Has It Ever Been This Bad With North Korea? Yes, Actually

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have sharply escalated recently, but that’s nothing new.

from NBC News Top Stories http://ift.tt/2wL9Fz4

A Certain Ratio: Sextet

Manchester’s post-punk music scene in the early ’80s had a rivetingly weird relationship to pop—grasping at the mainstream with one hand, shoving it away with the other. A Certain Ratio started out as ascetic avant-gardists; their first single, 1979’s “All Night Party”, was beatless and entirely un-party-like. Then they picked up the smashingly sharp funk drummer Donald Johnson, Jeremy Kerr got into slapping and popping his bass like he was Larry Graham, and they started hanging out in New York City clubs—the same sort of conversion to dance music that their scenemates and (Factory Records) labelmates New Order were undergoing at the time. In 1980 and 1981, ACR’s singles “Do the Du” and “Shack Up” were even getting played at some of those dance clubs.

After singer Martha Tilson joined up to give trumpeter Simon Topping a break from his reluctant position as frontman, A Certain Ratio’s six-piece lineup recorded and self-produced their third album, released at the beginning of 1982. Thirty-two years later, it still sounds like no other record: it’s either that era’s creepiest, boggiest dance album or its funkiest smear of brittle art-noise.

One axis of the Sextet-era band is Tilson, who’s as odd a vocalist as they could have picked. She’s perpetually lagging behind the beat and beneath the pitches for which she’s reaching, and she swallows her words, as if she’s struggling to repeat them to herself. (Tilson’s an acquired taste as a singer, but awfully distinctive.) Topping’s one major turn on the mic here is similarly strange: “Skipscada”, a two-minute flurry of Brazilian percussion and trilling whistles, on which he scat-sings tunelessly, rolling his R’s with infectious glee.

Meanwhile, Kerr and Johnson are doing their damnedest to play funk as hard as the Sugar Hill Records house band–hitting precise, clipped grooves while their bandmates run interference with haphazardly flung splashes of atonal piano and dissonant horn bleats. “Gum” is produced like a good-time boogie track: Topping and Martin Moscrop’s trumpets tootle out a soul-revue fanfare, Johnson and Kerr punctuate every few lines with get-down flourishes, and the whole band contributes to a samba breakdown. But everything’s out of tune with everything else, and Tilson’s distantly wailing “I’m sorrreeee… I can’t remember your name…” If anyone was waiting for another “Do the Du”, they’d have to keep waiting.

What they’d have been waiting for, actually, was Sextet‘s centerpiece—just not in this form. On the album, “Knife Slits Water” is a seven-and-a-half-minute, two-chord mantra: Kerr works endless variations on a little bass figure as Tilson mutters about sex, her voice doubled by an eerie pitch-displacement effect, and somebody makes a bunch of prickly noise with a kalimba. By the end of 1982, they’d re-record it as a single in the wake of Tilson’s departure, and the terrific and even longer 12-inch version (included here), sung by Johnson, recasts the Sextet version’s uncontrollable tremors as boogie fever.

This new reissue appends a 13-track bonus disc to the original album. Besides the “Knife” 12-inch (and its B-side, a near-instrumental Sugar Hill pastiche with the Kabbalistic title “Kether Hot Knives”), it includes the “Waterline” single that introduced Tilson when it immediately preceded Sextet, a couple of meandering dub experiments the band originally released under the name Sir Horatio, and BBC radio sessions from 1981 and 1982. They all illuminate the band’s curious fascinations and tensions in that period, but Sextet itself—a gorgeous mess, slumped against the back wall of the best dance club in town—is no less mysterious for the illumination.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1GdnZRq

Medicine: Home Everywhere

Onstage during a Hollywood Bowl concert last year, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez talked about how the veteran L.A. dream-pop band Medicine had influenced his music. Then he brought out Medicine’s leader Brad Laner to sing with him on M83’s “Splendor”—which makes sense, seeing as how Laner guests on the 2011 studio version of the song. The gesture was a small one in the grand scheme of things—it’s a safe bet few in the audience recognized the name—but it’s also indicative of Medicine’s less than enviable position over the years: a band loved, respected, and imitated by musicians, but minimally acknowledged beyond that. Like many groups in existence during the alt-rock free-for-all of the ’90s, Medicine had its shot at fame; signed to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, they appeared on the chart-topping soundtrack for The Crow (and in the movie itself, along with Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser). When that lottery ticket didn’t pan out, the band broke up in the ’90s, then reformed for their 2013 comeback album To The Happy Few. But where To The Happy Few feasted on Medicine’s legacy with a desperate yet stately elation, the band’s new full-length, Home Everywhere, just sounds desperate.

Home Everywhere is a mess. It isn’t always a bad mess, but far too often, it is. Where To The Happy Few exercised impeccable taste and restraint in its attempt to probe every overblown trope of shoegaze and space-pop, Home Everywhere piles them on. And on and on and on. The panning from left to right is juddering, spasmodic, panicky. Worse, it works against the melodic euphoria Laner excels at; a little deconstruction goes a long way, and Laner’s lost the plot. Songs like “The Reclaimed Girl” and “Move Along – Down The Road” aren’t psychedelic, as that would imply at least the possibility of bliss. Instead, Laner pumps so many samples, filters, noisemakers, and modulators into the mix, the band’s own instrumental source material is treated like something that should be anxiously covered up.

Of course, it shouldn’t; there are great tunes poking out of the tangle, or at least great fragments of tunes. Too many of them in rapid succession, actually, or all at once. Laner’s longtime cohort Elizabeth Thompson twines her ethereal voice wonderfully around his on “Don’t Be Slow”; still, it’s not enough of a lifeline to cling to as the music boils and manically pans around them. Making music that sounds like an orchestra of malfunctioning transistor radios at once is a noble pursuit, and one that My Bloody Valentine consummated triumphantly; MBV have always been one of Medicine’s biggest inspirations, and that hasn’t changed on Home Everywhere. But where MBV—and Medicine, at their best—nervily harness those smears and blurs, “Turning” renders that lovely paradox of abrasive dreaminess into stabs of spectroscopic strobe lights, garbage-disposal bass, and self-sampling to the point of bleary-eyed myopia. It doesn’t come off as experimental, any more than it would to dump every chemical on the lab floor to see what happens.

When Home Everywhere takes a deep breath, though, it’s incredible. “Cold Life” is spacious, dynamic, and eerily backmasked, or at least backmasking is the aural illusion that Laner is trying and winning at evoking. It’s a gentle queasiness, and it’s made all the more absorbing by Laner’s flowing, melancholy vocals, even though he sounds like he’s brazenly mimicking Elliott Smith for some reason. Similarly, “They Will Not Die” and “It’s All About You” reign in the album’s sensory overload, daubing it sparingly from time to time for maximum impact. At over 11 minutes, the album’s cosmic-jam title track doesn’t justify its sprawl; it’s over about halfway through, but someone forget to tell the band that. At this point in Medicine’s existence, they’ve earned the right to get as excessive as they want—and in a way, it’s thrilling to see a group that’s been around so long continue to go for broke with rapturous self-indulgence. Home Everywhere has every element needed to make a great Medicine album, only they’re deployed in gangling spasms and obsessive over-processing. If only they’d edited themselves a little more—or a little less.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1rPZRKP