Sunday, 30 March 2008

AIDAN JOHN MOFFAT – I CAN HEAR YOUR HEART (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)


AIDAN JOHN MOFFAT – I CAN HEAR YOUR HEART (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)

I cannot get a grip, this time last week it was snowing and the snow was settling, it was the most terrifying Easter I had ever seen. Thank Christ BBC took it upon themselves to show High School Musical 2 and pacify me with dreams of a golden future for my impending offspring (impending as in within the next ten years).

And now the clocks the have changed and this is officially British summertime? If its not raining now, it certainly has been and yet I still need to have my window open because it is still too fucking warm for me. Is this the way it is supposed to be?

I’ve finished with the music industry. I left just before Easter just on the verge of being the tour accountant this summer for one of my heroes and also for a Glastonbury/T In The Park/V headliner. I had had enough. Music has sickened me in the past but this was a new low, the escape had to be done. Unwisely to escape having to work out my notice I accused them (the industry) of constructive dismissal, a claim that could carry no weight considering my previous adventures with employers (that bloody book, I have done bugger all to push it this year).

I haven’t been pissed for months, this weather does not want it. The last time I “went for it” I wound up being sick in the pub and ended up at a loved one’s flat hurling bullshit and abuse at her in a comedic fashion before passing out on her sofa only to awaken in the morning with my trousers off having ruined ANY final opportunity to rekindle anything. Its all about the manager of S******lor for her now, how could I compete with that talented bunch of original artists.

Which all in all moves me to my current listening tastes. I was excited this year about new records from Nick Cave and The Breeders but neither have really cut it. Nick Cave was great for a few weeks but my enjoyment has been somewhat tarnished by everyone and their arsehole saying what a great return to form it is. Dude, never lost it.

And The Breeders' record just is not grunge. I sense it is a real slow burner, after this initial downer, the songs are growing subtly in my mind now and will probably remain there all summer, when it finally arrives. I have been listening to old Breeders bootlegs from the Last Splash era and they’re some of the most exciting live sets I have ever heard. I have even been revisiting their lyrics and fallen in love with simple first lines such as “I like all the different people, I like sticky everywhere” along with the beautiful way “oh c’mon, nobody wants that!” on Iris.

As I yearn my first big weekend the record that has really grabbed me is Aidan John Moffat’s this may be the soundtrack to my summer. I really regret how undervalued Arab Strap were to me after their first two records because their words are pure poetry. It is ridiculous how I found myself still surprised and shocked by “I Can Hear Your Heart”, it’s a no-brainer. I cannot remember which was the last record to make me laugh out loud but the current one is this. When I played a track around my parents’ yesterday and the stringed intro to track three came in to the response of my Father that’s nice, I just knew I had to skip a track entitled “Cunts”. This is not subtle but it’s painfully close to the bone. The dissection of Grease and the aftermath is pure grit realism and for some reason right now I need this attitude justified and confirmed to me. It may be the most negative take on existence but it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily wrong or unacceptable. Love will ruin a person, damn near kill them when it falters and goes wrong. I have also seen positive love/relationships stunt and kill the spirit of pure/real men. In other words, these words are essential.

She has cut me dead this year, the lady I fell for last Nov/Dec only to have stomp on my heart and ruin my 2008 but at least this confirms I am not alone and proves that there is a way of finding humour in the most debasing and humiliating of moments. Flirt divert.

As the rain comes humbling down and the words “summer is ready when you are” tickle my mind, I strive further looking for something the least bit summer and this perhaps unwisely finds me digging out my copy of The Punch And Judy Man – that has a happy ending doesn’t it?

Thesaurus moment: kindled.

Aidan Moffat
Chemikal Underground

Monday, 24 March 2008

TULSA DRONE – SONGS FROM A MEAN SEASON (THE PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE)


TULSA DRONE – SONGS FROM A MEAN SEASON (THE PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE)

In a time where/when post-rock has been done to death, to the point of being offensively bland, the light tones and impending menace of Tulsa Drone dive in and remind you of how refreshing and invigorating the genre can still be at other times. With motions that display real drive I find myself indulging in a record from a category/genre that I have long since deserted.

Since it’s heyday around the turn of century when every band with a dick discovered Spiderland, the post-rock sound has really mutated in several variations of the same, the most oblique of which turned into mashed soundscapes of unlistenable feedback while the poorest turned into temper testing almost silent noodles. When people added narrative samples those gestures only saw them suffering from enduring comparisons to certain bands on Kranky. Compositions became too intricate, bellowing some kind of jazz-esqe self satisfying blow like a nail in the coffin. For me it all ended when the originators appeared to get bored of the genre, when the majority of latecomers sound 99% like Mogwai, a number of them began working on their song writing craft, adding lyrics and discovering some kind of twist on folk it would seem. The other fork in the road seemed to be a wrong turn towards the avant garde and the introduction of too many marginal instruments, a gesturing of concentrating too hard on making unique sounds rather than improving on the actual song writing process. Ultimately it felt lazy.

Tulsa Drone thankfully represent something refined and satisfying. The songs are light and airy as if addressing something significant. At times there is also what appears to be something of a Russian influence haunting the sound; in the distance believe. This could be the sound of a red dawn.

The band hails from Richmond, VA and can boast membership that includes appearances on records by such established acts of the genre as Pan American and Labradford, so this is not an act without pedigree. It works.

Thesaurus moment: reliable.

Tulsa Drone

Friday, 21 March 2008

SHELLAC – EXCELLENT ITALIAN GREYHOUND (TOUCH AND GO)


SHELLAC – EXCELLENT ITALIAN GREYHOUND (TOUCH AND GO)

There used to be a sense of humour attached to Shellac (and indeed a lot of independent alternative rock) that I fear has now long since gone and had its day.

This is a difficult listen, purposely obtuse filled with many tripwires and potholes to disrupt the flow of/for the listener.  In many ways this has always been what Shellac has been about but this time round it just does not feel worth the effort.

Excellent Italian Greyhound was their long awaited fourth studio album coming after a lengthy gap between releases seemingly with view to keeping the object unique and special.  That’s the problem when your reputation passes you and there is no need to keep plates spinning.  An abundance of crockery does not a meal make.

To risk sharing cliché, this album is a grower.  Personally my gut instinct was genuinely the thought that in their career they’ve gone from making “Wingwalker” to making something so deliberately belligerent as this.  Honestly that the results were not immediate offended me.

Rather than open with the brutality of “Prayer To God” or “My Black Ass”, Excellent Italian Greyhound sees a return to the slow build opener with “The End Of Radio” and Bob Weston relentlessly tugging at his bass in autistic fashion.  The tone of the track is of an emergency call.  As Steve Albini regularly calls “is this thing on?” he appears to be referencing many strands of reality.  Easily it could be interpreted as a call to arms, call to action with the slow movement of the music acting as a metaphor for a generation’s lethargy.  Finally at the seven minute mark the machine that is Shellac has fired into action emerging like a tightly spring having been released into the wild.  This is their comedy.

With this the album rears into life with “Steady As She Goes” a motoring more traditional type Shellac song as a spiky pace attaches itself to proceedings and more personal, scathing words are uttered.  Healthily it builds real momentum as a late eruption bursts through.  Its keen if not crushing.

And then the record stutters and becomes belligerent again as the stop start call and response of “Be Prepared” breaks in.  The track is very Action Park (very “Dog And Pony Show”) only just not as good.  At best it’s a test, at worst its cheesy.  That said much like the best Shellac songs the hook does become an earworm.

Maintaining a one off one on song ratio “Elephant” coasts in springing fashion with a nice folding formation.  While Bob sings of lies Albini mumbles spoken verses below.  And with such distraction you fail to notice when the music becomes solely a Todd Trainer drumbeat backing the garbled sounds of two disgruntled indie rock elder statesmen.  This is breaking things down to basics.  An exercise in testing nerves.  Then when it rears back into action it reminds me of Karate.  Suddenly what you are listening is first generation emo.  And we all know what that strand wound up like.

Further infuriating things another nine minute track arrives in the form of “Genuine Lullabelle”.  Never let it be said Shellac are strangers to a slow build.  Reminding of “Mama Gina” from 1000 Hurts it’s a track that grows but doesn’t necessarily mature.  It adds up in a math rock motion but it is hardly “Freebird”, more free jazz in a jazz odyssey direction, not least when Ken Nordine makes an appearance.  This is not the blues.

I guess coherent song structures previously tended to make the band sound like AC/DC so surrendering such things in theory should propel the art of this album but instead it makes it less accessible.  This is akin to your favourite teacher setting an exam that is impossible to complete with a passing mark.

Things get worse as the fantastically entitled “Kittypants” reveals itself as a glancing blow, very Mogwai in being the kind of instrumental filler that every post-rock album always had.  Suddenly Shellac no longer feel like leaders, they feel like followers.

A late rally is exhibited with the dense and meandering “Boycott” which possesses some bite before penultimate track “Paco” proves an awkward and tempered five and a half minute mathematical instrument(al).  This band was never supposed to be Slint.  Put it on a seven-inch.

Tacked onto the end is “Spoke” an old song from early on that they recorded for a Peel Session and previously available nowhere else other than a bootleg seven inch and bad MP3s until now.  In execution it is short and shouty remaining old and amazing having over time become a staple of their sets and fine way to finish a show.  Its inclusion feels more out of request than desire, something reiterated by the cheesy jingle that welcomes the song (a cover of the “Rotosound Strings” advert by The Who).  This version doesn’t pack the punch of the original BBC session but it does at least end the record on an energetic high.  A shot in the arm somewhere was needed.

I hate Excellent Italian Greyhound for the way it makes me feel.  What do you do when your favourite band puts out an average album?

Thesaurus moment: disobliging.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

NIRVANA – ON STAGE IN EUROPE (SOUNDS ALIVE)


NIRVANA – ON STAGE IN EUROPE (SOUNDS ALIVE)

One of the seemingly never ending supply of Nirvana bootleg CDs from the early nineties this seventeen song recording claims to be of the band performing at The Paradiso in Amsterdam, Holland on 25 November 1991 with two tracks tacked onto the end recorded in California one month later (at the O’Brian Pavillion in Del Mar, California on 28 December 1991).

This set from Amsterdam is one of the more famous shows from the band’s history as it figures prominently on the Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! video in addition to supplying/providing four songs to the From The Muddy Banks Of Wishkah official live albums. Those tracks being “School”, “Been A Son”, “Lithium” and “Blew”.

Delving into the history books it would appear that this set is somewhat incomplete and slightly altered. Missing completely are “Come As You Are” and “Territorial Pissings” while for some reason “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has been bumped to the beginning of the disc. Would the band really have been so dumb and/or arrogant to shoot their load immediately and perform their biggest hit from the start? It is also funny to note that the absent “Come As You Are” is the infamous version that appears on Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! featuring Cobain purposely singing (screaming) the song awfully until the chorus kicks in and it is impossible to butcher the song any further.

From a performance and recording perspective this is without doubt Nirvana caught on a good day. The Immediate charge into “Drain You” coupled with the driving explosion of “Aneurysm” proves an incendiary opening as the guitars sound thick and dense, Krist plays bass a little fast and Dave pounds the drums as if he hates them. The latter song proves particularly exhilarating delivered at a pace above the recorded studio versions.

The whirling cacophony that arrives with “School” maintains an intense and relentless beat as the band plays like a machine as a ball of contain ferocity that feels on the verge of further explosion at any moment. This motion is then maintained as “Floyd The Barber” strides with precision like a motor on full steam.

Things begin to calm down as “About A Girl” and “Polly” get airings as people grab their breath with view to demonstrating their sweet and tender side. It is bullshit.

From here the band resume at breakneck speed with “Sliver” and “Breed” where Kurt can be audibly heard knocking the microphone to the ground as it lands with a big thud before the band tears into “Been A Son” without missing a beat.

With a bluster the set comes to a conclusion with a hellacious take on “Negative Creep” where its hard to work out whether the band are commanding the song or if the song is commanding the band. Again this is a version far quicker and denser than the recorded version and, dare I say, somewhat superior.

The set ends with a whistle drenched “Blew” as the band romp home into a playful and disintegrating “Love Buzz” as Kurt gets extravagant and playful seemingly on the way to destroying his equipment while also adding a few verses from “Macho Man” by the Village People in the process.

Following tacked onto the end are the two tracks from California with a fairly routine run out of “Come As You Are” followed by a thunderous airing of “Territorial Pissings” complete with vocal introduction from Krist with eventually concludes with streams of feedback and much applause, cheer and even screaming. Play hard.

On the whole this was a pretty decent bootleg, I have definitely heard worse and having been professionally recorded for VPRO-TV in the first place certainly gives it an edge from a quality perspective.

Thesaurus moment: vertex.

Nirvana

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

WNICO – BON VOYAGE (RIOT RECORDS/KILL ROCK STARS)


WNICO – BON VOYAGE (RIOT RECORDS/KILL ROCK STARS)

This band is a wicked mystery.  I originally heard them on the John Peel show on Radio One as a staggering noise track burst from my stereo speakers.  It actually turned out to be two tracks (“Taa Get Center” and “Pudring”) but such was the brevity in the ferocity you could not tell.  This was the kinda music I like but in my part of the world heard so seldom.  Then a few months later in an utter stroke of luck I found their album Bon Voyage in the reduced bin at Selectadisc on Berwick Street on a rare visit to Soho.  So much about this act felt like fortune.

And yet they remain quite the mystery.  They are from Japan and not a million miles away from sounding like Melt-Banana but other than that there is not much recorded about them (certainly not on the west side of the internet).  Their individual names are: Ahead, Kira, KROZ and Zub Man but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a four piece.

With the help of a Japanese speaking friend I am able to decipher that Wnico was/is a band from either Ooimachi in Tokyo or Yashio Kanto, they did some soundtrack work for surfing videos and that the lead singer was possibly a professional flower arranger.  Even if I don’t necessarily believe these things, I want to believe these things.

Elsewhere any effort to discover information via the Kill Rock Stars website only leads you down the lane of mystery and literal description celebrating the scatological approach to business by the band calling it a “a crazy trainwreck of a record” and throwing elemental comparisons to Bad Brains and Shonen Knife into the mix.

Bon Voyage is a thirteen song (fourteen track) twenty two minute bonsai bonanza.  In wide and varied motion the band rides the surf of several genres all based around noise snatching at hardcore punk, reggae and electronica.  It’s a very futuristic, cyberpunk affair, a beacon of craziness in amongst an overload of neon.

It fires in a flurry with the two aforementioned hardcore tracks juddering and roaring into action with end of the world gestures and Atari Teenage Riot like vocal screams.  And then it gets playful with “Proffecior T” that crashes in with a wacky rap coupled with female inserts much in the style of Cibo Matto ahead of building into a lurching bounce.

Arriving at “A Motion” and its stuttering thunderous hardcore which descends into scratching coupled with an Ad-Rock-esqe baseline suddenly there is something very Grand Royal about this package/treatment.  And going forward often the bass sounding really does drive and poke through.

Then in the style of Bad Brains the listener is offered a breather in the form of “Overjoy” and some heavy dub reggae with booming bass and echoed vocals that feel that they could go forever.  And a few tracks later we receive more of the same with the expansive “Hell Bird”.

Generally it is the hardcore punk that dominates proceedings.  Only four songs on the album pass the two minute mark and half of them are the reggae numbers.  “Burger Time” sounds particularly like a Beastie Boys work out with feedback and a heavy distorted baseline that could topple buildings.  Later “Up Stairs” reminds me of an all female Japanese metal band called Gallhammer while the pleasingly spelled “Dead Hiway” contains a crazed “toot toot toot” chorus hook that serves to remind of Nardwuar The Human Serviette.

Most of Wnico is a fun and playful experience.  “D Land” begins sounding like it is being played in a different room in the distance and as it nears naturally the noise increases until it is pleasantly in your face before performing a perfect kiss and run act disappearing back into the distance.

If this is to be there only album (which appears to be the case), Wnico had a perfect career.

Thesaurus moment: epigrammatic.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – THE BOATMAN’S CALL (MUTE)


NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – THE BOATMAN’S CALL (MUTE)

This is a record that has got me through a couple of break ups. Within its resounding bleak sound there is a beauty and optimism that is truly mature and very reassuring which ultimately points to a better way of existing.

There is no escaping that this is a glum album. For me this is where Cave steps most into Leonard Cohen type territory. It is all very dry and reflective as the lyrical content is thick with an abundance of reminisce and bleak imagery. With so much occurring beneath the surface this is not a record for the happy.

It opens with “Into My Arms”, a measured ode to a loved one that runs the risk of over share. From the off it is stirring stuff, emotionally open but stopping short of sickly gestures and results. Crashing through “Lime Tree Arbour” maintains the flow serving up the glorious description of a perfect time and a perfect place.

From a personal perspective this is the Bad Seeds record that carries a couple of my favourite moments from their career. In “Brompton Oratory” Cave delivers what for me is the greatest moment of his career. The stunned statement being declared and cherished streams out as the warmest church organs pads proceedings that is so spiritually wholesome and fulfilling it is almost absurd. As the most basic of drum machine beats carries the song it is truly the most humbling of songs and the pinnacle of music. Of course the popping my cherry just around the corner from Brompton doesn’t harm in the emotive stakes.

Secondly with “Far From Me” Cave truly manages to capture in words how painfully blasé former partners can be when attempting to remain friends. With the line “it’s good to know you’re doing so well but really can’t you find somebody else that you can ring and tell” reflects one of the most articulate expressions of emotive pain anywhere to be found in music. As a person that cuts ties (cuts people dead) after rejection it is a sentiment I know but have never been able to express so succinctly or charismatically with such dignity. And that line the pain goes away. Yeah, right.

It is with “People Ain’t No Good” he further captures the human spirit with all its frailties and imperfections and enough ammunition to never speak to another person ever again. Once more nailing his subject on the head he captures revolting images of selfishness before inserting such imagery as “we’d buy the Sunday newspapers and never read a single word.” It helps both ways.

“West Country Girl” is a song that could have appeared on Murder Ballads as there is some kind of manslaughter occurring herein. My explicit of ladies from the West Country is not a million miles from this blistering excursion, of the pain that gets encountered in the distinct ability of such a person to change their mind, to swing their mood and turn so cold. It must be something to do with the rural climate and boredom derived from having nothing to do.

That’s not to say that this record is all bleak and negative. The declaration that “There Is A Kingdom” verges on celebratory as the theme to a person that equally might have found a new favourite pub as he did heaven (maybe on earth). Likewise with “(Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For” almost feels rhetorical in its guided joy and pointless questioning. A warm fuzzy sensation soon arrives as some kind of stunted happiness abounds.

By the time the record reaches “Black Hair” (of you know who) things are beginning to sound distinctly like Tindersticks, a gesture and compliment that is usually batted in the opposite direction. The morose tone of proceedings overwhelms and the theme for the record remains continued.

It is with “Idiot Prayer” that I found myself nearing tears on the tube at Christmas one year. It is a song of burst optimism, of discouragement found in reality that comes with chops to match. It begins “you’ve taken me down my friend” but moves towards the rectification of a person picking themselves up and brushing things off. “An idiot prayer of empty words” is the line that gets me every time.

Then comes “Far From Me”.

Just to ruin perfection the record closes on “Green Eyes” which is a silly workout of dual incoherence in duel. Whoops.

Polly has a lot to answer for.

Thesaurus moment: liebe.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Mute

Monday, 17 March 2008

BUM GRAVY – FAT DIGESTER/SUPER M (FIST-FUN RECORDS)


BUM GRAVY – FAT DIGESTER/SUPER M (FIST-FUN RECORDS)

This was a Colchester band that totally passed me by but now I am told how they were semi legendary and essential with regards to the Colchester scene.  Still I am none the wiser but my commitment to the cause does see me today paying well over the odds for an old dog eared copy of this seven inch on eBay where it is being to sent to me from Dubuque in the USA (wherever the fuck that is).

Bum Gravy conjures a disgusting image.  This is not conventional caviar; it’s an unorthodox process of play.  Music as exploration with bristles attached.  During their existence it seems so many fetishised the band’s name seemingly sating their coprophilia.

“Fat Digester” feels like the sound of stepping into an electrical storm, a cacophony of sonic and an ongoing assault of the senses.  For just over six minutes it rains down like hell with a gyrating pulse and no conventional structure.  It is an industrial march seemingly designed to intimidate the enemy and force them to yield.

Flipping forward “Super M” proves equally disarming.  With a more distinctive and coherent baseline it rolls over proceedings like a bouncing tank as more ghastly “vocals” hang over in truly ghoulish fashion.  Imagine Hawkwind steered by Alec Empire pumped through a foghorn with a few splashes of The Jesus And Mary Chain and Ministry thrown in for good measure.  Being lo-fi makes it distorted but being distorted makes it exciting.

When the dust settles you notice the words “recorded 2.2.92 at Alresford County Aurist Centre” which is the most amusing and absurd concept for anybody with an ounce of local knowledge.  Such things just do not come out of Alresford.

Mock it at your risk.  Where did things go wrong with music?  A very important moment in the Colchester music scene.

Thesaurus moment: runs.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

HELMET – STRAP IT ON (AMPHETAMINE REPTILE)


HELMET – STRAP IT ON (AMPHETAMINE REPTILE)

The first Helmet album is a distinctly light affair in comparison to what was about to come with crossover and break out.  In execution it lacks the bulk and blunt ferocity of what was soon to follow but that’s not to say it is without merit.

Produced by New York veteran Wharton Tiers, Strap It On is a nine song affair that only just passes the thirty minute mark.  It is a compact exhibition full of focused economy and frustrated blast.  This was a great band making the most of its resources and opportunity.  Even if the production is flawed the relentless power is not.

Helmet was an intense band from the off.  Their music has always had city suffocation and New York written all over it (this album even has a track called “Sinatra” amongst its numbers).  They may never have gone full on blood, guts and gore like Unsane but there is a distinct urban horror in what they do even if Hamilton holds an attractive voice and the desire to be up-tempo.

It feels very appropriate that the first track is entitled “Repetition” as this is a big part of what Helmet have often been about.  Their motion is like that of a train, heavy and slow moving in the style of an unstoppable object.

Also noticeable is how aggressive Hamilton in his delivery.  He barks like a taskmaster but not necessarily one you would feel inclined to take notice of.

The playing is a mixed bag.  The power is in the guitar and the almost industrial sound he has always managed to derive.  Even the solos sound pleasingly unique as they cleanly cut through proceedings without deflating the power and suffocating the motion.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Stanier’s drumming on this occasion.  By Meantime his snare sound was quite trademark but here is doesn’t quite pack the same punch.  Happily this was eventually rectified.

To me this sounds like a band experiencing something holding/pulling them back.  Maybe this was a product of too much discipline.  Maybe it was born of recording limitation.  Regardless it all lends a frustrating sense of resistance to proceedings.

Of note is the aforementioned “Sinatra” that turned out to be the main song to carry through to their major label career and was later covered by the Deftones.  “Rude” is a very solid, exciting song sounding like a WWF ring entrance song while tracks such as “Make Room” and “Distracted” generally sound like demo versions of their next record.

The most incendiary is left to last with the pure destruction of “Murder” which really does sound like a step into Unsane territory and the cinematic devastation of the streets and dismantling of buildings that band so successfully attains.  Closure is high.

Blunt objects when handled correct can be just as dangerous.

Thesaurus moment: trenchant.

Amphetamine Reptile

Friday, 14 March 2008

THE WHITE STRIPES – BLUE ORCHID (XL RECORDINGS)


THE WHITE STRIPES – BLUE ORCHID (XL RECORDINGS)

Finally I have found a White Stripes song that I full on love.  The fact that it heavily reminds me of “Latin Roots” by Fugazi perhaps goes a long way to explaining my affection but still this is one hell of a stonking track.

So what is the secret?  I guess it’s the manner in which Jack White’s guitar stabs on the show as Meg White perfectly accommodates and accompanies.  This is a tight fucking duo.  And now I finally get it, I see why people have regularly lost their shit to this shit.

This is a dirty sounding track, probably as close to the blues as man can currently muster.  The pulse of its existence is the kind that makes a soul move, generates and rejuvenates.  To dance is unavoidable, the licks are those of a man grabbing the body and shaking.

So what’s it all about?  What is Jack singing?  What is on his mind?  Where’s the beef?  It’s about “you took a white orchid and turned it blue”.

To turn blue has never been a good thing.  It symbolises sadness, symbolises being cold and often the result of a change of circumstances/situation.  As Mr White begins stating “you got a reaction” there is little doubt this is anything but a bust up, the breakdown of a relationship, perhaps one DOA.  His is being sung/spoken to Meg?  Well she’s sat there at the back hitting the drums with a smile.  I’ve met a lot of women in the past that will do that.

As I say this is the White Stripes at their best.  This is a short sharp shock of an offering which is lean and doesn’t meander.  It’s a punch to the head designed to make you wince even when it’s just on record.  Solid.

Thesaurus moment:  frosty.

XL Recordings

Thursday, 13 March 2008

MC5 – KICK OUT THE JAMS (ELEKTRA)


MC5 – KICK OUT THE JAMS (ELEKTRA)

The Motor City Five was more than just a rock band.  Indeed they were more than the prototype punk band that legend has presented them as.  No, here was a band with aspiration far further than mere entertainer and innovator.  They had a genuine agenda and thus a purpose to their rock.

It is a very bold gesture for your first record to be a live album.  There are so many pitfalls that can occur.  The gig could be shit.  The equipment used to record could be shit.  The band could be shit.  To enter into such an endeavour a band needs to be at the top of their game but even then gold is not guaranteed.  Such was the self belief of the MC5.

It opens with something of a sermon and Brother J.C. Crawford calling out to the crowd to see their hands.  If you have ever seen the way that Ian Svenonius works the room with The Make Up, then hearing and witnessing the MC5 suddenly you realise where he learned his chops.  Then after getting his “sea of hands” Crawford begins speaking of revolution asking the crowd “to decide whether you are going to be problem or whether you are going to be the solution” before telling them that it takes them “five seconds to realise your purpose here on the planet, five seconds that its time to move” as the final question asks the audience if they’re reading to testify.  And with that the crowd has already been whipped up into a frenzy before a note has even been played.  This is powerful stuff.

When At The Drive-in arrived a decade ago with their afros and wowing with their blunt energy it was obvious to the ones in the know that they were trying to bring a unique spin on being the MC5.  And being that the product was so good, the fucking pulled it off.

“Kick Out The Jams” is one of the most powerful declarations in rock history.  It was (and still is) a call to arms to remove restrictions (the jams).  This was a forward thinking outfit with an appropriate rallying call.  They moved like a unit and were expertly positioned by their manager John Sinclair to cause chaos in otherwise sedate climates.  And anything that accomplishes such feats is a very powerful and important object.

The album was recorded over two nights in October 1969 (Devil’s Night and Halloween) in Detroit.  Acting ahead of the curve this was a band pre-empting the demise of the city while more than adding to its musical legacy with a hefty weighted tome.

The MC5 was a huge sounding band.  The storming start of “Rambin’ Rose” heavily reminds of the “Rock N Roll” opening to Led Zeppelin concerts while there is no doubt there is a gnarly Stooges type bound to their sound in general and “Borderline” sounds somewhat like The Who.  To this you can add a subtle but effective psychedelic leaning that appears to lay the ground for Mudhoney while the vocal exertion in general echoes James Brown in both approach and register before it eventually ends entering Sun Ra territory.

At the beginning of “Motor City Is Burning” Crawford continues his preaching with discussion of what is high society before leaning into a slow burning blues number addressing just that.  This was the time of the draft and the Vietnam War, at time when there was no option other than be incarcerated or fight.

The band played home to three strong characters in Wayne Kramer the father of the band, Rob Tyner the vocal frontman and Fred “Sonic” Smith the primary songwriter.  Combined theirs was one hell of an engine room.

A big part of their decision to record live was their desire to capture their raw energy as by now they had built up real momentum with their gigs holding a reputation for being more about confrontation than entertainment.  With a staunch local following behind them they were being enthused to play/rock harder and harder.  When touring bands hit Detroit, Detroit would promptly hit them back at the MC5 would often blow them offstage.

Ultimately the band was too dangerous, too controversial to ever really being a mainstream going concern.  Kick Out The Jams was released on February 1969 and the band was promptly dropped by Elektra in March 1969.

Consisting of just eight songs the album is very much a two headed beast with the band tearing out the blocks on the first side with four incendiary offerings before slowing the pace down on side two with a cross section of a bluesy drawl ahead of one final eight minute jam.  Over the years fans have shown preference for one side over the other but it is the second side that holds most interest for me as I can hear the intro from “Rise Above” by Black Flag in “Borderline” and a band that sounds like Mudhoney crossed with Hendrix doing “Wild Thing” on “I Want You Right Now” not to mention the venomous bile of “Motor City Is Burning” ahead of the exciting exploration of closing track “Starship” seemingly designed to lift proceedings above and out the building.

On the outset this record smashed everything.

Thesaurus moment: irascible.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

BUILT TO SPILL – IN THE MORNING (CITY SLANG)


BUILT TO SPILL – IN THE MORNING (CITY SLANG)

Rocking a weird lo-fi slacker vibe seemingly positioned halfway between Neil Young and Ween, Built To Spill brings the rock from Boise, Idaho in a most wonderful Pavement like fashion complete with a They Might Be Giants sense of euphoria and enthusiasm for life stunningly exhibited in a high-energy chorus.  “In The Morning” is the sound of waking up early and happy, a most pure celebration of odd rock and difficult times.

To be honest it’s a no-brainer that I should find myself drawn to this band.  Things like this are my music lifeblood.  I want my music angular, I want it to sound weird to third parties, I want silly names, I want wrong celebration.  And if hearing this record ruins your day, then all the better.  Does that make me fickle and conceited?  Hopefully.

There is something beautifully sloppy about their music.  The imagery is lazing in the sun and if anything gets accomplished, well that’ll be a bonus.  If you buy into such a lifestyle worry will not be yours.

The cover features two chickens, which subtly suggests a dose of cockfighting.  There is a darkness implied.

With that things become rowdier with “So And So So And So From Wherever Wherever” which wonderfully displays their tempered nonchalance to proceedings with overdriven distorted guitars laying into proceedings.  It is a gift.  Some might say it sounds like Weezer but this is original Built To Spill through and through.

The single closes with “Terrible Perfect” which serves like some kind of dense slack campfire singalong.  Once upon a time this is how music festivals sounded.

Brilliant band, brilliant tunes.

Thesaurus moment: lumbering.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS)


RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS)

Just because their fans are pricks, does that make them pricks?  Not necessarily so.  Also does it make their music (their art) bad?  Quite frankly no.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most derided acts of the alternative nation era.  I guess their bravado didn’t sit comfortably with the angst that was being exorcised wholesale at the time.  Here was an act that actually got the girl and was proud of it.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the fifth studio record of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and is generally regarded as their masterpiece, their best work.  And when removed from the circus and personal elements surrounding it, it is actually a very good record.

Firstly there is the fact that it is seventeen songs.  Not many albums of the time (or of any era for that fact) can sustain a record for that length/distance.  However this one does.  It’s not quite the Minutemen but it is at least dedicated to Mike Watt.

For almost ten years now a copied cassette version of this album has sat in my Ford Focus.  And its looking like the tape will outlast the car having already outlived many formats.  This record maybe flabby, it maybe predictable but damn if it isn’t great driving music.

Influenced as much by funk as it was punk, this is an athletic workout where all four members of the team know their place and the job that they have to do.  With John Frusciante providing the guitars and Rick Rubin manning the controls this what in many was exactly what alternative rock was about pre Seattle.

Housing five singles it is actually these tracks that somewhat misrepresent the album at hand.  Away from blatant posturing of “Give It Away” and emotional blackmail of “Under The Bridge” (a song whose lyrics used to make my mother laugh when it played on the store stereo where she worked) the big songs are the lesser-championed album tracks that bolster proceedings.

And it begins strongly as the celebration of “Power Of Equality” offers a positive exuberance that sets out the album’s stall offering each player space/room to demonstrate their wares.  It is a driving opening that leads straight into track two and “If You Have To Ask” without missing a beat and likely the listener not even noticing.  This sees them wandering into their trademark P-Funk territory complete with its group celebration choruses.  This is something that is then repeated with welcome in the Bukowski namedropping “Mellowship Slinky In B Major”.

Of the aforementioned singles “Suck My Kiss” is the pick of the lot with its thumping bass skilfully spliced with Kiedis on form ahead of Frusciante dropping in like a chiming grandfather clock.  There was one of those clear examples of where the rap rock thing could be done so well.  And then in a further nod to that “I Could Have Lied” heavily reminds of the more mellow selections from “The Real Thing” by Faith No More.

From here “The Righteous & The Wicked” and “Naked In The Rain” stand out for their relentless and pulsing gestures while the transition from “The Greeting Song” into “My Lovely Man” is the kind of smooth/slick execution that fills of genius.

There is a risk of the audience falling for the charms of the band especially when songs such as “Breaking The Girl” and “Under The Bridge” and here perhaps is why girls went for the band more than there indie kid boyfriends were comfortable with.

Likewise the epic numbers in the title track and “Sir Psycho Sexy” can tend to push the listener further than they were perhaps wishing to go as certainly with the latter things become bloated.

As I say this is amazing driving music.  It booms from all directions and offers a warped kind of perspective that can house dark association with most males.  It is really very sexually explicit in/out there.  If you can get past such gestures and lyrics (and you would be forgiven for not wanting to) overall this is a much better record than experts credit.

Thesaurus moment: thump.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

JOE STRUMMER – LOVE KILLS (CBS RECORDS)

JOE STRUMMER – LOVE KILLS (CBS RECORDS)

The first time that I heard this song was during a club scene in the movie Wired, the much derided John Belushi biopic starring Michael Chiklis and based on the book by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame.  Around the same time I would also have watched Sid & Nancy starring Gary Oldman and being in my early teens I was suddenly choosing some very flawed and hedonistic idols.  And “Love Kills” was part of the soundtrack for both.

I must concede that I never noticed “Love Kills” in Sid & Nancy and for a very long time I knew the song but did not know that it was a work by Joe Strummer.  And as far as post-Clash output goes, this is easily one of the best songs recorded.

Probably holding more in common with Big Audio Dynamite than The Clash, “Love Kills” is a stomping with large guitar licks that sound like they could easily be coming from a machine while the drums are of the big echoing eighties variety.  On that description things could easily have gone very wrong but with Strummer driving the bus that record just has it.

Any song that ever contains the word “love” in its title is always going to be subject to vulnerability and generally a higher risk of running into cliché.  And while some might say Strummer does fall foul of that here, all in all this is a song that remains solid, hardy and active.  The textures woven are the kind to make a person move both internally and externally.

With lyrics that also relate to drugs and sirens this marked the retention of a punk legacy untarnished.

Thesaurus moment: affection.

Friday, 7 March 2008

JANE’S ADDICTION – NOTHING’S SHOCKING (WARNERS)


JANE’S ADDICTION – NOTHING’S SHOCKING (WARNERS)

In the prime era of the alternative nation there was little more exhilarating than hearing the voice of Perry Farrell in full flight.  The aural assertion and sonic soar would often be a breathtaking experience as the music of Jane’s Addiction would rise to heady heights in astounding fashion.  This was an expansive sound seen and heard nowhere else (past or present).  In times before auto-tune his voice was a major instrument, a true weapon of incredible awe.  Then no sooner would the music peak, it would come crashing down unleashing strands resembling some shocking dispatch of trepidation to lurch the listener to an else induced dark state.

Jane’s Addiction was always a dark proposition.  In order for music to fly like this, there had to be narcotics and mind expansion involved.  And looking at the band, listening to their words, they weren’t necessarily concealing their methods.  With their indulgence came a strong creativity and decadence.

In the pairing of Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro here was a modern version of Plant and Page, one that had experienced punk but not drowned in its ethos.  Basically this was the latest (then current) in a long list of toxic front line duos.  One steered while the other accelerated even if the roles weren’t particularly clear or defined.

At the same time the secret weapon of the unit is Eric Avery who fills out and often opens several songs giving them a magnificent bedding.  Such a stand out performance came amid apparent tensions between him and Farrell over a variety of issues stemming from royalties and naturally ending with women.

Track for track this album is far stronger than you will probably remember.  After the initial surfing curve of “Up The Beach” (a definite intro track) it quickly storms into action with a powerful selection of explosive hits.  This is a record by a band basking in the seedy undergrowth.  That said, the unabashed solos should really have been a no no.

Then it kicks into overdrive with “Ocean Size” and indeed a song that sounds and feels like a good day at the beach.  Not even the overwhelming Navarro solo towards the end can blunt the aspiration of the huge sound.  And this is motion maintain as “Had A Dad” stomps in all reflective, rocking a jubilant big bounce and explosive gestures.  Within this is an early mention of mountains in addition to heavy nods to certain influencing issues.  Then they declare “God is dead”.  These poor lost souls.

The towering centrepiece of the record is “Ted, Just Admit It…” which displays the band at its most devastating.  As Navarro launches a transcending lick over proceedings that feels like an angel towering above, observing the scene Farrell drops in with the observation that “everybody’s so full of shit” before a sample of Ted Bundy informing that there are going to be “people turning up” all over the spectrum.  The legend is that the band included this sample uncleared because they had heard Bundy insisted in defending himself in court and perversely they wanted to be in the position of being sued by the man himself.  It didn’t happen.  However what does occur is Farrell launching into the mantra of “nothing’s shocking” seemingly pre-empting the jaded generations that were to come.  This is a truly disturbing and scary song.  Its sentiments are born to horrify and over the course of seven minutes and nineteen seconds it accomplishes just that.  And no one is innocent as “everybody, everybody” is repeated over and over.  Eventually the song explodes into the conclusion that “sex is violent” working a nod to harmful motions and the seedy things of life.  Away from here the song was used particularly effectively a few years later on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers do accompany a heinous and guilt laden act.  To sing “show me everybody naked and disfigured” is a levelling gesture, very reductive and surface level harmful to anyone or anything in its path.  To unnerve appears its intention.  Mission accomplished.

As the listener recovers the album unfortunately hits its first bum note with “Standing In The Shower…Thinking”.  It is a hack standard jaunt, easily tossed off and thrown away.  Then thankfully bliss ensues with the “Summertime Rolls” and a pleasant close to Side A.  Its dragged out introduction sounds almost post-rock and something I always swore Mogwai “borrowed” from.  “Summertime Rolls” calms things with more beachy imagery suggesting the kind of festival mindset that was likely to bear Lollapalooza.

Mountain Song” begins the second side in explosive fashion.  By this stage the mountain obsession suggests a band so high that they appear to believe that they can fly.  And who would deny them?

It has to be said after the powerful surge of the first half of the album, the momentum sadly does not maintain.  “Idiots Rule” is lively and “Jane Says” the acoustic number does suggest higher meaning and explanation but somewhat at the listeners expense.  Its not that it’s a bad song, it just cuts into the flow.  And the less said about the backslapping minute of “Thank You Boys” the better.

Finally it all comes to an end with “Pigs In Zen” which gives the record one final shot in the arm which a lurching and explorative gesture.  It comes complete with another great line from Farrell in “some people should die, that’s just unconscious knowledge.”  Destructive to the end, coming from the Manson generation influenced to the end.

I think essentially time has not been kind to them as when alternative rock was taking over the world (the asylum) it was doing so in a less jubilant/triumphant manner and this was just a band too colourful for the version of darkness that was beginning to consume.  Even if they weren’t happy, they were striving to be happy which just made them too popular for the climate and environment.  However they did manage to avoid the trappings and pitfalls that the Red Hot Chili Peppers critically fell into, although Jane’s Addiction possibly achieved this by imploding rather than done out of choice (and not chasing the dollar).

This was a good place to be.  Bands aren’t allowed to do this anymore.

Thesaurus moment: offend.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

FAST LADY & SCORPIO SCORPIO – SPLIT SINGLE (V/VM TEST RECORDS)


FAST LADY & SCORPIO SCORPIO – SPLIT SINGLE (V/VM TEST RECORDS)

Released on the legendary V/Vm Test Records, here is a very special collaboration that unites two nations and two continents all the name of rock!  What we have here is the meeting of two crushing minds operating with the sole intent of moving even the most infirm, both physically and mentally.  Literally and metaphorically.  Country and Western!

In the UK corner we have Fast Lady the finest purveyors of electronic heavy metal known to man.  This is an act that full subscribes to the death to false metal ethos while at the same time refusing the employ the conventional means of guitars and drums when pounding on the stage, instead choosing a car battery operated laptop to pump out their steam freeing them to cavort like purple druids cum cloaked flower people.  An act more sinister than cynical, theirs is a legacy of opening and breaking hearts.

In the Australian we have Scorpio Scorpio, a one-man crime wave that causes chaos wherever he may roam, which these days just happens to be England.  This is a man for who no crime is too petty and no larceny too extreme, all he is need is a mission and at this time that mission is to rock.  With an accent as fierce and broad as Joe Mangel, that Chopper guy that also played the Hulk ain’t got shit on Scorpio Scorpio.  Where there is darkness, let there be fight.

The onslaught opens with “Love Dictator” and one of the most alpha male tracks off this or any era.  Initially things feel distinctly Nine Inch Nails gone play as Fast Lady etches first blood prior to a call and response crossfire exchange with Scorpio Scorpio.  Imagine the sentiments of “The Boys Are Back In Town” complimented with serious criminal records and sawn off shotguns.  This is not stuff to be taken lightly.

Flipping over a sense of jubilation and kinship exudes from the downright Def Leppard-esqe “United In Rock” that sees the two acts going head-to-head, snappy at each other when you know they just want to make love.  By the end they are “building bridges across the ocean”, such is the power of this music, no only are they united in rock, they’re also “united in emotion”.  Remember when television used to be great and would contain montages of victory?  This music would have been the soundtrack.

I feel exhumed.

Thesaurus moment: collude.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

DAVID HOLMES – DON’T DIE JUST YET (GO! BEAT)


DAVID HOLMES – DON’T DIE JUST YET (GO! BEAT)

This is one hell of a majestic track.  It seemed to appear out of nowhere to us at a time when our tastes were mainly lo-fi and post rock and any electronic listening was mostly tokenistic.  We had no idea who David Holmes and absolutely no idea who Serge Gainsbourg was (away from his sex record that our parents owned but kept hidden away from us).  This five track CD however held remixes by Arab Strap and Mogwai, which made us more than a little curious and excited.

“Don’t Die Just Yet” is all kinds of good things to/for me.  Now that over the years my tastes and knowledge have expanded I am now fully familiar with Serge Gainsbourg and the tracks “Melody” and “Cargo Culte” (from the album Histoire De Melody Nelson) that are so exquisitely sampled and weaved into these pieces.

The main version is a relative groove not a million miles away from the originals it is so heavily sampling (to the point Gainsbourg gets an “all written by” credit).  Texturally Holmes plays it smart combining the tracks by stitching them with lush beats.  All in all it sounds a very trip hop experience that is reassuring slow and laidback.  It’s a slow caress.

The first remix is something of a self reworking entitled “Don’t Chant Just Yet”.  To this he layers in keyboards coupled with an ethereal feel that lifts the track to a higher realm while retaining its menace.  Higher ground.

The highlight of the package comes via Arab Strap and their interpretation entitled “The Holiday Girl (Don’t Die Just Yet)”.  This king version arrives with a trademark Aidan Moffat narrative/anecdote, more confession from the most honest man of Scotland.  The tale of nostalgia relates another crush of his, a kind of holiday romance with the suggestion of reverse stalking that moves onto a family bash and the awkwardness that comes with such occasions.  Musically this version is very much fully reworked.  The opening notes are redone via a key line as a classic drummer machine drives proceedings.  Within a few bars it provides goosebumps not least with the declaration “it was a royal wedding”.  Then the story arrives at the critical point, the moment of connection that resides in failure at which point the track jubilantly explodes and the works of Serge Gainsbourg triumphantly drop in at the most appropriate moment.  They fucking nail it, they get it.

Impressively the reworkings remain strong as the Delakota mix adopts a similar approach by etching in a narrative.  As they drop in more deep beats this story runs at a distinctly darker pace as the strings of “Melody” are executed to exhibit moments of violence suggesting a chilling murder.  With this they add their own warped free jazz sounds to represent screaming while new guitars display dizziness.  This is a lost moment of death, of illegal activity and corrupting a device.  It’s so fitting and unlaboured.  There is no happy ending here but there are survivors.

Finally Mogwai close proceedings with a mix very much of the time as it crowbars the haunting intro of “Good Morning Captain” of Slint loops into the mix as an Ivor Cutler-esqe individual makes the occasional interjection.  The song aurally wilts before your ears before transcending into their trademark distorted noise and end of the world emotions until the dust settles and drum n bass emerges as the new driver of the song.  All life ends.

Once upon a time electronic music really was this good.

Thesaurus moment: expire.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

SOUNDGARDEN – BADMOTORFINGER (A&M RECORDS)


SOUNDGARDEN – BADMOTORFINGER (A&M RECORDS)

Whenever things go wrong in my life (or they are about to) often I will get a song in my head and that is “New Damage” by Soundgarden.  For me this track is a towering achievement as it captures the full essence of a scenario falling apart and the dank scramble that occurs as survival instincts cut in.  The line “the wreck is going down, get out before you drown” is a super effective mantra that comes accompanied by the kind of dry score that will pad any dark time.  And what more does a person need from the records in their life?

This is one beast of an album.  For me it is the best Soundgarden record by a long mile, the one where they still just about seemed part of the local grunge scene while remaining unabashed and defiant as worldwide fame ascended.  This was not punk rock; this was a brand of metal in the best way.  The invention on this record is astounding, something that is easily forgotten when considering the material on their next record that saw their meteoric rise, when dare I suggest they sought a slightly and subtly more accessible route.

I bought this record from Time Records in Colchester when it was a tiny shop stuck next to the gnarly nightclub that was The Hippodrome.  I paid £11.20.  That was a store that attached random prices to things I guess in view to remain the cheapest prices in town while still making a profit.  It was a Saturday where my friends were so much cooler than me because despite being in darkest Essex they wore flannel shirts and DMs.  I just had a tatty jumper and rubbish jeans.  That day I also bought a Mudhoney t-shirt on import from America with a wrestler on the front.  To this day it was coolest band shirt I ever bought.  And unfortunately the one I was wearing when I was beaten up at a birthday party by some gatecrashers from Brightlingsea a few months later on the second ever time that I got drunk (and the first not in front of my parents).  The grunge years certainly left their scars.

Like the majority of people I was introduced to this record with the video for “Jesus Christ Pose”.  Listened to now the song remains astounding, still powerful and very effective.  The playing is immense, taking hard rock to a whole new level.  Soundgarden was never really an indie proposition but to lump them in with metal does not seem quite right either.  The guitars on this track sound like something Sonic Youth would have been proud to achieve and the drum beats tribal.  With this after the initial hive of activity occurs, even before the vocals kick in, Kim Thayil is taking things off in a different route.  Indeed it is almost a minute and a half before Cornell opens his voice.  Then the rest is history.

The album opens with two singles in the form of “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined”.  The former works as a first track for being sprinkled with energy while the latter excels being a dense slab of work that solidifies the record on the stereo.

There are some really lengthy, borderline overblown numbers present here.  Indeed half the songs on the album go past the five-minute mark, which naturally suggests grunge bands weren’t too concerned about retaining their punk credentials.  The best example of this came be found in the floating “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” that chugs along in the manner of swimming through a song as it builds to a great refrain in the sky.  That and one fat as fuck solo in addition to a touch of Stooges-esqe saxophone.

For me it is “Mind Riot” that hints most at what was to come on Superunknown.  It is a more subdued take on their method of rock that climaxes with an incredible hook at the vital point.  Indeed this song could easily have comfortably on what would later become their most popular work.

Towards the end there is one final spurt of punk rock energy in the form of “Drawing Flies” which would later also be the title for one of Kevin Smith’s lesser known works.  It is phenomenal charge that impressively squeezes Cornell’s lengthy lungs into a biting, barely two minute punk song.  Anything to alleviate the boredom.

Finally it all closes on the aforementioned “New Damage”.  The use of the term “damage done” feels like a nod to Neil Young although the music (the sound) hardly suggests so.  This is however the way to close a mighty album.

They made it look easy.

Thesaurus moment: monstrous.