Gosh Snobo, Latvian DJ, producer, radio operator and music critic who lives and works in Riga 20/09/2013
Jenny Hval: Instinctual Blues of the Nude Sphinx on Sand
Full disclosure: Norwegian fairy fatale Jenny Hval belongs to an exclusive category of magical mystery creatures whose spellbinding powers are strong enough to mesmerize me into a willingness to commit a crime in their name (or even – request an autograph). And even in this category, she occupies a unique place. It’s not only because of the exceptional freedom she has in controlling her voice – sometimes within one song she might switch from tender coo to a ringing falsetto, sending shivers all over your skin; from regular tonal singing (with a range ending somewhere in the ultrasound), to atonal cries and whispers; from verbalization to glossolalia; from formal poetry to abstract word games; at times, engaged in a dialogue with a dictaphone, using effects, or simply singing in a clear, resonant, heart-touching voice. It’s not only because of the diversity of her musical palette – under her own name, as a trio, Jenny Hval performs expressive psychedelic free-rock; before that, as Rockettothesky, she played ethereal indie - and synth-pop; and as a duo with Håvard Volden (a guitarist in her main band), they create something that could be approximately described as acoustic, improvisational, totally deconstructed blues-folk, with elements of spoken word or free vocalization. For connoisseurs: think of a symbiosis of Derek Bailey and Meredith Monk, although Jenny herself points to Diamanda Galas and Swans as some of her inspirations (taking cues from their freedom of expression and controlled power, but without trying to achieve a similar level of brutality). Besides all that, she also produces musical installations and performances found at the junction of poetry and sound art, contributes to magazines and newspapers, has published two books of her own, and has studied literature at two universities (it is no accident that all of her lyrics are conceptual and important to understand).
However, what finally gets me on my knees is the supernatural serenity of a sphinx, the mysterious detachment, the almost Buddhist-like concentration with which Jenny Hval performs her vocal rites. You should have seen her at the Anglican Church in Riga during Sound Forest 2012, imperturbably cracking witty jokes between songs while she and her partner re-tuned their guitars (which they did almost after every song, sometimes even during them). What, you haven’t seen that “Nude on Sand” show?! Too bad… personally, for me it was the best 30 or so minutes of the whole festival. Thankfully, here’s the remedy: recently I stumbled upon the YouTube video of the full show of “Nude on Sand” in Istanbul, played in December of the same year and at which they performed the extended version of the program they played in Riga – the addition consisted of a couple of songs from their main band repertoire, which included the ritual, breath-taking “Blood Flight” – which you absolutely must see in its full glory and with the volume on max.
I hope that the assured strangeness of this music won’t alienate you. For me, it resembles a Zen koan that stumps you, or when you have no words to explain, no framework to outline, and no i's to dot and t's to cross… And you just enjoy the moment of weightlessness – the chance to stop having to make sense and to be in control of the situation. Or, it could be like a quiet confession that you happen to overhear in an unfamiliar language – without condemning, forgiving, or even understanding. Just feeling compassion.
Orla Wren is the project of a not-so-young, dreadlocked, bearded Englishman who goes by the name of Tui. Leading a nomadic way of life, he has spent the last ten years selling his original photographic art on the streets of Scotland – and sometimes in other parts of the world. His electro-acoustic laptop-folk is woven from microscopically processed melodies, or even from just sounds emitted by all kinds of instruments that happen to fall into his hands – strings, wood-winds, keyboards, percussion, music boxes, Tibetan singing bowls, etc., as well as vocal and instrumental parts performed by guests – often close friends or people he meets on the way. This music possesses a rare sense of intimacy, peace and beauty, but without ever falling into maudlin sentimentality (although his album, “The One Two Bird And The Half Horse”, used to bring me to real tears).
After a long wait, in August of 2013 a small but influential Japanese label, Home Normal, released a new album by Orla Wren, entitled “Book Of The Folded Forest”. It will take me some time to absorb the subtlety of the music it contains and to find the proper words – in oder to avoid just bluntly repeating “beautiful” over and over. Meanwhile, I can say that its packaging is, by all means, the dream of every connoisseur-collector: a gorgeously printed 4-fold digipack; exquisite visual imagery by Canadian artist Urban9; a set of cards with collages made from old photographs with finely integrated geometrical shapes, graphical glitches and coded textual messages – all of which perfectly illustrates the music. And on top of it all – a DVD with short films by various visual artists, made for seven of the tracks on the album – and from which I would mark out two as being especially good.
“The Words Under The Wood” (made by Lumacell, aka Robert Shaw) is what I would call not just the best audio-visual achievement of 2013 (without even waiting until the end of the year), but one of the most beautiful music videos I have ever seen. The camera and editing work is of an incredible finesse, the black and white imagery is stunning, and the symbiosis of the image and music is, ultimately, perfect. Vocals, lyrics and guitar – by Paddy Mann from the Australian band Grand Salvo.
“Four Feathers Few” (made by Joey Bania) literally stops time by means of an ultra-slow suspended-motion video; for seven minutes, it pulls you out of the breakneck pace of modern life and its associated rubbish, and into the micro-world of a silent mind, all the while helping you to concentrate on the finest details of the sound fabric. Watching in HD on a decent monitor – and with quality headphones – is recommended for successful teleportation into subspace.
Detailed information about the artists and all seven videos is available on the official site, orlawren.eu.
As a P.S., I earnestly beg you to watch an incredible stop-motion, animated film for the song “The Fish And The Doll”. Made to a song from Orla Wren's previous album, it was painstakingly created by Rima Staines – a very interesting artist, musician, researcher, traveler, crafty clock-, puppet- and story-maker herself, and to whom “Book of the Folded Forest” was dedicated. I believe I have never seen a more touching, concise, and at the same time, more precise illustration of the well-known (but which doesn’t make it any easier to achieve) maxim, “Love is giving”.
The Mystical village of Kwala
One more visual and aural treat, albeit of a different kind. From a cinematographic point of view, the 50-minute audio-visual album“Cosmic Village” is rather amusing, thanks to it having the aesthetics of a mystically-phantasmagoric B-movie; but I find it quite fitting. Using fairly simple means (naïve symbolism, multicolored filters, minimal computer graphics, unprofessional actors), visual artist Jacob Williams has created an ironically dystopian counterpoint for a soundtrack that is far from being simplistic. The inventively and finely executed music comes from the electronic pen of Kwala (real name Joshua Gasaway (US)) – one of the lesser known, but in my opinion, more interesting producers working in a genre that can be conventionally designated as chillwave/ambient garage. Contrary to his many peers in the same genre, Kwala seems to have a slightly wider musical perspective, one that extends beyond the traditional framework of post-dub/2step and instrumental hip-hop. Distinctive trademarks of these genres (broken stumbling beats, chopped and pitched vocals, deep bass-lines) are still sometimes just being declared as such, but more often than not, Kwala wanders in the realms of retro-futuristic synth ambient, with echoes of space-age easy-listening – which, at the same time, doesn’t sound clichéd, but rather quite original and fresh.
In other words, here’s a perfect example of music of the moment that is very well-worth examining, recommended for both curious music lovers and for just creating a pleasant atmosphere in your apartment. For all that, the film is available for download or streaming in HD, absolutely for free. Aren’t the times we live in magical?
The majority of the tracks used in the movie are currently unreleased or even untitled; however, some have surfaced on Kwala’s Lakebed EP, also available for free (or on Pay What You Want basis) from his bandcamp. Another EP, “Luminous Things”, released by a leading future beats label - Finest Ego/Project Mooncircle, equally deserves your attention.
The (not-exactly) Sweet and Tender Hooligan, King Krule
My friends often tell me that I definitely “must have heard everything”. Huh, if only I had… Like, I managed to miss out on this guy – King Krule (real name Archy Marshall). I even remember quickly checking out a video of his show, dismissing him as “just another teenage guitar band” – and just as quickly – striking him off the list. Yes, the young chap’s age and looks might be tender, indeed – now he’s 19, but when he performed “Portrait in Black and Blue” live in Brooklyn, he was 17, looking for all the world as if he were just 13… Nevertheless, song-writing talent, taste and artistic vision are things that he seems to have in abundance for the years ahead. Especially when one takes into account that the song-oriented King Krule is not his only project – besides that, Marshall produces instrumental and vocal hip-hop asDJ JD Sports and Edgar The Beatmaker, DJs, sang two (of the best) songs on a new Mount Kimbie record (watch the official video for Mount Kimbie's “You Took Your Time”), and makes background tracks for fellow rappers.
The guy’s natural gifts manifest not only in his charmingly hooligan voice and musical proliferation (although his debut album, “6 Feet Beneath the Moon”, has only just been released – and right on his 19th birthday, 24.08.2013) – these were preceded by a string of EPs, singles, net releases and various side projects and collaborations. For his age, he is impressively well-educated musically – he knows a lot about jazz, blues, afrobeat, hip-hop, classical and modern bass music. An obsession with jazz sampling (the basis of his DJ JD Sports alter-ego) shows up again here; plus, he experimented a lot with vintage tape reverbs, Moog phasers, old keyboards and other instruments in the studio, all in order to achieve a dubby, nicely-worn sound. But most of all, the music is excitingly tasty-sounding guitar pop (in the best sense of the word), with a strong 50s/60s blues-jazz flavor, sometimes slowing down to trip-hop rhythms. As part of the album-launch campaign, King Krule’s official site featured an exclusive full-album stream with an awesome concept – each track was accompanied by live CCTV footage from various London streets (unfortunately, the stream has been discontinued ever since the album came out).
CocoRosie: Rewind and Reanimate
Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady, aka CocoRosie, visited Riga on 30.08.2013. Although my excitement about their music had recently subsided a bit, and their new album, “Tales of A Grass Widow”, didn’t really grab me, it was impossible not to attend the show – whether to not miss out on this act of sorcery, or, to at least verify my growing apprehension. So, the following are my impressions: these splendid dilettantes that used to work small but bewitching wonders in the bathroom of their Paris apartment with the help of children’s toys, a dictaphone, cheap instruments and their different, but equally shiver-inducing voices, have grown up – and into pop stars. Shivers are sometimes still induced (Sierra’s mezzo-soprano is still magnificent, especially when experienced live, and Bianca’s meowing falsetto pierces right through you). The spectacular beatboxer Tez was in his best form – his solo turn was the best moment of the whole show for me. But as for the rest…
I wouldn’t call it a total disappointment, but a miracle didn’t happen. In my opinion, their new songs are definitely weaker (even new arrangements for old favorites didn’t seem to work). Generally, their oldest material (from their first two albums) wasn’t performed at all. But most importantly – a feeling of creation, of giving birth to awkward, raw, unpolished music before your very eyes, which, at the same time, touches your heart strings with its sincerity, vivacity and naïve beauty, was missing. Instead, I heard quality pop – often good, but at times, already schematic; and for me, the moment an artist starts (ab)using ready-made formulas (even ones invented by themselves), the death of the music – as a living creature – has been marked.
On the contrary, it was exactly the animated, immediate, and almost spontaneous creation of music before my eyes that excited (and still keeps on exciting) me as I watched a 45-minute studio concert/documentary made by German TV channel ZDF. Perhaps this was based on the merit of the Indian folk band Rajastan Roots which collaborated with CocoRosie at the time, and who served as some kind of magical catalyst, lifting these simple songs to another level… Although, on the other hand, I have the impression that the input of each and every participant of those studio sessions was equally important, both musically and energetically. That’s why it’s especially nice to see every musician briefly speaking, and sometimes even playing a solo performance (note the wild percussion player with sparks in his eyes; generally, the Rajastan guys get well-deserved attention when talking about their music, people and culture).
So, if you haven’t been to the show, watch this film and don’t cry over spilled milk. And if you were at the show, also take a look – and compare. I’m interested to hear what you have to say.