Archive for November, 2010

Who? Cold In Berlin

Title: Give Me Walls
2076 records
Tell me more:
A relatively new band from London, who have been touring around the UK for the past two years, gaining a reputation and a following.
The Lowdown:
The opening line from the first track is: “I had a girl and she was perfect, so I decided I would fuck her. And even though she had a boyfriend I knew I had to have her,” sung by Siouxsie Sioux-soundalike My. And herein we find a lot about the band: they like to swear, and are happy being confrontational. “There is no white horse, you stupid little fucker,” from White Horse – and the f-word gets a good airing in virtually every song. Porky approves, it appeals to his mischevious side, and no doubt to millions of schoolboys too. Reminiscent of PJ Harvey, particularly on her corruscating Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, My is an uncompromising frontwoman and Cold In Berlin are a tight-knit unit, producing undiluted music that reminds me of the post-punk era of the late 1970s. But, whereas that movement produced something radical, and with feeling, Give Me Walls is repetitive and there’s a failure to find a formula that expands upon their passive-aggressive approach.

Who? Family Fodder

Title: Classical Music
The State 51 Conspiracy
Tell me more:
The Family were one of the more enlightening bands of the post-punk era, singing about how wonderful Debbie Harry was, while their debut single, Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling), was one of the most bizarre yet mesmerising singles of a highly productive period from 1978 to 1983. They left a legacy of radical music but achieved little in light of intense competition.
The Lowdown:
I am delighted to say they haven’t resorted on reformation to recording, ahem, radio fodder, but have the same commitment to esoteric, left-field music, with a soundscape that appears to have originated in Asia folk music or from one of the Kenyan bands John Peel used to play. The man who’s name provides the title to Whatever Happened to David Ze? was a victim of the Angolan military regime’s repressive methods in 1978 although it is also about the many other murders committed by the junta. Suitably, it has an African feel, with touches of the sub-Saharan Rumba style. There’s all sorts of unusual instruments used on Classical Music, such as the mouth harp on Be More Wise but Primeval Pony is a minimalist track building on an imagined nursery rhyme.

Who? The Dunwell Brothers Band

Title: The Dunwell Brothers Band
Nature’s Little Punchline
Tell me more:
The core of the band is, rather surprisingly two brothers, Joseph and David, a duo for many years before expanding to a five-piece last year. They are the proud owners of strong Leeds accents.
The Lowdown:
Porky generally feels it’s unwarranted to take a debut album and rip it to shreds; if you can’t give them encouragement, ignore ’em and hope they disappear. So, here’s a wee policy breaker, but it’s done so in a good cause. Like an unpleasant disorder ‘downstairs’, action should be swift in order to prevent further infection. And, so to preserve sanity, and the planet even, Porky is beginning a campaign to stop the Dunwell Brothers from developing beyond a cafe chain they are playing. It’s a safe, nice album you could play to your grandmother and her rest home pals, or have on a church stereo. It’s bland, turgid and sounds like a hundred acts from the 1970s and their revivalists. You know, Jack Johnson, that kind of lame-ass. So, c’mon guys, help me out here with the Prevention of Blandness – sign the petition, protest outside record stores, write to your MPs. Together we can beat this.

Anything else? The Dunwell Bros have recorded a jingle for Leeds Utd that gets played at home matches.

Who? The Puddle

Title: Playboys In the Bush
Fishrider records
Tell me more:
The Puddle made a splash from 1986 to 1993 as one of the many talented acts on Flying Nun. Alas, none of that material is now available so I can’t determine the quality of this period.
The Lowdown:
What I am familiar with is the home-recorded The Shakespeare Monkey, released last year which impressed Porky with its “captivating tone and heartfelt lyrics”. But I also said that George D. Henderson’s voice is infuriatingly frail. That remains the case, especially when he sings “in the country”, but with far better production values through recording in a bona fide studio it means the music is predominant. Rainbow Bridge Airlines is melodic, English Speaking World is articulate, and Valhalla is a nine-minute rock opera, an epic of Lord of the Rings proportions. The Puddle are quite possibly New Zealand’s best-kept secret.

Anything else? London’s Sunday Times and Uncut have both given favourable reviews to the reformed Puddle.

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What a Bona Drag

Who? Morrissey

Title: Bona Drag
Tell me more:
Bona Drag was the working title of Morrissey’s second album, around 1989, but for reasons never truly explained – though a lack of material has been suggested – failed to see the light of day and instead his second album was the poor Kill Uncle, three years after Viva Hate. Some of the tracks earmarked for the original Bona Drag appeared on singles. When it came out in 1990 Bona Drag featured several singles and B-sides, but nothing new. At this time I was collecting all Morrissey’s solo output so didn’t bother with this release. The selling point now is the six unreleased tracks, four of which have not been heard before, other than on bootlegs.
The Lowdown:
After splitting The Smiths in 1987, Morrissey produced some incredible singles, starting with Suedehead, one of his finest songs either as a solo artist or with The Smiths, followed by Everyday Is Like Sunday, Interesting Drug and Last of the Famous International Playboys. All were big hits in the UK but the slide began with Ouija Ouija Board at the end of 1989, followed by November Spawned a Monster and Piccadilly Palare. These three were all endearing in their own way but not quite to the standard expected from Morrissey. As with The Smiths, Mozza kept some of his best works up his sleeve, letting them slip on to B-sides, so it’s remarkable that stunning songs like Hairdresser On Fire, Disappointed and Will Never Marry were omitted from Viva Hate or Such A Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference had no studio album to feature on.

Listening to Morrissey at that time, as someone leaving their teens, was not only a treasureable event but a necessity. This was a time of varying standards in British music. There were bands such as Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, that would be hailed as the spark for shoegazing; the burgeoning Madchester scene with Happy Mondays and Stone Roses; and various pop and indie bands such as the House of Love, the Wedding Present and Cud, who didn’t really fit easily with any particular scene but were among those who could lay a claim to providing a platform for a music scene that would really come alive in the early 90s.

It wouldn’t be until the end of 1991, after Kill Uncle was released and then carefully placed on a shelf, that Morrissey re-discovered his form with the rockabilly-esque Pregnant For The Last Time and the eerie My Love Life and the year after he would release Your Arsenal.

Bona Drag, which was compiled primarily for the American market, is a pretty decent summation of this period, although there are some inexcusable omissions such as Sister I’m A Poet, but that and others can be found on Singles 1988-1991.

As for the selling point, the six new songs, Let The Right One Slip One, is longer, by 46 seconds, than the one that would feature as the B-side to 1992’s Tomorrow but otherwise is barely changed; the same applies for The Bed Took Fire, which became At Amber, another B-side, and a song I didn’t recall being especially wonderful.

The four unheard songs are all excellent. Happy Lovers At Last United from 1988, is a tale of someone helping to reunite a couple, but finding they then don’t want him (or her) around; Oh Phoney contains the wonderful line: “Who can make Hitler sound like a bus conductor? You do!” and has a rather abrupt fade out, to end at two minutes. Lifeguard On Duty, which is not a variation on a track from Vauxhall and I, has that Viva Hate, post-Smiths feel to it but I can see how it could not be included on the debut. And that leaves the jaunty Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness, which is not strictly unheard of, as it was given to Sandie Shaw, and appeared as a single in 1988. This is probably the best of the six but the other three new tracks all have merit and are certainly worth hearing.

The artwork features a slightly different cover, with Morrissey’s jacket in black, rather than red, the sky blue background being replaced by a cream-coloured one and a different font and placing for the artist’s name and the title. Inside, there’s pictures of Morrissey beside dilapidated buildings. All this is unavailable, of course, to the downloader.

Anything else? The Smiths are responsible for the Porky Prime Cuts name, the writer spotting these three words on the runout groove of some of the later singles.

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Who? Howl Griff

Title: The Hum
Recordiau Dockrad
Tell me more:
Their debut, self-titled, album was recorded entirely in Welsh, something the likes of Super Furry animals have done. This one, though, is entirely in English, eliciting cries of ‘sell-out’ from Ynys Mon to Chepstow and in indie havens outwith the borders of Cymru.
The Lowdown:
Like the Super Furries, Howl Griff sound like they’ve listened to plenty of LSD-fuelled psychedelia from 1967, before catching an excerpt of the 1990s post-rave scene. It’s a curious mash-up when these interests collide, especially when fused with indie or rock. A single, Crash and Burn, is a cosmic outpouring of twee, delirious pop, reminiscent of a lovely Canadian bunch called Cinderpop and shares a sense of the surreal with The Coral. And, like those scousers, Howl Griff tell stories of real characters, such as a lady who “can help you in the dark of night and improve your memory”, on Jean’s Therapy. Meanwhile, on Uduhudu, spirits are raised from the dead in a spangly, manic and effervescent shanty. Glorious, bonkers stuff only the British can do, and the Welsh do best for some reason.



Who? Ali Campbell

Title: Great British Songs
Tell me more:
Wherein Campbell records standards by the Beatles and the Stones, the Kinks and the Hollies, Rod the Mod and Free, among others. Stop laughing at the back.
The Lowdown:
How can you go wrong with a release from the UB40 frontman? Well, in lots of ways actually. His previous solo album, Flying High, crash landed in a cesspit, and I described it as dazzlingly inept, although Phil Collins fans would like it.
So maybe I was up for another fight when this arrived. Campbell clearly loves these songs and adds a touch of reggae. This works best on Roxy Music’s Love Is The Drug, although his deadpan vocal mannerism fails to convey the risque nature of the original. Nevertheless his versions of The Hollies’ Carrie Ann and Rod Stewart’s You Wear It Well are excellent, bringing a new viewpoint to the songs, in fact the version of the latter is vastly superior to Stewart’s. Great British Songs settles for the familiar (Beatles, Stones, Hollies et al) and is imbedded with a smug self-satisfaction, that of good production over heartfelt feeling but I also appreciated that he was given a fresh take on these songs, while many stars just go though the motions with covers.
Anything else? In 1980 Campbell sang a eulogy to civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King. In 2009, he recorded a Britney Spears song.


Who? Minuit

Title: Dance Music Will Tear Us Apart
Tell me more:
Their track record goes back to 1998 with the guitar-centric Sonic Experience EP, though their debut album, The 88, came out in 2003. The name is pronounced min-wee and is French for midnight.
The Lowdown:
Reviewing remix albums is like watching a film adaption of a classic novel: you’re approaching virtually from a blind spot. In this case, while I have not heard a Minuit album, I have heard some of their trip-folk on Kiwi FM. It sounds like a remix album, or rather a six-track mini-album, in that it has plenty of experimentation and ideas. The techo-heads have essentially stripped down the basic Minuit sound, and transported it onto a 1998 dancefloor. Ruth Carr has a highly evocative voice, but it is almost obsolete on say, Suicide. Carr’s vocal duties often elevates a Minuit track from drabness to beauty, and the remixers, Gimme a C! and Funknslocuts, generally realise this. The music is sometimes tantalisingly endearing, sometimes infuriatingly irrelevant, but Carr remains the focus.

Anything else? Gimme a C! and Funknslocuts are aka Paul Dodge and Ryan Beehre respectively, the other members of Minuit.


Who? Bilders

Title: Mean Time
Powertool Records
Tell me more:
Bilders (no honorific, and no U) IS Bill Direen, a Christchurch artist who has made countless albums over the years and has released this at the same time as another album, Mindful. From 1980 Bilders were a proto-punk band and although, like The Fall, many have come and gone, Direen remains it’s driver.
The Lowdown:
This is a kind of music that is both minimalist and satisfying. I’ve never viewed those words as compatible in an album, but, like John Cale when he relaunched his career in the early and mid-zeroes, this works. Direen has a beautifully languid voice which easily draws you in, like a grandfather telling a tale of ghosts and ghoulies. I Think We’ll Be All Right is essentially Direen talking, attempting to tell a story, even taking a second bite at the opening sentence. There isn’t a great deal to it but it nevertheless, leaves you wanting another chorus or two.

And, like Cale, Direen has a knack of formulating atmospheric and intelligent songs, notably so on Byron & Eve, six minutes of beauty, steeped in classical history,”The severed head of Orpheus/ floating down from Thrace/ The rest of his belongings/ on a sexless ass.” I may have overdone the Cale comparisons, but it’s an obvious one, with strains of the Velvet Underground, in such songs as Four Long Years, although Bilders are very much a distinct outfit with Direen’s vocals and ideas bleeding heavily into the make.
Anything else? Direen says Mean Time is a tribute to the characters and personalities of the emerging independent scene in Christchurch in the late 70s/ early 80s.

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At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, I’m going to confess to continuing to tape stuff, on one of those 19th century things called a cassette.
I know, Victorian almost, but I should quantify this by alerting you to the fact I burn stuff on to my laptop and to blank CDs, and once I get the hang of downloading stuff from the internet, I’ll be doing that too.
But …. the problem with putting stuff on the laptop is that the speaker system is woefully inadequate, while most stereos don’t even play burned CD-Rs.
You’d think in this day and age the technology for actually playing music would have improved, but no, it’s inadequate, and listeners are expected to accept it.
I have an ageing stereo, a very temperamental one. Sometimes, soon after picking out the CD that’s just played, it won’t even recognise the one I replace it with. But the sound’s damn good and it plays cassettes perfectly.
The actual tape-recording process allows me to select whatever songs I want, and in the order I want too. Sod a ballad, I want two fast tracks one after the other, or I can rearrange an album whereby the weaker songs are at the start, building to the best ones near the end of the side. Furthermore, I can tag on b-sides, unreleased tracks et al or stick on similar sounding bands.
I’ll even go through that turgid process of watching the tape go round as it nears the end of a side, to see it a whole will be recorded. More often than not it does with a few seconds to spare.
Currently I’m doing a tape of New Zealand bands from CDs from the Wellington library. Some of these, like The Verlaines, or The Clean, I don’t want the entire album, just a few songs and, played as one, the bands compliment each other. As the tape winds round I’m squeezing all the details down on the tiny label in my smallest writing possible.
Alas, I’m part of a dying breed, but By God I’m proud of my membership. Cassettes are increasingly hard to get hold of as technology moves forward so fast, and one big chain has relatively recently decided to drop them altogether. But let’s keep the C90s and C60s in the shops and new stereos should still contain a tape deck. While much of the technology we have used in the past has become obsolete (eight-track cartridge, mini-disks etc), cassettes, like vinyl, still have a niche for the music fan.

A small selection from my all-time favourite tapes:

The Associates: Sulk, American edition, on one side, which is slightly different from the UK release, and Perhaps, the second album on the next. This was one of the first tapes I had and was made by a friend who introduced me to the band and other Scottish delights such as the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins.
Midnight Oil 1982 to 2003: I’d never actually buy an album from political fool Garrett, but I’ll happily go through all 49 of theirs to select about 26 songs for one collection.

Mix and match vol 67: Hot Hot Heat – three tracks; Electric Six – three tracks; Razorlight; Maximo Park – nine tracks; and a bunch of tracks by the likes of Wolfmen, The Rapture, Stephen Duffy and Manic St Preachers. Wow, this is chocca. We music writers get a lot of stuff and most of it stinks, but with the likes of Razorlight, Hot Hot Heat, et al, the albums are only partially good. So before I trade it in at a record store or give it away, I pick and choose the best. The Maximo Park tracks are a selection of the b-sides compilation and 2007’s Our Earthly Pleasures. They are a hit-and-miss band and if I recall rightly, I taped most of the debut album on to cassette.

Spot the deliberate mistake

Punk und New Wave: I came across a punk compilation put together by England’s Dreaming author Jon Savage and featuring some very good and obscure artists such as The Dils (I Hate the Rich), The Diodes, The Bizarros and the Urinals. First time I heard the truly monumental We’ve Got the Neutron Bomb by the Weirdos. For some reason I then stuck on some Purple hearts, Skids and Yachts on the second side.

Haines the Mains: Black Box Recorder’s Passionoia, not exactly their best, bits of their England Made Me, and solo tracks from Luke Haines and his first band, The Auteurs.

Reggae Classics, Vol 48: Reggae is so wonderful and there’s so many compilations around. I used to get loads of them out of the Napier City library and stick them on tape. This one features the much-missed Gregory Isaacs (Lost My Job from 2003), along with Mikey Dread, Poet and the Roots, Junior Murvin and many others.

Godzone’s Gifts: If you can get past Crowded House, Hayley Westenra, Shihad and all the other guff the country’s churned out, there are some great acts from New Zealand. This one includes Goldenhorse, The Front Lawn, Collapsing Cities, The Bats, The Clean and Cut off Your Hands. Bands without any real connection but it melds quite well actually.

David Bowie 1980-84: Nobody could truthfully say the eighties were a productive one for Bowie so this condenses the best of the early part of the decade, starting with Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, which takes up most of the tape. By 1984 and the Tonight album, he’s lost it, and the confusion would continue until 1993.

Porky embraces most new technology,such as hi-tech equipment that can detect and treat diseases and cancers, or something simple like DVDs, which have replaced the cumbersome and ugly video tapes – how we put up with them for so long is beyond me. But some new technology is not as fab and groovy, and I’ll put downloads in that basket.

If downloads allow for good and obscure music to be heard by others, then fair play. But downloads should not be the primary outlet for music, just as cassettes weren’t. If CDs disappear and all we have to rely on is downloads then music will have lost much if its allure. You can’t pass on a downloaded album as a present, you can’t have a laugh or debate about the contents of the cover or inserts; you can’t add a special free single, cassette or CD; you can’t throw it at someone you don’t like, or most importantly stick it in a dartboard and do your best to crack the bloody thing. Keep it real folks: use download when necessary but don’t neglect the real thing,

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