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Archive for September, 2007

JINN – s/t (CD, SuperFi Records/Right To Refuse Records)

Posted: September 26th, 2007, by Dave Stockwell

Experience some full-on churning metal guitars, blast-beating drums and guttural roars for vocals courtesy of Newcastle-based quartet Jinn. Yep, they’re a grindcore band, and this album burns through 11 songs in the space of 21 minutes. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but Jinn become an increasingly impressive prospect during the course of this album – huge blasts of uber-distorted guitars judder to a halt as the band turns on a dime to begin a new musical passage, quickly shifting gears between songs that deliver blow after sickening blow to the head. They’ve been described as the UK’s best hardcore band, and this is probably the hardest, most furious and enveloping album I’ve heard from these shores for a wee while. Not that I’m an expert, mind.

Hardcore and thrash-derived bands such as Jinn are invariably far more impressive melting your face off at a gig than on record, but they do a fairly decent job of capturing their sheer weight and power – they even scale the heights of sounding almost as high and mighty as the legendary (if increasingly dull) Isis at points, which is definitely something to be proud of.

However, I do have a couple of complaints about this record that I need to get off my wheezing, pitifully under-developed chest:

  1. Jinn share a conundrum with so many thrash/grindcore bands who want their guitars to make an absolute din but then have those breakdowns where the guitars go clean for maximum devastating dynamic effect: if your guitarists set their gear up to have that Massive Metal Wall-Of-Thrash effect (and Jinn’s can be a particularly impressive wall, decorated by all kinds of monumental brutalist architecture) for the majority of the time, how can you avoid it sounding brittle and hollow when you wind back to a simple guitar sound? Unfortunately for Jinn this conundrum remains largely unsolved; on the few occasions that the guitarists let up on their fevered thrashing they end up sounding like they’re plinking away something bought at the Early Learning Centre. Mercifully, this doesn’t happen that often or for too long.
  2. While the singer’s bellowing is eternally indecipherable it is certainly powerful and effective, so there’s no reason to completely undermine all that good work by exposing quite how shit the lyrics he’s mangling are by printing them in the CD booklet. The brief epithets that make up the lines of songs such as “Its Not Getting any better” and “Vikings Bloody Vikings” may be intended as cryptic allusions, poetic descriptions, or even sparse prose inspired by gothic horror, but lines such as “The mask of a hooded wizard mourns your eyes / Sorrow lies enrage your soul” bring to mind the dreaded insult of ‘sixth form poetry’. That said; the imagery of the album’s closing line, “Vengeance on a dog” does take some beating.

Not that I’d ever dare raising any kind of issue with Jinn in person; they’d probably tear my face off and feed it to their beloved pooch.



ARMY OF FLYING ROBOTS – Life Is Cheap (CD, SuperFi Records)

Posted: September 26th, 2007, by Dave Stockwell

I have to start this review with a confession: Army Of Flying Robots are a Nottingham-based band who have played all over the city in a myriad of venues (including a good friend’s kitchen and an erstwhile art gallery), yet I have somehow conspired to miss their live performances for 4 solid years. Please take this as a guarantee of objectivity for this review of their debut album then, dear reader, than of incompetence on my part.

After incongruously beginning with what sounds like a pick-scraped guitar slowed down and run through enough echo to make worthy of a horror film soundtrack, AOFR quickly establish their blueprint for grinding twin guitars underpinned by heavy bass and manic drumming, supporting a truly larynx-shredding vocal performance from frontman Henry Davies (seriously, you can almost hear the fibres from his throat coming away one at a time). AOFR are a band that love to occupy that middle ground between hardcore punk-rock and grinding metal, but with intelligent beatdowns, the odd flailing thrash and even an occasional let-up or slow build-up in intensity, they bring far more to the table than yer average so-called ‘grindcore’ band. Not bad considering most of the songs barely scrape the 2-minute mark.

Davies’ singing does conform to the general standards of indecipherable howling, so it’s handy to have the lyrics written down with explanations about subject matters in the liner notes and it’s always good to see nuclear weapons, American foreign policy, casual male chauvinism and globalisation of corporate interests getting a bashing. I’ve got to mention the truly ugly artwork you have to plough through to read these things though – not aesthetically pleasing in any way. Even if they have a song called “How’s That For A Kick In The Cunt?”.

Back to the music: at barely 29 minutes, these 11 songs will leave your body exhausted and your ears squealing with pain. That’s probably nothing compared to their infamous live shows, but you’ve got to say it’s mission accomplished, don’t you?


Your favourite movie soundtracks #6: Mandy Williams on The Piano and Betty Blue

Posted: September 19th, 2007, by Simon Minter

For me there are two different types of film score that work well. The first are thos with songs by established artists that punctuate a film, illustrating the scenes and rooting them perfectly in time. The Commitments and Trainspotting are good examples of this approach. The other are scores specifically written for films which can never be separated from the imagery that they seek to highlight.

From the latter category, there are two soundtracks that stand out. I rushed straight out and bought them both after seeing the films and whenever I listen to them I get an immediate sense of the story. The first is Michael Nyman’s haunting soundtrack to The Piano. The second is Gabriel Yared’s score for Betty Blue/37° Le Matin.

Jane Campion’s The Piano is the story of a mute Scottish woman who travels with her daughter and her beloved piano to a remote spot on the coast of 19th century New Zealand for an arranged marriage, and who begins a stormy involvement with her illiterate neighbour. Nyman’s almost naive music works on an emotional level, and transports you immediately to the windswept beach when you hear it. The score veers between the Caledonian character of the main protagonist and the contrasting barrenness of the new world she finds herself in. It has an almost Wicker Man feel to it. The orchestral immediacy – yet jarring forcefulness – suggest the frustrations of her mute world.

Jacques Beineix’s passionate love story, Betty Blue, tells the tale of handyman and failed novelist Zorg, who has his life turned upside down by Betty, a free spirit whose passion for life veers towards the pathological. Its brief ode to love, ‘Betty et Zorg’, is an eerie piano theme punctuated with one discordant key that leaves you with a lump in your throat as it is repeated throughout the film to
highlight the girl’s descent into madness. It becomes a motif for the differing moods in the film. The bluesy version creates a sense of loneliness and isolation, yet when it is played as a brass solo it evokes pure joy and love.

The Nyman piece is more fluid, Yared’s fragmented, but they are similar in as far as it is the title track that dominates and guides each soundtrack. There are no conceptual or intellectual ideas here. Both are memorable because they are emotional roller-coaster rides, romantic, haunting and almost primeval. They strike a chord with anyone who has been in love or lust and both manage to illustrate beautifully the mind of a troubled soul by means of beat and string.

Buy The Piano in diskant’s Amazon.co.uk store

Buy Betty Blue in diskant’s Amazon.co.uk store

The End of Music

Posted: September 13th, 2007, by Marceline Smith

My CD player died last weekend. I say ‘died’ but I actually mean ‘ate a CD and lost it inside somewhere’ so more like committing suicide. It was a crappy £100 all in one stereo from my student days and the record button fell off one of the cassette decks about 6 years ago but still. I can still listen to vinyl and cassettes but the diskant review box isn’t exactly overflowing with those formats. At the same time, my iPod has started playing up and last night I had to do a restore on it which took a good half hour re-copying over my iTunes library.

So I figured I’d go for the whole shebang and deleted all the listening data from my Last.fm profile. I’ve been using Last.fm for years now and it lost all its shiny excitement a good six months ago as my overall listening charts were so unchanging, needing me to become totally obsessed with something for it even to make a dent. Not their fault, of course, but a fresh start might jumpstart my listening.

It’s all really made me so aware of how little I actually listen to music these days. I’m so absorbed in my neverending list of tasks that if I put music on, I don’t really hear it, or notice when it ends.

When I get back from Japan (four weeks til I go!) I am going to buy a real stereo, piece by piece, and set myself some musical challenges. After all, I still have 32 reviews to write for diskant by next March so something needs to happen.

Sorry diskant is so inactive at the moment. Looks like we all need a jumpstart. If you want to review some records, get in touch.

Your favourite movie soundtracks #5: Simon Proffitt on Eraserhead

Posted: September 4th, 2007, by Simon Minter

There aren’t nearly as many good soundtracks as there should be. Quentin Tarantino seems content to peddle fairly obvious compilations of other people’s compilations, and no-one in their right mind should want to exchange hard earned cash for syrupy orchestral sentimentality interspersed with random Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks quips. The best soundtracks for me are the ones written especially for the movie, and those that engage the listener regardless of whether they’ve seen the film or not.

Miles Davis’ Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud does this beautifully – it’s a wonderful album even without Louis Malle’s brilliant 50’s black and white thriller playing alongside. Whereas cynical toss like The Wedding Singer seemed like 80s songs were awkwardly crowbarred into the soundtrack specifically to sell CDs in the foyer after the film, Miles’ band improvised in the studio while the film itself was projected onto the wall. It’s a masterpiece of audio-visual complementarity. Having said all that, it’s not my favourite soundtrack.

The best by a mile, and you’ll have a hard time trying to convince me otherwise, is David Lynch and Alan R. Splet’s Eraserhead. It’s terrifying, bleak, alien, hilarious, excruciating, bewildering and gloriously weird. Whereas soundtrack album dialogue is normally a mood breaker, snatches of out-of-context vocal sandwiched between two already well-known soul tracks, here it becomes another layer of sinister wrongness. Without the film, it’s one of my favourite albums. With the film, it becomes an integral part of one of my favourite films.

Finally, I can’t write a piece on soundtracks without briefly mentioning Italian cinema. I recently got hold of all 10 volumes of Easy Tempo, the compilations of Italian soundtrack material from the 60s and 70s, and it’s a long time since I’ve smiled so hard while listening to music. I haven’t seen any of the associated movies, but I’m going to make it my life’s mission to do so. When I am king, every home will have these. James Horner will be tried for crimes against humanity; Piero Piccioni and Piero Umiliani will be canonised. Things will be better.

Buy Eraserhead in diskant’s Amazon.co.uk store