Wednesday, 27 May 2020

The Cravats - Hoorahland (2020)

I didn't really expect another one to come along quite so soon after 2017's Dustbin of Sound, but it's massively exciting that it has and in doing so has proven that this version of the Cravats is neither a happy accident nor its own tribute band. As with Dustbin, there are a couple of numbers you may recall from Grimetime, but numbers which, let's face it, more than deserved a second crack at the walnut whip. Otherwise, Hoorahland segues effortlessly into the extended timeline of the jazz-punk colossals we all remember from the good old days, back when everything was better than it is now, excepting the Cravats who have somehow retained equivalent value, hinting at the possibility of a really shit band trapped in Oscar Wilde's attic, sort of like Racey covering Frank Zappa, or possibly the other way round.

Here we have something which manages to amount to more of the same whilst being something new, a slight shift of focus, and a further mapping of some fairly peculiar territory. Goody Goody Gum Drops firmly replants the Dadaist flag in 2020 in muscular fashion, like Vivian Stanshall as one of those telly wrestlers who growls at the camera while climbing into the ring dressed as a dinosaur; and Now the Magic Has Gone pairs the Shend with Jello Biafra to teach us what Disney looks like when it really goes wrong - talking medication and buckles here rather than Tim Burton pulling a spooky face and holding up a drawing of a spider.

Having now thought about it, I realise that both the Cravats and Very Things felt as though formed from the push and pull of the Shend's disarmingly well-mannered wrestling holds with Robin Dalloway's longing for Motown; but I realise the idea is bollocks, and Hoorahland - entirely post-Dalloway - is actually fully soulful, and at least as much so as Motortown and the rest - think early Clock DVA but with a lot more oomph, as music theoreticians call it: white souls, black suits - not sure about the hats, possibly chartreuse. I'd say it's Svor Naan's sax which makes the difference given that it may actually be unique within general rock history, but I don't think it's any one element so much as how all of these absurdly disparate parts blend into such a perfectly formed whole. If I were to call it a comeback, which I'd rather not, I don't think any other band has ever come back in such convincing fashion as this, and I literally can't wait to see where they go next.

Also, if you look closely at the cover you will notice that someone has, at some point, caught our man right in the face with a chocolate milkshake, which could be taken as a metaphor for pretty much everything at the moment.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Nigel Ayers - Painted by Spirits (2019)

Nigel, as you will most likely know, has been recording as Nocturnal Emissions for several decades now. I'm not sure it's technically possible for a member of a one-man band to release a solo album, but here it is anyway. Of course, this is hardly the first work he's issued under the name to which his council tax bill is addressed; and for what it may be worth, I seem to recall a period during which Mr. Ayers expressed a certain weariness at having saddled himself with the name Nocturnal Emissions and the presumably industrial associations which tend to result from potential listeners failing to have read the memo; and I'm not sure whether this has any bearing on anything, or whether Painted by Spirits should be viewed as distinct from the Nocturnal Emissions back catalogue. My guess would be that a name such as is Nocturnal Emissions might be a bit limiting when attempting to extend one's reach beyond the usual audience.

Nevertheless, here's more of the quality work you've probably come to expect - distinctively identifiable as Nigel Ayers without simply pressing the same buttons out of habit. It's sort of ambient, but not quite, exhibiting that quality common to his more atmospheric works where the washes of sound never truly fade into the background, instead holding one's attention. Here the sounds seem to be derived from mostly conventional instruments and have kept most of their tonal qualities intact whilst being otherwise repurposed, so Painted by Spirits has more of a classical feel than previous releases and could probably be reproduced by a string quartet, albeit a patient string quartet. It's been a while since I listened to Henryk Górecki's third symphony, and too long to say whether there's any actual resemblance, but it at least reminds me of listening to Henryk Górecki's third symphony if that helps. As ever, and as is suggested by the title, Ayers channels rather than plays or composes in the traditional sense, so all of these assorted strings and blowy things have the rhythm of the natural world, calls heard in a forest, the metronomic creak of wood as it dries or stones cooling as the storm breaks. Considering how so much of his work tends to be of a certain type, at least since The World is My Womb, it's impressive how Mr. Ayers never quite repeats himself.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Severed Heads - Clean (1981)

I'd heard of the Severed Heads, but they were mostly just an amusing name until I chanced upon a copy of Rotund for Success for mere quids at Greenwich Market. I took it home, played it, and by the end of the week had tracked down every last Severed Heads record I was able to find, then spent the next year playing them all to death. I'm not sure there was ever another band for which I fell quite so hard, so suddenly, and those records don't seem to have lost any of their power. Listening to Come Visit the Big Bigot now, thirty years later, still gives me a bit of a funny turn. Yet weirdly, I was somehow unaware of their having released anything much before Since the Accident and had always assumed Blubberknife to be the only thing of note. In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago I hadn't realised that Since the Accident wasn't even their first album; and it turns out that neither was Clean, it being the second. Thank fuck for reissues.

I had reservations, believing the earlier Heads to be mostly the stuff with the tape loops, as heard on Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live in the Past and the aforementioned Blubberknife; and the looped material is certainly interesting, even powerful, but for me, it was always the tunes. Clean has therefore been a bit of a revelation given that I expected noise, or at least something of a racket. Actually it is something of a racket, but a racket with drum machines, rhythm, mood, and those twinkly sequenced melodies which no-one ever did quite like Tom Ellard. Another revelation, one which came to me just this morning, has been that everything I ever liked about the music of the Severed Heads is shared by, of all things, John Barry's Persuaders theme; so if you somehow never heard them, even though we're now two decades into the next century along, the Severed Heads are the Persuaders theme in the mind of an eighties computer, or possibly a watercolour impression of the same, images blurring as the rain begins to fall and a lovely lady artist in a floppy hat enjoys her Cadbury's Flake which, I rather think you'll find, tastes like no chocolate ever tasted before.

That last sentence exists because it's otherwise difficult to describe the full emotional impact of Tom Ellard's greatest work - and actually most of it is great.

Clean - which is now expanded to a double with a shitload of bonus material, because that's how it tends to work these days - is a formative, rudimentary, slightly raw sounding version of that greatness dating from before our man built up the confidence to vocalise, and before these things began to sound like songs or lullabies or anthems. At this point, Severed Heads were approximately the antipodean Cabaret Voltaire, spreading their invocations of the sublime across extended grooves formed from elements which hadn't always started life as music. It's a little like Since the Accident on a reduced budget, except without my implication of it necessarily lacking anything which it needed to work. It wasn't the full ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which was to come, but we were very much heading in that direction.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Revbjelde - Hooha Hubbub (2020)

I have no idea how you pronounce it, but this is apparently their second album and the one for which Peter Hope vocalises, which is what initially caught my attention. It's sort of jazzy-bluesy with a fantastically tense live sound and is as such well suited to Hope's vocals, and probably would have been called acid jazz had it appeared three decades back, or downtempo around the turn of the century, but such labels are only ever useful up to a point, and you could probably call it krautrock if you really felt the need to do so. You will have heard this instrumentation doing this sort of thing before, or something related, but it still works, and in fact sounds more powerful and moody than ever on Hooha Hubbub - punchy soundtracks to films which were never made - including at least one spy thriller - a momentarily incongruous glam stomp here, grinding synth there, an apparent homage to Suicide concluding the bonus disc, even a flute wistfully parping away on a couple of tracks as it becomes clear this represents exploration rather than mere invocation. For something which walks such a seemingly familiar walk, it's surprising how difficult it can be to really find a comparison. What music I own which describes itself as downtempo frankly sounds like sixties game show theme tunes when stood next to this much purer strain of whatever Revbjelde have been channelling. Hell - this sounds like actual voodoo compared to most other things right now.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Five Years of HNM Records (2020)

'Sure,' I said, 'I'll give it a listen.' Imagine then my surprise when I downloaded the thing and discovered it to be a collection of thirty-five tracks amounting to four hours of my precious time. This is why I don't do downloads, or at least why I keep saying I don't do downloads despite that I obviously do, because here I am yet again.

I burned it onto four CDRs and took one out with me as I went about my business each morning but, unfortunately, found it a bit depressing, at least initially. As I may have mentioned, I'm not sure I quite understand noise so my enthusiasm wasn't what it could be, not at first. Then, after about a month of just two or three plays of one of the discs, I suddenly found myself wanting to hear the thing again. I think it was circumstances, because noise can make a lot of sense when you're having a tough time of it. Also, something here had apparently got its hooks into me.

Harsh Noise Movement is something of an enigma, a noise label, but a strange one run with an extraordinarily deadpan sense of humour, unless they're actually even weirder than I realised. I've still never quite made it to the end of all their releases listed on Bandcamp, and amongst all the stuff I suppose you might expect of a label named Harsh Noise Movement we also find Nihilist Cat, Transgender Godzilla, George & Lynne - those evergreen cartoon nudists some of you may know from the Sun newspaper, Gaz Top, William Shakespeare, prurient Star Trek references, and an album pointedly called Let's Take Photos of Leaves with Our iPhones and Use Them for the Album Covers Because Explicit Images on Noise Albums are so Fucking Lame. Before I forget, we also have the An Evening of Rape with Rolf Harris EP. That Wire magazine cover feature is probably still some way off.

This compilation, once you've finally got all the way through the cunt, reveals itself to be a genuinely peculiar mix which nullifies accusations of self-conscious wackiness by sheer quality of work. Ade Rowe, label CEO, informs me that these tracks are all taken from existing releases, although I can't find half of them on the Bandcamp page, not that it matters. For those who care, the bigger name contributors include Asmus Tietchens, Smell & Quim, the Ceramic Hobs, Macronympha, Evil Moisture, Incapacitants, Torturing Nurse, Eugene Chadbourne, and Rudolf There's plenty of noise, as you may have anticipated, most of it overpowering, and most of it pretty absorbing with all manner of hard shit going on inside the high definition blast zone. Many of these tracks are ten minutes to a quarter of an hour long, and no two of them sound alike - and nothing even vaguely resembling Whitehouse either, if that's worth mentioning. PBK's Stirring the Hornet's Nest and Thirdorgan's La Orgía de los Muertos have stood out as particularly rewarding in terms of raw texture and generally doing something which is better than you expected it to be, but most of it's good and there's nothing demanding the use of the skip function.

The noise is balanced by all sorts - a Japanese woman covering Bowie's Five Years, accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar - and very good too - free jazz, actual rap music, punk rock from the Ceramic Hobs, Dadaism, a genuinely amusing tribute to Donald Trump, the faintly sarcastic cold wave of Manufactorum, and other stuff for which I don't think anyone yet came up with a name. I wasn't massively thrilled by Eugene Chadbourne's hillbilly cover of Nazi Punks Fuck Off (although I can't fault the sentiment) but a three minute lull in four hours of material hardly justifies anyone asking to speak with your manager.

I guess I've now listened to this thing about five or six times and I'm still not bored with it, and most surprising of all - at least to me - is that the best material is actually the harshest and noisiest, tracks which reveal new depths with each repeat play. If noise had been anything like this good back in the so called golden age, I never would have drifted off in search of something with a bit of a tune.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

+DOG+ - Die Robot (2019)

I've never really been in a position to find review copies dripping from my letterbox with any regularity, but it happens from time to time which, if nice in theory, is not without its problems. Of course, the obvious one is when someone you like sends you their work and it's fucking terrible, obliging you to either find something pleasant you can say about it or else stoop to well, I didn't really think I could do it justice so… The other one is when the legitimate freebie masterpiece is garnished with something by the guy who runs the label, which is why I now own one more CD by Der Blutharsch than I ever expected to own. On the other hand, there's this, which fell from the same envelope as Jenny Lives with Smell & Quim and Harsh Noise Movement, and which revealed itself to be frankly fucking amazing after just a couple of plays, which I really didn't expect. It may even be one of the best noise things I've ever heard.

Anyway, I did a bit of homework and discovered that one of this bunch, and actually the one with whom I'd been communicating on facebook, used to be in Expandobrain, one of those great lost bands who should have been enormous over whom I'd been quietly obsessing since taping Thyroid off Peel back in 1987 - not obsessing all of the time admittedly, but their legend had attained sufficient stature in my own personal mythology to at least have me yelling holy fucking shit at the screen before running into the front room to tell my wife knowing full well she wouldn't have the faintest idea what I was talking about.

Anyway, to reset to this morning, back before I realised there was a connection to anything I'd heard of, here's what's so great about this CD. As previously stated, I'm vaguely aware of the noise thing but I don't listen to a lot of it, which is probably why it's taken me so long to acclimate to the possibility of noise as anything other than just kicking your audience's head in for thirty minutes. I grew up with noise as transgressive confrontation, and only now am I beginning to appreciate that a distorted electronic racket can be at least as varied and expressive as any conventional instrument in terms of what it does - at least up to a point. I suspect we're still some way off the first noise power ballad, but, you know, it's not all an exercise in enforced bowel evacuation is what I'm trying to say here.

Die Robot seems to be, if anything, an ecologically themed concept album; or at least that's how it sounds to me. Excepting a folky acoustic guitar interlude and a location recording made in Istanbul, Die Robot mostly resembles what happens when you rummage around inside an old transistor radio with a screwdriver, sounds resembling nothing found in nature, buzz, hum, interference, distortion, grind, chug, tinnitus whistle and so on, and it's all amplified to a point bordering on, but not quite crossing over into discomfort. So it's mostly sounds your brain would filter out should they be heard in any other context, but here you're obliged to listen, and so you begin to notice effects and textures which are actually kind of absorbing, and which feel kind of good in much the same way as it does when you scratch an insect bite. Titles and half heard vocalisations hint at something, the interpretation of which may be in the ear of the beholder. Taking the term robot back to its original connotation of a creature which mindlessly repeats a task, even a stupid one, and not necessarily with mechanical overtones, Die Robot sounds like a broadside launched at human stupidity and the impulses which are presently destroying the planet; but like the very best surrealist masterpieces, this may well be nothing more than a pattern I happened to notice. The thing you should probably take from this is that for something which sounds like a power station having a fight with itself, there's a wide range of form and shade here, and a lot to be heard, even if you can't always tell what you're listening to.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

LCD Soundsystem (2005)

I love this album but I've never been quite sure what to make of it. I appreciate that there are few artists whose work doesn't expose at least a little of their influences, but there's a point at which influence crosses over into homage, postmodernism, or just plain chicken-in-a-basket summer season impersonation. Stereolab, for obvious example, almost fall into this latter category as the Showaddywaddy of krautrock, and yet they just about get away with it by virtue of the Billy Childish defence, namely that if it still works then you can still use it.

LCD Soundsystem are, or at least were, the same sort of deal, but stealing down the midnight stairs for a secret swig of populist postpunk lemonade; and 1978 was, after all, a very good year. There's something almost willful about it, I suppose, but maybe it's no different to the fact of some people still playing the blues on a knackered guitar, and occasionally there will be one guy who does it really, really well. Here we have a dry, unfussy production seemingly inspired by late seventies disco, just before programmable beat boxes came in, electronic instruments played manually, a live sound, syndrums pew-pew-pewing all over the chorus, and long grooves based around riffs and catchphrases - mostly stuff which became subject to a degree of sneering during the rise of haircuts and sampling technology. LCD Soundsystem, however, showed that you could do something of worth with such neglected tools, and something which sounded fresh as fuck. The thing is, he - or possibly they - went even further, releasing a debut which could almost be a compilation. There are snatches of seventies metal, Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up which might be a lost Beatles demo, Disco Infiltrator which probably should have been on Remain in Light, Great Release which sounds like something from one of Eno's first couple of solo records, and then Mark E. Smith vocalising for disco-era Blondie on the rest. It's only because the music is so fucking good that you don't notice this weirdly eclectic skipping from one genre to another, and the music is so good because I guess LCD Soundsystem don't give a shit.

No-one remembers the cod reggae track on that Whitehouse album or Elvis Costello's brief excursion into techstep because they never happened, because most artists tend to stick to a furrow, or at least few artists commit the musical equivalent of a muscle spasm depositing three unexpected minutes of New Orleans bounce halfway through side two of a Ramones album.

Why not, we might ask? Truthfully, while it's nice to know what you're getting, and there's a certain virtue to variations on an established theme because no-one likes inconsistency, isn't it all just a little bit affected? Isn't it all just a little like those who refuse to allow themselves to enjoy anything outside whatever mileau they have established as the sum of their personalities, whether it be Psychic TV, rockabilly, or whatever? Isn't all this denial a little bit Oliver Cromwell, a bit like being at fucking school? Anyone remember that Lustmord album with the riotous pub rock knees up* as the first track on side two? Me fucking neither.

Anyway, I wonder if this album is therefore a deliberate flouting of some unspoken cooler than thou etiquette - flinging it all around with mad abandon simply because you can and it's fun. I also wonder if I've been thinking about this one too much, because it actually doesn't entirely sound like a compilation, despite the absurd range, with all tracks achieving a sort of unity through shared production, instrumentation, general spirit and so on. It's not karaoke, just great disco as you've either never heard it, or hadn't heard it for a while; or it was as of fifteen years ago.

It's not - ugh - "retro cool" either.

Piss off.

*: Conversely I draw the reader's attention to Wreckless Eric's weird electronic album, Bungalow Hi, which exists because Wreckless Eric was, is, and will forever remain artistically superior to the majority of his contemporaries.