Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Philip Sherburne listens to my CD-R comp of thugsy, messy, dutty stinkin lowlights excerpted from a summer's worth of London pirate radio taping, reads gutter-garridge through the cloudy prism of a tripped-out urbanism (truly putting the psycho into psychogeography), then mashes that straight into an imagistic-to-the-max, er, appreciation of Wasteland's Amen Fire. The result: a blinding bit of prose-poetry.
Informants reveal that the mystery Morvern Callar track is "Double Speed Mayhem" by 303 Nation (Vuillaume Patrick and Sanchez Fernando), "executive produced" by Dance Ecstasy 2001 and available only on the PCP compilation Frankfurt Trax: Volume 4. So not actually the Mover, but as near as dammit. That I can recognise a trademark distorted kickdrum sound within seconds is either a cause for pride or for deep shame, I'm not sure which frankly. It's not a track that ever struck me before (the Dolby surroundsound and accompanying barrage of retinal intensities from the screen probably make a lot of difference) but listening to it right now, it's clearly a true lost classic of acieed-gabber, the 303-riptide riff shredding the fabric of time-space. Its annihilating gusts of cosmic virulence almost sound like the blueprint for The Mover's own all-time darkgasm peak "Apocalypse Never". Good luck trying to find it.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Church of Me firing on all cylinders with an epic "audio-sermon" on The Feminisation of Noise (wot no Yoko?), plus recent pieces on Stockhausen, Jimmy Scott, and early Human League ("Dancevision", what a tune).
Dark NRG, Pt 2. Eli Bingham observes that I plain forgot about the Suburban Knight/Mad Mike EP Dark Energy (UR 029). And it’s a good point, especially given that Suburban Knight’s “The Art of Stalking” is one of The Mover’s all-time top three techno tracks. (And one of the others was darkrave classic “Sonic Destroyer” by X-101, an alter-ego of Underground Resistance’s). You can hear the influence of “Stalking” all over early Mover tunes like “Nightflite (Into Kaos)”. (It’s odd how the Detroit-epigones completely erase the dark side of Detroit techno, it never figures in their recorded genuflections).

Pretty much anything with the word “Energy” in the title stands a good chance of being awesome, viz. “Energy Flash”, Hype’s “Weird Energy”...

While we’re on the doomcore tip, a few words on a twilight classic from the PCP stable: Reign’s “Hall” (Powerplant, 98?). Created by Acardipane’s right-hand man Miro, this might just be the genre’s aesthetic pinnacle, taking that cavernous reverberant Gothick-gabber sound to Chain Reaction levels of abstraction, minimal-maximal monotony, and glacial immensity. The “Maximum Mix” especially sounds huuuuuuuuuuge. The kind of record that should really only ever be played and heard in an abandoned GDR electrical plant’s turbine room to a crowd of 12 thousand E'd up Germans in gas-masks and camo gear. (Imagine it in the Tate Modern!). Headphones, or your hi-fi at one notch below top volume with all the lights turned off will have to do for now, I guess.

The title’ “Hall” is probably hymning the kind of venue it was aimed at, bleak industrial hangars on the outskirts of R-dam or Antwerp. But I like to think of it having some distant echo (that Viking race-memory thing) of Valhalla, the cosmic bierkeller where the dead warriors carouse on Thor’s own mead.

Finally, in Morvern Callar, is that a Mover track pounding away in the rave scene (cinema’s most intense recreation yet of what’s it’s feels like to be inside the vibe: phew, I was rushing) or what? Answers please.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Second instalment in the missus's TV column, a piece on The Office.
Old news for anyone reading in the UK, where the pseudo-documentary is in its third series already and the DVD was the fastest selling item of that particular form of leisure software or something. But for anyone on this side of the Atlantic, this is compulsory viewing, reason enough to get BBC America if you don't have it (and why would you). I find it actually almost as harrowing to watch as hilarious; like a really great novel, it's hard to shake the idea that these are real people with real lives they're wasting, and as with novels that have unhappy endings, certain plotlines (Tim & Dawn; actors of the millenium as far as I'm concerned) feel almost like a personal injury.

I never felt the least bit patriotic until I moved to America, and even now there's only a small number of things that bring out the Union Jack waver in me. British music is one (but then again we're talking a tiny percentage of gross national product here; recent episodes of Top of the Pops made me hang my head in shame), and British comedy is another. Which is particularly odd given that as a portrait of the national psyche The Office is pretty unflattering.
Fascinating development related by Luke: what must surely be UKG’s first “one riddim” album. From the Roll Deep camp, produced by Wiley Kat, it's called the Ice Rink EP: 12 tracks, 12 different MCs, a single riddim. And Luke says Wiley has another one in the pipline called The Ice Mountain.
On another tack, all this “ice” imagery (and Wiley’s the perpetrator of “Eskimo”, ”'Snowkat” and a whole bunch of wintry-themed tunes) got me thinking about the semiotics of seasons in UK dance culture (Goldie always used to go about seasons and how the hardcore scene's sound would shift; darkcore started to come in during the winter of '92). It's striking how the New Thing (guttah-gangsta-gabba-whatevah) has completely broken with UK garage’s traditional heliolatry, its fixation on summer (Ayia Napa, “Spirit of the Sun”, Sunship etc etc). It makes perfect sense that the New Style would match its cold, dark sounds with imagery that has more in common with the Mover/PCP/Cold Rush than with Ramsey & Fen/EZ/Dreem Teem.
Which takes me on a third tangent. A month or so ago there was New York Times Magazine piece about how the astrophysicist community has concluded that not only is the universe expanding but that the rate at which the galaxies are moving apart from each other is speeding up. “Cosmologists have postulated that a strange, previously undescribed repulsive force, which they call dark energy, is at work, counteracting gravity and pushing galaxies apart at an accelerating rate.” The latest astronomical observations prove that not only is dark energy real, out there, at work, but “it’s also running amok”. So apparently we now “know” for certain how the universe was born, and how it will end---“it will dissipate into darkness and solitude”. These struck me for two reasons. First, it’s kinda eerie how this cosmology maps onto the apparent trajectory of our culture (accelerating entropy, fragmentation, diaspora), and chimes with our everyday sense of things falling apart, faster and faster every day. And second, as soon as I saw the words “dark energy” and “repulsive force” I thought of the Mover! Both phrases sound like track titles for imaginary tunes by Acardipane and his comrades (in fact there was a tune called 'Dark Forces', the disappointing flip of Renegade Legion's amazing "Torsion"); both phrases sound like the sound of gloomcore. So it seems The Mover was right all along: we are hurtling towards something.The Mover knows..
Blissblog regulars might recall the dissenting views of one Matthew Ingram, who a few months back suggested that far from the nu-garage rap representing a new golden age for London pirate radio culture, there was in fact a glut of torpid-tempoed sub-Swizz crap-rap on the illegal airwaves. Since then Matthew’s had something of a Road to Damascus conversion re. gutter-garridge, and now he reckons the way forward is for tracks to get even slower. This is one of several interesting points raised in Matt's potted history of garage rap (curses, I was planning to do one myself! maybe i still will) which he's posted on his brand-new blog A Naughty Bit of Crap. He claims that 2001 was the worst year ever for the hardcore continuum (and he could be right: I only bought two UKG tunes that year, Pay As U Go Kartel’s “Know We” and another rather mediocre tune on Solid City that ripped off disco classic "The Best of My Love"; breakstep was a kind of '75 style doldrum before the sturm). And he reckons we should all settle on “UK Bounce” as the name for the new sound, on account of its Dirty South debts. Well, there’s at least three tunes doing the rounds called “Bounce”, so he may have something there too. At any rate, A Naughty Bit of Crap---a neat development as Matt is a seriously sharp observer and a fiend for all manner of musical arcana.

Monday, January 20, 2003

ERRATA: The missus would like to point out that I sit there in front of the TV of my own free will and have only myself to blame for wasting my life and not even getting paid for it like she is.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

The missus kicks off her new Voice television column with the confession I’m a reality TV slut. And she ain’t kiddin’ neither. Lord, the tripe she makes me sit through.
Avanti! Black Ops crew in session, Ice FM, late summer 2002. The tape is severely testing my tolerance. “Ho’s Don’t Mean Shit To Me,” then "Swallow”: the Jon E Cash production’s ruff, that trademark Black Ops sublow bass, the lyrics are just base. The chorus jeers “SWA-LLER!!! ‘Oos that chick? Why Cash, last night she was sucking on my dick and his dick and his dick!”. Choice lines: “I like girls that give good head/But don’t use your teeth or it’s code red”, “I like the girls that go down low/Stay down low/Don’t ask me for no dough”, "Ladies swallowing babies”. After the couplet “It’s not my fault that I spray like mace/It’s not my fault that I come in your face,” the MC interjects “Trust me London, squirting bullets” with undisguised degredatory malice in his voice, then addresses the ladies massive directly: “Take it ALL down". It gets uglier still: the MC starts crooning in a melisma-tremulous falsetto, a grotesque parody of an R&B loverman. “Somebody’s lady is my ho/And her man don’t even know…. Girl don’t you know-ow/You are my ho-oh”. As “Swallow” gives way to a noxious-bassed tune by Black Ops member LD Kat on the Natural Essence label, my faith in the hardcore continuum is ebbing to an all-time low. And then this. “Next one is going out,” announces the MC, “ to all the promoters, DJs, MCs, producers, that want to tell me about… Back to ’89… Back to ’92… I tell you what London… Black Ops, Natural Essence, LD Cat: GOING FORWARD. Only one way to go. Can’t go back. “ Every hair on the back of my neck stands up: now they’re speaking my kind of language. A new Black Ops tune enters the mix, four-to-the-floor, a Todd Edwards-styled vocal cut up. The diva’s voice, a shining in the darkness, tentative yet resolute, bright with hope: “Stepping out/Looking up/Going forward”. The MC chimes in again: “We’re going nothing but forward… And we... are coming... through.” This is why I can never give up on the pirates. Like it or lumpen, warts 'n' all, the gutter vanguard is still the leading edge.
Unfaves cancelled this year, I’m afraid. Just can’t see the point in whipping myself up into the usual frenzy of denunciation, especially at a time when the “evils” in pop culture pale next to the Evil out there. Plus, to be honest, I could barely think of any real bugbears this year. Music magazines was one (stopped buying them, almost ceased reading them, apart from the ones I get sent 'cos I write for 'em). As for the rest... what's the point in using Fischerspooner as a punchbag, when Reality is already giving them a severe drubbing?

Instead, more positivity! In the shape of some recently acquired albums that would have made the Faves 2002, and one that will make Faves 2003.
------Cassetteboy, The Parker Tapes. Hilarious pause-button sample-collages shredding everybody from Bowie to the Naked Chef, similar to Position Normal's voice-mosaic stuff on Stop Your Nonsense.
------New Flesh, Understanding. Big Dada showing they've got talent capable of sustaining over a single-artist album the "bouncement" sound (honestly, though, that name is as bad as 'neurofunk', and my secret game-plan was to put drum'n'bass out of its misery with the most unappetising genre term imaginable. Serious! I was hoping it'd get ripped off for comps and shit) .
-----Various Artists, Digital Disco. In the grand Mille Plateaux/Force Inc "parasitic" tradition of twisting/subverting a popular dancefloor sound (they even had a crack at speed garage), this seems to be a glitched-up take on Daft Punk's Discovery. Except it isn't that glitched-up and the whole thing glistens with digital love. Gorgeous.
----- Dinky, Blackcabaret. Imminent (February) from Carpark; imagine electroclash if it was sourced in Sulk, Hardcorps, Thomas Leer's Four Movements. Bewitching.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

What I should have said about Dizzy Rascal. I’m starting to think this 17 year old might be the most impressive and provocative English MC since Tricky. Early days, I know, but as debuts go “I Love You” is as singular and stunning a form of self-announcement as “Aftermath” was in ’94. And the sex-is-confusion lyric makes me flash on the conflicted emotions roiling inside Maxinquaye love/hate songs like “Overcome“ and "Suffocated Love”. Above all, there’s that same feeling you got with Tricky of hearing a totally new voice. Every garage MC boasts about how his style's unique, and every MC does it using much the same tone/timbre/phrasing. But Dizzy’s highly-strung, edge-of-losing-it-voice (somewhere between lashing out and bursting into tears), with its odd mix of harsh uncouthness and flustered vulnerability, really does sound like nobody you’ve heard before.

Listening to Dizzy Rascal freestyling on a pirate tape (nice one Luke!), what’s astonishing is the sheer volume of language he’s generating. Because the beats are so hectic and the chat so fast in UKG, it’s like he's throwing down books worth of material each week. Often familiar lyrical riffs (some from “I Love You”) get reworked or elaborated upon, but the greater part of it seems brand-new. Whether he’s got a notepad crammed full with that week’s scribblings or is just coming up with rhymes and images off the top of his head, the impression is of poetry-as-potlatch: someone so gifted he can just throw his words to the winds. A sense, too, of something involuntary, almost an affliction. The boy can’t help it. The magic of pirate radio MC-ing has always had something to do with the ephemeral nature of the medium, raw verbal talent incandescing in those moments when MC and DJ lock. But Dizzy Rascal is something else again: this is some next-level shit. With Dizzy and his like, what we’re witnessing is an art form… not exactly “maturing” (the wrong word for something so rampagingly juvenile), but reaching a point of uncontainable ripeness.

Sunday, January 05, 2003



1/ THE STREETS – Original Pirate Material (Locked On)

The bleeding obviousness of this choice pains me a little. I’m tired of reading about this record, tired of thinking about this record, but I’m still not tired of playing this record, and Mike Skinner’s next is the record I’m most eager to hear. Besides, what’s so bad about consensus anyway? It’s a reflection of the fact that this album is simply in a different league from any other 2002 long-player. And, yeah, that’s not such a huge compliment as it sounds, this year being rather thin on the long-player front, but in any year Original Pirate Material would jostling with the toppermost.

2/ VARIOUS ARTISTS Garage Rap, Vol. 1 (Eastside)
In 18 months or so, UKG’s gone from having an absolute flood of compilations (circa 2step’s chartpop crossover zenith, with most of the comps redundantly overlapping and stuffed with the same annoyingly obvious choices) to the present situation where there’s almost no comps whatsoever. Exactly the same thing happened with hardcore in 1991-92: just as the singles chart was over-run with rave anthems, there was a deluge of ravesploitation comps with titles like Bangin’ and Rush Hour. When the music went dark and the hits abruptly dried up, suddenly the comps vanished--just at the point when the music was getting really interesting, really twisted, really in need of compiling. UK garage likewise is in dire need of compilations right now because unless you are involved in this music as “a way of life”, unless you are going to the specialist shops (and while London has dozens of them, some conveniently central like Blackmarket and Uptown in D’Arblay Street, and others scattered across Greater London, the rest of the UK/world is fucked, basically—Juno and other mail-order companies notwithstanding), and going on a weekly basis, you’re going to miss some amazing tunes. Tunes that in years to come will be as highly sought after as the darkcore and early jungle tunes that now sell to collectors for anywhere from 15 to 200 quid.

As far as I’m aware, there’s just two comps dedicated to MC-fronted garage (So Solid’s Fuck It, while excellent, doesn’t count ‘cos it has instrumentals and R&B-flavored 2step songs in its mix) and by far the superior of these two is Garage Rap, Vol. 1. Despite its being heavily advertised on the pirates, I had to hunt the fucker down; none of the megastores or Our Price type chains stocked it. Eventually I found one in an “urban” music store on Ladbroke Grove. This must reflect the fact that (as with darkside in ’93) most people into this music buy it on 12 inch the week it comes out (or just tape specific shows off the pirates), and as yet there’s hardly any scene outsiders who want this music in pre-sifted, dilettante-friendly form. Or at least that is the perception on the part of retailers and the music business. Which is a pretty weird state of affairs only a year after So Solid Crew went #1 in the singles charts and sold nigh on half-a-mill copies of their debut album, but there you go.

The comp? It’s got GK Allstars’ “Garage Feeling”, my #5 single of 2002. It’s got 2001 classics from Pay As U Go and Wiley & Roll Deep, “Know We” and “Terrible” respectively—both chips off the same block of string-swept, regal grandeur. I’m not sure if I can express exactly why the latter’s couplet “All I know is thugs and criminals/My style is quite explainable” gives me a tingle every time I hear it. It’s got something to do with the way the language and phrasing of all these garridge emcees is being pulled in three directions at once---Jamaica, B-boy America, and then underlying/undercutting everything there’s this inescapable, bathos-heavy Englishness, a dank and shabby smallness of spirit that deflates the self-aggrandisement. It’s the way “quite explainable” immediately cramps the gangsta-ragga swagger.

Garage Rap also has great tunes like Dem Lott’s “Dem Lott Is Ere Now,” Twisted Souls’s So Solid-cloning “Roll and Ride”, and K2 Family’s “Danger” (killer lines, which again only work in a pinched London accent: “tight when I spit/we drop hits like shits/in toilets”). Overall, like an above-average-but-not-quite-outstanding session on the pirates, this comp has that curious power of all genres based around scenius rather than genius: the cumulative power of its changing-same-yness, where genericity becomes a positive aesthetic force. You love it, can’t get enough of it, want more of the same-only-slight-different.

3/ CASINO VERSUS JAPAN Whole Numbers Plays the Basics (Carpark)
Not sure why this record touches me so deeply. Partly it’s do with the way Whole Numbers evokes a specific golden age of electronic dance music, a period of unparalleled bounty: all the stuff happening in the early nineties, 1991-94, that wasn’t hardcore/jungle. For there was so much else to be into! Early chill-out, when it was quite a beguiling notion; the first glints of post-rock when it was actually a pretty good idea (i.e. mostly British and mostly coming from MBV-fan indie-kids who’d just fallen for electronica in a big way---your Seefeels and Disco Infernos); R&S as they turned away from Belgian hardcore’s sturm und drang with Mundo Muzique’s “Andromeda” and Jam & Spoon’s “Stella”, Tresor (‘Klang Der Familie’, “Drugs Work’, et al), Plus 8, UR making that shift from stormcore to ‘Jupiter Jazz’, even some early trance (Hardfloor, Vapourspace), and Underworld had their moments (ooh ‘Rez’)… And there was Orb and Orbital (ooh ooh ‘Halcyon’, ‘Belfast’….), and above and beyond them all Aphex Twin: must have played the first Selected Works at least one hundred times in ‘93. In fact in 1993, give or take the entirety of tribal house, and the greater part of handbag, and the frigid pounding tedium that trance degenerated into by the end of that year, you could survey the whole span of this electronic dance music thing and quite reasonably conclude ‘what’s not to like?’.

What Whole Numbers specifically taps into, though, or reactivates, is the way so much of the music of 91-93 was nakedly emotional in a quite unabashedly moist way, shamelessly tugging at your heart-strings; the way it seemed to bath in sheer sonic beauty without needing to throw in glitches or other noise-tics as vanguard credentials.

But there is clearly something intrinsic rather than merely reference-point related that is so affecting about this album. Eagle-eyed Marcello Carlin spotted that Whole Numbers wears its heartache on its sleeve, in the form a quote from the late Justin Kowalski, the brother of Casino-creator Erik Kowalski. He died in 2000 aged only 28. And that makes for a much more specific connection than I’d thought with one of the key early Nineties co-ordinates for this music, Global Communication’s 76: 14 album, and specifically the track “14:31” a/k/a “Ob-Selon Minos”, a gorgeously stately and reverb-blurry requiem for Tom Middleton’s grandfather, based around the pulse of a grandfather clock. It was the first funeral Middleton attended, he didn’t know how to react, kept his tears inside; and later described this track as an exercise in learning how to grieve—sonic tears. If Whole Numbers really is one long tribute/remembrance/threnody it would explain a lot about this record’s special poignancy. At times, its celestial carousel atmosphere makes it seem like an imagined heaven for the dearly departed.

4/ BLEVIN BLECTUM – Talon Slalom (Deluxe)
What’s with all the Blectum-hataz out there? I can sorta kinda see the scepticism/exasperation with the Kevin solo EPs I Love Presets and Your Butt, which walk a thin and teetering tightrope between the gorge of gross on one side and the vale of twee on t’other. (Personally I love the stuff, it cracks me up—and “Mr. Miguel”, her lewd love song to Kid606 is real tuneful in a Tori Amos meets Enya sort of way). But Kevin’s other half’s Talon Slalom dispenses with the whole side of Blectum that revels in silly voices and between-track skits and scatomaniac fantasy worlds, instead concentrating on textures and warped melody (i.e. the sort of sheer sonic accomplishment that won Blectum from Blechdom that Ars Electronica Award). Beyond these Wire-y credentials, Talon Slalom also has “charm” in both the personable/attractive and magic/enchantment senses of the world. Who could not love "Rockitship Long Light Years," a steampunk spacecraft clanking and creaking as it struggles to reach escape velocity? Or the fever-dream carny music of “Oxsmas” and “The Wicked Pair Were Dancing (For Copp and Brown)” (the latter being a duo who recorded albums of macabre bedtime stories for children)? Who could fail to be touched by the way Blevin likewise parenthetically dedicates no less than four songs to her boyfriend J. Lesser? The most gorgeous of these--"The Way The Cookie Crumbles Straight From the Horse’s Mouth"—chops and timestretches some classic blissed-diva samples (some famous from being used in Nightmare On Wax’s “Aftermath”) and turns them into the sort of sonic Valentine’s Day card a glitch-fiend like Lesser would truly appreciate. Overall, this record shows how things that are ghastly defects in rock—quirkiness, eccentricity, whimsy—are actually positive attributes in electronic music, lending personality, warmth, and wetness to what too often seems clinical, disembodied, and dry.

5/ RECLOOSE – Cardiology (Planet E)
Something of an aberration, this, for me: a Planet E release in my Top 10! Surely this ought to be exactly the sort of refinement and all-gates-open eclecticism I usually find so drearily mild. Subtleties galore. (Apparently, in Mike Skinner’s personal slang lexicon, “subtle” means “boring”. Chap!). But Cardiology also has a hookiness, an almost-pop instantness that swayed me on the first play (just as well as I’m not a patient fellow). There’s a thin line between “warm” and “tepid”, but like Herbert, Ananda Project, and precious few others, Mr. Recloose walks it very well. Cardiology brings real substance to the wishy-washy idea of a post-everything omni-sound that weaves together flavas and feels from Detroit, jazzy drum’n’bass, micro-house, R&B, disco, 2step. To be honest the idea doesn’t even sound that appealing on paper, and the recorded manifestations of it (like broken beats, Viktor Duplaix) have so far been underwhelming. But while Cardiology offers nothing to get behind ideologically, its sheer sonic voluptuousness is utterly seductive. Killer tune after killer tune, from the phantom funk of “Ghost Stories” to the gaseous soul of “Kapiti Dream,” from the softcore rave flutter-riffs of “Get There Tonight” to the Jacob’s Optical Stairway-like limpid phuture-jazz foliage of “Absence of One”.

6/ KAITO – Special Life (Kompact)
From a parallel universe, where trance isn’t shite. As I said here before, this is like the Chain Reaction aesthetic, only sourced in Jam & Spoon rather than Chicago-Detroit: ten minute tracks, poised between catatonic daze inducing monotony and perception-sharpening ever-shifting inflections, endless billowing texture-folds and scintillating melody lines. ‘Trance’ in its original undegraded sense: reverie, grace, utter absorption in the be-here-now. The year’s best argument for ecstasy with a small ‘e’. Or for Ecstasy with a bloody big E, come to think of it.

7/ BOARDS OF CANADA – Geogaddi (Warp)
Not as inexhaustibly listenable to anything like the degree that Music Has A Right to Children remains, but this gets its high placing for the blown-away impact it had the first three or four times I heard it. If the best bits--"1969", "The Beach At Redpoint", "Sunshine Recorder", "Music Is Math”-- are essentially more-of-the-same-only-more-so, the lazy/stagnant critique is easily deflected by the “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” riposte. More damning are the numerous unfulfilled attempts to stray from the formula (those trademark just-off-pitch synths like washed-out Super 8 home movies), which often sound merely gnarly and unlovable a la Autechre. But there’s a handful of successful steps outside their own norm ("Julie and Candy": Loveless if Kevin Shields had tried to achieve the sound in his head armed only with a recorder and a toy piano; "Alpha and Omega," Orientalism a la Holger Czukay ‘Persian Love’ and Byrne/Eno’s Bush of Ghosts; the hallucinatory vividness and micro-sonic intricacy of “The Devil Is In The Details") and these suggest the group have a future beyond self-parody. Mind you, with a sonic self as distinct and bewitching as BoC’s, I could certainly withstand some of that—like say, another 107 albums’ worth.

8/ and 9/
TIGA/VARIOUS ARTISTS – American Gigolo (Turbo/International Deejay Gigolo)
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau (Ghostly International
These two stand out amid the poor plethora of nu-wave/electroclash compilations as making a very good case for the back-to-the-Eighties initiative as an endlessly fertile vista of possibilities, as opposed to the dead-already fad that it feels like at the fag end of 2002. Tiga’s mix-CD is especially stunning because he makes this genre, which unlike house/techno/trance is not especially designed to be mix-compatible, really work as a flow. Tune after stunning tune affirm Gigolo’s pre-eminence as pioneers of elektro-noovo, alongside Adult/Ersatz Audio and I/f/Viewlexx. Highlights: Tiga’s awesome remix of Linda Lamb’s sultry, magisterial “Hot Room”, the pervy Teutonica of Dopplereffekt’s “Porno Actress”, the retina-scorching glitterball that is Vitalic’s “Poney”, the neon shimmerscapes of Der Zyklus II's "Elektronisches Zeitech" and Miss Kittin & The Hacker's "Stock Exchange". (The nu-wave dedicated disc two of Tiga’s Mixed Emotions: Montreal Mix Sessions Vol. 5, on Turbo, is also excellent, if more subdued and less songy). Unmixed, Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveauis actually a concept album, and comes in a beautifully book-styled package which explores the connections between art nouveau and Italo-disco. The actual contents don’t quite substantiate the concept, though, and about halfway through the record reverts to that first-wave electro-revival sound of 96/97/98---more tracky than songful, with the various producers’ roots in techno clearly audible, and barely a vocal in earshot. The first half of the record is stunning though, from Legowelt's impossibly stirring “Disco Rout" to Solvent's celestial vocoder-hymn "My Radio" and the Human League sound(-of-the-crowd-)alike that is Adult.’s “Nite Life.”

10/ LIARS – They Threw Us All In A Trench and Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First/Mute)
This doesn’t seem quite so exhilarating as when I first heard it, and is no match for the adrenaline explosion of Liars live. It’s also becoming increasingly hard to maintain the argument that there’s anything intrinsically different about what neo-postpunkers like Liars are doing and the period dramalama of The Hives and co; its just a different set of archives that’s been drawn on, and one that’s more open-ended and less played out through repetition (the garage punk revival was stale when the Fleshtones and Hoodoo Gurus were doing it, 21 years ago). At their best --"Mr Your On Fire Mr," "Tumbling Walls Buried Me in the Debris With ESG" —Liars are G04’s “Natural’s Not In It” played with the bestial looseness of the Birthday Party or Stooges. But all those reference points (including their own nod to/borrowing from NYC punk-funkers ESG), noble as they are, only underline the band’s failure, at least so far, to transcend the record-collection-rock/bootleg mash-up pick’n’mix syndrome. (But who does, really? Certainly not Recloose or Metro Area or Playgroup or most anybody in dance. Only hip hop or the heavily hip-hop influenced—garage rap—seem to be able to sample yet remain impervious to the malaise of bitty referentiality. A mystery that deserves some investigation). Unlike many of their post-punk-redux peers, Liars seem to actually want to be about something, to have real content to substantiate the thrilling surface projection of missionary zeal. But such is the Mark E. Smith-style encryptedness of the declaimed lyrics, it’s hard to work out if they have a critique. It’s all a bit clouded and willfully opaque. Still, this is exciting enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, and hope for more next time.

THE NEXT THIRTY, in no particular order

Never quite sure if it’s the replicant aspect or the rumba that I’m enjoying in this record—there’s the suspicion I might dig a straightforward average-quality rumba record just as much. This collaboration between Atom Heart and Burnt Friedman is in the grand tradition of Germans infatuated with their rhythmic Other(s) ---think Can’s “Come Sta, La Luna” and their ethnological forgeries series---and it serves as a salutary, slightly disheartening reminder that there’s entire continents (specifically Africa, Asia, and South America, although maybe the last one is a half-continent) I’ve yet to engage with.

ROYSKOPP – Melody A.M. (Astralwerks)
Somehow I get the impression this is the kind of middlebrow fare that’ll get you mocked by Kirk DeGiorgio; one friend described it sniffily as "the kind of dance record rock fans like.". So what--this is lovely. Like The Avalanches on hash and Horlicks, rather than E and Freixenet. Or like a more earnest, less whimsical Wagon Christ.

‘Snot these MCs and producers’ fault that as a Brit twist on hip hop, they’ve already been outflanked by garage rap. Dubbed “bouncement” by its backers, this sound weaves in dancehall and Dirty South flavors, but compared to, say Robloe & Kin’s similarly sourced and truly bent “Bounce”, it sounds a bit subdued. Taken as its own thing, though, tracks like Gamma featuring Shadowless’s “Killer Aps” and Ty’s “Don’t Care” are extremely listenable. Ever since hardcore swallowed hip hop whole—sampladelica, breakbeats, sub-bass, MCs, the lot---I’ve always regarded Britrap as a lost cause. But finally the U.K. does seem to have both the innovative production and emcee skills/rhymes/character to rank globally. Of course, such is the US rap scene’s nativism and isolationism (a curious syndrome worth analysing in depth: weird how US hip hop’s awesome self-sufficiency, its totally closed-offness to foreign influences, oddly mirrors the country’s America-First foreign policy),
this stuff has about as much chance of impacting hip hop’s homeland as rap from Croatia does. Fuck ‘em though, it’s their loss, even if they’ll never know.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--Fuck It! The Official So Solid Crew Compilation (So Solid Beats)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--Crews Control: MCs Inside the Ride (Warnerdance)

Fuck It! is excellent but coming out at the very start of the year, this double-disc comp is full of 2000/2001 material so feels a bit timelagged by this point. A great catch-up for the current g-rap explosion though. Highlights: K2 Family’s awesome bass-bibbler “Bouncing Flow”, the washing-machine-on-self-destruct bass-roil of DJ Narrow’s relick of Corrupted Cru’s “G.A.R.A.G.E”, and Purple Haze Crew’s “Messy,” alternating between patois-gnarly gruffmale verses and an indelible girls dem sugar-sweet chorus (“P-Haze they messy messy… them mans they are rude”). Crews Control, a pun excruciating enough to have been thought up by yours truly, is a double-disc that would have made an awesome single, with just a little too much in the way of flaccid padding. Disc One’s killertunes tunes come from Heartless Crew, Blazing Squad, Ultrasound/Specialist Moss (grievous bassline, sicksick) Zed Bias/Juiceman & Simba, Elephant Man versus Horsepower, Groove Chronicles (featuring Rodney P’s angular-as-fuck chorus), and Oxide & Neutrino with the straight up UK hip hop of “Rap Dis” (alpha-male derision at its most vindictive). Disc Two’s gems include P-Haze’s “Messy”, More Fire’s “Oi!”, K2’s “Bust”, Zed Bias again (with Dynamite, Sweetie Irie, and Spee this time), and burial tune of the whole comp, Genius Kru’s “Course Bruv”, worth the admission alone even in its mix-truncated form. London massive take note: there were shitloads of Crews Control going real cheap in Music & Video Exchange last time I looked.

HELLFISH AND PRODUCER– Bastard Sonz of Rave (Planet Mu)
HELLFISH–Meat Machine Broadcast System (Planet Mu)

If this sound, which flails and pummels somewhere at the intersection of gabba, old skool ‘ardcore, electro, and drill’n’bass, was a fully-fledged subcultural movement, and I was half my age and on the appropriate drugs, it might very well be my life. Hellfish & Producer’s music is as well-produced and nuanced as any microhouse or IDM auteur you care to mention, it’s just that the “aesthetic” is about bludgeoning you to a pulp. A weird blend of neat-freak attention to detail and axe-maniac frenzy, this is not so much “intelligent hardcore” as Mensa-level gabber. All stop-starts and drastic dynamics, it’s verging on Math-rock levels of structural complexity, bearing the same relationship to Sperminator/Elstak/Mokum that King Crimson bore to the Dave Clark Five and early Kinks. Bastard Sonz is not collaboration but a split album, with all but one track done separately. On the whole, I lean slightly towards the Producer stuff as a marginally more inventive carpetbombing of the senses, but the Hellfish stuff is real good too. And you’ve got to love the latter’s way with a title: “Dangerous Turd”, “Guerrillas On the Piss”, “Canaboid (3814 Joints Later)”, ”Toilet Wars”.

GEEZ’N’GOSH--Nobody Knows (Mille Plateaus)
AKUFEN—My Way (Force Inc.)
After the first three tracks, My Way is one long Todd Edwards’s rip-off. It’s amusing to see people hailing this guy for his “trademark vocal cut-up/radio dial style”, when the trademark belongs to somebody else and Akufen is flagrantly infringing. Still, the world is not exactly over-run with Todd Edwards copyists and we could certainly use a few more. The striking difference between the originator and the imitator is that My Way tracks like “Deck The House” don’t have that lambent devotional warmth that true believer Todd achieves with his sample-choir. The effect is more choppily post-modern and fractured, making me imagine what it might be like to inhabit the scatterbrain of someone who’s eighteen and has barely known a world without videogames, an infinity of TV channels, MP3s, etc. This effect is most pronounced on the most Todd-like track, “Heaven Can Wait”, and maybe this is the tune’s point: the brittle, feverish hell that is postmodernity’s “mire of options,” where desire can’t even focus on an object for long without distracting itself. Where Todd’s stuff is reaching out for nirvana, an end to lust and appetite, Akufen is all about being enslaved by vritti, rhythm, the restlessness of desire.

Geez ‘n’ Gosh’s Nobody Knows may have no debts to Todd Edwards whatsoever for all I know, but its use of gospel vocals achieves a similar effect: the rapture and reverence, gratitude and grace of one who’s been born again in the Lord’s love. If there’s piss being taken here, it hardly shows through the very straight face this music maintains; if you didn’t know the perpetrator (Uwe Schmidt, a.k.a. Atom Heart) was the same guy behind Senor Coconut’s Latin versions of Kraftwerk classics, you might well think this was part of some new offshoot genre, Christian glitch. (Well, there’s a Ravers-for-Christ scene, so why not?). The closest thing to a wisecrack here is the way one gospel singer’s “swing” is isolated from “swing low, sweet chariot” and turned into a chant/injunction, thereby referencing house and garage’s swing (Mood II Swing etc) as opposed to the Lord’s vessel descending to swoop the faithful home to heaven. What’s especially clever and interesting about this record is the way the vocals are processed to sound even more faded-by-time and mixed way low (as opposed to way upfront, the obvious house way of using gospel uplift), so that they figure as almost inconspicuous elements of the glitchscapes. This somehow brings out the eerieness of religion, its grotesque fairy-tale quality. Is this record in fact an IDM riposte to Moby’s Play? Sort of, this is how to do it, chum…

CLIPSE – Lord Willin’ (Arista)
Was it Kodwo Eshun in his N.E.R.D. piece on Hyperdub
who described the Neptunes as belonging to that class of nerd who use their wit and knowledge of arcana to hang out with the bullies, thereby acquiring glory/status/menace by association? That would certainly seem to explain their whole thing with Clipse, the way Pharrell Williams likes to get his voice on the records and his scrawny unmuscled physique into the videos as much as possible. As the umpteenth retelling of the Staggerlee story (as per Greil Marcus in Mystery Train: the black rebel who breaks all limits, but only within his own community, and at his own people’s expense), Clipse seem like another dose of the same old same old: fresh sound, fresh flows even, but the stalest of socially destructive myths (and if you don’t think fantasy has reality-effects on people’s behavior, then to be consistent you must also believe all forms of music are equally trivial; you can’t talk about music’s power, without acknowledging its power to harm, corrupt, misguide). With Clipse/Neptunes, it doesn’t really work to squint your ears and try to isolate the thrilling sounds from the regrettable lyrics, because the stripped, raw nastiness of the form is inseparably bonded to the in-your-face noxiousness of the content. Case closed, then, except for the sudden sideswipe of this Pusha T verse in “I’m Not You”, in which you witness Staggerlee’s secret remorse and in turn are astonished to find yourself actually empathising with the crack dealer, even feeling sorry for him. “You and I don’t share no common bond/So forgive me if I don’t receive you with open arms/It shames me to no end to feed poison to those who could very well be my kin/But where there’s demand, someone will supply/So I feed them their needs, at the same time cry/Yes it pains me to see them need this/All of them lost souls and I’m their Jesus/Deepest regret and sympathy to the streets/I’ve seen them pay for their fix when their kids couldn’t eat/And with this in mind I still didn’t quit/And that’s how I know that I ain’t shit/My heart bleeds but that’s aside from the fact/I live for my kids and theirs and them young ones after that.

Against all the odds, I/f and friend wring a few more drops of delight from the Eighties-retro thing. (Sidenote: there’s a song here which slags off “electroCash” as the great nu-wave swindle—which seems to be a common perception. But can Larry Tee really be making much, or any, money off this scene? Does anyone really believe Fischerspooner got paid 3 million? That ten thousand W.I.T. front covers are a source of income?).

PANTYTEC—Ponyslaystation (Perlon)
FARBEN—Textstar (Klang Elektronik)
MICHAEL MAYER--Immer (Kompact)
SND–Tender Love (Mille Plateaus)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--Montreal Smoked Meat (Force Inc.)
VARIOUS ARTISTS—Selection 1 (Trapez)
VARIOUS ARTISTS/SWAYZAK—Groovetechnology v1.3 (!K7)
VARIOUS ARTISTS—Clicks’n’Cuts 3 (Mille Plateaux)

And microhouse a/k/a the more dancefloor-leaning end of click’n’glitch continues to chug along very nicely. Expecting a convulsion of any sort from it any time soon would, I suppose, be both churlish in the face of such pleasure-bounty and also kinda contrary to its foundational charter of aesthetic principles, which are pointillist and tending towards endless, infinitesimal subtilisation: evolution through involution.

In Fine Style’s inclusion here follows in the wake of Philip Sherburne’s take: the best way to understand/enjoy Horsepower Productions is as a genre-of-one---micro-step, a Chain Reaction informed/infused take on UK garage that strips away most of its “cliches” (a/k/a enduringly potent and socially resonant vibe-triggers) and focuses instead on its subliminal skank.

PLAYGROUP---DJ Kicks (!K7)
That Playgroup album proper is a curious thing: every time I play it, I like it less. B-level songcraft is the problem: all those tunes that make me flash on The System or Robert Palmer in the early Eighties. But this mix-CD is a fabulous exploration of unusual terrain: a mix of Eighties and Eighties-evocative tracks, all mid-tempo, many with a dub-disco/reggaematic funk feel. Metro Area make an appearance, and that sets the coordinates: post-disco but pre-house, non-frantic, a mixture of sensuality and sadness. In other words, the absolute opposite of the other Playgroup mix-CD of this year (see below: Still On the Fence section).

INTERPOL—Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador)
Surprised how much I liked this record, which strikes me as not nearly so much of a specific rip-off as the Joy Division-clone accusations would suggest, but rooted in a much broader 1979/80 sound-and-vision: Bunnymen, The Sound, Comsat Angels, 154 Wire, as well as the Hannett Sound. Cold clear skies, godless and slate-grey; rock, purified by punk, but prepared to risk grandeur again; young men in Oxfam overcoats, the world on their shoulders. If it’s okay for whole mini-genres of groups to base themselves around the sensibility of Gram Parsons or Brian Wilson, then why shouldn’t Interpol use that dawn-of-the-Eighties North-of-England sound as their roots and taking off point? I reckon it’s those very sharp suits that account for about 80 percent of the hostility towards them; a group that well-dressed can’t possibly be for real, is how the thinking goes.

DJ SHADOW—The Private Press (MCA)
He’s still got it. But if you’re not wearing headphones you might as well not bother.

METRO AREA Metro Area (Environ)
Until quite recently this was going to be in my Over-Rated of 2002, but on some impulse I whacked it in the machine one more time and was suddenly won over. (Chastening thought: how many records are you just one play for loving/understanding?). Bloody annoying actually, I had a whole diss-ertation written in my head. How they were like Modeski Martin & Wood, subtlety-riddled, the tunes mere showcases for certain fetishised period textures (syn-drum sounds, Klein & MBO-style drum machine breaks, etc). How it was ‘intelligent electroclash’, all the pungent cheese and drama-queeny excess expunged to leave something that while never as wack as the worst electroclash, never reached its rare heights either. How… hang on a minute, I’m supposed to be praising the thing. It’s, er, great! Buy it! You won’t regret it.

As you can see I’m more attached to my reasons for disliking Metro Area than I am to my recently-developed reasons for liking them, which are much the same as anybody else's (ghost-disco, blah blah, delicious echoes of Prelude/West End/Sleeping Bag yawn). I guess it’s the Recloose problem: there’s nothing here to get behind, ideologically. Just another attractive and endlessly playable record woven out of allusions to other much earlier records that I really loved and which actually seemed to mean something at the time. (Most of these records were from ‘New York’, which to someone living first in edge-of-the-Chilterns Hertfordshire and then in Oxford represented an exoticism and “edge” that’s almost impossible for me to recreate mentally, now that New York, albeit a vastly transformed New York, is my everyday life). So there’s nothing here to match the juicy-fruit sexiness of Vicky D’s “This Beat Is Mine,” the monstagroove carnality of Gwen Macrae’s ‘Funky Sensation’ or Cheryll Lynn’s “Got To Be Real”. But the album is steeped in these juices, the love is luminous, and sometimes reflected glory is enough.

MISSY ELLIOTT—Under Construction (The Gold Mind, Inc)
TWEET—Southern Hummingbird (the Gold Mind, Inc.)
WASTELAND—Amen Fire (Transparent)

All the advance buzz on ‘Work It’ set me up to be underwhelmed, but all the early negative reactions to the album have had the opposite effect: set me up to be, if not over- then at least sufficiently whelmed. It don’t seem nearly as crap as it’s made out to be, by some. Some good tunes, some good grooves. Lots of annoying speechifying in between the tracks, but that’s what the skip function on your CD remote’s for, innit? Right now I like this slightly more than the second album, but not nearly as much as #1 and #3.

The Missy-overseen Southern Hummingbird is Craig ‘I-Sound’ Willingham’s favorite album of the year (a fact which finally convinced me to buy the thing). I reckon this must be the vanguard noisetronica equivalent of that syndrome where your real gangsters don’t listen to gangsta rap, they like to chill to The Dramatics and Anita Baker. Likewise Craig clearly spends so much time making/deejaying ear-scouring stuff professionally, in his down-time he wants to hear something soothing—like this ballad-and-midtempo-jam laden Tweet album, which has just enough of a Missy/Tim avant-R&B twist to engage the Wire-reader’s ear.

Talking of I-Sound, Wasteland is him and long-time ally DJ Scud doing the splatterbreaks equivalent of slow-jams. In fact, underneath the deadly plumes of noise-smoke and radioactive crackles of distortion, a lot of the grooves are based on the jitterfunk template invented by Timbaland and developed by 2step. Technically an early 2003 release (it’s just got bumped back due to a pressing plant error), this shows how slowing the tempo can actually be more intense than cranking full-tilt; by working against reverb and echo, velocity tends to flatten the soundscape to 2D, whereas slow’n’low allows space—sensual or sinister--to open up between the beats. Seduction music for Merzbow fans.

O.U.T.H.U.D.---S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D (Kranky)
Post-rock seemingly sourced in Edge’s playing on The Unforgettable Fire and Jean-Michel Jarre as much as the obvious “Losing My Edge” canon. What a strange world we live in.

This is a great mix-CD because it pulls together all these actually-disparate and far-flung sounds but in the best way homogenizes them---makes them seem like they belong together and actually are the soundtrack to some real subculture. It's the same dirty trick--hoodwinking you momentarily that all evidence to the contrary this is actually a golden age for dance music we're living through--that is pulled off, differently but with equal potency, by the Ellen Allien mix-CD. So Dave (who he?) Tarrida's spectrum spans from (speak of the devil) Bpitch Control to the Horrorist (here collaborating brilliantly with Neil Landstruum), from Cristian Vogel to Hakan Libdo to The Mover, along with a bunch of brilliant unknowns (to me) like Aeox and Black Ops (not the UK garage outfit). The result--exemplified by Tarrida's own slinky gloomcore-meets-2step track "Terminally Yours"--is dark, sensual, twisted, doomy yet euphoric; it perfectly blends pounding 4/4 relentlessness and almost-IDM/microhouse levels of kinky spatial intricacy; and if there was a club playing exactly this sound I'd be there every week.

Various Artists--Fuzzy Boombox v.1 (Fuzzy Box); Elephant Man, Higher Level (Greensleeves); Position Normal, Goodly Time (Rum Records); Boom Bip & Doseone (Mush); The Chemical Brothers, Come With Us (Astralwerks); Marumari, The Remixes (Carpark); Antipop Consortium, Arrhythmia (Warp); the Coral (Deltasonic); Various Artist, Cuisine Non-Stop (Luaka Bop); Buzz Circuits, The Very Best of (Deluxe); Thomas Fehlmann, Visions of Blah (Kompact); Blectum from Blechdom, Fishin in Front of People: the early years: 1998-2000 (Pthalo); Req, Sketchbook (Warp); Scion, Arrange and Process Basic Channel Tracks (Tresor); Ellen Allien, Weiss.Mix (Bpitchcontrol); Boom Bip, Seed to Sun (Lex); Keith Fullerton Whitman, Playthroughs (Kranky); Alias, The Other Side of the Looking Glass (Anticon); The Fire Show, Saint (Perishable); Earl Zinger, Put Your Phazers On Stun Throw Your Health Food Skyward (!K7); Various Artists, Urban Renewal Program (Chocolate Industries); Wire, Read & Burn (PinkFlag); Euphone, The Lakewood (Bubblecore); Station 17+, Hitparade (Mute); Roots Manuva, Run Come Save Me/Dub Come Save Me (Big Dada); John B presents Brainstorm (Beta Recordings/Gizmo); Sage Francis, Personal Journals (Anticon); Various Artists, Night Owls and Night Owls 02 (Deluxe); Various Artists, Asthmatic Worm (Mobile); Various Artists, Seasonal Greetings (Mobile); Black Dice, Beaches & Canyons (DFA); Radian, Rec.Extern (Thrill Jockey); Beachwood Sparks, Make the Cowboy Robots Cry (Sub Pop); Shelleydevoto, Buzzkunst; Sutekh, Fell (Orthlong Musork).

OLD STUFF: reissues and ‘basement tapes’

THE FUTURE & THE HUMAN LEAGUE--The Golden Hour of the Future (Black Melody)
"We are the Human League, there are no guitars…". 1977 basement tapes, dating from before Marsh/Ware/Oakey even had a record deal: spindly song-sketches and buzzing lo-fi instrumentals from a group that at this point had as much in common with pre-punk progressives like Faust and Heldon as with Abba and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark. Standouts include the early Cabaret Voltaire-like pulse-maze of "Daz"; the doomy, tenebrous 23rd Century Gothick of "Future Religion"; an instrumental version of the Four Tops "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" that's like Joe Meek at his most ethereal; "Blank Clocks", an experiment in automatic lyric-writing, in which a restricted number of nouns ("blank", "time", "heart", "face", "clock", "talk", etc) and qualifiers ("my", "your", "the", "a") reshuffle in endless combinations. Best of all are the opening and closing tracks. "Dance Like A Star" resembles a homespun "I Feel Love", cobbled together in a garden shed, while the ten minute long "Last Man on Earth” fully lives up to the poignancy and desolation of its title with its aching vistas of cold electronic beauty.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--Verschwende Deine Jugend: Punk und New Wave in Deutschland (1977-83) (Ata Tak)
PALAIS SCHAUMBURG—Palais Schaumburg (Tapete)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--Teutonik Disaster (Munk/Gomma)

This double-CD makes a good case for West Germany as the number 2 world territory for post-punk, after the U.K. and just ahead of America. Chris Bohn was right all along! Palais Schaumburg’s classic debut album reveals them to a German counterpart to the Associates circa Fourth Drawer Down, poised between the sombreness of post-punk and the giddy revelry of New Pop and mutant disco. It was produced by David Cunningham of Flying Lizards, a group who seem to have been quite influential in Germany, judging by the quirky contents of Teutonik Disaster.

At last one can read Robin Carmody’s epic Radiophonic Workshop piece from an informed perspective! The music turns out to be quite as quirky and captivating as you might hope, although this reish is a tad stingy, sticking to the original 1968 album plus a couple of bonus tunes, and not exploiting the remaining 33 minutes of CD-space by filling it with creepy soundtrack bits from Dr. Who. (In fact it’s a Dr. Who-free zone, for some reason). Alternately charmingly eccentric and pretty fucking disturbing, this collection of jingles, radio-drama themes, and incidental music lies somewhere between Joe Meek, Raymond Scott’s music for babies, and musique concrete. Other bits sound like the missing link between The Shadows and early Cabaret Voltaire. This makes you wish Sonic Boom would get his skates on and release the cache of archival Radiophonic and post-BBCRW Delia Derbyshire material he is apparently harboring. Most of all, BBC Radiophonic Music has exactly the quaint, creaky aura that you’d hope when it comes to the institutionalised avant-garde. You can almost hear the tea lady coming round with her urn: “Doughnut as usual with your cuppa, Mrs. Derbyshire? How many sugars, Mr. Briscoe? Goodness, you lot dunnarf make some queer noises in here!“

LUDUS--The Damage (LTM)
Much more pop-cuddly—all winsome warbled melody and tumbling percussion--than you’d expect given Linder’s confrontational legend (performing at the Hacienda in a frock made out of cuts of meat and chicken giblets etc). As well as this compilation LTM seem to be CD-reissuing all the original EPS and mini-LPS in their original form.

THE BLUE ORCHIDS--a Darker Bloom (Cherry Red)
Acid-doused and brazenly mystical, this hallucinogen-gobbling Fall offshoot kicked up a hypno-swirl of discordant guitar and incense-and-belladonna keyboards that couldn’t have been more dissident in its early Eighties context of New Pop and bleached funk. Politically as well as sonically: This album stages a quiet refusal of the “climb the money mountain” careerism of the Thatcher/Reagan era. “Dumb Magician” (from The Greatest Hit, the Orchids masterpiece, almost all of which is included here) offers a devastating critique of the dis-enchanted worldview that comes with pursuing worldly success: “try so hard to get your foot in the door/get what you ask for and nothing more” (a subtle swipe at Rough Trade labelmates turned major labels entryists like Scritti and Aztec Camera?) before offering the defiant call-to-transcendence: "The only way out is UP”. “Low Profile” is their turn-on/tune-in/drop-out anthem (“no compromise in the name of truth/keep a low profile/serene inspiration”), the inexorable rumble of the rhythm section driving a gold-dust-rush of sound as triumphant as Felt’s own loser’s anthem “Primitive Painters.” Martin Bramah and Una Baines’s lyrics teem with pagan poetry and ache with naked pantheist devotion: “get down on your knees/just touch the flesh of the breeze/and feel release”, “with hearts that burst when we salute heaven”,” “ate the fruit of surrender/surrender to no one”. “Visions of splendour, two left feet” goes “Sun Connection”, perfectly capturing the group’s uncanny merger of sublime and clumsy. From the burst-levee roar of early singles stuff like “Disney Boys,” “The Flood” and “Work” to the serenity of the latterday Agents of Change EP (whose piano-rolling “Release” is enjoyably reminiscent of The Stranglers’s “Don’t Bring Harry”), A Darker Bloom gives you a chance to discover a remarkable, if sadly compact, body of work.

HERBERT—Secondhand Sounds: Herbert Remixes (Peacefrog)
If I was a musician and did remixes regularly, I’m sure that whatever my conscious intentions, I’d subconsciously find myself holding back my best ideas and reserving them for my own tracks. That just seems like human nature. So when you gather together an artist’s remixes for other people onto two discs, not only does this draw attention to the trademark tricks and default mannerisms that get deployed time and time again, you also get a weird effect: it’s like you’re in a parallel universe where everything is identical, Herbert is exactly the same person as a character, with all his preoccupations and artistic traits, EXCEPT that instead of being a first-rate talent, he’s a second-rater. (Wyndham Lewis might have been a right cunt and a fascist sympathiser to boot, but when he opined that in arts criticism, if you weren’t able to talk about things being first-rate and second-rate, then there wasn’t much point in carrying on, he was onto something: distinction, in a work, a melody, a voice, is both an endless mystery we write around as best we can, and the absolute critical thing). Anyway, that’s what it’s like listening to this CD: most of the time there’s a barely perceptible but distinct lessness of quality compared with his own records. Still, even slightly dilute Herbert is pretty delectable, and [warning: bathos imminent] this is a great record for when you have people round for dinner.

ULTRAMARINE--Every Man and Woman Is a Star (Darla)
Blue Orchids-like shroom-enhanced pastoralism, with acieeed bass, chugging house beats, and lots of soft-rock samples. In my Top Five electronic albums of all time.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--London is The Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso in London, 1950—1956 (Honest Jon’s).
Catches both the optimism and disillusionment of the first-wave of Caribbean immigrants as they arrive in the U.K. and are not exactly warmly embraced.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--Watch How the People Dancing: Unity Sounds from the London Dancehall, 1986-89 (Honest Jon’s)
Vital background research for anybody attempting a dissertation in UK MC-ology (working title: “You’re a Bunch of Chatty Bastards: Caribbean Diasporic Oral Cultures and the Other-isation of British Youth"). This catches a moment just before acid house changed the game forever, and includes some people who went on to be staples of the Shut Up and Dance stable: the Ragga Twins, Peter Bouncer.

ESSENDEN AIRPORT—Sonic Investigations of the Trivial (Chapter)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--Can’t Stop It! Australian Post-Punk 1978-82 (Chapter)

This compilation, and the stuff by Essenden Airport (an Antipodean Young Marble Giants, if you will) show why Australia was the number 4 territory for post-punk, after America and just ahead of Belgium/Holland.

VINCENT GALLO—Recordings of Music For Film (Warp)

Anti-NY is a real odd’n’sods package, worth getting for Viven Goldman’s proto-On U “Launderette” and “Drum Mode” by Basquiat’s group Gray, who turn out to be really rather good. Briefly a member of Gray, Vincent Gallo has been doing lo-fi soundtracky stuff for low-budget movies since the early Eighties: haunting, oneiric, despondency-as-epiphanic-trance.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--Hustle! Reggae Disco: Kingston, London, New York (Soul Jazz)
Just the fantastic kitschadelic cover image alone makes you want to get behind this collection of lover’s rock versions of disco hits. Post-2step it has a lot of ideological appeal too: inauthentic reggae, glossy instead of earthy, Jeri-curled instead of dreaded, and strickly for the ladies massive. Some of the versions are actually rather thin fare (the cover of “I’m Every Woman” just sounds so mild compared with Chaka’s torrid original, and the stab at ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is misguided) but ‘Ring My Bell’ and ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ work divinely, and the remake of The Whispers’ sublime “And the Beat Goes On” is gorgeous. Most of all this renews my determination to get hold of some Janet Kay records.

More good old stuff:
Boards of Canada--Two-ism (Warp); Hi-Scores EP (Skam)
A Certain Ratio–Early (Soul Jazz)
Royal Trux- Hand of God (Domino)
Muziq – Tango n’ Vectif (Planet Mu)
Ian Dury—Ten More Turnips From the Tip (Ronnie Harris Records)

Open to persuasion but as yet unswayed

MY COMPUTER–Vulnerabilia
This is impressive but there’s something too perfect and poised about it. The singer belongs to that category of leaves-me-cold magnificence that includes that McAlmont dude and maybe even Billy McKenzie from Perhaps onwards.

THE FLAMING LIPS–Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
THE ROOTS—Phrenology
COMMON--Electric Circus

These get lumped together because they all fit a syndrome/ shtick/sales pitch that goes something like: “Behold the Immensity and Breadth of Our Vision”. Ambition–heroic, or overweening, your call–is what these records trumpet so loudly.
Paralleling a certain sort of literary ambition (those who still attempt the Great American Novel, like The Corrections, a/k/a in Britain The Novel of Its Time, a la Martin Amis’s Money), these artists would like to address a no-longer-existent audience, an educated listenership that transcends genre. (Genre, being predicated on taste-tribes, is inimical to this sort of Album, which aims for universality, is predicated on the notion of an Everyman or human core beneath all the identity politics). Of course this kind of Record, like that kind of Novel (or Movie) is now just a genre in itself, one among many. Common’s Sergeant’s Pepper mimicking cover seems like a conscious attempt to situate itself within the Art Rock tradition, although Black pop has its own canon of concept album peddling visionaries (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, etc) and of course there’s Jimi Hendrix, somewhere between the two. Bits of Electric Circus (an echo of Jimi’s electric skychurch?) is quite impressive as pure sound, but this guy’s whole shtick (redeemer of a hip hop gone to the dogz and the thugz) is incredibly off-putting and tedious, no? Lauryn Hill, but bald and with balls and a beard. How’s this verse for a cloying-fit-to-getcha-retchin’ New Man soft-but-strong come-on? “…Put down your bags, love/I know in the past Love/Has been sort of hard on you/But I see the God in you/I just want to nurture it/Though this love may hurt a bit… I want to build a tribe wit’choo/Protect and provide for you/Truth is, I can’t hide from you/The pimp-in-me may have to die with you.” Ka-blooowierrghhh!! You really have to hear it in his ‘caring’ voice for the full upchuck effect though.

As for Flaming Lips, I suppose I should be well behind this latest effort, being a pro-pretentious art-rock type. They're part of a whole mini-genre of contemporary rock bands who aspire to partake of that going-crazy-with-the-overdubs, spare-no-expense, “Genius is Madness/Madness is Genius” lineage that includes Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks/Tim Buckley/Scott Walker/Todd Rundgren/Big Star’s Third Album etc etc. Groups like Mercury Rev (whose last two albums did nothing for me), Olivia Tremor Control, Spiritualized… Thing is, it’s so much easier to make these epic-seeming, sonically lavish albums nowadays, with cheap or self-owned studios and Pro Tools and the like. You don’t need full orchestras and ruinously massive studio-time costs and major label executives tearing their hair out. It’s sort of budget visionary, which somehow makes a difference.

For sure, there are moments all over Yoshimi and especially all over Phrenology that drip with pure beauty and invention (“Water” is extraordinary), although much of Yoshimi is “visionary” only in the sense that Electric Light Orchestra made visionary epics. But I dunno, when artists are trying so blatantly to blow minds, something in me resists: my mind curls up tight like a hedgehog rolling in a ball, and resolutely refuses to be blown away.

A final jibe: if The Roots are, like Common, all about marshalling a spiritual and intellectual renaissance for rap, Black America, and possibly Mankind to boot, if they decry modern hip hop’s materialism, they really ought to attend to the plank in their own eyes first and have a word with the record company about ecologically unsound and extravagantly wasteful promotional gimmicks. Their previous album was sent to select journalists as a tape glued into a Walkman – fucking annoying, you couldn’t remove the thing without destroying the machine. But Phrenology tops this by coming as a promo disc glued into a portable CD player, again impossible to extract without destroying the machine.

ADD N TO (X)–Loud Like Nature
It’s great they’re all about making electronic music that rocks, but all of sudden it’s like they’ve turned into the Glitter Band

I’ve persevered but this music doesn’t invite strong feelings beyond ‘nice’. Pleasant, clever, and the band are cute as fuck, but the doubt lingers that Ladytron simply don't have the voices or the songs to really spar with the ruthless mainstream pop music of the early Noughties. Or, more pointedly, with the ruthless mainstream pop of the early Eighties.

DALEK–From the Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots

Shouldn’t we all be over “noise” by now?

EL P–Fantastic Damage
Fabulous sounds, but this guy should just keep his gob shut.

PLAYGROUP--Party-Mix Vol. 1
DJ/RUPTURE–- Minesweeper Suite
2 MANY DJs--As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt 2

Radio Soulwax and Party-Mix Vol. 1 induce a curious sensation, a mix of delight and staleness. If familiarity breeds contempt, then what is the appropriate aesthetic response to a music that is based entirely around the play of familiarity and unfamiliarity? There’s a smugness that suffuses everything that 2 Many DJs do that for me almost completely vitiates the undeniable wit, skill and entertainment value involved in their juxtapositions. The Playgroup mix is interesting for the way it mostly weaves together the non-obvious bits of its Eighties classics: not the killer hooks but the other captivating features, the intros, bridges, drum breakdowns. In the end though, this album wears you out with its good-bittiness; running through what seems like hundreds of records, it never allows you to settle into enjoying anything before it flits off to another track. If DJing was a disease, a delirium tremens of the central nervous system, this record is like Trevor Jackson’s in the hospice and the priest’s been called for last rites.

DJ/Rupture: smart cookie, excellent taste, seems like a nice chap. And here we have another interesting selection expertly mixed: so many good records, assembled and interconnected with abundant skill, and all with the best of intentions. And yet, and yet, the end experience is so even, orderly, flat, polite. A rupture-free zone, in fact. About as far from the original evocations of "mash up" as imaginable.