Saturday, February 24, 2007

the fall and the butterflies of love.

first, given recent tabloid melo-froth about feral kids, high-falutin lawlessness and the law-abiding citizens of this city accordingly living in great fear, i should just point out that our move across the river has nil to do with south london allegedly having become some kind of teenage gangland killing ground, coverage which in turn has nil to do with reality.

now to ear food. you know how the best rap tunes are those where you get a single loop, some scratching, maybe a siren, and some bloke randomly wittering over the top of it, and then the formula just gets repeated all the way through ? simple - no choruses, no lock-stock and barrel samples, no barren soulless, timidly-spat bars designed less to delight your ears than to soundtrack a superlame video (in the same way as the more impressive tunes on channel u always somehow sound better without the visuals...)

anyway, similarly, the best rock songs are those where you crank up the bass, let a scratchy guitar strike up and then just repeat the same riff ad infinitum, preferably with a mad middle-aged bloke shouting over the top. again, no choruses, no unnecessary 'melodies', no jaunty trying-to-be-clever sub-britpop nonsense. and there are a quartet of such great songs on the mighty fall's new "post-tlc reformation!" set. indeed, the album opens with a straight hat-trick: "over! over!", "reformation!" and "fall sound" all drip with that brash, snarling confidence, borne of decades of dominance, which has hallmarked the fall of late - they showcase the same almost-honed machine which thrilled at the sweatfests at 93 feet east last summer, with all the rediscovered verve and bite that followed the crit-acclaimed tableaus "country on the click" and "fall heads roll". the rollicking, glowing, gigglingly enjoyable "fall sound", in particular, a(nother) rant at those who would aspire to the crown, is a marvel: even as we wait for the english spring, we find it hard to imagine there will be many better songs this year (though check out our next post for a not un-fallish contender). the fourth killer song, meanwhile, tucked away towards the record's denouement, is live devastator "systematic abuse", a vodka-slam cocktail of the three R's (you know, the ones that president carter loves), "bremen nacht" and "stepping out", which lurches at times into pure 1977. at eight minutes 38, 'tis at least two minutes too short.

so far, so truly spectacular. the rest of the record can largely be taken or left, however, and in our new zero-tolerance approach to albums, reflecting a policy intention to listen to less music by sheer volume and more by repeat selection, we feel that we must leave rather than take such aural intrigues as the ten minute ambient feedback of "das boat", the tiring, not ungrating "the wright stuff", the obligatory yet musically subdued time-travel narrative of "coach and horses" or even the annual cover version ("white line fever"), which sees mark e.'s voice sounding strangely displaced and then segues into the cheeringly barking, but somehow mildly insubstantial "insult song". for mellow consistency, we must turn elsewhere...

the butterflies of love seem so aptly named to us, in that their songs tend to flutter, in shades of pale and rare colour, so winningly around yr head - the core is the greenes' brokenhearted heard-it-all drawl, with guitars enmeshed in a blissful, hazy, daub of reverb and dissolve, all occasionally overlaid by shimmering keyboards: as ethereal as melodic pop/rock can really be. and so, voila, we have the second skelton-strong album on fortuna pop! this young year. if el presidente had the financial muscle of rca, it would have so suited this suite of songs - named "famous problems", it says on the tin - to have done a wedding present and released them as a single per month: pretty much everything here, as with "orbit around you", one of our favourite records of 2006, deserves really to be immortalised on one side of 7" rather than the modern mere clatter of digital. not unlike the airport female's "slow light", "...problems" is optimum-length too (all other record labels please take note), none of its skittering delights outstaying much more than two or three minutes: each, in true "just a minute" style, eschew the deviation, hesitation or repetition which work so well for m.e.s., but torpedo many a lesser combo.

by the same token, there is no single tune on here quite as magnetically compelling as "fall sound" or "systematic abuse", but then of course that would be impossible. more pertinent is the realisation that we are going to have to properly revisit everything the butterflies have ever done, much as we ended up having to seek out the entire lucksmiths back catalogue once we were belatedly exposed to them a few years back, and this is likely to involve no little effort. still, it's a labour we're well up for.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

the north-south betrayal part one; a short hop to shoreditch; and singles.

it has not escaped the notice of a cabal of kitchen cynics that we have moved from south of the river to north of the river, much as woolwich arsenal did nearly a century ago. this doesn't really rep any change in our allegiances nor the things we believe in: it's just about a place called home right now i guess. and while i've always treasured south london as real london, rather than the (not wholly unfair) legend of the garish, gauche, tourist-friendly north, there comes a point when you realise there can be few places in north london, or, indeed, the rest of the world, as sloaney and shallow as clapham junction, clapham, or wandsworth village to name but three. the last time we went to our snobbish old local down south, gordon ramsay wandered in to the evident delight of the fops in there. and we just don't have the energy to fight any more. well, not for that.

and, while we're naturally chary of falling too quickly for our new environs, i prefer to couch it in terms of my usual sentimental approach to pop history and musical relationships. for islington is where joy division played their first ever gig in the capital, but also the soundtrack to the end of their journey, "closer" having been recorded a short walk away in britannia row. it's the only place on the planet that ever played host to the pistols, clash and buzzcocks on the same bill. it's where i've enjoyed fulfilling evenings watching everyone from robert forster to comet gain, e.n.t., bmx bandits, napalm death, the windmills, fosca, nasum (r.i.p), the orchids, the would-be-goods, oh so many private swoonings. and, of course, it is where we first discovered brighter, but then that's another essay.

but it's not all n1. the other night we dared venture to that heartland of bohemian trend-setting, the square mile's mysterious eastern neighbour shoreditch, to see the forest giants playing the autons' "electro rock n'roll" festival at cargo. the FGs' first live outing since maybe 2005 was apparently a late substitution, but a very welcome one. while their festive 50 smash "so you think you're unhappy ?" contrived to sound somewhat lonely without its piping keyboards, it was pounding, joy div-ish album opener "i don't think you understand" that gave them their sea-legs in the underneath-the-arches cavern venue. a terrific, crashing "closure" then picked up the torch, bursts of three note-guitar firing electricity into the air. there were hints of alleged forthcoming releases, too, which boded well for their steering a path between the power-tunes and the ballads, but the heart of the set was half of "welcome to the mid-west", our toast of last year's albums - topped off by our other personal must-haves, the brooding "namesakes" and best of all the closing "stars", which took on a strange and happy serenity, with the new guitarist's melody lines helping the giants sweep their music up and away from the stage and towards the sadly sparsely-crowded pit. nice.

before we introduce you to the river of noise, there's just time to pick up on a clutch of recent singles. first, ye old troupers iron maiden aka "the" maiden. "different world" is their latest top 3 hit, and the guitars don't disappoint, but unlike their last tune of welder-merit, "wildest dreams", it falls away a little with a fairly mundane chorus, as if they'd been listening to the imperious yet somehow a little-too overblown new bloc party record. we don't want that sort of thing from [the] maiden - we want their usual combination of lyrical cartoonism and slinkily-produced riffing (and for doubters as to whether we should really be dipping our toes in this particular mainstream, remember maiden at their best can sound frighteningly like some of the tracks on carcass' "swansong"). and you're not going to dis carcass now, are you.

on the other hand, "if looks could kill" is one of our favourite camera obscura records since the blast of fresh air that was "eighties fan" - itself charmingly semi-replicated by the tingling strums of the recent hermit crabs single on matinee, in case you were tempted. anyway, whereas "let's get out of this country" was a perfectly erudite, string-topped swoony number in grand cam. ob. tradition, "if looks could kill" is a coming-up-on-the-rails footstomper that would happily have fitted on the fortuna pop! "more soul than wigan casino" ep - recalling kicker, or "strength"-era comet gain, with its walloping goodtime, fuzzing sixtiesish melodies. and while i have no strong conviction that we'll still be listening to camera obscura in 25 years' time, a quarter of a century back i probably wouldn't have been thinking that of iron maiden...

but. as normal, the best single we wish to bring to your attn: today is a classic reissue, namely suspect packages' fresh-for-'07 12" pairing of the demon boyz' early singles "vibes" and "northside". demon boyz were around on the cusp of the 80s / 90s, a trio from well, north london as happens, and "vibes" is surely their finest moment: a gratifyingly meaty combination of superfast mc patois, siren sounds and random noise inserts (it's fair to say that every uk act worth its salt back then was pretty blatantly inspired by the young public enemy, which helps explain the last two) and none of your modern song-structure nonsense. there's a faintly unnecessary remix too thrown in for good measure, to save you scrabbling around the racks down the record and tape exchange for that too. the only downside to this particular nostalgia tip is that hearing mike j (now million dan) on this, and then on his recent 12" with (ex-london posse) rodney p, only shows how far from the cutting edge those guys have moved while becoming elder statesmen of the lahndan scene.

river of noise - january 2007.

a new feature - let's see how long it lasts - the eventually-assembled mixtape of properly essential listening that kept us going thru january:

chas n' dave "edmonton green" (from "the very best of the EMI years" 2xcd). lusher than you could ever imagine.
eskiboy "respect" (from "tunnel vision volume 4" mixtape). wiley lays into wretch 32 and others, with mostly becoming immodesty.
smiley culture "shan a shan (extended dub mix)" (from "police officer" 12" on fashion records - try e-bay). really was more than a one-trick pony - the lady sovereign of his day, except that he achieved kudos without falling off badly, and disappeared far too soon...
eric b and rakim "what's going on ?" (from "don't sweat the techniuqe" lp). not as borderline-dreary as marvin's admittedly well-meaning opus, this is a stark, devastating narrative on new york life.
manicured noise "faith (cassette version)" (from "northern stories" cd on caroline true records). a true renaissance-postpunk classic from a criminally under-opened vault.
hijack "hold no hostage" (12", on music of life). you want more hyperbole ? well, er, as of right now i believe this to be the finest single ever released.
the mayfields "seasons pass" (download this now!). has possibly overtaken even "i don't think so" as our favourite mayfields tune.
napalm death "from enslavement to obliteration" / "suffer the children" (from "the peel sessions" cd on strange fruit). high-bpm, grungey versions of two very different n.d. classics.
bogshed "stop revolving" (either unreleased, or uber-rare, late single). + you can sample this, and the next two, thanks to rhodri m's 80s-indie treasure trove HERE.
mackenzies "new breed" (peel session, 1986). we couldn't resist this one either. their 1st session sees them frighteningly bIG*fLAME-y, save where it slows down and the sax turns up, when the pop group come to mind instead...
mackenzies "mealy mouths" (peel session, 1986). and this from the 2nd session, which is very different and even better. "mealy mouths" is probably our most preferred funk record in history.