Monday, December 24, 2007

the sweetest 'ache

many years ago, when profiling the inestimable sir jimmy of tassos for a once-reputable independent music review website, we remarked in passing that (aside from matinee recordings) the best 10 labels ever were probably stax, tamla motown, rockney, people unite, postcard, ron johnson, subway organisation, earache and sarah. that list was not scientifically assembled, was numerically inaccurate (the tenth should probably have been decca, for quite properly having turned down the beatles), and indeed in 2007 it omits other perfectly feasible candidates like boy better know, relapse, and atomic beat, but we feel it still covers most of the bases.

so now, just imagine how ace it would be if just one of those unutterably splendid concerns released not one, but two, six-cd "best of" box sets for a tenner each. that's right - a dozen cd albums, 210 tracks, for not much more than the price of yer average third division football match, but without the inevitability of either a home defeat or a late opposition equaliser.

well, it's happened, even if not of all you will be cavorting round the maypole at the news that the label in question is earache and the boxes in question have the decidedly unprepossessing monikers of "metal - a headbanger's companion" and "metal -a headbanger's companion, vol. 2". nevertheless, if there was ever an excuse to investigate at low-ish personal cost more of the bands who've been rendering some of us giddy for nigh-on two decades, this has got to be it, surely ? and any record label whose strapline is "eight million records sold, no ballads" have to be doing something right, don't they ? well, let's find out - it's time for a marathon.

box one, disc one: "death metal" (17 tunes) ***1/2

track one is deicide's "homage for satan": we have it on good authority that this assault on the senses was the 7th best single of last year, and it so was. indeed, don't tell the terrorizer mag cognoscenti, but it's almost too exciting to be death metal. after that, as you'd perhaps guess, the disc also has its fair share of decidedly suspect numbers, but this is made up for by the early-90s five-piece napalm death in full flow with "suffer the children", chugging bolt-thrower fan fave "world eater" and vegan gods carcass's "incarnated solvent abuse", from the record hailed by many as their first great album, "descanting the insalubrious". we have previously established that the first great album was actually the one before that, "symphonies of sickness", itself somewhat underrepresented in these 12 discs, but that's probably beside the point. a solid start.

box one, disc two: "grindcore" (20 tunes) ****1/2

as you could probably predict, things markedly improve with this one. funnily enough, it can't quite compare to the "grindcrusher" cd which earache released in 1989, their "take the subway to your suburb" and still probably the ultimate summary of a scene then at its peak - for example, carcass's "pysosified", which we get here, is a groggy, malformed mess of goregrind compared to "grindcrusher's" all-conquering slowcore steamroller, "exhume to consume" (also taken from "symphonies of sickness", natch). yet amongst this set there are several fairly blinding floor-fillers.

prime amongst these is track one, napalm death's "scum" (title track from the lp re-issued earlier in the year - see here). we have said before that, in every positive way, this song brings all things c86 to our mind, just as much as the other great new british bands who went on to be associated with that movement. from its raw, opening bars, as the rhythm meanders menacingly, ineffably towards its two, flickering bursts of blast-beat madness, "scum" - which bookended early soup dragons or the weddoes on radio one then just as well as it does on our stereo now - is hungry, political, resonant of a time and a place when we began to think we could achieve anything. it's a song about hiding behind the cathode ray tube: "you should be living / but you only survive". its bleak fabulousness, its very existence, should shame any of the denizens of the hawley arms into never making any more records, ever again.

similar emotions are engendered by bolt-thrower's stinging, if not particularly grindcore "through the eye of terror", a number we first came across in peel session form when it appeared on strange fruit's "hardcore holocaust" album amidst unlikely bedfellows like the stupids and doctor and the crippens. midlands marvels unseen terror lollop into view too, with "charred remains", a song that epitomises their raw, detuned crossover charm. nice to see hellbastard represented as well, with the obituary-influenced (we reckon) "justly executed". by now, earache had extended its tentacles far from its native nottingham and so kosher americans chip in too, with a brace from a.c. that includes "no we don't want to do a split 7" with your stupid fucking band" we namechecked here, and the original version of terrorizer's "dead shall rise" (the only tune on this disc that also lit up "grindcrusher"). and there's even the blinking of an eye to spare for napalm's micro-symphony "you suffer", still the best sub-five second song (of surprisingly many) ever written. and still longer than brutal truth's "collateral damage", which appears a few tracks later.

box one, disc three: "metal / rock" (19 tunes) **

ook. as you'd expect, cd3 represents a bit of a comedown. to be fair, it starts with carcass's "keep on rotting in the free world", the epitome of their late-catalogue, perfectly clubbable but straightish down the line rock which began to emerge once they finally ditched the conceit of every song being about bodily dismemberment. a veil should be drawn over most of the rest of the disc, although by ending with dub war's stirring "nar say a ting" (dub war's sometimes-excoriating metal / reggae hybrid once having pitched earache as close to a uk top 40 hit as we think they ever got) it does at least open up renewed hope for the second half of the first half.

box one, disc four: "industrial" (15 tunes) ****

and this is good - no really. after the worrying sludge of most of "metal / rock", "industrial" is a timely reminder of where earache used to really be worth its weight in gold, all the ways it was dedicated to seeking out the new and different, like when it released one of the most satisfying genre crossover comps ever, the hammer techno vs grind collison that was "hellspawn". anyway, disc four justifies its existence through ultraviolence's ultra-repetitive "hardcore motherfucker", made before they lapsed into lame europop-nonsense with the "superpower" album, old's bouncing, glimmering "glitch" (which also appeared on earache's "corporate rock wars" back in the day), "hellspawn" cut "day of suffering" (death metal kings morbid angel remixed by the berzerker, no doubt to their own utter perplexion) and contributions from earache mainstays godflesh and scorn (scorn being one of the evergreen mick harris's infinite solo projects). good to see the poppier meathook seed, yet another band featuring the living legend that is shane embury, getting a run-out too.

box one, disc five: "punk / hardcore" (21 tunes) *****

as it includes heresy, napalm, early extreme noise terror and hellbastard again our opinion on disc five is probably redundant, but for the record, guess what. we think it's ace. heresy's muffled and militant "vision of fear" and "nausea" take us back to the very origins of the label, when it was still pretty much a front-room operation; the 16 seconds of feverish activity that is napalm's "the kill" still leaps from their every live set; and yes, ENT's "murder" still features the least-pussyfooted opening line in rock n'roll history - "450 million animals are murdered in britain every year" - and follows it with two minutes of belligerent, heavenly thrash, not too far away from their wonderful most recent record, that reflect their righteous anger at full hurricane speed. our record collection is also repped by dillinger escape plan's "i love secret agents", which turns up the math-sophistication.

but the icing on the cake is tune 21, intense degree's "skate bored": about as far away as you can get from either mathcore or sophistication, and a first digital outing for another track which originally featured in peel sesh form on "hardcore holocaust", as i.d. refined their semi-punk, semi-metal vision. it is beyond doubt that intense degree's stuff is worth a re-release: all we've got is a vinyl copy of "war in my head", one tune off "grindcrusher" and the hat-trick of numbers on "north atlantic noise attack". we'd be happy to tape these for anyone interested!

box one, disc six: "leftfield" (14 tunes) **1/2

there are plenty of limits to our musical tolerance, the outskirts of that tolerance probably being (b)reached by a cd that starts with an 11-minute cult of luna tune and finishes with seven and a half minutes from crotchduster. after the stellar heights of discs four and five "leftfield" is curiously unrewarding listening (curious, because usually "difficult" listening is the most invigorating of all) - the highlights of this one are probably old and scorn of disc four fame popping up again. still, the very existence of a leftfield disc reinforces why earache need props for never having been afraid to diversify and stand up for more than "just" metal: as a general rule, the further their artists have been from "just" metal, the better it's worked.

box two, disc one: "extreme metal essentials" (20 tunes) ****3/4

extreme yes, metal yes, essential yes. wow. again, the compilers, despite now presumably having been locked in some underground bunker for some months, know exactly how to get the party started, and that's by bowling us over immediately with carcass's "heartwork" and then napalm death's "mass appeal madness". the former is carcass's chrysalis moment, when they first bloomed as proper melodic metal and ditched the goregrind - the latter is napalm death's retort to those who might have had them do the same, a defiant turning of their backs on the bands who wanted to embrace the corporates. "clever marketing to dominate / screwing those who gave you your big break / and when the bubble bursts / we'll just sit back and laugh" sings barney greenway, as napalm retreat to stripped-down, growling grind. and so it came to pass.

what is slightly odd about this seventh disc, though, is that it reminds us a bit of listening to "the kids in the club": each song on its own is fairly amazing, but if you listen to all of them in a row you start to hanker for a change of scenery. nevertheless, we'd struggle to pinpoint a duffer amongst these: for example, bolt-thrower and terrorizer are represented, the cathedral number isn't quite as foppishly rustic-pyschedelic as some of their later stuff, and even massacre and vader turn out perfectly respectable tunes to keep up the levels. having said that, we're starting to feel a bit sleep-deprived ourselves now. anyway, only five or six hours to go.

box two, disc two: "cult rock classics" (19 tunes) **

this is a really interesting one, because virtually all the tunes are new to
us, with the exception of extreme noise terror's eco-anthem "raping the earth" which sits sublimely in the middle. but are they any good ? well, not really, no, even if usurper's "kill for metal" out spinal-taps itself and mistress's "fucking fuck" is probably an appropriate introduction to them, shld you fancy checking out their recent feto records album.

box two, disc three: "the new rock breed" (18 tunes) ***

for the second disc in a row, we are in uncharted territory, because we are some distance out of the loop on new metal bands, and because this is about the only title here that is out of bounds to all the groups that john peel originally introduced us to. now without wishing to sound too uncharitable, the problem with the new rock breed is that a lot of them don't sound particularly fresh, or vibrant - even huddersfield's evile, who have a decent sound, end up overstaying their welcome when they insist on drawing out what would have been a solid 3 mins into an overwrought four and a half.

the exceptions to the overindulgence are virginia's municipal waste, whose "the art of partying" is an energetic reassembling of proper hardcore tradition - m.w. actually have much of the nyc-style hardcore of the early 90s about them, which any right minded person will tell you is, as a rule, superior to much of the hardcore of today. and scousers s.s.s., whose "the beast", while sadly not betraying much evidence of any english accent, shows that some of the new kids on the block are happy to inject a little pace rather than falling back on muddier, less concise metal (check out their pretty solid "short sharp shock" debut, also on earache, for more). even better, both tunes are 2007. light and shade is provided by the way that cult of luna and with passion slip in a little bit of thoughtful, melodic instrumental action, but it's hard to compare this disc - as a whole - with "grindcore", for example, and have it come off favourably.

box two, disc four: "live metal destruction" (12 tunes) *1/2

hmmm. the guys in the bunker are having to eke things out now, as well as obviously starting to struggle for themes. can any cd with napalm death's "siege of power" be bad ? surprisingly, yes, because while there are a handful of decent tunes here (the drumming that heralds the start of carcass's "jigsore corporeal quandary" is as ever a sterling, stirring moment), most of the productions are muddy and none really add to the lustre of their recorded counterparts. mortiis' "parasite god" intrigues slightly, because the synths and percussion put one heavily in mind of new order's "movement" until the guitars eventually take over completely, but the only number that really works in live form is probably fudge tunnel's "gut rot", simply because fudge tunnel's full-on unsane vs. shellac sound has always had that prosaic bulldozer quality to it, which the mud and sludge suit.

box two, disc five: "metal remixed" (14 tunes) *****

ah, blinding - so this is where the rest of "hellspawn" got to. some really exciting propositions here, which include more bulldozing from fudge tunnel, ultraviolence teaming up electrifyingly with lenny dee (who we've most recently been listening to for his collabs with the london techno underground and stay up forever collective) and delta 9 taking on napalm death's classic "breed to breathe" single. scorn get remixed to reasonable effect by meat beat manifesto, and ewigkeit come up, in tandem with scott brown, with a possibly storming nu-trance sesh (albeit that, much like the young tradition did, fiercely divides opinion here at in love with these times, in spite of these times towers). er, we also seem to have the berzerker's rejig of "day of suffering" from box one, disc four again, which will bemuse morbid angel yet further. but it still works pretty well, and we guess that by now the compilers have long forgotten what songs they allocated to the first few cds, or indeed probably what day it is.

box two, disc six: "sickest ever metal" (21 tunes) ****

not, as you'd expect, 21 a.c. numbers: there is only one of those (unpleasant, but some distance from their sickest). the cd actually kicks off with napalm death's perfectly weighted "the kill", which is really about cheated, defeated expectations and broken promises - or as many of them as you can fit in to about 16 seconds of music - and as such is sad, rather than mad or bad. also, as you may have spotted, it already turned up a few discs ago. there are other star turns - unseen terror's "burned beyond recognition", most obviously - but this is actually quite an eclectic little disc, mixing plenty of lo-fi grinding like some early O.L.D. (before they got all club-friendly) and sore throat's enjoyable "truth" with the unallayed steamrolling that is godflesh's "avalanche master song" and even the conspicuous jazz-thrash of john zorn's painkiller.

oddly, carcass's "exhume to consume", which we noted should have been on box one disc two, belatedly turns up now. which is nice.

summary and conclusions.

as these compilations take us back down there and back again (memory) lane, we can't help feeling (with the exception of the deicide ditty that started this whole epic listening exercise), that it's the songs from the first decade or so of earache that really hit home. but then it's far from impossible that a second decade of sarah records would only have paled in comparison to the heady hundred from '87-'95. and with more than 200 songs here, some included more than once, and more discs than not meriting 4 or 5 festive ilwtt stars, the strike-rate of the premium picks we've precis-ed seems just fine to us.

we'll continue to applaud anyone who give us value for money, whether it's trim giving us bonus cds with mixtapes, indie labels doing firesales or even anglo-american conglomerates like earache removing any excuse not to roadtest their product. so thanks be and praises to them all.

oh, and here's wishing you a very happy christmas and - really - thanks for still reading.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

christmas and birthdays all rolled into one

carcass. are. reforming.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"these dark days"

a great tune, and a fair description of these winter nights drawing in. here are 39 songs for surving them - take one each day and it should get you not just to xmas but tip you into the new year.

sonico "alamma"

this is from jamie bissmire's jack trax vol. 1 ep, a phono-treat which also features friend-of-the-site (in our dreams) paul langley of "sexual predator" (the song) fame. "alamma" is all layered up with plenty of DOOSHes and bleeps and noises and bass. in other words, pretty fantastic.

k.n. "technique on monday"

headspringingly fine tokyo techno, a-side of 12" on the ever-reliable cluster. can't really describe why it's so good, but basically it has that kind of air-raid siren sound, and then that kind of lorry-reversing sound, and then plays them across each other. actually, that's probably why it's so good.

ted maul "200 dbs down"

this is from the "white label" cd album on raise the game. not many bands named after "the day today" reporters, but then there are not many bands like t.m., a london six-piece (can't bring ourselves to say sextet, simply for the kinda jazz fusion images it conjures up in our easily frightened minds) who do thrash with a touch of drum and bass, plus some quieter passages that gleam with idle riches of leftfield noodlism. the more metallic (in)fusions are in truth a little overlong, but the frenzied d&b passages, part-reminiscent of purity, yet then lightly glittered with metal (of which this is one) have a certain irresistible energy.

obliteration "the instrumental"

unlike the june brides' "the instrumental", this "the instrumental" is just an instrumental, even if it's perhaps a measure of the mild disappointment engendered by obliteration's debut album "perpetual decay" that it's this slab of servicable, terrorizer-like grind that we've chosen to represent it. anyway, let's have some vocals.

harper lee "ilene"

"the matinee hit parade" compilation, sold as a celebration of 10 yrs of this most rewarding label's past, is actually a very positive primer on its future - perhaps the best v/a comp of this ilk since we set hands on the bus stop label's "peppermint stick parade" somewhere in the previous century. we therefore make no apologies either for liberally sprinkling tracks from this cd throughout this list, or of course for starting with our favourite.

harper lee always excel - sob, excelled - in simple brilliance, and "ilene" is cut from the same cloth, all uncomplicated thoughts and unforgiving battery of the emotions as keris howard turns on the taps of regret and floods the place to oblivion. there are elements to "ilene" which do perfectly recall his brittle youth in brighter - the "la-la-la's", the cascading second vocal, the lack of swearing - but once again there is something grown-up, wearier, about the words and the way they hang off the keyboards, and the chime of the picked guitars, that is pure harper lee, and a reminder of what we are all going to be missing so.

sarandon "joe's record"

"joe's record" (the song) - taken from "joe's record" (the record), a 3-track 7" from slumberland on glorious mottled pinkish vinyl - is a charismatic *splurge* of energy, a stop-start post-peel tour de force of spikiness from a band who have even now got to co-opt free frenchster and ex-keaton rhodri marsden to guest on a bit of keyboard. many people who have been the subject of popular music - the lady in red, whoever "ruby" is, even nelson mandela - would be entitled to have been disappointed with the rubbishness of the tune bearing their name, but joe, whoever he may be, must be happy as a pig in swill city that his record is completely storming.

looking for an answer "cada nacimiento es una tragedia"

more amazing espagno-vegancore from allegedly forthcoming "extincion" lp: at time of writing, downloadable from here

electrophonvintage "break my heart again"

this just sounds perfect starting just as "cada nacimiento es una tragedia" finishes, and along with "where you're not" represents the high watermark of the fabulously louche, snug, acousticky, genteel and pipas-petite "we sang a ye ye song" album on unique records. last we saw, you could find "where you're not" for download here.

general surgery "ambulance chaser"

and this sounds fabulous coming hot on the heels of epv, a growling demo from '05 which if you're lucky you can find at their myspace. seeing gen surgery and lfaa on their current / recent tour would be quite amazing we fancy (even better if electrophonvintage played a set in the middle).

slipslide "let things fall apart"

and graeme elston has been making great records for 16 / 17 years, at least. while we enjoyed the last couple of slipslide sets we saw in london, "let things fall apart" seems to have a little more pizazz and sparkle than some of the other songs - it's a sweepingly fine, grown-up record, with sentiment as sorrowful and unyielding as harper lee's, yet it's still recognisably by the same guy who was recording scuzzier, but equally charming and intelligent pop songs for a turntable friend and co nigh on a generation ago.

chipmunk "64 bar statement"

at 16, chipmunk is fairly old for grime, perhaps, but he seems to have his head screwed on sentiment-wise on this "league of my own" mixtape. there are a few excellent tracks, inlcuding a couple produced by the equally ubiquitous and fabulous maniac, and the more knockabout, wiley produced "consistant" (sic), but you know we're always a sucker for 64 or sometimes 96 straight bars of rhyming, and it's always a good barometer for whether an mc can hold his own. chipmunk does the job.

little dee "star in the making"

and this is a maniac production too, as we suspect is half of what we've listened to this yr. if you are in any doubt as to how vital little dee is, check not just this song but the run of half a dozen or so tracks that starts, about halfway through this "don't let the name trick you" mixtape, with "calm down" - a pleasing lack throughout of the kind of slushy stuff that pads out most otherwise-arresting mixtapes - the guy is really raw, very exciting.

sunny intervals "sixty seconds to fall in love"

hidden treats don't come much more hidden (or as much of a treat) as the 5-track "call and response" mini-cd on wee pop! which is so much more than a lo-fi pocketbooks side project (although it is that). with lyrics, as you'd therefore expect, that entertain and actually reflect on london reality in doing so, while keyboards and guitars dance around them attempting unsuccessfully to rein in the singer's endless pop enthusiasm, this is the kind of thing that could give twee-pop a good name.

math and physics club "nothing really happened"

math and physics are BACK and they haven't lost it either, with their tender marriage of smithsian tales of youthful indiscretion and delicate, spinning guitars. the a-side of this cd-ep on matinee recordings, "baby i'm yours", pushes all the right buttons, but "nothing really happened" is even better: the smiths-isms combine most happily with the sort of spiralling, echoing guitars that made st. christopher's "cathedral high" soar so.

syer "normal day"

actually an ode of sorts to dagenham, prob the first since morrissey defined the britpop movement - not that anyone noticed - with "dagenham dave". the "side fx section 2" mixtape as a whole is a little patchy, as the music - even when the likes of jme assist - doesn't always match syer barz' own energy and authority, but he gets the balance right on this, its closing track.

manhattan love suicides "cracked open"

hinge-breaking, door-kicking-in noise-pop thrills from "kick it back" ep on magic marker, that follows on from the equally impressive re-recorded title track that manages to improve even on the album version, largely through increased feedback (yay). notwithstanding this, there is still an uncomfortable question out there as to how much better mls really are than pop threat, but there is at least no doubting that they are fairly amazing.

tippa irie "the neighbour next door"

tippa is an artist of the old school who probably loves lyrics even more than he loves the music (witness "lyric that's my hobby" or "lyric a rhyme"), and his new lp "talk the truth!" on lockdown is rumbustious, irrepressible, varied and, given that tippa is still best known for "hello darling" back in approx 1666, surprisingly informed with modern inspirations as his patented-over decades brand of uk dancehall seamlessly takes in all kind of bhangra and hip-hop influences and a number of guest slots and productions, the best of which are possibly the intro by soulforce and the tippa vs. frankie paul sweet reggae of "free up". anyway, today "the neighbour next door" wins because it's a bit like smiley culture's "police officer" (which it acknowledges)facing off chas and dave's "turn that noise down" (which it doesn't). such a combination strikes us as being approx as good as music can, in fact, get.

lovejoy "astronauts"

richard preece at his glimmering best - a most worthy tribute to the late k.g. which is good enough that it could have sheltered without disgrace on lovejoy's "everybody hates" album. can we have a single, please ?

blak twang "help dem lord"

older readers will remember a time when blak twang received constant attention from these pages, not unlike wiley does now - the b.t. of "red letters" / "19 long time" vintage was a big part of the soundtrack to our late-90s hopping around bedsitland. anyway, after "the rotton club" album, which was perhaps a little meek compared to the soccer a.m.-friendly hoolie of "kik off" or "publik order", there was a little silence, now broken by an excellent, and much more grown-up twang (probably handy, given that lethal bizzle and co are now making music directed almost exclusively at 14 year olds). "help dem lord" is not the cheeky, blokey, ducking and diving tony rotton: instead, he steps back with anincredibly widely-targeted rant, full of the consciousness that fired our past favourites like "fearless". it's a 12" on rotton products.

captain polaroid "shatner"

scratchy, endearing lo-fi wedd pres cover, the energy of which happily puts one in mind of the thrill of hearing "george best" first time round (this is not easy) and so ties in with our recent gigwatching exploits. "shatner" is taken from the patchier "nineteeneightyseven" compilation via the filthy little angels corporation. the captain also appears, we should remind you, on the ever-necessary "honey the dog's home" benefit cd on ilfu, along with various major-league genii like the beatniks, the racer, and the horowitz.

terminator "05"

this being the storming show-closer from scorcher / the movement's underwhelmingly-titled "thunder power" mix cd. as terminator gets very excited about the aircon in his motor, his delivery fair puts one in mind of the near-horizontal deadpan cool of j. gambles, while still itching with a little menace.

club 8 "heaven"

a free download single from labrador, discovered as no end of these tracks are courtesy of http://www.indie-mp3.co.uk. while club 8 are never bad, they don't always make much of an impression on us: but, sandwiched between terminator and mistress, "heaven" seems veritably to spring out of the blocks, in a manner rarely seen since pine forest crunch did "cup noodle song" (and then fell off really badly, even worse than superrhymes).

mistress "the glory bitches of doghead"

in which a pastoral, rainsoaked intro soon gives way to fulltilt metalgrindcrust noise occasionally evoking clanging recent bolt-thrower or even midstream napalm. this tune kicks off the cd of the same name, on lord shane embury's feto label.

the would-be-goods "temporary best friend"

yep, more from this damn (fine) matinee comp. this is the WBGs sounding not un-heavenly, fact fans, which may not be surprising as this is a p. momtchiloff composition of the old school. as such, it rolls and roars and jangles supersweetly.

bedroom eyes "hand-in-hand grenade"

sublimely confident, tiptop, well-executed scando pop thrills from ep of the same name on cloudberry (tho "motorcycle daydream" is very nearly as good): also on their "valentine vacancy" download ep we think. don't be fooled when he sings about dan treacy though, because this is of far more polished ilk than the last tvp single (even though that, lest we forget, was one of the best singles ever, in a very different way).

marshall smith "please let this go on forever"

marshall smith are a combo featuring ex-a witness, pram and bIG*fLAME members (the latter being current sarandon bassist alan brown, a man also once responsible for the unrecognised greatness that was the great leap forward's strikingly ambitious, ever slept-on "don't be afraid of change") whose "colours" album obviously therefore sparkles when tracks like "cross of wages" and "jumpin' a red light" directly recall the happy, twisted, brutal indie-pop grooves of a witness. however, the downside of recalling the ever-wowsome a.w. is that you start craving keith curtis' vocals, so it is in some of the other tunes, like this and the title track, on which marshall smith really shine as a band in their own right: introspective, tight-knit indie melodies with bright guitars that you might expect of the forest giants or kelman.

kelman "is this how it ends ?"

and speaking of kelman... this is taut, shimmering, dreamy velvets vs. weddoes download single on linear from another seemingly perpetually underrated outfit...

obituary "evil ways"

download single on candlelight records, also on "xecutioner's return" cd album: we were a bit sniffy on first hearing, sorry... it's true that "evil ways" would be twice as good if it was half as long and didn't have the guitar solo, but then if it was half as long and didn't have the guitar solo, then it wouldn't be obituary. and then it wouldn't have the ever-warming john tardy vocal, which gives us the same goosebumps as jim reid's or tinchy stryder's...

skepta "greatest hits"

now this is, as you might guess, title track to the long-promised "greatest hits" cd album on boy better know. aside from 2 or 3 tunes - most inevitably the cringing, perhaps postmodernly bad single, "sweet mother" - this album meets even the unrealistically high aspirations we had for it. not even the fact that skepta, brother of jme and token non-e3 member of roll deep, was apparently employed to play peaches geldof's birthday party can detract from the fact that he is a real talent, and that his confidence is rarely misplaced.

even as we speak "100"

unforgivably ignored / forgotten non-sarah single from "a three minute song is one minute too long - the singles 1986-1990" compilation cd on egg records, which also features versions of a few more familiar tunes that later made it on to their sarah 7"s. this is jangle of a high order and, we would venture to suggest, ripe for an indie-disco near you.

verb t / the last skeptik "winterland"

typically neat track from "broken window", an album made at least as much by dj collaborator the last skeptik as by verb-t himself: "winterland" can't really fail, given that it has a guest slot from (former manage collaborator)syanide, and cuts from (diversion tactics deck genius) jazz-t. even ukhh student pin-up jehst steps up to the plate.

seb zero "one step too far"

what makes good grime ? it's not - as n-dubz might have it - about learning to temper the anger and incorporating "classic" song structures, verses, bridges and hooks. it's about one thing only - hunger, and being able to hear it -and frankly, if the beats are good enough, the more repetitive they are, the better. so this is fabulous stuff again, from the "thunder power" mix cd.

horowitz "hug target"

melody-melding fuzzy pop track on alleged forthcoming split 7" with ex-urusei bods project ako. the other track that horowitz contribute is arguably even greater than this, but it's an argument we'll return to another time.

the electric pop group "my only inspiration"

having got over mild disappointment that the electric pop group are not a pop group tribute band, i can at least report that they are fairly ace, sounding a bit like a more mannered sea urchins or the clouds, and that "my only inspiration", with even a touch of the "velocity girl"'s at the end, is now a permanent fixture in our empty little heads here at in love with these times, in spite with these times mansions. why not listen here ? as correspondents have mentioned, our northern european neighbours are really making a mark on indie-pop at the moment - there's more to the scandos than just pitergrind, you know.

ice pack "247"

b-side (but superior side) of ice pack and rob tryptomene's "freeloaders of society" 12" on cluster as liberator and mcaffer collaborate again, with one of their sparsest (and hence best) productions so far this year. it's a little frustrating that virtually every techno release these days seems to be incomplete without the music being uprooted by extensive samples of ppl going on about how brilliant drugs are: after all, listening to indie music would be significantly less enjoyable if every single track was full of samples of people going on about how great weak beer and dandruff were. perhaps we're just grumpy because we feel lonely in loving this music so much even when entirely sober, when really we should probably feel lucky in that.

tullycraft "the secret history of devil's paw"

given how amazing tullycraft are and have been for a long time now, how they are certainly one of the premier american bands of the best decade or so, how seeing "superboy..." live frankly slayed us, and how "disenchanted hearts unite" hinted at shocking greatness in places like "leaders of the new school" and "polaroids from mars" - "every scene needs a center" doesn't register with us in quite the way we expected or hoped. while the lyrics throughout are of a uniformly high standard, it's six tracks in before we make any real kind of connection with it, during "dracula screams of tiger style"'s slower passages and the wistful but rather lovely "the lonely life of a ufo researcher" that follows it. then, there's another hiatus before the album finishes with, in our view, its three best songs -all quite mid-paced and including a suspiciously well-observed / researched number called "one essex girl" - and reminds us that tullycraft can still pull up trees if they want to. anyway, this is the middle one of those three, and it's the best ballad we've heard since frank turner's "thatcher fucked the kids".

the lucksmiths "good light"

you can guess what v/a comp this is from. here the 'smiths have a slightly more driving (er, less languorous) sound and are all the fresher for it: and it seems perfectly conceivable to us that they are going to be making records this good at least until the end of time, which is a win / win for humanity we think. if you stop us in the street sometime we may also go on about their sprawling yet fantabulous "spring a leak" double-cd comp, and particularly about the excellent remixes by the likes of hydroplane and pipas that give the lucksmiths a new dimension (even on top of marginally more conventional temptations like the delicious "make a wish", their stripped-down take on "i've got it and it's not worth having" or their cover of the sugargliders' superb "dolly"...

the steinbecks "1987 + 1994 = 2007"

... speaking of which, the sugargliders / steinbecks / lucksmiths synergy underlies this marvellous "far from the madding crowd" album on microindie on which tali white features prominently, and this is year-rolling back pop gorgeousness from it, as the brothers meadows manage to keep the vocals sounding slightly pained while the music remains as blissfully light and intertwined as "letter to a lifeboat" or frankly anything from the sugargliders or steinbecks since then. i mean, we're never quite going to burst with the hives of happiness we had on first hearing crumpled cassettes of "top 40 sculpture" or "which part of no don't you understand ?" but this is another song that oozes charm and angst in equal measure, sounding exactly as you would expect and - more importantly, want - the meadows brothers to. can't think of a better closer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the wedding present, university of london union, monday 19th november 2007

got an e-mail from our mate simon the other day. inamidst the usual talk of carcass and bristol rovers, it contained an obvious truth (albeit disguised as a question): "wp-gb: still one of the top 5 lps of all time?????"

but before we wax on that, the first instalment of this our latest "long weekend" of live action saw us take in a battle of the blues, in a cool but dry BS7 on the saturday. the first-half performance from rovers vs millwall was abject, blunt and lacklustre, the ball loosely launched towards centre-backs who would duly mop it up and launch it back into the madding fray bundling comically around in the centre circle. suffice it to say that rovers played as if in a trance, with rickie lambert seemingly asleep, and that the struggling lions' 1-0 lead at the interval (teenager ali fuseini coming off the bench early doors to score an absolute belter pretty much immediately) should fairly have been two or three. all rovers fans, were, of course, also still sporting black armbands following the recent demise of our most high-profile supporter, norman mailer.

it did, however, turn around, with a reinvigorated rovers fair hurtling towards the millwall goal for much of the second half, eventually rewarded by a penalty after rovers substitute, "our" andy williams, went down in the box (allegedly, of course - when, even at the front of the terrace, you're stood 120 yards away from the play, with parallax, floodlight blur and sunset playing combined havoc with contact lens vision, you clearly have no real idea what is going on at all, not that that stops all those calls to 6.06 claiming that any particular decision was a "travesty" and that, compulsorily, the referee was an "absolute disgrace"...).

anyway, lambert, by now miraculously recovered from first-half coma, despatched said penalty with lazarene grace. then, our second substitute, david pipe, the floodlights bouncing off his shining pate to create shooting stars of wingplay, went on a number of high-speed canters down the right side of the pitch, the last of which resulted in a cross being nodded home salmon-like by lewis haldane. and somehow rovers, despite being behind from 3.08 p.m. to about 4.40 p.m., tho it seemed longer, had contrived to pull out a first home win of the season (and technically, our first ever win in "league one" - aka division three, which was technically called, er, "the second division" when we last left it, via the trapdoor exit, about the turn of the century).

there was a bit of physical comedy, too - when akinfenwa came on near the end for the beleaguered londoners, he looked nothing like as dangerous as the guy we saw showing for doncaster and torquay not too long ago. instead, he looked suddenly the stockiest player to grace a football field since late-period maradona and was lucky to remain on it for more than a couple of minutes given a "forward's challenge" for which he saw yellow...

sunday, we went to see arcade fire at the ally pally (no, there's no point in asking: you'll get no reply). i gotta say that they weren't actually that bad, doing their best to imbue us all with a rosy glow given the near-sleet freezing chaos outside. of course, the set was far too long, but then that's basically an accusation that can justly be levelled at basically all bands, especially the ones that play arenas. the audience didn't strike us as the types who own that many records, or go to that many gigs, so we should probably take it as a massive +ve that nestling inamongst the usual keaneplay-type schlock in the cd racks of range rovers are outings by a broadsheet-adored canadian combo who resemble early u2 if they'd co-opted horn and string sections, drunk a few too many energy drinks and then kidnapped robert forster and cyndi lauper for vocal duties. it was also quite interesting seeing the support band, clinic, who have managed to escape us for some time - we thought they were at least ok, and infinitely preferable to the likes of franz ferdinand who we've seen at the same venue (we would link to our post on that, but that piece wasn't particularly well written either).

anyway, yes the main event came on monday - the weddoes. although on first hitting teenagehood i always tended to ensconce myself toward the soft, sensitive side of indie things (wallowing in the pastoral strum of the razorcuts, or the pastels at their feyest, before later veering fullsquare into the elysian fields of sarah records), somehow it was the decidedly non-rustic wedding present, even with all their frenetic strumming, that spoke to me more than any other band when i was 14, their early combination of conversational nous and flaming plectrum abuse still never having been properly equalled. and "george best", of course, their first long playing record, became the heart of all that.

20 years on and "george best" the record is back on tour, even if the man who gave it its title has somewhat inevitably parted from us in the meantime, and the london ulu is the only venue on the new tour that showcased it first time round too. it's not hard to imagine the original wedding present here, in this staunchly dating student union building that yet seems so much more cosy than newer venues like the godforsaken islington academy, where the weddoes had apparently played the previous night. it is hard, however, to imagine that the bar queues in 1987 could have been any worse than they are in 2007: it is also hard to imagine that the band would have allowed someone on stage with them dressed in full white rabbit costume (you probably had to be there. actually, you should have been there anyway) or for support to be provided by a group who would seem to have missed their true vocation of playing weddings. also, it was the first time we'd been to ulu since a napalm death animal rights benefit that we think turned up on one of their dvds (hence commercial availability of real life footage of stagediving ilwtt, isott collaborators).

anyway, to get back to the retro-shtick, i bought "george best" the week it came out, on the first day i didn't have anything after school to stop me, wandering to parrott records in chelmsford to part with five pound coins to nab a copy with free white vinyl single of "my favourite dress" - they had run out of the limited edition george best carrier bags - and then to the bus home. reaching the parents turntable then heralded the start of more mazy, fabulous listening days.

and so it's correspondingly fantastic, in this day and time (my brother) hearing songs like "don't be so hard", "what did your last servant die of ?" and "you can't moan can you ?" live - these were amongst the handful of numbers, when "gb" came out, that hadn't yet been previewed in radio one sessions for janice and john, and so sounded even more intriguing, dare we say exotic, at the time. as for the songs that had already been previewed via maida vale, well tonight we could remember not only every single lyric by heart (as did most of the crowd, who haven't aged quite as well as gedge) but also the fact that we taught ourselves the chords to them all at one point or another (not terrifically hard, as one might imagine): "a million miles", "something and nothing", "it's what you want that matters" all little jewels, sparkling against the diagonal rain of another unremittingly cold night outside. and the way that the last minute or so of "my favourite dress" does nothing more than twelve rotations of the same four bars of three chords, yet sounds so devillishly perfect, as if no other arrangement could have given it the power, charm and glow it still most assuredly has.

and, of course, there is the single that most closely preceded the album, "anyone can make a mistake" - "this monochrome stuff", as i think a moderately grudging sounds review branded it - but it's not just gedge who retains a special fondness for the song. frankly, for me, "anyone can make a mistake" is still to the 1980s what boyracer's "he gets me so hard" is to the 1990s: i.e. probably the best 2 or 3 minutes of it.

tonight, fighting a losing battle against perspiration and no doubt bleeding fingers, gedge mischievously seeks to blame long-departed drummer (and later popgun) shaun charman for the sheer pace of the songs on "george best", but of course this run through the album applies typical live-weddoes song acceleration, seemingly getting through the whole album in about 12 minutes (on "all this is more", which could hardly have been played any quicker, it seems that proto-hardcore influences happily intrude). we know that tonight we are seeing only 1/4 of the band that actually delivered "george best": that to all intents and purposes, the wedding present have for some time been one person, a mark e. smith-style survivor who has evolved into a completely natural, charismatic frontman. yet the wedding present have something else in common with the fall (and even the smiths): for despite new bands for two decades having been compared to them - the latest allusion to an alleged weddoes-inspired band occurring in the other week's guardian - frankly, nobody has ever managed to make quite the same noise (and quiet, those at the back who would still maintain this was somehow a good thing).

the other great thing about the wedding present is that they still refuse to play encores, a habit that all bands need to get into, and long since abandoned by the few that had it (especially new order, who have recorded little encore-worthy material since they started playing encores). and while the re-run through the dozen pearls that = "george best" is bookended by nine other songs from TWP thru the ages, the band seem so into the spirit of the history lesson, the tribute to the album that put them on the map, that they even modestly neglect to tell that there's some more product out there, a live cd called "shepherd's bush welcomes the wedding present" on dream catcher (who, funnily enough, have been home to napalm death in the past) as well as the self-explanatory "live 1987". so seek, and bask like we did in all the rediscovered, halcyon weddoes memories you thought you'd never again experience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

islington planning department and the sex pistols vs. the fa cup first round proper and milky wimpshake

in the latest double-whammy of continuing local cultural vandalism, no sooner has highbury caff (as frequented by local luminaries like alan davies and er, us) been replaced by a bloody KFC than the jorene celeste, a pub / bar of at least some palpable charm and dimly lit old-fashioned beauty and one of our few places of respite left around north one, is being replaced by a chain "burger bar and cocktail lounge". while it is a truism that every discovery of a good pub or hangout these days is just as inevitably a stumbling upon an endangered species, it still seems criminal that, like mistress p's in clapham old town, the polar bear in soho, the black lion and french horn on pollen street, the old king lud of i, ludicrous fame, even the now-derelict canonbury in er, canonbury, the handful of places that we discover years too late and that are all-too fleetingly special are always the ones that disappear post-haste, whilst the identikit bars roll on and on, the foxtons minis parked outside and the fashionistas parked inside.

then, walking down upper street today, once so full of the character of the old pubs and coaching inns, we were reminded how only recently the old parr's head became another clothing chainstore, while the mitre seems to have been boarded up completely. there is also, of course, the additional affront of still seeing the reckless records shopfront - reckless having being forced to vacate islington years ago through increased shop rents - and yet the unit has remained unoccupied ever since. great work by the landlord there.

so we went to a favourite haunt in the city, the pound off london wall, to commiserate over all this, as for reasons that i can't quite elucidate, this stuff is depressing me hugely right now. unfortunately, when we got to the pound it had been completely gutted - another away from the numbers, understated hostelry bites the dust.

anyway. the other week, we went to see the pistols. given how low our expectations were, the fact that we still managed to be disappointed is fairly remarkable, but the upside was that, having walked out after six or seven songs, we were able to retreat into the altogether more authentic environment of the beehive in brixton. the gig itself was a strange and unaccountably unappealing combination of vaudeville, karaoke and beer festival: introduced by a tape of vera lynn singing "there''ll always be an england", which went down very well with the punters, especially the lines "if england means as much to you / as england means to me...." which were sung with particularly fervent, unironic gusto. lydon himself then picked up the theme unremittingly, remarking how sick he was of england being sold down the river and exhorting us all between songs to be proud of being english - a sentiment that went down like wildfire amongst the snarling, beer-lobbing punters. for our part, we still love the pistols, and always will, for without them music would be frankly nothing. but as we have said before, the day that we are palpably proud of being english has not yet arrived - it may yet, for example, be the day that the killers of stephen lawrence are brought to justice. (if you wish to contribute invective about our political correctness or something, feel free - we got used to it in the days we were foolish enough to linger on the bristol rovers messageboards).

luckily, the day after that saw an utter reversal in our fortune and hence to our whingeing self-pity. firstly, we were treated to a positive performance from the aforementioned bristol rovers f.c. (aka the black arabs, fellow "swindle" fans) at orient in the fa cup, with the late salvaging of a very deserved draw courtesy of a rickie lambert header - cue happy clappy mayhem. incidentally, there was also a moving, warm and impeccably-observed remembrance service on the pitch at half-time, a reminder of the clapton orient players who joined the footballers' battalion in 1914, and of course not all of whom returned. then, we pottered down to brixton hill where in stark contrast to the previous evening's damp squib, electrophonvintage charmed us, horowitz ruled our school and milky wimpshake returned after an unacceptably long absence to reclaim basically the whole world of popular music as their own ("needed: heart handbook", "philosophical boxing gloves", "weirdo", "milk maid", darlo, "i wanna be seen in public with you", "it might sound dramatic", "nightclub voyeur cliche", basically you name it). an uproariously fine evening of entertainment.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

once in full colo(u)r, now flickering black and white: still just as vivid.

back at the start of 2007, our new year resolutions were, basically: one. buy less music. two. listen to less music. three. write less about music. four. write less about anything: less digressions, less indiscretions, less is more. largely, we have made a complete mess of said resolutions, hence the continuation of this blog, which exists as it always has for one reason only: to try and inspire someone, anyone, to buy and to enjoy a record or two that they might not otherwise have sought out.

last year we got a bit over-excitable, and the volume of music we attempted to consume was frankly ridiculous, even before the start of our growing dependence on the output of radio 3 and panjab radio. so this time round, we thought that we might be able to break the addiction: perhaps by ignoring albums altogether, only picking up a few singles, limiting ourselves to narrower forms of musical media or genre, or only posting when there's an 'r' in the month and hell is averaging about zero degrees centigrade.

so we'd resisted ankle-deep description of the notting hill carnival, much as we wanted to try and encapsulate the street scenes, the cooking smoke, the criss-cross of once-grand victorian houses and epic estates in the long shadow of the amazing trellick tower, the palpitation-causing rumble of bass through the hot pavements, the whistles, the flags, quite how good a steel band can actually sound. we manfully resisted going on about the best horowitz show we've yet seen - at the grosvenor in stockwell - where the sound, in a sadly empty room, was a1 as they fizzed and fuzzed and buzzed through hit after cracking, crackling hit. we turned a blind eye to the mary chain's outing in brixton, which in the past might have conjured approx, erm, 9,000,000 rambling words (although for marginally more conciseness we would perhaps refer you honourable gentlefolk to the answer we gave some moments ago). we omitted to admit how at last seeing sarandon play live, underneath highbury corner's railway pub, brought home to us the utter utter folly in having failed to move mountains to see them before. we've even kept to a vow of silence on the generous fruits of a recent re-engagement with techno.

as we've said in another forum, this reticence has nothing to do with us growing out of the music - it's quite, quite the reverse. it's a reticence that is part of a conscious, albeit doomed, attempt to have a life not so dominated by listening to that music, or by endlessly trying to think of things to say or to write about it. for the truth is that the thrill never fades, and keeps being fed by seeing great bands live, or hearing new tunes booming from bass speakers, or receiving that glowing recommendation from someone you trust that you know you can't afford to ignore, or idly flicking through a vinyl rack out of sheer habit and stumbling across some new work of genius. and it never seems to take long for a new record (or two, or five, or twelve...) to appear and install itself in our psyche and to interfere with not only our new year's resolutions, but all our best intentions. so, on to the reason we've fallen off the wagon this time.

while we may just have mentioned boyracer's past travails and triumphs before e.g. here, it had taken us til' this autumn to discover that they apparently released their tenth album proper, "flickering b+w", back in the winter on 555 recs: as there were only 300 made, we thought we'd better even plump for the very last resort - yep, i-tunes - to get hold of (most of) it. having done so and imbibed, our considered view is that: (1) "flickering" just outnudges lp outing no. 9, "a punch up the bracket", itself one of those records that grew on us with cumulative listens, and (2) yes, but yes, boyracer remain prefects of the punk-pop perfect.

their latest sizzling collection of imperious slight-fi starts with the kooky confidence of the wonderful "wingtips" (a half-spoken word ditty about the cul-de-sac of the rat race - "all the hourly commutes / in your chocolate-brown suit" - that sarah diehards would have blanched at had its jaunty musical impishness turned up on "b is for boyracer", say), blossoms through the feedback-flecked "excuses" and the clattering pop noise of "let's see some action" then builds via ace brace "the secret fire" and "he told you" to the stunning crescendo of "you banged a married man" and the super-reflective "in my previous life", a subtle but stunning piece seemingly held together by "songs of frustration"-era keyboard shimmer. and we didn't even notice, until it was pointed out by a passing wizard, that the average song length on successive boyracer albums, continues, clandestinely, to rise.

as is usual, the lyrics across the piece veritably spit, simmer and burn with matter-of-fact anger, hard truths and accusations - "i'm tired of making excuses for you / just because we go back some way", or "he's the one who sold his soul / but the hollow feeling is yours and yours alone..." or even "you're juggling two men that / two years ago, you wouldn't have given the time of day to"... and because stewart has had a few ups and downs over the years, and because the attendant emotions have either been musically captured, or lyrically laid bare, in the threads of intricate and entwined narrative that have charged his songs throughout, and because in the meantime all of us have accelerated away from our youth with parallel growing pains and life changes, it's all the more meaningful when, minutes from the close, stewart suddenly comes out with something plaintive, not obfuscated by guitar scree or bitterness:

"may the wonder stay with us / not just tonight but for every night... so take me somewhere quiet ... / i want to drink / i want to talk..."

in other hands those lines might not work, and maybe writing them down doesn't do the song justice either... but in boyracer's hands, trust us, words like that can catch you off-guard and break you. "summer's here, choking me already", sing jen + stew elsewhere, as a drizzle of beautiful feedback rains down around them, and it kind of does the same thing.

ahem. we know that quality is what counts not quantity, but only being able to stretch to a run of 300 seems a nonsense for a band of this calibre (especially one with over a thousand myspace friends): as a planet we should be collectively ashamed of ourselves for having conspired to commercially throttle the likes of 555 through our past apathy.

if only boyracer were compulsorily piped through supermarkets and starbucks, we can't help but feel that the idiots would soon no longer be winning. until that time, we will continue to derive a rare pleasure from their records, and from growing older with them, even if it's sadly a pleasure shared by increasingly few.

may the wonder stay with us, indeed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

special (three)

...and the hat-trick. streetsmart independent pop-pickers have been aware of this since approx the paleolithic age, but for those of us somewhat slower on the uptake, pete green's "everything's dead pretty when it snows" is all you'd expect it to be, and then a bit more, and you can download it here.

also, the penny has just dropped with us that mr. green is a sometime contributor to what is still the world's best monthly magazine. did someone say "renaissance man" ?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

special (two)

and here's another treat - something *new* to listen to from melodiegroup!

manna, as you'd expect...

Monday, September 03, 2007

special (one)

we don't often do this, but here's something special - forest giants' last ever song, "footsteps". true, 'tis a ballad, but one that shimmers so movingly, especially while we stare up at the glassy stars right now...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

total fucking destruction "zen and the art of total fucking destruction" (bones brigade, cd album): pig destroyer "phantom limb" (relapse, cd album): various artists "grind your mind - a history of grindcore 1984-2007" (mayan, 2x cd): a.c. "defenders of the hate" (menace to sobriety, cd)





still waiting in vain for those alleged sportique or secret shine albums ? disappointed by the new obituary and camera obscura singles ? us too, so here are (let's just add them up) 122 reasons to be cheerful right now.

TFD start by firing off 10 shards of excitement in 18 minutes without blinking: a cover of terrorizer's "enslaved by propaganda" is just about the best, but to be fair, like the chelsea outfield, the ten pretty much hang together as a unit. the actual noise that TFD make is hard to pin down completely: it's kinda stop-start hardcore math-grind with a very tough, serrated lo-fi edge that recalls repulsion in places, but is best summed up by the way a song like "we are all elvis now" mixes the hardcore and grindcore influences - and sometimes, as on "corpse position", we swear we can almsost here some melodies struggling to escape from the genre melee. meanwhile lyrically it's "elvis" and "y.a.r.n." (aka "youth! apocalypse! right! now!", one of the best sing-a-longa metal trax since napalm's "cock-rock alienation") that hit hardest, polemics against the creep of consumer culture. what happens after those first 10 tracks is rather strange, as TFD sign off with four straight acoustic numbers. if you were tempted to fast forward through these, well frankly you'd have been right to, although the final cut "nihilism, emptiness, nothingness, nonsense" at least sees them randomly co-opt piano, saxophone and monotone monkish chanting in order to end the album in a pleasingly quaking jazz-folk confusion.

bassless virginian combo pig destroyer, current posterboys for the short sharp shock that is modern grindcore, haven't yet done enough - for us - to justify lofty comparisons with the likes of napalm or nasum, or even with other notable police-haters like m.d.c. or n.w.a.. but "phantom limb" is, nevertheless, a positive step towards both: the songs are longer (actually averaging a very m.o.r.-ish 2 and three quarter minutes) but this gives pig destroyer a little licence to branch out into "reign of blood"-style riffcore (the debt to araya and co half-acknowledged with "girl in the slayer jacket", which could be a love song if it wasn't for the harrowing, true-story lyrical content). our personal fave though is "thought crime spree", a slight nod back to their more political earlier days, but that you can still dance - well, mosh - to. some might be chary of a band so openly aping music from the late 80s, but given that slayer are to thrash what talulah gosh are to twee, we think that this is (a) a good thing and (b) makes pig destroyer the metal equivalent of, say, liechtenstein (which in itself makes us need to lie down for a short while). also, after a powerful combined closing flourish of the slayer / terrorizer-ish "waist deep in ash" and "the machete twins", the album decides to ease off by ending with eight minutes of country & western and cicadas. very rum.

now. unlike relapse's "choosing death" a couple of years back, a compilation which served both as history lesson and close to musically flawless introduction to death metal, "grind your mind" (actually bankrolled by sanctuary records, and boasting sleevenotes by "choosing death" author albert mundrian, plus specially commissioned artwork from mark tichner) is initially more yer random scattergun collection of good, bad and ugly, a patchwork of licensing practicality rather than a sensibly cherrypicked essential collection. indeed, aside from discharge's "society's victim" to open, extreme noise terror's landmark "bullshit propaganda", a clutch of old-skool covers by napalm coralled from "leaders not followers part 2", the heart-lifting discovery of loving carcass copycats general surgery and a trio of sublime extracts from repulsion's beauteous, delicious debut, cd1 is more a lucky dip of dodgy second / third-wave punkers than a history of grind. having said that, in the same way that it's worth buying "choosing death" simply for siege's "walls", it's frankly worth purchasing "grind your mind" simply for siege's "cold war".

cd2, however, is proper sparkling, and its peaks inspire k2-worthy vertigo. they range (get it?) from vintage pig destroyer (q.v.) to a couple of typical pearlers from the late great nasum to napalm's bristling "fatalist" to reliably unyielding confections from bustling midfield workhorses like cephalic carnage and agathocles. but even better, and this should be the raison d'etre of any compilation worth its sodium chloride, it introduces previously unbeknownst bands to us (gosh, where have we been ?) like mortician, exhumed and regurgitator, for which we must be forever in its debt. also, we don't care who your favourite band are, they can surely never have recorded anything as simply thrilling, honey, as skinless's divine "trample the weak, hurdle the dead". unless your favourite band is actually skinless, in which case we must buy you a drink, and we're guessing it won't be a pimms and lemonade. obscure subgenre fans will also be pleased to see that the above mentioned sleevenotes thoughtfully dissect the differences between various subdivisions of grindcore, according to which your narrators are particular fans of deathgrind and, from time to time, noisegrind. wahay.

now, a.c. we note that one of the bonus video tracks on the TFD cd is called "seth putnam is wrong about a lot of things, but seth putnam is right about you". the a.c. frontman is, it's fair to say, often very wrong, often very offensive, often very unfunny. yet the general relentlessness over a decade or so of a.c.'s unbounded if goofy efforts to shock, whilst playing unallayed deathgrind (you see, we're learning) at warp speed, can also often raise smiles and expose home truths (the lyrics to "extreme noise terror are afraid of us" or "no we don't want to do a split 7 inch with your stupid band" being examples). plus, in the past a.c. have of course recorded the definitive versions of both "hungry hungry hippos" and emf's "unbelievable". and the opening track to "defenders", "all our fans are gay", is a classic example of how putnam's approach can actually hit the right spot, a combination of obverse self-deprecation and bitter negativity - "you think you know what we're singing about, you're wrong / you think we care about the underground - you're wrong".

"defenders of the hate" was originally issued some years back as a 7", but musically it is perhaps their strongest, dare we say it most focussed record, with discernible nods to production and (loosely) musicality, rather than solely trying to shoehorn in as many weak gags and banshee screams as possible. and this re-release, throwing in 10 extra tracks to bring the length of the cd to a staggering 20-ish minutes, is a better-distributed(ish) chance to appreciate their unforgiving celebration of the lowest common denominator.

after all that, it's definitely pens down. see you at carnival.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

1, 2, 3, 4, strawberries, let's go

"the stereotypical sarah band isn't even on sarah.. it's probably someone like strawberry story"*

well, it appears that the stereotypical sarah band are back. blimey. for those of you lucky enough to be young, and who unlike us didn't (for example) own their flexis, largely adore their various 7"s (all later lovingly compiled by those occasional curators of indie-pop past at vinyl japan), or trek up to the heaven records xmas bash in notts or the unlikely confines of the victoria inn in derby to see them play, we can tell you that northallerton's finest, strawberry story, were indeed ace. da story were not universally popular back then: they attracted mild scorn from hardcore sarah-ites because they were guilty (allegedly - don't know the facts) of having a girl singing lyrics written by boys: at the time this was considered something of a crime (that may seem quaint, but pop and sexual politics was always a delicate thing then: we remember a huggy bear gig where the band started ganging up on a member of the audience who'd been singing "boy / girl revolution" along to "her jazz", carpeting him in no uncertain terms for failing to recognise that the band was actually calling for "girl / boy revolution"...)

for what it's worth, s. story sounded nothing whatsoever like the primitives or the darling buds, and were never ever going to be troubling TOTP. they did however have their own very real charm, based heavily on hayley's distinctive vocals, a hardcore dedication to guitar fuzz, and a durable if not top-of-the-range drum machine. although pigeonholed as somewhat inconsequential, they were able to pull out of the bag some quite poignant stuff when they wanted to: we remember listening to "26", at the time that age seemed a long way off in the future, and it *churned*. when they did slow songs, it didn't always work, until their gorgeous "caroline" and "the man with the stereo hands" eps, by which time it worked damn fine. they got a joint single of the week for the latter in nme and we even told our friends, who were usually impressed with such things, but the vogue then was for wah-wah and all things pointlessly masculine so they didn't seem to care. ah well. there were even brief moments on that ep ("i never loved you") when the 'berries went "baggy", but delightfully they then packed in the shuffle-beats in time for the chorus, resorting to the tried and tested many-bpm fuzz guitar attack.

after a final, and perfectly sound, cd-ep on vinyl japan, we heard nothing more from them: it was a stark contrast to the heady initial blitz of appearances on compilation tapes. but, whether or not they are welcomed with open arms by the year 2007, there will always be a place for them in our hearts.

today's strawberry story top ten is: 1. twenty-six. 2. close my eyes. 3. the life and times of a teenage romeo. 4. kissamatic lovebubble. 5. well what do you think of that then ? 6. pushbutton head. 7. ashlands road. 8. the man with the stereo hands. 9. buttercups and daisies. 10. caroline. we're not going to be able to make their forthcoming gig at the horse & groom (it's a work ting), so if anyone is able to let us know the outcome of that, please do.

* the above quote btw is our recollection of something clare wadd once said... don't sue us if it turns out actually to have been peter ustinov or someone...

Friday, August 24, 2007

w.ham rap / eski mobo

a combination of libel laws and a rare recalcitrance on our part to bore you unnecessarily means that we are not going to spill out in this forum our album-length rant about football's biggest post-koppel farce, the grubby cover-up fiasco that has been dignified with the title the "tevez affair". you shld, however, understand that we are particularly keen that rovers pull out all the stops when playing west ham in the league cup on tuesday night.

obviously, in reality, we're going to get battered, but no more so than football has been already.

oh yes, and you guys shld know by now who to vote for from the mobo nominations for best male - and probably best newcomer, too. boycott "best hip-hop", though...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the best album of 1977

has been given a re-release.








late august addendum: er, to be slightly more informative, what we are trying to say we guess is that if you only have £11 of disposable income to spend on music this calendar year it wouldn't be a bad investment to sling it on this very deftly packaged, still awe-inspiring album, pivotal for so many reasons (inspiring punks, introducing sly (& robbie) to many of our record collections, being riddled with the urgency you'd expect by people who thought the world was about to end) but, more importantly, just a glorious listen especially when the proto-"new chapter" trumpets and trombone come in. also, for those of you known to be influenced by such things, it's exceedingly twee in places, especially the keyboards. it's reissued on shanachie.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the classical, and singles (and albums)

hmmm... not the greatest of starts for alloa athletic, then.

if you reckoned we didn't like classical music - aside from the seminal action painting! a-side return of 1993 - you've been wilfully misled we're afraid (probably by us), although of course we only listen to those "post-punk" classical recordings made post-1976... anyway, evenings with radio 3 during the proms season are ever a joy - highlights so far, from those concerts we've been able to dip into were mahler's surprisingly accessible symphony no. 9 in d, and schumann's surprisingly arresting symphony no. 2 in c major...

now... dap-c "the boy who cried wolf" - a formulaic chorus hook maybe, but this is smilingly trumped by the perfectly balanced verses from c, with his ever-recog geordie lilt, finsbury park star skinnyman shaping for mud fam, and best of all the way under-rated s.kalibre, whose gruff, blokeish tones still offset dap-c's so well, just as they did on dap's "character building" opus a few years back... as he rightly invokes krs-one in damning hip-hop's self-inflicted, increasingly oafish public image...

the pains of being pure at heart... great band, terrible name (like manhattan love suicides)... but TPOBPAH are the best thing from new york since team shadetek... take yr pick from either a 3 tracker, sub nom "this love is fucking right!" on cloudberry, or those 3 plus 2 more on an eponymous ep on painbow... well, this love is not wrong... the press releases have picked out the reference points (for once correctly) of early mbv, black tambourine et al, although there's something about the wavering vox on "orchard of your eye" that gives us a church grims glow too, and there's a hint of the close lobsters' trebly guitar sunshine to "right!"... all 3+2 songs, are well worth a listen...

similarly, liechtenstein's "stalking skills"... starts with a blissful thud of just shop assists drum n' bass fuzz which the rest of it can't quite live up to, but while it's lighter and frothier than the shoppies or the frenchmen, say, it still stalks prettily and (with some skill) talulah gosh, early aventuras de kirlian and free loan investments...

and whereas the pains of being pure of heart and liechtenstein records could quite conceivably have been recorded in 1988, the bodines' "shrinkwrapped" ep on the ever-excellent firestation records definitely actually was... yet here the songs appear, for the first time, as a single - and the title track is everything you'd expect, which is to say a lyrically spiky, tuneful 2 1/2 minutes of glistening, highest-notch indie...

saxon... yes, saxon... it's come to something when the ultimate butt of jokes, the pariahs of the rockistocracy post-spinal tap, creep onto our playlist... but "need for speed" is as addictive as it is dumb, it marginally outmuscles maiden's last 45, and these days being free of both blandness and pretention is a rare and glorious thing in music...

tinchy stryder "something about your smile"... lots of rotation on channel u, as he takes the "breakaway" formula (i.e. good verse, slushy wailing crossover chorus) that bit too far... too polished, just too polished... but as he cheerfully admits elsewhere on the ep, "this year i'm trying to get mainstream money"... and yet the beats (davinche again) still clap so smartly, and tinchy is still so likeable an mc, that we're even falling for this ep a little... aah...

there's been at least 30 great singles this year so far: we weren't expecting one of them to be by gravenhurst... but "trust" ... on one of those labels that is still largely badge of quality, warp records... combines jangly guitar atmospherics with curving, gently rasping bass to positive effect... a 7", well a 7" a-side, of some class...

julie ocean... a band name that celebrates an overlooked masterpiece... songs taking up where the saturday people left off in many ways, a joyous jumble of british-style power-pop a la the jam, and the hurtling, endearing east coast indie adrenalin of prime tree fort angst... records soon, please...

if we told you that the new cockney rejects album was brilliant, we would be lying... indeed, it is nothing more than a sad parody of what people think the cockney rejects sounded like back in the day, when the reality was often a pleasant surprise (not just the testosterone-packed early singles, one of which we still proudly quote on this very page, but the almost go-betweensy melodies that started to appear by album four and then the difficult-to-manage evolution to proper metal by album five)... more upsettingly, by turning so unreconstructedly against modern youth culture in the lyrics they're actually rounding on what they used to be, i.e. the new kids shaking up the block, equal parts irritant and inspiration... although the "look up to wankers like liam gallagher / just give me sugar ray and marvin hagler" lyric nearly redeems it... and the reality is that we don't need the cockney rejects any more now that we've got lethal bizzle... (and as for lethal himself, well "bizzle bizzle" is still a lot of fun, but as for the lp, it's so perplexing to see him so desperately trying to cross over into [the overcrowded market of] terrible indie music... much as we've loved him over years since we first bigged up "oi!", we suspect this is where lethal and ourselves finally part ways)...

if we told you that the new bad brains album was brilliant, you might think we were also lying... you would be wrong, because as we've hinted before it not only includes some of the dreamiest, most perfectly-picked roots reggae we've heard for a country while but also some of the more coruscating hardcore tunes we've encountered since the heyday of the great m.d.c... be prepared for it to place high in our year-ends...

l.man "who's that white kid ?"... well, judging by this he's a piledriving grime mc... we know that's only one string to his bow... and where once every four-piece guitar band whose singer had read a book were the new smiths, now any rapper who happens to be white is the new eminem... but he is not the new eminem (thankfully)... see the great interview in this month's hip-hop connection (ace issue including a countdown of uk top 50 albums we nearly agree with) where he makes this entertainingly clear...

bombstrike's "religion of the lost" and "downfall" are from their "born into this" sessions... part of a swathe of fine music coming out of stockholm at the moment... these days, most of you seem to run labels... so why not try and release these tracks... they make spectacular listening sense...

white town's "socialism, sexism and sexuality"... finally available again, sadly only through i-tunes, but it still sounds infinitely better than any double album called "socialism, sexism and sexuality" by a (then) obscure indie band beloved of cassette compilation er, compilers had any right to... plenty of elegant little lo-fi bundles of considered, sometimes mannered indie-pop a little in the mould of east midlands contemporaries bulldozer crash's similarly slept-on album on sunday records... while taken as a whole, the sheer number of tracks ends up spreading jyoti's then-creative powers a little thin, it's hard to see how any other band from that tape-trading craze, those now fading days, could have thrown up quite such vivid creations as "my baby will love me", "all summer in a day" or "why i hate christmas"... fabulous songs about society, about outsiderdom, about "masturbation and politics", as mr mishra would have it, and yes, about socialism, sexism and sexuality... musically designed to appeal to those, like us, who adored the wedding present and the field mice in near-equal measure, so many tracks shambling along nicely like the former, while "that's just so" in particular tends towards the yearning for exploration of the latter... with brittle drum machine clicks, wake keyboards and almost sublow hiscock-style bass...

and finally, it wasn't just roque santa cruz who had a dream debut.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"the only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes": four fall gigs, two weddings and a festival

the festival was all good, it being this year's "rise: london united" at finsbury park (our city's second best annual shindig, behind carnival of course). rise is esp. brilliant for us, because we can leave the premises to go for an afternoon wander via highbury fields and the blackstock road and, without breaking our stride, enjoy a walk in the park which gives us everything from saint etienne thru a flurry of nw6 hard-rhymers thru some premier dhol-bashing thru dodging the rain with kojo in the comedy tent thru a turn from dorothy masuka thru to some startling human beatboxery from sic sense thru to pop princess jamelia on the main stage, whose beam lit up north four even through one of the intermittent storms (and even if her choice of covers paled in relation to the likes o' "superstar" and "thank you"). plus, with the whole rise thing, the message remains much more important than the music. the weddings, one in chelsea and one in carlisle, weren't bad either - and on a positive note, statistically only one of them is going to end in divorce.

anyway. it's closing on 20 years since we first saw the fall. and here we went again, to their brief residency in smoke-free islington this balmy yet rainsodden july, albeit at one of the world's worst venues("the" "carling" "academy").

tuesday

hmmm. let's dig out the old "i-spy at a fall gig" book. smith ambles on tardily (10 points) to join his latest youthful hired-hand band (20 points), plus the wife on keyboards (10 points). he laconically intones "we are the fall" in an absurdist drawl (35 points). that's 75 points in the bag already, and they've only been on a few minutes.

as the evening progresses, we get mark wandering on and off stage intermittently, testing the band's improvisation as they wonder quite where he is (25 points); mark randomly plinking on keyboards (10 points); mark turning up the bass amp (15 points); mark turning down the guitar amp (15 points); the fall not coming on until well after 10 p.m (25 points); a put-upon soundman having to make repeated fleeting visits to stage to replace all the mic stands (20 points). and yet for all these ticked boxes and smile-inducing nods to fall tradition, that soupcon of something extra - that unpredictable element that would elevate proceedings, really flicker them truly into life - never quite emerges. all in all, it's good - but it's not right. still, a promising start: and an ok-ish fall gig is still better than a lot of mercury music prize nominees could ever aspire to.

top 3 select: over! over!, white lightning, what about us. ilwttisott rating: 6 out of 10

wednesday

the fall, of course, never have to resort to plundering their back catalogue
like many other similarly-annuated bands - almost uniquely from the crop of '77 or so they have kept going (as paul morley has noted, perhaps the only others to have meaningfully done so are u2), and have always had songs strong enough to be able to build their live sets, in any era, from the last album (or two). these gigs are proving no exception, with the live performances of the likes of "the door is always open" transcending their somewhat anodyne studio cousins.

having said that, it is still a tremendous treat to see them dredging out "the man whose head expanded" for the first time in a decade or two, even though they fox half the punters by coming on stage "early" (about ten to ten) and playing it first. "sounded good in rehear-SAL", observes mark. suitably inspired, both band and audience are a little more at ease. and, particularly with a respectable phalanx of new songs, we're starting to notice improbably, happily, increasingly strong resemblances between the fall and sportique - probably the way some of the newer fall songs are also postmodern appropriations of punk (the single-chord chugging of "systematic abuse" recalls the knowing retro of "modern museums", while elena's "i've been duped", which seemingly doesn't feature smith at all, is a belter - perhaps their "suture").

oh, and yes we still get everything from the i-spy book too. the fall are
rapidly shifting up thru the gears.

top 3 select: the man whose head expanded, fall sound, reformation! ilwttisott rating: 7 out of 10

thursday

and each night, gradually, is getting a little more lively.

on stage, m.e.s. is in a happy, serene mood (itself as rare and surreal as father jack hackett's lucid episodes), his wanders around the stage including jokes traded with the band, forcing the bass player to centre stage for "duped", and repeatedly picking up a drumstick to frantically thrash at the hi-hat and cymbal. a few well-thumbed lyric sheets are in evidence, while there are more extended forays over to the keyboards, including what appears to be an attempt to actually play them (50 points). later on, a couple of the mics are tossed into the crowd, one of whom performs an entertaining and more than passable freestyle m.e.s. impersonation, spitting out random lyrics from past delights, while the other settles for valiant, drunken yelling. tonight only the embattled stagehand feels the wrath of smith's er, bombast, when he bravely but very ill-advisedly attempts to do the mic stand adjusting while smith is on stage. ooh, and we also have a vague recollection that the lyrics to late-70s peel sesh gem "like to blow" got randomly blurted out at some point.

off stage, the rowdiness initially builds up as ever due to the epic wait for the fall to appear, combined with the associated crescendo of abuse towards safi, the "video-jock" who habitually precedes them. during the main set, the number of pints of lager being hurled across the venue and at the stage is also increasing, although still nowhere near historic fall gig levels: and by the time we leave, a couple of blokes at the back are trading opening pushes in yet another fight that demonstrates why middle-aged men and alcohol can be a thoroughly unhappy combination. we escape by jumping on a passing bus, on which a teenage passenger promptly sicks lager all over the floor: but that, dear friends, is modern britain in a nutshell.

top 3 select: wolf kidult man, systematic abuse, blindness. ilwttisott rating: 9 out of 10

friday

"we're not the fucking kaiser chiefs, we are the fall"

yes, friday was blazin'. the fact they opened their set with a more than
competent version of "wings", still probably the best song from a veritable bayeaux tapestry of thousands, was a moment immediately putting tonight up there with brighter @ the b&g, morrissey @ brixton, fucking rosehips @ stoke and rovers @ wembley.

and you know it's gonna be a fair old gig when "pacifying joint" then starts up, smith remembers to remind us that they are the fall, and then he just stands up and takes it as the beer rains in, letting plastic pint glasses bounce off him without blinking (indeed, licking his fingers approvingly at the choice of projectile lager).

the venue's population density has continued to multiply during the week. by now, as the five-piece lock in to their relentlessly garagey grooves, the place is jammed, almost enough to take the edge off some commendably fierce air conditioning. professional fall fan stewart lee was in attendance: sadly, celebrity fall fans otherwise seemed to have been conspicuous by their absence during the week (for our purposes, other "celebrity fall fans" = i ludicrous, bobby gillespie (who we chatted with before he tried to blag his way in last time), bobby wratten and two of the gresham flyers, but do let us know if there are more).

so, even with tonight seeing two encores rather than one (and a tremendous take on "systematic abuse" for which the entire vocal was provided from somewhere behind the stage - "i'm in the backstage areAH"), the evening positively flew by. and by now, big chief i-spy was likely to have been cleaned out of feathers entirely.

top 3 select: WINGS, fall sound, systematic abuse. ilwttisott rating: infinite.

y'know, we don't really disagree with much of the critique oft ventured toward the fall - most is probably fair comment, albeit informed by a somewhat rose-tinted view of their past proficiency, or at least their past consistency... but we do truly see them in the context of so much else we love - remembering how it was in our ever-splendrous inspiration "are you scared to be happy ?" that we first saw written down the quote from "how i wrote elastic man" that captions this post...

so even if we'd probably agree that they hit their creative peak between 1980 and 1983 (if in any doubt, check "palace of swords reversed" or "slates, slags etc"), and even if we are among many who felt that their last lp didn't do them justice, none of this is relevant to whether or not they are a band worth watching, even celebrating, in 2007. they've always had a few troughs, but unlike new order or suchlike, who slipped into a creative coma circa 1990, smith's mob have always navigated their way through. beforehand, we had wondered whether four fall gigs in a row might seem a bit much - but in the end the answer, of course, was that it was not nearly enough.