Saturday, 10 August 2013

RW/FF With Ben P Scott #24

This week: two fine new albums from Melt Yourself Down and Six By Seven are profiled, along with fresh music from Atlanter, Pylo, Strumpets, Pixies, Midlake and Holy Ghost. Elsewhere, I find ways to avoid having to face the radio at work, despair at the return of Toploader to the charts, and continue my journey through 1995 with memories of The Battle Of Britpop... 

The BPS Broadcast, my weekly radio show, was fun to do this week as always. For the first time EVER, I experienced no technical problems! Except for forgetting to cut to the hourly news because I was too caught up in a particularly ace track. So really a case of poor professional discipline rather than a technical problem. Those of you who haven’t yet listened to the show won’t be aware of my epic and potentially never-ending ongoing feature where I am gradually playing every single band and artist in my extensive record collection. I started with 3 Colours Red, moved onto 808 State, and this week arrived at the 13th Floor Elevators and A. From the latter I chose 1999’s ‘Old Folks’ and the excellent ‘Reverberation’ was the track that I decided to play from Roky Erickson’s psychedelic legends. I broadcast the show live every Monday night from 5pm till 7pm on my local station MTS. For more info and the listen live link, go HERE. Unfortunately we aren’t yet recording the live shows, so the lack of a “listen again” feature makes it even more essential to tune in…


The excellent self titled debut from Melt Yourself Down is quite unlike anything else you’re likely to set ears on this year, the work of a seven piece group whose combined previous experiences are as refreshingly diverse as its musical ingredients. It’s a wild fusion of sounds from across the world, spanning multiple cultures and genres to create a sound that truly needs to be heard to be understood. Some would lazily call it “world music”, but it’s essentially dance music with true value, demonstrating true musicianship and providing a far more interesting alternative to the current endless crop of unimaginative electronic acts who fail to provide quality with their dull digital sounds, and yes I am talking about that shit the kids call “EDM”. When I say it’s an “alternative” to modern dance music, what I really mean is that it’s on the other side of the spectrum in terms of accomplishment, and in a completely different league when it comes to producing something memorable. 

That’s not to say that MYD don’t embrace modern electro sounds, but they are used almost decoratively rather than providing a base for the sound. Opener ‘Fix My Life’ combines dirty, rasping saxophones with tough beats and zappy electronics, almost reminiscent of The JBs if they were produced by The Chemical Brothers, while the exhilarating ‘Release!’ is like a carnival procession passing through a rave, catching the listener with its relentless pulse. Top notch percussion plays a big part in the sound, as do the characteristic horns that blast out the repetitive yet irresistible hooks, with the steady, snaky eastern-flavoured groove of ‘Tuna’ bringing forward both elements brilliantly. In fact this is a set of songs where every individual instrument plays a vital role and where the composition of each track is often rather masterful indeed. The raucous, insanely catchy ‘We Are Enough’ sounds like one hell of a party, almost like some sort of raucous ska-punk, but with a greater supply of ideas.


If you don’t feel the urge to move during ‘Kingdom Of Kush’ then there’s probably something wrong with you. The level of energy and excitement here translates well on record, particularly during the first half. It is without a doubt one of the most enjoyably insane and refreshingly lively records I have discovered in a long time, but it also knows when to take things easy, as demonstrated by the peaceful beauty of ‘Free Walk’, a stunning moment buoyed by its lilting dub bassline and bright congas, where afrobeat and soul meet jazz and reggae. ‘Mouth To Mouth’’s almost hypnotic vibe leads into rhythms that gradually grow more and more intense, before finale ‘Camel’ builds up an ominous atmosphere and then brutally speeds out of control in a blitz of free-jazz punk madness. 

Eight tracks that are as addictive as they are inventive, this is a record that you should not ignore. Now you know it exists, seek it out and treat yourself to everything it has to offer. 4/5




If you remember Nottingham’s late 90’s rock heroes Six By Seven (or officially six. by seven), chances are you won’t have heard anything from them in a long time. However they haven’t been out of action for as long as what many would think: their previous album was released in 2007, and two years ago in 2011, a drummer-less version of the band emerged as ‘The Death Of Six By Seven’. This project eventually led to the rebirth of the group, whose line-up now includes ex-Placebo man Steve Hewitt. ‘Love And Peace And Sympathy’ is a stellar way to return, and easily a contender for the rock album of the year. 

Opener ‘Closer’ sets the tone brilliantly as it builds from a lingering guitar figure into a roar of powerful tension, while the graceful chime of the wonderful ‘Sympathy’ lets in the light and demonstrates how good they are with a melody. The snarling almost-9 minute epic ‘Truce’ is a fine representation of this album, slowly unfurling itself and growing more intense with each passing minute before exploding into a fierce, heavy tantrum towards the end. Like much of the LP, it’s a top class exercise in building tension, knowing when to hold back, and knowing when to let the beast loose. Of the 9 tracks ‘More’ is a snappier, upbeat and more concise slice of rock, determined and full of vigour, while the hypnotic repetition of ‘Standing In The Light’’s intertwining guitar and bass, along with its slow expansion make for a fine 7 minute centrepiece.


Taking another break from angsty noise and swirling reverb, the brighter ‘The Rise And Fall And Decline Of Everything’ takes a more relaxed, positive approach on the surface, yet is still underpinned by a reflective poignancy, represented nicely by the gorgeous guitars at around the 3 minute mark. The slow burning power of ‘Colder’ brings to mind the band’s early work while exploring more emotive avenues, with lyrics addressing life’s disappointments, a theme that reoccurs throughout ‘Love And Peace And Sympathy’. Elsewhere the uplifting ‘Crying’ provides another highlight that shows the likes of Feeder and Kings Of Leon how to pull off a huge-sounding rock anthem, while the grungy, menacing highlight ‘Fall Into Your Arms’ almost comes across like a cross between My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Only Hollow’ and Stiltskin’s ‘Inside’ but undoubtedly has its very own commanding strength, emerging slow and mighty. As an album closer, it perfectly sums up the mood of this phoenix from the flames-style resurrection: often brooding, sometimes graceful, at other times truly brutal.

It’s a record that reminds you that if there was any justice in the world, these guys would have gone on to be massive. But they are not done yet. Far from it. This LP sees them revitalised and raging with a defiant energy, and marks one of the most welcome returns of recent times. 4/5


Last week I promised a review of the new Kanye West LP would be appearing this week. I have treated the Melt Yourself Down and Six By Seven albums as priorities, so Kanye will have to wait until next week. Which mean that he ISN'T the most important person in the world, despite what he thinks. He's not going to like that...

I write about music because it’s my passion. Of course I’d like to get paid for doing it professionally, one of many reasons being that I would no longer have to clean at a supermarket to earn money. It’s not the worst job in the world I suppose, but being in any place where I don’t have control of the music is a massive problem for me. Particularly when it’s a workplace run by “average” people who haven’t got the time to care about what music they listen to, people with no standards who are happy to accept whatever excrement FM radio spoon feeds them. I don’t work while the shop is open, meaning that I have to either bring my mp3 player with me or listen to whatever the shift manager has on the radio. One shift manager chooses Absolute Radio, which can occasionally be dull and uninspired, but mostly tolerable and sometimes wonderful (although this is usually only in the case of familiar indie classics). But on other nights some spiteful individual will abuse the workforce’s wellbeing by tuning the DAB radio to bastard fucking Heart FM. On a DAB radio? Traditionally in this region, anyone who listens to Heart FM only tunes in “because it’s the only station I can get a good reception on” (presuming they’ve still only got FM radio), and the whole reason DAB exists is so people have a variety of stations that cater for different tastes. And yet despite being able to listen to ANY digital station, someone STILL tunes the radio into the worst station imaginable. What an absolute waste. Luckily there are no rules preventing staff from listening to their own portable music devices through earphones, so thankfully those of us with standards can avoid the horrors that the mainstream continues to churn out. But last week a terrifying thing happened: the AA battery on my mp3 player ran out. Disaster. 


Bag of shite.
Luckily a large fridge unit that had recently broken down was still making a loud buzzing noise, rather irritating but certainly preferable to the unwanted noise made by talentless, fame-hungry karaoke wankers on the radio. The fridge had saved my day, as I planned carefully to only work around the buzzing, which drowned out the radio. The only times I would work beyond the “safety zone” was when I was 100% sure that I wouldn’t have to experience anything traumatic, ie during the news, advert breaks or when playing the odd disco hit from yesteryear. The buzzing fridge was certainly loud enough to cover up most of the radio’s sickening output, but occasionally I could still hear little bits very faintly, and while checking if the coast was clear, I’d catch the name of whatever they were playing next, or sometimes even be unlucky enough to hear the intros. Playing a twat like Olly Murs twice in 3 hours is to be expected, after all forcing his rubbish down people’s throats is the only way to sell such a low quality product. But playing ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ by the ghastly Toploader twice in 3 hours? A woefully bad cover version that provided the worst guitar band of the 90’s with a brief spell in the limelight. Played twice? 

Later that same day, someone on a Britpop themed Facebook group posted a video of the same hideous song, much to the displeasure of myself and other members. As is standard, we all traded jokes about how shit they were and thanked our lucky stars that they weren’t around to bother us anymore. “Yep, at least those fuckers won’t be back in the charts anytime soon!” On Tuesday, I learned something truly disturbing: ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ had re-entered the singles charts at number 23… Just when we thought things in the mainstream couldn't possibly get any worse, along come Toploader to drop their aching guts into the singles charts all over again. Lord have mercy.

Amongst the responses were: “I dont like the sound of this, not one bit”, “please say it's not true” and “what the fuck, people? Really?” I expressed my despair with the words: “What evil and sin have we committed in previous lives to be subjected to Toploader AGAIN??? Why?!?!?!?!?! Why?!?!?!?!?!”. And that was the calm version of what I was really thinking... It's bad enough that the charts are constantly full of nothing but garbage, let alone being re-filled with despicable knobheads like Toploader 14 YEARS after we were originally plagued with them? It’s yet another new low that shows just how desperately the mainstream needs to change…

Here are some far superior songs of the sort of standard that should be making the charts instead...


Atlanter - Tree Song
Opening track from the rather wonderful album 'Vidde', desert blues-inspired dream pop with some tasty rhythms and interesting time signatures. Another great one recommended to me by Dominic Valvona from the Monolith Cocktail music site...



Pylo - View
Beautiful melancholic music with plenty of space and room to breathe. A five piece from Bath, they have just released an EP entitled 'Bellavue' and their Facebook page can be found HERE.



Strumpets - Tamara
Again, another fine track brought to my attention by Monolith Cocktail. Having grown from a studio project into a fully fledged band, Strumpets are about to release their second album 'Rubies And Ruffians'. The Antwerp-based group describe themselves as a ‘psychedelic dadaist pop group’...



Midlake - Antiphon
Midlake release their fourth album, 'Antiphon', on November 4. It will be the band's first release since the departure of their former vocalist, Tim Smith, who left the group last year. This splendid title track is available now for free download by going HERE.


Holy Ghost - Dumb Disco Ideas
The title sums it up nicely. If you listen to BBC 6Music like I do, this track is pretty hard to escape from at the moment. Here's the brilliant full-length version...


Pixies - Bagboy
You'll probably know this one. Doesn't really need much of an introduction. The first Pixies material in nearly a decade, this tune is available as a free download from HERE... 


1995
(Continued from RW/FF #19 – HERE)

18 years ago, I was enjoying some life-changing moments, in more ways than I realised. Primary school was over, and following the summer holidays I would be starting “big school”. Back then the summer holidays seemed to last forever, and in retrospect part of me wishes that particular summer COULD have lasted forever. John Major was PM (although a Tory in charge is never a good thing), life was simple and exciting, and in August one big question was on everyone's lips... I doubt there's many people in this country who didn't get asked "Who do you prefer, Blur or Oasis?" in the glorious summer of 1995, and for a good while afterwards. It was almost as if your answer would determine what sort of a person you were. From August 14th to the 20th, music fans from around the country were rushing out to their nearest record shops as Blur fought Oasis in a headline grabbing chart battle. The Essex band's 'Country House' and the Manchester group's 'Roll With It' were both released the same week during a time when a fierce rivalry between the two was at its most intense. 

”The Battle of Britpop” may have been a media-stirred and rather shallow way to settle scores between two bands who had nothing in common except for the quality of their musical output, but it brought Britpop to the forefront of the British press and to the attention of many of kids waking up to music. The tabloid press turned it into a war that was as much about British class and regional divisions as it was about music. Oasis the working class northerners, Blur the posh student types from the South. The chart war captured the public's imagination and gained mass media attention in national newspapers, tabloids, and even the BBC News. Provoked by Oasis, Damon Albarn turned a petty feud into a national debate... "Yes I did move our release date to match theirs! The main reason was that when Oasis got to Number One with ‘Some Might Say’, I went to their celebration party, y’know just to say ‘Well done’. And Liam came over and, y’know, like he is, he goes, ‘Number fookin’ One!’, right in my face. So I thought, ‘OK, we’ll see...’"

My clearest memory of it all was going to Our Price in Bath on the day before the singles charts were announced, and buying both singles. Initially I thought both weren’t the best either band had released, ‘Country House’ was frankly a bit silly, and ‘Roll With It’ seemed to lack the weight of their previous hits. But both grew on me and being an excited 11 year old caught in the thrill of Britpop, it would have seemed like missing out if I didn’t buy at least one of the singles. On the day I was going to decide which one to buy on CD, the Blur one was cheaper at £1.99, but at £2.99 the Oasis one had more tracks, and their b sides were known to be fantastic. In the end I purchased both on cassette. That evening was the yearly carnival in Melksham, which went past the end of my street and which that particular year I remember not really paying much attention to because all I wanted to do was get back home and play these new Blur and Oasis singles. So exactly 17 years ago today, the chart results were announced. I remember that instead of doing a recap of the top 40 before playing the week's number one song, they did it before the top 2. "So the song at number two this week is... Blur" followed by a pause "... or Oasis..."


Blur won, selling 274,000 copies to Oasis' 216,000 - the songs charting at number one and number two respectively. Blur were presented by their record company with a framed copy of the charts. The inscription read: “‘Better than Blur any f---ing day of the week’, Liam Gallagher, Glastonbury Festival, 1995.” Underneath that it read, “NOT TODAY SUNSHINE!” A few weeks later things had become very nasty. In an interview with the Observer newspaper Noel Gallagher said "I hate that Alex and Damon. I hope they catch Aids and die." Lovely…

So back in school, what did I answer when asked THAT question approximately 130 times every hour? For me it was and still is impossible to choose between Blur and Oasis, because both have had such an equally huge impact on my musical life, and did so back then too. Ugly rivalries aside, there were plenty of positive things happening…

It was a time when youngsters, adults and all of the general public were given the chance to hear all kinds of music, and able to choose what they liked the most. Britpop was truly the ultimate gateway genre. I believe that every person has a true music fan inside of them, and hearing something amazing at the right time is what unlocks that passion. Most of the kids who were buying East 17 and Take That singles probably grew up to become casual, unconcerned passive listeners, who don’t give two shits about what they listen to and who probably own a small pile of CDs at the very most. Whereas a lot of kids who got into Britpop then went on to discover less commercial indie music, which in turn led them down many weird and wonderful avenues and into alternative music’s obscure past. I know that I probably wouldn’t be sat here now writing this column if the golden period of the mid 90’s didn’t happen. I certainly wouldn’t have my massive and eclectic record collection either. Vitally, the Britpop phenomenon also meant that bands of the future were being formed as a result of rock stars becoming heroes again. Kids saw Noel, Liam, Damon, Brett and the rest of them, and were inspired to pick up guitars and form groups of their own. You won’t find the chart “stars” of 2013 inspiring kids to play instruments, since they are nowhere to be seen in the world of pop now….


At the time it seemed like this was how things were going to be from now on. The people were getting bored of blandness and tacky pop, and now all these great bands were coming along at the same time, sending the 90’s into full swing and restoring some pride in British music. I thought it would never end, because why would anyone want it to end? As a kid you don’t see any reason why something so good would ever fade away. It felt like things were getting bigger and better as more and more fantastic groups appeared on the scene. I didn’t even think of it as “Britpop”, I just considered it as real, authentic pop music made by talented people who were genuinely fit to be stars. It wasn’t just a scene, to me music was improving and this was the beginning of the biggest musical revolution the world would ever witness. Blur and Oasis were going to be the most successful bands ever, and more fantastic groups would continue to appear, become massive and maintain a set of newfound musical standards amongst the general public. There were going to be no more shit boy bands, after all why would anyone need them now we had real musicians bringing their own brilliant and accessible songs into the mainstream once again?

However back then I didn’t hate bad music quite as much as I do now, and neither did most people. Maybe it’s because I was too young to have heard all the brilliant stuff that wasn’t in the singles charts, and didn’t realise that a lot of great music didn’t get the exposure it needed due to populist radio playlists and limited space in record shops, both things that led to awful songs (like that year’s truly stinking UK Eurovision entry by Love City Groove) enjoying greater success and recognition than great songs (such as ‘If fingers Were Xylophones’ by Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci). But even so, there was still a fair mixture of the good and the bad in the charts at the time, due to the fact that there were only a few radio stations to choose from, and all of them would have to cater for the mixed audience. Dance people would hear indie, rock fans would hear acid jazz, and younger people would be able to discover a gateway into more substantial music via the more mainstream acts who had come up from the alternative world. Things were able to cross over, people enjoyed variety and diversity, and there was more of a fair playing ground. There may have been some shite in the charts, but I didn’t actively HATE any of it just because it wasn’t to my taste. There was plenty of music I did like that was enjoying just as much chart success as the crap stuff, in some cases more success and certainly more credibility. I guess the less rubbish there is in the charts, the less you hate it. In fact there did come a point where I started to actually pity these manufactured pop acts, the poor unfortunate talent-free bastards who were going to be gradually upstaged, outclassed and demoted by this new wave of excellent British groups…

Continued next week. Bye for now.      

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