Evans The Death "Telling Lies" (Fortuna Pop!): Manatee "Single Payer Class War" (Slumberland): Tha Connection "Strive" (DigiCrates): DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles "StOoDiOtYmE" (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart): Irn Mnky "Inject The Beat" (Mr Diggs Recordings): Tex-Rec "Line" (Geysir Records): Michael Schwarz "Incarnation" (Darknet): Burial "Kindred" (Hyperdub)
Just like our 'singles round-ups' of old, we're not throwing all these 45s together and keeping it brief (well, you know, brief-ish) because they don't deserve their own, more lingering, reviews. We do it because we are flat out, but are in a hurry to let you know - just as fast as our fingers can type! - about some records that we think you might enjoy too.
Evans The Death, we assume, are long past that stage of regretting that they didn't go with one of the other potential band names, given that they are now on a first album deal with Fortuna Pop! and Slumberland: of all bands with "Death" in their name, they can at least count themselves amongst the most tuneful. The Death hail from Essex, and having served ample time in that lush county ourselves, we are hopefully well-placed to pronounce that with this 7" the Death have played themselves high into the list of the best Essex bands ever, currently behind only the Windmills, Catapult (I once passed up a chance to see them play, in Brentwood of all places, and could still kick myself for it), Grinder, Flyblown / Scalplock, the much-missed Get Laid Crew and Automatic Slim, and having edged ahead of, um... everyone else (Depeche Mode ? The Feedback ? Nitzer Ebb ? Crayola ? The Rosslyns ?) Hm... it's a short list. Like Nottingham, Essex (population 1,750,000) has really not pulled its weight when it comes to great music.
Anyway, "Telling Lies" is a big step forward from the thrilling if homely "Threads". Not least because of its classic-sounding chorus, it exudes the crossover potential of those bands from our childhood (Ash, Darling Buds, the Primitives) who were Peel outfits one minute, on Top Of The Pops the next. That doesn't necessarily mean we expect the Death on heavy MTV rotation any time soon, mind, because for every "Girl From Mars" or "Hit The Ground" or "Crash" you also got a "Heaven Knows", where another favourite band would cook up something that felt like a breakthrough but didn't even bruise the top 75. The only caveat to our otherwise unallayed positivity re: the Death is that "Telling Lies" does tread that scarily fine line, in common with This Many Boyfriends and a few other of today's fresher-faced combos, of sounding part-influenced by C86 (A to the C to the E) and part-influenced by Britpop (the horror, the horror; we still get flashbacks). Only time - or perhaps the LP, which we really need to get round to soon - will reveal how that tension is resolved: ultimately, it's a power struggle in which we can only trust that the forces of good will prevail.
Somewhat worringly, Oakland's Manatee are becoming one of our all-time favourite bands, despite the fact that we've only heard four songs by them, and that as far as we can tell they only existed for about an afternoon. For following their blinding Slumberland 7" single "Indecision" (unquestionably one of the greatest records of 2010 and one of the finest guitar-pop singles of recent years) comes a *flexi* (mmm, harking back to our recent observations on the hierarchy of formats) brilliantly entitled "Single Payer Class War" and boasting two different, but equally amazing numbers. While we had "Indecision" down as "delightfully feral, rooted in what sounds to us a very UK-inspired indie sound... all topped off by high in the mix wide-eyed vocals (with some rather splendid lyrics)", both tracks here start from a punkier place, even if we wouldn't call them punk per se: this is just (very) power(ful)-pop, adrenalin-charged, shot through with winning humour, and completely adorable. "Mr Super" is the lead, and it springs out of the blocks with the same zest as those other great paeans to superheroes, Milky Wimpshake's "Spidey" and of course Grinder's never-bettered "Spiderman". The second track, "Chased by Anderson Cooper", with singer Keith giving a very convincing impression of a man in genuine fear of the sometime CNN anchor-bloke, is even sprightlier, and raises a few chuckles along the way. We would all be blessed, you know, if Slumberland could see their way to uncovering more from the Manatee vault.
It was probably around the turn of the century that US hip-hop pretty much gave up the ghost, ushering in a new and seemingly endless era of cheesy consumerist careerism so depressing that any non-terrible LP (like the Craig G and Marley Marl set, Raekwon's Cuban Linx sequel, or last year's surprisingly good Wu-Tang outing) appears, by comparison with its feeble fashion-toting peers, a veritable masterwork. As to rap singles from across the pond, it seems that there are now only half-a-dozen every year that buck the trend: the new ones from Tha Connection and Bumpy Knuckles are probably the first two of those for 2012.
Tha Connection, aka Hus Tha KingPin and SmooVth, hail from Hempstead (in Long Island, and not therefore to be confused with Hemel Hempstead, or indeed Hampstead) and "Strive", for which they rope in fellow Strong Island resident and former P Brothers collaborator Roc Marciano, is compelling right from the get-go: "since birth / I've been cursed with the thirst / for dollars". The Roc himself delivered one of those half-dozen annual highlights ("Scarface Nigga", a chunk of the awesome Marcberg) in 2010, and easily as he breezes in, his gracious hosts' own verses are good enough that nobody gets upstaged. Keeping it Long Island, there's also a new EP outing for Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxxx. In teaming up with Premier (and not for the first time: Foxxx is another "Militia" man, for a start) he's in the company of the producer responsible for another of 2010's half-dozen ("Project Boy", with Orteeez), and "StOoDiOtYmE" is a smooth, confident tribute to those up and coming MCs hustling for time in the booth, Knuckles providing the kind of grittily-delivered verses for them aspire to while Premo's mellifluous piano provides textbook DJ support.
Switching back to the UK, we know it's tempting to survey the woeful hip-hop / pop hybrid clogging up the charts (can the Tinchy releasing a dismal single with Pixie Lott really be the same one who once rocked "Ice Rink" on white label ?) and reach for the revolver, but Huddersfield's Irn Mnky - no relation, we suspect, to the Iron Monkey who were once signed to Earache - is here to let us know there's no need to despair completely. Not only does "Inject The Beat" showcase premier lyrical fire from top-drawer guests Caps (Notts, obviously) and Bane (repping Leeds), who each deliver a tidily thunking opening 16 bars before returning later on to sign-off in style, but the Irn man also features - in amongst his formidable, late-90s French electro sounding production - some sky's-the-limit scratching from scratch king DJ esSDee, also of the LS. Uplifting stuff, but if only things like this came out on 12" nowadays: we would be running through walls to buy the vinyl.
Next comes more from two heavyweights of the dark, minimal continental techno which seems to have usurped much of our home-city acid stuff in our affections. Tuzla's Tex-Rec, aka Almir Memic, continues to be an ambassador for the true sound of the underground, and "Line" may be his best single since "Kill The Dream" for SWR in '10 ("a smiling assassin of an EP which seduces you with rhythmic patterns as sleek and glinting as the bonnet of a newly polished Countach while at the same time moving in for the kill with dancefloor-massacring intensity", if you remember).
"Line", however, is not quite the same hulking beast as cuts like "X.O.P." or that EP's title track: slightly more coy, it aims to insinuate itself with the listener by creeping up on you gently. So an initial flickering beat is joined by an ominous, sonorous chime. Then a ghostly wail, and some sound effects that could have come straight from Martin Hannett's soundboard (whatever the genre, the very best acts from it *always* seem to remind us of Joy Division somehow). There's a sinister hissing sound. Soon, a metronomic ticking, at a steady 126 bpm. Ghostly embers dance around at the back of the mix, a la Concrete DJz' "Solid State Refills". And all the while, the chime goes on. It's sleek, beautiful, music. And the Schwarz is back, too, with a single on Sydney's Darknet, the latest Kiel haul following his thunderous "Torsion" outing. Like the second half of last yr's "Ganimed", "Incarnation" has at its hub a markedly simple ringing synth: just two notes, captured and then repeated, tilted and infracted as drum fills and rolls well up beneath. Assured and controlled, it's the neatest possible companion to any trip out into the city evening dusk.
Finally, and staying on an instrumental tip (after all, half of both our top ten and top twenty singles of last year were shorn of vocals) comes "Kindred", at last now out on vinyl. While we've watched out for Burial's occasional releases ever since the first album landed, we've never considered ourselves great fans: at times we've been baffled by, and even envious (on behalf of all the underrated bands we love) of his critical popularity. But "Kindred" is - oh how we hate agreeing with basically the rest of the world on anything to do with music - an unbelievably good track, surely a landmark single: probably both Burial's finest release to date, and maybe even Hyperdub's.
"Kindred" is unmistakably Burial from word go, all fluttering needle, broken-flow vocals, crackling beats, d-step bass: but it twists and turns, never chases the hook, lets the warm chords strike out from the soundscape and create their own private moments of joy with the listener. The bassline is harder than usual, yet this rare club-friendly nod is offset by the arrangement, which is almost wilfully organic. He assembles and dismantles the constituent parts of the song, taking joy in interrogating, confirming and then confounding your preconceptions as the record halts, resumes, subsides again. It's the most ambitious single we've encountered since The Fall's seriously overlooked epic "The Chiselers" (which it even recalls in places).
Now, some of you will be sensing a weakness in our armour: you'll be thinking "ah, but you lot always bang on about punk and year zero, and now you're gushing over a 12-minute epic chock-full of themes and suites and concepts, therefore Burial is really modern-day prog, and certainly not punk, which means your endless verbal jousting about the superiority of the punk ethic over all that came before is once again proven totally unfounded". To which we say: um, good point, and normally at this stage we would create a distraction, or offer to go and buy you another pint, but as you're there and we're here and there isn't a bar in sight, I guess all we can say for now is this: to our mind, the problem with 'prog' (but it wasn't just with prog, of course, it was the whole mediocre shleck across all genres - dried-up rock, stale bubblegum pop, gruesome balladeers - that afflicted the 1970s, and the problem was never the *existence* of prog, but only any unhealthy idea that it was the pinnacle of all musical creation; but that aside) was more its increasing divergence from the disillusioned mood of a new society post-"who governs", and the perception that it was ivory tower art, while punk to the new generation ennobled them and reflected their own concerns and was rooted more in their own realities, *and* we would say, if pushed, that this is what Burial does: he makes art which may not expressly give a voice to 2012's myriad sociopolitical realities, but we can identify with his records because they *do* absolutely seem to reflect the life that many of us live, especially those of us in cities; fragmented, in need of a soundtrack, holding up a mirror to the way music is consumed now (on headphones, in all weathers, competing with traffic and sirens and other people's conversations and arguments), and that Burial's 'dance music that you can't dance to' is the perfect prescription for our transient lives, for all the time we spend on public transport flitting from one place to another. And by now you'll just be thinking that we've gone *waaay* too pretentious (although even now we'd still counter that this only scratches the surface, and anyway you should see some of the essays that proper critics have written about "Kindred") and again you're probably right, but then you did ask.
Although actually, if your comeback to this, however impertinent, is that at some point even we have to stop hiding behind thickly-wooded verbiage and accept that this kind of thing *can* turn into prog, then (holds up hands, like no-nonsense defender trying in vain to passively-agressively persuade referee not to dish out second yellow) you are right. For after "Kindred", and second track "Loner" (which takes a more straight-up, rushing 4/4 approach), comes "Ashtray Wasp", which literally throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. In doing so, while it's been the most lauded track of the three, for us it tips a little too much into a "progressive" kind of self-indulgence.