Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Z'ev - Salts of Heavy Metals (1981)


Here's another one I bought, then sold so as to finance purchase of obscure Foetus records, having concluded it was a bit of a racket with nothing anywhere near so catchy as his hit single on Fetish, a faintly bewildering cover of Wipe Out by the Surfaris; and now I've bought it again because it felt strange that I should no longer have a copy; and I'm sort of glad I did, I guess.

Someone or other once described a certain band as the sound of metal dustbins thrown down a fire escape. It may even have been me, although if so I probably nicked the description from someone else. Anyway that's what Salts of Heavy Metals actually sounds like, mostly being Z'ev, who was a chap rather than a fully instrumented beat combo, kicking things he'd liberated from scrap yards across a stage, not even rhythmically. It's just a noise which seems slightly out of place on a record, which is why I still find it intriguing.

Coming back to Salts after a couple of decades, my first hunch was that it represents something like antimusic in the vein of the New Blockaders, but having boned up on the lad's interviews, it's clear his intentions were musical, and that all those lumps of metal hauled back from the side of the road were chosen for their tonal potential; and the more you listen to this record, the more sense it makes.

Needless to say, there's nothing particularly restful on here and there's not much variation in mood, but the tracks sound quite different to each other despite the brutalist method of composition; and the closer you listen, the more you find to enjoy, or at least appreciate. The best I can come up with to describe it is a sonic analogy of abstract expressionism, with the atmosphere - mostly a pretty tense one - formed from what are effectively random scrapes and slashes of noise.

My other hunch - other than the one about Salts being antimusic - was that the performance was surely the thing with this sort of stuff, and a recording will inevitably fail to pack the same punch as the spectacle of a seven foot skinhead swinging bits of tractor around his head on lengths of chain; and it's certainly a point, but then again a record is a different medium and probably shouldn't be judged by the same criteria. This still leaves us with the oddity that here the noise is nevertheless presented as music which, as I say, is probably what makes it so weirdly enticing. It's a sound you wouldn't expect to come out of your speakers, and is of such composition as to inspire questions about where the music ends and the random noises and fridge hum of one's own daily existence begins, or if there's even a division.

Salts of Heavy Metals probably isn't likely to become a staple at any of those Christmas parties I never host, but it's still really nice to have it back.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

23 Skidoo (2000)


I was warned off this one, and to be fair, I had my doubts. It was their first album in sixteen years, and the last thing I'd heard before this was Shugyōsha Step which appeared on the Funky Alternatives album back in 1986; and while Shugyōsha Step was all right, it had a faint tang of leaders having become followers, falling a couple of years behind with that there break dance music. These sort of comeback albums don't always work, and you had to wonder if maybe the lads felt inclined to cash in on having been sampled by the Chemical Brothers.

On the one hand, this eponymous fourth album doesn't seem to represent a significant sonic leap forward from 1984's Urban Gamelan; but on the other, Urban Gamelan sounded pretty damn fine to my ears, so at least we're getting back into the saddle on a good footing. 23 Skidoo were never really what you'd call popular in the Chemical Brothers' sense, but at the same time, either the extent of their influence has been disproportionately widespread, or they simply tapped into a certain groove before everyone else. It seems significant to see the likes of Massive Attack thanked on the cover, not to mention the appearance of Roots Manuva and Pharoah Sanders on a couple of tracks. This record might almost be seen - or I suppose heard - as a restatement of intent, maybe a reclamation of territory, particularly as 400 Blows ultimately turned out to be such a complete waste of everyone's time. It's unapologetically smooth jazz with a weirdly angular aesthetic, beautifully atmospheric, even hypnotic, reclaiming rhythm from all the usual robosuspects in their camouflage pants, and hopefully giving aneurysms to any industrial historians trying their durndest to shoehorn anything this organic into the Ministry backstory.

Nothing for sixteen years and then a double album which effortlessly made everyone else look like a complete cunt - not bad going.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Butts Band (1974)


I always had a bit of an uncomfortable aversion to the Doors. On the one hand I've never been particularly impressed by Jim Morrison, or at least I've never been impressed by the myth of Morrison as visionary prophet; but on the other it's difficult to deny the quality of the music, even with himself belching his sixth form poetry over the top. I'm not even sure why I'm bothered, given the high quota of shitheads already taking up shelf space in my record collection and how I can still listen to the Pistols without recalling Lydon sharing a trustworthy working class pint with grinning Nigel Farage; but never mind because I've just discovered the existence of the Butts Band.


I never realised that the Doors had recorded albums without Morrison, which is probably my fault for assuming that all music was shit prior to the Damned releasing New Rose. It turns out that just two Doors were involved, but crucially neither of them were Jim Morrison due to his having departed for that great sixth form common room in the sky, making it possible for me to appreciate the vibe without anything of a self-important disposition getting in the way; and they must have been doing something right, because this is some considerable distance outside of my comfort zone.

The problem I have with the seventies is that, contrary to the claims of nostalgic telly shows, it really wasn't all David Bowie and Marc Bolan popping around Twiggy's house to watch Doctor Who, and I know this because I was actually there, meaning I was actually there in the seventies rather than at Twiggy's house. Mostly it was young beige men with flares, beards and sunglasses wishing they were on a beach in California, and the music was horrible and earnest and twiddly in all the wrong places*; but in every shower of shite there's always some undigested diced carrot representing the form as it should have been, and should be remembered - something which sounds amazing even before Quentin Tarantino ironically stripes it onto footage of a sharp dressed man kicking someone's head off. I can think of about a million records that should have sounded like the Butts Band but didn't, but never mind.

They've retained that bluesy quality which made the Doors sound so powerful, dark and brooding without becoming ponderous; and on this foundation they've built a record which is actually sort of light without being fluff, and even pretty funky. It has a soulful edge without sounding like it's trying to prove anything, and which probably means we're long overdue Michael Gira feeling he has to cover I Won't Be Alone Anymore. This is a record which probably constitutes a postscript, and yet to my ears it sounds like a refinement of what they were doing before. Would that a few more seventies also rans had been this good.

I gather there was a second album with a different line-up augmenting Densmore and Kreiger, but they got it so right on this one that I'm a bit wary of tracking it down.

*: Relax, Daphne - I didn't mean ELP.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Frank Black (1993)


I seem to recall this being generally hated in the music press when it came out, something about it being nothing new, Pixies without the inspiration or somesuch. Nevertheless my girlfriend of the time bought it and played the thing until you could have used it to wrap sandwiches. Consequently I was afforded ample opportunity to become familiar with every last click and ping, and thus has it become well and truly ground into my consciousness.

I suppose there's an argument to be had in wondering why the big fat coward chickened out of that euphonium driven rap album we'd all been waiting for, but it's not a very good argument; and if you love the Pixies - as indeed I do - then there was never a good reason why this shouldn't deliver the same sort of kick, but with knobs on. I suppose it's arguably a smoother record, lacking the occasional squall of feedback or pounding kick drum, but otherwise it relates to the Pixies like those tiny concentrated cups of weapons grade coffee you get anywhere south of the Rio Grande when asking for the wrong thing - the same but moreso and somehow actually even a little bit fucking weirder. It's not just the songs about flying saucers or fixating on subjects so folksy that they come out the other side. It's how much more intense is the contrast of subject with the faint suggestion that Frank only ever really wanted to be in one of those bands named after a state - Boston, Kansas, Alabama, and I'm sure there are others. Somehow the interference pattern formed by these two seemingly disparate strands sounds like the Pixies fuelled by the same honking overdrive which powered early Roxy Music. At the risk of seeming contentious, I suspect you've probably got something wrong with you if you don't like this record. It really is one of the best.

This man is a fucking genius.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Link Wray & His Raymen - Jack the Ripper (1963)


I think this was probably the first vinyl record I bought in America, which hopefully you'll agree was a pretty fucking solid place to get started. I'd just arrived off the boat, head still spinning. Everything was in boxes and I didn't even have a record player. I stumbled into Hogwild, experienced extreme disorientation, and came out the door with this because, let's face it, you can't really go wrong with Link Wray.

Unfortunately it sounded shit once I got me a turntable, just a distorted twang; but thankfully, as I've subsequently realised, this was entirely due to a crap needle which has since been replaced. Weirdly, it's taken me a couple of years to remember I actually had the thing, but I'm glad I did because it's astonishing. The quality is such as to inspire the realisation that - actually - Steve Albini and Billy Childish were probably right: you simply don't need all of the audio-horseshit, just a microphone, a good ear, and something which captures the sound.

The Link Wray sound, as you will probably remember, is rudimentary but nevertheless pretty fucking tight, in case anyone can't tell the difference between primal and just plain hamfisted. We have drums, bass, and Link twanging away through speakers with holes punched in the cones so as to create a fuzz effect. You may recall it sounding a little like the Shadows, but frankly the Shadows seem pretty weak compared to this stuff. Listen to Rumble and it's really not too difficult to credit the fact of it once having been banned from the radio for fear of causing juvenile delinquency - and keep in mind we're talking about a fucking instrumental!

Wray's music has strong blues roots but you can hear that, even in 1963, it was forever reaching out, pulling in all sorts of strange directions, which is what distinguishes this from Hank Marvin's bunch of teatime entertainers. There are those uneasy pauses on Fat Back - how different parts of the tune seem to hang around a little longer than natural - the weird atonal squawks punctuating Chicken Run, what sounds like a basic monosynth on Cross Ties, and then the truly peculiar Big Ben with a jazzy bass wobble which wouldn't seem out of place on some dubstep number. It takes serious talent to produce something which not only sounds this fresh and this powerful half a century later, but which kind of makes you wonder why we've bothered recording anything since.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Nurse With Wound - Insect & Individual Silenced (1981)


It seems Steve Stapleton ended up hating this one, hence its patchy bordering on barely-happening reissue history. On the other hand, it's fairly dear to my own heart, or at least dear-ish - being the first Nurse With Wound album I ever bought, a purchase facilitated by a rare trip down to that London, and specifically to the Virgin megastore because it was a bit fucking tricky getting hold of this stuff if you lived out in the sticks. I had Homotopy to Marie on order at the short-lived Shipston-on-Stour record store for about a year before the proprieter eventually gave up.

I say dear-ish because clearly I didn't regard the thing with such affection as to keep me from flogging it to Vinyl Experience in the nineties along with a stack of Whitehouse albums when raising funds for early Foetus records - two albums and four singles which are great records, so I never quite regretted sacrificing my copy of Insect & Individual Silenced, although it would have been nice to have been paid more than twenty fucking quid for it, particularly when it was in the racks for eighty a week later. Twenty years pass, and I notice that I still have a tape of the album, because I used to obsessively tape albums as I bought them, and the tape is of such quality that, once digitised, it's pretty much the same as having the album back; so that's nice.

You probably already have a fairly good idea of what Nurse With Wound sound like, and that's what Insect & Individual Silenced sounds like, except more so to my ears because it was the first one I heard. This was my introduction to a whole new, seriously weird world. The most startling aspects of the record, at least to me, were the razor sharp edits chopping up disparate slabs of sound without the usual luxury of reverb to make it seem at least a little moody and romantic; and the way in which the next sound you hear is usually the last you would expect, and the one which makes the least obvious sense. Alvin's Funeral builds up around what are probably random notes pinged from the spokes of a revolving bicycle wheel, combined with unnerving bursts of feedback and worrying poetry in a little girl voice which I always assumed to belong to Danielle Dax, but I could be wrong. The other side features two tracks, first being Absent Old Queen Underfoot, a collaboration with Jim Thirlwell and Trevor Reidy of the Shock Headed Peters. It's mostly subdued noise and brushed drums serving more as irritation than rhythm, like flies bashing against a window; truthfully, it doesn't really do much, but works well as an uncomfortable respite after the barrage of Alvin's Funeral. Finally there's the six minutes of Mutilés De Guerre which closes the album with loops of dialogue, electronic noise, and a bit of Ludwig van himself on the old ukelele - again maybe nothing special in its own right, but powerful in context of the album as a whole by contributing to a peculiar sense of narrative progression.

Insect & Individual Silenced should be experienced as though it were a surrealist film, a cousin to the work of Man Ray, Maya Deren and others, but struck through with something equivalent to the uneasy mutterings of Hans Bellmer; and happily, being a musical recording, the album has sidestepped the cauterising effect of the art establishment and is thus able to present Dadaist shock without us having to watch Waldemar Januszczak wanking himself silly. Of course there are still the trainspotting twats who will tell you this was early industrial music, but as it makes Gristle sound like Pink Floyd I'd say we can safely ignore such bollocks.

Lord knows why Stapleton was so down on this one. Personally, I think it's wonderful.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Stereolab - Switched On (1992)


Music used to be much better than it is now, back in the good old days. Music is now rubbish. It used to be great, but now it isn't.

The debate, such as it is, rages on - if the term rage can really be applied to a discourse which chunders along with all the vitality of piss dripping from the leaf of a stinging nettle. My cousin or niece or whatever the hell she is opined as much on facebook a while back. People today don't know what proper music is, she boldy suggested. My dad made sure we only had proper music in my house when I was growing up, classics like the Jam, the Who, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene…

She's young, so I left it.

More recently, YouTube suggested that I might enjoy a twenty-minute sermon on the subject of why music used to be much better than it is now. The address is delivered by one of those YouTube pundits I generally try to avoid, a person identifying himself as Thoughty2. His avatar is a picture of himself scratching his chin, having thoughts, because that's what you do when you have thoughts. You scratch your chin and maybe raise one eyebrow a little. For a small fee, one can subscribe to Thoughty's private feed and gain exclusive access to what he describes as mind-blowing videos such as These Ancient Relics Are so Advanced They Shouldn't Exist or Who Was the Most Terrifying Pirate of All Time? The one about how music is now shit opens with Thoughty courageously flying in the face of the consensus by suggesting that Justin Bieber isn't as good as the Beatles - really going out on a fucking limb there, boy - before informing us that this has now been scientifically proven in a laboratory. I don't know what that scientific proof could be because I stopped watching after three minutes and I don't really care. I'm guessing it will be something about tonal complexity, harmony, and how the brain responds, which strikes me as different to saying that I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am by Herman's Hermits is objectively superior to World War 303 by Rozzer's Dog.

I have a problem with this sort of gormless nostalgia, which is after all only a variation on Peter Kay endlessly chuckling over discontinued chocolate bars - it's important because I remember it. Just like the ontological significance of Curly Wurly, music is a largely subjective experience which as such cannot be meaningfully quantified in any sense other than how it may do more or less of something done by some other piece of music; so it is therefore surely best judged in terms of how well it does whatever it sets out to do. Whether whatever it has set out to do was anything worth doing is another thing entirely, and there's probably not much to be gained arguing over it unless you're a complete fucking twat. Maybe Britney Spears is quantifiably more shit as an artist than, off the top of my head, Pink Floyd; but then ...Baby One More Time, still sounds decent to me, while Pink Floyd still sound like four hairy hippies having a really slow wank which they will later describe as amaaaaaaazing spelt with thirteen letters. The argument that Pink Floyd are quantifiably superior to Britney Spears makes as much sense as saying ...Baby One More Time is a better record than The Medium was Tedium by the Desperate Bicycles purely because it sold more.

The thing is that persons such as Thoughty and his ilk are people with no Elvis in 'em, as Mojo Nixon would have it. Their purpose is to commodify nostalgia and sell it back to us as a superior brand on grounds equivalent to the notion that it shifts 25% more grease than the products of leading competitors.

So nostalgia and the invocation of things past has always thrown me. I've enjoyed music which recreates some previous form, but I've never been entirely comfortable with the idea, and I still can't quite shake the feeling that Stereolab were only ever the krautrock Showaddywaddy - which isn't to say that I dislike them. In fact I have about seven or eight albums - Switched On, and then - tellingly - various things picked up at CD & DVD Exchange, because for some reason CD & DVD Exchange always has a ton of old Stereolab in the racks. I inevitably own albums by Neu! and La Düsseldorf and the rest, so I know where Stereolab were coming from; and I used to write to Tim Gane back when he was in the Unkommuniti, and that krautrock chug was already evident even on those tapes he recorded in his bedroom in homage to H.P. Lovecraft. Yet of all the albums, I've listened to Switched On a lot, and the rest only every so often when I'll dig one out and wonder whether it was as good as Switched On, which it never is. It's not even like the others are as repetitive as I tend to remember them being. Each album sounds a little different, representing some subtle variation on a theme, but the differences are such that it always feels as though someone found a previously undiscovered clip of 1970s Open University and a whole new seam of retrofuturism ripe for exploitation; and you begin to wonder if anyone in the band was ever told off for accidentally sounding like something which happened later than 1975. Maybe this sonic resuscitation of forgotten sound is justified as a one-off exercise in working within certain limitations, but an entire back catalogue?

Denim got away with it somehow, or got away with a variation on this sort of necromancy, but there seemed to be a peculiarly militant purpose there. Billy Childish justifies what he does by arguing that if something still works, then you may as well put it to use, which is after all why so many blues records still sound powerful half a century later; but I just don't know with Stereolab. There's a track on Sound-Dust which sounds like fucking Lily the Pink, which is just being cunty for the sake of it, if you ask me - which you sort of did by virtue of your having read this far.

It's all bollocks.

Switched On was the first Stereolab record I heard, given to me for my birthday by my girlfriend of the time, and I didn't really listen to it until a few nights before we were about to split up, nearly a year later. She was moving away and I knew it wasn't going to last much longer, which was probably for the best but it was a weird time. I was confused, upset, couldn't sleep, and I stayed up one night listening to this record over and over until about four in the morning; and it sounded perfect, almost happy with a profound twist of melancholia, a feeling which couldn't even be described in words. It's in the drone and the repetition, the contrast of the chug with sweet voices, and the key change which takes three or four minutes to build to a peak and then pulls your heart out when it flips over. None of their other records ever came close for me, not compared to this one; and that is what music is about - not some wibbling crap longing for the security of the familiar because it's scary out there, or mathematical equations supposedly proving that Bob Dylan is 87% more betterer than Stormzy because he doesn't need to say cunt or bollocks to express himself. I couldn't give a shit what Switched On does in terms of musicology or whether anyone else in the universe gets the same out of it as I do. I only care what it does when I listen to it.

See also all other music ever.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Hare and the Moon - The Gray Malkin (2010)


Just to get it out of the way, I was once quite partial to the neofolk. It's appeal, at least for me, lay in the juxtaposition of musical forms which had, by that point, become indelibly stamped as innocuous through childhood memories of watching Val Doonican or the Spinners on the telly, in stark contrast with the subject matter, the black uniforms, the whole ambiguity of are they or aren't they? - which has obvious appeal when you're young, irritable and disinclined to think about anything in too much detail. Then as you get older, you realise that they are - or were in a few cases - which is probably partially why we're in the mess that we're in now and why no-one seems quite certain as to whether Hitler is still a bad guy or just someone who went about things the wrong way. Anyway, the realisation left something of a bad taste in my mouth because really, I knew on some level that there was more to our neofolk banner carriers than simply not liking reggae. Having one of the more corpulent representatives of the form visit me in my own home, take up space on my sofa, use my artwork, call me a fairy on his website, and then turn out to have really, really, really disliked reggae all along was also annoying, and has subsequently somewhat sucked the fun out of listening to the one Sol Invictus album that wasn't shit.

So, it takes work to get me listening to neofolk, and I notice with some sense of relief that the Hare and the Moon wisely shun the term on their Bandcamp page, rather citing their influences as M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and Black Sabbath, amongst others. This is actually a cassette edition of their second album issued by the ATSLA label in 2014, kindly sent to me by the man from ATSLA. It's a bit strange getting a cassette tape through the post in the year 2018, but strange in a good way because I prefer physical objects to things downloaded. I tend to appreciate music stored on physical media due to the greater effort expended in creating it, obtaining it or listening to it. Also, having spent the last couple of years digitising tapes from my own collection, some dating back to 1980, I have come to realise that reports of cassette tape as an unreliable, second rate medium have been grossly exaggerated. Of the hundreds of cassettes I've digitised so far, I have encountered no discernible reduction in sound quality, excepting on a couple of Memorex tapes, and Memorex were always shit so it's no big surprise. By contrast, I've lost count of the number of CDRs which have since degraded into digital slush.

Cassette tapes were a wonderful and democratic medium. Almost anyone could record something. They were cheap and easy to duplicate and to send to other people. One could listen to a cassette tape without requiring a fucking password or expensive glitch-prone technology. The odd one might get chewed up, but it was pretty rare if you kept your tape deck clean and stuck to decent quality tapes; and maybe they won't last forever, but most of them will probably last as long as you're alive and I don't know why anyone would need them to last longer.

So yes, this is a nice thing to have received in the post; and to finally get to the point, the Hare and the Moon tap into the folk tradition and the folklore of the British isles and its countryside without any of the bollocks I've grown to find so distasteful, or any of that whining about one's culture being under assault. I grew up in the British countryside, which was actually sort of terrifying. My childhood was spent within a stones throw of Meon Hill in Warwickshire, famed for witchcraft related murders having taken place in living memory; so as a child, the background noise of my existence was very much the sort of thing invoked by M.R. James and seen in The Wicker Man, which is why I now live in a city. The Hare and the Moon capture the rhythm of that world very well without necessarily sounding like an historical re-enactment of anything. Traditional instrumentation is here blended with the electronic to produce a fusion which reminds me a little of Eno's work with David Bowie; and so, something I might ordinarily have avoided turns out to defy expectations, and to provide a breath of very fresh air. Had neofolk been a bit more like this than how it mostly turned out, the world might have been a better place.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Consumer Electronics - Crowd Pleaser (2009)


I was never exactly drawn to Consumer Electronics. I liked Filthy Art, which was on some tape about a million years ago, but never felt I really needed to own more, just as I've never felt I needed too many Whitehouse albums in my home; but having come to precariously know Philip Best through mutual facebook friends, and having realised that there seems to be a lot more to his work than I initially realised, I bought this - albeit mainly because the lad had found a stash of unsold copies in the cupboard under the stairs and was selling them off at regular price; and it really seemed like I should buy one before they end up going for silly prices on Discogs.

So here we are.

I saw Whitehouse live several decades ago, back when Best first joined and they entered their terrorising the audience phase. It made such an impression on me that I duly ripped them off for a performance piece as part of the art foundation course I was taking at the time. I invited fellow students into a room, then shouted at them through an amplifier. Everyone was shocked, and it did a job, but sounds fucking comical on the tape recording made of the event - just me screeching and hoping no-one notices that I hadn't actually put much thought into the general thrust of my abuse. There's one point where nervous laughter breaks out and you can hear me squeak, you're not supposed to be laughing, like a sort of power electronics Frank Spencer. Once I was done, there was a question and answer session during which one particular knobend asked whether I'd been influenced by the Vyvyan character from the Young Ones. That's how good it was.

Not that any of that was Philip Best's fault, at least not directly, but that was what I'd been reminded of when listening to the occasional spot of Consumer Electronics on YouTube. It somehow sounded too much like a fight on a council estate or the worst EastEnders episode evah; or it didn't but that's the best I can do to describe my reservations. On the other hand, I don't think you really like power electronics as such because that isn't the point, besides which, the form always seems more at home in a live setting, given that the point is probably our reaction more than our appreciation. Nevertheless, even without necessarily feeling the need to listen, I was intrigued by the seemingly philosophical dimension which had begun to intrude upon the last few Whitehouse albums, at least meaning it had become more than variations on Nilsen was a good lad and now I'm going to do you up the wrong un'.

So, to get to the point, what the fuck do we actually have here?

Accustomed as I am to listening to screaming rackets, Crowd Pleaser is tough going even by the standards of that with which I've become familiar, wherein the noise has some kind of obvious aesthetic appeal comparable to interesting patterns seen in broken concrete. The instrumental Oily Possibilities on the second side has an element of this, up to a point, but otherwise all parts of the whole seem dedicated to denying the listener even the smallest pleasure. It's electronic noise pushed beyond any aesthetic potential towards something you simply don't want going into your ears, something which is impossible to experience without feeling uneasy, something which comes pretty close to duplicating the physiological reaction you would experience in a live situation; and here's the distinction which I didn't really get - this is, I would imagine, why Best all but tears out his own throat in vomiting up the dialogue, tirade, or whatever you want to call it. It's not supposed to sound cool or reassuringly nihilistic like that nice Michael Gira or Nick fucking Cave crooning about black holes and humiliation. It's not about a tidily dark atmosphere in the traditionally Bohemian sense, but is more like the thing sucking all of the atmosphere out of the room. This isn't even I'm Coming Up Your Ass or anything so obvious or easily quantified. If it's about anything, it's something so fucking awful that there's no point trying to describe it, which is possibly why this exists as a record rather than an essay. It's a fight or flight panic response jammed on eleven, or half-memories of horrible childhood shit I'm not even going to bring up because it's nobody's business, and it makes most of those other noisy lads and lasses sound like cabaret turns.

That's the best I can do without vanishing up my own bumhole in trying to describe this thing, even though I'm probably already half the way up. Crowd Pleaser seems designed to spend as little time on your turntable as possible, which is itself bizarrely fascinating. Consumer Electronics treat us mean to keep us keen, I suppose you would say.

I'll shut up now.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)


Fuck it - let's do this. Nevermind is the greatest rock album ever recorded and the work of the most profoundly sensitive man-genius ever to die for our sins. We know this because of its enduring popularity and the undeniable lasting influence it had on everything which followed, or at least quite a lot of what followed. I don't think Nevermind made much difference to, off the top of my head, anyone inhabiting fields of music which weren't white blokes with guitars, but - you know…

Personally I found it all a bit mystifying at the time. They sounded okay, and they had some pretty songs, but there were about a million other bands I liked more, bands whom I felt did the same thing better. Nirvana weren't even top of the Seattle pile in my house, but still, I suppose, they had something which spoke to indie kids already bored with sun hats and the Stone Roses. Nirvana sounded big and they rocked, and the McCartneyesque simplicity of those riffs was hard to ignore, and Butch Vig's mix was just so fucking nice and tidy, and there was Kurt with his dreamy blue eyes looking a bit sad, and didn't you just want to take him home and make him some soup, maybe watch Three Men and a Baby on VHS with him - something funny to cheer him up a bit?

Well, I didn't, but clearly he communicated something of the sort to a certain cross-section of his fans; and you could hear the words, and he wasn't like totally gross like that fat guy from Tad.

I'm so ugly, but that's okay 'cause so are you.
 
See! He understood!

Lithium just sounds like some glam stomper with a fuzz guitar to me. Maybe it's the chorus with its presumably unintentional homage to Olivia Newton-John's A Little More Love. You could stripe it onto footage of the Bay City Rollers and no-one would know the difference.

Then we come to Polly.

Polly wants a cracker.
I think I should get off her first.
I think she wants some water,
To put out the blow torch.

The song seems to reference the popular seventies joke about the person who paints their parrot with emulsion because they would have preferred one of a different colour, and who then changes their mind.

'I told you the paint would kill it,' says the man in the shop.

'It wasn't the paint,' explains the star of the joke, 'it was the blow torch I used to get rid of the first coat.'

Polly always sounded like it was trying too hard to my ears, yet another example of the slightly tedious mainstream surrealism similarly favoured by Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton and all those other useless wankers - the formulaic juxtaposition of innocence and horror which squares, people without imagination, and twelve year-old boys always seem to think represents something profound.

Pippi Longstocking with an assault rifle!

Winnie the Pooh in the gulag!

Alice scoring 'ludes in Wonderland!


See!

Did I shock you?

Did I blow your mind?

I'm not even going to bother with the song about how they only wanted cool people at their shows. I don't like gun wielding shitheads either, but there must surely have been a better way of putting it than In Bloom.

Still, the bottom line is that nothing I could say here will ever matter, because Nevermind is just too big to pick a fight with, and even I have to admit it's a great record providing you don't overthink it. Nirvana was grunge beating the music industry to its own commodification, and that's their genius and their significance, which is why we'll still be seeing dunderheaded murals of Kurt high-fiving John, Jimi, and Sid for many years to come. He was never the messiah - nor even a particularly amazing song writer, for that matter - and the real tragedy is that I doubt he ever regarded himself as anything of the sort. Most likely he would have been mortified by the idea.

Nevermind is toe tapping tunes nicely sung and recorded, but that's really all - no more, no less. I had this on tape, then ended up buying the record on a day when I just really wanted to buy an album, and this was the only thing in the store I could imagine listening to. More than twenty years later, I still haven't played it much because I've had no reason to do so. All of its parts are right there on display with nothing to draw me in any further. There is as little mystery in the grooves as in the sledgehammer allegory of the cover, an image which even an episode of sixties Star Trek would dismiss as a bit obvious.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Viper - Kill Urself My Man (2013)


Possibly ironically, my rap consumption took a downward turn when I moved to Texas, mainly due to change of circumstances and because I go through phases in my listening habits - although I don't mean that I stopped listening to rap, just that my focus changed. More recently, I've been listening to more and more rap once again, and have thus become aware of being a fifty plus white dude with no fucking clue as to what be going on in the world of rappers' music. I was fairly well clued up from 1995 to the point at which I chucked in my job in 2009. I bought XXL, The Source, and Hip-Hop Connection on a regular basis. I'd read them in the caff after work and hunt down anything I liked the sound of. However, like I said, my circumstances have changed, and although I have an internet, I haven't got the first clue as to where to start looking because whenever I do start looking, I only seem to find shite.

I recently picked up a copy of XXL at WalMart - seeing as they're somehow still printing the thing - but I don't recognise any of the names, and albums don't seem to exist these days because it's all about blogs and SoundCloud, and so much time has now passed that even Lil' Wayne is considered old school; and it's all trap music made by twelve-year olds with facial tattoos and names formed from a keyboard smash; and there's this dude called Tekashi 6ix9ine with rainbow teeth - because somehow the fucking tatts just weren't enough - who recently made the news when he spunked away ninety-five-thousand dollars on a My Little Pony chain.

You see, as a fully grown man, I have trouble getting my head around any of this. I know that the good stuff must be out there, but I'm fucked if I can find it; and I know the good stuff must be out there, because it can't be just Viper…

Kill Urself My Man is, according to the internet, a mix of tracks mostly taken from another of the guy's many albums. I bought it mainly out of curiosity, and to see whether You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack had been some once in a career flash of brilliance. I also bought it because I appreciated the title for more or less the same reasons as this YouTube commentator:

I like how the song tells you to kill urself but also is very uplifting and personal in calling you my man. Viper is a genius.

As I may have mentioned, Viper churns them out more or less single-handedly - 347 albums issued as downloads in just 2014, apparently - so as you might expect, his quality control isn't always what it could be. With this one we get titles which don't bear any obvious relation to the tracks, Shot Once and Wit U 4 Tha Longhaul seem to be the same mix of the same song, and the rest suffer from digital glitches, pauses and false starts; but the good news is that none of that matters because it's a great album, and every bit as great as Cowards.

Kill Urself has a much stronger R&B vibe than the first one I listened to, and the production is better with at least half of the tracks sounding as though they maybe could have turned up on a nineties No Limit release. Given the stripped down bass rumble which I've come to think of as the Viper sound, I'm tempted to wonder whether he might not have borrowed a couple of the instrumentals used here, being as this album sounds almost expensive in places; but on the other hand, I don't really care that much. The results speak for themselves.

Once again we have a mellow atmosphere and the usual bragging contrasted with the occasional threat, and all drenched in a codeine haze. There's also a surprisingly high quota of autotune, and autotune which actually works and sounds good - which makes for a nice change; and there's the revelation that Viper seems to have a pretty decent singing voice in addition to everything else, given that I suspect there's only so much you can do with autotune. As with Cowards, this music is weird and kind of trippy, but it has a good feeling to it and really gets its hooks into you in a way that not many other things do at the moment. So much for all that condescending bullshit about outsider art, Viper is the real thing, but we've been palmed off with fucking ringtone music for so long that we don't even recognise it when we hear it.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Peter Hope / No Scene - SixSex EP (2017)


On which Peter Hope continues to serve up material which may not even be music as we understand it, once again demonstrating that actually, it hasn't all been said. This peculiar six tracker has that same sense of under the counter photocopied unease which characterised early Whitehouse albums as media you probably shouldn't have in your possession, except it's sonically quite different - bit more interesting, to be honest - and the focus seems to be on sex as an obsession or hunger rather than power. As with Hope's other work, it can be quite difficult to tell what's going on here or where it came from. It's machine generated, digitally manipulated, and yet still somehow rough as fuck, or at least rough as bounced cassette tapes with all the attendant hiss and rumble; actually no - rough as fuck works fine. It might almost resemble techno except the rhythm is the imperfect pulse and throb of performance screwing. You could move to it, but dance - not so much.

This really needs to be on vinyl.
 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I'm So Hollow - Emotion / Sound / Motion (1981)


Here's one which seems conspicuously under-represented in the field of posthumous rarities boxed sets at two-hundred quid a pop and, if we look closely, not even a measly CD reissue back when even my cat had his first album re-released by some boutique label with bonus tracks. I'm So Hollow, should they require introduction, were one of those Sheffield bands who enjoyed a brief flurry of angular expressionist excitement back in the day, followed by not much else, not even following the release of a full length album on the briefly wonderful Illuminated label.

People always bang on about Manchester as a font of musical genius - even those who aren't actually from the city, despite occasionally pretending otherwise, smiling indulgently and sighing ah Manchester, so much to answer for, because they heard some bigger boys saying it a bit earlier behind the bike sheds and thought it sounded cool; and yet when Manchester is invoked, I personally think of Northside, Herman's fucking Hermits, execrable Beatles tribute acts, that fucking James record they played on the wireless every five bleeding minutes for an entire decade, and Morrissey working hard on his Free Tommy Robinson benefit album; so no offense, but you were probably thinking of fucking Sheffield. I'm sure there must have been a shit band from Sheffield at some point, but I can't name one, and it seems significant that even those we've apparently forgotten were amazing.

Yes. Amazing.

I'm So Hollow - who recorded at Cabaret Voltaire's Western Works, and who had a track from those sessions released on Vice Versa's label - sound to me like a sort of baby Clock DVA, specifically the early Clock DVA, jazz-poppy and yet so angular it's a wonder no-one lost a finger. Jangling, razor guitar is offset with starkly modernist touches, random honking saxophone or a burping synth to create something that's quite emotional, even melodramatic for all the glowering and cheekbones. In fact, if we cast our collective mind back to all those eighties Cabaret refugees busily rebuilding thirties Berlin with just an SH101 and lip gloss, all your Hazel O'Connors and your Mobiles, this is probably what they were trying to do, except it works. It's not that we've been deprived of potentially mainstream artists who manage to sound this weird since the release of Emotion / Sound / Motion, but there aren't many who achieved the balance so well as I'm So Hollow, and they were usually better remembered.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Morton Sherman Bellucci - Beat the Box (1989)


For some reason I always assumed Morton Sherman Bellucci was an actual bloke, but it turns out that he was a trio so named as some sort of parody of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. He, or rather they, churned out four million club hits somewhere around the end of the eighties, although I gather the clubs were mostly in Belgium, or at least on mainland Europe. Belgian new beat didn't really seem to catch on in England, despite the best efforts of those record companies then busily shoving out compilations of the next big thing every couple of weeks. I suppose we already had our hands full with acid house, and new beat was slower and kind of goofy, the dance equivalent of a French exchange student with purple triangles sewn into the hems of his flared jeans. Of course, it could be argued that a lot of new beat resembled one of those extended 12" mixes of someone fucking awful like Hue and Cry, all very much a child of midi what with that synth bass and one of those drum machines, probably Yamaha, full of samples - all somehow managing to sound weirdly dated in comparison to the arguably more primitive beats of acid, techno, and the rest.

But fuck it - nothing of value is ever merely the sum of its parts, and regardless of the sound of Morton Sherman Bellucci being the most eighties thing there ever was, their music fucking rocked. It's basically a stripped down Front 242 without all the grunting and with a lot more sexy fun time yes? Beat the Box gathers twenty-one of what might be considered the best, released under a variety of different names and laden with samples of ladies suggesting that you move your ass or explaining how you want to suck something or other, probably not a mint imperial - you know what those Europeans are like, the dorty feckers. I hesitate to use a term so twee as daft, but this music achieves daftness whilst making you want to have sex with someone, pulsing, thrusting, sensual, like an electronic version of the cheesiest glam rock acts whilst pulling in bits of eastern music, porn films, whatever the hell it feels like pulling in furtherance of its wonderfully, twisted passions; and TNT Clan's Blow Up the DJ is one of the greatest dance tracks ever committed to vinyl. New beat was fucking beautiful. Let's try not to forget it.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Nocturnal Emissions - School Party Room Numbers (2018)


This seems as good a place as any to review this record, given that it doesn't actually exist but might be fun to pretend that it does.

It came to me in a dream, mostly set in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, where my grandparents once lived. My grandfather appeared in the dream at some point, even though I knew he died in 1979. Anyway, the crucial detail is that Nigel Ayers gave me a task to perform. He had this large plastic bucket with a lid and a wire handle, the kind customarily used to store industrial quantities of margarine and the like. He needed me to bury this container - which was white plastic, by the way - on the moors, although I'm not sure which moors, and I don't know why he wanted me to bury it. It may have been performance art of some kind. Anyway, I had a look in the container, although I knew I wasn't supposed to, and found it contained two large coats, of the kind you wear in cold weather, both of them hooded. One was in white and the other was a camouflage pattern; and in addition to the coats was the only existing copy of School Party Room Numbers, that rare Nocturnal Emissions vinyl release, so I thought 'I'm having that!'

The cover was fairly bland, just the title on greeny-yellow, as seen above, and the album contained just four untitled tracks, two to a side. The tracks were instrumental (and I somehow knew all of this without listening to the record), like more rudimentary versions of the material on Songs of Love and Revolution but with added bossanova rhythms; and they had been recorded for listening in the party rooms of schools, which would be where they let the kids have parties, I suppose.

This album doesn't exist, but sooner or later someone is going to read this fake review and leave a message asking where they can get hold of a copy, and sooner or later someone is going to read this fake review and leave a message asking where they can get hold of a copy without it being part of the gag; and eventually it'll turn up on Discogs, because this is apparently a post-truth universe.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Blancmange - Happy Families (1982)


I had a couple of singles and happily taped the hits off the wireless, but Blancmange otherwise passed me by, or at least failed to have quite the same impact as Soft Cell - another couple of blokes with a synth newly arisen from the grooves of Some Bizarre Album. To say that Blancmange seemed tame in comparison to Soft Cell may be redundant on the grounds that everybody seemed tame in comparison  to Soft Cell, at least for a couple of months back there; and on the other hand, at least Blancmange seemed to know who they were, unlike Depeche Mode - the other sons of that same creative flowering, roughly speaking - who seemed to want to be a different group every couple of weeks and yet always sounded like what happens when you press the demo button on a Casio VL Tone, even after that weekend when they found those special grown-up sex clothes in a trunk at the back of dad's wardrobe.

So I hadn't really thought about Blancmange in nearly thirty years, which might seemingly characterise their having been a bit of an Alan Partridge act, forever doomed to supply cosily literal soundtracks to quirky regional news features about people who live on the ceiling, or who've seen a word, or who can't explain something. Then I found this in a record store in Austin and remembered that I'd vaguely intended to buy it at some point; and it's not half bad.

Blancmange chose the name as something pink and silly, in contrast to other bands of the time naming themselves the Dark Satanic Mills or the Bleak Industrial Cooling Towers - as Neil Arthur once explained on the wireless, the tape of which I still have somewhere - which makes a lot of sense with hindsight. Bands reliant on synths and drum machines were a novelty back in 1982, but not that much of a novelty, and what distinguished Blancmange was music rooted in soul, big band, Burt Bacharach, James Brown, things which jam and demonstrate familiarity with African rhythm. There's not much trace of Johnny Thunders here, not even a lot Bowie, and if Soft Cell were the Velvet Underground with sequencers, then Blancmange were something in the region of the Talking Heads; which is an odd thing to realise, but Happy Families really does sound like a cousin to Remain in Light what with the soulful choruses, the choir, the rhythmic build up and Neil Arthur's peculiarly self aware lyrics.

I thought Happy Families would be okay, but I didn't realise it would be quite so solid and enduring as it is, and I've Seen the Word is still a beautiful piece of music.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)


Simon Morris, Ceramic Hob and celebrated musicologist, recently posited that the Police and Nirvana were essentially the same thing, and he's right. In both cases, there were three of them, they were very popular, they combined rock guitars with a whining noise, and Nirvana's first album was called Bleach which references the collective hairstyles of the Police. That being said, there are differences in so much as that whilst the Police sang songs about isolation, prostitutes, an inflatable sex toy, and the end of the world, Nirvana's oeuvre focused primarily on having a tummy ache and wanting only cool people in attendance at one's pop concert. Also one of their best songs ripped off Killing Joke.

Of course, I actually like Nirvana, albeit not quite so much as several other bands from their neck of the woods, so I'm writing this primarily because I dislike sacred cows and it's funny to upset those who believe Kurt died for our sins, when I'm pretty sure the coroner's report would have described a very different cause of death. Further to the posthumous reputation of the man, it differentiates from that of Sting in so much as that he is remembered as a tortured Jesuseque genius, yet was probably just a regular bloke who spent too much time thinking about things; while Sting, on the other hand, often appears to hold to an absurdly elevated opinion of his own artistic and spiritual credentials, and yet is widely understood to be a bit of a goon, albeit with the redeeming feature of having helped take the piss out of himself in that Zoolander film. The outcome of this, given public opinion being what it is, is that the Police will probably never be rescued from their own reputation as stadium-filling bores.

Still, I can't quite get with the flow on this one, and the music still sounds great to me. They came along to hog the charts at just the right time, when my ear had become attuned to anything with a vaguely punky vibe, and yet before I'd fully developed the cynicism by which I would deem music anyone else had heard of - let alone people working in Wimpy Bar - as cheap, populist, and therefore unacceptable; and the Police must have had something going for them because not even Sting's subsequent ascent to full goonhood has tarnished my regard.

This was the album recorded here and there whilst on one of those massive world tours full of screaming girls, the album composed at the height of their fame, and accordingly it's a bit uneven with the feel of a scrapbook, or even a travelogue - at least compared to the first two, both of which felt pretty solid and consistent. On the other hand, Zenyatta Mondatta works because there's nothing truly terrible here, and two tracks in particular are about the best things ever recorded by any combination of those involved; and because Bombs Away and When the World is Running Down are of such phenomenal quality, I've played this thing to death over the years to the point of it having become embedded in my psyche, and it's become so embedded in my psyche that objections along the lines of either Outlandos d'Amour being a better record, or it's the Police, man, get a grip you cloth-eared twat, for fuck's sake! simply don't register.

It's a smoother record than were the first two, luxuriating in sounds and studio polish of a quality foreshadowing at least two of these people making names for themselves as composers of film soundtracks. There's some of the cod reggae, although it's mostly closer to cod ska, and to be fair, none of it really resembles an impersonation because the cod element was more a starting point than anything; unless you just really need to loathe Sting and all ships in which he hath sailed - which I can sort of understand.

De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da is probably about as irritating as you remember it being, and there seem to be a lot of instrumentals, and I never quite warmed to Behind My Camel, not even when it was inexplicably pinched by Ice Cube for something or other; but beyond these minor niggles, Zenyatta Mondatta holds together beautifully as a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

It's just a good album.

Sorry.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

808 State - ex:el (1991)


Ordinarily I'd have no truck with the sort of self-conscious typographic gymnastics which flout the convention of titles beginning with an upper-case letter, but Ex:el looks weird, so just this once…

This probably wasn't the best album recorded by 808 State, but it's the only one I bought - apart from the thing they did with MC Tunes - so it's the one I'm going to write about. I know they paid their dues and all that, and one of them was A Guy Called Gerald, but listening to this in 2018, I can't help think of all those camouflaged knobs who spent the latter part of the eighties impersonating Front 242, scowling and chanting about obedience over the usual sequencer riffs, all wearing sunhats and blowing whistles by the next decade, having decided that all that techno stuff is dead easy and was only what they'd been doing all along anyway, plus the clubs are a lot safer now that it's not just black people*…

I went back and listened to Newbuild on One'sTube so I know that wasn't where they were coming from at all, and yet that's what ex:el sounds like for the most part. It's too expensive, although as such seemed very much at home on ZTT - acid house which Trevor Horn would be able to understand through being a patently better standard of dance music. Mostly it's beats with a series of jazzy riffs noodling up one after the other in orderly fashion - which is what camouflaged knobs thought acid house did, and which I suspect may have been responsible for intelligent house, or whatever it was called - the ponderously shit stuff. Like most things aimed at either the feet or the arse, intelligent is rarely anything like so satisfying as stupid, which is why the best track here is Cübik because it's a great big slab of square wave during which we can close our eyes and pretend we're listening to Altern-8. The thoroughly overrated Björk provides characteristically arbitrary vocalisations on two tracks, underscoring the image of a band pissing about in the studio, trying out stuff to see what will happen; also underscoring the truism that the best techno albums tended to be collections of established bangers - because that's the best word I could think of - and techno artists shouldn't make albums in the same way that, for example, Yes, made albums.

So ex:el isn't bad, but apart from Cübik and maybe one or two of the others - depending on just how many of those fucking things you've taken - it's more or less a collection of theme tunes and incidental music for regional news programmes.

You'd be better off with the real thing.

*: Because the internet is mostly thick twats these days, I feel I should explain that I present this statement as an example of the sort of thing a camouflaged knob who had spent the latter part of the eighties impersonating Front 242 might say. I am therefore commenting upon a fucking stupid observation rather than making one.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993)


As a fan of both H.P. Lovecraft and Throbbing Gristle, I'm fairly well accustomed to disassociating art from the shitheads who created it, which is handy given Billy Corgan's unfortunate transformation into the tinfoil-hatted Infowars Uncle Fester; because I was once quite partial to a spot of Smashing Pumpkins, or at least to this album. The Pumpkins seem to have benefited from the rush to find something else which sounded a bit like Nirvana back in the early nineties or thereabouts. They didn't particularly sound like Nirvana, beyond a certain emotional thrust and a propensity for huge riffs played on fuzz guitar, but never mind; besides which, I personally always thought they were better.

The secret of their success, or the success of Siamese Dream, is that at heart it's actually just corny old country rock such as dominated the seventies and tended to be sold beneath an airbrushed logo of letters made out of swooshy marshmallow. It's shaved off its handlebar moustache, swapped the flares for leather trousers, and the lyrics are about a million times better, but it's the same thing we recall from Boston, REO Speedwagon, all those I'll Be a Kentucky Fool for Your Lovin' bands. The difference is mostly in a production which has given everything the warm, comforting glow of a codeine haze, and most of that seems to come from the guitar fuzzed to a point approaching soup.

I once mentioned my love of this album to my friend Paul, who said that he didn't know anything about the Smashing Pumpkins except that he only ever saw the name on T-shirts worn by self-harming teenage girls with too much make-up. I can see what the appeal was. There's a strength to the music, a muscular quality but its buried fairly deep beneath layers of all sorts of wounded stuff and with not much posturing involved - like a much more powerful Smiths without the suggestion of whining. I suppose then, this is probably where all those fucking awful emo bands came from, giving us another reason to shun the Corgan, but as is often the case when you go back to the source, this was where someone got the formula exactly right. It's a tender - and almost perfect - album, contrasting vulnerability with an underlying strength, and listening to it feels like recovering from something horrible. It's overwrought, but then that's what it felt like being a teenager, so far as I recall.

...and extra points for writing a song about preferring outer space to having to spend another moment on the same planet as Everett True.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Rimarimba - Chicago Death Excretion Geometry (1987)


Rimarimba was a name which turned up on tape compilations back in the eighties, specifically the Real Time series put out by Unlikely Records. Robert Cox was the man behind both Unlikely Records and Rimarimba, so it sort of felt a little as though he was sneaking this stuff into my home by wrapping it up with the music of acts I actually wanted to hear, Attrition and others; and it sort of felt that way because it's exactly what I would have done. I didn't actually dislike the music of Rimarimba, but it seemed repetitive and fiddly and not entirely my sort of thing; and then suddenly, thirty years later, I bought this album because it was there, affordable where the first two now cost a fucking fortune, and I somehow felt it my duty to buy the thing, like maybe I owed Rimarimba an apology. It felt as though I should at least make an effort, besides which I always find it pleasing when it turns out that some tape dude has made it onto vinyl.

Rimarimba works much better at length - as opposed to broken down into five minute snatches on some cassette - and with a better understanding of what he was trying to do - thanks in part to extensive sleeve notes of the kind one would expect to find on a classical recording. Simply, this is systems music in the vein of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and so on, and as such really needs a broader span of time in which to build up momentum and achieve its effect. I gather this is mostly programmed - sequences of notes, tunes which repeat over and over, change, or are replaced with fresh sequences - and yet it doesn't quite sound so, retaining an organic sense of progression, and the instrumentation is such that it could be played by a small orchestra without anyone giving themselves a hernia. Not being classically trained, as Cox clearly is, I don't fully understand the promises made in the sleeve notes regarding the structure of the music or what he was trying to do with it, but it nevertheless feels like a satisfying, rounded piece of work, not quite hypnotic but definitely immersive, which leaves faint traces of mood in the consciousness even after the needle has lifted from the end of the second side - sort of how the ambling melodies of village church bells can stay lodged long after one has passed by.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Tad - Quick and Dirty (2018)


Record Store Day fills me with cynicism. I've always listened to record albums because that's my preferred medium, so I don't need a special day. I collect record albums because I like music, not for the sake of being a collector, and anyone who ever used the term vinyls as a plural noun can go fuck themselves. A few Record Store Days back, they issued an exclusive double album of Devo live in Seattle, and because I fucking love Devo, I had to have it. I knew Hogwild would open at nine so I got there at seven, and even then found myself stood behind a hundred or so teenagers. The queuing itself wasn't bad. The only other person over thirty was queuing directly behind me. He was after something or other by Wire and told me he loved all the English bands of that era. He also told me that he used to live in Mexico City but had come back to San Antonio because he was tired of getting kidnapped, so it was an interesting conversation. Two hours later, the doors opened, and by the time I made it in, there was no Devo live double album to be had because apparently they hadn't even ordered the fucker; and yet copies were quite naturally already for sale on eBay and Discogs at extortionate prices, so I wasn't very happy about that.

This time I forgot about Record Store Day, despite having read that there would be a Tad album amongst all the usual worthless exclusives - Barry Manilow in red vinyl and the like. I guess I'd subconsciously resigned myself to being unable to get hold of a copy, and typically it was going for twice the price on Discogs that same afternoon; but I dutifully trudged along to the store next day, just in case, and fuck me

Quick and Dirty is one side studio material and one side live, and the studio material is previously unheard, half of what we may as well call a lost Tad album - which is a very exciting thing indeed. It's been a while since I saw Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears so I have only a vague impression of how the band just kind of dissolved following a series of kicks in the proverbial teeth, and I'm not even sure I was aware they were still enough of a concern to have recorded the six newly unearthed tracks in 1999.

Tad, for the uninitiated, were how Joy Division would have sounded had they grown up in rural American woodland with only a job at the sawmill to look forward to - much harder to kill, more honest about the enduring influence of Black Sabbath, and numerous shitloads heavier. In fact Tad were pretty much the heaviest thing ever. The music speaks of rural horror, boredom, loathing, and shitty deeds undertaken for the sake of maintaining sanity, all of which contrasts with something quite vulnerable at the heart of the storm. Musically it's concrete blocks of grinding sound pinned together at bizarre mathematical angles, yet pinned together by human craft and muscle rather than engineering. There's a mechanistic quality in the relentless advance of these rhythms, born not from machines but from those brutalised by their own lives; or it makes Godflesh sound like the Sundays, if you prefer.

The six new tracks neatly fill a gap between Oppenheimer's Pretty Nightmare and the stuff Doyle recorded with Hog Molly a year or so later. Hog Molly chugged a little harder with less contrast in evidence, and were lyrically more single-minded, songs often relying on the repetition of innocuous phrases posing more questions than were answered; which can be heard here on Mummified Cop and others blending with the suggestion of melancholia and melody I assume must have come from Kurt Danielson.

I'm not usually wild about live albums, not even Tad's Live Alien Broadcasts which is decent but, bizarrely, somehow fails to invoke the raw energy of their studio recordings; so it's nice that the live side of Quick and Dirty really captures them, huge, crushing, terrifying, sweaty and probably a bit on the aromatic side, but still nailing it all down with absolute precision, and nothing lost to the sludge.

Quick and Dirty has made me very happy, so I suppose I'm going to have to concede the point that one good thing has come out of Record Store Day.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Psychic TV - Those Who Do Not (1984)


Having been a fan of Throbbing Gristle to the point of evangelism, I knew Psychic TV would be even more amazing before I'd even heard a note, or at least a clang. I listened to Force the Hand of Chance over and over once it finally appeared, gritting my teeth and insisting that it was a work of unparalleled genius, as I would clearly begin to appreciate after sufficient exposure. Then out came the second album, which was better, but which in being better, obliged me to face up to the fact of Force the Hand of Chance having been a massive disappointment; and the more Porridge explained his own genius to the media, the more I began to feel a little as though I'd been diddled, until I eventually sold those first two albums and dedicated what little disposable income I had to purchase of music which didn't require quite such a massive suspension of disbelief.

Then my friend Thomas Hamilton came to stay for a couple of days, and he happened to have this record with him.

'I've given up on them,' I explained, 'because they're shit.'

Nevertheless, we stuck the discs on my record player, one after the other because there were two of them; and against all expectation, it sounded pretty good. In fact it sounded more like I'd hoped they would sound before Force the Hand of Chance pissed on my dreams. Three decades later, finally bothering to bag myself a copy, it's quite nice to discover that my memory hasn't been playing tricks.

I've generally tended to the view that Porridge is only ever as interesting as who he's stood next to at the time, whether it be Alex Ferguson, Fred Giannelli, Dave Ball, or the rest of Throbbing Gristle; because otherwise we're just left with his own ideas, such as they are, and a bunch of people stood around saying yes, Genesis, that's really great, or at least that's how it sounds to me - although the theory works better if you try not to think about the bloody awful records he's made despite the involvement of those named above, or others who should have known better. This time he was backed by John Gosling, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, and various members of KUKL, the Icelandic band from which the Sugarcubes were eventually born. It sounds like a live performance, mostly improvised, and of all Psychic TV I've heard, comes closest to the live ambience of Throbbing Gristle - which is a bonus because those live tapes constituted their best material, in my view. Being Psychic TV, the emphasis is on rituals and drones and spooky rather than electronic. There are bells and clangs and tapes and sounds amounting to something resembling a more ponderous Hawkwind, or maybe some obscure krautrock group; and Porridge sounds sufficiently unpredictable and scary enough to remind us why we ever liked him in the first place, those of us who actually did. It's a shame he couldn't keep it up, but two or three decent albums out of the hundred or so which have earned Porridge that prestigious listing in the Guinness Book of Records is still better than all of them having been duds; so yay - go Porridge, you old ledge!

Next week I shall be ruminating on the creative brilliance of Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Members - At the Chelsea Nightclub (1979)


Have you ever noticed how much punk rock was concerned with wanking? Close to half the playing time of At the Chelsea Nightclub seems to concern itself with banging one out by agency of a firm hand and dirty thoughts. I've consequently developed a pet theory about this being the principle factor distinguishing late seventies punk - and related affectations - with what came before. I floated the idea on facebook, and whilst a few precedents were offered - and no less than two from the Who - earlier hymns to masturbation have generally been couched in more veiled, poetic, or even heroic terms, and it's only once we get to the Jubilee year that you really start to hear songs revelling in the sweat-drenched shame of burping the worm following purchase of gentleman's interest material from a newsagent staked out for a full two hours beforehand so as to be certain that no-one I knew was you know is already in there. Everyone had a song about wanking - the Stranglers, Alternative TV, the Vapors, Pork Dukes, Buzzcocks, Snivelling Shits, the Undertones, Devo, even Gary Numan - in fact especially Gary Numan, come to think of it; and this is why punk was great.

At the Chelsea Nightclub is what punk sounded like outside the capitol, in small satellite towns up and down the country with kids desperate to relieve the crushing boredom and apparent lack of any future other than one channelled through some fucking awful technical college; and of sufficient desperation as to not really give a shit about the cool or the moody - hence the healthy appreciation of both tunes and fun. There's a lot about this record which will have attracted subsequent frowning, and at least two of the twelve songs refer to something on the cover of a magazine, which I seem to recall being a popular lyric amongst your skinny tie types that year, and of course there are all those yobbo foghorn backing vocals. The Members were - and possibly still are - something inhabiting a point equidistant between pub rock, the Clash, maybe a bit of the Stranglers, and with a great big splodge of cod reggae thrown in because it was 1979. I already knew the album had potential on the strength of The Sound of the Suburbs being one of the greatest singles of all time, but it's somehow taken me three decades to buy the thing.

Amazingly, it's a genuinely great album without a weak track, and - at least for me - a powerful invocation of those long hot seventies summers of Midlands Today, getting drunk for the very first time, and failing to have sex with anyone besides myself. I'd object to the cod reggae but I can't because it's done so well and with such love as to bypass all possible propensity for sneering. Nicky Tesco singing in his special reggae voice might seem initially odd, like a vocal equivalent of blackface, but really it's just what suits the music and surely isn't any more an impersonation than all those phony American accents on rock records. Furthermore, there's Love in a Lift - a more excitingly sordid precedent to Aerosmith's shitty airbrushed hair metal anthem of '89 - which welds cod reggae to some of the most powerful twang heard since Duane Eddy; and Offshore Banking Business seemed to notice a specific problem with capitalism at least two decades before everyone else started going on about it. It's one of those records which sounds initially familiar, then begins to bear less and less resemblance to anything else you've heard, the more you listen.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

New Order - Movement (1981)


Something or other had given me cause to wonder what those other New Order albums were like. It seemed strange that I'd never bought any of them, given how much I liked the first album. Then having a quick look on the racks I realised that actually I had bought a couple of them, specifically Power, Corruption and Lies and Technique, and with no idea as to how or when they came to be in my collection. I listened to Power, Corruption and Lies, and I already knew Age of Consent from somewhere, so the first side sounded familiar, and yet side two didn't for some reason. Otherwise, the best that can be said of Power, Corruption and Lies is that it sounds like a demo by one of those promising local bands featuring a bass player who clearly wanted to be Peter Hook, which was actually most local bands at the beginning of the eighties.

Technique was even worse, if marginally better produced, sounding like something you would hear played during the commercial for the new Nissan Micra. I'm not sure if New Order enjoy any sort of repute as the most boring band of all time, but they probably should do.

So where the fuck did it all go wrong?

I vividly recall the buzz surrounding Joy Division before I ever heard any of their music. Then one day my friend Graham got hold of Transmission, so I went around to his house for a listen.

It started off well.

'Is it an instrumental or something?' I asked after about a minute.

'Yes,' said Graham, straight-faced and enjoying my confusion.

'Radio… live transmission,' crooned the unusually deep voice at last, after what seemed like an absurdly lengthy introduction, then again, 'Radio… live transmission.'

'So there is singing,' I said happily.

'Yes, but that's it.'

'What? You mean that's the whole song, just those words?'

'Yes,' said Graham, trying not to laugh. 'That's the whole song.'

Obviously it wasn't, but the impression endured; and whilst I liked Joy Division enough to tape everything, even the bootlegs Graham occasionally got hold of, for some reason I never bought their records. At least, I had the singles, but not the albums. Curtis always sounded like a man doing a comedy deep voice, and it always seemed to get in the way; and I found Closer somehow empty and underwhelming, just nicely arranged marble statues not actually saying very much; and yes, Joy Divison were great, but…

Movement felt like the first proper Joy Division album to me, the one where they got it right - a perfect blend of pseudo-classical melancholia and the more wistful, cautiously uptempo moods which began to emerge on Closer, but were drowned out by a certain Orson Welles impersonator. Sumner's vocals are relatively weak but they suit the music better, at least on Movement, doing a job without ever dominating or upsetting the fine balance. Of course, it's terrible that it should have taken a death in the family to get them to this place, but then none of us are going to live forever, so it is what it is. For my money, Movement is magnificent and as such remains the greatest album made by any of those involved, not least Martin Hannett; and from now on I just won't think about what came after.