MAGIC MIX

avant . leftfield . post-rock . drone . experimental

WEEK STARTING 3 Jul

Genre pick of the week Cover of Both by Bill Nace.

Bill Nace

Both

    With a requisite crackle, hum and drone, you’re fixed to slide into the disrupture in stereo that is guitarist Bill Nace and — well, THIS is a nice surprise — Bill’s got his own record out this time.

    Sweet — in the past 15 years or so, Bill’s been a trusty improv partner to so many: Steve Baczkowski, Chris Corsano, Paul Flaherty, Greg Kelly, James Twig Harper, Samara Lubelski and Thurston Moore, plus - with Kim Gordon – in Body/Head, to name but a handful.

    Bill’s appeared on probably more than 50 albums — but other than a few solo cassettes way back in the day, Both is his actual solo LP debut. It’s been a long time coming, and just like we hoped, with the Nace approach to electric guitar waxing front and center, sound and countersound, it’s a blast.

    Working with producer Cooper Crain, Bill constructed Both with the ribs of composition protruding from his improvisational electron pool, pulsing with energies black and shiny, finding lots of sound and music in the process. The listening experience is only faux-monolithic — you can take it all in as a big noise thing if you want, but it’s much more rewarding to lean in and observe the variety of colors and spaces in the playing, how it breaks along discrete lines into alternating currents. The small details, like the crunch of contact between fingers and strings, the hum of the amp in a resting moment, the rhythm implied in a waveform and then pursued, all build up into melodies, climatic detours and underlying emotional expression before wiping into silence again. A real encompassing vision of what to do with a guitar in this day and age. Plus, you got cover artwork by Daniel Higgs.

    Masaki Batoh

    Smile Jesus Loves YOU

      Masaki Batoh’s solo career continues to rise up with his 5th solo album, and second in the last two years, Smile Jesus Loves YOU.

      As long time listeners of Ghost and The Silence are well aware, Batoh’s music is of the world and for the world . . . it exists as part of the conundrum of the world, for us to hear and form thought or feeling. We have no way of knowing it, other than to listen. The defiance of a fixed notion in Batoh’s world and music is made clear, as with the ambiguities of last year’s mortality meditation Nowhere, by the title of his new album. This shouldn’t be taken at face value. It might be a politically bitter statement. It might not be political at all, in this time of insane corrupt leaders who clearly believe in nothing except what they can use. It is a question for anyone who believes, or doesn’t believe. Listeners must come up with their own understanding, based on their own sentiment and where they find themselves in their evolving form.

      Following the mostly solitary activity of making’ Nowhere’, Batoh has invited several guests to play with him for parts of ‘Smile Jesus Loves YOU’. Like family members, collaborators from The Silence and Ghost make guest appearances, including, for two songs, ex-Ghost and legendary percussionist Hiroyuki Usui (Fushitsusha).

      For the journey of this new album, Batoh takes us a great distance, singing in Japanese, English, Spanish and Latin, including an amazing cover of one of his heroes, Atahualpa Yupanqui, with lyrics translated from Spanish to Japanese, giving them a haiku-like feeling.

      Batoh plays a variety of stringed instruments throughout, as well as mellotron and shanai, supported at times by the playing of others on flute, piano, lap steel, saxophone, contra bass and drums. The songs expand amoebically, with music styles of the world shifting and merging to form their whole. Through phases of dark and light, including some new musical discoveries in Batoh’s world, we travel through the multipart epic title track to salvation.

      This world is a difficult place, whether or not the gods will come to save us, but there is a happy ending for us if we accept and make it so. As with all of Batoh’s recent releases, Smile Jesus Loves YOU is a 100% analogue recording of absolutely human playing, with no digital copying and pasting. This allows us to hear and feel the air around the recording as if it is our own.

      Randy Holden

      Population II

        “Godzilla just walked into the room. People just stood there with their eyes and mouths wide open.” To hear Randy Holden describe the audience’s reaction in 1969 to his solo debut performing with a teeth-rattling phalanx of 16 (sixteen!) 200 watt Sunn amps is about as close as many of us will get to truly experience the moment heavy metal music morphed into existence. However, at last we have unearthed the proper fossil record.

        Population II, the now legendary, extremely rare album by guitarist/vocalist Holden and drummer/keyboardist Chris Lockheed is considered to be one of the earliest examples of doom metal. Though its original release was a very limited in number and distribution, like all great records, its impact over time has continued to grow. In 1969, Holden, fresh off his tenure with proto-metal pioneers Blue Cheer (appearing on one side of the New! Improved! Blue Cheer album and touring for the better part of a year in the group), aimed for more control over his band. Thus, Randy Holden - Population II was born, the duo naming itself after the astronomical term for a particular star cluster with heavy metals present.

        “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before,” Holden explains. “I was interested in discordant sounds that could be melodic but gigantically huge. I rented an Opera house for rehearsal, set up with 16 Sunn amps. That’s what I was going for, way over the top.” And over the top it is. The 6-song album delves into leaden sludge, lumbering doom and epic soaring riffs that sound free from all constraints of the era. It’s incredibly heavy, but infused with a melodic, albeit mechanistic, sensibility.

        “At the time, I was hearing these crazy melodies everywhere I went,” Holden says. “I thought I was going crazy.” For example, one day he slowly rooted out a powerful sound that had been nagging him and discovered it coming from a ceiling fan. “Machinery all around us doesn’t turn in a perfect rhythm. That’s what I was tuning into, I heard the music and the discordant sounds coming from the machinery. It was perfect for rendering the machine we built.”

        Troubles with the album’s release bankrupted Holden, who subsequently left music for over two decades. It was bootlegged several times over the years, but until now hasn’t seen a proper remaster and has yet to be available on digital platforms. “The original mastering just destroyed the dynamics of it,” Holden says. “They flattened it out. Now we got a really nice remaster that should be the closest thing to the original recording.” 

        FORMAT INFORMATION

        Coloured LP Info: Signed copy.

        A. A. Williams

        Forever Blue

          Making her stage debut in April 2019 and selling out her first headline show at London’s prestigious Southbank Centre less than a year later, A.A. Williams has hit the ground running. Similarly, the acclaim for her performances and her music has been unanimous from the start. After one self-titled EP and the 10” vinyl collaboration Exit in Darkness with Japanese post-rockers MONO, the London-based singer-songwriter has signed to Bella Union and made a stunning debut album, Forever Blue.

          A rapturous blend of post-rock and post-classical, Forever Blue smoulders with uncoiling melodies and haunted atmospheres, shifting from serenity to explosive drama, often within the same song. Williams is a fantastic musician as well as songwriter, playing the guitar, cello and piano, and her voice has the controlled delivery of a seasoned chanteuse whilst still channelling the rawest of emotions.

          Forever Blue is named after a song that didn’t make the album’s final cut, “but it still encapsulated these songs,” Williams explains. “It sounded timeless and in the right place.” The album’s threads encapsulate the anxieties and addiction of love and loss with haunting detail, for example ‘Glimmer’(“I wasn’t meant to see the sun washed out and pale / I wait undone / I wasn’t meant to be the one hollow and hurt and meant for none”), though Williams admits the theme was shaped more by her subconscious than any grand plan.

          “The lyrics come at the end, they fall into place, rhythmically, and link together,” she explains. “And then it’s my job to decipher what I’ve written! I want the words to get my point across but still let the listener map on their own experiences. I find it really therapeutic.”

          Therapy is intrinsic to Williams’ approach: to not just express and unpick her feelings of longing and loss but to work through them. “Verbalising something, you feel a weight has been lifted,” she says. The transition can be mirrored in the dynamic shift from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’, as on ‘Glimmer’ and arguably at its most euphoric on ‘Melt’. “There’s something very satisfying and elating about songs that have that drop in them, to stomp on the guitar pedal on and let it all out.”

          It’s testament to Williams’ skills, and those of husband and bassist Thomas Williams, that Forever Blue’s commanding sound was largely captured at the couple’s two-bedroom flat in North London. Drums by Geoff Holroyde were added at engineer Adrian

          Hall’s studio in South London, with guest vocals from Johannes Persson (Cult Of Luna), who adds his deep-trawling growl to ‘Fearless’ (“he sounds like Tectonic plates moving” Williams feels), Fredrik Kihlberg (Cult Of Luna) on ‘Glimmer’ and Tom Fleming (ex-Wild Beasts) on ‘Dirt’.

          Williams can scarcely believe she’s in such exalted company, or that her band has toured with Cult Of Luna, Russian Circles, Explosions In The Sky, Nordic Giants and Sisters Of Mercy, whilst performing with MONO at their 10th anniversary show. It’s not because she doesn’t trust her own worth but that Williams only became a singer-songwriter by chance.

          Having taken music lessons from the age of six and been immersed in classical music, Williams’ life was forever changed when she discovered Deftones in her mid-teens, “and after them, all things heavy,” she recalls. “It was music that made me feel included, that tapped into me.”

          Yet it was only years later, when she found a guitar in the street with a note attached, “please take me, just needs work,” that Williams started playing guitar, and only started writing songs as a way of learning how to play. “I wrote in different styles to find a sound I was comfortable with,” she says. “Likewise, with singing. I’d never before thought of singing with a microphone in front of other people. It’s been quite a journey.”

          That journey was thrown off course by the Coronavirus lockdown, but Williams’ response has been the ‘Songs From Isolation’ video project, solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans. At the time of writing, she has performed Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ (“to take on a song like that, you either have to be brave or dumb, and I thought, let’s be brave!”), Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ and Nick Cave’s ‘Into Your Arms’.

          As ‘Songs From Isolation’ keeps posting intimate messages from a place of solitude, Forever Blue will spread the news of A.A. Williams’ extraordinary talent far and wide - and once lockdown is over, she and her band will be taking the next steps on her journey by touring the record. She’s already come so far but this story is only just beginning. 


          FORMAT INFORMATION

          Coloured LP Info: Silver vinyl.

          Coloured LP includes MP3 Download Code.


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