Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Alec Empire - Generation Star Wars (1994)

I've always liked the idea of Alec Empire without really having heard much of anything in which he's been involved, I suppose excepting the Sham 69 cover, regarding which I much preferred the original. His name returned to me as I was reading Simon Reynolds' excellent Energy Flash, a history of dance music since acid house and techno; and a few days later I happened across a copy of this, apparently his first full length album.

The first thing that occurred to me as I listened was I could have done this. I own half of the equipment listed on the sleeve, have on occasion faked the rest, and fuck it - there are a few tapes I've done which sound a lot like this stuff so the process is no mystery. Just listening, I can tell exactly how it was done. I was expected to find myself confused, as I often am with the more labyrinthine and technologically baroque production of, for example, Front 242, but no matter; after all, Empire has always been very much in the spirit of punk - not just the aggression and the anti-establishment message, but the hard, raw sound and the DIY attitude - something anyone could have done. This shouldn't be taken as a criticism. There's nothing wrong with simplicity, with taking things back to the rock 'n' roll basics, and when someone curls a lip and sneers I could have done that, the salient point is usually that they nevertheless didn't.

Alec Empire's musical career seems to have been facilitated by the increasingly weird twists taken by all the subdividing strands of dance music in the early nineties, the point at which the disco biscuits ceased to pack a punch and as this particular stretch of the dance floor was getting dark and kind of nasty. There isn't even really a bass line anywhere on this lot because the bass mostly comes from a drum machine shoved through a fuzz pedal or equivalent effect. Consequently Generation Star Wars sounds one hell of a lot like one of those really noisy early Nocturnal Emissions albums - overdriven production line rhythms, distortion, and something more ethereal looping away in the background by way of contrast. I'm not even sure you could dance to this, or at least not all of it, although it would doubtless sound magnificent in a club.

This came out in 1994, somewhere within the general vicinity of my having a letter published in Melody Maker moaning about their lack of coverage of experimental types such as Konstruktivists, Nurse With Wound and others, cheekily informed by the fact of my being a member of Konstruktivists at the time. Their reply was something along the lines of how the musical future lay not with the cranky outsiders I'd mentioned, but on the dance floor. With hindsight, and particularly since having listened to this, I'm slightly embarrassed to realise that they were probably right.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Lil' Flip - The Leprechaun (2000)

I bought this one from Amazon, which offered me the opportunity to spread the good news of my having purchased a CD by sharing it on facebook. Being a good capitalist, I did just that because I like to keep my friends informed about my daily purchases. Thus did the album cover show up on my facebook page, inspiring my friend Eddy's comment of I'd hang onto the receipt for that one, if I were you.

Yes, I've also seen the cover show up in social media driven lists of worst rap album artwork of all-time, or Pen & Pixel's weirdest affronts to common sense or whatever; but I personally believe they have it all wrong, and that this might actually be one of the greatest record covers of all time. I mean seriously - look at the thing. Say you've just come across it in the record store. You take it from the racks and, having returned your eyeballs to their sockets, you stare at that cover, and somehow your brain fails to formulate a thought amounting to fuck - I gotta hear this shit right now!?

I should fucking cocoa.

I suppose The Leprechaun is old enough to be considered a classic. Classic might be a bit of an overstatement, but it is a great debut. Lil' Flip was dubbed the Freestyle King by DJ Screw - with whom he was loosely associated - which naturally he mentions once or twice on the album, thus giving the impression of having won formal competitions. It might be argued that the claim is undermined when, during the introduction, Flip promises to freestyle the first and last tracks on the record, because if he's that amazing, why not just freestyle the lot? His freestyles aren't bad - and in case anyone still didn't get the memo, freestyle means just making that stuff up on the spot - but there are probably a million more deserving of the regal title. He sounds kind of young on this album, and is prone to bigging himself up as the young tend to be, in contrast to which he's good but by no means the greatest rapper you will have heard if you've bothered to listen to anything since the Treacherous Three.

Yet, no matter what the objection, it's impossible to think poorly of the guy and The Leprechaun is still a great record. The beats are in the vague area of what you might expect given Flip's point of origin - smooth soulful sounds scored to stuttery rhythms of the kind No Limit were so good at before they blew it and ditched their best producers - and a leisurely southern pace in accordance with the climate. I've been to Houston a few times and that place is like the surface of the fucking sun for about half of the year.

What seals the deal is Flip's personality, at least as he speaks it here. There's a little gunplay but not a whole lot, and very little outlaw material. He's funny, not particularly prone to overuse of naughty words, and openly boasts of not caring for either alcohol or the ciggies - although this potential straight edgery is somewhat negated by the lad's stated fondness for purple drank, which the internet describes as a mixture of a prescription cold medication with a soda drink like Sprite or Mountain Dew, plus ice and Jolly Rancher candies often added for colour and taste. The cold medication should contain promethazine (an antihistamine) and codeine. There's plenty materialism, but I'm guessing Flip may have earned the right to get excited about occasionally getting milk on his cereal instead of tap water. The bragging comes with an unexpected self-deprecating undertone and doesn't even quite sound like bragging so much as a young dude astonished by his own good fortune.

In summary, Lil' Flip comes across as a genuinely nice guy and The Leprechaun is a summery kind of album which makes you feel happy when you listen to it. It's as simple as that. It isn't gangsta, and it isn't - ugh - positive rap. It's just good music.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Dandy Warhols - Come Down (1997)

My first brush with this lot was Every Day Should be a Holiday  getting a ton of playage on the wireless, and I assumed it was almost certainly the first Ian Brown solo single seeing as he'd just left the Stone Roses and apparently had something coming out. It was the combination of burping Roland 303 suggesting baggy's rave ancestry with harmonic sixtiesisms redolent of a certain familiarity with mood-enhancing substances; until I actually caught Robert Dougall introducing the record as being by a band I'd never heard of with a terrible name.

I never had much time for Andy Warhol and always found both him and his work kind of dull, which I suppose was the point.

The Dandy Warhols, thanks in part to the popularity of an advert for a kind of telephone you can carry around in your pocket, seem to have come to represent the corporate idea of a quirky independent band, the musical equivalent of That Seventies Show if you will; but having had entire decades without mainstream media, I missed most of that and by the time I found out, I already liked this album so it was too late. They probably are Jefferson Starship, but fuck it - this is a great record nevertheless, which I state as someone who is not ordinarily well-disposed towards anything which sounds like it might represent an exercise in nostalgia.

Come Down amounts to the Beach Boys fused with the Velvet Underground, maybe with a faint trace of either the Pixies or Sonic Youth, but with the considerable advantage of neither Lou Reed nor Thurston Moore being involved in any capacity. It isn't the most shockingly original thing you've ever heard, but it does what it does exceptionally well. In fact it probably does it better than anything it may or may not have ripped off. People wearing head bands and saying far out may be pure arseache in most contexts outside that of the decade upon which this leans so heavily, but I'd say the Billy Childish defence applies here, at least providing you ignore the advert for a kind of telephone you can carry around in your pocket.

The Billy Childish defence, from what I can remember, runs something along the lines of how the Milkshakes were simply playing the music they wanted to hear, the music which sounded the most powerful to them regardless of what anyone else might think; as distinct from rock 'n' roll cabaret acts in crepes and drapes doing their best to keep your mum and dad happy by reminding them of the good times. Not that there's anything wrong with nostalgia in itself, not beyond that I've scratched at least one jangly Beatles obsessive and found a hankering for culture before all those blackies ruined it with their thumpa-thumpa music, but revived forms of expression aren't always inherently necrophiliac in intent; and if any of that makes any sense whatsoever, that's why Come Down sounds so great to me. After all, no-one listens to Beethoven because they miss the 1820s.

So this whole disc is really just raw tunes and euphoria, and the pattern of wallpaper doesn't really matter; and if it's bankrolled by the man, it still doesn't sound like it on this with the soft psychedelia of the harmonies, uncluttered production, and those organ riffs worming their way into your subconscious. If only the Stone Roses had been this good.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Nocturnal Emissions in Dub (2010)

As I keep saying, I don't really do downloads, but I'd bought a couple by Blank Banshee and then there was Peter Hope so it seemed like I should at least give this a shot what with Nocturnal Emissions being one of the few bands whose work I've been consistently buying since way back even before I'd had sexual intercourse.

I'm something of a fish in only a small quantity of water when it comes to reggae, because yes, that is indeed what we have here, in case you were expecting old Emissions numbers with a bit of echo on them - which actually I was. I don't have much reggae, beyond one Scientist album and er... the Police, I suppose, but I'm familiar with the form having been exposed to a fair quota of it over the years - mostly around people's houses, the occasional club, and that slightly bewildering year when my own father - very much your archetypal truck driving Dire Straits fan - kept his wireless tuned, or possibly even locked, to some local Coventry station playing all that dancehall-digital rasta stuff that was around in the early nineties.

So yes - this is Nocturnal Emissions' reggie album, which could have gone horribly wrong but succeeds regardless because, let's face it, Nigel Ayers is probably the only person to emerge from that whole weirdy music scene who could pull off this sort of thing without looking like a complete wanker. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised considering Binary Tribe and Futurist Antiquarianism, to name just two, upon which he respectively appropriated trancey rave and jungle. The key to Ayers' success seems to be an absolutely genuine engagement with whichever genre he's dipping toes into, combined with a refusal to just churn out some faithful impersonation. So unlike certain clowns I'm not even going to mention, he always brings something new to the table. Also, he effectively lived in Brixton for at least a decade so it's not like we're talking Controlled Bleeding's zydeco album.

Nocturnal Emissions in Dub is woven from musical and non-musical sources, some not a million miles from what you will have heard on Fruiting Body and the like, yet woven into something almost resembling instrumental lovers rock crossed with the digital stuff of which my dad was such a fan. It has a bit of that high-definition television quality on headphones, doubtless having been composed as waveforms copied and pasted across different parts of a screen, but over speakers with the volume up loud, it's serious business - relaxing, atmospheric, a fair bit of arsequake, and characteristically inspired; so to commit what may seem something of a bland statement, it really does sound like a reggae album by Nocturnal Emissions.

My only criticism is that Bodmin Parkway unfortunately reminds me of that DWP television commercial from a couple of years back where Mariella Frostrup cheerily reminds benefits claimants that they could be penalised for claiming the wrong kind of family tax credits over some nice reggae riddums designed to put you at your ease. It's not so much the music as the combination of the music with samples of announcements made over a British Rail tannoy so plummily voiced that they may as well have been samples from a Richard Curtis romantic comedy; but it's one track on a great album that logically shouldn't have existed in the first place, so I'm not complaining.

Any chance of volume two?