Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #41 - The Vermin Poets, "The Vermin Poets"

Last Saturday, on my way to a fun weekend in Sheffield with Lw and Slinky Jones, I finally made it into Piccadilly Records for to buy some 50% Off Sale Price vinyl. This resulted in me eventually taking home this little blighter, "The Vermin Poets" - another installment in the enormous career of Kentish punk troubadour-ish Wild Billy Chyldish.

Enormous bushy Elgar moustache, Rupert the Bear trousers and artisan neckerchief, this man makes no secret of his identification with another age; an age before the Great War but with a glint of future punk in its eye. It doesn't hinder the image much that one of his friends could slip into the Winter Palace amongst the Romanovs unnoticed. And the theme for this mighty man? Poetry - and its unwelcome interest in the truth.

The sleeve is lovely - the group peering out as though from within an Edwardian tableau trapped in the mid-Sixties. There is also a "chapbook" of lyrics inside the sleeve and the cover is littered with words. I especially like: "Each song we make, we bend, break and crack or blemish it, so that the Gods can see we understand Man's striving is an insult in the face of universal perfection." I like that lively, woodcut philosophy. Nice contrast with Lana del Ray and her glacial sheen.

Plenty of reference to Keats, Shelley and Milton, even some Rimbaud, plotted against the trajectory of grandfathers and colours nailed to masts and encouragement for self-development. "Baby Booming Bastards" gets stuck into Richard Branson and "those gleaming art school dunces". "Grandfathery" is a tune about "being invisible", which may be a tribute to generations of Chyldish folk lost to society or something a little more sinister. "She's Got Ears" is more garage rock.

The general tone lyrically is of an obscure polemic, poetic pamphlets passed on by word of hand. The music is unkempt, punky and with a strong southern English flavour. Like The Television Personalities or Syd Barrett but without the pharmaceutical overtones. This is the sound of "what sticks to the soles of both your shoes" (as per the title track) and likeable in a careworn, thorny way.

Rating: Auto-Didact out of Hedgerows

The 2kDozen 500: #40 - Lana del Ray, "Born To Die"

Also going to have my 0.03 Euro's worth: I don't see why not. I keep throwing LDR up in relief to Gaga: they're both statuesque in a refrigerated way. But I've literally more time for LDR. And not just because she has a name like an airport.

A long argument between poorly-matched lovers. A shadow of hip hop, the version that slinks around in the background of Bond movies. This is going to soundtrack a lot of relationships, one side of the battle at a time. Damage, damage.

Nothing says distant princess like a harp, does it? "Video Games" has been written about a whole bunch already; but when she sings "It's all for you" I get the uncomfortable feeling of a Daddy complex. Maybe it's the All American flavour of the cover artwork I've come across so far. That's some patriarchy they got over there. Laura Palmer's biographical mixtape - and that David Lynch seems to crop up quite a bit.

Interesting counterpart to the last album I was listening to - Francois & The Atlas Mountains. Also about love and romance. But the gush is a lot warmer for Francois. "Diet Mountain Dew" (America again!) is cold; a nagging "Do you think we'll be in love forever" refrain turns into a "You're no good for me/But baby, I want you". A far darker drama. When the next tune "National Anthem" kicks off with "I'm your National Anthem/God, you're so handsome" I start to get the idea that the dark love in this film is the United States itself. That's how deep I am, you see?

Either way, love and destruction are cosy and Freudian in bed together, all Morecambe & Wise like.  I'm about halfway through and I haven't heard a song that doesn't include love and death in the lyrics. And I'm sorry to treat this album like an A-Level text, but a song like "This Is What Makes Us Girls" is (if you'll pardon the phrase) asking for it. It sketches out a dire, doomed idea of girlhood, which a big classy string section isn't going to do much to brighten.

"I can be a china doll/If you want to see me fall."

A problem has arisen from the back of my mind. Her gellid vocals and the statuesque production put considerable beef behind this image of "the dark side of the American dream" - big glamorous money backing this half-dead, fatalistic version of humanity and peddling it to half the population. I mean "Lolita"?! Jesus! It's all about big, rich daddy America and how best the little ladies out there can suck up to it and dress up the negation of themselves as glamour and tragedy.

So this would make this one long, orchestral treatise on the cold, heartless pain of being a young American woman then? I'm tempted to know how much LDR is conjuring this up apart from herself, or whether she sees herself drowning in the same icy rivers. It's alluring to imagine the inner numbness will build to envelop you completely and keep you perpetually preserved.

And it sounds pretty cool.

Rating: Ice Floes out of Upper America

The 2kDozen 500: #39 - Francois & The Atlas Mountains, "E Volo Love"

Some suave desert wanderer or something. I suppose where America has the South West, France would have the Maghreb and the Sahara. The echoing blank patch on all the maps where the stars are that bit nearer and the nights that bit quieter. Francois Marry is also of a Fence Collective persuasion and a Domino signing and has played trumpet with Camera Obscura. And anyone who plays brass has real soul, don't they?

There's a swish of Sebastien Tellier strings, several liberal daubs in fact. "Les Plus Beaux" has a stirring desert throb of a drumbeat and soft call & response and some shivering backing vocals. I'm sure it's been beneath the sweep of Jools Holland's chubby boogie-woogie paw a thousand times already; but it's ace. And my French is non-existent, but does the title mean "the more beautifuls"? I like that title.

"Piscine" sounds very French, very boulangerie. (What the fuck am I talking about here? My lazy, lazy mind.) What do I mean by that? I think it's the stabbing keyboard sound - it comes across as very cabaret. At least at first until it lifts off from the pavement cafe and swoops into the greater cosmos, assuming the form of some sleek houseship. It swirls like a cup of coffee do, or a Werther's original in the factory.

"Edge of Town" moves across a breezy sticklebrick beat. Something about "lazy resurrections"? I like the sound of that. Lots of achey, romantic titles - "Bail Eternal", "City Kiss", "Buried Treasures", "Muddy Heart" - and the swoonsome melodies and trembling instrumentation to go with them. A lick of sax. Loping bass. Broody, broody tunes and Francois sliding up and down the sounds. "Slow Love" starts out with a touch of the disco before the low-strung strings get their fingers into things. Maybe the bestest of the tracks.

"The pleasure I'm taking with you/I hope it will last through/And you hope that too." Quelle sauce!

Rating: You Can Take The Francois out of Bordeaux...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #38 - Irma Thomas, "Wish Someone Would Care"

Another selection from the Slinky Jones archives.

Soul music is another one of those musical areas that I can't quite feel comfortable in. Partly the historical distance, partly the sense that there are generic boxes being ticked. I feel as though I'm being led away from real human instincts, real thoughts and decisions. The more authentic it's held up to be, the more it seems to be dancing to other people's rules. The fact that this album is from 1964 also doesn't help. I can't work it out retroactively.

"Time Is On My Side" I know from The Rolling Stones version, which apparently was a recording of this version, Irma having added some lyrics to the tune that had originally been released by a jazz trumpetman the year before. I suppose I should've realised before now that the song was actually telling an unfaithful lover they will eventually crawl back; out of Mick Jagger's mouth it sounds much more like a band seizing time for themselves there and then, rather than playing the long game.

There's a lot of pain on here - the title track is bleak enough, but comes along with "Please Send Me Someone To Love" and "I Need Your Love So Bad". I don't remember tunes like this ever really touching my sore spots when in a romantic turmoil. I'm too much of an ironic beast, doomed to a life of would-be hipster allusion. I remember Beck's "Sea Changes" hitting the spot last time my love life unravelled. Irma sings directly, but the ideas sound a little well-thumbed.

Her voice is beautiful - warm, smooth and sounding more youthful than I'd expected. I suppose I expect a voice that sounds more fucked up and weathered, more guttural and elemental. I don't know so much about the musicology - I can hear gospel in "Without Love There Is Nothing"; "While The City Sleeps" is a lot poppier, choppier and cheerfully singing about "walking about in shadows". "I've Been There" is a bit too much like the rock'n'roll stuff that was doing the rounds inbetween the Elvis and Beatle explosions. Too Grease for more liking. It all sounds so self-contained at this distance. There is some beautifully creaky gospel Wurlitzer, if that's the right machine.

I suppose I should try and listen to these tunes with more contemporary ears, and not worry about how long it was, how familiar and rounded-off it sounds. Re-engage. But that's too big a project for now. For now, I definitely like it - but can't peel it off the wallpaper.

"Understanding's a great thing/If it comes from the heart."

Rating: Can't Listen To out of Context

The 2kDozen 500: #37 - Colorama, "Box"

Yet another one of those names that I've seen knocking around for years. And not listened to. Even despite the Anglesey connection. This is a very healing process for me. I'm sitting at the Slinky Jones eyrie, so I don't have time for the full anti-social analysis.

Delightful, brittle songs quite firmly in the (traditional) psychedelic fashion - beats that are sweet and you can eat and what have you. Some "Apocalypse Blues", which are always welcome. Also listened to the slightly less Carnaby Street, more Welsh "Llyfr Lliwiau", which I'll then spend some more time explaining about.

Must go. Roller derby movies to watch.

Rating: Lollipops out of Experience

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #36 - Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, "Yt // St"


They describe their sound as Noh-Wave (as in Japanese Noh "opera") - and so I was expecting something exotic and complicated as all Hell. But in essence, it's more space rock than anything else - and what a fine Japanese tradition that is. Certainly "sonic titan" is not far from that mark.

Opens with rain and thunder following by thundering drums. Then "Queens" steps into quite prog territory. Reading an interview with Pitchfork, it seems that while taking account of Buddhism and Boris, Yt // St are rooted firmly under the shadow of a father's love for Iron "In A Gadda Da Vida" Butterfly. I can't remember what current affairs programme used to have the same growling keyboard sound - was it "World In Action"?

"Oak of Guernica" is lovely in a way that I find hard to describe. There are waves and a touch of majesty and a hell of a lot of reverb, but not in the swampy way that a lot of stuff murks about. "Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider" has a grungey edge and the sound of gigantic windscreen wipers moving at a glacial pace across the continents. I'm actually banging my head to it, while I think of Veruca Salt (the band).

"Hoshi Neko" starts out like Daft Punk with live drums then the vocals remind me of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" in a way that I'd need someone with a better grasp of musicology (or indeed music) to explain to me. Minor sevenths or infantilised progressions or somesuch McGuffinery. Even finds time to sound like "Julia Dream" by The Floyd before it's done.

"Crystal Fortress Over the Sea of Trees" marks the exit with a classy title, some funky astral keyboard and plans to shatter the inner Death Star of the Dark Side in all of us with precision galaxial groove. Or something like that. Sonic titans they are and no doubt. I think I may have mentioned that already. Then suddenly, the rock is gone and there is only some meditative song left to mark the spot where the thunder struck. (Yes, I know thunder doesn't strike - tell AC/DC.)

Less overtly oriental to the ear than their stage outfits might suggest. Much more about the heavy rock and the wind tunnel of the imagination. And I like it.

Rating: Madame Iron Butterfly out of Gadda-da-Vida

The 2kDozen 500: #35 - tUnE-yArDs, "W H O K I L L"

Scrappy, messy, inventive pop business from Oakland.

One of those many acts whose name I've seen here and there, and had no real idea how they sound. One of the acts that has inspired me to try and rectify that sorry, sorry situation. Sorry about the situation. This album is from April, I think. April from the past, not the future.

Scraps of recordings from street dictaphone wanderings. Random drum machine bursts. Ideas spilling out from everywhere, loose guts sink streets. Hard to know where to start. Has a sort of Talking Heads feel.

"Riotriot" has a great bit where TY sings "There is a freedom in violence that I don't understand and like I've never felt before" before a fiesta of fun burst out all brassily behind her. Riotriot - not much more 2011 than that, is there? "Bizness" has a fantastic, shuffling Afropop bounce while she sings "Don't take my life away" over a jolly sax background. There's a theme of violence and assault and territory written across the album. Maybe she's not so keen in life in Oakland? "Never move to my hood/Cos danger is crawling out the wood." Fair enough. Maybe she sees this menace everywhere? Maybe I'm missing the point.

 "I've gotta be right if my body's tight, right?"

"Doorstep" is sung from the point of view of a woman whose boyfriend has been shot by the police right outside their house. Pretty distressing story. I don't know whether to hope whether this happened to her or not. If not her, I suppose it must've happened to someone. But even if she's feeling under siege, tUnE-yArDs has decided to stay on the move - "If home is where the heart is, baby/Then my home is inside you." This track ("You Yes You") sums up the combative positivity that pumps through the centre of the album.

"Ready or not, I'm a new kind of Killa.. All my violence is here in the sound."

The instruments are immediate and lively. They really feel in the room, clean and hungry. Saxes wail in imitation of police sirens. Her voice is juicy and urgent, often burbling along behind her main vocal. It's more immediate than I'm used to, I might prefer a bit of ironic distance. But I like this.

Rating: Everything's Alright out of Uptight Outtasight

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #34 - Islet, "Illuminated People"

Cardiff prog. Prog seemed to display twin obsessions with all things Tolkienesque and Welsh; but Cardiff wouldn't be the first place I'd expect to hear some 'ressive rock sounds to rear up like a pencil-drawn, hydra-headed dragonbeast out of a night of distracted A-Level revision. And I know it's a huge generalisation about the Tolkien and stuff; but for all its attempts at heterogeneity, prog has a porridgey consistency in my imagination that is stubborn to shift.

Prog is like jazz and Latin grammar in that it seems to inflect an awful lot of ambitious music; and is more like the latter in that in no longer exists in its own right, but only as an influence. So I'm sharpening my wagging ears to discern whether this is a genuine progressive step backwards with a (hidden) capital P - or a movement in another exploratory direction.

The big marker here is the bronchial organ sound, which grinds out from the outset, and that polyrhythmic drum tinkerings. "Libra Man" piqued my interest as I'm a son of the scales, but the lyrical bent was if anything rather disparaging - "You are a Romeo/Programmed for love... You've got the lion's share/You're you self-satisfied". I chose not to take it personally. I did like to hear the singer struggle with the lower register; ambition trammeled only by ability. And it has some dubby bassline in it, room to move.

"What We Done Wrong" comes across as a more straightforward piece of poppy post-punk with some proggy trappings like that macho organ and some wispy, folky counter melody singing. "Entwined Pines" is the most straightforwardly catchy of the tunes - with a suitable rasping medieval outro.

I suppose that while the idea behind prog was to explore musical spaces around it and suck them in to examine them and have them infect the body of their work, this is more of a cut'n'paste lifting of a sound from its context for colour and texture.

I think I've figured it out, the unease. The spectre of math rock (and not the good Mogwai type stuff) stalks these tunes. "Filia" is heavy with it. "Funicular" is more playful. After just watching something about Roxy Music on Sky Arts, I feel even hungrier for playful music. "A Bear On His Own" seems to have the woman singing while banging her chest to get that chopped up, eye-in-the-sky traffic report effect that I never thought I'd hear anyone commit to "vinyl". Then they're done.

"Now we've got a job explaining/Why this energy is wasted"

I can't quite work out whether this album falls a little flat, whether something has blunted the ambition. It fades towards the end, from "A Warrior That Longs To Grow Herbs" onwards. Doesn't quite rub my nuts yet. Another listen or two might be needed.

Rating: Spiralling out of The Forest

The 2kDozen 500: #33 - First Aid Kit, "The Lion's Roar"

I've heard a sampler version of this album already and been quite looking forward to the whole enchilada. So I'm strapping on my bandelero of insight and stimulating my own internal peyote gland to see where we end up.

The first and title track sounds like early Eighties' country crossover hit "Camoflage" by Stan Ridgway. And that already stabs at the heart of the issues that knot about my appreciation of this album.

I love the pedal steel on "Emmylou" (I love pedal steel in anything) and the triumphant and tender close harmony vocals and the setting of the scene in a wintry Stockholm. But it stands so proudly in the Middle of the Road that I can't clasp it hard to my bosom. I recognise it's my problem. I like music with crispier edges; or is it soggier edges?

One time I found myself in the south-ish of Sweden in a town called Stora Hoga, watching an interterminably-long lottery show on national television. I watching with a Norwegian, who snorted derisively when another country band came out to perform, "Swedes all think they're fucking cowboys". I think First Aid Kit are wandering about in that big America of the mind. I certainly wouldn't pick them for Scandanavian from listening to them. I'm not sure why that bothers me either, but those "darlin"s stick in my ears.

The lyrics have a straightforward quality, almost conversational. Like "It always takes me by surprise how quickly it gets dark this time of year." And there's a theme of being genuine - with fake laughs, telling herself to be sincere. Or am I listening too hard there for some ontological doubt creeping about underneath the text? Also a lot of distance and separation, which again you might expect, eh? And I like that it's set in the present without being marked by obvious references to 21st century life.

 "I Found A Way" signals that things are getting more sombre, less bell-like shine in their voices and some spidery Spanish guitar laying down the doom-laden romance. "Dance To Another Tune" heads further out into that direction, a Pixies-feel to the lupine "oooohs" at the end. "New Year's Eve" has a list of resolutions backed by a zither-y instrument and what sounds like a thumb being run over a comb (nice!) and the refrain "That's what's going to save me". These three tracks have a feel all the sweeter for the sense of darkness keeping them warm.

"I wasn't born to say anything/I'm just here now and soon I'll be gone": now that's a folk lyric, even when set to some Nordic cajun blowout. That's something you can listen to at a campfire.

Rating: Nashville out of Sodermanland

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #32 - King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, "Diamond Mine"

My first plan was to listen to "La Grande" by Laura Gibson, because I think it would be really good. Here's the opening track from her previous album, Beasts of Seasons. This should give you an idea of why the new album ought to be quite stunning.

But that plan didn't come about. So instead I went north to the Kingdom of Fife and King Creosote's collaboration with Jon Hopkins, "Diamond Mine".

I'd forgotten it had been nominated for the Mercury Prize last year. And I'd never quite fully engaged with King Creosote and/or the Fence Collective over the years. Not sure what it was I was keeping at arm's length; but I think it was connected to going to see Lone Pigeon at The Southern many years ago and being shushed while he played. I wasn't talking, but there was a lot of reverential, curatory shushing going on. And I don't like that.

But now I listen and I like. It's another one of those piano-led numbers, which I just associate with contemplation and rainy blue windows and country walks. It opens with some chatter in a Scottish shop, one of several field recordings that Hopkins brings to the party. "Bats in the Attic" includes the guitar line from a previous version of the song, played back through a mobile phone speaker with that tinkling, whistling noise of a fucked up internet connection. Nice. That troubled me for a bit. Digital ghosts and some such, yeah?

"Running on Fumes" has the sound of windscreen wipers or something similar, a private roadside desolation. And some beautiful ghostly vocals - for want of a less impoverished description. Some wistful accordion perhaps, buried toward the bottom of the mix. "Bubble" even has a soft, skittering beat that sounds like it might have been composed using tissues and sandpaper - and a bit of banjo that can't be beat. Hitch-hikers Guide to the Kingdom. And no sign of Creosote himself, voice-wise at least*.

My limited palate again makes me think about wistful detective series based on wistful detective novels. I have been successfully programmed; but to what end I do not know. It all ends with a nice looping piano line and some more sweet vocals.

And I don't even remember who they gave the Mercury prize to. Ah, yes I do: PJ Harvey. That album I didn't like so much.

Rating: Forfar out of Fife

***POST-SCRIPT*** Turns out that due to a poorly-connected set of headphones I wasn't hearing all the tracks and the vocals of Creosote went unheard. I've had a quick listen with the vocals - and I think I preferred the ghostly version I'd heard the first time around. Ah, well.

The 2kDozen 500: #31 - Todd Terje, "It's The Arps" EP

And while we're on the look out for good names, Todd Terje seems to have a finger on the faint pulse of puntastic titles on his new EP, "It's the Arps". (It's the what?) Opening track is called "Inspector Norse" - nice! And the second title is "Myggsommer", which I'm giving to understand is reference to the ITV middle-class slashathon, "Midsummer Murders". Then of course there is the artist's name - Todd Terry being a neglected hero of mine for his hyperactive attempts to fuse House and Hip-Hop in the late Eighties. Wordplay in the vein of Joy Orbison, but not as good.

It comes from Norway, this business. "Norse" is all side-to-side dancing, squelchy disco crap. By which I mean disco in the bad sense - that stuff that genuinely sucked in the Seventies; not the genius, sexy stuff that sent Middle America scurrying to their bonfires in a fit of sexual panic. You know, the stuff with people dressed as ducks! Intricate tumbling on"Swing Star, Pt 1", leading to nowhere in particular. "Myggsommer" is more inventive, sachaying about here and there to an inner Bontempi beat and lawnmower growls.  But I'm not really feeling it. There has to be some tension, some exploration and this just rolls on and on like Norwegian carpet. "Pt 2" starts with more promising plodding chewy synths, but before long, the virtual harp sweeps are back and the angels are swanning about once again, but the angels without swords or genitals. You know the ones I mean, the empty cassocks.

He apparently has a remix of Roxy Music on the horizon - either "Love Is The Drug" or "Avalon". Judging by the rather soft, flaccid disco he's got on the go here, I'd imagine the latter. It's a great tune, "Avalon"; but "Love.." would be more resistant to a cheesy makeover, I'd have thought.

Much seems to be made of the fact this is a small town boy from small town Norway, not least by the Nordic puns of Todd himself. Normally, I'm on the side of the provincial outsider with a gleam in their inner eye. But this time, I am not impressed. Nuh-uh. Except by the cover. Which is ace.

Rating: Cascading out of My Earline

The 2kDozen 500: #30 - Tim Hecker, "Ravedeath, 1972"

That is one winning title right there.

I got this recommendation from the Boomkat Albums of 2011 list. I'm sorry that Pelicanneck Records no longer exists in the Northern Quarter: it was one of my favourite record stores of all time. And another of my favourite record shops is also disappearing at some point in the next few months - the magnificent Cob Records in Lower Bangor. Many of my cassette albums from the early Nineties still bear the mark of excellence, a yellow Cob Records sticky label. Depressing, depressing. But then I will insist on listening to music on Spotify - so my poverty isn't helping much.

My lazy imagination makes the association between Tim being from Canada and the music representing a snowstorm of sound, a beautiful blizzard. Furthermore, big echoing organs get me thinking of cathedrals. (Honestly, it's a wonder I have the imagination to remember the names of the days at the end of the week.)

I'm watching the United Arsenal game on a dodgy Premier League site and Hecker's music is lending the game quite an elegaic tone. Like Oneohtrix last week, the repetition and the echo give me ideas about the brain trying to listen to itself, breaking down tiny pieces of information and looping them over and over until they make a form of sense, some kind of pattern. The same way as we run our mistakes over and over in our heads to rehearse what we could do right next time. Or when life flashes before the eyes. Maybe that's why I'm consistently put in mind of death.

Alongside the pipe organ on "In The Fog III" smaller, less distinct noises act as tiny fanfares, eddying about in the strong currents that pull the music along. These sounds have been tortured, and yet sound so joyous. "Analog Paralysis, 1978" includes a bit of random-fingered guitar strumming to add to the swirl. "Studio Suicide, 1980" is so filmic and dense and massive, it could punch holes through the Scorcese/Jodorowsky cinematic continuum, each pulling in the minds of a thousand doomed late-late-adolescents like myself as they stare out the window at nothing in particular. Then the album closes with "In The Air", an unexpected cover of the Phil Collins' kitchen sink classic. (No, it doesn't. It doesn't do that.)

My God, but there's some delicious hiss and noise on this album.

Rating: Joy out of Blizzard

Friday, 20 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #29 - Prince Rama, "Trust Now"

Another 2011 album. Sorry, I'm trying not to live in the past. But this caught my eye.

Some genuine mystical, trance exploration of the inner space from a three piece that grew up on a Krishna farm out among the rednecks of Florida. Not your standard issue suburban kids, hopped up on Aspirin and glo-sticks, staring through their Magic Third Eyes at adverts for the new Noel Fielding series on E4 until life's contradictions become resolved. Not that those kids don't end up in the same place, I expect. These kids went to temple and danced themselves into sweet Utopia every Sunday morning.

The point is to lose yourself. That's why there's a disco ball on the album cover: I understand that much. And it's a big cosmic sound with thundering drums, chants in both Sanskrit and English, some proggy swoops on the auld keyboard and plenty of room to run about in. The vocals are wraithed in the fog of the music as is the vogue nowatimes. Not that there are many lyrics to pick up.

"Rest In Peace" begins with some soulful "oooh yeeahs!" before it kicks off with a satisfying arabic thump. "Summer of Love" mixes the bells and cymbals with some lovely old school crunchy keyboard, marrying two Summers of Love together quite neatly. "Trust" gushes out wave after wave of insistent pounding and soft chanting. It also a faint sense of Depeche Mode about it, which I like. A lot of the tunes have the sense of an organic reworking of techno, particularly at the beginings. The use of beautiful, deep bells at the end of "Incarnation" is a lot uncheesier knowing they were brought up on this stuff. I know AUTHENTICITY shouldn't matter, but I'm pretty sure these religious trappings are worn a lot more lightly as a result. And that reflects well on the tunes*. The feeling is that they've grow from a different place to mingle with people with less exotic backgrounds in the same dance.

They played the Animal Collective All Tomorrow's Parties last year, that I had to miss because I was saving up to get all married and everything. But I'll bet that was a sweet gig. They look quite striking too, which has got to help make an impact.

My blue-skinned thumb is up. To the hindic disco ball! And make your fingers snappy!

Rating: Outer Space out of Inner Space

*I'm getting images of me making with the music business on stage in my altar boy cassock, smoking the place out with a thurifer and tinkling my altar bells. Bam! Sexual chocolate!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #28 - Elephant, "Assembly" EP

Set adrift on synth pop bliss once again.

Well, bliss may be a little strong. The towpath is heavily worn; there's been a lot of traffic stumbling dazed along, folk carrying their glacial pop wares to market.

There's some good life advice here - "Don't dwell on who won't dwell on you" from the title track. Aside from that, I can pick out references to skeletons and rainbows and the tune broods in a pretty way, not too much turmoil - but that dislocated, medicated Sound of the Tweenies. (This decade's refusal to neatly line up into a handily historical decade label frustrates.) "Hopeless" doesn't really sound very hopeless, although the vocals have a sweet, monotonous quality that I quite like. I think it's more swooing love stuff - "Hopeless I know.. I can't hide from you." Awwhh. "At Twilight" (maybe sitting watching it in the pictures?) Pontefract/French singer Amelia Rivas (Liqourice Fields not included) moans "make me melancholy". Is this an attempt to bridge the gap from where they are to the feelings they want? Is that what pop songs always are?

So maybe it's that teenager-in-love-playing-it-cool situation then. The powerlessness (both in the ennervated singing and the amount and tenure of the lyrics) could be an interesting theme. Perhaps there's a thesis in there somewhere - Agency in Pop: The Language of Power in Tweenies Synth Pop. Perhaps not.

Yours continuing to fall between the stools of cultural criticism and wide-eyed "awh, shunks!" impressionist bullshit...

Rating: Icebergs out of Molehills

The 2kDozen 500: #27 - Guided By Voices, "Let's Go Eat The Factory"

So this is how grizzled indie classicists get back on the horse?

Twenty-one tracks, all but three of them less than three minutes long. No expense spent on the recording. Surly guitar and forward momentum. Punky doodles, paranoid song sketches.

I'm a little wary of writing/listening about GBV as I never really listened to them much back in the Nineties or since - the occasional bit of Matador compilation action like "Teenage FBI". I don't know about the classic 1996 line-up that has reassembled here either.

First impression lyrically is that I don't understand what's going on. As per usual. I was hoping my ears might have sharpened up by now. "Doughnut for a Snowman" appears to be a song about a girl who has a doughnut and runs home to a snowman. I'm not sure what to make of that. Most of the songs are short, lyrical glimpses into some complicated, opaque vignettes. "Hang Mr Kite" starts with an ominous Michael-Stipe-like booming vocal; but again, no idea what that might represent. A dislike of Sgt Pepper's perhaps? "Imperial Racehorsing" has a neat, grungey strut. "Waves" has a mystical groove to it. A bit worrying that he doesn't know where "My Europa" is though. Does Robert Pollard not tour much? Geriatric love song "Old Bones" has a Tom Waits feel, as if recorded onto a wax cylinder sometime back in the Twenties. Heart-warming stuff in an off-kilter kind of way.

I've just read that Pollard's lyrics are meant to be cut-up and nonsensical and perhaps inspired by fourth grade stories he encountered as a teacher. That would make sense. I'd love to get an idea of what the symbolism beneath them is; but I don't have the brain wattage. Even if he has taken the characters like "Chocolate Boy" from the mouths of babes, so to speak, he will have picked them or picked out details for a reason of his own. Textuality - young and warm and wild and free!

Enjoyed the album, but perhaps because of the short length of the tracks, nothing quite leapt out as a keeper.

Rating: Psychedelic Horsemen out of Ohio

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #26 - Common, "The Dreamer, The Believer"

My hip-hop tastes mostly calcified when the Golden Age began to fade and it all turned gangsta. There was a brief backpack resurgence about ten years ago when the Anticon label was at its height. And then, nothing. So I figure I should cast an ear out again.

Common was someone that even in the dark ages of the mid-Noughties had a reputation as a "conscious" rapper. I did listen to "Be" and "Electric Circus" before, but it didn't make much of an impression. I still haven't heard any of his Nineties material, but I thought I'd start with the new "The Dreamer, The Believer" as it is in the "news" at the moment. He and Drake have beef, you see?

If I was more fluent in the brain, I could crack on with talk of signifiers and how different sample choices back up or undercut the message the lyrics want to deliver. "Conscious" lyrics are accompanied by roots-y, R&B, "authentic" sounds. The more dystopic rappers like Public Enemy or Sole employ a full on cacophony of samples from all kinds of jazz, funk, rock and whatever ever helps build the wall of sound and fury. Gangsta's modern descendents sound like they've had a fuck of a lot of money spent on production and gloss, which seems far more important than how hard the sounds actually hit. This stands in contrast to the Golden Age when it was about stark, strong beats for strong, stark lyrics.

So "Sweet", the tune that offended Drake, who felt it was directed at him for singing on his tracks and generally being "gay", is packed with serious business. Old school drum breaks do my heart good, and the video (above) reaches for both menace and authentic Afrocentricity by filming exploitatively in the Nigerian ghetto. Common is a bit of a loverman himself, which is reflected in most of the rest of the album - so it seems a strange he should pick a fight on these grounds. I like the aggro, and it seems almost redundant to criticise the homophobia, even with dark insinuations of being popular in Europe. However, were I in a Jungian mood, and I usually am, I'd guess this was Common struggling with his own shadow, the fear of the inner lover-not-a-fighter.

Album kicks off with Maya Angelou to register its worthy credentials. "Ghetto Dreams" is about the "Apollonia" to his ghetto Prince and has a bit of Wu Tang feel with big fuzzy bass thumps, insistent R&B guitar loop and a bit of brass. Touch of the loverman business to the lyrics obviously, but still fierce. I've a near-irrational hatred of ELO's "Mr Blue Sky", so "Blue Sky" has a lot of ground to make up in my affections. That and "Celebrate" are probably meant to be uplifting, but that stuff doesn't really move me. Too much like the empty hip-pop rhetoric that's clogging up the charts at the moment. "Gold" has a conscious orchestral swoon and carefully picked guitar set with the staccato drum pattern from Methodman's "Release Yo Delf", which is a nice mix. And that mix is predominant - the only other roughneck number being "Raw", telling the tale of him cracking a bottle open on some would-be thug's head while out in the club, accompanied with silenced gunshots, police sirens and klaxons to signify he's a badman. Then he's back on a romantic feel with "Cloth" and "Windows" (which is about his daughter). Before it ends on "Pops Belief", the album book-ended by Afro-American elders and cheesy piano. Hmmm.

I don't know enough about Common or producer No ID to say whether this is rougher, more cerebral, more lushly produced than his previous albums - but there's enough of a mix of the three to keep it standing distinct from the backwash. I just wish it stirred me up.

And there endeth the penetrating insight. You're very welcome.

Rating: Dreaming out of Beef

The 2kDozen 500: #25 - Dutch Uncles, "Cadenza"

The Sound of Not Very Young Marple.

I've heard the name Dutch Uncles around a lot over the last few years. I've avoided them. Not sure why. At first they reminded me (by name) of a great Dorset band, Dutch Husband. Then I had them pegged as some kind of landfill indie proposition, another tombstone in the graveyard of musical ambition within the M60. But now, a thirst for new musical demands they must be listened to!

They are grafting in the vein of quirky British pop - like XTC, like 10cc perhaps or The Young Knives - before they got rid of the "The" and lost some of their zest. But the strongest flavour so far is of those lovelorn mid-Noughties pop aberrants, Clor. "Love + Pain" is one of my fondest tunes from the days when I'd just got myself a proper PC and had started downloading music and playing fresh, sparkly tunes at Group Hug music nights with my brother and proto-Hammer Lord Stuchbury. It was angsty playfulness and broken romantic mania - and it felt absolutely bang on the biscuit.

Dutch Uncles are lighter, smoother - but the music still has that insistent guitar and keyboard sibling rivalry driven though the middle. The sounds are very musician-y. One track ("Orval") seems to be named after a Belgian trappiste beer. There is a hint of prosperous, middle class spread here. The opening tune and title track, "Cadenza" has a reassuringly rich FM feel about it right from the cheerfully thumped keyboards that kick it off. The title itself points at virtuosity and aspiration, the show-offs. The skilfull "Hands, hands, hands" chorus of "Fragrant" is a deft winner.

A wind-up music box sets off my fave so far, "Dressage" - which might be about shagging, I can't really catch the lyrics as usual - and then it canters off to nimble little guitar fingers and faint little handclaps. Artful! And if I've heard the lyric "The sound of rain/Breaks my head" correctly, then a childhood in Marple would go a long way to explain this lolloping magic. Elsewhere, the chorus runs "But you know I'm a bird" and I have a lot of time for people that see themselves or that around them in terms of our feathered fiends (sic) (as fuc). Even more time if the words are sung sweetly over a panting, choral background like on astronaut bossanova bobbydazzler "Dolli".

So very pleasantly surprised and pleased with a slight tangy stain of regret that I hadn't listened to them earlier. I suspect more listens will support my theory that this album is also about the breakdown of mental tissue caused by the invasion of the love virus, as with Clor; crystallised with an ironic hindsight that has come out of somewhere to sweeten the air. But I can't catch enough of the lyrics yet.

Rating: Bird Men Soaring out of Manchester Landfill Quagmire

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #24 - Caged Animals, "Eat Their Own"

A break-up album, yeah?

The title track says "you might as well eat your own, darling" because "I've seen many fancy loves rotting in the grave". So there's that. Then "Teflon Heart" is a pretty classy way to try and wriggle your way past an ex, complete with ironic lo-tech guitar solo clumsily toppling in at the appropriate point. It's a winning tune for losers in love everywhere, nice bit of thrift store organ buttressing up. And apparently the ex made him watch "Magnolia", which is pretty unforgiveable.

"They broke my heart into a thousand diamonds/So I'm going where the sun is always shining." You get the picture in its cinemascopic glory. And the sun is shining on a lot of the songs here, but from behind some closed curtains, a painful chink in the wallowing gloom.

And there appears to be a naked woman in a blindfold lost in the forest. Which is hot.

"All The Beautiful Things In The World" has the drum loop from "Loser" in it. Nice! Anything that reminds me of early Beck will put me in a rosy mood with the world. There are other flavours of failed romance and the solipsism it generates. "Piles of $$$" opens up another kettle of thinks with some homemade GLC-style R'n'B. "The NJ Turnpike" goes all steam-powered Doowop. "Feelingz" spreads out like a warm patch on the sheets after a night on the hard liquor.

One man trying to keep a smooth course over the jagged loverocks that scratch his hull. Sharks of romance and dolphins of trust squaring up in the briny deep. We've all been in those bedrooms, but not all of us have come out with an album under our elbow.

Rating: Turnpike out of Heartbreak County

Monday, 16 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #23 - Milagres, "Glowing Mouth"

Coldplay vocal pattern recognition software enabled.

They seem to sing about light a lot. And wind. I get the feeling that they may believe themselves to be the source of that light. I get the feeling it may be out of their arses. Also the wind. I may not be feeling the softly-spoken epic rock sound at the moment. Although I don't suppose they're that different from Wild Beasts, and I was all over them last month. On the other hand again, I can be wary of the Messianic element. And I'm fickle little pickle; so what?

"Moon on the Sea's Gate" maybe pushes its boat further out into those more British territorial waters - and the album as a whole bobs about quite comfortably on those waves. "To Be Imagined" has a few oboes in the background, and I consider them a very British sort of instrument. Ridiculous as that must read. Maybe I'm coming around to them a little now. I also had problems with Wild Beasts when I first heard them.

The last-ish track (there's a bonus on the album I heard) starts with the line "Like a little bird with its wings spread wide/I have felt your everything/From the tips of your hair to your heel". Then some leaves flicker in the wind and some light shines in through a window. And I think that's partly why the lyrics haven't much impact. You can't make much of an impact with lines like that.

So maybe another listen will yield a bit more than indie atmospherics. Or maybe we'll never know.

Rating: Like A Little Bird With Its Wings Spread Wide out of Well-Thumbed Lyric Book

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #22 - Micachu & The Shapes London Sinfonietta, "Chopped & Screwed"

Interesting after listening to Bill Ryder-Jones use orchestral music as a contemplative device last night, as an emotional weight, that Micachu & The Shapes and London Sinfonietta have worked together to create something more monstrous, more of one mind and purpose. It twitches, it fidgets, it stings with hormones - pulling its body and mine with it in one nightmare-ish direction then the next. I suppose the fact it's a live recording gives it the performative edge I was saying BRJ was moving away from with "If..."

"Fears they saturate/My time and space" ("Everything")

The strings slide and the other instruments really struggle to keep things together, everything tugging at the nerve endings and wheezing at the throat. On "Freaks" there's a heavily treated instrument that might be stringed, that might have bellows, and sounds like a rusted see-saw in a very bad children's playground; leaden skies, dog skids and broken glass. "Medicine" might be played mournfully on milk bottles. "Fall" starts out a dizzying climax to some thirtes film noir played on space oboes, Freudian cellos and skeltering cross-cut saws. It's all very bendy music, but not like rainbows are bendy - like carpets are bendy at the bottom of a K-hole. "Not So Sure" is relatively sure-footed at the close. There's some solid ground, shoots of grass and everything.

"Chopped & Screwed" is a reference to a habit of some Houston DJs in the mid-Nineties that slowed down and manipulated beats to crate a haze of druggy delay and disorientation - one DJ Screw being mentioned in particular.

But other than offering a template for the chillwave tsunami that has yet to pull back from the shore, I'm not completely sold on the connection. Slowed down vocals, yes - "Unlucky" has a juicy slurred paranoia running through it. But the homemade instruments seem a very different proposition.

In short, I liked "Jewellery" a whole bunch of QVC lot; and I like this too.

Rating; Paranoia out of Home-Made Monsters

The 2kDozen 500: #21 - Oneohtrix Point Never, "Replica"

Here's some spooky stuff that I started listening to in the middle of the night while Oz Western "The Proposition" was on TV with the sound off. With all the nihilistic gore and existential gutshots, I was hungry for a bit of creeping dread. And it meant I didn't have to hear Ray Winstone's voice.

Listening out for the sound of my brain's reponses: I think this is where the potential fright lurks. The idea that I'm listening to my own listening. The black and white cover is of a skull in a hand-held mirror and some titles are labelling brainwork - "Sleep Dealer", "Power of Persuasion", "Remember", "Explain". Blood repetitively wooshes and surges around the brain on every track. This is my idea of what appeals and terrifies me in equal measure about this music - it's the sound of being broken, of perception fucked, of being stuck in these shitty cursebags we call bodies and our eyes locked on the bio feedback. I'm riddled with it.

It's a big lush sound composed of found sounds from TV advert compilations. I've just read something more clever and insightful than I can manage that refers to "his passion to find personal meaning in failed new age utopias and liminal science fiction environments" and "clarifying the past through blissful repetition of its signifiers". That might read as over the top, but it makes sense to me. I've a passion to find personal meaning in listening to music like this, but I suppose OPN has the drop on me there.

It's a case of repeating the same tiny fragments of music and vocal over and over, looping or banking it into great sluggish choirs until the meaning shines through. More power to a thousand elbows.

Rating: Found out of Sound

The 2kDozen 500: #20 - Bill Ryder-Jones, "If..."

Bill used to be in The Coral. Who knew he had this going on as he walked along wind-whipped Wirral beaches, staring out to sea, with his Scallydelic mushroom sandwiches in his Beatles lunchbox? Most likely the same people that thought Pop Will Eat Itself was harbouring grey matter with "Lux Aeterna" escalating ever upward insides of it.

This is a soundtrack to Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller...", which was a real favourite amongst my erstwhile Borders colleagues - and obviously amongst Bill as well. Not read it myself.

It's an orchestral album, though mostly fairly small scale - more string quartet size with some muted drums and a few mumbled vocals on a couple of tracks. Every now and then some electric amplification sidles up to a guitar or two. Not sure if it's the accent and the strings working together to hoodwink me, but I get pungent echoes of Gorky's Zygotic Mwnci in patches. I can imagine it behind some high budget BBC drama - like "Sherlock" or "Luther" or "Pets Win Prizes".

I don't know the vocabulary, but the piano-based tunes with an air of parlours and condensation on the kitchen window are less my cup of tea. Or so I thought. But the second half of "Leaning (Star of Sweden)" has real punch by the time the lyrics whisper in. "Le Grande Desordre" is more traditional singer/songwriter business. A thoughtful song with solar plexus cello in the depths, perhaps referring to Bill's quitting The Coral due to stress a few years ago - "The past is like a worm/I carry curled inside/Growing on and on/Until the day it dies". "Enlace" has the ghost of his Coral guitarist past curled inside as well, a touch of the bluesy freakout, which licks a flame or two on the blue touchpaper.

I suppose the thing that fascinates me most is the gear change I imagine the mind needs to undertake from indie singer/songwriter to composer.  Performance being less theatrical and less idiosyncratic somehow in an orchestral setting and more impersonal in terms of others hitting expected standards. Expressing yourself in a more theoretical method dependent on the co-operation of others without touching anything with your own fingers. As usual thoughts fail me. Probably only expressing my own prejudices.

I wonder if Bill will get any big movie soundtrack offers on the back of this.

Rating: Morse out of Beefheart

The 2kDozen 500: #19 - Pterodactyl, "Spills Out"

Wandering down the boy band margin these guys are with those harmonious, high-pitched man vocals. Doesn't matter how syncopated and clattering the drums. And I read there's only three of them, which brings a bilious gorge to the throat as I think about three-man "ubergruppe" like The Police - all miced up, all semi-digested in their own creative acids. Bleeurrgghh!

So far, so anemic. Not much of an impact in the first few tracks. But around the middle, the album starts to thicken up and flex its soupy scope. "The Hole Night" is a strange title for a tune, and the music itself gives me thoughts of ships thrown about on boiling seas with the crew armed only with sea shanties to ward off disaster. "Thorn" too swells and broods. The drums get bigger; guitars start to sound like saxophones; things begin to stack up as "the dreams spills out". "Zombies" twangs about a dusty border town with its cowboy britches on, asking the locals if they wanna be startin' sumthing in its best Michael Jackson voice. "Aphasia" closes with some adrenal push.

They're buddies with Parts & Labor and I can near broken pop genealogy. But I saw P&L a couple of years ago at Cafe Saki in Rusholme and they switched my hungry ears right off. So this is an encouraging development. Still can't quite pick up most of the words: I'm starting to think it's a genetic condition. Like the skin around my ear canals is too thick.

The one line I get from "Zombies" is "When I was younger/I was distant/But I'm alright now". So I'm guessing it's not about the George A Romero type undead. Similar pop pattern to The Zombies as well with the soft voices and the swoops and that.

Rating: Need Wax out of Ear Canals

Friday, 13 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #18 - Peepholes, "Caligula"

Peepholes were mentioned in an interview with Trailer Trash Tracys, so I'm listening to "Caligula", a short LP from last month. You can't go wrong with "Caligula" as a title, can you? Unless you're leading the Roman Empire.

Wizardy, prog dance stuff from the south coast this is. "Cloaked anthems", I read. Elements getting stirred up on flinty beaches. Slabs of keyboard stretching out to the horizon. Invading armies crouching in cloudy shadows - with tiny goat bells tinkling on their godly ankles, if the album opening is anything to go by. (Did she just say "Give us the drugs"?) Vintage equipment creaking and wreaking, lips wet with the spittle of conquest. Bounding, excitable drums.

"Tunnels" sounds a bit more Tron, more lasers at the seaside. The keyboards could still eat a small town; Poundland signs and Greggs baking trays hanging from their brownish teeth. "Kingdom" has some flatulent, regal gargle going on, marking the tribal boundaries and that. Funny how the echoes in this music bounce off the sky and swell the sphinctre, whereas the more nostalgic reverbations of other bands wrap the brain in electric blankets of inwardness. Perhaps by the end of the 500, I'll have some hard-won insight as to how that comes about.

In the meantime, I'm filing this under jetsamic vinegar or something similar that will mean nothing to me when I come back to it. I shake my head, I really do.

Rating: Beachcombers out of Pulsar

The 2kDozen 500: #17 - Trailer Trash Tracys, "Ester"

No messing: swirling headspace psychedlic step off from the outset. Moving on into a JAMC style twang and thump of "You Wish You Were Red". Then fairground, cheap drum machine fill Beach Boys motions of "Dies in 55", that has game show keyboard stabs as though the album was recorded during The Crystal Maze. Junkstop Bontempi beats on "Engelhardt's Arizona" with herds of nodding guitar daffodils thrashing behind.

I excitedly think to myself that this could be one of the best albums of 2012 even though it's one of the first. Then there's a gear change. The frenetic bubble of ideas from the first few tracks slows down to a big, echoey treacle with "Los Angered" (great title) and "Starlatine". My enthusiasm dips. "Candy Girl" is maybe too much of a pop song, if that's possible. And I'm hearing a lot of desert stuff? Is that the only place to dream? Are my third and fourth ears drying up?

My critical faculties blunted. Insight lost. This dream pop interpretation is a trickier lark than it first appears. Still 482 to go. I should never have read that blog review of Youth Lagoon, it stymied my mojo and no mistake.

Ratings: Smash Hits out of Twin Peaks

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #16 - Youth Lagoon, "The Year of Hibernation"

Well, I don't know about you kids, but this 2012 has got off to a complicated enough start it's got me wishing I was going to be hibernating right through, you know what I mean? Right?

If I was going to try and think of a spooky, backward-looking, nostaligia-infected patch of land - maybe with a half-broken jacuzzi - where I wanted to encourage all the echoey youth of Brooklyn and thereabouts to stay and play, I think I'd call it Youth Lagoon. All warm and wet and safe and hidden from the world, but with a tendency for stagnation and the occasional scary Creature.

I do love this stuff, this slippery Zeitgeist. Even the cover's all vintage photograph and rainbows. Stick in a unicorn and it's a psychedelic hipster paradise. (These are tired, tired words - I apologise.) Headphones are my friends.

The escapist titles are there too: "Posters", "17", "July" and "Daydream". I suppose there is no real urge to grow up and go to war and raise kids and shit out a mortgage these days. I'd look for lyrical insights to guide my thoughts. But as per usual, I can't keep my mind on the words - the trembly falsetto of the vocals makes it even harder. Not that there are a lot of words; it's mostly about the glow.

Anthems and biscuits.

Rating: Rainbow out of Adolescence

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #15 - Supreme Vagabond Craftsman, "Fuck Everyone, I Am King"

A lo-fi, cut up Henry VIII from Leicester. With a brilliant album title. And a fantastic stage name as well.

Not such a surprise that he used to make comics with Kid "Eddie Fresh" Acne. He's got bleak power. Like Frankie Boyle on a particularly misanthropic philosophical riff about death. Zebra Man, the comic was called, I believe.

I've another weak link for you. Pastoral guitar bits of this remind me of Shane Meadows movies, especially his shots of trees blowing in the wind or grass drifting. Maybe it's an East Midlands thing. Like the airport.

"Torn Asunder In The Sky" is a majesterial, bandy-legged wander down the High Street with Renaissance backdrops wheeling past and talk of "county cricket" and "taxidermy on the stairs". A morose King Arthur of a man, he is, ruler of every Tuesday afternoon he surveys.

His court is in circular session and I hear a lot of pounded pavement in the background: a hedge pop star, an itinerant fuck. "This Is My Holiday" is a day-in-the-life of shedding ideas about himself, grubby tissue after grubby tissue falling from tired coat pockets. Cut-ups, home recordings, mutterings and random sampled dialogue and noises like a massive hornet: this is what a brain gets up to left in a messy house in the middle of the night or the middle of the afternoon, whenever it can be left to itself.

It's a mystical business. "I Got Midlands Visions" is genuinely spooky. Direct from the Summerisle Shopping Centre with eerie sliding recorders and menacing bubbling keys. "I Was Thankful to Hens" has the lurching, acoustic blues sound of early Beck. I've heard albums less like "Stereopathetic Soul Manure". I keep missing the lyrics to "Announced Their Arrival in Bird Calls", but his face is definitely turned up to the welkyn. And birds are one of my favourite source of metaphors, so full marks there.

You can order this new digital version of what was released on vinyl only in 2007 from here: http://invisiblespiesrecords.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/fuck-everyone-i-am-king/. I huskily suggest that you do. You can pay what you want for it. FLACs and all that.

Rating: Greensleeves out of Grubby Kitchen

Monday, 9 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #14 - James Blake, "Enough Thunder"

Melismatic fingers will root out turds from amongst the truffles.

Maybe I'm not enough of a poet. Maybe I need to go to Goldsmith's. Maybe if someone wrote a song like "A Case Of You" for the image they'd constructed around me I might understand the magic. I suspect I would grow queasy and irascible.

I get the feeling that the more James presents himself as raw and naked, the more concocted and drenched I'll find him. A student of popular music, he was. Is this the sound of academic Pop? It sounds damp and stiff and irritating. Squeaky-voiced washcloth.

I write from a real position of ignorance, snippets again on Radio One and I think I'd confused him with Jamie Woon for a while. And I haven't listened to his full debut album yet. Yet I've managed to form impressions armed with only my ears and a few synapses that I usually keep thoughts about shopping in.

"Fall Creek Boys Choir" is utter bullhorn. Bon Iver gives me the creeps as well to begin with. Two mumbling numbnuts stumbling about the woods. I wasn't expecting all this spite.

But Holy Hell in Hades, Rebecca Hall is a beautiful, beautiful woman. So it's far from all bad.

Rating: Keep Rich Boys out of Pop

PS I have listened to a bit of "James Blake" now and it's better, but the problems remain. Bedroom problems, bedroom ambitions. My patience is runn-

The 2kDozen 500: #13 - SBTRKT, "SBTRKT"

Too slick, this guy.

Everything sounds a little too clean. Again another name I've seen batted about. And a name I've heard on the UK's Favourite Loveable Radio One FM. And in a typically dense move, I didn't know that SBTRKT and "Subtract" were the same geezer until it was too late.

It smells too much of mainstream: Pop in the wrong outfit, drinking from the wrong barstool, moving about in a rather empty swagger, not taking its jacket off. Suspicious. The spectre of UK Garage for those looking out for it.

"Right Thing To Do" has a bit more blood in its pocket, more along the lines of The XX or Burial, that postcode. Moodier, lurking about the darker corners of the dancefloor. Maybe the occasional whiff from the toilets. A bit of sick. "Pharoahs" too uses its lyrical and melodic elbows more. Spoke broad, the tracks with Jessie Ware and Roses Gabor pack more emotional muscle than the Sampha tunes.

But the guy knows how to wear a mask. I'll cough up the credits for that one. I'll give it another listen later.

Rating: Pinstripe out of Kilter.

The 2kDozen 500: #12 The Soft Moon, "Total Decay EP"

That Martin Hannett has a lot to answer for.

If I was a vampire now, I'd expect some pale-skinned flunky to be carrying a glistening ghettoblaster behind me, pumping out these tunes. The Vasquez guy who writes and performs this stuff comes from the Mojave desert, they say. Weird how he makes sounds that feel as though they should be issuing from some dank urban basement disco, while the Brooklyn kids are making music that impressionist painters would have on their walkmans as they painted the desert stars. No-one's happy with what they've got these days.

This is a four-track EP and it's all Ferraris on the beachside freeways, tops down and jaws steeled with a spectral Zombie apocalypse backdrop. "Alive" tugs on that delicious Gothic thread that has snaked its way through all the pallid junk from Sisters of Mercy and The Cure to The Horrors. Distorted Billy Idol yelps and all. "Total Decay" has big Gary Numan drums and creepy synth and a chain-mailed fist at the wheel.

It's the West Coast/Lost Boys disaster films that never got made because it freaked out the studio bosses. California is sliding into the sea and it's all San Andreas' fault. (Oh, dear.)

PlusMoon is one of those words that always rocks. Like Wolf.

Rating: Keep out of Direct Sunlight

The 2kDozen 500: #11 - Tranquility Bass, "Broadcast Standard Series"

Not strictly new music, but then I'm not strictly listening to new music - just music that's new to me.

Tranquility Bass was a guy called Mike Kandel from Chicago, who put some tunes out at the beginning of the Nineties and then put them out again on this compilation last year. And he didn't seem too worried about forcing many of them out back in the day. A KLF workrate, seemingly remixing the same few tracks a couple of times each.

A friend of mine put a YouTube (the very clip below) last night and I thought it was awesome - and I was right, begobs! It silks about the place with the clear-eyed look of The Grid and The Orb. All that early Nineties optimism. Touches of the global, like your Loop Guru and your Transglobal Underground. It really did seem like techno was going to save all us back then, melt us together and send us to Saturn on dubby cruiseships. And it was over so quickly. Can you blame a pasty-faced, whispy-bearded thirtysomething for wanting to dip his toes back in that holy pond again?

That's the reason I want to hang around these dusty old musical corridors of my youth - they didn't last very long first time around. Poodle rock was with us for what felt like decades, the decline of Western Civilization took a long time. But that Second Summer of Love could be measured in acid-tinged dragonflies. 'Ardcore, the one that spawned Jungle, seemed to melt away back into the generic soup as soon as it had arrived. Gangsta rap continued to hustle on corners until my ears bled. Maybe these musical forms could only exist as brief, amorphous moments and never harden into full-time genres; but when their ghosts are summoned up again my ears prick up. And I try so hard to stretch the moment, stretch it until it squeaks.

"They Came In Peace" is the peach. Sums up the whole inner/outer space exploration theme beautifully. And I mean beautifully. Birdsong, childish chatter, sputnik beeps, jungle noises and lazy, arching synth sounds; and most importantly, the space to let it all breathe deeply. The "Lunar Dub" version might be even better with touches of Depth Charge kung-fu samples, fractal keyboards and cool-to-the-touch loping bass. God, to be one hundred and eighty-six again!

Rating: Beautiful out of Body Experience

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The 2KDozen 500: #10 - M83, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"

I wanted to listen to the new Trailer Trash Tracys album, "Ester", but it's not out yet and I lack the shiver to hunt it down at the moment. But I've listened to "Engelhardt's Arizona" and it's lovely.

I can't quite get my cramped little head around how many bands are twisting my knickers around the same dreamy impossible sounds at the moment. I fear it; I maltrust it. But once I can hear the album properly, I will dribble my venomous half-thoughts and jizz about it to my tiny heart's uncontent. (Shit! Just seen they're playing at Kraak on the 14th! I'll immediately send a Post-It note to the parallel self that could conceivably attend, Dommie Darko.)

So thwarted, I turn to M83. I liked their first album, then away I drifted. I waved to them as they went floating by, playing a misguided set in the middle of the day at ATP at the Pavillion stage at Minehead Butlins. Listening to the palm of their hand I was not. But again, I've heard more good things and there's that tune that's running in the 2.15 at the Olympics and sounds a bit like Utah Saints had another stab at Kate Bush; so again, I listen with patient ears cocked to the cosmos.

This album punches the airspace marked for Ratpack aircraft, for barbituate-numbed Balearic drift through Bespin purple clouds, where New Order play skiprope with the Breakfast Club and New Wave types with defiant hair and no socks on mate like twin hermaphrodites on the foaming beach. It's time to roll up your sleeves and stare out moodily over the ocean. Immersion into the ambience is the key. Wade out up to our genitals and we can fuck with the stars. Just watch out for the spent condoms bobbing in the backwash.

"Soon, My Friend" sounds ready to ride off into the sunset in a Maori western, suitcases bursting with string quartets. "New Map" sounds like Klaxons (Not Centaurs) on less grainy drugs with a couple of extra flutes. "OK Pal" should be Glasgow, but it's "No Trouble In Little China" with a thousand suburban Karate Kids somnolently going through the motions in a hazy remake of Enter The Dragon. "Another Wave From You" opens up another golden lunchbox of kickass for the serotonin glands, closing titles of a great August night out. Synths for synapses, these lads.

"Steve McQueen" is a bit boring. But then I find Steve McQueen a bit boring, so...

Maybe this is all an illusion from the Brett Easton Ellis B-Movie that I watched the other night. Maybe we're all vampires and the party is never going to end for any of us. We'll fade out into the ether to a twenty-one keytar salute. Boo yah!

Rating: Glistening out of The Ocean

The 2kDozen 500: #9 - Dear Reader, "Idealistic Animals"

I read this is an album by and about a woman who's recently put her Christian beliefs behind her and is now trying to come to terms with the newly-felt chaos and disorientation. And she's left her partner (also her bandmate) and her home country of South Africa behind at the same time to move to Berlin. Bold business.

Each track has been given the name of an animal with its other title in brackets behind. I like this. I suppose if you've just stopped believing in God calling a song about greatness and mortality "MONKEY" is a heavily-loaded act. (Or am I treating her like a refugee from the mid-nineteenth century?) And I read the album was recorded in Leipzig in east Germany. And I think I might've stayed at the campsite they mentioned, which is a tickle, isn't it? I just can't keep that back story shut out, can I?

At the same time it sounds a little like the soundtrack for Match.com, quirky and heartfelt and whimsical. Especially "MOLE", which tells us the only way to meet people is by "colliding in a tunnel that connects two bubbles"; a more realistic assessment than wandering into a junk shop and parroting some loon on a broken piano. That bearded guy on the railway platform has done a lot of damage to my conceptions of the singer-songwriter type.

Sounds as though the album was recorded once, then they left the tapes in a shed with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and asked them to slap some more sounds on it. I like that plan.

Her voice has that crystalline Tori Amos feeling. "BEAR" has a baroque pluck about it and seems to mention a "Welsh invasion" of "the soggy streets of Budapest". If there's any nation that could take urban warfare to soggy streets, it's the Cymric horde. Several lyrics mention a first experience of snow, flying and forgiveness. Then there's the title-ish track "MAN (Idealistic Animals)", which swoops and choirs about and blows on trumpets, reaching into the hole where the God ideas where and touching on a feel of paradise "now and then". As it heads to a close, "ELEPHANT" mourns the loss of "familiarity" and being able to rely on her faith because "we've travelled too far" and "the sorrow's too loud", before "KITE" promises that "Soon we'll light upon something beautiful" and a noise like the Aborigine noisemaker in Crocodile Dundee II wraps things up. Optimism bubbling up.

It could be too cute, too sweet. But there's some pain, some clarinets and some exploration to push it nearer my idea of human experience.

Rating: The Ark out of Creationism

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #8 - Coheed and Cambria, "Year of the Black Rainbow"

We were discussing New Year resolutions at work earlier this week and I mentioned my plan to listen to 500 new albums across the course of 2012. I said I was looking for suggestions for listening matter and one of my workmates came back the next day with a list of bands on a piece of paper. And the name Coheed and Cambria leapt out, as I'd noticed it before. (Maybe because Cambria is another name for Wales?)

So their latest album is my first venture from the list - "The Year of the Black Rainbow". I'm going to try and challenge my modern metal prejudices. Deep breath.

OK, my first problem. Why are the guitars so much quieter than the vocals? It gives everything a brittle, dry feel. It doesn't rock. Why go to all the trouble of getting all those amps and that when it's going to sound so damned polite? I don't trust it. How do people get any energy from it? Nirvana, Sabbath, Slayer - I get it. This is pantomime stuff, and not in an entertaining way. Sorry. I'm getting carried away again.

Second problem: the vocals are so mannered. "Made Out of Nothing" sounds like it could be a boy band song in parts. Maybe they're after the same sense of key change empowerment, I dunno. Comparing this to something like Mudhoney is like comparing the hoarse shouting noise you make when you play football in the back garden as a kid ("And the crowd goes mad - yyaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!") and the swollen roar of an actual crowd.

These albums are released together with comics as well, I think. Coheed and Cambria might be character in these comics. This doesn't do much to dispel the smell of algebra and Dungeons & Dungeons and adolescent farts. I'm disappointed with how little I've managed to keep an open mind; but all these bad images keep pouring in. I am defenceless. I'll try harder next time.

But towards the end of the last track, "The Black Rainbow", the guitar starts to sound a bit more tortured, the bass a bit snakier and things started to look up. I can understand why someone would want to make a hurricane like that.

I really don't understand the language of this stuff.

Rating: Released out of The Basement