MF DOOM, primitive electronics and ambient drones: April’s 10 must-hear reissues and retrospectives
Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood material being unearthed week by week.
The volume of new-old music doesn’t outpace new-new music, of course, but it’s not too far behind either. With so many more archival releases turning up on shelves, we’ve worked though the stacks to pick our favourite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
Behold, April’s children: manga-inspired synth magic from Legowelt; one of the Great Lost Rap Albums; wigged-out Swedish prog; and a collection of blistering Moog workouts from Judy Garland’s drummer.
10. Älgarnas Trädgård
Framtiden Ar Ett Svavande Skepp Forankrat i Forntiden
What better chaser for this month’s haul of old gold than this 1972 space rock LP from Sweden’s Älgarnas Trädgård (translation: “the garden of the elks”). Information on the band is pretty sparse, although they appeared on the (in)famous Nurse With Wound list, and seem to have a few acolytes in the darker crannies of certain prog messageboards. A shame, because Framtiden… is an impressive set of early cosmic rock that deserves more notice than it’s got.
Framtiden… mostly contents itself with (flying) saucer-eyed folk-rock. Comus spring to mind, although Trädgård are ultimately more interested in the sky than the soil: see the chugging psychedelia of ‘Rings of Saturn’, or the clanging drones which see out the album. It’s more straight-edge than contemporaries like Pärson Sound, but it’s still a groovy trip. Pomp? Plenty. Charms? Ditto.
Subliminal Sounds’ version has been remastered from the original tapes, and features a second disc of unreleased recordings. Two more eminently puntworthy picks from the leftfield: Michael Angelo’s self-titled 1977 LP for Anthology – think Let It Be being piped up from the pit of a well – and Glitterbeat’s evocative collection of Vietnamese folksong, Hanoi Masters: War is a Wound, Peace is a Scar.
Amidst a blizzard of Record Store Day tat, this was one of the better gimmicks – a pop-up book version of the infamous second album from KMD, the group that gave MF DOOM to the world. Canned by the label just before release on account of its provocative cover art, the album is a crucial record in the DOOM origin myth: the trigger (along with the death of KMD member Subroc) that drove young rapper Zev Luv X underground, only to re-emerge years later as the metal-faced villain.
In contrast to the streetwise psychedelia of debut Mr Hood – arguably a superior record – Black Bastards is moody and muggy. Musically, it’s a riot of horns, funk guitars and honky-tonks – similar in tone to The Pharcyde or Souls of Mischief, although sludgier and gloomier than both. And, as with DOOM’s releases before and since, it’s spotted with fragments of dialogue from westerns, superhero movies and vintage adverts. It’s not the first time the album’s been released, but factor in the remaster job and bonuses, and you’ve got an impressive package.
Zamrock – Zambia’s high-energy fusion of Afrobeat funk and psych-rock scuzz – has been a regular part of the Now-Again schedule for some time now, with the label putting out releases from important acts like WITCH and Musi-O-Tunya; the latter’s Give Love To Your Children was particularly strong.
For reasons I’m happy to ascribe to love rather than expedience, the label are touting 1975 rarity Africa as one of the all-time great Zamrock LPs. At its core, the music is essentially blues-rock in the Hendrix mould, but the detailing – vocal tics, ornamental guitar trills, exotic percussion – give it plenty of local character. The less well-behaved moments (snarling waltz ‘Nsunka Lwendo’, druggy closer ‘Kale’) are the best ones, but the songwriting is convincing throughout – I’m particularly partial to ‘I Am Very Far’, a gorgeous piece of lilting desert rock .
Intriguingly, the album was mixed in two different ways on its release – one spiky and rock-leaning, the other fuzzier and swampier – and both versions are included in this version. Although Africa has had a few low-key CD re-releases, this is clearly the definitive reissue, and the one that, with any luck, will bring the record to wider attention.
7. Michel Redolfi
Pacific Tubular Waves / Immersion
Editions Mego’s musique concrète sub-label has been whirring away since 2012, and this work from electroacoustic composer Michel Redolfi shows their curatorial eye is as sharp as ever. Much of Redolfi’s work is preoccupied with water – one early piece involved immersing his audience in a swimming pool – and this set collects two more aquatic works: 1979’s Pacific Tubular Waves, a tribute to the San Diego coast, and 1980’s Immersion, which sees Refolfi piping compositions through water (including, funnily enough, Pacific Tubular Waves), and then tinkering with the results.
As a package, it’s certainly more accessible than a lot of other Recollection GRM releases – anyone that’s doobied themselves silly to Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick will feel at home here. Pacific Tubular Waves is full of shimmering tone clusters and field recordings of lapping waves. Immersion is more discordant; those same tones glower rather than glimmer, beeps and bleeps swarming like particularly mardy hornets. It is, to borrow a phrase a FACT colleague once used about Alice Coltrane’s Universal Consciousness, a shower for your brain; even casual listeners are advised to towel up.
The Age of Candy Candy
Berceuse Heroique get a free pass around these parts on account of their excellent (albeit apparently defunct) sub-label ΚΕΜΑΛ, responsible for two superb 2014 releases (Charles Hayward’s Smell of Metal and the Music of the Fire Walkers compilation). Following a re-release of broken-beat classic ’This Ain’t No Tom N Jerry’, they’ve swerved left once again, with a decade-old ambient synth release from Danny Wolfers, better known as Legowelt.
The Age of Candy Candy first arrived as a CD-R on Wolfers’ own Strange Life Records label. As you’d expect from a man who’s built concept albums around Bergerac and Star Trek, the album takes inspiration from a kooky source – Japanese teen anime franchise Candy Candy, which follows the adventures of a lovelorn orphan (hence track titles like ‘The Self Sacrifice of Irena Karlstein’ or ‘The Hunting Accident’).
For a low-key synth record, The Age of Candy Candy is unexpectedly widescreen – cinematic synthwork on an arthouse budget. It’s well storyboarded, moving between high-drama (‘The Age of Candy Candy’), prettiness (‘Romantic Smack’) and ghostly acid house (‘Escape From Captivity’). Oneohtrix Point Never’s Rifts material is an obvious point of comparison – although this predates that by a couple of years – as is Boards Of Canada’s Geogaddi. Wolfers has released more records than you’ve had hot (or cold) dinners (or breakfasts), but this is strong enough to stand out amidst the throng.
5. Bruce Ditmas
A no fuss whistle-wetter from Finders Keepers – 45 minutes of haywire groovage, courtesy of jazz drummer and Moog whizz Bruce Ditmas. A one-time Judy Garland sideman, Ditmas spent the 1970s collaborating with a lot of artists who fall closer to FACT’s ambit (Annette Peacock, Jaco Pastorius, Carla Bley). Around the mid-point of the decade, Ditmas briefly turned his focus to electronics, working with a Mini-Moog, an Arp 2600 and an array of different percussion instruments. Yellow Dust pulls best-bits from Ditmas’ two solo albums, Aeray Dust and Yellow (both released in 1977) and it’s tremendous fun.
Yellow Dust plays like a close cousin to Z’s astonishing Visions of Dune (reissued last year), or Heldon’s rollicking Interface. ‘L’Unita’ sets the tone: scattershot synth bleeps, blasted over ridiculously good funk drumming. It barely lets up either: with the exception of ambient closer ‘Dr Mabuse’, it’s febrile from end to end. Particularly recommended? The venom-flecked ‘Terminal Velocity’, which, to use the technical term, rocks like a bastard.
4. Various Artists
Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985
Back in 2010, Strut put out a trifecta of superb compilations focusing on South Africa music, all huddled under the umbrella term Next Stop Soweto. Compiled by Duncan Brooker (once touted by The Guardian as “the man who saved African funk”) and Francis Gooding, the records offered an involving survey of music from the area: Vol. 1 covered sprightly township jazz, Vol. 2 focused on funk, and Vol. 3 was more rooted in more languid fusion sounds.
After a half-decade hiatus (although a 2014 Malombo compilation very much belonged in the same wheelhouse), Strut have revived the series. Once again assembled by Brooker, Vol. 4 focuses on Zulu rock and disco from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – a time when South Africa was, obviously, still throttled by apartheid. In spite of that, this is funky, liberated, sometimes filthy music. It’s definitely the most forthright instalment so far, full of crunchy riffs and Dune-grade earworms. Notables: the coiling funk-rock of Kabasa’s ‘Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo’; Saitana’s Sesame Street count-a-long ‘1, 2, 3’; and Elias Maluleke’s ‘Khombo Ranga’, which plays like a sun-bronzed Talking Heads.
And on a South African tip, make sure you check out Ndikho Xaba & The Natives’ 1971 Revolutionary Spiritual Afro Jazz Sounds From Exile, a lovely spiritual jazz set out now on Matsuli Music.
Sherwood At the Controls: Vol. 1979-1984
Among the UK clubbing fraternity, On-U Sound boss Adrian Sherwood enjoys elder statesman status – a sort of dubstep grandpop, whose recent collaborations with Pinch have helped assert his influence. True, of course, but over a long and diverse career, he’s been so much more – art-pop agitator, punk-funker and, as Sherwood At The Controls: Vol. I brilliantly underscores, boggle-eyed weirdo.
Sherwood At The Controls collects early productions, plus a smattering of exclusive tracks. The tracklist tilts between Brit bands looking for a dubby touch-up (The Fall, The Slits) and Jamaican stars happy to head off the beaten track (Prince Far I). Diversity is the order of the day, from Medium Medium’s ‘Hungry, So Angry’ (who The Rapture have ostensibly built a career out of copying note-for-note) to Nadjma’s perky Japanese sing-song, and Sherwood’s production is fabulously tactile throughout. (Note: for a Sherwood crash-course, you could do a lot worse than David Katz’s recent On-U Sound Primer.)
2. Paki Zennaro and Gianni Visnadi
Out-of-the-blue brilliance from Paris label Antinote, best known for muddied techno (Iueke’s Tapes releases) and jaunty retro squelch (Syracuse). Imaginary Chroeography comes ready-wrapped with a fun origin story: Iueke’s girlfriend found a cassette version of the album by chance in a Paris market, buried in a box “that had probably been at that same flea market for 20 years or more”. It was a Wonka-grade find: fewer than ten cassettes had ever been manufactured.
Imaginary Choreography is the work of two Venetian musicians, Paki Zennaro (a composer working primarily in contemporary dance) and Gianni Visnadi. The album was composed in 1984 on a primitive electric set-up, including a TR-808 and Prophet 5, with added guitar flourishes, and was written to be used as a backing track at dance schools. The result is one of the most terrifically pretty records I’ve heard in months: doe-eyed machine music, reminiscent of Francis Bebey’s lilting Afro-electronics, or the brighter ends of the To Rococo Rot catalogue. ‘Migration’ unfurls at a gentle pace; its 15-minutes fly – or, rather, flit – by. ‘Parallel Waves’ thrums like Cluster; and ‘Mollusk Dance’ is an adorable bit of electronic twinkle. Highly recommended.
1. Richard Youngs
No Fans Compendium
No blurb can contain Richard Youngs, the UK underground composer / improviser / balladeer / minimalist / provocateur / vegan cookbook writer. For the past 25 years, Youngs has run the archly named No Fans Records, home to 20-odd solo and collaborative releases. Everything on the label was released in micro-runs of 20-50, and VHF’s No Fans Compendium captures a lot of this music for those who probably missed it first time around. The set features five LPs hand-picked by Youngs, plus (just in case the three of you out there who already own these things are disappointed) two albums of unreleased material: a collection of early work dating as far back as 1989, and a brand new recording from last year.
There’s an enormous amount of music to power through here, and just about all of it hovers between ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’. Youngs works with large canvases (barely anything here clocks in at under 10 minutes, with most tracks going on a good while longer) but his compositions rarely run out of puff. ‘Live In My Head’ on the 20th Century Jams disc is illustrative – a bellowed a cappella rondel, stitched together out of yelped words and syllables, equal parts harrowing and hypnotic. No Fans Compendium is testament to the range of Youngs’ work: 21st Century Jams sticks with ambient drones and avant-electronics; Somerled / No Home Like Place layers shrill alarm sounds into Riley-indebeted gorgeousness; and standout Three Handed Star / Garden of Stones offers heavily-baked psych-rock, concluding with the feedback-damaged shanty ‘Three Handed Star’. Youngs, like David Thomas Broughton, is an artist who seem constantly open to creative possibility, and, this set crackles with energy and inspiration.