Been a bit tardy with the ol' music reviews recently. Apologies, but I need to tap into a certain zone to come up with anything worth saying. That's why I would never attempt to be a 'proper' music journalist - it's just too damn difficult. Anyway, here's three quick reviews of some shit I've been digging recently....
cLOUDDEAD - TEN
As intimated in my last post, I'm seriously under these guy's spell at the moment. Apparently it's their second (and final?) album, but my first exposure to the work of these Ohio-born HipHop astronauts. I connect with the ancient, grainy quality of their sound sources, which have distinct parallels with Boards Of Canada's sound (no surprise then that BOC were commissioned to remix one of cLOUDDEAD's tracks). Not ancient like the pyramids, more like the strange noises dimly remembered from '70s children's TV programmes: eerie, alien, yet warm and woody at the same time. Keyboard textures are unclassifiable soft-focus melodic tones that might have originally been church organs. Beats are smudged, crackly, lo-rez rhythmic apparitions that wheeze and cough in a (no doubt) spliff-induced fog cloud. Samples of English children reciting nursery rhymes turn into needle-jumping lock-grooves. This alone would guarantee a first-class trip-hop album, but then add in the totally unique 'rapping' style and bizarre observational lyrics and we're into a whole new territory. There's also the fact that all these tracks have structure, they work like classic songs. In places you can almost detect a Beach Boys flava - but not 'Pet Sounds' Beach Boys - more like the moment five seconds before Brian Wilson blew his mind and collapsed in a pool of his own piss (possibly) during the torturous 'Smile' sessions - that moment when talent and inspiration start misfiring, spitting out in unpredictable new directions. Another soundbite view would be that "Ten" is HipHop's "Meet The Residents". 'Nuff said.
HELL - N.Y. MUSCLE
Brilliantly reviewed by Tufluv ages ago, but I finally got around to checking out Hell's latest offering recently. Anything with a couple of Alan Vega guest appearances is always worth checking out (except for maybe that 'Sisterhood' album). My favourites are the tracks like "Control", where Hell fearlessly cooks up some retro '80s-electro minimalism. Nothing new about it, but if it ain't broke, don't fuck wid da flava, dig? Then there's "Follow You", with the most withered analogue synth tone I've heard for years. Sounds like Hell found a synth that was just on the verge of breaking down and coaxed one last gasp out of it. Best of all, "Let No Man Jack" makes me wanna jump up and kill stuff. We're talking Hard Acid House (not Acidic Techno - there's a big difference, baby), with a brilliantly twisted vocal that encourages us to 'mosh', 'slam' etc, whilst the title lyrics' word-play seem to forbid Jacking, despite the fact that the 303-saturated groove makes you wanna Jack till you have a heart attack!
Of course it's not all up to that standard. For me, the collaboration with Billy Ray Martin just ruins the vibe. Sounds like Hell's trying to do some sort of Portishead-type thing, but I expect at least some 'electro' and/or 'punk' from a Hell track, and here he gives me neither. Bah! "The Ambient MM" also takes an unexpected turn - this time into Ambient Techno chill-out mode, but I'll forgive him for that one, 'cos it reminds me of old Aphex Twin tracks like "Tha".
SQUAREPUSHER - ULTRAVISITOR
Again, Tufluv gave it the thumbs-up weeks ago, but I've been taking my time with this one. Even though it's not the focused perfection of "Go Plastic", I'm starting to believe that this might be my favourite Jenkinson effort yet. The unadorned cover portrait sums it up really: this is Squarepusher letting his guard down, allowing us to peer into his mind and see how all the different elements of his muse function. It's dysfunctional, it's egomaniacal, it's farcical, it's often brilliant and occasionally makes me wanna burst into tears 'cause it's so overwhelmingly beautiful.
The bass virtuoso shit is indeed back with a vengeance, but it's nowhere near as indulgent as one might think. I love the way he'll get a real fast, tricky bass run going, but then unexpectedly drown it with digitally processed junk-noise. It's like an artist deliberately defacing his work when he senses he's falling back on old habits. But he leaves it on display so the public can see the rough sketches that, when combined and sharpened-up, lead to a masterpiece, of which there's at least two on this collection. "Iambic 9 Poetry" is initially startling for it's naturalistic, acoustic-sounding drums (not one of TJ's usual moves), but it's the constantly evolving waves of keyboard melody that really grip the soul. For this is Soul music in it's purist form: an uplifting surge of emotion that seems to be reaching all the way to heaven. You can feel your spirit recharging it's batteries everytime you play it. The other gold-plated work of genius here is "Tetra-Sync", which over the course of nine minutes transports us through an undulating, constantly evolving Odyssey where all the disparate elements come together in one glorious euphoric celebration of Mr Jenkinson's skills. Seriously, when this guy's good, he's fucking amazing