In case you didn’t know, Record Store Day is tomorrow. This is the one day of the year that you are pretty much required to get to your local record store and purchase some music, or to head over to a label’s site and grab some tunes. It’s a day that celebrates music, sure, but it’s also – to me at least – about supporting the independent stores and labels that are releasing music by artists that aren’t getting tons of exposure.
I’m going to help you to do your part tomorrow by presenting to you a few of the albums that Medical Records is going to be releasing tomorrow. The first one up is “Vintage Robotnick,” the early and mainly unreleased work of Maurizio Dami. Listen to the sample video below to hear cuts from each of the tracks. Sleazy synths, electro-beats and sometimes bouncy rhythms permeate. Most of the LP is comprised of tracks recorded from 1982-1984 which have only been released on CD in 2003 on the “Rare Robotnicks” compilation. Check out this celebration of early 1980’s disco synth pop from Italy.
Next up is a collection of ultra-rare 12″ singles – “Electroconvulsive Therapy vol. 2 – Fuzz Dance.” Made up of 12″ singles originally on the legendary Fuzz Dance label, super rare disco, synthwave, Italo crossover, released on striped italian flag vinyl. As you can hear from the sampler below the same krautrock-cum-disco sensibilities as the Robotnick above are present throughout this compilation. This one is packed with a lot more in the way of pop-hooks. They certainly aren’t formed from the same mold as American synth-disco of the same era. Despite any similarities, these Italian artists, to my ear at least, are maintaining a sense of authenticity in their sound. Sure, the studio production is a bit dry, but it still manages to come off as inviting rather than cold. Vintage synths abound. Check out the sampler below.
So there you have it. Keep an eye out for these gems when you are out and about on your record store day shopping spree. If you can’t find them, then of course you should head over to the Medical Records site to pick up some of their other great offerings. Might I suggest Roladex, perhaps?
Music has the ability to take on a character of its own and often the musicians that are creating it feel that they are a different person while in the studio. This much is quite true for hip-hop producer RJD2 whose instrumental album “We Are the Doorways” was released under the moniker The Insane Warrior.
According to an entry on his blog he wants us to think of The Insane Warrior as “a completely different dude”. He even goes as far as imagining that he wanted, at one point, to create different names for the artists that are responsible for creating all of the material that he himself is releasing. This makes sense; if an album is written, performed and produced all by the same guy, but the music changes wildly from one album to the next why not change the name of the artist accordingly? The binding element is that they will all be released, as “We Are the Doorways” is, as an RJD2 production. Similar to how Kevin Drew and Co. have released solo albums in association with Broken Social Scene. This could be a great gambit for getting consumers to become fans of a certain “brand” of music while allowing performers and producers to indulge their every whim of creativity. But I digress.
“We Are the Doorways” is a keyboard driven instrumental album with improvisatory, jazz inflicted breaks contained within a usually steady dance groove that serves as the foundation. The lead synth sounds are thick and fat with a crunch that is reminiscent of something from 1980’s television like Knight Rider, especially on the track “Within the Maze”. The character of much of the music holds equal footing in kitschy 80’s vintage and ultra-modern jazz/prog-rock fusion with a lot of energy. There are spots that border on the chugging motorik rhythm of krautrock as well, but there is more of a looseness in the compositions than krautrock would normally allow.
There is a lot of sonic ground covered in the course of the album. This only seems appropriate considering his desire to create enough differing music to substantiate a name change for each release. It is exciting to hear from an artist that is a prolific musician with a need for incessant creation. The album just sounds good. There is space in the mix, and nothing is ever crowded or overbearing. The drum sound is clean and dry with no reverb that I can detect on anything. This flies in the face of most records coming out today. I think that it is this dry sound that keeps the synth sounds from being cheesy or over-saturated with some sort of sentimental emotion. The dry sound has the extra added effect of tightening up the sound, giving it a more mechanical feel but still maintaining a looseness in the music, much like a jazz ensemble. The Insane Warrior is both tight and loose in all the right places.
Despite the change in sounds from track to track RJD2…errr The Insane Warrior does not usually mess with the structure of the songs. They are usually in a sort of Verse/Chorus/Verse setting. Stagnation can be more noticeable without lyrics to fall back on, and rather than have a constant solo he chooses to vary the “Verses” slightly and places some interesting diversional sections in between familiar material and never goes on too long. It seems as though he is aware of the limitations of instrumental music in that regard.
Tracks like “Black Nectar” and the aforementioned “Within the Maze” are studies in contrast in and of themselves. “Black Nectar” begins with a recurring ostinato over which a jazz flute solo appears. The flute only makes a brief showing in this one track, thankfully. Following the forgivingly brief flute solo is a spacey, amorphous section whose dark tone contrasts sharply with the majority of the album; it sounds like something that could have appeared on the Blade Runner soundtrack. Meanwhile “Saint Ignatius Belsse” features calimba, glockenspiel and vibraphone in a thin texture that makes the music seemingly float on air. As soon as the drums kick in the piece begins to swing like Milt Jackson’s Modern Jazz Quartet.
There is no better way to describe “The Mountain” than to say that it sports a raunchy 70’s porn groove before zooming into a slick guitar lead. The guitar here, used sparingly on the album, adds another interesting timbre to the increasingly complex sonic landscape being created across the album. The guitar tone and style sounds like “Three Friends” era Gentle Giant with a combination of the crunchy synth. The album, at first listen, reminds me to a certain extent of the work of Squarepusher with the fast paced virtuosic bass playing replaced with the soundworld of the late 70’s and early 80’s krautrock and prog of Triumvirat and Gentle Giant combined with the improvisatory nature of more recent act The New Deal.
The Insane Warrior’s “We Are the Doorways” is an ever changing, synth heavy, instrumental surge of energy with a virtuosic zeal that seems to hop gleefully from one genre to the next while maintaining a truly unique sound all its own.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/02-The-Water-Wheel.mp3|titles=The Water Wheel]
For the past few years the retro-60’s sound has been featured very prominently in several albums that have made a lot of music fans stand up and take notice. Take for example Best Coast, Caribou, Deerhunter, MGMT and the list goes on. Well, all of that can stop now because White Fence has given us the peak of perfection when it comes to that retro sound.
Specifically stated White Fence’s album, “Is Growing Faith” is, at first glance, freak folk. The freakiest of freak folk. I would even dare to say that at some points this album borders upon sounding like outsider music a la Jandek, or Daniel Johnston in its strange, almost uninviting sound. The fact that their sound is reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield, early Dylan and The Left Banke while at the same time sounding as if it was all recorded on the shoddiest of equipment in a bedroom somewhere truly places this album in a category of its own. To say that it didn’t initially kind of frighten me would be a lie. There are, however, really catchy tracks on this album and its like no other album I have heard, or at least it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard done recently.
The lo-fi to the extreme approach in some of the songs is, admittedly, something that needs to be listened-through at first. There is a bit of a learning curve, or “accessibility curve” to this album. Like I said, it’s not outwardly inviting, but if you stick with it and really surrender to the world in which the music exists then there really are some hidden gems to be found. “A Pearl is not a Diamond” has an early psychedelic folk-rock feel to it with ethereal vocals and overdriven guitar that pans wildly from one side to the other while “Tumble, Lies and Honesty” strips everything back to just acoustic guitar, an early sounding vintage synth with its monotone buzz vibrating in the background throughout and tongue clucks used for percussion. Some of the songs sound as if at any minute they are going to fall apart completely, for example “Lillian (Won’t You Play Drums?)” with its off kilter drum machine and synth from the song it follows sounding off an atonal line that is buried beneath everything.
Imagine The Beatles discovering LSD while they were working on their first albums. What would “Love Me Do” sound like if John was taking acid? I suppose one could say that is what early Pink Floyd sort of sounded like with Syd Barrett at the helm. There is a taste of the west-coast surf rock vibe added to the mix via a good amount of the requisite reverb on everything, adding yet another dimension to the music. The guitars are rarely distorted, instead a clean and twangy tone is used throughout. The singing style of Tim Presley, the mastermind behind White Fence, even sounds like something from British Invasion era rock and roll.
The DIY element seems evident at the beginning and ending of nearly every song where snippets of other songs appear and are abruptly cut off. The tape stretches and warbles throughout, throwing the tempo askew and generally having a disorienting effect. The tempo shifts from the varying tape speed are not the only disorienting part of the album. It is quite an interesting experience listening to this work because my mind is telling me the whole time that there is now way that this was not created in the 60’s. I start to make up reasons as to why it is only being released now: Perhaps this is some lost or forgotten tape. But then a song like “Body Cold”, that is a little harder driving, begins and I’m torn by its farfeesa organ sound combined with a sinewy hard rock guitar. Then there are other moments like in the song “When There is No Crowd” when the lyrics speak of “[the] Summer of 2000, six years past the date and I wondered if I would come back…” which takes me completely out of focus for a few seconds each time I hear it. Up until that point in the album I find that I am completely immersed to the point where I have actually convinced myself that I am listening to an album from the 60’s. There is also “The Mexican Twins” which sounds to me to be directly influenced by The Mothers of Invention’s 1968 album “We’re Only in it for the Money”.
“Your Last Friend Alive” runs directly into “Enthusiasm”, the latter song actually starting before the prior song finishes. The tape then fades out and back in again as if it was a last minute decision to leave the song in, or as if it is Presley improvising on the chord progression and later coming up with a use for it. Things like this give the album the feeling of it being produced as a home tape, distributed to friends. The track “Enthusiasm” really captures that surf-rock sound, though with a lot of background noise added to the mix and wild, erratic drumming while the country swagger of “Stranger Things Have Happened (To You)” is one of the most immediately inviting songs, complete with a catchy hook and bridge.
White Fence has outdone everyone with their retro stylings. Though, like Zappa, there may be “no commercial potential” for this album it is most certainly a statement being made about returning to core songwriting elements. The songs fit together like a run on sentence, or more like a stream of consciousness. The lo-fi, DIY sound, though initially offputting, actually grows to make the album to feel more like an intimate, homemade and tape-traded affair. If you spend some time with this album you will be rewarded.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/16-You-Cant-Put-Your-Arms-Around-a-Memory.mp3|titles=You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory]
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/06-A-Pearl-Is-Not-a-Diamond.mp3|titles=A Pearl Is Not a Diamond]