reviews december 1999

Dating Godot, Wind machines/Night porters (Delirious) both CD

There's a sub-clause in the zine-writers' contract, after the strict conditions regarding the uncritical treatments of Heavenly and Belle and Sebastian, naturally, which says that when reviewing a band from New Zealand either or both of the Chills and the Tall Dwarfs must be mentioned, referenced, recalled or at the bare minimum alluded to. Obligations are fulfilled in this instance by noting that Andrew Spittle---the man behind Dating Godot---records, like Tall Dwarfs main man Chris Knox, as a preference at home on his portastudio. Musically, he's something of an acquired taste, though. Despite lashing luxurious amounts of Husker Du frill in the form of Bob Mould fuzz and minimalist leads across his tunes, Spittle never seems to find a chorus to match. Instead, he plugs the gaps with a variety of slightly-skewed arrangements and unexpected right angles. "36 pounder demi canon" involves half-spoken vocals reminiscent of Gerard Langley's Blue Aeroplanes in their prime and even toes the pop line but can't quite bring itself to take that final step. "What am I into?" sounds like it could've been an out-take from "Zen arcade," mostly aggro-instrumental with occasional unfathomable words buried deep in the maelstrom. On "Night porters" "Reunion" is a terse, tense Nick Cave-ish drawl which ends with a strangely upbeat "Taxi" theme deconstructed by anxious synths and "Impermanence" fuses some of Daniel Johnston's wired paranoiac vocals with coconut clip-clop percussion. 17 Pioneer Crescent, Helensburgh, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Lali Puna, The safe side (K-raa-k) 7"

Surfing the same Neu! wave as Printed Circuit, Lali Puna graft simplistic uni-digit synth lines onto a rattling breakbeat, add a fragment of song and leg it over the pop horizon. Pick of the three here is "Everywhere and allover" which adds an almost timid edge to the whole shebang and thus creates naivete appeal. Leliestraat 35, 8210 Zedelgen, Belgium

Teach me Tiger, Chad and Emma/How can I stop loving u? pt 2 (Fantastic/Motorway) both 7"

Boy:girl, clear:confused, stylish:scruffy; oppositions that minimally describe the sleeves and with the addition of 50s:60s you've got the music as well. "Chad and Emma" confuses first because the names on the sleeve bear no resemblance to the tracks on the disc, there being two of one and three of the other. "Remember me, remember u" is a nursery rhyme Velvets scratching out various Western themes and "King of the road" from drug-addled memory having only heard them on the radio once 5 years before and "Bedroom dub" is exactly what the title promises; a spacious 4-track production that's a little Pablo and more than a little "Giant steps"-era Boo Radleys.

"How can I stop loving u? pt 2" wraps the Righteous Brothers in a fug of warm nostalgia and reverb, drops out into a bizarre shuffle break that wouldn't be out of place on a dub remix of Eric B and Rakim's "Paid in full" and then reprises the Brothers with country slide guitar. On the other side, "Missed u at the zoo" pairs a jazz-riffing double bass with bulging timpanic beats and buried melody to create a metronomic Tank-like treat. There is truly some warped genius at work on these records and fans of Pop Off Tuesday especially should check them out ASAP. Fantastic, PO Box 5935, Kansas City, MO 64171, USA Motorway, 3-2-18 Shioyak Ichikawa Chiba 2720114, Japan

My Legendary Girlfriend, Creosound EP (Short Fuse) 7"

My Legendary Girlfriend have got something of a multiple personality thing going on here. In fact, there's so much crammed in that My Legendary Harem might be closer to the mark. Lead, and justifiably so, track, "A kidnapper's lament," starts off with a fragment of Orbital's "The box" with squealing wheels then fast-cuts between sci-fi theremin, speed ska and the crashing chords of some big rock music sung like pasty indie boys. It dubs out in a shimmering Ozric haze for a swift half in lieu of a middle-8 followed by chorus x2 and end. It's a Frankenstein's monster and by all rights should sound abysmal but the jolt of electricity needed to get the thing off the slab gets it up and shaking like a good 'un. 42 Seymour Rd, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 5EF

Lincoln, More than a saviour (Narwhal) 7"

The last resort of the morose is always country music. Despite all the glitz and showbiz flim-flam that's currently glossing a superficial veneer of happiness over the surface under the banner of New Country or Country Crossover, the lifeblood of the music will always be rejection and dejection. Lincoln know this well and emphasise it by lavishing mournful violin and cello around these two beautiful Palace-paced heartstring-tuggers that won't leave a dry eye in the house. PO Box 16313, London, N16 0WG

The Mooseheart Faith Stellar Groove Band/Nimbus 2000, split (Oggum) 7"

Trippy psychedelia from Mooseheart Faith, but not so trippy that it ever strays far from a completely pop blueprint. "The face on Mars" could've been recorded in '67, laden as it is with echo, shimmer and fuzz, cracking along as it does at a fair lick, shortening as we all appreciate solos down to the bare carousel bones and ending as pop songs should within 3 minutes and ready to be played again. Nimbus 2000, on the other hand, sound like a ripple of synthesizer falling down a waterfall. On orange vinyl. PO Box 22, Lampeter, SA 48 8YD

The Magic Carpathians/Nimbus 2000, split (Oggum) 7"

The Magic Carpathians appear to be the wild woman of Warsaw rattling cutlery in the necks of several milk bottles, shaking a box of matches and gruffly quiet-shouting while someone 3 doors down starts playing guitar and walking towards the microphone. Halfway through he arrives and picking joins the muffled drone as he accompanies the wild woman in her chants for a while then steps aside to let an elephant trumpet to the climax over coffee shop clatter. "Ethnocore deathfolk splurge from Poland" it says here and I find it hard to dispute the claim although if pushed I'd describe it as "Zappa's grandparents." Nimbus 2000 seem surprised to find themselves the straight man in this pairing but support well by doing little more than bleeding a fairy tale reading into Jarre-ing pulses that themselves give way to the sound of a piano being played in a cavern. Purple vinyl. PO Box 22, Lampeter, SA 48 8YD

Guided By Voices, Do The Collapse (Creation) CD

He's still here. Yes, umpteen records in, Bob Pollard is still making his rock and roll nursery rhymes set to some weird take on British invasion pop. And this time someone let him spend some fairly serious money producing a set of songs polished to an unusual shine. The question you have to ask is, need he have bothered with the elbow grease? Well, yes and no are the answers that spring immediately to mind. What sticks in the teeth with this record is that these songs are really not much different to those he was writing five years ago. If anything, they've just become more insipid. With a pot of cash, some time and the freedom to direct yet another new band, you would hope that Pollard would realise some new grandiose visions, tell some taller tales, and drag us to headier heights. Instead, being the contrary Bob that he is, he comes up with his own take on the old rock sound and just casts out the 'usual' kind of GBV songs in a different odd light, with a few bells and whistles for good measure. Which means, for the uninitiated, bizarre indie guitar pop cum rock and roll, built on abstract lyrical tales and almost Beatles-esque simple melodies. Anyway, the net result of the current approach is that Bob does nothing new for the world of music. It starts with some promise, as "Teenage FBI" lends some angularity and synth warbles to the usual blueprint and a ditty about not being yourself when feeling examined. After that it pretty much reverts to type, but sounding cleaner and slightly tired song ideas. A lot of it sounds like he might have written in it in his sleep, and the lyrics seem to be aiming for some kind of po-faced youthful angst, when they're not being just too wilfully oblique. The only truly different song is a plaintive Britpop style ballad, "Hold On Hope" which is expertly done but, with it's stuck on strings, pretty pointless except to say, "Hey, I can write pop songs you know." It's not all bad though and, such is the eminent listenability of a set of Pollard compositions, you can still listen and get no small enjoyment. The sad thing is that I'd rather listen to Bee Thousand, which is similar but five times more vital i.e. great, not merely good. Unfortunately it's 6 years old and I'm still waiting for Bob to stop being lazy and do something amazing with his obvious talent, instead of writing merely competent records while he's sleeping. (Drew)

Wheat, Hope and Adams (Sugar Free/City Slang) CD

This is a beautiful record. It's hard to pin down exactly what makes you want to keep pushing play on the CD player, but Wheat have made a set of songs that reaches out and strikes some weird chord on those heart strings. It would be easy to use words like "artless", but it's perhaps fairer to say that this sounds like a document of someone's musical dream---the music being insanely familiar and fittingly difficult to describe. The songs feel easy, but belie a careful construction that succeeds in making melodic intricacies sound simple. No small part of this soothing characteristic is a magnificent sound, which brings forth the yearning and gentle tension underneath the languid drifting of the easy guitars and plaintive vocals. On tracks like "Don't I Hold You" the effect is utterly stunning, as the vocal begs for love over a stumbling rhythm and gentle melody before the sore-sounding lead guitar strikes straight for the heart. Other highlights include "Who's The One", with a soaring questioning vocal interplay interwoven to searching stop-start melodies, and "Off The Pedestal" with its almost whispered vocal skating over a shimmering melody that grows in volume and density through the song to an ending that feels like a release. Having said that, it's perhaps unfair to pick out highlights---the point really seems to be that it's a slice of music that pretends to be just moving along past you but all the while tugs at your attention as it runs its course. The sound of a spacey summer feel that is inexplicably bound to soundtrack your long winter nights, especially if they're spent alone. (Drew)

Unit, Glazed (TLM) CDS

"Glazed" itself gives a swift Australian industrial bludgeoning to half a shrill Sparks pop song but better is "4 chords in 3 minutes" which is so fast it actually only lasts for 150 seconds. It does seem to consist of the advertised 4 chords, though, and about a million assorted beats along with chattering monkey guitar squiggles that recall the juvenile delights of Gaye Bykers on Acid although without quite the bombastic over-enthusiasm.

Cheap Kojak, Hip replacement CDR

My abiding memory of Blue Peter as a child is Janet Ellis breaking her pelvis whilst training for a parachute jump and managing to shoehorn a mention of the injury into every feature she did for months afterwards: "..and here I am at the Lowestoft alligator sanctuary, only 150 miles from the place where I broke my pelvis, blah blah blah." I wouldn't be surprised to find that Cheap Kojak wrote her scripts during that period given the colourful ("chocolate flavour") pelvis on the sleeve and the band's boundless capacity for levering together incompatibilities in thoroughly unsubtle ways. "Hip replacement" is a varispeed zig-zag through the eclectic record collection of an attention-deficient alcoholic punster ("Alcypops now" anyone?) Coherency surfaces from the static, cut-ups and non-sequiturs in the form of "Freudian slip," an in-the-cups piano and regret meander, and "Hip hop hernia" which reveals tantalising glimpses of a violated pop song through the nonsense Manc poetry and dainty traces of tune. Cheap Kojak---I love ya, baby. Roxy, 119 Church Rd, St Annes on Sea, Lancs, FY8 3TG

Astroboy, Generation why (Ennui) TAPE

He covers a lot of ground, this Astroboy. He's probably got a jetpack or something to help him along. A battered one, old and no longer shiny, that hisses quietly in the background and looks like tinfoil-wrapped squeezy bottles with function-obscure leads and tubes sprouting out of, and disappearing into, unlikely folds and crevices. More tubes, with ribbing this time, coiling around, snaking loosely over and down, make the whole ensemble look like a kind of futuristic electro bagpipe kit gone wrong. Talking of futuristic electro bagpipes gone wrong, such an instrument was probably used in the making of this tape and could certainly conjure up the mighty churning drone peppered with spits and spurts of compressed metallic fizz that sounds like nothing less than a mutoid version of the Dr Who theme and goes by the name of "Gnosis." Elsewhere the pipes buzz, crackle, pop, recycle bland talk radio and redistribute fuzz with and without beats across an admirable range of bedroom pedal and 4-track manipulation. For this tape, and an Ennui catalogue, write to Ady, 12 Shafto Rd, Ipswich, Suffolk, 2PI 5HB

Dakota Oak, Pastures of plenty (Twisted Nerve) 10"

These 15 tracks are audio sketches of events, places, jokes, moods and memories of a trip David Tyack made to the United States last year. Perhaps calling them sketches is a little unkind, it's not as if this is a collection of incomplete, preliminary versions of some later finished articles or hurried aide memoires bereft of depth and detail. The songs are short, though, and relatively simplistic in construction and execution but there's never a lack of content in the grooves. It oozes out in the mini-kraut reiteration topped with tinkling streams of piano, the lamenting wail of a morose theremin, a wash of fuzz or a crackling breakbeat and the sound of a man displaying his mind.

State River Widening, State River Widening (Rocket Girl) CD

Some records make you draw the curtains. Well, that's a side effect really: some records make you throw such startling shapes as you cavort around the living room that, our of the fear your neighbours will mistake you for the chief speed taster for some local hoodlums, you pull the curtains to. "State River Widening" will not have this effect---unless you are the chief speed taster etc etc. In fact, it'll have the opposite effect, put this record on and you'll likely never open the curtains again and speed the rest of your life spreadeagled across the floor thinking about making a cuppa but deciding you can wait just a bit longer.

A three-piece, featuring one member of The Wisdom of Harry, SRW make ambivalent instrumental music. That's not to say that they don't care, rather that there's an underlying opposition, almost a contradiction, between lethargy and energy: the effort the band put in to making music so soporific yet vibrant and the listener's passive absorption of the same. It sounds like a favourite pair of leather slippers, comfortable and well-worn, but serving exactly the same purpose as the new, hard, man-made plastic ones your gran will get you for Christmas but you'll discard after a couple of days in favour of the familar. Pretty quiet, mostly acoustic, gentle and evocative, the curtains are shut and I haven't moved off the settee for a couple of days.

Justin Mikulka, Sequels and opposites (OneMadSon) CD

It's not a combination you hear a lot, acoustic guitar and distorted vocals, but Justin Mikulka, by adding a touch of artificial squareness to his voice, creates an interesting variation on the singer-songwriter thing. It's particularly effective when he doubletracks one clean and one android vocal, sung and spoken respectively, and just out of time making one a creepy prescient echo of the other. PO Box 295, Franklin Park, NJ 08823, USA

Kit Clayton, nek sanalet (Scape) CD

Dub, while underpinning the whole ethos of Kit Clayton's "nek sanalet" ("World of substance" as opposed to "World of spirits," a previous release), is also only a dropping off point for it. All dub protocols are observed on the record, but they are also stretched and twisted, refracted through a prism of electronics and reassembled with precision on the other side. Clayton's compositions are as crisp as the frost on a winter dawn, so clean, fresh and spare that you could almost slip through the gaps if you approached the speakers side-on, gliding with ease between the trace reggae elements (glacial skank, shimmering echoes and, obviously, the bass) and the assimilated electro, minimal techno and ambient noise which on tracks like "nia-ikala" grow into a sublime melange of Plastikman and a soothing Lee Perry dream.

Anjali, Sheer witchery (Wiiija) CD

More proof, were it needed that the breakbeat is to the 90's what the Buzzcocks riff was to the 80's. Where 10 years ago all was trebly guitars on hyperdrive at your local indie rock dive, now it's more likely to be a crate of vinyl and some snakebite-spilling beats. Ex-Voodoo Queen Anjali has resisted the temptation to go Breakbeat Cheeky (see Bentley Rhythm Ace, Jacknife Lee and, recently, Morgan), instead hewing slices of instrumental hip hop from a rich source, 9 of which----the singles (going steady) so far---are collected on this CD.

Jeremy Boyle, Songs from the guitar solos (Southern) CD

310 did a similar thing when they recycled prog behemoths on their "Prague rock ep" earlier in the year but where they scored over Boyle was that there were recognisable snippets of the source material to be spotted in the sample-heavy tracks. The deal is this---partly as a piss-take, partly for the ironic hell of it, partly out of academic interest and partly as a masochistic exercise, Jeremy Boyle decided to take samples from the indulgent guitar solos that invariably ruined otherwise (half) decent tracks in the 1970s and create new songs from them. An excellent idea and already the irony-ometer is rising. However, extracting only guitar from a track also containing bass and drums sticks a few hundred points on the masochism score and proceeding to turn the whole thing into a treated ambient glide that could've been composed from samples of mating frogs and my girlfriend's hairdryer rather makes you wonder quite what the point was again. Still, it's not at all unpleasant listening and the thought of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley or Ace Frehley hearing what sort of pansy-ass limpness has been conjured out of their testosterone-powered lumberings makes for an interesting 6 minutes, 39 seconds of "Kiss." Other artists featured: Van Halen, Sabbath, Hendrix, AC/DC and Led Zep.

Muslimgauze, Fakir sind (Soleilmoon) CD

Who would've thought that a couple of seagulls and hyper tabla playing would make one of the most uncompromising albums of the year? Bryn Jones, Muslimgauze, that's who, and he stretches essentially these two components to the limit of endurance and beyond on "Fakir sind," one of his many tapes still in the Soleilmoon vaults awaiting posthumous release. Enigmatic variations keep the emphasis shifting so that just when you're thinking he can't possibly go anywhere, the loop changes subtly, the timbre of the sampled calls shifts, the whole is imperceptibly altered and we're off again. At times it breaks down to skittering, hypnotic dub ("Let's have more dagga, beggum") while at others the sound is full, but full of exactly the same. "Fakir sind" is a study in shifting sonic texture and, unlike much of what passes for that kind of thing (either intentionally or not), it's absorbingly listenable too.

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