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 ilwtt.org reckoned:

"...to 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 ilwtt.org 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 pleasures.it 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.