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.