Monday, June 27, 2022

Artforum - best and worst 1996

PRO The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” is a sort of Dionysian hymn to arson, based around this monstrous loop riff of guitar feedback and a really boombastic hip-hop beat. On a similar tip, “Loops of Fury” by the Chemical Brothers mashes up hip-hop and techno.

CON  I’d say that R.E.M. has become one of the most turgid bands on the planet. And as for Michael Stipe’s enigma/savant pose, I suspect there’s probably less there than meets the eye.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Artforum - Best and Worst 1995


Steeped in the studio sorcery of dub and hip-hop, TRICKY is as much a part of England’s art-rock continuum as he is a British B-boy. One way of thinking of Maxinquaye is as Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure remodeled as an accounting of the costs of the UK’s recreational drug culture. Tricky makes his own travails with alcohol, ganja, and other “cheap thrills” emblematic of a generation able to find its provisional utopias only through self-poisoning. From the polluted stream-of-consciousness lyrics to the smeary, maculate textures and wraithlike melodies, Tricky transforms inner chaos and cultural entropy into picturesque soundscapes—like “Strugglin” (Public Enemy minus the dream of a Black Nation), like “Aftermath” (Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” meets The Specials’ “Ghost Town”), like “Abbaon Fat Tracks” (how “There’s a Riot Going On” might have sounded, had Sly Stone used a sampler).

Tricky is the sharpest, cruelest poet of England’s political unconscious since the John Lydon of PiL’s “Metal Box.” In place of the slogans, redemptive exhortations, and case studies perpetrated in the name of “political pop,” Tricky simply lets the contamination and corruption speak for itself, in its own vernacular: paranoia (“mystical shadows fraught with no meaning”), implosive rage (“my brain thinks bomblike”), and exile (“raised in this place, now concrete is my religion”). Perhaps his most poignant poem of all is “Maxinquaye” itself, his personal word for Zion, for paradise lost. Maxine is his mother, who died when Tricky was four; the Quaye are an African tribe. As for Tricky, he’s sorrow’s native son.


Spoilt for choice here, as ever. There are many contenders: BLUR’s “The Great Escape”; GUIDED BY VOICES’ double whammy of “Alien Lanes” and the four-CD box of unreleased albums; SILVERCHAIR’s “Frogstomp” and PAUL WELLER’s “Stanley Road ”; the wholesome Everyman rock of HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH’s “Cracked Rear View.” But 1995’s most nauseating moments ultimately belong to MICHAEL JACKSON’s “You Are Not Alone”—not so much for the song, sickly as it is, but for the cringe-making video, with its staged seminude scenes of “marital intimacy” ’tween Wacko and Lisa Marie, and for the appalling spectacle of Michael’s bared and bleached chest, hairless and withered like a teenager with premature aging syndrome.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Artforum - Best and Worst of 1994

Artforum December 1994


Lords of Jungle

Jungle is all the rage in London: from every other car and boutique you hear its febrile beats, rumblin’ bass, and insolent ragga chat. Now that the sound has broken into the mainstream, most people equate jungle with dance-hall reggae-influenced hits like Shy FX & UK Apachi’s “Original Nuttah.” I prefer the sub-genre of ambient jungle, because it’s at once more experimental and more melodic.

“Renegade Snares (Foul Play Remix)” (Moving Shadow, import) unites my two fave a-j artists, Omni Trio and Foul Play, who pull off the remixer’s miracle of making a perfect original even more sublime: somehow they manage to extract even more searing/soaring orgasmitude out of Omni’s arrangement of soul-diva spasms and mellotronic synth-swoops. The drum-and-bass undercarriage is based around a break beat so crisp and fierce it’s like a cross between James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and an Uzi. What I really love about ambient jungle, though, is its sentimentality—the gushing tenderness of the voices, the tingly, almost-twee piano motifs—and the way that fits the huggy, openhearted poignancy of the Ecstasy experience. Strangely, and thankfully, people continue to make this kind of music even though the luv’d-up E-vibe has disappeared from British clubland, replaced by a sullen aloofness.


Boys in the Band

The chorus of the would-be anthem by These Animal Men, prime movers in the Brit-scene “New Wave of New Wave,” goes “This is the sound of youth today” (Hi-Rise, import). The pat rebuttal would be “No, this is the sound of youth yesterday”—specifically of youth 1966, or worse, its charmless replay in 1979’s mod revival. But what really unnerves me about These Animal Men—and the same goes for the U.S. pop punk of Green Day—is that this is the first time rock revivalism has gotten around to exhuming something I lived through as a late-’70s just-missed-punk adolescent. I’ve always hated those old fogies who greet each new band with a cynical “seen it all before”; now I find myself one, as kids half my age pogo.

Still, everything about “This Is the Sound of Youth” is a tale thrice told and stingless. From the band’s legs-akimbo stage leaps, windmilling Pete Townshend power chords, and speed-freak stares to the video’s boys-will-be-boys plotline (the band as ten-year-old schoolkids throwing paper pellets at girls and cheeking their wrinkly old school ma’am), this is prehistoric stuff: a willful flight from all the things that make ’90s pop exciting (samplers, remixology, women’s ferocity), a retreat into a Luddite, homosocial nostalgia.