Monthly Archives: May 2009

Ape School – S/T

Ape School – S/T (Counter)

Ape_School

A chance discovery like the one Michael Johnson made prior to recording this album (his first under the Ape School title) can shape a recording and give it focus, or it can restrict it. Happily, Johnson’s discovery was a beautiful old Moog (apparently the fourth ever made by Mr. Moog himself), and its ghostly presence is something of an underpinning drone throughout this self-titled opus. While that sonic territory has been infinitely mined by less Moog-heavy artists like The Sleepy Jackson and all the sunshine-pop references therein is of minor detraction, but the sun still shine brightly through the cracks.

It seems that each song has its own concept, its own chosen timbre that defines its brief existence. Be it a particular guitar tone, a lolloping rhythm or a wash of that omnipresent Moog, there’s always one meme that separates each track from the next. The inherent danger lies in relying on solely that, and omitting much of a melody or inspiring delivery. Much of Ape School is well-crafted and functional, but it needed a little more consideration of its performance to elevate it to the great height Johnson is clearly capable of attaining. The meandering The Underground is probably the most ambitious cut here, ushering in a ponderous melody amongst light sonic deconstructions, channelling the likes of Gainsbourg as meddled-with by Jason Lytle.

Deathstomp is impressive in its width of aural intensity, but ultimately a little limp. This is, crucially, a song that will only work at gargantuan volume, a diseased glam romp through a plot of land shared by Goldfrapp and Marc Bolan. With that all-important volume dial turned up, it sounds majestic. Turned to a moderate level, the intensity dies thanks to Johnson’s ever-laconic vocals. If he were to commit to the sound a little more (and not just on this one example), a world of performative contrast might open up before him. Different shades, trills and ticks are what makes an interesting vocal performance. With his attractively lazy approach up against all this sonic majesty, it’s inevitably a jarring battle that, while diverting, could have been much improved.

Ape School leaks promise and mastery, but is held back by conceptual and aesthetic confusion. It’s one thing to juxtapose two styles of delivery, but to do so when neither force might stand up alone is a shame. The Moog discovery should have been a more involving and focused one. Though it permeates the record, it does little to inform it and shape it, and the same might be said of the vocals. A shame, because Michael Johnson is a clear, clear talent.

This is out on Counter on July 6th. Bit early, this. Go here.

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Pop Levi – Police $ign

Pop Levi – Police $ign (Counter)

Silly hat.

Oh, I get it, dollar signs look like an ‘S’. Right. Childish by name, one supposes, childish by nature. Indeed, Pop Levi’s Police $ign begins with some rhythmic spitting and soon cavorts into primary-aged dullard rock histrionics. The monster that is the elusive riff, as a concept, can be seen in embryonic form here. It is slightly too simplistic, but still pleasingly vigorous. Think about The Hives. (Now stop thinking about The Hives. That’s no fun). Luckily for Pop Levi (formerly Ladytron’s bassist, oh well…), he has elected to include the odd lyrical drop of hilarity-phlegm – “it was happenstance, got me caught without my pants…” Apart from that, it’s over in a flash and doesn’t mean anything.

The flip, Terrifying, is not as good. Another riff, but slower, and with a neat mix of the major and minor thirds, but that’s about it.

Police $S$$SSS$ign is available on Counter Records from June 1st. Go here.

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Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy (Big Dada) speech debelle

Speech Debelle’s genesis has been one defined entirely by herself, and one that purposefully eschews any conventional notions of lay-dee hip-hop. There’s little hardship and none of it is glamorised, the music is only harsh when it needs to be and, most importantly, Debelle’s dizzying lyrical constructs provide fulfilment and intrigue. Opener Searching is a delicately brushed entrance, all sighing acoustica, dripping with yearning and hunger. As a description of her time in grotty London hostels, it’s desperate, beautiful and the total opposite of Lisa Maffia. “I’m surrounded by cats, filthy cats, sitting on steps with cat-sized rats”, she quietly wails, never becoming self-pitying. Later, the texture of the song changes only to accommodate talk of arguments and pressures, sudden shuffling snare replacing the lilt of before. When that lilt returns, maturity and knowledge of timbral shifts is totally evident.

Better Days features a grumpy contribution from avant-upstart Micachu, with well-measured strings offset by Speech’s tales of urban tedium, not being able to get to the gym, missing her mum, that kind of thing. It’s a potent contrast to have Micachu guest on the song – where she is gruff, almost mumbled in her diction, Debelle enunciates with cracking clarity, accent intact. Even further, Micachu’s mumblings almost border on the existential while Debelle’s hyper-realism grounds the song with another obvious but essential balancing point. Lead single The Key serves as another whimsical argument against the postures of commercial hip-hop, delightfully buoyant with chorusing clarinets and a frenetic narrative about childish grudges and standing up to slappers. All the time the listener spends in Speech’s company, they are lulled by the sound and slapped by the content.

On Daddy’s Little Girl, we reach something of an emotional centrepoint. This is the closest thing on the whole of Speech Therapy to other, more trodden areas of British hip-hop. Despite the familiarity of the tale, the obvious honesty carries it totally and, because of all the inventiveness showcased beforehand it comes across as a worthy letter to a confusing figure. Best of all, Debelle involves the listener in the album process. We hear her mental struggle to complete her opus on Finish This Album, and in it discover that our Speech has to work hard to be as good as this, and that we might have to wait some time for a return. It’ll be worth it. With lyrics so accomplished, entertaining and labyrinthine as these to be matched with well-measured, anti-bravado beats and textural sensitivity it’s difficult not to see a bright future for Speech Debelle.

Speech Therapy is out on Monday June 1st, and PM is off to the release party tomorrow night. We’re hoping for one of those round table, candle on each table, gently clicking instead of applause affairs. Like those BBC1 Sessions where Paul Simon makes the middle-aged weep. Anyway, have a listen to Speech Debelle here. You can also see this review here.

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How’s Your Week? – Steve Abel

This week, the escalating-in-excellence Steve Abel has a go. His latest album is really good, and you’d buy it if you knew about how good it was. Here’s how good it is. Anyway, recovering from the torrential water attacks from nature which habitually bombard our fair capital, here’s Steve.

steve-abel-band

In a word, how’s your week?
 
Bustling.
 
What did you get up to last night and how was it?
 
Gig in North London at The Steeles with Dan Mangan. Good scene.
 
What’s for dinner tonight and who’s cooking it?
 
Very large bowl of miso and veg care of the Fujiyama in Brixton – superb! Ray cooked it apparently. Tomorrow I make Brazilian black beans and rice.
 
What have you listened to today and did you like it?
 
Forgot the stuff I didn’t like. Listened to some new Bill Callahan online and I did like it. Also The Specials Do Nothing‘ and Ghost Town (genius) and a Dennis Wilson track from ‘77 called Moonshine – lush, expansive, beautiful.
 
What’s your favourite/least favourite thing that’s happened this week?
 
Found a new chord for a new song – favourable. The least would be waiting cold and weary in the Camden night for the last bus to Brixton, though not complaining.

Hope you got dry quick and that the Brazilian black beans were a solid success, Steve! Hear, here.

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Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous

Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous (Full Time Hobby)

Malcolm Middleton - Waxing Gibbous

Because Waxing Gibbous is reputedly Malcolm Middleton’s last solo LP for quite some time, you’d expect some sort of parting message, a farewell, a sign-off. It appears to be “Fuck off. Can’t be fucked”. And that’s in no way a bad thing. Hasn’t most of his career, whether in Arab Strap or on his own, been a series of statements that amount to an almighty two fingered salute? Far from being a punk aesthete, Middleton has proven if nothing else to be a man continually obsessed with valorising himself. Desperate to be worthy and convinced that he’s not, this struggle has informed the work of other confused tykes like Jeffrey Lewis, but suits Middleton’s dour deliveries beautifully.

Waxing Gibbous begins with Middleton’s strongest ever single, Red Travellin’ Socks. A breezy, brisk and flying paean to change and not changing, it’s just about short enough and, in a weird Travelling Wilburys kind of way, totally heartening in its gruff harmonies and infinite chug. His Bat Out Of Hell. Of course, that can’t-be-fucked attitude doesn’t seem apparent amongst the Springsteen pomp and bristle, but Middleon’s typically self-chastising words paint a mirrored image. “I’m out of money and I’m sick of these songs… I need to get back where I belong,” When he’s knocked his material in the past, such as in the celestially excellent Devil And The Angel, it’s been from the perspective of others. The Devil visits Middleton in bed and tells him that his songs are shite, but this time Middleton’s telling himself.

Of course, it could be a numbing tactic of just knowing that your songs are alright while protesting that they aren’t so that people are encouraged to praise them, but that seems unlikely given the forceful and constant reference Middleton makes to his own shite-ness. When, on Ballad Of Fuck All, he whines softly of “dying softly” and other such weighty bags, we can see that the concerns of artistic integrity have not only become magnified, they’ve mutated into existential worries as well. What a time to leave the game, Malcy! Things are starting to get really interesting. That much of this new found focus on ‘the biggies’ of life is accompanied by a renewed sonic palette is a double frustration, because the wispy and relentlessly bleak crushing of man-made electrics is beautifully balanced with his now almost-virtuosic strumming.

But that doesn’t matter on the album’s closing track. Made Up Your Mind is a delicate ballad with balls, the likes of which Middleton has become used to effortlessly producing. Cruising he may be, but lines like “I’ve not given you all I’ve got” make his decision to abandon the solo craft for the meantime seem all the more inexplicable. If that stuff he hasn’t yet given us takes shape in another project then that’s fine, but his first five solo LPs have given us so much that any other incarnation will seem slightly alien. Until that happens, Malcolm Middleton couldn’t be fucked with how we feel about all this. Well, some of us could give a fuck, and want some more.

This is out on June the first, via Full Time Hobby. More here ‘cos that’s where it is and where you should go for it yep. Also reviewed at The Quietus, here. Happy Bank Holiday, see you Tuesday with a few words from Steve Abel

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How’s Your Week? – Morton Valence

This time, PM has managed to pin down Rob from Morton Valence and ask him our usual pertinent posers. This could well be the first subject where the final question is answered with one statement. Then again, on hearing Morton Valence’s latest album, it comes as no surprise. Bitterness and loveliness all bundled up like paired socks in an overnight bag.

Not currently riding...

In a word, how’s your week?

Average.

What did you get up to last night and how was it?

I won 4 quid on a scratch card and found myself singing Goldfinger in a karaoke bar, a perfect night.

What’s for dinner tonight and who’s cooking it?

A kebab probably, probably the Turkish fella in the kebab shop.

What have you listened to today and did you like it?

My neighbours singing along to Beyonce’s Put a Ring On It, it wasn’t bad.

What’s your favourite/least favourite thing that’s happened this week?

Falling in love.

Have a listen to Morton Valence here. The album, Bob And Veronica Ride Again, is utterly excellent, and picking up rave reviews everywhere (including here), so knock yourself out with a copy.

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Trespassers William – The Natural Order Of Things EP

Trespassers William – The Natural Order Of Things EP (Gizeh) 

trespassers william

Matt Brown and Anna-Lynne Williams are intuitively linked to one another, sharing a musical relationship that is both complimentary and wrought with nuance. This EP sees their haziness reach their most ethereal depths yet, but still manage to handle pop currency well enough to make the whole a gem of restraint. As it batters quietly on, Red needs only simple, smoky organ progressions and Williams’ charmed vocals to sustain the interest. Any melodic focus is entirely at her discretion, and she wields the power very sparingly indeed.

It is the interaction that works the best here, instinctive bounces that create woozy, subconsciously beautiful and seeping entities. The high watermark is undoubtedly Catch Not Break, where Williams lets us see the most of her vocals and Matt Brown’s burbling electronics are more concrete in the Stochausen sense than just random bursts of atmosphere. There’s a sweet lilt to the whole song, too, courtesy of the odd pinch of ride cymbal, but it’s merely a device to help the experimentation more digestible. Do not be fooled – any glimpses of token rhythm and normality are more than entertainingly offset by the invention and interaction at work on this EP. Scintillating at all turns.

Have a listen here – it’s difficult to know when this gem arrived/arrives, PM’s post is hella-outta-order. Soz.

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