Roland Young is a man of many talents. A jazz musician who came of age during the 1960s, Young was pioneering DJ on the west coast the following decade, experimenting with genre on San Francisco’s KSAN station. The 1980s found Young and his wife Risa in New York City where he embraced the cross pollination of music scenes. Taking influence from New Wave, Reggae and Jazz, Young recorded for the Flow Chart label. NYC man about town Jacob Gorchov has taken on the task of rescuing Young’s dynamic 80s work on a new release for his Palto Flats label, Hearsay I-Land. Young creates synthesized, drum machine accented minimal songs that sound fascinatingly inline with modern aesthetics. “Ballo Balla” which features Rina on vocals is a fantastic deep-cut for any DJ looking for something new to spin alongside ESG. “Edge of Disaster” is a classic tale of hard living in the city over Mantronix –like beats. Young delivers strong saxophone lines over the top that perfectly accentuates the stark electronic drums. Young can play it smooth as well as evidenced on “So Very Easy” a cool, R&B electro ballad that has Young serenading his intended as well as any smooth-talker of the era. If you’re a DJ or lover of 80s obscurities Hearsay I-Land is a mandatory reissue, don’t sleep on it.
Out of the ever-expanding L.I.E.S roster, Jahiliyya Fields remains the label’s most enigmatic presence. The work of producer Matt Morandi, Jahiliiyya Fields was the first full-length release on one of the most talked about new labels, the project of special importance to label boss Ron Morelli. Last year’s head-spinning Unicursal Hexagram, is a sprawling headphone record of alien synth melodies and textures. DJ’s expecting house beats were perplexed but the true weirdos found plenty to explore. Jahiliyya Fields’s follow up E.P. Pleasure Sentence seems aimed at the dance floor more than its predecessor yet still teems with unexpected heady delights. The record begins with the thumping “Aeon Anon” a track that pulses with a four on the floor beat while electronics firework around the rising foundations and hi-hats meter out the time. Morandi is constantly flipping and tweaking his sounds, every measure bringing in new elements and ideas, the effect at times dizzying, yet constantly rewarding. The flipside starts with a modular synthesizer patch over UFO transmissions, recalling the terrain explored on his debut. The records final salvo, “Pleasure Sentence” is perhaps the records finest moment, with a galloping beat and a strange melodic overture of warped, psychedelic electronics. Jahiliyya Fields is making head music for the body, a task that is far more difficult than catering to either alone. Worth seeking out for cosmic-minded apexes.
There’s been a reasonable amount of French New Wave reissues and whatnot but there’s been precious little in terms of punk rock. Born Bad Records seeks to rectify the problem with this perfectly enjoyable compilation of vintage French punk. Sonically there’s a solid mix of dynamics, from hyper Johnny Thunders riffs (Strychnine’s Ex bx”) to more crusty chugs (Electrochoc “Chaise Electrique”) but the middle ground leans toward melodic, sing-a-long’s over very familiar punk structures. Soggy’s “Waiting for the War” could sit nicely on a mixtape next to the Effigies or whatnot. Ruth Elyeri’s “Mescalito” is the highlight, a triumphant femme-fronted squelcher that’s worth playing at a house party when its time to trash the place. One needs to be able to read French to crack the liner notes so the stories behind these bands remains a mystery here. While not introducing any major revelations, those Francophiles seeking black leather and spikes can find plenty to huff a clove to while wearing pancake makeup on this slab of fuzz.
Techno music in the 1990s was largely an anonymous pursuit. Producers generally shielded themselves from humanity with abstract names and bland non-imagery. For every superstar electronic icon like Aphex Twin and Plastikman, (two artists with a brilliantly inherent sense of marketing) there were thousands of grey, faceless 12”s with no indication of an artist behind it, as if produced and manufactured by machine alone. But while the artists generally were obscured, the record label became the star, representing a distinct signature sound. At the time labels like Mo Wax were exploring breaks and trip-hop, and Metalheadz represented jungle music, Chain Reaction, was among Europe’s premier underground labels of the 90s, specializing in a dub infused IDM that was hypnotically minimal and entrancing in its rhythms. Twenty years down the road, Fluxion, a premier member of the Chain Reaction crew, is having his work collected and reissued. As future music from the past, Fluxion has aged exceptionally well. Decades later, the music still exudes a pulse that still resonates with contemporary sounds. Rather than the grey, stark imagery of the original editions, Type has housed these discs in a warm abstract colorful cover image. Suddenly the title takes on new meaning, and though relatively anonymous and grey, the music itself seems vibrant, even in its repetitious nature.
Hailing from Ashville NC, Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji’s self-titled cassette arrives fully formed. With fluid coils of tense guitar improvisations and a chiming melodicism he runs through several experimental solo guitar modes. At times darkly terse, Dorji’s sense of control keeps the fractured rhythms and textures constantly changing. His aggressively abstract approach is tempered with serene melodic textures that continually engage the listener. His ever-evolving pieces expand and contract with an intuitive balance. Rarely do guitarists emerge with such unique personality inherent immediately, and Dorji strikes an instant impression with his dynamic playing. With a slew of self-released tapes under his belt what’s coming next is exciting. Here’s hoping for some vinyl in the near future.
There’s something about Zachary Cale’s sweetly melancholy songs, an ease that suggest familiarity. As a guitarist and singer, Cale’s penchant for melodicism and complexity lends itself to his straightforward approach. The warmth of Blue Rider, reveals an intimacy that feels natural when so much modern songwriting seems contrived. Adorned by lap-steel, bass, drums and synthesizer, Cale’s lovelorn Americana echoes with only the slightest hints of psychedelia around the edges, a relaxing, easy listen with plenty of compelling details. The centerpiece is Cale’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar playing, which displays an emotive and lyrical voice which match the subtle atmospherics of his inflections. With remarkable consistency, every song blends together creating a mood piece that unravels over the course of these eight tracks. Cale exhibits some soul-searching on tracks like “Noise of Welcome” where he sings “Let us not of the time that we have stolen/but rather the moments we claim to be golden” in the songs refrain. Elsewhere such as on “Blood Rushes On” he muses over the ideas of love and relationships. Regardless of subject matter he delivers his material with a calm resolve. Perfect for winter listening, Blue Rider is among the most refreshingly sincere and direct records that I’ve had the pleasure of spinning on my turntable as it represents a musician hitting his stride.
Winant is a West Coast percussion master of new music and generally regarded as an elite in his sphere, evidenced by his resume as collaborator of experimental music titans like Terry Riley and John Zorn. But Winant, a fascinating player in his own right, has rarely been heard in a solo context. This album serves as a survey of Winant’s various techniques. Schooled at Cal Arts in the 70s, a fertile environment that produced artists as diverse as Mike Kelley and James Tenney, Winant developed his style on non-conventional instruments sourced from junk and discarded items. Five American Percussion Pieces features Winant tackling the work he knows best, that of his West Coast mentors and peers. His take Michael Byron’s “Trackings 1” performed on four “Metallophones”, has a Steve Reich feel but is far more fluid and less structurally rigid, creating a hypnotic but constantly shifting effect. “Bang Zoom Excerpt”, performed on 13 tuned cowbells sounds like a gamelan ensemble playing over a UFO landing. But Winant can play it as easy or heavy as is required as shown on his take on Tenney’s “Having Never Played a Note for Percussion” in which a minimal tone blossoms into a roaring wave only to recede again into tranquility. Five American Percussion Pieces makes a strong case for Winant as a singular musical entity with this truly significant and highly listenable record.
There is a thematic dreaminess to Letha Rodman Melchior’s debut album that comes across immediately with titles like “Lake of Dreams” and “Sea of Tranquility”. Rather than a cliché ambience Melchior fills her musical dreamscapes with a wildly divergent sense of dynamics utilizing guitar, clarinet, piano, field recordings, electronics and who knows what else. The resulting album is a fascinating hodge-podge of uniquely constructed experimental pieces. Struggling with a difficult bout of cancer, Melchior constructed this album in her more lucid moments between treatments and surgeries. The album resonates with a quiet desperation and tenderness without ever pandering or wallowing. Instead there is a melodic minimalism in her guitar playing, almost like Loren Conners in its shimmery haze. Melchior’s experimentalism is inclusive and listenable, like the sounds of a radio fading in and out gently in the distance. These hospital dreams of faded fluorescent lights make for a calm yet fascinating look into the wordless expression of a woman dealing with her own mortality through sound. Not all quiet sounds are easy listening.
The Born Free label run by the Swiss/Chinese production duo Sling and Samo has been releasing a slew of limited edition future house over the last year, each with a specific feel. The latest 12” by Enchante falls in line with the label heads own flavor of dance floor minimalism. The A-side slowly unfolds mid-tempo beats and tweaked vocal samples, not unlike a more house-oriented Metro Area. But the Willie Burns mix on the B-side is a near perfect distillation of modern house forms over cascading breaks and synthetic horn blasts. If one is looking to cap off a climax point of a DJ set, they need search no further. Fans of L.I.E.S/Beautiful Swimmers crews should take note. With only 250 copies pressed this treasure deserves to be heard. Grab it while you can.
This spectacular album came across my eye on the shelf and purchased due to the sheer magnetism of the cover. Originally released in 1976, Yoshiko Sai sails across an evening torch song with command and power. Taking center stage, her warm, soulful tone matches the subtle arrangements she compliments. The lushly performed tracks take on a cocktail lounge feel that could only come from the seventies, with piano, guitar, bass and drums accompanying her. One gets the feel of a smoke-filled nightclub as Sai and her band get increasingly mid-tempo. But Sai shines the most on the ballads like “Kinu No Michi (Silk Road)” and “Nemuri No Kuni (Land of Sleep)” where her emotive inflections highlight the minimal arrangements. Sung entirely in Japanese the album document the fantastic journey’s a female protagonist who constantly imagines stowing away on ships to far off lands and the adventures and love affairs that ensue. The big head-scratcher here is the continual appearance of a Sitar, which gives the record an oddly psychedelic feel. Unlike any other album that comes to mind, Mikko is a captivating listen from start to finish.