reviews august 2000

Rope, It's No Fun To Compute (Geist) CD

The rope take on techno is pretty organic. Don't get me wrong, it's almost all electronically produced but it feels natural. The Kraftwerkian bass that punctuates the record is rounded and sympathetic, not angular and harsh, the waves of metalllic noise are gentle rather than malevolent and the chattering beats belong to some insect fraternity marching along an etymological motorway. Rope's contemporaries sound, in comparison, like the pounding, painful, man-made monotony of a road-mender's drill. On the same theme, where vocalists are used they're real vocals with real, if impenetrable, lyrics. Things To Say being a rare commodity in dance music, it's a treat to have something like "throwing stones into the sea is like a video game to me" to ponder over rather than some dolly bird mouthing cliched inanities obviously sampled from some old disco record anyway. Elsewhere, and what could be less artificial than this, there's a Mark E Smith growling and grumbling away to himself and a real guitar shows up at the end for an almost country song sung through a vocoder (surely a first?)

Charged, Electro Punjabi Da-Koo (Nation) 12"

Less Punjabi than electro in sound, at least, the Wayward Soul remixes up the nu-skool dancefloor elements of this stand-out from the Hero album. A huge vocoder is supported by crisp beats and bass from a highly treated digeridoo played by a immensely fat man.

Criterion, Root Canal (Broklyn Beats) 12"

The sound of the NYC underground, sorry, subway, after all the lights have been turned out. Criterion's beats crackle and slowly exhale, metal and machinery relaxing after a hard day's rapid urban transit. The sound of the city: jazz, hip hop, funk and techno; and the shadows of the population filter down into the mix through ventilation shafts and tunnel entrances, distorted as they echo inwards and merge with the pitter-patter and squeaks of the nocturnal rodent population. Unlike much of the avant-garde, Criterion never veers too far from reality or from a unifying beat, even if it does stumble around like a dog with a wooden leg lost in a labyrinth of railway tracks 440 Broadway #3R, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA

NCR, Cult of the Amateur (Pigdog) CD

A bit like a wife-swapping party only there's no car keys here, only samplers, and the wives are represented by tunes. Erm, shall we start again? Basically, NCR swap samples amongst themselves and come up with a collective compilation album. The "themselves" in this instance being Nasakenai Douji, Cho'pin, River Fish Duo and Binary Being and the resulting collection is a feast of twisted sonics inevitably involving much tortured drum'n'bass, death-ray scrapings, decontextualised and disembodied vocals, computer game funk and noise. Wambam (Boastin Scatman) is Pac-Man and an artless Frank Ifield mixed badly to a steppers beat and Wormkiller floats on a couple of bobbling Like A Tim electron bumbles seemingly out of time. Both of these tracks are stapled together by Binary Being but Robots.. fave Cho'pin's contributions are also notable, if only for their deep darkness

Lolita Storm, Red Hot Riding Hood (DHR) CDS

Lolita Storm are not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. In fact, if the video footage on here is to be believed, if they ever met the Big Bad Anything they'd likely rip his cock off and stuff it in their faces. One of the stand-out cuts from the album, Red Hot Riding Hood crashes through its couple of minutes like a Benny Hill sketch set in a car factory gone wrong. It's all robotic distortion, sheet metal bashing and three women in short skirts running around at high speed chasing a dirty old man.

Mother Goose, Little Richard (Soda) CD/ The Protestants, Midnight Dynamos (Cupid) CD

Bizarrely, having nothing to do with the effeminate pianist, the 7-track mini-album from Mother Goose starts off like a dark and Finnish Doors arguing with the Smashing Pumpkins. And winning. The rest is noticeably less-murky and grungy than earlier Goose material and, with the exception of the frankly irritating and ill-advised Nag, props up the not-quite guitar pop end of the bar inhabited variously by Sonic Youth and the tidier bits of Nirvana. The Protestants, featuring some Geese, are an altogether lighter proposition as shown by the Small Faces cover and almost by-numbers approach to solid guitar rock that contrasts with the skin-of-the-teeth headrush of Mother Goose. and

The Fabulous Nobody, Love and the City (Kitchen) 7"

Some days I just feel like I'm getting old and other days I know it's so. Given the kick I'm getting out of the three cuts on this limited-edition 7", today must be one of the latter. Three dreamsongs of naive romance for the big city lights that could've been written for a 1930s stage play and revived for a 1940s screen adaptation starring Fred Astaire who'd do a slow soft shoe routine to the whistle solo and lean against a lampost smoking a fag for the rest. 2 (chqs to L.Dillion) from 117 Church St, Little Lever, Bolton, BL3 1BW.

Danny Byrd, Do It Again (Hospital) 12"

Always the dub, I tell 'em, always the dub. No exception here either, the soulful femme vocale being surplus to requirements as the ruff beats, ruffer staccato bass and some useful noises wind around layers of lush synth. It's drum'n'bass aimed directly at the floor (as it should be) and it hits the target full on.

The Black Heart Procession, Three (Touch & Go) CD

Despite a seeming lack of imagination when it comes to titles (the previous two albums were called, wait for it, One and Two) BHP are one of the more inventive bands around, scraping dark folk melancholia out of the instruments of backwoods Mid-America, namely piano, pump organ, saw and depression. If Tom Waits and Mercury Rev were to share an exceptionally hot sauna, drink a bottle of moonshine, stay up for three days and nights and then play songs in the style of Nick Drake they might end up with Three. It's the kind of record that projects images of broken love across your retinas and contorted plans for revenge through your head. In A Heart Like Mine, Pall Jenkins sings "Oh please if they should ask you tell them you knew, oh please, a heart like mine" as he watches his loved one depart. It's a tragedy and you can see him staring at the photograph hoping, wishing and eventually despairing but somehow getting the words out onto tape before he breaks down completely.

Sagor and Swing, Vals Pa Vingar (Rocket Number 9) 7"

If, like me, the intersection of your record collection and your mom and dad's record collection is small (ours consists of Lonnie Donegan) then this clear vinyl idyll could provide you with ten more minutes of common ground. Vals Pa Vingar is a Hammond waltz of the Winter Garden (at night) variety but somehow also suitable for headphone daydreaming and not a million miles from the retrogaze of the Francophile Socialist popsters although without the reliance on pop. As debuts go, this one's highly auspicious. And recorded in a Swedish lounge.

EU, Wienn/Srez (Pause Two) 7"

As a review template it's served us well although, as with all such devices, over-use amongst the lower-quality mags (you know who you are) has lead to cliche status. I'm talking about "Imagine X from/on Y". In this case, however, were I to begin the review with Imagine Aphex Twin from Russia, I'd be a lazy bastard for two reasons: first, it's a cliche; and, second, Aphex is already so bizarre that coming from Russia wouldn't make much difference. Hell, a Martian Aphex would be hard to tell from the real thing. The only saving grace for the description is that EU really do sound like the Twin's ambient side and they are from Russia. So it's a victory for Sleaze as we rescue a simile from the depths of literary condemnation and reclaim its literal meaning and a victory for EU as they wobble, bleep, skronk and jig-jag in a most pleasing electronic fashion.

Pat'n'Peg (white) 12"

"You bitch!" "You cow!" "You bitch!" "You cow!" Yes, it's Albert Square's finest walking Polyfilla commercials slagging each other off to a hefty break and the Eastenders theme cleverly edited to remove all thoughts of Anyone Can Fall In Love. Frank pops up to pour oil on troubled waters in the name of placation and Roy bumbles around in the background wondering why he can't get it up. You might pooh-pooh now, but wait til Friday night...

Photek, Terminus (Science) 12"

Photek was never one to waste a beat. His whip-cut editing is glacial in its transparency and freshness and about as spare as the reserve pork ribs at a vegan barbecue. In the two years since Form and Function the parsimonious percussion hasn't changed but the chilled sharp edge has been replaced by a deeper, blunted haze. Terminus drops a distant acid memory onto space electro hits and raygun blasts, globs of elastic bass and occasionally almost straight breakbeats. On the other side, Infinity reminds of the old but is apparently the only drum'n'bass on the new LP for which this is a taster.

Seelenluft, The Rise and Fall of Silvercity-Bob (Klein) CD

A grown man on an ugly flat roof dotted with radio transmitters, a cityscape before him and a wide blue sky above. Did I mention that he was holding a trumpet? And wearing a rabbit suit? This is Silvercity Bob or Seelenluft or even Beat Soler and, rather astonishingly, in its juxtaposition of the banal and the surreal, the cover is a hieroglyph for that which it contains. The ordinary comes in the form of orchestral easy listening and background film scores while the extraordinary is supplied by a monologue involving the male "instrument," a two-step theremin or the moment in Depart where Psycho slicing shrieks, Jackie Chan as a 70's body popper and what should have been the theme to Plan 9 From Outer Space somehow sound good together.

Vashti Bunyan, Just Another Diamond Day (Spinney) LP

Folk music is unlikely to ever be the new rock'n'roll. No, folk music is unlikely ever to be the new anything. In fact, folk music will be lucky if it's ever modern enough to be other than the old folk music. There is a certain advantage to this staid rigidity, however, and that is that being out of date is not a problem. Good news for Vashti Bunyan, then, whose Just Another Diamond Day is now reissued on space-groovers Quickspace's new label a mere 30 years after it first surfaced briefly. Produced by the legendary Joe Boyd and featuring members of Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band it's a collection of timeless songs, songs that could've been played around open hearths for the last couple of hundred years and sounded much the same and songs that make your spine tingle when Bunyan's golden voice floats off the vinyl. Sure, she faa-laa-laa's now and again but that's a small price to pay to jettison your prejudices and hear music so beautiful.

Nigo, Freediving (Mo'Wax) 12"

Nigo runs the Japanese clothing label Bathing Ape. He's obviously seen what being a monkey-obsessed oriental can do for a bloke over here (reference Cornelius) and decided to jump on board. Freediving (nothing to do with Freefalling, thank The Lord) betrays Brian Wilson tendencies and features Ben Lee on vocals but is nothing special. What is special, though, is Sonovac's total destruction of the track on the b-side of this promo-only 12.

Knotworking, Knotworking (One Mad Son) CD

In Frozen Space is Knotworking, or Ed Gorch, at his purest: U.S. folk music not of a political bent but concerned with personal issues. Finger-picked guitar provides the canvas but the picture is painted by the cracked and trembling vocal. Even when he tackles the bigger questions (life, time, corporate exploitation) in Eternal Grace the song is first-person (confused first-person, in fact) and he can't keep from returning to a broken relationship which seems to lie at the root of all his doubts about the world. There's no fat on these recordings, although there is a bit of Moog, piano and so on, and that's what appeals. Nothing wildly new but when just guitar and voice, affecting. PO Box 295, Franklin Park, NJ 08823, USA

Caretaker, (pause) EP (Badmusic) CDS

Caretaker sent me a demo (actually, one of my subscribers sent me a Caretaker demo-cheers Mark) around a year ago. It sounded like it was recorded in a hurricane as the space shuttle took off nearby. If the band were on it, I didn't hear them. Fortunately, the mist has cleared and the muscular bulk of Caretaker's sound can now be heard in its full glory. The boys obviously like Slint. Or, at least, they like the bands that obviously like Slint. Or maybe even the bands that like the bands that like Slint. But they are also impatient so we get the sound of the post-rock pioneers playing like they've got to catch the last bus home in a minute. They're further informed by the bendiness of the late, lamented, Cable and favour the occasional moment of Rock in the same way that 6x7 do. PO Box 436, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1GL

Daniel Johnston, Rejected Unknown (Pickled Egg) / Portal, Reprise (Roisin) both CD

You know how words get stuck on the tip of your tongue sometimes? Well, reviews are like that for me. I'll get the germ of the review in my head on the way to work one morning and then spend all day, or the next week or, in the case of Portal's debut, a couple of months not quite being able to articulate it. I'm having the same problem with Daniel Johnston's new record: I want to say that it's like Neil Young with his bollocks in a vice but that just doesn't quite convey the piercing definition of Johnston's inner demons realised as songs or the mille feuille, the incredible number of layers, crammed into his compositions. As for Portal, this is easily the tenth time I've sat down to write this review and just ended up listening to the album all the way through without getting beyond a rather tiresome Cocteau/JJ72 description. It's not that there's nothing to say-I've got a thesaurus full of words here but pinning any of them down for any length of time is proving hard.

You'll have gathered from the Cocteau comparison that we're talking daydream and son et lumiere but that won't give you any idea of the gently programmed drum machine that softly underpins the whole thing, tying the otherwordly wisps of ambient silk and wraithlike melody together. So much and so little all at the same time. Johnston, on the other hand, is always too much. I've often wondered how an acquired taste is acquired. If you don't like something, why go back to it? Peer pressure is one reason, of course, but you probably don't know enough other people into Daniel Johnston to be bothered by that. Anyway, peer pressure is more a problem of the playground. Later on, the lure of adulthood tempts the foolish into horrid post-prandial liqueurs and foul-smelling and tasting cigars. Later still, the fear of loneliness in old-age makes even the dead-end morbidity and regimented social interaction of the bingo hall seem appealing. Where Daniel Johnston fits into all this, I couldn't say. Certainly, I initially found his gratingly intense awkward pop songs intolerable after more than a couple at a time but, gradually, something pulled me back and back and back. And now Rejected Unknown, his first album for 4 years, tempers the roughest extremities of his scratchy self-accompaniment with up-front and big production recorded in various garages. It puts me in mind of Syd Barrett's second album had Barrett been American and Dave Gilmour had a bit more honk and tonk or dark nightclub about his overdubbing.

The Fleshpeddlers, Disposable Pop Songs CD

 You've got to wonder quite what The Fleshpeddlers have done, saddling themselves with the kind of gruesome name that'll only attract passing interest from Cradle of Filth fans or the odd desperate pimp. It wouldn't be so bad if they had the chod rock and blood/crucifix t-shirts to go with the name-or if they were a kind of cash and carry for hookers-but they aren't. What they are is an odd, and not entirely comfortable, oddball mix of early hip hop, 80s pop and Gary Numan's left-over synth basslines. It sounds better than it sounds, thankfully. Disposable Pop Song and Blighted both rock the beats of Run DMC's first LP (and have the rhyme delivery of that time too, before MCs learned to syncopate their flows around the beats), keyboard runs that could be Howard Jones and dirty great robotic sludge in lieu of a human bottom-end. Remember when Duran Duran covered Public Enemy? Well this is like ABC, Nick Heyward and the Tubeway Army remaking King of Rock. Bizarre, but I like it. 8136 Rhode Island Circle South, Bloomington, MN 55438, USA

Sea Life Park, Sea Life Park (Quietly Suburban) CD

Sea Life Park are a compassionate post-rock band. They take the draughty vistas of translucent guitar texture and dry brush a little warmth and feeling over the top, blurring the edges and filling out some of the spaces, adding depth, shade and tone to the noisier elements. Then they put yearning Cocteau vocals into the mix and there's something worth getting excited about in the CD pile. Best is Nil By Mouth which virtually swings through its isolation, all counterpoint chimings and gently building layers locked around a simple bass. PO Box 207, Camperdown, NSW 2050, Australia

Starfighter, No/Fi (Kinky Star) CD

Tim Brown from 60s retro pop magicians (and Belgians) The Shovels on solo duties here, accompanied only by a beatbox and a 4-track recorder. The Shovels are loved around Robots HQ (except by Donna Donnelly when I put the first album on 6 times in a row) for their jumble of pop hooks, gloriously authentic production and gobbledygook wordplay from which can spring astonishing insights. Or not. On his own, Brown drops the throwback stylings and recording techniques, favouring instead a layer of spontaneous bedroom guitar, simple bass and programmed drums, but retains the sense-nonsense opposition and the casually perfect pop knack. Groovin on E is Brian Harvey's best night out in a song, Taste Good starts out unpromisingly with the lines "Cheese tastes good when you put some in a bowl of spaghetti. I know your name ain't Betty" but turns into a surprisingly sweet love song that could be a boil-in-the-bag Mercury Rev. Princess of the Universe is rather nastier (the story of a smackhead) and is monotonously reflective of that fact with the urgency of the approaching fix.

Gas Solari, Space Psyche Trance (Crocodile) CD

A trilogy in 4 parts, this freshmen effort collects the Space, Psyche and Trance singles and 3 tracks recorded for the BBC onto one pocket-sized piece of plastic. The Space and Psyche tracks (reviewed here previously) take thei cues from Spaceman 3, The Freed Unit and Southall Riot, all grandly frazzled obsession birthed from The Stooges' Little Doll and infused with folkish psychedelia. Of the tracks from Trance, Transmission so relaxes into softer stuff that it could almost be described as pastoral. The driving, rough-edged drone is replaced by dreamy acoustic strum and the haze of powered-up but inactive machinery. Sound of Confusion is immediately epic and exactly the kind of ragged mess of hypnotic riffs and acid leads that Spaceman 3 created live.

The Static Waves, Introduction to the Lifestyle (S.O.N.Y) TAPE

Sound of New York, in case you were wondering, is what S.O.N.Y stands for. What the Static Waves stand for is less clear. On Armchair Sponsorship it appears to be the right to the kind of groovy ennui perfected by Johnny Domino with extra fuzz in the breaks. That is a bored-sounding Cable pandering more to their Pavement side. On Wear The Suit it's a budget Motorhead from a distance and No. 1 in the Hearts of America plays the band as slurring, slovenly rock gods, probably pissed and all over the shop. Rounding that off, Standing at the Photocopier is not quite as repetitive as the real thing. 5 St. Nicholas Way, Wigginton, York, YO23 2GW.

Moloch, Blotted Heart (Duckweed) TAPE

Dominated by a clanking bass line the left hand speaker throughout its 4-track duration, this tape from Moloch has all the charm of Ten Benson's tremendous debut, The Claw. Mark E Smith Jr, having had a few singing lessons and gargled some antiseptic, flexes his tonsils through a distorted mic as first-time guitar figures are sketched in tight circles around basic beats and that bass ambles ponderously around. Music like this must've been recorded furtively by someone with a lot to say (he never stops) but some qualms about saying it (hence the mike and the mix). But we like it anyway. 2242 New Market Street, #354 Seattle, WA 98107, USA

Minmae/Gang Wizard, split (Blackbean and Placenta) 7"

No names, no packdrill. Well, no names, no guarantee I'm reviewing the right bands, anywat. It seems fairly straightforward, though. Minmae's offering is one of their more song-like shimmering post-MBV distorto drones while Gang Wizard destroy every instrument in the rehearsal room with volume and physical abuse.

Of Montreal, A Celebration of H. Hare (HHBTM) 7"

A pointless Hitler-shouting episode suggests a lack of material for the b-side while the title cut suggests that Of Montreal should be in charge of Pop Music (Paisley Division) for the entire world. It's E6, of course, so think Neutral Milk hotel running through Strawberry Fields. Comes in an embroidered sleeve. PO Box 1035, Panama City, FL 32402, USA

Kingsauce, Ode to Lobo (HHBTM) 7"

Another from the Happy Happy Birthday to Me singles club series and another song that starts with a typical 60s guitar pop tune as a balloon and slowly inflates it, pushing every aspect out of place and further from its starting position. Disappointingly, it never quite bursts. PO Box 1035, Panama City, FL 32402, USA

Chicano, Teen Thumbs (Goglugglug) 7"

If Bill and Ben had been into the American underground rock scene of the late 80s and had decided to make a record played on implements adapted from garden tools with flower pot drums, then this would be the result. Clumsy, loose, wobbly, scratchy and utterly appealing. For a more direct comparison, imagine Cable playing the spoons and yodelling. 3.50 from 95a St. Martin's Rd, London, W10 6JW

Moose, The Only Man In Town (Nickel and Dime) CDS

A pair of scratched records. That's Moose and me. Me because I'm essentially going to repeat the album review. Moose because this single is a microcosm of the album from which it's extracted (Highball Me!) Hazy, dreamy guitar pop that's no-one's done like this since the House of Love nearly conquered the world with Shine On coupled to the cutting astringency of an unexpected violin and even as I listen to it again, perhaps a bit of The Blue Aeroplances circa Jacket Hangs (although they didn't change much over time.) Do I sound like an old man when I say they don't make 'em like this any more?

The Mantis Chapter, The Truth and Rites ep (Prophet and Sound) CDS

Cambridge hip hop, what's that all about then? The only hoods in evidence in this city are on the shoulders of passing academics; there's no 40s to be supped, only Pimms and lemonade and we've as yet had no punt-by shootings. This is not South Central. On the other side, though, the Mantis Chapter are not misogynists peppering their rhymes with bitches, hos and koochie, nor dick-tugging gangsta wannabees with IQs smaller than their waistlines. In fact, the lyrics are conscious, with subject matter including genetic engineering and religion (Genetic Heretic) but the delivery lacks the individuality of other UK crews such as Parlour Talk. Much better is the production and this is emphasized by the 3 instrumentals which are capable and atmospheric slow grooves.

The Wardrobe, Mechanism Genie and the Metronome (Mooncalf) CD

The trying, the hitch and The Wardrobe. The trying is over now as The Wardrobe have just signed to Fire records and thus the hitch isn't, if you see what I mean. The hitch was, for me, that The Wardrobe revealed rather too much of themselves on this self-produced album. 10 tracks, rather than 16, would have given a snappier introduction to the band. But that's rather petty. Any band wants to see as many of their tracks on record as possible, don't they? The sound is what matters most and The Wardrobe's sound is already well-developed. You don't get Yo La Tengo comparisons unless you've been putting the work in. The best track on the album is probably the furthest from its indie/pop heart. Aroused? sounds likes quirk-country maverick Jim White, a swirl of upbeat melancholy and subdued enjoyment.

I first wrote this review before the hard disk died. It was much better first time around, I think and for that, although they never saw the first version, I apologise to The Wardrobe.

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