Friday, September 21, 2007

Melody Maker, March 1994


Cheap Thrills (Gee St)

With their bonged-up, monged-out, slack mofo vibe, their
love of sphincter-palpitating low-end bass, and their
fondness for timewarping vocals a la Hendrix' "Third Stone
From the Sun", New Kingdom are something like hip hop's
Butthole Surfers. Bleary, bullfrog-deep and blunted to the
bone, "Cheap Thrills" has basso so profundo, so thick, it's
ambient, environmental, swimmable. The "100 % Mix" is
woozier by far than the crisp'n'spry version from the LP
Heavy Load (whic is also included on this EP), but the
"Over Proof Mix" is something else. Remixer The Underdog
expands the bass frequencies into an abyssal undertow over
which floats a thin film of treble; the song damn near
coagulates and comes to a halt.


Do You Remember the First Time (Island)

The kitschadelic, '70s aspects are all there, of course,
but in other ways Pulp are a throwback to the early '80s,
when Pop still allowed for flawed, shaky vocalists that
pushed past their limits to attain a gawky grandeur (think
Kevin Rowland, Marc Almond...). "Do You Remember The First
Time" is just great, with its Sparksy histrionic urgency,
frilly guitars and amusing virginity theme ("do you remember
the first time?...I can't remember the last time... I can
remember the worst time..." etc). But "Streetlights" is the
real enchantress. Jarvis Cocker flits between heavy breathing
spoken word passages, lovelorn/lust-stricken gasps, and a
giddy chorus, amidst a chintzy, ritzy, roxy swirl of el
Cheapo synths as scintillating as a disco glitterball, while
violins vie for elbow room. Texturally I'm reminded of the
very early, electro-tinged Band of Holy Joy, and of The
Specials' muzak-influenced second album; textually, Cocker
has invented his own distintive magic realism, unlocking
provincial England's humdrum epiphanies (neon lights
reflecting in lover's eyes etc) and seedy romanticism.
Marvellous stuff.


Thru the Vibe (94) (from 'Two On One, Issue Two', Moving

Through their enduring classics of last year, "Mystic
Stepper (Feel Better)" and "Renegade Snares", Omni Trio have
exerted a huge influence on the hardcore scene; they're one
of the key units who trailblazed jungle's current absorption
of all manner of soul, ambient, quiet storm and garage
influences. Now, with their track on the second in Moving
Shadow's series of experimental EP's, Omni Trio unleash
another tour de force of symphonic hardcore. With its
crystalline harp-ripples, tingly piano motif, orchestral
synths, exploding-soul gasps and Uzi-rattling breakbeats,
"Thru the Vibe" is a rush and a gush of euphoria. On the
flip, DJ Crystl's "King of The Beats" explores the spookier
side of ambient 'ardkore, with eerily modulated sample-tones
flickering and folding in on themselves as if in
a sonic hall-of-mirrors.


The Rumble (Production House)
Deep Inside of Me (Darklands)
Your Destiny (Dee Jay Recordings)

Critic and ambient musician David Toop noted recently
how so much of modern music evokes "the sensation of non-
specific dread that many people feel now when they think
about life, the world, the future", and how that dread is
related to, or even the same as, a sensation of non-specific
bliss. This uncanny bliss/dread is audible in the darker
kinds of ambient techno, and in ambient's close relative, the
isolationist/uneasy listening of Main & Co. But it's also
there in jungle, which is taking on ambient textures even as
its 150 b.p.m. breakbeats get ever more jaggedly jarring. The
resultant oxymoronic blend of mellow langour and febrile
tension has everything to do with long-term drug excess,
which loosens the tyrannical grip of the ego, but also opens
up the DARK SIDE, lets loose all the predatorial phantoms and
noxious paranoia of the id.

DJ Nut Nut & Pure Science's "The Rumble" actually starts
with the words "oh, dread"--a snatch of reggae DJ 'talkover'-
-and its bassline is as baleful as PiL circa Metal Box. But
there's bliss by the gallon here too, in the melting
female whimpers of "oh... oh, oh", in the sagging, sighing
ambient drones: a dangerous bliss, for the nameless soul-diva
sounds overwhelmed, like she's "drowning in love" (the chorus
of another jungle track). The B-side "Virtual Reality" is a
treacherous swamp of sub-bass ooze, like dancing over a pit
of writhing snakes.

Grooverider's "Deep Inside Of Me" has a harrowed,
heartbroken quality. The male soul-singer chorus, "I've got
so much love/deep inside of me", is a lamentation that
perfectly represents rave culture in '94: all luv'd up and
nowhere to go. The vocal sample languishes inside a desolate
dub-cavern of rippling and receding percussion, slow-and-low
bass and squelchamatic synth-blips.

DJ Crystl's "Your Destiny" is ambient hardcore at its most morbid, ghost-cries
veering up out of a pall of dank sound-vapour, and even a
cold fever of breakbeats can't shake the track out of its
gloom. Imagine the vibe in the Jurassic jungle when the Ice
Age was coming... On the flip, "Sweet Dreamz" is a sinister
lullaby: a female voice intones the chorus, while ambience
creeps up on you like a shroud of anaesthesing gas.
(Jungle tracks supplied by Remix Records, 247 Eversholt
Street, Camden NW1).

Threshold (Placebo)
Prison Sex (Zoo/BMG)

In these, perhaps the last days of guitar-rock, bands
have to pull some pretty bizarre shapes in order to do
anything even remotely new within an oversubscribed, long-in-
the-tooth medium. Hence the baroque'n'roll contortions of
Rollerskate Skinny and Tool, who have nothing in common
except the predicament above, and the lengths they go to
sidestep it. Rollerskate Skinny ply a wilfully oblique and
overloaded path somewhere between Mercury Rev and Papa
Sprain. On "Miss Leader", reedy guitar-trails meander across
the stereo-field, while the vocals are multi-tracked to cram
every cranny of the songscape with hysteria. With its
scrofulous, grotesque detail and spurts of Dadaist nonsense,
"Entropy" is positively Faust-like, while "Goodbye Balloon"
combines Mark E. Smith loudhailer vox with Kraut-rocky
guitar-shimmer. Never less than intriguing, Rollerskate
Skinny hit moments of real intensity amidst all the excess
and over-reach.

Tool, too, are pretentious as fuck, but their chosen
medium is metal. Imagine a lither, fey Soundgarden, with
fluttery androgynous vocals instead of the hi-testosterone
bombast. The singer performs torturous pirouettes while the
band twist'n'fold riffs like origami over supple, spasming
time signatures. Overwraught, distraught--let's call it
precious metal, but concede that it's intriguing if not
exactly satisfying.

Conquering Lion (X Project)

Makers of a wonderfully daft ragga-techno track that
sampled Aled Jones' "Walking In The Air" and turned that into drug
imagery, X Project return with another splendid example of
jungle's jollier side. As palsied as ska and as compulsive
as crack, "Conquering Lion" is all richotetting snares and
rimshots, spring-heeled bass, uproarious "jump up bwoy"
chants and dub-reggae sirens. At the heart of the track,
though, is this dislocated shard of female vocal, a little
"oh, oh" that introduces a bittersweet note of pathos and
fragility into an otherwise upful song. It's like a pang-in-
advance, anticipating the comedown after the manic high.

Switch (Ultimate)

All the congenital weaknesses of Brit-rap are present,
unfortunately: the soundscape is poor man's Bomb Squad,
looped squalls of dissonance a la "Bring The Noise", while
the rapping is blighted, or Blighty-d, with unfunky Angloid
emphases. On the "First Venom Remix", though, J. Saul Kane
from Depthcharge does dub-detonate some pretty interesting
craters in the soundscape. Lyrically, "Switch" is pretty par-
for-the-course millenarian paranoia: it's Grandmaster Flash's
"The Message" updated for UK '94, with "don't push me I'm
close to the edge" converted into the chorus "don't fall too
deep down". Which brings us back to that sense of non-
specific dread that's all-pervasive right now and how there
can be a perverse thrill in contemplating that abyss of
chaos, a sort of negative bliss in imagining your descent
into the maelstrom. This comes through in the B-side "Age of
Panic" (whose "Eat Static Saturated Slug Mix" sounds just
like its title--positively slimey with clammy apprehension).
For the original Greek meaning of 'panic' is a transport of
ecstasy-through-terror. Eve-of-apocalypse scenarios have
often made for great pop--"London Calling", "Welcome To The
Terrordome"--but not infallibly, as 'Switch' proves.

Hold On(Fire)

The A-side is the more winsome and negligible side of
the 'Blooms: post-MBV noise-pop with the emphasis overmuch on
syruppy choonfulness. One for the Boo Radley fans, then. But
the B-side has some of the perversity that flared up
previously in the wonderful ambient-idyll that was "Butterfly
Girl". Black Sabbath's heaviness has long been an acceptable
resource for rehabilitation, but it takes real courage, and
taste, to tackle a ballad like "Changes", and to do it
straight, with no figleaf of irony. Adding truly OTT blues
solos to the original's mellotron sweeps, and replacing
Ozzy's morose croon with Esther's dulcet vocals, The
Nightblooms salvage the song's poignancy for all those too
bigoted to take it from the Sabs themselves.

Peel Session (Internal)

This four-tracker offers yet another radically
different (per)version of "Lush", but it's real attraction is
"Semi detached". As usual, the Hartnoll Bros overlap and
interlock sequencer-strands and synth-spirals in the
en-trancing fashion of systems music composers like Glass,
Nyman, Reich and Riley, and construct a lattice of percussive
tics and clicks as intricate as a honeycomb. "Semi detached"
evolves, after eight minutes, into "Attached", brimming
brain-waves of electronic plasma, with a vague Neu!/Cluster
aura reminiscent of Spiritualized's gloriously Kraftwerkian
but cruelly ignored "Electric Mainline".

4 Ambient Tales (Apollo)

Ambient torch songs' sounds like a great idea, but this
is actually a bit of a mismatch, as Billy Ray's breathy,
over-demonstrative vocal jars rather with The Grid's softly-
glowing ambient decor and B.J. Cole's pearl-necklaces of
slide guitar. "Planet Of The Blue" chimes in with the non-
specific dread thesis, but the blues in
ambient/isolationist/jungle/Disco Inferno et al is present in
an implicit, non-literal, musicologically remote sort of way.
Similarly, ambient techno doesn't need a brightly burning
SOUL like Billy Ray Martin's; 'soul'--and this applies to all
forms of MODERN music, not just techno--is dispersed
polymorphously throughout the soundscape, taking up residence
in the bassline, the panoply of textures, even the drum
track. Instead of 'soul'--that one bombastic figure pouring
out a heartful of passion--there's a diffuse
spirituality/sensuality that spreads across the entire
surface, or skin, of a piece of music. Time to talk of music
in terms of its erogenous, or eroto-mystical zones, rather
than its 'soul'.

Megawatt Messiah (Blunted Vinyl)

Doyens of "intelligent hardcore", The Holy Ghost have
released some wonderfully daft and demented trax like
"Jihad", "Nice One Boy" and "Mad Monks On Zinc". But now
that they've signed to Island sub-label Blunted Vinyl, they've
dropped the "hardcore" and are just "intelligent", in a
yupwardly-mobile prog-house stylee. The titles--"Heavy
Water", "Ion Horse" and "Isotopia"--are still wacky, but the
music's cleanly produced, tasteful and smoothly grooving.
Squelchy bass, exotic samples (including ethno-techno pioneer
Jon Hassell if I'm not mistaken), trancey beats--but like
Fluke, it never quite amounts to the sum of its parts. Shame.

Merciless (Earache)

Cyber-thrash or digital metal seems to be a coming
thing, judging by the rise of sampler-wielding thrash units
like Old, and bands like Brutal Truth getting techno-remixes
by ardkores like Lunarci. Godflesh's new EP makes great play
of the fact that "all sounds are guitar samples, analogue to
digital", and that the songs are "biomechanical remixes". But
it's tricky, getting the balance between bio- and -mech right
when you're rewiring rock's nervous system into cyborg-rock.
Godflesh haven't quite got it yet. Removing the kinetic
energy that trad rock gets from the real-time interaction of
guitar/bass/drums is all very well so long as you use
sampling to create magickal, 5th dimensional effects. But
most of this EP sounds like Swans without the sense of
muscular, sinewy toil: slabs of grey noise over frigid dirge-
beats. Pretty fucking inclement stuff, although the near-
ambient "Flowers" (featuring Robert from Main) has a harsh
beauty. Godflesh might do well to remember that the first
sampler-delic rockers, Young Gods, deliberately kept a flesh-
and-blood drummer. Embrace the new tech too zealously,
extinguish the human element too rashly, and you just end up
with cold, dead sound.

Diggin' At the Dig In (Pop God)
Unsettled Life (Acid Jazz)

Praise Space Electric are rare groovey but with a 90's
non-retro sense of dub-space: jazzy nuances float mirage-like
down reverberant corridors between the beat, in a manner
redolent of Arthur Russell or Defunkt. Fusionoid in the best
"On The Corner"/Weather Report sense. Emperor's New Clothes
are on a similar tip, but with a bluesy, angsty aura
reminiscent of Yargo. Acid-jazz here signifies not
beret'n'goatee twats but the ailing, soul-stricken post-
'There's A Riot Going On' Miles Davis of "He Loved Him
Madly". Mixed by The Underdog (who worked on New Kingdom's
single), this is funk noir, but it sounded even more eerie
when I first played it, at an incorrect 33 r.p.m.

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