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albums - november 2016


Conrad Schnitzler / Schneider TM - 'Con-struct'

Conrad Schnitzler (d. 2011) was a member of Tangerine Dream and Kluster, a significant figure in the 1960s Berlin avant garde scene, and released a lot of albums in his own right. He left a large archive of recorded samples and other tracks and Schneider TM is one of a number of musical collaborators involved with writing with and rereleasing some of Schnitzler's unused recordings. These aren't, as project supervisor Jens Struver is quite definite about, remixes of Schnitzler's unreleased sessions. Schneider TM has been granted access to the Schnitzler sound archive and been allowed to do what he wanted with it, and describes the writing process as one of 'posthumous collaboration', and 'Con-struct' is released on the well regarded Bureau B label, so some of you will know what to expect from the actual music.

I don't really know very much about Schneider TM and after listening to a few of his tracks, it's now difficult for me to think of 'Con-struct' as anything other than his album, mostly as Conrad Schnitzler isn't around to give his opinions. The kind of dubby rhythms overlaid with percussion samples that seem to be Schneider's trademarks are a lot of what 'Con-struct' seems to be about, although as an introduction to Schenider's music it's quite a good one. It isn't until end track 'Wurmloch' that we really get an idea of how Conrad Schnitzler's association with Tangerine Dream was shaping his own music, a 24 minute epic of spacey ambience that deserves a review entirely of its own. 'Con-struct' isn't the easiest album to listen to I've heard recently and while it does have its moments, is probably one for the serious electronica crowd only.


Taxi Wars - 'Fever'

Bringing jazz to the masssesisn't something that you hear anyone saying very much about, certainly not today. Four decades ago, there was indeed such a thing as jazz rock, with Weather Report, Spyro Gyra, the Average White Band and quite a number of others playing music that owed as much to Miles Davis as it did to Chuck Berry. Times change though, and as jazz regained its musical status, bands wanting to play what was known as 'fusion' either went completely into the club circuits or broke up under the costs of touring seven piece groups with large amounts of delicate instruments. If dEUS frontman Tom Barman has his way though, times will change yet again. A four piece group each of whom are well regarded musicians intheir own respective rights, and that are playing hard bop jazz actual songs instead of lengthy improvisations, Taxi Wars might just be your new favourite jazz influenced alt.rock band.

Tom Barman is quoted as saying that he wants to take Taxi Wars music to the festival crowds and, after over two decades fronting one of Belguim's best known musical exports, he probably does know what he's talking about. Taxi Wars themselves certainly know what they're doing ; each track on 'Fever' whether it's a fast paced number or a less frantic mood piece are played with flair, commitment and no small amount of actual musicianship, the sort that wins awards at obscure music industry ceremonies. The song format works really well, with none of the tracks longer than five minutes, each of them structured in a way that you sometimes wish the likes of Sonny Rollins and Chet Baker would have got around to. It'll certainly make an impression on the electronica audience at Benicassim if Tom Barman ever really gets his way.


The Hardy Tree - 'Through Passages Of Time'

Described as an album about places in London that have vanished, for whatever reason, 'Through Passages Of Time' is the second complete album by instrumentalist Frances Castle, whose project this is in its entirety, as she has also created the sleeve art and self-released the album, initially available as a 500 copy 12", on blue vinyl. If you think you would want one of the vinyl copies then I'd suggest that you act quickly as, whether for its music, its colourful sleeve artwork or for its actual collectability, the first issue of 'Through Passages ...' aren't going to be around for very long. My own knowledge of bygone London isn't sufficient to include the difficult to find or actually demolished locations that the thirteen tracks are named after, although I could while away an afternoon doing some research into the various histories of Penny's Folly, Newport Market and Pepy's Walk, while listening to The Hardy Tree's aural interpretations of some of these obscure locations.

The actual music is performed mostly with keyboards and is a bit laid back and unhurried in its composition, perhaps as a musical riposte to London itself, which has always been a bit busy whenever I've visited, but the theme is only the beginning of The Hardy Tree's musical journey, which variously includes the use of vintage keyboards and drum machines, plus stringed instruments as the trail takes us from one side of the capital to another. 'Through Passages ..' is definitely ideal background music for doing something to, whether studying history, walking across Hampstead Heath or navigating around the various London transport systems. Over its forty or so minutes 'Through Passages ...' is a colourful sound collage of ideas and instrumentation, although by the time this is published all the blue vinyl copies will probably have gone.


Coldharbourstores - 'Wilderness'

I hadn't ever heard of them either, but Coldharbourstores have been lingering around the more esoteric corners of the indie music scene for very nearly two decades, as a sot of Stereolab support band in waiting, or did they ever actually play that gig? You will find elements of that band and several others in Coldharbourstores music, but 'Wilderness' is very much their own album, and with a definable band sound to its eight tracks, along with the occasional creative nod to St Etienne and the earlier music of the Human League, amongst others, which is more than excusable when, in its entirety, 'Wilderness' is the sort of glossy, credible alt-pop album that some musicians spend their entire lives attempting to perfect. First track 'Sightless' is a woozy, swooning dreampop anthem, the synths and guitars bringing the ethereal atmospherics as vocalist Lucy Castro's evocative tones tell one story, and novelist and guest performer Scott Heim provides his own spoken word version of events.

Coldharbourstores are doing something with their music that I always enjoy hearing. Where some bands are often content to just write a song and play it, and then let others remix it to varying effects, they take their songs and experiment with them, such as using differing mix techniques over the almost six minutes of 'The Antidote', which is a good enough song in its own right produced to get the maximum effect available from its verses and choruses, a crashing wall of sound anthem one minute and a smoothly ambient soundscape the next. Coldharbourstones make this sound reasonably effortless, as they do with the soporific lullaby that is 'Cost You Dear', the guitar based spatiality of 'Broken & Bad', the rainy day whimsy of 'Marker' and lastly, the swirling minimalist epic that is the album's title track. I don't think I can recommend 'Wilderness' highly enough, an album that is likely destined to feature in a few of the 'best of 2017' end of year lists.


The Probes - 'Autonomy'

I don't think this one is completely fair on reviewers. Presented as a 21 minute epic single track release, 'Autonomy' is in fact no less than 7 tracks, except that there isn't a listing for the individual songs (or more accurately 'segments') that 'Autonomy' consists of. Anyhow, first track 'Glue' is an instrumental, a fast paced number with some propulsive drumming and a jangly guitar riff that places The Probes somewhere between the minimal sound of Neu and a really obscure surf guitar band. Discovering that they are supporting Echo & The Bunnymen on their latest tour adds yet another element to the psyche rock collage The Probes are giving us. Two tracks in and there isn't any sign of guitarist Jack Green providing a vocal, so are we in for an epic of instrumental overdrive or are there actual songs in the Probe's repertoire?

By the time I get to third track 'Mutated' I'm properly getting the idea of the concept behind 'Autonomy' where the individual tracks are really just one extended track, and it's at around ten minutes in that 'Dream' takes things in another direction, a tale of oneness with the universe that clocks in at exactly 2 minutes and 22 seconds. '8D' brings with it a more angular rhythm although that guitar sound is starting to wear a bit thin, perhaps one or two effect pedals would give it some added presence. Lastly, 'Komorembi pts 1 and 2' contains similarities with much of what has preceded it, plus someone's dug out those guitar pedals from the back of the studio and anyone seeing Echo & The Bunnymen on their current tour won't be going home saying 'Mac was on form but the support band were a bit, y'know, derivative' They won't.


Will Varley - 'Kingsdown Sundown'

I know I've heard something of Will Varley before 2016. Looking over his website bio I found the story of his 2012 or thereabouts 'Walking Tour', where Varley travelled around the south east on foot, busking wherever the local populace would allow. I vaguely recall reading something about that, although I wasn't sure who the musician was, the level of commitment was a bit impressive in itself. Earlier this year I got to hear Will Varley properly though, and 'Seize The Night' has been a minor hit about the place, a memorably tuneful ballad given added impetus by Varley's lived-in vocal style. 'Seize The Night' is from his previous album though, and if there's one big difference between 'Seize The Night' and the songs on 'Kingsdown Sundown', it's that the songs on his newest album are performed without the involvement of any backing musicians, which these days does count as sticking your neck out a bit, even for the talented and experienced guitarist that Will Varley is.

So I perhaps shouldn't make too many comparisons involving 'Kingsdown Sundown' (which is Varley's fifth album) and the one song of his that I actually know. Beginning with 'To Build A Wall', Varley seems intent on keeping things as pared-down and minimalistic as he can, perhaps with a view to creating a sort of 'live in your living room' sound, and it works a bit more successfully when I remember that if Billy Bragg ever recorded a song that involved anything more than his voice and guitar, I never actually heard it. As it continues, it's all about the one guitar sound, along with his unobjectionable vocal and the occasional memorable couplet such as 'I couldn't tell if you were laughing / or if you were drowning' on 'Too Late Too Soon'. Only occasionally allowing himself the luxury of a guitar effects pedal ('We'll Keep Making Plans') or going electric ('We Want Our Planet Back') Will Varley seems to want to keep things as uncluttered as possible, maintaining a resolutely late night vibe as he does so. Mostly, it works quite well although I don't think anyone would object greatly were he to keep the piano and drum backing that every so often, his songs do seem to require.