(album, Cherry Red)
The Fall hit the thirty album mark with a set that will no doubt have balding obsessives making detailed comparisons with the previous twenty-nine and attempting to escry progressively deeper layers of meaning from Mark E Smith’s lyrics. So let’s locate the chase and cut to it: It’s slightly more engaging than the last three LPs, far preferable to ‘Post Reformation TLC’, but nowhere near as good as 2005’s triumphant ‘Fall Heads Roll’.
To a degree, the preceding trilogy of ‘Imperial Wax Solvent’, ‘Your Future Our Clutter’ and ‘Ersatz GB’ begged the question ‘is Smith just knocking them out these days?’ This time around, while there’s some filler on offer (the nutter-at-a-bus-stop crap rap of ‘Noise’, which features Smith having some fun at guitarist Peter Greenway’s expense, and the indulgent ‘Victricola Time’ prequel ‘Pre-MDMA Years’), ‘Re-Mit’ imparts a sense that while Smith undoubtedly sees recording as a job of work, he has started enjoying himself.
After the brief instrumental introduction of ‘No Respects’, the album starts with something of a bang courtesy of the disc’s trailing single ‘Sir William Wray’. This is Smith as Sinatra: The inclusion of a preceding instrumental heightens the anticipation of the master’s vocal. As he launches into his opening tirade (“guh-guh-guh-guh-guh-guh-guh-guh…”) one can almost imagine the applause rippling around the Coconut Grove. The song itself is energetic and compelling, atop the sparse melody and driving rhythm Smith’s vocal resembles Eddie Waring, stretching language into a series of indistinct mewls. By the time the churning Beefheart garage of ‘Kinder Of Spine’ kicks in, Mark has taken his teeth out. Gurgling from beneath the duvet he strikes a mocking tone as the instrumentation becomes looser.
‘Hitite Man’ is one for the Ventolin crowd to obsess over. Realistically, they’ll have no more idea what he’s going on about than I do. It’s familiar Fall territory – a nightmare landscape packed with urban gothic imagery, a broken evolution in prose delivered with assertive authority. The backing brews up a bubbling broth of liquid crepuscular malevolence into which Smith expectorates.
By contrast, the vocal version of ‘No Respects’ lets the sun shine in. A shimmering shard of power-psych, its upbeat vibe is such that Smith’s caustic lyrical impressionism and existential cynicism can only subvert, rather than undermine the track’s sense of joy. We have arrived at the album’s zenith.
And ‘Victiricola Time’ keeps us there. Keyboards to the fore, the track coalesces as an exercise in hypnotic, creeping motorik. Repetition in the music and they’re never going to lose it-ah. After coming in like Spike Milligan, Smith gets into some trademark non-linguistic vocalisations, and – via the magic of modern studio technology – has a bit of a duet with himself.
It’s pretty much downhill from here – but not too far: ‘Irish’ rolls along on the concrete metaphorical wheels of Celtic-inflected bass guitar and drums. A céilí through the Mark E Smith dreamscape it picks up considerable momentum, cohering as it progresses. ‘Jetplane’ is another example of the Smith snapshot. A slice of life reflected through the prisms of Smith’s interpretation and presented complete within itself. A martial beat supports this vocal-led number, as Smith’s psychotic nouveau vague lyricism kicks in; Elena Poulou’s sole vocal contribution emerges amid a tottering tower of Babel, undermined by the collision of language at its core.
‘Jam Song’. Really? It’s hard to imagine Mark E Smith being in favour of jamming. I mean, how many times has he expressed his dislike of musicians? I know this incarnation of the band has been together for longer than any of the others, but surely he doesn’t want them to get too comfortable? At best, the track is a sonic corpse for the ageing fanboys to necromance – After an extended segment of self-indulgent bleepery, it enters a jazzy chrysalis stage, emerging as something other than a butterfly, borne forward by David Spurr’s irresistible baseline. Album closer ‘Lodestones’ is alternatively punchy, rolling and transcendent, creating an unsettling descent into neolithism. It outlines, if you will, la chute.
The Crowds and The Sounds (album, Damaged Goods)
The third album from this London trio sees Thee Spivs expanding both their instrumental and sonic horizons, incorporating additional keyboards and sax as part of a shift toward a slower, more melodic sound. Although the group are till most effective when they cut loose and mainman Ben Edge shows his well-sharpened lyrical teeth, that this conceptual gamble pays off is something of a counter-intuitive triumph.
Beginning with some nicely serrated Dr. Phibes keys, opener ‘Social Network’ illustrates Thee Spivs trademark welding of contemporary themes to a high octane garage template. Edge’s kitchen sink lyrical observations collide effectively with the band’s jagged catchiness as the disc hits its stride immediately. ‘Forget It’ maintains the initial pace with a driving twelve-bar rhythm adorned by the kind of guitar energy historically associated with the O’Neill brothers.
‘Outside Myself’ is a deceptively simple exercise in existential analysis that demonstrates that you don’t need to wet the bed or throw flowers around to engage in the process. Stripped of unnecessary angst and artfully enhanced with some spicy organ, the track succeeds in effectively showcasing another facet of the group’s developmental aspirations. After the sax-infused ‘lost-in-the-masses’ themed title track, the autobiographical ‘Straight Out Of Art School’ provides one of the albums highlights. Again calling to mind the Undertones before they went rancid, it’s a bounding, percussive treat that culminates in a stormin’ middle eight while lyrically exploring the grey reality of creative ambitions.
Largely acoustic, ‘Weathered Men’ is a sardonic take on the attitudes of the UKIP demographic that engages largely through Edge’s lyrical wit. The pedal is shoved into the footwell in its Kinksy wake by another standout track, ‘Mickey Pearce Waved Goodbye’. Featuring emotive lyrics and vocal delivery worthy of Dan Treacy, the track is an irresistible example of Thee Spivs doing what they do best – proving scintillating suburban snapshots with energy and drive.
‘Heroin Pin Ups’ not only takes a well-aimed swipe at junkie chic, but also has the nous to dig deeper into the psyche of those who exploit themselves for their underserved fifteen minutes. It’s twangin’ accessibility juxtaposes well against the subject matter, before ‘Let’s Talk About The Weather’ provides an emotionally engaging essay on the societal helplessness and system generated apathy that lies at the heart of the contemporary tendency to take the route of less resistance and debate trivia, rather than serious issues.
For ‘Jigsaw Man’ Thee Spivs look out across garageland and see alienation. Another refreshingly unmawkish but emotionally effective track, the song again identifies the manner in which to some degree, we are all outsiders. After poignant acoustic closer ‘Mozart’s Locked Away’ completes its coda, the remaining impression is that Thee Spivs remain as reliable as a ball peen hammer – you can plonk your cash down on the counter of the record shop that doesn’t exist anymore safe in the knowledge that you’ve backed a winner.
‘The Crowds and The Sounds’ will be released by Damaged Goods on 24 June
UNA BÈSTIA INCONTROLABLE – ‘Observant Com el Món es Destrueix’ (LVEUM)
Barcelona’s Una Bestia Incontrolable have only been in existence for a matter of months. They boast members of the crème-de-la-crème of Iberian hardcore past and present: Atentado, Destino Final, Invasion, Crosta and Glam. With a handful of gigs in Spain, the UK and the USA already in the annals and a brace of recording sessions under their collective belt, UBI have rapidly become a force to be reckoned with. The expansion in the band’s sound from their seven-track demo tape to this, their debut nice-track long-player, is as incredible as it is formidable.
The blurb accompanying the album states that ‘Observant Com el Món es Destrueix’ is stuck between ‘day-dreams of peace and nightmares of reality’. Multiple listens later, I can confirm this description to be accurate. The vocals are delivered in Catalan, the music veers unpredictably from hardcore punk to outsider metal, yet UBI maintain the groundbreaking illusion of force-feeding rage through a psychedelic filter, creating a psychotic reaction worthy of the Count Five.
Pressed on blue vinyl, and housed in beautifully colourful sleeve, courtesy of the band’s guitarist, Guillem el Muro, ‘Observant Com el Món es Destrueix’ is a visually stunning as it is aurally domineering – an early contender for long-player of the year.
SECT – s/t (Discos Enfermos Records)
Based in Barcelona, there’s both an international aspect to Sect (Polish and Venezuelan members), and a band-sharing aspect (members of Dromdead and Belgrado). Neither of these factors directly influence Sect’s sound, however, and this ten-track collection of anarcho-syndicalist-dressed peace punk wears its UK82 patches on its black stencilled shirt with unfettered pride. The female vocals remind me of Brigandage and the fleeting genre once briefly known as ‘Positive Punk’. These ten songs are catchy-as-bird-flu exercises in repeated engagement. No obscure genre cul-de-sac redux here!
VIXENS – s/t (LVEUM)
Following a positive global DIY underground reaction to their 2011 demo, Halifax (Nova Scotia) four-piece, Vixens, duly find themselves releasing their debut album of ‘naïve hardcore’ on one of the finest labels in the land, LVEUM.
Vixens – Julia (drums), Jospehine (vocals), Bridget (bass) and Rosie (guitar) – look like the Runaways before they met Kim Fowley, and sound like Gallhammer before they discovered doom. Unrequited anger oozes from every pore of this monster, a triumph of will over talent. Set to drop on vinyl in the next couple of months, those of you who dug the aforementioned demo should snap this up without question.
PINK REASON – ‘Ache For You’ (Savage Quality)
Ten years into their existence, Pink Reason’s rebirth is nothing short of revelatory. Gone is the outsider-folk weirdness of previous releases, replaced in turn by an amalgamation of grunge-era accessibility wrapped in proto-punk rawness. Released on the band’s own Ohio-based Savage Quality imprint, ‘Ache For You’ / ’Darken Daze’ are both covers of hitherto unknown rural Wisconsin outsider-rock ‘classics’.
Pink Reason’s head honcho, Kevin De Broux, has a voice to die for, and the duelling lead guitars of ‘Ache For You’ carry his expressive vocals across close to four-minutes of desecrated emotional intent, before collapsing on the studio floor in a pool of spent angst. The record’s cover features four dangerous looking dudes, three pairs of sunglasses, a wall of washing machines, a baseball cap, a toddler, and a gun.
Recorded at CDR Studios on the 1st of April 2012 by Adam Smith, you’d be a bona fide fool not to track down a copy of this amazing slab of seven-inch vinyl without delay.
TAULARD – ‘Frankreich Katastrophe’ (Taenia-Solium)
France is bustling with justified intent right now, from the traditional hardcore stylings of Youth Avoiders (see recent interview) and Haute Couture, via the more unhinged work of The Night Stalkers et al., all the way to the eclectic imaginings of Grenoble-based synth-punkers, Taulard: Nico (synthé), Nico (batterie), Jérôme (basse), and Josselin (chant).
Over the course of four tracks, Taulard resurrect the ghost riders of Suicide in their punk rock approach to synth-driven pop. The songs may be structured within the realms of a pop sensibility, yet the band’s terrace-choir vocal approach lifts them to another level entirely. I have played this EP repeatedly over the last couple of months, with each spin unveiling a new facet. Released in two different picture sleeves, ‘Frankreich Katastrophe’ marks Taulard down as an enigmatic addition to a burgeoning French underground.
Vincebus eruptum: This has been coming. For the past nine months Honey’s gestalt has coalesced across a lengthening series of increasingly impressive live performances. Recent shows at Gaslights, Bunters and Miss Peapod’s have clearly demonstrated that the three unique talents of Sarah Tyrell, Ele Lucas and Sammy Downing are combining to produce songs and performances of heavyweight significance. Collectively rendering the power trio concept redundant by virtue of their transcendent authority and obscene, crystalline perfection, the group have reached escape velocity, leaving enduring and beautiful vapour trails in their wake.
The slow burn napalm drop of EP opener ‘Love Sick, Sick Love’ announces Honey by gradually unveiling their increasingly alluring layers of strength, subtlety and dynamism. The Ele/Sammy rhythm section lays down a canvas upon which a single strand of feedback ignites the fuse of Sarah’s phosphorous guitar as the wolf with three heads strains at the buckling links of its chain. Eighty-five seconds after the singularity has been initiated, a two second burst of squall as heavy as a white dwarf creates new futures and pasts – It is more than three decades since Andy Gill’s sonic vandalism enhanced ‘Entertainment’: Here those three decades are compressed into the blink of an eye. Sound makes light, illuminating the lyrical tableau mordant – an inevitable procession traversing a path of crushed hearts.
Whereas ‘Love Sick..’ is an exercise in the mastery of restraint and a journey through Honey’s gearbox, ‘Dick Tease’ swings like a mood to create a hyper sensory tumult suffused with shattered fragments of yearning as Sarah’s vocal polarizes between Eve’s black/white terminals. ‘DFK’ restores a semblance of calm, as Ele’s bass evokes a liquid petit mort while Sarah strums a mattress of wire. Electricity crackles as the exultant chorus arches its back in abandon, lost within the nexus of its own fulfilment. Signals beam in from the edge of control, emitting brief signals like sinking satellites of desire arcing beneath a red horizon.
Live floor-filler ‘Dumb Girl Plague’ is Honey unleashed. Here, the three minds crack: Sammy’s titanic drum power seems to come from somewhere outside his slight frame, drawing comparisons with Topper Headon, Ele’s bass exists in the stratospheric realms normally associated with Wobble or Youth, while Sarah’s vocal intensity is quite simply a force of nature; primal and hypnotic in equal measure. Built upon a pounding, priapic rhythm, the track’s middle eight creates a pocket dimension of echoplexed calm before the juggernaut thunders off toward its uncontrollable end.
‘Go Down Swingin’’ evokes a swampy miasma of dense and unsettling sound that sits somewhere between early PiL and Primus, suggesting Beefheart to construct a dislocation disco at the heliosheath of reason. The track’s unhinged elements lock together with serrated edges standing proud to create new forms of rock’n’roll psychoses, strewn across an inescapable maze of unsettling aural uncertainty. The most radical of the five tracks on display here, it completes the painting. It is a painting that will eat Paris. Go look at it.
Honey will be available on Amazon, iTunes and elsewhere from May 4
Catch Honey live:
3 May: Stag and Hounds, Bristol (with Hunter Valentine, Crash Paris, and others)
10 May: Last Shop Standing, Plymouth
19 May: The Doghouse, Nottingham (with The Sunny Boys and Trioxin Cherry)
24 May: Royal Inn, Par (with the Veins)
14 June: Studio Bar, Penzance (with Grip Like Vice)
Ready To Die (album, Fat Possum)
Hey, hey … here’s the new Stooges disc, and from the cover it looks as if Iggy has pocketed a fee from the EDL. (Which’d be one in the eye for those who subscribe to the notion that as an avatar of rebellion he’s supposed to conform to some kind of brown rice left wing agenda and eschew advertising deals). But no, it’s just Fat Possom’s art department being ‘edgy’ with a suicide bomber motif.
Which is appropriate enough, as despite the label’s apparent independent credentials, the power of marketing is strong here. The label are promoting the album as the ‘follow up to Raw Power’, which it most certainly isn’t. What it actually represents is debatable – in terms of content, it adds next to nothing of any substance to the Stooges’ legacy. That said, there’s a certain joy in the moments where Iggy is simply himself and the band flex their ageing, veiny muscles. Album opener ‘Burn’ exemplifies this – a bruising exercise in Stooging-by-numbers topped with dramatic-but-vapid lyrics and employing the turn everything up production method. It’s downhill from here.
‘Sex and Money’ sounds like Iggy fronting a ‘Know Your Product’ era version of the Saints. All handclaps’n’horns, Iggy’s ‘looking for a reason to live’ while he mines his own mythos. Not that he isn’t having a ball doing it – ‘Job’ finds the band indulging in a spot of blue collar rock’n’roll, while Ig expounds about how tough it is on the margins, before he enjoys himself more enjoyably across the uptempo, upbeat, upstrokes of ‘Gun’, which also sounds like he’s backed by Menace.
Now the wheels really come off. Iggy drops into the region of his vocal register that is most efficiently received by whales to deliver some lachrymose balladry for ‘Unfriendly World’, before the absurd metal muddle of the title track builds to a godawful overblown solo-laden climax that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bon Jovi record. This is rawk!
‘DDs’ begins like the Four Tops’ ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, before emerging as an exercise in inspirational chanting for the udder-fixated. Would work best as theme music for a sitcom featuring Chelsea Charms. ‘Dirty Deal’, by way of variety, brings back the horns to find Iggy having difficulties with his paperwork. If only there were some mechanism by which he could store all this data online.
‘Ready To Die’ concludes with two more ballads – are you absolutely sure this is the follow up to ‘Raw Power’, Mr. Fat Possum? Really? The first, ‘Beat That Guy’ begins like chamber music, before congealing into some kind of Ig-folk. Why do his ballads always sound like Christmas songs? The halls are duly decked as the number reaches a big orchestral section before James Williamson pitches in with a quite monumentally awful screaming valedictory guitar solo. Masturbate in your own time, Jimmy. ‘The Departed’ is Iggy’s tribute to the sorely-missed Ron Asheton. It would be witty and poignant if it didn’t sound as if he’d taken his teeth out to sing it.
But then, it’s a feat that these old lads are still doing it. The album’s out on April 30th, and is a must for anyone who enjoys Walter Matthau’s later films. What did you expect, anyway?
- trakMARX: ROCK AND ROLL, GARAGE PUNK, PSYCHE, HEAVY METAL, PROTO PUNK, KRAUTROCK, JAP ROCK, PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDUSTRIAL, BLACK METAL, DOOM/DRONE, POST ROCK, NOISE, AVANT ET L'ART DE L'ETRANGER