albums - Helium | David Byrne | Dreadzone | Half Man Half Biscuit | Lungleg | Barbara Manning

singles - Guided by Voices | Yo La Tengo | Drain/Windsor for the Derby

live - Dinosaur Jr./Snowpony | Yo La Tengo/Cornershop |David Byrne

 

albums

 

Helium - The Magic City (Matador)

An odd album, on my first listen I was blown away by the first 2 tracks - Vibrations is really clever, with a little keyboard hook that gets inside your mind, while Leon's Spacebong has again a catchy little thing about it. The third track, Ocean of Wine is another stormer despite it's frankly crap title. But after that things fall away a litte - the tracks go from not-quite-as-interstiung to bland, and by the time we get to track 8 (Revolution of Hearts) we've somehow slipped into prog-rock territory - all sorts of weird memories come rushing back as the keyboard reminds me of Gentle Giant, a chorus makes me think of Jethro Tull, things which I thought had been banished for good. People who are bigger fans of Helium tell me that this is in fact the centrepiece of the album, that it's amazing live, that hisis the best thing they've ever done. As you can tell, I'm not convinced, and even when the final ttracks on the album come along sounding 'normal' again, the damage has been done and it really is well nigh impossible to get back into it again. Helium's best career move would be in releasing singles and ep's and keeping the other stuff for a side project, which they can release anonymously, under cover of false names, and beards. Long beards.

 

David Byrne - Feelings

David Byrne went back to his roots the other week. Not the manic prancing around in a mini-kilt (in the 'Bryne tartan') at the Glasgow Concert Hall last month, but his new album, Feelings. The past few years seem to have been a tricky time for oor wee Davie, as he struggled to shake off the legacy of one of the great bands of the 1970's/1980's, Talking Heads. This new lp actually sees him forgetting his recent attempts at differing musical styles and returning to what he knows best. Like his recent live show, this album is like a trawl through his back-catalogue. So we get the funked up stomp of Dance in Vaseline, the ballad-in-a-good-way tone of Soft Seduction, and the country-esque stylings of Amnesia. And though the word 'country' should raise eyebrows or possibly breakfasts this is good country, like what was occasionally touched on in the True Stories era. Likewise, Miss America is a big sashaying samba that threatens to do a conga through your hi-fi, but again, though this might have picked up influences from his time saving the South American rain forests (a well-meaning but ultimately pointless time, artistically at least), in a good way.

Ultimately this makes you realise how much Dave was Talking Heads. The boy indeed done good. Welcome back, son.

 

Dreadzone - Biological Radio (VMG)

Following up the brilliant Second Light was always going to be something of a losing battle. To be fair to Dreadzone they have tried to do something a little different with this lp rather than staying to their tried-and-tested formula. In fact, this appears to be something of a concept album, based around radio (of course) meaning that we get a lot of snippets of BBC-style broadcasters intoning fairly trivial messages (advice on tea-making on 'Heat the Pot', for instance) - non of the politics of Little Britain is evident. Neither do we get much in the way of samples which so often made Second Light - there's one solitary Big Youth sample on the title track and I can't even detect it. The overall feel is of a more trancey trippy nature than the dub-heavy stuff they've done in the past. In fact the only nod we get to reggae is a cover of John Holt's 'Ali Baba' which frankly wasn't that good to start with. Reference points for the uninitiated - well, Astralisia spring to mind, which might be ok, but it's not what we expect from Dreadzone,and anyway we already have one Astralisia. Good for a rave perhaps but not what I'd have hoped for from a band with their track record. A case when resting on past glories might actually have been a good thing.

 

Lungleg - Maid To Minx (Vesuvius)

The first album from this Glasgow 4-piece - 3 woman and a male drummer and on that score they might well be compared to Kenickie. That wouldn't be fair to either band however; Lungleg still being pretty much a lo-fi band in comparison to their Geordie sisters (& brother). However, the pop sensibilities are there beneath the surface, as is the energetic enthusiasm of a bunch of fine pop tunes. Maid to Minx has some fine tunes. It also gathers together some of their finest moments from a host of previous releases and sessions. The single 'Right Now Baby' is of note, but it's the closing Kung-Fu on the Internet (97) and Lust for Leg which are almost the trademarks of the band. I'm not sure whether success beckons, but they'll have a fun time trying.

 

Half Man Half Biscuit - Voyage to the Bottom of the Road (Probe Plus)

You see, you're smirking already. But that's only half the point about the Biscuits (as their legions of fans know them). Yes, they're probably the only 'comedy' band working in the world today with any level of success. And yes, they could probably have more success, financially at least if Neil and Nigel went into the world of, I don't know,scripting 'alternative' comedy or something, as their talent for picking out the ridiculous and turning it into the surreal is one which there's a demand for I'm sure.

But as I say, that's not the full story. In Nigel and Neil they have a couple of the finest writers of songs currently active in the UK today. Always have, it's just that the comedy tends to overshadow everything, unsurprisingly. But on this album you genuinely have songs which champions of Britpop could genuinely be proud of while the boys in the band could rightly be disgusted at such a slur. PRS Yearbook probably has a tune too complex for the masses, while on Deep House Minibus they take the unusual step of stealing the refrain from their own back catalogue (Albert Hammond Bootleg) and lyrically they're sharper and more bitter and twisted than ever, as the paintball-playing Annie Lennox-worshiping yuppies get it in the neck as usual. Pride of place however goes to "Dead Men Don't Need Season Tickets", the sickest funniest song of the year, but it also has an 'anthemic' chorus which the Gallaghers would kill for. Though they'd have to rewrite the big that goes "In the mortuary, in the mortuary". See, you're snickering again. It's not supposed to be funny.

ok, it is.

 

Barbara Manning - 1212 (Matador)

Following releases with amongst others, SF Seals, this is Barbara's first solo work in years. It's a remarkable work which swings between styles, although folky roots are most evident with her cover of Richard Thompson's End of the Rainbow, she also includes among other things an Amon Dull cover. But with an hour-long album there's room for these experiments, and it's the epic opening track, the self-penned Arsonists Story which is the standout as this witty tale of everyday teenage fireraising starts 1212 with a bang.

 

singles

Guided by Voices - I am a Tree (Matador)

Tobin Sprout has gone off now (presumably left out too long) and new member Doug Gillard provides a song he originally wrote for his previous band Gem. It shows too that this is not your traditional GbV song - it clocks in at 4.41 seconds for a start. Also it's a rather straightforward rock plod, though it grows a bit and might appeal to fans of Sugar and the like.

Fortunately the day is saved by the 3 extra tracks on this cd including The Ascended Masters (featuring the erstwhile Tobin on piano) which is like the GbV we know and love. As is Do They Teach You The Chase which is all of 54 seconds long. That's more like it, guys.

Yo La Tengo - Sugarcube (Matador)

The most post-grunge track on the lp"I Can Hear the Heart" this may be a belated stab at the minor chart success of their US contemporaries like Sonic Youth and Sugar though the fact that it's an lp track will mean that it's maybe just a late trailer for the album. For the devotee there's a couple of other tracks here including the noticeably Phil Macintyre-produced 10 minute ramble of Looney Tunes (yes, the cartoon theme, though not all that obviously) which is rather pleasant, all told, plus a live version of 'The Summer', originally on Fakebook..

 

Drain/Windsor For the Derby - The Kahanek Incident (Trance)

One of those rather fashionable things where each band covers the other's tunes... WftD strip down Drain's Marakesh: 3am till there's nothing left of it save a thrumming insistent drum loop which gnaws at the unconscious. Drain, however, tackle Exposito and create something altogether more satisfying, though again something which is experienced more at a subliminal level. Until, that is, the loop of an aircraft landing kicks in and brings you, literally, back down to earth.

live

 

Dinosaur Jr/Snowpony - Glasgow Garage (3/8/97)

Snowpony are supposedly some ex-MBV and Stereolab personnel. Dunno who they actually are, but there's a slightly mean looking female bassist, a female singer who's covered in tattoos, and a drummer with a goatee beard, as far as I could tell. They were pretty good, though the resemblance to either of their previous bands (female singer notwithstanding) was pretty minimal. They got a bit funky at times, and reminded me a bit of Moonshake for some reason. Pretty good.

Dinosaur Jr weren't. They were, well, I don't know really as I've never seen them before and don't know their stuff that well. Maybe they're _meant_ to sound like that? J changed his guitar after every song making for a rather disjointed set and didn't say much, and his vocals really warbled (I thought my hearing had started to pack in). The sound was generally quite distorted and stuff that should have sounded great, like FreakScene were drowned in a wall of noise. After an overblown guitar-hero bit to close they came back on for encores (gently coaxed by an audience member shouting "we pay your fucking wages") and actually appeared a bit more interested and together, 1970 sounding quite acceptable. But hardly worth waiting for.

 

David Byrne - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (27/7/97)

He came on wearing a pink muppet-skin suit, went straight into 'Once in a Lifetime' and that was the pattern for the evening - he's shorn off the silly pre-raphelite locks that went with his 'hug-a-tree' phase and gone back to a greatest hits tour. Also he was premiering stuff from his new lp 'Feelings', which on tonight's showing ties in pretty well with the rest of the material - it's vintage Talking Heads-style. Well, if Bowie can do it, why not? He promptly changed into a kilt, the crowd-pleaser that he is, ran through a load of golden oldies, did a costume change or 2, including one where he came on looking like the guy in Hellraiser (no, not the one with the needles, the lead guy whose flesh has rotted away) and did 'Psycho Killer'. And finished off with I Zimra. Not quite CBGB's, but not the chicken-in-a-basket circuit yet either.

 

Research is the name of the game, right? So, we look into the past of the various members Macrocosmica and see that lead singer Brendan O'Hare was one of the main protagonists of the C86' era as drummer in Teenage Fanclub. And when you learn that he's teamed up with Gavin Laird, one-time guitarist in the Telstar Ponies, you just about have them sussed, right, wan fey songs and bedroom 4-track production quality? Wrong. Listen to this record and you are hit by a wall of noise to start with, which eventually subsides and starts up again throughout the album. Hardly C86. If you dig a little deeper into the band's history, you'll find that Russell the drummer once worked with Test Department, providing industrial-strength backing to their experiments in sound. This, along with the pounding bass of Cerwyss Ower, is the first thing you'll hear when you start the album, and "Rusty's Arms" explodes into life. Hard-rockin' is the name of the game, though "I Am the Spaceship Digitalis", although having a progrock title is not prog, but a little variety in the ocean of noise, reminding the listener of the Swans a little. The band are often compared to Nirvana, Pixies et al but these are surely lazay comparisons, and the one with AC/DC I don't get at all, which is a blessing as far as I'm concerned. Mind you, there's others to be drawn, Big Black is for me the most obvious, though less musically and more due to the production on it which is tight and sonically impressive. Lo-fi and twee it ain't.
Stuart McHugh

 

Macrocosmica - Live
the 13th Note 8th March, 1998
The first time I've been to the new 13th Note club and Macrocosmica are clearly playing in a basement flat. Possibly the bedroom, I can't be sure. Through the back in the kitchen a DJ spins records between sets. With the, er, intimate setting and the low roof and all, maybe the acoustics might not have been favourable, but no, the band are undaunted by such constraints and proceed to make an almighty racket as per usual. I'm still struggling to come to terms with the history of the band - BMX Bandits, Telstar Ponies et al, versus the current direction which to me is closer to Big Black and Shellac than most other stuff quoted - the Pixies & Nirvana, well, maybe, Husker Du, not so much, AC/DC? Well, if the latter were true then I wouldn't be here tonight. The band seem to favour that always coolest of punk/metal crossover band, Motorhead, which can be no bad thing, maximising your audience and all that. The band RAWK HARD anyway, maybe not dressed in the regulation black leather tonight, but still black of heart, with the pounding rhythms and ritual guitar abuse being an integral part of the set. They run through the Ad Astra album, pretty much, which goes down well as this makes inroads into the record collections and hearts of a nations of young Kurts and Lemmys. Rounding up with a chaotic version of Space Geek (the forthcoming single) the title somehow sums up their prog-metal-meets-anorak presents and pasts. Punk, rock, but not necessarily in that order.