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Archive for January, 2005

THEE MOTHS – Sand in our pockets (Total Gaylord Records)

Posted: January 28th, 2005, by Simon Minter

However much I musically digress into drone rock, fractured guitar noise, improvised folk or anything else which tickles my fancy, I can still never get enough of good ol’ sweet-natured indie-pop. To me there’s something magical about pure, non-cynical, non-ironic melodic pop music, and I’m glad that people still continue to stay ‘true to the path’.

Thee Moths I know next to nothing about, so I’m pleased to say that the four tracks on this CD line up in my mind alongside a legacy of records which I own – anything from early 80s Cherry Red acts like Tracey Thorn or Felt, through the tweer side of Sarah Records’ output, on to (often American) modern indie pop. At the beginning of the first track, ‘Universe Prayer’, there are Robert Wyatt-esque vocals humming gently over gentle, folky-sounding melodies which remind me of the quieter moments Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. And so it continues through the rest of the CD – plaintive, simplistic guitar lines and almost whispered female vocals adding to a feeling of warm introspection. This music has a nicely ramshackle feel to it, but backs it up with simple, but accomplished songwriting.

Thee Moths

Total Gaylord Records

WILCO – A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch)

Posted: January 27th, 2005, by Chris Summerlin

A review for avant-garde left-field free-thinking music fans

Or; ‘I came for the guitar playing. But I stayed for the songs’.

Hello weird music fan. Nice hair.
Allow me to play the psychiatrist for a moment and tell you something about yourself.
You got into music when you were between the ages of 13 and 18. You started off on something relatively tuneful that you might still like because of a vague romantic nostalgia (i.e. Nirvana) but ultimately you feel you have developed your own tastes upward onto a higher plateau now.
Over time, the variables that you have to consider before you allow yourself to like a song have increased beyond ‘Does this rock?’, ‘Is this catchy?’ into complex equations involving influence, attitude, credibility, artistic vision, originality and quite possibly record label and band name and former bands of band members.
Once you liked the Lemonheads. Now you like Lightning Bolt, or maybe Wolf Eyes and Double Leopards.
It’s cool; I do too. I am not judging you. I’m talking to you as a friend.
I am also willing to bet as your tastes have developed you have recently begun to get less and less inspired by new music. It’s not surprising, you realise that if you’ve got a longer checklist to look at before letting a band affect you, then less bands will make the grade. Simple mathematics. But still, you’re going off music, it’s just not the same anymore. New bands are so yawnnnnnnnnn…
Well, I can help you out of the rot with this simple diagnosis:

YOU LIKE POP MUSIC

It’s OK. The first step to beating a problem is admitting it exists. You’re denying your brain the music it likes best. You have to sort it out before it’s too late.
Stop protesting, I don’t believe it. I saw you at the front of that Deerhoof show almost crying when they played L’Amor Stories. You probably saw me too doing the same thing. That’s because it is pop music through and through, difference is Deerhoof wrap it up in familiar noise and avant-isms so it’s OK. You think you’re there for the oddness but you’re really there for the pop. Stop arguing.
A second ago Cornflake Girl by Tori Amos came on Radio 2 (my choice of station at work) and you know what? It sounded good. I’d like to hear it back. If they’d invented a repeat button for radio I’d have pressed it. Tori Amos has nothing to do with my life but that one song was great. Admit it; you have the same feelings about songs.
It’s what makes you like one Lightning Bolt song more than another. Why you skip to Track 3 on Sonic Nurse. Why Moonlight On Vermont makes the hairs on your neck stand up whereas Hobo Chang Ba doesn’t. Or doesn’t as much at any rate.
It’s because some songs are catchy. The hook part (whatever makes it) of even the noisiest noise is still what elevates it from good to memorable.

Damn it, Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon is now on Radio 2 and that song is FUCKING AMAZING.

Don’t panic and go out and gorge yourself on the Beatles and Zuma by Neil Young. It’s been too long and you’ll probably damage yourself forever. That’s not the way to pull you out of this; it’s too abrupt. You need a graduated approach. If not, they’ll find you after a 3 week disappearance, flat out dead on the floor of your room in a set of high quality headphones with God Only Knows by the Beach Boys playing. You’ll literally die of tune. Your heart will burst.
Plus, your friends who might not be as far gone as you (or not realise it if they are) could take this sudden shift to the dark side badly.
What you need is an album that offers tune and experiment in equal measures.

So what’s this got to do with Wilco?

Well, Wilco make pop music. And, troubled avant-garde music fan, they are after YOUR vote.
What’s more you don’t have to do anything. I know how lazy you folks are. No effort is needed on your part. They’re driving round to your neighbourhood to win you over. A Ghost Is Born is the Wilco manifesto for perfect pop music made super tasty to all you arty types.
It’s going to sort you out.
Chances are you weren’t interested in Wilco around the time of the Summerteeth LP with the sublime single Can’t Stand It. I wouldn’t have been either were it not for a chance viewing of them on the TV playing the song at Glastonbury with more passion than any of the bands they shared the stage with that day.
You might have read reports about the follow up LP Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which succeeded in being strange enough to get them dropped from Warner Bros. That album is mighty let me assure you. David Fricke, the peculiarly-jawed never-ageing editor of Rolling Stone reckons that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is going to become some kind of catch-all term for substance over style, or for a band sticking to its creative guns in the face of adversity. He’s probably right. However, it cost Wilco dearly. They lost their original drummer part way through recording to be replaced by Glenn Kotche. After the album’s completion Jay Bennett, co-songwriter of some of the record, was fired. Then, after touring the record, multi-instrumentalist wiz Leroy Bach walked too (amicably) leaving just main man Jeff Tweedy and his former Uncle Tupelo sidekick John Stirratt as original members.
Jim O Rourke enters the picture here. He mixed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and joined up with Kotche and Tweedy as Loose Fur for an LP on Drag City (which in retrospect sounds like a trial run for this Wilco record, hardly surprising seeing that the two line ups are so similar).
This time O Rourke produces and lends instrumental talents too. But don’t be mistaken and think O Rourke has sprinkled his improv noise dust on this. It isn’t his contributions that shine out on A Ghost Is Born. His role is fairly transparent. What is going to draw you in at first, avant-garder, is the phenomenal guitar playing handled almost entirely by Tweedy.
My New Year’s resolution was
‘Step up to the plate and play. More guitar solos in 2005’.
Looks like Jeff Tweedy beat me to it. The solo on Hell Is Chrome sounds like it’s beamed in from another galaxy and it is completely, soul-stirringly perfect. I use that P term sparingly and mean it one hundred percent. Tweedy’s sense of melody is proven by his song writing track record but his ability to put aside the box format and constraints of playing guitar and transfer this melodic skill into his instrument has propelled the Wilco sound into a new world closer to Television or Neil Young at his most icy. Long thought of as the rhythm player in Wilco, Tweedy has indeed stepped up to the plate. But it’s the songs and (most importantly) how they’re put together and dealt with that makes the record so special.
Tweedy has spoken at length of the deconstructive writing process Wilco employ and it’s spectacularly effective here. A Ghost Is Born is a very apt title; I take it to mean the songs themselves are born and cemented as mere shadows of their ‘real’ form, as stripped back and removed as they can be without actually disintegrating. The reverence that lesser songwriters place on their efforts often shackles their ability to best do justice to their output. Wilco’s total lack of worry about diving in two footed and tearing apart their own music shows something much more than a perverse compulsion to sabotage that Warner Bros mistakenly thought they had identified when they decided to drop the band.
It shows an unflinching confidence in the quality of their songs. It’s like they are daring themselves to progressively destroy their songs more and more to see how far they can go before they ruin what they’ve made but knowing the quality is so high that the song will shine through. It shows a band on absolutely peak form, bulletproof in their collective decision-making and as a listener it’s thrilling.
Spiders apparently began life as an intricate and complex multi-chorded song. Tweedy himself says that if you played songs from Wilco’s first album and last album on an acoustic guitar there wouldn’t be much difference but it’s in the way they treat the sonic qualities of their songs that shows progression. It’s illustrated perfectly by this song, which is a great slice of pop stretched into a 10 minute long Kraut workout with the original chords supported only by Tweedy’s vocals and the musical backing reduced to a single chorded, drum machine backed, metronomic pulse interspersed with lyrical skronk guitar that Marc Ribot would be proud of. When the song finally breaks the groove and hits a change the effect is euphoric.
Take Less Than You Think as a case in point too. A beautiful song supplemented by an additional ten minutes of crackle and drone that may push the point too much but serves to further blur the boundaries of exactly who is in charge of this record. Using the somewhat crap mettarrfer of a record being an animal; lesser bands would have reigned this collection of songs in to control it and to stamp their mark on it enough to show everyone, with no doubt, that they made it and were in charge of it. Wilco ending one of their most sublime moments with 10 mins of automated noise, created by their instruments with no human input implies that, rather than trumpet their abilities loudly, they acknowledge that these songs come from somewhere else unique and that they’re not entirely in charge of their music. Like the album title it gives the feeling this album is an entity in its own right.
And when you think the album is over they deliver the warmly human Late Greats to close, which has the effect of a cute shoulder-shrug delivered after some earth-shattering revelation.
(sample lyric: ‘The best song will never get sung/The best life never leaves your lungs/So good, you won’t ever know/I never hear it on the radio/Can’t hear it on the radio‘)
I can’t think of another band who could deliver an album with two plus-10 minute tracks alongside perfect sub-3 minute pop diamonds like I’m A Wheel and not have those 2 polar opposites of composition sound like 2 polar opposites of song. With Wilco you feel they can do anything and it would all come from the same band.
Wilco fans and fans of song writing will love this record, the quality of the songs not only shines through the experimental action but is enhanced by it to a point where you honestly believe these songs are as good as they possibly could be. I’ll save them the sales pitch.
But you, Mr or Mrs left field; you have no excuse. Wilco are here to sort out your music hassles. They are even on the cover of the fucking Wire for god’s sake. And don’t give me that ‘I don’t really like the Wire’ line you loser. What’s more, when they tour the UK in March they have Nels Cline on guitar to propel Wilco to a 2 guitar line up to actually stop wars.
With A Ghost Is Born, Wilco have made a truly revolutionary record: a collection of songs that will reinforce the idea of bravery among their fans but more importantly remind us avantwankers why we love music so much in the first place.

Don’t say I don’t do anything for you.

SOILED – Mindnumb (Elm Lodge Records)

Posted: January 25th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

A series of ideas. Little ones. Maybe one per track. Some very good. Tracks don’t get going. Often enough. A series of electronic palettes of sound here from Soiled, which as you may have gathered, are mostly on the brief side. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on which side of the not-outstaying-your-welcome vs. not-developing-your-ideas-properly line you stand on. Me? Ambivalent as ever.

Opening track ‘Mindnumb’ revolves around one scuzzy drum break, filtered up and down, back and forth, distorted, clean, and Req-like in its simplistic, lo-fi delivery. It’s a fine introduction to something more developed, but not a lot more, and sadly the next couple of tracks don’t move things to the next level either. ‘Bingo Beauty’ and ‘Bad Vowel Movement at WP Primary’ are both promising, the latter coming across like the drop in a Pest tune, while the former reminds me of the introduction to something by Movietone. ‘Paranoid Conclusions No. 7’ succeeds because it gives itself a bit of space to find its own character – a pleasingly-hyperactive mashup of I Care Because You Do arpeggios, and easily the most satisfying piece here. The EP works well as a sampler showing off the way Soiled go about producing music, but it’d be great to hear them tackle some ideas at greater length.

Soiled

APHRON – The Woodbine Sessions (self-released)

Posted: January 25th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

A mixed bag from Aphron, who seemingly can’t decide whether they want to be a sweeping, emotive pop outfit, a heads-down rock band or a limp collision of the two. Opener ‘The Obfuscation’ is aptly titled – a nicely-arranged, keyboard-laden piece, but one which plods along likeably enough without ever really amounting to much, and which keeps us guessing at what they’re trying to pull off. ‘Louder’ immediately ups the stakes, the change in pace suiting the flourishes of keyboard and baritone vocals well to produce something of interest. What ‘Louder’ does for showing off the band’s strengths, sadly ‘Severed Land’ does for their weaknesses: there’s too much emphasis on some fairly weak lyrics and the change in dynamics two thirds of the way through is abrupt, and not in a pleasant way. And for a second there, it almost – almost – has the stamp of Mick Hucknall’s pink pancakes, so that’s where we leave…

Aphron

The best of 2004

Posted: January 24th, 2005, by Marceline Smith

One year we might manage to get our end of year polls online before the end of January but it is not this year. Getting votes and comments out of our contributors is one of the more difficult tasks of the year but now it is finally done and you can enjoy it. As always there was little agreement amongst us as to the actual best records and films of the year and much complex maths was required to get fair and true top tens. This also means there is lots of disagreement in the comments which makes a nice change from most overly upbeat end of year lists.

So go read about our favourite albums and favourite films and please post your comments here and let us know what you think.

Dave Stockwell has also done us a seperate column about his favourite records of 2004 which overlap with our main choices more than he expected. Not so obscurist now eh Dave?

And to finish off JGram has been chatting to his favourite new band of the year, The Go! Team from Brighton.

End of year polls

Posted: January 24th, 2005, by Marceline Smith

One year we might manage to get our end of year polls online before the end of January but it is not this year. Getting votes and comments out of our contributors is one of the more difficult tasks of the year but now it is finally done and you can enjoy it. As always there was little agreement amongst us as to the actual best records and films of the year and much complex maths was required to get fair and true top tens. This also means there is lots of disagreement in the comments which makes a nice change from most overly upbeat end of year lists.

So go read about our favourite albums and favourite films and please post your comments here and let us know what you think.

Dave Stockwell has also done us a seperate column about his favourite records of 2004 which overlap with our main choices more than he expected. Not so obscurist now eh Dave?

And to finish off JGram has been chatting to his favourite new band of the year, The Go! Team from Brighton.

GUTHER – I know you know (Morr Music)

Posted: January 24th, 2005, by Simon Minter

This was a very pleasant surprise; somebody I know gave me the album with their recommendation and, as I often do, I took their recommendation with a pinch of salt and placed the CD on my slow-moving ‘things to listen to’ pile. But now with my new capacity for listening to CDs in the car, I spent a happy trip to and from work today, listening to ten lovely, warm-sounding tracks of very vaguely electronic, very vaguely indie-pop, very vaguely sad, very vaguely uplifting melody.

I like this because of its simplicity and effortlessness. The vocals remind me very much of Broadcast – clearly enunciated and odd in tone – and that band’s dark side is here too, albeit with a sweeter edge and a less dense sound. The lyrics cover the usual boy/girl/love lyrics, but in a combined honest and tangential way which adds to the charm. What at first seem like straightforward pop songs bear repeated listening with their slightly oblique lyrics, melodies and structure.

Guther

MARSHALL WATSON – The Time Was Later Than He Expected (Highpoint Lowlife)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Synths go plonk and beats spit and hiss on this latest release from the Highpoint Lowlife lot. It’s actually billed as being part of the ‘indie-electronic landscape’, whatever that is, and it’s certainly easy to imagine that this is the kind of electronica that fans of Tortoise’s more recent output would get on very well with, for better or for worse. By which I mean that it shares some of the traits which have been bogging down post rock over the last few years – caught up in their own composition and finding it hard to break from the self-imposed formula that keeps most of the album entrenched firmly in its own niche, the tracks hint at a portentousness they simply don’t have.

The album’s intricately put together and admirably precise, but for all the sweeping minor chords and syrupy washes, it can be difficult to find the heart of this music. The tracks build and drop in all the right places to say ‘come, emote with me’, but it’s an evocation to something inconsequential or ephemeral for the most part. The tunes are certainly pretty in places, and the uncluttered space in which the ideas in each track find themselves is refreshing, but they tend to flirt with substance where they should be making bolder claims for themselves. ‘Square Wheels’ is notable because it ups the pace, throws in a couple of nice breaks and works around a simple but effective melody; as such, it’s immediately head and shoulders above the rest of the pieces here.

Highpoint Lowlife

SOULO – Man, The Manipulator (Plug Research)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Now this is more like it. Soulo approach their music with an admirable anything-goes attitude that sees them throw a stack of instruments into some microphones and recording the results. Not that there’s anything random about the record – it’s a fine balance between orchestrated electro pop and synth-fuelled downtempo goodness. More often not, this admirable scope of ideas runs into the kind of chops and breaks that Ninja Tune put out when they’re not plastering the coffee tables of Hoxton with 85bpm easy listening. ‘What Do You Say After Hello?’ is as frazzled as Homelife’s finest moments, while ‘Daddy’s Girl, Mama’s Boy’ approximates to Super Numeri rehearsing in the same room as Capitol K. ‘The Peter Principle’, meanwhile, starts off with some crumpling, distorted kicks, which fade back into a lush arrangement, like Beck taking the spanners to the Cinematic Orchestra.

Naturally, there are moments when the album doesn’t hold together as well as it might, and when they lose their focus, the record can sag into periods of indifference. When they’re sitting still on one theme, there’s a sense of restlessness, and in fact they’re much stronger when screaming excitedly through a series of shorter tracks like a sugar-fuelled child in a toy shop. It’s perhaps short of the one or two classic tracks that might propel it on to great things, but if you’re a fan of throwing a load of ideas against a wall and seeing what sticks, รก la Max Tundra, this is well worth a listen.

Soulo

MAN PLAYING KAZOO – Black & White & Grey (self-released)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Sadly, not a descriptive title from a one-man kazoo outfit, but a maudlin four-piece rock outfit from Nottingham. ‘Friendly Guy’ has a stab at epic, sweeping chunks of rock, but doesn’t take it far enough beyond bog-standard quiet/loud territory to mark it out from a few thousand other bands, and the verses give a little too much emphasis to some gratingly pitying lyrical content. They’re much better when they keep things uptempo – there’s Matt Bellamy-esque intonation to James Housley’s delivery, thankfully without the wailing histrionics, and the pace is kept crisp and lively throughout. But I have to wade through thirty boxes of this sort of stuff just to get into my room, and the band really need to push themselves out on a limb and forge something individual from their strengths if they’re gonna make a name for themselves. Oh, and get a man playing a kazoo.

Man Playing Kazoo