check the decor, check the guy's track record
guten tag. yes, despite our fetishisation of, and fascination with, the 45, here are 3x33s that we've actually rather (gasp) enjoyed: and all of which neatly sidestepped our fears for them.
first, "the" trembling blue stars have a new disque, "the last holy writer". while few have been bigger admirers than us of the field mice and all who sailed in them and their splendid legacy over the centuries, we found that bobby wratten's outings with t.b.s. had increasingly suggested that he might be, well, falling off. to be honest, after the double whammy of the mildly disappointing "the seven autumn flowers" and the more than mildly disappointing occasional keepers' album, "the last holy writer" was not at the top of our record pile.
but but but it transpires that this new record actually gives us:
- an all-time wratten great in the shape of "this once was an island", with its part-glitch, part "snowball" drum machine percussion, and old skool-field mice, almost "is it forever"-y guitars;
- "idyllwyld", which is a verse worthy of harper lee then eliding into an aberdeen-ish chorus (perhaps not surprising given the involvement of mr howard and ms arzy) all of which makes for a cracking song, with both the pace and the beauty of past treasures like "dark eyes", that cries desperately to be freed from the shackles of a long-player and propelled into our homes as a single (there we go). fact: they haven't hit us with such a chorus crescendo since "made for each other";
- "november starlings", a song which would have been worthy of a place on "her handwriting", as it skips along with the serene breeze of "for this one" et al;
- "sacred music", which echoes the luscious unallayed narrative delights of "headlights" and similar gems from "lips that taste of tears";
- "darker, colder, slower", one of a few moments that lightly tap joy division and the cure for inspiration, and the most appositely-titled, as it brims with bitter undercurrents and welcome hints of seeping noise;
- throughout, lots of very wake-ish keyboards, and a happy glut of lyrical references to sea, snow and the ilk (mind you, if bobby is listening to as much reggae and dancehall as he claims, then maybe next time these will be to sun, sand and sex instead)...
there's more, but you get the picture. there is not a trace of newness here, but maybe that's the point. we've been waiting for no little while for the blue stars to make us sit up and take notice again - perhaps it's to be expected that they'd do it by plundering a little of what was greatest about their past.
pleasant surprise no. two is von sudenfed's "tromatic reflexxions" lp, despite the fact it's on domino, and the double-edged sword, not least given the slippage of the last fall album, that one third of von sudenfed is a middle aged man called m. smith (the other two-thirds are mouse on mars). but - blessedly and unexpectedly - there are quite a few tracks here that really do repay repeated visits, proving that the one-off buzz of his past single collaborations with inch and mild man jan can be extended - largely - over a whole 50 minutes.
there's the single, an old-fashioned "levitate"-lite floor-filler called "fledermaus can't get it". there's "flooded", a tranche of minimal techno full of cut-up and disembodied smithisms. there's "that sound wiped", the standout, which starts with a "popstar kill" beat and even sees smith lapsing into singing of sorts, rather fetchingly looped to create what sounds frighteningly at times like a vocal hook. there's "serious brainskin", full of maniacal dubstep / grime overtones, that could carry some pretty heavy rhymes if it wasn't already heaving under the weight of smith's hinge-free yelling. there's "the rhinohead", a sort of stomping ultra-modern northern soul construct. and there's a pretty, touching world-musicky closer called "dear dead friends" that has the m.o.m. boys going all shalawembe on us.
let's be honest, we bought it for the novelty (and because we are smith addicts, or completists, as some call themselves) but every band on the block could learn from his mastery of how to make music so diverse, compelling and complete.
and then there is wiley. as we said last year, "da 2nd phaze" saw him caught in the slipstream, having been slung off xl for not being dizzee rascal, and then having collaborated (in the darkest sense of that word) with the evil forces of major label a&r to produce the horrible betrayal of grime that was roll deep's "in at the deep end", an album that would have made a great ep (and at least two terrible ones).
but in fact "playtime is over" is outstanding (on first couple of listens, it was merely pretty good). it is not a "landmark" album, a "look at me" album, a "please the critics" album, not any kind of concept album: it is just a bloody great grime record, full of briskness and humour, that achieves the near-impossible balance of somehow being both accessibile and underground, as well as being a quintessentially english - well, urban english - album to boot.
the lp isn't quite as parochial as his postcode obsession, or his self-proclaimed "tunnel vision" would suggest even if, like wretch 32, he feels able to spend three minutes of it giving us an ode to his newborn baby. but "playtime" is a particularly impressive suite given that, what with all the mixtapes and limited pressings flying around, many of the tracks have already been 'out there' for a while: if anything, this release gives some of them (like last year's slickly-arranged "gangsters", or the magically madcap "eskiboy") renewed vigour.
it also helps that both sides of taster 12" "50/50" and "bow e3" appear in the first few minutes - two terrific uptempo signature tunes, the former celebrating his factory-records style deal with big dada ("it's not 2% after recoupment"), while the latter, courtesy of some fantastic production by maniac, hammers home his devotion to the 'hood. other highlights see jme joining him on "no qualms", over skepta beats: little dee following up a fab "tunnel vision" mixtape slot with a verse on new single "my mistakes": a little of "treddin' on thin ice"'s introspection reprised on the thoughtful "letter 2 dizzee" (btw dizzee's own album "maths and english" is disappointing on far too many levels to mention here, but get us on to it over a pint - for now all you need know is that it was given a glowing five star review by that august arts institution the observer music monthly): and the sheer knockabout joy of "getalong gang". trust us, any of these songs would be great singles, and most of them, knowing wiley's run-rate with white labels, probably have been. ooh, and "slippin'" and "stars" are delightful, too... wow. as father ted would say, this is all really top-notch stuff.
plus, for us, e3 is only a bus ride away (the 277, since you ask). race you there.
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lastly, a parish notice: props to the spiral scratch massive for the kilburn extravaganza. re the 'zine for that:
- to the not unfair question as to whether we really need to reiterate indie-pop's *punk* roots in our "writings" quite so frequently, all we can say is this: if you take the punk out of "indie", you get coldplay. if you leave it in, you get bearsuit. as was amply demonstrated at the summer splash itself, there can be only one winner there;
- yes the other guest article, while embarrassingly better than ours, did resonate a similar overall theme. coincidence (we promise), but we thought that was rather neat!