Thursday, 30 April 2015

UFK - Rage Against Florence + the Machine (2015)

UFK - or Unlucky Fried Kitten to give it, him, or them his or their full title - is Andy Fraser who I met way back in the eighties when he was singer, and I suspect main songwriter, for a group called the Martini Slutz. I only saw them a couple of times, but they were impressive. They felt like a proper punk band, something that had slipped through the cracks from that first wave when no-one could possibly confuse one group with another, just before it got all spikey and leather clad and just a little bit samey. The Martini Slutz were exciting live, and exciting in the same way I always imagined the Sex Pistols must have been - a certain sense of witnessing something special that probably wouldn't be repeated, and which significantly wasn't lacking a sense of humour.

Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I learn much to my pleasure that Andy is still at it all these years later, and against all odds, his powers seem undiminished. I'd heard a couple of tapes he knocked out under the names Death in Venice and then Basement Mania way back whenever, and had come to recognise Martini Slutz as having been just one episode in the life of a man who would probably explode if someone ever kept him from producing music; and its a testament to his dedication that he's kept on apparently regardless of the volume of whatever audience may or may not be out there - not because he has no interest in this stuff being heard, but because - to probably sound a bit of a twat - he's an artist in the truest sense of the word. He cares about what he does, and the rest is mostly just window dressing.

Rage Against Florence + the Machine is the second album under the UFK banner, and it should be noted that it is an album - a proper disc in a jewel case with a barcode and a fancy sleeve - not a feckin' download or a CDR with a phone number scribbled on the blank label side. This is nice because it suggests confidence in the material, and it turns out that said confidence is entirely justified.

I suppose if I have any criticism - just to get it out of the way - the songs mostly sound as though they've been recorded on some sort of digital set up, and initially all seem to have a similar tone and pace as a result; but fuck it - it's not like Rage Against Florence + the Machine hasn't already got more soul than most of the mainstream pop shite people post up on facebook every day, so it is what it is. Repeat plays accustom the ear to all the subtle differences here - all excepting the peculiarly abrupt cutting from one track to the next - but the words draw you in almost immediately, then pull you back for more once the forty-four minutes are up. There's a touch of Ian Dury to the song writing, or at least some of that same uncanny knack for jamming the most ridiculous elements together in a single sentence and making them work like poetry.

A mushroom, very soft and gentle,
Grows through concrete - that's just mental!

UFK songs often seem to focus on details so inconsequential as to seem almost comical, but always with affection, and often resembling a thought process much like the stuff which randomly dribbles through your head while you're stuck in a café staring out at the rain. Sometimes it's as small and simple as the above mushroom; other lines usher in matters of greater consequence, folks dying or car accidents; and whilst it may be a cliché to suggest that it's all part of life's rich tapestry, it's one of those clichés which happen to be true, which seems to be the point of UFK. Bizarre characters inhabit almost magically realist situations in UFK songs with more warmth and conviction than almost anyone since maybe Ray Davies, and so Rage Against Florence + the Machine sounds kind of unique in certain respects, particularly tone and focus, although I suppose that might say more about my general listening habits than this collection in particular. To summarise with the usual pointless scrabbling about for comparisons, try somewhere between a cuddlier Sleaford Mods and Frank Sidebottom - referring here to Chris Sievey in a papier-mâché head rather than the crappy hipster film inspired by the same; or Wreckless Eric crossed with Go-Kart Mozart, but much better; or if anyone remembers Space - that nineties bunch who brought us the fucking terrible Female of the Species amongst other similarly turdlike efforts - UFK is probably roughly what they thought they sounded like, but really didn't; or it's Swans covers of Splodgenessabounds if you want. I don't fucking know. Just trust me that it's great and buy the thing.

Buy the thing sharpish too, if you're going to. UFK have recently been receiving testy cease-and-desist style communiques from Island Records suggesting sales of Florence + the Machine entertainment products may be placed in jeopardy by the title of this album. It appears that there may be reason to suspect this mostly comes from one specific record company drone needing to make himself appear busy so as to justify his job by issuing overbearing decrees to bands no-one has heard of, possibly someone still stinging from Mr. Fraser having kicked up a fuss about the recent violation of his iPod with a free U2 album. Personally I can't help wonder if it's simple jealousy because next to this, Florence sounds like some self-involved drama student hooting away in an in-house Waitrose corporate training video.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Graham Coxon - Happiness in Magazines (2004)

Well, that clears up the mystery of what happened to the tunes on Blur's Think Tank. They're all here. I was listening to the Blur's post-Coxon album only a few weeks ago, and at the time I noted:

Think Tank makes for fine listening in terms of affording an appreciation of the patently considerable talents of those involved, but it is surely as significant that I've played the fucker three times today and I still can't remember the first thing about any of it.

Conversely, I've only knowingly heard this album once before and it already sounds like something I've been spinning on and off for a couple of years, such is the mighty songwriting force of himself.

Inevitably it sounds somewhat like a lost Blur album, and I'm surprised at how close Coxon's vocals come to those of Damon Albarn - not so strong admittedly, but nevertheless up to the job; and once you're past the resemblance - and wondering why the other two were in that band on the grounds of Graham Coxon playing almost everything you can hear on this album - it gradually becomes apparent how much this isn't a Blur record, mainly because it rocks in ways they've never quite managed. Never mind channelling the Sex Pistols - with particular emphasis on the Steve Jones part of the equation - at certain intervals Happiness in Magazines represents the full Johnny Thunders, jumping up in the air with its legs akimbo and all that good stuff; gradually undergoing a series of personality changes through mournful balladry to a sort of er... country & east-end I guess you may as well call it. The production is, I suppose, kind of basic in so much as you could never accuse it of being overproduced. You can hear everything you need to hear as well as you need to hear it, so it's a nice fat punky racket without spilling over the waist of its pants, and which affords some insight into the sheer fucking quality of writing here - just the right mix of simple and fancy in all the right places.

So, in a sentence, Johnny Thunders does Blur in Steve Albini's studio, or something like that, but different - not least in the case of the luxuriously cinematic All Over Me which is sort of like most of what Beck has been trying to do for the last ten years whilst generally screwing it up with too much reverb and sentiment.

Happily, this is another one of those albums so consistently great that trying to describe it is more or less a waste of time when whooo whooo whooo and a fist in the air serves just as well.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Le Lu\Lus - Operating on Specific Cues \ Early Works 1982-86 (2014)

I'm fairly certain I recall Le Lu\Lus as having been the three-piece Lulu Boys who seemed to turn up in Sounds music paper all the time, and usually with the suggestion of some managerial type doing his or her absolute best to shove them in the general direction of pop stardom. This impression was later supported when they showed up in a photo-story in the children's comic Oink! The band had been offered as first prize in some competition or other, the prize specifically being a pop concert by this bunch whom kiddo had probably never heard of right there in his or her own front room, and of course the winner also got to appear in the photo-story documenting the happening.

Still, it worked for Lou Reed...

The idea was funny, although I have to admit, it struck me as kind of desperate, and I've a feeling Le Lu\Lus - as they were by that point - also turned up on Tomorrow's World or some similar show demonstrating a new species of synthesizer or something. The sad thing was that whilst this lent Le Lu\Lus a certain desperation, or so it seemed from where I was stood, the fact was that they were actually pretty fucking great at one time, and definitely deserving of a wider audience.

I base this on Operating on Specific Cues which was released as  a C50 on the vaguely upmarket Unlikely Records tape label. Le Lu\Lus were sort of like how Severed Heads would have sounded if they'd tried to turn themselves into Bananarama, providing you factor the bored woman singing along to the radio in a launderette in Neasden out of the equation, that being what Banananaramamama always sounded like to me. Le Lu\Lus appeared to make use of sampling before anyone cheaper than Michael Jackson could afford to indulge, which I'm fairly sure must have been a whole load of boffinesque manipulation of taped sounds - screams, calls of the jungle and so on - to which I presume the title was a reference. Combining this with some impressive studio jiggery pokery, they spent about six months of 1985 sounding roughly fifteen years in advance of their time. Of course, they could have pulled on combat boots and pretended to be futuristic robots like every other fucker who ever bought a Front 242 record, but Operating on Specific Cues never wanted to be anything but the world's most fantastic pop album - sort of like the Archies of 2099. The songs are touching, funny, and silly without so much as a raised brow in sight, invoking The Jetsons, a sort of Edgar Rice Burroughs version of animal passion, and all that other stuff that was far too uncool for the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. With song titles like Chocolate Banana, Spaceman Bassman, and Asteroid Chicane, it may seem difficult to believe Le Lu\Lus weren't some sort of precursor to whichever demons were responsible for Barbie Girl, but they really weren't. In part this was thanks to Denny Gibson having such a great and quite distinctive voice, and in part to the strength of the songs shining through despite being dressed as extras from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

It is of course wonderful that Vinyl-on-Demand should have seen fit to reissue the humble ferric oxide as big beautiful slabs of plastic, although to briefly complain that my free Rolls Royce is not quite the colour I would have liked, I sort of wish they had just done a straight reissue with the same tracks, possibly as a single album. This collection, wonderful as it is, shuffles the contents of the tape in with other marginally later material, at least some of which sounds like the band had got hold of a proper sampler, which unfortunately seems to have meant they suddenly sounded like everyone else.

Still, it's nice to see this stuff at last granted some sort of recognition.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mobb Deep - The Infamous (1995)

I was kind of off the New York MCs for a while back there, mainly because every last one of them sounded like he was gargling about a pint of liquid bogies up in the back of his schnozzle, and it all seemed to blend into a generic snotty whine of some slightly bored sounding guy telling you either that his pants just fell down or that he's actually the richest man who ever lived, punctuated with sniffles. With hindsight I realise that my ear was simply pointed in the wrong direction for a couple of months, that being the direction in which one finds Noreaga, but it was enough to unfortunately dim the appeal of Mobb Deep. I'd heard them guest on other people's tracks, and whilst I could sort of see they had some use, I imagined a whole album would probably be weighed down with bogie action and would almost certainly feature a couple of tracks where the rapping was reduced to just coughing and sneezing, maybe a few of those farts you only ever hear when someone is on their death bed with the sound of some guy sobbing quietly in the background; all of which just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Musically this one represents Mobb Deep when they were at their best by my duly schooled reckoning, at their most darkly atmospheric - not quite the smokey monochrome of the jazz basement at four in the morning so much as being stood outside it in the pissing rain and freezing cold. The beats are right up front with the music as something heard in the distance, a broken piano, an echoing horn or some speaker cracking bass pumped out of a car at the lights three blocks away. For something with so few components, it's astonishing how much it does; and for something which sounded like quite a few other things from the same era - particularly as produced by Large Professor and the RZA - it's astonishing how this sounds so much like it's own thing, and how little it sounds like an album recorded two decades ago.

This is probably down to subject matter, namely the timeless theme of life kicking you in the teeth over and over, which is unfortunately as valid today as it ever was; and carries particular conviction here as Mobb Deep always sounded like they hadn't eaten for three days; and if such a description still doesn't quite do it, you can sort of reverse engineer Sleaford Mods back to this album providing you don't mind a wholesale swapping around of all the cultural references. If nothing else it at least makes more sense than Sleaford Mods as the Fall fronted by John Cooper Clarke or whatever it is this week.

As is probably obvious, it didn't take me too long to realise I was just listening to the wrong stuff where New York was concerned, and The Infamous was amongst the more simultaneously terrifying and exciting affirmations of this realisation. Twenty years later it still sounds like one of the hardest records ever made, definitely in rap terms, and certainly up there with Illmatic, Ready to Die and other more generally willingly acknowledged masterpieces. Survival of the Fittest, Temperature's Rising and Shook Ones would alone be enough to support its status, but there's a whole hour of this seriously hungry shit, and every last toot and fart of such power as to make the act of writing about it more or less redundant.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Konstruktivists - Destiny Drive (2015)

To continue my ongoing and impartiality-free series of reviews of work by bands of which I was once a member, and books from the same people who publish my own shit, here's Konstruktivists once again. I may no longer spend my evenings stood next to Glenn whilst playing an accordion, but I was invited to contribute cover artwork to this one, alongside a couple of other people, the idea being that whichever submission worked best would be chosen. I was actually a little peeved when they rejected my crayon drawing of Glenn chuckling away in a tree, trousers down as he poops out a log onto the head of a pissed-off looking Boyd Rice dressed as Adolf Hitler, but never mind.

Anyway, aside from a collection of early tapes released as a double album a couple of years back, this is Konstruktivists' first proper vinyl album since Glennascaul way back whenever that was, and either Glenn and Mark have really upped their game of late, or Konstruktivists just make a lot more sense pressed onto a big fat slab of hard - and blood red, I couldn't help but notice - wax, because this is probably the best thing they've done since Psykho Genetika; in fact it may be the best thing Glenn has done, full-stop. In my view, Glenn's music tends to be at its finest when he's working with people who aren't busily trying to sound like someone else, persons tagging along for the sheer thrill of atmospheric noise and seeing what the hell will happen next, and whose criteria for success reaches a bit further than how closely the end result resembles fucking Borghesia.

Cough. Cough.

Anyway, to get to the point, Mark Crumby clearly fits this sonic bill, and so everyone involved brings the best out of everyone else. Like the greatest of Konstruktivists' music, Destiny Drive has a strong element of soundtrack, a certain dramatic tension going beyond the bog standard efforts of just wacking the decay setting of the reverb up to five minutes and thus leaving more free time in which to sift through the usual Blade Runner samples like every other fucker and his milkman. This is something more theatrical, more European and less industrial by the usual terms, and Glenn is afforded full reign to vent his love of characters darkly drawn within the grooves - much more akin to the legacy of Yello, Tuxedo Moon, or even the Residents than you might have suspected. Destiny Drive is closer to a performance than any conventional soundscape, I suppose fulfilling the promise of tracks such as Housewife's Choice - music as narrative, more than just a beat and a feeling. I know I'm biased, but I really never anticipated this record being anything like this good.

Annoyingly, the cover artwork is also fantastic, and I can see why it was picked over the thing I came up with; so darn, but also yay!