reviews july 2005

Puffinboy, Make Motion Matter (Foolproof Projects) CD
Puffinboy invents a new genre.. Breakbeak. Cut sharp into the intersection of the already splintered territories of disco/funk, abstract/electro and motorik/rock, Breakbeak is something else every time you look, but constant. A visual metaphor: it's the kind of thing that conjures up those well-known images of four man-robots in relief against a red background. But in this picture the frame widens to reveal that the image is just a sticker on a guitar tuned to treble, and as the view pulls back further the guitar is just an icon for a synth preset and it expands until the synth itself is under the arm of a man-robot on a red poster..

Andy Robbins, Andy Robbins (First Person) CDR
One of those tiny little CDRs that measure three inches in diameter, but what label to hang upon the music it contains? Psyche folk with a touch of drone, I venture; and understandably you wrinkle your nose. But what can I say? How about, a heap of instruments (zither, banjo, moog, violin, recorder, and guitar) all woven together into a delightful tapestry of psyche folk with a touch of drone. Then you tell me that I need say no more. (Laurence)

Olof Bostrom, Daydream Worlds (My Secret Garden) CD
Olof's daydream must be that one day he'll get a 4-track that runs at the right speed. For our sakes, let's hope it doesn't come true for him any time soon. Eno End is the pick of this clutch. While Olof is stretched out loooonnngggg aaannndddd sllooowww a party is going on in his keyboard which thinks it's 1985 again and is trying to sound like the Human League with bigger drums. Did I mention it sounds like it's recorded in a bus station? Please, Olof, don't dream of changing.

The March Hares, London's Dead CDR
There's a party going on round at the March Hares' pad too, and it's 1985 there as well. But for them it's the 1985 of nights in with Janice Long and John Peel and the sound of London's Dead is skinny young men with jangly guitars, tight trousers, loose vocals and a look-back eye.

Diamond Family Archive, Diamond Family Archive CDR
They sell this at their gigs, but only if you pin them to the floor and threaten them with a knife. The hard sell is not their thing, salesmen they are not. What they can do is painstakingly layer a wide range of instruments into shimmering and fragile constructions. The whispered vocals get a lift-up in the mix so that to the keen ear the lyrics become decipherable amongst the warm glittering haze. You can buy it through their website too now, but you'll probably have to send the heavy-boys round first to lean on them a bit. (Laurence)

Hex, Sorry CDR
It can take a long time to get a review in Robots, but the sleeve is made of an old Christmas card. Are you taking the piss, Hex? Unready Unsteady is the pick of these three. It's one of them that never settles down; guitar, bass, singer and drums all spasm and hurried gasp, like a frantic grope behind the church hall.

Various, Our Friends Electric (Iwari) CD
From our friends at Iwari, Our Friends Electric is an hour of perfect beats. Every time you turn the telly on there's another Ibiza Summer/Winter/Chilled/Up For It/Revisited/Whatever triple compilation remixed by DJ Joker who is obviously having a bangin' old time of it with stacks of women in bikini tops and large sunglasses. The music on these adverts is not Perfect Beats, unless your idea of perfect is my idea of hell and your idea of beats is the sound of large corporations whacking their meat on a pile of cash while machines fart out identikit bullshit onto triple CD compilations. Perfect beats, as Iwari know, are understated but still hard. Perfect beats play with the tension between old school house and electro. Perfect beats don't need Stevie Winwood samples or ouzo or holiday reps. Perfect beats possess you. Perfect beats are perfect as they are. Perfect beats are your friend. The perfect beats from Robokid, Namke and Scape One are the perfectest of these beats, but they're all pretty perfect.

Pacific Ocean Fire, Whiskey Fiction (Sad Star) CDS
Let's put our cards on the table. It's not very fashionable to say it. It's even less fashionable to mean it but the last time I was fashionable you could still smoke upstairs on the bus. And I wasn't even proper fashionable then - my mum bought me a Nike copy jacket and dad cut the logo out of some sticky plastic stuff and stuck it on the front. So when it's not fashionable to say you like Country and Western it's water off a duck's back to me. I like Country and Western and so do Pacific Ocean Fire. The love never flavours the songs in as all-consuming a way as, say, The Broken Family Band's take on the thing, but its there at the heart and these six tracks are lovely.

John Cake, Four Set CDR
I love this for the sheer fact that it makes no allowances for the listener, because it's so uncompromising but wants to be loved at the same time. If you don't like it, you can just endure it because it's not going to change. It won't get any easier, but please don't go away. You can keep listening if you want, but if you find the sound of a man making a hooting noise down the tube out of the middle of a kitchen roll while having a piss unentertaining, there's going to be nothing here for you, but please do hang around just in case. There's a manifesto: "John Cake is having a bad year. John Cake made this recording using home made instruments. John Cake does not want any money. Ever. John Cake simply dreams of a proper release of this work. John Cake loves you and you are invited round for a cup of tea anytime." Brilliant. Can you help him out?

Saint Joan, One at Twilight (Dakota) / Desc, Jack-in-the-Box (Bowl of Frogs) CD
Both records you could reasonably describe as having folk music in their hearts. Saint Joan do like Bouvier do and folk-(post-)rock around the voice of singer Ellen. I want it to be the 70s for Saint Joan. I want them to be on Harvest and playing festivals. I want the people who buy PJ Harvey records to realise that, yes, they look great on the coffee table and, yes, they are edgier than your (poor, sad) mates' Coldplay and Athelete records, but if they just took the time, took the plunge, they could find something else in the gaps between Polly's releases. They aren't too old to still like music, they can still live, and Saint Joan's music is music for living with and to.

Desc are literally a two-pronged attack. Dan and Helena sing together with beautiful simplicity and a simple beauty and we could be in a country pub with peat on the fire and beer in the barrel and the night outside emphasised by the candles in here. And then the classic him-her double-track and melancholic cello suddenly wrench themselves into turmoil as the twosome shout with and against each other, spitting out curses ("What the fuck is wrong with you?") and flinging mud ("Your inhospitable cunt of a mind is playing tricks on you") and the cello gets darker and the drums build the intensity and shadowy noir. If we're looking for comparisons I'm thinking some of Nick Cave's finer moments and something of the Pogues' ability to be traditional, spirited, raggedy-assed glorious and magnificently different at the same time.

Super Reverb, Avant Garde is the French Word for Shit (Earsugar) CD
Two blokes getting stoned in the studio and making a record without any preparation. This sentence could be the definition of shit. Super Reverb seem to have avoided the problems usually suffered by duos wrecked by cabin fever and lacking a sense of perspective outside their own by cranking up the downometer and bathing themselves in, yes, reverb then puncturing anything verging on self-indulgence with a dose of weird effects or glitch programming or a length of tambourine and chime intermission. Slothful sometimes, nodding to Spiritualised on occasion, adding a dash of slide guitar and a bit of Summertime jug-band jiggle here and a parping toot horn there, it's a smashing jumble and if it wasn't so fun-packed and irreverent, some might say it was a little avant garde.

Ward, It Might Be Useful For Us To Know (Loca) CD
It's hard to think of anything you could tell Ward that would be useful for them to know. Nothing I know would change how they'd make this record, I'm sure. How many albums come with a licence detailing precisely how you can reuse the sounds on it? How many record labels produce an FAQ on open source recordings and a DIY path to making your own? Few and fewer. How many records just inherently sound intelligent? Fewer still, especially in those godforsaken genres with intelligent in their names. Ward, and Loca, and this release, are getting on for unique. If philosophy could be transcribed into notes and chords and musical phrases.. if you could map the tension and flow of a serious, but polite, debate between experts of opposing views onto a stave.. if a labcoat and test tube and workbench could morph into a tailcoat and baton and pedestal and a team of researchers and their machines morph into a team of machines intent on sonic research.. if you could spare an hour to sit still and plug your head into this record, you'd be wiser for it. That's useful for you to know.

DJ Ordeal, Odds and Sods (Push The Button) CD
Ordeal has been sticking it to whoever cares to listen for some time now. Long enough to collect a record of a bunch of tracks left over from his records. His records are other people's records blended over and over and over and over until you can't tell where one starts and another ends or the same one starts over and over, except for the times he's not quite on the beat as he loops on the pause button. He is a Tascam wizard with a penchant for 80s funk pop and electro and big band charity shop LPs. Get this and let him stick it to you.

Evergreen Days, Something We Once Had (My Secret Garden) CDR
How did she get there? There are the rumours of course but nobody really knows how it happened; how this girl-with-guitar became trapped inside an echo-chamber. She still continues playing her melodic songs, her lyrics displaying a disconcerting maturity in one so young, these four new songs displaying more polish than her previous release on this label as well as a slightly melancholic vibe. Is there no escape? Can our heroine sing her way out of this situation? Time will tell, as always. (Laurence)

Bishi, Bitpop EP (Brainlove) CDS
Didn't get this to start with. Don't know why. Just now I can't get it to stop. Do know why. Listen to the first track, Uniforms and Armour. Brainlove have somehow squeezed Siouxsie Sioux and Toni Basil into a single dark cheerleader kit and then got Dillinja in to supercharge the backing. What was I thinking?

The Broken Blackbird Ensemble, Gadzooks! (Early Winter) CD
We saw James Green (of Big Eyes) play at the Pickled Egg showcase in Leicester a couple of months ago. He was agitated. Agitated after the sound bloke told him he'd got ten minutes left because they were running late. That wouldn't have been so bad, but he'd only just sat down to play. Gruffling into his beard, he played for ten minutes and then carried on, treating us to spiritual waves of intricate and fragile guitarwork, filling the stage and then the room with nothing that was everything. The Broken Blackbird Ensemble sees him with half a dozen like-minded souls making improvised music that rimbols and clutters and spickles and shambolics and never seems to start or end but is just there and beautiful. Limited to 250 in hand-made sleeves.

Blanket, Christmas/Clotheshorse (Big Billy Records) 7"
A very beautiful record, and so simple too - as such things often are. Lazy strummed guitars, gentle percussion, and a smidgin of woodwind backing some heart-tugging vocals. Just a few casual chords and basic melodies thrown together and bent slightly by the singing, I'm so pleased that there are records like this in the world. (Laurence)


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