Wednesday, 30 March 2011

New Music: Disparition.

© Jon Bernstein 2011

Before charging headlong into the discussion of Neukrk, the terrific new collection of innovative electronic compositions by Manhattan-based one-man symphony Disparition (known to his friends as Jon Bernstein), I'd like to take a moment to say a few words about the neurological condition known as synesthesia. Put simply, it's a condition whereas the affected subject, known as a synesthete, sees colours or shapes when they hear noises. I'd done a little research on the phenomenon a few years ago, when I was writing a short story about a murder that took place in a seedy little motel room out in the boondocks. The only "witness" to the murder was a young woman in the room next door, who suffered from this condition. Whenever she heard another person's voice, she would see snaky, multi-coloured lines in her peripheral vision – the patterns and colours of the line would be unique for every voice she heard. Anyway, she heard the voice of the killer through the cheap, paper-thin walls of the motel ... and I never really got past that point. The story, with the working title "Shades of Murder," went into my "revisit at a later date" bin; to be honest, it hasn't seen the light of day since.

One of the cooler stories I read about was the case of the synesthete woman who only saw colours when she listened to music. Deeper notes resulted in darker colours, with various pitches and volumes creating a multitude of shades. This woman stated that music produced waving lines "like oscilloscopic configurations – lines moving in colour, often metallic with height, width, and most importantly depth. My favourite music has lines that extend horizontally beyond the 'screen' area."

Segue over. I bring this up because after my first listen to Neukrk, I thought to myself, What colours would I have been seeing if I were a synesthete? Normally I don't associate music with neurological conditions, but with this, the fifth electronic outing from Disparition, it immediately just jumped to mind. Here we have 18 tracks stretching over 1.3 hours – and there isn't a dull patch in sight. Neukrk is an absolute pleasure to listen to straight through from beginning to end. There are no breaks between tracks, and the flow is seamless. Needless to say, turn your shuffle off if you wish to experience the full power of Neukrk. This was designed to be listened to (I believe) from front to back. But that's just me – listen to it however you want!

How would I describe it? Neukrk (I love typing that) is first and foremost an electronic voyage that shifts and morphs into different moods and feelings throughout its duration. It flows and ebbs – varying subtly as it moves along from chilly piano-driven sonatas ("The Ballad of Fiedler and Mundt") to sweeping organic bridges ("Roscoff") to EBM-flavoured industrialism ("Ratchathewi") to surreal ambience to slices of German synth-pop inspired dance tracks ("Nieuwe Utrecht"). That's one of the things I like most about Disparition's compositional order – it never succumbs to just one genre, one idea. There's even a touch of flamenco guitars hovering in the background of tracks such as opener "Glass Tiger" and "Walled Forest." A general sense of experimentalism and discovery permeate everything on display here, yet – yet! – it's still quite accessible. Brains and intellect are the backbone of Neukrk, but not so much as to alienate casual listeners. Ghostly, swirling breezy effects shade the darkest shadows and corners everywhere you listen, and frankly I think that each subsequent listen will reveal new twists and turns that hadn't been noticed before. Pay special attention to the closing track "The Door" – my absolute favourite of the lot. Close your eyes. And think of that thing that lives in the walls of the old, dilapidated house, scratching and scurrying and keening in the darkness.

Frankly, it's fucking terrific, the whole package. Deeply recommended. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dig "Shades of Murder" out of the bin and listen to Neukrk whilst writing it. Cheers, friends.

You can click here to either download Neukrk, or (better yet) purchase a hard copy for your collection. You'll be glad you did! And now, with no further ado, here is the video for "Ratchathewi". Enjoy!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Saturday Awesome.

From Gawker TV:

"While Rob was away for six months in India, his roommates hosted themed dance parties in his room. Mummies, balloons, robots ... it's covered. If it was as much fun as it looked, who do I call to hire these guys?"

Every now and then I read about a kick-ass prank done to somebody while they were away on an extended vacation. I should know, 'cos once when I was in London visiting my girlfriend for a couple of weeks two years ago, a few friends gathered dozens of onions (of which I'm not fond of in the slightest) and hid them throughout my flat. But after seeing what these guys filmed in Rob's room while he was in India was just flat-out the best thing I've seen today. Period. Here's the video they filmed - with a fucking brilliant track called "Riverside" by Sidney Samson serving as the soundtrack. It's just fucking amazing. Watch, and enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Violator Is 21 Years Old. Buy It A Drink.

The date was 18 June 1988, and Depeche Mode had just performed the final show of their Tour For The Masses at the venerated Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Thus ended their hugest tour of their relatively young career, and the obvious question on everybody's tongues was, How on Earth do they top this?

How, indeed. The tour was filmed by renowned music documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, and later released as the concert film 101. In fact, at the end of the movie, one saw a shockingly young Martin Gore backstage, sitting in the green room with a mixture of shock and elation on his face, tears streaming from his eyes, repeating as a mantra: "What now? What do we do now?" It was a fantastic moment of honesty and, yes, fear in young Gore's features.

After taking a much needed rest, the band hunkered down with their long-time manager Daniel Miller of Mute Records and famed producer Flood in May of 1989 to record what would become their biggest-selling album ever; a dark masterwork featuring some of Gore's most intimate writing to date, and three of their most ground-breaking singles ("Personal Jesus," "Enjoy the Silence," and "Halo" come to mind) that helped launch Depeche Mode into the stratosphere, cementing their place as the world's most successful (and probably only, these days) stadium-filling electronic act of all time.

I'm talking, of course, about Violator. Did you know that it was released 21 years ago, on the 19th of March, 1990? Wow, it's amazing how fast the time has flown by, isn't it? But listening to it now causes one (me, for instance) to realize how immediate and timeless this recording really is. Being the first DM album to utilize real drums (Alan Wilder's bombastic stick work in the highly spiritual "Clean") and certainly a more "rock 'n roll" sound (more guitars, for instance, and some highly stylized harmonica samples), I think Violator was quite possibly the first DM album to solidly register with the "rock kids," and, as such, spread the joy that is DM all over the proverbial map.

Which is a great thing. What's not to love? There's something for everybody here, whether it's the blistering blues influence coursing through the train-inspired "Sweetest Perfection" (sung to, er, sweetest perfection by the eternally-youthful Martin Gore); the stomping rock 'n roll fever that permeates every second of "Personal Jesus;" the haunting spareness of "Waiting For The Night, with probably the most plaintive and introspective vocals ever sung by Dave Gahan (and the twinkling stars represented by Wilder's synths are simply gorgeous); and, of course, Gore's bewitching vocals on the most lovely and romantic "Blue Dress" ("Can you believe - something so simple - something so trivial - makes me a happy man - can't you understand - say you believe - just how easy it is to please me - because when you learn you'll know what makes the world turn")

So! How about cuing up Violator (on vinyl if you got it) and toasting its 21st birthday in style? That's what I did. Cheers, kids. Here's "Halo" for you.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Electro Classic Jukebox: Cabaret Voltaire.

"There's 70 billion people over there."
"Where they hiding?"
"There's 70 billion people over there."
"Where they hiding? Where they hiding?"

And thus begins "Yashar," one of my all-time favourite tracks from Sheffield-based electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire. Having formed in 1973, well ahead of the vast majority of their future post-punk peers, Cabaret Voltaire began their two-decade career performing not necessarily "music" per-se, but a fascinating hybrid of Dadaist (they were named after the famous Zurich, Switzerland Dada club after all) performance art, featuring (amongst other things) feedback, bleeping synth noises, and endless taped loops of sampled sounds, voices, and strange, experimental static. It wasn't until 1979 that they released their first "proper" LP, the noise-punk manifesto Mix-Up. (If one is interested in hearing what CV was up to during those heady days of noise manipulation and experimentation, then one should go forth and find their 1980 cassette-only compilation 1974-1976.)

Originally a trio consisting of Richard Kirk, Chris Watson, and Stephen Mallinder, after Watson's departure in 1981, they became a duo. Many albums throughout the '80s and early '90s were to follow, including such classics as Red Mecca (1981), The Crackdown (1983), Drinking Gasoline (1985 EP), Plasticity (1992), and The Conversation (1994). 1982's 2X45 (so named because it consisted of 2 45RPM 12" records (goddamn, now that would be a collector's item worth having, wouldn't it?)) was the last album released with Chris Watson as a member, and it is also the album from which "Yashar" is culled.

So here is "Yashar." Listen to it, and try to imagine ambient music as we know it without the influence of these mightily talented and influential Sheffielders. I certainly doubt there'd be any Aphex Twin, that's for sure. Enjoy!

And, from their 1985 EP Drinking Gasoline, here's another terrific track "Ghostalk." Goddamn, I love this shit.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Safely Landed.

Well, kids – I would seem to have safely returned to the land Down Under. It's been a tough few weeks, but I've finally re-tiled, re-carpeted, and re-painted my San Francisco flat; and, having found a property manager, have rented said flat to a couple of nice tenants. SO! Now that I'm back on terra firma (the time spent in planes and airports to get across the Pacific Ocean is obscene), I would like to officially announce that Second Drawer Up is back in business. Cheers everybody – and thank you for your patience! Coming up in the next few days are going to be some reviews of new music by Art Vs Science and Cut Copy, a look at Sheffield noise artists Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Numan news, a foray into some great DJs, and – of course – the music, videos, and photos you've come to expect from my little corner of the internet. I, for one, am totally looking forward to it! Thanks again. You guys mean the world to me!

The above picture, by the way, is that of an echidna – one of two mammals (both Australian natives) that lay eggs. Bonus points to whoever can comment with the other egg-laying oddity!