29 April 2008

They'll let anyone write nowadays.

27 April 2008

Boris Packaging Fetish

So, as I mentioned at the tail end of my gig review, I ended up with a vinyl copy of the Japanese Smile album. And very nice it is too. As is now semi-tradition here at throughsilver towers, let's take a look at that packaging before we talk about the album:

Aww, isn't it cute. It's actually a really thick bitof yellow corrugated cardboard, which is folded over and slotted into a slit on the back, rather like an insanely expensive cereal box. Here:

Only the seven 'proper' songs on this one, hence the tracklisting being stuck over at the top there. And we have a sticker sealing the whole thing. Collectors would leave it as it is, but seeing as I like to, you know, listen to music, I'll have to get it open.

You fool! How much will it get on eBay now?! Yep, had to be done. I hate the people who'll just flip this onto an auction site and attempt to sell it for a hundred quid. Here, check this shit out. For shame!

And here are the two discs, divided into sides of three songs, two, two and yer epic bonus track on the fourth. It seems that 'Heavy' sticker is the formal notification of Boris vinyl awesomeness, as their record with Michio Kurihara, Rainbow, had the same thing. Note also that really annoying Japanese clear sleeve. While I'm sure it negates static like no other substance on GOB's green Earth, it crinkles like you wouldn't believe when you try to stick it into regular record covers. Perhaps there is a method to the corrugated card madness after all.

Right, that's the packaging (well, there is a minimal foldout inlay sheet that has words and details on it, but I'll leave that to the imagination). Next up, I imagine, is what the bally thing actually sounds like on my now entirely analogue Death Deck!

26 April 2008

UFC 83

It has been a while since I last wrote on MMA in general, and UFC specifically, on this blog. I had planned for a few months to get back into it (the writing rather than the watching; the latter has been unbroken in its regularity), but only now am I actually doing it. I may even work back to where I left off, though we'll see how this goes first. I had been a tad concerned in the past about a lack of consistency in the accepted 'best' fighters, rendering them vulnerable to internet disses.

We have seen it time and time again, from CroCop and Nogueira to Shogun and even GSP himself. Sometimes, a la the Croatian, one can reasonably assume the fighter is a bit poor nowadays. With others, the slightly different 'past his prime' (there is no doubting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is a fantastic fighter; he is just not quite as quick, as lacking in concussion, as he once was). Then you get the category of fighter who has been exposed as just not that great in the first place (Heath Herring), though often observers mistake one of the former two categories for the latter.

I recently noticed Dave Walsh had written a piece on the show, and mentioned that he thought it poor. I can't say I agree with his stance (I could, but I'd be lying), so I have just decided it might be fun to do some cross-posting! I'll state at the outset that I think his perception is coloured by his love of fake fighting, and he's drawing some parallels that just do not apply. Some do, but we'll deal with his points on a case-by-case basis. I'm doing it this way partly because the Total MMA blog is locked for comments and I'd rather write this here than at their forum. Excitement!

I'll also say at the outset that I didn't read their 'live blog' because I saw the show and am not a particular fan of description/kneejerk reaction unless I hadn't seen something (such as today’s Chelsea vs. Scum match) in the first place. So Mr. Walsh surmised that the show brought up 'more questions than answers'. That's fine, but he seems to contradict himself a tad when he suggested it didn't 'set up future fights'. I'd have thought leaving questions and not answers suggests room for future development, but perhaps that's just me.

The fake-fighting tendency is actually quite visible in that 'setting up of future fights' line. I'd have thought the primary objective of a sporting event would be less to set fights up for the future than to establish which competitor is the best in a given field; Dave refers to ‘setting up fights’ as though the UFC has a say in the results of a match. I’m not saying Zuffa shouldn’t plan anything, but when a sport is as prone to upset as MMA, it becomes a bit hard to book matches that are good for bidneth or whatever. So when Walsh disses the card for existing solely to 'highlight Georges St. Pierre and use him to draw in Canada', I ask what exactly is wrong with that. It was a case of 'UFC flexing its muscle in Canada' according to his write-up, but there is surely no better place to hold such a show than St. Pierre's native Quebec.

GSP was roundly abused in his last match with Matt Serra, his opponent on this show. That threw his status of best in field into question. If nothing else, it parted him and the belt. While I'm sure nobody thought that fight meant Serra was a better fighter in the abstract, the New York fighter was nevertheless the champion. Therefore it would make sense that the man who ran through Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes in quick succession should face the champion.

Walsh referred to the rematch as a 'foregone conclusion', but then so was the first fight, before it actually happened. Perhaps Dave would rather Dana White just bestow the belt onto St. Pierre, rather than have to fight Serra for it. Dave gets sarcastic about GSP being the best in his division, and suggests that 'hopefully this will erase the doubts people have towards GSP once and for all'. It should indeed, unless he gets smashed into unconsciousness by another bloated lightweight.

Personally, while I have been a Serra fan since 2002, I was glad GSP won in such clear fashion. While he is pretty much the best in the world at 170, he was a champion without a belt, and a podgy Long Islander was lording it over him. He is now the Anderson Silva of the welters. Or at least he should be.

Speaking of Silva, there was some action in his 185lb division. There was also a Kalib Starnes fight. I wholly agree with Walsh that the Starnes-Quarry fight stunk, though don't particularly understand his exasperation with the actual fight quality. Zuffa didn't know such a crap fight would occur (though his Leben fight was a definite indication), so it was just a case of giving two of their TV stars a main card slot and those fighters (one of them, at least) wasting that opportunity. Thankfully, I have heard rumour that Starnes has been cut from the UFC, so some good has come from the card.

This show also saw the middleweight debut of Mike 'The Count' Bisping. I love Bisping: he is a crisp-striking, very aggressive and charismatic fighter who really seems to rile a lot of American MMA fans. Pretty much perfect, other than the void where his wrestling skills should be. Walsh bemoaned this fight against Charles McCarthy by joking that it was 'push[ing] him right into the heat of competition'. I have no issue with the matchmaking here. Bisping is an unknown quantity at 185, so you match him with someone decent but not amazing, so his debut at the weight is less likely to be a tragic one. He won, and in the impressive fashion he had to, Thai clinching and kneeing his opponent to brutal stoppage. From here he can hopefully step up in competition and we viewers can see where his ceiling at the weight lies. I don't see the issue here.

Speaking of a step-up in competition, the solid #2 midddleweight in the UFC was also in action. Rich Franklin has to be kept occupied, as he is a very skilled fighter with presumably some name value, and he can't just get hammered by Anderson every few months. So, in a battle of Anderson victims, the former teacher fought the disgraced Travis 'I wonder if Osama Bin Laden gets as much hate mail as me'* Lutter.

Lutter actually acquitted himself well against Silva when they fought and, though it was pretty sad (but not really) seeing a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teacher get triangle choked to stoppage, he at least did better than Franklin or Nate Marquardt did. He just happened to get very tired and useless. My thinking, going into the fight, was that Lutter could provide quite the threat to Franklin as long as he didn't fatigue. And he did provide something of a threat. And, tragically, he fatigued in a massive way.

Lutter fatigued in a way that was more embarrassing than Alberto Crane making desperate lunges at Roger Huerta's feet. Well, it was pretty much the exact same thing, only Lutter was even less potent than Crane had been when his tank ran empty. It was a waste of a fight, and Lutter is an idiot for having such poor cardio in such an important fight; especially when that very same limitation cost him so dearly in the past.

Elsewhere on the card, TUF winner Mac Danzig was made to look rather less special than he had on the show, thanks to erstwhile Frankie Edgar conquest Mark Bocek. We already knew Danzig could be made to look unimpressive, but the fact he was so troubled by Bocek fills the picture in a bit. Maybe Bocek is just better than we thought. Maybe Frankie Edgar is just that good. I'm going for the latter. So my view of the show didn't differ that much from Dave's, just where it really mattered (the main event and Bisping fight). Maybe I would be singing a different tune if I had to pay $45 to watch the show, but I didn't so licks on America.

* Yes he actually said that.

Live Review: Boris, 21st April 2008

Manchester Ruby Lounge. Support: Growing

This was my first time in the Ruby Lounge, and its atmosphere was most conducive to a rock gig. It seems quite new, not yet soiled to the point of a Bar Phono (Leeds) or the old Rio (Bradford). The smoky atmosphere was simulated; probably best not to wonder what carcinogens were still worming their way into my lungs. I made my way through the atmosphere to my most pressing concern of the time: the merch stall.

See, Boris is a band known not just for their unabashed fecundity, but for the scarcity of a lot of their releases. 2008 saw release of the first Boris-only studio album since Pink in November 2005; named Smile, its Japanese vinyl run was rumoured to be limited to just 500 copies. Soon after release, copies were up on eBay for one hundred pounds or more. A small amount of research, however, revealed the band had ring-fenced a number of copies to be sold on the European tour this spring.

So it was with this foremost in my mind that I bought my ticket for this particular gig: that Boris were phenomenal on the two previous occasions I had seen them was icing on the cake. Tense were the hours building up to the concert – I had to get that record. But what if I arrived at the gig too late? What if the copies had in fact sold out before the Japanese rock ‘n’ roll behemoth even reached the Grey City? These were concerns that preyed on my hi fi-listening mind.

Stopping off at the rather pleasant Abode Hotel café/bar beforehand for tasty ham and brie panini and rather a eak strawberry smoothie, my associate and I marched on to the Lounge in time for the advertised half-past-seven doors-opening. As is usually the case, the doors remained shut for another half-hour, so I got to talking with a fellow Boris fan. Turned out his friend was on the inside, and had the skinny on merch.

When said friend emerged I grilled him about vinyl availability. ‘There’s no vinyl at all, he responded grimly. While disappointed, I was relieved as the weight of limited edition vinyl packs left my weary shoulders. The record was gone, but I was now free to enjoy the gig unencumbered. So we return to the designer murk of the Ruby Lounge. Bonus points were awarded pre-live sets for the comfy leather seating amenities.

At some point the opening act, Growing, started playing. While not a particularly short figure, I found it exceedingly difficult to see the band as they played; perhaps the stage is close to non-existent. Not that I was missing much. The band had been talked up outside the venue as ‘really droney’, the context of which suggested drone = good. Historically I would have been inclined to agree, but we are at such a state of ‘me too’-ism now that I dreaded hearing this Growing. And they were not especially good. Nor even merely good.

It was a case of your usual guitar riff repeats for what feels like an eternity while someone fannies about with apparently ‘experimental’ noises. At times it was promising, with the riffs’ repetition working in Gestalt and bringing the listener up with the spiralling music. It just never led anywhere; on and on it went into cul de sac and dark alley, to the point where it seemed not even the band had the faintest idea where they were going. Where is Jake’s Way? Or is it Jack’s Way? We’ve been driving for hours, let’s just turn round and go home.

On the way the audience was subjected to periods of sub-Isis, movements of sub-Pelican (yes, such a dread thing exists). There were times when it sounded for all the world as though the guitarist was playing for the first time while an early Orb record played in he background. This aesthetic may have been new to the assembly of beards and spectacles, who in all likelihood had never heard experimental heavy metal before about 2003, when the style mags, like Icarus, flew too close to the sunnO))), but this was naked-emperor stuff to anyone with half a brain.

At some point Growing ended, and the headliners were able to take to the stage. Again, not much was visible from my (disad)vantage point, other than occasionally Takeshi’s head. But that was of minimal concern when the sound produced by the power trio rang through loud and clear. It was with heavy heart that I had to leave the venue before the set had finished in order to catch a train, but most of the set was an experience to be savoured.

As one might well have expected (though you never really know what a set will contain when the performer has so many releases from which to choose), the show drew heavily from the recent Smile opus. The set began with what, if we’re really being honest, was essentially a blues rock ballad. I got to thinking about what Reynolds had theories about the band being a tourist in metal, picking and choosing what suited them (I believe he drew parallel with Squarepusher in the world of electronic music). I can’t go for that, though; they have been so good for so long, and play with such passion and energy, that it’s hard not to take them at face value. While they were paying a blues rock ballad at that time, it was so loud and so overwhelming that details of aesthetic hardly mattered a jot.

They tore through a fantastic rendition of ‘メッセージ’ (I think that’s ‘Message’ on the American release), with its ‘Dog Day Sunrise’ melody in the verse and thumping, tribal rhythm. We also got, though not in the strict album order, ‘BUZZ-IN’ and ‘となりのサターン’ (‘My Neighbour Satan’), the highlight of the record. A fabulous song, it enters rather timidly, with chiming stop start melody just bobbing on the surface of the slightly murky waters of the rest of the arrangement.

The juxtaposition is strangely serene, the kind of blissful rock few others than Boris seem to excel at. Then, suddenly, Atsuo batters the toms in staccato and we get drawn into a maelstrom of psychedelic rock freakout. Another ridiculously solid drum fill signals the end of that section and the song, like in musical chairs, returns to its placid stillness. Not quite as unbelievable as Pink’s ‘決別’ (‘Farewell’), it is nevertheless something to be cherished.

There were some other songs; some off Pink (that one I forget the name of, but a decently-sized garage rock tune punctuated by ‘bombombom… BOMBOMBOM!’ riffs) and some I didn’t quite recognise. All were magnificent in the energy the band poured from the stage into our waiting ears. But, like too many gigs I have attended in recent years, the audience was totally physically unreceptive. Were it not for the applause at the end of each song, an observer would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t enjoying it. Very little in the way of dancing, or even head-bobbing. Perhaps attendance at such a cool gig was sufficient effort on their part; enthusiasm took a back seat to being seen by fellow bearded wonders.

It got me thinking. This kind of gig doesn’t really draw the mosh pit types. It seems the meek have inherited the dance floor and there is no way they are going to cave in to the tradition of the heavy metal jocks. It’s like when Zack and Slater were absent from periods of Saved by the Bell, and Screech got to order his own speccy cronies around. It’s Revenge of the Nerds, but with smoke machines and Orange amps.

Whatever the cause of this non-dance inertia, it stank. It was a visible lack of respect for the band their presence ostented to support, as well as providing obstacle for those who did want to dance to music on a night out (perish the thought!). Regardless, the band was awesome as per usual. And while they didn’t play favourites such as ‘Dyna-Soar’, ‘Farewell’ or ‘Ganbou-Ki’ while I was there, what they did play was just the ticket. And I got my record - and got it home in one piece.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course the song in question was 'Pink'.

23 April 2008

SND's New Album!*


Sheffield duo SND broke a years-long silence the other week to release a triple disc album of a truly minimal pedigree (history with Mille Plateaux, plain card sleeve), with nomenclature to match the packaging. Its 4,5,6 refers to the names of the discs herein; the pressing, too, held true to form. Just as suddenly as it was released into the wild it became scarce. Hopefully not too many copies were snapped up by soulless profiteers, as this 300-copy run deserves to be heard by music fans who should have to hand over neither arm nor leg to do so.

Not being overly familiar with SND’s history, the aural journey was one of surprise and bliss. While much was made of UK Garage and Timbaland references by e-merchant blurb, the initial key reference point for this listener was Autechre. Admittedly, many lazy comparisons are made with Messrs Booth and Brown (Kid A), but there is a shared tendency here of musical structures formed from concrete-hard beats through which slim melodic saplings strive to break.

Rather than the ostensibly technologically-motivated work of Autechre, SND’s primary concern seems to be the dancefloor, though certainly not that of your local Flares. The beats on this trio of discs evolve restlessly, but the rhythm is a constant source of propulsion. At many points new, lead, beats enter the mix to both complement and counter the existing ones. The aforementioned melodies snake their routes through these mazes from time to time, though often the percussion is of amply varying timbre to constitute melody in itself.

The record opens with robo-tintinnabulation; fallen angels shredding on harps made of radiators and spanners. It actually reminds of Björk’s ‘Frosti’, albeit having left her Vespertine ice cave and discovered the bright lights of the city. Repetition is the name of the game; music gets time to develop and trance out the listener. There is obviously variety, notably in the shorter, noisier, interludes but the grand narrative suggests a very Steel City sense of beauty within dance music. Essential, if you can find it.

* Not this one, Dave.

21 April 2008

ButH in 300 Words!

Just sticking some FACT stuff up as and when I do it.

Board up the House
Lovepump United, 2LP

Electro-Grindcore monsters Genghis Tron return with their second full-length album. But is it a case of ‘one was enough’ (a la Andrew W.K.), or are the Tron embarking on a journey of constant improvement?

There is definitely more melody here, but not at the expense of heaviness or quality. This record is all about varying shades and dynamics, rather than the binary quiet/loud, synth/organism of the intentionally cold-technological Dead Mountain Mouth; making that album seem rather limited in hindsight.

A boldly chiming electronic melody opens, contrasting greatly with the almost apologetic electronic tones the band used previously (‘we’ll get you to the moshing in due course’, they sighed, like a musical Test Card). While the effect is similar to brash ravesploitation warriors Captain Ahab, the overall aesthetic is almost innocent, like Perrey-Kingsley/Plone. The variety comes not just between rock-melody and -thrash, but the dark Noisecore grooves and sunny-(d)light synth tones.

The still-screaming vocals are all well and visceral, but they render unintelligible some poignant lyrics, a dynamic facet adding depth only for those bothered to read. The titles hint (‘Things Don’t Look Good’, ‘Colony Collapse’), but there is a sadness in Mookie’s words that contrasts with both metal aggression and vibrant electro-melody; are these gleaming musical structures merely façade, the bravely smiling face while Tron cries inside? While we’re warned ‘You’ll come to fear / Each day / Each night’, this is a refreshingly well-written Dystopia.

The one song with relatively optimistic denouement (in the Oldboy sense) is ‘Relief’. An epic housed on its own disc, its relatively languid pace runs in opposition to the hyperspeed ravings of what preceded. And it’s fantastic for it. This ‘new’ sound might not last, but at least it’ll die contented: ’If we’re broke / It’s the right time / All will be forgotten / All will be well’.

20 April 2008

Joe Calzaghe vs. Bernard Hopkins

I won't pretend to know much about boxing, or even that I'm particularly a big fan of the sport. However, I like it enough to watch certain US matches live, so that's something. Also, I want to get more into it. I watched Amir Khan vs. Some Dude, as well as Antonio Tarver vs. Clinton Woods (the latter the day after it happened, as I wasn't that bothered about it, and it was low enough on the Sports Importance Hierarchy that no news report I saw or heard proferred the result).

So it was that I decided to have a nap at half-nine so I could rise for this. It transpired I was slightly over-careful, as I set my alarm for two. Cue Audley Harrison and some idiot having a fight as though trapped in amber. It was evidently more painful for me than either of them, though thankfully over in the fifth, when Harrison landed two body shots after he was hit in the face and decided he didn't like it. Can David Haye not just put on some weight and kill him now?

The main event was a weird one, and a lot closer than the national anthems contest. 'Ray J' or whatever the dummy was called is a shit singer. Really bad. He opted to softly sing/falsetto 'The Star Spangled Banner', rather than blast it, which was probably wise but a coward's way out. I am no fan of Tom Jones, nor a patriot. Nor Welsh, for that matter, but Jones killed him. I loved the fumbly beginning (foreshadowing?!), with the 'are we on?' professionalism too. Still, he ended up blasting it out and showing that he still has a pair of pipes on him. He remains unforgiven for butchering 'Kiss', mind.

And so the match started, though just before that a topless, fight-ready Calzaghe embraced Jones, who was blatantly worried sweat would rub onto his pricey suit. I was really scared when the first round knockdown happened. Joe looked shaken, and easily picked off; I figured we were in for a long night. And we were.

The match wore on and, while Calzaghe put more of a stamp on it, he was never truly comfortable. Hopkins is a crafty veteran, to say the least, and was definitely the ring general here. Jones had been interviewed pre-fight, and gave some defaut answer about Joe 'having to fight his own fight, and he can't let Hopkins fight his fight'. I thought he was bullshitting, and maybe he was, but the advice was very apt in hindsight. Calzaghe tried his best to eact his new strategy of punching less, making it count, and not getting drawn into a brawl, but he just culdn't pull it off to a satisfactory level.

Every time Joe attempted to jab and move, he was sucked into a dirty clinch by the senior fighter. Try as he might to extricate him from the situation cleanly, there would always be that nudge with the head, that drag on the arms that, over the course of twelve rounds, would surely fatigue. And Hopkins was a dirty fighter. Ever the carny, he sold two low blows like grim death, though only one was judged to have occurred according to the referee.

But somehow the Welshman managed it. He certainly had the better of later rounds, with Hopkins tiring and stooging for all he was worth; Calzaghe plugged on in gritty determination with the knowledge that he had definitely started the fight on the back-foot. And eventually the fight ended!

I was surprised at the result, as I thought the bout had been sufficiently closely contested that American judges would have sided with 'Nard. I guess they opted for the bloke who was showing more aggression, more of a will to have a clean fight (and bum people) and who was actually moving forward (as the commentators saw fit to tell us every few seconds). To be fair, Calzaghe was landing more of the clean punches, even if he was massively down from his usual five million punches-per-round hit rate. Joe was lucky. Very lucky. That said, Hopkins is a sore loser, as he claimed he schooled his younger opponent in boxing. He schooled him in something, for sure: how to be the boxing equivalent of Ric Flair in his stooging, over-selling, dirty fighting and admittedly rather good post-fight interview.

14 April 2008

I have given the new Genghis Tron album a few listens and am very impressed. I was initially cautious as the band had been banging on about being more melodic and, though that is fine in itself, I found the practicality of such a transformation detrimental to many bands who tried it. Not so much because those were bad albums per se, but because they sounded more like works in progress, with wanting to commit to a new sound while being careful not to alienate the existing fan-base. Neurosis, Isis, Dillinger: you know who you are.

As I lack a Hitchcockian penchant for suspense, I shall now mention that I needn’t have worried. There is more melody here, but it doesn’t come at the expense of either heaviness or quality. Indeed, this record is all about varying degrees of dynamics, rather than the binary quiet/loud, electro/grindcore that admittedly fit the intentionally cold-technological Dead Mountain Mouth; making that album actually seem rather limited, like Pantera’s Great Southern Trendkill did to Far Beyond Driven in 1996.

The album opens with a boldly chiming electronic melody, contrasting greatly with the almost apologetic electronic tones the band had used previously; while the effect is rather similar to the brash intro of ravesploitation warriors Captain Ahab’s excellent After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams set, the overall aesthetic is an almost innocent, Perrey-Kingsley/Plone one. See, not only are the band varying between rock melody and thrashiness, but between the dark grindcore grooves and sunny-(d)light synth tones. Exciting!

The ‘Tron are also branching out in terms of personnel on this album. Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato guests on one song but, rather like ex-DEP screamer Dimitri Minakakis’s contribution to the latter band’s ‘Fix Your Face’, the invited vocal timbre is blink-and-miss-it. Not like the time Phil Anselmo guested on that Vision Of Disorder track, with his power-extreme vocal noise terror injecting a dose of steroids into the mix, both Greg and Tron’s own Mookie are reduced to the status of living ghosts in Genghis’s electro-grind metal music machine.

This chat about vocals and dynamics brings me to what sadly irks me about the record (and also the last Pig Destroyer one, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it): the screaming vocals are all well and visceral, but they render unintelligible some really rather poignant lyrics, another dynamic facet that adds depth only for those with a lyrics sheet. The titles tip you off (‘Things Don’t Look Good’, ‘I Won’t Come Back Alive’, ‘Colony Collapse’), but there is a sadness in Mookie’s words that contrasts with both the metal aggression and vibrant electro-melody.

I mean it: as J.R. Hayes lends Pig Destroyer an entire extra level of depth with his demented poetry, so too does Mookie send his band into the third dimension; are all the gleaming musical structures and visions of an aural future merely façade, the smiling face while the entity that is Tron cries inside? There is, after all, a lot of fear described at the very beginning of the record:

The streets have gone dark
They’ve been dark for days
We board up the house
Hide upstairs and wait

And as the album goes on, there is plenty of chat about humanity’s Promethean nature (‘We cast our roots deep / The grid extends its reach’), relationships doomed to failure ( ‘We’re strangers / Pulling stolen reigns (sic) / I’m not proud / We’re staging an ugly fable’), all musings on endings. Relationships ending, the world being exhausted, life coming to an end. So much so, in fact, that pretty much every song ends with negative lines:

’...No one comes / And the boards stay up’
’...Flames will walk the Earth / And nothing will change’
’...You’ll come to fear / Each day / Each night’
’...Our veins run dry / Don’t stop / This can’t get much worse’

The one song whose lyric ends relatively optimistically (in the Oldboy sense) is ‘Relief’, which is entirely anomalous in the context of Board up the House. An epic which is housed on its own disc (it fills a side, while the fourth side is an etching), its all-breathing-space, mantra-filled hypno-core runs in complete contrast to the hyperspeed ravings of the rest of the record. And it’s fantastic for it. Most of this type of album has that one song where you hope/wish the band will follow that path. It was ‘Crawl Back in’ for Neurosis, ‘’Mouth of Ghosts’ for DEP, Botch’s ‘Afghamistam’… maybe the Tron will space out on the next album, and really send us into a groove for its entirety. It’d be nice. Named as a ‘relief’ from the blizzard of fire that was disc 1 (presumably), the words end with ’If we’re broke / It’s the right time / All will be forgotten / All will be well’.

It’s a tad nihilistic when one looks at the rest of the lyric (sample lines: We knew the water’d rise / Felt the ground subside’), but it is a relief to at least know Mookie’s protagonists are finally at peace with their end, after all the despairing and fretting. And, perhaps more importantly, I’m at peace with their end, very satisfied with what was probably my most eagerly awaited new record of 2008. Is it their best? Who knows; by the time I decide, their next opus will likely have arrived.

01 April 2008

Portishead are good, aren’t they. Today I received in the post a vinyl copy of their debut full length album Dummy; you may have heard of it. I got it for a mere tenner, which came as a pleasant surprise to me as I thought new album hype would have worked up the average price up a bit for this one. Maybe it used to be a fiver, who knows. I am still yet to hear anything from the new album. I am assured it is good, both from the internet and friends, but for the moment I am content with Dummy.

It took me a while to get to this album in the first place. In 1994 I hated pretty much anything that wasn’t hard rock or heavy metal. Apart from Crash Test Dummies, oddly. I hated Britpop, Trip Hop and… I don’t know, Be-Bop. Actually, I do remember liking one thing that involved Tricky at the time. well, I hated it, but loved it secretly and that illicit love made me hate it that much more. I remember it airing at the end of one Top of the Pops episode; Tricky morphing into a woman and back. Maybe Martina. Oh, this’ll be it: ’Hell is Around the Corner’. Boy did that sample ever confuse me.

Anyway, my ‘awakening’ to dance/electronica/rap in any big way (of course I listened to the odd bit of PE and NWA in middle school, Cypress and Prodge early in high school, but always as an anomalous ‘hey look, this isn’t rock and I like it!’ kinda deal) was in summer-ish 2000. I caught up on stuff that had been happening outside my ghetto as I became increasingly annoyed by what was currently happening in metal. So I got lent Dummy by a co-worker about three years my senior, among other things.

And I loved it. 2000 was a suitably balmy summer, many nights spent on grass outside pubs, the trusty old MD player (what has happened to me?!) banging out the Leftfield and Gravediggaz – as well as old rock. That was the summer I also got into Led Zep and Van Halen. But one of my most enduring memories of that year out, spent working as opposed to backpacking, was being on the top deck of a sweltering and deserted bus during what should have been rush hour. I was listening to Dummy and reading What Hi-Fi (before I learned of that magazine’s dubious ties with Cambridge Audio and Richer Sounds), loving the summer sun as it beat through the windows, their crack-like openings doing nothing to stymie the stuffiness, and most likely dehydrating just a little. But it was great.

Isn’t it funny how when you’re young, you think albums are really old but they aren’t really? For example in 1996, I thought Master of Puppets was fucking ancient, being from 1986 and all. Fast forward to 2006, and albums like Roots and Odelay seemed nothing of the sort. And it works in a way that is more extreme than simple ageing relativism. Can you believe Mezzanine/1965/Our Problem/This is Hardcore/Music Has the Right to Children (delete according to taste) is a decade old this year?! I guess my point is Dummy was only six years old during that freaky-nice summer, but it already felt like it had been around forever; an acknowledged Classic.

And now it’s fourteen years old. That’s pretty sobering news to someone like me, freaking out due to being in late twenties now: everything to do with the passing of time is like an ice pick betwixt the shoulder blades. But it’s pretty cool in a way, both because I am now at a stage where I was cynical about albums that came out a decade and a half ago, and also because this current state of no-time softens the blow a bit. Like, who gives a toss, when I’m getting in stuff like Perrey-Kingsley albums from 1966 (in stereo, to boot!) and they fit oddly well with the Tusses and Landstrumms of this era.

This is all a roundabout way of saying I have listened to Dummy at least twice since getting in from work this evening, and each time, it has been a sheer delight. Maybe it’s due to the ubiquitous legacy of the album, but it seems to tread that fine line between cool-thing-that-everyone-can-like and merely coffee-table. It’s always on the correct side, like (something that cannot always be said for Massive Attack or Leftfield), but the fine line is an interesting thing to consider for middlebrows like me. The production is fantastic, as the sorta warm, crackly aesthetic fits perfectly with the vinyl format: not so much modern day attempt at faux-antique authenticity as album on vinyl that sounds like it should be on vinyl. The bass that always loomed large over (or under) the record is bigger than ever, but still defined, stabbing away as it does like a battering ram of low frequency.

I’m not sure I ever noticed before how great Beth’s vocals are on this one. Her choice of tone suits each moment perfectly, which is a rare skill nowadays (1994, ‘nowadays’ – I am getting old), and her melodies manage to be both imaginative and inordinately catchy. Every song is fantastic, and I have to love an album which celebrates sadness in such a blatant way while avoiding overdosing on woe-is-me. In a way, I bought this at quite the wrong time, as the new album has an awful lot to live up to all of a sudden.

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