Friday, March 19, 2010

Black Sea

The electronic-music sub-genre known as glitch has become quite the in thing in recent years, with a handful of like-minded artists springing up to lay their claim to being purveyors and innovators of this subset of that larger category commonly referred to as IDM (intelligent dance music). Glitch, by itself, is admittedly a rather difficult proposition: taking direct inspiration from the hyper-abstract musique-concrete ideals of venerated modern-classical composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, it also incorporates and splices electronically processed sounds and found-sound samples to create ambient, freeform sound sculptures, occasionally informed by randomly generated rhythms and sonic distortions. This has inevitably resulted in a drifting, otherworldly variety of electronica that is far removed from any one of the multitudes of street-level dance music found on any of the major label and charts: needless to say, it also possesses absolutely no commercial aspirations whatsoever.

One of the foremost practitioners of glitch is Austrian maverick Christian Fennesz, who has carved out a very respectable career for the past decade-and-a-half with his distinctive brand of eerie, cabalistic, and yet stately soundscapes, carefully treated guitar and synth textures, brittle, odd-metered electronic percussion and compellingly spooky found-sound samples. Check out the Reich-influenced, epically proportioned 'Black Sea' (which also constitutes the title track to his most recent album, released in 2008), which effortlessly maintains its mood of uncompromising, tectonic bleakness throughout its mammoth ten-minute running time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Priest = Aura

Coming on the heels of 1990's disappointingly polished and emptily refined 'Gold Afternoon Fix', 1992's 'Priest = Aura' was a dramatic turnaround for veteran Goth-rockers The Church. This masterwork saw the band immersing themselves fully in the cabalistic, murky waters of psychedelic rock and coming up with an original, if admittedly leftfield work of art. Its songs were decidedly surreal, akin to cryptic snapshots taken in some otherworldly landscape found only in LSD-induced nightmares. It was undoubtedly an incongruous album to release during the supremacy of grunge in the early 1990s, but in retrospect, it might well be The Church's strongest work.

The epic sprawl of the title track (vaguely about a soldier's wanderings in a distant war-torn land) made for a great opener to the album, setting the pace for the arcane, unsettling atmosphere to follow. 'Ripple' followed, a nervous, shadowy invocation of a merciless femme fatale, anchored by trademark Church jangly-guitar riffs and Kilbey's almost somnambulant vocals. The haunted-house tale of 'Lustre' was marked by monstrous snare drums and a throbbing bass line, while the deceptively gentle waltz-time 'Swan Lake' detailed a hellish family life with unflinching candour. Some succour came in the form of the soothing mid-tempo dance groove of 'Feel', but soon the sense of unease takes over again, in the whimsical but highly disturbing English music-hall chanting of 'The Disillusionist', whose titular character is "famous from the waist down, but the top half of his body is a corpse". Things finally end with the menacing, frenzied turmoil of 'Chaos', which lasted for a staggering ten minutes, collapsing into an utter mess at the end in an insane explosion of over-the-top guitar feedback. An astonishing, well-crafted record that could well be The Church's indisputable magnum opus.

Friday, March 05, 2010

She's Lost Control

Of the handful of singles that the legendary Joy Division released in their brief lifespan, the utterly bone-chilling ‘She’s Lost Control’ remains the post-punk troupe’s most compelling and influential. Drawing perverse inspiration from late frontman Ian Curtis’s encounter with an epileptic and her accompanying lack of direction, this iconic composition acquired an additional resonance from the fact that Curtis himself suffered from the same condition. Musically speaking, the track is a commendable exercise in classicist death-disco aesthetics, with the band firing on all cylinders: Stephen Morris laying down a terrifyingly steady backbeat, Peter Hook providing a spookily insistent high-register bass line, Bernard Sumner wielding abrasive, jagged riffs, and Curtis himself delivering a haunted, nerve-wracking vocal performance. Check out this vintage-quality, persuasive live clip of the song, with Curtis treating the audience to his infamous ‘fly dance’, which fit the work’s desperation-filled, despair-ridden lyrics to a tee.