Mental Problems

A little thing about the ongoing porosity of German Electronic Music in Hip Hop and Electronica's fragile relationship with head-nodding beats and vocal samples. Featuring and partially inspired by acts from yesterdays woe-begotten promotional thrust.

Monoton - Ein Wort
Young Thug - Constantly Hatin’
Kraftwerk - Neon Lights
Spontaneous Overthrow - All About Money
Dilla - B.B.E.
The Fearless Four - Rockin’ It
Asmus Tietchens - Litia
Ekoplekz - The Glorian Mode
Danny Brown - Detroit 187
Raymond Scott - Lightworks (Instrumental)
A$AP Rocky - Love live A$AP
Zomby - The Lie
Xylitol - Anomie<->Bonhomie
Future - Rotation
IX Tab - The Ministry of Ontological Security
Carl Craig - Elements


Strength in numbers

With my own recording career, the lightweight I am, I bailed out just as it began to get depressing relying on people to rep for me. In their own hilariously ham-fisted PR missives each of this lot started by admitting how much they detest the process. In every case their correspondence was laughably incompetent - they forgot to attach download links, artwork wasn't included, no indication was given as to where people can buy the product. Love 'em.

I can assure the reader that there are no "riders" made available for me in supporting these gloriously useless bastards and their misadventures in modern music. In the afterlife, however, I will be given a gold-plated SONY Walkman DD-9.

Xylitol/Gloria Gloucestershire - Split tape

First up has to be the split mixtape between Xylitol - aka Catherine Backhouse and Gloria Gloucestershire - aka Nick Ekoplekz. Another extremely strong outing for these two. I could almost not believe my luck at the pairing - a match made in heaven - two of my favourite artists on one C60 - messieurs wiv zees magnetic ribbons you are really spoiling us.

On the upside Xylitol sets his Korg to the heart of the galaxy Spangle. The tape stomps all over Backhouse's backyard - Cold Wave, Bleep'n'Bass, NDW - literally the whole range of recorded music. Always iced with those delightful confectionary melodies these drum machines race at a pulse-quickening speed; weaving around like Scalextrics. My personal highlight has to be the kick-drum throb of "Anomie<->Bonhomie". Dazzling.

Leave the glitterball and chattering partygoers behind and in the adjoining bedroom, on the downside, lurks Ekoplekz. Someone has slipped DMT into your lemonade. People sprawl around on deflated bean-bags. Light is provided by a single anglepoise. The carpet is caked with a fibrous layer of dust.

On Ekoplekz's last split with Farmer Glitch he followed FG into abstraction - now he has reigned in his avant impulses and treated us to a "through a glass darkly" vision of Xylitol's music. Here are those same stiff drum machines and, albeit wilted, harmonies. Occasionally reminiscent of Zomby's pseudo dubstep, on standout "The Glorian Mode" Nick finds a sweet spot in a particularly comely lopsided loop and simply won't pull the plugs. Stunning.

If the world was a fairer place literally both artists should have been signed to WARP about 16 years ago. Sighs.

Ship Canal - The Housing Estate Sings (Amoebic Industries)

Of all the incompetent useless bastards working in the field of music Daniel Baker, aka Ship Canal, would have to be the most incompetent and useless. If you can imagine the least professional musician in the world - perhaps one of the aka pygmies - then magically make them ten times less professional - then, reader, you have Daniel Baker.

Famously, legendarily, working on a stolen and broken twenty-year old laptop with cracked software; Ship Canal make the most resolutely uncommercial music it is possible to. This has been proved by experts. Great sludgy slabs of soft-synth dirge layered with what sounds like deliberately badly-recorded drunken wails and yelps slathered over with cheap reverb like a Bisto gravy. The LP's youtube video, the featured visuals for "The Housing Estate Sings", is a full-length documentary about the history of Manchester's docks - possibly the most unremittingly depressing video I have ever seen. I've now watched it three times.

You can only imagine the chaos and traffic jams that would beset Central London if by freak accident even one of these tracks were played on Capital Radio in the morning. People would be ashen-face, weeping, prostrate over their Toyotas. 

And yet, and yet, lurking in the cracked non-grooves like those on my favouritely monikered "Rich Folk Came and Took My Cheap Alcohol" there is a singular humanity which is at once uplifting, self-deprecating and funny and an acutely sensitive musical intelligence to boot. There is a beauty here which has no name.

IX Tab/Hoofus - The Blow Volume 1 (Front & Follow)

Another split mixtape - proving conclusively that there is strength in numbers. Released on Front & Follow, a seemingly proper label who carry other loosely Woebot-endorsed music like Kemper Norton and Shape Worship, but then who made the near fatal mistake of allowing IX Tab himself, Saxon Roach deal with PR...(shakes head slowly)...

IX Tab, who take the downside of the cassette, have cautiously refined their intramolecular drift but here are the same liminal drones which first enchanted me with "Spindle and the Bregnut Tree". The same rural imagery haunts this music, specifically the dusk. Woods and clifftops embalmed in crepuscular, haze-filtered light. Voices here, like on "The Ministry of Ontological Insecurity" telling us : "I don't believe in her" and "I don't believe in you" seem to usher from the back of one's mind, projecting as though an afterimage of sounds long-ago burnt into the cochlea.


More thoughts on Vinyl

Here are two articles that explore similar terrain to my thoughts on vinyl.

Firstly Stephen Thomas Erlewine who, along with Richie Unterburger, Thom Jurek, Andy Kelman and Ned Raggett I often find myself reading at the useful database of Allmusic. I always think that the grandly-monikered Erlewine sounds like he must be a Southern gentleman. He writes excellently at Pitchfork on the death of the greatest hits compilation and the reissue at Pitchfork. Really what he is bemoaning, like me, is the death of the curated compilation because, as he points out, there is no shortage of "straight" remastered reissues of famous old titles. I do think that this energy has relocated to places like Mixcloud or Spotify playlists - but that's rather like saying that quality music journalism migrated to the blogs. By avoiding the hurdle that came with proper publishing: the underlying demand for properly-researched journalism and the need to deal with irritating editors - blogging weakened the form. Likewise it's easy to cobble together a bunch of tracks but there is none of the requirements of proper compiling. No respect towards original artwork; studio, recording and label information is nonexistent; and, woops, no-one gets paid.

Secondly Tim Jonze at The Guardian who sells all his CDs just as I'm starting to buy them. Lol. The fascinating thing about this column though is the excellent comments in its wake. Many people demurring. It seems, in the first case, that once people are well and truly on the hook, that Spotify and the other streaming services will start to crank up the prices. Think - you might not even be able to download mp3s in the near future - or at least not cheaply. Many people, like me it seems, are disenchanted by the vibes and the listening experience afforded by streaming. Many people pointing to the cycle that affected vinyl in the 90s when everyone was offloading it as cheaply as they could. Saying that that will also affect the CD - which in due course, like vinyl, will become valued. Many people pointing out that it has never been cheaper to get a bunch of great music on CD for very little money. Rip it to FLAC some of them say.


Tropical Virtual

Observers - Rich And Poor Dub
Earons - Land of Hunger
Parliament - The Placebo Syndrome
Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Mr Softee
Dennis Brown - impossible
Terry Reid - Dean
Smokey Robinson - And I Don't Love You
Jimmy Cliff - Treat the Youths Right
Fetty Wap - Trap Queen
Cristina - You Rented A Space
Kanye West - Heartless
The Drifters - Saturday Night At The Movies
Ryuichi Sakamoto - Riot in Lagos
Konono No1 - Yambadi Mama
Ginger Johnson - Jool Omo
The Congoes and Sun Araw - Jungle

Mix here.


New African Music

Earlier this year I was thinking about Modern African Music. Guess what? Now I'm thinking about Modern African Music... again.

In 1993, as I never tire of telling people, I spoke to a bunch of people before I set off on my pseudo-evangelical trip to travel round West Africa playing Techno and Acid. Such was the climate around dance music intellectualism that mostly people embraced the idea. I remember, however, Sue Steward, even then a veteran voice in World music, expressing horror at the thought of African music being further contaminated by electronic music. At the time I scoffed...I scoffed a bit anyway. Flash forward to 2016 and we're completely blasé about the idea of electronic music from Africa.

In 2014 I dragged two friends to see "legendary" SA DJ Black Coffee play Fabric. There are a few good tracks on his LPs but generally their tone is too muted and cosmopolitan. Somewhere swirling in this there's an effective pun about Black Coffee and coffee table music. The night we saw him started promisingly but became increasingly bland. This could have been a set by any House DJ in the world. There was little of the distinctive SA flavour which I heard in 2002-3 in the excellent kwaito music of Revolution on "The Journey" and "The Journey Continues".

I thought Gqom might finally be the music I'd been waiting for. What I've heard online and on Gqom Oh! has been essentially interesting but at the same time disappointing. Rhythmically uninventive, colourless, unfeeling and empty. It has looked to Dubstep but not improved on it. It's not impossible that something is out there; that some producer will find the way to speak through Gqom's matrix. Indeed I look forward with great anticipation to that happening. In the meantime I'm haunted by the idea that Sue Steward was right all along.

Broadly dismissed in the reviews I've read this, Konono Nº1's latest release, is in contrast very good. People clearly think that on their fourth release an artist is on his last legs. No longer carrying the outsider music seal of approval which framed the reception of their 2004 release "Congotronics" (thank god) this latest collaboration with the Lisbon-based Angola-born DJ Batida is a gypsy-like take on African music, which paradoxically given the flux of post-internet life, seems more authentic in its forsaken roots.

The band's likembés, or mbira, are still heavily amplified and clangorous, but they ride what sounds like a software bassline. Batida has flecked the sound too with exquisite clicks and other nicely deployed computer percussion. Actually you'd expect far less subtle musical interventions from a "DJ". Frequently it's a mesmerising proposition.


Trouble Boys - The True Story of The Replacements: Bob Mehr

Of The Replacements Paul Westerberg concludes at the end of "Trouble Boys" - "We were a great little band." He nails it. "Great" - you couldn't dispute that, with all its overtones of glory and enthusiasm; "little" - certainly. "Big" bands? We all know who they are - and as much as one can care for a "big" rock'n'roll group you can't really love them. Is it even possible to love anything that everyone else does? Culture on that scale becomes monolithic and inhuman.

My brother discovered The Replacements in 1987. He had "Pleased To Meet Me". It has quite a corporate feel to it - its vibes are a confused by some garish overdubbing - but the songs are almost uniformly good. I ended up bartering it off him. Soon after I found a copy of "Sorry Ma Forgot to Take Out The Trash" - that was the only one I could find in my local record store. At the time I loved it, but was gnawed by the thought that what I really wanted to hear and own were "Tim" and "Let It Be". As much as I love those two now - "Sorry Ma" is my favourite of all their records. I paid no attention whatsoever to "Don't Tell A Soul" or "All Shook Down" (the latter, I've discovered, is not bad). The closest I got was seeing them at the Marquee in April 1991. That was a great gig in which I remember a lot of moshing, sweat and checked shirts.

Bob Mehr's book is journalistic tour-de-force. You literally could not fault the depth of his research, his feel for relevant information and his sense of balance. Other granular biographies I've attempted, like Johnny Rogan's "The Severed Alliance" have just been, well, boring. The Replacements story itself is an almost uniformly interesting one. The early years and the band's difficult upbringing are luminous, but so is the often baffling idiocy of the later tours with their questionable antics (burning per diems and trashing people's buses). The book nearly proves that the story of a band's life, a faithfully depicted microcosm of the music industry, can stand on its own as a piece of literature. However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being a bit jaded by the end of it.


The Southern Connection

There are many recent collections which pick up aspects of this continuum - Funky Reggae, Country Soul and Bayou Rock but I haven't heard one which covers the whole spectrum. I've been listening to a lot of Soul on Stax and out of Fame and it stuck me forcibly just how incredibly indebted Soul is to Country, so I thought I'd rise to the challenge.

I've not chosen any tracks to prove a musicological point - just tunes I love.

Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris - Love Lots of Lovin'
Otis Redding - That's How Strong My Love Is
The Fleets - Please Return To Me
Booker T and the MGs - Chinese Checkers
Dan Penn - Let Them Talk
Otis Redding - Pain In My Heart
The Meters - Dry Spell
The Upsetters - Black IPA
Derrick Harriott - Musical Madness
Toots and the Maytals - Sit Right Down
Garland Jeffries - Bound To Get Ahead Someday
The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There
Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally
Bobby Womack - Ruby Dean
Ruby Johnson - I'll Run Your Hurt Away
Wendy Rene - After Laughter
Al Green - Take Me To The River
Tony Joe White - Even Trolls Love Rock'n'Roll
Joe Ely - West Texas Waltz
Bobby Womack - Everything Is Beautiful
Mable John - Your Good Thing (Is About To End)
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Born On The Bayou
Booker T and the MGs - Chicken Pox
Bobbie Gentry - Lousiana Man
Merle Haggard - Waiting For A Train
Bobby Charles - Street People
Chuck Brooks - Love's Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
Isaac Hayes - Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic
Jim Ford - Dr Handy
Larry Jon Wilson - Sheldon Church Yard
Jim Stafford - Swamp Witch
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Run Through The Jungle
Link Wray - Tail Dragger
Little Feat - Lafayette Railroad
Vernon Wray - Prison Song