Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New - Various Artists : 'Dance Mania - Hardcore Traxx'

I tell you what folks I've been struggling a bit this month - couldn't move for killer new stuff at the start of the year and now it seems things are levelling themselves out a bit. That's no bad thing for a nerdtastic music obsessive such as myself as it frees up a bit of time to shop around more adventurously and blow my E-Music credits on some kinkier choices, the most attractive of which is this stunning Chicago House retrospective from Dance Mania records that came out in February. If like me you felt global serotonin levels drop with the sad news that Frankie Knuckles had passed away recently then this is the perfect pick me up - he doesn't feature but there's plenty of floor filling platinum from many of his Chicago peers to fill out this 24 track overview of the city's hugely influential club scene. I was familiar with a handful of names on here prior to listening and could probably hum only one of the tracks present - Housemaster Boyz' slightly token 'House Nation' which was one of the genre's earliest crossover hits back in the 80s - but digging beneath the surface unearths some real gems from the various corners of House's attic ranging from primitive mid 80s trigger tunes to subtler takes on the genre's many different faces. The early stuff is OK for historical context but the track listing doesn't get bogged down in nostalgia, the clunky Hi-NRG odes to Housing and Jacking serving simply as an introduction to an infinitely more fascinating voyage through various hypnotising sub-galaxies taking in smooth Deep House throb, euphoric piano runs and proto-Europop bounce with each masterful stroke. You don't have to be a devout student of electronic music to spot the tricks perfected here that have been imitated or lifted wholesale by lesser artists at various points throughout the ages, effervescent shimmers that run through House's most sublime moments, hi-hat tremors that have lifted energy levels through the roof and muscular baselines designed to move butts the world over. Picking favourites is tough but I'm rather partial to Club Style's 'Crazy Wild' for its pounding rhythms and nimble piano loop (along with a baseline that sounds suspiciously likes the Roses' 'Fools Gold' despite probably predating it), the soulful good vibeathon of Da Posse's 'Don't Try To Fight It' and the gratuitous proto-rave of Top Cat's looptabulous 'Work Out' but sticking this on random will guarantee sensual thrills and spills galore wherever the needle points. I regularly bitch about today's Oxbridge honkies co-opting House and Techno as their own pet media project but there's little point getting caught up in the flaws in their little hipster scene when you can simply bypass it and go straight to the source - I've been in the market for a House retrospective that covers all bases for some time now and this is the closest I've come to quenching that particular thirst. If you don't already have it then bag the original 'Chicago Trax' comp from back in the day to appreciate the foundations of what became a worldwide phenomenon but this flawless frolic through the ages is a more fulfilling experience of House's formative period and the legacy it left behind.

Check out : Club Style's 'Crazy Wild'. Makes that morning commute run so much smoother.

Friday, April 04, 2014

New : Eagulls - s/t

I'm in lurrrrrve again people. I've maintained a peripheral interest in Leeds-based rabble Eagulls for the last couple of months as their promo duties have seem them flatten venues and put noses out of joint in the wake of their debut's release last month but having seen them live earlier in the week I have come to the conclusion that they are the crystallisation of everything that's right in modern British music and the perfect counterfoil to everything that's wrong with it. Sound like overzealous praise? Let's just say that this is a band whose music represents a lifestyle choice as opposed to merely soothing the senses, fermented in an acidic mix of cynicism, inertia and disappointment but still buzzing with enough drive and commitment to stay the right side of the line between turbulent and directionless. These lads live in Leeds but hail from various bits of the North and harbour the sort of harsh, sardonic worldview that informs much of the area's greatest art from the caustic wit of Viz magazine to the rough-edged splutter of indie mainstays like The Fall and The Cribs - they know their sphere well enough to play it straight but somehow can't bring themselves to stay polite and instead seem compelled to coat their most accessible moments in enough spit and gristle to make sure faint-hearted or complacent onlookers know they'd be better off somewhere else.  

Their flurry of savagely worded press releases have propelled them to the fore on rhetoric alone, perhaps lacking the finesse some might have liked but resonating with enough dogged commitment to the cause to spark interest in those feeling a tad short changed with today's UK music scene. The highlight has been their blissfully cathartic handwritten rant against the biz - rather than taking carefully crafted sniper shots at specific offenders it acts as a blunderbuss full of barbed wire, loose teeth and petrol-soaked hedgehogs discharged at point blank range into the door of an institution they collectively despise, packed with spelling mistakes, scribbled rethinks and what feels like a lifetime of barely-contained venom sloshing around destructively like a fish tank full of tramps' urine. They're pissed the fuck off, essentially about a music industry bloated with middle class smugness and subtly geared towards the wealthy, the dwindling commercial rewards on offer alienating all but rapaciously opportunistic bands making music for mobile phone adverts and silver spoon dilettantes flouncing around in parentally-financed reality denial. 

Someone had to say it, although now Eagulls have taken up the mantle they're probably in for a backlash of their own having inadvertently positioned themselves as the tonic to Britain's descent into bourgeois complacency - it'd be a hard stance to maintain if they didn't have the tunes to back it up but that's where their debut comes in handy. Killer guitar debuts have been ten a penny Stateside over the last couple of years but you can count the number of half decent releases from the UK on one hand, the only genuine contender being Scotland's PAWS whose 'Cokefloat' LP from 2012 provided a satisfyingly splunderous slap round the chops but otherwise it's been way too genteel for my liking. 'Eagulls' sets the record straight from the get go, slamming through ten memorable slabs of post-punk scrawl that are a mix of Killing Joke at the most acerbic along with Robert Smith's benevolent negativity over the first few Cure LPs. They don't sweeten the mix at any point but there's precious little on here they couldn't fling out as a radio single, the opening rasp of 'Nerve Endings' giving way to a run of infectious bile blasts capped with a stunning three song run in the middle ('Tough Luck', 'Possessed' and preposterously catchy junkie hymn 'Amber Veins') that is so densely anthemic it'll make your head spin. I've found myself playing this album on loop since the gig, drowning myself in the material yet somehow never getting sick of it - dropping it in March may well have been a good move, this is one record that'll surely see business pick up as the year wears on and the tour keeps on bringing in new converts. And they don't disappoint in the live setting either - mayhem rained down in the crowd from early in the set and singer George Mitchell is a long-awaited return to the realm of proper frontmen, leering forth like a lanky cross between Johnny Rotten and the Dutch basketball team and boasting a resonant yowl that echoes through your skull like a storm warning. My girlfriend was immediately smitten. We chatted to them afterwards and it turns out they are actually a lovely bunch, enthusing about the dilapidated urban paradise on their album sleeve (it used to look nicer apparently) and chatting gleefully with all and sundry. 2014 is already infinitely better because of their presence and 'Eagulls' shits from an almighty height onto anything else the British Isles has produced this year - now everyone else get back to your starting blocks and put your game face on. The gauntlet has been laid down.

Check out : the 'hometown' live set from Leeds' Brudnell Social Club from earlier in the year.