Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Hermit Crabs "Time Relentless" (Matinée Recordings): Bart and Friends "It's Not The Words That You Say" (Shelflife)

Tempus fugit (um, we're just trying to reclaim all things Latinate from that pompous fool Mayor). We're struggling to believe it's really more than three years since the previous release by the Hermit Crabs - the splendid "Correspondence Course" - but apparently it is, which even before you've torn the disc from its sleeve makes this new EP a tremendously welcome event. The band have resisted the temptation to emerge from this hibernation (and yes, before you question our carcinological credentials, hermit crabs *do* hibernate) sporting a dramatic new sound - so no Damascene conversion to the wonders of cross-genre pollination, or sudden discovery of the latest bandwagon (which may be just as well, given that the latest bandwagons in town include djent and brostep)- but that doesn't mean the Crabs haven't made a few refinements to the glorious, melody-strewn folk-pop leanings of their previous releases.

The opening song here, "On The Spectrum", resumes the Glaswegians' discography perfectly. It intertwines winningly-observed lyrics (it's boy vs. boy, with a twist in the tail) with rolling organ, an easy, assured indie-pop twang and guitars that could have garlanded the first Butcher Boy album: a grand instrumental passage shines particularly brightly. It's then the turn of the title track to cement the new record's credentials, and it does so with style: after announcing itself with *that* drumbeat (clue: from New York City, by way of East Kilbride), "Time Relentless" uses poetry by the brilliant if iconoclastic former sprint cyclist Graeme Obree as the key ingredient in a warm cooking-pot of simmeringly jangling guitars: there are some confident, Smiths-like brush strokes, as well as an extra helping of keyboards.

The third number, "Stop This Now" (despite the "Down With That Sort Of Thing" ring of its title) is another song with its roots in the way that relationships repeat themselves, but singer Melanie Whittle makes no bones that she's intent on nipping this one in the bud: once more the guitars find themselves plucked with a particular gusto (a breezy instrumental section contains some of the most intricately upbeat jangle this side of the Chesterf!elds' "Kettle"), and the song rattles along at Ski Sunday pace before the inevitable stone-cold ending. 

The EP's parting shot is the affecting and very personal "So Blue": intimate from the opening lines ("we had a gig in Aberdeen / I invited all our friends..."), and throwing into sharp relief the faster pace of earlier songs, it's a musical trinket wrapped up in bittersweet memories, as Melanie turns her attention to a friend who has been assaulted, and thence to the nature of friendship itself. It's not an easy subject to tackle, and there are certainly groups out there who might struggle to get the tone right, but "So Blue" is naked enough ("I secretly said a prayer") that it makes a compelling, if lyrically somewhat sombre, end to the EP. If truth be told, we were beginning to think that we might not hear from the Hermit Crabs again, so it's lovely for this record to appear and put those doubts to rest.

In stark contrast to the Hermit Crabs' fairly leisurely new release schedule, the last time we heard from Bart and Friends wasn't even three months ago, let alone three years ago. "It's Not The Words That You Say" is their second EP of summer 2012, following "There May Come A Time" (on the Hermit Crabs' label home, Matinée), and means they've posted a round dozen new tracks on the board even since the late-blooming flowers appeared. The release also gives us our second chance to review new Shelflife product (always a pleasure, never a chore) in the matter of a month or so, after that Hobbes Fanclub 7" fair blew our little ears away.

The most obvious difference between the two Bart and Friends EPs is that this time around it's Scott Stevens of Summer Cats (the ensemble responsible for the likes of the delectable "Your Timetable"), rather than muse n' chanteuse Pam Berry, who assumes chief vocal duties: yet again though, we get the benefit of a formidable supporting cast which includes Pam, Mark Monnone, Louis Richter and Jeremy Cole. In the few short weeks since our last B&F review, we still haven't found an original way to capture the music they make: trying to describe it without repeating the same adjectives and adverbs ad infinitum is, as Mr Monnone's former band once had it, like trying to catch sunlight in a jar. So here come those usual adjectives (we used at least four of them last time): this is gently fuzzy, reverb-cloaked, classic post-Sarah melodic jangle, with one foot dangled in some of indie-pop's alleged pre-punk antecedents. It's a sound so bound up with Melbourne in our little heads that it makes us think instantly of Summershine, Au-Go-Go and Albert Park.

"It's Not The Words..." thus flies by, of course, in a tangle of sweet strumming and Scott's plaintive, yelped vocals: each song is studiously arranged, but compact enough not to outstay its welcome. The opening "Everything Goes Quiet In The End" may just be our favourite (it pedals along at a bristling enough pace, but still strikes just the right note of mournfulness); "Hierarchy Of Sorrows" is a beauteous thing, with Scott's lonely voice and the austere guitar helping to give a hint of Galaxie 500's delicate highs; the sterling "I Was" is all about the chorus harmonies; and in the finishing straight, the perfectly-weighted "I'm Sure We Haven't Met Before", adorned with the tiniest hints of guitar noise, comes closest to matching the more feral qualities of "Your Timetable". It's tempting to finish by eulogising Bart Cummings' seeming "conveyor belt" of addictive, accessible pop songs, but we don't want to use language which might devalue or mechanise his songwriting. Instead, let's just say that Bart's creative purple patch is one which has so far spanned decades, and which shows no obvious sign of abating just yet.

These are two EPs, then, that make for soothing comedown listening as summer fades inexorably into autumn (time *is* relentless): still ripe with the wonder of the indie-pop melodies we grew up on, they should provide the perfect foil to any September blues.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ryuji Takeuchi "Upside Down" (GSR): Frenkyeffe "Monster" (Sick Weird Rough): Andy White "Process" (Sick Weird Rough): AKA Carl & Distek "Hybrid" (SubCult): Kryptic Minds "Idiom" / "Breach" (Osiris Music)

Jukeboxes only really provide the illusion of democracy, don't they ?

Of course, still having jukeboxes in a smattering of our pubs and bars is preferable to the model employed by most such establishments now of not having a jukebox at all: rather than let us the great unwashed choose the soundtrack, it's far more in keeping with this modern age to subject us all to the same looped tape of watered-down muzak, or to encourage us all just to stare at, or shout at, or vegetate in front of, TV screens instead (we note in passing that our two favourite British institutions, namely the football and the pub, have both been largely ruined by the Murdoch / Premier League axis, and in the space of a mere twenty years too).

Yet as time skips past, the few jukeboxes which are left don't really contain any music that you'd want to listen to. Sitting temptingly in the corner, they create the impression of choice, but as you scroll through a menu of increasingly unappetising options you realise that it's basically the same selection of middling Tesco albums that are being played everywhere else anyway, usually including a distinctly undazzling pot-pourri of Britpop (in case you haven't detected it from previous posts, we still loathe Britpop with a passion, and would do so even without its Blairite associations: the only decent Britpop songs ever written are Mozza's "Dagenham Dave", Blueboy's "Looney Tunes" and the theme from Fireman Sam. So there). Um, anyway, so all you're really getting from such a jukebox is the option of having the same dreary songs played in an order of your choosing, and even at 30p a go that is not a great sell. In practice, the very best you can normally hope for is that the management have naively left on some tamely bad "alternative music" compilation but which actually accidentally has one good song on it, normally by the Mary Chain, the Bunnymen or the Smiths.

But w-w-wait, it gets worse: even if you manage to find a tune you fancy listening to (OK then, fancy listening to *and* inflicting on the rest of the pub) the dark forces will find a way to scupper your enjoyment. We had to stop putting JAMC's "Snakedriver" (yes, it was on some otherwise frighteningly hokey 'indie' comp) on in the Falcon in Clapham Junction, merely because local punters started getting gnarly after the third or fourth repeat. When, encouraged by the loudness of the jukebox at the Bull & Gate, we found and deployed "Ace Of Spades", the landlord simply reached for a volume control and turned it down (some cheek, considering some of the happy cacophonies we've enjoyed live at that particular venue). And after we'd discovered - and, I confess, rather eagerly exploited - the fact that the Hen & Chickens jukebox offered us the whole of Public Enemy's "Fear Of A Black Planet", it wasn't long at all before that CD was removed from the machine too.

Round our neck of the woods there remains, however, one chink of light. The Hope & Anchor - which, to be fair, even post-refit remains a *proper* music pub - retains a pretty sterling jukebox, meaning you're reasonably spoiled for choice when selecting yer three tunes for a pound. Sure, it's not perfect - it doesn't have Hijack, or Halkyn, or Horowitz - but you can't imagine how much it means to us, allied with a friend and armed with a pint, to have the option of putting on "George Best" or the Fall (yes, it's a rebellious jukebox-ah) or our particular favourite, the Mary Chain's "Upside Down". There's little that makes us glow as much as being in that pub and hearing (feeling) those drums and *that* feedback kicking in. Wonderful, just wonderful: such a heart-splicing, joy-giving song.

* * * * *

So ever since 1984, if you're going to call a song "Upside Down", it's going to have to be fairly amazing to justify those kind of life-affirming associations. Luckily, Ryuji Takeuchi's "Upside Down" on GSR (it's Gayle San's label: she pops up on the EP to do a remix too) *is* that good, although it prompts more mid-80s indie associations, seemingly owing a debt of gratitude to "Blue Monday" (can't quite nail why, but it may be the repetitive opening drum thud, or the later swathes of "choral" synth: indeed, it's only now that we're starting to realise that all techno records released after 1983 - which is, um, all techno records - owe a debt to "Blue Monday", the scales having fallen from our eyes only when ingesting the newest Hydraulix output a few short weeks ago).

Don't get us wrong: "Upside Down" is still distinctly cutting-edge, a serendipitous and fiercely twenty-first century collage of percussive pound (at a very livable 125 bpm), achingly sleek industrial minimalism and tightly-weaved sonic layering. It seems that each time Mr Takeuchi moulds a new composition, he incorporates subtle variations on techniques and tricks he's refined over many years, so that while there are exceptions (the abiding warmth of "Possibility", or at the other extreme the primitive ear-lashing aggression of "Last Piece") many of his singles feel like the latest, purest iteration of a gently-evolving template, rather than a newly-imagined idea struggling to find its voice. Moreover, like past catalogue high-point "Vital", "Upside Down" is one of those tracks which, as you listen to it, just *clicks*: each component, however small, is a necessary cog, right down to each extra little drum kick, the shifting depth of the mix, the timing of every injection of bass. And, like many of the better records in this genre, some elements of the song are obvious from the first listen, while others lie hidden in a deep undergrowth of no-prisoner drum cracks, only rising to the surface after several listens. A work of art, and if someone could get this song onto a nearby jukebox we'd have their back *forever*.

Frenkyeffe's "Monster" is the latest release from Sick Weird Rough that's been getting heavy rotation on the headphones, the Rome resident unleashing an A-side which, despite an insistent pounding beat, initially comes across as so minimalist and unfettered by hooks that it makes "Upside Down" sound like "Dancing Queen". "Monster" feels unadorned: comparing it to other great techno outings this year, it doesn't have Pe'ja's crunching breakbeats, Sven W. or Tex-Rec's warm bubbling bass or Michael Schwarz's dizzily chiming synth prods. But again, as each new listen unfolds, new dynamics emerge, and "Monster" reveals itself to be just as durable (and should you want something a little more instant, or at least as instant as a seven-minute slab of studied techno can be, then "Bomb" on the other side should deliver nicely).

Another newie from the SWR stable is Andy White's "Process" single: our favourite from him for a little while, following the mid-table "Option A" and the UEFA-places "Rectifier". It hitches that ilwttisott-favoured "warm bubbling bass" to scale-climbing heart monitor bleeps, peaking with a plateau of urgent and clanking synth, before the song slides back down the octaves again. Then, suddenly, all clanks subside and the song reshapes itself with a closing three minutes of clean-lined and more traditionally minimal beats. There's a marvellous "dark" edit too, alongside another new track, the gently throbbing ten minute piece "Puls" (which, in its name and its composition, brings us right back to our pet theories about why techno is perhaps the most human form of music).

Not necessarily our normal thing, but SubCult have been firing out some fair old extended plays this year, and we'd single out label boss AKA Carl and Distek's "Hybrid", from the 3-track v/a 12EP12, if you like your techno a touch more funk and Latin-infused than the minimal / dark / black / hard or acid varieties that this blog usually cherry-picks from a somewhat wide field. While you may recall north Wales' Distek from his past '00s London techno label outings (although we haven't mentioned him on this blog since that Unknown Forces v/a 12" back in 2008) he's continued his journey from the underground since then, and the vibe here is, yes (as Greg & Tim had it, back in the day)

"commercial!"

BUT in a good way: it's varnished, swisher and more summery, and every so often, a bona fide floorfiller like this hits just the right spot. Fact of the day: AKA Carl is a graduate of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, which reflects rather well on the old man (and on the range of disciplines on offer there).

Now. You'll have gleaned from a baker's dozen of past posts that musically-mellowed d-step duo Kryptic Minds are one of our favourite acts of the last few years, but although last year's not coffee table-unsympathetic "Can't Sleep" album certainly had its moments we couldn't love it quite as much as its more otherworldly predecessor, "One Of Us". Similarly, although we nodded dutifully along to their "When Paths Cross" / "Askum" single on Tectonic earlier this year, it didn't feel like anything to write home about (or, in our case, to write to you about). Their new 12", on the other hand, is definitely worth bringing to your attention. "Idiom" could almost be a companion piece to Pinch and Loefah's crashing "Broken", which seems fitting given that the Minds have recorded for both men's labels. It basically consists of a huge booming bass pulse, interwoven with quickfire synth burble for maximum dancefloor succour. Moreover, turn the record over and "Breach" is something altogether different: the pace is quick, hinting at a real techno influence (maybe linking in to our recent thoughts as to how the better techno releases might be taking the place of dubstep ?) although the percussive accompaniment here is still in the nature of subtle clicks rather than full-on beats.

But it's time (um, bedtime!) to get back to where we started. Jukebox democracy may largely have vanished, but at least the internet has (sort of) replaced it. You won't hear any of these songs on the radio - more's the pity -and you certainly won't hear them being looped endlessly in your local, but you'll easily be able to find samples and info about them with the most cursory surfing, and even to buy them (should you find something that tickles your fancy) in no more than a few short clicks. And should we ever win the lottery, then the public house we inevitably plough the proceeds into (we've already decided it's going to be called "The Pub That Saps Your Body", although it may have a by-night sideline, "The Club If You'd Like To Go") is going to boast a sprawling jukebox containing everything we've ever reviewed. After which, we promise never, ever, to moan about the things again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Terror Danjah featuring Riko Dan "Dark Crawler" (Hyperdub)

Yet again, it's singles night at in love with these times, in spite of these times towers and - even better - it's grime time. On vinyl, which feels a very 2003/04-ish luxury. Our house guest is the imperturbably assured Terror Danjah, a fixture on Kode 9's Hyperdub for a while now (witness the splendrous "Acid" 12" a couple of years ago):

"he maxes out some squiggly loops to blissfully meld acid house and rave-singed dubstep for a mere three skidding minutes or so, including a brief lizard-lounge interlude in which he slips in twenty seconds of oldskool 4/4 and a couple of bars of dislocated home computer bleeps for no reason at all, which of course is the best reason"

but we all know his earlier CV on grime mixtapes before that  "Hardrive Vol 1", for example) and that florid, genre-tangling instrumentals are by far from his only milieu. Meanwhile venerable MC Riko Dan, most recently glimpsed on "skengman love-in" "Horror Show", is also someone of no little verbal versatility - check out the must-have, spanking and wondrous double-CD "The Truth", his Eskiboy liaison "Big Time Veteran" or his contribution from HMP Brixton to Lady Sov's "Random" remix (was that really more than 7 years ago ?) - but whose recent outings have um, lacked lustre, and who isn't often enough paired with someone who can really help him show that talent off (although come to think of it, he did briefly team with Danjah on "Hardrive"'s bruising posse track "Boogie Man").

So, what do we get from this made-in-east London single, the title track taster for Terror Danjah's second album proper, scheduled to drop at the end of (not so far away) September ? Its name suggests that the song might be an eerie, slow-paced discombobulated night-time thing like some of the Kevin Martin (The Bug / King Midas Sound) collaborations, and for a few seconds as the needle hits the groove and Riko mumbles an introduction of sorts it's unclear, but then the beat kicks in with all the subtlety of a taekwondo slice to the face and - *wow* - you realise that not only is "Dark Crawler" a meeting of artists at the top of their game, but it's also a electric, high-tensile and very very fast garage-grime workout that lyrically shares the sentiment of past Riko cuts ("Informer Dead" springs to mind) while musically flaunting some punishingly low bass and carrying deliberate echoes of grime's "Pow!" club heyday (this could have sat quite happily on that full-of-promise first "Run The Road" volume, a great snapshot of grime's most golden age, before most of the artists on it - Riko and Sov included - paled into varying shades of ropiness).

"Dark Crawler" is unforgiving, sure (Terror Danjah never dropping off 140 beats per minute, Riko Dan never yielding to a pause for breath), but more importantly, it's *exciting*, and last time we lent an ear to *such* an enjoyably uptempo single of this ilk was probably when Killa P joined Luca and Rossi B for 2010's "Police Ar Come Run". Its punk rock credentials (grime, at least for a while, was the new punk, remember ?) are reinforced by it being that rarity, a sub-three minute A-side on the normally chilled and stretched-out Hyperdub. Intriguing that while that label is now responsible for two of the year's finest singles - this and Burial's sublime exercise in drizzled dubstep neo-classicism, "Kindred" - there couldn't be much more of a contrast between them. At a point in time when so many independent labels seem over-weaningly specialist, such diversity is tremendously welcome, and such strength-in-depth is truly impressive.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Napalm Death / Converge split 7" (self-released)

More stars on 45: a split vinyl EP, clothed in fabulous brown sepia cover art, from two of extreme music's most loyally supported clans. We're OK with Converge, you know: not their fault they're so popular, and it's right to have respect for Kurt Ballou after he produced Nails' more-than-tidy "Unsilent Death" set a couple of years back. Plus, to be fair to them, as well as a commendably terse newie ("No Light Escapes") they also rustle up an Entombed cover version, enlisting a slew of backing vocalists including Lock-Up's amiable Tomas Lindberg and representatives from All Pigs Must Die and Trap Them (a male version of the 'Rinettes, perhaps). But, jingoistically enough, we're here for the British side of this 7" single, on which a resurgent Napalm Death (although see here for our somewhat conflicted feelings on their continued pre-eminence) fire two more shots across the bows of our complacent nation.

First comes "Will By Mouth". The title may be a worrying indication that the band are descending into punnery, but the music betrays no sign of such frippery, the guitars simply raining down. Since slimming down to a quartet again Napalm have evolved (as one, natch) a new signature sound: and "Will By Mouth" epitomises the style they've now perfected. Firstly, from a standing start, it accelerates frighteningly: Napalm like to dive quickly into the verse, and for the verse to be uproarious. Secondly, although the riff isn't hidden, it's so quick as it traces the blastbeats that you'd forgive the casual listener (if grindcore ever has casual listeners) for not noticing the melody at all.

Snarling and fearsomely fast, then, "Will By Mouth" is a musical barrage which apes the 'feel' of the more hell-for-leather tracks on their last LP, "Utilitarian": after an ecstatic minute or so the punked-up grind momentarily subsides (à la "Opposites Repellent" and "Nom De Guerre"), but they then regroup for a further twenty seconds of crunching hardcore-style riffing (think some of their cover choices on "Leaders Not Followers 2", not least Agnostic Front's "Blind Justice") just to put the cherry on the cake and get your head, heart and feet pounding in unison. (Actually, the combination of "Will By Mouth"'s decibel-level, incessant speed and that devilishly joyous closing passage put us in mind a little of Scapegoat's truly outstanding self-titled LP on Painkiller Records last year).

The other Napalm track, "No Impediment To Triumph", is a slight surprise in that it isn't really a surprise. To explain, the pre-release hype threw about adjectives like 'experimental', 'textured' and 'atmospheric', which meant we were anticipating one of Napalm's slowed-down, keyboard-stabbed semi-industrial instrumentals, but in fact "No Impediment" is only really outré by comparison to "Will By Mouth": although double the length of their opener, it still zips along with righteous fury as Barney Greenway gives Union Carbide both barrels for the Bhopal atrocity. Yes, it's a departure of sorts from the signature sound we described above, in that there are some flashing, rolling drums from Danny Herrera, and Mitch Harris scoops liberal measures of detuned deathgrind-ish guitar into the mix, but even when dealing with such a sensitive subject the boys are obviously in no mood to drop the tempo. (Not even for a second: when "No Impediment" stops, it stops dead).

All in all then, the second Napalm Death single this year (after the not-unblistering "Analysis Paralysis" 7") is another definite treat. It doesn't matter, one feels, that this great British band may never better "The Missing Link", or "Unchallenged Hate", or "Mentally Murdered", or "From Enslavement To Obliteration". They are putting out records right now that eclipse the efforts of whippersnappers half their age. Not just that, but we find ourselves thinking there's no reason why they won't still be making ace records for decades to come. After all, George Frederic Handel was in his sixties when he came up with "Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba", and that's one of the greatest three-minute pop songs ever.

It almost defies belief that when the earliest Napalm line-up gingerly embarked on its first forays into bedroom punk / metal, Leonid Brezhnev was still in power, Mark E. Smith would have been angrily fashioning "Marquis Cha-Cha" and Paolo Rossi was writing a chapter of World Cup history. Yet the *essence* of Napalm Death remains that very same fusion of punk spirit and visceral fury; untainted by concession, unmellowed by age. Long may they reign.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Scars of Track & Field

Forgive our indulgence, but it's not often that we've found ourselves so close to the beating heart of an international event, what with our palatial HQ being a mere four miles from the Olympic Stadium, and the Olympic torch even having made a late sally past our window. So we've decided to take one of our occasional detours from reviewing records you either already own, or would never listen to. And as it seems that you can't open a newspaper without seeing a list of "2,012 things we've learned from the Olympics", we thought that - rather than bring you those same one-sided, jaundiced views - we'd give you the benefit of our own, perfectly balanced, jaundiced views. Here, then, are 20.12* things we took from this recent local jamboree.

* Rounded down.

There was one Olympics in the media, another in reality. The media's take is easy to précis: everything was terrible until "Super Saturday"; after that, everything was uniformly brilliant. Unpicking the real Olympics is rather harder.

All right on the night. We had the privilege of two trips to the Olympic Park, and even us curmudgeons must admit that the organisation was impressive, inside and out (security and public transport included). The volunteers were up for it, the arenas looked the part, the atmosphere was friendly if a bit strange (actually, let's be honest, it was strange *because* it was friendly, the kind of atmosphere usually reserved for m/c music festivals, or for those of you that recall it, the Millennium Dome experience) and the spectacle was pretty great. The catering was a touch awry, but let's be generous and call that the exception that proves the rule.

Mad for it. How do you explain repeated full houses (to take the sports we got tickets for) of 12,000 to watch basketball prelims, or of 17,000 to watch qualifiers in the pool ? How on earth did a 0-0 group stage draw between Gabon and South Korea under-23s attract 77,000 people ? Hopefully such numbers can be interpreted as a boon for the appreciation of high-achieving international sportsmen and women, rather than merely evidence of collective madness.

Magic moments. Not sure we've ever seen anything quite like David Rudisha's world record run, or indeed that whole race. One of the most remarkable things I've ever witnessed from the comfort of a sofa. We'll all have favourites from the two weeks, across a variety of sports, but others who made our jaws drop included Mohammed Farah (for sheer tenacity and mental strength) and Allyson Felix (surely the epitome of the modern athlete). And the Jamaican men and American women who broke the sprint relay records. And Kirani James. And the Lithuanian girl, and Michael Phelps, and Missy Franklin, and Ye Shiwen... When performances like Louis Smith and Qiu Bo's only get silver medals, that shows how high the standard was.

The torch relay was a bit rubbish. Hailed as an unmitigated triumph, and attendance-wise you can't argue (in our postcode they estimated 100,000 spectators, which seems about right). Yet - and yes, we did stand on the roadside to watch it pass - said relay was basically no more than a few 'floats' (rickety buses and lorries) pumping out euro-dross, then a handful of police outriders, then someone jogging by in a tracksuit holding what was basically a massive candle. If people's minds are blown by that, then they really need to go to Carnival some time and see a proper parade.

The horses should get medals, too. We're in deadly earnest here. The dressage was a thing to behold, so long as you had the mute button on. The horses were the truly unsung stars of the Games.

Football doesn't have to be boorish, or boring. We were lucky enough to get to both Olympic football finals. Fantastic teams, fine support, special times. Japan's women's team, despite losing to the States, were a joy to watch, and we'd rank Mexico's over-achieving men, who toppled hot favourites Brazil, not far behind (very much enjoyed that Mexican anthem, too). Stat fact: the crowds at Wembley for *each* of the last three Mexico games were greater than the 80,000 capacity over at the Olympic Park.

Never thought we'd say this, but... poor old Sepp Blatter. Even in a stadium largely full of otherwise polite and friendly Japanese and American families, the abuse he got when he came out to present the medals to the women was *deafening*. His face, trying to look imperturbable on the video screen as the boos rang out, may just haunt us for a while.

That Fratellis song is the work of Satan. Only sour note at the footy was that on both occasions, the first thing played at half-time - and at unbelievable volume - was that Fratellis song (not sure of the name of it, but you'll know it: it's the one that makes you immediately want to murder everyone that's ever lived, before turning the gun on yourself). Something must be done to stop it ruining otherwise enjoyable sporting events: as McCarthy would have it, "write to your MP today".

Stella McCartney = Siobhan Sharpe. McCartney vs Lineker, a real lower division affair, was the most excruciating TV interview of the Games, but at least we've now (surely) found the muse for the girl from Perfect Curve.

In 1908, GB were the dons, weren't they ? Whatever Team GB achieved in 2012, they always had to add the rider that it was only our best performance since 1908. Everything seems to pale against our stats in 1908. Damn, those 1908 British Olympians were great. And it was the Belle Epoque. Our great-grandfathers' generation so OWN us.

Kill all the lawyers. Don't panic, that's not incitement, just a bona fide quote from the Bard. The sentiment should be clear though: the legal eagles did their level best to ruin the Games, what with their attempts to police the use of such dangerously loaded terms as "London". Or "2012".

We learned nothing about Czech culture. Eh ? Hardly the point of the London games, you'll be saying. Ah, but you see... the Czech Republic had set up a cultural base in our neck of the woods for the duration of the Olympiad, and had advertised it fairly keenly, so we eagerly rolled up there keen to get a glimpse of a nation we're rarely exposed to, and to learn a little something about their wider artistic, sporting and social fabric. Unfortunately, after paying a fiver each to get into a huge hangar we discovered that as far as the organisers were concerned, Czech culture essentially consisted of having a huge room with lots of big TV screens, and a bar serving lots of Czech beer to the almost exclusively Czech people who had congregated there to watch said big TV screens. The organisers had either been commendably honest, or - as I hasten to add, we suspect - there is more to Czech culture than that. There was one quite impressive cultural artefact on show (a fairly insane David Cerny installation, namely a double-decker bus doing press-ups), but you could see that outside the exhibition hall for free.

Ceremonies are pointless. They're *ceremonial*. By definition, they're not supposed to add anything of substance. The British relish such navel-gazing, but for our money the only good Ceremony is the Joy Division / New Order one. You could make a case for the opening extravaganza at least being an entertaining waste of money, but the closing ceremony was probably... um, how shall we put this... the worst thing that has ever happened. For a while I was convinced that the unremitting badness of this stage show (it made us realise that Dante merely scratched the surface, and that in fact there are far more than just nine circles of hell) had not only ruined these Games, but had despoiled the Olympic ideal for all time. It felt like the Games organisers saying, "the Olympics were good, weren't they ? Now it's all over and you can come back down to earth, back to the real Britain of pointless bling, terrible music going back decades and an unhealthy obsession with the cult of celebrity". However, am now starting to mellow, largely by convincing myself it was all just a bad dream (just as I did with Macca playing that "Hey Jude" dirge, ad infinitum, at the opening bash).

We're still some way off a republic. The new Park. You know, the one built for the Olympics, that they had the Olympics in. Why not just keep calling it the Olympic Park ? But no, there's already been a stitch-up to rename it the "Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park". Clearly, she hasn't had enough things named after her.

Kate Middleton and Prince William did quite well in the ballot, didn't they ? Appeared as if by magic at every event that someone British had a chance of winning. Beginning to see why our armed forces are so badly paid: if he's anything to go by, they must get 200 days off a year.

The London Mayor really has no shame. Talking of freeloaders (as we most assuredly were), it's scarcely believable how Boris Johnson is trying to take "credit" for the Games, largely by virtue of having attended them. If credit is to go in the mayoral direction, surely it should be to the mayor that actually did the work in bringing them to London: not least in persuading a reluctant Blair to back them ? To the mayor who overhauled the Overground lines which then took most of us to Stratford ? Ken was always quite open in that he didn't want the Games for sport's sake - it was more that he saw it as his only chance to prise funds from Gordon Brown for regenerating east London - but if you've enjoyed the Games, surely Boris is not the man from City Hall to be bigging up.

We don't yet know whether the Olympics were a success. Stating the obvious here, seeing as no-one else will. Ten billion pounds has to go a lot further than a two-week (and not universal) feelgood factor. And, of course, we're looking forward to the Paralympics next. But the generation that we're seeking to inspire will be grown-ups in, er, a generation's time: *then* we might know. Though, for what it's worth, we fear that...

Ain't a damn thing changed. This is what *all* logic tells us. Much has been made of the Olympics stopping the riots, saving the world, being the dawning of a new era for fitness, healthy eating and school sport etc. But surely we can reasonably safely predict that, actually, governments of all shades will continue to let drinks and fa(s)t-food megabrands dictate policy, school playing fields will carry on vanishing, all sports except football will now resume getting zero coverage until 2016, and our Olympians will get no tangible reward, just a smattering of OBEs and (for the girls) a renewed opportunity to undress for lads' mags. And...

The legacy is already tainted. Amidst all the temples to endeavour, branded only by Olympic rings, was the preposterous and indefensible sight at the heart of the Olympic park of a fuck-off McDonald's, the biggest on the planet, the golden arches visible for miles. Perhaps our most depressing memory from the whole Games, and the one leaving the sourest taste.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Primate "Draw Back A Stump" (Relapse): Phobia "Remnants Of Filth" (Willowtip)

So going back to this supergroup thing,  I guess we should count in Atlanta quintet Primate. That's because cabinet-maker (by day) and lead Brutal Truth rasper (by night) Kevin Sharp - also of Venomous Concept, who are *undoubtedly* a supergroup - is joined in this latest endeavour by longtime mates from other bands including, on bass, Bill Kelliher of the much-favoured Mastodon.

Ten tracks in twenty minutes probably tells you all you really need to know about "Draw Back A Stump", but if compelled to sum it up in a sentence, we'd likely aver that it's a 21st century Black Flag tribute (there's a Flag cover included for good measure) with grindcore vocals and nicely-joined up lyrical themes (revolving mostly around chaos theory and, er, the philosophy of chaos), peppered with bouts of irresistible d-beat riffing if slightly disfigured by too many guitar breaks and tempered by a certain inconsistency. We'd then ignore any strictures about a single sentence altogether, and tell you that even though it's not all gravy (they're no Venomous Concept, alas), you would get a fairly astonishing 7" EP if you put together the title track, the period piece "Wasted Youth" and the short sharp closing bonus cuts "Reform ?" and the refreshingly direct "Get The Fuck Off My Lawn". Oh, and we'd express a certain sadness that the likes of Cerebral Ballzy (whose own ten track, twenty minute album only really had two great songs) can get hella better press for doing something not too dissimilar, in spirit at least, largely by dint of being (a) younger and (b) from Noo York.

Whilst Primate come at us with no past form of their own, Orange County's Phobia have a harder task selling "Remnants Of Filth", because it's the follow-up to their "Unrelenting" EP, which was the best single of 2010. And, unfortunately, it doesn't manage to meet expectations: somehow everything about it (the sleeve, the production, the execution) feels like a slight step backward since the high of "Unrelenting", although another change of labels and some further switching of personnel presumably hasn't made it easy for them. That's not to say we don't savour listening to "Remnants Of Filth": much of it remains sterling stuff, see-sawing with some glee from grind to crust and back again, often sounding convincingly like it was recorded in the West Midlands at the end of the 1980s, rather than in the States last yr. In keeping with this there are a few echoes of the marvellous Doom (particularly in the low-end vocals), which we didn't get so much from "Unrelenting", while the indubitably ace "Filthy Fucking Punks" boasts a *very* 80s/90s crust title (incidentally, both it - and another standout, "Infraction Of Pride" - don't sound too far removed from our favourite songs on the Primate album).

We also like the fact that in Phobia's world, 17 tunes in 14 minutes was definitely an EP, whereas 18 tunes in 19 minutes is considered an album. That suggests some fairly clear dividing lines. We suppose that once you get to averaging over one minute per track, you've crossed the Rubicon, and are clearly moving into a sphere so restrained, leisurely and indulgent that you're morally bound to dignify the result as a "long player".

But. After listening to these perfectly sound, occasionally special but nevertheless - whisper it - patchy albums, there's just *something* gnawing away at us. When "Unrelenting" (and Kill The Client's "Set For Extinction") came out at the tail-end of 2010, they seemed to usher in an excoriating new phase of grindcore and hardcore-powered music: within a matter of months we had landmark albums from Wormrot, Scapegoat and Death Toll 80k, pretty mighty ones from Despise You, Lock-Up and Rotten Sound, and rock-solid outings from Weekend Nachos, SSS, Noisear and Looking For An Answer. Every single one of those records contained individual songs that we've no doubt will stand up to the scrutiny of history. Not to mention those winning singles from Sidetracked and Coke Bust and Beartrap, and the Rotted, and Wormrot again... so why, a whole year having slipped past since the last of those, has nothing really tickled us that way since ? Is it just us ?

Gulp. We think of the words on Mark E. Smith, on "Just Step S'Ways":

"When what used to excite you does not / like you've used up all your allowance of experiences"

... and we wonder, and we worry... we're not falling out of love, are we ?

For much as we adore old warhorses like Napalm Death (oh, and you might just hear yet more on them from this blog soon enough), we confess to being a little concerned that only *they*, in this field, have delivered something of equivalent quality so far this year.  That seems an unreasonable burden to place on their shoulders, a little like banking on Daley Thompson still taking decathlon gold in 2012 (the fact that, to complete the metaphor, it appears that Napalm Death can still triumph in said decathlon - in face of said unreasonable expectations - is neither here nor there).

Hmmm. We can only hope that it's not "just us", and that this fallow spell (or, as Edwyn would have had it, "lean period") is merely the calm before a new musical storm.