Sunday, 20 February 2011

Radiohead - The King of Limbs: review

It almost feels premature to review what in essence is a band-sanctioned leak, I treasure a record’s artwork and box as intrinsic to the overall effect. And Radiohead’s albums are usually beautifully designed pieces, the fold out Kid A landscapes in particular, offering an evocative complement to the album’s musical content. But while I wait for the King Of Limbs double vinyl (the promised 625 pieces of artwork intrigues me), the world woke on Friday to a fervor, the kind the internet is so good at. This manifested in an early-morning live blog on the Guardian, where we waited for confirmation emails and download links to arrive in our inboxes- this entire process was made to look ridiculous and overdone, the equivalent of an email saying you’d received an email. Twitter too, made fools of us all- people suddenly feeling compelled to offer an immediate track-by-track review, as the album unfurled. This in particular griped at me, not merely for it’s making Twitter practically unusable all day. Some things reveal themselves over time, after the event- some music make sense only within it’s context. So I found with Lotus Flower, the now-parodied video having been Youtube’d that morning. It underwhelmed on first and second listen, but within the context of the album- is a masterful moment.

My thoughts, then. The King Of Limbs strikes me as a smaller statement, akin to novella-sized disc that accompanied the In Rainbows box set- but infinitely more refined. There’s a modesty throughout the arrangements, I hasten to use the word ‘ease’, but a striking unpretension abounds throughout these 8 pieces. Conventional Radiohead numbers ‘Little By Little’ and the reworked ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ (which first appeared as an acoustic number on The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth DVD) are comfortable and enjoyable beats- quite happy to ride a small groove- but these open the record up. ‘Feral’ is a particular favourite, calling to mind the experimentalism of the Amnesiac b-sides (which make a great 8 track record in their own right). And whilst I keep hoping for an album built solely of sounds like that- The King Of Limbs is the closest thing the band have thus far released as an album, that expresses their more downbeat, at ease, less song-oriented side. If there’s one gripe to be had, it’s in the sentimental ‘Give up the ghost’, a track which I’m sure many will find affecting, but sticks out with an unnecessary earnestness towards the album’s end. Especially when set against the stunningly beautiful ‘Codex’, a song which evokes a similarly sombre atmosphere, but to much more powerful effect.

The attention to detail and quality of both production and arrangement is superb throughout, from the microbeats made of Thom’s breath to the layers of modulated piano on ‘Codex’. And whilst I await the double vinyl box set, I find that ‘The King of Limbs’ has slid effortlessly into my consciousness, as if it were always there, and were meant to be so. Perhaps this is crucial, this is music made from a happiness to be making it, a comfort in oneself. I joked midweek that this contentment perhaps only manifests truly with middle-age, but regardless- in a week where PJ Harvey released another fine record, I am struck by the endearing notion that we enjoy the privileged position of watching these talented bands grow old and continue to make compelling, frequently beautiful, consistently intelligent music. Which in truth, more than makes up for daft live blogs and not being to use Twitter for a day.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath 1972: Review

I first began listening to electronic musician Tim Hecker in 2003, through a general appreciation of all things Montreal. The city has a well documented avant garde music scene, bands like Fly Pan Am, Set Fire to Flames, and Shalabi Effect deconstructing various forms of song aesthetic and reprocessing the conveyance of meaning and mood- and ambient recording in particular has an even great potential for evoking these intangible feelings, for being transportative.

Hecker is known for his consistently interesting recordings, and the way in which repeated listens to these nuanced soundscapes will present new rewards, hidden levels of intricacy and affliction- but if 2009’s An Imaginary Country was a pastoral evocation, a thing of rich beauty- then Ravedeath, 1972 is a taut return to the dark, claustrophobic sounds which permeated his earlier work. That said, a lot of what’s been laid out here is more precise, more insistent than anything he’s produced before.

The album was recorded with Hecker’s longtime friend and composer Ben Frost, in an Rekjavik church. Arrangements here were recorded live- and that sense of place, of time, is infused through every moment of building sound. The album utilises an organ as a frequent `common denominator, lending a grandiose foreboding as well as offering a clearer path through the sound than Hecker may have previously offered a listener. Similarly, on the album’s stunning centrepiece ‘Hatred of Music’ parts one and two, chord changes and a wailing piano are set against hazy, manipulated vocals in a manner which suggests a genuine measure of structure and composition. When a bass guitar thuds into momentary rhythm, it’s a moment that recalls the groove-inflicted prog of the early Pink Floyd, tracks like Careful With That Axe Eugene offering similar sonics, if not subtlety. As soon as the moment is grasped, it dissipates- transitional melodies build and give way, but there’s definite structure here, harmonies and, dare I say it, “music”.

Which is not to say that the album belies what is arguably Hecker’s finest quality, namely his ability to create entire worlds, lucid and compelling, out of sheer sound. His albums are deeply evocative, and despite this record’s more articulated quality, the sound is nothing if not rich with imagery. Such moments of definitive structure are masked with an unswerving patience for their evocation, hidden behind layers and layers of gradual, slow blossoming. As such, it’s perhaps Hecker’s most affecting record to date, and offers some profoundly beautiful moments of precision and subtlety.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Though she with giants fights

The ships that are coming know where she lives
Transferring to high schools, she's just seventeen
Anica's beginning to understand
The giants are coming to reclaim Japan

Scientists, doctorates, tremble and mutter
This girl in Biology might be a leader
But Anica doesn't yet understand
Her pathway is chosen, already in hand

The giants are scared of her, ministers hope
Abductions occurrences frequently now
Anica's love for her boyfriend depletes
The tales of abduction left tender and meek

And noone believes her that they come in the night
With TR3Bs and corridors of light:
Anica's terrified.