Goldfrapp - Black Cherry
Alison Goldfrapp's new record, Black Cherry, makes me want to lick sweat from the soft valleys of naked skin; it makes me want to devote my mouth and teeth to crushing and pulping fruit into thick, heavy syrup. From the opening swells of "Crystalline Green" to the final instrumental ode of "Slippage," Black Cherry captures me in an intoxicating dreamscape of sleek, shining Continental sex.
Alison Goldfrapp first met Will Gregory shortly before the turn of the century and they built Felt Mountain, a swirling orchestral collection of mood music, shot through with the distilled essence of Ennio Morricone and a whiff of disco's infatuation with the diva voice. Black Cherry, their second record together using Alison's surname as the name of the band, comes to the big city. The orchestration, while indelibly present in several of the tracks (notably the title track), becomes subsumed beneath sizzling synthesized melodies.
Recorded in a stark studio in Bath -- dark walls lit only by the luminal glow of neon -- Black Cherry slinks and pulsates with the human-made rhythm of the city. The synthetic burble and hiss which swells and snakes through "Tiptoe" is a time-lapse record of a swollen city at night: the arterial race of lights down major thoroughfares, the false light of neon signs and mercury vapor street lights, the heady tick-tock of people moving on the dark streets looking to make connections with one another. The first single, "Train," is a chrome locomotive of the 21st century, a bullet train thrusting on an uninterrupted course between the hearts of two cities.
"Deep Honey" is the sort of orchestral pop song which Björk and David Arnold will wish they had written. A nod to the pastoral work of Felt Mountain, "Deep Honey" (and the following "Hairy Trees" for that matter), ably mix electronic elements with strings and woodwinds. On this rich and textured bed of instrumentation, Alison's voice is a hypnotic suggestion which passes right through the pores of your skin and takes up residence in the pleasure centers of your brain.
And then there is the dizzying adolescent fantasy of "Twist." "Ride me, try me, kiss me like u like me, twist it around again and again." The candyfloss stickiness of her voice coupled with a generator buzz and a driving synthesizer melody is enough to make a boy stand up and shout in concert with her, "I want to run away with you." As long as you can make her smile and stretch with feline grace, you are welcome "between my legs and knicker lace."
There is an dizzying intoxication to a redolent piece of ripe fruit. Freshly washed and cupped in your hand, your mouth waters in anticipation of tasting it. Your teeth pierce the skin and your mouth fills with the sweet rush of juice. And, in an instant, your head fills with a sense of the natural world, a heady rush of clean air, the scent of flowers erupting in bloom, and the delicate caress of an innocent wind. And then your heart starts, a heavy hammering which fills your head and your lungs, as the fruit slides down your throat and climaxes in your stomach. There is nothing that transforms your world into a singular moment of sensual, joyous heaven like a piece of perfectly ripe fruit. Goldfrapp's Black Cherry is such a piece of fruit.
Gridlock - Trace
I have two confessions to make: 1) while I may pretend to have a knowledge of Gridlock, it is all stolen from Jeff Ashley's previous reviews and enthusiastic recommendations at eP meetings, and 2) probably the most succinct description of Trace is contained in the last two sentences of their bio. Let's just get those out of the way now: "The more flexible the listener, the greater the affect. The heavier the beat, the more beautiful the ambience, the greater the contrast." So why am I cribbing the notes of others and riding the coat-tails of someone else's recommendation? Because I want to get in on the enthusiasm for Gridlock; because I want to stand with the others and say that if you've ever loved industrial music or ambient music or IDM, you have got to get this record.
Trace begins with "Fix," and, for my post-Autechre Confield-state, it most certainly is, opening with a melodic sweep that curves behind a grumbling rhythm and spotted percussion. A haze of static covers the squelchy beats and everything builds like a tower of metal shavings until it suddenly reaches too high and fragments, collapsing back to earth. As the pieces strike the ground and radiate out, the scattered sounds are the fractured beginnings of "Front." The pieces, like the mercury-inspired movement of Terminator 2's T-1000, run back together, forming a new construct of beat and melody. There has been a lot of talk and even more comparisons in this style of music to machines--to the cold construction of soulless beasts driven by pulses of electricity and diesel fuel--and how the music is the soundtrack for their artificial existences. But, at some point, at some convergence, it is believed that the soulless mechanoids will achieve sentience; their own ability to think and feel.
That time has come with Trace. Melding melodies and drones that would not be out of place with Brian Eno's or Vidna Obmana's work with the crunchy rhythms of Autechre and the industrial noise of the Hands or Ant-Zen labels, Gridlock has found color, texture -- life, even -- in the cold and metallic. Some of the most punishing beats yet on the record come with "uh4.17," and yet the drifting ambience behind the pummeling rhythms is so gentle, so uplifting, that I am transfixed by a state of intense expansiveness. I want to trance out while simultaneously bruising myself in a frenzied dervish state. "Voiceless" is drawn by a weeping synth melody, rising and surging over the clatter of technoid beats, and both collide in a grander sequence that is an anthemic hymn that most modern soundtrack composers would be willing to chop off a finger in order to get a hand on this file.
Trace is a sublime album and serious contender for the top spot of 2001. Buy it for "397:ALD" alone, a majestic experience of hinted vocals, sweeping ambient soundscapes, spattered beats, and the carefully arranged howl of wind across the top. Gridlock understands the emotional rapture of ambient soundscape music, the pervasive needs of our bodies for rhythm, and the caustic reality of our post-industrial world. All of these elements are combined, encapsulated and centrifuged, into an hour that will make all of the appliances in your house dance and weep. [from earpollution.com, june 2001]
I've become hesitant to do Top Ten lists at the end of a year. In retrospect, they seem to document my experiments in listening to music and invariably become representational of where my head was in any given year. There are always records in these lists that, while I certainly loved them in that year, I no longer listen to them now and, in some extreme cases, have outgrown them completely. I've become much more partial to calling records "enduring" rather than "best of any given year." The most recent candidate for that appellation is Gridlock's Trace.
Masterfully blending three genres which have captivated me over the last few years, Trace is filled with IDM beats and melodies rising out of ambient landscapes; the rhythms straining to escape these placid pools, their spark and energy burning with static and feedback. With their third album Mike Wells and Mike Cadoo have spun a heady concoction of noise, fractured beat structures, and tone poems into a remarkable record that amazes me every time I hear it.
Trace is disguised as a 1970's era Brian Eno record; the opening track, "Fix," unfolds with long ambient tones washing over the whisper of electronic bird calls. A minute in, the disguise starts to fray as beats sneak into the mix, heavier tones that come in pursuit of the squelches and bursts of melody. The ambient washes still float over the proceedings like a lemon sky, but there is movement down below, a rising thunder that culminates in a burst of static noise -- such intensity that your speakers cut out, unable to handle the intensity of the music. But it is just a trick, the first of many that Wells and Cadoo employ to confound your expectations of the genres in which you might think to place this record. The static breakdown is just their way of demonstrating that they are in control; you are the listener, and what you want and desire is irrelevant.
"Front" immediately follows the train wreck at the end of "Fix." It leaps into IDM territory, threaded beats freely intermingling with fragments of melody and heavier electronic chords. The ambience of the opener weaves it way back into the mix as "Front" becomes "Voiceless," and the mix becomes more like something you would hear on a more adventurous Fax record over the last five years.
And, while in Germany, Gridlock sneaks into the Ant-Zen anthill and, like Prometheus, steals the technoid fire of that label's sound, furiously blasting away the ambience with the opening of "uh4.17" before subsuming the inferno under a forceful keyboard melody that stretches across the now burnished lemon sky. We collapse momentarily, falling onto our backs to watch the advent of the night across the sky, the darkening dome split and rent by the passage of tiny falling stars, the music receding into the mysterious unknown of the unmarked fifth track.
Both the fifth and the tenth tracks of Trace are unrecognized -- not grossly marked as "untitled," but rather just not listed. Wells and Cadoo have taken the IDMer's distain for track names to the extreme conclusion: no listing at all. They do this to emphasize that Trace is not a collection of songs, but rather a unified structure, an experience meant to be listened to as a whole. The demarcations are a convenience, they don't necessarily conform to the emergence and divergence of ideas and melodies. Everything you hear in the beginning can be found in the end -- the ambience, the beats, the crackling static; there are no landmarks from which to find a beginning, just a pervasive state of evolution as you hear a fully realized musical form of the 21st century. [from opi8.com, february 2002]
Unit Records 
Guitar - Sunkissed
"Sun-drenched" and "shivering" are the alliterative words which immediately spring to mind when hearing Guitar's Sunkissed. Following on the heels of Morr Music's tribute to Slowdive, Blue Skied an' Clear, Guitar (who contributed a track to that compilation which was, in hindsight, just a warm-up for this album) has released a full-on shoegazer record. Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are to be expected and, while Guitar does adhere to that landmark wall of sonic force which Kevin Shields so precisely nailed over a decade ago, Sunkissed breaks free of the shadow cast by My Blood Valentine's Loveless with its use of IDM rhythms and coquettish vocals spiraling over the thick mass of gossamer sound.
There is a bit of Ecstacy of St. Theresa flowing through here as well as a bit of the impenetrable sound which was Lovesliescrushing. The recipe also calls for a dash of Japanese pop on a few tracks and the inclusion of a nostalgia piece for those who shiver with memory of Curve back in the Doppelganger day. Yeah, full-on knobs to 11 shoegazer. Which, if you're going to do it, is the only way to play. Make 'em get out their My Bloody Valentine records and make sure the old standards haven't just been eclipsed.
Vocal duties are split between Regina Janssen (of Donna Regina fame) and Ayako Akashiba, swaying between girl-pop candy floss thrown over the top of the many layers of guitar sound and a more -- I was about to say "queenly" when I realize there is a verbal trap waiting for the Latin readers in the audience -- regal siren who floats like Ophelia on sun-drenched waters. "House Full of Time" languorously flows with the current of echoing chords, slowly spinning counter-clockwise to the pace of the current. In "See Sea, See and Me," a polyrhythm clatters beneath the looped foreground, a scattered sound which threatens to topple the track but, somehow, only manages to make you listen more closely to all the interwoven parts beneath the breathy vocal track.
"Hot Sun Trail" begins with a whistle from a steam train and the enveloping hiss of its stoked engines. The only instrumental track on the record, "Hot Sun Trail" is the highlight of Sunkissed, a gloriously warm, beat and string excursion into landscapes bleached to a singular shade by the sun. Think of those summer days overflowing with sunlight -- white and yellow light so bright that you have to close your eyes, you can feel it heating your face and neck.
"Melt" is a visit to Curve's studio with Red Room Laura Palmer in tow. As Ayako Akashiba's vocals are spun backwards, the mix explodes like something from Curve's Radio Sessions -- a flush of sound that both shrieks and rumbles as it falls over you. Your hand will reach unconsciously for the volume knob, not to turn it down but to bring the sound up even more. "Melt" is built to threaten your amplifier. Let it.
The surprise of Sunkissed is that you want to laugh when you listen to these hurricane waves of sound. There is so little of the shoegazer mindset -- the head down, staring at the laces, lost in the drones and tsunami of feedback and "wall o' guitar" -- and so much open-mouthed, throat-stretching, hot fucking summer day joy on this record. Bravo.
Morr Music 
- G -
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