Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Peepshow (1988)

I picked up Superstition the other week, which sent me retracing my footsteps back to this one which then duly glued itself to the turntable. This is probably some sort of reverence feedback deficit due to my not having thought about Siouxsie & the Banshees for a long, long time squared with how highly I once rated them, and continue to rate them as I now realise. I'd forgotten how great they were.

I'm doubtless misremembering, but I recall more of a kerfuffle over Siouxsie having had a haircut than the release of this record, which less forgiving persons seem to recall as having belonged to the oh, are they still going? years. Tinderbox - the one before this, excepting the covers thing - was an odd collection thematically fixated on heat, deserts, dessication, and sterility building up to the climax of Lands End, the closing song seemingly representing a symbolic deluge. It felt a bit like they were aware of running short on inspiration, although it was actually a pretty great album - just not startling like its predecessors. This was the point at which the Banshees chug had begun to creep in, having begun with Dazzle or thereabouts - those driving tracks which sound a bit like Russian folk music, and which I suppose came to represent default Banshees - stuff to which goths could whirl around and do that silly dance where they make their hands swim back and forth in front of their faces. Tinderbox, for all its fine points, was mostly generic Banshees chug.

Peepshow chugged here and there, but you can really tell they're also pissing about, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck, and most importantly stepping outside the goth comfort zone - which makes sense given that there were about a million other bands who had photocopied the same blueprint by this point; and they had yet another new guitarist - the bloke out of Specimen, oddly enough, which seems kind of like doing a Numan and marrying your own groupie, but Jon Klein seems to have been an undeniably decent match.

The Banshees were no longer quite the group which had recorded The Scream, but that's progress for you. Peepshow is nevertheless startling and angular in places, with a technical velour developed over the previous few albums but kept from becoming bland or gratuitously lush by what sounds like the band rebelling against their own tendency to chug. Peek-a-Boo sounds peculiarly like the Rolling Stones briefly funky period; there's the ludicrous and yet wonderful Burn Up which could have been the Casey Jones theme tune; and then The Last Beat of My Heart which gets my vote for possibly the most heart-wrenching piece of music ever recorded, definitely one of the greatest things the Banshees ever did, and it features an accordion for fuck's sake! Only the cock-obvious nursery horror of Rawhead and Bloodybones really lets the side down, sounding like it might have been an acceptable b-side a few years earlier, but even in '88 resembled the sort of generic goth landfill upon which Tim Burton would eventually build a career. Maybe they were taking the piss.

Anyway, Peepshow is mostly amazing. I'm a little surprised that I somehow managed to forget.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Börn (2014)

It means Children and they're from Iceland, or they were. They seem to have been quiet since 2015 from what I can tell. This seven-track eponymous debut album came to my attention thanks to the excellent Simon Morgan, a man who keeps one ear to the ground. Pretty much any music I enjoy of under ten years vintage has come to me thanks to a tip from Mr. Morgan - Sleaford Mods, Parquet Courts, Pessimist, Enhet För Fri Musik, and now this, which is probably the best yet.

Börn aren't exactly like nothing I've heard before, and what they do has a certain familiarity, but the way they do it blasts you off your feet like it's the first time. Yelping vocals hark back to Poly Styrene or Siouxsie Sioux at her most terrifying; drums pound like that dude from the Cramps, and the rest is formed from angular slashing chords and that chugging bass that did so well for every single band formed in 1981. I'd say it's like an angrier, more relentless take on The Scream, but even that just seems like a load of words when you slap the thing on the gramophone. Maybe the best way of putting it is that somehow you can really tell that this is the work of a band from a country which recently arrested its own government. There's just no arguing with this record, and I don't even understand what they're saying. This is what all rock music should sound like.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Kid Rock - Devil Without a Cause (1998)

I must admit it's been a while since I dug this one out. It's the whole hanging out with Donald deal which bothers me, although realistically the aforementioned hanging out with Donald is only the latest idiocy in a career founded on the same, and I doubt that anyone was surprised. Kid Rock's whole schtick is that he's a bit of an arsehole, and so Devil Without a Cause is largely about boozing and shagging until your liver explodes and your knob falls off, then doing it again whilst listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd turned up to eleven. I haven't looked too closely for fear of what I might find, but I expect he doesn't have much time for what I'm sure he terms political correctness, and I really, really wish he hadn't had such a hard-on for the Confederate flag; but then I like the music I like because it's music that I like rather than because every last opinion held by the artist synchronises perfectly with my own, and I'm probably going to hang onto those Kate Bush albums even though she's just outed herself as a massive fan of Theresa May. I draw the line at where the thought crimes of the artist are so overpowering as to infect my perception of the music.

MC Ren rapping about killing whitey doesn't bother me because it's obvious he was simply having a bad day, plus it's funny and you can see where he was coming from. I can still just about listen to Death in June with a peg over my nose, although they sound somewhat comical on this side of the millennium. I wish I'd never found out about Beck being a Scientologist. Skrewdriver, on the other hand, helpfully recorded music which was already shite thus saving the rest of us any need to debate whether it's possible to enjoy the stick 'em in a boat and send 'em back song without condoning the message, such as it is.

Maintaining a set of rules about what you will allow yourself to enjoy is a waste of time, so selections probably have to be made on a case to case basis extrapolated mostly from gut reaction; and I guess it must take a lot to stir my gut to righteous indignation.

The fact of my having felt the need to write those three paragraphs probably relates to why Kid Rock enjoys playing the arsehole, not to mention that he was never going to get to hang out with the cool kids or NME readers, regardless of his serious yet routinely overlooked credentials. So he's a white rapper, or was, but I guess we're all over that one by now. His flow belongs clearly to that sing-songy old school cornball style which is otherwise fine if we're digging out old Run DMC records or banging on about the tediously studied authenticity of Ugly Duckling; and while Kid's descent into autotuned stadium country has been appalling but probably inevitable, he's nevertheless paid dues and was once something of a whizz on the two record players - as we rap types call them; and Devil Without a Cause is unfortunately a fucking great album - not merely better than you expected, but one of those discs which glues itself into the player and stays there.

If he's an arsehole, he's the best arsehole he can possibly be on this record; and the music effortlessly weds pounding boom bap to Led Zep riffing and the kind of Skynyrd-isms which turn even the most urbane of us all misty eyed and countrified - not least on Black Chick, White Guy which just plain tears your heart out; and Welcome 2 the Party gets under your skin like nothing since the wholesale borrowing of Good Times by Chic. It's a populist album in the broadest sense, just like those early rap records before we got all uptight and snooty about it; and it's a populist album aimed squarely at people who maybe didn't make it to college, and who maybe don't have much going for them, and who probably won't respond too well when you sneer and suggest they might do better to listen to someone less sexist, J-Live for example. It's low rent, but there's a generous spirit here, and it's inclusive and probably doesn't really care if you voted for Hillary providing you're not going to be a dick about it.

While Kid Rock may be a dick who has been occasionally known to hang out with Ted Nugent, close inspection reveals him to be an otherwise decent guy in most senses that count, or at least some way from being your archetypal Republican shithead. Similarly this album almost certainly isn't what you may believe it to be, even if it does spend a lot of time belching in your face and then chuckling over how upset you are. It will probably be at least another hundred years before Devil achieves the sort of recognition it probably deserves, so don't whine about never having got the memo.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Pessimist (2017)

At the risk of seeming like a complete wanker, I've taken to making a concerted effort to seek out new music which isn't shit. I tend to take the view that the pursuit of new for the sake of new is essentially dull, and I'd rather drink my own piss than end up like a certain pillock whom we met back here:
I'm fifty-one. My favorite bands right now are Otherkin, Bad Sounds, Spring King, Sundara Karma, Inheaven, Kagoule, Vant, and Moaning. I can't see myself ever not listening to new music.

On the other hand, more horrifying still is Thoughty2 - as introduced back in September. I seem to have encountered many of his type of late, young men with beards, not yet out of their twenties and already lamenting the passing of the fucking Beatles, already well and truly glued into what they doubtless regard as the grand tradition; and it's bollocks. Culture remains as it has ever been. The only real difference is that there's more of it these days, and the lines of distribution have changed meaning it's a lot easier to find oneself overwhelmed by crap. My music consumption - referring to my record buying habits because I remain unconvinced by downloads - tends to be reflected in what I write about here; and it's mostly old simply because I've been spending a lot of time catching up on things I couldn't afford when they first came out; or it's something I'm still listening to because it still sounds good. I am aware that this may present an unfortunate impression of something resembling nostalgia.

So I've set myself the task of buying something roughly contemporary at least once a month, because I know there's a shitload of good stuff out there, and it's fun to hear new and surprising things. It reminds me of what got me into music in the first place.

The Pessimist album is actually over a year old so it turns out, but never mind - close enough. It's the work of one man, Kristian Jabs, who has apparently been at it for a while, as you will know if you're down with the Bristol drum and bass scene, which I'm not because I'm old, fat, and I live in Texas. Reviews mostly seem to focus on this being a blend of both techno and drum and bass, which makes as much sense to me as my friend Eddy claiming to enjoy both kinds of music, both drum and bass: and yes, I have seen the Blues Brothers, thank you very much.

Anyway, it sounds like drum and bass to me.

I don't know.

Does it matter?

I suppose there's some techno element to the glitchy bits of sampling, growling synth, bass rumble and so on, but then I've never assumed that all drum and bass must sound exactly the same, and there's surely room for a bit of variation without having to come up with yet another fucking silly name. Where Pessimist differs from your average serving of drum and bass is that it's much better, or at least better than a lot of the stuff with which I'm familiar. It's a bit like all that awful ponderous deep forest stuff, except that it's done right - no wind chimes, no trace of that horrible flat sound, just a ton of depth and feeling and the sort of swing you only usually get with acoustic music. It feels somehow as though it's played live, or maybe I mean it feels as though it is alive, despite the knife edge precision and digital clatter of the beat. So maybe the success of this album is in the contrast of man and machine, so to speak. I don't know, and I don't really care what you call it, but I know that it sounds substantially amazing.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

X-TG - Desertshore / The Final Report (2012)

I'm assuming we all know how this came to be. Throbbing Gristle reformed, recorded a surprisingly decent album and played a few pop concerts, and then split because everyone was angry at Porridge for having all of the talent and all of the really brilliant ideas and making the rest of them look bad, or summink.

Chris, Cosey and Peter Christopherson opted to carry on regardless seeing as it had actually turned out to be fun making music without Porridge endlessly subverting everything in a playful and mischievous way - a strategy which doubtless served him well in the composition of weird and challenging music, but probably got a bit annoying whenever they sent him down the shop for a few sandwiches and a family size bottle of pop and he came back with a bottle of families or a sandwich of bottles*, or something else which flew in the face of expectation with equivalent velocity. Christopherson died unexpectedly in 2010, leaving unfinished the project which the three of them had been working on as X-TG - a cover of Nico's Desertshore album; and here it is, brought to completion by Chris, Cosey and others with a second disc of what I assume to have been the final recordings made by the three of them.

I'm afraid I've never been too bothered about the Velvet Underground or Nico and have no idea what the original album sounded like, although I assume it probably sounded fairly different to this interpretation, mainly because this interpretation sounds very much like Throbbing Gristle.

I'm still reeling from the fact of Part Two having sounded like Throbbing Gristle without any obvious attempt to trade on former glories, a continuation rather than a revival. Desertshore and The Final Report forge ahead in the same general direction, reminding us that for something apparently so reliant on chance and improvisation, Gristle had a highly distinctive, even unique sound. The biological chug is unmistakeable, as are all those other noises twisting and turning through the mix, and even the token bit of glockenspiel - or whatever it is - somehow manages to sound like the work of the same people who recorded Journey Through a Body. Taken as a whole, Porridge seems conspicuously absent from the two albums - which is a surprise. There was probably a little too much of him on Part Two, but I guess his presence lent just enough piss and vinegar to the wine to make for a pleasing contrast, even when he managed to keep his mouth shut. So some of this, particularly Final Report, has a little of the same mood as those early, mostly instrumental Death Factory tapes which did the rounds back in the day, which therefore wraps everything up with a certain symmetry in a fairly satisfying way.

Desertshore features guest vocalists, and their presence seems initially incongruous - or did to me - possibly simply because it isn't Porridge talking about having a wank or whatever; but the more you play the record, the more it gels, with contributions from Blixa Bargeld and Gaspar Noé working particularly well. I still don't get the appeal of Antony Hegarty, whose singing sounds like an operatic version of the voice comedians used to do when impersonating John Major, but maybe it's just me; and her warbling fits the music fairly well.

So with this one it seems that the mission really has been terminated, and with no backsies this time; which is a sadder thought than I would have expected thanks to the warmth, care and attention which so obviously went into the making of this record. Even with their final encore, they were still full of surprises, still breaking new ground.

*: This example should probably be spelt sandwich ov bottles, but isn't because I'm a fully grown man.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Eddie & the Hot Rods - Teenage Depression (1977)

A memory of the sublime excellence of Do Anything You Wanna Do brought me here. The song doesn't appear on this album, but the cover imprinted itself on me a long time ago when my mum used to drop me off at Midland Educational in Stratford-upon-Avon. I'd go to the back of the store and rifle through the punk section, studying the covers and wondering what the hell they sounded like - this, the UK Subs, the Rezillos and others. I sort of knew what punk was, and that there probably wouldn't be much point in my buying the record even had it been within the range of my pocket money. I doubt my parents would have banned it from the house, but they would have looked at me funny.

With just a cover to go on, I formed vague ideas about how punky and nihilistic the bands were, and this one scored highly, even before I realised it was the band who sang Do Anything You Wanna Do; this one and Ha Ha Ha by Ultravox, which was actually a bit of a let down when I finally heard it. Teenage Depression, however, far surpasses my admittedly nebulous expectations.

Of course, with hindsight, whether or not Edward and his Hot Rods were really a punk band depended on where you were stood at the time, and no longer seems to matter so much as it did when I was thirteen. They looked a bit like some bemulleted glam band without the glitter, additionally qualifying as pub rock on a technicality, and one of them ended up in the Damned, and now I think of it, there's not a whole lot of difference between this and the first Damned album; but then, the group didn't actually incorporate anyone called Eddie. Everything we ever thought we knew is wrong.

Teenage Depression chugs and rocks like a bastard, including five covers - The Kids Are Alright, 96 Tears and so on - belted out with such passion as to blend seamlessly with the rest; and then there's the truly magnificent On the Run which could almost be Hawkwind at their mind-bending, biking peak. The title track, a deceptively chirpy amphetamine rocker cheerily bemoans the misery of school, hating having to wear a tie, stuck in some shitty lesson gagging for your next line of nose candy. Try telling kids today what it was like and they won't believe you.

I expected a lot from this record on the strength of the cover, and amazingly it delivers. What a fucking great band this lot were!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Bliss Signal (2018)

I've had a look on the internet in an attempt to find out what's going on here, but I'm too old and it's too confusing with all sorts of unfamiliar terms, such as electronic metal. In my day, metal was a portly lad in a denim jacket with Judas Priest written on the back in biro in slightly wonky old English lettering, and usually spelt wrong - Judas Preast or whatever. Should you attempt to engage him in a conversation about electronic metal he'd probably decide you were gay, thus ensuring your never being able to enjoy a drink in the White Bear ever again, at least not without some of it being poured over your head by random bikers you don't even know but who've heard all about the local bum bandit.

Anyway, metal has thankfully moved on, and now sounds a bit like some of Nocturnal Emissions darker works of the nineties, which is fine by me. Bliss Signal present walls of guitar decay tempered with that machine gun bass pedal thing - blast beats, according to the man on the internet; beyond which I'm left trying to describe this thing without invoking either cathedrals of sound or collapsing black holes. It's huge, and is suggestive of vast things happening a long way away, yet all coming together to somehow form a symphony much like that aircraft formed by a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard so beloved of creationists who don't understand stuff.

Electronic metal is probably as good a description as any, if you really need one, and it's not as annoying as dark ambient. Bliss Signal is better though, a hint towards something celestial, and a cause of fear only because it otherwise defies description. Jolly good.