Thursday, 28 August 2014

MOP - Warriorz (2000)

A couple of weeks ago I bought a box set of the first three albums by the Sound, a group I somehow managed to completely miss first time around. I'd stumbled across one of their tracks by chance and decided they sounded right up my street. They proved so much up my street that I've hardly listened to anything else since those aforementioned three albums turned up in the mail, and I've now played them so much that I've become almost over-saturated and sorely in need of a palate cleanser. I was going to write something about the Sound this week, but instead Warriorz found its way into my discman, which is about as far removed as one can get from the Sound without just listening to Cartoons, whom Wikipedia describes as a technobilly or glam pop band from Denmark, best known for their 1998 Eurodance cover of the 1958 novelty song, Witch Doctor by Ross Bagdasarian, as well as for their outlandish plastic costumes and wigs used in live performances as caricatures of 1950s American rock and roll stars.

Anyway, to get to the point, the greatest obstacles to a working appreciation of rap are, I would say, the failure to understand what rap does, and the misconception that rap necessarily does just one thing. This is particularly true of the sort of rap which relates sweary tales of villainy, once amusingly parodied by my friend Carl with the line I'm gonna cut off your face and use it to wipe my arse. Whilst Warriorz may indeed serve as a filmic glimpse of life on the mean streets of Brooklyn, a valuable insight into the world of society's most pooed-upon, it's probably worth remembering that this is also rap guys stood around trying to make each other laugh by saying outrageous shit. It's a conversation which has somehow ended up on a CD in the homes of people with very different lives to those of the originators, and which should be understood as such, and should be understood as something quite different to a broadcast message sent out to a bunch of strangers with slightly fatter wallets. I've probably said this before, but this is what distinguishes artists such as MOP or anyone else who was ever labelled gangsta from self-proclaimed edumacaters of the Native Tongues school and their disciples - this sort of material is not offered as lifestyle tips or guidance.

Okay, excuses aside, MOP have refreshingly little to say on most of the usual contentious subjects, concentrating mainly on how great they are, and how they're fairly likely to punch your face off for no reason whatsoever. Whilst this may sound something of a bore, the sheer joy they obviously had recording this album carries it along. Rarely has anything sounded quite so furious, so ready to bash your teeth in, and yet so raucously happy at the same time. It's like that weird moment where you find that, for no obvious reason, you're suddenly best friends with the most enormous and terrifying kid in the entire school, and he thinks all of your jokes are hilarious. Also, I don't think I've ever heard quite so much shouting on one album.

Musically it's definitively in the DJ Premier vein - although the man himself only handles a few of the cuts here - grimy east-coast nineties beats reversing over you like an unusually smelly garbage truck, old soul and film soundtrack samples ground into functioning tracks on the sort of sampler that leaves grease stains if you stand too close; and because, as I've attempted to suggest, the best rap generally does more than just one thing, there's something powerfully soulful about this collection even taking all the yelling and grunting and diarrhoea jokes into account; and never has a xylophone sample sounded quite so terrifying as on On the Front Line. This is easily one of the greatest rap albums of all time, pooface.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bigod 20 - Steel Works! (1992)

I bought this having suffered a sudden awareness of greatly missing Front 242, and having somehow got my wikiwires crossed by means amounting to the mistaken belief of Bigod 20 being some sort of Front 242 solo project. Unfortunately this turned out to be entirely untrue, said crossed wires resulting from Front 242's Jean-Luc de Meyer lending both lyrics and tonsils to The Bog, and possibly also resulting from the fact that Steel Works! so much resembles the work of a Front 242 tribute act that I'm not sure I would have been able to tell the difference had someone tried to flog this to me as the genuine article. Okay, so maybe they're not quite identical, at least in so much as it's possible to tell the difference between Blink 182 and Green Day, but you have to listen to this one a good few times before you notice the distinguishing features; and even then it's not easy to identify quite what those distinguishing features might be. The best way I can put it is that if Front 242 were channelling the robot from The Terminator, Bigod 20 represented the incarnate spirit of a big yellow digger, a JCB or something of the sort.

The Bog was also the title of one of the very first tracks I ever helped record as a member of the Pre-War Busconductors at the age of fourteen, predating the Bigod 20 song by a decade. I held the cassette recorder and described the process of trousers taken down whilst Eggy pretended to sit upon the lavatory and communicated the concept of excretion by blowing loud farting raspberry noises and trying not to laugh. The Bigod 20 song of the same name takes a quite different approach to its subject, sounding somewhat like a Tyranny >For You< out-take, as actually does a lot of this album - same bubbling sequencers and washes of pensive orchestral sound, and the grunting Herr Flick vocals, muscular EBM workout tracks for sweating men stomping about in clubs punctuated with slower numbers as the same men take a break and gaze solemnly into the northern sunset whilst thinking hard about destiny, or possibly about cocks and arseholes and all that good stuff. I actually have quite a low tolerance for this sort of marching up and down whilst frowning nonsense mainly because it's so fucking easy to churn it out without too much stress placed on anyone's imagination; despite which, and despite that Steel Works! might as well be the Barron Knights in a Belgian leather bar, it's hard to keep oneself from enjoying this album, so after a couple of plays I caved-in and just let my steel-capped toe tap away.

I still have to raise an eyebrow at America with its generic samples of US televangelists talking about Him upstairs, almost certainly an example of stomping Euroweenie politics along the lines of nyer nyer nyer you Americans with your guns, the point of which is muddied amongst soaring Olympian trumpet samples which make it sound like a song about how much Bigod 20 love America, and which makes me want to buy a hamburger from the nearest Hooters restaurant and then vote for George W. Bush, even though I can't because he's no longer a politician. I'm not even going to mention the irony of a German band whining about American cultural imperialism having recorded their entire album in heavily-accented English and released it through Bugs Bunny's parent company, although I just did, obviously.

Steel Works! is hopelessly unoriginal and full of shit, but somehow still a reasonably great album despite everything.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Toadies - Rubberneck (1994)

This apparently enjoyed moderate success in its day, and the band are still very much in existence and doing fine, but they had zero impact in England so far as I was aware and are therefore new to me; so if I appear to be praising an amazing new discovery that everyone else in the universe was already bored of by 1995, then sorry...

I recall Rubberneck quite well as having been heavily promoted in the advertising for Sam Goody record stores in various comics I was reading back then, mostly Vertigo titles such as Preacher in which Garth Ennis bravely cracked ground-breaking jokes about inbred rednecks of the southern states with names like Otis and Joe Bob, which no-one had ever done before. Garth Ennis invented it, you see. It was a whole new kind of storytelling. Anyway, design snob that I am, I still maintain that this album has one of the worst covers I've ever seen. It's not so much the third year art project illustration as the illustration in somehow unsettling combination with the swirly dollar store font of the title achieving the queasy effect of comic sans without actually being comic sans. Rubberneck somehow managed to look bad in the pages of the already excruciating Preacher, a comic in the context of which advertising for albums by even Bon Jovi and Poison packed a certain alluring punch. It spoke to me of fifteenth generation Nirvana tribute acts signed by increasingly desperate major labels; and then twenty years later I'm living in America, stood in a branch of CD & DVD Exchange with a copy of this thing in my hand. Three dollars doesn't seem much, and there's no way it can be as bad as the cover.

Astonishingly, not only is it not bad, but it's actually very, very good. Rubberneck is sufficiently of its time to at least support the hunch that Toadies were probably signed on the strength of check shirts and fuzz guitar, but other than that, they piss all over just about every other band to briefly benefit from the Seattle gold rush. For a start, they sound somehow definitively Texan, at least to me, a sort of mashed up Pixies and Lynyrd Skynyrd hybrid, or maybe what you would get if you gave King Crimson mullets and had them drive around the back roads of Bexar County for a while in a battered El Camino. Amongst such messy comparisons, the influence of the Pixies seems strongest with some sort of rockabilly element tucked away just beneath the drum stool, but Rubberneck has enough of its own sound to justify repeat listening; and not least because there's not a dud track on here. They're all growers.

Lyrically, there's nothing so crude or crappy as Garth Ennis bluntly recycling John Boorman's Deliverance with added Tarantino, but it's that same quiet rural horror, the kind of thing Tad used to do so well, here with the dark shadow of the Baptist church cast across secluded creeks full of snakes and prickly pear cacti; but crucially it does all this with soul, and with poetry, and without pulling the obvious scary faces.

As they've just released a twentieth anniversary edition of this album, it probably doesn't really qualify as a lost classic; and having discovered that Toadies now have their own brand of beer named Rubberneck Red, I realise I may simply be waving an REO Speedwagon album in your face whilst whining there's this rilly 'tastic band, mkay, you probably won't have heard of them, but I have; but does it really matter?

Rubberneck sports the worst album cover this side of Ziggy Byfield and the Blackheart Band - not even mentioning the opportunity missed with the reissue - but this is nevertheless one hell of a disc, and indispensable listening for anyone who appreciates unsettling rural tales set to tight, crunchy guitar riffage.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Calvin Harris - I Created Disco (2007)

This stuff didn't make much of an impression on me when blasted out of a tinny speaker at work for the best part of a year, at least not beyond the fact that Calvin Harris at least wasn't the Killers, Kasabian, or the Arctic fucking Monkeys and was therefore already ahead of the game so far as I was concerned. More recently I happened to notice his having sat behind the desk on a couple of Dizzee Rascal albums, so here I am.

I Created Disco reminds me a little of LCD Soundsystem, although it may simply be parallel studio habits encouraging the comparison - dance music which harks back to the days before house came along to impose that ubiquitous hi-hat on everything, and a love of dry, punchy sounds which work well in large, crowded places, as distinct from the customary excess of reverb compensating for a lack of imagination and basic ignorance of the form, as is so often the case. Initial impressions foster a suspected love of kitsch and corn with Harris as a sort of dance equivalent of Look Around You, but the impression doesn't really stand up to repeated play. The music is too good, and there's too much love gone into its production for this to be some smirking exercise in reintroducing flares to the dance floor. Rather I suspect that Harris, having been born in 2012 and thus still a mere two years old, is too young to have been caught up in the spirit of nostalgia by which it's somehow okay to listen to ELO again; rather I suspect that he just loves making records and trying things out to see what will work. Thus on this debut we swing backwards and forwards between tracks invoking Kool & the Gang, or fat, squelchy bass numbers of the kind Snoop Dogg once favoured, Prince before he went tits up, and even mid-period Devo b-sides; none of which impinges on I Created Disco quite clearly being a new thing, at least as of six years ago, but new to me as I've only just heard it.

Nice work.