Kano "Typical Me" (679 12"): Manage "Rise Up" (Defcon 12"): Chris Liberator & Guy McAffer "Steel Grey" (Maximum Minimum 12"): Lethal Bizzle "Backwards" (white label 12"): Roll Deep Crew "Let It Out" (Relentless 12", promo): The Wedding Present "I'm From Further North Than You" (Scopitones): Hood "The Negatives..." (Domino, impending single): Milky Wimpshake "Popshaped" (Fortuna Pop! CD album)
Just in case you were wondering from past postings (or the sparseness of them) whether Napalm Death had produced not just the first but also the only great tune of 2005 so far, you should be reassured that there quite a few other candidates, and in a rather different vein. Funnily enough though, Kano's "Typical Me" isn't really one of them - despite the cranking up of - gasp - guitars, and Kano's inimitable MCing style (just as engaging as his his old-skool parka and cheeky smile on the cover), it just seems a little mainstream and sluggish compared to the manic - and let's face it, garagey - energy of "P's and Q's". There's also a concern that now the Sunday supplements and major labels have got a toehold on grime, its days of being a punk-style force of real excitement and intrigue are already on the wane, and it probably doesn't help that I haven't been able to switch on 1Xtra in the last two months without hearing "Typical Me": nor that the B-side only gives you "Mic Fight", which nouveau-grime arrivistes like me will already have got when we snapped up "Run The Road". Still, it knocks the spots off Goldie Lookin' Chain. Oh, and stop press - official chart position: 22.
I'd like to be able to be a bit more positive about Manage's "Rise Up", as anything with "beats by Chemo" seemed worth a gamble, given the quality of that Frontline 12" last year. Unfortunately, either Manage is / are trying to recreate the heady confusion caused back in the day by Gaye Bykers on Acid's self-explanatory "Drill Your Own Hole", or, more realistically, the pressing plant royally messed up: at present, I can't get the record to spin on the turntable, let alone explore Chemo's first beats of '05. I will persevere, however, and possibly even report back.
"Steel Grey", on the other hand, a Valentine's day release no less, circulates quite contentedly on ye olde faithful Aiwa decks, and is a peach. Maximum / Minimum is fast becoming one of my favourite labels (being yet another originally introduced to me by the late great John Peel), even when they deign, as here, to be so mainstream as to put the artist's name on the record: this time McAffer and Chris Lib's techno-house stomp leans closer to the McAffer side, rather than the drop-filled Liberator side, of last year's "Sloppy Brown" double-header, and goes for a straight-up hypnotic effect with some success. It's not up to the mighty standard of Ant and Nick Grater's blistering "Emergency Red", which crashed through the barricades quite recently on the same label, but it's still a midfield workhorse with imperious presence.
The premise of "Backwards" is simple enough - Bizzle (formerly B's) entourage loop the frantic garage riff from "Forward Riddim" / "Pow!" in reverse. It's a revelation to find that it still sounds pretty great. What makes "Backwards" lyrically so compelling (as well as, to be honest, depressing) is the furious dissing of Roll Deep that ensues. Aping, amongst other things, the fractured vocal rhythms of "Wot Do U Call It ?", Lethal piles into Wiley (not least laughing at XL having seemingly dropped him), Riko and God's Gift with the youthful verve of someone who doesn't quite remember how the B.I.G. and 2 feud started: or, indeed, why Riko is currently in clink. Having said that, the bit where Lethal makes fun of Wiley's singles chart positions "31, 'Wot Do U Call It ?' / "pies", 46" and compares it with his own last two choons' peak positions (11 and 7) is fairly unanswerable. It would be good if more bands did the same - imagine how much more interesting Kaiser Chiefs or Kasabian would be if they devoted a few couplets from each track to trading sales-related insults...
Worse for Wiley is probably the fact that RDC's "Let It Out" is not, at least on first listens, much of a step forward, certainly compared to some of his (solo) tunes on "Treddin On Thin Ice": and not a patch on the intensity of (rival camp) Fire Camp's "No" - or even Roll Deep's own "Poltergeist Relay" white label not that many months ago. Again, it could be that the effect is dulled by having heard it many times before (courtesy of "Run The Road" again), but I have to admit to a smidgeon - I'll put it no higher - of disappointment. (Looking up, the B sides are better, as is his upcoming collab. with JME). Intriguing that Relentless (the imprint being a Virgin conceit) seem to have no problems about accommodating More Fire and Roll Deep on their label at the same time. Could all end in tears, or at least a Pistols vs. Rick Wakeman style "this label ain't big enough for the both of us" face-off.
...Where were we up to ? Blimey, yes, the Wedding Present. My 24 year old room-mate has never heard of them - young people, eh ? So she'll not be aware that, after the stylish, powerful, aggressive, departure of "Interstate 5", "I'm From Further North Than You" sees Gedge and friends returning to 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. The DVD single has the video for "Interstate 5", too, another little bonus: Dave looking mean and moody throughout. (Stop press: chart position 34. Kano gets to diss Gedge on his next record).
Now "The Negatives..." hasn't even come out yet, but as we all know it's going to, and it's been previewed on their "Outside Closer" album already, the glowing reviews start here. It's accepted fact in all rational universes that Hood are an amazing band, but this has to stake a claim to being their best single yet (and I speak as a fan of all their incarnations: "Home Is Where It Hurts", "Sir ens", "You Show No Emotion At All", "I Didn't Think", "The Lost You" and "Useless" are just the first half-dozen ace 45s that come to mind, even before you get into all those 9-track limited 7"s scattered across (a) random labels and (b) the 1990s). Even with its massive, crunching hip-hop beat and atmospheric strings, which for some reason recall David Arnold's arrangements on Bjork's "Play Dead", "The Negatives..." still takes a little time to grow - especially with the usual fractured Hood-style vocal. But by God, doesn't it then just bloom - another reminder that if Hood ever, ever WANTED to prove themselves the greatest band in the world, nobody would be be able to stop them.
"...the way that you hang your head / appeals to me more than I think I should admit / if I speak in words of romance... is it slightly outdated / in this modern age?"
Yep, it's Milky Wimpshake to finish, but this is the easy one as they are, as ever the most immediate proposition of all these records, with Pete Dale's endlessly romantic, wide-eyed lyrics dovetailing with power-trio guitars and riffs that alternately recall Buzzcocks and Thrilled Skinny! (it's the lovelorn words that push them, as an overall package, much toward the former). For their third album, they've chucked in quite a few "old" tunes, although as MW are hardly the sort of band whose career has moved radically from one genre to another, this ne'er interrupts the flow of "Popshaped", which still contains 18 spiky tracks crammed fit to burst with hooks, minimal production, jaunty chord changes and ever-hopeful vocals (the optimism of "Don't get down, get even", previewed live a couple of years back now, being a prime example - wow, if memory serves they were being supported that night by an unlikely-looking lot called the Futureheads: wonder what happened to them ?). For me, the pace only slows on the two or three folksy numbers: otherwise, they are as vibrant and relevant as always. The production seems stripped down slightly from the last album: this is typified by a barer recording of "True love will find you in the end / Don't let our youth go to waste" which once appeared on the b-side of the classic Ferric Mordant 7" "Dialling Tone": but throughout there are very few noticeable overdubs, and less of the chunky keyboards that propped up some of the tunes like "Scrabble" on album number two, "Lovers not fighters". It's one-take stuff, mostly, but anyone who has seen them live (where they are even better) will not have any problem with this. Milky Wimpshake, I'm sure, would always rather be out there celebrating life and spreading enthusiasm for change rather than hiding away in a studio thinking up concept pieces or experimenting with string sections. Favourites ? There are loads - "Pearshaped" is a Nev Clay cover, a duet of sorts with Cath Tyler and the best of its ilk since "C Is The Heavenly Option"; "Not Poetry" is a stumbling, naive, gloriously throwaway bundle of self-deprecating joy; "Cheque Card", extracted above, sets out the can't-buy-me-love reality of life with all the sharpness of focus you'd expect; and " Needed: Heart Handbook" is their last single, peaking with a rushing, urgent chorus. "I need... to find a way / straight to your heart", sings Pete: he really means it, and believe me, he'll get there soon enough.
Anyway, got to go now and defend Ian Atkins from the hordes of cloud cuckooland-inhabiting infidels on the Rovers message board.
Current listening (even apart from all that lot!):
Aswad "Finger Gun Style" (from Virgin "New Chapter" LP reissue)
Primal Scream "Imperial" (Janice Long session version) - this is fabulous, especially compared to the later, Warners-released aberration. Can somebody please officially re-release this stuff ? And while we're about it, the unreleased Kershaw and Peel Wedding Present sessions ? Ta!
Visions Of Change "Under One Fist" (from "North Atlantic Noise Attack" LP on Manic Ears - did they ever do anything else this good ?)
Punk Floyd "We're Getting The Band Back Together" (12" on Stay Up Forever, from '03: don't be deceived, it's acid techno all the way...)
Hood "Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive" (from "Outside Closer" LP on Domino - another majestic and ever-growing rustic sprawl)
Scalplock "Ensorcell" (typically brilliant hardcore / thrash / grind morsel from "Spread The Germs... Over The Human Worms" CD on Cacophonous - there are 29 other tracks, largely as good)
A R Kane "When You're Sad" (Rough Trade Shops Indie-Pop Vol 1 still rules)