Monday, April 30, 2012

Cerebral Bore "Horrendous Acts Of Iniquity" (Earache): Alcest "Autre Temps" (Prophecy): Killing Joke "In Cythera" (Spinefarm): Ministry "Double Tap" (AFM): Chulo / Gripe "Hombre Vs. Tombo" / "Man Vs. Cop" (Grindcore Karaoke): Roc Marciano "Emeralds" (Decon Records): Cormega "MARS" (Legal Hustle): N.O.R.E. "Google That" (Militainment / The Conglomerate): Sven Wittekind "The Twirl" (Sick Weird Rough)

The pull of fleeting moments is ever-evanescent, but the power of them is uniquely effervescent. That's why singles still tend to own albums; that and what we last said five years ago, um:

"singles must be kept alive, in any way possible. for both band and for fan (and we "write" always as fans), they are the flag that a 3 minute pop song, or an 8 minute techno 12", or a hip-hop white label or a grime download or whatever is intended to transcend the wadeable sludge of the 40-minute album or the 80-minute mixtape or the 400-minute audiophile wet dream that is the box set and to be instead a perfect or imperfect statement of intent, of the desire of the moment, of one-off communication, of trying to distil the ESSENCE OF BAND into a solitary take."

So whereas the scabrousness of Cerebral Bore's gnarled and fitful post-millennial death metal was a little diluted over the eight tracks of their "Maniacal Miscreation" début, as a standalone single "Horrendous Acts Of Iniquity" acts as honest broker, entreating you to spare just three minutes of your time with their mazy, math-caressed careerings. While the lyrics are dependably hatstand, there's a serious two-chord dropped groove, Simone's vocals sound like Cerberus howling in anguish (perhaps he stubbed a paw on the gate), and you may well find yourself humming one of the spiralling, Scythian riffs next time you're doing a spot of ironing. Alongside Sufferinfuck and fellow Glaswegians Strawberry WhiplashCerebral Bore are fronting a fine new wave north-of-the-border just now.

As for Alcest, straight outta Bagnols-sur-Cèze, who are somewhat laughably fêted by some as high priests of gothic black metal, their *actual* folk vs. shoegaze sound (which we feel honour-bound to christen "sandalgaze") is as charmant as ever: Neige's winsome voice is carried by Alcest's walls of ethereal noise, each chorus a crashing instrumental wave, each verse a piquant voyage of calm. Alcest certainly do not lack a certain gothic splendour, but like la Sagrada Familia, it's a gothic splendour which remains a work in progress.

In contrast, Killing Joke have already written the book on gothic splendour, and probably the TV spin-off, too. Their appeal across many audiences - indie, punk, goth and metal - is testament not only to their undersold songwriting abilities but also to their sheer refusal to give in (after abortively decamping to Iceland for end times, after the death of Raven, even after Mötley Crüe-gate). "In Cythera" is the lead single from new LP "MMXII", the second from the reformed original line-up, and it's classic KJ. There's driving bass from the off, guitars and keyboards that recreate the circling pomp of their '80s prime, and high-in-mix vocals from Jaz that pay eloquent and rather tender tribute to a past friendship, never forgotten. While our resident Joke expert, Simon, informed us gravely in (our new favourite City pub) the Cock & Woolpack that the album itself doesn't match the fair thunderous power of its predecessor, "Absolute Dissent", "In Cythera" should still appeal to anyone who harbours a residual fondness for the less riotous, but ever-serene "Adorations" et al.

One of the first people I got talking to at college was a lovely girl who it transpired had played violin on Simon Goalpost's "Off Shopping Trolley" single, which needless to say impressed me hugely (Si was a mainstay of the mighty Thrilled Skinny and also, therefore, of their hugely underrated Hunchback Lunchpack spin-off band, Engagement Party). Indeed, my fellow student was *so* cool that just at the time I was falling in serious, fawning, love with each new Sarah 7", she told me that she reckoned Sarah was slipping somewhat, citing the Wake single as evidence of this (had I been sitting on a chair, I'd have fallen off it). In this connection - a bit like the bloke at Revolver in Bristol who kept entreating me to listen to Gallon Drunk instead - she was keen to demonstrate that there was more to life than winsome proto-whimsy, and so kindly lent me her Ministry tapes, which it is fair to say sounded deeply unlike anything on Sarah (or, for that matter, Thrilled Skinny). So when I think of Ministry I think of her.

Unsurprisingly, over 20 years later Ministry don't have the hungry, unsettling effect that hearing "Stigmata" then had on my callow teenage soul. Moreover, with the wisdom of advanced age it's plainer than ever to me that however invigorating they were in short blasts, Ministry never actually came up with something as strong as "Carbrain". Nevertheless, "Double Tap" is solid and rip-roaring fun (yes, prime Ministry) with the older, richer Al Jourgensen marshalling a new line-up including Tommy Victor (Prong) as they do a recognisable tribute to Ministry as a younger band, a raga-tinged metallic industro-thrash rant about the legalised assassination of bin Laden which sounds like Johnny Violent doing a Morbid Angel remix. We'd much prefer to be bringing you news of a Simon Goalpost single, mind.

Briefer, but 2000% ace, is a sub-one minute split from Gripe of Athens, Georgia and Colombian lo-fi grinders Chulo, via the ever-dependable Grindcore Karaoke. Armed with a quote from Timothy Leary - "Think For Yourself, Question Authority" - and rather brilliantly receiving its physical release on a 3.5" floppy disk (thanks to DIY Noise), this is (thankfully) no ordinary split single. Chulo slap down a tune that is marginally easier on the ear than their braincrushing and unproduced "Odio a Primera Vista" set, but which still manages to boast majorly demented vocal bark and bass guitar that could be "Evolved As One" played through a fuzzbox in a lift shaft. When the drums come in, it sounds like someone is attacking the studio ceiling with iron bars. Gripe then holler back with violently dilating blastbeats and high-speed chordage brimming with enough mordant freshness to make you wish they'd appeared on that Nasum tribute. A single that's essential in every way, obviously.

As you know by now, we'll rep rap's magic realist Roc around the clock, and just like the Mobb he only goes and drops a gem on 'em with "Emeralds", on which he props Hempstead, chews glass, spits sawdust and sprinkles stardust over trebly, Wu-shaped, violin-draped beats provided by the Arch Druids. It might start unprepossessingly ("I got Lamborghini dreams / Nissan nightmares" - hey, who hasn't ?) but once he's running with the mic ("pass the Mack-10 to my apprentice / while I get a pen and pad to print this") it's just so assured: while the familiar symbolic devices of New York hip-hop are comfortingly present and correct (the streets, the weapons, the cars, the labels, the whores) Roc brings a real flair to the trappings. A typical verse is laced with observation ("you a by-product / of guys that grind and buy Prada"), flips straight to simile ("black cars glide like flying carpets, the 40 lay you out like a starfish", perfectly conjuring up woozy kerbside visions) and without drawing breath, returns to his Rakim-ish mission statement: "I'm doing God's work in the booth / this was Allah's wish". This is no modest hillock of sweetness: it's a big Roc candy mountain (sorry).

Then there's Cormega's surprisingly good "MARS". The title spells out the initials not of assorted members of AR Kane or Colourbox, but of native New Yorkers 'Mega himself and his comrades Action Bronson (the chef who teamed up with the Chef on "Lethal Weapons"), Roc Marciano (yes, him again, on another guest tip) and self-proclaimed "new Public Enemy" (no pressure there, then), Saigon. Helpfully, they rap in that order, else this could have ended up being called "MRSA". The fifth member of this supergroup, not to be overlooked, is the beat-furnishing Large Professor. Refreshingly and not a little startlingly, Cormega begins proceedings by playing it conscious, invoking the Creator for strength and finishing his verse with a plaintive enough "people say I'm calmer / I consider it evolving / I'm sick of facing charges / and my mental game is stronger". The Action man is having none of this, instead throwing out rhymes that exalt diamonds, weaponry and Porsche in the time-honoured fashion, but without being able to resist some severe culinary wordplay, of which "never catch a statutory, eating cacciatore" is perhaps the toast. Next, Roc as expected plucks down the gold medal for verbal dexterity, rolling in to boast that "I mastermind, craft rhymes made of heroin / head nod, lines on a higher echelon", but of course reminding us later that cash still rules: "I be out for green like a vegan". Saigon completes the quartet by re-injecting some naked aggression ("when I put the pronouns and them adjectives to work, niggas get merked"). The result - as we're sure Cormega intended - is four neatly contrasting verses: the common thread is that they're all delivered with style and skill.

Now not long ago we noted that there were about half-a-dozen great US rap singles every year. Before you raid your piggy-box, however, we should add that despite the caché of appearing in our singles round-up, N.O.R.E.'s "Google That" is probably *not* one of them. On the other hand, a more than serviceable, crunching beat from DJ Fricktion, illiberally laced with videogame bleeps (basically, it's the music the kids on your bus listen to: I know, why don't they listen to the Pastels on the way to school. like we did...) sees Noreaga cheerily unburden himself with "shiftee / lowdown gritty / and grimy / like Fredro / fuck it, I got the bread though", an Onyx reference which made us chuckle, at least. N.O.R.E.'s verse isn't really matched by Styles P's wanton won-ton misogyny, though, while normal showstopper (or show-starter, if you take the last Wu-Tang outing's lead track literally) Raekwon delivers a strangely subdued guest spot. 

So let's conclude on a (sugar) high, with the second single from this clutch to share its name with a bar of chocolate. "The Twirl" is the latest bullet-train of exquisitely rendered IDM from doughty "fighter for techno" and arch purveyor of underground Medecin, Sven Wittekind, on his redoubtable Sick Weird Rough label. Somewhat excitingly, it is also the preview single for a new solo album, "Broken Mirrors". What we like about Sven is that however far he pushes the boat out in terms of song length or minimalist tendencies, he never loses sight of the politics of *dancing*, and snippets of this princely new single even recall his guilty past in trance music, while the bassline carries echoes of last year's excellent (and, to be fair, still slightly more rewarding) "Disturbed". "The Twirl" is where chocaholic tech-whirl meets Teutonic dance swirl, and as such you can almost taste the 'floor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wedding Present "Valentina" (Scopitones)

First, a correction. We knew, just *knew* when we said that the last Wedding Present song to name 'Jane' was "Anyone Can Make A Mistake" that we would discover a later one. You were all too polite to say it, but of course Jane turned up in "I'm Not Always So Stupid", too, this time excoriating David by telling him to drop dead: he was obviously not her favourite person around 1987/88. So, as the song itself says, "I've made a fool of myself yet once again".

Now, let's candidly couple that correction with a confession: even as a fervent long-term Gedgeapologist, I've never truly been able to embrace the Peel quote that "the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era" (helpfully emblazoned on a sticker on the new CD's cover). After all, while I'd spent years being reduced to tears by Bobby Wratten's impossibly brittle lyrics, or huddled under my duvet marvelling at the power of Keris Howard's deceptively simple words, the Wedding Present had always seemed a more robust proposition, however closely I'd identified with the sentiment on display.

But on this new album, the third since DLG reclaimed the Wedding Present name, I think we're finally all on the same page. Lyrically and musically, it confirms "the boy Gedge" as amongst the very most engaging and convincing chroniclers of relationships. "Valentina" (we're guessing, like Saturn V's "Red Star In Orbit", that we're talking Tereshkova here) is even better than "El Rey", just as "El Rey" was a notch up from "Take Fountain", and there are songs here that deserve far better than to be dismissed as afterthoughts from a band whose popularity peaked two decades ago (mind you, it hardly helps that the Weddoes are currently touring an album of precisely that vintage).

Take opener "You're Dead": while Gedge tries to distract us from its pulchritude with a skewed, yelping chorus, it's unmistakably a blue riband WP song, capturing his confidence as a writer yet harnessing the energy of the band in younger days. It even institutes an innovation to replace the legendary "crashing instrumental end bit" we described last time around, namely the "beautiful, but just as heartrending, instrumental end bit". (Don't worry though, because "Deer In The Headlights" later delivers a top drawer, & v. "What Have I Said Now ?"-esque "crashing instrumental end bit", just for old time's sake).

"End Credits", one of the more rumbustious tracks, is typical of the fare on offer in that it reminds us of several other WP songs at once: the bustling intro to "Niagara", the raw scamper of "Don't Talk Just Kiss", the vocal tics of "Fleshworld", some curving "Blue Eyes" guitar lines. At one point David sings, "this couple won't be strolling..." and you don't quite know what he's getting at, but then the lyric unfolds as "...into a blood-red setting sun / while the end credits are rolling", betraying a tenderness which could never quite flicker into life amid the angst and recrimination of songs like "My Favourite Dress".

Apart from the Wedding Present being influenced by, um, the Wedding Present, there are strong hints of Gedge's beloved Fall at play (that song "End Credits" again even has two drummers), while more than one track reminds us of the rarely-bettered Boyracer. In terms of seeking the pop jugular, the jaunty "524 Fidelio" may well be the tune you end up humming on the bus tomorrow, while "The Girl From The DDR" turns a Cold War fantasy into a surprisingly jaunty guitar-fest. And "Mystery Date" rounds things off memorably by combining the gentlest, most languorous verse (like "No Christmas", at times it's virtually imperceptible) with a grandstanding, Pixies-like chorus.

Interestingly, the Gedge 'character' on "Valentina" seems generally kinder and less paranoid than his persona on previous albums: despite delving into infidelity, he's no longer a serial heartbreaker, and at times seems (disbelievingly) content with his love-life. Perhaps only on "Stop Thief!" (contemplative to the point of bordering on suicidal) is there an unvarnished sadness. These emotional nuances are reflected by the fact that most of the ten songs on show are relatively intricate in arrangement. While never over-fiddly - sometimes it's the simple weave-in of a new guitar line - there's definitely a step-up from a past over-emphasis on bludgeoning, Albini-sanctioned "loud / quiet / loud" dynamics. On occasion, there are surprising changes in pace or instrumentation, but unlike some of Cinerama's discography you're never in mortal fear of there being a mariachi section or a flute solo hiding around the next corner.

Anyway. When we reviewed "You Jane" we were a little resigned to the Weddoes being past their best. And it's still hard for us to see past those early, fuzzed-up and urgent love songs we grew up on. But as we re-spin "Valentina", it's obvious that the Weddoes, even in 2012, represent more than merely nostalgia. We really can't think of too many better indie guitar-pop albums over the last few years: aside from Northern Portrait and Gold-Bears, you'd probably have to go back to Boyracer's last album, or the Pains of Being Pure At Heart's first one. Which makes it a crying shame that nobody who buys "Valentina" will be buying their first Wedding Present record.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mark Stewart "The Politics Of Envy" (Future Noise): DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles "Kollexxxion" (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart): Hood "Recollected" (Domino)

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more formidable cast list of post-punk collaborators than features on "The Politics Of Envy": alongside former Pop Group frontman Stewart there are contributions from members or ex-members of Killing Joke, PiL, Television, the Slits, the Raincoats, Crass, Cabaret Voltaire, the Mary Chain, Massive Attack, Dreadzone and the Primals, as well as the venerable Lee 'Scratch' Perry. But there is such a thing as a guest spot too far: let us be very clear that there can be *no* compelling reason for roping in an octogenarian Kenneth Anger to play theremin, apart perhaps from making Comet Gain very jealous indeed.

Despite what some might claim (hello again, broadsheets), "The Politics Of Envy" is not particularly difficult listening. Indeed, compared to "Y" or "Veneer Of Democracy" (which, pleasingly, we are not alone in thinking one of the heaviest albums ever made),  it's bright and accessible, a walk in the park, a sashay down Brandon Hill, a picnic soundtracked by Mantovani. But even if this LP is hardly an all-out audio assault (a shame: we could have done with a bit more noise, shouting, and sheer walls of thudding dub, but I guess we always have the old records to take us to those places), it strikes the balance between agit-prop and listenability pretty capably overall, and if we're v. optimistic it might even introduce a few Ottolenghi / Breakfast Club chatterati coffee-tablists, should they feel suitably adventurous, to sounds their CD players haven't encountered before. What's interesting, too, is that the most successful songs here, generally, are those tending towards the mellower, more introspective end of the spectrum.

Stewart does over-egg the pudding in a few places: "Apocalypse Hotel" is over-burdened by its histrionic choruses, the single "Autonomia" lacks sufficient zip, "Want" is better served by its subtler bonus disc re-working, and "Baby Bourgeois" feels overblown, a mis-step. But otherwise, "The Politics" conjures up an intriguing and oft-satisfying blend of styles, overlaid with Stewart's ever-seething laments on behalf of the displaced and dispossessed. "Vanity Kills" bubbles with thrilling chorus salvoes; "Gustav Says" updates the last LP's "Rise Again" with radio-friendly glitz; the under-rated "Codex" and the Perry collaboration "Gang War" nicely foment zig-zagging percussion and effects, the latter cheekily basing itself on a rather different gang war soundtrack, "Summer Nights" (though never forget that the definitive version of that was by 14 Iced Bears). And the last two songs on the album are absolute peaches. First, "Letter To Hermione" does extraordinary things to a late '60s Bowie album track, rendering it more in the vein of the Fall's similarly glacial / beautiful "Weather Report 2" (wouldn't it be great if Mark Stewart and Mark E. Smith - one of the few post-punk icons not featured here - made a record together ? MS v MES would be the biggest meeting of Bristol and Manchester since January 7th,1956). Then, Keith Levene's warm guitar lines and Gina Birch's perfectly dovetailing additional vocal unwrap the closing "Stereotype" to reveal a hidden pop gem.

Next up, after the "StOoDiOtYmE" EP comes the full work-out from Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxxx and his drinking buddy Premo. (And pleasingly, in true Sarah style, there is no overlap of tracks between the two). Like Marley Marl and Craig G's LP some years ago, "Kollexxxion" is a throwback, but a rewarding one. Bumpy proves an engaging and loquacious host, most tracks featuring a prelude in which he introduces the song with a little chat, but it's when those Premier beats kick in that the listener gets to kick back, relax and enjoy. And while Bumpy's flow is, well, uneven, and his similes are clumsy (if often witty), the husky timbre of his voice - a contrast to Craig G's down to earth, rapper-next-door delivery - suits proceedings well whether he's ranting about illegal downloaders, reminiscing about his time on tour with Gang Starror just throwing out rhymes on a general ego t(r)ip.

And there are a handful of tracks that shine like the Chrysler building in the Manhattan summer: musically "The Key" could be "Step In The Arena"-era GS, Bumpy rhyming for three minutes with panache and without pause while Premo throws in a series of perfectly-timed scratched samples. "Turn Up The Mic", anchored by a deceptively simple hook and the same soul-blushed feel as Honda and Mos Def's "Magnetic Arts", sees none other than Nas turn up to lay down a strikingly deft first verse, Bumpy then delivering the second with more than enough bravado to make the whole thing seem a classic soundtrack to spring 2012. "P.A.I.N.E." might be easy to dismiss as brainless hard-man schtick, were it not so well-executed. And "Shake The Room", one of the pre-dripped download singles, is - despite, rather than because of, a typically pointless guest appearance from Flavor Flav - a bold and blissful club tune, its serrating bass set against a sample that sprinkles microphone feedback into the loop. Even if the formula gets spread a little thinly over some 17 tracks, it's cheering to know that records like this are still getting made.

From "Kollexxxion" to "Recollection", the luxurious (if correspondingly expensive) retrospective from, yes, Hood. We've been accused many a time of banging on about Hood far too much - in 2005 we observed that "if Hood ever, ever WANTED to prove themselves the greatest band in the world, nobody would be be able to stop them" - but the reality, looking back, is that *we probably didn't go on about them quite enough*. Indeed, skimming in earnest for posts of ours on their final album "Outside Closer", a typically subtle but stunning record which we really think may be the best album of the 21st century so far, it appears we never even got round to reviewing it. In retrospect we may have been dazzled by the sheer quality of "The Negatives..." single which preceded it and which did rather jump out at you (and worth noting, as we've just mentioned him, as the song which provides a link between Nas and Hood), whereas the other pieces on the album were perhaps less immediately spectacular. We would like, one day, to write an essay about "Outside Closer" that does it justice.

Similarly, while on occasion we've dipped into the greatness of later Hood-related bands (the Declining Winter's "Haunt The Upper Hallways" gets *justified* praise here), we've too often neglected the brilliance of post-Hood. For example, Bracken's "Heathens" single and the "We Know About The Need" album from whence it came - "these songs sound almost designed as soundtracks, but to so many things: to slow-motion filming of flowers in bloom, to telegraph poles and pylons from a train window, to the unprepossessing brown-brick blocks and houses that frame our walk home on bright but humid evenings..." - have, like "Outside Closer", only got better and better to these ears as the years have skipped by. As for the latest 'new Hood side-project' revelation, On Fell, their two recent untitled 7"s on Moteer were without any doubt the finest singles released by anyone last year.

Anyway, "Recollected" consists of six CDs culled from Hood's time on Domino, comprising their four studio albums over that period plus a 'singles' collection and the obligatory "rare and unreleased" disc, all as sumptuously presented as you might expect. As we have bored you about Hood before, we don't propose to do so (at length) again, although our collated reviews of their glorious yesterdays are still hanging around on our dub pages here, here and here, if you're so minded.  

For now, we just want to take this opportunity to remember a musical love affair, celebrate a band we still hold dear, and tell you that "Recollected" captures a much-missed and misunderstood ensemble, whose creative peak lasted longer than most bands' lifetime.