Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Howl in the Typewriter - Manifesto (2018)

My impartiality is probably open to question where this one is concerned. Never mind that I know the bloke, but I actually contributed some vocals, as did my wife, and I know at least a couple of the other people who similarly responded to Stan Batcow's request for remotely recorded guest vocals. Please sing these words, he said, and send me the file so I can weave it into something I've been working on; and we did. Please feel free to grass me up to the trading standards authority if this is a problem.

Howl in the Typewriter is the organ of Stan Batcow, so to speak, former Ceramic Hob and punky DIY stalwart since at least back when I was still at school. He's been at it for a while and is yet to show any sign of reigning it in or, for that matter, giving too much of a shit about sales or catering for any specific audience. Musically he's always carved his own furrow, as does this album, and it's a furrow which still very much works for him and has come to sound more and more unique with each passing year as the part-timers fall by the wayside.

Manifesto is, perhaps typically, an H-bomb scale potshot taken at the commercialism against which Howl have been pitted all these years; and it's a single song lasting over an hour, or at least that's one way of looking at it. Another might be as Crass's Yes Sir, I Will with tunes, or even one of the more impenetrable Jethro Tull concept albums, A Passion Play or one of those; except this is better, or at least I like it more. Howl play a hybrid of punk rock and techno hung on some sort of vaguely proggy structure, themes repeat here and there morphing into reggae, thrash, power electronics, and just plain oddball without it seeming too much like a collage of disparate elements; and whilst its sheer scale and duration is a little demanding, it keeps moving, changing, and manages to never outstay its welcome. I seem to recall reading that Manifesto has been seven years in the making, which I can believe because of the elegance with which all the parts fit together to form a coherent whole, despite being born from a million random elements pulling in different directions. I'm very impressed.

Myself and the misses turn up at around the fourteen minute mark if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Broken Britain (2011)

I wouldn't ordinarily bother to write about anything below a certain level of crapness, despite the thrill of shooting a fish in its proverbial barrel; but this makes the cut because it's so crap as to be genuinely impressive whilst still being amazingly crap - so none of that stuff about something being so bad that it's good here. Broken Britain really is absolutely shite. It's a punk compilation from a couple of years ago, or at least that's what it seems to aspire to be - a memorial to that time when we all kicked in our television sets because Sid Vicious swore on Midlands Today, and when the Clash had that hit with a song about the Queen being a moron.

Presuming you remember those Top of the Pops albums of the seventies - copyright dodging hits of the day faithfully reproduced by session musicians; well, that's sort of what we have here, except obviously that would be tacky and not very punky at all, so I think we're pretending this is something else - just like in the Sid Vicious song, Something Else, yeah?

Hooray for punks and punk rock!

Stick your bollocks up your arse, misses! Ha ha!

So far as I can tell, we do actually hear 999, the Business, and the Stranglers on this disc, although fuck knows where they found a Stranglers cover of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth; and that's definitely punky cockney dolly bird Lydia Luvaduck Lunch giving it some welly on a live version of In My Time of Dying, probably live in broken Britain or something. The rest though…

We have massive punky hits faithfully covered by bands you've mostly never heard of, bands which sound suspiciously as though they've all been recorded in the same studio with the same instruments - four from the Clash, four Pistols numbers, then Teenage Kicks and a couple of Joy Division biggies, and er… Denis, the Blondie song, instead performed by the likes of the Belfast Dolls, the Badgers, Discord 76, and Mandi and the Morons - a more punkily anarchistic bunch you couldn't wish to meet, if the names are any indication. On the other hand, Beki Bondage is undeniably real because I remember both Stand Strong Stand Proud from listening to Peel and her truly splendid knockers from the pages of Sounds, which were quite rememberable* due to my being a sixteen-year old boy at the time. Here she covers the Pistols' EMI, complete with faithfully reproduced ad libs which only made sense sung by Rotten at a very specific time of his career. Likewise, some of the Clash covers sound similarly odd given that Complete Control - for one example - is about being in a band called the Clash; and I don't know who the Cook 'n' Jones responsible for Silly Thing could have been, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Steve or Paul.

Plucked from the cheapo rack of the store, or possibly even a gas station, Broken Britain promises a couple of familiar names alongside covers rendered by obscure types who probably had one single played on local radio before they fizzled out and all got jobs at a local car showroom, but I don't think that's what we actually have here. Second - or possibly third - impression is that this might do well if you listen to it with the air conditioning on full blast, or if you're not really familiar with any of these songs. Should you be some punky young dude browsing the stalls of a Mexico City street market, and a punky young dude who doesn't speak much English, then Broken Britain might seem worth a punt.

Maddeningly, even this theory is undermined by a peculiarly operatic cover of Who Killed Bambi? and Dresden's version of the Talking Heads' Psycho-Killer, neither of which give a shit about duplicating the originals. This Bambi, if otherwise completely pointless, at least allows us to hear the lyrics, such as they are, for the first time ever; and Dresden, whatever it may be, sounds suspiciously like John Otway or even Unlucky Fried Kitten. I was never that struck on Psycho-Killer, and now I understand why - because it should have been recorded by Frank Butcher from Eastenders as is apparently the case here; which is why, despite everything, I'll be hanging on to this otherwise entirely pointless piece of crap.

It was a Christmas present, in case you were wondering, but thankfully not mine.

*: This is a word invented by a Wheel of Fortune contestant which I'm trying to pass into common parlance.

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Superstition (1991)

This, on the other hand, was mostly chug but it fills a gap in the collection. My girlfriend owned a copy back in the early nineties and she used to play it a lot. All I recall of this is a vague impression of Superstition not making much of an impression on me, but I'm a list-making completist at heart so I wanted to see whether it would sound better with the benefit of hindsight, or whether my aforementioned first impression had been accurate; and it seems that it had indeed been more or less on the money.

Should it need stating, Siouxsie & the Banshees tend to make more sense if you think of their career as parallel to that of Roxy Music - which was probably who they were listening to back when everyone else was banging on about the Dolls and the Stooges - in which case, Superstition was probably where they entered their smooth period as did Roxy with Avalon and the like. 1991 was apparently all about those shuffling baggy types, seemingly obliging everyone else to make themselves appear ridiculous by claiming there's always been a dance element to our music, and so on top of the technological studio smoothery, Superstition was the Banshees demonstrating that they too were mad for it, as the kids of the time would have it.

Well, maybe not, but this record does chug quite a lot, and there's the peculiar use of a Schoolly D sample on Kiss Them For Me - although I'm probably just showing my ignorance of what is either some preset drum pattern or something Schoolly D nicked from elsewhere.

So, is it actually a bad album?

Not really. It creeps up on you after a while, which is mostly the songs taking their time to emerge from Stephen Hague's efforts to make them sound like New Order; but emerge they eventually do, and the differences slowly become apparent, allowing the ear to hear something beyond what initially resembles an hour long version of Dazzle. Silly Thing sadly isn't a cover of the Cook and Jones classic - and Lordy what I would have given to have heard that - but was the first tune to break cover, revealing Superstition as more than simply Kiss Them for Me plus eleven b-sides. The whole is too slick, too smooth and too electronic - as the Banshees themselves apparently thought - but remains a lesser record by what was still a great band, the Banshees equivalent of a stadium-era Simple Minds album, which I propose as someone who nevertheless quite liked stadium-era Simple Minds.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Peepshow (1988)

I picked up Superstition the other week, which sent me retracing my footsteps back to this one which then duly glued itself to the turntable. This is probably some sort of reverence feedback deficit due to my not having thought about Siouxsie & the Banshees for a long, long time squared with how highly I once rated them, and continue to rate them as I now realise. I'd forgotten how great they were.

I'm doubtless misremembering, but I recall more of a kerfuffle over Siouxsie having had a haircut than the release of this record, which less forgiving persons seem to recall as having belonged to the oh, are they still going? years. Tinderbox - the one before this, excepting the covers thing - was an odd collection thematically fixated on heat, deserts, dessication, and sterility building up to the climax of Lands End, the closing song seemingly representing a symbolic deluge. It felt a bit like they were aware of running short on inspiration, although it was actually a pretty great album - just not startling like its predecessors. This was the point at which the Banshees chug had begun to creep in, having begun with Dazzle or thereabouts - those driving tracks which sound a bit like Russian folk music, and which I suppose came to represent default Banshees - stuff to which goths could whirl around and do that silly dance where they make their hands swim back and forth in front of their faces. Tinderbox, for all its fine points, was mostly generic Banshees chug.

Peepshow chugged here and there, but you can really tell they're also pissing about, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck, and most importantly stepping outside the goth comfort zone - which makes sense given that there were about a million other bands who had photocopied the same blueprint by this point; and they had yet another new guitarist - the bloke out of Specimen, oddly enough, which seems kind of like doing a Numan and marrying your own groupie, but Jon Klein seems to have been an undeniably decent match.

The Banshees were no longer quite the group which had recorded The Scream, but that's progress for you. Peepshow is nevertheless startling and angular in places, with a technical velour developed over the previous few albums but kept from becoming bland or gratuitously lush by what sounds like the band rebelling against their own tendency to chug. Peek-a-Boo sounds peculiarly like the Rolling Stones briefly funky period; there's the ludicrous and yet wonderful Burn Up which could have been the Casey Jones theme tune; and then The Last Beat of My Heart which gets my vote for possibly the most heart-wrenching piece of music ever recorded, definitely one of the greatest things the Banshees ever did, and it features an accordion for fuck's sake! Only the cock-obvious nursery horror of Rawhead and Bloodybones really lets the side down, sounding like it might have been an acceptable b-side a few years earlier, but even in '88 resembled the sort of generic goth landfill upon which Tim Burton would eventually build a career. Maybe they were taking the piss.

Anyway, Peepshow is mostly amazing. I'm a little surprised that I somehow managed to forget.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Börn (2014)

It means Children and they're from Iceland, or they were. They seem to have been quiet since 2015 from what I can tell. This seven-track eponymous debut album came to my attention thanks to the excellent Simon Morgan, a man who keeps one ear to the ground. Pretty much any music I enjoy of under ten years vintage has come to me thanks to a tip from Mr. Morgan - Sleaford Mods, Parquet Courts, Pessimist, Enhet För Fri Musik, and now this, which is probably the best yet.

Börn aren't exactly like nothing I've heard before, and what they do has a certain familiarity, but the way they do it blasts you off your feet like it's the first time. Yelping vocals hark back to Poly Styrene or Siouxsie Sioux at her most terrifying; drums pound like that dude from the Cramps, and the rest is formed from angular slashing chords and that chugging bass that did so well for every single band formed in 1981. I'd say it's like an angrier, more relentless take on The Scream, but even that just seems like a load of words when you slap the thing on the gramophone. Maybe the best way of putting it is that somehow you can really tell that this is the work of a band from a country which recently arrested its own government. There's just no arguing with this record, and I don't even understand what they're saying. This is what all rock music should sound like.