Piano Magic is a loose conglomerate of musicians centered around the person of Glen Johnson, whom Allmusic writer Kevin Taylor calls “the most important figure to emerge from the British indie music scene since My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.” However, as this Wikipedia article points out, the band began as a trio and then progressed rapidly through a number of lineup changes, which reduced their numbers to two at one point, and increased them to seven at another . It was only after the release of Low Birth Weight that the name Piano Magic became associated almost exclusively with Johnson. But, as though his goal were to make keeping up with the band impossible, Johnson has recruited a few new (and constant) members into his band since that time and has employed an even greater number of contributors, many of whom are probably more recognizable than Johnson himself is. These include Alan Sparkhawk from Low (featured on “Saint Maire”), Vashti Bunyan, Brendan Perry, and members of the Cocteau Twins.
They’ve released records on Darla, Important, Green UFOs, 4AD, Make Mine Music, Rocket Girl, Staalplaat, and several other labels, but despite this fact much of their discography remains out of print or difficult to find. A massive chunk of their singles output was released by Rocketgirl on the two-CD compilation, Seasonally Affective. Sadly, I’ve only seen copies of this available at Amazon, either used or in MP3 format. Artists’ Rifles, a concept record about World War I and currently my favorite Piano Magic record, is also very much unavailable, unless you want to spend money on MP3s or close to $40 on a used CD. Maybe someone will reissue them at a reasonable price on a medium other than digital.
Can’t say that I’m in love with the new Autechre despite liking it a hell of a lot more than Quaristice. A friend of mine pointed out that “D-Sho Qub” (one of my favorites from Oversteps) sounds a lot like a druggy or fractured version of the Beverly Hills Cop theme song. I think she hit the nail on the head. There’s lots of melody on Oversteps, and Brown and Booth have finally re-emerged from the algebraic curtain behind which they disappeared several years ago, but there’s an unfinished and almost cheesy vibe to the whole thing, like they put the first melodies that came to mind on the album. One listener over at Dusted Magazine thinks that the Autechre back-lash is undeserved, but I can’t exactly figure out why from reading his review, unless he really believes his claim about their best material is sufficient reason for overlooking their laziness.
I’ve heard this backlash sentiment repeated by other people though.
The claim appears to be that old-school Autechre fans don’t like the new stuff because it’s inhuman (this seems at least partially right) and that the inhuman qualities of albums like Confield and Draft 7.30 have their own underappreciated appeal. I don’t deny that, but I’d like to hear inhuman music that doesn’t involve machines doing 99% of the band’s work for them (or, I’d like music that doesn’t seem that way). Autechre depends upon their machines and software for more than performance, they make them part of the writing process itself, which isn’t particularly new or shocking in itself, just disappointing in the wake of records like Tri Repetae and LP5. Were they participating in some kind of Cage-ian theoretical exercise or openly producing aleatory music, chances are I’d approach their newer records in a different way and probably cut them a little more slack than I currently do. But I’m not inclined to believe they’re producing academic music at all, especially when they still claim rap as part of their heritage and release mixes that feature “influences” like Scorn, Tangerine Dream, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Necrophagist. Still, even if Oversteps (or Confield or Quaristice for that matter) were a theoretical exercise, it’d be a fairly dull one with some cheesy melodies and half-assed rhythms making up the bulk of its content. I know software and hardware manipulation can make random noises that are loosely rhythmic and appealing in their own way. I don’t need Autechre proving it over and over again, especially if the results don’t add up to much.
Also on this show is the entirety of Songs: Ohia’s contribution to the Travels in Constants series from Temporary Residence. Has to be one of my favorite Molina recordings ever. If you look for it hard enough, you can find copies of it out there.
That wraps it up for this week. I’ll have more to say about the new Liars, Ceremony, and Soundpool later. Thanks for visiting. Talk to you next week.
01. Piano Magic “Saint Marie” from Saint Marie EP (2004) on Green UFOs
02. The Notwist “This Room” from Neon Golden (2002) on Domino
03. Mouse on Mars “Hetzschase Nailway” from Glam (2003) on Thrill Jockey
04. Autechre “D-Sho Qub” from Oversteps (2010) on Warp
05. Polygon Window “Quixote” from Surfing on Sine Waves (1992) on Warp
06. Bjork “Pluto” from Homogenic (1997) on Elektra
07. Meat Beat Manifesto “Acid Again” from Acid Again (1998) on Play It Again Sam
08. Xeno and Oaklander “Vigils” from Vigils (2007) on Xanten
09. Silver Apples “Oscillations” from Silver Apples (1968) on MCA
10. Laika “Red River” from Silver Apples of the Moon (1995) on Too Pure
11. Pit Er Pat “Scared Sorry” from Shaky (2005) on Thrill Jockey
12. Songs: Ohia “Untitled” from Travels in Constants (Vol. 14) (2001) on Temporary Residence
13. Do Make Say Think “War on Want / Auberge Le Mouton Noir” from Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn (2003) on Constellation
14. Ceremony “Leave Alone” from Leave Alone/Walk Away (2010) on Killer Pimp
15. Soundpool “Mirrors in Your Eyes” from Mirrors In Your Eyes (2010) on Killer Pimp
16. Chapterhouse “Falling Down” from Freefall (1991) on Dedicated
17. Liars “Proud Evolution” from Sisterworld (2010) on Mute
18. He Said “Com’era Dov’era” from Hail (1987) on Mute
19. Monster Movie “Silver Knife” from Everyone Is a Ghost (2010) on Graveface