Skip to content

INAPPROPRIATEPLANK

Art, Life & Earth. THROUGH THE EYES OF A DEAF SNOWBOARDING MUSIC NUT.

Category Archives: REVIEW

8/10 BELGIAN ARTHOUSE WANK

It was early 1994. I’d only recently discovered the mindblowing PJ Harvey album, Rid Of Me and was slowly realising that my obsession with electronica, HipHop and Mo’ Wax of the previous few years was making me miss some genuinely creative new rock music. I was working for a subsidiary of the Polygram group, the guys at Island sent me this knowing I’d fallen in love with the hitherto androgynous & mysterious PJ Harvey. They thought I’d like it. I still do 17 years later. In fact, this is probably my most listened to LP of all time. We’ve been through a lot together. The sticker on the front had 2 reviews on it. One has stuck in my mind as one of my favourite, succinct reviews of all time:

“dEUS’ LP is pretentious arthouse wank. But, as a fan of art and wanking, I love it. 5*”

I’m always a sucker for experimental music, whatever the genre. So a Belgian avant garde rock outfit banging out dissonant violin & double bass lead, distorted, arthouse hardcore rock with a splash of jazz was right up my alley. This LP STILL stands up as a brilliant piece even now. But back in 94 it was insane. It opened my ears up to a whole new world of musical possibilities.

It was fresh. As much as I love Nevermind that was the pinnacle of a pop-hardcore movement, it was almost formulaic, especially once every band tried to be them. That’s not a dig. I love that LP. But the rock landscape was awash with clones of their sound. Bands like Pearl Jam did nothing for me. Bland, generic drivel. Hardcore noisy rock felt like it was going backwards. It was like Daydream Nation had never happened.

But along came dEUS. From fucking Belgium! It’s a curveball of an LP in so many ways. From the opening violin riffs of the brilliant Suds & Soda it grips in a way that The Pixies would be proud of. The following 50 minutes of deconstructed melodies is a must have LP (I say 50 minutes as the last 2 tracks have never existed to me, I deny their existence like I do that of The Phantom Menace and co, they feel like a couple of stabs at singles). This is a masterclass of exploring a form of music and stretching its boundaries. Slipping from in your face distorted power to subtle layers of despairing warmth and smooth melodies that come crashing down around you. The production, structure and ambition still impress me today.

I’m amazed at how few people I know have even heard of dEUS, let alone this LP. In Suds & Soda, Jigsaw You, Morticia’s Chair and the epic WCS (1st Draft) this is the band at their very best. I saw them play it in The Astoria around 96 and Camden’s Electric Ballroom c98,  still two of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

Apparently there’s now a Deluxe Edition available. I didnt buy it. The original needs no improvement. In short, GO BUY IT!

 

Tags: , , ,

7/10 STARK DARK & HYPNOTIC

Little Joy is as hard to pin down as it is to put down. The LP spans many genres without really sounding like any of them. It’s like Mogwai, Brian Eno and Battles doing sombre techno structured covers of The Fall songs on traditional rock instruments. Washes of post-punk/postrock mood drift over stripped down repetitive percussive beats and droning bass, guitars chip in with stabbing dissonant riffs. Vocals are used sparingly and effectively, the largely instrumental tracks are a joy and the restrained, sparse vocals manage to take them on to a different level.

Young chugs along like a bare bones Battles track before the drummer has his moment in the spotlight, his impressive solo kicks it up a gear and flows straight into Turn where the vocals tell us “I turn… I turn to see her…. We passed”. Sunbear brings tense intro chords stabbing away like The Fall in their pomp then the bass cuts loose.

Ignore the whimsical and misleading band name. I had this down as some kind of “alternative dance” band ala Caribou etc before I listened to it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My Disco are no formulaic rehash. Wonderful.

Tags: , , ,

9/10 ALIENATING, TENSE RESTRAINT

One of the most underrated  albums this side of punk rock. Cited by PJ Harvey as one of her all time favourite LPs and by Godspeed! & Mogwai as a massive influence on their conceptions.

This is a bleak, desolate LP of angular dissonance that Gang Of Four would be proud of with occasional, unexpected slabs of savage power piled on top. Abrasive layers of grating geometric guitar drag the tension up, threatening to unleash hell at any point before sinking back into the mist. It’s that constant refusal to fully let rip when you most expect it that makes this album. It ratchets up the tension levels, awkward structural pauses leave you hanging, waiting for the drop that doesn’t come before another layer takes the reins does the same. Then when you think it’s safe to relax they smack you in the earholes with a huge release of noise. A delicate balancing act between alienating restraint and forceful brutality. Of building and releasing.

It’s amazing to think that this is now 20 years old as it still sounds so unique and heavily relevant. It hasn’t aged at all, but then it never sounded like it’s era in the first place. It’s too clean, structured and tight to be grunge yet too repressed to be metal. This “odd” sound is probably why it’s initial sales were poor. Reviewers (and listeners) didn’t get it at first. I know I didn’t. I liked it, but I struggled to fully appreciate it until a fair few listens. Initially I wished they’d just get on with it, let fly with the power sections, it felt muzzled. But as I got to know it I realised just how ingenious and powerful that voltage denial was.

The instrumental tracks were written and rehearsed in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky in 1990 and the lyrics and album were produced over just 4 days, at a cost to the band’s health. One member ended up in a psychiatric hospital while singer Brian McMahan was physically sick while recording the screaming chorus of Good Morning Captain over and over again.

The name Slint has become a euphemism for the kind of postcore proggy anti-prog soundscapes that their devotees Mogwai and Godspeed! are now renowned for. For me, at least, this LP almost singlehandedly created that movement. Very highly recommend that you get this LP and stick with it. Hugely rewarding.

Tags: , , , , , ,

9/10 UNIQUE, WARM & BONKERS

Back in the 60’s & 70’s music lost some of it’s brightest lights. Many people who’s work influences music still today tragically passed away in their prime. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Ron McKernan of the Grateful Dead. Each one of them was only 27 years old when they died.

In December 1985, somewhere between the deaths of those legends and Kurt Cobain (who was also aged 27), a man called Dennes Boon had a fever and was lying down in the back of a battered tour van. His band had just supported REM. At their request. REM like them so much they had gone against their own label’s wishes to book them. They had won a very powerful ally and friend in Michael Stipe. The world was at their feet.

Boon’s girlfriend was driving them back to San Pedro, California when, somewhere along the I-10 Highway in the Arizona Desert, she fell asleep at the wheel. The van careered off the road, rolled and the prostrate “D” Boon was flung from the vehicle’s back doors. The impact broke his neck, killing him instantly. He was twenty seven years old.

To me, his death was every bit as devastating to music as the death of any of those mentioned because it signalled the end of the Minutemen, there and then. At the very point that the band were almost singlehandedly de-constructing the burgeoning US Hardcore & Punk from the frontline. While their (brilliant) contemporaries were going harder, darker, deeper, fuzzier and faster the Minutemen were tearing punk apart and dropping lumps of latin music, classical guitar, funk and free form jazz structure into it. This looks absurd on paper, but it sounds like it was always meant to be that way. They were unique, yet genre defining. And, after that crash, we will never know where they would have taken this new approach to.

The other two members reformed some years later (as Firehose) but they never got close to the magic of anything they did with Minutemen. I’m not suggesting they were passengers on Boon’s ride. Not in the slightest. The basslines of Mike Watt and snapped shut drumming of George Hurley is there for all to hear. It’s as integral to the overall Minutemen sound as anything Boon did himself. But the Minutemen was always a sum of all three parts.

The band formed proper in 1980 when childhood friends Watt & Boon added Hurley to the line up. Their name is derived from the Minutemen Militia (American Revolutionary War) and not from the commonly held belief that it referenced their standard track length (confirmed by Watt in the 2005 documentary We Jam Econo). They released various EPs & LPs before Double Nickels On The Dime came out on SST Records in 1984.

What makes this LP so very special in my eyes is that, although it is clearly a Hardcore/Punk based record it’s so incredibly difficult to pin down. It changes all the time, from one eclectic influence to another, from political satire to straight up humour, from brute force to incredible beauty. And yet, it all sounds like it’s one style. This is a coming together of 3 exceptional musicians, lots of very different approaches and a huge array of influences that together make something very unique.

On top of the band members input this LP was produced by Ethan James, famed for working with Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Jane’s Addiction and many many more emergent bands. His influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Album opens with “D’s car jam” and “Theatre”, a mix of Hardcore and funk pulled together over tight jazz forms before winding it’s way into “Vietnam”‘s Gang Of Four-esque-post-punk-funk territory and onto a sublime piece of classical guitar in “Cohesion”. That clears the air before “It’s Expected I’m Gone” throws a jazz bomb at Credence Clearwater Revival. All that and we’re not even 8 minutes in!

The whole album continues to move effortlessly between sounds and moods for over an hour. This ramshackle collection of songs is a whole so it’s nigh on impossible to pick out singular highlights though everyone in the world will know “Corona” after Jackass used it as their theme. I’m a huge fan of Television so have always had a soft spot for “Jesus & Tequila” and it’s Venus’ tinge. And “West Germany” & “Storm In My House” always catch my ears. But that will change again next listen. All these years later and I’m still finding hidden corners in this collection.

As for the mysterious “27” conspiracy. Load of rubbish in my opinion. But it certainly throws up a worthy list of hugely influential artists that D Boon’s name can comfortably sit among. Add Robert Johnson to that list. A tragic, bizzare anomaly.

RIP D Boon. Sadly missed

Tags: , , , , ,

8/10 MASTERS AT WORK

I’m a firm believer in the old adage “Less Is More” in all aspects of creativity. If a piece of art can stand alone without any superfluous layers, stripped back to it’s core elements, and still be art then it has truly succeeded. From the simplistic brilliance of Pong to the bare bones of the Blues, less is always more in my book.

Rarely has this been better exemplified in film than by John Boorman(Deliverance, Point Blank)’s criminally overlooked 1968 epic Hell In The Pacific. Only two actors appear throughout, filmed almost entirely on one tiny enclosed beach and with only a handful of lines of dialogue, it is testament to Boorman’s skills as a director that such power results. The direction is matched by fine performances from two giants of the era, a stark score and some claustrophobic cinematography.

The story is simple. Two sworn enemies find themselves stranded on a tiny Pacific island where, away from the war that put them there, they wage a mini-war against each other and then with their own prejudices. A game of cat and mouse ensues and the pendulum swings one way then the other before realisation sets in that they need each other if they are to escape. The lack of common language means communicating these complex stages of emotion is an often brutal process. But the lack of dialogue AND lack of any female presence and subsequent sexual angle means their relationship and personal battle is stripped back to it’s very essence.

In the 1960s there were few names bigger in their respective countries than Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. Both deserve praise for taking on these risky roles at that stage of their career. As a non Japanese speaker, for me Toshiro Mifune’s (Seven Samurai, Paper Tiger & many Akira Kurosawa classics) performance stands out. I have no idea what he’s saying throughout the entire film, so the fact that he communicates so much to the audience speaks volumes in itself. Boorman’s decision to not use subtitles was brave but in my opinion adds so much to the film. It makes Marvin’s  plight so much more vivid to the English speaking audience, as it does vice versa for Mifune’s japanese audience (I guess).

Conrad Hall’s cinematography veers from idyllic paradise to suffocating isolation while Lalo Schifrin delivers a potent and uncharacteristically minimalist score which allows the silence and the waves space to hypnotise.

I could wax lyrical here about the underlying metaphors for mankind’s appetite for destruction. But to do so would mean discussing THAT ending and spoiling this for those who’ve not seen it. This is a film that really should be watched with no prior knowledge of the plot intricacies.

I love this film. It should get FAR more attention than it does. Maybe that’s because of the utterly shit title, or Lee Marvin’s falling out of vogue in the 70s. But whatever the reason, this film is a timeless classic and a display of 5 big guns firing in their creative primes.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

8½/10. Psycho-symphonic

Noir filmscore ambience meets concrete guitars dropping the biggest slabs of noise you’ve ever heard with thunderous power. This band should be huge off the back of this LP. It’s one of the most accomplished pieces of metal I’ve heard in some time.

The album is billed as an homage to Eve, the original first lady and is basically one movement split into 5 segments. Not that you’ll notice the transitions, it flows from start to finish as one huge 45 minute piece of addictive noise.

Twisting from chilling ambient soundscapes into juggernaut riff-laden slabs that drag you along by the brain. That makes it sound far simpler than it actually is. This is a constructed, complex body of noise, devoid of cliches or laziness, everything here is considered and engineered to perfection.

I dont know much about the infinitely changing genres of Metal these days. Doom, Death, Stoner…. whatever. This to me is just plain real Metal. And possibly the best example of it I own.


Tags: , ,

9/10. Bleak, bruiser.

For many years I’ve been listening to Daydream Nation, 13 Songs, Young Team and Lift Your Antenna, amongst many others, wondering where all these droning, monotonously bleak works of beautiful rambling soundscapes would take me to next. But I never seemed to find any successors. No more examples of that level of craft came my way for a long time. I was stuck with these LPs, looking upon them as some kind of endgame, an evolutionary musical dead end.

I always knew that those albums weren’t really the end. But I couldn’t find anything to hold a torch to their stark power. Everything seemed either too melodic, or too bland. I didnt know what pigeon hole people had put the likes of Mogwai, Godspeed, Sonic Youth etc into. I didnt want to know. I hate bracketing art like that. It restricts and governs it. I really didn’t know where to start looking again. So I waited.

Instead I spent years ploughing through Madlib, DOOM, Zeke, Lee Perry’s back catalogue or a host of other genres. I delved back into Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Authechre, Bowie. I’d put this “post rock” or whatever it is known as, firmly on the back burner.

Just as my copy of Daydream Nation was finally about to disintegrate into overworked dust I stumbled into this LP. I can honestly say, I don’t think I have ever been so instantly blown away by a new album. Ever. Right from the point the first chords of No Words/No Thoughts (below) whacked me in the ears like Mogwai’s Herod did so many years before I knew this was what I’d been waiting for.

Long, drawn out, droning riffs hammered from a single note dragged me down into the Swans’ peculiar world. Soothing pulses calmed everything down before the vocals crept up behind me with some hacked off, industrial guitar drones and kicked the fuck out of my head for the best part of 10 minutes. Wonderful. Almost 30 years since Michael Gira chose the band’s name beacuse “”Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments” they still fit the bill, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Dont get me wrong, it isnt all hard, brutal music. This LP is a beautiful, subtle, crafted masterpiece with many moments of melodic, warm, almost folk/country tinged songwriting. But these moments just serve to make you relax as waves of bleak white guitar noise and deconstructed percussion slide under the melody and drag you back into the hypnotic dirge all over again. It’s an overwhelming LP that commands all of your attention or none at all.

This is head and shoulders my LP of the moment. I have developed a very unhealthy obsession, finding my headphones virtually glued to me wherever I be. The sheer level of craftmanship is astounding, dragging 7 minute tracks out of smashing a single note inside out over and over is no mean feat.

The band’s modus operandi has always been to create music that is at once “soul-uplifting and body-destroying”. An intention they still manage to this day. The highest compliment I can pay this album is to compare it with one of the most powerful, bleakly beautiful books of our times. The similarities with Cormac McCarthy’s epic, The Road, are startling. Much like the book you’ll need a bit of time to yourself after you finish this LP, it’ll drag you down to a dark place but fill you with hope. And you’ll be immensely glad you experienced it.

9/10

Tags: , , , , , , ,