Archived content from Nemesis To Go Issue 9.
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|Front page from issue 9.|
Interview from issue 9:
Live reviews from issue 9:
CD/Vinyl/Download reviews from issue 9:
Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukelele (8ft. Records)
Here's an album title that tells you exactly what you're getting (apart, perhaps, from the 'Magical' bit - personally, I'd want to see written confirmation from Professor Dumbledore). Amanda Palmer has indeed covered a selection of Radiohead songs in a charmingly minimalist uke 'n' vox style.
There's a compelling intimacy at work here. Radiohead's suburban angst has been replaced by a stark, elemental introspection. Amanda sounds close, present, as if she's right there in the room with you, sharing confidences. 'Fake Plastic Trees' is spookily sparse and intimate. On 'No Surprises', the ukelele sketches the outline of the song, while a delicate pirouette of piano (don't worry, it's not all ukelele) colours in the spaces. 'Idioteque' is counter-intuitively percussive, all clatters and clonks, like machinery rattling in the basement as Amanda sings in the parlour.
The rendition of 'Creep' live in Prague is somewhat up-fucked by whoops and hollers from the crowd, who seem to think they're watching a game show. The audience-free version, played live to nobody at a Berlin soundcheck, is superior. Amanda goes to town on the vocal, and there's an odd poignancy in the knowledge that she's emoting with such intensity to an empty room. The falsetto section is a bit like watching someone walk a tightrope. Amanda can only just get her voice up there, and it's almost scary to hear her balancing on the note without falling off. She makes it, though, and the ragged ege of her vocal gives the song an air of nervy apprehension which works rather well.
You know, I've never been a particular fan of Radiohead. Their much-vaunted reputation as bold innovators annoys me, for it only works in the context of mainstream rock music. There are bolder, weirder, more innovative bands outside the mainstream, alongside which Radiohead sound like a bunch of try-hards. And anyway, Thom Yorke's voice always makes me want to give him a slap and tell him to stop bleating, for God's sake. But here, listening to Radiohead songs without Radiohead themselves anywhere near 'em, I'm forced to admit they've got some songwriting chops ater all. Amanda Palmer probably hasn't turned me into a Radiohead fan, but she's given me a new appreciation of the band's winning way with lilting melancholy.
This album is Amanda's own project, self-released as an almost-free download. You can grab the album off the web for a minimum payment of 84 cents, which covers Radiohead's publishing fees. You're welcome to pony up a bit more, of course, so Amanda herself gets paid. By all accounts, plenty of people have done just that. Apparently, the album clocked up more than $15,000 soon after it became available - a much better result for Amanda than a normal label-release, with umpteen industry partners taking a cut of the cake until only crumbs remain for the artist.
Is this the future, then? Bypass the music biz, and simply make music available online, direct from the artist, for a nominal fee and/or a paywhatchalike donation? Well, maybe - although in many ways this is not a new notion. Bands have been flinging their music onto the web ever since download speeds became fast enough to make it practical, and DIY releases are an even older idea. Much of the music I review on this page is self-released by the artists in one way or another.
What's significant about Amanda Palmer's conversion to the cause of DIY is that she's come to it after a conventional, successful, major-label career. But here comes the irony: the reason so many people have downloaded, donated, and made her DIY project a success, is because Amanda Palmer can call upon a large and loyal fanbase - which, of course, was built up during that conventional major label career.
Personally, I'd love to kick the music industry into irrelevance. But I'll believe the biz has outlived its usefulness when artists are routinely able to start from a zero position, as it were, without ever having any industry attention, and bootstrap themselves up to - let's say - an Amanda Palmer level of success using DIY methods from day one. So far, that's not really possible.
It's good to welcome Amanda Palmer to the DIY gang, but although she's eschewed industry machinations these days, she must surely acknowledge that she's still reaping the benefits of her previous, conventional, career. Please, download the album. I recommend it. And do the decent thing: chuck in a few bucks while you're at it. But don't expect the citadels of the big bad music biz to crumble just yet.
The Dogbones (51 Records)
Now here's a bunch which have a decidedly jaundiced view of the music biz, for the band members have been around the block several times in their previous incarnations. Various Dogbones cut their teeth and learned their chops in Daisy Chainsaw, Queen Adreena, and Selfish Cunt, and the band could therefore justifiaby claim to be some sort of alternative supergroup. Except, they don't.
The Dogbones are working their way up the greasy rock 'n' roll pole just like any other new band, playing the back rooms of the grass-roots gig circuit. Guitarist Crispin Gray, best-known for handling guitar chores in Queen Adreena, has even disguised himself under the impeccably rock 'n' roll name of Johnny Orion. If The Dogbones make it, it'll be on their own merits and on their own terms. And if there's the slightest shred of justice in the mad carnival of rock 'n' roll, they'll be stars by next Tuesday tea time. Because the band's hurtling, pounding, shreds and splinters, blues and voodoo, glam-punk racket is bloody good.
Powering along on their two-drummer thunder, The Dogbones sound like the Glitter Band and Babes In Toyland having a fight in the cupboard under the stairs. They're all fried 'n' frazzled guitar and caterwauled vocals, an exhilarating blend in itself, of course. But don't go getting the impression that The Dogbones are all about noise. The band's secret superpower is their ability to place a point-perfect pop song under all the blood and guts. Catchy choruses rise out of the melee like islands in a stormy sea. Hear it once and I guarantee you'll be singing 'The Whole World Is Weird' all day. 'Stitch' has a drumbeat like barn doors slamming, but I bet the chorus will lodge in your brain like a sitting tenant.
Oh, and that jaundiced view of the music biz? Look no further than 'Give Us A Kiss', its lyric a compedium of music biz blandishments which I'm sure The Dogbones have heard too often: 'We Love your artistry, we see potentially, commerciality/Sign up and you will see/Marketing strategy' - all delivered with suitable levels of mirthless cynicism. But The Dogbones nail their attitude to the mast on 'Never Gonna Get Us', which amounts to the band's own won't-get-fooled-again anthem. The fightback starts here.
As if to illustrate the bizarre ways in which the music biz operates, this album is only available as a Japanese import from 51 Records, a Tokyo label with an eye for interesting new British bands. If you can't find it in your normal music haunts, you can buy from the label's website - or Google up HMV Japan: they have a handy English Language mail-order site. It works - that's how I got my copy. But why do I need to order The Dogbones' album from Japan when the band themselves are playing the club down the road? Is that a music biz fail, or what? The Amanda Palmer option suddenly looks like perfect sense.
Stridulum II (Souterrain Transmissions)
She probably won't thank me for making these comparisons, but to shy away from them would be to ignore the big, black elephant in the room. Nika Roza Damilova, the solo musician, programmer, and vocalist who is Zola Jesus, is an atmospheric, operatic Siouxsie, a Cocteau Twin who turned to the really dark side. Stridulum II - originally an EP which has been expanded to album length for UK release, hence the II in the title - is full of misty ambiences and ominously drifting clouds of sound. But for all its supernal qualities, this music has a rock-solid heart.
The synthesized orchestral atmospheres that are a key part of Zola Jesus' music are underpinned by minimal, but insistent, beats. Even as the sonic storm clouds sweep grandly in, they're stalked by the clatter and thunk of drumbeats as implacable as any marcing army. Amid the billowing audio cumulus, the vocals are bleak, commanding, soaked with an austere melancholy. And yet they're never merely, ineffectually, sad. Nika might be gazing blank-eyed into the void, but she's entirely in control. She's not wringing her hands hopelesslty on the brink of oblivion. She's more likely to stare the fucker down.
'Night' is the most accessible track here, an anthem to love and darkness that could almost be Motown gone mystical. It's a grandly tenebrous soul lullaby, half way between a chilled spectre and Phil Spector. 'Run Me Out' is a all sepulchral strings and a declamatory vocal, each word given equal emphasis as the ghostly string section saws and drones. Things get decidedly assertive - not that Zola Jesus is ever diffident - on 'Manifest Destiny', as the orchestra in the nightmare ballroom pulses and pounds, while 'Sea Talk', with its clattering synthi-beat and skewed pop lilt, could be the soundtrack to all of Phil Oakey's bad dreams. Zola Jesus remakes pop music in her own weird way, but her black light opera would make any wake go with a swing.
Cult Of Europa (NagNagNag)
Visually, they're a riot. Atomizer present themselves to the world in a flurry of edgy artwork and radical graphics, like they're the subversive grit in pop culture's gears. Even the press release that came with this album is an art concept - it's simply, bafflingly, a list of tantalising buzz-words: 'Nietzchean Aesthetes - Transcendental Absurdism - Sexual Narcissism.' Well, that's us told, then. Atomizer obviously see themselves as pretty goshdarned rad, Dad.
Turn on the audio, though, and...they're not so much. Atomizer make a kind of sub-Pet Shop Boys brand of smooth synthpop. It glides along without a hair out of place, every mid-tempo rhythm assembled with careful regularity. Jonny Melton - he who is also Jonny Slut out of Specimen - supplies vocals that are as light and precise as a soufflé concocted by a food hygienist. He never breaks sweat, never gets worked up. Synth lines warmly bubble in the mix, and the beat picks its way along as if trying not to step on the cracks. Even a track with the encouraging name 'Scream For Daddy' - which at least hints at a bit of bug-eyed excitement - turns out to be a blandly uninspiring instrumental.
I experience a mild burst of interest around track 7. Billed as 'Icon', it turns out to be a version of the Banshees' 'Ikon', polished to a sleek sheen, and with all of Siouxsie's blank-eyed existentialism surgically removed. (There you go, Atomizer - 'Blank eyed existentialism' - there's another slogan for you!) It trundles by with about as much excitement as a passing bus.
Atomizer's music is pleasantly unchallenging, and I suppose that's the way they like it. But, frankly, this album is a bit of a let-down after the big build-up. Where's the transcendental absurdism? I'm not seeing it, guys.
Viki Vortex & The Cumshots
4-track Demo (Self release)
Some days, only punk rock will do. And here's some stripped-down, no-shit, garage racketeering, without any airs and graces but with a very definite sense of its own bad self, that'll do the business if you're having a Punk Rock Day.
'Sex and drugs and rock and roll!' announces Viki Vortex, as if defining the four main food groups. And then the band kick in, playing it fast and tight and reckless, and never less than full speed ahead. 'Won't give up, won't give in/Take a look and shit your ring' sings Viki on 'Stupid Life', and you can't argue with that. I wouldn't dare, anyway.
What you get here is four tacks of gloriously unsophisticated rock 'n' roll noise, which is, of course, just the way it's supposed to be. Officially this is a demo, which hints that there's more to come; maybe a proper label release, or something. Me, I reckon the Cumshots should just stick their stuff out, DIY style, and have done with it. Even the stars do it that way now. These days, every day is Punk Rock Day.
Viki Vortex & The Cumshots: MySpace
Sixtynine (Rock Noir)
There's a certain noir-ish punker-glamour about this two-piece. Deathline deal in fuzz-o-rama guitar slapped unceremoniously over splat-and-blatter drum machinery, like Metal Urbain remade for twenty-first century London.
In that, Deathline are a very contemporary rock band. Their unceremonious mash-up of guitars and technology sounds like the grinding in the gearbox of the modern world. Remember when bands had to be electronic or guitar driven, but not both? Kraftwerk or The Clash, you had to choose. These days, you can be bits of both.
Deathline have certainly assimilated fragments from both sides of the fence, and out of those fragments they've conjured up their own grubby, glammy, bump 'n' grind. 'Tesko Disko' is a gonzoid tekno-rocker with a splendidly dirty bass and an equally splendid offhand vocal, but it's on '17' that Deathline crank up the real punk rock disco. This one actually has syndrums, for that 1979 Donna Summer feel. 'Region Hack' is a large and fearsome slo-mo distortion fest - Deathline do like to keep their gears low and their speed down. Only 'C'mon C'mon' and '7/1 Regime' pick up the pace a bit. Deathline are cruisers, not racers, piloting their jalopy at sinister speed round the rock 'n' roll ring road, giving passers-by hard stares from behind darkened windows to a soundtrack of rasping exhaust and clattering tappets. It's a noisy old ride, but I like it.
Amerika (51 Records)
Somewhere in Tokyo, someone is obviously keeping tabs on UK music. Like The Dogbones, Cristine are a London-based band that has landed a rather incongruous deal with 51 Records of Japan, and have released an album that's only available in the UK on import. In fact, you'll probably have to mail-order a copy yourself. This may be globalisation in action, or something - but it's also a bit silly. The fact that the album is called Amerika only adds to the international daftness.
Still, I'd recommend you get along to the 51 Records website (or go via HMV Japan, which does English-language mail order) and get yourself one of these. Cristine are a kind of chewed-up combination of Suicide and The Jesus And Mary Chain, with the Reid brothers' all-pervasive respect for the stylin' of ye olde rock 'n' roll replaced by new wave gonzoid agony, and Suicide's minimalist throbbing expanded into a wall of choppy turbulence. And they do it rather well.
'Je Suis Belle' comes atcha with a whomp-whomp-whomp beat. The verse is distortion and desperation in equal measures; the chorus is an interjection of poppy sweetness. Cristine probably wanted to be a pop group in their youth. Then they grew up and it all went interestingly wrong. 'She's In NY' pounds along like speedwalking Manhattanites, the vocal a blank croon of Warholian abstraction. Suicide's influence - not, I suspect, unintentionally - comes through strongly here. 'I'm Sorry' has the Suicide-ish rolling drumbeat and maxed-out reverb, too, while 'Name On The Wall' cranks up the guitars and the distortion and the kick-drum pulse for a definite Mary Chain moment. But these occasions where Cristine's source material so blatantly shows itself work just fine. Although you're never in any doubt about where the band are getting their ammunition from, the target they're hitting is their own.
Bizarerely, Cristine seem to have followed up the release of this album by...er, doing nothing. The band's gig-schedule has dried up - and this was a band that toured with Primal Scream a while back. You'd think a plumb tour support and a new album would've prodded them into more action, but the opposite seems to have happened. I've seen this before with bands: so often the point at which they need to step on the gas becomes the point at which they coast to a gentle halt. Maybe a few more album sales will deliver the necessary boot up the arse. Well, I bought one, so Cristine may consider themselves duly booted.
Number One Fight Star (Self release)
They look like they should be toting guitars in Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, but in fact the girl 'n' girl duo of Capital X are entirely electronic. Rock 'n roll attitude is plentifully in evidence, though - Capital X are the only electro band I've ever met that throw metal fingers in their photographs and get away with it.
Mind you, going by 'Number One Fight Star', you'd think they spent all their time listening to speedfreak breakcore. The tune hammers along on a frantic assemblage of beatz and piercing eighties-ish synthpop punctuation, while a vocal floats over the top, almost as if it had been originally intended for another song altogether.
I can't help thinking that Capital X need to bring a touch of production to their amphetamine workout. The beatz could do with a bit of ruthless de-cluttering - even when the song momentarily breaks down into a slo-mo interlude, the drum program is still whirring in the background - and the vocal really needs to strike up some sort of friendly relationship with the rhythm. A little space to make things a little less frantic. But I suspect 'less' and 'frantic' are not words that go together in Capital X's language.
Capital X: MySpace
Uppers And Downers (Monika)
Loop gurus, sampler commanders, hard-wired performance artists and dedicated wine buffs. That's Cobra Killer for you. Like Capital X, they're a female electro-duo. Also like Capital X, they don't mind getting on a frantic tip occasionally. Hang on tight for 'Hang Up The Pinup', for example - it never drops below 300mph, and even features max distort-o-guitar, courtesy of Thurston Moore and J Mascis, no less.
But, elsewhere, Cobra Killer ring the changes. Uppers And Downers is an album of infinite variety and delicious wit. It's got the winsome personal-assistant pop of 'Mr Chang' (in which a gangster loses his briefcase - go on, you try to make a pin-sharp dancefloor confection out of that) and the surrealist architectural musings of 'Upside Down The Building'. Cobra Killer meet a celeb in a Chinese resuarant on 'Hello Celebrity' - 'What are you famous for?/Tell me what do you do/In between the wan ton soups' - and get downright surreal on 'My First Parachute'. Not many bands could get away with lyrics like 'Cluster from Chester/Sister from Leicester/My son Silvester'. Cobra Killer not only get away wiith it, they have the Marc Bolan-esque knack of making arrant nonsense sound like deep, if rather gnomic, insights into the human condition.
Cobra Killer's, erm, killer app, of course, is that everything they do comes nailed to an insistent beat. Their rhythms are loping, bounding, things - and, sometimes, they exceed the speed limit, but only with good reason, officer. Chopped-up drums, guitars and fragmented electronica flesh out the framework, and it's all done with an artful whimsicality that never acknowledges its own humour by anything more than a metaphorical raised eyebrow. Deadpan, cool, and always with a firm grip on the groove, I suspect Cobra Killer are the kind of band that not everyone's going to get. But when you get 'em, you'll know.
Sweet Limbo (Black Rain)
Ripped-up and staccato, shouty-crackers and never less than in your face, Jabberwock possess punk attitude and programming in equal measures. Their synthesised, treated riffs are dishevelled and agitated, while the vocals rattle the gates of the distortion zone.
If that makes Jabberwock sound like some kind of industrial-noise project - well, no, they're not. Because while Jaberwock can do the riff 'n' stomp 'n' shout thing as well as anyone (check 'Faster' for confirmation, but stand well back), they are always at home to Mister Tune. Jabberwock write songs which pick away at the ragged edges of modern life - and then they inspect those pickings with a jaundiced eye, which I'm sure vocalist Lena keeps in the pocket of her power-dressing suit jacket for just this purpose.
'Clean' has an air of purposeful resignation, slinking forward like a job that's just got to be done. 'Brainbondage' is a cynical rant to the effect that Jabberwock love conformity, the beat skipping lightly behind outbursts of guitar. The band deploy cynicism as their primary lyrical weapon, as you can hear on 'Faith', which takes the form of a rousing revivalist anthem - either that, or Jabberwock really do want us to 'Join the army of God!'
I suspect not, though. There's a concept here. Jabberwock present themselves as sturdily conventional, from their outwardly straight-laced lyrics to the office worker suits they wear on stage. All of which, of course, serves to underline how weird the world really is - and Jabberwock, the uber-conventionalists, end up looking like the weirdest ones of the lot. There's a certain Devo influence behind Jabberwock's approach, I suspect, and certainly if you dig Devo I think you'll like Jabberwock's paradoxically uber-normal conceptual electropunk.
This third album from Noblesse Oblige sees the band shift further ground from their former incarnation as purveyors of fetishistic cabaret-disco. Here, they're meditative and acoustic; the songs are otherworldly tales, mythical musings, interludes of reflective introspection. There's a late-night, intimate feel to much of the album: both Valerie Renay and Sebastian Lee Phillip, the duo who are Noblesse Oblige, sing in hushed, spooky croons.
The result is to create an air of pensive restraint that envelopes practically all the songs here - even the relatively uptempo jungle-drum workout that is 'May They Come With Spears And Knives' has the feel of a tale told long after the feast, when the fire is burning low and darkness is gathering. Perhaps the most compelling song here - the one that'll have you pressing repeat on your CD player - is 'The Great Electrifier'. A strange tale of seduction and awakening, the lyric half-whispered, the guitar precisely plucked, it has a presence that is somehow out of all proportion to its subtle style.
Noblesse Oblige conjure their voodoo atmospheres with astute dexterity, and in Malady they have an collection of songs that are as effective as they are esoteric, even if there's no rockin' out or thumping dancefloor anthems in evidence. All of a sudden, Noblesse Oblige are a mighty long way from the fetish disco. But it's worth going with them on their strange field trip.
Bind Until It Breaks (Red Electric)
Again we find concepts at work. This five-tracker gives you excerpts from the musical soundtrack to AlterRed's stage show, a baffling steampunk-esque extravaganza that involves clockwork dolls and laughing men in straitjackets.
You might have seen it for yourself if you're in the habit of attending EBM/industrial gigs, for AlterRed have practically become the all-purpose support band for any international superstars of that ilk who're passing through the UK. KMFDM, Combichrist, Rotersand, and, erm, London After Midnight - AlterRed have been billed with 'em all. Nice work if you can get it, but how does AlterRed's own music stack up in such exalted company?
Well, even if you didn't know there's a conceptual stage act involved, you might guess, for the music does have a certain 'songs from the shows' feel to it. There are lots of lyrics, and the lyrics do seem to be telling - or, at least, illustrating - a story. Yep, there's a certain EBM influence in there - but plenty of other influences, too. A pounding electro-grind makes its presence felt here and there, but there's also precise piano and a low-down bass rumble. These are unequivocally songs, rather the beatz 'n' chantz workouts of the industrial dancefloor. There's light and shade, tension and resolution, all that good old songwriting stuff, and a sense of drama throughout.
In particular, 'Amphetamine Chic', which builds from fuzzing minimalism to a vast, swaying, anthem, is a tour de force. For AtlerRed himself to push his vocal so far to the fore on a song which has such sparse musical backing is a vote of bold confidence in his own voice. Chris Corner of IAMX would look to his laurels if he heard this one. Come to think of it, IAMX would probably be a better band for AlterRed to support than all those EBM-shouters. Time for the booking agent to get busy, I reckon.
Big Sexy Noise
Big Sexy Noise (Sartorial)
It sounds like a rock 'n' roll riddle: what d'you get if you cross Lydia Lunch with Gallon Drunk? The answer is Big Sexy Noise, this unholy collaboration between New York's mistress of no wave performace art, and London's low-slung, low-life rockers. Sounds like a marriage made in...well, not heaven, exactly. More like the saloon bar of a pub down the Old Kent Road.
Big Sexy Noise announce themselves with all the subtlety of a fight. 'Gospel Singer' arrives on a monster fuzztone guitar riff and plentiful saxophone squalls, courtesy of Terry Edwards, hornblower to the stars. In the midst of this gloriously sleazeball racket, Lydia Lunch preaches her weird blues like she's been living on a diet of whiskey and gravel for the last ten years.
Lou Reed's 'Kill Your Sons' sounds suitably nihilistic in this setting, but Big Sexy Noise have plenty of their own gutter-level anthems, too. 'Digging The Hole' has a big, bad, swagger to its beat: 'Dark Eyes' picks up the pace and shimmies like a good 'un, Lydia almost rapping the lyric in an astringent rasp. But the fuzzed-out grind is still present and correct - in fact, there's no such thing as a clean sound on this entire album. Big Sexy Noise are all about the dirt under their sonic fingernails.
'Another Man Comin' is the kind of vituperative put-down that Lydia Lunch always does well - 'No more kissing, I can't stand the taste' - but if the album has a dirty pearl it's got to be 'Your Love Don't Pay My Rent', in which Lydia, in a voice magnificently soaked with revulsion, kicks her man out the door without so much as a bye-bye. 'You did all my drugs, you ate all my food/You broke my TV tripping over your boots' - well, that's told him, then. The guitars and sax squabble in audio filth, and it's all gloriously low-down and unclean. Yes, Big Sexy Noise are brilliantly disreputable. Here's a fine soundtrack for anyone who likes their low life low.
Detroit Punk (Self release)
Look out, Iggy, they're coming for ya. This one definitely does what it says on the tin. Straight outta Detroit with their tails on fire, Choking Susan are ramalama punks with a full-speed-ahead attiude and a gonzoid garage sound. They also have a secret weapon in the shape of vocalist Colleen Caffeine, who is as glam as all get-out and sings, classic offhand punker style, as if she's taken a jaundiced look at the world and concluded that it kinda sucks.
The music is a wall of overdriven Chuck Berry guitar slapped unceremoniously over a rock-solid beat. Sure, you could say Choking Susan aren't doing anything that the New York Dolls didn't do in the 70s (and countless others have done since), but that righteous rock 'n' roll blast still does its job as well as ever. And, as if to prove that there's more to Choking Susan than just the rockin', check out 'Word Maggot', a spoken-word piece in which Coleen Caffeine gets her Lydia Lunch on, and gives us a motormouth rant - 'I don't want drips of anything in my life!' She's Cooper-Clarke fast, plenty assertive, and ever so slightly scary. All essential boxes ticked, then.
Choking Susan: MySpace
Life Goes On (People Like You)
Is it me, or is there something a bit ho-hum about that title? Life Goes On - it hardly suggests a gung-ho, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude, does it? What the hell, another decade, another Adicts album - hey, life goes on, right?
Well, The Adicts sell themselves short with their less than inspiring title choice. Because Life Goes On is better than its title leads you to believe, and the band are far more fired up and kicking than you might guess. Boisterous punk rock singalongs thunder out in an almost endless stream, every one of them rammed with rousing choruses and punch-the-air moments. The Adicts always were masters of the good-time punk anthem, and in 30-odd years (yep, they've been going that long) the band certainly hasn't lost its chops.
Get yer pogo boots on, then, for such unashamed rabble-rousers as 'Spank Me, Baby', almost a music-hall belter, packed with singalong cues. Then there's 'We Ain't Got A Say', the obigatiory politics-is-bollocks song. Every punk band has to have one. It's the law. The title track is a rollicking drinking song, basically The Adicts' take on 'Hurry Up Harry' - sample lyric: 'Beer! Beer! Let's have another beer!' Every punk band needs one of those, too. I mean, a drinking song. Not a beer. Although a beer would be nice, now you mention it. Cheers!
But there's a surprise lurking among the good-time stompers. 'Gangster' is a relective, almost-acoustic interlude, its strummed guitar punctuated by tinkling piano and squiggles of electronics. It sounds like something David Bowie might've toyed with around the time of Alladin Sane. It's quietly brilliant, and all the better for being so unexpected. I'm left wondering what The Adicts could come up with if they weren't more or less obliged to play the part of boisterous joker-punks. That schtick has given the band a career, but it's imposed limitations, too. Maybe there's another side to The Adicts that we have never been allowed to see. 'Gangster' tweaks aside the curtain.
Hung, Drawn And Quartered (Bitter Ruin Records)
Bitter Ruin are all retro-noir aesthetics and resonant acoustic guitars, like an English, folkie version of the Dresden Dolls. And, believe me, they're very English. Vocalist Georgia Train has a cut-glass voice so powerful it's as if she honed her vocal skills by shouting encouragement to the Roedean lacrosse team on windswept clifftop playing fields. Her sudden bursts of vibrato on 'Deficiency Of You' carry the unexpected jolt of electric shocks. They'll tip you out of your chair and set you quivering on the hearthrug, as if with the ague.
On 'Chewing Gum' Georgia goes from winsome to frenetic from a standing start, while the guitar gamely tries to keep up in the background. 'The Dancing Dolls Of Porcelain' - a penny-dreadful cautionary tale - is delivered with the assertiveness of a steampunk Joyce Grenfell. The male half of the duo, Ben Richards, wields his guitar like a swordstick, but he's got a job on his hands to keep up with Georgia. She always leads from the front. Here and there, Ben essays the occasional spot of singing himself. He's usually a restrained foil to Georgia's vocal acrobatics, but his counterpoint-shouting on 'Stand To Attention' creates a bizarrely Gang Of Four-like moment. And I bet that's the first time Bitter Ruin have had that comparison.
Bitter Ruin's world of skewed Victoriana and ever so slightly sinister parlour ditties has a definite appeal, and it's impressive that as an unsigned band they've created everything themselves, from their overarching aesthetic to the detailed professionalism of their web presence. Interestingly enough, they're supporting Amanda Palmer in the USA soon. I'm not sure if that counts as a marriage made in heaven or an unholy alliance.
Waste Of Flesh (Armalyte Industries)
Look at those song titles: 'Waste Of Flesh', 'Destructive', 'Pyre Burns' - Concrete Lung like their nihilism, that's for sure. What Concrete Lung also like is a mad percussive racket. This album is all pounding percussion and programmed pow-pow-pows, over which distorted voices angrily shout.
Occasionally a hint or two of EBM-ish dancefloor sounds filter through, but they're quickly knocked flat by the relentless thunder of the bastard beat. There's guitar, too, but it's processed into an amorphous mass of distorted noise. 'Sins Of Flesh' is the one respite. It's Concrete Lung's no-we-are-real-musicians-honest instrumental - a relatively civilized quasi-ambient workout, complete with girly synth tinkles. But the bastard beat and the alpha-male shouting dominate practically everything else here. Concrete Lung paint from a limited palette, but what they lack in diversity they make up in bludgeoning monochrome rage.
It all sounds like the Slimelight at 4am - when you've been awake so long you've practically entered a trance-like state, and the DJ's selections start to blur into a nebulous blare of machine-noise. Supply yourself with some tinnies of lager and a gram of rough sulphate, play this album at max volume while slumping disconsolately on the nearest hard, grubby surface, and you can recreate that experience in the privacy of your own home. If you want to.
Concrete Lung: MySpace
Keepsake EP (Transient)
I'm not sure if this five-tracker actually has a proper title, so I'll take the liberty of naming it after the lead track. Guilty Strangers come from San Fransisco, but they're anything but laid-back Californian sun worshippers. In Guilty Strangers' world, all is twilight and chill, and there's a strange, thrumming tension in the air.
Their songs are stark outlines, framework and bones, guitar and bass circling each other warily as vocalist Christine Terry lets loose her austere squall of a voice. She sounds vexed and tormented, like a pissed-off Patti Palladin (that's a compliment, by the way). On 'Fetish' she's magnificently insouciant, her voice dripping with equal parts casual dismissal and pique. A rumble of bass underpins 'Passerby', the song smouldering like yesterday's fire as Christine croons the lyric in a voice of icy detachment. '45mg' kicks things up again, the rhythm tweaking the nose of reggae while the guitar maintains an abrasive itch-and-scratch. You can dip in anywhere on this EP and hit the band's frosty sting, but it's not all bleakness. I'm sure that's a kazoo I hear on 'Black Magic Trouble'. Somewhere under the permafrost, Guilty Strangers hide a subtle wit.
If Guilty Strangers were based in London, I reckon they'd be instant stars of the twenty-first century post-post-punk scene. As it is, I can only hope they save up their air fares soon. This stuff is crying out for a run-out in London's new wave watering holes. If it ever happens, I'll see you down the front.
Guilty Strangers: MySpace
Confessions EP (Self release)
A monster beat, layered squalls of guitar, and a vocal at once rueful and exultant - 'It was the best I could do in the state I was in,' sings Beth Rettig on 'Confessions', as the guitar ties itself in frayed knots and the bassline strides nonchalantly past in its big boots.
Blindness match dirty technology with a big rock racket, and in 'Confessions' - a song about emerging bloodied but unbowed from some unspecified trauma - they've created an anthem that grabs both regret and triumph by the scruff of their necks and sets them marching. Its insistent lope and swagger recalls - sorry, Blindness, I have to mention this - Robert Palmer's 'Addicted To Love'. I wonder if Blindness have ever heard the Ciccone Youth version, with Kim Gordon on vocals? But don't worry. You won't have to file Blindness under 'guilty pleasure'. Just 'Pleasure' will do.
'Broken' is all grinding bass and eruptions of volcanic guitar - that's Debbie Smith on guitar, ex-Curve, and her sheets of noise are instantly recognisable. 'No One Counts' is a bit of a ballad, but it's no shrinking violet. It's got a stuttering machine-beat, that untrammelled six-string overdrive, and plenty of the band's dirty cool. Dirt and coolness? Yes, that's the stuff we like.
La Santisima Muerte (Kommunity PM)
Kommunity FK's status as pioneering deathrockers might not mean a great deal in the world at large, but if you're an early eighties Los Angeles post-punker, or a denizen of the present-day deathrock scene, you'll know all about this band. Patrik Mata, Kommunity FK's main man, helped to define deathrock in the early days, when that particular art-noir tangent first broke away from punk.
Today, Patrik Mata is still defining deathrock to his own specifications. This album wears its deathrock credentials with pride, but it doesn't sound much like the horrorshow punk or stripped-down new wave that most people would associate with the genre. It's Kommunity FK's own vision, and much of the music here sounds more like a spooked version of the Happy Mondays than anything eighties-punky. Circling rhythms rattle and flow, programming stutters and sweeps, guitar slashes and burns. Over all this, Patrik Mata declaims with flamboyant theatricality. If this is deathrock, it's definitely not as we know it.
On 'Saga Ov The Illuminaztiez' he single handedly takes on the secret brotherhood who rule the world - it's a vertiable Dan Brown novel in song, based on a chattering beat by guest drummer Martin Atkins. Nice hi-hat work there, by the way, Mart. 'Protektion' (these aren't typos, by the way: Kommunity FK seem to have formed their own spelling reform league) is a rather nifty left-field dance-rock thing, with a distorted drone ebbing and flowing like a tide as the beat circles the dancefloor. It's like one of Primal Scream's killer floor fillers, dosed up with a slug of high drama and an injection of treated guitar.
'Shades Ov U' is a slice of industrial-tekno disco, rather like the kind of loop 'n' beat workouts Daniel Ash did on his last solo album. The album tops off with a faithful version of the Walker Brothers' 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore', Patrik Mata paying homage to a classic he obviously knows and loves. He does a pretty good soulful vocal, too.
Add up all those disparate reference points - Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Daniel Ash, the Walker Brothers, yet - and you can see we're a mighty long way from anything the deathrock scene would recognise. That's possibly a problem for Patrik Mata if he's planning to sell this music to the deathrock market. My guess is the kids'll take one look and turn their noses up. But still, Kommunity FK have made an album of maverick individuality and kooky, groovy, charm. Me, I rather like it.
The clincher is the cover, which features a typical British 1950s street scene, give or take a few angels and space aliens. As a classic car fan, I've got to dig an American deathrock album which gives pride of place in its artwork to a Hillman Minx.
Kim Acylic & The Northern Drones
Fanfare Meltdown (Soundstudio)
An oddity, this - but an engaging one. Here we have the result of a transatlantic collaboration between Kim Acylic, a coffee house poet from Seattle, and the Northern Drones, a band from Dublin. This album, on which Kim declaims her beatnik poems over mantra-like backing music supplied by the band, was apparently put together without either party meeting in person.
You can hear the spacetime mismatch in the production, to a certain extent. Kim's vocal is down in the mix in a way that I suspect wouldn't have happened if everybody had been in the same room when the recording was made. But for all that, there's a scuzzy appeal here, and a real sense of lower east side beat-era grooviness. The band sets up a bohemian groove and dances the mess around. Kim paces through her words with deadpan deliberation. She's got exactly the right voice for her poems - the way she enunciates 'Rock 'n' roll' on the title track is worth the price of admission by itself.
Weirdly, there's no real attempt to coordinate the words and music. Sometimes, it all fades out, mid-poem, and then fades in, randomly, before vanishing again. The effect is a bit like listening to an uncharacteristically laid-back Lydia Lunch over an ill-tuned radio, through a drifting haze of hallucenogenics. It's all quite weird, but never less than compelling.
Kim Acrylic & The Northern Drones: MySpace
Pretentious, Moi? (Self release)
If you've been moving in European goth circles recently, you might have noticed a sudden surge of interest in the sounds of the 90s British goth scene. These days, any band that can claim a connection with those heady days of gigs at London's Marquee, Underworld, or Borderline, or perhaps the Whitby Gothic Weekend before it became a fancy dress parade for the mums 'n' dads, is guaranteed interest across Europe, where the 90s UK scene now has something of a supercool reputation.
There's an obvious irony there, for I don't recall anybody paying that kind of keen attention at the time - and, of course, it begs the question of how long it'll be before anyone shows an interest in what's happening now. Give it ten years, eh? But this does mean that Pretentious, Moi? are in the happy position of being in the right place at the right time. They're a UK goth band put together by Tim Chandler, ex-member of several 90s goth heroes, and the music the band makes is as near as dammit a note-perfect encapsulation of the classic British 90s goth sound.
So, stand by for that splat-and-rattle drum machine, multiple layers of crashing and twingle-twangling guitar, dense, wordy lyrics, the angelic choirs, the portentous bad-things-are-happening-in-the-cellar lead vocal. It's all here, executed with great precision and a nimble grace which ensures that even when things get heavy, we never slide into Nephilim-style quasi-metal territory. There's even a touch of wit amid the filigree and shadow - let's face it, the band name indicates a certain knowing humour at work. The 90s goth scene, even at its most darky extravagant, always had a sense of fun.
I can't say I'm desperate to recreate the 90s goth scene myself, but I know there are others who regard that era, and the music that came out of it, as some sort of cultural nirvana. For that audience, Pretentious, Moi? are going to be bang on the money. Do you remember the Sunday night goth slot at the Marquee with affection? Or perhaps you never went there, but you wish you had? Either way, your retro-nirvana starts here.
Pretentious, Moi?: MySpace
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing
Now That's What I Call Steampunk Volume 1 (Leather Apron)
If some wish to recreate the 1990s, others have grander ambitions. The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing carve out their own curious world of faux-Victoriana. These moustachioed and begoggled gents, clearly on mischief bent, have formed a 19th-century style punk rock band in a bid to go back - right back - to the old school.
They've gone so far back, this album is actually available on wax cylinder. No, really, it is. Now that's what you call dedication to your concept. Mind you, being a modern kinda guy, I've moved on from the wax cylinder format. It's shellac 78s all the way for me.
The Men (I'm not going to type it out every time) claim that they're putting the punk into steampunk. Well, it's about time someone did. The premise of steampunk - a collision of technology and chronology, where 19th century style meets the tech of today - has always seemed to me more interesting than its execution. Too often, it boils down to just another fancy dress party. Amiable and pleasant, but without the slightest hint of an edge. Perhaps brass just doesn't sharpen up too well. If The Men can inject a bit of blood, guts, swearing and bad behaviour into the proceedings, they'll liven things up no end.
They've certainly got the traditional tropes of punk in their brass-bound steamer trunk. They've got buzzsaw guitars and drums that sound like cats fighting among the dustbins. They've got call-and-response vocals that alternate between the rasp of Petticoat Lane barkers and the refined tones of gay blades on a spree. In a band that contains Andy Heintz, ex-Creaming Jesus, and Andrew O'Neill, heavy metal comedian and sometime Amanda Palmer collaborator, you'd expect the lyrics and vocals to be a verbal riot, and The Men don't disappoint in this department.
The songs are a motley assortment of punked-up music hall ditties that work best when they address real Victorian subject matter - like the building of the great 19th century urban sewer systems. 'They're moving Father's grave to build a sewer,' lament The Men in a saloon bar warble, before solemnly warning of toilet-based hauntings, in 'Sewer'.
Songs which merely celebrate steampunk clichés, such as 'Goggles', are more flimsy affairs. I'd expect The Men, if they have the courage of their punk convictions, to dare to take the piss when it's necessary. But the mentalist thrash of 'A Traditional Victorian Gentlemen's Boasting Song' is worth your thruppence-ha'penny admission charge simply for the line, 'We're living the dream/Through the power of steam'.
Gentlemen, may your safety valves never blow off.
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing: MySpace
Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (Some Bizzarre)
That's right: this album is on Some Bizzarre, the 80s label that brought us Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Cabaret Voltaire, Foetus, Psychic TV...among umpteen others. In its heyday, Some Bizzarre grabbed quite a profile for itself, and engineered useful career-boosts for its artists via tie-ups with major labels. Now, as a purely independent effort, Some Bizzarre is less well-known. Aside from Risqué themselves, and possibly The Grid (featuring Dave Ball of Soft Cell), I'm willing to bet you can't name any of the label's current artists. Go on - no Googling - I challenge you to name 'em!
While you're racking your brains, we'll listen to the Risqué album. The band name and cover art drop a clue as to the territory we're in: slinky electropop with a certain festish-y flavour. Other pertinent facts: Risqué are a French/Welsh duo, and...they aren't quite as risqué as the black leather outfits of singer Nathalie might have you believe. Even on a song like 'Déshabille-Toi' ('Undress Yourself') she sounds merely, mildly, saucy, rather than the full-on electro-seductress I think she's trying to be.
The band's music is neat and polite, to the point of being rather forgettable. Significantly, it's only the two covers here - Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' and The Velvet Underground's 'Venus In Furs' - that really lodge in the brain. Of the band's originals, the best has to be 'Push The Button', which features a strong coldwave-soul vocal from Billie Ray Martin. Interestingly, and - for Risqué themselves, rather worryingly - their best moments all seem to feature input from others, either on the songwriting side or in the performance. I'm left with the impression that there's a potentially good band here that needs a bit of A&R input. Over to you, Stevo.
Veil Of Thorns
Salon Apocalypse/Necrofuturist (Inner X Musick)
Two collections of strange ambiences, dystopian noisescapes and cinematic out-thereness from P. Emerson Williams, who periodically unleashes bursts of his weird sonic art upon the world from his Bond villain-style base in Florida. Actually, I made up the bit about the Bond villain-style base, but there's certainly a sense that this music comes from somewhere quite detached from the everyday world. If it doesn't emanate from the crater of a hollowed-out volcano, it should do.
Necrofuturist runs the gamut from the future-folk of 'Through The Fire' to the psychedelic voodoo ritual of 'The Vandal's Exquisite Corpse' - I'll be very disappointed if the back-masked voices on this one aren't reciting some sort of invocation to raise the dead. But then there's the brief interlude of 'Waltz', a strange country three-step, all chiming guitars, bent notes and echoes, like something the KLF would've put on Chill Out. Meanwhile, 'The Reflection' is all swelling, spooky drones, as if David Bowie decided to remake Low in Tibet. If this makes it sound like there's a bewildering variety of music here, that's because there is - but it all hangs together in a blur of ambience and iconoclasm and other-worldly grooves.
Salon Apocalypse is a yet more capricious beast. 'Still Bloody Action' mashes folk-disco with metallic mayhem; but, further in, 'Windows Blacked Out' sounds like the city's small-hours madness, recorded by dangling microphones from the top of a skyscraper. 'The Thing Is In Play' wrests things in yet another direction: stuttering, nervy, electro gives way - incongruously, scarily - to sounds of stress and conflict, half-heard through walls. This is the soundtrack to the film flickering in your midnight imagination. Be sure to lock the doors tonight. And stay away from the volcano.