wealth of breakbeats, synth lines and sub-bass that currently populate my iPod, much as I love it all.

I don’t know if it was his intention, but on Flatland, Berlin-based producer/DJ Objekt, aka TJ Hertz, appears to have embarked on the unenviable mission of trying to draw together and consolidate all these various approaches to dancefloor music. At times, it even seems like he’s spent hours poring over the entire back catalogues of forward-thinking labels like Hyperdub, Kompakt, Keysound and Werkdiscs, and somehow attempted to join the dots between them. It’s no wonder, really, that Flatland is being put out by PAN, a label about as audacious and on-the-pulse as any. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his main wells are the London and Berlin scenes of the last decade or two, but there are even hints of Drexciya, Detroit techno and Chicago house in here as well: an infectious beat here, a smooth synth melody or distorted voice there. Indeed, in contrast to some of the more rugged, shifting and gritty productions you might find on the post-dubstep scene in the UK’s capital, such as Actress, Burial, LV or early Hype Williams, Hertz’s production is crisp and clear, not quite in the line of ambient techno producers such as The Field or Porter Ricks, but nonetheless imbued with a hypnotic melodic focus. On his first album, Objekt seems to be imagining himself delivering a live set, complete with formless drone interludes.

And yet, there is some of dubstep’s midnight vibe on Flatland, with heaps of echo amplifying certain sounds to coat some tracks in a certain melancholic aura. It’s possible that Hertz is taking his cues more from funky (or is it wonky? See, lost again!) producers over here such as Zomby, Joy Orbison or Ikonika, and there is an element of the latter’s crisp formalism on tracks like ‘Dogma’, although without the widescreen synth overloads. Like a lot of modern Berlin-based producers, Objekt’s strength lies in his ability to churn out beats, and most tracks on Flatland are wondrously infectious, with repeated snares and kick drums locking into a sort of perpetual repeated motion. Tracks like ‘One Fell Swoop’, ‘Ratchet’ and ‘Strays’ (what a superb opening salvo, by the way: 15-odd minutes of body-shaking bliss) canter forwards like trains, locking into unbreakable grooves that remain untroubled by the synthetic noises and swoops of synth that Hertz layers on top of them. Objekt is an intriguing character, very much in tune with PAN’s experimental credentials, but this album also hints at a potential future as a room-filler in any club he chooses, were that what he wanted. Even the slower tracks are traversed with rhythmic potency.

Despite all the above comparisons, Flatland somehow exists in what feels like an hermetically sealed world of its own, an ethos espoused by the title and the austerity of Objekt’s approach, even at his most melodic. A lot of the recent electronic music I’ve heard, especially in the UK, has dealt expressly with the socio-political unease of our times, be it Actress’ Ghettoville or Vessel’s recentPunish, Honey. Objekt dodges such considerations altogether, and perhaps offers Flatland up as a slice of escapism. After all, that’s what dancing the night away in a sweaty club is really all about, isn’t it? Flatland feels perfectly formed out of the clay of a multitude of styles, and, with rhythms this tight, it’s something of a triumph, even if it reflects nothing back but strobe lights.

A Quietus Review: Islands by LV & Josh Idehen (October 3rd, 2014)

Over the years, we’ve become used to grime and dubstep as vehicles for a portrayal of the UK’s urban hinterland: the tough inner-city estates, the lonely bus rides through decaying suburbia, the overarching threats of gangs, police and drugs, the heady rush of post-dancefloor euphoria giving way to end-of-the-night melancholia. These have come to define our city nights like a tapestry culled from the minds of millions of young revellers and city dwellers, a collective database as indefinable and romanticised as it is visceral and universal. In grime in particular, MCs spit, yelp and bellow sketches of their day-to-day experiences, allowing a tiny insight of their lives before the songs fade and the shaking bass ushers us towards the dancefloor.

It’s rare that an artist will open up to the extent that it feels like you’ve been given access to his or her deepest thoughts and feelings. The aforementioned universality detracts from the personal beyond the fleetest of glimpses, but Josh Idehen seems to take little interest in convention or stylistic mores, and his is a vision more coherent and formally narrative than any other MC I’ve come across, at least in these days when the solo underground grime artist à la early Dizzee or Wiley has taken a backseat to (often striking) collaborative efforts such as The Bug’s Angels & Devils and ubiquitous chart-topping bubblegum-hop. Idehen comes across on Islands as a romantic, a drifter and a story-teller, a narrator transmitting those same dirty roads, reverberating clubs and cramped council flats to us via his own experiences, emotions and musings.

In production duo LV, Idehen has chanced upon the ideal collaborators. Routes, their debut album together, was pretty much a portrait of London in music, very much in the vein of Keysound label owners Dusk and Blackdown’s Margins Music, with Idehen’s vocals pared down to soundbites dropped around LV’s post-dubstep malaise. On Islands, the MC is given the centre stage, dominating tracks that become actual songs, with a considered variation in tempos and styles. On the one hand, there is a descriptive narrative: Idehen continues some of the ideas of Routes–and trends in grime and dubstep in general- on tracks like ‘Double Decker Backseat’ and the hopelessly irresistible single ‘Imminent’, constructing vivid, expressionist images of London’s darker underbelly. The former is essentially wordless, Idehen’s lyrics laden with effects until it almost becomes a slur (and who living London hasn’t boarded a late-night bus barely able to articulate the simplest of thoughts). It’s a prime example of how even when Idehen takes a back seat of sorts (no pun intended), the empathy between him and LV allows his overall message to shine brightly. ‘Imminent’, meanwhile, is a disturbing half-dialogue based on an overheard conversation brimming with murderous intent: “Dat boi, dat boi, dat idiot/Thinks he’s grime, thinks he’s brilliant/He don’t know his time is limited/Can’t see his end is imminent/Imminent/Imminent/Imminent/Imminent”. The track is all the more chilling for its cantering along squelchy bass and infectious snares, overflowing with hooks even as the protagonists prepare themselves for fictional violence.

The trio don’t limit themselves to mirroring London’s neon-lit darkness, with Idehen using such stories to paint the world in which he, a Nigerian Briton raised in Benin City, deals with life, love and loss. I’d go so far as to state he lays his soul out like an open book on Islands, such as on the otherwise inconsequential 56-second ‘Obsessed’ in which Idehen plays the forlorn abandoned lover. ‘Island’, another third-person tale but one that feels more personal than ‘Imminent’ and ‘Shake’, is a dark lament on unrequited love and jealousy set to a gentle ambient backing that wouldn’t be out of place on King Midas Sound’s Waiting For You.

The two angles on Islands coalesce most impressively on ‘Run Down’, a wonderfully morose shuffle documenting Idehen’s anticipation for the oncoming night that starts out with shifting electronic drones and faint rhythmic shifts before lurching into a finger-clicking deconstructed 4/4 groove that is just the right side of catchy to get you itching for the dancefloor. LV are remarkably adroit tunesmiths, able to navigate the fine lines between minimalism and melodicism without ever descending into dry formalism or familiar clichés. Josh Idehen has a voice that is just as expressive and powerful, whether he’s belting out the fast-paced rap of ‘Imminent’ or the more sensual, evocative neo-soul of ‘Islands’. I doubt there will ever be another great leap forwards in UK urban music, but these guys certainly push the envelope further than most.

A Quietus Review: Games Have Rules by Function and Vatican Shadow (October 1st, 2014)

This isn’t the first time ambient music has been used to present a musical tableau of a city, but it’s certainly a surprising choice from these two artists. Function, aka David Sumner, was after all one third of acclaimed electro deconstructionists Sandwell District, whose abrasive take on techno and dance provided a timely–and uneasy–injection of energy to familiar forms back in 2010 and 2011. Vatican Shadow, meanwhile, is an alias of Prurient’s Dominick Fernow, a man who may have transcended his noise background some time ago but who is still associated with words like “harsh”, “brutal” and “angry”. How is it possible, many may ask, that they’ve turned away from their familiar edginess in favour of ambient music?

It’s a dumb question, of course. Fernow and Sumner are experienced and talented producers, so they can do whatever they like with us fans, safe in the knowledge that the results are likely to be at least interesting and more likely exciting. Having said that, it still comes as surprise that Games Have Rules is quite so quiet. I mean, the album is a sonic reflection of the duo’s current city of New York (at night), and in my experience, it’s not a particularly quiet place. But by dropping the volume levels, Fernow and Sumner hone in on the minutiae of their city at night, the background textures of their experience and the intricate details that mostly go unnoticed by the masses. The album is imbued with a sort of listless melancholia, as if recorded in the witching hour between midnight and dawn after too many hours of excess and clubbing. Despite having only the faintest esquisse of thematic and sonic similarities, the mournful music of Burial immediately springs to mind when listening to Games Have Rules.

Set alongside the main body of both artists’ work, Games Have Rules therefore feels like a withdrawal, the title hinting at a reluctance to engage with dynamics of late-night social interaction, which would hardly be surprising given how little their austere musics are linked, even at their most beat-heavy and danceable, to the standard night out requirements of revelry and jollity. Most of the tracks drift and linger like the wisps of smoke emanating from vents in the Big Apple’s pavements, with rhythm seemingly surrendered to the sort of brooding ambience you’d expect on a Tim Hecker album. Listen closer (this album massively rewards listens on the headphones) and sullen sub-techno beats emerge like caterpillar tracks running under a vehicle. Jittering sonic eructations, bleeps and bloops are scattered over most of the tracks, lingering, inchoate like distant sirens and machinery heard through a hotel room window. There’s an emotional strand running through Games Have Rules but–perhaps because distinguishing who is doing what is impossible–it’s subdued and ambiguous, something which adds to the album’s crepuscular nature.

Games Have Rules may represent a shift for both Fernow and Sumner but it’s far from the dramatic change many might think. Instead, it represents an intriguing evolution by two artists who seem to delight in tweaking electronica to elicit fresh impressions of modern urban dystopia. It might not be an essential statement by either artist, but it lingers in the memory like a troubling dream in the small hours of the morning.

A Quietus Review: Four Track Mind by Ekoplekz (September 9th, 2014)

What a year it has been for Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards. March saw the release of his most fully-realised album to date, Unfidelity, on which his surreal blend of motoric techno and ectoplasmic DIY hauntology reached its most direct, sinewy peak. To my mind, Edwards has surpassed all other similar artists in the way he has drawn a line between quasi-dancefloor friendly melodic electronica and an austere form of post-industrial kosmische rooted in English eccentricity, folklore and arcana. His move to Planet Mu for Unfidelity crystallised his various inspirations (“influences” is somehow inappropriate) into something more focused than before, and he’s elevated the vision on that album even higher with Four Track Mind.

Most of the tracks on Four Track Mind were recorded around the same time as those on Unfidelity, but the mood is notably different. For all its inherent queasiness and nods to the austere industrial electronica of Robert Rental, Unfidelity was an almost bright and upbeat album, the murk of previous releases replaced with driving techno beats and Harmonia-esque synth layers. On Four Track Mind, Edwards lingers over his tracks, with four of them stretching past the eight minute mark. An atmosphere of sombre contemplation looms over the album like a pall of smoke, an introspective yang to Unfidelity’s sardonic energy. If the album’s title suggests a collection of lo-fi afterthoughts tacked on to its predecessors coat-tails, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a fully fleshed-out work that evolves almost like a concept album, and it’s a journey that takes the listener into the murkier recesses of Nick Edwards’ psyche.

‘Return To The Annex’ is the track that best epitomises the central motif on Four Track Mind. Over languid, swirling synths, Edwards deploys a series of stark clatters and an eerie recording of himself as a child talking to his long-deceased father. There’s a lot of talk about how acts like Ekoplekz (Demdike Stare, Broadcast, the Ghost Box lot) play with themes of memory, but it’s for any of them to delve into such personal material. The track is evocative and unsettling, with Edwards expertly overlapping loops and and percussion, delicately creating a miniature suite that lingers long after its ten minutes have expired. ‘Ariel Grey’ is similarly ethereal, an intricate collage of looped vocal echoes, throbbing electronic lines and aquatic effects, whilst ‘Tantrikz’ edges along on an hypnotic krautrock-ish backbeat, perhaps the clearest nod towards influences like Harmonia and Cluster that Edwards allows himself on the album. Even the shorter, faster-paced tracks on Four Track Mind contain trace elements of taut emotions, such as the driving mutant techno of ‘Reflekzive’, which is propelled by twitching beats and a sweeping phantom choir, or the bouncy, echo-laden ‘Interstice’. Edwards’ liberal use of reverb and echo means each track, no matter how short, seems to stretch time, with the likes of ‘Reflekzive’ and ‘Dvectif’ sounding like horror movies soundtracks compressed into bite-sized form. Four Track Mind is, for all the occasional moments of snide levity and gallows humour, a grim and haunting listen.

A rather lazy shorthand has grown up when it comes to discussing a lot of this new British electronica (or hauntology, if you prefer), with consistent references to seventies TV shows like Doctor Who or The Owl Service and public information videos. Sure, Nick Edwards’ analogue synths have a few sounds you might hear on vintage sci-fi TV, but, on listening to Four Track Mind a rather different visual artefact from the seventies crept into my mind: Ian Merrick and Michael Armstrong’s horrifying 1977 low-budget thriller The Black Panther. The film tells the true story of serial killer Donald Neilson, who killed three village postmasters and kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle in 1975. I don’t know if Edwards ever saw the film (an outraged press, probably trying to make up for their own role in the botched rescue attempt of Whittle which may have led to her death, accused the directors of exploitation and The Black Panther was effectively buried for decades), but the oppressive, austere nature of the music on Four Track Mind seems to hark back to that not-so-lost England of grim suburbia, crumbling industrial landscapes and sordid violence.

It’s hard not to regret that Four Track Mind won’t see a wider release than the few hundred vinyl copies Planet Mu are going to put out, but I can see why Unfidelity was given precedent: it’s the more open, “accessible” (not quite the right term when dealing with Ekoplekz) and concise work. But Four Track Mind is more than its predecessor’s morose cousin: it’s a triumphant work in its own right, more intimate and intense, and confirms Nick Edwards as one of the most exciting artists of the year.

A Quietus Feature: On the Beach by Neil Young 40 years later (September 8th, 2014)

In a curious twist of coincidence, I’m writing this anniversary piece not long after the release of a long-awaited live album culled from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s legendary 1974 tour, which took place not long after On The Beach was released. Together, they encapsulate the creative and personal whirlwind that was Neil Young’s life as the seventies reached their midway point.

The CSNY tour represented in many ways the apex of Young’s commercial resonance amongst rock’s pantheon of giants. Two years earlier had seen the release of the smash hit Harvest, its delicate country-folk catchiness propelling the enigmatic Canadian to the top of the charts amid a wave of popular acclaim. His decision in 1969 to hook up with former Buffalo Springfield sparring pal Stephen Stills in CSNY, rock’s premier supergroup, had exposed his eccentric take on folk and rock to a wider audience, and Harvest represented an almost inevitable conclusion to that suddenly raised profile. Despite previous alternative success in the form of 1970’s After The Goldrush, Harvest propelled Young to the very top of the singer/songwriter pile, with rewards aplenty to boot.

Almost immediately, however, the dark side of fame took hold of Young’s life with a vice-like grip. As he prepared to embark on his biggest-yet tour in support of Harvest, his alter ego in his garage-rock band Crazy Horse, Danny Whitten, died of a heroin overdose mere hours after being fired from tour rehearsals by Young. The concerts went ahead under a cloud, with an increasingly alcohol-fuelled Neil finding himself at odds with his band and his audience, who couldn’t relate to the unhinged, hard-edged songs he took to hurling at them in lieu of Harvest-esque folk-pop. The tour was captured in all its lo-fi glory on Time Fades Away (still unavailable outside of its original vinyl pressing), which served as the first sign that Young was, in his words, “heading for the ditch”.

In the space of a few months, the sunny* outlook of 1972 was erased completely. After Time Fades Away, Young – still grieving the death of Whitten, which was compounded by the similar demise of roadie Bruce Berry – took the remains of Crazy Horse and old stalwarts Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith into an improvised studio to lay down his first masterpiece of the dark recesses of the soul, Tonight’s The Night. Recording at night in a series of tequila-fueled sessions, TTN is bleary-eyed, barely in tune and totally phenomenal, perhaps all the more so because it can still shock CSNY and Harvest fans to the core. And if TTN was acclaimed by all involved as a cathartic experience, there was enough of its morbid malevolence still lurking in Young’s soul by the time the sessions for On The Beach came along in early 1974. As such, the trio of Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night (released tardily in 1975) remains one of the greatest and bleakest sequences of albums ever recorded by a major recording artist.

Just as Tonight’s The Night was guided – for want of a better word – by tequila, so too were the On The Beach sessions dominated by a rather different concoction. Ben Keith had introduced Young to a tubby and wild fiddle player called Rusty Kershaw and, while he only features on two songs, the latter’s influence, notably potent hash cakes named “honey slides”, cast a rather woozy shadow over proceedings. Indeed, one of the producers would report to peering through the glass separating the booth from the recording space in a vain attempt to locate the musicians, such was the pall of smoke and darkness that hung over the protagonists. If the album’s title and gorgeous cover suggested a change from Tonight’s The Night’s blackness, the sessions and what they produced were as gloomy as ever. With his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress (the mother of his first child) in tatters and his booze and drug consumption increasingly rampant, Young poured out his angst and anger over the roughest, most sparse music in his career to date (yes, even more so than TTN).

Consequently, whilst it’s not as punishing as TTN, sonically, On The Beach is not for the faint of heart. The bouncy opener ‘Walk On’ aside, most of the album is given over to bitter musings on the emptiness of fame and relationship breakdowns. For the latter category, Young resurrected an old unreleased song, ‘See The Sky About To Rain’, recorded at snail’s pace and laced with funereal electric piano. ‘For The Turnstiles’, meanwhile, is just Young and Keith on banjo and dobro respectively, striving to sing in tune a cracked exposé of the stadium rock scene and ‘Vampire Blues’ points to another future favourite of Young’s bugbears: the destruction of the environment. This is Young at his most disillusioned, and his fury is distilled into raw viciousness on the third track of the first side, the apocalyptic ‘Revolution Blues’. Over an almost funky rhythmic backing provided by Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band (man I wish he’d played with them more often!), Young channels the spirit of Charles Manson, culminating in a harsh incantation: “I hear that Laurel Canyon/ Is full of famous staaaaaars/ But I hate them worse than lepers/ And I’ll kill them in their caaaaars!!!!” In any decade, even now, this would be seen as dark, even controversial stuff; coming from a huge star at the height of his fame in 1974, it could have been career suicide.

For all the first side’s excellence, though, the three tracks that make up side B of On The Beach, starting with the title track, possibly represent Neil Young at his absolute peak. ‘On The Beach’ is heart-rending blues played with absolute anguish as Young contemplates his collapsing world in unflinching detail: “Though my problems are meaningless/ That don’t make them go away”. ‘Motion Pictures’ is another minimal dirge aimed as a last farewell to Snodgress, with Young’s world-weary voice accompanied simply by hand-patted drums, plonking bass and the occasional wurble from Kershaw’s slide guitar. Finally, the album comes tumbling to a close with exquisite emotional potency with the epic, blearily psychedelic song-poem that is ‘Ambulance Blues’, a strange voyage through Young’s past in Canada to his traumatised presence via a few meanderings into the realms of politics and music criticism.

Of all Young’s albums, On The Beach may be the hardest to describe musically, such is the way it sits between identifiable genres. It seems to have emerged, blinking but oddly full-formed, from the darkest chasms of Neil Young’s heart and mind, with Kershaw, Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, drummer Ralph Molina and the other guest performers layering sounds onto his vision and basic outlines with intuitive ease. Maybe honey slides generate telepathy. On The Beach wasn’t a commercial success, as audiences continued to be baffled by its sombreness, and it suffered the same fate as Time Fades Away until 2003 when it saw a belated CD and vinyl reissue, but it now has deservedly earned a place of true favour with Young aficionados. And to come back to CSNY, when Young brought the likes of ‘Ambulance Blues’ and ‘Revolution Blues’ to the almighty party, his erstwhile colleagues were beyond taken aback, with David Crosby begging off having to play on the latter. Yet, forty years down the line, I will find myself reaching for this unrelenting masterpiece far more often than Déjà Vu.

* For what it’s worth, a closer look at the lyrical content of Harvest shows considerable nuance in its supposed cheeriness. Yes, Young was in love and successful, but from the slightly wistful surrealism of ‘Out On The Weekend’ to the anti-racist rant that is ‘Alabama’, via the cautionary and slightly chilling ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ and the title track’s Southern Gothic chill, Harvest is actually anything but a simple ray of James Taylor-esque sunshine. How could it be otherwise with Neil Young?

A Quietus Review: My Love is a Bulldozer by Venetian Snares (July 10th, 2014)

The latest album from Aaron Funk starts off in the manner of the vehicle in its title, with ’10th Circle Of Winnipeg’, a truly superlative track in the Venetian Snares canon. The title makes clear what Funk thinks of Manitoba’s capital city, and the track is suitably moody, claustrophobic and bleak. As has been his wont of late, Funk melds electronics and breakbeats with strident string lines, creating a bizarre hybrid of high-octane dance music and modern classical, whilst a female voice (sounding remarkably similar to Billie Holiday, heard on 2005’s Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, Funk’s masterpiece) gloomily intones about snow, emptiness, hatred and the meaningless of life. Jazz-like percussion is deftly interchanged with breakcore thunder and wobbly bass, the track meandering expertly in the interstices between genres and styles. It’s a potent opener, and, much like the baroque, outlandish artwork, sets the tone for My Love Is A Bulldozer.

After such an imposing start, the rest of My Love Is A Bulldozer was bound to struggle to keep the standards up, but even with this in mind, it’s a confusing and muddled album. On Wikipedia, that ever-reliable bastion of authoritative information, Funk’s music is described as both breakcore and, more surprisingly, modern classical, and at various -brief- instances on My Love Is A Bulldozer he seems to be trying to live up to this description as he strips away beats and synths altogether in favour of more orchestral instrumentation. Rarely, however, do moments like ‘Deleted Poems’ and ‘8am Union Station’ go beyond being mere ambient sketches using classical instruments as opposed to actual compositions with much depth, and next to the full-throttle breakcore of later tracks, they sound quite incongruous.

To compound matters, Funk’s use of strings in overtly techno/breakcore tracks, from the crude title track (“Only you can make my dick feel like this”, Funk croons. Really, Aaron?) to even more successful pieces such as ‘Shaky Sometimes’ is a long way from possessing the focus and sensitivity displayed on Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. I know that Venetian Snares has always been a hyperactive entity, but at times My Love Is A Bulldozer feels like it was made by an acute ADHD sufferer after a seven-day coke and Pro Plus bender.

A lot has been discussed about Funk’s singing, often negatively, but, whilst he doesn’t have the best of voices, it’s hardly terrible. Mostly he deploys a sort of early-80s gothic moan, but there are some more varied moments, such as a descent into black metal-ish primal screaming on ‘1000 Years’ or the slightly unsettled yelping on ‘Your Smiling Face’, on which Funk sounds a bit like a less talented David Bowie circa Hours (at a push, I’ll admit). His lyrics are always as bleak and intense as the female voice on ’10th Circle Of Winnipeg’ suggested from the get-go, although rarely with much depth or revelatory contemplations.

Basically, My Love Is A Bulldozer is best when Aaron Funk does what we’ve always known he excels at: distilling bludgeoning, frantically-paced breakbeats in jazzy clusters, supported by his unique ability to blend in other textures, be they strings, voices, samples or electronics. Ambition is hardly a fault, but it’s clear that on this latest salvo, Funk tends to overreach himself.