reviews june 1999

Vinyl Bill, Too lazy to rock (Best Kept Secret) TAPE

...and too quiet for his own good is the way I'd describe Vinyl Bill, quiet and melancholy and sounding at its high points like the low-key acoustic guitar and processed Sice vocals that provided the glorious downtime on the Boo Radleys' classic "Giant steps" album and at other times like a man in dire need of a drink. via Biron di Sotto, 101 - 36100 Vicena, Italy

Khan,1-900 get Khan (Matador) CD

Sadly not a blacked-up version Michael Caine running rampage through the underworld of some industrial Pakinstan town ala "Get Carter," but instead soporific breakbeats and electro with dubby tendencies and a hand in its underpants from German in New York Khan---or Can Oral (!) as he is also known. The sleeve is a gallery of sex-for-sale cards and readers in the U.S. can get aural satidfaction from the phone line in the title, should they be that way inclined. The music complements the cover with nightclub seediness, evoking the seamy side of life without ever falling prey to porn flick cliche by dropping into minimal rhythmic grooves, smoky jazz basslines and large organ, ahem.

Plutonik, Londinium (Integrity) CDS

There's something classy about Plutonik's rough/smooth drum'n'bass-meets-songs wrestling match. This one probably errs more to the pop than the previous two singles but doesn't compromise anything in the process. Taking a break you'll be more than familiar with, a dusky jazz singer, sparingly-applied FX and a vocal-harmony chorus, it's a musical lecture on the beauty of simplicity. Remixed for the rougher dancefloor by Octaman.

M. Headphone, The apex barbeque (Thursday Morning) CD

If you're prepared to overlook the standard College rock standards that pepper "The apex barbeque" you'll find a couple of real gems. Amongst the tracks that prowl folkily around the compound delimited by Pearl Jam at one end and Soul Asylum at the other, we find "The eel, the eagle and the fern," a flanged-out Perry Farrell romp, "Bilge pump" with its Neil Young electricisms and "Song of a friend" which ends the album and reminds of an acoustic Wonderstuff circa "Never loved Elvis." PO Box 320262. Fairfield, CT 06430, USA

Halou, We only love you (Bedazzled) CD

Hot on the heels of the Blush album for Too Pure and only just arriving before the new Laub record on Kitty Yo, Halou stake their claim on the fertile, and still relatively unpopulated, area comprising mellow breakbeat, ambient synths and real songs with pop structures. Across the 10 tracks, we get some idea of what kind of music 4AD might be making were they starting up today, a cosy coupling-up of drum'n'bass with Sarah Cracknell and somnolent sonics. "Clip" appears midway through, its up-tempo distorted breaks and submarine sonar pings signalling a heavier foot on the gas pedal as the second half adds housey piano, darker strings and a layer of grime to successive tracks before the lengthy grandeur of LP closer "I'll carry you." PO Box 39195, Washington DC 20016, USA

Difference Engine, Calidad (Bedazzled) CD

Imagine an album with the grace and lithe athleticism of the best of early Luscious Jackson and the pop purpose of those clean Sonic Youth tracks sung by Kim Gordon, with the artful shuffle of Neutral Milk Hotel offshoot The Gerbils and the dreamy slow clamour and soft angularity of a sleepy Pavement. Sound good? How about if it was 7 tracks long and lasted 22 minutes? Perfect. And this is it. PO Box 39195, Washington DC 20016, USA

Blowholy, Church bizarre (Ketamine Leper) CD

Jolt were considerably less subtle when they released their "Punk jungle rules" mini-album, very much a case of What You See Is What You Get. Blowholy chose to call their collision of hard rock and speed-fuelled drums "Church bizarre" but "Sabbath jungle rules" would've been more sonically accurate. It's a beautiful marriage too, the staccato beats punctuating the riffs with considerably greater emphasis than the usual thuds and occasional cymbal smash. There's an agenda too: as well as a general disdain for consumerism, fashion sheep and wilful ignorance, "The great leveller" opens the album with a biting rant against fatuous pop stars, their barely skin-deep disaffection with the music business and the cost of CDs against the ease that they can be bootlegged on the internet. It's not hot air either, you can buy this disc for 2 quid or get it free at the web site below. 44 Low Street, S. Milford, LS25 5AS

Johnny Conquest, Kashmir dark one (Sirkus 7) 7"

Alien vibes meet Lalo Schifrin in a spyfunk-based tune driven by an insistent double bass and lathered with mellow sci-fi, it's "Bullitt" set on Moonbase Alpha.

Warser Gate/Echo is Your Love, split (Lo-Finn) 7"

It's an ill wind that blows round Echo Is Your Love's studio, a metallic squall that gusts and relents in unpredictable waves, building up to a sheet steel crescendo as Pram-like vocals bark "Mom-i-ji" and the simmering power slowly subsides. A perfect match for Warser Gate's two shrill lurches, the winding riffs punctuated by crashing drums, noisy where the Finnish band reclined into ambience and, on "Mule train," tribal like a retarded and beaten-up Royal Trux. 41 Kenrick Rd, Mapperly, Nottingham NG3 6HQ or Hopeatie, 10a15, 00440, Helsinki, Finland

Boards Of Canada, Music Has The Right To Children (Warp/Skam) CD

This record is amazing. I can honestly say that its the closest I've heard in terms of aesthetic to Kraftwerk. Unlike Komputer, BoC don't pastiche K but they share the same melodic sensibility and sonic freshness. Each track has a narrative, an underlying structure that's closer to "classical" music than pop. The sounds are often atonal and deliberately dissonant but they're so dissonant that they make normal music sound...boring. It's a bit like when I first got into Sonic Youth after having heard Teenage Riot, I couldn't listen to any 'normal' guitar bands cos their chords sounded so dull. My favourite track is number 10 which I think is called "Roygbiv." It is awesome. It starts off with a fat, offbeat synthbass. The clicky, dolphiny beat kicks in and then the most sublime chords I've heard since Satie or Debussy. This track is beautiful. It's only very short but it takes hold of you insanely efficiently. I went out to a nightclub last night, listened to a whole night of stuff and yet the only tune in my head in the taxi home was "Roygbiv." Another great one is "Aquarius." It's got one of those wobbly, dubby basslines that just make you smile when you hear them. And it fits so funkily, it's a classic head-nodder. I'm sure this album's gonna be heavily sampled by hiphoppers, if it hasn't been already. The rhythms are at once compelling and hypnotic but yet loose and...different. Really, every track hooks me. There's not a dud on here, similar to the Fila Brazillia album. At the same time, as a musician, this is the kind of album that depresses the hell out of me. It's so far ahead of what I'm doing, so much better than 99% of what I'm doing. I mean, when I listen to Embrace or Mansun, I can believe I'm a creative genius. But when I listen to this album, I feel like a tone-deaf moron. Who can't produce. I've obviously got to try harder. I know I get over-enthusiastic when I post stuff but, like Jimmy Possession, that's partly cos I just don't review music I think is shite. But with BoC, I want everyone to buy the CD. Even if you hate electronic music, give it a listen. Yeah, it's sort-of ambient, but not really at all. There's too much going there for it to be aural wallpaper. If you like Kraftwerk, Can, TD, Satie, Grieg, Debussy or Sonic Youth, you're gonna want to marry this album. I myself took the CD to bed with me last night. Otherwise, you're probably only gonna love it. (Jyoti)

The Roots, Things Fall Apart (MCA) CD

This is a much bleaker sounding album than their last. The first track "Act Won" is sort of "Mo Better Blues" set to music crossed with the message of Consolidated's "Play More Music". Overall, the feel is sort of a cross between the Pharcyde's "Labacabincalifornia" and the JBs "Wit The Remedy." It's the complete antithesis of all the pop hip hop about (which isn't necessarily a compliment). The rapping's very jazz, broken in weird ways over lines and unafraid of taking risks. "Step Into the Relm" is probably the most contemporary sounding, being a cousin of Nas' "Illmatic" with a Wu harp line. There's a lot of old skool name-dropping and even a bit of classic "szh szh szhing" Bambaataa style :-) Buy this album if you like the Pharcyde, Digable Planets, Gang Starr, Native Tongues or Hieroglyphics. Avoid it if you're looking for "my jimmy weighs a ton" type stuff. (Jyoti)

Kings of the Wild Frontier, Trans Am (Dust2Dust) 12"

Recycling the spirit of James Brown's "Living in America" as instrumental electro disco spread over 4 tracks on this new slab, the Kings continue their fascination with the American continent. It's a concept 12" (but don't worry, there's no sign of Rick Wakeman), the concept in question being an East-West transcontinental road-trip, the musical influences along the way bleeding in as the route unwinds starting with the NYC dancefloor and ending with latino rumble as the sun rises over LA.

Future Pilot AKA, A galaxy of sound (Sulphur) CD

"Andrew Weatherall, stop talking now. NOW! Kim Fowley, I don't care who you think you are, pick up your pencil and write me two sides on your summer holiday!" Yes, that's what it must have been like at Sushil Dade's School of Collaboration last year, the register a roll-call of inventive musicianship, the classroom a studio somewhere in Scotland and, to stretch it a little too far, the watchful headmaster one Robin Rimbaud---or Scanner---on whose label this double CD is released.

You'll have heard some of the material before---parts of the Bill Wells tracks were on the Domino album and Creeping Bent have released a few songs---but you'll still not be prepared for the breadth of sounds spread across the 20 "challenges" as the Macintosh computer that punctuates the record calls them. From Cornershop's "Teri mitti bani", an asian dub foundation (ahem) which tracks like the Alan Vega collaboration "Meditation rat" build upon to the powerful strings and chimes of Two Lone Swordsmen's breakbeat canter "The gates to film city" via Brix Smith, James Kirk and Pastels; from the pairing with Scanner, "Fresh milk," that piles sci-fi effects onto a hip hop loop or "Inyo san" where rhythm is provided by chunky scratching, all other components coming courtesy of dark spyfunk thrillers, we can see that the ex-Soup Dragon has thoroughly rid himself of the ghosts of "I'm free".

Various, Diskatopia's Intimate Gathering (Diskatopia) CD

I wouldn't call this a compilation so much as a menagerie, a haphazard collection of 16 examples of the family technata exceptionalis. Highlights come from TMA-2 (think "2001") who pick'n'mix a bit of Moroder with spacefunk on "Underdark," ROBOT (like the name!) doing a hyper Kraftwerk, Big King Booty's Chic disco and block party chatting and Wisteria Losenge who sound like creepy cousins of Pop Off Tuesday and the Residents with reverse vocals, skewed noise, a picked guitar and a lumpy breakbeat on the one hand and an orchestra tune-up respliced into a stomping scary nightmare on the other. Suite 324, 1626 N. Wilcox, Hollywood, CA 90028, USA.

The Spores, Typical (Flitwick) CD

The Spores make music to drive you mad, merging a New Wave jerkiness, aggravating anti-melodies, pop sensibility and trashy insensibilty. It's no surprise that there's some kind of incestuous relationship with Gag, also released on Flitwick recently. You might have some idea where The Spores are coming from if you listened to Peel's radio show at any time during the 80s; the spiky independent band of old is alive and kicking. But there's more, on "Decoy" toy synths are added and we get a budget Yummy Fur edge to go with the spastic guitars and clanking bass. PO Box 26, Bedford, MK45 12V.

Electroscope/Longstone, split (Oggum) 7"

You are in a cavern deep underground. Exits lead North and West. You wait. You can sense an evil aura but cannot tell in which direction it lies. You wait. Your candle is extinguished by a drip from the roof...and Electroscope's "Wee baldy" is the immediate rush of impending calamity in the darkness. Luckily, it's soothed by "North Utsire, South Utsire," two of the shipping forecast's more poetic regions, and latterly a peaceful undulating drone. Longstone contribute "st567897/543913," considerably less poetic but no less chilled in its ambience which incorporates data transfer scribbles of noise into a slowly cycling womb rhythm. Pink vinyl. PO Box 22, Lampeter, Ceredigion, SA48 8YD

Alphane Moon, A circle of four (Oggum) 7"

A slow-motion ballet of galactic warships in battle, real-time split-second laser fire elongated into blurred shards of echo chamber clatter, the virtual silence of space magnified into an audible hum, debris slowly tumbling across the scope, leaving a trail of oscillating frequency and the furious bursts of action followed by wary regrouping giving structure and flow to the disparate, though related, elements. I've got no idea what Alphane Moon think this is about, but that's my best shot. Bizarrely, it sounds even better when I play it quietly enough that the filter in the goldfish bowl can be heard too. On purple vinyl. PO Box 22, Lampeter, Ceredigion, SA48 8YD

Monsoon Bassoon, The King of Evil (Weird Neighbourhood) 7"

A touch of Rhatigan, more of Sidi Bou Said, although replacing melody with power, and a slice of the Cardicas. It's a blinding bi-polar guitar ripper that crams an album's worth of prog-rock theatricality into a couple of minutes and i'd call it pop although I doubt many others would. There's an intriguing Rorschach test blotch on the sleeve that looks like a mutant fisherman casting his rod into a Mandelbrot lake. Don't know if that says more about them or me...PO Box 7279, London, E5 8XQ.

1000 Clowns, Not the greatest rapper (EastWest) CDS

Credibility be damned! it's undoubtedly a one-off, the b-side is predictably abysmal and the LP will be awful, but "Not the greatest rapper" sounds to me, on this sunny day, like a young G-Love with a sequencer and an intense crush.

Novak, Novak (Kitty Kitty) CD

Novak sound like the finished article here---which isn't to say that they haven't sounded good before, just that control and poise have now been added to the 7-piece's instrumental arsenal. And this extra element, due in some part to the Quickspace production, no doubt, expands and inflates the songs, adding room, presence and space, leaving breathing gaps and teasing apart the multiple interwoven layers that previously melded into one compressed whole. No less mesmeric, the new material, but perhaps more intricate, it's an organic take on the dreamscape repetition pop peddled by patriachs of the old school Too Pure sound, and fellow Brummies, Pram. And if Pram are at the head of the family, there's all the cousins to take into account too: Moonshake, Minxus, Th' Faith Healers and Laika to name a few. Novak understand their place on the family tree and hold the lineage close to their hearts as they unfold their mini-epics of French pop ("Lord of the World"), xylophone drone ("Blue chinook") and exotic flute ("Burning hoof").

Man or Astroman, EEVIAC (Epitaph) CD

Man or Astroman? Or Man or Football Manager? In a game of two halves the new album is something of a stepping stone from the six-string sci-fi/surf shredders of yore into a more expansive and varied dimension. This development is the result of extended studio time and the recruitment of the EEVIAC supercomputer whose synthesized sarcasm closes the LP. Before that, however, we are treated to some classic MoAM Link Wray-meets-sonic death ray fretboard histrionics, old B-movie samples and a fascination with technology interspersed cleverly with that new material: "D:contamination" is robot distortion and electro-funk with a booming beat; "Psychology of AI" was recorded by Astro Children in an astro-garage with minimum chord allowance and "-/myopia" is an unprecedented Flyodian space sprawl of majestic langour. I can't get over how good this record is, old and new.

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