WIRE, "READ & BURN 01"
Following the "12 Times You" 7", on which Colin Newman remixed live recordings of Wire playing that little old number "12XU" in fast'n'furious cut'n'paste fashion, our swimmers found the stroke for their third length. This six song EP marks the first fruits of a new kind of R'n'B, but joking aside Wire sound like they're splitting their sides over the "Everybody Loves a History" idea, smashing their history to bits and glueing it back together in new shapes. Or maybe they really had to hark right back to the simplest forms because they'd almost forgotten how to play guitars and so here and there it sounds like they're reincarnating their debut album 'Pink Flag' in a precise computer studio cut up frenzy. Imagine various cuts from 'Pink Flag' given the manic makeover the way they gave "Our Swimmer" a "Second Length" and you'll begin to make out the shapes emerging here. Lyrically a lot of this could be read as Wire commenting on their music and existation, especially the superbly titled opening salvo "In the Art of Stopping" which could be seen as a manifesto of sorts, after all Wire have stopped a couple of times before. After a snare tap Colin slurs the verse, "Trust me, believe me" (which could hail from any old piece of pappy pop - but hang on, maybe he's actually singing "Try speed") and then rises to a stop as he hollers, "It's all in the art of stopping" (you'd be hard pushed to find any other band with a lyric like that). His delivery is vaguely reminiscent of "Once is Enough" but seems sillier, especially when he starts braying like a disgruntled mule, and the track also appropriatelt recalls the jabbering "Cheeking Tongues." Meanwhile spindley Gilbert guitars spit harsh circles and some comical morphed backing vocals really lift the track off the tracks. The whole thing gets crunched down into an infinitessimal shrunken hard chip blurt before the whole caboodle rushes back, powered along by the relentless mono rhythmic crack of Robert's reawakened snare that went to bed. Rock bluster is dissolved into techno tricks, and even tiny shards of glitch have been worked so subtley into the mix you hardly notice at first. The incredibly uplifting rush of energy from "Germ Ship" is even more exciting. It sounds like a bastardisation of "Pink Flag" and "The Commercial" but given a high octane refueling, and the guitars ignite. This tune was debuted at their Edinburgh gig that saw off the twentieth century, with Newman and Lewis both obstreperously hollering their fatal attractions, but here Lewis has gone quiet and Colin is hushed to a whisper until the end when he shouts out the title to end it in 21st century digipunk style. These two tracks have ensured constant rotation. Whilst the rest of the EP is good fun musically, I'm not so convinced that it's going to add up to much more than good fun, but its early days and Wire recordings very often reveal hidden depths with later plays. The "Surgeon's Girl" ending for "1st Fast," the "Comet" chorus about the chorus going "Ba ba ba bang," and that track's very retro 'Pink Flag' album feel seemed almost smugly self referential at first, but the detail and humour have won out in the end. Maybe the most mashed future-past meltdown is "I Don't Understand" which reinvents "Ally In Exile" with "An Advantage in Height" via two chord "Lowdown" funk with the great opening couplet "Over the edge / Under an illusion." Lewis steps up to the mic for the last track "Agfers of Kodack" and sounds as if he's just swum all the way from Sweden to sing it, or maybe he's been torching the sand in his joints. It sounds oddly as if it could be a drastic reworking or forerunner of "In The Art of Stopping," and is probably as close to heavy metal as Wire have ever stepped. With this EP Wire have in a sense cast aside progression in favour of temporal corruption. Like the Fall and Sonic Youth, they seem to be moving outside of linear time and zapping back and forth throughout their own universe. Perhaps when progressive rock bands amass a certain musical critical mass they collapse like suns into black holes that turn time into space. If so Wire are creating intense gravitational pull and inspiring their most pretentious reviews yet. - Graeme Rowland
v/vm, "sometimes good things happen"
It's hard to know what to make of these two CDs. Both individually bejewel-cased CDs have the same name and track titles. The cover art is also identical except that one is the photographic negative of the other. Let's call the one + and the other -. I came to this release with no prior experience of V/Vm except for the curiously dismal little Aphex Twin CDs last year. I gave it my best positivist shot, avoiding interpretation to see where it takes me. Not very far, as it turned out. + is collection of lo-fi, vaguely dreamy soundscapes. It's almost like an exercise in the various styles of early 90s ambient electronica -- drones, soft looping techno bleepery, some airy beats, plenty of swooshes, all with a slathering of reverb and echo. But the variety is only from track to track -- each piece is a static presentation of one idea, which would be fine if it were a good one. None of them really have anything to enjoy. The effect when listing through the album is that ones hopes rise as each new track begins, perhaps because a change is as good as a break, but then fall again, ever deeper, as you realize that each one of them is a dreary, unimaginative regurgitation of already over-worked ideas, neither taking the respective genre forwards nor a competent stylistic statement. Soon the pattern becomes apparent and one learns to temper the little lifts that each new track brings. The other disk, -, is in fact exactly the same in every respect except genre. - is an exercise in 90s electronic noise. Noise is about sonic discovery and confrontation and demands entirely different skills from the electronica of +. The lift in hope as a track starts a bit bigger than on +, and is occasionally even exciting for a moment but this is compensated by a much faster decline. The overall trajectory as the CD progresses is severe. The paucity of imagination is blatant. Is that the point? I wonder. I decided finally to allow interpretation of intent into the equation; the packaging, after all, seems to demand it. V/Vm's Queen Mother tribute announcement shown on the Brain recently provided a handy reference point. It seems that V/Vm is a bit of a prankster but everything I found shows the same lack of imagination, skill or entertainment value as the music. I developed the impression that what we have here is a no-talent faker embittered with resentment of the achievements of others trying to work up an ultra-pomo mythology to shroud the bad art. I went back to the CDs and, yes, that fits too. A one word summary? Wank. - tom worster
v/vm, "sometimes good things happen"
Music should never be judged purely. It should be judged on how 'wrong' or how 'right' it feels in the ears of them who listen. This may not be a reason why V/Vm have taken the trouble to simultaneously release two very different selections of 'good things' which they claim are actually the same. Both discs have twelve tracks with the same titles. Previous plunderous releases enabled by the VVMCPS laws such as 'Sick Love' might be aptly described as corny, but make no mistake it's wheat on the cover of these two. This is pure germ of V/Vm - remember the earliest V/Vm 12" releases or the Fat Cat split with Third Eye Foundation and that'll give you some idea of what to expect from the CD with the regular yellow wheat. If I wanted to be cheeky I could tell you that this is what it would sound like if V/Vm helped Aphex Twin without doing any hacking, but I know Jim's sickly traumatised by the death of the racist granny robot so I'll try not to mention AFX and his influence again. Whatever, this is the sound of V/Vm distilled to pure essence of wheat beer hoedown direct from the mythical school that plays records with wooden styli. The inverted blue wheat disc is like the imagined brick bashing your head the next day in hangover city. My guess was that it's the same tracks but crunched up through distortion and ring modulation and all that fun stuff, but someone in the know says this is not so, and the two CD's are not exactly the same length either. In fact there's so much of that digital processing on the blue one that even though its massive robot noise approaches all consuming nuclear meltdown the sound seems to run a bit thin at times. Obviously the blue one is the one for noise heads to hear, just don't mention Merzbow. A lot of it actually sounds like it could be mashed up recordings of explosions. "The View Below Me Was Always the Same" is the deceptively titled intro to each CD. Yellow is Caretaker type organ swells. Blue is a discordant ring modulator sweep punctuated by explosions. "The Truth is Dead" is the conclusion they reach before the underwater Aphex beat excursion "Some Things Look Better Baby." Sorry I forgot I said I wouldn't mention that Twin again. This far into the blue disc and it's deafening machine grind all the way until completely fucked relentless deaf disco splatters brains. The idea is probably that the yellow one is right in that its more conventionally tuneful, but wrong in that this kind of thing is not expected of V/Vm; blue is wrong in that it's a big noise but right in that it confirms V/Vm's reputation for making big cacophony. But how did it make me feel? The blue one made me feel like a daffodil in a rainstorm but the yellow one made me feel like a witch in beat. With all this hack lack and wheaty goodness V/Vm will be claiming they're serious artists next. But of course they always were? - Graeme Rowland
v/vm, "sometimes good things happen"
So, the goal is to figure out which one is right and which one is wrong? Actually, I find that the best way to listen to each of these is at the same time. Not all the tunes match up, but if you've got a boombox and a home stereo in your livingroom, try one disc in either and hit play. You won't have any goofy delays like that goddamned Flaming Lips thingy! Do I hear porn sounds? - Jon Whitney
Airport 5, "Life Starts Here"
It really seems like every other week Bob Pollard has a new record out, doesn't it? He has a myriad of bands to play with, he was an anxious label in Rockathon, ready to release whatever he graces them with, and he's on the cover of Magnet every other week, so Mr. Pollard does have a fan base to keep up with, it would seem. With a new Guided By Voices record coming in June - the band are back on Matador this go around - Bob tides the fans over with this, his second effort with former bandmate Tobin Sprout. Is is time to for Mr. Pollard to throw in the towel with these side collaborations? Almost, by my estimation. This time around, Airport 5 are darker, grittier, and more lo-fi than before. Bob seems intent on providing as many vocal tracks as possible, and that means double-tracking, doing his own background vocals, and basically monopolizing the mike. Sprout's instrumentation is, as always, acceptable and worthy of the treatment. But, again, this type of collaboration seems to suffer by the lack of face-to-face collaboration. Some of the vocal tracks are so rough, it's embarrassing, but only given GBV's recent love of real recording equipment - the vocals would be right at home on earlier releases by the band. The lyrics are quirky, and, for the most part, Pollard does not over exert himself in order to hit notes he shouldn't. And the album is not without highlights, or, in this case, moments that work. 'Yellow Wife No. 5' and 'I Can't Freeze Anymore' are among the best songs Pollard and Sprout have EVER recorded. But the album as a whole is close to forgettable. And short. In short, if you're a GBV fan, this will serve to tide you over. If you're not, you won't be wowed or pushed away. (Is this what was meant by the rumor that Matador asked Pollard to pair down the projects he worked on because they thought he'd clutter the marketplace with work that was not as polished as GBV, and buyers would have a problem knowing just what to buy?) - Rob Devlin
THOR, "FIELDS OF INNARDS"
Austinite Michael "Thor" Harris is practically a modern day renaissance man: multi-instrumentalist, painter, art and bicycle repair instructor and environmentally conscious DIY home builder. He has appeared on many others albums and performed live locally and nation-wide, but he's probably best known outside Austin city limits as percussionist for Michael Gira's The Angels of Light. He thoroughly confounded and impressed me on the Angels' debut tour in 1999 with his highly energetic and physical attacks, alternated conversely with delicate melodies and textures. For "Fields of Innards" Thor (with fellow Austinite Rob Halverson) has constructed, as the subtitle states, "a hand played ambient record" that shares sensibilities with the Angels' more subtle backdrops. The disc is comprised of a dozen untitled, instrumental tracks all less than five minutes apiece, but consider it one continuous 45 minute piece. It sounds like Thor used many of the same tools here as with the Angels: percussion, hammer dulcimer, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibes and water bowls. This percussive palette of mostly mellow dings and pings is augmented with stringed plucks and drones, a bit of organ and found sounds such as trodden leaves. It's all very tranquil and graceful, carefully composed and impeccably recorded, trickling by like a refreshing, remote brook. But don't think of it merely as ear candy for there's not a trace of New Age ickiness is to be found anywhere. Thor's approach is both experimental and melodic, with occasional accents reminiscent of music boxes, the Middle East and the Far East. "Fields of Innards" is a genuinely affective ambient album that has become my new nightly soundtrack for sleep. Check out http://maryt.home.texas.net/thorsite/
for more info.
- Mark Weddle
Kenseth Thibideau and Marty Anderson are Howard Hello, and on this, their debut on Temporary Residence, the announce themselves far more effectively than the name might imply. Given that Thibideau's previous work was with Tarentel, you could expect that the record would have some similar elements, and that it would be a strong, gorgeous release. That it is. The soundscape is mainly familiar-sounding melodies that have been recorded, then edited, jumbled, and extrapolated to make new compositions on top of the old structure. There are guitar melodies, organs, keyboards: instruments of all types are used. The compositions that are created are very ambient, full, and spellbinding. And Marty Anderson's voice is purely haunting, adding a fantastic element to the proceedings. The ambient vocals by Wendy Allen are also stunning, and, at times, the vocals are the only part you can clearly follow, as they are the main element, saved from being cut-up and reproduced. The amazing thing is, even though elements are repeated - Anderson's vocal on 'Revolution,' melodies - the music never sounds repetitive or stale. It gets into your head, burrowing way down deep. This is a dynamic sound, with elements being added as the song progresses, allowing it to grow, swell, climax, and then fade away, leaving you with the scars. And there will be after you've heard this, believe me. An excellent debut, well deserving of your hard-earned cash. Your ears have been waiting for something like this again. - Rob Devlin
JAH WOBBLE'S SOLARIS, "LIVE IN CONCERT"
Hot on the heels of the Deep Space double live album "Largely Live In Hartlepool & Manchester", Jah Wobble has already assembled a new unit, toured and recorded another live album. Solaris is Wobble on clean bass, longtime collaborator Bill Laswell on distorted bass, composer Harold Budd on piano and keyboards, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics and Jaki Leibezeit of Can on drums. It's almost a case of too much talent for one group but, as you'd expect from improvisers of this caliber, each and every member knows their place and they share the limelight admirably. The starting point is Budd's modal scales on piano, then Wobble's relentlessly repetitious (yet infectious) bass patterns, then Leibezeit's metronomic snare-centric beat. Haynes, Laswell and Budd then texture wrap the groove with ambient backdrops and kinda sorta solos. The group gels, ebbs, flows and orgasms in equal doses, their sound more jazzy than Deep Space's worldliness. With three of the four tracks in the 19 to 25 minute range, it's all about getting into the comfort zone of the groove. The two part 'The Mystery of Twilight', 45 minutes total, is most engaging as overdriven riffs burn alongside a heavy duty rhythmic propulsion. Another winner from Wobble and friends. - Mark Weddle
Tiger Saw, "Blessed Are the Trials We Will Find"
Tiger Saw are from Newburyport, Massachusetts, or, at least, that's where they began. After writing most of their debut alone in Los Angeles, Dylan Metrano brought those songs home to Newburyport, where he found like-minded souls to help him bring those creations to life. In listening to their records, it seems he found more along the lines of kindred spirits who were lying in wait for this sound to come along. It is not a wholly original sound (are there any of those anymore?), as Tiger Saw play primarily slowcore music in the vain of Low or 27. But it is a new twist, as most songs possess a jazz structure, but a rock-like instrumentation. And it is a lovely listen. "Blessed Are the Trials We Will Find" is Tiger Saw's sophomore release after their self-released 1999 debut. The songs found here will appeal to you because of their sheer beauty, and the strong ensemble that performs them. The duel-vocal syrup of Juliet Nelson and Metrano is a perfect complement to the instrumentation, mainly guitar and drums, but with occasional strings, organ, and even melodica thrown in for good measure. The thing that stands out the most, though, is Metrano's lyrics, which, thankfully, never seem to rest on one particular subject or genre. True, he does write of relationships between people more than once on "Trials," but he also writes of being lost at sea, and of being alone. And you know instantly what he speaks of, and where he's been. It's that familiar in listening. The two instrumental tracks also show off the versatility of the band, and the comfortable way the have with their instruments. Also included on the CD is a video for a beautiful song called 'Nightingale' that is quite well done. Check out Tiger Saw: you'll be glad you did. - Rob Devlin
"2 Many DJs as heard on radio Soulwax pt2"
Mix albums. Usually pretty shit. Brainfreeze was pretty good, the K&D Sessions weren't without their charms. But generally the ghost of Ibiza looms over them all, and if it doesn't then they're usually packed with the DJ's own material or remixes of friends' material. Plus, most of them are just too blinkered - pure techno or drum n' bass, no variety. Basically many of us just want an album to put on at a party that won't empty the room within a few minutes. And, unless your friends are all hip, cool culture vultures, that means your Speedranch / Jansky Noise mix disc isn't going to cut it.
Last year we got the ultimate party album courtesy of the Avalanches. Well, summer's on the way, and that one was played to death last year. Still great, but time for something new. So, Soulwax, show us what you've got.
Belgian band Soulwax, previously known as the rockers behind last year's minor hit 'Much Against Everyone's Advice', have thrown the kitchen sink into this mix tape, and some of the parts have got jumbled up. So, where Skee-lo and the Breeders are listed together, they are together. He raps acapella over a Cannonball instrumental. Shouldn't work, but does. Ditto Basement Jaxx shouting over Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or Salt N' Pepa calling on us to 'Push It, Push It real good' to the strains of Iggy and the Stooges. We also get Destiny's Child doing the 'Independent Women' thing with 10cc's mellow 'Dreadlock Holiday' in the background. You may be wondering what an album featuring Kylie Minogue, Destiny's Child and Basement Jaxx is doing getting a review in the Brain. Well, this particular album also features the Residents, the Velvet Underground, Adult and Peaches. And it blends Dolly Parton into Royksopp, which can't be bad.
Don't know how they got copyright for all this, but they did, sometimes through licensing cover versions, or sampling samples (Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' slips through the net on this technicality, using a dance record which samples the original).
Basically, this album is enjoyed in two stages. First listen or two, you're comparing the new 'versions' with the originals, and sniggering away at how wonderfully post-modern the whole thing is. But soon you're just tapping your foot, and calling your friends around. It's just too infectious, too catchy, it puts too wide a smile on your face not to love it.
Summer's here. Don't worry, your Low records will still be there in the Fall. For now, to quote a (surely copyrighted) drink's company's slogan - Let the sun into your spirit.
Further info on the tracks used, and copyright/licensing difficulties is at www.2manydjs.org - John Regan
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WIRE/MCLUSKY Live @ Bristol Fleece & Firkin, UK
A warm up gig for Wire's appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties, I don't know why they chose to play here of all places but nice of them to drop by all the same.
Welsh guitar-bass-drums trio Mclusky kick off the evening with a set of mid-tempo hardcore played with an uncommon ferocity, screamed vocals ripped my eardrums, special mention goes to the skinny bass player in the homemade "Kill Whitey" t-shirt who beat the crap out of his instrument in an alarming epileptic fashion. Nice. Wire (Colin Newman vocals and guitar, Bruce Gilbert guitar, Graham Lewis bass, Robert Gotobed drums) take the stage to the sound of a steadily building electronic rumble-throb, which I am reliably informed by my brother's friend Alex "sounds like Merzbow". As one might expect from a band who've been around since 1976 or so, Wire are balding and mainly paunchy, except for a gaunt-looking Gotobed, who picks up a third guitar for the first (instrumental) number, before settling down behind the drums, eyes shut, seemingly in deep meditation for most of the set. The band is dressed in drab greys and blacks, Colin Newman's silver-glitter guitar adding the only note of incongruous glamour. Not having an extensive knowledge of the Wire repertoire, I don't know exactly what they played but I'm assuming it was mainly new material. Songs I did recognise were all six tracks from the new "Read & Burn" EP, an intense, shaven-headed Lewis taking the lead vocal for "The Agfers of Kodack". A highlight was a longish droney number recalling Spacemen 3's "Revolution".
Much of the music played followed a pattern of Newman holding down the rhythm guitar (and indeed, the same chord for an entire song) with Gilbert, silver haired and impassive at stage right, providing repetitive textural accents, often employing a capo. Minimalist rock is certainly the order of Wire's day, indeed Newman could hold the mike in one hand and play guitar with the other in one song, and seemingly not many effects were used. Disappointing in that the formula didn't seem to vary much through the 50 minute set. Owing to the distance between stage and dressing room, the band "couldn't be arsed" to leave the stage before the encore so they finish without further ado on an excellent "Lowdown" and "Pink Flag". It was good to see them and nice to see they've still got the rock after all these years, they put out a lot of energy for a bunch of old guys (apart from Gilbert and Gotobed, who don't). Brother Denham's comment:"good." - Dennver Roberts
ANTIPOP CONSORTIUM, LAWRENCE, KS
Priest nonchalantly took the stage, produced a laptop and small sound module from
his backpack, put them on the folding table with the other gear, plugged in and
started playing bleeps and bloops on the little keyboard. Beans and Sayyid joined
him a few minutes later. Beans is the most visually striking: red mohawk under a
camo hat, camo shirt with deer head logo and dark shades. They jammed awhile with
the gear. They were about to kick into a song when a wicked feedback seared through
the speakers and they stopped everything. Sayyid immediately grabbed the mic,
discovered it was dead, and said "yo, forget the mic" and started rapping to us
without mic or music (meanwhile, Priest fixing the problem). Sayyid finished his
very impressive, smooth and incredibly fast rap, and said "ya'll alright?" and got
a resounding yes from all of us. I could have left happy right then. Sayyid saves
the day! He was the lead man all night, always keeping the crowd in it and never
letting the ball drop.
Save for a mis-start on one song, the rest of the set was technically sound. Most
of it was from the new album "Arrhythmia": 'Dead In Motion', 'Ping Pong', 'Mega',
'Silver Heat' and 'Ghostlawns' plus 'Sugar Worm' from the Japanese album "Shopping
Carts Crashing" and a couple new ones. They balanced it out well: some songs were
all laptop with the three of them MCing, others they played everything, or
combinations of the two. They're just as much electronic musicians as they are MC
trio. One song they all switched gear, but most of the time it was Sayyid on drum
machine (he's especially good at playing it live, which is rather daring), Priest
on laptop, mixer and the mini keyboard for bass lines, and Beans on an old analog
keyboard mostly doing R2-D2 talk. All three take turns on the mic or all together
with an impeccable sense of timing. Each is equally capable but with a unique
voice: Sayyid is the really smooth, fast, poetic one, very expressive with his
eyes, face and hands; Beans is the more physical one, almost shouting the lyrics
he's spitting them out so hard, and Priest is the laid back, deepest voice one,
standing prone most of the time with towel around his neck. All of them were quite
capable of the mile-a-minute stuff and proved it. Beans' performance on 'Silver
Heat' was the highlight though. He took center stage and did this amazing upper
torso only twisty dance while violently snapping his head all around but still
somehow managing to keep the mic to his mouth. They played an hour total and I
left even more impressed with APC than I was before I showed up. The tour
continues throughout North America through mid-May. - Mark Weddle