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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #17

Posted: October 21st, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted October 2003)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter


Wow, hey, look at this great big pile of records and CDs I have before me, which I should have been listening to diligently and reviewing regularly. It’s almost like I haven’t written any reviews for ages, and like I’ve been neglecting my solemn duty to keep you informed of, er, musical things. Let me try and address this problem. Some of the things you read about below may be slightly out of date – but such is the nature of the internet. Anyway, how do I know that you’re not reading this in 2056?

I have to be honest with you. I have no recollection about where this first CD by Calamateur, called ‘Tiny pushes vol.1 (how to be childlike)’, came from. As good a place to start as any though, eh? Weirdly, although this is a CD, this whole collection is available to download for free here. Hey, don’t worry too much about big slow download times either, because the whole ten songs clock in altogether at only around seventeen minutes. It’s worth downloading the whole lot too, as some of the tracks individually are cut-up snippets and fragments of random samples and sounds, and so it’s best listened to as a whole – the more ‘song’-like tracks (which, even then, are only glimpses of ideas) being interspersed with passages of vaguely electronic, vaguely dreamlike strangeness. It’s hard to get a grip on where Calamateur are at, but from this selection, they seem to exist in a world of half-asleep-yet-heartfelt acoustic songs in a suitably lo-fi style. They remind me of tapes which people used to put out in the old indiepop/underground cassette days, ideas committed to magnetic tape before too much refinement comes into play. An interesting listen which makes me want to hear more – hopefully, their invention and reluctance to submit to traditional songwriting rules is carried throughout their other work.

Wish I’d have listened to this Solway Fifth CD sooner; it’s great and has been spinning regularly for the past few days. Now, I’m a big fan of aggressive stop-start grr-wargh rock noise in an Oxes/Shellac/Rumah Sakit/Edmund Fitzgerald/etc vein. I really dig the sort of intricate, interweaving guitar melodies that these bands have, and the way that they are tied so tightly to a structure which never sounds too forced. Solway Fifth (indeed, being Oxes support artists in the past) seem to share these musical interests, firing out short and sweet bursts of tense-sounding, chaotic buildups. They also inject a bit of Lapsus Linguae-style piano interlude into the mix, which luckily stops just short of becoming too Richard Clayderman-esque, and the vocals lurch between that whole ‘distant yelling’ thing that many bands have going on, and a more uptight Liars-style yelp. Like Calamateur above, they don’t outstay their welcome (eleven tracks in around thirty minutes), and never reach the point of becoming just another of those stop-start bands – any more tracks could’ve lapsed into generic noodling, perhaps. But I hope not.

I’m looking forward to seeing Animal Collective play live tomorrow evening. I am wondering how they will recreate the crazed, frightening sounds of ritualistic goings-on in a hidden forest which make up their ‘Here comes the Indian’ album. Truly, this is a bizarre album – properly psychedelic, in that it often sounds like a terrifyingly bad trip. The warped voices, densely fucked-up gamelan and African-style chanting comes in waves; and I find myself in the confusing situation of wanting it to stop, but enjoying the fact that it doesn’t. It comes across like Animal Collective are a secretive sect of black magicians who plan to destroy my fragile mind with a collection of the most frightening children’s songs ever written. Should make for a fun live show, eh? I’ll let you know…

Look at this! A new Spacemen 3 single! Never thought I’d see that happen, now that Jason seems to be treading an ever-more mainstream path and Sonic seems to have disappeared up his own experimental audio research. This is worth getting if only to behold the marvellous coloured vinyl, which is fantastic see-through orange flecked with white and black, complementing the excellent sleeve artwork depicting the Spacemen in their youthful, miserable days clutching their guitars like, er, musical rifles (eh?). It’s not strictly a new single – it features an alternate version of ‘Walking With Jesus’ on A and demos of ‘Take Me To The Other Side’ and ‘Walking With Jesus’ on B. This is one for completists perhaps, but then what Spacemen 3 fan isn’t? The versions here are somewhat less aggressively-played than the ‘official’ versions, but work well as more relaxed, softly-spoken, mildly-performed songs. Not particularly better than the driving magnificence of ‘The Perfect Prescription’ album, and slightly less desperately cool, but I am not complaining, for this is a new Spacemen 3 single.

I think I’ll finish up for the moment with the Jet Johnson album, ‘Micropolitan’. This, and their preceding single ‘Donnie’, were an unexpected surprise. For some reason I had this band down as some kind of noisy, somewhat aggressive outfit. Not sure why, although it’s a 95% chance that I had them mixed up with some other band, such is my knack for mixing things up. Jet Johnson are, in fact, something of an indie pop outfit, which remind me of the good old Sarah/Heaven/Sunday/Blam-A-Bit/etc Records days, even so far as having actual, real ba-ba-ba’s in the songs. It’s all soft drums, chiming guitars and sweeter-than-sweet female vocals playing out the most melodic of melodies. The band sometimes stray into more moody territory (for example, the heart-rending ‘Ring’ on the album, with its gliding bassline and reverb liberally pasted around the place), or more vaguely epic territory (‘Something impossible’, with a driving second half which recalls Velocette or even – at a push – a more defined Slowdive). I’ve been listening to a lot of loud, some-would-say unpleasant, angry music of late, and Jet Johnson have provided me with a very welcome breath of fresh air. I’m not yet going to launch a new cutie era of my musical life, but it’s nice to have a nostalgic dabble, isn’t it?

Footnote: Animal Collective weren’t quite the relentless live terror I was expecting, but they were certainly compelling – two acoustic guitars strummed/pounded maniacally and relentlessly, with the odd break for a single snare drum attack. Somewhat deranged and somewhat original, they ignored parts of the crowd appearing to find their antics purely comical, and this only led me to admire more their unique nature. A shame that they turned it in after only around 25 minutes, but you’re supposed to leave the crowd wanting more, or something, aren’t you?

Further Information
Solway Fifth
Animal Collective
Spacemen 3
Jet Johnson

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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