Flipsides & Otherwise: FAO #5

faoIf 2007 wasn’t hectic enough for low-key releases, then 2008 is already shaping-up for an even bigger gluttony of blink-and-miss-‘em musical artefacts. Trying to keep track of it all could well be the undoing of all of us music geeks, so we’d better get clever and quick. To help, here’s another obtuse round-up of stuff that might slip through the net amidst the deluge.

 

 

 

Dean & Britta – Variations (Zoë/Rounder Records, download EP/self-released tour-CD)

Since the dissolution of Luna, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips seem to be productively-revelling in their own cottage industry output; cutting last year’s brilliant Back Numbers LP, fashioning film soundtrack material, genially contributing to compilation albums and slipping-out a couple of secretive seven-inch singles to keep dedicated followers more than occupied. Moreover, March sees the publication of Dean’s much-anticipated memoirs of his Galaxie 500 and Luna years. And if that just wasn’t a sufficient surplus to be catching-up with, then along comes this sumptuous 7-track remix EP. Revisiting five tracks from Back Numbers and one track (“Song Of You”) from a rare Esopus magazine cover mount CD, Variations isn’t (thankfully) any clumsy attempt to shoehorn Dean & Britta’s dreamy duo pop into any ill-fitting or over-fashionable sonic footwear. Instead, the remixes reach deep into the original tracks’ warm underbellies, stretching-out the sultry grooves and intimate twin-vocals into otherworldly ambience. The two new mixes of “Singer Sing”, that bookend the EP, work especially well at framing in the spacey collective mood; firstly (on the Scott Hardkiss version) with a supplemented pulsing electro-drumbeat and secondly (on Richard Formby’s re-manipulation) with the application of an almost-ecclesiastical early-Spiritualized-style organ-drone. The biggest transformation is applied to the formerly-countrified Nancy & Lee-flavoured duet “Say Goodnight”, which is stripped-down to be rebuilt as an intricate, virtually vocal-less, folktronica piece. Tony Visconti’s slowly-simmering reworking of “Song Of You” is also noteworthy, with its attachment of Britta’s Jane Birkin-like tones to a delicious Eno-meets-Suicide soundscape. Perhaps the only possible disappointment of Variations, is that it doesn’t pull in the rest of Back Numbers for similarly impressive new treatments as well; the twosome’s psychedelic conquering of Lee Hazlewood’s “You Turn My Head Around” and the Galaxie 500 flashback of “Crystal Blue R.I.P.” could certainly have made for equally interesting re-interpretations. But that’s just nitpicking really, considering that remix records rarely warrant as much sustained stand-alone spinning as this EP.

Visit: www.deanandbritta.com

 

Vetiver – Remixes (Fat Cat/Gnomonsong, 12” vinyl)

Another remix project, but this time from the far less likely source of the Devendra Banhart-sponsored Vetiver. Whilst two new albums (one being a covers-only collection) are imminently in the pipeline for Andy Cabic’s gentile folk-rock collective, this 12” platter steps back to radically re-examine two of the stellar highlights from the group’s sublime 2006 LP, To Find Me Gone. Already encased inside an atmospheric harmony-drenched bubble, this listener would have been content enough to have “Been So Long” just extended beyond its older running time. But instead Cabic and producer/remix collaborator Thom Monahan unfurl the song even further into a dub-like mini-epic, wherein the ramped-up voodoo drums and the embellishing recording trickery allows the track to drift even further into narcotic haziness, albeit still enveloped by the rich wordless backing vocals of Cabic, Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes. “You May Be Blue” on the other hand, is even more divorced from its earlier incarnation. With a battery of whirring studio effects, ethereal keyboard-washes and funereal programmed-percussion all surrounding Cabic’s delicate pipes, it feels like someone has opened-up a wormhole between early-‘70s Topanga Canyon and the offices of early-‘80s 4AD – in the process creating something that is both bleakly unsettling and richly evocative. Taken together, these two brave experiments further illustrate that Vetiver’s magic spells aren’t reliant on the benign patronage of Mr. Banhart in order to be conjured or readapted effectively.

Visit: www.fat-cat.co.uk

 

Suzy Mangion – The Other Side of The Mountain (Pickled Egg Records, CD)

Anyone who happily picked-up on the now seemingly-defunct Manchester-based duo George with The Magic Lantern (2003) or A Week of Kindness (2005), should be in fairly familiar territory with this new solo album from primary singer/songwriter Suzy Mangion. However, those expecting this new singular route to mark any ruthless shifts in the ‘commercial ambition department’ should look elsewhere, because The Other Side of The Mountain burrows even further into Mangion’s nocturnal lo-fi world of skeletal Victorian spookiness, wartime balladry and Appalachian folk, with more defiant obliqueness than ever before. Whilst this does permit Mangion’s minimalism to reach new heights in sparsity, that melodies sometimes struggle to scale, it does mean that the purity of her intent is reassuringly untainted. Such lack of compromise does result in some truly spellbinding stuff, which can be found after a little patient investigation. For example, the wistful string-adorned prettiness of “There Is No West” should give Joanne Newsom some cause for concern; the marvellous “Many Happy Returns” blurs church organs and multi-tracked vocals into a secular gospel delight; the dark throbbing of “The March Past” recalls Mangion’s electronically-shaped work with Piano Magic and Arbol; the wordless “Spar Box” wraps shimmering percussion and strumming into a pretty Four Tet-like package; and the ruminative strains of “The Deliverers of Their Country” echo the more serene moments from PJ Harvey’s equally antique-soundingWhite Chalk album. Overall then, although The Other Side of The Mountain is highly unlikely to push Suzy Mangion beyond her inherited George fan-base, her bold hermetically-sealed visions merit continued monitoring.

Visit: www.pickled-egg.co.uk