reviews september 1999

Various, Global takeover (Urban Takeover) LP

An Urban Takeover collection featuring trademark jungle with trademark bull-in-a-china shop square-edged bass and enough hip hop fragments to satisfy the old school freak too. Pick of the set, not to dismiss Mickey Finn and Aphrodite's hard-nosed efforts, is Mulder's "Don't believe" where the obvious Public Enemy sample is chopped gleefully up amongst a museum's worth of hip hop historicals before that drum'n'bass kicks in and rhythmic spastoid dancing becomes the order of the day.

Kaos Engine/Funky Generals, split (21-3/Colony) 12"

More scratching than a dogful of fleas, a bagful of M/A/R/R/S' samples, a thimbleful of Morricone FX and a sprightly loop give Kaos Engine 10/10 right off. The Funky Generals power up an acidic and dark experience but can't really compete.

Dylan Group, If I had been able (Fat Cat) 12"

If I lean back in my chair and squint down the length of my nose, my eyes are just about at the same level as the point where the stylus touches this 12" single. From my (rather uncomfortable) vantage point, I can see that there's more than a slight warp in the vinyl and, further, I can see the point at which the wow---or is it flutter?---should be audible. But it isn't. Or, if it is, there's too much intentional dubby wow---or flutter---for me to perceive it even though the percussion is simple drum machine metronomics. It's remixed (and replayed) on the other side by Fridge who complicate the beats and bulk up the sounds but retain the crucial component: dubby wow...or was it flutter?

PS I Love You, Where on earth is Kevin Shields? (Rocket Girl) 7"

Fixated by MBV, PS I Love You send out search party to the sound of a surging whoosh and lull that wouldn't shame the man himself. In a voice full of yearning, David Stroughter seems to sense that his quest is fruitless and so resorts to slagging off Creation and, notably, Oasis whose hype he describes as "like Beatlemania with small penises."

Valvola, Teenagers film their own lives (SHADO) LP

All the best ideas are born in the pub---that story about Isaac Newton and the apple is wrong, it was a barrel of cider and the landlord's head---and the one I'm thinking of in particular comes from the other night: Draw up a multidimensional musical graph with axes representing different styles and points in space denoting bands. From this you can see where there's new ground to be explored (country industrial, for example, seems very sparse) and go straight there. Sadly, it looks like Valvola have already done it, plotting the sounds of Spaceman 3, the Velvets and Galaxie 500 along the warmth axis and early Suicide on the electronic one before spinning off on a parabolic trajectory through them that takes in lazy psychedelia, vintage synthedelia and 60's beat memorabilia. Apply liberally though headphones. SHADO, c/o Gianni Antonino, via Pontente 9, 50019 Sesta F-no, Firenze, Italy

Subterraneans, Some girls (SHADO) 7"

Substantially the same personnel as Valvola, the Subterraneans lose the antique synth technology and invest all in retro guitar pop of the chiming kind. Pick of the three tracks is "Forever" where swooping spaciousness is bound up in rapid, reverbed riffs and choppy chord charisma that reminds of a distant-but-strident Lou Reed but also, and this is the second band in a week to do it, of long-lost Brummie hopefuls Onionhead. SHADO, c/o Gianni Antonino, via Pontente 9, 50019 Sesta F-no, Firenze, Italy

Subterraneans Beatnik Club, Musics from vanished movies (SHADO) 7"

More Valvola deja vu, this time in the form of 8 short tracks which, as the title says, realise in music the magic of a cinematic moment. The moments in question appear to come from home-made super-8 psyche films in which the gyration of one or more almost undressed androgynes is slowed down and projected through oil filters onto the side of a tent in which, through silhouette, we see a couple making studious love. That, or a subterranean (hey!) nightclub in which the gyrations are real time but the sulphate-fuelled cameraman is not, where lava lamps are beacons in the semi-darkness and the under-produced soundtracks echo off damp, bare-bricked walls. SHADO, c/o Gianni Antonino, via Pontente 9, 50019 Sesta F-no, Firenze, Italy

Alex Gopher, The Child (Disques Solid) CDS

In its original form coming in somewhere between Moloko's excellent "Fun for me" and synthetic android disco funk, but trimmed back and wound down with great effect by the ever-reliable Source Direct in the pick of the mixes. And the accompanying album's not bad either: electronics of all varieties compete in a surprisingly classy mix of smooth and rough, electro and techno, funk and dub.

High Llamas, Snowbug (V2) CDS

"Cold and bouncy" and now "Snowbug," the pastures these Llamas are grazing these days are considerably more chilled than their early fields. Much like the living rooms in which the album will be played during the lazy evenings where gentleness is prized above clamour, where engaging easy listening merges with an ambiance of background chatter and the lozenges of melody spiral upwards, interweaving with the strings of smoke from unattended cigarettes. If you could make music for a house party that would inspire you to stay rather than rely on your fictitious sick aunt in Dagenham, this would be it. Slow enough that as you nod along, the bore who's cornered you thinks you're listening attentively, absorbing enough that when he gets pissed off you won't even notice him leave.

Mercury Rev, Goddess on a Hiway (V2) CDS

In which re-release, the Rev put their reverent Neil Young fetish on public display once again. New b-sides go with it, including a strangely upbeat live version of "Car wash hair" and John Lennon's "I don't want to be a soldier" from this year's Peel Session.

Ben Christophers, My beautiful demon (V2) CD

It's almost inevitable, when making music of this kind, that you will be compared to Radiohead. Knowing this, putting a track like "Give me everything" second on your debut is a free gift to the critics all too ready to pigeonhole and move on. Before we get there, though, the title track, and single, has wafted hauntingly around Christophers' falsetto, stark against the minimal production of Faultline, more commonly known for his electronic clank and buzz work. The production really shines in the second half of the record. Melody, on fragile piano and reticent acoustic guitar, mingles with the timid power of Christopher's vocal, shimmering and gliding, rising and dropping down to nothing. Sadness and joy, both.

Fundamental, Azaan/Why America will go to hell (Nation) both 12"

Strange coincidence that I should pick up a white label copy of "Azaan"---which must be 6 or 7 years old now---just the day before the latest from Fundamental arrived. Strange, perhaps, but no reason to pass up the journalistic gift from above that is comparison with the old days. Not such an easy comparison to make though, as "Why America.." is mostly remix (by Jim Reid of JAMC) and re-remix (by Wayward Soul, of Reid's version) of "Ja Sha Taan" with the untouched version appearing on the "Exotic terrorism" album. Jim Reid turns the track into a JAMC chug with a bit of dancefloor edge, adding his own vocal which is utilised by Wayward Soul who cut back on the fuzz and turn up the BPM. The two Aki Nawaz originals, "Rape" and "Will power," provide what we're after, however, and show a shift in emphasis amongst essentially the same ingredients. "Azaan" and its b-sides are overtly Asian in melody and instrumentation but ride on hip hop beats with heavy tabla and deft dabs of dub. "Rape" and "Will power," on the other hand, have clanking up-front beats on top of grandiloquent Bollywood flourishes and chanting.

But what's really surprising isn't the change but rather the consistency. Now in the 8th year of existence and after the departure of half the band to set up Detrimental, Fundamental are still angry ("Rape" is accompanied by copious sleeve notes), still active, still dancing and, most of all, still pushing. Quality.

Omni Trio, Byte size life (Moving Shadow) LP

When even the masters of the killer jungle 12" get the chance to cut and album, there's often an irresistible temptation to fill up all the available space twice over. Take Goldie, Roni Size, 4 Hero and even Peshay, for instance; all guilty of releasing albums that they'd probably trim down given the benefit of hindsight. This is not a problem for Rob Haigh who, on his fourth LP now, keeps the track quotient down to a healthy 9 and fills each with the atmospheric, textual drum'n'bass we've come to expect from him. Picks of the bunch are the dreamy EL-meets-trance (!) of "Meltdown (remix)" and the melancholic funk of "Nature place."

P.Y. Rognin CD

Like the High Llamas, P.Y. Rognin tip-toes through knee-high melody grass swooning dreamily in the summer wind while clumsily, but gently, banging his glockenspiel fingers on the trunks of the lounge trees he passes as he swings around, arms outstretched, intentionally getting to the point of giddyness, and then slowing down. He's French---as if that explains the easy listening mood---and it's worth investigating his first 4 songs here.

Spore, Bobble (Staalplaat) CD

Opening track, "More infinitus" sounds like "Voodoo ray" as experienced by William Burroughs after a large (and largely liquid) naked lunch. It is succeeded by the arabic vibration hum of "Green eyes sparkling" which in turn precedes "What about the spores?" where found clanks and lost vocals do battle with a lethargic dubby rattle and echo-laden grind which sounds for all the world like a goa trance track played at about 5 rpm and concluded by Streetfighter combat beats. If that doesn't pique your curiosity, you'd better get some tartan slippers and a pipe and take out that subscription to the Alan Titchmarsh fan club that you've been considering, Grandad. Talking of clubs, this is number 13 in a series of "paperbacks" on the label---a series where new artists are given free reign and the result is priced as a paperback (20 Guilders). PO Box 11452, 1001GL Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Watercress, Bummer (Creeping Herb) CD

From Belfast, and it's obvious in the vocals, Watercress are 4 with broadish tastes orbiting around the Wonderstuff circa "Never loved Elvis" with touches of indie folksters The Fat Lady Sings and the odd pop punk moment. At 14 tracks (plus one hidden extra) the album is a touch on the flabby side and would've packed more punch trimmed down to 8 or 10. Nice, though. PO Box 656, Belfast, N.Ireland, BT9 5EY

Reynolds, To unwind to unwound (Gringo) 7"

If you take the view that what a band commits to vinyl is, in some way, a metaphorical look inside their collective head, then the Reynolds' mind (on this evidence) is full of unresolved inconsistency, tense oppositions pulling in different directions and jerky indecision. Jerk juxtaposed with glide, jagged meeting smooth, music abutting discord, fast into slow, slow back to fast and repetition giving way to the odd one-off counterpoint. All-in-all a nice debut that would slot into Touch and Go's roster with ease. 2.50 from PO Box 3904, Clacton on Sea, Essex, CO15 5TF

The Candy Store Prophets, Songs for angels (Pioneer Sounds) 7"

"Cindy's on fire" opens with a chiming pop riff of prime period REM vintage and a vocalist that sounds like Stipe with a Valium prescription about half the strength that he really needs. It then drops into a chorus very close to James' "Johnny Yen" and fades to the sound of the REM riff being done over by off-tones and feedback. It's a grower that hasn't quite grown yet, if you know what I mean. On the other side, "The shortness of life does not stop us from entertaining long hopes" comes in somewhere between a regretful, philosophical Mick from Prolapse and Spaceman 3 almost unplugged. 2.50 from 4f Stirling St, Dundee, DD3 6PH

Laconic, Honey pays (Transverse) 7"

Like Messrs. Happy, Tickle and Topsy-Turvy, Laconic's name also describes their nature; like the brothers Reid, Laconic like to bury a pop song deep beneath skipfuls of distortion; like astronaut crewmates Boom and Pierce, the urge to stretch langurously out into dreamy psychedelia cannot be easily contained and, like many other bands recording a debut single, the garage acoustics only add to the effect. 4 quid from PO Box 25024, Glasgow, G4 9WH

Danmass and Afrika Bambaataa, Electro Funk Express/ Animate, Skelectro (both Dust2Dust) 12"

Skelectro, a neologism worthy of Lewis Carroll, finding its roots in skeleton and electro and more than adequately describing the hauntingly beautiful fragment of electro. Almost electro pop in fact, and you wouldn't be surprised to find that this was a Bambaataa remix of an early DM single. It isn't, but talking of Bambaataa, the latest collaboration with Danmass is incredible. You can forgive Bam all the lame crap ("Sho nuff funky" anyone?) when you hear the simple ticking beat, simple square bass and simple vocal---including "Planet rock" namecheck---that roll up into this monster. Now, where's my lino?

Urania, Initiation (Brain Surgery) CD

Excellent dark technoid stuff marred by the addition of completely unnecessary Darth Vader tracheotomy vocals. The music pounds and scrapes, bubbles, pumps and beats, distorts and overloads, drops acid lines and clanks, at best winding up into the ATR-ish gabba whirlwind that is "Varacode" (the only track where the singing works for me) or the distressed breakbeats and sci-fi of "Cohesion" but mostly making me wish it were all instrumental. 71 W 23rd St, Suite 903, New York, NY 10010, USA

Ausgang, Electric-Arc (Foundry) CD

Nothing---as far as I can tell from the names on the sleeve---to do with the mid-80's Brummies of the same name but everything to do with the kind of oxymoronic warmly sterile collages that Can crafted so well. A mathematical sound where circling melody lines intersect planar drones in patterns that seem to almost repeat with a period determined by a formula known only to the band. PO Box 24131, London, SW18 4WH

Confession of Faith, Children of a dying sun CD

Slothful electro-industrial with a weedy chattering beatbox, an ear for underplayed melody and the odd gothic tendency. Not bad.

Robert Kunin, Rock folk blues word CD

"Above me" stars with a voice somewhere between Tom Waits and The Count from Sesame Street, asking "why do you love me?" and following up with variations on that theme---half growled, half shouted---to a drunken, juddering rhythm as gentle electric guitar does little and a drum machine less. "I can fly" calms the vocals down some but essentially repeats the same formula and both tracks wind up sounding not unlike Pop Will Eat Itself when they were the unstable, and frequently crap, Wild and Wondering. Which suits me fine. "Peggy" is instrumental, just two guitars which, by virtue of the off-kilter and often impaired lead, and the 2-minute length, elevate the tune from the potential mire. Five other tracks don't really measure up, especially the ill-advised "comic" poem, "Jimbo," but do take in blues, rock and acapella as advertised. Like Raging F?!khell (read your back issues), the crudeness and lo-tech approach add a lot of edge to this stuff. c/o Mombasha Paperwork Co, 73 West Mombasha Rd, Monroe, NY 10950, USA

Pope Factory, Pope Factory (Buffalo Fire) CD

It's a rollercoaster Ride across 6 tracks on the debut from Canadians Pope Factory. Taking the MBV-inspired dreamscape psychedelia of the Oxford boys and defining sharper edges with repetitive monotonic riffing, up, up, up, hang over the edge and shoot down. Now it's quieter, touching C&W but still cyclic and hypnotic, climbing and building again. Think 6 by 7 and, at the top of the peaks, Spaceman 3. c/o Buffalo Fire, 2475 Gerrard St. East, Toronto, ON M4E 2G3, Canada

Brassy, I can't wait (Wiiija) CDS/12"

Money for old rope. Rob Swift of the X-ecutioners (nee X-men) must've thought it was his lucky day---remixing an indie band who'd already done the hip hop hard work for him means that he'd got little left to do other than drop half the vocal, slip in a Hammond organ, add a dab of echo and he's clocking off early. A tribute to Brassy's assimilation of the breakbeat and, importantly, the vibe, as they make fast and summery, yet spiky, lo-budget zip hop. For bonus points, "I gotta beef" pits Bratmobile against beats brilliantly.

Tagyerit, Tubeman (Wabbit) CD

"Tubeman," the song, is about a ship's captain who joins a band of renegades floating in the sea on inner tubes after setting out to investigate them. "Embarrassed (all true)," meanwhile, relates a series of, erm, episodes including an involuntary urination during a basketball game. Two from 13 which indicate that Tagyerit are not necessarily on the same frequency as the rest of us---although certainly on the same frequency as the "Outlaw radio guy" they pay tribute to. To further reinforce the differences, Flo Newman sings in a bewitching folk fashion (she's got a large range and she's gonna use it) and the music takes in the stagger and jerk of a gentle Cardiacs or even the Soft Machine. Which leaves us the obvious comparison with the now-defunct Sidi Bou Said although without the propensity for slashing guitar abuse. In its place comes a love of crisp pop segments that burst out of, and are swallowed up by, the twitching folk rock, hints of country music and even psychedelia. PO Box 0823, Amherst MA 01004-0823, USA

Various, Osmosis (Leaf) CD

Osmosis, the process of acquisition through absorption is a nice title for this budget label sampler which showcases exactly the talent that Leaf has for sucking up influence from all over the place. Just as good a title, given that this is a CD, would have been Photosynthesis---the creation of energy from light. Energy for dancing comes from Beige's "The rhythm! the message?" which tangles a pumping 4-4 with rattles, hums, whistles and other quirkenalia to great effect. The Sons' energy, in "The sonar song," is provided by the Sons of Silence with crafty latino dancehall skanking and solar power from Fourtet who spreads breakbeats over a planetarium ceiling full of tinkling, pulsing stars. Other choice cuts include Gorodisch (filmic jazz), Gripper (St. Etienne with a harder edge) and Susmumi Yokota (choral bleep). Oh yes, look out for the hidden Fatboy piss-take.

Various, Where the wild nings are (Fierce Panda) CD

There's an old music biz adage: throw enough ning at the wall and some of it sticks. Fierce Panda have released more ning than most and this is 20 tracks of it. Luckily, there are a few saving graces: Lo-Fi Allstars give Ms. Bassey a good going over on "Diamonds are forever," Robots.. faves the Interpreters do their neo-retro Mod thing to "Shout" and Spraydog perform more youthful sonics in the style of Sonic Youth.

Deplete, Coitus CD

Apart from a Manga/nudie lady fixation there's little to be gleaned about Deplete from the cover of this CDR. Inside, there's a couple of tracks of R2D2 making grimy love to a sequencer before things intensify into filtered distortion and wriggling, snaky static lines with a synthetic gloss and cavernous chopped-up beats. Highlight, though, is "Atari annoyance" which could've come from Alec Empire's Nintendo Teenage Robots computer game experiments. 4612 Victoria Ave, Fremont, CA 94538, USA

Rachel's, Selenography (Quarterstick) CD

In the same way that the computer industry searches relentlessly for that killer app, so the music reviewer reveres the killer adj, the adjective that succinctly sums up a record. Glorious in its simplicity, majestic in the ease with which economy of ink and paper can capture a complex ethos, and deep in latent meaning, the killer adj for "Selenography" is....imaginary. And with additional self-referential efficiency, the definition of the concept is itself a reflection of the minimality of the album where strings and piano barely cover the space left amidst bare washes of sound. Imaginary because, by its fragile nature, the listener is constantly wandering whether or not they heard that melody or conjured it up themselves, and imaginary because it's the music of late nights when imagination rules.

Inhaler, Chang (Seriously Groovy) CD

Chang is the sound of over-revving motorbikes, angle grinders biting into metal, the dirty hum of high voltage transformers and techno: hardcore riffing and dynamics, strangled gruffness in the vocal department and dance music beneath. Similar in construction to Blowholy, Inhaler lever breakbeats and acid squiggles into otherwise fairly straight metal tracks. "Metal inferno" is a prime example, topping the lot with an electro/vocoder voice-over, and also "Iommi (part 1)" which shows the metal side of the influences in its title, but contrarily features almost no trad guitar whatsoever. "DISCO" is a welcome break half-way through, an out-take from an Hawaii 5-0 chase scene and the album highlight for me is "Fishkill correctional" which lurches like a punch drunk old drunk, when he's drunk.

Sade, Reflections of the carambola (Weird Dreams) 7"

Sade are now known as Smooth Operator. Probably sensible from a legal perspective although no-one would've confused them on the basis of the music. "huvipuisto" is a kind of marriage of skittering rapid-fire beats and naive melody that's associated with Aphex Twin while "duplicating cell (epithelio)" is a slower, electroid, take on the same. A piano melody this time, with Defender lasers for garnish. On the other side we get a Grindverk style dirty electro and horn parper and mellow Mu-Ziq strings atop a ticking beatbox. On clear yellow vinyl. Orontie 1 as 2, 53500, L-Ranta, Finland

By Coastal Cafe/Farnhold Tree both TAPE

How much do I love By Coastal Cafe? Not enough. This tape comprises three more of their frail sweetshop pop songs. Unfinished tunes, that is, recorded badly and on poor equipment in between sessions sitting in the garden drinking coffee. But so utterly enchanting in their simplicity that you can't help but fall in love. "All in ordning" captivates with it's distant picked guitar chime and fuzz-buried melody, "Make me smile" is a first true love song with heart-wrenching harmonica bursts building the tearful fragility and "Taking their places" sounds like it was recorded through a sweaty sock yet still bursts with emotion.

Farnhold Tree is Martin (who along with Marilyn makes up By Coastal Cafe) and friend Magnus. They pursue a similar ideal to BCC but are better recorded and have less fragmentary songs. This is especially true on "Don't say you're sorry" which could be Sebadoh in a particularly appealing moment while "Waiting" is more like something you might've once heard on Sarah. Strangely, without the duff fidelity, something is lost, the charm is reduced and we just get nice songs. Kapellv 19, S-35262 Vaxjo, Sweden.

Various, Raising anchor (Aileron) TAPE

Local band compilations, so much to answer for...8 tracks from around Cambridge here, with Nyugati Palaudvar donating a tricky bass'n'drum rocker from their debut LP, Interlaken performing their best Sonic Youth/Mogwai wrigglings with obvious glee and Alcopop producing a much fuller sound than on their last demo, but still a facsimile of Heavenly. Best of the bunch by a long mile, however, is Aileron and "Mmm...jazz," not the Fast Show samplefest you might expect, but instead a kind of baby Aphex botch-up of feedback, dreamy synths, jazz piano and stereo-panned arachnid beats. 4 Cotton's Field, Dry Drayton, Cambridge, CB3 8DG

Saloon, Single 1/Demo 1 (Belmondo) TAPE

A compilation of the debut single, "Lisa Millennium," and a 4 track demo tape, this collection. The 7" title track is the Pop Guns with under-performing synths added, like a wimpier John Sims perhaps. 10 years ago, when everybody wanted to be the Wedding Present rather than Stereolab, the same song would've sounded just as sweet without the keyboards. "Conquistador" is a demo of the Spanish violin lament Quickspace have still to write and "Pink" is the scratchy wig-out they already have. Nice stuff, this. or

Platypus, Ninja monster (Weird Dreams) 7"

"Monkey robot hell" sounds like a loop of half a bar from any Human League song being shafted by an army of hirsute primate distortion androids, complete with clumsy tempo increase and simulated squealing at the conclusion. "Venom is love," on the other hand, sounds like the offspring of that union going through a hippy phase---a tumbling noise, congas and psyche-kazoo stoner jam. "Like Add n to x, but not" as Gayle from Boa said the other day. Orontie 1 as 2, 53500, L-Ranta, Finland

JJ Tindall, Star townn e.p./Joe the dream CDS/BOOK

The white space around the carefully-considered typography reflects the semantic space around the meanings that might be read into the clipped and concise poetry. Meaning that is further blurred, or perhaps expanded, by the frequent use of non-standard

line and paragraph breaks. But if specific interpretations are often difficult to obtain initially, the mood is not. JJ Tindall is reflective, looking back with remembered sadness or new regret at past events and their ramifications for the present. Take "Not always well," which tells of an old friend, now dependent on drugs, who phones sporadically and on the occasions when he has to take the call, Tindall finds "..I am forced to remember/ I am forced to consider/ and I am forced to respond in language/ I can't keep cleaner than my own blood."

It's not easy-reading and, as noted above, it's not always easy-understanding, but it is moving and constantly touching. Which is in contrast to the "Star turn e.p." and its Rolling Stones mannerisms that overshadow the words by the same author. But do get the poetry.

Mrs. Christmas, Space lady pioneer (Raspberry) CD

home computer 8-bit drum parts tackle variously dysfunctional guitar, instructional spoken word recordings, basic melody and sometimes, vocals - which sound like they`ve been recorded through a mic made entirely of tinfoil and cellotape.

there are three or four tracks where the combination falls together to create a sort of great difficult easy listening (sounding like little i have ever heard before), but electronica haters will find the simple sounds easy fodder rather than tongue-in-cheek retro casio styling

personally, i dont like hearing sounds i know exactly how to re-create and i`m afraid this CD has quite a majority of easily put together tracks. golden moments of creative appeal are the first guitar track and the last track, which sadly only seems to last for 30 seconds.(Paul)

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