Saturday, January 02, 2010

Tonight, We Get Even



Hello. Here are our favourite albums of 2009.

1. Insect Warfare "World Extermination" (Earache)

The end of music, which can't be a bad thing. But an excellent, thoroughly powerful, suite of songs to boot.

Would have made an amazing EP: The whole album. (The "review" mentions our most favouritests).

What were they thinking of ?: Their only mis-step was splitting up.

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2. Kryptic Minds "One Of Us" (Swamp 81)

Freezing December evenings, cold to the touch, hugging pavements and kerbs, walking uphill past kids circling on their bikes, the low-rise estates lit by the frizzy whites of passing headlights and the jaded neon of the newsagents and kebab shops. Glancing up from the shadows to see the lampposts framed against coke-black sky. Passing underneath Turnpike House, pockmarked with bright rectangles of light. Watching the heave of punters spilling out of the tube station. Opening out on to the main drag, sapphire blue Christmas lights slicing the dual carriageway, four or five storeys as far as the eye can see, up to a central horizon where the city lights fade into the darkness. The buses lurching to a halt as they exchange early leavers for late shoppers. All of this is when we love this city most, a scene captured perfectly by records like this.

They say that dubstep doesn't make for good albums, but the exceptions proving the rule can glitter like gold. For the real problem with the kind of music that D&B exiles Kryptic Minds make (apart from our complete inability to describe it: records like this also remind us why writing about music is probably redundant) is that it is the easiest style of music in the world to make badly, to make boring, to provide an open goal for yer hordes of would-be detractors with their "real music" bleats. So it's not often that we will recommend an instrumental LP to you all - the last one to fit the bill would inevitably have been the ubiquitous Burial's - but this bassy, bubbly darkstep is music made with love, and it shows (and in the closing coda "Distant Dawn" it boasts possibly the most beautiful - we overuse that adjective, but here it is the only one that will do! - song of 2009). "One Of Us" is on Loefah's new label, and you can just imagine how blown away he must have felt when he first heard the masters.

Would have made an amazing EP: "Secure Lost", "Six Degrees", "Three Views Of A Secret", "Dissolved", but pretty much anything.

What were they thinking of ?: We could have done without the brief intro and, at a push, maybe the samples on the otherwise sterling title track. And "Something To Nothing" is tantalisingly too short.

3. Obituary "Darkest Day" (Candlelight)

"the second album since their comeback and possibly their mightiest yet... It leads with the spirited, unusually fast "List Of Dead" and the quirky single "Blood To Give", a semi-experimental nu-grunge drone with at least three drum-only sections... "Darkest Day" takes the ingredients that have made Obituary the least trebly band in the history of the solar system - the flayed-throat Tardy growl, the lumbering, low-end bass, the thudding drums and the fuzzing, detuned guitars - and melds them into what is probably & accidentally the best *grunge* album ever made, as well as being a highpoint in recent death / thrash workouts. Even the fact that their employment of Ralph Santolla (a free transfer from Deicide) now obliges them to throw in guitar solos every so often doesn't detract: most are short, sweet and blisteringly, um, "tight", with thankfully none of the extended epic diversions that slightly derailed their last live turn... Ralph shreds, everyone else keeps things muddy, and all us punters can go home very happy."

An album with real focus, a creeper that grew on us month by month. Muddy, grungey, sludgey (irresistibly so) but never sloppy. Tightly played and lovingly marshalled, "Darkest Day" may have been horribly overlooked by the world in general, but it never veers from its noble course. They're coming to Islington in a month or three: see you there.

Would have made an amazing EP: "List Of Dead", "Lost", "Blood To Give", "Outside My Head", "Payback", "See Me Know", anything really.

What were they thinking of ?: "Darkest Day", just possibly, and even that is our Simon's favourite track.

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4. Raekwon "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Part II" (Ice H20)

Even the more interesting and thoughtful reviews of OB4CL2 (that would be a great numberplate to have, eh ?) managed to tie themselves up in knots rather, essentially saying, "although I personally think this album is out of this world, I'm worried it sounds a bit dated, therefore I'm going to rein in my praise". Get a grip, people! Have the courage of your convictions and to hell with trends. Is this album good, or not ? If it is, praise it. Would you really rather that Raekwon had released an album that sounds like "The Blueprint III" ? The Chef has provided a fairly major clue as to his artistic intentions by calling this album "OB4CL2". A sequel. Not an attempt to veer off in some new ultra-credible direction, to co-opt whatever flavour-of-the-week trend is being hawked for biggest bucks at the moment. Instead, an attempt to go all out for quality - a rare quest in this world of Flo Rida et al - while still producing something doggedly, designedly, determinedly in the vein of the original Cuban Linx.

The real story of this album is perhaps how it manages to live up to the impossibly high expectation. To recap, this is the new Raekwon. A fifteen year in the making sequel to one of the 90s' seminal sets. Vocal duties from main guest Ghostface Killah and Clan alumni Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Masta Killa, GZA and Cappadonna, as well as heavyweights like Busta Rhymes, Beanie Siegel, Slick Rick and Jadakiss. Beats from an incredible sweep of producers: to name just a few of them, the Wu's own RZA and Allah Mathematics plus Dre, J Dilla, Erick Sermon, Pete Rock, Marley Marl and Necro (although some of the peachiest are from Icewater Productions).

Given the stellar cast, it's a *marvel* that this album avoids disappointing. Even more amazing, given our general hatred of overlong records, it's a 75-minute, 25-track epic (in the old days, it would have been regarded as at least a double album) and yet for the most part it holds up all the way through. We would hardly have believed that was possible any more from a hip-hop album. So do we care if some call it "dated" ? Do we bobbins.

Would have made an amazing EP: "House Of The Flying Daggers", "Cold Outside", "Have Mercy", "Walk Wit Me", "10 Bricks". Us lucky Europeans get an ace bonus track too (in the shape of "Badlands"), which should hopefully cost UKIP a few votes next time round.

What was he thinking of ?: The two Dre productions are not essential. And using "We Will Rock You", however fleetingly, as a hook on the otherwise surprisingly sound "We Will Rob You" is [really] not clever (especially as the same conceit turned up on "Cold Case Files" last year).

5. General Surgery "Corpus In Extremis - Analysing Necrocriticism" (Listenable Records)

"You won't need a feverishly over-exercised imagination to know what it sounds like: the title track, a "Symphonies" throwback, is a peach")... 15 tracks arrayed from the short-burst grindmath of "Necronomics" and "Adnexal Mass" through to the joyous five-min sludge of album pivot "Virulent Corpus Dispersement" yet perhaps peaking in sheer excitement with the fierce higher-tempo riffing of "Exotoxic Septicity" and "Restrained Remains". Stepping out of the shadow of Carcass, GS have proved that they are major music-makers in their own right, the dead wood now at a minimum."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Virulent Corpus Dispersement", "Restrained Remains", "Exotoxic Septicity", "Necrocriticism".

What were they thinking of ?: A toughie. Perhaps the closing "Mortsafe Rupture" and "Deadhouse" could do with a smidgeon more *oomph*.

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6. Magrudergrind "Magrudergrind" (Willowtip / Candlelight)

"a thing of some wonderment. The Washington, DC trio deliver 16 shortish nuggets that comprise not only gleefully mayhemic old-skool grind of the highest order ("Fools Of Contradiction", "Heretics") but also chugging, Obituary-style thrash ("Burning Bridges"), lo-fi pseudo hip-hop ("Heavier Bombing", featuring the sort-of-legendary Napalm Def), thoughtful if not positively moving post-hardcore moshery (the closing "Martyrs Of The Shoah", a treatise about the horrors of the Holocaust) and any number of quickfire interludes and samples. Better still, the lyrics are keen-eyed, sharp as any syringe you'll find in your local park, taking down everything from the 'gentrification' of DC ("the decline of estate comes with racial ties / liquor stores, corrupt police and mothers' cries") to the fuckwittery of the far right ("constantly speaking words / based on your own insecurities... you hate because you can't conceive intellect"). Building on their fine contributions to "This Comp Kills Fascists" (which had included the original ode to graf, "Heavy Bombing") and their earlier split with the excellent Shitstorm, "Magrudergrind" is a sterling achievement."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Martyrs Of The Shoah", "Fools Of Contradiction", "Heretics", "Built To Blast", "Lyrical Ammunition For Scene Warfare".

What were they thinking of ?: Some might say "Heavier Bombing", but not us. At a push, "Burning Bridges": just a l'il slow.

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7. Durrty Goodz "Ultrasound" (Awkward)

"This mixtape (soz, "pre-album") is a blinder, as damn talented, confident and danceable as "Axiom", so much so that we're reluctantly convinced already that his upcoming "Born Blessed" set isn't going to be able to match it. DG obviously has the same beefs with most grime mixtapes that we do - they're too long, they're full of filler, etc - so as well as reeling off one massive tune after another, he has time and temerity to drop in superb parodies of other MC's "sweetboy" songs *AND* the recent spate of feeble electro-crossover singles by grimesters (welcomely declaring the latter bandwagon OVER), to throw in a whole number about fast forwarding through rivals' mixtapes, to team up with Maniac for "Grime Killers", which skilfully works in samples from a Dotun Adebayo phone-in addressing the lack of role models and educational achievement in the black community. Best of all, this is actually a "grime" album that sounds like grime, rather than sludgy hip-hop apologia: sugar rushes like "Destruction" or "Superhero" make you wanna make like Lionel and dance the ceiling to bits. As you know, we're at best sceptical as to musical talent, because it so often fails to translate to exciting music. But what's special about Goodz is that he's palpably, prodigiously talented and *doesn't* let it hinder him. On this evidence, the guy remains simply head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries."

And where's "Born Blessed" then ? Gone the way of most grime albums, we fear. But no, it wouldn't have been this good: grime albums never are.

Would have made an amazing EP: "Upset Me", "Destruction", "Superhero", "Grime Killers".

What was he thinking of ?: "House Wife" is the lamest tune here. And, good as the parodies are, any parody of something that was originally rubbish is never going to be essential.

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8. The Short Stories "The Night Is On Fire" (The International Lo-Fi Underground)

"Bristol's latest slept-on sensation have taken only months from album no.1 to complete their second long-player... Two things jumped out at us initially. One is that it's difficult to recall any album made since, ooh, approx. the dawn of time that starts with such relentless miserableness as the lyrics to (and delivery of) opener "It Only Hurts When I Move": but you need to bear with it, because the song butterflies into a plush, pastoral instrumental with a gorgeous coda the keyboard swells of which deftly and deliberately recall a morose classic of times past (listen, and you'll divine what we mean). Two, for "See My Skin", the Short Stories have achieved what Dave Simpson signally failed to for his otherwise so-comprehensive survey "The Fallen", and managed to coax ex-Blue Orchids and Fall ledge Martin Bramah out briefly from hiding, to deliver a short spoken word overlay to the track's clanging, *cough" Fall-esque guitar serrations.

There is, of course, more to the record than that: similar sentiments to "It Only Hurts" drive "Sink Or Swim", but this time the music is a little breezier, a piece that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Forest Giants' elegant swansong "Things We Do When We're Bored". "Closing Time" is more straightforward still, a slightly whimsical new wavey number that would have sat equally well on their debut, and that would probably be the obvious single choice, were small labels to be afforded the luxury of being able to release those anymore. There's the album finisher, "Adoration", a thoughtful dissection of the differences between us that we usually gloss over: its gently repetitious cadences give it the feel almost of a lullaby. But the whole LP is anchored by the rather tender narrative of "The Loser's Club", a most delectable slow burn of dramatic Velvetsy guitar-shuffling combined with that rambling feel of the young Fall's most cogent storytelling moments. It goes on for around 12 minutes, but - and here's the crucial part - a little like the later Fall's "50 Year Old Man", you get sucked into the narrative sufficiently that you could swear those twelve minutes pass in a mere instant or two."


And here's a bonus for Short Stories / Forest Giants / Rob Pursey fans: it turns out that Mister Rippington and Mister Pursey, before the Five Year Plan, were in a combo called The Inane. Their unreleased 7" (a bit of habit with Mr R, given both Forest Giants and Short Stories' subsequent experiences) "Touched By Time" - from 1983 - can now be downloaded as part of the "The Only Fun In Frampton Cotterell" album on Bristol Archive Recordings. And believe us, it's a gorgeous song, a genuine "find" seemingly inspired by the nervy beginnings of New Order and the skyreaching of Orange Juice but which also manages to remind us of early TVPs, early Razorcuts, early Cure, early anyone good. Very much of its time, but you can tell it's Tim.

Would have made an amazing EP: "It Only Hurts When I Move", "The Loser's Club", "Adoration". (Quite a long EP, admittedly).

What were they thinking of ?: If pushed, "See My Skin" has the lowest play count...

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9. Pocketbooks "Flight Paths" (How Does It Feel?)

"Pocketbooks' new record... follows the plumes of harmony that verily *rain* down over the perfect first three tracks - "Footsteps", "Fleeting Moments" and "Camera Angles" - with a proper LP-ful of vitamin goodness... a stream of hummable, always likeable stories, bubbling with lyrical imagination, rippling with a determination to encompass all of London life into a series of vignettes, to treat us to a series of top-deck pop journeys around the city. They've also largely left that slight church hall-feel long behind, with the songs boasting production that more snugly mimics the art of their arrangements, and we even get re-recordings of the two songs from that superb Atomic Beat 7" that manage not to emasculate the joie de vivre of the originals... this record is about the subtle tangle of connection between us all, our "flight paths to each other", presumably a Pastels nod. There's even a bit near the end of the final track, "All We Do Is Rush Around", where Andy SHOUTS and then they *ROCK OUT* for 20 seconds and the excitement of that is a breathless tribute to all that's gone before, a fall of ticker tape to top off the parade. So. Hold my hands, and tell me that Pocketbooks will never leave me."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Cross The Line", "Footsteps", "Fleeting Moments", "Camera Angles".

What were they thinking of ?: "Every Good Time We Ever Had". Why would anyone queue to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ? (Unless, perhaps, Pocketbooks were supporting). And the slow ones aren't as good as the faster ones, but then that's the case with all bands ever.

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10. Newham Generals' "Generally Speaking" (Dirtee Stank)

"rough, edgy & brilliant, despite being from Dizzee's proteges and on Dizzee's label. "Violence" and "Pepper" hit hard like grime should and the spacier, bizarre single "Head Get Mangled" 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."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Violence", "Head Get Mangled", "Pepper", "Mind Is A Gun", "Movin'".

What were they thinking of ?: "Bell Dem Slags".

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11. Weekend Nachos "Unforgivable" (Relapse)

Now the first thing to be said about Weekend Nachos is they don't sound like they'd be much fun to be around. The disc itself is emblazoned tartly with the legend "SACRIFICE MYSELF TO DESTROY THE WORLD / I DON'T WANT HUMANS TO EXIST ANY MORE" opposite a cheery sleevenote dedication urging "Fuck you to everyone else in the entire world". Lyrically, it's the sort of thing the emo kids who camp out at the Garage these days would love - the words burn with anger, hostility and mighty disaffection, with the Nachos not so much "glass half-empty" as "glass very much empty, and about to be shoved into your face". Yet it's hard to deny that just as pessimism informs the Short Stories record, it also helps drive Weekend Nachos' growling, breakdown-cluttered, injected-with-90s hardcore songs, songs that chug on a short fuse, ever-threatening to explode. Even more downbeat than their clutch of tracks on "This Comp Kills Fascists", the dozen here sometimes overdo the slow breaks, but create a coherent whole in which they've taken the king's shilling of half-decent production values without going overboard and over-experimenting. In a year of solid, consistent full-lengths (and as you know, we're happy that 24 minutes counts for these purposes), "Unforgivable" is another that refuses to be split easily into killer and filler.

Would have made an amazing EP: We'll go for "2009", "Nights", "Unholy Victory", "Pain Over Acceptance".

What were they thinking of ?: Hmmm, tricky - there's no real dead wood. Can we nominate the way the (samey) songs elide into each other ?

12. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart "The Pains of Being Pure At Heart" (Fortuna Pop!)

"We've read a lot, mostly on the money, on this, so don't propose to say much, only this. One of the sad things about some of the wonderful bands who sprouted up around '86 was that while they produced blissful singles for the next couple of years, relatively few ended up making equally life-affirming first albums: some never progressed to LPs at all, others only when they had grown up a little, or sold out a lot. So whatever the passage of time does to the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, we can at least all be happy that they have produced a(n eponymous) full-length, on Fortuna Pop! here in the UK, that lays out perfectly, just as it should, all the confidence and poise they have now, and that we'll never have to hold that same regret in respect of them."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Come Saturday", "Everything About You", "This Love is Fucking Right", "Stay Alive".

What were they thinking of ?: "Teenager In Love". Obviously.

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13. Beatnik Filmstars "Broken Bones" (The Satisfaction Recording Company, download only)

"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 a smalltown 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."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Back Up Plan", "Throwing Punches", "The Old Fool", "Let The Good Times Roll".

What were they thinking of ?: "You Only Get This Track When You Download The Whole Album".

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14. The Hillfields "It'll Never Be The Same Again" (Underused)

"an andrex (soft, strong but marginally too long) of an album which might with its studied indie wherewithal and high altar jangle just be their own "where it is"."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Afterburn", "Medicated", "Down On You", "Postcard From Home".

What were they thinking of ?: "No More No More"

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15. Liechtenstein "Survival Strategies In A Modern World" (Slumberland, 10")

"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."

Would have made an amazing EP: "Postcard", "By Staying Here (We Will Slowly Disappear", "Roses In The Park", "Sophistication".

What were they thinking of ?: Well, good as this is, there's nothing here that *quite* tickles us like "Apathy" (lyrically) or "Stalking Skills" (musically)...

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16. Flow Dan "Original Dan" (self-released)

Disclaimer: there seem to be different versions of this floating about, with diff tracklistings, and the official release is meant to be on Eskibeat, though our copy isn't. So this is about the mixtape we have!

Until now, he's been king of the guest appearance, show-stealer extraordinaire: witness his turns with the Bug, par exemple. But following last year's teasing by Trim, with whom he'd fallen out in a bad way, Flow Dan now does have a proper CD out, in HMV and everything, and it works well as a pristine example of dark, unreconstructed street grime in a world where his former brothers in grime have increasingly transmogrified into unrelentingly surburbanised teen entertainers. "Original Dan" is very different from Trim's thoughtful, reflective "Soul Food" volumes, but that's fine, because this is FD playing to his strengths, the kind of album that makes us start flicking through AutoTrader searching for secondhand Capris, XR3s, Imprezas and 635 CSis to play it in.

With spots from Wiley, Frisco, Killa P, Badness and best of all the legend that is Riko (along with the Dan probably the realest left right now, unless you count God's Gift as being a music man, rather than a road man) there's plenty to enjoy, but best of all are probably the tracks where FD goes it alone vocally: any other MC's tones inevitably sound suddenly trebly and vulnerable when set against Flow Dan's irrepressibly gruff verbalising "fuckery", whereas he gives the impression his deadpan focus *never* flickers (by way of example check one of the bonus tracks, the "News At 10" freestyle, where he makes sparks fly over the Big Ben chimes). It's easy to spot the guest productions, too: the Maniac*-produced "Still Deya" lives up to the sleeve notes' immodest description ("a no mercy instrumental complimented by a militant vocal delivery... not forgetting melody's [sic] and punchlines to kill"), the Bug himself assists by providing the backing on the spectral "Run" and Wiley does his swirly-violin backbeat thing on the remix of "Bad Man Talking". Other production treats are furnished by "Test This Corner" (just as enjoyable as Riko's "No Boad Test This Corner"), "This Side Bwoy" (this side being the darkside, as Big Fris would have it) and "Dumpers" (where Bless Beats' riddims would work ably enough as an instrumental).

Would have made an amazing EP: "Still Deya", "Run", "Dis Side Bwoy", "Just Me". We'll throw in "Don't Rate 'Em" and "News At 10" if we're allowed the bonus tracks.

What was he thinking of ?: "Stage Show": we've probably heard more versions of this than Mick Quinn has had hot dinners, but everyone knows it's Jammer's version that kills it. "Show Them": autotune sucks. And "Moving To Me": it would work OK as a parody, but can we please stop with the rubbishy electro crossover stuff now ? That died when Goodz (q.v.) rightly declared it OVER.

* Better get this thing over with now, given the amount of times we've given him props in the past: Maniac has gone down, and quite rightly. It doesn't mean that we haven't loved so many of his signature beats for Flow Dan, Riko, Wiley, Little Dee, all his stuff with Tinchy Stryder: it does mean that he won't be making any more, but then he has only himself to blame for that.

17. Trim presents "Monkey Features, Volume 1 (The New Series)" (Cre8ive)

And look who it is. Obviously one of the reasons these pages still limp on is that there are so many artists who just don't get the love we think they deserve. Often the most under-rated are in indiepop, although the nature of that beast at the moment means that even the most obscure band can normally count on a cabal of hardcore fans. But of perhaps everyone in this list, it's probably Trim who is the most unaccountably slept-on: a tough yet funny, engaging, conversational and often even charming MC whose "talking stylee" over interesting, crunchy, percussion-heavy and original beats has now yielded a good five mixtapes.

There are plenty of Pitchfork types who would never even contemplate investigating most grime, but who wouldn't find Trim's cerebral, easy-E14 style too wearing. True there aren't many choruses, or too many guest MCs, but then those are things that explain the lack of more mainstream appeal: we're honestly unsure as to why so many people outside of the grime fraternity (especially all us "grime-curious" indiekids) are still blind to Trim's existence. For now though, we're just grateful he hasn't given up, and is still stepping up when so many of his brethren have made ungainly, unseemly attempts to gatecrash into semi-public view. It's not too hard to find this mixtape for a fiver, and we would recommend the effort: you might even find you want to pick up some of the older ones too.

Would have made an amazing EP: "Monkey Features", "Battlefield", "Trousers (remix)", "Greeze Part 2"

What was he thinking of ?: Hmmm. "Chinese Whispers" is a touch rope.

18. Japanische Kampfhorspiele "Luxusvernichtung (Vierundfunfzig vertonte Kurzgedichte)" (Unundeux, 10")

Though described as an EP, we eventually decided to file this in the "albums" list because it's played at 33...

"If you still hanker after a healthy continental supper of what we're tempted to christen Borstal-grind (y'know, "short sharp shock" and all that), you need look no further than "Luxusvernichtung", a smartly-packaged 10" artefact by hyper-prolific German sextet Japanische Kampfhorspiele, and the debut release on their own Unundeux label... Twenty or so minutes long, this EP yields some 54 tracks which gravitate from virtual one-liners through to more substantial offerings ("Vernetzte Welt Geht Unter" even allowing itself the admirably pointless luxury of both a fade-in and a fade-out) though it's songs like "Vorort" or "Konfekt" which get the balance between the music and the desire to lyric-cram just right: think Napalm's "The Kill"... the other thing that really struck us about this record is how, we are 100% sure, it would have been receiving daily play were the great JP still around."

Would have made an amazing EP: The whole thing is one really, though our favourites are probably "Krise", "Austausch", "Talk", "Konfekt", "Liebe Islamisten" and "Sklaven der Uhr", plus "Managerseminar" and "Momo" of the (many) sub-10 second tunes.

What were they thinking of ?: Not sure. But why stop at 54 ?

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19. Mobb Deep "The Safe Is Cracked" (Siccness)

We're not often wrong*, but when "The Safe Is Cracked" fell into our laps we dismissed it rather too quickly ("typically patchy", apparently), possibly influenced by the fact that their Recordkingz collabo "Heat" outshone anything on it, possibly also by the fact that we still hold everything MD give us up against "Hell On Earth", which is a bit like holding every new Morrissey single up against "This Charming Man" or "Hand In Glove".

Nevertheless, repeated listening as ever reaped rewards, and we now feel able to pronounce the patient fighting fit: while the quality, especially in the beats, maybe isn't as high as past albums, the essentials of the true Mobb sound remain: the earthy rhymes, the beats that bring Queensbridge sidewalks to life. The upshot is that "Infamous" and "Get Out Of Our Way" ring out as totems of their late-00's sound, while "Can't Win 4 Losin'" also crackles with the nervous energy of yore, even if lyrically Havoc and P are celebrating a success that's financial every bit as much as it's artistic. The word is that this album is unofficial, unauthorised, and that fits to the extent it has the same haphazard, unthemed feel of Onyx's "Cold Case Files" set, but that's all to the good because it means there are no expensive productions or mega-lame crossover tunes, only hard, cold songs with an underground feel. As such we can only disagree with what seems to be the general view that "The Safe Is Cracked" is wackness. A fairer criticism might be that it's "for fans only": but then we're fans. As we know - secretly - are a couple of you.

Would have made an amazing EP: The ones we said.

What were they thinking of ?: "Mobb Deep", (this version of) "Heat": the CD makes a slow start.

*Correction: we're usually wrong.

20. Joe Pesci "At Our Expense" (Bones Brigade)

Their name, one hopes, a tribute to said actor's performance in Home Alone rather than for his role in that ancient mobster film that middle-aged men never cease banging on about. Or perhaps even a tribute to the ancien Diversion Tactics track "Joe Pesci", although there may be room to doubt that.

This JP are a north-east three-piece and their genre can probably be discerned from the usual maths: 17 tracks, album length a shade under 15 minutes. What is particularly enterprising about "At Our Expense" - and we suspect the reason it has crept into this top 20 above albums we have frankly listened to more! - is the way that they have declared all-out war on production values, basically recording live one-take and in doing so making even the last Agathocles or Spoonful of Vicodin records seem like lush canopies of lounge muzak. But as the drums blast and the guitars hammer out noise and occasional riffs, and as singer Stuart hollers as if their collective lives depended on it - remember, these days there is no bass to ground things - it's hard not to warm to these clanging powergrind projectiles that sound like they're being heard through next door's wall, even if the spoken-word samples as ever detract rather than improve. (The proof that the less such samples, the better comes with the number of them on "World Extermination", or any of its fabulous precursors, i.e. none).

Would have made an amazing (and short) EP: "Cure Vs Profit", "I'm Not A Pessimist (It's Just That We're All Fucked)", "Brain Dead Beer Bong is Stinos' Epitaph", "Smelly John Pierre".

What were they thinking of ?: The samples, always the samples.

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Quite a few other albums meriting special shouts, chiefly Frisco, MJ Hibbett and the Validators, Butcher Boy, DJ Honda, Pants Yell!, Cheap Red, King Midas Sound, Spoonful Of Vicodin, Hellbastard, Goatwhore, Municipal Waste, Napalm Death, Recordkingz and Brutal Truth, but we really are too shattered to attempt to capsule them further. And it arrived too late for the poll, but Mytty Archer's "If I Had A Shovel" set (a CD out on 555 and 75 Or Less) is absolutely charming us this new year: please do seek out a listen.

We also had, against all our better judgment, a soft spot for Discharge's "Disensitise": it may be a pale imitation of a wan shadow of a poor copy of their original mastery, but hey, they're Discharge after all.

Oh, and our gig of the year was a turn-up: Duane Lamonte. (Private party, you know how we do). Plus maybe the first half at Brentford. Anyway, until the next time...

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