Electronic System – “Time Trip” (1977)
Speaking of usually sharing things a few of you might not have heard–let’s follow up Kraftwerk with one of their very first disciples you might not know. No, this isn’t an pseudonymous outtake from Moroder–this is the sound of the influence of Kraftwerk spreading just west to Belgium, rather than south to Italy, and merging similarly with the spread of disco. It’s by Dan Lacksman, who should be just as well-known and revered as Moroder, at least for his work with his partners as part of Telex. Amazingly, the album from which “Time Trip” comes is easily found on reissued CD, while Telex’ admittedly more brilliant work is completely out of print–probably the most glaringly crazy O.O.P. I can think of at present. The album is not perfect–Lacksman was only a couple of years removed from pretty cheesy but promising sound library-esque synth-jingle-pop work–but it’s a lot of fun and sure to go down easy at your personal discotheque. [Electronic System are beatmatched at Musicophilia with the other disciples and children of Kraftwerk, and Kraftwerk themselves, on the “four LP set” ‘Le Meilleur de Les Rythmes du Monde‘.]
Kraftwerk – “Antenna” (1975)
I mostly try to share things at least some of you might not have heard. But sometimes, hearing a track that’s become embedded in our mutant musical DNA without setting out to do so can be just as amazing. That’s the feeling I’ve just had, hearing “Antenna” at complete random, not having put on ‘Radio-Activity’ in at least a year. Maybe there’s nothing left to be said about music upon which multiple genres are founded–this is as much the bedrock of modern music as James Brown, and hip-hop MCs in the late 2000s are declared geniuses when they have the insight to borrow heavily from the grandchildren of the disciples of Kraftwerk. The Knife, probably my favorite modern group to get started this decade, live and breath in the radiowaves of this album. Even my beloved OMD, themselves now well and duly canonised, were but a minor homage (however wonderful) when they aped the album outright eight years later to make ‘Dazzle Ships’. But there’s no need to say anything really, when thirty five years on, the music still sounds like the future. Simply resplendent (the track, the whole album), and worth being reminded of now and again.
Songs:Ohia – “Being In Love” (2000)
“Being In Love” takes the teenage romanticism (or dramatism, if you prefer) of love best exemplified by The Cure’s ‘Disintegration,’ and transports it to a simple guitar, organ, melodica and Casio-solid electronic rhythm section singer-songwriter presentation. I know that might not sound like a recipe for sure-fire success; but this is romanticism that feels honest, the plaintive earnestness earned, and it has the good fortune of being well-matched musically. I’m not the same love-lorn fellow I was at age 20 when I mix-taped this track for a girl (or two), but it overcomes my tendency toward emotional demystification of my own past, and still hits home.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – “Quantum” (2006)
To the casual follower of the Hyperdub label, Burial’s work looms large. However, Kode9 & The Spaceape’s album ‘Memories of the Future’ is almost equally appealing. Existing in a less hazy/rain-drenched landscape of sharper shapes amidst the cavernous dub, propelled as much by The Spaceape’s vocal contributions as Kode9’s beats, this music lives up to the album’s name. It sounds like a future that knows the past, a futurism that isn’t about pretending to exist ex nihilo. [Kode9 & The Spaceape are featured in an appropriately spooky, rich mix, ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris,’ at Musicophilia.]
George Harrison – “Under the Mersey Wall” (1968)
Yes–this is the George Harrison. But don’t hold your breath for any gently weeping guitars, or even any sitars. I can imagine this might have caused about as many pissed-off teeny-boppers as ‘Metal Machine Music’ caused pissed-off proto-punkers. This is outre, experimental, long-form early electronic music, along the lines of Morton Subotnik with touches of the kosmiche of early Tangerine Dream or Cluster. Once you let go of any Beatles-based expectations, this is actually pretty compelling stuff, abstract but visceral; if Harrison was dabbling, it’s more convincing than his ersatz-ragga stylings. Who knows–for all the people this record probably angered, it probably set a few down mind-expanding paths beyond anything even “Revolution #9” could have done. [If you can roll with this track on its own, you’ll probably enjoy ‘The Somnambulist,’ an experimental mix into which Harrison’s electronic work is embedded.]
Fever Ray – “Dry and Dusty” (2009)
I have Jon at Portland’s Anthem Records to thank for The Knife. In curmudgeon mode, I’d written them off, guilt-by-association with that farming implement-entitled nexus of hipster ephemera–to my loss. Jon got me to listen to ‘Deep Cuts,’ and I was instantly won over–the warmth, the electronic buzzing, the wonderful melodies, the taste of experimentalism: who could resist. ‘Silent Shout‘ was released the next year, and while I missed the pop sensibilities at first, the album now strikes me as a classic of the genre. Fever Ray is the Knife in all but name, with little appreciable fall-off from the main body of work despite being the work of 1/2 its personnel–it’s no singer-songwriter side-project or noodley indulgence. That multiple-personality-disorder vocal approach is as haunting as ever.
Pauline Oliveros – “Bye Bye Butterfly” (1965)
Oliveros seems like one of the least po-faced and self-serious of the early electronic/minimalist/musique concrete pioneers. It’s not that she didn’t take her work seriously–it’s just that she possesses an eclecticism and verve that doesn’t call to mind tweed jackets and wooden pipes (she writes books with titles like. Rather than seeing music as the purview of the ivory tower (although she was a moving force in the study of experimental sound), she promotes the idea of music being everywhere–requiring attention, perhaps effort to discover, but not “education” or “correctness”. She seems to think a great deal about the relationship between spaces and sound, something I find greatly appealing–although my career is in preservation architecture, it is the sound of St. Pauls which strikes me most fully, for example. This early piece creates a cavernous soundscape, constituted of echoing sheets of modulating sine-waves and pastiched orchestral and operatic samples, creating a web of sound that is definitely not pop music, but which I find quite viscerally appealing. Like a sensitive AM radio, you sort of have to tune to the right wavelength, but once you’re there I think you’ll find it rewarding. [Pauline Oliveros is featured in the complex web of sound found in the Somnambulist mix at Musicophilia.]
Anja Garbarek – “Stay Tuned” (2001)
You’ve got to be doing something right if you make a sufficient impression to draw both Robert Wyatt (known for working his Midas’ touch) and the sadly elusive Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) to work on your album. Neither appears on this track, but the Spirit of Hollis is evident; and Wyatt payed the further compliment of covering this track brilliantly on his last album. She seems to be regularly compared to Stina Nordenstam and Bjork, but I’d hardly take that as an insult. This track begins a nicely spooky build of organ, nearly-spoken vocals and electronic-interference noises, but the clincher is the ecstatic release into its lush, seductive chorus (of sorts). [Anja Garbarek appears on the Musicophilia mix ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris‘.]
Arthur Russell – “Terrace of Unintelligibility” [Part 2] (1985)
This is an excerpt from the short film that was included with the first copies of Audika Records’ reissue of ‘World of Echo,’ featuring live performances of tracks from that album (especially “Answers Me”). The meditative fullness that Russell could achieve breaks my heart every single time, hundreds and hundreds of listens on, after so many years. I can’t begin to fathom how he could do so much with so little, but I’ve heard nothing truly like it. This film nicely reflects the intimacy one feels when hearing ‘World of Echo’ in the dark through headphones. [Find previously featured incarnations of Mr. Russell at Musicophilia Daily here, and mixes which incorporate his music at Musicophilia here.]
Pinch – “Brighter Day” (Instrumental) [AKA “Qawwali”] (2006)
I’m not well versed in British electronic music between the early 90s and the present day, so when I hear “dubstep” I hear the dub more than the step. This spare, spacious cavern of a track fits right in with its dub roots; or the work of Pole or Deadbeat and their insectoid, deconstructed dub; some imaginary reduced-fat Timbaland; or even something like post-punkers Grey or Shriekback or early Front 242. I love well-used space in a mix, and this instrumental version uses it deftly, and achieves a stillness-through-motion that echoes the Qawwali music from which it ostensibly draws inspiration.
Jean-Jacques Perrey – E.V.A. (1970)
I love Pierre Henry, but I prefer his “serious” work to his most famous track, “Psyche Rock”. “E.V.A.” is sort of an alternative to “Psyche,” blending similar early sci-fi pop electronics with a funky backbeat and even the large bell accompaniment–but I’d have to say, I like Perrey’s take better, since this sort of electronics-popularising was his main thing. Sampled regularly and with good reason, “E.V.A.” is as cool today as forty years ago.
Les Attaques – “Deth” (2005)
Since 2000, Les Attaques have been drawing from the scuzzier side of the well from which Portland/NYC’s Italians Do It Better collective draw today, and with equal success. They pull together ice-queen vocals, DNW/Italo synths, Factory Records bass, earlier motorik German sensibilities, and bones-exposed disco-house beats with aplomb, crafting something that is definitely homage, not facsimile, imbued with a ghost of the past but not aping it. This track is the definition of a slow burn, sonically strip-teasing you with one slowly revealed element after another, achieving a dirty-beautiful ecstasy.
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica” (1972)
‘Fetus’ was undoubtedly a horizon-expanding discovery for me, adding another layer to my understanding of the roots of synth-based music, outre, proto-punk, etc. Battiato would go on to do much more abstract music, following a trajectory not that unlike Eno, until he entered the center of the Italian mainstream in the 80s. This early stuff is a great headtrip of early electronics, off-kilter pop-rock songwriting, borrowed/sampled sources, and what I take to be sort of sci-fi lyrics (from what I can gather via Italian-English cognates). [I’ve not used the album’s cover because some might find it disturbing; it does seem slightly shock-value unecessary to me and is not representative of the fun music contained within. Franco Battiato is featured from this period here and in a later form here in mixes at Musicophilia.]
Big Black – “Steelworker” (1982)
Albini was already doing his dark weirdo shit in ’82, and while you’d say it’s post-punk in the big umbrella, he’s doing something that sounds pretty unique–rooted perhaps in Suicide’s bare-minimal synthetic beats, but with unabashed single-note distorted guitar (if not to say “soloing”) over it, and lyrics that are more brutal and less comic-book violence. Not everyday listening, but compelling if you can get in touch with a little anger.
Matthew Herbert – “Rendezvous” (2006)
Matthew Herbert can get a little polemical with his conceptualizations of his art; but fortunately for the listener (though he might disagree) whatever meta-concepts Herbert carries with his art, very little of it encumbers the music. He can sample a McDonald’s wrapper and call it an observation on food politics; but it just sounds good to me, all technical innovation and political conceits aside. That’s why this track seems to me to be what Reich is trying to achieve with his choral-sampling work, but never really has: where Reich can’t escape his ideas and isn’t the master of contemporary sampling methodology (much as he contributed to its infancy), Herbert isn’t afraid of beauty as an inherent good, and he has the chops to match his techniques to his ambitions. This certainly isn’t house music (even by Herbert’s stretched definitions); but neither is it a severe, cold choral abstraction like Ussachevsky. “Rendezvous” brings electronic dance music’s warmth to choral music’s structural nuances and creates an immensely listenable, immediate sort of high art in this score for a ballet. [Herbert is featured here in a sultry Bill Evans-like idiom in a mix at Musicophilia.]
1906 [Jean-Michel Jarre] – “Helza” (1973)
Early Jean-Michel Jarre is too hard to find, considering how crazy-good a lot of it is, like the insanely cool, spooky proto-synth featured in this mix at Musicophilia. This one is a sublime example of the sort of elegant but funky stuff the French/Italians/Germans were doing with instrumentation borrowed from Motown in the early 70s, bringing in choice touches of early electro. A solid, close-miced rhythm section (bass, drums, clavichord) carries the weight of the track along with spare percussion and rhythm-flute a la early Kraftwerk, but what takes it to a magic level is a ghostly, reverbed piano line that floats over the top, and electronic bits floating around the periphery. Magic stuff.
Björk – “Domestica” (2001)
Björk has had innumerable boxes and re-packagings and CD2s, but she’s yet to do the most obvious and essential thing: a b-sides compendium. Which is a shame, because she’s got at least one very strong album’s worth of non-remix b-sides. This is a personal favorite, an ode to the “mundane,” simple things in life, unabashedly celebratory, with some of her warmest production for fans of fuzzy electronics. [Björk is featured here with a lullaby, here with an instrumental percussion piece mixed with Vivaldi, and here with Robert Wyatt in a duet with Indonesian Kecak at Musicophilia.]
With its James Brown-based beat and Tracey Thorn (Everything But the Girl and post-punk tweesters Marine Girls) vocals, though it’s dated slightly, this track is still a winner. For me, though, its impact is heightened greatly by this technically unbelievable single-shot, single-take Michel Gondry video, one of the first videos I ever remember finding simply enthralling. Typical of Gondry when given emotionally meaningful material, his faux-lo-tech wizardry transcends the technical fascination and comes to reflect its subject matter in a way more honest and accurate than any more straightforward presentation ever could. UPDATE: Argh, embedding disabled for whatever reason, so a link instead–worth your while.
Bernard Estardy – “Emeute À Tokyo” (1972)
Top-notch early-70s sound library stuff here from a Frenchman who seems to be consistently strong, whether working in this “Psyche Rock”-ish electro-jam mode or in a Gainsbourg-like Chanson idiom. This one is a nice funky breakbeat (with phasing no less!) and rollicking piano surrounded by diving, swirling synths, for a resulting high fun factor. Check it the full album at the completely essential Library Hunt. [Bernard Estardy is featured here in a fairly different mode at Musicophilia.]