The Remote Viewer "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" (City Centre Offices, CD album): Guy McAffer "Ave Some Of That You Wankers: The Sound of The Special Needs Disco" (RAW / Stay Up Forever LP / CD): Crazy Frog "Axel F" (Gusto, omnipresent ringtone): Various Artists "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" (Fortuna Pop! CD-EP): Dizzee Rascal, live at the Electric Ballroom, 24th May 2005 (Budweiser New Music Rising)
Even in the shadow of the unedifying spectacle of UEFA crumbling to red-top rancour and less-than-surprisingly changing their rules in favour of the G14 (to give a soft landing to the eighth-richest club in the world after it conspired to finish 10 points closer to the bottom than the top of its own domestic league), there is good news to be culled from the European club scene. For I am delighted to report that the 2005/06 football season officially commences this coming weekend, with the first-round first-leg of the InterToto Cup: Bangor City and Lisburn Distillery are amongst the initial 42 sides battling it out, from Andorra to Armenia. Fantastic stuff and, of course, what football is really about. But, until Saturday, it is necessary that we continue to use this thing called "music" as our escape from the triple horrors of r*gby, t*nn*s and cr*ck*t.
So. Once upon a time there was a band called Famous Boyfriend which consisted of two Yorkshire lads Craig Tattersall and Andrew Johnson who'd spun off from some band called Hood and first came to my ears with a wonderful, nervy, self-deprecating, paranoid indie-pop tune called "We're all pretty much failures" on the first 555 comp before producing not one but two great albums wherein dance-atronica crept in to their downbeat, downcast recipe and all in all made it even more human culminating in the woe-is-me genius of "Your heart's not in it" and another flawless compilation track, "The last drink makes me". You know, I still think that only Other People's Children and maybe Cody have ever really even got close.
Anyway, Famous Boyfriend became the Remote Viewer sometime last century, cementing their gradual change in direction from the embers of indie-pop to a fascination with electronica, and have now issued four atmospheric, instrumental-based albums in that guise. True, I'd paid vague attention, purely on the basis of their former genius (and because you can't help but warm to LP titles like "Here I Go Again On My Own" and "You're Going To Love Our Defeatist Attitude"), but I've been detached, frankly, so thought I'd use 2005's "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" to give them a proper (re) hearing. I'm so glad I did, because this is a beautiful, affecting record of whispers, glitch, acoustic guitars and even quite a few vocals, courtesy not just of the boys but also the ubiquitous Nicola Hodgkinson. The first and last songs, "They're Closing Down The shop" and "How Did You Both Look Me In The Eye ?", where I think it's Andrew that 'sings', are so introspectively lo-fi yet elegantly minimalist that they could almost be Halkyn (yup, that good), while the tunes voiced by Nicola perhaps unsurprisingly sound like the dazzling Empress (another gold star for the Remote Viewer is that this LP has caused me to dig out my four Empress CDs again!) The real magic of the album, however, is how the Remote Viewer use the interplay of electronic and acoustic sounds to create their own, benign phosphorescence - songs with a mechanical pulse, but a human heart.
Now McAffer is a don, of that there's no doubt, but "Ave Some Of That" fails to have any of the profound impact of the Remote Viewer record, despite its bludgeoning, pulsating 78 minutes of techno rhythms interspersed with spoken word samples and the odd marginally insane musical deviation. Techno, along with, er, all other forms of music, does after all work better on singles than albums, though that's a rant you've heard before... Anyway, apart from the lively "Crop Spraying", it starts mundanely (compared to what we know McAffer is capable of - like December's 12" with Eddie Santini on RAW ) and only from the more interesting "Painting The Ceiling", over halfway through, does it really pick up, reminding me at times of Llwybr Llaethog's beautiful, spacey techno circa '97. And if police and 'public order' harangue "Fucking Twats Treat Us Like Fucking Arseholes (And Charge Us For It!)" doesn't quite perhaps live up to its Flux of Pink Indians-inspired title, then "Nelly and Roy" more than makes up with its cracking acid loops. "Liquido de Frenez" then finishes the set with an utterly bizarre skank tune.
Talking of dons, amphibious irritant Crazy Frog still manages to be a folk hero in my book - stealing chart glory from the insufferable and pompous, and redistributing it to THE KIDS. In three short, glorious weeks, he knocks Oasis off no.1, stops Coldplay getting there and now, in his third week atop the charts, has saved us from having U2 looking down on us from the same pinnacle. If there was any justice he would be playing at Live 8, instead of the sodden, dreary list of washed up Embrace-alike dronesters they've got.
Also lobbing bricks from the top of the multi-storey car park of indie outsiderdom down on to the mediocrity-strewn pavements of the current music scene, the Fortuna Pop! ep is four covers of northern soul classics by beat combos of early-2000's renown. It leads, as is only sensible, with an utterly blinding rendition by Kicker of the Inticers' "Since You Left". Why waste adjectives - the song is great, the guitars are great, the bass is great, the drums are great... and the vocals are absolutely outstanding. And if they played Hyde Park in July they'd rip the place to shreds. Airport Girl and Butterflies of Love turn up too on the EP, but they haven't got so much to work with, and don't do as much with it, so inevitably pale against the Kicker. But I do want to mention Comet Gain, who complete the quartet with a lovely and slightly reworked version of "If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life" - partly because I will be a CG apologist to my grave, but also because it strikes that same precarious balance between gutsy and vulnerable that informed past self-penned Gain classics like "You Can Hide Your Love Forever". Lovely stuff, as Alan Partridge would have it.
And yes, saw Dizzee Rascal the other night. Twas part of the "New Music Rising" festival, sponsored by EPMD's faves Budweiser (ooh, hark at me, obscure 'golden era' lyric reference), although how the likes of the Charlatans, also performing under that banner, could be regarded straightfacedly as "new music", or indeed "rising", eludes me. Dizzee is still a genre in himself, really - to me he sounds little like either grime, or UKHH. His is the third way, and his voice - in every sense - is utterly unique. In a way, the set was too proficient: the sound quality was top notch, his rapping was flawless, and the effect of this was to recreate the records perhaps a little too authentically (although that's far better than yer average hip-hop show, i.e. 15 minutes of non-soundchecked yelling over echoey beats and undiscernible samples). Still, we got treated to the ace "2 Far", "Stop Dat" etc. Best moment was right at the end though - "Stand Up Tall" was irritatingly cut out by them pulling the plug on the music as the clock struck 11 - so Dizzee gave us an a cappella verse, which showed that he really does have the skills, before the Northern line trains home turned into pumpkins. Yes, it's true that there are plenty of UK rappers and grime MCs I personally prefer to Mr R at the moment (Cappo, Skinnyman, Lee Ramsay, Dap-C, C-Mone, Lethal Bizzle, Klashnekoff, Mr 45, No Lay, Manage, Salvo...). But, of all the acts and bands that have been hyped over the last two or three years as being well, any good, he is the only one that actually is. Whatever Steve "I think it's the turn of a guitar band for the Mercury Prize this year" Lamacq might say...
Anyway. As it's been a while, tonight I is also recommending:
Trencher "When Dracula Thinks, 'Look At Me'" (CD on Victory Garden, Johnson Family Records, Super-Fi, A Tree In A Field, Action Index and a label possibly called La Vida No Es Un Mus)... - yep, 14 tracks in just over 10 minutes, and released on half a dozen (count 'em - oh, you did) labels. Casio-led thrash in the spirit of greats like A.C.
Million Dead "Bread & Circuses" (from "Harmony No Harmony" LP on Xtra Mile): fiercely intelligent, sensitive lyrics, fiery thrash guitars: emotionally, as close as UK hardcore has got to the peerless Leatherface for a while...)
Raging Speedhorn "A Different Shade of Shit... " (from "How The Great Have Fallen" CD on Steamhammer): er, rather less intelligent and sensitive - this has all the subtlety, grace and acceleration of a combine harvester drunkenly ploughing its way down a ravine - but let's face it, you wouldn't want to miss that either.
Trembling Blue Stars "This Is Bliss" (from "Bathed In Blue Extended Play" on Elefant): the last, and much the best, track on a not altogether convincing EP shows the dark, early Cure-ish heart of TBS.
Manage "Rise Up" (12" on Defcon): after previous failed attempts to review this, I finally got it to play and it is excellent - vinyl crackle, moody piano samples and aspirational lyrics - think Frontline's 12" from last yr... props to SE London.