Monday, October 12, 2015

“Why Weren’t You Special?” Songs that should have made A-sides

Welcome back to in love with these times in spite of these times, the only indie-pop fanzine that’s owned by the system, and that was controlled by Babylon, but is now controlled by satanic power.

We know how things are: it’s hard to release ‘real’ singles now, especially vinyl ones. It costs a lot of money, and the pressing plants of the world now ‘boast’ turnaround times which mean that you’ll be lucky if your slated January single comes out by Christmas. Also, there’s no Top Of The Pops any more, so one of the key reasons for releasing a single – the childhood dream of that unlikely crossover hit launching you to a teatime TV audience of millions - has surely fallen by the wayside. But here in our ivory tower at in love with these times, in spite of these times HQ we’re forever wedded to the format, and we won’t necessarily insist on it being physical. In which case, as Wiley recently proved, there’s little limit to what you can do.

So we’ve put together a little cassette - a fresh C60 for y’all - of tracks from 2015 which weren’t A-sides, but really are good enough to be singles, and that you might – just – otherwise have missed. These are the songs that really ought to be on Now That’s What I Call Music 2015 this Xmas. But won’t be, unless some really mad s#!t happens. 

Side A

The Fireworks “Back To You”

A shot of deadly sherbet to the jugular. Had we the means, we would get about 50,000 copies of this pressed (on 7”, obviously), parachute them into record stores and then, if necessary, buy them all back - Louis Walsh-style - until we had several car boots’ full of them and the Fireworks were riding high in the charts. This wonderful, young Razorcuts-y gem is a torpedo in the eye of those who decry the state of present-day indie-pop and, were it not for the fact that Napalm Death’s “Cesspits” exists, it would likely be the best song of the year so far.

Kano “New Banger”

In honesty, we were not expecting a 2015 Kano B-side to be a likely candidate for one of the year’s more splendid tunes. The A-side, the Coki-produced “Hail” is not bad at all, if sadly unrelated to Bunny Nightlight’s charming cd-EP of yesteryear. However, “New Banger” totally blazes, with Kano at his most engaging as he breathlessly recounts growing up tales and street stories with conviction, wit and style. Hell, this may be the best thing he’s done since “Ice Rink” on white, or “P’s & Q’s”. 

Lunchbox “Paws of Destiny”

Oh me, oh my. As we remarked of their comeback album on Jigsaw Records last year, Lunchbox really have a way with tunes. Melodies simply abound: little ones, big ones, huge ones, snaking in and out everywhere. And on their ace six-track “Smash Hits” EP, also on Jigsaw, they’ve upped their game by going all kind of scuzzy-90s lo-fi, and speeding things up a notch. Yet all those melodies are still there, and they ring out through the gorgeous fuzz as clear and proud as the bells of every East End church put together.

Convict “213”

Convict are from the north-west (of the US rather than the UK) and, sneaking out on the always-worth monitoring Painkiller, this is from their demo tape, now ‘officially’ released as a six-track cassette called “Barred Life”. The bludgeoningly reductive minute or so of this, its opening ditty, reminds us of early Doom. Which is surely all that needs to be said in its favour. 

The Declining Winter “Around The Winding Roads And Hills”

We’re not the only ones who think this standout from the Declining Winter’s “Home For Lost Souls” should, in a less imperfect world, have been a single: Richard Adams, the man who wrote it, seems to think so too. “Roads And Hills” is probably the most muscular track on that LP, but that doesn’t stop it for a second from being romantic, misty, and full of longing for ever-distant horizons. We were genuinely upset when we discovered that a rare London gig from the Winter (just up the road in Dalston, too) clashed with us being out of the country for the first time in years.

While expressing our general love for the Declining Winter, we should also flag up: (a) their bloody lovely cover of “Reany Geia” on the Emotional Response Crabstick tribute EP; and (b) on a DW spin-off tip, the fact that the excellent "Wildness" EP, from the band that were nearly called Big Declining Electric, has now got a (v prettily-packaged) CD-r release, via Sound In Silence.

The Fall “Venice With The Girls”

That's right, them. This feels like an obvious single, and it kicked off their “Sub Lingual Tablet” album (their 31st, I believe) in bruisingly fresh style, but they sadly didn’t see fit to put out any 45s from the LP this time. “Venice With The Girls” is a catchy, swirly and almost poppy guitar stomp, with Smith’s vocals nowhere near as sluggishly drunken as they often get on Fall LPs these days. BTW, there are plenty of other decent songs on the album, albeit that many are rather longer and more repetitive: the main exception to that, and the other ‘should have been a single’, is the riotously and righteously Luddite album closer, “Quit I-Phone”.

SSS “For Your Own Good”

Technically this one came out last year (November, to be precise). But we missed it, just like we missed the Lightning In A Twilight Hour single around the same time. Why didn’t you tell us?

Anyway, after three albums on Earache which saw them transition from youthful thrashery to amazingly exciting skatecore to more grown-up but still punkish hardcore-meets-fast metal, it turns out that Liverpool’s ever-overlooked SSS decamped to Prosthetic Records (home of Trap Them) for a spiky fourth LP of fairly aggressive metallic thrashiness called “Limp. Gasp. Collapse” which - at its best - suggested that despite having seemingly lost a member, and acquired a few too many guitar solos, they’ve otherwise lost little of their fire or vitality. This is from that.

Violent Reaction “Leave Me Out”
Hard Left “Red Flag”

I don’t know how I feel about street-punk, really. I mean, I like it, obviously, but I wasn’t really expecting to confront it in 2015. Mind, in these straitened times, and in the wake of that dismal election result, it feels like there are so many barricades that wrongly remain unstormed. Who are we to say that a dab of strategically-targeted new wave of Oi, or a tongue in cheek but expertly-executed homage to “We Are The Firm”, “We Are The League” and “Angels With Dirty Faces” can’t help move this thing forwards?

Straightedge anthem “Leave Me Out” is from Violent Reaction’s “Marching On” LP on Revelation, which has grown on us mightily as its rattling express trains of tunes tangle Oi! influences with everyone from Violent Arrest to Negative Approach. Tunes like “Disorder” or the seriously anthemic title number are now very cosily ensconced in our heads, pogoing around those untended inner cranial cavities like toddlers on a bouncy castle. Musically there’s an obvious debt to the rabble rousers of earlier waves of UK punk, and there are severe lyrical beatings for gentrifiers, hipsters, crust-fund punkers and druggies as well as the celebrations of positive identity like “Street Dogs” or “Marching On” itself. 

Hard Left are comprised of some of the genii who have helped bring us incredible records over the years, like those two Whorl singles, like “Indecision”, like “He Gets Me So Hard”, like “Summer’s Over”, like “Throw Aggi Off The Bridge”. That’s some roll call of 45s right there. Although “We Are Hard Left”, the LP from which this comes, doesn’t really sound like any of them, of course. Instead, this is apparently Oakland street punk.

I’m not qualified to judge its ‘real-ness’ (any more than I can tell how authentically Violent Reaction pad the Merseyside mean streets), but I can judge whether it makes me want to FIGHT. And laugh. And occasionally laugh and fight and smile (and pummel pummel pummel David Cameron’s face as he prays the Magna Carta in aid of repealing the Human Rights Act: I know Jimmy Pursey would be with me). And songs like "Red Flag" do all those things. Set against the pavement-chewing anger of “Marching On”, the more knowing “We Are Hard Left” almost feels like a pop album – or the ghost of early SLF, as fronted by Wolfie Smith - but it's the real deal, nonetheless. 

Bishop “Infinite Confinement”

Straight from the US, we got a fabulous LP from Bishop this year, “Everything In Vein”, exhibiting a kind of powerviolence/hardcore blend that recalls everyone from Kill The Client to Looking For An Answer. This is one of half a dozen true Exocets of high-falutin riffage that are compressed within its somewhat indispensable grooves.

Side B

Milky Wimpshake featuring Sophie Evans “You Don’t Look Twice”

Over the decades now, Christine and Pete’s unstoppable pop machine have been, without exaggeration and on whatever basis you analyse it, one of the best bands in world history. And this year, they’ve dealt us a bright and rather poppy new album about love and class war, “Encore, Un Effort!” (on Fortuna Pop! of course), serving up several upbeat treats and some well-chosen cover versions, although there is sadly no 7” pressing of this mighty opening track from it.

The introduction of Sophie may be the best thing since Jazzie B co-opted Caron Wheeler, and on this song the ‘Shake go for a “dual vocal” instead of the neatly feisty duets that make up much of the rest of the LP (NB the album, as well as being a bit of a “return to form”, features (a) Milky Wimpshake’s first football song; (b) a tune written and sung entirely in French; and (c) a certain Close Lobsters classic that then spins out into what sounds like the clanging chords at the end of “My Favourite Dress”).

Raghunath "Krishna Jinka Naama Hai"

What the...? Well, Raghunath Das was once known as Ray Cappo, and in days of yore the New Yorker fronted straightedge kings Youth Of Today with industrial-sized dollops of charisma and ebullience. Now, as committed as ever to 'conscious' art, he's ventured into his first 'traditional' record of kirtan (a kind of Indian devotional music) and as homely as this track sounds - a saccharin chorus line, peppered with naif handclaps and some seriously fired-up bongo playing - this song wins you over utterly, not least because it boasts a (seriously catchy) peach of a tune. It's on the LP "Krishna Kirtan: Music As Meditation" on Equal Vision Records.

Hard Left “Red Flag” (Downpour remix)

The aforesaid Hard Left LP release was accompanied by a bandcamp EP on which Echo Wanderer and Downpour set about on the remix tip with glee: the former’s take on “Imagination” will have you scuttling back to your Clash and Ruts dubs, albeit that EW updates those for the 21st century. However, we have to stick with Downpour, of course, who can do no wrong with their unyielding 1990s D&B-ravaged ‘electrwrongica’, and they proceed to do no wrong with aplomb on this jitteringly danceable re-work of “Red Flag”. “Version!

True Vision “Foolproof”

Another cassette (actually, just the tip of a cassette iceberg, because they seem to be damn-near everywhere this year), this time a self-titled 5-tracker from Leeds’ True Vision, as they add to the legacy of that city’s greats (you know, Manhattan Love Suicides, Lorimer, TWP, Gang of Four, Edsel Auctioneer... Actually, weren’t Gentle Despite from Leeds, too? And Esmeralda’s Kite?)

This frenetic, minute-long pneumatic drill of a punk anthem from a band that features members of both Violent Reaction and the Flex is possibly better than anything on the latter’s recent 7”EP, if not quite up to the standards of most of the former’s album. Like a lot of stuff these days, it’s somewhere between London 1978 and New York 1994 (but without being, erm, the middle of the Atlantic 1986).

Terrorizer “Collapse”

No, this is not actually a ‘new’ tune – the last thing that the surviving members of Terrorizer chalked on the board is still 2012’s “Hordes Of Zombies”. That said, this outtake from the “World Downfall” sessions hasn’t been released before and only surfaces now on a somewhat ‘for fans only’ (that’s us, then) double-CD comp of early Terrorizer rarities & obscurities, “Before The Downfall”, on F.O.A.D. It’s great to hear something fresh with original singer Oscar Garcia’s vocals on (before he became Brighton and Watford manager, obviously). 

Hatebeak “Seven Perches”

I suspect it was just one of those “Eureka!” moments when the musicians of Hatebeak realised that what grindcore needed was a parrot on vocals, and how that made perfect, perfect sense, so long as you got the right parrot on board. Luckily, Waldo is just that, a charismatic front-parrot who adds plenty to Hatebeak’s clanging riffage, and whose talents put a few human vocalists to shame.

This is a great track from an LP on Reptilian Records this year that combines some old EP tracks (one was on a split single with a band whose lead vocalists were two dogs) with all-new parrot grind. We’d have loved to see Seven Perches on seven inches.

Lightning In A Twilight Hour “Starfields”

After raving about “Slow Changes”, we never got around to any verbiage on LIATW’s full-length follow-up record, “Fragments Of A Former Moon”. We’re fixing that now, because there are some tender wonders on there, not least single teaser “The Memory Museum” and the desperately pretty “Unanswered” (in which Bobby gives you lucky listeners his hotel room number). But right up with those are the slender instrumental joys of songs like “Taking The Figure Out Of The Landscape” and this one, “Starfields”, which closes the album (and this tape) with a pristine glaze of sound, wrung out from lonely guitar chords. Undeniably exquisite, and quite, quite beautiful.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Cappo & Nappa “Rebel Base” (King Underground)

Notts’ hot. A mere, erm, two years after the taster 12”, “Red Hot”, we now at last have Cappo and Nappa’s full-length “Rebel Base” collaboration on King Underground, spread out as is traditional over four sides of gratifyingly black vinyl.

Like the single that long preceded it, the album is a fecund combination of DJ Nappa’s funk-drenched retro samples and Cappo’s raw, combative wordplay, closer to the feel of the latter’s LP with Styly Cee than his more cerebral/experimental “Genghis” set (although there are moments, like the tingling “Still Me”, in which the MC’s more contemplative side shines through). Welcome signs that it’s “business as usual” for Caps include metaphors that invoke a typically disparate roll call of names, from Charles Dickens to Chris Morris via Basquiat and Manny Pacquiao; and song titles that reflect the sentiment and seriousness of his rhyme philosophy: “Originate”, “Commitment Statement”, “Honour Code”, “The Discipline”… as you know, in our humble op he is up with the all-time greats.

As well as the distinctly rejuvenating DJ Premier-inspired licks of “Red Hot” (which has rather grown on us in the LP’s two-year gestation period!) highlights for us include the “Loyalty”-like piano-backed “Originate”, the brash brass of opener “Commitment Statement”, the darkly minimal no-prisoner “The Gift”, the slick & slinky MGUN-ish IDM of "Elite Marine", the disco-prowling prowess of "Kaos" and its hungry bassline, and the sound of Luton Town turning East Coast as Nappa nimbly helms the Bomb Squad-style "Get Live". And there’s the statutory sampled nod to P.E. too (“Rebel BASS!” intones Chuck, inevitably, on side two). Indeed, there's a more than liberal sprinkling of classic old-skool samples across the LP.

With sixteen ‘proper’ tunes on show, the only real dilution of quality comes during the occasional guest spots: much as it’s terrific to hear the likes of Midnyte (of “No Pills, No Thrills” ‘fame’) and Konny Kon (whose CV boasts “Capkon Entertaiment” and “Stay Ex-Static”) again, it’s hard for the invited MCs here to quite keep up with Cappo’s confident stride, the only exception being “The Man”, in which both the mighty Life MC (once, like Nappa, of Phi Life Cypher) and the legendary MCM bring real gravitas to the table.

Unfortunately the vinyl of this is ludicrously limited - we managed to garner one of just 250 – and, as goes hand in hand with that, almost ruinously expensive, but we don’t think any sensible punter will regret spending the £7.99 you can get the full soundfiles for over at bandcamp. Taken alongside Scor-Zay-Zee’s prodigious “Peace To The Puzzle” back in the spring, “Rebel Base” is another example of how Nottingham’s finer flows (and we’re not talking about the Trent) still swirl sublimely around the very pinnacle of UK hip-hop.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Niereich “Ventricular (Remixes)” (Nachtstrom Schallplatten): Ryuji Takeuchi “Invisible Armor EP” (Local Sound Network): Loop “Array #1” (ATP Recordings)

Greetings, comrades. Fuck the Tory party conference (obviously). Instead, why don’t we sit down and listen to three singles that, between them, last an hour and a half…?

First off are four blokes we’ve never heard of, remixing a solid but fairly nondescript track from an affable but unremarkable album. On the face of it, then, this “Ventricular” remix EP, re-harvesting a tune from Niereich’s “Ghosts & Flowers” long-player last year, does not provide the recipe for essential listening. But sometimes we relish such challenges, and Niereich is an artist good enough to go the extra mile for. Also, this 12” on Nachtstrom Schallplatten is on clear red vinyl, so plenty decorative. Our little heads can be turned by such things.

So if “Ventricular” once felt like a story without an ending, it now has four: Joachim Spieth’s subtler re-fashioning of the song provides the right jump-off, Kessell transforms it into a chiming, discombobulated repeto-fest, Flug decides to pilot it into the outer reaches of the galaxy before crashlanding on a planet festooned with craters fair frothing with spacey synth loops, and Dave Tarrida then returns it live and direct to the dancefloor, drawing on the original’s punishing, rattling rhythms.

“Remixes” can’t match the calibre of 2014’s “Das Testament” 12” on Overdrive, which contained four mixes (including the original) of that doozy: nor does any one of these re-interpretations hit the somewhat dizzying heights of Mike Humphries’ Testament remix, which threatened at times to redefine the word “addictive”. But, with at least three of these redux Ventriculars overhauling the original, the whole package is definitely worth the extra effort.

Now. Like last year's tour de force "No Way Out", Ryuji Takeuchi’s new EP (English translation: “Invisible Armour”) pairs claustrophobic RT originals with guest remixes. Unlike "No Way Out", however, each side of the 12" kicks off with the remix, so you get to hear the variation before you've heard the theme, if you catch our drift. Here, the would-be Rachmaninovs are Glaswegian producerbloke Deepbass, and Canada's Obscene Mannequin: the former smooths out the untamed barbs of the bracing "Silhouette" (imagine “Vital”’s factory haze, punctured by what sound like at least different two car alarms going off) into a shimmering white sea of easy-bubbling synth patter, yet still maxes out the original's somewhat brooding atmosphere.

On the other side of the record, on which the Takeuchi version of “Veil” splices a shimmering and insistent synth line with a distinctly un-shimmering industrial percussive sledgehammer (take that, Paganini), Obscene Mannequin’s 'pre-mix' manages to shred both synth and the sledgehammer, opting instead for a mannered 4/4, yet if anything its sinister, frothing grooves up the intensity still further.

Speaking of intensity, here come Loop with their comeback single, “Array”. Yes, single, whatever ATP say. It’s got 4 tracks; it’s a single. It has A and B sides, not “one” and “two”; it’s a single. It may play at 33rpm (as do the two records above), but that’s because it’s a very long single, their first since (approx) the invention of the internal combustion engine.

The opening “Precession”, the token newie previewed at their Garage show last year, may not be able to dislodge “Collision”, “Black Sun” or “Got To Get It Over” in our all-time affections, but its churning iridescence just-as-sweetly announces that Loop are right back in the zone: then, after the crawling heart of another fairly classic Loop tune, “Aphelion”, comes the *major* “Coma”, which is a beautiful, minimalist and beatless seven-minute drone, just as compelling as Lull, or last year’s A New Line (Related) 7”. And “Coma” in turn lays a pathway for the epic “Radial”, on the B-side, a piece in three movements which splices another riff-led guitar loop inbetween piquant slabs of cooled white noise over sixteen not unsumptuous minutes.

Many have tried to emulate Loop over the decades, but the truth is this: in other hands, this kind of music often feels self-indulgent. Few have Robert Hampson’s continuing talent for making the repetitive seem so accessible, and the epic sound so fresh.