Thursday, February 26, 2009

Melodies from Mars, Vicious Beats from Venus

The Tuss - Rushup I Bank 12

I realised that after all the shit surrounding whether or not The Tuss was Aphex Twin I hadn't actually got around to giving the album a proper listen. Grant Wilson-Claridge (Rephlex co-owner) gave an interview around the time the controversy was in full swing and made one very salient point - "People seem more interested in speculation and celebrity than content, quality or music. Be careful you don't miss something really great that isn't really famous." Nail whacked firmly on the head.

Over the past week, The Tuss's album 'Rushup Edge' has rarely been off me pod, and it rocks so fucking hard I feel very stupid for getting sucked into a debate over and above the one thing that is really important - THE MUSIC! This is mind-meltingly mental metallic machine funk of the highest order. As good as any electronic music I've heard over the last decade. Seriously. I played 'Rushup I Bank 12' about 15 times in a row the other day. Spasmoid-electro with stellar drum-programming that absolutely SMACKS it without resorting to the ludicrous off-kilter rhythms of the worst excesses of drill; plus twinkling pianos, Human League-esque chord sequences and the sickest, squelchiest avin' it acid squark. In the words of MasterChef's Gregg Wallace, "It's DEEEEP, it's DAAARK, it's DEEETROITY - I just want to stick my face in it."

Aphex Twin - Xtal

In a connected note, an mp3 of the wonderous 'Xtal' from Aphex Twin's masterwork 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92' popped into my inbox yesterday. Basically, the seminal Belgian techno label R&S Records is back! To commemorate the label's resurrection, it is releasing some of the most seminal albums from its impressive archive. These classic albums have been hard-to-find for several years and are to be digitally remastered for their release as the 'Masters Series'. On the 7th April 2009 Aphex Twin 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92', Model 500 'Classics', Ken Ishii 'Jellytones' and Dave Angel 'Classics' are to be released. A month later on the 12th May 2009, Derrick May 'Innovator', Model 500 'Deep Space', Joey Beltram 'Classics' and Aphex Twin 'Classics' will complete the series. The label are also signing new artists, so we can hopefully expect a new generation of quality tuneage from the stable. Hail to the horse...

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that 'SAW 85-92' is one of the most influential records in my collection. The soundtrack to many a comedown, 'Xtal' is a giant marshmallow pillow of lush ambient wonder to disappear into. Lovingly remastered too - it just sounds even better...

Buy 'Rushup Edge' from Norman Records
The Tuss MySpace
Or The Tuss MySpace?
Brand new R&S Records website
R&S Records MySpace

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because Kurt Said So...

Captain America - Flame On

Back in early-1992, if Kurt Cobain had told me to spray-paint my nutsack metallic green and moonwalk naked down South Street in Dorchester I would have done so without blinking, such was the influence he had over my dope-addled teenage brain. Luckily he made no such demands, instead bigging up a Scottish band called Captain America in an interview, thus leading me to discover a band who remain close to my heart to this very day.

I found this transcript online - it might not be the actual one I read (which I think was in the NME, where he also sported a Captain America T-shirt as pictured above) but Cobain, in discussion with Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic, reveals his love for the Vaselines, and in turn, Captain America:

Chris Novoselic: "Kurt and I were totally into the Vaselines. I mean, they were my favourite band. They still are one of my favourite bands."

Kurt Cobain: "Definitely our Number One favourite band."

CN: "We finally got to play with them. They reformed, to play with us when we played Edinburgh, Scotland, in, er, early winter of 1990. So we met Eugene, and kind of kept a rap going with them. Then we heard Captain America, the band. We heard the tape, we were totally blown away."

KC: "Yeah, that's his new band, Captain America. They're really good."

Captain America was formed by Eugene Kelly in 1990 after the disintegration of the Vaselines, the Glasgow indie poppers he fronted alongside Frances McKee. The original line-up was a bit of a Scots supergroup, featuring Brendan O’Hare from Teenage Fanclub on drums, the guitarist Gordon Keen (BMX Bandits) and James Sheenan, (The Vaselines) on bass. O’Hare was replaced early on by Andy Bollen. After reading the interview where Kurt namechecked CA, I went straight down to Big Brian's Record Shop in Tudor Arcade and ordered the 12" and then had to wait for a few days before it arrived.

It was more than worth the wait. Captain America were like a grungier Teenage Fanclub - distorted, melodic guitars and Kelly's stoned, lackadaisical drawl delivering his bitter retort to a former lover: "I know what's in your head, I read your diary when you were in bed. Then I threw the pages on the fire...". You can see why Kurt loved them so much. It was tuneful and poppy but also ramshackle, noisy and raw. Even as someone who had never heard of the Vaselines I was totally smitten. Cheers Kurt.

Eugenius - Breakfast

Not content with nicking the name, the band also appropriated the logo of Captain America which was all too much for Marvel Comics who leant heavily on the band to change their name. So Captain America became Eugenius - either a godawful idea or pretty cool (I'm somewhere in between) - for the recording and release of their debut album 'Oomalama' on Paperhouse in 1992. Kelly dismissed the record as "indie-rock-by-numbers" but later declared this judgement to be a bit harsh.

From the nonsensical, chanting mantra of the title track (and album opener), 'Oomalama' had a sunny disposition that didn't really fit in with the angsty vibe that made grunge popular at the time - powerpop chords and soaring, melodious choruses abound. Kelly's voice often sounds everso slightly out of tune and he delivers the words like it's an effort for him to get them out but that works well with the overall laidback feel of the album.

But it was the words that really made me fall in love with 'Oomalama'. Like many of my favourite albums from this time, Kelly's worldview resonated strongly with me and whenever I listen to the album I am transported back to a very specific moment in time. Lyrically, Kelly's major obsessions seemed to be staying in bed ("Back to bed but this time wearing socks" - 'Bed-In'), a can't-even-be-bothered relationship with religion ("I kinda wished I'd found God" - Flame On) but he also writes some killer romantic couplets ("I'll be the words, you'll be the tune" - 'Breakfast'). The album does have a dark heart - the closing track of Side 1, 'Down On Me' opens with the lyric "Jesus take my life from me" and the song itself is downbeat. My only complaint now would be that the production is a bit murky in places but nothing that a good remastering wouldn't fix.

The Vaselines - Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam

It took me a while to get around to buying anything by the Vaselines - I was never really into the twee-pop scene - but I finally picked up 'All the Stuff and More' a couple of years ago. Nirvana covered three Vaselines songs - 'Son of a Gun' and Molly's Lips' (included on the 'Incesticide' album), and 'Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam', part of the intense yet beautiful 'MTV Unplugged in New York' performance, which was recorded in November 1993, just 6 months before Kurt's suicide. The Vaselines have kind of got back together again to play a few gigs.

Buy 'Oomalama' from Amazon - this edition also includes a bonus disc containing the b-sides from the original Captain America single releases plus radio sessions
Eugene Kelly fansite
Eugenius at MySpace

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Banjo and Ergo Do Freaky Covers

Banjo Or Freakout - Archangel (Burial Cover)
Banjo Or Freakout - Kissability (Sonic Youth Cover)

Bit late to the party, but I recently stumbled upon the magnificence that is Banjo Or Freakout, the splendidly monikered musical project of one Alessio Natalizia, a Turin native now resident in London. His album of covers (including Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, Vampire Weekend, Battles and loads more) caused quite a stir in blogland last year, while I was asleep. I managed to get hold of one - in handmade spray-painted freakout artwork for only a fiver! - shortly before they sold out and was completely blown away.

Natalizia's talent is to take a song and gently peel back the layers to reveal its heart, which he carefully removes and then wraps back up in a blanket of gorgeous, frazzled ambience. I've popped up a couple here - his stunning rendition of Burial's 'Archangel', in which he applies heartfelt yearning to the mangled soul boy vocals of the original over dissonant guitars (bizarrely redolent of U2's 'With Or Without You' - but in a good way) and muffled drums that sound like an apocalypse in another time-zone. His cover of 'Kissability' by Sonic Youth is equally awesome - kinda sounds like Ciccone Youth if they were tackling one of their own, with a side salad of Slowdive's ethereal guitars. "I work with one rule, a bitch of a rule," Natalizia explains. "My rule is to record every track just one time. No second chance." I think I'm in love...

You have to visit the Banjo Or Freakout blog - he often posts exclusive material here, like the 'Everything Fast EP', which was a collection of original Banjo material.
The covers CD is sold out, but you can still pick up his debut 7" (released in Jan 2009) from Norman Records
Banjo Or Freakout MySpace

Ergo Phizmiz and His Orchestra -Trick Me (Kelis Cover)

Who'd a thunk that lurking at the heart of Kelis's bumptious R'n'B banger 'Trick Me' was an eerie Balkan funeral march? Ergo Phizmiz and His Orchestra - that's who. The prodigiously talented Phizmiz is another purveyor of the singular cover version (his Aphex Twin covers album is immense) and this one is taken from the album 'Arff and Beef', which I got free when I purchased his album 'Nose Points in Different Directions' (Womb Records, 2007). I don't think 'Arff and Beef' is available any more, which is a huge shame as it also featured an absolutely deranged rendering of Destiny's Child's 'Survivor' as well as the entirety of the Velvet Underground's 'White Light/White Heat'. Hunt it down if you can.

Visit Ergo Phizmiz's website where you can purchase music and learn more about this truly unique musician.
Ergo Phizmiz MySpace