Notes from the fireside - He who is always alone - Smack Wizards, TALIBAM, Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat

And, if I hear this album again, I'll be picking up a nice big stake, assembling a mob of angry villagers, replete with pitchforks and torches, and having me a good old-fashioned Goth hunt.

 

We let Stephen Watt, a man who prefers to mull over the provenance of quotes from minor characters in Anthony Powell novels, a few LPs to review. He's never done this reviewing thing before... arte et labore...

 

I have a confession. When I was a young man my reviews were composed without listening to the offending article. There is a strict rule of silence in my gentlemen’s club, which made playing gramophone records problematic. I did not resent this, as it enabled me to devote more time to port, fine cheese and perusing the periodicals of the day, but it explains why this lucrative work dried up.

Funds are sadly short in my dotage, and, as I cannot face living without exceedingly fine cheroots and beautiful Turkish boys, I have agreed to, once more, pass judgement on the popular tunes of the day. Fortunately, with the advent of colour television, discotheques and other such baubles, the club’s membership has dwindled to me and the sombre sommelier Roderick, and, as he is profoundly deaf, it does not matter what I listen to, or, for that matter, at what volume. So pull your pouffe up to the foot of my favourite armchair (that, like me, has seen better days). The fire’s dwindling embers will not warm you, but you will be revived as you listen to my thoughts on the tunes critiqued.

My only request is that you dress smartly? I would not suggest you mimic my magnificence: antique, padded smoking jacket, silk, paisley cravat, fez and jewelled, curly Arabian slippers (the latter two largesse from The Grand Sultan Mehmed), but at least wear trousers. Standards have dropped far enough already.

Smack Wizards

First impressions are important. Take the name The Smack Wizards. A moniker that seems to suggest that they are experts at very effective, but now illegal, forms of child discipline, or well versed in the dark arts of heroin addiction. In either case the aim is no doubt to shock, which is surprising, as, it is not only incongruous with the music, but also the care and attention that have been lavished on the packaging. If I was reviewing this box, (Stephen, it's a C90 - Ed) I would be bombarding the band with accolades a plenty, sadly I am not. This album aims high, and yet does not even succeed in leaving the ground, the apparent complexities failing to mask the technical inadequacies. There is no composition, no structure and very little skill.

Lacking lyrics, the percussion provides an adequate backdrop to showcase the band’s talents, but unfortunately there is no flourish, no flair, no elan to be found. The only strength is the percussion, which highlights why there are so few drum solos. Without structure, the songs merge together into an incoherent miasma, where a crescendo always seems imminent, but never arrives.

It’s like a child’s clumsy attempt to be clever, to impress. It is altogether too earnest, and lacking in passion – painfully evident on the live side where there is no rapport at all with the audience. The band need to practise a lot more, decide what they want to say, write some good songs, and then, and only then, attempt to deconstruct them.

TALIBAM: Puff up the Volume

Once again an offensive name, albeit more humorous in intent and execution, but here its fits perfectly. With its tongue firmly in its cheek, this is New York art house shenanigans at their best, and it provides a wonderfully ridiculous romp. And, like all great parody it is spot on musically, a complex, full sound, with a manic beat that is hard to resist. Only the words reveal the satirical intent.

And what lyrics they are. Articulate, erudite, apparently spontaneous, throwaway lines, liberally littered with pop cultural references (many of which I missed as I don’t own a television) flow like beat poetry. Delivered wonderfully in a tour de force of verbal dexterity, by a voice that manages to be reminiscent of Fred Schneider, Jackie Mason and Eminem at the same time.

Yes, it can be shocking, knowingly so, but the ironic intent renders the offensive humorous. Even the myriad penis references are there, reminding us of how far rap has fallen since its auspicious beginnings, but, undermined by continually utilising the word "jimmy", rather than something more clinical or obscene, makes such macho posturing all the more ridiculous.

Admittedly, rap is an easy target, especially as it is continually verges on self-parody, but this is exceptionally executed, with all the elements of this genre subverted with skill. It is certainly worth a listen, if only to illustrate what this genre could achieve if it didn’t constantly aim at the lowest common denominator.

Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat: Weltun Tergan Gsstim Mung

I don’t dwell on the negative, but as K.T.A.O.B.C. have no such qualms, I won’t either. From the ponderous, melancholy music, to the suitably dark, but predictable vocabulary, articulated in a vocal style that aspires to Manson, but sounds like a Scooby Doo villain, this is Goth by numbers. It has been done a hell of a lot better, numerous times before.

Rather than being evocative of a graveyard, it is just a dirge. Depressing, rather than onminous. Similarly the lyrics are, at best, awkward amalgams of words associated with black magic, and at worst ungrammatical. Seriously, make a list of all the Gothic words and cliches you can think of, like decay, hemlock, sulphur, skull and absinthe, and see how many you can spot.

At one point we are urged to ‘consider reconcile’. In what sense? Etymogically? I pray that the lyricist’s first language isn’t English. If it is, then he needs to go back to school and start again with Jack and Jill. (It's not, for your sake, I'm glad to tell you they're Belgian - Ed)

Oh, and regarding the name, this is the most stupid ever conceived. I assume it refers some sort of satanic ritual, or other such nonsense. If your tastes run to the macabre, I would suggest you listen to something by Bauhaus or the Sisters of Mercy, or, better still, read some Poe or Lovecraft. And, if I hear this album again, I'll be picking up a nice big stake, assembling a mob of angry villagers, replete with pitchforks and torches, and having me a good old-fashioned Goth hunt.

Treehouse - Nature Delay

The aural equivalent of magical realism, Treehouse's Nature Delay is like leaping aboard a shamanic charabanc, and embarking upon an amazing musical journey: one where the mundane is transformed into the magical.

Quirky, repetitive and childlike in its innocence and insistence, the strong rhythms, reminiscent of a hammer repeatedly striking an object, a child hitting a wooden block, or peasants working methodically in a field for the greater good, are constant throughout your voyage, like the reassuring sound of the rails passing beneath a train carriage.

The other instruments and samples create fantastical vistas, and lead you into surprising new realms. Sometimes tribal rhythms, bubbling water, insect chirps and bird calls transport you to the jungle. At other points, you are assaulted by the shrill sound of alarms, or an apparently skipping CD, which break your reverie, momentarily dragging you back to reality before, once more, and heading off into the realm of imagination. For a moment, enchanted by bells, I was riding through Father Christmas’s workshop on a sleigh. Despite the immense variety, and density, of sounds contained within this composition, somehow the musicians manage to weave these disparate elements into an amazing, coherent whole. Even when it is discordant, dissonant and jarring – at one point you would swear that a manic, broken, clockwork toy is rampaging around your skull – the magic remains and the whole is apparent.

 Nature Delay is incredibly interesting, exceptionally evocative and consistent. It is a delight. Buy it immediately!