Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My blast beats, faster than techno

Word up.

After the implosion of the greatest record label ever*, we shunned the rainspattered pavements of Bristol and ended up in Hyson Green, Nottingham for a year. There were some lows, to be sure - we came to be pretty familiar with the premises and workings of Notts CID - but the time was punctured by unarguable highs such as Heavenly live at the Narrowboat, the fact that Selectadisc was situated perfectly on the way to our bus stop home, and visits to watch Radford FC in the East Midlands Counties League, who at the time "boasted" none other than Devon White's brother Oliver at full back (come on, you didn't think we were going to sell out on you and adopt Forest or County, did you ?) The Narrowboat and Selectadisc are, inevitably, sadly no more (the latter presumably victim to the kind of "progress" that saw our last local record emporium replaced by yet another effing designer bakery) but we are pleased to report that Radford FC, at least, soldier on.

In 2009 that oh-so reliable barometer of public opinion, the trusty office straw poll, associates Nottingham only with Robin Hood, gun crime, Brian Clough and the ever-unfolding debacle at Meadow Lane, but that we suspect says more about white-collar London than it does about Nottingham. We associate Notts with many things, all good really: Heresy, OutdaVille, P Brothers, Cappo, Scor-zay-zee, Tempa, Mr 45, Lee Ramsay, C-Mone, the 1993 Heaven Records Christmas Party, Carl Froch, Sam alayerofchips... and one particular heavyweight record label. For whereas Nottingham's finest industry was once, of course, lace, that is no longer the case. It is now Earache Records.

Earache, like Sarah, began in 1987 amongst the optimism of the second half of that decade, when new music was finally rising - driven by desperation - to stem the tide of mainstream pop's bland capitalist excesses. We've often wondered what would have happened if Earache had "done a Sarah" and stopped at MOSH 100, because since that landmark was reached the quality control has had a few issues, inevitable once the label became a huge multinational concern (as Sarah no doubt would have). But even with so much now run out of its New York office, Earache is still in the heart of Nottingham, in Theatre Square, and is still dear to ours.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that our compilation of the year (*dan-dan-daah*) is "Grind Madness: Earache Records At the BBC", a 118-track, eight-band, three compact disc comp of original John Peel wireless sessions of 1988-1990 vintage. In case you were wondering, to achieve that accolade it headed off the Close Lobsters' singles comp**, Aswad's "BBC Sessions", The Claim's "Black Path" and 555's marvellous "The Wetherbeat Scene" book n' CD.

* There's a certain trend at the moment for renouncing the works of Sarah Records which needs to be roundly dealt with, ideally with scenes of distressing violence. This sentence is part of our ongoing campaign to strike down this wilful revisionism: you may hear more.

** The original sleevenote for track four (the Lobsters' "Let's Make Some Plans") on the inelegantly-christened Fire Records label comp "I Wouldn't Piss On It If It Was On Fire" said: "From the singles compilation "Livin' Lovin' Lobsters"". For a full decade or so after that, we laboured not unreasonably under the illusion that there was a Close Lobsters singles comp at large, and berated ourselves daily for our failure to source it. This was a mystery which put Edwin Drood or Marie Roget's to shame, although the upside is that, having failed comprehensively in our quest to locate "LLL" (a quest which can be replicated even now by Google search), we largely managed to fill the gaps in the singles collection ourselves through judicious secondhand purchasing at the Record & Tape Exchange. Anyway, in 2009 our dreamed-of Close Lobsters singles compilation was definitely, definitely, definitely released, under the infinitely more pleasing name of "Forever, Until Victory!"

* * *

CD One

Napalm Death # 1 (22.9.87)

At the time, Napalm Death's first session found its way round our classroom pretty quickly. The shortest Peel Session ever recorded, despite the largesse of 12 tunes, it fitted on one side of a C12 (these were very popular around then, being the tool of choice for pirating computer games). It is largely sheer brute force, but whatever your age when it came out, you will never forget first trying to get your head around three sub-5 second songs (including the barely two secs of "You Suffer"), marvelling at the fact that twenty-second songs like "Retreat To Nowhere", "The Kill" or the Repulsion-intro versh of "Deceiver" still actually had some kind of structure, or being so disoriented by the barrage of noise that the minute or so of "Lucid Fairytale" suddenly seemed as epic as the English Patient. There was a great interview with Iron Maiden's Steve Harris around this time where he clearly couldn't get his head around the idea of songs thirty seconds long (average track length on this session: 28s). But the fact that "The Kill" and "You Suffer" still decorate every Napalm Death live set show that they weren't as ephemeral as some then claimed. And "Life" remains the most succinct and, oddly, accurate song ever about er, life.

The other session that night was a repeat of Laugh's, which would have found itself blown out of the water somewhat.

Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track to crave your listening indulgence: "Life".

Napalm Death #2 (20.4.88)

Napalm Death's second Peel Session is probably the apotheosis of this scene: the music, the production, the noise, THE PACE, the merry melodies hidden within. It is an astonishing rapidfire burst of punk played as metal. Some say you could never top the first session, never quite recapture the shock and awe of it all, but for us #2 takes the cake, takes the whole (non-designer) bakery.

"Multi-National Corporations" begins it, slow crunching chords, the vocals a hollered growling mantra. Compared to the tinny version on "Scum", you can already hear the benefit of the BBC engineers' sterling production. By the time you get to "Instinct Of Survival" and "Parasites" not only are you starting to enjoy being pinned to the wall, but also noticing that toe-tapping riffs, largely absent from session one, are joining the onslaught (and later on, "Raging In Hell" gives you so much danceability that you might just go through the floor). "Moral Crusade" stands out with its memorably chaotic opening, a kind of grind take on "Testcard Girl"'s close; there's the definitive version of "M.A.D." with its chugging, stop-start groove; you get the original "CS" (aka "Conservative Shithead", Part 2 of which didn't emerge until "Enemy Of The Music Business") and there's the incredible cover of Siege's "Walls" on which Dorrian's vocals, switching from guttural growl to chorus scream of "tearing down the WALL-S!", do the demolition job pretty much singlehandedly. The only thing which could improve things is finishing with a four-second cover of S.O.B.'s abrupt theme and of course that's exactly what they do (basically, it's the most imposing two-second chord you've ever heard, reprising the one they've just finished "Conform Or Die" with, followed by a "Dead"-style yell).

Rating: 10 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: we couldn't.

Napalm Death #3 (10.9.90)

With Bill Steer and Lee Dorrian having left by now, we'd moved away from "classic line-up" territory for this rather fun-packed greatest hits session, where the boys - now including PETA fave Barney Greenway - seem to enjoy reprising a few favourites from the first couple of albums. In a sense, this session was a mini-celebration, the new line-up's last opportunity to play with the Steer / Dorrian-era material before Napalm moved to a slower, much more death metal-influenced style for a while. While you can't knock the songs (which include five bona fide Napalm classics in "Unchallenged Hate", "Suffer The Children", "Mentally Murdered", "FETO" and "Scum", alongside the gruff brevity of further versions of "Deceiver" and "Retreat To Nowhere"), there is nothing here that can't be gleaned with more satisfaction from the original releases.

Rating: 7 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Unchallenged Hate (the only Napalm Death song ever quoted extensively in a Martin Samuel newspaper column).

Extreme Noise Terror #1 (17.11.87)

Another classic session, no doubt. OK, every song sounded pretty similar: a bit of feedback, a drumstick count, then a minute or so of multi-layered "AAAARRRGGGHHHHs" raining down over largely interchangeable chord sequences, but what a session all the same, including our introduction to the nr-legendary "Carry On Screaming" and the anti-bandwagoneer "Another Nail". Rarely have the studio engineers captured the essence of a band so simply, meaning that once again the production here towers over the first official ENT full-length.

Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Another Nail In The Coffin.

Extreme Noise Terror #2 (11.5.88)

Paired with a repeat of the recent Viv Stanshall session, '88's ENT set was mildly less insular, the riffs on "Show Us You Care" and the coruscating anti-meat diatribe "Murder" showing a little songwriting development even as the old ENT resurfaced amidst the barely-honed chaos of "Only In It For The Music (Part 3)". The session also saw the debut of the excellent "Bullshit Propaganda". Although ENT weren't signed to Earache at the time, "Murder" and "Propaganda" would later find probably their most digestible form on that label, with the band's mid-90s "Retro-bution" set of re-records.

Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Bullshit Propaganda

Extreme Noise Terror #3 (8.3.90)

Another heads-down nose-to-grind summation of the punkgrind work ethic, session three premiered the sloganeering highs of "People Not Profit" and "Punk - Fact Or Faction", demonstrated a tiny bit more musical maturity with the build up and fade of "Subliminal", and played to an irksome kind of nostalgia with an odd, surprisingly straight cover of the Rejects' "I'm Not A Fool". Unlike their or Napalm's first session, you don't really feel the hand of history on yr shoulder listening to this one, but you still couldn't deny the quality of the music: and the message.

Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Subliminal

ENT recorded a fourth session in 2001, but by then that original sound (and, to be fair, the Earache link) was gone! Nevertheless, be reminded that they've more recently regained some of their initial splendour, even if it's a little disappointing, given that they wrote some of the best anti-meat industry songs ever, that they're apparently back on the carnivorous tip.

* * *

CD Two

Carcass #1 (2.1.89)

Is it possible to get a better start to a New Year's John Peel show than new sessions on the same night from Culture (including "Two Sevens" and "Fussin' and Fighting" redux) AND Carcass ?

Carcass's first Peel Session withstood the company. 'Twas a mammoth beast, musically one of those great leaps forward you get every few years: it's fair to say there were no hints of their impending greatness on their debut album "Reek Of Putrefaction", but on this night somehow they blossomed with this crunchingly riff-splattered quartet of songs, a heavy and grungey precursor to the bands Peel would later pick up and help launch in the UK, from Mudhoney to Nirvana. Indeed, Carcass got the Hollywood treatment eventually to the extent that - like many of those Peel favourites - they were swept up by a mega-label (Columbia), although that ended badly and, indeed, had a hand in ending Carcass. "Cadaveric Incubator Of Endo Parasites" later received the acclaim of being handpicked as one of four tracks to represent the whole of 1988 in Radio One's Peelenium.

Rating: 9 3/4 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Crepitating Bowel Erosion. Obviously.

Carcass #2 (16.12.90)

Sadly by now Carcass were using their real names, so that the dream "Offalmangler / Grumegargler / Embalmer" songwriting credit was effectively now the more prosaic "Owen / Walker / Steer", the latter now having left Napalm Death. With three tracks taken from their first LP it was perhaps not a surprise that the best song this time round was "Exhume To Consume", one which would appear on their second, chrysalis album.

Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Exhume To Consume

Bolt-Thrower #1 (13.1.88)

At the time, Bolt Thrower's three minute-plus songs seemed positively antediluvian, but again have withstood the test of time somewhat effortlessly (as have the band). And this first sesh is, for us, the best of all. We swear we hadn't heard it in its entirety since it was transmitted, but from the band's striking up of "Forgotten Existence", the riffs simply came flooding back. Al West's vocals are perhaps a little nervous, but help give the set a more punky feel than the stolid metallic grinding would otherwise yield, and now that we're older we're more relaxed over modest guitar solos (back then, we had the same zero tolerance to them that we now have for spoken word samples on dubstep and techno tunes). The other session that evening was a repeat of McCarthy's second, which would have made the 13th January a fine old night.

Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Attack In The Aftermath, for its hooks and those weird whispered "Right"s in the intro.

Bolt-Thrower #2 (16.11.88)

By now with Karl Willetts on board for vocals, BT#2 is strong, but the band's music was continuing to grow up and the songs seemed not quite to have the same hunger. Even so, with tunes like classic LP title track "Realm Of Chaos" on display, there was nothing in here that was really hard to love.

Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Realm Of Chaos

Bolt-Thrower #3 (4.9.90)

Peel Sessions chart musical evolution even better than singles and albums, and this third from BT saw them recognisably the tougher, more resilient beasts who would become colossi of rock, even if the more shambling joy of "In Battle There Is No Law" was by now disappearing behind them.

Rating: 7 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Destructive Infinity

* * *

CD Three

Godflesh (27.9.89)

One of the things that strikes you about listening to this compilation, and that naysayers will (to coin a phrase) *never understand* (sigh, grrrr) is that all eight bands on it are very, palpably, different: between them, they take and reshape punk, crust, metal, skatecore, thrash, industrial, hardcore... But Godflesh's session is probably the most "different" of all, making us think of Slab! or Loop rather than Justin Broadrick's past work with early Napalm incarnations. After "Tiny Tears" and fan favourite "Wound (Not Wound)", "Pulp" is at the heart of it, with its ever-recognisable drum barrage, although "Like Rats" remains perhaps the most intriguing track, with what sounds like an industrial foghorn joining Broadrick's vocal: you could almost be listening to Mark Stewart and the Maffia.

Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Wound (Not Wound)

Unseen Terror (11.4.88)

Oh yes. This only had a previous digital release on a Dutch East India Peel sesh import, but now it's available to us all. From the rugged agricultural blur / burr of "Incompatible"'s cheeky post-second wave riff, Unseen Terror's sole session is another all-time favourite: not quite as detuned / deathy as the same tracks where they appeared on their one and only album ("Human Error", also on Earache) but still essential. After the lynchpin of the session, the incredibly reasonable, sensible "Voice Your Opinion" ("Strategy, intelligence / These will help you to have your say... I disagree with many things / But I don't try / To upset others"), which also memorably appeared on the BBC's compilation "21 Years Of Wonderful Radio One" or somesuch alongside Jimi Hendrix and others, the session finished with the medley flourish of "Strong Enough To Change" (Shane Embury drum solo, sort of!), "Odie's Revenge" (a fourteen sec-burst, by no means their only Garfield-flavoured tune) and "It's My Life" (suitably oikish cover of Sick Of It All's obby original).

Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Strong Enough To Change

Heresy #1 (3.8.87)

Mmmm. Much as we love Heresy, this first session doesn't catch them at their finest, and it doesn't help that they start with "Flowers In Concrete", the only Heresy song that we can't quite love (now, its drum / bass breakdown sounds dated, even "baggy", which is a bit harsh given that the baggy obsession actually came later, meaning they were probably ahead of their time...) It probably also didn't help that Peel repeated the Fall session the same evening.

This is actually the oldest session on the 3 CDs: Peel had warmed us up earlier in '87 with sessions from the Stupids and then Electro Hippies, but it was Heresy who first started to inject some real pace. Nevertheless, they did so from song structures that still represented chugging second-wave punk: to these ears they remain more punk than metal. Apparently, Mitch Dickinson (Warhammer, Unseen Terror et al) played the guitar on this session: yet another example of the band-swapping that dominated the time.

Rating: 6 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Belief

Heresy #2 (9.3.88)

This session, by contrast, is blinding. Just great. May or may not be a coincidence that Baz Ballam was now in the holding role on guitar, but the likelihood is that Heresy knew their way around the studio by now. Starts with "Consume" and a fine version of "Face Up To It" but on all six tracks the boys are in their element, including an excellent "Cornered Rat" (riff later nicked by Unseen Terror in the middle of "Strong Enough To Change", q.v.)

Rating: 9 and a bit out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Cornered Rat

Heresy #3 (18.1.89)

Picking up where #2 left off, this has muscular, driving versions of classics like "Everyday Madness Everyday" and "Break The Connection". The shout outs to Brian Clough and Franz Carr would no doubt have tickled JP, too. It finishes with a hectic take on "Genocide" which, propelled by breakneck drumming, is possibly the closest Heresy would get in the studio to a pure grind tune.

Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Everyday Madness Everyday

Intense Degree (15.3.88)

East Anglian skaters Intense Degree are much overlooked, and criminally under-represented in terms of reissues or digital releases. Their thudding sound, starting here with a brooding, unrepresentatively mainstream slowish-guitar intro to "Hangin' On", was slower and more functional in places, more ragged in others, but the songs (a mere eleven here!) were always enjoyable enough, with the "Straitjacket / I've Got A Cure" medley that appeared on the seminal "Grindcrusher" compilation probably thereby becoming their most syndicated track (although "Skate Bored", "Bursting" and "Daydreams" made it on to the 12" vinyl of Strange Fruit's "Hardcore Holocaust" comp, too). A word for "Intense Degree" (the song!) as well: thirteen seconds long, a bubbling ID theme, made by a brilliant "wo-oah" near the end.

Rating: Very nearly 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Probably "Hangin' On", although we'll always be fond of "Skate Bored" too.

* * *

Despite the title, only one of the bands on this set is truly "grindcore", and that's Napalm Death, who did after all invent the genre. But that doesn't stop this being an unassailably good value comp, a faithful companion for Earache's the "Metal" boxsets of yore, accompanied by sleeve notes from Mick Harris, the whirlwind drummer at the eye of the storm who seemingly played on half the sessions. May Santa deliver "Grind Madness At The BBC" to each and every one of your bedside stockings, and if he unaccountably fails to do so then at less than 8p per track, you could always venture into the snow-flecked streets and buy it.

Anyway. Happy Christmas, and whatever you're doing on the 31st - whether you're going to bed early, going out robbing, venturing to a party with people you don't really like or being fleeced into paying £25 to spend midnight in a crowded pub you normally wouldn't dream of going into even for free - have a truly *righteous* New Year and thank you, as ever, for (skim) reading. It appears from the pile of scrawled post-its, CDs and bottles of Quilmes in front of us that we're about to add up the votes for our end-of-year polls, so there's real and present danger of some more distressingly long "lists" posts soon too. Sorry in advance.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

End Of The Affair

This is it, isn't it ?

As none of you were in the pub last night, a recap. We're prepared to acknowledge that maybe music didn't begin in 1976: it all started when a few troglodytes started to bash rocks together while waiting for the sabre-toothed tiger to marinade, giving themselves an edgy rhythmic soundtrack for their cave paintings (or modern art, as it was known at the time). It's just that between 200,000 years B.C. and that pre-ERII Silver Jubilee year, nobody really did anything much with this "music" invention.

Then came (punk) and all that went with it, swiftly branching out in a million directions to give us a panoply of delight so wide it draped from Magazine to Discharge, a period captured with such flair and erudition in "Rip It Up And Start Again" (or, for those less patient, later distilled into the two minutes of Sportique's mighty "Modern Museums"). But that was only the start. In England, roots reggae, briefly allied with the punk culture, came into its own to soundtrack and outflank a society that ever tried to pigeonhole it. While over the water, the hip-hop culture sprung into being, sowing the seeds of the art form that would probably give us both the very best and worst music over the thirty years since. As the decade turned, there was a spate of "waves": new wave, NWOBHM and (gulp) that infamous second wave of punk (altogether now: "DEAD CITIEEEEEES!!!")

From a brace of those myriad post-punk strands (the DIY self-consciousness of the TVPs, the starry-eyed would-be soul of Orange Juice), the C86 movement would emerge. Today it's both brutally over- and under-rated, modern hacks sporting either rose-tinted or shit-stained specs, but for us the likes of the Shop Assistants and the Wedding Present sublimely mingled a spirit of punk with girl and boy-next door narratives; the "other" bands made wonderful, angular, artful noise; and all of them created music that eschewed pretention at a time which otherwise reeked of it. (And if you wanted the *fastest*, most intricate jangle you looked to Zambia and Zimbabwe rather than Leamington Spa). The punk / metal tape-traders had also been busy, constructing an international underground which gave life and breath to Repulsion and then to the grindcore dynasty, and continued to gain succour from the works of breakthrough artists like Slayer (who, by now, were part of the melding of genres that saw Rick Rubin harnessing - no, unleashing - Run DMC's true and frightening potential at the same time as producing thrash's sit-up-and-mosh moment, "Reign In Blood").

So it was all mixed up, but all good. The Smiths were at the peak of their powers, before their split in '87 marked the first throes of the long, drawn-out death of "indie", but those in what would later be known as the indie-pop camp had Sarah fighting our corner for a few years yet, and if some of the alleged new Smiths would be, to put it politely, disappointing (Paul Calf certainly had it right on Suede), for some of us Public Enemy were emerging as the real new Smiths in terms of reach, ambition and sheer life-changing vigour. In the UK, PE's Brixton Academy takeover was that decade's "100 Club" moment, and the evolution of hip-hop over here was swift, even startling: from Three Wize Men's rough charm to the gift of Hijack's full-on (swoon...) inspiration in what felt a short burst of months. Across the pond, the golden era of rap came - and admittedly went - but not without changing musical lives forever with its education, poetry and power. Those four Eric & Ra albums still stand so strong.

Things got a bit rocky in the 1990s with the bad joke that was Britpop, and it's probably kinder not to mention "C96" (save for having captured Lauren Laverne's career high): only HMHB's tongue-in-cheek invention of "godcore" truly sought to stop the indie rot, but luckily the house, techno and acid revolution that had begun at the tail-end of the Thatcher junta was starting to develop into more interesting, sometimes less hedonistic splinters, and by the end of the decade the Britpop bandwagon lay justly in a ditch with the best electronic and experimental music showing there was still material out there that could challenge and excite. And soon, there would be those who had the guile to draw together many of the disparate threads. Jangle was no longer "massive" (boo), but jungle was (yaay). The early-90s gangsta rap albums and artists had true potency and range, but before too long that scene bred only rappers whose interest was in milking cliche rather than communicating truth. Still, at the same time that hip-hop in the States was disappearing up P. Diddy's nu-capitalist fundament, there was still UK talent starting to kick hard against the pricks, while garage music transmuted into grime, originally a soundtrack for the musically-savvy dispossessed that - at its finest - delivered a *compelling* listening experience.

It was now metal's turn to struggle a little, the sports- and nu- varieties ineffably lame, and even the real but cheap-feeling thrills of the black- or death- bands no substitute for the politics & righteous anger that expired once hardcore crossed over (and the world and his wife hijacked the grindcore parade). Even the quintessential metal roster, Earache, was finding that its blue riband releases were more likely to be uncompromising, post-gabber hammer techno straight from mainland Europe than next-gen Floridian thrashcore. But across the board, there were always jewels worth scrabbling for: here in London, acid techno was on a delicious rise (it was surely no coincidence that many of its leading lights had been schooled in punk and indie bands themselves in day). And, until the sad news came, Peel was playing pretty much "all of the above".

And the internet came, a Pandora's box that made crucial fashions easier to pursue, and for us to discover our own new pet bands and labels and scenes, who we could instantly enthuse about with our new-fangled paperless fanzines. Admittedly, the web being worldwide rather than worldy-wise, a few wood vs. trees issues were starting to appear, but quality and quantity were still - just about - different things. And grind begat goregrind, and dubstep begat wobble, and drum n' bass begat jump-up, and indie-pop... well, begat nothing, just kind of serenly drifted on, although on every corner there was some clown trying to subvert it, to invoke the dead hand of TWEE.

So in this exhausting time since '76, there have seemingly been no constants (apart from the Fall, of course). We've had everything from 2-tone to 2-step, from romo to emo, from white metal to "life" metal to pirate-metal to "nu-grave" ffs: there are surely no musical genres left to be invented (but if we're wrong, we'd nominate "riot boy" and "lo-NRG" to try). And the last five years have been especially breakneck: micro-scenes replaced by nano-scenes as the human attention span plummets all the time towards that of the poor unburdened goldfish. The average pressing no longer 10,000 shellac slabs but a dozen homecooked CD-Rs, even for those who haven't abandoned pressings altogether in favour of brittle seas of 1s and 0s.

And to top it all, we were all growing up, and life was getting complicated enough in itself. There was work and there was romance and there was family and there was work again. And for every great record there were exponentially more terrible ones, and sometimes we seemed only to be being sent the terrible ones for review. And reviews were pretty redundant anyway because anyone could just click a mouse and listen to the tracks for free, and in the rapidfire, impatient '00s reviewers only gave each song the most cursory listen before cutting and pasting the press release anyway. We thought that sucked, and wanted to *say* something more, but both flesh and spirit were weak. And every year brought wave after wave of newness, inducing a spiral of grey-green migraine visions as we struggled in vain to catch up not only with the new school, but with all the wonders we'd missed since the Pistols launched their raid on the national consciousness in days so distant that Jim Callaghan, Lord rest his soul, was but a new broom. And much as we still loved digging for gold, we found ourselves, increasingly, heretically, thinking that perhaps what music really needed was a full stop.

* * * * *

AT ABOUT THE SAME time as most right-thinking world citizens realised that Houston's Insect Warfare, bassless grindcore fiends par excellence, were one of the globe's better musical combos ("Disassembler" was the single best song of 2008, with Boss Money's "Cold World" and Keitzer's "No Justice No Peace" second and third, in case you were wondering), they've only gorn and split up. What they have left us with, however, is a full release - via a resurgent, post-gabber Earache - of their album masterpiece, "World Extermination". The front cover, a monochrome montage of a seemingly unsaddled horseman of the apocalypse towering over a disintegrating skyscraper city swarming with giant insects, forewarns us of what is to come. Less fittingly, the cooling towers on the back sleeve remind us of the cover of Monograph's "Paper Museum". A bit.

The record, on the other hand, most sincerely doesn't. There's a curt, ramrod sheen of intense, fidgety white noise before we bundle excitedly into the opening "Oxygen Corrosion" and the tone is set for the splendid next 22 minutes 24 seconds of your life. They've been called thrashcore, noisecore, power-violence, all sorts, but *this is grindcore*, as Jarvis didn't say. A message in a (broken) bottle from a time before "grind" became a lazy catch-all for anything that crossed a fairly rudimentary noise vs. speed threshold. That wonderful sound you can hear is a barrage of Dobber's blastbeats and hi-tensile yet superclean drumming, Beau's furious locked-groove riffage, and "singer" Rahi's barked and yelped quickfire staccato vocals, from which the words cannot sensibly be divined.

(Luckily, the lyric sheet does allow the words to be deciphered, and while it's clear - for example, from Terrorizer's excellent double feature on grindcore past and present - that main music man and spokesperson Beau doesn't regard IW as an overtly political band, there's no doubting Rahi's splenetic ire and lyrical energy, often directed at political targets. Ditties like "Paranoia" and "Enslaved By Machinery" decry where the human race has got to: a title like "Internet Era Alienation" describes just what we were lamenting only a few paras ago. Over the score of songs here, Rahi tells stories of stalking, confusion, message board idiots, targeted Luddism, the mind of a suicide bomber and, of course, nuclear extinction. The whole of life's rich tapestry, then).

And if that "wonderful sound" is the template, then the experience of this record is a series of variations on the formula, each song emphasising some of the common elements, whether the blastbeat, the breakdown or the coursing riff, a little more than others. (None of this, of course, means you can't dance to "World Extermination": our favourite tracks for jiving to are album highlight "Manipulator", "Self-Termination" and the frenzied finale of "Necessary Death", since you ask). The track lengths are pretty consistent, with most tunes crashlanding after a minute or so, only a couple at 20 seconds or less, and only a couple above 90. Occasionally the hurtling metallic onslaught seems to lose focus - when a track parks the noise for a scintilla of time before the next resumes and just BRINGS the chaos once more - so a few listens help to get used to the disquieting, pummelling music. Many albums have light and shade: Insect Warfare just play dark, making those briefest pauses of breath between songs shine like Blackpool illuminations.

Over this bleak palette of deep urban greys, occasionally other reference points or textures come into play: the disarming brevity of the unforgiving "Street Sweeper" and "Zone Killer", a spreading of wings on "Hydraphobia", a more reflective slow grunge tint to "Decontamination". "Mass Communication Mind Fuck" has a certain (hyperfast) grindcrust quality to it: tinges of ye olde Extreme Noise Terror, dare we say. Other nods are textual: the closer, "Evolved Into Obliteration", melds the title of Napalm Death's genre-defining second album with that of its legendary opening track. Unlike "Evolved As One", however, there is no brake pedal to fan the record's searing pace: instead, the song simply becomes one final attack in the aftermath, as concentrated and visceral as the previous nineteen. As Confucius once observed, if you don't deviate from a template this good, there can be no bad songs.

And the album was recorded in a single day: quite an achievement, given the skill and sheer physical endeavour needed to fashion something so technically tight, but perhaps also a part-explanation of its unrelenting focus. It's this purity - unity - of vision which is the reason this has to be album of the year, even if a few lucky souls got hold of it in its original incarnation in '07. If you trace a line through every grind landmark - "Horrified", "From Enslavement To Obliteration", "World Downfall" and then "Inhale / Exhale" - it's quite probable that it would finally lead you to this record. And now IW have gone the way of all the greats, leaving this (oh, along with a 51-track one-sided LP and a few unbelievably obscure split 7"s and an even more limited demo bootleg LP which we've a moggy-in-hell's of ever getting hold of) as their parting gift to an ungrateful Earth.

Maybe music has, indeed, come full circle (evolved into obliteration, natch), in which case "World Extermination", full of grindiloquent splendour yet as rugged and primitive as the rocks those cavemen once banged together, is the ultimate soundtrack. And if we're right in these our gloomier moments, and music does deserve a perfect full stop, this record might just be it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

King Of New York

So. Favourite 12"s that we own. (There's a phrase that would have landed us in trouble once). A toughie, but digging in the crates: "Going To Heaven To See If It Rains", "Hold No Hostage", "Police Officer", "Sympathy For The Rosehips", "Urban Hell", "My Favourite Dress", "Ceremony", "Cruelty", "Night Of The Living Baseheads", "Shimmer", "Sorry To Embarrass You", "Just To Get A Rep", "Once A Prefect", "Serve Tea, Then Murder", "Crystal Crescent", "I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You", "The Underneath". And, of course, a good dozen or so by Eric B and Rakim.

* * * * *

"the only LIFE on Radio 1 is the 10% HARD hip-hop that gets through with the dross..." - Are You Scared To Get Happy? #6, 1987

"they raped our whole culture / now it's payback / their great-grandchildren be our number one fans / how's that for karma ?" - Mobb Deep, "That Crack"

* * * * *

EB&R were only in meaningful action from '86 to '92. In that time, they notched up four albums, and changed the face. It started with "Eric B. For President", one of at least four tracks they did whose title would be graced with Mr Barrier's name (good to see that old Bo Diddley tradition stand strong). This single introduced us to the swoonsome twosome: Eric B, invariably weighed down by bling (remember KRS-1 telling us, on "Outta Here", how he used to buy gold with Eric), plundering soul samples and, by some beautiful alchemy, mixing them with cuts and scratches to make something even better, with plenty of rhythms as iconic and addictive as the one which made "President" make everyone jump up and pay attention. And Rakim, the silver-tongued, thoughtful MC who made slow and deliberate with his diction, who famously pioneered the internal rhyme, whose silky similes seemed just to glide over even E's more combative backing tracks. (And here's something: certainly on our copy of the 12" - the Cooltempo release, and presumably the same applies to the original Zakia one - the cover credits only "Eric B": Rakim just gets a mention as "featuring", on the label of the record itself. Funny now that if anything it's Eric who history tends to regard as the lesser partner. *And* while we're in Anorak Corner, the original 12" was called "Eric B. For President" - it was only later that he was seemingly promoted and the track is now known to all and sundry as "Eric B. Is President").

Anyway, this tremendous formula largely persisted while the two stayed together. In particular, a few things strike on re-listening to our musty old EB&R records now:

(1) How much we miss albums with 10 or 12 tracks. Nowadays you'd be expected to do 18-20, with the corresponding drop in quality.

(2) How there are no guest MCs. And there's not a song of theirs that would have been improved by them.

(3) A mark of the golden era, we know, but no lengthy sampled hooks, no choruses or chorus steals. Partly possible, admittedly, because in the free-for-all before James Brown and co sued them to bits, you could just concentrate on putting the best ingredients together, rather than worrying about only being able to afford to clear one (wack) sample and then use it for the whole damn song. But also possible because when the DJ and the MC are both at the very top of the pyramid, you don't want anything to detract.

(4) No cussing - Rakim is clean, at peace, in control.

(5) Most important. How completely sublime so many of these tracks still are.

"Paid In Full" is an album that seems like a collection of singles, probably because half of its ten tracks were, meaning that only two of the vocal album cuts (the remaining three were Eric instrumentals, another trend that seems to have sadly passed away from mainstream hip-hop) didn't actually get a single release. As well as "I Know You Got Soul" (their other entry in Peel's 1987 Festive 50, and their other UK top 20 hit) and "President", it was the title track that you're most likely to remember: it was the last single off the LP to get a release, I think following Coldcut's Seven Minutes of Madness 12" that popularised them in Europe. Reputedly, Eric and Ra hated the remix, and while I bopped along to it happily enough at the time, they were right. Criminal for it to be regarded as up with the stuff they did themselves and meant.

The second album, "Follow The Leader", is another that makes us smile all over, and was a surefire hit from the moment its title track rattled into play with super-low bass: the throb of live, rather than electronic or sampled bass was something of a feature of this LP, rooting it completely. By the time third LP "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em" came on, hip-hop had moved on so much that it probably didn't really get the critical airing it should have had, but with the exception of the *AWFUL* single "Mahogany" (you know the score, record exec finds worst song on album, insists on releasing it), it's great: both Eric and Ra are getting more urban, more brutal, more gritty, but as the wonderful single "In The Ghetto" shows, their social commentary was still restrained and poetic rather than the dumbed-down gangsta that was by now getting a foothold elsewhere.

The last long-player, "Don't Sweat The Technique", is again really under-rated. Yes, it starts with the relative whimper of the feeble "What's On Your Mind" (the 12" sleeve betrays its true nature, taken from the soundtrack to one of Kid n' Play's less-than-exhilarating movies) but after that it takes off completely, and "What's Going On", "The Punisher", "Teach The Children" and "Know The Ledge" all mix that increasing anger and menace with killer dancefloor beats. And by now there were no solo Eric tunes at all. The duo were still nowhere near thuglife - but they had developed a $trife-concious, grimy self-propulsion.

It's for all these reasons that we're really glad that the two of them split, split relatively early and didn't reform. Like the Smiths, it means that they never really got the chance to sully the reputation these records rightly built them. It's only a tragedy that when we grabbed tickets to see Rakim in London a year or two back, he never made it onto that plane (child support issues, apparently, though the more seasoned of you may well recollect that Eric and Rakim sloped off from their '87 European tour supporting LL Cool J, citing our miserable weather, food and women, so it could have been any of those...)

So what's any of that got to do with now ? Well, Rakim is back (BACK!) with a new single, "Holy Are You". (It's his second comeback, really: the first was in the late 1990s when he dropped the solo LP "The 18th Letter", unwisely issued as a 2CD greatest hits package that meant you were being asked to compare his new works with the very best of Eric B & Rakim. There were a couple of ok tracks: "Guess Who's Back", which scraped the top 40 here, and the "I Know You Got Soul"-referencing "It's Been A Long Time", but you could see why it petered out). This time round, given the wonderful 12"s that Rakim was involved in twenty years ago, it's a bitter blow that as far as we can tell, the new single is download-only (although it will appear on the "Seventh Seal" CD if that, itself, ever appears). Still, we must reluctantly move with the times.

On that first comeback, Rakim had rapped, "I came back to bless the mic". Not to *wreck* the mic, as his blaze-happy New York contemporaries might have had it (Onyx and co were still toting the throw-ya-gunz stuff back then, while Mobb Deep were dropping the most earthbound of street caper gems). But to bless the mic. And on "Holy Are You", the R manages to anoint himself a wonder of the world and the Alpha and Omega, aswell as comparing himself with Moses, Mohammed (peace be upon him), Michelangelo, the Holy Grail and, just to cover all the bases, the Big Bang. But he never lacked confidence, and at least with this second comeback, he can feel more assured than he might have felt in the turbulent post-Pac / Biggie throwdown that he is the rappers' rapper, regarded, no doubt, as the G.O.A.T.

And "Holy Are You" is *gorgeous*, honestly. We wait a full 45 seconds of looped sample scene-setting before Rakim starts to flow, but when we do it's as mellifluous, as *captivating* as ever. And although the beats nod slightly, unavoidably, towards hip-hop's 21st century, there's no Autotune, no Akon chipmunking, no godforsaken backing wail, no bolt-on chorus to screw up the serenity of his thoughts: only brief, crackling sampled piano and the sung words (yep, sampled from the Electric Prunes) of the record's title. Indeed, the track is sufficiently, satisfyingly old-school that even Mr Farrakhan gets a mention. But the key, as ever, is the flow, some of which made us double-take: "Walk on water ? / No, neither did Jesus / It's a parable to make followers and readers believers". Or this: "we were children of the most high, so we fell / from paradise to holy hell / probably descendants of the Holy Grail / another part of history they won't reveal..." before it ends, with the inevitable sign-off: "Rakim Allah. Peace". And it's hard not to feel, every time you listen to the R, that you haven't, in some small way, been blessed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Older, Wiser, Better

The Wild Swans "English Electric Lightning" (Occultation, 10"): Socialist Leisure Party "Turktown Saints" (Cloudberry, 7") and "Tactical POP! for Coffee Cadets" (Shelflife, 7" and CD): Beatnik Filmstars "Slow Decay" (The Satisfaction Recording Company, 7") and "Broken Bones" (The Satisfaction Recording Company, download only)

Ah, the English Electric Lightning. My first ever Airfix model. Actually, my last ever Airfix model. Nothing to do with the fighter itself, more my utter inability and impatience, taking months to construct a model aeroplane that couldn't better have resembled a Lightning made on a Friday afternoon production line after a liquid lunch at EE. For a while, as a tribute to all my blood, sweat and tears, I hung the botched fighter on a string from the ceiling, somewhat relying on being a dabber hand with Blu-Tack than with Airfix glue.

The Wild Swans were originally in business about the same time the nine-year old me was struggling with modelmaking, but like my Lightning, they were way over my head. I did eventually get to hear of them, but only because they were immortalised in my teenage mind for being one of the very first bash of Peel sesh reissues back in '86 (in the enviable company of New Order, the Damned, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Sudden Sway and SLF, fact lovers). Ashamed to say that I knew nothing of their lineage, their part in that early-80s Liverpool scene that tumbled Merseybeat and the sepia nostalgia of the Cavern Club into the proverbial cocked head-apparel.

Still, all that is now water under the bridge, because after a 20 year exodus these Swans have returned and with this wonderful, wonderful single, lovingly packaged on deluxe 10" by some bods called (unpromisingly) Occultation but who've done a grand job. Swan-in-chief Paul Simpson is hardly the first singer from the last couple of generations to put together a song about England at once wistful and defiant, nostalgic and modern, plaintive and sad, but this one ticks all the boxes, helped immensely by the way it builds, the deft piano and touches like the unexpected backing vocals, all topped off by Simpson's elegant yet distinctly vulnerable voice. Flip it over and you get the remarkable poem "The Coldest Winter In A Hundred Years", where Simpson, backed by swells and trills of guitar, piano and brush, fills in the uninitiated (us) on some of the prehistory to the Wild Swans' beginnings. An unexpected, but complete, treat.

If there had been any doubt that Cloudberry Records is turning into a bona fide pop singles label, with a sweet aesthetic and some great vinyl releases, there isn't now. Once you've got past Roque's admittedly tangential laying open of the Brooklyn 'scene', which welcomely reminds us of Sarah Records rants in day (we first heard of Oasis, believe it or not, through Matt slagging them on a 7" insert), "Turktown Saints" reveals itself formally as the swashbuckling debut(ish) of Socialist Leisure Party, the post-Action Painting! sextet (btw if any band in the 80s or 90s boast a better run of A-sides than "These Things Happen", "Classical Music", "Mustard Gas" and "Laying The Lodger", they are lying), a song that just floats along, giddily semi-drunk on a layered combo of fluttering rhythms and breezy flute motifs, but never lacking energy or pace. Andy Hitchock's vocals and guitar strums will not sound unfamiliar to students of SARAH 28, and you'll remember from the sleeve of that that AP! hailed from ("Waking Up To Nothing"'s address in) Gosport (aka Turktown of course) but otherwise it's fair to say SLP here are musically some distance from their illustrious forebears, not least given the near-complete absence of the punkish lairiness that characterised AP!'s last three singles. True SARAH 28 fanboys will also be quick to point out that only one, rather than two, of SLP were in the *original* AP! line-up, SLP's Kevin House having joined them from the heavenly scree of "Classical Music" onwards. And whatever became of "Dan" and "Chris" ?

Ahem. As if that weren't exciting enough, there's "Tactical POP! for Coffee Cadets", too. Immaculately-clad in artwork by Andrew Holder, the 7" barks into life with the admirably original uptown 'A', "Head In The Hay", which ramraids straight melodic indie pop with nicely skewed post-AP! exclamation. The accompanying CD rates too, the combination of uplifting pop (sorry, POP!) and more cynical / throwaway lyrics, a cut above yer boy-meets-girl shtick, making for something rather refreshing all told: "Scented Crowbar" nicks in first, a cheeky quick kiss before things take off with the excellent "No Tattoos", a collage of spinning strumathons, of spiralling indie-licks. And after the studied shambling of "Mondayland", an inst. of which appears on the single 'B' for any Cloudberry-karaoke heads out there, the spirited "Down With The Kids" nods, at least, to AP!'s rockier past. (Oh, and it's these three songs which also make up a CD-EP release on Berlin's Edition 59, too, nailing the SLP discography to date). Props must go to Shelflife for putting this delectable package together.

Next, yes, the BFs. Who have been knocking out largely left-of-centre pop hits from their Bristol centre of gravity for decades now, but continue to mature like the finest of wines, and their latest slinky 7" ranks - but of course - with most of what they've done since "Maharishi" first crossed our path around the time of the Great Reform Act. We gave it the most cursory of big-ups in April, wittering on pathetically (if correctly) about it being "delicate... pained... rewarding", but it deserves further attention.

"Slow Decay" is the 'A', a fantastically depressing lyric about the inevitability of disappointment sweetened - no, leavened - by the kind of vintage indie-folk that grows and grows on you until your record player is buried under creeping pop ivy. Or something. Yet "Crushed" on the other side is just as marvellous: a little bouncier, with the subtlest of c&w undertones and a feel for Americana that intrudes into its words - "trying to work out what it would cost / to cross America by Greyhound bus / another romantic notion / crushed" - AND a little guitar piece 2/3rds in that makes you feel everything *must* be alright with the world, however much Andrew Jarrett's so-weary lyrics tend to the other. The natural follow-on from the mellow harmonics of their brilliant "Fez 72" album last year, this is another very special single.

And then there's this year's mini-LP, "Broken Bones". A shame that this is download only, because like "Fez 72", it's a record shaped in the classic tradition, starting with the glorious six minutes of "Back Up Plan" on which, after pre-empting the lazy reviewer - is there any other kind ? - by describing himself as "singer in asmalltown lo-fi country rock band"), Jarrett lays into an almost gleeful expose of how your heroes will always let you down ("they were in it for the money"). The downbeat tone now seems to be where the BFs are at their best, with second tune "Let The Good Times Roll" also profiting massively from their newfound acceptance that a modern West Country take on country & western can pay handsome dividends. "The Old Fool" is an almost spectral lament, once more invoking the ghost of past side-project Kyoko with its measured, weary beauty. And in the middle is another outstanding song, "Throwing Punches", that hinges on a switch of pace but reversing all the old tricks to good effect by the switch being a slowing down, rather than a speeding up, coming out of the verse. The clincher is the way that "Lucky Sevens" reprises the sarky "good times" theme but with a knowingly weighted playground chorus that would let the thing cross-over largestyle if only radio play ever ensued. God, if the Wonder Stuff had pulled a tune like this off in the 1990s, you'd never have heard the end of it.

So there you go. More bonzer examples of the fact that - at least as far as splendid guitar music goes - many of the leading lights are *not* down-with-it teens, but respected venerables who've taken a turn or two round the block, who roll with class, and for whom style's now something to revolt against, rather than into.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

hallways into somethin'

um, hello, "haunt the upper hallways", a 7" on home assembly by the declining winter... this is indeed haunting, luxurious, kind of softly spellbinding, its opening flickers of feedback building into a sweep of fluttering drums, polite guitar and languid violins suggesting falling leaves and early dusks, eventually joined by vocals from richard adams (yes for it is he, one half along with chris [bracken] of the brothers behind the untoppable hood of "the sad decline of home" and "the winter hit hard" fame, if you hadn't already clocked the song-title and / or band name as irrefutably hood-like, or noticed the telltale photo of rooves and chimneys and tv aerials on the sleeve) that suck the moisture from the air one syllable at a time ("the / rain / came / down") and send the most exquisite shivers down your spine.

this is music that prompts not just feelings but also, somehow, pictures - of country lanes, stone walls, lonely town terraces, pylons and aerials - as glimpsed by a child from a car window, and although "haunt" is the definite stand-out, the latest chapter in the history of hood and post-hood classic singles, it comes with two songs in tow on the other side: "my name in ruins" with its dulcimer and the short, teasing, empress-like "efd". and along with the three fine songs on the 7" is a cd that adds another seven... largely instrumental fragments, picked hushes of warm ambient strings... so if "hallways" is cut from the cloth of "(the) weight" meets "as evening changed the day", "drenched" could have been on "silent '88", and the dreamy, string-strewn "where the severn rivers tread" - which could almost be richard barnard-style modern classical before the drums intrude - on "rustic houses, forlorn valleys".

we've heard the d. winter's music described as "difficult" (which is idiotic anyway: there have been some 'interesting' DW remixes, but come on. agoraphobic nosebleed are 'difficult', and the pigeon detectives are difficult - we can't listen to them without welling up with purple rage after a few bars), but this record is wonderfully *easy* to fall for: yes it soothes, it intrigues, yet it's far from an ambient haze, propelled along as it is by the kind of footsteps-on-forest-floor rhythms that have decorated hood tunes for the best part of one score years. yr writer flagellates herself furiously, feverishly, for not having clocked the same combo's "goodbye minnesota" lp last year.

now where would we all be if every comet gain single was as resplendent as their undoubted talents allowed ? swimming around in some confusion, we would wager, for part of the oft-triumphant gain's rough-hewn croydon urchin charm 'tis that for every "you can hide your love forever" or "orwell liberty dance" there is a comparative empty shell, an indulgent hulk like this oh so sweetly sleeved situationist 7", "herbert huncke" on germ of youth, a package that to be fair improves on the flip when the drizzly balladry of "no spotlite on sometimes", while as pretty and as light as picasso's pencil sketches, thrillingly revives their usual heart-on-sleeve romanticism.

more reliable as a rule are the rose and rhodedendron-sweet pop combo tender trap (altogether now: "or something like that": not to be confused with current chart darlings temper trap, who in turn are not to be confused with anyone any good), dame amelia fletcher's suitably amazing post-talulah / heavenly / marine research / sportique outfit. can it really be seven years since we were moved, a little pompously, to declare their debut album the "subtle mastery of the pop canon" which it inevitably was ?

anyway, the trap have a new single, "fireworks", fluttering out like an autumn leaf for download on suge's esteemed fortuna pop! as the alleged prelude to their third long-player, quite likely to be one of '010's better albums. this time, the clinical indiepop hub of dj downfall, rob "not the one who writes for HHC" pursey and amelia f. have parted ways with "6 billion people"'s hired help (lupe nunes-fernandez of pipas and claudia gonson of m. fields), instead enlisting elizabeth "henry rollins don't dance" morris and (oh?) katrina dixon to make up one of the best quintets since trout. and "fireworks", a tale of burnt fingers unlucky in love, fair stokes our still-simmering hearts: perhaps gutsier and more rooted than previous outings, it still comes over as pure indie pop, but 60s-tinged (not fatally so) and played with a harmonic, almost garage-punk edge half a world away from the drum machine electro-pop of their first, equally (ahem) pop canon-mastering forays. indeed, you could even say it takes tentative steps into "comet gain territory". dame amelia may have once sung that "hopefulness to hopelessness is not very far", but tender trap make the distance seem miles and miles. floreat aula.

hm. we're used to getting button badges with some of the records that land here at ilwttisott h.q., but the early edition of municipal waste's "massive aggressive" that kerplunked thru the letterbox contains not only three of the blighters but also a sweatband and a sew-on patch. would that this sort of thing was affordable to fortuna pop! anyway, perhaps prompted to step up their game by the thrilling and bar-raising "dividing line" album last year from the uk's very own s.s.s., also on earache, municipal waste have upgraded their DRI / SOD-influenced thrash from the teenage kicks of "the art of partying" to an almost-disciplined (musically) workout of thirteen straight two-minute thrash mini-bombs, culminating in the nicely placed gameshow satire "wrong answer" and closing grenade "acid sentence". rarely has earache's "mosh" catalogue number seemed so apposite. it's not as *on fire* as "the dividing line", because that was amazing, but it is their best work yet. now pass us the sewing kit and that denim jacket.

our perpetual notts crush c-mone's "c-mone vs the indie boys" is not sadly a collaboration with the cream of midlands jangle talent. instead, we are using "indie" here in its broader (not indie) sense, meaning that c is spitting her ever more-knowing rhymes over instrumental dreck authored by the life-unaffirming "primark rock" likes of razorlight, travis and coldplay grrr kill kill kill. with her confidence and major-league verbal sleight, plus the ever-capable nick stez at the controls, she makes a better fist of it than you could ever imagine (and there are some variable-qual guest mic spots too from some NG-code up n' comers) but ultimately, rapping over such soporifically bland, sahara-dry "indie"-dirge is like trying to pole-vault with one hand tied behind your back (the radio 6 version of "second after second" which appears in the midst of "c vs the IB" reminds you of how high she can leap without such unwelcome musical baggage). as you can download the set for free, do do that - and it's great to know that c-mone's still out there and repping for the positive - but next time, we can only urge her to *lose* the "indie boys". or, at the very least, for someone to give her horowitz's phone number instead.

little dee's new mixtape, "once in a blue", on eskibeat: on the freestyles, at least, he shows his skills, but why are so many grime producers coming up with such proficient but formulaic hip-hop beats ? and why is "the best thing out of lewisham / since ian wright" leaping on the current trend for LDNers to wane lyrical about "liquor" and henny, as well as the usual limp checking of gucci, cristal, rolexes et al that is helping to drive the scene, as durrty goodz would have it, into destruction ? talented as dee is when he's on a beat at pace (and "rider" on davinche beats spits pure fire) we preferred the brisk, busy, highs of "don't let the name trick you", when he was also playing less fast & loose with his alleged anti-gun message...

the hillfields' "afterburn" *should* be a 7" too, but there you go... download-only it is... warm, brooding, with prowling bass and only faintly jingle-jangling guitar before post-thirlwall vocals swoop to decorate the cake with enigmatic slivers of verse, just as on their "a visit" cdr single on cloudberry, it reminds us a little of that first beloved album, indeed so many overlooked late 80s masterpieces... the hillfields don't appear to us to be the type of band that will ever leapfrog themselves straight into popkids' hearts because there is quite a bit of thought, mystery, majesty in there, albeit that sometimes you're not sure - a little like the windmills - whether the lyrics are merely childlike and simple or *actually* betray bitter complexities that draw out more on each listen, encouraged by the undertow of the music... their records seem to take time to bed in...

but one thing's for sure and that's that (*digression of sorts starts NOW* while we observe with some concern that a number of touted 'indie' 'pop' combos in anno domini MMIX seem not to have any "edge" but trundle along in the same blithe way as a few bandwagoneers did in day - forgetting that sarah records *deserved* to stop things like medium cool happening just as punk *deserved* to decimate the prog old guard - and while we don't deny that there are lumpenly ok-ish bands presently being feted out there who would have produced perfectly serviceable singles in the mid-80s, probably on m. cool or kitchenware but is that really in our heart-of-hearts enough *digression ENDS*) the hillfields have huge potential, the potential to take a place in our hearts (though we accept they are likely to have greater ambitions!) such as the one the windmills still have, or indeed the one that the adams brothers so have. indeed, there is an andrex (soft, strong but marginally too long) of an album too, "it'll never be the same again", which might with its studied indie wherewithal and high altar jangle (check espesh the NWA / pocketbooks-good first 3 tunes, plus the contrasting but equally ace "medicated" and "postcard from home") just be their own "where it is".

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nitsuh Ebb

Some Bloke mumbled to us something at the Pains of Being Pure at Heart gig about us not doing indie-pop anymore. But as Crass might have had it, of course we fucking do. This is, surely almost painfully obviously, an indie-pop fanzine.

As such, one of the things that consistently gets our goat(whore) is that when we mention Sarah Records to someone, well obv they've never heard of them, so they google them, and of course the first line of the Wikipedia entry they then get says "Sarah Records was a UK independent record label active between 1987 and 1995..." (ok so far) "... best known for its recordings of twee pop." NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. NO. *Sigh*. (If they added, after the words "best known", the words "BY IDIOTS" - and it would have to be in capitals - we might let it lie). So let us add to the dungheap of blogscrawl on the subject what we've learned from recent skirmishes in the twee wars. Some of it's tongue-in-cheek, but not much.

1. We all have too much time on our hands. The most recent glut of less twee-than-thou blogs remind us of the debate running through Terrorizer's letter page, where collars have been heating and tension rising as to whether Annotations of an Autopsy (who played the Garage the night before the Pains btw, though we didn't see all of you there) are deathcore or death metal, rather than the more fundamental question of whether they are any good (fwiw, we're not sure they are, although moments on their last album still seek to persuade us otherwise).

2. History repeats itself. Twenty years ago we were having this same debate, only then it was the word "cutie" instead of the word "twee" that aroused such emotion and that we all queued up to claim we weren't (despite, in our case at least, the fact that we blatantly were). Look at pretty much any fanzine from the time. "Cutie" was usually part of the same discourse that saw a loaded contempt for "anorak bands". At the time we got upset and defensive. But we're mellow now. (Intriguingly the sleeve notes to the "London Weekend" reissue also claim we called each other "popkids", but that's a new one on us, and in Essex it would certainly have got you a smack, even from a fellow "popkid").

3. Language is an imperfect tool. "Twee" is a word that should be applied to chintzy teashops with walls bedecked with ivy that serve Assam in delft china cups in tacky tourist-trap villages in Austen country. It just sounds mental in a pop music context. (Funnily enough, "cutie" was a much better descriptor). But we are where we are.

4. So we can't choose how we're labelled. Words don't mean what we want them to mean, as Alice discovered in Through The Looking Glass. Journalists deal in lazy, shorthand stereotyping. It's their currency. It's just how they do. It would be great not to be called "twee", just as it would have been rather ace not to have been called "cutie" in day. But so long as, per capita, we offer our detractors a larger proportion of stripey shirts, hairslides, cupcakes and Hello Kitty than any other genre, that's just what's gonna happen to the bands we adopt, foster, harbour and love, even though you and I know the absurdity of people calling the (will-be-missed) MLS twee or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart twee or (a recent example from an HMV display) of the Vaselines being twee...

5. "Indie pop" can't be defined by us, either. If you say "indie pop" to most people they will not think of (or, in the real world, have heard of) any band that's ever recorded for Cloudberry or Matinee or even Sarah. (A quick straw poll at work attracted mostly confusion, but the general consensus that we must be fans of - as opposed to passionate, avid despisers of - Athlete, the Guillemots and the Fr*t*ll*s). We just shouldn't get too upset. We still love what we call indie pop (ooh, standing in the Garage, listening to the gods and goddesses of Spiral Scratch spinning "Comin' Through", "Come Get Me", "P.U.N.K. Girl", "Happy All The Time"... and then to TPOBPAH's "Everything With You", "Come Saturday", "103" etc... recipes for grins from ear to ear, from yesteryear to here), and only that can matter. After all, those of you as old as us will remember how "indie" initially applied to the record label rather than the band, how we celebrated our new "indie" ghetto full of 'our' bands like the June Brides and Felt and the Weddoes and the Minks or whoever, but then we got upset that 'our' indie charts were getting clogged up with the Pete Waterman Label and Rhythm King (who'd hooked up with Mute), because we wanted to be the ones that defined what "indie" was. We had no hope of that then and we have no hope now. As everyone knows, in 2009 "indie" music is a catch-all for 'drab landfill guitar band'. (Oh, and in retrospect there are few indie labels that produced better music than Rhythm King did. PWL, we're less sure about).

6. Steven Wells, may he rest, was right. Well, most of the time. He was right about football, he was right about Napalm Death (he conveniently skipped his anti-vegetarian angle with them though, we note), he was right about Los Campesinos! and he was often right when scrawling in the NME about some of the excesses of the cutie scene in day (even though at the time we LOATHED him for it). And he was right about this piece, which we mention solely in order to justify the title of this post.

7. "Twee" is not a term worth celebrating or reclaiming, not that we quite understand who is doing the reclaiming, or, more pertinently, why. (And the idea that reclaiming the word is even remotely anything like reclaiming "queer" or "nigger" is somewhere between naive, far-fetched and offensive).

8. TAF! are doing no harm, mind. Nothing we see of what they're doing has much of a link with our vision of "indie pop", however you define it, but look at their relative success, the "in" they seem to have with the Grauniad, the quality of some of the bands they put on. Not our scene, you understand - we dislike students far, far, too much - but there are far worthier targets of our ire.

9. Never let yourself get involved in an argument about whether handclaps are twee.

10. But handclaps are twee. Very.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Au Revoir, Rickie Lambert

Of our vintage, having seen the sales of Ellington, Roberts, Stewart, Hayles, Agogo, Cureton, Browning, Taylor, Scott Sinclair (who will be the best of all) and that self-regarding carthorse Zamora, many of whom have played (most inexplicably, in the latter's case) for a fair time in the top flight, the departure of Rickie - who won't - is no huge surprise, although quite how a fellow third division team that was allegedly about to go bust can stump up the best part of a million quid upfront, plus allegedly half a million a year in wages, is yr typical modern-day football mystery.

The reality for Rovers, not that any of the message board surrealists will accept it, is that up to £1m, spesh in these straitened times, is great money for a 27-year old who was bought for £200k and has had one prolific season out of three, given that as soon as Southampton started playing "double your money" with him, he was out the door anyway (and fair play to him). And it's lost on these stubborn online Gasheads that Lambert, like Ellington, Agogo and Hayles, was not born or bred in Rovers ranks but signed by Rovers from a smaller club, no doubt with a (more modest) promise of increased pay and profile, just as the Saints will have offered him this time. Some of his play, and link-up with the Hi-Life Companion-sponsored Jo Kuffour last season, showed he had so much more than just the (sometimes quite spectacular) goals, and we will not forget the moment that we entered the play-off places for the first time that whole season we went up (it was in the 86th minute of the 46th game, thanks to his header at Hartlepool: we'd been 16th in the table in March). So. Once again, thanks for the memories, but don't play too well this season, 'la.

* * * * *

"My head is full of my fanzine and the flexi-label that I'm helping to start, I'm excited by it because it's something I WANT TO DO! Tell people about groups that they have'nt heard of but they are gonna love, put out flexi-discs so that they can hear them and hopefully make them happy."

That's a quote from This Almighty Pop! #2, late '88. Substitute CD-R for "flexi" and we're not that far off scenes of today, no ? Anyway, CD-Rs is exactly what the esteemed This Almighty Pop! are doing right now, all these years on, and that includes Horowitz's new single. Title ("Super Snuggles") ripe for emblazoning on a range of baby-gros ? Check. Supercatchy fuzz-distort pop melodies from the off ? Check. Vocals sung from the bottom of a vertiginously deep lift shaft ? Check. Chorus the size of a colliding galaxy pile-up ? Check. Another great single from Horowitz ? Checkmate.

The BMX Bandits were once, of course, "BMX, pure sex", but this year they give us the tender-eyed romance of the "BMX Love" EP on Elefant. One side-effect of David Mitchell's choice of the Muppets' "Rainbow Connection" on Desert Island Discs was our realisation (just as when the scales fell from our eyes and we worked out that the Field Mice drew so heavily from the Wake, or that Napalm stole half of what they knew from Repulsion) that Duglas Stewart drew perhaps his heaviest inspiration from Jim Henson.

Still, we've always loved the Bandits, even though there's a solid argument that we'd adore them at least as much had the only songs they ever released been "E102", "Sad?" and "The Cat From Outer Space". (Ooh, and "Johnny Alucard"). But it's just taken us 20 years to get to appreciating the modern BMXers for what they are *now*: a golden, traditional, song-driven band, soothing melodies guided by a slow tiller, a lullaby quality at times that makes these the original "songs for children", unsullied by fashionable cynicism. Which makes this EP the best M.O.R. you've ever heard.

In contrast, the "Because Because Because" 12" on Slumberland from the increasingly splendid Cause Co-Motion! is a carefully-ordained shambles, more of that Messthetics vs early-14IB thang, the six tracks peaking with side two's frantically-drummed but *um.... special* "Leave It All" and somehow rather heartbreaking closer "You Lose" ("You never win / oh no / And get jealous / Oh yeah / And then you lose..."). No tune longer than two minutes odd, either, which is absolutely as it should be. Individually colour-splodged sleeve, too, in case you were (wrongly) prevaricating over placing your order.

Signed Papercuts "Of My Heart", a 7" on the increasingly-reliable Cloudberry, took a while, but its pained-boy and plaintive-girl voices help unfold a shimmering kind of very trebly half-Sarah, half-shoegaze brittle beauty, especially in its last, more fevered, minute where the extra rush sounds like the noisier bits from Aberdeen's "Byron" EP (or that bit off Je Suis Animal's "Secret Place"). Still torn as to whether or not this would have benefited or lost out from better production, but we're definitely in favour of the way both singers stretch so hard to reach the high notes. They damn nearly pull it off, too.

If you were in an indie band at the turn of the 80s / 90s, you know, there was literally no room for manouvre if you weren't prepared to "go baggy": your choices were to split up, or to pretend that there'd always been an Ecstasy-inspired element to your music. Only a few bands, maybe the Weddoes or the Family Cat, spent any time at all persisting with that old-fashioned indie-strum thing, even if the FC shouldn't have bothered and TWP did so by heavily flavouring it with some noise from across the Atlantic, and even they managed a brief flirtation with the wah-wah pedal (check "Come Up And See Me"). Anyway, Pale Man Made, one-half of a Cloudberry 3" CD-R with Swedish waifs Leaving Mornington Crescent remind us of one of those bands that would have been left (wrongly) with nowhere to go, and given that the alternative was sounding like My Jealous God, that would, in day, have been the honourable decision. In 2009, pleasingly, there are no longer such severe strictures against sounding honourably indie, and so PMM's Weddoes-Pavement churn makes them one of the best of the new Cloudberry crop for us, especially the way that "In Your Bed" sounds like a meld of a young Andrew Jarrett and the first Candy Darlings single (before, of course, they too went disastrously baggy).

And staying with Cloudberry, there's this Boa Constrictor / Cavalcade split CD-R, too. It is forever the destiny of Swedish bands, whatever the genre, to be somewhat taken for granted: had Comet Gain released BC's "Out Of Nothing" on the back of "Casino Classics" it would have been hailed as garret-room genius, but Boa Constrictor will remain relatively uncelebrated because they're not British, and are possibly sober. Brits the Cavalcade, on the other hand (who ironically sound a little like they might be from Sweden, but actually hail from Preston) take us back to the days of sweet jangling, days we occasionally hanker for, albeit in much the same way as pompous Major John hankered for village cricket, warm beer and his short-lived soapbox. "Meet You In The Rain" has the kind of twinkly late-80s charm that makes you wish it had been issued on cassette, describing the travails of some poor sap (you know, like Burgundy in Lear) who gets soaked waiting for the beau who never came. (A bit like "Popsongs Your New Boyfriend..." or "Fuck Me I'm Twee", I don't think you're supposed to emphasise with the protagonist, but then again we were the only ones who saw a dark side to "Weekends Away").

While unable to muster quite the excitement that Pete Paphides managed to re: classy grown-up Glasgow indie-poppers Butcher Boy, we've been skanking to BB's "A Better Ghost" (a download single on How Does It Feel ?) and reflecting that it's rather a shame that Butcher Boy, like labelmates Pocketbooks, seem to get lumped in with scene godfathers Belle & Sebastian (the fact that BB and Pocketbooks, whilst great bands, sound very little like each other to even vaguely-tutored ears is another indicator of the sheer wrongness of the ubiquitous big Belle comparisons). Anyhow, catching up with this one again reminds us that while "React Or Die" ("new and sumptuously-packaged LP...contains a couple of smoochable tracks with that... cultured, melodic, sauntering, breezy Hermit Crabs / Math & Physics feel..." apparently) might be less Smithsy than the first album, and also a little less instantly loveable, it reels you in by mildly amping up the folksy quotient instead, and by John Blain Hunt having taken either a conscious or unconscious decision to sound more Scottish. Oh, and if you'd ever wondered (we're sure you haven't) what Butcher Boy might sound like on Viagra, listen to Wake The President.

'Allo Darlin's "Henry Rollins Don't Dance" is intelligent, sassy, witty, tuneful - so what's not to like ? While the press release has, as most do, the unintended effect of making it sound like one of the worst records ever made, AD actually do this kind of faintly whimsical but many-carat indie-pop thing so much better than most, plus they're the only band with an apostrophe at both the start and the end, which must count for something. The one thing that demeans the smilingly likeable lead tune here is that simply by mentioning our Henry, Ian MacKaye and Bad Religion, it kind of makes you think "mmm, this is good but I could be listening to Minor Threat". And however good AD (sorry, 'AD') are, they ain't ever gonna be that good.

Just as you won't but be reminded a little of Action Painting! by the Socialist Leisure Party 7" (which we're bound to get round to one day), you can't but be reminded a little of the much-missed Lunchbox by the Birds of California side of the latest split seven-inch treat from 555. The three songs (this is a 33 rpm record) on the Birds' side from ex-Lunchbox personnel engagingly intertwine reverb, indie jangle and spirited brass in a way that takes its cue from Lunchbox's "Summer's Over" mini-album but which takes it a little further, giving it a spacey, even dubby vibe. Over on the other side, BC's Kristin Mess provides contrast to BoC's little soundscapey experiments with four acousticky tunes, so fragile you feel they are liable simply to break at any time.

And talking of contrast, the next tune appears to be Korpiklaani's "Vodka", on Nuclear Blast, which I think is only available on vinyl in their native Finland, but luckily it was also previewed on a Fear Candy CD back in the spring. Even as I type I'm not entirely sure whether this is so-bad-it's-good, actually bad, or actually good, but the fact it puts a smile on our face every time probably justifies you making that call for yourself. Somehow, this alleged folk-metal anthem is the huge novelty hit that time forgot, a kind of "Cotton Eye Joe" for the Terrorizer (mag) generation. The normally ale-obsessed Finns even pronounce "vodka" as "What Car ?", giving the chorus one more nudge towards the bizarre. While a whole album of this would frankly be purgatory (it's called "Karkelo", for you masochists out there), for three minutes "Vodka" is nearly as wonderful as weird, the latest inheritor of the mantle of "All The Young Children On Crack" or maybe "The Message Is Love". Also, while this single is not very metal (as Vyvyan would have it) it is much more metal than lots of blatantly non-metal things. Like Lordi, Bring Me The Horizon or the least metal band ever, the appalling Trivium. Leaving Mornington Crescent are more metal than Trivium.

Greater minds than us have drawn the indie-pop public's attention to Cheap Red's eponymous debut on 555, an album featuring the undervalued Jen Turrell (most recently of Mytty Archer fame), our hero Stewart A. and both halves of Kanda on 2 CDs with a fairly impressive roll-call of remixers on the second. So we can only suggest that you read here and would then add just two things: firstly, that if like us you are still feeling severe pangs of loss at Boyracer's demise, it's not impossible to listen to the wonderful "The Hurt On Her" and "Everyone Works So Hard" (nil to do with the Wake!) and think how in another life they could have been a great Boyracer double-A. And second, that some of the remixes, in our view are even better than the originals: we're particularly fond at the mo of the Bracken, Jib Kidder, Steward and Simpatico (long time no hear!) reworkings.

And although we can't hope to sum Liechtenstein's "Survival Strategies In A Modern World" up more deftly than the starry-eyed adulation of Lady MM's sleeve notes, we're going to *try* to rein in our usual verbosity and capsule it in a way that does justice to the perfect economy of Liechtenstein's own compositions... so... "Survival Strategies" is a candy-yellow 10" whose grooves trace the sound of the Dixie Cups channelled through the Dolly Mixtures, Talulah Gosh and Free Loan Investments (while still managing to bring to mind other treats from the Shop Assistants through to the Slits), shortish songs with twinkling, trebly guitars and impeccable harmonies that, without ever sounding forced, fit like a glove. There.

Perhaps their poppiest track of the year though is could-have-been-a-53rd&3rd single-in-day "This Must Be Heaven", saved for a "Searching For The Now" split on Slumberland with fellow Gothenburg triumvirate the Faintest Ideas: but it's actually the Ideas who come out on top on that platter, with two corking songs, of a quality that only the Bright Lights and Boyracer (ooh ooh AND check out the racer's peel session download - free from this site - more tunes than the titles suggest will be familiar to you, but oh how the last track in particular churns and slays as only the 'racer could) have really managed at the same velocity, and that remind you that there is no level on which the Faintest Ideas did not make brilliant *POP* music. The consensus seems to be that they are now no more, in which case we can only say that they will be very sorely missed.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So Long, Lewis Haldane

We always liked Lewis, too, and we shall miss him. His performance at the Millennium in our gallant loss against Doncaster was typical of Lewis on his game - on the one hand he was a pacy winger who was capable of running at people and even sometimes jinking past them, on the other hand he was six foot tall and well built and there was many a lower division full-back, used to being run at by 5' 7" sprinter types, who would suddenly find a hulking mass of tattoos bearing down on them like an out-of-control truck. Superannuated enough as we are to remember the days at Twerton when the admittedly legendary Worrell Sterling could hold down a first team place in right midfield for about 3 years despite *never* taking his full back on in that time, we feel Lewis has been a little unlucky. Whoever gets Lewis - and at the moment, it seems likely to be the Darling Buds' own Newport County - we think you've done well.

* * * * *

Now when the much-missed hard-copy HHC put the Recordkingz' long-player "Heavyweight" on a par with the P Brothers' "The Gas" they were stretching credulity a little too far - despite the parallels (homestyle beatmakers seduce US rhymers into guesting over lovingly created riddims), the latter is a work of art, one of those albums you only get every five years or so. "Heavyweight", despite several top numbers, is decidedly more patchy. But "Heat", a taster download single and Juliano Creator's tete-a-tete with none other than Mobb Deep, is terrific ("imperious... a sweet summation of the artistry of Queensbridge's most revered veterans"), not least as it's so long since the Mobb gave us a single this good on their own (listen to "Shook Ones" even now and *weep* at its brilliance, fellow mere mortals). Bearing no resemblance at all the other Mobb Deep track called "Heat" (the one that starts MD's recent, typically patchy "The Safe Is Cracked" collection), this is a sticky, sultry, scratch-filled banger that manages to sound modern (there are some in-vogue Eastern stylings) but yet not as *plastic* as the new school so often does. Juliano has taken the time to sculpt something that suits Prodigy and Havoc, and they oblige by rocking up some simple QB phrases and spitting them across the piece. It's not quite as powerful as what Imam THUG or Boss Money were doing for Ed209 or the P Brothers last year, but we'll certainly take it for now.

Funnily enough, Brooklyn's Problemz turns up on "Heavyweight" too, and again his track ("Pay Your Respects") is one of the better ones, although that ain't hard when you're probably one of the topline, if slept-on, rap artists around. On the excellent "The Big Payback", one of three download singles trailing his LP with DJ Honda, he slaps rhymes against a nicely loose backing track without ever sounding that he's having to try too hard. It's confident, poetic and knowing.

Newham Generals' "Generally Speaking" album is rough, edgy & brilliant, despite being from Dizzee's proteges and on Dizzee's label (Dirtee Stank). "Violence" and "Pepper" hit hard like grime should (the former even shows that there's no need always to be afraid of the phrase "featuring Dizzee Rascal"), and the spacier, bizarre single "Head Get Mangled" ("interpolating sidewinder rhymes with washes of d&b and experimental instrumental, like a grime "Levitate", it makes having your head mangled a true pleasure") similarly takes no prisoners. "Mind Is A Gun" is another corker, distilling trilling experimental dub n' d&b noises alongside more crackled, lo-fi MCing. Line these unforgiving, non-conforming songs up against the dreck coming from Tinchy, Chip and a few others at the moment and there is no competition. The woeful "Bell Dem Slags" is, however, a major mis-step (it is to "Generally Speaking" what "Teenager In Love" is to the TPOBPAH album).

Last year's Rap 2 Rue comp kinda confirmed that French hip-hop has lost its way as much as le rap Americain (and, unless someone pulls something out of the fire sharpish, possibly even the British variety), so instead of bigging up the rougher stuff we used to like - Menelik, Arsenik, Assassin etc - we find ourselves lording it for Oxmo Puccino's almost-impossibly laid back "365 Jours" single, which casually but brilliantly unfurls over lizard lounge backing until the man is close to comatose, merely whispering sweet nothings into the mix while Hood-like violins collide with jazz vibes to fade. Suggested new word for the OED: "oxmosis" = the process of languidly rapping until horizontal. (Also, unless we're mistaken, he manages to rhyme "soixante" with "croissant" at one point). Blissed-out Francophile headz should note that "Soleil du Nord", issued later in the year, drips with similar Gallic charm: both singles on his "L'Arme de Paix" album.

Tippa Irie is, without doubt, a don, and his "Bad Boy" single is Tippa's timely warning to the Jade Braithwaites of this world, the dispossessed who skulk in the errant belief that if they play-act as bad boy, treating their entitlement to respect as sacred, they won't fuck up their entire life, as well as that of their victims, in the process. Riding a surprisingly old-fashioned roots rhythm, TI obviously hasn't forgotten how powerful reggae can be as a means of channelling a powerful political message (after all, the roots of "Bad Boy"'s sentiment can be heard more than thirty years ago in "Stop The Fussing And Fighting"). He also manages to mention de Niro and Pacino in the chorus without going the whole hog and rhyming them, for which we're grateful.

Another ilwttisott favourite, Salvo, seemed to go underground after the excellent "Cooking The Books" 12", whereas his brother 184 has been doing production duties for all sorts of peeps as well as niceties like the "Blondes" single. So it's good to see some new vinyl in the shape of "The Info", a 7" on King Kong Holding Company, especially as Sal is joined by the instantly-recognisable voices of relative heavyweights Kashmere and our local heroes Taskforce's own Chester P. Jehst has a hand in the production, which is still likeably rough, this really being a record (as was Dap-C's "Ma Money", on a different scale) about showing off the respective verses of the rappers on board. Nice.

When Pocketbooks reminded us of NWA earlier in the year, we took a dip back into the latter's back catalogue, just to relive those halcyon days and NWA's winning formula, viz: first verse by Cube (normally brilliant, witty, aware, genre- if not era-defining); second verse by MC Ren (normally not as good or as clever as Cube's, but hard-hitting enough); third verse by Eazy-E (normally pretty terrible, but entertaining for all that). And while Cube's star kept rising, and we caught up with him here, and Eazy sadly passed away, although he still executive-produces NWA reissues from on high, our Lorenzo has merely splashed around in L.A. backwaters as far as we can tell, only appearing in our record collection since on a solitary team with Cypress Hill (our sworn enemies, now that we're in Westside Connection). But he does have this new single, "Reincarnated", and while there's little (ok, nothing) about it that's new or original, we're rather fond of it. Being a bit out of practice, it takes a minute before he gets round to joining in with the mid-school West Coast beat (perhaps he's just used to waiting for Cube to finish), but we're left in no doubt by the end of the song that Ren is indeed still around, still gangsta, still the same guy who dropped all those memorable second verses, and that as he "started this gangsta shit", he's gonna finish it too. Obv, the list of people who started gangsta is as long as the list of bands who were the new Smiths, the truth in this case being three letters (not REN, but P.S.K.)

But let's finish once more with the best of the bunch: and it's DJ Honda again, this time with none other than Mos Def in tow, and their single "Magnetic Arts". I mean, damn. This is peaches and cream - and really really much better than the "Quiet Dog" single taster for Mos Def's own new solo LP, which there's been some raving about - but even after some weeks of enjoying it we can't really explain why it floats our boat so, although we are prepared to say that this is what we mean by a thriving Brooklyn scene, even if others talk of the Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. DJH, following his long-player with fellow local Problemz, is here limbering up for his next showcase album ("IV"), and the multifaceted, too-often inconsistent yet still underrated Mos Def (we would say hip-hop's Matt Le Tissier, but actually that's probably Nas) deigns to join him for some horn-happy, full-on, no flagging old-of-skool dextro-freestyling that is over waaay too quickly (not even three minutes on the clock). (For some reason, like last year's EPMD album, it seems that Honda's newie won't be getting a UK release, but we're just going to have to find a way). Unreviewably good.

Stop press: Rather brilliantly, Lewis has not actually left yet (having unaccountably turned down a move to Newport) and is still moochiing about the Mem like Banquo's ghost. Hang on in there, my son.

Stop press again: just hours since posting this, it now appears Lewis has been loaned to Port Vale... may our Stoke-based friends make him welcome.