Friday, July 06, 2012

Various Artists "World's Shortest Album" (Earache)

The clue's in the title. "World's Shortest Album" is the rather belated culmination of the thinking that, in 1989, coupled Napalm Death's 1.3-second "You Suffer" with Electro Hippies' 1-second "Mega-Armageddon Death Pt.3" on the shortest 7" single ever: it is also a retrospective of sorts, marking 25 years in showbusiness for Earache Records (one of the best, if at times maddeningly inconsistent, labels over that period). So if you thought that Chulo and Gripe's recent sub-one minute split single was still a little too self-indulgent, then this is probably the only record that is going to satisfy you.

A disclaimer first. Yes, this compilation (of 8 bands playing 13 tracks in 87 seconds) is tacky, it's unnecessary, it's frivolous, it's a novelty, it's ephemeral, it's gimmicky, it's too easy, it's cheap (but not cheap enough), it leaves a barrel-scraping stench and does a disservice to the genuine musical greatness acheived elsewhere by both the label and most of the featured bands. It's the equivalent of the cassettes (C-12's, natch) we once made and passed around the classroom, putting together the very shortest tracks from some of those early "Britcore" (as it was briefly christened!) Peel Sessions. Most of the class were more used to their dads showing off the new compact disc invention by playing "Dark Side Of The Moon" or "Brothers In Arms" on ye olde hi-fi system: so the novelty of such short, ferocious songs back then is difficult to overstate. But those C-12s were hardly likely to bear repeated listening.

On the other hand, "Shortest Album" is still better than most long-players that will be released this year. Indeed, we'll go a step further and observe that listening to it in a darkened room (remember, a fair proportion of the 87 seconds consists of the gaps between songs) can remind you of the power of noise, the value of silence, the all-pervading tentacles of nihilism and the fundamentally human need to, just occasionally, ponder on the futility of all existence. Earache go further still and claim that it's a celebration of brevity as an art form, but then they're the ones who are asking us to pay them for the pleasure.

It starts well. Seriously. We've become connoisseurs of sub-five second songs over the quarter-century of Earache's existence, and believe us that while most are terrible (here's looking at you, Intestinal Disgorge), there are a few good ones, and even some great ones: it's quite a discipline to master. And the three opening tracks, from Birmingham's favourite sons Napalm Death of course, are classics of the um, genre (let's call it "sub-5"): the hardy perennial "You Suffer", the self-explanatory thump of "Dead" and the blistering, rather *personal* "Your Achievement". The Broadrick / Bullen composition "You Suffer", in particular, is iconic: once on that record-breaking single and still a part of Napalm's live set to this day, it has spawned not only a multitude of cover versions (most remarkably the hour-long industrial interpretation by Kylie Minoise), but a whole remix project featuring the likes of Necrotic Goat Slaughter, Awesome Bin Laden and Gay Napalm Death. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. (Are we allowed to say we still prefer the Peel Session version, "You Suffer Pt.2" though, with its crashing echo ?) Just *please* never let it be said that these youthful bursts of sheer energy are all Napalm should be remembered for: listen to their outstanding latest LP "Utilitarian" and you will be instantly disabused of such slender notions.

Next up come a brace of tracks by the recent inheritors of (early) Napalm's crown, our Singaporean friends Wormrot. "False Grind Sodomy", one of the bonus tracks on the iTunes version of their second LP "Dirge", is overlong even at two seconds, and frankly left for dead by the brilliance of that album's other songs. On the other hand, "You Suffer (But Why Is It My Problem ?)", also from "Dirge", does as much as any song reasonably can do in five seconds. It's both an extended cover of, and an answer record to, Napalm's original: there's an initial fraught barrage of noise, which quickly subsides; then they regroup, and launch a second onslaught, a furious final flourish. It's one of our favourite sub-5 tunes.

Brutal Truth contribute two hurricanes of sub-5ism, "Collateral Damage" and "Blockhead", both of which are blastingly direct (it's no coincidence that as a bonus track on their last album "End Time" they covered Napalm's "Dead"). Mid-LP, Lawnmower Deth and Painkiller then turn up to deliver a track each, "Be Scene Not Heard" and "Trailmarker" respectively: two perfectly respectable chunks of sub-5, the former an of-its-time dig at scenesters, the latter a colourful explosion of noise that sounds like "Everyday Pox" played at the speed of sound. Surprisingly, perhaps, Morbid Angel also make an appearance: hardly prone to economical songwriting, they're not a band you would expect to be involved in this festival of pithiness (especially given that their recent remix album is um, *128 times* as long as this LP).   "Bil Ur-Sag #2 Lava" however, is not a proper sub-5 tune at all: it's a mere throwaway experiment, a barely-edible instrumental morsel plucked randomly from the Angel's back catalogue. Boo.

And then there are the ever-fragrant A.C: as a combo who could merrily bundle dozens of tracks on to their every 7", they were always going to be featured on this. "Windchimes Are Gay", it's fair to say, is typically representative of the band's ouevre: it will make you think back to when A.C. started to appear on Earache label comps in the 1990s, so that betwixt two proper choking slabs of thrash or metal by the new and hotly-touted you'd hear a Beavis and Butthead-like sketch from the late Seth Putnam's crew. So at least it has nostalgia on its side. The other A.C. number, "Howard Wulkan's Bald", however, offers nought: it was poor to start with, and has dated badly. The reality with A.C. is that it tended to be more entertaining perusing their track listings - "Extreme Noise Terror Is Afraid Of Us", "Having To Make Up Song Titles Sucks" - than listening to the music within (although we will make exceptions for some of their cover versions, which include the definitive version of EMF's "Unbelievable" as well as of, um, "Hungry Hungry Hippos").

But just as the album began stormingly, it concludes as strongly, with Insect Warfare's "Street Sweeper". At an epic 13 seconds - the longest composition here - this track from their disturbingly good "World Extermination" set even has time to get into a stride of sorts, and hint at the influence the Texans bore on probably the greatest grind bands of today, Wormrot and Death Toll 80k. But, again, just being featured on this fly-by-night compilation risks massively underselling just how good a band Insect Warfare really were.

Hm. Moving to another fundamentally human need - the need to ponder on alternative tracklistings in distinctly anorakish fashion - we can see no good reason why the album fails to feature "Mega Armageddon Death" itself (or indeed any other songs from Electro Hippies, an underrated band with both a sense of purpose and a sense of humour). And if we'd somehow got the gig of curating this, we'd have dropped A.C. and co, instead drizzling in a sprinkling of other ultra-concise cuts for a rather fuller flavour: Where's The Beach's electronic cover of "Mega Armageddon", Terry Edwards' all-trumpet Napalm Death Medley, one or other of Unseen Terror's briefer-than-brief Garfield tributes, Doctor and the Crippens' lovelorn "Bench" and an oft-overlooked indie contribution, Beatnik Filmstars' "Diseaser 399" (probably the most nuanced and moving song ever to end almost as soon as it's started). Nor should any self-respecting "short song" compilation really neglect new kids on the block Sidetracked or two masters of the genre from mainland Europe, Japanische Kampfhorspiele and legendary Italians, Cripple Bastards.

Anyway. While there *are* many reasons to despise the opportunist nature of this record, we're going to blank them out, if just for 87 seconds at a time, and "enjoy" its quirkiness of vision. So rather than listen to one of the 28 identikit radio stations pumping out precisely the same dreck all day, why not find a minute and a half to 'drop out' and marvel at the (intermittent) sounds of silence ?

No comments: