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PureH, "Signia"

cover image Although ostensibly a remix album, there is no need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the remix work here.  From what I gather, PureH are a successful electronic rock band out of Slovenia who invited a slew of electronic artists to rework a single track, "Signia."  Not being familiar with the original track, I purposely avoided listening to the initial song to fully appreciate the remixes, which all vary greatly and, as a whole, make for strong, diverse tracks.

 

Pharmafabrik

It is not hard to recall the all too brief existence of the so-called "isolationist" outgrowth of ambient music when looking at the artists charged with remixing PureH's track.  Anyone who was listening to music of that ilk in the mid to late '90s (led by prolific artists such as Bill Laswell, Mick Harris, and Justin Broadrick) will recall names like Eraldo Bernocchi, P.C.M., D.J. Surgeon, and K.K. Null, who all appear on here.  And along with these "big boys" there's a good mix of lesser known artists who show they have got the chops to hang with the established guys.

The established artists show that, some ten years after they first stepped on the scene (at least from this reviewer's perspective) they have largely refined and honed their work to stay contemporary, yet not alienate those who remember them from back in the day.  K. K. Null takes the rather conventional sounding original material and pitch shifts it to a painful high end shriek as well as cutting up the rhythm section into dense, distorted loops that still allow a semblance of the original sound (via voical fragments and somewhat recognizable elements), but twists and turns it into pure sonic sadism in his "Signia Pagan" mix. 

Another of the old recognizable names is the duo of P.C.M., who, though mostly limited to remixes and a single 12" on Mick Harris' old Possible label.  They start out their "Signia Blue Waters Turn Black" mix with an opaque haze of thick reverb drenched loops that are met with a slow, monotone beat that eventually explodes into a hardcore blast of a drum n bass loop that plows through the mix like a pipe bomb.  It has the manic intensity of vintage Squarepusher or Aphex Twin, but without the whimsical trappings and a sense of pure insanity.  Unfortunately, Eraldo Bernocchi seems to have not developed his art as much as the others:  while the dubby beat and subsonic bassline stay solid, there is simply less variation or development on here, and it's repetitive nature is among the gripes of artists from the time period.

The artists that I'm not quite as familiar with also hold their own among the big names.  Chris Wood excerpts the electronic elements and tones from the original track and cuts them up with a high end skittering drum loop that morphs and changes throughout, making for an extremely dynamic track.  Wodan takes the track for a more electro spin on "Signia H Light," throwing down an old school stiff monotone beat, swirled bass pastiches and an ordinate amount of distortion.  Another unique take comes from Taiwanese artist MoShang, who uses the rock track as clay to sculpt into a light take on downtempo electronica, mixing in a hip-hop beat and additional samples.  It's not really my thing, but it is well done.  Clocking in at 16 minutes, Psychedelic Desert's "Signia Live Farce" mix comes across with good intentions, stripping the track down to only its most rudimentary sounds and tones, but over such a length it begins to drag and slow down.  If it had been around the eight minutes that most of the other mixes were, it would have been a great contribution.

It is great to know that, even with my intentional abstention from checking out the original track, these artists can use that source material to design tracks that, while standing out on their own, still feel thematically linked by the occasional untreated elements of the original work coming through.  Those who long for the days when dark textures mixed with hip-hop/jungle loops like peanut butter and chocolate will enjoy this stroll down memory lane.  Now, to check out the original "Signia" track…. 

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Larsen

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Review of the Day

MATMOS, "THE CIVIL WAR"
Matador
Upon first listen, The Civil War sounds completely unlike anything I've ever heard from Matmos. Initially, it is quite a struggle to place this new album in context with their previous work, which is characterized by minutely detailed electronica full of samples constructed from non-musical objects and field recordings. In stark contrast, most of the tracks on The Civil War are non-conceptual, traditionally structured songs with easily digestible melodies and chord progressions. Many of the medieval, folk and symphonic instruments on this album reach the listener untouched, without the usual precise surgical edits and digital processing that Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt have built their career on. This will be quite a shock for those who have become acquainted with Matmos through albums such as Quasi Objects and A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Even The West, though it was purportedly an exploration of country and blues, still shared the same fascination with sample-derived audio minutiae. So, it's fair to say that The Civil War is quite a departure. Luckily, the gamble pays off. I believe The Civil War is a singularly original record, effortlessly merging the medievalist whimsy of late-60's British folk revivalism with the collective unconscious of America's folk music past, all glued together with Matmos' incredible ear for sonic detail. On The Civil War, Matmos dares to allow simple melodies and crisply reproduced instruments to assert themselves as the primary element of the music. For the most part, Matmos have masked any obvious laptop editing and sequencing, preferring instead to let the digital processing underscore and accentuate the songs, rather than deconstruct them. Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt have spoken about the influence of The Incredible String Band on the new album. With classic albums like The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam, the Incredibles created a new musical lexicon with their unorthodox, free-form combinations of medieval, Celtic, American, Oriental and Indian folk traditions, which were blended with amazing fluidity and imbued with a pastoral, psychedelic mysticism all its own. With The Civil War, Matmos are creating an ISB-like amalgam for the post-techno generation. "Regicide" opens the album, a lovely tribute to "Chinese White," the opening track to the Incredible's 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion - a hurdy-gurdy drone highlighted by a stately recorder melody and gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar. "Zealous Order of Candied Knights" is a rollicking Rennaisance symphony complete with horn fanfare, courtly drumming and some curiously Appalachain fiddle playing courtesy of guest Blevin Blectum. Throughout the album, instrumental tropes of the American Civil War are resurrected, along with the incongruous drone of synthesizers, including a vintage Buchla expertly played by Keith Fullerton Whitman AKA Hrvatski. These compositions have a free-form looseness, gradually finding themselves within the chaos, morphing into bright, patriotic concertos for piano and electric guitar, or gentle acoustic tributes to John Fahey or John Renbourn. The disarming "YTTE" utilizes samples from a fireworks display, expanding into a shimmering symphony of chimes, autoharp and guitar. "For the Trees" is the repeated musical motif of the album, a sweet, loping melody redolent of a breezy Fourth of July picnic. "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is an odd pastiche on John Philip Souza's patriotic marching-band classic, mixing a sampled instrumental rendition with throbbing beats. "Pelt and Holler" is constructed entirely from samples derived from a rabbit pelt, and as such is the only time Matmos engage their well-known propensity for constructing music from microcosmic sound events. After this brief tangent, Matmos tune into the British folk influence again, this time on "The Struggle Against Unreality Begins," where a majestic steel guitar melody is subtly intensified by sampled sewer pipe, blood and glass. Matmos' unexpected cultural cross-germination of folk traditions has yielded an album of exquisite beauty, an album that on repeated listens becomes more complex even as it affirms its simplicity. The Civil War is simply amazing.

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