Saturday, 27 June 2015

Chris Lyons - The Ill-Tempered Klavier Album Review: Saturday's Child by Ray Banks Book Review: Interview - Maps

Chris Lyons - The Ill-Tempered Klavier
Album Review
Apart from boasting the most pretentious sleeve-notes since Yes quoted the Shastric Scriptures on Tales of Topographic Oceans, The Ill-Tempered Klavier is simultaneously a brave attempt to push forward fusion and a lesson in why virtuosity is held in suspicion by the rock community. 

Chris Lyon is at his best when he sticks closely to the classical tradition - on opener Der Klavierspiel his proficiency supports an astounding array of moods and Molly's Blooming is a sensuous Cool Jazz strut. Unfortunately, Kevin Glasgow's busy bass frequently overburdens the songs, tipping Pterodactylic Hexameters towards the pomposity of its title and Lyon's tendency to noodle renders Free Market Orgonomics and Offa's Dyke as soporific as Elton John instrumentals. 

Still, when he lets the drummer have some - notably on Thus Swung Zarasthrustra and the almost rocking Everything You Know - he generates an intellectual art-rock excitement. His skills are not to be doubted, but Lyon is fusing the wrong influences, heading back to the overblown super-groups and Miles Davis' electric period rather than thinking about how God Speed! or Talk Talk allow jazz and classical to inform their music.

Saturday's Child
by Ray Banks
Book Review
A Northern England of incest, alcoholism, drug abuse and casual violenceCal Innes is a hardboiled ex-con caught up in the search for a mobster's missing daughter. Leaving no cliche unturned, Ray Banks drags his ill-defined cast through a Northern England of incest, alcoholism, drug abuse and casual violence towards an unsatisfying conclusion.

Attempting the taut prose of Chandler or Spillane, Banks mangles working class patter into short sentences and garish similes, never capturing the authentic voices of his unpleasant and ignorant narrators. The protagonist Innes comes across as a moron, emotionally needy and ill-suited to his role as Private Investigator - his sudden rampage across Newcastle is jarringly out of character; his antagonist Mo is little more than a stereotyped thug. Female characters are, inevitably, defined by their sexuality. The worth of men depends solely on their ability to hand out or receive beatings. Dialogue is stilted, and the plot stumbles along driven by obvious surprises.

Ironically, there is nothing shocking about the violence: it is described with a glib realism that has been done before, and better. The descriptive passages are ponderous, characters lack interior lives and fail to learn from mistakes. If this suggests some purpose to Saturday's Child, the unsympathetic lead and mediocre storytelling render it impotent.

Donkey Punch by Ray Banks
Book Review
By transplanting his thuggish noir from Manchester to LA, Ray Banks' second Cal Innes novel has two sets of mean streets to pace. Not that his grasp of characterisation has gotten any stronger: Donkey Punch is as terse and macho as Saturday's Child, although his hard-boiled writing style has become more poised and confident.

As before, Innes is an incompetent investigator: it is his own stupidity that generates the various dramas that enliven the slim plot. Sucked into a world that turns out to be far less corrupt than it appears, Innes stumbles through his adventures, using his fists when a little intelligence would suffice. Other characters shamble in and out, barely defined beyond their usefulness - the rowdy youth, the boxing wannabe, the ambitious father.

The twists and turns of the narrative are evident to the reader, if not to the characters: if Banks is trying to create a grim reality where ignorance is dominant, he would do better if his protagonist was likable. As it is, Donkey Punch is like a British boxer - promising a great deal at the start, but lacking the discipline, persistence and strength to really take down the Americans. 

Maps: Not so much shoe-gazing as star-gazing.
It could be the consequences of a night out in Glasgow, but James Chapman is difficult to interview. He isn't surly, or rock-star arrogant - indeed, he is charming, enthusiastic about music and witty. At the same time, he appears slightly surprised at finding himself on tour and being interviewed.

"It's taken me a long time to get here," he admits, when asked about his expectations for the tour. "I never thought that I'd do a live tour, because I never thought that I'd get signed."

It is this humility - as well as the years spent working away at his distinctive fusion of melody and electronica - that separates James from many of his peers. His well-received album, which has been variously compared to My Bloody Valentine and the intelligent techno that inspired Radiohead's foray into experimentalism, harks back to the original fusions of dance music and guitar pop. Having one ear for the melodic hook and another for lush texture, Maps' tracks are concise bursts of distorted exotica. James' presence on record is gentle, even melancholic, whispering secrets within whirls of guitar and keyboards. His tastes, and approach to making music, are eclectic.

"It's quite mixed: years of hanging around, working on it. I do like stuff that is ambient, but I love classical music as well. Vaughan Williams' Fantasia blows me away every time. I don't listen to a lot of really old stuff - except maybe the Beach Boys. But my real love is electronica: I got into it at university and it was a whole new world for me."

This doesn't mean, however, that he is trying to copy his influences. "I don't make music on a computer - but I use a sixteen track tape recorder and a drum machine. Every song is made differently - sometimes I record the melody first, sometimes the lyric. And I always wanted to have a band, and not just be me and a laptop. It's more interesting."

In performance, Maps recreate their studio sound using state of the art technology and old school guitar effects to whip up the orchestrated chaos that bands like Sonic Youth pioneered back in the late 1980s. Yet Maps are lighter, more pastoral - perhaps because of James' own background.
"I live in a village outside of Northampton - a nice place to relax in: there's a good vibe and a good scene. I am not really part of the Northampton gothic tradition!"

But comparisons have been made the shoe-gazing scene: bands that followed in the wake of My Bloody Valentine, but were swept away by Britpop.

"Some of my new stuff is a bit more poppy. I'm not so much shoe-gazing as... star-gazing. Yeah, you can use that. Star-gazing."

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