reviews july 2000

Various, Original Aspect Ratio (Elastic Fiction) CD

In the cruel light of day, a fairly typical local band compilation: 21 tracks is always too many; the bands are either not different or not alike enough to fit together entirely comfortably despite best programming efforts; there's a clutch of bands that sound exactly like indie bands have sounded on indie band comps since the beginning of time and the sound quality is up and down like the proverbial stripper's knickers.

In the benevolent dark of night, on the other hand, there's some useful gear on here too. Take The Green Hornets' "Turn My Back" which whirls around the same 60s Hammond riffs that the Inspirals did at the beginning but with better, more authentic grooves; Clone do a Sisters Of Mercy-gone-hardcore turn; TV21 rattle through gonzo garage gem "Neon Hell" with rickety aplomb and a laryngeal singer and The Mighty Snortin' Powder Rangers drop a little bit of ska into a home-town hoe-down called "Pompey is Pants." 5 Nursery Road, Havant, Hants, PO9 3BG

Various, Esprit III Aspic Project volumes 1-3 (Aspic) all CD

Never let it be said that Robots.. is not informative. Aspic, a jelly used on meats, is so called because its colour is comparable to that of the asp. It lends the word a whole new, and even appealing, character, doesn't it? Obviously Aspic, the label, knew this already and were so enamoured with the word's etymology that they've blessed both a band and compilation with the same name.

Each of the discs in the series (there are two more to follow, the last of which will feature a CD of film footage in addition to the music) collects together tracks by six bands. Three of these are the Aspic home team core of Aspic, Blue Baboon and Darky and the other three are one-off special guests. For the most part the bands are concerned with the infinite variations that can be spun out of a peaceful drone and gentle machine peturbations although Darky consistently pushes for jerkier, speedier versions of the same with ultimate intentions betrayed by the email address:

The Volume One highlight is Aspic's "Antihistamine," an 8-minute glide through the tuning dial of an alien radio with outer-space backing. On Volume Two Celluloid Mata slow a gabba record down by a half and layer bursts of static on top in a way that is infinitely more appealing than my description of it and Tin.RP reveal more than was strictly necessary in "My Lover Is Painful," the sound of taps dripping and grasshoppers rubbing their wings. Darky stars on the third volume with "Gamestar," a fine piece of Mike Paradinas tomfoolery with probably more beats than the rest of the tracks across all the discs put together. An honourable mention goes to the now-defunct Electroscope whose pastoral gloss is redolent of secret wilderness ponds on sunny days. 2 rue de la Convention, F-61900 Villerubanne, France

The Shovels, Time Machine (Kinky Star) CD

It's been a good day, today. It started with Gram Parsons' "GP" and "Grievous Angel" albums, continued with The Stooges' debut and slid up to dinner time accompanied by a couple of David Ackles records taped for me by Mark Brend of Farina (of whom more elsewhere in the zine). After cheese and lettuce sandwiches (it's a hard life being a rock critic), "Revolver" and Beefheart's "The Spotlight Kid" lead up to "Time Machine" by The Shovels. Only one of these records---the last one---was recorded later than 1973 although given the title and the vintage sound you have to wonder...

The Shovels' second album continues more or less where the first one left off, namely in about 1967. With nods to most of the bands mentioned above (less to The Stooges than The Beatles), "Time Machine" is another exemplary blend of low-budget production made the most of, simple folk or country pop-structured songs, gloriously direct and absurdist bons mots like "Laughing is for idiots and loving is for teenagers" and the paisley preserve of instrumental "Strawberry Jam."

Scintilla, Confessions TAPE

Like a considerably more sussed Darling Buds or one of Sarah's girly bands with a bit of bite, Scintilla's 3-track demo zips along for the Summer with pretty harmonies, cheery melodies and poppy bounce. Like a box of Turkish Delight, probably too sweet in excess but very nice as a treat. The band probably agree, saying that this single (also available as a CD) "doesn't really relate to [their] live sound" which has been likened to The Slits.

Of Arrowe Hill (Popt) 7"

If listening to The Beatles sing about kaleidoscope eyes through a pair of kaleidoscopic ears is your idea of fun then this one-sided 7" with a lengthy name (too long to fit on the label, apparently) is likely to hit the spot. Think Elephant 6 at elephantine pace. That is, druggily slurred, hazily produced and splendidly tuneful.

Darkroom, Daylight (The Halloween Society) CD

Ironically titled, perhaps, "Daylight" is night-time music. Without the beats it would be lone-listening, darkened-room ambience, the kind of thing that Ochre would be putting out as a matter of course. With the beats, however, it's a communal affair with the ambience of flickering candlelight. It's an iron fist inside the velvet glove. Unusually for this kind of thing, it's the vocal tracks that work best, especially "Carpetworld" in which Underworld stripped down to their underpants repeat the refrain "Taking a twirl with your best friend's girl while the rest of the band torch Carpetworld."

Zinger meets Spry 2000 Hot, Song 2wo (Red Egyptian) 7"

If you've ever wondered what Blur as a dub outfit featuring a drummer with a club foot and a karaoke Wailer might sound like, then now's your chance to find out. Presumably somebody well-known doing a foreigner, it manages to sound more like the Kinks than Damon's lot ever did, even though Ray and Dave weren't exactly renowned for their reggae prowess, by virtue of a wheezing snatch of something that just might be "All Day and All of the Night" giving the loping groove. It's not a new idea of course (Dread Zeppelin were there a long time ago) but new isn't always best.

San Lorenzo, Nothing New Ever Works (Gringo) CD

When we interviewed them over a year ago, San Lorenzo were talking a good album, a varied and interesting album, but had only two 7" singles that slipped into the post-rock slot rather neatly as evidence. At the time, Owen said "there are songs where it is just me and some finger-picked guitar, but there will be some harsh stuff too [and] we have a great organ-led track." History has proved him right. All these things are on the album but, in keeping with the title, much of the rest can be placed firmly within the relaxed hardcore template. That said, the relaxation is greater here than on most other attempts. Sweep The Leg Johnny's take on the genre is a good comparison. Sure, there's the distant shouting, restrained riffing and self-repression that leads to the guilty (but all the nicer for it) orgasm of guitar excess, the mathematical structures and precision, but there's also-shock-female vocals and the total revision of debut single "Life Without Mountains" into a grandiloquent epic. Best is first, though, and that's "Jun." In it, simple organ lines relieve the guitar of rhythm duties and open up drone possibilities which, when embraced, leave the band sounding like Quickspace gone bad. PO Box 3904, Clacton, Essex, C015 5TF

The Id, The Foundation CDS

Not quite the revolution they appear to think ("the new wave of the new wave of alternativism", whatever that might mean) but a nicely individual stab at the post-hardcore, post-grunge sonic assault thing. "Throw" adds some Joy Division gloom and cyclic strength and "Freezing," after a lengthy intro, develops into a surprisingly listenable churn and solo effort. Not really there yet, they need to be rougher, but it's coming. 22 Fire Station Square, Salford, M5 4NZ

The Gazillions, Have Landed (Round) CD

It's a good thing that there are bands who can write choruses like "Sending rock stars to Mars/ In rockets shaped like guitars" and "Hobbit love/ cool damp Hobbit love" and repeat them ad nauseum to a beat that permutes various combinations of US college rock, pop and punk with a tip of the hat to the Monkees. However, you can have too much of a good thing and after 15 tracks of good-time Riddler grins even the corking line "no warts, no haemorrhoids, no tattoos" from "Laser Technology" cannot hold you back from killing someone.

Shell, Shell Is Swell (Abaton) CD

Haunting, baroque fragments of pop songs based on formulae spirited in from some New Wave time bubble make up the 15 tracks on this, the first proper album from teenagers Marianne Nowottny and Donna Bailey. The songs are constructed thus: classical piano being pulled through a hedge backwards meets PJ Harvey and Patti Smith going the other way and arguing about how lyrics beamed in from Jupiter should sound given that they modulate randomly. A small green man records it all.

Dorothy Wallace, The Unbreakable Chain (Proper Girl) CDS

There is probably no better medium for the spiritual or love song than Country music. This is one of those songs that you can hear Johnny Cash and June Carter turning into their own. Dorothy Wallace does a nice job with it too, though. Her vocal is the focus with the backing being pretty much country-by-numbers. Better would be if it was speeded up and the band cut loose a little more.

Southall Riot & Ansuz Lunasa, Sunhead (Victory Garden) CD/ Totality-G2V (IrisLight) CD-Rom

A year on from the solar eclipse of 11th August 1999 and some of the results are finally in and thankfully removed from the hype and ludicrous, feverish media over-coverage with its procession of indistinguishable eclipse images numbing the mind to the, eventually questionable anyway, glory of the totality when it finally occurred. Although not in an ideal location (Cambridge was never going to get more than about 97% coverage) I constructed a jazzed-up pinhole camera out of an old Cap'n Birds-Eye telescope, a broomstick and sheet of cardboard. As engineering feats go it wasn't exactly Brunel but it did work after a fashion. As an art experiment it fared somewhat better. The photos look pretty good, even if it is hard to work out quite what you're looking at...

Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I was gaffa-taping my scope to the broomstick and pegging the curtains shut, Philm and Stu from Southall Riot were recording the ambient sound of the eclipse from two different Cornish locations and collaborators Ansuz Lunasa were busy in their studio. "Sunhead" is the result of these recordings, and others in the following weeks, mixed down into one 30-minute whole which lumbers through Fuxa-like drone and windy haze to the midpoint where someone, almost off-mic, asks "So this is it?" and Southall Riot kick off a grinding psyche-pop celebration.

"Totality-G2V" was also being filmed and recorded at this time with an array of equipment from a variety of coastal vantage points by Iris Light's crack team of scientists, artists and film-makers. Because of the weather, only their Newquay camera recorded the totality itself and then only fleetingly but this isn't as much of a handicap as it might sound since the shaky pictures of tantalising glimpses of totality from Newlyn, the team setting up their equipment, shots of a darklit beach speckled with sungazers and some astonishing sea/sky horizon views are lifted by the Eraserhead whooshes and cicada chirrups of the accompanying music generated by devices attached to electro-magnetic force recorders and a battery of light sensors. Elsewhere on the CD there is more information about the wider (academic and artistic) project to broadcast the eclipse live on the web, the technology used and some of the spin-off projects. and

Bear, Taking Money From Kids CD

Do Bear shit in the woods? Probably, like most people, in an emergency they'd be obliged to. Main man Chris Trout would certainly shit down the neck-hole of a recently decapitated A&R man, though. "Taking Money From Kids" is their third album and finds Trout very angry and railing against the corporate music biz amongst other things. Ironically, I had to return my first copy of their debut album, "Disneytime," released on Che back in 1996, because it had been mistakenly pressed with Bryan Adams or some such MOR cash cow crapola. "What the Butcher Saw" is the opener and the agenda-setter. Trout comes on like David Gedge with a Bowie fixation and a rocket up his arse, spitting out shards of lyrical ordnance like "if somebody paid for your lunch it was probably me" and "this is an industry full of talentless hacks" as if he can gun down the objects of his ire with barbed wordplay and bitterness. Sparks are an obvious influence in places although this record is denser and rocks more than the Mael brothers ever did. The concealed malevolence and pomp pop is the same, though, as are the lyrical complexity and the unexpected twists and turns like "Number One Headcase" which recycles da-do-ron-ron to the sound of an Adam Ant trash pop beat.

Transistor 6, The Post Office Tower (Elefant) 7"

Bedroom sampler meets steel drums in a lack-of-elbow-room situation. "The Post Office Tower" is a nostalgic nursery rhyme gem. Nostalgic for Frances Castle and nostalgic for me. Me first: although the song is about the tower in London, there is another one in Birmingham outside which, early every December, me and Russell (my brother) would be deposited along with around 100 other kids for a Christmas party paid for by 20p-a-week deductions from our parents' wages by Busby. The party actually took place in the building next door to the Post Office Tower but that was better than the tower itself because you could stare out of the window at the adjacent alien monument and, in a time before every council estate was covered with the bastards, wonder just what these curved marvels actually did. Back at the party, pass the parcel around a huge circle of kids would still be going through its drudging monotony, the size of the eventual prize, belied by the mass of paper that encased it, being hardly worth the bother and always won by some arrogant kid who'd flaunt it for the rest of the afternoon. Tea was always a selection of too dry and too small cakes and sandwiches followed by jelly in perilously flimsy paper bowls. Difficult to drag a meal like that out for any length of time but try we did because what came afterwards was the entertainer. The same bloke every year would turn up with an acoustic guitar and a stick-on Leo Sayer haircut and sing "Lily the Pink" for what seemed like days until we finally got our presents. Ah yes, the presents. Having the same present for every child within a certain age range was certainly an expedient way to buy the things but hardly destined to cause great whoops of delight and surprise amongst the recipients. Except for the first child in the queue.

Frances Castle (Transistor 6) evokes these memories in me as she sings about her memories of London's tower, particularly the joys of the once-rotating restaurant floating above the city and seemingly half-way to the stars. Her voice is so wonderfully, naturally reticent and her loops of steel band sample roll so charmingly around that you can't fail but fall in love, or into the past...

Radio 9, Motorik EP (Enraptured) 10"

The clue is in the title, as Terry Wogan often almost said. If I add the information that Radio 9 is the brainchild of the man behind the Kosmiche krautclub at The Garage then you shouldn't be in any doubt as to the frequency to which Radio 9 tune. Of course, in a kind of poacher-turned-gamekeeper scenario, it's not surprising to find that when the DJs get into the studio they can create music of this quality because they know exactly what makes a track work. Pick of the four is "Moving In Two Directions" which just shades it over the title cut by virtue of the slightly funkier groove loop and a Spaceman vocal.

Amber, Pearls of Amber (Shagrat) 10"

The current issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope contains the first part of a Mac MacLeod biography written by Nigel Cross who runs Shagrat. Amber were MacLeod and Julian McAllister, both friends and contemporaries of Donovan on the early 60s St. Albans folk scene. This 10" collects the only extant studio tapes of the band, recorded in the early 70s during a period that saw the band playing regularly around London. The strapline on the sleeve reads "acoustic music that derives from folk and blues with a touch of psychedelia" which is true as far as it goes but gives too much significance to the blues, not enough to the occasional immensity of McAllister's vocal and none at all to the importance of the sitar in the mix. The lilting glory of "Sea Shell Rock Me" (appearing in two versions) is the highlight. The song is basically a folk love song which coils in around itself in time to a beautiful winding sitar line and reminds of all the possibilities music seemed to offer 30 years ago. 23 High Cliff Drive, Leigh On Sea, Essex SS9 1DQ.

Bablicon, The Orange Tapered Moon (Pickled Egg) LP

One way up the abstract collage insert constructed out of what looks like those string vests that were fleetingly fashionable in the summer of '83 is a pair of cartoon ghosts wafting from the darkness of their daytime hiding place, past the column at the doorway and out into the night. Rotated by 90 degrees, however, we have playful dolphins leaping from and diving back into the sea. This is Bablicon's muse, and Bablicon's music. The orthogonal shift from straight to warped, from musicality to crazy beating, from jazz freedom to all-out free jazz, these are what motivates the tunes. The right angle turn punctuates this record like it does a traversal of Hampton Court's maze, or a journey in Postman Pat's van.

The metaphor extends to the sleeve as well. Here, layers of paper slivers have been built up into hypothetical shapes. Some of the pieces contain words, or parts of words, and some are just blocks of colour. The words provide the reference points in the jumble, the recognisable anchors that give the disarray its structure and orientation. Ditto the riff that steadies the front-loading album opener "Silicon) (Bucktown". Not exactly reigning it in, or holding it back, just through its repetition providing a stable base for the wild orbits of intuitive abandon that spin off, away into the sky and eventually back down. Not as balanced a record as the first album, but nobody ever said that Bablicon were balanced.

Elusiver, Stripped Bare TAPE

Q: What do you call something that's harder to pin down than another thing which is, itself, already pretty difficult to get hold of? A: Elusiver. When a cliche-free darkish techno beat and synth bass line is elusive, a way to, once such a line has been constructed, put vocals over the top without sounding like a 6th-form goth band is elusiver. This tape wrestles with the problem, overcoming the first hurdle with ease but struggling with the second. Four insistent, if gloomy, grooves begin the four tracks but consistently lose all momentum the moment the singing starts. "Ideal Casualties" is a case in point; church organ riffs and a whacking great programmed breakbeat give way to... nothing. Instrumental next time, please.

By Coastal Cafe, I Cleaned the Air! TAPE

Another month, another C90 virgin but for 3 minutes at the start of side A, another clutch of shattered plink-plonk pop from Swedish perennials Martin and Marilyn. More plink and plonk than usual on this occasion too, as they've added a Mothercare My First Keyboard to the armoury. This results in the title track being a kind of John Shuttleworth lounge affair, "Pearly Jeans" a nonsense stop-start tinkle rhyme-and-babble distraction and "Somebody's Baby" a heart-breakingly sad paen to loneliness backed by minimal tin piano.

The State of Samuel, At the Movies TAPE

What is it about the Swedes? It seems they can't record a tape without making it sound like the studio was a toilet and the mixing desk technology that Edison would've regarded as antique. The State of Samuel (Samuel Petersson) is of a school with By Coastal Cafe in this respect although in place of their completely ramshackle charm and charming ineptitude he offers sketchy production, more structure and some genuinely complete songs. Best, though, are the moments where he lets it all hang loose and just records himself and his acoustic guitar on a walkman in a single take with something else on his mind. The distracted air of "Excuse Me, Mr Robot" is one such moment. A 4am insomnia kind of thing, it is low of fi, straggly and untidy and somehow magical. Majrovagen 39, 12245 Enskede, Sweden

MC Mabon, Mr Blaidd (Ankst) CD

The sleeve notes are a regular Rosetta Stone for a post-devolution Britain. With their aid, and the childhood letter-to-God sensibility of their author, I can tell you that the Welsh for "the galaxy" is "y bydysawd" and for "existence", "Bodolaeth." No translation is required on "Xr3i," however, just the tone is enough to tell that the driver of the most playground-feted affordable motor of the late 80s is considered as much of a tosser West of the border as he is here. Much spittle is expended on this record and, although the nature of the targets is more obscure on tracks like "Ffyrnig," there's obviously plenty of bile too. MC Mabon is doing a foreigner from Tystion, also known for their crush collisions of hefty beats and Welsh-language vitriol, and the cuts here are likewise thick with filtered samples from eclectic sources. Like the JAMMS before they went on a chart mission, or like PWEI in their rough-edged and gleeful pranking prime, or like nearish neighbours Parlour Talk in Bristol, MC Mabon is a hip hop magpie, resolutely retaining his identity and a sense of humour as he rhymes and steals.

Unexplained Transmissions, Unexplained Transmissions (Ochre) CD

When the band is called Unexplained Transmissions and features Randall Nieman of Fuxa, you would probably not be surprised to find that the album is not easily described. If I had to plump for a single phrase, it would be The sound of a spaceship slowly manoeuvring into docking position. If ballet was the type of activity that took place in zero gravity and slow motion, I might be tempted to add something balletic to the description too. UT obviously think along similar lines, naming the first two tracks "Spacewalk" and "Airlock". Back on Earth, the best we can do is glide, gentle, murmur and relax.

22 Metre Band, Tracks and Channels (AFD) CD

It really shouldn't be allowed, letting scientists near computers with music software installed. They tend to treat the equipment as they would their lab and ask questions like "What would happen if we tried to make a track which reflected music through 90 degrees?" or "Can we represent the violence of atomic fission and the contrasting silence of a nuclear reactor, musically?" It wasn't so bad when the people asking these questions were the academic avant-garde, separated from the rest of us by the prohibitive cost and complexity of their machinery and the sterile and theoretical nature of their music. But that's all changing now and 22 Metre Band are here with their answers to the 2 teasers posed above: "Penta Prism" and "Magnox." The first is an old jazz record being savaged by another old jazz record, neither coming out on top. The second combines clang and shimmer with ambient atmospherics. Scientifically valid, perhaps, but less interesting than tracks like "Shopfitting" where that old standby banging on an oil drum with a sledgehammer hits the spot once more in an over-the-top pounding nightmare cut randomly with vocoderised announcements. "Parking Orbit" revives an old John Sims alliance (Malloch of Discordia guests) and is a straightforward breakbeat and burble while "To be a Robot" manages to combine the 22 Metre Band extremes in its Jekyll and Hyde drum'n'bass onslaught vs staid break simplicity.

Saian Super Crew, Raz de Maree (Wordplay) 12"

The electric blue wax gives some clue to the exuberance that infests the grooves of Saian Super Crew's debut UK outing. A typically French fusion of ragga and hip hop with dubby African undertones is given a unique spin by the youthful bounce of musical youth and the DAISY vibe of De La Soul.

The Need, The Need Is Dead (Chainsaw) CD

Like the Cardiacs when the clockwork's all but run out. Like the Cramps when the 'billy is slow and theremin-powered. Like Royal Trux when the rock is hard. Like L7 with more irons in their fire. Like Sparks with treble the Mael brothers' concealed menace. Like PJ Harvey playing bits of "Bleach." Like the desire to urinate the moment you pull out of the motorway services, "The Need Is Dead" is instinctive, unconscious and impossible to explain in a rational fashion. POB 1151, Olympia, WA 98507-1151, USA

Meme, Mandible (Loca) 12"

Meme has a dry line in humour as evidenced by this from his self-penned biog sheet: "He was born in Birmingham, although you wouldn't know it due to the remarkable diligence he pays to pronunciation." Droll indeed, but rather contradicted by the admission that Meme pronounces meme as mem. He recovers the situation admirably though; Meme is "an arrogant bastard [who] couldn't give a shit." The same spirit shows up in these five uncompromising tracks, the second batch for Loca, which although less flexible than the first still contain some darkly beautiful shattered beats. "Mammoth" (I'm guessing at the titles, there aren't enough to go round and I can't tell which side of the disc is which) is a distant cousin of the early Autechre sound brought up by a campanologist father and electro mother. "Eleven3" sticks a speedy break under a 70s cop melody, some edgy funk and a few disquieting extracts from the diary of a returnee to a simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar city.

Gang Wizard/Blodeudd, split (Oggum) 7"

What a racket. No, what a racket. Gang Wizard care not for convention or structure, they just like feedback and banging big metal containers while tripping. Should sound appalling but somehow sounds intensely psychedelic in a multi-storey car park kind of a way but not the kind of record you'd listen to 5 times in a row. Blodeudd in comparsion are silent. nothing more than the underground sound of stalactite growth and water seepage. 2.50 from Glynllifon, Pentre Isaf, Tregaron, SY25 6ND

Delicate AWOL, Hurray For Sugar (Day Release) 7"

Not, we assume, anything to do with Delicate Vomit or the Dentists Association, Delicate AWOL provide a fluid version of the academic kraut formula on these two tracks. The title cut just loses out to "Canford Heights" where the instrumentalism seems to make just a little more sense and the jumble of Pram, Tarwater and jangle pop doesn't seem comfortable with itself for more than a few seconds at a time. Being labelled in a review is the bane of a band's life, but if I had to label Delicate AWOL, I'd put them on Kitty Yo.

Electroscope with Mount Vernon Arts Lab/The Castaway Stones, Just Like Geoff (Boa) 7"

Geoff being Geoff Goddard who most famously wrote "Johnny Remember Me" (and several follow-ups) for John Leyton via Joe Meek. He also played the clavioline on Meek's career zenith "Telstar" by the Tornados and collaborated with him on many other projects including the original versions of both tracks on this tribute 7". "Skymen" sounds like you'd expect a gentle mingling of Electroscope and Mount Vernon Arts Lab to sound, with Gayle's yearning after elusive alien visitors mirrored by the minor melody drawn out of electro hum. "My Friend Bobby" is very different, The Castaway Stones skirting the edges of being in tune as they rattle through a retro pop gem with scratchy guitars, harmonies and summery jangle. Flat 2/L, 1011 Cathcart Rd, Glasgow, G42 9XJ

Zurich, Summer Comes, Summer Goes (Boa) 7"

Summer comes and Summer goes and once more my week at a B&B in Weston Super-Mare seems a long distant memory. A cause for sadness, yes, but is it really as bad as Colin McArdle seems to thing? In a recent Boa interview he said that the best thing that could happen to him would be to sign to Domino and be as successful as Will Oldham. Well, he's certainly got the temperament for it and, by virtue of sounding like bits of several other songs you already know (or is that a knack for classic songwriting?), a sticky and sad tune to boot. Flat 2/L, 1011 Cathcart Rd, Glasgow, G42 9XJ

Big Eyes, Big Eyes Songs (Pickled Egg) CD

As you get older the virtues of brevity, of extracting only the essential from a concept and disregarding the rest, of sticking to the point and of keeping self-indulgence to the bare minimum all become more apparent. When, more than a few years ago, you'd scraped together a whole fiver to go and see Pop Will Eat Itself at the Birmingham Hummingbird you wanted even the tiresome support John Moore and the Expressway to play for an hour but now, age advanced somewhat, if a band's set creeps over the half-hour mark and still maintains your interest then you're on the phone to Norris McWhirter. I don't know, but my guess is that James Green has passed the point at which length matters and quality becomes the watchword. Certainly his work rate here would suggest that the core vibe is more important than the 3-minute pop song convention as his Big Eyes race through 12 tunes in 18 minutes. This is a ratio that would shame many a so-called punk band but which paradoxically is belied by the speed at which the songs are played.

Enough appetite whetting, what are Big Eyes about? Well, according to "Big Eyes" they stare out from a poster and "bring everything back." Everything in this instance being acoustic instruments sympathetically arranged about wistful melodies, the odd spoken vocal, Autumn and an egg-timer. You know how sometimes a band slaps down a couple of b-sides that suggest how far they really could go if they were prepared to put in the effort? "Big Eyes Songs" is like an album full of tossed-off Belle and Sebastian b-sides, songs that show how good B&S could be.

Moose, Highball Me! (Nickel and Dime) CD

The best gig I ever saw was The House of Love at Nottingham Rock City in, ooh, 1989, probably. On the cusp of real success, a band I was ambivalent about at best played a set so exquisite, so clear, so painfully articulate and life-affirming that I was almost moved to tears. Guy Chadwick's vocal soared above the swirling chime and shimmer of Terry Bickers' wall of 60's guitar, floating free and echoing back off the low ceiling to somehow harmonise perfectly with itself. "Can't Get Enough of You," early on "Highball Me!" recaptures this glory in full, a nod from Moose to one of their inspirations, perhaps, or just a return to the roots from which they were quickly moving on even as their debut album, "XYZ," was released in 1992. The origin was shoegazing and the more interesting and fertile area they soon colonised was a country and western version of the same. The trend continues here, Moose somehow never losing the dreamy gloss of "Can't Get Enough.." or the pop knack they've always had as they introduce violin, slide guitar or bar-room Stetson melodies.

Comet Gain, Tigertown Pictures (Fortuna Pop/WIAIWYA) CD

"I don't wanna hear your record collection in my brain any more" forced through clenched teeth, jaw gritted, anger, despair and desolation barely concealed. "Will you still love me tomorrow?" breathed as the door closes both literally and metaphorically for the final time. The loneliness of a Saturday night in and alone-truly alone-with the bedroom curtains closed against the world and its unwanted intrusions but a slight gap, enough for a chink of moonlight, open for a certain someone. Darkness is best for hiding the tears. A dark mood is best eased by music. At a loss, marooned in the centre of the room, neither chair nor bed proving comfortable, nervous anger and post-confrontation self-pity the fuel for agitated restlessness, the rush of electric guitar is the only escape. Absorption is followed by a feeling of synergy as each sweeping arm movement, dictated by the unconscious to relieve depression, results in the crashing of a chord, the clanging of a six-stringed scimitar slashing violently through a melody. Pent-up emotion is voiced and voided by the stutter and build-up of the drums beating out a cathartic tattoo as fists beat chest and when emotional emptiness is almost complete the silence at the end of the song reveals the previously hidden other side to the argument, the reflective lull opening up again the wounds just cauterised. Luckily, the self-righteousness of the next track reinforces the initial anger and strengthens the resolve to carry on. Pop music, in the form of Comet Gain, saves another life.

Peaches, Lovertits (Kitty Yo) 12"

Most hip hop is powered by testosterone and is about as subtle and sexy as an unlubed housebrick. Miami Bass tried to inject sex into the mix but got distracted by the fat (b)ass potential and wiggled itself into a tedious cul de sac. Thank the Lord, then, for Peaches and her curious blend of sinuous electro and breathy come-on. "Lovertits" is as odd as its title suggests, a stripped-back acid groove with bizarre rhymes and shouts from a kinky version of the Green Goddess in the aerobics workout of every teenage boy's dream.

Various, Spanked Til Repentant (Spanking Herman) CD

It cost something ridiculous (2, I think) and comes packed with the musical wreckage that is the Spanking Herman mail-order catalogue. The Little Jack Horner moments (i.e. the plum picks) are Diary's "Season Ticket," a slice of hark-back 1982 jerky grinding and growling, Echo Is Your Love's "Momiji" (sheet steel and squalling wind from a split with Warser Gate) and PMT's girly scrap-punk "Cider Slags." As you'd expect from the label, the comp is the slops of rock music, scraped up off the floor and thrown into a jewel box. Lovely. PO Box 2927, Brighton, Sussex, BN1 3SX

Debris, She's The Bomb (Dirge) CD

It's been a couple of years since their debut, "Super 8 Mayhem," which we liked a lot. As then, the new one combines obsessions with pop structures and distortion pedals, placing them of a kind with bands like Spraydog, treading in the footsteps of Sonic Youth and, at cleaner moments, the unbalanced end of Pavement's street. A 10-track set is just about perfect by my reckoning and the placement of the jewel that is "Space Defyer" at what would once have been the end of side one only ups the score. Tempting you to turn your vinyl over, it's dense and hefty down there, has an elastic melody above and explosive beats that battle it out with modish post-rock distant shouting vocals. 35 Donald McLean Street, Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand.

Various, Swim Team #1 (Swim) CD

If my young son knocked up a slow techno track as impressive and stylish as "Pizza" I'd probably pat him on the head in an approving way, buy him a packet of Pokemon cards and suggest that there was time for an hour of homework before bedtime. I, however, am not Malka Spigel and Colin Newman, Ben is not my son and I have not just released a sampler of the Swim label with Ben (or Bumpy as he's known after discovering that there's already a Kid Rock) as the centrepiece. Other high points are Spigel's own "The Fishes and the Shining Sea" which pits the angular inflections of Indian percussion against the synthetic mood of Depeche Mode, Newman's collaboration of spoken words and undulation with Izzo ("Narrativ") and "Phase," a mesh of light bass tones and the sound of the sea washing against the shore set to a simple beat and a bit of brass by Dol-lop.

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