Published on 16th August 2021
A Different Aspect #62
In this ADA update we feature:
• J. Peter Schwalm & Markus Reuter – Aufbruch
• Toboggan – Première Descente
• Sombre Reptile – For A Dreamer…
• High Chair – Hey Mountain Hey
• Compassionizer – Your Gold And Silver Is Cankered
• Various Artists – Made To Measure Vol. 1
The esoteric keyboards and attendant electronica of J. Peter Schwalm and the equally esoteric guitars and attendant electronica of Markus Reuter seems to be the natural mating ritually of two exotically plumed tropical splendrously feathered creatures in an alien birdhouse of the soul. They are joined on Lebewhol and Langelost by the wordless vocals of the much talented Sophie Tassignon. The place these musicians create is a place where our fractured times are reflected in dark, edgy music, providing a soundscape to our inner troubles.
Actually, it’s not all that bleak, and you can get lost in the labyrinth of post-modern swirling mists, while emerging out the other end feeling strangely optimistic. “Aufbruch” translates as “Departure”, and it fulfils its purpose, taking you out of yourself for the 49-minutes of its fluctuating but oddly calming duration.
This is music to sit and listen to, it makes ideal headphones-after-dark music. Do not play as an accompaniment to household chores, or to study or work, you’d do it a disservice. Another quality release from RareNoiseRecords.
It may be French band Toboggan’s first full length descent, but it’s not their first release. For anyone new to the band, however, they are a side-project from Etienne Mazoyer of the equally bonkers ZWOYLD. You can expect lots of high-energy blindfold twists and turns through avant-garde jazz fusion and spacey psychedelia that probably puts it into the realms of Zeuhl, though not firmly so; Zeuhl tends to have a more militaristic streak to its regimented improvisational anarchy. There may be hints of menace, but Toboggan provides all the fun of the fair, making its cover art quite apt. All those aforementioned twists and turns are there in that bright yellow slide, while the hints of danger that surround it are relegated to the background.
The beauty of this album is that it is odd, but remarkably accessible, which will make it an attractive proposition to both those who like avant-garde music, and those who like their music a little more on the conventional side. I can imagine fans of, for example, Beardfish thoroughly loving this release. Another thing that keeps it from being “all too much” is the way that the five main tracks (ranging from nine to fourteen minutes) are separated by short interludes. It’s wonky and chaotic, but at the same time funky and infectious. The music may not be mainstream, but it still has its fair share of hooks, and for me it’s undeniably catchy.
Given that Toboggan is Mazoyer’s baby, it’s no surprise that it is his guitar and keyboard playing that is all over the place, and in your face, but who cares when it is this wonderful. But the rhythm section of Victor Bernard (drums) and Yoann Chillault (bass) really do have to be mentioned, too, as they are amazing – not least for just keeping up with where Mazyoyer is going (and sometimes one wonders if even he knows where that is). At times, it feels like the toboggan is careering downhill, with little hope of doing anything but letting it take you where it takes you. But all the way through, Bernard is keeping that skittering beat going, while Chillault really brings the funk with his strong bass lines.
This is such a fantastic album, and I think perhaps the only thing that might stop it from having the success it deserves is that it is an instrumental release. I compared Toboggan to Beardfish earlier, but obviously Beardfish has vocals. If it did not, I’d still love that band, but I can appreciate many others find instrumental music not to their taste, and Beardfish probably wouldn’t have had the same degree of success without the vocals. But if you enjoy instrumental music, and if you like it even more when it’s unconventional, then Première Descente is absolutely for you. Jump on the Toboggan and take a wild ride.
Whilst recently flicking through my CD collection I stumbled across Sombre Reptile’s In Strum Mental, released back in 2001. I remember being quite taken with the album, so time to reacquaint myself with their music. Twenty years later and it stands up extremely well indeed, as does the slightly darker Le Repli Des Ombres from 2005, and equally, Timeless Island from 2012. Curiosity aroused… had they released anything more recently? The simple answer is yes, For A Dreamer… in 2017.
For those unfamiliar with Sombre Reptile, they are an instrumental French outfit, consisting of the two Dedieu brothers, Jean-Paul on keyboards and Michel on guitars. Their name derived from the side two opener of Brian Eno’s Another Green World (1975). I mention this as musically there is a correlation between Mr Eno’s music and that produced by Sombre Reptile. I’d also be inclined to add Robert Fripp into the mix, however the Dedieu brothers have their own voice that combines ambient and electronica, jazz and progressive.
For A Dreamer… has retained the familiar Sombre Reptile sound, however like a fine wine it has matured well with age. Less choppy and frenetic than In Strum Mental, the music is richer, sweeter and more melodically refined. The wonderfully hypnotic (ethnic) rhythms are still present, as are the hints to fusion greats of the early ’70s. The arrangements on For A Dreamer… are more lush, the motifs as powerful and retain their immersive qualities.
Like all Sombre Reptile’s previous releases, For A Dreamer… is well worth investigating and rewards a few listens. My suggestions for this album would be the ambient opener Clouds For A Dreamer, which segues nicely into the jazzier Turkish Coffee, the album’s centrepiece Whispering Dreams, or the album closer Suite en Steppe Mineure.
High Chair are a prolific, London-based psychedelic/prog rock duo, led by Billy Surgeoner, and supported by Rokiah Yaman, who have just released the third album in a trilogy of releases, called Hey Mountain Hey. It follows The Butter Thief (2018) and The Dharma and the Drama (2019). All three albums are more psychedelic rock, pop and prog rock than earlier High Chair releases, which were more ambient, with the music mainly spacey and meditative in nature. They are also the first albums to feature vocals and are largely re-recorded demos of Bill’s from the late-’90s.
Billy started off playing in a North-East progressive rock band called The Mynd, who ran from 1972-79 and were influenced by the music of Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and BJH, with lots of Mellotron in the mix. The ’80s saw him play in several new wave/post punk groups in London, before starting High Chair in 2005. He has also produced several electronic dance CDs in recent years under the name Chiron Dawn. All these influences have echoes in his current music.
With High Chair, Billy provides the vocals and almost all of the instrumentation (such as keyboards, guitar, bass, violin and guzheng), but is joined by Rokiah, a guitarist and singer-songwriter in her own right, who contributes harmony vocals, additional guitar and lyrics on these recent releases.
On Hey Mountain Hey, as with the previous two albums, there is a mix of different musical styles, incorporating psychedelic, prog, space and indie rock, with the lyrics evoking other worlds and realities. Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Todd Rundgren, Ozric Tentacles, Gong/Hillage, Yes, The Beatles and Nick Drake are just a few of the influences you might pick up as you play through the album.
Stargazer begins the album, spritely with flowing space rock guitar lines over keyboards and a fast tempo rhythm. By contrast, Tree and Leaf, is wistful and dreamy, influenced by Tolkien’s short story – largely based around an acoustic guitar framework, with supportive percussion and evocative lyrics. Chrome Trees has a shuffle beat over hypnotic, psychedelic instrumentation with warming vocal harmonies and E-ternal continues that late ’60s hippy-like atmospheric, with uplifting electric guitar motifs and a trippy, mystical sounds. You can almost smell the patchouli oil on your old Afghan coat. It is a melodic and catchy album highlight.
Once Again is more soothing and contemplative, with various keyboard settings creating horn and flute sounds as appropriate. Bring It Down also runs at a leisurely pace, with an electronic beat, and is defined by the repeated ‘Rise Up’ refrain which builds up the power of the song subtly and steadily. Breath of Life (Black Wolf Lament) maintains the spacey atmosphere before we return to a more acoustic, pastoral-style of song with Letting Go. The Door of The Law, referencing Kafka’s short story, is darker and more urgent in nature. The album ends with instrumental, The Pollen Path, based on an old Navajo saying, and is another album highlight, with some nice electric guitar soloing over a wash of keyboards before the flowing harmonised vocals join in and take the song to its conclusion.
Nothing particularly ground-breaking, and not all the tracks stamp their authority, but if you fancy a nostalgic dip back into that late-’60s/early-’70s free-festival atmosphere of dreamy, pastoral psychedelia, then Hey Mountain Hey is not without its charm and it would provide a pleasant soundtrack to a sleepy, summer evening, sitting cross-legged on the grass in good company (British weather permitting!). Check it out, and the earlier two releases, on High Chair’s Bandcamp site.
The Russian trio are back with a new EP, that comprises part of the soundtrack to the film Blue Rose. The film is still a work-in-progress, but based upon its title and these new pieces Compassionizer have composed for the soundtrack, it’s sure to be a twisted and surreal David Lynch endeavour. The film’s director, Dmitry Rumyantsev, is officially designated a fourth member of Compassionizer for this release, responsible for sound design and art conception. But the main attraction for me, as it was with last year’s debut, Caress of Compassion, is the bass clarinet of Leonid Perevalov. Perevalov played clarinet and bass clarinet on Caress, but on this EP sticks to the bass clarinet, while guest musician Andrey Stefinoff provides the clarinet on the title track(s).
Title tracks? Yes, for the EP comprises two versions of Your Gold and Silver is Cankered, along with two parts of Be Able to Stand in the Evil Day. These two sides of the same coins are separated by a track developed from Ivan Rozmainsky’s soundtrack to a poem of the same name (The Third Rome), written by Maria Leontieva. If the title of the film these tracks soundtrack alludes to the work of David Lynch, then the track titles themselves reflect this too, in a more oblique fashion. Many of Lynch’s characters have supernatural or omnipotent aspects, and it is notable that the track titles are either quotes from the bible or a reference to the idea that Russia or, more specifically, Moscow succeeded Rome and Byzantium as the centre of Christianity. In any case, The Third Rome is probably my favourite track, and it is all too short. I could definitely have done with more of this!
But, if not my favourite contribution to the EP, Rozmainsky’s most intriguing is his playing of the harpsichord – a baroque keyboard where the strings are plucked, rather than hit, giving an instantly recognisable sound that people tend to either love or hate. Luckily for me, I love it. It’s played, recorded, manipulated and looped, and it sounds as unworldly as I would expect from a paranormal Blue Rose. But I’m grateful that, as much as I enjoy it, it’s employed sparsely. It’s neat, but I’d rather stick to the waves of synths, and more sympathetic to the ear strings of the rubab (and to a lesser extent, guitar) played by Serghei Liubcenco. Thankfully there is plenty of this, and the EP is a very pleasant surprise, coming so soon after last year’s album. I look forward to the next full length release…
Showcasing the tight-knit scene around Brussels’ Crammed Discs HQ, these four artists first appeared on this heady compilation back in 1984, and it’s good to see a re-release for this rarefied music, and its subsequent volumes (see links below).
The pieces on this album were commissioned as soundtracks for various events, including dance and theatre performances, films, and a fashion show. What caught my eye was the appearance of label mainstay Aksak Maboul, the very same who made, for me at least, one of the best albums of 2020. Their contributions here are by necessity less structured, being Scratch Holiday, a turntablist art statement, using, it says here, “a 7″ pop single from the ’60s, and some orange marmalade”. Quite! We also have Un chien mérite une morte de chien, a soundtrack to a play about the Russian Futurist movement. Yep, it’s serious! Don’t expect any similarities to the aforementioned Figures.
The most interesting music here is provided by the opening act Minimal Compact, who go about their business with studied cool, but nonetheless pull off some neat sounds, writing for a piece of dance music. This requires that it keeps moving, so it never gets lost in a tendency to chin-stroke, which might occasionally happen elsewhere on this CD.
Tuxedomoon also put in an involving shift, and Benjamin Lew, a new name to me, is the fourth artist on this intriguing set.
File under “Interesting”.