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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #3

Posted: February 20th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted May 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

Press releases are funny things. Like a CV, you can spend days honing phrases like ‘a smorgasbord of honey-dripped ballads in sharp contrast to the coruscating hardcore on display elsewhere’ until you (or your publicist/manager/label whore) have made the band in question sound like the greatest, most essential new band of the decade. That is, until the reviewer/A & R person puts the CD into the player and your music undoes all the good work your flowery prose did in five seconds.

A good press release, like a good CV, should be clean, to the point and no more than two sides of A4. It should only tell you what you need to know: where you’re from, what you’ve done, what you sound like, how to get in touch with you. So let’s take a look at the peculiar phenomenon of press release hype.

If size really did matter, then Dustbyte might possibly be bigger than U2, offering up a seven-page behemoth of a press release, detailing every bit of press the band have ever had (including about a page’s worth of gig listings from two years ago), every review and possibly some guff about how they all like fish fingers, except the singer, who’s allergic to them. But as we’ve established, a long press release is almost as bad as one that’s too short, and kind of gives the impression that the band are trying to make themselves out to be one of Britain’s biggest bands. It’s like reading through the guitarist’s mum’s scrapbook of the band, and half expecting to see a baby photo over the page.

And the music? Live, the influence of the Jesus Lizard and the Pixies on Dustbyte is clear enough in their pleasing squealy guitar noise and infectious (not in the disease sense, don’t worry) stage presence. Here, though, first track ‘Priscilla’ sounds like Hüsker Dü being played through jam while Brian Eno juggles bits of keyboard in the background with the help of a few of the Clangers. The chorus, rather than being spiky and catchy in the way that good choruseseses in this sort of music are wont to be, is actually pretty irritating. ‘The Misadventures of the Great Red Shark’ is much more like it, bounding along like an excited teenager on the way to his first Frank Black and the Catholics gig.

Muleskinner Jones (Terrible Stories EP) make the mistake of not actually putting their name on the press release, but it does take the form of a hand-signed, typed letter asking for ‘any feedback/criticism/abuse’. There are no biographical details at all, though, so I’m going to have to make them up. ‘Muleskinner Jones were formed in late 1953 in Mid-West America and raised on a diet of cowboy movies, trips to the American Adventure theme park and Mary Poppins. They moved on to Ireland sometime in the early 1980s, where they listened to the Pogues and took acid for 22 years.’

This would go some way towards explaining the finished product of their output. First song ‘How Come That Blood On Your Coat Sleeve?’ genuinely sounds like a cross between Kirsty McColl and Shane MacGowan’s hit pop song and something from Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, as sung by Kirsty Gallagher off Sky TV and ‘top’ impressionario Alistair MacGowan. I honestly can’t tell if this utterly bizarre countrified duet about murder and bloodstains is taking the piss or not. It’s Nick Cave if he’d been brought up by Cletus and Dwayne, the only inbred gay couple in all of Arkansas. And I mean that as a compliment, really I do. Traditional songs recorded on an Apple Powerbook by an insane genius with straw between his teeth – Muleskinner Jones, we salute you, because we don’t know what else to do.

Touch and go on the press release front for Merchandise – on the one hand, the introductory letter is one of those horrible ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ types that, like a bad covering letter, never creates the best impression. On the other hand, they rather charmingly hope that we ‘have time to pop the demo on’ and include a teabag with the press release, offering us the chance to have a nice cup of tea on them. All bands should do this.

So, mug of tea in hand, we pop on the Swallowing Curses demo. Press release lie of the month: Merchandise are exploring ‘uncharted sonic territory’ – not unless you’re secretly building the world’ biggest jet engine with the intent to reach 2,000,000 mph, boys. What we actually have here is Merchandise treading the (admittedly not that well-worn) path of electronic-based pop songs, as light and fluffy as that horrible Angel Delight stuff or a nice Milky Way. The title track, once I’ve got over the fact that it recalls the Rent A Ghost theme tune in the vaguest of possible ways, pops along nicely enough, but it’s all pretty inconsequential. You sense that Merchandise might think second track ‘Terracotta Caterpillar’ sounds like Squarepusher from 30,000 feet, but really it’s a drum machine-led ghost tour through a selection of keyboard swirls, scattering rhythms and the odd suggestion of a bassline. Which is fine, but the tune persistently sounds like it’s going somewhere for three minutes, before promptly ending. Merchandise then – the band you can listen to between meals without ruining your appetite.

Plastik don’t get off to a good start. They’ve got a publicist. One who sends ‘dearsirmadam’ letters and asks an interview/review/preview, which is hardly beautifully targeted to our delicate independent music mindsets. Things pick up with the CD, which is COVERED in contact details, management names and the promise of a CD-ROM, some new-fangled thing that I believe won’t work on the second hand Olivetti I bought for a song from Oxfam that I’m typing this on. The music sounds like pretty much any indie band in the world if they had a bit of a budget behind them. Lovely production, lots of pedals (look! A wah wah! And over there! A phaser!) and a singer like Brett Anderson with all the sex sucked out of him (not in that sense, now wash your mind out with soap). There’s even some ‘sha-la-las’ in one song. Talented musicians with a basic grasp of songwriting and dynamics, but a little bit of imagination can take you a long way – there’s a good chance Plastik would cite Muse as an influence, and that’s a BAD THING. Nice production, but tell your publicist ya ain’t got no soul, kids.

A mark in the ‘must try harder’ column for The Fades too, whose demo almost ends up in the bin on account of the general can’t-really-be-arsed-with-this-publicity-lark nature of their press release, covering as it does one paragraph of writing on a VERY folded bit of paper. Still, less is more, and the demo’s not half bad, actually. Recorded inside a biscuit tin, falling off a forklift truck down a flight of cutlery, it doesn’t help that they’ve put everything through the special lo-fi filter and added more fuzz than a police station to the bass sound. Still, there’s some audibly good frettery going on in a Supergrass rehearsing in a garage kinda way – like sooo many bands, though, they just need that one killer song to set them on their way. It’s not on this demo, although the second track comes pretty close, adding more of a frantic attack to the guitars like the Hives being beaten up by a harder, dirtier band from the wrong side of Scandinavia (and I don’t mean Venom),

From whence they came, no one know. Yakuza don’t have a press release, which admittedly goes against my vague policy of looking at people’s press releases as well as their music, but I’m going to review them anyway on account of the fact that they’re miles better than most of the bands up for review this month. All that comes with the CD is a piece of yellow paper that isn’t even cut square, but as I’m in the process of mentioning how they could learn a thing or two about presentation, the first track jumps up and down like a short child pumped full of sugar at a zoo and asks for an ice cream. And you know what? I think Yakuza can have one – not one of those pointless Mini Milk things, and they don’t quite deserve a classic Magnum, but they are Calippo-on-a-hot-day good.

It’s all recorded live, so the sound is rough round the edges, but if you listen closely, you can hear the singer (who could be called Jamesy, Davey, Rony or Philly) whispering about how he likes your shoes and then about how he’s going to come up to your grave when you’re dead, unzip his flies and piss all over the soil beneath which you lie in peace. First track ‘Miguel’ is controlled, varying between nicely poised dynamics that don’t quite let the distortion out after the rabbit (instead loitering around the corner of Menace & Fourth Street) and lots of overdrive, wah-wah and the same insistent I’m-going-to-murder-you bassline that holds the tune together. The remaining tunes can be noise-for-noise’s-sake at times, and Yakuza have clearly made a pact with the God of Wah-Wah in return for the blood of young virgins, but they don’t quite match the (I’m going to say it…) elegance of the first track.

Stuart Fowkes

Stuart is possibly one of the tallest people you have ever seen. He towers above your puny skyscrapers like Rodan on steroids, his blonde spikes puncturing the atmosphe re like crazed, gelled knives. In real life he is part of the Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element pop outfit, and writes for other websites as well as this one - the cheeky blighter. He favours the noisier end of the musical spectrum, with a fervour which would seem to indicate a dodgy heavy metal past.


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