Tag Archives: one-release-only artists

REVIEW – Laughtrack: ‘Amusements’ single, 2001 (“counting the change and failing to come up with comforting answers”)

12 Aug

Laughtrack: 'Amusements'

Laughtrack: ‘Amusements’

Amusements is a majestic but famished slink across rain-dirty pavements in the gaudy heart of town: redolent of grime and darkness, and with disturbed puddles wavering neon reflections at you. A techno dub-groove catwalks its way from start to finish, toying with all the time in the world: whether the wire-wool guitars are beating themselves against it or whether the sound is being gulped away to reveal the skeletal machinery of bass and beat prowling onwards. A thin but insistent vocal hangs at the heart of it: “I can’t tell you no lies / We’re moving into a new kind of life – / a strange new world, a comfort zone / where nobody has to be alone.”

It’s a lyric which almost sounds as if it ought to be bobbling along on top of a corporate anthem: but which, in this context, sounds as if it’s shadowing the giant corporate hands which can pat you on the head in one pass and scoop away your world with the next. “Why have you sold the future, why have you sold the past?” questions the chorus. “Is it for our amusements, ‘cos nothing is meant to last?” Someone’s standing on the edge of the kerb, swaying on their heels, counting the change they’ve been returned and failing to come up with comforting answers.

If the original Amusements resembles a rocked-up ‘Mezzanine’, the Severance mix (done with “avant-hardist” MEME) flings the drums into echoing relief and carves the groove into a zombie stomp, Garbage-style. Grating peaks of sub-bass and further sandstorms of psychedelic guitar crackle somewhere between Chapterhouse, Suicide and Levitation – sleekness savaged into life by noise and interference. No words, but an implacable, forceful indifference. The deal’s done – it’s time to bring out the heavy lorries.

Slide round the corner, and things are different. The torch song atmosphere of Left Standing implies Goth-cum-trip-hop, but also a take on Billy Mackenzie at his most open. It’s the brittle piano chording, that cavernous sway of arrangement around the lamp-post glow of a solitary microphone; the hints of theatrics and sincerity interlocking fingers and squeezing for luck… or in desperation. That said, it doesn’t follow the Mackenzie trail entirely. There’s an absence of helium operatics and peacock posturing. Instead, the almost-buried voice of Joe (Laughtrack’s mastermind) catches at the same blend of clenched unfunky indignation as Roland Orzabal at his most vulnerable; and even breaks at the same preacherly point.

This time Joe’s not mourning a way of life, but a person: and although the burden of grief is shared, the empty space that’s been punched into his life is obvious. Joe sounds exhausted and angry as he confesses “I really don’t care for very much these days, / but the living is easy in a pointless way. / You left us standing, and now everything is hard to say…” Thankfully there are compensations, new reconcilations, new solidarities to be found in the face of it: “I tell my friends ‘don’t be so scared’… / You left us standing, and that’s something we’ll always share.”

It’s Laughtrack’s unease – their sense of huge forces and emotions moving behind the immediate business of life – that draws you back to them. This is dark, luxuriant pop to tease apart with the fingertips and pry into; something that suggests stories in the same way as the more oblique moments of no-man or Smog. And Laughtrack’s simple but oddly unsettling name (raising questions every time you consider it) suggests a writer intelligent enough to be aware of the frame surrounding whatever he does.

As Laughtrack roll away off into the night, they’re being quietly trailed by gumshoes who are after some more answers.

Laughtrack: “Amusements”
Contrary Public, CONTPUB001 (no barcode)
CD-only single
Released: 2001

Buy it from:
Best looked for second-hand.

Laughtrack online:
MySpace

June 1998 – single & track reviews – Ultrasound’s ‘Stay Young’; Fiel Garvie’s ‘Colour You’; Greenship’s ‘Perfect Smile/Place to Hide’

22 Jun

Ultrasound: 'Stay Young'

Ultrasound: ‘Stay Young’

After the overstretched pomp and vacuous glamour of their second single, Best Wishes, the title of Ultrasound‘s follow-up – ‘Stay Young’ – makes your heart plummet. Just one word away from a Suede single: and when you start to listen, there’s an opening riff pinched from Good Times Bad Times and a chorus of “Hey kids, rock and roll is here, so scream all you like.”. Ultrasound seem about to plummet into the monster rock folly they’ve always threatened.

But – suitably for a song that starts with a struck match and fizzing fuse, and ends with the celebratory skybound bangs of fireworks – Stay Young is secret dynamite. Yes, it’s still closer to Suede than is comfortable; but if so it’s Suede doing Kashmir, leaning out into that giant sky-filling stretch with a Floyd-flood of organs, huge minor-key mellotron orchestrations, layers of ringing diva voices (from the throat of bassist Vanessa Best) and squiggly gold synth-spangles. It’s pomp rock with a huge, fascinating crack in it, right down to the great wind-down of the Guy Fawkes coda, held together by Tiny’s stridently awkward charisma. It’s both a parody and a culmination of Britpop’s clunky nostalgia: a massively overblown anthem (Marillion on raw vodka and pineal glands?) thriving on an unspoken understanding of the friction between hopes, drive and disaster. As aware of the fragility of idols (“Gary Glitter’s gone to seed / So who will lead us now?”) as it is of the power and desperation of naked adolescent yearnings (“I want to have fun, I want to go out / And never come back home…”).


 
However clumsy those feelings are, there’s no way they can’t move you: but it’s on the Vanessa-sung Underwater Love Story that Ultrasound really display their unearthly ability to regenerate rock. Wrapped in liquid nets of ringing, breathing psychedelic guitars, Vanessa’s voice begins kitten-small and ends up as an immense haze of terrified transcendence. It’s a song of faith, of fear, of literally drowning in love (“we’ll sleep together in this watery grave, / and if you let me I’ll drown, we’ll be found and be saved: / let’s be brave”); and, as the huge sound builds, of transfiguration (“she shines so brightly as she’s climbing the stairs / It takes her body, her thoughts and her cares / and she’s drowned…”). Finally, as a wall of guitars howl in a gale of derangement, it’s a song of immortality: “Stay hard and fast, and I’ll be proud of you. / As I sleep, be sure I’ll dream of you.”


 
On one side, the proudly flawed monument of Stay Young; on the other, the emotional bewitchment of Underwater Love Song. Sloshing around somewhere between them – a raw hunk of potential – is the essence of Ultrasound, waiting to earth itself. The jury’s out: this is the sort of rock band that could go gloriously supernova, but constantly risks a belly-flop. If they did go off boom, it’d be a colossal letdown to find that, instead of starstuff, they’d sprayed us with mere glitter.

Fiel Garvie: 'Colour You'

Fiel Garvie: ‘Colour You’

Although Fiel Garvie‘s ‘Colour You’ moves on from the precarious instrumentation of their last effort by embracing samplers, a propulsive tune and clipped New Order drum rhythms, that sense of chaotic freefall is still there. The scramble of textures remains – brutal piano, scrawling guitar – whipping up Anne Reekie’s tangled metaphors of dishonesty into a mess of furious resentment. The half-truths and diplomatic distortions of TV news are bleeding into a lovers’ relationship: “Behind a screen to lie to you / a real sham dividing tales of talks / too tired to keep, so I bust this nation wide / there’s more than viewer laze in this mask… / It’s surely time to break the news, it really is a tale unsaid, / so round and round and round you go, you live just like that little man; you dead…”

Fiel Garvie are still latched onto their obsession with the process of truth, its evasion, and the growing crisis that results. Even Swing’s straighter arrangement (almost chamber music, with spartan cello, piano and shakers picking out a plaintive melody and, for once, letting up on the claustrophobia) frames more deception. “All I ask you for is silence, all I want from you is loving… / You see, I know; see you laugh. / You say you try: here, you can’t. / You say I like it; I laugh; / you know I have to say I’m happy.” Behind the words, a kettle drum slowly fills up the spaces like a rising earth tremor. To the sound of Little Lie’s swatting heartbeat and bandsaw guitars – a lounge tune for a schizophrenic, wrenched at by swills of warbling My Bloody Valentine noise – Anne vacillates between contradictory hometown feelings (“This town holds it for miles; never could I have come from this little lie… / You don’t know anything; this town, what this life is. / You’re full today: did you laugh when I liked it?”). Marching behind her arguments, a whisper – “she can’t get out, she can’t get out…” The last squall of bilious guitar chokes out. I’m still stuck on a mudbank, wondering where the solid ground’s gone…

Greenship: 'Perfect Smile/Place to Hide'

Greenship: ‘Perfect Smile/Place to Hide’

Swirls of feedback; warbling atmospheres reminiscent of Pink Floyd frothing at the mouth on hormone tablets and sprouting body hair at an inch per minute, big sinewy slide guitars that sway and undulate like stoned kingsnakes dancing to a bluesman’s harmonica, riffs with tattoos on’ em… Ooh, someone’s been drinking deep from the well in rock heartlands this time. And it’s the excellent Greenship, who with a debut release are already vaulting over the obvious ploddings of yer Reefs and Gomezes and Kula Shakers, rebounding off The Black Crowes along the way, and nipping at the heels of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. Yes, that good.

Two songs – Perfect Smile and Place to Hide – which stre-e-etch slow and unstoppable as lions in your bedroom, and then turn and eye you with a mad sensuality that blows everything else away. And they’ve managed to brush against rock touchstones – Led Zeppelin, Stooges, to name but two – without tripping over them. Greenship have tapped into the roots, yes, but have grown up out of them in an exciting new shape – still organic, but muscled in unusual places, eerily graceful, sporting strange flashes of glittering scales, fur, occasional surfaces of cyborg metal and science fiction atmospherics. And flowering at the top into Bnann’s voice, as incredible as his name: lucid, urgent, horny as hell, and swooping from bullish frenzy to a state of transfigured passion that has to be heard to be believed. Monsanto? Akira? Eat your fucking hearts out.

Let the vibraphone tickle your spine on Perfect Smile as Bnann straddles the defining stay-or-go moment in the whole precarious love affair. A thrum of potentials, all violence and tenderness. “I could pick you up, or I could push you down, down. / …I could pierce your skin, or I could crawl from deep within, child, / I could make you cry “It’s not real!”, or I could turn and run away.”. It’s power. It’s also peril – the surrender to a feeling that flies in the face of wisdom, the glitter of the odds that has the gambler limbering up for one last throw, the plunge into something you know will have you skidding on the lip of hell even as you seize the prize. Here, it’s that dangerous lurch of hope that halts the break for escape. “You turn me round again, you smile at me so perfectly. / You turn me round again – maybe I’ll stay here, maybe I’ll turn it round.”. It’s so poised that as the song gathers into a revolving mass of awestruck ranting and Herb’s screeching, twisted guitar babble (‘OK Computer’ with a new rush of neat testosterone), you can’t tell whether Bnann’s voice is a call of pain or a shout of jubilation.

It’s probably both – the last moment of free-fall before you discover what you’re about to hit. Place to Hide is what happens when you’ve hit something hard. Bnann sounds fatally bruised; shocked and angry, shuddering in the voice as the drums flail at him and the guitar seethes in the background. And now, too late, is the time to turn and run. “Heard what he said, and now I’ve heard enough to leave… / Fall to disgrace and stumble onto nothing real… /Take me away from everything I’ve said and done. / Can’t say, won’t say. / I’m sailing on ’til all my troubles come and gone./ Don’t wait for me.” Responsibility folds; the band sounds wracked – scraped and scalded, on the ropes for the pleading chorus, fighting back upright. “Wait until I cannot feel…” Two naked swipes at the numbed nerve of rock, sending life jolting back along it. Life hasn’t loomed so large in a song for a long time now.


 
Ultrasound: ‘Stay Young’
Nude Records, NUD35CD (5023687035122)
CD/cassette single
Released:
1st June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; ‘Stay Young’ appears on Ultrasound’s ‘Everything Picture’ album.
Ultrasound online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Amazon Music

Fiel Garvie: ‘Colour You’
Foundling, CDS FOU 002 (5 021449 650224)
CD only single
Released:
15th June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; song appears on Fiel Garvie’s ‘¡Vuka Vuka!’ album and can be streamed via streaming services below.
Fiel Garvie online:
Homepage Twitter MySpace YouTube Last FM Pandora Spotify Amazon Music

Greenship: ‘Perfect Smile/Place to Hide’’
Camp Fabulous Ltd., CFAB 008CD (5 027731 5080)
CD-only single
Released:
22nd June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original CD limited to 500 copies only, and best obtained second-hand. This was Greenship’s only release.
Greenship online:
(2020 update) No websites – although there’s a Reverb Nation page and one for former Greenship frontman Bnann Watts.

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