Music

Gaudi: Magnetic

Self-portrait. Creative commons via Wikipedia.

The producer's interplay between drum and bass forms the album's heart. A resonant, visceral listen.


Gaudi

Magnetic

Label: Rare Noise
US Release Date: 2017-06-30
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Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead inverts Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet by thrusting two of its minor characters into protagonist roles. The original’s main characters recede into lesser parts, their scenes becoming fragments. Stoppard’s absurdist play magnifies seemingly insignificant narrative elements, providing the audience with a peculiar, though compelling, angle. The play transforms the insignificant into the crucial.

London-based producer Gaudi has taken a similarly unconventional approach. His latest, Magnetic, favors prominent drum and bass sections while lead instruments sit low in the mix. Like Stoppard, Gaudi compels the listener to focus on elements often taken for granted. The interplay between the drum and bass forms the heart of the album, a painstakingly crafted resonant pulse delivering a visceral, exciting listen.

Gaudi’s entire career is one long love letter to dub music. Dub, characterized by sparse drums, murky bass, and generous amounts of delay and reverb, emerged from reggae and forms the bedrock of UK grime, has influenced Burial’s brooding, apocalyptic atmospherics, and spawned modern dubstep’s excessive onslaught of aggressive bass assaults. But Gaudi isn’t interested in these developments. He’s content to dig into the classic ‘70s sound.

Though Gaudi’s dub love is heard throughout the majority of his output, Magnetic pulls the influence back a tad, allowing jazz to seep into the album’s crevices, as on tracks like “Electronic Impromptu in E-Flat Minor”, a brooding elegy with one of the album’s rare isolated piano sections. Juicy basslines and metronymic drums stomp through the opening pair of tracks, “30HZ Dub Prelude” and “Opus 12, No.7”, where a piano flits in and out but occupies minimal track time. “Memories in My Pentagram” manages to arrange a theremin, a Jew’s harp, and dissonant, skittering electronics while a Fender Rhodes plays in syncopation, a classic reggae technique also found on the album opener. “Nocturnal Sonata” combines a clean bass sound along with an ambient bass drone awash in effects, a familiar sound used in many contemporary dub techno tracks. Here, a silky bassline drives a sparse, jazzy piano melody, a sporadic billiard break sound effect punctuating the space between piano breaths.

“Modular Rondo” deserves special mention. The furthest stylistically from the other tracks, the standout motorik jam asks Nikolaj Bjerre to keep time with a Minimoog and an Arp 2600. Bjerre’s vigorous drumming feeds the relentless uptempo groove as the analogue synth arpeggios filter deliciously. Listen to this one first.

Part of the album’s winning strategy is that Gaudi chooses the right collaborators. An extremely wide array of musicians feature on the album, like guitar shredder Buckethead, bassist Bill Laswell, Pat Mastelotto (XTC, King Crimson, David Sylvian), Steve Jansen (Japan), Ted Parsons (Killing Joke) and Nikolaj Bjerr (Lamb), just to name a few. Based on the musicians’ diverse backgrounds, it’s remarkable that Magnetic remains as coherent as it is. With the wrong producer the album could easily turn schizophrenic, or worse, degrade into cheese. The album does get close on “Nocturnal Sonata”, during an ecstatic moment crescendo. The production teeters on the edge of the precipice, and one of the two pianists on the track (Gaudi and Mark Aanderud) edge back with their assured, crystalline playing.

All of Magnetic’s tracks except for “Memories in My Pentagram” employ classical music terms: sonata, rondo, opus, impromptu, leitmotif. The piano features prominently, but Gaudi also utilizes vintage synthesizers most familiar to electronic enthusiasts: the Korg MS-20, the Arp 2600, and the industry-defining Minimoog. A theremin also slinks its way into several tracks. Gaudi’s penchant for dub’s loungey, low key vibe, his classical naming convention, and his use of vintage instruments all seem to yearn for a bygone time. But the record is far from a lament -- it’s a celebration.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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