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.