Cwtch – Beyond Transgression (electronica/ chill-out)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 26m 10s
£name your price
I’m not sure what Marie Craven is sorry about. Without overcoming my innate laziness and conducting a proper analysis of the lyrics, it’s hard to say whether she’s expressing regret, making an apology, or meditating on the nature of transgression. In fact the title is a little ambiguous itself: does it refer to a transcendence of the terms of transgression, or a violation of surpassing seriousness? Either way, bracketing this release with two versions of its title track makes her mournful declaration a key aspect of its meaning, and the structural linchpin of its narrative arc.
And irrespective of all that, let’s be clear: with this EP, she and collaborator Paul Foster have nothing to apologise for. Craven’s undramatic but deeply expressive vocals have a rich physicality that comes both from technique and experience; they are perfectly adapted to the cool, liquid electronic soundscapes of Foster’s production methods. Textures are built up from layers of synth pads and sequences, using sounds that consistently favour the warm and soft over the harsh or distorted, but have been carefully, creatively tweaked in detail, to give them a subtle, very human glitchiness.
‘Beyond Transgression’ has a moderately heavy drum part, and ‘Unhaiku’ (for example) develops a breakbeat after its extended mellow intro, but in neither case does it come off sounding like dance music. You could certainly dance to much of this, and through a big system some of these tracks would be irresistible, but for me the meanings of this music are in its atmospheres, and with its central focus on regret, there is a strong sense of sadness. That it stops short of tragedy is largely down to the optimistic onrush of its beats, that tell us there is a future, and it’s not to be feared. This is a beautiful piece of work.
Delusionists – Dastardly Schemes (hip-hop)
Beats Laying About, 2011, DD single, 3m 32s
Delusionists are issuing a series of tracks as a series under the heading ‘Lost Letters’. Judging by the first three they’ll be spelling out their name with the titles’ initials; whether they’re intended to be treated as an album when finished I don’t know, but I’m treating them as singles. I’ve been lazy with the reviewage lately, so I’ve already got the next two by the time I’m writing this, but I’ll still treat them singly.
‘Dastardly Schemes’ has a sparse, ominous production, animated by a simple chromatic piano riff in the left hand, and the rhythm is compelling but measured, like it’s taking its time getting where it’s going. Ben Black matches its menace with his uncompromising manifesto of personal truth and strength, spitting laconically like a man who doesn’t need to hurry for anyone, and making it clear in his lyrics that he has no time for bullshit. His ‘motivation is a potent combination/ of having no patience/ and grandiose statements.’ This I like.
Three Kings High – Three Kings High (hip-hop/ rock)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 18m 41s
Funky rock, or rocky funk? Couldn’t tell you, don’t really care. What’s abundantly clear, is that in a world where everybody listens across the traditional boundaries, when musicians follow their enthusiasms, their natural idiom turns out to be some sort of fusion. Samuel Otis and Chattabox, who both usually lend their vocal skills to more overtly hip-hop productions, show how rap’s rhythmic kinesis can make the transition from percussion to melody without losing any of its power or impact. Similarly, Vee-Kay (on production/ musical director duties) crafts chunky, organic grooves that have all the savvy and wit of hip-hop with the grunt and drive of rock.
Some grooves are more obviously funk, others have that hard grooving rock feel of a band like Black Grape, or even early Rolling Stones jams like ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. The whole release has a consistency and coherence that suggests the same players are on the same instruments throughout, or to put it another way, it sounds like a band. Synth and keyboard parts sound like just that, parts played in an ensemble, not the fundamental backbone of a studio production, although production values are certainly very high. I always judge a production on creative grounds, on its approach to the music rather than its technical perfection, and here everything about the sound is telling you all the same things as the playing and singing.
It’s hard to strike the right balance when combining rock with hip-hop, and a lot of well known attempts have been overly slick, sugary and anodyne imitations of the gestures of those who really mean it (yes, I am talking about Linkin Park). Three Kings High keep their themes close to home, sounding raw and direct without being rough or sloppy. This is one of the best new sounds I’ve heard in months.
Bruce Gramma – Punch Out (hip-hop)
Killamari, 2011, DD single, 2m 32s
Obviously, you wouldn’t like Bruce Gramma when he’s angry. Or, well, actually no, that’s wrong; he sounds angry here, and I like this a lot. Farty seasick sawtooth bass dominates a production that churns methodically and inexorably, while Mr. Gramma (or his large green associate) proclaims and enacts his creative integrity. Full of scorn for those who make music for purposes of self aggrandisement, or any reason other than honest self-expression, his words are full of righteous integrity, delivered like hammer blows in a flow that is precise and confrontational. This is a proper head-nodder, but for me its atmosphere has something of the libertarian fury of hardcore punk as well. I can’t say too much more about it without starting to quote the cleverly constructed lyrics, and with one short tune I don’t want to give the game away. Give it a listen if you want to know what I’m talking about. It’s an excellent track, and the price is very keen.
Avalanche – Inora (melodic post-hardcore)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 13m 43s
It’s hard to really make a mark in rock music: it’s not alone in being a genre that has been so thoroughly explored that most things have been tried, and finding new textures or colours generally involves pushing at the boundaries of the genre in some way. The task becomes even harder when you work in a relatively narrow sub-genre like Avalanche do: how far can you push it without producing something unrecognisable to your potential core audience?
Towards the end of the solo in ‘Less Than Ordinary’, lead guitarist Jason Downing-Waite has a good crack at finding out, first applying a touch of dissonant noise-rock spice, and then giving Inora its one moment of real melodic invention, with impeccable technique and untrammelled enthusiasm. For the most part however, Avalanche are less interested in finding their musical practice’s breaking point than in enjoying themselves as much as possible and sharing the fun with their listeners. This is considerably less dark than much post-hardcore, and frequently bursts into pop-punk exuberance. High energy, great musicianship, involving melodies, and consciously anthemic song structures: not the sort of thing that’s likely to make it to the heavy rotation pile here at Weird Shit Central, but it’s very accomplished, and pretty pleasing nevertheless.
Jamie And The Portraits – Molotovs And Chinos (indie pop)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 9m 52s
Who wears chinos and throws Molotovs? The title of this EP suggests a particular time and place, an era that will be instantly recognised by its participants on hearing those words, the way that hairspray and leg-warmers signal the early 1980s. I don’t know if I want to experience that milieu, but Jamie And The Portraits’ amusingly mismatched touchstones are certainly intriguing…
The title’s wry humour is further articulated in the lyrics and vocal delivery, although musically the recording showcases a clean and crisp pop-punk approach, like The Buzzcocks with all their nerves and aggression filtered out. The arrangements are well considered and varied, while the playing is nice and tight. Applecarts, generally, remain on their wheels, but these three tracks have creativity, intelligence and a great sense of fun.