PAPA M Live From A Shark Cage (Domino)
David Pajo - Mogwai's spiritual Godfather and formerly of Slint, Tortoise, Royal Trux and Aerial M - returns with his latest franchise Papa M, although, like the aforementioned Aerial M, it seems to be an entirely solo venture. "Live From A Shark Cage" adds new layers of patterns and textures to the slow, sparse, revolving melodies Pajo has been pioneering for a decade or more: there are little tricks like the sinister David Lynchian sequence of answering machine messages that thread through "Crowd Of One", the wry lounge jazz of "Up North Kids" or the guitar body thumps that percussively punctuate "Knocking The Casket" that help keep proceedings interesting. Not that "Live From A Shark Cage" ever verges on dull, even during the side-long fully-interlocking guitar chiming of "I Am Not Lonely With Cricket".
Squint at the sleevenotes and you'll discover that Steve Albini and Stereolab's Tim Gane helped with the recording of a track apiece, and that the strange statuesque figures on the cover were photographed on a wall in Moscow's 'Park Of Culture' subway station. That's about the entirety of what "Live From A Shark Cage" gives away about itself; anything else you discover whilst floating in and out of its unravelling grooves is a product of its interaction with your imagination, an effect of its almost Eno-like purity of purpose. All of which makes it another significant milestone in Mr Pajo's curvy career path.PAPA M Whatever, Mortal (Domino)
"Whatever, Mortal" is Dave Pajo's second album under the Papa M moniker - he's previously recorded as a member of Slint, The For Carnation, Tortoise, Royal Trux, pseudonymously as Aerial M and even, briefly, using his own name. And the big shock and surprise here is that, for the first time, Papa M sings! The album is stuffed full of near-biblical parables of human frailty, tales of love and death that combine to form a subtle, measured portrait of existence at physical and emotional extremes. Opening track "Over Jordan" adds an extra jolt of volts by revealing itself to be a rearrangement of the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger" (Pajo being in excellent company, as both Tim Buckley and Joni Mitchell have had the same idea before now). And even before you've grown accustomed to the idea of a Papa M album with lyrics, by track three ("Sorrow Reigns") he's singing stuff like "There was something like a wall between us/That stopped your going down on my penis" with the same jaunty, court jester gait that Bob Dylan employed throughout his excellent recent album "Love And Theft".
Further sly humour is in evidence on the instrumental "Krusty", somewhat more traditional Pajo territory but with its potential chin-stroking earnestness undermined by the episode of "The Simpsons" crackling in the background which provides the piece's title. "Many Splendored Thing" contains the lyric "She is a dream of the sea", which recalls Bonny Billy's cover of The Renderers' "A Dream Of The Sea" on last year's exquisite "More Revery" mini album, and who should be Pajo's chief helper on "Whatever, Mortal" but Bonny Billy's real-life alter-ego, Will Oldham. "Sabotage" begins as a brooding tale of peril at sea before moving through a sitar-saturated centre section and emerging with a melody of near-joyous optimism that suggests, more than anything here, Tortoise at their prime.
"Whatever, Mortal" might have antecedents in the equally pseudonymous work of the Will Oldham one-man musical mafia, the undercurrent of biblical bloodshed could suggest Nick Cave on a low heat, and at its warmest the album may dovetail into the frostier end of the alt.country boom, but above all it's a Dave Pajo album, and, even in the face of strong competition, possibly his best solo work yet. Loads of extra points too for a crisp 'n' heavy double vinyl pressing from Domino, which rotates at 45 rpm for extra sonic oomph.