reviews august 2005

Orange Juice, The Glasgow School (Domino) CD
For your reviewer, this long awaited release was never going to be a disappointment - a historical document that unleashed a torrent of forgotten memories from a dimly remembered youth. Personal associations may be all well and good, but why would the discerning reader be interested in this CD? Because it's really good is the simplest answer, but there's more to say than that. You probably don't realise what a breath of fresh air this lot were when they came along, in the post-punk tumult things were all getting rather serious until these fey, ironic boys breezed into view. They perhaps were a bit too clever, but there was a sense of fun about them and a knowing naivety in their unfashionable references that was supremely cool. Some would even credit the invention of "indie-pop" to them and the Postcard label that backed them, whilst countless bands from The Smiths to Franz Ferdinand have cited them as an inspiration. Orange Juice were never nearly as successful as bands they influenced and the Postcard label folded after a couple of years and the world moved on. What you have here is the four Postcard singles (all 7" vinyl back then kids) which are nice to hear without the crackles, an LP that never happened on Postcard (though re-recorded and polished versions of the songs made it onto Polydor releases) and a couple of superfluous rarities. Listening to this, it strikes home how little things actually do change really; and that quality never goes out of fashion. (Laurence)

Hazel Nuts Chocolate, Bewitched (Trolley Bus) CD
This confection is probably only for the sweetest of pop-tooths, but provides a bracing sugar rush for those listeners who enjoy a bit of saccharine every now and then (however secretly). A lovely package that houses an impressive selection of kitsch pop treats, made more impressive when it's realised that Yuppa seems to do just about everything whilst her band-mates offer only peripheral assistance. The twee-factor is sky high but shouldn't disguise the inventiveness at this album's heart. (Laurence)

Blackloud, Mysterious Waves/ 6th 6th 6th both CD
Sometimes people get shirty when I haven't listened to the record they sent. These people often send a business card, a photo, and 50 pages of press clippings with their disc. They usually subtitle themselves Chief Executive of Music or Vice President In Charge of Promotions or Head Of Artist Development and tell me that they have a gig coming up or a record label who is interested in their artist (over whom they hold worldwide rights, natch) and need the review straight away. Usually they haven't taken the time to find out what kind of zine this is. Usually they seem to have less of a clue than Dr Watson.

James is not like these people. "Jimmy, hopefully these will be more interesting. Thanks and TAKE CARE. James" the note says. This is in reference to the other discs sent six months previously which I eventually managed to listen to and didn't much like. Six months after that another note, preceded by a polite email every couple of months or so. "Jimmy, thanks for keeping us in mind. James." This following my brief email telling him that everything does eventually get listened to. I don't want to come across as a miserable moaning old sod, but it's hard to listen to everything as fast as I'd like. I'm sorry.

Anyway, everything does eventually get listened to. (Yes, everything.) And the news for Blackloud is good on this occasion. And I'm glad. I'm glad because James has always been considerate on the email and by post. Because a review in Robots matters to him and because of that it matters to me. And because he really cares about his records. He's gone to a lot of trouble making this stuff. To the extent that he's stuck a playing card inside the jewel box, behind the black plastic bit the CD goes in, so that no-one will ever know it's there unless they happen to pop the thing out (I'm a bit of an anorak in this respect) and on each card (2 of Clubs, Queen of Hearts in mine) he's written Love Jimbo. Then there's the, mmm, interesting photos he's trimmed into squares for the covers and the lyric sheets laid out as textual Rorschach tests. That's dedication.

And we haven't got to the music yet. It's pretty clear that James plays the bass and he likes gloomily uplifting music. Everything here is lead by the bass and it's usually a doomy repetition leading a vocal wrapped in effects and echo. If there was a monster beat and a riff hewn from granite we'd be in slow-core, sludge-core Subbath territory. And it'd sound awesome. But it's better than that. The lyrics are clever. And audible. And there's hardly any guitar. And there's loads of space. And the space is filled with all sorts of noises and mini tunes and little effects and peculiar pops and runs. Kind of like Devo when the batteries are on the way out. With extra death vibe. He Cares A Lot. And so should we.

Various, Jar (Pickled Egg) CD
Pickled Egg kicked off around the same time as Robots, around 10 years ago. Nigel used to come round our house and we'd swap demos, moan about the NME, eat the soup I'd made - always soup on a Wednesday in those days - listen to records and plot the future direction of our respective empires. Integrity was our watchword. And still is.

He brought round a copy of the Evolution Control Committee 7" that rammed a Public Enemy vocal down the throat of Herb Alpbert's Whipped Cream. I ran out and bought a copy the next day. He licenced it for release on Pickled Egg. I played him a couple of saddeningly beautiful demos by Savoy Grand. He got them to do a single for him. He brought round test pressings of the first Bablicon record to check them out on my stereo because he was having problems with the pressing plant. I asked him to be one of the labels on the first Robots compilation CD. We played together in a band called Chief Sharkey whose high-point was supporting the Country Teasers at the Portland Arms. (When I say played together, interpret that in the loosest possible sense - 4 people, 4 different ideas about timing.) He moved back to Leicester eventually, and there's been no homemade soup since then, just a slow stream of zines and a heavier flow of records.

He asked me to write a few words for the sleeve notes of Jar. I did, with pleasure:
Pickled eggs, in the real world, in your and my daily grind, are only ever found at the bottom of grimy jars of vinegar on the shelf at the back of the chippy. They are Satan's grenades. Pickled Egg, on the other hand, in the alternate world of otherlypop, in your and my daydreams, are only ever found next to us at the bar, watching one of their bands deliver a set of tantalising skewed sweetness. They are God's record label.

So I'm not going to have an objective opinion about Jar. But why should I? Pickled Egg have consistently released records of exquisite quality, with the power to drain you of all emotion, with the power to lift you up to a peak of ecstasy, with the power to pervert all pop parameters and the power to prick the balloon of pretension. Jar is two CDs of magic and if I've been honest about how much I like the label, don't think I wouldn't say the same if I'd never met them.

LJ Kruzer, This is How I Write, (Uncharted Audio) CD
This is how he writes - warmly; velvety, electronically; unsettlingly. Like an electro wolf in sheep's ambience, LJ Kruzer's surface is mellow, all piano melodies wafted across layers of layers of layers of mood and the odd beat or techno tickle. But his base instincts, his core, the intent, the true message is always there, just underneath. It surfaces almost fully on Apporte with its disturbingly disconnected vocal sample, "the reason why there is death in the world today." And that's what gives this collection its edge.

Various, Interesting Results (Sonic Arts Network) CD
You probably heard about Songs in the Key of Z even if you never actually heard it and if you did hear it, you've probably never heard anything like it since. Irwin Chusid, the curator of both Songs.. and Interesting Results, is a connoisseur of outsider music - "music possessing a guileless lack of self-awareness and a quixotic nature" - and that's what Songs.. was all about; music straight from the heart to tape, unencumbered by musical proficiency, theory, tradition or orthodoxy. Strange and strangely compelling music made outside the music industry, outside of any kind of industry, music made because it has to be made, music that might be hard to listen to, but music that is above all else true to the artist.

Interesting Results is similar, and it features some of what Chusid would call outsider music, but this time the focus is one of artistic purity - a measure of the extent to which a recording is the vision (and execution) of a single artist, idiosyncratic and uncompromising. Someone like Petra Haden pretty much sums up the definition. An accomplished violinist, she's played with Bill Frisell, Beck, Luscious Jackson and others, but here she covers a track from The Who Sell Out by recreating every instrument vocally, in layer after layer of hum, mmm, bowm, pip, brwwp and fahh. OK, you think, that's a bit weird, but anybody might do that. But Petra has covered the entire album, including adverts, for Bar/None records.

Ariel Pink kicks the record off but is outshone by Peter Grudzien's Nothing, a 7-minute gay country lament which follows him. Lucia Pamela claims to have recorded her happy hardcore-meets-Charleston rush on the moon while Shooby Taylor - the human horn - performed and recorded for years without recognition until, in his 70s, and living in a nursing home he was "discovered." R. Stevie Moore is probably the granddaddy of the home-fi movement and he rounds this inspired collection off with the 14-minute gem, Where Do I Come From? a plea from boy to mother that's never answered through childhood, adolescence, middle and, finally, old age.

Packaged once again in a beautiful 7" booklet, this is part of the Sonic Arts Network subscription series.

Plan: Be, Antiform (Pro-Gravity) CD
Other than an unhealthy typeface overload on the back cover, this is just about perfect. There's a beat behind every rhyme, flava variety, and the confidence to let things run their natural course, whatever that might be. C.C.C.H. stretches itself out to a luxurious, and thoroughly necessary 10 minutes while Bach Biz (Tchaikovsky) drops inside two. Smooth and hard and fuck the usual hip hop stylings, I'm thinking Paul's Boutique with the lyrical chops of Blackalicious.

Food For Animals, Scavengers (Upper Class) CD
Hip hop on the outside edge of the genre. It's a lunatic rhyming curse festival at the centre of an industrial machinery trade show. It's electro put through a glitch mangle turned by a poetical genius with Tourette's. It's 20 monkeys banging wastebins with spanners, 20 more on turntables and another 20 on speak and spell (adult edition.)

Yena Veldt, 1 CDR
Ladies, excuse us for a moment. Gents, you know how sometimes when you've had a shave and your razor wasn't quite sharp enough and you thought it probably wasn't but you used it anyway thinking you'd get away with it and you'd change it next time only you've only got one more left and you're not going down the shops til the weekend? And you know how raw your neck always feels when you do? Yena Veldt are that red raw itch with guitars and a collection of records on early Touch and Go.

Tree Wave, Cabana EP (Made Up) CDS
I wrote a track called Pong once. It was constructed entirely from two samples from the Atari VCS game. If you shut your eyes while it's playing, you can see the stick and the ball bouncing in chunky co-ordination around the screen. Tree Wave would like it, I'm sure. Their take on the same idea is fuller, crafted, less like a computer game and more like, as they say themselves, an 8-bit Lali Puna. Apart from the Atari samples, they use Commodore 64 and a dot matrix printer for sounds. There's hardly a more apt record for this zine.

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