Friday, 20 December 2013

Album Review:Harold Budd - Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011

(All Saints Records)

All Saints records have made themselves the home for some of the most compelling ambient music from the last two decades, releasing well regarded albums like Biosphere's chilly classic Substrata and attracting a plethora of established musicians. Artists synonymous with the genre, like Brian Eno, John Cale and Harold Budd, whose music has now been collected as part of a series of reissues in a retrospective of sorts titled Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011.

Budd grew up in America's Mojave Desert, you can see a loneliness in his music, though not always sadness, like staring out over an endless landscape in the quiet of the late night. Through this retrospective of Budd's career it becomes clear that one of his main strengths resides in the way that his music utilises empty space in the way that much of the best ambient music does. Budd, like Eno, has spent much of his career working with others, and the two have worked with each other on a number of occasions. It has allowed him to take many different approaches on a style wrought with new-age cliché and make it unique.

His earliest piece in the collection comes from the start of the seventies. The Oak of The Golden Dreams – and the obscure song titles might be Budd's biggest weakness – exploring drawn-out synthesizer drones, like a more meditative version of Terry Riley's electronic experiments like A Rainbow In Curved Air. Some of his best known work arisen from collaborations with Brain Eno including the lush slide guitar of The Pearl from the album of the same name and the track which this retrospective has taken it's title. Both of which are some of Budd simplest and starkly beautiful pieces.

Ooze Out and Away, Onehow, a collaboration with The Cocteau Twins, allows Budd to bring his atmosphere's to the shimmering guitars and Liz Fraser's distinct vocals. The song sounds more like a Cocteau Twins track and makes a nice change with its reverb washed drums and Budd's tactfully placed washed of sound fill the edges of the mix. Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie performs on How Distant Your Heart, a more recent collaboration from 2007, where he mixes his chorus laden guitar sound with Budd's gentle piano.

Sounds become more tangible on the contemplative, slow burning She's By The Window, where a string and woodwind section bring a full, classical sound, without electronics or echo, but still an evocative and emotional core remains. Other forays into contemporary classical sound with the percussive Hand 20, featuring XTC's Andy Partridge. Elsewhere Budd explores the spectral jazziness on Bismillahi 'Rrahman 'Rrahim and or the dystopian dreamscapes on Dark Star, a track that could have sound tracked a forgotten John Carpenter film (and shares it's title with the director's first film).

Whilst much of his music focuses on the sounds of echoing piano keys a surprising range of styles and approaches are shown over these 18 tracks. The music on this collection covers a large amount of sonic ground and at its worst, die to it's non-intrusive nature, it can sometime fade away from you into the background like a forgotten dream. Ambient music works best as long form pieces or on an album where it can be digested whole but Wind In The Lonely Fences makes for a perfect starting point for those who want to dig deeper into the composer's impressively varied back catalogue.

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Album Review:Laraaji – Two Sides of Laraaji

(All Saints Records)

After spending some time creating his own recordings Edward Larry Gordon, better known by his adopted name of Laraaji, was discovered by Brian Eno busking on the streets of New York playing his modified auto harp filtered through an electronic pick-up. He featured on the third of Eno's Ambient series, Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance making use of his modified harp and the zither, creating long-form spiritually informed pieces of music using his chosen instruments to communicate both rhythm and melody to conjure an otherworldly effect.

All Saints Records, who have released many of Laraaji's varied recordings, have collected two of his mid nineties albums Flow Goes The Universe and The Way Out Is the Way In on Two Sides of Laraaji presenting two distinctly different but compatible visions of the musician.

The first album Flow Goes The Universe creates a meditative experience, influenced by eastern spirituality, you could lose yourself in the sprawling sounds. Track titles like Deep Celestial and
Being Here let you know what you're in for. At twenty five minutes long, and lacking any tangible melody, there is little else you can do while taking in Being There other than shut your eyes and letting the treated instruments carry you away to their own world.

It isn't all abstract ambience though, with the field recording experiments on A Cave In England letting the sound of tumbling water rain down over soft heaven gazing strings. There's the astral gazing of Space Choir where masked vocals come to the fore over a low and pulsing drone.
Rhythmic constructions of Zither Dance add a momentum and textures than may well have inspired some of Animal Collectives more restrained moments. The album ends with Mbira Dance, with the inclusion of soulful upfront vocals make it a highlight as the voice falls in and out of a plucked Mbira rhythm.

The Way Out Is the Way In , a collaboration with Japanese dub reggae group Audio Active and takes the spiritual exploration to another place as the group lay down a bedding of dub bass lines driven along by hip hop beat and samples as Laraaji offers vocals that shift and warp as he delivers spiritual messages or requests that you 'laugh/ just laugh'. The whole effect is heavier, not suited to meditation, instead inspiring head nodding grooves as it weaves samples of Laraaji's work through the music.

The mid-nineties recording sounds of it's time with it's processed drum sounds showing their age and many of the tracks go on long enough to feel like unfocused jam sessions. It still has its moments, like the opening and closing tracks Still Laughter Mode, or the instrumental beats of How Time Flies sometimes reaching a trip-hop murkiness, other times reaching Flow Goes The Universe's ambience.

It seems Laraaji is better suited to letting his music speak for itself as The Way Out Is the Way In often drifts into cheesy synthesizer washes of new age cliche. Flow Goes The Universe is the easier album to recommend especially for those familiar with Ambient 3 for its moments of human interaction amongst the otherworldly aspirations, where he reaches for other states of mind with only a limited set of instruments at his disposal.

Originally posted on

Album Review:Roger Eno – Little Things Left Behind 1988-1998

(All Saints Records)

Never gaining the attention that his brother has earned, Roger Eno has still made a name for himself working on is piano led ambient music over the last three decades. He creates short compositions unfurl slow and meditatively like the daydreams of Eric Satie. This new collection Little Things Left Behind 1988-1998 brings together music from five of his now out of print albums for All Saints Records, covering slight string and piano arrangements vocal experiments and chamber music compositions and at just over two hours long its a comprehensive release.

Starting with short and lonely piano pieces, Eno shows a keen ear of melody in his streamlined and uncluttered compositions. They build up slowly around arpeggios and strings like delicate structures, small but intricate. His songs from The Familiar, an album with multi-instrumentalist Kate St. John tracks a darker path with wider reaching ambition, creating a cinematic darkness and unease on tracks like The Familiar and Lament.

He also shows his voice on the albums second disc with tracks from his album Swimming sounding not unlike his brother did on his more vocal-led seventies albums. they share the same skill of creating cryptic and somewhat impenetrable lyrics, though Roger often displays more of a stripped-down folk charm. Amongst the peaceful performances there are occasional moments of experimentation like the vocal layering on Amukidi,which becomes a drawn out almost tribal chant.

The last fifth of the record come from Eno's The Flatlands and these string and piano pieces make for some of the most serene and evocative music on offer here conjuring images of the natural world, beams of light form a rising sun filtered and fracturing through trees, rolling country side on a summer's morning. This is music to let your mind wander to and Eno creates fitting sprawling landscapes to explore.

All Saints records discography maps out a history of modern ambient music and with this series of reissues asserts - albeit in a softly spoken voice – the variety of talent they have assembled. Roger Eno might be the quietest voice amongst them with his short and slight creations but that’s not to say his music should be overlooked. For those who seek peace from the restless noise of everyday life or a retreat from urban surroundings then Little Things Left Behind can guide you to another place.

Originally posted on

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This Week's New Music feat St. Vincent, Burial, Flying Lotus and more...

It's that time again, so here I am with another look at the music that is worth checking from the last seven days. This week I've got a whole load of murky electronica, a club banger form another era and some fuzzy indie pop.  

Friday, 13 December 2013

Last Week's New Music feat The War On Drugs, Factory Floor, Tacocat and more...

*I'm a bit late posting this one, stay tuned for this week's edition in the next few days*

Welcome back to my weekly run down of of the best new tracks that have popped up over the last week. I've got everything from laid back indie rock to beat driven techno so forget about everything else and treat your ears to some new music.  

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Album Review:The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat deluxe box set


With the recent passing of Lou Reed, the central figure in much of the Velvet Underground's output, there has been a lot of evaluating into Reed's legacy to music, which is no easy task when looking over one of the more diverse outputs in rock history, spanning close to fifty years. Still, his influence and impact on music is undeniable. Veering from the wildly successful pop of Transformer to the alienating experimentation of Metal Machine Music Reed has covered a substantial amount of sonic territory, though looking at the recent remaster of White Light/White Heat, his second album with The Velvet Underground, it might be the most representative release from one of the greatest talents in contemporary music.

The history of The Velvet Underground is already well-documented; especially the turbulent inter-band relationships (with White Light being the last album with John Cale as a member of the band). That tension between the group's members didn't stop them from creating some of the greatest albums of the sixties. Their ramshackle sound seems like it would have been stumbled upon by accident, filled with youthful aggression that paved the way for punk and noise music that wouldn't really take off for another decade. Their music was out off step with pretty much everything else at the time, and despite never reaching widespread renown in their heyday, time has judged the band kindly as their influence has grown and continues to inspire new generations of artists.

The White Light/White Heat Deluxe Box Set is made up of remastered studio and mono recordings of the album itself alongside other tracks from the same studio sessions, including alternate takes as well as a live recording from a show in New York in 1967, shortly after the band had released their debut album. White Light/White Heat has always felt to me like a companion piece to their debut, slightly more accomplished musically and experimenting in new ways, with recording processes and the spoken word. It doesn't have anything as basic and primitive as the drum beat to I'm Waiting For My Man, but it's still much more raw in its sound and maybe more assured in execution.

The title track kicks off the album, a ramshackle rock song with jangling piano and Lou Reed's oddball delivery, it's a perfect culmination of the talents of the group, creating a unique, catchy rock song obscured under distortion. Despite the remaster the recording still retains its scruffy and raw presentation. During the recording sessions, they ran everything through distortion and compressors, breaking with the standard record procedures, leaving a muddy and dense recording sounding unlike anything else.
The Gift can still draw you into it's narrative after so many listens, with Cale's unemotional and matter of fact delivery, even when you know every twist and turn in the unfortunate story of the unhinged Waldo Jeffers. Cale takes the lead again on Lady Godiva, a song that feels like its constantly falling out of time with itself, maybe due to Reed's dazed delivery, or the different sounds that invade the mix in its second half.

Providing a light respite from the noise Here She Comes Now features clean guitars and Lou Reed's calm singing making for a much need change in tone, even if it doesn't last long. The album closes with the seventeen-minute long epic Sister Ray, still sounding like nothing else that's come along since, relentless and overwhelming. Part-freak-out-jam, part sonic assault, it takes the template of tracks like European Son and builds upon the ideas creating a larger and much stranger beast in the process.

Amongst the demo tracks is the original recording of fantastic Stephanie Says, which wouldn't be officially released until the eighties, though was remade for Lou Reed's Berlin album in 1973 as Stephanie Says (II), but the track makes much more sense surrounded by other tracks from the same recording sessions, sounding like the sweeter pop moments from their album with Nico with its picked clean guitar lines, you can see why it wouldn't have fit so well amongst the dirt and sleaze of the recordings that made up White Light/White Heat. There are two versions of the Cale-penned Hey Mr. Rain featuring some of his best violin playing with the group, with one version adding to the tempo and noise enough to give it a little more urgency, though turns into more of an extended jam.

The third disc of this collection is a live set from The Gymnasium in New York from 1967, and whilst it is rougher than the studio recordings, it does capture some of the excitement, and shows the groups' experimentation didn't finish in the studio, with the versions played here often becoming wildly different from their recorded counterparts.

White Light/White Heat proved that their debut wasn't a fluke and cemented their worth as a band that would be an important piece of musical history. Many of the band members like Reed and Cale had more successful solo careers after leaving the Velvet Underground but here their unique musicianship and approaches to song writing and recording create what might be the most unique and lasting legacy of all their work. It's hard to get across just how big of an impact they had, but it is unlikely that seminal album by acts such as Television, Spacemen 3 and The Strokes would have ever existed without The Velvet Underground.

The Deluxe remaster of White Light/White Heat is a comprehensive collection and long time fans will enjoy hearing the album anew though additions like the instrumental and vocal only versions of The Gift feel unnecessary. These kind of box sets have been thrived recently, and whilst they clearly make their moneys worth from them, there has been an effort to include something unique for the more dedicated fan or collector. And that is who it will really appeal to, if only for the few previously unreleased tracks, but the b-sides and tracks from the same recording sessions. Whether you want all the bells and whistles or not, the six tracks that make up White Light/White Heat are absolutely essential for any music fan, containing an energy and restlessness that still makes it a vital listen forty five years after it was first committed to tape.

Originally posted on

This Week's New Music feat. Forest Swords, Ka, Xui Xui and more...

Yep, It's time for another weekly run down musical goings on. This week I have gathered six tracks from from disparate reaches of sonic spectrum and drawn them together in this very column that sits before you. How convenient.