Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beaumont "Closer" (from "No Time Like The Past" CD album on Siesta). Forest Giants "Planes Fly Overhead" (Cherryade, mp3 single). First thoughts on new Boyracer ("A Punch Up The Bracket" CD album on 555). And stuff.

Late at night in EC whatever, I find that I have to write about something I actually want to. So here is one more post than I anticpated, for what it's worth, this tax year...

My dossier of evidence as to why singles rule over albums has already consumed much of the forestry of south-east England, but Brighton's Beaumont are the latest exponents of this admittedly least controversial of theories. For "Closer" would be a great single: aching and refined, it's a grown-up popsong of the ilk of "Brighter" or "Night After Night". (And the closing brace of the banjo-panzer "Heartfelt" and the uber-serene "Red Red Petals" are two tunes I wouldn't kick out of the B side). But fine songs can risk getting lost in the fudge of an album, especially when the genre - especially without Keith Girdler's angelic vocal counterpoint to Cath Close's sultry sighs - is basically nu-coffee table. I will always admire Paul Stewart and, I suspect, continue to invest in his discography - witness the beautiful majesty of "Closer"'s orchestration, and the way the piano is as delectably svelte as that on "Clocks", say, is cloyingly nauseating - but, as ever, I think he'd be better served by singles.

Which brings me to Forest Giants, and their download (only) single. I think it's important to keep singles alive in any way possible, much as I wish this was a 7", or indeed anything tangible, but in the brave new world which this 'zine likes to inhabit, I know that labels without promo budgets can't afford singles as loss-leaders. It's not like the majors, who spit out the usual 2xCD single, one with remixes by current press darlings, one with lame previously-unreleased-for-a-reason extra track, plus a limited numbered 7" etc etc yawn, and a few weeks later emblazon "featuring the hit single..." on the inevitably underwhelming LP.

Anyway. One of the best 7"s of this century was, of course, the same combo's "Postcards" (let us leave aside here the technicalities of whether it ever actually got a proper release). That tune demonstrated how the humble single can be more than just an album taster: how the space of three or four minutes can be the ideal vehicle for snatched reminiscence. "…We can watch the planes / fly over Catbrane Hill / coming into land / no, really, it's a thrill..."

More than two years later, the aeroplanes are back in the Filton sky. "Planes Fly Overhead" is a three minute runway of sound: a huge hulking fuzz of reverb, brilliantine keyboards and faintly hazy guitars, anchored only by some staccato Fall riffs and a pacy throb of a bassline, which culminates in an extended fade, hewn from a mazy tagliatelle of frazzled chords and vocal "aahs". Don't get the wrong idea though - this is not the indolent blissed-outness of the likes of Air Formation, where the vocal becomes merely another harmony, another eddy in a wash of wispy psychedelia. Instead, "PFO" is like a marginally more boho younger brother to "Postcards", still identifiably an indie-pop song rather than a head-in-the-clouds shoegaze anthem, mainly thanks to the matter-of-fact timbre of Tim's voice. "Tell me once again what constitutes failure", he asks, possibly mindful of a world in which getting a street team to rustle you up a few thousand downloads might catapult you into the mid-reaches of the top 40 and (ephemeral) success in the eyes of your fickle coterie, whereas simply making great records to fervent but limited acclaim, as frankly many bands are doing on a semi-regular basis, is regarded as something akin to eking out the bins round the back of Sainsbury's.

A word for one of the B sides, too: "Gone Away" is one of those songs where the Giants jettison the noise and veer instead into what can only be described as Galaxie 500 territory. (Not enough bands do this, which is remarkable when you consider the perfect simplicity of "Today", say). Anyway, it's a nicely plain, rolling ballad, reeking of delicate sadness, which plateaus gently from time to time around the chorus rhythm. You find yourself tumbling back awhile, to the moment when you first got the Beatnik Filmstars' "Maharishi" taped for you, and saw it translate the draggy dolefulness of the Galaxies to a Bristol postcode for the first time. In today's fevered pop world you rarely encounter this kind of measured restraint (sigh) - all the young groups now, well, yes, they act like peasants with free milk, but also, they are scared to bare themselves. Here the lyric is someone in awe of their subject: but it's down to earth, no frills, no histrionics - sensitive, without being melodramatic. That is all too rare in guitar bands these days. It's also, incidentally, one of the reasons why the Wedding Present were one of the best groups ever and not, as many would still have it, one of the worst.

Moving from 45s to 33s - well, sort of - I am, slowly, getting used to the new Boyracer album. I just don't quite feel it yet, somehow. Certainly the lyrics are as equal turns corruscating and evocative as ever: as Father Ted once said, "there's nothing wrong with the lyrics". But for some reason, even though the music is still pacy and anxious, there is more space in here, less of the essential Boyracer claustrophobia. There's still plenty of very welcome noise and feedback - but more of it sacrificed to poppier keyboards, and echoey and slightly clattering drums. I'm only six or seven listens in, but at the moment, the greatest trax seem to be the turbocharged punk bulldozers - like "Stand By Your Words", which sounds like a scrap in a hardware store, or the edgy sentiment of "Yr Love It Lies To You": though I'm quite taken with the deliriously hook-filled "Contradictions", the mid-80s evoking "Secondhand Youth", and the slower "The Toilets of Northern Europe", which has a "Songs of Frustration and Self-Hate"-era feel. I reserve my most sneaking fondness for "Kids Don't Follow", which with its scratchy early-Wedd Pres plectrum-flaying goodness makes up for the marginal disappointment of not being encrusted with as much screaming amplifier hum as earlier outings (including 2004's marvellous "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Harder" set).

From Wedd Pres to Dead Prez, who team up with some more gnarly C86-era old timers, namely Public Enemy, on the latter's collabo with Paris, "Rebirth Of A Nation". Now even I, who still count "Apocalypse '91" and "Greatest Misses" as quality outings, am under no illusion that PE haven't really delivered since, but as with "New Whirl Odor" a few hours (well, ok, months) ago, there is usually a track or two worth minuting. This time, it's "Can't Hold Us Back", in which the Dead Prez and Paris presence gives proceedings a darker, tougher edge than normal ("you'll have to pop me to stop me") and counterpoints the increasingly cartoonish roles of Chuck D (hard rhymer extraordinaire, all-round good egg) and, of course, Flav (Channel 5 reality star with attention deficit disorder)...

Other listening right now includes:

Chas and Dave "Ain't No Pleasing You" (Towerbell, 7"): The second greatest chart conspiracy of all time was when the BBC and the forces of law conspired to keep "God Save The Queen" off the top spot in silver jubilee '77. The greatest, however, was when MI5 and other agents of darkness and anti-Rockney agitators saw fit to relegate this particular crowdpleaser to no. 2, when everybody knows it was flying out of record shops left right and centre. And, as anyone who saw them play this at the 100 Club last month knows, they've still got it...

Taskforce "3 Fingers" (from "Music from the Corner Volume 4" CD on MFTC): At last, a new street anthem for London's dispossessed... I'm really glad I've given this LP a few listens. If you loop this with Lowkey's "London", you get the sound of this city at the moment, and that's dark, cold and defiant.

Life "You Know Who" (from "Realities of Life" CD on Zebra Traffic): While "What Our Estates Have Become" is still the highlight (and goes very well with the TVP's "All The Young Children On Crack..."), the trilogy of battle raps, "You Know Who", "Come On" and "Rebel Soul" are all really strong, even inamongst all the conscious choons. A big album from the Phi Life Cypher lynchpin.

NineHundred and 9 "X-Force"(new 12" on Powertools): Was all set to tell you this was merely very promising, bassy, playful stuff from a newcomer, but surprise surprise it is apparently none other than a pseudonym for an artist I already bore you about at great length (as if that narrows down the field). Anyway, this joins "Part Of The Union" and the new McAffer / Syber Symon record on RAW in the early medal contention for 2006's London techno olympics.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Moorgate, 5 March 2006

I've been investing too much of my eyestrain and waking hours at work, which is why "the general public" has been spared the tedium of these posts for a while. I'd kind of half-done for ages an essay which went on in reasonable detail about Pete Dale, Akhenaton, and Ant's "Tooled Up", but am not sure when I am going to get the chance to finish it… (a bit like the Saturn V / Secret Shine one which has now been on the backburner for ooh, 6 years) and I also kept meaning to big up Norwich City on this page for having provided me with the best matchday pies I have ever tasted, but then I never got round to writing that up, either… and then it occurred to me that you might think the absence of posting meant that there's no decent tuneage around, or, heaven forbid, that there are no decent East Anglian footy pie, neither of which are the case at all, so this post is just to blitz the keyboard, pad out the next half-hour, and spatter across this page some passing comments about many more records of some brilliance right now, before making like Mahzer Mahmood and making my excuses and leaving… and yes there is Pete's album, with Phil Tyler (Spraydog) which starts with its two worst tracks but then blossoms in parts quite wonderfully, especially "Music Rules"… but hopefully more of that anon. In the meantime apologies for the perfunctoriness of the following, prosaic summary of what's "hot" in my particular alternative universe. It's even in alphabetical order - a bit like a dictionary, but less interesting (and less handy for Scrabble).

Ant and DDR "Part Of The Union" (12", Superconductor): This being the minimalist buzzing anklebiter on the AA, that puts to shame Ant and Chris Liberator's more in-yer-face A, "F***in' Freak". More "Squarewave Rebel" than "Surge".

The Berzerker "World Of Lies" (Earache, CD album): Now Melbourne's 2nd best band. This is raw, production-lite, and much more underground than "Dissimulate" and includes a slew of particularly great 3 minute growlers before the superfluosity-defining 20 minute instrumental closer "Farewell". "Never Hated More" (sadly nothing to do with Trembling Blue Stars) is an early favourite.

Blade "Guerrilla Tactics (691 Influential, CD album): Yahay, a real revelation after "Storms Are Brewing": the only track on that which really caught fire, despite the usual lyrical passion, was "Pop Idol", and that only in its Million Dead and other 12" remix forms rather than its somewhat anaemic LP guise. Don't be fooled by the only ok-ish, too eager to please taster single "It's Your Time": "Guerilla Tactics" is really very strong, w/ tonking production throughout from Baby J, the odd guest spot from the likes of top-drawer up-and-comer Manage (on the posse cut "Army Of Barmy Rappers"), and adorned with some proper uptempo slamming samples (opener "Mumps"). The last cut, "UK Hip Hop", a history lesson from one who knows, actually reminds you how UKHH has actually been pretty brilliant for 20 years odd (and how it's a bastard that you can't get any Hijack, Caveman, Hardnoise, etc etc on CD for love, money nor threatening record store employees). "B.L.A.D.E.", where Blade gets to go on about how great he is, is frankly spot on: I would encourage him to big himself up even more in future, as he has done as much for UK Hip Hop as anyone. Like he says, he just wants to rhyme.

The Chesterf!elds "Electric Guitars In Their Hearts - The Best Of The Chesterf!elds" (Cherry Red): As someone who has moved from Ricky Hatton weight to Joe Calzaghe weight in a couple of years, I should use this phrase sparingly but, pound for pound, this is of course not as strong as the enhanced "Kettle" CD that came out on Vinyl Japan, which added 8 other early sherbet joys to the 12 on that esteemed debut record. Indeed, "Kettle Plus", as it should be known, is still jockeying aggressively for a place in the top ten artist compilations ever, no matter what "Ron Rom" or other eighties music press fey-haterz might have thought at the time. Yup, "Electric Guitars" gives a better feel for the 'fields post-'86 progressions and ignored later line-ups: but the truth is that it was the endless summer of their youth that produced all their real dropdead classic tunes.

Darkthrone "The Cult Of Goliath" (from "The Cult Is Alive" album on Peaceville): Kickstarting the latest Terrorizer cover mount, to my ears this sounds much less like black metal and much more like, well, a grungey Conflict. Which is obv. even better.

D.A.V.E The Drummer and K.N. "Work The Groove" (Cluster, 12"):
Pleasing to mine ears, as Alan Partridge might once have said. Suspect this artist collaboration is one worth repeating (unlike, may I suggest, Morrissey and Siouxsie).

DJ Preach "Hydraulix 32" (Hydraulix, 12"): most plaudits for the Canadian have come for the B side, but the A is more satisfyingly relentless, with a suspiciously high recording volume meaning it batters you somewhat mercilessly, not unlike the freezing March wind we're currently getting.

Hareball (Martyn Hare) "Differ" (Emetic, 12"): A rare young man in the techno game, MH's own label continues its Matinee-esque consistency... Props most for the Milf remix, all high-falutin metallic chimes and shimmering silver: the Black Angle mix sounds more like one of the 4x4 'clanking' numbers, while Hare's original mix, while striking, takes a little too long to get going.

Life "Realities Of Life" (Zebra Traffic, CD album): Early view - this is storming. Mostly a little US-influenced in terms of rhyming style, but the lyrical content is UK-heavy and conscious without being dull (although at times it is almost overpoweringly depressing - check out the dramatic "What Our Estates Have Become"). First CD outing for "I Really Care", which is a bonus, but plenty of the new tracks are very high powered indeed. Welcome stuff.

Lowkey "Key To The Game (Volume 3)" (Sensory Overload, CD): Again, an excellent mixtape from Lowkey, still in his teens - to think he wasn't even born when the June Brides made the NME front cover (a digression, but this is why we must still TEACH THE CHILDREN). Anyway, this has got the single, the banger "London", but still better are "Trials and Tribulations" and the swaggering should-be-a-single "Read Between The Lines". I think the Chemo website has a nice Wordsmith / Lowkey mp3 somewhere too, if you feel the need to check that.

Magnum Force "Blow The Bloody Doors Off (Remixes)" (Stay Up Forever, 12"): Enjoyable 303-fest for Italian Job aficianados. I'm not one of them though, so for me it's just an otherwise enjoyable 303-fest with annoying Michael Caine samples.

Nasum "Grind Finale" (Relapse, 2xCD album): A retrospective with a difference - eschewing their 4 albums, everything on here is previously unreleased on CD. I was privileged to see what may well have been their last ever gig, before the tsunami claimed Mieszyko, and this deluxe package is a worthy testament. I ain't gonna pretend work has yet allowed me to trawl through all these tracks: if you're wondering how many there are, well let's just say if I had a pound for every tune, I'd have er, just over half a dozen ponies. You do the math(s).

Shredder "32930 Miles There And Back" (Apex, I think, 12"): 3-tracker from the latest Guy McAffer pseudonym. Track 2 especially up with the better (i.e. madder) cuts from "Ave Some Of That You…"

Sway "This Is My Demo" (Dcypha, CD album): Andy Gill in the Independent on Sunday called this "the best rap album in years". No it isn't. It is pretty good - I like Sway a lot, especially when flowing at speed (title track, and the garagey "Hype Boys") or just raising a smile (the 90's West Coast homage "Little Derek", or his legendary bars on "Harvey Nicks") - but the album production lurches towards the commercial too much, and tempts him into slowing down once too often. Also, about 10% of the record consists of lame skits irritatingly segued into the tunes themselves. I mean, buy it and everything, but it is not even the best UK rap album of this year so far - see Lowkey, Blade, Life, (q.v.)...

Taskforce "Music From The Corner Volume 4" (MFTC): …and see also Taskforce. The 'corner' of course being Highbury Corner, sort of, and this is sufficiently bleak as to bring to mind the Mickey Ds and that dodgy Wetherspoon's opposite the roundabout. While I'm still getting into it, it's already clear they retain their uncompromising menace and, as ever, their extremely slept-on production talent, while still refining their "cyanide sound". First volume for a while without pre-teen MC Remus though, which is a little of a shame.

Television Personalities "All The Young Children On Smack, All The Young Children On Crack" (Domino, 7"): Love it or hate it, as surely all who listen to it will, this is an extraordinary single. You know that feeling you normally only get listening to the Fall, when you’re confused because what you're hearing kind of seems a bit terrible, but you also have the nagging feeling that it may prove to be one of the greatest records ever made ? What I am sure of is that I heartily approve of Domino's policy of investing the profits reaped by selling Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand records in funding the uber-eccentric comebacks of indie legends like Mr Treacy (or "Danny from the block" as he now feels able to style himself…) Plus, "My Dark Places", the new LP from which this comes, is the best record on the label since Hood's "Outside Closer" a year ago, and the most emotional / borderline very disturbing I've heard for aeons. I'd like to describe how it sounds but I can't really - it's as if Mark Perry got really really hammered and then met up with Vic Godard and then they both set about roughing up Gregory Webster around the pub piano. In 1986. And somebody was recording it on the least expensive condenser microphone ever commercially available.

I'm hoping I can post 'sensibly' again some time in April. I know there will be at least 1 more hotly-anticipated* album out by then.

Laters

* By the likes of me and my imaginary street teams, not the "real world" alas...