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diskant rewind: Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS #5

Posted: January 16th, 2009, by Dave Stockwell

(Originally posted March 2004)

Etch-a-Sketch Yr Fear of AIDS by Dave Stockwell

It always feels awkward to launch straight into a bunch of barely-related rants masquerading as reviews for these column things, but how the hell do you introduce a series of moans about music as disparate as I’ve found fit to write about this time around?

I was wondering whether I should protest that my favourite film of 2003, All The Real Girls (enjoy the fucking waiting for anything to happen if you click on that link), didn’t even get a mention in diskant’s round-up of last year’s films, but it all seems a bit pointless now. Or earlier today I was wondering about the socio-political implications of Friendster on a community/scene, but that’s probably because almost all of diskant’s staff members have been mugged by this particular online popularity contest, and it’s hugely distracting when you’re trying to write shit like this. Plus, I get to count Will Oldham amongst my friends, so nerr. Ahem. Whatever.

Anyway, this Growing album, The Sky’s Run Into The Sea, on Kranky/Southern has been hanging around waiting for me to review since last October, so maybe now’s the time to actually get around to it. Fittingly, following January’s tribute to Sunn 0))), here’s another band mightily influenced by shotgun enthusiast Dylan Carson’s Earth project and its massively detuned guitars. A mysterious art trio, Growing comes across as much more of a minimalist art project than a band. Their ‘songs’ are drone pieces that shift from textured rumblings of electric guitars into cymbal crashes, or the occasional startling, scratchy melody. Sometimes, as the first track exemplifies, this works fantastically – we shift from an opening gambit of five minutes of soothing ambience into an appropriately stoned chugtastic* riff by a very loud guitar, which quickly fades out into the same riff played on an unplugged guitar. All very affecting. But there are some moments on the album that just grate – some of the textures of the distorted guitars are more annoyingly fuzzy than warm and entrancing, and the movement of the last song into a folk melody hazily sung by a few folks but dominated by a yowling guitar is actually not very good at all. I’m sure that the guitar is supposed to be reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s infamous shagging the Stars & Stripes up the arse, but to these ears it sounds like he was reincarnated as a stillborn baby that’s playing with someone else’s mucky shitter. Not good. Bad, bad. Which is a shame, because about half of this double LP is class.

After that unfortunate description, I had best dispatch this debut album by Lebatol because they sent it to us for free, but it’s shit. Their vocalist has a voice so bad that their press’ lame attempts to compare it to ‘a young Black Francis’ make me want to spit to get the taste of muck out of my mouth. I can’t even talk about the music because it’s so dull. Inevitably, they’ve been playlisted by MTV2 and had a Radio One Evening Session ‘Single of the Week’, so you can imagine how rudimentarily derivative this is. Just another example of a band that makes you wonder why they even bother. Death, death, death.

But, y’know man, derivative doesn’t have to be all bad. Distophia have a burgeoning profile thanks to some live dates with JetPlane Landing and some warm acclaim for their debut effort, Soda Lake. And it’s really actually quite good in places. Sure, they do sound exactly like a scrappy little bastard offspring of Pavement, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr (thankfully minus the endless guitar solos), but at least they’re honest enough to admit it, and actually have the temerity to do those comparisons some kind of justice. If I try and visualise this band, all I can think of is Scrappy Doo shadowboxing on the spot like some scary portent of today’s clich├ęs of just another ADD-afflicted child. It’s historically established within the trash culture of children’s television that either you think that Scrappy’s very amusing or the worst thing that ever happened to the Gang. Similarly, you’re either going to have a soft spot for the antagonised antics that Distophia get up to in their mawlings of chords and choruses, or you’re going want to briskly dismiss them with the back of your hand to the corner of the room, dunce hat and all. So no, Soda Lake isn’t a debut album that the NME is going to trumpet as the greatest thing in a decade, but it’s sure got promise – even if it does have one of those incredibly annoying fatuous ‘secret tracks’ of distorted electronic noises that pop up a few minutes after the last song’s finished worrying the leg of another poor fuzzy melody… woo! A guitar band that isn’t scared of electronics! Well, if the NME is going to continue to lather about the Kings of Leon, I guess they might have a point.

Another debut album worth noting is that of London’s own Trencher, cleverly entitled When Dracula Thinks ‘Look At Me’. And there are a few remarkable things you should know about this record:

  • It was released by 6 (count ’em) labels. What the fuck is going on there?
  • It’s got 14 songs on it, and lasts but 17 minutes.
  • It features bass, drums and a tiny weeny casio keyboard that was probably bought from a car boot sale in 1991.

The photograph in the booklet of the band practising with this ickle thing up on three crates could well be the best thing about Trencher. Their music, whether they call it ‘casio-grind’ or not, is an aggressive and horrible enough attack on spasticism so as to recall the inimitable The Locust and other luminaries of the Gravity and 31G worlds, yet they’re from our own backyard, bless ’em. And it really is music that makes you feel grubby, dirty, and occasionally maybe even a little violated, like you’re waking up from a night before that you can’t remember in a puddle with your pants around your ankles and shit smeared up your thighs. Oh, and the cheesy little keyboard lines are like someone’s little brother coming along and spitting in your eye as you stagger to your feet. Charming.

Even harder on the ears is this CD by ‘legendary conceptual noise artist’ Koji Asano called Zoo Telepathy. Marceline sent me this on the promise that I would enjoy it, claiming ‘he broke my head in a fantastic way’, and she’s probably right. Three tracks make up the whole, all based around samples of some fairly ugly scraping of violin strings (well, I’m assuming that’s what it is) and then blossomed out with layers of dissonance and noise that would make Masami Akita proud. Easy listening it ain’t, and it’s certainly not something I would want to listen to week in, week out (especially if I’ve been drinking the night before). My flatmate who studied Music Technology for three years reckons it sounds fantastic, so it must be clever. Not one to play your friends though (I’ve always got Metal Machine Music for that particular [anti-]social ritual).

Some far more pleasant noises are to be heard emanating from a picture disc 10″ showcasing the finer talents that can be found on the wonderfully nice electronic labels Expanding Records and Static Caravan. A Christmas treat this one, coming with some gorgeous artwork on either side, a fair heft to the ol’ vinyl slab itself, and the expected lush electronica courtesy of Benge, Stendec and Vessel (Expanding side), and Lilienthal, Hulk and Marcia Blane School for Girls (Static Caravan side). The record could well be argued as a case of sheer self-congratulatory behaviour, but there’s really nuthin’ wrong with that when the results are as fine as these. Every home needs a copy, which is a shame, because they’ve only pressed 500 of the buggers up. So go buy a copy, and make sure you get some other stuff that either luminary label has put out, because they do wonderful things for the advancement of electronic music in this country. Go buy! Go buy now! Okay, advert over.

Another all-star release would be House of Stairs’ CD The Combined Stupidity of Spiteful Men, split as it is three ways between American Heritage, Foe, and Art of Burning Water. It was released in October to coincide with a domestic ten-date tour featuring all three bands, but I’ve only just got around to mentioning it now (sorry Jason). Music from all three bands follows a rough template of the ol’ heavy math-rock template, but each adds their own twist to proceedings. American Heritage have changed from their old days, and have vocals now and everything, but are still lots of heavy riffing and ugly rage, judging by the three tracks they open the album with here. Foe once again do their best to pickle your head with a single ten-minute instrumental epic that goes through so many different sections that you suspect they could fill up the Bayeux Tapestry with if they tried to write it all down. After all that fury, I can’t even bring myself to describe the Art of Burning Water because the whole macho/nerd-ness of this particular brand of metal/math starts smelling in a manner now entirely sympathetic to my nose. Plus, I don’t like ’em much. But if you like your testosterone more smelly than I can stand, then I wholeheartedly recommend you seek this particular baby out, because House of Stairs are a class label with an admirable attitude and approach to releasing music.

Christ, let’s stop all this being warm-hearted towards labels, it’s making me sick. And Psychotica Records from Italy have done a CD compilation too, with a whole twenty different bands on it. It’s called Fragments, cleverly enough, and features the likes of The Planet The (exercises in math and inanity), Logan (boring Shellacalike – see sminter’s column), Daemian Frost (spit-oh no, sorry, that’s Damian Rice. This lot are quite good fun), Querelle (actually occasionally half-decent, but not exactly their finest work on display here) and people like Theramin (fucked if I can remember what they sound like because the fast-forward button gets in full effect by this point… oh no, I go back… they’re about as interesting as their name). About as essential as a feathered haircut with blonde bits ‘randomly’ dyed to make you look like, er… I don’t know why they do that, unless it’s a new government initiative called Twat Alert. It’s definitely the harsher side of indie guitar music, but I don’t know why anyone should care about it, Jim, because there’s frankly little apart from to continual variations scratchy guitars that is appealing about the music on display here. It’s all very well having a nice aesthetic, but you’ve gotta provide the meat behind the skin, and the actual music on display here is mostly tired variations on similar ‘art’ themes of starting and stopping, quiet and loud bits, and not a lot of memorable melodies, textures or lyrics. So substandard it hurts after about five minutes, and then you realise the damn thing’s 70 minutes long. Gah. Realise the lesson of Drive Like Jehu: ‘Turn! It off! Turn! It Off!’

Repetition, yeah, that’s a good place to end things. And who better to wrap this month’s turgid offerings up than Oneida, authors of a song called Sheets of Easter that is fifteen minutes long and features a grand total of two notes – one only hit half a dozen times throughout the song’s course. It’s one of my favourite bits of music ever, which made the fact that there were only two other good tracks on their last album (Each One Teach One) all the more galling. But no matter! For Oneida went into the studio to record a follow-up EP to that behemoth, and came out with a brand new album called Secret Wars. And it’s got a far greater awesome-to-shit ratio, weighing in with at least two more full-blown classics, two or three excellent pieces of fried ribald hootin’ tootin’ acid rock that are unmistakeably of the inimitable Oneida palette, and only a couple of tracks that are more annoying than amusing. My flatmate Ian dismisses them as ‘silly’, and he’s got a point. But he just can’t seem to grasp that it’s this irreverence and good humour of the band’s approach that makes their music so entertaining, and sometimes extremely challenging. My favourite cuts from Secret Wars are definitely the last two tracks. The penultimate song is called The Winter Shaker and for the first two minutes is just drums, a guitar and a bass all going ‘BRAAAAAANG’ again and again as hard as they can go on one discordant jag. The vocals come in for the second half of the song singing in a preposterous manner about ‘no more wishing you were dead’, but no further melody develops in its four full minutes. But the sheer timbre (to use an extremely wanky word) of the piece is what makes it my favourite song so far this year. There’s something fantastically confrontational yet immensely enjoyable about this track that it demands to be played at absolute FULL FUCKING VOLUME and no less. Walking around a crowded city centre with it on at full blast on your headphones is one thing; getting home and immediately waking up next door’s poor three year-old with repeated blasts of it is quite another. But after that, there’s still another track to go: Changes in the City, a final behemoth of a song to finish you off and leave the album hopelessly unbalanced in terms of songs per side. It’s fourteen minutes of huge juddering epic drugged-up jammery around a majestic bassline that builds up to a peak after only a few minutes, and then stays there for an inordinately long time. It’s not as numbingly repetitive as Sheets of Easter or The Winter Shaker, but it still succeeds brilliantly in blowing you off your feet. An awesome way to finish an album, which is probably their best effort yet.

What’s even better is that Oneida are probably on our humble shores by the time you read this, so check out their tour dates and pray that they play Sheets of Easter or Changes in the City in Nottingham, otherwise they’re liable to be blown off the stage by Wolves! (of Greece). And I’ll get upset.

[*Yes, it does shame me to use this word.]

Further Information
Growing
Lebatol
Distophia
Trencher
Koji Asano
Expanding Records
Static Caravan
House of Stairs
Psychotica Records
Oneida



Dave Stockwell

David can always be relied on to end his e-mails with one of those 'np: blah blah' things in order to remind us of how much more music he listens to every day than anybody else. His interests include rockin ' out in a major style as guitarist in Souvaris, throwing frisbees from tall buildings "just to see what happens" and simply kickin' back with his bitches in a gold-plated jacuzzi.

http://www.souvaris.com

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