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Archive for the ‘Album Reviews’ Category

Last June, my musician and writer friend Joseph Ghosn spent a few days in Beirut. We met on a couple of occasions, spoke about the abandoned grand piano in his neighbor’s house in the Lebanese mountains and the CD compilation I was planning to release later in August, with a track of his recorded in Radio Lebanon for Ruptures. He also gave me this tape. “You’re the one to get it,” he said. Joe has a fetish for tapes, and he knows I do too. “What is it,” I exclaimed, trying to refrain my enthusiasm. “Oh, just a little thing Charbel and I recorded in one week, a few years back. Listen to it.”

I have listened to it many times since then. Between Birthdays is Joe Ghosn’s first tape release for his Discipline musical persona; it consists of one elongated drone, a musical dialogue between Ghosn and guitar player-extraordinaire Charbel Haber, incorporating fuzzy swathes of guitar and discreet layers of glitchy synthesizers. It’s difficult to tell who’s doing what. The piece meanders wonderfully, veers from instrumental post-rock to ambient electronica, recalls Oneohtrix Point Never on some occasions, opts for pure noise on other occasions… A shadowy voice speaks a few detached words, a synth line recalls Discipline’s soundtrack for the film “Beyrouth”… And the drone fades into oblivion once, twice, before picking up again. The stuff that dreams are made of (for).

For more on Joseph Ghosn, click here. He’s also got a wonderful blog on WordPress.

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When he came over to the radio for a chat and live performance, my friend Paed Conca brought this CD with him. Double CD, actually. The first side contains two tracks: one by Japanese guitarist Takumi Seino, and another by Paed and Raed Yassin (as PRAED), playing a bass (and other things as well, I’m sure) duet. The real goldmine is Side 2, though, where all three players are gathered for a 25-minute improvised piece. The 2-CD set ‘Faded Diary‘ was recorded live in Japan, in October 2009. I can’t get enough of it; brilliant, inspired stuff.

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A few hours ago, I caught myself trying to remember the first time I watched Scrambled Eggs perform live, here in Beirut or elsewhere. I couldn’t. Either my memory has started to fail me, or I’ve seen Charbel & co perform so often, and under so many guises, that the performances have merged into one gigantic, noisy blur in my head. Which makes these CD releases that much more vital, and evidently indispensable.

Both of these albums were released in April 2010, during the 10th edition of the Irtijal Festival. They are the product of a new label, equipped with a fabulously sleazy logo (see below), entitled ‘Johnny Kafta’s Kids Menu‘. The records mark an intense bout of activity for Scrambled Eggs (a trio of Charbel Haber -guitar-, Tony Elieh -bass-, and Malek Rizkallah -drums-), beginning towards the end of 2008, and extending early into 2009. The tracks were completed in Fadi Tabbal’s Tunefork Studio.

The first of the CD’s consists of sessions recorded with the ‘A’ Trio (Mazen Kerbaj -trumpet-, Sharif Sehnaoui -guitar-, and Raed Yassin -double bass-), comprising two long tracks, epic, dissonant, and sinuous, and a third, shorter, “rockier” ditty, a tribute of sorts to early Japanese animé “Grendizer”. Interesting to hear Yassin, Kerbaj and Elieh scream Arabic insults over noisy, distorted accompaniment. And highly recommended. Also recommended is local Lebanese producer Diamond Setter‘s remix of the title track, “Beach Party at Mirna el Chalouhi”. You can listen to that one here:

http://soundcloud.com/diamond-setter/scrambled-eggs-a-trio-beach-party-at-mirna-el-chalouhi-diamond-setters-whatever-you-want-rework

The 2nd album, “Scrambled Eggs & Friends”, was recorded with various musicians hailing from Beirut’s (and Paris’) experimental scenes, namely Joe Ghosn (laptop & electronics), Abdallah Ko (guitar & electronics), Stéphane Rives (saxophone), Fadi Tabbal (guitar), as well as the aforementioned Kerbaj and Sehnaoui. Here, Scrambled Eggs indulge in newfound musical directions and tangents, far from the regular rock format, and marrying with grand ease experimentation, improvisation, and noise. I love the stuff. And the visuals too (these are by Mazen Kerbaj). Ya 3akarit.

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TRASH INC: ULTRAMIND (Incognito, 2009)

Ultramind is the first full-length release from former rock drummer-turned electronic composer Nabil Saliba, aka Trash Inc. The album is a highly entertaining collection of modern dance-floor electronic sounds, spiced with vintage, funky keyboard riffs.

The inspiration for the album’s sound came to Saliba during the summer of 2008, as he played on stage on several occasions alongside Jawad Nawfal’s electronic combo Munma; the track ‘Ultramind’ was a live favorite of theirs, and Nabil chose to expand on the basic structure of that track. While ‘Ultramind’ took on a life of its own, other random Trash Inc. tunes were developed as well, and their structure modified in order to accommodate this initial track.

The end result holds surprisingly well, and does justice to Saliba’s wide range of influences: references to the 80s abound, with a strong nod towards jazz maestro Herbie Hancock’s early electric-funk experiments. More modern strands tend toward the minimal sounds of composers Gui Boratto and Sascha Funke, and the distorted rhythms of the Rephlex label. The overall feel of the music is one of space and futuristic science fiction, with a distinct ear for melodic soundscapes, reminiscent of Radioactive Man’s recent output.

Last but not least, the album’s sleeve holds a story of its own: Saliba came upon an article in a science magazine, showcasing the virtues of “Graphene”, an atomic structure with interesting electronic properties. The shape of this 3D modeled structure enchanted him so, that he wrote to the physicist in question and was allowed to use it for Ultramind’s cover art. A new threshold for science-based electronic music?

ultramind-cov

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eggs-friendsSCRAMBLED EGGS:

Dedicated To Foes Celebrating Friends (Incognito, 2009)

Hot on the heels of the haunted soundtrack they’ve created for the Joreige/Hadjithomas film ‘Je Veux Voir’, Lebanese punk icons Scrambled Eggs end their busy year with this “modest” 2-song release, which does however hold a host of surprises.

The year 2008 saw the Eggs part ways with their guitarist, Marc Codsi, an active contributor to the band’s sound since 2001. Codsi’s tumultuous departure, in addition to the wealth of experience gathered from working with various musicians throughout the year, infiltrate the tracks featured here, and lend them a primal, DIY quality. The sophistication of the ‘Je Veux Voir’ soundtrack is eschewed in favor of a raw, abrasive sound, harking back to the punk aesthetic of the ‘Happy Together Filthy Forever’ EP, released in 2006.

The single was recorded with little budget, in lo-fi conditions that seep through the music and lyrics. The band, reduced to the core trio of Haber on guitar and vocals, Elieh on bass, and Rizkallah on drums, displays a frantic desire to land back on its feet after a period of artistic self-doubt, and succeeds in doing so admirably. Of the six or seven songs that the Eggs wrote and tested on the road in September 2008, 2 were selected for this single release, and a third, a furious cover of Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, is hidden at the far end of the CD. Also hidden away at the far reaches of this release are a selection of musical snippets and oddities, selected by band-leader Charbel Haber with able help from Tunefork Studio’s maestro Fadi Tabbal.

This basic, back-to-the-roots package is a masterful way to end a difficult year, and an able return to form from one of the most revered band on Beirut’s alternative music scene.

Ziad Nawfal.

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MUNMA: UNHOLY REPUBLIC (Incognito, 2009)

The third official release by Lebanese electronic artist Jawad Nawfal sees him revisiting familiar themes and musical landscapes, while displaying the possibility for some radical departures in the near future. ‘Unholy Republic’ is the third installment of what is commonly referred to as the “Fate trilogy”, one that saw the day in the aftermath of the war waged by Israel on Lebanon in summer 2006. The first two releases, ‘34 Days’ and ‘Black Tuesday’, were marked by ominous moods and atmospheres, sets of menacing clicks and glitches, and a random selection of radio samples and speeches that conveyed brilliantly the mind-set and feelings of the artist, regarding the crisis at hand.

‘Unholy Republic’ picks up where ‘Black Tuesday’ left, with a rambling, brooding track haunted by static, radio noise, and some politician’s vehement preaching. This is followed by two tracks of subdued electronica, reminiscent of Munma’s previous releases. ‘Engram’, in particular, nods prominently towards South American musician Murcof’s output for the Leaf label. The rest of the album is more surprising, as Munma’s recent partner-in-crime, Nabil Saliba aka Trash Inc, enters the fray, and contributes his supple synth-enhanced melodies to ‘Broken Chime’ and ‘Deep Down Inside’. These show a different facet of Munma’s talent, and serve as a timely reminder that Jawad Nawfal is equally at ease devising ambient landscapes and dancefloor “stompers”. ‘Unholy Republic’ concludes on a short, ambient postcard entitled ‘Exodus’, signalling in the process the end of the “Fate trilogy”, and prefiguring realms of possibilities for Munma’s subsequent works.

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LISTEN

Audio 1: Engram

Audio 2: Deep Down

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Scrambled Eggs: Je Veux Voir OST (Incognito, 2008)

The Scrambled Eggs are no strangers to movie atmospheres. They contributed several outstanding tracks to filmmakers Joreige and Hadjithomas’ previous outing, ‘A Perfect Day’, and the soundtrack went on to win a prestigious European award. ‘Je Veux Voir’ (Joreige and Hadjithomas’ latest ) is however an altogether different experience, as it sees the Lebanese rock band tackle the movie’s atmosphere on their own, delivering in the process 17 tracks of unbridled  intensity and startling restraint.

Tracks 1 to 14 (which are mysteriously untitled) were recorded after watching excerpts from the as-yet-unreleased movie; the band gathered in Beirut’s Tunefork studios, and improvised directly onto tape melodic passages combining ambient soundscapes, ‘guitarified’ meanderings and moody rock drones. These were filtered through 16 ambient microphone inputs disposed haphazardly in the room, not necessarily directed at any particular instrument, and recorded by prolific sound engineer Fadi ‘Fe’ Tabbal. Additional arrangements and mixing were performed at a later stage by ‘Fe’ and Scrambled head-honcho Charbel Haber.

Tracks 15 and 16 feature French/Lebanese experimental musician Joe Ghosn, surrounded by a cast of like-minded friends, operating under the guise of Discipline and the Mainstream Ensemble. Tracks 17 to 19 are further additions by the Scrambled Eggs, consisting of demo tracks remixed by band members Charbel Haber and Marc Codsi, as well as one stellar, unreleased recording, ‘Let it Go’.

The album was released through Incognito Records on Sunday, October 26, to coincide with the avant-premiere of the film in Beirut.

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LISTEN

Audio 1: Scrambled Eggs: Improvisation #6

Audio 2: Discipline: Drone 1

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