Thursday, 25 June 2015

Non-Phixion - The Future is Now (2002)

There's never really been a need for the white rap version of NWA  because - aside from the NWA we had working just fine - if you're grading your rap by skin tone, then you're almost certainly missing a huge chunk of the point regardless of what may be claimed by idiots like Lauryn Hill or that Made Men guy who owned The Source magazine, whatever the fuck his name was; but, if you really, really, really insist, then it was probably Non-Phixion.

As with NWA, Non-Phixion only made two proper albums, and this was the first of them; and they were notable for just about every single track involving any combination of these four people - Ill Bill, Sabac Red, Goretex, and DJ Eclipse - emerging from that period being more or less fucking perfect. Bringing in Sabac Red's I Have A Dream and Ill Bill's Anatomy of A School Shooting and that's four spots in the hip-hop top ten all time greats just from this one group alone - the other two being Rock Stars from this album and Caught Between Worlds from The Green if anyone cares, and keeping in mind that there's no such thing as a hip-hop top ten all time greats, or at least not one that stays the same for longer than a couple of hours.

Where was I?

The Green had a bit of a mixtape feel to it, but this one was solid as fuck - hard gritty beats, that skipping exhaust-choked cinematic New York groove that Wu-Tang never really got right quite so often as they should have done, but here on point from beginning to end; and the pump of bass, and some fairly low-key sample, and DJ Eclipse scratching away like nobody's business. It's the simplest, most basic sound in the world, no more than a variation on the stuff done in the parks and baseball courts before anyone had even heard of this sort of thing, but somehow it's done with such conviction on this album - thanks to Necro, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and others - that even in 2002 it managed to sound like something new. Obviously it wasn't, but Non-Phixion always seemed like a breed apart from most of their peers, which was probably the lyrical melange keeping everything far too lively for reduction to being just one thing. This was street-level underground conscious rap which spent far too much time watching Italian splatter movies and had no intention of apologising for its heavy pornography habit. It was a whole mess of contradictions all jammed together and forced to carry such weight that it makes you apologise for being a dick, for not getting it first time. It was supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, or to make you laugh, or to make you go out and rob a bank. Non-Phixion were one of the few groups who could switch from capitalism and world politics to black helicopters, L. Ron Hubbard, and Area 51 without sounding like complete loonies.

I don't know what happened after The Green, and La Coka Nostra just sounded like some sort of Insane Clown Posse version of Non-Phixion to me, even without the off-putting involvement of that Cypress Hill bloke. Maybe I've just heard the wrong stuff.

What matters is that this existed and still blows my nuts off each time I slap it on, figuratively speaking; but of course you already knew that, even if only just from Rock Stars which is, as you should be aware, just about the phattest shit that's ever existed in the history of phat shit, because if you ain't still bumpin' Rock Stars at least once a week, then what the hell is wrong with your ass and how do you justify your existence?


Get away from me.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (2015)

I've been waiting for the musical volcano of Tad Doyle to once more spew forth its lava, raining molten death upon surrounding villages for some time, at least since the Hog Molly album whenever that was, and certainly since that wonderful decade when a new Tad album seemed like a fairly regular thing; and the reason for such anticipation is that Tad were pretty much the greatest rock band of all time.

The lad has apparently spent the intervening years running his Witch Ape studio up in Seattle, generally avoiding music business headaches, and occasionally titting about with his own ditties. Eventually he decided this material justified getting a band together, and so he did, and here's the album.

I'm a bit out of the loop with all the musical subgenres into which everything has split of late, but then I've reached that age past which all sense of chronology goes out the window, by which I'd guess probably a couple of years have passed since the members of Tad all went their separate ways when actually that was 1999, which was fucking ages ago. Oh well.

One of the subgenres into which metal has split is sludge metal, or maybe I mean doom metal. You were probably all sick of it years ago, but I never saw the memo. Lieutenant Pigeon may already have enjoyed a sludge comeback for all that anyone has bothered to keep me informed. Anyway, the first Brothers of the Sonic Cloth album is something along these lines so I gather, meaning it's quite different to the music of Tad in certain respects, same ballpark maybe but a different game. In fact, most of Tad's output sounds quite light-hearted and breezy compared to this. To my ears - with all of their limited fat old man points of reference - I'm reminded of bits of Black Sabbath, maybe Cop-era Swans with more of a tune, and elements of Ramleh, Skullflower or whoever. The guitar represents a great wall of grinding neolithic pain rolling over its audience at glacial speed with the bass like some growling animal prowling around out there somewhere; and the drums just fucking pound. The raw force definitely reminds me of the Swans, but Tad - or Thomas Doyle if you prefer - always had so much more going on than just bludgeoning noise. As with his earlier endeavours, there's some serious if understated melody underscoring this river of lava, invoking that uniquely wounded quality which characterises the man's finest work, serving to throw the whole into sharp relief as something more than just the sound of stars undergoing gravitational collapse but with guitars - if you'll pardon what is probably a fucking ludicrous and possibly overused simile.

It's good to have this guy back, and certainly not wishing to diminish the mighty force of Peggy Doyle or Dave French, but this is one absolute fucker of a comeback album - if such a term is quite appropriate - and clear evidence of why Mr. Doyle remains one of the most astonishing music artists of our time.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Public Image Limited - Commercial Zone (1983)

I was never quite able to work out what happened with the fourth studio album by Public Image Limited, and having just attempted to refresh my memory with a rummage around on the internet, I'm not significantly any wiser. Commercial Zone was put out by Keith Levene himself following his either leaving the group or else being booted out, only to have some sort of record company ASBO slapped on the disc due to its having been re-recorded and given an official release as This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get; so some take to the view of Commercial Zone being a bootleg comprising demo versions of songs which turned up on the other record, whilst others regard it as what the album should have sounded like. As for myself, mainly I'm still reeling at actually having found a copy and not having had to sell a kidney in order to make my purchase - all thanks to the magic of this thing we call internet - but it has to be said, Commercial Zone really is one fuck of a better album.

Technically this was the last album prior to Public Image Limited's rebirth as a stadium rock outfit - albeit a very wonderful stadium rock outfit - and you can sort of see the progression from Metal Box to The Flowers of Romance to this one in terms of continuing a tradition of experimentation and a certain mood, as opposed to - for example - scraping the leftovers onto a bit of bread, sticking it in the oven and calling it a fucking pizza. Unlike This Wasn't Actually What We Wanted... But It's What We Got, this album sounds like the work of people who were still talking to each other, with most of the work done during recording rather than after the event with a horn section brought in to see if they can stop it all sounding quite so shit.

To be honest, I've always been highly suspicious of anything involving Martin Atkins given his long history of working with the already famous like some sort of post-punk industrial music autograph hunter, and This Was The Wank That Was seemed to support my conviction of his being about as interesting as whoever he's stood next to at the time, and so with his being stood next to John Lydon who - God bless him - similarly tends to work better in the company of decent collaborators, the album was never going to be amazing. The material was fine, but they blew it, and then tried to detract from it having turned out crap with a sardonic title and cover photographs of Lydon doing the face by which he denounces the dim view we take of his disappointing record as oh so interesting...

The funny thing is Commercial Zone doesn't actually sound significantly different. It's less-cluttered, and there are tracks which didn't make it onto the karaoke version but wouldn't have sounded out of place had they done; but it holds together better, punches in the right places, defying expectation rather than just inspiring you to wonder what the fuck they're trying to do now; and ultimately Commercial Zone is ten times the album that You Pays Your Money... You Takes Your Chance was, or half-heartedly purported to be whilst sneering at its own shoes. Having another rummage around on the internet, I learn that Keith Levene was somewhat pissed off by this whole business and continues to be pissed off by it to this day, and comparing that which was to that which could have been, it's not difficult to see why.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Blood Uncles - Libertine (1987)

I'm still not quite sure how this lot ever managed to slip through the cracks. Their rise and peculiarly swift fall happened to coincide with my being too skint to afford real food once I'd bought my weekly stash of Marvel comics and made allowances for beer, and so I was reduced to musical purchases selected mainly from the bargain bins and second-hand stores of Chatham. Thus did I pick up the 12" single of Crash, having a vague feeling I'd seen these Blood Uncles on the telly at some point. Astonishingly Crash turned out to be one of the best records I've ever picked from a bargain bin.

I had been sceptical given the involvement of the big-boned lad from the Exploited - whom I'd never liked on the grounds that they looked and sounded like a punk band formed by aliens based on either transmissions of Spitting Image picked up in the depths of space, or sensationalist articles from the Sun excavated from the post-nuclear ruins of the planet Earth. I had also been sceptical given the subject matter of Crash - having a wank over automobile accidents, a subject which had surely been done to death by 1987 - I mean even Sheena bloody Easton had probably cookie-cuttered out some ode to taking it up the pooper during a seven car pile up on the M6 by then; but, despite everything, Crash was a fucking mammoth single, bypassing all possible objections - not least thanks to the utterly chilling Never Happy Man on the other side - and probably the best fifty pence I've ever spent.

Anyway yes, the Blood Uncles were John Duncan, formerly of the Exploited, Colin McGuire, and vocalist Jon Carmichael - one of whom apparently went to school with my pal Alan Mason, although I can never remember which one it was. Crash made such a strong impression, slaking my musical thirst as it did during a time of severe drought, that I almost quacked my pants when I saw there was a full album. I took the thing home and it remained stuck to the turntable for the next six months. Libertine is big, grimy, gonzo rock, screeching feedback, bluesy hangovers and coughing up what's left of your innards with a vigour that makes Nick Cave sound like some sort of health nut, kind of like a stadium rock version of Foetus, I always thought; and like the best rock, it was a bit deranged with a faint tang of the laughing academy particularly in tracks such as Breakdown Express and Danny's Favourite Game - not really the sort of thing you would expect to see on Going Live! of a Saturday morning. More incredibly still, amongst the stench of gasoline, hard liquor, and prescription drugs, Blood Uncles not only managed to cover Prince's Let's Go Crazy without sounding even remotely ironic, but did it to the backing of what I'm pretty sure was a Yamaha RX15 drum machine - the sort of thing which doubtless propelled Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones to Smash Hits infamy - somehow ramped up to the kind of monstrous sound you expect from a Steve Albini production.

This group had everything - tunes, raw power, gut-wrenching pathos, and a genuinely dynamic vocalist who always sounded like his life depended on it, so I have no idea why it never happened beyond the general public having no taste. Nearly thirty years on and this one still brings me out in a cold sweat.