Archived content from Nemesis To Go issue 8.
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from issue 8.
reviews from issue 8.
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Trapped Animal? There's something counter-intuitive about that title, for surely The Slits have always been the epitome of unrestrained hedonism. As it happens, the title track of this, the band's first album since the 80s, is a cross between a lament for the loss of humanity's noble savage past, and a call to us urban moderns to loosen up and party.
And yes, this is very much a party album. It's full of buoyant, jaunty, pop-reggae tunes that only occasionally hint at the band's ramshackle origins in the first wave of punk, or their later excursions into the dubby left-field. The great Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound is involved in the production, but he's on a short leash. There are only occasional bursts of his trademark out-there-ness: mostly, The Slits keep things more upbeat than Earthbeat, and always accessible. The Slits make a fine party band, and their new songs certainly pass the toe-tapping test - but they're not in the business of pushing rampant sonic attitude into your face these days, that's for sure.
The, er, 'conscious' side of The Slits comes out in the lyrics. Ari Up, singing in faultless Jafakean throughout, doesn't shy away from matters of great import. Her lyrics are heartfelt but sometimes awkwardly naive - 'You've got issues of child abuse/I've got 'em too, but not like you' she sings on 'Issues', a piece of pull-yourself-together advice set to a smooth reggae sway. I'm tempted to remark that it's probably not so easy for everyone who's suffered such traumas to get out from under. Ari's boundless faith in relentless positivism is touching, but it's not necessarily the universal cure she thinks it is. 'Peer Pressure' is a rattling afrobeat shuffle on the theme of being bullied at school, with Ari - whose own school days must be several decades behind her - assuming the persona of a reluctant schoolgirl. You'll have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief on this one, but if you can, it works.
Inevitably, there's a song called 'Babylon' (every reggae album must have one: it's the law) upon which Adrian Sherwood gets to put his dub head on as Ari Up gives us the benefit of her counsel: 'Down inna Babylon/We all got to be strong,' she sings. The song has a splendid bottom-end lope, and you can't fail to be impressed at the way Ari enunciates 'inna' without a shred of embarrassment. Mind you, when she gets to the lyric 'Down inna Africa/We must all be strong', I'm tempted to take her aside and point out that while empathy is a wonderful thing, anyone who's actually from Africa might look askance at that 'We'. Nice thunderstorm effects, mind.
On 'Reggae Gypsy', an infectious camp-fire hoedown, the lyrics get downright silly - 'We are reggae gypsy/can make you feel so tipsy' - but by this time you will have already decided whether to cringe or grin. Throughout the album, Ari Up almost never relinquishes her sprightly, optimistic, all-pervasive empathy with everyone. Only 'Can't Relate' strikes a downbeat note, and in some ways it's a standout track. Certainly the lyric - 'I go solo when nothing makes sense/Think I'm coming down with can't relate' - is more oblique, more adult than the artlessly elementary stuff elsewhere.
I'll let my feet rule my head on this occasion. I like this album, even though the lyrics often seem like they're scrawled in crayon. If Ari's tenacious grip on The Positive sometimes seems as unrealistic as her faux-Jamaican accent, the music - infectious, bubbling, always nimble and animated - wins the day. If it's party time, count me in.
In The Box
What better theme tune for a ghost train than 'Beautiful Monster'? What better marching song for an army of evil toys than 'Electric Dolls' - hear them clattering mechanically forward on that fast robot-rattle of a beat. Rainbow Blight's vexed, querulous caterwaul of a vocal darts about at the front of every song; Optimus Crime stalks behind with his keyboard thrumming forbiddingly, the sound of something bad that hasn't quite happened yet. The neon nightmares of Hate in The Box are kooky, spooky fun.
'Fireships' is all assault-and-battery electronics and guitars ramped up to the edge of feedback; 'The Death Of Everything' thunders along on a kick drum that sounds like it wants to start a fight. 'Dream Dream' (surely a nod there in the title to Suicide's 'Dream Baby Dream') is a slowie by Ulterior's standards, but that still means it's a forbidding, fuzzed-out oscillation of a song, the vocals punching in and out in a flurry of reverb. Ulterior's world is all black leather jackets and mangled electronics, and guitars that frown at you from across the room. And yet, somehow, the band's techno-rock 'n' roll dystopia is a strangely enticing prospect.
'Cool Ghoul Band' is a Cramps-esque kickabout; 'Promises' sounds like the band are channelling 'John, I'm Only Dancing' - period Bowie. 'Sugar' is driven forward on a tumble of drums, the guitar breaking out in a rifftastic flurry during the chorus. I can only assume (or at least hope) that the mysoginistic lyric - 'Get on all fours you fucking whore...I've got a knife here with your name on' - is not the bizarre plunge into rampant-male fantasy land it sounds like.
If there's one song here that would get the Hoxton massive into the mosh, it's 'Shutter' - a veritable epic of dynamics, all squalling guitar and staccato drums, with vocalist Mister Ed getting sardonic and agitated over the top. I'm almost tempted to say that the band shouldn't have troubled with an entire album at all. If they shoved this song out on a 7" single, and spent the next six months gigging up a storm around Shoreditch, they'd have it made.
Elsewhere, the band's murky gothic past creeps back into the room. 'Saharan Stars' employs a wannabe-portentous (if rather skinny) church organ sound, with violinist Jo Violet essaying a folkie-choirgirl vocal. It all sounds a bit Laura Ashley, if not actually crushed velvet, and perhaps indicates that the band haven't yet shaken all the dust of the goth scene off their pointy boots. Keep necking the post-punk juice, is what I say.
Sounds flow and shift like nature and machinery entwined. Electronics and organics float like flotsam and jetsam on Chris Carter's sonic tides. I suspect, in fact, Chris Carter (billed here as producer and arranger, as well as co-composer) is the main man behind most of what we hear on this release. Vocals, as ever by the inimitable Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, are few and far between. When they do arrive, they're treated to within an inch of their lives and set back in the mix, behind loping beats and wayward electronica. For sure, Throbbing Gristle do unsettling atmospheres better than anyone, but the barnstorming band we saw on the recent TG tour is not represented here.
And The Muse
Here, the band incorporate classical Japanese elements into both the music and the surrounding visuals - the album comes as a lavishly-presented package with a DVD and a book of lyrics, poetry, and artwork. But for all their excursions eastwards, there's no mistaking the fact that we are in the presence of Faith And The Muse. The band has an identity that cuts through the concept.
'Blessed' is a barrelling anthem, the kind of straight-out-of-the-traps rocker Faith And The Muse always do well. Singer Monica Richards lets rip a powerful, yet precise vocal - she's never showy, never indulges in pointless diva-isms. She just points her voice straight at your head, while multi-instrumentalist William Faith brews up a sonic storm around her. The lyrical theme here - indeed, for much of this album - is the contrast and conflict between the mainstream modern world in all its consume-and-pollute shallowness, and a more meaningful future in which the outsiders of today find themselves vindicated. 'We are the underground/This hell is what they've made', insists Monica.
The theme continues in 'Battle Hymn', in which the face-off between the mainstream west and the mystical east is rendered as a metaphysical conflict, while 'Nine Dragons' employs drones and drums to dramatic effect, and this time it's William Faith staring out over the battlefield, yelling like a crazed shaman as he visualises worlds in collision.
Elsewhere, the band explores ambience and atmosphere - 'Harai' even features birdsong, very much the calm after the storm - and in 'She Waits By The Well' the band creates an affecting psychedelic folk song in which voices, sounds and rhythms ebb and flow as if tugged by the moon. By way of a contrast, there's a burst of unashamed, righteous rock in the form of 'Sovereign', which brings on the guitar army for an uplifting pogo into enlightenment. Here William and Monica reveal their inner core of punk rock - and it's this that prevents Faith And the Muse, even at their most out-there mystical, coming on like a bunch of frightful old hippies. Fortunately, they've got too much grit in their guts for that.
Faith And The Muse's characterisation of the east as the repository of all that is wise and green and good may seem like simplistic western hero worship - and would probably make Psydoll, a Japanese band which has conceptually embraced technology to the extent that they claim to be robots, give them some very strange looks. But there's no faulting the sentiment. In a way, Faith And The Muse are just as idealistic as The Slits (although fortunately their lyrics are better by a country mile). Faith And The Muse certainly have the same disdain for Babylon, and the same optimistic conviction that after the towers have fallen, a new, better, greener world will emerge. Well, let's hope so. Up the underground? I'll raise a glass of organic green tea to that.
Only two tracks here - 'Alien' and 'Hmmm Ha' - but if you like it feisty and fine, The Cursors will do the right stuff for your head. They're probably gigging around London even as you're reading this. Catch 'em live, because I reckon their ripped-up rock is going to sound great through an overdriven club PA.
The Cursors: MySpace
Mur & En Esch
'Eintagsfliegen' (One Day Flies) has a fine, stompy, boots-on-the-pavement beat, an incongruously jaunty little organ leaping about in the background, and plenty of that abrasive guitar, buzzing and humming like raw electricity throughout the song as Mona Mur gets feline and assertive on the vocal. 'Snake' is a slo-mo slither, built on a basement bassline rumble; and when Brecht and Weil's 'Surabaya Johnny' crops up, with the guitar skating around in the background like a threat, it seems only right and proper that it should.
In a way, Mona Mur and En Ech create the feel of a Brechtian punk cabaret far more effectively than the Dresden Dolls ever did. Maybe it's because they're closer to the source; maybe it's just because that ever-present guitar imparts an abrasive edge that you just don't get from a keyboard, no matter how hard you bash the keys.
At any rate, this is my kind of cabaret. Reserve me a table right at the front.
Mona Mur & En Esch: MySpace
It's all impeccably played and produced, but ultimately rather worthy and dull. The band's principal influence seems to be The Cure at their most angst-ridden - certainly, The Last Cry's sound is often akin to a smoothed-out Cure, with Robert Smith's existential agony replaced by mere melodrama, and the sound ruthlessly polished to a professional sheen that's superficially impressive until you realise that the rough edges which might have made things interesting have been burnished into a curiously lifeless glaze. I remember seeing this band play live a few years back: they were a lot more exciting than this. They're an older outfit than they admit on their MySpace page, where we learn that 'The Last Cry as they are now formed 3 years ago' - the words 'as they are now' concealing a good many previous years and previous line-ups.
Listening to this album is a bit like eating an entire loaf of bread: no matter how skilful the baker, no matter how fine the ingredients, in the end it's still just bread.
The Last Cry: MySpace
Wide-screen ballads unfurl themselves like flowers touched by sunlight upon an inviting bed of lush instrumentation; yet there's always a sense of space and a measured pace about the music. You could call what Red Painted Red do folk, although the arrangements here are far more rich and comprehensive than the stark voice-and-guitar stuff the f-word might suggest.
The warmth and allure of the music is counterpointed by the lyrics, which hint at a heart of darkness lurking somewhere in the light. 'Will the silver stars come out again/And look at the sky?/Will they give me colour?/Bring me colour back again?' sings Yvonne Neve, with her trademark controlled grace, on 'Colours'. You feel the answer to her question, for all the brightness with which the music is surrounded, can only be 'No'. Indefinably unsettling stuff, but as compelling as ever.
Red Painted Red: MySpace
The beats stomp and thump; the electronics are a gloriously filthy noise. Näd Mika herself recites the vocals in an assertive chant, like a techno traffic warden advising you of the parking regulations. Her delivery has a delicious petulance, half way betweeen an imperious dominatrix and a stroppy teenager who's been told to go to bed early. I suspect only Näd Mika could deliver lines like 'Fuck to go/I told you so' and make the listener feel suitably admonished, even if we don't quite know what she's on about.
'Lecker Lecker' is a 100mph dancefloor rocker, the synths getting rough and the beat picking fights with all and sundry, while the title track is a thing of cool restraint by comparison. It's a tale of extra-terrestrial love - 'You aren't like a normal person/Sometimes you glow in the dark'. John Cooper-Clarke fans might reckon this to be Näd Mika's 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space', except in her case it's more a case of love 'em and leave 'em. Dirty electro brilliance throughout, anyway.
Xykogen make music as atmospheric and inexorable as the soundtrack to an outer-space swords and sorcery movie scripted by Philip K. Dick. Sweeps and beats compete; ambient interludes give way to moments of rampant noise. Disembodied vocals mutter darkly in the corners. Shudders and hums prod the unwary listener from all angles.
And yes, I did mention swords and sorcery. Titles like 'Fury With The Face Of Heaven' and 'Behold, The Silver Star' make it sound like someone in the Xykogen collective likes to curl up with a good fantasy novel (or, failing that, a fantasy novel). Xykogen like to style themselves 'future punks' but I bet they're traditional old hippies really. Go to their website, grab this music, and you'll be going home in a cosmic ambience.
We kick off with the latest version of 'Theme For Psydoll', the band's introductory anthem that, in assorted guises, features on all their releases. This time round it's an after-dark glam-stomp around Tokyo's neon-lit streets, the guitar swaggering about like a whole platoon of heavy metal hoodlums. 'Towers' is what you might call classic Psydoll, vocalist Nekoi sounding entirely unruffled as the guitar cranks up and the beat whomps and clatters. The interlude in the middle, where it all counter-intuitively breaks down into an intermission of prodded piano, is very Psydoll - as is the lilting pop melody, which Psydoll deploy with effortless grace even on their most noisy songs.
'Kanashii Music' sees Psydoll going unashamedly, unequivocally rock - and while there's still plenty of the band's bizarre charm and effervescing musical ideas in the mix, I'm rather uneasy at the way the guitar seems to be auditioning for Rammstein on this one. 'Ghosts' sees the guitar unleash a veritable maelstrom of classic rock moves, and while I understand that Judas Priest are kinda hip with the kidz these days, I'm not sure that's a direction in which I want Psydoll to go.
It must be said that maximum heaviosity guitar - sometimes close to straight-up rock, sometimes bordering all-out metal - does feature quite extensively on this album, and maybe that's a wise move if it makes the band a bit more palatable to the rock kids. But I'm not a rock kid, and I like Psydoll best when they splurge the colours on their sonic pallette in other, weirder, directions. If the band loses its essential out-there-ness in a quest for mainstream rock appeal, that'll be a shame. Round here, we say Psydoll are good - but weird is good, too.
A cabaret duo for a post-everything world, Noblesse Oblige do dirty disco and tenebrous torch songs with an attitude that suggests they're equally at home in the gutter or among the stars. If you wanna dance, then you can certainly get a groove on to the delightfully sleazy boystown of 'Bitch' or the phat industrio-slam of 'Bite Back'. If you want to spook yourself, try the lope and croon of 'Was Keine Zeit Zers Toret'. Or if you want to capture the feeling of a wine-fuelled night in Montparnasse, then step out to the marching rhythm of 'Quel Genre De Garcon'. And if you really want to test your liberal sensibilities, try 'Offensive Nonsense', on which Noblesse Oblige express baleful antipathy towards Muslims, Jews, Christians, Tories, Communists...well, everyone, really.
It's all delivered with a touch of raised-eyebrow wit and neat, minimal arrangements, which, with only a small suspension of disbelief on the part of the listener, conjure up velvet-trimmed back rooms and late-night dives, partitioned cities and cars with yellow headlamps. It strikes me that Noblesse Oblige are a very European band - a possibly superflous observation, you might think, given that the vocals arrive courtesy of either Valerie's dry French tones or the deadpan German accent of Sebastian. But there's more to it than that. You simply couldn't imagine this collection of left-bank sleazery and arch humour emanating from the USA. You need a certain European perspective to come up with a song entitled 'Night Train To Krakow' - and deliver it with a sympathy that creates the distinct impression that Noblesse Oblige have caught that very train on many occasions.and
All that's as true now as it was then, so please allow me to re-release my review for this re-released album (no remixes: the words are in exactly the same order). Noblesse Oblige were based in London then. Now, they're in Berlin, which was possibly always their spiritual home. But their baleful presence in grubby old London is much missed. We need their barbed humour and take-no-shit attitude.