reviews april 2006

The Vichy Government, Carrion Camping/Whores in Taxis (both Filthy Little Angels) CD/10"
First album first lines. The Beastie Boys got it right for a young Possession on Licenced to Ill: "Because mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about." Pointless rebellion, getting pissed and being mates with Run DMC. Ten or so years later, SMASH's Self Abused put his carefree student life in into perspective with angry, claw-handed guitars and angrier words: "Back to where my friend died, not to the scene of his ugly suicide."

Another decade further on and The Vichy Government are here with a couple of albums from the cynical side of the street. The Possession who now resides in the world of work, not renowned for his optimism, for whom the glass is neither half empty nor half full but certain to be knocked over before he can drink out of it, finds it suits today's mood.

As first lines go, "All language is fascist and so am I" just about trumps any other and reflects the media, and the complicity with which it engages its subjects, perfectly. I Control Discourse ends abruptly with the words "I Am God" just under a couple of minutes later. In that time a monologue on the symbols, syntax and semiotics of propaganda and manipulation rips past, closely followed by a horribly addictive horrible screeching in lieu of a synth riff and a beat from page one of the manual.

"Protestants are not sexy." Barely pausing for breath, theirs or ours, they race into The Protestant Work Ethic II. Politically scathing, simultaneously distant and too close, ironic, clever, arch, basic. Soft Cell, if Oscar Wilde had been Gene Pitney. If Marc Almond hadn't begun to try to sing. If he could have looked outwards not inwards. If it had been Belfast, not Blackpool. If Dave Ball had made his music even less complex. More intense.

There isn't a Sex Dwarf on Carrion Camping. Or a Tainted Love. There is a track called Arranged Marriage and one called Orange Disorder that begins "Fuck You, Northern Ireland." Make Love to the Camera is delivered as if there's a turd taped to the mic, disgust and loathing to the fore: "Seduce your target audience/ Stop complaining/ You'll get your gram of coke/ And a lollipop/ Now there's a good girl." The modern music business in a moment.

That world-weary older Possession listened to Carrion Camping once and ordered Whores In Taxis. He wasn't disappointed. Life Should Mean Life simultaneously appeals on a superficial level to its targets, readers of The Daily Mail or The Sun and other blinkered voyeurs, while spearing them for their apathy and troglodyte logic. Society, or the stupid portions of it, is on the receiving end again as the knife is stuck into plastic surgery on The Immortals. Plastic surgery and society's gullibility and a dash of bile ends with a glorious couplet: "The silicone melts and.. drips out of their arse."

You wouldn't like to live under The Vichy Government but round here they rule.

Electric President, Electric President (Morr) LP
Magical. Wait! Not long grey beards, invisibility cloaks and rutting unicorns magical. No - we're talking about the melodic and lyrical magic of Ben Cooper. Ben is Electric President's main brain, and plate-spins numerous projects (including Radical Face - which keen-eyed Robots subscribers may remember from issue 14's Blue Minnow sampler). Since then he's been busy with Electric President, creating this debut LP. And what a well-crafted and highly detailed thing it is. Of course, you don't have to concern yourself with its tiny cogs and mechanisms - the ears of the ADD sufferer will be greeted by a load of surface-level tunes. But when you get drawn in more deeply, you'll find many other layers, each one inspired by its own sense of wonder. On Some Crap About the Future, it's like a trainee angel has thrown his hand in: "I turn and brush the birds from off my shoulders/ And cross sidewalks with an earful of white noise." Against the odds, the ex-seraph finds a friend, and they elope away from the city's insanity and violence to "an old dirt road, where the sun doesn't look like such a waste." At least, I think that's what happens.

Sometimes, when I follow it more closely, I start to wonder if Ben is both of these characters; the lost and the found, the electronic robot brain and the heavy-hearted romantic, or just simply the stoic and the escapist. This and other narrative strands are threaded throughout the record, each one delivered in Ben's sweet, seductive style, and it's these thoughtful words and the carefully constructed tunes that set this debut LP apart. (Rodney 'Stuka' Winsor)

Tells, Hope Your Wounds Heal (Fire) CD
A long time ago, we said of their previous band "Delicate AWOL provide a fluid version of the academic kraut formula .. jumble of Pram, Tarwater and jangle pop .. if I had to label Delicate AWOL, I'd put them on Kitty Yo." As Tells, Jim Version and Caroline Ross have gentled what was never a harsh formula, stripping back the layers of wash and Brownian flow. At the folkier end, it's like the press release says, Caroline's voice binding emotions into music from an update of the Wicker Man. When things start to motor(ik), it's Caroline's voice and not completely repetitive repetition working off each other. And when things turn jazzier, it's Caroline's voice and not completely muso musos, like the best bits of Pickled Egg. If I had to label Tells, Fire would be a good place, or classic Too Pure.

Man From Uranus, Wild Moogimals (Strange Lights) 7"
In the kind of world where it's possible to play a gig to a paying audience by standing in front of a turntable, a Theremin, a collection of boxes competing for the Most Switches And/Or Dials On A Box trophy and enough cables to rig out a Portuguese Man'o'war, the Man From Uranus would do well. But that's not good enough for this interplanetary traveller. He has to go one more. Up to 11, figuratively speaking. He plays gigs to a paying audience by standing in front of a turntable, a Theremin, a collection of boxes competing for the Most Switches And/Or Dials On A Box trophy and enough cables to rig out a Portuguese Man'o'war, sure, but wearing a pair of children's wellington boots. On his hands.

He released a 70-track debut album (or was it 100 tracks? Or 1000?) I honestly did listen to it. All the way through. It was like sticking your head into an audio kaleidoscope being turned by an anxious St Vitus' Dance sufferer. This Strange Lights 7" is less frenetic but still manages to force 8 tunes onto the black wax. Tunes in a pretty loose sense, some would say. Tunes in a sometimes strange sense, I'll admit. Tunes formed from the mind's desire to make order in some cases. But tunes nonetheless. Tunes conjured out of electronic manipulation and translation. The pick of these moogimals? Satellite Link to Sun Ra and Wild Animals Ate My Mother both marry data transmission and confusion.

The Strange Sounds Orchestra, Strange Sense of Liberty (Static Caravan) 7"
Ironically, given that this is a companion to Mark Brend's excellent Strange Sounds book on unusual instruments in pop music, this is not pop music. Also ironically, given that the book observes that today's pop music is sonically extremely adventurous in terms of what sounds are considered acceptable to sample as instruments, this is not sonically adventurous or even slightly strange. What it is is a wonderfully warm instrumental from the Stereolab top drawer played entirely on real, if unusual, instruments like mountain dulcimer, test oscillator, kalimba and omnichord.

Keith John Adams, This Is A Six Track EP (Kabuikore) 7"
Keith wants to know your inconsequential thoughts. He loves you. He tells you this in the form of a song that lurches like a one-legged man with a broken leg, that clatters like a one-man band with attention deficit disorder and a toy xylophone, that's delivered like a one-track mind with an important piece of information to impart. Keith is a pocket Cardiacs and he's infatuated with you. I'd find that a tough combination to resist.

Specs One, The Long Awaited Mega EP (Soultheft) 12"
Uncomplicated hip hop (the best kind) at a nice lazy pace with some nice lazy wordplay ("I like pot/ Obvious, is it not?") and a sense of humour. Unusual jerks Tom Jones into a beat, turning It's Not Unusual around, braggadocio without the normal dick-clutching clichés.

Think-box CDR
A three-tracker over from Sweden clutching a scrap of paper that's a kind of press release written in the main in such good English that you've got to believe what it says is what it means. But try this: "Think-box .. got their shit together and started shitting gold" and "mixing a smooth cocktail of genres ..punk .. uncontrolled forms of blues, kraut country, soul etc." I don't know about you, but the fecal thing is a bit too circular to be pleasant, whatever scrap of truth may be at its root. It doesn't do much for expectations of the reliability of the genre cocktail thing. Expectations are confirmed. This is not smooth and I don't detect much blues, country or soul, but Think-box do scratch out a punkrauty sound beloved of blokes with fringes, tight trousers and that dance where one leg bounces up and down while they stand on the spot and wish it was 1986 again.

The Hot Puppies, The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful (Fierce Panda) CDS
This band are superb and their first single was scarily brilliant. This next episode, while very good, is just too sophisticated. Yes, the smart lyrics from an arresting, yearning female voice; cinematic depth; grit and urgency are still there. But an 80's power-pop gloss oils the production where before was exciting murk, and the determination to sweep the listener along feels steely. ("How many sudden stops, harmonic twists and honeyed choruses can we load in?") Track two's almost repellent in its pursuit of pop blast-off, a queasy melange of key-changes and mood-switches with the tune secondary and the edges tamed. Even so, they've still got that hyper-real, romantic desperation vibe; when it works, as in Under The Crooked Moon and (most of) the title track, it packs a killer mink punch. (Greville Wizzard)

Cannonball Jane, Street Vernacular (Fortuna Pop) CD
Phil Spector meets the astral forces of the Velvet Underground high above the summer gulfs of NYC. They listen to the multi-ethnic music-bursts marinating the air and weave a luminous retro-future hiphop ghost noise out of the ether. There's spindly fuzz guitar, some seriously mouldy samples and keyboards (you can almost see the grimy keys being hit on an old PC), girl-group choirs and sparkling arpeggios. It dreams across the sky with home-baked breakbeats, rap and handclaps, and noise-washes worthy of prime Aphex. Bonus: the tunes are structured, engaging and grabby. (Greville Wizzard)

NosferatuD2, demo CD #3
I feel I'm turning into this band's unofficial PR and it's got to stop. If only they weren't so prolific. Only kidding - this is another unsettling, brilliant shock. It opens in coiled fury - no distortion, no pretensions, the super-tight rhythms pushing a razor-sharp weave of fast chords. How do they make something this bleached-out and simple sound so fresh, threatening almost? Mood pieces, twin-thump kickdrums and ratcheting intensity; frantic headbanging, but austere as a martial tattoo. Actually, with the crisp drumming and long spoken-word un-rap interludes, it's approaching tone poetry nowadays, in the best sense: "the Devil on one side and Phil Collins on the other…" They sound increasingly confident and marginally more smoothly-recorded, guitars less scratchy, drums fuller, vocals clearer and closer; but they haven't lost that cold, bracing snap. (Greville Wizzard)

The Mid Carson Coalition, Bring Me The Ashes, demo CD
I like this: over-excitable youth music that sounds like Iron Maiden trapped in a crack-fuelled video game. Flanges and brain-fried sounds ripple the guitars, and on As One they hit a huge unified pummel and weird scree that melds these disparate elements (hair metal and sonic extremism) in a truly impressive blast. Equally imposing is Set My Signet on the Biter, its stealthy beginning an atonal cats-cradle of guitar lines and wobbles - burst apart by robotic, barking guitar farts and math-rock bass. It's a weird mash-up, but obviously deliberate rather than amateur flailing - the sound of a band reaching for something new - getting it - losing it - then getting it back. They have youth, energy and perverse music on their side, so give 'em the goddam ashes.(Greville Wizzard)

Finlay, The Fall of Mary (Fortuna Pop) CD
I love this album so much it's taken me about two months to get round to writing about it, because I've been playing it all that time and couldn't stop. I really, really love this album. Which is rare. In fact there's not a lot I can say that doesn't seem trite and limp.

Here goes: it's the best, most hypnotic, moving, engaging, skewed, lo-fi, glittering, colourful, concise, inventive guitar record of 2006. Rad Wagon, Tread on Flowers Pt. 1, Mary IV, Hanging Crowd, Conan: The College Years, Phantasmagoria… It's like other experimental pop bands' greatest hits collections, as each of these songs is a stone-cold classic. In all seriousness, I'm speechless and with no hyperbole: you need to hear this. You need to hear it RIGHT NOW. (Greville Wizzard)

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