Thursday, December 23, 2004

Singles of the year

Or, 50 reasons why 2004 was the best year for singles since, ooh, 1987. Most of them came out on vinyl, too, and most amazingly of all, nearly all of them are British! What price that ?

1. Cappo presents "Resilience" (Main Rock, 12")

As a rapper, Cappo no longer needs an introduction to readers of this blog (i.e. the writer of this blog) thanks to his top Zebra Traffic debut "Spaz the World" and approx. 6 billion subsequent collaborations. However, "Resilience" was my introduction to the double-P's skillz as a producer, curator and mentor, as he teams up with Leicester brothers Eyezofman and A Bomb, as well as Nottingham legends Lee Ramsay and Mr 45, for this blazing EP. Such is the quality that the weakest tune here is Cappo's own solo effort, "Reap What You Sow": somehow, despite a heavy guitar sample, he doesn't quite spit the venom that such a title promises. "It's Going Down", however, his tune with Eyezofman and teen wonder A Bomb, is just as good as the trio's collaboration "The Authorz" on the former's "Lost Kingdomz" EP (another 12" you need to have, not least for label boss Dap-C's contribution, even if it couldn't quite place in this year's stellar ilwtt rankings); here, the lads keep it real with lines like "My chariots a Punto and a white Escort". But but but the reason that "Resilience" rides so high here is that even on top of these more-than-trifling appetisers it contains not one but two upfront contenders for the year's best tune - yes this 12", limited to a frankly daft 500 copies only (and how can that be right ?) allows L.R. and 45 to step out of both Cappo and Scor-zay-zee's considerable shadows and produce their best ever works, with Ramsay's "Verbal Latitude" and 45's "Freedom" cuts. Both songs are superbly produced, clean, and could sustain serious airplay rotation if anyone out there could be bothered to take one step further beyond the more radio-friendly - and admittedly quality - D. Rascal Esq, of Bow (or Fulham's equally deserving chart postergirl and pint-sized pop princess Estelle...) Ramsay is the more exuberant, repping freely and cutting it up nice with some dizzying stuttering in the chorus, while 45 leans back to give us the gen on his upbringing and some free contraception tips. What makes both these songs so fiiine is not just the flows of either rapper, but the quality of the arrangements and production: if Cappo was truly responsible for orchestrating the mix, and this isn't just some "executive production" assignment, then he has major talent in that direction too.

2. Forest Giants "Postcards" (Invisible Hands, 7")

A winner from the first listen, from the first bar. Can't tell you how happy I am that records like this are still being released in these times - it's what the kids have wanted (well, should have wanted) for years, being a pop song (fab tune, guitar hooks, pulses, New Order-ish guitar lines) but recorded in authentic indie stylee, and reminding us most markedly of the likes of the Flatmates, Korova Milkbar and Salowka and Charman-era Wedding Present - oh, and caked in lyrics of longing and regret sung with a plain, awkward boy-next-door air that makes you want to reach out and try and hug them through your speakers. Then, after delicious, contemplative verses, it ends up in a feast of layered guitars. Selecta.

3. Hoodz Underground ft. Big Critz and Ricochet Klashnekoff "How Do You Feel ?" (Trackshicker, 12")

After "The Hard Copy" EP, which was bursting with ideas, comes the first real flowering of that great potential from the Sheffield crew. The moment this really becomes a surefire contender is actually the moment that the great Klashnekoff gets rollin' with the final verse - his anger ("That's why I got the gun name..." being as understandable as it is menacing), but this is just a great demonstration of how worthy topics (how does it feel to be a black man in Britain ? - see also Minority Rules' "Black Folks", from the Leeds trio's v. promising "Don't Stop" 12" on Invizible Circle) can still sound urgent and head-noddingly addictive as the various MCs take in everything from Stephen Lawrence's murder through the Ellis / Shakespeare shootings in Aston to the BNP's tactics in northern cities. On the flip side, the cheerier "Havoc" likewise refuses to let up, again interspersing brass samples with rhymes like "Taliban / McManaman". Oh, and a line like "With more spit than El Hadj Diouf" = genius indeed.

4. Wiley "Wot Do U Call It ?" (XL, 12")

All people of any sanity can surely not do anything but warm to Wiley. I've really never had an album grow on me like "Treddin' On Thin Ice", and while nothing much from 2004 can match up to "Doorway" or any of the self-theorising and verbal diarrhoea that so lights up Wiley's exploration of his inner demons, "Wot Do U Call It ?" was a perfect statement of intent, the most immediate and appetising tune, the icy eski beats at the fore but still almost crushed by the madcap banter and thinking aloud that make Wiley's personality so alternately infuriating and inspiring, and with a great, not-much-budget video to boot. Rarely can a song with so little downside have floundered at number 31 - how could anyone who'd been exposed to this not gone out and bought a dozen copies ? And to add insult to injury, XL seem to have dropped him after the album (LOOK, IT WAS BETTER THAN BOY IN DA CORNER, YOU UNGRATEFUL POPULACE) apparently sold only around 20,000. This country, I ask you.

5. The Wedding Present "Interstate 5" (Scopitones)

Having always been a Weddoes apologist, I am so glad they are back. And it's with some impact. For "Interstate 5" is a road movie, in widescreen, and despite the unmistakable stamp of its very British director, David Gedge, best known for classic past Loach and Leigh-style kitchen sink melodramas like "Anyone Can Make A Mistake" and "Brassneck", the landscapes this time are recognisably American, the sun burning into long vistas of tarmac. So where the "old" Wedding Present rattled blisteringly down unmade roads, and Cinerama swooned through Corniche hills, the new TWP strip out the former's frenetic strums and the latter's ornate orchestrals to produce a dark, menacing monster, that broods and swelters in the way that "Seamonsters" did but without collapsing into an abyss of introspective lo-fi. Instead, David Gedge intones, over the bleak panoramas thrown up by gratifyingly few chugging chords, the bitterness of being cast aside, while oldsters like me rejoice at the fact that the Wedding Present are now officially back after their overextended holiday as Cinerama (albeit one that produced a number of classic pop singles, fairly evenly over the course of their three albums). "Interstate 5" is very much a case of "Hello darkness my old friend"...

6. Psychic Phenomena "Psychic Phenom" (Ancient, 12")

Now, Psychic Phenomena, who produced the marvellous "Slipstream" with Ty on big dog Westwood's UK hip-hop primer of last year, are apparently from Clapham, but rest assured, you really would not know it. This breathtaking title tune, weaved around a single, fabulously repetitive and potentially annoying bass loop, is understated, quietly confident UKHH that shows there is much more to SW4 than trustafarian muppet squads and St.George-waving chinlesses. Much respec / yaaay.

7. Airport Girl "Salinger Wrote" (Where It's At Is Where You Are, 7")

Even more feral than "The Foolishness That We Create Through Love Is The Closest That We Come To Greatness", the single that plunged me headlong into my own tangled affair with Airport Girl, "Salinger Wrote" distils the Wedding Present at their most slacker-americano with, vividly, the frantic rush of Blueboy's "Imipramine", and is therefore fuzzy, scuzzy and - like all good pop songs should be - palpably uptight, like a young Hood at their most anxious. They even manage to get a piledriving cod-metal shakedown and a derailing violin in there without offending the blurry loveliness of it all, Rob Price blurting out protestations like "I was holding out for blue sky" with the voice of a lover whose dreams have been fairly comprehensively dashed... Special.

8. Tempa "Ya Get Me ?" (Sureshot, 12")

Again, with any kind of sustained rotation, this could be a massive hit: the Notts gyal (ex-OutDaVille, but who isn't ?) waxing lyrical bravura over a tune that could have soundtracked a blaxploitation movie car chase towards the tail-end of the 1970s. All the more endearing for starting with a lift from "Straight Outta Compton", but what the heck - I suppose this is street knowledge too. The ubiquitous Klashnekoff turns up again - as does another old friend, Mr 45 - on the AA-side, "Whatcha Gonna Do", but it's definitely "Ya Get Me ?" (on which Tempa and producer Joe Buhdah are strictly the stars of the show) that will have the kids chanting its chorus in the playground.

9. Morrissey "Irish Blood, English Heart" (Attack)

Come on, you would hardly have believed it if someone had told you this time last year that the much-threatened "You Are The Quarry" album, the follow-up to the floundering "Maladjusted" would be critically acclaimed and spawn four hit singles (three going top ten), of which this was the first and biggest hit. Months on now, "Irish Blood..." sounds great to me; at the time I was nervous as to whether I loved the song or the person or the image, but now I just can't understand how so many old-skool Smiths fans will refuse to face up to the fact that the rejuvenated Morrissey is really rather good, albeit having reinvented himself for a slightly less nuanced audience, both lyrically and musically, than catapulted him to notoriety two decades back. The guitars have edge and power, thanks to Jerry Finn's production; Mozza says all he feels he needs to say, with characteristically wide swipes at Labour, Tories and the royals, in two and a half minutes; and it winds up with a quick, heartstopping crescendo of noise. While "First Of The Gang To Die" was also a marvellous single, full of romance and mischievous dreams transplanted to the backstreets of Latino L.A., "Irish Blood" just seems best to epitomise all the reasons why this comeback worked.

10. Skinnyman "I'll Be Surprised" (Lowlife)

The horn sample, coupled with drums that fair burst out of your headphones, are what made this UKHH anthem such an instant success, but things really take off big time when Skinnyman piles in and expresses himself with glee, showing out for Finsbury. For a record so full of hate, fear and loathing, "I'll Be Surprised" is, er, surprisingly accessible: like the follow up single "No Big Ting", also from his "Council Estate of Mind" LP, and which is very nearly as great, it lets Skinnyman express his dreams that he and his friends will rise above the crack-strewn streets of his home. But in the meantime, Skinny makes it very plain that he will give no quarter in admnistering whatever rough justice he can to those foolish enough to get in his way. Memo to America - the game has changed: this is what you need to compete with now. Thank you.

11. Styly Cee ft. Scor-zay-zee "Want What's Yours" (Son, 7")

Look. While something like "Dry Your Eyes" was nothing more than the sound of a cash register lighting up pound signs in Mike Skinner's dilated pupils, "Want What's Yours" is truly tender observation of the (a)cutest kind, atop Styly Cee's piano designs, a foil to the righteous anger of Scor's landmark Daily Telegraph-baiting P Brothers banger "Great Britain" (now if only THAT had been released as a single - despite the hype over a few ill-judged, cartoonish lyrics, it was full of undisputa ble truths -"the BNP still exists in Great Britain... Are Muslims your only nemesis ?... A mortgage wrapped round your neck for years... Watch the adverts and buy shit, Great Britain / Everything on finance for you..." - oh yes, as a description of a godless country living on credit, "Great Britain" reinvented conscious rap - and you could dance to it). It is a major shame that Scor-zay-zee has now retired from the game. But, as a real bonus and no little consolation, the flip side features fellow Nottingham kid DPF coming up on the rails with some of the fastest UK rhyming that we've heard for a while, again over Cee's trampolining beats, in "Once And For All".

12. Pipas "Bitter Club" (Matinee Recordings)

Pipas are like the young Gazza of the indie-pop world: on their day, they tease and excoriate the opposition with all manner of tantalising and jinking overlapping melodic runs, but they are also well capable of resting on their laurels and relying on their past form and winning smiles to justify Pipas-by-numbers. This does not stop them, however, being brilliant, and best of all on this EP, even amongst the dizzying sweetness of "Jean C" and the sub-junglist pop twang of "Sixten", is the title track which lets Mark's voice chime and charm alternately, as he ruminates on "waiting for your e-mail... it never comes" (aaah) and guitars and keyboard swirl around your ears. Pipas are the prettiest, cutest butterfly house you've ever been in.

13. Lethal Bizzle "Pow!" (Relentless 12")

Dan-dan-daah! "Forward" was THE riddim of 2004 and there really was, quite rightly, no escaping from the insanity and inanity of "Pow!" as Lethal B and his mates nearly managed to rise to the chart heights that More Fire's "Oi!" did not too long back. It's taken far too much time for the world to recognise that getting ten young MC's to rhyme over a single, slicing, whirling dervish of a garage rhythm can only equal an unquestionable step forward for musickind. Head noddin'. DAN-DAN-DAAH!

14. Lady Sovereign "Ch-Ching (Cheque 1-2)" (Casual London, 12")

Again, you'd be hard pushed to find a single thing wrong with this. Rhyming "bunking" with "munchkin", mischievously spraying guttersnipe thoughts around at pace over the cleanest, biggest garage beats, Lady Sov's first 12" proper confirmed the genius of the few desperately short seconds she was allotted in the Streets' "underground MC" makeover of "Fit But You Know It". Away from sub-par "Parklife" rehashes, of course, she is much more in her milieu, and utterly beguiling. "But I don't have a cat / It died". You wouldn't get L'il Kim coming up with that now, would you ?

15. Kano "P's and Q's" (679, 12")

"Wot do u call it ? Garage / Wot do u call it ? Grime / Call it what u want to call it, I'm fine" says Kano on bonus track "Check 1-2" (now why does that title sound familiar ?): dissing not so much Wiley, who featured him on "Next Level", but pedants like me who much prefer our music pigeonholed and are therefore getting ever more upset at the description of Kano, Wiley, Dizzee or Lady S as "hip hop" when to me the likes of this EP are just pure garage, with a great grime MC, and have little to do with the equally splendid sounds of UKHH: it all reminds me of when the term "indie" was still salvageable as meaning a certain strand of wonderfully shambling guitars - before Our Price signalled the end was nigh by putting the truly dire Wonder Stuff, post-commercial breakthru, in the "indie "racks... Er, anyway, mighty as the cult phenomenon "P's and Q's" ("If u see a me at tha gate wiv my crew believe I'm on my P's and Q's / Even on my own 2 das da difference between me n u") and "Check 1-2" are, the best thing here is the remix of the former, on which guest Lethal B makes a further claim to be the official English answer to Sticky Fingaz, tearing his verses into unrecognisable pieces with all the politesse of a starving bull mastiff. Great stuff.

16. C-Mone "Default" (Dark Whisper 12")

There are few things better than buying a great white label, but one of them must be buying it and finding out it features Nick Stez, Cappo, Scorzayzee and Lee Ramsay backing up C-Mone's self released 12" debut. Three tracks - all great - indeed, this 12" is a much better introduction to C-Mone's dusky charms than her slightly more clinical Son Records debut. Of which more later.

17. Hood "The Lost You" (Domino)

Effortlessly resurfacing with another seamless marriage of hip-hop beats and indie vocal stylings and guitars are the peerless Hood, previewing their forthcoming album with a sample-laden, suitably dislocated single to remind us all that they still remain the band who could become king, if they only ever choose to. Until they do, Hood will continue to treat us to an array of gorgeous, introspective musical melanges from every corner of the left-field, and we will continue to be very happy to bow down and worship at their feet.

18. Tender Trap "Cómo Te Llamas ? (Tell Me Your Name)" (Elefant)

Elefant's best single of the year, with bassist / programmer DJ Downfall's skillz very much in evidence following the pop thrills of his own solo EP. This bilingual singual (sorry) is firmly of the electro-pop lineage of the Trap's own "Face of 73", Pipas' beguiling brews, the lighter, fluffier Fosca and even the peerless early Bis, who I once caught supporting Amelia's Heavenly in '96 - and all harnessed by a catchy chorus (said chorus inevitably being repeated to fade). Before that fade, Amelia and guest Lupe - of the aforementioned Pipas - of course trade verbal jousts and languages with the expected vim.

19. Universal Soldiers "Life's Like A Movie" (Tongue Tied, 12")

Yes, it's Klashnekoff again, this time with fellow Terra Firma crew member Ultra, and with each single Universal Soldiers get progressively grittier. Luckily, "Life's Like A Movie" also has music to match, all echoes and dissonance. In the great tradition of Klash's solo masterpiece "It's Murda", they are direct, too. "Get rich like Abramovic". "Fuck Mis-Teeq at the MOBOs". Unlike Skinnyman's colourful ranting, their threats to cause major league chaos, "from Edmonton to Bond Street" apparently, somehow seem less authentic - perhaps that's because their sound is a little more claustrophobic, less exuberant, not so obviously ringing straight outta London, and also because rhyming "Uzi" with "jacuzzi" got played out a fair few moons back - but as a dark, sub-3 minute rap single, "Movie" is a fair old achievement.

20. Cappo and Konny Kon "Capkon Entertainment" (Skullsnap 12")

Now this has just got better and better over these cold rainy last few months of 2000 four. Yer man Cappo, with Manchester's KK (Konny Kon, not Kevin Keegan) take a shrill little backing instrumental - reinforced by the gurus of big beats, the very mighty P Brothers - and deliver their rhymes with penalty-box precision. Nothing flash, nothing gimmicky, just straight down the line beats and rhyming that show how the UK still represents the real, rather than the unspeakable horrors now being perpetrated on hip-hop across the waves by its elision into the U.S. and worldwide fashion mainstream. Cappo and KK are worth ten of Young Buck or Lloyd Banks, and I daresay they'd be cheaper to hire for your wedding, party or bar mitzvah... at least right now.

21. Frontline "Poizun Penz" (Illegal Aid 12")

There's sort of something Mobb Deep-esque about "Poizun Penz", another cut which has really grown on me over the course of the year. It's probably the looped piano and scratched-vinyl atmospherics, as well as the constant undercurrent of menace. There are so many records like this out there - probably low pressings and minimal airplay, if any (I suppose nowadays it's 1Xtra if you're lucky), but that should get wider exposure than being reduced to short shrift summaries in blog entries. I don't know where Frontline are from (though London is a good starting guess and I think Chemo may even be a Streatham head), who they are, or where they are going - but I have "Poizun Penz" and I find that does me very well. I could also go on about how "Don't Bizness" on the flip is just as moodily fine, but I'm going to just go and listen to it instead.

22. Roll Deep Crew "Poltergeist Relay" (white label)

Now there's an extent to which you can't ignore Roll Deep Crew if you're the type like me who loves to frequently dip toes in the waters of grime. I prefer "Poltergeist" to "Let It Out" - it's a little less classy and more frantic - but still a great posse cut, anchored by the inestimable Wiley Kat of course.

23. Gang Starr featuring 2 Pac and B.I.G. "Ownerz" remix (White Label)

A few big-bucks stars drop in from across the Atlantic to observe our very British Isles-centred singles round-up love-in. And so Guru profess his "complete ownership" of the game, aided and abetted by a couple of very famous dead blokes who were once less than fond of each other, and between the three of them they let rip over Premier's fine "Ownerz" loop, the title track of Gang Starr's last, still largely worthwhile, long player. B.I.G. manages to dominate from some way beyond the grave with some supersharp rhymes ("Have you seeing doubles like Noah"), but all three contribute in their very individual styles for one of the best bootlegs I've come across for a while, and the best posthumous rapping since B.I.G. himself anchored "If I Should Die Before I Wake".

24. Dizzee Rascal "Stand Up Tall" (XL)

Here's something - while Dizzee Rascal is a major talent (and by a Roman Road the best thing about Band Aid 20!), "Stand Up Tall" isn't by any means the best single of '04 (as you well know now, it's the 24th best: rather worrying that XL are the only label with two songs in our Top 25, but there you go). But for this likeable, busy, danceable electro-grime gem to go top 10 in the national chart remains some kind of warming achievement in a world where the American rap hegemony sends no sign of abating (sorry to mention this every two or three paragraphs, but it's important to me - no-one loves that golden era stuff more than me, or even a lot of early to mid-90s from both coasts, but U.S. hip-hop is so wack right now it makes me guan GRRRRR!!!) although ironically, the space-invader effects and computer blips that transform "Stand Up Tall" into a mini-landmark are not too far from those garagey bleeps that allowed the super old-skool "You Can Do It" to provide the only real joy to have been had from U.S. rap this year, beefin' up Cube and Mack-10's grandstanding for the dancefloor massive. Going back to Dizzee though, "Give U More" on the flip, featuring D Double E, also does a nice job of giving garage a new edge ("Give me some of that grimy sub-low eski" indeed), so I much prefer both sides of this single to "Fix Up Look Sharp", for example, if not necessarily to the uncompromising rangy indieness of "I Luv U".

25. Taz "Can't Contain Me" (Mercury)

Rifled on a pre-release promo from Replay Records in Bristol, "Can't Contain Me" is the irrepressible sound of a teenage sensation at his best (over the whole album, "Analyze This", Taz largely fell short of Wiley's compelling narratives or even Universal Soldiers' gutter-bred "Slanguage" set). Not short on confidence ("Everyone knows I'm the next to blow"), "Can't Contain Me" was a summer smash that should have been powering out of every set of speakers in every Capri or Cortina across London. The staccato, almost disco-ish backing track sample, with choral snippets gently invoking Dizzee's "Just A Rascal" - which Taz of course produced - led the way for Taz's cheeky (ebbs and) flows.

26. C-Mone "Stan Bac" (Son 12")

A buzzing, deep, repetitive loop allows C-Mone to breathe out her confident "official" debut on South London's Son Records - second best tune on that label of '04. Like her Notts compatriot (compatriette) Tempa, "Stan Bac" is really a signpost, a marker, and lyrically it doesn't get far beyond the usual self-promotion: but in a world in which Athlete can have a number one album, we need all the attitude we can get.

27. Shitmat "Full English Breakfest vol 4" (Planet Mu)

How music was meant to be - annoying to purists. Shitmat livened up even a roster as diverse as the late John Peel's show, and on the likes of "4 Soundclashes and a Funeral" it's clear that the constituent parts of the breakfest would all merit further investigation themselves. Even so, it's not half fun to hear them diced and reinvented as a collage of breakbeats and echoey dubs. Best of all is the fantastically named "Theme From the 1988 Morris Dancer Massacre" which sees Eurogabba, jungle, glitch, Blue Peter and Walk This Way merged in a sprawling hoedown. Mighty.

28. The Fall "Theme From Sparta FC #2" (Action)

And talking of annoying purists (and of delighting JP) here are the Fall, with one of their most confident, striking tunes of recent years, reworking one of "The Real New Fall LP"'s more strident - although, funnily enough, probably not best - tracks. This pseudo-tribute to the hordes of footie fans roaming Europe showed the drear-tabulous likes of Keane, Coldplay, Embrace and Elbow how guitars could and should be deployed.

29. Estelle "1980" (Virgin)

Not even we were prepared for how seamlessly "1980" entered the pop mainstream, debuting in the Top 20 and spending much of the year as a jingle for both 1Xtra teasers on BBC and the goal segments on Match of the Day. Picking up the playground and schoolyard lyrics of "Excuse Me", "1980" was serviced by an irrestistible string sample and Estelle's homely demeanour as she spins tales of strange neighbours and, of course, growing up playing Connect 4. I was always yellow.

30. Blade "A&Rsehole" (691 Influential 12")

Inflammatory, and probably enough to take one of the UK's groundbreaking MCs full-time off the menu of the major labels, but Blade has always has been an honest MC. This is an ill-advised and hence brilliant put-down of the label that dropped him (some time ago, mind: he's obviously finding it hard to get over it). Blade goes steaming in to slag off Virgin Records - what must Estelle be thinking ? - and the lyrics are even coarser and more unsubtle than the sleeve, which shows him and his mates, in a scene from the first verse, literally and liberally inserting a baseball bat into the artist and repertoire backside. On garish orange vinyl (tastelessness overload ?) Blade asks "How about this for one of your really really really catchy choruses?" he asks, as he shouts "Arsehole", inbetween a catalogue of digs at those who hired and then fired him and the reasonably wry assertion that it's ironic that a label with such a pure name are fucking their artists. The bass and the tune, though, make "A&Rsehole" musically much more attractive than the oddly restrained tameness of much of "Storms Are Brewing". No presents from Richard Branson though this year.

...and a few more to ponder....

31. Ant & Nick Grater "Emergency Red" (Maximum Minimum 12")
32. Morrissey "The First Of The Gang To Die" (Attack)
33. Skinnyman "No Big Ting" (Lowlife)
34. P Brothers ft. Imam T.H.U.G. "Across The Planet" (Heavy Bronx 12")
35. Cappo / Zero Theory "The Get Out EP" (Breakin' Bread 12")
36. Dirty Diggers "Diggers Don't Get Days Off" (Zebra Traffic 12")
37. Eyezofman and A Bomb "Lost Kingdomz EP" (NGU 12")
38. Ice Cube featuring Mack 10 and Ms. Toi "You Can Do It" (All Around The World)
39. Trembling Blue Stars "Southern Skies Appear Brighter" EP (Elefant)
40. Nancy Sinatra "Let Me Kiss You" (Attack)
41. Zygote featuring Sundragon / Hug "Grizzly" / "Rachael Corrie" (Boot 12")
42. Blade vs. Million Dead "Pop Idol" (691 Influential 12")
43. Salvo "Uncontained Rage" (Last Minute 12")
44. Future Pilot AKA "Love Music Hate Racism EP / Mein Nehi Jana Versions" (Geographic 12")

45. Chris Liberator & Ant "The Big Shot" / "Demon" (Yolk 12")
46. Rodney P "Trouble"(Riddim Killa)
47. Arms Length "Metropolitics" (Kemet 12")
48. Death Before Dishonour "Bout Time" (Ninth Letta 12")
49. Wiley "Pies" (XL)
50. Defisis featuring Blade "It's Like That"(SFDB 12")

So happy Christmas "everyone". Peace and respect going out. For once I think it's been a really good year for music. Do you agree ?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Harper Lee "All Things Can Be Mended" (Matinee Recordings)

There was a time when I would write a Harper Lee review and people would read it. Not many, obviously, but hey. It was a wonderful sensation knowing that I could communicate something I cared about and that "the reader" (glib impersonality ahoy!) might even be prompted to investigate the record and fall in love with it - not as completely as me, for sure, but enough to add a new name to their list of favourite bands to trip off the tongue next time they were asked for their flavours of the month. Now, of course, I can be much more selfish when I hear a new Harper Lee record. I can enjoy it, not having to worry about how to describe that just-so guitar sound, or having to bother elucidating on the wispy sprawls of synth which wrap Keris Howard's words in a blanket of minor chords, or worry about whether I should buck the trend of every other review and complete it without mentioning the word "maudlin". Ook, too late.

The New Record by Harper Lee starts in delightfully perverse manner with "Everybody leaves", which is definitely one of the highlights, not least with Keris' vocal being a little quicker and higher pitched, recalling the early joys of "Next summer", as guitars nervously clang, the drum machine flitters about in the manner of past top pop hit "So you said" and keyboard strings cascade around it. "Left-handed", on the other hand, swirls in keys and acoustic guitars amongst the tugging likes of "I'm really not sure I've the fight...", percussion intruding where it dares, a little fill-in sucking us into a gorgeous plucked final instrumental, with clashing epic drums at the end. These two stunning openers are then followed by perhaps my favourite song here, "I don't need to know about your wonderful life" - this time, the guitars and drums are tight, picked, clear, like those on every great past tune from "Killjoy" to "This better life". And atop it all, words that will choke you.

"I love you... since when has that not been enough ?"

"Let me know" is a little more mechanical, though grandly ensconced in more fake strings, but how about this for a classic Harper Lee lyric, so cutely sung - "I won't find anyone else, let's not kid ourselves. Not that anyone cares..." And while I don't want to compare Keris to Eamon, at least any more than necessary, he blatantly then sings "Let me go, ho". Whatever the lyric sheet says. It is some compensation for the lack of the cussing we have otherwise come to expect from Harper Lee records. Incidentally, I still think the lyric sheet is a shame - I don't know why - but as with Trembling Blue Stars' "Alive To Every Smile", it just seems to detract from the beauty and the mystery. As it would had Sarah or Factory records - two of the key components of Harper Lee's sound - wrapped their output in mere words. As if mere words could do justice to music this... just right. Especially the soaring instrumental finish. And we're only four tracks in.

"Stupid" has a more Hal-like feel, with the sequencer doing a good impression of extremely fey acid house behind yet another wondrous if desperately sad lyrical construct ("Maybe there's September... maybe there's just aching") and even finishes with some "ba-ba-ba's", of the type we've heard little since Brighter's Sarah debut, "Inside out". The guitar is a bit "Darklands", but there is sequencer and low-in-the-mix jangling as well as a singalong chorus, kind of Harper Lee at their most Richard Marx-ish (don't worry, this is not very, it just reminds me of "Right here waiting", which says a lot more about my need for psychological reappraisal than HL's musical influences). The press release suggested elements of "electronica" in this album, presumably thinking of the serviceable drumbeat that flits in and out of "Stupid", but although Harper Lee can make even barren solitude seditiously danceable, frankly it would have been more accurate to describe Slayer's "Reign in Blood" as containing elements of reggae.

The second half kicks off with "Autumn", which originally appeared on a Matinee sampler. Soundwise it seems more akin to the previous album than the rest of this one, which may not be surprising given that its cold, New Order-ish beats and groovalicious bassline motif are suspiciously like those of the mighty "City Station". Which was also, unsurprisingly, ace. Oddly, though, the lyrics betray real hope inamidst the coming cold - "I've dreamt of days as good as these..." - whereas in "City Station", set a little later, in a London December, Keris could only feel " my soul is waving goodbye to me". "Autumn" also reminds me of the Windmills' "Summer snow" a little: again, this can be nothing other than good. And nearly two-thirds of it is an extended instrumental passage of no little melodic delight that eventually fades into...

"Isn't this where we came in ?" is one of the most lyrically accomplished tracks - again, the vocals are delivered quickly, as if the protagonist thinks he can make his situation sound more upbeat by hitching them to the relative pace of the backing track. Although having dropped an octave during the 1990s, Keris can still sometimes sound oh-so-young, even if the memories remain the currency of the lyrics: "I remember how you had your hair, the clothes you wore, the drink we shared, like it was today..." then "we've wasted time on idle dreams, our half-lived lives, and stupid schemes..." You could cut the atmosphere like a knife. For some reason, after a slightly odd trumpet-sound solo, the closing keyboard really grates on your ears, but until then it is genius."This is the sound which a heart makes when it's breaking", on the other hand, is bleak but sparkling, fragile and beautiful as Dartington crystal, not changing in tempo or feel throughout, but it could not be more aptly named. You can almost imagine that the song was originally an instrumental and a listener observed what it sounded like. It's Brighter's "Frostbite" recalled in the twenty-first century, although like that song it could do with the oomph that would have been engendered in its last third had someone picked up the pace on the percussion.

"Everything's going to be OK" provides another twist, the rather-late title track to the previous album, introduced with strange miaowing guitar effects, as whimsical as Harper Lee every get. Again, there is an optimism in the lyrics, although "Think it's going to turn out nice" almost suggests it's all tongue-in-cheek.But the optimism, of course, if it is real, has all been built up in order to be snatched away at the end with the self-explanatory "There is a light in me that's gone". Again, like "This is the sound...", it settles early into a single pace and just keeps going until the tears and the self-doubt have been able to assemble fully. There is even a faintly discernible backing vocal from Laura (I do worry that I go on about Keris Howard too much when praising Harper Lee: after all, it can hardly be coincidence for someone to have been, however fleetingly, in Hood, Boyracer and Harper Lee, three of the greatest bands of the post-c86 era, as well as Kicker, one of the more decent bands of the last few years. I have tried to redress this imbalance by, alongside my "Keris Howard" MD compilation of Hal, Brighter and Harper Lee tunes, putting together a "Laura Bridge" comp. It's got Kicker, Harper Lee, at least one Boyracer early tune off "B-sides and Besides" and a couple of those very early Hood tunes when they had lots of drummers. Hopefully she's on those. She is in my world anyway). The song works best when, late on (this time we're recollecting yet another Brighter tune, "Maybe") the drum machine does what it should have done two tracks earlier, kicking in harder and dragging the album off into a slow, aching fade.

And the rumours, then. Is this Harper Lee's last ever album ? True, it it has that "epitaph" feel, although so many of Keris' records have had. And if their light really has gone out, it is hard to begrudge them after three albums of preaching mainly to the converted and failing to turn the heads of the unititiated. If perhaps their fight has just gone, there is something inherently romantic about providing such pleasure to comparatively few people and then stopping before hope turns properly to despair. And this New Record by Harper Lee (remember, such a thing is an Event in my life) seems to be getting better even on repeated repeated repeated listens. Rather like Wiley's "Treddin On Thin Ice", which also frames avenues of snowy introspection.

On the other hand, this is still not a perfect album. It is yet another great piece of work, at least as solid as its predecessor (both of which in retrospect tower a little over their patchier first record). Harper Lee do, however, definitely have a perfect album in them. If they were to make another record, perhaps that would be it. Or perhaps they will leave things as they are, and in 30 years time someone will rediscover this great underrated band and put together a little compilation of treasures like "Train not stopping", "Dry land" and "I don't want to know about your wonderful life", not to mention Keris' previous triumphs like "Killjoy", "Hope springs eternal" and "Election day", and only then will it dawn on civilisation exactly what they were missing now.

And I would still fight - to the death - anyone who claimed to be a bigger Harper Lee fan than me. Because they would be lying and threatening my integrity and my fantasy and my self-image and there would be blood on the car park before long. Harper Lee are all about that certain sadness, that uncertain smile, that other bands just can't communicate. I earnestly implore you to buy all their records.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Peel the caps back

And here's your postscript: I saw the current incarnation of Extreme Noise Terror last night supporting Nasum, and they were, perhaps improbably after all these years, quite wonderful, playing everything from "Bullshit Propaganda" through to 2001's "Being and nothing" and "Damage limitation", and with lead shouter Dean Jones imploring his daughter in the front row to "stay punk". Before their last song, Dean just said, "This is dedicated to our best friend... John Peel" and then they seared their way through "Carry on screaming". I'm not ashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes. So, John, carry on screaming indeed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

legends and the Fall

Although I can't really find any words to say, I'm going to try and compose a few now as later on I will be having a drink for the late great John Peel and listening to "Atmosphere" and "Teenage Kicks" and I suspect I will get myself in a right st8.

The number of e-mails I received today with this horrible news is testament to the man's influence and outreach. The quiet evangelist. The polite radical. The revolutionary Radio 4 presenter, for heaven's sake. And I'm just thinking how it was Peel who first played me the Fall and Public Enemy and the Field Mice and Napalm Death and Half Man Half Biscuit and Extreme Noise Terror and the Sugarcubes, sitting here as I type and survey my record collection, pretty much every record I ever own. Listening to Peel sessions, buying Peel sessions, marvelling at everything from Where's The Beach ? to Electro Hippies to the Bhundu Boys to Gore. Being taught to value diversity, to investigate rather than merely to consume. The very worst thing about Peel's death is that there is no-one to take over. Comparing him to any other DJ isn't even a starter. Westwood plays great hip-hop, sometimes. Vance used to play great metal, sometimes. Janice Long used to play great indie, sometimes. Kershaw played great reggae, world and often even the odd bit of jangle. Peel did all of the great stuff and threw in house, techno, noise, beautifully dry conversation, botched cue-ins. Bastro. Jackdaw With Crowbar. Bastard Kestrel. Unseen Terror. Ut. Bubblegum Splash! This Poison! Catapult. And now he's gone, not only are there hundreds of fine bands that will never again be played on national radio, there are hundreds of future Joy Divisions and Undertones and Wedding Presents who will never even get to emerge. Remember how Peel was the only one who withstood hype. He admitted not to really getting the Stone Roses when the fashionistas had them down as messiahs. He refused to give Oasis a Peel Session at the same time that the rest of Britain seemed, madly, to be feting their every fetid chord. He was eventually, inevitably, banned from presenting Top Of The Pops because he was not sufficiently banal, or inane. On his last show, as I remember it, he introduced a Simple Minds video, with gleefully evident displeasure. And this is even before mentioning *punk*. When Peel championed the Pistols, it wasn't a cool thing to do at all. It alienated many of his listeners, but he was compelled to go with what was new and life-changing even then.

And, and, and. He appeared on Desert Island Discs and played Teenage Kicks and the Fall's "Eat Y'Self Fitter", the single greatest record ever to have been, and that ever will be, taken to that increasingly crowded island paradise. He curated the Meltdown festival on the South Bank in 1998 and it was superb. Highlights were many (an amazing post-midnight show from the Jesus and Mary Chain, for example), although a double bill of Lonnie Donegan and Half Man Half Biscuit also speaks for itself. I never spoke to him, ever. I remember a couple of gigs I went to where he was definitely there - Cornershop in Islington in about '94, and Blueboy in Bristol probably not too long after. But then from the FM dial he spoke to me for 20 years. Four nights a week I'd be eagerly taping stuff from his show, listening and learning. And every band he played were truly grateful to be played. I interviewed the Rosehips recently and was thinking just how, excellent band as they were, I'd never have heard them without Peel. That could apply to at least 80% of my all time favourite groups. Think of all the great labels that would never have got off the ground without his mentoring. And I remembered a story of how an ex-friend of mine once bumped into Peel out shopping in Colchester, and was hopelessly lost for words, as you would be in the presence of gr8ness. He could only muster (in retrospect, brilliantly) the phrase "You're John Peel". But Peel didn't miss a beat, just smiled and said, "That's right, young man".

I really don't normally feel moved by deaths, even of artists that meant a lot to me. But this man was the first, last and only. An original and irreplaceable. And it is extremely hard to think of an individual who has influenced UK music more over the last forty years. Seriously, think about it. Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, the Pistols, the Clash, the Smiths, the Fall, the Cure, New Order (who have already admitted they wouldn't even exist without him).

I don't know how to celebrate his life, but virtually every tune I ever listen to will do so. For the time being, I might dig out the Undertones DVD, in which he interviews the band that he helped steer to immortality. First, however, I intend to get modestly, tearfully drunk. Tomorrow night, I'm going to see Extreme Noise Terror. You can guess to whom I owe my 17 year adoration for them...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

death and indie-pop, not death to indie-pop!

Now you know me. Indie writ thru my heart, like "Southend-on-Sea" through the best rock. My favourite single ever is by Bubblegum Splash!: my favourite album of 2004 so far is by Harper Lee. I am listening to This Poison! incessantly right now. But why are indie-kids so precious and narrow minded ? It's bad enough that few can acknowledge that half this year's best singles are hip-hop. Even worse, there are those that don't like metal and its variations: a genre that commits the cardinal sin for indie boys of not being "cool" and artful and insufficiently self-regarding. But I can tell you all for a fact that I went to see Obituary tonight at the Electric Ballroom and while I've never counted myself as a big fan, it was one of the best shows I've been to for years. Plus two fun-packed encores. And the crowd was a lot more friendly and less snobbish than I normally get at the Arts Cafe or the Betsey Trotwood... Think on that, people. Peace.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I cannot disagree with a single word of this.

Which is bizarre, when it's presumably being written by those it purports to castigate...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Keris Howard is still God...

At some point i hope to go into more detail about the new album. But until then, i just need to say that Harper Lee's "I don't need to know about your wonderful life" is probably my favourite song so far of a 2004 that has witnessed a number of very beautiful and fabulous songs...

Sunday, October 10, 2004

indie-pop supplemental

rather unforgivably i forgot to mention that the rough trade comp also features (a) the INVENTORS of indie, the television personalities, with the unmistakably divine '81 lo-fi shamble of "look back in anger"; and (b) "preposterous tales" by i, ludicrous, a legitimate call for best track on the whole damn thing, and another justification to salute rather than scorn the rough trade bods for their fairly eclectic tracklist. so that's 2 more reasons why the compilation should find its way into yr shopping bag, if only as a stocking filler for an ancient c86-obsessed favourite aunt or uncle...

Friday, October 08, 2004

various artists "indie pop 1" (rough trade)

long after the event we welcome 2xcd from rough trade showcasing a useful 46 indie tunes, and all people can do is slag it (well, i'm thinking of here), saying ooh, i would have picked a different 46 songs - no kidding. but the whole point is surely that if this comp contained just a HANDFUL of great long-lost songs, it would be worth fast-forwarding thru any number of aural monstrosities. (and in fact i'm delighted to say that there are very few complete duds on here - just the sign o' the times that the worst song on here is the most recent, aberfeldy's dismally dull "vegetarian restaurant", complete with dreary falsetto...)

IT IS WORTH YOU BUYING THIS COMPILATION because it contains first outings on cd for the likes of this poison!'s "poised over the pause button". IT WOULD BE WORTH BUYING if the only track on it was my real revelation, a r kane's "when you're sad". IT IS WORTH BUYING because until someone does the decent thing and re-releases all my bloody valentine's best stuff, we need to have "paint a rainbow" on our cd players. IT IS WORTH BUYING because unless you already have them all it contains classic and / or excellent tracks from june brides, flatmates, the wedding present, primal scream, josef k, mary lou lord, razorcuts, television personalities, felt, sea urchins, THE SHOP ASSISTANTS for god's sake - it has the shining jewel in scotpop's crown "safety net" - the pastels, mccarthy, talulah gosh... and heavenly's "sort of mine" which THEY PLAYED IN THE VIRGIN MEGASTORE ON OXFORD STREET to an absolutely unadoring and unsuspecting audience of latenight city shoppers but it put a full smile on my face.... and it finishes with "government administrator" by eggs and "sweeping the nation" by spearmint, and whilst neither song make me spin on the ceiling with ageless ecstasy like "you trip me up" (yep, that's here too!! god yes!), they show how "our" whole scene in fact folded so easily into producing fantastic proper, real, likeable, songsmithery, only to be rebuffed by the cold, insular mainstream.

it does not matter that there are about 500 or 600 ace indie-pop tunes that are not on this compilation. instead, it is worth just immersing yourselves in the better tunes and the sleevenotes, and reflecting on the truth that, as matt haynes says, that somewhere around indiepop zero aka 1986, "the ruins of the old pre-punk world were [still]... ours to have a jig in".

it does not matter that guitar music these days is in a fcuking state, nor that oasis and co put out the embers of punk's co-opting, positive flame in the 90s, even that "punk" these days is a trio of public schoolboys who vote tory because their disposable consumer tripe has made them a royal mint. it does not matter that ukhiphop and grindcore and garage and grime are producing the sort of quality now that today's crop of indiepopsters can but dream of. what matters is that we don't have to forget, or ever be ashamed, of what we enjoyed back then, and best of all, we don't even have to stop enjoying it. i'd rather this compilation existed than didn't to the power of 10, so thanks be to rough trade for letting us have it. aight ?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

protest and survive ?

And the trend of giving into bullying started, I suppose, with the fuel protests of recent years by which individuals that depended even more than the rest of us on an unsustainable and unaffordable source of energy for their living decided to blockade the rest of us into subsidising them through a series of clearly illegal industrial actions. There was a certain wry joy in the deadening irony of right-wing newspapers refusing to condemn wildcat strikes and secondary picketing bringing large swathes of the country to a close by "their" disciples, whilst continuing to rage against "left-wing" unions who were striking (and thus - horror of horrors - "inconveniencing" us put-upon middle englanders) after having jumped through every procedural hurdle the law now requires, not least the secret ballot of the affected workers. What the current hunting escapades seem to be doing is confirming the suspicion that we always had that, if actions the press repeatedly condemned were being committed by people they actually felt an ideological or other kinship with, then they would be virtually free from criticism, or at least attract explicit sympathy and understanding - the death threats to anti-hunting MPs being a prominent example. At least, unlike the fuel protests, the Government were prepared in the face of recent pro-hunt rallies to actually let the police uphold the law. But one suspects, even if the front bench doesn't manage to wriggle out of its moral obligations to accept the will of the House, that attempts to enforce the new law when it falls into place will be made, at best, with little of the vigour that is usually reserved for the rest of us.

Monday, September 27, 2004

on hunting

it is, of course, already illegal for a normal person (i.e. you or me) to do anything the intent of which is to inflict unnecessary suffering on any wild mammal - legislation introduced by the outgoing conservative goverment, to give them some credit. unfortunately (he says, wresting back that credit tout de suite), it is not illegal for such acts - whether mutilation, kicking, beating, nailing, impaling, stabbing, burning, stoning, crushing, drowning, dragging or asphyxiation - to be perpetrated on such an animal if it is done through "lawful hunting". and that is effectively the anomaly that the new bill removes, approx 100 years or so too late, so that those who by historical accident have had and kept the right to set dogs on hares and foxes are to lose that right, as they must always have known they would and should.

the democratic argument is one that it is a little difficult to lose sight of here when the likes of the countryside alliance are seriously proclaiming arguments of "liberty and livelihood" in an attempt to defeat perhaps the biggest acknowledgment yet that the country no longer lords it over the cities and towns we increasingly swarm to, rightly or wrongly. all i can really say is that for the last two general elections i have voted for a party which had a manifesto commitment whilst in government to sort this issue out, and that i feel disenfranchised to the effect that they have allowed themselves to be cowed and bullied since 1997 into bottling out of it, and, indeed, there are still suggestions that they might wimp out of the law despite the overwhelming majority vote by our elected representatives. the house of lords, which has supinely allowed all sorts of truly despicable legislation through on the nod, particularly in those thatcher years, still persists in doing everything it can to stall the wild mammal legislation.

although now, inevitably, hunt protestors are at least starting to learn that they should not be immune from the methods of er, police control that are applied to those from all other walks of life (the thuggishness of hunt supporters when practiced in their "home" territory against saboteurs is more brutal, and of course famously ignored by the forces of law and order). the real problem with the foxhunting defenders is not the beliefs they may quite legitimately hold, nor their wholly laudable desire to state their case (although rather less praiseworthy is their attempt to pretend that rural dwellers or farmers all support the hunt - many farmers have choice words for the redcoats that trample their fields routinely, while others accept that there are plenty of decent products on the market for better protecting chickens from foxes, rather than leaving coops unguarded. and the figures from scotland where the hunt has already been outlawed do not suggest that the fox population has suddenly run rampant) um, but the fact that they don't seem to accept that nowadays, it is one person, one vote, regardless of class or colour (& it is not, as one hunt supporter said on radio, a case of them "taking back this country for the natives"!!), and they, like the rest of us, now have to be subject to the same law.

and yes foxhunting - like most crimes - creates employment and wealth and yes job losses in any case are always difficult - ask not just miners and shipbuilders who are most oft-quoted but any recently relocated or restructured industries in our downsizing-obsessed business environment - but they are commonplace and all of us face them and have to retrain or move to secure employment. at least the hunters have had the distinct advantage of having 20 years' notice that their "profession" would be outlawed - only thatcher's indecently long reign really gave them the luxury of seeing through the last quarter of the century unscathed. indeed, ever since attlee's government in the late 1940s took up cudgels on the fox's (and others!) behalf, that community will have been well aware that their time for the thrill of the chase would be finite. again, it is a reminder to them that they too live in our one multifaith multifaceted nation, albeit with its attendant insecure modern employment environment, subject to all the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of both the free market and the legal constraints that regulate it.

i struggle with the foxhunting issue only to the extent i can't decide whether it is the animal cruelty, or the affront to modern democracy in the countryside alliance's posturing and threatening, that appals me most - in terms of morality, on the other hand, all is supremely black and white. human cruelty, child cruelty, animal cruelty: these are very real issues (and with very real overlaps, as the NSPCC and RSPCA's joint co-operation would testify). we have to take them all seriously in order to build a society which actually does value the liberty and livelihood of all, not just those whose barbarous practices are finally being curtailed.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

and the winner is....

um, i hadn't forgotten about the mmmp or mock-mercury prize (see various disjointed earlier posts), which we'd inaugurated as a hopeless protest against the dreariness of the "proper" prize. it's just that i have been on holiday, which rather destroys the inclination. anyway, the best british album of the last 12 months or so.... (now rather longer than that), is sportique's "communique no.9". for reasons i will come on to. but first, some thoughts.

firstly, who else came close to nomination ? not many. bearsuit and taz and pipas, albeit that i am well aware they are kind of more an international pop duo, i think the branding goes ... oh, and klashnekoff would have been a shoe-in, had his "sagas" album not really been more of a compilation.

secondly, who were the real runners and who the outsiders of the twelve ?

well, empress's work is the most beautiful, but is so restrained as to be most enjoyable at a distance - mood music, if you like. while blade's record is probably the most earnest, but not always shot through with the quality that a whole album of material demands. cappo's is the most urgent and at times energetic, but perhaps a little rough - the joy with him is the fact that he clearly is going to make a near-perfect album, and probably not too far from now. taskforce continue in their vein of excellent albums, but again i can accept that their observations are an acquired taste. randomnumber is an occasional genius, whose album only really suffers, as so many do these days, from its length. and the windmills - well, brilliant as much as "now is then" is - have done better (if scarcely ever better than individual songs on that album such as the title track and single "walking around the world"). and paragon welcomely gave us a real local flavour (down here in southwest eleven-ish) with a record that really had been such a long time coming.

that left five albums that we were really torn between. both wiley and morrissey produced fantastic albums, both with a few duff tracks but both of which should have walked onto the "legit" mercury shortlist. morrissey has had more than enough love (inamongst all the usual sniping) and two fine top ten singles from "you are the quarry", so i am sure he will not object to missing out here. wiley is not hated, but is not nearly venerated enough - apart from as a producer - when "treddin on thin ice" is so much more rewarding - listen after listen, as the months go by - than the dizzee rascal album which he will never seem to be able to step out of the shadow of.

the dark horse, on the other hand, all along, was picture center's extraordinarily desolate "our true intent is all for your delight". why are there no decent-sized indie labels prepared to release this sort of stuff ? with three vocalists taking it in turn to elucidate songwriter mark dobson's feverish thoughts, this album builds on everything that their debut had promised, but as far as we can tell has disappeared without trace. anyway, "our true intent" came close, but found itself edged out by a more straightforward battle of the bands.

the fall and sportique have both been around for a long time, at least in terms of their respective personnel. but what their two albums have in common is that there is hardly a duff note, moment, chord or lyric on either - indeed, there is not a misplaced bar on the whole of "communique no 9", while "country on the click" only very rarely flickers into the less-than-ace, most conspicuously on the sole cover version of its 12 tracks. both the fall and sportique albums are masterpieces of fractured, witty, intelligent, angular, art-rock post-punk pop noise - no, really - and could have been made at any time in the last 25 years without sounding anything other than fresh and illuminating. we have been guilty so often, especially in the last couple of years, of assuming that guitar rock is no longer of relevance, because of both the malign meaninglessness of keane and travis and coldplay and the posing and haircuts of their more "edgy" clotheshorse contemporaries, but both these records demonstrated that you can still do worthwhile things with drums, bass, guitars, shouting and um, keyboards. and that however ok franz ferdinand (who inevitably landed the 20 grand from mercury) may be, they have less energy and style than people twice their age. which is an indictment more of the record buying public and fickle fashionistas than franz ferdinand, but anyway.

so why did sportique pip mark e. smith and his merry men ? i think, mainly, it is because their fantastic, creative album, albeit nodding heavily to wire, alternative tv and some other band called um, the fall, crams all its ideas into 18 minutes or so. brevity is such a good thing for records - it is a crying shame that the takeover of the compact disc has meant that people are upping album lengths from 40 minutes to 60 or more when they should SO be going the other way, cutting out all extraneous material and letting us just enjoy the thing as a palatable whole rather than having to listen to it in pieces or without concentration. and to hop from punk to dub and everywhere in between in such a short time makes sportique's album, frankly, such a joy.

so - if you get hold of one album from 2003/4, make it "communique no 9".

that is all.


many many congratulations to jimmy and mary on their new arrival. more exciting even than a hatful of matinee recordings fine releases.

Monday, September 06, 2004

feeling generous -so just2say i'll give a prize to the first uk rapper who comes up with an "amir khan" rhyme in a 2004 release... odds on it won't be long... must be inevitable!

Friday, September 03, 2004

ok the mmmp winner will be revealed. soon. hope u r suitably excited.

until then, please note that i have bought two new records which i wish to draw to the attention of all right-minded internet bores.

napalm death "leaders not followers part 2" (century media)

german label releases a 19-track 43 minute whirlwind of britain's best rock band pillaging various death, thrash and hardcore classics, including slaying sacred cows such as discharge's "war's no fairytale", siege's "conform" (a billowing attack that destroys intense degree's version!) and something by sepultura. other highlights including their covers of cryptic slaughter, anti-cimex ("victim of a bomb raid" being the song that sore throat turned in to "victim of a stagedive", unless my ears truly deceive me) and die kreuzen. while lacking the brutal focus of "leaders not followers" part 1 - its eleven minutes virtually compelled you to listen to the whole thing in one blast - there is more than enough here to throw on your next napalm death mixtape. blisterama.

"cappo presents resilience " (main rock records)

and this is fantastic. it has been a fine year for singles - the best i can remember since 1986 / 87 - and while this 12" of 500 copies goes out in its overlord and producer cappo's name, it is of merit chiefly for allowing his nottingham compatriots lee ramsay and mr 45 to step out of his and scor-zay-zee's considerable shadows and produce their best ever works, with ramsay's "verbal latitude" and 45's "freedom" cuts (there are also a couple of cappo-based tunes that enthrall but seem slightly lonely without the usual p brothers block-shaking beats). both songs, like skinnyman's feted "i'll be surprised", are superbly produced, clean, and would sustain serious radio rotation if anyone out there could be bothered to take one step further beyond the - admittedly superb - new dizzee and fulham's equally deserving chart postergirl estelle... ramsay is the more exuberant, repping freely and cutting it up nice with some dizzying stuttering in the chorus, while 45 leans back to give us the gen on his upbringing and some free contraception tips. what makes both these songs so fiiine is not so much the flows of either rapper, but the quality of the arrangement and production: if cappo was truly responsible for orchestrating the mix, rather than just some "executive production" assignment, then he has major talent in that direction too. anyway, this is just ace.

i am waiting with much anticipation for the harper lee album. and then (only) slightly less so the tinchy stryder and universal soldiers. other tunes being listened to now: cocteau twins best of, the fairways "this is farewell" (some ace tracks, some less so), klashnekoff again... and, for reasons that are unclear to me but it is nonetheless welcome, "no threat" by extreme noise terror. in a crossover chart garage/ukhh-fest, i also forced L. to listen to: "stand up tall" (highest chart position: 10), "wot do u call it ?" (highest chart position: 31) and "1980" (highest chart position: 14).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

nominee number twelve.

the windmills "now is then" (matinee recordings)

"while the 'feel' of "now is then" remains inspired by the great, mellifluous guitar bands of the ages - like brisbane's go-betweens or glasgow's the orchids - many of the songs also remind us of the morrissey band around the times of "sunny" or "boxers" - unassuming but carefully tempered reminders of a great english tradition, atop which roy thirlwall's deep voice drips semicircles of detached irony. we thrill to the wondrous breakwaters of "beach girls 1918" ("the smell of white musk on her skin"), which syphons pale saints' "colours and shapes" into a kaleidoscope chorus, "ever to exist" which spins out adjectives of praise, presumably to a baby, across the softest backdrop of pastels guitars, and "something spring" that delightfully allows the lush tones of labelmates slipslide to commingle with prime orchids for a heartstoppingly sweet popsong. on the other hand, there are a couple of indications of new progression that might even perplex the more conservative of the fanbase. one of these is "summer snow", a guest star on matinée's "autumn assortment" sampler, which finds thirlwall's writing visiting a darker place as he struggles to find expression and wrestles with "feelings filled with hatred" - musically, we are reminded of those vastly underrated mid-80s new order songs like "sunrise" and "broken promise", especially by the time the fantastic swirling guitar instrumentals arrive to offset the despairing sentiment. the other obvious departure is the peerless title track, a three minute guitar frisson that somehow combines the wedding present (the wedding present at their very best, mind) covering "soul inside" with brisk, shuffled drums and an enigmatic, impenetrable lyric that is determined to give nothing away... "

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

nominee number eleven.

wiley "tredding on thin ice" (xl)

nearly there!! ...

wiley appears, amongst the critical cognoscenti, to suffer from not being dizzee rascal. the real mercury nomination can only have excluded wiley on the basis that his eski-beat creations are still grounded in his labelmate and former roll deep crew member's mc-led grime / garage sound, which he himself struggles to pigeonhole with the brilliant lead single "wot do u call it ?", and which dizzee as his mentee spearheaded, at least in mass-market terms. this is rather unfair given that most acts these days sound quite like thousands of other acts, rather than only one...

anyway, the wiley kat is blokier than dizzee. his voice is less instantly-memorable, but his love of repetition, especially with rhymes, is a trademark, as his constant questioning throughout the album of where he is ("i've got to get up off the floor") and his occasional lairy semi-sanity ("i'm wiley / i'm grimey... i'm a tiger / e3 tiger" or "who ate all the pies / it was me, wiley"). the main feel of "treddin on thin ice" is of slow-ish, rounded, eski beats being rapped over at velocity, enhanced by the hi-tempo single "wot do u call it", the r&b sampling "special girl" and the tinchy stryder-featuring "next level" (anything featuring tinchy is good...) wiley may not quite have invented a musical movement, but he has perfected one.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

nominee number ten.

taskforce "music from the corner volume 3" (music from the corner)

the brothers mcbain inhabit two dark parallel universes - one is the confines of highbury estate, the other a hellish musical paranoia, previoulsy only glimpsed at by the likes of tricky, through which they lay down their worldview with eerie samples and compact beats. and yet, as with the previous mftc work (yep, "music from the corner vol 2"), the mood is lightened by the very inclusion of a new tune from their 11-yr old son and rhyme prodigy remus, whose young, disconnected voice carries a strange kind of hope and power, his shoulders seemingly weighed down rather less than those of the elder taskforce crew. when we talked about taskforce last year, we said

"taskforce deliver deep, dark, underground hip-hop of the highest order. the ghostly, string-based samples that overlay taskforce's homegrown bass recall the heyday of french hip-hop in the late 90s, when every song was an open invitation into the rainsoaked worlds of city tenements and petty misdemeanours, or even both beckon and bear comparison with the grime and drizzle of new york's magnificent mobb deep."

for once we were spot on.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

nominee number nine.

random number "towards the forlorn society" (catmobile)

"stretching to a generous hour or so, "towards the forlorn society" is an uncompromising glimpse into the world of new-century electronica... there is plenty going on: the most frenetic and deliciously unmusical activity takes place in "if it escapes and gets out then what do you do ?" a space age autoerotic pile-up which... should be compulsory listening basically for all people ever. but aside from the smiling sonic terrorism he made his name with, there are plenty of strings to the random bow: "base and superstructure", anchored in bubbling undercurrents of bass, moves with some of its brighter, more colourful shapes towards printed circuit territory, or a wide-eyed boards of canada; "belligerent refusal to die" has at its heart the primal screams of early hood, with its almost choral feedback daring the listener to disengage and "the oresund fixed link" hints at the same eerie wildernesses as third eye foundation's "fear of a wack planet" and as such supplants even "discontents" from the last ep as probably our favourite randomnumber composition to date. .."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

nominee number eight.

sportique "communique no. 9" (matinee)

art-rock is not confined to the likes of franz ferdinand. rather than following a josef k template through the lineage of other superior bands (to ff) like bogshed and co, sportique seem to be tiptoeing through the tulips in league with alternative tv and the fall, and this is simply a great, well rounded, interesting album. again, this is what reckoned:

" those of us who still attempt to stick up for the old wave of new wave even in its more primitive forms, this revisiting of art-rock roots is an instant classic... the vision of the communiqué is clear: from "don't give up, get angry" on the title track to "the DJ's playing things so wilfully obscure... a cosy little scene / and i'm bored" on "requiem for the avant garde", and replete with phil ochs quoted on the inner sleeve on the process of struggle, there is a feeling that the boat needs to be rocked. as to the communiqué's drafting, inspired strokes of the pen include "the edgeware kick-back"... and "other people's girlfriends"... both prime punk cuts more blistering than the london marathon. and although the ghost of young wire looms large, "arthouse cinemas" (another song that's been part of the live set, and that is spent largely on one chord) sees sportique give us "american indie film blurred" rather than "french film blurred" . meanwhile, "tips for artists who want to sell records" is just that - knowing contempt, outside the mind of mark e. smith anyway, has rarely been done so well. and "stereotype"'s helter-skelter pogoing-pace, authentic, unenfranchised lyrical simplicity ("i won't conform!") and musical infectiousness make it pile into yr heart like x-ray spex covering the specials at 78 rpm - you really could swear that it had been recorded in 1977 by the brightest teenagers on the block, and it should - so should - have been a single. it would have been matinée's first sub-one minute single, but what a record. really. oh yes, and the closer, "requiem for the avant-garde", despite its slightly gauche opening, is in fact no more oblique than tipping "here comes the summer"-style keyboards into a lucky dip of sloganeering, fruity melodies and a verse which (we imagine unintentionally) apes half man half biscuit's "styx gig (seen by my mates coming out of a)". it's possibly the poppiest piece of sunshine here, with bonus points for false ending. you will also know our views on records that last 18 minutes - i.e. they are ace, almost regardless of the content therein. in this case, however, there are legion other regions to be cheerful. this album is a riot of colour and sound, with the nihilism of the buzzcocks' "boredom", the knowing cynicism of the adverts and the prickly melodies of the stranglers. their next album could go anywhere - we quite fancy the direction of the ruts or atv, if the welcome surprise of marginal nods to the echoey clatter of dub by drum n' bass axis flunder and pursey on the title track count for anything - but we're looking forward to it already..."

Monday, August 23, 2004

nominee number seven.

picture center "our true intent is all for your delight" (north american)

"... picture center prove that they are still very unhappy about lots of things, and as befits a band led by ex-field mouse mark dobson, that there is still much emotion to be be wrung from the strange bobby wratten-esque dichotomy whereby an artist who seems so lyrically sullen and defeated can produce such powerful and uplifting music as to make you think, surely they realise they must have something going for them ? the power starts with track one, "fireworks october 1990", singer mary doyle weaving a tale of urban misery and martyrdom with a gently incrementing sweep of instruments behind her - it is a fantastic song, then offset by the higher-tempo "for youth and valour" in which a lament for a squandered education, this time sung by anne gilpin (the two - we think maybe new - singers largely alternate vocal duties throughout, as well as an extra male vocal nicely dovetailing with anne's on the languorous "lp2" before a looping bass takes them both home) splices mourning for a burned down school with all the wonders of god's strings and brass. meanwhile, some dismembered electronic sounds flit through "never hated you more" and "the sky at night" allows ian catt to emphasise his flawless production credentials, guitars layering themselves across the mix until the night fades once more to silence. but whether it's "funcity" pointedly tracing the perils of addiction or the oddly lyrically upbeat "my life at last" anchored by a stunning, delicate vocal from mary , "our true intent is all for your delight" (the irony of the title will burn into you as you listen) is a work well meriting the wait.... throughout managing to sound classy without ever quite sounding loungey, this record picks up hints of "for keeps" field mice (at times quite heavily), camera obscura and the rain-stains of harvest ministers, but the combination of the uncompromising - dare we say hardcore - sentiment and the exquisite beauty of much of the backing between them place picture center at the vanguard of something - perhaps the new wave of "keepin' it real" indie ?... very, very bleak and very, very good"

to be sure, there are many other reasons why picture center are picture perfect. these include but are not limited to their limited edition fans' cd released to select and lucky listeners this summer - from the moment they legitimise ash's "burn baby burn" with a slow, flickering piano flame, it is a testament to their power and to their modesty. but for present purposes, let's stick to the facts - that picture center have released one of the best albums of the last year.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

nominee number six.

paragon "the long road" (no dough)

previously hailed by none other than me as being the best album to ever come out of battersea by a country (or should that be leafy inner-ish city) mile, paragon's "the long road" is apparently a culmination of the duo's work over some years trying to carve a niche for themselves on the uk scene - i think the idea was that they could now pursue other projects, having finally put this distillation of their ideas and philosophy into all good record shops (and hmv, ho ho), although the response to "the long road" may have been sufficiently positive to keep them and their "no dough" label rolling for a little longer... it may be that the lengthy gestation period for their debut, honed from a half-decade or more of work under the paragon name and others - explains how filler-free this album is, as it jumps from do-not-mess hard ("you're making me laugh") through to righteous and conscious (especially the excellent "hard to believe"), throwing up new classics like "anthem" and "16 bars is not enough". with another fantastic local discovery, psychic phenomena, having recently emerged from the equally unlikely hotspot of clapham, there is a rather encouraging trend going on in trustafarian south london right about now. it is i hope a salutary warning to the plummy-voiced sloanes, the chisel-jawed rugby players, the drinking song-carousing oxbridge rowers, the sports car-owning ted bakerites with their old college paraphernalia, the leeches that lunch in the fine line and the slug and lettuce, the parasites who have turned wandsworth into a tory stronghold, the prada and dolce & gabbana set, the people who actually buy dido and keane records, and all at foxtons, that their time may soon come. until it does, i thoroughly recommend some overlooked independent music which comes from the same rainsoaked pavements that we do, and this little treasure will fit the bill.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

nominee number five.

morrissey "you are the quarry" (attack)

we are not sorry, shamed or embarrassed to nominate this standout work of intelligent, mainstream pop as one of the best albums of the year. because it is. not least for spawning two top ten singles in a climate which is hardly made for fortysomething indie divas singing about oliver cromwell or mexican street gangs. his voice has rarely sounded so good; yes we would prefer a few less of the radio-twoisms (like the flute), yes it would be nice if his lyrics could regain the true sparkle of yore; but the combination of sensitivity and bile in the worldplay - and, most of all, the real vulnerablility of open allusions to his loneliness and extended bachelorhood, float skies above the pretenders to his throne.

Monday, August 16, 2004

nominee number four.

the fall "the real new fall l.p. (formerly 'country on the click')" (action records)

when one of the world's top 5 bands ever, period, makes arguably their strongest record for nearly 20 years it is insane that it does not get proper recognition. yet this is what the fall have had the misfortune to do in this shallow y2k4, managing to get upstaged by the likes of amy winehouse or basement jaxx who would not be fit to tile mark e. smith's bathroom. the austere music mag had it right when it observed

"... after the initial stillbirth, it is a pleasant surprise, not least given the tepidity of "are you are missing winner", that the real new fall l.p. is sharp, focused and excellently produced by long time collaborator grant cunliffe (aka grant showbiz) and of course young mark himself... the fall are writing standout singalongs that with the same marketing that electric six and co are getting could happily bounce around the top twenty while kids shout them around the playground - chief amongst these must be the splenetic "open the boxoctosis #2", which plateaus with an 'altogether now' chorus of "OPEN THE BOX! OPEN THE BOX! OPEN THE GODDAMN BOX!" and is probably the catchiest record since fallacy & fusion's "the groundbreaker. "contraflow", too, is dear to our heart - a rant at countryside-alliance types that eschews the sinister subtleties of 1982's "hard life in country" in favour of a rugged pop-punk narrative to create the track that "song 2" could have been, if it had been any good. "the past #2" and "proteinprotection" meanwhile achieve greatness by deploying respectively very cheeky, sportique-y keyboards (with smith really 'diggin' out' his vocal) and a rumbling bass-led pure stream of invective. "green eyed loco man", the opener, is full of frazzled guitars, sounding not unlike all the best tracks from their top ten album "the infotainment scan" played at the same time - and "theme from sparta f.c." takes up where 1999's ace single "touch sensitive" left off by marrying glitteresque backing shouts ("we're not galatasaray", apparently) and rumbunctious "hey!"s with glam-racket guitars and spoken contributions from mark's latest wife, elena. as for the slightly more relaxed compositions, "janet vs johnny", from last year's "the fall vs 2003" single, becomes into "janet, johnny + james", a reflective number that sees smith post a stark and downbeat narrative (no shouting here) over more muted guitar backing, still owing much to iggy's "the passenger". "mountain energei" sees smith mocked by an unholy alliance of mortgage advisors, talking fish (remember, this is the fall) and the car rental people ("you need a logbook and a licence, son"). then, "m.e.s... mutters incomprehensibly", er, mutters m.e.s. incomprehensibly on the marvellous "last commands of xyralothep via m.e.s.", the compulsory dreamlike interlude, in which smith deploys his skills as a medium to spew forth aphorisms like "beware characters connected with car adverts" (a reference to "touch sensitive" having turned up to advertise vauxhall corsas...) and we haven't even mentioned "recovery kit", which sees the real new fall e.p. close to a "code: selfish"-type sequenced electronic groove, or our particular passion for "mike's love xexagon", a beach boys-inspired (don't worry, not musically) slab of inspiration that cranks into life with the biggest drums in christendom and then pulses to gang of four rhythms while smith performs all his favourite vocal tricks, losing and then recovering syllables from the vortex of guitar, culminating in a chuckled invocation of "good viiiiiiibrations" before the locked-in groove resumes... the only remotely duff track of the twelve here is the sole cover, a fairly standard canter through lee hazlewood's "loop 41 houston"... see you at the upcoming gigs."

hard to argue with that. any fan of contemporary british guitar music - not just post-punkers, oddballs or new wave dreamers - owes it to themselves to listen to this album before they can truly prononunce on the quality of any of the young pretenders.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

nominee number three.

empress "the sounds we made" (pehr)

"empress these days are nicola hodgkinson and chris coyle. her breath has led empress through quite a few records now, painting clipped snowscapes with delicate brushstrokes as lo-fi and electronica share brief, teasing kisses. his nervy, fragile voice has guided super welsh scrabblers halkyn to some of the quietest and finest singles of recent years. on this record the sounds that empress made were usually four-note single-string acoustic guitar motifs, repeated as keyboards mass moodily, flickers and hints of glitch swarm in and out of the mix and nicola's voice, sounding clearer than usual but no less frail, completes the texture. things get little better than the first and last songs: "the summer december starts" sees nicola let her voice fracture over fragile windscapes, while the euphonious "vodka and the verlaines" wraps you around its cold fingers as the vocal realises how it would "be nice to see... you tonight" as winter draws in. "for trains", too, the lightest coating of glitch liberally deployed, is translucent, faint, sensual. likewise "the worry and the wine" sees the vocal drift in from nowhere until it takes control of the four recurring notes: "it's enough to break your back". while inamidst these various highlights, more experimental tracks ("snowshoes" or "alwensound") trace shorter, sweeter, instrumental is great that their album on geographic back in 2000 turned out to be far from their swansong after all: with the lyrics a little crisper, and the bassier tones of past classics like "planless" abandoned in favour of late-night friendly phasing and phrasing, this album carries enough charm to justify their continuing adventures in sound. and sounding more like halkyn, as we may have mentioned before, is something more bands should be doing more often."

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

nominee number two.

cappo "spaz the world" (zebra traffic)

an unheralded album that even i am only beginning to appreciate after quite a few listens. cappo is young and hungry and his nottingham-tinged accent is instantly recognisable, whether bringing his skillz to a p brothers compilation, the capkon entertainment 12" or his recent imam T.H.U.G. single collaboration. the singles "grand final" and "learn to be strong" speak for themselves, the latter having a great quantic soul orchestra remix for the 45, but tracks like "15-10" show the talent that is out there, even without the guest appearance by scor-zay-zee on "speak". while recognised for his work with the heavy bronx stable up in NG something, the brilliantly titled "spaz the world" emerged from brighton's zebra traffic stables, home of some great recent singles from diversion tactics, life ? and freight corporation, and did them proud. a criminally ignored debut.

Monday, August 09, 2004

ok enough with da tension the mmmp nominations begin. here are the best 12 uk albums of the last 12 months or so. but i'm going to reveal them one by one! in alphabetical order! soz.

nominee number one. (that to have been read in portentous voice).

blade "storms are brewing" (691influential)

because if / when uk hip hop ever does take off, blade should be recognised as the one who made it possible, not least for getting on top of the pops and in the proper charts and still making that fantastic anti-industry video for "ya don't see the signs". few come across as more genuine either on record or in interviews: and "storms are brewing" features some typically honest reflections on his time being chewed up and spat out by the major labels: the title tune and "slapping egos" doing it best, with different tracks - backed with plenty of real instruments - mixing anger ("what have we done") and thoughtfulness ("i wonder"). mostly self-produced, it could be a little less restrained, a little less tidy: but the man's charm and openheartedness pull even the weaker backing tracks through. for completeness, also get the 12" of taster single "blow you out of the frame" (with excellent flip "you don't know him yet") and the 12" of "pop idol" (a weakish rant on the lp, it benefits hugely from a great million dead guitar makeover).

Thursday, August 05, 2004

not the mercury music prize

i couldn't get more than halfway down the list of candidates for the mercury music prize ("oooh, who will triumph ? the once-great band with their fifth and probably worst album...? their compatriots who want to be the next josef k, except that's aiming far too high...? the only band in the world who can be described as "sub-coldplay"...? the album of cover versions...? the pseudo-pavement ramblings of some veteran ulster cokeheads...? the streets...?") before glazing over and muttering "this country..." and then trailing off, alan partridge-style. i have therefore decided to institute an alternative accolade, the mock-mercury music prize (or mmmp) which is the kisschase assessment of the 12 uk albums of the last year which should, quite blatantly, have been competing for that £20,000 cash prize, enough to keep a young group in reasonable-grade narcotics for a week or two. i will not, however, be offering any cash to the mmmp victor. still, we will launch the mmmp with the full list of nominations v. shortly, two or three of which we're genuinely surprised didn't get the nod for the real thing. and then, i guess the tension will rise until at last the winner is announced... at the same time the "real" winner is. that'll blow them out of the water publicity-wise.
the morrisons "songs from the south of england" (firestation)

and who are the morrisons ? well, they had a flexi out in 1986, but seemingly not much else, ever. even i had either forgotten about their existence or never been aware of it, and i was almost drowning in flexis that year. but anyway, this six-piece, at a guess from the non-northern part of england, could have settled for appearing on "leamington spa 4" (see below), but instead berlin's best label has decided to treat you and i to not one, not two but sixteen slices of er, jangly indie-pop with a "career" spanning retrospective (1986 to 1988 - they probably got into acid house after that), mostly recorded on 4 track, and including the flexi. and while it's likely that even band members and their relatives haven't heard most of these tunes before - this must be the most obscure jangle artist comp since the visitors' "miss" on matinee recs - "songs from the south of england" sounds very much like a lo-fi brilliant corners, or a less-polished version of the sort of thing that germany's own brideshead are doing now. and do we go for that ? you bloody bet we do.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

points of information

to expand on a throwaway point below, the streets' "dry your eyes" is nothing more than the sound of a cash register lighting up pound signs in mike skinner's dilated pupils. scor-zay-zee's "want whats yours", on the other hand, is tender observation of the (a)cutest kind, atop style cee's piano designs, a foil to the righteous anger of "great britain". and now that we (thankfully) live in a world were the likes of estelle can mingle with morrissey and co in the top 20 after all, it would be wonderful if a few more true storytellers could follow.

to expand on another throwaway point below, i didn't mean to be nasty about the submarines. as it happens i rather like the submarines b-side ("i saw the children") on "the sound of leamington spa". i was just being shamefully and shamelessly spineless. sorry. but after a couple of self-flagellating sleepless nights cursing my offhandedness, i have to know if my apology's accepted.
bo diddley, the jazz cafe, camden, 2 august 2004

...simply proof that a 75-year old man who invented rock n'roll fifty years ago but retired from actively writing its history forty years ago can still be the possessor of engaging charm, a fine throat and absurd, pillar-box red garb, even if he has to sit down to play and has to be ushered through the crowd pre-and post-performance like a boxer, because the stannah-free steps down to the stage might be a little much for him. but opening with his signature tune "bo diddley" and a drummer mashing up like the fall-style, and even with benign-looking grandmothers playing bass and maracas respectively, all the links with the jesus and mary chain (the reverb, the menace, the instantly recognisable shuffle-beat that the latter purloined for their "bo diddley is jesus" tribute, and a thousand other bands just purloined generally) come to life. not least as the mary chain's ex-drummer, 20 years on and since of a rather lesser band, is hanging round the bar. and yes, bo also plays "who do you love", the song that the j&mc ground out on "barbed wire kisses".

it's not all candycoated sugarkisses, barbed wire or otherwise: he doesn't play that many songs, but boy do they go on a long time. he attempts to rap - to put it kindly, it's no worse than the sugarhill gang, which it sort of brings to mind. and the band "jam" rather a lot, to keep the more superannuated of the audience happy (though bo must still be the oldest person here). but all in all, and in the context of the occasion, these things are mere detail. near the end, "i'm a man" is played: once the flip side of "bo diddley", it too spawned literally thousands of imitations - another template for what the world now knows as rock n' roll. it's no wonder that the jesus and mary chain, as they sang only a few years ago, love it so.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

prevailing wisdom seems to have it that the streets > dizzee rascal > wiley > more fire.

this, is in fact, exactly the wrong way round.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

various artists "the sound of leamington spa, volume 4" (firestation / bilberry / clarendon)

while one may consider there is an upper limit to the joy to be gleaned from the 61st to 80th obscure mid-eighties guitar tunes (any desperate need to hear an old submarines b-side, anyone ?) to have been dredged up by this audophile-baiting series, ours was immediately inspired by seeing our great mate paul mowat's "my secret world" in the collage of fanzines that bedecks this cd's sleeve - yes, we were back there in the day, flogging the zine in the playground and wearing our golden dawn badges with teenage pride. and, while the very nature of this peculiar retrospective series means that, in most cases, there is a very good reason why the world never got to hear of most of the bands within, the compilers have still unearthed some gems.

the nivens, for example, were obviously quite brilliant, as their jangly-as-fcuk first single "yesterday" shows (even - especially - with its scratched from-vinyl remastering, reminding us of how good the subsequent withdrawn 7" ep "dialect drug" was, too). they are the ample proof that - as now - for every 10 terrible, pathetic, rubbish, dishwater-dull indie pop bands adored by narrow-minded cliquey scenesters, there was one band, usually marooned on the margins, that made it all worthwhile and then some. the clouds' single on subway, "get out of my dream", will require no introduction to the indie kid class of '86: for the rest of you, it is not-far from irresistible shambling fare, recalling a slowed-down buzzcocks with its unashamed poppiness. longtime favourites the candy darlings also only ever released one 7", "that's where caroline lives", on tea time: the title track, their best, is also here. and the fabulous church grims - well, they didn't even manage a single as far as we can discern, but having recently found the egg 12" "a lighthouse in a desert" and the fine "mr watt said", this cd adds the even better "plaster saint", an effortless marriage of june brides and close lobsters and at least as good as that sounds.

inamongst these  classics are a number of tunes plucked seemingly entirely randomly from an infinite wishlist of anybody who was anybody (or, in many cases, anybody who was nobody) back in the days when thatcher's iron hand was still ruling the land. but while we can be sceptical as to the compilers' midas touch, the tunes mentioned above - are well worth the entrance alone, even since the discovery of every genre under the sun since the first time we heard them.