Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wiley “Chasing The Art” (Island): Wiley “Wickedest MC Alive” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “25 MCs” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring JME “Gotta Be Strong” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring Cadell “Shredded Wheat” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Lost Property” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Send Me The Riddim” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring Flowdan and Scratchy “Cypress Hill” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Outchea” (Chasing The Art): Cadell x Wiley “Fair And Square” (Hotline Distributions): Wiley “#8” (Chasing The Art)

I remember when it was all fields round here. Nothing standing for miles around, save us, Tangents, Stolen Kisses and Kitten Painting. But even then, Wiley seemed to release about 30 albums and mixtapes a month.

Some of you will remember how he dominated these pages around 2003-2005, especially. The thing is, we *never* fell out of love with the Grand-duke of Eski’s manic energy, positive attitude and extreme work ethic: we just never had the time to keep up with his relentless release schedule, churning out dozens of tracks at a time. Then, this summer, in order to launch his new “Chasing The Art” sub-label, Wiley announced, in a reasonable contender for the most welcome tweet ever: “For the next 8 weeks I am releasing 1 single a week.”

Like you, we were slightly surprised he hadn’t already done that, but it still knocks even David Gedge’s 1992 single a month conceit into the proverbial cocked hat. And we loved it, because it was simple and instant, and only required three minutes a week to investigate, and then if you liked the singles, there was plenty of time to put them on loop.

Obviously, Wiley being Wiley, he couldn’t quite limit himself to just the 8 singles, so as a prelude he issued another one, “Chasing The Art” (a Heavytrackerz joint) on the parent label, on which he tells us about the concept behind the sub-label (remember, this is how Wiley communicates with his public: issuing whole songs as broadcasts, when others might think that a press release or a solitary tweet sufficed). And even in the midst of the eight-week run proper, he managed to team up with Cadell – this time on the latter’s own imprint - for yet another single, “Fair And Square”, which was billed as Cadell x Wiley, but quite blatantly most of it is Wiley, so it should really have been Wiley x Cadell (yes, one incontrovertible truth highlighted by many of this year’s most rewarding singles is that “x” is the new “vs.”) *And* he also apparently changed his mind about which eight singles to release even after he’d started releasing them, because a couple of the tunes listed on the original flyer never appeared, no doubt overtaken by his sheer fondness for the thrill of the new, their replacements cooked up from scratch in precious minutes of studio downtime.

Anyway. Apparently our long-winded style is no longer welcome in this social media-shackled age. So we’ll keep this bit short(ish). “Wickedest MC” (unusually, one of only two self-produced singles from the eight) and “Send Me The Riddim”, a Teeza production which pays reasonable hommage to Wiley’s beatmaking style, are the tunes you need to hear first: both fair crackle with his breathless, ferocious non-stop rhymes expounding E3 philosophy, with the former containing a feisty a cappella drop out which makes us realise how much we could do with more raw, pure vocal freestyles full stop. The effervescent, Teeza-helmed “Lost Property” is not far behind; nor is Swifta Beater’s “25 MCs”, which takes things a little more slowly (though remember, this is relative) and sees Wiley memorably rhyme ‘Skepta’ with “clapped-out Vectra”. The final single, “Outchea” - a "Gertcha" for the 2010s, surely - even features one Maniac at the controls (long time no hear, though with very good reason).

The handful of guest MC spots vary in success: Flowdan and Scratchy both provide killer stanzas on Wiley’s other production job, “Cypress Hill”, but the single with (and produced by) JME, "Gotta Be Strong", is the one that most seems to lack a sense of purpose (almost as if they thought having Jamie A and Wiley on the track was enough in itself, although to be fair it usually is). And “Shredded Wheat” and “Fair And Square”, which came out within days if not hours of each other, are certainly good companions, as JB Priestley might have had it, but Cadell can’t quite match his exhilarating bars on the new Merky Ace EP.

Overall, though, the quality of this summer blitz of singles from this great survivor, the Bobby Wratten of grime, is better than we could sensibly have hoped for. It’s not just about the delivery, either, as the lyrical themes remain as “can-do” constructive as ever: a bit like Ice-T (albeit in days of yore, and an ocean away), you just know that if only the kids would all listen to him, the kids would be all right. And if you’re more of a “one click” merchant, rather than download all the CTA singles separately you can, as of this week, find them all (the whole Bow-pourri, ha) on “#8”, Wiley’s equivalent of the Wedding Present’s “Hit Parade” volumes.

It seems strange, in a way, that even now new releases from Wiley provide us with a bridge between today and those halcyon years of early Fortuna Pop! 7”s through the letterbox, an active Shinkansen roster, and our fledgling website, but we’re ever-grateful for such sentimental baggage, as well as for the mighty beats.

But if we return (with becoming reluctance) to the present, maybe the most exciting thing of all is this. As good – even great - as some of these singles are, none of them are as dandy as a few other artists' grime singles from 2015 so far. My goodness, there have been some bangers, many gracing 12” vinyl. But we won’t bore you further, don’t worry. Those - for now - are for us to know about and enjoy, and for you to discover for yourselves.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Come Rain Or Shine: The Popguns “Still Waiting For The Winter” EP (MatinĂ©e Recordings)

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the indie-pop fanzine that’s owned by the system and controlled by Babylon.

The reasons are legion, I suspect, why we never came to be as accepted as we’d once hoped within the international brotherhood and sisterhood of indie-pop blogs. There are the known reliability and punctuality issues, although our high-tech phalanx of robot engineers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to try and fix these. And there is the alleged tendency to start reviews, when they do eventually emerge, by wandering off at an inconsequential tangent, when any readers who might be left after 16 years of this are probably hoping their perseverance be rewarded by at least an attempt to describe the record in the blog post title, instead of having to scroll through a roundabout, laboured and in all likelihood irrelevant point by way of “introduction”. Anecdotally, we understand that the digressions about digressions are the most enervating of all.

But maybe there’s a more fundamental tenet of indie-pop philosophy on which we fall short; a deeper reason why we find ourselves locked out of the love-in. And it strikes us, as we narrowly dodge a lorry whilst sprinting across the A1 just to secrete ourselves on the shady side of the street, that perhaps it’s this: the fact that we’ve never, truth be told, been particularly fond of the summer, that super sunny summer season of sunny sundae smiles that all our favourite indiepop tunes are apparently meant to endlessly soundtrack. Here at our indefatigably miserabilist capital city HQ, we’ll take sodden autumn or glistening snowscape over T-shirt weather and ‘son of Intertoto’ nonsense every day, and the fourth Undertones single is probably the one we love the least (I know, new heresies daily. It could be the “Please Rain Fall” vs. "Solace" controversy all over again).

Don’t get us wrong, summer is peachy – well, apart from the hay fever, the sunburn, the sweating, the traffic fumes hanging in the air, the hothouse of the Underground, and that curse of "British people in hot weather" (© M.E. Smith) as pavements froth with blotchy red-faced blokes who can't hold their ale and the parks teem with loudly yapping fairweathers in their hipster finery, oh, and “midges hover in the heather" (er, M.E.S. again) - it’s just that sometimes, just to escape the scene’s fetishisation of the sporadic heatwaves of midsummer, we’d rather be reminded of where our natural affinities lie, of the incomparable beauty of those months of shorter days and longer nights: how a coating of snow makes the evening bright, the roads aflame as the lamplights reflect the white. Or something. Thus we spend July and August waiting for the winter… hoping for the rain… that sort of thing (yes, we’re getting there at last. It’s a bit like listening to Thought for the Day, isn’t it, when you have to wait patiently for the “bridge” at which they segue the topic they started with into the actual bit about God).

So where we find *our* heaven at this time of year is in a summer single with a distinctly hivernal flavour. *Especially* when it comes from a First Division outfit like Brighton’s own Popguns, following their formidable assault on anno domini 2014 via the dual media of live entertainment and recorded sound.

The title tune of this EP, plucked from their comeback - and for what it’s worth, their best - long-player, “Pop Fiction”, is of course a sequel of sorts to their second single, the blistering “Waiting For The Winter” (which would become 1/9th of “Eugenie”, one of those compact discs which was never in its case because it basically lived in our CD player back then). When a band, all grown-up, knowingly references its back catalogue (rather than just endlessly recycling it) the results can be very affecting: think of the Mary Chain’s delicate and touching “Never Understood”, for example. It can also produce surprisingly powerful results when the band play the two songs in quick succession, as the Popguns did at the Borderline last year.

”Still Waiting” positively revels in the chance to prove that it’s a humdinger of a single in its own right: it lightly deploys some of the chord sequences and lyrics from the original 45, but feels more measured and reflective, with a narrative that from the start - as Wendy paints a picture of a wedding disco ringing in the distance - juxtaposes the aspiration of youth and the wisdom of experience, before finally combining the two in a dual-vocal final flourish. If you then go back and listen to the original (1989!) single again, it strikes you how frantic that is by comparison, despite all the hooks and melodies: a whipped-up storm of guitars underpinning passionate lyrics about changing, becoming bitter, angrier and more confused. You really feel you need a sit down.

Handily, then, the rest of the new EP is mellow and more downtempo, but despite its calming wiles the songwriting and settings make it as dramatic – and as pretty! – as the impressive suite of songs that made up the album. “BN3” (Hove, Actually) rings with the fresh, lilting guitar chimes of those Morrissey/Marr ballads, via the unlikely first-verse setting of a cricket ground, before giving way to Kate’s superb “Why You Fell In Love With Me”, a knowing meditation on love and loss that sets the seafront-sur-Cuckmere against the Mississippi, and that we can half-imagine the great Crystal Gayle turning her tonsils to. The fourth and final treat, “Diane’s Song”, fits swimmingly with the wintry timbre of the whole record, as Wendy sings movingly of break-up and death (both can be brutal, but the memories are worth treasuring, even at the cost of teardrops dripped on the back seat of a taxi). The arrangement is stark and absolutely compelling. And then, with the sun sinking back down behind the cityscape for the very last time, Diane’s lament softly concludes: “alone in the dark, synapses spark / dreams of the melodies / that flow to my heart”. Then silence.

All this makes “Still Waiting For The Winter” an extended play that provides a sparkling oasis of respite from the industrial doses of techno, grime, and Napalm Death that have otherwise been bossing the turntable here. And in doing so it amply makes its point. Records like this are why – however disengaged or disentangled we get from our indie-pop roots at times – we know we’ll always find ourselves hankering for more. Whatever the weather.