Thursday, 26 December 2013

Henry Rollins - Hot Animal Machine (1987)

Aside from the TV Party single and a few other things half heard whilst hanging around on YouTube, I'm not that familiar with Black Flag other than as the band with which Henry Rollins was involved before he ceased to be involved with them, so there's a strong possibility I'm coming at this like the man who reviews a Ringo Starr album without having heard any Beatles records; but fuck it...

I guess after the break up of Black Flag, Rollins found himself having to carve out new channels by which to vent his fevered work ethic, and so Hot Animal Machine should probably be regarded as the transitional effort of an artist firing off in all directions and seeing what happens. The rockier numbers, or at least those paying more obvious dues to Chuck Berry, sound roughly as you might expect coming from a former member of Black Flag - muscular, hard, funky rock although with more of a garage sound than the metal workouts that would later characterise the Rollins Band formed with Chris Haskett, who also handles the guitar here by the way. The other tracks veer off into jazzier territory, soundtracks to monologues of the kind with which Henry kicked off his spoken word career, and are actually fairly similar to the sort of material that ended up on Short Walk on a Long Pier.

It's all powerful, but somehow the range of styles is almost too broad, resulting in something resembling a compilation album. Black and White or Followed Around sound pretty much like the Rollins Band, whilst other tracks have more of a Stooges feel, and the more conversational numbers roughly suggest someone or other was listening to those early Swans albums a lot. The effect is further emphasised by the inclusion on the CD of the Drive-By Shooting EP as recorded under the name Henrietta Collins & the Wifebeating Childhaters - harrowing Gira-esque sound poems, a cover of Wire's Ex-Lion Tamer, and a title track which could easily have been the theme song from a Cliff Richard film but for the subject matter:

We're gonna get in our car,
We're gonna go go go,
We're gonna drive to a neighbourhood,
and kill someone we don't know.

The variety is disconcerting, a group of songs - or at least tracks - which don't quite fit together, like finding a straight cover of Little Red Corvette on Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with any of the tracks individually - indeed there's not a weak number here - only that one listens to some of them in quite different ways to others, and it makes for a strangely uneven album compared to later efforts bearing Rollins' name.

Still, I'm not complaining. The rockier numbers are as intense as anything he's ever recorded, the gut-busting black humour is in full effect, and the front cover is drawn by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, so what's not to like?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Aphex Twin - ...I Care Because You Do (1995)

So here I am catching up once again, having a listen to things which somehow passed me by at the time. Obviously I was aware of the Aphex Twin throughout the 1990s. He regularly appeared on the cover of everything on account of having single-handedly invented an entirely new kind of music. I was a Melody Maker reader for most of that decade, mainly because David Stubbs' Mr. Agreeable column was a work of genuine inspiration, something not to be missed regardless of whatever crap was then clogging up the other pages, The Liberties, The Shite Stripes or whoever. My frustration with the non-Stubbs derived content of said weekly would occasionally boil over into testy and probably grammatically ham-fisted missives thrust in the general direction of the letters page, one of which was actually printed. Why you no write about experimental band, I demanded to know, reeling off a list of names of artists who had been around for ages, who sold records, had plenty of fans, played well-attended gigs and yet remained ignored within the pages of the mainstream music press. We do indeed cover the work of interesting and innovative musical pioneers, came the reply, but the bold leaps of which you speak are occurring on the dance floor and within the DJ booth rather than with the sort of miserable industrial fuckers you seem to like.

I always assumed they meant Aphex Twin and his ilk, but I'd never heard any of his music. My friend Carl, once thumbing through my copy of Melody Maker, found a photograph of a grinning Richard James pulling a scary face, underlit and glowering at the reader from beneath portentously furrowed brow. 'That tells me all I need to know about his music,' Carl announced, and although he may not have been right about everything, in this instance I suspected he was close. My friend Andrew Cox was similarly underwhelmed by the Aphex Twin. Andrew was often described as a recluse, had grown up in Cornwall, and had been making electronic music with his own home-built synthesisers since the end of the 1970s, and was perhaps justifiably resentful that no music paper had ever stuck him on the cover as creator of the most wildly innovative music ever conceived.

Now, many years later and relatively impressed by the Come To Daddy video - even if it is just an old Hellblazer comic with a load of drum and bass sprinkled on top - I take the plunge and buy this; and  realise that I was right all along.

There are twelve tracks here, and nothing terrible, but - fuck - it's hardly a new kind of music. The names that sprang immediately to mind include Esplendor Geometrico, Nagamatzu, Pseudo Code, Nocturnal Emissions, Human Flesh, Kopf/Kurz, early Chris & Cosey, and Konstruktivists Black December album. In other words there's very little here which hadn't already been done, and been done better by about 1982 when the German Datenverarbeitung label put out their Sinn & Form compilation. I realise that nothing exists in a vacuum or without precedent, but most of ...I Care Because You Do could have been knocked up on a decent four track with a monophonic synth and an Alesis Quadraverb, and there's at least one number here which would have been someone tapping out a plinky plonky nursery rhyme on a Casio VL Tone had it not been drowned in a ton of reverb. I suppose this stuff may have sounded improbably futuristic in 1995 if this was the first electronically sourced album to find its way into your collection of Oasis and Morrissey records, just as fifth century yokels will believe you're a wizard if you flash your digital watch, but fuck...

This is the guy who changed the musical history of everything ever, whom they wheeled out to meet Stockhausen like it was some sort of clash of the titans rather than Michael McIntyre having a beer with Lenny Bruce? I prefer James' own assessment:

I'm just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music.

Well, hyperbole aside, ...I Care Because You Do is a thoroughly listenable album providing you keep in mind that it really shouldn't have been that big a deal even in 1995. It does what it does very well, which is fair enough, I suppose.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Professionals - I Didn't See It Coming (1981)

As a kid, the Sex Pistols were roughly the first group I discovered that weren't the Beatles, Abba, or the Wombles. I recall my dad talking about some pop stars who stuck safety pins through their noses, and I remember one sunny day when he came in from the afternoon's milking chuckling about a song he'd heard on the radio called We're So Pretty Vacant.

Arf arf, my mum conceded and we all laughed.

Then my friend Sean showed me his Sex Pistols record, the one with the cartoon of Sid Vicious on the cover and Friggin' in the Riggin' on the other side. I was thirteen and that was more rude words than I'd ever heard in my life, plus I was intrigued because I couldn't quite work out if the band were real or not - which is probably thanks more to Sean and myself giving his Wombles album such a hammering than the cartoon on the cover. In any case, all I knew for sure was that I had encountered magic of some description. Clearly the music industry held the same view, milking the Sex Pistols cow for every last drop, every last variation or loose association; and I was fascinated by the Adrians Records mail order catalogue with its own special Sex Pistols section featuring rare discs by people who had once made some sandwiches for the band, or who simply had a picture of Sid Vicious on the cover of their single - not such a worthless exercise as you might think given that 99% is Shit by the Cash Pussies turned out to be pretty damn great, and just the sort of thing that the idiotic McClaren probably thought he was doing.

The Professionals were of course what Steve and Paul did next, so naturally I awaited the fruits of their labours with punky anticipation; although it's sobering to listen to this stuff now and realise that it's probably how the two of them hoped the Sex Pistols would sound, had McClaren not tried to turn them into the New York Dolls - basic power pop roughly in the tradition of the Kinks, Small Faces and so on. This shouldn't be taken as an indictment, reducing the pair to Lydon's backing band as some might have it. Steve Jones' guitar sound remains pretty much unique even thirty years later - a great big burping Cockney steamroller of noise somehow aspiring to the sort of music that works best in fast cars. It actually sounds nourishing, good for the soul in some way.

I Didn't See It Coming is a weird album, and one that admittedly should have been better: great, punchy, anthemic songs produced as though someone was hoping for a spot on one of those John Hughes film soundtracks, the sort of thing with a scene in which Michael J. Fox rolls up the sleeves of his suit jacket and leads American teenagers in eighties dancing upon the hoods of cars stalled in a gridlock, cars driven by squares who don't understand young people. Steve Jones was ever a bit of a singing bricklayer when it came to vocals, but the production here makes a futile effort to smooth out his rough edges leaving the poor sod sounding like a backing singer on his own record. This CD reissue also includes the earlier Professionals singles - on which he sounds much better - and which are pretty hard to fault. He was never the greatest vocalist, but on the other hand, there's not many that could get away with:

We all know how it ends,
For the rock 'n' roll Hollywood God,
Found by one of your friends,
With your head flushed down the bog.

So, it's smoother than it probably should have been, but even given all of the above, I Didn't See It Coming is still a thumping good collection; another one to add to the list of things that need remixing by Steve Albini.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Pump - The Pump (2009)

The Pump were the group which became Nocturnal Emissions, or at least Nocturnal Emissions were The Pump without Daniel Ayers, brother of Nigel who soldiered on under the NE banner for most of its natural life and about whom Discogs says:

Influential and uncompromising, Nigel Ayers chooses to remain underground even as his ideas are continuously appropriated by ambitious pop culture surface dwellers.

I've a feeling Nigel may actually have written that himself, but he's probably earned the right over the years, not least because it's roughly true - whether by coincidence, foresight, or actual influence, Nocturnal Emissions seem to have foreshadowed the mainstream on quite a few occasions, and it's a shame he hasn't received a little more recognition considering all the talentless fuckers out there busily taking credit for things they never did.

Nocturnal Emissions seemed pretty astonishing when they first began putting out albums, and I vividly recall the excitement in getting hold of Tissue of Lies - then not so easily done as buying, for example, Prince Charming by Adam & the Ants from the local WHSmiths - and having no fucking clue what the thing was going to sound like. Even given all the tripe that has since been churned out in the supposed name of industrial music, I've still heard very little that sounds quite like Nocturnal Emissions, which should be surprising as they were in the early days one of the few groups to whom one might legitimately apply the term by virtue of records which sounded like some automated industrial process, as opposed to - off the top of my head - a man softly whining into his acoustic guitar beneath a poster of Adolf Hitler upon which is inscribed he never done no wrong in Japanese characters. Nocturnal Emissions were noisy, but a long way from the artfully manicured noise of Throbbing Gristle with all those swirly bad acid trip sounds, more like grating urban cacophony roughly bolted into a shape resembling music, or at least art - just a racket at first, but after two or three plays it begins to sink in, just as you hear music in the automated rhythm of machines if you work long enough in a factory. It's often more like something channelled than composed - the diseased consumer spirit of western society, the true noise which reveals Second Annual Report to be a Pink Floyd album at heart; and it all started here with The Pump, remastered and reissued, which is nice as I never got around to buying the cassettes at the time. Some of it sounds a little more basic than Tissue of Lies or Fruiting Body, presumably having been originated on cassette recorders, but it's very clearly derived from the same fountain of filth. This is a weird and outstanding collection.

Available from Klanggalerie and Earthly Delights

Thursday, 28 November 2013

New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Pigeonhole (1991)

One of the wonderful things about YouTube, aside obviously from ranting atheist neckbeards sharing their important views with the rest of us, is how it allows one to catch up with music about which you may have wondered without ever getting to hear. The New Fast Automatic Daffodils somewhat passed me by at the time as I didn't really listen to music radio, didn't like clubs or gigs, and they never turned up in the record collections of anyone I knew. I read about them in the music papers, but nothing inspired me to rush out and buy a record on the off chance that it might not be shit. So from time to time I'll YouTube up some name recalled from centuries gone by just out of curiosity, in case it turns out that I've missed out on something I would have liked; and occasionally I like something enough to chase up the album, as has happened here.

The New FADs as I seem to recall them being abbreviated turned up at the same time as that whole Madchester baggy thing to which I maintained some distance having bought a record by Northside from a bargain bin for twenty-five pee and found it to be shite. I can see why they got lumped in with the Stone Roses and all, but they were actually pretty good, and certainly not the also-rans I probably assumed them to be. If anything they sound roughly like A Certain Ratio working their way backwards, devolving into Krautrock, roughly speaking - actually not that much of a stretch Madchesterwise given that Happy Mondays were basically Can with more drugs. Most of the tracks here tend towards extended jams rather than songs as such, workouts with choppy wah-wah guitar and a fantastic rhythm section with a ton of bongos and that. I can see why tossers in fishing hats might have regarded this as top or even sorted, and given that this didn't exactly sound like any of those other groups, it's a shame they didn't shift a few more records at the time. The only criticism I can come up with is that New Fast Automatic Daffodils wasn't a great name, and this compact disc version of the album could have stood to lose the last four tracks - it's not that they're bad, and one of them actually reminds me of Cabaret Voltaire around the time of 2X45, but less is more, and particularly so with rambling funky workout jam session type things. They're probably all taxicab drivers or working in kebab shops by now, but I hope at least one of their number is still able to look back on this material with fondness, and know that he recorded something which didn't deserve to get lost in the tidal wave of baggy Mancunian toss.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Panacea - Twisted Designz (1998)

The detail that's always guaranteed to put me off anything is nearly always its fucking stupid fans, and this is particularly so when it comes to music, especially regarding the sort of twat who can barely open his mouth without spawning some new and entirely unnecessary subcategory by which to define how bleeding edge he deems himself, because that's the shit he's like really into right now, yeah?

Take Clownboy - as I shall refer to him for the sake of convenience - denizen of an internet forum I once frequented. Got Djent? he asked in a thread of that title, a fiendishly imaginative play on the got milk? advertising campaign cleverly subverted so as to refer to a new subgenre of heavy metal he'd just discovered. Djent, he explained, is onomatopoeiacally named because they've invented this way of playing guitar with the strings muted to create an almost percussive note. I've now listened to a few supposed djent bands, and I still don't understand why it needs to be considered a whole new movement as opposed to, for example, just a bunch of gurning, hairy men playing guitars with a technique that was old even when every skinny-tie wearing new wave band was doing the same thing back in 1979 but with less grunting. Even more wearying was when Clownboy later invented his own new and completely original style of music. He explained that he didn't have a name for it, and he needed to get together some people who could play instruments in order to actually produce it - he couldn't play anything, presumably regarding himself as more of an ideas man - but it was going to be a cross between djent and dubstep.

Can you imagine that!?

He was really convinced this was going to be the next big thing.

Panacea was probably dubstep before dubstep, aside from the lack of any shitty autotuned pseudo-trance element; or it's drum and bass, digital hardcore, techstep, illbient, except like the work of any musician who isn't a complete tool, it does all of those things and more, working with what sounds appropriate rather than just ticking boxes. My first encounter with Panacea was when my friend Carl lent me the Low Profile Darkness album. I don't think either of us had ever heard anything that sounded quite so pissed off ,and yet which retained some sort of concessionary resemblance to music. We looked at the photograph of Mathis Mootz on the cover, apparently a fifteen year old fat kid from Germany, and we imagined all the usual tattooed buffoons reduced to something that may as well be The Dooleys' greatest hits by this chubby little fucker on a tricycle. Anyway, I've listened to various digital hardcore types thanks to YouTube, and Panacea doesn't quite fit in with them either, because it does more than just one thing.

As may be apparent from previous reviews, I'm no stranger to the grunting, shirty music of folks expressing their displeasure, but Jesus - this stuff really is dark, and probably because it goes for the pure emotional hit rather than wasting time in waving scary ideas in your face - Oooh look, there's a ghost over there, the ghost of a really bad man who robbed a bank, and I'm his BEST FRIEND and so on. The sounds are sharp as knives and perfectly orchestrated, ebbing and flowing like the wax and wane of muscular pains. Twisted Designz pretty much continues from where Low Profile Darkness left off in that it's a lot like dental surgery - you know you're going to be there for an hour or so, and that it's going to be fucking uncomfortable, so you sit tight and get through it because ultimately it's for the best. Whatever brand of supposedly hard and grumpy music you may be like really into right now, yeah?, Panacea makes it sound like a little girl crying over a prematurely melted ice cream cone.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Theme - On Parallel Shores Removed (2000)

Older, more obsessive readers will doubtless remember that year when all those power electronics kids discovered the first Black Sabbath album and started recording wall of sound feedback-riddled guitar dirges about how murder is cool and Hitler was excellent, probably due to someone finding out that Fred West had been into Pink Floyd or something of the sort. Anyway, as with anything, a lot of it was shite, although Ramleh, Skullflower, and Splintered were okay, the latter of these three sounding sort of like a noisy Public Image Limited or something, at least on the CD I heard. Theme seem to be the ambient version of Splintered at least in so much as they were formed around three members of that band, one of whom was "Richo" Johnson, editor of Adverse Effect fanzine and the man behind Fourth Dimension Records.

I recall Adverse Effect fairly well, not least because of its rigorous stance against artists recording on cassette whom it dubbed time-wasting wankers on the grounds that anyone who is truly serious about their work will surely blah blah blah...

I also vaguely remember their review of The Sound Projector - a magazine to which I was then a contributor - a review informed by an  unfavourable Sound Projector review of the Theme album, if that isn't too recursive a statement. Jennifer Hor hadn't thought much of On Parallel Shores Removed, and it was therefore hilariously suggested that she had probably listened to it whilst being repeatedly shagged by surfers on the beach or at the barbecue or somesuch, and had therefore not given the masterpiece her full attention - Jennifer Hor being Australian and her name sounding a bit like whore - do you see?

Oh my sides.

Well, that's how I recall the pants-shittingly funny riposte in question, although having long since flogged my own copy of the self-important rag on eBay, I couldn't say for sure that I have all those details quite right. The point is that I have had no strong reason to feel well-disposed towards this "Richo" Johnson being as, aside from one Splintered CD, nothing else with which he's been involved has really struck me as particularly amazing. On Parallel Shores Removed drones on for the usual length of time with mains hum, drum machines, effects, loops, and one track featuring a female vocalist which is actually pretty decent, but it has the feel of noodling experiments, none of which did anything particularly new or amazing in the context of when it was released, and Theme being a group begs the question of what the other two were doing during recording. Maybe one of them makes the tea and the other just sort of dances a bit when they go on stage, although you would think at least someone might have looked up from his newspaper at the end of the session and suggested that maybe the track needed just a little bit more going on, or that drum and bass invariably sounds shit when saggy old industrial tossers try their hand at it - with only one exception coming to mind and he isn't on this album.

Seriously, this sounds like music you would have recorded on a four-track portastudio and then left alone because you never worked out quite what to do with it; and ironically it would have sounded acceptable as a cassette release of someone just having a go, but as a fancy, shiny compact disc, and a fancy, shiny compact disc produced by someone who spent a lot of time telling everyone else to pull their fucking socks up, I'm tempted to wonder if he wasn't just taking the piss, particularly given a title reeking of a thirteen year-old Pink Floyd converts idea of meaningful. This album refutes Fourth Dimensions declared view of format as some sort of guarantee of commitment and hence quality, although the logic of that whole argument was always a bit screwy in any case. Theme's first album was born of vanity publishing and is in essence industrial music fanfic, which is a pity because Splintered really were very, very good.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Strapping Young Lad - The New Black (2006)

I grew up in the town of Shipston-on-Stour which had, I would guess, a population of around 4,000 of whom 3,996 were all massive fans of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Dio, Tygers of Pan Tang, Judas Priest, Saxon, and er... Meatloaf. This left the four of us who weren't quite so keen on heavy metal feeling at times a little self-conscious and subject to a degree of name-calling, also some grunting and pointing - not wearing a shitty denim jacket with misspelt band names scrawled on the back in biro being apparently indicative of raging homosexuality. This experience has not left me so well-disposed as I might be towards the genre once dubbed the village idiot of the music business; although with that said, I thought Iron Maiden and AC/DC were okay.

Metal isn't really something I've been keeping tabs on - unless you count Nine Inch Nails, which personally I don't - so it's mystifying to see how much it's progressed over the last few decades. Strapping Young Lad caught my ear, so to speak, because it's a great name, and I accidentally stumbled across the video for Love? and found myself fascinated by this prematurely balding man growling over a tune apparently written on a cement mixer. I'm no stranger to noise, and it's interesting to note how bands like Venom and Whitehouse no longer seem divided by quite such an aesthetic gulf as was once the case, but still - there's something about grown men pulling faces and singing odes to the man downstairs in the voice of Cookie Monster that's just a bit too stupid to take seriously. For my tastes, metal either succeeds or fails by how seriously it takes itself in relation to how scary it's trying to be, and Strapping Young Lad at least seem aware of the absurdities of the genre, even to the point of taking the piss out of them; unless they're being serious.

I still can't quite figure this one out. The New Black makes for fascinatingly peculiar listening material, although that's not quite the same as saying that I like it. Devin Townsend, upon whom this entire circus tent is pitched, is clearly a talent who knows how to throw a tune together, and this really doesn't sound like anything I've heard before, and yet...

The guitars chug away with ticker tape energy, bass pedals going at machine gun pace, Townsend grunting, howling, or going operatic and all pinned onto some sort of screwy prog rock template with all manner of unexpected shit thrown in, moments of distorted seventies glam, a horn section, high-pitched voices and all sorts. Townsend has apparently cited J.G. Thirlwell as an influence which makes a lot of sense. Strapping Young Lad are probably Foetus with Led Zeppelin rather than big band swing as cultural foundation; but, as I say, I'm still not sure what to make of any of it. I'm too divorced from the entire genre to understand what the hell is going on with songs like Far Beyond Metal addressing some otherwise unidentified ironic pop-rock fuck, or the generally excellent Fucker in which we're all fired up and we're ready to go, to give it all up at the metal show - it could be a protest song or he could be taking the piss. I have no idea and no way of telling. On top of inscrutable sentiments, The New Black is also a little more relentless than anything to which I'm accustomed, crushing and yet sounding somehow obsessively clean and digitised, and I can't tell if the contradiction works or not. It's probably just me. This is certainly one of the strangest things I've listened to in a while, and it's probably what the stuff I once listened to sounded like to all those metal types back when I was growing up.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

MFH - 1979-85 (2012)

MFH was a duo comprising David Elliott and Andrew Cox, and I should probably confess that what follows is hardly impartial given that Andrew was a close friend prior to his horrible passing in 2009. I met Andrew and David through their recording as Pump on The Elephant Table Album, and my noticing how their contact address was about three streets from where I was living at the time. I knew of MFH from weirdy cassette fanzines although I'd never heard their music, excepting Andrew's excellent solo tape Methods. All the same, we had plenty in common and it transpired that we knew at least a few of the same people.

It's a little odd only now getting to hear MFH having known Andrew so well and for so long, particularly as he's no longer with us, but it's more or less what I expected given Andrew and David's appreciation of Cluster and others. Their music didn't exactly sound like Cluster, but it shared more common ground with the German avant-garde than with many of MFH's wilfully industrial contemporaries, all busily frowning as they twisted those VCOs and pretended to be the science-fiction Black Sabbath. What we have here are nineteen instrumental, or at least non-vocal tracks culled from the five cassettes released by MFH - all quite atmospheric and with a clear love of improvised sound composition which makes it quite difficult to identify some of the sources. I fully expect the next person who overhears me listening to this to declare that it isn't music, except actually it kind of is. Even at their most abstract and atonal, MFH made great use of repetition and texture to create something which draws you in if you're prepared to give it a chance. Being culled from a cassette source, it's lo-fi by necessity rather than as a virtue, but this isn't a problem. These pieces might best be approached as abstract paintings in sound, fascinating oddities which might have formed by means of some obscure geological or organic process, and the more one listens, the better they work. If it's any good to you, I listened to this today whilst out on the marshlands of Salado Creek here in San Antonio. It was warm and I spent a few minutes just watching swarms of dragonflies go about their business. This was a pretty good accompaniment.

The history of this kind of music is rewritten on a more or less yearly basis, and it's got to the point where people now use the term industrial music as though it ever really meant anything; and give it another ten years and the whole thing will probably turn out to have been invented by one of those saggy old groups of Joy Division covers Nazis, which is obviously bullshit. It's therefore definitely a good thing that MFH are now honoured and remembered by this wonderful retrospective. They may not have set the world on fire, but they are at least worth remembering.

Available from the Forced Nostalgia label.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Keane - Hopes and Fears (2004)

Excepting possibly post-2005 Doctor Who, root canal dental work, club culture, anyone who has ever used the term industrial rock, and a whole ton of other shite, there is little that I dislike with quite such bile as that which proudly proclaims itself to be indie music - the sort of whining crap legitimised by talent vacuums like Travis, Coldplay, and the rest of their vile and unnecessary ilk - bands apparently spawned when one of the more pitiful Radiohead numbers copped off with U2 at the height of their flag-waving indulgence. It is something which strives to approximate the sound of that which was once vital, commodifies whatever vague remnants of artistic expression have survived the process, then sells the resulting homogeneous goop as lifestyle enhancement consumer product. It is the sound of a man crying onto his Ikea furniture, and it's fucking everywhere.

Back in the days when I had a job I would be subjected to hours of such moribund shite courtesy of Virgin FM or Capital or some such radio station. It was like being stuck inside an advert for car insurance, but just as the law of averages dictates that even Coldplay had one half-decent song, some respite was provided by Keane who somehow managed to do the same thing as Snore Patrol and all the other cockmonglers yet without making me want to hunt them down, knock their glasses from their shared face and take their dinner money. Often sounds heard echoing around the inside of a noisy warehouse may prove entirely unfamiliar when subjected to closer examination, but the tracks on this CD actually resembled the version of Bedshaped that once howled amongst the rafters of our sorting office and worked its way into my music gland; in fact it sounded better if anything.

Aside from the obvious absence of guitar, I'm still not sure what sets Keane apart from the other tossers, so it's probably songwriting or one of those non-quantifiable elements which can be difficult to evaluate unless it's conspicuously bad. Hopes and Fears isn't perfect - in places a little too smooth for its own good and lacking in contrast, but after a few plays you cease wondering how much better it would have been with Steve Albini producing and just let it work on its own merits. It's overwrought and hilariously introspective, probably, but then the same is true of many, many artists, and whether or not they get away with it depends on a whole ton of shit of the kind which distinguishes Joy Division from Ha Ha Tonka and similarly mannered MySpace clowns who really should have spent a bit more time coming up with a fucking band name. Against all odds, Keane get away with it providing you squint a bit and pay no attention to the marketing, at least in so much as Bedshaped is thus far one of this century's wrist-slashing classics, if you ask me. I wonder if any of the other albums were any good.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Revolting Cocks - Big Sexy Land (1986)

I liked the idea of this band, if you could really call some guy hanging around in a studio with his mates a band. After all, there was the determinedly offensive name, and the involvement of at least two members of the greatly superior Front 242, and that they were obviously all just having a laugh; and of course Stainless Steel Providers was possibly the greatest single to ever feature a two-note bassline; but I found myself hugely disappointed that the Cocks didn't turn out to be those three shifty looking chaps they always had on their record sleeves, but were another one of those horrible industrial supergroups who, much like Journey, Pigface and the Traveling Wilburys, worked by the flawed premise that if you get enough famous people together in the same place, awesomeness will surely come to pass. I've never bought into the idea myself. It smacks too much of wouldn't it be amazing if they had Spiderman in an episode of Star Trek?

Whilst I would hardly wish to imply that Alain Jourgensen - the Jeff Lynne of Revolting Cocks - is in any sense bereft of talent, mainly because I thought Lard and Pailhead were decent enough, there looks to be an awful lot of poop in his back catalogue from where I'm standing.

Ministry were Depeche Mode who wished they'd ticked the box marked Slayer, and that was on their good days; the group who daringly brought caged titty dancing and rubbish tattoos back to rock because that's what we really needed - Whitesnake with a fucking synthesiser, although maybe not quite so poetic seeing as Ministry were seemingly aimed at people who hadn't cottoned on to Spinal Tap being a comedy. We already had Motorhead. We didn't need a version that was safe for consumption by fans of Psychic TV.

Of course, it has been said that Ministry's Twitch album was a significant influence on both Nine Inch Nails and everybody else, ever - although I've noticed this is said mostly in YouTube comments so I'm not sure if that counts, particularly as Twitch owes one hell of a debt to its producer Adrian Sherwood, as does much of the first Nine Inch Nails album; and the bottom line for me is that one of Jourgensen's four billion side projects was called Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters - I mean seriously?

How old was he at the time?


Okay Al, you're one scary guy and we're all terrified. You don't like going to church, but you do like to drink beer and watch bare breasts jiggling up and down. We get it now.

So maybe it isn't all the work of a gurning manchild pulling scary faces and saying ooga booga hail Satan to his mum, but mostly...

Big Sexy Land isn't terrible, but it's pretty damned average - distorted drum machine, noise, someone grunting the usual bad guy stuff in the hope of fostering tedious ambiguity regarding whether the song expresses condemnation or approval of death, murder, and stubbing your big toe; and the usual routinely shocking samples deployed in the usual way - tattoed penis tattooed penis tattatattatattatattatattoed penis, and I know it was 1986, but I was there too, and this sort of crap sounded balls-achingly obvious even then. The only element missing is the obligatory tribute to Charles Manson.

Perhaps through being no stranger to the business end of a drum machine, the problem is that I've done this sort of thing myself so I know how easy it is; but usually you return to your monsterpiece three days later and record something less predictable over it rather than slap it on an album and flog it to people.

To be honest, it's possibly not even the fact of Big Sexy Land being such a complete waste of time that bugs me so much as all those gibbering industrial rock baboons who seem to believe that Jourgensen invented bad-ass, plus paying three dollars for this at CD Exchange and still feeling like I've been diddled. I was expecting at least a few chuckles.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (2013)

Excepting remix albums and occasionally bewildering collaborations with lesser talents, Trent Reznor has never really put a foot significantly wrong to these ears, so I hoisted an excited eyebrow upon learning that he had not after all hung up his Nine Inch Nails costume for good. How To Destroy Angels had a lot going for them, but like supermarket's own brand cola, they just weren't quite the same. Fascinatingly enough, Hesitation Marks sounds very much a logical successor to Welcome Oblivion, particularly in its use of glitchy fragments of noise and pre-digital drum machine sounds resulting in something that could almost have come out in 1982 were it not quite so tidy.

I've always found this group - and I'm calling it a group for the sake of argument - more or less unique, and so much so as to make all those others with whom they are so often associated redundant. Listening to - for example - Ministry when you could have The Downward Spiral or With Teeth seems like choosing Green Day over the Sex Pistols, or Green Day over any group who aren't shite for that matter. Others may make similar moves with overdriven guitars, samplers and grunting noises, and it's certainly true that Reznor's songwriting is about as purple as it gets - not quite nobody understands me and it's not fair but not far short - and yet the way he puts it all together is genuinely inspired; although it's probably something fairly simple, a basic combination of imagination and actually meaning it, qualities I've never found conspicuously abundant on all of those Al Jourgensen records about being a bad boy who likes the devil and wants to do a poo on Jesus. Anyway, whatever is going on, Reznor still makes the rest sound like gurning industrial clowns; and still manages to turn out a record which could only be a Nine Inch Nails album without necessarily sounding like any of the previous seven - harrowing but catchy as some guy described them in Rolling Stone.

To narrow all that down to a single sentence, Hesitation Marks is the bestest best thing ever. It really makes me wonder why any of the others bother.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

We Can't Be Stopped (1998)

I gave up listening to rap fairly early on in its development. I had liked Grandmaster Flash, Whodini, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and those guys, but for some reason LL Cool J just seemed to represent a good idea taken too far in the wrong direction with all else following along like seagulls in the wake of a trawler. I can no longer remember why LL Cool J in particular should have represented my cut off point, but the whole enterprise just seemed to be getting too goofy, and I was tired of being asked to put my hands in the air and wave them as though viewing the act with absolute indifference, and that same fucking drum machine over and over...

De La Soul sounded interesting, although not enough to make me want to buy an album; and NWA sounded terrifying in a fairly interesting way, but by 1990 it seemed obvious that rap had become too wide and too complex to be understood at a glance by a relative outsider such as myself. Unfortunately this left me with very little fresh listening material as that with which I was more comfortable had, generally speaking, begun to turn to shit during the nineties with the refitting of proper music as a series of jangly consumer options. Where once we'd had Wire, Crass, Joy Division, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bill Nelson or whoever - to name but five off the top of my head - now there was the Beautiful South, Oasis, Supergrass, Björk, the Levellers, the Boo Radleys, Primal Scream and a million other horrible box-ticking wankers all queueing up to provide the sort of mechanically reclaimed lifestyle soundtrack that shifted T-shirts and got crowds punching the air without sounding too dissonant when used to advertise car insurance. Suddenly it was okay to listen to ELO again, and I found myself increasingly driven into a corner desperately clutching a few albums by Foetus, Nocturnal Emissions, and the three other people in the world still doing something that didn't sound like the musical equivalent to an episode of My Family.

I needed a complete change, something as far removed from four white guys with guitars as possible. I didn't want to end up as one of those persons wistfully pulling a Simple Minds album from its sleeve and telling his guests I'm an eighties man. I wanted to be able to slap on a newly purchased record and find myself staring open-mouthed at the speakers wondering what the hell I was hearing; and much like the guy who sang the theme from Friends, rap was there for me. It probably helped that rap was what people at work listened to, not so much because they tried to bring me into the fold or bothered to lend me anything they thought I might like, just that they provided a precedent. I bought Foxy Brown's Chyna Doll album more or less on the grounds that it wasn't by the White Stripes - or the Shite Stripes as I call them hur hur hur - and looking at the cover in the store, I found it impossible to imagine what the thing would sound like.

It actually sounded pretty fucking great, and even better, it featured what I later came to recognise as a fairly typical quota of guest performers, others whose work I could chase up in my quest for aural stimulation; which led to a couple of CDs by Mia X, and in turn to whatever else I could find on the No Limit label.

No Limit were a revelation to me, a stable of New Orleans rappers sharing the same production team, and churning out disc after disc of stuff that wasn't really like anything I'd heard before, and all with these bizarre covers by Pen & Pixel graphics, sharp dressed photoshopped rap persons eating diamonds for breakfast cereal - designs perpetrated without concessions to taste or subtlety by people who probably didn't quite know what they were doing but still had one hell of a time doing it; and the records sounded like they were made in the same spirit, like the fruit of a journey that began with the words well, let's turn this thing on and see what the fuck happens.

We Can't Be Stopped dates roughly from the heyday of No Limit records and is reasonably representative - a uniquely varied line up of landmark rappers of whom at least three or four existed pretty much in stylistic fields of their own, notably Fiend and Mr. Serv-On; and the music is typically all over the shop, probably composed mostly in Cubase or some similar programme, disparate elements joyfully slapped together just to see how they'll sound, cheesy old Roland drum machines pinging away next to piano, brushed snares, pizzicato strings, and all sorts of things that just shouldn't be served on the same plate. One great thing about No Limit was that even when their Beats by the Pound production team were quite obviously responding to someone asking for a track that sounds like that song by so and so, the end result more often than not goes somewhere else entirely. There's an almost amateur feel, the outsider art of rap, but done with such enthusiasm that it can't help but sound weird and great and absolutely fresh - I mean fresh as in new, by the way, but the other meaning is fine too.

Sadly, it wasn't long after We Can't Be Stopped came out that Master P, No Limit CEO, made the grave mistake of listening to his critics and turned the label into a spent force more or less overnight, shedding most of the roster's talent in a doomed effort to keep up with the times and emulate those newer artists who had spent most of the nineties vainly trying to duplicate his success. Some of the artists here went on to better things - not least Fiend, the definitive bullfrog of rap and a personal all time favourite - but the golden age was over. It turned out some of them could be stopped, none of which changes that this collection still sounds great more than a decade later, still full of surprises. If this stuff hadn't come along at just the right time as evidence in support that there will always be new things under the sun providing you know where to look, my own listening habits would probably still be stuck back in 1989.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Babylon Zoo - The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes (1996)

Ah the nineties; weren't they great! Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Carter the Unlistenable Sex Machine, Shed Seven, Primal Scream, all that good stuff...

Babylon Zoo is of course remembered as the name attached to the only ever single to wobble the charts on the strength of an advert for trousers that wasn't a pile of wank. Unfortunately the mind-bending moon disco everyone liked so much from the telly was actually the Arthur Baker remix which serves the single as a five second prelude to what may as well be a completely different song, almost a prefix provided just in case you'd forgotten why you bought the thing in the first place. It's David Bowie saying that yes he knows how much you enjoyed Ziggy Stardust, but if you'd just give Black Tie White Noise a chance...

Well not quite, because even if it wasn't on the original menu, Space Man is still a decent song in its own way, that way being roughly a portastudio Nine Inch Nails covering Suede's interpretations of early 1970s Bowie. That probably shouldn't sound quite so much like a criticism, and I'm not exactly suggesting it's a bad thing so much as that the music isn't entirely unlike anything ever heard before. Babylon Zoo was, or perhaps is, an apparently textbook case of an artist becoming too famous too quickly, and whose work really would have benefited from a collaborator who could point out which parts sounded faintly ridiculous, or that once you're past the first two tracks on The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes, it's a tough job telling any of the others apart. They all seem to operate at a certain tempo, share a similar structure, the same effects, same mood, same ambiguous and occasionally slightly clumsy lyrics just crying out for recognition as the deep, meaningful testimony of a true visionary; which is a tough call with lines like pungent smells, they consummate my home...

The word on the street regarding Jas Mann, the person behind, to the side, and in front of Babylon Zoo, is that the music industry didn't treat him very well and he went a bit bonkers; and for the record, the street in question would be the one in which the design studio responsible for the cover of this disc was situated wherein laboured my lifelong chum who shall remain nameless and was always good for showbiz revelations of this kind, although I probably need to keep my trap shut regarding Alexander O'Neal and the alleged reasons for why all those people ever did was criticize... 

Anyway, having dissected the deep and meaningful lyrics of Jas, I fear he may have been a troubled young Mann even without the pressures of fame and producing a second single which didn't sound exactly like the first one. The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes would presumably be a person who sees beyond the lies of falsehood to the truth of the facts of this inverted Babylon in which the sane ones are the caged animals in the zoo who do knoweth about global warming and people telling you to be this or that and stuff, or at least that's how it sounds to me; with only Caffeine - one of several songs for which the chorus is actually the title spelled out letter by letter - offering variety, hinting at wonky brain problems, as the condition is known amongst psychiatric professionals, and possibly the difficulties of an orthodox religious upbringing - although to be honest I'm just guessing here.

There are all sorts of reasons why The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes fell so quickly into the bargain bin of history, and fairly good reasons, but still it's difficult to dislike with conviction. It's repetitive, but at least it repeats tricks that were worth repeating, and with a few minor tweaks here and there it really could have been a great album rather than simply a curiosity; and of course Animal Army was a fucking fantastic single even allowing for the mispronunciation of tyrannosaurus.

The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes is an oddly appealing failure that's still superior to the entire Primal Scream back catalogue for all its being the weirdo electronic rock equivalent of Come Back Mrs. Noah.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Curve - Doppelgänger (1992)

I seem to recall Curve as being somewhat frowned upon in at least one music paper, their crime being the impersonation of a more fashionable group by someone who once played session guitar for the Eurhythmics and was thus financed by Nestle or some other soulless conglomerate. Curve were, so it transpired, U2 pretending to be My Bloody Valentine, fooling the cool kids into liking something that wasn't cool like when some cuboid Nazi square bank manager slips a Def Leppard album in with your precious Huggy Bear discs, and you've already punched the air in time to the first four tracks before you realise your mistake.

I never quite saw the problem, and so far as I could tell, Curve had a couple of decent tunes in there somewhere, so I wasn't too bothered about Toni Halliday being married to Sir Alan Sugar. Now, two decades after the fact, having actually heard My Bloody Valentine and picking this album up on the grounds that I remember it sounding okay when my girlfriend of the time played it into a flexidisc, I have to wonder if Curve might not be due some apologies.

My Bloody Valentine were nice enough, and Loveless is without doubt the greatest thing ever released by Creation Records - although  that's hardly a boast seeing as everything else the label ever put out was utter shite; but I just can't listen to it without visualising a bunch of smackies mumbling about rare Velvet Underground bootlegs.

Curve were, I suppose, My Bloody Valentine given hot baths, haircuts and a change of clothes, cruising along the interstate in an open-top Cadillac with guns and beer; and the weird thing is that if they really were just a steal of that shoegazing guitar drone schtick, then at the very least they saved the genre from the miserable buggers who invented it - invented by a loose definition of the term - and turned it into something that's good to listen to.

Curve's surge of guitars still sounds absolutely overwhelming, and the programmed elements strike a nice balance, going further than simply standing in for humans whilst holding back from anything that too obviously dates the music. The bass rumbles, and Toni Halliday's icy voice is a perfect complement to the burning wall of sound, if that isn't too purple a turn of phrase. There are few artists who have managed to seem simultaneously quite so primal and yet with such sophistication, making most of those corny old goth bands look like a Chas & Dave Halloween special; and Horror Head still doesn't sound quite like anything else recorded before or since.

Maybe Curve were really just Johnny Hates Jazz with leather jackets and a digital delay, but frankly who cares when it sounds this good?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion (2013)

Four billion years ago when I played cowbell for a band called Konstruktivists, I spent some time dossing about at the offices of the apparently legendary World Serpent distribution company, scrounging free stuff and digging around for juicy morsels of industrial tittle-tattle - which member of Mnemonik Korpse Brigade had been seen stepping out with the singer from Foetal Banjo, who definitely wasn't a nazi-sympathiser
this week because they had a record by that Bob Marley, and so on. One of the more depressing nuggets of banter concerned Coil, who had apparently been paid several thousands of quid to remix something by Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor of said band, a massive admirer of Coil, would never get to hear the finished track it transpired, because Coil weren't going to do it even though they had already received payment, reason being that Reznor was American and ate McDonalds or something. They were going to keep his money and this was very, very funny.

Well, that's how I heard it, and it didn't strike me as at all funny. In fact it struck me as somewhat wanky, and so I never bought anything by Coil after that. Actually, I hadn't bought anything by Coil before that either, aside from Horse Rotavator which I took back to the shop as it turned out to be some twelve inch single with the wrong cover - Anal Staircase, which shouldn't have cost me the price of an album and was, in any case, not very good. To date, of all the Coil tracks I've heard over the years, I can count the decent ones on the testicles of a single scrotum; but if Trent Reznor likes them, well that's up to him I guess, although Lord knows why he should name his new band after a Coil record. Frankly I love the living shit out of Reznor's music and would happily have his babies were it not such an anatomically grotesque undertaking, so this seems rather like Elvis forming a band named Tommy Steele's Greatest Hits, but anyway...

Aside from turdy industrial bands dining out on past glories and producing records of mains hum with somebody mumbling something about Aleister Crowley over the top whilst having a wank, another musical travesty which once inspired my unalloyed hatred was trip-hop, the musical equivalent of a guy who raises his eyebrows in a knowing fashion as soon as you notice his take me to your dealer T-shirt. No thanks, man, he will tell you as you break out the Benson and Hedges. I don't smoke, well, not cigarettes anyway...

Trip-hop was the experimental music which wanted to be one of the cool kids and so, in an effort to distance itself from terminal bachelors with synthesisers and stamp collections, it named itself after hip-hop and claimed to have been into George Clinton back before anyone else had heard of him, apart from black people of course. In practical terms, trip-hop was actually a tape of a drum machine slowed to half speed and a girl with a squeaky voice singing dreamy observations over the top. Anyone could do it. At one point my milkman recorded his own trip-hop album.

Anyway, to finally swing around to the point, How To Destroy Angels are thankfully neither trip-hop nor in any way reminiscent of Coil, simply because Reznor has too much talent and probably couldn't fire a blank if he tried. That said, neither is it as tremendous as I was hoping. The eponymous debut EP that came out in 2010 was pretty damn great, so I'd been drooling with anticipation over this one for a while; and it's good but there's something missing, and it's taken me a few plays to work out what it is.

I'm not sure what ratio of this music can be attributed to Reznor, his singing wife, or to Atticus Ross, and although it all sounds like a more overtly electronic Nine Inch Nails to the point of Reznor's vocals being conspicuous by their absence, it's probably significant that Atticus Ross is apparently better known for film soundtracks, which is what a lot of the music here resembles. The great strength of Nine Inch Nails was always the contrast - soft acoustics rattling away next to something that sounds like someone rummaging around inside a transistor radio with a screwdriver and somehow producing a tune; but also the overall contrast of albums brimming with those short and shirty numbers like Discipline or The Hand That Feeds preceding the epic and tortured finale, the song that sounds like he's been through the wringer, and now he's sitting down and having a fag and a cup of tea and asking himself why me? Every single track on Welcome Oblivion is a grand finale; they're almost uniformly brooding, all building up to suns falling out of the sky in slow motion, and it's exhausting. Additionally whilst I would hardly suggest that Mariqueen Maandig was drafted in as singer simply because whilst it was nice to have her at the studio making sandwiches for the menfolk or standing by with a sticking plaster in case one of them should cut his finger, she probably kept knocking things over and making a fuss as women tend to do and was thus best left in the booth with a microphone; whilst I would hardly suggest such ideas as have here been shoehorned in for cheap sexist chuckles - she has a great voice, but in combination with the ponderous tempo of most of the songs, it bears annoying comparison with trip-hop shite of yore, and just inspires questions of how much better it might have sounded with Reznor's vocals.

That's a lot of slagging for what is on paper a great album, particularly as there's not a single clunker to be heard. I suppose the best way I can put it is that Welcome Oblivion is thirteen monumental tracks that unfortunately tend to merge into an amorphous mass of brooding awesome when stood next to one another.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Tha Dogg Pound - 2002 (2001)

Has there ever been a record label that blew it in quite such spectacular fashion as Death Row, or which learned so little from its mistakes and continued to blow it over and over? Losing both Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, they spent the next decade boasting about how peachy it was to be rid of such two-faced talentless homosexuals whilst embarking on a series of increasingly desperate attempts to cash-in on what little of the two-faced talentless homosexual back catalogue they had retained - lame greatest hits collections released side by side with compilations sagging with witless crap about Dr. Gay and his NWAids.

Oh wait - gay rhymes with Dre.

I get it now.

Worst of all, as the label wasted time and brain cells on laboured concept albums suggesting that Dr. Dre enjoys man-on-man penisary action with Eminem in the mistaken belief that anyone really cared that much, the Death Row roster otherwise boasted Lady of Rage, Above the Law - one of the greatest rap groups of all time - and Crooked I - probably the best new west-coast MC at least since Xzibit - and did nothing with them. None of these artists were recording albums about the day when Dr. Dre did a poo in his pants in the dinner queue and some of it come out of his pants and he thought it was chocolate pudding and ate a bit of it and smiled and a man saw him do it, so Death Row didn't bother and just kept them around to make the fucking tea or something.

It would be annoying if they, as a label, didn't make such great records - well maybe not great records, but definitely better than they ought to be. Actually, it's still annoying; and ignorant and a waste of everyone's time even leaving aside degrees of homophobia so raging as to make Pat Robertson seem reasonable; on which subject - guys, this whole obsessive fear of gay people thing: It's stupid, it's really kind of weird, and honestly it says more about you than it does about anyone else.

Tha Dogg Pound's 2002 - presumably named in the hope of further annoying Dr. Dre who had just released 2001 - somehow illustrates this. Tha Dogg Pound were never quite the rap group you couldn't live without, but neither were they bereft of qualities, and there's always been something very listenable about Kurupt in particular. This compilation, distinguished by appearances from Jay-Z and Xzibit, both of whom spent some time on Death Row's list of enemies who smelled of poo and wee but were fine if it helped flog a few CDs - was put together after Daz and Kurupt jumped ship, presumably tired of all the money sidelined for their own material being spent on proving that Dr. Dre once saw a man's willy and said he liked it and a man heard him saying that he liked it. So 2002 is offcuts and remixes, an afterthought released by a label who'd just blown it yet again; and in spite of everything, it's still a pretty great album - nothing that's going to change the universe, although It'z All About That Money comes close enough, but it's a fat, nourishing sound, a good square meal. If Death Row could have put out just one album without pissing off the artist responsible, or wasting time banging on about people who'd had the good sense to take their talent elsewhere, that would have been a truly great record, but I guess the time is past.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Chemical Brothers - Push the Button (2004)

Imagine if you will that it's 1992 and you're visiting your friend Kevin. Being 1992, the world of popular tunes has not yet recovered from the Madchester years during which even Dumpy's Rusty Nuts donned fishermen's hats like that bloke from The Stone Roses and announced that there had always been a strong dance element to their music. Kevin himself owns an Akai sampler and has been working on a few tracks, and so you sit bored rigid as you listen to another dreary fourteen minute instrumental that sounds like a Depeche Mode tribute band failing to understand Marshall Jefferson - distinguished by a sample of some bloke from Eastenders saying wow that's like really amazing in the mistaken belief that the genesis of this massive club hit will begin with excited ravers stubbing out their ecstacy cigarettes and stomping up to the DJ booth to demand that tune with the bloke from Eastenders saying wow that's like really amazing. Kevin will spend the next ten years titting about with the same fifteen or so tracks, never finishing a single one of them, adding a sample of Bobby Davro or Ravi Shankar, changing the snare a bit and yet still failing to get anywhere. Kevin is the technological analogue of the guy who lives in the guitar shop playing Stairway to Heaven over and over.

The Chemical Brothers are better than Kevin, although that's roughly how they've always sounded to me - dance music for Oasis fans who don't actually like dance music because it's a bit gay and that, you know what I'm saying, man?; and so there's a load of guest vocals slapped on Punch the Buttock in the spirit of wow that's like really amazing - annoying because most of these tracks would work a hell of a lot better as instrumentals, and because I had forgotten that the Magic fucking Numbers ever existed and would rather have preserved that state of blissful amnesia. Q-Tip just sounds whiny and pointless on Galvanise - as he tends to do on everything, but I guess Brotha Lynch Hung was busy that day - and only Left Right really gets there with servicable raps by some guy called Anwar, and probably because it ends up sounding like an Anwar track rather than a Chemical Brothers instrumental with a sample of the bloke from Eastenders saying wow that's like really amazing.

I don't know if this is a great dance album, never having tried to dance to it, but it sounds like it lacks the focus and drive of proper dance music, belonging rather to that nebulous noodly genre popularised by the Kevinly likes of Quentin 'working class name' Cook and Viscount Felix Ponsonby-Smythe and his Jolly Jacks of the Basement, which was only ever dance music in the sense of Green Day being a punk band. Admittedly Push the Button isn't quite that bad, but it could have been great without the turdy indie-isms.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

DangerDoom - The Mouse and the Mask (2005)

Piffle is probably the word I was looking for.

I never quite got the appeal of Dangermouse - meaning the producer rather than the 1980s cartoon rodent of espionage. Bolting Jay-Z's Black Album onto a load of old Beatles samples to create The Grey Album was a pretty nice move, but nowhere near so weirdly compelling as the guy who did the same thing with samples of the group Pavement to create The Slack Album, yielding a version of Justify My Thug that would have been the greatest thing Jay-Z ever recorded, had he actually recorded it. Dangermouse of course did that thing with wossisface from Goodie Mob, and apparently had some sort of involvement with Gorillaz, which I'd hardly offer as a recommendation. He's far from the worst producer ever to twiddle a knob or to lift trumpet solos from a Tom Jones record, but nothing stands out. To my ears, everything he does resembles a supermarket's own brand version of the 1960s movie soundtrack beats that folks like Skitz or those Herbaliser lads did a lot better. That kid at school, the friend of a friend who raps and is actually pretty good - the first tape he ever gets together will have beats by some spotty mate who sounds roughly like Dangermouse. I mean it's not terrible by any means, but...

Having only really heard MF Doom as a guest on other people's tracks, I had reasonably high expectations. He's got a good voice, and he can spin a canny line for sure, but for some reason nothing here really leapt up from the CD and forced me to pay attention, although maybe it will grow with repeat listening as he's clearly a talent.

The Mouse and the Mask is, lest I have incorrectly assumed you know what I'm talking about, a collaboration amounting to some decent lyrical work from MF Doom reduced to forty or so minutes of texture by a producer who just doesn't do it for me. This in itself wouldn't be so annoying but for there being some sort of deal with the Adult Swim channel, and so characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force show up between tracks, and even become subject matter in a few cases. I can't tell if this is some promotional thing, or whether the chaps just love Aqua Teen Hunger Force so much that they just had to do this album in this way, but it's kind of annoying. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is one of those purportedly adult animations which makes an ironic virtue of its own low production values and unfunny jokes about cancer, rape and other side-splitters - at least I think it does: I managed about fifteen minutes of one episode before I got bored, and it was pretty much South Park on elephant tranquilisers from what I could tell. I could be completely wrong, but then I don't actually care enough to worry about it.

So here we have a CD of generally disappointing tracks interspersed with the voice of an anthropomorphic cartoon milkshake desperately trying to get on the Dangermouse album, the hilarious joke being that Master Shake isn't a very good rapper and is thus doomed to fail - tee hee - and that The Mouse and the Mask wouldn't be quite so amazing were Master Shake to spoil it by - ho ho ho - spitting the maniac lyrical all over trunk banging Dangermouse beats of hella fresh def flyness and the like.

Oh my sides.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

UK Subs - Another Kind of Blues (1979)

It seems peculiar to consider that more time has gone by since this came out than had passed for all those ageing teds to whom Charlie Harper sang this ain't the fifties any more. The UK Subs emerged at roughly the same time as a bunch of other supposedly second or maybe third wave punk bands who made even Sham 69 seem like old school veterans, or at least that's how I remember it. For the past million years I've tended to associate them with the Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, and all those other later footbally types - a few decent songs here and there, but somehow lacking colour, and lacking colour even in comparison to Sham 69.

Stranglehold was one of those yappy singles with some guy barking about something punky over fuzzy guitars; She's Not There was just another cranked up version of some sixties record I hadn't even heard, the sort of thing clogging up a million punk covers compilations with expensively mohicaned models sneering unconvincingly on the cover; but still I would go into Midland Educational in Stratford-upon-Avon every weekend and look at all those albums I couldn't afford to buy, amongst which was Another Kind of Blues. The singles I'd heard hadn't been that impressive, but I was still pretty sure it would be worth a listen, and I thought the cover was great, and it was on blue vinyl; but the bottom line was that pocket money and the weekly fiver from my paper round wasn't going to stretch to taking such chances.

Decades pass and I don't spend too much time thinking about the UK Subs beyond the occasional discovery of some curious detail like how they were buddies with Crass in the early days, which seemed to reflect well on both bands, as did Henry Rollins turning out to be a big fan. Then my friend Eddy's band supported them at the Amersham Arms in New Cross, and Eddy - who can usually be relied on to slag off almost anything that isn't on top of its game - described them as a genuinely great live band, adding that Charlie Harper is one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. Then some comedy metal combo did a cover of Down on the Farm and so made Charlie a millionaire for life off royalties, which seems like karma doing its job for once.

Finally catching up, the UK Subs who recorded this album didn't really sound much like I expected them too, and definitely had many of the qualities I liked about other records I bought at the time. There's some of that slightly yappy texture of Stranglehold, but mostly it's cranked up rhythm and blues, very tuneful, very punchy, and very, very addictive. The lyrics might not be Shakespeare, but then if you want Shakespeare, looking for him on a UK Subs album is probably not a great start, and they do their job as well as you could wish for. Crash Course and TV Blues both stood out for me as tracks that have been conspicuously missing from my life for the last thirty or so years, but to be honest, there's not a single clunker here.

There's been a lot of utter bollocks spouted about punk in recent years, mainly by those who assume that as a phenomena it was only really happening if you were one of about twelve people seen frequently at the right end of the King's Road during August, 1974. Conversely, Another Kind of Blues, regardless of being a supposed latecomer to the party, is more like something you could call the real thing on the grounds that this album sounds exactly like it felt being fourteen in 1979.

A fucking cracker!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Manorexia - Volvox Turbo (2001)

You can never have too much Thirlwell - possibly excepting about half of the somewhat generic Null / Void, and maybe some of those remixes, but then I've never really seen the point of remixes, and I'm not sure I've ever heard one that had much reason to exist as autonomous to that from which it was extrapolated.

J.G. Thirlwell is of course he of Foetus and related pseudonymous enterprises. I expected Manorexia to be a variant on his Steroid Maximus which, for all its undoubted greatness, has tended to sound somewhat like Foetus instrumentals for which no vocal line quite worked. Volvox Turbo on the other hand bisects some quite different compositional places, seemingly having more in common with Thirlwell's occasional pseudo-classical efforts such as Lilith or Sick Minutes.

I invoke the term classical with great caution, aware of its being optioned by morons in recent years, and having been in a band with an overmoneyed sampler enthusiast who would describe his dreary Nitzer Ebb style efforts as classical on the grounds of his having sampled Beethoven. In my admittedly opinionated view, whilst a classical piece doesn't necessarily require definition by virtue of having been performed by a live orchestra, it isn't just a load of songs minus the singing welded into a whole, and nor is it simply an instrumental which goes on for a while. Classical composition, I would suggest, requires a musical narrative and themes which develop and change over time - the development of themes being what separate a classical piece from something I suppose might be better termed soundtrack, providing you accept that a soundtrack can exist independent of anything it might accompany.

Unfortunately the advent of the sampler has lead to greater misuse of the term classical in recent decades for reasons that really should be fucking obvious, and although I gather there's probably a fair bit of that here, Thirlwell gets away with it. As a man who's clearly spent time struggling to achieve certain sounds on shitty equipment, and who has generally been forced to work at making his music - at least in the early days - he's developed a sensibility which you don't tend to get with musicians for whom a million quid's worth of sampler is the starting point. In muso terms, the lad has paid his dues, which is what differentiates Volvox Turbo from how it would have sounded if sprung forth from the expensive black boxes of a lesser talent. I still wouldn't go so far as to describe it as a classical piece on the grounds that it tends to offer variations on the same mood for a length of time, and although themes develop here and there, they come and go without really taking the music anywhere different - and oddly this is something at which Thirlwell is quite adept when wearing his Foetus hat, some of those tracks working very much like symphonies in miniature even with all the growling and agricultural language.

Still, these are observations rather than criticisms as such. Every time this guy puts something out, there's always some new angle, something he's never done before, and soundtrack or classical piece or whatever the hell you want to call it, Volvox Turbo is true to form in that respect and should probably be regarded as essential listening.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Micall Parknsun - The Working Class Dad (2005)

For roughly a decade of my life I listened to rap music almost to the exclusion of everything else, which was partially to do with circumstances. I was working at Royal Mail as a postman which, regardless of what you may have heard, is one tough fucking job day after day with the early starts, heavy weights, climbing stairs, and having complete strangers calling you a cunt more often than you would like. I needed something to drown out the jangly indie-guitar toss of the crap station to which the sorting office radio would invariably be tuned, and because a lot of the younger guys liked their rap, it rubbed off on me in a big way; so that was what I'd have on my walkman for four or five hours a day, because it just seemed to work in a way that nothing else did; and the more I listened to rap, the weaker and more mannered everything else began to sound.

Stand them next to UGK or Three-6-Mafia in their heyday, and even the most violently offensive power electronics act will look like an art gallery installation with everyone mincing around sipping red wine and scoffing cheese footballs; and after you've been listening to rap for a while, even the most profoundly sensitive guitar-strumming artist of the last few generations becomes a sulky poet eating his ice cream in front of a velvet curtain, because there is a certain kind of blue collar bad day during which that knob from Razorlight telling you that everything's gonna be all raaaaaht just doesn't make you feel any better.

Of course, now that my life has become somewhat less shite, I am once again able to appreciate other genres without becoming irritable, but rap really does something unique and special. I think it's down to the lyrical content and the relation of artist to image - as in how they come across - all of which vaguely ties in to that stuff about keeping it real as opposed to keeping it overwrought and solitary in an empty room clutching a single rose like Coldplay man or Bonzo from U2. Rap has one hell of a lot of words and as such can often amount to a hell of a lot of content compared to other forms of music, content as in material delivered to your ears rather than simply interpreted by the listener. This means a rap record that's doing its job provides a good visceral kick in addition to a mammoth pile of issues upon which one may choose to cogitate, and will tend to reward repeated listening because there's so much to take in, certainly more than most can digest in one sitting.

Quite aside from the minor stroke of genius of naming himself after a long-running English chat show host, Micall Parknsun makes rap records that do their job - pissed off and quite vocal about the fact for all sorts of reasons without that being his entire schtick, and without quite fitting neatly into any existing rap demographic. English MCing at least for a while seems to have been of a surprisingly high lyrical standard, with even the also-rans quite capable of holding their own against artists who would be hailed as worldbeating in the States. I'm not sure Micall Parknsun is even that big a name in the UK let alone anywhere else, and yet he ranks effortlessly alongside recognised lyrical greats from over this side of the pond, and I'm pretty sure this isn't just my being swayed by references to Blankety Blank and Les Dawson, lest it seem like I'm reliving those months during which Roots Manuva's greatest talent was apparently the ability to mention cheese on toast in a song, at least according to the music press of the time. The production is similarly spot-on, mostly falling somewhere within the general area of UK hip-hop as it stood around 2005, maybe a distant DJ Premier influence mixed up with 1960s film soundtracks, but better than that probably sounds and with some great deep bass. The Working Class Dad is eight years old now, which seems incredible, so I guess if the guy was ever going to be massive then maybe it would have happened already; still, I guess it's never too late, and he's definitely deserving.