Saturday, February 16, 2008

Franco Battiato

Francesco Battiato was born in Jonia di Riposto, in the province of Catania (Sicily).

At the age of 20 he moved to Milan and in 1968 he obtained the first musical contract. He scored some success with the romantic song È l'amore. After further covers of pop songs, he met the experimental musician Juri Camisasca in 1970 and collaborated with Osage Tribe, an Italian psychedelic-progressive rock band. As a solo artist, he released the science-fiction single "La convenzione" ("The convention"), one of the finest Italian progressive rock songs of the 1970s.

Starting from 1971, Battiato devoted much of his efforts to experimental electronic music, producing a series of LPs that remained almost unknown at the time, but are now eagerly sought by collectors worldwide. Starting out with electronic progressive rock with some emphasis on vocals, his music became increasingly experimental, gradually moving into the realms of musique concrète and minimalism: Fetus (1971, whose cover was censored), Pollution (1972), Sulle Corde di Aries (1973), Clic (1974) and M.lle Le Gladiator (1975). Clic is a haunting yet largely conventional exploration in the eletronic style reminiscent of Phillip Glass and even German experimental rock band Can.


It is hard to overstate the importance of Labradford. Other bands have sold more records and have been given more praise. But very few have exerted the long term influence Labradford have and not many can claim to have inspired musicians across as broad a range of genres. Musicians like Kid 606 and Clouddead have stated in print that the recordings of Labradford inspired them to think beyond the structural limits of indie rock.

After releasing a debut 7" single in the spring of 1993, Labradford recorded their debut album with Rob Christensen late nights at American University in Washington, DC. Prazision LP happened to be the initial release on kranky, an opener that we will always be grateful for. The sprawl of Carter Brown's organ and analog synths and Mark Nelson's faintly melodicized guitar lines had lots of precedents, but nobody on the American indie rock scene was anywhere close to Labradford's unique ambient songcraft and textural grit in late 1993. The band's first Chicago show, opening up for Archers of Loaf, was an indication of exactly where Labradford fit into the indie rock spectrum at the time. A Labradford track was included on Kevin Martin's Virgin compilation Isolationism, placing the band in a non-scene context with contemporaries like Main, Paul Schutze, Jim O'Rourke and Disco Inferno. Based in Richmond, VA the duo expanded to a trio with the addition of Bobby Donne; who had played bass in the seminal math-rock trio Breadwinner. The addition of Donne's plangent bass lines (and eventually, his use of a sampler) broadened the band's sound. A second album, A Stable Reference came out in 1995. Tours of the U.S. and Europe with bands like Stereolab and Tortoise brought the trio more notice and the opportunity to releases singles on the Merge and Duophonic label. By the time "post-rock" had coalesced into short hand for imagination-challenged music writers (let's say around 1996); Labradford were recognized as one of the early entrants in a movement that nobody really wanted to put the energy into defining.

At the time of their third album, analog synth fetishists, cocktail nation fritterers and the dabblers in drum and bass and beat science all swirled around like june bugs on a summer night. Labradford released their self-titled album and tapped into an even wider range of sonic detail and sweep. The presence of violin and eventually a string trio and hammered dulcimer on the Mi Media Naranja album showed that the trio were as tuned into chamber music and old-timey American music as they were to retro-futurism. Labradford were creating work that looked beyond the enthusiasms of the moment.

"Clearly, it's easy to take the piss out of Labradford's still, slow music of tiny variations, and much harder to describe why their records are frequently such unnerving and lovely affairs... thanks to their absolute focus on sound over image, and their evident refusal to conform to any of the postures and prerequisites the dullard traditionalists would love to see in every band. ... For sure, it's a ruthlessly disciplined record... But there's also a strain of warmth, of vulnerability that elevates, say 'Battered', above a wintry experiment and into much more humane territory."
John Mulvey, New Musical Express Jan. 10 1997

Labradford began a series of shows in the U.K. called Drifting Festivals with artists who shared their interest blurring the edges of genre. Dean Roberts, Bruce Gilbert, John Martyn, Matmos, Caspar Brotzmann and other musicians from different contexts and generations played together.

Mark Nelson moved to Chicago and began releasing music under the name Pan•American. The trio had to unite periodically to rehearse and record. Long distance collaboration yielded the E Luxo So album.

"An evolution of sound is a tricky proposition for most bands. As the years pass, many artists drift into some form of nostalgia or retreading of their past 'hits'. Not Labradford. The Richmond, Virginia group has, over the course of four albums, refined their sound improving with each effort while not making their previous works obsolete. ...electronic-dub and cut-ups appear... grounding the album in future dreams as much as their music's woodframe-house timelessness. An ambiguous desolation runs through this album, songs that evoke longing and waiting through long winters or hot summers. But even in their darkness Labradford are far from pretentious, another reason why they qualify as America's best underground band of the Nineties."
Tomas Palermo, XLR8R Issue 37

The most recent Labradford album,Fixed::Context, was recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini engineering. even given the band's extensive use of sampling and digital editing, the album reverberates with the sound of three people playing together in one room. Bobby Donne added a distinctive baritone guitar and beginning with the opening track "Twenty" a new and distinctive approach emphasizing austerity asserted itself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Metro Area

The right amount of exposure and the right number of open minds would turn this record into the dance-music equivalent of Pulp Fiction. That film and this record are mindbending syntheses of undervalued styles and scenes of the past — both slyly referential and humbly reverential — with mad-scientist approaches that are dead set on being both current and translatable to the future. The men behind Metro Area, Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, take six tracks from four 12" releases that left immediate impressions on the dance underground, edit them as needed, and weave them into four new productions for a painstakingly sequenced album that flows constantly and smoothly with colorful, melodic, and deep feeling and simplistic yet full-sounding grooves. In each track, a tip of the hat is given to the bygone days of boogie, old-school R&B, house, and pre-whitewashed disco. However, each track is so full of life and creative combinations and refractions of the past that any accusations of being hopelessly retro are laughable at best. The Brooklyn duo combines the synthetic (drum programming, synthesizers) with the organic (a string quartet and a battery of other guest musicians) for a record that sounds effortless on the surface but meticulously perfected beneath it. The bold, charging bounce of "Atmosphrique," the robofunk crunch of "Miura," the Boggle-bubble drum-pad bump of "Caught Up," and the jubilant street-side skip of "Pina" are so rich with immediate pleasures that it would be understandable to take the craft and precision with which they were made for granted. This record is a deceptively intricate maze of tight machine rhythms, tumbling bongos, smacking handclaps, warm keyboard stabs, zapping synths, tickling pianos, lively loops of flute, guitar flicks, and seesawing strings. It's just shy of being an embarrassment of riches.
by Andy Kellman


Green Ufos has the great pleasure of releasing La Vida, the new album by MUS, the Asturian duo consisting of singer Mónica Vacas and main composer Fran Gayo. MUS is a unique band, not only in Spain but in the rest of the world. No other band does what they do. It is something you notice as soon as you listen to the new album: all the songs evoke images of pure beauty where the usually opposing worlds of tradition and the avant-garde seem to meet. MUS are innovators in the creation of sounds and atmospheres and in the composition of songs and arrangements but they also look back to their past (or perhaps to an imaginary present) because one of their essential features is that they sing in Asturian, a Romantic language as old as Spanish that once was the dominant language of Asturias but is now in serious danger of disappearing.. These opposing aspects make MUS one of the most personal bands the independent Spanish scene has ever given birth to. Albums like El Naval or Divina Lluz were chosen by the specialised media as being among the best records of their respective years (2002 and 2004). Their music goes beyond Spain, and they have released their albums and singles on labels like Darla (USA), Pehr (USA), Pop Art (Greece), and Avant Garden (Taiwan). Furthermore, their unique sound has led to them being asked to play live in France, Russia, the USA and Taiwan. MUS is undoubtedly one of the very few Spanish bands that has played more abroad than in Spain, where they have only performed three concerts throughout their ten year career, twice in Asturias and once in Barcelona. However, the best was yet to come. Fai, El Naval or Divina Lluz can now be seen as part of the long road that has brought them to La Vida. After an amicable separation from their previous label, Acuarela, MUS decided to record the brightest and most vital album of their career and Green Ufos are proud to be part of it. After months of work, the result is an amazing album that is already a strong candidate to be one of the best records of 2007. MUS leave the darkness of their previous works behind and opt for gleaming hypnotic guitars, clear voices and lyrics that bring to mind the traditional poetry of Asturias - almost like some kind of blues. Many of the songs have strongly-marked rhythms, for instance the brightest, most immediate and most surprising song on the album, “Una sábana al vientu”, the beautiful, strange story of a boy who works in the building industry and sees on the horizon, from the scaffolding, his girlfriend’s half-open window. MUS saw La Vida as probably their last album. That is why they carefully and painstakingly prepared every detail of it. Fran wrote for months on an autoharp, an instrument, which deeply marks the whole album. Mónica has consciously worked on the vocals, achieving new heights both as a singer and a performer. The album features collaborations with such artists as: Pedro Vigil (Vigil, Edwin Moses), who, in addition to his work on guitar, has co-produced the album along with Fran, Manuel Molina, and Íker González (from Nacho Vegas’ band); Xabel Vegas and Josele García (both from Manta Ray); Paco Loco (in whose studio the album was mixed); Luigi Navarro; Ron González (vocals and the story behind “La Vida”); Sara Muñiz; and Pablo Errea (Edwin Moses, vocals on “Una sábana al vientu”). Recorded between February and November of 2006, La Vida contains twelve songs which rival each other in beauty. In fact, every one of them could easily be considered the best of the pack, and together they make up an unforgettable record. It is not that there are flashes of magic, there is magic itself in “Cantares de ciegu”, in “Perdieron la tierra”, in “Añada pal primer mes”, in “Animas del purgatoriu”, ... La Vida is a fabulous and amazing album where a band singing in Asturian has somehow made Neil Young and Spiritualized meet. Although journalists and fans are constantly looking to the other side of the ocean to discover, define, and document what is being called post-folk, from Devendra Banhart to Espers, from Vetiver to Charalambides, from Joanna Newsom to Silver Mt. Zion, MUS have re-written our own tradition here and now. 16 page booklet including lyrics in English, Spanish and Asturianu.


Phonique mostly works with Alex Krüger (Dub Taylor / Korsakow / Tigerskin) for his productions/remixes, but from time to time he is cooperating with other artists or musicians like Steve Bug, David Duriez & Phil Weeks, Martin Landsky or Meitz. 2006 has been also been a quite successful year as Phonique came up to some exquisite releases on very well repsected labels from the like of Four Music‘s Fine., Moodmusic, Simple Records and Tiefschwarz‘s young and fresh Souvenir, next to his homebase Dessous Recordings. In January 2007, he launched „Ladies & Gentlemen“ his own, new and special label for well selected discoid, but still underground sound of House with pop-appeal and a special touch of je-ne-sais-quoi. On the new label he will present his best discoveries from various destinations. Right now, besides labelwork, playing a busy tour schedule from Tokyo to St.Petersburg and everywhere in between, Phonique is to release „Good Idea“, the follow up longplayer to groundbreaking „identification“ in May 2007. Already being recognized internationally as one of the leading forces behind deep and forward thinking club music and commercial productions alike, this one will take it to the next level.


1970 was truly a great year for heavy metal and proto-metal alike, the two most obvious releases of the year coming from the UK, Black Sabbath's debut, and Deep Purple's "In Rock". Across, the Atlantic however, something was a-cookin' in the Northeast. Acid, grass, reds, and speed must have been fairly free-flowing in the Big Apple at the time, clearly displayed on Brooklyn combo Sir Lord Baltimore's "Kingdom Come" through sonic fierceness alone. Over in Long Island, what would become Blue Öyster Cult was still tooling around as Soft White Underbelly and/or Stalk-Forrest group, and when they would finally crystallize into B.Ö.C. and release their eponymous debut in 1972, the lyrics (if you could make out what the hell Eric Bloom was saying) made subtle references to grass (Then Came The Last Days of May) and reds (Transmaniacon MC, Before the Kiss, A Redcap).

But back to 1970 - Billy Joel and Jon Small of Long Island combo the Hassels are sensing this new vibration. Billy Joel's had his eardrums seared by "In Rock", but his his megalomaniacal acid visions speak to him: "BILLY! YOU ARE THE PRIMAL GOD OF THE HAMMOND ORGAN! YOU CAN OUT SQUEAL JON LORD! YOU DON'T NEED NO RITCHIE BLACKMORE, YOU DON'T NEED NO ROGER GLOVER!" Hence the birth of Attila, a heavy-rock/proto-metal organ and drums duo of mammoth proportions. The cover features longhairs Joel and Small dressed as huns in furs and armor standing in the middle of a meat locker. Billy Joel pounds out some of the most heavily distorted, wah-wahed to fuck, MONSTER riffs I've ever heard, occasionally breaking out into leads that may not out-finesse Jon Lord, but certainly out-punk Jon Lord with noisy, ham-fisted ferocity. I'm not a keyboard player, but I believe he may also be using his feet to play the bass lines with bass pedals. Ham-fisted really is the word to describe Joel's organ on the whole record, and regarding Jon Small's drumming, let's just say on this record, Billy Joel is to Jon Lord as Jon Small is to Ian Paice. He lacks Paice's finesse and dexterity, but is a harder and meaner pounder. SO HAM-FUCKING-FISTED, I just can't get enough. As far as vocals are concerned, the only comparison I can even think of would be S.L.B.'s John Garner, so my guess is seeing S.L.B. endowed Joel with a hefty sense of competition. Not exactly what you were expecting from a pre-fame Billy Joel is it? Well, me neither!

Side One opens with exactly what you want, a bracingly heavy organ riff, Billy pounding his keys like Jon Lord ripped on several reds and a lethal dose of speed, and screaming a lust-driven tribute to a certain "Wonder Woman" ("WONDER WOMAN! You have got me in a spin! JESUS CHRIST, I can't believe the shape I'm in!") It's quite a doozy, and there's a moment of respite in the mid-tempo "California Flash," a tale about a rock and roller with a "twenty-foot mustache" who drives the crowd wild stripping nude on stage until he's busted by the fuzz ("Suddenly we all heard a crash, everybody hid all their hash, the door caved in with a smash, and 99 policemen busted California Flash").

My favorite cut on the first side is probably "Revenge Is Sweet," featuring another pounder of an organ riff almost as good as that on "Wonder Woman." Billy is rambling about how people called him names and treated him like a loser, but now that he's taken a trip and realized his purpose on the planet, he will have the last laugh. "People laughed at me and said I'd never win, now I turn around and KICK YOUR FACES IN! KICK-YOUR-FACES-INNNNN!" Billy belts out with a punk-sneer, later letting us know "I could spit on those who called me names, I'm a phoenix rising from the flames!" You tell 'em Billy! Of course the irony is this album was such a critical and commerical disaster, that after it's failure (and after breaking up the band by stealing Jon Small's wife) Joel guzzled an entire bottle of furniture polish hoping for an easy way out. If that had been his end, this album's legacy would be oh-so-much greater without Billy tainting the memory with his solo career. I mean, at this point, could he be considered anything less than a hack? But we must move on...

Completing side one is the brilliantly titled two-part instrumental "Amplifier Fire". Part I, Godzilla, is a pretty un-exciting jazz styled solo vamp. Part II - March of the Huns, is one of the highlights of the album, and certainly its most "evil" moment. Billy pounds out a raw, ultra-heavy riff, and Joel and Small chant primitively over a march beat, definitely worthy enough for actual Huns off to march off war to. It seriously comes off like a raw, organ based version of Black Sabbath's "Supertzar," and Sabbath couldn't even reach that territory until 1975.

Side Two opens with what is probably the album's finest moment, "Rollin' Home". Structurally similar to "Wonder Woman," this number concerns the simple yet universal drama of a man coming home from a hard day with one thing on his mind: bedding his woman. This track is exceptional because it is probably the most honest and explicit explanation of the male sex drive since the Troggs "I Can't Control Myself". Just check out these lyrics: "I'm coming to you baby like I've never come to you before, I've been away so long and I've been feeling lovin' more and more, Sitting in the movies I got a feeling I just couldn't ignore, AH! You know EXACTLY what I mean!" Yes, Billy, I absolutely do, but it gets even better, "I'm having such a hassle with the ladies going through my head, I'm trying to keep my hands from doing all the things you did instead, I've got some new ideas - I'm gonna have to try 'em out in bed, oooh I've got it in for you baby - HEY HEY!" That's gotta be one of the best lyrical couplings of all time, I don't believe that anyone other than Blowfly and Billy Joel have ever sung about trying not to beat off so perhaps they could get laid instead. And it's all delivered at an intense, amphetamine-fueled, needles-in-the-red pace, with Billy shouting in John Garner style and here beating Mr. Garner at his own game, at least lyrically.

The rest of the album ain't too shabby either. "Tear This Castle Down" seems to document the death of the ego on an acid trip, and I think Budgie was listening in to the line "You have let them twist your mind - and cut off all your hair!" when they wrote "Rape Of The Locks" a year later. "Holy Moses" seems to be about a midnight trip with some chick who turns out not to be right for Billy, but he's got Attila now and he's going to take over the world, so he's alright. It all comes to a head with "Brain Invasion" (Not a bad song title in the lot!) which comes off like a much cooler, complex, and longer version of Part I of Amplifier Fire from the first side.

Through sheer ham-handed gusto, Billy Joel comes fairly close to beating Deep Purple at their game with just an organ and drums. But it's just too over-the-top... the album cover, the vocals, the lyrics, it just ends up being an extremely entertaining joke that Billy wasn't in on. But I've gotta say, I dug his trip, and the record still puts me in a good mood every time.