Thursday, 17 August 2023

A Short post about Shorts

Making my way through a big ol' pile of emails that have accrued over time, whittling through the many Bandcamp ones at the minute - part of the reason they pile up is that I never like to bin a 'new release from x' one without at least checking it out first.

I did a double take when I read the description for this one - a new release from Squarepusher x Adam Buxton? An oddity to be sure. A little context for those unaware, Adam Buxton is a comedian, best known for his array of musical earworms - every so often I catch the infectious Moby Song creeping into my skull. Suffice to say, not the first choice that comes to mind when thinking about a collaboration with Squarepusher (though saying that, the Moby Song does have the amen break in it, so maybe not a million miles removed!)

So what's on the menu when Buxton meets 'Pusher's brand of breaks? Well, we're treated to a mashed rework of My Red Hot Car for starters, which is one of my favourites from SP anyway. Here, it's been reformed into a short form sub 50-second number, in keeping with Adam's 'Jingle' format. Buxton's lyrical accompaniment is typically silly - making the whole thing closer to something 'Pusher's brother would make; some of the Ceephax tracks are definitely a bit of a piss-take. Truth be told it works pretty well, the rework of Red Hot Car is brilliant and Buxton's accompaniment retains that earworm-y nature of his other jingles, it's only been a couple of days and I can already tell that the shoutout of "Middle aged man legs!" is going to join the Moby Song in repeating on me randomly in the years to come.

It's not just an audio shitpost though, the reason behind this collab is laid clear on the tune's bandcamp page: "HotBox in Chelmsford, Essex is a welcoming venue for live entertainments and revelry which stands out a nautical mile. It's an essential lifeline for local culture, but like many smaller venues in the UK saddled with post-lockdown debt, it is finding it more and more difficult to stay in business. So please offer a donation and in return we offer this short piece as a token of appreciation. Let's help HotBox remain the local community's top spot!" It's not embeddable so you'll have to visit the page to get the legit player, but at £0.50, it's well worth adding to your own collection.

I've still got other stuff in the pipeline, it's looking like it might be a series of bandcamp-less players unfortunately, but in one case there might be another stream I can use, we'll see when the time comes. In the meantime, I hope you've liked this short look at Shorts - and until next time, as always, stay safe and enjoy the muisc.


Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Birthdays Bonus

Joe Goode - Birthdays (2008)

First things first - apologies for taking such an extended break. Every Summer I give myself a list of things to sort out and then never end up actually doing it, but this year was different. Nothing exciting unfortunately, jut a lot of tedious file management that I'd been putting off for ages and catching up on some other things. The downside to that being I am now behind in other areas, this blog included - so it goes.

At any rate, I have a fair few things planned for this month to make up for it - starting with the annual tradition that is the anniversary post. By happy synchronicity both me and the site share a birthday, I like to mark the occasion with a slightly longer than usual post with some of my recent favourites, so let's get stuck right in.

Kicking off with Ceephax's Christmas gift to us in Baddow Moods. In the past I've characterised Ceephax's output as a bit tongue-in-cheek, which is true - you only have to look at the videos for his tracks to see he's having a right laugh embracing the cheese. Baddow Moods is pretty far from that, it's a gorgeous experience throughout, delving into more Deep House territory, sometimes even ambient at times but still with the eponymous Acid backing it up. Here's one of my favourites from the LP and the longest of the bunch in Ventlaris - to the surprise of no one reading it's this spacey number with flecks of acid as mentioned above and I could live in it's space forever. I may have to give the whole LP a write up one of these days.

There's going to be a theme for this month where I get to nerd out a little, and you're going to see a little bit of that here. Chikada Wasei, one of the men behind the tracks for the Cyberia scenes in Serial Experiements Lain has been making new additions to the series since 2018, with Layer 4 being the most recent one. Wasei is a talented producer, and importantly very flexible with the productions that make it onto these albums - while there are glimpses of the thudding Techno of the original OST, there's a variety in genres on show on the modern Cyberia-s. Really they deserve their own post (another one I'll have to get around to). For now, here's a choice bit from Layer 4

Case in point when it comes to variety, there's a companion album to Layer 03 titled After Hours which is predictably a lot more laid back than the main entries. A cool concept in general really, as Wasei turned to the community for contributions, the Lain community has a massive amount of fan-made music so it was nice to see it recognised. Not to say Wasei was totally hands off though, he too has a few contributions and collaborations throughout the track list, the introspective Last Present being a highlight.

A little bit of my last Bandcamp Friday pickups next, they were a little piecemeal this time around despite me having an extra month to prepare. Garoad dropped another single recently, they are infrequent but always a highlight (but also he seems to be busy with other soundtrack work so I can hardly complain!). Fight On Beat sees a return to form, if like me you just love the VA-11 HALL-A OST then you'll be right at home here. It wastes no time getting right down to it, opening with the exact sounds that put the VA-11 HALL-A tracks on my radar. Surprisingly not the only Fighting Game themed track I picked up on BC Friday either, but that's a tale for another day.

Some Rei Harakami next, and another from my recent BC Friday. I've been slowly drip feeding myself Harakami's works over the past few years in order to make the most of them - I adore Harakami's sound, so the longer I can hold onto having 'new' works to listen to the better. One of his tracks - Pone - is one of my favourites of all time, so it's only natural that I give a little shout out here too. Unrest is his debut, and as much as I like to say he perfects his formula on later albums, most of it is already here from the get go - that playful electric piano that underpins Harakami's sound is still there, it's just trimmed in Techno on this first LP. To the surprise of no one, the more downtempo bits are my favourites, starting with the short and sweet Wreck, an almost prototype of Pone mentioned above, simply gorgeous.

To make up for that one being a little short, one I've talked about before but is the first that comes to mind when thinking of this album - the lovely, dubby Bioscope. It sounds a little different from the usual E-Piano stuff I mentioned before, but the production sensibilities remain the same and shine through quite nicely. I will say if you've enjoyed either of these two, go right ahead and look up Harakami's discography and you won't be disappointed, as mentioned earlier [Lust] is my favourite of the bunch, but you can drop the needle pretty much anywhere and get some more goodness going on.

And finally, one last selection from one of my recent loves - Yagya's Faded Photographs is a wonderfully sedate experience, one that works best when listened to as one whole thing, though this makes it tricky to pick out individual pieces, especially as so many of the tracks flow together. The one-two punch of No Matter What and Melting In The Morning Sun have been my most repeated of the bunch. Here, the instrumentals almost take a backseat, which makes the vocal flourishes shine that much brighter. The album is quite accessible when compared to the Yagya output that I knew from the early 00's - the super stripped minimal where 6 minutes is the shortest runtime. The vocals are a welcome addition for me, they do wonders for the atmosphere and I think really complete that slight melancholy as shown on the album's cover. I've seen some say they aren't a fan, but also a fair few say the production is very similar to the albums before this (albeit minus the vocals) - if that's the case I'll have to pencil a few of them in to check out come Winter.

And that'll be about all for today, thanks for sticking with us for another year, and as I say every time - here's to many more. Stay tuned for more writings this month, some of it can't be on Bandcamp players so I'll have to try and arrange something else - apologies in advance. Shouldn't be too long mind you, until then - as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


Tuesday, 11 July 2023

Retro Review: Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Pocket Symphonies For Lonesome Subway Cars

I've been waiting to do this one for a while - I've spent a fair bit of time gathering my thoughts, and now feels like a good time to deploy. Today we're talking Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, a project of Owen Ashworth formed in the mid 90s. For the first few releases under the name, Owen implemented an interesting methodology - those of a similar Film Studies background to myself might be familiar with Lars von Trier's Dogme 95, a manifesto focusing on raw filmmaking by purposefully limiting equipment and techniques. CTFPA's first releases follow their own brand of this doctrine, altered to fit audio. They are as follows: short songs, played in C, on the white notes of Casio keyboards.

The end result is a uniquely intimate experience, one I've found myself coming back to over and over again as of late, as someone who has famously been all about high-tech sounds in the past, it's quite the turn. I've found it quite freeing as a whole, given the dismal state of the tech world these days, each there is comfort in the imperfections embraced on CTFPA's work.

We're focusing on the second album today (and my favourite of the early works) - Pocket Symphonies For Lonesome Subway Cars. The opening track is a fine intro to that methodology mentioned above, fully embracing the pre-sets on the Casio which is a trend that will continue, as will the frank lyrical content. We Have Mice isn't quite as lo-fi as some other offerings from the album, but manages to cram quite a lot into a very short runtime. I end up saying this a lot, but if you vibe with this track, go ahead and dive right into the rest of the album and you will not be disappointed.

It was by track 2 that I knew I would be in love with this album - Tonight Was A Disaster dials the melancholy up to max, an instant juxtaposition to the opening track. There are certain lines that come to mind from this album pretty regularly - "And you'll say that it's no big deal, but it's the shake in your voice gives away how you feel" being one of them. Not sure how I feel about the noodling come the halfway point, my mind changes on it pretty regularly, but I absolutely adore the other Casio sounds on show here.

And that's a theme that will repeat also, while there are certain elements that stay the same - you'll continue to hear that preset drumbeat throughout for one - Owen does a fantastic job of getting a lot of variety out of the limiting factors. Suitcase In Hand shows that off in style, backed with some lovely powerful feeling electronics, especially around the 0:56 mark with a sequence that reminds me of Brian Eno's The Big Ship. Equally cathartic are the lyrics: "I'm at the station, the train is leaving at eight / And nothing's gonna make me stay, hey hey. No room for trouble in this old suitcase". The delivery of the lines is always on point, the lyrics themselves might not be the most complex, but the starkness often makes them all the more resonant.

Caltrain Song is a tender, contemplative number that again shows the relative flexibility of the self-imposed limitations of the Casiotone project at this point. The lyrics continue the melancholy trend, this time focusing on the hurt of words. Dying Batteries, the shortest of the bunch at just shy of a minute long, does the same - with an incredibly stripped back production of jabbed keys really selling that mournful atmosphere. Oh, Contessa! feels more like a drunken meander in both lyrics and production, for better or worse.

Bus Song is the first track that comes to mind when I think of this album. Not as bkeak as some of the other offerings here, instead a little emotional vignette of something as simple as missing a bus. Perhaps a little plain lyrically in comparison to some of the more poetic moments on this album, but still home to some beautiful imagey, I love the description of the sky as Blackening Blue. At any rate, the lyrics aren't the highlight here anyway, I just adore the total explosion in sound around the halfway mark as the melody comes in full force - it's like the Casio is being pushed to the redline and is only barely holding together.

The mages from this era are very lo-fi to boot.

From there we hit a little bit of a downturn, Yr Boyfriend feels almost a little immature in comparison, as the title hints at. Another short one, it definitely feels much more like a one take sketch than the tracks before. Which is odd to say given they're all made with that same methodology, but it sticks out s lot here, especially the way it just ends. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone In A Green Cotton Sweater too is a little immature - my impression from the lyrics is that it feels very teen-y, lamenting a summer fling and "No more rides on the handlebars, no more drive-ins in the backseat of your parent's car". Number Ten might be the most experimental of the bunch, but it creeps up on you - it follows the formula we're all used to at this point, but after the delivery of the final lines "Goodbye, Good Luck, Goodbye" we take a turn into the glitchy part of town for the final quarter. It works, but it doesn't half catch me by surpise every now and then.

Destroy The Evidence leads with a charming peak behind the curtain as we hear the Casio start up, then reset and start over again. It has the distinction of being the longest track on the album at 3 minutes and 42 seconds - it certainly makes use of it, after the last of the surprisingly dark at times lyrics, the final minute and a bit is dedicated to one long Casio noodling session. I can see the plasticy sounds being a turn off to some, granted it's not my favourite from the album but I like it well enough.

Lesley Gore On The T.A.M.I. Show offers a very slight change-up in sound, employing some almost string-like sounds while maintaining that artifical nature inherent to the Casio. Oh, Illinois! is the most upbeat track we've heard (or at least since Yr Boyfriend) - fittingly the lyrics read like a letter and have an interesting flow to them, slowing over time, culminating in the final pause on "And I don't... want to start... missing you again". Having an upbeat song with juxtaposed lyrics is a bit of a cliché, but I think this one skirts around that a little - it's an odd mix of ups and downs as our narrator flips between the negative and positive almost every other verse.

The Subway Home might immediately make me recant that though. In terms of lyrics its the most cliché of the bunch here, you can tell when the opening line is "It gets worse before it gets better". Filled with the usual content you'd expect - being broke, having unhealthy sleeping patterns and working crap retail jobs. I don't mean to be too negative mind you, we're in the tail stretch of the album by now for one, and secondly I imagine that the content wasn't *quite* as trite when it originally released in 2001. The endng synth jam on Subway Home is very nice too, big warbling keys that are almost warm to the touch.

Airport Samba brings things back around to the bittersweet - another short window into a moment, this time seeing somone off at the airport. It's concise, by now the formula is distilled, and this track achieves everything it sets out to in that short ~1 minute window. Not bad at all for what is in essence the final track - the final offering is a reprise of We Have Mice but even more lo-fi, extra tinny and with an alternate, almost mumbled vocal it makes the original feel like a fully mastered studio mix by comparison. A nice bonus and not a bad end to the album, but the original is still my favourite.

And that about wraps it up, been a long time since I've done one of these and I kind of dragged my feet a little by my own admission, but it's been fun to revisit. I did find it a little tricky to talk about this album in spots - the stripped down instrumentals make it a little difficult to pick out new elements the furhter in we got for one, and the length was a pretty big factor too as the whole thing clocks in at 34 minutes which is incredibly short for an album. Personally I fel in love with it hard, and I think to an extent that length works in its favor - if you're not a fan of the current track, just wait a minute and a new one will come along. It's readily available from CTFPA's bandcamp, bundled with his first album which also comes with some bonus tracks, if you've liked what you've heard here I'd definitely recommend the package. That about does it for today, I'll be back soon enough with more but until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Monday, 19 June 2023

Pit Stop Hero

Mitch Murder is back at it again with another of his 'Fictional Soundtracks'. There's never a long gap between releases from Mitch but it has been a while since he's put one of these out. In an era where N64/PS1 nostalgia is king, especially the Drum & Bass side of things, I find it interesting that Mitch always goes a little more out there with his choices - there's a trio of Wii themed albums, but both this one and the first one I heard focus on the underdog of the console world in Sega - last time the Sega CD, this time the Saturn, rival to the PS1 and N64.

I'm not going to spend too much more time on the tech side of things, but one final thing I will say is it's very on brand for Mitch's work. It's safe to say he's nailed the vibe totally - the opening of the album immediately evoking Daytona USA with a bit crushed vocal sample shouting out the title. Laden with almost gratuitous electric guitar, it certainly feels like it should be blasting out of some really tinny arcade speakers over an attract mode video.

One downside to these 'soundtracks' is that all the tracks are fairly short - that's kind of understandable if you're emulating menu loops I suppose but can make it tricky to post like this. Select Course is one of the ones I knew I was going to put up upon hearing it though, keeping that trademark Mitch Murder sound while channelling that overall theme excellently - I can already see the low poly previews of the tracks spinning in my mind.

Mitch also gets to dip back into the vaporwave side of things a touch as well, again fitting given the style he's emulating here. Head Office has much more in common with the intentionally Vapor-as-hell Salary Man Simulator trilogy - All of which are on Bandcamp as well: One, Two - Corporate Retreat and Three - Remote Business. Coming out sounding like a hybrid of Japanese environmental music and soft jazz hold music, it's a great mid-point lull for the album that up until now had been full on arcade spectacle.

It's not long before we get back to that though, Victory Lap bringing a fittingly triumphant sound, loaded with the same MIDI guitar as the title track. Oddly enough it doesn't sound nearly as bombastically in yer face as the opening title, you can certainly hear the older-school Mitch sound on show here - I'm thinking Hollywood Heights style, which if it wasn't clear enough by now is something he excels at.

If I had one complaint other than the length, it'd be that the tracks feel a little... 80s? Kind of hard to pin down as I never owned a Saturn - but if it's emulating Daytona USA I can kind of understand as the arcade version of that is from the early 90's, perhaps we can head canon that this is a home port of Pit Stop Hero. That complaint goes by the wayside with End Titles which moves things forward in the decades a touch. Coming out a little more like the mellower sides of the Ridge Racer OSTs at the off, and taking things in a more house-y direction by the end. It would have been a perfect capstone IMO, but there's a little 40 second track to come after this one. A fun little release, it's pay what you want over on BC so you can scoop it for free if you'd like - it comes with some neat easter egg images in the .zip file as well!

Mitch has been moving away from Synthwavy kind of stuff recently, I can understand why, as I've mentioned a few times on here it's a genre that is a little oversaturated and can sometimes be a little stale - but I can't help but smile when Mitch drops something new, he's a real master of his craft. Saying that, his non-synthwave excursions have also been pretty special too, I might have to drop one or two of them here sometime soon. But that'll about wrap it up for today, I'll be back soon enough with more but until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.