“Trying To Find A Way To Say No”: April flowers

The Catenary Wires “Was That Love?” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are): Azure Blue “Whatever ’18” EP (Matinée Recordings): Rotten Sound “Suffer To Abuse” (Season Of Mist): Chas & Dave “A Little Bit Of Us” (Rockney): Napalm Death “Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs” (Century Media): Even As We Speak “Yellow Food” (Emotional Response): Electro Hippies “Deception Of The Instigator Of Tomorrow” (Boss Tuneage / Break The Connection), and more

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the official indie-pop fanzine of Holloway, Highbury and Hackney. 

This month’s image is a striking one: “From Here Health”, by Denys Mitchell. Unveiled in 1994, you may be able to spot that it stands in front of Edinburgh’s Surgeons Hall, a treasure trove of occasionally gruesome souvenirs from the history of the city’s eminent Royal College of Surgeons. It’s title comes from the College motto (Hinc Sanitas). Health to you all, in these despondency-attuned times.

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Single of the month - and that’s going some, in a month where Ryuji Takeuchi and Lewis Parker have unfurled new 12”s and Nicki Minaj has released not one but two ace if less than subtle “I’M BACK” singles - comes from the Catenary Wires, by now firmly etched in our dizzy little heads as prime purveyors of delicate, shimmering slow-burn vignettes. Their Where It’s At Is Where You Are 7”, “Was That Love?” doesn’t mess with the template: lyrically spot on and utterly poignant, it’s a loving spoonful of dark-themed “less is more” pop that channels the Stuckist minimalism of Confetti or Young Marble Giants and the soft female/male vocal wrap of Pipas.

“Was That Love?” arrives courtesy of WIAIWYA’s '7777777' seven seven-inch singles club, which ships out its gems after 77 days, making it the best number seven-centric conceit this side of Culture’s 7x7” “Seven Sevens Clash” box (which was a hyper-neat way of turning the pending end of the world into a bespoke marketing opportunity, but we’re not complaining, because the music’s fantastic). More on WIAIWYA here next month, all things being equal.

EP of the month was a close call, but we’re giving it to Stockholmian tunesmiths Azure Blue and their “Whatever ‘18” six-tracker on Matinée Recordings. This one shows it means business straightaway with the title track, which flicks an ultra-smooth electro-pop V-sign to the shackles of obedience and conformity. And Tobias Isaksson knows exactly what he’s doing, going for the catchiness jugular by ensuring that most of the song consists of the chorus. The song - a preview of their forthcoming album - is the kind of bright, sassy synth confection that White Town turned their hand to once they’d escaped their brief brushes with fame and a major label: ironically, it’s also the kind of song that in a better world ought really to catapult Mr Isaksson into the sort of spotlight Jyoti Mishra once enjoyed. You’ll genuinely find yourself humming it at the bus stop, which is after all the acid test of any top pop song for the last – ooh, 60 years?

The rest of the EP, we understand, harvests bits and pieces from obscure sources but it’s an assured electro take on “Justice”, one of our favourite Robert Forster-penned numbers, which rather jumps out. As well as providing a nice companion piece to Azure Blue’s jaunt through Grant McLennan’s “Fingers” a few years back (on the “Rule Of Thirds” long player), its lyrical themes nicely intertwine with the madness of these days, and despite the obvious risks in attempting to cover such a scintillating record, Azure Blue cast "Justice" in a different light, showing how versatile a piece it really is: a song that could suit the Pet Shop Boys. We daresay that Mr Forster, who turned his own hand so well to covers on his “I Had A New York Girlfriend” set, would approve.

Maximum props too, for the sparkling New Order-ish guitars and groove that drive “Every Ending Story” and the glisteningly pretty closer “747”, originally recorded by Kent (the band, not the county) and a track which could almost be Keris and Alex’s Hal were it not for the fact that it’s sung in Swedish (um, we think). This EP should sit just as well with fans of mainstream 80s/90s synth-pop as with connoisseurs of the frequently bejewelled output of less-celebrated outfits (to our ears, these might range from Kanda and White Town through to Other People’s Children, They Go Boom! or even, at times, Orange Cake Mix).

Our runner-up EP also hails from Scandinavia: Finland’s tight, towering noise titans Rotten Sound return on Marseille's Season Of Mist label with “Suffer To Abuse”, seven tracks over eleven minutes of scowling, sardonic, guttural bass-groove grind. The lyrics hit hard, just like a couple of pints of Hackney Kapow! (yes, that is a real drink, as Thursday's hangover knows only too well): a nifty suite of diatribes punching at worthy targets including drug dealers (“Harvester Of Boredom”), sex trafficking (“Slaves Of Lust”), homelessness (“The Misfit”), scene sell-outs (“One Hit Wonder”) and, er, people like me (“The Privileged”) who spend Monday to Friday in self-imposed drudgery, waiting for the weekend to unfold and allow us to briefly indulge a wine-soaked existence outside the office. Limited to 2,500, which for bands we like is quite a lot. Some poor git obviously had to stay up all night hand-numbering them all in black felt tip, too.

Album of the month comes from a not unexpected quarter, at least not unexpected by us. Yes, it’s time for the latest masterclass from two absolute dons, Chas & Dave, with “A Little Bit Of Us”, their first album since Carcass-rivalry meisterwerk “That’s What Happens” and their first in over three decades to showcase new CnD originals. Anyone who loves music will know that the septugenarians' timeless fusion of rock n’roll, blues, bluegrass and good old East End boogie-woogie is pretty much unrivalled, and that as well as working with the best (Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert Lee, Led Zep, the Beatles, Labi Siffre, the Cambridge Heath Citadel Band and, above all, Mick) and inspiring the best (well, actually Eminem and the Libertines, but grant us some poetic licence) they’ve written some of the best songs of all time (“Ain’t No Pleasing You”, “ I Wonder In Whose Arms”, “I Wish I Could Write A Love Song”...)

And “A Little Bit Of Us” is on not one, but two ace labels: not only has their revered own-label Rockney imprint been resurrected, but it’s been given the breath of life by Cooking Vinyl, meaning that Chas & Dave join a wider roster past-grazed by Peel and Kershaw-friendly genii ranging from the Four Brothers to the Wedding Present. Yes, after their major label outing last time around, Chas & Dave have gone “indie” (maybe, like Ice-T, they ended up having beef with Time Warner). Perhaps because of any budget constraints that switch might entail, there’s less grandstanding here than on their previous outing (no celebrity guest appearances!)

The duo somewhat bravely go early doors for a comedy removal man music-hall/knees-up mash-up banter-ocalypse (“Come On Charlie”), but it's harmless enough and only a brief aberration as we’re regaled by the baleful blues of the sublime “Nothing You Can Do”, the bright, horn-bled pomp of “A Little Bit Of Me”, the lovers’ Rock(ney) of “Last Kiss” and the joanna-trembling instrumental might of “Rose Of Picardy”. In the spirit of constructive criticism, though, I think we are entitled to suggest that a mid-album run through of “Dry Bones” feels a touch superfluous.

Pristinely measured out to a lean half-an-hour or so of music (come on, no album really needs to be longer than 30 minutes), "A Little Bit Of Us" is a warming LP of folk roots, served with lashings of boogie, dollops of bluegrass and a massive bloody ladleful of soul.

“Old friend, you’re reviving the pettiness of all the worst memories / from minefield of childhood to melting pot of frailty”

That lyric comes from the compilation of the month, and the compilation of the month comes from one of the top ten British groups of all time. When Napalm Death do CD bonus tracks, split singles, or one-off flexis or compilations, they’re prone to wander from their comfort zone, either into altogether punkier territory, or into an experimental twilight that indulges their longtime Swans-worship. So “Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs”, a new collection of non-LP tracks from the last 14 years (31 merry melodies, and still no ballads!) is a great introduction to the variety of Napalm Death, a goldmine not just for picking up songs you missed but seeing how Napalm can be so much more than a ‘metal’ band. The record may lead its charge with the roar of “Standardisation” – “the blaaand leading the blaaand”, hollers Barney – but as we all know by now, bland is the one thing that Napalm don’t do.

We thought we were close to Napalm completists, but the songs here that we already had are largely the bonus tracks from the original ltd edition UK digipak CDs (yes, we are the sort who would happily queue in the rain outside HMV to buy these on the day of the release): there are many, many more tracks arrayed here that we would otherwise have missed, including spoils from the splits with MeltBanana, Voivod, Converge and the Melvins. And it’s clear that Napalm fans in the Far East have been particularly cosseted by good fortune, because a few of the most exhilarating ditties here were only ever released on the Japanese CD versions of the albums, somehow denied to those of us in Europe and the States.

On the hi-tempo side, attack dogs like “Youth Offender” and “Like Piss To A Sting” veritably pile along, their burning hardcore influences shining through; while “We Hunt In Packs” could be prime Lock-Up. And in our view the righteous, snake-riff behemoth “Losers” remains one of Napalm’s best ever tunes, the should-be soundtrack to the enraged inheriting the earth, and it was absolutely wasted as an LP bonus track. Meanwhile, “Critical Gluttonous Mass”, “An Extract (Strip It Clean)” and down and dirty monster “What Is Past Is Prologue” provide deft lessons in the art of the riff.

Of course, the nature of this exercise means there are covers, too: the unlikely canter through the Cardiacs’ “Going Off And Things” rather stands out from the pack, but you could make a good start on a “Leaders Not Followers, Part 3” with what else is tucked away in here. Special mad love for the high-tensile covers of blistering punkcrust classics from 80s Dutch hardcore band Gepopel, 80s Japanese hardcore band Gauze, 80s-90s German thrashers Despair, 80s Swedish crust bods G-ANX and the Midlands’ own 80s rock totems Sacrilege (the latter, a version of “Lifeline”, nicely complementing Memoriam’s Sacrilege cover version, “The Captive”, last year).

On the other side of the coin, we find interludes of slow menace and sadness: brief oases to distract from what’s otherwise pure pace and noise. So the goth-doom “Oxygen of Duplicity” nimbly maxes out the Gira. “Weltschmerz” springs a surprise as it combines chiming keyboards with a mock-choral coda. And “Caste Is Waste” sees stentorian chants over music that Blast First might would surely have succumbed to back in the day. These are all delicious hints of possible new directions one day.

Most of all, though - and this is something of a theme of this month’s reviews - there is some excellent songwriting at play here, even if Napalm’s oeuvre is not typical muso territory, no natural refuge for the troubled lilting troubador. “Legacy Was Yesterday”, which houses the reflective lyric quote above, is a pure fireball of honesty and regret: “be true to yourself, and deal with the fucking consequences!” chides Barney, as the vulcanite flow finally explodes. Like the Mary Chain at their electric best, it’s a song that epitomises how fire and fury, properly honed, can capture rather than emasculate emotion. “It Failed To Explode”, too, is a revelation: a song presumably about the Arab Spring, and one which despite its unyielding velocity and sheer torque remains at heart a tender ode to dashed hopes of all kinds. If you really know what you’re doing, speed can mingle with sadness. And for all the fun of the fair provided by the HC covers and the punk, it’s thanks to songs like these that we kind of feel ourselves falling in love with this fine band, yet again.

A couple of other new compilations that cry out to be mentioned, though. “Yellow Food” takes all four joybringing Radio 1 sessions recorded by off-kilter Aussie pop sensations Even As We Speak during their spell in the UK in the early 1990s (three for Peel, one for Mark “maximum music” Goodier) and it works as an absolutely cracking collection: the strongest of songs, sympathetically captured at Maida Vale and many of which, although already fully-formed, would soon land on their Sarah EPs. These are songs that intertwine pure pop perfection (“Suddenly”) with power pop perfection (“Stay With Me”) with punk pop perfection (“Getting Faster”) with erm, madcap cowgirl electro (“The Revenge Of Ella Mae Cooley”), and that’s even before we mention MC Younger Youth’s startlingly bold redecoration of “Falling Down The Stairs” (which may, strangely, make it the definitive version). If nothing else, you should get “Yellow Food” as proof that Matthew Love may be one of the most underrated songwriters to have ever picked up a guitar and a pen.

And then, in a rather different style, comes Electro Hippies’ “Deception Of The Instigator Of Tomorrow”, a warts and all round-up on Boss Tuneage of their 1985-87 period which – finally, after 30 years of waiting – sees their excellent sole Peel Session get a digital outing, a session which was as life-affirming at the time as it has been hard to source since (altogether now: “Don’t kill sheep!”)

The CD boasts 60 tracks in total from the Scouse vegancore legends – which, when added to the 40 tracks on their “The Only Good Punk” compilation of later soundz (issued on Peaceville at the start of the century), give you a neat hundred-track discography covering all their recorded works and a generous clutch of live cuts - but, in all honesty, it’s the Peel sesh tunes which you really need. We’d have probably marketed this one as “The Peel Session” and treated the other 51 songs as bonus tracks…

So much else out there, now that 2018 has really begun to blossom for great music. So for a quickfire rest of April round-up, we must give shout-outs to Ryuji T’s “One’s Sentiment” (an artist EP via Berlin’s Instruments of Discipline that flits and veers breathlessly and ruthlessly from beatless to 160bpm to 90bpm, though sadly without the manic handclaps of his recent singles); Flame 1’s “Fog”/”Shrine” 12” (this month’s The Bug collaboration is also this month’s Burial collaboration, the newsome twosome neatly parcelling up the glacial dub wiles of King Midas Sound with Burial’s flickering B&W nightbus-step); Nicki Minaj’s “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” (irresistible in-face “do call it a comeback” stylings which ***resemble Lady Sovereign, circa 2005, far more than anybody is ever going to be prepared to admit***)...

oh, and not forgetting...

... Lewis Parker’s “It Never Rains But It Pours” on King Underground (his usual serene flow over laidback, US-flavoured stylings); Third Eye Foundation’s “Wake The Dead” (pretty, percussive and sadness-infused long-player on Ici d’ailleurs that’s so good it invokes both Hood and Mick Harris); Septic Tank’s “Rotting Civilisation“ (brisk hardcore stylings from Cathedral-related people on Rise Above, with winning bloke-next-door vocal yells); and 14 Iced Bears’ magnificent “14 Iced Bears” album getting a deluxe vinyl reissue thing on deluxe vinyl reissue thing specialists Optic Nerve (here’s more on this fantastic band and why you should grab this while you can, unless of course you’ve already got these tracks on the original Thunderball LP release, or from Overground’s “Let The Breeze Open Our Hearts” compilation, or from Slumberland’s "In The Beginning" compilation, or from Cherry Red’s “Hold On Inside” compilation...)

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April shout-outs to Arsène Wenger, for bearing such idiocy, with such poise, for so long. Few have done more for English football, let alone for Arsenal, our village team; and we’re confident that their fans will look back on his era as a golden one, not that they reckon that now.

Oh, and one more topical dedication, sorry - it’s important. Much respect going out to the memory of my great Grandad. zeebrugge#100

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