reviews january 1999

Johnny Domino, Rabbit themes (Artists Against Success) CD

The first full album from AAS might well be the one that violates their eponymous manifesto. Johnny Domino peddle a cheerily ironic pop formula: Joy Division meets Mario Bros electro, embracing cheese melodies and the ghost of Half Man Half Biscuit on the way. "Sonja" buzzes with thick electronic organ tones and a relentless beatbox propels the monotone vox; "Vengo!" adds a ouch of Cable rumble and some subdued Elastica punctuation; "Are you prog?" is a bendy indie number elevated by the incorporation of some classic Bullseye lines and in "The Udigawa Contract" they contrarily "choose not to choose" over a slicing, squealing riff and the odd sci-fi effect. A really nice way to kick the new year off.

Plutonik, Sitting on top of the world (Integrity) CDS

After the excellent white label cracked beats of "Jungoltrane/Filter," Plutonik roll out their first full release---and it's a corker. Adding female vocals to their drum'n'bass might prompt Reprazent comparisons but they wouldn't be valid because---and this is crucial--the rhythms and vibe have not been compromised. So, no tedious strings, melodic synth washes or indulgent so-called jazz. Basically, no messing around as the mood darkens over the song's duration until at the death it's a tossed percussion salad with siren stab dressing. Tasty

Various, Steps in Stone (3rd World Disco) 12"

Two highlights and two solid cuts is VFM in anyone's book. Spong (authentic funk and breaks) and The Benchplayers (jazzily stroked guitar and gentle beats) provide the two veg while Gravity's Rainbow and The Baron serve up the meat. The former is a 60's Hammond whirl that takes up where Neal Hefti's "Batman theme" leaves off (and it gets pretty groovy after the bit they used on the telly) and the latter gives up a dense beat-o-rama NYC hip hop strut from the top drawer.

Camera Obscura, Your sound (Andmoresound) CDS

They might say "your sound" but it's very much theirs. A tuneful trundle through acoustic meadows with under-breath boy/girl vocals in a feyish pop fashion. It's carefree summer days, gentle breezes, swaying yellow flowers and warm satisfaction.

Io, Something out there (Ferric Mordant) 7"

Albini-underproduced yank slackerisms---a touch of the Huskers with a sadly underplayed angularity peeping through. A grower.

Webb Brothers, Cold fingers (Easy!Tiger) 7"

Sons of songwriter Jimmy Webb ("Wichita lineman" for Glen Campbell, "MacArthur Park" for actor Richard Harris amongst many others) with a debut 7" on which they rampage through a sub-100 second trash pop gem ("Cold fingers") and recline into "I'm over and I know it", a lazy, drawling spiral that TFC would've killed for 5 years ago. Classic. It's in the blood.

Nulf, Bad guys have all the fun (Nulf) 12"

Curiously claims to play at 33.5, but we'll excuse the label typo for the quality cut that is "Breakbeat Bb minor," an acid/break scourer with superb trap set sounds and a foghorn bass. A second helping with added screams and a darker vibe is supplied by "Pride" and the other side drops two funkier pieces. 342 West 71st, New York, NY 10023, USA

The Flaming Lips, 1984-1990 (Restless Import) CD

The Flaming Lips haven't always been making 4 cd simultaneous playing albums, conducting 'Boombox Experiments' and 'Parking Lot Experiments'. As the title of this retrospective compilation suggests, they've been kicking around since the early eighties - mostly attached to Restless Records before they got hitched to Warner Brothers in late 1990. Head Lip Wayne Coyne got asked to put together this package because, he says, "I don't think any of our old records sell that much and Restless would rather stop making them."

Well maybe so but, given that Wayne uses the (extensive) sleeve notes to undertake an errant deconstruction of the myths that 15 years have built around this bunch of Oklahoman visionaries, you can take that with a pinch of salt. The Flaming Lips did indeed travel a remarkable and sometimes frighteningly fortuitous path on their way to a second decade of bedlam but the evidence here can give a few pointers as to why they made it this far. From the outset they were making great tunes that didn't fit into the sounds of the time - 'Bag Full Of Thoughts' could be considered to predate some of theose early 90s Seattle sounds by a good six years.

That song is the first of eight which are chronological selections. Starting at the self released debut EP and working through the four Restless Lps that followed, it paints an interesting picture of a band growing beyond it's essentially punk rock roots. From the gonzoid death rock of 'Jesus Shootin' Heroin', past the 'One Millionth Billionth Of A Millisecond On A Sunday Morning', to the noise fried vision of 'God Walks Among Us Now', the underlying sense of a band with some idea of what sounds good is always there. It's also pretty interesting to hear the work of several line-ups back to back in the first section of the disc, as the Lips went from four to three and back to four again. It's clear that the personnel changes provided the impetus for some radical changes in direction, but that the central plot was always essentially unchanged.

Beyond the album tracks, you also get some hard to find and fairly cool tracks from elsewhere during this era. A typically twisted round cover of Neil Young's 'After The Goldrush' is of particular value, showing a remarkable versatility to the three piece incarnation of the band. The little-known classic 'I Want To Kill My Brother; The Cymbal Head' is one of the absolute highlights though. Lifted from the 'Guitarrorists' compilation, which featured various indie-cool guitar players making solo tracks based only around the guitar, the song is a magical guitar symphony. True to nature, Coyne bent the rules and enlisted other band members to help him write and play the track - the sleeve notes are probably a first time public admission of such - but the result is magnificent, albeit sadly short lived.

So, Wayne would have you believe that all this was a bit of an 'accidental career', but it's perhaps fairer to say that they always went into a studio with the intention of creating something that was their own. Sure, they might have lifted some cues from someone else and gone in with some ideas of what they were supposed to be doing, but they mostly just wanted to make their own music and that's usually what ended up happening. For the non fans, it may seem to pale in the light of what they've achieved since, but this story is important. Not only that, but it's somewhat funny, sometimes beautiful and also slightly heartwarming. (Drew)

White Hassle, Upstairs at the Garage, London

Chiselled of jaw, sharp cut in the denim department, he slings his guitar round his neck, checks that the dollar bill rests firmly between the strings and then he steps up to the microphone. To his right: pots and pans, an upturned bin, and even one real drum. All of these things are scattered around a scruffy yet hard looking man, who is seated on a battered chair. The first clears his throat, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we're white hassle." With that declaration made, they lash into a clattering 'I Lose Again' - extracting a rattling but structured musical bedlam from their low rent tools. White Hassle, ladies and gentlemen, are the kind of band poetry would have you stumble upon in a tangled street scene. Something like the ultimate country blues street musicians. Men fixed to travel light and born to create a sound weary of heart. It's a sound that simultaneously harks back to raw garage rock, 50s/60s country, and some of the blues originals. These two men exude rock 'n' roll spirit while manufacturing a sound that is exquisitely full, yet handsomely uncluttered. Whether they are ripping through a an almost honky-tonk version of 'Leave My Woman Alone' or bashing out more of their own timeless sounding compositions, they sound gleefully unique. The new song 'White Hassle Intro' is particularly special, as Marcellus Hall puts down his guitar and plays his harmonica as a demon might. With some serious blues noise lashed tight to Dave Warenka's sharp percussion on his ragtag drum kit, the song is pure excitement and bodes well for the next record. When they're eventually persuaded to do an encore, the final song sounds suspiciously like a Hasil Adkins number, which pretty much says it all: a comparison to the little known and awkward 'hillbilly Elvis' seems to fit quite nicely.(Drew)

Soul Coughing El Oso (Slash) CD

People often get scared by the general description of this band. Sure, jazz/rock/hip-hop/jungle fusion sounds like it might be a bit of a nightmare but it really isn't. This album takes their last one, multiplies by ten, adds some additional groove, subtracts some pokiness, and slaps the ante up a bit. You ain't not never heard anything like '$300' or 'Monster Man' before and you can rely on there being a few more surprises in here to boot. A varied album of excitingly good tunes - go buy it, sit down, and focus. Then let it slip as you please. (Drew)

Avrocar, Hold (Earworm) 7"

Skittish drum machine and keyboard hum, muted guitar and buried bass with understated vocals. Simple mood/pop music from the Midlands, it must be another one of Pram's babies with a charming song that doesn't so much finish as stop.

Cable, Arthur Walker (Infectious) CDS

The first single from the new LP will be familiar to regular listeners. Cable-by-numbers, yes, but played with the gusto of a band blasting away the cobwebs of hibernation. Bendy melody and surging riffs ahoy, it's a rocket-powered tribute to Derby explorer Arthur Walker (apparently) that pushes all the Heavy Pavement buttons and creates another gurning pop classic. For all you technoheads the video is on track 3.

Fridge/Portal, Deadly cube/Hydro electric (Earworm) 7"

Fridge are in a reflective frame of mind, the drum loop is heavily slowed and the bleeps are somnolent, restful and dreamy until boosted by a sprinkling of angel dust random melody halfway through. Portal sound like FSA in early bedroom fuzz mode.

E.A.R., Data rape (part 9) (Earworm) 7"

Sonic Boom here with a hypnotic pulse/buzz number that'll send the tired to sleep and the wired into convulsions. Strangely relaxing, it's the sound of an electric razor, a fax machine and a Heath Robinson contraption over a medium heat for three minutes and, like fractal sound, there's more self-similar detail to hear the deeper you go. On the b-side an etching of a two-headed, nasty-looking, earworm by Savage Pencil.

Various, Brighton Crawl (Melting Vinyl) 7"

From the self-styled busiest PO Box in Brighton", Melting Vinyl bring you their post-crawl hangover cure: 4 tracks from Gildel Lil, Crest, Mellow and Bette Davis and the Balconettes. Lil donate "Nothing fancy Nancy", a Beefhearty lurch recorded in a faraway shed but still magic; Crest's "68 comeback" is pedal steel indie of the kind Shoeshine have been doling out recently; Mellow are mellow both by name, nature and song title, dreamy French synthstuff; and Bette Davis top the lot off with a bloody marvellous trash blast and bonus rude-sounding title: "Big pussy sounds". Well worth 2 quid. PO Box 2927, Brighton, BN1 3SX.

David Z, Surf 60 (District Z) CD

An instrumental mini-album, this. It opens with the slow, dreamy, synthetic length of "Silk Road" but really starts to boil when "Manic pi" kicks off the kind of minimal digital disco grind that's made a household name of DJ Downfall this year. "Thieves in the night" is a little darker, dabbling in electro/house and providing the perfect context for the shiny, happy 60's vibe of "Surf 60" to blast out of. It's a day-glo beach party revamp of the B-52's "Rock lobster" with a bit of "Funky town" thrown in for good measure and easily the standout track here. 5706 Lane Oak Drive, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

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