Archived content from Nemesis To Go issue 7.
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from issue 7.
reviews from issue 7.
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KASMs are number one band in a genre of one. They call their music 'shriekbeat', which I suppose is one way of getting in first with an appropriate description, before the music media goes and does something unhelpful like calling you a goth band.
But there are certainly plenty of shrieks and beats in the KASMs racket, all deployed with a manic, wide-eyed gusto that scales heights of thunderous tribalism and spiky punkzoid freakery, but never tips over the edge into mere uncontrolled noise. That's the KASMs dichotomy: this is a band which keeps a steady hand on the wheel even as their foot is planted firmly on the accelerator. Madness and control in equal measures. While this music abounds in the rough 'n' tumble of bass and drums being pummelled into a peculiar pandemonium, and the clash and clatter of guitars being given a good seeing-to, KASMs are never less than in total charge of their heady tribal art-racket.
Some tunes: 'Male Bonding' is a pumping rhythm with the guitar trying to elbow its way into the argument. Vocalist Rachel Mary Callaghan lets rip a wild, reverb-treated caterwaul, as if she's singing up from a deep well while the rest of the band dance in a circle around the top. 'Insects' is a squall and a squeal and a stalking rhythm, carefully stepping forward as if the band are trying to catch grasshoppers. 'Spayed' sounds like the place Public Image Limited should've gone to after The Flowers Of Romance, with its spooky, treated strings, sudden beat bursts and points-east-of-Brick-Lane feel.
'Don't Hit The Bottom' is, I suppose, the closest KASMs come to yer actual indie, and it's still a stop-start exercise in left-field physicality. 'Mackerel Sky' sounds unfeasibly like it's going to go into 'House Of The Rising Sun' when the guitar kicks off - but then the rhythm fires its missiles in three directions at once, and the whole thing tumbles over itself into an enticingly unsettling KASMs kick-about. 'Murmer' comes brawling out of the traps like a banshee in a bad mood, but then - just when you think it's all going to escalate to a big Blam! - the song takes itself apart, as one by one the musicians drop out and shut up. Eventually only one line of vocal remains: 'She's dead,' remarks Rachel, as if commenting on the weather. And that's it; and that's KASMs. Counter-intuitive to the last.
Experiment On A Bird In The Air Piump
A short burst - all four tracks and seven vinyl inches of it - of The Birds in full effect. 'Lights Out' is a rasp of bass guitar, a sudden surge of rhythm, a basement-soul vocal. It starts fast, it stays fast, it chops off without ceremony one minute later, a burst of Birds-noise that gives you all the essentials in one sonic salvo. And, for those who've just joined us, it neatly demonstrates the band's cardinal point: in minimalism, there is maximalism. An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump employ three drums, two basses, and three female voices - the latter element only one at a time. From these few ingredients, they construct effortless detonations of visceral noise, leavened with an instinctive pop sensibility which means, even at their most turbulent, we're always dealing with songs, not merely sound.
'Saints Don't Cry' is a stew of soulful tension, the bass dropping out at intervals to let the dums get a good tribal commotion on, while the band's cover of Sonic Youth's '100%' trips up the listener by matching a temperate vocal, soaked in equal parts detatched restraint and reverb, to the rhythmic tumult. This is the control in the experiment, if you like. 'The Past Between Us' cranks it all up again for an assertive blat-and-rumble through a classic put-down song, arranged for noise and voice: 'You're sinful! You're pitiful!' - and then, with a scratch and scrape of bass strings, it's over and done, just like the relationship in the song. These sins sound good to me.
Splendidly conceptual theatrical nutters on stage, purveyors of a strange kind of hybrid industrio-metal on record - Maleficent are not your usual rock band, that's for sure. Given my extensive history of gravitating to bands who are, in one way or another, not usual, that's a large part of the reason why I like 'em, and I speak as one who normally runs a mile when anything resembling a metal band heaves into view over the rock 'n' roll horizon. On this, their debut release, Maleficent mash up the pound and pulse of industrial strength electronics with an implacable wall of guitar, and add a hefty dose of vocal histrionics courtesy of twin vocalists Martini, who gives it everything from operatic diva-isms to a mutant bayou-blues snarl, and Mortimer Cain, who takes care of the sepulchral growling end of things.
'Demize' is a freak-rock blast, built upon a powerhouse rumble of overdriven electronica, everything erupting into a monster chorus - it's as if someone plugged Queen Adreena into the mains and threw the high voltage switch. 'Malice And Desire' is a Bladerunner blues, scratchy electronics and threatening bass soundtracking an oblique war of the sexes lyric. 'Black Mass Destruction' is possibly the nearest thing here to a conventional metal song, but in true Maleficent style it doesn't get that near. A lyrical melodrama that sounds like something Marilyn Manson would dream about after too many cheese sandwiches, the song is a lurching, heavyweight, post-Sabbath grind, hauling itself along as if weighed down by the sheer mass of that rampaging guitar.
The instrumental interludes 'Soggoth's Old Peculiar' (nope, I don't know what the title means, either: sounds like a beer to me) and 'Bleeding Altar' hint at an almost Foetus-esque take on industrial ambiences. As it happens, I'd like to hear what Maleficent would come up with if they went into a studio with JG Thirlwell at the production controls. The most accessible song here - and probably a low-stress way to get into a band which is not necessarily in the business of making things easy for the listener - is 'Where The Wild Roses Grow', in which Nick Cave's classic murder ballad is kitted out with big boots and attitude. Strange and scary, and good stuff too.
There's nothing like starting as you mean to go on. Spit Like This open their album with a song called 'Sex, Drugs And Heavy Metal', which lets us know exactly what we're in for. The song is a glam-slam calling card dropped on the mat, a statement of intent that stakes out the band's territory in no uncertain fashion. And if you want to get territorial about it, I'd say the Kingdom Of Spit Like This lies somewhere between AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes by Hanoi Rocks - but they've probably got a reciprocal trade agreement with the People's Republic Of Punk Rock in there somewhere, too.
Mixing gutsy, unpretentious, glammed-up rock wiith a heathy dose of punk attitude and a very British sense of knockabout humour, Spit Like This certainly don't deal in introspection and sophistication. That stuff is for wimps. They're a loud, trashy, and unashamedly good-time bunch of rockers. They're sussed enough to keep it simple and direct, and as a result We Won't hurt You But We Won't Go Away is like being slapped upside the head with thirteen hefty glam-hammers.
The band drop a dollop of pop suss into the brew, too - check out the mighty neo-Glitter band riff 'n' wallop of 'Heart Theif', and the Suzy Quatro handclaps of 'Trust Your Instincts'. Spit Like This could easily have been chart stars in the glamtastic seventies. You can imagine them mixing it with the likes of Wizzard and The Sweet on Top Of The Pops, matching 'em riff for riff. Mind you, dear old Top Of The Pops would've probably censored 'Down On You', which challenges Frank Zappa in the Rude Rock Song stakes. Meanwhile, 'Sleaze Sells...But Who's Buying?' is one of those boisterous Friday-night-and-I-just-got-paid anthems that'll have 'em moshing when it comes on the jukebox down the Crobar. It's all instant classic stuff, and if there's not much in the way of innovation or self-consciously furrowed-brow boundary pushing here - well, that's missing the point. The Spit Like This agenda is simple: they're here to get rocked. Rock, as I believe the saying has it, On.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Amanda Palmer has never been compared to William Shatner before, but hey, there's a first time for everything. I'm drawing that comparison because Amanda Palmer's producer and collaborator on this album is Ben Folds. He creates a thunderous soundscape around Amanda Palmer's insistent, staccato, on-the-beat vocals and assertive ivory thumping, and the overall up-frontness of it all reminds me of the similar job he did on William Shatner's album Has Been. It's always a mixed blessing, I suppose, to work with a producer who has such a recognisable style. I remember the days when Stephen Hague managed to make the Pet Shop Boys and New Order sound exactly the bloody same, and while Ben Folds doesn't go quite that far with William and Amanda (let's face it, that would require access to other dimensions) there's no mistaking who's at the desk here.
For all that, this is very much Amanda Palmer's album. If you're a fan of her fervid vocalisations and no-shit keyboard playing in the Dresden Dolls, you'll find much to delight you here - although personally I find the sheer in-your-face-ness of much of this album rather gets in the way. Amanda Palmer can, it seems, do that mysterious Proper Singing stuff when she feels inclined, but her usual vocal style amounts to vehemently punchy recitations, every word bang on the beat and punctuated by a hefty plunnngg on her keyboard. Examples: 'Astronaut' and 'Runs In The Family' are, frankly, frantic, and leave me breathless even though I've done no more than sit and listen. 'Leeds United' is an exercise in piano-punk, the vocal produced right up to the edge of distortion, while the witty lyric - 'Who needs love when there's Dukes of Hazzard?' - is hurled at the unwary listener like bricks. The big finish - a frenzy of squalling horns - is a shameless exersise in OTT-ism.
Fortunately, elsewhere, Amanda Palmer is allowed to ease up and inject a little reflective melancholy, as on 'Have To Drive'. and 'Another Year'. Here, I think, she really allows us to hear her real quality, and Ben Folds mercifully keeps his attack-dog production on a short leash. Elsewhere, 'Guitar Hero' is a fine exercise in the glam-rock vernacular - and here here the stomp-it-up style finally comes into its own - while 'Oasis' is as jaunty a romp through a teen rape scenario as you'll ever hear.
Amanda Palmer is a witty and incicive lyricist, and an engaging, humourous live performer - but I wish she'd do an album where it's just herself and a piano in a room. No producers shoving it all up to eleven, no rocking it up or pounding it hard. There's a fine line between less is more, and a touch too much. This album errs on the loud side of the line too often for comfort.
Doyens of the new new wave, leading lights of post-post punk, New York art rockers par excellence. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are masters of all that is ripped, stripped and clipped in the world of modern mangled guitar. All of which makes this album a slight surprise, because this time round the band have brought the synths in.
From the wailing and gnashing of teeth that this move provoked from the more guitar-oriented quarters of the band's fanbase, you'd think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had betrayed the very spirit of punk rock, but in fact this album is a rather cool slice of quintessential, couldn't-be-anyone-else Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sparky, energetic, but always with an eye to a nifty pop hook, the band know this stuff backwards and forwards. Yes, the fuzz and crackle of an overdriven guitar might be elbowed aside by the shimmer and gleam of polished electronics, and there's a certain misty-eyed romance at work here, too, but in essential respects this is classic Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
So, you'll probably already know if you like It's Blitz or not, but nevertheless, lend an ear to the superbly supercharged shudder of 'Zero' - urgent, pulsing synth lines with Karen O sounding breathlessly hyper over the top - I mean, what's not to like? Then there's 'Soft Shock', a basement electro-rumble incongruously nailed to a pop song, the drums thwacking behind the electronics as if making the case for organics. If 'Runaway' is a little too mellow for comfort - c'mon, we don't buy Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums to hear AOR ballads - 'Shame And Fortune' gets a good fuzz on, and 'Hysteric' has a nice, wistful sci-fi feel. 'Little Shadow' wraps things up with the big cinematic finale, the camera pulling up from the clifftop as the band stand at the edge, staring into the future. Sure, this album isn't by any means the parade of ballbusting guitar workouts that made the band's name, but synthpop becomes them. Round here we still say 'Yeah!' to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
A five-track CD here, which seems to be something between a demo and a DIY release. Like a blissed-out, otherworldly Raveonettes, swirling in a warm sea of reverb, Phantom position themselves equidistant between the island of fuzzed-out shoegazing, the folkie foreshore, and the atoll of good old rock 'n' roll. Singer/guitarist Elise Martins - who, it seems, is the principal person in Phantom - has a glassily haunting voice that hints at emotions kept in check, passion tempered by a weary, wary, eye on gritty reality. The music surges like tides, the guitar always plangent. 'Broken Bones' is a winstful ballad with just a touch of bite; the keening violin on 'Running Wild' curls around the vocal like mist.
'Heroes And Idols' adds some upfront drumming to the mix, which brings a bit of force and punch to a music which, otherwise, might drift a little too close to the pleasantly inconsequential end of things. And that's a key point, I think. Phantom's strength is the understated pull of the songs - but it's a fine line between 'undertated restraint' and merely unobtrusive. Elise Martins has got something cool going on here, but I think she needs to accost the listener a little more. There are moments where it seems she's merely being polite on the other side of the room. It's not like I want Elise Martins to turn into a manic mistress of pounding thunder - let's face it, one Amanda Palmer is enough for anyone - but maybe this Phantom needs a slightly more physical manifestation.
They don't have a label - not even a name-we-thought-up-in-the-pub faux-label - and this three-track CD doesn't have a cover pic or even a title (I've kindly filled that gap for the band by unofficially naming the CD after its lead track). Even the names of the band members are not given in full on their MySpace page. The Cursors are obviously not in the business of building their brand identity.
Fortunately, they are in the business of cooking up a scratchy storm of tight but torn apart rock 'n' roll. Pitching up somewhere between Lene Lovich and Lydia Lunch, the vocalist bawls and drawls and whoops and hollers while the band keep it buzzsaw-sharp and economical behind her. 'YoYo' is staccato and twitchy; 'Awful' lopes and lurches like it's tetchy and hungover after a wild night (I particularly like the singer's manic hoots and cackles on this one), while '9/4' (and I don't even know how to pronounce that) is a nightmare ballad that sounds like the last thing sailors hear before the mermaids pull them under. Three slices of lo-fi low life from a band that has some fine rackets in their pockets, and plenty of anti-pop potential to boot. Now all they need is a marketing strategy.
The Cursors: MySpace
Five tracks from Swann Danger's ouevre - a couple of which have been out on previous releases - gathered onto twelve inches of champagne vinyl (a kind of transluscent golden colour, in case you're taking notes). A neat artifact - I've been a sucker for coloured vinyl ever since I got 'Tomorrows Girls' by the UK Subs on blue - and a good way to get some Swann Danger product in your life. Sure, you can hear Swann Danger on MySpace and elsewhere (and I certainly recommend that you give 'em a listen), but I'm old-skool enough to appreciate the hard copy. Especially if it's coloured vinyl.
Lead track here, 'Stripper', is a lurching mutant blues, built upon a slo-mo beat that packs a brute wallop, the drums so physical you almost feel their presence in the room. The bass jabs and prods and nudges the whole thing along, while Cynthia Mansourian's vocal, pithy and sardonic, prowls ahead of the pack. A nagging electronic buzz lends a spooky Doctor Who feel, and if that seems like an odd reference that's because it's just not possible to nail Swann Danger's ruthless racket down to a handful of handy rock 'n' roll comparisons - although you can bet Cynthia Mansourian's been compared to Siouxsie somewhere down the line.
'Thin And Gold' galumphs forward with implacable determination (Swann Danger do implacable determination better than anyone) while 'You Were Down' is an insistent rattle and hum. 'It's Killing You' is a splendid exercise in physical froideur. Finally, 'Siren Song' ushers us towards the exit: it's a minimal ballad that prods your psyche like a walk on a winter night with only your breath upon the air for company.
Sometimes it seems as if the world of industrial music is entirely the province of aggressive shouty men, hollering crossly through distortion effects while rampant beatz thump in the background. This compilation demonstrates that the blokes don't have it all their own way: here we have eighteen tracks by eighteen female artists from the industrial zone. I'm sure there are those who will be surprised to learn that there are eighteen female artists in this musical area, which just goes to show how necessary this compilation is.
'Female Artists' is a slightly fuzzy concept, mind. Some of the bands featured here are, on close inspection, female vocalists fronting music made by men. That's been a slightly frustrating tradition of music since at least the days of the Motown 'girl groups' (all of whom had blokes in the back room). I wonder - are there any bands who do it the other way round? Any female musicans/technicians who employ male vocalists to front their projects? If not, why not?
But enough of the concepts and theories. To the music - and I must admit I had a spot of trouble getting past track one, for 'Little Drummer Boy' (yes, the heartwarming Christmas song) by Protea is such a work of crazed genius I found myself listening to the thing again and again. This is whatcha get: an implacable vocal, as if Protea is bawling out Carnegie Hall's Christmas concert. Crisp, terse, military drumming, a fizzing soup of electronics in the background and a looming, sepulchral, low-end hum, somewhere between a bassline and a threat, underpinning everything - that's all there is, and that's all that's necessary. Quite apart from the genius of choosing the song in the first place, the brilliance of keeping it all minimal is simply, mightily, right. I've never heard of Protea before, but I'll tell you this - I'm an instant fanboy.
Following Protea isn't going to be easy, but Compulsory Skin are undaunted. 'Twisted' is a big, rich, rounded exercise in industrial rock, and if there are moments where it all threatens to turn into NIN's 'Head Like A Hole', the song never quite tips over the edge of its own influences into outright pastiche. I can certainly hear where Compulsory Skin are coming from on this one, but the vocal is strong and the song packs a wallop. That's another thumbs up, then.
A fair few tracks here demonstrate that 90s industrial-techno - the kind of stuff that would get the Slimelight dancing until dawn in the last decade - exerts a big influence on much of today's industrial underground. Aluminium Voyage, for example, give us a deadpan rap over some jittery nineties industrio-dance, and while I rather like the breakdown in the middle - where it all goes ambient for a while - this isn't anything I didn't hear club DJs throwing down back in the last century. 'Hure' by Genocidio 1968 is essentially more of the same: agitated 90s industek, this time with added distort-o-vocals - the first appearance on this album of the dreaded distortion effect, surely the number one cliché of the industrial zone. Neatly done, but it's been done, too frequently over too many years, for me to dig it now. Anxiety Disorder's 'Emergency Sex' nails the kick drum to the floor, while the exhortations to 'Move Your Ass' - enunciated with great deliberation - remind me of mid-80s Belgian New Beat. Cheesy stuff, but I was quite a fan in the 80s. Paradoxically, because I just dissed the previous two artists for being retro, I rather like this. It's nice to know someone carries a torch for vintage Euro-electro.
To make a general point here, it's surely a contradiction for a musical strand that's allegedly all about moving forward to be so steeped in the sounds of yesteryear. Back in the 90s I remember being told by industrial-heads, often in rather scathing tones, that guitar music was old hat, and the future would be soundtracked by the sleek programmed sounds of the electronic zone. Well, a decade or more on, the new hat is itself looking rather old these days. There's irony for you - but it's why I think it's justifiable to subject these bands to a ruthless future-scrutiny, in a way that I wouldn't do with, say, KASMs. The post-punkers and the alt-rockers never claimed a monopoly on the future.
Back to the tunestack, and it's a mixed bag from here on in. Here's Neikka RPM with 'Umbrae Sub Noctem', which is largely an assemblage of beats and whispers - restrained but not minimal, inventive and rather nice. Diffuzion deliver 'No Passive Isolation', and it's another industek-with-distortion workout that doesn't quite make it past 1999. Chiasm's 'Deny' is a noise vs bassline bout - the two principal elements of the tune take it in turns to dominate things, a brave idea and a good result. Odio 84 are similarly bold on 'No Trust' - it's virtually a spoken-word piece with chopped-up noise interludes, and nothing so conventional as a regular dancefloor beat (or indeed any beat). In a musical world largely dedicated to dancefloor action, it takes courage to do somerthing so club-unfriendly. Good for them, I say.
Noizekatt's 'Scars' begins with a nagging rhythm that might pull the unwary onto the dancefloor, but then ruins it all with one of those same-as-everyone-else distorted vocals. The rhythm resolves itself into a fairly standard onbeat/offbeat thing, too - a track that doesn't live up to its early promise. Fortunately, better stuff this way comes. Julie D:stroy's 'Devist8or' is a virtual Ladbroke Grove rap, like something Neneh Cherry would've done back in her bohemian days, and while I assume that the West London boho flavour is a fluke (Julie D:stroy is American) it's a neat angle and a cool result. Experiment Haywire employ the dreaded distortion effect on 'Mean Enough Hot Enough', but fortunately the song itself is based around a loping Cabaret Voltaire-esque groove, and round here a touch of the Cabs makes up for a multitude of sins. The lyric is pithy and pointed, with a certain barbed wit at work - yep, it's good. A little less distortion would've been nice, but the words and ideas behind the track make it a cut above.
'Eau' by No1r is atmospheric and hypnotic, a neat trancey instrumental, while Vicious Alliance bring us back to the club dancefloor circa 1999 - the default location, it seems, for so much of the industrial-dance scene - for 'Where Soldiers Fall'. Regenerator's 'Famished' is a lilting pop song rather awkwardly nailed to a choppy beat background. There's a good song here, but I'd like to hear a more flowing version, based around more of a pulse and groove, instead of all those jerky beats. The prevailing mood of meaty, beaty, clubsmasher action is wrenched in another direction by Unwoman, who gives us a cello-inflected trip-hop workout on 'Compliance', and while I'd personally like to hear more cello and less trip-hop, it's a neat bit of chill-out. Hieros Gamos are cinematic and sepulchral on 'In The Shining Exile', bringing in a certain eastern feel - this could be a Bollywood horror movie soundtrack. Asinyane closes the album with 'Homocide', and it's a low-key instrumental that trundles past inoffensively enough, but frankly I would've preferred the album - which opened so strongly with the glorious Protea - to go out with a similar bang.
If there's a conclusion to draw from all the above, I guess it's that simply because music is made by women, rather than men, doesn't necessarily make it any better - or, in fact, any different - from the stuff the chaps churn out. The good stuff here is good: Protea is worth the price of admission all by herself, and Experiment Haywire's barbed rant is a rare display of real attitude. I'm disappointed that many artists appear to be stuck on the 90s dancefloor - c'mon, we're in a whole other century now - but in the end, I suppose what this compilation proves is something we already know. It all comes down to the ideas. And they're gender neutral.
A different strand of electronica now. Scarlet Soho are very definitely a pop group, rather than pounding electronic rivetheads. But their music packs a punch even so - it's full of pell-mell beat-workouts, assertively prodded synths, and vocals that soar and declaim in tones of high drama. There are more than a few eighties influences swirling around in Scarlet Soho's electropop soup, although if you asked me to nail 'em down to one obvious point of comparison I think I'd namecheck Erasure. Scarlet Soho certainly seem to have an affinity with the kind of fervent, high emotional content electropop anthems that Andy Bell and Vince Clarke made their own. Their own take on that songwriting style isn't half bad, whether they're going full-on at it, as on 'I Dare', or doing the big balladeer thing, as on 'Cyclone'.
Unfortunately, the production is where Scarlet Soho take a tumble. The band seems to have a frankly misplaced liking for the clack-and-clatter sound of a cheesy drum machine - and whoever did the drum programming certainly had a bit of a thing about inserting rat-a-tat-tat rolls and flourishes at every possible opportunity. Hear that rat-a-tat punctuate, to name just two examples, 'Speak Your Mind' and 'Is Growing Up The Best That We Can Do?' like sudden outbreaks of machine gun fire. All this lends a rather underwhelming 'bedroom' feel to an album that clearly aspires to be something rather more, but electropop is one genre where you really do need a touch of production gloss. Scarlet Soho glint tantalisingly in the dancefloor lights, but they need to polish things up a bit before they really shine.
Me and The Horrors, we go back. I remember catching the band in a lowly support slot back in 2006, at which time The Horrors were a fresh-faced, knockabout garage combo with a nice line in pointy boots and Screaming Lord Sutch covers. Enjoyable, but nothing incredible, I thought. Shortly afterwards, to my surprise - and I suspect also to the surprise of the band - The Horrors found themselves boosted up to the status of NME cover stars as the (alleged) heroes of New Goth. For a moment there, it looked like stardom had arrived. But even at the height of the The Horrors' ascendancy it was hard to escape the notion that the band's success was a fluke, a house of cards built on a flimsy media foundation, waiting to collapse just as soon as we all got bored with rackety garage-punk played by skinny, wild-haired blokes in black. The band's debut album, Strange House, was fun, but flimsy: now The Horrors have reached second album stage, and it's clearly make or break time. Have they got what it takes to stick around for the long haul? Have The Horrors, in short, got substance?
In a word - and here comes the latest Horrors-related surprise - yes. Primary Colours (itself a title that hints that things have changed from the band's early, none-more-monochrome incarnation) is a warm pool of psychedelia that nods to krautrock - 'Shame And Fortune' and 'Sea Within A Sea' take Can for a stroll in the pop forest - and takes a leaf out of Low-period Bowie - hear those synth-ambiences on 'Mirror's Image'. 'New Ice Age', meanwhile, is a thrumming, urgent, spacerock take on UK Decay's importunate hollering, while 'I Only Think Of You' brings a fat fuzztone bass to bear on a manic fairground go-around. The title track is the kind of cinemascope pop song that Julian Cope would surely sell sundry body parts to write, while the production (by Portishead's Geoff Barrow, among others) is invitingly glowing. In short, it's all several distinct steps forward for the band, and all done with great assurance - even, dare I say it, maturity. All of a sudden The Horrors look like the contenders they never quite resembled first time round.
Of course, a cynic might say that all The Horrors have done here is spread their influences-net a little wider than before, and scooped up some ideas which have all been previously deployed elsewhere. Well, yes, to an extent that's exactly what they've done. But then, isn't that what everyone does? Isn't that how it's done? The trick is to take those ideas and weave them into something of your own. The Horrors do that, impressively and surprisingly, here.
It's not easy to get a handle on Rome Burns. The cover art makes The Static Murmur look like a prog-rock concept album, while the band's MySpace page describes the band as 'Alternative/Electro/Post-Punk'. Yet I'd wager the post punks and alternokids have never heard of Rome Burns, for they ply their trade exclusively within the UK goth scene. That's a nice pile of contradictions right there, and we haven't even got to the music yet.
So, let's get to the music. Recondite, wordy lyrics spread themselves luxuriously over a densely-packed thicket of guitars and programming. It's a very English experience, in a way. Simon Sartori Hendley's dry, erudite vocal style - he practially lectures his way through the songs, rather than singing them - casts him as the intellectual cousin of New Order's Bernard Sumner, striding to and fro as he declaims upon the lecture hall podium. The music fits the comparison, too. 'Then Janus' is perhaps the best example of the band's beefed-up New Order feel, with its masses of solid guitars buttressing the to-and-fro melody. Extra points for the line 'Cork and flax and sealing wax' - a typically Rome Burns-ish reference, redolent of archaic detail. It's at times like this, when the band let their engagingly un-rock 'n' roll side come to the fore, that they really score.
Elsewhere, the band's station within goth circles is revealed by the traditional thwap-and-splat of the Really Obvious Drum Machine, still the universal signifier of goth scene residency, while the fizzing, pulsating electronic embellishments - hear them sprinkle themselves over 'The Escapologist' and 'Bodhidharma' - hint that Rome Burns have at least half an eye on getting some Cyber Dancefloor Action. I can't help wondering what Rome Burns would sound like if you put 'em in a studio with a plain old pop producer, and, dare I say it, de-gothed them to the point where their engagingly odd, literate, band persona really came to the fore. All due respect to Manuskript's Mike Uwins, who's on the desk here - he does a sterling job, but as the main man of a goth band himself I think he instinctively defaults to the Goth Scene Way Of Doing Things.
But then, so do the band. The bizarre heavy metal guitar which gatecrashes the party on 'Rebecca Eureka' and spends the song having a punch-up with the cheesy drum machine definitely sounds like someone's trying for a touch of Goth Metal Crossover, and that just isn't a box into which Rome Burns naturally fit. Likewise, the programmed beat-workout that stutters and thumps behind 'Allegiance Lies' sounds like its reference point is the Slimelight dancefloor rather than pop music. The song needs a simple arrangement, prodding the verse neatly up to that nifty tension-release chorus, rather than an excess of chuck-it-all-in electro-clutter.
Rome Burns are a intriguingly indiosyncratic pop group. They're the New Order who stayed in to do their English Literature homework instead of partying at the Hacienda; they're an urban, urbane XTC. Tantalising hints of all this appear on this album, but it's a struggle against the production. And also, perhaps, against the band's own perception of themselves, despite their MySpace dissembling, as just another bunch of goth scene rockers. They could be - they are - more than merely that. Someone should tell 'em. Perhaps I just have.
Legendary Pink Dots
What are The Legendary Pink Dots? Let's try an all-purpose intro in one paragraph. Psychedelic shamans, eggheads, arty types, fringe weirdos, meretricious troubadours, surreal humourists, avant-garde opportunists who used the sudden absence of music biz barriers in the post-punk free-for-all of the eighties to sneak their wilful experimentalism through the cracks. They've been making their own strange kind of merry ever since, to the delight of their cult following. That's them, near enough.
This is the band's twenty-third album, not counting all the tangental releases, live sets and compilations that thave emerged along the way - to be a Dots completist would probably require the purchase of a medium-sized secure storage facility, just to get all the product in. So, what are they up to now, those Dots, so many years and so many albums down the line?
Well, the Dots are still the aquired taste they've always been, and I think newcomers to the band might look askance at some of the stuff here. But if you let the Dots take you wheresoever they will, Plutonium Blonde is a charming excursion into their world. Syd Barrett-esque whimsical folkieisms collide and entwine with kraturock clattering; electronic ambiences swoop in, somehow evoking the space between universes. Vocalist Edward Ka-Spel sounds innocently wide-eyed and yet also in posession of arcane knowledge, as he recounts tall tales and surrealist stories in his Dudley Moore-esque East London tones.
'My First Zonee', on the face of it an awestruck tribute to technology, develops quite a foreboding undertone, as Edward Ka-Spel falls in love with the gagetry as the song trips lightly forward - it has a nursery-rhyme quality while also being a sinister little piece of psychedelia, a mix the Dots have always done well. 'An Arm And A Leg' is an unsettling story that sounds like someone slipped Dylan Thomas some acid and pointed him in the direction of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, while for those who like their whimsy tempered by action, 'Savannah Red' is a lost-in-the-wilds burst of rhythm, and 'Torch Song' injects a certain industrio-krautrock stomp.
Plutonium Blonde is The Legendary Pink Dots simply being themselves: there are no concessions to the crossover audience here, no accessible interludes of Dots-lite incuded with a view to winning new fans. I like the band's wayward commotions, their acid-ambiences and funny folk songs, but I'd be wary of introducing others to the band via this album. This is good stuff, but I think it's one for cult members only.
If you've never met Devilish Presley before, you can probably hazard a guess at the band's musical area just by clocking the band name and album title. If you have met Devilish Presley before, you'll definitely know what you're in for. This is a band dedicated to the art of burning punk rubber on the rock 'n' roll highway, and on the evidence of Flesh Ride - a rampant dragstrip dash in classic style - I'm surprised they haven't worn their tyres bald by now.
So, it's a big, bad, rock 'n' roll racket. The drum machine - for Devilish Presley are very modern rockers, unafraid to kick a bit of technology around - is strapped to a simple backbeat, and worked to within an inch of its life. Johnny Navarro's guitar is a six-string riff-monster, and Jacqui Vixen's bass never shirks from sticking the bottom-end boot in. As ever, the band are defiant in the face of the everyday world ('Billy Fury Is Dead'), helpless in the face of feminine wiles ('Voodoo Goddess') rueful in the face of fate ('How I Became A Hooligan') , and philosophical in the face of changing times and shifting fortunes ('Viva Lost Vagrants' - one of Devilish Presley's rare, but always poignant, acoustic songs).
Mostly, of course, Devilish Presley are simply in your face, and this album is certainly rammed with the band's trademark barrelling rockers. If there's a fault with this go-around it's that the production is significantly less beefy than Devilish Presley's previous set, Memphisto, which really did shove the glam-slam meter up to eleven. This time, the guitars sometimes merely buzz when they should roar (the riff on 'Devil's Station' sounds like it's being played on an electric razor, for Chrissakes) and there are moments when the drum sound is more of a trebley tick-tock rather than a muscular whomp and crack. That's frustrating, but the songs are punchy enough to win out, and there's plenty of lyrical wit to cut through the murk.
'I Got The Serial Killer Blues', sings Johnny Navarro, as he populates his trailer with body parts on 'Lonesome No More', a song which takes the classic country music subject matter of death and simply ramps up the gore factor. On 'You Can't Spell Rock 'n' Roll', one of the band's sideswipes at the music biz, he castigates everyone who's ever spelled the band name incorrectly, and it's a laugh-riot all the way - for anyone who's not on the receiving end of his ire. Hmm. Note to myself: perhaps I'd better double-check this review before I hit the upload button, just in case...
They're allegedly something to do with the steampunk scene, although I'm not sure how the steampunk aesthetic informs Ghostfire's music. Perhaps this four-track EP will shed some light. First, we're treated to the boisterous, manic hoe-down of 'Vaudevillain' - it's as if Gogol Bordello got very cross indeed about something. Then there's the Bad Seeds-ish melodrama that is 'Masters Of The Sea', in which Ghostfire manouvre their Dreadnought broadside on to Nick Cave's 'The Ship Song' but never quite fire their cannons. 'Ghostways Of Paris' is a strange kind of mish-mash between a folkie anthem and a big rock power ballad, all slashing acoustic guitar, rolling electric organ, with the vocalist giving it an orotund holler throughout. 'Barrio' more or less repeats the trick, but this time the guitarist's plugged in. Ghostfire seem to deal in tenebrous melodramas; dark, towering rock anthems, with that sturdily magniloquent vocal emoting mightily over everything. It's all a bit overblown for me. I keep wanting to tell the vocalist to ease up a bit - that much rampant angst simply can't be good for a chap - but if you're a fan of self-consciously big music, this might be your thing. Still don't know where the steampunk comes in, mind.
I don't mean to scare anyone off, but I think I'm going to mention the words 'jazz' and 'folk' here. But wait - whatever notions those words put into your mind are probably wrong, at least in the context of Red Painted Red. I'm just trying to make the point that this ain't rock 'n' roll. Far from it, kids. Instead, this four track EP paints a different picture, sometimes pastoral, sometimes dramatic, always inventive. With keening strings and skittering drums, keyboards adding detail, and strange drones and sweeps scudding in and out, this music sounds like the kind of stuff you encounter - if you're lucky - on Radio Three in the early hours, when you're flipping around the dial and everything seems haunted. Although I'm quite prepared to concede it might just be me who does things like that.
Yvonne Neve enunciates disquieting post-Lewis Carroll lyrical narratives with a glassy English otherworldliness, unruffled even as the sonic landscape, with all its odd inhabitants, crowds around her. The disembodied laughter and gasps, as if a threatening world is closing in, on 'My Friend' is downright unsettling, but her vocal remains the strangely serene heart of the song. 'Preach' is a piano-led psalm, the voices of sampled preachers - frightening in their unruffled certainty - weaving in and out of Yvonne Neve's own vocal, which here abandons serenity to creep inexorably through neurosis, towards an agitated mania. It's almost a relief when the song winds down, although I'm left wondering if the madness got her in the end. Red Painted Red conjure deceptively dark ambiences out of sunlight and green fields: they evoke the puckish sprites in the corners of your vision, the monsters under your bed. Pastoral never seemed so perturbing.
Red Painted Red: MySpace
They come from Barcelona, but they inhabit their own planet. Quidam deal in energetic melodramas, driven along by nervy, needlepoint guitar, punctuated by rolling waves of electric organ and drifting synths, the tight but agile drums keeping it together while the bass scampers nimbly forward. Over these adroit musical intersections, vocalist Aina sets up a yelping clamour, her voice swooping and dipping like a scary Nina Hagen (and, let's face it, Nina Hagen is fairly scary to start with). The music always moves, moves, moves - rolling and tumbling, shifting and pushing, sticking its elbows out and pointing in odd directions as it goes, but never letting go of a sense of flow.
In a way, Quidam are like a less angular, more organic (you could almost say more operatic) Electricity In Our Homes, but for all their odd pointy-finger directions Quidam never stop shoving things forward. 'Fixed Her Head Into A Wall' has odd interruptions - where the music just stops - but then the song kicks back in again as if nothing has happened, and off it surges, the piano tinkling splendidly, the vocal an urgent tirade about - well, I don't know. The song could be a bit of DIY advice for all I can gather, but Aina is certainly intense about it. 'Bichos' has an almost sixties coffee-bar organ sound poking away behind that acute guitar, while in the middle of the vocal Ania delivers a wonderful, theatrical laugh, as if she's the wicked queen surveying her stock of poisoned apples. 'Point Blank Shot' starts off as something of a slow-burner, the drums syncopating, the synths painting steady brushstrokes - but that Quidam energy is still bubbling under the surface, and the vocal still leaps about, as irrepressible as the band itself.
Cold as ice cream but still as sweet, Ipso Facto distil their essence onto this 7" single, allowing us to take their glacial cool and impeccably constructed noir-pop home in one handy package. 'Six And Three Quarters' is a brusque, trenchant thing, which mixes militaristic flurries of drums with fairground keyboards, over which Rosalie Cunningham's vocals stride, firmly in control and not a hair out of place.
On the B-side, the numerical - and, indeed, the military - theme is maintained. 'Circle Of Fifths' matches melodica to the marching drums, and a lyric that juxtaposes Ipso Facto's essential sense of disciplined control - 'One, two, thee, four, five/Chanting, marching, keep in time' - with a theme of eternal cyclicality - 'Tune in and float down/Ouroboros uncoil for me.' Militaristic mysticism might seem a contradictory concept, but Ipso Facto square the circle. And on white vinyl, too.
Full of solid virtues, I Am Immune make alternative rock music that displays much diligent craftsmanship, without being particularly exciting - or even distinctive. This EP delivers four tracks, featuring workmanlike guitar, busy, rumble-tumble drums and slightly less busy programmed beats, all set against one of those reedy British Rock Bloke vocals that manages to emote mightily without ever quite engaging the listener. You could slot this music between Muse and the traffic news on White Van Man Radio, and it would fit in neatly without ruffling so much as a feather - a result the band would probably regard as a resounding success, for I suspect that's exactly their target market and operational area.
I wish them well, but for me - a fan of the awkward and weird, the off-kilter and out-there - I Am Immune just seem too cautiously ordinary to pique my interest. The only curious element of the band's musical stew are the little tinkle-tinkle piano parts, which crop up on two songs here. It's as if someone in the band carries a secret torch for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. But that's not enough to make 'em interesting. In the end, I'm reminded that entropy can be defined as 'A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system' - yep, I looked it up. Trouble is, on my measure, there just ain't enough disorder or randomness here.
One of several 12" singles Ulterior have been frisbeeing at an unsuspecting world over the last several months, 'Weapons' is a running battle between the techno gang and the dark forces of bad old rock 'n' roll. I think the forces of rock 'n' roll win the fight in the end - Ulterior are, when all's said and done, unashamedly a rock band - but the techno contingent manage to land a few killer punches along the way.
The result is a hammering blast of dancefloor madness, a minimal bassline driving it all along - bam bam bam bam bam bam bam - because when you're really giving it some welly, who needs lots of notes? Ulterior know how to make maximum noise with minimalist ingredients. The programmed beats are relentless, the electronics buzz and reverberate, and over all this the wall-o-guitar splurges like it owns the place. The vocals - a sardonic drawl throughout - are magnificently disdainful. Remixes pack the B-side, but any way you take it, 'Weapons' works. If it's to be war on the dancefloor, Ulterior are fighting on both sides. They've got all the weapons.
According to the press release, Ravens Moreland was a founder-member of Wall Of Voodoo back in ye olden days, which I suppose gets him a few credibility points right off the bat (alas, the press release also manages to spell Ozzy Osbourne's name incorrectly, for which points will be deducted). After a lengthy career featuring many connections and collaborations with the great and the good of the punk-and-after mileu, Ravens Moreland embarked upon a solo career, and this six-tracker is his second solo release. Well, that's the story so far - but what about the music?
This about the music: it's a steaming soup of roiling guitar and rolling rhythms, a down-home gumbo of gravelly, fuzzed-out bump 'n' grind, the kind of stuff ZZ Top might come up with if you took 'em out to the swamp at midnight, stole their car, and made them wade home through the muck and mire. 'Gone Home To Hell' - a title which in itself tells you everything you need to know about Ravens Moreland's musical area - is a low-down no-good hobo of a song, striding along on its down-at-heel boots, kicking up dust and making a fuss. 'Franky' is an after-closing-time punker blues, upon which Ravens Moreland relates a cautionary tale in his horrorstruck holler. '169' puts a death valley organ into the firing line, as the song powers along like Hell's Angels are on its tail. Never less than down and dirty, this stuff slithers like a sidewinder, and the guitars are always slung as low as they can go.
Somewhere between the Lords Of Altamont's biker-garage anthems, and the dragster-obsessed conceptual guitar mangling of Big Stick, you'll find Ravens Moreland, swigging his whiskey and keeping a foot firmly planted on the fuzz pedal. It's music so grubby you'll need to take a shower after listening, but you know what? Grubby is good.
Quick picks and honourable mentions...
Giant Paw: The Stars Are Ours (Feral Electronics) Mellow ambiences, spoken word vocals, neat beats and electronic bubbling, only occasionally abrasive. 'Curse Of The Giant Paw' upsets the applecart by being fast and weird, and it's the best track here. English eccentrics at play, but I think they need to play harder. Fans of The Legendary Pink Dots' oddball story-songs might like this stuff. Website | MySpace
Misfortune 500: Before Winter Ends (Self release) They come from Athens, Georgia - an almost legendary location for US alternorock (REM, Pylon, B52s), but they seem primarily influenced by British stuff. An enthusiastic (and entirely faithful) cover of the Chameleons' 'Don't Fall' sets the tone. Robustly constructed, towering indie anthems. Nicely done, but we know slightly too well where they're coming from - geographically and musically. Website | MySpace
The Tunnel: Carver Brothers Lullaby (Glorious Alchemical Co.) 'Hope you are having a hedonistic day' said the handwritten note which fell out of the rather nifty minimalist-art CD packaging. Well, my day got quite a bit more hedonistic as soon as I played the music, for The Tunnel conjure up raw-as-roadkill modern blues, from sparse midnight atmospheres to clanging cuban heel stompers. The guitar digs its fingernails in, the vocals are all chipped flint and rough liquor. Makes the Bad Seeds sound downright AOR. Website | MySpace
The Beauty Of Gemina: A Stranger To Tears (Self release) I think this is a self release - the CD cover features an assortment of logos representing various music biz organisations, but none of them seem to be an actual label. Swedish goth-rockers get electronic: after-dark disco with a mannered vocal croon. Occasionally dated - 'Galilee Song' is an attempt to revive the happening sounds of 90s EBM, and believe me, we don't need that. But there are ideas and atmospheres at work, too. Ambient-tribalism workouts like 'Psycho Flood' and 'One Day' point the way forward. 'The Lonesome Death Of A Goth DJ' wins on the title alone. Website | MySpace
Picture Pretty: Demo (Self release) A noise duo from North London, where so many strange and terrible things happen, Picture Pretty are unrepentantly lo-fi and loud enough to knock ya down. Guitar noise throbs and churns; the drums seem to have been piped in from other planets. Agonised vocals bawl beneath several layers of anti-production. Three untitled tracks here, which is probably all you need, really. A full-length album would probably contravene the United Nations convention against torture. MySpace
Onethirtyeight: London Transmissions (Self release) For a moment I thought this was an album by the London DJ duo with the same numerical name, but nope - this Onethirtyeight are a bizarre art-soundscape outfit. Occasionally they sound like a gothic version of the Modern Jazz Quartet, at other times they're like a blissed-out Throbbing Gristle. Oddly mellow experimentalism. Website | MySpace