That title The Venetian Book of the Dead leads one to expect some kind of facile Goth travelogue. It’s an impression not exactly dispelled by the cover, with its illustration of skeletons, shrouds and crucifixes. Yet to dismiss the album on this basis would be a big mistake. Yes, it’s about death, but it’s also a compelling album of contemporary protest songs, rooted firmly in modern history and driven by a sense of righteous outrage.
Fine album of dark ambient weirdness from a veteran of the British and American Industrial scenes. The Scottish-born Connelly has been a persistent presence among these networks for over twenty years, having served time with Ministry and Revolting Cocks as well as racking up a not inconsiderable twelve solo albums. What I find most impressive about this latest effort is its unusual form, evidence of a distinctive musical intelligence at work.
The Sky and the Caspian Sea is an enchanting collection of torch songs from a young Welsh-Iranian singer, Roshi Nasehi. Roshi takes elements of Iranian folk song and blends them into her own, decisively modern take on the ballad. Accompanying herself on piano and backed by a superb three-piece group, Roshi threads her way through these songs with swanlike grace and imparts a deeply moving sense of spiritual and cultural ‘otherness’.
This is the kind of record that gives free improvisation a bad name. In place of the passion, beauty and intensity that I associate with Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, AMM and other leading exponents of the genre, what we have here is an album mostly devoid of those qualities. Academic from the title onwards – “treize” is French for ‘thirteen’ – there are thirteen tracks here, each one a duet between improvising vocalist Viviane Houle and a different musician. The overall impression is of a series of cerebral voice exercises; it’s no surprise to me that Houle moonlights as a voice teacher when she’s not performing.
Pleasant but underwhelming album of mainly acoustic moves from a duo apparently based in Vancouver and London. The self-consciously rustic title and faux-medieval lettering on the cover might lead the casual browser to assume that St. Just Vigilantes lie within the presently ubiquitous “weird folk” movement. And elements of that sound are indeed present on the record, although it’s plain that the group are actually closer in spirit to the goth-inflected apocalyptic folk of Current 93 and Death In June, with a dash of ethno-folk à la Dead Can Dance stirred into the pot for good measure. Now I yield to none in my love for all three of those groups, but this is a case of the whole being rather less than the sum of its parts.
This is the second instalment in a series of mini-albums released by the Australian Someone Good label under the rubric ‘10 Songs In 20 Minutes’. The series offers exactly what the description provides – a punchy, ten-song introduction to a group’s work, clocking in at no more than 20 minutes. It’s an idea that’s obviously designed to privilege qualities of brevity and succinctness, but these are not generally qualities I value particularly highly in music, and they’re certainly not qualities to be cherished in respect of this particular release.
Brief, spooky and highly effective instrumental work from composer and sound artist Girouard. It’s actually the soundtrack to a dance piece, although you’d never guess so from listening to it, both because the music doesn’t sound remotely danceable and because, unlike many soundtracks, it’s capable of being enjoyed in its own right without any reference to visual imagery.
For the avoidance of doubt, this Nicola is a man – an Italian guitarist and pianist, formerly of Pin Pin Sugar. Ode, his third solo album, is a collection of quiet and gentle moments. Minimalist to the core, its timeless summery beauty is unfortunately undermined by a typical piece of new age flim-flam on the back cover: “This music is a day, a dream and a night at the same instant.” Whether you buy the truth of this statement or not, and I most certainly don’t, there is still much to admire here.
This is one of those albums that really needs some kind of documentation in order for the listener to gain a proper understanding and appreciation of it. Regrettably, however, such information is almost entirely absent in this case. Cardinal are an Italian jazz quartet whose music walks the line between composition and improvisation. The sleeve notes to this, their first collaboration, make great play of the fact that most of the pieces on the record were realized through the use of graphic scores. Naturally I reached for the booklet, hoping that these scores, or at least extracts from them, would be reprinted as an aid to following the music. Yet with the exception of one poorly reproduced illustration, the four-panel insert contains no such extracts, leaving the listener completely in the dark as to the theoretical basis of the group’s work.
The 2011 issue of The Sound Projector magazine is now available. 190 pages of record and CD reviews, interviews and even a free cover-mount CD. This time round I’ve contributed reviews of recent albums by Unfolk/Kevin Hewick, Chris Connelly, Nicola Ratti, Cardinal, Olivier Girouard, Rational Academy, St. Just Vigilantes, Viviane Houle and Roshi feat. Pars Radio.