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.