Here is the content from Nemesis To Go issue 4.
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Here's a bit of history being made. The first album by Siouxsie as a solo artist (as opposed to part of the Banshees, or The Creatures), the first release via her new major label deal, and - rock 'n' roll pub quiz enthusiasts please note - the first album of any of Siouxsie's incarnations since 1980 that has not featured Budgie on drums. New ground is being broken all over the place here. Although Siouxsie as a solo artist is not an entirely new concept (she's been performing solo since 2004), this is her debut album of new solo material, and represents, I suppose, the real start of her new career. Certainly, the fact that she's on a major label again will boost her profile, for I think many erstwhile fans rather lost touch with Siouxsie's activities during the years she was working independently, with her own label, Sioux Records. But this release arrives with all the big-budget trimmings you would expect, and a credit list that includes Siouxsie's hairdresser (Mark English, just in case you're taking notes) and something called an 'A&R Co-ordinator'. Since it apparently took a corporate cast of thousands to make this album, the least we can do is listen. Let's press play.
Well, Siouxsie has obviously got in touch with her inner Twentieth Century Boy. 'Into A Swan' slams into action on glam-fuel and glitter-stomp. It's brash and loud, and Siouxsie herself is right up front in the mix as fuzzed-out guitar and defiantly distorted synths rampage in the background. If you told me this was a cover of something from T Rex's album The Slider, or some other slice of vintage glam rock, I would be almost inclined to believe you - although the lyrics, which are quite brutally direct, are all Siouxsie. 'I'm on the verge of an awakening,' she declaims, although how anyone could be anything other than awake with that glam racket going on is beyond me. 'Don't be surprised/This change is my design' she asserts, and there's no doubting that. 'About To Happen' continues the theme: Siouxsie anticipating - no, relishing - the future, with all its apocalyptic changes, over a rampant glam rock workout that even contains - yes! - handclaps on the off-beat. Sweet. Literally. On 'Here Comes That Day' the guitar is given a rest in favour of a somewhat dated avalanche of thwacking drums, parping brass and sampled orchestral stabs - it's so Trevor Horn - as Siouxsie settles some old scores. 'There's a price to pay/For a life of insincerity' she asserts, as if victory is already in the bag. Who's the victim? Dunno, but I'm glad it's not me. Siouxsie can certainly spit venom as effectively as ever. 'Loveless' is more self-examination over a low-down dirty, riffing, guitar. 'I'm wearing my slinky boots/I'm wearing that kookie mood/Now they seem to fit less' Siouxsie ponders, and it's almost uncomfortable to be allowed into her head like this. 'If It Doesn't Kill You' is a bizarre kind of self-help mantra, a wide-screen ballad of humming strings, as Siouxsie gives herself a pep talk. 'One Mile Below' is yet another exposition on a theme of 'I was down, and now I'm up again', and it's a rattling, rhythmic thing that recalls The Creatures' drums-and-noise excursions - an odd nod to the past on an album that owes little to the previous places Siouxsie has been on her musical journey.
Strangely, since she has left suburbia far behind her and hasn't lived the life for years, Siouxsie undertakes a ritual excoriation of the mundane and the everyday on 'Drone Zone'. 'Consumer dreams/and shopping mall schemes' she croons with gleeful disdain over a not-quite-jazz shuffle, and am I the only one to note the near-quote of the line, 'Your future dream is a shopping scheme' from 'Anarchy In The UK'? A deliberately oblique big-up to the Bromley contingent, or just coincidence? You decide. 'Sea Of Tranquility' is a full blown ballad, a style with which Siouxise has seemed a little uneasy in the past. Here she sounds confident enough, if not entirely at home amid the smooth, this-one's-for-the-mums-and-dads production. It's yet another song that seems to be about new beginnings, although the line 'There are more stars in the sky/than grains of sand' is a bit of a faux pas. I think you'll find, Siouxsie, that there isn't any sand in the sky. 'They Follow You' has a to-and-fro lilt and an attractively woozy, late-night, last-orders feel. It's a rueful look back at the pitfalls and spills of the past, and casts Siouxsie in reflective mood as she gazes, older, wiser, and a little frayed at the edges, over her life. The cluttered arrangement packs the song with busyness (two keyboard solos, for heaven's sake, one of which sounds absurdly over-distorted) while the backing vocals - 'Oh, Oh, Oh' - sound like they were dropped in as an afterthought. The song itself is a neat little thing, but it does rather sound like it's being smothered by musos and production techies who never quite know when to back off. 'Heaven And Alchemy' wraps things up with a delicate falling-out-of-love song, and while Siouxsie still sounds pretty assertive even when she's being delicate, it's nevertheless a moving piece, considering her split from Budgie is not just professional. It's personal, too. The arrangement, alas, tends towards the cheesy (that sampled male voice choir is definitely the large fromage), but it's still a brave move to leave the listener with a hint that Siouxsie - warrior ice queen of punk, and all that - can feel vulnerable, too.
So, there it is. Siouxsie's new beginning. It's hard to predict which direction her solo career will go - here, she tries her hand at everything from roaring glam rock to jazzy shimmying, almost as if she's up for anything that steers the music away from Banshees territory. While she sounds most convincing when she's getting a good rock on, her vocal performances on the softer stuff ain't so dusty, either. But the production is brutally upfront and glossy throughout, to the point where it all gets rather overblown at times, and the arrangements throw everything including the kitchen sink at the songs. I'm not sure how sympathetic the musicians Siouxsie works with here are to her style. They sound, on occasions, like they're trying to assert themselves at the expense of their singer. I catch myself wishing on several occasions that they'd just can it and let Siouxsie do her thing. The band, incidentally, is a completely new bunch, with the exception of horn man Terry Edwards, who created the brass arrangements for The Creatures. The two principal musicians, Steve Evans on guitar and programming, and Charlie Jones on bass and synths, also produce. Their credit - 'An Evans and Jones production' - emphasises the extent to which this is a producer's project.
In the end, the album comes across as an opportunity to test the water, clear the air, drop a card on the mat, put down a marker and say, 'Look out, world. Siouxsie's back'. It resounds, without quite being a resounding classic. At times, it's definitely overcooked. There are moments where it sounds more like the producers' album than Siouxsie's album. But for all that, the good stuff is good. Consider that calling card well and truly dropped.
The nautical imagery splashed all over this album is quite appropriate, for Frank The Baptist's music has a windswept, seabourne, quality. Guitars crash like ocean waves, violin keens like wind in the rigging. Up on the bridge, wrestling with the wheel, Frank himself guides his rock 'n' roll vessel ever onwards, hollering mightily into the gale as he goes. This album was almost entirely recorded with the new Berlin-based Frank The Baptist band - only 'Ever' survives from the earlier Californian incarnation. Berlin seems to suit Frank The Baptist, for there's a sense throughout this album that the entire band is surging forward, eyeing up the future with a view to grabbing the main chance as soon as it heaves into sight over the horizon. It all comes across as very live, too: if the album wasn't substantially recorded by the full band walloping away in the studio, it certainly sounds like it. Even little glitches - like the way Frank sometimes runs out of breath as he gets to the end of a line of vocal - have been left in, but these moments just add to the immediacy of the music. Naturally, 'Harlot Of Nations' is a tour de force, Frank casting himself as part hellfire preacher, part poet. The snare drum thwacks away as the bass dashes at it like a playful cat. 'Beg, Steal and Borrow' ebbs and flows like country dancers in a barn, while 'Nautical Miles' is one of those heroic sagas that Frank The Baptist does so well, the song soaring as high as a waterspout as the ship sails implacably straight into the gathering storm. I have always contended that Frank The Baptist is an alternative rock sensation waiting to happen, although I suspect in order to make that move he'll need a label a little less focused on the deathrock scene and much more aware of the bigger picture. But, if you want confirmation of my contention, lend an ear to the rolling, shimmering epic that is 'Scars Forever', and the towering atmospheres of 'Cosmonauts' - which demonstrate that whether his record label recognises it or not, Frank The Baptist's ship is steering an unerring course between the twin lighthouses of the Pixies and Echo And The Bunnymen. Sounds good to you? Then jump aboard.
Schmoof may have a name like a Bavarian bathroom cleaner, but they're a very British pop group. They have an engagingly high-heeled glam swagger, and their electropop sparkles like mirror balls - but, throughout everything, there's the feeling that underneath the polish lurks a hint of strangely enticing grime; the sense that underneath the disco gitz, you'll find soot-blackened bricks. Their lyrics, delivered by Sarah Barnett in a cut-glass Pet Shop Girl accent, are wry and witty, while the insistent, get-on-that-dancefloor-now beats never give up. 'Rock Wife' sets the tone, a dry commentary on a world of glam that's not all it's cracked up to be: 'In the dressing room/JD we consume/kebab we gorge/in the Transit van/I'm you're biggest fan/It's so debauched' - ah, the romance of showbiz! 'Hayfever' invents an instant new genre, and while I'm not certain that the world is ready for electro-country, Schmoof's tale of an unfaithful farmer - 'He was playing the field' - mixes pop genius with pedal steel guitar in equal measures, and it's not often you can say that, now, is it? Meanwhile, 'Make-Up' hurtles along on some splendid, bubbling, analogue bass. It must be said that Schmoof do bubbling analogue bass better than anyone (see 'Bubblegum' for further evidence), and I frankly defy anyone to listen to their lyrics straight-faced. One of Schmoof's best moments, however, isn't on the album. I heartily recommend that you obtain the band's 'Chocolate Boyfriend' single for possibly the finest exposition of sex versus cocoa solids that the world of pop has ever produced. 'This is a song about my dilemma/I have a big decision to make/Although I love my boyfriend dearly/I adore chocolate cake' muses Sarah Barnett, over an electro brew as heady as fresh Ovaltine. Extra points, by the way, for the inclusion of such splendid Britishisms as 'footy and 'totty'. But that's Schmoof for you. Glamour and grit, wit and chocolate, in a Great British Electropop package.
This album is the release the Screaming Banshee Aircrew presumably hope will start their journey from UK goth scenesters to genuine contenders for broader success. It's a little bemusing, then, in the light of the band's stated ambitions for wider recognition, to find that they've signed up to the UK's principal goth scene label, with all the restrictions that implies. The album will be marketed to the goth scene, but not beyond: the bigger audience of alternorockers and indie kids upon whom the Screaming Banshee Aircrew's chances of real success depend will probably never know of the band's existence. But then, we've seen this odd kind of cognitive dissonance before, with other bands from the goth scene. They'll talk grandly in interviews about moving on, broadening out, gaining a wider audience. And yet, every time a practical decision needs to be taken, the bands simply default back to the Goth Way Of Doing Things, as if, for all their rhetoric, they know of no other path. If that same fate awaits the Screaming Banshee Aircrew, it'll be a real shame, for the band have undoubted potential for greatness. This album, a rollicking, swaggering collection of punchy, punky contemporary rock, certainly has appeal that could go some way beyond the goth zone. Weaving a path somewhere between the Wonderstuff and pre-glam Bowie (Mister Ed's lead vocals do occasionally recall Bowie in his dryly observational troubadour phase), the Screaming Banshee Aircrew rattle with impressive brio through a set of devilishly catchy, and often intricately arranged, songs. Buzzsaw guitar and anything up to three vocals hurl themselves out at the listener, jockeying for equal ear time. It must be said that the production doesn't do the songs any favours - the drum sound is an embarassingly weedy 'bippety bop' noise throughout, while the overall sound is very 'hard', as if the band had crowded into the bathroom and the sound is bouncing off the tiles. But there's no doubting the substance of the material. 'Clackety Jack' is the kind of doomed romance that the Dresden Dolls would turn into a rampant melodrama, but Mister Ed retains a sense of wry fatalism as he imagines himself as a rock 'n' roll marionette '...left here in a heap/Of cogs and springs and metal things' - and if you listen, you can hear the cogwheels whirring in the background. 'Cold Caffeine' makes acoustic guitar and lamenting violin seem deliciously bleak (until two minutes and twenty-five seconds in, where it sounds like whoever did the mastering suddenly leant on the LOUD button). Jo Violet's vocals on 'Two Step' sound incogruously like the choir on 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' by the Rolling Stones, but believe it or not, it works in the context of this pell-mell rocker. And then there's 'Crazy Cats', a knockabout jazz-punk slinker upon which Mister Ed, adopting his best sleazy vocal, leads the band on a midnight prowl. Yes, this is an album which confirms the Screaming Banshee Aircrew's potential as top condenders. They've got the ideas, they've got the songs, and if the scale of the band's ambition occasionally outstrips the ability of their producer, just as it will almost certainly outstrip the capability of their record label, those are problems that can be fixed. All it's going to take is a bit of thinking out of the goth box.
A stripped down, retro electro rhythm gives it that essential 130bpm poke. Odd little scritchy-scratchy noises prickle the sound, and some bass-gurgles rumble up from the sonic cellar. Over this, a goofy-but-cool vocal recites a tale of mile high shennanigans. I might guess this was one of Felix Da Housecat's productions if I didn't know this single was actually pieced together in Stockholm by Elle A, who makes minimalist electro-dance tunes at home, in classic DIY fashion, when she's not putting in the catwalk miles as a model. 'Jet Set' is available on assorted labels in various parts of the world (or you can download it from Elle A's MySpace page if you like) and in a veritable confusion of remixes. On my deck right now I've got the Audio Unit Vocal Mix, out on the UK edition of the single via the prolific British dance label Juno. Exactly how far this mix differs from the original track Elle A put together in her flat in Stockholm I'm not sure, but the tune has a minimalist, sexy-but-silly feel that reminds me of all that Belgian New Beat stuff that was around in the 80s, not to mention those classic collaborations between Mr Housecat and Miss Kittin. That's pretty cool territory to occupy, in my book. If you ever experience the urge to goof off on the dancefloor to the sound of thumping electronics (and, I confess, sometimes I get that very urge, although usually I resist it), here's a tune that'll do the right stuff.
Time to hit the floor at the weirdo disco. The Sixteens have slicked up their mutant dance sound and make an album that sounds like Giorgio Moroder decided to get into bed with Can, and now they're kicking each other under the covers and fighting over the duvet. Rhythms pulse like the band have a perpetual motion machine concealed in the back room; noises and voices weave in and out. The intriguing paradox of the Sixteens is that while I suspect Veuve Pauli and Kristo Bal are actually very good musicians (they could probably form an entirely standard rock band if they wanted to) the music of the Sixteens employs sound in an almost architectural manner. It's as if they build songs like other people build houses. Sometimes, the songs aren't even songs. On 'Song Species' it sounds like the Sixteens are making their own movie version of The Island Of Doctor Moreau. Then the beat cranks itself up for 'Cristalline Saturate', and we're grooving. In a suitably off-centre Sixteens-esque manner, of course, but definitely grooving. 'Lesson In Letting Go' is almost a boystown workout - it has the rattling metallic percussion and vintage syndrum sound, and we're suddenly reminded that the Sixteens, for all their globetrotting, actually hail from San Fransisco. Aficionados of art-infested noise need not fret, however, for 'An Old DC-10' is a slo-mo assemblage of sandpaper-rough beats and disembodied voices - an oddly hypnotic thing, and probably the nearest piece here to what you might call the classic Sixteens sound. Wait - there's a classic Sixteens sound? Ha, they'll never live that down! Then it's a headlong rush back to that pulsating dancefloor, the beats stacked up like bricks, sampled voices and found sounds stuffed between them like mortar. 'Pastel Tourist' is a surreal tale told by two voices, tangled like string and prodded by electronics, while 'Caroliner' is the slowie, the end-of-the-night smooching song the DJ plays by tradition, to enable the disco kids to cop off with each other. Of course, here in the Sixteens' disco, it's more of an unsettling almost-jazz ballad that suddenly kicks off into a sepulchral, uptempo, synth-fuzz and beats number. It wraps up a weirdly creative album from a band which has always carved its own path through the musical wilderness - and they do so again here. Notwithstanding the fact that some of the tunes this time round are almost recognisable as Stuff You Can Dance To, there's no danger that the Sixteens will deviate from their chosen path yet. The disco kids will have strange dreams tonight.
Mercurine have a rather wonderful band name - it hints at a certain fluidity, tough and tender, a ballsy femininity. They also have one of the most clunky song titles I've ever seen, in the ghastly 'Nu Groove', a phrase which sounds like a marketing man's attempt to make bland jazz-funk interesting. Fortunately, Mercurine don't play bland jazz-funk. They create serpentine, circling rhythms over which flurries of guitar pile up and disperse, here building into head-high drifts, there scattering in a commotion, while the vocals of Mera Roberts stalk through the musical landscape with a serenity that nevertheless hints at a firm-handed control. It's splendid, sweeping stuff, paradoxically demonstrated to greatest effect on the ridiculously named 'Nu Groove'. Once you're past the horror of the title, the song unfolds into a swirling epic that combines a soaring melody and a vocal that rises to touch the very underside of heaven, while still anchored to earth with low-down bass-ganks worthy of Dave Allen's finest moments in the mighty Shriekback. Mercurine's ability to combine the soft and the hard, the fluid and the solid, the etheral and visceral, is their trump card and secret superpower. If you require further evidence, lend an ear to the psychedelic nursery rhyme of 'Sunlightgreyskies' (nope, I don't know why three words have been run into one there, either) upon which Mera Roberts' vocal is layered and treated over plangent sweeps of guitar. Get a load of 'StrangeTimesLove' (and I don't know why it's written like that, either - Mercurine really do need to fix this song title thing) which employs a drum machine beat, shameless in its stark nakedness, as a counterpoint to a lush, ever-ascending mistral of a song. Drums kick in, and it all kicks off, the band throwing everything into the arrangement but still somewhow retaining a sense of airy space. In a way, Mercurine sound like the Cocteau Twins would've done, had they ever decided to crank it and go for it, but then their excursions into the ether - as on the waft and weft of 'Another Ending' - are just as effective. At times, Mercurine are genuinely catch-your-breath impressive. They just need to sort out the baffling way they have with their song titles.
Picking their way carefully through one of David Bowie's finest moments, Clan Of Xymox don't so much cover 'Heroes' as genuflect before it in attitudes of exaggerated respect. Measured, restrained, and meticulous, Ronny Moorings - who, in the studio, is Clan Of Xymox - treats the song with such caution it's almost as if he's afraid he'll break it. Sure, he's billed the lead track here as a 'slow industrial version' (for which read, basically, 'slow version'), so we know we're not exactly in for a rollercoaster ride. But it's all a bit too cautious for comfort. That splendid line in the original, where Bowie gets downright hysterical as he yells out how 'the guards shot above our heads!' is here declaimed in such mundane tones you'd think Ronny was simply calling the cat in for the night. Even the 'pop version' of the song, which speeds things up and adds the Standard Goth Band Sampled Choir ('Aaaaaahhhh!') doesn't add much excitement. It just sounds like All Living Fear on a bigger budget. Two versions of 'On A Mission' are also included here, representing Xymox with their dance heads on, plus 'Be My Friend', which, with its stabbing orchestral samples and stepping synths, sounds like something Apoptygma Bezerk would've done in the 90s. I confess I find this a slightly disappointing package, because Xymox covering Bowie should be a recipie for greatness - but greatness does not, alas, happen. You know what, Ronny? Enough with the meticulous restraint. Get some punk rock pills inside you!
come from Athens, Greece, they look like the girls from The Human League,
they play analogue everything, and they are instantly, effortlessly,
cool. In a sense, that's all you need to know about Marsheaux, but allow
me to add some detail. This limited edition release gives you two Marsheaux
albums for the price of one: 'Peek a Boo' represents their latest stuff.
'Ebay Queen' is the vintage hits. But you can dip in just about anywhere
and find good things, for Marsheaux seem to have downloaded the best
of 80s electro into their heads, and now they're using those influences
to create their own music that nods in the direction of those classic
influences (and occasionally covers them: New Order, the Lightning Seeds,
and Chris and Cosey songs all crop up in the Marsheaux repertoire) while
remaining pin-sharp and contemporary. 'Hanging On' has depth and atmosphere;
'Love Under Pressure' is a looming bassline over which electro-detail
'Dream Of A Disco' is a sweeping, swooning anthem that conjures up the
romance of the dancefloor with chiming synth chords, an insistent, synchopated
beat, and a glacial style of the kind that nobody has achieved since
Blondie took us clubbing in New York with 'Heart Of Glass'. The
production is resonant and luxurious throughout - it's as if you could
dip a spoon into Marsheaux's music and scoop it up like double cream,
a genuine achievement for a self-produced independent band. Believe
me, certain other contenders in the electro zone are going to sound
embarassingly weedy after this. While Marsheaux make no secret of their
influences - 'Computer Love' could be Kraftwerk with a broken heart,
for example - they remain defiantly themselves, and if you're a devotee
of the guitar-free end of the music rainbow I suspect you're going to
fall head over heels for them.
Bass guitar clanking like a freight train, the Bellmer Dolls anounce themselves with 'Push! Push!', a tense, urgent anthem of post-post-punk that more or less encapsulates this New York band in a musical nutshell. This six-tracker of a CD sounds very much like it was recorded live in a room, and it certainly puts the listener right in the middle of the band's rush-and-push rock 'n' roll tempest. Guitars shriek and chime in 'There Is No Oblivion', and the band hurl themselves at the chorus as if it's the edge of a cliff, but don't let their pell-mell dash fool you. There's control here, too, and unexpected restraint - 'L'Condition Humane' commences as an almost bluesy croon, before losing its head and getting all nervy and agitated as the guitar flurries up a storm. It's at this point we notice the name on the production credit. It's none other than Nick Cave's old mucker, Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos - a man who should be able to tease out a punkzoid blues epic if anyone can. But then, in the Bellmer Dolls he has an ideal band to work with, for they're obviously sucking up that freaky rock 'n' roll juice just like Iggy taught us. Go, dolls, Go!
third album sees the band step away from the left-field foundations
that underpinned their previous work, and go head-on for polished pop
perfection. That's a bit of a mixed blessing, for while Client make
very good polished pop stars, it's the odd angles and attitude, the
grit in the gears and the mess on the floor that apeals to me in their
music. Fortunately, the band's oddly enticing stand-offish cool is in
full effect. Coupled to production work from (among others) Youth, who
puts all manner of detail and colour into the sound, this ensures that
for all its accessible sheen Heartland is a collection of high-quality
Clientism. The trademark melancholia of Cient B's vocals is in full
effect. 'Can't stop this hurting feeling/It's my heartland' she sings
on the title track, as if staking out Client's territory in the Not
Happy zone. And, of course, it's the contrast - nay, the collision -
between the band's every-silver-lining-has-a-cloud attitude, and the
jaunty, uptempo electropop pieced together by tech-controller Client
A that makes it all hang together. The
band's penchant for staring into the heart of darkness while soundtracking
their existential gloom with a merry dancefloor melody is perversely
attractive. And when those dancefloor melodies encompass the gleeful
Glitter Band stomp of 'Lights Go Out' (nice bit of bump 'n' grind bass
in there by Client E, by the way) you can't help being swept along.
The after-hours shift and shuffle of 'Someone
To Hurt' sounds like the aftermath of one of those nights that's gone
horribly wrong. 'In The Morning' is a fetishistic anthem ('You look
good on your knees/You know it's time to please') as arranged by Lennon
and McCartney ('Yeah yeah yeah!'). 'Where's The Rock And Roll Gone'
is another in the band's apparently never-ending series of songs about...well,
rock 'n' roll. In this case it's a lament for the lost attitude and
enthusiam of a misspent rockin' youth. As ever, the key phrase is pronounced
in full. For Client, it's rock and roll. This band is nothing
if not precise. Throw the rumbustious rampage through Adam Ant's 'Xerox
Machine' into the mix - all syncopation and guitars - and, yes, Client
have done it again. Sure, they've polished up their sound. The jagged
edges of their earlier work don't stick out so far on this collection
of songs. But I think you'll like the way they gleam.
Gloriously ramshackle and fractious, History Of Guns are quite capable of staging an in-band ruck in the middle of a song. They do just that here, on their theme anthem 'History Of Guns'. If the sudden thuds, scuffles and shouts - 'Get off me! Stop it! Leave me alone! Fuck off!' - that erupt in the middle of the song are any guide, it all kicked off big style in the studio. But, coming as it does in the midst of a roaring, pummelling freakout of guitarz 'n' beatz, this sudden outburst sounds entirely appropriate. History Of Guns have certainly turned up the belligerence control on this one - and they're good at it, too. The band rampages like old-skool Stranglers, while Del Alien's geezerish vocals rasp like Ian Dury's delinquent brother. 'Your Obedient Servants' is a flamethrower blast so effective you could probably use it to weed your drive, while 'Secret Garden' sounds like Peter Murphy's attempt on the world gothic gargling record - 'Secret gaaaaaaarrrrrrden!'. Programmed hi-hats go crazy in the foreground, the distort-o-guitar hurls itself messily over everything. It all exudes an exhilarating menace, but you wouldn't want to get too close. This CD is a freebie, issued to mark a gig History Of Guns played earlier this year. The band frequently issue give-away CDs to commemorate their gigs, rather like those collectors' plates that commemorate notable events in the history of the Royal Family - the Queen's silver jubilee, Charles and Diana's wedding, the Queen Mum choking on a fish bone, that kind of thing. This does rather point up the fact that the band don't play many gigs, which seems downright odd, for the live circuit is where bands are made and broken these days. Given that History Of Guns are nothing if not brimming with sit-up-and-take-notice character, they'd surely stand a better chance than most of making the punters pay attention. And anyone who didn't would probably get asked to step outside.
Dim the lights, pour the champers. If ever there was a soundtrack to a late night in Soho, this is it. Sarah Nixey's debut solo album (she was previously the vocalist with Black Box Recorder) is a thing of minimalist sophistication, a lush electronic cocktail served on a highly polished tray of stainless steel. There's the contradiction: this music has a tough core of uncompromising zeroes and ones, but it slinks like an exotic dancer. Much of the sohistication is down to Sarah Nixey herself, who delivers the vocals with a cool assurance. You can almost envisage her quizically-raised eyebrow as she surveys her cabaret audience from the vantage point of a velvet-trimmed stage. The particular track that'll have them packing the floor at Ronnie Scott's (if Sarah Nixey has not yet played there, she really should) has got to be 'Oblivion'. It has the lot: an addictive lilt, an insistent rhythm, and some plings and plongs of electric piano which - stop me if this sounds downright silly - recalls the laid-back west coastisms of Steely Dan. Now there's a reference I'm sure Sarah Nixey never expected to get, but in fact her effortless, relaxed style fits the comparison uncannily well. She strolls through the songs with an understated confidence, as if knowing exactly where she should place her vocal in relation to the ever-sinuous music. Her version of the old Human League number 'The Black Hit Of Space' sounds oddly gauche in this otherwise refined company, and I suspect half the reason she covered the song was to provide an instant heads-up for electro fans. It's a fun and faithful version, but I suspect Sarah Nixey's true musical direction lies along a far more urbane and mannerly route.
Devotees of Obscure Stuff From Quite A Few Years Ago might recall a band from Manchester called Mantra, who put out two albums of splendidly, incongruously, assertively ethereal atmospherics, before vanishing headlong into the Where Are They Now? file. Well, now two thirds of Mantra are back, in the guise of Red Painted Red. This four-song EP, neatly and unconventionally packaged in a paper sleeve, is their first release. Although fans of Mantra will greet the overall sound of the band with a smile of recognition, Red Painted Red are not simply a continuation of Mantra by other means. They're a bit more of an upfront proposition, accosting the listener with their rolling, skipping, sidling, glitch-classical torch songs and steampunk-jazz ballads. The essential feeling is reserved, yet urgent. Vocalist Yvonne Neve's voice is produced to sound up close, intimate. In fact, if you turn your back on your hi-fi during 'Flower' it sounds like she's right there in the room with you, a downright unsettling experience. 'Radionoise' churns up a reggae lope, and progressively builds to a teetering stack of noise, as shuddering, shredded guitar and effects are piled up and up. Red Painted Red certainly know how to build a wall of sound - and then they'll poke holes in it with a vocal sharpened to a point. I'm pleased to see that the band are just as far out on their own limb as Mantra ever were, and still as utterly unique. This isn't pop music, you know. This is the sound of DNA spirals unwinding.
Red Painted Red: MySpace
A compilation of electronic complications from Freudstein, arch-electro weirdness-weavers from Brighton. This album brings together remixes the band has done for other people, plus other people's interpretations of the Freudstein sound. As such, it's a bit of a 'for fans only' affair, a clearing out of the product-cupboard that might leave the uninitiated wondering just what Freudstein themselves sound like, when untouched by other hands. Still, there's good stuff here, like the rolling disco-thunder of 'Misadventure', as remixed by Gary Hughes (who might be a big dance scene name for all I know - I've never previously heard of him) and the gutteral guitar-thrash mash of 'Wings Of Death', here billed as the 'Agent remix'. Further down the stack-o-tunes, Freudsten give Chaos Engine's 'Angel Of Ruin' a good seeing-to, turning the original industrio-ballad into a spooky bass boom barrage, while Swarf's 'Fall' is transformed into a club workout that leaves the original song steamrollered flat, and then adds a neat little acoustic coda. Curiously, and encouragingly, none of the material here sounds dated, even though some of it goes back years (Swarf's 'Fall' originally came out in 2001, which is prehistory as far as the dance scene is concerned). That points up the key thing about Freudstein: they've always gone their own way, regardless of scene-fashion. Good on them for doing so, is what I say.
All spikes and angles, Black Ice play a variety of avant-rock as bone-cold as winter, but with a strange appeal that will pull in even the most enthusiastic devotees of warmth and comfort. The scritch-scratch of guitar, the scrape of violin, the thrum and thunk of bass encircle the vocals of Miss Kel, who declaims the words with an implacable froideur. She makes Siouxsie sound as cheery as Charlotte Church, but while the band clearly aren't in the business of making their sound conventionally accessible, it works rather splendidly. 'In The Dark' is a folk-punk lament, the bass and drums marching forward like a New Orleans funeral procession as the violin and voice spiral upwards like smoke in frosty air. 'In Ruins' kicks up the pace a bit, as the bass rattles like dry bones. 'Elements Of Chance' staggers along like a hurdy-gurdy held together by sticky tape; 'Hypnagognia' drifts ever-closer, like fog over winter ground, all atmosphere and icicles. In a way, Black Ice signal their musical area a bit too obviously with their band name - but then, if they were called Yellow Sunshine we probably wouldn't pay attention in the first place, would we? Uncompromising and implacable, Black Ice convincingly demonstrate that bleak is good.
Rampaging around gleefully, as if they've just gatecrashed a wedding reception and nicked all the booze, Pzychobitch make speedfreaked electro-dance workouts spiced with a knockabout humour and shameless silliness. And - cover your ears, vicar - you're never more than a minute away from a reference to 'pussy'. If that sounds a bit daft, well, that's the plan. Pzychobitch aren't in the business of making frowny industrial anthems for the serious noise crowd, although they can certainly rack up the distorted beats with the best of 'em. They're here to get a good stomp on and party to the sound of suitably tortured electronics, and vocalist Sina has just the right combination of come-hither sexiness and fuck-off assertiveness to make it work. She delivers the vocals in a variety of voices, from hyped-up rap to haughty disdain, and in two languages: English and German. The English lyrics sometimes mangle the language in a fashion which (I assume) is unintentional, but weirdly effective - when Sina describes the predatory female character in 'Go Pussy Go' as 'Obstinate and too much proud' she conjures up an image more readily than a strictly grammatical rendering of the phrase would do. Too much proud? Yes, I've met people like that! The lyric is all the more effective for being recited in the precise tones of a newsreader on one of those multinational TV stations you find in central Europe, which use English as a handy common language. 'Pussy Gang' is in German, and all of a sudden Pzychobitch sound like Nina Hagen on disco biscuits. This, by the way, is a compliment. 'Lotus Eater' is as bizarrely sexy as a song which starts with the line 'I taste your drool' can possibly be, while 'Maschinerie' chases the ghost of vintage DAF through a filter of shuddering analogue electricity. This is an album which tweaks the nose of conventional electro-dance. Pzychobitch are a band unafraid to get down and have fun with a genre in which, these days, leans towards the hand-staple-forehead merchants of EBM doom to an extent that just ain't healthy. And if Pzychobitch can kick a bit of abrasive noise around while they're on the dance floor, hey, that's all part of the party. I'll buy a ticket for that.
The Opposite Sex wear their musical hearts shamelessly on their sleeves. Clearly influenced by British post-punk music, you can hear a fair chunk of the alternative 80s in this Washington DC band's sound. That's not a bad thing, of course, both from a business point of view - current alternative music derives much inspiration from that era, and it certainly hasn't done the likes of Franz Ferdinand any harm - and also in musical terms, for The Opposite Sex have come up with a spiky, punchy sound that works rather well. 'Violent Heartstrings' sounds like early Cure doing battle with the vigourous horns of Pigbag, while 'Somewhere Girl' racks everything up into a frantic, squalling musical jalopy that always keeps things neatly structured while nevertheless being TOTALLY PUNK ROCK. 'Does Anyone Truly Love Anyone Else?' kicks the question around in a reflective mood, showing that the band can take things down a bit when they have a mind to do so - although the guitar is never less than robust throughout. 'Shattering Walls' sounds like Echo And The Bunnymen after they'd been given a good working over with cattle prods. The influence is unmistakable, but the delivery is hyped up and overdriven, the vocal a freaked-out rip. It's exhilarating stuff, and that's the key point about The Opposite Sex. Although you can indeed sit down with this album and play Spot The Influence on many of the songs, the band put so much of their own fire and brimstone into the brew that it all works. Intense and sinewy, powerful and ragged, The Opposite Sex would probably be well on their way to stardom by now if they were a London based band. Hey, all you post-punker music fans - fancy a pilgrimage to Washington DC?
Here we have the latest musical project of Melanie Garside, now trading under her Maple Bee identity, although her voice - that delicious other-worldly wobble - is so recognisable I don't know who's going to be fooled. Huski is a collaboration with all-round producer and music maker Pike (yep, just Pike), and the music is a slink-and-stomp excursion into ethereal glam. Now, that might sound like a contradiction, but in fact Huski do manage to tie those two disparate styles together more naturally than you'd perhaps expect. 'Undatow' has an almost cinematic background of synthesized strings, but a loping beat up front, around which Ms Bee (or can I call her Maple?) wraps an effortless vocal. 'Make Me Your Picture' gives it the full Goldfrapp, with a thumping glam beat that is just crying out for a good workout on the dancefloor while wearing glitter-encrusted platform boots. It must be noted that the ghost of Goldfrapp does stalk Huski's music quite shamelessly here and there, to the point where you might start wondering if Pike and Maple Bee took a look at the success of Goldfrapp and decided that they'd quite like a slice of that action. But where Huski establish their own identity is on songs such as 'Finally Free', a wistful drift of a wide-screen ballad, and 'There She Goes', where a muted electro-pulse backs up a swaying, to-and-fro excursion into rock 'n' roll hypnosis. 'Urtica' (apparently some sort of imaginary planet upon which Huski think they reside - honestly, these weirdos) is a cruise through clouds of glittering interstellar dust on a dub-techno spaceship, but 'Everything Changes' and 'Precious' bring us back to earth with lushly-produced introspection, and some delicate, controlled voicals from Maple Bee. Huski are a beguiling pop group, and in a sense it was probably a mistake to front-load this album with the glam-stompers, because that's not really what the band are all about. Dive in to the warm pool of Huski's ballads, and discover the honey at the core.
What strangeness have we here? This: a trippy ride through post-industrial atmospheres, guided by multi-instrumentalist and producer James Curcio. Although SubQtaneous seems to be a collaborative effort, with many names in the credits, it's James Curcio's name that crops up most often. This music runs riot from dubbed-up rumbling to heavily-fuzzed guitar workouts, from incongruous jazz odysseys to bouts of bad-trip psychedelia. At times, it resembles rock music, particularly on 'Daily Grind', which sounds like the kind of mashed-up splattery racket you'd get if you shoved Ministry down a waste disposal unit. At other times, rhythms you could (almost) dance to are hauled into the sonic melee, and there are effect-laden interludes and sample-soaked soundscapes, although even when things get a little mellow the listener can never quite escape the suspicion that monsters lurk just beyond the music. 'All You Know' is a jazzy rap, springing forward on the vibrations of a double bass, and in a way it's the most radical thing here. Stick out a white label 12" with this track on it, and I bet it would be all over hip hop radio in a week. 'Panning For Gold In Rivers Of Blood' sounds like someone slipped the orchestra that accompanies silent movies some amphetamines, while 'Out Of Control' belies its title with a tumbling, chopped-up neo-rock rampage. I'm not at all sure who SubQtaneous think is going to buy their wayward art, for it's obviously not aimed at any particular market, and the band - if indeed there is a band - takes a particular delight in eating generic boundaries for breakfast. But you know what? I'm glad this stuff is out there.
Stark, minimal, and uncompromising, Swann Danger make music as bleak as Siberia on a cold day, but, paradoxically, there's a heady attraction to their sound, a curious raw appeal that pulls the listener in. Building everything on implacably precise bass and drums (the original duo of vocalist/guitarist Cynthia Mansourian and bassist Andy Zevallos are now joined by Robert Perales on drums) the Swann Danger sound harks back to Metal Box-era PiL in its angular almost-dub sweeps and skitters, surges and flows. In a way, it's a very British sound - you can imagine Swann Danger cropping up on the John Peel show circa 1981, but in fact they're graduates of the Californian school of post-rock invention. Cynthia Mansourian sings with a fatalistic clamour, like Lydia Lunch gazing through windows at rain, while her guitar pokes the listener like needles. The songs frequently kick conventional structures aside in favour of unexpected tangents: 'The Divide' skids off into an almost militaristic workout, the drums hammering an uncompromising tattoo while the guitar scribbles over the top like crayon. But then the title track, urged along by a bass-pulse worthy of the great Jah Wobble himself, ushers us past the velvet rope and the frowning bouncers, into the death disco. Here, the band suddenly become bizarrely immediate and accessible, the bass holding things to a danceable throb even as the drums throw in punctuation and the guitar scratches at the song like fingernails on a locked door. Now that works. Swann Danger certainly aren't going to be everyone's idea of a good time, but I'm quite happy to point them at my head.
'What if Alice left Wonderland and started a band?' asks the promo blurb. I'm tempted to reply, 'She'd probably come up with something more interesting than this,' for despite their coy reference to that classic of imaginative fiction, and notwithstanding the coquettish glance singer Victoria Mazze is giving us on the CD cover, the mundane fact is that The Divine Madness play a very ordinary brand of adult oriented rock. Conventionally-arranged rock songs come and go in an unruffled, mid-tempo stream. Guitars chug obediently, never straining at the leash. Strings soar. Keyboards plonk. The vocals are that conventional, overblown MOR slither - you know, where every vowel is stretched into a mock-weary slur, and the first person singular becomes something like 'Awhahhhhhh' instead of a neatly-enunciated 'I'. On 'Total Addiction' (possibly the closest The Divine Madness get to a visceral rock song, but don't bother getting out of your seat, it's not that exciting) Victoria Mazze wants someone to 'Hold me taaaaahhhd' and tell her 'Everything's awwwraaahhhd' - and, leaving aside the numbing banality of the lyrics themselves, I feel a sudden urge to buy the poor girl elocution lessons for Christmas. I frankly don't know what sort of audience The Divine Madness think they're going to attract - I suppose there might be a few mature soft-rockers out there who are still looking for the new Linda Ronstadt, or maybe a few enthusiasts for drivetime rock who can't wait for the next Heart album. Maybe that's the band's target market right there - ageing sales reps who want something vaugely rocky but soothingly conventional to play in the Mondeo on those long motorway trips. If so, they'll doubtless love this stuff - especially as the band have been generous enough to inflict a double album on us. The two discs are billed as 'Paradiso' and 'Inferno', which, to my ears, equates to 'Soft rock' and 'Not quite so soft rock', but frankly I think I need to stop listening right now, before The Divine Madness make me go soft in the head.
Take cover, pop kids. The Process Void go like this: CRASH! THUD! SQUARRRRK! GURGLE! It's the sound of heavy-duty industial noise, not so much throbbing gristle as weirdly pulsating meat products. Then they throw in walloping disco beats and shuddering synth runs, like they're taking Front 242 from behind. Occasionally, there'll be a nod to Real Songwriting ('Retribution' actually has a chorus, of sorts) but mostly we're in the beatz, noize, and shouty-crackers vocal zone. It must be said that there's a lot of this stuff about - The Process Void can hardly claim to be unique these days, for the industrial scene is infested with outfits who make, by and large, variations on this same racket. If you've heard a bit of Painbastard, for example, you will already be on familiar terms with the vocal style of The Process Void's Alex J, who is the main man and lead shouter here. But it's well done, and - crucial point for those of us with delicate ears - never overdone. The noise dies down from time to time and a little subtlety and atmosphere is allowed to break through. 'Arcane Zone' is a moody dance instrumental that manages to be quite relaxing, notwithstanding the relentless crash of the offbeat, while 'Comfort Zone' is a minimalist beat-samples-distortion workout that nevertheless manages to be threateningly assertive. If The Process Void have a problem, it's their lack of an instant regognition factor. Given the crowded nature of the industrial wastelands, it may not be easy to get Johnny Punter to pay attention to yet another faceless industrial outfit doing the rhythms, shouting, and atmospheres thing - especially as The Process Void come from Australia. I can't see many promoters rushing to dish up European dates when we have plenty of bands right here who cover similar ground. But if you're of the rivetheaded persuasion, there's stuff here I think you'll dig.
Let's go on safari. Tonal Y Nagual create what I suppose you'd call world-industrial music (have I just invented a genre here? I really must stop doing that) which seems to be influenced by the wind blowing over Tibetan mountain passes and the steaming, bubbling swamps of the Everglades as much as any musical connections, or indeed the hi-tech urban-everything notions that conventionally underpin the industrial genre. This album is full of flavours and atmospheres, textures and senses, but just to allay any suspicions that the band are musical eggheads on a backpacking holiday, they'll casually throw in a song called 'My Girlfriend Is A Car', which sounds like one of those whacko-electro numbers that Daniel Miller would release on Mute Records in the early days, in the guise of an imaginary band. Actually, you could indeed play this number up against 'Warm Leatherette' and the two songs would fit together uncannily neatly. There's an idea for any DJs with a dancefloor deathwish who may be reading this. Tonal Y Nagual's sonic explorations certainly aren't conventional, but they keep their beats reassuringly regular, so even in their most out-there moments there's something to latch on to. In a way, this album could be the natural successor to Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - it has the same kind of compelling strangeness and hinted-at humour. Weird, but really rather wonderful.
Another emanation from the Mythos Media monster, in this case a solo project from P.Emerson Williams. And - somewhat surprisingly - we're in the rock zone, sort of. Veil Of Thorns are not exactly a band, but the music does inhabit a rocky landscape, even if it sometimes doesn't seem entirely comfortable there. P. Emerson Williams is responsible for vocals and most instruments, with James Curcio on drums (I'm delighted to note, by the way, that the album was engineered by someone called Fluffy) and together they brew up a dust storm of tight-but-loose guitar riffs and driving, nervy, drums. Let's sample some: 'The Enigmatic Barely Atone' has a lost-in-the-desert feel, as if the sands of the Sahara are shifting under the music as it hurtles towards the sunset. 'Delusions Of Excitement' is a fine title for a spooky, sepulchral song - the desert night has fallen, the world is hushed. Even the bass seems muted here, rumbling somewhere in the background as if Steve Severin was hiding behind a pyramid. 'Corrode And Engulf' (Veil Of Thorns are great on titles) is a grind of treated cello, half way between a lament and a threat. This music is, naturally, high on atmosphere, and if, at times, it teeters on the brink of proggy indulgence it has enough latent attitude to pull back from the brink. It's like nothing else out there, that's for sure.
Strangely, for a band that once based itself in the UK and has expressed admiration for such 90s Brit-indie heroes as the Stone Roses, Berlin's Pink Turns Blue have made a very gothic album. Fortunately, it's gothic in that early-80s sense of noir-tinged post-punk rock, spacious and minimal in its arrangements, mid-tempo and meticulous in its execution. Built around solidly regular chang-chang-chang guitar riffs and neat, exact, drum patterns, 'Ghost' is an album as tidy as a spring cleaned kitchen. There is no clutter here; no extravagance. If Pink Turns Blue were clothing, they'd be a collection of neatly-pressed dress shirts - all of them firmly buttoned up to the neck. That's sometimes a frustration. It would be nice to hear Pink Turns Blue cut loose and get crazy occasionally, but they just don't indulge in such stuff. However, the saving grace of this album is that it's done so well. Vocalist Mic Jogwer delivers the lyrics with the easy aplomb of a poet reciting familiar works, while the guitar darts about like an active but well-trained dog that knows not to tug at the leash. If all of this makes it sound that Pink Turns Blue are not exactly exciting...well, OK, there is nothing here that'll have you breathless on the edge of your seat. But the crisp, methodical, almost contemplative style of the band has its own appeal. Pink Turns Blue are quietly impressive on their own terms.
An album that does not, alas, live up to the promise of its title. I was expecting a heady romp through some low-slung, swaggering debauchery, but I fear Elusive don't quite deliver. The desert imagery and the band shots in the inlay booklet drop a clue to the area we're in: see how all three members of the band are rockin' the cowboy hats 'n' shades look? Can we say Carl McCoy? Yes, I think we can. That's not to say that Elusive are another bunch of Neph copyists, although they've certainly copped the look. They're a straight-up hard rock outfit with a certain penchant for relentless chugging riffs and big six-string crescendos - hear how the guitars go SCHLAAANNNNGGG! every time the choruses come round. Stentorian vocals declaim lyrics which hint at mystical melodrama while remaining, by and large, incomprehensible. Try this, from 'Run Away': 'She moves between light and shadow/Drawn towards/Drawn to the stars/In fire, untamed/Blood rushing/It's all so strange'. Well, you said it, mate. I get the distinct feeling that Elusive write their lyrics by nailing mystical buzz-phrases together, without much thought for meaning. Slap the words over some ballsy riffin', and you've got the new rock sensation right there. Well, if you're a diehard rock fan, maybe that's the way Elusive seem. Me, I just don't think the world needs a new Nazareth.
Here's an unexpected, but very welcome, discovery. This CD was sent to me by Schmoof, who we met above, because there's a Schmoof remix tucked away in the extra tracks on this single. But Bee Stings are an interesting proposition in themselves, if this neat racket is anything to go by. Led from the front by a take-no-shit female vocal (the singer's name, I gather from the band's MySpace page, is Valkyrie, which seems entirely appropriate) 'Pressure' starts off deceptively quietly, but just when you've figured that the song is a nice poppy little ballad, it erupts in a squall of staccato rhythms and skidding keyboards, boldly-struck guitar and bristling attitude. It's a fine burst of strop-pop, and definitely a heads-up for further investigation. In amongst the remixes, Schmoof sprinkle their analogue fairy dust over the song and almost turn it into a Donna Summer disco hit, which probably made Bee Stings raise an eyebrow or two when they heard it. But hey, it works.
Up Yer Pod...
Let's round off this unfeasibly long page with a place to go for some good old download juice. This time our zeroes and ones arrive courtesy of former London club DJ SamSam, who has been hurling new music up on the web for a few years now via the online noise machine he calls Radio Free Abattoir.
Now operated from a beach in Florida (it's all right for some) the music selections change frequently, and you can always be sure of hearing intriguing stuff that you won't catch anywhere else. Check out the essential locations linked below, and get some in. (And tell SamSam that Uncle N sent you!)