Friday, 31 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #300 - Eugene McGuiness, "The Invitation To The Voyage"

This album has given me all kinds of ideas about the DNA of Pop and the DNA of Britain and how the kinky fault-line running between them can be traced in all kinds of crazy, quirky directions. Eugene is in that lineage somewhere - fighting for attention with Adam Ant and Madness and Scott Walker and whomever else. Jive Bunny!

There's a taste of Shakespeare in the air around him. (I know I'm probably getting quite carried away.) I don't feel I can quite do the album justice; but I've given it quite a few listens the last week or so. And there's a hunger to the lyrics to stitch as many things together as he can. I like that popological approach to shit. And there's a solid grasp of the ridiculousness of his situation on "Lion" - "My disgraceful quest for immortality/An adventure in an airship inflated by my ego". And in his other hand, an invisible knack for the pop hook, slapping me around the head.

I get a whiff of The Horrors and Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, and these are whiffs I breathe in with big lungs. And while Jack White and the like whinge and do the blues thing about the love interest, Eugene stakes a claim for a bit more of a complicated appraisal on "Thunderbolt", over sliding jazz-like noises. Chamber pop with a great many trimmings. "Joshua" likewise has a wider scope with backing vocals that sounds as though they could be from a sentimental black & white movie from the Forties.

"Japanese Cars" shows there's a bit of discordant keytar funk to hand as well, if needed. Closes out the album nicely, it does. Although it does have a "She's evil" lyric, so perhaps he isn't splitting away from the misogynist tree that far after all.

Rating: Shakespeare out of Pop DNA

The 2kDozen 500: #299 - JD and The Evil's Dynamite Band, "Explodes Across The Nation"

Another Peel Archive treasure, this time from 2001. They are looking to evoke some experimental funk from forty or so years earlier. Part of the Soul Fire collection, of whom I know next to nothing. But whatever their plans, this is some heavy business. And who can argue with a title like "Beer, (So Nice) Right On"? Except perhaps with the punctuation.

There is a heavy vein of very dark alcohol running through this. "My Beach, My Waves, Fuck Off!" also has a point it wants to make in style. The darker and hurtier the better on this album. Some of it is very funky; other tunes are more at the freaky end. Some tracks manage to mangle the both together - like "Backwards Intentions" with its fuzzy flute. Sounds like the kind of loops that Beastie Boys would use on Ill Communication. "Everglades Part 2" will one day be looped under some fresh CocOen rhymes. Whenever that sweet day comes.

But for now - enjoy the scuzzy majesty of this unsung fucking gem of an album. And all hail John Peel and the Internet!

Rating: King Kong out of Gigantic Lethal Cocktails

The 2kDozen 400: #298 - Public Enemy, "How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?"

Inspired by recent nostalgia TV over the bank holiday weekend and Public Enemy's current Paralympic-inspired mini-Renaissance, I've decided to give their last studio album proper a go. (Or at least the only one I can hear; "Most of my Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamps" cannot be found streaming anywhere. That'll have to wait.) The usual unwieldy title is still there: check. It's twenty tracks long, and that is hard to forgive of anyone.

"Black is Back" has the rock guitar involved, but it sounds pretty lumpen by Bomb Squad standards of the glorious years. Then there's the Channel 4 Paralympics theme and the only single off this album, I think - "Harder Than You Think". It features plenty of Flav and even by Chuck D standards it sounds like statement of who and where he is after twenty years - as it was in 2007 - in the business. And, of course, exactly what time it is. It's a tune that belongs in the PE canon, but it still lacks edge even though it has a brassy and affirmative power.

There's almost a Dre/Eminem feel to "Sex, Drugs and Violence", which is strange bearing in mind KRS-One is also booming his stentorian business at the same time. He and Chuck D are heavyweight and the beats are just cheap and silly. And there's kids singing on it. This is not the molten jazz-soul-rock guitar bomb blast of classic PE. "Amerikan Gangster" sounds like a budget version of Fifty Cent. It shouldn't matter if Chuck is still bossing the mic; but it makes me unhappy. A few tracks sample "Black Planet" or "Nation of Millions" as if to acknowledge this; there are definitely glances back.

"Head Wide Shut" touches on that old collage might here and there; but "Flavor Man" sounds pretty thin - just a reedy electric guitar and it's a wee bit pedestrian by Flav's schizophrenic standards too. "Col-leepin" is a weird update of "Cold Lampin'" with bits of Dizzee Rascal churning over some happy clappy disco thing. It's too sparse.

Having been following Chuck on Twitter for a while now, I can't believe he's any less paranoid now than he was back in the day. But the music isn't backing him up. He's in a more reflective mood, I think. "In a world gone wrong/Here's another love song" he sings on "Long and Whining Road", which is another reflection on Public Enemy's path in and out of popular consciousness, weaving most of their most famous track titles into the lyrics.He says they arrived in London in 1987 and then toured non-stop for three years - maybe that was there secret; what gave their music such momentum.

"Eve of Destruction" is the only tune on the album I can imagine the S1Ws spinning on their heels to. "The airwaves are poisonous with this gibberish" he spits on "How to Sell Out". "Why are the dead teaching the dead?"

On the whole, slower and no less wise; but it cannot touch the unmatched glory of 1988-1991.

Rating: Slow Reflections out of Twenty Year Stance

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #297 - Stu Bangas, "Diggaz With Attitude"

Some "underground" hip hop. It could be right under the surface and known from Somalia to Sunderland as far as I know, so far is my thumb from the pulses. I know clips from The A-Team and The Departed and Rocky when I hear them, mind. Stu is the producer and he isn't scooping too far from any trees. It's pretty solid stuff - R&B, touches of soulful jazz and some big Eighties keyboards.

"Where I'm from you either flip grams or be a janitor."

I don't know any of the MCs. Wais P on "Okay, Player" has a nice raspy edge to his rhymes. Blacastan on "Spyhunter" has some flow, but sounds like an auld fella, talking about MP3s like he hasn't quite caught up with the tech yet. ILL Bill also knows his way round a word or two; he's the same age as me. On "Vikings", one of the MCs actually says "Mind your own beeswax". Not something I thought I'd ever hear on a hip hop album. For all the title suggests some heavy crate-digging, the sounds aren't heading in any new directions; but maybe again that's the point. That other hypermasculine trajectory - change nothing, be no different.

But I don't have any insights to offer. These lads seem so keen to tell the same story as everyone else; the more they tell, the less they're saying. Time is tight. No-one has leapt out of the box so far. It's that dark, masculine talk in that same stressed not-shouting/not-talking register with needling synths steepling in the backdrop. My head might nod, but nothing sparks it off.

Even though we're all middle aged men that seem to have seen the same movies and TV shows.

Rating: Dark Talk out of Underground Car Parks

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #296 - James Yorkston, "I Was A Cat From A Book"

So, still in an emotional folky mode with Fifer James, although there isn't the same Millenial fear of the end of days. It's on a much more domestic scale, but then that is where most people's dramas come about - at the kitchen table, under the duvets, in the bathroom mirror. It's the Fence Collective again and the power is there in his voice and in the slow-moving chamber strings and the lyrics about "crooked laughs" and lines like "Sometimes the act of giving love can fool you into believing that you're receiving love".

Kathryn Williams offers some counterpoint on a couple of tunes, including the very prosaically titled "Kath with Rhodes". Soft, cracking vocals up very, very close. "The Fire & the Flames" is very close by. And not an especially happy piece of music - uplifting and gorgeous, yes; happy, no. "Two" is about two birds with claws and songs and is about him and someone else. "I Can Take This All" is a bit too uptempo for my immediate liking - despite lines that "Remember I have a tender side/That can't be fucked around". It reminds me of that music from Omaha, Nebraska that was all the rage ten or years ago.

It can't be any coincidence that so much of his and Fence Collective video work features the seaside. It is the sound of a wild seaside, of circling seagulls and staring out with grey eyes over grey waves and thinking about the bits of life that people save for occasions like that.

Rating: Slow-Moving Power out of Kitchen Window

The 2kDozen 500: #295 - Bill Fay, "Time of the Last Persecution"

Black and white photo cover, big tramp beard and an obvious sense of, well, persecution. There aren't as many lyrics about Jesus and reconciliation, but this might be because those things weren't as immediate for young Bill then as they are for auld Bill now. Trite but it makes sense.

So "Plan D". "Soon Plan D/Will be released/And the seas will rise/And the skies open" it starts. "Is that not some cause/For worship/Being born/Among those trees/Though the Beast/Is lurking?" he says. His are windows out which things definitely happen, windows through which I would be nervous to look. When he sings about "Pictures of Adolph" on TV and in papers "again", he could be writing about Channel 5, but he opens up onto a more cosmic level - that there's a choice that will have to be made between Christ and Hitler, or "Christ or all the Caesars to come". It's like a great comic book, the way history and thought move out on a lateral plane. Can't quite summon the words to wrap it up.

"When you stand and face the gas masks and truncheons/You must know what it all really means." It's all about revelation and persecution and time and history jumbled into kaleidoscopic shapes. And Bill feels he's stood on the shores of Lake Antichrist. There's some tangled jazzy guitar, piano and sax mess boiling underneath his mournful song as well. You can see how all this wore the shit out of him. This is the astounding stuff; "Life Is People" is the washback, the galactic echo of this black hole being formed from bright star matter, the tidemark of a life lived with difficulty.

Rating: Galaxial Kaleidoscope out of Lake Antichrist

The 2kDozen 500: #294 - Bill Fay, "Life is People"

This is a bit of a double header. An banner ad popped up for this album with a one word review along the lines of "astounding", and I thought I would give it a whirl.

It's pretty downbeat. It sounds as though there has been quite a lot of suffering and guilt and wrestling with demons in his life. There's the feeling of a life obscured. Lyrically, there seems to be a lot of talk of God and Jesus and plenty of goodbyes: it's not really my bag. Musically, I keep thinking of Chris Rea and a soft, tinkling piano wash that somehow puts me in mind of the Eighties.

Spotify carries on into a two-disc collection called "Still Some Light", on which Bill sounds much younger and a little funkier and scratchy, still careworn but not worn down nearly as far. One particular tune called "Plan D" is quite arrestingly apocalyptic. And I get more of a sense of the ramblingly poetic. So I decide to listen to his 1971 album, "Time of the Last Persecution" to see where that might take me.

Rating: Running out of Time To Say Goodbyes

The 2kDozen 500: #293 - Four Tet, "Pink"

Time is tight due to stuff, so I've chance enough to say little more than I've listened to this album and try and move on with my life. It sounds a bit different from his other stuff too: a bit more earthbound. Chthonic, is that the word?

Some of the sounds are like nice, slightly claustrophobic House music noises from the Eighties. I can't quite lay my thoughts on why they sound like that. It's the pitch or something. Noughties bass noises make appearances as well. "Lion" has that Housemusik shuffle, creaking handclaps. "Jupiters" is glitchy in parts, crystalline in others - like tunes being played by the wind in an Amazonian forest. "Ocoras" is very claustric, some submerged organ sounds from a sunken musical Nautilus.

It's restless and sort of unhappy. "128 Harps" touches (literally in a sense) on the vibes and delicacy of his early stuff, but it's stuck in a nervous pace about the room of a tune. "Pyramid" is more jumbled up, fuzzy R&B vocals over some sleek rubbery four four business. I like its suburban, subwoofer menace. Jazz fingers fanny about with a stand up bass on "Pinnacles" but it's a more lateral than vertical selection. Might grow with some repeat listenings, but there are none available for now.

Also, slightly confused to report that the album cover is blue.

Rating: Preoccupied out of Fuzzy Foxholes

Monday, 27 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #292 - Sue Denim, "Sue Denim and the Unicorn"

"Bicycle" is about her imagination, right? Highlighted by the "something, Something/Dreaming" line. It irritates me, this lack of responsibility. It's just one speed and she wants it to take her to childish destinations like the zoo and the moon. I shouldn't be irked, but I am. It's too cute.

I liked "For JT & Carson & Emli". It's a roll call of favourite books. You don't hear that enough in songs. Books that she read in the bath "until the water was icy". I must admit that I don't know who all these names belong to; I'm quite ignorant that way. It's lonely, echoey piano, which lends the whole thing an elegaic quality. Escaping when the "real world seems thin". Pop with the wind taken out of its sails a little. I like it more than the jangling, positive stuff about a world "with no irony".

I've just found out she was in Robots In Disguise and therefore The Mighty Boosh. This also puts me off her, as they weren't great, were they? Like acting-wise and performance-wise and that. "Superunicorn" sounds like a tune that could have come out of The Boosh. It's all strikes me as a bit of an empty escapist gesture. Well, maybe not empty exactly. A bit pointless. Not much depth.

Rating: Riding The Unicorn out of Escapist Cul De Sacs

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #291 - The Incredible String Band, "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter"

There is something monstrous of the ego about this band. In theory, it's all faerie folk and metaphor and hippy softness; in theory. But in practice, it blazes with a dark, underworld sun; a massive, magnetic self-confidence, that as a doubtful man, I find unsettling. Hippies and their cunting certainties. Give me the rambling, destabilised sitaution of The Bonzos any day. I prefer that 1968.

"If I need a friend I just give a wriggle/Split down the middle/And when I look/I can see another one handsome just like me." This is a song about amoebas, in theory - but I think there's an element of the ego bursting forth and trying to set the universe in its own darkly sparkling image. And all a lot of the songs feature lyrics about the sun and sunshine, highlighting the point. "Swift As The Wind" is about a land of no night, which sounds (oxymoronically) nightmarish and exhausting.

Another issue. His voice sounds a little like Tim Brooke-Taylor of The Goodies, which I find slightly disconcerting. The production is very crystalline and the instrumentation pretty sparse, although the imaginations are obviously firing hard and fast. And the songs seem so packed with ideas and energy that a five-minute song feels more like ten. Their debut album from 1966 had more of a Blues inflection - although I can't imagine "Niggertown" was ever thought a great song title, not even then. By this time, they've fallen away from this lysergic, Indic, folky bloom.

A majestic bit of sitar and tabla (like on "Three Is A Green Crown") doesn't do any harm either. Neither do the pipes that appear, bag or otherwise. Any instrument that struts or blasts. Peacock music. A lot of lyrical (and musically babbling) references to rivers too. Appropriately, the last song is "Nightfall" and there is a hint of reflection (if only in the lyrics again - the vocals are as loud and outward as ever). It could be lovely, this album, but it's too hard and brassy. More mumbling, please; more subtlety in the breath.

Rating: Dark Sun Peacocks out of Cunting Certainties

The 2kDozen 500: #290 - Outerspace, "Outer Space II"

This is an album of lovely spiralling, spacely-explorative, bubbling goodness. Chill out room carpets and inky blackness behind the eyelids. I can't find a YouTube to demonstrate this, but you can choose to take my poorly-chosen words for it, if you like. There's something less astral by another band with John Elliott in called Emeralds below. Take out some of the rock pieces and it might give you an idea.

I also seem to be listening to and trying describe music that suggests endless space and timeless journeys. I like that kind of music. It gives me a feeling that most other things can't - or won't, the swines. "Vanishing Act" drifts about on solar winds for almost twelve minutes. "Liquid Systems Functions" (which I think make be a space tech reference, I don't know) is more sinister, the 2001 Space Odyssey to the rest of the album's Star Trek: Deep Space Mindfuck. The machines are not happy. They are not liquid. It's all gone very Radiophonic and that's a good thing.

There's a John Carpenter pulse through the middle section that's eventually washed away with static. Jodrell Bank funk. It's a return trip from the Forbidden Planet back to the 21st century. Twenty-five minutes later, it dies down.

Rating: Radiophonic Paranoia out of Solar Wind Drift

The 2kDozen 500: #289 - Yeasayer, "Fragrant World"

Listened to this a day or two ago, whilst doing some work. It didn't make much of an impression. Which probably meant that the work at least went a bit quicker.

But on repeat listens, there is more going on. "Blue Paper" punches a few symphonic pop buttons. I'm sure these guys used to sound like they were chanting over fires, that Baltimore business with Animal Collective. Liquid John Hughes teen lava snaking under the surface. And a really sweet move at the end of the track. It seems to last for weeks. And the album comes to spooky life. "Oh Henrietta?We can make love forever" - it certainly sounds like it.

The other stand out track - if not for the title alone - is "Reagan's Skeleton". There are other stand out tracks too, but none of them are called "Reagan's Skeleton". It sounds anthemic, and there's talk of Reagan's skeleton leading his army of the undead. Touch political, I suppose. "Don't fear the red eyes/Fear the satellites overhead" sounds paranoid enough. But I'm not sure whither the rabble are supposed to be roused.

There is a sense of drive and purpose in the tunes that I wasn't expecting. I'm not sure why not; I suppose it becomes natural after a while to assume people aren't really going to throw everything at making music. You hear enough Lighthouse Family, you see enough X Factor. Or maybe they're the people who throw everything at the music, and Yeasayer are the diletantes. Is the foggy sense of not meaning it that I'm connecting with? It has that icy disco sense of alternative Eighties music; I cannot describe.

"My tongue is a pill/I can't spit out."

I'm afraid I'm not able to come up with any insight more penetrating. "Folk Hero Schtick" is one of the more psychedelic snide scenester put downs I've heard with a superficially joyous chorus to further confuse matters. I suppose this would mark them down as a fundamentally small band with small things on their small minds. But I prefer to think this is them expanding it onto a big, woozy mountaintop for eagles to peck at.

Rating: Woozy Machines out of Teen Lava

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #288 - Jessie Ware, "Devotion"

London doesn't seem to labour under the same weighty musical heritage as Manchester does. Or rather, there is a roots-up feel to something that maybe grew up from the pirate radio and sound systems that continues to have a more benign influence over current music. Manchester is still in under the blackout curtain of Oasis and post-punk and acid house/rock crossover influences that petered out too long ago. Tony Wilson may have said Manchester kids had the best record collections, but they haven't contributed nearly enough to other people's in the last twenty years for a self-fancied Musical Capital of Britain.

But this music is smooth and silky and could sit in some mid-range R&B playlist but also quite comfortably on that of a borderline indie would-be musonaut like myself. A continuum of Soul II Soul and Sade and The XX and contemplative yet celebratory mood music. I get a slight whiff of Brit School, but I feel there's enough space in the music for me to ignore it. And there's a healthy dose of lysergic acid tweak that knocks the basslines slightly out of tune and plays wit the noises in the corner of my eyes.

I was watching Channel 4's How Clubbing Changed The World last night and it got me thinking how the mass consumption of Ecstasy of variable quality but similar intent by a couple of generations has fundamentally shifted British interaction with emotion and music. This is an album that moves around into a cloud of post-E club culture - "110%" particularly breathes out this gaseous goodtime, touchy-feely vibe. It slinks about in the cloud of its own making. But there is a dark patch somewhere in the cloud, a melancholic shade that gives it depth.

There is a horrific coda to this album. Two bonus acoustic tracks that contain all that is strained and terrible about music based around a "voice". X Factor emotion devoid of any meaningful musical context. Almost did enough to ruin the album for me. But the production elsewhere is so excellent that I just skip back to the beginning and go again.

Rating: Warm MDMA Continuum out of Gaseous Dark Patch

Friday, 24 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #287 - Y Niwl, "4"

Saw these Lleyn peninsula chaps supporting Gruff Rhys last year and it was good roadhouse, sawdust floor fun. Definitely looking to tap into a bygone era, perhaps flavoured by the surfing tendencies of the people of Penllyn. Perhaps not.

Seeming them live had done away with some of the ideas I had about this retro-facing rock; ideas of disapproval and conservatism. It just seemed like fun music to make. Listening to this mini-album has moved me a little further back to my original position.

"Dauddegun" (21) has a neat line in Link Wray wrumble. And it's named after one of my favourite numbers. But nothing really punches through. Sometimes it's so easy-going and happy, it starts to sound a bit simple. Their debut "Y Niwl" had more teeth in its mouth and a couple more tunes. But I'm sure I'll probably swing back in their direction again. Dead fickle, me.

Rating: Never Quite Punching out of The Fog

The 2kDozen 500: #286 - Colorama, "Good Music"

This is the third Colorama album I've listened to this year already and none of them have had much of a write up. This will be no exception. Too little time, too much to do with my hands as I listen to the music. 500 has slipped far from my hand now... Unless...

All in English and maintaining the same high level pop presence as the other two. "Anytime" is a particular highlight, scanning the horizon from the same spaghetti western heights as tracks like "Eleri" on "Llyfr Lliwio" and supporting this with a Bacharach piano line. All very classy. The Richard Hawley it's more than OK to like. "Delaware" has a touch of Clinic claustrophobic countryside about it. There will be burning wicker men somewhere or other nearby. Pub car parks may be involved.

I hate the title though - "Good Music": it's a malnourished cowpat that drops somewhere around arrogant and banal on the bingo board. Why call an album that?

Rating: Intense Pop Sensibility out of Western Spaghettiscapes

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #285 - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "Mature Themes"

I really liked the last album and its woozy take on a Valley FM AoR Seventies rock that never quite happened. But now I feel as though I've read a little much into it - as readers of this blog might not be surprised to see. This album sounds much thinner musically, lyrically and thematically. "Mature Themes" may be ironic, but a tune about being "a nympho/Down at the disco" just comes off as an eggy Zappa pastiche.

The trajectory of this album and the last is an unhappy echo of MGMT's journey from "Kids" to "Congratulations" - euphoria to stubborn quirk. But the MGMT guys did it so much more classier. That's how it seems for now anyway.

Some of the tunes are still in there ("Live It Up" for example sounds like an acceptable version of Dire Straits), but all in all, a wobbly lateral thumb verdict. Meh with touches of Dang.

Rating: Dribbling Softcockrock Wandering out of The Wrong SoCal Valleys

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #284 - Cypress Hill & Rusko, "Cypress X Rusko EP 1 EP"

I'm not sure I'm very happy with this combo. Very few albums (hip hop or otherwise) can live with "Black Sunday" in my opinion and a big factor in its success was DJ Muggs. His creepy, cartoony beats gave the sneering raps of Sen Dog and B-Real something to cut against; it undercut and boosted the menace at the same time. I'm worried this is a bid for filthy chart presence. I'm not sure it will supply the right background business.

I suppose the point is that I'm still not really convinced by dubstep. Gimmicks and irregular noises are part of the problem, maybe. But it's more the lumpen lack of rhythm. There's none of the propulsion of techno; none of the breakbeat stomp of hip hop or jungle. On "Shots Go Off" the gun sound effects are obstacles, anchors pinning the action down in a bad way. And the CH boys are a bit inauduble under all the metalwork.

The only exception, where the swagger gets a bit of weight in the swing is "Can't Keep Me Down", which drafts in Damian Marley to up the ante a bit. Lyrically, there's not a lot going on. Seems a waste of the possibilities. "Medicated" is busier too, opening with a helicopter rotor synth, but it's about partying again. The pop instinct has been flattened out into a long autotuned party - explosions of sex and joy and freedom are a thing of the past. It's all surface and cash money now. When Young De chips in, it's an advert ("When my name is on that flyer...").

It makes me feel sad.

Rating: Party Setting out of Pop Flatline