Friday, 29 February 2008

TUNER: Dr Nurse


The British instrumental post-beat group Tuner might best be described as a denuded Shadows, forever playing at the increasingly submerged end of Cromer Pier in the fourth week of November; echoes of tremelo arms swift and vast enough to embrace the KGB listening posts disguised as obscure petrol stations that you see all the way down the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, a wisp of vapour which connects Hank Marvin to LaBradford, a tinge of recalled greenery which makes them the Richard Hawley to Battles' Chris Isaak; their certainty isn't as gloriously streamlined as that of Battles, but indecision and shaky remembrances are their dinner and we should be proud to be privy to its preparation and consumption. The crisp(y) succinctness of their eternal wanderings may indicate a Shadows' Surfer Rosa - track titles like "Stripe It White" and especially "Baby Pixies" confirm that gluey notion - but their intent is precise if their silvery shrug regretful.



After far too long, there is a Tuner album, 9 Loaves 5 Fishes, or two mini-albums recorded separately and differently. I had the privilege to listen to the 9 Loaves material some considerable while ago and the variety of fisted kisses that this end of music promises is vast indeed, especially when Terry Edwards gets involved with his anti-dependable deep-end horns, as per the brisk quavers of opener "Ketchup" or the exonerated, enclosed howls of the never more aptly titled "Pierenders."



Tuner's tunes are themes for real echo beaches decorated with profoundly moving wallpaper; the lonesome electrotuba of "Barry Rock" patrolling the promenade like Death In Venice starring Graham Stark (such an artefact does exist; it was made in 1969 and is called A Day At The Beach, if you can find it), the piously fervent Vick's Sinex intimacy of "Tub Down." At the moment "Dr Nurse" is my favourite; calmly purposeful rhythms set up Mike Oldfield crucified (Jesus is playing Sunday football on the album cover) by the shadows of Morton Subotnick and the golden apples of Shadow Morton, the wavering vibrato which could come either from the guitar or the defiantly deceptive keyboards or even the musical saw which surfaces there if not here, suddenly leaping into pound shop pounding rock with clear ambitions towards "Atlas" (even though it precedes the latter), before elegantly vanishing into its own, sandbitten valley of Pollock's Toy Theatre content. The 5 Fishes are more recent, more produced and more securely gated, but in general there's not a lot, i.e. nothing, like this happening elsewhere in mid-noughties British music and if you liked Frisell's Power Tools and John Stevens' Away but didn't forget your Wee Willie Harris, you should swim towards Tuner without due or undue delay.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

CHARLES MINGUS: Hog Callin' Blues


Chances were that if Mingus asked you for some sugar he'd give it back to you laced with strychnine just to test your loyalty. But he rarely sounded as carefree as he did on 1962's Mingus Oh Yeah - yes to the dazzlingly formal collapses of Black Saint, an aye to the lifetime's realisation of Let My Children Hear Music, an emphatic, euphoric stamp of the foot to anything involving Dolphy, but Mingus Oh Yeah has always been my personal favourite of his records, and I am far from alone in this belief. Perhaps it's because it was the nearest thing Mingus ever did to a pop record, and its importance in this respect is that the album served as a gateway to the rest of his music for so many non-jazz musicians, and especially for those coming in from the rock and pop arenas.


Despite being one of the greatest bassists jazz is ever likely to know, Mingus plays, or more precisely hammers, piano throughout Oh Yeah, and also sings, or more exactingly yells, purrs, shrieks and mumbles. Doug Watkins took care of bass duties, and the band was as shrewed in its composition as any line-up Mingus ever led; Booker Ervin tends the music's roots on right channel tenor, Jimmy Knepper acts as a cautious middleman on trombone, and, as always, Richmond shuffles everything along as only he could.


And there is Roland Kirk on everything else. One could rightly pound one's chest in frustration that this was the only small group recording Kirk ever made with Mingus since he seems to cover the third "me" of Mingus more aptly and comprehensively than anyone this side of Dolphy; he vies with the Baron in dominating the whole landscape, filling in every stray wisp of silence with his sirens, nose flutes, invented saxophones and multiple chordal blowings.


Oh Yeah is also one of the most traditional as well as one of the most vandalistic of Mingus' recordings; "Eat That Chicken" pays gleeful homage to Waller with Richmond's deadpan two-step, Kirk's post-Gene Sedric/pre-Ayler exaggerated vibrati and Knepper's "Your Father's Moustache" reluctant band book vocal ("Root-toot-tooty," he pronounces in the manner of Bob Newhart). "Devil Woman" finds Mingus entrancing himself to his own doom, pining for "some dough" and quoting "Just A Gigolo" to provoke beautifully mournful solos from all three hornmen. At the other extreme, if Iggy Pop didn't listen closely to the closing "Passions Of A Man" before making "L.A. Blues" with the Stooges then I'm Sean Rowley's third uncle; abstract flutters and indecipherable mutters as the world collapses next door.


But "Hog Callin' Blues" is one of the great opening album tracks; after vocally setting up the rhythm, Mingus pounces on the lower end of his piano as Richmond sets up a train shuffle beat and the horns riff in and out of synch, always punctuated by Mingus' yells and prompts. Soon the raspberry of a siren sets off Kirk, initially gently but purposefully swinging on tenor before Mingus cues him to go closer to the edge of the cliff and Kirk responds by producing ground-shifting lower register honks and growls, somewhere between Sam Butera and Pharaoh Sanders. As Ervin and Knepper nervously nudge their way back into the picture, Kirk plays three tenors at once, with a swanee whistle up one nostril, striding in and out of tonality as the other horns build up some spontaneous riffs before leaving him alone again to divebomb into Mingus' mind, slap tongueing, wailing and fucking gloriously with the scenario until Richmond finally drives the train into a messy buffer, everyone rolling out onto the platform, laughing and carousing before a final ahem of an Amen. Jazz's very own haulage of pig iron punctum.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

PAUL DAVIDSON: Midnight Rider


Although cover versions from unlikely sources have been par for the course in the history of JA pop, Paul Davidson's re-reading of the Allman Brothers song bears an especial resonance. Whereas the original is essentially a formally decadent rich man's fantasy of escape and otherness (to which "Desperado," as performed by the Eagles, is the perfect answer), Davidson's "Midnight Rider" rings far truer in the wake of the milieu depicted in The Harder They Come and also as the prelude to a year - 1976 - which would encompass "War In A Babylon," "Police And Thieves," "Warrior Charge" and Marley's shooting.

This particular fugitive has far more pressing reasons to flee than Gregg Allman could ever have visualised, as confirmed by the harsh sirens which decorate the intro and melt seamlessly into slow-motion raging harmonica. Davidson himself was by trade a producer and engineer rather than a singer as such but his voice is simultaneously as roughshod as the ground he is covering - he may not even have been able to rustle up a horse - and as light as any escapee angel has a right to sound.

The subtly relentless rhythms encapsulate and summarise the jagged terrain over which he is obliged to ride; the lyric's haiku-like construction does not make it clear whether he is a criminal ("I don't own the clothes I'm wearing") or simply a desperate man trying to flee encroaching forces of evil - note the high-pitched emphasis on the "one more" of the line "And I've got one more silver dollar" as though his angel is trying to elevate him off the ground and escort him away, gliding over the indistinct tracks of presupposed blood - but his determination is so solid, and the gradual hypnosis of the unending highway counteracts with this to allow him to forget exactly whom or what he is escaping or why ("Yes, I've passed the point of caring"), the threatened killing fields suggested by the indeterminate, intermittent icepicks of string synthesiser; although the descending basslines at fadeout suggest that his escape has succeeded.

Musically the jewel is the immense guitar solo, most likely played by Davidson himself; starting off with desolate coyote cries of pining, moving through carefully picked and slid individual notes, escalating towards a weep, diving down again to execute a brief, fluent Wes Montgomery-style run before, exhausted, both ascending and descending into groans of octave chordalities; the suffering which the voice can only suggest. One of sundry unlikely, and relatively hardcore, reggae/pop crossover hits of the mid-seventies, Davidson's "Midnight Rider" connects smartly to things like "Israelites" as well as intimating that 1976 might be a tougher year than anyone had anticipated.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

THE WEDDING PRESENT: Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)


It took David Gedge and the boys to find a real emotional context for the venerable Steve Harley oldies radio rep reliable, as well as to point out what a skilfully constructed song "Make Me Smile." Freed of Harley's personal agenda/vendetta and a vocal delivery entailing the wrong definition of self-assurance (which went on to influence not so much Devoto but more transient and insufferable novelties like Yellow Dog's "Just One More Night"), Gedge's rage burns with the righteous ire of someone who has just had a hand stretched down into his stomach to retain, regurgitate and re-drink every milkshake he has ever consumed in his life. Musically thrashes thrust like lightning - this particular Steve (Albini) proving a far more cognisant architect - and Gedge has no difficulty fitting the song and its sentiments into his known specialty of betrayed love and baffled hurt. It thunders past with such ramshackle acuity that his mind can barely keep up with his racing pulse.


Thre are two major musical moments of punctum; the first arrives after a near-perfect replica of the original's guitar solo when there is an extended feedback-laden pause, held for sufficient seconds for the listener reasonably to expect a "You Made Me Realise" blast off, but just as the mirror looks set to crack, Gedge returns with his parched "There ain't no more!" while making sure there's plenty more to say. The second materialises with the extended ending - Status Quo on SST at 78 rpm - when guitars switch into Dinosaur Jr wah wah worship before shutting the lid of Leeds dolefulness on the song. Gedge is truly betrayed, cannot even begin to comprehend the reasons, sings ruefully at his routers rather than cackle at them; and the feeling of the song therefore becomes palpable to a degree which Harley would perhaps never allow.

Monday, 25 February 2008

AIDAN JOHN MOFFAT: Hungry Heart


There is nothing in recent memory, and not much more in distant memory, with which I can compare I Can Hear Your Heart, the new book/CD project by ex-Arab Strap half Aidan Moffat. The halfway point on a 28-mile journey between Jock Scot's My Personal Culloden and Peter Wyngarde's When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head? Krapp's Last Tape, or early, scratchy Sebadoh re-scripted by a recalcitrant Peter Spence character?


The CD is not a long one; it packs its 24 tracks, including introductory instructions, into a dark (lamp)shade over 36 minutes, and ten of those are devoted to the straight narration of a short story, the compelling "Hilary And Back," a random and only partially psychogeographic stroll from his flat which ends up involving pyjama bottoms, blonde wigs, fucked-up mid-nineties mobile 'phones, a party which momentarily feels like paradise since he can fully reinvent himself within its unknowingly welcoming walls, and the struggle for a bus fare back home to warm and comforting bedsheets. There is a brief short story entitled "Poop" which you have to read before listening to the CD since it sets the scene for the dissolute plot of unfulfilled partnerships, dodgy sexual liaisons, midnight chucking outs, the mighty trek back home ("I Will Walk" is Edwin Starr's "25 Miles" as a young Duncan Thaw might have understood it), the search for blame (invariably within himself), meditations on how Danny and Sandy from Grease might have ended up. Most of it finds Moffat intoning his fatalistic remembrances over the kind of soundtrack cut-ups familiar from his work as Lucky (or L.) Pierre with particularly jagged moments of punctum; a sudden, terrifying rant of hatred over numbing Throbbing Gristle sequencers, a mid-album break wherein Moffat reads his poem "All The Love You Need" which might pass as this age's equivalent to Tom Robinson's "Power In The Darkness," a Dorothy Parker poem, wisps of wordless breezes of a past which may or may not have been his...and when the recitation which gives the album its title floats in and out of earshot, an improbable transcendence is achieved.


And somewhere in the album's latter stages, there materialises a stately rendition of the chorus from Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" set for harmonium and/or accordion which Moffat delivers vulnerably but decisively; here is where the inevitable Iv*r C*tl*r comparisons will doubtless come into play but in fact Moffat turns the song's original fervent cry into a slowly forward-moving hymn seeking the kind of deliverance which doesn't presuppose forfeiture of a future. And "Poop" must certainly be read before the CD (subtitled "Loop") is listened to - and even when you do listen to it, Moffat recommends that you do so in bed, with headphones and preferably a hangover - if for no other reason than to appreciate fully the hilarious "4Sex" skits which dot the album's passage, although since it explains the entire story one would be foolish to skip it. At this admittedly early stage, the year's most intriguing record.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

JOSEF K: The Missionary


If the new millennium in music is to be guided by tautness of guitar strings, rapidly of strumming movements and references to immediate pre-war 20th century art and politics then "The Missionary" could be counted as the first true pop record of 2000 and beyond; certainly Franz Ferdinand have made a career out of singing this song, and to his credit Paul Haig is eternally grateful.


To an important degree Haig was always going to be a curious mixture of awkward and inflexible ever to make the New Pop crossover; he was steely where Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame were cautiously cuddly, a little too machine-like to transcend as Kerr or MacKenzie did - and remember that Haig was expected to be the third prong of that latter crown of punctum. As things turned out, he hitched onto New Pop expansiveness a year too late and never really recovered; unlike fellow Edinburghdonian Davey Henderson he could never quite make the Fire Engines-to-Win comfortable quantum trot.


"The Missionary" appeared as the lead track of a three-track EP entitled The Farewell Single in the spring of 1982; the recording was taken from a Peel session and was as important to this greatest of half years as anything else happening in the Top 75 - a considerable indie chart hit, its appearance on the Belgian Les Disques du Crepuscule imprint prevented it from mainstream crossover (though it came surprisingly close). What strikes me about the track, then and now, is its uncanny resemblance in efficiency and approach to Kraftwerk; the guitars are thrashed but clinically, with great deftness and at maximal points of impact, the drums are ruthlessly on track even when improvising, there is no seam through which a mistake can be glimpsed. It is Postcard indie gone motorik.


And Haig's Iggy-trapped-in-Oor-Wullie's-inverted-bucket voice is ideal for this consideration of modern world versus ancient, commercial ("Buying some trash without too much paying") versus spiritual, even if the latter still comes at a price to the outsider - the would-be saviour is "Passing through small towns that have no religion/See all the faces that make it so charming" but scarcely draws breath to "talk to the people" there before thinking "about leaving." Back home, he thinks of his own pseudo-faith ("Come back next Sunday and give us a reason") but still his song has to be eternally sung in his grateful head.


The music moves between three points of a triangular ping-pong table, both lead guitars overlapping like Steve Reich and the Stooges, breaking off into a harmonically unresolving debate in the bridges (punctuated by Haig's chiding "ch!"s); in the third and final verse one of the guitars, almost unnoticed, takes the melodic topline up an octave, but this combusting pot is never in peril of exploding since they soften down for the final minor key sequence, a regretful adaptation of the bridge motifs, anchored by Haig's serpentine extended hiss of "sssssssss-sing the song and eternally grateful" before landing on an as yet unpopulated airstrip. Its emotions are hard won but they were a necessary strip of grey gauze on that shiniest and most yellow of springs.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

THE TARTAN HORDE: Rollers Show


Why don't we get tribute songs to pop groups any more? I do not mean the loving indie tribute, but mainstream affairs in the manner of "All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle" - or is it simply that groups such as Kasabian or Bloc Party are immune to such intimations of sun?


I have never really worked out whether Nick Lowe came to praise or bury the Bay City Rollers with this tender tribute; now again made available as one of many useful tracks on the new CD reissue of Jesus Of Cool - another reason to feel warm about early 1978 - it was more than likely always somewhere halfway between. On one hand Lowe, in 1976 sorely in need of finances, hoped to make some reasonable money out of a fading bandwagon; on the other I recall the publicity photos of the period featuring a grinning, boyish Lowe next to an uncertain Rat Scabies from the Damned - these were the celebratory smiles of the imminent assassins, key players in the punk surge which would ultimately bury the Rollers.


Not that the Damned had anything to do with "Rollers Show"; the backing band, as on Costello's My Aim Is True, was Clover, later to mutate into the News (as in "Huey Lewis and the..."). But the most remarkable thing about the song is its near-complete lack of subtext; certainly Lowe sounds a little too old to be so enthusiastic about his hard-won ticket, even with adroit speed tweaking of his lead vocal, but the music is a faithful yet mischievous angular relation to the basic Rollers template with complete understanding of the peaks and troughs of a pop single, with anthemic key changes, extended singalong fadeout and a tone which alternates between worshipful and knowingly cynical ("Ian's packed it in but we've got McGlynn/So we love him...as long as he's a Roller"). That latter reference puts the record firmly in late '76/early '77, when the Rollers were indeed falling apart in the sweaty television studios of Hollywood, wishing they were on the King's Road. Still, "Rollers Show" is so clearly in love with pop - as are the various faces and costumes of the songs on the album proper - that it's a shame it didn't hit; two years earlier it might have caused a stir, but this is as firm a testament to the power of pop as Lowe's production of "New Rose." Did someone say "Chapel Of Love" at the back?

Friday, 15 February 2008

SPIRAL BEACH: Teddy Black


And here is the next future of music from Toronto that you need to know about; Ball is Spiral Beach's second album and the first to come to my attention, if not the first copy to enter Britain. They are a quartet who if the CD booklet photos are anything to go by seem more comfortable with jelly than graduation; and yet these thirteen songs, collectively clocking in at a shade over half an hour, have sufficient insolent newness and sparkle of adventure to make me wonder for the thousandth time why British groups waste so much time thinking things over - plotting demographics, working to the precepts of a useless manual - instead of just getting on and innovating.


Handsomely produced by the Hidden Cameras' Mike Olsen, Ball works all the better for defying any reasonable attempt to pin them down stylistically. You may randomly think of the B-52s of "Planet Claire" (for instance, on the exactingly exciting closer "Man Moon": "WHAT'S IT GONNA COME TO?") or X or possibly a non-existent skinny tie/No Wave '79-80 crossover, although I prefer to handle them as a New Pop, Kim-dominant Pixies, since Ball has the same rapid turnover of grab-or-miss ideas and expressionism that Surfer Rosa had, but even that wouldn't be adequate in itself.


The credits remark about overdubs being made "in uncomfortable silence" but while Spiral Beach clearly love to make a meaningful racket - see the swirling yet sharp mirror of "Made Of Stone" ("You've broken every bone you're made of!"), nicely offset by elements of what I will continue to term for the sake of convenience rather than Christgau "hi-life," or the radiance of the handclaps on "Kind Of Beast" or the dolorous oboe on "Two Black Eyes" - they are also skilful users of silence; see the remarkable start-stop-start-meditate-start progression of "Red Shoes" with its deliberate echoes of '68 and the "never never ever ever satisfied" which leads back into thrash tumult. or "See Some Ghosts" which is the B-52s remixed by the Cocteau Twins, alternately absurd, cute and unfeasibly moving (it ends up as a Ventures-ram-Meat Puppets surf guitar derby). "Pedestrian" swaggers as righteously as the Kaisers or Fratellis cannot ("Where we come from's not our fault" - it's high time that pro-pedestrian protest songs got a toehold in pop) since they don't look over their fringes to make sure the audience aren't exiting. There is the staggering "Astro Girls" which seems in part to be about bulimia - another sadly noble ballad with a 6/8 James Carr tempo and slowly intensifying guitars (as well as an unlikely interpersion of Madness piano a third of the way through) - with its refrain of "She doesn't light up" escalating to a distorted "She'll never make it to sleep" as synths and guitars go suitably woozy and unbalanced. The aforementioned "Moon Man" indicates another tendency which runs through Ball; the near-vaudeville (or Weimar?) singalong with unexpected and poignant chord changes (Weill meets Bley indeed).


Yet for now my favourite track is its opener, "Teddy Black," with great thumping bulldozers of drum splashes, fantastically focused electroclarity and Emily Haines harmonic modulations (Metric also come into consideration here, of course); keyboardist/singer Maddy Wilde, who is clearly the focal point of punctum in the group, leads the onslaught (OMD halfway through being genetically re-engineered), crying about I haven't quite worked out what yet, though its general air of insolent defiance and refrain of "We don't want him back" suggests that the Black in question might be (thankfully no longer Our) Conrad. It is tangentially thunderous; the other members are the brothers Woodhead - Airick on guitar and co-lead vocals and Daniel on drums - and bassist Dorian Wolf, their rationale can be found here, and this is a potentially enormous album which deserves to be heard by all shiny yellow ears everywhere.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK: Genetic Engineering


Now what dynamo would have been stirred if Atomic Kitten had made number one with this? A delicately polite typewriter/music box introduction, a series of artificially friendly voices offering meaningless business-speak cliches ("Efficient! Logical! Effective! And practical!") and then the shocking jackhammer of demolition as a Speak and Spell machine delivers an eight-word precis of the decline and fall of man ("Creature...judgement...butcher...engineer"), over frantic banjo and screaming synths as McCluskey's pained Marty Wilde-collides-into-Bernard Sumner voice sings of the non-future to come.

Effectively a sequel to Architecture And Morality's "The New Stone Age," the single was backed by a semi-instrumental "4 Neu" which didn't sound much like Neu! but sounds as chilling a farewell to warm humanity as "Yuko And Hiro" did a dozen years later, the string of "you and me...eternally" the only thing now keeping man attached to gravity, or real reality. It heralded the deliberately awkward Dazzle Ships album, whose camouflaged warship cover (1919 vintage) seemed a veiled comment on the selling out of New Pop. OMD thus became the second of several key New Pop figures intent on testing the desires of their audience that year - the first having been Soft Cell, with the similarly uncompromising The Art Of Falling Apart - and as with ABC and others later that year discovered the flimsy facade; that all audiences seemed to want had simply been lots of colour and smiles fixed in adhesive rictus, bereft of any useful subtext. And yet this was also the year in which nearly all singles were outsold by "Blue Monday."

But even champions of the next step forward found Dazzle Ships problematic; critically it was dismissed as village green Kraftwerk, or as low-wattage Laurie Anderson. Yet, as its imminent 25th anniversary remastered reissue confirms, it sounds startlingly contemporary, with its radio and call sign cut-ups, and has clearly influenced everyone from Saint Etienne ("Radio Prague") through to Radiohead - the nursery rhyme chants of "ABC" quickly escalate into chaos, a jammed teleprinter and a loop of a commentator warning "Frankenstein's monster" and would have been entirely at home on OK Computer. Still, it was not a long album, even with the inclusion of two Architecture And Morality-era B-sides, and a degree of exhaustion was not out of the question.

Nonetheless its persuasive Modern World Gasp! ominosities have endured, and "Genetic Engineering" deserved far better than its number 20 singles chart peak; a cry masquerading as eager laughter, one of the first calling of the New Pop audience's bluff - thus the retreat to the disguised 1974 of Paul Young and Annie Lennox, and also OMD's own necessary switchback to comparatively straightforward (and thoroughly uninvolving) electropop in the following year's Junk Culture. I would imagine that both single and album would do substantially better now, which in its sternly green-grey way is quite reassuring.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

JAMES: Born Of Frustration


With nineteen Top 40 hit singles and a dozen albums which more often than not reached the top three, James were among the most consistent and least commemorated of nineties hitmakers; like Pulp, they were an eighties overhang to which deserved success had come belatedly, but they were always too evansecent, too artfully avoidant to nail down for idolatry. They acted as though above the commonplace but were always deliberately separated from those strata. Even Tony Wilson didn't quite know what to make of them after their first two singular EPs in the mid-eighties; 1985's "Hymn From A Village" was one of the best anti-plastic cocktail anthems of its time, not for the least part due to Tim Booth's insistence on reading a book as opposed to bowing down to petrified white guilt statues of Aretha; this was a viable, workable and attractive alternative, as Gavan Whelan's exceptionally fleet drumming demonstrated.

I say "anthems" but James were always careful to avoid making their anthems anthemic; their most famous one, after all, was a polite clarion call for everyone to sit down (as opposed to thrusting, active Weller STAND UP!) and it was only kept from number one as a single by the eximious Chesney Hawkes, a gentleman for whom the expression "bless him" might well have been invented. Similarly "Born Of Frustration" was almost universally derided in 1992 as a botched attempt to go for the stadium, largely on account of Booth's supposed impersonation of Jim Kerr at 3:36.

Yet that latter mutates into the song's signature extended whoop, a whoop which doesn't emulate the lateral release of a Bono, but a vexed howl trying to make the landscape change all around it. Closer listening, and Youth's astute production, reveal how many elements are out of key with stadium rock; the muted trumpet and whistling unison in the climactic second half, Andy Diagram's diagonal trumpet commentaries which put me in mind of Mongezi Feza on Wyatt's "Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road," the washing machine guitar upwards slide at 3:11...

...and above all Booth. Any of the few remaining or awake inhabitants who saw James topping the bill on the Saturday at the 1991 Reading Festival - most of the audience having fled for the train or coach home following Carter USM's stealing of the night (a sort of Streatham to the Pet Shop Boys' Fulham at Wembley Arena later that year) - knew that he could never be a Bono but that he was far better at intimacy; the atmosphere was campfire, quiet singalongs verging on lullabies were encouraged. And still on "Born Of Frustration," despite the song's panoramic sonic scope, you cannot pin him down; this is a demand for shaded/gradated truth ("Show me the movie/That doesn't deal in black and white"), a vaguely threatening call for genuine democracy by, of and for the people ("Caught up in the webs you've spun - where's the confusion?") - it has to be recalled that 1992 was the year of transatlantic elections; Bush or Bill, Kinnock or Major (Bill triumphed, Major nosed through on a give-the-newbie-the-benefit-of-the-doubt ticket) - but Booth wants Politics in all of its bogus cosiness to be trampled and replaced by real action and, if necessary, conflict ("Stop, STOP talking about who's to blame/When all that counts is how to change" - and that second "STOP" is accompanied by a nearly audible stamp of the foot). Distorted reality against the unassailable realities of nature - the butterfly's wings, the leopard's spots, the singing birds - cannot compete, but in the circumstances the world seems to spin just out of the realm of useful comprehension, as the anxious doubling-up of Booth's vocal tempo against unchanging rhythms but increasingly dense musical activity towards the end proves; clinging to his own beliefs to prevent his falling into unbreathable space. And yes - a parallel world Simple Minds might have ended up capable of this masterful subversion of what the people think they want.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

THE BAND: Rag Mama Rag



Listening to the 1970 section of Pick Of The Pops last Sunday reminded me of the extraordinary occurrences which our singles chart used to allow to happen. Such days have some of us seen, where a wilfully uncommercial song with an opening line of "Lend me your ear while I call you a fool" could make the top five with ease ("Witches' Promise" by Jethro Tull), where a desperate howl of "feel I'm dying, dying" ("Reflections Of My Life" by Marmalade) could be followed, and answered, by "did you think I would leave you dying?" ("Two Little Boys" by Rolf Harris, one of the subtlest of anti-Vietnam hits, even if filtered through the music hall of the nineteenth century). Then there were justified comparisons to gods ("I Can't Get Next To You") juxtaposed with nascent pleas for greatness ("I Want You Back").

But perhaps the most amazing phenomenon was how something like "Rag Mama Rag" could have been released as a single, let alone be allowed anywhere near the Top 20. The shrill carillon of violins which herald and perhaps subjugate the song's intro could be either jug band or Hindu rite, and the gusto-filled story of a woman whose mind seems a frustrating labyrinth, or perhaps acts as an indistinct metaphor, never quite settles for straightforward jollity; its bumps are intentional.

In truth, "Rag Mama Rag" fulfilled the same function at the beginning of the seventies as its implausible counterpart, "Boys Keep Swinging," did at the opposite, or opposing, end of the decade; this too was an experiment where the Band swapped their usual instruments for untried ones; hence Richard Manuel drums deadpan, lead vocalist Levon Helm plucks away energetically at a mandolin and Rick Danko provides the continuo of violins, leaving engineer John Simon to cover the bass part with a tuba into which he had never previously blown - and the tuba is among the hardest of first-try instruments to play convincingly.

Still, the spirit must have been good-naturedly high and sneakily feral since the first take nailed it down; one can tell that Simon is bluffing it somewhat and hoping for the best but the ramshackle blowing actually matches the emotional tenor ("Like an old caboose/Got a tail I need to drag") and Garth Hudson typically holds it all together with his authoritatively playful piano, rolling like a frustrated snake at the wrong end of the scarlet bedspread; the singer wants to rag but she remains reluctant and/or teasing - "I ask about your turtle/And you ask about the weather" - and gets so implacably stressed that getting an involuntary massage from the 4:19 train almost seems preferable, more fulfilling. Nonetheless he is secretly enjoying the toughness of pursuit and concordance, as evinced by the responsive harmonica, playing in unison with voice in the final verse before Hudson's piano breaks up the song's fabric and they sneak into the sleeping bag to go anywhere they like, inventing the spontaneous and mischievous future of Canadian music as they crawl into positions which are none of our damned business.

Monday, 11 February 2008

GEORGE N' SONNY SANDS: Down By The Ocean


Co-written by Bob Crewe and producer Gary Knight and released towards the end of 1966, "Down By The Ocean" sounds like the Righteous Brothers standing on the bottom rung of the steel ladder dissolving into the acids of hell; the sounds of the deep waves which ricochet throughout, and indeed unbalance, the record are akin to red hot flames a-blazing, or perhaps an even scarier, greyer limbo - it is like a fatal "Unchained Melody" with its ghosts sucked down the autumnal caverns of a Porter Ricks or a Maryann Amacher.


False downstroke caresses of piano sweep into a creep of doom with fractured, Doors-anticipating electric piano curlicues and Joe Meek soprano backing singers as either George or Sonny Sands speaks on how "I feel the world slipping away from me" before both voices jointly grasp for oxygen: "I'm walking lonely through the silver sand," singing as though trapped halfway down the Greenwich Tunnel, "just wishing you were here to hold my hand," following which a frightening call-and-response downward helter-skeltering scream of "No? NO! No? NO!!" with the backing singers seems to unplug the dam of restraint before being resealed by the open lament of the chorus ("Drowning in my tears/I'm crying out baby baby BABY why did you leave me?") and finally defused by Wilson vibraphone tinkles.


But then the low strings and brass resurface, together with the whirling time tunnel of waves above which the singers at times struggle to be heard: "The moon above is shining on/The sea below that roars 'she's gone';" their conclusion being an exhausted-sounding "But what's the use of living without you?" It is the promise of "(You're My) Soul And Inspiration" after having been rejected. The middle eight is a catatonic kaleidoscope; their grief at the washing out to sea of "the love, the love you gave to me" is answered only by a forlorn bank of French horns acting as foghorns - the implication clearly being that she cannot come back.


Or could she? After a brief dolorous interlude ("I'm so lonely"), resentment and hatred now raise their unexpected heads - "I love you so I wish we'd never met/To never know the face I can't forget!" they roar, finally coming to land with a choral "I'm gonna do without you baby - no, no, no, NO!" (it could be a hasty "what am I gonna do without you baby" but repeated close listening suggests the former) and the track lumbers off the shore, like a distraught, overdue trawler, out of sight, clearing the beach so that the Shangri-Las of "Past, Present And Future" could walk down it.

Friday, 8 February 2008

JAMES RABBIT: Monsoon


“If you see a man who’s broken, take him all into your arms, because we don’t know where we come from and we don’t know who we are.”

You have to stop and pay close attention to a Santa Cruz-based musician and writer who knows his Too-Rye-Ay without needing to photocopy it word for word – new Hot Chip album, please take note – and since James Rabbit’s frontman (though that is a pitifully inadequate word) Tyler Martin personally sent me a copy of the group’s new album Coloratura I have to take even closer notice. There have been other James Rabbit records and songs, none of which I have yet heard; the music seems only to be available via mail order and there are no James Rabbit markers in the wracked racks of record shops.

But I would venture that the fifty or so minutes of Coloratura constitute as good an introduction to their work as any. 51 minutes, eighteen songs – or tracks, anyway – all of which collectively form a sort of supportive monologue; reflections on life, friends, emotional deprivation and regeneration, difficulties, pleasures, love and, again friends; although Tyler’s is the dominant voice, many other voices are present – the opening “We’re In This Together” (fortunately unrelated to Simply Red’s failed European Cup anthem) features an overture of recitatives from some of those friends and geniuses who have apparently sustained Tyler through troubles hinted at but rarely spelt out before he himself bounds forth, like a gladder Ben Folds, a more vigorous Michael Feinstein, a less grouchy Stephin Merritt, words, thoughts, thanks, observations on buying Eagles CDs or the reaction of coffee shop workers to a slightly prominent stomach.

More pressingly this writer has to acknowledge pieces like “My Choir” in which Tyler introduces or reintroduces these collective voices while reflecting on the songs they sing, including “This Is What She’s Like” by Dexy’s and, astonishingly (or not) “Strange Stairway” by the Bill Fay Group (I really need to set about republishing some of those Koons pieces) or indeed the “Obsessions” part of the long medley which constitutes track 13, in which he lists among his favourite musicians Robert Wyatt, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley – is he personally trying to tell me something here?

Overall, however, Coloratura is about rediscovering yourself in the dawn following crisis, and allowing yourself to be helped out of the tunnel – so it’s clear that I needed to listen to it, most palpably so from the slightly surprising blast of controlled rage in “Bright Blue Light” and the more sustained and chilling meditation on loneliness (“the door wasn’t very strong”) in the second half “Late December.” The dominant viewpoint, though, is sparkily positive; “George Gershwin,” the only song of theirs I already knew, is a remarkable thing, here preceded by a solo piano “Waltz” meditation by Robert Caceres – the world is largely unapproachable but Tyler knows he has the means to transcend its unappreciative greyness (the predominance of colours in his song titles, not to mention the album title itself, underlines that fairly definitively); these songs he hears, the rhythm in the slamming of a distant car door, the tunes which he knows no one else on the bus would understand even if they allowed themselves to listen to them – all help colour his world as both shield and banner.

He can do jerky new wave pop (“Girl Crazy!”) as well as anybody, his brief foray into Situationist free jazz amazing – (the medley “The Fucking Universe” and “Light Green Light” is an alternating neon splatter of furious unison riffing, accelerated spoken word and total freakout very similar to Ornette’s “We Now Interrupt For A Commercial,” the similarity strengthened by Libby Hendon’s very Colemanesque violin) – and there are odes, dedications to the one he loves (“My Heart Will Go Wherever It Wants”). Only once does he venture into Brian Wilson territory with the ebbing “She Speaks, Rings And Chimes,” second singer Thor Andersen sounding very Wilson-ish in the bridge). Perhaps most remarkably, tracks like “Red, Blue, Violet” and “Season Song” clearly seem to have pre-empted Vampire Weekend by about a year (the record was made in 2006) with its spacious hi-life flecks (I trust Mark S to correct that if it’s culturally wrong rather than certain other grumpy old – and by their own admission - dead-wood journalists).

The track which really caught me off-guard, however, is one of the album’s least demonstrative; “Monsoon” weaves its wettened way from Shortwave Set banjo to Autechre steely cubes with unassuming logic. It begins as a relatively jaunty male/female alternating vocal duet – Tyler and who I assume is Hendon, though it could equally be Rachel Williams or Raya Heffernan – and they are singing very quietly and carefully; homilies and premonitions: “Every sentence a grand design, every sigh is a prayer,” “The voice an independent thing anywhere it roams, whether it’s a laugh or a groan,” “The sounds in between the songs” – the notion of space, of patience, of doing your best to be heard when the voice has been knocked out of you…the banjo discreetly fades, a slightly dissonant piano enters, the surface revealing itself as far deeper than you thought, a beautiful pause to let the clicks, the rain and the invisible rays enter…then back to the banjo and the song and they sing so softly you nearly have to strain to hear their strains above the inaudibly ticking clock…then the elements, moving, unforced, destructive only if destruction is to be welcomed and encouraged. The quiet heart of a colourful and exuberant account of a return to something which we may as well call form. Find this record and then make an appropriate fuss to your local record shops and radio stations so that others may discover it and ensure that James Rabbit’s next step doesn’t get lost.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A GUY CALLED GERALD: Voodoo Ray


There had been other British house tunes prior to 1988, but none really venturing beyond the functional or the colourfully crass - no insult that latter, given that the crayon cheerfulness of things like D*Mob's "We Call It Acieed" was as vital to that year's climate as anything emanating from Detroit or Chicago - but "Voodoo Ray" (as with its unlikely Mancunian twin, "The Storm" by World of Twist) was the first one to suggest clouds beneath the yellow facade. It is assembled from the barest of elements; a subtly looped, not quite human, Eastern (Bloc?) voice, a fulsome but never quite settled 808 line and bitonally propulsive rhythms. Each comes in and out of focus and echo.


Then there is Peter Cook. When "Voodoo Ray" eventually crossed over into the UK singles chart in 1989 after a year and more of availability, Cook found himself back in the Top 40 for the first time since 1965. Gerald Simpson's sampler wasn't quite lavish enough to accommodate long samples; thus Cook's "voodoo rage" gets cut off to become "ray" and the happy accident changes music for the millionth time (there is no reliable evidence that Cook ever heard the track). But there is a deeper implication; the sample is taken from the Derek And Clive (Live) version of the venerable Cook/Moore "Bo Duddley" sketch - a piece which many of our more celebrated music writers would do well to revisit - a brilliant routine where two po-faced middle class white boys attempt to analyse sundry standard R&B lyrical tropes in the manner of Radio 3's old Critics' Forum (or BBC2's new-ish Newsnight Review), unwittingly patronising and entirely missing the point. "Voodoo Ray" seems to subvert this subversion further, to the point where the record becomes something of a reclamation of culture and meaning; the logical extension of what Cook and Moore were attacking. Though drizzly in its beats and aura, it nevertheless breaks free and turns into a hymn (especially when the thrilling topline turns bitonal towards the end); like this blog, it could theoretically go on forever, its acid rain turning into improbable blossoms.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK: Love Missile F1-11


Another big hit from the eighties yet to resurface on Radio 2 or Capital Gold or Heart FM - isn't it wonderful how the computerised carousel system of contemporary radio playlists filters out all history bar the 200 or so records most universally known and least likely to cause listener discomfort? - and Sputnik themselves are yet to be assimilated into any readable eighties tapestry, even if that were the last thing they would have wanted.

Sputnik, and in particular their debut single, set the critical dividing lines with irretrievable finality; between Melody Maker and NME, between mischievous and worthy, between pop and rock, maybe between life and death. MM adored them, but NME, beached on the grey beach of half-an-hour-of-Aretha-every-morning-teach-dignity worthy, were not inclined to give them much credit; for their final verdict they engaged Morley himself, who as a Mancunian was naturally suspicious of what he might term "Southern spivs" though I suspect kicked himself several dozen times for not lassoing them to ZTT (that having been said, however, I note that the Flaunt It! album did not appear in the MM's end of year Top 30 but turned up at #43 in the NME list thanks, apparently, to high-placed votes from D Quantick and M Sinker).

Although I could foresee SSS' eventual doom, I liked them a lot; the Action Man box as album concept was amusing and different and Moroder did a fine production job, keeping them firmly in the middle of their far left road but also conjuring up beats as hard and swervy as other key 1986 records, including Janet's Control, Test Dept's Unacceptable Face Of Freedom, The The's Infected and On-U Sound passim. Even if the gaps between tracks intended for adverts were as semi-filled as the commercial breaks in the early days of Channel 4, the concept was nicely aware of its own inherent fate.

And "Love Missile F1-11" was a sweet monster. Now it sounds exactly how it was intended to sound; an exact cross between the affable anxiety of the second Suicide album and the meticulous cleanliness of Moroder's E = mc2, pink and playful with its Carl Perkins-via-Hot Butter synth riff, Tony James' guitar detonating in some of the right places and singer Martin Degville yelling gleefully about US bombs, unfed millions, fashion's dead (with a fantastically minute swoop of an in-and-out orchestral flourish), giving head and shooting up - in other words, everything that most 1986 music wasn't. Indeed, Sputnik's approach isn't dissimilar to that of a poppier, lighter Young Gods - one takes absolute pleasure in the random jabs at the Fairlight as though it's Christmas morning and the group are merrily playing with their exciting new toy; voices and exclamations going up and down scale like the Goons (and SSS are also responsible for one of the great personnel details in British pop - Chris Kavanagh and Ray Mayhew on electric drums). Amiably outrageous and softer than it appears, it's a natural pop flipside to the more classical approach of Mick Jones' contemporaneous BAD; and it's little surprise that James and Jones have now ended up reunited in the same band - the excellent Carbon Silicon.

TV loved them but worthies didn't, including Radio 1's Simon Bates who smashed the single live on his show (he didn't survive the Bannister purge long) in favour of the more palatable/acceptable/compromised likes of Amazulu and Latin Quarter, and the record sped up the charts but was finally kept in third place behind two unquestionably "worthy" (as in "dull and...") current and future multinational corporate chart toppers, Billy Ocean's "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" and Diana Ross' "Chain Reaction" - ironically, SSS set themselves up in the Apple/PiL/BEF/RoL tradition of corporations (but with the partial exception of the KLF, have such ideas ever branched out into successful non-musical waters?). And as the Beastie Boys suddenly burst into the market towards the end of 1986, the maxim about doing it first and then going for the hype seemed to have been proved, to Sputnik's disadvantage. Still, they have persisted and survived in their various ways and a reminder of their sneaky tongue-out power is long overdue. Would that we had an equivalent today.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

INDEEP: Last Night A DJ Saved My Life


It's always a delight to hear records again, effectively for the first time, through the ears of another, and while listening to Sunday's Pick Of The Pops 1983 rundown Lena's ears perked up noticeably when this song came on- quite rightly so since "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life" is a pivotal record in the history of dance music, standing at one of the most important of crossroads. The single only made number 13 in the UK - as I recall, InDeep did not fly over to promote it and indeed didn't realise they'd had a hit here until some time later (since there was also no video, TOTP duties were fulfilled by Legs & Co) - but that substantially underestimates its omnipresence and omnipotence on the dancefloors of the period. For this budding occasional student disco DJ the late James Hamilton's weekly Record Mirror dance pages became essential reading; packed full of simple, utilitarian information about that week's new 12-inch releases, including the different mixes available, BPM details, etc., coupled with pungent but usually on the mark opinions about their merits - and as a DJ, I found his weekly BPM summary of that week's new chart entries indispensable for mixing purposes (thus did I discover, among many other miraculous combinations, the seamless glide in and out of the Human League's "Mirror Man" to the Maisonettes' "Heartache Avenue" and vice versa) with the occasional caustic aside ("'Robin (The Hooded Man)' by Clannad - undanceable").


Anyway, he raved with particularly concentrated enthusiasm about "Last Night A DJ," in that year exceeded only by his being (understandably) bowled over by Herbie's "Rockit," and since he was usually right I rushed to pick it up on import. What struck me most about the record was its tightrope strut betwixt human and machine - a medium-paced but determined strut which may in part have derived from "Stayin' Alive" - with added elements from what was then left of New Pop and NY No Wave (InDeep were essentially NYC producer Mike Cleveland plus singers Réjane "Reggie" Magloire and Rose Marie Ramsey). It comes across as a spacious, less obviously ironic cousin of the Tom Tom Club, but retains Weymouth and Frantz's indestructible awe at the world-altering power of music; two years ahead of "Into The Groove," Magloire sits in her room, or at the back of the club, bored to death by what's coming out of the speakers, until suddenly a record materialises which changes her entire perspective, on life as well as music - and "Last Night A DJ" was Cleveland's attempt to make that record a reality.


The guitar frisks funkily, the bass is Jah Wobble-immense, the telephone and especially the flushing toilet FX the very definition of punctum. As Cleveland drawls his stoned cure, he suddenly snaps with a grin, "Dub time!" as the record then folds back upon itself with echoes and canyons of snatches and beats. In an environ of Men At Work and Dire Straits it was startling enough, but it then became a crucial bridge in itself, played by both Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage and at the nascent Warehouse in Chicago - thereby providing a missing link between disco and House. Everyone with a New Pop brain from Green Gartside downwards surrendered to it - and here also is enclosed the embryo which would later flourish in France; one listen, or more importantly one dance, to Daft Punk's "Da Funk" is enough to demonstrate the immense future it helped to create.

Monday, 4 February 2008

PROPAGANDA: Dr Mabuse








"There's no way back..."

I've said things about both group and song before, but hearing "Dr Mabuse" being played at Club Poptimism last Saturday got me thinking about the long-term lives of pop singles in general; how best do they survive, what amount of memory is involved in continuing to believe that a record is now as powerful as when first you heard it, in another life and perhaps in another country? And do some hit records belong in the chart, and if they don't fit in, is it necessarily their fault if they don't get remembered or celebrated?

At Club Poptimism nobody really danced to "Mabuse"; many attendees seemed quietly bewildered by its existence - it's easy to forget that its unapologetically bold retro-futurism (1933 meets 2013) is already approaching its quarter century, and since it only made number 27 on its initial release and never gets revived on radio or (much) in clubs it has tended to be viewed as a suspicious oddity which sneaked under the carapace of obscurity, a weird little addendum to Frankie.

Even in the spring of 1984 it was a future which nobody really wanted; Frankie had stormed some barriers and Art of Noise were quietly getting on with helping to invent the next generation or seven of dance music but the media were as reluctant to get behind Propaganda as they had been with DAF or Neubauten; strangely scowling Germans who may have been dubbed "Abba from hell" (and, for the record, that quote was originated by Peter Martin, that fortnight's singles reviewer for Smash Hits and quite possibly the great lost New Pop music writer) but what did that mean to a confused public already ready to retreat to a safer mock-future of shuttlecocks and underpants, plaid and manly industriousness (ah, the irony of the latter)?

Yet "Mabuse" spells out what for many became a real pop hell in the noughties: the anxiously robotics of "Sell him your soul!" and "Never look back!," the references to the "Satanic gambler" and "the man without shadow" who "promises you the world" now seems more than anything else a prophecy of Cowellism, a scarily obedient era where well-dressed, humbled youths do their best to avoid getting thrown out of the showbiz window and land in the peat of reality - a warning against the potential destruction of pop music, of which Paul Morley was acutely aware. The hammer unto anvil beats seem designed to humiliate the compromised likes of the Thompson Twins (rightly); the record's scope and damaged, dissonant eloquence, especially in its original "Ninth Life" 12-inch mix which continues beyond the song into abstract Neubauten metal, post-Darmstadt serialist string section slashes and (finally, and most unexpectedly) a close relation of the theme from Brookside, implied that most other pop records of its age might as well wrap up and go back home. Yet it was perhaps too lurid, too exposed, to become loved, to hit higher, and its relative failure may spell the true beginning of ZTT's end since I would propose - and not just because Morley married one of their number - that Propaganda were Horn and Morley's real love, the act into which they poured more of themselves than any other, the main event to Frankie's candidly colourful opening act, the Runaways which would follow Frankie's Hollywood Argyles.

Thus what I now feel about "Mabuse" might be construed as something of a sad nostalgia; that it didn't make the impact it should have done (was it really too heavy and/or too bright?) and that people still shoo themselves away from it now. Was it that "Mabuse" didn't belong in the pop charts, or that it was too good, the charts of the time too unworthy? But even then I have to question that viewpoint, since two people in another country definitely did hear both "Mabuse" and its parent album and applied its techniques and principles to making their own next album; if Thriller was Michael and Quincy's New Pop album - how can anyone listen to "Billie Jean" and not hear the ABC (and I don't mean the Jackson 5 one) lurking within, never mind the fact that its video was directed by the same man responsible for the video to New Pop's celebratory parade, "Don't You Want Me?"? - then Bad was, at least originally, intended to be their ZTT record; see how the dizzyingly ascending steppes of "Mabuse" reappear, nearly unaltered, in the title track, how the thrust and cut of songs like "P. Machinery" intrude into "Smooth Criminal"; both Jackson and Jones were avid New Pop followers, and perhaps the least celebrated, but they managed to smuggle Propaganda's throb into the mainstream pop process. Furthermore, bearing in mind t.A.t.U.'s very Propaganda-sounding number one from the beginning of 2003, it is likely that the 1984 charts let Propaganda down. Maybe their time will yet come. Then when their heart misses the beat, it really will hurt - and hopefully hurt the unwanted Mabuse of this debased age.

Friday, 1 February 2008

DJ N-WEE: Zurich Your Shoulder


The Grey Album may still be acknowledged as one of the decade's key records, but it has borne surprisingly few direct emulations; since its emergence only two similar albums have come to any degree of prominence. One is LushLife's remarkable Kanye/Beach Boys marriage West Sounds, and the other is The Slack Album. The latter came pretty much directly on the retreating tail of Dangermouse, being a less than straightforward welding of The Black Album with Pavement's Slanted And Enchanted. It is in other ways more straightforward then Grey since both the Pavement and Jay-Z records are fourteen tracks long, and each one is fused with the other in strict consecutive order.


However, there is much more rhythmic impetus in Slack, and arguably a more compatible crossroads of seemingly polarised intentions; The Roc-A-Fella forever tepidly rational and alternately adoring and damning himself for his participation (hence it became merely one of a still-extending series of farewell albums) versus the key musical document of our age in favour of doing nothing much at all. The inherent conflict works in the favour of both acts; thus "What More Can I Singe?" offers two divergent routes to dropping out which seem to culminate in a car crash of slacker rock opera. "99 Problems Here" surprisingly places the sentiments of its two root songs closer than either might care to acknowledge; Jay-Z's snarl revealing more of its despair when backed by the rolling around of that last quarter.


Moreover, DJ N-Wee is arguably the cleverer manipulator; Pavement's loosely knit perambulations are moulded into dynamically aggressive Young Gods-type staccato sampler riffs; see for instance how the ingenious "Two States' Public Service Announcements" uses Gary Young's drumming rallentando link as the basis for Jay-Z's semi-righteous fury, or how "In The Mouth, An Encore" becomes a rousing revelation with its blend of football chant and heartbreaking Spiral spirals - or the simple thrust of "Perfume V-My Thug," the poignant remnants of "Famed Lucifer" and especially the perfect 6/8 hip hop/indie fusion with the closing "Our First Singer."


"Zurich Your Shoulder" - which, as you would expect, mixes "Zurich Is Stained" (its album's most elusive song) with "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" (its album's most straightforward song) - proves the most effective combination since its weary Spartacus striving of a refrain strikes a telling balance between the probing, endless, workaholic ambition of Carter and the just let the stone roll relaxation of Malkmus, leaving the listener wondering which of the two parties is the smarter - though both ultimately know where rolling that stone too hard might lead them.


(Many thanks to Henry Scollard for kindly burning the album on CD for me)