reviews december 2000

Mum & Dad, Castle Heights (Twisted Nerve) CDS

The closest my Mum and Dad have ever come to making a record is the frankly astonishing length of time they managed to keep the Indesit washing machine they bought 30 years ago running. ("You can swear by an Indesit, son.") This Mum & Dad are rather too ethereal to be much concerned with those mundanities of the diurnal existence: dirty underpants and spin speeds. The only cycles of interest to them are song cycles, specifically the three slowly gyrating stretches of electronic psychedelia linked by three sound-strewn washes that make up the new single. Castle Heights is Pram on strong drugs; 6 Week Holiday is Pram on very much stronger drugs played through a Top Of The Pops circa 1974 video effects box and Swinchiard is Pram during the quiet comedown on the following day.

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]

Various, Verweisung (Pig Dog) CD

Vok first released Vok 1-99 which consisted (they say, I haven't heard it) of 99 tracks of "all sorts of audio detritus." They then remixed this material for their own later releases. Next, with a zeal for recycling that could do wonders for the world were it reflected in the general population, they got a bunch of mates in to remix them again. Given the description of the source material, and with Pig Dog being that kind of label, and the artists featured including V/Vm, Bomb 20 and various of the NCR collective, the results were never going to be pretty. And they aren't. But they are pretty varied within the self-imposed constraints that noise must feature heavily and songs not at all.

In order, then, on disc one the highlights come from Useless Generation with an unrelenting breakbeat swathed in distortion; V/Vm who turn When The Saints Go Marching In into a celebration of Tony Wilson's death; Astroboy and his spiral scratch of key down the side of expensive sports car inside a large echo chamber; Quantum Cat's strange collision of odd C&W with a gruff Speak'n'Spell' and the self-explanatory industrial techno of Machinist Noise Assault's Monsters In Stereo. On disc two the winners are ENSC's Sound Science 3000 which is a tricky little stepper recorded in a cupboard by a mad drum machine operator and half a flute; Bomb 20's usual film-meets-distorted beats; the intensely seared white noise of Cock ESP and R2D2's nervous breakdown as recorded by Knifehandclap. 13 Parkgate Drive, Greatmoor, Stockport, Cheshire, SK2 7DL. www.listen.to/pigdog

Various, Esprit III Aspic Vols 4,5 (Aspic) both CD

The concluding two episodes of this series (but don't worry, 100FF to the address below will secure you 5 CDs of the same next year) feature once again the core Aspic crew and a selection of special guests. On both discs, Darky, Blue Baboon and Aspic (the band) conjure up their usual electronic manipulations. Darky's JSB 16.85-17.50 is the better of his pair, twisting Kraftwerk tones around a pulse and layering electro-harpsichord melody on top. Blue Baboon and Aspic team up for Impro 3 in which a timid, muted ping! snowballs into a choral drone and Star Trek treat on vol 5. Alone, Aspic offer a digital interpretation of snowflake formation high in the cold atmosphere. The pick of the special guests efforts, then: E202's El Gringo is a funky break cake with funky trumpet icing; Reynols slow the scream of a man plunging headlong down a lift shaft; Palm stutters through the first couple of pages of the krautrock handbook and The Guy Who Invented Fire drops rudimentary electro onto a 2-note bass line.

Volume 5 also offers, by way of a bonus, around 10 short films for viewing on your computer. Some of these are music videos that splice and cut as wilfully as the music (e.g. Darky) and some are extracts from larger technofear pieces (e.g. Wireless.) I have to declare an interest in one of them, but don't let that put you off.. 3 rue de la Convention, F-69100 Villeurbanne, France. www.zone51.com/aspic

The Balky Mule CDR

The sound of silence meets the sound of science here as The Balky Mule tickles empty space with the hints of treated found sound in 7 beguiling ways and without making a complete ass of himself. Opener, Station To, gently taps a snare drum from a distance while something small pitter-patters about and a whine slowly builds up. Asterion dubs everything out into a Fuxa chassis with no augmentation. s.a.mule@caramail.com

Various, Rawk is a Four-Letter Word (Short Fuse) CD

The idea is 2 tracks each by 4 bands, the bands being Los Planetos Del Agua, The Null Set, Reynolds and Unisex. Half of the material, it would be fair to say, is informed by exposure to Slint's Spiderland. The Null set are not. Their two tracks prefer insistent repetition to be faster, rather more ragged and sounding like it's being yelped out for the very first time there and then. Los Planetos' pair are noisy squalls of feedback onto which has been grafted a hefty counterweight of bass and drums. Unisex mix dub aspirations with late-90's Manc funk on Cruise Control and spy flicks with a bad case of the DTs on Midnight In The Stratosphere. They are easily the weakest link here ("Goodbye") while Reynolds are the strongest: their Navigator Remix (presumably a remix by the slothful Norfolk nymphs) breathes shallow strums of guitar and reverb and is a real beauty while the other, untitled, track is a fantastic lurch into Fugazisms of delight from next-to-nothing.

This is an album which may or may not see the light of day because of lack of finance. If you are a musical philanthropist with both the yen and a yen for the joyous abuse of instruments, perhaps you'd like to get in touch with the label. www.shortfuse.net

Big Chief Electric, Raygum and Bubblegun (Pagoda) 12"

"We don't have any musical talent" a robovoice seems to delight in repeating as flashes of skittering electro funk light up the blank audio spaces located between your speakers like a Bladerunner skyline. No musical talent, but plenty of musical history to dig into, pervert and recycle as something else. Big Raygum and Bubblegun, an EP sampler for the following album, is deeply retro and yet simultaneously awkwardly futuristic, coming as it does from a similar direction to Beige's recent efforts although reconstructing and updating electro rather than house music.

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]

Various, Maladjusted Malarkey EP (Full Strength) 2x7"

It's spelt, the title, that is, different ways on each of the two 7" single labels. I'll go with the one that's correct, even if it's not the one on the sleeve and if you don't like it you can fuck off…

…as the Fighting Cocks would say to open their contribution to this 6-way split. The sentiment is echoed by the other bands too, although none of them come close to the coda: "and if you do like it, you can still fuck off!" Despite their recent link-up with RCA, or perhaps because of it, the Cocks are on fine form here, recording the clatter of kitchen utensils in a heavy sack on the back of a wagon being pulled down an unmetalled track by an angry man playing a bouzouki. Elsewhere, Finlay razz past a pop song in a high speed, but lo-fi way before The Bigots growl and twitch noisily. Reverend Pike do their Huggy Bear writhings splendidly (and are probably the pick of the disc) but The Empty Vessel's Fall cover runs them close (Repetition is as repetition does) although sounding less like Mark E Smith's lot than a dastardly version of the Human League with personality problems. http://www.fullstrength.co.uk

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]

EU, Reframing (Pause 2) CD

What's that childhood gag about Moscow being busy? They're always Russian about or something, isn't it? No rushing here, although we're definitely on Russian ground. The pace could generously be described as a stroll although amble would be closer to the truth. EU delicately layer abstract sounds (the squelch of a wellington leaving a footprint in a muddy ditch, the graceful twang of a leaping grasshopper, the chug and whistle of machinery in Emperor Ming's lunar collar factory and so on) into deeply-stacked instrumental breaks. They then bathe them in spectral shimmers of artificial, and very obviously so, melody. The beats have the same strange clarity that Herbert (in his Dr. Rockit guise) produces, although they flex with the warped repetition of, erm, Warp acts like Autechre or Aphex rather than pound with the undulating warmth of mutant house music. The melodies seem to have been intercepted from satellite transmissions but not quite decrypted correctly leaving a constantly shifting electronic aura of not-rightness about them. Despite the band's name, this is definitely not Europop. www.pause2.com

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]

Freddy Fresh, Still The Joint (Sugarhill) 12"

A half hour mix by Freddy consisting of remixes of Sugarhill classics taken from the Still The Joint album. In the old days it would have been a Megamix, or perhaps Grandmaster Fresh's Adventures on the Wheels of Steel. Today it's almost par for the course but spiced up by the fact that the mixes he's mixing are by such 3rd or 4th generation hip hop luminaries as Bronx Dogs, Roots Manuva, The Scratch Perverts and Coldcut.

Moloko, Indigo (mixes) 12"

Moloko, left to their own devices, have been uniformly dismal of late. First impressions, a couple or three years ago, were of a band with a kink ("I dreamt that the bogeyman went down on Mr. Spock") and some kinky electronics to match. Recently, though: unadulterated crap. Now they appear to have seen the light and let Icelandic mixing deck wrestlers Gus Gus loose on one of their blandest efforts. What the Gus' do is stick waves of distorted flange guitar at tortoise pace over a lumpy beat and the merest fragment of Moloko obscured by harmonic. Top marks!

Southall Riot, Amplifier Morning EP (Victory Garden) 7"

Lambent, an adjective, predicates a soft radiance of the noun to which it applies. Southall Riot's take on the Elephant Six Wilsonisms, also known as Amplifier Morning, is lambent. SR gracefully cartwheel around the underlying tune with gentle guitar and weird wow-wow bass, stopping almost before they've begun but not before you've begun to wonder just what an amplifier morning might be. Also worthy of note: No Day Week's ambulatory breeze through experimental fields. 24 Boscombe Rd, London, SW17 9JL www.victorygardenrecords.co.uk

The Workhouse, The Stoichkov EP (Bearos) 7"

Following in the great tradition of music/football crossovers, The Workhouse's second single is named after the player pictured on the sleeve but is unlikely to have the terraces united a la Three Lions for two simple reasons: (1) it is not a boorish yob anthem to the non-existent, but nevertheless deeply culturally-embedded, glory days of English football with a side-helping of xenophobia in the name of patriotism, and, (2) it isn't sung by two television funnymen at least one of whom is not remotely funny and seems to have spent his entire career as the dull half of bearable double acts. In fact, there are no words here at all and given the intricacy and delicacy of the swirling guitars it's unlikely that any hooligans would have the attention span to sit through it anyway. If the shoegazers (the band are from Oxford) had loved Morricone more than My Bloody Valentine, The Workhouse might've been the result. PO Box 7179, Birmingham, B29 6RA www.bearos.freeserve.co.uk

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]

Goofball/Pussy Face, split (NC) 7"

I love records like this. I've got what I think are the lyrics here but still have no idea what Goofball are shouting about. They are French, though, and the sleeve notes lead to the interesting discovery that the French for drums is batterie. Assault and batterie in Goofball's case as the sludge guitar, huge riffs and piercing 2-note solo of D.O.B. bludgeon like Tad or a mindless female Mudhoney. Pussy Face are much more your straightforward HC/punk lo-fi affair. Recorded badly but kicking against the pricks anyway. 26 Rainbow St, London, SE5 7TD www.geocities.com/ncrds

Fish From Tahiti, Decal Baby (Sorted) 7"

Only by calling your single something like Trout Mask could you signal more clearly your appreciation of Captain Beefheart. What these aquatic Tahitians share with the celebrated van Vliet is a knack for juxtaposition, in this case a dub bass and drums, static humming and crackling and unintelligible (and possibly Japanese) conversation. If you were to tell me that this was coming out of Cologne with a Burnt Friedman remix, I wouldn't be surprised. PO Box 5992, Leicester, LE1 6XU

Various, The Left Hand Side of Egypt (Sorted) 7"

The Chemistry Experiment continue their wing-and-a-prayer flirtations with pop music, ending all chances of this one ever battling it out with Boyzone by sticking a huge break in the middle where the only sound is a remote vacuum cleaner and some chap exclaiming "By Jove, they're doing it!" Before and after this, a jolly romp that Mungo Jerry could've done well with is spiked by a strange scraping noise. The Kittiwakes and Blue Smarties support on the other side. PO Box 5992, Leicester, LE1 6XU

Hefner, Good Fruit/The Greedy Ugly People (Too Pure) both 7"

In which Piano Magic, The Wisdom of Harry, Baxendale and The Electric Sound of Joy attempt to bend Hefner's will to their own design and, with the exception of Baxendale, succeed admirably. Actually, even Baxendale manage to make Hefner sound like themselves, the problem is that themselves sound as crap, if possibly ironic, as usual. Piano Magic squeeze Good Fruit into a sparkly disco cat-suit while The Wisdom of Harry take it to a lower, basement, level, downbeat and distinctly not shiny, but no less electronic. The Electric Sound of Joy's version of The Greedy Ugly People bears little resemblance to the original and a great deal of resemblance to the ESOJ. Which can be no bad thing.

The Understudy Inferior, Electrovoyeurism CD

The first thing that you'll notice about the new album from TUI is that it's a lot more coherent than the debut which felt more like a compilation than a set. This time around, Ray has wedded the brooding menace of Massive Attack's darker moments to the grandiose all-but-pompous depth and breadth of post-Barrett Pink Floyd across all ten tracks. The opening triptych of What Did You Want Me To Say?, Don't Explain and I'm Sorry About What You Said Before are a microcosm of the album itself. The first sticks a regimental marching beat under the sound of someone living out his guitar hero fantasies in a cavernous, but empty, arena while his imagination supplies the applause and the incongruous church bell chimes signify that something is not right. Don't Explain puts a sombre, spacious bass line into an echo chamber, adds a shuffle and hiss and a disembodied voice to a confused stream of digital data bleeps. I'm Sorry.. attempts to tidy up any misunderstandings and incomprehension with a swifter, more manageable, beat but scuppers its chances with mangled organ stabs and a bass lacking only a drum'n prefix. A dark and messy record that reflects dark and messy inspirations.

Various, An Unfinished Retrospective (Benno) CD

Your expectation of Swedish music is probably coloured by the nation's pop output which can be at times incredibly grand but often settles for the other side of the populist coin, bland. If you dig a little below the surface, though, you'll find that (depending on your starting point) your prejudices are confirmed or strongly refuted. If you can't be bothered scratching anything other than your own arse (and who can in these jaded times?) then pick up Benno's handy State of the Nation compilation. The variety is your stereotypically Swedish smorgasbord of choice and the quality is Volvo-solid, although thankfully the panache does not come from the home of safety-first.

Sagor and Swing's Hammond organ and brushed cymbal waltz is an obvious high point as is the marvellously bombastic Sparks-on-a-budget histrionics of Doktor Kosmos. Nya Sampan's T & B for Barn is Bentley Rhythm Ace without the cheese, Fint Tillsammans conjures magic out of what sounds like a stylophone and a piano-lead instrumental b-side. Girlfriendo you'll undoubtedly already know but Chocolate Barry you probably don't. They cover Jonathan King's Gay Girl with squeals of metallic breakbeats and towering synths. Electromagnetic Beam rounds proceedings off nicely with the relaxing electronica of Asleep At Work. www.benno.com

The State of Samuel, And the von Neumann Machine (Grande Barbe) TAPE

Sweden. As the cliché-ridden review above has already pointed out, the country is famed for its reliability and common-sense so the choice of John von Neumann as a figurehead for The State of Samuel's new tape is entirely appropriate. Not. John von Neumann, a mathematician, is renowned for his theoretical work on the design of computers. Being a logical kind of bloke, he probably wouldn't much approve of the scratchy scraps and scrappy scrapings on display here. That said, The State of Samuel this time around are considerably more together than last time around. Although the songs betray an appreciation of the angular and awkward acoustic shamblings of Daniel Johnston, the structures are remarkably traditional and nothing falls apart or stutters to a halt. Along with By Coastal Café and Erac 9, The State o f Samuel are doing nice Swedish pop things in a decidedly non-Swedish way. www.rotor-fabrik.com/thestateofsamuel Majrovagen 39, 12245 Enskede, Sweden

Goblin Universe, A Goblin Universe (Grande Barbe) CD

Would a Goblin Universe have a National Elf Service? Would there be Old People's Gnomes for the elderly trolls? Jokes about pixies aside, a Goblin Universe would appear to be about the rush of writing your own songs and finding that they're a bit like Pavement only quicker and shorter and more scraggly. And you can add bits that you worked out at practice to the songs, all those odd little noises and not-proper chords. There's a further thrill when you find that you can stick seven songs on a CD and suddenly you've got an album that, stone me, is pretty good as well. www.grandebarbe.com

Evil Nine, Technology (Marine Parade) 12"

Evil by Nine, Evil by nature, as Roger Hargreaves never said about Mr. Evil. The dastardly side of this 12 is the bass, the business end of which is reputed to loosen fillings at 20 paces. It stalks back and forth like a caged tiger, malevolence only upped by the rigid break and a brooding background grind.

Various, Botchit Breakspeech (Botchit & Scarper) 12"

Despite sounding like something you might slur after the end of a long session, Breakspeech is actually all about breakbeats and vocals. This is a sampler for the forthcoming spectacular which is notable above all else for the inclusion of Shy FX and UK Apachi's Original Nuttah remixed by T. Power. Original Nuttah was one of the earliest jungle cuts to chart (39 in October 1994) and this mix with its irresistible stabs of bass and tiny tune fragments playing second fiddle to the gruff ragga vocal respects that achievement fully.

Attrition, The Hand That Feeds (Matrix Cube) CD

According to Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian, "goth is seen [in the UK] as the music of the terminally adolescent and unapologetically pretentious; a soundtrack for those who spend their lives in black-painted bedrooms convinced that moroseness is an aesthetic end in itself." Unfortunately for bands like Attrition he's largely correct. Certainly, for me goth was well and truly dead when I saw The Sisters of Mercy play He's Got The Whole World In His Hands at the Reading Festival. It was an appalling spectacle. Still, Attrition don't do themselves any favours with the pretentious sleeve notes for this 2CD retrospective and remix set: "Attrition, with its message of classic and modern has brought to music the equivalent of a surrealist painting."

To be fair, Attrition would probably not claim to be a goth band any more than they'd categorise themselves in any other restrictive way (but which band would?) It is still, the case, however, that from the moment that Atomizer kicks off the Recollect disc, you know very well the kind of thing to expect and, depending on how much you agree with O'Hagan, whether you'll carry on listening even as far as Harmony halfway in. This despite the fact that the 20 years of Attrition have taken in the whole gamut of neo-classicality, plainsong chant, overblown dark theatre and the later EBM pulsation.

Prejudices should be left at the door when contemplating the Remake disc, though. Here, remixes take the base components into less rigorously demarcated territory, bringing in better beats and even (gasp) the odd cheerful sound. Waste Not Want More is a case in point, turned into mid-80s electro by D.O.S and The Second Hand remixed by Mark Crumby has even squeezed a sped-up breakbeat into the mix.

Doubleclick, Once More With Feeling (Fly Casual) 12"

Have you ever wondered what a jump-up beat, a church organist with dextrous fingers but only three working keys and a synthetic horn might sound like when tossed together with instructions to keep it simple, OR ELSE? You haven't? Doubleclick have, and the sound is captured as All In One Light. On the other side, a heftier beast, War And Peace And Quiet, keeps the sense of fun but takes a much darker turn, until the xylophone coda. Appealingly odd.

Gorillaz, Tomorrow Comes Today (Parlophone) 10"

But Tomorrow Never Knows, of course. This is one of those 4-track records that sounds like four different bands. It's too early in the day to know quite which way the Gorillaz are headed (although they've got the celebrities in their hands, Damon Albarn and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien appear here) but they've got plenty of potential directions. Rock The House, that archetypal hip hop title, is a surprise, a hip hop rocker; Latin Simone a down-tempo muted trumpet breeze; 12D3 the kind of scuzz spirituality that Beck can conjure up out of a metronome tick and acoustic while the title cut goes down the punk road. A bit of a mix, and a mixed result.

Ceephax, Acid Quakes 1000 (Lo) 12"

The thing I hate about Ceefax is the enormously long time you have to wait for the little counter to click around to the page you want only to find that it's mostly advert or an 0898 phone competition. The thing I love most about Ceefax is the lumpy BBC micro low-resolution graphics and clunky old typeface. This 6-tracker from Ceephax old-skool blockiness but in its acid electro with ECG jitters rather than boxy bitmaps. It is also strange in the way that releases on Rephlex tend to be, and also weirdly danceable in the way that Sqarepusher (Ceephax's brother, fact fans) can be when the mood takes him.

Mondo Fumatore, Plays Rodeo (Rewika) CD

If now was 35 years ago, samplers and home recording equipment wouldn't be widely available and so hands like Mondo Fumatore wouldn't be able to bastardise a handful of what are essentially beat pop songs (think the simple clarity of early Pete Townshend) with a variety of quirky noises, drum machine breaks and samples as they do at the opening of this album. If there hadn't been the last three decades, the fidelity barriers wouldn't yet have been broken down and tracks like I Want You recorded in Sonic Youth's kitchen on acoustic guitars and washing machine would be unacceptable and if hip hop had never happened, the gangster kazoos of Alligator Shoes would have been stillborn. Mondo Fumatore are the kids in the candy store, greedy and stuffing their faces with everything in sight. And it sounds great. www.rewika.de


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