Monday, November 21, 2016

Bubblegum Lemonade “The Great Leap Backward” (Matinée Recordings): Cappo “Dramatic Change Of Fortune” (YNR): The Wolfhounds “Untied Kingdom (… or how to come to terms with your culture)” (OddBox): Wormrot “Voices” (Earache): The Perfect English Weather “Isobar Blues” (Matinée Recordings)


Blimey. There’s n’er a hair out of place on Bubblegum Lemonade’s new album, is there? It may be some three years since their last fusillade, but everything about this one - the absolutely 2016-apposite title, the sleeve, the luscious lashings of 12-string guitar, the arrangements, the lyrical wherewithal - picks up where that left off, and fits snugly into a super-cohesive whole. From kick-off to 90th minute, the Lemonade purvey their now readily-recognisable stylings, melting swinging-60s nostalgia (even Altamont vs Woodstock gets a look in) into a fine fourth-album panoply of upbeat, contemporary indie-pop. It would therefore be utterly invidious to pick out favourites. So… let’s get invidious.

There’s the opener, “Hit The Ground Running”, which is as aptly titled a ditty as you’re likely to trip across anywhere in Christendom. The guitars chug and purr; the song settles into a steely groove; “I was born with a plastic tube in my mouth”, smiles Laz McCluskey, and off we go. There’s the driving, effortlessly melodic title tune, all set to soundtrack this post-truth world, which reveals harder-edged themes in the lyrics, barbed wire atop a musical bouquet. There are the nursery rhyme qualities of “Wishing It Were Friday”, which winningly spins out a depiction of dreaming the days away, punctuated by swooning instrumental breaks. There’s the onesie-warm fuzziness and neat harmonies of “The Last Girl”, which lightly drizzles ace pop hooks with references to the Bard. There’s the gorgeous, throwback whimsy of satisfying summer single and pseudo-road safety ode “Beard On A Bike”. There are the puns and chiming thrills that litter “Summer In Your Hand” and “Tongue-Tied”. Veritably, pop rains down in Glasgow, California.

In the interests of balance and critical rigour, we've tried to find something, anything about the record that isn’t spot on. A passing lyrical reference to “Game Of Thrones” was a candidate (we’re much more down with the Scando cop procedurals), but that seemed a tad harsh. So we’ll settle for the fact that there’s not enough feedback. You may say that’s a bit unfair on Laz – after all, no album in world history has featured enough feedback, with the possible exception of the best album ever made – but as soon as our ears detect the merest hint of it at the back of the mix on “Hit The Ground Running”, we find ourselves praying it was turned up to 11. Also, as you know, we still hold a torch that glows like Ready Brek for Bubb Lem’s very earliest outings, when the pure, noise-as-pop influence of their East Kilbride near-(ish) neighbours was a soupçon more pronounced.

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“I’m a rare breed / With no peer groups, or ulterior motives”

With his new outing, “Dramatic Change Of Fortune”, it’s quite possible that Cappo has taken ownership of hip-hop, just without anyone in the wider world having noticed (boo). Ever since this one hit record racks earlier in the autumn, we’ve toyed with whether to crown it a “masterpiece” - we're conscious that as a rule, you guys (rightly) don’t believe the hype(rbole) - but suffice to say this is a set that causes us to draw breath, one that honestly rings of both Wu-Tang and Bracken, a thoughtful hip-hop odyssey that seamlessly switches musical themes and moods, all the time retaining Cappo’s longstanding lyrical clout as the imperial one glides over subjects ranging from the creative process and the troughs of the rap industry to the novels of Ernest Hemingway. There’s brutal honesty; there are the usual stabs at mysticism; and there’s even a sex rhyme (a somewhat elevated one, mind: this is no “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.”). Whilst songs like “’Bout It” and “Air”, not to mention the singles “O.O.B.” and “Ether”, fly with golden wings.

And there’s real precision at play. Throughout, “Dramatic Change” is impeccably calibrated, from its deployment of short, interlinking instrumental passages to the way that the bassline in pulsing closer “Vinter” reminds us of Hood every time it kicks in. In a year of several bold LP releases, this may be the one that most fully realises its potential, possibly because at under 40 minutes long, its creator was clearly keen not to let it slip into traps of over-indulgence. And whilst Caps has always boasted audacious mic skills and flow, it’s the self-production here that’s a revelation: A1, crisp, assured, bringing echoes of Taskforce’s sprawling “Music From The Corner” assemblages. As sharply as the ever-intriguing “Genghis” LP captured Cappo’s personal vision, his own production on that didn’t wholly convince (and when he ups the tempo and goes for broke, he's often best done it in collaboration with Nappa, or Styly Cee): on this record his control is flawless and anchors one of those rare things - for impatient little us, anyway! - a long-player that you can listen to in a single sitting, every time. 

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East London's suitably ever-feral Wolfhounds have long been darlings of yr current narrator. Their new collection - and a grower, we think - is just the latest “concept” album in this year of ambitious LPs (when even the Wedding Present arrive in town brandishing 20-track multimedia soundtrack sets, you know the bar set by C86 has been permanently raised). Gratifyingly, it’s on wax, too, and one thing to say straight off the bat is that “Untied Kingdom…” really brings home just how well a 12” vinyl sleeve can work as an own-right piece of art – the cover, Joel Goodman’s already somewhat legendary photograph of contemporary British nightlife, looks stunning, as does the whole package, on two discs in a pristine gatefold sleeve. Mad props to Odd Box for realising the vision.

As befits the subject-matter, the record within is often gnarled and spiky and combative, though its style veers from mumbling confessional (“Oppositeland”) and semi-hypnotic spoken word (“Apparition”) through to the deeply sardonic “Thanks”, the lyrically bludgeoning “The Stupid Poor” and certified A-grade stormers like standout “The Comedians” (a tune up there with equally driving past classics, from “Rent Act” to “Divide & Fall”), the torrid teaser track “Now I’m A Killer” and the wonderful closer “Across The River Of Death”, which never palls even over the course of nigh-on eight minutes. As if more recommendation were needed (it isn’t – we’re gilding the lily here), the LP also features Free French friend of this fanzine Rhodri Marsden, horn supremo Terry Edwards, and vocal talents on loan from the likes of Evans The Death and Je Suis Animal. Sweet as.

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Ooh, Wormrot next. Now then. The boys’ second album, “Dirge”, five years ago, was the second best grindcore album ever fashioned, behind “From Enslavement To Obliteration” (obviously) but in our eyes ahead of even “Scum”, “World Extermination”, “Extinción”  and “Harsh Realities”. In fact, we’d go further and posit that “Dirge” is one of the top ten albums – in any genre - issued in the 21st century. So how do you follow that? Yes, you have to build on your previous work, but ultimately you strive to create something different. Look at Brunel. He didn’t rest on his laurels, but equally he didn’t build SS Great Britain “II”, did he? He only built the bloody Clifton Suspension Bridge. And if he hadn’t done that, what would they have done for the cover of Sarah 100? Eh?

What hasn’t changed? Well, put bluntly, the musical fury and the sheer *velocity*. “Voices” sees Wormrot churn out another twenty ear-blistering cuts over the course of a predictably frantic 26 minutes (this is another LP that you can happily stick on repeat play, without ever having to feel you need skip a track). But there are innovations here.

Firstly, “Voices” is definitely a notch or two more *metallic* than the still-punkish blasts of whirlwind grind that populated “Dirge” and first album “Abuse”; the discordant, blackened metal parts make the longer songs in particular a bit more nuanced (“Outworn” even drops lingering hints of shoegaze, though not so many that Alcest will be trembling in their greatcoats or Neil Halstead will be scrambling to get Rasyid or Arif’s phone number). Secondly, and despite song titles like “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Grind”, the lyrics this time around shun past forays into the humorous or surreal: Wormrot are unrelentingly bitter and angry. And it feels that this is not just standard ‘metal’ bile - you know, rage for rage’s sake against the machine and the kitchen sink - but something much more personal, a touch darker: it makes you wonder what demons the trio have battled in this last, release-free, half-decade. Mind you, just for old time’s sake, there are also a couple of unreconstructedly direct sub-10 second tunes, both of which are excellent.

Plus, Wormrot singlehandedly plough an important furrow: tongue firmly planted in cheek, they plot to “make Earache grind again”. It’s a wholly admirable crusade which this fanzine is proud to support, for the Singapore trio remain the best and brightest thing on the roster of what was, for a time, probably the greatest genre label out there. If it succeeds, we can move on to the launch of our “make Earache sub-bass again” campaign…

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One more before teatime (as you’ve probably surmised, we’re doing this in one take, so apols for any randomness) and it’s the début record from The Perfect English Weather, one which the discerning listener will soon recognise as a side-project of blastic wifester/hubster Wendy and Simon from Brighton’s Popguns, a combo who must be up there with 14 Iced Bears as that fine city’s most majestic musical exports (for these purposes, we’re assigning Keris Howard to Worthing, much as that rings of cruel & unusual punishment). Last time this fanzine ventured to Brighton, a year or so ago, the front was ravaged by umbrella-bending seaside storms, but then The Typical English Weather wouldn’t be half as good a band name. And anyway, as the sleeve makes plain with its print of sodden boots on rain-bred mudbanks, there’s really no such thing as perfect weather here. 

“Hang around the record shops / You take the jazz, I'll take the indie-pop”

“Isobar Blues” is a ten-track cavalcade of joys: its watercolour tales of cafés, cinemas and yes, record stores are, musically, spread fairly evenly between acoustically-honed ballads, and more uptempo tunes (in which the duo fill out the instrumentation a little with extra, plugged-in guitars or a spot of organ or tambourine). The former group include triumphant calling card (and paean to positivity) “The Sweetest Feeling”, the addictive strums of Moz-baiting jangler “Hit Town (A.T.H.E.N.S.)” and the excellent, surely single-ready “Spirited Away”, a pristinely poppy tribute to the late David Bowie. Shout-outs too to “Reacquainted”, which reels you in with a more becalmed intro & verse before blossoming into another textbook chorus. The latter group of songs are epitomised by the delicate, rainsoaked trills of the title track, the soon-to-be-seasonal longing of “Christmas Single” (imagine a comma between the two words, and you have the meaning!) and the album’s magical night-sky denouement, “Two Stars”.

The yin and yang of it all works impeccably, with the poppier numbers dominating proceedings early on before we find ourselves gradually seduced by the slower, more reflective pieces: it’s as if the ebbs and swells of the English Channel are receding, to be replaced by the gentle splash of pebbles cast into glinting rockpools. Sometimes it’s good to be feeling the Blues.