reviews april 2001

Big Eyes, Clumsy Music (Pickled Egg) CD

Clumsy music? This is anything but. In a complete reversal of the titular accuracy of Big Eyes Songs, Clumsy Music deceives to flatter. James Green, the Big Eye, reckons that Clumsy Music is more grown-up than Big Eyes Songs which was naively short and sweet. Does that mean we should expect cynically long and sour?

It's certainly longer - about twice - but the basic template is the same; to take the very essence of a tune, the heart of the hook, wrap it in the merest wisps of gentle music and set it free on the breeze from your speakers. Green brings classical instruments and unusual arrangements to pop music (much like Robots.. faves Pale Boy) with the spirit early Wire had (innovation, minimalism) but without all that shouting. The Chattering Lady is slow gypsy folk, Samba Sedation more of a lazy brass seduction and Don’t Be Shy a weird fleeting nightmare that could be The Black Swan Network.

If there's any sourness here it's on my part. Just as a book of short stories never quite sates the reader's curiosity, so Clumsy Music leaves the listener wanting more, unsatisfied by the teasing beauty of the tunes. That's not clumsy, that's a great skill.

100 Pets, Easter Songs (Pickled Egg) CD

Thirty releases in and Pickled Egg is still struggling to find a consistent sound. Excellent! Where consistency is vital, it's evident: quality and commitment to spiky outgrowths of pop music. Easter Songs is the latest in a line of records that teleport in from a world in which Brian Wilson rents out the lock-up garage where Pet Sounds was recorded. When Pickled Egg bands turn up, he sprinkles them with his genius dust and then sits behind his piano smiling while they get on with it. 100 Pets recorded ten tracks of Low drama with the exceptional clarity of a Steve Albini production and the impression that this is the ghost of a Galaxie 500 record. Brian Wilson just smiled.

22 Metre Band, Summer in Rowley Fields (AFD) CD

Records boasting a shed solo are scarcer than episodes of Ground Force without gratuitous nipple action. But although it was recorded at Rowley Fields allotments, and despite the garden tool content, its unlikely that Charlie Dimmock would find much to enjoy here. The difficult third album from Neil Brown and his shady Belgian cohorts is like the previous two albums. (Difficult.) Once again, Summer.. is a mighty compendium of audio detritus and Brown a mentalist Womble avidly stalking past the rickety greenhouses, the runner bean frames, the abandoned supermarket trolleys and the oil drum bonfires in pursuit of another scrap (of) sample. All the while, his mind works feverishly on the sonic environment around him and the possible justifications for his recycling tendencies. Such phrases as "The lawnmower solos represent the application of technology for its most noble purpose - to provide food," "The rusty iron sheet.. represents the tranquility of horticulture," "F1 Hybrid was inspired by the traditional breeding processes used to create enormous vegetables" and "highly amplified squelching mud is layered.. to produce a sound similar to that made by a frog some 2.5 metres in height."

Now I'm no Raj Persaud but it's my opinion that the man-womble is not carrying the full load, if you get my drift. The music is similarly impaired: like tuning an AM radio that's somehow picking up transmissions from Planet Nutcase, Planet Freakbeat and Gardener's World all at the same time.

3 Japanese and One Chinese Friendee, How to Cook Sushi-Wook (Promenade) 7"

I am not giving the sleeve my full attention. I am tired. I pick up the single and notice that the first track on side two is Hello Kitty. I am expecting Shonen Knife cutsiness and cartoon bubblegum. I am very, very, very wrong. I must be punished. By the time Sayonara Motherfucker knees me in the bollocks I am suitably repentant. I may be allowed to listen again.. if I dare.

3J+1CF (or, as I'm calling them, Your Majesties) make a gloriously foul noise. A noise that pushes all the same killer buttons as Silverfish used to, only at 3 times the speed. There are 10 tracks on this 7", a mixture of shambolic, screeching Beefheart punk and shambolic, screeching Beefheart kineticore. It's Bikini Kill gone kindergarten ("You only think about dollars.. Pokemoney!") and irrationally fantastic. or or Osterlanggatan 65, 3tr, S-503 37 Boras, Sweden

Echo Is Your Love, Sheets Of Blank Fucking Paper (Kylie) CD

If Slint had been boiled alive and then heavily salted they might have sounded something like Echo Is Your Love at their most sedate. But probably not as scalding or intense and almost certainly not as gruesomely tense. The pandemonium spirit of tracks like In My Body Dark Hollow comes from the sense that the band are a bunch of Bedlam residents gone AWOL with a large supply of prescription medication. Likewise Not So Cool Popstars For Hire On The Spot where the inmates tear a couple of pages from the Warser Gate manual on Beefheart destruction and use them to wipe their arses. Astonishing.

Brazen Hussies, Demo CDR

"A bit more dissipated" the note said about the new CD. A strange way to describe music, I thought, as I thumbed through the dictionary to see just what sense of dissipated Dave might have been using: dissident.. dissimilar.. dissipate: v intr & tr come to nothing. Doh! In fairness, the last Brazen Hussies CD was recorded in a washing machine on spin and this new one is infinitely clearer. In fact, when it gets into its Sabbath groove (on Shit My Pants) it's also infinitely better.

The Inflatable Men, Machine Age Romance (Diver City) CD

The Human League, Devo, Depeche Mode (the early days) and the boys from Bis. A hellish combination in the wrong hands and hard to pull off even by the most skilled synth surgeons. Luckily for us The Inflatable Men are mightily skilled and have crafted a disc of dated beauty from the simple materials at their disposal. I wanted to do a joke about them blowing up, do you think it would be too cheesy?

Burnt Friedman, Plays Love Songs (nonplace) CD

Burnt Friedman plays love songs but, as Erasure once tellingly sang, who needs love like that? Anybody would enjoy being serenaded to a mellow electronic groove, but not if the words went "sex is not right/ sex is not right." And only a sado-masochist or a medico-fetishist would want to listen to a monologue entitled Tongs Of Love while they're trying to get it on. Or in. It might have been a Fucking Long Time since you last got it up, but do you really want to be constantly reminded of the fact? As for It Hurts! Well, draw your own conclusions.

But Friedman's concern has never been ease of listening. His records with the Nu Dub Players are superficially slender and digestible without effort at first glance. But take another, closer, look and the full complexity, the fractal details in every beat are there to be worked out. Here, on material recorded at various locations over the last four years, he's reduced the emphasis on Cologne dub in favour of electro and occasionally jazz, but he still revels in the microscopic, and that's the love on this records - Friedman's passion and devotion to the minimal.

Various, No Watches, No Maps (Fat Cat) CD

This is a public service announcement: Fat Cat are providing solace for the under-appreciated bedroom glitch hounds, the sampler fiends, the drill'n'bass engineers and other similarly disenfranchised, and unreleased, techno heads. If you seek the release of your electronic opus of tribute to Air France in 17 parts on 8-inch vinyl through a Czechoslovakian record label which goes bust immediately afterwards; if you yearn to join trendily-bearded cliques which are so insular that even the members can't be sure they're really in the in-crowd; or if you have a collection of pseudonyms the size of a small provincial town's telephone directory, then this is the place for you. The compilation collects together tracks from the thousands of unsolicited demo tapes, CDRs, MDs, DATs and MP3s that arrived at the Plump Pussy HQ and were rated highly but, due to finances being tight, couldn't be taken any further. Visit the Fat Cat website ( to find out how you could be next.

Reuben, Pilot (Badmusic) CDS

So grunge didn't die after all, it just festered somewhere near Guildford for a decade. Picking up where Stony Sleep would've liked to have left off, Reuben add in a hefty and unwelcome dose of Vedderism on the slower songs and thus only really score on the hidden track, Shambles. Here they strip down, speed up, drop in a piano and transcend their influences. Expect better next time.

Oltretomba, Saltatio Imaginum In Meis Tenebris (Slaughter) CD

It was elementary, my dear Watson. The single foot-long strand of jet-black hair trapped under the sellotape binding the package in which the disc arrived aroused my suspicion. The photocopied sleeve, with its blacker-than-black background, bone sculptures and Latin script was highly suggestive and the clincher was the wordy, pretentious press release ("Oltretomba is an extreme project of visual music"): Gothic. Its fate was sealed. I sent a runner to Scotland Yard.

But you know me, Watson, I could not live with myself if I dismissed out of hand even a struggling goth. Why kick a man when he is down? Accepting that it might be a long afternoon, I settled into my chair with a pipe and The Times. The pieces on the compact disc are strangely combined into one long track and, initially at least, only the ambience of a graveyard can be gleaned from even exerted listening. After a duration of 12 minutes, a Hammer House of Horror Wurlitzer appears and proceeds to vamp in a most ungentlemanly manner. A further ten minutes of nearly silence passes until an uncouth navvy with a piece of steel is slowly dissolved in a bath of strong acid. I ceased listening at this point, it being teatime.

Watson, this is not the greatest record ever made. But it is ideal for those times when one has returned from an evening of opiate inhalation and has not the energy to string one's own violin. If television had been invented, then I should do no more than listen to this recording whilst watching late-night television with the sound off.

Blind Eye View, Room 14 CDR

Perhaps I was being stupid but I thought the MP3 clip on Blind Eye View's site web site was the whole song. At 30 seconds, their snappy punk pop is a real blast but stretched out to 4 minutes on their demo the point is very much lost. Think how much better Ash were when they raced through Jack Names The Planets than they are now - or have been since they started writing "proper," longer songs. If Blind Eye View can run the Ash trajectory in reverse we're in for a good time. 27 Willow Drive, Banbridge, Co. Down, BT32 4RF

Ladytron, Play Girl (Invicta Hi Fi) CDS

The light to Gary Numan's overly theatrical and stiff-necked dark. The same base elements, 2-note synth bass, simple programmed drum patterns and simple songs, but full of shiny light and proto-Human League tunesmithery. Shades of Stereolab and Tomorrow's World demonstrations of the coming glories of 1979 complete the picture. Commodore Rock, the b-side, is a frantic update of any number of C64 game soundtracks, all blocky beats and that mysterious addictiveness.

Muslimgauze, Abu-Dis (DOR) CD

To call this a collection of remixes would be an insult to their master architect, Bryn Jones. The tracks here, from Talvin Singh, Bill Laswell, Luke Vibert and Moondogg amongst others, are stripped down and rebuilt from the chassis up. It's a Cosworth makeover of your standard Ford Escort, without the pointless aerofoil or go-faster stripes. The really remarkable thing is the continuity across the mixes and the way that, as usual, Muslimgauze wrings enough minimal changes from his jarrring beats to make the repetition somehow less repetitive. The tiny fragments of melody that hang from the angular rhythm are perfect in their economy and even the scratches and buzzes that sound like audio leads being plugged in seem to have their place.

Melodiegroup, Raincoat EP (Matinee) CDS

I often wish I could distil and bottle whatever it is that separates the good from the bad. Why do some apologetic fey boys make me want to puke and some leave me beaming? The Groove Farm were only an indie pop band, but I liked it, and Melodiegroup, despite the krautish name, are another on the side of the angels. Pastels, Wedding Present and 1986 are all here along with charm and chiming brilliance. MagicRobot, for reasons other than the obvious, is the pick of the four.

The Visitors, Miss (Matinee) CD

Miss, that is as opposed to Hit. In the Jukebox Jury that is fate and the geographical lottery that placed Sidmouth quite so far away from London, The Visitors missed out. Their obvious love of The Jam, their affinity with The Smiths and nods to liner-note heroes Aztec Camera, The June Brides and McCarthy all shine through this retrospective compilation fully 15 years after most of the tracks were recorded.

Empty Vessels, Demo #2 TAPE

"This is an attempt to find our more polished, accessible side" runs the accompanying letter. "We're all going to die, die, die, die" run the lyrics, "don't tell the kids, now!" The last Empty Vessels demo sounded like The Fall during the late 90s, this one sounds like a poor Jim Morrison impersonator enjoying a night of narcotic-powered disco and Beefheart funk. Polished? After a fashion. Accessible? Well if you see them on Top Of The Pops performing Death Day any time in the near future, I'll eat my hat.

Kid 606, Down With The Scene (Ipecac) CD

Is it the rallying cry for a new generation of computer-punk revolutionaries or the self-satisfied glow of being part of the gang? Down With The Scene, it could go either way.

On the plus side, the punk side, the Kid obviously takes great pleasure in inflicting sampler torture on a snippets of the great and the good. Just as three chords were enough in 1977, so any combination of filters, hardware patches and poor-quality audio cabling will do today. And some astonishing tracks can come out of it. GQ On The EQ is a headfuck of transistor whine, machine gun beats and twisted electro while It’ll Take Millions In Plastic Surgery To Make Me Black turns up a neat line in bootlegged porno disco which segues into the glitch beat techno of Dame Nature.

On the minus side, the smug side, the Kid obviously suffers from much the same problem as Atari Teenage Riot, the rest of the DHR crowd and their contemporaries. Once you've stuck your virtual cock into every orifice of a sample twice, once you've perverted a sound beyond recognisability and fidelity, once you've spliced enough random beats into a torrent of noise and destroyed your equipment, where do you go? And if you do all of the above on every track, where's the sense of anticipation? Admittedly, Kid 606 has a good range and a grasp of subtlety that Alec Empire distinctly lacks (as ATR, anyway) but essentially the same problem yields essentially the same result: 17 tracks of pummelling eventually turn into one long pummel.

But that's not to say this is worthless. Far from it, this is fantastic - but only in small doses. Stick to singles, Kid, and you'll go a long way.

The Lone Pigeon, Touched By Tomoko (Bad Jazz) 7"

While the rest of the Beta Band were smothered in critical acclaim for making the self-styled worst record in history, founding member Graham Anderson was smothered in nothing but tangled layers of wispy imagination and otherly music. After leaving the Betas for health reasons, Anderson went all Skip Spence and recorded a mass of weirdly captivating songs and semi-songs as The Lone Pigeon. Touched By Tomoko offers up five exceptional examples. Summertime Beeswing transports you to St Albans in the 60s when Donovan and his merrye band of followers were redefining folk music; Empty Town is a snippet of something San Franciscan and Old Mind Of Man is The Beatles playing junkyard skiffle at the bottom of a mine shaft

Kirk Lake, Read Less Books (Victory Garden) TAPE

Sit in the same place long enough and the whole world will pass by you, as a lazy philosopher once said. Stand behind the counter in a west London record shop long enough and you'll start playing Regulars Pontoon to pass the time, as Kirk Lake once said. Twist and you might get The Man From Eldorado, Inside-Out Bag Man, Bob Dylan's Bandana, The Yorkshire Ripper, James Taylor's Dad, One Arm or Small Cock. Stick and the arrival of The Erotic Dustman would've given you 21. The soundtrack is provided by Roy Montgomery.

PS I Love You, Heart Of Stone (Rocket Girl) CD

Amateur psychologists would have no difficulty in recognising that David Lee Muscles is an obsessive. Anybody cogent enough to read Muscles' name would guess that all is not well upstairs and Martians encountering Where The Fuck Is Kevin Shields? seconds after landing on Earth would jump straight back into their rocket and head home. Heart Of Stone is a record of Muscles' musical stalkings of Kevin Shields, Anna Kournikova, John, Paul, George and Ringo, the 60s throwback with "camel toe," New York and Amsterdam. Muscles doesn't hold back in his outpourings of distant, tortured devotion and finds it hard to separate fantasy and reality ("I saw you on the BBC, don't you remember me?") In the same way, he can't divide his love for The Beatles, The House of Love, Spaceman 3 and Neil Young. No less moving, but considerably easier on the ear, than Daniel Johnston.

Various Artists, Roots of Dub Funk (Tanty) CD

The Dub Funk Association and friends tease yet more variations from the perennially flexible huge bass line, skanking guitar and echo chamber. Some, such as Alpha and Omega, stick to the original Jamaican formula while others, like The Interruptor, are prepared to add a dash of breakbeat and the odd acid squelch. One to share with your grandad.


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