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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #20

Posted: October 31st, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted July 2004)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

I’m fluctuating wildly these days between my usual lifestyle of drinking too much, not eating enough and not getting enough decent sleep and a New Thing of not drinking, trying to eat well and generally trying to keep myself together. I’m getting tired of continually dealing with health and psychological issues, and think that the latter of the two lifestyles mentioned above might be just what I need to sort myself out.

So, let me know if you notice a newly confident and healthy glow about this column. And forgive me my regular trips to refill my reviewer’s bottle of water – I am well into water at the moment, and convinced that it is a cure for pretty much everything. A serious delusion, perhaps, but I’m all for the placebo effect if it works.

Anyway, on to some music. It’s what I’m here for.

The new Jet Johnson CD single, Death Song, is a languorous, soft-edged and sweet pop song with odd subject matter – it’s about a woman losing the top of her head during a train crash, and about some of the many ways there are to die. Jet Johnson are masters of indie pop with a dark edge – beautiful melodies, understated guitar lines and dreamy vocals. It’s the delightful singing voice of Caroline Nesbø which, for me, propels the band into real They Should Be Famous territory. Half Björk, half Nina Persson, it’s an individual and charming voice which combines with nicely laid-back songwriting to create an idiosyncratic pop band, the likes of which seem to be few and far between these days. The CD, as well as three more tracks, also features a Death Song video, which is a relatively lo-fi, scratchy and intriguing animated affair by Ebba Erikzon.

Jet Johnson also appear on Moo Sick, a budget-priced CD album sampler from their label Seriously Groovy and a fine introduction to that label’s good work. It also features Emetrex (smooth-edged, soft-centred indie rock), Econoline (fizzing good-time noisy/reflective pop music) and Mother Goose (weird, vaguely hypnotic power pop sort of stuff). All good stuff. But I really dislike the cover artwork. But then, who am I?

Next, I’ve got a couple of things here in my little review pile from some other bands which I’ve mentioned in the past.

First up there’s Swallowing Curses, a re-released 7″ by Merchandise, who have a little bit of the Badly Drawn Boy/Flaming Lips about them here. Now, I’d usually take that as an insult, so I’ll explain – what I mean is that it’s an ‘up’-sounding poppy tune, based around simple guitar and wry vocals, augmented with sampled drums and dinky keyboard sounds. Read into that description what you will. In fact, don’t – I’ll tell you what to think. This is a pleasant and accomplished, sleepy-sounding slice of niceness.

Calamateur‘s CD album, The Old Fox of ’45, is a lot less strange than Tiny Pushes Vol. 1, the only other work I’ve heard from them. Having said that, it’s still pretty strange, if for no other reason than the incredible diversity of styles it encompasses. The first three tracks take in assured and polished REM-style melodic rock, noisy and glitchy vocal electronica and effortlessly swooning acoustic sadness. So it goes on, swinging from style to style, but never losing the core qualities of a confident voice, tuneful compositions and sharp, clean production. At times that clean production threatens to sap the soul from the music at times, but that’s just the view of somebody with a slightly twisted and illogical view of independent music.

The Reverse is the band of occasional diskant contributor Joe Morris. Now, I always thought of old Joe as a bit of an experimental noise tape-loop sound-art free-jazz mayhem sort of guy, so consider my surprise upon playing their CD EP Downtime and hearing delicate, laid-back, twinkling and forlorn pop music. Not sure why I’m surprised that a person might be into more than one kind of music, but there you go. Anyway, the four tracks on here all share a sense of sadness, honesty and hope which is immediately attractive, yet they’re tinged with a bitterness and darkness which makes repeated listens worthwhile. It’s refreshing to come across a band producing straightforward, non-ironic, beautiful music like this.

The first release from a label called Theory of Nothing is a split 7″ featuring Hey Colossus and Lords. You’ve got to love split singles, especially when they’re pressed on heavy brown vinyl and come wrapped in a nice green sleeve with a picture of a smiling banana on it. Hey Colossus cover Fang’s The Money Will Roll Right In, and since hearing the original earlier today I confidently declare that they’ve properly knocked it into shape. Their version is stoner screamo heaven, with super-heavy riffs sludging their way repetitively to a slow demise. Lords pick up the pace on the other side of the record, with a chunk of angry, confused sounding stop-start choppy hard rock which sounds like the band are having trouble keeping up with the music they’re playing – and that is a compliment, by the way. It swerves all over the place, changes its mind frequently and sounds like the connecting line between Captain Beefheart and Sweep The Leg Johnny.

More fun split heavy vinyl 7″ action with this Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies/The Edmund Fitzgerald record on Vacuous Pop. Part of the healthy underground post-rock/’fractured guitar noise’ thing that Oxford’s had going on for the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed watching both of these bands develop and modify their sound through many gigs, and both seem to now be at a point where they’re fully confident and in control of what they’re doing. It’s a shame then that Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies don’t really seem to come into their own on here. All of the requisite elements are there – odd time signature changes, passages of noise, excitable tempo shifts and tortured-sounding screamo vocals – but it doesn’t seem to come together and really fly, it sounds kind of flat and unconvincing. The Edmund Fitzgerald side is great though – relentlessly insistent, circular guitar riffs played with precision and style, and a deceptively simple sounding song which builds and builds before coming to an angry and chaotically uptight finish.

Another new release on Vacuous Pop is the Suck Our Band EP by Help She Can’t Swim, an unhinged combination of Sonic Youth, Placebo and, especially, Bis. Or something. Criss-crossing the line between ‘aggressive yet straightforward enough to appeal to a mass audience’ and ‘messy Tourette’s music and go fuck yourself if you don’t get it’, the three songs on here combine densely overdriven guitars with cheeky pop riffs and Bis-like male/female call-to-action vocals. It’s great! Proper party music for getting drunk and dancing to.

There you go. That’s your lot for now. I’m off to get some more water.

Further Information
Jet Johnson / Seriously Groovy
Merchandise / Cityscape Records
Calamateur / Autoclave Records
The Reverse
Hey Colossus / Lords / Theory of Nothing
Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies / The Edmund Fitzgerald / Vacuous Pop
Help She Can’t Swim

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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