Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Hare and the Moon - The Gray Malkin (2010)

Just to get it out of the way, I was once quite partial to the neofolk. It's appeal, at least for me, lay in the juxtaposition of musical forms which had, by that point, become indelibly stamped as innocuous through childhood memories of watching Val Doonican or the Spinners on the telly, in stark contrast with the subject matter, the black uniforms, the whole ambiguity of are they or aren't they? - which has obvious appeal when you're young, irritable and disinclined to think about anything in too much detail. Then as you get older, you realise that they are - or were in a few cases - which is probably partially why we're in the mess that we're in now and why no-one seems quite certain as to whether Hitler is still a bad guy or just someone who went about things the wrong way. Anyway, the realisation left something of a bad taste in my mouth because really, I knew on some level that there was more to our neofolk banner carriers than simply not liking reggae. Having one of the more corpulent representatives of the form visit me in my own home, take up space on my sofa, use my artwork, call me a fairy on his website, and then turn out to have really, really, really disliked reggae all along was also annoying, and has subsequently somewhat sucked the fun out of listening to the one Sol Invictus album that wasn't shit.

So, it takes work to get me listening to neofolk, and I notice with some sense of relief that the Hare and the Moon wisely shun the term on their Bandcamp page, rather citing their influences as M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and Black Sabbath, amongst others. This is actually a cassette edition of their second album issued by the ATSLA label in 2014, kindly sent to me by the man from ATSLA. It's a bit strange getting a cassette tape through the post in the year 2018, but strange in a good way because I prefer physical objects to things downloaded. I tend to appreciate music stored on physical media due to the greater effort expended in creating it, obtaining it or listening to it. Also, having spent the last couple of years digitising tapes from my own collection, some dating back to 1980, I have come to realise that reports of cassette tape as an unreliable, second rate medium have been grossly exaggerated. Of the hundreds of cassettes I've digitised so far, I have encountered no discernible reduction in sound quality, excepting on a couple of Memorex tapes, and Memorex were always shit so it's no big surprise. By contrast, I've lost count of the number of CDRs which have since degraded into digital slush.

Cassette tapes were a wonderful and democratic medium. Almost anyone could record something. They were cheap and easy to duplicate and to send to other people. One could listen to a cassette tape without requiring a fucking password or expensive glitch-prone technology. The odd one might get chewed up, but it was pretty rare if you kept your tape deck clean and stuck to decent quality tapes; and maybe they won't last forever, but most of them will probably last as long as you're alive and I don't know why anyone would need them to last longer.

So yes, this is a nice thing to have received in the post; and to finally get to the point, the Hare and the Moon tap into the folk tradition and the folklore of the British isles and its countryside without any of the bollocks I've grown to find so distasteful, or any of that whining about one's culture being under assault. I grew up in the British countryside, which was actually sort of terrifying. My childhood was spent within a stones throw of Meon Hill in Warwickshire, famed for witchcraft related murders having taken place in living memory; so as a child, the background noise of my existence was very much the sort of thing invoked by M.R. James and seen in The Wicker Man, which is why I now live in a city. The Hare and the Moon capture the rhythm of that world very well without necessarily sounding like an historical re-enactment of anything. Traditional instrumentation is here blended with the electronic to produce a fusion which reminds me a little of Eno's work with David Bowie; and so, something I might ordinarily have avoided turns out to defy expectations, and to provide a breath of very fresh air. Had neofolk been a bit more like this than how it mostly turned out, the world might have been a better place.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Consumer Electronics - Crowd Pleaser (2009)

I was never exactly drawn to Consumer Electronics. I liked Filthy Art, which was on some tape about a million years ago, but never felt I really needed to own more, just as I've never felt I needed too many Whitehouse albums in my home; but having come to precariously know Philip Best through mutual facebook friends, and having realised that there seems to be a lot more to his work than I initially realised, I bought this - albeit mainly because the lad had found a stash of unsold copies in the cupboard under the stairs and was selling them off at regular price; and it really seemed like I should buy one before they end up going for silly prices on Discogs.

So here we are.

I saw Whitehouse live several decades ago, back when Best first joined and they entered their terrorising the audience phase. It made such an impression on me that I duly ripped them off for a performance piece as part of the art foundation course I was taking at the time. I invited fellow students into a room, then shouted at them through an amplifier. Everyone was shocked, and it did a job, but sounds fucking comical on the tape recording made of the event - just me screeching and hoping no-one notices that I hadn't actually put much thought into the general thrust of my abuse. There's one point where nervous laughter breaks out and you can hear me squeak, you're not supposed to be laughing, like a sort of power electronics Frank Spencer. Once I was done, there was a question and answer session during which one particular knobend asked whether I'd been influenced by the Vyvyan character from the Young Ones. That's how good it was.

Not that any of that was Philip Best's fault, at least not directly, but that was what I'd been reminded of when listening to the occasional spot of Consumer Electronics on YouTube. It somehow sounded too much like a fight on a council estate or the worst EastEnders episode evah; or it didn't but that's the best I can do to describe my reservations. On the other hand, I don't think you really like power electronics as such because that isn't the point, besides which, the form always seems more at home in a live setting, given that the point is probably our reaction more than our appreciation. Nevertheless, even without necessarily feeling the need to listen, I was intrigued by the seemingly philosophical dimension which had begun to intrude upon the last few Whitehouse albums, at least meaning it had become more than variations on Nilsen was a good lad and now I'm going to do you up the wrong un'.

So, to get to the point, what the fuck do we actually have here?

Accustomed as I am to listening to screaming rackets, Crowd Pleaser is tough going even by the standards of that with which I've become familiar, wherein the noise has some kind of obvious aesthetic appeal comparable to interesting patterns seen in broken concrete. The instrumental Oily Possibilities on the second side has an element of this, up to a point, but otherwise all parts of the whole seem dedicated to denying the listener even the smallest pleasure. It's electronic noise pushed beyond any aesthetic potential towards something you simply don't want going into your ears, something which is impossible to experience without feeling uneasy, something which comes pretty close to duplicating the physiological reaction you would experience in a live situation; and here's the distinction which I didn't really get - this is, I would imagine, why Best all but tears out his own throat in vomiting up the dialogue, tirade, or whatever you want to call it. It's not supposed to sound cool or reassuringly nihilistic like that nice Michael Gira or Nick fucking Cave crooning about black holes and humiliation. It's not about a tidily dark atmosphere in the traditionally Bohemian sense, but is more like the thing sucking all of the atmosphere out of the room. This isn't even I'm Coming Up Your Ass or anything so obvious or easily quantified. If it's about anything, it's something so fucking awful that there's no point trying to describe it, which is possibly why this exists as a record rather than an essay. It's a fight or flight panic response jammed on eleven, or half-memories of horrible childhood shit I'm not even going to bring up because it's nobody's business, and it makes most of those other noisy lads and lasses sound like cabaret turns.

That's the best I can do without vanishing up my own bumhole in trying to describe this thing, even though I'm probably already half the way up. Crowd Pleaser seems designed to spend as little time on your turntable as possible, which is itself bizarrely fascinating. Consumer Electronics treat us mean to keep us keen, I suppose you would say.

I'll shut up now.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Fuck it - let's do this. Nevermind is the greatest rock album ever recorded and the work of the most profoundly sensitive man-genius ever to die for our sins. We know this because of its enduring popularity and the undeniable lasting influence it had on everything which followed, or at least quite a lot of what followed. I don't think Nevermind made much difference to, off the top of my head, anyone inhabiting fields of music which weren't white blokes with guitars, but - you know…

Personally I found it all a bit mystifying at the time. They sounded okay, and they had some pretty songs, but there were about a million other bands I liked more, bands whom I felt did the same thing better. Nirvana weren't even top of the Seattle pile in my house, but still, I suppose, they had something which spoke to indie kids already bored with sun hats and the Stone Roses. Nirvana sounded big and they rocked, and the McCartneyesque simplicity of those riffs was hard to ignore, and Butch Vig's mix was just so fucking nice and tidy, and there was Kurt with his dreamy blue eyes looking a bit sad, and didn't you just want to take him home and make him some soup, maybe watch Three Men and a Baby on VHS with him - something funny to cheer him up a bit?

Well, I didn't, but clearly he communicated something of the sort to a certain cross-section of his fans; and you could hear the words, and he wasn't like totally gross like that fat guy from Tad.

I'm so ugly, but that's okay 'cause so are you.
See! He understood!

Lithium just sounds like some glam stomper with a fuzz guitar to me. Maybe it's the chorus with its presumably unintentional homage to Olivia Newton-John's A Little More Love. You could stripe it onto footage of the Bay City Rollers and no-one would know the difference.

Then we come to Polly.

Polly wants a cracker.
I think I should get off her first.
I think she wants some water,
To put out the blow torch.

The song seems to reference the popular seventies joke about the person who paints their parrot with emulsion because they would have preferred one of a different colour, and who then changes their mind.

'I told you the paint would kill it,' says the man in the shop.

'It wasn't the paint,' explains the star of the joke, 'it was the blow torch I used to get rid of the first coat.'

Polly always sounded like it was trying too hard to my ears, yet another example of the slightly tedious mainstream surrealism similarly favoured by Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton and all those other useless wankers - the formulaic juxtaposition of innocence and horror which squares, people without imagination, and twelve year-old boys always seem to think represents something profound.

Pippi Longstocking with an assault rifle!

Winnie the Pooh in the gulag!

Alice scoring 'ludes in Wonderland!


Did I shock you?

Did I blow your mind?

I'm not even going to bother with the song about how they only wanted cool people at their shows. I don't like gun wielding shitheads either, but there must surely have been a better way of putting it than In Bloom.

Still, the bottom line is that nothing I could say here will ever matter, because Nevermind is just too big to pick a fight with, and even I have to admit it's a great record providing you don't overthink it. Nirvana was grunge beating the music industry to its own commodification, and that's their genius and their significance, which is why we'll still be seeing dunderheaded murals of Kurt high-fiving John, Jimi, and Sid for many years to come. He was never the messiah - nor even a particularly amazing song writer, for that matter - and the real tragedy is that I doubt he ever regarded himself as anything of the sort. Most likely he would have been mortified by the idea.

Nevermind is toe tapping tunes nicely sung and recorded, but that's really all - no more, no less. I had this on tape, then ended up buying the record on a day when I just really wanted to buy an album, and this was the only thing in the store I could imagine listening to. More than twenty years later, I still haven't played it much because I've had no reason to do so. All of its parts are right there on display with nothing to draw me in any further. There is as little mystery in the grooves as in the sledgehammer allegory of the cover, an image which even an episode of sixties Star Trek would dismiss as a bit obvious.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Viper - Kill Urself My Man (2013)

Possibly ironically, my rap consumption took a downward turn when I moved to Texas, mainly due to change of circumstances and because I go through phases in my listening habits - although I don't mean that I stopped listening to rap, just that my focus changed. More recently, I've been listening to more and more rap once again, and have thus become aware of being a fifty plus white dude with no fucking clue as to what be going on in the world of rappers' music. I was fairly well clued up from 1995 to the point at which I chucked in my job in 2009. I bought XXL, The Source, and Hip-Hop Connection on a regular basis. I'd read them in the caff after work and hunt down anything I liked the sound of. However, like I said, my circumstances have changed, and although I have an internet, I haven't got the first clue as to where to start looking because whenever I do start looking, I only seem to find shite.

I recently picked up a copy of XXL at WalMart - seeing as they're somehow still printing the thing - but I don't recognise any of the names, and albums don't seem to exist these days because it's all about blogs and SoundCloud, and so much time has now passed that even Lil' Wayne is considered old school; and it's all trap music made by twelve-year olds with facial tattoos and names formed from a keyboard smash; and there's this dude called Tekashi 6ix9ine with rainbow teeth - because somehow the fucking tatts just weren't enough - who recently made the news when he spunked away ninety-five-thousand dollars on a My Little Pony chain.

You see, as a fully grown man, I have trouble getting my head around any of this. I know that the good stuff must be out there, but I'm fucked if I can find it; and I know the good stuff must be out there, because it can't be just Viper…

Kill Urself My Man is, according to the internet, a mix of tracks mostly taken from another of the guy's many albums. I bought it mainly out of curiosity, and to see whether You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack had been some once in a career flash of brilliance. I also bought it because I appreciated the title for more or less the same reasons as this YouTube commentator:

I like how the song tells you to kill urself but also is very uplifting and personal in calling you my man. Viper is a genius.

As I may have mentioned, Viper churns them out more or less single-handedly - 347 albums issued as downloads in just 2014, apparently - so as you might expect, his quality control isn't always what it could be. With this one we get titles which don't bear any obvious relation to the tracks, Shot Once and Wit U 4 Tha Longhaul seem to be the same mix of the same song, and the rest suffer from digital glitches, pauses and false starts; but the good news is that none of that matters because it's a great album, and every bit as great as Cowards.

Kill Urself has a much stronger R&B vibe than the first one I listened to, and the production is better with at least half of the tracks sounding as though they maybe could have turned up on a nineties No Limit release. Given the stripped down bass rumble which I've come to think of as the Viper sound, I'm tempted to wonder whether he might not have borrowed a couple of the instrumentals used here, being as this album sounds almost expensive in places; but on the other hand, I don't really care that much. The results speak for themselves.

Once again we have a mellow atmosphere and the usual bragging contrasted with the occasional threat, and all drenched in a codeine haze. There's also a surprisingly high quota of autotune, and autotune which actually works and sounds good - which makes for a nice change; and there's the revelation that Viper seems to have a pretty decent singing voice in addition to everything else, given that I suspect there's only so much you can do with autotune. As with Cowards, this music is weird and kind of trippy, but it has a good feeling to it and really gets its hooks into you in a way that not many other things do at the moment. So much for all that condescending bullshit about outsider art, Viper is the real thing, but we've been palmed off with fucking ringtone music for so long that we don't even recognise it when we hear it.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Peter Hope / No Scene - SixSex EP (2017)

On which Peter Hope continues to serve up material which may not even be music as we understand it, once again demonstrating that actually, it hasn't all been said. This peculiar six tracker has that same sense of under the counter photocopied unease which characterised early Whitehouse albums as media you probably shouldn't have in your possession, except it's sonically quite different - bit more interesting, to be honest - and the focus seems to be on sex as an obsession or hunger rather than power. As with Hope's other work, it can be quite difficult to tell what's going on here or where it came from. It's machine generated, digitally manipulated, and yet still somehow rough as fuck, or at least rough as bounced cassette tapes with all the attendant hiss and rumble; actually no - rough as fuck works fine. It might almost resemble techno except the rhythm is the imperfect pulse and throb of performance screwing. You could move to it, but dance - not so much.

This really needs to be on vinyl.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I'm So Hollow - Emotion / Sound / Motion (1981)

Here's one which seems conspicuously under-represented in the field of posthumous rarities boxed sets at two-hundred quid a pop and, if we look closely, not even a measly CD reissue back when even my cat had his first album re-released by some boutique label with bonus tracks. I'm So Hollow, should they require introduction, were one of those Sheffield bands who enjoyed a brief flurry of angular expressionist excitement back in the day, followed by not much else, not even following the release of a full length album on the briefly wonderful Illuminated label.

People always bang on about Manchester as a font of musical genius - even those who aren't actually from the city, despite occasionally pretending otherwise, smiling indulgently and sighing ah Manchester, so much to answer for, because they heard some bigger boys saying it a bit earlier behind the bike sheds and thought it sounded cool; and yet when Manchester is invoked, I personally think of Northside, Herman's fucking Hermits, execrable Beatles tribute acts, that fucking James record they played on the wireless every five bleeding minutes for an entire decade, and Morrissey working hard on his Free Tommy Robinson benefit album; so no offense, but you were probably thinking of fucking Sheffield. I'm sure there must have been a shit band from Sheffield at some point, but I can't name one, and it seems significant that even those we've apparently forgotten were amazing.

Yes. Amazing.

I'm So Hollow - who recorded at Cabaret Voltaire's Western Works, and who had a track from those sessions released on Vice Versa's label - sound to me like a sort of baby Clock DVA, specifically the early Clock DVA, jazz-poppy and yet so angular it's a wonder no-one lost a finger. Jangling, razor guitar is offset with starkly modernist touches, random honking saxophone or a burping synth to create something that's quite emotional, even melodramatic for all the glowering and cheekbones. In fact, if we cast our collective mind back to all those eighties Cabaret refugees busily rebuilding thirties Berlin with just an SH101 and lip gloss, all your Hazel O'Connors and your Mobiles, this is probably what they were trying to do, except it works. It's not that we've been deprived of potentially mainstream artists who manage to sound this weird since the release of Emotion / Sound / Motion, but there aren't many who achieved the balance so well as I'm So Hollow, and they were usually better remembered.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Morton Sherman Bellucci - Beat the Box (1989)

For some reason I always assumed Morton Sherman Bellucci was an actual bloke, but it turns out that he was a trio so named as some sort of parody of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. He, or rather they, churned out four million club hits somewhere around the end of the eighties, although I gather the clubs were mostly in Belgium, or at least on mainland Europe. Belgian new beat didn't really seem to catch on in England, despite the best efforts of those record companies then busily shoving out compilations of the next big thing every couple of weeks. I suppose we already had our hands full with acid house, and new beat was slower and kind of goofy, the dance equivalent of a French exchange student with purple triangles sewn into the hems of his flared jeans. Of course, it could be argued that a lot of new beat resembled one of those extended 12" mixes of someone fucking awful like Hue and Cry, all very much a child of midi what with that synth bass and one of those drum machines, probably Yamaha, full of samples - all somehow managing to sound weirdly dated in comparison to the arguably more primitive beats of acid, techno, and the rest.

But fuck it - nothing of value is ever merely the sum of its parts, and regardless of the sound of Morton Sherman Bellucci being the most eighties thing there ever was, their music fucking rocked. It's basically a stripped down Front 242 without all the grunting and with a lot more sexy fun time yes? Beat the Box gathers twenty-one of what might be considered the best, released under a variety of different names and laden with samples of ladies suggesting that you move your ass or explaining how you want to suck something or other, probably not a mint imperial - you know what those Europeans are like, the dorty feckers. I hesitate to use a term so twee as daft, but this music achieves daftness whilst making you want to have sex with someone, pulsing, thrusting, sensual, like an electronic version of the cheesiest glam rock acts whilst pulling in bits of eastern music, porn films, whatever the hell it feels like pulling in furtherance of its wonderfully, twisted passions; and TNT Clan's Blow Up the DJ is one of the greatest dance tracks ever committed to vinyl. New beat was fucking beautiful. Let's try not to forget it.