reviews july 2003

Riders (Kitchen) 7"

"He is a guitar player – but not the best one. Not the best one. Never the best one." It’s a test pressing and I haven’t got the title or track listing yet. Doesn’t matter. This is the song that sums Riders up for me. It’s a minute long, if even that. Martin isn’t the best guitar player, but he’s got a melody knack. He could pluck a tune out of a tired elastic band. He probably does it on this record. Amy isn’t the best singer, but she’s got an economical, emotional knack. She could sum up War and Peace in a couple of sentences. She probably does it on this record. The Riders aren’t the best band. But they’ve got a 4-track knack of turning a lo-fi wisp of this and a toy beatbox fragment of that into a fleeting moment of absolute beauty. They do it seven times on this record.

Puffinboy, Voodoo For Beginners (Foolproof Projects) 7"

Voodoo For Beginniners comes on like a harder, harsher answer to Surreal Madrid’s Girls of the Night. Puffinboy rams a tribal beat up against a dirty square wave bass line, a super tight snare and a blast of static. Then he throws in all the bin-end synth squeals the early Human League couldn’t fit onto their records and tops it off with a girl you wouldn’t want to mess with repeating mind-bending cut-ups of "I wanna play with the girls that dance." When I interviewed him, Puffinboy said he wanted to spend more time on his records, make them better in every way. He has. Dancefloor? Check. Out there? Check. Foolproof? Check.

Vector Lovers, Electrobotnik Disco (Iwari) 7"

So, yes, the Vector Lovers have heard the odd Kraftwerk record. And now they’ve made the odd Kraftwerk record. Denser than the man machines, it rides a nearly disco beat for the duration with popping pops, slabs of electro and a dysfunctional vocoder on the side.

Grandscope, Tricolore (Bearos) 7"

Tricolore is house music for people whose most bangin’ night out was a game of dominoes and two halves of Best. That might sound like an insult. It’s not. Tricolore is rock music for people whose most rockin’ time was collecting fossils on a beach near Weymouth for a school project. This might sounds like an insult. It’s not. When two worlds collide the aftermath is frequently unlistenable. When Tricolore merge house beats and prog atmospherics, it sounds like a holy union. Periodically I get sent records called things like Dark Side of The Moon – The Remixes. They are always shit. But if they weren’t, they might sound like Tricolore.

Birdpen, Discussing Robots (Jar) 7"

I am, of course, contractually obliged to love any record that mentions Robots. Notwithstanding this, Birdpen have come up with a dreamy dream dreamboat of a record where a proper-sounding song descends into Spaceman 3 Jr ambience that in turn slides into a lackadaisical click/fizz/tune denouement.

Arcade, 133t (Experimental Seafood) 7"

Arcade. 133t. Not sure which is the title and which is the band. Or which track is which. There are subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing? Oh my sides.) which are clunky and melodic. Taking them at face value, c=f^0+0d is clunky and Slo Fi is melodic. The first sounds like maracas taped onto an erratic vibrator, a malfunctioning vibe and one of those wind-powered installation artworks trying to jam by telepathy. Dysfunctional and disturbing and, distressingly, I’m well into it. The other side has the melody that plays over the fade-out of 80s films where the hero wins but is shafted by fate. In the rain. At a truck stop. In the middle of nowhere. To accompany the sadness, slow whoomps, clicks and buzzes skedaddle around the stereo space. Nothing disturbing here but still great.

Transistor Six, Mad Science (Black Bean & Placenta) 7"

I shouldn’t need to sell her records to you, you should already know about Transistor Six. You should already know how she backs up beats with haunting effects and her own tentative vocals. Unusually, she sources samples from far and wide – a folkish accordian might float over a breakbeat tenderly extracted from a 50s blues cut locked down to a bass lick from a Johnny Cash record. And then Frances sings, timidity realised. And then she washes over the whole with layers of musical watercolour depth. This record is one of only 50 copies on hand-lathed clear acetate. The sleeves are signed and coloured by Frances. I shouldn’t need to sell her records to you, but I’m doing my best.

Caruso, You Heard Me (Pickled Egg) 7"

A distant cousin of Grandmaster Gareth’s recent Minute Melodies collection, Caruso’s eight tracks here are culled from a demo apparently containing 50 such delights. Each snippet is perfect at its short length, each is the flashing past of moods or memories – a sunny street café in the Med, the outside of a nightclub at midnight, a crazy dash through a crowded market to meet a loved one – each is like the High Llamas (and all the people they revere) making an album in the time it takes the sand to trickle out of a (pickled) egg-timer.

The Marcia Blaine School For Girls, Pink Sticks (Static Caravan) 7"

I can’t help thinking of Burnt Friedman. But it’s not really dub. And there’s this piano that embellishes the click track. But if you imagine Burnt Friedman and a piano and a click track, then you’d understand why.

Southall Riot, Jimmy Glass EP (Victory Garden) 7"

Another welcome platter of varied fare from The Riot. Throwing Popcorn is a blast from the musical past, back to when C86 was a just-gone bar to jump higher than. It jangles and the vocals are strangled and it keeps its length to a minimum to never outstay its welcome. Jimmy Glass is a forgotten folk melody, picked out on a couple of guitars at least one of which sounds out of tune to these ears. Somehow this only adds to the magic. Material is acoustic 60s folk-pop plus something really weird (sounds like a robot baby whining) going on in the back room. Pink vinyl.

The Set Designers, Five Songs by (Penpal Recordings) 7"

Girl with 4-track, slightly out of tune guitar, and tambourine makes beautiful home made pop songs and an astute label does the rest. It’s a true story too, though in the hands of Hollywood scriptwriters this wouldn’t be quite good enough – they’d have the girl becoming a big star, feted by royalty and marrying Brad Pitt by the end. Life’s not like that of course but still there’s this record ( a thing of delight ) to remind us that the real world’s not so bad too – sometimes. c/o Halldin, Temperaturgatan 91, 418 41 Gothenburg, Sweden (Laurence)

The Pipas, A Short Film About Sleeping (Matinee) 7"

It’s late, but you can’t sleep – you languidly click round the channels on the telly and stop at some film that’s just started. Not a big budget blockbuster but there’s a certain cool continental style that appeals slightly, actually after a while you realise it’s really rather good. A bit later and you’ve clicked the VCR onto "record" and wished you’d done so right at the beginning, by the end it’s one of your favourite films even though you have to check the newspaper to find out what it was called. A bit like this record by The Pipas – sometimes the term "indiepop" can really mean just that. PO Box 76302, Washington DC 20013, USA (Laurence)

Calletta Craft Typewriter, Sounds of M.I.E (Trolley Bus) CD

More like the sound of homesickness, alienation, unfulfilled yearnings and unhappy sex. Put another way – two Japanese boys cross the Pacific with high hopes and return later, chastened by their American experience. Then they got together a shed-load of instruments and made this record. Number 303, 516 Tsuboya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604 -0814, Japan (Laurence)

California Snow Story, One Good Summer (Shelflife Records) CDS

There’s a certain gentle jangle sound that our Caledonian cousins seem to do rather well, going back to Aztec Camera through Belle and Sebastian to Camera Obscura. Why north of the border is such fertile territory for this kind of thing remains a riddle but you can add California Snow Story to the list (Laurence)

Dear Nora, The New Year (Magic Marker) CDS

Dear Nora’s last two offerings were recorded in a studio with band (We’ll Have A Time) and in a bedroom on a 4 track with just guitar (Dreaming Out Loud). This falls somewhere in between these, done on an 8 track in various locations at various times and with various supporting people. Same as always though is the talent of Katy Davidson and her way with a melody and a turn of phrase. No affected "attitude", no vapid conceptualism – just good songs: a novel approach which probably will never catch on.PO Box 9342, Portland, OR 97207, USA (Laurence)

Various, All’s Fair In Love And Chickfactor (Enchante) CD

This comes to us from Chickfactor, the august American journal that is "in love with pop music" – and we’re not talking Britney or Kylie either. Is 21 tracks too much of a good thing? Perhaps, but a random trawl through the track listing throws up names like Aislers Set, Clientele, and Low to mention only three. More to the point there’s plenty of names that you won’t heard of before but the quality is consistently high – showing that there is great pop music being made in this age of insipid emptiness. (Laurence)

The Aislers Set, How I Learnt To Write Backwards (Slumberland) LP

A slightly more restrained offering than previous ones, they’ve got horns this time and a distinct latin vibe going on with hardly a fuzzed up guitar to be heard. Still intact is the homage to sixties pop, the delightful backing vocals, and tunes too – by jingo! So it’s a good one then, a slow burner that gets better the more it's listened to. PO Box 19029, Oakland, Ca 94619, USA (Laurence)

The Butterflies of Love, The New Patient (Fortuna Pop) LP

A great record. More information? Okay then, second album from this lot who lovingly craft and polish their songs before letting the likes of you and me have a listen. Like a certain premium lager, it’s ready when it’s ready and not before. The final result is worth the extra labour they put in. Great record, buy it – end of (Laurence)

ML, ML (Loca) 12"

Meet the Nu-Metal. Just like the old metal. Not if ML (you might already have heard of him under the Meme moniker) has anything to do with it. This is apparently "the long-awaited metal/electronic fusion." Long-awaited by whom, we are not informed. What proportion of this fusion is metal, we can divine through an experiment utilising the ears. Please wait... Five tracks pass... The results are in: not a lot, thank the Lord. Where the fusion happens, ML rejects hip hop appropriations, piercings and big shorts and instead processes hoary old rock riffs around shifty beats. And where the fusion doesn’t happen, this is another example of Meme’s quality control as we’re pummelled by hefty techno backed with breaks. Pick is probably Heavy Artillery. But Standard Size (the most metal of the set) pushes it close.

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