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.