Tag Archives: Tom Harrison

June 1999 – album reviews – Cay’s ‘Nature Creates Freaks’ (“those red-hot gravelly tones”)

23 Jun
Cay: 'Nature Creates Freaks'

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’

On a quick listen you might be tempted to put Cay straight into the femme-noise box, however much you thrill to them. There’s the loose-wired slangy racket of the two guitars, the American-styled punk roars of instruments and voice, the general “let-off-the-leash”-ness of this album. Not least, there’s the striking vocal and visual presence of Anet Mook up front; defiantly anti-glam but compelling the attention anyway, ripping the frets out of her guitar and scorching her vocal chords with her flammable yell.

There’s also the album’s clutch of rackety singles. The mixture of pattering, jangling drag-racer suspension and blazing gasoline riffola in Better Than Myself; the pure punk venom of Princes And Princesses which all but drags a friend out of the comfort of collusion, spitting and chiding (“perverted decent little thing, I hate your guts cos they don’t exist”) prior to burning away with her down the road as if trying to rewrite ‘Thelma & Louise’ as guitar flare. The violence of Neurons Like Brandy, which feeds off a familiar Nirvana-ish alternation of quiet and loud, but sped up to a unnerving back’n’forth flick between stroke and punch; all to display the swerving of a love shot through with pills and booze, bonds and walls, focus and absence… of contradictions that won’t hold, but won’t break easily enough.

Not that the album tracks give much away to the singles, either. Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions leaps around its cage with enough aggression to punch out my speakers, and possibly my lights too. Cay attack the song as if they’re trying to singlehandedly relaunch punk in a shower of crunching bass and Uzi drum slams. Here, Anet sings like a suave skinning knife: her harsh, vicious slurs crack like a whip, and she chews words like gum. “And all the snow will melt away, / another week’ll come to stay, / to help you pull your little scam… / ‘Cos in the end you’re leaving like a sound! To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck she’s on about (cocaine madness, perhaps) but when Cay can fire it fifty miles up into the air via ten million volts of guitar I don’t particularly care.

There’s enough unleashed rage here to satisfy the grrlpunk board, though the fact that the other three Caypeople are men might brand them, to anyone drawing up the passports, as more Blondie than Bikini Kill. Yet… there sounds as if there’s more to Cay than just a femme-fronted burst of punk power which’ll burn itself out in a sorry gulp of lost fuel in a year or two. The truly compulsive thing about Anet’s voice isn’t the anger; it’s the permanent note of astonishment that cuts through those red-hot gravelly tones. It’s a yelp of instant reaction to anything (whether it’s introspection or copping an insult). It makes her someone who’s always on, always with the nerve to jump back or jump in.

In counterpart, there’s the detail work performed by Nicky Oloffson, Cay’s deceptively quiet-mannered guitarist and lateral thinker. He brings the odd noises, the jazz-chords that slip questions in; the art-textures that clink and keen in the mix, the sweet strums and battered song-sighs that break up the heat-blasts. Cay might have more of a chance of a commercial breakthrough than most – there’s an arresting hookyness balancing their controlled chaos – but there’s clearly an art-rock band evolving inside this tight, powerful metalcore package.

As well as the usual punky suspects, Cay’s love-list includes the evolving, protean King Crimson. This is a good sign, and explains how they can pull off such a wondrous effort as the album’s title track – a beautiful mix of punk power-chords, an ecstatically bruised and revelatory vocal from Anet, and a long moment when the rock rolls aside to reveal a heartfelt swathe of inner-space guitar melodies. On the rougher end, it also explains the parade of tempo-chopping riffs on Senseless – skirting points from Purple Haze and ‘Larks Tongues In Aspic’ through to Nomeansno and fully enraged hardcore punk, with a slam of alarm bells.

And then there are Anet’s lyrics, which dodge gesture politics or party rhetoric (of either kind). Most of the time they’re both simple and opaque. There’s some ragged individualism, some slippage between connections and independence. More often, though, they’re a discombobulated and shifting matrix of ideas, truths and motivations (with a hefty sprinkling of drug talk and quarrelling). They show life as it tends to appear to the over-curious – suspect; tenuously woven together. Something blurred by the changing loyalties and dependencies of unsettled lives where there are more questions and rejections than there are answers.

On the country-ish billow and scrub of Come Out, Anet is certainly questioning, though she’s questioning no-one in particular unless she’s trying to put a face onto the forces of chance. Cay seem to accept the unreliability and conflict in human flux… and unusually, they even accept their own. In the middle of the colossally aggressive guitar screams and sardonic vocal squalls in Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions, Cay slip gently into a embracing strum while Anet sighs “when we both come down, when we’re both worn out, / that’s where we should meet…”

A moment of unlikely grace, but then Cay are a band with unexpected depths.

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’
EastWest Records, 3984277462 / 3984277461
CD/vinyl album
Released: 17th June 1999

Get it from:
CD or vinyl best obtained second-hand; files streamable from Bandcamp.

Cay online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM

May 1998 – album reviews – Blowpipe’s ‘Pendulum’ (“half given over to Blowpipe’s previous grace, half to a new and more aggressive club attack”)

18 May

Blowpipe: 'Pendulum'

Blowpipe: ‘Pendulum’

In jazz, things move on, and Blowpipe are no exception to this. Father-and-son brass-and-reed players Robin and Andrew Blick joined forces last year, making a mark for themselves last year at the point between hips and heads for their own spin on jazz-meets-clubland, sliding in alongside acid jazz with something a little more sophisticated and challenging.

The enthralling ‘First Circle‘ was the outcome: a rich and rewarding chill-out-and-expand intertwining of busily-bubbling electronica with old-school jazz conversation. Alongside guitarist Paul Reeson and the remarkable electronic sound-weaver Stephen Watkins, the Blicks set up a heartfelt and fertile union of jazz expression and latter-day dance-floor pulse, a tapestry of burbling intelligent techno, deft horn dialogue and fluent electro-acoustic textures. It was a joy to listen to, and its success has been recognised in one direction, at least.

‘Pendulum’ (a hot-on-the-heels follow up to ‘First Circle’) comes after Blowpipe’s deeper welcome into the ongoing club revolution – they’ve played on the new album by drum’n’bass pioneer Grooverider – and a big line-up shake-up. Whether burnt, inquisitive or disillusioned, the Blicks have opted to change the band’s instrumental chemistry. Blowpipe’s armoury of blowables (which already featured the Blicks’ trumpets, saxes, assorted horns and abused pipework) has been expanded by the addition of Nick Reynolds’ harmonica; they’ve also added a steady bass player in Tom Harrison; and there are frequent guest appearances (and stronger links to the jazz world) from saxophonist/flautist John Burgess of the Harry Beckett band and the Tom Bancroft Orchestra. But most crucially, both Reeson and Watkins are now out of the picture (apparently, halfway through recording). Consequently, while half of ‘Pendulum’ is given over to Blowpipe’s previous acoustic/ambient/electronica grace, the other half is shaped by a new and more aggressive club attack.

Of the old school stuff, Airport Woman is the most graceful: a mass of beat-free, blurring big spaces: back-and-forth cello loops, rainy-night muted trumpets, glows of soprano sax and a brief return from Paul Reeson. The Spell is Broken is wrapped in a backwards bassy ostinato (padded up by Tycho Andrews’ wah-guitar) like an orchestra in a North Sea fog, thick hazy air through which Andrew Blick’s trumpet clarion cuts like a lone lighthouse beam. Muting down and vague-ening in the heavy atmosphere, it gently illuminates (above the clanking guitar rhythm and the creak-crunching sonics).

However, this album’s signature is definitely made by the harder breed of Blowpipe pieces, by the post-Grooverider drum’n’bass influences. This could have been a good thing, given that music’s ferociously intelligent, toppy rhythmic attack: the bebop of the club scene. But in practice? Um… maybe not.

The main problem is a loss of that crucial Blowpipe balance. Neither of Stephen Watkins’ on/off successors (Patrick Mosley and Mike Servent) possess any of his subtlety, meaning that the detailed electronic textures of ‘Full Circle’ have been overturned in favour of synth washes and more blatant beats. And while the Blicks remain as eloquent as ever, Nick Reynolds’ harmonica virtuosity is of the tinny, bullying breed: a soulless Mark Feltham cop. Sometimes the new marriage is a happy one, as on Avanti’s drowsy harmonica patina and cloudy brass blankets, mixing it up with breakbeats, Harrison’s Bootsy bass, and Andrew’s cold trumpet motif. But when it’s at its worst, the Blicks seem sidelined within their own project, locked down in the cages of snare drum.

The analogue gut gurgles and video games blippery of Usurper work quite well, as Reynolds’ sharp harmonica riffs mingle with fluent fluttering sax and muted trumpet. But Unravel’s tight fast rattle and saurian bass quakes are overcome by the belting raucous harmonica and brass. Robin Blick’s soprano scribbles too frantically, Andrew’s echoed trumpet sounds busy and sour. The raw power of Scorched Earth’s distorted breakbeat and Harrison Wobble-y bassline can’t make up for the yammering, overbearing harmonica overkill: Reynolds blowing flatulently all over the Blicks’ bitty chips of sax and trumpet and Katherine Blake’s skidding tremolo violin. And School Disco (working title or what?) is just clodhopping: a flatfooted stomp which sounds like it was recorded in an underpass. John Burgess’ guesting flute fights to keep grace going against the dirty swathes of distorted harmonica.

When Reynolds is kept on a tighter leash, things work out much better. On the climactic Phoenix, for example, where Burgess’ bass clarinet and Andrew’s dawning trumpet lines repeatedly criss-cross each other over didgeridoo droning and Robin’s sax hangings. Or on Pendulum itself, which uses power without clumsiness. Rising off a big Bonham-y stomp with overdriven trumpet and giant floppy bass, Robin laces in some ascending saxes and curtains of brass. There’s a guest tenor scrawl from John Burgess: then, amid the whale-song trumpets, an incongruous Scott Walker sample pops up to breathe in bluer air. “The little clocks stop ticking now…” Everything does stop ticking. Everything kicks off again. Marvellously perverse, and a particular highlight on an album which sometimes fails to live up to Blowpipe’s initial promise, reminding us of how good they can be once they’re back in focus.

Blowpipe: ‘Pendulum’
Robot Records, ROB 001 (5019148617297)
CD-only album
Released:
15th May 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand, or streamed.
Blowpipe online:
MySpace Amazon Music
Additional notes: Robin Blick now leads Blick Trio; Andrew Blick leads Gyratory System.
 

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