Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas Has Arrived!

EmmetOtter

I’m quietly celebrating the holidays with a new addition to my vast Jim Henson library – this is the Record Store Day exclusive limited edition picture disc of the music from Henson’s 1977 television special, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. The soundtrack was issued for the very first time for Record Store Day in 2018 and was limited to 2000 copies worldwide. This year a picture disc version was issued in a run of 2,500. Both editions were issued by the soundtrack record label, Varèse Sarabande.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas RSD 2019 Picture Disc 12-17-19

All versions of the soundtrack feature 15 tracks from the TV special, a previously unreleased song called “Born in a Trunk” that didn’t make it to air, as well as extended liner notes featuring interviews with the film’s puppet performers, and more.

The film was Jim Henson’s most complex endeavor to date. As Dave Goelz reflected in 2011:

“We built a 55-foot-long river that was about 10 feet wide and went all the way across the stage, and they built a radio-control rowboat for Emmet. It was so lovely and lyrical to see Emmet rowing his mom down the river. The idea that there was life along the river and that it was all interconnected was a great metaphor for people.”

The soundtrack features all of Paul Williams’ music from the special, including the fan-favorite, “Riverbottom Nightmare Band” and the heartwarming, “Where the River Meets the Sea,” the latter of which was featured on the classic John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together LP in 1979.

Though I was too young to have seen the original television broadcast in ’77, I had the great pleasure of seeing Emmet Otter along with The Bells of Fraggle Rock together in the theater when they were featured by Fathom Events on December 16, 2018.

henson-poster-2142187e35d61bbcec9e971e701f5200.jpg

Now I’ve added the picture disc to my library of 60+ Jim Henson-related LPs. (There’s one more Henson holiday disc I hope to secure, but as it has almost never surfaced on the resale market I’m going to keep it under wraps until one appears or a reissue is released.)

Happy holidays, everyone!

Underworld – DRIFT Series 1 Box Set

Closing out the year at Innerspace Labs with a monstrously mammoth undertaking by my favorite electronic duo, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld with the newly-issued DRIFT Series 1 Box Set – the 600th addition to my Underworld release library!

From Wikipedia:

DRIFT is the ongoing music-and-video experiment by the British electronic music group Underworld, launched on 1 November 2018 with consecutive tracks and music videos being released online, on a weekly basis. Individual new tracks are being made available through the band’s official website, as time-limited free downloads, along with accompanying videos published on YouTube — followed by collective “episodes” released as digital EPs on music streaming platforms. 

It’s Underworld’s second digital distribution project, after the 2005–2006 series Riverrun, which stand and some of my favorite deep cuts from these veterans of progressive house music. 

Released on Smith Hyde Productions via Caroline International, DRIFT Series 1 (Boxset Edition) contains seven CDs comprising all 52 of the weekly-issued tracks from the project. The set also includes a Blu-ray DVD with the 30 videos produced for Series 1 as well as an 80-page book. The box set has nearly 2 hours of content that wasn’t issued during the weekly digital releases.

UnderworldLive.com provides a captivating summary of the project: 

What is DRIFT?

• It’s precisely one year inside the minds of Underworld.

• It’s a journey that began on 1st November 2018 when Underworld released the track Another Silent Way and set off with no map, no fixed destination and a simple mantra (“Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust.”) ‘Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s aim was to create and publish music and film episodically for 52 weeks and see where the journey took them. Within a few weeks, the experiment found its own path, prompting the electronic pioneers to react to previous releases and create new works accordingly. Over time, the duo’s innate curiosity opened up a unique space in which they could experiment, learn and explore new frontiers – together and with others (including Tomato’s Simon Taylor, Australian improv-trance band The Necks, techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty and members of Black Country, New Road). During the 52 weeks, five self-contained episodes were released (respectively in November, January, March, May and August) – collectively, they formed DRIFT Series 1.

• It’s a unique and expansive audio/visual document of that open and constantly evolving recording process – seven discs of immersive and exploratory music that dive deep inside the band’s psyche. And it’s also a carefully picked single disc sampler that guides the listener straight through the centre of the project.

• It’s a series of extraordinary films that take you from Shibuya Crossing to the Moroccan desert to rural Essex via the inside of supercomputer.

• It’s a book that delves into process and explores the motivation behind one of the most ambitious creative endeavours ever attempted by a recording artist.

And… at the heart of it, there’s some of the best music Underworld have ever made – as much a progressive leap forward into the unknown as their classic debut dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The series was well-received by critics, with a normalised Metacritic score of 86 based on 6 reviews indicating universal acclaim and stands as the band’s most-acclaimed studio release to date. Mixmag called the album “absolutely stunning.” 

As with other collaborative efforts from the duo like Teatime Dub Encounters (with Iggy Pop) and Downpipe with Mark Knight & D. Ramirez, DRIFT Series 1 features a number of guest artists.

From International DJ Mag:

Guests featured in the collection included techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, trance outfit The Necks and economist Aditya Chakraborty (no, really) as well as long-term collaborator Simon Taylor, with whom Underworld founded the Tomato design and film collective. 

Tragically there are few published reviews exploring this release in the detail it deserves. (This article was drafted before the commercial release of the box set, so there will likely be more reviews to come once the release is available to the public.) Though the band themselves provide a brief write up accompanying each digital single which are archived at underworldlive.com/drift.

Thankfully, Adam Blyweiss of treblezine.com offers some insightful observations which contextualize both the strengths and shortcomings of this massive project. I’ll quote a few sections from his article but encourage readers interested in exploring the DRIFT series to read it in its entirety here. Blyweiss writes:

I’m pretty sure Rick Smith and Karl Hyde struck the word “small” from their vocabulary long ago. Performing as Underworld, nothing they have ever done can be described as such. Their biggest hits are epic in length and strength, their albums cavernous, their ideas complex enough to require dedicated studios, design firms, and streaming media channels.

The techno form has always had detractors of its monorhythmic and monotonal origins, and responsive artists who dare to twist those as far as they might go. With that in mind, Drift Series 1 is a daunting work, and a daunting listen. To the uninitiated or less-dedicated, there are moments when Underworld stray so far from being, well, Underworld that they sound like faded copies of other artists, the promise of experimentation turned into heavy-handed gimmickry. Disc four, with the episode “Space,” includes heretofore unheard gestures with melody and songwriting that can sometimes descend into irritating Flaming Lips territory (“Hundred Weight Hammer”). And for as pretty as the piano feature “Brilliant Yes That Would Be” is, it’s still just lifted from the modern classical motifs of Eno, Glass, and Satie.

Further, there are moments where Smith and Hyde’s equipment and sample libraries threaten to overwhelm listeners with countless variations on what is ultimately the same theme. Many of these songs are long, shifting treatises on the groove—multipart, meditative throbs that recall the days of “Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love”—that in a vacuum might stun but revisited over and over might make even the most dedicated fan a little numb.

But he makes sure to express the merits of the project – 

Still, so much of Drift Series 1 reminds us that Underworld are just worlds apart from most other house derivatives of today, let alone the contemporaries who rose up with them in the heart of the 1990s’ big beat and intelligent dance music movements. 

For another thing, Drift Series 1 brings to the lexicon some of Underworld’s most memorable contributions since Beaucoup Fish in 1999. “Listen to Their No” is a fresh dip into their well of ecstatic house conceits, and “Imagine a Box” is a dour, eerie acid ghost story. “S T A R,” meanwhile, is an infectious little speed demon of a track that rests somewhere between nursery rhyme and children’s word game, matching up the activities of established fantasy characters like Tom Thumb and Robin Hood with modern names like Dr. Dre, David Beckham, and Rosa Parks. This and other cuts like “Another Silent Way” (originally released set to footage of UK drift racers—“drift,” get it?) find Smith and Hyde continuing to sneak more cheekiness into their music this late in their careers, and they’re all the more entertaining for it.

The last song of disc one, “One True Piano Need Hand,” is their first real attempt at droning noise, while disc three, “Heart,” is the box set’s locus of high weirdness anchored by the stuttering improvisations of “Poet Cat.” Frankly, Underworld scatter horns and strings, jazz and classical throughout Drift Series 1, from the patches of “Altitude Dub” to disc five’s choral denouement, “A Moth at the Door.” Smith and Hyde also make room in this music for contributions from Australian experimental band The Necks, none so thorough as the set’s sixth disc of collaborations between the bands based on songs released earlier in Underworld’s project. While the first two songs (42 minutes!) lean heavily on The Necks’ tender jazz interplay, Underworld’s stamp is clearly on the closing half-hour-long “Appleshine Continuum,” a composition suggesting the massive remixes and studio bootlegs from the dubnobasswithmyheadman days.

Underworld bravely use the broad expanse of time and creative space covered in Drift Series 1 to explore sounds and arrangements not yet heard in their repertoire. There’s also plenty of evidence that what brought them to the dance—and the dancefloor—not only never went away, it’s as sharp as ever. Surely not even UW superfans are going to like everything they hear in this collection, but there’s so much worth giving a chance. And hey, there’s always the sampler. And next year.

I also must mention a parallel drawn between Underworld and one of my favorite kosmische musik artists which I found mentioned in a feature by Simon Tucker of LouderThanWar.com:

John Doran of The Quietus recently compared Underworld to German pioneers CAN and that comparison is perfect. Like CAN, Underworld always seem to be in a constant state of evolution and knee deep in the high-art of experimentation. What they also share with their German predecessors is the sheer wealth of quality that they produce with DRIFT being the ultimate example of this. Fired up and free from the leash, Hyde and Smith now plan on continuing the project into 2020. They are now the gatekeepers and the spirit guides. Cerberus and Snoopy. As they continue we wish the road rises up to meet them and we will be following them every single step of the way for this is a story that has many enthralling chapters left to be written.

Stunning.

Series 1 explores a gamut of electronic subgenres. The Discogs entry for the release cites no fewer than a dozen genre tags for the release, including Techno, Leftfield, Experimental, Downtempo, Electro, Abstract, Future Jazz, Minimal Techno, Progressive House, Drum n Bass, Ambient, and Spoken Word.

DRIFT is, as Blyweiss wrote, a daunting and somewhat overwhelming undertaking, but one which is fantastically rewarding and welcomed by fans who wished for new Underworld music. As I mentioned, this release brings the grand total of discs in my Underworld library to an even 600, comprising well-over 8,100 tracks, many of which clock in at anywhere from 40 minutes to hours in length. These six hours of new content will be enjoyed again and again this winter and I look forward to the next DRIFT installment in 2020!

Published in: on November 16, 2019 at 7:55 am  Comments (2)  
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Penguin Cafe – Handfuls of Night (2019)

Handfuls of Night, released October 4th is the highly-anticipated follow-up to Penguin Cafe’s much-applauded 2017 album, The Imperfect Sea. The new album was conceived in honor of Greenpeace’s commissioning Jeffes to compose four pieces of music corresponding to four breeds of penguins in an effort to raise environmental awareness for the endangered Antarctic seas. In 2005 Jeffes joined an expedition re-creating Scott’s last Antarctic trip in 1911 for the BBC.

Erasedtapes.com notes:

Handfuls of Night’s tones, textures and melodies evoke otherworldly expanses, which at different junctures are either foreboding, awe inspiring or peaceful. There’s subtly morphing rhythmic repetition throughout, somewhere between minimalism, krautrock and the piano-cascades of label peer Lubomyr Melnyk. Jeffes creates a kinetic, circling motion, which drives the album forward in the form of a musical trip that mirrors the physical journey it was inspired by.

Steven Johnson wrote the following about Handfuls of Night for MusicOMH:

At The Top Of The Hill, They Stood may initially just seem to be a simple, slight run of piano arpeggios with some melodica laid on top but over time becomes infused with emotion and depth. In short, it’s one of their most impeccable moments to date.

The closing stages see them further settle comfortably into the surroundings of their Erased Tapes label. With strings and piano outdoing any quirks or idiosyncrasies of previous albums they’ve never sounded closer to the likes of Ólafur Arnalds, and Nils Frahm. Yet, there’s still a distinct Penguin Cafe magic to Handfuls Of Night. The music here won’t come as a surprise to people familiar with their increasingly tightly managed aesthetic but it still provides a wonderfully calming sanctuary to temporarily get lost in.

But it was Michael Sumsion’s captivating description of the album’s music at vinylchapters.com which truly captures the elegance of this record. Sumsion beautifully writes:

Penguin Café represent a disparate collective of musicians operating within the cracks between pop, classical, ambient and folk.

The group’s idiosyncratic raggle-taggle music has always evaded easy categorisation, roaming from exuberant folk and pop styles to electro-acoustic minimalism and African textures.

Bookended by the serene, plaintive ambience of Winter Sun and Midnight Sun, Handfuls of Night consistently demonstrates the band’s affinity for subverting conventional definitions of post-classical soundscape music and disarms the listener with its puckish wit, crystal-clear sensitivity and warmth of tone. They deftly condense folksy and filmic themes whilst conjuring shards of throbbing krautrock, sweeping, Philip Glass-inflected neo-minimalism and Michael Nyman-style piano arpeggios, most notably on the wistful At the Top of the Hill, They Stood…

The influence of somnolent folktronica is audible on Chinstrap and Pythagorus on the Line Again, but the dominant mode is that of a euphoric, homely chamber music which induces the welling of tear ducts, a plangent wash of strings, bending motifs and waves of succulent sadness.

Handfuls of Night succeeds as an enveloping haze of robust intensity and sombre tones, as keening melodies soar with orchestral precision and heart-rending execution. Even if it conjures nothing nocturnal for you, it represents some of the band’s most satisfying carvings of catharsis, exquisitely pitched between accessibility and depth, melody and dissonance.

Pensive and wistful, their latest effort is markedly more cinematic than their previous recordings, and its minimal stylings are befitting of what listeners have come to expect from the Erased Tapes label. Penguin Cafe consistently offers a charming and seamless blend of minimalism, folk, and classical musics, masterfully combining string arrangements, harmonium, melodica, and Glassian piano. Handfuls is a mature and engaging soundscape for active or passive listening, and a wonderful score to usher in the autumn.

For All Mankind – Brian Eno’s Latest Ambient Work

Brian Eno - Apollo and For All Mankind plus Bonus Poster

I’m very pleased to share the latest arrival at Innerspace Labs – just in from the UK.

I was among the first 250 worldwide to order Brian Eno’s new Extended Edition of Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, the 1983 album he produced with Daniel Lanois and his brother Roger Eno. The music was originally recorded for For All Mankind, a documentary that includes footage from the Apollo 11 moon landing.

This edition featured a new companion album with 11 new tracks “that reimagine the soundtrack to For All Mankind,” the first time the three musicians had collaborated since the recording of the original album, which was newly-remastered for this release.

Brian Eno - Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks 2019 Extended Edition.JPG

The first 250 copies sold out within a few hours of the announcement and included a bonus A2 lithograph of the album art showcasing the lunar surface which I immediately framed for my new office, as well as a digital download of the remastered original album and the new bonus disc so I can enjoy the music wherever I travel.

I’m thrilled to experience an entire new album from the master of ambient music, and it is an honor to be among the privileged few to receive the deluxe edition. Another wonderful treasure for my library.

Sony Camera Version of Brian Eno - Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks 2019 Extended Edition A2 Limited Edtiion Lithograph Art Print Framed

(06.30.2019) The KLF – Welcome To The Past (Unedited) [WAV]

The privilege of hearing exclusive private releases can sometimes be the most rewarding and fulfilling musical experiences in an archivist’s life. And so it is with this brand new edit. The history and context of its composition is cryptic and shrouded in mystery, with very few search results on the internet, (I count three in total at the time of this drafting), which make the honor of receiving a copy all the more exciting.

From the very little information available publicly, it seems that this was originally released in an unknown number of exclusive edit singles, (at least 39 as evidenced by what members have compiled and contributed to theritesofmu wixsite at https://theritesofmu.wixsite.com/klf-kommunications/welcome-to-the-past-puzzle). It appears that the new complete(?) cut titled, “Welcome To The Past (Unedited)” was issued June 30th and distributed directly by the artist via private email in WAV format.

One of the previously-issued segments have been filed on Discogs here:
https://www.discogs.com/The-KLF-Welcome-To-The-Past/release/12381982

But the new complete (?) WAV now has an entry of its own:
https://www.discogs.com/The-KLF-Welcome-To-The-Past/release/13822393

The WAV’s Discogs entry sheds little additional light on this mysteriously wonderful release. It has what appears to be placeholder artwork as I’ve found no record of official art for the track, but the Discogs entry does provide a few other pieces of information.

klf

First, it confirms the total run time of the track to be 41:47 (corroborated by the WAV file I received), and bears the style tags of “ambient,” “synth pop,” and “trance.” It also offers a catalog number as part of the unofficial (but intensely professional) series, with this entry marked as “KLF 000RE.”

Distribution is denoted as UK and Europe, but with my understanding that this was a non-physical digital release issued via email I would say that the UK and Europe designation serves more a point of origin rather than an official region for the release. (I am in the US.)

But on to the track itself. The KLF Recovered & Remastered series is infamous and highly-prized for good reason, with several titles outshining even the original incarnations by Bill and Jimmy, themselves. Live From The Lost Continent is the greatest concert that never was. This Is Not What Space Is About and This Is Not What Chill Out Is About are each a pure triumph of the art of remixing and are powerfully epic listening which transport the listener to new worlds of experience.

Welcome To The Past (Unedited) is no exception to the incredibly high standard of production and musical cut-up artistry maintained consistently throughout the continuing Recovered & Remastered saga. It is frankly astonishing how much dynamic and fresh content its creator has been able to construct from the finite bank of the KLF’s catalog. He effectively breathes new life into their music and meticulously and masterfully assembles an array of seemingly innocuous samples of sirens, trance beats, and train station field recordings into a seamless and transportive opus of provocative proportions.

The final minutes of the mix are evocative and stirring, tugging wistfully at the heartstrings of every KLF devotee who has followed their zenarchistic madness from 1987 to the present day. Perhaps it is silly to romanticize trance music built upon discordian mythos and mayhem, but Welcome To The Past is an exquisite specimen of remix culture and a pure and proper celebration of the legacy of The KLF.

Five stars. Pure joy. “This is what the KLF are about. Over and out.”