reviews september 2000

Realistic, Smells Like Teen Disco (Illegal Art) 12"

Echoes of Smells Like Teen Spirit drop onto the butchered remnants of a disco beat. Butchered because Realistic doesn't seem to have realised that when you cut randomly around a 4/4 the hypnotic groove is largely negated. Or else Realistic dances as badly as me. In fact, half the point of Illegal Art is to dick around with the conventions of modern music so it should be no surprise to find that this is not what's advertised in the title. Five remixes are spread across the clear vinyl although the only thing they seem to share is a name. Best is from arch samplers The Evolution Control Committee who unite a filtered disco break, a bass line played variously on a taut chain and a cheesewire and 80s house sounds.

The Go! Team, Get It Together (Pickled Egg) 7"

If The Good, The Bad and The Ugly had been a super-8 home movie lasting just two minutes then Kill the Klansmen from the b-side of this 7" would be the soundtrack. The compacted squall of Morricone-inspired tomfoolery riding roughshod over scratchy, juddering loops and the odd jump-edit is less spaghetti western than spaghetti hoops. Get It Together takes the same razor blade to what is surely a 70s childrens telly theme. I keep thinking of the Red Hand Gang but I'm pretty sure it's not that. Closest comparison? Cobra Killer motivated by cowboy matinees and Saturday morning television from a bygone age.

Beige, The Rhythm! The Message? (Leaf) 12"

The rhythm is jerk. The message is... well, it's hard to say what the message is but frankly the rhythm is quite enough to be going on with. As you attempt to work your body to this record you will find that there is elasticity where you thought there was none and angles whose existence you'd previously doubted. Beige is an ironically plain name for such perfectly perverse dance music.

Magnetophone, Come on the Phone (4AD) 12"

Sounds like that old joke: What's white and spins across the dancefloor? Come Dancing. Ahem. Magnetophone (it's French for tape recorder, my girlfriend tells me) are back after a series of hard-to-come-by 7" singles and on the revamped 4AD to boot. The sleeve is as stylish as the label's history merits (and would do even Mo Wax proud) and the music is as wilfully dreamy and concrete krauty as the band's reputation would suggest. Oh Darlin' makes the softly melodic noise of slow-flowing water lapping against the bottom of a Moog.

Marshmallow Coast, Seniors and Juniors (Pickled Egg) LP

"Time is why clocks unwind" sing Marshmallow Coast in an interesting twist on conventional wisdom and with admirable disdain for the mechanics of clockwork devices. Their thinking on musical dynamics is equally lateral, coming at pop music from the blind side out of left-field and with a clutch of instruments that won't see them troubling the charts in the near future. Neither big guitars nor sophisticated computer equipment are much in evidence but piano is, along with accordian and xylophone. None of this will surprise when the link (through the band Of Montreal) to the Elephant 6 collective is made. This, of course, means a love of Brian Wilson, unfathomable lyrical content and unbelievably catchy and simple tunes with a weighty integrity behind them. If it's modern comparisons we're after, try They Might Be Giants without the geeky, trying-too-hard, clever-cleverness or over-quirky music. Marshmallow Coast are not ironic, they will not build a little bird-house in your soul, but they might just bring a little soul in your home.

Man Or Astroman?, A Spectrum of Infinite Scale (Epitaph) CD

It used to be easy with MOAM, you knew what to expect from them (space-age surfabilly) and they knew how to deliver it to you (recorded raw.) Last year's EEVIAC (Embedded Electronic Variably Integrated Astro Console) album changed all that by bringing in amplifiers that looked like Emperor Ming's Death Ray Device and sounded... like Emperor Ming's Death Ray Device played by Steve Albini in the band's home studio. The new record continues where EEVIAC left off: a quick shredder at the beginning and another half-way through to reassure the faithful and the other 35 minutes made up of Link Wray ingesting large quantities of downers and hallucinogens, strapping on heavy boots and turning up to 11.

Saloon, Electron (Bearos) 7"

When I was in Sweden recently I was astonished to see beer called Eurolager on sale and even being bought. A blue can with a gold Euro currency symbol shamelessly flashed on the side and value for money printed around the top. In the interests of Anglo-Swedish relations I of course purchased a 4-pack and, of course, it tasted as bland as you would expect. Europiss. I mention this here not to reflect badly on Saloon but just because as I was slipping their latest 7" slice from the sleeve and mulling over their past releases it struck me that if we were looking for a credible Eurosomething then Saloon as Euroband might do alright. Singing in English, Spanish and French on a regular basis makes them pretty much the only candidates, in fact. Electron is a Summer-slides-into-Autumn record, less thrum than the band sometimes offer and more gentle movement. The sway of tall grass on a lazy breeze, the slight Brownian fall of crisp leaves from the trees and the whispering melody of wind through bare branches. It's traditional to compare Saloon to Stereolab and any Too Pure band, I'd go for Pram in an au natrel moment on this occasion, although Amanda's vocal could be Sice of the Boo Radleys on any of the slow ones from Giant Steps.

The Regulars, Lie Down and Fight (Bearos) 7"

"I cheated death on the Hagley Road" sing The Regulars as they open their vinyl account at the Bearos record bank. I used to ride down the Hagley Road on the bus most weekends to buy records in Birmingham and even daily for a while when I worked at Burger King on Corporation Street. I even drank underage Newquay Steam Beer at the band's favourite pub (The Dog) when I thought Steam Beer (whatever it is) was probably about as cool as you could get apart from my mate Rich who'd drive us up to Bearwood in his Escort Mk II with the L-plates removed for a couple of pints and a balti. Jesus, they were the days and it only takes a couple of words (or a sound, I went all dewy-eyed over a Grover review for Bearos previously too) to get me right back there. At the time a fanzine called Trashcan put out a tape called (somewhat optimistically) Move Over Manchester. It featured local luminaries such as The Honey Turtles, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, The Cantels, Dan Dare's Dog and The Kilbanes and was your typical post-C86 indie compilation: jangle, lost love, an issue, a tune and a tear or two. The Regulars would fit right in.

By Coastal Café, Daffodil (Rocket Number 9) 7"

You've got to be quick, there's only 200 copies of this little gem to be had from Rough Trade (, Benno ( or the address at the bottom. The little gem has 8 facets, 8 tracks of the guile-less dictaphone pop music that Martin and Marilyn have been sending me on demo tapes for the last couple of years. Think Beat Happening songs scribbled down onto tape recorded by an engineer wearing ear muffs and boxing gloves, the masters crushed by a steamroller and edited back together by Edward Scissorhands. Then think beautiful and simple. Kihlberg, Tellusbargsv 64, S-12637 Hagersten, Sweden

Rick of the Skins, Here Comes the Weekend CD

That's a strange name, I thought. And they look like a strange bunch if that's them on the sleeve. How strange for a naked woman to be harvesting carrots. I wonder what they sound like?

Strange. Obviously. Like Yo La Tengo are strange. In the way that the restlessly inventive are strange. By the juxtaposition of odd bits and bobs of songs and pieces of songs and noises and quirky singing and on/off intensity and overt melody and the thickhead thump of basic drums. Say YLT got together with Neutral Milk Hotel and a set of timeshare instruments. I love this record. 5684 Roberts St, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3K 1J6.

The Gregs, Office Party (Cripperty) CDS

Worth a mention for the leas track which goes by the splendid name of Abattoir and is entirely appropriate, killing as it does all melody with gruntish singing and swathes of fuzzy distortion. It's an indie song from the old school and given the rate at which the 80s seem to be being recycled at the moment, we're surely due a bit more of it. 27 First Ave, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM2 6AZ

Pat Crowley, The Idle Singer of an Empty Day (TrebleYoo) CD

Choosing records for the radio is so much easier than writing reviews for three reasons. (1) it takes a lot less time; (2) the link with the listener is direct on the radio. The music comes straight from my hand to your ear. In the zine it travels through my ear, out of my hand, into your eye and thence to some imagined sound. No wonder you've bought so many crappy records at my instigation; (3) if I can find one track on an album that sends a shiver down my spine I can play it on the show. If I find an album with one standout track, though, should I write about it? Pat Crowley's Idle Singer of an Empty Day poses this problem for me. It's a solid singer-songwriter/ acoustic guitar record with the odd flourish of Dylan-esque harmonica that, while being nothing radically different or new, contains one song, Gargoyle, that is somehow magical. My answer? Tell it like it is. Pat's looking for kindred spirits for his TrebleYoo label. PO Box 14624, 1001 LC, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Purple Kush, Rush (Bilawn) CDS

I'm not ashamed to admit that I bought and enjoyed the first Rage Against The Machine album. Whatever you think about the damaged goods that Heavy Metal turned into, the primeval power of 70s Rock is indisputable. Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zep. The riffs. No, the RIFFS. Combine that power with the cutting directness of hip hop beats and rap delivery and you've got a potent weapon. I was in America, working on a summer camp, when RATM blew up and that record, and Bodycount's debut were my soundtracks as I cleaned tables, swept floors and fed burgers, pizzas and fizzy pop to a couple of hundred over-privileged rich white boys. Purple Kush make the same kind of hard rock/ hip hop crossover that RATM did (and perhaps still do, I lost interest). Very much a heads-down power chord thing. Predictable (hence the loss of interest), yes, but exhilarating when fresh. Could be better if they investigated the rock/jungle methods of bands like Blowholy. PO Box 2002, Winnetka, CA 91396, USA

Fabiola, Simon Frith Says CDS

Simon Frith Says, Pissed Against the Wall, Utility and Design. Three more tracks (there seem to be a lot about just now) that hark back to the days when the indie charts contained independent bands on independent labels making 7" singles in the drummer's Aunt's back bedroom on 4-track recorders. The records were played to the nation by Janice Long (who actually ran a series on how to make your own DIY record) and, later at night, John Peel. Guitar, bass, drums and Moog with a rush of noise, a heap of frustration, political discontent, choppy rhythm, a fuzzbox, a dash of melody, the odd "woo-hoo" moment and probably East German Army parkas and big boots. 103 Minster Court, Liverpool, L7 3QD.

The Groove Criminals, Product of a Vinyl Upbringing CDS

A taster for the forthcoming album on Vapours records plus one show-stealing joke tune. Great Expectations samples Pam Ayres reading a poem about being a rock star ("I can do the vocals, and you can do the bass... Yeah!") and drops them over the simplest looped backing you'll ever hear: a single bar of jazz piano and a breakbeat. at 2 minutes long it's the shortest thing on here and could easily be a hit record, with the right copyright lawyer. Of the main tracks, Voodoo Beatbox is the Criminals more traditional fare. Drastically slow instrumental hip hop with the infused sound of jungle congas and deep tribal chanting. Heatbeats sounds like Black Star Liner-a distorted wail, dubby bass and crisp beats-although it gets its vocals from Paul McGilley of an AC/DC tribute band rather than a second generation British Asian. The Man With No Pseudonym strips almost everything from the track in his remix, rebuilding it with a pinging melody line to great effect.

Solar Plexus, demo TAPE

A horrible recording that comes mainly out of just one speaker as it fluctuates in volume and tone. A beautiful recording that dances around Ellen McGee's strong and unique vocal in a guitar and flute duet. At her folkiest, Ellen sounds like Susan Vega and PJ Harvey trying to get into Fairport Convention. At their rockiest, the band sound like Belle and Sebastian. 35 Stratford Rd, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 6AZ.

Future Airlines, Godspeed TAPE

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Bjorn from Abba was saying just the same thing about Brotherhood of Man on the telly the other night. But what about when imitation isn't imitation but identical copying? What about when a track that samples you comes bursting through the speakers? What about when your digital clone grabs a couple of words snipped out of something you said then repeats them ad nauseum throughout a track, making you sound like a retarded tape loop? What about when, in a spirit of giving you a sporting chance, the same song uses nearly half a sentence of what you said, but buries it so deep in the mix that you can hardly hear it?

Well, you love it! Especially when it's etched into one of those breakbeat tracks with bass that crumbles eardrums at half a mile. And what did Mr. Airlines sample? Me saying "Future Airlines, he's a nice chap. Or he seems to be a nice chap" on the radio.

Hayleys Cake, You Do Voodoo (Invicta Hi-Fi) CDS

Seems hard to believe now but for a long time I was pretty much against remixes. It was the time when remix 12" consisted of the original 7" version, the 12" version (same as the 7" but with a long instrumental break) and an instrumental version. Things have moved on now and, although there have been plenty of remixes for their own sake since, there have also been many occasions when a decent track (or even a crappy track) has been turned into something magnificent for me to have any qualms about the remix now. Hayleys Cake's original is a friendly pop song but the remix by Ladytron is nouveau disco (think I Feel Love plus depression) of a superlative kind.

Los Nachos, demo TAPE

It'd be simplistic and unfair to say that Los Nachos have just followed the Gold Blade route to sweaty Glam/Soul success, but... "Suave new creed for the now!" screams the sleeve. A slogan that could easily have been cribbed from the multitude that John Robb seems to dispense on a full-time basis. Actually, there's probably less lamé and more rock in the Nachos sound. The third and final track, LN vs JB, spasms around a high-speed basic blues, a fuzz break and strange bass tones presumably overlaid by producer Johnathan Barrett (JB). I'd guess they're a riot live.

Missed Her Bliss, object/subject (Holier Than Thou) CD/ J. Mascis and The Fog, Where'd You Go (City Slang) CDS

"Ah Blisshopper, you are learning but you are not at the place of spiritual enlightenment yet. Your journey there will take you down many false trails; you must resist the rock temptations and turn down those who would seek to turn your dark tendencies into neo-gothic dribble. But do not be discouraged, pupil, you have done well and have a firm foundation for the temple that is your music."

"Thank you, Mascis Master. May your humble disciple be permitted to congratulate you on the wonder of your latest melodic/noise offering and suggest that by appropriating the false prophet Bowie's riff in such a way, you have shown yourself to be the true leader of alternative guitar pop."

Trans Am, Red Line (Thrill Jockey) CD

Trans Am, over the last three or four years have jumped nimbly between musical stools with each successive album, somehow leaving a foot (or at least a toe) still touching each previous seat. This time their ambition has defeated them. One stool too many (or one foot too few) means the whole sorry lot has collapsed and the band are left standing over the rubble of fallen furniture and a sound composed of all previous sounds in a jumbled pile. And you only have to get to the second track to see that this is just fine. I Want It All stretches the band's Kraftwerk tendencies to the point where they become Numanoid and picks up the rest from broken bits of one of their craftier guitar efforts. Oh yes, and sticks a dirty great vocoder on top. Polizei (Zu Spat) turns almost the same trick a couple of minutes later and if the album stopped there it'd still be worth the price of entry. In fact there are 21 tracks (which is perhaps too many and a touch Sandinista) but there's gold in them thar grooves.

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