Thursday, March 26, 2009

Life Without Britpop

Blur - Never Clever

Imagine a world without Britpop... No 'Parklife'. No Jarvis waggling his arse at Jacko. No Noely G at No. 10. No Blur v Oasis. No Chris Evans. No Menswear. No ladettes. No Loaded. Hang on, that doesn't sound so bad...

But look, it could actually have happened. If Blur's 'Popscene' had been the Top 10 hit it deserved to be when it was released in 1992, the musical landscape would have been radically altered. In the grand plan of the band and their label, Food, after 'Popscene' had re-established Blur at the top of the indie tree, they would release 'Never Clever' - a bratty slice of pop punk where Graham's frenetic, phased thrash guitar loops back a rather lacklustre vocal performance from Damon. It's an exhilarating ride, but ultimately leaves you feeling let down and a bit empty. What's it actually saying? Not very much. Would it have been a hit? We'll never know. But if things had gone according to plan Blur would have had two Top 10 singles in the bag and the outlook for both band and label would have been a hell of a lot rosier...

ANDY ROSS (FOOD): They had this track 'Popscene' which we thought was great - this fucking song is a huge hit. Then it went in at 32 and we thought, Ah, this isn't going right at all. They had a song called 'Never Clever' that we thought was equally brilliant and the cunning plan was to have a big hit with 'Popscene', capitalise with 'Never Clever' and then we'd all be rich.

So 'Popscene' flopped, 'Never Clever' was shelved and the band hit the booze in spectatular style, almost self-destructing in the process. They regrouped, licked their wounds and came back with 'Modern Life is Rubbish' (arguably their finest) which, as we all know, invented Britpop and changed the face of music in 1990s Great Britain. For ever.

A live version of 'Never Clever' recorded at Glastonbury 1992 appeared on the b-side of 'Chemical World'. The studio version available to download here surfaced on a promo CD to commemorate Food's 100th release.

Anyone going to Hyde Park? I'll be there!

Buy Blur records from Amazon
Official Blur website
Buy John Harris's excellent account of the Britpop era 'The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock' from Amazon
Official Blur fanclub
Veikko's excellent Blur fansite

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm Kool Keith Not a Bill or Dan

Ultramagnetic MC's - Kool Keith Housing Things

I'm a bit snowed under this week so am posting a track that requires very few words from me. This is as good as it gets, and in this version from the remastered 'Critical Beatdown' (one of the ten finest hip-hop albums of all time), Ced Gee's awesome beats are boosted with an extra injection of bass to make speaker stacks crumble and fall.

Kool Keith is a one-off. Arguably the greatest - definitely the weirdest - MC of all time. The Salvador Dali of rap, his abstract, surrealist rhymes are beamed down from another planet. An unstoppable psychedelic force. I'll say it again - this is as good as it gets. Blast it.

Search eBay for 'Critical Beatdown'
Kool Keith website
Ultramagnetic MC's MySpace

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Danny's Noise Became a Force for Good

Dan Deacon - Red F

Nu-rave eh? What happened there then? If you put the glow sticks, the pills and the multi-coloured leggings to one side, you were left with - musically at least - a rather joyless scene, producing very little music worthy of the title. Even the movement's poster boys, Klaxons, were (let's be honest) Jesus Jones with slightly better hair and trousers.

Step forward, then, Dan Deacon, who with his latest album, 'Bromst' - a luminous, euphoric collection of reach-for-the-laser rave epics - has produced an album that captures the giddy emotion of the original rave scene. Each song is heavily daubed in colourful melodies, pummelling Nintendo beats and hooks big enough to catch Moby-Dick.

I'll hold my hand up and say I was never Deacon's biggest fan. The "wacky" warning signs flashed up whenever I heard something by him, watched any number of the garish OTT vids available on YouTube or saw clips of him coercing groups of clubbers into dance-offs during his live set. Think an emo, laptop-wielding Timmy Mallet, and then consign that image to the dustbin...

However, it seems that even Deacon has tired of this perceived persona, and is determined to shake the (perhaps unfairly applied) "wacky" tag with a more mature outlook to making music. And rather than this resulting in an album of po-faced chin scratching and introspection, instead you get a broader, richer sound that still generates extreme levels of energy and excitement. Hey, I can even forgive him his overuse of the voice manipulation software this time around - in this dense, richly layered soup of sound, the vocals become another instrument - an essential component, rather than an irritating quirk. 'Bromst' also has a more organic, less mechanic feel, as Deacon explains -

"It’s different, there’s much less computer and a lot more live instruments (marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, live drummers, player piano, etc) so the sound is a lot more rich. It was recorded to tape with many analogue synths so the sound is not as plasticy… its probably a little more dance at times too but also more intense, varied, serious… the tracks are meant to be listened to as a whole to get the complete experience."

About halfway through the second song, the argy-bargy punishing gabba techno of 'Red F', I lifted my jaw up off the pavement and realised that I was listening to something truly awesome. 'Of the Mountain' is stunning, as Deacon somehow manages to combine the playful twinkling glockenspiels of Penguin Café Orchestra with shamanistic, mantric chanting that wouldn't sound out of place on The Lion King soundtrack, pounding tribal rhythms and a portentous, synth-drenched outro that rivals Arcade Fire in its epic sonic scope. 'Slow With Horns/Run for Your Life' recalls Fuck Buttons distorted analogue drones, adds a cacophonous, almost funereal, wall of horns, before busting out into a tinkling, piano symphony, underpinned by hammering beats. Elsewhere, the bendy twanging 'Woof Woof' is a joy, 'Paddling Ghost' is a nifty slice of 'Bonkers'-style Toytown Happy Hardcore if DJ Sharkey played the marimba, and he even lobs in a curveball in the form of the medieval 'Wet Wings', which consists solely of a haunting, female vocal loops. As if to prove the leopard hasn't totally changed his spots, the chipmunk chorus and quirk-noise of 'Baltihorse' annoys. But that's a minor quibble.

I don't think Dan Deacon needs another blogger jibber-jabbering on about how good 'Bromst' is (Google it and you will see what I mean) but it is an incredible album - more than worthy of my fawning prose - and as this decade comes to a close, it feels like a benchmark for the future has been set.

'Bromst' is released on Carpark Records on March 23rd 2009. You can pre-order it from Norman Records
Dan Deacon's website is still shit but there's loads of free mp3s here
Dan Deacon MySpace

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Biggest Midget Got The Maddest Skills

Lady Sovereign - I Got You Dancing
Lady Sovereign - So Human

I've completely lost touch with what's going on with UK hip-hop but I have got a massive soft spot for Lady Sovereign, despite the fact she is starting resemble Stacey Slater doing a photo shoot for Dazed & Confused. I wasn't into some of more commercial tracks on her debut album 'Public Warning', but I absolutely love her vocal style and she is a shit hot lyricist. Sov got mad skills, yo. Ahem. Plus being a bit of a labels geek, the fact she had a record out on the ubercool US hip-hop/electronic hybrid label Chocolate Industries gives her extra kudos to me.

Sov's new album, 'Jigsaw' is due to drop soon and in the grand tradition of all business savvy artists these days, it is being released on her own label, Midget, but is being distributed by a major. The first single 'I Got You Dancing' was a pop rap cracker with some awesome hoover noises and Sov busting out the Auto Tune to give it that 'NOW' sound. OK, so it doesn't sound a million miles away from Vicky 'MC Posh' Beckham's two-step collab with Dane Bowers back in the day but it still should have been a huge hit. I don't know how it fared in the hit parade - I stopped looking at the charts when downloads were counted. Yes. I am getting old... The second single 'So Human' makes liberal use of the Cure's 'Close To You' in way which will probably have Goths the world over burning effigies of Sov but works brilliantly. As well as using regular producer Gabriel 'Medasyn' Olegavich she's also worked with Benny Blanco (Britney, Katy Perry) and Dr Luke (Kelis, Leona Lewis) on the album (released in the UK on April 13 2009) which gives the impression that she is looking to crossover properly this time. Best of British Sov.

Medasyn featuring Lady Sovereign, Shystie, Frost P & Zuz Rock - The Battle

But before she went all crossover, Sov used to drop the real shit in dodgy council estates in Hackney. Or plush recording studios in Chiswick, but whatever... I first came across 'The Battle' in demo form under the title 'BoysnGirls' - it was a piss poor recording but had the feel of a real old school mic battle between two male MCs (Frost P and Zuz Rock) and two female MCs (Lady Sovereign and Shystie). It eventually got polished up into the version you can download above, which was released as a single by Ross Allen's Casual label in 2003. The rhymes are pretty much the same but it's lost a lot of the vibe of the original demo, which was recorded live and feels raw and spontaneous. I'd probably say the ladies win the battle, but it's a close run thing. I especially love Frost P's opening verse = boy spits fire. The badass string-heavy beats were knocked up by Medasyn.

Preorder 'Jigsaw' from Amazon
Lady Sovereign website
Lady Sovereign MySpace