Sunday, April 24, 2005


FLAC is a lossless audio format that Bleep is offering Autechre's back catalogue on. The quality is meant to be top-notch but to be honest I think I don't have the machinery to take advantage of the additional quality. MP3/Ogg is fine for me.

However is appearance does open up the interesting possibility of distributing copies of the original master recording without ever having to mix for CD or any physical format. At the moment it is difficult to distribute high-quality audio because the files are so much bigger and there is, to be frank, little audiable difference between them and the much smaller lower quality files.

As the technology changes though there is the exciting possibility that an artist might be able to send a track straight out of their final mix and straight to the audience with no compromise required because of a physical media.

Leaf Records

Leaf's back catalogue is now on iTunes. On the one hand this is good news as Leaf is a good label with many fine artists. On the other though iTunes does have a lot more DRM that some of the other sites, particularly Bleep. Also you'd need a hymn and a prayer to get the files to work with a non-iPod player.

Various Artists: The Flow compilation

The Flow compilation from the Make Mine Music label (see the sidebar for the website) is an excellent collection that is extraordinarily generous and varied. It is also only £8 which is silly money.

There's a lot of good pieces on the CD and you can now preview three of the tracks at the Make Mine Music website including Schengen's City which is one of the highlight tracks. I was a bit surprised to not see something from July Skies as part of the preview as their contributions are excellent. I'm going to write about their album at some point in the future but for now I would say that it is worth getting a hold of a copy if you like atmospheric, melodic electronica.

Autechre: Untilted

Listening to any new Autechre album is for me a rather tentative process. I'm not a huge fan of their more hardcore sound. Granz Graf for example doesn't make sense to me as music, as a DVD I can just about see it, otherwise no.

However a quick preview at Bleep and I was surprised to see that as with the last album Draft 7'30 (I think that's the title) there are some concessions towards, say, melody. The first track is actually really engaging and reminds you why Autechre can be so great. It immediately persuaded me that I had to download the whole thing.

Overall I think Untilted is a great release but as I tend to have followed the Autechre releases almost religiously it is hard to tell whether the music is any good or simply becoming less-bloody mindedly abstract and more accessible. One thing I'm pretty confident of saying is that a minute or two of most of these album tracks would actually form the basis of an entire track for lesser artists. I would also say that this release confirms for me that in terms of the way electronic music is constructed and structured Autechre are the masters. No-one is quite as inventive or intricate in their designs, it's breath-taking. There's a continual sense of progression and change while every track has a sense of consistency. Technically too their engineering is excellent, sometimes Autechre's music sounds so effortless or natural it is easy to forget how densely layered the tracks can be. Sometimes when I really listen to the tracks I can't believe how they can have four or five motifs chattering away simultaneously without it sounding like pure chaos.

All of that on the record I do have to say though the repetitive treble hits and sharp snare hits do get a bit samey. Yes it's impressive that they can do so much with them instead of more conventional rhythm sounds but I don't need to hear it done again (or at least I only need to hear it once or twice and album).

Mogwai: Government Commissions

This is a brilliant album (a compilation of the Scottish post-rockers BBC Sessions) that I have been listening to again and again. I've never seen Mogwai live so I've had to rely on the BBC to hear anything outside their album sound. There's not a huge difference between the studio recordings and some of the stuff here except that of course familiarity and practice tends to make the songs sound slicker.

Perhaps the major difference is that almost every track here sounds more powerful than the studio albums. Regardless, it's a superb introduction to Mogwai if you aren't already a fan and a great retrospective if you are.

MP3 Players

Finding a decent MP3 player is actually a lot harder than it seems. Sure there is a lot of choice but partly that's the problem, there's hundreds of different players and some are "integrated media centers" by which they mean they can control your TV, display a low-resolution lightshow when listening to music, lookup the cover art for the album you're listening to but more often than not crash.

I needed a player that was simple, allowed MP3's to be mixed with Ogg files, was preferably open source and didn't get too hung up on playlists. It also had to be pretty stable. Zinf has been a favourite since wayback when but it can be a pain to switch between music based on the file labels. It is also not being developed in Windows any more. After that came wxMusik which is pretty good but is very unstable (it crashes if you shutdown Windows without exiting the app). The File Tag editing is particularly good I feel.

I have finally settled on MusikCube, very stable, strong codec support and Tag editing, minimal interface (influenced by iTunes but not, for example, obsessed with the concept of playlists). It also claims to be able to play CDs (unlike most file players). So far I'm very impressed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gravenhurst: Flashlight Sessions

In case you hadn't noticed there's a major folk revival going on (if you hadn't then just take my word for it, it's all Bonny Prince Billy's fault for being brilliant). So far this has mostly been American's rediscovering their folk music traditions (and not getting them confused with fucking Country music). Gravenhurst though is an offering from this side of the Atlantic and is a brilliant album.

Earnest, soulful lyrics backed by minimal accompaniment equals an emotionally engaging and beautiful album. Soundwise you're not a million miles away from the recent Piano Magic albums but a lot more stripped down and personal.

You can buy and preview it on Bleep so stop wasting time and do it now. Do consider buying the CD though as the digipack is quite nice, similar to Godspeeds'.

Rough Trade Counter Culture 2004

A huge compilation (2 CDs) that allows you see what's cool with your fellow record store nerds. I don't think I need to say that this is a great compilation and still the best guide to good indie music today.

The obvious standout track is Cornershop's Topknot, it's just excellent and a surprising inclusion as it was a decent hit single. Other tracks that are standing out for me at the moment are Pony Up!'s "I heard you got action" which is really fun grrl pop. Coil's "Sex with Sun-Ra" is equally quirky and fun with a great squirmy melody line.

I already liked Cobra Killer who do a combination of electroclash and 60's American girl groups in a definitely Teutonic fashion. But if you needed pursuading of their virtues then they have a decent track on the compilation called "L.A. Shaker".

Retro: Illcommunication by The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine

Two albums from the early Nineties when I was a student. Tracks from both albums were almost impossible to avoid then but apart from rock clubs you don't hear them so much now. It doesn't help that after Illcommunication the Beastie Boys needed G. Bush Jr. to get them back on track.

At first listen Illcommunication is the better listen, putting on a track or two it is easy to end up listening to the whole album. Rage Against the Machine on the other hand feels more like a singles album, all the hit singles are immediately likeable and time hasn't diminshed their raw power, rage and energy. Listening to the album though there is a definite comparision with the Beastie Boys more inventive and humourous musical invention. There's no denying RATM technical ability but they often fall back on the same riffs and ideas (I was also surprised to find out how much they owed to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers). Illcommunication still sounds fresh and surprising.

As an album of political polemic though RATM is still a raw slice of anger and a strong contrast to the stylish and slick BB production.

Both albums though have easily lasted the decade though and remain essential listening.

The Dears - No Cities Left

I suspect that The Dears are about to be huge any second now but for the moment they don't have the profile I think they should have. I first heard them on BBC Radio 6 and after a while Rough Trade in Neal's Yard admitted they did have a CD copy of the album.

The Dears sound like Oasis would sound if they were actually the best band in the world. It is big, big indie rock with an orchestral sweep. Gloriously uplifting and with lyrics that are neither doggerel nor self-involved.

To my ears they sound a bit like Gene musically and kind of like the Tindersticks lyrically. Like Radiohead they are promoting themselves with a few judiciously released MP3 versions of their tracks. I got mine from Salon but if you are file-sharing type of person have a look for "We Can Have It".

There's more to say about The Dears but I need to sort it out in my head first.

Bola: GNAYSE - The final verdict

I've been listening to the album for a bit and to be honest I haven't enjoyed it as much as the previous ones. It is hard to tell because technically I can tell that this is actually better. The production is just slicker all round.

My current thinking is that perhaps the improvement is actually the problem. The organic analogue sounds are now really lush and beautiful but the synthetic elements now sound too harsh. The two don't really combine in the way they did on the earlier albums. Sometimes it feels as if there are two separate tracks that are simply playing at the same time.

Despite that I still have to say that Bola are head and shoulders above most electronica. Gatyse is maybe not their best but it's still the most engaging electronica album I've heard recently.