Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Now I Got Worry
My main reason for wanting to review this record is because previous Baggage attempts at reviewing Mr Spencer and his pant-wettingly cool ensemble have always resulted in otherwise hardened correspondents hitting the Caps Lock key and writing things like 'BLUES EXPLOSION!!!' or 'BELLBOTTOMS!!!' or 'BREAKDANCE!!!' for apparently no reason, much in the manner of the man himself. Unfortunately, he does not once shout any of these things on 'Now I Got Worry', which means I will not be allowed to indulge my capital letters fetish today. Oh well.
Unsurprisingly, this album is no departure for Jon Spencer. It is the same sleazy, messed-up punk blues that he's been playing since his Pussy Galore days, done in the tried and tested Blues Explosion two-guitars-and-a-tiny-drumkit manner. There's still no bass, but they don't need it. Russell Simins' drums provide the rhythm and the bass, whilst Judah Bauer churns out increasingly dirtier riffs and their leader shouts, groans, mumbles and screams incomprehensibly. It's more of the same, and it's the best they've ever done.
So in the opening seconds of the record we have Jon Spencer letting out a mental patient's scream, a scream which is chopped up and fed back into the guitars. The rhythm drives on incessantly through the not-quite-two-minute punk thrash 'Identify', and on continually. Their cover of Dub Narcotic's 'Fuck Shit Up' seems to be a statement of intent, Spencer exhorting us all to "Make it fucked up". There are semi-instrumentals, somewhat in the style of 'Bellbottoms', and 'Eyeballin' disappears halfway through to become some kind of cheesy electro number. So, at the point in the record where he orders us to "throw your hands in the air and kiss my ass, 'cos your girlfriend still loves me", you just do as he says. After all, who can blame her?
It is so often hard, short of actually sitting someone down and playing it to them, to describe an album without recourse to comparison. Understandably, many acts are bitter when grouped into a pre-existing genre, because this tends to ignore originality or independence on their part, but when I compare this album to ones by Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky, it is with the stress that it is just as good as any of these landmark albums.
Blunt hip-hop beats meet with so many delicate movements, the tracks often strewn with orchestral melancholy. Likewise the disparate but complimentary elements of a raw rap voice and a sweet soulful singing trade off amongst the confines of the album - but each only within the self-moderation of maintaining the clarity of the voice of the music itself. A carefully measured approach, and extremely productive. Released on vinyl only.
Funk metal. Now there's a genre hybrid experiment which went horribly wrong. Infectious Grooves, Living Colour, Red Hot Chilli Wankers, I own albums by them all. Music for white boys who think they understand soul, oh how naive one can be.
Still, Audioweb are not funk metal (thank christ) they are better described as funk indie.....whoa there - listen to me, I'm pigeon-holing them already with my crass musical opinions. Ahhhh, I'm turning into TONY PARSONS (adopts twatty cockney accent), "well of course Cocker is the archetypal working class hero.........". NO STOP, let me try again.
Ahem. Well Audioweb are a slippery fish, and its difficult to really grasp their music without getting a face full of cod. My central problem with their new album lies in it's central premise, a musical fusion of dub, indie-pop and soul. Audioweb clearly aim to please a wide audience, breaking musical, cultural and erm.....sexual barriers. Thus on a song like the extremely average single "Sleeper", you get it all, soulful vocals, Stone Roses twiddly riffs and a funky bass line. This pattern indeed continues for much of the record with some alright "it's a bit of a grower" type tunes.
Now I might be mistaken here, but doesn't this seem a bit forced, isn't it slightly stilted and formulaic. I mean I could say things like I don't like his voice much, and "the guitarist is a bit wanky", but this doesn't really address the actual reason why I think Audioweb are below average. It simply seems as if theyíre playing unoriginal music from lots of different genres instead of one. The moments when they sound pretty cool are ultimately songs where the indie-pop element surfaces less ( e.g. 'Time') and a little more musical originality and feeling exudes. I guess this is the old "more experimentation, less conformity" plea though, and I could go on all night about that. I'll just say that although I hope Audioweb do well, I fear that on the basis of this record, their musical non-conformity could very soon become musical cliche.
In A Bar, Under The Sea
So, have dEUS sold out? After all, the really weird arty one (Rudy Trouve) has left to pursue his painting career, and dEUS attract screaming girls to their Dutch shows. To reassure anyone who likes their music a little more left-field, listen no further than earlier single 'Theme From Turnpike'. To say this is experimenting with music is to say that Shaun Ryder experimented with drugs. They take everything that's been done before and push it that bit further. Someone even plays an egg on it.
The two most incongruous songs are 'Supermarket Song' and 'Memory Of A Festival'. The former features Dana "Morphine" Colley on sax, and sounds very similar to Blur in many ways. The latter is a straight ahead punky romp. It initially seems like a nice tale about a 1994 festival (the year dEUS played at Glastonbury) but is, on more extensive listening, the cautionary tale of a first Smack experience. There are two moments of genuine beauty on the album. 'Serpentine' is one of the slower ones, and Tom Barman's vocal delivery tugs strongly on the heart strings, while 'Disappointed In The Sun' could teach Oasis a thing or two about the emotional power of a piano in pop music.
This is followed by 'Roses', which jars the listener back to life with an injection of pure fear, perfectly couterpointing the delicacy of 'Disappointed...'
On this album, dEUS have curbed the rampant experimentalism of My Sister Is My Clock and perfectly married it with the pop sensibilities of Worst Case Scenario, creating a sound which is purely their own. Pavement, Waits, Flaming Lips and Beefheart comparisons still hold some water, but nobody sounds quite like this. Their unique blend of genius is still very much their own.
The Telstar Ponies
Voices From The New Music
It would be so easy to let the glory of this pass you by. So gentle is it in it's sombre beauty that it ought not to hold your attention and should fade into the background of your thought. Fortunately, the overall feeling of shimmering calm is constructed from moments of sublime harmony and urgent splendour which MAKE you listen. This is guitar rock rooted only in the stars as the Telstar Ponies forge on from "In The Space Of A Few Minutes" to realise their potential as Britain's foremost forward thinking rock band. Yes, despite their refusal to follow what has gone before, they are at the core a rock band. Of course, we're talking about a rock band who will entice you with siren like voices into the maelstrom of musical thought and feeling. There you must keep faith that you will emerge on the other side in a musically perfect world where image is nothing and progression and vitality are all.
So, if you allow yourself to concentrate and be drawn in you must inevitably wonder at pure art noise woven through nigh perfect chord sequences punctuated with whispers and angelic singing. You will also encounter whistled melodies, rattling snare drums and melodies constructed only from bursts of surging guitar noise all leading towards the beautiful sputtering and fizzling finale that is La Vienna. To highlight other songs would be a bad thing since this really is a 76 minute masterpiece. The songs really seem to be movements in something of a far more grand design. The sober affecting beauty of it all is reminiscent of bands like Smog or the Silver Jews yet there is the musical audacity of groups like Tortoise or Mercury Rev. This results in a record that is inherently indulgent and resoundingly individual and, for once, not an in imitation of its American contemporaries.
The Telstar Ponies are on a mission. Their deepest desire is "...to be vital...to be now..." They have succeeded, for this is rock being pushed onwards and outwards - music being kept vital without needing to be driven by anger and rage. So, go on - take part in the indulgence and play this over and over and over....
Bargeld, Cave, Harvey
To Have And To Hold (OST)
As this is a soundtrack album it is almost entirely instrumental. It doesn't sound anything like you'd expect, but does involve strings. Lots of them. Now there's nothing wrong with a nice orchestra in my book, but it's not really what I expected. Particular highlights are 'The Flight' with its incredibly mournful introduction and the title track, which evokes thoughts any number of sinister thought in the listeners head. It builds in a fairly predictable way, however, as do many of the compositions. I know it's supposed to be background music to what goes on on screen, but it does sometimes seem a little lacking in focus. The other real standout orchestral track is 'Murder' which chillingly climaxes with a Hitchcockian violin. From what I can tell, the film's a love story which moves from equatorial rainforest to urban Australia. Very nice, I'm sure, but with Cave, Harvey and Bargeld playing around, there's a sinister undercurrent running through the entire album.
There are some seriously strange moments on the album, though. There's an odd track called 'Mourning Song', which consists of almost 3 minutes of tribal wailing and moaning. Then there's song I most wanted to hear, 'I Threw It All Away'. Originally from Bob Dylan's experimental country album, 1969s Nashville Skyline, this version was arranged by Barry Adamson and sung by Scott Walker. It should be life changing, but Walker's croon steers too close to parody to be genuinely moving. That mild disappointment is followed by the closing title music, but that's not the end of it. That's followed, unbelievably, by 'Gangster Bone', written by Darkman and performed by Keety General. To end the album with a ragga chant is more out of place than a socialist in the labour cabinet.
So, no metal clanking, only one song about murder, lots of violins, a touch of ragga, Scott Walker and a bit of wailing. Very much a musical pick 'n' mix, but as long as you separate the jelly babies and cola bottles from the liquorice allsorts, you'll be rewarded.
John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey
Dance Hall At Louse Point
This is not a P.J. Harvey album in the same way that 'Nearly God' wasn't a Tricky album. By working with someone else and in being able to have someone else's name on the credits P.J. Harvey has been able to enjoy a freedom that she would not have had with her next proper album. Personally I think it has created a great album. P.J. is not burdened down with the expectations usually associated with her next release and so the results are more scratchy and interesting than a fully finalised vision.
It starts with a number of tracks that are surprising in their minimalism. Rather than being saturated by heavy electric guitars there is a more an acoustic sound with some electric blues guitar over the top. However, as it develops it becomes more frantic and abrasive, culminating in the amazing 'Taut' in which guitars scrape and the incessant rattle of a drum beat burrows deeper into your mind. This is a track that is as scary and as claustrophobic as anything on 'Rid Of Me' and blows my mind each time I listen to it. One of the startling things that comes across on this track and numerous others is the sound of P.J. playing about with her voice. First she whispers, then there is an operatic falsetto before bursting into plain out screaming. It grasps your attention at whatever volume you feel brave enough to play it.
Lyrically, it is more of the same imagery from 'To Bring You My Love' but she does seem to have injected more of herself than on that album where her songwriting seemed very distant. Although saying that, one of the other stand out tracks is a Peggy Lee standard, 'Is That All There Is'. This is the nearest P.J. has got to Nick Cave without actually singing with him and even goes so far as to rope in Mick Harvey from the Bad Seeds. In a similar vein there is 'That Was My Vail' which has the best melody since 'Dry' and is perhaps the most tuneful song in her whole repertoire.
It may not be a fully fledged P.J Harvey album but it certainly doesn't suffer for that. Again, like the Nearly God album, it is an essential document from a great artist.
It's a bit like Everything But The Girl. Okay, it doesn't sound much like them but just for sheer insipid dullness it pretty much equals the deadly duo. Beth Orton is very much a traditional songwriter with obvious country and folk influences yet she has managed to get people like Andrew Weatherall, Red Snapper and The Aloof vaguely connected with this album. It creates a bizarre situation where the majority of the album is very much acoustic sort of folky stuff which is then punctuated with flacid trip flop numbers.
However, the real problem I have with this record is the songwriting. All the best people labelled with the dodgy tag of the 'singer songwriter' have bought something new and interesting to the genre. There is Liz Phair with her explosive honesty or Lisa Germano's twisted weirdness, yet Beth just spins out the same countrified cliche ridden rubbish that we have heard a million times before. For example: "Put your lovin' on a slow burner if you want to keep your lovin' warmer, put your lovin' on a slow simmer if it helps to keep the love from growing dimmer" !!
Okay, maybe I have been overly harsh but it seems that there are two diverse and ill conceived aesthetics going on here. One is the principle of lobbing in a few samples and a woman's voice and hoping you get Portishead and the second is the folk/ country singer songwriter thing. What this succeeds in doing is creating an album that is neither moody nor profound, atmospheric nor moving. Just lame and dull.
Palm Skin Productions
Or "A Monkey Fell Asleep On A Turntable And These Are His Dreams." With a working title like this perhaps we are in a better position to understand the warbled state of impropriety that makes this project so dynamic. For something very, very strange has happened here. Young Simon Richmond, the Renaissance man of the breakbeat (AKA Palm Skin Productions) has shimmied up the drainpipe and into the back window of some of his previous tracks, and then radically reworked them. In fact to call the 12 songs that are Remilixir tracks is dismissive for they are cleverly constructed compositions. The end result is an album that glides gracefully and effortlessly between genres.
Palm Skin Productions are best known for their early work for Mo' Wax. Remixilir, whilst retaining the stoned breakbeat and scratch mix philosophy, takes it that much further. 'Osaka' owes more to jazz luminaries by the likes of Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery whereas "Flipper" slips into Orb territory - layer upon layer of warm, luscious textures with an oriental slant. 'Trouble Rides A Fast Horse' P-Funks its way along and the last composition, 'Beethoven Street', leaves an atmosphere of serenity through the beautiful cello of Gay Yee Westerhoff. Looks like the cheeky little Palm Skin monkey had some quite nice dreams really!
Crash Test Dummies
A Worm's Life
A semi-precious gem in a poo's clothing. This band have the naffest, most passe image imaginable and I am sure I will be hung, drawn, and quartered for giving this album a favourable review. But I will.
Believe me, when I was offered this album to review I winced, but, having accepted, I have been pleasantly surprised. Sure, that man with the odd voice still sings and they still have a dismal name, but this record should be listened to by all - particularly Deicide fans. The reason is that this album is so darn honest and funny. Now I'm sure by next week I will want to sell this album, but for now this album is a source of constant amusement and worrying damage to my sides.
On the musical front the band have developed beyond belief. Smooth keyboards and funky guitars and bass have slotted in to suit Brad Robert's voice ( which isn't too annoying now they can really play ). The production is not over-pretentious and gladly does not reek of the novelty AOR label that one would stick on this band. The lyrics make the album a little better than average. Any one who can rhyme "slimy" with "guacamole", sing of tongues frozen to stop signs and plumbing variations from continent to continent deserves a gold star and a half.
It is a worry that people might expect a little too much from this album. It only warrants a couple of listens ( or even a read of the lyric card in a shop ), but those listens will certainly put you in a teeth flashing mood. Oh, and Cast are rubbish.
Aah, computer game soundtracks. Time was, computer game music on my Spectrum 48k was created with a command called BEEP, which went, for example:
BEEP 12, 0.5
...which is Middle C, for half a second. The fun I had, persuading a small rubber beermat to play The Strangler's 'Golden Brown'. However, since those happy days some eleven years ago, I have been locked in a small, dark room, completely detached from the outside world. It therefore came as some surprise to listen to this CD, the soundtrack to Wipe'Out" 2097, sequel to PlayStation-type game, Wipeout.
Let's ignore the fact that the album sleeve subscribes to the Designers Republic 'Japanese Lettering / Numbers Instead Of Letters / Lots Of Bar Codes' school of design. Let us also ignore the fact this CD is from the eagerly-awaited sequel to a cracking computer racing game (apparently). We are, after all, a music magazine, and this CD contains exclusive tracks and mixes from the likes of Underworld, FSOL and Fluke. The Chemical Brothers contribute the so-so 'Loops of Fury', and then make up for it by including the excellent Underworld Mix 1 of 'Leave Home'. Talking of which, Underworld kindly donate 'Tin There', which current Baggage speculation suggests is from a deodorant advert. And oh! It is good. Thankfully, the Prodigy have left Keith's 'Firestarter' vocals on the bus. Fluke bore with 'Atom Bomb', and then score with 'U Six". There's a rather interesting little section nearer the end, which goes Daft Punk / Source Direct / Photek - Daft Punk use a Bontempi 'Disco' drumbeat and stand out as a result, as do Source Direct's scary-ass squelch / drum 'n' drum combinations in '2097'. Whereas Photek's 'Titan' is the sound of someone trying to walk up a flight of metal stairs in time to a crunchy drum 'n' bass breakbeat.
And all this is before I even mention Orbital and Leftfield, or tell you about the FSOL mixes. Let's not bother, eh? Let's just buy the album, a PlayStation, and Wipe'Out" 2097. Beep Schmeep.
ZZ Top - beardy old perverts who make cheesy sleazy electro blues pop just to have as many semi-naked women in their videos as possible, right?? Well, there is that side to them but way back in the 70's they made some of the finest blues boogie records known to man. It all went a bit wrong in the 80's as Billy Gibbons bought into the synth deal and forgot about his heritage and the fact that he can play some of the best blues guitar around. They also grew those ludicrous beards and so are likely to be stigmatised forever as a pile of crap.
That would be a shame because the band has recently experienced a rebirth of cool. A split with Warner Bros coincided with Antenna which was a much better album than anything from the 80's if still not up to the quality they were capable of. However, this new effort has followed the trend that album started in waving goodbye to electronic instruments entirely and playing to the bands strengths - live. There's a lot of percussion on there which sounds like programming but is just the band and production team making a backing track with real instruments for the band to play live over. It results in a really freaky sound which is real baddass blues coupled with this intense rhythmic thing. That's why Billy called it Rhythmeen.
The guitar work is as good as it has ever been with some storming riffs and beautiful sounds working with the rhythm and percussion perfectly. In fact, the real strength of the album is the sound - it just sounds so good that it is easy to listen to. If you've ever liked blues based rock then suspend your preconceptions and listen to this because it actually is really cool progressive modern blues music.
I'm not by nature a cruel person, so in case Fluffy read this, I'll be brief.
They were never supposed to write music. They were never supposed to play instruments. They were supposed to appear in the papers, and make ridiculous comments in interviews. Now, they've gone and made an album of the worst, most asinine approximation of punk rock I've ever heard.
Redeeming features? I got it on tape, so it saves me the cost of a new C60 I suppose.
I'd be ashamed to have this record in my collection, and so should anyone else.
From A To B
Let's cut straight to the basics - this album is 13 tracks of pop bliss. It glides, it bounces and, as all good albums should, it soars. It's an album of psychedelia, of daydreams and of getting totally off the planet (no bad thing, seeing as the best music comes from Mars and Alpha Centauri.)
The opening track, 'Your Smile' splutters into life, then grows on a runway of horns and strings into a chorus that sums up the octophilosophy - if you find yourself getting pissed off with things then just calm down and take it easy. 'Everyday Kiss' is a cheeky but infectious Grange Hill theme tune on acid which is bouncy, juicy and small enough to fit in your lunchbox.
But it's not all bouncestompjumpy pop songs, for there are some contrasting songs, too. They ooze out of the speakers, numbing your brain, putting lumps in your threat and pulling you down like a big vat of treacle. The title track is languid and dreamy, with a most amazing vocal melody, while 'Saved' is an anthem about finally making it out of the overcast patch, melting chiming guitar, floating strings, gentle trumpets and a lyric that's magic. "Happiness is solid, joy is liquid, I think maybe we've been saved."
However, 'From A to B' could almost be filed under easy listening, as there's a very overproduced studio sound to the album, as opposed to their rawer live sound; and with only one guitar heavy song, 'Magazine', the octoblend of strings, trumpets, harmonicas and gentle guitar might not be everyone's cup of tea (clichès - who needs 'em at the end of the day), but then if you do like fab throwaway tunes that mix slowfluttering ballads with stomping psychedelic pop songs, you might well have already heard the album.
Despite their indie cognoscenti publicity and association with great train robber Bruce Reynolds, Octopus are best known for their songs - and how can you go wrong with that? Their songs might be throwaway, but I guess that means I just keep throwing them onto my CD player.
This, Tool's second album, is an incendiary blast of vitriolic rhetoric. It is a heavy, brooding, compassionate howl at America. It is also a rock album. A Soundgardenpearljam-eatmyangst type of thing. However, for all that it is not without it's charms. There is something quite appealing in Maynard James Keenan's hushed, anguished vocals and though the music always threatens to descend into dull heavy rock it never actually reaches that Stone Temple Pilots cut off point.
There are several interludes or segues where Tool allow themselves to muck about with sound and samples but the concept is never given enough space to really make any significant change to the overall sound. However, it does give them a chance to include a couple of Bill Hicks quotes which are brilliantly barbed comments on the nature of drugs in music. In fact it is quite an apt move, not because of the drugs reference, but because of the similarities in Bill Hick's world view and Tool's own. They both rail against the hypocritical radical right wing in America with a venom and hurt which is admirable.
In fact, although this isn't normally my type of thing, it is a good album. It manages to be different enough in style to avoid the grunge dustbin yet is capable of using the bleak landscapes inhabited by your heavier rock bands to good effect. Not at all bad.
Several things can happen with live albums. Firstly, performers can try new twists on old songs, which sometimes work and sometimes fail miserably. For an example of the latter 'Later...Brit Beat', see Edwyn Collins' addition of convulsive guitar chords to 'A Girl Like You', although the song was pretty much unavoidably destined to flop. Otherwise, Ash try 'Goldfinger' with louder guitars than usual, amidst which the vocals are all but lost. On the other hand, experimentalism can pay off, as in the case of Oasis' 'Wonderwall' finally performed by someone other than snot-nosed Liam or 'The Mike Flowers Pops', i.e. Noel Gallagher. His subtlety enriches the song, and makes it very pleasant and almost moving, making one wonder whether he shouldn't have sung it all along.
Another thing that can happen is that nothing happens, and the performance becomes an identical replica of that mixed in the studio, which is safe but unfortunate. For specimens, hear Paul Weller's 'The Changingman', and The Bluetones 'Slight Return', as well as Elastica's 'Carsong'. Here the only difference to the chart version is the clapping before and after.
Something else which betrays live performances is that artists are stripped of the security of digital re mastering and mixing, and the song comes out naked and rough, as with Cast's 'FineTime'. Other than that there are good performances on this album by Radiohead of the already great 'The Bends', and Super Furry Animals' 'If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You'.
Unfortunately, on a general level, this live compilation is prechewed as a MacDonald's hamburger and is very simple to listen to because the sound impulses the songs produce have already worn deep furrows in everyone's central nervous conduits because of the amount of airplay they have received. So if you're interested in a collection someone else has devised, without the hard work of discovering good songs yourself, then this is the album for you.
If you can imagine a woman shrieking loudly for fifty minutes, then that's pretty much it. It does actually include text read from Job, Thomas Aquinas, and Diamanda Galas herself, but these are generally incomprehensible when excreted through her torturous voice. Terrifying, and pretty much unlistenable.
Is it good? I can't really say. Sometimes I thought it might be, but I really have no idea. Ultimately the question of whether it is good or not pales somewhat next to the consideration that listening to it isn't enjoyable in the slightest.
The sleeve notes bear the coda : "Performed in total darkness. Play at maximum volume only. This is not ambient music", but I'm scared that if I comply, then the neighbours will suspect me of torture and call the police. Unless they're torturers themselves of course.
Live At The Social Vol.2
My last review for the Baggage was for Live At The Social Vol.1 featuring the mixing talents of the Chemical Brothers. It is now Jon Carter's turn to take over the decks, this time it is filled with 21 tracks of Hip-hop, Ragga, and Old Skool House (if there is such a thing) with tracks from Audioweb, DJ Voodoo, Shut Up And Dance and the Ballistic Brothers. The Album sleeve describes the album in a couple of sentences which I completely agree with; "It's a big summer sound that gets the sun shining, if only in your mind. It's Monday at Notting Hill Carnival, it's party music..." Even with the odd dodgy track (Shabba Ranks - Mr LoverMan) this is an album that will make you want to party.