"All those times you've taken heart, only to have it broken": flaming June

Various Artists “The Official Matinée World Cup EP” (Matinée Recordings): P Brothers “Mentaltainment” (Heavy Bronx): Azure Blue “Fast Falls The Eventide” (Matinée Recordings): JK Flesh “Wasplike” (Inner Surface Music): JK Flesh “PI04” (π - Pi Electronics):  Sev Dah “Proletarijat 006” (Proletarijat): Nothing Clean “Cheat” (Samizdat Records / Abusive Noise Tapes / Force Fed Records / Circus Of The Macabre Records / SuperFi Records / Repulsive Medias / Vleesklak Records): Boyracer “Fling Yr Bonnet Over The Windmill” (Emotional Response)

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the fanzine that has just spotted that “The Best Of The Primitives” doesn’t feature either “Really Stupid” or “Stop Killing Me”. We know *why* it doesn’t – they should have called it “The Best Of The BMG Years” or something – but Trading Standards really need to pull their finger out. You should be able to sue for that.

And this month’s arresting, if slightly disconcerting pic comes from the Shropshire Sculpture Park, set in the grounds of the British Ironwork Centre, near Oswestry. We can't trace who sculpted it, or even what the hell it's doing there, but we loved stumbling across it and would love to acknowledge the artist should anyone know who they are... yes, it's rather a random sculpture, but then we've a somewhat disparate collection of records for you this month: we struggled for a while as to whether we could claim a unifying theme, but apart from “it’s all good music” we’re basically stumped.

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There’s a World Cup on (you may have noticed). And so, that thorny question of who to support. Last time, more sunnily-disposed to world geopolitics, we started with a small list but ended up cheering on about 27 teams. This time, it feels like the other way around: everyone’s a baddie now. Should we punish nations for their illiberal regimes (if so, we’re pleased there’s no USA, Italy or Hungary, but what to make of our traditional soft spots for Poland or Iran? How can you stay true to your globalist credentials if rooting for Saudi Arabia or Russia?) This year, the “dream final” for us might well have involved Iceland playing Peru but that was never going to happen, was it? And if the EU had its own team, would we support that? Probably, if it annoyed Brexit-types. Actually, just to annoy them, we’ll support all 32 teams anyway (even those that have gone out). Being citizens of the world.

Luckily - or else this next record would never have got made - there are five Matinée Recordings galácticos who have brushed aside such qualms, and just entered into the spirit of the thing: writing odes to their chosen nations on a sprightly, summer-themed v/a EP, rather than carping from the sidelines. The good news (or bad news, depending on where you stand) is that each crack pop combo hits you with something that’s recognisably theirs: musically, there’s nothing too maverick going on here. Over to our man in the commentary box:

“And Last Leaves (Australia, for those of you who have been living in caves) kick off with “Golden Days To Come”, which sees them at their most breezy and bright-eyed, co-opting backing shouts and blissful brass. Then there’s some neat build-up play from new signings Red Sleeping Beauty (Sverige), who give “Dressed in Yellow And Blue” an electro-tastic melodo-pop makeover (“a goal can change your life”). And now, Royal Landscaping Society (España) run with the ball in midfield – showing off the mournful, pretty, tiki-taka Hal / Brighter stylings of “2010” - before delivering a beautifully-flighted arc of a pass to the Popguns (England). Their “Red White And Blue”, surprisingly emotionally charged as it hurtles forward with raw guitar angst, sweetly delivers an incisive cross into the box. And then longtime ilwtt,isott heroes Pale Sunday (Brasil) rise salmon-like at the far post to rifle home the coup de grace, “Dirt Pitch Superstars”, a short and sharp piledriver. The onion bag ripples. The punters go (politely) fecking mental.”

So Russia 2018 isn’t just a great tournament for fans of not knowing whether a goal has been scored for about 10 minutes, or for devotees of soft penalty awards. Thanks to the might of these Matinée artists, it’s already a great World Cup for indie-pop aficionados.

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Next, to the pros and cons of hip-hop fundamentalism (a subject that, unaccountably, the ‘HTV Hundred’ never tackled). “It’s not about a salary,” warns the stern young Ice Cube on my shoulder, “it’s all about reality”. Well, yes - up to a point. But we’ve never been totally comfortable with fixating on hip-hop ‘keeping it real’ to the exclusion of all else. Much as we disdain common-or-garden weak ‘guest rhyme’ crossover nonsense, there’s no crime in being a pop MC. And as Ice-T said on “Question & Answer”, there was never a problem with rappers who were pop: his beef was with those that started out hardcore, then sold out. Who represented themselves as something they simply weren’t.

But But BUT! (as the scoreboard read*) all that said, when foxheads stalk this land and societal norms crumble beneath the weight of the industrial-scale gaslighting of petulant man-children, there’s something uplifting, invigorating and above all *honest* about music that is utterly determined to keep it real, that’s still all about the elements and the hustle and that gives not even a sideways cuss about being popular or venturing near a radio playlist. When you get a producer-rapper combination that goes back to the old school, and builds from the right foundations, even as they deliver rhymes and themes of the hazardous *now* that encapsulate the thick, fuggy, inglorious haze of 2018. Skills that are rarer than they should be now we’re decades on from the golden era: it really shouldn’t be left to us to wait for the 2 or 3 tracks on every Wu-Tang album that suggest that, when they can be bothered, they’ve still got it.

Yes, thanks and praises are due for the return of Heavy Bronx head honchos Paul S and DJ Ivory, back with a spanking, brand new New York to Nottingham collaboration. P Bros records don’t come around very often but, as always, the wait doesn’t seem like an issue once the new product has arrived. After all, their style is legendary, and “Mentaltainment” pairs vocals + insts on 12” of three outstanding cuts of raw hip-hop, with Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx all represented on the mic. The Brothers always show true artistry in production, and yet again here they plunder heavily from soul and funk influences, but set them to uncompromising beats before enlisting the patronage of Daniel Son (“Saltfish”), longtime collaborator Milano (“What Kind Of Shit You Want?” - the answer, inevitably, is “the real shit”) and Ukrainian-born still-rising star Your Old Droog (“Good Trip”, in cahoots with DJ Doo Wop). Blimey, Y.O.D. would have been only 11 yrs old when P Brothers launched their first Heavy Bronx Experience 12”s.

In essence, this is nothing less than a brilliant hip-hop record: three stone-cold classics for the price of one. Oh, if you liked the very best transatlantic link-ups - “The Gas”, or Ed 209 and Imam THUG’s “Karma 360”, or Diversion Tactics’ across-the-pond collabos, or  Recordkingz teaming up with Mobb Deep, or even “C Is The Heavenly Option” - then you’re going to be in clover here. Warning: the hefty price tag on the vinyl – even if you can find it – is nearly as chunky as the beats, but luckily there’s a bandcamp option here.

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“I don’t care…”

Kids teach you much more about music than you can ever teach them, much as dads (especially) like to pretend otherwise. But sometimes it’s worth the grown-ups sharing a few choice musical memories, so on long journeys we’ve been rolling with the greatest hits of the Human League and the Pet Shop Boys recently, pleasantly surprised by how well they stand up.

“…I do what I want to...”

It’s less common, perhaps, to find music today that can bridge the generation divide with easy flair. But Azure Blue’s new album on Matinée - despite a little swearing, and a title drawn from the increasingly insular dirge of the once-beautiful “Abide With Me” - is clever, playful, catchy and stylish: that same, hard-to-nail combination of factors that drove the delights of “Dare” or “Disco”. Taking its cue from the excellent single “Whatever ‘18”  (which - as you can see - is still a proper earworm here at le palais d’ilwtt,isott) and the Matinée Idols-débuted “New Moon”, this is electronically-driven pop that may be achingly cool - like the slick-bearded punters who frequent the bars of Dalston Kingsland - but that doesn’t stint for one second on the hooks.

“…as much as I want…”

And so “Crimson Red”, “Don’t Turn Me On” and (especially!) the 45-ready pop hit “My Final Candle” are breezy, palpably addictive synth-pop. “Post Affect” nods cheekily to Madonna’s “Material World”, which is probably a Matinée first - what next, Electric Pop Group riffing on “Like A Virgin”? In contrast the longer, slower “Love Will See You Through” is potential lighters-in-the-air stuff, as waves of cool melody wash repeatedly over the rocks: though we reckon its contemplative charms might be well suited as a soundtrack for the next BBC4 Scando-noir. Imagine Azure Blue pounding out of your TV speakers as the curtain falls on another messy episode denouement.

“…whenever I want to”

As we open the windows to the English summer and watch the cabbage-whites dancing on front lawns, it’s nice to have a readymade ‘go to’ record to for these rare days of  smearing the suncream on, necking ice-cube water and enjoying liveably warm evenings. From Sweden and across the North Sea, that’s just what Azure Blue have delivered.

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Ever in the top three music-biz Justins (alongside Ghetts and, erm, Justin Fletcher, who’s very popular with the youngers), JK Broadrick is steering his Flesh side-project into increasingly interesting territory, with many of the industrial elements (or at least those that would have given the listener a clue to the Godflesh link) being usurped by purer techno. We thought last winter’s “Exit Stance” single, a prime example of this, was reminiscent of Ryuji Takeuchi’s recent scorching run of 12”s, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that JKF is now appearing for Inner Surface Music (who released RT’s excellent “Outbound To Inner Self” EP last year).

This “Wasplike” EP offers four tunes, all excellent: there is certainly a wasp-like buzz (and sense of purpose) to the pulsing title track and the appropriately modernist “New Build Estate”, before a flipside which starts like a train with “Mindprison” (energetic, powerful, palpitating) and then switches down into something a little more retrospective with the icy moves of “Dark Horse”. Just like “Outbound To Inner Self”, or Fret’s recent “Silent Neighbour”, there are no weak links amongst the four tracks. Nor any sign of industrial doom or gloom: this is smart, forward-thinking, club-literate techno from one of music’s most enduring musical chameleons.

Earlier in the year, we also got “PI04”, a 12” via the loosely Athens-based Pi Electronics collective, which is another dancefloor-friendly and even playful JKF assemblage. The imaginatively-named “PI04.1” is especially good, even weaving in stabs of industrial siren: and the EP closes Stateside with an Arthur Baker-esque techno-electro remix from Silent Servant. Mr Broadrick really is upping the levels.

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We all know by now how Sev Dah’s series of Proletarijat EPs roll. Number six returns to the theme of Proletarijat #1 and the role of female fighters in the partisan underground. A beaming Milja Marin stares out from the sleeve, although the label tell us that the nurse from Kozara, Bosnia never dreamed of becoming a postergirl for the revolutionary movement: she did what she could, but only because she felt she had to.

“Our struggle thus demands / that while dying, one sings”

Unlike the earlier 12”s, which liked to sandwich an exotic fancy or low-tempo curveball between two slices of peaktime techno, all three tracks here are fairly straight down the line floorfillers (with “Kozarcanka” – girl from Kozara - dedicated to Milja) and for us the peak is “Rebellion” - a word that even after all this time, still makes us think of Harvey Williams) - which packs the most light and shade as it buzzes by at a bracing 130 bpm. One thing for sure about Sev Dah – he never makes it worse by being rebellious.

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We must confess that we were wrong about Nothing Clean. Wrong, in that we assumed their uncompromising blend of lyrical fury and unrelenting musical savagery lent itself most perfectly to the split 7” format, which allowed them to hurl out 7 or 8 grenades at once towards the unsuspecting listener before dodging back behind the nearest piece of shrubbery to reload. However, their début LP “Cheat” (a co-release on no less than seven different labels, including Samidzat**) suggests that in fact their perfect oeuvre is the album, on which you bathe in a score of blistering powerviolence tracks before turning the record over and diving headlong into another twenty bite-sized HC salvos: so clear your coffee tables, dear listener, and let these 41 tracks attack and batter you with alternate riffs and blasts. Oh, the late Mark E. Smith coined the phrase “righteous maelstrom”, and that description perfectly fits this record, a swirling ill-wind of Leicester city hardcore.

This is also the first Nothing Clean release we’ve bought which they don’t share with any other band, and as much as we’ve liked (in varying degrees) Art Of Burning Water, Ona Snop, Higgs Boson, La Letra Pequeña and Hooked on Christ, it’s rather nice to have the Cleansters to ourselves this time. It’s also worth saying that these aren’t all new songs, with many of them being ditties that made their initial appearance on their Smiths-like run of one blazin’ seven after another. But (unsurprisingly) - if you liked all or any of the five preceding split singles, you’ll love this too.

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To this month’s ‘on a retro tip’ tip (or, as the Bunnymen might say, “t-t-t-t-tiiip”), which is Boyracer’s enormously welcome “Fling Yr Bonnet Over The Windmill” vinyl comp, which follows on from our big-ups of recent vinyl reissues by their former Sarah Records labelmates Blueboy (last month) and 14 Iced Bears (the month before that). “Fling Yr Bonnet” draws together the Leeds band’s three EPs for Sarah and in doing so reunites me in particular with the middle one, “From Purity To Purgatory”, which I recklessly lent to someone at university and never got back.

“and those Sarah songs, honestly, were never that great / very derivative, sub-Buzzcocks jangle bollocks”

And yet - on Boyracer’s simply terrific sort-of-swansong album, “Sunlight Is The Best Antiseptic” - there’s a ballad called “The Last Word” in which Stewart thusly maligns their Sarah singles. To put it gently, that was never our view, and I would still rate “He Gets Me So Hard” - the lead-off track to their “Pure Hatred 96” EP (the 96 referring to the late-era Sarah catalogue no. rather than to 1996, a year by which the label would have merrily imploded) and also the lead-off track to the new comp - as one of my favourite ten songs of all-time, an emotionally searing explosion of a tune that hits as hard even as the Mary Chain’s most visceral moments.

Hearing “I’ve Got It And It’s Not Worth Having” again, the opening track from their first Sarah 7”, “B Is For Boyracer”, is another re-revelation: that, too, was a firecracker of a song that I threw onto every compilation tape I made back in my first year at university (and one which was later re-styled by the Lucksmiths of all people, who picked up on all the melodies that were left cowering a little beneath the sheer speed and spikiness of the original). It’s also a reminder that, at the time, no Sarah single had quite burned with as much pace and nervous energy. The boys even beamed out proudly from the cover – a rare thing on a Sarah 7” – via a photo taken in an undisclosed eaterie where they were apparently enjoying black coffee, millionaire shortbread and Marlboro.

Back then - rightly or wrongly - we felt a little validated by the machine-gun bursts of “B Is For Boyracer” (and, indeed, “From Purity…”: the pained, rickety yet altogether excellent “Doorframe” was the track form that EP that I was putting on every mixtape by the time the next year of university came around), because we had long been arguing the toss with other Sarah fans about the punk ethos of the label, and it seemed like the addition of Boyracer to the roster helped prove our point that if a band was good enough, they should bloody well be on Sarah, even if they were (gasp) *a bit noisy*. As did the welcome ‘punkification’ of Action Painting! around the same time (more on them next month, hopefully) which led to “Classical Music” making a dent on the same C90s that we kept churning out from our college room.

By this time next month, we should have seen Boyracer in the flesh again (for the first time in an exceedingly long time, well north of 20 years) at their coming north London support to Aussie legends Even As We Speak. We are, despite our advancing years, fair up for this. On writing about the ‘racer over the decades, I fear we’ve never bettered our description of them as “prefects of the punk pop-perfect”, and this is a record which shows just how they really did rule the school. It’s also, incidentally, the second LP of 2018 (after Half Man Half Biscuit’s) whose sleeve is a photo of graffiti that features the LP title. A nod to Harper Lee’s fine work in this area, surely.

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That’s almost all, but just some quick June shouts for... Sven Wittekind’s “Focus”, on Oneroot (we may not mention the Sven quite so much as we used to, but we’ll never fail to check out his new EPs, because he has EARNED THE RIGHT, and our patience is amply rewarded by this single, a perfect example of his attention to detail as he refines his minimalist techno version one tweak at a time); Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’ “Middle America” (rather splendidly 25+ years on, this sounds just as you would have hoped it might sound had someone taken you aside in 1992, when you were listening to Pavement’s “Here”, and promised you that their mainman would still be making tuneful, lop-sided yet strangely affecting rock records in 2018); Winterfylleth’s genteel but utterly beguiling “Resting Tarn”, from their “The Hallowing Of Heirdom” set (in a world in which we were all honest brokers, there would be a much larger overlap in fanbase between Winterfylleth and, say, the Declining Winter); and Violation Wound’s action-packed “With Man In Charge” on Peaceville (blasting soc-consc crustcore with a rock n’ roll heart from ex-Autopsy bloke - all the songs sound the same but since when was that a problem? - and which, like all good hardcore, sort of reminds us of Thrilled Skinny in places).

But to finish finish, we’d like to pay our respects to Ralph Santolla, the guitarist who has died at the too-tender age of 48. He was in millions of bands, but we knew him best for his playing and touring with Deicide and Obituary. And - speaking as a fanzine that’s never been overly fond of the gratuitous guitar solo as a rule (look how it ruins “Dress You Up” and “Wuthering Heights”) - it’s surely a true tribute to Ralph that he was responsible for many of the records in which a shredding solo suddenly made complete sense. Most brilliantly, on Deicide’s almost impossibly good “Homage For Satan”. Even our good friend Tom, whose tinnitus was formally diagnosed following an Obituary gig at the Electric Ballroom in which Ralph’s solos featured prominently, was upset to hear of his passing. Rest in.

*This is exactly what the primitive (by today's standards) scoreboard at AS Monaco used to read when somebody scored, back in the days we used to hang out at the Stade Louis II (an idea of how long ago they were is that a teenage David Trezeguet, Victor Ikpeba and a very young Thierry Henry were usually the ones scoring them...)
** Aside: We saw somebody wearing a Samidzat top on the Balls Pond Road the other week, and briefly got very excited that they might be something to do with Nothing Clean, but as with all Soviet-era concepts it appears that someone has caught the proto-capitalist bug and decided to turn it into a clothing line… blooming monetaries. Should have listened to McCarthy.

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