35. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
“Ooh, innit he scrummy?” Photo by Lisa McGrillis.
He’s back! Once again, we’re thrilled to present a year-end music round-up from Graham Duff. Graham is the creator of Ideal, the cult hit dark comedy that ran for seven series on BBC Three (before some idiot cancelled it). He is a well-known music fanatic and personally selected Ideal‘s eclectic soundtrack. Seen in a small role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a “Death Eater,” he has recently worked on the BBC sitcom Hebburn with comedian Jason Cook and is working on an Ideal feature film. In 1992, Graham Duff’s one-man stage show “Burroughs,” based on the life of William S. Burroughs won him a Brighton Festival award.
It feels as if Cave and violinist Warren Ellis’ recent soundtrack work may well have influenced the creation of the latest Bad Seeds album. This is an atmospheric, slow paced and reflective set - a world away from the metallic Stooges-like strut of Cave’s Grinderman side project. With many of the songs here built up from Ellis’ loops, the album has an organic sensibility and The Bad Seeds seem less shackled than ever by conventional structure. There is a looser feel to many of the tracks, yet with no loss of focus. On “Jubilee Street” and “We No Who U R” Cave’s pensive observations are set to the most retrained and graceful backing, while the closing title song may be one of Cave’s most beautiful compositions yet.
Under the guise of This Quiet Army, Montreal’s Eric Quach has released a number of albums of slow moving monolithic guitar music, welding the glacial riffage of Earth to John Bonham style drumming and droning lead lines, which vibrate like overhead cables in the fog of distortion. Although still possessed of a powerful and occasionally, oppressive atmosphere, Hex Mountains also has far more ambient moments than on previous releases. On “Wraithslayers,” the guitar is so heavily processed it sounds like a broken synth, creating thick, granular pools of noise. “Digital Witchcraft” could be a close relative of Robert Hampson’s Main, as Quach creates another unsettling soundscape in which only fragments of guitar remain.
The prolific Taiwanese born, Canadian bred lo-fi auteur Alex Zhang Hungtai has seriously upped his game by producing this grand double header. Drifters is the more song-based album. Meanwhile, Love Is The Devil is a largely instrumental set, consisting of pieces with an often romantic or melancholic streak. Hungtai has always admitted that Suicide are one of his prime influences and there are a number of songs here - “Night Walk,” “Au Revoir Mon Visage” and “I Dream In Neon” for example - which could be straight off the first two Suicide albums. The titles alone would make them shoe-ins. Yet Love Is the Devil proves how much more there is to the Dirty Beaches project, sounding not unlike a third generation recording of the soundtrack to a long lost Wong Kar Wai movie.
Forest Swords debut Dagger Paths (2010) presented an open ended take on dub and bleached out trip hop. And the belated follow up album Engravings continues to widen the Forest Swords palette. Lone sword Matthew Barnes also works as a graphic designer and it’s easy to see in his music a visual artist’s sense of placement and detail. There’s far more guitar on this album, and the skeletal lead lines are given plenty of space to shine in Barnes’ echo chambers. Highlights include the Morricone- esque “The Plumes” and “Onward” which mixes a rich tribal drum pattern with what appear to be heavily distorted orchestral samples. Meanwhile, “Gathering” sounds as if Cyclobe are mixing it up with PMT era Tricky. Yes, that good. It’s entirely fitting that Barnes’ exploratory work into the continuing possibilities of dub have since been acknowledged by a remix of the title track by one of the genres’ true originators Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry himself.
Bruce Gilbert has been releasing albums of solo electronica since the mid-80’s. On career high points such as The Shivering Man (1987) or Odier (2004) he’s delivered work which can be both intense and emotive. On Diluvial, he collaborates with Naomi Siderfin and David Crawforth aka BAW to create an album themed around the effect of rising sea levels. Blending field recordings of the Suffolk coast with subtle synthetic pulses and granular tones, this is a rich and sensitive collection of abstract pieces. The album’s disposition alternates between wonderment and disquiet and, on the uneasy glide of “The Void” or the moody subaquatic throb of “Beasts of the Earth,” Gilbert and BAW have the alchemist’s touch, transforming limited sonic information into gold.
If you’re tired of electronica that engages only with feelings of dread and unease, then Eat Lights Become Lights 3rd album could be the antidote you’ve been searching for. The mood here is frequently one of bright optimism. Indeed, the title track displays an almost giddy sense of Klaus Dinger-like forward propulsion and “Chiba Prefecture” blends bright guitar noise with a confident electro-motorik flicker. But there are other flavors here too. “Rowley Overlook Way” has a slow and gentle crepuscular glow, whereas the constantly building “Habitat ‘67,” deploys circling cello runs to surprisingly moving effect. This isn’t the soundtrack to some utopian future, rather the sound of the joyous journey toward it.
2013 saw the addition of two new albums to the already sizeable catalogue of Italy’s ever-industrious sound designer, musician and film soundtrack composer. Still Smiling was a collection of disquieting multi-lingual songs recorded with Blixa Bargeld. However, Teardo’s finest release of the year, is Music For Wilder Mann. A sequence of beautifully crafted instrumentals, the album foregrounds Teardo’s trademark lush yet restrained cello and violin arrangements. “Ultra You” and “Wilder Mann” meld tender cello lines with layers of sonic dissonance, whilst “The Rapture Institute” recalls the exquisite string and sequencer interplay of his soundtrack to “L’amico di Famiglia.” Teardo has a gift for creating deceptively simple musical spaces, which, upon closer inspection, bristle with melodic ideas and sonic detail.
Multi-instrumentalist Chris Anderson has been a significant member of both underrated art-glam stompers La Momo and the majestically intense Celebricide. However, under his Crayola Lecturn guise, Anderson crafts music of a quite different hue. There are echoes of Ruth is Stranger Than Richard era Robert Wyatt or perhaps Kevin Ayres circa The Confessions of Dr. Dream in this set of strange, uplifting songs and wistful instrumentals. Whilst Anderson’s gentle, distinctive vocals and beautifully considered piano playing are very much at the core of the sound, Alistair Strachan’s expressive cornet and trumpet work also add an emotional punch. The strongest pieces here, such as “Slow Down” and “Old Magick” showcase Anderson’s gift for aching melodies and poignant yet slanted sentiments.
Combining the considerable talents of Stephen Thrower (Coil, Cyclobe) on keyboards and reeds and David Knight, ￼￼(Shock Headed Peters, Arkkon) on guitar and synths, Unicazurn are practitioners of a deep, brooding kosmiche. Comprising two lengthy soundscapes, Dark Earth Distillery was culled from live appearances in England, Poland and Germany, which have been substantially transmuted in the studio. “Hard Dawn of the Atomic Ghost” opens like the soundtrack to a heat haze on an alien world, before entering a submerged zone where dark sheets of sound are pierced by lonely clarinet calls. Companion piece “The Infernal Kernel” sounds as if 1972 vintage Roxy Music decided to let Brian Eno’s intros become a whole side of an album.
22 years after producing their game changing second album Loveless, My Bloody Valentine finally deliver album number three. The sound-world MBV minted around the time of that last set – fluid drum patterns, honeyed vocals and shimmering waves of processed guitar and sampler abuse - always existed to one side of fashion. So it should come as no surprise that several tracks on mbv - especially “Who Sees You” and “If I Am” - sound as if they could have been recorded weeks after Loveless rather than decades. But there are also points when MBV are definitely pushing into fresh territory. ‘New You’ has a sprightly pop bounce, making it the album’s most accessible entry point, whereas the ultra-minimal “Is This And Yes” takes a simple, bright ascending organ pattern and adorns it with Bilinda Butcher’s gentle layered vocals and little else.
There are trace elements of several great maverick guitar bands here – Sonic Youth circa Daydream Nation, Sleater-Kinney at their most surf infused and the vertiginous energy of Huggy Bear. But this young Cardiff 5-piece have a distinctly British take on the US alt.- guitar rock tradition. They play with sweet harmony as much as angular dissonance and Alanna McArdle’s vocals have an impressive range. Of the eleven tracks here, only three pass the three-minute mark. Joanna Gruesome are a band who know how to make their point and leave. Ignore the glib, jokey name - this is a vivid and vital debut that engages the heart and the mind.
See more after the jump…