James Blackshaw

James Blackshaw - Festival of Endless Gratitude, Copenhagen, 2010

A very interesting show, again via the splendid Free Music Archive. Blackshaw is primarily known as an acoustic guitarist, but this recording sees him playing electric (or perhaps a very processed acoustic?). Sounds kinda like James’ guitar has been fed through a Robin Guthrie/4AD filter. Whatever’s happening here, it’s gorgeous! 

James Blackshaw & Lubomyr Melnyk
The Watchers

James Blackshaw has become a frequented name in acoustic guitar and neo-classical circles, but Lubomyr Melnyk, at the age of 64, seems to be undergoing a much deserved renaissance of attention and accolades.  Certainly a dream collaboration, the duo combine their considerable talents of 12 string acoustic guitar and continuous piano techniques in this rapturous 46 minute album that is every bit as good as I thought it would be.  Culled from a six hour London improvisation session where apparently little was discussed prior to pressing record, “The Watchers” says more than words ever could with a vibrant acoustic sound that positively shimmers.  The approach remains the same for all four tracks with flurries of guitar chords rushing over cascading piano melodies to erect a sound as golden and enveloping as the rays of sunshine that fall during the warmer months.  – Ryan Potts, Experimedia 

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James Blackshaw and Lubomyr Melnyk - The Watchers (Important - 2013) 

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This is a long overdue acknowledgement of one my favourite records of the year, a collaboration between guitar visionary James Blackshaw and continuous pianist Lubomyr Melnyk. The Watchers is one of the most gorgeous, uplifting and hopelessly romantic pieces of music I have heard in a while and I visit it everyday without exception, a true marriage of two incredible musicians. I will leave it to the ever articulate Blackshaw to tell the story, It’s startling and beautiful to hear him so moved by someone else’s music considering the power his own has had over me. 

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“I first met Lubomyr Melnyk at a festival called Hea Uus Heli in October 2008. We were both scheduled to play that day and I was very excited to see him perform. Before the show I bought several LPs from him and mentioned as much. Lubomyr (more than modest and courteous, as he always is) asked me what I was doing at the festival and I replied that I was also performing at the festival a little later, to which he responded "I’ll come and watch you”, before being ushered into the hall to play one of the most staggeringly sonorous and beautiful sets I’ve ever heard. It was overwhelming, full of pathos and I left the hall with those incredible overtones hanging in my ears for hours.

A couple of hours later, I was onstage when I glanced up and saw Lubomyr, true to his word, stood in the audience watching me attentively. I felt incredibly nervous. It’s not everyday you get to play for someone who has greatly inspired and influenced your own music. After the show, I packed up my guitar and came out to meet the crowd. The first person who greeted me was Lubomyr: friendly. full of enthusiasm and keen to hear about my music, my processes, the way in which I made music. Yet again, I was overwhelmed - for very different reasons.

“You have invented continuous music for guitar!”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can’t think of an epitaph that would make me prouder.

We also spoke about collaborating that night and via e-mail a while after, but it wasn’t until January 2012, shortly after I’d moved back to Hastings, England from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Lubomyr played his first ever show in the UK at Cafe Oto that it came to fruition. John Chantler got in touch, said Lubomyr had a free day after his performance and could I come to London for a day, see what happens? He kindly agreed to record the whole thing.

We all met at the Vortex Jazz Cafe around midday. We set up, Lubomyr at the grand piano, me directly facing him with my 12-string guitar and began. I would retune at random between songs and together we would find interesting chord progressions, hints of melodies and ways in which to weave those immense overtones that Lubomyr is able to generate on the piano with those of my guitar. No more than two takes per song. Improvisation, spontaneous composition, whatever you want to call it. Either way, it truly felt as if the piano and guitar were as one - inseparable, parts of a bigger whole, a means by which for two people to make one sound. It never felt forced and never less than engaging. Lubomyr was always humble, jovial and open to ideas. The whole session lasted six hours.

I’m not a great improviser. I always want to take that raw creative element that the form brings and work upon it, to distill and refine it further. I think Lubomyr feels the same. But there is something about these recordings that would be incredibly difficult to recapture. A small moment in time, feeling perfectly and wonderfully lost within that sound.

I’m honoured.“

- James Blackshaw, October 2012.

Made with SoundCloud
TL/DR: The Year-end list. {edit}

With every year-end list there always seems to be the big question: Was it a good year for music? Bad year? Does it even matter? Perhaps it was a year and there was music in it. As usual: Some good, some bad, and most of it uninteresting. So it goes.

And then there were these. Or what I thought. This shit is important, right? Important enough that I still want to write about it, wonder how it connects to the culture at large, etc.

The main musical highlight next to writing for the Liminal, is being able to BUY music again. In the case of three artists on this list, there’s something about buying it from the artist themselves at the gig that makes every .zip file and late night MegaRapidFireMediaUpload session feel a little gross in retrospect. More on that in a later post. 

Here’s the good stuff, in no particular order, as they came to mind.

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20. Rrose - Artificial Light [Sandwell District]
Deep ‘n’creepy-crawling techno with a nod to Duchamp’s alter- ego. Textures and drones with a nagging sense that there’s something else going on inside the murk, some sort of code we have to prise out.

19. Oren Ambarchi - Audience of One [Touch]
Hi Crys! See you in March. But seriously, a nuanced set of textures.

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18. Simon Scott - Below Sea Level [12k]
Had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Scott at the 12k show in Kyoto: about hydrophones, field recording, marshlands, floods, how place informs your work and when you engage with it, unexpected results occur. 12k is the perfect home for this piece, where field recordings of the Fens in Cambridge mix with small shimmers of shoegaze on the surface. Our current soundtrack in the car for drives in the country: the marshlands of Cambridgeshire work quite nicely with the mountain roads and farmland of Nara prefecture.

17. James Blackshaw - Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death [Important]
His live show is best: everything stripped down to the guitar and nothing else, but I enjoy how his albums are a venue for Blackshaw  to stretch out, and flesh out ideas as a composer rather than just a be a hypnotic fingerstyle dazzler. Pleasantness.

16. Django Django -  Storm video [YouTube]

Stumbled on this in the background late one night on SpaceShowerTV,  the indie-er cousin to Japanese MTV. And unlike MTV or Canada’s MuchMusic circa now, they actually play music videos. I’ll let that sink in. Yes, music, all the time. No shitty reality shows. An anachronism these days. Anyhow, first time in a while when the tune and the visuals made me stop what I was doing and take notice. Catchiest single of the year, Franz Ferdinand/BetaBand-ish, the theme to your 2nd year at art school. Clean your brushes and get to work.

15. Holly Herndon - Movement [RVNG]
Strong debut, review here. Technological post-human wormhole music.

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14. Laurie Spiegel - The Expanding Universe
Followers of this blog know my love for old synth pioneers, whether kosmische, academic, new-wavey or new-agey, but this album always stood heads above most, and between this reissue, the WIRE cover and other press, I’m glad she’s getting the recognition she rightly deserves.

13. Benedict Drew - The Non-Musician Complex [The Wire]
Uneasy, itchy listening. Tools, toys, wires, sharp edges, smell of solder. Visual artists shouldn’t make records. Or vice versa? Good for rearranging furniture- psychic, or literal or otherwise. Free download, by the way.

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12. Kevin McPhee - 4 Track Ep 12" [WNCL Recordings]
The West Norwood Cassette Library love continues, and thanks to Bob for adding the ‘Flares to the WNCL promo list. Here we have big friendly, klonky thump versus tin cans full of water on “In Circles”, “Pumpkin” continues with judicious acid burbles while “Do”’ is  catchy wonky wobble, woody percussion and pitched down vox that puts a period on “post-dubstep”, so let’s just not use that term anymore, okay?

11. Pearson Sound - Clutch 12" [Hessle Audio]

The dry drum programming and oddball electro provided the same cocked-head “ Whaaaa–?”  that Move D’s landmark Cymbelin EP on Warp did for me back in the day. What was it, 96? Jesus, I’m old. Anyways, stripped down dry funk that prompted one YouTube commenter to ask “Is this a drum kit library that has been put in a MP3 file?”. Maybe. That’s what makes it so much fun! Hessle Audio has been ruling. Keep it up.

10. Surgeon - Humanity Test mix {Dynamic Tension\Soundcloud]

09. Momus - Bibliotek
Specifically, the YouTube playlist version, as Mr Currie seems to address how the majority of our time spent listening to music is now via the computer better than most. And so, Bibliotek embraces the lo-fi audio-visual feel of our current moment in interweb culture, and rolled it up with appropriation, video art and collage. There’s a distinctly DIY feel in this series of small comic essays that appear to have been made with a YouTube downloader app and iMovie, and it’s not half as boring as it sounds. Musically, it’s a more sombre, understated album, but the usual dry wit and deft turns of phrase are still there and combined with the playlist format, Bibliotek is one of the first albums I’m content to watch from beginning to end.

08. Odd Future -  Oldie video.

Especially Frank Ocean & Earl Sweatshirt’s verses. I’ll admit that alot of my love for this is rooted in nostalgia for many things: it’s full-on Wu-Tang throwback with that boom-bapp and Rhodes loop you could cut with Raekwon’s “Incarcerated Scarfaces”, or even bounce off some old Tribe Called Quest/Native Tongues vibe. On a personal level, Oldie brings back a flood of good memories of that brief, carefree stress-free post-high school skateboard period well before proper adulthood kicked in.  There’s a purity to their big dumb rowdiness that makes me genuinely happy every time I watch it because they’re not self-editing themselves, they’re acting like they invented fun, convinced, if I may paraphrase Tyler- that not only are they talented, they’re rad as fuck. It’s 9 minutes of youth in all its stupid glory, plus Terry Richardson’s there, Lance Bangs is behind the camera and I’m surprised by the lack of Jackass cameos or Larry Clark waiting to swoop down and try to chickenhawk these guys.  It’s fun to have fun.

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07. Josephine Foster - Blood Rushing [Fire]
My god, that voice. The sound of late nights, red wine and damn if I didn’t quit smoking this year….  On the subject of late nights, I’d like to take this moment to give a shout out to Jeffrey Davison and Shrunken Planet on WFMU, as I enter into year 5 of dedicated listenerhoodship. All praise to the WFMU app. Seriously. Also, Hurricane Sandy did a number on ‘em, so you should donate.

06. Loscil - Sketches from New Brighton [Kranky]
From Second Narrows on up until his latest, very few artists are as reliable as Loscil. Like fellow East Vancouverite Destroyer, Loscil nails sense of place, especially if you spent a stretch of time in rainy Cascadia: it sounds exactly like VanCity. The majesty of the surrounding landscape, the sound of three months of rain, ferry rides in the low-hanging mist and being socked-in mid-winter. And now he pushes the homesick button. To be frank, he doesn’t tread much new ground here, but when you evoke the green and grey moisture of the Pacific Northwest so well to the point that I can smell the air and start craving some hiking time… there shouldn’t be any pressure to reinvent the wheel.

05. Perfume - Spring of Life [Universal Japan]
Who am I to begrudge expertly-produced pop so shiny like it was made in a lab by men in white coats? Unsurprising that the svengali behind Perfume’s other production project is called “Capsule”: it’s a hyper-efficient drug that works the Minogue Factor (make it as irresistibly hooky, catchy and shiny and make it hit you quickly as legally possible) extra hard.  In the Japanese pop landscape, we are all YMO’s children;  part of a continuum.

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04. Between - S/T. [12k]
This one just came out on 12/12/12 on 12k, and I’m waiting for my copy via Pastel records. It was hard to keep mum about it when I was informed about this release, being one of the five? six? people in attendance. Recorded the day after their proper gig, it was a free, invite-only live recording session for those who came the night before, and this live improv between Illuha, Simon Scott, Marcus Fischer and Taylor Deupree at Kinse ryokan in Kyoto was actually more enjoyable than the previous night. The proper gig was absolutely lovely but the evening on tape felt looser with opening sets by sound/installation artist Nobuto Suda and a make-up set by Simon Scott who was having the dreaded tech difficulties the night before—in a sea of cables, knobs, pedals, boxes, blinking lights and macbooks, something had to give, right? Anyways, it was magical, I got to catch up on other listening on the train to Kyoto, have a few beers, unwind a bit, and being new ‘round these here parts, I met some good people. My review and pics are here, but there’s some better shots by Goto Yoshitaka over here at his site.

03. Aki Onda - Cassette Memories 3//South of the Border [Important]
One of the strongest releases of the year. Trashed walkmans recording a trip to Mexico. Review here.

02. Karenn live at the Boiler Room.

Apparently this podcast/video has created enough of a buzz on its own, earning epic/legend status—so maybe you’ll see what the fuss is about.  Two guys, a table full of gear and nary a Macbook in sight. And yes, it’s still live.

PLUS the fact that Karenn shared the bill along with Surgeon and Regis….well. It’s an auspicious trinity of some sort. Bummed it wasn’t happening just down the street from me, and I’m glad Boiler Room has a good enough internet connection to share it with the rest of us.

(And now, an aside:)
If you’ve been following this blog thing, you may have noticed this lean into a more tech-heavy direction. SOme may even wonder - hey! What happened to all the Neue Deutshce Welle/Kosmischeprogpsych/proper improvised and electroacoustic fusty music/etc etc etc that you championed? What gives with the immature raver crap, son? 

 That said,  the bulk of my listening has still been old stuff dug up from various corners of the now-dwindling blogosphere (more on that next week), as my periodic mixes will tell you. But yessiree, it’s been a techno-heavy year for me in terms of new releases: I couldn’t get enough of Blawan, Pariah, Hessle Audio, WNCL et al- nevermind all things Sandwell District-related, whom I admit I fully slept on until the last couple years.  Various factors play into it: Perhaps living in a new environment, away from rockist influences I grew up with, no longer having to defend music to peers who think that it all sounds like “n-tss n-tss n-tss” despite how all their music sounds like “bang bang clang rawargghhh” or cookie-cutter Pitchfork indie and fuck it, it’s a tired argument anyway and the shift in life/environment/language freed me up to enjoy music that I’ve been feeling since the mid-90s, quietly weathering the “whatever” periods at arm’s length.

Here’s the key part: I’ve been ready to take notice when the wheel resets itself again. And in 2011-2012 it sure has. Fallow periods are necessary in any medium or genre, and when it comes to bass-heavy thump, I haven’t heard 4/4 sound so alive, fierce and excited about simply moving air in a long, long time. Keep it up, folks.

01. Midland & Pariah - Untitled 12" [Sheworks]
I’ve gone on about this one before. Like Karenn’s single on the same label, it’s got this rough-hewn, scotch-tape and splicer feel to it, but with a rugged bounce, hauntological burbles, loose hi-hats, kick that sounds like a loose-skinned drum from a temperance band struck with a worn mallet and best of all, that Ba-DUMM sub-bass. Over. And over. And over. Hats off to these kids, they’re on a roll, so let’s enjoy it before someone drops the ball and starts churning out, I dunno, post-ironic happy hardcore or CJ Bolland remixes. Even then, enough water’s gone under the bridge…who knows what’ll be up for critical reappraisal in 2013. Let’s find out.

Demdike Stare - Elemental
Bob Dylan - Tempest
Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras, The Congos - frkwys vol. 9 : icon give thank
Burial - Kindred (I disagree with Charles- he gets this one and then we can get mad at him for phoning it in.)
Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
Emptyset - Medium

Aaaaand: special mention

William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops box set
Okay, it’s not like I could actually afford it, but I’m glad it exists…the orchestral versions are quite something, and overall, it remains an important work, and one of the few that truly brings  brings the “oh shit”-ness of being into tighter focus. Here’s what I had to say at The Liminal.

Too many quality thumpy podcasts!
Resident Advisor -DJ Nobu, Untold, Panagea. ///
XLR8R - Jack Dixon, Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka. ///
Boiler Room- Sandwell District, Blawan, Karenn.///
FACT - Cut Hands, NY loudmouths Slow to Speak, and last year’s West Norwood Cassette Library mix is still getting regular play. Cheating? Nah.

Ol’ reliables / I’ll get around to it/ Haven’t heard yet but I’ll just assume they’re fine.
Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Oren Ambarchi/Crys Cole/ Keith Rowe - Black Plume
GSY!BE - Alleluia! Don’t Bend Ascend
Thomas Köner - Novaya Zemlya
Pye Corner Audio - Sleep Games
Ricardo Villalobos - Dependent and Happy
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
Taylor Deupree - Faint
Sir Richard Bishop - Intermezzo
Ladyhawk - No Can Do


Merry Xmas. Out.