reviews june 2000

Various, Wrap Up; Stroll On (First Degree) CD

Organised by the Southampton Institute, "Wrap Up; Stroll On" aims to promote both student and local bands on the Institute's First Degree label. As you'd expect from a compilation with this kind of background, there's a broad spectrum of musical styles on display and, as you'd also suspect, some of it is a whole lot better than the rest. On the right side of the fence, Reeve; McDade; Foot ply an admirably wild brand of weird jazz on their "No Reported Incidents"; Mainliner's "Better Breathe" develops from overlaid shuffles into a groove and treated guitar wah halfway to Loop and Ace Whole's 50-second speed metal and drum solo rush "Bill.. This One's For You" is just about perfect. The usual compilation result, in fact, but nicely done all the same.

Four Tet vs Pole, Pole vs Four Tet ep (Leaf) 12"

In a beautiful spirit of co-operation and mutual respect, there's one each of their own and their version of the other's. If you see what I mean. In a further beautiful spirit, of relaxed invention this time, Four Tet undubs Pole's "Heim" with the never ending rhythmic ring of forty pianos and a ringing pianoforte rhythm. In his turn, Pole rewires the classic "Cload" creating an expansive, moody nothing of shifting, shuffling, chattering ssschhhhhh sounds.

Cherrystones, Pressure Cooker (APE) 12"

Unsettled and unsettling, "Pressure Cooker" is the sound of a breakbeat magpie fluttering from loop to loop but never perching permanently on any of them. Add to this a bit of xylophone and an air of paranoia that slowly builds throughout the shot duration and you're there.

Lexis, Branch of Knowledge (Certificate 18) CD

Imagine Rob Soloman, a boy from the sticks, in his Sherlock Holmes garb. Deerstalker hat gripping his temples, large and heavily curled pipe stoked up and puffing and magnifying glass inches above the floor, the Suffolk boy is lured to the great metropolis in search of not only knowledge, but also beats. He finds them in the alleyways of Conan Doyle's London, the thumping mechanical rhythm of sweatshop labour through brick walls smoothed out by the ever-thickening swathes of smog and tendrils of mist that merge and separate in the night, illuminated only by the feeble glow of a faulty gas lamp. That's Hypnotise. A regression session, obviously. Elsewhere, the drum'n'bass is of a more futuristic bent, although no less the sound of a big city: relentless angular breakbeats augmented by washes, slow melody and rigid, rigid funk.

Various, Harpsichord 2000 (SHADO) CD

Expect Lute 2001 next year and Hurdy Gurdy 2002 to follow as SHADO exhume ancient instruments and hand them to a bunch of the kids' favourites (including The Make Up, Momus, Cinerama and Volume All Star) and a bunch of SHADO's house bands (including Valvola, DJ Spectra and Astro Black Stereo.) Inspired by Momus' "Jeff Koons" (which also appears here) this is a celebration and re-evaluation of the Harpsichord hundreds of years after it was superceded by the piano due to the latter's superior projection in auditoria. The irony is that many of the artists on here have probably never seen a real harpsichord in the flesh, let alone tinkled its ivories and the shimmering tinny string arpeggios that flow all over this record are often computer generated (Micromars credit a "misterious (sic) vintage synth" for their harpsichord sound). But that's a minor gripe amongst so much splendrous rippling and some real inventiveness. This is probably the first time that anyone has cut up RUN DMC alongside a harpsichord as Stereo Total do on "Rock That Harpsichord Shit". Likewise the first time that Electroscope's skeletal atmospheres have been treated to an electro makeover ("Out of the Edge of Time") and possibly the first Make Up tune written by prescription for a super-bassy harpsichord. Other props go to Valvola's smooth Italounge and Remington Super 60 with Robo whose odd arcade bleeps adorn a Gilbert and Sullivan piece sung by a cast on downers. via Potente 9, 500199 Sesto F. No, Firenze, Italy

Spraydog, Lintered (Ferric Mordant) CD

They famously, and deliberately, choose titles in the same way that Lewis Carroll composed The Jabberwock, namely by inventing new morphology and syntax as the mood, and the flow, takes them. They are rather less inventive when it comes to moving on from the sound of the first, excellent, album "Citrus Bitumen". The grammar here remains firmly within the classical confines of the language prescribed by the father of modern feedback pop Prof. J. Mascis. They are Spraydog and if you liked the first record, you'll like this one. The difference is in the poise and assurance of the songs as they lounge through the squalls and the CD squalls through your lounge.

Tracer AMC, Song for Amber and Red (We Love Records) 7"

Not to be confused with early 90s rappers Kiss AMC whose single memorable contribution to the pop canon involved the superbly-crafted theft of a riff from the Emerald Isle's biggest ponces, U2, and called, brilliantly, "A Bit Of U2." This single is the first in a series from We Love Records which will release "short pressing 7 inch singles in handmade sleeves; the music... ambient guitar sounds and bass loops combined with drums to create vast soundscapes." Couldn't really have put it much better without mentioning Mogwai meself, although Tracer AMC never quite reach the splenetic intensity of their Scottish cousins. "Song for Amber and Red" is the better of the two here by virtue of its simplicity which, perversely, comes from the guitarist and bassist swapping instruments for the duration of the song. Still an auspicious debut, however. PO Box 1222, Belfast, BT2 8AW, Northern Ireland

Fuxa, Techno Light (Rocket Girl) 7"

Less techno than you might imagine from the title. About as techno as you might imagine from the artist. Certainly light, however, from both angles. A windy breeze is the constant element and the music partially obscured behind it is soft, almost windscreen-wiper funk-those scenes in cop films where the cop who has just lost a partner or a girlfriend drives through the neon city in the rain and the beads of water on the windscreen interact with the lights to make a kaleidoscopic distortion.

Kicker, Said and Done (Track & Field) 7"

I wasn't wild about this lot down at the Rota gig with Southall Riot recently. The single is much better though. On the A-side the kind of girl-vocal thing that was exciting Too Pure around the time of their classic "Pop, Do We Not Like That" compilation. On the B-side, "Chancifer," the kind of boy-vocal thing that is essentially the same with clunkier bass, less varied riff (2 chords) and indie-schmindie singing that I thought I'd left behind a long time ago. Retro, yes. C-86, yes. Common on fanzine tapes and "Whoosh!" compilations, yes. But no surprise when you find that there are ex-Comet Gain and Velocette personnel here either.

Broadcast, Come On Let's Go (Warp) 12"

Weird promo for the forthcoming single with Nirvana bootlegged on one side and The Who on the other at the outer edges of the vinyl with the 7-inch tracks pressed at the centre at a different speed protected by the security fence of a lock groove. Weird, as I say. The song itself is the theme to an as-yet unwritten Bond film. Sinuous, sensuous and spiralling around tumbling orchestral tinkles and strings and a beautifully-enunciated and haunting dream breath vocal.

Grover, 414.7 Revolutions (Bearos) 7"

At 33.3 rpm, 414.7 revolutions equates to just under 13 minutes of music. I haven't timed it but this seems about right and means that at least one of Simon Fox, Andy Hall and Simon Rider is probably a mathematician which leads me to a pleasingly spurious math-rock link. Somewhere in the ancestry of Grover's powerful sound, the emo-core/post-rock/whatever gene made its mark and the throwback effect is visible on "Ed Chigliak" where the chassis of an old hardcore track is chopped up and haphazardly welded back together with odds and ends of heavy ironmongery from around the studio. "Crystalline" does the same kind of thing with the remnants of an old Billy Mahonie repetition bass line.

Simon Joyner, The Motorcycle Accident (RoomTone) 7"

A little curio, this. Joyner sandwiches demonstrations of his country Dylan song collection in between bits and pieces of his thoughts and notes from a book of unfinished poetry. His band, The Fallen Men, are on the verge of breakdown and are not much reinvigorated by the leaden heart that weighs heavily deep inside the 6 tracks on offer here. "There Was A Time" is the choice cut: "There was a time when everything tasted like wine..." the words run, to minimal backing from piano and muted guitar. Elliot Smith is the obvious comparison. PO Box 747, New York NY 10156, USA

The Family Way, Sugar Baby Love (Stupid Cat)/ The Action Time, Comedown Blues (Southern) both 7"

Not the Rubettes hit of the same name, nor is "Tomorrow's Man" on the other side a gender reassignment of the UK Subs' "Tomorrow's Girls." Both are, though, stylish hip-swingers in a 60's vein as viewed through nostalgia glasses and the bottom of a bottle and recorded in a cold lockup somewhere near Camden, no doubt. Played, as ever, by a bunch of pseudonyms. This is The Family Way.

With some crossover in personnel between TFW and TAT, you'll not be surprised to find that some of the fixations are also shared. False names and the Rock'n'Roll years again feature heavily, although the emphasis is definitely more on the rock here. A grittier guitar sound, more aggressive "hoo, hoo"-ing and a dirty lead guitar. "Fucked Up All The Time" sounds like any one of hundreds of 60s garage punkers you'll find on compilations called things like "Teenage 60s Garage Punk Bootleg Rock'N'Roll from Cryptsville, Arizona. Volume 30." It is superb.

Gilded Lil/The Male Nurse, split (Stupid Cat) 7"

Gilded Lil's "Departure Lounge" is a particularly disturbed Polly Harvey playing peculiarly elastic guitars in a pleasingly bendy way. It's as if the record is constantly slowing and speeding back up. If this is the departure point, the journey and destination will be very strange indeed. The Male Nurse offer "The Male Nurse Tower," a song about "a very high building in the middle of London." It sounds like a very deep underpass on a dark night haunted by the Phantom Of The Opera on a very bad day with the Fall as his orchestra. 3 Downhills Park Rd, London, N17 6PE

Pilote, National Lottery (Certificate 18) 7"

"National Lottery" is on the "Antenna" album. "Jelly" is not and it's for this reason that the single is essential. A brutally rasping, farting, creaking overweight groan is coaxed into unnatural aerobic flexibility as unfeasibly athletic beats dance around it in leg warmers and tights. Drum'n'bass? More like chalk'n'cheese.

Burnt Friedman and The Nu Dub Players, Just Landed (Scape) CD

Burnt Friedman is a dub sniper. He lies in a concealed position for hours at a time, never allowing himself the luxury of even the slightest movement, all attention focussed on the short tube across his bass rifle that magnifies his surroundings, making the far near and the near immediate. With a heightened sense of anticipation through his inactivity and the single-minded dedication to the scope he has ample opportunity to develop his theory of the perfect strike, to play out in his mind the moments when he will tense his forefinger on the trigger, draw a bead on his target and then squeeze. Patient, meditative, the result of much planning. Perfection. "I Shot The Fashion Victim" is the signature tune. The unlucky recipient of Friedman's compulsive dedication to the art of laying down shattered beats and bass being those whose probably wouldn't want to listen to them anyway. The Nu Dub Players are looser and BF allows them latitude to smear traces of improvisation and movement over his pinpoint accuracy, over his considered back line.

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