reviews september 2002

Ill Ease, Greatest Tits (Too Pure) 10"

Breast not to mention the title, so we’ll concentrate on the five slices of ill ease by Ill Ease. Written and played by Elizabeth Sharp, each cut elongates a fragment of something from Sonic Youth’s Dirty and doses it liberally with gently cathartic feelings. Sick Groove seems to go on forever – a stuck groove for a woman stuck in a rut – but the ultra-repeated "I’m stuck in a sick groove on a Tuesday afternoon" never loses any of its force, and Sharp seems to find something new in it every time the phrase slides from her pursed lips. Down, and out now.

Earnest Honest, Scratchattack (Novamute) 12"

Do you yearn for the days when hip hop was all about the beatz? Do you yawn these days when hip hop seems to be all about beatZZZZzzzzz? Yep. Me too. So take my advice and buy these used breaks from Honest Earnest. Scratchmass is on the b-side. You’ll think it’s arrived early.

The Duds, Tracts from the Ontodungeon (Eeriephone) 12"

The Duds. You’ve got to love a band with this little ambition. You’ve got to love a label whose logo is a pair of headphones with ears where the cans should be. You’ve got to love whoever thought of the title and you’ve got to love anyone who can write lyrics like "What the blazes is happening to me?/Why did you have to go and wake me from my coma/ Only to nuke me with your putrid aroma?" and "You took a scalpel to my perineum/ Then introduced me to your best friend, Liam." And I do love them, and I love these four tracks.

(We Are) Horrid Little Men is as close to high self-esteem as The Duds get. It’s a drum machine tick and a couple of Casio preset melodies wonked together badly but perfectly under a vocal that veers between Madcap Laughs and laughably mad. The Likes of You sounds like something Half Man Half Biscuit never got quite depressed enough to write. And even if they had, their version would never have switchbacked between shambolic and gilt-edged beauty the way this does. Tracts from the Ontodungeon is the gem in the ointment, a creaking folky rumble lathering a sampled loop in spook. Vermiform Convergence rounds things off splendidly with a hook discarded by Visage spliced into 33rpm techno, weirdy chanting and the sound of a sink emptying. It sounds like the chassis for an Art of Noise masterpiece. All this for 5 (chqs to Eeriephone) from PO Box 208, Exeter, EX4 7WD. Go on, make them feel better about themselves. Even their email address has got it in for them. The Duds don’t suck.

Kinesis, Everything Destroys Itself (Crystalsongs) CDS

I saw these guys on TV the other night being interviewed by some bloke who looked old enough to be their uncle – my age, in fact. Christ, it seems like so long since I started shaving. Was my face ever smooth enough to be in Kinesis? The interview was terrible. The poor little things had been swotting up on their music magazine clichés and provided a raft of statements that will come back to haunt them when they're in the stadium league: "We take in influences like the Pixies and then spew them out as something totally new." No you don't.

But hey, crap interviews and cack-handed slogans like "New art destroys the old" ("New art riot" was a tad more succinct if equally crap) and "Shopping is not creating" aside, this band rock. Sure they've nicked Placebo's Nancy Boy (sans whine, thank Christ) but they thrash like bastards. And that's how it should be. With an average age of 17 Kinesis can afford to lose the cringeworthy slogans and get on with what they're good at – making good, wholesome, commercial noise. The biggest disappointment with this record was finding it wasn't as good as their live performance on TV and finding that they already have a PR team working for ‘em. Damn, how do you reconcile that with yr "4 real" politics? Anyroad, this record's pretty fine so go nick yrself a copy. Go on, be creative. (Martin Crabtree)

David Hurn, No Love (Fire) CDS

No Love is a surprisingly upbeat sad song that reveals its true colours when it’s reprised at the end of the EP. On the upbeat side I’m thinking Prefab Sprout, on the downbeat side, it’s Will Oldham. Between times, Hurn covers Elvis’ Is It So Strange with great reverence and atmosphere.

The Coral, Skeleton Key EP (Deltasonic) CDS

The nearest music can get to the effect of lager. I’m all gangling arms and legs with enough energy to pinball my way to the bar again and again. Fantastic. This is a song for singing loudly in the street on the way back from the pub on a Saturday night. Certainly, it’s not got the piss-head appeal of Rock DJ, You Can Make Me Whole again or (for the more discerning drunk) Def Lepard’s Rocket, but for sheer zig-zagged out yr head exuberance you’ll find no equal – except for Beefheart’s Electricity and I can’t remember the words to that. The time and texture changes and sheer inventiveness that haven’t served geetar bands like the Travis well are all here. The Coral invent, push the boundaries and use regional accents. All I need now is a road cone and a piss in somebody’s doorway. (Martin Crabtree)

The Coral, Goodbye (Deltasonic) CDS

A rather hot little stomper from Liverpool beat merchants the Coral. As I remember it, they made the fuzztone guitar sound very popular after performing live for my Saturday Club show on the Light Programme. I remember how their sound was regarded as real mind expanding stuff at the time. Sort of like Gerry and the Pacemakers on special drugs. (Martin Crabtree, in the style of Brian Matthew whose Sounds of the Sixties show can be heard every Saturday on BBC Radio 2)

The Boggs, We Are The Boggs We Are (Arena Rock Recording Company) CD

Piggybacking on the tune to Nice One Cyril as played by a barnful of hoe-down hicks high on Granpa’s Special ‘Shine, Whiskey And Rye is a sharp pitchfork that pokes you in the ear a couple of times. Listen, it seems to be saying, as it square dances dangerously across in front of your face, this is not a run-of-the-mill record. No Mr Fork, you reply, and put down your copy of Cosmopolitan, thinking that you’ll be able to return to its glossy feature on pubestyles as soon as We Are The Boggs We Are turns out to be just another run-of-the-mill record with a superior opening cut. You are wrong. And your pubes still look like Scruffy McGuffy’s worst hair-day ever.

John and Alan Lomax famously toured the United States in the early 20th century, collecting the songs of the people they found on their travels. Blues, country, folk, bluegrass, hillbilly and points outside and in between were inscribed on wax cylinder for posterity. For this we should be thankful. The Boggs are. They’ve absorbed it, obsessed on it, luxuriated in it, loved it and learned it. And now they’re letting it all back out in this authentic set of banjo plucking, mouth-organ blowing, geetar picking, fiddle fiddling and heartfelt singing at times with the in-yer-face intensity and slurred delivery of the Pogues at their most manic, at other times with the softest, most gentle intimacy of Woody Guthrie lit by candlelight.

The Duckworth-Lewis Method (Catchpenny) CDR

A CDR containing two tracks of collaboration between Catchpenny’s finest, DJ Komikon and Y Dref, in advance of a full release later in the year. Both ride a basic loop (a funky break in the case of The Duckworth-Lewis Method, a funky foursome for Cawslyd) for a short duration, both drop vocal samples in Welsh and English, both are basic without being lo-fi, both could fill a dancefloor for those with a short attention span, and both sound like whoever is behind the pseudonyms knows what they’re doing. PO Box 88, Mold, CH7 4ZQ, Wales.

The Arco Flute Foundation, Everything After the Bomb is Sci-Fi (Cenotaph Audio) CD

Alternately far out and far in, Everything After the Bomb is Sci-Fi kicks Asimov both ways over. Far out: rocking out, balls out, kick out the jams, scorching, megalithic guitar wendings that, as the press release almost tiredly points out, will generate "comparisons to Mogwai." But still, far out. Far in: rocking in, inside your head, intense, keep the jams in, motherfuckers, liberating abstract noise that bends and binds and winds up and builds up and eventually gets to where it needed to get to. Then stops. Far in. PO Box 81941, Pittsburgh, PA 15217, USA.

Rebecca Simpson, Robot Drama (Die! Venom) CDS

Years after I’m dead, when some future musical obsessionist tries to ask if what I wrote about Everett True’s arse tattoo was made up, Robot Drama is the music I want played at the séance. Never as warped as someone like Marianne Nowottny, Rebecca Simpson still shares the same sense of otherness and wrings every last drop of it out of these songs. They are spooky and spartan, and Rebecca is far, far away from her band (guitar/bass/piano/drums) in both voice and spirit. These songs give me the creeps the same way Palace can. 45 Fennings Street, Toronto, Ontario, M6J 3B9, Canada

Eltro, Information Changer (Absolutely Kosher) CD

We liked Eltro’s Velodrome album from last year and we like this reissue of their debut from 1998 too. Seven long, slow, lengths of snarling irritable guitar, Information Changer pulses and throbs for 50 minutes the way Six By Seven might if Kim Deal joined. 1412 10th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710, USA

Milky Wimpshake, Lovers Not Fighters (Fortuna Pop) CD

I’m taking the Ps: "Pete’s punk pop/personal politics." It’s a distillation of every description of Milky Wimpshake I’ve ever read. Worse, it’s true. Fortunately, there’s depth and complexity to back up the clichéd ease of the canned alliterative review. Pete (Dale) ran Slampt records, a label whose integrity cannot be doubted and whose back catalogue is a testament to the numerous permutations a 4-track, a guitar and spirit can wring out of punk over consecutive Saturday afternoons in the North East. Pete’s lyrics are printed on the sleeve of Lovers Not Fighters. They pull off the clever trick of being right without being self-righteous, passing on the message without ever jarring and never rhyming "establishment" and "government" (although there is a terrible pun on Saussure.) Simple. And complicated. PO Box 6498, Leicester, LE2 1WU

Saint Joan, The Ice House (Dakota) 7"

Formerly Solar Plexus, and formerly much lauded around these parts, Saint Joan’s new identity brings with it a new seven inch and further plaudits. The demo we had was old and badly recorded, but we still loved the folking thing. The Ice House stretches out and glosses up but still winds itself around Ellen McGee’s vocal and a sinuous flute line. In the instrumental breaks you get the feeling that the rest of the band are creeping towards the Slint line, but can’t quite bring themselves to cross it. Lovely.

Flying Machine, Star (Dream) 7"

Why can’t I stop thinking about Leonard Cohen? Flying Machine don’t sound like Cohen, and I don’t often think about him. But that’s what I’m getting from this decent slice of slow’n’sadness.

Various, A Wish On A Star (Dreamy) CD

A Wish On A Star is bookended by a couple of tracks from (The Real) Tuesday Weld; two tunes plucked from musicals that were never made; two wishes from this particular star. The Return of the Clerkenwell Kid stitches some Charleston jazz to a big beat while The Birds and The Bees is man/woman breathy cinematique. Between these gems, 18 other dreams are dreamed. The pick of these is The Witch Hazel Sound’s The Man Who Invented California which is surely an angel playing the piano alone in a small room. Honourable mentions to Dudley Klute’s cover of The Pixies’ Caribou in a down-home style; Toledo by Silver Springs which must’ve been recorded down a length of sewer pipe to get this much thin cylindrical echo on what could be a Barretty nursery rhyme if I could only make out the words; and Stars on the Water who reckon Making Up Is Hard To Do and deliver the message in such a gentle, studious, unassuming way, that you are certain they’ve looked deeply into the matter.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Sister Surround (Warner) CDS

The scene: just after midnight at my mate's house on a Saturday night after a successful few hours in the pub. The TV's on but it's hard to get a picture cos he's not got a proper aerial (he's only lived there seven years.) We flick the channels and settle on a re-run of Jools Holland's show.

The camera rotates in the studio towards a shambling group of blokes with guitars (it's always a guitar band, some reconditioned crooner or a world music crew innit?). Anyway, this big bloke takes centre stage and the band kick off. I miss the subtitled name as I've been on Miller for most of the night and my reactions are somewhat skewed. So this bloke, he looks like Captain Beefheart in his prime and the drummer out of the Rutles at the same time – kinda genial. He starts to sing, except he's not just singing he's communicating through the TV direct to the two of us sat there on the sofa. Hell, this is the greatest thing ever. We're both transfixed. This big bloke with the beard and his mates are showing us something new, something worth living for. This thing is The Soundtrack of Our Lives.

The tune draws to a close, Jools reappears. I turn to my mate, Walsh. Bloody hell Walsh, that was fantastic. "Uh? [slowly opens his eyes] What's this shit you're watching on TV?" Jesus man, wake up! Didn't you see that? "Are you ordering a pizza or what?" (Martin Crabtree)

Ethania, Woodbines, Vimto, Crisps (R-Bennig) CD

Forget independence for the English regions, we need to do something about the imaginary musical countries that are popping up all over the place. First there was Discordia (just outside Leicester) and now Ethania has appeared in the region of Anglesey. Populated by Welsh speaking nutters including Marquis Ethania, Mr Trousers and Red Falls, the land is subjected to a constant barrage of slow hip hop breaks lathered in floaty melodies lifted wholesale from those bits in detective dramas where they replay with poor lighting how it might have been on the night of the crime. Every now and again, the tempo increases and some likely lad will pick up the mic and deliver a stream of gutteral glottal invective which the press release leads me to believe concerns a pocket watch or your dad. Welsh is an exceptional hip hop language and the Ethanians are mixing it with concept album bullshit, weirdy experimental bits and humour. Full marks! High View, Gwalchmal, LL65 4RS, Wales

Gold Blade, Do You Believe In The Power Of Rock’n’Roll? (Thrill City) CD

Rock’n’roll ain’t noise pollution, didn’t somebody say that once? Gold Blade know it’s true and they’ve pared their earlier glam evangelism back to its bare-arsed rock roots for this third album. AC/DC are celebrated in song and immediately followed by Kiss My Ass, the response you should expect if you don’t believe. Mutha Fukka sounds like Motorhead after a bad curry and Square Peg In A Round Hole (Every Prophet Must Get Stoned) offers some "truths from the other side" to a dangerously metal riff. This is good stuff – Gold Blade records are good stuff – but Gold Blade gigs are incendiary so get out there now.

The Telescopes, Third Wave (Double Agent) CD

Here’s a warning for Younger Readers: memory gets fuzzy with age. You won’t believe me of course, because you’re cleverer than me, and invincible. But it’s true. You will also develop a paunch/your tits will begin to sag (or, worse, both) and you will start to look forward to Animal Hospital and smile at babies while out shopping. Take my advice: keep a diary, don’t look in any mirror after the age of 27, kill your television and order all your groceries from The most important of these is the first. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d be able to tell you for sure whether I saw The Telescopes first time around supporting Loop. I’m almost certain I did, but the fuzz just keeps building up..

Talking of fuzz, the Telescope experience back then would be very different to The Telescopes today. Back then it was a Mary Chain-inspired scratchety racket blurring into swirling psychedelia. Because I didn’t keep that diary I’ve just dug out Indie Top Ten (volume 5) for the first time in, let’s see, 12 years. The Telescopes’ Precious Little is sandwiched between Velouria by The Pixies and Spiritualised’s version of Anyway You Want Me. And that’s about right, I guess, for a band that signed to Creation around the same time as Ride. So, that was then. Fast-forward and we’re now riding the Third Wave. After a nine-year hiatus, two of the original ‘Scopes (Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doran) have stitched together a new album that doesn’t feature a single guitar according to the credits. In its place has come space – the electronic space to experiment and the interstellar space to dream. Bathed in a digital glow, Third Wave is a luxurious merger of Krauty groove and dreamsong melody, of man and machine, of slow psychedelia and buzzing energy. Pick of the twelve tracks is Tesla Death Ray which samples Space Invaders for a bass line, adds vocoderised vocals and turns out like Radioactivity halfway to the moon. c/o Antenna Records, PO Box 6083,Burton On Trent, DE14 2ZX

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