Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Whodini - Greatest Hits (1992)

Being somewhere in the vicinity of a million years old, I've often found myself caught out and bewildered by use of the term old school when referring to rap, because these days old school means some multicoloured foetus who had a hit ringtone six months ago - you know, that thing which was just three minutes of handclap and some dude slurring meaningless gang gibberish, my balls be bigger than yo mama's 'hoooooood, or similar, over and over and 'hood pronounced with seven Os just as Tupac would have wanted it. Whodini, on the other hand, were proper old school dating back from even before they invented swearing and had to label rap music with Tipper stickers.

Once again, I'm following up a lead from about thirty years ago, one of those things I taped but apparently couldn't afford to buy whilst gaps remained to be filled in my Gary Numan collection. I had a look on Discogs but old rap CDs cost a fucking fortune now, or at least more than I'm willing to pay, leaving me with the option of either vinyl or greatest hits collections, and I've reached the point where I can't actually fit any more vinyl albums on the designated shelving. Whodini's Greatest Hits doesn't seem to contain Rap Machine, but never mind. It's close enough.

Whodini still exist and don't seem to have quite fallen off the edge of the map, but it's probably safe to assume the comeback would have happened by now if it was going to happen. Nevertheless, I'd say this stuff has been overlooked more than should have been the case, which is unfortunately the nature of the rap biz.

Whodini date from an era prior to anyone giving a shit about the greatest lyricist of all time, or conforming to some other guy's version of keeping it real, or downwardly mobile credentials. They got the fuck on with it, and it doesn't matter that their old school nursery rhyme cadence has been superseded by bigger sellers because it still delivers the goods. Nothing dates so quickly as a new idea, depending on the motivation, particularly if it has nothing going for it beyond being a new idea. Whodini did it for the right reasons and consequently somehow still sound as fresh as fuck after all these decades. The beats were programmed at the height of electro back when those squeaky clean Yamaha snare samples still seemed futuristic, and where their contemporaries may now sound slightly archaic and obvious, the raw energy and enthusiasm that went into this stuff has kept it alive.

Young guns may chortle at the absence of a parental advisory warning, or these clean cut men who clearly brushed their teeth every night before bed, but Magic's Wand and Haunted House of Rock - to name but two of the fourteen mammoth cuts assembled within - still blow most of the competition out of the water. In rap terms, we really need to start moving beyond the idea that nothing much happened before Run DMC.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Joy Division - Still (1981)

I spent about six of my late teenage months so deeply immersed in Joy Division that even now, nearly forty years later, I have no idea whether they were really any good. I'm old enough to have enjoyed them when Ian Curtis was alive, when their records were still on Factory, and tend to disregard the testimony of anyone arriving at the party more recently because it will usually be pure dog shit, the usual recycling of Ian and the lads stood looking mysterious in front of the Parthenon because they've just been reading Camus. You know, they had their moments, but get a fucking grip.

Oddly, I never owned any of their albums. I had the singles, and my friends, Pete and Graham, had the other stuff, so I taped it and spent what little money I had on records I wouldn't be able to get from Pete or Graham. It was quite exciting when Graham got hold of a fourth or sixth generation tape copy of what we referred to as the Warsaw bootleg featuring all the stuff which never made it onto any of their official records, and which was at least as good, often superior despite the ropey quality. Still, which both Pete and Graham snapped up on the day it came out in that cloth bound gatefold hardback format, was almost as exciting, not least because it featured better quality recordings of certain tracks from the Warsaw bootleg.

It sounds decent in 2021, mostly, but this lot could never have lived up to their absurdly inflated reputation, forged as it was in the white hot intensity of a thousand acne-spattered bedrooms. They rocked hard back when they were called Warsaw, and Unknown Pleasures and the singles captured the magic of their better Black Sabbath impersonations, but Closer amounted to maybe half a decent album, and New Order's Movement was probably the best thing done by any combination of these people.

Still is two albums, one of them being at least as good as Unknown Pleasures, or would have been had they included something better than the ropey cover of Sister Ray. Unfortunately the other album is live. To be fair, it's about as good a Joy Division live album as you're ever likely to hear, but nevertheless suffers from the same problems as most of their other live recordings, the fluffed notes, the missed cues, and Decades, a song which carries the distinction of sounding exactly the same when you disconnect your turntable and push the record around by hand with one finger on the label. That said, it's nice to hear the Curtis version of what would become New Order's Ceremony. In fact, they probably should have slapped that on the end of the first disc instead of Sister Ray and made it a single album.

Did I mention that we have a tribute act called Joyhaus here in San Antonio? I gather it's one bloke with a drum machine and he covers songs by Joy Division and Bauhaus. Doesn't that just say it all? One day it will be possible to separate the music from their frankly fucking ridiculous legend, but sadly that day is still some way off. They had some nicely moody songs which sounded just right when you realised that some fellow teen was never going to grant you access to his or her underpants, but they really weren't the messiahs. They weren't even particularly naughty boys.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Smell & Quim - Cuntybubbles (2020)

I recently discovered that Mr. Walklett attended the same fine art course as Marc Almond, back in the mists of time, and it sort of makes sense that the man who brought us Beaver Full of Spunk should once have patronised the same scholastic cafeteria as the one who brought us Sex Dwarf. Makes you wonder about Leeds a bit, or it makes me wonder at least. Maybe it's something in the water.

Anyway, just when you thought it was all done and dusted, the naughty fuckers are back, and my shelves suddenly groan beneath the weight of more Smell & Quim albums than I even knew existed this time last month, even a couple of newies. Cuntybubbles is brought to us by agency of the very wonderful and recently revived Cheeses International and illustrates, yet again, how Smell & Quim just seem to shit out one instant classic after another - arguably literally - like a musical version of the woman who keeps having babies in that Monty Python film, the one that wasn't very good; and yes, I do mean musical. Smell & Quim's strength has ever been that there was always a lot more to them than mere volume, and the romantically named Cuntybubbles is a rich sequential montage of loops, found sounds, squelches, musique concrete, alcohol abuse, scatological perversion, and Jimmy Savile. Of course, there's plenty of noise, and the sort which kills your lawn, but it's just one tool in the arsenal rather than the whole point, and this one sits as happily next to your Residents albums as that Whitehouse boxed set.

They've since released another new album even before I managed to get hold of this one, and that's great too. If you're not sure what Smell & Quim sound like or what they do, just imagine what your favourite noise group might be like if they managed to record something you were going to play more than once.

Order from Cheeses Int., a link for which can be found at the top left of the page under some stuff.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Konstruktivists - Konstruktive Kontinuum (2020)

That Konstruktivists are now in their fourth decade should probably seem stranger than it is, but even more significant is how they've improved with age. The last couple of albums have been decent, and this may even be the best one yet - probably ironic given that there were only a hundred of the physical version, but never mind. Having actually bashed the triangle for Konstruktivists at one point, my impartiality might be called into question when it comes to a review such as this; but I'd argue that, having been in the group - which was after all a long, long time ago - I at least have some understanding of what Glenn was trying to do, the sort of effect towards which he's been working all these years. It was never particularly industrial, as the cliché would have it, because his influences have always been wider than a couple of post-punk albums which sounded like someone rogering a printing press. Even when it hasn't been communicated well, Konstruktivists have always had a strongly theatrical element - painting pictures and telling stories with music, if you will, but dark, slightly peculiar, and occasionally fetishistic stories as you might reasonably expect of a bloke who used to hang around with Clock DVA.

This is another album recorded with Mark Crumby - formerly of Cathedra, Binary, Codex Empire and a host of others - a name associated with the very best of Konstruktivists, which probably isn't a coincidence. Whatever it is, he clearly gets it, and to the point that listening to this I finally understand what Glenn was getting at all those years ago. This is like Lovecraftian cabaret, moody and disturbing but without pulling silly faces or taping a handmade no parents allowed sign to your bedroom door. There's something joyful here, weirdly stylised and arty without apologies; and not quite like anyone else I can think of, off the top of my head, so jolly good show!

Buy! Buy! Buy!

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Onomatopoeia - Irrelevant (1997)

Older cervix havers and bepenised beings may recall Onomatopoeia as the musical wing of Steve Fricker's Cheeses International distribution service and occasional collaborator with Smell & Quim, notably on the formidable Fanny Batter album. I myself specifically recall Onomatopoeia from Anal Almond which I reviewed in The Sound Projector magazine about a million years ago. Apparently I may even have been the only person to review it, which is depressing.  Anal Almond was notable for combining hard, aggressive electronics with the misery of food allergies, thematically speaking, which certainly made a change from the usual stuff about Hitler. Irrelevant dates from approximately the same era but, having been initially issued as a cassette with a fairly limited run, has since been granted a second crack of the whip by means of this beautifully hand-crafted vinyl edition, just three-hundred and each one adorned with a different national flag for reasons which feel as though they make sense even if it's hard to say why.

Onomatopoeia sits loosely within that whole weirdy noise thing but can be distinguished from the herd by its reluctance to tick boxes or tread any particularly well worn path. It's not exactly power electronics, harsh noise, dark ambient, certainly nothing industrial, and to call it sound art might possibly be a bit wanky. Each of these peculiarly titled five tracks seem to comprise sounds derived from a single instrument - hunting horn, piccolo, cymbal and so on - slowed down, sped up, treated, looped, multitracked and the rest to the point of the source being abstracted more or less into oblivion - arguably excepting the bass on Chafed Cervix Coleslaw Cum Chutney Cesspit which goes all Richie Blackmore towards the end. This distortion of the source works exceptionally well, limiting what may have been distracting to yield something which manages to be alternately abrasive, meditative, and - above all - haunting. In fact, the first thing it brought to mind when I slapped the record on was Vernon Elliott's sombre incidental music for Noggin the Nog - so factor that in with a loosely Surrealist aesthetic and whatever inspired all those not quite ambient albums by Nigel Ayers, and that probably amounts to a description. Of all the weird shit I've listened to so far this year, Irrelevant has been one of the most pleasurable.

Enquire within.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Sleaford Mods - Spare Ribs (2021)

Everyone seems to think this is the best one yet, a return to form and all that, which usually translates to honest, it's quite good, definitely not as bad as it could have been; but fuck me, it might actually be the best one yet, and certainly does a lot to remind me how fucking amazing Austerity Dogs sounded when I first heard it. I'm not sure what they've done differently, or the same, or how they've shaken off the suggestion of trying to keep the magic going despite hanging out with Phil Collins on an episode of Tony Blair's Great British Celebrity Cake Factory - which may well have been just my ears - but Jesus Christ it's worked. This one strips the paint right off the walls.

Musically and lyrically, it's mostly what you would expect, or perhaps hope for - the same flavour of bile, venom, piss, and late night doner kebabs yet without sounding like a retread of previous efforts. There are plenty of one-string guitar loops, cheap video game rhythms and so on, and not a trace of anything unnecessary, and somehow it all adds up to grooves which almost equate to Severed Heads hanging around on the council estate. Nudge It is particularly powerful, hammering away with a bass that might be detuned floor toms on a cheap eighties drum machine for all I can tell. Everything has the sound of equipment plugged into the wrong sockets, overdriven signals achieving some effect which you could never achieve if you tried to do it on purpose.

As for Mr. Williamson, you already know what he does best, and he does it better than ever here - so caustic it makes it difficult to look the album in the eye for fear of it picking a fight.

Spare Ribs is so good it's hard to know what else to say about it beyond for God's sake, don't spill its pint: another one that makes anybody stood next to it look like an idiot.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full (1986)


I've no idea why it's taken me more than three decades to get hold of this. I bought the singles as they came out but, for some reason, not the album and - stranger still - only really noticed this as a massive oversight about a month ago, so here we are.

Paid In Full still sounds fresh as fuck in 2021 and remains unmistakably a major contender for one of those greatest rap album of all time lists. You can still hear the old school lineage drawn out from the Furious Five and others - all the sing-songy nursery rhyme acts - alongside the birth of modern rap, or what was modern rap before the advent of Lil Yachty and all those guys whom I suppose we should count just in case one of the under-twenties reads this and is struck down by low self-esteem. Yet rather than representing an intermediary point, Paid In Full seems to have become a sort of perfect timeless form existing at the exact temporospatial epicentre of all rap, which is why it doesn't seem to have dated and remains seemingly unique, or at least not quite like anything before or since.

The music and beats are minimal, the sort of thing which could have been recorded pretty much live, and maybe were for all I know; yet the looped beats, samples, cutting and scratching fills the space in ways which didn't often happen back in 1986, from what little I recall from reverb heavy beatbox records which always sounded as though they couldn't think of anything else to add. Rakim may have been superceded on the purely technical level of vocal acrobatics, but few have sounded so confident, so effortless, or so compelling. Sexual swearwords were still to be invented, so we don't even have so much as a bitch or a shit on this record, and Rakim spends plenty of time talking about his own lyricism and comes out of it still sounding hard as fuck without resorting to any of the traditional posturing - either gun toting or piously worthy.

Strangely, as a sort of perfect rap album in the Platonic sense - if that isn't so far up my own rear end that the words become illegible - Paid In Full improves everything in its vicinity like a nurturing, almost solar force reconnecting the listener to all the fundamental elements which made rap so great in the first place - the robot beats combined with the raw funk. I listened to one of the old Ma$e albums in the wake of this and even that sounded pretty decent.

Does it really get any better than Paid In Full?

I don't know.

I just don't know.