Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The best of 2008 (part four): teh rand0m

On the miscellaneous tip, then: shouts and awards to football (best sport), HHC's 'The Original', WSC and Smoke (fave writing), Very Nearly Almost and WSC's Shot! archive (best pics), the Beatnik Filmstars' lovingly compiled "Everything Is Relative" (best music DVD), Dave Simpson's "The Fallen" (music non-fiction), E3 (best UK postcode for music, again, edging out E14 and some BS and NG numbers), Cartrain, C215 (graf), The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (just because), Rodney P's "Been A Gunner Since '79" (best random myspace track), BRFC 1883 (*FA Cup quarter-finalists*), top Bristol popsters the Hi-Life Companion's deal to sub Rovers' Jo Kuffour (best indie-pop sponsorship deal), Wimbledon (another promotion season!), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's Serenade for Strings and LSO's live Sibelius 1&4 (plucked-from-the-hat new classical), the geezer at the Lexington (friendliest bouncer), Tom Harvey's foxes on Highbury Fields (er, best tree sculpture), Cloudberry vs Series Two (best beef) and either Droylsden v Chesterfield or The Great Comet Gain Video Controversy (best soap).

And fond farewells to both the xPQwRtz blog and the ever-industrious indie-mp3 weblog. We can only salute the latter for having posted so much great new music and - presumably - for having to have waded through so much rubbish in order to get there.

A few quick "worst ofs", too: football (worst sport), Snoop's "Sensual Seduction" (worst single, which is saying something given competition like Kings of Leon or the Pigeon Detectives), Portishead (most boring gig), Radiohead (most overlong gig, despite ample opportunities to confuse / annoy people by shouting "Bow E3"), Squarepusher's "Just A Souvenir" (alright, certainly not worst, but surely most overrated album), the Wedding Present's "Back For Good" (most hamfisted cover version), Spoony (worst broadcaster, again), Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray (worst score), Fulham FC (feeblest ticketing policy), Johnson (worst Mayor of London), the Premier League (just everything). There should probably also be some kind of award for Raekwon's heavily-billed 'contribution' to Geejay's "We Came To Represent", along the lines of "laziest and most obviously-phoned in 'collaboration'".

Whether you like it or not, our albums and singles of '08 are bound to follow one day, no doubt possibly at ungainly and inordinate length, but until then, thank you for reading, and have a brilliant new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The best of 2008 (part three): ARTIST COLLECTIONS / REISSUES...

1. Cappo / Styly Cee "Directors Commentary - Authorised Mixtape"
2. Manhattan Love Suicides "Burnt Out Landscapes" (Squirrel Records)
3. Comet Gain "Broken Record Prayers" (Milou Studios)
4. Stupids "The Peel Sessions" (Boss Tuneage)
5. Strawberry Story "Clamming For It Plus" (Vinyl Japan)
6. Onyx "Cold Case Files: Murda Investigation" (Iceman)
7. HDQ "Soul Finder" (Boss Tuneage)
8. The Wedding Present "How The West Was Won" (Vibrant)
9. caUSE co-MOTION! "It's Time! Singles and EPs 2005/08" (Slumberland)
10. Narcosis "Best Served Cold (Discography 1998-2007)" (Earache)

(Conflict's "A History Of Insurgence: Every Single Single" relegated for having actually come out in 2007!)

Monday, December 29, 2008

The best of 2008 (part two): VARIOUS ARTISTE COMPILATIONS...

1. "Be True To Your School" (Fortuna Pop!)
2. "Recognition" (HHC / Hip Hop Village)
3. "This Comp Kills Fascists" (Relapse)
4. "Country Music - A Tribute To Keith Girdler" (Siesta)
5. "Back To The Lab - Volume 1" (Co-Lab)
6. "An England Story - From Dancehall To Grime: 25 Years Of the MC in the UK" (Soul Jazz)
7. "Your Cassette Pet" (555)
8. "Rinse 04: Mixed by Skepta" (Rinse)
9. "Slimewave (Goregrind Series)" (Relapse)
10. "Rap 2 Rue 2009" (Wagram)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The best of 2008 (um, part one): GOING OUT

Good day. We'd love to pretend that we've spent the last two months exclusively ensconced in new musical reconaissance, but to be honest we've been enjoying other things: the calm of winter; London's splendiferous graf; the sight of squirrels leaping from tree to tree via the slenderest, flimsiest of bare branches; the majestic grey heron you can spot by the New River, if you're lucky; tender chills on Highbury Fields; night foxes around Canonbury Green; dark drizzly nights illuminated by dubstep in the headphones; serious hunting for golden era hip-hop 12"s in secondhand stores; Pevsner churches around the City; baiting the punters queuing to see Razorlight / Keane etc play the Union Chapel, that sort of thing. Only our civic listmaking duty, twinned with a desire to avoid the charmless herd of braying "Fast Show Arsenal" types who've traipsed down from Hertfordshire and are currently lurking outside, has propelled us back to the QWERTY, but we're pleased, because much as we weren't going to bother, that would be a mild but undeserved dis to the many great things the year brought.

Anyway. It'd be hard to top ENB's fluttering, graceful "A Million Kisses To My Skin" which even edged out the Mariinsky Ballet coming to town to deftly execute Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" (we know, v. pretentious title, but that seems to come with the territory, pls don't let it put you off!), but then there was the joy of this young new ASM side coming good with that 3-1 over Nancy, and even Rovers' 2-3 capitulation at Millwall illustrated that the lower divisions can yet yield bloody great games, and there was "Afterlife" at the National and Pygmalion at the Old Vic (first half twee and over-vaudeville, but second half a sweet tourist-defying downbeat punch of perfectly played melancholy), and then there was the revelation of Capello's beloved Cy Twombly's "Cycles And Seasons" at the Tate Modern, and comedywise there was Brendan Dempsey @ Komedia and Ed Byrne and a (surprisingly ?) masterful Bill Bailey up in town: but if you want to know the best GIGS of the year then we guess - noting here the fact we had to miss (a) Sarandon / Pocketbooks (b) ENT / Hellbastard (c) LSO's Messiah and (d) *gregory webster* off Chapel Market, else they'd very likely all be placing - that the top ten HAS GOTTA BE, blinders all:

1. Ice Cube at the Electric Ballroom
2. Public Enemy at Brixton Academy
3. Zipper at Monkey Chews
4. Slayer at Hammersmith Apollo
5. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart at Buffalo Bars
6. Echo & the Bunnymen at the Royal Albert Hall
7. Pocketbooks at Chalk Farm
8. The Fall at the Astoria
9. Obituary at ULU
10. Morrissey in Hyde Park

Bubbling under: The Pains, Parallelograms and Pete Green at the Betsey Trotwood, all sorts of people at the Lexington, Half Man Half Biscuit at the Forum and for comedy value at least, the mulled wine (and mullet whine) that accompanied hoary rockers Sankt-Petersburg playing the Russia Winter Festival in a tremblingly freezing Trafalgar Square... As for "going out" lows, how about the inevitable Boxing Day defeat to a Buckinghamshire franchise. Or ejection from the League Cup during a freezing August (!) evening monsoon in Watford: terrible teams, terrible game, late goal heralding a burst of the Fratellis, long walk home, the pouring rain, stranger's hand on my favourite dress etc etc... And the grave disappointment of Rakim's Jazz Cafe no-show: we fell asleep when he never came. Maybe next time...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Soul Than Northern Soul

We were going on about brilliant 7"s the other day: well, Peel favourites the Stupids have just released one, "Feel The Suck", on Boss Tuneage. It must be their first since... (consults nearby historian)... 1989's "Wipeout". The boys peek out from the sleeve, older but unbowed, grins as impish as ever. And it's ace. Really. Three songs, none lurching too far from what we'd love and expect, all powering along with post-hardcore vim. On pinkish vinyl. And limited, sadly, to 325 copies. But, not content with merely rising from the dead, the Stupids have also got a bundle of re-issues out on the same label, on both vinyl and CD. And the most welcome of these is, logically enough, the complete Peel Sessions.

The role the Stupids played in Peel's adoption of late-80s Brit(ish hard)core should not be underestimated: although their own contributions were essentially s(kate)punky, apolitical teen thrash, it was through their raucous shows that the man himself came across Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death et al (the rest is history). And we can all now relive not only the handful of songs from these sessions that had been previously released (like the brace of tracks that appeared on Strange Fruit's seminal "Hardcore Holocaust" compilation LP, sometime during the Paleolithic era) but also remind ourselves of the highs of "Stupid Monday", "Shaded Eyes" and other numbers first heard over the airwaves (in our case, via a battered old Amstrad radio / tape player). And, as with so many bands of that genre and time, the production on the Peel Sessions puts much of the Stupids' other work in the shade.

Buying up all the re-assemblages - "Violent Nun", "Peruvian Vacation", "Retard Picnic" - is probably a little overkeen, especially if you've already got previous CD issues like the 34-tracker of "Peruvian" on Clay Records, but really, "The Peel Sessions" is smart, funny and almost endlessly enjoyable. It's melodic hardcore, it's cute ("John, can you repeat the AC/DC session ?"), it baits the bad reviews ("Mick Mercer, you die"), it even includes the junk food-obsessed sesh they did as their alter ego Frankfurter, so really, what's not to like ? And there was always something fitting about the fact that the last song Peel ever played on his show was by Klute, another nom de plume of Tom Withers aka Tommy Stupid himself. The music might have been different - indeed, unrecognisable! - but the pioneering spirit remained. In conclusion, and as the Stupids would no doubt themselves have had it, "The Peel Sessions" truly maims.

* * *

Peel favourite MC Duke is one of the stars of the superb "Recognition" double-CD compilation, an audio history of UKHH to celebrate 20 years of Hip-Hop Connection, the world's oldest rap magazine (a stat that shows once again how interest in hip-hop on this side of the water is hardly a new phenomenon). Of course, Peel as usual was there even before that - Duke, for example, did his Peel Session in 1987, taking day-release from prison to join UKHH pioneer and Music of Life boss Simon Harris in the Maida Vale studios - but "Recognition" picks up very soon afterward and throbs with classic quality: Duke's own anthem "I'm Riffin'", Hardnoise's "Untitled" (hmmm, have we ever mentioned that tune before ? clue: yes and yes) and one of its progeny, Son of Noise's "Son Of Noise", Demon Boyz' "Recognition" (inevitably), London Posse's yay!-inducing "Money Mad", as well as longtime slept-on stuff like Asher D and Daddy Freddy's "Ragamuffin Hip-Hop" and a neat retro treat in the Hijack-produced "Burial Proceedings In The Coarse Of Three Knights", a vehicle for Huntkillbury Finn, the Icepick and Shaka-Shazaam. Obviously it's a crying shame Hijack themselves, what with being one of the best bands ever and all, aren't represented, nor the other leading lights of Caveman or Gunshot, but we guess technically the compilers needed space for some stuff to represent the last 15 years or so, too. And while this is a compilation well worth getting to relive 1988-1991 alone, there are some decent later moments from the UK scene like Roots Manuva's "Witness", still burning brighter than his singles this year, Skinnyman's still-very ace "I'll Be Surprised", Klashnekoff high water mark "It's Murda", Mark B and Blade's "The Unknown", and right-up-to-date tracks from Million Dan and Blak Twang's new records (though given that anyone sensible will buy Twang's newie anyway, it would have been kinder to let us have something from "Dettwork South East"...)

* * *

Peel favourite Burning Spear comes correct with "Jah Is Real", a long player released by the man himself, meaning that it's only available in the UK on import, grrr. And although "Jah Is Real" finishes with a rather incongrous, if not unsuccessful, drum and bass re-working of "Step It", overall it contains more than enough harmony and repose to offset the typically horrible Oakenfold assault on "Never" that represented Spear's last vaguely successful tilt into remotely mainstream consciousness.

If you'd been wondering what on earth happened to roots reggae, then Burning Spear has obviously been thinking the same thing, as is amply demonstrated by tracks like "Run For Your Life" ("the music business is not like before / distribution get so desperate"), "Wickedness" ("our publishing running their business / our royalties feeding their family") and "Stick To The Plan" ("no worry yourself about big radio"). Still, happily enough "Jah Is Real" represents, however fleetingly, the reappearance of a genre we really rather miss.

Across the album as a whole, the sparing use of brass is just right, there are no tinny keyboards (the bane of many a reggae album) and there are numerous high points: the aforementioned "Run For Your Life", which segues beautifully into a dub version; the uplifting, spry tones of the title track; the world-music tinged paean to "One Africa", the harrowing return to "Slavery Days" in "Grandfather", ("Mr Garvey / break the cycle of fear") and the bare statement of intent, "No Compromise", a theme reflected prominently in his sleeve notes.

While things occasionally wander towards the middle of the road, as religious music - which the core of this undoubtedly is - is wont to do, you'll have seen that there is some real anger directed at some of Winston Rodney's enemies on Earth, especially in the music biz, and even if "Jah Is Real" offers nothing that's truly new, the man still has an aura of righteousness - as opposed to self-righteousness - which demands you treat him seriously. Never forget that this is the artist that brought us "Marcus Garvey" and its mirror / shadow, "Garvey's Ghost": two records that must still look down from very near the top of any sober all-time albums list. Ultimately, as he sings on "No Compromise", "my music - everything be all right music". Exactly right.

* * *

Peel favourites the Jesus & Mary Chain are a band who you know we've got very excited about in the past. And while a huge percentage of their very best tracks were frankly all done and dusted before the end of 1986 (including some white-hot versions of "Psychocandy" songs from their first two Peel sessions, recordings that should be a part of any music collection), they stayed gold 'til the end: if you doubt us, listen to "21 Singles" again, because it works pretty much the whole way thru. Anyway, for those fellow 'til-death JAMC completists, "The Power Of Negative Thinking: B-Sides and Rarities" is released *in days* (pause for cheering) and throws together four compact discs' worth of out-takes and rarities, although before you get too excited, especially in relation to the "early stuff", most of the gold dust (classics like "Head" or "Cracked") was already on "Barbed Wire Kisses". We'll be heading for disc one, where the excitement is likely to be, and are looking forward in particular to acquainting ourselves with "Up Too High", "Ambition", "Boyfriend's Dead" (first digital release, we think), "Walk and Crawl", a demo of the monstrous "Upside Down" and their infamous treatement of "Vegetable Man". And we'll report back. Probably.

STOP PRESS: Shortly after "publishing" this "article" it transpired that the UK release had been put back again, to early 2009. In the meantime we can confirm that it will be worth buying the whole box set simply to get the Mary Chain take on "Ambition", which is happily one of those rare cases of a great band covering a fine tune and rendering it *untouchable*.

* * *

Peel favourites EPMD have a tradition for naming their long-players: just as the Go-Betweens always had a double 'L' in the album title (except, er, that time when they didn't, and then that time again when they didn't), EPMD were normally keen for a certain continuity of titles ("Strictly Business", "Business As Usual", "Business Never Personal", "Unfinished Business", "Out of Business", "Back In Business", you know the score). And like the two Go-Betweens, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith (the latter as PMD) went on to solo careers themselves. Erick was quite successful, Parrish actually rather good.

Now, having buried any past hatchet, Erick and Parrish return, parading their first album in near on ten years, the inevitably-named "We Mean Business", and hopefully in doing so reconnecting their considerable abilities, reuniting to fight the tide of nondescript, samey, brand-heavy modern East Coast rap that has been allowed to sweep all before it since the days when New Yorkers like themselves, Run DMC, Gang Starr, KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, P.E., Kool G Rap, Onyx, Big L, Mobb Deep, Biggie, Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang etc etc etc etc etc etc x100 squillion ruled the hip-hop roost. Just looking at that list of talent is enough to take us back to the days when we really thought it would never stop. Which is why we miss the old school so... *sigh*.

Oh, you want to know about the record itself ? No idea, haven't heard it yet, what with the release date having been put back to deeper in the winter. We just wanted another opportunity to rant about how great the golden era was. Mind you, drawing a veil over that "Run It" remix 12", we'll say that on the evidence of the surprisingly great "Blow" single last yr - quite a tune, almost a return to the storming days of "It's My Thang" or "Headbanger" - this latest EPMD product is bound to be the bomb.

* * *

Returning to records that are already in our vice-unlike grip, Peel favourites HDQ give us two reissues, again on Boss Tuneage: their second and third long-players "Sinking" and the more accomplished, if also more Americanised "Soul Finder". The original album tracklistings are bolstered, as is traditional, by a slew of extra demos and other tasties (in case you were wondering where this leaves their debut LP "You Suck!", that got the reissue treatment years since on Big Beat, along with the tracks from the "Believe" 7" EP).

Featuring a pre-Leatherface Dickie Hammond on guitar, who along with singer Golly was the band's ever-present, HDQ were a Sunderland punk / hardcore powerhouse who, even early on, had a knack of adding tunes into the mix, as well as the ability to inject a certain longing into the lyrics (a trick no doubt learned from the US bands like Dag Nasty who would have been a crucial part of HDQ's musical schooling). And, but of course, there are Peel Session tracks here too (session 1 on the repackaged "Sinking" and session 2 on the redux of "Soul Finder") in addition to old faithfuls from the original LPs ("Towing the Line" instantly jumps out as a favourite from our box of battered tapes of the late-Thatcher era Peel shows). The "Sinking" disc also includes a number of rapid-fire tracks from an earlier demo that only ever got a tape release: starting with a hulking "Positive Attitude", these stand up reasonably well too, far removed from the apologetic kitchen-sink demos that have appeared on some repackages (cf. Heresy, Unseen Terror etc...)

The HDQ reissues remind us, too, that it's been too long since we exalted Leatherface themselves: something we really need to remedy urgently, because, with Dickie Hammond and the inspirational Frankie Stubbs at their heart, they were a combo that had more soul and anguish in their little fingers than many an indie band mustered in their entire careers. But for the time being, this is an opportunity to give HDQ the kind of big-up they all-too rarely enjoyed, some recognition of how their songs so winningly bridged that divide between hardcore noise and tuneful emotion.

* * *

We know Peelie liked Blueboy, because we saw him at one of their triumphant later gigs. And following the desperately sad news of Keith Girdler's death last year, Siesta have released a tribute to treasure, "Country Music", a CD curated by his longtime associate Richard Preece (Lovejoy). There are terrific songs new and old from the likes of TBS (the striking "Soft Evening, Brilliant Morning"), the Would-be-Goods (a delightful "I Believe You Cassandra" - apparently there is to be an LP on Matinee soon!), the Orchids (the only band who can make such grown-up music sound so alive and inclusive), the Wake (a crunchier version of "Crush The Flowers"), Hal (the inclusion of "Down", essential listening for all Howard and Sharkey fans, increasing the amount of Hal releases that have ever seen daylight by a cool 25%), as well as Blueboy covers and other gems from el, Creation and other inspirations, not least Lovejoy re-threading "Melancholia". Things then round off with a gorgeous, and all-too moving, uncredited bonus track.

With profits going to the Martlet's Hospice, deluxe packaging, remarkably powerful sleeve notes and such an enviable cast list, there is every reason for you to buy this, and none not to.

* * *

Peel favourites the Great Leap Forward (aka bIG*fLAME legend Alan Brown) return(s) with a new long-player, "Finished Unfinished Business" (don't be giving EPMD more ideas now), on Communications Unique. We've put our cards in the table before about how Mr. Brown inspired us in day, but he's also been busy in the more recent past, not only featuring in the colourful artpunkpopnoise exploits of Sarandon but also chipping in, along with ex-A Witness man Vince Hunt and Pram's Darren Garratt, to supergroup Marshall Smith's underrated "Colours" album on Euphonium Records.

As the title suggests, "Finished Unfinished Business" represents the completion of a number of long-dormant GLF numbers, meaning that despite the gap in time, it still operates quite nicely as a formal follow-up album to 1989's landmark "Don't Be Afraid Of Change". Indeed, it starts almost literally where GLF left off, the title of opener "Tolerance and Respect" (which might have been a shelved single) harking back to the sample that ran through the powerful, even chilling "Weddings, Parties, Anything..." like a stick of rock. GLF are certainly still "indie", and still have a grasp of, even a flair for, the "pop" dynamic, but "Finished Unfinished Business" is nowhere near being 'indie pop': instead, like the previous solo outings, the songs are polished, spattered with samples, keenly political and not infrequently funky. This is all nothing less than you'd expect from the man who authored "Who Works The Weather" and the still-delicious "May God Forgive Us For We Are But Women". (There's also, endearingly, a tribute to Doncaster Rovers' promotion to the second division: we went to see Donny play Brighton at the "Fans United" day in Medway in '98, at a time they were drifting unstoppably out of the league, and if you'd told us then the next time we watched them they'd be upwardly mobile once more and winning at the Millennium Stadium, well...)

The CD package is as thoughtful and well-designed as its contents, boasting a booklet with the lyrics and some dissection of the subject-matter. It would be interesting to know how far "Finished Unfinished Business"'s lyrical themes have had to be updated in the decade or two since the songs' inceptions: but the depressing truth is that they're as pertinent today, whether talking about (un)sustainable farming, the creep against civil liberties or the insidiousness of the capitalist work ethic. The legacy of Thatcher and Reagan still dominates on both sides of the Atlantic, even if we're cute enough as a society to have developed just enough nous (or spin) to pretend that it doesn't.

Anyway. If, like us, you still hold a fLAME for Great Leap Forward's "Don't Be Afraid Of Change" (we'd have it in our all-time albums top twenty, along with "Marcus Garvey" et al), then you shouldn't hesitate to get hold of this one. And while we can remember the days you could buy GLF records in Our Price, the reality is that those days are gone: so here's possibly the place to start. As for Mr Brown, well he's still our hero.

* * *

Peel favourite Marley Marl (did we mention how we missed the New York old school ?) is back with his ex-Juice Crew collaborator Craig G to bring us "Operation Take Back Hip-Hop", a no-frills retro set aimed squarely at grumpy old men and women like us who will never tire of tiring of the appropriation of hip-hop culture by junk capitalist anti-culture. And the album is more than just a nostalgia t(r)ip: it's actually very nearly just as good as the title suggests.Yeah, it probably is a sweeping indictment of all sorts of things that one of our favourite albums right now is by a couple of guys who were most stellar back in the 80s, going on about how brilliant hip-hop used to be, how rubbish it is now and how much better things were in their day, but given that they're 100% on the money, Marley's beats are a dream throughout, the first seven tracks - including both sides of the "Made A Change" preview single - are pretty much flawless and even the much-maligned Craig G arguably delivers his most consistent performance ever over a full-length album, we think it's well worth celebrating the record rather than carping about its context (as well as admiring the fact the sleeve design isn't photos of artists in their own-brand leisurewear, or posing with a Benz: it's a montage of cassette tapes and inlays, labelled with *love*). How indie is that ? And in the meantime, let's *stay angry* about the fact that what's happened to above-the-radar indie music (i.e. it's been fucked) has also happened to above-the-radar hip-hop.

There's no sensible reason why Marley's, Onyx's or Cube's new albums should be better than many from the newer kids on the block, but they are. It never used to be this way. Surely it doesn't always have to be this way ?

* * *

Maybe there's an answer courtesy of Peel favourites the P Brothers' new LP on their own Heavy Bronx label, "The Gas" (a title guaranteed to get Rovers fans into their good books). If the Notts duo ring a bell with you, it's probably thanks either to their "Live Hardcore Worldwide" CDs (one of which, of course, featured an intro from Peel himself), their sterling work on Cappo's increasingly seminal "Spaz The World" LP (um, also, in other news, please note that in advance of an upcoming 12", Caps has issued a ten-year retrospective mixtape, "The Director's Cut", boasting a fair few exclusives as well as a veritable host of his past tunes from singles, etc that have been raved about on these very pages) and for some of their block-destroying 12"s since, which they'd started to use as vehicles for introducing us to top Stateside MCs (yes, they exist) like DITC affiliate Milano, Queensbridge's Imam T.H.U.G., and Bronx old-stager Smiley da Ghetto Child (y'know, him that did "Wordz From..." with the great Gang Starr).

Some months back, the Brothers issued a taster for "The Gas" in the shape of a double A-side featuring Boss Money (who hail from actual, as opposed to Nottingham, Bronx) and Ress Connected (New Rochelle): we think you'll be interested to know that, if anything, the standard of the whole album is even higher than that 12" promised, as if they've demanded only songs that would justify single release in their own right. The four Boss Money tracks are outstanding - "Cold World" and "Blam Blam for Nottingham" especially maxing on a lowdown rustle of beats and supersparse, laidback rhyming - but there are also contributions from Milano (including the satisfyingly old-skool "In A Zone", erstwhile single "Got It On Me" and the faintly Numanesque "Digital B-Boy"), Long Island's highly rated Roc Marciano (a past Busta Rhymes collaborator, we think), and a lone, rather laconic cut from $amhill (of BDP's own South Bronx), which all seam into a coherent whole. Coherent because the P Brothers still insist at all times on (a) the beats being rough, ready and hewn purely from granite; (b) the samples being tried and tested old soul gold; and (c) plenty of space in their productions to allow the MCs to relax and get on with expounding their largely bleakish, street-corner visions, unhindered by climactic choruses or distracting musical gimmickry. "The Gas" does for the New York now what "Live Hardcore Worldwide" did for early-century Notts, and as you'll have guessed, that makes it just what we've been looking for.

In fact, let's cut to the chase. You know that "real hip-hop" that every mother's son claims they make ? Well, Paul S and Ivory actually do make it. And if you'll just indulge us one more second and allow us to remind you of that T&F definition of "soul music", then listen to the MCs on this and then try and tell us that this isn't that, too.

* * *

Peel favourites Comet Gain - who we'd also mentioned in that 'soul' discursion - are, we would hope it went without saying, one of the world's best, ooh, five recording artistes of the last decade or more: so it's handy that, like Cappo, they've just put out a '98-'08 assorted compilation, "Broken Record Prayers", on Milou Studios. It gives you the utterly stunning "You Can Hide Your Love Forever", their one 7" on Fortuna Pop! (according to some chancers, once: "they've done it a-gain... a splendid synthesis of 60s pop sensibilities with the acoustic movement of the 80s and some of the shambling that subsequently emerged when indie kids the first time round attempted to subvert the classic song form by the injection of punk - or at least d.i.y. - sensibilities.... a gorgeous melting pot of moving lyrics (boy sends girl tapes, girl loves his letters, boy and girl fail to admit mutual affection) and a mid-paced, warmly produced arrangement. driven by a roaming, booming bassline which throbs in and out of early tim vass territory and buttressed by trebly guitar conceits, the echoey drums picking up the pace both for the verse and the anthemic chorus (which rachel evans pops up from nowhere to join in with, as if things couldn't get any more succulent), it is both recherche and rococo and romantic. "say yes!""), half the tracks from the "Jack Nance Hair" and "Orwell Liberty Dance" 7" EPs, not least their excellent title tunes, as well as their disarming and ace "If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life" cover, a trio of Peel sesh numbers and a host of other goodies including both sides of the new What's Your Rupture ? 7" "Love Without Lies". The latter, incidentally, is a raw, "Realistes"-ish blast of garage / punk / soul only bettered by the sweet, post-"You Can Hide" melodies of "Books Of California" on the other side.

For completeness, please note that "You Can Hide Your Love Forever" also turns up on Peel favourites Fortuna Pop!'s "Be True To Your School" compilation: a ridiculously-underpriced thing that flicks multiple V-signs at the credit crunch, jampacked as it is with 25 songs from the Streatham empire's admirably prolific vaults, the bulk of which we've reviewed (or purported to) with no little admiration over the years: plus frighteningly-detailed, thoroughly entertaining and on occasion commendably frank sleeve notes from Suge himself. You should be especially tantalised not just by the Comet Gain tune but also the easily-worth-five-quid-each pocket rockets from those Butterflies of Love, Bearsuit, the WBGs, Tender Trap, Spraydog, Micktravis, the Lucksmiths, THE WIMPSHAKE and the Aisler's Set... ooh, and the um, excitable guitar bit that makes the rather green Taking Pictures song... and all that literally ain't even the half of it. Rather fittingly, given its bright eclecticism, "Be True..." is a set expressly dedicated to the one, the only (you guessed it) JP. So, especially if you have little or nothing of the FP! catalogue, then we can't really recommend it highly enough.

* * *

Peel favourites Boyracer have released their *final* album. Yes, it seems that this fantastic, prolific, ever-exciting, lyrically sublime band has run its course. The record, "Sunlight Is The Best Antiseptic", is a suitably golden farewell.

In contrast to pretty much all that has gone before, "Sunlight" has a mere dozen songs, making it maybe Boyracer's most succinct as well as most succulent record: and being a vinyl-only run of 100, surely even for them one of their rarest. Indeed, probably scarce enough that the novella-length review we want to give it would surely be redundant. So we'll try to restrict ourselves to a mere smattering of words.

"Sunlight" bounds into life with "The Heartbreaker", which ranks as one of their greatest songs, as spiky and catchy and scratchy as they've ever sounded. Hot on its heels come "Claire Likes Girls" and "80s Nottingham Grindcore Scene", two more powerpop bullets (and songs originally recorded and released on the mighty compilations "Your Cassette Pet" and "Honey, The Dog's Home" respectively). As you'd expect from the recent split 7"s on which Boyracer have appeared, the muse hasn't dried up one iota, even if there are plenty of themes which will be familiar: "North Yorkshire Coastline" a sweet evocation of the handful of things that Stewart Anderson still misses about the country of his birth, "Amateur Traumatics" - co-written by longtime Racer mainstay Ara Hacopian - blisteringly mixing bittersweet personal observation with untamed guitars. Arguably the only song that slightly jars - good as it is - is the versh of Urban Slake's "So Fucking Swedish" which ends the first side: for while spirited covers have increasingly been a crucial part of the Racer repertoire, their own songs on this release are so focussed, so plaintive, so radioactive with fuzzy emotion, that any deviation can't help but disrupt the atmos a little.

We've already said most of the things we wanted to say about Boyracer, which will kind of explain why we'll miss them so, but it's hard to believe they could have gone out any better than this. And the closing song "The Last Word" is at once, as Mr A's alter-ego Steward once had it, a kind of "goodbye to everything you love" and a letter to his loyal band of listeners. Building on the barenaked honesty of the last album's dewy-eyed "In My Previous Life", it's one of the most elegant, eloquent songs he has ever written. The perfect full stop.

* * *

It's not just Boyracer to whom we have to wish a tearful if fond farewell. Northallerton's pop royal family, Peel favourites Strawberry Story have just released their last ever single, "Summer Scene", on the French label Anorak (as in 'Vidocq et l'anorak jaune', fellow old-school GCSE-rs). And, like the Stupids single, this one pretty much rules. The title track itself suggests that the band have come full circle, because it's as raw and addictive as their very earliest forays, skipping through meadows of guitar fuzz from which Hayley's voice leaps out as if she was still yelping along with "Tell Me Now". And, musically, there is definitely something of the Milky Wimpshakes about it. The EP as a whole, however, is actually more nuanced (rough translation: the "slowies" outnumber the "fasties" three to two), with the closing song "Kiddie" a sleekly touching way to go out. Definitely recommended for anyone who's ever fallen under their spell.

Plus, like the Stupids and HDQ, Strawberry Story have been getting the re-re-issue treatment: this time thanks to Vinyl Japan knocking up "Clamming For It Plus", a souped up version of the original "Clamming" comp CD which - in addition to the original 16 tunes spanning a welter of their original flexis and 7"s - now has all the tracks from the two later EPs that got a compact digital release, "The Man With The Stereo Hands" and "Lucky Aubergine" (although oddly, the lead tune on the latter, their final pre-reformation EP, was "Well What Do You Think Of That Then, Paddy ?", a mainstay of the "Are You Ready ?" tape compilation many years before). True fact: in day, a band which featured now-members of the in love with these times, in spite of these times cliqua actually shared a couple of compilation tapes with Strawberry Story, but luckily we have forgotten the name of said combo, and yes we have destroyed every single thing it ever recorded...

Digressions aside, any excuse to plough through the Story oeuvre again is welcome, even though there is still unsettingly no place for the surely-tautologous "Teenage Romeo". So if you're lucky enough to be a teenager yerself, maybe, and their Cloudberry single "Sci-Fi Guy" was your first exposure to the Story in real time, then you can double your luck by getting hold of "Clamming For It Plus" and "Summer Scene", putting yr hands across the generations to complete more or less all of the scrummy SS jigsaw.

* * *

Now. According to no less an authority on these matters than Stewart Anderson, the "greatest UK writer of pop songs" is Andrew Jarrett, of biiiig Peel favourites Beatnik Filmstars. And the trusted indie-powerpop axis of old is really spoiling us in 2008, because "Fez '72", as we'll call it for now, is an exquisite album that proves it.

A distant cry from the fractured lo-fi brilliance of reams of the Filmstars' output right up to last yr's sporadically marvellous "Shenaniganism" set, not only is it Jarrett's most measured, shimmering work since the Bluebear's "Food Fight At the Last Chance Saloon", but for the wider populace it displays those popsong writing skills more vividly than ever before. "Fez '72" is a fifteen-song weave of twang, Americana, indie-guitar and alt-country, a melange of lyrical sadness and inherited loss, a mingling of mournful guitars and aching keyboards. From the moment that thoughtful opener "Animal Crackers" ambles louchely from the speakers, it's clear there's a real warmth to proceedings: the arrangements and instrumentation are understated, rather than lush, but seem so well suited to the album's reflective style. So the occasional backing vocals work, the harmonica works (we don't often say that), hell, even the whistling works. And while it's certainly a very different record from most preceding albums - a sea-change akin to Sportique's jump from "Black Is A Popular Colour" to "Modern Museums", except maybe this time the leap is in the opposite direction - there are still echoes, for example in the jets of skyrocketing guitar interspersed through "Scrabbling", of the powered-up glories of past work like "Laid Back And English".

Jarrett describes himself on this record as both "cynical pioneer" and "pessimistic optimist", and each phrase rings true: he can always temper the downbeat turns of phrase with a swoonsome tune or hook, which makes for a winning combination. There are very few writers in circulation who could pen songs as strong as "Grim Cosmic Joke", "Kittens and Cats" or the stunning "Hospital Ward", but the Filmstars even manage to tailor an epic album centrepiece, pulsing with yearning, from the distinctly unpromising title "Nurse My Head (As The Actress Said To The Bishop)". They bring the curtain down in style too with "Home", a ballad that carries echoes of some of Kyoko's smartest moments. The only possible mis-step is "You Never Hear A Good Song Coming From A Car Window", which takes us little further than its title (the premise of which is incorrect anyway, not least because when we used to roll in our 1.6, we forced the British pedestrian within earshot to listen to "New Boyfriend And Black Suit" and "Bigot Sponger Haircut Policy" at maximum blast).

As you can tell, we've replayed and enjoyed pretty much every Beatniks outing to date, and lapped up every last dollop of their rickety, fuzzing short-burst lo-fi brilliance over the years (culminating with last year's careering "Curious Role Model" single). But, of all their albums, it's quite possible that "Fez 72" will turn out to be the most complete.

* * *

Finally, Peel favourites Bolt-Thrower are releasing absolutely *nothing* this autumn. The reason ? Pay attention, all other bands: it's because while recording what was going to be their 9th album, they realised it wasn't going to be able to match up to the last one, WW1 epic / tribute "Those Once Loyal", and they decided they weren't prepared to foist anything sub-standard on the rest of us. Now *that's* integrity. It's also frankly a bit annoying, because from "In Battle There Is No Law" onwards, every Bolt-Thrower record has more than justified repeated revolution, and to be honest we'd happily snap up an offering that was only half as good as "Those Once Loyal" (it really was one of the finer albums of 2005, and one that's aged better than many others of that vintage). Still, we can only thank them for their honesty, and perhaps hope that someone's sneaked some bootlegs out of the studio anyway, because it's hard to face the idea of a future without new Bolt-Thrower material. Or, at least, more Bolt-Thrower gigs.

* * *

Yeah, today is the (4th) anniversary of John's death. We miss him more with each passing year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

every song in your heart is a song in our chart
[essential autumn listening]


the lucksmiths "up with the sun" (from forthcoming "first frost" cd album on fortuna pop!)
the short stories "tears before bedtime" (from "short stories for long nights" lp on the international lo-fi underground)
arch of cinema "shine of stars" (from "i would hurt you for the world: the sound of young java volume 3" 4-track cdr on cloudberry records)
keitzer "no justice no peace" (from "as the world burns" lp on yellow dog)
blak twang "raplife" (from "speaking from xperience" lp on abstract urban)
heist "don't understand" (12" on co-lab)
the mountain movers "this last hope" (from "we've walked in hell and there is life after death" lp on fortuna pop!)
(the) nervous rex "nothing worth saying twice" (from "we're a garage band from modern england" lp on the international lo-fi underground)
cappo "1 in a million freestyle" (from "the director's cut" mixtape)
ice cube "stand tall" (from "raw footage" album on da lench mob)
pelle carlberg "metal to metal" (from "the lilac time" lp on labrador)
cripple bastards "allergie da contatto" (from imminent "variante alla morte" lp on feto)


japan air "stars" (from 3-track cdr on cloudberry records)
counterstrike "fear generation" (from "insubordination - phase one" 12" on algorhythm)
jaydan "what you want" (from split 12" with dj pleasure on smokin' riddims)
benediction "controlopolis" (from "killing music" lp on nuclear blast)
s.s.s. "can't burst the bubble" (from impending "the dividing line" lp on earache)
manhattan love suicides "veronica" (a-side of new 7" on squirrel records)
fosca "confused and proud" (re-recording, from "the painted side of the rocket" lp on but is it art ?)
rudimentary peni "sublime fantasy #1" (from "no more pain" ep on southern)
ohmega watts "eyes and ears" (title track of ep on ubiquity records)
rose melberg "each new day" (single on double agent)
resistant culture "the struggle continues" (from "welcome to reality" lp on seventh generation / s.o.s.)
pete green "let it go by" (from "platform zero" 7" ep on lostmusic records)


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two Sevens Clash

Nights out spent with Milky Wimpshake. Dancing silly at the Windmill. Thrilled skinny at the Bull and Gate. A perfect lovers' (not fighters) tryst at the Water Rats, one Valentine's Day. Endless guitar runs, swoonsome bass grooves, punchy indie-punk. So many times where falling for them so completely was involuntary, where our bashful, doe-eyed band-worship had to be forgivable.

Evenings in listening to Milky Wimpshake. "Dialling Tone", "Home Is Where The Hate Is", "Popshaped", "I Wanna Be Seen In Public With You". THE. DEVIANCY. AMPLIFICATION. SPIRAL. Kissing and cuddling with the Buzzcocks and the Undertones. So many essential records. And now a new EP, courtesy of Streatham's 'new and untouchable' Fortuna Pop!

Now MW don't mess about. They may have been going fifteen years (so still remembering Razorblade Smile so fondly makes us feel waaaaay old!!) but one of the secrets of their success is that they always keep it fresh. So soaraway lead track "One Good Use For My Heart" goes straight for vertical take-off, making it a Harrier jump-jet of a spangly pop song: two minutes of sheer, instant, concentrated joy and, like Julie Ocean, nothing extraneous. "(Show Me The Way To) Anarchy" is more thoughtful, expansive, ebbing and flowing, the regulation 'grower', its charm defined as Pete Dale sings "I love the way you skip their fist / it's confrontation with a twist / they don't know which / to laugh or cry"; "Milky Cliche" a powerhouse from the live set transported to vinyl, all nursery-rhyme simple words and typically blissful hooks, even as Pete admits, "This is a b-side / Under a bushel I'm going to hide / All my good ideas". Trust us, it's another case of B-Side Wins Again.

Not content with the three originals, this value-added EP also boasts a double cover version bonus: a respectful jangle-tribute to the Isley Brothers' (rather wonderful, for a pre-1976 tune) "This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)": and fellow ex-Slamptees the Yummy Fur's "Policeman", maybe the best song about police ever that hadn't already been written by NWA, MDC, Body Count or Smiley Culture. The Wimpshake treatment of it - as a brilliantly idiosyncratic "medley" with "If You Want To Know The Time, Ask A Policeman" (a line once sung by George Formby in the seminal "On The Beat", fact fans, although the actual cover is apparently an unrelated music hall staple) - kinda makes so little sense that it makes perfect sense (y'know, the same kind of alchemy that made the TVPs "All The Young Children On Crack" such a copper-bottomed classic). And the upshot of all of this, we guess, is that you can still sleep soundly in your beds tonight with the sure knowledge that Milky Wimpshake - despite having seemingly decided to bin the keyboards - are still the bees'.

And as we at once reel from, and raise a glass to, the 'Shake's incessant, sparky poptabulousness, we dimly recall that we once promised Suge (sorry, Sean) that one day we'd get round to posting up the Pete Dale / Akhenaton / Ant Wilson piece we'd got 3/4 through, a stream of consciousness thing from a moment in February '06 when we were equally enthralled by newies from all three of them. And if we ever find all the post-it notes and backs of till receipts on which we scrawled it, I promise we will.

Ahem. There's more strange alchemy brewing with Cause Co-Motion!'s 3-track 7", "I Lie Awake", on another indie powerhouse, Slumberland Records of Oakland, CA. What with being more off-the-pace than a footballer on Hackney Marshes who's just had to run all the way to the road to collect the ball for a throw-in, we haven't encountered the Brooklyn quartet before, but if "I Lie Awake" is anything to go by, they're the sound of the McTells colliding with Beat Happening! and in the case of the title track here, the result is a kooky, compelling 90 seconds of spirited, super-skewed indie pop that would have fitted very nicely amongst the early 14 Iced Bears demos we got a glimpse of on that band's "In The Beginning" comp (also on Slumberland). The other tunes are similarly brilliant, if also uncompromisingly early-Pastels raw: "You Don't Say" sounds like the vocalist is singing a slightly different song from that the band are playing (in our book, this makes it an added-value 2 for 1), while "Cry For Attention" slows it down - this time there's only one, v. delicate song, but one seemingly played, and winningly, at a variety of occasionally overlapping tempos. There's something really exciting about the all-too few bands who can combine such vulnerability with a spirit of experimentation and enterprise, and that's exactly what CCM's mosaic of DIY melodies achieves. Incidentally, if you're wondering why Slumberland are so on fire right about now, maybe it's the sheer quality of the records that inspire them: there's a patchwork quilt of classic LP sleeves on their myspace page, and from BDP right thru to the essential Wolfhounds, there's not a single record on it that we wouldn't commend to high heaven...

So there you go. Two sevens, on two formidable labels. And of course, they don't clash at all, just complement one another. But they are part of a happy pattern, a continuing flow of cracking vinyl singles this year, from Boyracer to MLS, from Atomic Beat to Slumberland, to another cracker we'll mention in a week or two, all of which show there'll be plenty of use for our battered 7" boxes for a little while yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Return of the Mac

Much as - you may have spotted - we love the brutalist school, we're prepared to grant you that the Royal Albert Hall off Kensington Gore is on any measure a stunning edifice, inside and out. Opened in 1871 as a tribute to the consort Queen Vic still pined for, it's also been a perfect setting since the Forties for the Proms, still the most skilfully-curated and rewarding concert series in the country. This year, we gotta furnish particular props to Pyotr Ilyich, as usual ('specially the LSO strutting the divine Sleeping Beauty), Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra playing Haydn, Schoenberg and the wonderful Brahms (who we're newly rediscovering), and, of course, the inspired pairing of the late K-H Stockhausen's "Punkte" with more conventionally elegant works from Schubert and Ludwig vB: judging by the horrified reaction of some punters close to us, there needs to be a lot more of that kind of programming in British classical music. As ever, the only thing that let the Proms down was the Last night, when most of Britain's lunatics hold a bizarre rally to the strains of Edward Elgar, and everyone watching highlights on the news at home somewhat forgivably believes the lie that classical music is only for snobs and / or mentalists.

But it's not all over in terms of musical bounty within the walls of this magnificent redbrick amphitheatre. Because a clutch of days later, on one of the first truly crisp autumn nights of the year Echo and the Bunnymen, no less, take to the stage to help dispel those post-Proms blues. Will Sergeant, adopting the head-down, nr-motionless pose he will retain all evening, strikes up those opening notes of "Rescue". And beside him, an equally static Mac the Mouth prepares to unleash what a few thousand not-so-youngs in the audience are waiting for - THE VOICE.

This is largely a greatest hits set, as is confirmed when "Villiers Terrace" swiftly follows on "Rescue"'s heels, although the interpolation of one newie, "Stormy Weather" (a vaguely Mary Chain-esque anthemic / romantic thing) doesn't do the damage you might fear. Otherwise, the hits rain down ("The Back Of Love", "All That Jazz", "Never Stop"...), dry ice at times virtually envelops the stage, and Echo prove that they always had THE SONGS. Of the older guard, "Bring On The Dancing Horses", works marvellously in these surroundings, the microphone pregnant with echo delay; and "Nothing Lasts Forever" retains the majesty of the single version, McCulloch's voice perfectly suited to enunciating the weariness of growing old, the need to acknowledge how times change and things get left behind (Queen Victoria, still heartbroken when she dedicated this place ten years on from Albert's death, would have known how he felt). Yes, "All My Colours" seems to have got a little lost in time, and as for "Lips Like Sugar", well we've simply never really liked it: but for the most part, this is a set of borderline-immodest showing off, and fantastic with it. The band's puissance is most trenchantly demonstrated by the fact that they finish with "The Cutter" - what a song, what a song (shakes head in awe and wonderment, cradles the original 7", half-dissolves into teary lament for days when this kind of thing would unite the cool kids and the playground kids and sell tens of thousands of copies, on real vinyl and everything). A sublime way to finish.

Except, of course, that it's only half-time. For after a respectful interval, the band re-emerge, kitted out all dapper-like in suits and ties (apart from the Mouth, who goes for a more traditional trenchcoat look to accompany the permafixed sunglasses). But this time, they're accompanied by a sixteen-piece orchestra. And, after Mac notes that Liverpool FC have just stung Marseilles 2-1, they only go and play the "Ocean Rain" album in its entirety, the strings and the acoustics of this place giving it a depth, dimension and identity that we never quite got from our original - gulp - cassette, or even subsequent remasterings (you will be unsurprised to learn that it is about to get yet another digital re-release).

It's hard to recall an album-length's worth of songs having ever whoooshed past quite so quickly, but then if you've an album that kicks off with the >epic pop thrill< of "Silver" and then hurtles through crowdpleasers like "Thorn of Crowns" and "Seven Seas" before the title track delivers a final, lingering kiss, then there's reason to expect it can only seem an all-too brief treat. "The Killing Moon" gets prefaced by a typically blunt "This is the greatest song of all time" from Mac (no longer borderline immodest, then), but in the few minutes that followed, anyone of us under the Hall's cavernous roof would have been hard-pressed to disagree. All the while, screens flick up pictures of the band at their very youngest, emphasising the "homecoming" nature of this gig (it may not be Liverpool, but it is the place they first previewed many of the tunes on "Ocean Rain" a quarter-century back).

There's little hanging around to enjoy the moment once that final song triumphantly finishes: the band stride purposefully off, leaving conductor Rupert Christie and his musicians to self-consciously shuffle themselves and their instruments from the stage. And to cop some deserved applause.

As cool, understated and full of incoherent mumbles as McCulloch so doggedly was for much of the evening, you could tell that he was putting his all into this performance. Veterans they may be, but this was a venue, and an occasion, made for albums, and bands, like this one.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Straight Outta Compton, Straight Into Camden

Oh yes - almost forgot. The best night of the summer was, a little surprisingly, a stifling July evening in ever-unprepossessing Camden Town. Here at the Electric Ballroom, to be precise.

We began it standing at the back as usual, arms folded and heads nodding, while the DJ span old gold of the Onyx or Gang Starr ilk for an hour or two. A pretty relaxed crowd, some truly great music. Around ten o'clock, though, it was time for the main event: in person, in a London club, it was none other than Ice Cube.

He'd promised "just me, two turntables and microphone, old-style", but the precise line-up was this. One Ice Cube, of course, on the mic. A man who memorably described himself as "an actor / a rapper / a macker / got a little problem with the redneck cracker" but could now probably add to the CV, "a film director, although with substantially diminishing comedic returns ever since 'Friday'". The unfortunately-named WC - pronounced Dub-C - on second mic, meaning that two-thirds of Westside Connection were in the um, motherfucking house (only Mack-10 absent). And his DJ, Crazy Tunes (as in "when you see Crazy Tunes / throw up the W"), on those decks.

Tonight, Cube claims he hasn't played London for 13 years, although even his publicist reckons it's really more like two. But it's really strange - given that he's an established multimedia millionaire - how much he really wants to be loved by this relatively small audience, even down to exhorting purchase of his new album, as if a few hundred copies would be a dent in its sales, while WC reminds us that we can buy T-shirts at the back, as if the trio are merely an indie band trying to recoup their petrol costs. But it's as sweet as it's strange.

Cube is perhaps understandably bitter that his own role in rap taking off gets forgotten as the years roll by: at one point, WC pre-rehearsedly asks us "Who started this gangsta rap shit ?" "Ice-T!" shouts D'Alma. "Schoolly D!" says I. "Ice Cube", yells everyone else, and the man is suitably pacified. Instead, faceless multinationals bear the brunt of his ire: Viacom are singled out for their role in having prostituted true hip-hop. We're too shy to point out that there were many willing collaborators, although Ice Cube was most certainly not one of them.

There are some tunes from the album he's allegedly promoting, "Raw Footage", but frankly not that many. Which gives time for everything from "Check Yo' Self" (over "The Message"), to "We Be Clubbin'" to "You Can Do It" to "Bop Nation" to Westside Connection's "Bow Down" and longtime ilwttisott favourite "The Nigga You Love To Hate", the song that best illustrates how the Bomb Squad reignited both Ice Cube's talent and career: after leading us in several choruses of its cheery "Fuck you, Ice Cube!" refrain, Cube finishes with a sentimental, coy "Aw, fuck you too, man". There's also "Gangsta Nation", from Westside Connection's "Terrorist Threats", before which Cube and WC formally inducted all of us into tha Connection. Which was nice. And, of course, "It Was A Good Day", unsubtly adapted ("nobody I know got killed in the UK"). Indeed, Cube has a few words on a current crisis (this was in the midst of that midsummer media alarm, especially where the victims were white, over stabbings): "It ain't the music. It's the conditions".

Halfway thru, Cube wanders offstage to take a breather, while WC gives us a turn of his own. It's a little like Bruce Foxton being given three minutes to do a bass solo at a Jam gig, but still brilliant. From behind the stage, we then hear Cube mock-pleading. "I'm only coming back out if you let me do some of that old-skool hardcore gangsta shit", he says, with a faux-grumpiness that his Boyz In Da Hood character, Doughboy, would have been proud of. When we all, somewhat predictably, go gaga raging mental, he storms back on and delivers his verses from "Straight Outta Compton" and "Gangsta Gangsta" (best version since Snoop and C-Murder's). It's not far off Yo Rosehip doing "Designer Greed": it flays us, and when we do eventually tip, topple, stumble out into the Camden grey, we almost swear we can make out those lights of the Goodyear blimp, shining down official confirmation that Cube is, indeed, a pimp.

Gosh. Even now, we're stunned that such a big star played such a storming, intimate set at a club venue. And that we got in. But, even now, we are extremely grateful. And like Flav, not so long ago, Ice Cube really looks made up. "I'm gonna come back every year", he promises boldly. Let's hope so.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Get Us On The Court And We're Trouble

aka club ilwtt - autumn 2008. date: yes. time: yes. venue: yes. the tracks were these.

the elementz featuring scorzayzee "voyage" (from"crushmode" cd lp on occupy your mind)

yep, you read it right: featuring scorzayzee. yay. one of notts' many finest is *BACK* and is still the master storyteller, with the ability to deliver reality like no other (e.g. "great britain" w/ the p brothers) and heartfelt, kitchen sink empathy like no other (just like on "want what's yours" with styly cee, all the way back in day). oh, and he's still got a killer flow. actually, the elementz record is pretty tight, especially with skinnyman's "high grade" and with wretch and mates killing it on "at 1 with the elementz", but we're afraid any track with scorz on it is gonna upstage all-comers, and this he duly does. on another level.

scorzayzee "why i'm here" (myspace track)

did we mention, scorz is back ? this one explains why, an effortless freestyle about self-discovery, self-restraint, poverty, inspiration and coming good. ah, honestly, having him back is completely brilliant. we know it was rakim who said "i came back to bless the mic", but this feels like our own returning hero doing just the same.

tempa "freestyle" featuring jaybe (myspace track)

a real positive to see that tempa is still around, too, as it's some time since "ya get me" ruled the decks, and she's still interested in delivering um, truth to the youth, packing the sort of punch we took from no.lay on the latter's recent mixtape. plus, young jaybe marks himself out here as one to watch: here's keepin' it crossed for more, much more from the both of them.

dap-c and dirty sweet featuring blak twang and geejay "music game" (from "street karma" cd on ngu records)

dap-c's most recent cd is somewhat variable: there's not enough of him on it for a start, far too many other rappers taking up mic time, plus, even when he is on it, he's devoting inordinate energy to the regulation champagne & shagging lyrical stuff and not nearly enough to just expressing his emotions, which is actually when he comes across best to us, even if we know that's not what keeps younger heads nodding these days (or, indeed, keeps cash tills ringing). but anyway. this tune, despite being more breezily instant and glimmer globe-friendly than any lowest common denom club banger could be, is simply tremendous, a summer hit that grows and grows and keeps on giving.

twang (that's b.t. himself aka tony rotton aka sarf london's greatest hip-hop survivor, not the ace late-80s ron johnson band or the very very terrible '00s "indie" band from brum) hits it with a large first verse, well up to his usual standard: dap-c then follows it with possibly the best bars he's done, right from when he nails it up top with his "i remember sleepless nights / no electricity..." intro through to a defiant "i'm battling still": and sunderland's under-rated geejay delivers too, with a spot at least as strong as some of the tracks from his own "i came to represent" mixtape. but p'raps the real star of the exercise is dirty sweet, who put the beat together to make it all possible. ubermaximum respect.

onyx "mad world" (from "cold case files (murda investigation)" cd on iceman)

yes, onyx are BACK too, even if the material here is not new, and this return of the madface is miles from the going thru the motions of "triggernometry" as sticky, fredro and co strip things right back to, at best, huge bass and raw, grizzly vocals (think mobb circa "drop a gem on 'em"). this is no-frills hip-hop, and even as a 'rest of', it lords it over some of their solo efforts.

dj pleasure "vengar" (12" a-side on lowdowndeep)
malfoy "pureblood" (12" a-side on skimrok project)
clipz "offline" (b-side of "ugly" 12" on audio zoo)
jaydan "hustlerz and dealerz" (12" a-side on propaganda records)
dj pleasure "technique" (b-side of "wish master" 12" on lowdowndeep)

ooh, that was a half hour we greatly enjoyed. there seems to be a school of thought that jump-up is somehow "too easy" to get into, as if the fact that something makes you want to dance around madly or smile like a (wo)man possessed disqualifies it from critical acclaim. obviously, only dunderheads subscribe to this school, by which any peppy pop music, groovalicious grindcore or life-affirming UKHH (see previous tune) would be ruled out of "the canon". all these guys make great music, and like everyone else we scrawl about, music that is not that hard to adore.

the pains of being pure at heart "everything with you" (possibly forthcoming single on slumberland)

"goal...!" a new tune from the pains of. no, it does not represent a change of direction: yes, that is a good outcome. liable to be up there with the mls' "clusterfuck" as one of the brightest swinging fuzzpop 7"s of the yr.

the pains of being pure at heart "come saturday" (download single on fortuna pop!)

"and another", as alan partridge would say. thanks to sean price, the ever-diligent suge knight of indie-pop, there's gonna be a pains of being pure at heart album, and it's gonna be major. how do we know ? because this buzzing, sherbety ripsnorter takes "come saturday" from their earlier slumberland split single and gives it the full fuel injection, not least by bringing the bass up to the fore. sheer sheer joy.

postal blue "you should keep it to yourself" (from their 3" cd-r on cloudberry)

the boys from brazil are er, BACK and the news on this tune is that they've gone kinda blueboy circa "imipramine". fair play to them, really: in our view it's a change in direction which suits them to a tee.

phil wilson "neon lights" (from "industrial strength" 2x7" ep on slumberland)

the late tony wilson presided over "factory". the great ant wilson curated "powertools". the fine glenn wilson delivered "industrial control". and now the sublime phil wilson (who is BACK, btw) brings us "industrial strength". thematic is good. as is this e.p. of acoustic kraut-industrial covers (yes you read that right) with low-in-the-mix vocals: "neon lights" is especially sweetly rediscovered, using the power of ukelele. the overdue return of phil wilson to our record collection is courtesy of those arbiters of maximum taste at slumberland - what with sarandon, the sunny street and the pains of too, it does rather appear that slumberland are trotting out much sweet stuff this yr, does it not ?

lauren mason "haterade" (single on perpetuity records)

ah, y'know, this is *grate*. it's marketed vaguely as grime, and her voice obviously has that r&b feel that worked so well on "p.s." and "just wanna be me", but really this is great POP, at least as serviceable as, and with much more charm than, the seemingly uncriticisable girls aloud or sugababes. when she sings "i'm only 22... this is my prime time / i didn't know that to look sharp and feel good was a big crime" it's a stern rebuke - she properly smacks it to the grumpy oldsters like us she's getting at. we'd better check out the album.

estelle "american boy" (single on atlantic)

gulp. is it really 6 years since we were dropping the odd mention of estelle swaray into our ziney musings ? that would have been abt the time she did guest vox (styling herself "est'elle") on b. twang's "trixstar", showed off her singing on the "diamond in the rough" mixtape and even dropped in on a couple of tunes on 57th dynasty's "a dynasty truly like no other": all followed eventually by "1980" (yes it was a fleeting, but still memorable pop moment). and the errant apostrophe was now long gone. then there was, let us think, a terrible album, a biiiiiig gap and now a resurfacing with, well, largely another terrible album, but whatever, cos' "american boy" itself is pretty smart. apart from: the sickly-slick production; and the fact she seems to owe her success not to her ability and endeavour, what we've never doubted, but to getting in with the "right" (i.e. wrong) musical company. grrr.

luckily, c-murder is apparently out on parole now, and what with onyx seemingly being back in full effect too, hopefully real gangster rap can make a comeback and help nail the current lazy tolerance of mediocrity that allows kanye to telephone in the kind of verse he does here, ne-yo to express his admiration for coldplay or to record anything, and the honestly once-amazing snoop to record such abysmal records as "sensual seduction". oh, and ll cool j's warmly-touted nu single is also *not* a return to form: it is totally wack and "i need love" seems like "hand in glove" by comparison. sorry ll, but maybe ice-t had it damn right on "i'm your pusher", after all.

annotations of an autopsy "fisted to the point of regurgitation" (from "before the throne of infection" cd lp on siege of amida)
obituary "forces realign" (from "left to die" cd-ep on candlelight)
slipknot "all hope is gone" (single on the all-blacks)

at their best, annotations encapsulate the pure sludge of earlyish carcass and are therefore always worth a run-out, even if the lyrics are still basically keepin' it 6th form. obituary on the other hand are simply gods, and not just because they hail from the same state as cloudberry records. whereas... well, we never thought we would even be able to listen to a slipknot record all the way through, considering how limpid and unthreateningly tame slipknot usually are, but this (also the title track of their album) is actually ok, and 1,000,000x better than "psychosocial" which we think is their other single of recent months. tru, it probably wouldn't be in here if its inclusion didn't at least marginally rile you, our dear reader (readers ?) but there you go. we'd love it, just love it, if they ever covered "vatican broadside".

bubblegum lemonade "just like you" (from "susan's in the sky" ep on matinee recordings)

the lemonade have the severe misfortune to have released this at the same time as northern portrait's "napoleon sweetheart", which no doubt had the effect that all the paparazzi who would otherwise loiter with intent around bubblegum towers on a weeknight zoomed off to copenhagen or something. away from the paps, bubblegum lemonade have crafted another lissom title track, but we went for "just like you" because, like "unsafe at any speed" off their first ep, it shows how they can be at their best when they corral together those jamc influences.

jme "punch in the face" (from "famous ?" cd lp on boy better know)

"famous ?" is jamie adenuga's first album proper after that series of mixtapes quite a while back, which is probably why tunes like "serious" (a song we must have first heard on 1xtra in about 1812), lp opener "AWOH", "standard" and a "shh hut yuh muh" refix (a maniac assemblage to rival "full effect" or "no boad test this corner" for general addictiveness) can still get a run-out in 2008. there's no doubt it's a bold, accomplished work though: most attention will probably be devoted to "sun, sea and sand", which deserves to be a hooj crossover record, and the plastician-inspired "ghetto superstar", but plenty of our favourites are where jme's own voice comes through, like "standard", the wiley-produced "1 2 3" or this track ("i've had enough of these fake gangsters... i just think they're idiots"). "punch in the face" is a good example of how "famous?" is acksherley a thoughtful, at times surprisingly unsettling record, many of the songs finishing with longer instrumental passages than most grime-mc cuts, and so drilling clipped, clinical, sparse beats like these a little deeper into yr mind.

kurupt "break it down like" (single on highpowered entertainment)

on one level, this is brainless sub-50 "up in da club" tosh, but on another, it's a visceral snakehip-tempter par excellence. what tips the balance on this occasion is that ex-death row geezer and general old-stager kurupt is allegedly a fave of garry thompson, a fine player in his day and also in our view one of rovers' more mistreated ex-managers. also, "break it down, like" is a ringer for the brizzle vernacular.

morgan heritage and busy signal "run dem weh" (single on juke boxx recordings)
buju banton "you ago happen" (from "the golden tree" ep on gargamel music)
capleton "nuh bwoy" (single on clay records)

busy's "tic-toc" didn't really chime for us (ha), but when he teams up with the more consistent heritage ppl the result is this excellent download. ever questioning ("how can you expect the population / to sit back kick back and just relax ?"), it neatly marries roots reggae riddims with up-to-the-now dub inflections. of the various spins of buju's golden tree riddim on his new ep, "you ago happen" just about wins out for us over the collaborations with delly ranks and new kids: it's not as expansive as, but feels much more winningly contemporary than, "cowboys". as for capleton (sadly no relation to the ex-southend 'keeper), he just plays it tuff, but somehow we can't tear ourselves away. so "nuh bwoy", along with "break it down like", is a guilty, even grubby, pleasure.

sven wittekind "i stay hard" (12" a-side on sven wittekind records)
the bug featuring flowdan "warning" (from "london zoo" lp on ninja tune)

sven stays hard-techno, we're sure that means: and the tune is a little more driven than his recent "never forget" 12". flowdan is just hard, in any sense of the term, and resumes his prolific partnership with the equally uncompromising the bug. "warning" is therefore the aural equivalent of mick harford partnering fash the bash up front.

repugnant inebriation "dead soul" (from "empire of hate" cd-ep on eternal fog records)

metal bands have been running out of adjective / noun name combinations for some time now: all the really good ones, to do with death or napalm or horrible diseases, have gone, so one has to fall back on anything that sounds vaguely unpleasant. so in the case of london's own five-piece repugnant inebriation, at least they've got something that well reflects an average evening in their home city, even if they can't lay claim to the most serious medical / wartime ailments. anyway, this e.p. is death metal of the proper excoriating variety and it leads off with this song, that also appeared on a recent terrorizer cover mount. the repugnants carefully negotiate the fine line between smile-making moshery and self-regarding guitar noodling to deliver one of our favourite metallic singles of the yr so far. in their own words, they want to create music that's "a pleasure to listen to": as with all our cast tonight, they've certainly succeeded, making this the perfect place to STOP.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sweetheart, I Could Die In Your Arms

Hearing the new Northern Portrait EP, "Napoleon Sweetheart", one's tempted to ask where the bloody hell they were in the late 80s, when we were all crying out for the new Smiths and being fobbed off instead with a plethora of anaemic, uber-ropey carbons. The answer, no doubt, is that the three of them were gurgling contentedly away in their carry-cots, but that's barely sufficient excuse: we were in dire need of a tonic back then and this is the sort of thing that could have delivered. (And yes, secretly, we knew that *actually* discovering a new Smiths was an unattainable object, but it was really a code for just wanting a band with the same trembling combination of insouciance, sprightliness and technique, a band that could play a neat one-two with the legacy of Salford's finest and at least run with it a bit. That's how high we set our sights in those days. And no, Suede never fitted the bill).

Whereas Northern Portrait's first record, "The Fallen Aristocracy", carried echoes not only of the Smiths but also the jangling Walkeresque potency of One Thousand Violins in full flow, this second CD-EP carries undertones of... well yes, the fab four again, but also perhaps some slightly later bands in time. "Napoleon Sweetheart" has the pace, yearning and Morrissey-ish werewolf falsettos of their debut, but also a lilting gravitas akin to classy post-shambling moments like Bradford's "Skin Storm", the Cradle's "It's Too High", the Railway Children's "Brighter", that kind of thing.

It starts, like the last EP's "Crazy", with a pretty solid demonstration that pop songs can be infectious without being inane: it's called "I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me" and you'll be having it buzz round your cranium 'til the cows come home. Singer & songwriter Stefan Larsen is still pitching deep - "I'm so tired / of the way she's selling out... I want something that's real / and perfectly genuine" - as the song bounds along impatiently, the chiming guitars dancing sympathetically around him. It's a peerless number that screams "A-side", absolutely hollers it.

But the best extended-plays need to maintain premium quality over four tracks, and that's perhaps the most enthralling thing about both Northern Portrait records to date. Here, "Sporting A Scar" sneaks up a little more subtly, a tangle of wiry guitars mourning "the best thing that never happened to me", before "In An Empty Hotel" simply breezes in, palpably borrowing from the heavenly strums of Mr Marr, with melodies to match. Wonderful. The finish line, in contrast to the all-out jangle bombardment of the title track last time round, is the drizzly semi-balladry of "Our Lambrusco Days", a contemplative indie-pop hymn with dark lyrical turns - "life can be such a death-affirming experience" - of which Moz would be proud.

And there are passages on this record, not least the too-short instrumental sections that bring the curtain down on the last couple of songs, where Northern Portrait start doing that Harper Lee trick of making us suddenly feel all soppy with love and unblinking adoration, and rather regretful that we don't feel that way more often. As we get all wrapped up in glistening, intertwining guitars we picture a dark sky suddenly picked through by the gleam of thousands of tiny stars, and wish the world hadn't changed so much that we can't revisit our own Lambrusco days when records like this came on vinyl, when we could gently drop the needle and watch it spin serenely through the grooves.

It's no bad thing, after their super soaraway debut, that NP didn't hang around before releasing this exceptional second single: the longer they left it, the more we'd have had cause to wonder whether "The Fallen Aristocracy"'s polished, sophisticated charm was a one-off. Instead, they're making hay while the sun shines. It's remarkable, for a band that seems to have emerged in an instant, how they've already acquired the poise and grace of a Laudrup or a Simonsen, so our only concern for them now is that they don't 'mature' (dread word) too fully, too fast: after all, we remember how the Railway Children bowled us over with the jab of "A Gentle Sound" and the cross of "Brighter", ultimately to fade into major label malaise while our backs were turned. But right now, Northern Portrait are nigh-irresistible.

So yeah, this is pop deluxe. It's on Matinee Recordings. You might want to buy it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Feeling Mission

When we were talking, sat in that Tin Pan Alley bar and by now nursing near-empty glasses, I mentioned that first trip to the Astoria, in the 80s.

Back then, we were hanging on the coat-tails of a cooler crowd, who got us tickets for the gig and tolerated us with pleasing equanimity. Pocket money was too scarce to shell out on a Capitalcard for the train, so we'd actually travelled to the smoke on a pea-green double decker bus, one of those old Eastern National jalopies that would have taken us all the way to the pre-refit Liverpool Street. It would have juddered between the other satellite towns, then eventually followed the main arterial that clings to the Central Line, as the oases of green belt gave way entirely to the sprawling suburbs of Havering and Redbridge, pockmarked by between-the-wars semis, and then the bawling hubbub of East London proper.

We could have watched, arrayed as we were across of the front of the top deck, as the embers of the day were ground out by the slow descent of the summer eve, though likely as not the change would have passed unnoticed, lost in the excited chatter of schoolboys on their way to a night out with real grown-ups. How we made it from the bus station to the promised land of "up west", memory defeats, but it would either have been hopping on buses (in those days, when the Routemaster ruled Central London, you simply chased buses down as quarry, leaping on and off as they moved) or the more tried and tested hurdle over Underground ticket barriers.

But there was to be no epiphany at the Astoria that night, a night which sank like a stone once we'd arrived in the acrid, filthy atmosphere of the club, a teeming smog of dry ice and Silk Cut fumes and the stench of undeodorised teenagers, all the time having to pretend to be 18 by drinking drinks that we couldn't afford, we didn't like the taste of and that made us ill. And as for the band, they were risible, truly atrocious: let's not detain ourselves with them any further. But after what seemed an eternity of their dull-witted stagecraft and posing, we took the oppo to scramble for the exits while the singer, during a thoroughly unmerited second encore, began scaling the speaker stacks.

And then, suddenly it was clearer. All that expectation had dissipated, inexorably, into the Astoria fug, and now we realised we needed - longed for - music on our own terms, without this fakery, this self-absorption, this utter lack of self-consciousness. Not because it was bad per se, but just because it wasn't us.

We realised that the posing and the pouting and the gradual creep of rawk histrionics were, yet again, so much plastic. Yes, on the train home, everyone else was wearing Cheshire cat grins and yapping about how brilliant the band were, and we were happy they were happy, but we were happier still that we knew, with the wrongheaded but righthearted conviction of any teenager, that they were also *utterly deluded*, and when we got back we proved it to ourselves by listening the songs that we'd been taping off John Peel, by bands that would never scale speaker stacks in their life, and we picked up the fanzines that we liked but no-one else seemed to and even the copies of Sounds that were lying around (these were days when the papers had a cabal of writers at least showing sympathy for youngbloods like the June Brides and the Pastels and Close Lobsters and the Wolfhounds...) and we re-read and re-listened and yeah, "got into" these bands because we found we really did like them and because they spoke to us then, because they were trying only to be themselves (that line from Give My Love to Kevin, "I'm not trying to be anything..." was a tonic because we identified with it, so completely - later of course, it would be the Field Mice's iconic "I'm not brave / I'm not special / I'm not any of those things") and we no longer went for music just because others at school did. And before we knew it we were translating late night Radio 1 into shopping trips for vinyl, and spinning delightedly into all sorts of new worlds, even if it was a generation later when the speaker-climbing band's old manager reappeared out of the blue at our door, trying to sell us double glazing, and it seemed a virtuous circle was complete.

Ahem. Back on Tin Pan Alley, how we then got on to Floridian wonder-marque Cloudberry is less clear, but we did. At a guess, it started when we were talking about how once-cherished bands found it so easy to believe their own hype, to treat their advance as a sign they'd made it, to relentlessly milk their new found popularity by starting to act the role of pop star, minor or major league, rather than to do it because they wanted to. Even if climbing speaker stacks was very 80s, whereas to walk the walk in super media-savvy 2008 needs a more studied cool (handily now taught at stage school): act like you don't care, curl your lip, wear a Ramones t-shirt as if you mean it, glibly drip in and out of rehab. As a king of Manchester once said, and it seems to apply more than ever today: "All the young groups now / Act like peasants with free milk".

And on that kind of tip, Roque (off of Cloudberry) wrote a niiice piece in the splendid Iconoclastic Cardies #2 about certain bands kind of trying to cling to the coat-tails of indie as 'trendy', at the same time as using all the old ladder-climbing tricks to pull up sales and "buzz", all that kind of tosh. It's a little like the ongoing battle in hip-hop, typified by Ice-T's "Question And Answer" as long ago as '93 where he made clear he didn't have a problem with the artists who never pretended to be anything other than 'pop' (ha, even the "new and untouchable" Hammer): but when artists sold themselves as 'street' - whether underground pioneer or straight-up gangster from the group home - and then crossed over, they were player fakers. If you're putting a record out on Cloudberry, chances are you're not doing it for a quick leg-up into the demsne of pluggers and faux-indie. (Or, indeed, to sell yourself as gangsta when you prefer a quiet night in with the crossword). Cloudberry keep it real, and we don't care how you leap on that statement. Here's the 1, 2, 3.

The first thing is the aesthetics. Every single Cloudberry release is impeccably packaged, each 3" CD-r nestling in a micro-sleeve with carefully pored-over artwork. It's amazing how quickly we get blase about it, but we shouldn't. Great labels in the day like Sarah, Factory, Pink, September, or more recently Matinee or the immaculate LTM took great care over their presentation and packaging, too, and were all the better for it. Plus, there are the little country flags that remind us of the many nations of indie-pop, the power of the international pop underground (an august organisation that, liberated by the internet, now routinely makes border raids into new worlds of possibility, staking out its territory further). Cloudberry is one of its liveliest active splinter cells (we at in love with these times, in spite of these times are just sleepers).

The second thing, a touch more important: the attitude. "Cloudberry believes in unrequited love + systems of resistance + sense of community + DIY ethics + international socialism". While those are fine words, many indie-kids in the UK profess the same kind of thing, but beyond the trappings of indiepop fandom, still manage to fire themselves up only with deeply conservative idea(l)s, or vote Conservative, or, even worse don't bother to vote at all (well done again the 3 million registered voters in London to whom it should have been abundantly clear that if they didn't vote, the BNP would get their 5% threshold: and who still didn't bother). But in describing what Cloudberry does and represents, their own words seem entirely accurate and fair, and their rightful fascination with the *SINGLE* as a primary form of revolutionary communique has much in common with our own over-romantic notions of the single as being at the heart of (musical) love, resistance and community... And there, perhaps, is the most valid, most important link with Sarah, with the way that our interpretation of the Sarah ethos + politics (there were plenty of interpretations flying around, both now and then) was, for us, intrinsic to so appreciating the records.

And then there's the third thing, lest we forget - the music. We posted a few favourites elsewhere: that's a cool quarter-century of ace songs, for a start. There's no pretence at redrawing genre boundaries or breaking brave new critical moulds, and no reason there should be: the label's own blurb makes clear that it's "an indiepop label purveying the sound of jangly guitars". Sarah were always criticised for sticking to a certain "musical type", but as Matt Haynes pointed out the same criticisms were never extended to jazz labels, reggae labels etc which would be regarded as "specialist" and therefore immune from such high-handed criticism. You know, the sort of label that gets called an "imprint". On that analysis, Cloudberry, too, is a specialist label, we guess, and one churning out greatness in occasionally frightening volumes.

And a new epoch of Cloudberry (if any project so young can already be on to a second epoch) comes in 2008 with their first forays into 7" vinyl, the first handful of releases having come already from the Bridal Shop, the Summer Cats and the louche, luxurious OJ / Smithsy (but think via some of the classic Marsh Marigold or Firestation Tower bands) Twig. The Tartans' "My Baby Doesn't Care For You" is the fourth instalment: it's fragile as hell, and you almost feel you could despatch the lot of them with no more than an idle Subbuteo flick, but like other gems of the er, fetherlite genre (our chance to mention Bunny Nightlight's "Hail" again) it actually subverts our usual cynicism and desire for noise and velocity at all costs, and by the end of its 2 1/2 minutes (with a great dead stop ending) it's managed to wind us entirely around its little finger. We'd also exhort investment in the fifth Cloudberry 7", the Westfield Mining Disaster's "Hank Williams Saved My Life": it's grrreat, a slo-fi post-Tramway burn of insight, retrospection and perhaps a little latent Pastelism, that couples nicely with the similarly weighted semi-c&w B-side, "Six Months In Arrears". Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the quality though, given WMD Paul Towler's connection with the Haywains, a band who, if sometimes a little too prolific for their own good (if you've got any fanzine compilation tape from the late 80s, we bet you they're on it, along with the Driscolls and Thrilled Skinny, plus they ended up putting a fair number of tunes out on Vinyl Japan in the 90s if we're not mistaken), were always capable of raising themselves to great things ("Bythesea Road", "I Wouldn't Want That"). When they aimed high enough, and really put their minds to it.

Look. Anyone who tells you, in 2008, that Cloudberry *is* the new Sarah, or that Cloudberry has already eclipsed Sarah or 555 or Subway or Matinee or K or Earache or Relapse or Postcard or Music of Life or Factory or Maximum Minimum or Fast Product or Dischord or Rhyme Syndicate or er, Decca is wrong (even though it's been "statistically" "proven" that Cloudberry was the best label of 2007). We don't feel we can properly make such comparisons for a few years yet. And the label's far too prolific for us to be able to say, hand on heart, that every release meets with our approval: there have definitely been some that *don't* add all that to the global store of indie-pop goodness. But these, of course, are small, inevitable and irrelevant things. What matters of course is the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is the now.

That it would be worth Cloudberry existing even if they'd only given us one gem: just one single of the calibre of the ones mentioned above. It frankly wouldn't matter, in that light, if there'd been a hundred duds inbetween. And because of that track record, we're grateful for Cloudberry existing - no, not "existing", but HAPPENING - because faced as we are at any time with about 1,000 new records to listen to (most of which are B.A.D) Cloudberry is a pretty good filter for us to discover music, and without which we wouldn't have been able to follow up on half the bands above, for a start. Like all the labels we've namechecked, it's one we feel we can trust - even if that's not the same as meaning we blindly love everything they release. And it wouldn't be able to be that filter if this wasn't being done for the love of points one, two, three above, if it was just an extension of the rest of the "indie" industry in 2008, all pluggers and £40 haircuts and posing and fake self-deprecation. In short, without Cloudberry and its precious cavalcade of bands, our record collection would be a lot lighter and a lot poorer.

Hey. It's way past our bedtime, and we've kinda forgotten starting the post, but basically, so long as these DIY scenes - yes indiepop, but also grime, some techno, UKHH and so many more - are still whirring away, we can tell ourselves we're vindicated in still devoting our spare hours, our time off from real-life, to looking for them. Sometimes the journey sucks, like that first trip to the city did. But when it works, there's a kernel of joy we want to try and transmit to someone, anyone. We chase and paint, rapids and rainbows. That's our feeling. That's our mission.