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Radian, Live Transmission
They have the all the trappings of an electronica outfit—the name, the album title (Rec.Extern), the lineage (previous releases on Mego and Rhiz), the black Powerbook, and the Vienna address. But Radian is two-thirds of a jazz band—with members on drums and upright bass alongside synthesizer and laptop. That makes Thrill Jockey a fitting home, where labelmates Tortoise and Chicago Underground also work the tension between the crackle and the hum.
Unlike many of their kin in European electronica, the interrelationship of sounds is a bigger deal for Radian than the means of production. And at last Wednesday’s Knitting Factory set, you could tell that their musical horizons stretch beyond the Mego or Mille Plateaux catalogs. Their sound sources are industrial (elevators, train stations, ground hum, analog hiss as a rhythmic accent) rather than post-industrial glitches and clicks. Live, Martin Brandlmayr creates a strange effect playing crisp funk rhythms with rattly brushes, and bassist John Norman’s reticent phrases came down harder on the dub and the wah—a reminder that virtually all the music we hear has been “electronic” for decades. Their heavily pregnant pauses and sensitive dynamics call to mind old-school European improv à la Derek Bailey. At times synthesizing sheets of white noise, Radian do a passable Sonic Youth. (Though those nice sweaters in the band photo are of U.K. indie vintage.)
Openers Signer also use guitar in conjunction with computer processing, piling string overtones against rhythms like Techstep in quicksand. Ironically, it was an indie guitarist, Labradford’s Mark Nelson a.k.a Pan-American, who seemed stuck in tepid ambience. Nelson denatured the beautiful tone of the lap steel beyond recognition, and why? If nothing else, Radian reintroduces to electronic music the aesthetic benefits of socialization. —David Krasnow
In the U.K., rave nostalgia is old enough to warrant nostalgic pangs itself. For years now there’ve been acid-house flashbacks and back-to-’92 hardcore nights. Hosted by original junglist DB and drum’n’bass selecta Dara, Sorted was Manhattan’s first proper dose of old-skool rave retro. On October 10, an astonishingly fervent crowd (many vets of DB’s pioneering NYC rave party NASA) packed out Bar 13, lured by the slogan “Come feel that vibe again.”
“Music from London, Manchester, and Chicago” was the promised menu, but the last two got pretty short shrift. London’s breakbeat house and junglistic hardcore ruled the night. “E’s Not Required This Time” winked the flyer, but it was true: This music triggers the serotonin gush all by itself. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you have memories of all-night frenz-E burned into your nervous system.
Recollected in tranquility, patterns emerged. One was the absolute centrality, in this supposedly future-fixated music, of an 18th-century instrument, the piano. We heard track after track based on the plangent elation of major-key piano vamps. From Manix’s “Feel Real Good” to Awesome 3’s “Don’t Go,” we were blessed by a cornucopia of keyboard riffs poised between sublimely simple and ridiculously inane. There was also a melancholy sense of 1991-92 as a lost/last moment before rave’s nascent subgenres (jungle, trance, gabba, purist techno, etc.) fatally diverged. Back then, a single set could comprehend Felix’s gay nu-NRG thump, SL2’s hyper-skank, the sneaky slink of Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams,” Human Resource’s infernal blare, the bliss-waves of Jam & Spoon’s “Stella,” Eon’s proto-darkcore, and more. Sorted took us back to a time when the center still held. —Simon Reynolds
If the ’60s hadn’t existed, Nick Saloman might have invented them. The Bevis Frond—i.e., the British guitarist-singer-songwriter and whom-ever he happens to be playing with—personifies the road not taken by what Stew of the Negro Problem has dubbed that “psychedelic backwards merry-go-round” sound before it evaporated into the Band’s roots-regression and David Geffen’s Southern California folk-rock wet dream. Saloman has been tunefully lamenting that epistemic shift, DIY style, ever since he bedroom-recorded his (recently reissued) Miasma in an edition of 250 copies in 1987. And his next 16 albums offer ample evidence that focusing on three self-acknowledged topics (the ’60s, death and disillusion, and man’s inhumanity to woman) via extended guitar improvs, gorgeous ballads, and economically rocking nuggets can fuel a life’s work.
Saloman slunk into the Knitting Factory on October 10 as the jewel in a dusty crown of lesser psych-rockers including the Alchemysts and Motorpsycho. With music echoing Neil Young at his jingle-jangliest and lyrics suggesting Elvis Costello at his most middle-aged acerbic, the set concentrated on the frankly titled What Did for the Dinosaurs. The Frond bashed away with punky imprecision punctuated by Saloman’s eloquent guitar monologues. Longtime Frond accomplice Adrian Shaw floated contrapuntal bass figures that were bludgeoned to earth by drummer Jules Fenton.
At 48, Saloman came across as your avuncular pub pal, and his casual delivery lessened the effect of tunes like “Superseeder” and “Silver Dart” (“As I walked out on Clifton Hill one day as sulfur raindrops fell”), which cumulatively map a mythological London with the esoteric precision of Alan Moore or Iain Sinclair. The evening peaked with “God Speed You to Earth,” a slowly unfolding Dylanesque epic celebrating delusion, redemption, and feedback. The Bevis Frond’s electric diorama works better on record than onstage, but I wouldn’t trade it for a truckload of turntables. —Richard Gehr