Archived content from Nemesis To Go Issue 10.
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|Front page from issue 10.|
Live reviews from Issue 10:
CDs/Vinyl/Downloads reviews from Issue 10:
Life In The Loading Bay (Malicious Damage)
They're back, those crazy Shrieks, with this new collection of gnomic grooves, outbursts of rhythm-driven noise, and weirdly captivating other-pop. Shriekback have a long and chequered history going right back to the early 80s post-punk era, a period which informs and inspires much current music. But they seem fated to be the band everyone blips over. At a time when contemporaries such as Wire and the Gang Of Four (a related band, of course, because original Go4 bassist Dave Allen was a founder-Shriek) are grabbing much media attention, Shriekback seem to have slipped through the net - again.
But for those who are prepared to fish a little deeper in the post-punk pond, this album is a prize catch. While the overall sound and feel of the album is very much of now - this ain't no retro party - all he essential qualities of Shriekness are here. From the serpentine croon of 'The Dream Life Of Dogs' to the gloriously manic 'Pointless Rivers', a double-edged condemnation-celebration of humanity at play realised as a mentalist cyberfolk hoe-down, there's only one band this could possibly be. If there's an overarching theme, it's that of Barry Andrews, Shriekback's vocalist, keyboard player, and these days all-round main man, surveying the world around him and finding it glorious in its imperfections, compelling in its car-crash chaos. The sound is never less than detailed - this is an album that works equally well at neighbour-frightening volume, or quietly, on headphones - and the lyrics are erudite and bonkers by turns (best rhyme: 'Farsi' with 'Arsey').
A highlight has to be 'Flowers Of Angst', a bug-eyed electro-stomper that references Shriekback's cerebral electronic period circa the Jam Science album, but gives the style a twenty-first century kick up the bum. The song features a full-on vocal from Carl Marsh, one of the original founder-Shrieks who now returns to collaborate. He rips out an assertive sermon over an outta-my-way marching beat, while distored synth-sweeps rev up like racing cars in the background. Yes, this is definitely Shriekback. Fully loaded, all guns blazing.
Wild In Wildlife (Speed)
Rock 'n' roll, rebooted. Uterior are unequivocally - almost defiantly - a rock band, but they mess with the generic conventions of rock just as much as they celebrate them. This album is driven by the pounding rush of electronics, but it features plenty of blam-blam basslines and killer guitar, too - and vocals that veer from a sneer to a scowl to a doomed romantic holler. If albums were people, Wild In Wildlife would be hangin' out on a street corner, leather jacket draped over its shoulders, giving it the full James Dean. And yet, the all-pervasive electro-pulse ensures we're hard-wired to the future, too. Under his leather, James Dean is wearing a techno T-shirt.
So pin yer ears back for 'Sex War Sex Cars Sex', a careering, full-tilt workout that contains an authentic Great Moment In Rock - when the vocals go "Waaagh!" and the beat drops the bomb. That's the bit where the mosh goes crazy, you can be sure. 'Sister Speed' does what it says on the tin, the lyrics snarling of "The napalm in your veins", and somehow Ulterior make such melodrama sound entirely natural.
But alongside the stormers, there are interludes of (relative) calm. 'Dream Dream' rolls forward on a purposeful bassline, the lyrics delivered in a downbeat, resolute style - until it all takes off in the chorus and Ulterior deliver the drama once more. The title track is a meditative, valedictory ballad, all rueful reflection - "Please, no tears" - as the guitars rage and billow at the edge of the abyss. Ulterior make such lyrical and sonic dramatics seem like the very bones and blood of life. This album wires up Ulterior's rock monster to the mains, and throws the main switch.
Radio (Koochie Coo)
Strap on your guitar and neck the pop pills. Here's an album designed to blast out of the car radio in a Triumph Vitesse convertible, bombing up the A1 on a summer's afternoon with your mates in the back and a crate of Double Diamond getting fizzy in the boot. There are some photos around the web which show Kiria posing with a pink Cadillac, but don't let the Yank tank fool you. Kiria is a very British rock 'n' roll gal: the girl next door with a dangerous glint in her eye, innocently smiling even as she plots her next caper. And you can bet you're always having to bang on the wall to get her to turn the noise down.
Radio swerves between gutsy, fuzzed-out punker anthems and neat bubblegum pop confections - one of which is even entitled 'Jelly Baby', so insistently catchy that, once heard, it'll stick in your brain all day, much as gelatine-based fruit-flavoured sweets stick in your teeth. Kiria's Triumph Vitesse powerslides around the musical landscape, taking in the affecting piano-led lilt of 'Love Song' and the summer-day-on-Ladbroke Grove reggae of 'And Another Thing'. But If it's the more pithy flavours of punk rock you're after, Kiria serves those up too. I would particularly like to recommend 'Live Sex On Stage' - that's a song title, by the way, not (quite) a description of Kiria's gigs. It's a good old rambunctious kickabout with a splendidly sardonic vocal.
Influenced in equal measures by classic punk bands like The Clash (she even puts a little dog-howl into 'Make Up', just like Joe Strummer did on 'London Calling') and the sparky sounds of sixties girl groups, Kiria is the kind of pop star we need these days - as opposed to Mumford And Sons, or whatever woeful stuff the music biz thinks we should dig. Go on, Kiria, fire up that Triumph and run 'em down.
Tearist (Post Present Medium)
They insist on the upper case, but then TEARIST seem to live life in upper case. Their music is at once pressurised and celebratory. Unyeilding and yet somehow a catharsis. A purging of the soul and a venting of the spleen. Sounds like heavy stuff, then? Well, here's the thing: even at their most uncompromising, TEARIST still generate skewed, twitchy, dancefloor palpitations that a brave DJ could slip between Cabaret Voltaire and DAF, and maybe, maybe, get away with it.
TEARIST are a duo. William Menchaca cooks up the pulsing electronic soup - you can almost hear the bubbles bursting through the surface tension - while Yasmine Kittles provides a haunted, discomfiting vocal that sometimes skates across the top of the music, and at other times pokes and snatches at it, as if she's digging her fingernails in. You'll find other reviews that trot out the inevitable Siouxsie comparisons, but really she's out there on her own - although, if you really want to draw parallels, Yasmine's vocal on 'End Flux' recalls Lene Lovich's beyond-singing whoops and catcalls, filtered through Ari Up's free-form vocalisations. It's all shot through with energy, all defiantly TEARIST. 'Headless' is a staccato dub plate workout, while 'Disposition' is a clanging, metallic, percussive thing. 'Closest' rumbles like an infernal machine. 'Lo V' is all thrumming rhythm, a nod towards the territory of our own electronic experimentalists, Factory Floor, with whom TEARIST really should play some gigs.
There are only six tracks on this 12" slab-o-vinyl , but it gathers the essentials of the TEARIST sound - and in a way it's appropriate to have the music on vinyl, which depends on a physical connection between needle and groove. Because if TEARIST are about anything, they're all about the physical. And how often can you say that about an electronic band?
The Dogbones (Buzzsaw)
The Japanese import version of this album got a review in the previous issue of this zine, but now it's out in the UK on The Dogbones' own Buzzsaw label, with a new cover but all the spit and sawdust present and correct. What did I say about it last time? Ah, yes, this:
"Powering along on their two-drummer thunder, The Dogbones sound like the Glitter Band and Babes In Toyland having a fight in the cupboard under the stairs. They're all fried 'n' frazzled guitar and caterwauled vocals, an exhilarating blend in itself, of course. But don't go getting the impression that The Dogbones are all about noise. The band's secret superpower is their ability to place a point-perfect pop song under all the blood and guts. Catchy choruses rise out of the melee like islands in a stormy sea. Hear it once and I guarantee you'll be singing 'The Whole World Is Weird' all day. 'Stitch' has a drumbeat like barn doors slamming, but I bet the chorus will lodge in your brain like a sitting tenant."
Well, I quite agree with my issue 9 opinion. Consistency is such a great thing, isn't it. And, if you like your rock 'n' roll raw and fast and infused with an elegant sufficiency of strop, you'll find his album is a great thing, too.
Personal Jesus (Koch)
Last time I saw Nina Hagen, she was wearing Hindu robes and greeting everyone with a cheery "Namaste". But now, it seems, she's gone all monotheistic on us. Yep, Nina's got God, and she'd like to share the experience with us on this album of bluesey gospel. Fortunately, it works rather better than the cynical old punk in me might expect. The music has a good old New Orleans stomp to it, and Nina's vocals - naturally - have a soulful, gravelly strength.
If you can handle Nina praisin' and testifyin' over thirteen (ha!) slices of down-home blues, there's stuff here that works even if you're not bothered about the God-bothering. 'Mean Old World' has a barrelhouse sway and flourishes of honkey-tonk piano, while 'God's Radar' sounds bizarrely forbidding - it's one of those 'God is watching over you' songs which always sound like a veiled threat to me. Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus' (yes, she covers it) is reinvented as a gritty country rocker that fits rather neatly somewhere between Johnny Cash (who recorded the song himself, of course) and Nick Cave (who didn't, but probably should've done). But it's the rollicking take on Woody Guthrie's 'All You Fascists Bound To Lose' - the only non-God number here - that wins it for me. I think we can all get behind the Mother Superior of punk on that one.
Cold In Berlin
Give Me Walls (2076)
Taut and claustrophobic, sounding like they're right there in the room with you, London's Cold In Berlin distil their intense, energy-shot live shows down to ten half-bricks to the head. Produced with frill-free precision, the band articulate a twitchy, nervy, angst with manic exactness and an all-pervasive air of teeth-clenched desperation.
The bass churns like griping in the guts, the guitar comes at you with claws extended, and vocalist Maya doesn't so much sing as snap at the words as if each one is an enemy. Think of Chairs Missing-period Wire in the grip of some nameless dread, and that'll hint at Cold In Berlin's aesthetic of packed-in angst. It's not a relaxing experience, that's for sure, but then Cold In Berlin sound like they don't relax - ever. 'Total Fear', on which treated bass lends a sinister undertow, is, perhaps, the best encapsulation of the band's shredded-nerve post-punkery, but you can dip in anywhere here and be snared and scared in equal measure.
Modern Celibacy (Inner Ear)
Now, I like Ladytron, me. But sometimes I wish they were a bit more witty, a bit more gritty, a bit more loose-limbed, and just a bit warmer. Which is exactly where the Berlin Brides come in. They come from Athens (are there any bands with 'Berlin' in the name that actually come from Berlin?) and they're essentially two people: Natasha Giannaraki and Marilena Orfanou, on vocals and electronix respectively, although the duo sometimes expands to a full band for gigs. They kick up an idiosyncratic electropop, all fizzing, fuzzy keyboards and beats that dance the mess around like it's eighties night in a twenty-third century disco. The Berlin Brides sound is at once knowingly retro and pithily modern. Imagine Ladytron goofing off in their tea break, and telling each other dirty jokes. Imagine if the second CSS album had been as cool and sparky as the first. Now you're in the room with the Berlin Brides.
But all these comparisons don't do the Berlin Brides justice, because they've really got their own sound, and definitely their own style. I can't think of another band that would come up with 'Failure To Wank', in which Natasha Gianaraki spends the song squirming in bed and - well, failing to wank. "One finger or two?" she asks. It's a rhetorical question. I think. Then there's 'Ballad Of The Touch Deprived', in which anyone's touch is better than none. It's a song with all the typical Berlin Brides wit - "I went to the doctor to examine my foot/It felt mistreated by a kinky boot" - yet there's a poignant point about loneliness being made, too. But I think my fave song here is the minimal, tense, and menacing 'Paralyzed'. It's a song about child abuse, and it says much for the Berlin Brides' command of their art that they can get so suddenly, brutally, serious amid the fun stuff and yet still hold the album together. Electropop for grown-ups: barbed and humourous, but they know when to limit the laughs.
Sheep On Drugs
Medication Time (Real)
I don't want to sound like Mister Out Of Touch or anything, but I was quite taken aback to find that this is Sheep On Drugs' ninth album - counting live sets and remix albums. If you just count studio albums of original material, this is album number five, and even that's a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
I was a big fan of SoD's first album, 1993's Greatest Hits - a genuinely groundbreaking techno-punk blast, all nihilism and attitude, on which Lee Fraser and Duncan X neatly joined the dots between Alien Sex Fiend and The Prodigy. Alas, the follow-up, On Drugs, was essentially a diluted version of the good stuff. SoD subsequently decamped to Martin Atkins' Invisible label for an erratic career of highs and lows, but never quite managed to stick the SoD flag in the summit again. Latter-day SoD lineups, based around Lee Fraser plus assorted collaborators following Duncan X's departure, were frankly rather underwhelming. I stopped paying much attention - until Lee found a new collaborator in the shape of Johnny Borden. Who's female, by the way, which in itself skews the SoD dynamic in a new direction. And then, against the odds, things started getting interesting again.
Now, here's album nine (or five), and it sounds like the Sheep On Drugs mojo has been reloaded. The band aren't quite as nihilistic as before - instead, a dry, cynical, humour seems to pervade this album, as if SoD have decided that there's no point hating everything after all. It's more fun to stand back, observe, and laugh. The music, naturally, is a low-slung, sleazoid, hard-wired groove that sounds like it spends too much time hanging around back alleys, intimidating passers-by with hard stares. Standouts include the nod to the old days of 'Hard Drive', a kind of virtual reality take on the first-album hit 'Track X', the you-will-have-fun workout - all chopped-up guitar and beat frenzy - that is 'The Joy Division', and the sinister shuffle 'n' rumble of 'War On Drugs. "I've yet to smell a field of poppies burning," goes the lyric, and you can almost taste the band's mocking cynicism. But the gold star goes to 'Do It Again', a swaggering techno-glam stomp, with a gravelly, lower-gound-floor vocal. It sounds like Tom Waits being menaced by the KLF, and is worth the price of admission all by itself. Do it again? You know what, I think we should.
Islington Boys' Club
Pristine/Plastic 16 (Club. The. Mammoth.)
Who says vinyl is dead? Many bands these days, especially at the more independent end of indie, release 7" singles as a matter of course, and do rather well out of it. Now, I'm not sure how many of these singles actually get played - you know, on real gramophones and all - and how many are simply cherished as artifacts, but the fact remains that the singles get released, and people buy 'em. This slice of vinyl life from Islington Boys' Club works both as an artifact - full colour artwork on sleeve and label, record stashed neatly in a plain inner sleeve (an inner sleeve, on a seven inch single - ah, there's posh) and as a quick and dirty means of music delivery. 'Pristine' is a rush of dense, tense guitar, topped by a vocal that seems to leak in from some strange nearby dimension, while, over on the B-side, 'Plastic 16' adds a circling drum pattern to the mix to good effect. Rather good, in a psychedelia-meets-post-punk ind of way. Don't keep this one as an artifact. I say, play it.
Gang Of Four
There's been quite a media frenzy over this, the first album of new material from the Gang Of Four since 1995 - understandable, perhaps, since the band's influence looms large over current music. The return of the old masters, showing the young pretenders how it's done, and all that. And maybe that's also the reason why Content itself sounds deliberately old-school. Instead of carrying on from where their electronics-infused excursions of the 90s left off, or striking off on a whole new tangent, the Gang Of Four have reproduced the sparse, stretched-tight, heavily rhythmic sound of their earliest material - although the Gang are noticeably guitar-led now. Andy Gill's splintered riffs tug everything along from the front of the mix, rather than duking it out on equal terms with the bass and drums. Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham, the band's original bassist and drummer, both now departed, would never have stood for that.
As a result, the music feels like something of a pastiche, a less intense version of the band's classic first two albums, Entertainment! and Solid Gold, which are clearly being referenced here. Or maybe it's because the songs just aren't as strong. Vocalist Jon King gives it loads in the traditional manner, but while 'You'll Never Pay For The Farm' and 'I Party All The Time' are worthy contenders, the uncomfortable fact is that there's nothing with the no-shit impact of 'To Hell With Poverty' or 'I Found That Essence Rare'. Maybe the Gang Of Four just don't have the fire in their bellies or the chips on their shoulders these days. Perhaps their berth as respected elder statesmen of post-punk is just a bit too comfortable, and there's nothing that goads them to the old heights. Content? They could be.
O. Children (Deadly People)
A while back I interviewed Tobi O'Kandi, O. Children's frontman, vocalist and main songwriter, for Dominion magazine. He made some pithy remarks about reviewers who'd nailed his band to Joy Division comparisons - at which I squirmed a little, for in early O. Children reviews in this webzine (I've been writing about the band since 2008) I made that very comparison.
But that was then. While there's still a hint of enticing darkness about O. Children - no, what am I saying? O. Children are all enticing darkness - they've gone far beyond any quick 'n' easy reference points now.
This album envelopes the listener like a summer night, velvety and crepuscular, out of which the band conjure a tenebrous, nocturnal rock that curtly nods its head in the direction of old-school goth influences but then goes its own implacable way. The dynamics are always impeccably controlled, as in 'Ruins', which builds a taut, towering, dark rock anthem on a foundation of just-so drums, the music swelling between the verses in a manner that would make Echo And The Bunnymen proud.
'Radio Waves' barrels along with a sinister confidence - 'I'll watch you while you're sleeping' sings Tobi O'Kandi in a voice like night, and while you're wondering whether to be reassured or worried by that sentiment, a squalling sax surges in and the song kicks up a gear and shoulders its way to the climax. But perhaps the most successful song here is 'Don't Dig', on which O. Children put their rock 'n' roll rockets back in their pockets and create a darkly humourous death ballad, the kind of thing Roy Orbison's goth cousin might come up with. "I'm not healthy enough/To be used for science stuff," croons Tobi, as the music shimmers like phosphoresence in an underground river. You can almost hear Nick Cave kicking himself for not getting there first.
Monica's Last Prayer
The Buried Life (Self Release)
And here's how it's done on the goth side of the fence. Monica's Last Prayer is the band-identity of Paul Broome, who's been generating overcast atmospheres and one-man gothic rock anthems in a DIY fashion since the early 90s. His very first releases were on cassette - which seems like antique technology now - but this new album is available as a paywhatchalike download from the web. I reckon it's worth a click (and even a few of your quids), because although Paul may not realise it, his music - all pound-and-clatter drumbeats, chiming guitars, and pensive, fatalistic vocals - actually sounds bizarrely contemporary in the twenty-first century.
In a sense, Monica's Last Prayer are the garage-band alternative to O. Children's wide-screeen lushness, but there's also a lot in common here with some of the bands currently operating at the darker end of the present post-punk scene - Project: Komakino, Relics, and others that lurk in London's new wavey shadows. It's very much a live scene, though, so without an actual band I suspect Monica's Last Prayer will remain outsiders. But there's an unexpected collision with the zeitgeist here.
I'm On To You (FFRR)
A three-tracker from none-more-Laaaahndon punks The Duel, although on the title track they crank the 80s keyboards and get their new wave on. 'I'm On To You' is a jaundiced glance at the fraying edges of our economy, with vocalist Tara Rez putting the captains of capitalism on notice that she's sussed them out. A nice slice of post-punky pop lurking under rather odd production - there's so much delay on Tara's vocal she sounds like she's being stalked by her evil twin.
Track two is a re-recording of an old Duel fave, 'Jump', and all of a sudden the production toughens up. The drums hit harder, the guitar swaggers its way to the front of the mix like a celeb in a nightclub queue, and the chorus invades your brain without so much as a by-your-leave. The band must've slipped a couple of go-pills into the producer's mug of Bovril or something, because this one rattles along like the night train to Rock 'n' Roll Central. The song always was a great glam-punk stompalong, and in this incarnation it's certainly got its big boots on. 'Loneliness' rounds things off. It's a whimsical street-romantic ballad - not The Duel's usual territory, you might think, but it has a frazzled, fractured, morning-after feel that works rather well. But you know what? They should've made 'Jump' the lead track.
Russell And The Wolves
All Eights/Call The Tribe/Elixir (Drool)
"I crawl on all eights instead of all fours" says the scratched-in message on the run-out groove of this 7" single by Leeds-based mentalist punkabilly outfit Russell And The Wolves. Ha, the traditional run-out message - that's one thing you can't download. But to the music: 'All Eights' itself is a punkabilly crash 'n' burn of a tune, massed guitars coming at ya as if spoiling for a fight, and a big, hollering vocal. B-side tracks 'Call The Tribe' and 'Elixir' repeat the trick twice more, and if Russell And The Wolves evidently don't believe in too much variety - all three tracks here are ovbiously cooked up from the same recipe - they certainly do believe in getting a good old garage band thrash on. Message received and understood.
PS...BTW (Psydoll Products)
A remix album from our favourite surrealist cyberpunks from Tokyo. Six remixers (including Nekoi and Ucchi of Psydoll themselves) re-interpret ad re-construct selections from the Psydoll tunestack, with results that sound like everything from incidental music from afternoon chat shows on Tokyo TV (the Jan mix of 'Black Rain') to cyberpunk movie chase scene soundtracks (the Sino Rebuild Projects mix of 'Eden').
If you're unfamiliar with the band's almost preternatural ability to inject brilliant, unexpected, pure pop moments into the sturm and drang of bonkers, industrial strength robot rock and futurist floor-fillers, you may want to start with their first album, I, Psydoll. Strap yourself securely into the listening position, and take it from there. When you're suitably acclimatised to Planet Psydoll, this collection makes sense: especally the frantic guitar-scribblings on Ucchi's mix of 'Sky Melody', or the Godzilla-on-the-dancefloor thump and groove of Erik MetalTech's sushi mix of 'Tokyo A-Go-Go'. That one features one of Nekoi's haunting vocals amid percussion fashioned from sampled broken glass, and manages to be a killer club tune and actually a rather lovely pop creation at the same time - a counter-intuitive combination that is very, very Psydoll.
If you buy any Psydoll products from the band's website, they'll donate 30% of the money to the Red Cross, to help fund Japan's recovery from the recent earthquake and tsunami. Buy Psydoll music from iTunes, and 10% of the cash goes to the Red Cross. It's always a good time to get some Psydoll into your life, but what better time than now?
New Love (Upset The Rhythm)
Electronic music for those days when clouds cover the sun and you don't want to dance. Former Ghosts foreman Freddy Ruppert's music has been compared to Joy Division in the past, and although I'd be reluctant to make that connection - if only because it seems that every other band I meet these days is being compared to Joy Division, sometimes by me - there's nevertheless a feeling of quietly intense introspection here, a sense that swirling emotions are being expressed in precise, atmospheric electronica. 'The Days Will Get Long Again' opens up the album, all dark clouds and distortion. The clouds part (slightly), and the beat picks up for 'Winter's Year', where the bleak lyric - "Everything I love gets driven out into the cold" - eventually resolves itself into some sort of resigned acceptance - "And that's fine." The voice of TEARIST's Yasmine Kittles haunts the background like an unquiet spirit.
Zola Jesus also makes guest appearances, notably on 'Chin Up', where she asserts herself over an almost jaunty assemblage of glitchy beats - although the lyric isn't quite the hearty reassurance you might expect from the title: "This will bury me, oh this will bury me." Even when he's trying to talk himself up, Freddy Ruppert's best friend is The Bleak. 'And When You Kiss Me' is probably the most accessible song here, in that it's uptempo, immediate, and - I'm afraid there's no way to circumnavigate this - very Joy Division-esque.
In a way, this is a concept album, I suppose. The songs seem to externalise Freddy Ruppert's internal dialogue as he picks his way through the fragments of a disintegrating relationship, to a soundtrack of moody synths and raw-nerve beats. It's challenging, rather than easy, listening at times - especially if you pay attention to the lyrics, which often have an intensity that's disguised by the electronic sweeps and skitters with which they're surrounded. But it's compelling stuff, even if, by the end of the album, I feel like want to sit Freddy Ruppert down, make him a cup of hot, sweet, tea, and tell him it'll all be OK in the end.
Power Pack EP (Self Release)
Five slices of frantic electro from Capital X, the band who Don't Do Slow Songs. Packaged like a superhero comic (you even get a trading card, one of a set of seven - mine's the Death Valley card, which I hope isn't an omen), and dosed up to the max with the trademark Capital X staccato electro beatz, this release is like giving yourself a hefty dose of electronic amphetamines.
Machine-beats spatter and squabble, while the vocals swoop over the top like a bird of prey riding the thermals while busy ants scurry about below. The counter-intuitive disconnection between the vocals - all sustained vowels and power-ballad drama - and the nervy electro-skitter of the music is something I've found hard to reconcile in the past. Capital X songs sometimes sound like a mash-up of two entirely different tracks, such is the discontinuity between the two elements of the band's sound.
But by the time I've listened to all five tracks here I've been - well, not convinced, exactly. More like bludgeoned into submission by the band's relentless energy. 'Showtime' is perhaps the most accessible tune here, since the beatz are rowed back to something you could probably dance to without risking auto-induced epilepsy, while 'Death Valley' actually does start off like a power ballad, until the band crank the beat (Capital X always crank the beat) and turn the song into a restless epic. After experiencing TEARIST, I'm primed for more out-on-a-limb electro. Now I can dig Capital X's need for speed.
Hide (Ectopic Entertainments)
Mr JG Thirlwell returns with his latest and perhaps most abstruse excursion under his ever-shifting Foetus brand. Over the years, the Foetus name (in all its many variations) has been attached to everything from slammin' industro-tekno to louche, loose-limbed rock 'n' roll. But you might want to suspend disbelief and usher any remaining preconceptions out the door for this one, for on Hide Foetus has...gone opera.
And not Tommy-style rock opera, or anything half-arsed like that. We're talking masses of swooping strings, towering orchestral arrangements, parping horns and soaring vocals from JG Thirlwell's latest collaborator, New York-based mezzzo-soprano Abby Fischer, who plays it as straight as if she's singing Verdi. Other musicians supply violin, piano, brass and percussion, and (presumably) JG Thirlwell has multiplied their contributions by means of technology to create a full, orchestral sound. The whole lot is harnessed to songwriting that ranges from bombastic to delicate, and always has a genuine emotional pull. It's a grandiose project, with a long way to fall if it doesn't work. But you know what? It works.
The closest point of comparison, I suppose, would be the faux-movie soundtracks made by former Magazine and Bad Seed man Barry Adamson, and Foetus has certainly copped some of his wide-screen, cinematic style. But there's a glorious, bonkers creativity hidden in Hide which could only emanate from the febrile brain of JG Thirlwell.
K-Nitrate is the project of Graham Rayner, who used to be in Cubanate, apparently. 90s industrio-heads who remember Cubanate's muscular, pumping, steroid-enhanced cyber-bangers can be assured that the apple has not fallen far from the tree. K-Nitrate give us a broadside of thumpin' EBM that ticks all the generic boxes but never challenges the boundaries. Everything here is based on driving electro-beats that sound so 'classic EBM' that if you told me that this was a remix album, and all ten tracks here were spiffed-up instrumental reworkings of Nitzer Ebb's 'Let Your Body Learn', I'd probably believe you.
Yes, we're mostly in the instrumental zone here. Unlke the Ebb (and unlike the 'nate, for that matter), K-Nitrate don't deal much in vocals, aside from the occasional judiciously-placed sample or repeated, down-in-the-mix chanted phrase. 'Flesh', a typical rolling-beat workout that can stand for any tune here, features a matter-of-fact voice asserting "I wanna take you/I wanna break you" - a fairly typical piece of EBM apocalyptica that recalls a similar line from Cubanate's 'Oxyacetalene'. Maybe it's a deliberate tribute from the pupils to the masters. But I couldn't help thinking how Marc Heal, Cubanate's shouty-crackers frontman, would have taken that lyric by the scruff of its neck and wrung some real drama from it. K-Nitrate just sound like they're remarking on the weather. Maybe that's how it is in the EBM zone now - classic sounds, but nobody's getting down with the crazy these days.
Mind-forged Manacles (Red Electric)
Well, here's a band that are quite prepared to ask the crazy for a dance. AlterRed's live shows are a conceptual carnival featuring characters from some sort of surrealist circus - clockwork dolls, escaped asylum inmates, traffic wardens. (Actually, I'm kidding about the traffic wardens. But I wouldn't put it past them.) Here, we have the soundtrack album: the music from the AlterRed concept.
I've mentioned IAMX as comparison with AlterRed before, and there's certainly something of Chris Corner's elegant glam-slams here - although AlterRed's music is electronic, polished to a high sheen, and rooted in synthpop/EBM raher than rock 'n' roll. That means that even though the story that's being told has its moments of blood, guts, and gritty melodrama, the music itself, with its sharp, bright production, and clear, upfront vocals, sometimes seems paradoxically clean.
'Like April Fools' and 'Losing Your Shine' are as glossy and neatly groomed as a fresh hairdo. 'Sex, Death, Or Money' has a title that hints at something nasty going on in the cellar, but the song itself is a swooning synthpop anthem that fastidiously avoids stepping in the mucky stuff. Best songs are those that get a bit more grubby and grainy, like 'The Patient', where the bass rumbles forbiddingly and everything gets slinky and sinister, or 'The Drug Named God', where distortion arrives like a sudden rainstorm. 'Nothing Less Than Violence' has a typically soaring vocal nailed to a fast, killer floor-filler groove, but I can't help wishing it also had a filthy Jean-Jaques Burnel bassline growling away in the bottom end. AlterRed's soundtrack album works - the songs are plenty strong enough to stand up by themselves. But the organics of the live show have been ruthlessly removed. I wish they'd left a bit of dirt from the dark alleys of the story in there.
The Northern Drones
The Northern Drones (Self Release)
"There's more than enough perfect music around," say The Northern Drones in the note that accompanies this Dublin-based band's new CD. Well, they're not wrong. Imperfections make things interesting. And although the production here is garagey and the sound is downright anorexic, somehow that suits the music. Mainly recorded live in the studio (or the garage), The Northern Drones sound like the Flamin' Groovies having a hallucenogenic-enhanced jam, circa 1967 - although I'm not sure if the sixties garage thing they've got going here is intentional, or if it's just the result of the non-production. For all I know, the band might actually want to sound like U2.
Still, however they got there, the band's fuzztone clang and clatter has a stripped-down charm. The proto-psychedelic spacey vocals, way down in the mix, sound like another instrument rather than a focal point - although, again, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be that way, or if someone just forgot to shove the vocal channel fader up. The result is an album that's a bit like a colouring book that hasn't been coloured in yet. I can fill in my own colours, but I have no idea if they'll be the same as the way the band would do it. Still, you know - it's interesting like that.
Explode! EP (Malicious Damage)
I've been waiting for a Vertical Smile release for ages. They're a class live act, so being able to crank up the band's punker club anthems in the privacy of my own home would be a fine, fine thing. And now that this EP has arrived, I can do just that. So it's all good, right?
Well...yes and no. The four tracks here capture all the momentum of Vertical Smile at full chat. 'Explode' is a veritable war cry, a statement of intent, a dancefloor bombing raid that powers along from one target to the next. 'Automatic Freq' is all squelchy analogue synth and a marching beat, while 'Blacklight', an ode to post-clubbing comedowns, sounds like a rev-up for the next bout. 'When We Were Young' also shows up to the party, in a stripped-down remix guise - although as a trap for the unwary the track listing on the nifty CD envelope gets the last two tracks in the wrong order. Malicious Damage are a whizz at the visuals, but they're often a bit haphazard on the verbals.
So, what's not to like? Just this: these songs are old material. They've been kicking around on MySpace for a couple of years or so. It's nice that they're now liberated from the ghastly compression of the MySpace music player, but Vertical Smile themselves are way ahead of these recordings now. The last gig I caught saw the band burn it up with a set of killer krautrock. They set the house on fire as surely as if they'd used flamethrowers. But that stuff hasn't yet been captured. It's understandable that Vertical Smile haven't had the opportunity to do any recent recordings. Bassist and frontman Youth is back on the Killing Joke trail now, and other projects have to fit around that. But next time Vertical Smile do a gig, it might not be a bad idea to take a line out of the desk and grab the moment. This is a good taster, but the feast is yet to come.