Echo & Decay, Spit & Crackle
Recent Listening April 2009

Nakadai, Chas Smith (Cold Blue Music)
Past and Parcel/Elliptical Optimism, Spherical Objects (Boutique)
Further Ellipses/No Man's Land, Spherical Objects (Boutique)
Stars of Ice, Steve Roden (
"...and the shuffle of things", Andrew Poppy (Field Radio)
Stories from the Shed, The Wrong Object (Moonjune)

Nakadai is the sound of jets taking off in the distance, a shimmering drone inches above black tarmac in summer. It is struck metal echoing and decaying, lingering in the heat and ear. It is the sound of instrumental wizard Chas Smith's multi-tracked pedal steel guitars; it is sculpted and twisted sound, music at it's most minimal and out there. But if this puts you off, it shouldn't: this music is also achingly beautiful. After the multitracked opening title track, 'Hollister' sounds little different, despite being a solo instrument - less depth of sound perhaps, but just as desolate and physical. By the time the added sonic palette of vibraphone and marimbas etc. comes in for the two-part piece 'A Judas Within', the listener is set up for every minute addition and variation in tone and texture, the simply complexity of this ensemble playing. Two more tracks complete this fantastic CD, which strip away the instruments again until only the ghostly steel guitar is left on the final track 'Joaquin Murphey'. This is a more liquid and sparkling piece, more vertical than horizontal, perhaps less defined and more tentative. It ebbs and flows towards the silence that follows.

The CD is a kind of compilation, with previous tracks from a 1987 LP, a 1991 compilation, and a new 2008 piece, but you'd never know it unless you'd spotted the lack of Smith's own homebuilt instruments which have featured on more recent releases. Here, as noted, it's guitars to the fore; if, like me, you first heard of Chas Smith through his guitar work with Harold Budd and others, it's both no surprise and a delight to have more of this work available.

Contemporaneous, of course, with early ambient outings by Budd, Eno et al, was what became known as post-punk. Paul Morley preferred the term 'existentialist psychedilia' for Spherical Objects, apprently, but what does he know? Manchester's Spherical Objects were one of those interesting bands who chose not to engage with the speeded-up heavy metal of punk rock itself, but instead draw on the musical heritage that already existed along with newly-fuelled DIY ethics and possibilities that punk theorists threw up. Spherical Objects seemed to have some links with Manchester's Music Collective, which included members of classical, jazz and rock fraternites, and as a band they saw no reason to write off saxophone or keyboards in the name of fashionable revolution.

So Spherical Objects' music is all sharp angles and rhythms, but it is also rooted in songwriting, with all the wordplay and self-expression that implies and involves. The keyboards are reminscent of early Pere Ubu or the first Magazine LP, wandering all over the place in contrast to the main melody or rhythm, and the occasional guitar solos are short and linear; likewise the songs. I've always liked the slightly nasal and awkward vocals of Steve Solamar, but I know it can be a problem for newcomers to the band. Stick with it; it's worth it. All four LPs collected on these two CDs are forgotten classics (when I say forgotten, I don't [he said smugly] include myself, of course - I still have my trusty vinyl copies of three of the four). LTM/Boutique are to be congraultuated for repackaging these and including a full band history and lyrics within. Now all we need is Tirez Tirez's DIY version of Talking Heads on Object Music from around the same time reissued and my happiness will be complete.

As indeed it was recently when I received Steve Roden's Stars of Ice and Andrew Poppy's "...and the shuffle of things" from the postman. Roden is a prolific sound and visual artist, but Stars of Ice is the best thing he has ever done. Sampled and manipulated christmas carols and songs loop and spiral within crackles, hiss and small sounds in this 33 minute evocation of cold and dark, the quiet landscape of the imagination where ice and stars audibly twinkle. This has been on my ipod and CD player almost non-stop since I received it.

Andrew Poppy's new CD starts similarly to Chas Smith's, a spit and crackle of velocity that slowly moves toward a triumphant, almost pomp-like, classical-sounding burst of sound. This is immediately hijacked by a voice which self-consciously undermines all our expectations by talking about the music it is interrupting. Except of course, it isn't, because the spoken part is intrinsic to the score. Just when we come to terms with that idea a bell-like note rings and the music fades away as the voice continues its existential pondering. It's a fantastic introduction to this 'cabinet of sonic curioisities' (as the sleevenotes puts it) and these kinds of musical and verbal conundrums and subervsions continue throughout another 9 tracks. Much as I like a lot of Poppy's music, for me, it's a return to the kind of work I most like of his, which has previously appeared on his ZTT LP
Alphabed and to a lesser extent the more difficult Ophelia.

Poppy is a master of hybridization: classical and contemporary classical music, orchestrated rock, chamber music, synthesizer rock, art rock, show music, avant-garde music and post-rock along with performance poetry and declamatory oration are all present in the mix here. But why attach labels to what is in essence new and inspirational music? Whether or not this CD is merely things shuffled, a kind of musical sleight of hand, or not, is irrelevant. Poppy has made all these things anew, and I recommend the CD to anyone interested in where music might be found in the 21st Century and remain approachable, varied, dynamic and entertaining.

If Poppy tends to get placed in the classical music category, or is certainly rooted in it, The Wrong Object could be said to be rooted in jazz-rock. Stories from the Shed starts with a bang, a kick-ass explosion that soon mutates into a sinuous honking with an edgy rhythm chasing its own tail. Soon there is a saxophone soaring busily above the hyperactivity. Elsewhere trumpet and saxophone blast in unision, electronics fidget and subvert, percussion dances, and  guitars ebb and flow. This CD shows that there is life still to be found in the genre that previously got distracted by virtuoisity and ego, the horror that is endless guitar soloing. Many of the fourteen tracks here don't even hit the four minute mark, so there are plenty of short, interesting ideas to be found, with showing off clearly a no-go. There's a great sense of dynamic and tone here - BIG thanks to poet Michael Delville, the guitarist here, for sending it along.

Elsewhere I'm just getting to grips with the krautrock-fuelled melodies of The Phantom Band's
Checkmate Savage and the subervsive and playful songs on A Mountain of One's Institute of Joy, which is clearly rooted in the good parts of late-80s new wave bands such as Simple Minds and Magazine. Meanwhile, Crocus' the worst kind of joy is hope (weheartrecords) contains some aggressive and heartfelt contemporary punk - tho I gather some would call it screamo. Either way this is edgy music that deserves to be heard.

    Rupert Loydell 2009