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January 17, 2013

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Toy Love: Live at the Gluepot 1980 (Goner)

Fans of New Zealand musician Chris Knox—one half of the deliciously weird D.I.Y. pop duo Tall Dwarfs and the beloved solo artist responsible for one of the greatest love songs ever, “Not Given Lightly”—have likely heard about his late-’70s groups The Enemy and Toy Love, referred to as punk bands. However, there is a disconnect between the outfit’s studio output (compiled on the collection Cuts), which is spirited new-wave-era power pop, and written accounts of Toy Love’s live shows, which were described as being raw and terrifying, with Knox sometimes cutting himself with broken glass on stage in fits of Iggy-Pop-inspired madness to add to the frenzy.

Now, there’s documentation of the stage fury of Toy Love with the new double-album Live at the Gluepot 1980. It’s a welcome swift kick in the caboose that delivers the blistering goods, and a more accurate representation of the band’s essence than its sole studio-recorded, self-titled album from 1980, which the group itself considered a disappointment because it sounded too safe and lacked the bite and anarchy of its live shows. The set was recorded one week before the group disbanded, and over the span of less than two years with close to 500 shows under their belts, the members had honed their delivery to a scorching tightness.

The sound quality is excellent, coming from a soundboard tape, with Knox’s charged vocalizations, the meaty fuzzbox-guitar-chord slinging of Alec Bathgate (the other half of Tall Dwarfs), solid yet nimble bass playing from Paul Kean (who later co-founded the Flying Nun Records pop band The Bats) and the urgent, restless drumming of Mike Dooley all fighting for attention. Keyboardist Jane Walker contributes some piercing notes only when necessary and serves up a bent rendition of Chopin’s funeral march melody for “Death Rehearsal.”

Ending with the unstoppable, three-chord punk bliss of “Pull Down the Shades,” the album is engaging for an entire hour and simply blows away the group’s studio material.

Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin: Instrumental Tourist (Software)

Instrumental Tourist, the new album from Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin, brings together two distinct electronic artists into the same sandbox, playing with the notions of ambient music and concocting amalgams with disparate elements that alternately confuse, calm and intrigue. The two musicians are following their own acclaimed 2011 albums: Tim Hecker’s atmospheric, ambient Ravedeath, 1972, and Daniel Lopatin’s enigmatic, sample-focused Replica, released under the name of his project Oneohtrix Point Never.

Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music says that it “must be as ignorable as it is interesting,” and if we take this to heart, then Instrumental Tourist would not pass muster as being true ambient music. The reason is mainly due to Lopatin’s contributions, which are free to disturb the listener’s concentration with abstract interjections. The two musical personalities at work here are superimposed; Hecker seems to be more at home here with his own synth drones and melodic wanderings, while Lopatin is selective with his parts, not obligated to fill all the spaces with sound. Much of the album has a melancholic mood, like an imaginary soundtrack for film sequences with blurry, slow-motion scenes of people walking.

“Uptown Psychedelia” kicks off the album with static and pulsing electronic tones, hacking noises and what could be the sound of the dying cry of self-destructing computers. One of the album’s best tracks is “Intrusions,” with its startling, buzzing bursts and mounting tones. The melodic strategies on the album perhaps subconsciously stimulate the listener to seek and recognize patterns, which unfurl with measured steps, revealing order within ostensible disorder.

This writer prefers when the artists mess around with timbres instead of just tapping out sequences, and a few numbers, like “Vaccination (from Thomas Mann),” are a bit too directionless for my tastes. Nevertheless, the album has a nice offering of choice moments with peace intentionally disrupted, perhaps like the aural equivalent of a broken robot doing a cannonball dive into a serene lake.

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January 17, 2013

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