Various Artists – Straight Outta B.C. – Tape One (hip-hop)

B.C. Birmingham City. Britain’s second city, and crucible of the world’s first industrial revolution; ask most people in Britain about it though, and they’ll probably think it’s just some Midlands city, and they certainly won’t think of music at the first mention of the name. Unlike Liverpool, Manchester or London, Brum is not associated in the public imagination with any particular act or scene, and it is generally a byword for mediocrity rather than a paragon of cultural excellence. This is a total misconception, and in the field of music Birmingham has particular historical significance, with formal music institutions that possess an international reputation; Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Napalm Death have all re-written metal from this West Midlands base …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Why do I write reviews? Largely so that I can blag free music instead of buying it like everyone else, and so I can kid my conscience that my inane ramblings are an adequate substitute for paying musicians their due. Of course I can (and will, given half a chance) list any number of more high-minded motivations, but I always feel that the transaction is balanced in my favour; so when this CD was pressed on me by guitarist Simon Rollo, and a review requested with the circumspection of a man asking me to clean the diarrhoea off his sofa, I was amused, embarrassed and confirmed in my impression of Three Thrones, which is that whatever they’re full of, it’s not themselves.

Melanin 9 – Magna Carta (hip-hop)

It winds me up somewhat, on occasions like National Poetry Day, or in public discussions about poetry among the mandarins of the cultural elite, that the richest, most diverse and thriving field of poetic endeavour is more or less completely ignored. The academy thinks it owns the word ‘music’, and qualifiers such as ‘popular’ or ‘folk’ are required to distinguish other practices from the self-evidently definitive Western art tradition, sometimes grudgingly tagged as ‘art’ music, which is a breathtaking arrogance, not to mention an insult to every artist working in another genre; similarly with poetry. I’m the first to argue for the specificity of forms, and to defend songs against the attempted critical manglings of those writers who’d like to locate the …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.

Chattabox – They Call Me (hip-hop)

As I’ve come to expect from a Chattabox release, this one goes in hard from the start. I often go to some lengths to counter the idea that musical quality is a matter of technical skills being exploited at full stretch, but there are times when an impressive display of compositional and performance gymnastics makes a positive aesthetic contribution to the music. This is one such: the very fact that this shit is hard to do is a part of its strength, and since Chatta never takes his eye off the ball in terms of his lyrics and beats it never comes across as smart-arsed, or as empty formalism. A highly developed skill set, in areas completely unvalued by the cultural elite, is a challenge to hegemony, and an assertion of personal agency …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

The five pieces collected on Elle Avait Raison Hathor take their inspiration from five female deities, from geographically disparate mythological traditions – ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Inuit and classical Greek. To exploit mythical archetypes in a way that respects the specificities of a modern subjectivity takes a deft touch and a nuanced understanding, both of the source mythology, and the way its discourses are articulated in the here and now. There is a great deal of material already in circulation that shoehorns lived experience into a generic New Age symbolism, without adding anything to its audience’s understanding; fortunately, the experiences conveyed by Vincent Berger Rond’s compositions, both musical and poetic, are nothing if not particular.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Schoolday nostalgia seems to be a current in many branches of music nowadays. It’s by no means a new thing, but it’s definitely growing. It’s curious how it lends historicity and distance to times that probably don’t seem at all distant to a greybeard like me; my theory is that it represents a re-appropriation, a staking out of territory in which an artist can feel rooted. It’s definitely not the dominant theme on NAM KYO, but it’s an important presence, and not just in ‘Were Still The Same’, where it is explicitly referenced. We live in an era where history is fragmented and recycled, and individuals are as disenfranchised from historical agency as from political agency. Asserting the significance of personal biography is one way to reclaim that agency …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

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…

H.L.I. – Omniglyph (hip-hop)

Rap is a form of spoken language; perhaps more than any other discursive art, it has no independent existence on the page; semantics are central to its meanings, but flow and orality are its material substance. It’s interesting then, that H.L.I. have chosen to title this release in a way that ascribes universal significance to a visual mark, and even seems to suggest that as a work, it intends to either represent, or present itself as equivalent to, such an infinitely polyvalent grapheme. It’s fair to assume that they’re not too hung up on the specific definition of a ‘glyph’, but all the same, taken as a general term for a sign or symbol, it clearly implies a static, atemporal locus of meaning, in stark contrast to the sequential unfolding of rap…

Copywrite – God Save The King (Proper English Version) (hip-hop)

Underground hip-hop takes distinct forms on either side of the Atlantic, to the extent that it’s arguable that ‘British underground hip-hop’ refers to a genre distinct from the American equivalent, rather than a geographically differentiated variety of the same thing. Arguable, but that doesn’t mean I think that’s necessarily the case… I do think that there are some important cultural differences (place and ethnicity both have very different functions in the construction of American and British identity), but I also think that the adherents of hip-hop’s undergrounds probably have more in common globally than they do with their local mainstreams. That being the case, transatlantic collaborations seem to be a little thin on the ground…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Serious pop music: I love it. Of course most pop music has been made with a serious attention to getting the sound right, such as it is, but then there’s the stuff that applies the language and sensibility of pop to its chosen themes in a manner that looks way beyond the superficial concerns of the mainstream. Obviously the ‘popular music’ label has ended up including tons of stuff, such as extreme metal and progressive rock, that have pretty much nothing to do with pop, but while DIN Martin’s filigreed post-punk is hardly in the pop mainstream (and is certainly a lot more gloomy than anything that charts these days), but there’s still something distinctly pop about this.

Rick Fury – Fist Of Fury (hip-hop)

I’m going to force myself to write this review without quoting the lyrics; there’s nothing necessarily wrong with quoting lyrics in a review, but with Rick Fury it’s too tempting a cop-out. When I find it hard to put my finger on the right words, his are so eloquent that it’s easier just to put them on my page, and stand back and admire them; but without the beat, the flow and the context it’s impossible to convey their impact, and you have access to his lyrics by following the link above. My job is to tell you what it sounds like, what it feels like to listen to it, and what I think it means.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

If you want to you can put your own rap to this beat, you can slip your own beat beneath the words, or you can chop both into a stew of your own devising. From my perspective, as a reviewer, the habit of packaging a single with its bare beat and an a cappella is an absolute godsend, enabling me to get another sense of each component, and doing a certain amount of my analytical work for me. The beat here has a heavy enough drum part, but the piano filigree that tops it works with the lyrically melodic bassline to evoke that combination of optimism and regret so characteristic of the UK underground’s more contemplative moments…

Verbal Terrorists – The War On Terra (hip-hop)

Political music takes many forms. Music that subverts conventional aesthetics can be political without any overtly political content, because it calls into question a hegemonic ideology that is as much a mechanism of control as any law. Widespread notions of musical ‘quality’ serve to keep musical production and activity in the hands of an elite whose membership is in the gift of a few very wealthy individuals; such structures operate in every area of our culture and society, and any refusal of them is a revolutionary act. Of course, the alternative, and more widespread view, is that formally experimental, avant-garde art perpetuates …