Thursday, 31 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #200 - Actress, "R.I.P."

Been meaning to listen to this one for ages, so I've kind of saved it for the special number 200!

It's a lot more liquid-sounding than I'd expected: not sure why that would be. Even before the trickle and tinkle of "Holy Water", the previous two tracks eddy and sparkle far more lightly than I'd expected. Maybe the album title suggests more dark broodyness. "Marble Plexus" does up the ante in that general direction - huge mossy fuzzes sweep across the tunes clearing a path for something else to make its way through.

"Jardin" describes just that Edenic kind of business, plenty of water again. Lushness and vegetation, but it's the water that dominates and keeps on going. "Shadow Form Tartarus" is pretty monstrous, it stalks the streets for prey while xylophones guide its victims to their eternal rest. The fountain fuzz has become a constant drizzle of the soul, soaking everything and everybody right through with the desperation of the situation. Stand out track so far.

There's more dark glitter under the surface of "Raven" too. It cuts through the weariness of the worn tape sounds as opposed to so much chillwave stuff that near drowns in it. Or perhaps Actress' sounds lurk within the deep as part of its darkness? (Yes, Coc, maybe THAT's what happens. Aye, caramba!) A thriving sense of lush vegetation all over this music. And there's some kind of Paradise/Eden theme bubbling under with "Serpent" (a sinewy heat haze of a tune) and "Caves of Paradise" (something of a Deep House feel to it), but I'm not sure where that comes in. Perhaps it's just a coincidence.

"The Lord's Graffiti" takes off in a different direction - more of a plodding disco shimmer. "N.E.W." builds Aphex castles and turrets out of clouds, driving the foundations deep into cool, blue lava. "IWAAD" is riven with strengths and the water doesn't tinkle any longer and there are snatches of sound that circle round and round like really handsome disco seagulls. And there's a tremulous wee bass riff that works itself in towards the end.

Just made the mistake of reading the review of this in The Quietus. So much more precise and imaginative and interesting than mine. Ah, well. There's always the contact centre work to invest my creative energies into! You can read it here. I suggest you do.

Rating: Vegetable out of Mineral

The 2kDozen 500: #199 - Cameo, "We All Know Who We Are"

Back to Peel as they've moved on to E now and I'm still on the Cs. And I couldn't find a new album quickly enough as I'm working against both clock and calendar to get to number 200 by midnight. And I'm curious to hear what Cameo were up to eight or so years before "Word Up".

The opener "Inflation" is more the bells and whistles funk that I might've expected, none of the sleek futurism or red codpieces of the mid-Eighties. A bit of tongue-somewhere-near-the-cheek social observation over the top. Quite Ze Records. "C On The Funk" sounds a wee bit dated, they call it "Formaldehyde Funk" apparently or "the dead boogie". Hmmm. Then there's a bit of romance on "Why Have I Lost You?" and I'm feeling a little desperate: there's some lyrical clunk on the scale of Trapped in the Closet.

Some rattle-arse left hand keyboard on "Stand Up", which picks it way out across the street with all full strut activated and everything clicking and pumping. So, good. I seem to be spending the whole time trying to extrapolate Word Up from the album rather than actually listening to it. But I guess those are the chips when you pull that out of the pocket, eh?

The title track is in that, like, spiritual mode with soulful brass stabs and profound bass licks and aspiration leaking from its pores. I quite like it, especially the vocals. And the sentiment. "It's Serious" is exactly the kind of workout that sounds serious. An African feel on the underneath that pushes it, swinging from side to side for eight minutes. Then "It's Over" is a bit more sultry and closes it all off.

I apologise for the childish nature of this appraisal.

Rating: How'd They Get Word Up out of This?

The 2kDozen 500: #198- Squarepusher, "Ufabulum"

Saw one amazing performance by Squarepusher in an exhaustingly muddy field one Saturday night at Glastonbury in 2005. Lasers were reached for, feelings soared: you know the drill'n'bass. And this is rumoured as a return to Ultravisitor form, so let's lay some ears down.

It opens with "4001", which might be a soundtrack for that very year. Buck Rogers dancing with glass baubles in elegant slow-moving gavottes, beards dripping with whatever mad, honey-based narcotics they've synthesized over the intervening centuries. Drums rattle with riot. "Unreal Square" has an 8-bit streak running through it eight bits wide while the sides fan out in massive, distorted ripples. Not too keen with the direction "Stadium Ice" takes somehow - it's almost as if I like all the musical directions but none of the instruments pointed in them. Enthusiasms are pinched into shape for a while on "Energy Wizard" but it still sounds like the sounds used for chart pop with none of the hooks, a purposeless shuffle.

Drab tones on "Red In Blue" and I'm getting ready to cast the whole album aside. A bad Scyfy channel movie about gigantic molluscs or something. "The Metallurgist" begins with scary sci-fi and adds acidic squelches and some real momentum: first track that quickens my blood and opens my confidence. "Drax 2" continues the optimistic sleek precision and "Dark Steering" gives it a Carpenteresque bite. But I still don't feel as though it's headed anywhere.

Rubbery bounce and grinding alarm noises on "303 Scopem Hard", but it doesn't do enough to overwhelm what I'm starting to find too fussy to listen to without losing patience. Why and when did I go off Squarepusher? "Ecstatic Shock" is exactly what I want; but I'm not getting any of it.

Rating: Drifting out of My Line Of Interest

The 2kDozen 500: #197 - John Cooper Clarke, "Disguise in Love"

The foothills of Punk Britannia appeared out of the mist on BBC Four last night with a doc on John Cooper Clarke, the Bard of Salford. I haven't watched it yet, Sky+'d for tonight; but I realised I haven't listened to the album that he did with fellow Greater Mancunian culture hero, Martin "Zero" Hannett. It's called "Disguise in Love" and it features a band called The Curious Yellows, I think, which were a combination of whatever musician pals were knocking around at the time. I'd always avoided it a little bit in the past because I'd preferred JCC as a spoken word phenomenon. But the time has arrived!

Did he name himself after the manhole covers by the way? I keep seeing them around Manchester, and I figure he would be "from the streets". Could be his real name, I suppose; but that seems a wasted opportunity.

Torrential word play and the subject matter "Salome Maloney", "Psycle Sluts" and "Readers Wives" suggest that the poetry is a sexual sublimation, yeah? I can certainly go along with that option. Very much what the CocOen was about during and before the Delicate Hammers era - and since, but without the performative outlet. And what poet couldn't be peered out through sex-stained spectacles? JCC's a bit too big of a subject matter to cover though, too good for me to dig my dirty little critical fingers into. (Now who's subliminating sexuality, eh?) He's there in the firmament with Viv Stanshall and there's no-one quite like him. But perhaps that's because pop culture only has room for the one, and he picked up at the right time to be carried on with the current to where we are now.

In an effort to engage critically, I could focus on the music, but it works well. Slightly spooky, slightly alienated, a touch of the soft rock. Big elastic sounding bass sounds. An air of late Roxy Music; louche and paranoid. Perhaps it was the smack talking through nodding fingers and mumbling thumbs. "Valley of the Lost Women" has a lovely Lou Reed drift about it, even some "Oh, oh" backing vocal sounds towards the end.

"In which I fill the auditorium with popping phenetics," he snarls eloquently as he introduces "The Pest" in front a leery crowd that laugh at the piss and seem to miss some of the cleverer parts; but that's the nature of the crowd. I'm really glad there are live bits of his performances because it's electric and cunning and lithe stuff. He records a battering from "an embryonic Bruce Lee" the size of "two penny fart" on "Kung Fu International" and the album closes with drunken claps and cheers. That is correct.

There's more industrial styles as well with lumpen bass and shot-blasting keyboard squalls and scratching guitar. "Gimmix! Play Loud" ends with a weird sea-lion-copying loop of his nasal twanglets. "I Don't Want to Be Nice" has an expansive, millenarian skank going on, while Johnny shares pearls like "A friend in need is a friend in debt". "Teenage Werewolf" is like lift music, Teletext funk - with JCC's bizarre, parallel autobiography. An inexhaustible to narrate and re-invent and describe himself: "I've seen the world, I didn't like it/What's in it for me?"

But the words are the best bit - "Psycle Sluts" is a spoken word version to give the words all their power. And to include his gawky, breathless chuckles when he does something especially clever. So fucking hard and shiny and dense: "the tough Madonna whose Cro Magnon face and Crab Nebula curves haunt the highways of the UK ... their lips pushed in a neon arc of dodgems". Do people still put words together like this in public?

Rating: Crystalline Restless Self-Mythology out of Manholes

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The 20kDozen 500: #196 - Randy California, "Kapt. Kopter & The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds"

I was cracking on to myself via this blog the other day about the difference between rock and pop and techno and how rock was built on the switch between tension and release. So whither and whence acid rock?

This is some deep fried music from 1972 - the year of my birth, Cocfans - before things got rilly rilly shit, I suppose. Randy was a buddy of Hendrix's back in the day, the legend runs; he certainly has busy fingers. But the sun is in these strings. Where I was talking about the sunshine of pop music and Apollo beaming down, in that place Randy also wanders. Acid rock has the sunshine in there, the tension doesn't build: it's too much of a buzz. Instead of release there's a sweet tangy bleed.

There's a disappointingly straight cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper". And I was hoping they might have a bit more fun with "Mother and Child Reunion" as well. "Rain" draws itself closer to the future Meat Puppets - and i love them Meat Puppets. Scrambling bass and guitar lines with a early twentieth century jazz feel before it rolls around on more predictable bluesy business, psychedelic with backwards rain whipping through the empty air. The strut is heavy with good juju on "Rainbow" as he calls out for "protection" and sounds to have amassed a squadron of Twirly Birds to watch his back and play some funky, multi-fingered music while they're at it. And they are at it.

The cover of "Walkin' The Dog" has a weirdly cloudy synth noise wandering out between the vocals and the muted cowbell-inflected band boogeying its woogie. I'm reaching the inner limits of my already very ingrown vocabulary to describe all this. "Rebel" has that SST feel again - punks in the desert, taking music to listen to drugs to. I likes it.

Rating: Tangy Bleed out of Desert Punks

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The 200kDozen 500: #195 - Jay-Z, "The Blueprint"

Confessional time. I've never listened to The Blueprint. You know? Feels better to have got that out from under the carpet.

I mean, I probably have heard it in bits and pieces here and there at parties and on the radio and that. But I've never sat down to listen to it. Myself and mainstream hiphop had issues for a few years, quite a few years. I didn't see the point of helping fund some megalomaniac thuggy empire rise up and crush another twenty talents with every lazy swatting stroke it made. But I gave B.I.G. a go, and there was a bit of Hova on the radio during my time back from work. So...

I hadn't realised (somehow - I know, right?) that Kanye West was pulling the production strings. Warm, brassy sounds from the glory years of soul lending Jay a swatch of sophistication, a backdrop of respectability. Or maybe bought would be more accurate than lent. And I don't mean that in a sniffy way. He hasn't borrowed these tunes, he's paid for them. "Takeover" uses The Doors to neat menacing effect, which everyone knows - "You little fuck/I got moneystacks bigger than you" and "Nobody can read you dudes like we do" is all about putting down the Nas and the Mobb Deep and all of them. I wonder does he still have to exert himself to these ends? Then onto the "Girls Girls Girls" to show he's a lover as well as a fighter. Ahem. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" shows love for what is was in 2001: respect from competitors. But "What you eat don't make me shit" is a great line.

So am I buying stock in the Hova Enterprises after all? "Song Cry" - "I can't see it coming down my eyes/So I gotta make the song cry". Disingenuous, yes? There's the "mouthpiece for hustlers" telling of tales, the pushing of the brand - which is the essence of a fuckload of hip hop, of course. The lyrics are pretty amazing technically, but they aren't saying much outside of his shadow. And I still find the "nigga" word difficult to take in. For all the cash washing about, the tunes lack the glamour of the darker, hoodlum tunes of the nittier, grittier contemporaries. There's not enough pain; it's all success on top of other success. It gets a bit bland, blared out by the same trumpets shining in the soulglow sunlight.

 "Renegade" features Eminem (before the plastic surgery around the eyes) to make sure there is gravity drawing in all kinds of interest. It is an Eminem track in essence with a pimp whistle Dre slink in the production and given over very much to his slippery rhythms. Just to get the only rap artist on the same level as Jay on the team.

Late on, I realise why the use of all the soul samples keeps prickling at me. It's taking the triumph of black culture in the Sixties and Seventies, the explosion of self-confidence after civil rights progress - no matter how illusory in real economic terms - and using it to bolster his industry, his image, the celebration of himself and his own rise to the toppermost. And that sounds tired.

Rating: Corporate Infinity out of Cocaine Skyscrapers

The 2kDozen 500: #194 - Luke Abbott, "Modern Driveway"

Sounds Cornish, Luke does. He's not though; he's from Norfolk.

Maybe I shouldn't bother listening to any more guitar albums, as I seem to get more of a kick and a rush from their electronicaltechno cousins. It's got that Orbital feel of life-affirming propulsion. I think it's the sense of propulsion that I like from this music, a sense you get less from the rock and the pop. Rock tends to brood over its bruises and obsess and pick over its mental scabs, the dynamics of tension and release; pop is all about the solar explosion of joy where Apollo and Dionysius get things together and the world pays attention. Techno just moves, onward and onward - you can choose to hitch along as long as you like, but the train will carry on with or without you. Because of that, I think it reminds me most of the global hum of life.

"Meeting Hill" has got all that elegaic tone business that we've come to expect from Norfolk folk. (Only part of that statement is incorrect, but it's a bit part.) Slow-moving ice floes of synth tones, a plucky banjo kind of sound to represent the persistent human element again. It bookends lovely with the opening title track, which has a tight wooziness that paradoxically fills a brainhole I haven't yet identified. And there's that trumpet synth sound that was all over early Aphex.

Abbott seems to have stuff on his mind on "Hand Drawn Maps" as there's a bit more bustle and botheration. "Ovals" has more of thousand yard feel, or something of the sinister laboratory - my third eye muscles are moving in and out. The pace picks up again a bit on "Carrage", warp engines and sweet little reversed noises. Cool, sleek and effortless.

So in all, a third successful piece of album in less than twelve hours. To think I was running out of steam a little. Game is well back on!

Rating: Something Propulsive out of Norfolk

The 2kDozen 500: #193 - JK Flesh, "Posthuman"

Fuck me, this album is terrifying. It's past midnight, I'm already living with nightly fear of zombie home invasions and I decide to listen to an album called "Posthuman" with blowtorches disguised as guitars and the smell of wrongness pumping from its every pore. I can almost taste the flaking flesh lifting of the bone and hear the legion of flies. The cover is of veins in the back of a hand. (I thought it looked familiar; ho ho!)

Growling, distorted bass work; real metal heroism. The slow-moving majesty of terrifying things, all very Mordor. I can't really slice any pieces of it off critically yet. Maybe it's too big, too self-contained. Perhaps I'm too scared. "Punchdrunk" is played by instruments that have all been made out of leaden gongs. And it lurches out onto a frozen lake of white noise. I likes it!

"Devoured" is zombie dubstep, playing out in a nightmare scenario of post-apocalyptic garage forecourts and seriously partied out underground clubs. Concrete and the human equivalent thereof. "Posthuman" adds a chilling John Carpenter like twisting theme and jacks it all up a bit more. "Earthmover" draws on the hoover rave of the very early Nineties, coupled with some cadaverous muttered screamsinging and whining noises. This album is awesome! Not sure I could get as invested on a sunny afternoon at the park though.

Bells toll on "Dogmatic" with more feverish growling sounds and more excellent kick breaks. Hmmm. I love that ninjitsu beatmaking business! Feel the fear and kung fu anyway. "Walk Away" employs just enough detuned melody to offer the illusion of hope. I read the review in The Quietus just now, and it said how the rock music tropes gesture to where the exits should be but can't be reached, sealed up by the downturned tunes. Like in a bad dream.

Rating: No Exits out of Zombie Dubstep Deathclub

The 2kDozen 500: #192 - EL-P, "C4C"

Even if I hadn't thought about casting an ear or two over the new offering from ex-Company Flow, indie hiphop innovator/boss El-P, his sterling production on Killer Mike's album has re-ignited my interest in his coin-op level boss sound.

He sounds hoarse and tough as he did when I last listened. "The Full Retard" could've been composed out of the sound of loading games on my ancient and obsolete Acorn Electron. There's even full on AM radio whistling manipulated on "Works Every Time" before layers of SNES fanfares and boozy choral la-la's build up to a tarnished piece of euphoria. The bare bones of it all add weight to the idea of a friendless prophet, spitting venomous truth and etting the ceteras.

"Drones Over Bklyn" is a promising title. Choppy, snare-inflected drums and broody synth growls that even includes a bit of a skank at points. Not so keen on the rocky breakdown at the end of the track. "I'd sooner wash my dick in acid than ask you what you think" he growls at his hipster neighbours. Drones working both for Afghanistan observations and Williamsburg Apple-acolytes, but I'm not sure I get the connection.

The gangsta gritty mood bleeds through hard on "Tougher Colder Killer", also featuring Killer Mike himself. It sounds lyrically out of place, stuffed with muthafuckas and the like. Most of the rest album is coloured by video games, seems less about the "reality of the streets" and more about ontological face/offs in the mirror. "Who sighs when you submit receipts?" he grumbles pithily on paranoid secret agent fantasy "The Jig Is Up", which blends into "Sign Here": "Just beneath that dry disguise/No-one knows you're soaking wet." Both songs mix politics and sex and relationships, which suggests he maybe has a hard time seperating the public and private in his home life.

"$ Vic/FTL (Me And You)" is massive, some soulful guitar and perhaps the chord progressions (damn my musicological feebleness!) kicking it into a different gear altogether. Running a sliver of gritty hope through the shoddy, grey dystopias that tower over his tunes. "I never feel so brave as when I'm looking at your face" he gushes, setting himself up with a Ready Brek glow to protect himself from all the geopolitical shit he's clouded in, his life "like a four dollar fink".

Rating: Gritty Stance out of Coin-Op Dystopias

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #191 - patten, "GLAQJO XAACSSO"

This one was recomended in my direction by @Yaaard. Very worthwhile listening to his recommendations, it is. And this is in that bracket of sultry, dense, confusing, glitchy techno that I seemed to hearing a lot at the beginning the year. I like it; it gets my brain pumping.

I was a bit unsure about using the "techno" word at first, partly because it seems so nebulous and probably outdated. But I'm sure I hear all the ingredients moving around outside of their usual boxes. A lot of sounds performed live too. I mean, it could be all of it or none; but the electricity definitely sounds as though it's in the one room at the same time; all tangy and pungent.

Does this fragmented and glitched up haze reflect the digitising of our whole lives into pictures on our phones and ethereal MP3s and everything else? And do I have a more banal point to make? No; shall I move on then?*

Glacial slink on "Ice". "Crown 8vo" is thick with rainforest clicks and swarming rattling sounds. An ancient sounding synth chop announces "Words collided" and there are steam engine hisses. "Blush mosaic" breaks up little pieces of the loading noises of computer compatible cassette recorders and scatters them amongst a plucking, chanting beast of a tune. Big, beautiful warm tones on "& our wild paths intersect" as though a Seventies supercomputer was trying to relate to us its delights and plans in excited, childish phrases.

"Fire dream" incendaries with Eighties0Eight noises, hissing again like a sweaty pavement. Long summer holidays, that kind of drill. I'm drawn to the title "Peachy swan"; the tune has black ice skids, acned with gravel and some Fred Astaire breaks gliding across the top. Rolling streams of toothsome yoghurt curdle in and out in "Out the coast" without getting too far. "Ndi bem" is monstrous and cavernous, steely glints on the dense, dark walls. Fibrous, patient noises and the sound of a lid being put on something on "Plurals" and some echoing-down-the-corridor vocal snatches, that you'd get on Burial records. I think I had an idea what they might represent, but I forget now.

I've the feeling this would reward some more listens. Perhaps with insight, perhaps with thrills. Either way, I'm golden.

Rating: Triggers out of Amniotic Soup

*Having just read a short piece on him, I read that he's interested in the psychedelic triggers of various familiar noises within memory and of the massive amounts of information we process every day. So I was merely being even more pretentious than him about it.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #190 - The Walkmen, "Heaven"

I loved "Bows + Arrows" back in 2004. The only album I lost the CD of without losing the case, CocTrivia fans. Tight, furious little patch of New York indie, it was. No great scope, but dragging everything successfully to its own level - in a good way. A streetfighting album, sticking its thumbs in my eyes.

This year's offering is a little mellower, musically at least. Apparently they are feeling less detached and more generous, although the blood pressure in the throat does seem to spike a couple of times.

"Southern Heart" sets itself on a slow Faulkner fuse; "Tell me again how you love all the men you were after".  The guitar underneath swings on a lazy, Deep South summer hammock. "Jerry Jr's Tune" practically barbershops it out the door at the end. Soft was the shuffle of the shoes. The title track has more throttle in its teeth but is about someone being their best friend. Not exactly "The Rat", is it? "Line by Line" could almost be played behind Tony Hart's Gallery.

So there's not the same level of Bohemian rage that I imagined last time. He sounds a little too content and worldly-wise. And I'm not ready for that yet. Or at least I'd need more powerful tunes.

Rating: Barber Shop out of Anger Management

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #189 - Poliça, "Give You The Ghost"

This album comes across a bit blank to inspire too many thoughts in me without any bio back up. It's got bits of zeitgeist floating in it like a bad German can of coke.

We got the treated vocals - check! Synth noises washing to and fro in the background - check! Nauseous sense of misgiving after the first couple of minutes - check! There are two drummers, but the drum power has been dissipated into an echoey, overfussy rattle.

I'm finding it a bit difficult to objectively assess this album as so much about it seems to bleed into the background. I've already listened to most of it, but haven't had as much as two thoughts about it to rub together. I haven't a subtle enough tooth in my head to get any of them into this meat of this album. I find it as spectral and wraith-like to listen to as the title might suggest. There's a hint of country dynamics. I can only assume all the chatter about R&B I've read are the result of a couple of press releases or interviews.

A couple of the stiffer tracks stand out from the general wash of Autotune and not-much-else. Closer "Leading to Death" swaggers about, drunk under its own sense of cleverness. "Violent Games" musters up some menace, though I can't summon up many of the lyrics - something about Tasers and tumbling? I dunno. Really doing nothing for me. I expect I'll be won over some time in the next six months. Although one of the many advantages to being married is that I never again have to pattern my musical likes and dislikes along the lines of someone else's motherboard because I have a crush on them. I can just cut this album free.

Rating: Ghostly Nothing out of Double Drums

The 2kDozen 500: #188 - Cactus, "Restrictions"

The Peel Archive strikes again.

I've fallen a wee bit behind in all fact. There are on D, and I'm still listening to bits of C; but what are you going to do, eh? I'm a deeply lazy name, and I probably shouldn't be bothering with hairy auld blues rock albums from 1971. And yet, and yet...

"Guiltless Glider" bears a few hallmarks of the oncoming heavy metal storm. I'm finding this almost as difficult as dub to critically engage myself with. It sounds like rock in its natural habitat, doing what comes naturally and eating the usual fodders. And I don't even believe in the concept of "what comes naturally". Big dark spot on my musical CAT scan, this. It glides out to nearly nine minutes, I can tell you that much. And there is a drum solo. Actually, that seems pretty unnatural - so I'm making a start.

There are some seriously beefed-up Blues to be heard on "Evil", and I get the uneasy image of listening to super-meaty quarterbacks or somesuch, sharing their banal, bloated version of problems at some campus battle of the bands and getting carried up onto record contract glory and sex with women and that. I wonder why the Devil become stadium-sized in the hands of bands like this, amplified to Titanian proportions from the sly chap bluesmen would meet at the crossroads with a glint in his teeth and a contract in his pocket?

"Sweet Sixteen"? Least said about that the better. Predatory rock songs about girls coming of age would kind of make sense from the perspective of sixteen year old boys; but they always sound too throaty and adult to be less than sordid. Can't really make out the lyrics properly, but I don't think I want to listen too closely. "Bag Drag" has the same paranoid metal rattle as early Sabbath, and while it moans about "skies full of kerosene" they seem to be more bothered about "rules and regulations" than any of the wars they mention. Proto-Clarksons, dressed to the nines in jeans and sports jackets. I suppose the key thing about this is that they complain about the soldiers that have died; not the invaded civilians. First world problems. Shiver.

The last track is called "Mean Night in Cleveland" and it's the only one on the scale of the early blues. Perhaps they got taken down one or two pegs during their time in the Rust Belt.

Rating: Enormo-Blues out of Going Through The Motions

The 2kDozen 500: #187 - Killer Mike, "R.A.P. Music"

I don't know who Killer Mike is. I'll dig out a bit of info shortly but I want to hear a couple of the tracks first in order to let my first impressions flower. All I have to go on is the track titles (not especially dripping with hate or bullshit as far as I can see) and the cover, which is a kid in classic Golden Age Raybans and Adidas Three Stripe tracksuit. So far, so straightforward.

Opens with "Big Beast" and the track is just that. Fabulous epic guitar squelched into curious shapes at the start of "Country Fried". I find out that he was one of the Outkast peeps, which would explain the thinks on strippers that he keeps spitting on the track. A touch of quasi-falsetto - "Ain't I fresh?/Ain't I clean?/Ain't I ride through the city in the meanest machine?" There's chat about first class travel on "JoJo's Chillin'", but the Eighties grit of the break underneath and the squelches lift it up from the ordinary.

There's a track called "Reagan"! I will be listening to this more than once. Starts with a sample of his Contragate evidence; likey so far. "We should be indicted/For bullshit we inciting/... We are advertisements/For agony and pain... Just like Oliver North introduced us to cocaine/In the Eighties when them bricks came on military planes". Followed up by Ronnie's astonishing attempt to bareface his way out of the shit he'd got himself into; the successful attempt that is. Taking both the bling worship of cheese and green to task and the "War on Drugs" and the interchangeable nature of presidential "talking heads telling lies from teleprompters". There are also kazoos: pretty damned paramilitary, if you ask me.

The production is by El-P, and he should be happy to pump in some extra millenarian dread and paranoia should it be needed. He crops up on "Butane" vocally himself. "Ghetto Gospel" has the Gospel angle weaved sweetly into a scary bubbling Ice T bassline and a bit of a mellow string to underpin a hustler contemplating his Maker and the lifechoices. Sounds like it should be cheese-laden, but it works. "Anywhere But Here" is dark and sparkling like a puddle with petrol in it.

I don't know who "Willie Burke Sherwood" is, but I'm assuming they must be some father figure type. This is Mike's life story: being a bookish kid, deciding to be like Jack in Lord of the Flies, going to work for UPS, picking his way through the difficult decisions. The music is a synthy whirlpool of feelings, or something like that. Then to close "R.A.P. Music" sums up his creative intents as his church, "the opposite of bullshit". All the same kind of instruments you hear on a David Guetta record, but in a far more satisfying order.

Rating: Angry Prophet out of Three Stripe Classicism

The 2kDozen 500: #186 - Cabbageboy, "Genetically Modified"

Some time towards the end of the last thousand year Reich, Si Begg was Cabbage Boy and was making music for Ninja Tune like this. It has the same kind of kiddy-pastoral feel as Mr Scruff, good-time bonhomie fun sampledelica. The kind of stuff that would appear in the soundtrack of Spaced, which was of a similar mindset; the late, late extension of already late adolescence at the End of History (tm).

This music somehow has a bit of a Bohemian sting though. Perhaps this is from hanging about on the same roster as Cold Cut, or perhaps it's the flipside of the Y2K party bug. I think it rests really on the choice of sampled speech - "Vended Food" and "Rhythm and Blues Angus Steak House" have a sense of dystopian satire, only a taste. Nothing I could really flesh out over a paragraph. Or maybe it's the Boards of Canada recycling of memories/vicarious experience into a gloopy cycle of worn magnetic tape, the ghost on a childhood holiday in the machine?

"Hey Hey We're The Monks" has bent some folky chant to its indomitable will, which gladdens me. There's a bit of Oprah on there too, in parental guidance mode too, which again seems quite Nineties: it feels a bit like another battle that was lost a few years ago, the parental paedophiliphobic tide of censorship that carries away much but leaves mainstream hate porn attitudes largely untouched. And the Blue Jam ensluggening of the human voice; "So, do you like Suede because I think they're verrryyy gggoooodddddd?"

"Planet" has a nice funky scowl and echoing harpsichord noises. Then there is something that sounds midway between Cantonese and Welsh going on in "Donkey Kong", over a sweaty workout of a drum & face blend. "I:Cabbage" has a Western string theme fanning out across the desert.

"As the World Rages" is the key text (yeah, I know, so sue me!) on the album - "Lock up the door/Hoping that history doesn't exist anymore/And as the world rages/We become more and more like dancing guests on the ballroom floor" and there's tinkling party's-over piano and then alarm noises. There's not that moral panic in dance music any more, is there? It's all Eurotwunge reach for the lasers business. Not like in one of my days...

Ratings: Millenium out of Paaarrrttttttyyyyyyyy

Monday, 21 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #185 - ModeSelektor, "Monkeytown"

This album has been knocked over in my direction as a suggestion by @TheBaffer on Twitter. I like the suggestions. Always welcome.

Straight down to growling electronic business. Busdriver skids about all over "Pretentious Friends", kinked pitches all shifted on the vocals. Not finding them easy to follow either, but they chop stuff up. "Goose liver, nigger!" He sounds good and cracked, making out that he's been at Cannes and dancing with no pants on in Holland: "My hoes they look at me/And their water break and babies pop out with one gold tooth." Nice.

They make sure that Thom Yorke feels at home for his track "Shipwreck" with the Radiohead clatter rattling hefty along underneath. Modeselektor, as their name suggests, will adeptly provide the backing to match the vocalist. It's got a good Radiohead propulsion to it as well. Things change again on "Evil Twin", gears go through all the techno handclap and wobbly bass noise. "German Clap" wires up the keys to a hoover to evoke a bit of the spirit of 1992 over at Human Resource management. It has a great bass thump that sounds like somewhere trying to break into my garage.

The IDM click and humming circuits loom up from the recent past on "Berlin". I like that sound - it's simultaneously warm and cold. Like iced fire. Especially with the Stevie Wonder type backing vocals echoing all choral like. Almost as if they and the circuits have been merged in together. "Green Light Go" also has that stuttering, avant grud edge to it, tiny melodic flourishes twinkling off into the evening air. Antipop Consortium shuffle over with off-kilter Bohemian menace on "Humanized", giving the track a feeling of the zombie or unhuman. Then Thom Yorke comes back and goes all mournful angel again on "This", multiple levels of music looping and skidding about like Hot Wheels in a split garage. "War Cry" is a little strange as it builds up around a tribal mutter, then chills for a bit - sounding a bit like Fuck Buttons. Techno Mogwai.

I am impressed with their chameleonic powers, these Modeselektor menschen. But I'm not sure what to make of it as an album. I'm pretty sure more listens and thinks would be a good idea. That is not my speciality at the moment though. And I'm resisting the urge to relax back onto sleek, black, body-moulded cliches about Teutonic efficiency and heartlessness. But nothing has rushed in to fill their places. My imagination seems to be OK with a vacuum, thereby fucking off the rules of physics.

There's personality there, but I can't quite put my finger on it yet. Or them.

Rating: Chameleon out of Flourish

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #184 - Beach House, "Bloom"

I've built myself up a bad impression of these guys. I'm in a bad mood. Figure it's time I listened to this and give my angry side a work out.

First track, "Myth", is all shivery and cuddly and what you might expect. "My mother said to me/That I would get in trouble", they begin on second track "Wild" while topical synths heave underneath. Meh. There's a cheap, gimmicky keyboard intro and some sub-Kate Bush panting on "Lazuli", which irritates me further. I realise I'm listening to this in a bad mood, etc; but if it was better, it would improve my mood - and I don't have time to wait for my mood to get any better. I've another 315 of these fuckers to get through.

There's too much of this bilge swilling around already. It's too hard to keep engaging with it critically; it's like swimming against the same currents over and again. And I hate swimming. Even the title "Troublemaker" bothers me. It's that kind of domestic, fluffy duvet worship of some imagined sexy, evil being that will never actually cause any kind of threat or - Aaah, fuck it! I'm boring myself now and even here isn't the place for one of those rants.

Maybe it's because there are only two of them - making music as/in a couple maybe drifts into gauzy self-satisfaction. Maybe, maybe: as wishy and washy a word as you might expect. "Wishes" actually lifts my evil feelings a tad; the choppy guitar solo in particular. But I just wish they (and by extension I) could escape from the all-smothering synth noise. It's a ubiquity as unwelcome as the 808s was welcome back in them there days.

"On the Sea" dispenses with the electronic wash, leaving a piano to clinically pick out the same notes, but the music itself demonstrates the same limp purposelessness of what they are doing. "Irene" is almost seventeen minutes long; I cannot and will not be arsed with that. Sorry, Beach House, not your day for a fair hearing from Coc. I'm sure you're pretty broken up about it.

Rating: Aaarggghh out of Fuck It

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #183 - Irma Vep, "HA HA"

I've heard the name batted about in recent times, but I don't really have an idea of how he/they/she/it would sound. Bearing in mind the patronage of Alan Holmes, I'd assume it could be something a little kosmische, something with a Bohemian glint.

"Love is Loving Someone Else's Baby Tonight" sets out a stall of lonesome arthouse troubadour, all intensity and occasional cups of coffee. This reads back like condescension, but I think it's because I don't really get that model - I keep it on the outside. The opening track, "A Curse", is less verbal, more of a bad-tempered raga. Which would make sense, I suppose. I've read he's based (and that he is a lone he) in Manchester, but comes from Anglesey. The lovelorn tune suggests Sweet Baboo, both in voice and tone and subject matter. "It's hard to hold onto something/You never held that tight."

Heart cracks widen during "There's Nothing Wrong With Feeling Wrong". I'm not sure what "Readers Wives" is about, but I suspect there is a bedsit sort of theme going on. Nice, hacking indie acoustic guitar. The Rolling Stones arrive from some sweet dimension in which they stopped being famous almost before they started - "All people are poison/Just wanna avoid them" - and bluesy it about on a low budget. Then some great throwing up noises. Then it crashes into a slowing tape - Crunch!

Previous album reviews of the singer-songwriter types have been moidering about wanting to hear urgent, desperate, cracked music. Here it rumbles. "Michelle (A Cold Place)" is far more in tune with what I think Jack Black thinks he should sound like to me. Actually, I change my mind about that; I'm not sure in what direction though. But he mumbles something about "werewolf", so I'm sold.

"Bare in mind/That you're mine/All the time/And is it OK/If I sold you?"

It all closes with advice to "Be A Mother" and something about being a "fucker". I've tried listening to it a couple of times, and I can't quite make it all out. The emotion of it overruns the sense of the words; but it sounds like a philosophy.

Rating: Lovelorn out of Krautfolk

The 2kDozen 500: #182 - Cabaret Voltaire, "1974-76"

Cabs have featured in the Peel Archive in a big way and the Irma Vep tracks I've been sent by Darren Parry at The Difference Engine on Mon FM are taking their time to arrive and be playable. So I'm listening to this because it promises to be fresh cream pulled from early mid-Seventies experiments in a time when Sheff City was a very difference place than it is now.

I suppose electronic music has changed massively since then. It's interesting (or maybe it isn't) how danceable patterns of the music came in and took control as if that's all music was ever any good for. As if that was the whole point of music. This album is not about dancing. I'm not sure what it's about. It's about weirdness, but I'm not sure what it's expressing.

Does it express the ideas that kick around inside a mind left on its own with some peculiar noises? Or in the case of the Cabs, two minds? "In Quest of the Unusual" in fact. When the machine makes the noise in an uncompromising way, and the person is expected to join the dots themselves, set the branches stirring out into the distance of their own imagination; is that what happened here? "Do The Snake" is a bit like a crazed version of a dance track ("Keep your ass up high/Well off the ground") with some percussion and a bit of bass; but it's jokey, boffiny business. Somehow we got from here to The Prodigy; from here to Pete Tong. Or maybe we didn't; maybe this was some Neanderthal version of dance music that was outbred by the "I Feel Love" strain. That probably was the right result.

"Venusian Animals" is a bit transparent as titles go. Setting a soundscape. There's a noise like oboes. And solar winds. Too much sci-fi, but then who else was going to make instruments from mail order kits in a time like the Seventies? And I suppose it describes strange, alien creatures - a paraphrase of the strange, alien noises they were making without a real guidebook. So I like it.

There's eight minutes of the "The Outer Limits" with a sound like a dematerialising TARDIS running through most of it. That and "She Loved You" are quite repetitive. Maybe this was the stage at which they were beginning to get the hang of what they were doing and started expressing themselves rather than interpreting the machines? It always gets boring and repetitive when you begin to get to grips with a new thing. And it's a sort of distended, distempered cover of The Beatles' "She Loves You" in a whispered mumble. The "yeah/yeah"s are especially cool.

Rating: Sci-Fi Adventures out of Mail Order Envelopes

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #181 - C Cat Trance, "Khamu (She Sleeps Walks)

This from Rough Trade in 1985 and from the C section of the Peel Archive. Never heard of them before.

Open with a song partly in French, as the old showbizz greats used to say: "Puritaines" opens on an waspy high bassline, or a very low, throaty guitar line then sings about new Puritans and possibly something to do with television. Sax and guitar duet like angry swans fighting at Buckingham Palace. It has a limping drive that I don't think I've heard from anything recently. "Barefoot Doctor" is about "rattling ghosts" with some big festive-sounding cymbals and a feline bassline. I'm reminded of Japan. "The New Hassan" also drags itself though some slow, sour places - almost like a beatless version of Primal Scream's Jah Wobble mix of Higher Than The Sun with loads of really tense and tiny violins giving it some in a nearby echo chamber. Some big, weird, morbid parade has passed.

Vocals take a while to arrive on "(Screaming) To Be With You", skidding in on top of jittery and Arabic sounding tune. That Arabic image is copied on the hidden face on the cover as well. The lyrics slide past me in the sandstorm, except the title. "Rattling Ghosts" crashes in with some more Middle Eastern sounds, a bagpipe heard in market trading. "Simple Helen" moiders on about a butcher's daughter. There's a folk tale sense to the lyrics and I'm wondering if they're based on some Middle Eastern legends or somesuch. They have an imported feel, as though stories have been picked up wholesale without much lyrical input.

It ends with "Miss Manners" with spooky gaps and dramatic tension enough to give it a Death on the Nile feel. And with that, my casual racism draws to a close for another album. There's a feel of the coffee table and early world music exploration and dinner parties. Turns out they were from Nottingham.

Rating: Dinner Party out of Lawrence of Arabia

The 2kDozen 500: #180 - Motion Sickness of Time Travel, "Motion Sickness of Time Travel"

Oh, fuck; what am I doing? This is some seriously scary music with a quite scary title, the tracks are twenty minutes long and I feel like my immortal soul is under threat. I might not make it to the end.

"The Dream" is quite terrifying, not least because of a low, calm beep noise that keeps turning up. I fear that noise. It's used for something, but I don't know what - something involving film editing? A droning, Cold War, in-the-event-of-a-nuclear-attack beep; shit scary. And I'm only listening to it for the first time. Imagine spending hour after hour on your own in a dark basement with only the slowly building music for company, listening to it time and again until the thoughts move from the back of your mind to the corner of your eye. Yipes! There are human voices too - trapped in some wafer thin dimension where no-one can hear you clean. It ends with an echoey deep space laser battle.

A cheerier beginning to "The Center", the music talking quite happily to itself. And the voice sounds a little less trapped than on the first track; but it still doesn't sound like the kind of center I'd want to hang out in. The place sounds very haunted, by inventive and occasionally beautiful-sounding ghosts. I'm really not sure what to make of it. It sounds like it should be lovely, but I think I want a bit more drama or a bit more direction in the music. Eventually, about fifteen minutes in, the tune begins to move away from the centre and out into further reaches. I just want some propulsive bass to inspire me.

It gets a bit pan pipes on "Summer of the Cat's Eye", a bit Lord Summerisle. There's a pulse that shifts between a couple of frequencies to set some nerve or other on edge. Curious creepy music that I find myself associating with ancient BBC computers and sickness and time travel back to earlier sickness. The motion certainly seems quite lateral. I'm out of time and the fourth and final track will criminally go unexplored. A sneaky listen shows it building into a furious, howling Beelzebub of noises roughly halfway through with messed up piano sliding in and out. Too scared for that now.

Forgive me!

Rating: Threads out of Pulses

Monday, 14 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #179 - Datassette, "The Aviatrix EP"

Was pointed in this direction by Handsome Nick, who introduced me to a track from their 2006 album, "Can You Smell Maths?". That album wasn't available for my ears though, so I've moved to this EP from 2009.

Sounds like techno from the Jazz Age, the title track - there's some newsreel audio or radio recording about Amy Johnson. "Micro" sounds slick but slight, not much going on between its ears. Puts me in mind of Royksopp in places, contentedly rolling around the eardrums.

Ambition carries a bit more bite on the third track, "Humans"; it clatters and spreads and makes detailed little noises in a way you'd expect humans to do. Pesky little fleshy fucks! Around five minutes in, the Boards of Canada turns a bit more random and Aphex - usually a very welcome development and no different here. There's a kind of wiping, photocopier noise, which I'm ashamed to say I can't think of another way to describe.

Closer "Weather Conditions" has the same feel of arthritic electronic equipment, making backward-sounding whipping and whopping noises like on BoC tracks, coming to the end of its life, looking bad on a life well-lived, welling up with silicon tears. I like it. So an EP of two halves, I'd suggest.

Rating: Two out of Four

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #178 - Karen Gwyer, "I've Been You Twice EP"

This was posted to me by @Yaaard of Yaaard industries yesterday with words about Boards of Canada and XX chromosomal patterns. I do not know of Karen, but I like what I now hear of her. I'm thinking more like early Aphex Twin, with big chunky, seaboard synth noises chiming and buzzing majestically about. It all sounds homemade, but the kind of home with a Hellraiser like dimension out the kitchen door full of amazing slow-moving electronic sounds.

Maybe the Aphex connection comes from her name sounding so Cornish, but she's actually from Michigan and lives in That There Fancy London. The album even comes up on my iTunes next to "I Care Because You Do". Inavoidable and unescapable.

"Shermer Shake" mixes the paradoxically sublime and pedestrian synth sounds with some distant vocal hush. "No Moondoggies for 3 Weeks" (Moondoggies?) is a little more crowded and percussed than the other tunes, but still managed some drifting wordless singalong from an airy loft of the imagination. There's a Bladerunner tranquility to "Infernal Selection Enceinte Version" that borders on the Clannad, far from any infernal imagery altogether. It seems that she is interested in the same space between and/or around folk music and electronics as Clannad were, if the attached video is anything to go by, covering the Folk Anthology. "Velvet Gambit" closes with almost absent-minded humming over a churchy chord progression that dangles in that part of the brain from where The Orb rules the Ultraworld with pulsating bass.

The EP is also on a C30 tape, which maintains a link with ferric oxide that I've always been a little sad to miss. Yaaard too is a fan of the cassette, releasing some of his own sweet sounds on similar plastic contraptions. I think it's the handmade aspect of tapes that CD mixtapes never quite managed and infinitely shuffled MP3s never will. The mechanical shove of the Play/Rec buttons together imprinting your enthusiasms on the tape and marking an enthusiasm with a physical act of conviction that downloading cannot match. Artisan kung-fu creativity. Hell, yeah!

I'll definitely be keeping a rheumy eye open for future stuff. For a remake of Robin of Sherwood, or a folk hero of my own devising that robs from the time-rich to delegate to the future, dressed top to toe in Soylent green.

Rating: Cornwall/Ultraworld out of Michigan

The 2kDozen 500: #177 - The Time and Space Machine, "Taste the Lazer"

A luscious cover on this album, very lush indeed. Psychedelic colours and a kind of art deco font that suggest there might be riches within or that the label has a good design department. (I'm sure labels don't have departments any longer; that seems a very twentieth century way of structuring things.) It features Richard Norris too, previously of house/techno cross-pollinators The Grid in another life; and they were good, The Grid - they cross-pollinated in a most entertaining fashion.

This is more of a cosmic cowboy ride across the crimson skies, especially in the epic "Black Rainbow", a title I could never tire of. There are organs being leaned on, a woodwind-like refrain looping over and over and plenty of echo chamber around the guitar solo. The mind is very focused in listening. An alarm kicks off "Pill Party in India" and there's a sweet, dubby beat that appears and moves things on in very satisfactory fashion. "Out of My Head" is a live band version of a Chemical Brothers tune as yet unrecorded; it stomps with lysergic boots on, shaking up the dancefloor. Live drums don't sound as party-pooping as they can to my ears at times, especially riding the cymbal at the end.

Some of it motors around less successfully than other parts - "Explosions in the Sky" doesn't really go anywhere, for example. Nice bit of backward stuff, mind. It mellows a little for "Magic Mountain" with flutes and the like and ends on a track called "Good Morning", so as to map out the party to its obvious conclusion. The tracks with propulsive bass as those I like more. The quieter ones meander too long, rivers of negligent flow. Fun jams for them, but not pickling my process so much.

Rating: Lysergic out of Cosmos

The 2kDozen 500: #176 - Bad Brains, "I Against I"

Peel Archive again. A band I read about but never heard properly, again. A chance to remedy this, again.

It's a very reggae title, but the title track bears very little resemblance to anything of a natty dread nature that I can recall. It's fast, highly produced and squealing with metal portent. Though I'm pretty sure all music was faster and more nervy in the Eighties. Even Happy Mondays' first album was a janglefest.

"Re-Ignition" is paced more slowly, has a more intense burn; but I can't quite make out where the lyrics are going. He's got a curious nasal delivery. I can imagine how tunes like this went down well at the time in 1986. No hair metal pomposity, more laid-back than other DC bands with open space in the music, but also with some straight edge philosophy to give it some ethical starch. Faith No More territory, but with a more obviously political edge.

There's talk of love, but it's not clear whether it's actually love they are thinking of or whether it's a cypher for something else, partly because I can make so few lyrics out. I don't believe the "she" of "She's Calling You" is a real woman, but an idea of a country or something else. "Sacred Love" doesn't quite add up as an actual relationship. Vocals are literally 'phoned in - from a prison, so I can't make a decent ear fist of the lyrics. Or maybe I'm thinking too hard about the whole thing?

Rating: Spacious out of Fierce

The 2kDozen 500: #175 - Zulu Winter, "Language"

I don't think I'm in the mood for this album. It's too 2012. It has that drippy Coldplay wash running all over it. Maybe a couple of months ago I'd have felt better disposed to it. And is this the second album I've heard called "Language" in the last month or so? What's up with that?

"We Should Be Swimming" must be a single, and seems to be about hiding from the world on the bottom of the seabed. Self-annulment, woohoo! And sleazy annulment at that. Henry VIII on his gap year. Man City fans may well be singing "Bitter Moon" tomorrow. That's just judging by the title. I tried to listen twice and it wouldn't go in. His voice sounds too much like Chris Martin's voice, the twunk. May I also point out that I really dislike the name of the band?

"You are silver-tongued, you are/Plain obvious" and "What kind of man are you to hold onto these feelings?" suggest that singing man is either very pissed off with someone or (and this is what I'd prefer to suppose) locked into unwitting self-loathing which he projects outward in every musical direction. "You Deserve Better" contains the phrase "as you and I walk/And touch the corners of the evening", which I like, but then it bubbles up all Radio One again, the gorge rising up from the drains; whooosh! The title is a bit self-loathing again though, eh?

I've just seen a picture of the band (above) and I'm beginning to feel guilty about how much I loathe them after seeing it. It cements ideas about why I don't really like them that I can't illuminate. They look like part-timers, and not in a good amateur way. And I fear the poison in his words, words that he "wields" apparently. "I keep you with the words/The words I wield". Alright, weirdo! "Never Leave", eh? Touch of dress down Patrick Bateman about the band. Compared with the clammy, distant sound, it's a little too sociopathic for my tastes.

Rating: Exaggerated Sense out of Coldplay Similarity

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #174 - Gallon Drunk, "The Road Gets Darker From Here"

Twenty or so years ago, there was a special corner of my experience reserved for Gallon Drunk. There were also loungey bands, other bands that greased up quiffs and wore Hawaiian shirts, other bands that drank and muttered darkly; but there was nothing quite like Gallon Drunk. Their baritone, boozey glamour and edge of Nick Cave-like growl and rockabilly literary shapes made them stand out from whatever crowd I could muster in Anglesey at the time.

So there's a new album of their stuff. I don't know if they've gone away and come back like proper drunks or whether they've been hanging around semi-invisibly all these years - like proper drunks. It doesn't have the same stagger about it as the older stuff: "Stuck In My Head" sounds particularly poppy. Maybe they've had a moment of looking at themselves in the mirror and decided to stop trying too Bukowski.

"Killing Time" is drawn exactly from that same box though, including the tumbling, rumbling toms. "You've had your excuses/I've got mine": that's pretty neat. "The Big Breakdown" has more of a Blues Explosion rolling from side to side, which makes it a faded version of the schizophrenic panic they sounded like they were channelling back in the earli Nineties them. By "I Just Can't Help But Stare" I begin to suspect that there are two singers in the band, such are the split nature of the tunes.

There's some bottom end of the keyboard chill on closer "The Perfect Dancer"; it's quite low key in the other sense too. But there isn't much to drag my mind from their earlier incarnation, stranded out of many times as it was. Like an exciting version of Richard Hawley.

Rating: Staggering out of Tiki Lounge of the Mind

Friday, 11 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #173 - Two Wings, "Love's Spring"

Interesting voice on the lead singer. Tremulous, almost squeaky, a hint of Japanese in the fibre - although she's from Essex, I believe. Still unsure as to whether it's annoying or not.

The title track sounds like Folk Britannica to me, without anyone taking too many pains to bring things up to date. Although if you were playing flutes in the late Sixties to try and sound as medieval as possible, I don't suppose another forty years would make much difference. "Valley" has Spanish picked guitar and sliding steel battling for cultural dominance in the background. I like the steel but the shuffling beat is far too C&W for my sensitive stomach to handle.

"Altars and Thrones" hangs about like a kestrel hovering above the motorway. "Just Like" sounds as though it should be behind one of those thunderous rock'n'roll revue things that rolled about in the Seventies with Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or some other Messianic figure. Except we have the intercessions of this squeaky saint instead. Not feeling the need for redemption. "It Hurt Me" sounds like lead vocal duties have been taken by Sweet Baboo; perhaps that's why I like it more. Then it's back to the over-full sound again.

Think I've decided I don't like her Noh voice.

Rating: Capt Janeway out of Country & Folkestone

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #172 - Off!, "Off!"

Ex-Black Flag, ex-Circle Jerks: OK, fill me in. I know near-as-to-fuck-all about that period/scene, all those DC straight edge intense types. Henry Rollins' neck; that's all I know about them.

His voice sounds pretty middle-aged, as I guess ALL punks are now. I was too young for punk proper and I'm practically forty years of old. He sounds a wee bit like a Mike Myers character. And the tunes are all as short and sharp as you might expect. He seems pretty wee too; Napoleonic punk fucker, the anti-Thurston.

I amn't sure who or what the "King Kong Brigade" might be, but I like the cut of the musical jib beneath them. It's like all the other jibs on the album only there are more of them and they're slightly more intense; "Learning to shoot/Before they can read." It ends with a sound like angry yappy little dogs. Neither am I sure of the "Jet Black Girls", but I like the chorus; "Out in the night/Immortality calls".

It seems a tight and simple format for the tunes, which blunts the impact of the messages. Unless you don't think there are messages, but one long, angry, buzzsaw guitar message to get across. Unless you're tuned unto the formula and I suspect tens of thousands are, banging their greying heads into nostalgic oblivion. But what else are the guys to do? It's their them-ness.

Rating: Angry Ratman out of Bloody-Mindedness

The 2kDozen 200: #171 - Damon Albarn, "Dr Dee"

I was struck by the thought as I listened to this earlier today that Damon Albarn is "our"* Sting. I don't think he's as much of a prink as Mr Sumner or that everything is for the greater glory of Damon Albarn in the same way as the rainforests and Quentin Crisp and Nabokov and tantric sex have all been put in this universe for the greater glory of Sting. I liked Blur until very close to the end; but his solo stuff is pretentious in that dry way - yes, an opera about an Elizabethan polymath, sounds very grown up, Damon! It's a troubling thought that I quite enjoy parts of the album.

It is hard work in places, perhaps a little worthy and smacking of cardboard as a result; "O Spirit, Animate Us" shackles some sixteenth century worldview to his tired-sounding voice. There are a lorra lorra instruments on here - rauch fifes and dulcimers and harpsichords and what have you (provided you have a lot) - and a lot of different voices to populate the stage. It should be exciting, but it gets rather tiring.

I like the menace of the bass of "A Man of England", but it's lyrically empty. In fact, that might be my complaint throughout. The lyrics don't seem to do much but describe movements and planets and offer no great emotional depth. "The Marvelous Dream" might be a vision of the future from John Dee's time, almost sounding like Parklife at times, but I can't really get into the words. The word "revival" crops up a lot across a few songs, but I can't pluck out why.

"Temptation Comes in the Afternoon" starts out promisingly with some choral swoops but then the counter tenor screeches in over the top, sounding more than a little like Damon himself. I think there are references to angels and then some orgiastic noises. Some of the music - like on "Cathedrals" or "Tree of Beauty" - really stirs some of my stumps. In fact the last three tunes hit me on the listening button quite squarely. And babbling brook and birdsong is always a classy ending.

And yet...

Rating: Alan Moore Much Better Off out of It

* And I'm really not sure who "we" are, but I identify with Albarn in a way I never could with Sting. It feels generational, but I couldn't put a finger on what would link the generation together.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #170 - My Bloody Valentine, "EP's 1988-1991"

I'm not attempting anything as wrong-headed as criticism or analysis of MBV. I just want to record my impressions in a 2 Girls 1 Cup type way. That's what I've intended the previous 169 albums too, so let's see how we get on...

"You Made Me Realise EP" covers the first five tracks. Much closer to the Byrds business that was so prevalent in the late (but not that late) Eighties; but all the germs are there. The abrasive noises that would come further and further to the front loom slightly underneath the mix and would in the future pass right through our perspective, leaving only ghostly echoes of themselves. "Thorn" in particular. "Cigarette in Your Bed" (not a tune I've heard before I think) has more of the Loveless checkpoints than most of the tracks, just still a little pacey. One day soon, the drums would leave pretty much entirely - but not yet. "Drive It All Over Me" almost sounds like PWEI by comparison; but those proto-pedals are being pushed away from the metal. Interesting lyric too: "Get into your car/Drive it all over me."

"Feed Me With Your Kiss EP" was next, a bit later in 1988. The title track has been nudged on a bit by the first waves of grunge from the States - Mudhoney, Dinosaur, etc. (Would that be fair?) But the fairground swirl is still churning underneath, darkly brilliant. Hadn't heard "I Believe" before either - but it has corroded sounds dropping out throughout and blown-out bass bins undercutting a vaguely sunny Stooges piano-led pop tune. "Emptiness Inside" is much the kind of title I expect: it scoops and swoops as you'd expect, but with harder edges. A big bass drum opens "I Need No Trust", which is a little atypical, and the singing sounds slightly like the backwards dwarf on Twin Peaks. Velvet Underground closer to the surface?

Then "Soon". Nothing to say about that. Timeless and awesome. Music I can see myself remembering on my death bed. One of the keystones of my annus mirabilis. Kevin Shields, indie's very own Skynet, is beginning to instruct the machines to take over. "Glider", the title track of the EP, sets the controls for the heart of the bit of the brain that has to deal with repetitive, looped noises. Melody returns for "Don't Ask Why" in its own way and on "Off Your Face" ends with an incredible morphing of half-monkey, half-bent string chatter into a hazy, slightly disturbing outro.

Then we're on to the "Tremelo EP", which has the full cassette-left-out-in-the-sun blistered and woozy sound. There are technologies that will travel between stars, creating noises like this as they do so on "To Here Knows When". "Swallow" is much busier than I remember - bells and whistles prefiguring the likes of Loop Guru perhaps - with an extra bit of spooky noise on the end. "Honey Power" builds up with just that, layer after layer of gloopy sweetness. By the intro to "Moon Song" the drift off into structureless delight seems complete. It has the wistful air of a musical number, something out of a psychedelic version of Paint Your Wagon or something.

Then there are some other tracks that appeared on various 7inch releases and remix collections. "Instrumental No 1" rips off the same drum pattern as Madonna's "Justify My Love", which I always assumed was originally from Public Enemy's Nation of Millions, but now I'm not sure. Ghostly guitar noises are traced over the top. "Instrumental No 2" is much more about the thrashy, buzzing guitars again - but with a kind of Dick Dale atmosphere buried underneath the squall. The full ten minutes plus of "Glider" ends with a great reverberating bassaclysm. Then there are four previously unreleased and remastered tracks; and it's fairly easy to hear why they were unreleased. They don't offer a huge amount of newth or expansion on what has already been released. "How Do You Do It" perks my ears up the most but the dog-like guitar sounds in the background crop up in plenty of other places in the back catalogue.

I meant to make a point about how MBV titles are much more mundane than the gobbledygook ones from Cocteau Twins; but I forget what the point was. Ah, well. 

Rating: Untouchable out of Awesome Wooze

The 2kDozen 500: #169 - B Side, "Cairo Nights"

"Somewhere between shadow and light/There are Cairo nights".

More unknown/forgotten wonders from the Peel Archive, which has now strided magnificently into the Bs. (I wonder how many Royal Opera Houses/public subscriptions it would take to expand this to the whole collection rather than the first one hundred of each letter and make it permanent.) (And will there be a hundred records beginning with X?)

This is a very toothsome record indeed - slinky as a dolphin in goosefat, leaking glamour from each and every invisible pore, expansive and Francophonic. It's from 1985 and it's massive. All bass and drum machines and breathy vocals. Almost like Prince dub. And I find any musical references to Egypt difficult to resist.

"Bones" has massed up banks of John Hughes movies, liquidised then frozen into thunderclouds that glower over the musical horizon with Idaho skybigness. If the TV series "Bones" had this as its theme tune, I'd have to watch it. It has that high Eighties guitar picking and percussive noises that point at excited fingers prodding at new equipment. There's a bit of "sexy" saxophone on "Change The Beat", which is less my cup of tea, too Seinfeld. The lyrics are in French, but seem to be about giving sleazy suitors the brush off. Although with that sax, love, you're asking for it, etc.

The Eighties definitely had its own take on sexuality: not just the power dressing and AIDS epidemics. But it was quite straightforward. "So Hot" is a good example, with the steamy bongos and chanting backing vocals giving it a colonial feel. I wish I could take this Eighties sexuality idea somewhere but I can't. Maybe it was given energy by the self-confidence of gay culture spreading out across the Overground. I really don't know.

Side B of B-Side begins with a chunky tide of slap bass and crashing percussive synths again, all the tension loaded up into one key press. That's "Paris - Taxi". "What I Like (American Dreams)" is even further out on that extreme-skeletal-funk type pedalstool. "I like men that shop/I love women that rock!" It's gauche, but just about successful. It's all that excitement again; when technology made anything possible but not easy. I'd love to get an idea of what Peelie thought of this back in 1985. "Beatnik" is another version of "Change The Beat"; I think I've seen what they did there; and I can hear that they made it more stuttering and urban and Eighties. "A Lot to Give" ticks the box marked George Michael/Debbie Harry Rap.

I like this record. I thumb it up. I hope that featuring in the Peel Archive will boost their profile and get a few ears wagging in their faded direction. B Side and Francois Holland - all nice and retro in France at the minute, eh?

Rating: Stuttering Funk out of Unimaginable Context