Whitehouse, "Bird Seed"
For over 20 years, William Bennett's infamous Whitehouse have remained on top of the power electronics game. While countless acts worldwide (particularly in Sweden and the U.S.) cannot seem to make the musical step past "Thank Your Lucky Stars," Whitehouse has evolved into a far more sinister entity with superior production quality. Trimmed down to founder Bennett and longtime member Philip Best (also known to noise fiends as the brain behind Consumer Electronics), the duo have unleashed a venom-spewing foray into the digital/analog hybrid noise sound initiated on their essential Mummy And Daddy and further explored on the somewhat disappointing Cruise. The album opens with a vengeance on "Why You Never Became A Dancer," a blistering track stuffed with harsh lyrics. Truth be told, the real fun of any Whitehouse album comes from trying to decipher the rage behind their menacing and profane lyrics. As usual, there are some lines that exude their dark humor, as on "Cut Hands Has The Solution," (a song apparently about self-mutilation/cutting) where Best bellows "Are you so much of a slug that you can't live without a fucking sundae?" Here, both Bennett and Best doubleteam the victim, with a barrage of questions and insinuations that almost come across like a perverse Scientology auditing session. Supposedly based on the murder mystery linked to gay British actor Michael Barrymore, "Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel," released months before the album as a 12" single, slings verbal abuse at Stuart Lubbock, a used boytoy who ultimately drowned in the actor's swimming poola "chlorine gargoyle." The only contribution from now former member Peter Sotos comes in the form of a tape collage of television news programs on child abduction and prostitution, similar to those on the last two albums. Overall, his exit from the group seems only to have intensified the project's overall mission and sound. Bird Seed is destined for my Top 10 list for 2003. - Gary Suarez
Set Fire To Flames, "Telegraphs In Negative/Mouths Trapped In Static"
Armed with insomnia, a handful of members from the Godspeed family, and some egregiously long song titles, Set Fire To Flames oscillate only between dark minimalist music to moderately fleshed out instrumentals. Though Set Fire To Flames does not stimulate the same fiercely glorified feeling as Godspeed, they are able to elicit a more subtle response in some of their songs which has the potential to be no less rewarding. Most of the time, though, this sensation is a little more evasive, and the rewards a little more oblique. The ensemble is quiet, and soft-spoken, and forever tinkering with their own sound, like a child who is playing doctor for the first time. "Deja, Comme Des Trous De Vent, Comma Reproduit," the first song is a meandering melody line which repeats over and over with instruments coming in and departing. The line is engaging enough that the repetition is not abrasive. "Holy Throat Hiss Tracts to the Sedative-Hypnotic" features a field recording (not the only one of the album) of a truly mundane story recounted by an older gentlemen; something about a horse and a trampling. Or was it a trampoline? An intense creaking frames the story, sounding either like the creaking of a ocean vessel's guts or some ungodly-built metal structure held together by linchpins of corroded plastic. It's almost as if the old man realizes the banality of his story, for he swings wildly in the other direction and recounts a entirely incredulous tale of fire emanating from some man's eyes. "When Sorrow Shoots Her Darts" is a moody orchestral piece which regains some of the composure from the first songs, but ends too soon. The final song on disc one, "Tehran in Seizure/Telegraphs in Negative," is a marked change in sound, more of an organic noise piece than the others. The other departure in sound is "Buzz of Barn Flies Like Faulty Electronics," which approaches free jazz. The souls of both songs are muted and understated, demonstrating the how you have to listen rather intently to these songs in order to find their elegance, a lesson which instructs the listening for the whole album. In the end, the album does not sound dissimilar from what is actually is: a talented ensemble isolated in the confines of a dark house, making improvisational music while staring at boarded-up windows, blank walls, and a dearth of stimuli straight in the face. - Joshua David Mann
"dap-dippin' with" sharon jones and the dap-kings
Occasionally there is a song which comes along that is so damned exciting time just plain stops for three minutes and 14 seconds. The experience of hearing Sharon Jones' cover of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately" on the local college radio waves has been absolutely maddening. Perhaps the novelty of a soul revival outfit doing a 1980s cover tune in 1960s funk style was enough to get this song noticed, but once it's heard, it's damned addictive. No matter if I was stuck in traffic behind dildos on mobile phones or getting up and ready for work, the world truly did feel like a great place to be when this song came on. Hearing the album in full now is nothing less than a divine reward. It's safe to say that the energy captured by Jones and the Dap Kings througout the entire record is equally as feverish and unstoppable as the single, and after countless listens it's not losing one bit of the charm. Dap-Dippin' is the first full-length for NYC-based Daptone Records (founded in the wake of the demise of Desco records) and collects a number of the songs from various 7" singles released by Jones over the last couple years. Recently, the singles and albums seem to be popping up in bizarre places and catching on to those both curious and adventurous enough to give it a try, and rightfully so. The music is a fantastic tribute to the untainted sound of years long gone, presented in living mono and skillfully produced with an ensemble of talented musicians to give it a live in-studio production feeling that bands HAD to get right back before multitracking was affordable. Jones, a former session vocalist and the singer occasionally known as Miss Lafaye, fronts the group through ten songs of unchained vigor with the saucy attitude of the most famous funk frontmen and the seasoned grace of a lady who knows her shit. The real leader however seems to be Bosco Mann, bassist for the Sugarman 3 and probably a member of a number of Daptone (and formerly Desco) in-house bands. Dap-Dippin' tactfully has the elements which usually contractually made up a late 1960s vocal soul record, with the live clip for the introduction, the high energy hit singles (like "Got a Thing on My Mind" and "Got to be the Way it Is,") the ballad ("Make it Good to Me") and the tunes with the instrumental breakdowns for the band to show off and the listeners to get down ("Pick it Up, Lay it in the Cut"). I hate to admit that it may be somewhat formulaic but I will stand by my claim that it is undeniably fun. - Jon Whitney
This is proof that a band can combine a number of different musical genres into an album and still have it be as beautiful as it is interesting. Country and folk roots, good ol' fashioned rock, blues, and sound collages all fit together quite nicely and summon spirits both old and new with outstanding results. Califone's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes doesn't have a single wasted note on it. Electric and acoustic instrumentation fit together like pieces of a musical puzzle few others have been able to solve; tape loops of broken, stringed instruments, computer beeps and bloops, and spiraling machine noise slide effortlessly into and alongside country-tinged ballads full of lamenting pianos and dancing guitars. A perfect example of this lovely combination is "Horoscopic.Amputation.Honey.," where buzzing guitars shift in and out of mix that includes wooden, rattling percussion, what sounds like a type-writer, and twangy acoustic guitar. Tim Rutili's voice plays a big part in the music, too. At times his voice is sweet and soft like a lullaby and elsewhere it is bold and full of attitude. The rebellious and edgey "Your Golden Ass" is full spicey vocals, surreal lyrics, grimy guitar, and steel drums that somehow fit in with everything else. The primitive and nervous "(Red)" makes me feel like I'm in the middle of an almost-deserted and very dangerous town somewhere in a vast desert and "When Leon Spinx Moved Into Town" is a sexy, albeit quiet, rock tune blossoming with southern spices and a tension that is hard to identify, but is looming and menacing in a very sinister way. The entire album is lavished with images and emotions that leave no room for dull moments. Califone has given birth to one hell of a fine rock album; it is diverse, full of lovely songs, and just plain fun to listen to. - Lucas Schleicher
Alvin Lucier, "Vespers and Other Early Works"
These five Lucier pieces dating from 1961 to 1970 provide handy illustrations of my love-hate relationship with American academic music. Its central Theory versus Music dialectic is interesting. Is the theory on which music is based important? If so, to whom? If a CD makes no sense aesthetically or otherwise until the liner notes are read (and the liner notes are in this elevated domain unquestionably important) what does that say about the music? Does the pleasure of listening depend on the theory or should the pleasure be sought in the theory itself? The first illustration on this CD is "Vespers" (1969) which involves performers moving around a given acoustic space with directional pulse generators. I liked the piece before I read the notes but I find it makes even more interesting listening how that I have. The piece demonstrates the theory that humans perceive physical space through our sense of hearing. Without the theory, it's fifteen minutes of attractive clicking sounds but with the theory the listener becomes consciously involved by providing and operating the apparatus for the perceptual half of the experiment, which can lead to deeper understanding and pleasure—it's rather like having impressionist painting explained to you for the first time. Implication: theory can enhance music. "Chambers" (1968) illustrates another point; before reading my response was: sounds okay, nice enough. It involves various recordings of sound spaces, such as a railway station, cafeteria or what-have-you, playing on portable devices, disguised in some kind of wrapping, that are placed within the performance sound space—thus chambers (i.e. acoustic spaces) within chambers. Now that's fine and perhaps even witty, in a rather twee academic way, but grasping the concept doesn't improve the listening experience and I'm beginning to get annoyed by the suggestion that the concept is even relevant to me. Implication: theory doesn't always enhance music and can detract. On yet another hand, "North American Time Capsule" (1967), a performance on the archaic Sylvania encrypting voice encoder without the corresponding decoder, is unlistenable with or without the various deep and interesting levels of meaning provided by its associated theory. Implication: theory cannot enhance bad music. "(Middletown) Memory Space" (1970) is scripted thus: a number of singers and/or instrumentalists go out into a city and "record, by any means—electronic recording, graphic notation, or memory—the sounds of the city," return and "re-create, solely my means of your voices and instruments and with the aid of memory devices (without additions, deletions, improvisation, interpretation) those outside sound situations." On this performance the music sounds like rather dull improv. Contemplating the composition (i.e. the instructions) provides a better distraction than the music: can it be done?; does it matter at all if it can't?; is the absurd impossibility of the parenthetical "without" clause another joke?; is this what group improv sounds like when exerting personality and thus interaction is explicitly forbidden?; what must it be like to be paid to think about these things? And there we have, I fear, the crucible of my irritation: jealousy. These Cagian exercises must surely be great fun for the composer and may even be pleasing for the performers but the disregard for whether or not the music will be any good to listen to is a little irksome to the mere audience member. The implication is that composing and being a composer is more important than being a listener, even though the former is existentially dependent on the latter (composing for its own sake has little to do with music). Such elitism is justifiable and I am thankful for it when the resulting art is good and valuable. But when it is not, which is not the exceptional case in American academic music, I find that I cannot discard it without envy.
- Tom Worster
Exploding Hearts, "Guitar Romantic"
The Exploding Hearts are unabashed disciples of the vibrant, inescapably catchy power pop of bands like The Knack and The Nerves. Mixing the thrust of early punk with the melodic sensibilities of sixties results in a spirited, irresistible product with a sharp edge. It's evident throughout Guitar Romantic that it isn't a pose, nor is it a joke. These are guys who are on their third or fourth copy of Singles Going Steady cause they wore them out, who wondered what Brian Wilson might have sounded like if he met up with Richard Hell, who know the value of a good, steady finger snap and aren't afraid to use it. This is the music they love and it is that passion that makes Guitar Romantic such an engaging listen. Don't think that because they pay homage to so many of their influences that there is nothing new on this record. In fact, the Exploding Hearts bring a ferocious energy to their sound, charging headfirst into a crunchy rocker, or soulfully crooning along with a backup harmony. "Modern Kicks" opens things up, digging right in, and guaranteeing that you'll stick around for the rest of album. The lead guitar slices through the fuzzed out production that causes the instruments to blur and rattle around each other. The mix gives a dirty, vintage sound that adds to the personality of the music. It sounds as if the album had slipped behind a shelf or under a pile of records twenty years ago, only to be rediscovered today as a lost pop gem. The bright shuffle of "Sleeping Aids and Razorblades" carries the Hearts' soulful romantic persona with clever lyrics like "it's a little upbeat / and it ain't in tune / you know it's just like this heart of mine." That line could serve as the tagline for Guitar Romantic, as the Hearts cover the trials and troubles of teenage romance with the resiliently forlorn attitude they deserve, all packaged in a blissfully sweet pop delivery. "Jailbird," a love song about sniffing glue, has a devastatingly hooky chorus, amplified by the call and response backup vocals and a 120 watt guitar melody. You'll find yourself following along with every "Yeah, Yeah" and "Woah, Woah." There truly is not a weak song on the entire album. Each track is irresistibly catchy and after a brief ten songs in twenty-eight minutes, the desire for another fix is intense. Guitar Romantic could have easily become just another nostalgia act looking to knock off the past, but this is far from the case. They bring their own tack to a familiar style, imbuing it with a newfound youth and soul. The energy and vitality that the Exploding Hearts put out is stunning, their music finely crafted to pound even the most jaded music fan into grinning, head bouncing submission. - Michael Patrick Brady
MARK EITZEL, "THE UGLY AMERICAN"
Lately it seems Mark Eitzel has just been taking opportunities as they come. He was invited to record albums in Chicago and Athens, served a month long residency at the Knitting Factory in NYC and will soon tour Portugal and Spain. 'The Ugly American' is the result of the trip to Greece and the debut album from the UK's Tongue Master (a U.S. release date is likely for June or July via Thirsty Ear). Eitzel and his hosts refurbished eight of his American Music Club and solo songs spanning from 1987 to today, plus a new one and one written by producer Manolis Famellos. Fortunately it still sounds like it should: the inimitable Mark Eitzel performing his emotionally wrought song craft. Eitzel is in fine voice and the Grecians' flourishes of plucked, strummed and sweeping strings are tastefully reserved, careful to add local flavors but not to overwhelm the songs. Except maybe for "Here They Roll Down" as it's given a slightly bothersome bagpipe-like drone. Classics such as "Western Sky", "Jenny", "Nightwatchman", "Take Courage", "Will You Find Me" and "Last Harbor" are as heartbreakingly beautiful as they've always been. If nothing else, this album serves as a reminder of just how fucking great these songs are and preserves them with modern production. "Anything" from 2001's 'The Invisible Man' may very well be better than the original. The new one "What Good Is Love" and Famellos' "Love's Humming" are far from sore thumbs and delve a bit deeper into Greek drama, musically and lyrically. In the former Eitzel rhetorically asks "and if there's no way to love / the one that I love / then what good is love?" and in the latter cries "but oh the one she could hurt the most / she claimed his joy and ruined mine". Unlike the hit and miss, half-hearted covers of 'Music for Courage and Confidence', Eitzel has put all of his heart into covering himself. - Mark Weddle
Feedback Loop Industries
Replicator are a neat dynamic rock trio from the San Francisco Bay Area who get compared to Shellac a lot. This seems to be mostly because Shellac bassist Bob Weston records them and because they are quite vocal on the Shellac email list, which is how I happened to hear about them. To me a much better comparison would be Poster Children, but imagine how they might have ended up had they introduced the loops and synths of Salaryman into their exuberant rockpop shapes instead of separating into two different projects involving the same people. But enough of comparisons, Replicator have their own thing and they've built on and transcended the solid foundation of their debut album Winterval with a quartet of addictive angular rockin' bursts of hopeful angst. The EP opens with Validation Complex, a tongue in cheek spoken self help therapy session for hardcore kids, with singer / guitarist Conan Neutron reciting multi-tracked paens to the powerful foundations of confidence, before erupting into choppy oriental chord trashing. The weakest aspect of their debut was probably the vocals, and on this track they cleverly turn that into a strength with double tracked tricks. "It's a blast of utter frustration," so begins the stormin' Bawkbakawk Bawkbagone and as the day wore on the situation deteriorated but in the interests of self preservation it wasn't something they concerned themselves with, even if it had rendered their song titles nigh on incomprehensible to mere psueud mag eds. Despite such frivolity, Replicator do stop on a dime to squawk like an unruly hen or three. Their use of programmed loops has become more intrinsically organic to the songwriting process than on Winterval, and marks them high in moderninity. They never forget that their job is to rock yer ass, but like many of the best bands they realise this does not have to be a brainless shake. This EP was recorded over a year ago, and apparently the tracks have evolved somewhat and some might be reworked for the album that Replicator are currently recording. Check the label site for links to songs. It would be wonderful if they could get over to the UK for some gigs. Perhaps Bob Weston might consider them for the line up of next year's All Tomorrow's Parties? I find it amazing that a band this good has to be self releasing a CD-R. What's the matter with record labels these days? - Graeme Rowland
Yo La Tengo, "Summer Sun"
There's a long list of albums with titles that are misnomers for the music inside. With Summer Sun, Yo La Tengo are pretty close to adding another to the list. Several tracks interspersed save the album from this category by shining a little light in, though the band generally gets mired in their exquisitely somber sound, which is a very good thing. Album after album, Yo La Tengo produce quality music with impressive production values, and this album is no different. The proceedings start, as more than one Yo La Tengo album has, with an instrumental of sorts, and "Beach Party Tonight" is a clear indication that the electronic side is possessing the band more and more on each release. The whole album features more technology, and these additions lend a lot to the general aura of the music without being intrusive. Ira Kaplan's vocals are frequently hushed, as usual, and on "Beach Party," they're almost incomprehensible, bringing the music to the forefront. Georgia Hubley is coming into her own vocally, sounding more and more like the chanteuse that's been hiding away. "Little Eyes" is a perfect power pop production, much like the more mainstream fair of I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Elsewhere the tradition of one epic song per album continues, too, with "Let's Be Still" as this album's "Night Falls on Hoboken," and it's a bit more coherent and a bit more freeform than before. One thing that the title suggests clearly, though, is that Yo La Tengo were out to have a lot more fun this time, and it shows on tracks like "Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo," an almost '70s porn anthem laden with effects and funk piano, and on "Winter A-Go-Go", which could almost pass for Steve and Eydie. Even though there's more sun in the sky, there's always shadows cast, and that's what they thankfully couldn't avoid. Summer Sun is not their best work, but it is another solid album from a band not afraid to expand their sound, take chances or let loose every now and then. - Rob Devlin
Styrofoam, "I'm What's There To Show That Something's Missing"
It's quite strange to imagine that there could now very well be a generation of electronic-based musicians/artists who never sat for hours practicing scales, modes, chords, rhythms, what have you, on an actual instrument. Since the laptop revolution has brought about practically every instrumental sound under the sun for consumption, there's not really a great need to sit with a chunk of wood or brass. Not that I don't favor electronic-based music or the musicians who make it, but hearing additional sounds that were actually in the ether at some point before being committed to tape (sorry, hard disk) makes for a refreshing change now and again. I'm What's There to Show That Something's Missing, the latest release from Belgian native Arne van Petegem (aka Styrofoam) enjoyably blends the glitch-type Powerbook beats and sounds with the live element of prominent vocals and acoustic guitar at times for an interesting take on modern pop music. "The Long Wait" opens the disc with the arpeggiations of said guitar and builds into a laid back groove of electronic beats and keyboards that gradually thickens with some synth bass while van Petegem's lush vocal layers deliver both a catchy melody and lyrics. The more pop-oriented "A Heart Without A Mind" skips along to a wall of synth flourishes with the bass line and vocals leading the progressions until guitar and keyboards take over. The opening tape shuttle sounds of the more electronic "Forever, You Said Forever" drop out for some sparse keyboards and linear drum machine rhythms to provide the backing track for a sampled conversation of a couple that are in the midst of an arguement over a break-up. The disc's eight tunes are well crafted and arranged to highlight van Petegem's skills as both a programmer and guitar player/vocalist by augmenting the former with the latter. While this particular formula for the laptop set is nothing new, Styrofoam's take on it makes for a more animated disc with the likeness of a full band. - Gord Fynes
Kathleen Edwards, "Failer"
The alternative country sound seems to get no respect anymore, as it never really achieved any of the goals it was going for. There are publications dedicated to it, sure, and records come out all the time for its stalwarts like Ryan Adams and the Jayhawks; but alt-country, as it is often called, never revolutionized country music, and its artists are still not widely recognized by mainstream country. With the exception of bands like Nickel Creek doing a Stephen Malkmus song on their last album or Johnny Cash doing Soundgarden or Nine Inch Nails, it also seems to have lost some of its alternative edge. That's all about to change with the arrival of Kathleen Edwards. For me, the pinnacle of the alt-country sound was Whiskeytown, the band Ryan Adams had with Caitlin Cary until 2000. They had it all: beautiful harmonies, great hooks, and songs about booze and heartache. Edwards continues their sound on the first song on Failer, then promptly blows it the hell away. She even plays violin, like Cary did in Whiskeytown, adding a sadness or playfulness to certain songs, just to get the right feeling in the right place. Her sound is at once classic and new, her voice is assured and insecure, the songs perfect and uneven. She's also quite aware of the difficulties of selling her sound, as she states nicely in "One More Song the Radio Won't Like," and on songs like "Six O'Clock News" and "Hockey Skates" you wonder why the mainstream press won't just eat it up at the same time that you hope they won't. Even though there seems to be a preoccupation with booze and bars in her music, they're not bad things for a country star to be singing about, though it seems there are more weaknesses Edwards could be exploring. She hints at big ones in small mentions, about babies coming in June, and how she can't seem to do anything right. Every time it comes right back to tipping a glass/bottle or, on one song at least, getting high. Mostly, though, the whole album has a feel about getting out. Maybe Edwards will break out with this record, but I hope she doesn't lose sight of this desperation and sadness. It's worth much more even it means no one will hear it. - Rob Devlin
STEPHAN MATHIEU AND EKKEHARD EHLERS,
First issued in 2001 in a limited, card-packaged edition on the Dutch Brombron label (a guise of Staalplaat, in collaboration with the Nijmegen rehearsal space Extrapool), Heroin (reviewed in Brain v5i20) certainly deserves this reissue, as one of the most celebrated releases in the microsound "genre". Now remastered, it's made even more appealing by the addition of a CD of "extensions" of the original, provided by luminaries such as Christian Fennesz, Nobukazu Takemura, Kit Clayton, Akira Rabelais, Freiband, and Oren Ambarchi. The remastering gives a slightly crisper sound, particularly in the high frequencies, helping to emphasise the album's digitally processed feel. Yet this doesn't detract from the engaging warmth of the original, whose shimmering, looped phrases produce a diverting emotional connection. Its 13 tracks are often touching, humourous, or both, as in the heavily processed "Turkey Song," which makes a new Christmas classic out of the music from Peanuts cartoons. The "extensions" themselves appear to be either remixes or attempts to touch on similar musical ground. Takemura's skittering, high BPM workout "Child's View," which samples "Heroique," is far from the sound of the Mathieu and Ehlers's tracks, but nonetheless excellent. Other highlights are the gentle avant guitar of Joseph Suchy (who worked with Ehlers on the Plays series), the always enjoyable Fennesz, and Carmen Baier's edgy soundscape "Webteil." The second CD, presented by the packaging as a second Heroin, or perhaps a part of the first, can only honestly be taken as a remix project, lacking the cohesion of the original. But all of the new tracks meet a high standard, and certainly don't feel throwaway. The original still commands greater attention, and its appeal should cement it over time as a minor classic of modern electronica. - Andrew Shires
The Stratford 4, "Love & Distortion"
Touted by just about every publication as being one of the next best things, The Stratford 4 leave a lot to be desired on this, their second full-length. Equally influenced it seems by My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, and scores of Brit-pop bands, their music is delayed and distorted guitars with a pop sensibility. Officially, I would like to say that this sound is going to take them absolutely nowhere unless they can improve the juvenile lyric-writing. The music is just fine, imploring pleasant melodies, grooving basslines, and lots of effects that make the guitars swirl and shriek behind them. Unfortunately, what comes to the forefront is just plain awful. "I went to confession but I had nothing to confess. They said what's wrong with you? You're usually such a mess" is almost as bad as "If you want to kiss my mouth, tell me what it's all about, if you want to climb into bed with your delicate head than that would be alright." This is a study in how to write like Damon Albarn, with a great sense at times of what good music is, but no grasp whatsoever of poetry or prose. This music could stand a bit of variation, too, as it seems every song says what it's supposed to in the first three minutes, then jams out a bit for the rest; or it jams a bit in the beginning to build to the proper idea, then soars out towards the end. The first song on the album, "Where the Ocean Meets the Eye," is the only one that shows promise in this sound, with quiet bass joining chiming delayed guitars and slightly echoed drums. It all gets engulfed as the flames of loud angry distortion grow higher and higher. The vocals join in at the height of the volume, and the lyrics are wailed in such a way that they aren't always recognizable. Perfect. Let the music talk and let the lyrics be puzzled over. If they'd done that more, it probably wouldn't be so bad. - Rob Devlin
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All Tomorrow's Parties
April 4-6, 2003, Camber Sands, UK
Zoviet-France were a low key opening with random rumble and drone rising from abstracted ambience to half realised attempts to scale walls of noise. They were more varied and engaging when I saw them with Ryoji Ikeda a few years back. Here they just seemed to be coasting along blindly and we might as well just have stayed outside with the car engine running and our heads on the bonnet. The Fall were back on form hearing nosey telephone thingamebobs listening in and losing tempers with friends. They had an able new bassist and the young goth wife of Mark E. Smith diddling about on keyboards. The most vivid imaged etched from day one is of the Dickensian spectre of Smith looming through the chain mesh at the stage side. I got into blind drunk can't-find-my-way-round Smith mode so was totally trashed by Public Enemy. I do however recall that they played a stormin' Rebel Without A Pause, they were a lot of fun and like most anyone with even half a functioning sense of reason, Chuck D dislikes world-leader-pretend George Bush intensely.
Somehow I found a hangover cure the next day with my head in Pita's PA as he stood in red jacketed racing stillness at his laptop, coaxing huge swathes of digital distortion from which rose funny little buried three note melodies. Farmersmanual were disappointing compared to recordings I've heard, but still the kind of glitched abstraction that makes a good organic lager drinking backdrop. It was hard to give a damn about them though, and why they needed so many as five laptoppers to do what they did seemed a mystery. Disjecta's processed guitar drones actually worked much better further from the stage as background ambience, and my new frind Eva's main criticism of the event was that there was too much stuff like this. It was no problem for a hardened experimentalist like me but veterans of the Shellac curated event last year were often heard to complain of a lack of guitar bands and associated energy. That's not a criticism that could be leveled at the bouncey hand waving high jinx of rappers El-P and Murs. They got a big cheer for denouncing warmongering stooge Bush, and were so fuckin' on one that you couldn't help but get carried along by the rush. Yasunao Tone looked very happy to confuse the techno heads with some random cut up abstract noise, and Hecker's studious almost non-existant stage presence and post-Gilbertoid bee buzz proved to be the most room clearing performance I witnessed. His set was close enough to sounding like he was playing back his recent Mego CD to beg the question of why he'd actually bothered to turn up - nice work if you can get it! Earth cancelled so appropriately Sunn O))) were moved to burn bright in their position, a slow riff grind of apocalyptic doom that won legions of new fans. Their mind altering armageddon mogadon skullfuck was most certainly the highlight of the first day and afterwards Aphex Twin just seemed like mediocre crowd pleasing mouldy old dough, albeit pleasantly foot tapping mouldy old dough.
The best day by far was Sunday. Lovely humourous rapid cut ups from Jim O'Rourke brought a cartoonish feel to the air. His ability to sense humour in avant soundscapes should not be underestimated. If you ever get the chance to see such exceptionally life affirming artists as Coil or the Magic Band, it would be worth traversing a continent for. A new Coil set was presumably what I would expect to eventually be reformed into Music to Play in the Dark 3, with only The Dreamer Is Still Asleep in a drastically reworked form as finale to nod to old glory. They put on an awesome and powerful performance which to me seemed like a ritual of anti-war magic, with a bearded Balance waggling a long sleeve camply as the green univarse light show altered minds and etched a spinning wormhole in so-called reality. I was quite overcome and tears streamed down my face. These were not tears of sadness or joy, but a body bursting beyond its threshold. On sale after their set was a new CD titled A.N.S. which is the follow up to Time Machines and is equally exquisitely hallucinogenic. Bernard Parmegiani's De Natura Sonorum raised the largest applause noise to crowd size ratio and it was pretty cool to be able to wander around the half empty hall in and out of the rushing elegant peaks and troughs as usually electroacoustic concerts are seated affairs. The Magic Band just owned the place as soon as they walked on, cool mofos to a man. Opening with Rockette Morton's Trout Mask bass solo, they cut a dash through some instrumental renditions that it'd be hard to believe could've been better back in the day. The sound was perfect, courtesy of Shellac bassist Bob Weston. Guitarist Gary 'Mantis' Lucas was obviously named such by the Captain due to the stance he pulled as he worked those difficult shapes into our eager ears. When John French stalked out from behind his kit to take on a Beefheart persona and sing a bellyfull o'psychedelic blues, it was a moment I dreaded just in case it all relapsed into kitsch karaoke clowning, but nothing could be further from the truth. As he told the tale of the farmer who pitched the devil from now to now with The Floppy Boot Stomp, it was obvious he'd lived so much of this seminal music that he'd become a different person, and one who could deliver a more than convincing full on hoodoo hoedown in the Captain's boots. Towards the end of their joyous set there was a false fire alarm and the room had to be cleared. I might've found me a woman to hold my big toe until it was time to go, but nowaday's a woman's gotta hit a man. A few more songs to a drastically diminished crowd had me leaping about like a kid waving apples down the front and after the inevitable fiery finale Big Eyed Beans From Venus the only reasonable response was to stand in front of the Mantis shouting, "We love you!" The Magic Band were so great I tripped out to their show in London the next day, and who should I bump into walking the nice streets of Wimbledon? None other than Malka Spigel, wife of WIRE guitarist Colin Newman. Clearly I was about to witness lightning striking twice! - Graeme Rowland
The Postal Service, Cex, & I Am The World Trade Center
The Earl, Atlanta GA
I Am The World Trade center opened this triple bill of indie-electronica, and seemed stuck in a time warp back to a forgettable part of1988. As pundits of the recent 80's fetishism, I Am The World Trade Center gushed with ironic energy and bounced around the stage to pumping electro-disco jams that teetered on slapstick. There used to be a radio station in Tampa called "The Power Pig" that played cheesy electro pop way past its heyday of The Real Roxanne and "Let The Music Play," and I always wondered how people in 1993 were still rehashing that formula. Well, in 2003, I am asking the same fucking question and it's getting tiresome. While the duo pogo-ed around on stage and sang through numerous vocoder patches, they just didn't sell it as well as Sheena E, or even the Spice Girls. I got the impression that most of the audience who seemed thrilled with I Am The World Trade Center's redundant exposition of vacuous electro-pop wouldn't give acts like Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam a second thought, but really, what the Athens-based Due were doing was just a less-sincere version of that. I'd rather pay to see Pretty Poison perform their song from the movie Hiding Out, on roller skates than sit through a set like this again.
Cex followed up quickly and demonstrated that you don't have to stoop to the stupidity of "we're gonna rock it" to have fun. With lines like "Food is disgusting/It's what they make shit from" Cex commanded the audience (who were mostly older than he) in a way that seems to be uniquely his own. While his "rock star" antics and need to see how far he can push his audience into being his bitch sometimes come off with the machismo they are supposedly lampooning, Cex is a true showman who puts thought into his words and keeps the beats pounding steadily from his I-Mac on the floor. His set consisted of mostly-new material from his forthcoming Being Ridden and Maryland Mansions albums which meant that it oscillated between the half-goofy, embarrassingly honest rap numbers and the faux-heavy angst songs that caused more than one person in the audience to yell out "Trent Reznor." But even in Cex's darker moments, there was always a hint of playfulness, and a sense that he was stopping just sort of taking it all too seriously.
To say that the crowd went 'ape shit' when The Postal Service struck up the first chord would not be overstating things. As each song began, there was a sharp cheer, much like the kind of reaction a band like the Eagles gets when fans who have been waiting 20 years to hear "Desperado" recognize its opening notes. This is weird to me, because The Postal Service have only one album out, and it's not even a year old! Chock it up to the cult of Ben Gibbard I suppose, and the cult was in full effect with anonymous cries of 'we love you Ben' between many of the songs. Even though I have not heard The Postal Service album that was recently released on Sub Pop, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I had heard these songs and Gibbard's voice before. The show was suddenly back in the nostalgia-zone, but this time instead of playing up the camp value of music that wasn't that great the first time around, the players took a more serious approach to fusing the retro-electro beats with modern indie sensibilities. After the third song, it struck me that The Postal Service, and Gibbard in particular, were channeling equal parts New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and Matthew Sweet, and melting them all into a rather pretty batch of songs that were both new and old at the same time. When the Death Cab For Cutie front man hung over his guitar and clutched the microphone while subtly bopping to a slapping house beat, he even looked like a post-Technique era Bernard Sumner. The Postal Service never failed to please the eager fans who brought them out for an anemic cover of "Against All Odds" that inspired a sing-along unlike any I have ever seen at an indie-rock show. But anything that can get loosen the bowels of hipster indifference at a show without making everyone feel like a chump for enjoying themselves is a good thing. The Postal Service have the live chops to play bigger venues, and they could probably reach a hell of a lot more people with their infectious collection of danceable sing-a-longs, but as the group is only a side-project at the moment, I imagine that their course to become something like the next Erasure will be derailed before that happens.
- Matthew Jeanes