The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It’s a terrible title, with a terrible cover, and the German DJ’s stage name isn’t too inspiring either; but it’s the best – what on earth does one call it now? Nu-electro, under which puzzlesome category it was filed in HMV? – mix since Miss Kittin’s Electroclash epic which came free with Muzik magazine some four years ago. It works not only because of the not quite seamless mix of beats and emotions, but also because Kiki’s character and interpolations are drawn into the record and stamp it as his, though not overbearingly.

There are 16 tracks spread over a 72-minute sequence, and at their best – and maybe this is why they draw these middle-aged ears so readily – they resuscitate the melody/space quadrant which made the ‘88/9 second wave of Detroit Techno so enthralling, but also take care to feed into that still under-explored sect of heartbreakingly melodic electronica (take Casinos Versus Japan and the sepia-toned end of Aphex as your starting points) which adds poignancy to the neon dance euphoria. Thus Fred Giannelli’s “Distant Gratification” opens like a sadder and wiser nephew of “Pacific State,” and later tracks – Anja Schneider and Sebo K’s “Rancho Relaxo,” Digital Excitation’s “Dream Party” – maintain those doleful Kevin Saunderson chord changes and wistful harmonies over delicately spaced beats.

There is of course also room for lightness – those perhaps apposite elephant noises which emerge some three minutes into Donal Tierney’s “Verse 2 The Chorus” and again at the opening of Michael Forzza’s “Kahana.” But the latter’s increasingly foreboding clouds of dark miasma give way to a ten-minute passage of astonishing intensity and gravity; firstly, and mostly, Joalz and Eddie da Silva’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes (Kiki Remix)” with da Silva’s remarkable, just-short-of-hysterical vocal performance demanding that the listener/his Other doesn’t fall asleep or, more likely, leave this world (“Tell me why/Why you close your eyes?” howls da Silva, as though adjacent to the life support machine), and after seven excoriating minutes this passes into Fairmont’s “Gazebo” with one of those Leila/Global Communications warbling/weeping synth melody lines which empties out my heart and leaves my awe properly struck, especially when the female voice comes in during the track’s latter third with her incantations of “My body, your body,” as if Gina X were exhuming the ghost of “Let’s All Chant.”

Gradually, though, via the whispered minimalist pseudo-menace of Turner’s “When Will We Leave (Robert Hood Remix),” the panorama sweeps back to life and light; thus the dizzying mid-sonic range layers of Misc.’s “Metroland,” so perfectly pitched as to distort your ears and head – lose yourself amidst its lasers – swims into the growled thump of Slam’s “Kill The Pain (Marc Houle Remix)” with its vocal addenda (“Out of reach! Out of touch! Out of reality!”), and which in turn flows to the fuck-it, hands-in-the-air anthem “Stoppage Time” by Guy Gerber, its ridiculous euphoria not at all hampered by the “It’s the end of the world” chant at the track’s beginning – many of these vocal inserts stem from tracks on Kiki’s own album, Run With Me, and undeniably work better in this context; left to his own devices, he can sometimes come across as rather bloodless and slightly absurd (the original “The End Of The World” is Andrew Eldritch sings Isolée). The mood then becomes somewhat sombre again, culminating in the splendid ruination of Âme’s “Rej,” before we are left with…

…Terry Riley’s In C orchestrated by Arthur Russell? This combination of stately brass and pacing metallophone continues for a couple of minutes before brilliantly and abruptly giving way to one last anthem – Infusion’s “Daylight Hours,” in which an urgent-sounding, Vocoderised vocal isn’t quite decipherable but does speak enthusiastically and eagerly of Life and The Future, and maybe that’s all I need to know.


Let it not be claimed that I am not a diligent or conscientious critic; following my comments of a fortnight ago, I have now received and listened to The Trials Of Van Occupanther, the second album by Texan group Midlake proposed as a solution to something or other by the eximious Mr Morley, fully ready to receive it as the most prominent signpost between that San Francisco of 1967 and this Grangemouth of 1980, though the only evidence of this particular “line” is Tim Smith’s slight vocal resemblance to Neil Young and the fact that they record for Simon Raymonde’s label.

From the evidence of its opening track “Roscoe” I would say that a more sustainable line here would be Poco with Rufus Wainwright on vocals playing Nick Nicely (Tim’s “1891” will see Nick’s “1892”) – after-the-fact psych-lite with some homestead (if not Homestead with a capital, early Sonic Youth H) ruefulness. Thematically – for the album’s eleven tracks are really one song in eleven movements – it’s the old favourite of retreating from Modern Life and Starting From Scratch In The Forest. Early tracks such as “Bandits” and “Head Home” indicate a modicum of community, though as the album waxes on it becomes increasingly evident that the would-be Mr Van Occupanther is the only person in this post-chemical village. Indeed “Roscoe”’s lyric of “The village used to be all one really needs/Now it’s filled with hundreds and hundreds of chemicals” intimates some unspoken disaster which wiped everyone else out; and by the time we reach “We Gathered In Spring,” this phantom world is made explicitly evident, with its very touching coda of “On a clear day I can see my old house…and my wife…and my front yard.”

Musically Midlake are undeniably 1970-ish soft rock with a 1972-esque twist. There’s no evidence of Syd’s Floyd to be seen, but the Floyd who made the studio half of Ummagumma might be a more useful comparison point (with “In This Camp,” with its maddeningly patient percussion and looming low-tone Minimoog, “The Narrow Way Part 3” and “Grantchester Meadows” spring to unready mind). “Love” never exists as anything more than a reluctant chimera (“Young Bride” and “Branches”). Eventually, there is the inevitable Ice Age (“It Covers The Hillsides”) and laments for perhaps never-existing Others (“You Never Arrived”).

Next to Walker’s “A Lover Loves” – more, much more about The Drift shortly - this is all rather jejeune. Nevertheless the record does have its subtle strengths. Smith has a way of drawing out his vowels which is rather affecting, and refreshingly egoless – listen to his double takes of “Listen to me, listen to me” and “I like the newness, the newness” on “Roscoe,” or the way he spans a bridge of Forth out over the word “ocean” on “Chasing After Deer” – and while much of Van Occupanther’s first half is agreeable post-America Americana (climaxing in the exultant violin solo which tops “Young Bride,” recalling the Toni Marcus of Tropic Appetites fame and Van Morrison infamy), the triptych of “Branches,” “In This Camp” and “We Gathered In Spring” hints at something not previously approached; a melancholia which seems to reveal a sheltered pathway connecting Matching Mole and Lambchop; the intro to “Branches” in particular is extremely reminiscent of some of those Eno/Wyatt nocturnal carpet crawls on Cuckooland. The record doesn’t resolve this equation, but I am in sympathy (obviously) with its theme of starting again (even if their mode of doing so is, as they foresee, doomed – so the occasional reminders of the Village Green Preservation Society Ray Davies recognised in Smith’s singing, e.g. the second verse of “Branches,” do not seem at all displaced or misplaced); so if Van Occupanther isn’t a “great” record, it does indicate that Midlake are capable of making one, soon.

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