Posts from 15th May 2000

15
May 00

THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 8

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THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 8
MJ HIBBETT AND THE VALIDATORS – “Hey Hey 16K” (on the album Say It With Words)
Before there were PCs or blogs or geek pride or the internet, there was the ZX Spectrum, one of the few things in this life that has made me, unequivocally, proud to be British. I didn’t even own a Spectrum. I got fobbed off with a BBC Micro Model B, which was the computer your parents bought you if they wanted you to use it educationally. Needless to say, most of the kids who had Spectrums are far better programmers now than the Mummy’s Boys who owned Model B’s. The ZX Spectrum was, basically, punk computing: it came with a tacky keyboard and bizarro specifications, but it was cheap enough to sell literally millions in 1982-1983. As MJ Hibbett sings on his lovable lo-fi compu-folk track, the Spectrum created “a generation who could code” – thousands of wired Britkids writing buggy programs and recording them onto Radio Shack tapes. The obvious limitations of the machine (rubbish sound, tiny memory, and the notorious attribute clash) were things to be pushed against and ingeniously overcome, while keeping a healthy sense of the absurdity inherent in the effort. So for every enormous step forward like 3D Ant Attack or KnightLore (overrated, if you ask me), there would be horror stories of PEEKS and POKES which could make the computer literally explode, and hordes of atrocious £1.99 budget adventures written with The Quill.

I’m aware that none of this is making the slightest bit of sense to my American readership, and that’s JUST THE WAY I LIKE IT. Want to know more? Download the single!

THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 7

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THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 7
BILLY BRAGG – “Between The Wars” (7″ single)
I don’t like Billy Bragg much, ‘specially not when he sings about politics. Not because I disagree – in fact quite the opposite: I want a political song to make me think, not pat me on the back. I remember this song coming on the Top 40 show when I was 12 and my just hating it: it was the slowest thing I think I’d ever heard. Bragg’s scraped-out tones stood back then for Down-To-Earth, Proper Socialism, and in the eyes of the mid-80s music press he could do very little wrong. I don’t know why I bought it – it was ten pence in some bargain basement a couple of years ago, just after Labour had got in and the administration I’d spent my whole remembered life living through and my whole adult life disliking had, finally, finally been swept out of power.

So I played the record, one of Bragg’s most overtly stirring calls to comradely arms. I thought about what it had stood for then, and how hard the people Bragg was singing about had fought, and how hard the people Bragg was singing for had fought in the eighties, and what had happened to Labour in the end. For those four minutes, “Between The Wars” seemed one of the most moving and conflicting things I’d ever heard. I don’t honestly think I’ve put it on since.

John Peel’s “Dandelion” Label

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John Peel’s “Dandelion” Label: following up on yesterday’s review of Bridget St. John. In the early 70s, John Peel was a hairy groupie monster who also found time to run a financially catastrophic record label (euphemism from this site: “idealistic”) peddling hippie music from Principal Edward’s Magic Theatre and Tractor (Tractor!!), but also from the better-known Kevin Coyne, Gene Vincent and Lol Coxhill, and of course from Bridget SJ.

HENRY COW/SLAPP HAPPY – “War”

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HENRY COW/SLAPP HAPPY – “War” (from the album In Praise Of Learning)
THE FALL – “War” (from the 12″ Behind The Counter)
Critics as famous as Greil Marcus and Nik Cohn and as minor as me love to talk about pop music as mythic: at its best this stance can be genuinely insightful (Cohn and Peelaert’s Rock Dreams has more perceptual flash in its illustrations and captions than a hundred thousand pages of historicised hackwork), at its worst it gets used to justify, um, Herculaean solo-ing. But “War” seems to be that rare thing, an attempt to actually write or sing a myth itself, using rock as the form. Peter Blegvad’s literate lyrics begin like this: “Tell of the birth! Tell how War appeared on Earth!” and then go on to describe the scenes of tumult and carnage that accompany the coming of said sinister force.

Sung by Dagmar Krause, “War” wishes it was the 30s, has one eye always on leftist intellectual Weimar cabaret. Krause – and the band for that matter – manage the faintly distasteful trick of hamming the song up something rotten while still remaining intimidatingly stern. There is one stunning musical moment – after Krause cries “split the egg and War was born!” (a lyric sadly rendered less impressive to post-70s popculture brats by its resemblance to the theme from Monkey!) there’s a marvellous and unexpected bit of blasted-heath avant-guitar scree from, I assume, Henry Kaiser*, which is the kind of lyric/music interface that made Kitchens Of Distinction’s “Third Time They Opened The Capsule” so very striking.

Anyway, I think I was spoiled for Cow’s “War” by The Fall’s 1993 version, which takes the bones and lyrics of the song and turns them into a vicious, mechanoid and unflinching art-rocker. Recorded at a time when Eastern Europe was sliding frighteningly into conflict, The Fall’s “War” seemed timely and honest. Smith’s singing is just as theatrical as Krause’s, but his brand of theatre is more confrontational and hostile than hers aims at, and more effective. Their best song of the last decade.

(I’m grateful to Josh for Henry Cow’s version: in return he gets another link, which in fairness he also asked for, the tart. Another blog which asked is Jon Hill’s Avenue, which I was going to link to anyway, honest. Jon promises music content. They both asked for it on Blue Lines, but frankly more people read this. Neither blog has yet linked to any sites about breasts, a rare display of restraint in an increasingly smutty world.)

*I assume wrong. It’s Fred Frith. Ta Josh.

Smog: Dongs of Sevotion

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Smog: Dongs of Sevotion: so you want to be like me, eh Fred? Well, as you correctly surmise the only way to do that is to listen to a lot of SMOG. Here’s Pitchfork writing about their new album, which I found disappointing and in places even turgid – the loss of Jim O’Rourke as producer seems to have meant a levelling-out of Smog’s sound, and several tracks just wander around like a more bewildered Lou Reed.

Pitchfork’s reviewer would disagree – he gives it a 9.3, but makes it actually sound pretty dreadful by quoting a lot of Bill Callahan’s lyrics. I think Callahan is an excellent lyricist, but as with most funnymen it’s very much in the way he tells ’em.

Goran Bregovic’s unofficial site

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Goran Bregovic’s unofficial site: Goran Bregovic provides a lot of the (excellent) music for Emil Kusturica’s films – find out more about him here, though sadly the site sheds no more light on what is Freaky Trigger‘s only genuine Frequently Asked Question, “Where can I find a copy of ‘Pitbull Terrior’?”

THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 6

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THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 6
ULTRAMARINE – “Kingdom” (from the album United Kingdoms)
Ultramarine’s United Kingdoms was one of a rash of progressive techno albums which used their beats to hide state-of-the-nation addresses (Dreadzone and Orbital also had a shot). The specific schtick here is rural techno, though apparently that’s a much truer tag for Ultramarine’s first album (Every Man And Woman Is A Star), which I never bothered hearing because the chilled-out flutefodder on this record bored me beyond horizontal.The band’s actual agenda here was to show that techno could be politicised and intelligent – and given the genre’s overt and specific harrassment by the UK Government of the time, this was an entirely reasonable aim. But while most ‘political techno’ wore its causes on its sleeve (and nowhere else!), Ultramarine were specifically concerned to link the free-festival crusty-raver movement to a longer tradition of English countryside protest. And so we come to “Kingdom”, United Kingdoms‘ one sublime moment, a 19th century protest song set to flutes and beats, and lent voice here by Robert Wyatt. Wyatt’s sad tree-bark voice and the song’s bitter, deceptively self-abasing lyrics go together like chocolate and tinfoil: it’s almost worth buying what amounts to a really soporific jazz album to hear the man sing “We’re low, we’re low, we’re very very low” like a pop Uriah Heep (the character, silly).

Know fear! It’s the

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Know fear! It’s the indie index, an opportunity for indie fans to get acquainted, get together, and, frankly, get it on. My favourite bit of this – which is actually quite a good idea if you’re into, well, indie music – is where they describe how they’re going to vet applicants so that only the truly indie can get on. Of course I’m going to apply. My least favourite bit of this is the suggested favourite band window with its nasty tokenistic dance acts. (And the horizontal scroller bar is bad, too.).

Link via jejune.