reviews march 1999

Looper, Up a tree (Jeepster) CD

I'll say it up front; I'm not a fan of Belle and Sebastian, but nor do I think that they're Satan's tool as some seem to. Which disclaimer means that I can give you the full unbiased skinny on the debut album from solo B&S boy Stuart David, a record which is part diary extracts set to music and part fantasy diary extracts, set to music. It's hard to know which is which at times although "Columbo's car" is almost certainly made up. Unless Peter Falk has taken to hanging around Glasgow on the trail of copyright infringing musicians, that is. The other highlight is the single, "The ballad of Ray Suzuki," a medium beat samplersonic knees-up, but not representative of the album as a whole where, although composed largely from samples, the music is more restrained, an often loose-limbed and low-key funky backing to the spoken-word vignettes which make this almost more of a talking book of short stories than a traditional album. You can't take your attention off the record for even a minute without losing some detail of the plot. And the plots revel in the detail, perceptive observations of the surface which reveal the underlying purpose of the players in each tale. Which makes you wonder how much you can tell about Stuart David from what he's allowed us to see and hear.

Nintendo Teenage Robot, We punk einheit (Digital Hardcore Recordings) CD

You can now get a basic sequencer package for the Nintendo Gameboy which means, as Alec Empire notes on the back of the sleeve, that Kraftwerk's calculator-as-instrument prophecy is now realised. Did I say Alec Empire? Yep, this is him---you'd probably guessed anyway, what with the pun on ATR and all---and he's doing his best to wring something extreme out of a limited sample palette and rudimentary software.

He succeeds as well, but not unequivocally, the restrictions on the possible sounds lead to a lot of tracks that merely sound like tripped out computer games---perhaps Mario finally ate one of them mushrooms or something---and only a few that sound like an exceptionally minimal Speedy J chopping up an old Space Invaders machine with a light sabre. Picks of the bunch: "The machines survive" and "Beatles never counted."

The Kittiwakes, Veronica (Sorted) 7"

There's not much to say about this one: basic underproduced indiepop with a girl singer, a touch of the Teen C and some naive synth. Not much to say, but in its minute and a half it manages to wriggle into your ears and scream to be played again. And again. So I do.

Discordia, Discordia's Brazilian ambassador (Sorted) 7"

Probably the least interesting track I've heard yet from Discordia (the LP will receive a full release on Kooky shortly) but backed by one of the best. "Discordian's get creative" is a slice of crafty electro/breakbeat with sludge-fuzz bass, old-school vocoder and an arcade's worth of electronic chirrupping.

Red Venom, Let's get it on (Big Boss Stylus) 12"

RUN DMC's "You be illin" simultaneously transported back in time to big band jazz and forward to big beat dancefloor nous. Paaarty time!

Headrillaz, Return of the Pistachio Rockers EP (V2) CDS

The cover pictures a sticker-covered ghettoblaster looking like something Malcolm Maclaren would have cast-off 15 years ago and the inner sleeve has an OAP tea dance in full flow. The connection? Beats me, them Headrillaz must be NUTS...hahahahahah! Musically this is a couple of notches down from the all-the-way-to-11 face-offs that the band usually favour. "Hairs on end" weaves an ethereal Syd Barrett sample into sympathetic beats; "Turn around" sprinkles some fairy dust onto thick breakbeat track, just blurring the edges; "Murder" is a crush collision with Dirty Harry and "Head on" goes deadpan rave. Cool and considered.

Warser Gate, Mirage (Best Kept Secret) TAPE

Dungeon acoustics from the most prolific generators of structured improvisation this side of Beeston. For the uninitiated, Warser Gate slowly pirouette twisted not-quite-riffs around not-quite-sensical vocal outpourings, ragged evidence much in evidence but prevented from fraying too far by stitch-in-time drumming. It's a fluid mix that's based on minimal rehearsal and often seems to almost run out of steam before a new direction presents itself and the band twist and charge away once more. In our recent interview they were prepared to compare themselves (amongst others) to Wing Tip Sloat, early Truman's Water, Ligament and Jesus Lizard and all of these will give you some idea, but not too much, of what WG sound like. Via Biron di Sotto, 101-36100 Vicenza, Italy

Moonpump, Common crazy world CD

Just who are Moonpump? It's not obvious that they know themselves---other than that they live simultaneously in the midst of both the mundane and the marvellous. Their confusion is illustrated by the strange juxtaposition cut-out collages in the sleeve notes which in turn reflects the musical variation on the accompanying CD. The creative zenith is reached after 10 tracks when "Mind the lava lamp!" springs out of the shadows onto a mirror-ball dancefloor and proceeds to get down to a disco beat made up of coughs and sneezes. Prior to that the build-up takes in snotty Miles Hunt ("Time out"), any number of Smiths imitators ("Guilty") and slightly tasteless, but very funny, distorto pop ("Dead sheep"). Following it, the come-down is softer and more acoustic, culminating in an 8-minute soother marred by corny lyrics. Overall then, mundane and marvellous is about right; ovine mortality and flu-powered disco: CRAZY; but some of the rest: COMMON. 11 Jeremy Lane, Heckmondwike, W. Yorks, WF16 9LT

The Family of God, We are the world (Ochre) CD

...but thankfully they are not the children, nor the ones who make a better day etc etc etc. What they are---apart from the obvious Holy trinity----is a kind of American analogue of the Freed Unit, and friends of Echo & the Bunnymen (Will Sergeant guests) to boot! There's an air of Pink Floyd (post-Barrett) shimmering pomposity about "Our permission", the opener, which is immediately shelved in favour of pulsing underworld electro disco and speaking-in-tongues on "World of squalor." "Help, I'm a rock" is a whirling dervish guitar line bookended between a couple of cheery pop/xylophone choruses and a few seconds in which to catch your breath. The Floyd (this time of the right vintage) make a return on the slow-trippy "Atomic little thing"; an acoustic and starburst electronics glissade, whilst "Follow the lights" is all gypsy flamenco and intriguing Nostradamus couplets with another pop chorus and searing psychedelic lead.

"Beautiful people" is a metronome overture to the finale, a lengthy monologue on the nature of humanity broken by haunting sung segments on the same theme and punctuated by thunderclaps. "Theme from the Bible" bursts out of the hypnotic trance with a throbbing Persian space-electro which is followed quickly by album closer "Center for the dull,"also the name of the clothing store beneath which the band are based, a looping synthetic beat beneath a hybrid of Michael Franti and Mark E. Smith in full ad lib mode, even checking that the tape is running at one point!

Apart from Pop Off Tuesday, this is my album of the year so far.

PO BOX 155, Cheltenham, Glos, GL51 OYS

Various, Aliens in Roma (Wot4) CD

The Roman underground emerges, blinking, into the daylight on this compilation for anglo-exiles Wot4. It's a varied collection of all things technoid from the the filmic breakbeat of Iwo Jima, Passarani 2009's doom-laden drum'n'bass "Slut" in a crazybeat Mu-Ziq style from Tez, Skycon's Pulp Fiction sampling masterpiece that kicks off like a warped remake of "Voodoo ray" and twists into techno meets mutant breakbeat. Best, though, is Surya's "Kane's memory" which adds a skank to Morgan Geist minimal beats and begats a tremendous dub that drops in crackly samples from what sounds like a reggae cowboy film. Piazza Torregianni, 14 50050 Vico D'Elsa, Firenza, Italy.

Underworld, Push upstairs (JBO) 12"

Comes in a bewildering plastic explosion of mixes (Darren Price, Adam Beyer, Roger S and more) but the original version is best. A wrigglesome fidgety bass, the simplest beats and a 2-piece piano tinkle layered up with Karl's vocals doing their best to sound like Ange Doolittle from the long-since-forgotten Eat. It's the standout from the LP ("Beaucoup fish") which, despite my not caring much either way about the U-world previously, I have to admit is not half bad in a smooth minimal techno way, the usual trap of tedium smartly avoided by adding the vaguest traces of song and even some hip hop ("Bruce Lee").

Stumble, I have reason to believe you are just a theory (Reveal) CDS

Wordy titles are the domain of the frustrated intellectual and art-school posers. Discuss.

Given that Stumble's last release (7' for Artists Against Success) went by the rather tongue-unfriendly name of "Currently, everything is of good quality," there might be a few worried faces at Reveal HQ...but they can be reassured by the down to earth square wave chugging sludge guitars, Americanish vocals, a great big moshing outro and a pop sensibility that your usual brand of indie hero would die for. And anyway, what's a few clever-clever lyrics between friends?

Prodigy presents The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol 1 (XL) CD

You've heard all about this one already; Liam Howlett's old school mix that grew out of a Breezeblock session for Mary Anne Hobbs. It features a track a minute on average and is a gesture of respect from the main Prodge man to many of is influences. But, given that so many mix tapes are tedious at best, is it any good?

"Yes" is the answer, despite a few low points---the Charlatans for example---the mix rides roughshod over hip hop history, dropping and then cropping classic tracks left, right and centre. No such tomfoolery with the Pistols' "New York" which is given its full head and followed by Fatboy Slim's "Punk to funk" and, with a flick of the Vs, the Ultramagnetic MCs donate a large slice of "Give the drummer some" from whence "Smack my bitch up" was lifted to much controversy. Other high points include the superb combination of the Propellerheads' "Spy break" and the Beastie Boys' "It's the new style" and PE's "Public Enemy No.1" into the JB's "Blow your head." There's plenty of clever title interplay and "this is where the original sample came from" moments, but that's what makes this a cut above the average.

Various, Cult Themes from the 70's volume 2 (Future Legend) CD

The latest in a line of albums that pluck film and TV themes from previous decades and give them a working-over at the hands of a bunch of new bands. On this occasion the formula is twisted a little to accommodate The Honeycombs and Glenda Collins who spring out of the woodwork for their first new recordings in years.

Given that it's the 70's we're plundering, there's a flurry of funk amongst the 15 tracks, most ably realised by the Incredibly Strange Film Band who wah-wah through "Magnum force" and "Enter the dragon" in a manner that would have Huggy Bear under that mirror ball faster than you can say "James Taylor Quartet" and E.L.B.O.W. glide slickly through "The streets of San Francisco" in a long pink convertible, pimp collars, leopard skin seats and chunky gold on prominent display. Moneypenny spread The Jam all over "The man with the golden gun", Misty Woods turns "Percy" by Ray Davies into a lost Kate Bush treasure and my growing-up TV years are brought to mind by the strains of "The Rockford files" melody crisply updated by Illegal Immigrant. More up to date still, Ambassadors of Om turn out a superb dubby job on "Space 1999" where layers of conga and space guitar battle with horn stabs and funky jazz/step beats. The album is bookended by two from Future Legend house band Box Office Poison's reworking of "Maddalena" (Morricone) and "The deep" (Barry) in their own pop-noir style. PO Box 727, Kenley, Surrey, CR8 5YF

Live Human, Orange bush monkey flower (Fat Cat) 12"

Rock solid stand-up bass and live breakbeats are the foundation for mad scratching activity courtesy of turntablist extraordinaire DJ Quest. The title cut is instrumental hip hop of the highest order with a healthy host of hardcore jazz to boot. Bodes well for the forthcoming LP.

Creature, Stuffed hostage (Wot4) 12"

If I was to say "mellow techno" and "Paterson" in the same breath you'd think you knew who I was talking about....and on this occasion, you'd be wrong because I'm talking about Martin Paterson, ex-pat, now releasing on Rome's splendidly-named Wot4 label, with a sluggish dream-trip aboard hypnotic bass ripples, processed harmonica and the sound of a distant UFO. Comes in "C" and "Porridge" flavours on a well-thick piece of vinyl. The "C" mix is a bit more up-front and just shades it. Music of the night.

Shining, Dinmix (Iris Light) CD

Remixes of tracks from the "Din" album---which I haven't heard----by friends of the man behind Shining, one Julian Beeston, some-time member of Nitzer Ebb and Cubanate---which I have. Given the background you don't need to be DJ Magnus Magnusson to hazard a guess at the sound: pulsing electro techno, an industrial edge and a penchant for squealing acid trance marks with the early plaudits going to Stuart Chrichton for his "Headfucked Megababe Obsession." Mr. Dan's version of "Hysteria" midway through is a welcome breakbeat intermission, soothed by large washed out synths and instantly drowned under Die Krupps' ripsnorting destruction of the same tune, torn off guitar riffing and clanking synths a-go-go. Jonathan Sharp lives up to his name with a corking mix of "Somewhere else" which builds up from bass and brushed cymbal into a confused funk of troubled electro and disconnected vox. and the disc is rounded off well by the "Spyral" remix of "Fuel", a surprisingly mellow cyclic trip of the Portishead-go-industrial variety. Overall then, not so much din, but certainly a mix. 55 Hawkens Way, St. Columb Major, Cornwall, TR9 6SS

Trans Am, Futureworld (Thrill Jockey) CD

I've just finished reading a Kraftwerk biography and first impressions of this album suggest that Trans Am had it out of the library before me. "Futureworld," the very name reeks of Hutter and Schneider and the blocky, early 80's computer graphics on the sleeve, stark green wireframe vectors against brilliant white, do nothing to dispel the thought. Indeed, if you skip the brief intro, the first thing on the record is a vocoded voice. But there the impression recedes a little as it becomes apparent that, far from twisting their instrumental synthesizer muse towards Deutschland past, Trans Am are actually hurtling back towards the future.

At a time when more and more bands are discarding the traditional rock instrumentation and structure in favour of sampler, drone and experimentation, Trans Am are legging it in the opposite direction, charting a course from the electronic domain into the guitar and scattering hosts of would-be post-rockers as they do so. Having said this, the title track does strongly recall Dusseldorf's finest in a collision with a crate of amphetamines and a heavily pissed-off Stereolab. "Am Rhein" is similar and confirms the source of inspiration via the location in its title. Elsewhere the influence is more restrained, "Positron" has the chord sequences and there's the formula minimalism=soul entwined in "Cocaine computer." In other places it's non-existent as in the floating LP closer, a piece of Tortoise-like detailed slowness---"Sad and Young". Not on this evidence.

Volcano The Bear, Yak folks y'are (Pickled Egg) 12"

But this is a strange one. Much loved by Nurse With Wound the advert says. Nurse With Wound and anyone else with a loose connection twixt ears and the lobe responsible for emotion, I'd say. As a statement of intent the opener, "Where are the bounds?"---despite being a question---is pretty well perfect, the music attempting to answer the essentially rhetorical query by playing pastoral didgeridoo over cheap synths doing cheap B-movie FX cheaply, pitter-patter congos and syn-drums and surrealist lunatic helium exposition. It ends with applause, so somebody obviously thought it was an apt response. "Banket ball" follows and is over before I've even had time to type the title and we're into "Nobody's falling" where church organ and more of the helium castrato combine with drone and tortured sax at the edge of human endurance to strangely soothe. And that's just side one. It's hard to know what to say about this record; basically, I like listening to it. But I don't know if I like it. 19 College Ave, Leicester LE2 0JF

Various, Ataraxia (Plastic Noise) 7"

Subtitled "A mixed bag vol. 1" this disc realises the long ambition of Tom Davies to put out a compilation of bands that are just plain good, regardless of genre. So we have the short but sweet "Hoop" from Crocodile God, a pupil at the school opened by Husker Du and Leatherface and recorded in the caretaker's shed. This is followed by another fine shredder from Warser Gate where the lads once more wring slow menace from guitar, bass and drums. With screaming. Lovely. On the flip, Electroscope display "Small grey diamonds" against a backdrop of forest glade at twilight---barely audible spoken words over chirrupping atmospherics and things are rounded off by the last-ever 70 Gwen Party track which shimmers and chimes in a lethargic jangle pop manner---or, at least, it would were it not mostly buried beneath an avalanche of distortion. An admirable project with the bonus of sounding as good as it sounds. 21 Droitwich Rd, Worcester, WR3 7LG

Warser Gate/Can Can Heads, He said/All night gunshop (Boing Being) 7"

"He said" is WG in a trebly quirk rock sandwich, hold the guitar, while the heavier "Sleep rituals" lurches like normal and odd sounds squeak out of the edges of the amplifiers, full frequency range reduced by the dynamics of the single microphone around which the band are fighting for space. I've said this before, but it's the incidental details that make Warser Gate's music for me.

On the other side, the Can Can Heads are instantly darker, "All night gunshop" is opened by repeating a couple of bass notes with the kind of restless restraint that signals an imminent violent explosion. Something unintelligible is intoned over the top by a man with a runny nose, and his head in a bucket. The mood of unrest grows and grows. Then the song ends. The anti-climax is tangible. Maybe next time? So I'll listen again. And again. Hyytialantie 9, 35500 Kokteakoski, Finland

Johnny Domino, The Oh! Chimpy Underground (Reveal) 7"

The debut single from JD commemorates a pilgrimage the band made in the early 80's to the USSR, as it then was, to see the Tunnelling Dwarves of Minsk, a fine attraction of interest to mining communities the world over. The Dwarves are a race of eugenically engineered humans, only 3 ft. tall, who have been bred specifically to work down the pit, their taste buds altered to be sensitive only to banana, a flavour they crave so desperately that they will work a whole day for a single fruit. On this once-in-a-lifetime trip, the band were accompanied by their families and it was one of the 24 children who, on seeing a gang of the little ones emerge, staggering, into the daylight, their preternaturally overdeveloped forearms hanging down near their knees, covered from head to toe in the brown string that they extract from the Urals and clutching their precious bananas, shouted "Oh! Chimpy underground!" And history was made.

For the record, it sounds like the Yummy Fur on Too Pure records with choruses by Ned's Atomic Dustbin. And this is a GOOD THING! Kestrel Business Centre, Private Road 2, Colwick, Nottingham, NG4 2JR

Volume All*Star, Self-connected, twice-elected (Slabco) CD

Taking all of the trappings of dance music but the loop-it-to-buggery ethic, Volume All*Star rank alongside such other sampler-based breakbeat tunesmiths as Scala, Solex, Cornelius and the sorely under-achieving John Sims. A step away from the instrumental hip hop of, say, DJ Shadow where the beats are primary, VA*S still love songs (preferably less than 3 minutes long) so they wrap genuine melody around the occasional girl vocal and gossamer drone. Kooky in the same way that Money Mark is kooky---distracted and out-there, yet somehow retaining all salient details of the plot. 1626 21st Ave, Seattle WA 98122, USA

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