Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – Denis Matsuev, Mariinsky Orchestra

  • Genre: Classical
  • Recording
  • Released: 2009 on Mariinsky

Very enjoyable, from start to finish. Chancing upon Denis Matsuev while searching for alternative interpretations of the Rach 3, I just, er, sort of jumped into it…

And we were not disappointed. Oh boy. With Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3, it’s fleshed out in all its brutal, bloody glory. The keys ripple with vigour like well-flexed muscles. In the 1st movement, we witness the ‘vision’, then the metaphorical tip-over and ‘fall’, accented excellently by Matsuev’s rendition of the famous cadenza. Instead of going all-out virtuoso, blitzing across the keys, he starts off wrenchingly slow, which speeds up and crushes the listener in a bear-hug of bleakness. At one point, it seems that we are almost looking into the void itself. Then the painful descent starts right down into despair and the ennui of the 2nd movement. Towards the end of the 2nd movement, Matsuev’s fingers retreat, then rear themselves suddenly like the devil possessed. The clarity of this moment here is always inspiring – like the whole piece decided to ‘wake up’ and pursue whatever it was pursuing so doggedly, over the entire course of the music, but with a hard-won joy that persists till the end.

This tour de force continues with Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Passion, emotion and grotesque joy take up their places to tango with each other, which is delightful to see, given both Matsuev and Mariinsky Orchestra’s seamless partnership at play in the entire album. For the more emotive passages, we get to see more of Matsuev’s introspective flair – and then, BOOM! Off again, on another roller coaster, with the orchestra and Matsuev running circles around each other, building suspense – until the last note, where all is drawn to an abrupt close.

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Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, Ravel: Piano Concerto No 2, Gaspard de la Nuit – Martha Argerich, Claudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker

  • Genre: Classical
  • Live recording
  • Released: 1995 on Deutsche Grammophon Records

Today’s album of the day is a delicious trio of Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich’s passionate performances from 1967 to 1975, with Claudio Abbado as conductor, and the Berliner Philharmoniker. We are dealing with top stuff here. Known for her passionate performances and occasional disregard for the musical score, she much prefers to imbue every note with soul, instead of adhering staunchly to the composer’s wishes.

Her stunning performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 feels like zapping myself repeatedly by poking my finger through a live socket. Frisson after frisson, this wild electricity current running down the spine! It’s cheeky and exuberant, with some very unexpected poignant moments. Some parts of it sound like a drunken man lurching and falling onto the floor! Or galloping, mad horses…

Next, we move on to Ravel’s compositions, the first of which is Piano Concerto in G Major. The dramatic entrance of the 1st movement is interspersed with typical delicacy, all fluttery, swooning, weaving its melody beautifully with the harp…then the demented version of Argerich tosses her head and comes to life, ending on an explosion. Soon we enter the 2nd movement, an elegaic, almost funereal presence that tip toes in and out of the brooding silence, swelling into an awesome symphony, but which is only a mere breeze – we are treated to a boisterous 3rd movement that has a witty moment, where the wind section comically deflates, before gathering speed and ending on a thunderous note.

The last performance, Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is haunting but full bodied with light, the lower keys handled with such subtlety that they are reimagined as smoky, halluncinatory plumes, the shadows flirting exclusively with the corners of your eyes. It’s precisely this reason why her rendition freaks the shit out of me. I thought I’d stumbled upon the holy grail when listening to Alexander Tharaud’s version, but Argerich commands an ethereal sensuality that’s not present with Tharaud, which is especially fitting for the 2nd movement. Alas, she leaves the listener dangling desperately at the edge of the seat, wanting more, more, and more…

Siglo XX – Answer

  • Genre: Post-punk
  • Produced by: Antler Records
  • Released: 1983 on Antler Records, 2018 on Onderstroom Records

Siglo XX hail from Belgium, and is the unpolished diamond in the rough for the post-punk fan. The original lineup consisted of vocalist Erik Dries, guitarist Antonio Palermo, guitarist/bassist Dirk Chauvaux, drummer Klaas Hoogerwaard, synth player Chris Nelis and bassist Guido Bos. Both Nelis and Bos left to form other bands. They formed in Genk, Belgium in 1979, and were described as being heavily influenced by Factory Records and Joy Division. Indeed, Wikipedia lists them as the ‘Belgian Joy Division’, so I’m not alone in my sentiments.

Siglo XX’s namesake is an interesting rabbit hole itself – it’s both the name of a Bolivian tin mine that constantly saw unrest during its operation. A bloody massacre fnally erupted in the late 1960s, when government troops advanced onto the mine. In Spanish, it also translates to ‘twentieth century.’ These extra bits of information add a wonderfully dystopian touch to the band’s image. Think Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, The insightful notes to Siglo XX’s Answer in the website here are worth a read, and is also my way of badgering you (heh) to buy the album, if you enjoyed listening to it.

First track Answer throbs with the familiar menace and dystopian atmosphere aided by the monotonic synths and guitar strumming, and is the most obvious ode to the Mancunian band, while the short, sharp bursts of drums and stray, squiggly saxophone punctuate After The Dream. In Room, the unobtrusive bass suddenly gives way to a flourished synth, like someone pulling a velvet curtain open. The drums richochet across the vastness, with Erik Dries’s sparse lyric delivery filling up a space here and there. The synths mourn, flutter and glitter in the hotbed of the darkness. The listener is soon lulled into a comfortable numbness in observing this mutant beauty coming together…then a glass bottle shatters, and the song fades out with someone’s boots crunching over the fragments. Endless Corridor provides a welcome respite of sunniness, with sunny guitar melodies, whose mix of gloominess and upbeat poppiness is reminiscent of New Order’s Movement for me. The final track, Dreams of Pleasure, is where Siglo XX discards the Joy Division mantle and into industrial territory. Enter the associative tendencies of ominous radio broadcast samples, set against squalling saxophone and aggressive, sludgy drums. Yum.

On the whole, Answer is a meaty album, with some fascinating sonic explorations into the other aspects of post-punk. The only regret here is that the aforementioned sonic explorations aren’t properly explored and expanded upon. Sigh…

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

  • Genre: Alternative
  • Produced by: FINNEAS
  • Released: 2019 on Darkroom/Interscope Records

If you’ve been trying to get away from Billie Eilish, have we at CVLTYOUTHS got great news for you! For this blog’s first post in 3 years (life intervened, unfortunately), we are extremely pleased to present you with this review of her debut album. If you don’t like her, you can eat my ass (ok, no, I was kidding on that). Before we begin, here’s some background info on her:

  • Born to actor parents as Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, she’s also the sister of Finneas O’ Connell (known professionally as FINNEAS), who produced her debut album.
  • Homeschooled from young, she grew up singing early, and was also part of a children’s chorus group that she says helped her “learn the proper way to sing.” She started writing songs at age 11.
  • She and FINNEAS released single Ocean Eyes via Soundcloud in 2016, with the accompanying video’s choreography done by their dance teacher. The EP Don’t Smile At Me was released in 2017.
  • CVLTYOUTHS admits to being drawn to bitches’ broken eyes and bellyache. Oh, and Bury A Friend. Alright, this is not a fact, but still.

What stood out for me is Eilish’s chameleon-like ability to switch between different roles in her songwriting, but retain her hand-on-heart honesty and compelling vulnerability throughout, delivered with youthful flippancy. Her aggression is never overtly expressed throughout the album, but when it’s wedged between hip hop beats and sound effects that sound at home in a horror movie, it becomes curiously addictive. because a complex personality comes through. Musically-wise, she is highly reminiscent of Lorde, with the very minimal musical arrangements and her excuse-me-but-I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude, and Lana del Rey, queen of tragedy and her memorable, larger-than-life characterisation.

Bad Guy announces itself after !!!!!!!! with a thumping bassline, her hushed voice muted with a menacing subtlety. She plays with the amorphous theory of identity and gender, neatly tearing the lampooned version of the alpha male into shreds (So you’re a tough guy/Like-it-really-rough guy/Just-can’t-get-enough guy/Chest-always-so-puffed guy), then countering it with the typical roles of femininity (I’m that bad type/Make-your-mama-sad type/Make-your-girlfriend-mad type/Might-seduce-your-dad type/I’m the bad guy), before ending it with the outrageously dismissive ‘duh’.

bury a friend tosses the ball back into Billie’s court, where she examines the proverbial monster under the bed. Where do we all disappear in our sleep, when we are transported unconsciously to that mysterious tunnel without an end? For Billie, it tends towards the latter – a great, dark mire of insecurities, unfulfilled yearnings, a wry statement about fame and sleep paralysis. Again, we get a minimal drum treatment, her soft vocals hovering between a wide-eyed numbness and a strange pliability. In the video, she is roughly manhandled by numerous hands, with syringes stabbed simultaneously into her back. Billie has this to say about the video in an interview with Rolling Stone, which sums up the gist of the song perfectly:

“I had this idea where I’m naked. Like an abduction-type thing, completely not in control, just a helpless body, and people putting syringes up my arms and in my neck. That’s one of people’s biggest fears — needles — and that’s what I’ve been doing recently: honing in on people’s fears.

Rolling Stone

listen before i go stood out for me on the first listen, because of the way the piano lingered so prettily, and how Billie’s vocals drift haphazardly across the horizon. One reads the lyrics and is presented with an emotional render. The listener is treated to an almost comfortable numbness, the tender prelude that brushes one’s fringe away, before death (Sorry can’t save me now/Sorry I don’t know how/Sorry there’s no way out) before being punctuated with a barely audible ‘sorry’.

On the whole, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is an excellent debut, its often playful lens revealing an unsettling complexity, even in the most mundane of events. What are we truly, deeply inside, and why do we behave the way we do?

CVLTYOUTHS admits to not having an answer for this sudden, philosophical musing, but perhaps we can divert your attention to the video for bury a friend instead?

Pity Sex – Feast Of Love

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  • Artist: Pity Sex
  • Released: 2013 on Run For Cover Records
  • Genre: Shoegaze

If you like fuzzy, distorted guitar music with a melancholy edge under 4 minutes long, you’re in for a treat. This album is chock full of dirty fuzzy riffs, with the exception of Hollow Body, which is a beautiful, poignant song on acoustic guitar. Throw in a female voice, courtesy of Britty Drake, and you get additional aural pleasure. I am very tempted to name-drop Bilinda Butcher here, but Feast Of Love does not strictly adhere to the Loveless format. Hmm, I shan’t!

The album revs up with album opener Wind-Up, played thrillingly fast…and the inner beast in me revels at the heaviness. But it’s not all brutal speed though – the music slows down on Sedated (fitting name right there, huh) – oh wait, I spoke way too soon: the drums kick off again in the middle of the song, and off they go on a whirl!

On overall, the debut from the Michigan-based band is pleasant enough for me – they’ve just released their third album White Hot Moon. I might go nose around that a bit. Please excuse me!

You can stream Feast Of Love here if you’re interested:

https://runforcoverrecords.bandcamp.com/album/feast-of-love

 

 

 

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – アンタラ通信

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  • Artist: t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者
  • Released: 2015, self-released and on Dream Catalogue
  • Genre: Vaporwave, Ambient

I was listening to アンタラ通信 while reading Simon Reynolds’ book, Retromania (mostly about the music industry’s rampant recycling of past music, and a peek into sub-genres that I vaguely knew, and never knew). The album’s pretty long, about over an hour I think – and IEMs don’t give the album justice.

I was reading a chapter dedicated to the hauntology music subgenre, which could only be described as ghostly apparitions of music that continue to lurk in the present world, even after they’re gone in reality. Cue library music dating from the 60s to the 70s, and those reedy, weird faux-futuristic synth sounds that were so prevalent in the 80s. I think that’s why David Bowie’s Sense Of Doubt holds a special place in my heart. The entire second half of “Heroes” sound exactly like a pre-imagined dystopian future. It also reminds of the low-frequency hum of the TV where I would lie awake on the bed, straining to hear what on earth my mum was watching at 2 in the morning.

Which brings us back to アンタラ通信 (does it mean Android Signals??). Much of the appeal of vaporwave lies in the fleeting feelings and real/fake memories subconsciously provoked by such muzak, as a result of ingrained music patterns, chords and sounds delivered by 90s’ television and radio. Ad jingles. Your bleeping midi music from a Gameboy Color handheld. That awful Barbie song by Aqua (I’ll probably itch to listen to it later). Chintzy shopping mall music. All of them seep and congeal into a thick stew in our minds that gets skewed over time, retaining only the slighest semblance in our memories. Vaporwave brought that all back in a torrential rush. When I listen to 東京, 2089  I instantly get lost in reverie upon hearing the chiming piano melody, and muse over how a bloody piano bit gets me all misty-eyed for nothing. The opening track, 愛の多くの顔  is a glittering, shifting 8-minute phantom – for some reason it reminds me of those huge, empty buildings that always stay vacant no matter how bustling the economy is. Listening to it on headphones is awesome – the ambience practically envelopes my ears in shiny mist. It feels disorientating and familiar at once, like a out-of-body experience. I should try lucid dreaming to this track. 

I’m sorry for rambling so much instead of reviewing this album properly, but for some reason it feels right to do this way instead.

Here’s an exclusive 80s luxury aesthetics piece:

 

MONEY – Suicide Songs

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  • Artist: MONEY
  • Released: 2016 on Bella Union Records
  • Genre: Indie Rock

There’s only so much music you can listen to without getting nauseated, or feeling cynical. So when albums like Suicide Songs come and sweep you off your feet, you feel this inner glow radiate in your heart. Halleh-fucking-lujah, man.

The beauty of MONEY‘s music comes from Jamie Lee’s voice – but his voice isn’t as perfect like Jeff Buckley’s or Thom Yorke’s. Sometimes his voice wavers and cracks, but it’s laden with emotion – when he sings, he means every word. When he’s feeling the pain, all fucked up at 3 am in the morning from drink, half-sobbing to himself, you feel it all the more. Couple this with the sweeping orchestral arrangements, and you get transcendental church hymns of the human condition. The album’s opus, Night Came opens with some reverb guitar and Lee’s soaring falsetto, with a lonely bagpipe – ebbing and flowing slowly, it gradually builds into a monster of an ending. It is depressing, but there’s an optimism underneath the gloom too. In some ways it reminds me of the bleak grandeur of Suede’s Dog Man Star, where Brett Anderson similarly exorcised his personal demons with the use of a sprawling orchestra on Still Life.

Thankfully, Suicide Songs doesn’t tip into corny territory, as is the case with orchestra backings – the addition of acoustic guitars also add a sense of intimacy to the album. On You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky, the lyrics “Outside the world is crucified, you must find something to be sacrificed to/To your love/Or to your lie” also add to the biblical presence of the song.

On the whole, the album is pretty good – unless you find music like this depressing. I don’t, though. And what do you know? Jamie Lee is a Felt fan. Oh boy.

As always, here’s a sample – You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky below for your enjoyment!

 

Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Music From The Penguin Cafe

penguin

  • Artist: Penguin Cafe Orchestra
  • Released: 1976 on Obscure Records
  • Genre: Instrumental Folk, Contemporary Classical

Look at the cover…it’s kinda cute, eh? Some guy with an enormous bird mask, possibly a magpie headpiece, is regaling a large emperor penguin with some tasty bits of gossip, I presume. We’re going to politely ignore the fact that the guy’s pubes are a wee bit visible.

However, we’re not going to ignore the fact that this was released under Brian Eno‘s experimental record label, which was also painstakingly exclusive – there are only 10 records released under Obscure. Music From The Penguin Cafe is titled number 7 on Obscure’s catalogue list.

Music From The Penguin Cafe has a child-like wonder. The cheekiness of the music is a joy to listen to. As a listener, you find yourself getting sucked into a playful experimentation – but along the way the record is underscored by sorrow and poignance.

Penguin Cafe Single reminds me of reading an Alexander McCall Smith novel. The opening has a kitschy feel, almost like a vintage BBC children’s show opening theme. Playful keyboards provide the syncopated rhythm to the melodramatic violins, until it gets to the middle of the song – where the strings start stuttering and a ghostly, wide-eyed wonder, created by bells (something akin to Pink Floyd‘s creepy psychedelia on Bike) hangs over the song. Then the bass starts up, the violins realize there’s nothing to be afraid of, and the song is on its feet once more – like a kid running gleefully across the grass, with chocolate-smeared fingers. Giles Farnaby’s Dream is a dizzy dance around the apple tree, the galloping rhythm provided by the folk-esque guitar and supplemented with that Olde English Folk Feel by the harpischord and violin-fiddling.

The Sound Of Someone You Love is heartfelt poignance, duly delivered with some gorgeous folk guitar. I can’t help but feel myself melt into a gooey mess when the violins come together with the double bass.

Let me post a link before I start weeping: here’s Penguin Cafe Single!

 

 

 

 

YYVVESS – ART HISTORY

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  • Artist: YYVVESS
  • Released: 2016 on DMT Records
  • Genre: Electronic, vaporwave

Released on DMT Records, the second album from YYVVESS sees him mixing electronic music with the history of ancient civilization. Scratching your head already? Yeah, I was doing that two months ago. That’s what made me wanna write about this album though.

Why history, out of every possible subject? Why not Greek philosophy? Or applied chemistry? Admittedly, I have yet to see EDM mixed with Plato, but the optimist in me imagines it as a really awesome mash-up. One can hope.

The thematic concept isn’t new to the vaporwave genre- Pyravid’s Googleplex Bionetwork was one of the first few vaporwave albums where the often lambasted “aesthetics” took a backseat. Pyravid, armed with Microsoft samples, synths and beats, transported the listener to an unexpected vision of vaporwave – a Microsoft-enmeshed living, breathing jungle utopia in 16 tracks. Mother Nature in perfect harmony with technology.

I have this feeling that YYVVESS’s ART HISTORY might have attempted to be an aural history textbook, but unfortunately the album just hangs in mid-air halfway through. ART HISTORY has its merits though – Human Head, one of my favourite tracks, has pretty synths resembling Indonesian gamelans against a syncopated beat, and Bronze Vessel sees the introduction of exotic elements (jungle bird calls, elephants). The tracks after Stone Cist Tomb are rather forgettable, probably because they sound the same after a while. And it’s not the song length – the album duration hovers around 30 minutes.

Still, not all’s lost – I’m still hitting the repeat button on Human Head! Here’s a sample!

 

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

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  • Artist: Jens Lekman
  • Released: 2012 on Secretly Canadian Records
  • Genre: Indie Pop

Long story short – I forgot to take my music player to work today, and this was the only album I had on my phone. Good to make back-up plans in advance, no? It also turned out that I hadn’t listened to it yet, which is a major no-no because I like listening to familiar, well-worn albums to warm myself up. Was my Thursday morning going to be ruined?

Fuck no. Part of me stubbornly hangs on to sunny optimism, so I shrug.

I tentatively start playing it…and my niggling grouse instantly vanishes. The fairy-esque piano intro of Every Little Hair Knows Your Name makes everything right again. My Thursday morning isn’t ruined after all.

I am immediately enchanted by Erica America; by the gorgeous layers of lovingly plucked Spanish guitar lines, sprightly piano, swooning female vocal and Jens Lekman’s introspective voice intertwining seamlessly with each other. This is music meant for lazy Sunday mornings, where you wait for a cuppa at the swanky coffee shop, battering away at your iPad in the queue.  Jens Lekman sings about love, girls and seemingly random things that hint at much more beneath the surface. It also reminds me strongly of Craft Spells’s second album, but with a more expansive feel. By the time I get to the last song, also confusingly titled Every Little Hair Knows Your Name, the album loops back to Erica America, and I eventually get the chorus stuck in my head. “How natural it actually sounds!” I think, and listen to it some more.

This album managed to surprise me – the minimalist design led me to think that it was a possible electronic project…but they say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Seems like it’s the same with records. Oh well.

Here’s that pleasant earworm I was talking about just now: Erica America!