Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fresh from the vault (4)

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The House Of Love’s first two albums are landmarks of British Alternative pop, channelling the spirit of ‘60s psychedelia without resorting to crude pastiche. Following their second – the still remarkable -  “Butterfly”, featuring THoL’s closest brush with mainstream success, “Shine On”, their lead guitarist, Terry Bickers was unceremoniously offloaded in the wake of a drug-fuelled depression. His next project, Levitation surfaced a year or so later, producing an EP (After Ever) and a compilation (Coterie) whilst touring extensively. They were, in Bickers’ own words, ‘…progressive… but totally in the now’ Their debut LP (and masterwork) wouldn’t appear until 1992, however:

“Need For Not” is very much an album of two halves, with opening track, “Against Nature” setting the agenda for the first half: rocking far harder than anything in the HOL’s catalogue, it’s driven by Dave Francolini’s hyperactive drum fills and the intwined riffage of Bickers and (Cardiacs’ protégé) Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes. The next two tracks follow in the same vein, before “Resist” drops the tempo somewhat: a dreamy Bickers’ vocal floating on the swell of guitar noise, imparting to the track something of a Shoegaze feel. “Arcs Of Light And Dew” begins in similar mode, but this is where the album really opens up, with Robert White’s keyboard work becoming more prominent in the mix and distorted riffs supplemented by more intricate guitar flourishes. Over – a vinyl-centric – forty-four minutes, loud/quiet, fast/slow, noise/melody contrasts are explored to dramatic and unsettling effect, and even the more rocking material is infused with the trippy ‘otherness’ that characterised THoL’s best work. It’s a short listen by today’s standards, but every track, and the album as a whole swells with grandiose intent, climaxing with the shifting textures of “Coterie”, which twinkles menacingly before a controlled explosion and long fade brings band and listener back down to Earth, exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure.

Bickers suffered another breakdown whilst touring Need For Not and dramatically quit the band onstage, nixing any chance of a follow-up (although a part-completed album with replacement singer Steve Ludwin was released in Australia prior to the band’s dissolution). Hayes, Francolini and, bassist Laurence o’ Keefe have resurfaced in various projects since – most notably Dark Star, Mikrokosmos and Dragons – but never quite re-captured the intensity and focus of this astounding album .

World Around:

Smile:

Fresh from the vault (3)

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Rock fans have a thing about ‘technology’. Not all technology, mind – where would we be without electric guitars and amps – but keyboards and particularly sampling technology. Until well into the ’90s they just weren’t considered ‘rock’n’roll’ enough; somehow inauthentic by contrast to ‘manly’ and ‘organic’ Les Paul’s and Flying V’s. Certain artists were way ahead of the game of course – mostly progressive and new age acts like Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Oldfield- but hard rock and metal fans were slower to catch on. To this day, top names like Iron Maiden and Oasis keep the keyboard guy tucked away in the wings out of sight: fans of the former reacted with outrage to more overt use of synths on ‘Somewhere In Time’ (1986) and ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ (1988).

It was inevitable, though, that at some point certain forward-looking artists would find new ways to rock that took advantage of the newly-affordable sampling and sequencing technology that brought a new ambience to popular music through the ’80s and ’90s. So-called ‘Industrial’ metal acts like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were amoung the first to win over the rock crowd, blending hard rock riffs with synthesised bleeps and beats inspired by the likes of Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Belgium’s Front 242. Interestingly, fans of the Mode were equally perturbed by the introduction of ‘live’ instrumentation on their ‘Violator’ (1990) and ‘Songs Of Faith and Devotion’ (1993) albums.

But I digress. One of the major players in ’90s metal took the whole man vs technology conceit and made it their calling card. neatly encapsulated by the sleeve illustration of a ribcage/barcode in cool blue tones, Fear Factory’s ‘Demanufacture’ album (1995) is one of the landmarks of forward-looking rock in that decade.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2d/Fear_Factory_-_Demanufacture.jpg

The music is emphatically ROCK, and clearly owes its inspiration to thrash metal and hardcore punk but the use of cold synth washes, samples and triggered drums give it an almost mechanical feel, whilst adding melody and harmony to rub up against the headbanging aggression. New Breed (below) incorporates some decidedly trancy sounds into what is basically a thrash/punk song, whilst ‘A Therapy For Pain’ is a dreamy, extended mood pice. The dichotomy extends to the vocal department, with singer Burton C. Bell affecting the contrasting clean/gruff vocal styles that would prove so influential in metal from then on. The conceptual nature of his lyrics took in weighty matters including cloning (‘Replica’), Religion (‘Zero Signal’ and ‘Pisschrist’) and the end of the world in a war between man and machine, inspired ‘The Terminator’ movie.

Rhys Fulber from Canadian industrial dance group Front Line Assembly had produced a number of remixes from FF’s debut LP, ‘Soul Of A New Machine’ and returned to mix this album too. The result is an album full of contrast and complexity. The production values mark it out as a ’90s album but the quality of the songwriting has stood the test of time admirably. They’ve not produced anything as front-to-back jaw-droppingly rocking since.

New Breed:

Piss Christ:

 

 

 

Sexism below the belt.

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According to AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association) president Dr Ching-Kuo Wu:

“I have heard many times, people say, ‘We can’t tell the difference between the men and the women,’ especially on TV, since they’re in the same uniforms and are wearing headgear,” he told the Times Union.

http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/world-of-sport/article/74052/

Are viewers of boxing really that blind and, there’s no polite way to say this, dumb? Probably. Anyone whose idea of a good night out/in is watching grown adults batter the shit out of each other in the faint hope of winning a golden jackpot before permanent neurological damage sets in is clearly not the sharpest tool in the box; though quite possibly a tool.

Boxing is the last vestige of the ‘lions and Christians’ model of entertainment when a jaunt down to the colliseum to see prisoners run down by chariots, savaged by wild beasts and gang-raped was de rigeur family viewing. It’d be nice to think we’d moved on a bit, wouldn’t it? That said, and accepting that boxing remains a popular ‘sport’, one must respect the right of women to participate on equal terms to their male counterparts.

Equal terms.

Roman centurions went to battle in skirts, not shorts. In the interests of eliminating at least sartorial sexism in twenty-first century sport, AIBA’s male members might be required to enter the ring similarly-attired?

Fresh from the vault (2)

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I was a latecomer to Bob Mould. Husker Du were done and dusted and he’d released two semi-successful solo albums before Sugar zoomed onto my musical radar screen via a cassette covermount with, I believe, Sounds (though it could have been Melody Maker). Those papers have gone the same way as cassettes, and Sugar are a distant memory now, though Mould continues to include much of its repertoire in his solo sets, perhaps as a reminder to himself of the standard he need to aim for. Both the Du and his solo albums have yielded up rich, if sporadic pickings but Sugar (and debut long-player, Copper Blue in particular) represented something of a creative high water-mark.

The track that piqued my interest was album opener ‘The Act We Act’ (below), an astonishing statement of intent. I wasn’t familiar with the Du or his solo stuff then, but if I had been I’d have noticed how he’d really learned to write a hook since then. From the screamy punk of the early Du to the often funeareal dirge-like qualities of his first two solo efforts, Mould had dipped his toe into pop waters but the economy of his writing here is astounding. Husker Du have often been name-checked as influential by a host of Emo and Indie bands but on Copper Blue he out-writes any of them. If you’re familiar with anything from that album it’s probably second single, the catchy Indie-ballad ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’, and as good as that is most of the rest of the album is even better. If I’m asked to name perfect albums where every track is a standout then this is always in my top 10, along with Elizium (see ‘Fresh from the vault 1). I’ll even let Mould off for blatantly ripping off Pixies ‘Debaser’ and calling it ‘A Good Idea’. I imagine Black Francis was flattered.

Mould has always been more or less autobiographical in his lyric writing and so it always sounds as though he’s appealing directly to the listener, which can a discomfiting experience since most of the words appear to be directed at the other half of a rocky relationship. The aforementioned ‘…Change Your Mind’ is a bon-adieu to a departing beau, which manages to combine wistfulness with a stiff upper lip: in spite of the subject matter it’s upbeat and uplifting. ‘Changes’ and ‘Helpless’ are both rockier and more desperate sounding affairs; missives sent from the eye of stormy territory.  ‘The Act We Act’ comes from much the same place lyrically, albeit paired with a slower, growlier delivery. On the hard-rocking yet stupidly-catchy ‘Fortune Teller he berates a lover for his lack of commitment and just for levity, ‘Slick’ narrates a drunken car crash (after an argument with a lover, of course).

But the real centrepieces of this album are the epic-sounding tracks five and six. It’s tempting to read the opening lines standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam, from ‘Hoover Dam’ as referencing suicide but I have an inkling the words are meant figuratively, about being at a crossroads in life . With its backward-tracked drum intro, lush keyboards and two guitar and piano breaks it’s probably the most arty, ‘musical’ thing Mould has committed to record. Mid pace and subject matter aside, it has a soaring, redemptive feel and as its closing guitar solo fades into some more backwards-tracked percussion and vocals it does nothing whatsoever to prepare the listener for the next track, ‘The Slim’. This is another epic number with lyrics mourning the death of a partner from A.I.D.S. and whilst it’s the tear-jerker that that might suggest it eschews wallowing in grief and manages to remain a catchy and compelling piece of songcraft. The dirge-y style is probably the closest thing to Mould’s previous (and far less listenable) effort, ‘Black Sheets Of Rain’ which is every bit as cheerful as the title suggests.

It’s noteworthy that this album came out mere months after Nirvana – who credited Husker Du as a large influence – released Nevermind and tempting to speculate that had the release dates been reversed we’d now be celebrating 20 years of Copper Blue. It’s at least as good a slab of hook-laden, kick-ass indie rock and like the latter has stood the test of time remarkably well. Check these out:

Right to know?

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http://www.metro.co.uk/news/879735-women-to-be-informed-if-partner-has-history-of-violence-under-new-plans#ixzz1bvaIJYGq

I have mixed feelings about this. As much as draconian action is required to provide legal equanimity to women this smacks of Big Brother. It requires the authorities to handle and disseminate yet more confidential information and I’m not sure I trust them to do it. What if the information is given to the wrong people? Or if the information is wrong, full stop? And how will the authorities collect said information.

Isabella Sankey, of civil rights group Liberty, said: ‘Prior knowledge of a partner’s violent history is all too often not enough to prevent tragedy.

Bullying is a carrot and stick game – I know because I’ve been in abusive relationships. They’ll set you up for the put-down with lavish praise; they’ll reel you in with words of encouragement, the better to put the boot in; and they’ll apologise again and again and swear to behave better in future. They’re charming as often as not – and you might not see the darker side of their behaviour until you’re well and truly involved.

Grassing – like wife-beating – is still considered a great taboo in many circles. And as with wife-beating, taboo encourages people to turn the blind eye, or act to conceal evidence of undesirable behaviour. ‘Never hit a woman’ often translates as ‘never be seen hitting a woman’. And the abusers themselves can hardly be counted on to turn themselves in. The police only have records relating to convicted offenders which is only the tip of the iceberg.

Both abusers and the abused will often carry the baggage of a history of abuse relationships, going back in some cases to childhood. They may have ‘normalised’ such patterns, even if they recognise them as problematic. Breaking with the past and the abuser/rescuer dynamic will take more than information alone.

Better in my estimation to invest the money in support networks and social programs to educate both women and men and rehabilitate violent offenders. Work to remove the ridiculous and outdated taboos around women and violence that encourage both abusers and the abused to hide their tracks. Teach our kids not that violence against women is wrong but that any violence is wrong except in self-defence.

Invest more in specialist police departments to ensure that reported domestic situations are attended by properly trained officers immediately. Rape! should attract the same immediate response as Fire! If fire engines took as long to arrive at burning buildings as some police cars getting to battered, raped and stalked women there’d be an outcry.

You can’t hold up a burning building with red tape. It needs a change of attitude to open the door to freedom.

Fresh from the vault (1)

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I have lots of music at home. My days of collecting vinyl are long gone, which is just as well since my CD collection encroaches upon this diminutive one-room studio flat more than I would like. I took 100+ discs across the road to the charity shop a couple weeks back (plus a similar number of paperbacks) and I swear you can hardly tell.

The sane side of my brain suggests I save all the music I like onto the pc and ditch the discs for good, but sanity be damned I’m just too attatched. I’m one of the dying(?) breed who just loves the physical product. I haven’t, unsurprisingly, considered buying a Kindle either.

Healthy to have a clearout once in a while, though. Not only to weed out the chaff, but to renew one’s appreciation for the golden, sun-ripened wheat. In the run up to The Mission gig I attended last weekend I dug out a few albums to refresh my memory that I might better be able to holler tunelessly along. I didn’t get very far. The Mission’s albums tend to be patchy at best. Better by far is the back catalogue of their special guest act Fields Of The Nephilim, and special mention deserves to be made of their 1990 swansong, Elizium.

Aficianados (the term does scant justice to the insanely devoted mob that dance to the tune of singer Carl McCoy’s pipe) will perhaps already be bristling. Much post-Elizium material has been released, some of it officially but this album is the last time that the ‘classic’ line-up of the band pulled together and rocked transcendent under the Fields… moniker. McCoy was always the heart and soul of The Nephs but the chemistry between Tony Pettitt (bass), Paul Wright (guitar), Alexander “Nod” Wright (drums) and Peter Yates (guitar) produced some extraordinary results over the course of three albums. If their debut long-player ‘Dawnrazor’ (1987) was representative of the Darkwave sound (think New Wave and, er, dark) Elizium was heading off into prog territory.

It’s song structure resembles something from the early ’70s classic Yes period – the eight listed tracks are basically four weighty, extended workouts subdivided into manageable chunks. Book-ended by two – ludicrously-titled – fifteen-minute suites, it further extended the epic, atmospheric explorations begun on The Nephilim and the Psychonaut singles. ‘(Dead But Dreaming)/For Her Light/At The Gates Of Silent Memory/(Paradise Regained)’ is an atmospheric masterpiece, moving from the spooky chords of the intro, through the surprisingly hooky (first single) ‘For Her Light’, into a positively Floydian expanse of Crowley samples, soaring guitar and crashing percussion (‘…Silent Memory’) before ‘Paradise…’ picks up the pace again and draws the suite to a close in a maelstrom of riffs. My only minor quibble is the fade-out ending – a pet hate of mine – and the live rendition featured on Earth Inferno (see below) is altogether more satisfactory.
‘Submission’ is something of a departure for The Neph – originally heard in stripped-down, instrumental form as a b-side on album trailer ’For Her Light’ it’s an expansive mood-piece, distinguished by squalling solos from Wright and Yates. As ever with Neph records, Nod Wright’s percussive skills underpin proceedings: he’s on a par with The Floyd’s Nick Mason or Marillion’s Ian Mosley in this repect – rock solid and unfussy percussion – though he’s arguably more precise than either. McCoy’s vocal is spoken, in contrast to his more usual delivery, though the growl remains as distinctive as ever.
‘Sumerland’ follows on in the hypnotic, industrial vibe of the ‘Psychonaut’ single – building to a breathy climax. In many ways it’s the closest thing to previous Neph outings, though no less effective for all that.
‘Wail Of Sumer/And There Will Your Heart Be Also…’ is a positively transcendental experience, showing mastery of mood over the album’s final thirteen minutes. Lush samples usher the listener into a deceptively chilled-out soundscape, overlaid with a restrained, crooning vocal from McCoy.

It’s an overblown yet sublime album, recorded by a band at the peak of their musical powers wth musical ideas above the station of Gothic Rock, and a fitting epitaph for the definitive Nephilim line-up. After five solid years of recording and touring the band had become skilled players and arrangers, and the peculiar theatrics – dust, dry ice and cowboy costumes – and equally Byzantine lyrical preoccupations – the Cthulhu Mythos, the Sumerian religion, Chaos magic and the works of Aleister Crowley – no longer came across as mere novelty. The band was tight and McCoy had drawn his obsessions together into a vision that was, if not coherent then certainly compelling. Furthermore, they’d recruited Pink Floys associate Andy Jackson to record and co-produce the album, resulting in a lush, textured sonic pallette not dissimilar to that band’s late ’80s – mid ’90s recordings.

British rock in the ’90s was to become a cool, detatched animal in contrast to the glam and theatrics revived in the ’80s. This is an album that plays the hand of excess not only impresses with its histrionic audacity but remains a rich, moving listening experience. A one-off album from a one-off band.

Balls

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Balls. Testicles. Cojones. Eternal symbol of courage, determination, get up and go. Showing balls is what makes a man ‘a man’, albeit exposing him at his most vulnerable. There’s nothing worse for a man to be seen to have ‘no balls’.  So pity this poor guy who ended up literally ‘neutered’.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3893643/Testicle-bite-woman-faces-jail.html

But year in, year out, thousands of women put up with being knocked about, put down and let down by the man who swore to love and honour them. They give up promising careers or juggle them with the demands of domestic life: running the kids to school, shopping, throwing dinner parties to impress the partner’s boss; partners who might well screw around, are more faithful to the job or the bottle than to their spouses.

As hard as that might be they rarely take recourse in physical violence when the shit hits the fan. This kind of attack by a woman is rare; far more so than examples of sexual assaults on women by men; men who are ‘let off’ time and again either because their partner is prepared to give them endless ‘second chances’ or because ‘the system’ is notoriously unwilling to rule on ‘domestic’ issues; or because assaults on women (particularly rapes) just aren’t regarded as a ‘big deal’.

You’ll remebmer the notorious ‘Bobbitt’ case from 1993, where Lorena cut off her husband John Wayne’s penis. She had been in a “fit of rage” after he returned home drunk from a night on the town and allegedly raped her. The latter went on to enjoy celebrity status and a career in ‘adult’ entertainment:

The pair later appeared on an episode of the US tabloid television show The Insider and argued over what had gone wrong in their relationship.

“John, you did a lot of things to me that were very painful,” Miss Gallo said, claiming he had forced her to have an abortion. “You drove me crazy. You drove me insane. No woman should go through that I went through.”

“I didn’t really understand how sensitive you are,” Mr Bobbitt, 42, from Buffalo, New York, replied. “You take things really seriously.”

One can only speculate what Maria Topp was taking ‘really seriously’. In any case, she chose to attack not only her partner but the very core of his masculinity; that tells us something. It’s a serious crime of course but it would be a shame if the masculine-centric machinations of the law, anxious to show that it has balls, got too carried away making an example of her.

p.s.

An interesting article from the Harvard vaults re the Bobbitts:

http://digitas.harvard.edu/~perspy/old/issues/2000/retro/lorena_bobbitt.html

The Lefsetz Letter

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Been subscribing to this guy for a while now. Always diverting and often penetrative inside/outside views on the music industry. For example:

http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2011/10/17/i-want-my-mtv/

http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2011/10/15/superheavy/

http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2011/09/15/artists/

He’s engaging because he so obviously cares about music; just like we do. His passion drips of the page. Look at his blog: plain type on a white page. No gimmicks. Anything else is superfluous. In a perfect world all blogs would be like this.

Check him out.

Brit, hop, hooray!

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Watch this

and say that rap culture is all about bling. I feel like it’s suddenly snuck up on me (though I haven’t really followed hip-hop for years – flick thru my CD collection and the newest thing you’ll find is Roots Manuva’s third disc) but aren’t we producing some absolutely top drawer ‘urban’ acts.

No longer in thrall to the gloss and bullshit from over the water this is cool, authentic, soulful and distinctly British music. The aforementioned Rodney Smith deserves credit for setting the standard – stick on ‘Brand New Second Hand’ now, it still rocks, gently yet insistently. Mike ‘The Streets’ Skinner pointed a new way with his catchy and compellingly soulful Garage hybrid. Dizzee Rascal scooped both a Mercury and a Brit, turning the mashup into something of an artform, reeling in pop, rock and dance elements and now Wretch 32, also an exponent of the Grime school demonstrates his skills in a low-key, Indie setting. The latter is significant: it takes balls to strip a tune back to its basics – just a voice, a beat and minimal accompaniment – and it also throws the quality of the material into sharp relief. Wretch and his cohorts, you’ll agree, have got the tunes, and the soul.

The fact that of these acts having a distinctive cross-genre, multicutural bent is not insignificant. British culture – musical and otherwise – has never been more of a ‘melting pot’ so it’s inevitable and proper that ‘progressive’ music should reflect that.

British acts have been admired and emulated around the world since The Beatles – deservedly so. Few of those acts could, hand on heart, deny the massive influence of Black America – whatever style of music they performed be it rock, r’n’b, Jazz, dance, trip-hop, d’n’b or whatever. What’s impressive is the ability of the best performers to soak up those influences, mix it up with trademark British irreverence and throw back something fresh and new. Let’s celebrate a few of the best examples from the last few years.

Enjoy:

:-)