reviews may 2002

Wire, Read & Burn (Pink Flag) CD

I wrote a song about Wire years ago. The band I was in at the time never recorded it, but I still remember the words. It went:

I read an interview with Wire
It asked them why
that they did not
write some longer songs
"Ah we just play along,
‘til the words run out
then stop."

It probably lasted ten or fifteen seconds and if it ever was recorded and released and was a success (like, yeah!) then I would be find myself swiftly settling out of court with Newman et al on the grounds of plagiarism, because it sounded suspiciously like a riff from I Am The Fly. But back to the matter in hand. Wire’s new one starts with a track called In The Art of Stopping. It is typically Wire in that it lasts exactly as long as the classic pop song (3 minutes, 30 seconds) suggesting the band have no monopoly on judging endings. This is surely intentional in a track that rides a single riff for its duration and makes no concession to verse/chorus structure or any other pop trapping. If any band has more layers of irony than Wire they must now be about 6 inches tall under the colossal weight.

Read and Burn contains 6 hard and fast tracks. It would be wrong to say it’s Wire returning to their roots, but post-punk is a handy tag to have nearby. I Don’t Understand is a petulant, awkward spasm. It’s followed by Comet, only needing a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels and a thump in the gob to turn into Ace of Spades. Germ Ship keeps up the relentless pace, PiL on a bender, and we’re into 1st Fast which rips by in a fug of distortion and careful enunciation. The Agfers of Kodack closes proceedings, it is a Hawkwind set compacted down into three intense minutes and narrated by a man with strongly-held opinions and a short temper. The last time I spoke to Colin Newman, he told me fast was the new slow. Who am I to disagree?

Seelenluft, Manila (Klein) 12"

Michael Smith (Mike Smith - Micsmith, brilliant) is a 12-year-old rapper discovered by Seelenluft on the streets of Compton. The imagery in his unfussy, naturalistic flow – doomed passengers on a plane falling out of the sky see him dancing and join in – belies his age and Seelenluft’s beep-bop production belie his lack of experience. There’s two superb remixes (Headman and Manitoba) but they can’t match the understated brilliance of the thriller from Manila.

The Icicles, Pure Sugar EP (Drive In) CDS

I admire straight talking. If I was Julie Burchill I’d attribute this to some kind of innate working class impatience with (middle class) flim-flam. As I’m not Julie Burchill (and there are many other things for which I’m also duly thankful) I won’t. The reason I admire straight talking is that anything else is a waste of time. If you’re being dumped or made redundant or shafted in any one of the myriad ways life offers, some wanker dressing it up as "giving each other some personal space" or "downsizing and reskilling" or whatever is an insult and no less hurtful. So it’s always a treat to encounter a record like The Icicles’ Pure Sugar EP. From the 60’s stylings on the sleeve which pictures a close up of a cup of sugar lumps to the title, the name, the ridiculously cheesily cheerful band photo and the song titles (Lemonade & Somersaults, New Haircolor) you know exactly what to expect. There are no secrets, no nasty surprises, no ambushes, and you won’t put the thing on at the wrong time and hate it unnecessarily. So I wait for a sunny day, I wait til things are going OK at work, I wait til I’m feeling pretty good, I wait til I’m in the mood for unadulterated good vibes. And then The Icicles and their bubblegum girl-pop where everything’s great and always will be is perfect. PO Box 888211, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49588, USA

Moloch CDR

I’ve projected a façade onto Moloch. It's three parts Mark E. Smith, one part drunk, one part wonky musician. OK, five parts Mark E Smith. I like to think of him hunkered down over a straining 4-track, gurning his way through another bendily brilliant blast of gristle and then immediately sticking it in the post without mixing. Suburban Orbit, the lead track here, adds some Joy Division overtones but otherwise sticks to the winning formula. PO Box 1229, Springfield, TN 37172, USA

The Volts, Looking For A Way Out (Sweet) CDS

Many years ago, when I used to live in Nottingham, I bought a 3-way split local band flexi disc. The only band I can remember were called The Deskimoes (great name) and the music was unrepentant indie pop and I never played it after that first time because it sounded as if the groove had been scribed by hand using a school compass during a boring Maths lesson. I mention all this not because my past is more interesting than my present (it probably is, but my memory isn’t good enough to be sure) but because I can imagine The Volts flogging their new CD at gigs and the likes of my younger self altruistically buying a copy and playing it a couple of times and then ten years down the line not being able to recall a great deal about it except that Expose Your Cheapness is a nice little tune and had me jigging like my younger self used to at Wedding Present gigs when Grapper was still in the band. Of the other tracks, She Loved The Rain is yer old school indie/jangle; It’s All OK is yer old school Buffalo Tom. 63 Colman Avenue, South Shields, NE34 9AG

The State of Samuel, The Slick-Johnson Expedition Tape

The State of Samuel’s grasp of pop music’s primary elements (the hook, the chorus, the vibe) and their refusal to waste any of them, or put anything substandard between them explains why ten tracks are over in as many minutes. The State of Samuel’s grasp of 4-track recording (the vibe, imagination, the vibe) explains why, even though these ten cuts might not be the slickest you’ve ever heard, they’re ten you’ll want to hear again and again. Your appreciation of Elephant Six’s finest pop moments (melody, the vibe) explains why you’ll shortly be emailing this address:

Gerling, Dust Me Selecta 12" (white)

Starts off with the RSPCA-unfriendly sound of somebody riding a bike down a steep hill. Nothing cruel about that you might think, but this bastard’s got a gerbil strapped to the front wheel. As the little furry fella drops off, a pumping 4-4 and fuzz-fuzz drops in and a soulful vocal is twisted around the AM dial. This isn’t just House, it’s Mansion. Or Palace.

DJ Komikon/Y Crwydryn, Hurt Tape

I always thought S4C’s version of Countdown would be even less of an event than the real thing. Consonant please, Gladys. Consonant please, Gladys. Consonant please, Gladys. Vow.. no, consonant please, Gladys.. DJ Komikon and Y Crwydryn, while probably agreeing that Richard Whitely is a fanny, would happily shove this causal jingoism back down my throat with a meaty helping of off-beat minimal clanking, disorientating techno chatter and drone. Why is there so much astonishing experimental music coming out of Wales at the moment? Maybe it’s because they’re working hard at 4.15 every weekday afternoon. PO Box 88, Mold, CH7 4ZQ

Diff’rent Stripes, A Tribute to the White Stripes (Guided Missile) CDS

Following up the Diff’rent Strokes masterpiece, Guided Missile have again come up trumps. I’d never noticed how much Hotel Yorba sounded like My Old Man’s A Dustman played by a groovy East End brass band. But it does here. Meanwhile, Fell In Love With A Girl is remade by Harold Faltermeyer, all superficial glitz and synthesizer brittleness. Hard to say it’ll be a classic in 20 years time, but it’ll do very nicely for today.

Stars of Aviation, Carol CDR

Stars of Aviation Are Singing About The Summer, But Is It Going To Be Sunny, Carol? is inspired by Look East, the local BBC news programme in this neck of the woods. At least, the full title is, the rest is inspired by a curiously British take on Grandaddy's desert songs. It is gorgeous.

Bouvier, Three Songs CDR

By any other name it would smell as sweet. But unfortunately its name is folk rock, and most people can't stand the stench. Bouvier's folk rock is a zig-zag journey, lurching majestically between lovely and hateful with a skilful ear for the juxtaposition of a screamed "how can you treat me like a pig in a blanket?" and a pretty melody. You haven't heard anything like this for a while. Don't miss out now.

Ckid, Crashkid Went There (Becalmed) 12"

It’s hard to believe Crashkid went anywhere. If the choice was between making an effort to move and lying around listening to this beautiful drowsylectro, I know what I’d do. Listen to it at 33 for even less reason to stir your stumps. 268 Walthall Street, Crewe CW2 7LE

Cursor Miner, Remote Control EP (Lo) 12"

Digital crunch is what’s being excavated here. Tons of it. It trundles along the conveyor belt, along, along, around, up, up, up, up to the apex where it drops off and into a huge yellow machine. Operating the controls, the Cursor Miner, slams him right arm down, shouts into the microphone to his left and churns out a 4-minute gem of disrupted pop magic. You can barely hear his singing over the crashing background racket, you can barely hear the twisted beat over the corrupted bistream noise, you can barely understand why this itchy, tricksy tune is doing so much to your pelvis. Ah yes, you are being operated by remote control.

Scramble CDR

"Helo, I am from a band called Scramble. Enclosed is a demo CD from us. Hats off to you. Andy. Of Scramble." That's all it said and now I’m smiling beatifically at my reflection in the window and wondering how a pulse, a hum, a skitter and a tiny melody can leave me this blissed-out. 96 Dorset Street, Bolton, Lancashire, BL2 1HR

The Electroluvs, Nu Nitemare EP (Xstatic) CDS

Electroluvs? Electropop. On Amstrad and especially Back on the Small Screen, it’s the Human League model. That is, dissociated cool, robomelodies and ticking beats. And catchy as hell.

Tin.RP, Starving Hunger v2.6b (Burning Emptiness) CD

I’ve been listening to Starving Hunger v2.6b on and off for a few weeks now. I didn’t pay quite as much attention to the first version. In fact, after a single listen I turned the first version into a shiny silver cup mat. But that’s one of the beauties of CDR technology – if the album doesn’t turn out the way you (or I) want, you can just stop making it, and start remaking it. Which is what has happened here. Version 1.0 was hard to listen to. Painful in fact. Harsh and abrasive, punishingly intense and almost entirely without respite from an onslaught of lashing noise. That was part of the intention, it’s a protest (based on Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, the story of a would-be writer using the visions obtained through starvation for his art) about (over) consumption in the western world. Version 2.6b is more accessible. It’s still bleak and somewhat desolate, but there are beats and pulses to lure you in, pauses in the attack and beauty in the scapes emptied of so much full-on noise. The message is no less important second time around, but the medium is no longer the message. Instead, the track titles hint (FridgeRhythm, Starving) and the accompanying floppy disk contains notes and information about the project. It’s still not for everybody (wait for v13.5) but if you like to think about what you’re listening to, and why, then you should send something nice to Del Nista, Chemin de Saint Marc, Mauran, 13130 Berre L’Etang, France.

Clean, Room 16 (Sugarshack) CDS

Clean are Swiss. They moved to Bristol because they wanted to see "what the town of Portishead was like." (It’s got an outdoor swimming pool and a concrete sea front, if I remember right. Weston Super-Mare is much nicer but of course there was never a trip hop band called Weston Super-Mare.) Room 16 is their debut and, as you might’ve guessed, it trips and hops. The pick is Unics. Sung in their native Romansch language which sounds like a mixture of French and German running backwards, it’s stripped back to a beat and a tinny guitar line with a sprinkling of scratch.

Monster Movie, Last Night Something Happened (Clairecords) CD

Talking of Weston Super-Mare (you weren’t, but I like to) if it didn’t say on the sleeve there’s no way you’d guess that Monster Movie recorded their album there. Just like Swervedriver’s greatest records used to, Last Night Something Happened reeks of America. Not the Americana of the alt-country crowd, but the America that romances we foreigners in arty road-trip films. The America that’s long interstate highways at night in the rain, the America that’s long stretches of open desert, the America that’s strip malls in the middle of nowhere and the America that’s long bars in run-down diners serving truckers, fuckers and down-on-their-luckers. This America is the backdrop for Monster Movie’s cyclical grooves, their drawn out guitar drawls and their easy, lazy, cruise control beats. But this is no coffee table kraut-u-like, there’s good songs in here, and the (ex-) Slowdive dramy class of Christian Savill. 53 Essex St, Reading RG2 0EH

MJB, Feed CD

Under another name, Michael J Bowman has released an album called Wanker. Here’s a man with a sense of humour. Or some unresolved internal issues. He’s certainly got some unresolved musical issues. Feed is a glorious, clamorous, ingenious, incongruous mess of 4-tracked and sequenced spoken word ("I can’t believe George Bush is President.. it’s like I’m taking a trip back to when we had – President Bush. And how much did that suck?"), grot-shop beats, home-made guitar and outer-space samples. It’s like a woozy band on slow-mo pogo sticks. Or something. $5US or send something worth trading for. 42 Kalina Drive, Rhinebeck, NY 12572, USA

Alpine Low Tape

It's a case of less is more. Even though this is a first demo, there's no excuse for putting too much into songs that deserve to be so much less. Think Savoy Grand just before they perfected the 67 Chalvington Rd, Chandlers Ford, SO53 3EF

Some of these reviews appeared in various forms in Careless Talk Costs Lives.

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