Piano Magic

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Popular Mechanics , 6.5/10
Low Birth Weight , 6/10
Artists Rifles , 6/10
Writers Without Homes , 4/10
The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic (2004) , 5/10
Disaffected (2005), 6.5/10
Part Monster (2007), 5/10
Ovations (2009), 4.5/10

Piano Magic, the project of British guitarist Glen Johnson and a revolving cast of collaborators, debuted with the EP Wrong French (iChe, 1996), a soundtrack for a Rachael Leigh performance that contained Wrong French, a naive female recitation over floating organ drones and tiny electronic turbulences, and Glen Johnson's claustrophobic instrumental of industrial music General Electric With Fairy Lights (that would remain one of their experimental peaks). The eight-minute Wintersport/ Cross-Country (iChe, 1997), with a detached childish voice (Hazel Burfitt) repeating a nursery rhyme over a non-existent arrangement, and with a surreal coda of natural and found sounds and electronic loops that was basically a mini-concerto of musique concrete (devised by Glen Johnson, Paul Tornbohm and Dominic Chennell), backed with Martin Cooper's surrealistic chamber sonata of Magnetic North, as well as Johnson's instrumental For Engineers A (Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1997), an atonal carillon propelled by a strong rhythmic base, were characterized by dreamy electronic sounds performed on cheap keyboards and fragile melodies held together by simple structures, something halfway between the "bedroom pop" of Young Marble Giants and Brian Eno's futuristic-pop vignettes.

Popular Mechanics (Che, 1997), recorded with three American expatriates, illustrated Glen Johnson's aesthetic principles across a broad range of musical structures. After the frantic drum'n'bass instrumental overture Metal Coffee (Ezra Feinberg on drums), the ghostly electronic noise of Everything Works Beautifully and the synthesized miniature (0.53), Johnson laid down the melodramatic drone of Amongst Russian Lathes and Metal Curls, animated only by a few words by a woman and a minimalist piano pattern, and, after another silly exercise in musique concrete, Birth of an Object, Johnson turned to Terry Riley's chromatic, repetitive and polymelodic minimalism with Revolving Moth Cage. The nine-minute To Be Swished/Dream of the Ups Driver was collated together a serene Brian Eno-esque lullaby, a bit of static noise and finally a couple of minutes of syncopated digital drums. After yet another abstract instrumental interlude, Freckled Robot, and a more substantial instrumental vignette, Soft Magnets, mixing different kinds of electronic sounds, the closer, You've Lost Your Footing in This World, was another charming Brian Eno-esque ambient atmosphere. This was certainly and educational album, experimenting (elegantly) with different formats and styles, from dissonance to ambience to samples, but hardly cohesive or meaningful for the listener.

The song format staged a comeback with the EP The Fun Of The Century (Piao, 1998), that contained vocalist Jen Adam's and Johnson's sweet lullaby The Fun Of The Century as well as Johnson's and Martin Cooper's cubistic vignette Industrial Cutie and especially I Am The Sub-Librarian, a gentle breeze of an elegy engineered by the same couple of multi-instrumentalists (for droning cello and bells) with Caroline Potter on ethreal vocals.
The all-instrumental single Music For Annahbird (Bad Jazz, 1998), entirely composed ad performed by Johnson alone but rather disappointing (the ten-minute Me At 19, the futuristic vignette Music For Annahbird and the static buzz of Music For Wasps do not amount to much), the electronic folk-rock of Amongst The Books An Angel (Acetone, 1998), backed with the psychedelic noise of C'est Un Mauvais Presage Lorsque Ton Aureole A Tombe, the two suites of the EP A Trick of The Sea (Darla, 1998) and the tedious ballad There's No Need For Us To Be Alone (Rocket Girl, 1999), backed with the seven-minute Neil Young-ian meditation The Canadian Brought Us Snow (performed by a full-fledged rock band), sounded more like distractions once compared with the material of the second album, Low Birth Weight (Rocket Girl, 1999).

More distractions led to the EP Mort Aux Vaches (Staalplaat, 1999), before the third album, Artists Rifles (Rocket Girl, 2000), surfaced. Here Johnson has crafted a baroque work out of his "lo-fi" beginnings, assimilating Caroline Potter's voice in a manner reminiscent of Mike Oldfield's suites and forfeiting some of the earlier eccentricities in favor of a Felt-like stupor. There's No Need For Us To Be Alone is the single, followed by I Came To Your Party (Acuarela, 2001).

The mini-album Son De Mar (4AD, 2001) contains a (calm and relaxed) film soundtrack.

Almost Yesterday (1997) and the double-CD Seasonally Affective: 1996-2000 (Rocket Girl, 2001) are career retrospectives (the latter collects all their EPs and singles of those years, but only the first disc is worth the money).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Carlo Maramotti)

I Piano magic sono il progetto del chitarrista inglese Glen Johnson, che impiega una schiera di collaboratori variabile, per le sue varie e numerose registrazioni. Il primo EP,Wrong French (iChe, 1996), una colonna sonora per lo spoken-word di Rachel Leigh, il singolo Wintersport(iChe, 1997) un incrocio tra Neu e This Mortal Coil, e l'interamente strumentale For Engineers (Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1997),erano caratterizzati da suoni elettronici sognanti suonati su tastiere minimali, e fragili armonie tenute assieme da semplici strutture,una via di mezzo tra il "pop da cameretta" degli Young Marble Giants e le vignette elettroniche di Brian Eno. Popular Mechanics (iChe, 1997), registrato con tre fuoriusciti americani, si basa principalmente sui singoli.

L'EPThe Fun Of The Century (Piao, 1998), che contiene anche I Am The Sub-Librarian (probabilmente il capolavoro di Johnson),segna il ritorno al formato canzone. Music for Annahbird/Me at 19/Music for Wasps (Bad Jazz, 1998) le due suite dell'EPA Trick of The Sea (Darla, 1998) andavano nella direzione opposta, ma sembravano pi— delle distrazioni se rapportate con il materiale del secondo album,Low Birth Weight (Rocket Girl, 1999).Ancora una volta i singoli sono l'asse portante.

Ulteriori distrazioni portano all'EPMort Aux Vaches (Staalplaat, 1999), prima che il terzo album,

Artsts rifles (Rocket Girl, 2000), veda la luce. Johnson ha creato una rielaborazione barocca dei suoi inizi "lo-fi",assimilando la voce di Caroline Potter in una maniera che ricorda le suite di Mike Oldfield e perdendo alcune delle eccentricit… iniziali in favore di una sorta di stupore simile a quello dei Felt. There's Non Need For Us to be Alone(Rocket Girl, 2000), Š il singolo.

Despite the wealth of guests, Glen Johnson must have had trouble coming up with a reason to release a new album, because Writers Without Homes (4AD, 2002) is a confused, unfocused, fragile work. It features some inspired playing, particularly in the opener, Silence, where booming, jazzy drums, hypnotic bass lines and evocative guitar vibrato stage an unlikely rendezvous, the sinister solemn organ drone that supports the blues ballad Already Ghosts, the melancholy piano figures for the spoken-piece Shot Through The Fog that ends the album. It also features adventurous singing, particularly in the cold, brainy, kraut-rocker Modern Jupiter. But too many moments are simply disposable. The eight-minute centerpiece, The Season Is Long, is like the somnolent version of a Doors-ian melodrama, drained of all tension by caressing violin and xylophone over a cocktail-lounge rhythm. At the end of the album, one is mainly reminded that Vashti Bunyan sings on the delicate piano elegy Crown of the Lost, her first appearance on record in 30 years. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Greta Caserini)

A dispetto dell’abbondantenumero di ospiti presenti su Writers Without Homes (4AD, 2002), Glen Johnson deve aver auto quiche problem nil traverse ulna Buena region per realize quest album, perched’ questo e’un lavoro confuso, fragile e sfocato. Nell’album appaiono alcune interpretazioni ispirate (la balata post-rock
Already Ghosts, la bizzara ed orecchiabile
The Season is Long, la kraut-rocker Modern Jupiter), ma ci sono troppi momenti che si perdono nel vuoto e le ultime cinque canzoni sono virtualmente dei riempitivi. Alla fine dell’album, ci viene ricordato che Vashti Bunyan canta in Crown of the Lost, la sua prima apparizione in 30 anni.

Glen Johnson absorbed the influence of post-rock for the complex textures of The Troubled Sleep Of Piano Magic (Green UFOs, 2004), but basically remained aloof in a rather uneventful universe. Each song explores a different style, but none makes significant contributions to it. Even the likes of Saint Marie and Speed The Road (the standouts) are thin, faint and sullen.

The EP Opencast Heart (Important, 2005) seemed to signal a move towards the electronic pop style of Boards Of Canada.

A mainstream rock sound permeates Disaffected (Darla, 2005), possibly their best album since Artists Rifles. The songs run the gamut from the tender You Can Hear the Room (vocals by Angele David-Gillou, with a four-minute electronic coda) to the majestic Your Ghost, but the production and the overall atmosphere seem to hark back to the golden age of synth-pop (Love & Music, Deleted Scenes). The ominous atmosphere is reminiscent of latter-day Joy Division.

The elegant EP Incurable (Important, 2006) was vaguely reminiscent of Saint Etienne (Incurable) and Dead Can Dance (the instrumental Giant Mirror to Light Up Village).

Part Monster (Important, 2007) veered sharply towards generic alt-rock of the 1980s, losing all the "magic" of Piano Magic's introspective art and acquiring an edgy and sleek quality that totally changed the message (The Last Emperor, The King Cannot Be Found, Incurable).

The EP Dark Horses (Make Mine Music, 2008) was in a much more convetional rock format.

Glen Johnson also released the solo Details Not Recorded (2009).

Ovations (Darla, 2009) explored the exotic/medieval universe of Dead Can Dance in The Nightmare Goes On (Brendan Perry on vocals) and the Middle-Eastern dance and chant March Of The Atheists, These songs seemed to arrive 20 years too late. However, the spartan delicate chamber lied of A Fond Farewell boasted an original orchestration. Too much of the album rested on echoes of the 1980s, from the gloomy litanies of dark punk (The Faint Horizon, reminiscent of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart), to the synthetic arrangements of dance-punk (Recovery Position). The first moment of genius comes with the Ennio Morricone-ian instrumental La Cobardia De Los Toreros. Unfortunately, the syncopated industrial beat, tragic symphonic keyboards and loud guitar distortions of On Edge are the exception, not the rule.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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