Friday, December 09, 2016

"cronky, shonky, soggy, knackered" - a seasonal celebration of a Blissblog regular's special anniversary



It's that time of year.

The wintry time when a certain gentleman from the North West of England slips out another.
 

This year, though, it's something extra special.
 

This year he's out-done himself.

This year, ooh, he's spoiling us something rotten.
 

Instead of the on-the-dot-December Moon Wiring Club album, Ian Hodgson celebrates a decade of dank 'n' manky beat-seepage with a three-disc, sumptuously packaged retrospective, clogged to the rim with sundry oddments. Tracks from the sessions for albums that didn't quite fit the finished article. An entire differently mixed and maculate version of one LP. Peculiar-angled, spavined retakes of old familiar favorites.
 

The title of this bulging hamper of only-slightly-damp delectables, is
 When A New Trick Comes Out I Do An Old One. 






Before Ian and I natter, why not take an advance nibble? He has prepared a full-blown Moon Wiring Club infomercial - 29 minutes in length! - in support of the release. 





The first thing that struck me on listening was that the sound was terrific - clear and bright and forceful and dimensional like never before. But without sacrificing that "soggy, knackered" feel that is MWC's signature or ventilating away the  clammy wafting ambience that wraps itself like winding-sheets around the beat-and-B-line grid. Ian tips his hat here to Jon Brooks, who's been mastering the records from almost the beginning, and just gets better and better at the job.


Disc A - titled
 A Field Full of Sunken Horses, trailed in the preview reel above as "twenty-two tracks of authentic wistful atmospheric Northern English soggy knackered magical musical nonsense - for real" - pulls together tunes from 2003-2009. The core, says, Ian, are the four tracks from the MP3 EP A Field Full of Sunken Horses that The Wire hosted. There's a couple of tunes also from the barely-released I'm More Than A Memory Now, from 2007 - which I only recently learned was actually Moon Wiring Club's debut album, not as I'd believed, An Audience of Art Deco Eyes.  My favorite thing here is "Penfriends", hitherto only available on the ASDA mix and presented now in a wondrously glistening new print.  That tune sets off all sorts of private memory-shivers for me - but no use prying, I'm keeping my lips sealed. Of the disc as a whole, Ian notes, "What I hear from this... is the Charity Shop secondhand element, in places a rough quality that captures the years I spent collecting things."




Disc B - titled Tripping in the Elizabethan Sense, trailed in the infomercial as "twenty-two tracks of alternative Gonk renditions fizzed up swanking music for the ultimate in ghost party delirium - for double real" - is a different version of 2011's Clutch it Like a Gonk. Ian says he's really into "the idea of alternate mixes, something you used to get in 90s electronic music all the time but now it doesnt really seem to happen. I wonder if its something to do with the method of making music, with modern digital-audio workstations you have so many options you can change all the internal elements of a track to your heart's content, but if you're using something based in the 90s the memory constraints dont really allow this." Alongside the reimagined Gonk, there's a track ("Galaxy Class") from an unfinished project called "Cronky Disco" and another ("Hunted By Sentient Topiary") from a planned EP themed around the concept of twin towns, "using German vocal samples from a Bavarian Clinkskell." My favourite tune on this disc is "Special Nougat (Ghastly Nougat Mix)", which juxtaposes a nagging nodding-dog carnival-pulse with Doc Scott-esque swoops of black-cloud malevolence. But I'm also rather partial to "Tudorbethan Jobbernowl (Full Jobbernowl Mix)" which again seems to taunt the listener with its jeering melody-riffs and antic air, offset with one those classic MWC reverb-basslines that seems to probe moistly into one's auditory nethers. 

Disc C - titled
 We In This Hill Are All Alive, trailed as "twenty-two tracks of dark reality twilight white peak magical moorland music for the ultimate in spectral landscape shenanigans - for triple real" - is an unreleased album originally planned to be next in the sequence after Clutch It Like A Gonk. But Ian got pulled in different directions ("odd time signatures" with Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets, then "a clothing-based computer game" with A Fondness For Fancy Hats).   Ian reveals that a particular influence on We In This Hill Are All Alive was a certain "Weird English Countryside" text. This disc contains Ian's own favourite MWC tune, "Eternal Lovebirds (Midnight Mix)" - verily a darkly and dankly enchanting lattice of glints and whispers.  My ear is also entranced by the vocal wibbles of "If You had The Key."  

You can purchase this ideal stocking stuffer here.


Now, sixty-six tracks ought to sate anyone's appetite for a good while, surely. But guess what - not content with this bulbous retrospective, Ian has also squeezed out his customary on-the-dot-December brand-new album.
  
A further twelve top tunes making for a grand total of seventy-eight! 


The name of the album is Exit Pantomime Control.


                                          



Another fine addition to an ample canon,  Exit Pantomime Control is conceptually indebted to this book, which concerns that peculiarly English form of popular (and seasonal) theatre known as panto. Accompanied by a 48 page booklet of scrambled narrative chunks, it's designed to feel like "a night in the Clinkskell Playhouse". 

According to Ian, the background premise of the album is that "pantomime has been outlawed, which leads to the appearance of huge mythological creatures roaming towns and cities, as it was (of course) only the newer mythology of Pantomime keeping them in check....  But Exit Pantomime Control could also be the actual name of the Pantomime itself the renegade troupe are performing.... There's also a track about a Pierrot curfew...." A conceptual leitmotif informing these aural proceedings is the notion that "the suspension of disbelief with a theatrical performance can make something more real and vivid than reality, or more realistic acting techniques, once the framework has been established." 

Preview tastes can be gleaned from the latter portion of the same 29 minute infomercial that hawks When A New Trick Comes Out...




You can purchase this vinyl-only platter – too big to stuff in a stocking, alas - here.





TEN years of the Moon Wiring Club! Ian Hodgson is right up there in the front rank of my favourite musicians of the 21st Century, a very select and dwindling number let me tell you. It's possible that, pound for pound, he has delivered more pleasure to my cochlea than anybody in recent memory - given that he manages to be prolific (thirteen albums!) (more if you include collaborations and singles) yet maintain exceedingly elevated standards. The only person who comes anywhere near in terms of that combination of copiousness and consistency, along with that unnerring ability to tickle my particular audio-erogenous zones, is Ekoplekz.  And as with Nicholas Edwards, there's that curious trick being pulled off: a utterly distinctive sound that doesn't get worn out despite immense reiteration, is just varied enough to hold your attention while still retaining its monolithic atmosphere and fixated approach. (For the hows and wherefores of Ian's modus operandi - which is eccentric, to put it mildly - check out this piece I penned on him and Cafe Kaput main-man Jon Brooks some years ago).


 



One of these wintry weeks, I'm going to sit down and relisten to the lot of it, the entire chock-a-block corpus, in one go  - the albums (some of which come in alternate versions depending on the format - as with Soft Confusion, the cassette version of A Fondness for Fancy Hats, so different it required its own title) and the many lovely mixes - undergo a total submergence in the Moon Wiring world. 






                                                  
In some ways my favorite MWC miasma is still the first one that enveloped me, An Audience of Art Deco Eyes - which is up there with hey let loose your love, Dead Air, The Willows and Other Channels as the maggoty core of the haunty canon. 


 





But here's a smatter of fave tunes from across the discography,

















And here's a fan's mix of "strange sweet sounds"



Also delectable is the artwork that Ian confects for the records and related promotional paraphernalia. Not forgetting the whole BlankWorkshop / Gecophonic Productions / Clinksell realm. That's a lot of drawings. 

                                                         










People talk about the Roxy Girls, but what about the Moon Wiring Girls? Or is it Girl, singular? Editions of the same oneiric ideal... 

















                                                              





A willowy will o' the wisp chased through the twirling mirror-world of video-collages such as these: 






Then there's all of Ian's crafty promo spots and teasers










You could get lost in the memoradelic maze of MWV’s youtube channel.







A compilation of the beat-free atmosphere-interludes from all of Ian's records would make for one of the great ambient albums. 

I truly do not understand why his feats of fetor aren't more widely feted.

Monday, December 05, 2016

music + politics

I have a piece in the new issue of The Pitchfork Review - #11, "The Music and Politics Issue".




A timely theme. Indeed.

I wonder how differently the pieces would be approached now. They were written and edited many, many weeks before the election result.

My own contribution is a "personal journey through UK politics and pop". In addition to some cool record sleeve and flyer images, it's also illustrated with some back-in-the-day photographs of, well, me. (Not my idea, I hasten to add, though having a narcissistic streak I was happy to go along with it). (Previews here). The journey starts with "Anarchy in the U.K" and ends with... well, I don't want to give away the story arc. Suffice to say that as time goes by my ideas about how politics + pop work together grow ever more complicated, ever more creased with doubt.

Right now, it doesn't feel like music has much to offer the current situation.

A curious thing about the election is that it showed both the weakness and the power of pop culture. On one hand, 99 % of the star performer class rallied to Clinton's cause, without any effect beyond buzzing up the pre-converted. (An echo of the election of '72 in which countless rock stars played benefits for McGovern, to no avail at all). On the other hand, the winner is absolutely a product of the entertainment industry -  a fame monster spawned by celebrity culture at its most abject.