In which Uncle Nemesis goes rattling down the review stack at a healthy canter. Vinyl, CDs, and a download-only album...
It's oddly reassuring to find that even in these space age days of downloads, the seven inch single is alive and well. As a delivery system for short, sharp, bursts of noise at a cheap as chips cost, and with better sound quality than a clunky old MP3, it still can't be beaten. And call me an old fuddy-duddy if you will, but I still think it's nice to own a three-dimensional musical artifact, rather than simply stash some zeroes and ones on a computer.
here come The Violets (Website,
Myspace) to demonstrate
all this, with their third single, 'Hush Away' (Angular). The band deploy
their spiky, assertive sound to great effect on a pin-neat punky pop
song that crackles with energy and feels as alive as an electric wire.
The B-side tune, 'In This Way' juxtaposes a dubby bassline and death
disco drums with clangorous guitars (the intro in particular reminds
me of Killing Joke's early stuff) and then goes spurting all over the
place in the chorus as if the song's just been forced down a high pressure
hose. A briliantly sparky racket, but then this is The Violets we're
talking about here. We expect nothing less...and they deliver every
time. The band make many of their tunes available to download from their
Myspace page, by the way, so if vinyl isn't your thing, by all means
go and see what they've got available in digital form.
another seven-incher, only recently released, but already a classic
tune on certain left-field dancefloors. I have no idea if DJ
Foundation is a him, a her, or a they, nor can I give you
any links or contacts beyond noting that the double A-side single '(Have
They Not Heard) God Is Dead / I Shot You Babe' is available from Rough
Trade. This dearth of information is probably deliberate: these
tracks, assembed as they are from mashed-up excerpts of hit songs, probably
break six copyright laws before
breakfast. 'God Is Dead' slams an old Glitter Band beat behind a chopped-up
narrative built around sampled voices - the theme here is underage sex,
and you'll find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat even as
your feet start tapping. 'I Shot You Babe' is credited to Sunni and
Shia (never mind the copyright infringements, that'll probably get DJ
Foundation on the wrong end of a fatwa) and deconstructs Sonny &
Cher's old hit 'I Got You Babe' by the simple expedient of removing
large chunks of the tune and replacing them with guns and bombs. It's
a brilliantly witty idea, precisely executed - no matter how far we
stray from the original tune, the rhythm never falters - but it also
probably counts as the year's most political record. As Iraq slides
into civil war, this tune makes its point far more effectively than
any ranty punk polemicists with guitars.
Split singles used to be a big thing years ago - one release, two bands, two sides. The idea is still kicking around, as Entertainment (Website, Myspace) and A Spectre Is Haunting Europe (Website, Myspace) demonstrate with their split 12", which seems to be on aDistant records (that's not a typo, that's how it's rendered on the label) or Simulacre Media, depending on which label you look at. Entertainment go avant-punk on 'China Walls', employing a drum pattern somewhat akin to The Fall's 'Rowche Rumble' and a glammed-up guitar to create a sound not a million miles away from Bauhaus at their most outré. 'Wraps Of Wasteland Arms' (Entertainment seem to arrive at their song titles by a process of random word association) is a Sonic Youth-esque dirge, long and moody. Flip the disc, and A Spectre Is Haunting Europe give us the almost-reggae of 'Servers', which builds up into some nice guitar flourishes, but not before it's rather unfortunately reminded me of amiable 80s MOR-poppers like Huey Lewis And The News. Second track 'Stop' has an abrupt name, but rather disconcertingly turns out to be a slow-burn introspective crooner of a song. I confess I don't get on so well with A Spectre Is Haunting Europe: I think it's Entertainment's side that'll be spinning on my deck.
Another compilation comes from Italy's Other Voices (Website), who sound like a kind of gothic AOR band. Anatomy Of A Pain (In The Night Time) showcases their mellow, plangent guitar, and low-key, relaxing songs. Even when they attempt a bit of a rocker, as on 'Garlic', the effect is strangely muted and polite. The band seem to favour smooth and innofensive music, and ultimately it's rather characterless. The lyrics, meanwhile, are occasionally downright embarrassing: 'If I could sleep alone in a coffin/I would discover loneliness' - hmmm. I think we'll move on, don't you?
With a name like Crud (Myspace) this one could go either way. Crud, apparently, play 'sex rock', which sounds like the kind of wannabe-shocking concept which, on closer inspection, turns out to be about as outrageous as tea with the vicar. Nevertheless, let's give it a whirl. I'm not sure if Crud's album, Devil At The Wheel, is actually on general release (no label info appears on this promo CD, which strikes me as a bit silly) but I can certainly say that they smash guitars and samples and effects together with great aplomb. Imagine Andrew WK, Ministry and The Prodigy getting messed at a party on plenty of JD and substances, and you'll be in the band's gonzoid area. It's all brash and trashy noise, beats and riffs colliding like a dayglo Nine Inch Nails, and if the spooky-growly male vocals and here's-a-good-sample-let's-flog-it-to-death arrangements occasionally seem a bit too obvious for comfort, when all's said and done it's good dirty fun. Probably not quite as edgy as they'd like us to believe, mind...but fun.
Is that distant thunder I hear? Nope, it's the sound of Knifeladder (Website, Myspace) drumming up the apocalypse on their album The Spectacle (Cryonica). A tightly-controlled, physical sound, rhythms blatted out with an implacable will, Knifeladder's music is a kind of tribal-industrial hybrid: the noise of machines in factories, the rumble of avalanches in the mountains. Or perhaps it's more like machines in the mountains, avalanches in factories. Either way, Knifeladder create a sound as exhilarating as it is precise, a fine antidote to the programmed-to-death approach of may other artists in today's industrial zone. By turns atmospheric and suffused by the red mist, blending shrieking woodwind and gutteral shouts like yak herders calling across the plains, punctuated by bursts of stroppy bass and sonorous vocal, this music will rattle your nerves and your window panes in equal proportions. Great production, too - you'll be convinced that the drums on 'Born Under Fire' and 'Suffer In Silence' (something which Knifeladder, wedded to the art of noise as they are, are hardly likely to do) are right there in your head, while 'Head Of The Serpent' sounds like Shriekback after a night on the tiles with Aleister Crowley. In short, wonderful and frightening stuff.
Having mentioned atmosphere, here comes another album which, perhaps unexpectedly, dovetails neatly with Knifeladder's approach. When gathered with family members in your home projection room for an evening of art movies from the early 20th century, have you ever hankered after some appropriate music to complete the atmosphere? It's a conundrum, for sure. The solution might come in the form of the eponymous debut album on their own Disconnected label by SonVer (Website, Myspace). Drifting like mist on the river, booming like ships that collide in the night, as plangent as rain on glass, and sometimes as harshly implacable as waves against the sea wall, SonVer's music melds cello, guitar, effects and samples (plus, on 'The Bell Tower', shifting tides of treated trumpet) with nimble grace and otherworldly effect. More than just another ethereal project, this is, dare I say it, real music. I've heard so much stuff in this general area which sounds rather uncomfortably like someone holding down a synth preset while boosting the reverb, and loftily calling the resulting noise 'ambient', that it's a pleasure to hear a collection of pieces - like 'Transparent Arms', with its hints at rhythm, and 'Khat Show Host', a hot night in Morocco created right there in your living room - that have real ideas behind them. Cinematic and sweeping, yet detailed to the nth degree, SonVer will hit the spot even if you normally run a mile at the first hint of ambience. And I'll tell you this: Un Chein Andalou will never seem the same again.
Currently available as a download only, but apparently due to get a hard-copy release at some point, The Death And Resurrection Show by Xykogen (Website, Myspace) is essentially the latest in what you might call the electro-industrial-dance genre. Xykogen themselves call it futurepunk - referencing VNV Nation's term 'futurepop', but dropping a hint that there's more of an attitude going on here. But don't be fooled by the P-word. Xykogen deliver smoothly accessible dancefloor grooves, without troubling the listener with too much abrasion or strop. In fact, in many ways their music sounds very mid-nineties electrogoth. Think of Faithful Dawn's slick sequences mixed with the distorted-chant vocals of Inertia (and that distortion effect counts as a very old idea in this context, of course), and you've got Xykogen's principal musical ideas nailed. The unique selling point is the inclusion of rap interludes, courtesy of the Reverend Eris. Although the rhythm and tempo of his raps never greatly varies (creating the intriguing, but possibly unintentional effect that they're all cut-ups of a larger narrative), it's nevertheless an interesting tangent on a musical style which isn't otherwise bursting with innovation. Indeed, lyrics such as 'I am synthetic, plastic ironic, I am artificial' sound endearingly like something the Buggles would've come up with ye olden eighties. Xykogen are clearly at home in their musical territory - everything here is delivered with a confident swagger and boasts impressively polished production - but I'm a little bemused to find that their take on the future sounds so much like a remix of the past. The Death And Resurrection Show isn't bad, you understand, but it's not the revolution, either.
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