Thursday, 30 April 2009

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (4AD 2009)

This album begins: Spent a week in a dusty library / waiting for some words to jump in me / we met by a trick of fate / French navy my sailor mate before being glazed with handclaps and strings laden with walls of sound, just like Phil Spector would have wanted. ‘French Navy’ telling the charmingly naive tale of a girl trying to write but being distracted by love. I experienced this with my first listen of the album. Trying to write my own novel, I stopped typing, my fingers hovering over the eyes, and slowly I swooned and fell in love with Tracyanne Campbell’s dizzy head-in-the-clouds lovestruck voice as she guided me through eleven tales of love and woe and abject heartbreak. ‘French Navy’ should have been sung by Al Green, but it’s commanded beautifully by Campbell as the strings ache and swoon and swell around the nucleus of her voice. This album spans the length of a relationship (her career perhaps) as obsession and love and charming flirtation all mix to create a heady, literary attempt to document the wild rush and settling in of a strong relationship.

Campbell mixes childlike naivety with headstrong power and passion, innocent and eloquent in the same breathy stanza, poetic and earnest, almost like a confessional diary entry. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ is like the most joyous song McAlmont and Butler nearly nailed. Campbell's soft Glaswegian accent and delicate, nasal tones suit the fragility and naïveté of a he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not sentimentality. ‘Swans’ is rousing, stirring and almost country-ish in its execution, like ‘Away with Murder’, slide guitars duelling with strings. ‘James’ is quieter, acoustic, sadder, more direct and not like the dizzy swirls of sound that accompany other songs on the album. The centrepoint, it is both emotive and heart-wrenching. By the end, Campbell is nearly weeping, completely stricken. It’s aftermath comes in the filmic string-laden ‘Careless Love’, portentous about the end of an affair and its lingering memories: I've been really struggling / to think of you and I being friends / I blow hot and cold / yeah I'm like a yo-yo / so I don't think I should see you again.

‘My Maudlin Career’ is like a modern-day Ronnettes song, with twinkling pianos, crashing drums and the melodies that yearn and celebrate and pumps fists and thumps hearts all at once. Phil Spector, again, would be proud of this piano-twinkling display of complete powerhouse beauty. The soul that pervades this album is sometimes vintage Motown, and others vintage Spector but mostly a continuation of the elegaic music that Camera Obscura has regaled us with for four albums. ‘Forests and Sands’ marries a child-like travelling ethic with a stomping bus-rolling beat. It documents the distance between a traveller and their lover. Closer ‘Honey in the Sun’ finishes optimistically, hopeful for a brighter day, sunny and colour-drenched, despite the sadness that lingers in the cold dead lyrics. Though documenting the deepest depths of sadness, there is a joy throughout this album, a unifying rallying call of fist-pumping anthemic happiness beating in its epicentre. ‘My Maudlin Career’ is a bare-boned honest and startlingly well-put-together document of a relationship.


Banjo or Freakout - Upside Down EP (Half Machine 2009)

Banjo or Freakout sound like that fuzz-drenched moment on My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ when the dissonance breaks for a 4 minute romance paean to broken love (‘Sometimes’). Like Kevin Shields before him, London-based Italian Alessio Natalizia creates heart-thumpingly aching music in the epicentre of a fuzzy distortion pedal turned to My Bloody Valentine setting (the one after 11, presumably). The acoustic distortion of opener, the title-making ‘Upside Down’ allows a war before ooohs ahhhs and a pounding acoustic guitar, while his voice passionately feels its way through the mix. ‘The Week Before’ allows tinges of electronics and tribal pounding drums to wade through the rippling sounds of a bath running. It’s like a repetitive psychedelic nightmare curated by Panda Bear on ‘Person/Pitch’. The choruses allow for a rush of guitars to filter through driving an urgent strum through the beeping mix. ‘Like You’ is all pounding basses and squawling guitars duelling over a lost love, pleading her to ‘kiss me now’. The star-gazing reverb pop then mutates into a strange, mostly instrumental tribal pulse and thrash while disjointed voices erupt around your years. A strange sitar is alone in the far-off distance, unsure of itself, on ‘I and Always’. With an Allez Allez mix of the throbbing ‘Mr No’ to end proceedings on an uptempo high octane fuzz and dance finale, it’s a perfect introduction to a blog favourite. Banjo or Freakout is able to translate emotions into guitar noises with impressive versatility, never quite emerging from a lo-fi tunnel of his own nightmareish introspection. It’s strangely beautiful and discordant all at once, like Kevin Shields expertly told us guitar thrashing could be. Essential and excellent and effortlessly powerful music.


Golden Silvers - True Romance (XL2009)

South London’s Golden Silvers have been hotly tipped for a hot minute now over their guitar-free indie white-boy funk. Now, debut LP ‘True Romance’ is here and yet another strange stab at 80s English funk is watered down from an impressive live show into something plodding through the motions. The groove is dead fellas, Like The Invisible, they carry a tune and they carry it well, it seems to get lost in a watered-down studio environment with the red lights on and the lack of a crowd vibsing in front of them, suddenly, the drums sounded ungrooved, the singer sounds displaced and the music fails to lift people’s fists to the ceiling in rapture. So what do we do? Turn the cowbells on. Turn the harmonies to 80s crescendo ballad pop.

‘True No 9 Blues (True Romance)’ the title track in ways, is a skanking cod-reggae full of groove and thumping cowbell. There’s even a cod-spoken word verse, mocked thrillingly in a recent Adam and Joe song war. ‘Here Comes the King’ is the sombre ballad, inspired by a 50s piano plod and lots of reverb turned up, like the song was recorded in an empty concert hall. Songs like ‘Please Venue’ and ‘Arrows of Eros’ show an impressive understanding of literature. Finale ‘Fade to Black’ is more earnest and emotive than what has come before it, ending the album on an impressive bittersweet note. This is for fans of the Invisible and Esser. It’s cod-whiteboy funk for retro addicts, unable to function without some sort of retro gazing into hilarious bad fashions from the past. Oh well, the can’t be arsed cry. It’s alright. Oh well. Underwhelming finish to an underwhelming review about an underwhelmingly hotly tipped band that’s alright.


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Can't Recline

Sorry I haven't been keeping you up to date with all the mundane self-promotional things I've been up to recently. I'll endeavour to rectify that in two seconds... starting... ONE TWO>>>>>


1) The film Videowallah and I made won a major award last week. It won the Satayjit Ray Foundation/British Council Best Short Film award. It was an amazing experience. We met the director of Shifty and loads of other British Asian filmmakers all thinking we had made something better than them. We hadn't and were both incredibly shocked to have won, but we did. Watch out for Channel 4's coming up season this august. The film 'Half a Cup' is brilliant, concerning two wannabe gangsters putting together a cast to rehash an old play at the local Pakistan Centre. It's aces. Anyway, we were at BAFTA in the David Lean room for the award drinking pink champagne out of logo glasses, have cream tea with scones and watching loads of films. The director of Shifty announced we won, Videowallah swore loudly and then the director proceeded to dissect our film into something approaching deep and intelligent. I still can't believe it.

2) An extract from my forthcoming book, The Honorary Mzungu, about my year in Kenya has been published in Litro magazine under the title, 'Walking in my Father's Footsteps.'. Don't get the printed version as it's been ballsed up by a gross printing malfunction. Read it online above. If you want two more free short stories, drop a comment with your email address.

3) Last week, I attended London Book Fair and saw some inspiring seminars on the future of digital publishing and diversity in publishing. The most amazing thing was getting down with the Canongate peoples (my favourite publishers) and blagging a ticket to their all-important party. Lucky I went because earlier in the day, Franic from Canongate had handed me a free proof copy of Nick Cave's forthcoming book, 'The Death of Bunny Munro.' And luckily, Nick happened to be at the party long enough for me to corner him and ask for a signature. He signed the book, I debated either sycophancy or an attempt to be deep. i opted for a cheesy 'Thanks for the music' in order to extract myself from the conversation with dignity semi-dishevelled. Also in attendance were McNulty, who I suggested started a conga (an idea he was taken with) and the awesomely serene Lester Freamon. Yes, the last two are actors from the Wire. I was properly starstruck. Canongate therefore rule ipso ergo sum... can I have a publishing deal?

4) Jeff Lewis in concert last week was amazing. Seeing a man so ridden with angst and issues, yet able to translate them into accessible dry wry funny sweet and beautiful songs was awe-inspiring. He's absolutely incredible and I love him.

5) Some amazing gigs coming up including Rich Sandling's Perfect Movie and Salena Godden's Book Club Boutique. Also, some good mentions on the Luke Wright podcast and the Answer Me This podcast.

Right, till next time... STEPHEN!!!!

Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years (Rough Trade 2009)

After two years of arsing around in a retro future (‘Neon Neon’) or with luvvy actors (Rhy Ifans, The Peth), the mentalist subversive and gleefully happy Super Furries are back with a psychedelic tour de force that celebrates their obsessions with kraut twat-ectro, psychedelic blues and rock, mixed with that good ol’ time vibe. In places it feels like they’ve mixed Neon Neon with The Peth and fuzzied it up with the dizzy sugar of Gruff Rhys’ solo work on ‘Candylion’. Super Furry Animals are definitely the sum of all of their parts, a powerhouse of musicianship swathed in clouds of weed smoke and happy pills. The grooves and riffs are in abundance from the get-go rush of ‘Crazy Naked Girls’ before the hilariously titled yet strangely bittersweet ‘The Very Best of Neil Diamond’ deals with the apocalypse and the abundance of Neil Diamond CDs and tapes that will surely survive Armageddon boring us ad nauseum till the pulse of our doom. ‘Inaugural Trams’ with its off-kilter Deutsch clipped tones features Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy. This album has its moments of effortless energy and glee and most of all, ideas that keep the riffs and grooves rooted to a hard-nosed feeling. Good standard stuff from the Super Furry Animals who’s consistency and ability to keep their schtick interesting makes for a solid album.


Thursday, 23 April 2009

bizarre Star Trek clip

Speech Debelle - 'Speech Therapy' (Big Dada 2009)

Speech Debelle’s debut album is an emotive wistful collection of passion-filled songs oozing with bittersweet triumph, knowing smiles and the kind of emotion usually absent from all-show hip-hop. This is a breath of fresh air for two reasons: one, it’s rare the largely male UK hip-hop scene opens its closed gates long enough for a female rapper to come through and get the props she deserves. Not for Speech Debelle. Also, this is the livest, most instrument-focussed record Big Dada has put out in years. It has become synonymous with electronic, dubby hip-hop. This album, recorded mostly in Australia with live musicians, including drummers, clarinets and mostly put together by the underrated Lotek, featuring moments by Tunng and Aussie, Plutonic Lab, this is fire on all cylinders.

The syncopated, acoustic mournful yearn of ‘Searching’ opens proceedings, a clitter-clatter of focussed rhymes and beautiful elegiac music. Speech Debelle, sounds younger than her 25 years with her babyish little-girl-lost vocals. Speech Debelle sounds older than her 25 years with her wise words and tough stories of hardships in hostels, with absent fathers and with failing love affairs. Mostly recorded in Australia, it still manages to perfectly soundtrack London, especially on ‘Wheels in Motion’ a powerful sociological look at life in the big bad city. ‘Go On, Bye’ deals with rejection, and uses zeitgeist references like Facebook and texts to set a picture of a real-life love affair failing in real terms in this real world here. The pain is real. Don’t doubt. There’s pain in her voice. There’s passion and there’s articulation and commitment. There are elements of Lauryn Hill’s first album here, a duel between summery vibes and the firsthand experience of someone going through tough times. ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ is a fragile yet scathing attack on an absent father over dark rumbling dubbed bass and some funky drums. It’s a testament to Lotek’s production techniques and abilities that his stamp is on this but it’s a far cry from stuff he’s produced for Roots Manuva or for his own Lotek Hi-fi. Instead, it is a sound all Speech Debelle, his delicate touch and live instrumentation add gravitas to a vocal talent. The awesome Micachu and the inimitable Roots Manuva turn up on chorus duties, for the triumphant ‘Better Days’ and the piano-laden London dissection of ‘Wheels in Motion’, strings pulsing in the background.

There are many themes on here. It stays mostly away from the thugged-out grimy London life tales, instead focussing on a more poetical narrative, like on ‘Buddy Love’, a funny interpretation on that moment when you start sleeping with a close friend. The balance between happiness and melancholy is delicate throughout, teetering on the edge of dissolving in an overflow of emotion, there are moments of wistfulness and there is a deep intelligent socio-political eye for detail that never misses a beat. ‘Finish this Album’ discusses how important this album is to Speech, this is her therapy, her observations, her desperation to get everything out of her system because she may never get to this point again, may never have anything to say again and this nervy friction between need and desire provides a beautiful insight into the mind of a creative artist whose output is their everything, who validates themselves through their art, making this her reason to be. It’s brilliant urgent rallying call and thank god she did, so when album closer ‘Speech Therapy’ arrives, we’re with her, we’re on to her, we believe in her spoken word delivery we hear the final words echo out: ‘And I’m just learning how this world really works, It’s a law that says you get back what you put forth.’ And for this, she deserves all the praise she is owed. This is her Speech Therapy, it ain’t just rap.

Speech Debelle

Mr Lif - 'I Heard It Today' (Bloodbot Tactical 2009)

Only Mr Lif could announce his blistering clusterfuck (in a good way) of an album with a spoken word quote peering behind the Obama magic and wondering whether just because the government has a more acceptable face on it, will it make a damned difference?

And then it explodes, never relenting for a good forty minutes of powerful powerhouse polemic, politically prodding at the carcass of the world economy, picking apart the self-hatred existing in the blacvk communities, and the horrors of the housing crisis. All with Mr Lif’s articulate squeaky and breathless flow, fitting in impossible amounts of syllables into clattering ignition-switch 4/4 bars. The rumbling dirty funk of ‘Welcome to the World’ announces his intentions with a death-defying (he survived a tour bus plummeting forty feet into a ravine) tirade of emotions about the US economy, about the paranoia and angst we all feel with our safety nets and rainy day money, all from a man who survived near-death for a reason. Mr Lif sounds alive, completely in control and never self-censoring, happy to voice unpopular opinions in interesting ways, using concepts to exploit his forthright opinions. Beats-wise, the toughness and ruggedness that wasn’t around for Mo Mega or for the Perceptionists is back, and this is closer to ‘I, Phantom’ than we’re likely to get, a superlative debut off the back of some incredible mini-albums. Mr Lif’s ten year career has spanned a lot of topics from the topical to the egotistical to the downright surreal, but this time it’s all politics, all blistering and all finding the triumph in the centre of the dark storm of adversity. Edan and J Zone turn up to provide bears, while up-and-coming efforts from Willie Evans and Batsauce impress. This is the new generation, the Dawn of Obama has its first dissenters, a smattering of cynics wondering if he can possibly achieve the messianic potential promised by his hype team. We’re living in a global crisis of fear and paranoia and economic degradation and self-hatred and now these negatives are used by Mr Lif to search for a brighter day, which he eloquently yearns for on poignant electro futurescope closer ‘Dawn’. ‘Head High’ addresses Obama’s tussle with controversial minister, Jeremiah Wright, using his unique flow to question why it all took place on a world stage. There are issues and potentials above their squabble. Mr Lif has never sounded vital and urgent and despairing and world-weary but in a world that has phasers set on sugar-coat, is an interesting dissenter in the time of change.


Alex Wheatley - The Dirty South (Serpents Tail 2009)

‘The Dirty South’ is South London’s Alex Wheatley’s latest dissection of Brixton and its grimy danger and local celebrity, revenge and violence and passion and spark. Having lived in Brixton for 3 years, I can safely say I never saw any of the types of events depicted in ‘The Dirty South’, having instead felt nostalgic for the places mentioned instead of fearful. This book, more pitched at teenagers over adults, constitutes the prison confessional of Dennis Huggins as he recounts the events leading up to how he got his ‘bird.’ He writes angrily, drenched in slang, uncompromising and honestly about his experiences, his life as a shotta (that’s slang for drug dealer) and the webs of deception and danger that were spun around him and because of him. Underneath the bravado lurks an intelligent and sensitive boy, mollycoddled by his mother and loved by his father and even hero-worshipped by his nerdy sister. He’s in love with Akeisha Parris, an enigmatic single mother who he watches run at the Tooting track everyday. However, on road, that don’t count for nothing. His friend Noel, poverty-stricken and desperate to stop dressing like a ‘ghetto child’ needs to make P’s, and everyone thinks Dennis is a spoilt pussy. They descend into the life of shotting, selling weed (never crack never anything harder) and slowly the webs tighten in around them as events spiral out of control, and little acts of selfishness and bravado, of ‘badmind’ and complete recklessness come back to haunt them in a violent electric finale, chillingly recounted with honesty through Dennis’ eyes.

Wheatley has masterfully written the bible for teenagers flirting with this life. He captures the fear and paranoia, the need for material validation, the highs of the life. But he is able to balance this out with an existential accountability for every action, each with their life-altering reaction. This book should be read by teenagers. The naive inner-monologue of Dennis, his reliance on materialism and bravado, his use of slang and his complete relatability to young people not just in Brixton but in any inner-city environment makes him such a real character. You feel like Wheatley has been surrounded by this, lived in this and around it and even makes a welcome appearance himself in the action as his 80s spoken word poet alter-ego, Yardman Irie. It’s a shame there’s so much swearing and sex as this would be a wonderful resource in schools. Obviously, we shouldn’t be shy about opening this debate with teenagers about these real life concerns of theirs, but in this case, the words are so real, the language is so close to what happens and Dennis is a great teenage everyman that this could all be happening on your street right now. This is highly recommended not only to teenagers, but also middle-class frightniks scared of hoodies and youths who really don’t know what’s going on in their heads. Brixton is painted as a pocket of friction and change, where middle-class toffs mix with the grimiest, where territorial gang-life and drug-dealing mix with the influx of different religions and art, which is the heart of Brixton’s community, through spoken word and music, the bashment bounce of the bass, the heartfelt singing and the couplets, whether rapped or poeticised... poignant, real and permanent.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Shifty Remix - True Tiger feat Riz MC Sway Plan B

Download the tune from there... Riz MC Sway and Plan B on True Tiger's remix from next week's film:

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

John Niven - The Amateurs (William Heinemann Ltd 2009)

Och, this is a far cry from John Niven's debut, 'Kill Your Friends' a dark satire touted as 'BRITPOP PSYCHO'. It strides into Irvine Welsh territory from the get-go with its sunny-side down Scottish setting, awkward mistimed sex and endless toilet humour told in jarring Glasweigan dialect. That the dialect is written in Glasweigan and the narrative in plain English means having to readjust the ease at which you read it. And it's about golf and those obsessed with it. I don't know much about golf, my only real association with it being Larry David's increasingly bizarre excuses to his wife so he can play it. I don't know the rules, what a birdiebogeyeagleradgeholeinone is. So, not off to a great start.

It works as a Coen Brothers film set in rural Glasweigan suburbs, where characters with strange bizarre ticks and sense of humour all engage in increasingly desperate attempts to wean away their humanity into a type of suburban film noir that is both absurd and disturbing as it could be happening next door, and this is where the easily readable charm lies. Much as Niven strides the Welsh comparison with aplomb on this one, losing the fresh edge he brought to 'Kill Your Friends' glistening with claret viscera, he is funny and his toilet-humour attack on mediocre people and their obsessions is both scathing and funny.

Gary Irvine is married to Pauline who hates his dull obsessions with golf, which he sucks at, and behind his back she's shagging a local business tycoon, who's unhappily married to a woman who he can't divorce as she'll take him to the cleaners, but he went to school with Ranta, the local gangster, who's obsessed with golf but more obsessed with money, and whose son Alec is owed a large amount of cash by Lee, Gary's brother and waster. Somewhere in there we meet Stevie, Alice and Cathy. It's an exhausting coterie of characters who are brought together by increasingly trivial and tidy circumstances that eventually end up in murder, blackmail and a Tourettes ridden hole in one. Gary, despite his awful handicap, is hit by a golf ball moments after he has mastered the perfect golf swing, his muscle memory making him unstoppable to the point where he advances towards professional status, despite his priapic Tourettes outbursts.

There's the gist of the plot. I won't reveal anymore as this crime and golf caper is full of twists, turns and stupid people doing stupid evil mean things to each other in silly scathing funny ways. It's not as fresh as his debut but Niven's settling in for the longhaul and this is definitely readable and fun all the way through, despite the sometimes impenetrable dialects and golf-banter. Fun and frivolous and filthy.

Engine-earZ is the future

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

David Simon and Ed Burns - The Corner (Canongate 2009)

Have you seen the Wire? Oh you really should. It’s so realistic and it’s so moving and it’s so brutal and it’s so interesting and it’s so well thought-out and it’s so real about American politics and it’s so a dissection of the death of working class in American society and what do you mean you haven’t seen it yet and I don’t want to ruin it for you but McNulty and Bunk and Freamon and Daniels... ooooh, I won’t ruin it for you. I wish I was like you- I wish I hadn’t seen it so I could start watching it for the first time ever. Seriously, have you seen it?

And thus middle class dinner parties across the country continue. Gradually, they will move on to Spotify and the new Bat for Lashes album and when they first originally read the Watchmen and The Apprentice. Don’t get me wrong- I love all these things. I’ve been at these dinner parties. I’ve been that annoying zealot. Which is why, despite a slight over-Wire-ing of current popular culture, I still think you need to read ‘The Corner’, Canongate’s latest David Simon reprint, about a year on the drug corners where Simon and real-life inspiration for McNulty/Sgt Mellor from the Wire, Ed Burns, witness the lives of the down and out and desperate and those who feed their hunger. This is the book that inspired the mini-series that inspired The Wire. And it’s good... fucking good. Fa’real. Mos’def.

True to the hyper-realism of the show, we get an immersive experience into the corners. An author’s note tells us that either Simon or Burns or both witnessed 80% of what they portray, and the other 20% is down to memory and circumstance and anecdote. But 80% of a 700 page book being witnessed fa’real is unprecedented access, especially for two suspicious white ‘suits’ in a predominantly black neighbourhood. The trust and access is impressive testament to their investigative journalism and ability to recount such tales with clarity and poignance. No notebooks, no tape recorders, just eyes, ears and the knowledge of where to find a good story. Firstly, let’s get the nerdy facts and tidbits out of the way. Firstly, Denise Wise- Cutty from the Cut- was a real man, a real assassin and dangerous to boot. Whether he followed a path to redemption isn’t mentioned. Shamrock is just one of a list of drug dealer street names ripped out for usage in The Wire. It’s amazing to see how much is based on real life. Bravo. Simon and Burns choose to follow the McCullough family through a year, watching their slide into the game, how the system fails youngest son DeAndre, drawn to the corner and never kept interested in school, how real life beats once successful Gary, and how the game always be the game for Fran.

DeAndre is barely 15 and already an experienced hustler and businessman. He provides for his family because he has to but also because he enjoys the street level respect he gets. He helps run the CMB gang, a bunch of similarly-aged runts as they own their corner and never fail to be drawn away from its allure, through direct changes in the game, through territorial disputes and truant officers and the police and weeks of inferior/sparse product. They own their corner and the corner always be the corner. Simon and Burns build up the economy of the street-level dealers here, showing their outgoings and incomes, how they earn more money than they have the sense to spend and always have that provision for their families as their main drive. What else you gonna do? School is lost to them. Ms Ella tries with her youth club but there are no funds. In the meantime, the corner is their absent father, providing them excitement, thrills, the prospect of danger and man-making and the attentions of the girls who know who’s holding the most money.

Gary was always doomed to failure, the middle child in a run of 13 siblings. His parents are simple folk. His dad still drives a cab as his pension can’t support their house still in the neighbourhood and the constant bail-outs of his more disappointing children, drawn to the corner and absolved as family obligation. Gary was successful. Gary went to college but was drawn back home by Fran’s pregnancy with DeAndre. He is our Bubbles. He is eventually lost to addiction and we watch painfully as he gets involved in scrapes and desperate capers, living hand-to-vein, sometimes bribing or stealing from his parents for his next fix. It’s pure bottom-level desperation and it’s heart-breaking. Through him we meet the junkies and addicts, the scammers and the row house shooting gallery regulars and their helpers, like Rita, a junkie nurse who can find a vein on you anywhere and will shoot you up if you share your stash.

Fran never wanted to be pregnant. But now she has two sons, is fiercely protective but ultimately for her own needs. She will scam, lie, cheat and steal to get her fix and her way and to manipulate everything to her advantage. She is our guide to the touts and runners, the extra hands for the dealing crews.

And what gets you is, these are all real people. Sure they become blueprints for TV’s more colourful characters, but they are free of stereotype, painted so vividly and tinged with so much sadness you can’t believe this is happening now, in a country as world-beating as America. It’s a brutal, honest and beautiful piece of work that paints a picture of one of the worst drug-neighbourhoods in America, one where hope is all but gone and all roads point to a corner.


The Horrors - Primary Colours (XL2009)

The Horrors are a constant delightful surprise. Their visual aesthetic and look-at-me appearances in the style presses and the gutter presses have almost painted a picture of a group of posers more concerned with the tightness of their trousers over the ink in their creative nibs. ‘Strange House’ their debut was a curate’s freakbeat egg of short twitchy punky horrorcore songs. ‘Primary Colours’, their sophomore effort, arrives on a wave of expectation. Journalists are frakking themselves with a level of intensity reserved for new Radiohead albums with excitement. And you know what? It’s just. This is easily top ten albums of the year material. Already decided. Already essential. Already unmissable. Download-only first single, ‘Sea Within Sea’ is a dizzying 8 minute work of sheer class that whips itself up into a deafening wall of sound as the song pounds towards its crescendo. Former Geldof paramour, Farris, now sounds like a macabre Paul Adams (Interpol), androgynous yet menacing, power-hungry and tightly wound, and vulnerable yet triumphant like Ian Curtis, a heady mix of the two distinct vocalists. Musically, they are tighter and tougher, eschewing the B-movie shonky freaky pop of their debut for something bigger, The Cure, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Psychedelic Furs and the dark black clad British rock of these bands’ peers. Keyboardist, Spider Webb, through his experimentations with Radiophonic soundscapes and keys on his Spider Webb and the Flies side project, really shines here, ably translating his side-work into a searing layer of sound for The Horrors 2.0. The slow-burning stomp of ‘I Only Think Of You’ is a 6 and a half minute triumph of pomp and lovelorn bluster, while ‘Scarlet Fields’ is spectral and blissful with its almost My Bloody Valentine-esque off-kilter keys and murmured fuzzy vocals. ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ is full of swagger and flanged out punk fuzz, the most pop-punk of this collection, which manages to be bravely experimental in places, allowing moments of electronica to filter into its songs, especially in the first lowkey minute of opener ‘Mirror’s Image’ before it whips itself up into a moody foot-stomper of a welcome. ‘Three Decades’ is pure dizzying menace, with a wall of sound building like shrieking damsels falling off roofs revealing themselves to be winged demons.

This is an impressively tight album, never dull, always impressing with its strong course of serotonin-raising dope-ass soundscapes and bulging walls of sound, psychedelic and electronic and 80s-ish and gothic and punkish and rawk all at once, persuading even the casual listener to shut the fuck up and just tune in to its impressively tense depth. Surely a contender for best sophomore album you’ll hear this decade and a definite contender for album of the year.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Newham Generals - Generally Speaking (Dirtee Stank/XL 2009)

The first release on Dizzee Rascal’s label Dirtee Stank new imprint is a powerhouse juggernaut, a military assault,a black ops mission, violent, uncomprising and lacking in any subtlety with its ferocity and its shuddering dirty disgusting beats. As Dizzee has softened with each album, focusing more on his songwriting and less on the aural violence, his cohorts, Newham Generals have been beavering away keeping things unpolished. Lead single ‘Heads Get Mangled’ with its perilous ‘only a doctor can save your arse’ refrain is a hard-hitting drum’n’bass trip down clubbing memory lane, nostalgic and violence in the way jungles were back in the day. Sidenote- are they old enough to remember? ‘Pepper’ is a 90s rave anthem, featuring Dizzee, and encapsulates the versatility of British urban music. Elsewhere, ‘Violence ‘ is disturbing, a trawl through the subconscious of someone ‘born and raised in the gutter’ barely managing to keep things together, barely trying to keep his head out of violent thoughts. This is a male album with very masculine concerns, the heady heights of hedonism and the lowest lows of violent aggression. ‘Bell Dem Slags’ manages to strangle that line between misogyny and hilarity, but before you know it, the nightmareish urban claustrophobia closes around you and you’re deep in the drip-drop squelch paranoia of ‘Heard You Been Smoking’ a hard-hitting story about a sorry descent into addiction.

The music encompasses all the different psyches of British urban music with slow rumbling dubstep creeping drums and basslines, manic grime, mad two-step garage and rave, drum’n’bass and good ol’ hip-hop. The beats all pulse with a dangerous electricity, an elasticity to each song, able to transcend simple verse hype chorus verse hype chorus templates. Best song ‘Douchebag’ mangles old skool electro breakbeats with rave bass synths and some funky soul sampling before fierce MCing tears up the dancefloor. With the violence of inner-city life, the guttural delivery, the aggressive metaphors and the dry humour that pervades this release, we get a deep dirty companion to Dizzee Rascal’s current output, both nasty and catchy and worth the wait.


Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan (Cooking Vinyl 2009)

Art Brut are a wonderful concoction of posh erudite funny poetry and spiky guitars. Their first album, ‘Bang Bang Rock’n’Roll’ was a rousing piece of art theatricality and funny lo-fi lyrics about the awkwardness of love and being in a band and all those ridiculous Hoxton hipsters and their inherent stupidity. Second album, ‘It’s A Bit Complicated’ was a bit too polished for this doyen of lo-fi scuzz, so never really stayed with me. Third album, produced by Pixies god Frank Black, returns to their roots of good ol’ poetry and guitars. This time the themes veer from failed doomed relationships and the awkwardness of love and being in a band and being dropped by a record label because they tried to do something different and the stupid public didn’t like it, so fine we’ll go back to where you preferred us you idiots. And, I’m ashamed to say it, Eddie, but I love it. The new album is a superlative mix of relevant lyrics writhing in wry subtle accusations and insults, and the fierce guitars that made ‘Bang Bang Rock’n’Roll’ so electric.

‘Alcoholics Unanimous’ opens proceedings with a paranoid agoraphoric set of reflections over tea and coffee, deconstructing endless oblivious nights before, hoping you haven’t burnt any bridges in a haze of drunkenness. ‘DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes’ is close to my heart, playing through the idea that not drinking ale and reading the Guardian puts you in a state of arrested development. Argos laughs at those laughing at his comic obsessions. Two rousing openers to a strong album. ‘Am I Normal?’ and ‘What a Rush’ tongue-in-cheekedly run through bizarre awkward relationships. The triptych of ‘Demons Out!’ (biliously placing the record-buying public in the body of satan, asking plaintively ‘If you like pop music, then why do you let them abuse it? The record buying public’), ‘Slapdash for No Cash’ (destroying mediocrity by asking ‘Why is everyone trying to sound like U2?’) and ‘The Replacements’ (debating whether bands mean it, rhetorics like ‘So many bands are just putting it on/ Why can’t they be the same as their songs?) all ask questions about the people making the records and their intentions, the record labels releasing the records and their intentions and the record-buying public whose apathy allows this shit to reach our shelves. It’s an angry section, so righteous and spitting pure fury, but also sad and resigned to the failure of everyone involved in the creativity of music, of those who seek to destroy us. It’s a beautiful and sad section, full of pathos, you can hear the meetings, the broken-down communications and Eddie Argos’ suffocation at having to resort to a sound instead of trying to develop and move on and try new things. His shouting, his couplets, his posh articulated slur, his bouncy poetry are all essential in this section.

This is a great return to form, despite the circumstances that caused it. Frank Black’s production allows the Brut sound to breath, never intruding too much on the minimal set-up, giving it some gravitas with some clashing drums and panned 70s punk guitars revolving from ear-to-ear. This is Argos’ album though and his words are endearing, funny, angry and most of all, relevant. There’s a poet laureate position opening up soon, Eddie? People will be complaining in a few months about 2009 being another shit year for albums, but it’s April and we’ve had Micachu, Bat for Lashes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jeffrey Lewis, The Horrors, and now Art Brut, all completely destroying our ears with life-affirming, conscious, melodic and brilliant music.