Electronic

Joe Gallivan/Charles Austin “Expression To The Winds” (Spitball, 1977)

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Imagine the Sun Ra Arkestra condensed into a duo of one adroit percussionist/synthesizer player (Gallivan) and one versatile saxophonist/flautist/English horn player (Austin). That’s Expression To The Winds, in a nutshell. The twosome immerse you immediately into their unusual, idiosyncratic sound world with an array of rarely heard percussion and keyboard timbres and forlorn yet spiritual wind-instrument arabesques that vaguely recall those on Paul Horn’s proto-New Age Inside LPs. Gallivan and Austin allow lots of space in their fairly brief compositions (the longest is 5:34), creating a sense of intimate immensity, a Saturnian desolation. Gallivan had at his disposal a Moog drum (he was the first recipient of said instrument, along with ELP’s Carl Palmer), and its oddly percolating report ripples throughout Expression To The Winds, lending it alien pulsations.

Listening to the album’s 12 tracks makes you feel as if gravity’s gone AWOL and you’re floating in a mysterious ether, far from earthly concerns. Similar atmospheric qualities to Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch surface in Expression To The Winds, but this is a mid-’70s production, so the delay is thickly applied and the electronics are super-tactile. The musicians are playing tricks with time and with your mind, in a most delicate and austere manner. They overwhelm with understatement.

Both Gallivan and Austin have impressive pedigrees. Austin’s played with Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and others; Gallivan anchored the world-beating Love Cry Want with Larry Young, and drummed in groups featuring Soft Machine members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, Gil Evans, and formed Powerfield with Gary Smith and Pat Thomas. You could classify Expression To The Winds as jazz, but its enigmatic allure makes it as much of a natural draw for heads into experimental improv and even ambient electronic music. Forget categories, though: Gallivan and Austin have created a sound that inventively refracts soulful emotion into the most beguiling abstract shapes. No wonder the music industry didn’t know what to do with these mavericks. –Buckley Mayfield

The Residents “The Third Reich ‘N Roll” (Ralph, 1976)

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This was my introduction to the Residents and let me tell you, its impact was immediate and powerful. Divided into two sidelong collages of viciously irreverent covers of popular rock songs of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s—“Swastikas On Parade” and “Hitler Was A Vegetarian”—The Third Reich ‘N Roll exposed the machinations of radio fodder as banal and manipulative in the extreme. Yet, even if you’re a fan of the songs the Residents mock here, as I am, you may still find yourself reveling in the clever, ludicrously distorted otherness of these versions. What they do with America’s “A Horse With No Name” is haunting as hell, and more poignant than the original. On the other hand, the Resident’s eviscerate the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” with a tip of the top hat to Joe Cocker’s guttural gargle, to boot. Having a very proper-sounding woman operatically sing James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” in German is wrongheaded genius, and those famous horn stabs sound absolutely hilarious in this context. Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love,” though, is smeared beyond all recognition. Similarly, “Heroes And Villains” sounds nothing at all like the Beach Boys, but rather like a squelched-out warping of a Gershon Kingsley/Jean-Jacques Perrey Moog ditty.

The “Hitler Was A Vegetarian” side takes a while to hit its stride, but when it does, oof. The off-key, out-of-time nightmare of “Yummy Yummy Yummy” might ruin bubblegum pop for you forever. (Nah.) The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” comes off as a brilliant robotic march that foreshadows Cabaret Voltaire’s cover of the Seeds’ “No Escape.” The mangling of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin” is a bloody travesty that inspires deep belly laughs. Elsewhere, Them’s “Gloria” gets desexualized beyond belief while the absurd machismo of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” receives a merciless depantsing. By contrast, the stretch starting with Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and seguing quickly into the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” sounds fucking amazing, as the Residents work wonders out a cheap, out-of-tune synthesizer and shockingly emotive guitar solo, with requisite backing moans. When the “woo woo”s of the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” encroach on “Hey Jude”’s churchy vibes, the album’s relentless deflation unexpectedly turns into inflation. Perverse! Does anyone know Dick Clark’s opinion of this album?

Residents fans probably already know this, but Don Hardy’s documentary Theory Of Obscurity is screening soon in Seattle and elsewhere, and it’s highly recommended. -Buckley Mayfield

Einstürzende Neubauten – Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T (Some Bizzare, 1983)

220px-ZeichnungenDesPatientenOTAlbumCoverRight out the grinding gate, Neubauten sound slower paced, more deliberate and focused. While these derelicts still use any and all metallic material they can get their hands on for sounding, they get around to using some primitive samples, and sound bytes too, for a somewhat smoother experience…

With rhythms placed, there is no need to go white-hot in industrial noise. Still not synth-popping or going new wave, Neubauten just get a bit more spacious in their delivery, slowing to a plod or a throb. At this point Blixa and company were really getting out of native Germany, and instead of getting safer in recording they stretched songs out, panned everything to extreme ends and generally made themselves less approachable despite their new use of meter.

What’s the use of inept horn wafts, air conditioner rhythms and muffled vocals backed with skittering cutlery? I guess they were the first to pick it up and take it semi-seriously, before others got into it (industrial) wholesale or whole-sale. And it got less fun. Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, D.A.F. all soured. SPK or Nurse With Wound? Depends on how serious or how camp you want to take it. Still pretty solid with Throbbing Gristle. Einsturzende? They had quite a few good ones after this. -Wade

Gino Soccio “Outline” (Celebration, 1979)

R-610679-1226275879.jpegItalians certainty do it better… Disco so cold and spacious you won’t know when one track ends and the other begins. Bass bloops, bass lines, high hat, hand claps… All sterile, airtight and sealed in grooves ready for play.

Gino was the producer behind this listenable longplayer and he actually came by way of Canada… Montreal. Apparently the disco backlash that occurred in the States didn’t echo up North and they welcomed changes in the dance form, like most of Europe. Opener “Dancer” is a classic that would be played out often in America’s remaining discotheque strongholds, with folks like Larry Levan playing two copies of the track in excess of twenty minutes. That’s a groove that can hold a crowd.

“So Lonely” is a piano/seagull/tone generator sketch, then we get to the other dance floor heavy hitters, “The Visitors” (Donna Summer/Kraftwerk) and “Dance To Dance” (Philly-esque). Five tracks in total, three long players that show icy kinship with Italo, the future of dance music production, and the hidden years of North American disco. Throw it on the table! -Wade

Harmonia “Music Von Harmonia” (Brain, 1973)

R-884704-1436562528-2597.jpegNormally the tag of “supergroup” isn’t really all that desirable, but in the world of Krautrock the term is appropriate. Harmonia doesn’t disappoint on their debut, mainly because the combined forces of Neu! and Cluster compliment each other so well. While Neu! chiefly produced driving rhythms with occasional ambient soundscapes, Cluster was always a bit closer to Tangerine Dream atmosphere. Coupled together, their minimal styles stayed stripped down but achieved a fuller effect.

Also, “Music Von Harmonia” is in no way harder or more immediate than the groups they derived from; as a recording it isn’t demanding of your attention. Eno, Brian Eno, still liked it precisely because you can put this on in the background. It’s pieces are playful and curious, and it isn’t until a good quarter of the album is through that you hear pumping drums or anything resembling forward movement… Not a negative critique.

Fun for a home listen, attentive or not, on a cold day with coffee or tea. But then you can do the same in your auto or with earbuds for a good commute. Cosmic synth bloops, sanitary guitar licks and electric drums galore! -Wade

James Ferraro “Skid Row” (Break World, 2015)

james-ferraro-announces-new-album-skid-row-body-image-1443106476Take in a steady dose of William Freidkin and John Carpenter flicks. Wash it down with a Starbucks latte. Browse Rodney King and Malcom X clips on the YouTube. Look out your high-rise condo window. Future R&B bass rattles your bones as infomercials play muted in the dark. Ads promote the safe use of fracking while Lockheed Martin toils away at work, unseen.

The audio aural equivalent? James Ferraro’s “Skid Row.” The always prolific, cynical electronic artist has been slowly asserting himself more and more into public consciousness, even recording his own vocals as of late. If his last album was a commentary on 9/11 and it’s New York aftermath, then this is the aftershock here and now in Los Angeles. And while that city is the perfect place to Snapchat police brutality, economic disparity and general moral ruin, we can still hear the crashing of a nation he’s arranging in sound collage for us anywhere.

Despite it’s interview clips, sirens, macbook text speak and Wang Chung samples, “Skid Row” is Ferraro’s most formed work to date. Nothing is wafting, every element is meticulously placed. He’s been on it that way at least since his “Far Side Virtual” release. But if that was mock-ideal of our global State, then this is a stare down at America’s dark heart. -Wade

Kraftwerk “Electric Cafe” (EMI, 1986)

R-116061-1221146432.jpegSmaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music. -Wade

Can “Tago Mago” (United Artists, 1971)

Can_-_Tago_MagoOut with Malcolm Mooney and in with Damo Suzuki. At this point, the grooves provided by the most well known forerunners of Krautrock got a whole lot funkier… On “Tago Mago” these composers-turned-avant-rockers set a template that still influences musicians and electronic artists to this day with their strange brew of rhythms and sound collage.

“Paperhouse” and the oft-covered “Mushroom” open the album with more standard pastoral psych numbers and Velvet-drones, but the album turns on it’s head with “Oh Yeah” and “Halleluwah,” tracks that seem to last an eternity with simple relentless grooves and studio trickery (backwards voices, fade ins/outs, on the fly mixing). Mushroom head indeed.

This is Can’s second breath with Damo on the mic, and his style of vocalizing is unique unto himself. A mix of English, German, Japanese and gibberish, it all goes together in seamless coos, belted screams and “uh huh” nonsense. It’s rock, it’s avant, it stands the test of time… And you can dance to much of it. -Wade

Armando “One World One Future” (Radikal Fear, 1996)

CS2580024-02A-BIGIn the shifting world between Chicago and Acid, House was changing. Classics like “On and On,” “Your Love” and “Acid Tracks” seemed to come from other worlds and were made in totally different ways, but they all culminated into Warehouse music. Recognizable names to those merely interested in House may have heard of Jackmaster Farley, Marshall Jefferson, Mr. Lee, Mr. Fingers (“Washing Machine”), Phuture… Across the water the early converts were 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, Sweet Exorcist.

But when it comes to a true original hailed by House Heads and the first wave of House pioneers alike, Armando was the one true treasure. While acting as a coveted resident DJ in Chicago, Armando Gallup also operated as a producer, prolifically creating singles that would eventually be collected by TRAX for many posthumous compilations… he passed after a battle with leukemia in the mid-nineties.

While many interviews with larger House artists show fanaticism over his work, the only official album release by Armando is “One World One Future.” This double LP shows the square-root of House: an infectious beat that keeps pumping, stark soundscapes, trippy loops. Not every track is a classic in the home listening sense, but each shows what you can be done on the floor with minimum/maximum production. Dancefloor optimal. -Wade

Maria Minerva “Cabaret Cixous” (Not Not Fun, 2011)

R-3057958-1314288418.jpegA bedroom songstress from Estonia, Maria Minerva has been making changes in recent years from hazy wafting jams to more clinical upended pop and dance. “Cabaret Cixous” was a major release for her, the first step out of limited-cassette territory, released by the always ear turning Not Not Fun label.

Maybe it’s the title that tips me off, but some of her “pop” songs here seem to share a sort of media collage kinship with Cabaret Voltaire in spirit if not sound. But it’s a modern update made in digital solid-state – new age samples backed with industrial clangor, serving many stylistic ends from track to track. Her voice is always hissing and panning and out of flux, veiled in digital sheen.

Where does this music belong? On vinyl and compact disc and cassette, and in little white earbuds, sure, but really it’s best where it was primarily made; on the lappy. This is the sound of growing musicians on the internet, where anything and everything can be explored and fashioned together. Like many artists on Not Not Fun, Maria Minerva is in a sea of style appropriators creating with abandon. Her prolific activity only allows us better access to her otherwise open/private world. -Wade

Konono Nº1 “Congotronics” (Ache, 2004)

R-502149-1167286650.jpegKonono Nº1 used makeshift mics and placed them on a number of simple thumb pianos to create raw but beautiful sounding amplified percussion, backed with joyous cries and traditional drumming. An African guitar band they are not, but another music style worth investigating, definitely so. These swirls of grooves went unheard for a time, and have only recently surfaced in the previous decade.

For those of us who turned to Africa looking for new sounds and inspirations, King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti may have been quite a jump. This music was deeply political, and could be heavy, in contrast to its uplifting grooves and non-confrontational delivery. It was guitar music, but so un-rocking and unrelenting in groove that it set a new template for some of the more interesting groups of this last century in the U.S. You can call it cultural appropriation, except our last batch of boundry-pushing musicians come across as inquiring, collegiate, and earnest in their borrowing… Understanding and respect of culture is taken away, basically, along with these mined musical forms. An empathic give and take.

Konono Nº1 are not a guitar-pop band, but they are one of those recently appropriated sources, all minimal groove, all positive vibes that keep on giving from front to back. This is an album that can send you on a journey, so get ready to be wowed and altered by music still yet to be fully heralded. Worth picking up. -Wade

Scritti Politti “Cupid and Psyche 85” (Virgin, 1985)

Scritti_Politti_-_Cupid_&_Psyche_85A change of attack was needed for Scritti Politti when pop form went back into vogue. Green Gartside ditched the first version of his group to work with session musicians, crafting perfect pop on top-of-the-line equipment. No longer presenting the jumble of styles heard on earlier singles, Scritti 2.0 would be crisp, clean, and pristine beyond recognition.

Green’s own living habits changed to reflect his new music as well. Originally a squat-dwelling punk with circles under his eyes, Green had kicked speed, started a workout routine and took much better care of his hair. He made the switch from ripped up blazers to sweaters and track suits. He still waxed lyrical of far-left ideals, but these statements are much more esoteric in this new pop format… It’s easier to focus on his vocal ability now, all saccharine-sweet in the mix next to sleek and dizzying sequencer beats.

All across the country, the U.S.A. played “Perfect Way” and “Wood Beez” on the air? It’s strange messages were pressed overseas by someone who once thought of himself as a Marxist, but the singles pressed beforehand with his first group were much harder for the average listener to swallow. Half listening, Scritti here sound like a rather innocuous pop act… but what were they subjecting us too beneath this shiny new surface? Hearing the contrast between the Rough Trade material and this monolith of a hit album is startling, but it’s similarities even more so. -Wade