Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Junior Agogo Says

Hi, I'm Junior Agogo. It's not been a bad 2005 for me, especially when I can be bothered (witness my absurdly good performances at Roots Hall and Brisbane Road). But what sort of year has it been for music ? Let's find out, by looking at the best 100 songs of 2005.*

1. Hood "The Negatives..." (Domino, CD single)

From probably the strongest "alternative" album of the year, "Outside Closer", this was not only a landmark Hood single..." with its massive, crunching hip-hop beat and atmospheric strings... but also featured two cracking, blissful indie-dub B sides. To limit this to 500 copies is a crime not seen since Sordide Sentimentale so cruelly hid away "Dead Souls" and "Atmosphere" all those years ago...

2. Ant "Midnight Black" (Max side) (Maximum Minimum, 12")

Favourite Ant single of the year has changed on a virtually daily basis, but "Midnight Black" ends up top of the pile, fighting off stiff competition from the intriguing, in-yer-face "Homemade Discord", the linear "Limehouse Green" (with 'Mark Verso' - a nice pseudonym but I've no idea who for), … the Prospero's Island of glittering repetition, "The Tempest" and perhaps the most immediate of them all, "Surge". It's rare that a record, especially an instrumental record, can keep the attention for so long, but the layers to Midnight Black just keep building ... instantly adorable, a tight, chatty hook counterpointed by sprightly bleeping and swooshing drums to create an unforgiving sirocco of sound.

3. Ant and Rackitt "Surge" (Powertools, 12")

A terrific, relentless rhythm, with the beats simmering, then sizzling, reaching boiling point and then cascading smilingly back down through your ear canals. Or, to use metaphors from the summer… It works itself up into a mild lather at first, and then the frequencies become higher and more prominent. Then they go slightly mental, topple like a pile of cards and back in comes the banging beat. Surge! Indeed.

4. Lethal Bizzle featuring Fire Camp "No" (single on V2)

I like to think we'll look back on Lethal B's run of nr-grime floorfilling singles ("Pow!" aka "Forward", "No", "Uh-Oh" and of course More Fire's "Oi!", the granddaddy of them all) as a run to match the first few McCarthy or Wedding Present releases, even if not attaining quite the dizzy heights of the Buzzcocks' run of 45s on United Artists. Anyway, each of Bizzle's hits are simple, unchallenging but utterly addictive (and it would have been even better if he'd added "Fuck You!" to the list, instead of the extremely lame "Fire"). But "No" is probably still the pick, possibly because the riddim is the fastest and polysyllables are at even more of a premium than usual. Also because this was a rare occasion of hearing something ace on 1Xtra (which happens a lot) and then actually being able to track it down (which happens v little). The title track of his "Against All Oddz" album was later to prove that Lethal can go for the Dizzee-style atmospheric, slightly haunting slowie - but overall, it's the enervating "No" that has given me the biggest grin over the past year.

5. Forest Giants "Beards" (from "UFO Stories" CD-EP on Breaking Down)

Should have been a single and almost was. "Beards" has cemented itself in my mind as "Postcards" part two, the best song about regret for many a time, sung so wistfully and played with such caresses, again just the right mixture of grit and delicacy in the guitars that slide around against each other while Tim R. evokes the haziness of lost days and worlds turned upside down. So pleased I got to see them play it this year in one of Camden's dusky pub back rooms. And that they are apparently Rovers not City.

6. Salvo featuring Conspicuous "Dead Moths" (from "Cooking The Books" 12" on Last Minute)

A brilliant EP from Salvo, with this and "1000 Possibilities" being the cream - a teenage UK take on the kind of thing that Gang Starr were doing with samples and scratching a decade or so ago, albeit with less bravado. Salvo and brother 182 have pretty much hit their stride now as a team, and "Dead Moths", a celebration of the joys of vinyl that will ring true with any of us whose cupboards are full of records and, well, dead moths, is about as good a UK hip-hop track as I've heard all year. I'd like him to have had rather more competition, mind.

7. Manage "Rise Up" (12" single on Defcon)

So good I bought it twice… Typical Chemo production with great crackle and Mobb Deep piano. Manage then comes in and turns it into a hard-hitting, aspirational joint.

8. Dynasty Crew "Bare Faced Dynasty" (from "Run The Road 2" CD album on 679)

Right. Explanations required. Why have I not heard of Dynasty Crew ? Are they south or East London or, as is rumoured, west Lond, or what ? Why can't I buy all their records ? Why aren't they in the charts ? I mean I can do a Google search and find out that they consist of DJ Showdown, DJ Wizz-Kid, DJ Danos, Marcie Phonics, Hyper Fen, Diablo, Speedy Rex, Hitman Twister, Do-Be, Naughty Gangster and DB1 - but why aren't those names as familiar as the surviving Wu-Tangers or the So Solid first XXII ? Anyway, "Bare Face Dynasty" is another dancefloor stormer, a debut as wonderfully explosive as J&MC's "Upside Down", and a track that remembers that a crucial element of classic grime (er, for me) is a slamming and v. garagey bassline - if I want straight hip-hop, there are plenty of other, good places to go (including, it would appear, some of the other selections on RTR2). Over the aforesaid bassline, various likely lads - presumably the above-named minus the ones with the "DJ" prefix - brag and caper. It's easy while listening to this to imagine the crew jumping around the studio, the engineer's thermos flask being tipped all over the mixing desk as the place succumbs to all the kinetic energy on display. "This is the best thing since Pow!" they shout. Well, they got their reference points damn straight - it's not far off.

9. Pale Sunday "The White Tambourine" (from "Summertime ?" CD album on Matinee Recordings)

…there's more to exotic Brazil than Dunga, Denilson and death metal. For a start, there's Pale Sunday, whose "The Girl With Sunny Smile" EP started and finished with two quite brilliant indie-pop numbers. Their latest gem, "The White Tambourine" is a taster download from the label website: the lyrics trace the engaging silliness of being entranced by a girl's "la-la-la's" and yes, white tambourine, which once upon a time was certainly enough to draw me to Amelia Fletcher. But this is a song made not by its happily sherbet verses, but by the exhilarating bursts of noise that then kick in, at just the right time, and just loud enough to irritate the drearier indie-pop aficionados...

In fact, Pale Sunday's album, which the mp3 trailed, doesn't, throughout, scale the heights of this wondrous song, although "Never Say Goodbye" is a close-to-sublime indie ballad and the likes of "Mary" more than adequately trace the tracks of "Sunny Smile". But there's just something about Pale Sunday's singer which screams out "loveable" and "huggable", in the same way that on his new single Richard Ashcroft, say, screams out "punchable", and we all know from basic algebra that: supremely fey delivery of a verse + wall of sound that bundles in afterwards = our new musical crush.

10. No Lay "Unorthodox Chick" (from "Run The Road 2" CD album on 679)

Although "RTR2" was named best compilation LP of the year in Observer Music Monthly, which is normally a sign that something is the epitome of cosmetropolitan f(l)avour (of the month) and hence generally useless, it is, entirely coincidentally, the best compilation LP of the year, and like "Bare Faced Dynasty", this tune is relentlessly brilliant. Well, after the unnecessary intro. When it gets going properly, No Lay floors you with the most maxed-up lines of all (the "heads I win / tails you lose" conceit matching the confidence of the "put you in BUPA" threat spat out to kickstart last year's classic prequel, "Unorthodox Daughter"), and her well, elegance and arrogance then set fire to everything. From thereon in, the garagey riff stays the same, she keeps rapping, doesn't take a breath, and you can't help but quicken your pace to keep up with your heartrate. This is, quite clearly, not much more than "...Daughter" revisited, but then that was the best song ever**. On the bonus DVD, the freestyle she does shows that she's obviously up with the best of them at the moment, which does rather beg the question, where do I hear more ? Answers on a postcard. Or an e-mail will do.

11. The Wedding Present "I'm From Further North Than You" (Scopitones, CD single)

Yes, them. What ?

A genuine top 40 hit, and one that has actually improved over very regular plays this year. It's the sort of thing I can almost imagine Matinee releasing - at times extremely Windmillsy, the Windmills being the only band who've ever really reached the parts of me that both the Weddoes and the Smiths once could. Anyway, back to "Further North": I'm still less than convinced by "Take Fountain" as album, but this and "Interstate 5", though utterly contrasting, are classic TWP singles ...a more conventional tune, somewhere between the better Hit Parade singles and the carefully-balanced Saturnalia set, but it's still a really rather lovely single, mixing regret and mewling guitar lines with some catchy stabs of melody and a hook which sees him observe, "we had some good times, too.... but just not very many" as the drums clang back in. Aaah. And the romance and softness and melody of this, combined with the way that the guitar volume spirals upwards whenever required so that things never get too drippy, really make it one of the best pop songs of 2005. So there.

12. Ant "Homemade Discord" (Powertools, 12")

Strange, exciteable sounds flit around, squirming like tadpoles searching desperately for the bank, but being bombarded by a sensory assault of techno pulses, Ant relentlessly tinkering with the rhythms in case anyone tries to make sense of things: the greatest moment, as ever, is when the beats fall through a trapdoor halfway through and Ant fills the listener's ears with screeching, half-cock, half-siren loops. Way to get stared at on the Tube. This was my favourite tune of the year for ages, and is still one I'd spill blood for in the right circumstances, even if the drumbeat is distinctly similar to the underlay they use on "Surge"...

13. Math and Physics Club "Movie Ending Romance" (Matinee Recordings, CD single)

Now known as "Math and Physics" to me, as they seem to be to the bloke at Rough Trade who apologised with only mild grace for flogging copies of their singles in the wrong sleeves, the band formerly known to this blog as M&PC fulfilled with this tune the not inconsiderable potential of their first "Weekends Away" EP, whose title track dealt squarely with the true undercurrent of relationships in a nutshell, frankly ("you've got your baggage / and I've got mine… you do all the driving"), even if some had it down as just a jaunty popsong. With "Movie Ending Romance", both musically and lyrically there are sprightly, poppy passages and wonderful, sadder, reveries, the latter lit up by some lovely, baby guitar lines that just pop up in an early-Belle & Seb way inamidst the singer's gentle Mozzerisms... yet you can still somehow tell that for once you're listening to a like-minded group of friends rather than the usual lonely bloke with a drum machine. "Movie Ending Romance" is just one of those singles that chooses to delight, rather than plod, at every turn, as they show off how much their songwriting has come on in such a short space of time: but without losing an ounce of the charm that made their first EP a breath of fresh air.

I haven't been abused for a while for slagging off the Beach Boys, so as it's Christmas - a time for brutal truth, in my eyes - I will point out here that Math and Physics do not need to be doing BB covers ("You're So Good To Me") when their own songs are frankly much better. That, and the possibly irrelevant observation that "God Only Knows" is the most overrated song ever not recorded by the Beatles, should start up the e-mails again...

14. Lethal Bizzle "Backwards" (white label, 12")

"God's Gift - you grandad!"

Laying into Riko and co - also sitting v. nicely with the later anti-Roll Deep taunts of "The Truth" - "Backwards" gave us all the chance to enjoy yet another take on "Pow!" which is, by turns, venomous, funny and funky. Yaay.

15. Lovejoy "Sid Vicious" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)

I have waxed lyrical about this little gem before, but "Sid Vicious" is a beautiful song, so finely weighted, so full of hopes and fears. Like the Helen Love tune that may yet appear somewhat further down the page, Joey Ramone gets a reference, along with Sid, and "Steven" (wonder who that could be ?) but this is of course a world away from the Ramones' endearingly artless noise, instead being a Wake-like slab of electro-indie-pop with a distinctly human heartbeat. The more I listen to the album as a whole, btw, the more it cements itself in the top ten LPs of the year - no mean achievement for a non-metal release, in the current climate!

16. Napalm Death "Losers" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)

One of many outstanding individual tunes on a great, great album. With a danceable chorus riff (well, you know, danceable like Terrorizer or Sepultura) counterpointing frenetic, high-tempo verses, "Losers" gets even better when they then just decide to slow it right down into a groove of a different feel altogether. What. A. Band.

17. Half Man Half Biscuit "We Built This Village on A Trad. Arr Tune" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)

"Ain't no local groups called 'Fuck Your Conglomerates' / No narky young upstarts called 'Fuck Your Conglomerates'..."

Come on. If a song can live up to this title, it's worth hearing. And it does - painting a tale of a very English village and its suspiciously fulfilled inhabitants with unerring, disturbing accuracy, and rickety but insistent indie guitars.

18. Cee-Rock 'The Fury' "Anderson Iz Nice" (from "Bringin You Da Yowza" 12" on Wolftown)

Despite being a Wolftown release, Cee-Rock is a New Yorker and his ode to, er, himself crackles from the word go - pretty piano sounds and a laid-back, non-cussing, style. Like the Milano / Smiley da Ghetto Child 12" on Heavy Bronx, it shows that there is life in US hip-hop, and it's ironic (but much appreciated) that some of it is getting to these ears via UK labels…

19. The Lucksmiths "The Music Next Door" (from "Warmer Corners" CD album on Matinee Recordings)

A band what I really love, even if I have still never seen live thanks to an over-zealous bouncer at the Metro on Oxford Street: and with this album of course there was never any real prospect of disappointment…this tune is the star, for me, simply for the way that it unfolds over four minutes of tugging emotions (none of your flat joyless indie-pop boy-meets-girl girl-leaves-boy woe-is-boy narrative) before tumbling breathlessly into the most memorable, hummable single melody line of the whole album and lifting the listener several miles into the soggy ether...

20. Bolt Thrower "The KillChain" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)

Bolt Thrower, like the Lucksmiths, gave us their eighth studio album this year - and, like the Lucksmiths, I'm delighted to report that they haven't changed the formula at all, especially with Karl Willetts returning on vocals. "Those Once Loyal" is their Great War album (tying in nicely with the excellent Channel Four series "Not Forgotten" - they should have given us more like that and less Big Brother and feeble comedy-dramas about Blunkett or Princess Marge) and it is very good indeed.

21. Martyn Hare "Emetic XI" (B side of 12" on Emetic)
22. Ant "The Tempest" (Powertools, 12")
23. Lethal Bizzle "Fuck You!" (from "Against All Oddz" album on V2)
24. Ant and Mark Verso "Limehouse Green" (Max side) (Maximum Minimum, 12")
25. The Fall "What About Us ? (from "Fall Heads Roll" LP on Slogan)
26. Salvo "1,000 Possibilities" (from "Cooking The Books" 12" on Last Minute)
27. Ant "Squarewave Rebel" (12" single on Superconductor)
28. Lady Sovereign "Random (Menta Remix featuring Riko)" (from "Random" CD single on Casual)

"9 to 5" was, indeed, terrible (and the single version of "Hoodie" not a huge amount of cop), but at least the major label link-up didn't prevent one more fine Lady Sov release, and it was "Random", and more particularly this Menta remix which saw Riko phoning in his rhyme from H.M.P. Brixton (ah, but he's no MC Duke) on an exceedingly bad line.

29. Raging Speedhorn "A Different Shade Of Shit..." (from "How The Great Have Fallen" CD on Steamhammer)
30. Ant and Lenny Dee "The Powertool" (Powertools, 12")
31. Lovejoy "Everybody Hates Us And We Don't Care" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
32. Half Man Half Biscuit "Asparagus Next Left" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)
33. Napalm Death "Silence Is Deafening" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
34. Flyblown "Never Forget To Fight" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
For the record, "Genocide-Genocide" was the best album of the year (if not as good as - and rather different from - the best of last year, but then that was by Harper Lee…)
35. J Gambles "Good Morning" (from "Channel U Presents Underground 2" CD)

When I first heard this I thought it was a bit rubbish, to be honest, but much like Fallacy and Fusion's "The Groundbreaker" a few years back, it has now become sufficient of an obsession that, while I still really have no idea whether or not I like it, it has grown to be part of my life and I therefore retain an ongoing affection - as I would for a family member - for its slow pace, J's extremely laid-back and matter-of-fact delivery, the lyrical repetition, the way that he refers to himself as "Gambles" about 1 million times, and the Renault Clio simile (even before he rhymes it with "CEO"). I like the video too.

36. Lady Sovereign featuring Skepta, Jammer, Ears and Baby Blue "Hoodie (Mizz Beats remix)" (from "Hoodie" CD single on Island)

Although, having said what I said above about the official A side version of "Hoodie", this remix is comprehensive and, frankly, exciting. Also, I got an Adidas hoodie for Christmas myself and it is ace.

37. Guy McAffer / Eddie Santini "RAW 28" [A] (RAW, 12")
38. Ant "Sawtooth's Revenge" (from "Squarewave Rebel" 12" on Superconductor)
39. Diversion Tactics featuring Blade "Live To London" (Boot, 12")
40. Half Man Half Biscuit "Joy Division Oven Gloves" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)
41. Hood "Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive" (from "Outside Closer" LP on Domino)
42. Napalm Death "Sold Short" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
43. The Remote Viewer "They're Closing Down The Shop" (from "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" on City Centre Offices)
44. Styly Cee featuring Cappo "The Test Match" (Son, 7")
45. Comet Gain "If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life" (from "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" CD-EP on Fortuna Pop!)
46. Tender Trap "Talking Backwards" (from "Language Lessons" CD-EP on Matinee Recordings)
47. Cappo "I Know" (from "I.D.S.T." 12" on Zebra Traffic)
48. The Snowdrops "Sleepydust" (CD single on Matinee Recordings)
49. Kicker "Since You Left" (from "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" CD-EP on Fortuna Pop!)
50. Milky Wimpshake "I'm Saving Myself For You" (from "Popshaped" CD album on Fortuna Pop!)
51. Ant vs D.D.R. "Kryptonite" (Yolk , 12")
52. The Mitchell Brothers featuring Sway "Harvey Nicks" (679, 12")
53. Dirty Diggers "For The Haters" (from "Diggers Don't Get Days Off" 12" on Zebra Traffic)
54. E Z Riders "Black Box Theory" (Cluster, 12")
55. Manage featuring Syanide "Riot!" (12" single on Konshus)
56. The Happy Couple "The Pop Kid" (from "Fools In Love" CD EP on Matinee Recordings)
57. Napalm Death featuring Jello Biafra "The Great And The Good" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
58. Lovejoy "Petrol Stars" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
59. Flyblown "Strength To Conquer All" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
60. The Go-Betweens "Darlinghurst Nights" (from "Oceans Apart" CD on Lo-max)
61. Flyblown "Smell The Apathy" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
62. Bolt Thrower "Granite Wall" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)
63. Flyblown "Liberty And Deceit" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
64. Roll Deep Crew "Poltergeist (Remix)" (from "In At The Deep End" CD)
65. Trembling Blue Stars "This Is Bliss" (from "Bathed In Blue" CD-EP on Elefant)
66. Hood "The Sad Decline Of Home" (from "The Negatives…" CD single on Domino)
67. Flyblown "The Doves Do Not Fly Here Any More" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
68. Million Dead "Bread & Circuses" (from "Harmony No Harmony" LP on Xtra Mile)
69. Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25 - Clanking" (from "The Machinist" 12" on 4x4)
70. The Lucksmiths "Sunlight In A Jar" (from "Warmer Corners" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
71. P Brothers featuring Smiley da Ghetto Child "Scriptures" (12" on Heavy Bronx)
72. Lethal Bizzle "Uh-Oh" (single on V2)
73. Flyblown "Torn From The Land" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
74. Hood "Still Rain Fell" (from "Outside Closer" LP on Domino)
75. Klashnekoff "No Games" (from "Focus Mode" CD mixtape on Altered Ego)
76. Bolt Thrower "At First Light" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)
77. Public Enemy "Bring That Beat Back" (from "New Whirl Odor" LP on SlamJamz)
78. Styly Cee featuring Midnyte "No Pills, No Thrills" (Son, 7")
79. Helen Love "Debbie Loves Joey" (from "The Bubblegum Killers EP" on Sympathy for the Record Industry)
80. Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25 - Funky" (from "The Machinist" 12" on 4x4)
81. Guy McAffer "Nelly And Roy" (from "Ave Some Of That You Wankers!" CD on RAW)
82. Rachel Stevens "Negotiate With Love" (CD single on Polydor)
83. Hood "Squint In The First Light Of Day" (from "The Negatives…" CD single on Domino)
84. Ant & Nick Grater "Nitrous Oxide" (Cluster, 12")
85. Ant & Chris Liberator "Bandsaw" (Powertools, 12")
86. The Lucksmiths "The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco" (Matinee Recordings CD single)
87. Ant & Chris Liberator "Sound Of Police" (Yolk, 12")
88. Def Tex "Freaks" (single, I think, on Son: you can find it previewed on Son's '98-04 comp)
89. Chris Liberator and K.N. "Bullet Train" (Maximum Minimum, 12")
90. P Brothers featuring Milano "Got It On Me" (12" on Heavy Bronx)
91.Chris Liberator & Guy McAffer "Steel Grey" (Maximum Minimum, 12")
92. Ant and K.N. "The LOUD Shit!" (Powertools, 12")
93. Sway "Up Your Speed (Remix)" (Dcypha)
94. D.A.V.E. The Drummer and S.P. Groove "Hydraulix 29" (12" on Hydraulix)
95. Obituary "Slow Death" (from "Frozen In Time" CD on Roadrunner)
96. Roll Deep Crew "When I'm 'Ere" (from "In At The Deep End" CD)
97. The Remote Viewer "I'm Sad Feeling!" (from "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" on City Centre Offices)
98. The Happy Couple "Hopeless Case" (from "Fools In Love" CD EP on Matinee Recordings)
99. The Fall "Assume" (from "Fall Heads Roll" LP on Slogan)
100. Ant & Chris Liberator "Spiritual War" (Yolk, 12")

* Sort of. It obviously excludes the usual plethora of great records from this year that will be belatedly discovered by me in the next 12 months, plus the ones I know do exist but I haven't (yet) tracked down - hello Boyracer. Also, the further you go down from 1-100 the more it's frankly just a list of songs I like, even if 2004 was a far better year.

** Poetic licence: it's only the second best. The best song ever is, of course, "Christmas" by Brighter.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Franz Ferdinand, Alexandra Palace, 30 November

I know you'll say I'm being negative, but I was really trying to be positive.

I don't know that much Franz Ferdinand. Obviously I know, like, the singles, and the image, and the Yummy Fur connection (which is presumably why "British Sounds" spent much of last night ricocheting round my cranium). But I think in that soft head of mine I've always kind of preferred them to many of the other Mercury Music Prize / otherwise feted "alternative" bands, because they've er, paid their dues, seem to have a fair bit of intelligence, have fine influences which they're not afraid to wear on their musical sleeve, and because what I've heard I've rather liked, to a degree - I mean I wouldn't spend money on their records, but there ain't too much wrong with angular vaguely-funky art-rock when the moment's right. And not all bands can be Sportique, or, skipping back a generation, ATV.

So I did honestly go to the Ally Pally expecting that things wouldn't be too bad - and I guess they weren't, really, in that I certainly didn't leave (as I have in the past after seeing, ooh, Eminem, or the White Stripes) just shaking my head in hollow disbelief. Really, it was more a kind of mild, if tangible disappointment - I'd sort of expected to be pleasantly surprised, so walking back out into the north London cold liking them marginally less than I had before I went in seemed a little like a personal defeat.

What was wrong with them ? Nothing really. It's not their fault they're on the same label as Hood, on whose behalf I always get pathetically bitter when discussing their chartbound labelmates. And I thought the drummer was great, too. But the posturing and the strutting and the windmill power chords and the slick video screens and the huge rotating drapes and the Tap-esque introducing of the band and the lightshow and the ooh, slightly acoustic segment all struck me as things that better suit worse bands than FF - and I couldn't convince myself that it was merely a cleverly ironic kind of overblown. Yes, I thought it was great when they did "Take Me Out" and visibly made thousands of people happy - it was that which finally displaced "I'm not American / don't call me Thurston" from my head, and the mix of punters was about as wide as I've seen outside the Fall. But the mass frenzy that accompanied "TMO" was one of the few times that their post-Gang of F. sensibilities really came to the fore - danceable, almost chic guitar music, the bass guitar actually doing some damage. For much of the set it was, I don't know, more testosterone than I was banking on. And again, I know you can fairly say, well what's wrong with that...

This blog still has a kind of respect for FF (which I'm sure they'd be delighted to hear!) because they've reached I think quite an enviable level (four consecutive dates at the stunning Palace) and still without ever having gone near the shocking lows accomplished by 2005 singles from Oasis, Embrace, Babyshambles, Coldplay, Athlete and any number of transient NME no-names. And I kind of feel a bit sad, in that context, that I'm knocking them now. But other things, that used to upset me, barely register sometimes: Rovers lose again, clients are really annoying, they've closed down another pub and turned into a rubbish bar - all water off a duck's back. So it's good that music can still make me feel betrayed, disappointed, whatever - however immature that may be. That's when music isn't making me feel insanely smiley instead of course, which it very often is.

Oh, and it was a beautiful, fresh, cold evening, with stunning views from the hillside over the lights of the City, Canary Wharf and far beyond. That made me smile, too.

listening to:

Martyn Hare "Emetic X" and "Emetic XI" (Emetic, 12"s). Peel favourites never let you down...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

[the morning after]

Having re-read it in the cold light of day and winced, I ought probably apologise for the fact that much of last night's post was gobbledygook, but I still haven't felt the need to edit it (well, not much), as it was good to get something on the board for November, and making sense is over-rated, at least when you're not being paid for it. The paragraphs below at least convey a vague impression of excitable dizziness, which is pretty much how the music "described" therein hit me. Plus, which was meant to be the most important thing of all, the late Bill P. would have adored "Commercially Unfriendly", and for all I know had already pre-empted it in past mixtapes.

What this apology also allows me to do, rightly, is mention A Witness for the fifth consecutive post - a public service announcement, for it appears that "I Am John's Pancreas" is getting a re-release. Yay, cubed - and the Taittinger is being uncorked as I type.

Ooh, one last thing. If anyone is going to see I, Ludicrous on Saturday night, could you pick up an extra copies of the "official" bootleg of their early albums ? Will pay in cash, and weak lager.

PS I have er, acquired tickets to see one of the bands mentioned in yesterday's posting, tomorrow night. See if you can guess who it is, and whether I'm necessarily looking forward to it that much…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Various Artists "Commercially Unfriendly" (Gott Discs): June Brides and Phil Wilson "Every Conversation: The Story Of The June Brides and Phil Wilson" (Cherry Red): Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25" (4x4, 12"): Tender Trap "Talking Backwards" (Matinee Recordings): Ant "Squarewave Rebel / Sawtooth's Revenge" (Superconductor, 12"): Ant and Lenny Dee "The Powertool" (Powertools, 12"): Bristol Rovers 2 Barnet 1 (League Two)

There are lots of arguments why 1986 was the best year in the history of the world ever, one to which only 1976, the long hot and violent summer which heralded the emergence of punk, could possibly dream of comparing. Cast your minds back 19 years. Treasured memories, flickering, grainy super-8 images of growing up and, well, what a soundtrack. The nascent sounds of Run DMC and Public Enemy. The joys of Talulah Gosh, Mighty Mighty. The first Slayer album. Those impossibly febrile, deathly romantic Wedding Present radio sessions and singles. The Pastels, and the BMX Bandits, in their kooky but impossibly delicate prime. The young Eric B, Rakim, KRS-One and Scott La Rock. RED SLEEPING BEAUTY. The wondrous South London warblings of the June Brides. The emergence of the Jesus and Mary Chain as a butterfly of drench-feedback haze. Razorcuts' "Big Pink Cake" and "Sorry To Embarrass You". The regal strums of Felt. Those tender early Napalm Death demos of "Enslavement" and "Scum". What about the Brilliant Corners' "Meet Me On Tuesdays" ? "Indie Top 20 Vol. 1", the album which most people thought C86 was. To be young and within a Capitalcard trip up to Rhythm Records in Camden was very heaven.

But. Looking back, perhaps the best thing of all were the "other" bands off the real C86. The ones that weren't the Primals or the Weddoes or the Pastels or even the wonderful Wolfhounds. The ones we didn't love because they didn't have the same mopey dewy-eyed indie pop perfection, but the ones that I'm beginning to treasure more and more as we approach the twentieth anniversary of, well, me being 13. And, as we bask in the revisionism surrounding the first anniversary of John Peel's death, typified by some shockingly dreary and straightforward sub-Britpop tracks on the alleged tribute compilation (as if Peel listened only to Pulp and Blur and never listened to techno, hip-hop, dub, d&b, happy hardcore, grindcore, death metal, world music etc...), it's worth saying that those "other" bands (Bogshed. MacKenzies. A Witness. Big Flame. The Shrubs. You KNOW) were real Peel bands, and that "Commercially Unfriendly" to me is not only a tribute to Peel, but probably the best yet.

So. This compilation album starts with The Fall's "Wings". If you held a gun to my head I'd probably say that it was still my favourite Fall song ever. An insane narrative, a single, repetitive, discordant guitar riff. The narrator dons a pair of wings. "We had some fun with those cheapo / airline / Snobs", pronounces Smith with evident satisfaction before detailing subsequent travels in time and space - hopping back to the American Civil War before an eventual, eventful return to the present day. (In contrast, the video is just Smith in a pub snug, smoking, supping and intermittently miming - the beautiful antithesis of yer average 80s pop promo). The mastering from dodg. vinyl makes the experience all the sweeter.

The Nightingales' "Urban Ospreys" is next. Josef K, the Fire Engines and Gang of Four are all rightly hailed as genii, but yet not the Nightingales, even if on this evidence they could clearly hold their own in such esteemed company, the young Robert Lloyd at the helm before his New Four Seasons days. Only Half Man Half Biscuit could deliver such oddball lyrics as if they really meant it, maan ("I'm worried stupid about the eggs"). Oh, how the Nightingales show up all the haircut bands of today for the foppish chancers they undoubtedly are. This is how Franz Ferdinand would sound, if they could just shake that desire to be loved that brings them down.

Right. Track three. A Witness. It strikes me that this is the fourth posting in a row in which I've mentioned A Witness. But they are a band to truly merit such "acclaim". "I Love You Mr. Disposable Razors" is godlike, obviously, a work of skewed pop genius, full of hooks and glorious observation ("anaglypta on the staircase...") even before the bouncy, sarky middle eight that takes it effortlessly into all-time classic territory as Keith Curtis murmurs "no flat caps here... no miserable Yorkshiremen... I love you, Mr. disposable income"; an ode to that smug, usurping Thatcherite dolt, 80s Gillette-man / car-advert man, still managing with doe-eyed poppiness to wander into Fall territory. It's so galling to have someone like Alex Turner being feted as a lyrical talent (admittedly only by the NME as opposed to more seasoned commentators like pub drunks) when the Arctic Monkeys can't start to compete with the genuinely funny, satirical narrative of a song like this, tied to such taut, rippling, guitar inter-rhythms.

Inca Babies have a seriously annoying vocalist. He sounds like Billy Graham. That may be half the point, but it don't make for unarguably wondrous stuff of the ilk of the first 3 tracks.

Oh well. Luckily track five is bIG*fLAME. I wouldn't slavishly punctuate just any band (I spare exclamation marks only for such big hitters as Bubblegum Splash!, Action Painting!, Slab! and of course the Chesterf!elds), but Big Flame are without any question whatsoever one of the most stupendous combos of our solar system's long history, and I've said before that only the Smiths' "Singles" and the highlights of "Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way ?" can claim to come anywhere close to the indisputable essential-ness of their "Rigour!" compilation CD on Drag City. "Debra" is not their best tune, but on any catwalk of 80s melodees it would be entitled to strut its stuff to nothing less than massive admiration - the tight drumming, the madly funky bass, the incendiary guitar. God I commend you to listen to "Breath Of A Nation", "Man Of Few Syllables" and other pearls of theirs. It will take yer roof off and put a slinky spring in your step. I promise.

Pigbros are a band I haven't heard enough of. Their track on "Ideal Guest House" was blinding. They play "War Food" here and it's not quite as good. Still, yes, they too have been listening to lots of Josef K and the Nightingales. Not a lot wrong with that.

The Membranes. You want jangle ? You want treble ? You get it here. Of all the bands herein, possibly the closest to that first wave of punk. "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" still has a fair bit of that indefatigable bass sound that united all the Ron Johnson bands, but is thrashier and less forgiving than much here. Strange to think how John Robb has becoming a talking head now, a rent-a-quote on Channels Four and Five. He ought really to be better known as part of something else.

I know the Noseflutes are deities, because I most serependit(i)ously stumbled across their "Several Young Men Ignite Hardboard Stump" LP in a Record & Tape Exchange. That may be just as well, on the basis that "Give Me The Keys" is disappointingly okayish, a mid-pace, drilled collision of Jsf K and Joy Division and a little drab compared to the inspired office observation of "Holidaytime", the danceable urgency of "The Harmony of Dogs" or the unacknowledged brilliance of the great "Perfect Cockney Hard-On".

Track 9, mothers. When I was young and fey, I erroneously thought that the Shrubs' "Bullfighter's Bones" was one of the weaker tunes on C86. But in fact, only their Ron Johnson labelmates truly trumped them. The Shrubs here are in relatively mellow mode, "Blackmailer's Heartache" another of their pantheistic, paranoid tales, guitars weaving intricately and indelicately around each other, like a Zimbabwean folk band fallen on hard times and doomed to spend every other chord change discordantly searching for escape. It's certainly morose - balladry, really, though thankfully not as we know it.

And now things get amazing again. Dog Faced Hermans. I'll be honest, I don't recall them being all that. But "Incineration" is staggering. It sounds like Donkey, or a drunken Big Flame (with or without punctuation). Her voice is not unirritating, but when she shrieks it's difficult not to think of the Slits, and what can be bad about that ? Really, the amount of otherwise respectable people I've heard slagging off this band who could never frankly hold a candle to this sort of thing. I mean, Belle and Sebastian and bands like that aren't bad at all, are they. But can they compete with this ? They can have as many top 40 hits as they want, but can they hell.

"Cold In Summer" by the Great Leap Forward, the new band of ex-Big Flame star Alan Brown, was later reprised on their unbelievably sat-on album, "Don't Be Afraid Of Change", which was a tour de force of intelligent, danceable, sad and knowing, deeply political pop. Brown has a feel for how young, idealistic people tick: "Records are sacred when you're 17..." and must know that so many of us felt that about some of his bands when we were that age. "Cold In Summer" manages to be scratchy and lo-fi at the same time as aspiring to be something so much bigger, and the choruses when they come just swallow up and choke you. Dreamy.

Next, the Ex, with "Let's Rob the Spermbank". They manage to make their pursuit of the perfect child sound romantic rather than a nightmare recipe of eugenics. Like the other track of theirs I've heard, it's a treat: dark, brooding, straggly, insistent, broken English.

And finally, Jackdaw With Crowbar. Again, I know, even in the sure knowledge that time can play so many tricks, that I heard much from them back in my teens that was much much better than the chaotic new-country stomp of "Fuck America". And yet, there hasn't been a various artists compilation made that wouldn't benefit from the inclusion of JWC. They are mentalists, in the best way possible (remember "The Night Albania Fell On Alabama ?") and musical innovators par excellence.

Oh I wish this CD was longer: I want to hear more of all of these, plus Bogshed, Twang, Eton Crop, Stump, Rote Kapelle, Dawson, a thousand others, not least to remind me that at least Thatcher being around gave us something to escape and, almost as cherishably, something to hate while music spun our little heads around.

In this context, the latest June Brides comp, "Every Conversation", all 40 tracks of it, is the icing on the cake. But having picked up the Overground CD "For Better Or Worse" a few years back, I'm lucky enough to have renewed my more more youthful acquaintance with the JBs already. The new interest in this release is the inclusion of Wilson's solo back catalogue at last - and in the John Peel / Janice Long session tracks that make up most of CD2. And so I trip across da Cheggers' sister's session version o' "Small Town". As much as any song that I've come within a whisker of never having heard, it is great. A lovely viola (I think) intro, then a feisty, folky jangle (not a million miles away from X-Tal), then pulsing, eager verses and a terrific chorus with female backing vocals. Apparently Phil managed to get himself backed by the Triffids, you know. And reading the sleeve notes, I have so much more sympathy now with the way that his solo stuff broke with the "Junies'" tradition. You'll never find me battening down the barricades to defend C&W, but his take on that tradition has real elegance and vulnerability. And oh of course there's other fine, previously unheard stuff in here: from the Janice Long sessions, the blisteringly fast "In The Rain" is utterly enjoyable, replacing the shouted VU songtitles of the single with a Testcard Girl-style cacophony, while the version of "No Place Called Home" really brings out its McCarthy-style brooding, sensitive musicality. And "I Fall", whilst not reproducing the sugar high of the album version where somehow the "we can make the sun shine for us..." lines pluck heart strings like harp strings, is instead extended, taking on new life and vigour. And, again, I think about how I was 13 and how easy this all was, really: how this stuff was all around me: I think the June Brides on the cover of NME passed me by, but perhaps only by a matter of months: I remember how when I finally got round to hearing them, it was an impulse purchase courtesy of Basildon Our Price. I just knew, as with the Wedding Present, that I kind of wanted to like this band, and I was pretty sure that I probably would.

Luckily, modern music can be spinetingling too. And with Jamie Ball and Julian Lib's new EP the series of 4 track EPs on 4x4 reaches its quarter-century of 'funky' vs 'deep' vs 'hard' vs 'clanking' dance-offs... 'funky' in this case being nicely fractured Warp-esque clattering, 'deep' being spiky drum'n drum, 'hard' the sound of Squarepusher feverishly backfiring a car through an electro-industrial wall and 'clanking' a sweetly pulsing nintendo disco soundtrack sabotaged by a host of playful shrieks and crashes that reminds me so much of the lost invention of 555. It is "Funky" and "Clanking", together, two contrasting but equally scintillating ear-joggers, which enable JB and JM to stroll up the red carpet straight into my musical heart. Tender Trap, meanwhile have taken a step back from recent electro-pop outings to deliver up a delightfully jangly and harmonic single that reminds me more of the early Heavenly 45s on Sarah than anything Amelia or Rob have done since. "Talking Backwards" is a grower, lyrically all about being tongue-tied and head over heels, musically impossible not to fall for as a discreet hommage to. 60s girl groups and delicate psychedelia. Day each more, it love I.

What next ? Oh, Mr Wilson! You spoil us! Well, an icy riff over a temperate sequencer throb, a sprinkling of chattery transistor bleeps and you have just under 500 compelling instrumental seconds of somewhat eerie techno on the A side of Ant's lone outing for Superconductor, "Squarewave Rebel". By contrast, "Sawtooth's Revenge" is shaped almost entirely around a gravelly, grimy, grinding keyboard undertow that buzzes, fizzes and flits from ear to ear with the ankle-biting insistence of Derek Payne in his Watford prime. A faintly dark, mesmerising double-header. More traditional, less challenging but without doubt horrifically danceable is Ant and Lenny Dee's "The Powertool", on the former's in-house label of virtually the same name, a huge choon built around a mantra of "Frequency Response" and much slicing and dicing of alien sounding swirls - a revolving lazy susan of toetapping frenzy likely to induce something akin to seasickness, or at least the feeling that someone's been spiking your lager tops (see also the dizzy whirlpool bursts of Ant and Chris Liberator's new "Bandsaw" single).

Equally disconcerting was the latest performance by perma-flatterers to deceive Bristol Rovers against arrivistes Barnet on the fledgling "League Two" imprint, formerly known as Division Four. Eschewing the sage advice of wizened prison veteran and Orient fan Norman Stanley Fletcher in "Porridge - the Movie" ("whatever you do, don't let them panic you into playing football"), rookie coach Paul Trollope allowed his charges to attempt creative, free-flowing football, even as the rain skidded from the turf. Abetted by a little fortune, the quarters raced into a 2-0 interval advantage. Luckily for my diehard mindset and no doubt in the interests of an even contest, the remaining 45 mins saw Rovers revert effortlessly to type with a laboured, guileless non-performance, being first penned in, and then frankly murdered, by a pretty inept opposition. The last 20 minutes took place entirely in our penalty area at the edge of my field of vision, as the incessant pinball in and around the Rovers goalmouth somehow failed to result in an away win, let alone point.

By the end I kind of wanted Barnet to equalise, not so much because they blatantly deserved to but because of the fucking idiots behind us who kept calling Anthony Charles a "monkey" and observed when Louis Soares came off that Barnet were replacing him with "yet another coloured". The most absurd thing being that there is no shortage of regulars on the club's internet forum who will tell you that they've never witnessed any racism at Rovers or indeed ever anywhere (oh, except of course for "anti-white racism" as practised by the legion 'politically correct')... The most tragic thing of all, in all seriousness, being that I genuinely don't think that either of those lads realised that what they were saying could be considered offensive.

Finally, I hope that I'm not the only one thoroughly amused to see that you can now get Napalm Death's "You Suffer" on iTunes, still, incidentally, a service which offers an unbelievably lame selection of music you actually want (as opposed to music that will do). Anyway, for yer 79p that works out at just under 20p per second, and that's including the fade...

Listening to:

Mr 45 "Black Diamondz": About time we heard from 45 again. Am trying to track down the album of which this is the title tune to report back...
Kano "Reload It" (from "Home Sweet Home" LP on 679): The album is too slow! Too eager to please! Too many love songs! Kano is good-looking and spits well. But this would be better as an a cappella - with more or less all the beats speeded up and made 100x as grimey. But this is one of the higher points, at least aside from the tunes we already knew: a l'il humour and references to both Wiley and Lethal.
Lethal Bizzle "Fuck You!" (from "Against All Oddz" CD on V2): Overall, the best of the disappointing grime albums dripfed from the majors this year, the year that grime grew up - even more proof that More Fire Crew's "C.V." was absurdly under-rated, then and now. Still, this is razor sharp stuff - apart from the singles, the other highlights are the title track - oddly dark and understated - and "The Truth", an update on "Backwards"' furious dis-meme against Wiley and co, with the funniest lines reserved for B's seeming nemesis Riko ("There is plenty of 9 to 5s out there... what about Tesco's ?"). But at least, overall, "Against All Oddz" has some energy ("Uh Oh", "No", "The Best", "Hitman"), even if desperately little originality... it's a sign o' the times that I'm quite content with the former...
The Snowbirds "Love Will Come My Way" (Waaaah!) single: I am enjoying discovering the Snowbirds immensely at present. This one of several jangly bubblegum buzzsaw reasons why.
Public Enemy "Bring That Beat Back" (from "New Whirl Odor" LP): Rather alarmingly, the best PE-related tune I've recently heard is Flav's "I'm Hot!" which despite that deeply unpromising title boasts a constant, buzzing hook of noise that could have come straight from PE's 1986/7 prime - sadly the album "New Whirl Odor" (agh stop with the puns now) shows only really that the mind is willing, but the musical flesh is weak. Luckily tho'. "Bring That Beat" is actually kinda funky, and compared to the corporate drivel still emanating from NYC, damn near necessary. Honest.

Right. That'll do.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bill P.

In our stultifyingly low orbit as the deskbound dispossessed of the City we rarely come across kindred spirits, those who will happily chat about family, indie music and rubbish football (in this case, St. Albans City, of "tree on the pitch" fame) instead of buying into braying, yawnsome stuff about banking or apres-ski. But while in a previous job, I was introduced to a new colleague, Bill, whose wondrously eclectic taste, as well as utter personability, intrigued me enormously. Like me he was a child of Peel, metaphorically of course... our main shared joy was everything and anything to do with the fantastic Ron Johnson label, but Bill was also kind enough to donate writings on the likes of the Fall, Baby Dee and Nurse With Wound for the previous incarnation of this fanzine, back in the days when we had a proper website and everything. And recently I've been going through some old e-mails, where we bantered about Bogshed, bIG*fLAME and A Witness, in the excitable, almost flirtatious way you do when you've stumbled across someone whose idiosyncrasies frame your own. What's more, Bill never wallowed in self-pity about the office life he described as "working in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral": he seized on our enforced commuterdom as an opportunity, his daily journeys from Purley to London Bridge and back never a drudge but instead the chance to catch up on and expand his listening still further. He was the first person I ever heard pick up on Antony and the Johnsons, in the same wide-eyed way that he raved about... well... Sun City Girls, Black Heart Procession, Hafler Trio, Les Rallizes Denudes, Wire, the Pop Group, Radar Brothers, Sonics, the odd hip-hop mash up, Brainticket, Wevie Stonder, Baby Dee, Amon Duul, Thomas Brinkmann, Electric Eels, others upon others who reminded me how pedestrian much of my own palate was. And I'm ashamed to say that even now I haven't investigated most of them.

Anyway, I can scarcely express the way I felt when I heard this morning that Bill had died, suddenly, from a heart attack, aged 34. He leaves a wife and two children. There is a particular, and uncharacteristically moving, Fall song that comes unstoppably to mind but I don't think I could bear to play it right now.

I know that he will be missed terribly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fall "Fall Heads Roll" (Slogan)

Just got back from holiday. It was a welcome, fascinating, rewarding, and intriguing escape and once I've coralled all my thoughts together I'd really like to write about it, if I thought I could do it more than scant justice. The obligatory holiday compilation tape (yes I am that sad) track listing was: 1. Mussorgsky "Pictures From An Exhibition (Promenade)" 2. Tchaikovsky "1812 Overture" 3. McCarthy "Red Sleeping Beauty" 4. Raw Power "State Oppression" 5. Random Number "Arise! The Proletariat" 6. The Human League "The Dignity of Labour" 7. Redskins "Kick Over The Statues" 8. Siege "Walls" 9. The Fall "Psycho Mafia" 10. Close Lobsters "I Take Bribes" 11. Rosehips "Bloodstained Fur" 12. Saturn V "Red Star In Orbit" 13. Empress "Vodka and the Verlaines" 14. Beat Happening! "Revolution Come And Gone" 15. The Beloved "If Pennies Came From Heaven, Could Karl Marx Have Been Mistaken ?"

Oh, and some early instrumental B-side or other from Orange Juice.

Anyway. The upside of returning to the homeland was arriving at the same time as the 25th studio album by the greatest band in the world. And what else, really, can you say about the Fall ? Reviewing anything by them without tumbling into cliche is a Herculean - I would even venture to say Stakhanovite - endeavour, so suffice to say that while this is not - quite - the sparkling late career-peak of previous album "The Real New Fall LP", it is still a surprisingly raw and urgent collection, built around the handful of tracks that made up their last Peel Session (indeed, now that I'm acclimatising to "Heads Roll", I'm not even as convinced as I was that all the Peel Session versions of the tunes are superior) but again, mercifully, free from the filler which punctuated so many of the last half a dozen or so sets prior to "The Real New". Although a little light on musical creativity, and shorn of the usual barrage of random electronic noises - surely it needs be recognised at some point that the Fall invented glitch - "Fall Heads Roll" makes up for these seeming deficiencies by returning to old Fall themes such as simple, repeated, bludgeoning riffs, and allying them with surprisingly discernible vocals: a joy for those of us for whom only the Peel Session box set allowed us to catch all the intricacies and subtleties of lyrics that were lost somewhat when those tracks were subsequently re-recorded for studio albums, usually with mighty sonic meddling.

Oddly, one of the few "ish" tracks on "Fall Heads Roll" is the first. "Ride Away" gives no suggestion of the pace and power, as Alan Hansen would have it, of the LP as a whole, instead being whimsical if endearing haddock-reggae. Next tune "Pacifying Joint" begins the cavalcade, however: its poppy rhythms and Elena's bright-as-a-button keyboards giving it the feel of singles like "Free Range" or "Behind The Counter", although in line with the rest of the album, it is noticeably more stripped-down than the machine and sequencer-driven selections that peppered even the best of nineties Fall. Still higher peaks, though, arrive on track three, "What About Us": the real McCoy, the re-born snarling, pounding Fall in all their glory. Pumping up its simple chord sequence from the off, you can hear line-up #207 crashing their instruments together in a way that fair recalls the pomp of Scanlon, Hanley and Wolstencroft: from the moment that M.E.S. delivers the crucial first line, barking "I am a rabbit from East Germany" as only he can, the years are truly rolled back, as throughout, the lyrics delight and dazzle, Smith's narrative moving his rodent persona to the north of England, only to find his gambolling cut short as he sees the Harold Shipman saga played out before him. (And the backing shouts are no less addictive than the ramrod hooks of 2003's "Open The Boxtoscis" or "Sparta F.C" - what a singalong live set the Fall are building up). Next track, the slight "Midnight Aspen" is one of only two, along with the reflective "Early Days of Channel Fuhrer", which see the Fall in what, for them, is ultra-ballad mode: like "Janet vs Johnny" from last time round, there is almost an eerie beauty to these two oases of calm, and again Smith has refrained from coating the songs in the muddy studio mist which normally envelopes the band's mellower compositions. Still, back to the amp-tremblers: the great "Assume" is next. Very A Witness-like in the verse, with lurching bass and mocking guitar, it suddenly locks into a roaring groove for the chorus (this time with echoes of the better tracks on "The Unutterable"). After a Midnight Aspen reprise, it is time for the centrepiece of the record, "Blindness": over 7 minutes of musical hypnosis (repetition repetition repetition!), this time dominated by wonderfully distorted bass and brutalist drums as Smith intones things like "99% of non-smokers die": give or take a margin of error of about 1%, I suspect his stats aren't far off.

The second half of the record starts with the obligatory cover - their take on the Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow": and while it's still not a song that sets my heart afire (again: the revelation of a post-'85 Fall album where the cover version pales against the new choons), the fury of the guitars certainly puts into place what now seems the horrible anaemia of the BMX Bandits' rather sympa version. Next comes more new-style Fall, with "Bo Demmick": musically a growling Bo Diddley tribute interspliced with a Rusholme Ruffians reprise, lyrically a showcase for more truisms from Smith ("Moderninity - what is it ?" he demands, bringing up a theme from his demented solo albums). Equally great, "Youwanner" is then a "work in progress" which skews itself dreamily into an echo of "Couldn't Get Ahead" (though this time, it's "I Coulda Had A Life"...) as the guitars carry on drilling away and the protagonist regrets having settled for settling down. "Clasp Hands" follows, a rockabilly yellalong of high grade, although frustratingly without the contrast provided by the moody, trudging instrumental passages of the radio session take, which recalled the twin-speed joys of "Spoilt Victorian Child": after the interlude of "Early Days..." we then get "Breaking The Rules", which brings cheap keyboards and easy riffs to the fore - like "Pacifying Joint" the new Fall at their poppiest (btw while I hesitate to suggest they are ever destined for the mainstream, is it just me, or is the double whammy of seeing Skinner and Baddiel do "How I Wrote Elastic Man" on ITV and listening to Jonathan Ross claiming to love them on Radio 2 a faintly disturbing development ?) Things then conclude with "Trust In Me", which harks back to the low menace of "R.O.D.", at least in my brain, even overcoming what you would have thought would be the insuperable hurdle of being sung by some other bloke and not THE SMITH. All of which is to say that - despite an increasing desperation to discover young bands that excite me in the same way that a few pretty superannuated ones do - it's hard to look past the Fall at the moment, because when they are on form, you're never going to be able to overtake them.

other current listening:

The Orchids "Sigh" (LTM): Available - I think on CD for the first time - as part of the repackaged "Unholy Soul". Reminds me of when they played it live, albeit not catching fire the way it did when the various Orchids strutted around the stage in their er, Orchids t-shirts - instead, as with the rest of their "Penetration" EP, this is a subtler, sweeter treatment. A shame that the EP (it was a 12", in the unlikely event of there being any youngsters out there) will only ever be remembered as the moment that Sarah finally, allegedly, received the last downpayments on the sale of their soul to Satan. Memo to you all: they never really did sell out. That was the whole point, and to be fair it is far more obvious in retrospect than it could have seemed at the time.

Plan B "Cap Back" (from "Run The Road" CD on 679): The trouble with this CD, even though much of it is no less ace than the Red Baron, is the impossibility of putting it on and not just listening to No Lay's "Unorthodox Daughter" on repeat until (approx) you die of old age. But I just about managed to, in preparation for "Run The Road 2", of which more later. Possibly.

Forest Giants "Postcards" (from "In Sequence" album on Invisible Hands): I don't want to suck up to them too much, but I was a bit dismissive of the LP version of this, and I am now able to retract such madness. A second, heartblasting, version of a single essential song.

Saucer "3:44" (second tune from eponymous, song-titleless CD on 555): Am finally coming round to listening to Saucer properly, despite never having quite worked out who the hell they are. What I have established is that their LP is very underrated and sat on, not least by me... I fear it may be the only thing they've released, save for their vignette on 555CD55.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Half Man Half Biscuit "Achtung Bono" (Probe Plus)

Tenth, I think, studio album from the band whom one rather more knowledgeable about these things than I* has described as the best British folk band of their generation. Indeed, that's not hard to tell here, from the usual clutch of impeccably observed future campfire standards like "Restless Legs", "Upon Westminster Bridge", "Mate Of The Bloke" or the rural Cambridgeshire romance of "For What Is Chatteris..." in which the narrator wistfully recounts the village's many charms ("OFSTED plaudits / envy of the Fens") but can only reflect that such minutiae pale into insignificance when you are without the one you love. But folk is only the beginning of Half Man Half Biscuit's talents, as I grow tired of trying to explain. For this is a band who are, in fact, still resolutely "indie", in all sensible meanings of the word (from the uniqueness of their lyrical traits and the intensity of their obsessive portraits of British life through to the fact that all ten albums have been on Liverpool's legendary Probe Plus label). In the Golden Lion on Dean Street the other night, the "Indie" section of the jukebox should have been littered with HMHB, the Brilliant Corners and the other stalwarts of the Chart Show indie section circa 1986... (hey, they even played three seconds of "Solace" once! And the Flatmates' "On My Mind", when they meant to play "Shimmer"...) but instead of course was another haven for Coldplay and Athlete. "Indie" now meaning 'music played on guitars but that is not pop, rock, folk, psych or metal because it has, respectively, no hooks, no rhythm, no heart, no edge and no power'. I suppose you could say that applied to Bubblegum Splash! too, but then you'd be wrong on about five counts. Plus, I'd have to kill you.

But being one of the great folk bands, and a barnstorming indie fixture to boot, is not all we should cherish HMHB for. How many groups over the last twenty years have been so consistent, so resistant to bandwagon-hopping, yet so unfeted by the Britpop coterie ? The Fall have been many times fantastic, but taken plenty of (entertainingly) wrong turns: although only they can claim to have created a cast of characters in their songs to rival the hamlets of oddballs picturised by lead Biscuit Nigel Blackwell. Napalm Death have produced brilliance in their field, but flirted less successfully with slower, more formulaic music in the mid-90s. Iron Maiden have, remarkably, carried on powerfully, even if their appeal sadly struggles to escape their own ageing fanbase. St. Christopher ? Perhaps consistent, but only occasionally swoonsome, and how bad was that pseudo-baggy album "Love You To Pieces" ? The Windmills ? Yeah, but they kind of had more than a decade off. The Pastels - perhaps, but I've personally struggled with more recent jazzateering. Bobby Wratten is not a band. Boyracer ? Hood ? Actually, fair enough, I might give you those. Those bands rule: although they still haven't done so for as long as the Biscuits.

So. HMHB. I want to give you some more positive reasons for loving them, because they are a band whose existence, let alone their wondrous musical pronouncements, fill me with dizzying optimism and joie de vivre (as Peel himself once said, I love them with every fibre of my being). So let's cut straight to the chase and the highlights. "Joy Division Oven Gloves" was previewed on their (last ever - sob) Peel session last year, and was an inevitable Festive Fifty top tenner. Lyrically, it's more throwaway than usual, but still manages to undermine and celebrate the Curtis legend all at once whilst raging along at a brisk jogging pace. "I've been to a post-punk Postcard fair!" exclaims Nigel, and I swear that the enthusiasm leaps from the speakers. Then there's "Surging Out Of Convalescence"; mid-paced, melodic, touching on less than well-worn themes such as the misrepresentation of darts in soap operas, but ending with an impassioned, spirallingly tuneful ruckus of a coda that, again, makes you feel that all is one with the world - yes, even this crazy, mixed up, messed up world. "Corgi Registered Friends" sees Nigel take up a more familiar lyrical obsession, namely the inedifying social traits of vacuous middle class couples explored to death in "Paintball's Coming Home" or "Fear My Wraith", but they remember to fill it with enough melodies, and a winning chorus: it also joins the tiny pantheon of songs to mention Volvos (from memory, MC Tunes and, remarkably, Big Daddy Kane are both also in there...). "Bogus Official" is more of a piledriver, a thrashy Rosehips-length exploration of the world of the doorstep charlatan: again, though, it's the fact they sound like they mean it so ("I don't give a fuck about your missing cat" - parental advisory, ouch!) that makes it so compelling.

Then there's my personal favourite, again previewed in Peel Session: "Asparagus Next Left", which takes up where the last EP's delicious "Jarg Armani" left off, positively growling with Motorheaded menace: after a none-too-subtle dig, and not the only one, at the Libertines / Others / Kasabian / Razorlight et al / ad infinitum ("We've just been performing a guerilla gig / In the middle of another group's guerilla gig / Well surely that's the ultimate guerilla gig / But still, they cried like girls"), this sten gun of a song then delves deep into the dangers of those strange motorwayside signs that implore you to pick fruit and veg from down unspecified side roads - and like "Oven Gloves", they've dispensed with none of the fuzz or pace of the session versh). And their scything appraisal of the new wave fits swimmingly in the tradition of their insider critiques and demystification of the indie-biz that have been showcased so many times before, by tunes from "Whit Week Malarkey" through "Secret Gig" to "Running Order Squabble Fest". As for the other familiar HMHB theme indulged by "Asparagus", the motorist's ongoing woes (see also "Keeping Two Chevrons Apart", "M6-ster" and "Bottleneck at Capel Curig" amongst the prolific back catalogue), that is picked up further in "Twydale's Lament" - when Nigel screams, "Indicate then, you stupid bastard / How was I supposed to know you intended to go left ?" it is seemingly with no less passion than Flyblown's undeniably heartfelt songs I mentioned the other day (or, indeed, A Witness's enviable "Nodding Dog Moustache", with its dramatic and beautifully literal statement of intent, "I am going to park my car / In that space over there / And no-one's going to stop me" - fittingly, the guitars on "Lament" sound not unlike the late Rick Aitken's angular pre-Franz post-GOF post-punk pre-Britpopisms). But it would be remiss of me not to mention the album's closer, "We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune" - for it exemplifies how, more than any other album, this is HMHB where the songs more than live up to their titles (despite the invitable accusations in the past that the sleeves and titles are untoppable: this time round, incidentally, the sleeve is very poor, although props to those who came up with the inner sleeve Guthrie-parody, and whoever fashioned the Unknown Pleasures oven gloves...)

So, yes. They've done it again. Put a smile on my face. Reminded me there are people who understand me. Whatever the canon, these boys invariably remain masters of it.

*Andy Kershaw. Now someone release those damned Kershaw Wedding Present Peel Sessions!

listening to:
Gang Starr "DJ Premier In Deep Concentration"
Public Enemy "Terminator X Speaks With His Hands"
Real DJs. Forget Fatboy Slim.
LL Cool J "I Can't Live Without My Radio". Amazingly good - this is as old skool as it gets. And this coming from LL Cool J, you could be forgiven for not believing me...
The Bluebear "Wild Romance". Exotic, beautiful, brittle. Kyoko-like, but not Kyoko-lite.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Leyton Orient 2 Bristol Rovers 3 (Brisbane Road, 90 mins): Flyblown "Genocide-Genocide" (On The Verge, vinyl-only LP)

Everything's urgent, all the time. Sigh. Enough of work. There are a couple of exciting things (to me) anyway, to recount.

First, a double album's worth of material on a sunny Saturday lunchtime in eastern Zone 3 as the one-man team that is Bristol Rovers overpowered the fading O's. The ground continues to be ruined / rebuilt (delete as applicable), the uncovered away terrace sadly a distant memory as new stands appear, ever more incongrous while the team formerly known purely as, er, Orient (halcyon times: remember John Chiedozie ?) continue to fester in the fourth division. Bizarrely, there appear to be huge, hotel-size edifices going up within the ground itself, in the corners in between stands: quite who would sanely want to live, work or holiday within the confines of a "League Two" stadium is unclear. Those of you who have seen the truly dramatic and impressive Death Star mega-bowl rise from an empty shell in N5 can be reassured that the cranes of Leyton are working to more modest plans. Anyway, despite the ongoing opprobrium from his own fans, which is now par for the course, Ian Atkins got the tactics right: keep lumping the ball up to Agogo, defend like hell the rest of the time, and the Accra-born big man is bound to win it for you so long as his team-mates keep their pitiful defensive capitulations to a minimum. The first goal saw Junior cross for Craig Disley to head in on the quarter-hour; the second a penalty, into the second half, won and converted by JA after the usual canter through the opposition back line. Cue defensive calamity number one and a goal back for Barry Hearn's charges, increasing the tension until the next sliced clearance up to Agogo on the halfway line: he waltzed past the last defender, rounded a 'keeper who had wandered forty yards from the goal he'd been tending and, after gleefully strolling a bit closer towards the Orient fans behind it, with the pig's bladder at his feet and acres of unguarded turf around him, rolled it into the empty onion bag. By the time it crossed the line we'd been celebrating the certainty of going 3-1 up for a good 10 seconds. This being Rovers 2005 vintage, there was of course time for us to concede another daft goal to meet the statutory quota and cue five minutes of frantic, tragi-comic tension, but when it came, it was, for once, job done. And we saw the net billow three times.

Equally compelling is the best album I've heard this year. You'll recall, way back when, pop and politics' difficult 163rd phase: the whole Britcore madness which Peel mentored through the various late 80s sessions at Maida Vale: bands like Doom, cutting straight to the chase by adopting punk's bleak, questioning bluster and delivering battering ram tunes like "Bury The Dead, Not The Debt" (favourite lyric: "Barclays / Midlands / Lloyds / Nat West - fuck off!") and "Life In Freedom, Governed By Equality" ("OPPOSE Clause 28!") It took a while, but you can probably trace a line right from Doom and the Heresy / Extreme Noise Terror / Napalm Death axis of polemical post-skateboard grindcore, right through to the visceral Scalplock, whose "Spreading The Germs" retrospective provides one of the most explicit (and, I promise you, rewarding) recent marriages of straight political content and unrelenting thrash brutality.

This gets me to Flyblown, the post-Scalplock trio formed by Pete Giles (while we're doing the Rock Family Trees thing, he was of course a founder member of Unseen Terror, who are now quite rightly legendary for their fuzzy, hardcore-meets death sound, as well as their obsession with Garfield the cat). Flyblown's "Genocide-Genocide" album, which by pure fluke I managed to track down in Berwick Street having assumed I would never find a copy, is the hungriest, most sincere political record I've heard for ages, resolutely off the pace of the mainstream. As such, I must commend it to you utterly. For, after an introductory mosh to warm us up, "The Doves Do Not Fly Here Anymore" takes a vice-like grip, with breakneck drumming and frantic shrieking, before "State Murder, State Oppression" has a more convential Discharge-style title as well as what I, at least, am prepared to term a singalong chorus. Already, the blows seem to be raining down, and as the songs largely jump headlong into one another (there are, in all, 21 in a little under nineteen minutes), the effect is multiplied: "Strength To Conquer All" bristles, adopting the same chaotic pace before calming slightly for another few seconds' moshing reprieve. And still they come (the tunes), thick and fast: the blur of righteous indignation that is Side One showcasing further peaks like "Independent State of Seminal Change": even in this market, rarely has so much been done with 17 seconds; "Never Forget To Fight", another highlight with a near-singalong "Liberty! Equality!" refrain; the Doom-like torrent of "Societal Prison" (Doom are a much under-rated band, but at least one who get props from Flyblown) and "Liberty and Deceit", where the cascading chords again echo the likes of Discharge, but the tunes - well, the riffs, whatever - aren't even hidden. That's not even to mention "Servitude", in which Pete's banshee yell "THIS IS OUR PAIN! AND OUR DISPLEASURE!" (ha, that's the link with Bristol Rovers) banishes all cobwebs within a mile radius of your turntable.

After the de facto "interval" of comparative solitude and calm constituted by the need to turn the record over and cue it up again, Side Two hardly disappoints: it's as if you'd never been away, from "At The End Of A Gun", which takes a distorted American anthem and barbed spoken intro and speeds them into more controlled mayhem, right through to the fearsome rancour of "No Time", bass, drums and guitar swelling and crashing against each other. In between, plenty more highlights - "Blind Leading The Blind" has an over-literal title, being a diatribe against our former Home Secretary, although that shouldn't obscure its fine guitar, coruscating production (the production throughout the record is edgy, raw and fearless) or the fact that it is lyrically as relevant as ever given the latest thinking of the Home Office's greatest minds on immigration and anti-terrorism issues. It's over in a minute, with a parting shout of "BLUNKETT!" and in its place come the two parts of "Social Pollution" - the first throws more kerosene over the fire already raging across your speakers, but the second slows things down dramatically, with moodier music, plaintive (if still direct) lyrics, the guitars treading an almost industrial mid-pace. "Torn From The Land" is even better as it does fast and slow within a single vehicle - after helter-skelter riffs, things subside after half a minute to allow more slower-paced sentiments over feedback-hued beauty: again, the lyrical theme focuses on the displaced who flee persecution to find a wilful barrage of misunderstanding from countries like ours. What else ? "Crossed Out" sets about trendy wretches and their designer label fads and fetishes; "Smell the Apathy" is another, grinding, classic - more singalong-a-Flyblown and perhaps my favourite riff of the whole album; and "Rotten To The Core" leapt out at me some months ago when they previewed it on one of those Terrorizer magazine free CDs... Anyway, along with the Scalplock LP and the Venomous Concept one from last year, "Genocide-Genocide" is as good as it gets.

listening to:

Dr Alimantando "Careless Ethiopians Repent". Textbook.
Burning Spear "Civilised Reggae". Handsome.
Unseen Terror "Uninformed" Headnoddingly svelte, from their "Human Error" set - like Heresy, except, as I said, with kind of detuned, almost death-y guitars.
McCarthy "Keep An Open Mind Or Else": The session recording from "That's All Very Well But...", more shimmery, almost Bodines-y, but you still get the hamsterish vocal for which the single version is justly infamous.
Cockney Rejects "The Rocker". Wow. Once they were the Kaiser Chiefs of their day, then they practically invented Raging Speedhorn. This is the moment, caught in crystal, when their lurch from punk to metal began.
The Visitors "Goldmining": Even better than the Sportique version :-)
Tindersticks "City Sickness". Thinking back to why this hooked me the first time: it sounds like Mike Flowers would if he covered the Pastels. Which he should. I'm only sick of the City mind, not the city (lower case 'c'). Never the city.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Year of the Ant

Ant and Nick Grater "Nitrous Oxide" (Cluster, 12"): Ant "Midnight Black" (Maximum Minimum, 12"): Ant and K.N. "The LOUD Shit!" (Powertools, 12")

Some reckon that listening to a type of music completely divorced from the context for which it was designed can't be legit, or at least sensible. Why would you listen to Dido except when attending some dinner party or, in current climes, barbecue under extreme duress ? Why ever contemplate Coldplay aside from their natural setting of shopping mall muzak or as the piped soundtrack beloved of our more unimaginative pub and restaurant chains ? And why oh why oh why lend an ear to Ant's barbarous rhythms outside the sweaty atmosphere of a packed club in the capital, brimming with adherents to the S.U.F. Collective ?

Well, for one, Blueboy weren't kidding back in the day when they noted (kind of) that there ain't that much love in the clubs. For two, well, good music transcends place and status. It must do, else I wouldn't be able to appreciate anything other than the rickety white middle-class indie-pop of the ageing post-c86 hipsters whose growing pains I identify most closely with (and by god do I appreciate that stuff, as you know). And for three, the difference between Ant and the other examples is that his tunes do not suck. Look, I'd no more pop a pill than vote Conservative, but I can't get enough of the way that techno like this reverberates around my head, and the less addled my brain and the quieter the surroundings, sometimes the better it seems. Just makes me feel that I'm still getting something out of this insane emotional over-investment I've made in vinyl and cassette and CD and minidiscs over the years, makes me feel lucky that I can get the same buzz from Cluster or RAW or Max / Min now as I used to from Sarah or Subway or Ron Johnson (or, indeed, as I still do from Sarah or Subway or Ron Johnson). It may just be that 2005 is as joyous a year for acid-tech as 2004 was for grime: let's just hope that this scene doesn't plunge itself downhill quite so speedily as grime seems to have done over the last few months.

So. "Nitrous Oxide" lacks the monumental energy of Ant and Nick G's "Emergency Red": it's a conventional high-bpm drum intro for a minute or so, then sequencers repeating a sub-low bass mantra, all brought constantly to the boil by fill-ins. Halfway in, more traditional A&NG sonic enterprise resumes (awkward moments on the dancefloor = yaaay!) but the earlier hook returns and by the time it's over you kind of wish there had been a little more experimentation: it's still a worthy addition to the canon though. On the other side, "Chromed" is an instant undercurrent of throbbing, vaguely menacing synths, joined by drums after a half a minute but again only really getting interesting about halfway through.

The Max side of "Midnight Black" is much more instantly adorable, a tight, chatty hook counterpointed by sprightly bleeping and swooshing drums to create an unforgiving sirocco of sound. After the statutory 3 1/2 minutes (you know the pattern), clanging metallic sprites start to canter and cavort, banishing the original riff; by the time it returns to chase them away, the song is nearly over. The Min side, however, lets the rapacious sprites out to play again, skidding around in the undertow of slightly more considered techno beats. It's hard to resist the cheery mix of rolling rhythms, especially when the formal beats recede entirely for the last 30 seconds or so.

The Ant and Kenichi Niwayama 12" starts with a rare extended sample - some bloke going on about the sound he wants (basically, yes it's "the loud shit"). The song goes nowhere special for a couple of minutes but picks up with depth charges and feedback-like swathes of noise (remember Purity's heavenly marriages of beats and migraine screams ?) rattling around, Ant and K.N. messing around with the faders and all the usual sonic tricks getting a decent run out. The flip is maybe a tad less engaging, revolving around a sample "We want your soul" and looped soundclips about succumbing to the capitalist consumerist feeding frenzy from the comfort of your very own armchair. Though I like the various "bloody blimey space invader" noises that turn up unannounced four or so minutes in. But overall the feel of the whole single is much more like the ready bombast of "Midnight Black" than the more spacious, warmer sound of "Nitrous Oxide".

So all good stuff - but I still think that Ant's "Homemade Discord" is even better: and possibly my favourite single of the year so far. My favourite album to date ? Er, that's coming up next time.

You won't like it.

Anyway. Current listening:

Magazine - Definite Gaze (a post-punk revelation)
Math & Physics Club - Movie Ending Romance (Matinee Recordings: M&PC's best moment yet)
Siege - Walls (from "Choosing Death" v/a comp on Relapse: gorgeous. Please someone reissue more Siege stuff!!)
The Grey Tapes - White Ant (s/t CD on 555: this is what rock, and in particular rock vocals, should sound like)
Ice Cube - We Had To Tear This MF Up (from "The Predator": DJ Muggs' finest hour ?)
Jasmine Minks - Forces Network (now on "The Revenge of the Jasmine Minks" CD on Rev-Ola)
Schrasj - The Birge (from "f" album. All pop should sound like this ?)
Beat Happening! - Fortune Cookie Prize (Dreamy LP. This too)
KRS-One - Outta Here (from "Return Of The Boom Bap" LP but recently reissued on 12" - I will never tire of this)
Forest Giants - So You Think You're Unhappy (? hopefully forthcoming)
Mark Owen - How The Mighty Fall (Sedna LP) - oh, I don't feel inclined to justify myself right now.... ;-)
The (Mighty!) Fall - New Puritan (from the heavenly Peel Sessions box set. The best record ever made ? I wouldn't laugh it out of court).

And finally, some *sports* reviews:

Barnet 1-1 Bristol Rovers:
Sloping pitch. Slow turnstiles. Dreary game. "Boring boring Atkins". Basic errors. Unlikely late equaliser. Hurrah.

Bristol Rovers 2-3 Peterborough: 0-2 down. Basic errors. "Atkins Out" unfurled (proper banner, well, bedsheet). Ooh, sending off. Comeback! 2-2! Back from the dead! Oh no, dead again.

Millwall 2-0 Bristol Rovers: White elephant stadium. No atmosphere. Not a bad performance. But it all comes undone in the end. Only the FA Cup left if we are to qualify for Europe.

...Leyton Orient at the weekend. See ya.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Windmills, Picture Center, Pluto @ the Water Rats, London, 30 July 2005

First up were Pluto, who brought with them one of the biggest and most adoring, vocal crowds I've ever seen for this kind of venue. When their pumped-up, amp-worrying and frankly somewhat rockin' set reached its final crescendo, you could have been forgiven, what with all the cheering, shrieking and sweat, for thinking that we were at Wembley Arena, rather than on the Grays Inn Road. I was blithely assuming that the massed ranks of Pluto groupies were the usual "awayday" coachload from out of town, but with the group themselves apparently being Kiwis, this was more likely a reunion for exiled New Zealanders in central London. Anyway, all concerned enjoyed themselves greatly, the band really looked the part (and indeed "walked the walk"), and the Water Rats' bank manager surely won't believe his luck when he sees the bar takings figure. Oh yes, and Pluto were terrible.

Luckily, things improved fairly sharpish. Picture Center first came to my attention in the days when Shinkansen was at least nominally a going concern and Matt Haynes was gently chiding them for selling themselves as a "post-Field Mice" band, in the days when that tag went a long way to cementing your popularity amongst a certain indie constituency. The premise for the accusation was that their press releases dared to refer to the fact that Picture Center lynchpin Mark Dobson was the drummer in the later, expanded 'Mice line-up, although I've never seen clinching evidence that his new band traded quite so much on that infamy (although I did always like the fact that their name shared an obvious theme with Northern Picture Library, Bobby Wratten's first post-Mice combo, who forgivably did trade rather on Bob's previous oeuvre. And as for the Occasional Keepers....)* Anyway, to return somewhat tangentially to the point, the irony here is that in this boy's heart Picture Center managed at some point to overhaul Bobby's long term franchise, Trembling Blue Stars, in terms of both relevance and beauty: an overtaking manoeuvre amply demonstrated by taking the Center's 2003 (and still most recent) album, "Our true intent is all for your delight" - on their own label, North American - and comparing it with an increasing percentage of the Stars' recent forays for Elefant.

That album title was of course taken from the introduction by the 'rude mechanicals' of their play within a play in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and last time I went to see Picture Center, I somehow felt the magic conjured up by "Forever" was at least equal to that of the Bard's most fantastical work. I'm pleased to say that lightning can strike twice: with the sound quality better than last time I saw them here, the guitar trills, mournful bass and Mary's beautiful voice came across as crisp as the lyrics were brutal. The song is a peach: driving along, deliberately, with regret-strewn words, then capsizing into an expansive, crashing, moping strumfest ("I thought we'd be together, forever..") They then play "For Youth and Valour", also from that second album: higher-tempo, but with lyrics at least as dark. The third track, their (definitive) version of Ash's "Burn Baby Burn", worked less well only because it was drowned out intermittently by the chatter from the rear of the room: a few of Pluto's sizeable fan club having overspilled from the main bar, which had been having difficulty accommodating them all.... nevertheless, the band were unbowed and recovered to give us the perfectly-balanced duet "LP2" and the lovely, early single "Useless", Mary's voice contrasting with the fainter, beautifully wimpsome bloke on the original version. Last song was "Incense", the West Coast Experimental Pop Band cover which sprawled across their "The Wonder Of God's Heaven and Earth" album: its psychedelic swirl slightly less successfully translating to the gig, it tripped and faltered a little, washing just a touch of the awe away. Nevertheless, Picture Center are mighty and long live all who sail with them.

Talking of misleading press releases, as we sort of were, the Water Rats website last week managed to describe the Windmills' sound as "acoustic-driven alt. country". If true, this previously unflagged change of artistic direction could have made for an interesting, if concerning, third phase of the evening (as well as explaining the otherwise criminal fact that nobody has released anything by them since third album "Now Is Then" two years ago). Fortunately, however, the Windmills have not spent that time morphing into some kind of east-of-Essex Palace Brothers (who authentic Southenders might christen the Palace Theatre Brothers, but that's by the by). Instead, we got pretty much a "greatest hits" set (yay x lots), starting with the dizzying joys of "360 Degrees" and closing with a somewhat disjointed quasi-encore of the glorious "Walking Around The World" (in a small room, the ebbs and flows of the recorded version tend to be sacrificed somewhat, while Roy Thirlwall decided to change the narrative from the first to the third person, just to increase the disorientation already wrought by my final pint of the evening). More satisfyingly, we also got, as I would have demanded, thunderously nailed-on versions of "Now Is Then", "Beach Girls 1918", "When It Was Winter", "Want"... all examples of how the Windmills are the band the House of Love really could have been, if they'd had more decent songs, less hype, gone uphill instead of down after their eponymous album and not spent £x thousand amounts of record company advances on drugs. Thirlwall's distinctive, deep croon, and debonair, er, air (tonight he even sported co-ordinated cream stage garb, as opposed to the coat he wore back in the day at the Hope & Anchor) are still the glue which holds their songs together, but the playing, melodies and particularly the arrangements show that the Windmills just have a way with the construction of the deadpan pop song: even when, as tonight, they slow things down for the lachrymose waltz of "Across The Playing Fields", or power themselves up for the Cure-ish rock of the tremulous "Summer Snow".

So yes, all in all, Picture Center and the Windmills - two bands whose histories entwine back no little time - made it a fine way to see off the last listless Saturday before the football season starts again next week. Unless you had indeed been duped by the promotion into expecting to see the new darlings of alt-country, it would have been impossible to be disappointed tonight.

* The Occasional Keepers - a supergroup featuring Sir Bob and Caesar and Carolyn Allen (the mighty Wake) and heavily trailed as such, have just released an album, "The Beauty of the Empty Vessel", on LTM. Despite sensible counsel to the contrary from at least one corner, I was adamant that this was a collaboration to get somewhat over-excited about. I was wrong. The Occasional Keepers' record is, as its title suggests, extremely pretty but very insubstantial. It just seems strange - last I heard, the Wake were all set for a comeback album, and gave us a terrific, upbeat taster track, "Town of 85 Lights", on one of the Darla comps - but after that, there was only darkness...

Currently listening to:

Orange Juice "The Glasgow School" (Domino): If like me you didn't have these early recordings, you simply must get them.

Lethal Bizzle "Uh-Oh" (Relentless): Yes it's still the same song as "Oi", "No", "Forward", "Backwards", etc etc. This makes it, too, entirely ace.

Raw Power "Screams From The Gutter / After Your Brain" (Golf): At last a decent reissue for the Italian thrashers, including "Politicians", as covered by the great Napalm Death...

NB future updates may be sporadic until my computer is fixed. But rest assured there is still much I wish to go on about...


Monday, July 25, 2005

While there doesn't seem to be any reduction in the numbers commuting to work every day, the Tube at the weekend was noticeably less crowded than usual. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I confess to being surprised about the local reaction to the recent attacks - until last Thursday (the failed second wave of chemistry-set suicide bombings) it seemed people here were pretty sanguine, but now it seems a lot more panicky and disproportionate than normal, especially after the Stockwell shooting.

Now I'm not in any sense urging pointless defiance, or suggesting we all parade around the centre of ol' London Town only to show how hard and Blitz-spirit we all are ("I'm not brave / I'm not special..."), but with 3,000,000 of us using the underground daily, I just can't see that the chances of being blown up on it are substantially higher than those of being wiped out above ground - the road I live on is pockmarked regularly by pavement debris, collapsed bollards and bits of metal following the incessant speeding and / or drinking of motorists, and has its own, well known and entirely predictable annual death toll. (Or, more disturbingly, it can't be too fanciful to suggest that the bombers' next target is at least as likely to be an overground train, a bus queue, a busy shop or a pub as it is an increasingly policed subway).

I tell you what did scare me though. On the tube on Saturday evening, between Highbury & Islington and King's Cross, I was accosted by one of a couple of lairy lads, who insisted on showing me the movie on his mobile phone. "This", he said with pride, "is our mates beating up some Pakis the other night". Yes the pictures were horrific, and the shouting on the soundtrack echoed down the aisle. I was too frightened, frankly, to move away, especially given the understandable sudden desire of the rest of the carriage to bury their heads in their Sunday supplements and Harry Potters - although what worried me most was the boys' initial assumption that I might share their prejudices. And "We hate Pakis, we're British", was their parting sho(u)t to the rest of the train. This stuff has never gone away - (although no end of otherwise intelligent people I know have felt able to tell me that racism isn't a problem in Britain any more over the past few years) - it's just that, right now, we need to be at our most vigilant to combat it.

But, especially right now, I don't see why keeping our eyes and ears out should stop us living and enjoying the rest of our lives as usual - so hopefully next time I post it will only be to bore you with fond recollections of the Windmills and Picture Center show this Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kanda Bongo Man "Liza" (my stereo, now): Ant "Homemade Discord" (Powertools, 12"): Rackitt and Guy McAffer "Untitled" (RAW, 12"): DDR and Chris Liberator "Aqua 320" (Maximum Minimum, 12"): E Z Riders "Black Box Theory" / "Temple of Nothing" (Cluster, 12"): D.A.V.E. The Drummer vs S P Groove "Untitled" (Hydraulix, 12"): The Lucksmiths "Warmer Corners" (Matinee Recordings): Roll Deep Crew "The Avenue" (Relentless): Forest Giants, live at the Dublin Castle, London on 30 June 2005: Napalm Death, live at Koko Camden, 17 July 2005

OK. Calmed down a bit now, partly out of embarrassment at the amount we are making out of the London attacks, given that one mentalist killed 98 in Baghdad with a petrol tanker bomb and nobody here even blinked.

So I'm finding myself listening to Kanda Bongo Man, enjoying being cheered up in doing so, and as a result wishing that the recipe for "Live 8" had been so different, not that I got bored enough to watch / listen to any of it. A part of me will always believe that Kanda Bongo Man & his contemporaries never drew their real inspiration from traditional Congolese and imported Cuban rhythms at all - the best soukous always strikes me as so relentlessly *JANGLY*, in that awkward indie-kids could happily dance to it without shedding either their *principles* or demeanour. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if some of KBM's best work - late 80s and early 90s - reflected lazy evenings in listening to the Chesterfields and (especially) Mighty Mighty: after all, he would have been played alongside them on Radio 1 by a certain DJ just before the witching hour... Anyway, Gedge-like guitar genius Diblo Dibala, has, quite 'liderally', played his way back into my Subbuteo XI.

As well as Kanda Bongo Man, another legacy of the good doctor Peel for me is the fact that he introduced me to London techno - dance music ten times as relevant and a hundred as listenable as the interminable slew of HedKandi compilations which, I suppose, are there to do for dance music what embracekeanecoldplaytraviselbowsnowpatrolathletestarsailor are doing for guitar music (i.e. kill it, in the most unexciting and interminable way possible). Unluckily for the HedKandi massive, or indeed the Pacha and Manumission crowd (virtually exclusively lawyers and accountants these days, as far as I can tell), there have been ten to a dozen, I would say, great techno singles already this year that show that where it's at is music, not posing, and Ant's" Homemade Discord", the most recent single on Powertools, is arguably the best 12" of 2005 yet, simply on the basis that it is the most random. Unlike the linear "Limehouse Green" or the symmetrical "Tempest" (where the madness is confined to the middle of the tune), "Discord" is harder to imagine as a seamless injection into a DJ set. Instead, strange, exciteable sounds flit around, squirming like tadpoles searching desperately for the bank, but being bombarded by a sensory assault of techno pulses, Ant relentlessly tinkering with the rhythms in case anyone tries to make sense of things: the greatest moment, as ever, is when the beats fall through a trapdoor halfway through and Ant fills the listener's ears with screeching, half-cock, half-siren loops. Way to get stared at on the Tube.

Turning to other labels, I can't recall if I've praised E Z Riders' "Black Box Theory" on Cluster, but its no-nonsense approach pays dividends, metallic hooks reflecting the austerity of the silver office buildings congregating around Moorgate right now. Meanwhile, on Hydraulix (public service announcement in this land of no songtitles: you're looking for Hydraulix 029), D.A.V.E. the Drummer and S P Groove team up for two toe-tappers rooted in samples that could almost be throwbacks to the heady days of Donna Summer disco, propelling more mechanical sounds into a heady blissed-out oblivion. The AA side just about wins (again), with a tiny repeated clang that could almost be a lost chord from "C n' C's Mithering" being submerged in the ceaseless rhythms. Ripe Analogue Waveforms' new single (the cat. one for this one is RAW 030) sees Rackitt and label boss McAffer ransack their archives for blurred acid house sounds in a true Jolly Roger style, even if they never quite turn them into a landmark tune: and honourable mention to DDR & Chris Liberator's "Aqua 320" 12" on Maximum Minimum - Ant turns up (by the year-end he will probably be responsible for half the tunes released in the UK) to do a repeto-vocoder thing on the B side, but the DDR and Chris side is the pick, going for that Limehouse Green-style lurching loop and punching it repeatedly into submission.

Then there's the Lucksmiths. "Warmer Corners" is the approx. zillionth example of their consummate mastery of non-corporate pop, more intelligent and more melodic than anything being foisted on meaningful percentages of the population by radio or record labels. People that think that products from the global hit factory economy, from Scott Storch to Stargate, are necessarily the pinnacle of modern pop need to listen (or, rather, be forced to listen) to the Lucksmiths, not least because they would implode messily on the realisation that there are even in this day and age fantastically erudite and charming international genii merrily kicking sand in the face of the notion that your second studio album, let alone your eighth, should be anything other than fresh and welcoming. "Sunlight In A Jar" is the sprightly sound of the spring in your step on the sweetest summer day, "Putting It Off and Putting It Off" a pristine example of their perky pick-me-up pomp, and the opening, brass-accompanied "A Hiccup In Your Happiness" probably what prompted all that alliteration. The recent single, "The Chapter In Your Life Called San Francisco" brilliantly sets out the no. 1 theme of Lucksmiths songs, distance: in both place, and time, as it sensitively uncovers the uncertainties and paranoia of the long-distance relationship. But my favourite, right now, is "The Music Next Door", simply for the way that it unfolds over four minutes of tugging emotions (none of your flat joyless indie-pop boy-meets-girl girl-leaves-boy woe-is-boy narrative) before tumbling breathlessly into the most memorable, hummable single melody line of the whole album and lifting the listener several miles into the soggy ether. (If you remind me, I may try and pick up on the way that some of the super-palatable Free Loan Investments indie fuzz of labelmates the Happy Couple belies some very bare emotional torment in that band's lyrics, too).

Anyway. On with the show. But really, oh boy. Roll Deep's "The Avenue". I don't know what to say. I hate being a curmudgeonly old so-and-so (no really), and it's pristine n'all, and I know that out there in serious reviewerland the easygoing, pop-friendly journos of today have taken great delight in irking the purists (HMHB references are today taking priority to the usual "golden era" ones!) um, where was I, sorry, 'purists' whose jaws must have collectively dropped on listening to the new LP, and I don't in any way want to justify them in their gloating, and um, I am not sure what's happening with all these commas, but... basically, there are plenty of people who can do this sort of commercial almost-rap shtick. There are comparatively few, on the other hand, who can hit the heights of "Show You", "When I'm Ere" or "Poltergeist" (at least, they're as high as the heights on the new album, "Rollin' Deeper", get). The worst thing is that the tune that RDC are sampling for "The Avenue", by the Maisonettes, is so terrible and weedy in any case (you can only wince at the 80s synth lines) that you find yourself longing for the verses, only to find a double-whammy in that the rapping suddenly seems so plain and top 40-perfunctory. As for the album, well, it would have made a great 3-track 12" (tracklisting above), as many albums would, but falls about ten songs short of being the debut it should have been, despite an inspired cartoon sleeve. There's none of the angst and finding-its-wayness of Wiley's "Treddin On Thin Ice", none of the electricity and bounce of their considerable if irredeemably disparate back catalogue. So while hardly bad, it has to go down as a crushing disappointment (I know it's inevitable that when the grime artists get signed up, they might really go hell-for-leather with the studio time and mass appeal crossover potential, but do they all have to ? Shystie ? Roll Deep ? Kano ? Lady Sovereign ? What if Lethal Bizzle does with his album ? Now that, I think, would be the end). Basically, Riko's grinding, distorted rap on "Random" is probably better than the entirety of "Rollin' Deeper".

And I went to see the Forest Giants (the band, not the trees - if you go and visit the latter, you can't see the wood for them). It transpired that my exposition [aka rant] on the dea(r)th of singles elsewhere on this blog was opportune, as recent mini-LP lead track "Beards", one of the tunes which I identified as being made for 7", actually had been intended to be one at some point: but then Invisible Hands, who put out its classic predecessor single "Postcards" and the rollicking "In Sequence" set, decided that they would be better off putting out the likes of Hazel O'Connor and Mick Karn instead. At least the Giants started their set with "Beards", although on stage, without the extra guitar lines (which I have more recently identified as sounding not unlike the Pastels' "Nothing To Be Done"), it took on a more subdued hue, focussing more attention on the conversational meander of the lyrics ("well I just got back from hell... I didn't like it much") while I sucked all the blackness out of a couple of Guinesses. From that, a too-short set of warm guitar fuzz ensued, spacey chords and the odd catchy chorus mingling in the smoky Castle back room before melting into the swelter of a humid north London evening. It left me extremely encouraged about the next album, and extremely discouraged that there appears to be no label out there with the means or the nous to release it.

"We're Napalm Death, from Birmingham, England" was perhaps an unnecessary introduction for most of the hep kids (plus me) blinded by the ruby-red glare of the old Camden Palace's refurbed interior, but as usual it heralded a set from Messrs Greenway, Harris, Herrera and Embury that was equal parts vituperation (esp. against Mr Tony Blair, from London, England) and sheer joy. Few things can put a smile on my face as readily as knowing canters through "Breed to Breathe" and "Suffer The Children", although the inclusion of various newies ("Vegetative State", the amazing "Silence Is Deafening") hardly hindered me in maintaining my grindcore grin. Coquettish flirting, in the name of fandom, with Mitch Harris at the bar also helped (exclusive ILWTT mini-interview with Napalm Death on their recent line-up change: "So what happened to Jesse [Pintado] then ?" Mitch: "He wanted to do other things - what can you do ?")

Plus, the four-piece that played immediately before ND sounded pretty good, kind of Lock-Up-ish: unfortunately, I couldn't work out which of the many listed support acts they were. The only thing I can tell you is that (one of) Cancer, Diecast, Cataract, 25 Ta Life, Mindlapse, End Of Days, Descent, Gutwork, Insomnium and My Precious Blood are a band I would def like to hear more from.

That's enough rushed reviews for now. There are plenty more new records I want to draw your attention to, but then I also want to listen to them rather than 'write' about them. Plus, I is tired. So "maybe next time..."