Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FAVES AND UNFAVES OF 2000
(originally on Blissout website)



Simon Reynolds's
FAVES OF 2000

Greetings! Delayed because of various life-vicissitudes (including a weekend in
the children's ward of Saint Vincent's Hospital), here is my annual inventory of
sonic delights. During its strenuous and spasmodic assembling, I've been
prompted occasionally to ponder: why do I do this? "This" being, essentially, a
fanzine. After all, I write about music for a living; I got outlets, don't I?
Actually, A White Rave Aesthete Thinks Aloud (name-change overdue, it gets more
misleading each year as my interests re-expand) has become an essential
sanity-valve for me. Seems like each year an ever larger percentage of my
opinions are simply unsellable on the "ideas market" (sick joke) that is music
journalism--being either too ultra-specialised/insidery, or too
vehement/vituperative, or too pretentious/theoretical. Some of the backlog of
far-fetched ideas will hopefully, life-vicissitudes willing, make it onto the
site during the months ahead. Before then, hopefully within a few weeks,
there'll be the usual Over-Rated whingefest (slightly less morose than last
year), which is now renamed Un-Faves of 2000 and containing new features like
INDICTED: For Crimes Against Culture and the first of a series of diatribes that
disclose The Most Over-Rated Eras, Scenes or Movements in Rock History.
About what is on your screen right now: like every year's Faves, this is a
last-track-of-a-Mantronix-album style megamix of already published stuff
leavened with the newly written. Hence the slight but discernible fluctuations
of style, intensity, sloppiness/tidiness, and general prose deportment. Of the
non-new stuff, some is in "director's cut" original form and some has been
remixed/augmented.


DANCEHALL

ELEPHANT MAN
Comin' 4 You!
(Greensleeves)
CAPLETON
More Fire
(VP)
BEENIE MAN
Art & Life
(Island)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Biggest Ragga Dancehall Anthems 2000
(Greensleeves)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Doorslam (Greensleeves Rhythm Album #3)
(Greensleeves)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Strictly the Best 23
(VP)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Biggest Ragga Dancehall Anthems 99
(Greensleeves)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Greensleees Reggae Sampler 21
(Greensleeves)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Massive B Presents: Yard Bounce
(Massive B)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Dancehall 101 Volume 1 and Vol. 2
(VP)

This goes up front not because it's necessarily the stuff I extracted most
pleasure from this year, but because it's the stuff that surprised, confused,
and did my head in the most, forced me to think hardest... and this year, that
seemed more important than mere enjoyment... (That said, I can't actually think
of many things I enjoyed more than this stuff.)

A lot of the thinking related to the quandary of whether I can have any place in
this music, any real relation with it... It's not even a black/white thing, as
with hip hop -- dancehall is so relentlessly Jamaica-local in its references;
lyrically it's almost indecipherable. For a white liberal, it is also a culture,
strung out between Rasta's Afro-Protestant fundamentalism and its inseparable
polar opposite, rudeboy/Staggerlee ghetto-nihilism, that is impossible to affirm
or be comfortable with--the ritual battyboy-bashing incantations, the misogyny,
the guntalk. And yet, and yet, the sheer physical compulsion and force of sonic
surprise demands attention, deserves excitement.

Can't claim to have "mastered the field", or even come close. Jamaica has the
highest per-capita rate of musical production in the world, and given
dancehall's insanely frantic turnover of riddims and versions, its scores of
production squads and hit-factory studios, keeping up with the genre would be a
full-time occupation, involving much time in cramped basement record stores with
hundreds of seven-inch singles (amazingly, what the DJs still use--they don't
even mix) stuck on the walls.... So, like any dabbler, it's compilations for me.

If it seems like there's been a creative upsurge in dancehall, I'm aware it's
almost certainly an optical illusion caused by my not really having paid
attention since the last time ragga grabbed my ears, circa 1994. That was back
when jungle was synonymous with ragga samples, and this time round it's partly
through the endemic use of dancehall vocal licks in 2step garage that my dormant
interest's been revived. Often it's the exact same MC chants and catchphrases,
originally from yard tapes, re-used for the Nth time-----"get ready for dis, for
dis, for dis", "special request", "come with it my man", "get mash up,"
"champion sound a-way"-- a sort of sampladelic folk-memory archive for the
hardcore continuum. Then there's all the 2step collaborations with dancehall
stars (Glamma Kid, Lady Saw) and the MCs with a strong ragga influence to their
patter (Richie Dan, Splash, etc).

More and more, I am coming round to the idea of rave, at least in its
London-centric hardcore/jungle/garage sense, as an almost straight transposition
of dancehall culture into the UK: the dubplates, the champion sounds (pirates
largely replacing the sound systems, as sounds on the airwaves), the cult of
spliff-tastic bass frequencies, the role of the MC (which you don't get in
house, techno, trance) and his glorious nonsense; the sense of manor and local
identity. Then there's the whole dancehall/hardcore thing of renegade capitalism
a/k/a resistant micro-capitalism: white labels and illicit raves, studios/labels
based around record stores (like M-Dubs's Sugarshack Recordings being in back of
their Hounslow record shop); the balance between avant-gardism and pleasing the
massive. In Jamaica, the dubplate system works in a different fashion to UK
hardcore/jungle/garage. Because they compete in "soundclashes" against each
other, sound systems need a constant turnover of fresh dubs to sway the crowd
and slay their rivals. At each of Kingston's many recording studios, there's a
bustling traffic in killer and filler tunes alike (sounds can't fire all their
best shots too early; they save the most devastating ordnance for the final
stretch of combat). Established stars and hustling aspirants alike chant
patois-rich raps over currently hot riddims; in return for these
vocals-for-hire the champion sounds pay anything from US $25 to $3000.

Another typically Jamaican attitude that seems to have migrated into the
hardcore/jungle/garage continuum is that weird mix of idealism and
pragmatism---a sort of arty experimentalism untrammeled with modernist/bohemian
complexes about money-making or selling out. Read Wake the Town and Tell the
People, Norman C. Stolzoff's useful analysis of Jamaican dancehall culture, and
what emerges is a native genius for transforming economic constraints into
creative opportunities. Sound systems, for instance, first emerged in the 1950s
when the burgeoning tourist trade priced live bands out of the popular market;
DJs playing records (then imported American R&B) filled the void. Thrift was
partial inspiration for two crucial innovations: the recycling of rhythms, and
dub. Producers realized they only had to pay session musicians for a single
performance if they put instrumental dub versions on B-sides, or released "one
riddim" albums featuring different songs and singers over the same groove.
Similar implacable financial logic led to today's ragga, where drum machines and
digital technology enabled the downsizing of human players altogether. It's
really only the raucous, overbearing presence of the MCs (confusingly known in
Jamaica as DJs; the guy who spins the record is the selector) that has concealed
for so long the fact that dancehall is essentially identical, in terms of its
means of production, to house/techno/jungle/etc.

Beyond these affinities and its subordinate role as a pantry full of patois
vocal licks sampled by junglists and 2steppers, dancehall has its own forceful
claims upon our attention as the Other Electronic Music. Its digital rhythm
science can easily rival the art-techno fraternity when it comes to
bio-mechanical this-must-be-wrong-but-it-works weirdness. Just check the madcap
creativity of Beenie Man's "Moses Cry" (on Greensleeves's Biggest Anthems of
2000 double-CD) for sounds as futuristic and aberrant-sounding as any
avant-techno coming out of Cologne. Produced by Ward 21 & Prince Jammy, its
asymmetrical groove is built from palpitating kick drums, garbled rave-style
synth-stabs, and an eerie bassline that sounds like a human groan digitally
mangled and looped. Or check the quirktronica pulsescape underpinning Beenie on
"Badder Than the Rest", or Elephant Man's amazing "2000 Began" from Comin' 4
You! --basically acid techno a la Plastikman.

It's easy to overlook dancehall's sonic strangeness, though, because the
performers' personae are so domineering. The mix seems lopsided, in-yer-face
voices battling with the beat to control the soundscape, and crushing the rest
of the music (strangulated samples, perky videogame-style blip-melodies) into a
skinny strip of no-man's land in between. The ragga voice, jagged and croaky, is
a form of sonic extremism in itself. Dancehall's got to be the only form of
modern pop where the typical range for male vocals is baritone to basso
profundo. Obviously related to the culture's premium on testosterone and disdain
for effeminacy, ragga's ultramasculinist bombast sounds simultaneously absurd
and intimidating. From some DJs, like Buccaneer, you'll even hear a
Pavarotti-esque warble, hilariously poised between portentous and preposterous.
Elephant Man's own voice is a pit-of-belly boom that opens up like an abyss of
menace, enhanced by a sinister, serpentile lisp. Combine this sort of gravelly
machismo with typical lyrics about exit wounds and tonight being the opposite of
your birthday (i.e. your "deathnight") and you've got some seriously chilling
Staggerlee business. "Replacement Killer," a series of boasts about how
cold-blooded Elephant is, actually utilizes death-rattle gasps as functioning
elements of the beat. No surprise, then, that there's a mutual trade pact
between dancehall and gangsta rap (which has escalated since Jamaica recently
got wired for cable and now has exposure to BET and MTV). US rap terms like
"playa hater," "my dogs", and "making cheese" now crop up as brief blips of
relative cipherability amidst ragga's hieroglyphic code-flow of opaque patois.
And increasingly dancehall artists interpolate direct lifts from current rap
hits. On Comin' 4 You! "One More" is based on DMX's "One More Road To Cross,"
"E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T" rips a Dre/Snoop chorus, and the album's fiercest cut
"Somebody" rides the clanking rampage of the Yardbounce riddim, a fusion of
dancehall with the New Orleans bounce style popularized by Cash Money Records.
(The Yardbounce CD features seven versions of that riddim, created by Bobby
Konders of Massive B, including Bounty Killer's "Fire With Fire", Burro Banton's
"Phenomenum 1" and Lexxus's "Ride With Me" --- a sequence, culminating with the
Elephant Man's version, that has been played with shameless incessant-ness on
Massive B's dancehall show for Hot 97 in New York). You also get dancehall
artists doing remakes of rap hits, where they treat the original as just another
riddim and do a totally different vocal lick over the top: Elephant Man's got
one based on Ludacris's amazing "Southern Hospitality" (see Street Rap section).

With six appearances on the Greensleeves best of 2000 compilation, Capleton
reaffirms his supremacy over the dancehall already established by last year's
awesome More Fire LP. Like Malcolm X, he belongs to the syndrome of the
self-reformed Staggerlee; like Buju Banton, he's a raggamuffin who turned Rasta.
But Capleton's sanctimony doesn't sabotage his records because instead of
soothing roots reggae visions of "one love", he concentrates on Old
Testament-style wrath and Armageddon: Jah as the ultimate Enforcer, the Don of
dons, smiting the corrupt and ungodly. The gloating relish with which he wields
the brimstone imagery of divine retribution (he fits this Rasta street preacher
archetype known as the "warner") is as vindictive and venomous as ragga's
ultraviolence. Capleton's righteousness and Elephant Man's ruthlessness are
flipsides of the same cultural coin; God's fire simply replaces gun fire. Even
though he's a "good guy" now, Capleton still sounds like a rude boy. That
ragga/rasta dialectic is fascinating to me, because in dancehall they aren't
seen or felt as opposites but complementary: it's similar to the way that even
the most cold-blooded, heartless, murda-mad, ho'-banging rappers always give
praise and thanks to God despite their ungodly, vice-ridden and vicious
lifestyles. Dancehall can appear to merely mirror and perpetuate "reality"
(soundclash slanguage, all "sound boy killers" and "burial" tunes that finish
off the rival sound, reflects not just the routine violence of Kingston, but
capitalism's war of all against all--harsher in this postcolonial corner of the
globalized world than most). But the culture still contains flickers of utopian
hope for a better way: selectors will cut from a toast about murderous revenge
to a conscious song about redemption in the blink of a cross-fader. In the mix,
these contradictions--glamorizing Babylon's ways versus dreaming of
Zion--achieve an uneasy co-existence.

Back to the music.... Basically, there's too many insanely inventive,
rhythmically ferocious tracks on all these comps to get into close description.
One thing I can't get my head around just yet: the one riddim album. Even when
the riddim is hothothot, like Doorslam, 20 different versions from DJs and
singjays in a row riding the exact same groove, well it's a bit of a mindfuck.
(Although it is a good way of appreciating the skills of each vocalist: the
groove functions like one of those mechanical bucking broncos where you can
pretend to be a rodeo; each MC finds different way of riding the beat). If you
want to play catch-up with this dauntingly vast zone, which has churned out
goodstuff all through the late Eighties and early-mid Nineties, VP's Dancehall
101 Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are superb crasher-courses.

Another thing I've found increasingly intriguing is the music of the
non-Jamaican West Indies, e.g. digital soca and calypso. At its best, it's
really demented sounding -- like the happy hardcore of the Caribbean. I've heard
a soca version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" (a tune also versioned in a 2step
garage stylee this year). Strange bhangra influences, at times--- apparently one
legacy of the British empire is the way East Indians migrated to the West
Indies.

And we can't forget dancehall's great crossover artist-- not Shaggy (although
that "wasn't me" tune is catchy-as-fuck) but Beenie Man. Whose latest album Art
& Life produced the gorgeous R&B-dancehall crossover hit "Girls Them Sugar"
featuring the lovely Mya, the ominous New Orleans-style gangsta-bounce of
"Original Tune, " and hardly any "pure" ragga. And why should it? Dancehall and
the other genres of the "Black Atlantic" Diaspora have long entered into
relations of fruitful mutual contamination. From techno-ravey-drum'n'bassy ideas
infiltrating the E'd up world of American hip hop, to 2step's one-way alliance
with US R&B and borrowings from dancehall and roots reggae, to the rumors about
Timo Maas's "Doom's Night" remix being a huge smash in Jamaica, more and more
the borders between all the different street musics become meaningless-- thanks
to digital technology and the near-instantaneous way that musical ideas migrate
these days. (Dancehall itself is a diaspora, with outposts from Brooklyn to
London to Miami to Toronto; almost as many Jamaicans live outside the island as
on it). What has emerged through all this criss-cross traffic is a single
unified bass-beats-bleeps culture, a transatlantic confederacy of hardcore
sounds.



STREET RAP

JAY-Z
Vol. 3... Life and Times of S.Carter
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia 2000
(both Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam 2000)-
DMX
And Then There Was X
(Ruff Ryders/Def Jam 2000)
THE LOX---"Wild Out" from We Are The Streets
(Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
DA BRAT---"That's What I'm Looking For" (So So Def)
MYSTIKAL--- "Shake That Ass"
RAH DIGGA -- "The Imperial" (Elektra)
LUDACRIS
Back For the First Time
(Def Jam South)
MEMPHIS BLEEK--"Is That Your Chick?" and "Do My" from The Understanding
(Roc-A-Fella)
DR DRE-- "The Next Episode"
JA RULE
"Between You and Me"
"Six Foot Underground"
Rule 3.36
(Murder Inc/Def Jam)
NELLY
"Country Grammar"
"E.I."
Country Grammar
(Universal)

After 1999's astonishments, 2000 was for the longest-time somewhat disappointing
on the street-oriented hardcore rap front. Dreary albums by The Lox and Drag-On
suggested that Swizz Beatz was in need of battery-recharge; the Ruff Ryders II
comp on first listen contained some startling tracks but strangely I've not
revisited it; and what's with the pukey-sounding Caribbean-style digital "steel
drums" on various Ruff Ryders tracks. Albums by Juvenile, BG, Lil Wayne, and Big
Tymers showed Mannie Fresh still coming up with clever arrangement gimmicks and
sharp beats, but (until the late entry of "Project Bitch") nothing as anthemic
as "Back That Azz Up" or as weird as Cash Money's most technoid 1999 tracks.
Plus the lyrics have got so vile on the misogyny front, and so tiresomely
repetitious in their vileness, it's hard to stomach the records.

Highlights (most of which are from the very start of the year, or the last
third). Jay-Z's "Do It Again": Rockwilder's production as harsh and mechanistic
as a track by Jeff Mills, just a melody-free spasm of sub-bass, a nagging blurt
of computer-in-distress bleeps, and an asymmetrical loop of punishing kicks and
snares; bleak, almost Swans-like music that makes the playa's
clubbing/drinking/pulling/shagging lifestyle depicted by Jay-Z ("6-AM I be
digging her out/6-15 I be kicking her out") sound like a treadmill grind. Sonic
brutalism that has me flashing back to Schoolly D's "PSK" and Skinny Boys' "Rip
The Cut" back in the proverbial day. DMX is the most interesting superthug of
all because he doesn't glamorize the life: "One More Road To Cross" (prod. Swizz
Beatz) has the accursed, burdened heft of Blacks Sabbath and Flag, perfectly
fitting DMX's stoic description of a carefully planned liquor store heist that
goes bloodily wrong. "The Professional" is a bleak glimpse into the mind of a
hired assassin ("Shit ain't go too well/THAT'S MY LIFE/Know I'm going to
hell/THAT'S MY LIFE"). Betrayal-and-retribution themed "Here We Go Again" starts
with the insuperably fatigued murmur "Same old shit, dog/Just a different day":
thug life as agony, repetition, and endurance. This comes through as much in
DMX's hoarse rasping timbre and his delivery, which alternates between
pay-close-attention-this-is-hard-earned-knowledge-I'm-sharing slow to rapid-fire
blurts like he's got too much pain to cram into the rhyme-scheme's stanzas, as
through the lyrics. And what's this I hear from some quarters about DMX being
crap at rap, having no flow? The whole point of his shtick is (see also Ja Rule)
the tar-thick, bronchial rasp, the chesty congested anguish. It's a style that
precisely communicates the life-stance and worldview, just like Ozzy did in
Sabbath, or Rollins in Black Flag. And I like the barking thing, it's sort of
comical and scary at the same time.

One last start-of-year blast from the Ruff Ryders camp before their failed 2000:
the rowdy call-and-response clamor and bruising bass-bounce of The Lox's "Wild
Out," almost exuberant enough to make you forget socially irresponsible couplets
like "if a nigga step on your goddamn shoes/fuck him up/WILD OUT!!!"---if not
incitement, then certainly legitimizing the culture of over-reacting to any
perceived insult or threat. Also promoting socially destructive aspirations: Da
Brat's paean to hot boys and love thugz "That's What I'm Looking For", with her
great croaky lust-cracked vocal riding a killer avant-funk groove based around a
detuned and lurching guitar riff (proving that even a second-rater like producer
Jermaine Dupri can excel if the peer-group pressure cooker's hot enough).
Later in 2000 things got busy again: Mystikal's "Shake That Ass" and Jay-Z's 'I
Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me')' are both chips off the same Neptunes block,
James Brown updated for the new millenium, and a sound that's sort of crisp and
chewy, undeniable if less futuristic than some of the other stuff around. Also
from the Roc-A-Fella camp, more B-boys on E bizness: Memphis Bleek's "Is That
Your Chick" (Timbaland building on the "Hot Boys" blueprint: dead-sounding,
ultra-dry kicks and fuzzy, indistinct bass-booms like explosions reverberating
from way underground, weird double-speed sensation of sluggish and urgent
similar to Ludacris's "Fantasy") and "Do My" (the clinical rush of pure techno,
prod. by A Kid Called Roots whose very handle sounds like a rave-age moniker).
Rap and R&B (and 2step) Trend of the Year: Pizzicato. One example of this was
the micro-fad for Oriental plangency, e.g. Ja Rule's "Between Me and You" (which
sounds like the Burmese Court Orchestra or something) and the gamelan-chimes of
his "Put It On Me". My favorite Ja Rule tunes though were "6 Feet Underground",
with mad sped-up divas twittering like helium hummingbirds off of some 92
hardcore white label, and "Ecstasy", a pill-popping anthem with full-on
ravey-housey keyboard vamps and great loved-up lyrics that seem to have flashed
in from some old Beloved tune back when Jon Marsh was a Shoom blisshead. Funny
lines too about how come if he's such a superthug and baller, he's buying "all
that damn water," how all the playas are glugging Evian and OJ instead of Moet.
Just elbowing Jay-Z's Timbaland-produced "Snoopy Track" (hip hop's "Dominator",
a dark demonic blare of Numan-meets-Beltram synth-bombast) and Nelly's "Country
Grammar" (that chiming bling-bling bassline, their springheeled groove, that
summertime joie de vivre) into a tied second-place, my absolute favorite rap
track 2000 was Ludacris's 'What's Your Fantasy". This oddly sinister,
near-dystopian song about shagging features a Marquis De Sade-like dirty laundry
list of sex acts (I think water sports is in there; doing it onstage at a packed
Ludacris concert certainly is). What makes it compelling though is the way that
the freneticism of the hair-raising, scurrying noir strings (tres
Hermann/Psycho) and chittering electronix creates this weird disjunctive tension
with the extraordinarily torpid groove (a bass line with immense chasms between
each note, a gap-toothed drum beat). "Fantasy" actually sounds like an old rave
tune, all stabs and muffled fuzzy sub-low bass, but played at 33 rpm instead of
45 rpm. Producer Shondrae, who does more tracks than anybody else on the album,
is clearly one to watch. There's other good stuff on the Ludacris album: "Get
Off Me" (prod. that man again Jermaine Dupri) sounds like a bounced-up LFO circa
Frequencies. while second single "Southern Hospitality" (prod. the Neptunes) has
mentasmic hoover-riffs more suitable for a Lisa Lashes hard house set lunging
into the mix at peculiar jutting angles.


HOUSE-TECHNO-ELECTRO-IDM-WHATEVER

ISOLEE
Rest
(Playhouse)

This album by Isolee --not a French outfit but German dude Rajko Muller-- is my
favorite home-listening house album since Herbert's Around The House, and like
the latter it is endlessly listenable, discreetly avant-garde, weirdly gorgeous.
Multi-tiered, built up from parallel streams of lurching beats, clanking
percussion, and snaking acid-pulses, this music is a tapestry of sinuousness and
angularity, a split-level mesh of frictions and fluencies. On tracks like
"Text," the production is wormholey with eerie crevices, hidden folds, and
trapdoors of echo that crack apart the groove for a micro-second. On the
scintillating "Beau Mot Plage", the music is so fluttery with hand's-on "feel"
that it doesn't feel strange when an African high-life guitar darts in like a
dragonfly--simply because the tune's electronic components are equally
played-not-programmed sounding. There's a pronounced early Eighties feel at
times--brittle Oriental brush-strokes that recall Japan or Thomas Leer,
Vangelis/Blade Runner-style melody-vapour like sungleam creeping over horizon
rim, future-jazz tone-smears. The music brims with indefinable emotions, flits
from tight-as-a-drum tension to sudden synth-splurges of awe. On the closing "I
Owe You," an alien voice thanks the listener, and expresses concern about
recompensing you for the time and attention bestowed. Rest assured: listening to
Rest is its own reward.

ANANDA PROJECT
Release
(Nite Grooves)
P'TAAH
De'Compressed
(Ubiquity)

In rock, you get local heroes, bands that are big in their town or region. In
dance, you get the opposite. Take Ananda Project's Chris Brann: a god for house
hipsters across the globe for his mid-Nineties releases as Wamdue Kids, but I
bet he can walk round his hometown Atlanta, Georgia, without a nod.
A slightly pat reference point for Release: Everything But the Girl's
Temperamental. "Breaking Down", with its jazzy-guitar flecks and forlorn vocals
(courtesy of Heather Johnson, one of five guest singers) even sounds a bit like
EBTG. But Brann's coming from the other direction: he's a trackmaster getting
songful, rather than singer/songwriters getting their groove on. Release has the
pump of club-oriented house, the kind of voluptuously thick kick drums that
become a cocooning environmental pulse when heard through a massive sound
system. But it also has the intimacy of music for home and headphones. And there
can't be many house artists who put a quote from Edith Sitwell in the CD
booklet.

"Cascades of Colour" is the stand-out. The plangent gravity of the melody,
redolent of Harold Budd & Brian Eno's ambient albums, conjures deliciously mixed
emotions---blue joy, sweet sorrow. Gaelle Adisson's multitracked vocals form a
counterpoint lattice that sets your nape-hairs tingling. Close behind "Cascades"
is the title track, with its "let your spirit free" invocations and pensive
piano chords that suddenly roll backwards on themselves, psychedelic
guitar-style, to form a seamless, timewarping Moebius Strip. Throughout the
album, there's a blurry, miasmic quality to Brann's production, the aural
equivalent of Vaseline-on-the-lens. The way Brann arranges his drums spatially
is like landscape gardening, making you gaze into the distance. On the
vocoderized ballad "Expand Your Mind", snares crack like thunder on the mix's
horizon, while hi-hats bustle right in your face.

The wispy drum'n'bass excursion "Bahia" suggests an affinity with softcore
junglists like LTJ Bukem and PFM, a common quest for aquaboogie wonderlands.
(For more of this vibe, check P'Taah, a Brann side project that moves into
broken beats terrain---see Still On the Fence section below---complete with a
Nubian Mindz remix). As with the Good Looking guys, New Age alarm bells
occasionally ring: lots of liquidly chirruping birdsong, a Stevie Nicks-esque
lyric about a "daughter of the moon" on the otherwise gorgeous "Falling For
You". Mind you, in these despiritualized, money-mad times, maybe we need some of
that. The opulence of Brann's sound doesn't connote aspirational "audio couture"
(a slogan coined by Moving Shadow just at the point the label, and the
drum'n'bass scene, started to undergo gentrification) but what New Agers call
"abundance consciousness"--in plain, old-timer's English, counting your
blessings. Release is the kind of record that reminds you to feel grateful to be
alive.

POLE
3 (Matador)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Staedtizism (~scape)
KIT CLAYTON
Nek Sanalet (~scape)

3 is the most rootical-sounding of Stefan Bekte's records, and the first I've
really cared for. The partially erased skank of tracks like "Taxi" -- all
worn-vinyl pops, "muffled pumping bass" (c/r hyperdub), and awry sway -- make me
imagine some kind of X-Files episode where a guy looks normal but has mutant
inner organs and when you listen to his stomach gurgles it sounds like Burning
Spear. Either that or a lost King Tubby master tape dropped in a puddle and then
dried out in the Caribbean sun for a couple of years, and sounding all warped
and pocked and encrusted. On a similar mirage-wavery reverb-woozy tip, Kit
Clayton and the other exponents on Bekte's ~scape label go some way to
substantiating Ian Penman's argument that the Geist (spirit/ghost) of Seventies
Jamaica currently enjoys an uncanny afterlife in post-Basic Channel/Chain
Reaction technodub.

SWAYZAK
Himawari (Medecine)

Almost defying comment (especially as I know nothing about the outfit), this is
simply very very good dance music somewhere at the intersection of house, techno
(it's definitely not tech-house though---house-tech?) and also electro. Great
balance between light and dark, sensuousness and brutality, filter-spangly
grooves and almost-mentasmic riffs. Track after killer track, including one
featuring dub-poet and All Souls fellow Benjamin Zephaniah. Highly recommended.

MATTHEW HERBERT
Let's All Make Mistakes (Tresor)
British house's great eccentric, Matthew Herbert made the album I've listened to
more than any other these past two years: 1998's Around The House, a voluptuous
amalgam of the innovations of US auteur-producers like Mood II Swing and Deep
Dish, infused with a quirky charm that's uniquely English. Plugging the gap
until that long overdue sequel arrives, here's Herbert's superb mix-CD Let's All
Make Mistakes. It's oddly titled, not least because it's the most seamless mix
I've ever heard on disc. Not in the tedious sense you'd associate with, say
progressive trance DJs like John Digweed---who typically holds two equally
characterless tracks in the mix so long you don't notice the transition. No, on
Mistakes, each tune sounds singular and discrete, but it's meshed with its
predecessor and successor in such an intimately entangled, organic manner that
the result recalls the chimera of ancient myth (a creature formed out of body
parts belonging to different animals).

If anything unites Herbert's 22 selections, it's that same uncanny blend of
supple and rigid that characterizes his own music (of which you get six examples
here). On a typical track, crisp, dry, just-this-side-of-grating textures enfold
little internal oases of lush loveliness. Herbert's own "Tasteful Dub Mix" of
Moloko's "Sing It Back" is plain lovely, a spongy groove that emits a soothing
amniotic glow. Other parts of Mistakes, like the sequence that runs
Pantytec/Errorsmith/DBX, strip away song-flesh to reveal house music's inner
organs, the grotesque gurgles and base bubblings generated by its
gastro-intestinal plumbing. This kind of ultra-minimal house has a lot in common
with experimental electronica, especially "glitch" with its aestheticized
mistakes and malfunctions. In both styles, the musique-concrete-like timbres
create a cornucopia of sounds that can only be evoked by onomatopoeia: ploots,
crickles, schlaaps, grunks, etc . But unlike glitch-techno, Herbert-style house
always keeps the groove pumping. Even at its most tic-riddled and tourettic,
there's an unmistakable wiggle to its walk, a hint of bump'n'grind.


TIMO MAAS
Music For the Maases (Hope Recordings)
AZZIDO DA BASS
"Dooms Night (Timo Maas Remix)" (Kinetic)

"Doom's Night" everybody knows, surely--the best dance track of the year?
Certainly the most implausible crossover tune, appealing to everyone from trance
& progressive headz to the garage scene to Fatboy Slim to the nu-breaks twats to
cyberpunk novelists to Jamaican raggamuffins if that rumour's true. The track's
all-things-to-all-people quality is related to its hard-to-tag generic
slipperiness. It's like Maas has taken the very indistinct-ness of Sasha &
Digweed-style "progressive" (trance sans fromage, house rid of gay disco
flamboyance, techno without either hardcore fervor or Detroit jazziness) and
turned its inhibitions and checked tendencies into positive attributes,
wide-open potential. "Doom's Night" is so inbetween-sounding, merging the gritty
funk of breakbeats with the gritless glide of trance. It chugs along like a
slightly obese monster, waddling and wobbling and almost losing its footing but
determinedly staying on the warpath. The tension between the one-note,
uninflected whub-whub-whub acid-drone and the sculpted fart bassline (which
actually improves the Flat Beat squelchbass sound) , is delicious.

Couldn't initially get into the double-CD anthology of Maas's remixes plus a
handful of his own productions: sounded like a more muscular version of Sasha's
Expander EP, all those tunes like "Rabbitweed" and "Belfunk"; Sasha with balls,
but still with that "progressive" sterility and clinical aura. Heard in its
proper context, a superclub like Twilo (where Maas now has a residency) it makes
a lot more sense. DJs and that sort of clubland pundit seem to be dropping the
phrase "big room" into their track reviews, and it's almost like "big room" has
become a genre in itself, with Sasha as forefather and Timo as the young gun.
Site-specific rather than musically defined (so it remains relatively open to
influences: the "internal hybrid" theory, progress through implosive
intensification rather than expansive advance) "big room" means
colossal-sounding tracks designed to exploit the quadraphonic surroundsound of
the massive club sound system, the vast sub-bass to ultra-treble frequency
spectrum ... tracks that are sculpted in four dimensions, riffs like blocs of
sound-in-motion that swoop across the crowd-body, dazzling tracer-trails of
filtered or echoplexed noise panning across the superclub sky. Maas has
perfected a style of production that has SIZE but avoids sounding epic or
overblown; like a progressive or tech-house DJ, he shuns cheese, but unlike most
of that lot he still retains flava somehow. Impressive, too, the way he works in
different kinds of rhythm-feel (tricksy drum'n'bass science; massive-sounding
electro) into a set that is 90 percent oriented around a rush/pulse
kinaesthetic. Because this music is primarily all about sonic girth and
spectacular effects, it's not especially intimate, soulful, or even "musical".
There's an amorphousness to its texture-surges and two-note oscillations, which
barely qualify as riffs, vamps, or even stabs. Often, it doesn't seem like
there's even notes being played: tracks consist of various concatenations of
chug, pump, pound, surge, and whoosh. Lots of whoosh. Still, when he's firing on
all cylinders, Maas's might is right.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
clicks_+_cuts (Mille Plateaux)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Sonig comp (Sonig/Thrill Jockey)
MOUSE ON MARS
Instrumentals (Soniq/Thrill Jockey)

Gotta admit to having been highly suspicious and sceptical of the "glitch" trend
initially--seeing it as the ultimate extension of IDM anti-populism, i.e. not
just getting rid of the beat, but melody and eventually music itself, leaving
just sonic dust'n' debris But clicks_+_cuts is a surprisingly musical and
sensuous experience. Nu skool auteurs like Jake Mandell, Autopoieses, Neina,
Curd Duca, and Kit Clayton choreograph the digital detritus---the hums, tics,
crackles, and pops generated from vandalized CDs, traumatized hardware, and
daydreaming machinery---with brain-tickling intricacy. Ranging from eddies of
sound-dust to an insectile funk of chitters 'n' creaks, to tangles of iridescent
chimes, clicks_+_cuts proves that electronic music can be groovy even when it
doesn't have a groove. The Sonig comp--featuring Lithops, f.x. Randomiz,
microstoria, vert, and others--goes further still and introduces humour and
weird, goofy charm to the glitch universe. Like Mouse On Mars' own music (
Instrumentals came out on vinyl in late 97 I think and is now happily available
on CD), these tracks often sound like crackpot contraptions, surreal automata,
or beguiling audio-mobiles designed to entrance an alien infant.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Lily of the Valley (Schematic)

More IDM--what the fuck's happened to me? (Must be something to do with hardly
making it out to clubs anymore--kiddies play time at 7-AM makes dancing 'til the
crack of dawn a costly choice--so home-oriented stuff starts to make more
sense). The missing link between 2 Live Crew and Autechre, booty and brain,
Miami-bassed (forgive me folks!) Schematic showcase their roster's flair for
rhythmic convolution, texturological research, and low-end boom. Tracks like
Takeshi Muto's "Rotea" offer a captivatingly contradictory texture-blend of
succulent and crisp, supple and fractured. Phoenicia's "Yamuna" makes me think
of that old sci-fi scenario, a glistening and refractory crystal-world where
life emerged based around silicon rather than carbon. And Muto's closing "Muto
Love" is like courtly love for a future neo-feudal society: the sighs and
suppressed sobs of a bummed-out bot besotted with the belle dame sans merci, his
all-too-human but heartless mistress.

kid606
"down with the scene" (Ipecac Recordings)
The Soccer Girl EP (Car Park)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
kid606 and friends vol 1 (tigerbeat)
HVRATSKI
Oiseaux 96-98 (Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge)
PHTYALOCYANINE
25 Tracks Fer 1 Track (Planet Mu)

IDM's bastard children, upstarts who traded in the somber men-in-white-coats
sound-laboratory image in favor of passion, polemic, and petulance. No more
"faceless techno bollocks" impersonality, cultivated anonymity-mystique, or that
geektronic trainspotter fanboy vibe. Instead, uncontrollable urges to
communicate, engage, goad, and incite. All the goodstuff of electronic music
(mad Tex Avery beats, stupid noises, itchy glitches, digital dirt) combined with
emo-core venting (kid606 especially tends to use his music as a dear-diary,
resulting in titles ranging from "Fuck You Sarah" to the public declarations of
sweethearthood on the Soccer Girl EP and PS I Love You; Phtyalocyanine verges on
Reznor-esque viscera-baring expressonism without using a single voice). Other
ingredients include a brattishness redolent of Riot Grrrl/K Records/Huggy Bear's
"Kids' Lib guerrillas", a pinch of Situationist/Dada-style mischief-making, and
a lo-fi-like love of noise, loose ends, and abusing technology. The result,
voila, is what Mike Paradinas has dubbed "glitches with attitude".
In some ways, it's a revolt of younger generation American bedroom producers
against the Europhile-by-default tendencies of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music),
whose first-wave pantheon was all Brit (Aphex, Autechre, Squarepusher, Future
Sound of London, etc) or Kraut (Mouse on Mars, Oval, etc). Hence songs like
Lesser's "Markus Popp Can Kiss My Redneck Ass" and kid606's "Luke Vibert Can
Kiss My Skinny White Indie-Rock Ass"---c.f The Clash's "I'm So Bored With the
USA". That said, they have a lot of allies in the UK and Europe---V/VM,
Speedranch Jansky, Irritant zine, Diskono --neo-Situ pranksters,
nuisance-mongerers, and mess-makers all.

Fave moment so far in the annals of glitchkore: "Catstep/My Kitten/Catnap
Vatstep dsp Remix", the Hvratksi reworking of a tune by his feline-obsessed pal
kid606 that you can find on both Down With and kid606 and Friends. DSP means
digital signal processing, and is the arsenal of techniques that glitchkore
producers use to make the beats sound so texturally arresting, such a fireworks
display of chromatics and timbre. But what really makes "Catstep" so delightful
is the MC with the speak-and-spell robo-voice: at once a piss-take and a
celebration of jungle's mash-up-the-dance spirit. "Catstep" is simultaneously
ridiculous and rinsing like drum'n'bass hasn't been since "Dred Bass" days.

HELLFISH & PRODUCER
Constant Mutation (Planet mu)

After on-and-off flirtations for the past few years, certain IDM producers seem
to be moving towards gabba as the next frontier, now that the drill'n'bass bag
of tricks has lost all novelty. Mike Paradinas plays full-on gabber in his set,
and brought gabba stabs and distorted kicks into his own productions on recent
records like the Kid Spatula Full Sunken Breaks CD. And this year he released on
his Planet Mu label a mix-CD by Hellfish & Producer, leading lights of the tiny
UK hardcore scene, composed entirely of the duo's own tunes-- which mash up
gabba style distorted kickdrums with mad turntabilist scratching, electro-hip
hop influences, and old skool rave rush-riffs. One of the striking things about
the Hellfish & Producer sound (and Paradinas's own gabber tunes) is how the
kick-drums are so distorted, they become this smeared belt of sound with the
percussive impact of each kick muffled deep within this sensuous wall of noise.
There's also more of a fluid and frisky quality to the rhythm programming--it's
still incredibly punishing and monolithic, but there's an ebb and flow of
intensity that ensures that the effect is brutal but not numbing (the downside
with too much gabba). According to Mike, this is down to the possibilities
opened up by the new wave of digital audio software, like "Fruity Loops" --
where you can alter the parameters of every single bass drum kick in each loop
throughout a track: its compression, EQ, amplitude envelope, filter, pitch, even
the actual sample itself. So now you know....

EIFFEL 65
"Too Much of Heaven
THE LOVE BITE
"Take Your Time"

Aural mementos from a holiday in Tuscany--not sure if these count as Balearic
dance music or just pop (in Italy's there's no difference: all pop music is
electronic and gloriously plastic-sounding, even Bon Jovi). So many amazing,
melodramatic, gorgeously catchy tunes---these are just the only ones I was able
to identify and get hold of. "Too Much of Heaven" is preposterous and moving,
Euro-R&B bubblegum that protests against jiggy culture's spiritual bankruptcy,
with a nape-tingle-triggering vocoder-rap vocal that mourns the fact people only
care about "the dollar bill yeah" in slightly shaky Euro-English. "Take Your
Time" is, like the Swayzak album, one of those perfect dance records that not so
much defy description as render it superfluous: a spangly filtered-house tune
with plaintive FX-warbled girl-vox and a subtle sample from Orbital's "Chime".
Not innovative, just consummate.

BOARDS OF CANADA
In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP (Warp)
TELE-FUNKEN
A Collection of Ice Cream Vans Vol. 2 (Domino)
FIZZARUM
Monochrome Plural (Domino)

Music Has A Right To Children crept up on me to become one of my favorite
'electronic listening music' albums of all time, close behind stuff by Aphex
Twin and Wagon Christ. I love the tangled strains of wistfulness and eerieness
in the music, the crumbly textures, the miasmic melody-lines. At times, it
recalls the kind of music that played in the gaps between schools TV in the
mornings... or like My Life In the Bush of Ghosts if its exotica was based
around late Seventies Britain rather than Africa. I was listening to it one of
these days and had one of those almost out of body experiences--a mysticism of
the commonplace, the poetry of the municipal... reveries of parks, walkways, and
concrete overpasses, playgrounds with fresh rain on the swings and slides,
housing estates with identical backgardens and young mothers pegging wet shirts
on a windflapped clothing line, clouds skidding across a cold blue March sky...
saplings neatly plotted in canalside recreation areas.... lamposts dimly
gleaming through fog... In A Beautiful Place is more of the same, only better
produced (not necessarily a plus). With its kinder-gamelan chimes and peals, the
Tele: Funken album similarly plugs into the vein of childlike wonder and naivete
running through electronic music; if that sounds merely cute, the record also
veers off into the dark side of the child's imaginary. Russian outfit Fizzarum
don't quite belong in this company, for the nostalgia they evoke is for an
earlier moment in techno's life, not your own: it's like LFO had squeezed out
another album real quick after "What is House?".

VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Forgotten Sounds of Tomorrow (Ersatz Audio)
I-f
Mixed Up in the Hague Vol. 1 (bootleg)
CONSOLE
Rocket in the Pocket (Payola/Matador)
JAKE MANDELL
Love Songs For Machines (Car Park)
ADULT
Dispassionate Furniture EP
Nausea EP
(both Ersatz Audio)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Oral-Alio: A History of Tomorrow (Ersatz Audio)

The Eighties revival continues. The Ersatz comp and the Adult EPs are all
Hardcorps-style kinky-noir electronix and BEF/Heaven 17 tropes of anomie &
modernity, "desire and efficiency". The I-f mix-CD is archival Eighties, the
progressive Italo-disco and Eurosynthpop that soundtracked those legendary
Detroit high-school parties that spawned techno: now you can finally hear
Alexander Robotnik, Klein & MBO, "Sharivari", et al. Console bring enough
contemporary programming science to the Eighties revival party to avoid charges
of retro-redundancy a LA Les Rhythme Digitales or DMX Crew. But nobody has made
a record as exciting as "Being Boiled" yet.



RONI SIZE/REPRAZENT
In the Mode (Talkin' Loud)

Call it the Mystery of Subcultural Persistence--the reason why there's Goths
galore in the Y2K, why death metal refuses to die, why there's 16 year old kids
with gel-spiked hair and Discharge T-shirts mooching around St. Mark's Place.
Fact is, at any given moment, 95 percent of listeners are not "in the place to
be" (as decreed by style mags and hipster vanguardists). Long after its claims
to cutting edge-ness have faded and its street audience got hijacked by UK
garage, drum'n'bass mysteriously persists. Globally, there's more producers and
labels than ever, and pioneers like Omni Trio are up to Album #4 already. And
now here's Size & the Reprazent crew with the sequel to 1997's New Forms,
simultaneously the highwater mark of jungle's crossover and an aesthetic
pinnacle.

Against all the odds, it's a terrific record. Like last year's Breakbeat Era
project and Krust's solo debut, In the Mode is darker and harder than the
jazz-inflected New Forms, largely replacing the latter's warm acoustic
instrumentation and lavish arrangements with nagging computer bleats and garbled
cluster-fucks of dirty samples. It's also the Bristol clan's most concerted
effort yet to align themselves with hip hop, expertly weaving guest rhymes from
Method Man, Rage Against the Machine's Zack , and human beatbox jester Rahzel,
into the frenetic rhythmic onrush. The only slight disappointment is those
beats---pulse-racingly urgent but (like most drum'n'bass these past three years)
rather linear in their chase-scene propulsion. Whither the frisky
topsy-turviness and polyrhythmic exuberance of jungle's annus mirabilus, 1994?

Still, tunes like the Onalee-crooned "Lucky Pressure" show that Size & Co remain
unrivalled at integrating songfulness with jungle's dense, fissile grooves.
Overall, an unexpected triumph. Long may they persist.


X-DREAM
"Aspirin" on Tsunami compilation (Kinetic(
Live at El Cuco rave, Puerto Rico

Shame this Hamburg duo languish in the psy-trance ghetto -- this is dark'n'doomy
drug bombast on a Gothic tekno diagonal that transects accepted genre divisions
and connects with the Mover, Nasty Habits, and Suburban Knight. A night ride
through the catacombs of the cosmos. X-Dream's Markus closed out Tsunami rave's
in Puerto Rico, the most tropical and bejungled part of the US of A, with a
dead-of-night til crack-o'-dawn DJ set, progressively stripping away
psy-trance's frilly fractal FX and grinding out a vast blare of barely more than
distorted kickdrum and concussive bass. And the blonde-tressed maenads in loon
pants and cobwebby shawls danced the rites of Pan.


DAN BELL
The Button Down Mind of Daniel Bell (Tresor)

Triffic house-tech mix-Cd.


FAT CAT'S 8 x 7"s OF EMILIANA TORRINI REMIXES

Fave: the going-insane endless spiral FX of the V/Vm respray.


DETROIT GRAND PU BAHSv "Sandwiches" (Throw/Jive Electro)

Nice 'n' sleazy does it. Does it every time.



2STEP AND UK UNDERGROUND GARAGE

CHRIS MAC-- "Dubplate Style" (2step dub mix of 'Baby Gonna Rock Dis') (First
Class Records)
ZED BIAS -- "Neighbourhood" (Locked On)
ARCHITECHS -- "Body Groove" (Go Beat)
NAPA TAC -- "Dibby Dibby Sound" (white)
TRUESTEPPERS FEAT. VICTORIA BECKHAM-- "Out of Your Mind" (Arista)
SHOLA AMA--- "Imagine"
B15 PROJECT --"Girls Like This"
SWEET FEMALE ATTITUDE --"Flowers"
OXIDE & NEUTRINO--"Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)" (EastWest)
CRAIG DAVID--"Fill Me In (Artful Dodger Remix)" (Wildstar)
CHRIS MAC PRESENTS UK APACHI & DAVID BOOMAH--"Beep Beep!" (Metrix)
LEEE JOHN--"Your Mind, Your Body, Your Soul" (Locked On)
DJ ZINC -- "138 Trek" (label unknown)
TEEBONE FEAT. MC SPARKS AND MC KIE (a/k/a TKS) -- "Fly Bi' (ditto)
WOOKIE -- "Battle" (Soul 2 Soul)
VARIOUS MCs-- "Millenium Twist" and "K.O" on the Warm Up EP (Middle Row)
ARTIST UNKNOWN-- "Warship" (Pulse)
STEALTH MEN--"Chapter 1: Behind the Wall" (Phatt Budd)
2 WISEMEN-- "Hardcore Garage" (Ibiza)
SO SOLID CREW -- "Dilemma"
N&G feat. MC CREED AND ROSE WINDROSS--"Liferide"
BASEMENT JAXX--"You Can't Stop Me (Steven Emmanuel Remix)" (XL)
TEEBONE & SKIBA DEE -- "Super S" (Solid City Records)
SECOND PROTOCOL -- "Basslick" (EastWest)
SOVEREIGN -- "There You Go (Pink bootleg)" (All Good)
MONSTA BOY feat. DENZIE Denzie-- "Sorry" (Locked On)
BRANDY VS X-MEN-- "Angel" (white)
MJ COLE---"Sincere Remix" (Talkin' Loud
El-B feat. JUICEMAN -- "Digital" (Locked On)
Y-TRIBE-- "Computer Love" (label unknown)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--- Blackmarket Presents 2Step Vol II (Black Market)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--- Pure Garage: Mixed Live by E-Z and Pure Garage III (Warner
ESP import)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--- The Sound of the Pirates (Locked On)
VARIOUS ARTISTS--Masterstepz freebie mix-CD on cover of Mixmag
VARIOUS ARTISTS--- 2Step Pressure mixed by Merlin (www.wiggle.cx)

UK garage/2step enjoyed its fourth fabulous summer in a row, defying both the
Law of Subcultural Exhaustion that decrees genres get three years tops before
going pear-shaped (e.g. jungle) and the usual problems of over-exposure leading
to boredom that accompany mainstream crossover. But I've got to admit I started
to lose much of my interest before the summer was out -- assisted by close
encounters with the sheer unpleasantness of 2step as club culture (see
over-rated of 2000, forthcoming), the mounting drabness of the "breakbeat
garage" tendency (see over-rated of 2000, forthcoming), and just personal
exhaustion with that sound. If you're really into something, by a certain point,
you've accumulated so much of it (and I probably have more UK garage 12's than
jungle at this point) that an inverse-ratio syndrome sets in: it becomes harder
to be surprised, it feels like the genre isn't moving as fast as it was, fast
enough for you. (The same thing happened with drum'n'bass for me around early
97--although I'd argue that was real stagnation setting in, not a perspectival
trick). Plus it's tough getting the records in New York, and the excitement
doesn't get continually recharged every weekend by being plugged into the
electrical grid that is London pirate radio. At any rate, here's an inventory of
2step delights from this year.

Chris Mack's "Dubplate Style", Leee John's "Your Mind, Your Body, Your Soul":
love the way the drums on these tracks are so digitally texturized and glossy,
it's like the whole track's made from lustrous fabric that crackles, crinkles
and kinks with each percussive impact. The way the latter morphs into the former
on that Masterstepz/Mixmag freebie is my fave 2step sleight-of-mix this year.
Fabulous also to hear Imagination's Leee John again nearly 20 years after
"Bodytalk". "Dubplate" has sticky-the-most snares and this fantastic pinging and
chiming xylo-bass that's sort of pizzicato and rib-rattling all at once. Chris
Mack generally is a supreme exponent of 2-step's art of decentering and
spatializing the drums across the stereo-field---so it's like you're moving
through a mesh-space of pointillist percussion, your body buffeted and flexed
every-which-way by cross-rhythms and hyper-syncopations. Shame he doesn't often
have good-enough songs to work this magic through and around, though ("Beep
Beep" and "Baby Gonna Rock Dis" don't quite cut it as Tunes).

"Vocal science" seems to have faded a bit from the scene--the cyber-melisma
effects, the percussive voice-riffs, the way producers make the diva twinkle,
tremble, buckle, pulsate, fold in on herself. Nowadays these deployments tend to
be more subtle: like the ecstatic shiver-stutter woven electronically into the
word "re-e-e-mix" by Artful Dodger on their version of Craig David's already
ultra-warbly "Fill Me In." It's unnerving because the line between what's human
and what's artificial isn't so clearly defined.

Oxide & Neutrino's much-detested "Bound 4 Da Reload" --possibly the most
tuneless UK Number One ever, but bleakly compelling all the same: those icy
staccato strings, that sinisterly bubbling bass. Cool, too, that it infiltrated
dancehall's metaphor of the killer track as ordnance in the war of sound versus
sound right into the heart of popland. Also on the nu-dark tip, "Warship" which
is either by or on Pulse, I'm not sure: the best techstep record since
"Metropolis" essentially, albeit substantially slower of course. What's weird is
that you'd hear it in the mix with soppy garridge tunes like SFA's "Flowers" or
lush musical ones like "Sincere", but this is a track that contains no garage
elements whatsoever. Weird also that the scene's getting into the kind of
caustic acid-y sounds that originally drove people out of drum'n'bass and into
speed garage in the first place. Stealth Men's "Behind The Wall" is in that
strung-out coke psychosis mode a la Skycap, and is notable for its creepily
effective Tracy Chapman samples --from some song about hearing either wife abuse
or child abuse going on in your next door neighbour's flat, but here taking on
something of the audio-hallucinatory agony of Coppola's The Conversation. Also
plugs into that hardcore continuum of using anything that comes to hand, not
being afraid to be cheesy (see also: garage remake of "Tainted Love", the UB40
"One In Ten" chorus borrowed in Suburban Lick's "Here Comes the Lick Again", etc
etc).

B15's "Girls Like This", Shola Ama's "Imagine".... high-pitched melisma anthems
that showcase a crucial aspect of 2step: the way that extreme treble can be as
intense as extreme bass, triggering a fizzy-dizzy sensation like champagne
running through your veins instead of blood. Leading the counter-reaction to
chart-step's trebletastic effervescence, Second Protocol's "Basslick", El-B's
"Digital", and So Solid's "Dilemma" bring the new bass-2-dark minimalism...
Amazing to see how when the high frequencies are stripped away, the ladeez just
disappear from the floor ("gir-rls, don't like this, n--n-n-no no"). "Basslick"
is just jump-up jungle slowed to 130 b.p.m., right down to the shlocky classical
music intro, but the one-note bassdrone of "Dilemma" is bracingly innovative,
echoing electro without replicating it. Shame about the cliched martial arts
movie samples, though.

Why can't 2step's balance of yin and yang, tweeter and woofer, lite and dark,
stay where it's at? Especially when the result is chart smashes as jarring and
weird as Truesteppers's "Out of Your Mind". I saw them on this crappy CD: UK pop
show on TV the night I arrived in England to do a garage story for Spin: Posh
Spice wearing one of those R&B singer-style headset microphones and moving
amidst this huge phalanx of militaristic-looking backing dancers shrouded in a
sinister cloud of dry ice, Jonny L and the other guy lurking at the back with
their keyboards. "Out of Your Mind" is so shrill and jagged-sounding it's almost
atonal, R&B-meets-Schoenberg. I love the vocal duel between Posh and the
indignant vocoderized male singer. And the way she warns "this tune's gonna
punish you."

Wookie's definitely over-rated and liked by the wrong sort (acid-jazzy,
Rhodes-fetishising tossers) but the first one-note section of "Battle" is
undeniably great, building this fabulous tension. Then it opens up into ghastly
Giscomby Brit-Soul. Thank Heaven for the dark mix that's just the tense, terse
first part of the song---remixing at its most effective and improving!
Napa Tac's "Dibby Dibby Sound": one of those great tunes that come out, probably
get played a few weeks on the pirates, you'd have to be in the shops that week
to get a copy (I just happened to be in London), and then it's gone: a glorious
composite of tried-and-true elements from across the hardcore continuum
1990-2000 (lovely housey shimmer-riffs, bit of ragga chat, rolling bass, ravey
stabs, bleep'n'bass echoes) that for some reason makes me think of Foul Play at
their finest. If you ever see it, buy on sight. Teebone feat. Sparks & Kie's
"Fly Bi": my favorite of this year's many MC tunes, boisterous, exuberant,
insanely catchy. What else? The fractured funk of Stephen Emanuel's remix of the
Jaxx's "You Can't Stop Me "..... Zed's "Neighbourhood": the plangent roots vocal
and twin bass-riffs (a midfrequency blare of drone-swarm distortion and an
electro-style battery of sub-low thuds and booms)..... Sovereign's boot of
Pink's "There You Go": a tuff little unit, with Star Trek/Lieutenant Uhuru type
radio-sonar blips running all the way through.... Monsta Boy "Sorry" with its
absurdly weepy and prostate-with-regret sounding Denzie vocal..... Architechs's
sultry "Body Groove".... N&G feat. MC Creed and Rose Windross's "Liferide": not
sure if this even came out this year, but a melodic/percussive plinky xylo-bass
classic, and a good spur to pondering why exactly that garage MC style of
prissy, prim, clipped delivery sounds so cool... There's probably dozens more
I've forgotten. Perhaps strangest of all, and the kind of record that will
always keep me fixated on "the sound of the pirates", was Middle Row's The Warm
Up EP, with the Dickensian dancehall of "Millenium Twist" complete with comical
Fagin impersonation and the bizarre boxing-ring MC narrative that holds together
"K.O."

A good year, then, but we're overdue another paradigm shift from the London
hardcore continuum. Within a year, I expect another "all change" on the part of
the pirates. Can't wait, and can't imagine what it could be---always a good
sign.


UNDIE RAP

MIKE LADD
Welcome To the Afterfuture (Ozone)
THE INFESTICONS
Gun Hill Road (Big Dada Recordings)
ANTI-POP CONSORTIUM
Tragic Epilogue (75 Ark)
DIVINE STYLER
Wordpower 2: Directrix (Mo Wax)
SCIENZ OF LIFE
Coming Forth By Day: the Book of the Dead (Intergalactic Entertainment)
COMMON
"The Light" (MCA)

To reiterate last year's rant: critics love lost causes (it's almost part of the
job description)and although this defiance of the market's judgement is
honorable and although it's absolutely true that what sells is not necessarily
any indication of interest or value, we've all seen from the indie rock
mentality how failure can become a perverse token of integrity and how
mainstream success gets equated in knee-jerk fashion with worthlessness. If this
is problematic in rock, it's even more so in rap, a megabuck entertainment
industry these days for sure, but still motored by the cruel fluctuations of
popular desire, a/k/a "the streets". These last few years critics have endorsed
"lost causes" and committed/condemned marginalists as The Roots, Prince
Paul/Handsome Boy Modelling School, Kool Keith, Deltron 3030, Quannum, etc, all
of who are deemed to be saving hip hop from itself or some such condescending
cliche. And they've consistently recoiled from huge-selling artists on labels
like Ruff Ryders, Cash Money, Murder Inc, Roc-A-Fella, despite the fact that
producers like Mannie Fresh, Neptunes, Rockwilder, Swizz Beats, Timbaland, and
others represent a creative surge within hardcore, gangsta rap not seen
since.... well, since ever, actually (the Dre/G-funk sound was nice, but not
radical; RZA's a one-trick pony and besides which Wu-Tang have always been on
that edge between undie and street anyway.). Yo, reality-check: a bitter pill to
swallow, but the truth is that Nineties rap was shaped not by 3 Feet High or
Fear of A Black Planet (twin totems of the critic-cherished "lost golden age of
1988-91"), but by N.W.A's Efil4zaggin and Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die.
Similarly, the directness of Tupac has proved far more influential on MC's than
any Wu-Tang clansman's virtuoso encryption skillz.

Okay, rant over---now I can admit to liking rather a lot this year's batch of
undie demi-gods. Per last year's comments on Kool Keith, I do think the
Afro-Futurist/black s.f./myth-science thing has become a rather predictable
shtick--most of which seem to involve endless twists on the old
Parliament-Funkadelic saga of interstellar funkateer warriors resisting a
devoid-of-funk Evil Empire. By Deltron 3030's record, even fans of that kind of
thing had noticed how formularized this particular brand of hip hop concept
album had gotten---easily as cliched as the realer-than-thou thug life/we are
the streets personae and lyrics in gangsta rap. Plus, that
too-many-words-for-the-bar-scheme skool of rhyming and densely encoded,
imagistically overloaded, pop reference corroded style of writing can be a real
chore to listen to; if I wanted to tie my brain in knots I'd be perusing
Finnegan's Wake or Of Grammatology. Still, there were weird sounds and striking
lines galore from the Anti-Pop Consortium/Mike Ladd/Infesticons axis and on
Divine Styler's LP (re-released for some reason; it came out late 98
originally).

A record that appears to have gotten virtually no attention whatsoever even from
the undieland backpackers: Scienz of Life's Coming Forth By Day: the Book of the
Dead. When I first encountered this I was blown away by the sonix -- which
seemed to take off from OutKast's Sun Ra-gone-hip hop classic "Elevators (You
and Me)" and get even more ethereally unstrung--but dismissed the lyrics as yet
more Afronautical, ancient-to-the-future, prophecy-by-numbers bizness, complete
with pharaoh face-masks on the cover. However, it turns out, according to a
feature in the New York Press later that year, that the group are actually
informed by a genuine esoteric philosophy; they are adepts of the Nuwaubian
creed, and in fact live and record in the organization's compound in Atlanta.
Not that sincere belief compensates for crackpot notions, and I for one am
doubtful about the historical arguments about Nubia as cradle of civilization
(even if it was, it's a long way from West Africa, where most black Americans
originated---geographically, it's like me claiming ancestral glory for things
that took place in Siberia.) But the Nuwaubian creed seems relatively and
refreshingly free of blacks versus white devils style Manichaeism, Tribe of
Israel envy, or the other "fusion paranoia" traits that often taint Afrocentric
mysticism; its racial pride doesn't seem to entail regarding any Others as
subhuman or as a eternally devious people. Anyway, never mind the bollocks, hail
the music: at times not far from the sort of svelte-but-sinister darkstep you
might hear dead-of-night on a London pirate, twisted and garbled jazz-noir and
death-Muzak strands barely integrated into music but haunting and hypnotic
nonetheless. Very worth searching for. (Try www.intagalactic.com, or
www.subversemusic.com)

Common's "The Light" doesn't really fit in this company except for the
more-white-fans-than-black (well, probably) dull'n'worthy aura. A sublime
example of the paradoxes of sampling: I only like this tune for the Bobby
Caldwell sample, but I'm almost positive that if I heard the original song in
its blue-eyed jazz'n'soul lite radio context, it'd be nauseating. Common's
flat-as-pancake delivery, boring right-on lyrics, and the undemonstrative groove
provide the perfect supportive matrix for that sample to shine. There's probably
a million examples of hip hop (or hardcore) isolating the sublime moments in
their sample-sources and discarding the dreggy rest, but I can't think of one
where so there's so little else about the new track it adorns to catch the ear.
But without Common and the bland backing track, it wouldn't work, strangely.


OUTKAST
Stankonia (La Face/Arista)

Despite the fact that Atlanta specifically is the money-mad hub of the New South
and spiritually closer to Silicon Valley than the cotton fields, people still
imagine all of America below Mason-Dixie as "country" rather than urban. Which
is why OutKast's 1998 Aquemini was cherished by critics for the way its organic,
live-band feel-- horn stabs, string cascades, Isley Brothers guitar links, even
a harmonica solo from an honest-to-goodness black minister--was so different
from the jittery cyberfunk rhythms that dominated R&B and rap in the wake of
Timbaland. On Stankonia, though, possibly in response to the monstrous success
last year of the Southern "sci-fi" sound of labels like Cash Money, there's a
marked inorganic edge to the textural palette, especially on tracks produced by
Earthtone III, like the gibbering, gargoyle-like synths on "Snappin' &
Trappin'." As with so much rap recently, Stankonia 's often incredibly close to
electronica--and for once, the influence is direct and fully acknowledged. Big
Boi and Andre 3000 attend raves in the Atlanta area, did field research in
London's clubland, and upped the tempos on Stankonia because "nowadays you got
different drugs on the [rap] scene. X [Ecstasy] done hit the hood." The single
"Bombs Over Baghdad" is a stab at drum'n'bass, but a bit of a noisy mess, marred
by the kind of metal guitar that people are praising only because any rock
element at all is so unusual in rap these days. "?" is a far more compelling
foray into the jungle--tangled breaks, chirruping synth-blurts, ravey
micro-riffs.

Aquemini often recalled the early guitar-dominated Funkadelic, but Stankonia 's
coordinates are much more George Clinton's Eighties electrofunk sound: "I'll
Call Before I Come", for instance, features waddling "Atomic Dog" synth-bass and
processed percussion that dribbles like a hound in heat. Elsewhere, you hear
another psychedelic funkateer : "Ms. Jackson" recalls Prince at his most
flower-power-poppy circa Around the World In A Day, all skidding and stumbling
backwards-echo drums and lovely "Pop Life" piano. Lyrically, it's a touching
take on the baby-daddy syndrome (the guy who's no longer with the woman whose
child he fathered), addressed to the baby-mama's mama: "Never meant to make your
daughter cry/I apologize a trillion times."

OutKast are often tarred with the same "soul-nourishing" brush as their
compadres Goodie Mob (both groups work with production squad Organized Noize).
And it's true: OutKast don't really go in for "niggativity" or ghettocentric
"real-ness" Where Ruff Ryders-style hardcore MCs "spit" (slang for rapping that
vividly evokes expulsion of noxious emotion), Boi and Dre skip. For them,
rapping is still about (word)play, not verbal homicide. When it comes to the
gender wars, there's equal-opportunity abuse on "We Luv Deez Hoez", with
put-downs of both the gold-digger who schemes to get pregnant and the foolish
baby-daddy who "should have pulled it out and squirted on her eyelash." What
makes OutKast interesting is the way the duo's partnership dramatizes and
reconciles the two warring sides of rap's soul: bad boy versus conscious. Boi is
the Cadillac-driving playa, a thug with a heart. Wackily attired Dre is an
androgynous dreamer/kook a la PM Dawn's Prince B or Kool Keith, to the point of
receiving the ultimate gangsta aspersion of "gayness" (despite being Erykah
Badu's baby-daddy).

Most rap albums peter out around halfway, but Stankonia just gets better.
"Humble Mumble" unleashes a triple-time tongue-twister of internal rhymes and
assonance over an urgent slink of a groove. "Red Velvet" is an audio-maze of
multitracked, warped vocals as cartoonishly absurd as wildstyle graffiti, with a
lyric that's street-wise in a different sense to the usual thug threats: it
warns playas that rubbing your wealth in folks' faces ain't just mean, it's
dumb--some hater will eventually try to take it, and your life. "Gangsta Sh*t"
is a headspinning miasma of echoplexed guitar billowing and braiding across the
stereo-field. Cyber-ballad "Toilet Tisha" grieves for a pregnant teenager who
committed suicide in the bog (hence the title's painful pun), gorgeously
appointed with liquid blues guitar like John Martyn jamming with Zapp. "Slum
Beautiful" features cigsmoke-through-sunshaft curlicues of backwards-guitar that
could be from "1983, A Merman I Should Turn To Be", while closer "Stankonia
(Stanklove)" is real-deal trip hop, a stoned mirage of cosmic choir,
robot-with-indigestion bass, and dub-reverb.

Like Electric Ladyland, "Stankonia" doubles as the name of OutKast's studio and
their nickname for utopia: a boogie wonderland where you can free your ass and
mind. Dissolving all the binary oppositions that conventionally structure music
(live vs. studio/programmed, streets vs. space, roots vs. future), OutKast's
music is equal parts fleshly and phantasmagoric. A freakadelic masterpiece.




POST-ROCK! !

Re. 2000, two words: post-rock lives! What with Kid A, Godspeed You Black
Emperor, and Sigur Ros, it was the best year for that most "so-called"-called of
genres since records have been kept, or even made. (And Tortoise's new album's
is a bit of a return to form too).

Actually, I'm still on the fence about Godspeed and Sigur (see "Still On the
Fence" section below). Kid A, though, is undeniable: if anything fits the
post-rock definition, this record--the consummate guitar band making an
almost-no-guitars album, informed by listening to the entire back catalogue of
Warp Records, then this is it. Of course, the very post-rockness of Kid A made
many people hate it all the more, from silly old punkies like Howard Hampton in
the New York Timeswielding the "it's just like the Seventies"/new Pink Floyd
big-scare argument as if A/ the idea of the pre-punk 1970s as a cultural void
hadn't been thoroughly discredited B/ the present doesn't makes that period look
like a fucking golden age, to Nick Hornby in the New Yorker whose complaint
boiled down to the fogie-ish claim that the album is simply too demanding for
grown-ups to listen 'cos they don't have much time to get into records and they
get back from the office totally shagged-out and want to hear something relaxing
and familiar, so how dare Radiohead "indulge" themselves.

The thing about Kid A, though, is every single track on the record, with the
exception of "Treefingers" maybe, is constructed like a song and is incredibly
melodic and memorable. Guitar or not, quite a bit of it rocks. My initial
astonishment faded quite quickly and the record seemed quite palatable, possibly
too palatable even.

I haven't listened to Kid A much since I wrote a Radiohead versus Britrock
thinkpiece for Uncut (which I'll post up here eventually) so I'm not sure what I
think about it now: to some extent the juggernaut of coverage around it slightly
tarnished and interfered with what was originally a purely sensuous experience
of delight and wonder. What follows is the initial, purer response, written up
for Spin based on a listening party on the bizarrely inappropriate penthouse
roofdeck of a hotel (incredibly fierce sunshine, critics milling around trying
to avoid each other's gaze--keeping their cards close to their chest, and just
plain awkward at the public airing of such private music) followed by four hours
alone with it an office at the PR firm. Things I wish I'd known: that there was
hardly any guitar on the record, and that one of the guys was playing an Ondes
Martenot (spacey-sounding proto-synth much favored by Oliver Messaien and used
for the Star Trek theme apparently).


RADIOHEAD
Kid A (Capitol)

There's always been something slightly uncool about Radiohead. The characterless
name, binding them to that undistinguished pre-Britpop era of semi-noisy
guitarbands with equally blah names like The Catherine Wheel. The albatross of
"Creep," the sort-of-great, sort-of-embarrassing song whose rousing
anthemic-ness they've long since complicated. The superfluous "h" in Yorke's
Christian name. "Cool," though, has never been Radiohead's thing. Leaving all
that hipster credibility stuff to the Sonic Youths, Becks, and Stereolabs,
Radiohead instead lay their wares out on the stall marked "importance." They
hark back to an era when bands could presume the existence of an audience that
took them deadly serious, and audiences in turn looked to bands to somehow
explain them rather than merely entertain.

This self-seriousness--the earnestness of being important--is why critics
continually reach back for the Pink Floyd parallel. (That, and the sheer
magnitude of Radiohead's music and themes). It's not the tinsel and tack of
Seventies pop kitsch that is unsalvageable---it's the solemnity and sense of
entitlement with which bands comported themselves as Artists back then, the
concept albums and gatefold symbolism. Everything about Radiohead---the trouble
they take over track sequencing the albums to work as wholes, the lavish artwork
and cryptic videos, the ten month stints in their private recording studio in
the English countryside---connects them to a bygone era when bands strove
without irony to make Major Artistic Statements. In the contemporary context of
pop's tyrannical triviality, there's something almost heroic about this
unfashionable impulse towards the deep-and-meaningful. Is there still a market
for this thing? Go ask Trent Reznor...
Like many people of the electronic persuasion, I was eventually seduced by the
ear-ravishing textural loveliness of OK Computer. I've still got only the
faintest idea of what Radiohead are "about", or what any single Computer lyric
depicts. Lucky for me, it's the sheerly sonic that Radiohead have plunged into
full-tilt this time round. KID A's opening tracks make a mockery of the impulse
to interpret or identify. "Everything In Its Right Place" teems with eerily
pulsating voice-riffs, bleats of digital baby babble, and smeary streaks of
vocal tone-color that are barely distinguishable from the silvered synth-lines.
A honeycomb of glitchy electronix that sound like chirruping space-critters and
robo-birds, "Kid A" could be by Mouse On Mars; Yorke's voice is melted and
extruded like Dali-esque cheese whiz. After this jaw-dropping oddness, the
relatively normal rock propulsion of "The National Anthem"---grind-and-surge
bass-riff, cymbal-splashy motorik drums---ought to disappoint. But the song is
awesome, kosmik highway rock that splits the difference between Hawkwind's
"Silver Machine" and Can's "Mother Sky," then throws a freejazz bedlam of Art
Ensemble of Chicago horns into the equation. All wincing and waning
atmospherics, the out-of-body-experience ballad "How To Disappear Completely"
calms your metabolic rate in preparation for "Treefingers", an ambient
instrumental whose lustrous vapors make me think of a rainforest stirring and
wiping the sleep from its eyes. Now you too can own your own miniature of
Eternity.

Revealing fact: a high proportion of Radiohead websites provide "guitar tabs" as
well as lyrics, so that the Jonny Greenwood fans can match his every last fret
fingering and tone-bend. Something tells me there won't be too many tabs
transcribed from KID A . Saturated with effects and gaseous with sustain, the
guitars resemble natural phenomena--dew settling, cloud-drift--more often than
powerchords or lead lines. With producer Nigel Godrich as "sixth" member,
Radiohead have gone so far into the studio-as-instrument approach, into
overdubbing, signal processing, multitracked and treated vocals, radical stereo
separation, and other anti-naturalistic techniques, that they've effectively
made a post-rock record.

That said, KID A 's "side two" (no such thing with CDs of course, but
"Treefingers" feels like the classic "weird one" at the end of the first side)
is slightly more conventional. "Optimistic" is mined from the same lustrous gray
seam of British post-punk as the Bunnymen's "All I Want" on Heaven Up Here. What
PiL did with "Death Disco" and Joy Division with "She's Lost Control" at the
dawn of the Eighties, "Idioteque" does for the modern dance. Call it bleak house
or glum 'n' bass: the track works through the tension between the heartless,
inflexible machine beat and Yorke's all-too-human bleat, trembling and wobbling
like a distraught amoeba over the rigid grid of rhythm.

I'm still not convinced that Yorke's lyrical opacities and crypticisms don't
conceal hidden shallows, c..f. Radiohead admirer Michael Stipe. But as just
another instrument in the band, as a swoony, voluptuously forlorn texture in the
sound, he's dazzling. Yorke moves through the strange architecture of these
songs with a poise and grace comparable to his hero Scott Walker. Less oblique
than OK Computer but way more indecipherable (the deliberately slack enunciation
takes us into Scuse Me While I Kiss this Guy territory much of the time),
Yorke's words evoke disassociation, dejection, ennui, numb indifference.
"Optimistic" (it's not the least bit) scans the world with a jaundiced eye and
sees only bestial, un-evolved struggle: "vultures circling the dead", big fish
eating little fish, and people who seem like they "just came out the swamp". "In
Limbo" recalls the fatalistic castaways and torpid, passive nonentities from
Eno's mid-Seventies solo albums. "Idioteque" grimly heralds an "Ice Age coming"
(presumably emotional heat-death, rather than climatic). And "Motion Picture
Soundtrack" closes the album with the proverbial whimper--a mushmouthed Yorke
dulling the heartbreak with "red wine and sleeping pills... cheap sex and sad
films" amidst near-kitsch cascades of harp and soaring angel-choir harmonies.

On first, stunned listen, KID A seems like the sort of album typically
followed--a few years later, and after chastening meetings between band and
accountants--with the Back To Our Roots Record, the retreat to scaled-down
simplicity. ("We realized that our early sound was where our hearts really
lay"--you know the score). With further immersion (and this is one of those
albums where you want to curl up into a foetal ball inside your headphones), the
uncommercialism seems less blatant, the songfulness emerges from the
strangeness. The track sequencing, immaculate and righteous in its aesthetic
logic, gives KID A the kind of shape and trajectory that lingers in your
mind---it's a CD people will play over and over in its entirety, without
reprogramming micro-albums of their favorite bits. Smart, too, of Radiohead to
resist the temptation to release a double and instead stick to a 50 minute
duration close to the classic vinyl elpee's length. Ultimately this album A does
not seem like the self-indulgent act of commercial suicide that some will
castigate and others celebrate it as. That doesn't mean it's not hugely
ambitious or adventurous (it may even be "important", whatever that might mean
in this day and age). But the audience amassed through The Bends and OK Computer
is not suddenly going to vaporize. Part of being into Radiohead is a willingness
to take seriously the band's taking themselves (too) seriously. The fans will
perservere past the initial shock and discover that KID A is Radiohead's best
album as well as their bravest.


SEMI-POP, UN-ROCK, PLAIN UNCLASSIFIABLE

BROADCAST
The Noise made By People (Warp/Tommy Boy)
Extended Play Two (Warp/Tommy Boy)

Obvious coordinates for Broadcast: midway between Stereolab and Saint Etienne.
Sixties psych influenced, analog synthy, but not retro, subtly informed by
Nineties technology. The singer reminds me a bit of Dorothy Moskowitz from
United States of America, the late Sixties synthesizer rock pioneers (specially
on their classic "Garden of Earthly Delights) or a more chilled and poised Grace
Slick. And song-wise sometimes their vibe is redolent of the band/song in
Midnight Cowboy 's freak-out happening/party scene, Elephant's Memory "Old Man
Willow"---oddly poised between flower power twee and genuinely eldritch. Lovely
stuff.


ADD N TO (X)
Add Insult to Injury (Mute)

Imagine an alternate universe where the synthesizer displaced the guitar as
rock's primary instrument. A world where the superbands of the 1970s weren't Zep
or Sabbath but keyboard-dominated prog-rockers like Heldon and Goblin, where
punk was kickstarted by Silver Apples and Suicide not the Velvet Underground and
the New York Dolls, and where techno never needed to happen. This is the
parallel reality conjured by Add N To (X).

Where synth-based fare today is dancefloor oriented, pulse-based, and hypnotic,
Add N To (X)'s music is heavy riffing and headbanging. Electronic music has an
in-built tendency towards Appollonian neatness and prissy subtlety. Psychotic
rather than neurotic, Add N To (X) seize upon the synthesizer's under-explored
capacity for mess, mayhem, and Dionysian disorder. They relish the analog
synth's vocabulary of vulgar blurts, toxic emissions, fartacious eruptions, and
histrionic whinnies. Their tracks are steam-punk contraptions, creaking and
hissing like B-movie computers pushed to the limit. Add N To (X) are also a
rampaging, fully live band, with two human drummers (well, if it was good enough
for the Allman Brothers and Adam and the Antz).

They may hate electronica's machine rhythms, but they're not totally averse to
digital techniques: "Peanuts for Eno" features jungle-style drum breaks that are
pitchshifted and computer-edited, and they even dabbled in sampling on their
last album Avant Hard (with a sample from Canterbury scene proggers Egg!). "Plug
Me in", the single, is deceptively light and Air-y, and it foregrounds one of
the irritating aspects of their analog fetish: the belief that deploying
voice-box is any kind of big whoop, even after Cher's "Believe" and the endemic
use of vocoder in recent R&B. Mostly, though, Add N To (X) eschew kitsch in
favor of bombast: the mastodon boogie of "Incinerator No. 1", the 16 minute pomp
and circumstance of "The Regent Is Dead." There's also an oddly appealing
English seediness: "Monster Bobby," with its thuggish chant and Gary Glitter
beat crunching like a Doc Marten in the groin, could be a soundtrack candidate
if they ever remade A Clockwork Orange, while the sleazy bass-pummel of "Peanuts
for Eno" recalls the Moog-laced punk of The Stranglers's "Bring On the Nubiles".

Some folk regard Add N To (X) as just a conceptualist novelty outfit, pure
English art school. But Add Insult to Injury is actually the group's third album
in three years, and if not quite Grand Funk Railroad three-albums-per-year rate,
still testifies to a desire to be taken seriously as a proper musical entity. In
that parallel universe where the burn-outs play air synth, Add N To (X) are the
hardest workin', hard-rockin' band around.



SAINT ETIENNE
Sound of Water (Mantra/Sub Pop)

This one seems to have disappointed the fans; I reckon it their best since So
Tough, integrating the two sides of their collective personality (pure pop
enchantment versus studio-as-instrument sorcery) as never before. A soft
soundclash of digital programming (with help from German post-rock unit To
Rococo Rot) and lushly arranged acoustica (courtesy of detail-freak Sean O'Hagan
from High Llamas/Stereolab), Sound of Water glistens and ripples with exquisite
nuances. It's beyond headphone-friendly: wearing a pair is virtually de rigeur,
just to catch all the scintillating near-subliminal subtleties--like the Pierre
Henry/Jean-Jacques Perrey analog blarps and pnoots peeking out from the crannies
of "Sycamore"'s lush harpsichord-and-harmony arrangement. Like their other
albums, Sound of Water offers a cornucopia of pop equations (Petula Clark +
[Mouse On Mars X Angelo Badalamenti] = "Downey CA") and alternative-history
scenarios ("Late Morning" is from the parallel universe where Burt Bacharach
teamed up with Steve Reich to become a two-man hit-factory). Two tracks stand
out for me. The twinkling snowscape production of "Just A Little Overcome"
enfolds what might just be the groop's most accomplished and beautifully poised
piece of songwriting and singing yet---"adult", but in a good way. "How We Used
To Live"'s triptych structure shifting elegantly from orchestrated/observational
pop (Montague Terrace in Yellow, Scott Walker minus the existensialist
paperbacks and Ingmar Bergman movies) through Orbital-gone-Eurovision shimmy to
Rotary Connection-style cosmik jazz. Saint Etienne have grown-up gracefully.

PRIMAL SCREAM
Xtrmntr (Astralwerks)

More old farts coming up with the goods---in this case, their best since
Screamadelica. Not that I've recanted on my critique in Over-Rated of 1997 or
anything -- I'll still don't regard Primal Scream as a proper band. What they
really are is what Public Image Limited was supposed to be and for a while
was--a floating collective organized the fluctuating vision of a non-musician
with a good record collection and big ideas. (And in fact the Scream started out
in the early Eighties as a PiL-influenced avant-noise outfit). This is why, as
with PiL, every Primal Scream album is different than the predecessor, and each
is only as good as the milieu of musicians and soundboy producer pals Gillespie
manages to mobilise. This time it's people of the calibre of Kevin Shields, the
Chemical Brothers, the Automator, and so forth, so the results are as exciting
as with Screamadelica when they worked with Wobble, Weatherall, Alex Paterson,
etc. Highlights: "Swastika Eyes"-- Never Mind the Bollocks if Giorgio Moroder
had produced it, trance-punk for the pretty vacant Gatecrasher generation.
"Pills," the collaboration with Dan the Automator, as spatialized and
atmospheric as the more fight-the-power MC5-ish tunes like "Accelerator" are
deliberately two-dimensional--it's "Higher Than The Sun" turned inside out,
Ecstasy-fueled delusions of grandeur curdled into self-loathing. "MBV Arkestra":
almost as good as the title suggests.

Mind you, the lack of a proper rhythmic engine behind not-a-band outfits like
Primal Scream means that live, they tend to suck. After the testifications from
witnesses of their UK show to the effect that Primal Scream are the greatest
rock'n'roll band on earth, I was stunned by how flat and grooveless their New
York date was: as Carducci put it, rock has nothing to do with volume or
distortion, it's about a rhythmic combustion between the players, and that spark
was barely there. And what, I ask you, is the point of employing one of the
greatest guitarists of the last 20 year (ie K. Shields) if he's only doing
simple two-chords fuzz-riffage?


MOMUS
Stars Forever (Le Grand Magistery)
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
69 Love Songs (merge)

Clever sods. Sometimes too clever for anybody's good, but clever sods
nonetheless.



ROCK!!!!!!

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
R (Interscope)

Having seen them live a year or so ago, in a smoky sweatpit of a club on St
Marks Place--quite possibly the only guitar band I've seen in the last two years
but then I hardly get out at all these days--I can testify that Queens of the
Stone Age rock, most assuredly they do. And this album fucken rocks... But
rocking and even fucken rocking don't quite have the same resonance anymore, as
achievements, in the same way that saying something "swings" doesn't set off the
same reverberations as when jazz was the Zeitgeist's very pulse back in the hot
whenevers...

QOTSA are everybody's token rock group it seems. Then again, why not QOTA, when
you consider the competition rockband-swise.... The great materialist theorist
of rock, Joseph Carducci, endorsed Kyuss (the band QOTSA flaked off from) as
just about the single solitary form-advancing and all-round top band to emerge
in the Nineties. In Rock and the Pop Narcotic 's updated second edition, he
raved about how primordial and reptilian-brain-activating and quagmirey and
marsh-gas stankin' Kyuss's funk was.... Thing is, no disrespect to Mr. Carducci,
but Queens, despite their prehistoric-themed moniker, actually sound kinda clean
and gritless to me. This is real metal machine music. At that gig, they played
something from the first album that had a real motorik Tago Mago -meets-Neu!
churn to, an awesome drum pattern that rotated remorselessly and futilely like
the caterpillar treads on a bulldozer that's flipped over like a beetle on its
back.... and some tracks on this new album have a real silvered rush that's
almost clinical (no diss-word in my lexicon), almost Plastikman like or
something. It's odd that Carducci, the great defender of heavy metal, and the
righteous scourge of the drum machine and frigid digitalized riddim hasn't noted
metal's tremendous envy of the machine.... all that killing machine imagery ....
Very few rock bands are either capable of or even aspire to the kind of Jeff
Beck/Santana-style jam-wank fluency that for Joe is the essence of rock's
internal combustion.... most bands would be happy to each time replicate exactly
that Platonic Form Ideal Version of each song... So QOTSA, as drug-assisted
humans on a becoming-machine trip, are essentially plying the same trade as
Hawtin or Beltram or any techno producer... That at least is my rationalisation
for the first appearance of a rock band in the Faves since Royal Trux several
years ago.




kieran's pick

VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Story That The Crow Told Me: Early American Rural Children's Songs, Vol 1
(Yazoo/Shanachie)

Imagine a sort of Appalachian Teletubbies and you'll be close to this Harry
Smith-esque comp's charm.




REISSUES

ASSOCIATES
Fourth Drawer Down
Sulk
Double Hipness
(V2)

The first time I heard Associates was the first time I saw Associates was one of
the four or five true pop epiphanies of my life: Top of the Pops, February 1982,
"Party Fears Two". That blithe bittersweet piano refrain, the cold smolder of
Billy MacKenzie's voice, the still-never-totally-fathomed-to-this-day
song-scenario (oblique snapshots of a breakup in progress?).... But what really
brought me to the brink of a swoon was the way MacKenzie moved (at one point, he
sashayed backwards), the impossible panache of the man. Even if he'd never
emitted breath into a microphone and engraved it in wax, if you just saw him
strolling down the street on the way back from Sainsburys, you'd still have
recognised a star from the supernatural glow.

That TOTP appearance pierced and transfixed lots of other people: "Party Fears"
shot straight to Number 9 the following week, launching Associates's brief (just
eight months!) reign as a pop sensation. The career/careen of Billy MacKenzie
invites all kinds of questions about why born stars can't maintain, the reason
they mutilate their own genius and fail their own gift. I won't get into the
biographical speculations about MacKenzie's apparent self-destructive streak,
but there's another related mystery worth addressing: how does "chemistry"
happen in pop music, why is it so hard to sustain or recreate? The fact is that
without his other half, Alan Rankine, MacKenzie produced fine but ultimately
modest and minor work that we (meaning critics) bigged up extravagantly only
'cos we loved the guy so much; harsher still is the truth that Rankine has done
nothing of consequence sans Billy. Even when they briefly reunited in 1993, the
duo couldn't re-ignite the spark--judging by the scrappy, incandescence-free
Autchterhouse Sessions, now available on Double Hipness, a double CD of demos,
out-takes, alternate versions, and other undercooked material that mostly serves
to tarnish the myth.

To the ears and eyes of the fan, it's the precedent-free singularity of the love
object, its un-likeness to anything past or present, that is dazzling in its
obviousness. The task of the critic, though, is (supposedly) to bypass the
present-tense, ahistorical FAB WOW! and get into analysis--breaking something
down into its constituents, showing where it came from. At the time it never
even remotely occurred to me, but now (cursed with knowledge) I can hear the
substantial debt to Bowie in MacKenzie's voice and in elements of the Associates
sound. Billy might actually be the sole example of a positive Bowie influence in
the annals of UK pop. Indeed, the first Associates single was a cover of "Boys
Keep Swinging" (included on Double Hipness, it's oddly restrained, un-camp,
almost U2-like in its earnestness), and Billy later sang a highly-strung version
of "Secret Life of Arabia" (from Heroes) for BEF's Songs of Quality and
Distinction.

The spate of astonishing EPs subsequently compiled as Fourth Drawer Down (now
reissued with several extra tracks) are steeped in the un-American Europe
Endless-ness of Bowie's Berlin trilogy Low/Heroes/Lodger --especially "White Car
In Germany", with its metronomic march rhythm and "Dusseldorf's a cold
place/Walk on eggs in Munich" lyric. With its furtive rhythm, broken balalaika
riff, echoing footsteps, and clammy electronics, "Q Quarters" is Hapsburg dub,
Cabaret Voltaire remaking The Third Man soundtrack. Lyric shards about "concrete
civilians" and the black-humorous punch line "'washing down bodies/seems to me a
dead end job" conjure a Cold War ambience-- partitioned cities, deportations,
informers, double agents. Think The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, the Ipcress
File (Rankine and MacKenzie had bonded through their love of soundtracks, plus
Kraftwerk and disco). Other Fourth Drawer gems include "A Girl Named Property"
(Scott Walker, from the title downwards), the torrid xylophone-scampering romp
of "Kitchen Person", the sculpted histrionics of "Tell Me Easter's On Friday,"
and the "I Am The Walrus"-like Dada-dementia of "Message Oblique Speech" ("he
drinks double hernias/spits out wooden spoons').

The non-American aspect was crucial: the Associates aesthetic revolved around
Anglo art-rock's artifice/androgyny/aristocracy (apologies for alliteration
overload), around disco diva operatics and fabulousity, i.e. things considered
treasonably unmanly and effete by American heartland rock'n'rollers. Many of
their favorite bands also passed through the glam/disco interzone: Sparks
shifted from guitar swashbuckling hysteria into Moroderized electro-throb, Roxy
streamlined their angular art-rock into sleek jet-set disco. And there was that
man Bowie again--the plastic funk of "Golden Years," the Neu Romanticism of
"Ashes To Ashes". "Funk art, let's dance" anti-rockism was par for the course,
of course, for UK bands poised on the cusp between post-punk and New Pop, angst
and irony. But unlike most of the music of that 1980-82 era, which now sounds
dated, flimsy, and "funky" only in the most notional sense (e.g. Lexicon of Love
--then hailed as possibly the best pop album of all time, but unlikely to make
any mag's Top 200 today), Associates records still tantalise like an unrequited
future: the direction pop should have gone.

Sulk is so lovely it's harrowing. Overdubbed to the hilt, obsessively mixed,
addled with bizarre found-sounds, it's bruised, over-ripe, fruity as
fuck--headspinning and delirious, all the sugar fermented to alcohol. Like the
Banshees (whom Billy admired) and later Prince, Associates crammed all the
derangement and texture-saturated voluptuousness of psychedelia into pop, nearly
bursting it at its seams. (MacKenzie actually described the Sulk sound as "Abba
on acid", Rankine called it "thick... dripping"). After the perverse opener of
instrumental "Arrogance Gave Him Up," Sulk really starts with the impossibly
towering grandeur of "No"--a tormented ballad with helium-high backing vocals
that ooze around the song's crenellations like ghostly mist. "Bap De La Bap" is
overwrought in both the emotional and baroque metalwork senses, flailed along by
the snap crackle pop of John Murphy's fireworks drums and Rankine's iceburn
spires of glassy guitar. One of the forgotten things about Associates music,
given New Pop's anti-rockist tenor, is how fabulously inventive it was as
electric guitar music. Working from the post-blues, un-American sounds of Neu!'s
Michael Rother and the blazing celestial pageantry of Fripp on "Heroes," Rankine
was part of a postpunk moment in which guitarists (Wire, Johns McKay/McGeoch of
the Banshees, Joy Div, the Edge) operated with absolute confidence that the
instrument could probe new horizons. Nobody would have dreamed of stooping to a
refried Stones lick.

Sulk has too much preciousness to inventory; the frisk and stealth and anxious
exhilaration of "Skipping," the fraught bombast of "It's Better This Way, " the
sunshafts-peeking-through-clouds intro of "Party Fears Two" and its celestial
cloisters of double-tracked MacKenzie harmonies; the Nordic Chic of "Club
Country," all zinging rhythm guitar and beetling slap-bass; Billy's words
throughout, absurd and portentous yet utterly right, from "tear a strip from
your dress/wrap my arms in it" ("No") to "it lies there canistered for future
reference" ("Nude Spoons") and "even a slight remark makes no sense and turns to
shark" ("Party Fears Two"). It's staggering to think that this record--the best
of its era--sold a quarter million copies. The re-ish adds fine B-sides of the
time like "Ulcragceptimol" and the gloriously over-the-top cover of Diana Ross's
"Love Hangover", double-A side of their last proper hit "18 Carat Love Affair."
You've heard the best, what about the rest? The first CD of Double Hipness pulls
together demos from MacKenzie/Rankine's early phase as punk-cabaret troupe
Mental Torture and sundry Associates out-takes. The early stuff, done with a
pick-up band, is motley at best, ranging from the one-line gag of "The Shadow of
My Lung" (a Lurkers-meets-Bacharach spoof-cover of "Shadow of Your Smile"),
through the almost Rocky Horror Show -like "Not Tonight Josephine," to a
smarmy-vocaled and saxophone-wheezed prototype for "18 Carat Love Affair" that's
horrifically redolent of Darts (the intended reference was probably the
rockabilly version of "John, I'm Only Dancing"). The early Associates demos are
better: "Janice (AKA Deeply Concerned)" is a beautiful sketch of a song, "Saline
Drips" shows Rankine emerging as an interesting guitarist, "Galaxy of Memories"
has the spindly spidery quality of Young Marble Giants, "Mortice Lock" hints at
flushed fevers to come, and the silverpoint stitchwork on "Big Waltz (AKA Paper
House)" has a crisp Celtic frost that is pure Edge. Disc Two is much more ropey,
with cute, utterly unnecessary early versions of Sulk and Perhaps tunes, and the
lacklustre secretions of the aforementioned Rankine/MacKenzie reunion tryst of
'93. Most of this stuff sounds like deathbed Roxy or Eighties/Nineties solo
Ferry, with Rankine impersonating an expensive session guitarist and MacKenzie
succumbing to cliche-encrusted melodrama. Still the mysterious "Edge of the
World" is a sketch for a twilight-gem a la "Slave To Love". And the muddy glam
rock pummel of "Stephen, You're Really Something"--Billy's belated riposte to
Morrissey's kiss-off "William, It Was Really Nothing"--at least inspires an
alternative-history fantasy: the parallel universe where the twosome stayed
"close" long enough to record a duet single. The fey flamboyance of the
resulting Top of the Pops appearance would probably have put me in a coma.

But being (still) a star-struck fan in relation to all things Associates, I
don't really want to hear the stumbling baby-steps towards the Divine Pinnacles
("of historical interest" is by definition anti-pop), let alone the dwindling
diminuendos of a tragically spent force. Having never bought a bootleg in my
life, I can't understand the mindset of those who savor such droppings. Fourth
Drawer Down and Sulk are all you need.




VARIOUS ARTISTS
David Mancuso presents The Loft - Volume Two (Nuphonic)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (Nuphonic)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Disco Not Disco (Strut)

Far from Studio 54's velvet-rope exclusivity and cocaine-eyed rockstars, there
was another New York disco scene: just as druggy and glam, but largely gay and
black/Hispanic. This 1970s dance underground---venues like the Sanctuary, Galaxy
21, the Gallery; DJs like Nicky Siano, Walter Gibbons, Larry Levan--was the
crucible for what came to be known as house music. Of that era's legendary
clubs, The Loft is generally cited as the source, as model and prototype for
both Paradise Garage and the Warehouse (Frankie Knuckles's transplant of the NY
vibe to Chicago).

Started in 1970 by the hippie-ish David Mancuso at his Soho apartment, the Loft
parties were famed for the sparkly audiophile-quality sound-system and
ultra-eclectic mix of music. See, this was the early Seventies, before disco was
codified as a style. And it was an absolute aeon before today's club culture,
with its splintered genres rigidly formatted around beats-per-minute. The cult
of precision-engineered mixing makes samey anonymity a virtue; today's DJs look
for compatible components rather than outstanding songs. But back in the early
Seventies, DJs barely mixed records at all. Drastic changes of tempo, style, and
mood were possible.

Where the first volume of this Mancuso-compiled series focussed on what house
afficianodos call "Loft Classics" (long, lushly orchestrated disco epics and
sultry Afro-Latin percussion workouts), Volume Two truly honors the open spirit
of that lost golden age by moving freely and anachronistically across the
Seventies, Eighties, and early Nineties. On the first disc, Philly-flavoured
shimmer by Demis Roussos (fer fucksake!!) shifts into the pert synth-funk
choogle of D-Train's heartbursting hopeful "Keep On", then cuts into the musky
dub-funk swirl of Jah Wobble/Jaki Liebezeit/Holger Czukay's "How Much Are
They?." Disc Two encompasses the peerless mutant disco of Dinosaur L's "#5 (Go
Bang), dub wizard Joe Gibbs's "Chapter Three", the ambient house waft of Holy
Ghost's "Walk On Air," and 16 minutes of "Macho City" by Steve Miller Band (fer
fuck's fuckingsake!!!). The latter---disco-rock with a deluxe sensurround
production a la Welcome to the Pleasuredome --shows how DJs back then would look
anywhere and everywhere for gems, and find them. Also containing the Steve
Miller track, Disco Not Disco focuses on the early Eighties "mutant disco" era
and features some hard-to-find Arthur Russell classics. (Nuphonic apparently
have a Russell oeuvre anthology in the pipeline for this year).

Based around Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's dance history, Last Night A DJ
Saved My Life is even more crazily eclectic. Its single disc starts with
Handel's "Largo" (the first recording played over the radio, back in 1906),
proceeds through Northern Soul, roots reggae, Philly and Salsoul (like the
fabulous 11 minute version of "Love Is the Message"), a slight but catchy effort
from a post-Blockheads Chas Jankel, yet another Wobble/Czukay gem, before
finally winding up with Visage's "Frequency 7" (a B-Side that was "seminal" in
early Eighties Detroit). With scarcely a whiff from the Nineties, the
compilation reinforces Brewster/Broughton's thesis (more accurately, bias, since
it's barely argued, just taken as something "one instinctively knows is right")
that nothing of real note happened in dance culture after 1988. At best, you got
respectful continuation of the Grand Disco/House Tradition; at worst, the
"diabolical mutations" that were bleep, hardcore, trance, jungle, big beat,
2step garage, etc. Wrong! Still, the duo deserve kudos for exhuming a classic
early Larry Levan mix, Class Action's "Weekend" from 1983. This was the first,
but not last, record I purchased largely because it had a fabulously intricate
and brain-ticklingly catchy hi-hat pattern. As such it was, on many levels, the
shape of things to come.

With two books largely on this era ( Last Night A DJ, and Kai Fikentscher's more
academic treatise You Better Work) plus a memoir from the guy who founded
Paradise Garage, all these compilations, and various clubs based around the 70s
underground disco concept (Body N' Soul; a night based around Nicky Siano, a
contemporary of Mancuso's), it's almost like New York underground disco has
become a heritage industry, as identified with Manhattan as, say, jazz is with
New Orleans. People come from all over the world to experience Body N' Soul's
time-travel simulacrum of a bygone time.



VARIOUS ARTISTS
OHM: the early gurus of electronic music (Ellipsis Arts)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Vintage Volts: Early Modulations (Caipirinha)

An exquisitely packaged fetish object, Ohm 's 3-CD survey of avant-classical
electronix and musique concrete is also a sonic treasure trove, gathering choice
cuts from out-of-print albums that are near-impossible to find and
extortionately priced if you do. Featuring oeuvre pinnacles from suspects usual
(Cage, Schaeffer, Eno, Stockhausen) and lesser known (Pauline Oliveros, David
Behrman, Charles Dodge), OHM reveals the vivid and varied soundworlds opened up
by the synthesizer and "sampling" (in its pre-digital, tape-and-scissors form)
long before the dawn of the beats-per-minute era. Not quite as deluxe or
encompassing, Vintage Volts is also highly recommended, and features some
interesting lesser-knowns like Vladimir Ussachevsky and Max Matthews alongside
yer Morton Subotniks and Luc Ferrari.


VARIOUS ARTISTS
Droppin' Science: The Best of Cold Chillin' (BBE)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Ego Trip's The Big Playback (Rawkus)

Not to romanticize the old skool days but these comps are electric with that
rough-and-ready, made-on-the-fly excitement that characterizes all musical
movements in their early days--before career paths become mapped out and anybody
even thinks there's a future for this thing...
more tasty reissues


PLAID
Trainer (Warp)

Wish someone would do something like this for the proper Black Dog early stuff
which is virtually unobtainable; this has a lot of the offshoot/alter-ego music
by Balil and such. Captivating stuff.


MASTERS AT WORK
The Tenth Anniversary Collection: Part One 1990-1995, the Definitive Remixes and
Original Production (BBE)

Cor, bargain! Four CDs of classic New York house and house-not-house, in an
attractive silver box with smart booklet and record-style sleeves for the silver
discs, all for under $26. Wish somebody'd do the same--round up in one package
the classic remixes and original tracks--for others in the pantheon of US house
auteurs, e.g. Mood II Swing, Deep Dish, Todd Edwards, Todd Terry, etc.


VARIOUS ARTISTS
Absolutely Classic Drum & Bass (Slammin' Vinyl)

One to get on vinyl, as opposed to mixed CD, for the full-length versions of
such virtually unfindable, collectors-market-overpriced-if-you-do, old skool
hardcore classics as Bodysnatch's "Just 4 You London", Potential Bad Boy's
"Let's Go" (from "Work the Box" EP), and DJ Ron & EQP's "Crackman the Return"--
three of the most delirious, febrile-sounding darkside tunes ever. Plus good
stuff from Noise Factory, Ellis Dee, Swan E, and others.




STILL ON THE FENCE

PJ HARVEY
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island)
Certainly the easiest-to-listen PJH album to date. Strong songs, clear singing,
clean production. Like with Hole's make-it-big move Live Through This, though,
my first thought on listening to Stories From the City was: Concrete Blonde.
There might be a lot to recommend within, all kinds of artistic and personal
growth, but I can't hear past how dull and conventional its sound sounds.


GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR!
Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! (kranky)

If Kid A was the upper-middlebrow candidate for this year's Most Important
Album, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists looked set to sweep the highbrow/hipster vote (but
just got pipped by Sigur Ros, seemingly). Kid A and Lift Yr are both grand
statements, bleak panoramic views of the Zeitgeist wrapped in music that
revitalizes the "post-rock" project. Post-rock tends not to be about anything,
though, beyond the exploration of sound-in-itself. What immediately
distinguishes Godspeed is their expressionistic passion and their
politics--which are vague, but anti-capitalist and apocalyptic in tenor. In the
CD booklet, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists is dedicated "to quiet refusals, loud refusals
and sad refusals". "Loud" is what Godspeed are most renowned for, especially in
their reputedly gobsmacking live shows. With keening strings, harrowed guitars,
and two drummers, Godspeed stir up a wall of sound that escalates and abates
like popular disorder. Mournful yet exultant, the music has the doomed
Romanticism of revolutionaries dashing themselves against an immovable status
quo, or the epic historical clash of vast impersonal forces (something
reinforced by bombastic titles like "Terrible Canyons of Static", "World Police
and Friendly Fires", "Cancer Towers on the Holy Road Hi-Way"). Godspeed's "loud"
mode often provokes comparisons with soundtrack composers from a classical
background, like Ennio Morricone and Michael Nyman. Composer-wise, they actually
remind me more of Penderecki, symphonic mourner of 20th Century atrocities like
the Holocaust and Hiroshima. A Pendereski-esque alternative title for this album
could be Threnody for the Victims of Globalization.

After a while , though, the "loud" Godspeed's hope-against-hope histrionics
start to seem a little hammy and (pardon my Quebecois) deja ecoute: the maudlin'
strings, the cantergallopfranticpell-mell dynamics, the anguished crescendos.
Personally, I prefer the "quiet" and "sad" modes: interludes of intricate
anxiety, plangent sound-collages, beautiful lulls of spidery, jackfrost guitar.
Much of disc two is taken up by gorgeous ghost-town driftwork redolent of Ry
Cooder's haunting slide-guitar score for Paris, Texas: saloon doors slapping in
the breeze, tumbleweed ricocheting off a picket fence, wind whistling through
the telegraph wires. In this desolation row context, the vocal samples are
potently poignant, like old-timer Murray Ostril lamenting the bygone golden days
of Coney Island, when "we even used to sleep on the beach overnight... they
don't sleep anymore on the beach". Deliberately or accidentally, the sample
echoes the Situationist graffiti that was ubiquitous in Paris during the
build-up to the May 1968 uprising: "underneath the pavement lies the beach."
What Godspeed seem to mourn is the withering away of the utopian imagination,
the way people seem reconciled to the panglobal triumph of what the
Situationists called "the commodity-spectacle society," to living a dreamless
existence. Ultimately, sonic reservations withal, one must salute Godspeed's
courage for risking Big-ness--sheer size of sound, emotion, theme. If this
sometimes results in deluges of grandiosity, it's because Godspeed music
dramatizes the internal struggle within each band member: optimism of the will
versus pessimism of the intellect.



SIGUR ROS
Agaetis Byrjun (Fat Cat)

Initial encounters have left a vague impression of "pretty", in a sort of 4AD
for the Y2K stylee. But clearly there's more here than meets the ear. There must
be, mustn't there?


EMINEM
The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath)

He's rather good at it, isn't he, this rapping thing? But does consummate rhyme
virtuosity make up for such unflagging white-niggativity? You're not supposed to
object to the queerbashing and gynocidal imagery because that's PC or uncool or
sanctimonious or something. It does sorta make me wonder how "we" got to this
point of numbness to stuff that's just noxious--it's not even about disapproval,
or imagining that it has a corrupting effect, which is all infinitely debatable,
it's more a question of why even expose yourself to this stuff, why waste your
time? Eminem may be a great "artist", but at the end of the day, so what? You
could be listening to Astral Weeks or Al Green or Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony
or In A Silent Way or the Congos or.... something, dare I say it, elevating.
Just personally, I have wondered recently how I got to this point where I can
listen to the Cash Money boys degrading their groupies, or DJ Assault looping
all this ass'n'titty-lick-the-balls-bitch crap, without much more than a flicker
of disgust. Obviously I'm not its target, but then again, I had my mind
re-arranged at 16 by The Female Eunuch, hung with radical feminists at
university, believed in androgyny all through the Smithsy Eighties. There's a
case for the defense, artistic license (if Nick Cave can sing about killing
women and it's art, why condemn gangsta or booty?), but I'm more interested in
the question of the numbness: the fact that hardly anybody even bothers to
object anymore.

I can see why Eminem is so lauded: most rock critics are in the business of
persona analysis, and who else around in the pop charts is more than
two-dimensional? Britney Spears might as well be a robot for all her personality
is involved in her music, which is as enjoyable as any ruthlessly efficient and
perfectly designed machine, e.g. your typical Hollywood blockbuster, and just as
not-worth-thinking-or-talking-about. But with Eminem, you can do the shrink
thing, you can do the sociologist thing, there's plenty of material to work
with. Like, "Stan" --a pretty song indeed--but the lure for the critics is that
it's a self-reflexive pop song about the dynamics of stardom and fandom, as
self-aware as Morrissey's "Rubber Ring". More intriguing for me, though, is that
in the song's scenario of disavowed boy-love, the woman (pregnant too, woman at
her womanliest but also most potent) gets killed into the bargain. You could see
why Stan has to die, for raising the spectre of homo-eroticism, but why the
woman too? Could just be gratuitous melodrama/shock-horror factor, but it
suggests to me that Stan's line "we was meant to be together" is Eminem
projecting his own buried longings onto his "confused" fan (who appears to be
closer to knowing what he really wants than Em). A longing to bypass womankind
and find a true soul-mate, a male wife. That's the only way I can explain the
tone of tenderness and concern that appears nowhere else in Eminem's songs. Stan
as mirror image of Eminem's damaged narcissism (and where are all these supposed
Shady-clones anyway? The video again reminiscent of Morrissey--the one where
Stephen cycles around town followed by bequiffed and bespectacled
Mozzer-clones).


THE WEST LONDON SOUND a/k/a BROKEN BEATS

VARIOUS ARTISTS
People... Make the World Go Round (People)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Co-Operation Vol 1 (Goya)
NEW SECTOR MOVEMENTS
No Tricks (Virgin)
JAZZANOVA
The Remixes 1997-2000 (Compost)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Good Good (2000 Black)
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Compost Community (Compost Records)

With no massive convulsion likely to renew dance culture any time soon, some
observers are touting "broken beats" a/ka "the West London Sound" (a/k/a
"house-not-house", "nu-jazz", "phusion": why can't they just settle on the one
name?!) as the Next Medium-Sized Thing. Weaving together the jazzier strands of
drum'n'bass, deep house, and Detroit techno, this new(-ish) style could be
critiqued from a number of angles: sceptics arguing that it's merely acid jazz
upgraded with digital tricknology, populists attacking it as a composite of
cognoscenti-oriented snob musics (fusion, rare groove, acid jazz again) that
unavoidably conjures the image of some twat sashaying down Portobello Road in
Jamiroquai-style woolly hat and wafting the stale reek of jazz Woodbines in his
wake. But, hey, I thought: maybe I should check my bigotries at the door, wipe
from my mindscreen the incontrovertible subcultural pre-eminence of East London
(font of greatness from hardcore to jungle to 2step), and give the new contender
a half-chance.

Well that's what I did and I'm still on the fence. The People double-CD has some
magic moments, especially when this dude I.G. Culture is involved--particularly
his Likwid Biskit alter-ego, rather than New Sector Movements. The latter's
Virgin debut EP has some good sounds'n'rhythms but they're ruined by a Big-Voice
Female Singer doing this Afrodelic mystical positivity thing a la Rotary
Connection or the vocalists on Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston records. Co-Operation
Vol 1---named after this micro-scene's principal club, the Co-Op---shines when
Reinforced's side label for broken beats, 2000 Black, is involved: Seiji &
G-Force's "Chase De Ace" and Nu Era & Pavel Dego Kostiuk's "Nana Nomura" take
off from the 70s-into-90s nu-fusion developed by on Parallel Universe /disc one
of Two Pages /Jacob's Optical Stairway and soar to virgin outerzones of
drum'n'space. The twinkling keyboards and crisply textured percussion exude the
cosmic utopianism of Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith. There's a particular
Moog-tastic synth-sound--sort of spangly and squelchy at once---that's all over
the Reinforced posse's productions and I can't get enough of it. Surprisingly,
though, 2000 Black's own comp The Good Good (out on Planet E in the USA--and
Innerzone Orchestra is a good reference point actually) is a bit blah, on the
whole.

4 Hero have the first track on Jazzanova's double CD collection of their
celebrated remixes. Part of the Compost family (the German chapter of "broken
beats" movement), Jazzanova are feted for their flair at digitally simulating
the "feel" and "swing" of real live drumming, and for their facility for
complicated time-signatures. Like their West London allies, Jazzanova fetishize
analog and acoustic timbres, the sort of "warm", fuzzy sounds that get
DJ/producers digging through crates of old vinyl in search of undiscovered
sample-sources from the 1970s. They also exemplify the broken beats scene's
hallmark infatuation with Brazil, home of musical hybridity and polyrhythmic
percussion. Remix clients here include Brazilian fusion outfit Azymuth, and
there's a pervasive bossa nova influence. The Brazilian fetish also results in
some truly puke-provoking Portuguese-sounding names--Modaji, Misa Negra, Domu,
Da Lata (apparently a reference to some folkloric tale about marijuana first
arriving on Brazilian shores in a tin---pass the sick bucket, please).
Jazzanova's own name is enough to make me vom into my lap each time my eyes make
contact with it. And as I've said before in these pages, you can tell a
lot--maybe everything--from the names of bands and titles of records.

Still, if you ever dug the jazzual, easy-glistening side of drum'n'bass--Alex
Reece's "Jazz Master", Roni Size's Roy Ayers/RAMP sampling "Daylight" , Adam F's
"Circles": and those are all undeniable, certified bomb tunes in my book--you'll
find thrills here and there within the West London output and on the Compost
compilation especially. Unavoidably, though, there is that Gilles Peterson/Mo
Wax/Bar Rhumba/Blue Note/Straight No Chaser/Kirk De Giorgio sort of stench round
the whole thing---and the lack of any interesting "social energy" behind the
scene is a big minus for me. Not sure if West London/broken even counts as a
genre as such, it's more like an aggregation of oneupmanship strategies---a
tapestry of music styles that have all historically been rallied to as
connoiseurial bulwarks of taste and musicality against the plebeian rave horde.

Still, toying with this genre did lead to me a new theory...


THE THEORY OF VIBE MIGRATION

Historically, it does seem that the Next Big Thing always comes from where you
least expect it: from areas of music that are disregarded, despised,
written-off. Think of disco, decreed dead, regenerating itself as house and
having the last, very loud and very long laugh. Think of rave, supposedly
finished, kaput, utterly worthless, resurging in mutant forms as both jungle and
gabba/hardcore. Think of the innumerable rebirths, the eternal returns, of heavy
metal--NWBHM; thrash; death; black; rap-metal, QOTSA-style stoner metal...
Just personally-speaking, the two most exciting musics for me in recent years
have both come from the last zones I would have expected anything good to
emerge. Garage---which in the early-to-mid Nineties, always seemed like the
tamest, mildest scene (especially its UK version; I even have some garage pirate
tapes from '96 just before speed garage that somebody sent me, and it's amazing
how pale and uninteresting they are.). And gangsta rap--which seemed sonically
retarded (No Limit as the NWBHM of rap) until the Cash Money/Ruff
Ryders/Roc-A-Fella wave came through. In a smaller way, Goa Trance--a genre
which like most non-disciples I'd found repulsive--got interesting when it went
darker and name-changed to psy-trance: it'd never be anything I could base my
pop life around, but every time I encounter it in its full-on context, I'm
struck by how striking it as music, way more interesting than you'd imagine,
honest.

The Theory of Vibe Migration is something I probably should have grasped a long
time ago: it seems common sense that if you keep looking for your bliss in the
same place you will wind-up disappointed. Cultural lightning never strikes
twice, a watched kettle never boils, etc etc. Instead I wasted most of 1989/90
imagining the blissrock/oceanic rock/posthardcore wig-out moment was going to
keep on escalating, and I should have seen the writing on the wall re.
drum'n'bass hitting a dead-end even earlier than I did. It's a mark of real
existensial delicacy to know when to leave a party, the exact right moment
before the energy sags. Same with genres and scenes.

This year a couple more "last place I would have dreamed" type genres have taken
me unawares. The whole glitch-core/laptop punk/kid606-and-friends commotion
isn't just IDM getting good, it's essentially an IDM subgenre I'd especially
loathed: drill'n'bass. "Progressive", the most boring of trancey genres, the
descendant of that dishwater-dull progressive house thing in the early Nineties,
spawned Timo Maas---not a redemption of the sorry genre (see Unfaves of 2000) by
any means, but more than I expected. This is why I'm still not ready to write
off the West London thing, because its parent genre--acid jazz--is absolutely
the last place I would have dreamed anything of interest coming from. According
to the Theory of Vibe Migration, it is therefore a prime candidate and something
that should be monitored closely. By similar logic, 2step and UK garage now have
the odds heavily stacked against them, in terms of staying interesting. If being
a hipster was like playing the market, now would be the time to sell your
stocks. Of course, when you factor in the Mystery of Subcultural Persistence,
it's clear that 90 percent of musical activity is stagnant and stalled, and in
most cases it's going to stay that way; it's highly unlikely that, say, techno
or drum'n'bass is suddenly going to spawn the new sub-paradigm, if only because
it had a good run at being the leading edge already. Still, keeping an ear on
things you've dismissed as passe or used-up still seems a useful strategy.

Most "normal" people probably spend significantly more of their annual listening
time playing records that don't come from that particular year than records that
do. I'd probably do the same if I wasn't a "professional fan" (interesting
contradiction-in-terms, that). But even when it's your vocation to keep tabs on
the new, sometimes you just gotta ignore the mounting piles of unplayed promos
and dig (out) the old music. And so here's my...


NOSTALGIA OF THE YEAR: AMBIENT JUNGLE

Another Pop Mystery I've been contemplating recently relates to the life cycles
of genres, their arc and fall. You can be basking in the blooming fullness of a
genre's annus mirabilus, and somehow it never occurs that this is obviously the
golden age, the peak, the best it's ever gonna get, and that the only way
forward now is downhill. When you're in the thick of it, you think it can just
carry on forever at this perpetual crest.... Records that at the time seem like
portents or glimpses of so-much-more-to-come turn out, years later, to have been
swan-songs, the last of the summer wine. Who'd have thought, for instance, that
Adam F's 'Metropolis' and Nasty Habit's 'Shadowboxing" were destined to be the
historical pinnacle of techstep (and therefore drum'n'bass), that they were
form-defining and form-exhausting ultra-tunes?

These thoughts emerged during a spate of compulsive re-listening to what they
used to call (alright, what I used to call) "ambient jungle", which inspired
musings on the lines of why couldn't this music just stay forever at this
sustained peak of awesomeness? Why do musics have to deteriorate or die? Tracks
like Dillinja's "Deep Love" and "Sovereign Melody," Bukem's "Atlantis", EZ
Roller's 'Believe" and "Rolled Into One" (Moving Shadow's last masterpiece?),
the Steve Gurley's remix (more like re-production) of Princess's Eighties
Britsoul classic of yearning "Say I'm Your Number One," still sound so
fantastic----why couldn't they have carried on like this until the end of time,
or at least lasted out the decade. A peculiar twist of hind-hearing is that even
tracks I didn't rate particularly at the time sound fabulous now, like PFM's
"One and Only"---the way the bass moves and drops, the ripple-trails and
glistening vapors of ambience, the explosive entrance of the diva vocal. Then
there's Peshay, a producer I've never rated--his track on the first Logical
Progression, "Vocal", is amazing, and I never even noticed it at the time; that
kind of Speed-oriented mellow jazzual track was the enemy, back then. Now, long
after the battle's subsided, whatever was at stake a faint memory, I can hear it
as a tour de force of exquisitely mashed-up beats and diva deployment, using a
vocal sample (Anita Baker? Barbara Tucker? it's the vocal lick that goes "I'm
singing to you") that's got more in common with a beautifully designed
commodity, a sports car or leather sofa, than say Aretha Franklin; it's all
burnished technique and poise, not raw soul. After 2step I can appreciate what
is basically a kind of capitalist utopianism behind such fetishising of elegance
and surface slickness. Another example: in my disappointment that Omni Trio had
abandoned the euphoria fireworks of the "Renegade Snares" formula, I missed how
good bits of Haunted Science are--"Who Are You?" and especially "The Elemental",
an early neurofunk-style two-stepper beat with keyboard lines as delicate as dew
settling and bass-drops like tender thunder--how cleverly Rob Haigh had
developed a new, calmer but still compelling style of drum'n'bass for the home
environment.

The truth is that there always was an integral side to drum'n'bass that wasn't
about rudeness (nasty B-lines, mash-up breakbeats) but about supreme dainty-ness
and neat-freak finesse. It's a different kind of rush--the tingle you can get
from the groomed delicacy of a hi-hat pattern, the nimble, glancing panache of a
synth-chord flourish. Jacob's Optical Stairway, the oft-maligned alter-ego album
by 4 Hero, is some kind of pinnacle in this respect: the detail in the music
induces its own kind of high, the aural equivalent of putting on your first pair
of glasses and suddenly everything's ultra-sharp.

The chill-ness of "ambient jungle" and the jazzy stuff that followed is also
more appealing, partly because of the feeling that I've listened to enough
extreme music for a lifetime so why not go with sheer beauty and pleasantness
for a bit, and partly because there's nothing like parenthood to make you
appreciate the aesthetic of stress-reduction. (Actually, a few years ago I had
something of an epiphany: a plane trip, creating the typical intense stress
situation right up til you go with all the getting work done before departure
and packing in a rush. Coiled as tight as bedsprings, we got in the cab to JFK;
the driver had the radio tuned to one of those lite-jazz stations, the kind that
plays what Jackson Griffiths dubbed "biz jazz", the post-ECM, post-fusion
travesty of jazz favored by many corporate executives (and Yellowjackets fan
Goldie). Any other day my response would have been nausea, but the music hit
like a IV drip pumping liquid valium straight into the spine. Instant
tranquilizing bliss. That day, I could dig it.). Of course, people still make
this kind of drum'n'bass (or carry on doing something pretty similar in spirit
e.g. broken beats/West London Sound) and it's not as good as the 94/95 stuff.
LTJ Bukem's long-awaited debut album came out this year--encased in a striking
period-looking jazz-fusion style cover, and with a montage of snapshots of his
jazzbo heroes on the inside--but it got almost no attention. Bit sad, for a guy
who once commanded dance magazine cover stories.

But going back to the golden period that late 93/94/95 phase when darkside
started to flirt with musicality, blossomed into artcore/ambient-jungle, and
then went too far into the fuzak-zone.... quite a few tracks from that era fit
the syndrome of "lost future" music, or genres-that-never-were (but could/should
have been). Sometimes A-sides, more often B-side tunes or track four on an EP
jobs, these tunes--Blame's "Anthemia", Trace's "Jazz Primitives", Myerson's
"Find Yourself" (with its painted bird of a Flora Purim sample flitting through
a labyrinth of future-jazz foliage), lots more--feel like they could have been
blueprints for entire worlds of sound , but of course they weren't. The DJs
weeded them out; the massive rejected them. Still, I'm fascinated by these
tracks that represent a path not taken.



other oldies but goodies:


La Dusseldorf ---Klaus Dinger's post-Neu! debut, the first track is as good as
anything by Neu!

The Sweet---"Blockbuster", "Ballroom Blitz", "Teenage Rampage", "Action"--the
plastic Pistols.

Kraftwerk--"Neon Lights"--untouchable perfection, almost religious music

Old speed garage: Smokin' Beats's "Dreams", Armand Van Helden's "Spin Spin
Sugar" remix, etc--and apparently the pirates are going through a back to
97/four-to-the-floor revival right now

Lee Perry--"Come Along", "Roast Fish and Cornbread"--and after dissing Scratch
'n'all

Israel Vibration-- "Why Worry?/Worry Dub"--prod. Tommy Cowans and just one of
the most gorgeously disorienting dubs ever

X Ray Spex -- Germ Free Adolescents --warri-or, warri-or,warri-warri-or!

Harold Budd/Brian Eno-- The Plateaux of Mirror --Arcadian slopes of drowsy
blissdust--excuse the '88 flashback



WORDS

Read a few good books this year: Martin Amis's oddly affecting
Kingsley-and-dentistry memoir; Zadie Smiths' flawed but funny White Teeth; Jason
Toynbee's Making Popular Music which wraps some rigorous writing about dance
music inside a dull title and a crap cover, Ghostly Demarcations, an interesting
collection of essays in response or riposte to Derrida's recent rapprochment
with "a certain spirit of Marx".... Nothing compared to Nothing by Paul Morley,
which as (mostly) non-music writing is easily the finest achievement of his
generation of ex-inkie writers (not as huge a compliment as it sounds when
scrutinized, but still....). Dealing with his father's unexpected (but not out
of the blue, since he'd already been going AWOL periodically) suicide when the
author was a post-punk in his late teens Nothing deploys some of the stylistic
techniques Morley used with music writing ---making what's almost the same point
(or asking virtually the same question) over and over again but from a slightly
different angle; accumulating intensity via repetition----but to almost
infinitely more powerful effect, given the harrowing and ultra-profound nature
of the subject. There is one staggering passage where Morley devotes several
pages to describing in excruciating detail his physical actions and wobbly state
of mind as he cleaned a filthy cooker immediately after being informed of his
father's death (his aunt, bless her, thought it would distract the Morley
children if they had physical chores to occupy them). Quite a lot of the book is
a memoir of growing up in the North of England in the 1970s, and in the middle,
dealing with secondary school days, Morley loses his touch for a while,
exaggerating the contrast between the looming menace of the tyrannical teachers
and his own cowering insignificance for a comic effect that doesn't quite come
off. But the last third or so of the book is devastating, drawing upon
interviews with his mother and sisters (who, typically English, had never talked
together about the family tragedy/mystery) and closing with an amazing chapter
that calmly describes Morley's grim pilgrimage to the country lane in Wales
where his father parked the car and pumped it full of carbon monoxide, trying
all the while to imagine what was going through his dad's head. Nothing is an
amazing piece of writing. The picture of the sofa on the cover is pretty cool,
too.





UNFAVES OF 2000

UNFAVES OF 2000simon reynolds's
UNFAVES OF 2000
(now incorporating OVERRATED OF THE YEAR)

No panoramic whinge-fest this time.... Not that things were so much better last
year than 1999 (still waiting on a new paradigm, fresh-making meta-context, or
mega-convulsion on the scale of rap or rave) but as Faves of 2000 showed (and it
only scratched the surface, of course) there was more good-to-great music
unleashed into the world last year than any sane person could physically absorb,
and even more that qualified as interesting/promising/thought-provoking. Lots of
little reasons to be cheerful, then--or at least keep your ears trained on this
area of the culture (whereas, films, books, TV--I mean, let's face it, pop
music, even at its most piss-poor, pisses on that lot from extreme height every
time.) That said, last year there was also a surfeit of reasons to be irritated,
affronted, repelled, depressed.... So without further delay (and let's just pass
over the little matter of this thing being four months late) here goes with this
year's rollcall of dishonour.


2STEP GARAGE AS A CULTURE

Did this piece on 2step for Vibe, they were looking for illustrations, so I sent
the few club and rave flyers I'd gleaned. Owing to some clerical error, I got
this hefty package back from them through the mail, containing my flyers plus
tons of others they'd procured by means unknown. Sometimes it's only when you
confront a culture in concentrated bulk form, that you realize how crap it
really is. I mean, these flyers were so relentlessly tacky, so cheaply put
together, so lacking in rave-era humour or wackiness. Pix of horrible
cheesy-looking birds in flash scanties, images of champagne flutes and similar
nouveau riche imagery. Tack-eee! A real turn-off.

I'd had my 2step anti-epiphany earlier, though---doing another feature on UK
garage, as it happened, this time for Spin. I expect this isn't especially
uncommon: feelings of cognitive dissonance when you love a particular form of
music yet are confronted with the "social energy" that fuels the music and is
essential to its very existence, and find it grim, dismal, in all ways
irredeemable, just a drag to be near. Field-researching the piece in clubs like
Liberty's and Twice As Nice, I found myself wondering why on earth anyone would
voluntarily expose themselves to the toxic atmosphere of tension, incivility,
and snooty attitude that permeates these events. I mean, my excuse was I was
being paid to be there, and got in for free--why would you actually pay--queue
for ages, and then pay hard-earned dosh--to experience such sustained
unpleasantness? UK garage's collective superiority complex is the antithesis not
just of rave but of house culture: uptight, alpha-male, peacock, skrewface,
people looking down their charlyed-up noses at each other, imagining themselves
hot-shit cos of their costly garments---the fatuous circularity of paying tons
of money for clothes that are desirable simply because they signify you paid
tons of money for them. Why would anybody want to waste their precious leisure
time in such a no-fun, merriment-free space?

People who are into this lifestyle (as opposed to the music, which you can
sort-of-but-not-really separate from the subculture) are people who... well, not
to put too fine a point on it, their consciousness is fucked. When you compare
UK garage to hardcore rave, you're talking about a real, measurable
deterioration in intensity, electricity, idealism, and all-round worth: a fall
from paradise into the vice and vicious-ness of a world where the prospect of
any other mode of existence, any better way, is unimaginable. Hardcore knew the
rave dream was "just a dream", but it still clung onto it. Whereas UK garage
culture's very foundation is the post-rave relapse into dream-less cynicism,
accommodation to "reality".

Thing is, I think most people in the scene, in their heart of hearts, know this.
At Liberty's, for most of the night there were more people in the old skool
jungle side room, where the DJ played fevered 1993 darkcore classics like
Potential Bad Boy's "Let's Go". You could see people moving to the old music,
eyes shut, and just tell they were dying to brock out, trying to dance their way
back into that explosive euphoria; they were yearning for the release, feeling
it still in their nerve-memories, but blocked, trapped, stranded.

I can't imagine ever ceasing to be obsessed with the latest sounds to come out
of London pirate radio; at the same time, I equally am unable to find anything
worth endorsing about UKG as a subculture or A.W.O.L. Essentially, UKG is about
glamorizing the ways of Babylon. There's a word here I'm grasping for, it's on
the tip of my tongue---could it be "counter-revolutionary"?



R&B

Funny, 2000 was the Year of R&B for so many people (meaning they finally woke up
to it, of course), but I can hardly think of a single killer R&B tune that
really knocked me out. I mean, there was Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and
"Jumpin'"--but they're both from an album that came out in 1999. They're not
even the best tunes on that album--those would be the first two singles, "Bills
Bills Bills" and "Bugaboo", both massive hits and both released in 1999. A lot
of critics actually voted for the Destiny's Child album in the 2000 end-of-year
polls, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the album came out in midsummer
1999. (Or was it even earlier? I'm not sure). It is therefore a piss-poor
argument for 2000 as a fantastic year for R&B.

"Independent Women", on the other hand, is a fantastic argument for 2000 as a
piss-poor year for R&B. Around about the 11th hearing, the song finally revealed
its melody to me. but it barely constitutes a song, and the arrangement and
production still seem flaccid and nothing-special. It is also attached to a
really really bad movie. (I haven't actually seen it, but some things you just
know, you know). Could it be that the expelled/downsized members of Destiny's
were actually crucial to the chemistry in some barely fathomable way?

What about the rest of this year's are-enn-bee crop? I can barely remember any
of them. "Case of the Ex" was neat but the rest of Mya's album is bogged in
slow-jams and maturity-bids. Kandi stepped out from her background song-doctor
role ("No Scrubs", "Bills Bills Bills", other angry-diva sub-feminist anthems)
and revealed why she shoulda stayed in the background (a little something to do
with having no vocal presence whatsoever). Hmm, what else? Seemed like there was
just endless faceless loverman trios/quartets in the post-Boys II Men/Jodeci
mold, all unctuous cunnilingual vocals and slow-jam tempos---cloying, glutinous,
characterless, audio soft-porn. Talking of which, Sisquo's "Thong Song": shurely
shome kind of cultural nadir? I'm really scraping my memory-barrel here: was
Pink's 'There You Go' this year? Pretty good but so much better as Sovereign's
tuff 2step bootleg.

Ah yes, there was my old favorite Aaliyah with "Try Again".... Candidate for
Over-Rated Single of the Year, surely? Timbaland has said he uses Aaliyah as a
"probe" for his most far-out ideas---so what happened here? The 303 acid
bassline is a cute novelty accoutrement, but that's about it. So funny the way
Tim keeps rapping his little rhyme about "been a long time/we shouldn't have
left ya/without a dope beat/to step ta." I'm like, "so where is it then, tosser?
This sure ain't it." The actual song's weak as kitten's piss too. Romeo Must Die
as a whole I thought fairly lame and disappointing after Timbaland's great tunes
on the Jay-Z album.

Beyond the lack of great songs, production ideas, and the over-saturation of
that Timbaland/She'kspere stop-start beat thing (with supastars like Janet
Jackson and Jennifer Lopez further diluting the weak brew--and may I just
digress for a moment, and ask whatthafuck's up with Janet's teeth--in every
video, she looks like an ad for denture cleaner, this eerie pearlescent glow,
like she hasn't got individual teeth just this unstriated band of tooth enamel.
Creepy! Her body looks really weird too---Japanese-prisoner-of- war-camp levels
of exercise fighting against her natural shape, winning, but at what cost. And
that strange, perturbing bra that makes it look like she's got a pair of
buttocks transplanted onto her chest. Shudder!), beyond the sheerly sonic
disappointments... I have to tell you, I'm feeling a little bit of a value gap.
It's sort of a cross-the-board antipathy that goes from R&B to all the white-out
teen-oriented versions of blackpop from Britney to the legion of boy bands....
As pop music goes, on a certain level, it's irresistible... but mainly in the
sense that a conquering army subjugating all in its path can be said to be hard
to resist.

The remorseless, ruthless, invincible precision with which this vidpop is
programmed, edited, choreographed, groomed... definitely verges on the
militaristic. And the "artists" involved, whether it's Aguilera or Aaliyah or
whoever, are like figments spun into existence by squadrons of technicians--make
up artists, hair stylists, lighting crews, postproduction special effects,
recording engineers who tint and pitchshift the vocals, chop up the best takes
down to single words and re-stitch them together... The amount of energy and
effort and money and micro-management that goes into one 2 second shot in a
video, or one bar of the record, it's staggering... These stars are cartoons,
robots, ciphers, logos, branding devices.... and while I suppose there's a sort
of Baudrillardian hyper-real/posthuman/simulation-pop buzz to it... I dunno, is
it backward of me to prefer the early Eighties New Pop era? Where there was a
striving for glamour yet at the same time the charm of all-too-evident flaws and
fallibility and untampered, untreated fleshly reality-- I'm thinking of Altered
Images or Human League... or going back further, Marc Bolan (who, with just a
mane of corkscrew curls and some glitter on his cheekbones, was more
otherworldly and alien than any of today's digitally enhanced popstars). This
faux-animation element to modern vidpop, the way that the choreography and film
techniques are designed to make humans move in ways that resemble the characters
in videogames, is why you've got this spate of pop groups taking the next
logical step and hiding themselves behind cartoons: Gorillaz, Daft Punk's
anime-style promos and robot shtick. William Gibson's Idoru--the purely
computer-generated star-as-figment--is just around the corner.

I'm also, gotta admit, starting to feel a certain intellectual exhaustion with
the whole rhythm-as--the-star, rhythm-as-melody approach. When everything else
about a record sucks--the song, the star, the cultural ramifications--maybe a
"dope beat" alone ain't sufficient. Rhythm, melody, lyrics, compelling
persona.... It's not entirely unprecedented to have the whole package: Sly
Stone, Prince, P-Funk... there's even a few white examples I can't be bothered
to list.

Perhaps what I'm imagining in the back of my brain is some kind of eventual
revolt against the utter victory of "black" musical values
(rhythm-and-production as more important than song/lyrics; nouveau
riche/aspirational, licking-the-arse-of-the-status-quo lyrics/attitudes) and the
return with a vengeance of rock pretentiousness/bohemianism. Simon Biddell has
been banging on about "vision" as a concept that needs to be reintroduced to the
critical lexicon---the idea of being transported, by music as well as by lyrics
and charisma, into an individual's very particular view of the world---and
citing the likes of Beefheart, Mark E. Smith, Sly Stone, Peter Hammill as
exemplars. And in a lot of ways I kind of concur, if only out of boredom, desire
for an all-change: a massive movement of sonically over-reaching and lyrically
over-ripe art rock would be just the ticket right now. (Some would say that's
what the best of modern hip hop is anyway--today's art rock--and maybe they're
right--which reminds me, you gotta hear the Cannibal Ox album). Of course, as
Biddell concedes, the idea of "vision" leads back down the perilous path towards
auteur theory, the expressionist fallacy, and so forth... But maybe it doesn't
have to be so backward: Radiohead, for instance, have shown that you can have
the vision thing and the riddim thing at the same time. PiL, Roxy Music, Can,
Joy Division---all utterly bang-up to date rhythm-and-production wise, all
utterly vision-ary. And there was this great moment in the late Seventies/early
Eighties, when people tried to fuse punk and disco, "white" and "black" in
really suggestive ways. How did we ever learn to settle for less, adapt to the
split consciousness of liking parts of things but not the whole?


THE BANGS/MELTZER/TOSCHES JUGGERNAUT

By one of those weird Zeitgeisty/cultural synchrony type things, a Lester Bangs
biography, Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches anthologies, and Almost Famous
complete with Lester Bangs character and rose-tinted view of lost golden early
age of rockcrit, all coincided last year, and gave all the people (book
reviewers/clapped-out babyboomer rock writers) who last got a musical hard-on
with, I dunno, The Replacements's Let It Be, an opportunity to bash contemporary
(meaning last 20 years really) music journalism with that tired old "it was all
so much better in my day" argument.

An example from a Bill Holdship piece on Let It Blurt, Jim DeRogatis's Bangs
bio: "DeRogatis claims he fought his publisher regarding the "Greatest Rock
Critic" part of the book's title; after all, nowadays, that's almost akin to
calling someone...oh, I don't know... 'America's Greatest Pig Fucker'? 'Ass
Licker'? 'Pond Scum'? For his part, DeRogatis claims it's more like
'Afghanistan's Greatest Chef.'".

Aside from the obvious question of "who the fuck was Bill Holdship anyway and
why is he so confident that he played any part in any putative 'lost golden age'
of rockcrit?", aside from the fact that DeRogatis's blurt-less prose has far
less in common with his beloved Lester than it does with outspoken Bangs-phobe
Anthony DeCurtis (whose anti-LB piece I thought was actually kind of ballsy--and
in its consensus-bucking, anti-hagiographical irreverence perhaps closer to any
putative "lost spirit" than any number of epigones piously genuflecting at the
shrine of Lester).... aside from these not-irrelevant points.... I just don't
buy it. I've seen old copies of Creem. Bangs at his heights was untouchable, but
just 'cos Shakespeare was Shakespeare doesn't mean literature didn't carry on in
scores of paths and permutations and even advance in certain respects. Bangs had
as many "off" nights as "on" ones (the Beefheart reviews circulated as PR
material for the Grow Fins box---astonishingly sloppy and interest-devoid! Or
for that matter 50 percent of the content of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor
Dung). And when you take the obvious and abiding Giants That Stalked The Earth
Back Then out of the picture, the average quality of music writing in the 1960s
and 1970s was really poor -- way more rambling, self-indulgent, slackly written,
insight-free than an average piece of music writing in an equivalent publication
today.

I'm not even convinced there's more craven-ness and toadyism around today-- the
confrontational interview has disappeared because PRs and managers are better at
controlling access, but reviewers still slag bands off (especially in the
bitch-as-fuck UK, which, needless to say, hardly figures in the Bangs-nostalgics
assessments of then-versus-now: typical US isolationism in effect as ever). If
anything, I'd say writers today are, on average, less inclined to supine
reverence. Back in the golden 1970s, people used to write about the likes of
Jackson Brown like they were oracles, fonts of crucial insights into the human
condition, vital life-wisdom on a par with the great novelists (check the piece
by Paul Nelson in the Stranded collection, an appreciation of The Pretender
that, incidentally, is entirely on the level of lyrics--it literally doesn't
mention music or sound once.) For better or worse, you hardly ever get that kind
of earnestness from today's rockwriter.

Richard Meltzer is one of the most voluble rhetoricians for this alleged loss of
heart and nerve on the part of rock criticism, he's been saying this since 1970
or even earlier, as part of his "rock died in 1969" argument (Meltzer's date for
when that whole arena ceased to be worth a flying fart about keeps slipping
earlier and earlier, 1968, 1967--at last count, it was in 1966 that it all
started to go down the tube). Meltzer's move is a typical one: projecting
everything he fears himself guilty of or implicated in onto a scapegoated other
(academicist/"careerist"/professionalized rockcriticism), and insisting "I'm the
only one who got it right".

Meltzer's extrojected self-disgust finds a dismal echo in that little tic of...
what, bad faith? self-delusion?... that afflicts rock critics when they use the
word "rock critic" as an insult, e.g. "oh that's such a rock critic mentality",
as if they alone have somehow escaped the category. It's just one facet of a
peculiar shame that attaches itself to this profession. Very odd -- you don't
get this kind of flagellating self-doubt with TV critics, or theatre reviewers,
or sport writers -- just rock critics. Meltzer being (as he
tirelessly/tiresomely claims) the first rock critic, he was also inevitably the
first self-hating rock critic, the one who has spent the whole of his life since
1969/6whenever-it-was trying to get away from it, failing to get away from it,
loathing it and himself.

And so A Whore Just Like the Rest, Meltzer's career-spanning compendium of music
crit, is a bitter and twisted little (fat, actually--nearly 600 pages!) book,
reflecting its contradictory impulses to stake claim to originating pre-eminence
in the rock critical field ("I invented this shit"), while at the same time
ridiculing the very notion of rock criticism as something worth doing in the
first place ("all you guys turned my invention to shit"). His agon with the
absurdity, the CRIME of still-writing-about-rock (when as any-fule-kno the day
the music died coincided precisely at the point Meltzer's passion for it died:
funny that!), gets really histrionic. Hasn't he grasped the basic emotional
truth (this is really heartbreak-and-recovery 101) that hating someone you used
to love is still a way of loving them? But no, he just won't let it go. Worse,
he maintains this absolute tyrannical and monomaniacal insistence that his story
(the inordinate investment of belief and inevitable disillusionment, all over
and done by 196??--- before you were out of diapers/even born/a twinkle in your
prepubescent dad's eye, son) is the Story, the only story that can ever count.

Meltzer's forte isn't even writing about music, anyway (I find Aesthetics of
Rock unreadable, occasional clever ideas buried in punctuation-free mudslides of
proto-deconstructionist-but-Derrida-was-never-actually-such-a-grim-slog prose,
supposedly a parody of academic writing but all too successfully impenetrable,
and I'm a pretty rugged reader let me tell you). His forte is actually writing
about rock critics---and not even about their ideas, but about their
personalities, the way they conducted their lives. The absolute best things he's
ever done are the pieces on Lester Bangs--- harshly critical but luminously
evocative, loving. LB is a subject he strangely can't leave alone (despite the
doubled absurdity of writing about someone who--ugh!--wrote about rock) and
maybe that's because Bangs is his connection to true greatness, someone people
still care about 'cos (as the cliche goes) LB was "all heart". (Whereas RM is
all bile). When it comes to mauling his peers, major (diatribes lacerating his
more successful contemporaries Christgau and Marcus) and minor alike (as in the
entertaining Almost Famous-inspired spurt of malice against Cameron Crowe and
some long-forgotten early Seventies rock writers---the words "sledgehammer,"'
"squash", and "flies" spring to mind), Meltzer is simply peerless. (Shame it's
such a minority-interest field, though.) (Most stuff referenced in this rant can
be found at rockcritics.com).

In the interest of fairness, I'll concede he's done a few other goodies--some
creepy memoiristic stories about his sexual exploits in Forced Exposure, for
instance. And at the end of Whore, there are some gig guide blurbs for the
alternative weekly San Diego Reader, make-the-rent stuff that in recent years
he's been reduced to penning, and they're hilarious, pure surrealism, almost
always with absolutely no connection to the band whose upcoming gig he's
supposedly previewing. There's a couple that are so funny, I damn-near soiled my
britches---one about these imaginary revolting soups in this Soup Museum (I
forget the band it was 'about'). Here's my point, though: as writing about
music, these blurbs are utterly useless, an insult to the reader who might
conceivably want to know if the bands playing in his town are worth seeing. And
this pretty much applies through the entire body of work: Meltzer is
interesting/entertaining in exact ratio to his use-lessness (in the literal
sense) as a writer about music. A fine clown (and all comedians are poisonously
self-loathing sorts, this we know), a good hurler of excrement, and, as I said,
a superlative critic of other critics....

As for Nick Tosches, the final member of the lost golden age triumvirate, well,
I must admit I've enjoyed everything I've read (not much actually) by Tosches,
just as pure writing... Ideas-wise, though, it's atavistic phallus-waving
machismo, the line of argument boils down to cult of authenticity, as in Jerry
Lee Lewis was cool 'cos he was a speed-and-booze damaged, religion-tortured
hillbilly who fucked a 12 year old; that black boxer he just wrote a biog of
who's name escapes me--Liston?--was cool 'cos unlike Muhammad Ali he wasn't
black power oriented and therefore not amenable to liberal rad-chic; and so
forth. Basically, Tosh is rockwrite's own Norman Mailer: the penile dementia
(some amazing rape-imagery stuff he wrote about the Stones and Jim Morrison cums
to mind: 'Hello I Love You' as "a cold hard blue-veined cock right up the
tie-dyed skirts of benighted sensitivity" (i.e. flower power, wusses to an
androgynous man as far as ol' Nick's concerned), the white negro-ism (with a bit
of white trash-ism: when it comes to sociopaths, Tosh is an equal opportunity
voyeur), the chauvinism (he once said something to the effect that he approved
of Madonna because she'd made "whorishness fashionable again"), the obsession
with boxing. Similar to Meltzer's ideas about rock dying almost as soon as it
got going, Tosh locates the lost moment of purity and unselfconscious wildness
way way WAY back in the misty yonder of times past--with the rockabillies and
hillbillies, Jerry Lees and Hanks--before rock'n'roll lost its --n'roll and
became pompous art-minded rock, or even before rock'n'roll existed as such.

All of these guys were obsessed, pathetically, with the Beats (it's the cause of
Bangs's worst work: he got so much better when he got into rewriting later on).
Melzer too was into this automatic-writing thing of just hitting the keys and
not correcting anything, typos, repetitions, missed words, stoned/soused drivel,
it's all the unconscious, unsocialized self speaking, innit. And this really
dates those guys to the whole Kerouac typing On the Road (Most Over-Rated book
ever? Maybe one of Burroughs's pips it to the post) on a single giant spool of
paper during three days of benny-induced mania. The result is that highly
formalized "informality" of gonzo rockwrite, that stylized anti-style with its
abbreviations and pseudo-phoneticized spellings. (Of all the Meltzer casualties,
I like Byron Coley of Forced Exposure best 'cos it goes so far into faux-sloppy
un-style and shorthand phoneticized terms and onomatopoeia that it becomes
utterly, almost baroquely stylized---hieroglyphic, like wildstyle graffiti, a
very jagged read--and thus exposes its own highly contrived--for it takes as
much trouble to write 'yr" or w/o as "your" or "without"--and constructed
nature).

Going back to the gonzo triumvirate, though, that let-it-blurt
pseudo-spontaneist ethos is rooted in a peculiarly American queasiness about
writing itself: writing as intrinsically distanced, detached, remote, Old World.
As if to compensate for writing's original sin of non-presence, the inherent
monologic imperiousness of expounding your opinions to an unseen audience,
there's a belief that writing should aspire to be like speech: that you can and
should create the illusion of a drunken bar-side conversation between buddies.
There's this longing for the literary equivalent of MTV Unplugged: remove all
the "writerliness" and elegance, find a "real" voice. But what sounds more posed
and artificial today than the speed-rush "raggedness" of On the Road? Bangs
himself soon abandoned the "no overdubs" approach, became a scrupulous and
fastidious remixer of his language, and did his absolute best work--the honed
radiance of the essay on Astral Weeks in Stranded springs to mind.
As for Almost Famous -- whorraloada flimsy tripe!


"PROGRESSIVE"

At the end of the day, I can't hate trance too much---at least in its shlocky
way it strives for the sublime, and sometimes grasps it: the Cygnus X mix of
"Madagascar" by Art of Trance, Three Drives On A Vinyl's "Greece 2000". Fluffy
Euro-trance's combination of mildly cosmic feel and sheer innocuousness--it's
like tripping with the Teletubbies, like a lobotomized Philip Glass--is
ultimately kind of endearing.

The appeal of "progressive"--all that Sasha-and-Digweed type stuff--eludes me
utterly though. Don't know what it's like in the UK, but in New York, all of
sudden the dance stores were swamped with the stuff---vast swathes of wall-space
swallowed up it, drum'n'bass banished to the back of the shop like the day
before yesterday's flavour it undoubtedly is.

There's a blankness to progressive that is faintly terrifying. Musically it
seems defined by its inhibitions and checked tendencies: trance without fromage,
house purged of its gay disco roots, techno stripped of black feel or jazzy
tinges.... The music is texturally monochrome, as if the tracks are all made
from the same matt silver-grey synthetic substance. Perhaps there's a kind of
purity in this approach (almost none of the sounds resembles "real" acoustic or
even electric instruments; the music seldom "moves" like a conventional
instrument does, e.g. the basslines could not be construed as played on a
bass-guitar; if there is sampling going on, it sounds like synth). But the
samey-ness and sterility of the sound make it a desperately uninvolving kind of
purism.

Progressive is long on long-ness: long sets, long tracks, the long mix. DJs like
Digweed deliberately select characterless tracks rather than orgasmic anthems,
because those "run-of-the-mix" sort of tracks can sit together for a protracted
period in the mix. You can't really tell when the transition starts or is
complete. The result is a level, peak-less experience, mild, middling---immense
longeurs of gritless throb and sub-euphoric pummel. Sasha and Digweed ration out
a stingy three climaxes per nine hour set, which might conceivably make for an
MDMA-friendly Tantric experience of hovering at the brink-of-orgasm, but to my
ears is less slow-burning tension and more like damp squib.

Progressive's sonic featurelessness carries over to the DJs (that endless
rollcall of Nicks and Johns and Daves and Pauls), and the vibe-less quality of
the band names and track titles----Evolution, Breeder, Hybrid, Slacker, Tilt,
Moonface, Quivver, Dutch Liquid, Lustral; "Force 51", "Overactive," "Syncronized
Knowledge", "Emotion Surfer", "Rhythm Reigns", "Gyromancer", "Enhanced",
"Carnival XIII", "Strapped", "Descender", "Supertransonic"----which seem almost
designed to avoid conjuring up images or outside-world evocations. They suggest
nothing beyond the faintest whiff of pasteurized spirituality or futurity. The
DJ/producers are technicians, anti-personalities, their patron saint the almost
illegally dull Digweed; the audiences too is hard to read in terms of clothing,
subcultural affiliation, class; the crowd-tableaux generated by the music are
flat. (Tech-house is much the same, another inbetweeny sound/scene---but one I
find slightly preferable, for reasons I can't be bothered to finger.)

Purging all the aspects of rave that harked back to earlier youth movements like
hippie and punk (or for that matter, disco or hip hop or reggae), progressive
has achieved a perfect non-referential purity. The "big room" sound with its
quadraphonic effects and audio-visual pyrotechnics shows how rave's explosive
energies have been corralled by the professionalized clubbing industry and
transformed into an anti-cultural deadzone, compartmentalized from life. Sound
becomes spectacle, dancers become spectators, pseudo-participants.

Progressive is the perfect soundtrack for superclubs---places where a kind of
hygienic, edgeless debauchery takes place. (Again, the same applies to
tech-house: going to the End for the first time recently was dispiriting--so
many fucked-up people, so little real fervor or electricity in the air.) Going
to raves in the early Nineties was edgy, equally likely to result in unforeseen
adventures or some kind of disaster. Today superclubs like Ministry of Sound
(sounds Orwellian), Gatecrasher, Twilo, ensure that you get what you pay
for--but nothing more. The "surplus value" or "subcultural capital" that came
from participating in the rave underground has vanished. And what's weird and
sad is that for the new generation of clubbers, the superclubs's "quality night
out" consumerist ethos inspires huge loyalty. They identify with these
mini-corporations so intensely that they mark their bodies with their brandname
logos--getting tattoos of Cream's symbol or Gatecrasher's heraldic British lion
logo. Gatecrasher's slogan "Market Leaders In Having-It-Right-Off Leisure Ware"
even plays up their corporate image.

Anyway you slice it, "progressive" is a massive misnomer on just about every
conceivable level.



L'IL KIM'S "HOW MANY LICKS" VIDEO

When it comes to ho rap (gangsta rap's sister genre--well, why not?) I always
did prefer L'il Kim to Foxy Brown--if only because Kim seemed genuinely
rapacious and nasty. But with this latest album and attendant videos, she just
seems pathetic: the antithesis of empowered, a mere ploy-toy for a series of
male mentors (one of whom, Notorious P.I.G., she appears to still hold a torch
for). I didn't get the full resonance of "How Many Licks" title/chorus until
Joy, being American, explained: it's a reference to this popular confectionery
called Tootsie Roll, a gobstopper-type thing which you lick down until you get
to this brown center of otherstuff... So I guess the chorus "how many licks does
it take to get to the center of it??", it's like this all purpose
cunnilingus/fellatio metaphor, echo of jazz age quim-code "jelly roll" in there
maybe... Song's okay: neat Daft Punky squelches and all. The video, though, is
gross. A factory churns out these Lil Kim sex dolls with "movable parts" that
are "anatomically correct" and "fully edible". (Anatomically correct? Kim's
"real" body looks cyborg and computer-tweaked---the shrunken torso, the alarming
breasts, the non-existent arse, vast head. Self-hatred made flesh). Back to the
vid--there's several different kinds of Kim doll lending themselves to different
sexual fantasies, and there's this truly grim masturbatory scene in which a guy
is beating off (twitching and sweat-stippled, he looks more like he's dying of
malaria) and suddenly this phantasmic Kim materializes over his tormented body,
her face clenched and twisted in this horrible grimace of pseudo-lust.

You'd have to go through some intricate Baudrillardian convolutions to find
anything affirmative or clever about the "How Many Licks" Video (actually, no,
it's not offering a neo-Vermorel-esque critique of stardom as symbolic
prostitution, they really do plan on making lotsa $$$$$ pimping Kim as
wank-fodder). What I think about, though, is not the pollution represented by
the "message" communicated by the video (it's just one tiny increment in the sum
of human immiseration after all), but the video as an artifact that somebody had
to make. I think of Kim sitting through meetings where the ideas for the video
were thrashed out, people explaining the concept to her, her nodding,
complying... The video as the material accretion of myriad small humiliations
and ordeals; the hundreds of hours of make-up, styling, posing, reshooting... a
sheer laboriousness of degradation, a low drawn-out process of
self-cancellation... (You can see it in her eyes----in the video and album
sleeve and street posters, Kim has the dead eyes of the ground-down
sex-worker---it's a numb, sightless, seen-too-much look you also find on those
other peons of the vice industry, croupiers in casinos). Like the history and
material conditions of existence of those sneakers on your feet, it just doesn't
bear thinking about.


HUMAN TRAFFIC

Why has the rave movie been such a long time coming? Truth is, nothing really
happens at raves. The basic nature of the experience is repetition leavened with
randomness. Sure, there's a feeling of adventure--ephemeral incidents,
ultra-vivid tableaux, strange encounters, being on a mission to
the end of the night. But dialogue is fragmentary or non-existent, because
Ecstasy allows people to feel connected without needing to talk. Real life, with
all its dramatic potential, is elsewhere. That's the point of raving, and the
reason why it's been so hard to film. It's no coincidence that ravers boast of
``losing the plot.''

Where Groove tried to capture the sweet ephemerality of the rave experience with
lots of neatly-observed incidents and inconsequential encounters, and through
its very low-keyness achieved a measure of authenticity, Human Traffic (bit late
with this one for UK readers, but its US release was last year) uses a different
tactic: although it was hyped and hailed as the definitive document of British
clubbing-and-drugging culture, the movie strangely seems to put off getting to
the club for as long as it could, and then quits the dancefloor as swiftly as
possible. As the movie proceeds, the whole thing starts to look like a series of
evasion maneuvers designed to keep a safe distance from its alleged raison
d'etre: the rave E-piphany, the white hole in which narrative incandesces.
Instead, screen time is lavished on the early-20s characters' commonplace sexual
problems and romantic woes. Only Moff, the Cockney pill monster, corresponds to
a clubland archetype: the born-again convert who proclaims ``raving's better
than sex.''

Moff's confession that he's got no real interest in relationships right now is
one of the few moments in Human Traffic that actually tells you something about
rave. It's the first youth music movement where sex is not a primary motor. And
this has everything to do with Ecstasy's peculiar lovey-dovey but
anti-aphrodisiac effects. On E, many men experience Seinfeld's George Costanza's
``significant shrinkage''; most find it hard to get hard. The buzz, for both
genders, is a hyper-tactile sensuality that's decentered and goal-less. Sure,
people meet and get off with each other, but mostly the ``loved up'' energy
coheres around the collective--the crew you came with, the dancefloor massive of
friendly strangers rather than couples. Above all, there's an erotic
relationship with overwhelming, engulfing sound--which is why ravers hug
speakers, and why Moff declares ``I'm having sex with music, mate--and believe
me, I can go all night.'' It's sad and suspect that Human Traffic lumbers Moff
with not one but two semi-comical masturbation scenes. The one person to escape
the heterosexual fix that encloses the other characters is dissed as a wanker.

Human Traffic's relentless bawdy banter contrasts with the film's coyness about
drugs. Amazingly, the actual procuring and ingestion of drugs is never shown.
Even in the scene where protagonist/narrator Jip and best mate Koop talk stoned
shit while chopping out coke lines, they never actually hoover any powder up
their nostrils. All tell and no show, Human Traffic flaunts a script caked in
down-with-the-scene drug slang and we-are-the-chemical generation rhetoric.
There's a cameo from cannabis crusader Howard Marks talking about ``spliff
politics'' and a fantasy sequence in which Jip jousts with a neurologist about
Ecstasy's drawbacks and dangers. Even the film's brief trippy sequence of
dancefloor nirvana is overlaid with a blissed Jip voiceover: ``we're thinking
clearly yet not thinking at all... we flow in unison.. I wish this was real...''

Rave isn't just about Ecstasy, it's about the mutual synergy between drugs and
music. Even the most addled participants in dance culture are incredibly picky
about what soundtracks their frenzy. But apart from a scene in a record store
and a throwaway interlude where Jip and friends rail against teenpop, Human
Traffic transmits little sense of the urgent distinctions and dissensions that
animate your genuine club culture fiends--which DJs are cool, what tracks rule,
where the vibe is to be found scene-wise.

Where Groove is about rave as counterculture, as DIY autonomist activity, Human
Traffic is about something more modest and ultimately conformist--young people
letting off steam at the weekend, like they've always done. The movie can't make
up its mind whether all the drugging is just harmless fun, or whether it's edgy,
subversive, naughty. This vacillation mirrors the fact that British rave has
become a leisure industry, with only the illegality of the party potions
providing a vestigial veneer of rebellion. Ultimately, Human Traffic is just an
annoyingly lively post-Trainspotting youth
movie with some club scenes as backdrop. There's even a nonchalant
anxiety-of-influence nod to Trainspotting, when Nina and Lulu are interrogated
by a TV crew doing a documentary about club culture and claim they don't do E
anymore, but ``jack up on heroin and float about the club.... we saw
Trainspotting and it just made us want to do it... we seem to be so
impressionable.'' This also works as an advance rejoinder to anyone who accuses
Human Traffic making drug culture glamorous and seductive. Actually, it's more
likely that the movie's five friends--an irritatingly feisty and manic bunch
forever doing comic routines and funny voices--will turn kids off drugs big
time. Who'd want to be like these idiots?



BREAKBEAT GARAGE

When this flavour of "garage" first started to come through--must have been
late 1999, with Deekline-- I remember being excited by the way the sultry,
swinging R&B-2step flow would be disrupted by this much more raw, stripped down
and rhythmically unsupple sound that was disconcertingly similar to Big Beat:
130 bpm breaks, bulbous bass, wacky samples. But what was refreshing about these
tunes--"I Don't Smoke", later the more electro-flavored "Dilemma" by So
Solid--when they were a brief tang of different flavour, becomes tediously
homogenous as a scene/sound on its own. Stanton Warriors's "Da Virus" especially
seems to be the drab template for a lot of this stuff, and "138 Trek" wore out
its welcome fairly quick. There's some cool-enough stuff, I suppose--like
Blowfelt's bippety bassline tune "Lickle Rolla"---but generally it sounds too
much like jungle minus the extra b.p.m speed-rush, hardcore without the E-fired
euphoria. Or worse like nu-skool breaks (alarming to see Rennie 'Stupid Fucking
Name' Pilgrem reviewing 2step tunes in Muzik's breakbeat column).

That said, the last batch of pirate tapes I got, showed signs of a new twist in
this breakstep (or whatever they're calling it) direction: not so much
jungle-slowed-down, and more like a post-rave, drum'n'bass influenced form of
English rap. On these spring 2001 pirate tapes, there's hardly any R&B diva
tunes, and every other track features very Lunndunn-sounding MCs or
ragga-flavored vocals, over caustic acid-riffs and techsteppy sounds, like some
latterday Dillinja production. Unlike with techstep or recent d&b, there's very
little distorto-blare in the production, there's this typically 2step clipped,
costive feel, an almost prim and dainty quality to the aggression-- a weird
combo of nasty and neat-freak. Lyrically, the vibe seems to be similarly pinched
in spirit, a harsh, bleak worldview shaped subconsciously by the crumbling
infrastructural reality beneath New Labour's fake grin; UKG seems to be already
transforming itself from boom-time music to recession blues. The Englishness of
the vocals reminds me of 3 Wizemen Men and that perpetual false-dawn for UK rap.

Lots of killer tunes I can't identify, but one in particular stood out that I
could: "Know We" by Pay As U Go Kartel. As I say, quite mean-minded and loveless
music but sonically very exciting-- a new twist if not quite paradigm shift from
the hardcore continuum.


THE NU HAIR-METAL

It wouldn't take that much argument to get me to concede that Tool, Faith No
More, Marilyn Manson, Alice In Chains, Primus, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Kid Rock,
White Zombie, Monster Magnet, they all have at least some redeeming qualities.
Marilyn Manson---upsets Christian heartlanders, creative use of colored contact
lenses; White Zombie--as industrial disco-metal goes, pretty darn hooky;
creative use of mud as hair gel; Alice In Chains--good doomy melodies, creative
use of mud as lyrical tropes; Tool--good Quay Brothers plagiarism, creative use
of mudpeople; Kid Rock--employs a fine drummer; like name like nature;
Korn--strange "rapping"/primal yelp therapy bit in the middle of the song/video
with the bullet in it, the perfect vocal counterpoint to singer's
uber-dweeb-as-nu-kool transvaluation. And so forth... However, if you were to
take all these bands least redeeming attributes, add extra flava from purely
irredeemable cases like Insane Clown Posse, the resulting composite of
beyond-redemption godawfulness would be a lot like the latest crop of post-nu
metal gracing MTV (when it deigns to show videos at all). Like Mudvayne, whose
miasma of tats, grimaces, zany hair, and agonized rock-out body-moves is
audio-visually like some three-way fusion of Blue Man Group, Primus, and
Slipknot. There's a whole other bunch whose names escape me, all seem to share
with Mudvayne this two nouns composited into one word moniker thing (a la
Godsmack, Buckcherry, et al), names like Silverdung, Bloodrivet, Twisterfelch,
Sikkbuccit (I'm making these up but it can only be a matter of time they're
real, because of the global band name shortage crisis--it's getting desperate
out there). The connection to the old pre-grunge perm-and-spandex metal is that
the music seems like an afterthought to the creative use of hair (facial and
scalpal), tattoos, piercings, gurning. Or maybe you just can't hear it for the
retinal glare of sartorial/tonsorial shock-effects, grand guignol theatrics,
exhausted signifiers of rebellion/outrage/excess/maladjustment, all being piled
on in a desperate attempt to revivify some faint sense of the forbidden, the
transgressive, the extreme, the anti-boyband. These gateaux of grotesquerie
makes me think video-oriented rock (definitely a genre now) has become a bit
like breeding pedigree dogs--the art of deliberately cultivated genetic
travesty.

Mind you, from a certain slant of thought, that makes it kind of an interesting
phenomenon....

U2---All That You Can't Leave Behind

U2's tenth album, says Bono, is where the group "reclaim who we are". It's
always alarm-bells time when a band starts pining for an earlier sonic
incarnation of itself, for a time when it all felt so fresh and
for-the-first-time. Think of those other Eno-ites Talking Heads scaling down
from Remain In Light's oceanic sprawl to the rootsy scrawn of "Road To Nowhere".
In U2's case, though, they've scaled back up to the panoramic swirl of
Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree, the Eno/Lanois sound that made your ears gaze
into the far distance.

That sound coincided with U2's megastardom, but I really don't think the band
have got Uncle Brian and Danny Boy in the producers chairs again purely and
cynically in order to be Big again. No, this album is a naive, heartfelt attempt
to go back---back to when they sounded naive, heartfelt. "Reclaim who we are"
means no more postmodern play with identity, no more sub-McLuhan/Baudrillard
embracing of media hyperreality , no more Warhol-esque we-are-product malarkey.

It's good timing, too, Zeitgeist-wise. The culture is shifting away from
media-saturated referentiality and surface-oriented cynicism towards
earnestness, activism, giving a fuck. Hence Bono's work with Jubilee 2000's Drop
the Debt Campaign, and his heralding of this album with pre-postmodern phrases
like "righteous anger" and "fire in the belly". Soon, very soon, the blank irony
and mainstreamed camp that ruled the Nineties will be rejected as mere fin de
millenium decadence (Seinfeld as our Oscar Wilde) and loss of nerve.
But surely it's simply too late for a U2 makeover? Here's Bono again: "Pop music
often tells you everything is OK, while rock music tells you that it's not OK,
but you can change it". Hang on a minute, wasn't the last U2 album actually
called Pop? Didn't the first video off it have the boys camping it up under a
giant discotheque glitterball? U2 seem to be suffering a bit from
Orwell/1984-style doublethink: "Howie B? Who's that then? Dance music---not us,
mate!"

All That You Leave opens with "Beautiful Day," a song stunning enough to blast
your hackles into oblivion: for four minutes you truly believe U2 can go back to
1987. Apparently almost abandoned at birth because it sounded too much like
"quintessential U2", the song is like Boy's wide-eyed ardour filtered through
Unforgettable Fire's tingly shimmersound: Bono struck by a bolt of joy, Edge's
echoplex chimes cascading like a sun shaft through clouds, the rhythm boys
shedding Achtung-style funk'n'grit for the chaste 'n' chesty surge of old. The
tune sounds deceptively simple, but the production teems with subtle flickers,
dub-wise backwash whooshes, and vocal harmony embellishments.

"Stuck In A Moment" is gorgeous, too: a Philly soul influenced midtempo ballad
with a "tears are not enough" lyric to an emotionally paralysed friend. But
lines like "if your way should falter on that stony path" point ahead to the
album's slow slide into boggy Rattle N' Hum terrain: the sort of semi-balladic
bombast and elemental widescreen imagery that have made U2 scorned by
sophisticates for so long. "Walk On" and "Kite" resound with epic-sounding
vagaries, as if Bono wanted to come back and show Richard Ashcroft how it's
really done. In "Kite", Bono admits "I don't know which way the wind will blow".
Most likely it'll be gusting out of your bellow-like lungs, Bono.

The Stax-flavored "In A Little While" and Moondance-redolent "Wild Honey"
(featuring yet more wind and breeze imagery!) belong on that chest-beating
Celtic soul continuum that spans Hothouse Flowers and (shudder!) The
Commitments. "Peace On Earth," a song for the innocent dead and their bereaved,
at least lets Edge sound Edge-like, with radiant supersaturated overdubs. "When
I Look At The World" likewise glimmers like a planetarium, all shooting stars
and reeling constellations, but by this point the listener is suffering from
grandeur fatigue, like you've spent one day too many at the Grand Canyon. It
makes you want to listen to something modest, withdrawn, almost
imperceptible---like, where did I put that Young Marble Giants record?
"New York" saves the day with its subdued "Streets Have No Name" twinkle. It
gets louder, though, and you start praying that it doesn't explode into
passionate gesticulations, and of course it does. Even so, it's a fabulous
showcase for Edge as cinematographer of the guitar. "Grace," lovely and low-key,
ends things with a welcome whisper.

Book-ended with brilliance, All That You Can't Leave Behind's centre is hollow
and overblown, and that's got everything to do with bad faith. You can't simply
unlearn the lessons of postmodernity---it's like imagining you can become a
virgin again. Removing the quote-marks and attempting to speak straight from the
beating heart, U2 end up somewhere even worse than lame-ass Beck-style irony:
corn without authenticity, its only saving grace.


Craig David---Born To Do It
Artful Dodger----It's All About the Stragglers

I was struggling for the words to describe what ails the Craig David album, and
the word I came up with was "balls". As in, "this music's got no balls". What
was deliciously androgynous about CD on "Rewind", now sounds insipidly epicene;
not so much between-genders, as neuter. Maybe it's just a case of nice in small
doses, like fudge or butterscotch. The voice that was wonderfully light and
fluttery and melt-in-your-ear delectable on 'Rewind', here, en masse, is
revoltingly cloying---like drowning in caramel. And the music itself is like
cotton-wool or candy-floss, insubstantial without being ethereal.
Much the same applies to the over-sugared Dodger album. Like Shanks & Bigfoot,
Artful Dodger were prime movers in the grand transvaluation of London
underground principles that made 2step circa 1999 a form of pop music in
waiting, future-pop in exile. It was captured perfectly by the line in
"Re-Rewind," where Craig David sings about being "real hardcore" in the most fey
softcore croon imaginable, and by Mark Hill and Pete Devereux's hallmark
production blend of dainty and ruff. But with the exception of the singles and
moody bass-bubbler "Something", Stragglers proves that A/ 2step's pop life is
almost used up B/ the perennial incompatibility of dancefloor-targeted genres
with the album format. For what is thrillingly singular as a 12 inch is
inevitably diminished when surrounded by similar-but-not-quite-as-good material
(marked by the sort of semi-songfulness that's the downfall of all crossover
house and jungle). It forces you to notice the faceless prowess of the
"featured" vocalists, the over-used arrangement mannerisms (pizzicato off and
come back with some new ideas). That treble-intensified gloss and effervescence
that you got with peak-era 2step has been muted too: these tracks sound like
radio mixes, mid-frequencies flattening out the polar extremism of club-oriented
garage (all top-end tingle and sub-woofer boom) into a dulled sheen. The result:
disappointingly mild, characterless, and adult-oriented; pop music without the
POP!

QUILLS

What a ghastly romp for the senses! The costume designer and set designer ought
to be hunted down and physically interfered with. Props department too. The
retinal equivalent of being force fed patisserie. If eyes could barf.... then
there goes a half-digested eclair, spattering against Ms. Winslet's formidable
d├ęcolletage. And the less said about the script's pretensions to intellectual
profundity, the better.


NEW FEATURE!
The Unfathomable Appeal of.....


This year, let us ponder the unfathomable appeal of....
JOHN HIATT

(a man in sore need of a lozenge)


NEW FEATURE!
INDICTED! for crimes against culture

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture:
FLEA
charge: undue prolongation of slap-bass's cultural life

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture
PAUL OAKENFOLD
charge: unremitting soul-less professionalism

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture
MANUMISSION
charge: bringing fancy dress back to club culture

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture
MARIAH CAREY
charges: 1/ incorrigible subservience to the male gender
2/ coyness with intent
3/ leaving almost-nothing to the imagination ("and it's just/like/honey/when
your love/comes over me"--eu!!)
4/ grievous bosomy harm

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture
TOM PETTY
charges: 1/ Byrds trademark infringements
2/ Dylan trademark infringements
3/ perpetuation of tired old runaway/freebird type
bad boy narratives
4/ orthodontic infractions
5/ "Eighties drum sound"
6/ videos featuring dead women, women being eaten as cake, etc etc

INDICTED!
for crimes against culture:
MATTHEW SWEET
charge: persistent innocuousness


NEW FEATURE!

IF THEY HADN'T EXISTED, IT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN NECESSARY TO INVENT THEM
1/ Killdozer
2/ The Catherine Wheel
3/ Cud

NEW FEATURE!
THE MOST OVER-RATED ERAS OF MUSIC EVER

1/ NEW YORK PUNK ROCK

Dolls, Dictators, Dead Boys, Ramones, Voidoids, Heartbreakers, Patti Smith
Group.... I'd swap 'em all for a single cut off Cut, for one Buzzcocks B-Side
(up to and including "Something's Gone Wrong Again", at any rate). Maybe it's
just me, but when I think of New York punk rock I just think of junkie losers,
trust fund kids slumming it, dilettantes of the Edge, grown men with college
educations dedicating their lives to wrestling and other
trash-aesthete/psychotronic fetishes...

Alright, fair's fair, it wasn't a total wasteland: there was Television, who
reinvented rock with their awesome cleansing debut, but they were always closer
to the West Coast thing (Byrds, Airplane, Dead) than the Velvets, really. And
there was Suicide, the American Kraftwerk except that Americans, punks included,
rained abuse and garbage on their heads. There was Talking Heads (but didn't
they only get good when Eno entered the fray, and then get bad as soon as he
left it? just like Blondie got good when they sold out and went New
Wave/Eurodisco?). And there was isolated sparks like Neon Boys's "Love Comes In
Spurts". But that whole eight year period between the Velvets's last sputter and
that exciting phase of No Wave turning into mutant disco circa 1979--the
"classic" era of Noo York proto-punk and punk rock--well, it really pales next
to the UK version.

Stiv Bators, for instance, must be the most worthless individual in rock
history---this is a guy who penned the song "Caught With The Meat In Your
Mouth", the Iggy-Reed fanboy who incorporated hanging himself into the Dead Boys
stage act. As M.W.I.I.R.H., he is only rivaled by Johnny Thunders. There's an
inadvertently hilarious anecdote in Please Kill Me (Legs McNeil's interminable
catalogue of vileness, iniquity and baseness posing as a definitive and
encompassing oral history of punk: the UK side of it is reduced to about 12
pages out of nigh-on 400--talk about rewriting history! A la Meltzer, McNeil's
slant is "we invented this shit, you Limeys turned it to shit"). Thunders is mad
at Dee Dee Ramone for smashing all his stuff, guitars, all his worldly
cherishables (this is some low point -- lower point, to be accurate, there were
never any heights--in the mid-Eighties when Bators, Dee Dee, Thunders and other
dregs are trying to get some kind of Noo Yawk scumpunk supergroup together) and
Thunders is vowing vengeance, he's obsessed with it, retribution is the
consuming thing in his life, and what he does, this major tough guy and
all-around monosyllabic genuine article Noo Yawk bad-boy (the guy that Please Me
Kill rates as "real" whereas John Lydon was just a poseur, an art school-reared
career opportunist), is he spots Dee Dee in this bar, and he.... creeps up
behind him (Dee Dee doesn't even know he's there)... and bonks him on the back
of the head with a beermug. Not even very hard. And then... he runs away. And
Dee Dee never even knew it was him. And Thunders meanwhile is crowing to his
girlfriend that he got back at Dee Dee.

Tosser!

Talking of which, The New York Dolls: frankly, the Sweet did it
better---gender-bending, Nazi/totalitarian flirtations, mock shock-rock--did it
with top tunes and real joy.

My respect resurged dramatically for Greil Marcus when I read recently some
interview comment from him to the effect that when it came to punk, he only
really cared for the UK stuff, plus Pere Ubu. Right on, Greil, I thought (even
if he's a little unfair to Los Angeles in that verdict, maybe). The UK brought
politics into it; behind the surface negativity and sado-masochismo, there was
idealism, naivete, sensitivity. By contrast, New York punk was apolitical and
slumming boho through and through, fixated on already-tired ideas of
transgression and decadence, hooked on the seedy glamour of low life and
nihilism.

Either that, or as Marcus said of the Ramones, it was just dumb. (Or worse:
pretending to be dumb--Dictators, Punk magazine). The Ramones: they're okay, I
guess, a bracing-enough blast, a timely intervention in 1975 no doubt (but
people were starved back then for anything remotely taut and to-the-point
aggressive). But all that rockrockrock/rock'n'roll high school stuff underlines
the crucial difference between NYC punk and UK punk, which was that the former
wanted to rejuvenate rock, restore it to how it used to be, whereas the Brits
wanted (the best of them, anyway) to un-invent rock, kill it off, step off its
grinding go-nowhere treadmill and out into something new. It made perfect sense
that the Ramones would end up doing an album with Phil Spector -- it's
impossible to imagine any of the notable UK groups, even the Clash, doing
something so retro.

What about Patti Smith, I hear you protest. Better as an idea than a musical
reality, I retort. "Land" is enduringly awesome, but most of the rest of it is,
as Joe Carducci said, a rock critic's and a poet's vision of "rock'n'roll", and
as such its rapid decline into Springsteen shlockodrama was predictable from the
off. And the debut features one of the weakest stabs at white reggae ever--it
makes The Members look like Jah Shaka.


AND NOW, AFTER ALL THE SPLEEN 'N' SPITE, SOME POSITIVITY!!!!!

my faves of the first four months of 2001:

ALBUMS
1/ Daft Punk -- Discovery (Virgin)
2/ The Avalanches---Since I Left You (XL)
3/ Cannibal Ox -- Cold Vein (Definitive Jux Recordings)
4/ Matmos -- A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (Matador)
5/ Beta Band--Hot Shots II (Astralwerks)
6/ Wagon Christ -- Musipal (Astralwerks)
7/ Peaches -- The Teaches of Peaches (Kitty-Yo)
8/ Herbert -- Bodily Functions
9/ Various Artists---Staedtizism 2 (^scape)
10/ Big Youth -- Natty Universal Dread (Blood and Fire)

bubbling under:
Manitoba -- Start Breaking My Heart (Leaf)
Various Artists/Andrew Weatherall--Hypercity: ForceTracks (Force Inc)
Hellfish -- One Man Sonic Attack Force (Planet Mu)
Mice Parade -- Mokoondi (Bubblecore)
cLOUDDEAD --cLOUDDEAD (Mush/dirty loop music)
Chris Clark--Clarence Park (Warp)
Neil Hagerty ---Neil Michael Hagerty (Drag City)
Various Artists--Clicks & Cuts 2 (Mille Plateaux)
Susumu Yokota -- Grinning Cat (Leaf/Skintone)
Lesser -- Gearhound (Matador)
Various Artists--Braindance (Rephlex)
Cex -- Oops I Did It Again (Tigerbeat 6 )
Basement Jaxx---TBA (XL)
Floppy Sounds -- Short Term Memories (Wave)
To Rococo Rot & I Sound---Music Is A Hungry Ghost (Mute)
So-Called Artists---untitled (Mush/dirty loop music)
Shantel--Great Delay (!K7)
Tricky -- Blowback (Hollywood)
Mouse On Mars--- Idiology (Domino/Thrill Jockey)

lastyearstuffpickeduponbelatedly
Blectum from Blechdom---The Messy Jesse Fiesta (Deluxe)
--De Snaunted Haus (tigerbeat 6)

SINGLES
Daft Punk--"Digital Love" (well it's number one in this household)
Pay As U Go Kartel--"Know We" (Solid City)
Missy Elliott featuring half the rap world--"Get Your Freak On" (majorlabel)
Gorillaz---"Clint Eastwood (2step garridge mix, perpetrator unknown)"
Aaliyah--"We Need A Resolution" (Blackground), but only the last 50 seconds,
mind ---the main song-bit sucks
QB's Finest--"Oochy Wally" (bigraplabel)
..erm...
..... um.....


............???...........

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