reviews may 2007

The Duds, Cucumber Mosaic Virus Rampages Through My Field (Banazan) CD
Let’s get one thing straight before you start thinking somebody’s paid somebody to write something gushingly sycophantic about somebody’s band. I love The Duds and I’d write about them crapping in a crisp bag if they recorded it. We only write about music that excites us in Robots and The Duds are such unique and perfectionist talents that if one day they did choose to shit into the Salt’n’Shake you can be sure that they’d have carefully researched the acoustic properties of the entire Walkers range, every Seabrook variety, pork scratchings from around the country (including independent butchers) and a selection of Pringles tubes not to mention modifying their diet to include either more or less fibre depending on the turd consistency required.

Cucumber Mosaic Virus is their debut album. It follows cold on the heels of their debut 12” EP and a handful of 7” singles under a variety of aliases the last of which probably came out two or three years ago. The title is the opening line of the track with the same name. The second line is “Fusarium wilt has caused a 65% decrease to my yield.” The chorus concerns plantains and changes with each repetition. It does not rhyme particularly well on any occasion. The first reason that I love The Duds is the way they are prepared to rule over language and subject matter with a rod of iron bent into an odd shape. You will not find trite sky/high/try/fly couplets on a Duds record. You may find a thesis on aspects of the European Union.

The music is the second reason that I love The Duds. It’s the slow and graceful balletic arc of a gigantic telescope revolving to catch the birth of a star cluster in some distant galaxy played out by layers of thin washes and bleep (What Do I Have To Get Up For?) Then it’s the 80s pop electro of Statutory Sector, an astonishingly beguiling mix of Christmas single, frightening treated vocal inserts, bits that fell off Peter Gabriel’s weaker material and the Human League’s beatbox. Or it’s just Dan and a guitar. If I said there were a million ideas on this record I’d be underestimating by some margin. And those million ideas wouldn’t just be samples jammed together in Cubase with a layer of irony. No, The Duds take a couple of hundred of those ideas and caress and cajole and corral them into one coherent concept, one glorious whole, one 3-minute tune, one minor masterpiece. And then they do it again. That’s the second reason I love The Duds.

You’d think that might be it – the music and the lyrics – but like Jimmy Cricket said, there’s more. I love the sleeves, the medieval grotesques and the three-legged dog. I love the song titles: Lytton Strachey, Harsh Barton, Sultry Summer Nights (at the European Court of Human Rights.) I love Dan’s singing voice, part can’t-sing, part wont-sing and part must-sing. He’s got the sense of his own tune Syd Barrett had, the same obvious Englishness. I love the name and the attitude – self-deprecating and surely self-defeating – and I love the fact that there’s no filler, no slack, nothing that’s here to make up the numbers. I love The Duds unreservedly and for all the right reasons.

Oh, yeah, and there was a tenner in the CD they sent.

Deadburger, C’e ancora vita su marte (Goodfellas) CD
There is still life on Mars according to Deadburger. That’s as maybe and perhaps we’d know if only the Beagle 2 lander hadn’t hurtled into the surface of the planet like a fly into the windscreen of an articulated lorry. But we don’t need expensive space vehicles made by men with massive mutton chops and soundtracked by Blur to make this assertion: there is still life in rock music.

Deadburger are Italians with a mission to fuse rock and electronics. The press blurb says “the idea is to use electronics like a virus, which changes the DNA of the other instruments.” That’s as maybe and perhaps we’d know if only we had the slightest idea what it might mean. But we don’t need nonsensical semi-scientific hocus-pocus to make this statement: Deadburger – like Deerhoof – take something that might’ve started off something like a rock song and manipulate it to make something that ends up something like something it’d be hard for someone to play in real life. Unless they were from Mars, perhaps.

The Reverse, Shutterspeed (Run Out) CDS
Thouands of bands must have been influenced by The Smiths. Thousands. I’ve probably listened to most of their demos. They were shit. The Reverse’s press release mentioned Morrisey as an influence. The presence of Morrisey looms large over Shutterspeed. Fortunately it is not shit. It is very much not shit. In fact it is very good especially when, about halfway through, it leaps to its feet and.turns into a pumping version of dreamy indie from the time when cardigans were de rigeur at student nights.

J Marinelli, Keep It Fake (A New Morning) CD
One man bands don’t usually sound like this. I can’t see Marinelli’s cover of Lily The Pink on this CD and if he’s got cymbals strapped to his knees he’s doing an admirable job of restraining himself from using them. What he does seem to be doing is standing in the wreckage of a trapset, stamping on the bass drum, wrangling jagged lines out of his guitar and making like Billy Bragg channelling Mark E Smith through a mic that’s seen better days.

Elks, Wide Avenues CDS
It’s easy to say Radiohead but it’s clear that Elks have heard some mid-era ‘Head. It’s easy to say Tortoise and I’d be surprised if they haven’t supped from that particular cup, although less so. It’s easy to say these things but it’s not easy to make something as nice as this after just hearing. The b-side, Bells, adds a touch too much to the mix – dare I say Placebo? – and is best avoided.

The Artificial Sea, City Island (Travelling Music) CD
A Brooklyn two-piece made up of Kevin (instruments) and Alina (lyrics and singing) with an album that would probably do the business for fans of Bjork’s earlier stuff, especially if they were open-minded about her Sugarcubes past. So it’s beats, and the beats soften the impact of the electronics going on in the background and the beats provide the anchor for Alina’s gorgeous and otherworldly vocals. Pop-Off Tuesday do the same kind of thing but a notch or two further down the scale towards the Cocteau Twins.

Emily Hay Brad Dutz Wayne Peet, Emily Hay Brad Dutz Wayne Peet (pfMentum) CD
Improvised on flute, percussion and keyboards/theremin respectively, there’s a real fresh jazz on this trio’s album. I’ve got no idea how it was recorded. They could have been on opposite sides of the world for all I know, but it sounds like they were in a confined space, eyeballing each other, getting off on the sounds they were making. It sounds like it could have been made in the time it takes to listen to it. It sounds like it could have come from a tiny stage on a field in the 1970s. It sounds like it could have been made yesterday.

Lords of Bastard, Off With Their Heads (SL) CD
It’s what happens when you take Toni Iommi’s monstrous riffs and drag them ooooooouuuuuutttt. (That’s a good thing.)

The Panacea Society, We Don’t Dig Doom (Dogfingers) CD
Andre Stitt, Tour Blog (Trace: Samizdat)
Three years ago The Panacea Society released a 10” single purportedly inspired by the discovery of a couple of reel-to-reel tapes by Bedford 60s psyche band Panacea at a boot sale. One side was the demos. The other side was remixes by The Panacea Society. We said it was a good story. We also said it was a good record.

It was both. The story was cooked up by Andre Stitt, a performance artist working in Bedford at the time. The record was made by Stitt and Matt Cook of the TRACE Gallery in Cardiff. The Panacea Society are now releasing an album – without the pretence this time – and last year toured the US. The album is We Don’t Dig Doom. Tour Blog is Stitt’s collected web log writings from the tour.

Even without the story, the new record is also a good record, especially where there’s both electro and the prog/psyche. Pimps and Holes has a rave heart and a slow garage heartbeat but Psychedelic Lunchbox is the one I’m going back to again and again. It sounds like something The Black Dog might’ve cracked off in one long and hazy night. Early in the morning he nipped out for some milk and tripped over a dew-soaked tramp sleeping it off on his doorstep. He stuck a mic under the tramp’s nose. Instant mumbled vocal. Stitt’s Tour Blog is less successful. Read day-by-day, in real time, a bit at a time, as an ongoing dialogue from Stitt to his friends and fans it’d definitely work. As a companion to the CD it about justifies itself. As a book in its own right it needs some serious editing but is still almost worth having for the photo of Stitt and Cook trying to hitch a ride with a flying saucer in Seattle.

Corbi Wright, All The Little Ways / Delphine Dora, Blablabla (both Abaton Book Company) both CD
Proof once again that in simplicity there is power. Simply voice and guitar or voice and piano, recorded simply. Powerful and affecting. Corbi Wright’s voice shrinks your world down to a tiny bubble with you at the centre and everything outside dark. Kate Bush, they say. And then some.

Delphine Dora could also be described as simple, or simply staggering. Like Marianne Nowottny – also on Abaton – there’s an astonishing depth and beauty in her songs, songs that initially seem to be nothing more than rudimentary recordings of rudimentary piano and singing. Then you realise that you can’t understand a word she’s saying, although you empathise intuitively. The 19 tracks here are all untitles. The lyrics are in her “own private langage.”

Various, Putumayo World Party (Putumayo) CD
Sometimes things are just as obvious as they seem to be. A record of party music from around the world on the Putumayo label. Putumayo World Party.  Obvious. Zouk, reggae, ska, zydeco and salsa from unlikely locations such as Italy, Denmark and Canada and likely ones such as Jamaica and Ghana. Best-known on here are probably Osibisa with Sunshine Day and Burning Spear with a newish one, Walk. Surprise hit of the bunch is the smooth ska of Los Pinguos from Argentina.

Frances Charlotte, Emerald (Tangled) CD
Closets is the pick of these six tunes. It’s bedded on an acoustic guitar riff, a short edgy sequence of chords, or maybe non-chords, I’m no musician, that doesn’t seem somehow quite right when each chord is being played but somehow is exactly right when they change. Frances’ vocal leaps above the riff. She’s got enunciation that’s Bjorkish in that it doesn’t somehow seem quite normal while being exactly right for the song and perfect in its clarity. I struggled for ages to think what Frances reminds me of. Then I got it: Saint Joan (

Yucatan, Yucatan (Slacyr) CD
If I wanted to fill my mind with space (not that there’s not already a lot of room in there) I’d slap this on and close my eyes. It seems to have been recorded before a long, flat, distant and low horizon, undisturbed by geographical feature and overwhelmed and dwarfed by a gigantic sky. Painters go to Provence to find it, to trip in the light fantastic. Dilwyn Llywd has clearly found the sonic equivalent in Catalonia and Iceland. Breathtakingly epic rock (in the non-stadium sense.)

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