HANDCREAM FOR A GENERATION
[Wiiija Records WIJCD1115]
Loping funk, rap and reggae, toasting, knowing city-slicker wide-boy
lyrics, acute observation and more – the new Cornershop offering is
a tiptop mix of music and song artfully blended into a glorious, witty
CD. Tjinder Singh manages to make everything he touches sound his
own, even when being wilfully perverse (Asian reggae?!) or taking
the piss out of racism and hatred (‘Wogs Will Walk’) from both sides.
Gone is the need for Fatboy Slim remixes, this is now a band in charge
of their own sound and destiny. Five years away has done them a power
of good and allowed them to make their work unify and cohere. They’ve
avoided overproduction, but no longer sound like a youth club band
trying everything out in turn. This is true cross-cultural, genre-defying
music. Probably record of the year.
[Arista/BMG 07822 14708 2]
The self-styled priestess of punk makes a greatest hits album, thoughtfully
provided with a rarities and outtakes disc to lure people like me
into buying it. But who’s complaining when the music’s as good as
this? Not me. Apparently the greatest hits part was the result of
some kind of fan club poll, which is surprising as you’d have expected
this to have yielded a selection from the first few albums when she
was at her overdrive best. As it is the 16 tracks are pretty much
equally taken from all her output.
‘Dancing Barefoot’ opens
the proceedings, a mystical hypnotic swirl of a song, that gives way
to the amphetamine-rant-cum-poem ‘Babelogue’, itself only a prelude
to ‘Rock N Roll Nigger’ which is a scorcher. Then it’s a mundane version
of ‘Gloria’ and on into a rollercoaster ride of hi-energy rock alternated
with ballads and lesser known songs from recent albums, until the
CD expires with an awful version of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ – a
song simply not needed here [or anywhere else in my humble opinion].
Highlights remain ‘Because the Night’ and ‘Ghost Dance’ for me.
The new stuff is a strange
mixture of powerful live songs and outtakes and low-key acoustic poems
and accompaniment. Apart from ‘Piss Factory’, which I confess I hadn’t
heard before and is surprisingly jazzy and not the rant I was expecting,
there’s a stonking version of ‘25th Floor’ and an intriguing track
from 1996 with Tom Verlaine and Jeff Buckley playing guitars, but
little else to really enthuse about. Even the booklet is only a set
of scrawled notes, reproduced posters and pretty ordinary photos.
If you haven’t got Patti
on CD this is an OK selection, tho I’d probably suggest you bought
Easter and Horses instead;
if you’re considering buying it for the rarities then I’d go on a
Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
Hard to believe this really is an entirely legitimate release or that
the music from this legendary unreleased Beefheart album has been
remastered: the music is murky and raw, the songs don’t match the
bootleg versions of the album that have been around for years and
the whole thing is padded out with some live stuff that may be nice
to own but doesn’t make much sense here.
Anyway, the Captain is on
fine form, yodelling and hollering his swamp and desert blues over
the clattering freeform Magic Band, in a weird a way as ever. Most
of the songs have surfaced in one legitimate version or another, often
in a totally different musical package, so it’s good to hear them
in their raw state. I can’t help wondering if these are pre-mix, pre-production
versions that would have been changed and polished up a little anyway.
Beefheart remains a genius
of outsider art and rock, and this is interesting as an aside to his
output, but the album’s release is in no way the major event this
is being hyped up to be. Trout Mask Replica remains, and I suspect
always will remain, the man’s masterpiece.
John Stevens’ Away
[Konnex KCD 5061]
I’m always amused when people want to scare their parents away with
rock or punk music. Mine never blinked. But a bit of freeform improvisation
or jazz wigout always did the trick! Untethered by 4/4 constriction
and the conventions of song John Stevens was able, in the late 80s,
to explore the outer limits of sonic disarray whether in the freeform
and free-for-all explorations of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, or
here with Away, a band who made many albums for Phonogram and then
four more for obscure indie jazz labels. This compilation selects
from the four, and finds Stevens, the drummer, leading various incarnations
of the band – usually with twin guitars, sax and trumpets and keyboards
– thru a wigout noisefest that played loud will bring your house down.
If I say jazz-rock you’ll get the wrong idea, as this is no noodling
affair, this is a steam train tearing through your stereo at top speed,
boiler on fire, giving smoke damage to your ears and brain. You want
something loud and energetic? This is for you.
BARE YOU PASSIONATE?
Master of the three note guitar solo, this finds Young putting a blues
twist on his music, with one Booker T Jones and his organ well to
the fore as foil to the laid back soloing Young indulges in throughout
this warm and laid back album. Young’s too far down the rock star
line to expect any surprises, so I didn’t. If you like mainstream
rock songs that wear their simplistic heart on their sleeve and resists
hi-gloss production in favour of warm primary colours and go-for-it
solos, then you’ll like this. Passionate? Well, heartfelt.
BELLY OF THE SUN
[Blue Note 7243 5 35072 2 0]
Cassandra Wilson has a voice like virgin olive oil: you just want
to wallow in the soft golden tones. On this new release, recorded
ad hoc in a New Orleans train station and train wagon, she revisits
and reinterprets a number of old blues songs, as well as giving the
smoky treatment to songs like The Band’s ‘The Weight’ and Dylan’s
‘Shelter from the Storm’. Managing to never become one of those arty
farty screechers that the jazz world seems to love, she keeps songs
recognisable as rock or blues, but slows them down and a bit and reinvigorates
and reinvents them with careful percussion and guitar/bass arrangements
that surround and accompany her dulcet tones. Sexy, smoky late night
ROUGH TRADE SHOPS: ELECTRONIC
What do you say? There’s no argument or thesis behind this double
CD compilation, just 41 tracks that the staff of the Rough Trade record
shops have enjoyed over the years. There’s lots here I’ve heard before,
and a fair few I haven’t. I don’t understand many of their choices
– a dreadful late Can piece, a slight ephemeral Eno composition, an
tinny early Depeche Mode song, a Faust outtake from Faust
IV – but the contrasts and juxtapositions intrigue and keep one
guessing, as the music moves from the swirls of the original Dr Who
theme [track I’m glad to finally own] through of the Human League’s
synth pop, to the laptop sampling of the likes of Fennesz. Not forgetting
art terrorists Throbbing Gristle, synth-DIY-punks Thomas Leer &
Robert Rental, or the classical contingent of John Cage and Pierre
Henry. New Order, possibly the worst band in the world ever, get a
look in – as opposed to Joy Division?!!, and so do synthmeisters Kraftwerk
and nouveau-pop purveyors Stereolab. There’s plenty of glitch and
collage minimalism, along with sub- and post- krautrock too. Nothing
very experimental or shockingly new, you’ll probably already either
like this stuff or not, so it’s slightly difficult to see who the
release is aimed at. Anyway, I’m off to practice my dalek impersonations.
EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE…
AXIS AND ALIGNMENT
Chicago Underground Duo
[Thrill Jockey THRILL106]
[Walking Road WR1]
More post-rock jazz from the slimline version of Mazurek’s band. Vibes
and cornet to the fore Axis and Alignment chimes and drifts, rocks
and skips through ten tracks of mutant instrumentals. It’s all a bit
chirpy and happy if you’re in the wrong mood, all slightly innocent,
naive and well-intentioned, but when I’m in the mood I like it anyway.
I’m starting to wonder where all this appropriation of jazz will lead
us though; when they’re actually going to take on the challenge of
late ‘out’ jazz. This stuff all too often sounds like uptight combo
the Modern Jazz Quartet, or restaurant jazz. It’s only weird if you
ain’t heard the stuff for real. And I have.
Mazurek’s solo outing is
far more intriguing, as electronics and rock as much as jazz are in
the mix of these extended workouts. There’s simply more to listen
too hear, more that intrigues and makes you question what you’re hearing.
Chicago seems to be taking on board minimalist classical music at
the moment, too – Town and Country, for instance – and that’s in here
too, specifically in ‘Steel Cut Oak’, where drones and electronic
tones are offset by careful piano intrusions and explorations. Amorphic Winged is a bit all-over the place,
and certainly doesn’t truly take off, but it opens up all sorts of
possibilities for the future, possibilities I hope Mazurek will seize
upon and explore.
WHEN I WAS SO CRUEL
Whilst this in no way matches the heights of the recently released
masterpieces Blood and Chocolate,
This Year’s Model or King of America, this new collection of
songs does see Costello in finer form than he’s been for a long time.
There’s no string quartets or cod-operatics here, just great rock
songs, complete with all the wit, venom and poetry Costello is renowned
for. From the quirky, lustful ‘Spooky Girlfriend’ to the angry ‘Tear
Off Your Own Head’, via the self- despising and questioning ‘Soul
For Hire’ and the surrealist ‘…Dust’, Costello really is back on top.
Intelligent, corrosive and abrasive [can you be both? I think so],
these songs will stick in the mind, and remind me why Costello is
so revered. One of punk/new-wave’s finest offspring.
MUSIC FOR COURAGE & CONFIDENCE
[New West Recordings NW6038]
Oh how the mighty are fallen. Since the glorious American Music Club
albums such as California
and United Kingdom, it’s been a downhill trajectory
for Mark Eizel. Post-AMC, each solo album he releases seems more miserable
and less convincing than the one before, each one tries a new approach:
jazz trio, stripped-back singer-songwriter, rock band and now mutant
loungecore on this set of covers.
And what bizarre covers
they are. ‘Snowbird’ sets the tone from the word go: slightly out-of-tune,
half-mumbled lyrics at snail-speed, accompanied by the worst bar pick-up
band you can imagine. And it goes on like this, demolishing songs
by Culture Club [‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’], Kris Kristofferson
[‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, Bill Withers [‘Ain’t No Sunshine’]
and others – most of which you’ll recognise if not admit to knowing.
I don’t even think it’s a postmodern joke, there’s little irony to
be heard on these elongated croons. Only the final three tracks offer
any glimmer of hope: ‘Move On Up’ is at least sprightly, if still
irritatingly deconstructed; Phil Ochs’ ‘Reahearsals For Retirement’
resists reinterpretations and is still a great song; ‘I’ll Be Seeing
You’ is just OK – but better than most of the other tracks – and it’s a relief when the music ends.
Last time I saw Eitzel was
with about 50 others in Other Music at New York. He was sprightly,
cynical and surprisingly happy. He and his band, which included Peter
Buck from REM, did a superb short set of witty, uplifting songs. But
something has gone seriously wrong. Mark Eitzel isn’t just miserable,
he has become the new Val Doonican of indie rock.
YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT
What with all the newspaper and music magazine intrigue about why
one record label within the Warner group dropped Wilco and allowed
them to take the tapes of the new album away and sell them to another
Warner label, the new album seems to have been overlooked. So what
exactly does Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sound like?
There’s been much talk of
the effect producer Jim O’Rourke has had on this album, how strange
and peculiar the mix is, but I have to say anyone used to listening
to anything slightly outside the mainstream of rock, indie or alt-country,
isn’t going to find this music very different or intriguing. Yes,
there seems to be a degree of separation between instruments and,
yes, occasionally something clatters down the middle of the mix, a
highlighted marimba or piano perhaps, and there are odd sound effect
type interludes or interruptions. But although they may be taking
the scenic route, Wilco are still on the alt.country route to hoedown
and ramshackle city. Which is great. This album is about songs,
you can imagine them sung by a singer-guitarist just as much as the
band assembled here.
Still strange to these ears
are the ‘big narratives’ that we tend to call Americana, the shared
past that American country bands can choose to draw on: a sense of
place, community, landscape and patriotism… And the strange synchronicity
that allows a band to write a song like ‘Ashes of American Flags’
or ‘War On War’ before September 11th. But anyone who can write an opening line like
‘I am an American aquarium drinker’ and sing it like Wilco do, is
OK by me. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a good place to be.