Archive for April, 2016

Various Artists

Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959Music of Morocco Paul Bowles 59 cover

Dust-to-Digital, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie                                                              

Paul Bowles, the late author and composer, was an American expatriate, who lived in Morocco with his wife, Jane, for 52 years. In 1959, a time when Tangier was one of the hippest, most mellow places to live, due, in no small part, to its being an “International Zone”, sliced up into four sectors: American, British, French and Spanish. These various colonial powers and the US, which, ostensibly, was anti-imperial and as an example, during WWII, US president FDR had aims for the post-war world that were, in many ways, antithetical to its closest ally, Britain, in that FDR did not want to see a world after the war returned to imperial, colonial rule. This was, basically, the beginning of the end of the dominance of the British Empire, probably the last remaining imperial power, after France’s colonies and Spain’s colonies were waning, if not already dead.

Tangier as one example, is -or was- a kind of gateway to the more bucolic parts of this magnificent North African country, when it was, during the middle of the 20th century, an “International Zone”, made up of British, American French and Spanish sectors which attracted many Westerners who were eager to escape the increasing ennui of the post-war Western world.  Tangier, throughout the 50s, was a bedrock of inspiration for a number of authors, artists, musicians and other interested parties were drawn to write books, poetry, painting as well as seekers of adventure and an exotic lifestyle, not found in, say, Topeka, KS. But, here, I’m going to limit myself to something Paul Bowles did in 1959. Having settled in Morocco around 1947, with Jane, he, being a composer of music himself, discovered many musical groups, singers, artists, and such, who’d been practicing their native musics there, no doubt, undisturbed, for many centuries. It was around this time that Bowles, wanting to have something of this dreamy, entrancing music preserved and available for those in the West or other parts of the world, traveled all over the country, seeking out various indigenous musics, recording the various groups, singers under the auspices of collecting them for the Library of Congress. The tour to collect as much music as he could took about six months. After this trek across Morocco, he had managed to record quite a lot of music which would be new to Western ears. Bowles did quite a favor for those, say, in America or England, for instance, who were eager for discovering new and exotic art forms from a part of the world that was (and still is, in many ways) alien to the ears and brains of those in Western Europe and America.

Those who were/are great admirers of psychedelic music of the type that peaked in the mid-late 60s, who, for instance, were also turned on to Ravi Shankar, via his amazing performance in 1967, at the Monterey Pop Festival, would, I’m sure, be predisposed to the magical music of Morocco.

In the 1970s, there was a truncated version of this collection. But quite recently, the great folks at Dust-to-Digital put together this elaborate, beautiful 4-CD set of “Moroccan Music”. The whole set consists of four CDs, a 120 page leatherette-bound book which features liner notes by Philip Schuyler as well as “field notes” by Bowles. This new set also comes with an introduction written by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Interestingly enough, the box set also includes a code for downloading and streaming. Listed at around $60.00, one should expect a beautiful work of art, from the music itself, to the beautiful artwork that adorns the cover and book.

Among the many artists whose music appears in this box set, a few names include, Maallem Ahmed and Ensemble, Chikka Fatoma bent Kaddour, Embarek ben Mohammed, Abdelkrim Rais and Ensemble and there is even a minute long recording of “Early Morning Calls to Prayer”, which rounds out this work of beauty.

Paul Bowles himself has been quoted on the Dust-to-Digital website, as to this project:

The pieces with the greatest, and those with the smallest amount, of Arabic influence, are both to be found, strangely enough, in the same country: Morocco. This region’s contact with Europe has been that of conqueror: in its decline it has been comparatively unmolested by industrial Europe. By virtue of this, also because it once had colonies in Mauritania and Senegal, and thus has a fair amount of admixture of Negro culture, it is richer in musical variety and interest than Algeria and Tunisia. In the latter countries there is plenty of music, but in Morocco music is inescapable.

The four discs in this set have 30 songs in all. Some of them run as long as 27:25, but many are in the 12-14 minute range, on average, while there are also some shorter pieces, ranging from four minutes to about eight minutes. If you are a music lover with adventurous tastes, one who is always looking for something out of your “comfort zone”, Music of Morocco would be a delightful package to get. Even though this music was recorded way back in 1959, I think the music holds up quite nicely to today’s ears and it’s complex melodies and enchanting, beautiful make-up would be hard to beat by any of today’s popular music. In fact, I submit that Music of Morocco is the perfect remedy for the ennui and frustration brought on by the dwindling creativity that exists in so much of today’s music. It is an antidote to corporate commercialism which, over the past 40 or so years, has crippled the creativity as well as the idiosyncrasies which was the essence of some of the greatest music of the 20th century that has come from the “West”, especially America.

If you’re interest has been piqued and you’d like to listen to some samples of this work or purchase the box set, please visit http://www.dust-digital.com/morocco/, where you can also visit other parts of D-to-D’s website and see what else they have to offer.

Well, happy listening everybody. -KM.

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Mercury Girls

Ariana, 7”Ariana cover

Slumberland Records, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie

Hmm…what a pleasant surprise. A brand new 7” single, on vinyl. I’m talking about a 7” for a new single, entitled “Ariana”, with a B-side, “All That Heaven Allows” by Philadelphia’s Mercury Girls, which, by the way, is not, as one might surmise, an “all-girl group”, although, Sarah Schiminek is a one-woman force, with a great voice. The others in the band consist of Kevin Attics, Andrew Hagiwara, Chris Schackerman, and Kevin O’Halloran. Guitarists, Kevins O’Halloran and Attics display a nice, organic back-and-forth guitar set-up; in other words, it doesn’t seem forced or too “rehearsed”. The opening, eponymous single (“Ariana”) has a divinely lush, beauteous sound to it with a great background: jangly, pop guitars, upbeat bass accompaniment (not “upright”, but “upbeat”!) that melds just great with the drums, to provide a very well thought out and executed rhythm section.

The B-side on this single, “All That Heaven Allows” is another uptempo, danceable pop tune that can really stick in your head for a time after listening to it.

I hope Mercury Girls head back into the studio soon to start a longer process of delivering a full-length album. But, even getting this far has proved to be a stroke of luck for these guys: they’ve only been together, as a band, for about a year, since last spring (of 2015). So, they’re still fresh, new and, I think they have the potential for some good stuff in the months, years ahead.

To find out anything I left out or to get a copy of the single, go to http://www.slumberlandrecords.com/catalog/show/300 that is the website to Slumberland Records, the band’s label. So, while there, don’t shy away from looking at other bands and their albums that are out or coming out soon. Enjoy Ariana, though and keep an eye out for a show they may be doing in your area, which will be mostly along the East Coast for the next two+ months, i.e., Philadelphia and Bethlehem, PA, as well as New York, at a few different venues.  -KM.

Soldier’s Heart

Night By Night

Self-Released, 2016

Review by Kent ManthieSoldier's Heart cover                      

This new CD from Belgian “psychedelic dreampop” quintet, Soldier’s Heart, entitled, Night By Night and which was, for them, a self-released labor of love.

Formed four years ago, in Antwerp, Belgium, Soldier’s Heart has managed to win over the hearts and minds of those of “L’Alternative Belgique”, with the heavy electronics on Night By Night, which, besides having a few great, lush, dreampop tunes in the beginning, suddenly moves to a more upbeat, danceable “Randy”, but which is followed by the haunting, dark, sensual groove of the title track.  Like “Randy”, “Night by Night” seems to feature more of front-vocalist, Sylvie Kreusch.

One aspect of trying to give to their music, an “edge” has been to mix together well, without too much overt juxtaposition, the old and the new, when it comes to various recording processes and instrumentation. That description also can apply to some of the differences that pop up here and there, with the styles the various songs seem to reflect, as in a few of its references to 90s pop sounds. From the interesting Verlaine-ish “Lola Remnt” to the flaming 90s pop-song beginning of “Savage”, which actually is a pretty decent song in its own right, it just seems to be coming from somewhere else, that’s the easiest way I can think to put in. The two “Interludes” in here also have quite an interesting aspect: they seem to be perfect interludes, indeed; bridges, if you will, between one part of the record and another and, since, on Night By Night has two interludes, well, does that mean they’re consciously separating, that is, do they mean each set of 5, 2 and then , 3, songs? Does each “set” contain a certain thread which the 2 interludes are there to separate? Hmm…could be.

Anyway, into what is maybe the “third part”, aka, after the 2nd “Interlude”, the song “African Fire” is quite catchy and quite riveting in its rhythmic pulses and the smooth, underlying foundation. Then, after that, the more “old school”-influenced, “Divine”, which has some elements of the black-female singer disco thing happening back in the 70s, with Sylvie’s great, expansive vocal range, which also has a terrific, spellbinding effect, overall.

It definitely appeals, in one aspect because of the way that, at least, two styles of club-centric music on it and for its wonderfully androgynous looks and attitudes.

For more information on specifics or to purchase a copy, visit https://sanet.me/blogs/all4share/soldiers_heart_night_by_night_m_a.1916422.html

KM.