Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Earlobe Holistics liner notes

E.H. artwork by Gareth Monger, 2000
Let's go back to the millennium. What were Keshco up to? Minidiscs at the ready, for the story behind Earlobe Holistics...

For the previous four years, the early Keshco demos had been on copied cassettes, through standard home stereo units. Anything that needed extra parts had to be played back through the air. After a while, we got two tape-to-tape systems with the ability to overdub through a mic socket whilst copying, though our mics were uniformly pound-shop crap so the results weren't too good. These cassettes mostly went back and forth within the band, or occasionally to some unlucky girl. In mid-1998, we decided to record a "trying-our-hardest" three-track demo to send to record companies, though it was mostly family members who were subjected to it.

University called. In spring 1999, I splashed out on a Fostex multitracker. The X-77 had four tracks, six inputs, a neat rotary pitch control, and I loved it to bits. This wasn't to say we instantly started recording band masterpieces. I was in Leicester; Robert and Gareth were still in the Fens and soon to head off to Ipswich and Blackpool respectively. When we did meet up, we were more likely to use a dictaphone to get our tunes down (or really, more likely just to sit down and watch Stella Street).

It was around this time that I heard a single by European art-rock duo Schulte/Eriksson. "For The Sake Of Clarity" (YouTube link) was delightful, confusing, polyrhythmic and playful. Eagerly I sent off for their homemade album. Its copy-of-copy, looping fragments made perfect sense to my ears, just as I was acquiring a taste for the Fall through their album "Cerebral Caustic" - not generally regarded as a classic, but the textures were so dense, scuffed, crushed - perfect cassette music.

We'd been going through a poor time of it as a band. Barely rehearsing, nowhere near the sounds we wanted, anything with more than four chords too complex to learn, I got pretty down about the prospects for my new songs. Suddenly here was an answer. We wouldn't learn the carefully written songs, we'd just make stuff up as we went along! Sweet relief! I'd enjoyed making cut-ups on cassettes for years, and so maybe we could do something larger with the technique.

Months passed. At the start of 2000, I splashed out again and spent £200 on a then quite impressive Sony MiniDisc recorder. Now, songs could be added, chopped into bits and redistributed within the running order. Perfect.

What eventually emerged on Earlobe Holistics was an odd mixture, and went through a few edits before its final form. It opens with a typically daft cut-up taken from the 1998 demo, and the attendant first track, "Livsey Street", a rather Madness/Morrissey-aping Britpop vignette recorded initially on Robert's Goodmans Boogie Box, with him on various percussion and me on the vocals, guitars and keys. The final vocal overdub was achieved on one of those big portable radio/cassette systems with the L/R stereo microphones, by playing the fourth-generation backing track through the air towards the right side with me singing and guitaring into the left side. It's amazing there's any top end left.

We then hear the first evidence of the Fostex 4-track - "On Our Big Travel" which is a whimsical solo affair recorded in Leicester. Following this is a dictaphone chant improvised by me, Robert and Gareth, "Photograph"; and another solo recording, "Airport 1981" which is tuneful enough but highly indebted to Stereolab. We tried rehearsing it as a 4-piece band when we were preparing for stardom the following summer, but couldn't quite get it to swing.

"Videoesque" was an early spoken-word piece about decay looked at through the ephemeral medium of a video collection - my teenage videos regularly feature programmes on the verge of disintegration, what with being recorded through a dodgy Fen aerial, through a dirty video head, onto a 4-hour cassette recording at half-speed to cram even more material on board. Ludicrous signal to noise ratios. Bad enough recording from Anglia, but what if I wanted a programme from Central...? It's backed by a drum loop of Robert from 1995, on the school snare drum. Heehee!

"Ding Dong Dang" is a jingle made from guitar harmonics. Someone stick it on an ident. Then there's "Drowning In Melodrama", which was written in Spring 1998 as a deliberately easy track - six verses following the same chord pattern. The lyric's nothing to fax home about, but does namecheck "Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns" which should be in every sensible bedside cabinet. Some interest has been added later with a few judicious overdubs, courtesy of shareware program Multiquence, including some backwards school noises. Double heehee!

We're still approaching the halfway point here, so I'll stick to the interesting bits. "Angry" was recorded on a visit to Ipswich (me with guitar, Robert drumming on his desk) and has resurfaced a few times (even recently with Luke). It's somewhere between Portishead and a resigned Elvis Costello. "F/S Double" is a guitar in odd tuning, something like C-F-Bb-G-A-D.

(The original) Side Two features an experiment called "What Would You" where Robert and I were trying to keep shifting rhythms against each other, and he was using his voice like a sampling keyboard - "what would you, what would you do if I, wha- what wou- what would you do" (etc). The piece I'm most fond of, though, was one of many three-man improvised instrumentals that we did in 1995/6 during our lunchtimes. We would usually grab as many keyboards as we could find leads for, and set them up in a practice room with my trusty Spinney Tronic tape recorder laid in the middle. "Earlobe Enhancement" is a seven-minute slab of Casiotone prog that is about the closest we got to Boards Of Canada territory, four years before I knew they existed. It features a sterling contribution from our old co-founder, bass player and single-finger-chord picker, Aeldun, including his unexpected (to him) solo in the middle. Robert and I do very characteristic keyboard noodling, and the whole thing's been augmented with some careful overdubs through Multiquence.

The whole thing ends with an avalanche of cut-ups and finally a squealing solo from Robert on broken ukelele with a crappy mic stuck inside the sound hole. Yes, you should hear "Jazzy Bob's Lead Noodling Hour".

So, what happened to Earlobe Holistics? Well, nothing. It came with us to Glastonbury in 2000, where copies were handed to new-folkies It's Jo & Danny, and to a security guy "to give to Jools Holland". We'd hoped to track down John Peel, but alas no. Upon joining mp3.com that summer, I got on with assembling what would become the mainly solo The Seeds Of Wom, whilst we briefly tried our hand at being a four-piece band again. These days, E.H. is available on CD, and still stands as the only way to hear what Keshco sounded like in the late 1990s.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Music From The Middle Room liner notes

A new album of library music has just been released by Bleak House. So, who or what is Bleak House, and just what does it have to do with Keshco?

Well, it may bemuse you to learn that we have two bands on the go. Bleak House is an alter-ego; in fact, one of many (not to clutter this post with the history of, say, Guivarsh) and probably the longest, having begun gestation in the market city of Leicester, England, back in 2001, with a note attached to a student union messageboard. At first, Bleak House was the folk-rock sister of Keshco, with a catalogue of jaunty kitchen sink pop tunes and occasional sci-fi/thriller narratives. Then life happened, in its unassuming way, and the House went quiet, just another name in the tattered old band directory.

In 2004 we, that is Andy (your blogger) and Luke, started a tradition of yearly recording holidays down in Exmouth, where Luke's mum keeps a whole arsenal of musical instruments. There's an upright piano, a stash of various recorders, thumb-pianos, a Casio keyboard, some percussion, and we had our guitars. The recordings we made were mostly pretty instrumentals, fairly sparse and sometimes quite haunting. Of course we did nothing with these - what did you expect? Instead the years rolled past, and increasingly we went out in our other guise of Keshco. These yearly recordings continued though, until we had quite an embarrassment of moody incidentals.

Fast-forward to this year, and the overflowing pot of potential projects was far too heavy to lug around, so in a manner completely unlike Prince going back to his vault, we cautiously crept back inside the Bleak House. The 2006 collection seemed particularly ripe for harvesting, and after a little gentle augmenting and editing, the collection I am about to describe appeared, courtesy of Moldovan netlabel Silent Flow. We're determined to record for a netlabel in every country, and are up to our fourth now...

This album, "Music From The Middle Room", is divided into two suites for ease of listening, each roughly half an hour long. The first, "Through The Witch Window", opens with an 11 minute number called "Highway Acrylic", where Luke's electric guitar figure morphs glacially against my pitter-patter piano, and some extra acoustic guitar. It's a deliberately ponderous start, with a good 30 seconds of room ambience, to bring you into the right frame of mind for listening. Slow down, and take some time out.

Our second track is the autumnal "Barometer", with a mantra-like guitar around which several chordal possibilities are hung. You'll just make out some wobbly crackly tones from the Yamaha VSS-200 voice keyboard.

Some of these tunes benefited from being rerouted through Jeskola's Buzz tracker, the first of which is "Oil Burner". It's also the first track to feature Robert's drums, here tubthumping against our clanging guitars until a gas cloud of reverb boils up, swamping the listener in a dreamy steamy fug for a good three minutes.

Track four is the wonky "Insect Trap", all a chattering and clattering tangle. It leads us to "Skirting Boards", a simple, almost Neu!-like sunrise melody on Luke's guitar confirmed by deep piano notes and occasional twinkles, to which a dexterous stereo stampede of toms has been added. Five minutes of this give way to an ascending spiral of harmonics, like dust motes rising in fresh sunlight. The side ends with "Antiseptic", a sound collage from the end of a 4-track that owes some extra thanks to Goldwave, the freeware audio editor.

The second suite is titled "Behind The Cellar Door" and it opens (after your moment of grace; you did pause for an ear-stretch didn't you?) with a guitarless piece, "Coloured Lead Crayons". The electronic tones and arpeggios of the VSS-200 share centre stage with the aching piano and a gently delayed Casio keyboard. Behind the first few minutes you will note some humans approximating a choir. This was one of the recent additions, with I think five Roberts and five Andys improvising to their heart's content.

Next we hear Luke's tumbling delayed guitar figure of "Biology Slides", glitchy and scratchy, against my simple piano melody. Probably the most intense track on the album, building to a teasingly-warped coda.

"Praise Book" is almost as open, simple and timeless as it sounds. Then, somehow, we take you a few years forward; Luke's organ meditation "Everything Is Broken, Or Intact" comes from the Autumn 2010 session, and for me conjures up a Twin Peaks air of unspoken menace. What exactly happened here last night?

Another question: What have those darn children been up to all this time? Well, I can't say, as there are no children in the Bleak House. But there is something moving in the "Toy Cupboard". This rather jolly piece was saved by Robert and a lapful of tiny instruments - two xylophones, a harmonica, pitch pipes, a thumb-piano. Soothing sounds for adults?

Before you can escape the cellar, you have to shake hands with the tactile epiphany of "Coloured Lead Fingers". Luke's keyboard part holds steady whilst my piano plays across and around the rhythm, and Robert's violin adds a frisson of expectation.

And there you have it. Twelve tracks from the dusty heart of the Bleak House, laid out for your relaxation and enjoyment. Any film-makers in search of backing tracks for documentaries, dramas or deconstructivisms, please do get in touch.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to play our version of "By This River"

World Oceans Day takes place each year on 8th June, and for the last three years we've contributed tracks to special CDs curated by the aquatically-inclined Notebook Of A Mermaid. For the 2011 CD we offered our version of "By This River", a Brian Eno song originally from the album "Before and After Science" (Amazon UK; Amazon US), released in 1977.

Here's how I played the main riff, originally a piano part, on my Washburn D10SCE acoustic. Note: this is the first time I've put tab online! It's not very exciting tab, as the part is very simple - all that changes is the bass note.

Capo 3 
Luke's lap steel was tuned to an open G chord, and Robert played his recently-constructed percussive frame from which hang a multitude of cheap wind chimes, keys, washers, random sections of metal etc etc. Robert and I sang unison lead vocals, and then Luke added a melodic flute part during the middle and ending, to top the whole thing off.

We recorded the song on our 8-track, and then ported it into Buzz where I added plenty of the Sonic Verb plugin to give a bit of distance.

You can watch the video for our version of "By This River" on YouTube here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Record Store Day

So, did you spot any?  We were both excited and amused to put together a special single release for the annual Record Store Day, and with luck an indie shop near you will have held a copy or two of "No Sale!". The single features, on the A-side, one of our very oldest songs, "Welcome To Our Corner Shop", dragged kicking and squawking into the modern era, and as its flipside, the newest thing we've written, "Orange Nightmare Record Fair", a distinctly trippy instrumental.

No worries if you missed out - we've got a few copies left of the 200 here and will have them for sale at our upcoming performances, or you can drop us a pound.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Accountants By Day liner notes

Accountants By Day EP coverA gentle welcome, dear friend. You may be pleased to learn that we have recorded another EP for that lovely Swedish netlabel, 23 Seconds. It's called Accountants By Day, has eight tracks totalling 21 and a half minutes, and it's fair to say it's a cracker. Some of our best tunes committed to binary. It'll fit on a sleek 3-inch CD (a sleeker but not cheaper option, despite what one witless reviewer assumed), although you may prefer the vanilla option of a full 5-incher (do you not care about clutter?!).

Some thoughts about the recording and mixing process. All of the tracks were written in 2010, well pretty much; "Enlightenment" started as a single phrase a few months earlier but was completed on Sunday 10th January in the dark. It stems from a plan to write a sci-fi themed EP; what better sci-fi to write about than Doctor Who, and what story more suited to songform than Peter Davison's "Enlightenment"? The sci-fi idea is still percolating; expect more in the coming year. It's only a gentle thematic reference; the rest of the lyric a playing-around with amateur astronomical themes. The Sky At Night is a great programme. Can't believe I didn't latch on sooner. The last bit recorded was Luke's flute solo, with its triple trill finale.

We shoot forward to a transitional piece, "All I Never Wanted". We reckoned a little mood-shifter was necessary, and Bob's zither and cymbals did the rest. I think a collection of library music would be a good diversion for us, freed of the tyranny of lyrical narrative. You may beg to differ. Our long-suffering mixing program, Jeskola's Buzz (why am I writing that? It's the mixer, i.e. me, who suffers, bent-backed at the desk for hours trying to alchemise whilst everyone sleeps off their curry... woe, woe, woe) ...features a fabulous reverb plugin, Sonic Verb, crafted to resemble a pricey reverb of the early 00s, and which features on all the tracks on the EP. Here it's cranked up. I love the shiver-down-the-spine of the zither. Not sure if we can replicate it now Bob's bought a tuning key.

Have you ever hated your boss? Ah, but have you ever committed those thoughts to wax? Nor have we, but we did use our new-ish Korg D888 digital multitracker on this collection, and one of its first wriggling specimens was Bob's "Below The Waves" (Song For A Bastard Boss). A bluesy belch of bile, its instrumental break sees several badly-played quiet guitars going through a dozen effects boxes. I'm enjoying playing slide guitar these days. But oh! the luxury of recording the basic band track in the same room at the same time, with multiple mics on the drums.

Sex tourism is go! "Abysinnia Next Week" began life as another song of Bob's called "White Darth Vader"; I picked out the underlying filth in its semi-nonsense lyrics and added some suitable lines. (The original synthpop version is still to come, on another EP, someday...) The backing track was mostly recorded in Exmouth at Luke's mum's house, where there is a great selection of recorders. Freak, man!

After all that rampancy, you need a comedown, and here we have "Fly By Night". It has something to do with being persuaded to volunteer at an adults' charity ball, and having a miserable time. Rigsby comes to mind: "The permissive society? It doesn't exist. And I should know - I've looked for it". But of course, it needs to be looking for you. Listen out for a fierce and wonky guitar solo (ha!) and a fierce and wonky melodica (double ha!). This was the last thing recorded for the EP - we kept it standing around in the corner until December wearing only a simile.

"Wafternoon" also hung around for a little while, until its silly lyric had infused through the music properly. It was prompted by a wobbly moment on the south coast. The middle section features two kazoos (never underestimate the kazoo), woozy slide from Luke and a kitschy keyboard solo by myself.

It's reverb to 11 on the penultimate track, a riot of stereo percussion which includes coins spun on drum heads, a wind-up plastic robot, a wooden metronome, wall chimes, and a metal Beatles wall sign struck like a gong. It's named in honour of the daft comedian Marty Feldman, and nearly had the suffix "Emergency Ambulance". Imagine a fierce storm in an English village, trees coming down in people's gardens, slates sliding off roofs, and Marty riding through the sheeting rain, perhaps wiping the windscreen with a hanky when the wipers get stuck.

We end the EP in solemn territory. Having first heard it after perusing Elena Filatova's Chernobyl photos, "Son of a Systems Engineer Manager" conveys such an air of weary resignation, that it's quite possible to believe Luke went and sabotaged a power station the following day. The protagonist's hopes are allowed to pick up briefly in the psychedelic middle 8, before coming back to the present with a distorted klaxon (having dozed off on the night shift?). You may be amused to note the rumblings over the final minute are provided by my washing machine, which just happened to go onto its spin cycle at the right moment. Who needs BBC Sound Effects CDs?