What a life. Some seven years ago I started a first version of this website, in German and not in English, and from time to time I go back to the stuff I wrote back then (some of it makes me cringe) to look for albums that need to be featured here.
This is the album that struck me most, yesterday. It’s not just a great album, it’s also a great album to write about. So much that I find it hard to decide where to begin.
When I first wrote about “LM6iX” back in 2014 the album had been out for a good four years. I already had it when it was published in 2010 – but I will save that part of the story for later. To my defense – Black Gold 360 is not necessarily the kind of band that is easy to find. Small independent label, relatively small editions of physical releases – and it might just be that they didn’t get the kind of PR they would have deserved.
So when I didn’t find any new material in the time that followed, I simply assumed that the band was no longer active. That was exactly what I thought yesterday when I started to do research for this review. And I actually let out a surprised sound, something that would translate into “wtf” when I saw the discography. A new entry. Eleven years after “LM6iX”. There’s a new album out called “Dreams Of The Revelator”. Digital only, which is a little sad, but hey, it’s out there, Black Gold 360 still exist. And that’s really good news.
Because these kinds of projects deserve all the good luck they can get and they deserve to be featured and pushed and supported. And because “LM6iX” is a fantastic album.
Back in 2010 this friend of mine was a real maniac when it came to hunting for music on the web. My guess is that not all of what he downloaded was fully respecting copyright laws, but that’s another story. He was a kind man though and from time to time he would put a CD or two on my desk with stuff he thought I might like.
You know what usually happens to these kinds of CDs. They slip into a drawer, at some point their content is copied onto a computer to get rid of the disc, and then the file with all of that music is beginning its lonely life on the computer, waiting to be rediscovered, only to find out some day that it isn’t opened to finally listen to the music but to clean up the hard disk. So much music, so little time, right?
But I kept a few of them, “LM6iX” included. And one fine day I did find the time to give it a try. It only took two or three minutes to understand that not having listened to this earlier was probably the omission of the century.
First things first, though. Who are these guys? Black Gold 360 is the project of a guy called Simon Sixsmith, an English producer and songwriter who lives and works in Utrecht. Collaborating with a handful of Dutch musicians he developed a style that he calls Dirty Electronic Jazz. Which is not such a bad label if you a) allow for a rather loose definition of Jazz, b) keep in mind that in spite of the word “electronic” this is a full band with reeds, brass, keys, drums and bass and c) you understand that “dirty” is an attitude here, kind of an antonym to “purist” or “conservative”. Jazz that is happy to use whatever works to tell the story, electronic in its approach more than in its delivery, and dirty because it is more fun and offers more options.
If that may still not give you an understanding of what it is that Sixsmith and his friends are doing – no problem. Just check out the opener of this album. These nine minutes and seventeen seconds will give you a pretty good idea. “I’m Spartacus” is epic, outrageous and grand. A long and dramatic intro that sounds as if a band is slowly building the curve of excitement at the beginning of a concert – a little bit of saxophone, electronic noises, a few drum licks here and there, howling and sweeping synths, somewhere between warming up and playing with bits and pieces of stories to come. After four and a half minutes and a last crescendo it all transitions into the album’s best definition of Dirty Electronic Jazz. Brass and reed solos are strewn across drum patterns that are as loose as they are nervous, the bass is both warm and restless, vocal improvisations and electronics add the same intriguing elements, coolness and tension in equal amounts, continuously surprising all the way to the inclusion of a banjo towards the end – it’s as if Lalo Schifrin, Red Snapper and Flanger meet for a spontaneous jam.
The drama just keeps continuing, the stories keep pouring in with every new track. The church bells at the beginning of “Superbia In Proelia” make sure that we know. Again we marvel at the ambitious and masterful mix of elements, throwing in dramatic jazzy drums, plenty of trumpet, vibraphone, a wonderfully warm bass and even a Theremin – if the Cinematic Orchestra had stuck to the style of their first album and added a good dose of anarchy and electronica this might have been the result.
“Angel Of The North” (as well as “Sunspots” a little bit later) somehow manages to remind me of Four Tet in the “Rounds” phase and Mùm in their finest moments. A strange and playful little march seemingly delivered on toy instruments. “Best Of Bad, Love & Light” is a more serious march – wherever the procession may be heading, it doesn’t seem to be a good place. It’s a dark and fascinating scenario with more dramatic trumpet solos – maybe the masses are actually heading for the purgatory, who knows. “Three Word Poetry” is one of several experimental excursions on this album, closer to an audio play than to a song. It’s a scene, a room, small noises as if from another part of the house, a couple sitting where they always sit, content in the presence of each other, the furniture the same as on the day they met, the three word poetry being what they tell each other, I love you, and sometimes four words when it’s I love you too.
When I first listened to “LM6iX” I was surprised by the many different ways these people were able to mix up their Dirty Electronic Jazz concoction. I admit, this is not an easy listening album, it is best enjoyed when you put everything else aside, crank up the stereo and let it all happen. What we hear is never just cool, every story has a slightly disturbing angle to make it more interesting. “Jevski’s House” may be a really cool place but it can be loud and a bit shrill at times. “Pay Dirt” may come across as rather straight but then you get these little pocket watch melodies that seem to tell of someone that lost their life in some mysterious incident, and there is that clarinet that seems to hint at what happened, like a slightly gloating voice of morality, someone must have done something they shouldn’t have done, and that’s what happens.
“This Machine Kills…” sounds like a burlesque version of a funeral march, all gloomy and heavy, and you think that any moment now Tom Waits will walk around the corner to add some hoarse and fitting comments. Things are always slightly askew on “LM6iX”, even when the band just adds more of these experimental skits, apparently playing on toy pianos, bagpipes, harps and plenty of other sound making devices. Eleven fascinating little soundtracks of intriguingly weird dreams.
Sorry for repeating myself – but things just never get boring. I love the deep jazzy bass theme on “So Sorry Whitey”, and the way the band works on two different layers – one that seems to say that things are always the same, they come and they go, going up and down like the bells that keep rising and falling throughout the song – while the underlying voices and noises tell a very different story, that sometimes things don’t happen the way they should, or maybe even quite often, if you look beneath the surface. Very sorry, Whitey, really, but you know, the world keeps turning.
What an album. It’s amazing how much is happening on it, so dense with tales and scenes and layers, excellently produced and played, rewarding from the first minute to the last. Every single player on it does a great job: Coen Kaldeway (reeds), Teus Nobel (brass), Bob Roos (drums), Lucas Dols (bass) and of course the band leader Simon Sixsmith (keys, electronica, samples).
Good thing I listened to it again to review it here. Still great. And you know what I will do next. Get the new album and find out what their 2021 version of Dirty Electronic Jazz sounds like. I’m sure I will like that just as much.
Release for review:
BLACK GOLD 360 – LM6IX – Beluga Recordings/2419 Record Label/Fifty Dollar Records