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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #6

Posted: March 3rd, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted April 2003)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

Hey kids. This month, I’ve been VERY, VERY EXCITED INDEED about my recent promotion in the diskant staff to diskant Talent Spotter, which now means that I have a duty to you, the diskant reader, to hand pick some great new bands and write words about them that say stuff like what they sound like and whether they’re any good and stuff. So to start you off, here are five lovely new bands you might want to go and seek out. Well, four bands and a record label from Italy, anyway. Happy listening.

4tRECk are random, beautifully random. A ‘”musette’-style cover version’ of ‘Slave Ship’ by the almighty Jesus Lizard (what is off of their album Liar). Only there are no mind-blistering David Yow screams and no squalling, urgent walls of guitar noise. Instead, we’re treated to a drum machine, a piano and 132 accordions battling it out in the all-in National Touch & Go Sea Shanty competition 2003. All told, it’s a right glorious knees-up around the old Joanna and a fascinating way of making something new rather than attempting a note-for-note retread with unbearable indie earnestness. Interesting also that it’s the lead track on the EP, with second track ‘Socasam’ sounding for all the world like a one-minute theme tune to a nightmarish children’s TV show, presumably featuring monsterdragons knitted from the remains of kids who didn’t go to bed when they were told to. ‘Frankensinatra’ does exactly what it says on the tin, a ghostly proto-hip hop beat backing snippets of Ol’ Blue Eyes dipping in and out of the mix hypnotically – and all, apparently, deriving from an initial accident. And closing track ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is 35 seconds of Rocky meets Alice in Acidland, stabs of instrumentation mutating into a drunken cover of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. There are some great ideas at work here, partially formed by chance and improvisation, but with the imagination to carry it through to completion. The main drawback is that without the backing of a solid structure to carry an idea through to completion (as they have when taking the Jesus Lizard as a template), the ideas remain half-formed, embryonic and frustratingly full of promise while not quite getting there. It’s crammed with imagination though, and that’s one of my favourite things, along with ice cream, Sundays and Turkish Delight.

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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #5

Posted: February 27th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted November 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

An encyclopedic spread of bands from across the UK this month, and across the alphabet, as Ann Arbor and Zebedee Numchuck allow me to present what is, quite literally, an A to Z of some of the best new British bands you might want to go and have a listen to.

A is for…
Starting off like the theme from the advert for Smash instant mashed potato (the one with all those pre-Metal Mickey look-at-us-we’re-covered-in-tin-foil-aren’t we futuristic tin Steven Hawkingseses), Leicester’s Ann Arbor hereafter turn their hand to the genre known henceforth as GRAAAAAARGHcore. Take away the fact that the main riff to ‘Tensed Up’ sounds more than a little bit like ‘Selling Jesus’ by Skunk Anansie, and you’ve got a Big Black-fuelled noise party for all the family. It’s stripped down the bare essentials (there are only two members: guitar, programming and bass), and loud enough and good enough to make you honestly expect Steve Albini to pop up shouting about crows or squirrels any minute. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ann Arbor perform live, and it took my ears two days to recover from their atomizing songs about fucking then. I’m looking forward to many more happy hours of deafness from this ‘ere demo.

G is for…
God_Only_Knows – another band combining electronics and guitars, you might think. What to expect? Only too often, bands can end up thinking they’re some kind of Renaissance men (or women), simply by the introduction of a bit of kit with ‘Roland’ stamped on the front. Refreshing then that God_Only_Knows (complete with underscores, natch) don’t drown their music under squeals, breakbeats or vocal samples, instead weaving a spacious and pretty mesmerising twist on standard post-rock fare that sets them apart nicely from the pack, thank you very much. The opening track (the fantastically-titled ‘Ailsa Stewart’) starts off promisingly, but ultimately weighs in about two minutes under its proper fighting weight, coming to a close before it’s really got going. Unlike ‘Reflections In Natural History’, seven minutes of swooping, sweeping and bleeping that genuinely gives the impression it’s got something to say for itself. It’s not all plain sailing – ‘Plane/plain’ does suffer from too many inconsequential beeps and not enough ideas, leaning rather self-consciously towards Autechre territory without committing fully to it, but on balance a offering that varies from substantial and worthwhile to flamin’ beeptastic, mate. No Beach Boys covers, either.

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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #4

Posted: February 24th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted July 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

If you, like me, have been watching VH1 every day almost constantly in the hope of seeing
that Enrique Iglesias video where he gets off with Anna Kournikova, it’s probably time you, well, got out more frankly. And while you’re out of the house, you might want to go and buy some new music. Maybe even some of
this new music.

’03/04/02. Michael injures his lungs. 03/04/02. Bass’s nut broken in sword fight. 20/04/02. Michael blows the output tubes on his amp.’ Wisconsin’s New Blind Nationals don’t have photos or a list of influences on their website like mimsy indie rock hopefuls. Theirs is a list of damage – and what’s more, ROCK damage. Onstage lung wounds notwithstanding, opening track ‘Used Up’ proclaims ‘rock ‘n’ roll is pretty lame’ with the conviction of an English oak wardrobe being dropped onto the Hives’ collection of IKEA fake pinewood furniture, to labour the metaphor. In fact, by the time I’ve finished typing said metaphor, ‘Sturtevant By Night’ (Sturtevant? Free copy of the album to anyone who tells me what this means) has already pissed on my shoes and run away laughing. Four of the tracks here are terrific and make The Vines sound like the sub-GCSE Nirvana covers band they are, swelling and cracking their way out of the speakers as if they were recorded through blown amps using instruments nicked from the skip outside …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s house (which they may have been, given the band’s apparent propensity for BREAKING STUFF). Vaguely grungey, and garagey in neither the Strokes nor the Genius Kru sense, the nearest reference points that fling themselves from the shelves of HMV are Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge-era Mudhoney and the much-touted second coming of grunge, The Catheters. Unfortunately for the New Blind Nationals, calling a song ‘End Of The Good Songs’ only works if it’s a storming rock anthem direct from the toilet bowl where AC/DC got rid of their last curry, rather than actually being the end of the good songs. To be fair, it’s not that bad, but the final three plod along with a few inconsequential keyboard sounds, as if the band are being (slowly) pursued up the road by a lame Moog, until the screaming finale of ‘In Armed Decision’ sticks a few drumsticks where the sun doesn’t shine and reminds me why this would be the demo of the month, were such a spurious award to exist.

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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.

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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #2

Posted: February 17th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted April 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

So this is a column designed to shout about a few new bands you might want to check out, but you’ve got to have a system, right? You get a huge pile of miscellaneous tapes, CDs and records to pick and choose from, and like a magpie trapped in a giant box of Quality Street, the nice shiny things catch your eye first. So I’m going to review these bad boys in order of how nice they look from the outside, even if they end up tasting like those horrible coffee creams that make you gag every Christmas. Send me pretty things. I like pretty things. Mind you don’t send anything that sounds like the Pretty Things, though.

First up is West Wales’ Jarcrew, whose press release takes the form of a bit of A4 with some scrawl on it in black felt pen, which is a nice personal touch. It does, however, promise the bribe of several – several, mind – Kit Kats, none of which I’m yet to see, so words will have to be had [sorry, I steal all the bribes – overlord]. The CD’s a fantastic home made package covered in brown parcel tape, black cardboard and that silver pen that only the pretty art teacher at primary school gets to use. Quite apart from the quality packaging, they also have things like ‘kill all musos’ and ‘sex ‘n’ hugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll’ written all over it, which puts me in a good mood straight off. First track ‘Deemo’ is 30 seconds long: drums, bass, weird keyboard flid-outs and a man who has reverb in his mouth shouting ‘deemodeemodeemo’ over and over. I’m not sure what ‘Deemo’ is, but I like it. ‘Deth Car’ is one and a half minutes of dirty garage rock and distorted vocals that I entirely agree with – it’d ace to drive round, pull up next to a load of girls and invite them to get in my deth car for a ride. And if I did, this would be the soundtrack. ‘Boy Wonder’ is more expansive and instrumental, and gets going just when you think it’s just a mimsy instrumental to link tracks together. The most disappointing track is ‘Opakow’, if anything because it’s the most straightforward, after the band have set themselves the (high) standard of being wilfully strange. More please.

Next, it’s disoma from Southampton, whose tape package must have taken longer than the songs to put together. Every line of text is individually cut out on separate bits of paper and stuck to the tape sleeve, hopefully not with Pritt Stick but with industrial strength atom-bonding glue they guzzled between takes. ‘Squeal, squeal, squeal – DAH DAH DAH’ would be my answer if I were asked, for example in an oral examination to pass my GCSE in math rock, ‘how would you describe disoma’s music using only the medium of onomatopoeia?’ And I like to think I’d get at least a ‘B’ for that. ‘I Like Me, You Like Me, Let’s Be Friends’ stops, starts, stops, then chugs off in all the right places, punctuated by one of the young scamps shouting ‘BLAAAR’ (the Emo Noise(r)). So far a cracking tune, until it goes into a hilarious sub-solo that sounds like it might have sounded funny turned up dead loud in the practice room. It’s not funny, at all. In fact, it’s rubbish. Second track ‘God vs. Prog’ does pretty much the same thing, only without Joe Satriani turning up in clown shoes, so it wins the day in my book. ‘Ollie’s Dead Too’ does the quiet/loud thing, but not half as interestingly as the rather splendidly-titled ‘Providence Exotic Fish’, which builds up ‘Yes I Am A Long Way From Home’ style like the world’s biggest sandcastle made by a busload of kids with attention deficit disorder. I bet they’re ace live. I’d go and see them. ‘Have you ever been so low that you cried?’ What kind of a lyric is this, please? It’s like ‘have you ever found something so funny that you laughed?’

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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #1

Posted: February 13th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted February 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

2001. A year in which one of the top selling albums was a compilation of classic lounge covers by Robbie Williams and The Strokes used the events of September 11 as a marketing opportunity (we’ll pull ‘New York City Cops’ from the album, in case any of you were worried. Go Team Strokes!). What else happened? I can’t really remember, but I expect it was good. You’ll have to make do with my vague top ten of 2001 – imagine it’s being excitedly presented by wee Gail Porter in a tiny top or something.

Starting at the top, the gold medal, bottle of champagne, scantily clad girl and place atop the winner’s rostrum goes to an EP called Morning One by a gentleman going under the assumed name of Aarktica (Ochre Records). The lead track of the three, ‘These Days Fail To Bring Me Near’, is the most involving piece of new music I’ve heard this year. It’s basically five minutes of ambient washes of noise, vocals you can barely make out and a really simple picked guitar part. And that’s it. The most pretentious thing about the EP is that it’s themed around soundtracking the moment when you wake up in the morning with your arms around someone you love (your mum doesn’t count) for the first time. Which would make me laugh in its face, apart from the fact that Jon only goes and pulls it off. The other two tracks (predictably) don’t rise to the same heights, but this has the first choice of biscuit from the Tesco Finest selection simply because I want ‘These Days Fail To Bring Me Near’ to be the last song I hear before I die, it’s that good.

No prizes for originality for choosing Confield by Autechre, but that’s not the point. Messrs. Booth and Brown have been making fantastic records for forty-nine years now, records consistently far better than anyone else in electronic music (yes, even Gary Numan). ‘VI scose poise’ starts the journey like the track Aphex Twin meant to write when he was messing about with ‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’, and by the time ‘lentic catachresis’ arrives, Autechre have actually smashed music to bits like petulant children with drum machines. Half of this record makes me want to sit down and write something even a quarter as good, and the other half makes me want to give up making music because Autechre are so far ahead of the game, it’s pointless anyone else even trying. As that German bloke might have said to Ned Nederlander in The Three Amigos, ‘Autechre are gods in my country.’

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KID606 – Die Soundboy Die (CD/vinyl/digital, Tigerbeat6)

Posted: October 5th, 2008, by Stuart Fowkes

For much of Kid606’s ten-year career, he’s confounded and confused as often as he’s delighted: for every slice of techno wizardry, there’s been a frankly distressing three-minute cacophony of static and noise or a comedy snippet of A-Ha thrown in for a chuckle. This sense of digital mischief has set him apart over the years, in that he succeeds where precious few do in bringing a sense of personality to electronica.

However, this new EP, a taster in advance of a new album due out in 2009, is perhaps one of the most straightforward things he’s done. Straightforward in the sense that it’s fantastic, pounding TECHNOJOY of the highest level. Absolutely dominated by pulsatile, growling basslines, there are obvious dubstep grooves here, but delivered at the restless, aggressive pace we’ve come to expect from 606.

Elsewhere, old-school handclaps ride over a hurricane of a bassline on ‘Umbilical Bullets’, while ‘The Drip’ brings to mind an update on something the Ganja Kru might have put out in 1996. ‘Bat Manners’ drops the pace a little, all atmospheric reverbs, sluggish, downbeat drum work and a crackling undercurrent that gives it the feeling of a dub classic trying to break its way out of a pocket calculator.

Kid606 has taken the signifiers of classic electronica from the past decade (bits of jump-up, techno, hardcore and bassline all take the lead at various points) to create a miniature tour de force of dancefloor-fillers. The only downside, perhaps, is that there’s little of the flagrant sonic mischief we’ve come to expect, so it’s not stamped through with his personality as clearly as other releases. When it’s as consistently great as this though, who cares?



BUILD BUILDINGS – Ceiling Lights From Street (self-released)

Posted: September 8th, 2008, by Stuart Fowkes

The press release accompanying this album from Build Buildings, the solo project of one Ben Tweel, seems calculated to get Wire reviewers all afroth, cramming in references to sound-colour synaesthesia, musique concrète and treated samples of everything from opening envelopes to desk fan noises. But get past the foregrounding of all the compositional details surrounding the record, and there’s actually something quite beautiful at work here, which I could easily imagine popping up on Sub Rosa or Kompakt. Ceiling Lights From Street, for all its fascination with process and source material, is thankfully not a record that requires you to have a track-by-track here’s-how-they-did-it guide to sample processing to enjoy it.

To fans of Matmos or Fennesz particularly, there’s little here you won’t have heard before, and while in isolation you could say that individual tracks don’t exactly have tunes to whistle in the shower, the record works beautifully as one piece. It doesn’t quite have the melodic edge that made the Fennesz’s Venice album so captivating, but Build Buildings scores big points on the texture front. Tweel builds up buzzing drones from layers of samples brilliantly, and is from that rare group of bleep-fuelled samplers who can make electronica sound warm and human, rather than cold and distant. Couple these comforting, rich layers of sound with skittering drum fills, as on ‘Letter Codes’, and you have a gorgeous record that matches any minimal electronica that will see the light of day this year.

Build Buildings

THE CHAP – Proper Rock (Lo Recordings)

Posted: August 26th, 2008, by Stuart Fowkes

It’s a rare band indeed that can play the irony card without coming across as just plain irritating, and sadly for them, The Chap fall well short of that dubious gold standard. This latest 7”, out this week, offers up two examples of the kind of music that it’s impossible to enjoy without the application of a liberal dose of irony to one’s own critical faculties to mask all the self-congratulatory whimsy. It’s crammed to the gills with falsetto-ridden, over-enunciated globs of lyrical smugness that nudge you in the ribs, raise their eyebrows and demand that you acknowledge how clever they’ve just been. ‘Massive tunes, put them on your ‘pod, Rod / Proper songs about girls and clubbing’ – tailor-made drivel for new media tools to jig themselves into a froth over.

It’s a shame, really, because when they put their foot down towards the end, drop the frolicsome archness for a few seconds, there’s actually some deft guitar work on display here, with some neat high-end figures building over an undercarriage of bubbling synth tones. That doesn’t, however, prevent this from being a really annoying piece of music that I want nothing more to do with.

The B-side does little to improve my mood – a half-arsed, teeth-grindingly pointless cover of Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, in which the singer can’t hold his deadpan spoken-word drawl together and bursts into peals of laughter at how clever it all is. It’s a sad day when you’re aching for the proper rock delivery that only Tina Turner can provide.

The Chap website

Microsoft renders songwriters redundant

Posted: April 12th, 2008, by Stuart Fowkes

Well, thanks to our good pals at Microsoft, it looks like songwriters can pack up their guitars and NEVER BOTHER AGAIN, ‘cos they’ve invented a program that writes a song for you if you sing at it. It’s technically pretty impressive, but the funniest bit is the adjustable sliders that add ‘happy factor’ and ‘jazz factor’ to your song afterwards. I like the idea of sliders that let you mess about with the intrinsic properties of songs. Imagine what you could do to The Kooks.