17 December 2006

Thirty


Jason ForrestLady Fantasy E.P. (Sonig)

Forrest returns to the top 50, and I have placed the EP over his full-length. This is mainly because I prefer the crazier end of dancey music in short bursts, otherwise I fatigue off it. I don’t think I’m alone either; people often respond to Best Dance Album lists with ‘well, dance is about singles’. I agree, really. I mean, look at The Prodigy. ‘No Good’, ‘Poison’, ‘Firestarter’ and stuff. Great singles. But am I going to listen to their albums? Nope. And …Jilted Generation is one of the better dance albums out there.

I really like Underworld’s Second Toughest in the Infants, but I rarely listen to it. I can listen to singles like ‘Pearl’s Girl’ and ‘Dirty Epic’ anytime though. And so it is with this. Albums by Forrest, Kid606 or what have you are all well and good, but have more impact in single or EP form: every song can be different to the last, it’s more conducive to memory, and there is less danger of filler.

‘Sperry and Foil’ clocks in at the pretty epic length of eight minutes but, unlike the aforementioned Underworld did so often, it never quite feels truly epic. The key hook, a rather splendid little descending synth melody, spends its time battling the prevailing glitchizm, occasionally bubbling to the surface. The reason why this works a tad better than, say, General Patton vs. The X-Ecutioners, is because these melodic ‘hope spots’ last long enough to actually settle in and provide some form of dynamic counterpoint to the general bleeblaabloo stuff. I say it wasn’t particularly epic, but there is a magnificent sequence near the end where some proper noise builds up, and up, and up, until exploding into the melody, revitalised. Love it.

Shorter though the other three tracks are, they don’t let the side down. I think I have the track order wrong, but the eponymous song takes a leaf out of Prefuse73’s book, as the clipped loops recur as though it’s accidental record skipping. Rarely one to lean on a single idea too hard, some cartoon music reminiscent of the Fantômas record briefly punctuates the staccato. Essentially an extended intro, the main sample returns before the track ends.

So the primary form here is that ADD-simulating style with constant, and radical, changes. It’s the ilk that a lot of the Tigerbeat6 crew (as of about 2002, when I was last paying attention), Tobin and many Metallers – Soilent Green, Dillinger Escape Plan etc – espouse and, while it’s been going on for the last decade or so (obviously the Warpy likes of Aphex and Squarepusher predate this, but I feel this hi-def American strain is a particularly valid school of its own. It has a sense of dayglo fun, rather than some kind of smarmy ‘look what I can do’ delivery that some of the Brits have been guilty of at times), it is still a pretty major underground mode of musical currency.

Times do finally seem to be changing, both in the worlds of guitar and ‘electronica’. But until Dubstep really takes off (which it probably will, as it’s already got more mainstream press than Grime ever did. And Dizzee doesn’t count – the excitement over him served to divorce him from the context of Grime, if anything), and sunnO))) stop being The Metal Band For People Wot Don’t Like Metal, the slowness won’t quite render Zorn/Patton/tigerwarpcore all that dated. Maybe it’s because the constant changes within the music itself maintain the shock of the new, providing continuous stimuli, ergo preventing ageing. Or something. I suppose the nods to Krautrock (both by Forrest’s admission and the sampling of Neu!) capture something of a retro-zeitgeist, but I might be making things up at this point.

Speaking of Tigerbeat6, ‘The Lure of You’ sounds like something off a label sampler I got a few years ago, specifically ‘Interspecies Love’ by Kevin Blechdom. It’s a charming pop nugget, interspersed with acoustic guitar. I’ll have to check out Italian singer/songwriter Margareth Kammerer, who sung on and apparently co-wrote the song. It leads nicely (on my copy) into the quite exquisite ‘The Work Ahead of Us’, co-written with David Grubbs. Superficially comparable to Radiohead’s ‘Treefingers’ in its stretched-out languidity, it breathes beautiful tones into your ears. While the Kid A track is about the guitar tone being extended and played with, the motivating sonic on this track seems to be a female vocal (though who knows what it started out as). With keyboard textures adding an ominous air to the song, it is also more dramatic.

Perhaps Slo-core is where it’s at after all.

05 December 2006

Thirty-one


Izzy StradlinLike a Dog (iTunes download)

Rock and roll. While often derided as a one-dimensional and tired genre, there can be few things to match it at its sleazy, life-affirming best. And rock ‘n’ roll is rarely better, or sleazier, than on that legendary debut album of Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction.

Depending on to whom one listens, the primary instrumental architect for that classic was one Izzy Stradlin. Stradlin who, due to the band’s infinite personal conflicts, was replaced by Gilby Clarke in 1991, has since embarked on a lengthy solo career.

The most recent chapter in this career is Like a Dog, recorded in 2003, though it didn’t see the light of day until a 2005 online petition resulted in internet availability. And, as one would expect from a rocker who was mainstream before Grunge was, this is the kind of good time rock ‘n’ roll that makes me wish I still drank whiskey. And not the proper, single malt stuff, either: this music is pure Jack Daniels.

So this is a workout in post-Punk (though obviously not Post Punk), pre-Grunge rock, wherein the songs have that pace and bite of any self-respecting rocker who grew up while The Ramones were doing the rounds. Granted, Stradlin was more on the traditional Stones/Led Zep/Alice Cooper side of things, but the Punk osmosis is clear from the attack of Appetite for Destruction.

Often, I criticise music for not pushing things forward enough, for being too retro-for-the-sake-of-it. Or, in the words of Maynard James Keenan, ‘fuck retro anything’. I dunno, though. I have a soft spot for Izzy.

Quite apart from being a primary cog in my favourite album of the 1980s, his style of rock is really quite ageless. Based in a time after the Punk explosion made most older rock sound positively prehistoric (though clearly not all of it – even bands the punks hated, like Led Zep and Sabbath, had punk-as-fuck ‘Communication Breakdown’s and ‘Paranoid’s), but before capturing the zeitgeist made you look silly a few years later (Ratt? Coal Chamber? Orgy?!), this is essentially distilled rock essence.

It’s not going to change my life anytime soon, nor am I going to declare Izzy the best thing ever. However, this album really entertains me for its duration and, in this age in which poseurs are more prevalent in rock than any time since at least the early 90s, there is something to be said for authenticity. Why is this above the High On Fire album? Doesn’t numb me like that one does by about track seven.

Thirty-two


CYNEEvolution Fight (City Centre Offices)

For some reason, this had been described to me as a mix of electronica and HipHop. I don’t know if this was just due to the label that released it apparently being a ‘dance’ label, but I don’t know. It just sounds like HipHop to me.

It is a really good rap album, though. While not electronica in any way, shape or form (this is a bloody far cry from the genre-bending, and brilliant, likes of Anti Pop Consortium, that’s for sure), the backing is really intelligently put together. The mix is varied, the beats are solid, and some samples are truly emotive.

The lyrics, likewise, are of high quality, even if they fall into genre cliché once too often – are we really destined to hear of ‘niggaz’ on every rap album? It just suggests a dearth of vocabulary, which is odd coming from an otherwise perspicacious rapper.

Indeed, this is a great album all-round, with nothing in the way of filler and no skits. That said, this is not a classic, which is tough in a year filled with great, but not classic, HipHop.

Thirty-three


FantômasSuspended Animation (Ipecac)

Mike Patton’s supergroup returns, with their fourth album since 1999. After the seventy-four minute single track ambient experiment that was Delirium Cordia (2004), the band released the polar opposite – a thirty track ‘calendar’ based on the days in April full of ostensibly kids’ music. What’s more, it was apparently created at the same time as the ambient piece.

From ‘background music’ couldn’t come a more opposite concoction of completely complex composition. Influenced by the scattershot sound of the band’s debut, this offers forth numerous short, dynamic, aggressive pieces based on jazz, Death Metal and cartoons (including sound effects and Bugs Bunny samples).

What seems on the surface to be random noises and riffs has actually been meticulously crafted by Patton himself, then given to the musicians to play as only they know how (Dave Lombardo’s drumming is notable in its quality).

Filled with ideas and brilliance, there are two main issues, one haunting this album and the other, most Patton projects. Due to the intensity and density of this music, it can be a bit much by the end of the album. Fortunately this is somewhat offset by the fact the album is just over half an hour.

Which leads us to the more universal issue I have with the musical output of the great man. While there are myriad great ideas, they very rarely have a chance to flower before they are trampled by more of the same. It would be nice to have a Patton album which let its ideas develop, rather than being discarded like so many kid’s toys.

Wait a minute…

Thirty-four


Lydia LunchSmoke in the Shadows (Atavistic)

A very individual album, from the ever-individual and divine Ms. Lunch, this continues her love for the noir-esque sound. In fact, considering the almost 'Sin City' aesthetic, this would be very much a capturing of the zeitgeist in mid 2005.

Sexy as ever, she purrs threats and narrative over sultry piano and the occasional stab of blazing brass, and it never gets old. Much like peers Jim Thirlwell or Michael Gira, Lydia has her identity down pat and works it perfectly.

Songs like ‘Trick Baby’ push the credibility a tad, but they are at the very least fun digressions from the sleazy main course. Final song ‘Hot Tip’ restores the mood to close, and Smoke in the Shadows is yet another satisfying serving of Lunch.

Thirty-five


CageHell's Winter (Def Jux)

This is something of a signature Def Jux album. There are apparently numerous producers featuring on this HipHop album, but it has a very traditional (if that term can be used for such bruising, claustrophobia-inducing, low-bitrate texturing) El-P sound to it. I have been informed that DJ Shadow produced a track, but smooth, poignant Endtroducing… this is not.

This is, however, a very political album. Cage rails against the machine of the government, as well as dissing ‘deadbeat dads’. Jello Biafra guests on ‘Grand Ol’ Party Crash’ with what should be an amusing impersonation of George W. Bush, but which actually turns out to be slightly embarrassing. There is something of the drunk uncle at a wedding in the usually killer Biafra’s attempt at making like Rory Bremner. As if one wasn’t enough.

This works as a whole, though. Like the CYNE album, this is good but in no way a classic, and as such finds much company from 2005. This is definitely not the second coming of Cannibal Ox, but passes the time well and has a great, brutal HipHop sound to it. Again, though, the ugly question raises its head: does time, and development, just stop after 2001? I blame September the 11th.

Thirty-six


Amon TobinSplinter Cell: Chaos Theory (Ninja Tune)

I love Amon Tobin. He’s cool, his album art is always excellent, and he releases consistently brilliant albums. It’s fair to say he’s one of my favourite musicians around at the moment.

His last album ‘proper’ (though this does technically count) was 2002’s Out From Out Where, an album which took his trademark dark instrumental HipHop into realms of complexity putting him more on a par with a band like Fantômas than DJ Shadow.

Since then he’s released a collection of remixes and this, a soundtrack to the then-most recent in the Splinter Cell gaming franchise. As a result, some of the tracks are more mood-based than actual song, but as a whole it works.

As the emphasis has to be on what the gamer is doing at any one time, Tobin has reeled back the complexity for this album, focusing more on the atmospherics and solid rhythms. So ‘Kokubo Sosho Battle’ actually sounds like a tense boss fight. But I don’t know, as I haven’t played that game to find out.

It would be interesting to see how well the music lives in an interactive environment, where what plays is dependent on your actions, but as a linear listening experience, this is excellent percussive electronica which stands tall on its own merit.

Thirty-seven


Little BrotherThe Minstrel Show (Atlantic/WEA)

While I have a pretty big rap collection, the depth of my actual appreciation extends, sadly, to ‘I know what I likes on my stereo’. I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does mean that I am ignorant of the various subgenres of the scene.

For example, I wouldn’t know whether or not this is an example of the much-ballyhooed Conscious Rap. Again, it matters little, as this album is a good one.

Aesthetically, the lush mix and tendency for R’n’B hooks remind me somewhat of Connected (2004), by Foreign Exchange, though the romance of that album is replaced in large part by a keen sense of satire. I suppose the title was a dead giveaway (‘it’s the biggest coloured show on Earth!’, as they are wont to proclaim).

Humour runs through the course of the album, ostensibly a variety show, hosted by UBN, or ‘the U Black Niggaz network’. With the one real joke to the record, though, the constant references to UBN get a tad old as the album progresses. It’s no big deal, and skits in which a dad is concerned that the Minstrel Show is a bad influence on his son are inoffensive enough.

That’s not to say Little Brother totally eschews the love song. ‘Slow it Down’ is a fine example but, given the humour running through the album’s concept like it was Blackpool rock, it is hard to assume such songs are devoid of a tongue dwelling constantly in their respective cheeks.

Musically, the listener is mostly treated to the soft-edged, soul ballad kind of sound, as exemplified on ‘Lovin’ It’ (it never gets too soft, though, what with lines about ‘waking up, holding my dick’, as Joe Scudda so poignantly puts it).

While the sound and beats are nothing new, they are carried off with flair. There are seventeen tracks, but the album is done and dusted in well under an hour, and does not outstay its welcome. I’m sure there is a Michael Richards joke to be made here, but I’m too much of a Seinfeld fan to do that.

Thirty-eight


Cave InPerfect Pitch Black (Hydra Head)

My main thought when considering this album is a positive one. I choose not to dwell on the opinion I have that this is far from their best (2000s amazing Jupiter), and instead on the fact that this album very nearly didn’t exist.

Word got out at some point in 2005 that, after issues numerous and rather predictable with their major label, Cave In had actually called it a day. Granted their last album, Antenna, wasn’t great, but it apparently had RCA oar-sticking. Besides, it’s never nice to lose a good rock band [obligatory Kerbdog shout-out].

So, some time after demos leaked, the band was back with their original home, Hydra Head, for this independently created album. While the mass-market media machine was no longer behind them (fat lot of good it did them anyway), they were where they could record what they wanted without suits peering over their collective shoulder.

Whatever the factors surrounding Antenna, Cave In’s latest is no return to their peak. There are no bad songs. The album is not too long, though some of the tracks could do with about a minute being trimmed. There is nothing really wrong with this disc at all.

The problem is the knowledge of what has been. Granted, the instrumental song here is better than Jupiter’s ‘The Decay Of The Delay, but aside from that, no song on offer here can touch anything from ‘Requiem’ to ‘Big Riff’. And this is not to castigate the band, as the album is very enjoyable. It’s just a bit sad that such a young band seems used up and spat out already.

Perhaps with time to heal from their deal gone awry, Brodsky et al. can get back to their best. In the meantime, they can settle for just being better than most other rock bands of the moment.

Thirty-nine


High On FireBlessed Black Wings (Relapse)

The second full length from Matt ‘Sleep’ Pike’s current band throws a relative curveball for his long-time stoner fans. ‘Devilution’ opens things up with a battering drum intro that leads into such concentrated guitar attack that its staccato riffery is essentially Thrash Metal. The screaming, Lemmy-meets-early Hetfield, vocals only add to this feeling.

Where the Thrash bands were all rather tinny-sounding in their no-bass heyday, though, the sound on this record is full-on. The thick, bassy guitar sound and massive toms really come into their own on the slower, stomping, ‘The Face of Oblivion’. ‘South Of Heaven’ to the first tracks ‘Angel of Death’, if you will. There’s also a breakdown into clean guitar arpeggio about halfway through that, while generic, really brings a nice – ‘Laguna Sunrise’ – change of pace. Pike even does his best Ozzy-on-‘A National Acrobat’ vocals to complete the Sabb-fest.

Before long, though, it gets rather old. And I feel bad at saying this, because Blessed Black Wings is really well-done. It’s just a bit ‘retro for the sake of it’ for my liking. Yes, it is pretty much the best Motörhead album in a quarter of a decade, but there are times when I ask myself if this really is what’s going on in 2005.

On the whole, I definitely rate it. It’s too good not to, and beefy Thrash revival certainly has its place – especially when it’s as awesomely massive as ‘Cometh Down the Hessian’. All Wino-inspired vocal bite (kinda makes sense, considering Wino was the real Ozzy of the 80s) with alternately chugging and blistering riffs, it’s excellent. And given the current musical climate of No Time, in which retro has been the mode since at least 2000 and There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, this pleasure is not guilty.

Forty


FoetusLove (Birdman)

The man who should rightly be referred to as Reznor’s daddy* (both in terms of chronology and quality) is now more than a mere Industrialist. He has been for a while, to be honest, but historically his more experimental tendencies have taken the form of non-Foetus projects like Manorexia and Steroid Maximus.

As a result of this diversification, and work on Cartoon Network soundtracks, this is Thirlwell’s first new album proper (i.e. non-remix) in half a decade. His last before this was, of course, the excellent Flow. That album was such a grand explosion of rock experi-mentalism that Jimmy can definitely be forgiven for leaving it five years.

Thirlwell’s flair for the grand (Foetus Big Band, and his regular soundtrackular fondness) is something to be applauded, as is the trait of collecting and layering all kinds of sounds that results in him coming across like William Gibson writing Tom Waits. Sometimes, though, Thirlwell’s biggest strength is also his albatross, much like Mike Patton: can it be that he just has too many ideas for his own good?

Many of the songs don’t seem to work as songs per se. They are certainly very valid and well-executed musical ideas, and his arrangement and production are predictably excellent. It’s all just a tad lacking in excitement. Maybe the production is so good that it sucked all the raw energy out of the music. Maybe he’s just getting old. Maybe it’s just me. The climax of ‘Miracle’ should have me hurling myself against the wall in ecstasy, but it’s not. Maybe I just need to play it louder.

Or maybe the Foetus that releases dirty, electro-fied rock albums has run his natural course. Something tells me ‘Not Adam’ or ‘Don’t Want Me Anymore’ would work better re-tooled for soundtrack use.

Sometimes the melange of ideas, neo-Mancini desire and everything else, combines to work perfectly, as on the absolutely brilliant ‘Time Marches On’. At three minutes in length, it avoids the time pitfalls that many of the other tracks fall prey to. And it just rules. Layered and energetic, it is somewhere between Reznor and Devin Townsend (listen to his ‘Bad Devil’; and tell me who has the best tunes), and justifies the existence of the entire album.

It also leads nicely into the conclusive ‘How to Vibrate’, which is also strong. As a whole, though, the album is slightly lacking and if I was a Foetus person, I might be disappointed I waited half a decade for this. Then again, if I was a Foetus person, I would probably be happy there was new Foetus.

And while there is a distinctly reassuring seediness to proceedings, part of me wonders whether that is not just the muscle memory of the sordidness of his 90s work. And that just makes me want to listen to some Wiseblood.

*Weirdly, near the end of ‘Aladdin Reverse’, Jim seems to teef the sound of Reznor’s ‘We’re in this Together’, but I suppose the latter owes him.
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