Monday, April 14, 2008

Third Eye Foundation, SEMTEX and GHOST

Linda's Strange Vacation, 1996; reissued by Domino; out of print

6 tracks, 48:26

Domino/Merge, 1997; out of print, but included in its entirety on disc one of COLLECTED WORKS

7 tracks, 47:39

Bristol has produced a lot of intriguing music, from the Pop Group to trip-hop to the space rock of AMP and Flying Saucer Attack. But Matt Elliott, who collaborated with those last two, probably produced the most interesting and idiosyncratic of all Bristol music. These two early releases are performed by Elliott as Third Eye Foundation. He is assisted on both by his then-girlfriend, Debbie Parsons. She later went on to perform as Foehn; indeed, one track on GHOST is credited to Foehn, though Elliott probably participated in its creation. Now, on to the records!

SEMTEX accomplishes on opening track "Sleep" what Kevin Shields had been promising for a while: drum 'n'bass/shoegazer fusion. It's an odd mix, but it works, with the blistering beats cushioning the piercing feedback-drenched guitar. The really amazing thing is how full this sounds despite being recorded on a four-track! A guitar, a Roland Workstation, some effects, Parsons' vocals, and the four-track are the only things used on these tracks, yet it sounds rich and fully produced. "Still-Life" finds Parsons' beautifully ethereal vocals accompanying another blissfully distorted guitar. The beats are slowed here, and are a cross between tribal pounding and fractured breaks. "Dreams On His Fingers" is even more ethereal, with Parsons' lovely vocals buried under layers of fuzz and crackle and gentle cymbal-heavy percussion. "Next Of Kin" is back to harsher territory, with Parsons evoking the sirens of myth while Elliott creates waves of tension. The beats here come across as tribal-influenced drum 'n' bass. The surprising "Once When I Was An Indian" is unlike any other track on SEMTEX. It is a slowly evolving slice of dark ambience that features extremely spare percussion, ringing tones that could be synth or guitar based (it's VERY hard to tell), and Parsons chanting wordless vocals. Think the Cocteau Twins gone dub and you're somewhere close to the mark. It is one of the finest examples of dark ambient/isolationism ever recorded. "Rain" ends the album with gentle cascading sounds evoking its title, fading in a fog of shimmery electronic raindrops and distortion. While it is very rare, SEMTEX is an essential album, transcending post-rock's promise to a whole new level of studio-based perfection. It also hasn't dated one bit, remaining an oddly timeless album.

An equally rare album followed SEMTEX. Entitled IN VERSION, it consisted of Elliott's remixes of AMP, Flying Saucer Attack, Hood, and Crescent. This will be reviewed once I acquire it (which, since I have yet to find it for under $50, may be a while).
(UPDATE AUGUST 2010:I finally got a great copy of IN VERSION for under $15! Review coming soon!)

Following IN VERSION, Elliott plunged further into electronics with GHOST. The guitar noise remains, but it doesn't play as central a role as it did on SEMTEX. It shares equal time (and is indeed overshadowed at times) with a sampler, and Elliott has upgraded to an eight-track. Surprisingly, GHOST has a much dirtier sound than SEMTEX, but it works in its favor. Featuring songs with titles like "Corpses As Bedmates", "Ghosts...", and "Donald Crowhurst" (whose tragic story makes for interesting reading), you can tell you're in for a much more somber listen than SEMTEX. Foehn's track, "The Star's Gone Out", is the only diversion into pure noise assault, but it's a stunning and evocative piece. It is also one of only two beatless tracks, "Donald Crowhurst" being the second. Elsewhere, "Corpses As Bedmates" features shrieking noises which sound like some Lovecraftian horror stalking its prey; these are supported by beats that remain relatively slow, then break down into fast jungle mayhem. "The Out Sound From Way In" has fractured breakbeats and a strange whistling sound, while "I've Seen The Light And It Is Dark" is centered around some kind of ceremonial trumpet (I'm guessing). Sounds reminiscent of METAL MACHINE MUSIC*, Asian vocals singing in mournful despair (both in "What To Do But Cry?"**), sonar-esque keyboard ambience ("Donald Crowhurst"), distorted glass-breaking sounds mixed with mournful strings ("Ghosts..."); these and other unusual sounds find their way into Elliott's mix, and all combine to make another stunning Third Eye Foundation album. While this is out of print, it's included on COLLECTED WORKS. That set also contains several rare singles (unfortunately with edits) and 3EF's next two albums, YOU GUYS KILL ME and LITTLE LOST SOUL. While this latter pair does move closer to normal drum 'n' bass territory, the twisted experimental innovations are still in full force. There was also a second 3EF remix compilation, with the slightly ridiculous title I POO POO ON YOUR JUJU. That features Elliott's takes on everything from experimental composer Yann Tiersen to bizarro comedian Chris Morris. Elliott's solo work is also highly recommneded, but the most recent material is VERY far removed from his 3EF days.

*While many sources say it's a direct sample from MMM, Matt himself informed me it isn't.

**Interestingly, in an e-mail from ages ago Matt told me he had no idea what the vocalist was saying, and he used the sample based solely on its mournful tone. Later he found out one of the phrases she sings is "what to do but cry?"!

EDIT: For more Third Eye Foundation and Matt Elliott, please visit the following links: (the guestbook has an early fan post by yours truly!)


Pôle, 1975; out of print

3 tracks, 41:15

Pôle, 1975; out of print

3 tracks, 44:06

Out of the many obscurities to be found in the Nurse With Wound list, Pôle is one of the most obscure-yet-legendary. A label as well as a musical project, Pôle was established by Paul Putti in mid-70s France. The records were originally sold door to door, which is quite puzzling considering how experimental the sounds within typically were. Pôle's other signings included Mahogany Brain, Pataphonie, and other avant-garde and free improv acts. Howver, Pôle the group was perhaps the most bizarre of all the label's acts. "Group" isn't really the right word; Pôle was more of a loose collective than anything else. KOTRILL, for example, is credited to Pôle, yet Putti and Thierry Aubrun perform two tracks, while the remaining track is solely performed by Daniel Bodon! Bodon's "Osiris" is also very much the shortest track here, being a brief three and a half minutes. It's also the most accessible track, which is saying a lot, since it consists mostly of high-pitched rising-and-falling sine tones and deep bass gongs, with an occasional buzzing sound alternating between stereo channels. "Kotrill" itself is an incredible piece of avant-garde excess. Its seventeen minutes begins with the sound of tapes being wound backwards and eerie synths, evolving into a wondrous mess of musique concrete textures and backward vocals. It continues evolving and decomposing, ending on a highly percussive note surprisingly reminiscent of the end of Can's "Aumgn". This track alone explains what Nurse With Wound liked about Pôle; one could even say some of NWW's work sounds an awful lot like this piece. With "Kotrill" as the opening salvo and "Osiris" the transition, that leaves the twenty-plus minutes of "Villin-Gen" on side two. It's a very nice extended ambient piece that slowly mutates over its vast length from pure drone to more erratic expressions, while a vague rhythm is barely heard in the background. This makes for a completely engaging listen before the final beats of the rhythm fade out. This provides a nice French take on krautrock, and it even manages to blow quite a few contemporary experimentalists away!

Pôle's second album, INSIDE THE DREAM, finds Putti with a new group of collaborators and a slightly altered sound. Putti, guitarist Marc Azad, bassist Eric Dervieu, and vocalist Christian Rouch perform on the title track, which occupies all of side one. After the intensity of KOTRILL, "Inside The Dream" is surprisingly sedate. A gentle acoustic guitar is accompanied by a burbling synth-ish guitar (it really does sound more like an electronic instrument than an electric guitar) and subtle bass, with Rouch's gentle vocals evoking a pastoral image. As the song progresses, the acoustic strums remain, but more dissonant guitar starts to float above it. Towards the end, the acoustics disappear, and the freakish guitar soloing explodes, accompanied by simplistic but driving drumming. This track points forward at much later psych-folk, and even sounds a bit like Flying Saucer Attack. "Outside The Nightmare" opens side two, and is a complete departure from side one. Performed solely by Jean-Louis Rizet, "Outside The Nightmare" is fifteen minutes of analog synth space rock. The synths used are ARPs, renowned for their unique sounds, and it's anyone's guess as to how many are at work here. It sounds like stars slowly dying, which is not a bad thing at all. Also drawing comparisons to a darker take on Klaus Schulze, this track provides a nice counterpoint to "Inside The Dream"'s fairly organic sound. The album closes with "In The Maelstrom", performed by Putti, Rizet, and Pierre Chavigny. All three take up ARPs for this track, and its four and a half minutes provide a perfect end to the album. A bouncing bass pulse anchors the song, with classic retro synth stabs providing color. The whole album is another work of absolute genius.

Pôle only recorded these two albums, and the label was also sadly short-lived. All of the label's releases come highly recommended; a few have been reissued on CD, but sadly KOTRILL and INSIDE THE DREAM have yet to receive this treatment. Fans of Faust, Can, Rev. Dwight Frizzell, Nurse With Wound, et al should find these at all costs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


4AD, 1990; reissued by Rykodisc with bonus track "Livonia"; Rykodisc version out of print, 4AD version available as an import minus the bonus track "Livonia"

12 tracks, 35:28 (Rykodisc version 13 tracks, 39:59)

4AD, 1991; reissued by Rykodisc with additional tracks from THE DIRT EATERS EP; Rykodisc version out of print, 4AD version available as an import that includes the bonus tracks

23 tracks, 48:19 (Rykodisc and reissue versions 28 tracks, 66:28)

His Name Is Alive were always an odd prospect. Originally based in HNIA mainman (and sole constant) Warn Defever's parents' basement, the band created an incredibly atmospheric and dense sound using lo-fi methods. The music they produced has varied over the years, but on these two early releases they are in full experimental mode. LIVONIA mostly consists of demo recordings (similar to the Pixies' COME ON PILGRIM and Red House Painters' DOWN COLORFUL HILL, among other 4AD releases) remixed slightly by 4AD head Ivo Watts-Russell. The tracks veer from the chilling yet gorgeous "As We Could Ever" to the avant-rock of "Fossil" to "Reincarnation"'s bizarre sound collage and "Darkest Dreams"' dark yet comforting atmosphere. Vocalists Angie Carozzo and Karin Oliver never fail to impress, being sultry one minute, wispy the next. Defever provides appropriately varied instrumentation, mostly layering shimmering guitars and deep bass throbs. Damian Lang provides percussion on a scant three songs, Jymn Auge contributes guitar to "Fossil", and the enigmatic Tracy provides bassoon on one track. Otherwise, it's all Defever's show, which makes the results that much more impressive. Try to find the Rykodisc version; the gorgeous bonus track "Livonia" is essentially a sound collage, but it's the perfect coda to an amazing debut, and is worth the hunt.

HOME IS IN YOUR HEAD is a slightly different prospect. Carozzo is gone, but Karin Oliver remains (she also is credited with songs and guitar), along with guest vocalists Denise James and Karen Neal (on the EP tracks). The lineup is also more traditional, featuring Defever, Melissa Elliott, Damian Lang, and Jymn Auge. Oddly enough, despite the expanded lineup, the sound is starker, usually revolving around an ambient acoustic guitar. Several of the tracks are short, and a multitude are instrumental. The breathtaking "Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking" is probably the best known track, thanks to its use in JERRY MAGUIRE of all things. There is also the sing-songy "Are We Still Married?", the droning "Home Is In Your Head", short-but-sweet sound collage "Put Your Finger In Your Eye", and the eerie "Chances Are We Are Mad". All the songs run into each other, providing a seamless and fascinating listen. The overall mood is still strange, but this album definitely has a lighter tone than LIVONIA. The Rykodisc issue and the 4AD reissue both contain the excellent DIRT EATERS EP, named after Melissa Elliott's main band. The EP features five tracks: a strange but amazing cover of Rainbow's "Man On The Silver Mountain", Ivo Watts-Russell's stark and gothic remix of "Are We Still Married?" (the Brothers Quay made an amazing video for this), the distorted "Is This The Way The Tigers Do?", the folky "We Hold The Land In Great Esteem", and the gentle "The Dirt Eaters". This is the edition of HOME to get, as not a single one of these five tracks is filler.

As great as later HNIA recordings are (particularly the slightly more accessible MOUTH BY MOUTH and STARS ON ESP), LIVONIA and HOME IS IN YOUR HEAD are the essentials to understanding Defever's strange world. From there, you should progress through the catalog; there's not a bad album to be found, but the urban soul efforts SOMEDAY MY BLUES WILL COVER THE EARTH and LAST NIGHT do take some getting used to. Even the latest albums (DETROLA, XMMER, SWEET EARTH FLOWER, and FIREFLY DRAGONFLY) are worthwhile, showcasing the amazing and alluring vocals of new singer Andy FM.

Friday, April 4, 2008

R.I.P. Klaus Dinger


Everyone who has ever used the term "motorik" owes it to ya, buddy. Rest in peace. You won't be forgotten.