Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Kid Rock - Devil Without a Cause (1998)


I must admit it's been a while since I dug this one out. It's the whole hanging out with Donald deal which bothers me, although realistically the aforementioned hanging out with Donald is only the latest idiocy in a career founded on the same, and I doubt that anyone was surprised. Kid Rock's whole schtick is that he's a bit of an arsehole, and so Devil Without a Cause is largely about boozing and shagging until your liver explodes and your knob falls off, then doing it again whilst listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd turned up to eleven. I haven't looked too closely for fear of what I might find, but I expect he doesn't have much time for what I'm sure he terms political correctness, and I really, really wish he hadn't had such a hard-on for the Confederate flag; but then I like the music I like because it's music that I like rather than because every last opinion held by the artist synchronises perfectly with my own, and I'm probably going to hang onto those Kate Bush albums even though she's just outed herself as a massive fan of Theresa May. I draw the line at where the thought crimes of the artist are so overpowering as to infect my perception of the music.

MC Ren rapping about killing whitey doesn't bother me because it's obvious he was simply having a bad day, plus it's funny and you can see where he was coming from. I can still just about listen to Death in June with a peg over my nose, although they sound somewhat comical on this side of the millennium. I wish I'd never found out about Beck being a Scientologist. Skrewdriver, on the other hand, helpfully recorded music which was already shite thus saving the rest of us any need to debate whether it's possible to enjoy the stick 'em in a boat and send 'em back song without condoning the message, such as it is.

Maintaining a set of rules about what you will allow yourself to enjoy is a waste of time, so selections probably have to be made on a case to case basis extrapolated mostly from gut reaction; and I guess it must take a lot to stir my gut to righteous indignation.

The fact of my having felt the need to write those three paragraphs probably relates to why Kid Rock enjoys playing the arsehole, not to mention that he was never going to get to hang out with the cool kids or NME readers, regardless of his serious yet routinely overlooked credentials. So he's a white rapper, or was, but I guess we're all over that one by now. His flow belongs clearly to that sing-songy old school cornball style which is otherwise fine if we're digging out old Run DMC records or banging on about the tediously studied authenticity of Ugly Duckling; and while Kid's descent into autotuned stadium country has been appalling but probably inevitable, he's nevertheless paid dues and was once something of a whizz on the two record players - as we rap types call them; and Devil Without a Cause is unfortunately a fucking great album - not merely better than you expected, but one of those discs which glues itself into the player and stays there.

If he's an arsehole, he's the best arsehole he can possibly be on this record; and the music effortlessly weds pounding boom bap to Led Zep riffing and the kind of Skynyrd-isms which turn even the most urbane of us all misty eyed and countrified - not least on Black Chick, White Guy which just plain tears your heart out; and Welcome 2 the Party gets under your skin like nothing since the wholesale borrowing of Good Times by Chic. It's a populist album in the broadest sense, just like those early rap records before we got all uptight and snooty about it; and it's a populist album aimed squarely at people who maybe didn't make it to college, and who maybe don't have much going for them, and who probably won't respond too well when you sneer and suggest they might do better to listen to someone less sexist, J-Live for example. It's low rent, but there's a generous spirit here, and it's inclusive and probably doesn't really care if you voted for Hillary providing you're not going to be a dick about it.

While Kid Rock may be a dick who has been occasionally known to hang out with Ted Nugent, close inspection reveals him to be an otherwise decent guy in most senses that count, or at least some way from being your archetypal Republican shithead. Similarly this album almost certainly isn't what you may believe it to be, even if it does spend a lot of time belching in your face and then chuckling over how upset you are. It will probably be at least another hundred years before Devil achieves the sort of recognition it probably deserves, so don't whine about never having got the memo.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Pessimist (2017)


At the risk of seeming like a complete wanker, I've taken to making a concerted effort to seek out new music which isn't shit. I tend to take the view that the pursuit of new for the sake of new is essentially dull, and I'd rather drink my own piss than end up like a certain pillock whom we met back here:
 
I'm fifty-one. My favorite bands right now are Otherkin, Bad Sounds, Spring King, Sundara Karma, Inheaven, Kagoule, Vant, and Moaning. I can't see myself ever not listening to new music.

On the other hand, more horrifying still is Thoughty2 - as introduced back in September. I seem to have encountered many of his type of late, young men with beards, not yet out of their twenties and already lamenting the passing of the fucking Beatles, already well and truly glued into what they doubtless regard as the grand tradition; and it's bollocks. Culture remains as it has ever been. The only real difference is that there's more of it these days, and the lines of distribution have changed meaning it's a lot easier to find oneself overwhelmed by crap. My music consumption - referring to my record buying habits because I remain unconvinced by downloads - tends to be reflected in what I write about here; and it's mostly old simply because I've been spending a lot of time catching up on things I couldn't afford when they first came out; or it's something I'm still listening to because it still sounds good. I am aware that this may present an unfortunate impression of something resembling nostalgia.

So I've set myself the task of buying something roughly contemporary at least once a month, because I know there's a shitload of good stuff out there, and it's fun to hear new and surprising things. It reminds me of what got me into music in the first place.

The Pessimist album is actually over a year old so it turns out, but never mind - close enough. It's the work of one man, Kristian Jabs, who has apparently been at it for a while, as you will know if you're down with the Bristol drum and bass scene, which I'm not because I'm old, fat, and I live in Texas. Reviews mostly seem to focus on this being a blend of both techno and drum and bass, which makes as much sense to me as my friend Eddy claiming to enjoy both kinds of music, both drum and bass: and yes, I have seen the Blues Brothers, thank you very much.

Anyway, it sounds like drum and bass to me.

I don't know.

Does it matter?

I suppose there's some techno element to the glitchy bits of sampling, growling synth, bass rumble and so on, but then I've never assumed that all drum and bass must sound exactly the same, and there's surely room for a bit of variation without having to come up with yet another fucking silly name. Where Pessimist differs from your average serving of drum and bass is that it's much better, or at least better than a lot of the stuff with which I'm familiar. It's a bit like all that awful ponderous deep forest stuff, except that it's done right - no wind chimes, no trace of that horrible flat sound, just a ton of depth and feeling and the sort of swing you only usually get with acoustic music. It feels somehow as though it's played live, or maybe I mean it feels as though it is alive, despite the knife edge precision and digital clatter of the beat. So maybe the success of this album is in the contrast of man and machine, so to speak. I don't know, and I don't really care what you call it, but I know that it sounds substantially amazing.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

X-TG - Desertshore / The Final Report (2012)


I'm assuming we all know how this came to be. Throbbing Gristle reformed, recorded a surprisingly decent album and played a few pop concerts, and then split because everyone was angry at Porridge for having all of the talent and all of the really brilliant ideas and making the rest of them look bad, or summink.

Chris, Cosey and Peter Christopherson opted to carry on regardless seeing as it had actually turned out to be fun making music without Porridge endlessly subverting everything in a playful and mischievous way - a strategy which doubtless served him well in the composition of weird and challenging music, but probably got a bit annoying whenever they sent him down the shop for a few sandwiches and a family size bottle of pop and he came back with a bottle of families or a sandwich of bottles*, or something else which flew in the face of expectation with equivalent velocity. Christopherson died unexpectedly in 2010, leaving unfinished the project which the three of them had been working on as X-TG - a cover of Nico's Desertshore album; and here it is, brought to completion by Chris, Cosey and others with a second disc of what I assume to have been the final recordings made by the three of them.

I'm afraid I've never been too bothered about the Velvet Underground or Nico and have no idea what the original album sounded like, although I assume it probably sounded fairly different to this interpretation, mainly because this interpretation sounds very much like Throbbing Gristle.

I'm still reeling from the fact of Part Two having sounded like Throbbing Gristle without any obvious attempt to trade on former glories, a continuation rather than a revival. Desertshore and The Final Report forge ahead in the same general direction, reminding us that for something apparently so reliant on chance and improvisation, Gristle had a highly distinctive, even unique sound. The biological chug is unmistakeable, as are all those other noises twisting and turning through the mix, and even the token bit of glockenspiel - or whatever it is - somehow manages to sound like the work of the same people who recorded Journey Through a Body. Taken as a whole, Porridge seems conspicuously absent from the two albums - which is a surprise. There was probably a little too much of him on Part Two, but I guess his presence lent just enough piss and vinegar to the wine to make for a pleasing contrast, even when he managed to keep his mouth shut. So some of this, particularly Final Report, has a little of the same mood as those early, mostly instrumental Death Factory tapes which did the rounds back in the day, which therefore wraps everything up with a certain symmetry in a fairly satisfying way.

Desertshore features guest vocalists, and their presence seems initially incongruous - or did to me - possibly simply because it isn't Porridge talking about having a wank or whatever; but the more you play the record, the more it gels, with contributions from Blixa Bargeld and Gaspar Noé working particularly well. I still don't get the appeal of Antony Hegarty, whose singing sounds like an operatic version of the voice comedians used to do when impersonating John Major, but maybe it's just me; and her warbling fits the music fairly well.

So with this one it seems that the mission really has been terminated, and with no backsies this time; which is a sadder thought than I would have expected thanks to the warmth, care and attention which so obviously went into the making of this record. Even with their final encore, they were still full of surprises, still breaking new ground.

*: This example should probably be spelt sandwich ov bottles, but isn't because I'm a fully grown man.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Eddie & the Hot Rods - Teenage Depression (1977)


A memory of the sublime excellence of Do Anything You Wanna Do brought me here. The song doesn't appear on this album, but the cover imprinted itself on me a long time ago when my mum used to drop me off at Midland Educational in Stratford-upon-Avon. I'd go to the back of the store and rifle through the punk section, studying the covers and wondering what the hell they sounded like - this, the UK Subs, the Rezillos and others. I sort of knew what punk was, and that there probably wouldn't be much point in my buying the record even had it been within the range of my pocket money. I doubt my parents would have banned it from the house, but they would have looked at me funny.

With just a cover to go on, I formed vague ideas about how punky and nihilistic the bands were, and this one scored highly, even before I realised it was the band who sang Do Anything You Wanna Do; this one and Ha Ha Ha by Ultravox, which was actually a bit of a let down when I finally heard it. Teenage Depression, however, far surpasses my admittedly nebulous expectations.

Of course, with hindsight, whether or not Edward and his Hot Rods were really a punk band depended on where you were stood at the time, and no longer seems to matter so much as it did when I was thirteen. They looked a bit like some bemulleted glam band without the glitter, additionally qualifying as pub rock on a technicality, and one of them ended up in the Damned, and now I think of it, there's not a whole lot of difference between this and the first Damned album; but then, the group didn't actually incorporate anyone called Eddie. Everything we ever thought we knew is wrong.

Teenage Depression chugs and rocks like a bastard, including five covers - The Kids Are Alright, 96 Tears and so on - belted out with such passion as to blend seamlessly with the rest; and then there's the truly magnificent On the Run which could almost be Hawkwind at their mind-bending, biking peak. The title track, a deceptively chirpy amphetamine rocker cheerily bemoans the misery of school, hating having to wear a tie, stuck in some shitty lesson gagging for your next line of nose candy. Try telling kids today what it was like and they won't believe you.

I expected a lot from this record on the strength of the cover, and amazingly it delivers. What a fucking great band this lot were!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Bliss Signal (2018)


I've had a look on the internet in an attempt to find out what's going on here, but I'm too old and it's too confusing with all sorts of unfamiliar terms, such as electronic metal. In my day, metal was a portly lad in a denim jacket with Judas Priest written on the back in biro in slightly wonky old English lettering, and usually spelt wrong - Judas Preast or whatever. Should you attempt to engage him in a conversation about electronic metal he'd probably decide you were gay, thus ensuring your never being able to enjoy a drink in the White Bear ever again, at least not without some of it being poured over your head by random bikers you don't even know but who've heard all about the local bum bandit.

Anyway, metal has thankfully moved on, and now sounds a bit like some of Nocturnal Emissions darker works of the nineties, which is fine by me. Bliss Signal present walls of guitar decay tempered with that machine gun bass pedal thing - blast beats, according to the man on the internet; beyond which I'm left trying to describe this thing without invoking either cathedrals of sound or collapsing black holes. It's huge, and is suggestive of vast things happening a long way away, yet all coming together to somehow form a symphony much like that aircraft formed by a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard so beloved of creationists who don't understand stuff.

Electronic metal is probably as good a description as any, if you really need one, and it's not as annoying as dark ambient. Bliss Signal is better though, a hint towards something celestial, and a cause of fear only because it otherwise defies description. Jolly good.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Att Förstå Ensamhet (2018)


Here's another cassette tape which has been sent to me almost out of the blue, which is naturally very gratifying, not least because it's a fucking great tape - a compilation featuring contributions from Zones of Industrial Wasteland, Death Boys, Biskop Salutati, 3 Sfärer Överherre, the Woodpeckerz, Dom Goda Djuren, and Lars Larsson. I'd never heard of them either, excepting Lars Larsson from Cloister Crime and the semi-legendary En Halvkokt I Folie. Cloister Crime were responsible for Devilish Music for an Unredeemable, one of my all-time favourite things to come from the weirdy tape scene, and En Halvkokt I Folie seem to be Sweden's answer to Throbbing Gristle, at least in terms of cultural significance; although being Swedish they seem to have a more well developed sense of humour, so maybe that makes them Sweden's answer to Faust or summink; or maybe Faust were Germany's answer to En Halvkokt I Folie.

Whatever.

I don't really know much about the Swedish music scene, but it's intriguing that at the age of fifty-three not only am I yet to hear anything truly awful from Sweden, but the underground stuff is mostly fucking amazing, as is reflected here. The title seems to translate as Understanding Solitude and the music varies from tape collage to noisy improvisation to brooding electronics to Halloween soundtrack - here implying the possible influence of John Carpenter as much as anything. There's something very satisfying about forty minutes of the unexpected finding its way to me in 2018, and in a format which has been otherwise written off in mainstream consumer channels. I could definitely stand to hear a lot more like this one.

Availabubble yonder.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Ippu-Do - Radio Fantasy (1981)


It's taken me thirty-five years to get around to tracking this down and buying it, all based on the patronage of Bill Nelson and Magic Vox - as briefly seen on the telly about a century ago - being a pleasingly chunky slice of angular new wave. Perhaps inevitably, it's not what I expected and does all sorts of things I probably wouldn't have noticed back in 1981, but which have since become conducive to a degree of smirking under normal circumstances - not least of these sins being a rendering of the Mission: Impossible theme, the inevitable sixties cover, and our old friend cod reggae.

Ignoring the obvious objections, I opted to just keep playing the thing until it made sense, until it stopped sounding like Magic Vox with twelve b-sides. Surprisingly, I was hooked by about the third hearing.

Ippu-Do are described online as the meeting point between Yellow Magic Orchestra and Japan - as in Japan the band. I'm not sure the comparison entirely works, although it's probably significant that Masami Tsuchiya eventually joined the aforementioned Japan, and that Bill Nelson plays on Rice Music, his solo album. Whilst such associations may suggest promise, we probably shouldn't get too carried away here. Radio Fantasy is technologically flashy, or was at the time, but now sounds so profoundly of the eighties that it could probably pass for vapourwave. Once you're over this, there's still the characteristically eastern notation - which I initially can't help but hear as plinky-plonky ying tong yellowface - and yes, the reggae numbers, a Japanese new wave band trying their hand at reggae.

At this point you may have lost count of all that could have gone horribly wrong; but the key here is that Radio Fantasy just doesn't give a shit. It does what it does, and does its best, and ultimately hopes you'll like it, which I did. The whole enterprise has a daft undercurrent but keeps a straight face throughout, even with Tsuchiya's wailing and dubious pronunciation. Ultimately it wins on the strength of production, and all the peculiar little technological touches reminding me a little of Yello, and that these are simply great songs given a fantastically atmospheric rendering. Ultimately it succeeds because it doesn't do anything you might anticipate in quite the way you would expect it to.

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.