Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Viper - Kill Urself My Man (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Peter Hope / No Scene - SixSex EP (2017)

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

This really needs to be on vinyl.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

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

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

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

Yes. Amazing.

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

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Morton Sherman Bellucci - Beat the Box (1989)

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

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

Monday, 6 August 2018

Nocturnal Emissions - School Party Room Numbers (2018)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Blancmange - Happy Families (1982)

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

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

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

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