Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Emmeluth's Amoeba - Chimaera

Second album of adventurous free-jazz from Scandinavian quartet!

Without wishing to patronise our Scandinavian friends it's true to say most music fans in the UK would be hard-pushed to name any currently active Danish musicians. Sadly, that's more a reflection of Britain's blinkered outlook than it is on Denmark's musical reputation. What they probably don't know is that Scandinavia has an increasing reputation for producing world-class improvised jazz. Recent releases on label's such as Hubro being just the tip of this particular iceberg.

Signe Emmeluth is an example of a Danish musician breaking new ground at the coal-face of modern jazz. The young alto saxophonist, now based in Oslo, leads a quartet, collectively known as Emmeluth's Amoeba whose debut album, Polyp, was released in 2018. They've recently released a follow up Chimaera, which takes their music into new, ever more adventurous territory. Let's be clear, this is not music for the faint-hearted, but if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll no doubt relish the journey this album will take you on.

Opening track 'Squid Circles' begins with Signe's lone saxophone making short sharp runs and closely clustered notes, gradually becoming more melodic and languid before the rest of the band begin to join in, adding discordant piano chords and scattering drums. The result may be disorientating but is equally hypnotic and intriguing once you allow yourself to be drawn in.

'AB' allows Emmeluth to push the saxophone to its limits with high pitched squeals designed to disorientate. The track evolves into a cartoonish romp that owes as much to Scott Bradley as it does to exponents of free-jazz. At the six-minute mark piano, guitar and saxophone conspire to conjure the image of a claustrophobic city soundscape - traffic rumbles, sirens wail and people rush about their business. It's quickly shifting mutations such as these that characterise Chimaera. At times cerebral, other times calm and soothing, occasionally humorous, but only ever a few notes away from being primal, even brutal and violent.

'Velvet' sees the quartet move into more impressionistic areas, mixing Debussy-eque textures with tinkling cocktail jazz piano. For all its calm, soothing feel there still lurks an ominous darkness just under the surface. These tensions and dynamics are further explored as the album branches out into more audacious and chaotic forms, free of cliché and full of honest, raw expressive emotion. It all makes for a brave and challenging record from a refreshingly uncompromising artist.

Emmeluth's Amoeba are -

Signe Emmeluth – alto saxophone and compositions
Christian Balvig – piano
Karl Bjorå – guitar
Ole Mofjell – drums

Click here for Øra Fonogram Records.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Routes – Tune Out, Switch Off, Drop In

Still where it's at! Japan-based psych-garage trio hit the spot!

I still remember the epiphany of catching the garage-rock bug as a teenager. While the majority of my fellow sixth-formers were content to have Dire Straights' Brothers In Arms on constant repeat on the common room cassette deck, (or worse - Pink Floyd's The Wall), I was introduced by my pals Chris and Sean to the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations along with a raft of reissues on Bam Caruso Records. Here was music that was punky, soulful, and psychedelic. A rich seam to explore. It was colourful and fun, which went against the grain of being a goth, seemingly the only other rebellious strain available to to us sheltered young pups in our small market town. I was smitten, and remain so to this day.

The Routes' latest album, their seventh, which came out just before Christmas, is a reminder of just how valuable that epiphany has been in forming my musical tastes and outlook, and also highlights that while the basic sonic template of psychedelic garage-rock may not have shifted much over the years, if you have something to say it will serve you well. And if you're a savvy enough musician you can add touches of other genres – R&B, surf-rock, folk-rock, Krautrock, shoegaze, even house or techno. It's no surprise that shape-shifting bands such as Primal Scream started out as a bowl-haircutted garage band with a pointy shoes, paisley shirts and a tambourine player.

The Routes are a trio led by Chris Jack – a Scottish born musician now resident In Hita City, Japan. While they too have a fondness for paisley shirts, skinny jeans, and teardrop-shaped guitars played through vintage fuzz pedals, there is more going on in their music than the retro bubble letters of their band logo would suggest. Within these grooves are experimental sonic threads – be it the tremolo and drone of album opener 'The Ricochet', 'Up and Down' with its shimmering layered guitars, or the title track's chromatic chord progression in the chorus recalling the works of Syd Barrett.

The album's more traditional garage-rock tracks such as 'The King Of Loose Ends' and 'You Cried Wolf' are equally thrilling, full of riffs, hooks, snarly vocals and ear-splitting trebly guitar solos. Dick Dale gets channelled on surfy number 'Split Personality', and there's plenty punkish attitude throughout with nods to artists such as Loop, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Spaceman 3, The Seeds and 13th Floor elevators. Tune Out, Switch Off, Drop In is no pure retro trip though, it lyrically addresses current global concerns, pointing out that as a species we are without doubt regressing rather than progressing. The CD version comes with an extra four taken from the Driving Round In Circles EP, which originally came out on Ghost Highway Recordings in 2018. Whether your musical first love is '60s garage-rock, '90s indie, or simply great guitar bands from any era, this is an album worthy of your attention. Switch on and tune in!

Click here for The Routes on Twitter.
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Click here for Groovie Records.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Stick In The Wheel - Against The Loathsome Beyond

Ancient and modern forces meet for a richly elegiac take on English folk.

As usual over winter I've ended up with a backlog of music to write about. Christmas, the usual bouts of family illness, work commitments and the shorter hours of daylight and resulting tiredness always seem to conspire against me. The result is less time and energy to devote to writing. So first an apology to the amazing musicians and labels that have sent me music recently. I have however had lots of great albums to listen to and absorb, this release by Stick In The Wheel being one brilliant example.

It's the band's second mixtape release, following on from 2018's This and The Memory of This. These mixtape releases are an opportunity for the core duo of Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter (EAN) to collaborate with guest players, either using their own material as a starting point, or remixing and adding to music created by the guest musicians. The duo also have two studio albums to their name – From Here (2018), and Follow Them True (2018). I confess to being unfamiliar with their previous work so this record marks my first encounter with Stick In The Wheel.

Their music is rooted in the melodies of traditional English folk music, but this is no backward yearning for car-less yesterday. Each track has a seam of of modern electronic music. Drones, strange beat-less pulses push each track into strange new territories. A strong melancholy permeates the album, which features appearances and collaborations with artists such as experimental folk guitarist C Joynes, Jack Sharp (Wolf People), and folk-punk outfit Cinder Well. Using mostly traditional material as their staring point the album contains versions 'Nine Herbs Charm', a 10th century spell translated from Old English, the 14th century alliterative poem 'Swarte Smiths, Smateryd With Smoke', and an improvised take on Child ballad 'Georgie'. Also highly recommended are the two bookending versions of 'Down In Yon Forest', which set the medieval pagan theme that permeates the whole album.

One thing about music is that it can compliment other things going on in your life, and chime perfectly with landscape, seasons, weather, and even the moods accompanied by your current reading habits. While enjoying the album over mid-winter I was simultaneously reading Laurie Lee's As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, his account of leaving his Gloucestershire village in the 1930s, working as a labourer in London, then walking through Spain, earning a living playing violin as he goes, at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. While the traditional music of Spain and Old England may not have too much in common there are parallels to be drawn and highlighted here. Ditto the respective mood of the nations. The sense of foreboding in Lee's book chimes with the timeless melancholy found throughout Against The Loathsome Beyond. Spain in the 1930s, along with contemporary Britain found themselves divided and with dark forces emboldened. Both countries possess a proud and stirring musical heritage, each infused with a passion that's celebratory yet full of warning. Against The Loathsome Beyond has been a strangely fitting accompaniment to Lee's book and one I highly recommend to readers of this humble blog.

Click here for Stick In The Wheel's website.
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Click here for Stick In The Wheel on Facebook.
Click here for Stick In The Wheel on Instagram.
Click here for From Here Records.