reviews october 1999

Hokusai, demo TAPE

What's in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, that's what I say anyway. Hokusai have been through a few names (check your back issues for Archive and Genetic reviews) and a few styles as well. From taut Cable writhings through bombastic Mogwai burnouts they've now eased into a more considered trip hop take on the whole guitar thing. "Chan" is a muted breakbeat slumber, kind of an indie Tiny Attack, while "Rockular" melts the lull before an explosion, and then the explosion itself, onto a similar template to much greater effect. Easily the best they've produced so far. 30 Woodford Crescent, Plympton, PL7 4QY.

Empire Builder, Waters of the Orient (Gringo) 7"

Empire builder, given the geographical bent of the title, are played by Slint Eastward on this release for Essex's Gringo label. But you probably knew that anyway as your interest in the band will be determined by your attitude to all the other hopefuls that sound almost exactly the same. As it goes, this is a darned fine effort---dynamic and jerky in all the right measures and at all the right times---but nothing wildly new. PO Box 3904, Clacton, Essex, CO15

Le Bleu, Toujours la (Pickled Egg) 7"

It's like Norman Blake jamming with a passing tuba player after his nightschool French class---and rather strangely so given that, although now based in Scotland, singer Ed Beavan is actually from Essex. The vibe is earlyish Teenage Fan Club (classically melodic) with more than a hint of Gallic chic (classically effortless) and a slow spin on the dreamy production that leaves you slightly disorientated. And no room for my Scotch Egg joke, damn.

Billy Mahonie, 1000 years of (Too Pure) CDS

For the 100th release on Too Pure---surely an event worthy of celebration---three of the label's current stars remodel Billy Mahonie tracks. BM themselves rope in trumpeter Ian Watson for a sympathetic remake of "Less flagiolettes" in the Slint mould, Luke Sutherland, in his solo Bows guise, completely overhauls "We accept American dollars," bringing it down to just windy atmospherics and a voice while Darren from Hefner makes "Manywhere" one of his own.

Saloon, Futurismo (Artists Against Success) 7"

Reinforcing the Quickspace comparisons we made with their last demo (see elsewhere), Saloon's latest slice of Cherry Red vinyl for AAS is a bubbling rattle with flamenco flourishes that speeds by on the barest hint of a drone. It's probably not the futurismo of pop music, but it's a highly welcome diversion on the space theme.

Various, Aliens in Roma 2.000 (Wot 4) CD

This eccentric Italian label might just as easily be named Why Not? Their approach to this electronic lark is very much in the suck-it-and-see line which throws up such unlikely gems as Prince Faster's "Storia" where opera and Italian talk radio are yanked into, and out of, a variety of breaks at unpredictable points; the wholesale sampling of old Run DMC tracks which are then played back at ridiculous speed on Skycon's "Acid cesarini" and certified loon Margoo (LP reviewed elsewhere) who bends all the rules on his nightclub jazz-meets-interference "Cloro's theme for flying to Io" amongst other, relatively speaking, straight breakbeat, dub and techno experiments.

Jumbo, C.B. Mamas (Bright Orange Biscuit) CD

Although hailing from the East Coast (over here), Jumbo commence proceedings in a West Coast (over there) manner, all psychedelic trimmings on the odd-rock main course. We're talking impenetrable lyrics, plenty of instruments, excess and quiet in equal measure, a change every four bars or less and the kind of idea:song ratio that puts them in the same shape box as Olivia Tremor Control. It's indisputably pop music though, in the same way that Mercury Rev's chameleonlike stylistic appropriations have been pop, in the three-minute length and in the verse-chorus-middle 8 structures that they twist out of shape. The defining moment is the appearance of the lyric "everything in moderation...including moderation" which sums up the album's grab bag contradictions nicely.

Alpha Plan, City of bastards (Earwig) CD

Naming their record for Auckland, the band's adopted home, and then spending a year living in London, probably somewhere near the top of the bastard-per-square foot league itself, might seem a little perverse but New Zealanders Alpha Plan don't really give a rat's ass. They're far too busy making angry noises that recall the tormented pop-distort altercations of the Psychdelic Furs, Joy Division or Wire, or the underproduced ravagings of a less-mental Warser Gate. "Revolution" directs the anger at the exploitation of science and technology by governments all too ready to use it to subjugate rather than liberate and Depeche Mode's deadpan darkness is echoed on the title track where they sing "I've said before this world's a heavenly joke" as the the band's core implodes in a blast of raw distortion and spleen. New material is due soon as this album is getting on for three years old. PO Box 47612, Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand

Sternklang, Neolounge (Beatservice) CD

Sternklang are another one of those continental electroutfits that chose their name on the basis of its onomatopoeaic similarity to their sound (see also Grindverk and Funkstorung.) "Neolounge" plods into being with stentorian neo-Floyd monotony before spreading artfully out into rigid chemical funk ("Automatic soul"), robogo-go strutting ("Electone"), obligatory Bullit-style chase scene ("Basschase") and cold-room percussive ambience ("Tremble") without ever losing the stern facce or forgetting the, most important, klang.

Return of Id, Second skin (Vibrations...) 7"

So it's soft-loud-soft-LOUD, but who cares when it's done with enough panache, enough attention to detail, enough familiarity with the blueprint to be flexible---and short---with it, enough tune and enough energy to carry it off with honours well earned. Like a pocket Dinosaur Jr or something. 118 Gunthorpe Rd, Peterborough, PE4 7TS

Plutonik, Sister (Integrity) CDS

Another in the consistently stylish series of Plutonik singles over the last year or so, "Sister" is the culmination of their quest to craft a seamless pop marriage of real songs and drum'n'bass. It can only be achieved, of course, by playing the beats down---there's nothing jagged here apart from the odd stutter---but there's no recourse to cliched string baths, instead a solo acoustic guitar highlights the soulful vocal and silence does the rest. Having said all that, the pick of these three is the much rougher instrumental breaks of "Jungoltrane" remixed from their debut.

Six By Seven, Ten places to die (Mantra) CDS

A list song, you will have gathered, but "50 ways to leave your lover" this ain't. Chris Olley forces the words out like the recalcitrant last bit of toothpaste from a selfish tube, teeth clenched, face screwed up, position foetal. The band, meanwhile, plays on, building in waves of flowing magma riffs to crescendo.

Various, Bustin loose (Wall of Sound) CDS

Let's not beat about the bush, despite being well respected and retaining a great deal of credibility while scoring pop hits and soundtracking adverts, Wall of Sound have released some right cack---Les Rhythmes Digitales is nothing more than Rick Astley with a new haircut for example---but there's little of it here, even if we do get a couple of tracks that tickle the pop tummy rather than beat the dancefloor ass. On the pop front we get the Propellerheads and the Wiseguys ("History repeating" and "Ohh la la") sitting a little uneasily alongside the disco inferno of Dirty Beatniks' "Sandy and Bud" or Schoolly D and Mekon's hip hop harkback "Skool's out", Themroc's funky electro or E-Klektiks latino breaksfest "Maracana madness." But perhaps that's the point, WoS have done everything on their own terms so far and this compilation shows that, sure, they've had hits, but look at the depth. If they're bustin loose of anything, it's the dance music elitism and snobbery.

The Fighting Cocks, Love somebody, yes I do (FGZ) CDS

More commonly known as Sezei Kurva, the Fighting Cocks are your original Hungaro-rave crossover band. Here they prefer a slow-motion collision of dixie jazz and ska shuffle with the kind of itching urgency you might experience on discovering a small colony of termites in your underpants. Substitute termites for angry wasps and you've got "Look away" where the mash-up includes "These boots are made for walking," plagiaristic rapping, tabla and other Eastern crashes with a huge beat. This is what Mark Perry should've made the last Alternative TV album sound like.

Duf Davis and the Book Club, Shut up and detune your guitar (Orange Entropy) CD

As anyone who's ever thrashed aimlessly around on their flatmate's battered old acoustic guitar knows, it's possible to make some beautiful sounds without ever tuning a guitar. Unfortunately, it's also possible to make a lot of horrible noise, the kind of horrible noise that makes the squeals of a sensitive cat being sodomised by a randy donkey appear positively serene. Sadly, the latter is more common than the former. What Duf Davis manages to do here is extract the unchords that work together in some strange way and abort most of the unlistenable clangings. The result is like a gentle, folkish Jad Fair wandering around the hypnotic ripple and pulse diasporas created by Pram. PO Box 1198, Hightstown, NJ 08520, USA

Interlaken, Jean Cell (Olympique) 7"

Interlaken pursue what turns out to be an ill-advised jean/gene pun across this debut vinyl outing to the guitar-powered accompaniment of a New Order/Joy Divisionish moody trundle that bursts into plaintive Pete Shelley passion at the chorus. It's a repetitive little beastie, with the twin appeal of being both addictive and stopping, on a sixpence, at exactly the right moment. 24 Portugal Place, Cambridge, CB4 8AF

Mason Jones, Midnight at the twilight factory (Monotremata) CD

Pick of the 4 simple, textual noisescapes on here is "Stone clouds," a lengthy remake of the final few seconds of Husker Du's epic "Dreams recurring" from "Zen arcade." Jones picks up the moods of impotence, Lilliputian self-worth, frustration and alienation that Bob Mould's cavernous, shrieking guitar tones thrust into the world and, just before Mould snapped them back into his head with a petulant squeal, dives inside them, magnifying and exploring, enlarging, zooming-in and isolating each component for individual analysis. The result is ten minutes of tense and unresolved disquiet. 815-A Brazos St #515, Austin TX 78701, USA

My Place In Space (Kylie) TAPE

Sometimes its the bits where the recording level overloaded, sometimes its the flanging two-tone siren, the warmth of the tape hiss or the data packets that ripple past in showers of random machine noise. Whatever it is, Darren Cloudier's struck lucky on the edge-ometer as these home recordings turn his extra-terrestrial obsessions not into surf music as did Black Francis's, but instead into a restricted and rudimentary sound somewhere between toy versions of Sonic Youth and Stereolab with occasional over the top wipeout oscillation.

Orange Cake Mix, Red rose speedway (Best Kept Secret) TAPE

On "Lo-fi love" Jim Rao sings "in a perfect world, it would be a hit," a title and lyric combination which neatly encapsulates the OCM outlook. The 20-odd tracks embrace gently spacey instrumentals, gentle lovelorn pleadings and gentle lounge bumblings all low of fi and all, in the mind of Orange Cake Mix, destined for the top of the charts. They'll never make it, of course, because this isn't a perfect world. But don't let that stop you picking this up and sharing in the dream. Alessandro Crestani, via Biron di Sotto, 101 36100 Vicenza, Italy.

Johnny Domino, Johnny Domino (Blackbean and Placenta) LP

Miserable they are, that Johnny Domino lot. Resolutely downcurled of lip, frowned of brow and cynical of glance, they mope through seven tracks for this long-lost B&P debut, recorded a good two years ago but only now seeing the light of day (long after the Artists Against Success album we waxed lyrical over in the last issue of Robots..) And the band don't like it much: the album itself nor the fact that it's taken so long to put it out. Admittedly, the drum machine does sound like it was recorded inside an oven---not so far off the mark in fact, as it was recorded in Cable's Bakery in Derby---and then there's the production/pressing and the, erm, at times unusual guitar tuning. As Ian Dury should've once said, reasons to be miserable...but frankly he had something to be pissed off about, I mean: polio or your first album recorded in two days two years ago?

"Monkey nuts" kicks proceedings off. Its thudding beatbox monotony is on a par with the Mary Chain in the imagination stakes but the bile in the lyrics ("come and get your peanuts, you're just a bunch of monkeys"), the churning, frantic riffing blurred by the restrictions of 4-track recording and always just off the beat on the difficult change and the proto-Cable high-pitched angularities of the convoluted amelody line are more than adequate compensation. After "New pink shirt" has blurted past. the band promise to rescue us from "cliche land" in "Veggie rocker," a task they accomplish by adding synths that half Hammond and semi stylophone their way through a bang-crash slowie performed with a sour face.

Johnny Domino didn't seem wildly happy to be onstage at Abbey Park in Leicester recently. The virtual monotempo of their set didn't do much to lift the mood though, and "The retreat" doesn't either, although its dearth of mirth is balanced by a great tune that's not a million miles from someone like Half Man Half Biscuit in a mellow moment. "Double diamond" reintroduces some razzle and the lead once again recalls the mighty Cable, wriggling blithely around as everything else plods moodily on. So: miserable yes. Crap, no. Available for only a fiver from 147 Little Hallam Lane, Ilkeston, Derby, DE7 4AA

Orangecan, The engine house (Regal) CDS

Orangecan have the handy knack of picking up a riff long-since discarded by the likes of Led Zep and smothering it with the kind of fizzing silence that runs through Mercury Rev's quieter moments to produce a gentleness that laps in waves around your speakers at once vaguely psychedelic, vaguely contry and vaguely familiar. But mostly just pleasingly vague.

G-Force and Seiji, Just another number (Reinforced) LP

The very modest title belies the mesmerising stretch of languid, flowing jazz contained in this album, manifested in the molten breakbeats that ripple and bend in graceful ways, obeying only their own whim and the influence of the occasional intruding sample or instrumental snatch. There's little sonic similarity, but I've been listening to it a lot in tandem with the Bablicon album which also takes jazz as a base but, instead of stripping it down and reducing everything to a beat, spurts off in tentacular freneticism. "Just another number" is more relaxing, settling into its muse and looking for the low-down vibe. Even when nothing much appears to be happening, there's always the minimal variations to focus on. The similarity between this album and "In a different city" is that intangible quality: the feel, the knowledge transmitted from the players to the listeners through the grooves, knowledge that says these people care, and that none of these 9 are just another number.

Printed Circuit, I make it convenient (Catmobile) CDS

Rolf Harris, one-finger electrosynth melodies, junior Kraftwerk robotics, rattling junglist soft-step percussion with hints of distortion and a fully paid-up membership to the pop music club. That's Printed Circuit. Kraftwerk are recalled most vividly on "Futurecruise" where the layers of blocky melody interact in numerous permutations and the layers of tinny programmed beats build up into a hefty pound. If you're looking for more recent comparisons, try the digital spryness of Mouse on Mars.

Spare Snare, love your early stuff (Che) CD

It's like a posh banquet where the menu looks like Encyclopedia Britannica and the team of waiters waltz around like formation penguins in some elaborately choreographed dinner dance. You tuck in to the first of the 26 courses with relish, the next few with gusto, no sign of flagging at the halfway point but enthusiasm begins to wane soon after that and the cheese and biscuits are eaten with the pleasure of the condemned man's last meal. "Love your early stuff" is a tidy and completist collection of Spare Snare releases across a dozen or so labels and is ideal to fill the gaps in your collection, but too much for a single sitting.

The Seven Hearts, Broke my hand 7"

They don't---or won't---admit to a Captain Beefheart influence, but it's here: in the growl, in the prowl and in the howl. For the rest, the Seven Hearts offer an excellent fidgety slowmobilly rocker, primeval and dirty with shades of---who else---the Cramps although sans the glam. 2108 Memorial Ave, Lynchburg, VA 24501, USA.

Ween, Paintin the town brown (Mushroom) CD

I must admit that I always had Ween down as juvenile wasters who'd somehow struck it lucky by finding an audience for their bad jock jokes set to bad music. And it looks like I was wrong, at least in part, as this compilation of live recordings spanning the years 1990-98 is less childish than Childish in places. Sure, there's some cack and crazy voices and, yes, titles like "Poopship destroyer" don't inspire confidence, but there's also dirty garage noise and distortion ("Doctor rock"), genuinely funny faux-country ("Japanese cowboy") and 70s stoner rock ("Voodoo lady").

Thebrotheregg, Limited run ep CDS

"Dark workmanship" gently spasms through its duration, a slowly twitching take on the Palace formula bathed in the glow of uncluttered, but full and warm, budget orchestral production. Just piano and violin augmenting the tender countryness, enhancing and emphasising, but never overwhelming. Even on "Dormant poodling" where the piano is given its head there's neither honk nor tonk to disturb the fragility. Pick of the three tracks, however, is "Billy Barty's brains" where we're talking classy Slow River (Sparklehorse, Josh Rouse, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Peter Bruntnell etc) melancountry gliding along on a mournful slide and cracked whispering. PO Box 3767, Portland, OR 97208, USA

Margoo, Eh? (Wot4) CD

I've seen one or two short reviews in my time---they tend to consist of a lone expletive---but the title of this CD would do as well for a review and take the minimalist review record too. Y'see, Margoo rejoices in the glory of the non sequitur. Whole tracks consist of slow processions of out-of-context snippets of who-knows-what from who-knows-where, treated who-knows-how and stitched together only-one-man-knows-why. Fragments of spoken film vocal, odd squirts of melody---or not---burbles and bobbles, boings, crunches, twangs, whistles, squelches and rattles all occur frequently but do not make this one of those half-arsed cut'n'paste collage of crap that we are often led to believe is futuristic art, instead a kind of louche, cultivated techno with just enough surface normality to pass casual muster is blended. Normal above ground, but below the subversive elements already mentioned are cheekily juxtaposed in all sort of wrong ways. It's as if Frank Zappa had set out trying to make an Aphex Twin record, but got stoned instead. Piazza Torrigiam 14, 50050 Vico D'elsa, Firenze, Italy

Yuppie Flu/Three Pieces, split w/ (Extreme Sports) 12"

Yuppie Flu live up to the name with a lethargic, weary and painfully fragile cycling stomper, "Ambassadors," which starts off like a sluggish Dinosaur Jr: streams of consciousness over looping split beats; turns at mid-point into a sluggish Family of God tromp and winds down into the funereal dirge of a sluggish Suicide. We like it a lot. Meanwhile, on the other side, Three Pieces provide, erm, three pieces of the kind of Tangerine Dreamish fractured ambience that bored me rigid ten years ago but right now, after my cocoa, seems to hit the spot.

Various, Telephasic ambiance (Lianora) CD

As befits and self-respecting fanzine (Metropolitan Audio)/label compilation, at least half of this is indie pop of one strain or another (Shallow, Kaktus, Pala, Mogul, Lazer Guided) and as befits a title like "Telephasic ambiance" the other half trots along the space/electronic/post line like a good 'un. The more interesting stuff comes from the second half, including a stirring loop-the-loop from Earworm favourites Tank, but everyone is belittled by Jad Fair and Jason Willetts' prank pronk track, "Return of the fly." c/o B. Sonnette, La Noue 77750, Basseveile, France

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