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.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Looney Tunes (1976)


I discovered punk rock at the age of fourteen, roughly speaking. Prior to that, I had my four Beatles albums - which had been my record collection since the age of eleven or so - and I thought Abba were quite good, but most of all I liked novelty records because I was a kid - my friend Sean's Wombles album, the Goodies, and this compilation, borrowed from Paul Moorman who lived on the farm next to ours and who was in my class at school. K-Tel's Looney Tunes is significant in being the first album I ever taped, having been given a mono portable tape recorder for Christmas, or possibly my birthday. I hadn't really thought about the thing until I chanced across a copy in Half-Price Books and realised what it was. I hadn't really thought about it because Looney Tunes dropped off my radar pretty fucking quickly once I discovered punk rock, which I regarded as proper grown up music, although it's probably ironic that the thing which first drew me to punk rock was that they said rude words on the telly, which was funny. Not for nothing does Stewart Home characterise the most successful punk bands as novelty acts in Cranked Up Really High, but anyway...

Thirty five years later, these twenty-four tracks, all crammed into tiny grooves so as to achieve maximum value for money, sound astonishingly good, perhaps even better than they did to my fourteen-year old ears, not least because this is mostly stuff you won't read about in the usual rock histories, the usual grown-up rock histories…

Interestingly, it's not even a couple of dozen actual looney tunes. Naturally, we have out and out comedy records such as Shaving Cream and The Streak, but there's plenty which simply chugs along on some kind of vague novelty value - The Bird's the Word or Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow, which surely only count as comedy on the grounds of having presented a more authentic doo-wop experience than Perry Como; and then we have Tiny Tim's song about tulips, whatever the hell you'd call that. The thing which stands out for me - excepting the two proper children's numbers, Rubber Duckie and that fucking awful Chipmunk shite - is how most of those gathered here are just great songs, regardless of comic thrust. Susan Christie's I Love Onions still reminds me of the Residents; and Jumpin' Gene Simons' Haunted House is a gorgeous slice of hillbilly inflected country evocative as a childhood sunset; and Lonnie Donegan's surprisingly enduring My Old Man's a Dustman establishes a clear link to the Sex Pistols and all that, even though I probably wouldn't have quite been able to say why back when I first heard it.

The more you listen, the more obvious it becomes how some of these songs are genuinely odd, even avant-garde but for the lack of a beret. Buzz Clifford's Baby Sittin' Boogie flavours its breaks with the perfectly syncopated gurgling of an infant to genuinely peculiar effect, which can surely only have been achieved through mucking about with tapes; and there's the similarly bizarre vocal acrobatics of Joe Perkins' Little Eeefin' Annie knocking Can and all those other supposedly groundbreaking acts no-one actually listens to into a cocked hat. Rarely ranging much beyond doo-wop, rockabilly, country, and maybe a touch of traditional music hall, Looney Tunes is mainstream as hell, and yet manages to be seriously fucking weird for most of the playing time - arguably excepting the aforementioned children's numbers and Charlie Drake as ever trying far too hard on My Boomerang Won't Come Back. Transfusion by Nervous Norvus will save you the bother of ever having to read J.G. Ballard, and there's the distinctly rapey Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs to keep power electronics enthusiasts happy; and, in essence, what I mean to tell you is that this album has fucking everything you could ever need from a record. As some dude identifying as DaKreepa on YouTube states, the Looney Tunes album was the best fuckin' thing man has ever made, meaning that we can stop looking, having finally found the eye of the YouTube comments storm where truth finally happened.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Ceramic Hobs - Blackpool Legacy (2018)


It's taken me nearly two fucking decades, but I get it at last. Back in April, 2000 I described Psychiatric Underground - the Ceramic Hobs first album - as being like one of those kid's drawings of a circus where everything happens simultaneously. This was in an issue of Sound Projector, and the best I could do was a diplomatic concession admitting that it's never going to be my favourite album of all time but isn't without a place in the universe; and this was a review of my second copy of the album. I gave the first one away having found it impenetrable, then felt guilty, bought a second one and tried my best to say something nice about it; although to be fair, I gave Psychiatric Underground a spin just the other day, and I still can't really find a way in, even though I now have a better understanding of why it sounds as it does.

Anyway, I kept buying the records, mainly because Straight Outta Rampton - the second album - was fucking great, and I was friends with a few of them, or friends of friends, and I suppose we were all part of the same gang. Both Stan and Simon did guest vocals on some of my own stuff, and I briefly performed live with them at some Mad Pride event; and yet only now, with the release of this - essentially a greatest hits compilation - have I understood what they were doing, and understood that specific element I always found weirdly fascinating and yet difficult to define. Every review I've thus far seen of Blackpool Legacy has praised Philip Best's choice of tracks, it being himself who arranged the selection with the benefit of both a sympathetic ear and an outsider's objectivity; and the praise is justified because this record is a revelation, disentangling the formerly impenetrable from psychotic roots and providing the sort of contrast which allows all to shine. Most of these tracks were familiar, and yet somehow everything sounds better, heavier, tighter, clearer, harder, sharper, faster, funnier, and scarier. Where once I had the feeling of trying to listen to Nurse With Wound and the Cramps at the same time, most of this hits with the terrifying clarity of the first Pistols album.

As the booklet makes quite clear, the Ceramic Hobs could never be mistaken for worthy rainbow-wigged bozos covering They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha; and in case you're still wondering, they were described somewhere or other as the last true punk band and have certain associations with the Mad Pride movement through a number of members being very much on the radar of the psychiatric industry. My favourite comparison has been Idwal Fisher suggesting they make the Butthole Surfers sound like REM, which they do.

Ceramic Hobs are not a scrappy bunch of achievers trying to claw their way up the respectability ladder in society. Not at all. On The Prowler, Simon Morris croons the line drinking every night on the taxpayer's money, and he means it. Rubbing the face of the same people's mindset in our economic useless eater status. Yes, we do get drunk on the taxpayer's money as much as we want. Never work. We'll take and take and take until you admit you want to kill us. We'll bite the hand that feeds.

Anyway, their sound is all over like a mad woman's shit - to once again paraphrase Sir Les Patterson - which, as I now appreciate, has been an invocation of the sensory overload experienced during manic episodes, for any of us who may have been down that road - or the first SPK album with tunes, if you prefer; and this is why you'll commonly hear what almost resembles rock music - a sort of Oi! country & western tinged with rockabilly - buried behind layers of tapes from the telly, interviews with murderers, kid's shows, atrocity mixed with innocence. The problem I had came from my assumption of this being mostly random bursts of psychiatric noise, whereas it's actually finely orchestrated and arranged towards very specific effects, so you need to understand what is going on, which is difficult when even the Hobs themselves aren't always certain.

I've been surprised at how much sense these songs make heard in this context - scary, funny, often haunting, and the sort of stuff which makes a grown man cry. If you've forgotten what music was supposed to do before they got hold of it, Blackpool Legacy serves as a very timely reminder.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Godflesh - Selfless (1994)


I've tried and tried with Streetcleaner, and while I can appreciate all which is great about it, I find it a bit loose and formless in certain respects; and hence a disappointment, having backtracked from Us & Them. However, Selfless, the third album, is much more in line of what I'd hoped Streetcleaner would be - crushing and intense, but where the first album howled, this one chugs. In fact, it's actually pretty tuneful for something which gazes so grimly across the plains of despair into the gloating maw of eternity - not tuneful in the sense of anything a milkman could whistle, but he could certainly grunt these riffs to himself while sorting you out for eggs and yoghurt, or remarking that's nice in response to a pensioner describing how she often enjoys a drop of milk on her porridge of a morning.

I'm inclined to wonder whether the lads worried over steering too close to becoming a variation on Black Sabbath, hence the wall of guitar initially serving as an effect rather than something which carries notes. Not that there's anything wrong with being a variation on Black Sabbath, but in any case it isn't really an issue. Even with this sludge variant on what may well sound like Chuck Berry when you play it at 78rpm, the mood holds, pinned down by its painfully slow rhythm and that howling into the void dynamic which I tend to associate with Skullflower, Ramleh, and the like.

Talking of Ramleh, it's probably no coincidence that Selfless should feature a track called Anything is Mine, although it resembles the Ramleh version mainly in terms of sheer force and aggression and isn't what you would call a cover, so far as I can tell. The biggest surprise for me, relatively speaking, has been noticing how these songs have an almost tender quality once you listen past the chug - bruised, abused and vulnerable, and something seeming to touch on a certain mania in the likes of Body Dome Light which suggests the kind of schizophrenic episode people associate with alien abduction - although it's probably a metaphor. I mention all this because I'm not sure this soft interior is anything the Swans ever quite achieved, at least not with such eloquence and not until they took to Simon and Garfunkel impersonations; and I mention the Swans as they seem thematically closest to Godflesh, but somewhat better publicised. Of course, all this bollocks may well be simply me noticing patterns, but then maybe patterns are the whole point; or summink.

All I know is that this one fucking rocks really, really hard.

Smiley face.

Smiley face.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Ja Rule - Pain is Love (2001)


Although my fingers have been conspicuously absent from anything which could be identified as the pulse for a long time, I have the impression of Ja Rule remembered as some third string also ran who shuffled off into obscurity following lyrical beatdowns from Eminem, 50 Cent, and others. My understanding is that it began with 50 Cent making a record upon which it was suggested that he'd seen Ja Rule do a poo in his pants in the queue at dinnertime and that he then saw Ja Rule put his hand into his pants to touch the poo and then Ja Rule sniffed his fingers and looked pleased; and 50 Cent made the record because that's the sort of record by which he customarily elevated his public profile and accordingly hit sales targets. Ja Rule retaliated, and then everyone else got sucked in. Eminem got to take a few lyrical potshots at someone harder than Morris Minor & the Majors, so that made for a nice change; and The Source magazine suddenly and coincidentally decided that Ja Rule was the true legit 4 lyfe face of da realness 'n' shit; and Death Row's Suge Knight weighed in, because obviously we'd all been wondering what his take on the situation would be - and his take was something about Dr. Dre being a homosexual and how Tupac would have loved Ja Rule had he not snuffed it, what with Suge having been established as the official organ of Tupac's legacy 4 real + tru 2 da streetz IDT.

It's all bollocks really. Ja Rule was never the next Tupac, if such a thing were ever required; and even if he was just one of many frowning tattooed baldies with shirt allergies who came to the fore in the late nineties, it's not like he didn't have enough of his own thing going on. Expecting generic rap landfill, I remember being shocked at how good this album was when Rodney Dell lent it to me; and I've finally picked up a copy for myself, and it still sounds way above the average.

Rule always reminded me of DMX more than Tupac, although admittedly there's not much in it, and the latter posthumously guests on So Much Pain, should anyone need to make the comparison. I must admit, on first hearing the track, I thought fuck, they were right, he really does sound like a Tupac impersonator, which I suppose means that he actually really doesn't, so that's good to know. Lyrically, Rule falls short of amazing, but he's decent - at least as much as 50 Cent ever was and without having to talk about what happened in the queue at dinnertime; and he can work up a mood as powerful as anyone with that bluesy growl.

What really makes Pain is Love is the contrast of the aforementioned bluesy growl with Irv Gotti's razor sharp and criminally underrated production - an elegant update of certain Motown era beats using a sampler without any of its usual angularity, resulting in songs which throb with life and sounded fucking great on the radio with no hint of compromise. Therefore fuck da haterz 'n' shit.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Neon Hearts - Popular Music (1979)


Here's a name which first lodged itself in my consciousness whilst watching Look! Hear! back in the early sixteenth century - as I believe I may have mentioned here - and it's somehow taken me thirty years to get hold of the album, a fancy red vinyl reissue by this point. Initial impressions, or at least this century's initial impressions are of a band resolutely of their time - sleeveless t-shirts, eyeliner, thousand yard stare, and honking saxaphone, and yet the shock wears off with just three plays as Popular Music nails itself very firmly to your soul.

Neon Hearts really are peculiar - a sort of punky Roxy Music with glam splashes of maybe X-Ray Spex or Cockney Rebel, and a strangely well spoken lead singer swooping all around the lyric with a wink and a smile much in the spirit of Neil Innes, of all people - or maybe Neil Innes with a hint of Adam Ant back when he still used to scare the life out of everyone. Specifically Tone Dial - as he is called - does that thing Neil Innes used to do where you can't actually tell if he's sincere or taking the piss in massive quantities. There's a mild preoccupation with the artificial, manufactured, and generally fake - as the name implies - and so we have Popular Music, the title track and single which should have been enormous. I recall a maxim about how the best way to have a hit on fabtacular seventies radio was to write a song about it, and Popular Music ticks all of the boxes so hard it almost foreshadows both Alan Partridge and Denim, right down to the preposterous exclamation of great song! Amazingly, and against all odds, the other nine tracks are at least as strong, and have since become so firmly ingrained in my mind's ear that it feels as though they've been there all along, and that I've crossed over into an alternative universe where this lot turned up on everything from Whistle Test to Cheggers Plays Pop.

Neon Hearts seem best remembered for having spawned Raven, Killing Joke's late bassist; and I have to say it's quite a pleasure to see him tarted up like the one with the earrings from Mud on the cover, given his later presence as a hurhurhuring chorus to Jaz Coleman describing Boy George and other purveyors of - ahem - pouffy music being marched off to some hopefully figurative gas chamber. So, much as I've loved Killing Joke, I've had my reservations, and this sort of redeems one of them. We really should have embraced the Neon Hearts when we had the chance. I guess you could say we fucked up.

Another one I bought from the very wonderful Overground Records, if you're interested.

Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club - English Garden (1979)


Much like a newly hatched duckling, I fixated on Bruce Woolley's Camera Club at an early age, albeit briefly. Graham lent me his Devo album, heralding my realisation of there being bands which made good records that weren't played on the radio, and which sometimes didn't even get in the charts. Somehow I'd assumed that all records made it into the charts. This was around the time that Look! Hear! first aired on the telly, Look! Hear! being a regional BBC magazine show presented by Toyah Willcox and featuring the sort of stuff which the kids on the street were into, yeah? Look! Hear! featured a few of those bands who weren't played on the radio and didn't even get in the charts, and so I began compiling a list in the back of one of my school books. I needed to remember the names so I could look out for their records. I've a feeling the list wasn't actually very long, maybe just three or four of them. Neon Hearts were in there, having made a big impression on me, as was Bruce Woolley, but I don't recall any of the others.

So there was a bit of a gap between my taking down the name and finding the record - purely by chance - probably about thirty years. I couldn't remember what I'd thought was so great about the Camera Club at the time, and initial spins left me puzzled. It was power pop with a skinny tie and an overly ornate keyboard, really just like a lot of other stuff which had been around at the time and which had struck me as interesting mainly on the grounds that it wasn't ELO, that it hadn't been played by Dave Lee Travis on his smugly flabby show, and that it didn't sound like it would rather be in California; and yet, the more I listen to this record, the more I discern its own unique identity.

English Garden is of its era, more or less prog rock hopefuls moving with the times by incorporating a few jagged edges into their sound, but at least for the sake of an interesting record. In terms of musicianship, it has more in common with Genesis and that lot, which probably shouldn't be too surprising given the involvement of Thomas Dolby before he'd even started shaving, and that Woolley co-wrote Video Killed the Radio Star and Clean Clean with Trevor Horn and the other Buggle. Camera Club renderings of both songs are included here. Radio Star seems a bit too smooth for its own good, but the latter improves on the better known version. What makes the album is personality and good old fashioned proggy song-writing plucking all manner of esoteric subjects or angles from the ether. In this respect, English Garden makes me think of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel with a noseful of speed - on which subject, I can't help but notice a parallel between the back cover of this record and the front of Harley's The Human Menagerie.

Considering this was the guy who wrote Video Killed the Radio Star, it's surprising how little of it you could really describe as immediate, but it really rewards the effort if you give it time - vaguely punky and yet lyrical with Queen style vocal harmonies. English Garden occasionally sounds like the theme music for regional news programmes of the seventies, and I'm thinking Weekend World rather than Midlands Today. This one really creeps up on you and ultimately it feels a more rounded, satisfying work than anything from Woolley's more famous writing partners.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Stone Breath / Mike Seed with the Language Of Light - The Ætheric Lamp (2011)


Stumbling across a copy of this in the racks at Hogwild, I only really understood what it was through having met some of those involved, namely Language of Light; and I only knew Language of Light through their performing live on some bloke's allotment here in San Antonio. My friend Alan, formerly a big cheese at World Serpent distribution, told me he was coming to Texas to play live, so we met up for a drink and he was accompanied by Rebecca Loftiss - whom he since appears to have married - and Frank Suchomel, collectively Language of Light. So the three of them performed a sort of improvised thing in, I suppose, the general direction of maybe Pink Floyd, and it was atmospheric and very enjoyable; and personally I was just relieved that it shared no discernible heritage with Death in chuffing June or any of that bunch, seeing as how we're all older, wiser, and keen to move on from the days of simply exploring contentious ideas and imagery.

Alan slipped me a stack of CDRs, which I mostly enjoyed, but I've never had an entirely happy relationship with CDRs because each time I play one I'm always aware that it could be about to remix itself into something sounding like Farmer's Manual; so it was probably guilt which made me pick up this album when I saw it, and clearly it needed an appreciative home.

As anticipated, I'm completely out of my depth here. It's folk, although thank fuck it isn't neofolk as I understand it to be. It might be psych folk, I suppose, but maybe it doesn't matter. The Ætheric Lamp is a split album - Stone Breath on one side, Language of Light accompanying one Mike Seed on the other - fairly different artists taking related approaches to music and doing unfamiliar things with tradition. The vocals are of the kind one expects to hear singing about horses, ploughs, gathering in the blackberries and so on, but the art feels very much of the moment - or at least as of 2011 - invoking traditional forms going back to pre-technological times without simply recreating. Stone Breath's blend of celebration and melancholia utilising all manner of plucked instruments suggests rivers of wine, Bacchus all a-prance, olives, and a generally pre-Christian Mediterranean mood. By approximate contrast, the growling synth and delay of Language of Light suggests some sort of peculiarly rustic analog of early Cabaret Voltaire, and doesn't sound quite like anything else in my record collection, which is why I'm scrabbling around with analogies that probably don't work. It all sounds kind of like how I hoped Current 93 would sound but didn't, because the music on The Ætheric Lamp at least seems to know what it's doing.

The thing to take from all this is, I suppose, the powerful atmosphere the disc brings to your listening space and seemingly without doing very much or pulling any funny faces. I guess this is what folk music was always supposed to be about - simple, moving, and performed with honest motives.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Josef K - Young and Stupid (1981)


The album is a compilation from 1987, but the songs all precipitate from 1981 at the latest - in case anyone was wondering about my dating. This is me catching up with a mental note made back in 1981 upon hearing Josef K's Endless Soul on the C81 compilation put together by persons at New Musical Express. I never bought NME, at least not regularly. Every time I saw a copy it irritated the living shit out of me. I think my friend Pete bought it because he really needed to know who was cool that week, so that's probably why he had C81, and thus was I able to borrow the tape because I wanted to copy the Cabaret Voltaire track; and Josef K's Endless Soul was about the best thing on there.

Yet somehow I never got any further. I think it was an impression formed of Josef K being one of those Postcard records bands, meaning they probably wore jumpers and sang twee songs about picnics and ginger beer, like Haircut 100 but without the tunes. I think this impression may have derived from the aforementioned Pete regarding Postcard as the most amazing stable of artists ever assembled, at least for a couple of weeks, which was tiresome and off-putting. I never worked out who he thought was impressed.

Thankfully, once I'm beyond my previously established comfort zone of Endless Soul, it turns out that Josef K sound nothing like I imagined they might. In fact, they sound a bit like how I always hoped Bauhaus would sound, but didn't - spiky, and angular guitar riffs mixed in with choppy funk, but more like a soul band than purveyors of the customary doom such a dynamic might ordinarily entail. The chords are weird, sharp, and jazzy, and the production is that bone dry post-punk thing falling somewhere between Gang of Four and Metal Box, aside from the cracking of an occasional, possibly conditional smile - as I suppose you'd expect of a band named after Franz Kafka's most beloved character. They should have been massive, but never mind.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Nine Inch Nails - Add Violence (2017)


This is apparently the second of a series of three EPs. I'd actually given up on the idea of getting hold of them and resigned myself to eventually picking up the compact disc collecting all three, having been told that one would eventually appear. I'd had a look on the Nine Inch Nails website, but I could barely work out what I was even attempting to purchase. There they were, Not the Actual Events and Add Violence, something about the download, and then the physical component with no clue as to what form it took. Having no wish to find I'd somehow bought a cake with instructions for recreating the music iced around the sides, I didn't bother. Even more galling was the presence of the mission statement on the same virtual page.

In these times of nearly unlimited access to all the music in the world, we've come to appreciate the value and beauty of the physical object. Our store's focus is on presenting these items to you. Vinyl has returned to being a priority for us - not just for the warmth of the sound, but the interaction it demands from the listener. The canvas of artwork, the weight of the record, the smell of the vinyl, the dropping of the needle, the difficulty of skipping tracks, the changing of sides, the secrets hidden within, and having a physical object that exists in the real world with you… all part of the experience and magic.

Digital formats and streaming are great and certainly convenient, but the ideal way I'd hope a listener experience my music is to grab a great set of headphones, sit with the vinyl, drop the needle, hold the jacket in your hands looking at the artwork (with your fucking phone turned off) and go on a journey with me.

That's canny good like, Trent, I imagined myself saying to the screen in a broad Tyneside accent, but I don't seem to be able to find the fucker in order to actually buy it. It was frustrating and perhaps even a little saucy considering Nine Inch Nails were about the only band whose stuff I was still trying to buy when vinyl went tits up first time around. My copy of The Downward Spiral sounded like it had been pressed on repurposed car tires, and then there were all those fucking bonus tracks exclusive to the CDs...

Well, never mind.

Anyway, there I was in Barnes & Noble looking for the February issue of the Wire, which I wouldn't ordinarily buy but there was a feature on the Ceramic Hobs for which the cheeky cunts have used a photo of the same lifted direct from my Flickr page. So they've given me a credit - although I've a feeling the photo was actually taken by Rob Colson, albeit with my camera - but a note to say dear bloke, we've just used your picture of Simon Morris, so ta in my Flickr inbox would have been nice. Anyway, Barnes & Noble still didn't have the magazine for something like the sixth week in a row, casting suspicions on their claim that the February one would deffo be on the racks soon, so I wandered into their music department, just out of curiosity. It was about as good as I expected - nothing less than 180gsm vinyl, bewildering reissues of seventies hairies whose albums never should have been released first time round, awkward teens stood self-consciously fondling Beatles records, the Cockney Rejects and Sham 69 sections looking predictably slender, and - much to my surprise - a couple of physical components by Nine Inch Nails. So I bought them.

To finally get to the point, Not the Actual Events is decent, and yet has conspicuously failed to glue itself to my turntable like I thought it would. Excepting remix albums, whatever Nine Inch Nails thing I've just got hold of will generally edge out all other listening material for at least the first two weeks. The music of Nine Inch Nails does pretty much one thing for most of the time and is as such immediately recognisable, so the new stuff will always be variations on an immediately recognisable theme; but the magic of Trent Reznor - and now presumably Atticus Ross - is his - or their - serving up that same basic recipe with just enough of a tweak to make it feel like the very first time you've heard it expressed so well, and so clearly. Not the Actual Events is mostly wonderful, and yet somehow sounds like it could be stuff left over from The Slip or one of the others, although it could be significant that it should be the platter to get the heave-ho once Add Violence glued itself to the turntable.

Add Violence does whatever it is that Actual Events didn't quite achieve, sounding very much like yet another Nine Inch Nails record whilst at the same time somehow sounding nothing like the others - angst expressed as the Stooges covered by Coil, or possibly the other way round, distressed tapes of synthesiser music from seventies kids shows amped up until it resembles Black Sabbath; and all of that good air-punching stuff. I'm sure Actual Events will grow on me, as do those tracks you always get on the album which aren't Ashes to Ashes or Paranoid or Questions and Answers, but as for Add Violence - it's fucking amazing.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Enhet För Fri Musik - Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig (2017)


There's A Heart That Leads You by the Free Music Unit, in case you were wondering, and I'll assume the freeness refers to improvisation rather any suggestion that they might just send you this record for nothing if you ask nicely. They're from Sweden, and I heard of this one through agency of Simon Morgan who insisted that it was great and that I should therefore get hold of a copy, which I did and it was.

Online research throws up references to both folk and improvised jazz in relation to Enhet För Fri Musik, so thankfully I began with what I could find on YouTube, because whilst both terms may indeed be extraordinarily broad in scope, I've been burned in the past. Observant readers will notice that the cover of Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig superimposes a skull over a national flag, and I accordingly had some fears grounded in it all being Swedish and thus beyond my obvious comprehension; but thankfully nothing here translates into anything suggestive of stiff right arms, and it's probably worth remembering that national flags tend to carry less contentious associations in countries which haven't spent the last century bombing the shit out of everyone else; which happily leaves us with just the music.

Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig features some improvised material in so much as that none of it is orchestrated into oblivion, and its folkiness is found in its simplicity - guitar, voice, sometimes a saxophone or a church organ - recorded without embellishment on what may as well have been a portable tape recorder; so there's rumble, tape noise, hiss and so on, all of which impose a powerful, possibly unintentional, sense of nostalgia over the music. They're not afraid of the occasional bum note or missed cue, and it sounds very much like the work of people who genuinely love what they're doing, and hope you will too, and who probably aren't going to beat you over the head with it or give you a lecture. You could probably call it lo-fi, if you really must. It reminds me a little of Ivor Cutler's musical forays, maybe with a faint trace of something from the first Residents album - mainly thinking of how Variationer Av En Längtan Till Gud, which is apparently Variations of a Longing for God, sort of reminds me of Skratz - but more than anything, it invokes that happiness which can only be experienced with a little bit of sadness, a kind of nostalgia without being an arsehole about it. There's something very warming about this record, which may not be a coincidence given its country of origin. Like a rich soup, Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig is good for you. It may not be obvious what they're saying, but somehow you can feel it regardless of the language barrier.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Roni Size / Reprazent - New Forms (1997)


Whilst I'm always happy to hear new music, I generally find that new music makes its way to me so it's just a case of keeping my ears open. I don't actively seek out new music for the sake of it, and I tend to regard those who do as trying too hard - for example, a certain facebook twat who recently opined:

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.

This came in response to some clickbait about a teenager observing that she had heard of the Pixies because her grandparents listened to them. Following Mike's the aforementioned facebook twat's recommendation, I sought out Moaning - which really is the name of a band - but they sound like the fucking Mission; and Otherkin sound like the Strokes or the Fratellis - both of whom were shit first time round - and doubtless have a bright future composing theme songs for edgy Channel 4 comedies about teenagers having abortions.

New Forms won the Mercury Music Prize back in 1997, most likely thanks to some tiresomely self-conscious upper management twat who, much like Mike
the aforementioned facebook twat, prefers his music to be new new new. The Mercury Music Prize has also been won by Primal Scream and something called Gomez so probably doesn't count for much in the great scheme of things. Anyway, possibly as a result of winning the Mercury Music Prize, Roni Size was on the telly singing a couple of his songs. They sounded decent so I made purchase of the album, but the thing jumped all over the fucking shop. It could have been big fat bass frequencies making for poor groove integrity, or it could have been a dud pressing on vinyl recycled from truck tires and the plastic bits of vehicular dashboards, what with it being the last days of the original wave of vinyl. I played it maybe twice, so it never had a chance to sink in, and I never got over my vague feeling of disappointment.

The thing is that I'd heard about drum and bass, and most of it didn't actually sound quite like I hoped it would - nosebleed breakbeat falling somewhere between Peshay's Piano Tune and I, Me, Mine by Godflesh, which probably doesn't even count. Drum and bass compilations seemed to feature a suspiciously heavy emphasis on all that deep forest shit, and some of it even sounded like - ugh - jazz. Then I discovered Panacea, so that was one itch well and truly scratched; and yet somehow I still picked this up on CD on the grounds that there wasn't much point trying to play the vinyl edition; and now, two decades later, I've finally managed to listen to it all the way though more than twice in the same year -
because it's one fuck of a long album - building up to three or four times just this week, and finally I have an opinion.

I'm still not sure why New Forms won the Mercury Music Prize other than new new new and you probably won't have heard of it, but we have, and I'm not convinced of it being a landmark album; but it has impressive peaks, and nothing which truly sucks or outstays a welcome. I think the thing which confused me relates, more than anything, to my own expectations and related quest for a truly brutal drum and bass record which kicks your head in like no other. New Forms is really just a bunch of people pissing about in a studio, trying things out, some of which just happens to involve accelerated breakbeats. It's as much soul, dub, rap, ambient, techno, and even jazz - but in a good way, I guess - as anything. It's an album which never should have been square-pegged into a round hole by industry wankers with some giant medal burning a hole in their collective pocket, although to be fair I probably shouldn't have been so stupid as to grant such categorisation any sort of credence.

New Forms takes a while to sink in, but somehow does so as a coherent, mildly hypnotic whole - all thirty fucking hours of it. Brown Paper Bag still sounds insane after all this time; Watching Windows is gorgeous; and Hot Stuff - which I'd somehow never even noticed before - is one of those rare pieces of music which seems to be the same size as the sky. So I'm finally glad I bothered, not least because I might never have come to such an appreciation were I engaged in an endless, ostentatious quest for new new new.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Mob - Let the Tribe Increase (1983)


I always dreaded the arrival of my mid-life crisis, but it seems to have worked out quite well, so well in fact that it's probably not so much a crisis as just me buying a load of records. I never learned to drive, so a bright red sports car would be useless; I always thought leather trousers looked fucking stupid; and I'm happily married with no interest in either conspicuously young women or showing them my Charlie Browns. My mid-life crisis has coincided with a period of unusual contentment on my part. I'm settled and comfortable, at long last, and so my attention has inevitably turned to getting hold of all those records I meant to buy at the time, but never did.

I taped I Hear You Laughing - the flip of their single on Crass Records - off John Peel all those years ago, decided they sounded worthy of investigation, and then never got around to it. At least a decade slipped by before I came across that live album with the Apostles on the other side in a junk shop in Lewisham, and a test pressing too - which always struck me as weird. Naturally I bought it, being something of an Apostles obsessive, but I have no memory of playing the thing beyond a vague impression of the Apostles set being a little ropy. Then last year I read some essay about the Mob in the excellent And All Around was Darkness and noticed that the band remained more or less a mystery to me. So I dug out the live thing, immediately saw the error of my ways, and tracked this down - a lovingly tooled and expanded vinyl reissue from Overground.

Anarchopunk bands associated, however loosely, with Crass have a certain reputation for black clothes and scowling, and apparently even Peel cracked some joke about the Mob's apparent lack of cheer after playing one of their records. Of course, the overtly political subject matter proposed by such bands was often that we're all being screwed and society is bloody awful, which seemingly left little scope for light-hearted chuckles. However, as with the received wisdom of how all those Crass bands sounded the same, it's not really true.

Possibly aside from the vaguely jazzy Roger, the Mob sound nothing like Crass. More than anything they remind me of New Model Army - a big heroic rock sound of a kind associated with young men whose generous locks doth flow photogenically in the north wind as they stand atop some rocky promontory gazing fearlessly into the future, but without the usual excess of production; and while the lyrics may indeed be relentlessly bleak tales of man, woman, and child crushed beneath the heel of an oppressive consumerist state, there's a real sense of joy to these songs, specifically the joy of the understanding that there will always be hope on some level, the adrenaline rush of resistance and engaging the enemy.

In fact, the more I listen to this record, the more it sounds like a celebration, a call to arms, something a long, long way from the promised threnody. I'd rhetorically ask where this album has been all my life but I already answered that one in the first paragraph. Let the Tribe Increase is magnificent, and definitely a better deal than fast cars and dolly birds.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Charli Baltimore - Cold as Ice (1999)


I was really looking forward to this one. Money was a great single, and Stand Up seemed to promise good things to come, full page adverts for the album began to appear in the usual places, and then nothing happened. I gather she fell out with the label, or her manager, or something along those lines. Five years flipped past and she turned up on Irv Gotti's Murderers album, but it seemed like the momentum had been lost.

It turns out that this was finally issued as a download only release in 2009, and so here we are at last.

It has to be tough for a female rapper in what is an overpoweringly masculine industry, and so Baltimore's first single was inevitably accompanied by predictable mutterings about whether or not she would have had a record out without having stimulated Christopher Wallace's penis. Probably not, seemed to be the consensus, regardless of the obvious quality of the record, which I suppose is par for the course. It might be argued that she did herself no favours given all the blow jobs which feature prominently in her lyrics and which would seem to support the notion of Charli Baltimore as Bernard Manning's idea of what a female rapper should be; although it might also be argued that this argument is itself only Ben Elton pulling the lemon-sucking face and tutting that she's no better than she ought to be, that one. The issue is probably best settled, if you really need it to be settled, by listening to the album.

A young woman doing what she has to do to get by under difficult circumstances probably sounds like an excuse, given the aforementioned quota of lyrical blow jobs, but there's a lot more to this album, and not actually much of it which fits the stereotype of the gold digging hoochie-mama who boffed Biggie. Vocally she sounds kind of bratty, which is okay, and lyrically she's acrobatic within an admittedly limited range of subjects, but there's a thoughtful edge to tracks such as Have It All and even the admittedly cinematic Thirty Miles to Baltimore, with a powerful element of tragedy running through the whole set.

Money remains hard to top, so I don't know if Cold as Ice was entirely worth the wait or whether it's really so good as I hoped it would be; but it's confident, convincing, and a testament to the ambition and vision of rap back in the nineties. Charli Baltimore really should have been huge.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

AC/DC - Highway to Hell (1979)


Just to get the namedropping out of the way, I've never met any members of AC/DC and nor am I knowingly related to any of them, but I briefly delivered mail to the house in Overhill Road, East Dulwich outside which Bon Scott breathed his last following an evening of partying with unusual vigour back in February, 1980. You could tell it was the place from the memorial graffiti which sporadically appeared on adjacent municipal surfaces. This was in the nineties which, by happy coincidence - at least for me - was the point at which I finally began to understand AC/DC, the key to which is that if you feel you need to understand AC/DC then you're probably thinking about it too hard.

They were one of those groups beloved of everyone except me in the town in which I grew up, and the reason they weren't beloved of me was because everyone else liked them, which meant they must be crap; and also that I hadn't actually heard any of their records. Someone or other lent me the 7" of Whole Lotta Rosie but all I can recall is thinking that it sounded a bit sexist.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can appreciate that AC/DC were basically punk for anyone who didn't live in a big city, as were most bands associated with that whole hairy scene of the time. All I could see were five blokes who looked like everyone at my school and who probably would have regarded Joy Division as poufs, and all the emphasis on guitar solos seemed designed to appeal to shitheads; but, I was a bit up myself - as they say - and doubtless annoyed that everyone seemed to be having sex with girls except for me, which wasn't actually AC/DC's fault, not directly. They seemed stupid, and apparently I wasn't able to work out that stupid was sort of the point, although raw, rootsy and basic would be a better way of putting it.

Years passed and I heard bits and pieces, and it became increasingly hard to deny the power of those choppy bluesy guitar riffs - just chords, but there was something special there, some sound they had in common with the finer end of Led Zeppelin, just more direct. There's a reason that the opening bars of Back in Black score that scene in Iron Man, as opposed to something by Ed Sheeran.

I eventually bought this because a record store had opened on Lordship Lane, but they didn't have much stock and Highway to Hell was about the only thing I could find which seemed like it might at least contain a few surprises. Specifically it contained one surprise, namely that it's a fucking masterpiece contrary to what I had believed at the age of seventeen when I knew everything. AC/DC do one thing and that's rock, which would be stupid but for how well they do it, almost better than anyone else ever; and they rock like few have rocked before or since because they have a vision.

Nobody's playin' Manilow,
Nobody's playin' soul,
And no-one's playin' hard to get,
Just good old rock 'n' roll.

I know. They really didn't need to print the lyrics on the cover. It makes them sound like shitheads, but let's face it - Manilow ain't that great, some soul music was kind of bland, and whatever other objections you may have, you probably wouldn't say it to their faces; and it might be argued that taking umbrage with AC/DC for appealing to shitheads whilst failing to address the concerns of the supposedly sophisticated is a waste of time and misses the point. It could be argued that this material is outrageously sexist - although on close inspection it's actually more like evil Benny Hill - but you might do better to direct any available outrage at something which actually makes people miserable in the real world.

It wasn't the first, it wasn't the last,
It wasn't that she didn't care.
She wanted it hard, wanted it fast,
She liked it done medium rare.

Milligan-esque narrative swerves aside, it's really just a record of men singing songs about how they like to drink beer and how much they appreciate nude ladies - which has been a theme central to rock 'n' roll and the blues from which it sprang from the beginning; and at the risk of turning into Milo Yiannopoulos, I generally share these interests with AC/DC so I don't have a problem with any of it.

On the other hand, Night Prowler makes for uneasy listening as the slowest, arguably heaviest, and unfortunately sexiest track on the album, seemingly belonging to the lyrical subgenre of heavy metal odes to stalking women; but it's a misleading impression possibly fostered by the rest of the album being songs sung for the ladies, sort of. The point of Night Prowler is the mania of the killer rather than his choice of victim. It's a horror story, so it's supposed to upset you, and by way of a clue, there's a bloke with horns on the cover of the record. You know, had I had the sense to embrace this back when I was seventeen, my life might have turned out completely different, and I have an uncomfortable feeling it might even have been a bit better.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Viper - You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack (2008)


My introduction to the work of Viper came through a facebook group set up to answer the seemingly innocuous question what are we all listening to today? I was getting a bit pissed off with the place, partially due to the promotion of both Burzum and Death in June by means of the usual wearyingly defensive crap about rising above political correctness and thinking for yourself, although it was probably this same post-ironic contingent which started going on about Viper, because this album was apparently massive amongst sneering internet edgelords of a certain type. It's probably the videos which are to blame - shoddy, no budget camcorder jobs made by YouTube types featuring Viper himself sort of jiggling in time to the music, usually with someone who might even be his mum pretending to cook up a big ol' pan of crack on the family stove; but, hilarious though they may be, the videos don't really matter. Of course, it's true that Viper's music probably sounds like nothing you've heard before, and there's an oddly amateurish quality to it as characterised by some of the titles, but fuck - this is some genuinely good shit, and screw whichever anonymous arbiter of what constitutes culture described Viper as an outsider artist.

Okay, so You'll Cowards sounds as though it was recorded on a nineties Playstation, and first impressions speak of a man rapping quietly in hope that his mum, who is probably in the next room, won't hear him talking about guns and crack; but those are false impressions, and the more you listen, the more it becomes obvious how well Viper's husky near-whisper suits the music - and the more it becomes obvious how well everything here fits together, and how it's supposed to sound like this. Sneering over how Viper sounds nothing like whoever just makes you look like a fucking idiot.

The first thing which will hit you is the bass, and how much of it there is, and how often it's more of an effect than anything with any kind of melodic purpose - like a low flying aircraft or the mangled rumble pumped out of some Escalade waiting for the lights to change. The bass is slow and louder than everything else, and the whole sounds compressed to fuck - booming sine waves with a ticking noise in the background, and that would be the drum machine. Never mind outsider art, it takes serious judgment and ability to come up with something this close to sonic collapse which works apparently in spite of itself. Beyond the bass, we have distant haunting melodies played on something resembling a Casio VL Tone, and Viper rapping through what sounds like some kind of codeine haze - the usual gang related material, but not without flair or imagination, and at least as good as anything you ever heard on a No Limit album.

I don't care what any sniggering post-ironic wanker might have to say on the subject, this is a genuinely weird and peculiarly haunting - even soulful - album, and I shall most definitely be investigating the rest of Viper's back catalogue.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

pH2 - Gut Acid (2017)


For the sake of argument, let's assume our understanding of music works like language. You're born, you learn to make noises, you learn to imitate words and phrases, and eventually you learn what they mean and are hopefully able to arrange them in sequences of your own composition. I say hopefully because I'm not convinced everyone gets all the way with that last stage, and some seem to be stalled, having no need to express anything much beyond what they can say with a few stock phrases; and so it is with music, which is why there will always be artists who sound more like tribute acts than anything in their own right. It's easy enough to work out why such and such a piece of music has a certain sound, and how to duplicate it, and that's what most people tend to do.

Peter Hope, on the other hand, seems to have a particular insight in so much as that first and foremost he understands what music does, how it works, even before we've got to the instrumentation or the notes. Both Hot Crow on the Wrong Hand Side and Destroy Before Leaving had pure strains of blues and even jazz running through their DNA without necessarily imitating anything; and now there's Gut Acid, another wild tangent spun from a similar understanding, albeit an understanding of something completely removed from pastures in which the Box or Exploding Mind did their thing. As I understand it, Gut Acid came in part from tracks issued as Criminal Face and originally recorded at the height of acid house at the tail end of the eighties, along with more recent material expanding on the same in collaboration with DJ Parrot and David Harrow. So it's vintage material, or in the spirit of vintage material, or possibly both, but the important thing is that it sounds fucking great right now.

In the wake of acid house, as it all turned to techno or went Balearic or whatever, the bargain bins filled with failed acid, records which missed the target because they'd never quite understood what they were trying to do in the first place, imitating a sound and in imitating it, somehow ending up resembling one of those fucking awful 12" extended mixes some Trevor Horn impersonator routinely pooped out for every shit band going. The lesson in this was that not anyone could cut a dance record after all, and certainly not acid house. Gut Acid uses a few of the same boxes you may recall from Phuture and those guys, and there's the occasional non-tune representing the equivalent of a keyboard smash on a Roland TB303, but as with Hope's other efforts, this is a long way from the methodology of Noel Gallagher pretending to be a Beatle, and there is a lot here which you won't have heard before; but what he duplicates, and which he gets absolutely spot on is the feel of acid, the spirit, the euphoric bubble up and surge seasoned with a hint of something dark. These eight tracks pound and hypnotise, inviting even the most sober and drug free amongst us to concentrate on mesmeric glitches and details.

I'd say more but there's only so much point to writing about music, and I don't want to turn into Paul Morley; besides which Gut Acid is one which really speaks for itself, and it's only a few quid so you should probably give it a listen.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Nocturnal Emissions (2017)


Lordy - 'tis good to have brand new Emissions vinyl through the mail in 2017, even a brand new vinyl assemblage of material recorded more than a quarter of a century ago. This would be greatest hits but for the relative obscurity of the material, and that everything here was specifically generated back in the eighties, so nothing from Mouth of Babes, Collateral Salvage or the reggae album.

Regarding the Emissions, one quote which has always stayed with me is the description of Caroline K as a sort of female John Cooper Clarke, which I recall having read way, way back, possibly even before I'd even heard the band, although somehow not in the 1981 issue of Neumusik wherein it first appeared. The screwy thing is that, as I see from the insert which comes with this vinyl double, the review was written by Andrew Cox, whom I first met in 1990 and knew for a number of years prior to his somewhat tragic demise in 2009, and who was my best pal for a long time, roughly speaking; and yet I never realised it was himself who wrote that description until now. I'm not even sure what to conclude from the revelation, except that it's possibly indicative of how important the music of this band has been to me over the years; if you want to call it music, because you don't have to and it probably doesn't matter either way.

I always thought the John Cooper Clarke comparison was a bit silly, personally, but never mind. I assume Andrew was referring to When Were You Last in Control of Your Dreams and Aspirations?, the first track on both this and Tissue of Lies from which it is taken, and upon which Caroline intones a blandly officious list of contacts, to the secretary of the British charity commission and so on. Tortured instrument noises noodle away and underneath it all is a rhythm which sounds like a ticker tape machine doing the hucklebuck. It's a peculiar track not because of the noise or juxtaposition of contrasting elements, or because it sounds like it doesn't realise anyone would be listening to it as music, but because it isn't even trying to be art from what I can tell, at least not art by the usual terms. As with much of what Nigel Ayers has done over the years, even those tracks which sound like pop records, there's still that suggestion of channelling, or of something which simply resembles art or music from where the rest of us are stood. I don't know if there's been a concerted effort to avoid the more mannered, affected renderings of those working in roughly the same field, but sometimes it feels like it. The music of Nocturnal Emissions often seems to represent an attempt to get at the unalloyed essence of its subject, whether that subject be social, political, or psychogeographical. There's no showbiz here, no angle, no sales pitch, no pandering to an audience, no attempt made to sell your own anger back to you.

The big surprise with this collection is how well it all hangs together, how consistent it all sounds with the same basic sensibility underpinning the noise, the dance music, and even the prospective whale song. It's all coming from the same place, which wasn't so obvious when these tracks were limited to separate discs, and there's a truly generous spirit to this music, a joyful dissident noise which will have you punching the air even when the thing coming from the speakers sounds like a truck reversing over a photocopier.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Robert Rental & Glenn Wallis (2017)


Having misspent at least some of my youth knocking around with Glenn Wallis, I vaguely recall having heard this as one of a million tapes plucked from the drawer of a million cassettes with nothing written on them at two in the morning. We'd usually been in the pub for the best part of the evening and I'd most likely be gearing up to my third or fourth report of being completely fucked and wanting to go to bed and we can listen to it in the morning, can't we? If that sounds like a complaint, it isn't, and should be taken as namedropping combined with an indicator of Glenn's absurdly prolific work rate. We once lived on the same continental land mass, even in the same town for a while, and he was always recording, tape after tape of experiments, fucking about and what have you; and the tapes all got slung in a drawer, and that drawer was pretty fucking full. As you probably know, some of that material was polished up or re-recorded and released on Konstruktivists records and tapes, but I always had an impression of the material which reached a slightly wider audience being the tip of the iceberg. He played me a lot of tapes of things I never heard again over the years, and of the stuff he played me, it was mostly pretty great.

Here's a good example, lovingly restored and pressed onto vinyl by Dark Entries - Glenn improvising with Robert Rental, whom you may remember had an album with Thomas Leer on Industrial Records: two men improvising, guitar, effects, Wasp synth, tape recorder and almost certainly a couple of those special jazz cigarettes. It's simple, powerful, almost certainly improvised live onto tape, and quite clearly descended from Cluster and the like. It's proof, if it were ever needed, that you don't need either an ostentatious display of technology or conventional musicianship to make a statement. It makes me very happy to hear this music again, and by means of a more durable format. There have been a ton of artists associated with the unfortunately misleading industrial label who released far too much over the years, spoiling a once deserved reputation with noodling excesses which should have stayed in the can. Glenn Wallis, on the other hand, is someone whose unreleased back catalogue could stand a little more mining. This is a great release, so let's hope it's part of a general trend.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Mex - Do You Wanna Fuck Around? (2017)


Just to kick off in what will probably seem like one hell of a tangent, independent art cinema is, perhaps surprisingly, very much an unfamiliar realm for me. I've seen the odd thing inevitably borrowed from Ted at work, but most of those were weird and terrifying, and probably not representative of your average independent art cinema production. My friend Noel made purchase of a Ben Dover video whilst visiting London and so we watched a bit of that seeing as Noel was kipping on my sofa. For the uninitiated, Ben Dover produced a whole string of independent art cinema videos in which himself and a bloke with a video camera travel England, proposing sexual intercourse to random women working in shops, service stations, or just out walking the dog. The encounters seem casual and opportunist, even if they're almost certainly staged, and the appeal is probably mostly in the cheap and cheerful realism. Ben Dover's independent art cinema looks as though it could happen at the end of your road with one or more of the neighbours; and Ben Dover himself resembles a self-employed plumber more than a mogul of independent art cinema, although I suppose it could be argued that he sort of is a self-employed plumber. Anyway, all I can remember from the one Ben Dover production I watched was a scene in which our man enters an actress whilst persuading her to additionally stimulate the penis of the bloke with the camera, who accordingly chirps, 'This is indeed an unexpected bonus!'

Weirdly, it turns out that Mex once came fairly close to providing soundtrack music for Ben Dover; or at least I'm sure I read that somewhere. Do You Wanna Fuck Around?, subtitled Soundtrack Reflections on a Golden Age of Vice, is therefore an album of what could have been, music for imaginary independent art cinema productions. Naturally it's instrumental, barring snatches of dialogue invoking celluloid seventies blueys more than Ben Dover encouraging giggling cashiers out of their knickers. Musical cues come from psychedelia, bits of the Velvet Underground, and things which have since been reclassified as acid jazz in certain quarters - organ swirling over a big fat beat with blues guitar licks squirting hither and thither, at least as wild and sensual as those films always seemed to think they were despite so often resembling Abigail's Party with budget cuts in the wardrobe department. Doubtless owing to the inspiration of similar sources, whilst this could almost be a funkier, wrinkle-free Led Zeppelin in terms of instrumentation, musically it makes me think of Fatboy Slim, or rather what Fatboy Slim should have sounded like, that same sort of punchy bass heavy go-go but without the whole element of trying too hard.

As might be discerned from the first paragraph, I'm hardly an authority in the field of independent art cinema, but it seems to me that the one thing Mex gets wrong is that I don't recall ever seeing a bluey with music this good. In fact, the few I recall had awful midi-synth soundtrack music of a general type which ended up recycled as vapourwave and Go Kart Mozart. So here is an album which is actually better than the thing it's trying to be, if you see what I mean, and another argument for Mex as one of the most underrated artists and producers in the biz.

Procure yourself a copy by following the link to Mex under Some Stuff at the top left of this page.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Atari Teenage Riot - Burn, Berlin, Burn! (1997)


I expected this to sound like Altern-8 with a bit more welly, but as I now realise - admittedly two decades after everyone else - the hardcore of Alec Empire's Digital Hardcore label refers as much to the sheer racket of Bad Brains and other 500MPH American punk bands as it does to anything more closely associated with a dance floor. Many years ago when I was in Academy 23, Pete Williams - our drummer - told me that it was his ambition to combine punk rock and industrial music; because it was 1993, and everyone and their milkman had some fucking project on the go, because no-one would be seen dead admitting that they just wanted to rock the fuck out. It had to have a higher purpose, and inventing a cross between Bourbonese Qualk and the Cockney Rejects was Pete's, give or take some small change. Anyway, leaving aside the sheer arseache of anything invoking the much overused term industrial music, I guess Alec Empire beat him to it. The tools of composition may be the same as whatever it was 2 Unlimited used in construction of their mammoth eurosmash No No No-No No No No-No No No There's No Limit, except the samples are mostly a wall of punk rock guitar and the tempo knob of the drum machine has been twisted around as far as it will go; and surprisingly, the production is kind of rough and dirty, so it actually resembles early Nocturnal Emissions or something off the first SPK album more than anything. I expected noisy but sort of clean, maybe a variation on that Trent Reznor sound - but no, it's just a big fucking distorted noise, a bomb going off, over and over at rollercoaster headache velocity with some girl yelling about the evils of capitalism until she gives herself a sore throat.

If that sounds like a criticism, it isn't supposed to be. Like any form of music overdriven to the point of absurdity, the noise works on an almost physiological level with appreciation coming as much from the point at which it stops as from the actual distorted signal. It works as a slab of overwhelming rage delivered in short bursts, yet with the yelling conveying a much stronger sense of purpose than any of those Cookie Monster metal bands to which Atari Teenage Riot bear superficial sonic resemblance. This is what Sigue Sigue Sputnik failed to deliver combined with what riot grrrl managed only some of the time, but louder, angrier, and - against all expectation - more fun. I expect this also explains why the Prodigy turned their back on children's novelty records round about the same time.