Archive for May, 2009

Medicine and Duty- Don’t Use ‘a’ (Foolproof Projects)

May 27, 2009



Nothing is certain. This is the latest album from  Brighton’s premiere live experimentalists, Medicine and Duty, but even that should be qualified: it’s not ‘new’ anymore, as it came out at the end of last year, and to be honest I don’t know if it’s still their latest. Technically, too, it should probably be called a mini-album, being just seven songs long and less than half an hour in duration. Nothing is certain. And I’m not even certain of that.

The first thing that strikes the listener is that this is a far more mechanically-generated record than their previous releases, or indeed the band’s usual live shows. Matt Colegate and Jack Cooper have left their guitars at home and are credited instead with ‘electronics,’ but they are electronics of a particularly dense and fearsome nature. You could dance to this, but it’s not a ‘Dance’ record.  Andy Pyne’s drumming heads boldly out on open-ended expeditions into overgrown and rarely-trod rhythmic territory, where robotic birds fall keening from dark skies and ancient humming force fields wait to trap the unwary. Holy Fuck are another band who started out along a similar path recently, but after the primitive rave-inflected wave oscillations of the album’s opening track Medicine and Duty leave them far behind,  exchanging nods with Sunburned Hand of the Man instead as they pass each other further into the wilderness.     

The album’s title seems like an injunction never to take the obvious, easy option; Eno’s oblique strategies reduced down to one basic principle. The individual track titles give little away, but point to a general aesthetic: ‘Jury Rigged,’ ‘Maths on Fire,’ ‘The Blind Toolmakers,’ ‘Horizontal Tracking,’ etc. Although all three band members are credited with vocals, the tracks are essentially instrumentals, with any lyrics rendered either inaudible or incomprehensible, chanting, wailing and speaking in tongues: the ghosts in the machine, making their presence felt. Meanwhile, the music moves from claustrophobic industrial noise to oddly beautiful echoes of crystalline jungles, from surreal semi-oriental landscapes to the abstract language of mechanised desire, much like a slim volume of short stories by the late JG Ballard.

Listen: the machines are singing.   

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Giant Paw- The Stars are Ours (Feral Electronics)

May 23, 2009

giant paw


Okay. I’m gonna start trying to catch up with some of the CDs I’ve been sent over the past few months for review. Feeling guilty? You betcha. This baby, for instance, was officially released at the beginning of March, so I’ve probably had my promo hanging around since the start of the year. Sorry, Tony- but here goes…

Giant Paw are a North London collective; I would say band, but this sounds very studio-based, although apparently they’re fast becoming known for some spectacularly chaotic live shows. This is their debut album, but all four I suspect have been around long enough to know better, and Andy P, for one, has a past as frontman for notorious thrash-goths Creaming Jesus. Giant Paw, I should quickly add though, is something very different, trading in electronic psychedelia of a largely ambient nature, although a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and a willingness to get very messy on occasion are elements the two combos have in common.

The record starts with ‘Flood,’ and a very English voice reading what sounds like a diary entry concerning heavy rain and increasingly apocalyptic flooding, over a mellow bongo and bass-driven groove, topped with echoing guitars. On the chorus, a high-pitched voice recites ‘Now you’re in the water, you’re gonna drown,’ reminiscent of Spike Milligan’s Eccles character in ‘The Goon Show.’ Indeed, despite the events being narrated, the song never loses its quirky pastoral quality, and it reminds me overall of Lemon Jelly, an outfit whose twee, knowingly druggy and cloyingly smug ambient soundscapes I’ve never particularly enjoyed (I’m not a fan of Gong or Terry Pratchett either, for similar reasons).

‘Mosquito’ has something of Syd Barrett about it, albeit over a clumping Happy Mondays rhythm, but there’s still something a bit too self-consciously whacky going on for me to really enjoy it. The Cardiacs also spring to mind, as on ‘Tea on the Lawn,’ where the birdsong of an imagined English country garden introduces ambient electronic pulses, cool jazz trumpet and a soulful female voice cooing sweet nothings as a ‘Jackanory’ sample once again raises the dread spectre of Lemon Jelly. Yet the sinister, Syd-like vocals save the day.

After ‘Ooh It’s Sunny,’ a blurry, bouncy number concerning space travel, ‘Alarm Clock’ veers into electro-industrial territory, while retaining that same earthbound, clodhopping beat, before the album’s brooding centrepiece, ‘Push The Light.’ Along with the first three tracks this was mixed by the legendary Kramer, and there is certainly something of the Shimmy Disc sound of yore about this near-sixteen minute epic. Like The Butthole Surfers covering ‘Screamadelica,’ it tries to groove but ends up writhing around interminably in its own excrement. This is not neccesarily a bad thing. I enjoyed this song a lot, actually; the dying computer Hal from 2001 burbles away throughout, and after about ten minutes the whole thing spaces out completely into an empty cosmos of Tangerine Dream informed dub electronica, as though the drugs- or the shit meditation- have finally kicked in. Nice one.

And so we find ourselves on the dark side of the mong, and all the better for it; the twee ambience of the first few songs kicked aside for an altogether edgier set of propositions.  ‘Skin of Your Teeth’ is lo-fi electro rock n’ roll with an unhinged maniac groove, like the work of hedonistic and dangerous cyber-hillbillies. ‘Feral’ is minimalist techno motorik with a lyric that seems to recall a child’s dreaming in the back seat of a long car journey. And ‘Curse of the Giant Paw’ is distorted 21st Century squat punk, like Public Image Limited on Ketamine; ghosts in the machine, and an oily exorcist getting his hands dirty.

‘The Stars Are Ours’ is something of a Jekyll and Hyde record then, and personally I much prefer it when they loosen up and let rip. Some might enjoy the lulling ambience of the first half but find the eruption of noisy beats and guitar filth towards the end just like, harshes the vibe, man, but fuck those types- what did the hippies ever do for us? Lose the crumpets on the lawn tweeness and keep it dirty, boys, and the stars really could be yours for the taking.