on life, music etc beyond mainstream


2018 28 Jun

American Utopia

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American Utopia is not the fantastic album I had hoped it would be (even though Eno had some influence on it, and even though I find it mostly entertaining and enjoyable), but as I was way too young to go to rock concerts when the Talking Heads existed as a band, I decided to see David Byrne’s current, and highly praised, world tour stopping in Berlin, less than ten minutes from where I live.

It is impressive to see how contemporary these songs, which were written and recorded 35 to 40 years ago (I Zimbra, The Great CurveBorn under Punches, Slippery People etc.), sound more contemporary today than songs by many bands of the last 20/25 years – even though they are being performed very true to their original Talking Heads versions – though with very different, and mostly much younger [younger than me], musicians, like guitarist Angie Snow and bassist Bobby Wooten and lots of percussionists.

The new songs sound better in their live versions than they do on the album, in particular Doing the Right Thing, which they turned into a heavy rock number with metal-like guitar sections, and also the weird opening song I Dance Like This with its funny noisy sections. Still, most of the more recent Byrne songs come across a lot more conventional than the old Talking Heads hits, which the audience greeted and danced to enthusiastically. They must have appeared experimental and out-of-this-world in 1979/1980, but they still sound more modern than rather nice pop tunes like Every Day is a MiracleBullet and Like Humans Do. Even Blind from Talking Heads‘ final album (1988) sounded more energized (and energizing).

Excellent show with a minimal stage design and 12 musicians moving across the whole stage for the duration of the performance. If one wasn’t able to experience the Talking Heads live (apart from the remastered Stop Making Sense re-release in movie theaters some years ago), these performances of Remain In Light and Fear of Music songs must be as close as one can get in the 21st century. Looking forward to the live recording.

2018 5 Mai

Some album recommendations

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For quite a while I have wanted to take the opportunity to recommend a few current albums that are not (yet or otherwise) mentioned here. There are already numerous albums on this list, which is why I’m now shortening my recommendations in a telegram-like style.

Although I have been a big fan of the English duo Autechre since the mid-1990s and appreciate and strongly recommend almost all their albums, I can only be amazed at their latest album. This is not necessarily because the opus is eight hours long (the previous album elseq 1-5 was almost five hours long, the preceding exai a 2-CD album of over two hours, and the two preceding ones – Quaristice and Oversteps – were each followed by a one to two hour-long „EP“). Autechre have released so many CDs since the early nineties (and their numerous so-called „EPs“ were in most cases album-length releases, plus their first live album consisted of nine tracks each lasting around an hour) that it is almost astonishing how varied and complex, how imaginative and surprising and at what high level each new release still is – even though Autechre still keep their own unmistakable style and never have guests or producers on board on their regular albums. NTS Sessions 1-4 is an 8-hour-opus; as of now it is only available as download, but the 8-CD-version can be pre-ordered at the Autechre Bleep store and will be produced according to the numbers of the pre-orders.

Mark Smith writes in his epic Resident Advisor review (and he actually only states „Autechre“ as their „style“ or „genre“):


The majority of artists in Autechre’s cohort either dropped off in quality or entered the extended victory lap period of their careers. […] ‚NTS Sessions 1-4′ […] their best record in many years. […] The range Autechre get out their patches is staggering. You can feel their own sense of discovery as they’re pushing and pulling parameters. They navigate treacherous skies but they always breach the cloud line, providing clarity, a sense of scale and structure. Even though they’re challenging themselves, there’s no doubt as to who’s created the rules.


Without question one of this year’s top 10 albums.


Far less spectacular, but most likely also among my album favourites at the end of this year, is Meshell Ndegeocello, an extremely versatile and fascinating songwriter, singer, bassist and producer (Anthony Joseph, Jason Moran and others) from the U.S., who will celebrate her 50th birthday this August. 25 years ago a certain Madonna released Meshell’s first CD Plantation Lullabies on her then newly founded label Maverick, and since then I have fallen in love with almost every Ndegeocello album. Ventriloquism is a personal collection of songs the singer interprets as if it were her own. Which is obviously because she has a very personal relationship with each one of them.

In the frequently very recommendable songwriter podcast Sodajerker, Meshell Ndegeocello talks very openly about her work process and also mentions her many role models and inspirations, some of whom she has already honoured by interpreting songs in her very personal way, such as her gorgeous Nina Simone tribute album Pour Une Âme Souveraine with guests like Valerie June or Sinead O’Connor, among others, and a flamboyant version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. Taking into consideration that I can easily recommend every single Meshell album with all my heart, Ventriloquism (with a terribly uninspired cover image, though), reflecting personal episodes and recent experiences, may be an album rather for the advanced listener, an unusually quiet one at that, but the intensive, masterful 7-minute rendition of Prince’s (another one of the singer’s idols) Sometimes it snows in April, which condenses the song to its essence and emotional core, is worth the purchase of the album alone.

At this moment I am listening to Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch — admittedly I have never been a big Dave Stewart fan, but Annie Lennox has been one of my favorite pop artist since the days of my childhood. So it is worth mentioning that all but one of Eurythmics’ studio albums are now, long overdue, being re-released on vinyl, and PopMatters’ Adam Mason has written this extensive recommendation of their body of work. No two albums of theirs sound alike, but arguably best of them, and my personal favorite for 30 years — though most people prefer Touch —  is 1987’s Savage. Both these albums are halfway between avant-garde and pop. Mason concludes,


we are here to witness again the powerful counterblow of ‚Savage‘, now becoming the firm fan favorite of the Eurythmics catalog, while building up a reputation as the duo’s ‚Revolver‘, or maybe ‚Low‘, with an experimental sound dominated by Stewart’s adopted digital synthesizer of choice, a synclavier, facilitating Lennox’s excursions into concept-album territory, where the distinctive two sides of the record tell the unsettling story of a woman’s descent into heartbreak, cynicism, emotional devastation and masochism.



Jon Hopkins, whom some of you will know as Eno’s collaborator on the wonderful Small Craft on a Milk Sea album, finally has a new album out, five years after his deserved breakthrough with the excellent techno-ambient-electronic album Immunity, which ended up on many best-of-the-year lists in 2013. I loved Immunity, and I instantly loved Singularity on first listen. „As striking as Immunity was, Singularity feels more developed, and it’s ultimately a tough call as to which album is more exciting,“ writes Paul Simpson. And Paul Carr summarizes, „Jon Hopkins‘ Singularity evokes the euphoria and vivid awareness of a psychedelic experience.“

The man behind the pseudonym Amen Dunes is Damon McMahon, and his fourth album Freedom is strongly reminiscent of the songwriting and style of Robert Forster, though with a different, slightly softer and more versatile sound. „Everything feels silvery and romantic, like a hallucination of the classic-rock songbook,“ writes Sam Sodomsky.

Meg Remy reaches a new level of complexity with her latest album under her U.S. Girls alias, In A Poem Unlimited, an idiosyncratic sound palette of noise pop, funk with saxophones, trumpets, synths and multilayered percussion; she crafts catchy songs between old-fashioned pop and contemporary art. „[…] her glorious, danceable new album is a righteous collection of razor-sharp songs, full of spit and fury, a high-water mark for political pop music,“ says Jonah Bromwich.

Mouse On Mars, another unique duo, this time from Germany, has also recently released a fascinating new album, which – while retaining the duo’s peculiarities – once again sounds completely new and different from any of their 14 preceding albums. They changed their M.O. and recorded Dimensional People abroad with dozens of (star) guests, including Justin „Bon Iver“ Vernon, rapper Spank Rock and the National bros. Bryce and Aaron Dessner. In the band’s 25th year the album may sound less radical than some predecessors, Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma may enter their „mature“ phase, but they are by no means less inspired and dazzling. The epic, 13-minute opening piece in three parts already surprises with its confrontation of Steve Reich’s stylistic devices and Bon Iver vocals. Mouse On Mars remain their unique universe. Benjamin Moldenhauer:


None of this should really fit together. But the perceptible naturalness with which techno, hip-hop, dub, krautrock, indie pop, drum robots, violins, ambient, dissonances and all kinds of indefinable things are brought together here is very delightful. […] Perhaps Mouse on Mars are the most thorough dialecticians of the electronic avant-garde. Two opposing attitudes determine what happens: that of the child euphoric about his own world discovery, who wants to touch everything and tests its suitability for his own, purely intuitively controlled mind. And that of the control-mad tinkerer, who still has to define the smallest sound shred and can do so. ‚Dimensional People‘ draws its tension from this entanglement of exuberant joy of discovery and demiurgical virtuosity.


Germany’s currently best rock band is arguably Die Nerven (The Nerves). Even Thurston Moore recommended them. Their new album Fake may not be as urgent and punchy as the preceding Out, but it is still great. Andreas Borcholte: „The fundamental [..] disorientation of society is the theme of Fake. It is, that much is already certain, one of the most haunting German albums of the year.“


… to be continued …



2018 1 Mrz

Sakamoto in Berlin

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Da Ryuichi Sakamoto in diesem Jahr Mitglied der internationalen Berlinale-Jury war, präsentierte das Festival in der „Special“-Reihe den Konzertfilm Ryuichi Sakamoto: async Live at the Park Avenue Armory (Trailer). Kein unbedingt sehenswerter Dokumentarfilm, vielleicht am ehesten für Fans; es wird schlicht zum ersten Mal das Album async dargeboten, in kompletter Länge und ziemlich nah am Original. Zwar geht aus dem Film kaum hervor, was de facto live in concert gespielt wurde und was „vom Band“ kam, doch der intime Konzert-Doku-Film ließ mich das Album mit neuen Ohren hören, da man den Meister beim präzisen Gestalten einiger Klänge erlebt und daher besser verstehen kann, was er für die CD tatsächlich gestaltet und ausgearbeitet hat, und so regte der Film (mit dem sehr guten Saal-Sound) auch ein bewussteres Wiederhören der CD zu Hause an. Hier ein kurzer Ausschnitt aus dem „Publikumsgespräch“ nach der Vorführung im Haus der Berliner Festspiele letzte Woche; Sakamoto fasst zusammen, worum es ihm bei async ging.


Sakamoto’s solo album have always leaned more toward the avant-garde sonics of John Cage or Terry Riley than his more conventionally melodic, accessible film scores. At one point in this performance, he leans into the guts of his piano and plucks pizzicato notes from the interior strings with what looks like a chopstick. Later, he abandons conventional instruments altogether and generates sound from a cluster of modernist sculptures, bowing a curved set of chiming metal rods before teasing out ghostly squeals by scraping microphones across a sheet of glass. These experimental digressions may sound almost comically pretentious on paper, but the effects they create are often sublime. […] There are few concessions to nonfans in Live at the Park Avenue Armory, but neutral newcomers to Sakamoto’s brand of high-art music may find themselves captivated by its exquisite beauty and understated emotional force.

Stephen Dalton, THR


Eigentlich ist async Live at the Park Avenue Armory ja nur die Coda zum Film Coda, dem persönlichen, im letzten Jahr in Venedig uraufgeführten  Dokumentarfilm über Sakamoto auf dem Weg durch seine Krebserkrankung, hin zum schließlich entstehenden Album. Der Trailer sieht toll aus, und was ich bislang über den Film weiß, macht mich sehr neugierig darauf, ihn zu sehen. Hier sprechen Ryuichi Sakamoto und Regisseur Stephen Nomura Schible im Rahmen des Filmfestivals in Venedig über den Film.

After Michael told me, already last summer, about Björn Meyer’s then forthcoming solo album on ECM, I wanted to take the chance to look into the Swede’s previous work. Of course I already had the ECM releases of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, which he was part of, and having followed Anouar Brahem’s complete body of work on the label, I was also aware of his participation in Brahem’s band (which I have seen in concert here in Berlin a few years ago).

But then I became aware of the recording with Samuel Rohrer and Klaus Gesing, and that made me very curious, as all three of them have been on a string of very good or even excellent ECM albums, so hearing about their trio album Amiira felt a bit like finding out about a lost ECM recording. So I wrote to the label, arjunamusic, only to find out that it is Samuel Rohrer’s imprint — and the Swiss drummer is also living here in Berlin. Besides his participation in Colin Vallon’s trio (on their ECM debut as well as their equally recommendable pre-ECM album Ailleurs on the Hat Hut label), he played on Susanne Abbuehl’s April, in Wolfert Brederode’s quartet on Currents and Post Scriptum, and I bought the self-titled debut album by another trio of Samuel’s called Ambiq a few years ago. He was very welcoming and sent me a few of his label’s more recent releases, and since I came to like them a lot, I wanted to talk to him about his work a bit.



So, Samuel, the only arjunamusic release I had before you sent me a few others was the first Ambiq album (and I also bought the cool remixes by Villalobos and Tobias.), which comes with a really unusual combination of sounds and instruments. You played a mix of electronic and conventional percussive instruments, Claudio Puntin can be heard on clarinet and and electronics, and Max Loderbauer only played a Buchla 200e modular synthesizer.

I think it is a really fascinating album, as it is terribly hard to categorize, among other things. The music is somewhere between improvised techno and noisy jazz music. Groove [German magazine for electronic music] called it „metaphysical jazz“ in the vein of Don Cherry or Elvin Jones. They also wrote the music „translates our times’ menacing urban signs into sound“ and the „gloomy and mosaic-like“ album wants to „move the soul“.

Would you agree with these descriptions? Where does Ambiq’s music originate from?


Oh thank you. And I don’t remember if I have ever read all this … It’s always interesting to see how this music is put into words, which was created with so little intention, except with the wish to let it happen.

Since all the tracks are totally free improvised, like all the concerts we play, we don’t lose a lot of words about our music or what we are going to play. There never were many. (Only now we start to think about leading the music in a specific direction for the next album.) This means the music really brings the immediate feelings, tastes, actions and reactions of the three of us together. It must be a very personal music of three individuals then. We all have quite different backgrounds, but we all look for the same thing in music, which is to combine sounds, textures, melodies and rhythms in a way we could not have thought of in the first place. We trust in each others musicality and taste, also to keep a strong idea even if we don’t find any consensus. Very often that is where the music happens. It’s not only about agreeing all the time to create something harmonic. If you stick to an idea and stay open at the same time, great things can happen.

I personally always look for the balance between textures, melodies, rhythms, silence… To create something rich, I think, it always contains all the ingredients. Only the weighting moves from one element to another, so they constantly balance each other out. In the end, everything – all the rhythms, melodies or harmonies – are all frequencies and we just decide how to form the sound and its silence. And if it really happens, we don’t even decide about this anymore.


Last February, when I worked, as every year, in the „Panorama“ section of the Berlin Film Festival, we presented Romuald Karmakar’s great film Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I think of Germany at Night), in which Ricardo Villalobos is one of the five protagonists. In the film we get to see a short section of a concert with a quartet, which I found enormously fascinating, and it took me quite a while to find out that this was actually Ambiq + Villalobos. Any plans to record or release an album with this band?


There is some material ready to be released, which was recorded live, as well as an unedited studio session waiting to be reopened. Right now it just doesn’t feel like it’s the time for it. Let’s see what comes next. If we play more in the future, we might even record more material … Sometimes things need time …



I do like the description of Ambiq’s music in Groove, because it could actually describe very different kinds of music as well.

Considering how you just described your work process, though, it’s kind of funny to see what it evokes in our minds, in us listeners. I have of course read what you wrote about the general idea of your label, arjunamusic, and that is strongly related to what you just said:


It is based on the wish to achieve as much artistic independence as possible, which comes out of the essential realization that happiness is not coming in the first place from outer success, rather the urge and to have the freedom to create, is the essential basis to make anything happen and to unfold a strong personal statement. This led to and still is the motivation to create a platform for unique and personal music, which includes a stylistically broad artistic performance.


That is actually very appealing to me as a filmmaker, as well as to me as a lover of arts and music. So let me get to your most recent solo album, Range of Regularity, which is a veritable solo recording: You played a variety of mostly percussive instruments (including a prepared piano, which I think counts as percussive, too), in connection with a few synths. Listening to your earlier album Noreia (from 2012, with Claudio Puntin, Peter Herbert and Skúli Sverrison) moved me a lot when I listened to it driving though dry and slightly surreal desert landscapes in the USA last September. But Range of Regularity I did not really make friends with yet. I do appreciate its „minimal“ approach and the reduced spectrum of sounds, sure. But since you wrote about the uncompromising approach to creating, could you maybe give me a few hints on the process you went through in making this album, which might help me get a better understanding of your thought process? In what regard was Range of Regularity an album you felt you had to make?


The most important for me is to move on and find constantly new inspiration. To be free while I play music, but also in the sense of possibilities. Freedom in the sense of crossing borders and confronting yourself with new situations – and not so much on the outside, but, in terms of music, more through the sounds you hear and how you can create or combine them. While working more in the electronic music scene I met a lot of interesting producers. At the same time I started to work with some of them, and my sonic world and understanding was constantly growing (or let’s say this just opened new doors to many new possibilities).

More and more I started to combine electronic and acoustic sounds in a live situation, and I recorded myself in my studio.

It felt like the most natural step for me to make that move and produce a first album by myself. With my sonic world, with my roots as a jazz musician, but within the context of electronic music and with using its rules and frames. I knew it had to be a mix of different worlds. With knowing that of course the jazz scene would not really understand this, it felt like breaking out of something, finding new challenges and setting new ways and sails for me in the future as a producer and sound designer. In the beginning it felt maybe like two separate worlds, but slowly they start to merge into each other and are becoming one – like the label idea, with its acoustic and electronic releases. Basically, I try to follow my intuition, and my curiosity keeps me going forward and finding new ways to express myself.


I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinions on the album. The one track I probably like best is the final one, Uncertain Grace. I find it very moving. I did, however, not find the album covered in a lot of music magazines, though indeed it could fit into a variety of genres, from electronic to experimental, even jazz and also into comprehensive magazines like Musikexpress.


The difficulty is to find a promo agency who covers the whole range, from acoustic, jazz oriented releases, feuilletons and art magazines to electronic and club music. There were quite a few reviews, interviews and radio broadcasts, but mostly in the electronic music field. In the end, what counts most for me is the reaction of musicians and producers I honor for their work.



How do you deal with people’s reactions in general, when it comes to an album like Range of Regularity, which you produce on your very own? Do you ask people for advice during the process? And can you easily deal with your music being out there, and you, in a way, don’t get as much back from it, as opposed to, for instance, in a project like the collaborations with Ambiq, Villalobos or the latest album, Brightbird?


Not only as a musician but also as a label I continue to research on how to balance out a space between the acoustic music scene – where I come from – and the electronic world. This certainly needs time and is definitely a very interesting place to be. As a solo artist I never had a lot of exposure – so far: Making this step plus defining my work in new territories is a challenge and inspiring at the same time.

With the label I have also built a circle of people around me with whom I work for the productions. Of course I am curious about their opinions and I always welcome other people’s ideas. But very often, in the end it’s a question of taste, which is built on quality. Particularly when you try to find your own voice, you can’t create a result that is for everybody. I view all the projects more as one big working field, and it is important to finish one idea to go on and start with new ones. And it is about finding the balance between working on my own and sharing ideas and collaborate with others. Both ways seem to work for me.

Is the remixes series a way of getting in contact with others with your soloistic work?


The remixes are basically a way to promote an album during a longer timeframe. I try to bring it a step further with finding producers who are interested in remixing music which is out of their usual territory and not so obvious to remix in the first place. To overlap improvised music with more club oriented work is slowly becoming a characteristic of the label.


Finally, about Brightbird – another really moving album, with pianist João Paulo Esteves da Silva, who brings a beautiful, slight fado and folk influence into the flow of the music, and double bass player Mário Franco; the album to me has a fascinatingly simple but also „dancing“ atmosphere. It was recorded at La Buissone, which is one of Manfred Eicher’s preferred studios, located in the French Provence, so I assume it is very inspiring. The cover design is by The Designers Republic, an unusual choice, since they’re primarily known for their influential Warp Records designs. The album is able to speak for itself, so I don’t really have a question about it. But it would be great if this music would be appreciated more widely.


I agree, also an album like Brightbird should get much more attention. To put a new label out there is one thing, but to establish it to give the music a wider audience is a big task. Unfortunately it is a fact that mostly the same (major) labels get the attention. It requires more research from listeners, magazines and reviewers to give smaller labels a spot. That’s why I like to think in bigger shapes and in longterm projects. In our fast and superficial time it’s very healthy to work on things that are built on constant growth and for the act of creating. If there is no solid ground, outer success appears as very short-lived thing. And solid things need time.


Where is your work and your label going to next? What can we look forward to from arjunamusic in 2018?


Max Loderbauer is about to finish two remixes of Brightbird tracks; they will be released sometime later this year. A trio recording with Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset and myself is in the making. Also new projects with Nils Petter Molvær and for example the young trumpet player Hilde Marie Holsen, are on the way, as well as preparations for some productions of working bands like AMBIQ and amiira. Together with a friend, who does most of the mastering of the productions, we are planning to release a series of analog-recorded, hand-made individually crafted vinyls, which might include some old releases as well as new projects. More details about this will follow soon.

Thank you very much for this extensive conversation. I am highly curious to hear these new collaborations. I met Hilde a while ago in Oslo, her work is very unorthodox and fascinating; and I noticed she posted a photo of your recording session online not long ago.

Here are two more links: A video for a track of his recent solo work (Body of Ignorance) and a 2017 podcast mixing live and unreleased material with releases of Samuel Rohrer’s various projects, here on XLR8R.

Yance Ford in "Strong Island"

  1. Strong Island
  2. Blade Runner 2049
  3. Detroit
  4. Wind River
  5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  6. Manchester by the Sea 
  7. Die Lebenden reparieren (Réparer Les Vivants)
  8. Dunkirk
  9. Baby Driver
  10. I am not your Negro
  11. Moonlight
  12. Loveless (Nelyubov)
  13. Beuys
  14. Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht
  15. The Salesman
  16. 120 BPM


missed + still on my list: Lady Macbeth / Mother! / Die beste aller Welten / Elle In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts


(NB: As some films are often released later in Germany than in their country of origin, a few of these films may count as 2016 releases to residents of the U.S. or Iran. Also, many films in the run for Academy Awards 2017 have of course not been released in Germany yet. So I can only include films that have been screened in cinemas in Germany this year – or at festivals in Cannes and Berlin.)

2017 15 Dez

Die Choreographin des Begehrens

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Falls es jemanden interessiert, in der Monatszeitschrift EPD Film findet sich derzeit, anlässlich des deutschen Kinostarts von Un beau soleil intérieur, ein Porträt von Claire Denis.

Wie die Körper sich suchen – das ist das große Thema der Regisseurin. Zärtlichem und zerstörerischem Begehren verleiht sie die gleiche Evidenz. […]

Denis zeigt nicht mehr, als gerade nötig ist: Ihre Stärke sind die affektiven Momente, die in den Fragmenten einer Handlung aufblitzen und in denen sich die disparate Gefühlslage ihrer Figuren offenbart. Das macht ihre Erzählung zugleich spröde und fragil, lässt Raum für Geschichten, die sich zwischen den Schnitten zutragen können. Das Thema der gegensätzlichen Obsessionen, der Zerrissenheit überträgt sie in eine Montage, die den Zuschauer unversehens in die Situationen hineinwirft und es ihm anfangs nicht eben leicht macht, sich im Wechsel der Schauplätze und Charaktere, im Changieren zwischen den Realitätsebenen zurechtzufinden. Ihre Inszenierung stößt sich am Konkreten, an Tönen, Gesten und Gegenständen. […]

In »Trouble Every Day« ist [mit Kamerafrau Agnès Godard] ihr gemeinsames Ziel, sich Fleisch und Blut auf eine Weise zu nähern, wie es nie zuvor im Kino passiert ist. Die kannibalistischen Übergriffe sind inszeniert wie Liebesszenen. Es liegt ein Gleiten, ein Schweben in Godards Bewegungen, das wunderbar harmoniert mit der getragenen Musik von Bands wie den Tindersticks, die in Filmen wie »Nénette und Boni« und »Trouble Every Day« die Tonspur entscheidend prägen.

Die Musik und die mit ihr verknüpfte Beweglichkeit stehen in ­Denis‘ Filmen für die Möglichkeit der Transformation. Der Körper der Choreographin Mathilde Monnier, die sie in dem Dokumentarfilm »Vers Mathilde« porträtiert, verändert sich beim Tanz, wirkt jünger. Die Kadrage ist oft zu eng für den Bewegungsrausch der Mitglieder ihrer Compag­nie, die Geschlechterunterschiede scheinen sich aufzulösen im Wirbel der Bilder.

2017 12 Dez

Automatic for the People

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„Culturally, 1992 in America was not an easy place to be. We’d been through 12 years of politically the darkest era America had ever seen with Reagan, Bush and AIDS. I think the record was a response to that. I wanted to make a record about loss, transition and death — the biggest transition we all know.“

Michael Stipe, Automatic Unearthed


2017 10 Dez

Musikvideos 2017

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Über die Jahresbestenlisten verschiedener Webseiten mache ich immer wieder Entdeckungen; schon habe ich CDs von Andre Cymone (den ich erstaunlicherweise gar nicht kannte), Circuit des Yeux und Ambrose Akinmusire (den ich bisher eher als langweiligen Mainstreamjazzer eingeordnet hatte) bestellt. Nicole Mitchells Album Mandorla Awakening, Kidal von Tamikrest und SZAs Ctrl stehen als nächstes auf der Liste. Und James Holden & the Animal Spirits wart schon eine exzellente Spät-Neuentdeckung.

Über die Jahresrückblicke stößt man hin und wieder aber auch auf interessante Videos. Kendrick Lamars überdrehtes Humble wurde ja tausendfach geteilt, und bestimmt hat es jeder schon gesehen. Interessanter ist daher vielleicht Jonas Lindströms Video für Element, in dem Fotografien von Gordon Parks in der Gegenwart zum Leben erweckt werden. In München gab es in diesem Jahr eine großartige Retrospektive, die verdeutlichte, wie aktuell Parks‘ Werk doch ist. Nabils surreales Video zu DNA mit einem exaltierten Don Cheadle greift die gleichen Themen auf und ist auch sehr gut, wenn auch weniger spektakulär. Die aufgedrehte Stimmung von Kendricks Damn und die entsprechenden Videos scheinen mir 2017 gut auf den Punkt zu bringen.

Natürlich muss ich in diesem Zusammenhang Algiers‘ Video The Underside of Power (Regie Henry Busby & Marcus Tortorici) zumindest erwähnen – eine Mischung aus Performance-Video, das die Bandmitglieder latent als Untergrundkämpfer zeichnet, und Zeitkommentar zu den brennenden Themen des Albums. Mit ähnlichen Themen hantiert auch Noga Erez‘ Dance while you shoot; die Sängerin aus Tel Aviv thematisiert in ihren Texten das Leben in Israel zu einer sehr zeitgemäßen Musik, die oft zu Vergleichen mit M.I.A. u.ä. führte. Das Video (directed by Zhang + Knight) setzt da an. Starkes Album.

Was ganz anderes, ohne Politik: Jeremy Bibles poetische Luftaufnahmen von Ohio zum Gitarrenstück Black Grasshopper von High Aura’d. Wahnsinnig komplex sind Kevin McGloughlin abstrakte Grafiken zu Max Coopers Stück Symmetry. Und auch Maxime Causeret hat ein faszinierendes grafisches Video zu einem Track von Max Cooper erstellt: Order from Chaos.

Sevdalizas lynch-haftes, mit Emmanuel Adjei entwickeltes Video zu Human ist zwar schon im November 2016 veröffentlicht worden, das Album Ison (zu dem es nebenbei bemerkt auch eine Art Slow-Motion-Video der kompletten 66 Minuten des Albums) dazu allerdings erst im Sommer 2017. Es passt hervorragend zu der dunkel-surrealen Stimmung des Albums. Mehr mit dem surrealen Charme alter VHS-Elemente (vgl. The Ring) spielt das wilde, ins Abstrakte gehende Video der frankokanadischen Filmemacherin Jacqueline Castel zu Zola Jesus‘ Albumhighlight Exhumed.

Wie Exhumed, so klingt auch folgendes super über Kopfhörer: Eigentlich kein Musikvideo, aber mich hat dieses Video von zwei Tracks (Deliverance und The Conduit) der audiovisuellen Performance von Belief Defect beim Atonal Festival in Berlin sehr beeindruckt. Ich war selbst nicht dabei, hätte das aber gerne erlebt. Die intensive Klangwelt des großartigen Industrial-/Noise-Techno-Albums kommt live sicher sensationell in dieser Umgebung im Berliner Kraftwerk.

Mir gefällt auch Protomartyrs für diesen Post-Punk ungewöhnliches, seltsames, düsteres Video zu A Private Understanding (Tony Wolski & Trevor Naud) sehr; auch wenn ich mir ehrlich gesagt keine große Mühe gemacht habe, Text und Handlung zusammenzubringen.

Und zum Schluss noch was Witziges: Young Thug erschien nicht (oder nur halb) zum Dreh seines 100.000 Dollar teuren Videos Wyclef Jean, also musste Ryan Staake aus der Not eine Tugend machen.

2017 5 Dez

The Underside of Power (The Best Indie Rock of 2017)

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Looking at PopMatters‚ top 10 list of „The Best Indie Rock of 2017″, I am happy to find Algiers at the top spot:


„The Underside of Power“, Algiers‘ follow-up to their 2015 self-titled debut, is everything that debut promised and more. The album fine tunes the balance between their dark, post-punk sounds and their soul and gospel groove. The group truly turns the post-punk genre on its head with double-time rhythms, bass grooves, and soulful vocals that come together like an AME church service in the Blade Runner universe. Vocalist Franklin James Fisher sings throughout the album about rising up, upsetting established power structures. It’s brimming with political fire and rage that’s tempered just enough with hope and youthful energy. The combination of elements is dense and seamless and reveals more with each listen and takes on new meaning. „The Underside of Power“ is an album of resistance music and music for the people into the tradition of soul, folk, and punk. This album stands as one of the most unique and powerful examples of protest music in recent memory. (Dan Kok)


Other albums in their list may be of interest to some of you around here as well: #2: Fleet Floxes („a jarring journey from beginning to end“), #3: The War On Drugs („breathy Dylan-like vocals float yearningly above vast soundscapes of expertly textured guitar solos and shimmering synths that transcend time and trend“).

„Musically adventurous and spiritually redemptive: this is what the music of our time should sound like.“ said PopMatters‘ original review of the album.

In July, Robert Loss wrote an extensive, interesting piece about the album: Algiers and the Political Structures of Noise, which draws connections between politics, history, noise and pop and is a nice addendum to my text about the issues raised in the movie Detroit. A few quotes from the article about the music:


„Cry of the Martyrs“ slips right into the album’s title track, a propulsive blend of soul swagger and the band Suicide’s drones until the chorus bursts into a beautiful pop melody. It’s Algiers‘ version of pop: a catchy hook fighting against backing vocals so delayed they sound like ghosts trying to drag the song back, an alluring but harsh noise from the past. „The Underside of Power“ sounds like „Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“ covered by a post-punk band unconcerned with irony or cultural capital and instead trying to find some truth hidden in the song all these years.

(…) In 2017, we’re rightly suspicious of music that claims to be revolutionary. The normalizing forces of commerce, the spectacle, cultural institutions, and government as they relate to popular music are powerful, so I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical. But the possibility still exists. Small actions may play their role in the structure of noise—the voices of the oppressed and their allies, the voices of people who are just sick and fucking tired of being run over, shot, suppressed, arrested, buried, abandoned — a structure which might replace the old with a new order.

(…) It seems to me that revolutionary music today has to draw connections between the past and the present in order to point to the future. In this way we sense a history that otherwise is forgotten to us; we understand ourselves as historical creatures capable of replacing one structure of noise with another. Of the potential noises, sound hits our bodies first. How can there be a movement if we’re unwilling to move?

Can sound alone make us pay attention to the political, force us to hear a subject like racialized violence, or sway us into seeing the atrocities of the past and the present? Can it really rewrite the codes?

Algiers seem determined to find out, which is one reason why they’ve quickly become so important.


Here’s a short one of a their energetic live performances, live in the studio for Seattle’s KEXP.

Much like the sometimes psychedelic nature of their music is also firmly rooted in an often grim reality, the melodrama of their set creates a dense and intoxicating atmosphere, but never at the expense of truth and pragmatism. Their music rages against inequality and fascism, but as heavy as their themes are it’s also heady, rousing and danceable. By the time they bust out their latest album’s title track the room is fully plugged into the band’s irresistible groove, and with that comes immense hope, because as Fisher sings „I’ve seen the underside of power / It’s just a game that can’t go on.” Algiers’ unifying set at the Moth Club allowed no room for figureheads – rock star, religious, or otherwise. As their sign at the back of the stage reads, all the power to the people.
(Bekki Bemrose, musicOMH)

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