reviews february 2003

Thread, Do What You Do (Victory Garden) 7"

I like records that tell you right from the get-go that they’re worth listening to. Do What You Do is one of those. And I like it. A couple of seconds of tinny, unamplified, riffing leads into a slash/chop moment before someone starts grouching through a distortion pedal and the rest of the band lurch around in a frequently unexplored musical space bounded by The Fall, C86 and Merseybeat. Instant attraction. Thread, they won’t string you along.

Interloper, Six Dragons (Inky Blackness) CD

Here’s another one. The very first noise on this record is a needle flicking back and forth over a beat. It’s an old-school kind of scratch, bassy and grade one on the turntablist scale of technical merit, but it tells you where Jon Ryman’s head is at. And that’s a place where a break that flexes your neck is the primary concern. On top, he wafts atmospherics bootlegged from a 50z jazz dive, sucked out of an ice-box, rewired from film soundtracks, beamed in from outer space. I’m thinking of Nightmares on Wax kinda quality. You’re kinda thinking of buying it.

Artisokka, A Hiding Place in the Arbor (Shelflife) CD

Can music make your life right? The new Johnny Cash album is doing its best on my behalf, but even the man in black digging around in his soul can’t get rid of all the stuff I’d rather not have to do. So can music salve away the pain? Enter Artisokka. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. And relax. Artisokka drape softly folkish tunes like daisy chains around your neck. Remember for a moment the pleasure you had on those childhood summer days in next door’s garden, buttercups under the chin and bread and butter on the chin. Then listen to the soundtrack in your head. Does it sound like a band who love the quiet side of the Velvets and maybe the folkier elements of the High Llamas and the gentle bands on 4AD? That’s Artisokka and you’re feeling better already.

DJ Ordeal, John (Sparticus Stargazer) LP

The few words on the sleeve pretty much sum it up: "A montage of sound presentation by DJ Ordeal entitled John, a collection of eight tracks. The following equipment has been used for this work: UHER reel to reel tape, YAMAHA multitrack, PIONEER cassette deck." Inside, there’s a handy crib sheet of the records that were manipulated into the montage but you’ll do well to spot them in slowed down, speeded up, overlaid, underlaid, unmade and backwards versions. Beyond the purely functional, DJ Ordeal has nothing more to say. Which leaves it to me to wonder just how something this cohesive, this orchestral, this magical and relaxing can be strung out of a bunch of other people’s records and a couple of tape machines. In a sense, this is still sampling, but really it’s more like audio sculpture. All proceeds from the record go to Cancer Research UK.

By Coastal Café, Live at Budokan (Kitchen) 7"

It’s hard for me to be objective about this one. I recorded the gig on my Walkman – not at the Budokan, but at a music festival – then I gave a copy of it to Laurence at Kitchen records and he loved it as much as I did. So he asked if he could put it out, a posthumous farewell to the band. And they said yes. So then I wrote the sleeve notes and now I’ve got to review it for you. And I can’t think of anything to say. So here’s the sleeve notes and my highest personal recommendation.

A deluge of By Coastal demo tapes had dropped onto the Robots.. doormat over the preceding 18 months, a welcome chrome oxide companion to my daily grind. I fell in love for the second time in my life, seduced by By Coastal Café’s ingénue charm, pretty melodies and perfect, perfect brevity. I swooned when they invited me (and the first love of my life) to see them play the Emmaboda festival in their native Sweden. I sighed adoringly when they said we could stay at their place. And I blushed when they were as pleased to meet us as we were them.
I don’t need to describe the gig, the whole thing is on this single. I wanted a keepsake, a memento amour, so I recorded it, from in front of the crowd, in the clearing, in the middle of the forest, in the middle of nowhere, with the mono Dictaphone mic I borrowed off them.
It was important – to use something belonging to my distant lovers. When I’m apart from my first love, I clutch something of hers tightly to my breast, and I feel closer to her. By Coastal Café are gone now, but when I need to remember them and to love music and life, I slip this record on and close my eyes. by_coastal_café

Drowning Dog/The Deletist, split (Entartete Kunst) 7"

Entartete Kunst have got something to say. Look at these titles. The Deletist: Americans Eye Aeroplanes Differently Now. Drowning Dog: Outside The World Is Turning Crimson While We Sit And Stare At The Television. But you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, there’s no polemics here, just bitz’n’beats to stoke the fires of your mind. The Deletist stutters and skips around what sounds like a treated violin slowly bowing long bass notes while Drowning Dog give a few more clues via samples and put a stricter break underneath gloomy atmos and a nagging blip. They call it no-field electronica. PO Box 411194, SF, CA 94141-1194 USA

Bidner/Martinek, 911/This Is Not My Government (MedienKunst Tiroi) 7"

On a similar tip, Bidner/Martinek stitch up Earth, Wind and Fire and David Bowie to make a point and "wrong power politics and their consequences." But if you couldn’t care less about that stuff, the filterglitchdisco of 911 is enough regardless of the message.

Various, Wanna Buy A Craprak? (Carpark) CD

Stuck, as I am, out here in the sticks, small details assume significance beyond their deserved status. Here’s one such: why would Carpark deliberately typo their title? I’m probably already reading too much into it when I start thinking it’s an orthographical flare, an eye-catching attention getter, the reason you’re going to pick this record up and not the one next to it (OK, one of the reasons – it’s cheap as well.) But when the theory develops (hey, I’ve re-read all my issues of The Legend, cleaned the toilet and watched the final of World’s Strongest Man 2002 twice, what else am I going to do on a Sunday afternoon?) I worry for my own mental health. How about if the gross grammar is an allegory for the music on the label? Is it possible that the simple distortion of Carpark into something still recognisably related yet semantically, through its phonetics, distant, mirrors the way the bands take familiar music, twist it and deliver it back the same yet different? Could the cut’n’shut techno of Kit Clayton vs Safety Scissors be a wry comment on the banality of bangin’ house? When Dinky bleep breathily through No Love is it my imagination that twists the track into a glorious clash of the bass from Jack Your Body and the spirit of Soft Cell? Kid 606 is well known for crushed collisions, so am I wrong when I think his If My Heart Ever Ran Away It Would Be Looking For The Day When Right Beside You It Could Ever Stay is just showing off: "yeah, we all know I can do noisy, but did you know I can piss gentle ambient out of my arse too?" And what about Jake Mandell? Beartrap! rounds off the set with a mess of 80s drum machine samples run through a slowly turning mangle. So may levels to this Craprak. But is all this pontification crit chic, or am I up shit creek?

Peanut Butter Wolf, Badmeaningood (Whoa) CD

"We wanna hear the beatbox! We wanna hear the beatbox! We wanna hear the beatbox!" The 45 King’s Funk Box slides in out of Lord Alibaski’s Top Gun and out into Iron Butterfly’s Soul Experience. It’s the sweetest spot on a sweet-assed disc although the segue from The B Beat Girls’ Jungle Swing into the Human League’s Hard Times comes close. Peanut Butter Wolf’s is the first in a series of personal slants on hip hop (Who? How? Why?) and PB knows that the pumping silicon drummer is at the core of the music. Around it he weaves a slick web of funk and soul with a dash of electro and reggae, but the heartbeat is always provided by a solid black box topped with an MC. Run DMC at their peak were feeling it, and they’d have said this mix was bad. (And that’s bad meaning good.)

(The Real) Tuesday Weld, I, Lucifer (Dreamy) CD

Glen Duncan wrote the book (the Devil gets one last chance and is incarnated as a suicidal would-be writer living in Clerkenwell) and appears on this soundtrack, a modern-day Busby Berkeley score sashaying silkily from the sampler of Tuesday Weld. Doesn’t sound particularly satanic so far does it? And it isn’t, which makes a moment of sequenced electro darkness like The Root of All Evil feel seem even darker as it sets in motion a gradual slide in mood towards the album’s hidden closing track, a rain-drenched, church bell-chiming, half-whispered lament. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. So are you going to have a listen to this, or just mean to get round to it some day?


[some of these reviews previously appeared in Careless Talk Costs Lives]

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