Various Artists – Album Roundup

BIG $OAP MON£Y CR£W – WA$H YO FAC£! (hip-hop)

Killamari Records, 2012, DD album, 42m 30s


Being able to afford soap is the new bling. That’s not necessarily a satirical conceit most artists would consider hanging an entire album off, let alone their group identity, but BIG $OAP MON£Y CR£W are not ‘most artists’, and that’s exactly what they do. Not that this is overtly a concept album, despite its consistent use of all caps and currency symbols, but the identities adopted by its creators are maintained scrupulously throughout; it’s not pure comedy from start to finish, but WA$H YO FAC£!‘s unbroken satirical undertow betokens a refusal to take themselves too seriously, or to ape the street pomposity of the self-obsessed, machismo fetishising mainstream. This is funny, sometimes eye-wateringly so, and it pokes plenty of affectionate fun at the tropes and clichés of hip-hop, but it also is hip-hop, pure and simple, boom-bap catchy, skill flaunting rhythm-and-wit. Kaching! Kong’s beats are phat and bouncy, launching flows that propel themselves infectiously, with wordplay and funk locked together into a single compelling statement; Putrid Pete (known elsewhere as Grem!i Da Muke) raps with a cheeky, sing-song bounce that owes as much to the scatological extremes of the playground rhyme as it does to the traditions of hip-hop, while two Sammys (Nagasaki and Dowlas) are less out-there, but equally tight and exciting. Rap music covers a whole range of territories nowadays, from the intensely political to the superficially decadent, the gnomically avant-garde to the slickly commercial: this album serves to remind all branches of the family that entertainment and lighthearted fun are not incompatible with quality or integrity. BIG $OAP MON£Y CR£W have come out with a recording that combines side-splitting humour with solid musical values, and even includes a few moments of introspection; I’m putting this one on repeat.

This April Scenery – Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder (indie rock)

self released, 2012, CD & DD album, 39m 49s

€9 (CD) €6.67 (DD)

Progressive indie rock’ is how This April Scenery describe their music (my italics); ‘progressive’ is a tricky word, one which once meant expanding and extending the language of a style, but which, in rock at least, has come to denote music that has a particular kind of technical and formal complexity. More to the point it has come to refer to a specific set of stylistic conventions, although it is still contested territory (thankfully). Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder certainly doesn’t sound like prog, and nor is its sound stylistically transgressive; on the contrary, it sounds like some other bands I’ve heard (‘indie’ is a word that means so much that it means nothing), but it certainly evinces the kind of detailed creativity in its arrangements and orchestrations, and the kind of precision with which they are realised, that sets a band apart from the run of the mill. The sound is a combination of angular rhythm section, textural guitars and keyboards, and somewhat ‘hollow’ vocals that is most reminiscent of the immediately post-punk era, although this album is at another level of musical and sonic sophistication altogether; it’s a sound I’ve come to associate particularly with Germany, and one that finds echoes in a variety of places (if the singer screamed it could pass for screamo). It also reminds me somewhat of Trillian, one of the best contemporary rock bands I’ve reviewed, also from Germany. The songs are accessible and engaging; the playing is skilled, and directed to the realisation of some pretty challenging arrangements; the energy levels are high, with some very propulsive bass and drums; the singing is charismatic, with a well judged level of drama; and the emotional pitch is generally ‘bittersweet’, with a definite whiff of nostalgia, although the writing is mature enough that there’s a good deal more complexity to it than that. Overall, Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder is a very accomplished and highly listenable album.

Churn Milk Joan – Black & Ginger (avant funk)

self released, 2012, DD album, 45m 44s

£0+ (name your price)

This music is quite orderly and organised: events arrive with regularity and precision. It’s the nature of those events that serves to undermine any sense the listener may have of knowing what’s going on. It’s as though, while sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, a smartly attired attendant arrives at exactly timed intervals, and presents you with a hatstand, a small sack of brass screws, a kimono and a live tench; the coherent sequencing of the events convinces you that there is some purpose, some meaning, but their seeming absurdity seems inconsistent with the usual grounds of the meaningful. Stylistically, Churn Milk Joan’s sound is a sort of jerky, stiff-legged funk, and I’m beginning to get the relationship between that and their surrealism, in a way that eluded me when I reviewed One, their debut release. Funk is all about space, blank time in which, it seems, anything might happen, although everything that does happen is delivered in such a way as to anticipate and enhance the One, with the ultimate goal of shaking our collective booty; there is something inherently surrealist about funk, in the way that events and timbres are repurposed and re-contextualised, and that unexpected aspect of funk is what Black & Ginger plays off. In doing so it avoids the kind of vigorously propulsive syncopations that might lead the listener to treat it as a music addressed exclusively to their body, which might in turn lead them to treat its absurdities as mere decorative fripperies, ancillary to its function as dance music; instead it seems to employ a sort of conceptual syncopation. Instead of just hitting us in the hips (although much of it is seriously funky) it jerks our thoughts around, sending us in search of the logic that links a Jowett Javelin to Steve McQueen and a seventeenth century boundary stone in Yorkshire… To pull this off obviously requires the music to live up to the concept, and the duo that records as Churn Milk Joan has a great deal of musicianship; there’s a lot to listen to here. A lot of fun, a lot of humour, and a lot of thoughts provoked.

Coeus The Boxing Titan – Insomniatic Myth (electronic rock)

self released, 2012, CD & DD album, 1h 5s

$9.98 (CD) $4.98 (DD)

Rock is a broad church, so broad that it can accommodate more or less any part of music history if its authors choose to juxtapose it with an electric guitar; and then again, you can sometimes get away without the electric guitar. Folk, classical, funk, jazz, electronica, more or less any form of ‘world’ music can go into the mix, because rock has been very obviously and openly a fusion from its very beginnings in the collision of blues and country. Coeus The Boxing Titan (nom de guerre of Minnesotan Aron Patterson) doesn’t present us with a fusion in the contrived sense (‘post-laptop rock channelled through nu-wonk samba-polka’), but simply throws all his influences into the big audio mincer, without trying to shoehorn what comes out into any particular generic straitjacket. So, largely rock sounding, but with the electric guitar taking its place humbly beside a range of electronic noises; grooves drawn from wherever, with ‘Bright Side’, for example, sporting the same kind of stripped down funk feel as the work of Churn Milk Joan, reviewed above, and ‘Serendipity’ motoring along mechanistically like Nine Inch Nails. ‘As Men Do’ sports fusion style electric piano filigrees, and much of the guitar work is texturally melodic, verging on the atonal, in the manner of early 80s Fripp and Belew. Vocally and lyrically the feel is dark and disturbing, but also pretty humorous. The sound intrigues, revealing shifting layers of atmosphere and signification that seem to invite deeper listening; sometimes (even frequently) there’s an address to established aesthetics, with the music sounding funky, heavy and atmospheric by turns, but those effects are merely small parts of Patterson’s arsenal. There’s some great playing, some conceptual playfulness, some sophisticated writing, a reward for every musical proclivity, in fact, as long as the listener’s not too hidebound by stylistic expectations. Insomniatic Myth is a remarkable outpouring of creativity, that will repay a lot of repeat listening.

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