reviews february 1999

Inch, Inch (Regal) CDS

You might recall, a couple of years ago, the NME cutting a single 12" of a track featuring Mark E. Smith as a birthday present for John Peel. They made a couple of pages of picture story out of it, if I remember right. Anyway, this is it, a dark and meaty breakbeat chopper with Adams Family scream FX and the inimitable most-angry-man-in-pop grumbling away about something that sounds like "ahnch" through a mic made from barbed wire. Brilliant.

Blowholy, Psalm 666 (Ketamine Leper) CDS

Blowholy like riffs. Metal riffs. Metal riffs from when metal was hard rock played by spotty young men from the back-streets of Birmingham in the few hours they weren't operating heavy machinery in some soon-to-be-closed sweatshop.

Blowholy also like beats. Jungle beats. Jungle beats of the kind constructed by spotty young men with large record collections and a home computer on which to sample and cut-up breakbeats while the rest of the nation sleeps.

It's a fair guess that Blowholy are spotty young men, then. But wise beyond their years on these five tracks which weld together their two obsessions into one powerchord'n'bass whole. Each is fronted by a charging riff with an Ozzy vocal dropped neatly behind but instead of the trad rock rhythm section anchoring the sound with plodding regularity, there's a cascade of clattering acyclic beatbox firing out beats like a blacksmith struck by lightning and punctuating the riffs with a stuttering kick. If it's comparisons you're after think Sabbath and Source 44 Low St, South Milford, LS25 5AS.

Squarepusher, Budakhan Mindphone (Warp) 12"

It might all be played live---and hence a layered organic groove rather than a tremendous amphetamine rush of corrupted breakbeats---but the latest Squarepusher sound is no less tantalising than the previous one. It's essentially jazzy but threaded with pretty much anything else that'll fit. The two closing numbers, "Varkatope" and "Gong acid", are cases in point. The first is a brooding inner city nightscape concrete underpasses, dank doorways and overturned dustbins partially obscured by sodium shadows. The second is, in total contrast, a raga of tabla and tin can percussion that swoops and swoons in its own thoughtful way.

Danmass, Quake (Dust 2 Dust) 12"

Only one small step (for Dan, a giant leap for...erm) away from the Beastie Boys in instrumental "Ill Communication" mode: stand-up bass, stabs of organ and a barrowload of groove. That's "Quake." On the other side, and also from the forthcoming LP, "Timestand" is wistfully unaware of the potential in its somnolent breaks and down-played tip-toe bass. Think the big brother of anything on N-Tone.

3D House of Beef, Similar attack pattern (Supergeisha) CD

Why do so many heavy bands look back so fondly upon Kiss? I mean, they were only ever a bunch of pretty boy pub-rockers with a neat line in costumes, one oversize tongue and a relentless appetite for self-promotion. Whatever the reason, you'll find that 3D House of Beef have hidden a churning cover of some-time Kiss member Ace Frehley's "Stranger in a strange land" at the end of "Similar attack pattern", and they've made it all their own; on a par with the 3 new tracks which are indeed similar to the last album: grinding, gurning, twisted slowcore geetar, tight and hard epileptic drumming and heavy, sinuous weighed-down bass. If there's any appreciable difference between this record and that, it's that the band have accelerated from a lurch into a crawl...but they're on the verge of falling back down.

The other tracks are remixes from the debut "3D House of Beef" by the likes of Leech Woman and Deathline International. "Sedition, the 16 Volt mudcock mix" is taken over by a snare-happy loop and some electronic bobbling, reducing the seething grunge of the original to almost nothing. In contrast, "Crawl" actually seems slower and more dense than before---perhaps not surprising given that it's remixed by the band themselves. Scar Tissue turn "Society of old crows" into a lump-hammer industrial beating while Deathline Intl make "White hogslaughter" one of their own children, artificial electro devoid of emotion. Leech Woman's overhaul of "ID'd be dental records" is buried beneath a thick layer of hum, hiss and piercing whistle, shading new texture into the track's incessant repetition and things are rounded off with Insilico's gabba version of "White hogslaughter".

With remix records you normally take your chances but 3D HoB have roped in a group of varied accomplices to turn out a varied set, not always respectful of the original, but always worth a listen. PO Box 1660, Duvall, WA 98019, USA

Electric Bird Noise, Unleashing the inner robot (Artfag) CD

Given the name and the fact that the band features a member rejoicing in the name of Rev. Doc. Scomps, you'd expect Electric Bird Noise to be somewhat out of step with your average Top 40 run-down. And you'd be right...What they offer on this record is an electronic mood/prog/effect manipulation and experimentation mix. The best bits are when guitars are downed and the band let their ambient bent take over. The torrent of beats, squawk and synths that make up "Japanese toy song" or the wash of gentleness that follows it ("The hum of the moon") are perfect examples. However, when guitars are in evidence, the prog rock tendencies come to the fore and tracks like "Number three" suffer for it; the panned stereo percussion and art-film runs being overshadowed by Mike Oldfield-style fret excess. If their inner robot likes "Tubular bells" so much, I'd stick to the superficial one. 5708 Longleaf Drive, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577, USA

The Understudy Inferior, My lounge the zoo, alright CDS

3 tracks of which two are from the shelf marked almost inaudible found sound collage (with tinkle and occasional beats) and one, "bad lover blues" which is a walkman recording of a rudimentary guitar blues with teenage Tom Waits vocals, a big bass drum and---and this is the winner for me---a horrible solo that's so strange it turns the track into a masterpiece. or Ray Brooks, Clifton Hill House, Lower Clifton Hill, Bristol, BS8 1BX.

Smog, Knock knock (Domino) CD

Switching with ease between chiming back-country sadness and a new rockier sensibility the latest Smog release is a real blast. "Held," the first single, is a loop and a beat surely knocked up in minutes if the spontaneity in its infectious, instinctive groove is to be believed. "No dancing" takes off from a chugging bluesy intro to add piano and even a bunch of schoolkids to end up sounding not unlike Sebadoh in pop mode. They (the kids, that is) crop up again on "Hit the ground running," a lengthy leaving-home song full of regret---"A bitter man rots from within"---that previously would've almost stalled in its maudlinity but now looks to the other side of the coin. Easily my favourite Smog record...EVER!

Fourtet, Dialogue (Output) CD

Solo Fridge magnate Keiran Hebden in relaxed jazz mode. Driven by stylish live beats that slowly ooze hip hop but add fluid improvisational fills without ever becoming fussy or dominant an electronic smoothness is woven. Electronic, but never as artificial as the first Fridge album, it's more organic---like a set of slightly stoned post-gig jazz cats just jamming around in a New York loft and watching the sun rise as they make soft music.

Brilliantine, Genius girl (Softcore) 7"

The only thing that Brilliantine have in common with Metallica is that both are at pains to point out that they do not endorse the cosmetics that share their names. Further unlike the hoary old shagged-out thrashers, Brilliantine have their debut 7" just released on their own Softcore label. On the one side there's an ever-so-slightly fuzzy pop song of the kind early TFC produced with careless abandon and on the other an acoustic jewel, the kind of song that solo Evan Dando sings spruced up with a countryish edge. 2.50 from PO Box 332, Sunderland, SR6 9YP

Petit Vodo, Somebody's dream (Butcher's Wig) 7"

There's handy summaries under each of the three titles on this jukebox 7". About "Somebody's dream" the sleeve says: "a no pop'esplosion walk featuring Fats Waller talks." You can't really beat that except to say it's pleasingly short garage trash with distorted harmonica recorded badly by a French man. Sounds exceptional. or to order:

The White Rabbit, Fly Momma! (Kontraband) 12"

No hookah-smoking caterpillars here but plenty of other drug stuff is narrated over a sassy electro- meets-latino disco groove. The vibe is slinky hipsters and big afros, basement parties and a huge sound system. The "Skool daze" mix plays up to the electro side big time, a squelch/scratch hybrid of the non-alkaline persuasion. If you catch my drift.

Pala, Be a celebrity (Artists Against Success) 7"

"Be a celebrity" is cleverly targeted at the Evening Session and as such is top notch polished guitar pop, hook-laden, infectious chorus, cliched review...However, lying neglected on the b-side is a little gem (and I don't mean an expensive lettuce) by the name of "Queen of lo-fi" which is less of a production and more of a blast through a loud-soft, foot on the monitors Lemmy-fantasy experience.

One True Parker, Killer (Eruption) 12"

Extremely tense minimal drum'n'pulse frm OTP with a vocal that only adds to the feeling that something really bad is going to happen. Which it does---"bad" meaning "good", of course---in the form of a BLIM remix with a heavily mental bass and a lot more muscle in the paranoia. Nice work.

Mondo Bizarro, Love me (Mondo Bizarro) 12"

Only about 18 months late with the flute but bang up to date with the spyfunk lounge music and slightly disturbing "love me" chorus as implored by a group of desperate big-boned, dyed-blonde wannabee actresses. MB are also known as Silicon Valley Def Stars.

Blackwater Industries, Box of Bullets (Dust2Dust) 12"

Can you watch "The Ipcress file" and those "Ironside" re-runs too often? Not if you're Blackwater Industries (Greg Belson of Hightower Set and Julian Chown) and capable of assimilating the groove and atmosphere then lathering it generously over the 3 breaks tracks on this 12. For fun, Aquasky adds a dirty (Harry) edge to a fourth.

Hardwire, Tearin the country up (Kingsize) 12"

Second single for Hardwire is a neat piece of mostly instrumental hip hop that smoothly updates the Jungle Brothers circa "Straight out the jungle", all horns, up beats and instant appeal. On the flip, "Belongs to the people" is a dubby reflection of the same---basically identical components but with a modern JA vibe.

Isan, Beautronics (Tugboat) CD

So what does beautronics mean? When Isan interviewed themselves for Robots.. they described "fantasy listening experiences" that included Brian Eno in the snow atop a perilously tall mountain and the Cocteau Twins by the canal in Leicester after a Summer rain. Bear these images in mind when I tell you that "Beautronics" is considerably more relaxed than early tracks like "Remegio" (on their Hummy and Joey release), as if they're writing a Haynes manual for the Ambient Electro Mk 5 by stripping down from the full model to the chassis, carefully noting and recording all the details to ensure that their guide is correct, and will some time in the future start to put all the bits back together again. Often on this album there's little more than hints of mood overlaid with the simplest of beats and some spectral FX---the kind of music HAL might make during a somnolent moment.

Lots of imagery to describe beautiful music in this review. I guess that's as good a definition of beautronics as any.

Plankton, Ganja killed the dinosaurs (Ochre) CD

Plankton inhabit the same fertile field as Donkey. They grind like the Dog Faced Hermans, growl like an asphyxiated Mark E. Smith playing The Godfather, grub up a dubby bassline and throw samples at it, skank like good 'uns, write songs that mimic Buster Bloodvessel in an end-of-the-pier matinee, and then go all prog on you. Sometimes. Other times they're only incredible. It's a real blast and it ends with a song called "Beautiful hole". Draw your own conclusions.

Mount Vernon Arts Lab, Gummy Twinkle (Via Satellite) CD

"Excellent," your hackneyed hack thinks to himself as the first sub-drone soundwaves mumble out of the speakers, "it's time for the book." He reaches into his grubby parka and pulls out a tatty-looking address book, fingering the entry for M. He opens the book, whispers "Mount Vernon Arse Lab..." and begins to chuckle softly, graduating through a gentle laugh, loud snort and wild-eyed guffaw in quick succession as he curls himself up into a ball of smugness and cruel childish power fantasy...

...30 minutes later he jerks up and snaps around to look at the clock: "where did the time go?" he wonders aloud.

Where indeed did the time go? Answer that and you'll have discovered the secret of the Arts Lab; much as you'd like to write them and their friends (Norman Blake, Sonic Boom, Disinformation and Prokect D.A.R.K) off as pretentious nobs nobbing around with broken answering machines, battery chargers and ZX81s, you soon find yourself being soothed and transported by the gentle undulation and sweet synthetic womb rhythms, the mains hum and the random noise. Best just to go with the (electron) flow. PO Box 7001, Glasgow, G44 4YZ

The Argos Fiasco/Le Liberateurs, Evidence from the seance room (Dada Tapes) TAPE

Paul Mckenna guests, uncredited, on the Argos Fiasco's massively remixed relaxation tape. Splices of the satanic hyno-entertainer are dropped into cyclic ambient washes, bits of drug documentary, typewriter keys being pressed, swift drum'n'bass and Satie recorded from the far end of a church hall to create a tape which, its makers claim, is a "palate cleanser". Certainly much less full-on than their previous offering, but still cut-loose and context-free.

On the other side, Le Liberateurs pick and mix drum breaks from their favourite jungle and gabba and run them together in the kind of aural onslaught that the word barrage might've been coined for. Not quite in the DHR league yet, but add a distortion pedal and they'd be close. Best for me is the mangling of harsh beats and a stylish jazz trumpet which might (hard to keep track of the tracks) be known as "Waiting for him to die." Nice. 30 Wiltshire Ave, Burton Upon Stather, Scunthorpe, N. Lincs DN15 9ER

The Gerbils, Are you sleepy? (Earworm) LP

Half of Neutral Milk Hotel plus friends wrestling peculiar tunes from inchoative playing and overpowered 4-track fuzz. There's obvious elements of NMH---although never the all-encompassing grandiosity and pomp of that band---but also hints of Helium, Quasi, subdued Sonic Youth, a lo-fi Jane's Addiction and Portastatic (who, along with Sebadoh, are name-checked on "Crayon box"). Very much a side-project, but definitely not one to be cast aside.

Source Direct, Mindweaver (Science) 12"

A primer for their "Exorcise the demons" long-player, "Mind weaver" is noticeably less dark that the two Science releases that preceded it---no less harsh or intense though, a nagging urgency fuelled by sporadic bursts of warp factor 5 breaks and inclement phaser bass. If there was a dance called the Darth Vader, this would be the tune.

310, Prague rock e.p. (white) 12"

Following the vinyl kleptomania of the recent Black Helicopters' record, Leaf again ransack the vaults of popular culture, again avoid serious copyright difficulties by keeping the label white and again limit availability (1000 copies only). This record is the UK debut for production duo 310 although they're 2 albums old in their native USA. Fellow Americans might spot the phonetic gag in the title when I tell you that this release splices up a Jurassic Park mix of prog rock dinosaurs---one track each for Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and, yes, Yes. It's crazy, but it just works---a snippet of interview opens each track and 310 blend segments of 6 or so songs with a crunching beat, reverence and gravitas. A colossal task and a spot-on result. Best for me is "Trustus," the Floyd remake.

Speedranch/Janksy Noise, Execrate (Leaf) 12"

Another weird psychobeat experience from the Leaf label, this time sounding like some kind of bizarre mutation of the Fall in the early 90s and a load of shit...and that's just the title. You could perhaps apply it to the music as well if you added gabba, intense breakbeat, overloaded crazy computers triggering unworldly samples, lightning strikes, pinball machines, bent electro and noise. Actually, this is a promo for an LP of the same name in which DJ Dpeedranch and Jansky Noise (of the cranky V/Vm) bastardise records by a bunch of their mates including 2nd Gen, Jega and Stock, Hausen and Walkman. Perversely, this sampler may not contain much that's on the album. An incredible trip, once again.

Ian Pooley, What's your number (V2) CDS

Didn't like the album much so it's something of a surprise to find that this does enough to catch the ear as it builds from a simple funky loop, adds the vocal and breaks down. Crackly disco with remixes from Bob Sinclar and Jazzanova.

Bis, Action and drama (Wiiija) CDS

Bis are the Human League on this release; the most basic synth lines and a bubbling electronic underneath. It's all about a simple tune and repetition and it's a plea for personality in music and DJs.

Whistler, Don't jump in front of my train (Wiiija) CDS

More folksy acoustic brightness from Whistler. This one has the feeling of a band thrown together for the afternoon, really feeding off each other and playing off a 60s harmonica riff and around the foot-tapping Heavenly pop song, Lovely. Again

Unlimbo, Prahna fish (Polygraph) CD

It's a dub thing---a festival mantra of whirling dervish climax built up from the dub foundation and embellished by psychedelic Hammond, skank/space guitar, samples, didgeridoo, jew's harp, violin and that wailing Eastern/Baltic sound produced by I know not what. Imagine late nights, the Megadog big top, Dr. Didg, a party vibe and a huge communal trance of improvisation and you won't be far off the mark. Best track is the closer "Inertia" which delves into the sample bag and comes up with Patrick Moore, Homer Simpson and a space mission, dropping them over a hypnotic surge and drone spacey Hawkwind meets violin blowout. Top marks. 12 Graham Rd, Dunstable, LU5 4EH

Porn Flakes, The number of the beef (Grappler Unlimited) CD

The thing I like about metal is that it's one of those genres where you can tell instantly whether or not you'll like a record by looking at the sleeve. Think back to Kiss's "Double platinum" and then try not to think back to "Crazy nights," for example. Imagine, then, what this sleeve would mean to you: Iron Maiden script for the band name, a Maiden-punning title in dripping-blood script and an Eddyesque butcher reaching for a satanic cow. Oh, and a prominent "parental advisory" sticker worn like a battle honour. You're thinking the same as me? Cheesy name, piss-take artwork? Shit band? Yep? NO!

Cast your preconceptions aside---only 30 seconds into opener "Unblind" and we're already ripping off a chunk of Public Enemy's "Don't believe the hype" to a hip hop/thrash mixture that shows where Anthrax could have taken "Bring the noise" and how far we've come since the lamentable white-boy rapping of the Surf MCs' "Surf or die." For the most part, the remaining 13 tracks are solid speed metal with hip hop overtones, slight RHCP tendencies and lashings of swearing with some pretty puerile lyrical content in places ("eating more pussy than a bowling alley full of dykes") redeemed somewhat by the excellent and thoughtful "Plight of idiots" and nothing like as OTT as the first Bodycount LP (but nothing like as funny either.) "Acting like Black Sabbath" slows down to a grind/riff parody of the Sabs and "Moo jack hustler" is trashily bombastic as it rejects vegetarianism (hence the sleeve picture). Overall then: musically excellent, lyrically dodgy in places. Apparently a scream live as well. PO Box 2507, Toledo, OH 43606, USA

Peter Thomas Soundorchester, Warp back to Earth (Bungalow) CD

The general idea: provide due recognition for 60s/70s spacesonic pioneer Peter Thomas by way of some tribute project that is more than just a formulaic remix album. The specific plan: unearth some archive clips of unused original material, supply it to fans of the man and stand well back. 29 such snippets were found (and are included as a bonus disc on the CD version of this album) and 17 new tracks were produced.

Peter Thomas is famed and feted for his theme for the cult German TV show "Space patrol Orion" so it's no surprise that many of the tracks here feature Star Trek theremin whines or deep space ambient noise. Mina comes up with the best of the former, welding the squealing effect to a cramped dirty disco boogie; Brezel Goring, Stereolab and Coldcut all opt for the former, augmenting the bareness with smooth atmospherics and lazy galactic bubbles. The High Llamas find that Thomas's source music fits their current electronic bias like a glove and turn in a track that could easily be on the recent LP. John McEntire creates a proto-Kraftwerk beatbox piece while Momus and Schneider opt for space'n'bass. Best of all the outstanding work, however, is the closing clash between 77-year old Thomas himself and Bungalow stalwart The Maxwell Implosion. Together they let rip some planet rockin' beats with a heavy dose of gravity-free electro.

Listening to Thomas' originals it's easy to see how this album has (unlike the High Llamas or Pastels remix records featuring much the same personnel) turned out so strong: his 20-30 year old compositions are still highly contemporary and even futuristic, ambient/jazz/space tracks in their own right. Reverence for the composer and a determination to do justice to the music has resulted in a storming set. Respect due, and paid.

Various, Ooer, missus (25) CD

Another brick in the 25 compilation wall, "Ooer, missus" will be familiar to anyone who's heard previous offerings. Mainly indie guitar pop of a workmanlike standard, OK but nothing exceptional, spiced up with the odd gem. In this case, the precious stones are UK Heights with Clare Begly and a Peter, Paul and Mary-ish number, "Coming clean," Cord's badly mis-titled "Ordinary" which is clunking paranoia on a scrap-hop frame and, by a long mile, a brace from Walking Wounded with "Gypsy dance," a Romany violin-led knees-up, and "Four colours for you," a dose of 60's French spy flick maudlinity.

Various, No approval needed volume 7 (Whitmore Empire) CD

Lead boot techno on the acidic side from Derrighan kicks this compilation off, followed by the dark breaks and seething synths of Morticia Raven's "Infernal" and random number electro courtesy of alone. This intro should give you some idea of the varied electronic trip on offer here; high points are the two stonkers from DR:OP:FR:AM+E that whip up a storm of spliced beats and overactive FX and the dubbed-out Shadow boxing instrumental hip hop of Rockstar B-Boy. Elsewhere, solid offerings in a variety of techno suits, with a special mention to Vertigo Blues' Mantronik-on-downers creation. PO Box 751325, Houston TX 77275-1325, USA

Dalmatian Rex and the Eigentones, We don't make toothpaste for anyone else (Sorted) CD

Frank Zappa in a garage straight jacket, stuffed to the gills with hallucinogens and suffering from cattarrh... would only sound about half as skizo as Dalmatian Rex on this, their debut full length release for Sorted (and their tracks on the "Brain cakes" and "Suction prints" comps both appear on the LP). You get an idea of the sound from the titles: "The encyclopedia of dental repair technology," "Born to photosynthesise," "Teaspoons are the instruments of Satan," "Chicken karma sutra" and so on. Sonically much like Gag at times, they have a stop/start kitchen sink mentality, tricky wobblesome riffs, dirty power chords, spoken word segments, Brussel sprout mantras---think Beefheart and the Fall.

You know how they say that if you were to sit down in one place, eventually everyone in the world would walk past? Well, if you sit and listen to this over and over, you'll eventually hear a bit of everyone who's done something interesting in rock music. 25 Oban St, Leicester, LE3 9GB

Multiscreen, Gloria (Dust2Dust) 12"

Trippy modern-day jug band folksiness a la Gomez from new boys Multiscreen. A bit of a departure for Dust2Dust but kept in-house and under control by having Mr Dan behind the desk. He lets the band have their head, notably Radio One-friendly Radiohead miserableness on "Big city loser", but keeps the beats well to the fore, as is the label's wont. Best is Dan's masterful dubwise revision of "Gloria."

Muse, Muscle Museum (Dangerous) CDS

Kicks off with what sounds like a bouzouki and winds itself up into a six-string strangler that has much in common with Radiohead's most recent output, despite the band's hackneyed "we don't compare ourselves to anyone" stance. Nice track though and they've apparently just signed to Madonna's Maverick label. PO Box 45, Teignmouth, Devon TQ14 9YW.

Subsonic Legacy, Ode to Billy Joe (Athletico) CDS

A hit for Bobby Gentry in 1967 and now resurrected for Subsonic Legacy's second single, "Ode to Billy Joe" is a subdued, string-bathed breakbeat smoother. Linda X's vocals are softly spoken and blur into the music around the edges---a radical reworking and effective too. Comes with 3 mixes of which the "dubstramental" is best.

Billy Mahonie, Little Feet ep (Gold Hole) 7"

I hate it when the press release gets there before you: "Aerial M and Shellac" this one says of Billy Mahonie's second full single. That's repetition, build, glide, crescendo and relax guitar trickery, post- dub bass and crystal clear drums recorded by someone who obviously fetishizes on the instrument as much as Steve Albini. 3 instru tracks that have nothing to do with Little Feat, for better or worse.

Outcast, Criminals (Kingsize) 12"

The kind of all-encompassing bodyquake BASS that surges out of the bins and grabs you by the neck, the odd vocal snatch, parp and chord plus a snare-heavy break. But most of all, bass. "Take heed" on the other side is top-notch instrumental hip hop with a speed dub underbelly. Astounding debut.

Grindverk, Gessundhett von k (Fat Cat) 12"

Like fellow jugglers of the sonic batons Funkstorung, Grindverk's appellation is a clue to the sounds they produce. In this case, it's the sound of electro friction and bad jazz with horns thrusting straight out of the "Psycho" shower scene and a dark bass underskirt. "Kastrato" is lounge music with a wailing soprano atop---lamenting his loss, perhaps. This is music which you could easily see modern-day Bjork fronting which is perhaps surprising as Grindverk are Einar, Siggi and Hilmer from the Sugarcubes. LP to follow.

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