Wednesday, December 23, 2015

POS Top Ten's - Kyle Owls (He Was Eaten By Owls)

He Was Eaten By Owls
has been for me a breath of fresh air in the often stagnant waters of the math and prog communities. They have a command for incredible song structures with intricate and well thought out passages. We are also close on the heels of their newest release that will officially make you re-consider your notion of the group as well as be an album we will remember for years to come.

It's of course then no surprise that we find member Kyle with his head clearly fixed on some of our greatest contemporary composers and more in this installment of POS Top Ten's......


        Apart from being geek heaven - with its tongue-in-cheek references to the Dungeons & Dragons role play game through the track listing - the album itself is a work of chamber music genius. The ability to compose fluid, elaborate counterpoint music in odd time signatures and make it seem like nothing out of the ordinary is happening is quite a skill, and Pallett exhibits his penchant for such delightful subtlety to great effect on tracks like 'He Poos Clouds' and 'Many Lives → 49 MP'. 
Not just a musical marvel, his lyrics set him apart from many of his contemporaries, littered with references to obscure video games, casual drug use and gay sex, his open and frank discussions of Queer issues and this (Owen Pallett Facebook Post)
stand him out as an important figure in todays musical/political field. 

Take these lyrics from one of the albums b-sides for example:

While you were out sexing
I was a chef soaking a hundred tissues with sweat
and moisturizer
In my head burns a picture
of my face with your privates
I read your diary it said: I've been a good son
All it takes is a good job
to take you out to dinner
but I sold the volvo for pot
(Jars Of Lars)

    I heard 'This Lamb Sells Condos' on a late night radio show back in 2006, and I've been literally obsessed with the man ever since. It's well worth listening through his back catalogue from his days in Canadian alt-rock band Les Mouches ( through to his most recent release 'In Conflict' under his real name Owen Pallett, to observe for yourself one of the most interesting, eclectic and inspiring careers of our times. 


        Not much needs to be said about this album. It's just perfect. Steve Albini recorded the harps and vocals for goodness sake. Van Dyke Parks wrote the arrangements and played accordion. Jim O'Rourke mixed the thing and she's simply one of the greatest living musicians, a rare gift, a generational genius. Her lyrics are dense, highly constructed thickets of poetic imagery steeped in folk tales, history, botany and astronomy; her musicianship is second to none, flitting between lilting washes of enrapturing and impossible polyrhythmic mantras and gentle, heartbreaking balladic simplicity. 

      Parks' arrangements will dazzle with their dancing complexity - the supporting melodies at times rushing up to overtake the harp and vocals, at other times delicately augmenting slight vocal dynamics. Watching her perform songs off this record was one of the highlights of MY ENTIRE LIFE, and I say that with no exaggeration whatsoever.


     My very favourite composer, probably of all time, is the California based John Adams. 

 It was really hard for me to decide which piece of his to put in here, as he's a fantastically prolific and always revolutionary composer, but in the end, it came down to a fierce battle between 'The Dharma...' and another which I insist you check out, 'Shaker Loops'. In fact, here is a fantastic mini-documentary filming him in rehearsal with Shaker Loops for a 2002 performance, which gives you a really deep insight into just how complicated and subtle his works are
(John Adams: A Precise Process)

       'The Dharma At Big Sur', Adam's slow moving dedication to the West USA coast as well as an intentional homage to fellow experimental composers Lou Harrison and Terry Riley, is really a stunning piece to wrap yourself up in.

    A work of two movements for orchestra and solo electric six-string violin (written to incorporate just intonation tuning methods on the harps, pianos and synths), Adams' attempt to describe aurally the feeling of coming up against the Pacific coastline is quite offsetting and uplifting at the same time, rich in sudden dynamic shifts and long, resounding washes of single string glissando's. 

    In trying to describe his feelings for the landscape which influenced the composition, he basically sums up how it feels as a listener to experience his piece for the first time: "Here the current pounds and smashes the littoral in a slow, lazy rhythm of terrifying power. For a newcomer the first exposure produces a visceral effect of great emotional complexity". 

   Equally influenced by Qawwali singers, Jazz musicians, Beat Poets and Blues players, he really stands out for me on the contemporary 'classical' and Post-Minimalist scene as someone deeply in touch with the roots of his tradition but just as forward thinking as the best our younger generation has to offer. 


       This record is, in my opinion, a cult classic waiting to happen. I first met Perhaps when we performed together somewhere in Leicester, and after being bowled over by their energy, inventiveness and sheer noise we became friends and when 'Sludge & Tripe' erupted a few years later it had a profound effect on my musical tastes and style.

      I can honestly say that this album was my first real introduction to what a 'rock' band format could do with tightly constructed rhythmic changes, a wide dynamic range and and a left-field approach to songwriting, and I'm super proud to know them and to have watched their career thus far, recently supporting Amanda Fucking Palmer in London and receiving 12,000 euros from the Haizetara International Street Music Contest. 

     Never one to be pinned down by genre, the band now exist as a marching Prog-Brass outfit, complete with stripped down drums, a giant Sousaphone and a delightful amount of group harmonies and counterpoint melodic meanderings. In between this and their origins as a noisy and very English prog band they produced a stunningly beautiful acoustic record with themes and concepts reappearing from tracks off the first album (this conceptual continuity continued too - when they reformed as the brass-punk outfit they re-imagined the main theme song 'Business' from the second record for the new band with really spectacular results.)
Still D.I.Y, and still producing incredible work, with elaborate self-penned art, matching stage costumes, choose-your-own-adventure style videos and a ferocious live show, they are a shining staple of the London/UK alternative music scene.


    Another set of good friends, this band began life, as did we, on the London squat/anarchist free party scene. Bought together by the political ideal of humanism, uniting under the banners of anti-fascism, anti capitalism and the no borders movement, 52 Commercial Road create glorious, mellifluous dreams of swelling guitar sounds over an almost electronically-tight rhythm section. 

     This record dropped in the middle of 2010 and made a significant dent on the scene, crystallising the intricate, elaborate forms set out in their first self titled record, only this time with the incredible Sam Navel on production duties and Harris Newman of Grey Matter on mastering, who's joint work made the already brilliant songs erupt with life and warmth. 
    This album is never long off my playlist, and it still stands out as a seminal post-rock record for me. It was through these guys I got into Godspeed and their label mates Do Make Say Think, and in my opinion 'A Wreck' is up there with the best works in the genre. 
    I'm really excited to say that their fourth album will be coming out on our label Fu Inle around April of next year, and it really exhibits them branching out into less familiar, more off-kilter territories in their constant striving for positive political advancement and shared experience through music. 


      A must-have album for anyone into the experimental side of chamber and what I'll loosely call 'contemporary classical music'. 

    The first section is written around tape recordings of various speakers - ranging from Reich's childhood governess and the train porter from his youthful journeys (Part 1, Before The War and Part 3, After The War) and three holocaust survivors (Part 2, During The War) - using the unique patterns of speech from each subject as the grounding point for the string and wind melodies to quite stunning effect. These three consecutive pieces move and sway and jolt through sections in such a wonderfully jarring and disarming manner (something we really tried to replicate within our new record), so the listener is literally catapulted between 'different trains' by this incredible music of gradual process defined by outside influences. 
Reich, a middle class American Jew who grew up during WW2, became very aware that while he spent his childhood riding the trains across the US with his nanny, millions of his people were being shipped off on trains to much more terrifying fates across the water, and this raw and terrifying realization is palpable in the piece. 
 Part 2 of the record, Electric Counterpoint (For Electric Guitar and Tape), is for me, the precursor to albums such as 'American Don' and other loop heavy works. Originally recorded by Jazz whiz Pat Metheny, who recorded the first seven guitars and two electric basses onto tape, adding the last lines live in the studio or in performance. There is criminally little footage of him performing this piece, this video here being the best I could find (Pat Metheny Plays Steve Reich).

     There's few things more moving for me than sitting back with headphones on and just disappearing into this record, allowing the pulse heavy drones of some of Reich's finest and most illuminating work to propel you out of yourself for a little while. 


A collaboration between one of the greatest Classical violinists and the most respected and revered exponent of the Sitar (even going as far as redesigning the instrument to the now accepted standard) was obviously going to be something special, but when they released WME (Volume 1) in 1967 - after a successful performance the year before at the Bath Music Festival - it sat on the top of the best selling Classical LP chart for a shocking 18 weeks, prompting them to follow up with the second volume, my personal favorite.

 I first heard this at about 13 years old, and the tangible connection between the two soloists and the incredible Tabla player Alla Rakha, as well as both artists work with using their positions of privilege to raise concerns for human rights and cultural harmony, was a formative influence on my teenage years and early adulthood. 

   Up until this point most of the music I was listening to was in a Pop, Folk, and European Classical vein - Kate Bush, Michael Jackson, Scottish singers Dougie Maclean, Hamish Imlach and John Martyn and stuff like Britten, Bach and Tchaikovsky from my fathers radio. 

   I can literally catalog the first moment my musical life (in this video 4:23/4), when everything changed and all became possible. I didn't have a clue what was happening, had no knowledge of bar measures, time signatures, scales, nothing, but I knew that this was something entirely different and entirely more free than everything I'd heard before. 


      My first celebrity crush and the author of some of the finest works of pop music ever created, Kate Bush is - for me - the quintessential experimental artist of the late 70's and early 80's. I first heard her as a very young kid in the 80's when I saw the video for 'Suspended In Gaffa', and have spent the rest of my life hooked to her intricate, eccentric melodies. 

     Notable especially because she produced the entire album herself, 'The Dreaming' deals with a wide variety of themes; such as the Vietnam War (but controversially from the perspective of a Viet Cong soldier), illegal immigration and the oppression and murder of Aboriginal Australians; as well as more personal issues like being worthy of ones place in the world, acknowledging your 'darker' self and existential frustration. Thrown in for good measure is the life of Houdini, gung-ho robbery and a the cataclysmic album closer influenced by 'The Shining'. Something for everyone then. 
    The multi-layered intricacy and depth of her lyrics and the baroque-esqe/folksy/world-fusion style of her music really put her head and shoulders above most of her contemporaries, and indeed many of the modern day disciples of her work. 

    To get an idea of what a small group of truly gifted musicians can do in a simple live environment, look no further than Nina's live album 'At The Village Gate'. 

     Featuring undeniably powerful performances - where you can literally feel the musicians tied to her every word, her every lyrical and musical cue - the album holds sublime interpretations of great American songs like 'If He Changed My Name', 'Just In Time' and 'Children Go Where I Send You', as well as the gorgeous African folk tune 'Zungo'. 

     Just check out this delicate, mournful interpretation of 'House Of The Rising Sun' and I challenge you to find another version with as much sincerity, grit and deep emotional rawness underpinning it's performance as this (House of the Rising Sun). 

     In my opinion Nina was the greatest singer of all time, her voice resonating simultaneously with all the joy and sorrow of her people, gracing every song she sang with her remarkable, unmistakable timbre, and this record exhibits her raw unbridled skill perfectly. 

      I play this album a lot in the shop where I work, and it always amuses me the vast difference in how people seem to experience it - one person demanding I write down the name so they can purchase it, and another saying (and I quote) "This sounds like it was written specifically just to annoy people".

   Vibrant, sonorous, elaborate patches of colour rise up through the repetitive, criss-crossing guitar lines; soft horn swells and pulsing fretless bass cascade over the beautiful weirdness created by the slight phasing of two drummers playing live with each other. 

      Recorded over a fairly long period, with a lot of time spent in post-production micro-mixing swirling lines of electronic sounds, this album taught me that taking your time on a project is key and also that no matter how many layers and (I dread to say) 'soundscapes' go into your work the most affecting parts will not only lie in the interplay between the melodies and rhythmic lines but in the quality of the silence hanging between the notes.

Just missed the cuts:

Cheval De Frise - Self Titled

The Slits - Cut

DM Stith - Heavy Ghost

Fairport Convention - Leige and Leif

Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette

Nick Drake - Pink Moon

Davy Graham - Folk, Blues and All Points In Between

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Slow Riot For A New Zero Canada

Rostroprovich - JS Bach Cello Suites 

Suffer Like G Did - Rasberry EP

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