The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Last night I watched my first ever Werner Herzog film. And what a wondrous experience it was. At times humorous, at times heartbreaking 1975’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is perhaps the best example of German – or West German as it were then – film-making I have had the pleasure of enjoying (at the time of writing the only other high quality German film that springs to mind is the more recent The Lives of Others).

Herzog’s storytelling contains, and perhaps even relies upon, a significant amount of pathos on the audience’s part but when the film teeters on the precipice of over-sentimentality it reels itself back in. For example the early links with small children in the film could have been overplayed and used to collect a more significant emotional reaction amongst audiences but Herzog keeps them as metaphors for and yardsticks of Kaspar’s advancement.

Metaphors are something Herzog uses to full effect throughout the film. The strange little fellow who takes down notes acts as a foreseeable future for Kaspar. They are both afflicted with strange appearances – Kaspar is somewhat feral whereas the strange fellow is not too dissimilar to the dwarf used in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Season 2 – and, it could be argued, physical and mental deformities. The story of the blind man in the desert that Kaspar tries so earnestly to learn and tell too carries the metaphor of his social climb – whilst he may be reaching for the mountains by learning Mozart etc that is not his place as confirmed in the scene with the overly camp English royal.

A factor to applaud Herzog on is his handling of the film as not only a mythical fairy tale or a piece of social commentary but as a period drama. He captures the essence of 19th Century Bavarian Germany quite stunningly and yet this is just a backdrop to the film and is of little significance – perhaps only there to keep true to the myth – but it speaks volumes of Herzog’s meticulous style that he pays so much attention to something that in plot terms at least is but a minor detail.

And all of this brilliance and much more I could talk about (the underplayed score, the mystery of the cloaked man, the Lynchian aspects, the use of the sepia tone footage reminiscent of old Super 8’s etc etc) is available to watch on BBC iplayer up until the 30th of May and I heartily recommend that you take advantage of watching this or one of the two other films – Gilliam’s Brazil or In Which We Serve – that are currently on offer. The BBC have really outdone themselves with such a selection.

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The National

This is our potential music article for our magazine we’re creating for an assignment. Would be good if you could proofread and let me know what you think

The National aren’t a new band or a hipster band, The National are that kind of band, the kind of band that only come around every so often. The kind of band who’s records become more than CD’s, they become part of the furniture, another decorative, noir-esque piece to put on the mahogany table. Their world is a monochrome, grey skied Lowry painting of middle America. But every now and then the clouds split and the rays of the sun emanate to the chorus of Abel or to a brief crescendo. The National are an important band.

Its mid 2010 and Matt Berninger’s monotonous drawl is back again, guiding The National’s songs through their intricate constructs. I find the best way to imagine the four other members of The National (Bryce and Aaron Dessner; Bryan and Scott Devendorf) is as a baby being cradled in Berninger’s gangly arms, rocking from side to side whilst having strange lullabies whispered in their ears. The release of High Violet, a record well documented to have caused friction within the band, heralds a band perhaps not radically changing their sound – and why should they? – but a band releasing a game changing record. This is where, for better or worse, The National become stadium sized big. And although Berninger supported President Obama during his campaign for office the next Bono he is not.

The classically trained Dessner twins arrange the music. Soft, sweeping melodies capable of being beautiful and brutal in the same instant. The National are either life affirming or heartbreaking. They are a band of extremes. Almost like that friend you have whose either always crying or always happy even though you know they’ll be alright.

Scott adds bass, often rumbling, often triumphant. Scott’s bass is an aristocratic bass fallen on hard times, a bass that has lived in the gutter, in alleys and squatted in abandoned Victorian houses. A world weary bass with a bristly beard. Scott’s brother Bryan layers the drums over the top. Pallbearer drums, foreboding at every corner. The kick drum is the car coming towards you. The cymbal is the car hitting you. And then there’s the brief after-world, the respite both in Bryan letting go and you having been letting go.

Matt writes or co-writes most of the lyrics and then sings them. Lyrics are layers of vague musings on cities, states, women, love. Sample lyric: It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders – a nonsensical sentence that means nothing but conjures up some interesting imagery. But The National make it mean something. Berninger’s everyday Ohioan singing voice connects on every syllable. They turn the mundane into the profound, change their distance into closeness. This is the point where The National stop becoming The National. They become something far more personable and far more affected. The National become you. It might take a few listens to realise and to accept but they’ll worm their way in. Sit back, cease and desist and revel in letting go of your resistance.

The National are important because you’re important.

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Tyler Butler – Feral Horse

As I breathe in, she breathes out. A process of harmony whilst lying on our backs. Static harmony, still, forever waiting for the final act of the season. A crackling fire with searching flames, stretching, trying to reach the mantelpiece and the photos. Happier times in safer climes.

The clock carries on. Never erring. 360 degrees of time, roundly passing. What can I do? What can we do but lie here and wait? 360 degrees of expectancy. 360 degrees of acceptance. I breathe in.

And then it tumbles downwards. Rolling. Growing as it gains ground. The flames stop reaching but the clock still trundles on. At exactly 10:23am she says:

“At least it didn’t sneak up on us.”

Her voice is muffled by the softness of the pillow but the murmur is strong enough to break the static harmony. The quiet anticipation that quelled the flames has been shattered. As the ball hurtles towards us I’m enraptured by fear and swathes of emotion. The flames reach up one last time as I feverishly bat my eyelids, rejecting the soft flow of tears. And one last time, one last futile attempt to clear the nerves, one last sound in an empty house, one last pure breath. I shoot an icy wave deep into the pits of my organs and she doesn’t make a sound.

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Old Ugly Recording Company

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“Never Say DIY”: An Interview with Audio Antihero

Label Focus: Audio Antihero

Everyone has a favourite label, even those who call having a favourite musical snobbery can see label’s that stand out a mile ahead of everyone else. Personally, I’m a fan of Dischord, Stones Throw and Smalltown America to name but  a few. One of my more recent discoveries has been one of the newest independents on the block, Audio Antihero.

Self-proclaimed specialists in commercial suicide, Audio Antihero are a label to be taken notice of. Formed after extensive tutelage in and around the British independent scene the label seems to be as fiercely independent as they come. Selling their first CD on October 13th 09 Audio Antihero are still finding their feet in the competitive market that is the music industry.

Just to hinder them some more we thought we’d interrupt the bedroom operation to be nosy and ask a few questions. Luckily enough Audio Antihero were nice enough to answer them for us.

– – –

Your first release was Nosferatu D2’s album which until your intervention was unreleased and largely ignored. Was that the main reason why you set up the label, just to distribute a record you love?

AA: Pretty much! I asked Nosferatu D2 if I could release their record a long time ago, but by the time I was even close to being able to run a label, they’d split up. I almost gave up on the label, it didn’t take me long to realise that I couldn’t run a label and not release their record first. So I did the right thing, for a change.

I knew I was never going to sell many CDs without a tour to support the album, but you can’t start a DIY indie record label purely out of love and then start worrying about commercial viability before you’ve even started.

I wasn’t happy listening to Nosferatu D2 as a collection of mp3s, nor was I happy with Nosferatu D2 being a ‘defunct local band’. I wanted people to discover and remember them, I wanted their legacy to be strong. What we’ve got now is something very special, radio is playing them, journalists are writing about them and people in countless countries have been ordering their CD. I hope people talk about them forever.

Knowing that people who’d never heard of the band before are writing on blogs and forums to say that it’s their ‘favourite album of 2009’ is as much of a pay off as anything else could be.

To me, walking away from Nosferatu D2 would be like having Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ or Springsteen’s ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’ and just saying “no, I won’t sell enough, I won’t bother”. Classics can be big and small.

How much time and effort is put into the label, is it in the indie dream or the opposite?

It’s not my full time job, sadly. I work 9 to 5:30, walk home, and then see what I can do with Audio Antihero. For the first few weeks I barely slept, one of the more supportive US bloggers I was in touch with used to e-mail me from the other side of the globe, telling me I had to go to sleep!

Sometimes I burnout. I’ve got quite painful inflamed tendons too, so I do sometimes have to drag myself away from my screen and lie in a dark room – but really it’s the most fun and fulfilling thing I can do. Every review, friend on myspace/twitter and CD sale makes me feel very proud indeed.

I feel really good at the moment, and really want to spend as much time on it as is possible, I want to help get Benjamin Shaw playing some good gigs, keep people talking, find some stronger distribution and make some new friends. Christmas has been an obstacle though!

Does your label have a particular ethos and/or particular genre you source from?

Never Say DIY!

Ideally, we just want to rock. There’s things I agree and disagree with in the music industry, just as there are things I like and dislike about music fans, I just try to provide people with what I would want myself.

I don’t rip off or tie down my artists, I give them all the control they want. I release records I would buy, I manufacture the albums to the standard I’d want to buy them at. Also, I try to ensure that we’re an accessible and personable label for those who are interested in us. I know small bands/labels that are so insecure about not being signed to Sony or whatever that they feel compelled to dress everything up, and avoid talking to their fans as though it’s beneath them. It’s not necessarily that they’re arrogant people, just they think if you e-mail people back they’ll realise you’re not actually in possession of 80% of the market share. It’s a bit embarrassing.

We’re not quite a genre label, not that I have anything against them; Stax was a wonderful soul/R&B label, Sam Phillips did some invaluable work at Sun Records, shaping rock ‘n’ roll and Sub Pop’s ‘80s & ‘90s ‘primal rock’ focus was the last great period in music history – our primary interest is on ‘alternative music’, but currently my only real requirement is that I can feel it as well as hear it.

The CD vs mp3 debate still rages. Audio Antihero seems to be strictly CD based. Are there any plans to expand this to other formats or is the physical format something you feel strongly about?

I personally hate the mp3 format. MP3s are not a record collection, that’s the whole reason we worked so hard on releasing the Nosferatu D2 record in a physical format. But with that being said, we will be signing up for digital distribution at some point. I don’t understand why people want to buy this stuff digitally instead of on a fairly cheap CD, but apparently they’re out there, and I’m sure they’re very nice too.

It will give us the freedom to release singles/EPs and compilations that we just can’t afford to do physically. I won’t argue that more music can only be a good thing and I can see there’s benefits – but I’m not sure I’ll ever buy an album from iTunes, not as long as I can get it on CD, tape or vinyl.

Are there any record labels you look up to or would one day aspire to be like?

Many. As mentioned before, Stax and Sub-Pop are my heroes. In their early days Southern Records were a really wonderful DIY force, interning with them was definitely an influence on me. Some of my earliest exposure to DIY came from a UK label called Genin (run by Bass of Djevara), who really do ‘stick it to the man’, and look out for their artists. I got a lovely e-mail from Bass telling me how impressed he was with everything and that we were involved in a good thing and doing a good job of it, he’d been one of my punk-rock heroes since I was about 14 and it was one of my proudest moments.

I’ve also been following the lead of I Blame the Parents Records, who’ve been so kind to me, helping me get records into stores and the like.

I love that small labels are willing to help one another out, I’ve started sticking flyers for Genin records in my parcels when I have them and passing on I Blame the Parents review material to press who’ve said nice things about us, we’re all in it for the same thing. I just wish that a ‘DIY spirit of community’ didn’t sound corny and nostalgic now, as we’ve never needed it more.

Of the songs you’ve released which would be the one you’d choose as a flagship for your label? In essence favourite song from your two artists?

A favourite from each would be would be Benjamin Shaw’s “I Got the Pox, the Pox Is What I Got” – ten minutes of disease and beauty – and “Springsteen” from Nosferatu D2, a song so clever and desperate it’s given me the chills every time I’ve heard it since 2006 when I chanced upon them.

Seeing those songs performed live was quite overwhelmingly lovely. I wish I could put those memories on a record and release that too.

And the fantasy question. Your dream artist roster please?

I already have it, but it does need to be expanded.
I suppose if you want some names, this is the best I can think of right now;

A reformed Nosferatu D2
Benjamin Shaw & The E Street Band OR Benjamin Shaw & Crazy Horse
Mudhoney
Superman Revenge Squad
The Owl Service
A reformed At The Drive-In
The reformed Faith No More
Gary Numan
The Melvins
Immortal Technique
Akron/Family
Kieronononononon^onononon (they actually honoured me by offering me their next record, but I couldn’t take it sadly)
Shield Your Eyes
Dinosaur Jr.
Modest Mouse
And maybe Dr.Dre to pay the bills, or something.

The all important question: Any secret future signings you have up your sleeve or any ones to watch for next year?

Next, I want something big and nasty, something that could have supported Mudhoney in 1988, something that truly is an ‘Audio Antihero’! I just need something that excites me and something that’s worth spending all my money on and storing boxes of CDs in my bedroom. I’ll struggle to follow Nosferatu D2 & Benjamin Shaw though.

Regrettably I’ll need to sell some more Nosferatu D2 & Benjamin Shaw CDs first, it’s the pitfall of independence. No money, no room and no resources!

And where can readers catch a slice of Audio Antihero?

We’re all over the place, but people seem to keep missing us. Spread the word!

If you pop along to www.audioantihero.com, you can find links to us on myspace, twitter, blogger (yes, we write things), songkick (see where we’ve been and where we’re going), facebook, youtube, and all of that. There’s free songs to download, music videos to watch, features to read, means to contact us and all the rest.

In terms of buying our records we sell them via mail order from the above website. Actual stores that stock them include Rough Trade (London), Piccadilly Records (Manchester), Norman Records (Leeds) and Spillers Records (Cardiff). However Rough Trade won’t be stocking them for too much longer so get down their sharpish if you want to pick up copies of our records.

Australian folk can pick up Benjamin Shaw’s “I Got the Pox, the Pox Is What I Got” EP from Half a Cow Records which is run by Nic Dalton of The Lemonheads and The Gloomchasers.

– – –

Audio Antihero talk a good game but they also play a good one. As you can see from the answers provided they are a record label which cares for music, and not only that which they provide. It’s refreshing to see that there are people out there who are still in music for the ‘right reasons’ and not just to clean everyone out. Not only all this but they seem like thoroughly nice people to boot and if that doesn’t get you buying their records then I don’t know what will.

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Chuck E Weiss – Old Souls And Wolf Tickets

Blues isn’t something I’m terribly familiar with. I’m a fan of the odd musicians like Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt. I like some Tom Waits songs but haven’t delved deep enough to judge how good he may be. On this basis I was more than happy to listen to a blues record as well as being very intrigued as to how it would sit with me.

There’s something about blues music that is seemingly always authentic. Even when on a studio album it sounds just like it would in it’s rawest form. I believe this may add to how a listener receives the album. It doesn’t feel like Old Souls & Wolf Tickets has been pieced together take by take. The soul and heart hasn’t been ripped out of it by over-production or anything like that. In essence I suppose I’m trying to say that it just feels real.

One of the elements I really like this about this album is the simplicity of it. Often blues music can be an over-complicated melee of instruments but here a lot of the songs (It Didn’t Happen Overnight, Sweetie-O) are stripped, laid back arrangements.

Two of the best songs on this record contrast and provide dance driven blues juxtaposed with a bit of country. Two Tone Car is, as it says on the tin, a song about a two tone car. I can only imagine this car as one of the all time worst cars in history but it made one hell of a funky song. Anthem For Old Souls feels pretty much heartbreaking. It sounds like a song that should have closed a film like The Searchers or another movie of that ilk.

Unfortunately no songs from this record are available for streaming but I think you’ll agree this ditty from another record is performed with gusto.

As traditionally blues as this record is I’m sure this would have provided the backbone for many rock and roll records to come. With the best examples coming from Down The Road A Piece which has the flow of many contemporary records (see also Jolie’s Nightmare) and the opening riff too It Don’t Happen Overnight reminds of another more recent song.

Arriving towards the closing moments of the album there is no let up in the scattershot selection of genres. Blood Alley is the intro into a detective drama but cooler than Columbo et all. G-D Damn Liars is another rock and roll/blues standard and a reference to Chuck’s band.

Dixieland Funeral is a fitting climax to a free-spirited record. It brings together most of the elements from all the previous songs and is basically one massive jam. Just for that alone it could be be the magnum opus of the record, quite easily. This record has everything any music fan could want, there are no boundaries to be found anywhere. Did Chuck E Weiss rip up the musical genre rulebook? I think he chewed through it himself.

Old Souls And Wolf Tickets is available for listening here.

Next week will be the obligatory lists week. A new year will soon be upon us so we all have to do lists based on albums and songs. It is the law. A new decade too but I can’t really remember stuff from when I was ten so count that list out. This means you, yes you, have a fortnight to get your recommendations in, so, what are you waiting for? Leave them below, email or tweet them @spotify_tapes if you so wish.

EDIT – You don’t have a fortnight do you? You have a week because I need to listen to the record. Whatever, I passed Maths early y’know so shut it.

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Swell Maps – A Trip To Marineville

Warning: Some of you may be offended by the following tenuous link.

Hey guys! There’s that new Twilight Movie out this week! Rather exciting if you like reading pap. But did you know that it takes until the fourth book, the bloody fourth, to get really mental. Like proper mental. I have it on good authority that in the fourth instalment the girl finally succumbs to having sex with the vampire bloke, she gets bitten and becomes a vampire and then becomes pregnant with a vampire baby. Amazing. It took four books for the creator to introduce borderline necrophilia (technically vampires are dead, right?) into a teen romantic book full of gumph. It took four books and probably about 900 pages to get mental.

The point being that Solihull’s Swell Maps take no time at all in telling you that they’re completely mental. Instruments sound like they’re verging on breaking, most songs are one-two minute ramshackle affairs and its all the better for it.

The first four songs sounds like Public Image Ltd having a fight with The Members with Wire and Gang of Four shouting “Hit him, John” at them. Four of the best examples of punk music in it’s rawest form. When we get to Harmony In the Bathroom though things become a bit more experimental. The introduction of sounds that aren’t instruments, notes delivered like belches, the hammering of a piano. This is what it would sound like if you went into the brain of David Icke. Mental.

Scattered through the record at certain intervals are what I have called ‘musical episodes.’ Blokes talking in Brummie accents over various stuff planted together.

Full Moon In My Pocket, Blam! and Full Moon (Reprise) are basically one song split into three tracks thus providing the album’s only real moment of solid consistency. Usually this would be a fault to pick the band up on yet the incoherence is the absolute crux of A Trip To Marineville.

From then on in it’s equal parts spiky, equal parts experimentation. Extended songs matched by equally brief songs. Noise is balanced by pure rawk. Snotty delivery and slurred words. Musical historians will look back on this album and label it post-punk seeing as this album was on the cusp of that genre’s inception but this is one of the truest straight up punk albums you may probably ever hear.

Nowadays this album gets a lot of attention because of the resurgence in ‘noise rock’ (No Age, Health etc) and other such genres but I think we can safely assume that there won’t be another record made like this or, crucially, as good as this. It might take a few listens to click but seriously stick with this album (even the song that sounds like a bunch of monks) because it really is as good as the cool cats say.

Swell Maps can and should be listened to here.

Next week on Spotify Tapes Chuck E Weiss.

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The Bug – London Zoo

You can count the number of times I’ve been to the big smoke on one hand, possibly even with one finger. The last time I visited the capital was for a trip to the Imperial War Museum. So far, so very 2001 school trip-esque. Frequent visitors of the Imperial War Museum, I’d imagine, would listen to a fair bit of Johan Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus and popular classical music. The collaborators on this album, I’d wager, are not frequent visitors of the Imperial War Museum. Not because of a lack of intelligence or interest but because of their culture. An underground culture.

Underground culture usually goes hand in hand with experimental music, or at the very least music that won’t be appreciated/heard by a wider audience but on London Zoo, The Bug have not only tore the perceived rulebook in half they’ve only gone and done graffiti of their lyrics on the remnants of it’s pages.

The first two tracks Angry (feat Tippa Irie) and Murder We (feat Ricky Ranking) are two storming opening tracks. The likes of which bring the manic dancing throughout dub clubs to the the imagination. The lyrics – and this applies to the whole of the album – if not easily fed into your mind are ‘spat’ at an impressively fast speed.

Insane (feat Warrior Queen) is the best female led track on the album. It’s short, sharp and punchy and is one of the many tracks on here you can wig out too.

The lyrics on this album seem to have a lot of anger within them but this doesn’t get in the way of the records quality. In a sense – and with all it’s anger, re-appearing collaborators and at times chaotically paced songs – it’s more of a punk record than a dub record. The album title alone suggests a collective spirit, that band of brothers ideal that was so firmly entrenched in the punk movement. It’s the kind of album Lethal Bizzle strives to make.

The Bug is the biggest surprise I’ve had since starting this blog. Surprised at just how good it is and surprised at how much I actually do like it. It’s not normally the kind of thing I’d listen to but I’m so glad I got the opportunity. You can listen to London Zoo on spotify now, just click here.

Next week on Spotify Tapes we open the door on the chain to Brokencyde, then fool them by opening it fully only to slam the door in their faces. It’s going to be painful.

Also, I should probably state that I haven’t been paid by the record company to review this. What with these new ridiculous rules. And no, there’s no illegal downloading going on here, it’s all legal and on spotify so look somewhere else.

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