Bob Lukomski Poop 2020

Any ST: Voyager fans out there? Remember that episode where Eric Foreman’s dad kept trying to rewrite history so he wouldn’t lose his Kitty from another planet, but kept making things worse? …“Year of Hell”… No magic Janeway reset for us tho’ – besides, then there would be the possibility of these releases not even existing…
(Again, my critera – It came out and I bought a physical copy in 2020.)

All that is old is new again:
Lots of new music from familiar names, some of it rather surprising, almost all consistently good. In no particular order…

Buy Cabaret Voltaire – Shadow of Fear  New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
Cabaret Voltaire – Shadow of Fear (Mute Records)
Richard H. Kirk in all but name. I must admit, even though it’s a solo effort now, RHK manages to make this sound like a proper Cabaret Voltaire release. Mal may be gone (still keepin’ on – see Wrangler review), but even without his distinctive voice and bass, the “found” audio dialogue holds the same degree of attention as it did on tracks like “Gut Level” or “Eddie’s Out”. The beats are a nice development from Johnny YesNoRedux – Kirk has always flirted with cliché, but here seems to ignore it. A somewhat divisive release amongst the faithful, I found it to be a good soundtrack to end the year.

Buy Wrangler – A Situation New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
Wrangler – A Situation (Bella Union)
Ex – Cab Stephen Mallinder’s third outing with Ben Edwards and Phil Winter as Wrangler. They’ve developed a consistent style that is further refined here. Hints of House, Funk, Mid – 80’s CV, even a whiff of New Jack Swing, all wrapped up in a nice bow by Mal’s processed vocals. If there’s any complaint, it’s that the overall production/mix comes rather close to sounding like “Branded” music, ephemeral in character. Edges are smoothed out, everything sits a little too nicely together, which seems at odds with the arrangements and sounds themselves. I do dig, but as accompaniment to activity.

Buy Wire – Mind Hive New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
Wire – Mind Hive (Pink Flag)
The last thing I ever bought at Jack’s Rhythms (RIP), a day before everything shut down. This recording seemed to catch my mood mid-March quite nicely: Angular, insular, and just a bit of gentleness. There are hints of earlier work here and there (both in terms of music and production), but for the most part it sits solidly as later-period work. I remember way back (like about 40 years ago) reading one of those UK overviews of what was then considered happenin’, and Wire was compared favorably to XTC or vice versa. I never quite got it. Now, when spinning a tune off this disc like “Unrepentant”, I can hear the pastoral artifice of Mummer or Skylarking lurking just off-camera. We’re all getting old…

Buy A Certain Ratio – ACR LOCO New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
A Certain Ratio – ACR LOCO (Mute)
This one surprised me. I was getting ready for a solid nostalgia trip, fun but not terribly involving. Admittedly, this is not any radical departure stylistically, but talk about refinement! Everything sounds RIGHT. The grooves are the tightest and most organic I’ve heard from them in a long time. Martin, Jez, and crew have always been a bit more sophisticated in their songwriting and arranging than their dance floor (Factory) peers (Sorry, Barney), and this does not dispel that notion. ACR are masters of their craft. That’s enough for me.

Buy Einstürzende Neubauten – Alles in Allem New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
Einstürzende Neubauten – Alles in Allem (Potomak)
EN have pretty much existed in the same accessible avant-garde nexus since 2000’s Silence Is Sexy. Their usual high standards of recording, Partch-ian percussion and greater use of traditional instruments are all in force, but Blixa and the boys have entered a netherworld of fragility that is on a similar trajectory to Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music circa Avalon and beyond. I’m still on the fence about this one.

Buy Roedelius – Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe New or Used via Amazon    Buy New or Used via Amazon    Rent via iTunes [?]
Roedelius – Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe (Bureau B)
The ninth in the self-portrait series, this one finds our man commissioned by the Bureau B label to create work using the same instrumentation as his first few self-portraits from 1979-1981. The results are oddly timeless. The repetition that made the first few self-portrait recordings engaging, but – well – repetitious, is tempered here with brief tone-poems like the lovely “Winterlicht”, which lingers like its subject, just on the threshold of perception. The master’s touch has not diminished; hearing him apply musical tropes and harmonic language from his more recent piano work to “vintage” gear shows that Herr Roedelius is no Menschmachine, but an artist of sublime charm and wit. True love indeed…

All that is old is reissued again:

Associates – Perhaps (Cherry Red)
Pretty much panned when originally released in 1984, this record was the first of Billy Mackenzie’s work following the exit of guitarist/co-writer Alan Rankine. Whilst it doesn’t have the lack of restraint that made Fourth Drawer Down or Sulk so commanding, Perhaps, for its all perceived faults, has enough charm and cheek to have aged into becoming a career highpoint for the band (and Billy). One of the criticisms leveled at it concerned the length of the songs (this was released at the apex of mid-80’s new pop, which was primarily a singles-driven market, despite what all those 12” remixes would have you believe). Billy had the vision and audacity to consider this a club record, and it that context it works quite well. Ironically, the bonus tracks are, aside from a cover of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound’s “Kites” and a non-LP single, redundant and superfluous. Do we really need to have instrumental and extended versions (or edits) of most of the original songs? And do we need it to spill over to a second disc?? This is where the completist market and I part ways…

Stephen Mallinder – Pow Wow (Ice Machine)
Originally released in 1982 (and then again in 1985), this was the only available solo work of Mal’s until last year’s Um Dada. Minimalist to an extreme, most of this recording consists of lo-fi percussion, drum machine, bass, and assorted sounds (“found” or otherwise) that fly in and out of the mix. That may not sound exciting, but it comes off like a dub record that doesn’t sound like dub should, which I can get behind. The textures have that rubbery feel, but with a hint of malevolence that could also be found on Cabaret Voltaire records of similar vintage. Favorite sample: “My turn, my turn, don’t be greedy.” The two-platter remaster also includes the “Temperature Drop” 12”.

Pale Saints – Mrs. Dolphin (4AD)
A Record Whore Day release, this originally was a Japanese market exclusive CD containing two early EPs and some extra cuts. I almost always prefer 4AD bands in smaller, 4-Song EP doses, so this is a treat to hear the group in rough and ready form at two different EP points (pre- and proto- Meriel Barham line-ups) before they started to flirt with 90’s 4ADness (Lush or Spirea X, anyone?). Green vinyl, if you dig that sort of thing.

Basil Kirchin – Everyday Madness (Trunk)
Technically not a reissue, but unreleased archive material, so close enough. Basil was notorious for inconsistent labeling and archiving (and now it’s even easier to be lazy and sloppy when archiving computer files – ask just about any musician with a laptop), so Jonny Trunk just took some cool recordings from various eras and with a bit of conjecture, he offers up examples of BK at work. The three pieces collected here are indicative of his more experimental tendencies – field recordings, electronic processing, tape manipulation and the requisite sounds of the children of Schurmatt… Much of this is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re familiar with Worlds Within Worlds or Quantum, you should know what to expect.

Roxy Music – Roxy Music (Virgin)
I have a general mistrust of remixed “classic” recordings. The whole Bruce Botnick/40th Anniversary Doors debacle, the remixed Genesis of Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot – these “improved” mixes usually fucked something up along the way, covering up some small yet iconic moment or worse, reintroducing elements that were better left out or buried to begin with (cf. the reintroduction of Jimbo’s censored “high” in “Break On Through” – it totally destroys the tension of the original). So it was with trepidation I picked up another RSD Release, Steve Wilson’s remix of Roxy’s debut. I’ve not heard any of his other remix work, but if it’s anything like this, I may rethink my position.
Wilson’s remix is one of clarity and depth, not revisionism. Eno is not louder in the mix, just clearer. If anything, the treat here is Manzanera’s guitar work being better integrated into the sound field. The original mix was rather muddy, and the guitar always seemed presented in an apologetic “gee I hope this rocks enough for you” manner. The highlights for me are “Ladytron”, now really taking flight from the get go; “The Bob (Medley)” which makes much more sense now (was always the weakest cut for me); and “Bitter’s End” – I NEVER heard the Celesta in that song before! Who knew a 48-year-old record could take on a new life? On clear vinyl.

All that is local is good:
Admittedly there was a lot more out there I could comment on, but again – criteria. Physical releases.

Cheli Law Duo – Sturgeon (self-released CD)
Free improv for electronics (Tom Law) and percussion/vibraphone (Kevin Cheli). Most of my gripes with free improv or extemporaneous music making stem from the artist’s disregard for time as a constraint on the process. You know the drill – a 30 minute or longer trajectory from quiet to loud, subdued to noisy, and maybe back again a few times without rhyme or reason, all in the name of “experiment”. The people clap, perhaps because it is finally over. Law and Cheli work around this conundrum with deft editing and tracking. Most of the cuts are under 3 minutes and vary widely in texture and timbre. The success of Sturgeon is that these tracks all sound complete in themselves. None of the pieces sound like “excerpts”. There is consistent forethought of execution even in the most unrestrained moments. And if you are new to this genre (or are in a more tethered mood), none of the pieces outstay their welcome. Post-Covid, this will be a treat to hear live.

Sky Furrows – S/T (Tape Drift/Skell/Philthy Rex)
Don’t do the lazy comparisons. Guitar, bass, drums and spoken word. References to “the city” and cities, but upstate all the way. And that’s a good thing. The tight-yet-relaxed nature of the playing and recitation is what makes this record a beauty to listen to. There’s a circularity that hints at a Motorik vibe, albeit one that passed through 60’s/70’s/80’s west coast alternatives while pining for the fleeting verdancy of the North East summer. Some of that may be Pete Weiss’ recording, but the band’s cohesion is what carries the day; lesser talents would turn this material into stoner jamming. Always a sense of purposefulness underpins the riffage; well-schooled for sure, but never referential. Karen Schoemer’s words and recitation strike a balance between urgency and chill without succumbing to strident delivery or worse yet, pretentious hipster(Gordon)ism. Full disclosure: I’m friends with the rhythm section, and I want to be friends with all of them… You know what would make my life complete? Hearing these Furrowed folks cover Destroy All Monsters’ “Bored”.

In closing, yeah this was a fucked up 12 months. I missed three shows this year that I was really REALLY looking forward to. I totaled my wife’s car. Among other stuff. Look for The Empty Space (a new CD of music for voice and electronics) mid-2021…