Kevin Pearce: A Cracked Jewel Case

Here’s something worth checking out.

Kevin Pearce has assembled what amounts to a budget guide to the nineties. Kevin, who has a shadowy indie pedigree of sorts and was the writer behind Paul Kelly’s lovely Finisterre, summoned the courage to contact me after my string of delibidinizing pro-CD posts. The book depicts the nineties seen through the prism of “A Cracked Jewel Case” - the very title defining it as celebration of the CD. And there is something very refreshing about his embrace of the format in the face of today's choking, retro-vinyl fascism.

I never considered buying records to be about the acquisition of status (that affective social disease which has crippled our epoch like consumption). Records were easier to make sound better. They had big picture sleeves. But more than anything, certainly during the nineties vinyl was at the axis of culture. This might seem contradictory in the light of my recent pronouncements and I suppose I’d better clarify.

While it seems logical for me to say that, for instance, Hip-Hop in the nineties was all about CDs, one couldn’t deny that the white-hot epicentre was all about 12” club bangers sold in boutique emporiums. Even Soho had at least four stores of that ilk. And by the same measure, while to my mind there is something authentic about the nineties electronic music CD, the coalface was always the twelve-inch. Basic Channel’s “BCD” CD compilation came emblazoned with a “buy vinyl” sticker.

Nowadays the original Hardcore CD single, with its promise of clean 16bit/44.1khz WAVs, does exert a powerful fascination - but there’s no getting away from the indisputable fact that back in the day the twelve inch was everything. Only bigger labels like Reinforced, Suburban Base, Moving Shadow and Production House put out CD singles. Lovely things and in these digital times certainly now highly covetable - but in their day most they were most probably an afterthought.

However, I do believe that Pearce is entirely aware of the historic centrality of vinyl. That’s simply not his game. I mean it respectfully when I say he comes across rather as the flâneur or dilettante. Not for him the blind cultural embrace of the generic disciple; he’s about as far as one could get from the catalogue number trainspotter devouring a label’s every release (be it poster or egg-timer concept). This is a widescreen vision of the nineties as though from the window of a passing Intercity train.

Seeming to pivot around Massive Attack’s catalogue the book takes in an absolutely huge amount of territory. Roughly then: Hardcore/Buffalo/Bristol/Soul II Soul/UK Hip-Hop/Talking Loud and the Jazz Dance nexus/The Dub Revival/Asian Underground/Neo-Soundtracks/Trip-Hop/French Disco/Chicago Post-Rock/Tricky/WuTang/The 99 records revival/Stereolab/Basic Channel/Crammed Records/Detroit long-players/Jazzy Ambient Jungle/Terry Callier/Jazz Rap real and fake/The MPB revival/Goldie/2-step long-players/Roots Manuva.

The minutiae of sleeve note shout-outs are dissected and rendered meaningful and the criss-crossing social and cultural interactions of key players are closely examined. If Paul Morley’s writing is nowadays the torrential frenzy of a marking of influence (a delineation of that old chestnut the “seminal”), Pearce delights in spinning webs of interconnectedness. In his mind it is the spiders at the centres of their webs (Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle, Goldie, Bjork, Tricky, the three-headed Massive Attack) who set the agenda of that decade.

Certainly it’s a compelling argument, and most importantly for the erstwhile scholar of pop culture it’s a notion he fleshes out with an almost dizzying amount of information. Indeed it is as a repository of lovingly-compiled and intelligently-parsed data that “A Cracked Jewel Case” excels and is instantly recommendable. I drew up a large list of things which piqued my interest: seeming blind alleys which I’d neglected to explore at the time, CDs which as a record-collector I’d been oblivious to, and artists I’d dismissed out of hand. Certainly there is also a fair amount of drek which you’d still have to hold a knife at my back for me to re-encounter (oh, go on then, naming names: D*Note, Red Snapper, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Technical Itch and Decoder and even Nicolette (yeah, sorry, this was always annoying)). But that’s understandable within Pearce’s omnivorousness and at the end of the day it is this very generosity and inclusiveness which wins the reader over.

I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting his charming, wistful conclusion verbatim:
“Far more quickly than expected, compact discs would also be widely discarded, with the value of many secondhand copies becoming negligible. The abandoned nature of CDs from the 1990s, though, provides an odd, almost contrary, incentive to listen attentively to music in that format, detached from the time in which it was made. This, additionally, allows opportunities to catch up on things missed at the time, partly through those prohibitive pricing policies. 
Time and economics change the critical game. If a CD, which when it was released cost around £15, has only a few exceptional tracks on it, the consumer might feel cheated and could dismiss the whole thing. If, 20-odd years later, someone can pick up the same CD for a pound, then those few special tracks may feel like a revelation and the rest really would not matter much. This offers a whole new perspective on proceedings. 
So, take a selection of compact discs, some dearly loved, some cruelly overlooked, others brand new or second hand. Sit back and consider carefully, get below the surface, beyond memories, stumble around on the sidelines and consider things anew, at length, at leisure, to see what emerges, what is revealed, when working through heaps of cracked jewel cases and dog-eared digipaks. And when one pile is finished, there will always be another which might tell a completely different story and form new patterns. “So amaze me, so amuse me,” as the song seems to say."


it's a record

well now we're really in hauntological territory!

like a sad old cunt i've been buying old beano and dandy annuals from when i was small. i'm looking at the years 1978-1981 when i was aged 7-10. the annuals were delicious things - intertwined in my memory with the joys of christmases past and solitary skiing holidays in switzerland (my parents off doing grown-up things).

artistically they are really fabulous. the stark limitation of black and white with one supporting colour (orange, pink, blue, yellow, mauve) gives them a pop-art look and really foregrounds the illustration which is pretty much always crisp and iconic.

particularly powerful from a nostalgia point of view (as my brother points out the -algia suffix, denotes an ache or pain as in "neuralgia") are those particular pages which one remembers in the profound nooks of one's unconscious. funnily enough i have a higher incidence of these with the older annuals than the more recent ones which presumably i was less deeply engaged with.


Empire of Da Senses: Further Adventures in Random Hip-Hop Selection 1987-2016

Seeing if I can outdo myself with the portentous titles. Another smashing Hip-Hop mix. The final in this series. Loaded with personal faves. Chronologically arranged again.

Just Ice - Cold Gettin’ Dumb
BDP - Number #1
The DOC - Mind Blowin'
NWA - Niggaz 4 Life
Chubb Rock - Regiments of The Steel
Jamose - The Rapologist
Double Possee - Not Going To Be Able To Do It
Black Moon - Who Got The Props
Gang Starr - No Shame In My Game
Black Sheep - Flavour Of The Month
Del Tha Funky Homosapien - Thank Youse
Shyheim - On and On
Notorious BIG -  Who Shot Ya
Snoop Dogg - Pump Pump
All City - The Actual
Jay Z -  Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love)
Juvenile -  U Understand
Ja Rule - Holla Holla
Rampage - Wild For Da Night
Dilla - Won't Do
Erykah Badu - The Healer
Kanye West - Family Business
Ying Yang Twins -  Salt Shaker
Future - Fuck Up Some Commas
Chance The Rapper - NaNa
Future - All Right


Borderless State: Random Hip-Hop Selection 1991-2013

The past month or so I've been checking out Hip-Hop I'd previously neglected. What happened with me and Hip-Hop was this. In very broad brush strokes. OK, maybe forget "White Lines" and "The Message" - we heard them on the TV - it really started in 1987 with Public Enemy's "Yo Bum Rush The Show", LL Cool J's "Radio" and Run DMC's "Raising Hell." Then there was the daisy-age stuff - De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, ATCQ and KMD - and at the same time harder stuff like Juice Crew and Eric B and Rakim.

Then the "Golden" era - again during which I was very tuned in - Gang Starr's "Daily Operation", Black Moon, later Tribe Called Quest, Diamond, yeah, you know. I loved Gang Starr actually especially "Step In The Arena" which I had on a cassette and caned. I think Gang Starr's reputation has been slightly tarnished recently by all the weird stuff around Guru and his demise :-(

Then there was the whole Wu-Tang explosion which was great for like six LPs. To be honest I sort of started to lose my interest a bit round that time. Around '97 I was listening to 2 step and Timbaland (who I always think of as R'n'B). Then it was all about the pre-echoes of Grime and Grime itself right the way through to 2005. I suppose Grime really was Hip-Hop to an extent. Well, it was rapping at least. I did like some Crunk and I had picked a bunch of twelve inches because they were like "urban". But ultimately I switched off in 1996. Ten years on. Twenty years off.

Here are some of the nice tracks I've heard as a result of my recent researches. Pretty much in precise chronological order. Some are old favourites. Commentary: Tribe were so bloody hot - those middle two LPs are faultless. Gravediggaz - that's an amazing LP which I dismissed without even hearing it at the time. Pete Rock and CL Smooth's "The Main Ingredient" - that might even be better than "Mecca and The Soul Brother". Goodie Mob and UGK - interesting Southern stuff with all the instruments played. Outkast "Elevators" - great to hear this again. Gang Starr's very late "Moment of Truth" - very impressive. Redman's "Muddy Waters" (see the artwork) - astonishingly good album. Three very good LPs by Redman. The Roots "Things Fall Apart" - always dismissed this crew but on the strength of this incredible CD quite wrongly. D'Angelo - everyone knows this. It is Hip-Hop, of course. Clipse's late "Hell Hath No Fury" - best record the Neptunes ever did. Lil Wayne - a bit spotty but good stuff in there. Gucci Mane's "Radric Davis" - brilliant disc. Shabazz Palace's "Black Up" - better than "Lese Majesty". Drake's "Take Care" - wish I understood this guy was riffing on "808s and Heartbreaks" - I would have tuned in sooner - sometimes the most obvious things are never mentioned - this is a really nice record. Danny Brown is OK but probably not really Hip-Hop. Marketing innit. Pusha T "Numbers" - great single - over-rated LP. A$AP Rocky - "LONG.LIVE.A$AP" - that's good.

Sorry this is a bit telegrammatic. Just the data. I know some cunts like proper sentences. And I heard lots of things that were really not at all good. Massively overrated and very crap in fact. Jay-Z "Reasonable Doubt" (horribly dated naff instrumentation - silly Al Pacino impersonations), Kendrick Lamarr's "Section 80" (arrogant and pompous), Company Flow's "Funcrusher Plus" (unlistenable rubbish), Talib Kweli and HiTek "Train of Thought" (weedy tuneless drek), Freddie Gibbs/Madlib (retro boom-bap yawn), Vince Staples (for bourgeois Pitchfork music fans),  Earl Sweatshirt (feeble), and YG (can't even remember why this was unappealing - so, unmemorable as well as substandard).


Gang Starr - Execution Of A Chump (No More Mr. Nice Guy Pt.2)
Lords Of The Underground - Chief Rocka
ATCQ - Sucka Nigga
OC - Word...Life
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Worldwide
Gravediggaz - Blood Brothers
Three 6 Mafia - Long Nite
Smif’N’Wessun - Wontime
Goodie Mob - Dirty South
UGK - Touched
Outkast - Elevators (Me And You)
Gang Starr - New York Strait Talk
Redman - On Fire
The Roots - Act Too...The Love Of My Life
D'Angelo - One Mo' Gin
Clipse - Mr. Me Too
Lil’ Wayne - Let The Beat Build
Gucci Mane - Gingerbread Man
Shabazz Palaces - Free Press And Curl
Drake - Over My Dead Body
Danny Brown - Die Like A Rockstar
Pusha T - Numbers On The Boards
A$AP Rocky - Goldie


carl neville - resolution way

great epoch-defining book by neville.

difficult not see it alongside other iconic cultural interventions from our blog nexus like k-punk's "capitalist realism" and ekoplekz's "reflekzionz" - but people, this is the big one...

neither the blog impostume nor his recent film theory day-trip "no more heroes?" can prepare you for the heft of neville's authority as an author of world-class fiction. but if i'm making this sound heavy - well, nothing could be further from the truth - this is a bonafide page-turner.

[spoiler- contains sage ruminations on the mechanics of culture - literature, art AND music]

buy in haste. savour as slowly as you'll allow yourself.


beyoncé "hold up"

wow. how good is this track? surprisingly difficult to hear online. you need to catch it on the radio or get a tidal subscription (only jokin')

single ladies exploded with attitude didn't it? love that tune.

but since then beyoncé has been putting out bland music. i thought she'd just lost it. someone put a ring on it. was she wrapped up in the majesty of being queen béy? dubiously intoxicated with being in that "glittering" relationship? yawn and yuck.

if the rumours (becky with the good hair?) are to be believed the marriage has entered a difficult phase. if so - thank god - because "hold up" sounds like the fruit of those problems. someone grappling with reality for a change.

gotta be honest though. as much as love the track i have to find fault with beyoncé's tone. too much imploring. her arguments in favour of preserving the marital status quo are insipid. "how could you cheat on this? [gestures at lace bodice]" - "er honey just because i did..." - see, it betrays a total lack of understanding of the male psyche. if your man cheats on you you should kick his fucking face in. go nuclear. don't try to reason with the a$$hole. let him do the relationship work innit: "you better think!"

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. as aretha once demanded.