Who? Howl Griff
Title: The Hum
Label: 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.
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.
Title: Mean Time
Label: 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.