May 2010 – single & track reviews – Tom Slatter’s ‘Seven Curses/Lines in the Dirt’; Zoo Kid’s ‘A Lizard State’; Madvillain’s ‘Papermill’

26 May
Tom Slatter: 'Seven Curses/Lines in the Dirt'
Tom Slatter: ‘Seven Curses/Lines in the Dirt’

As you might have expected if you’d already heard his ‘Spinning the Compass’ album, Tom Slatter’s ‘Seven Curses’ plays as if plucked straight from an Edwardian hardback or for an early Hammer horror short. It all rarely rises above tale-telling folk dynamics, but Tom’s voice creaks with hammy foreboding, while the music is draped with spooky death-strings and apprehensive guitar cadences.

His patronising English explorer (for which read “tomb-robber”) gets punished when he walks straight into a crossfire of malignant defensive spells, rendering him a disaster magnet spilling misfortune and death onto people around. It’s the other ‘Get Carter’. Tom sort of plays it straight, but fireside-storyteller straight, more than willing to bug his eyes and make spooky gestures of voice and arm if it helps the tale roll along. In the end, it’s a fragment of weird-camp, its plot unresolved, its narrator muttering evasively about a “compulsion” which might be his determination to tough it out or a coded admission of responsibilities for the series of mysterious deaths which are beginning to blot his passage through life.

‘Lines in the Dirt’, on the flipside, shuffles its sorcerous signifiers like Tarot cards. “Geoglyphs and pyramids, / the voices of the aliens. / Mashing up the holy root. / The feathers sprouting from your skin, / shaping babies’ skulls.” Again, there are witchy metal bands out there who’d play this straight, lurking by bookcases and growling out of the depths of their trench coats, drawing sigils with one hand and, with the other, fingering mysterious objects deep in their pockets. Tom, by comparison, sings it almost like a lounge song, despite the encroaching minor-key darkness of his chord voicings. A coda of droning, low-heat psychedelic guitars and Moog-y squeals restores some mystique, but it still feels as if Tom’s teasing us by flapping a book cover at us. Both songs feel like preludes, not quite satisfying in themselves: dainty bait to pull us into a full Slatter show with all of the invisible strings, stage-winks and poltergeist cupboard-flutters.

Zoo Kid has a similar home-made feel to his music, although on the evidence of ‘A Lizard State’, he favours boudoir soul rather than cosy weird-fic. As with the Slatterisms above, you can see mechanisms and levers being exposed within the songs, but in Zoo Kid’s case it seems to be because he can’t help those songs from starting to fall apart. ‘A Lizard State’ starts off like a soul record with a strong splash of doo-wop, but very quickly begins to warp. Literally. The rhythm guitar licks are off-kilter; the bass popping like yeast-bubbles from a dodgy batch. It’s increasingly unclear what’s coming from futzed samples and turntables and what’s coming from crooked live instruments.

Zoo Kid himself seems to be trying to embark on an Isaac Hayes-ian, blues-shaded song-rap about love and frustrations, but keeps baring fangs and throwing moodies, continually sabotaging himself with bursts of bitter insults and hip hop disses. As the song wobbles along, the feeling grows of being both pissed and pissed off while huddled up in the corner of some lounge club, losing control of the playlist. I’m guessing that what we’ve got here is a carefully-orchestrated live car-crash – lo-fi and saboteur-minded, ramshackle but clever, with Zoo thumbing his nose at conventional storytelling songcraft while embracing chaotic moods and sour, jittery emotional stews. I want to hear more of these messes.

Madvillain: 'Papermill'
Madvillain: ‘Papermill’

Combining the densely threaded raps of MF Doom with the broad sonic curiosity and production suss of Madlibz, hip hop groundbreakers Madvillain have been pretty quiet since their dazzling 2004 debut: various remixes and placeholders have kept things humming on a protracted low rumble while the two members pursue separate paths. Abrupt and deliberately inconclusive, a sudden slap out of nowhere, ‘Papermill’ breaks up the silence and moves things along.

Jerking loudly into life with no warning, as if woken with a cattle prod, it seems to be pretending that there’s been no hiatus, no interim questions. A deep-funk scat-and-guitar loop stolen from an obscure German band wobbles like a stack of pancakes. Doom freestyles over it in a blizzard of surreal sentence fragments, bits of loopy hustler aggrandisement scattering across flashes of lucidity and poet boasts – “stirred not shaken, / absurd verbs since word to hot bacon. / Wrote this rhyme on standard sandpaper, / worked out the plan and plot for grand caper.” There seems to be an underlying theme of conning the curious, and of baiting chaos in order to keep sharp. “Any bent ‘cept, idle threats all irrelevant. / Get your man’s wallet, tell him “found it”, and sell him it… / Forest Gump chumps get clumps of nuttin’ for nuttin’ / Tourist, show ’em where the shore is where the shark’s at. / Hold up, spark that, park rat… / Hand in the jar, got stuck, took it.”

There’s a Koranic quote near the end which translates as “you have your religion, while I have mine”. In true MC style, Doom’s positioning himself as being better, but it seems just as important that he’s different; building himself a portable compound of words and schemes, all too oblique to let himself be pinned down by anyone. There’s no attempt to build anything with clarity. You get a peek into the moment and that’s it, sucker. You’ll just have to wait until the next time that they swing over. Six more years? Perhaps, if you’re lucky.

Tom Slatter: ‘Seven Curses/Lines in the Dirt’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd May 2010

Get/stream it from:
(2022 update) Currently unavailable; might be reissued at some point as part of Tom Slatter’s Immoral Supporters club content.

Tom Slatter online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Instagram, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Zoo Kid: ‘A Lizard State’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd May 2010

Get/stream it from:
(2022 update) Soundcloud, YouTube. Original download single was later made available on Zoo Kid’s ‘U.F.O.W.A.V.E.’ album. Currently reissued on the Kid Krule album ‘6 Feet Below the Moon’, streamable/downloadable from Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music.

Zoo Kid (King Krule) online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Instagram, online store, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon Music 

Madvillain: ‘Papermill’
[adult swim] (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
26th May 2010

Get/stream it from:
(2022 update) Original download no longer available; still streamable via YouTube. Track was briefly available on the download-only Various Artists compilation ‘Adult Swim Singles Program’.

Madvillain online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, online store, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon Music

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