The Rummage

Tag: Asia

. issue XXIII : ii .

. artist : the apples .
. album : kings .
. year : 2010 .
. label : freestyle .
. grade : a minus .


The Apples are a nine-piece band from Tel Aviv, Israel playing a unique style of global funk, soul and instrumental hip hop that’s equally influenced by middle eastern music, James Brown, dub and J Dilla. Cool instrumentation: four horns, bass violin, drum kit, two turntablists and live effects at the soundboard (no digital samplers or digital anything) is a great configuration for their clever writing (for example, “In The Air” is a composition that grows out of a sample from the Meters-Toussaint-Lee Dorsey classic “Occapella”) and groove-based improvisations. On this release (their second for Freestyle), they collaborate with two disparate musical giants: trombonist Fred Wesley (tracks 1-4), famous for his work with both James Brown and George Clinton, and vocalist Shlomo Bar (tracks 5-8), whose band HaBrera HaTeevit was a pioneer of world music in Israel. This band is new to me and I’m totally impressed – big ideas plus funky grooves plus killer horn lines and solos equals a totally Global A Go-Go concept. Bravo!

by Bill Lupoletti


. issue XXI : vii .

. artist : yundi .
. album : beethoven: pathétique | moonlight | appassionata .
. year : 2012 .
. label : deutsche grammophon .
. grade : a .


He’s no newbie at the game. Yundi Li, the youngest-ever winner of the prestigious International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in 2000 at eighteen years old, escapes temporarily from his favorite composer, Chopin, to record some of the most well known pieces by another, equally famous yet more classical period inclined artist: Beethoven. Li’s interpretation forthrightly displays his genius, apparent within each of the three sonatas: No. 8 – “Pathétique,” No. 14 “Moonlight,” and No. 23 “Appassionata.” The level of emotional engagement, as seen within his Chopin pieces, translates into respectable and extremely proficient interpretations for all of them. Undoubtedly, he has technical skill that rivals Lang Lang — another Chinese pianist — seen prominently within the first movement of the “Pathétique.” But what captures the heart of many loyal fans is his fantastic ability to imbue emotion into his interpretations and simplify, to our ears, melodies that are in fact extremely difficult.

This Chinese pianist’s playing style is heavily passionate, and hints of his trademark romantic-era style of playing are not lost in these interpretations. Each section, and even each measure, is crammed full of vivid color, through dynamics, articulation, and speed; even though some sections may be fast, each note is heard as his hands fly across the keyboard and the reoccurring motifs build off each other. In a moment, dynamics change from the softest pp to the loudest punchline of a sf or ff. Yet, he manages to capture all of them, sometimes in the span of a mere few seconds. Many people recognize Beethoven’s 1st movement of his “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, op. 27 no. 2” as the “Moonlight Sonata,” but fewer people will recognize the other two movements. In this way, Yundi’s Beethoven album gives listeners the opportunity to expand their appreciation and understand classical music on a deeper level. Rather than limiting one’s knowledge to “mainstream” classical music, exposure to more obscure and less popular pieces will open doors to the extreme depth that this genre of music has to offer.

by Justin Lau

. issue XIX : i .

. artist : omar souleyman .
. album : wenu wenu .
. year : 2013 .
. label : ribbon .
. grade : b plus .


Here’s the first studio album by one of the world’s most-recorded artists. Souleyman, a native of Syria currently living in Turkey, is the king of electronic dabke, a 21st century version of Syrian folk music where synthesizer replaces traditional instruments, beats are straightened out to four-on-the-floor, and tempos are frequently dialed up to 120 to 150 beats-per-minute. Something like 500 different bootlegged cassettes of his wedding performances are for sale in Syria; Sublime Frequencies has issued three brilliant compilations from them. For this first studio album, Omar enlisted Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) to produce. Smart man that he is, Hebden hasn’t changed Souleyman’s style at all; he’s cleaned the sound up a lot, added some presence and a few high-tech touches, but basically this is loud-and-clean, unadulterated dabke. The only thing missing is the electric saz (lute), but that’s a quibble. So if you loved the Sublime Frequencies compilations (plus 2011’s live-in-the-West set), you’ll love this one as well. If Omar is new to you, the title track “Wenu Wenu” is a perfect introduction to his sound, and “Warni Warni,” a Kurdish folk song (not that you’d ever guess), is the standout track.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XV : v .

. artist : various artists .
. album : the sound of siam: leftfield luk thung, jazz & molam in thailand 1964-1975 .
. year : 2010 .
. label : soundway .
. grade : b plus .


Soundway, one of the top indie reissue labels in world music, branches out from Africa and Latin America into Asia with this release. As usual with this label, the research and documentation is top-notch. And their angle on Thai music is a bit different from what we usually see – the cheesiness factor is very low: no Western covers and really only one novelty item (it’s a good one, though). Instead, this is a thoughtful exploration of music from Thailand’s northeast, made in Bangkok by rural people who have moved to the big city as Thailand rapidly modernized in the 60’s and 70’s. Western influences of rock, funk and jazz are here, but they’re strictly secondary to a uniquely Asian style of music. Recommended tracks include “Lam Toey Chaweewan” (female vocal), “Wan Maha Sanook” (funky), “Ding Ding Dong” (novelty), “Kai Tom Yum” (jazzy), and “Pleng Yuk Owakard” (crime jazz). The Sound Of Siam is a very nicely conceived project that will bring yet another unheralded sound to the attention of adventurous European and American listeners.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XV : i .

. artist : various artists .
. album : pop yeh yeh: psychedelic rock from singapore and malaysia 1964-1970 .
. year : 2013 .
. label : sublime frequencies .
. grade : a .


First we heard the awesome, tragic psychedelic and garage-rock influenced sounds of Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge. Next came Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Now Malaysia and Indonesia get their turn in the spotlight, in this first-ever Western compilation of 60’s rock from those two countries. The compiler is WRIR’s own Carl Hamm, host of “If Music Could Talk.” Carl has been working on this project for years, and it shows – everything about Pop Yeh Yeh is first-class, from the mastering to the incredible photos to the English translations of all songs to (especially) the copiously detailed liner notes. And then there’s the music – every track here is worth a listen and many are right up there with the best we’ve heard from Southeast Asia. I particularly dug “Budi Bahasa” with its Sam The Sham vibe, the Beatles-y “Oh Ya Ya,” “Temasah Ria” (a thick slice of garage proto-punk), “Bersiar Siar” (pure pop), “Bimban” (could be right out of the Nuggets box set), and the fully-psych “Kembali Lagi.” Pop Yeh Yeh is a great project, well worth the wait and more than worth the money.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XIV : vii .

. artist : re-arbeiten .
. album : brute machine .
. year : 2013 .
. label : section 27 .
. grade : a minus .


Brute Machine from Israeli electronic duo Re-Arbeiten is a receptacle for mistaken, askew schematics the industrial future wasn’t meant to have. Tastefully but fractiously mingling avant-garde and industrial, Brute Machine is due for ponderous study rather than a dance floor. The impromptu, dilapidated, warm ramble of these drafts only further convinces you of their articulate sentience. Re-Arbeiten’s inspirations: metal and wooden scaffolding (downhome carnival architecture, spindly toothpicks to forty feet, prison cells, prison walls, grids and grates, girders and the ribs of airships); formidable slabs of power (dreadnoughts liking fervid in the water, the USS Macon airship, a corrugated bunker’s dome like the head of an enormous, mossy and pockmarked creature); and Fritz Lang, apparently (re: Peter Lorre in M, ‘Maria’ in Metropolis). The result is something between a warmongered recovery group, a space age archivist’s distilled hippocampus, and Miéville’s The City and the City staged by insects. These long and expanding works (8 minutes on average) are thematically organized, but ceaselessly alive and actively evolving. Re-Arbeiten describe themselves as “ex Eastern block immigrants living in the middle east … you cannot get more Gibsonian than that” — and they’re spot on; they know exactly who they are, musically and meta-socially. It’s essential that we listen to these globalized prophets on the periphery of contemporary American experience. “Bravo, bravo, bravo.”

“Brutemachine” is extremely efficient, with compacted beats that scuff a shockwave of dust in their dense landing. The experience of potential work here is huge — just listen to that beat thud its tons on the ground. There’s anxious and excess energy latent here, compact and frustrated. Right from the start, we get the impression that machines are talking; listen to that glib-talking electronic line dangled in! “Brutemachine” is pungently metallic, hulking, heavy-duty, hard-shelled, monumental, mighty, and fearsome. Squishy beats like window wiping metronyms keep time distractedly while a voice-over of Henrich Mueller’s postmodern play Hamletmachine recall an unsavory Beefheart doppelgänger. There’s an undeserving, creepy suavity about this man’s voice, and the lines are no better:

Something is rotten in this age of hope
Let’s delve in earth and blow her at the moon
I’m good Hamlet, gimme a cause for grief
Ah, the whole globe for a real sorrow
Richard the Third, I the princekilling king,
Oh my people, what have I done unto thee?”

“Brutemachine” is unhinged, gaunt, defunct, scary and sterile … it’s something you step around on the street … therefore, Re-Arbeiten have succeeded in their distasteful mission! The voice-over adds a great deal, but it dominates the song a bit too much — too much bass, too much weird, too much fear. However, there’s someone sprechen Deutsch toward the song’s close, and I think it’s Hitler. … If only because of my inability to parse the German sample, “Brutemachine” is the piece that gives the most food for thought but leaves the meal unserved and the questions unanswerable.

“Lysergique” drops, yeah, no kidding. There’s ubiquitous bouncing and boinging — enough to make the listener motion sick. Small and falling smaller sounds in the background show Re-Arbeiten’s commitment to unconventional textural mechanisms and sonic richness. Like the hide of a drum rebounding slightly from the palm, we even hear the air around projectiles flexing back; “Lysergique” is a motile song and an experience of the space that’s negotiated with restless rebound. The drops are revised for increased tunefulness as stabilizing beats fill in the aural vacuum and an obnoxiously gentle marimba tints the canvas (toned ground, feathery gesso, light fluffy whipped carpet beige). The smallest superfluous jitters are an ellipsis of grace notes jostling forgettably. Re-Arbeiten even manages to invoke the aesthetic of lightweight crime, with ‘sleuth’ sounding quizzical downturns to its recoils. Semantronic crickets are bothering the neighbors with their noisy product, the synaptic twitches of life. There’s also an infirm jug band, where glass pipettes are the most delicate of drumsticks and slide whistles are unhappy and sad. To close “Lysergique,” staticy tendrils branch, bounce, and shake their leaves.

“Khobe Schkotch” has potent, off-kilter beats and strikes, shambled in stunning execution and beautiful in its odd coherence. “Khobe” is a sentiment sewing machine, stutter stitching tiny in all types: chirrups, claves, and slick chip trills. “Khobe” also samples children crying out at play with those sounds growing things often make (“can’t get me! can’t get me!”); this track possesses a pervasive, crepuscular optimism waking the sensitive life over several versatile phases. “Khobe,” unlike most songs on Brute Machine, feels like a composition with movements, though an organic one, musical musicle fibers twitching as it moves naturally. These are precocious beats, akin to what Nancarrow did with player piano rolls (physically mark the rolls with more ‘notes’ than are playable by a human) — too fast to be human, but too disordered and seemingly random to be a machine. The impression is one of pointillism: if the dots strike fast enough together, they make a line … and a held note. The best movement is the last, from the five-minute mark, which uses immense chimes, ringing, and leaping lightning to elevate and sun with its fireworks. “Khobe” trills and pans to close in a showy end — but also, in their panning between kids or between instruments, Re-Arbeiten is creating spaces both now to then (with pointillism — how close the dots are) and side to side (shuffling between a range of kids and instruments). Combined with the tonal depth of its rich beat repertoire, “Khobe” has x, y, and z directions. It’s cognitive, generative, and mathematical, and, like the Fibonacci sequence or fractal algorithms, seems to tap into a patterning device organic, fundamental and enabling.

“Agafia” has got to be about Agafia Lykov, a woman born in the remote Tagia region of Siberia to a family of Russian Old Believers who’d fled Bolshevik persecution. She was raised in absolute isolation from society, except for her four family members, for the first 35 years of her life, and her speech, like that of all the kids born alone in the Tagia, was oddly distorted (“cooing”) presumably from being raised in conditions where articulation (especially, status quo articulation) wasn’t required. Indeed, “Agafia” begins with a woman’s unfinished, raw voice cooing, “The mysteries of the universe lie in the sleeping legs of a woman,” which isn’t half as bad as it first sounds. Agafia’s hermitage story — she still lives in the Tagia at the age of 70, alone since her last relative passed in 1988 — is a testament to the a sort of sated, content animalism. Agafia gives valuable insight on the human ability to integrate with an environment, to make tools and act for sustenance. The human species makes tools and has language, yes, but it is also generative, adaptable, environment- and resource-conscious, and needs sustenance. Agafia shows both of these in healthy balance … and probably the natural scope of tool making, too. Agafia provides a healthy portrait of human endeavor — not a wilderness survival story, but a wilderness life story! The track evokes crumbling leaves, waterwheels, patterns in tree bark, snow, slopes and greenery. Sliding, smooth beats underneath recall, awkwardly, TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Sparse and slight; slender; graceful; it’s got the chopping and rustling sounds of the human in nature. Also detectable is, effectively, character theme music, from a keyboard with streaming ambience (vibes?) behind it. The pianist seems to have had a callosotomy … it seems only pleasantly naïve, incidental when the two hand’s lines mesh. It also evokes that Selenetic Age in Myst: grassland aridity with speaking warm winds. And the synth melds, somehow, harpsichord and vibes … with a droll texture and a sleek resilience that are, unstatedly, positive.

“Spleht” is as sharp and slick as a new knife set, conjuring, for me, granite counters, flagstone, pristine surfactants, crisp edges and no grain. Imperturbable, it’s a keen nifty dandy swell. Density settles in with the confidence of clamoring insects … “Spleht” is infestational mutters. Tight, almost normal beats are extremely virtuosic, and an ambient wash of clean harmony presides above. “Spleht” builds, then rescinds as beats begin to burn and decay, sputtering aggression, and distorted until you start to hear voices in them. Tentative melodic movements posit agreeable, blippy synth, but again (of course) with multiplex tone color that becomes cool with a slide at three-and-a-half minutes. “Spleht” is probably the danciest contribution to Brute Machine and it’s still far more inclined to be studied. Dancing to this would be like reading a cookbook in the library. “Spleht” is transcendent in what it produces despite its normal, appetitive ingredients and, to some extent, normal, appetitive devices. The voices hidden-pictures in blurps are reprised into the five-minute mark and continue: the mantis prays for you; the grasshopper rubs its legs even faster than usual; yay. “Spleht” has a throbbing aura about it, as sacred frogs belch profanely, all alive and abuzz; all jitterbugs are a seizure of organics, flitting aflutter; manifold and legion, the overwhelming breaths of life are diversified. A return to tidal washes and beats — so curious, like laid-down footsteps tiptoe across mystery novel for kids in a pedagogically mincing, exaggerated beat. And the wash is soaked sediment stratified where only occasionally can the seam be detected … usually the multi-layers upbuild sympathetically, inextricably, to something bigger than itself….

“Uhrgnrk” is a morse jutter: a pecking, clapping melody, obliquely emotive, is grounded in an ambient wash of the endless variety of jungle. Consider that species — that speciation — is, by nature, specialized … and so with the distinctive but unknown array of sounds in “Uhrgnrk.” It’s like inhabiting a wall of subject to all manner of things popping in and out, and further, being able to hear distant critters vocalizing on and on into overgrown forwver. It’s being tied up in a car wash dropped into the deepest jungle, and one isn’t precisely scared (it’s beyond that) but wary. A resonant instrument seems at first plucked-string (sitar), but, later, is specious. Could it be electronic? The source ambivalence of “Uhrgnrk” is such that even known sonic signatures are questioned. “Uhrgnk” also combines space age and post-punk moods: the sitar turns in single note after single note, each addition evoking a new mood for the tapestry, through crime and new age. There’s mood — not just qualia — ambivalence about “Uhrgnk.” Impossible to digest fully, the construction is constantly growing, like the personal expressions of anyone’s face. Its feedback is esoteric and sacral, new age and lift off astronaut (including a discrete throttle at three minutes), with jungle beats, too, the capricious vigor of life. A dire tone at eight minutes prompts vigilance disappointed by the minute-and-some of sparser beats through the end.

“Lescargoch” (har) is different as can be, and though it seems boring in comparison, with nuance the transition becomes enjoyable…. Flat-footed and subaqueous, tinny but resonant, “Lescargoch” knows that … some chimes are just larger than others. A bouncing reaction feels the glassware shudder of odd catalysis, cycloadditions and kinetic substitutions. Beakers hollow and alkaline flail in pyrex warfare, chemical splatters that synthetically burn. With a tight sputter and transduction slipping, “Lescargoch” chimes out into fast platter slots stuttering crunchy rapid fire, then becomes dense beats over an all-chime gamelan. Glissade glass insinuated slivers of lazersare centrifuged. Metallphones overwhelm their tones. “Lescargoch” sounds like the theme song for X-Files meets 24 — ahh, terrestrial and extraterrestrial ambition.

Re: Arbeiten. On their Facebook, the duo actually dedicate “Lescargoch” to mourning the “chemical Holocaust in the Middle East.” Brute Machine needs to be heard, psychologically, by people living in relative safety and security everywhere. “For every action….” Yes, not the least of which is mental. Sensitive to the ground it transcends, Brute Machine does post-late modern pre-future better than Library of Congress archivists, better than the evening news, better than William Gibson. It’s living it.

by Brittany Tracy

. issue XII : vii .

. artist : various artists .
. album : qat, coffee & qambus: raw 45s from yemen .
. year : 2013 .
. label : dust-to-digital .
. grade : b plus .


You might know that Yemen is the historic home of the Bin-Laden clan, and that it probably leads the world right now in per-capita drone strikes. But do you know anything about the music of the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula? Well now you do, courtesy of intrepid record collector Chris Menist and Dust-To-Digital (who released this gem on vinyl in 2012 and are now making it available as a CD). Menist, whose Sound Of Siam and Thai? Dai! compilations put the music of Thailand in a new light, describes Yemeni recorded music as “almost totally impervious to western influence,” and for that reason alone this disc is valuable listening. Start with “Ya Mun Dakhal Bahr Al-Hawa,” a female singer accompanied by nothing but drumming on a copper tray – brilliant, totally unique to my ears; if you dig industrial music, North African trance or Congotronics, you’ll get it right away. “Wahed Mozawag” is a wedding song with some fabulous background ululating and whooping, “Hom Bel Hawa Ya Nas Walaoni” has a funky rhythm that’s perfect for bellydancing, and “Raee Al-Gamel” is a bluesy number with the singer accompanying himself on a twangy qambus (Yemeni lute). Fascinating stuff.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue VIII : i .

. artist : facialmess / mutwawa .
. album : the mutwawa mess-ups .
. year : 2013 .
. label : chaotic noise .
. grade : a .


A convoluted collaboration between Richmond’s Mutwawa and Tokyo’s Facialmess, The Mutwawa Mess-Ups is uncompromised experimental noise, transcendent and yet concretely foreign, displaced into a primal category of vigilance, inelegance, menace, and malcontent. Mutwawa defines their music as “dance floor sacrifices” — invoking that medieval Mesoamerican and Andean grand-civilization grandeur, prosperity and unearthly slaughter — and it’s the perfect comparison. They are a shamanistic guide along bone-white sacbeob to and through the tonotopic maps of plunge pools deep, marrow, fire pits and the stingray spines of the Andes. Facialmess’ ‘mess up’ of Mutwawa’s recordings is careful, inveigling and true — he wears Mutwawa’s skin in an act of dedication. “Lamashtu Pazuzu Overdose” contains sparse, stately clatters, shrieking walls, and quiquiztli human whistles that possess and impel. “Mayan Mutations Damage” is soft and preparatory, all feathery regalia, sisal, cinnabar, cotton and honey, stone cold as jaguar teeth and lithe as the fluttery slither of a feathered serpent. And “Necro Zulu Death Blow” is vivid mortuary ritualism, contested and weirdly content with its barrage of sound and ululating groans. Mess-Ups operates on levels both sunken and aloft; humid, green, opulent and overgrown, it’s a tantalizing, haunted album. Highly recommended.

by Brittany Tracy