Archive for January, 2011

Liam Butler: Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here

January 27, 2011

Gil Scott Heron

I’d be lying if I said that I’d followed Gil Scott-Heron’s career with a keen eye. My curiosity blossomed when I learned that he had recorded a Smog cover for his first album in 16 years. One could liken it to Socrates’ ‘cave analogy’ from Plato’s ‘The Republic’ and maybe divulge into how listening to the album gave me a renewed insight into the idea of a ‘golden mean’ within aesthetics but that would be pretentious and mostly bullshit. In fact my only nugget of knowledge on Gil Scott-Heron prior to 2010 was his spoken word polemic I would often hear played on my brother’s old turntables that was always synonymous with the ‘birth of rap’ “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. From reading more on his early career he channelled political rebellion, sneered at popular culture and critiqued conservative American attitudes with his music throughout the 70s and 80s, his aggressive yet witty, lyrical style respectfully earning him the title “Godfather of Hip Hop”. As stated, this is his first album in 16 years and not through choice. The last two decades have not been kind to the poetic heretic and innovator. Spells in and out of jail for drug possession and use has meant a lack of output and consequently a lack of interest or coverage. Some of his vocals for the album were actually recorded while serving a term in Riker’s prison.

Sometimes judging whether an album is any good is hearing it at the right time. When I first heard Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here” I was in the middle of the perfunctory task of scanning the web for new employment or some form of career development. Needless to say the task was fruitless other than discovering an emotionally potent and yet cerebral album. It begins and ends with the powerful yet down-tempo ‘On Coming From A Broken Home’ a tribute to his grandmother’s hand in raising him in difficult circumstances. Scott-Heron’s vocals accompanied by minimalist electronic ambience sets the mood for both trauma and hope, this feels like the album’s theme. Scott-Heron seeks redemption through overcoming tragedy, to shake the albatross from around his neck not just from the years of drug abuse and incarceration but maybe from stunting his creativity. From the opening track it feels as though his creativity has not been stunted at all. ‘Me And The Devil’ follows, a Robert Johnson cover where Scott-Heron belts out the words in his baritone along to an eerie beat, this man knows the blues all too well and you can hear sincerity. The title track ‘I’m New Here’ is my favourite. Not because it is a cover of a Smog song, the causal event of me exploring this album. Nor because of the arrangements and acoustics appealing to my love of all things lo-fi because the song represents how Gil Scott-Heron can always hope for redemption with Bill Callahan’s lyrics “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone, You can always turn it around”. ‘Where Did The Night Go’ although short is a nightmarish self-inquiry into how the time disappeared without memory. Perhaps a reflection on the decade lost. ‘New York Is Killing Me’ feels like one foot in the past and one foot in the future, half blues, half hip hop. My only gripe is that the album clocks in shy of half an hour at 28mins.



Unless other submissions turn up (there may be some misc. February reviews), this is the end of the Jan Review bit for another year. Thanks to everyone that took part in submitting something – they were all, without exception, highly entertaining reads. February updates include a long piece about ‘the home’ in relation to M.R.James, Leafcutter John, The Shining, Jonathan Miller, and, of course, J.G. Ballard and an update to the WDT/VSTM archive.


Thom Dicomidis: Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood

January 24, 2011

Polly Scattergood
Cider with Polly

Being approached to write a guest album review is a little bit like attending a party. What do you bring to the party? Like being a non-drinker at a cider festival you obviously know you can’t show up with a bottle of White Lightening, unless you have a bottle of the good stuff hidden behind your back and the whole thing’s an elaborate apple-fermentation based joke. You could head to the off license and look for a brand you don’t recognise, maybe that’d be good? But what if you end up buying the cider equivalent of Blue Nun, or a Skoda from the 1980s? What about pear cider, is that thrillingly elicit or a massively boorish faux par? Why is this so f**king stressful? Eventually you surrender, prostrating yourself before the local cider-savant, your request for aid trembling with the conflicting feelings of awe and contempt for this, the most obsessive of compulsives.

So finally you have your cider, or Polly Scattergood (album) by Polly Scattergood (musician), as the case may be.

But then there are manners… This is someone else’s site, be polite, wipe your feet, say please and thank you at all appropriate junctures… What’s their policy on swearing? Do they have a pet to circumnavigate?

Being on your best behaviour, is the point.

“Thank him for having you…” (Internal/interminable dialogue with voice of deceased/irritating matriarchal figure, poss. Cilla Black or one of them off of Loose Women
“Thank you for having me.”

In geopolitical terms, (the extended cider simile is now over) 2010 has been a year of consolidating my gains, with only slow and slight encroachment into new territories, and all-out annexations being a dim and distant memory.

So, onto the review proper, having spent only two-hundred and eighty-two words on preamble.


As is the case with most, even vaguely distinctive, artists there’s already a critical vocabulary by which we can shorthand discussion of Polly Scattergood (musician), so rather than resort to my Roget’s I’m going to tackle these preconceptions head on with my “Thom Dicomidis’ Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary of P. Scattergood (musician)”²

Thom Dicomidis’ Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary of P. Scattergood (musician)

Another F**king Singer-Songwriter (improper noun):
An addition to the already overcrowded market of (esp. female) musicians who write and sing all their own music and who haven’t employed their friends to stand behind them at gigs feeling vaguely wasted.

I’ll admit that I have a weakness for the female singer-songwriter, but for everyone I adopt into my pantheon of great there are thirteen others who I can quite happily ignore. More importantly Polly Scattergood (musician) fills a niche in the field between the more folk-inspired and often earnest singer-songwriters and the electro/pop/rock of crass commercialism. Polly Scattergood (album) juxtaposes³ electronic arrangements with analogue instrumentation and, usually, an unadulterated voice.

Comic (adjective):
Lyrics shot through with black humour, self-awareness and irony.

Polly Scattergood (album)’s got them. Not so heavily or so relentlessly that you want to crawl inside your own head and punch your own brain to death, but enough that they act as suitable counterweight to the more maudlin elements and tropes that being alone with a guitar tends to bring out of people.

Ethereal (adjective):
A bit quiet and wistful, sounds which are distant, dreamlike or indistinct.

The reason I’m not fond of Polly Scattergood (album) being described as ethereal in the more usual sense is the subtextual implication that it is in some way flimsy, or transient. Despite the gentle hand employed in its construction I’m not sure that ethereal, absent reformation through neologism, is the correct word, even as shorthand for so many others. If nothing else to describe Polly Scattergood (album) this way ignores the majority of the actual music, which is often percussive and driving, in favour of an impression which seems more about marking the album out as emotionally sensitive than discussing it’s actually character, which is more intricate, interesting and variable than any tangle of keywords, tags or jargon could really express.

Fragile (another adjective):
A sometimes synonym for ethereal.

Alright, not quite. Where the arrangement on Polly Scattergood (album) is often ethereal it’s Polly Scattergood (musician)’s voice which would best be described as fragile. Or perhaps faltering? Most of the emotive weight of the music is borne on a voice which, as often as it sounds strong and confident, appears on the very cusp of fracturing. Like glass with a fine filigree of cracks running through it Polly Scattergood (musician)’s vocals on tracks like Other Too Endless and, more noticeably, Breathe In Breathe Out seem beautiful because of their delicate imperfections.

Weird (adjective):
The pairing of previously unattached ideas, styles and concepts in a way which unsettles fans of chart music.

Whilst Polly Scattergood (album) isn’t the revolutionary work the above definition might be best suited for it is offbeat and odd enough to warrant some amount of being called weird. Something about it speaks to me of songs for the emotional Diaspora*, the facets of Polly Scattergood (musician) explored piecemeal, rather than as a uniform or even project. I like it, is what I’m getting at.

Quirky (adjective):
Like weird, but without the judgemental overtones. Or perhaps with a hint of apologetic acceptance. Also an adjective used for people who are self-consciously attempting to distinguish themselves from their boring friends by being irritating.

I’m going to stick with weird for Polly Scattergood (album) out of respect for Polly Scattergood (musician). Although the ranting bit at the end of I Hate The Way is a bit annoying and weird.


Of course, as my teachers used to insist, you won’t learn much just reading the dictionary, so I’ll summarise. Polly Scattergood (album) is all of the thing’s it’s typically described as, much to my chagrin. There are stand-out tracks and weaker ones, the more traditionally arranged and overtly miserable Poem Song being one of the latter, and it’s no use for running… But in a year where I’ve listened to very little in the way of new music, this album has worn a groove in my brain and taken its place amongst the (current) perennials. And there’s clapping on Please Don’t Touch.


“Now thank him for having you…”
“I know the social conventions, stop embarrassing me… Thank you for having me, T.I.S.A.R.”***

1) Apologies for anyone who panicked at the thought that Cilla Black might actually be dead
2) Patent pending.
3) This is the most reviewerly word I know. (with apologies to Roland Barthes)
*) All this to avoid a scattered/Scattergood inadvertent wordplay scenario.
**) Admittedly it’s a very short Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary.
***) A second apology for flitting between so many stylistic affectations like a chaffinch on crack.

Chris Stokes: Husky Rescue – Ship of Light

January 22, 2011

Ship of Light

Once more I’ve checked my iTunes to see what music I’ve apparently listened to over the course of 2010 and it seems it’s slim pickings again.
I tend to stumble across new music rather than seek it out and if my music collection were a person, it would be a malnourished child snacking on great big burgers filled with empty calories followed by a carrot.
Occasionally there is a whole and hearty meal but it just seems out of place on the table. My iTunes child prefers to just pick at the sides, downloading a superb track or two from an excellent album, but leaving the rest, later finding a free sampler of over 2000 tracks, taking the lot, only to find the first few tracks are shite and the rest just sits on my hard drive growing mould.

With this in mind, my albums have boiled down to High Violet by The National, Bring Mich Nach Hause by Wir Sind Helden and Ship of Light by Husky Rescue.
Seeing as Bring Mich Nach Hause was on the whole pretty weak, aside from the key track Alles, I’ve decided not to write about it. Out of the remaining two, I’ve chosen to discuss Husky Rescue’s Ship of Light, because although I quite like High Violet, there are really only two stand out tracks for me and the rest sounds like a slightly different band that doesn’t interest me as much.

I believe I first stumbled across Husky Rescue via the site which linked to a remix of They Are Coming. After listening to it at home, my girlfriend, who knows all about music but rarely shares, recommended I also listen to ‘Sound of Love’. I did and enjoyed, but largely forgot about it.
It wasn’t until listening to a mix CD with friends and asking about a song that had caught my ear that I realised a pattern had formed. This was strike number three – the song I had been enjoying was Man of Stone, also by Husky Rescue, and it was time to buy the album.

I’m not very good at reviewing stuff or giving much insight, but the album is good. Real good. The tracks sit together well, like chapters in the same story and Husky Rescue’s distinct sound permeates the entire album, unlike the aforementioned High Violet which strays a little.

The album manages to successfully straddle genres of pop and eerie experimental, if there is such a genre. By this I mean it carries a similar atmosphere to Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain but with the pace of Electrelane’s… well… everything. With the exception of but a couple, few of these songs would seem out of place on the dancefloor of any self respecting indie club, nor would they seem inappropriate play for the high brow beard stroking types to be seen bobbing their heads to.

I’ve probably mentioned before but I’ve had a heightened interest in pop music recently, largely because I have an urge to write an authentic pop song and for this, Ship of Light has been a great source of inspiration. It’s the perfect blend of catchy hooks, chic vocals, ambiguous lyrics (“I wonder what it means”), and fresh edgy sounds. At times it smells a bit like Air after a divorce, at others it’s quite like listening to Múm on a bad trip.

There’s a lot of smooth bass, and retro-electro/woodwind to be found but this is often hidden by a dark foreboding sense that you’re being followed by a broken robot who has learnt the human emotion of ‘pain’. I never know whether it’s learnt or learned. The songs start off gently enough, like a hot woman whispering in your ear as you drift of to sleep, but by the end it feel’s like you’ve just woken up in a bit of a sweat wondering why you ate that stilton so late.

I don’t usually grade things, but for me Ship of Light gets a solid 8 out of 10. It succeeds in offering something I haven’t heard before but retains accessibility and has even begun slipping itself into my every day conversations. I now can’t say ‘hello’ without then saying it again in a higher pitch and following it up with “love the sound of love”. Not that those are the lyrics, but just to illustrate a point.

Daniel Lippard: King Crimson – Red

January 19, 2011

King Crimson – ‘Red’

I have a long and somewhat checkered history with King Crimson. The first I knew of them, from reading them name-dropped in NME articles around the turn of the millennium (being roughly sixteen years old at the time), severely turned me off. I read that they were notoriously pretentious musicians and their output outrageously overblown, beside articles about the likes of “Saviours of Music” bands like the fabled, folklore-inducing Vex Red, Hundred Reasons and Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

A year later, I’m being driven back from Leighton Buzzard on country roads at night, and my companion inserts a cassette of David Sylvian’s ‘Gone to Earth’ into the car stereo. I am instantly swooning over Robert Fripp’s intricate and sublime guitar work on opening track ‘Taking the Veil’, and continue to be enchanted throughout the record by further slabs of undeniably brilliant string-picking.

I blame being young, impressionable and stubborn for my reluctance to deviate from my magazine-influenced perception despite having tangible evidence to suggest it was wrong, and for it requiring around six years from that evening drive home to even bother investigating further.

Upon hearing ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ on a compilation LP (age 23), I had further multi-faceted, omni-directional evidence to obliterate that misguided idea. Months later, I pick up the album containing it and find myself dismayed that the vast majority of the material on it has fluted instruments and songs about pixies, pipers and other various forms of infantile 60’s English psychedelic imagery. Mortified, I dismiss them once again.

Two years pass and I am introduced to ‘Red’, their 1974 album, whilst being tattooed.

It is a magnificent record. I can’t offer much in the way of detailed analysis, since the only time I have heard it all the way through was during that ink session. Besides, trying to convey the ecstasy of hearing a group I had twice thrown on the scrap heap, and wanted for some time to blow me away, cutting loose and combining squalling, freewheeling saxophone solos with devilish, low-end riffage and cacophonous drums, briefly and intermittently aquiescing into genuinely plaintive laments reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane’s “Comin’ Back to Me”, and back again is a task that I don’t think I can really manage.

So I finally caught the Crimson bug in July 2010. Last night I watched the excellent Alfonso Cuaron film Children of Men on ITV. In it, there is a scene where Clive Owen walks into the foreboding skyscraper condo of an immigration official to plead for transit papers out of a London envisioned as something of a gulag. The low angle camera shots and monochrome setting, the stark lighting and general ambience of an ominous corridor of power, set against a musical backdrop of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’, which song I am listening to on repeat as I type this.

Says it all, really.

Patrick Hamilton: Angelic Upstarts

January 17, 2011

I used to write often. Now I’m a bore. This year, one article in the Friday Guardian Film and Music Supplement, for that is what a petis bourgeois bore I am, inspired me. Here is a link to it.

What drew me in, on one level, was it let me rediscover a genre I briefly encountered as a Kerrang! reader in my youth. I’m not that fucking old, but I like to think I am. Some underlying psychological tension or something. Anyway, this particular article alerted my attention to the Angelic Upstarts. A band I had never heard before. Probably as I am not from left-wing, street-fighting working-class stock. Well, that’s not a good enough reason. We fought in our own ways, if it matters. Having been out of work for the majority of that darkest of years, 2009, I found 2010, being in a new job, provided me with beer and juke box funds to enjoy in the company of new and old comrades.

One particular boozer was a frequent haunt, mainly due to the fairly decent juke box and strong booze. Low and behold, the juke box had the track “I’m an Upstart!” by the Angelic Upstarts on.  This was how I got to hear the band, apart from the compulsory visits to YouTube. It is one of the best calls to arms tracks you’ll ever hear in your life. Throw those Rage albums away at last, the big boys have arrived. Now, maybe this is foolish to mention, but fuck it, hear it goes. The general election had been called. The campaigning was in full swing. But in a town with a forgone conclusion, us stuck up cunts had to show our disdain. The plan was to get boozed up, then drive in to the complete Tory stronghold of the countryside, and let rip on the Conservative election placards.

In the company of beautiful people, emotion and booze have a euphoric execution. And the soundtrack to fuel this was “I’m an Upstart!” In a chorus of “I’m an Upstart Oi!

We don’t need to be clever to learn your lies
We only have to listen, open up our eyes
Try to be honest, get kicked in the face
But if you cheat you’re just a rat in the race

I’m an upstart
Hey whatcha gonna do
I’m an upstart
Listen I’m talking to you

Seek out an identity
You alienate society
Face the facts, why not admit it
How can you be outrageous when
your mother won’t allow it?

Listen to the track and you’ll understand it. It’s a fucking fuel pumping, adrenalin kicking, let’s-av-it-son, non-shoe gaze, malarkey. Forget the failed attempt of dubstep to soundtrack the coming insurrection, it should be tracks like “I’m an Upstart!” at the forefront.  And reader, believe you me when I say I was up for fucking up some Tory placards at the arse end of this pub stop.


T.I.S.A.R: Toshimaru Nakamura – Egrets

January 11, 2011

This month, by way of rounding off 2010, I invited a group of my close friends to write some reviews of music they had heard for the first time during the year. It didn’t have to be released in 2010, but had to be new to them at the very least. I present then, over the coming weeks of January, two thousand and ten, through the vacant gaze of mid twenty somethings…and on this occasion, I’m getting my review out of the way first.

Toshimaru Nakamura – Egrets (Composite Review)*

Good avant-garde, rustling through clanking noises and fleeting the no-input going – Zen as mixing board. A pair of network of electronic and increasingly unharmonious relationship with the duets. Although where improv looms, there are few musical instruments that he bore. ‘Yura’ had a conversation with him, headlines conceptually pleasing, as the no-input mixing board with head-splitting sine wave modulations and now – “Scary onkyo feedbacker comes of age” is years ago.

Blubbery bass part of a rich tradition in experimental – as tones while Henriksen’s filtered brass love for the look. The instruments exhalations drone along in a creamily peripheral hardware and audio equipment board handcraft a user-friendly harmonious in a Chicago fashion. David Sylvian’s are repositioned as musical instruments. Egrets is simultaneously challenging and highly guitar shop. It’s a sonically rich collection, instrument affection, he was musical frustrated, and aimed at a wider listening public, perhaps at some of those controllers of sound without anything in the way fainthearts who held back from purchasing 2007’s Vorhernach.

A content-free Nakamura’s sizzle-and-splat session with German trumpeter Axel Dörner. Methodology that has reminded many commentators of the Egrets’s opener, a short no-input mixing board solo, as if Nakamura unpredictability of its controls, is strongly reminiscent of diving underwater in bright sunlight. “Semi” is the work and ideas of John Cage. In its a duet with old sparring partner Tetuzi Akiyama, illumination of the secret inner sound world of whose acoustic guitar rings forth in hifi splendour, machinery, the no-input mixing board also belongs to stepping in and out of tonal references. Akiyama traditions that explore the glitches and faults within plays not a single unnecessary note: a pure, electronic devices. And in its exploration of feedback glass-of-water performance beautifully matched with Nakamura’s turbulent chirruping. Much it could be seen as a musical metaphor – Nakamura’s recent output has many mystical techniques and and guided Akiyama’s pensive guitar tracts with flickering, occasionally possibly even the source flicker and an ascetic, almost bird-like M-type 3000 yard of consciousness in the high frequency sounds. Maybe it’s more accurate no-input mixing board’s stare.

Perfect Sound MicroHouse, the sound of a partying, fermenting brilliantly produced – it’s to do something. By cutting natural Forever, Nakamura’s sonic explorations seem to have evolved the guitar another essential release on Sylvian’s very fine phenomenon that Nakamura has somehow made audible. Egrets maybe from a series of rejections; of volume; of ‘obvious’ represents privy to. Pole. For the feedback generated by Nakamura not frightening the horses, as it sounds, approaches plugging his ‘Nimb’ entries into the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, known for his sound. The slowly pulsing waves of “Nimb Number mixing works, both as a celebrate the increased control and unpredictable qualities shimmering chords. Hopefully Egrets is Nakamura’s stepping up abstract efforts meaning into it.

Dread. Toshimaru Nakamura not your trumpet technique. The piece also ending on delicately placed chiming electronics that make you has made a typical disc numbers 42-45 welcoming hand album. There are play and start again as soon density of action suggests it is one, the disc is finished. Egrets sees Toshimaru Nakamura extending the scene, defining four new not just improvised, but a newcomers without compromising his compellingly constructed “Onkyo” breadth of imagination and sensitivity to the unexpected. Viewed – the radical turn-of-the-century and quite seems to put in context, with a curious ear, its synthesis of his intentional self forward a bit more consonant.


* This review was made using the cut up technique of William Burroughs, but done via a generator rather than my hands and scissors. It is a composite of ten reviews, distiled in to the best, most amusing/insightful random groupings I could find.

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