rfm attends to recent downloads: petals, hagman, clough

July 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
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Although I have written about such things before, I tend to avoid comment on downloads, especially those to be found on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. I fear, I suppose, opening a floodgate and being swamped by the sloshing enormity of unmediated reality.

For instance: a friend recently tipped me off to a band they thought I would dig and included a link in their email. I downloaded the file it pointed to and liked it very much. A quick nose about the internet revealed many of trustworthy opinion are keen on this crew too. Their back catalogue beckoned seductively.  Reason to rejoice? Time to crank up the metaphor engine and get posting, eh? Well, no. On visiting the band’s own website I found stacks of files named only for their dates of composition – many, many hours worth – and if there is one thing guaranteed to shrivel my organs of musical appreciation it is the prospect of vast quantities of undifferentiated stuff. Ugh.

(As an aside: everyone is going crazy for the Lost Tapes box set by Can, and rightly so. The question I have heard several times, always accompanied by an amazed shake of the head, is ‘why didn’t they think this stuff was worthy of release first time around?’ This illustrates the times we are living in. Ah, for the days when an album had to be vinyl-sized and thus quality control had to be exercised. To my undisciplined brethren I say: cut it to 40 minutes and, if people are still interested 40 years later, it might be worth digging up the outtakes then…).

Now, we all know from bitter experience that being presented on a physical object is no guarantee of musical quality. However, it does indicate that someone had some faith in the work, enough at least to make the extra effort required to birth a thing. If a jiffy bag arrives on my doormat its contents generally imply a level of filtering, distillation, care and perhaps even pride that ensures I treat it with respect and accord it a fair hearing. I can’t help but feel that a download doesn’t deserve the same attention.

Is this position defensible in these post-everything, internet-enabled times? Probably not: you are reading this on a blog that contains almost my entire back catalogue available for download just one click from here. I also have recent releases available to buy and download via Bandcamp myself (see below). But, even leaving my hypocrisy to one side, you have to admit I’m at least part right. Our time available for music has not increased in step with our exponentially increasing access to music. You have to discriminate. Thus the answer to the question ‘how much attention does a download deserve?’ is: maybe some. How much depends on the context: who made it, who recommended it, where it originates and so on.

So… Bearing all that in mind, and acknowledging that your ears are busy organs, I am now going to recommend several hours worth of stuff all of which is available via Soundcloud or Bandcamp and, further, I’m going to insist that it is some of the best stuff I have heard all year. Do not worry that your personal bandwidth will be wasted following these links. The recommendations of Radio Free Midwich are entirely trustworthy.

First up: Hagman, the duo of Dave Thomas and Daniel Thomas (no relation). I wrote the following description as a gig blurb for Dan but it didn’t get used, presumably due to its ponciness. Still, this is my blog and I can do what I like so check this out:

Hagman present a hard-won equilibrium teetering between power line hum and the rhythmic clatter of early 80s electro-industrial. As sinuously alien as a millipede clambering over tree bark, yet as warm as a cat asleep on your chest.

Cool, eh? Soundcloud contains documents of their recent live appearances and I highly recommend you check them out. I’m particularly fond of the two versions of Primer (one live, one ‘studio’) as it kicks off from the soliloquy that opens the film of the same name, which is a favourite of mine.

The solo stuff by these two chaps is pretty special too. Dave records as Ap Martlet and his recent track Jacquetta Hawkes is very lovely indeed. The fuzz is elegantly balanced and as mournfully life-affirming as Ivor Cutler’s harmonium. The almost-a-melody gives it a misty narrative but isn’t too prescriptive. As befits a named track – it has personality.

Dan is no slouch either. Theme for Freedom is a fuzz-drone homage to the no-audience groove championed by this blog.  It’s rise and fall as dizzying as the first gulp of fresh air the morning after a very late night.  Even better is the themed pair Hyperbolic/Litotic.  Delicate, balanced but with unbelievable core strength, like an accomplished martial artist hosting a tea ceremony.  I am envious.  Oh and Twitch is a terrific exercise in sustained menace too.

Now onto old friend Michael Clough, whose atem_tanz is a gloriously super-minimal analogue throb.  When listened to at the appropriate volume, that is: so loud as to be consciousness threatening, it sounds like the sewing machine that God used when she was stitching up creation.  Fucking amazing.  STOP PRESS: this track has been taken down from Soundcloud as it has been slated for ‘proper’ release on Sheepscar Light Industrial.  More news as it breaks!

…and finally may I recommend the recorded output of Kev Sanders, best known round these parts as Petals.  Praised here before, this chap’s work can be found in clearly defined, manageable segments via Bandcamp and the ever-entertaining hairdryer excommunication blog.  No will-sapping giganticism here, nor should you be fooled by the lo-fi aesthetic.  This is carefully, thoughtfully constructed stuff, varied in style but all obviously expressing aspects of the same vision.  Kev is a cartographer, quietly mapping a world which looks just like our own but which on closer examination reveals some unexpected twists in the path…

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  1. rob, you say such lovely things… and, you also remind me that, if mr clough so desires, ‘atem tanz’ would make a pretty amazing SLI.003. maybe i should send him an email…

  2. I agree, sometimes is totally overwhelming to see how much download output there is outside. I am guilty of that sin also! …I myself run a netlabel ;-)….sometimes many of us do it since it is easier and cheaper to go and put a release as free download. Nevertheless, we forget that sometimes that physical format gives a certain extra value to a work that comes directly from our inside. In the big sea of internet, there is many great efforts that got lost in the universe of cold bytes…..
    There is another side of the coin. There is many people that have it hard to obtain music via physical format due to criminal postal services in their countries. And other part of the population that is only hearing music via mp3, ogg, wav, whatever…
    As always, two sides of the coin, but is undeniable the fact that us, creators of sound must put in front the physical object before the download in order to mantain true value in what we do…..and is totally respectable to put as download certain experiments or out of print releases… my opinion is that both are today ways of getting music out there. And both are valid, but nothing will replace the feeling you get when receiving the tape or CDR handwritten and packaged directly from the person who did the sounds. Simply put….there is no comparision to the value it gives to the sounds…….
    And also, everyone is also entitled to treat the downloads they get and if they love them to burn into a CDR in order to keep the document. Computers crash and gadgets get lost easily. If you like what you hear, put it on a CDR….well, my humble opinion…..and THANKS for the download tips given here!!!!

    • Hey Miguel,

      Cheers for the lengthy and thoughtful reply. Yeah, there are practical and political sides to the question of downloads and I’m happy for people to use that medium if that is the only way they can present or acquire the work. I couldn’t give a shit about copyright and a download can be as lovingly and beautifully ‘packaged’ as a physical object. I suppose I am (usually) insisting on physical objects as a way of filtering my ‘workload’ for RFM. The question as to whether that is a useful way of filtering the stuff I am sent or pointed at is a good one, and one I’m not entirely sure how to answer but I have to use some criterion or I’d get buried… I suspect I’ll have to do some more thinking about this…

      With love, Rob H


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