Thursday, August 31, 2006

Something About Shoes

Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa - The Perfect Needle

Today’s track is taken from a compilation in which a selection of tracks from old shoegazers are given a right shoeing (and that doesn’t mean they are taken out the back and kicked to death) by the new wave of shoegaze. Entitled ‘Never Lose That Feeling’ (after the Swervedriver song), the album was released last September on Club AC30. I’d never heard anything by Prague duo The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa before this but I’m definitely going to be investigating further. Their rendition of The Telescopes’ ‘The Perfect Needle’ avoids the original’s layers of distorted guitars, transforming the track into an experimental jazz number, not a million miles away from the bossa nova of Nouvelle Vague. There’s an air of menace permeating the track, which is realised with surprising bursts of noise.

I really admire Club AC30 as they appear to be successfully resurrecting the much-maligned shoegazing genre for a whole new audience, through celebration and reinvention of the past masters, and the introduction of new artists heavily influenced by the original scene. Starting out as a London club night, they have since expanded into a small label and act as a kind of hub for all things shoegaze, past and present, including a radio station and a roster of DJs. Bands on the label include Televise, who feature former members of Slowdive. They are also set to release an album by Spotlight Kid, the new project of former Six by Seven frontman Chris Davies. Upcoming gigs they are promoting include The Telescopes at Water Rats on the 20th October, and Amusement Parks on Fire (plus a DJ set from Ulrich Schnauss) at Kilburn's Luminaire on 11th September. ‘Never Lose That Feeling Volume 2’ is released later on this year.

Visit Ecstasy of Saint Theresa website here
Ecstasy of Saint Theresa at My Space
Club AC30 website with mail order section to purchase 'Never Lose That Feeling'


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rock And Roll Part Rocks Off Baby

Spitfire - Six Million Dollar Man
Spitfire - Firebird
Spitfire - Rubber Rosie

As we all know, it’s often the musical guilty pleasures that give real satisfaction when it comes to pure enjoyment of the form. Take 1990s indie rockers Spitfire. My love for them is not something I like to shout about, but I get far more happiness out of listening to their balls out rock‘n’roll geetar nonsense than I do from the majority of lauded acts from the same period. When they first burst onto the scene in 1991 they were inexplicably lumped into the shoegazing scene, despite the lead track (‘Dive’) from their debut release the ‘Translucent EP’ on Eve Recordings, being frazzled psych-rock. The EP also featured a brilliant cover version of the theme tune to the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, with wakka-wakka guitars and a searing lead solo. They looked like acid casualties from the 1960s, all beads, round Lennon-specs and long hair, and singer Jeff Pitcher obviously fancied himself as a bit of a Jim Morrison-type, donning leather trousers and, by the second EP, penning songs with preposterous titles like ‘Wombchild’.

Around the release of the second EP (‘Superbaby’), they supported Blur in Cardiff and totally blew me away. The two girls clad all in leather bashing tambourines stage left helped, but they were an incendiary live band, packed with accomplished musicians. Their show climaxed with a cover of Rod Stewart’s ‘Hot Legs’ (the shoegazing classic), before an extended instrumental break in which each member of the band departed the stage one after another. First Jeff (arms around the two girls) strolled off, followed soon after by the two guitarists (leaving their guitars squalling feedback by the amps), until it was just the drummer (Justin Welch, who went onto join Elastica) and bass player Nick Pitcher (brother of Jeff) holding down a frenzied rhythm section attack. Blur were good, but Spitfire stole the show.

Another single, ‘Wild Sunshine’, followed on Eve, but it took until 1993 for Spitfire’s debut album to be released, on Paperhouse Records, an offshoot of Fire. ‘Sex Bomb’ was an album of retro garage rock and proper rock‘n’roll. Not blinding but good enough. They were way out on their own as the only band around making music like this - heavy riffs, samples of roaring motorbike engines, pretentious lyrics, fret wanking guitar solos and even a flute solo on standout track and slow burning live favourite ‘Firebird’.

The band released a couple more singles in 1994 and 1995 and it was around this time that I caught them live in Bristol. They appeared to have reinvented themselves as a Ramones / Rolling Stones tribute band; all raw rawk riffs and hot licks, coupled with Jeff Pitcher’s mildly suggestive panting, pouting and posturing on tracks like ‘Rubber Rosie’. Spitfire were cheesy in the same way that the Darkness were when they first arrived; brazenly retro despite the Britpop boom, and in a drunken stupor, I fell for them all over again. I hustled my way backstage after the show and exchanged some meaningless platitudes with them, at first exhilarated to be ‘hanging with the band’, before realising they were thoroughly depressed, poor, hungry and with nowhere to sleep that night. I considered offering to put them up, but before I could, my friend Tom did. I was secretly relieved as the illusion had been shattered enough without having them knocking about in my front room drinking tea. We got a lift back to Bath with them and they seemed like nice enough blokes, grateful that they didn’t have to sleep in the van again.

They released their second and final album, ‘Electric Colour Climax’ (recorded at Toerag Studios, eventually made famous by The White Stripes) in 1996 and despite one or two moments, it seemed that the band had reached the end of the road. The ironic misogynistic posturing that had always been misunderstood by the press as a reality rather than an act now seemed devoid of any irony. The cover featured a photo of a topless woman in fishnets and the title track was a messy mix of organs, guitars and drums, along with a sampled porn star grunting and groaning along to the music. The album sank without a trace, taking the band down with it. Despite dedicated searching, I couldn’t really find anything about Spitfire on the internet, which speaks volumes. It’s a real shame but if I can find the time, I might start a fan site - anonymously of course.

Info on Spitfire Peel Session here


Saturday, August 26, 2006

In Praise Of Norman Records

Northstation - This Town Is Drunk Again

For the past eight years I have been buying the majority of my records from Norman Records, a mail order company based on an industrial estate in Leeds. Despite living in London and having access to the likes of Rough Trade and Sister Ray, I’ve stuck with them, mainly because they put sweets in with my orders, but also because I’m a lazy bum and I can’t be arsed to get on the tube. It’s dead simple – they send round an email every Friday, listing all the releases for the following week, along with reviews to give you an idea of what you’re getting. You email them back with what you want and they package it up and send it to you. I’ve never received anything with a bent sleeve, I can’t remember the last time I bought something from them that I didn’t like, plus you can even ask them questions about stuff and they’re not scathingly dismissive as the majority of record shop employees can be - I should know, I used to be one.

Since the NME transformed itself into the indie rock equivalent of Heat magazine, I’ve become reliant on owner Phil and the gang to tell me what to like, and unusually for a company in the business of selling, they are quite happy to slag off their wares. Can you imagine a greengrocer saying, “Me bananas are jubbly, but me plums are facking sour and will give you gut rot.” It’s not going to happen is it? But Team Norman is quite happy to give sub-standard fare a right good kicking. Here’s Phil’s review of the Starsailor single ‘In The Crossfire’ from last year –

“Am listening to the new Starsailor single called In The Crossfire. His voice really doesn't feel like someone is drilling in my head with the wrong drill bit. Oh no. It is not about the most pompous bombastic thing you've ever heard. Oh no. It's a delicate flower of a sung by someone with possibly the best voice in the whole world ever... Sarcasm aside, the tune's not actually that bad, but that goose of a man insists of punctuating some reasonable guitar indie fayre with his total cock of a voice. Christ it makes me so furious I'd kick my own head off if my legs were bendier…”

Brilliant. It’s thanks to them that my record collection has the odd lathe cut 8” and various other obscure slabs of wonder that I would probably never have got to hear if it wasn’t for them. Take this wonderful album ‘Wagtail’ from Northstation, which I picked up last week. There’s only three companies carrying stock in the entire world, and Norman Records is one of them. It’s limited to 121 copies so I am one of the privileged few to be clutching an actual copy in my sweaty palms. And what a clutchable thing it is too. It comes in a sleeve made from light blue felt. The sides stitched together with red thread and a little brown bird with a button for an eye has been sown onto the cover. They’ve done this 121 times so each bird is unique (apparently, mine is called ‘Pierre’) – if you follow this link here you’ll be able to see every single one.

I’d almost be happy if there was no CD living in the felt nest but of course there is and it’s a cracker. It’s twinkling noisy, messy electronics with a touch of the folk about it. I’ve posted ‘This Town Is Drunk Again’, with it’s dubbed out drums, clanging melody and bit where everything distorts into a blizzard of white noise. It reminds me a bit of Feedle in places, which can only be a good thing. Northstation is Steve Fanagan and it turns out that this is his third album as Northstation and he also records under the aliases Moose Eats Leaf and Wrecking Ball, as well as running the Slow Loris label and working part-time as a sound engineer. Another great discovery, all thanks to the wonderful world of Norman Records.

Visit Steve Fanagan's website here
Visit the Slow Loris label website
Head to the Norman Records website and join their mailing list and order the Northstation album (if there's any left)


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Under the Influence

Working For A Nuclear Free City - Over
Working For A Nuclear Free City - Troubled Son

Working For A Nuclear Free City are a band under the influence of the city in which they dwell. Thank the lord that city is Manchester and not Milton Keynes, as their debut album is one of immense promise, revealing a former studio based duo finding their feet from the expansion of the band to a fully operational four-piece. They've definitely been drinking the same water as the Stone Roses and early New Order, as atmospheric instrumental songs rub shoulders with psychedelic vocal tracks that resemble the Chemical Brothers collaborating with Ian Brown. I even scribbled down '808 State remixing Slowdive' when I was making notes on the album, though listening back, I'm not sure to which track I was referring.

I don’t think posting a couple of tracks is really going to enable you to get a solid grasp of what you’d be getting were you to purchase the album, such is the variety of styles on offer here. Every time you think you’ve got them pinned down, they squirm from your grasp and take off in another direction, like a sack full of cats let loose in a windy field. Take ‘Over’, which opens with wheezing harmonica and one of those classic J. Spaceman vocal coda’s, before busting out into a raucous instrumental passage that sounds like something from Ride’s ‘Going Blank Again’. Then there’s ‘Troubled Man’, which lives up to their press companies’ “techno played on guitars” tag, sounding like ‘Begging You’-era Roses, or Kasabian without any of the unbearable bullshit. The best thing you can do is buy the album when it’s released by Melodic on September 18th and make your own mind up.

Working For A Nuclear Free City at My Space
Label website for the always excellent Melodic
The not very up-to-date band website
Pre-order the album from Norman Records


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The British Nightmare To America's Dream

Hijack - Hijack The Terrorist Group
Hijack - Hold No Hostage

Can you imagine how much heat London rap crew Hijack would get from the USA in the current climate of fear and paranoia? Based solely on their name, the FBI would have told MI6 to put them under constant surveillance, their phones would be tapped, they would probably be banned from entering the country and if they managed to find a way in, there would be police officers waiting to arrest them. The self-styled ‘terrorist group’, operating in the late 80s/early 90s, had rather a different problem. America did not want to know.

Hijack were the original pioneers of hardcore UK rap (though credit is due to Demon Boyz, London Posse and Overlord X), with the crew consisting of rappers Kamanchi Sly and Ulysses and the two DJs, Supreme (who produced the majority of the music) and Undercover. They were joined by Agent Fritz and Agent Clueso for live performances. Coming out of Brixton, south London, Hijack debuted in 1988, with the release of ‘Style Wars’ on Simon Harris’s groundbreaking Music of Life label. Brutal raps and thumping beats combined with a clever use of samples and ferocious scratching to put Hijack beyond the reach of the majority of their contemporaries. Here was a crew who could take on the US rappers and, for the first time, make all us UK-based rap fanatics proud of the country where we lived.

"Money ain't no matter it's a principle, that makes us invincible" : Hold No Hostage

Hijack craved respect and recognition above cold hard cash. Prior to signing with Music of Life, Kamanchi Sly won a rapping contest organised by Tim Westwood. He threw the prize money into the audience declaring, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the art.” These sentiments were echoed through many of Sly’s raps on future releases. Like Public Enemy (undoubtedly a massive influence), Hijack were politically outspoken, commentating on a war they believed was being fought on the streets of London and across the UK – not a race war, but one between the rich and poor, and the authorities and disenchanted youth. They also chose to dress confrontationally, donning balaclavas and utilising imagery adopted by rebel forces, airplane hijackers and terrorists.

Following ‘Style Wars’, the group released the double A-side, ‘Hold No Hostage/Doomsday of Rap’ which became a massive underground hit across Europe. This brought them to the attention of Ice-T, who signed them up to his Rhyme Syndicate label (which had a distribution deal with Warner Brothers), making Hijack the first UK rap crew to sign a deal with a US label. They recorded an album, ‘The Horns of Jericho’ in 1989, and released a single ‘The Badman is Robbin’ (which went Top 40 in the UK). But then Rhyme Syndicate collapsed and, after much wrangling, Warner Brothers refused to release the album in the States claiming that the hardcore style and British accents wouldn’t be well received - another prime example of major label ineptitude. Hijack were the only British crew with the skills and ambition to conquer the American market. ‘The Horns of Jericho’ was eventually released in the UK and Europe in 1991, to inevitable widespread acclaim.

Check out classic album track ‘Hijack the Terrorist Group’, with it’s mock Dick Tracy intro, before booming bass and sirens back lyrics alluding to the crew on the run from the police, finally cornered during a gig at the Brixton Academy. I’ve also posted ‘Hold No Hostage’ from their second 12”, which is DJ Supreme’s favourite Hijack track. It opens with a sample from the Coldcut remix of ‘Paid In Full’ before a needle is scratched across the record and the crew show the full range of their skills, and in particular, Supreme and Undercover’s lacerating cuts. Proper old school business. Unfortunately, the fallout from the Rhyme Syndicate deal and musical differences caused the crew to split soon after the release of their debut album. Their recorded output is a fraction of what it could have been, but ‘The Horns of Jericho’ has gone down in history as the greatest hip hop album made outside of the US, and there’s no doubting the massive influence it has had on the evolution of UK rap.

Fantastic interview with DJ Supreme from the Original UK Hip Hop website
Full Hijack discography here
Search eBay for Hijack releases, but be prepared to dig deep as they don’t come cheap!
DJ Supreme at My Space and his official website
Kamanchi Sly website


Monday, August 21, 2006

Hey! What's That Noise?

The Boo Radleys - The White Noise Revisited

So here we are. After a hugely enjoyable stint at the helm of the wondrous Spoilt Victorian Child this is where I find myself. The White Noise Revisited is very much carved in the image of SVC – well, it wasn’t broke, so I ain’t fixed it. I hope most of you will bookmark TWNR and continue to visit for the usual mix of nostalgic trips down memory lane and cutting edge new music, along with a peppering of exclusives and even the occasional interview. At the moment it’s just me, but I am hoping to bring some other writers on board as I know it takes a broad range of musical tastes to keep places like this interesting.

It seems only right that the opening post is accompanied by the song after which this site is named; ‘The White Noise Revisited’ by The Boo Radleys. I bought ‘Giant Steps’ when I moved into my first shared house after being in Halls at college in Bath. I was the first one back after the holidays and spent about five hours on my own waiting for everybody else to arrive. The first thing I did was get out my stereo and put on this album as I unpacked and stuck posters up on my wall. For this reason, I will always associate the album with new beginnings, so it's apt that I should be posting a song from it as I start out on another adventure.

Special thanks must go to KTR for the brilliant site design and all technical assistance, Feedle for the idea, Martin for the song and for saying yes, and not forgetting Simon at Spoilt Victorian Child for letting me squat his site and giving me the inspiration for starting up TWNR. All feedback is greatly appreciated. Please let me know what you think of the site and the music that is posted, either by leaving a comment or mailing me directly - there's a contact on the sidebar before the disclaimer. And if you like what you read and hear, remember to spread the word and link to me here. Let me know if I’m not already linking to your site and you would like me to.

Visit the special 10th anniversary website for 'Giant Steps'
Buy 'Giant Steps' from Amazon
Martin Carr is bravecaptain


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hefty Birthday

L'Altra, Phil Ranelin and Slicker - Hefty Naked Ninja (Eliot Lipp Remix)
Spanova - Absentminded

If I were a car driver and Hefty Records a hitchhiker, I would have driven past them thumbing a lift on numerous occasions, despite having a good feeling that they would make an interesting travelling companion. Sometimes it just happens that way. They’ve obviously been doing OK without me, as the Chicago-based label celebrate 10 years in operation this year with the release of two compilations and I get to see exactly what I have been missing.

Plenty it would seem. ‘History is Bunk’ is released over two parts, and rather than being a simple label retrospective with a few remixes chucked in, the majority of the material on both comps appears to be exclusive. Names I recognise include Savath & Savalas (another nom de plume of Scott Herren) remixed by Daedelus, Dabyre (also on remix duty), Telefon Tel Aviv (remixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto) and Jimmy Edgar. The rest of the contributors are either Hefty regulars or new artists set to break out this year. Of these, Plus Device, with their faithful old school electro pop, are the only artist to really break away from what appears to be the staple Hefty diet of post rock, experimental jazz and freeform electronics.

Check Brooklyn-based producer Eliot Lipp’s remix of a collaboration between L'Altra, Phil Ranelin and Slicker taken from ‘Part One’. It’s lush, expansive electronic soul music where hip hop beats, buried vocal elements and gorgeous analogue synths come together to make a song which perfectly reflects the upcoming change in the seasons. Lipp has previously recorded for Scott Herren’s (Prefuse 73) Eastern Developments label, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be too wide of the mark to say that Herren has been an important influence on Lipp’s work.

Spanova are a pair of Japanese electronic producers, and I’ve lifted their contribution from ‘Part Two’ as the second download. ‘Absentminded’ is proper downtempo, 4am smoking music, as twinkling pianos and sultry horns combine with breathy vocals for an atmospheric beatless introduction. Once the beat kicks, a bizarre series of sampled vocal melodies give this track a real air of originality and the track culminates in what sounds like harmonised gargling. Truly eccentric electronica.

The real coup with both these records is that they will delight serious fans of the label and provide enough intrigue for the uninitiated to want to investigate further. I count myself in the latter category, but I do wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off releasing this as a double CD, rather than two separate CD’s. The UK release date is 4th September 2006, though they are already available as imports from the States.

Visit Hefty Records website and My Space
Search Beatport to buy the latest Hefty releases as digital downloads
Buy Hefty Records catalogue from Norman Records
Eliot Lipp's website and My Space
Spanova website here


Thursday, August 10, 2006

We're Just Monkeys With iPods

Akira the Don ft. Bashy - Clones (Feedle Remix)

Isn’t it nice when two things you like come together to make one extra special thing? Like when they started putting jam in Wagon Wheels. This combo isn’t edible, but two of my very favourite musical hombres have collided, as former SVC Records affiliate and adopted son of Sheffield, Feedle, has done a remix of Akira the Don’s ‘Clones’.

I’m finding it rather difficult to say anything about this, other than reeling off a list of giddy superlatives that will end up making me look foolish and place a lot of pressure on the song in question to live up to the stream of excited verbiage I leave in my wake. Feedle and Akira are both capable of cramming more ideas into three minutes than most artists manage in a lifetime, and this remix is packed to overflowing and ready to burst all over your computer. Feedle’s odd melodic noise transforms the Don and Bashy’s raps into a thrilling mess quite unlike anything I have heard this year.

It’s unofficial in that Akira doesn’t know it exists, but hopefully he will find it and listen to it and love it. It’s another exclusive for the blog, so spread the word.

Visit Akira the Don's website and make sure you download his latest mixtape 'Ninja Babies Are The Future' 'cause it's absolutely brilliant! Befriend him at My Space
Visit Feedle's website and My Space
Watch the video for 'Clones' here


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Epochal Moments in My Life # 43

Mental Cube - Q

It’s late 1990. A recent acquaintance invites me and my friends to join a group of his friends in a disused building, tucked away in a corner of his parent’s remote farm in west Dorset. He’s got decks, a small sound system and a single strobe light. The evening starts out as nothing special. The strobe flickers at pace and people dance, drink, chat, share joints - there’s talk of acid going around. I hang out with my mate G and we have a few awkward conversations with people we don’t know, shouted over the noise of the music. Nobody makes much sense, every sentence has to be repeated and the whole night feels disjointed. No one is making a connection.

Then the moment – there’s a pause in the relentless thump; a split second of silence before a burst of frequency pierces the air, echoing off the concrete walls. Handclaps, then a series of bleeps. Emotive synths, then more bleeps, hoots and trills; a boomerang bass pings in and the bass drum kicks. The strobe is slowed right down, offering occasional glimpses of faces in the magnesium flare. G, eyes shut, a blissful smile smeared all over his face, is over by the speakers. The same people I wasn’t relating to earlier surround me, but now we are together, like we’ve always been this way. It’s grins all round and knowing looks. Everyone is moving like the pages of a flick book. It’s all about the bleeps - a stunning sequence of poignant sounds that means as much as any heartfelt chorus from a ‘proper’ song with words. Neck hair rises, a shiver trickles down my spine like a drop of molten iron. It’s over too soon and the whole crowd pleads, “Again, again!” like a bunch of overgrown Teletubbies, and Tom drops the needle once more and we do it all over.

The following morning, as the sun comes up, me and G walk across the fields to hitch a lift home. It’s quiet apart from a few birds tweeting and the distant hum of a tractor. We both have the song playing repeatedly in our heads. G tries singing it and ends up sounding like R2D2, causing us to piss ourselves laughing. We reach the main road between Bridport and Dorchester and it’s not long before a sweet, doddery old couple pick us up. “So, what have you boys been up to?”, is the question from the front. We glance at each other. Where to begin? How can you possibly start to explain how one song has changed everything and that because of it, things won’t ever be the same again?

Visit the Future Sound of London website
Buy Future Sound of London from Amazon
Search ebay for Mental Cube


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Forced Nostalgia

Casino versus Japan - Bound By Your Smile

Most years when I was growing up, my Mum and Dad used to take my brother and me and whoever else was around, to the Steam Fair held in Stourpaine, a village in Dorset not far from when we lived. As an event, it seemed to symbolise the end of the summer, held as it was over the last weekend in August. The dreaded back to school was looming, but memories of camping holidays in Cornwall or France were still fresh in the mind. It was often good training for future excursions to the Glastonbury Festival, as it always seemed to piss with rain and be a stodgy mud bath, with puddles capable of sucking your wellies clean off.

As it’s name suggests, the fair was a meeting point for steam powered contraptions from all over England and Europe, including traction engines, locomotives, steam rollers and ploughs. Sounds thrilling, eh? Well, in a bizarre way it was. Being surrounded by steam monsters belching out smoke and ear-shredding noise was an exhilarating experience, and there was even proper a fun fair and that meant candyfloss and dodgems. However, the real highlight for me was the huge collection of fairground organs that used to attend. If you’re not sure what I mean, the above photo is of one of them. Varying in size, they were powered by the steam engines themselves, and featured a vast array of pipes, emitting different pitches from trombone blasts, trumpet parps and flutey high notes, to many different organ sounds. As well as the pipes, there was an extensive range of percussion. The pipes were built into garish front work and surrounded by various statues, many of which moved in time with the music that was created in a similar way to those pianos that play themselves. I still don’t really understand how they work, but as a kid I thought they were operated by ghosts straight out of Scooby Doo.

Anyway, what’s all this whimsical steam babble got to do with an mp3 blog? Well, not a great deal actually. Apart from the fact that the reason why I started thinking about all this is that every time I listen to any music by Casino versus Japan (aka Erik Kowalski) I start thinking about fairground organs and how good his music would sound pumping out of one. His melodies play a sort of ‘forced nostalgia’ trick on me. I feel like I’ve heard them somewhere before, buried way back in my childhood, and they start evoking memories that aren’t connected to the music as it hadn’t even been made at that time. Am I making sense? It doesn’t really matter. Just listen to ‘Bound By Your Smile’. Immense woozy organs envelop an exquisite plinky plonky melody. It’s like a soothing opiate blanket wrapping itself around you. Bloody lovely. Where does it take you?

Visit Casino versus Japan website
Casino versus Japan at My Space
Find out more about Casino versus Japan at Wikipedia
Buy Casino versus Japan from Norman Records
Visit the Great Dorset Steam Fair website
A few mp3’s from fairground organs can be downloaded here