August Music Reviews
Rough Trade Shops
Post Punk 01
(Rough Trade Records)
Punk, Disco Punk, Mutant Disco, Punk Funk, No Wave, Now
Wave, call it what you will, but the last year has seen
a global surge of interest in music that falls into any
of the above categories. Hailed by style bibles and frequently
obscure enough to make the hipster kids in undersized jackets
drool, the sudden profusion of this musical style(s) can
be enough to be make the average cynical music listener
dismiss it as nothing more than another rock and roll fad
of the moment. Much like the so-called new garage renaissance
that caused many a major publication to declare that rock
is back or announce the arrival of the "new rock revolution."
Yet the new school post-punk, for lack of a better term,
offers an underlying aesthetic, which at its core is focused
on experimentation and progression, instead of mere simple-minded
guitar posturing. The frequent melange of dance, rock, disco,
early hip-hop and jazz is enough to reveal a strain of rock
music that is as eclectic as it is electric enough for the
listener to, not only dance their tight jeans off into a
sweaty mess but also absorb a more intelligent and off kilter
strain of danceable music that avoids the repetitiveness
of much of the electronic dance music that rose to prominence
in the 90's. Many of the bands associated with this 21st
century movement, like The Rapture, !!!, Erase Errata, Radio
4 and just about everything that DFA have produced owe their
allegiance to the work of bands who arose in the late 70's
and early 80's.
Which is where Rough Trade's superb Post Punk 01 steps in.
It reveals the link between the old and the new (unlike
a number of recent compilations whose focus is primarily
on the initial era of post punk) by placing many of the
current crop of bands at the forefront of the new scene,
like The Rapture, Chicks on Speed, and Erase Errata for
example, alongside past masters like Gang of Four, ESG,
Liquid Liquid, Public Image Limited, 23 Skidoo, The Fall
and more. The juxtaposition of the old and the new frequently
reveals within the newer artists a desire to progressively
emulate instead of merely imitate and wallow within a mass
of clichés and faux imagery. At the same time Post
Punk 01 showcases a few of the lesser name checked first
wave bands like The Prats, as well as serving as a much
needed outlet for a few bands, like Gramme and Life Without
Buildings, who were a bit too ahead of their time to participate
in the current revival. Post Punk 01 is an incomplete document
of the current and past post-punk scenes, as the compilers
of the album readily admit in the liner notes, many bands
such as !!! or Liars could easily have been included, yet
it serves as an excellent starting point for anyone trying
to get a grasp on just what post-punk was, currently is
and what it has the potential to be.
Many In High Places Are Not Well
minutes with a newspaper and it becomes immediately apparent
that many in high places are not well. Ten minutes with
this record and what becomes even more obvious is that some
of us (at least the 17 musicians contributing on the new
HIM record and your solitary author) still depend on a slowly
depleting reserve of cautious optimism to get by. Applying
all of the most attractive elements of World music to an
ever-changing yet faithfully experimental dubwise sound,
drummer/percussionist Doug Scharin and company drop polyrhythmic
loops as deep as their influences are wide. Vocals, as provided
by Christian Dautresme, Mum's Kristin Anna Valtysdottir
and others, add yet another changeable element to the flux
that has seen HIM start as a percussive dub experiment and
morph successfully into a veritable Afro-dub orchestra that
sounds as if it were conducted by Bill Laswell and produced
by Teo Macero.
The Appleseed Cast
old cliché warns that we only have one shot at greatness.
Yet countless musicians have navigated certain career dénouement
through reinvention. Two Conversations may not represent
a complete about-face for The Appleseed Cast, but after
a solid month of heavy play, I can't help thinking they've
altered the course that had finally thrust them into the
cult of critical favor. Their admirable Low Level Owl double
album project came from seemingly nowhere, marrying the
emotive dynamism of Sunny Day Real Estate with the ambient
rock textures of My Bloody Valentine. Although still a pleasant
listen with genuinely moving moments, Two Conversations'
recidivist emo tendencies and sophomoric lyrics sabotage
tracks otherwise replete with instantly gratifying hooks.
One would've thought that a move to solid indie Tiger Style
(from emo label Deep Elm), would find the boys more firmly
entrenched in experimentation. Instead, to rewrite an old
cliché, it appears it's two Owls forward, Two Conversations
The Matthew Herbert Big Band
Herbert has always found novel ways to assimilate his intellectual
and non-musical conceit into his tracks. As the output of
his growing number of pseudonyms can certainly prove, he
is both prolific and inventive, an artist first and foremost
who explores concept as much as creation (all his productions
follow a rigid Dogme 95-like code call PCCOM.) And sometimes,
just maybe, too smart even for his own good. Using Big Band
swing as a vessel to disseminate nearly invisible political
messages? Sampling the dropping of phonebooks so that he
could, in his words "attempt to get the sound of 10
million people in to one track and at the same time to try
and measure the weight and gravity of human numbers..."
The press release even included a suggested reading list
of titles by Chomsky, Moore, Zunes and Scott Ritter. The
bottom line here however, after wading through Herbert's
"complete vision of how modern music should sit"
is basically this: Big Band music is totally gay.
by Denver, Colorado's Friends Forever is a head-scratcher
of a release that will either make you wince at its boyish,
high-five'n fight songs or revel in its unabashed love of
sports, rock and roll, and all things manly.
A lo-fi musical endeavor, and dedicated to the Denver Broncos,
"Killball" is a tongue-in-cheek display of distorted
electro-rock awash in stadium sounds, referee whistles,
and tribal chants, including the ever-popular "Charge!!!"
Using mostly drums, bass, and synths -- often from inside
their van on club dates -- Friends Forever kick out the
jams in a style that combines the sound and passion of Devo
with the macho swagger of any number of 80s' hair metal
The first track "Carnisaur vs Unicorn" is a too-short
but triumphant pop song that prepares the listener for the
battle cries to follow -- songs like "Win" --
an engaging instrumental synth-rock number, but one that
also leaves you wanting a little something more.
Friends Forever are quite good at the musical frenzy they
whip up. All of the songs, save for the two odd halftime
numbers, are memorable and unique, and within the conceptual
context of gladiator sports, "Killball" makes
for some killer combat rock.
If only it wasn't so silly i'd feel more confident in my
recommendation of it! Friends Forever are imaginative and
have the potential to be the next big band to bubble up
from the lo-fi, noise-rock underground, but it's also likely
that "Killball" may have sealed their fate as
an easily forgotten oddity.
African Head Charge
U.K. label On-U Sound has always been one of my favorite
labels to follow. The label's original, electronic reggae-dub
sound, as crafted by label-boss and engineer Adrian Sherwood,
gave my ears their first exposure to the likes of Lee 'Scratch'
Perry, Mark Stewart, Prince Far I, Bim Sherman, as well
as exposed me to the continuing connections being made between
punk and reggae artists.
My favorite On-U recordings have always been the ones crafted
by the label's collaborative super-groups such as Missing
Brazilians and the Barmy Army. However, the label's most
intriguing and original house band, in my mind, has always
been African Head Charge.
I'll never forget that special moment when i first heard
them and how excited i was to discover their dubbed-out,
psychedelic fusion of African instrumentation and Jamaican
rhythms. Fronted by visionary percussionist Bonjo I, the
African Head Charge sound gradually evolved from a kind
of improvisational, free-reggae sound to a more structured,
sample-based African chant band.
The new On-U retrospective disc "Shrunken Head"
collects some of the best tracks African Head Charge ever
recorded, as well as two new tracks, and sufficiently represents
the diverse sounds the group created during their career,
which spanned from 1981 to 2003. All of the tracks have
been remastered as well. For the uninitiated, "Shrunken
Head" is the perfect introduction to the most otherworldly
world music you're ever likely to hear.
must be the clean air they breathe. It's 1981, and New York
bands are dressing all in black and making lots of angsty
noise. Meanwhile in New Zealand, the brothers Kilgour and
friends are making upbeat, quirky little pop songs in bedroom
studios, on 4-tracks. Yet the NZ bands represented by Flying
Nun would come to influence bands everywhere. It was a model
of a self contained scene exploiting maximum talent through
limited means. CD one of this anthology covers the early
years, 1981-82, with the singles and the Boodle, Boodle,
Boodle and Great Sounds Great EPs. Songs and albums were
often christened by friends and titles like "Platypus,"
"Slug Song" and "Point That Thing Somewhere
Else" testify to the Clean's whimsical, absurdist sense
of humor; add to that the lyrics usually had nothing to
do with the song titles. The music's all sparkling melodies,
quickly scrubbed guitars and simple bass and drums.
As the Clean gets better over time the guitars gain layers
of nuance and texture, the songs get more repetitive and
lose their bridges, all of this probalby lapped up by Thurston,
among others. Cheerful melodies are sometimes contrasted
with a darker message as in the lyric: "sometimes I
feel too much and I don't wanna feel at all." CD two
starts with the Vehicle LP, recorded in England in 1992
after an apparent 7 year hiatus. This is much more polished
stuff with the Clean sounding more assured, but with their
unique charm intact. Maybe this was their bid at larger
scale success. "Drawing to a Whole" should've
been a radio hit, if it wasn't. 1994-96 sees them back in
NZ recording the Modern Rock and Unknown Country LPs and
getting back some of the experimentation and silliness of
the early years, on songs like "Ludwig", sung
in a comical German accent. If you suffer, as I do now and
then from a certain spiritual fatigue, may I suggest a little
- Laura Markley
hip-hop fan is known by the company he/she keeps, and by
company I mean the artists they force on people. Even under
A night ago found me way the hell past 14th street (my unofficial
boundary until 96th) in the theater/people from Queens walk
too goddamn slow district... you know, in the west forties.
A friend was part of a show, and I decided to come out and
see what was up. That was a good time, and then we all proceeded
to go across the street and get drunk. Getting drunk starts
me to talking, and there are three topics that I cover while
I'm in a real medicated state: 1) Why are we paying the
Rangers this much to not make the playoffs, 2) Why the behind
is the most important device on the body and 3) Music.
On the last, me and this actor guy got into a headed discussion
about what emcees were quality and which ones are no longer.
I say heated, but with the caveat that any conversation
after three pints is heated. An earlier conversation with
a guy about the Canadiens was an honest to god argument,
bless his incorrect heart. Going on, I started naming albums
after he gave me his usual suspects, making sure to hover
around hip-hop's early nineties golden age. I yakked on
and on, but in the haze of the night he went his way and
I went mine. Shame that he got sidelined before I got into
the "I'm feeling the underground cats" section,
because any indie hip-hop discussion nowadays must include
Brooklyn native LoDeck, in my book.
Yeah, LoDeck would make the drunken discussion.
Dream Dentistry seems to pick up where his EP Bash It
left off, and that's damn good news. A full-length has been
anticipated since that release dropped, and he's been biding
his time with various guest spots including the posse-cut
"Meaning of the Sphere", in rotation whenever
I'm at the tables. LoDeck rhymes in a very, eh, LoDeck way:
that is, his words are complex, witty, and unashamedly grating
at just the right time. There's always something at the
center of a LoDeck lyric, but damned if he'll just come
out and tell you. You have to respect that, and if it comes
off well, then you have to respect it even more. Where Bash
It seemed to more be released so that he would have a lone
release out, Dream Dentistry is truly an album; it allows
his domineering, gravelly rhyme style to construct a whole
show, not just a preview.
Though, there are problems with Dream Dentistry
than just its horrendous cover art. Here and there the production
can't keep up with his rhyming, here and there the guest
emcees seem like they're struggling to try and match LoDeck,
but most are up to it. I dare you to not be able to find
a track on this release that you'll have rolling around
your mind, in the end. That's an album. All that's left
is for LoDeck to cut the nonsense and cut a track with Copywrite
and Aesop Rock... you know, just for my sake.
Now, could I get all this out that night, and make a convert?
No, before my point got out, someone had to question the
influence of Sandy McCarthy on the Rangers backline. The
damn fool things a man says when he's drunk, or doesn't
-- Maurice Downes
"looking for your imperfections / and hoping that
you never find mine / i'll race you to the big rejection"
You feel that you're not supposed to like this sort of
music today; at least not this pop-driven sound. It's a
happy, jubilant, bubble-gum sound that refutes everything
Gen X and it's new love of heavy, grinding punk stands for.
But part of you still does.
Transmitter is eerily reminiscent of Ben Folds Five: "The
Connection" and "The Girl on Top (of the Piano)",
the first two songs, feature the piano-driven music, the
happiness expressed through chords, the higher-than-normal-pitched
singer's voice, the frequent tempo changes and fluctuations,
and the spirit of loungey-pop music that is almost a parody
Of course, then it switches on you. "(I Don't Want
To) Grow Up" (and "Lightning Twice" for that
matter) is more of a straight indie pop tune with definite
Beatle influences from their more poppy era. (Spiraling
also are fans of the Pete Yorn-style parentheses in the
middle of titles.) "This is the Road" is alternative
rock with a healthy dose of teen punk beats. "Transmitter"
is late 70's glam-rock arena rock - Yes or Boston. Computer
bleeps and blips punctuate the landscape of the song, and
then a quasi-Ben Folds shows up for a few brief moments.
Spiraling loves its synth music, and they make good use
of it. And Tom Brislin (vocalist-keyboards) has some understanding
of it - he toured with both Meatloaf and Yes over the past
few years. The songs are tight, pop-hook filled, radio-friendly
gems. Unfortunately, while this genre is a bit refreshing
in today's retro-crazy world, it has the tendency to get
old fast. The songs don't necessarily deteriorate in quality
as the CD moves forward, but there's only so much one person
can handle when it comes to Ben-Folds-pop-synth-alternative-modern-hybrid-music.
At least for me. At CBGB's on August 1, the crowd seemed
to eat Spiraling up. While they sounded a bit off (it could
be the trashed sound system after decades of rock), their
spirit and their song's moods came off fine. I like Ben
Folds - for a song or two - and then I need to try something
else out on my ears. The CD is a pop treasure-trove, it
just comes down to how much shiny, pretty, gold doubloons
you want to carry around.
HERE FOR MORE RECENT REVIEWS