Our man on the inside serves up another selection of weird and wonderful reviews of weird and wonderful records
‘Live At Smart Bar, Chicago’
There’s nothing like a mystery artist to pique the imagination. Anonymous Chicago acid house assassin TB Arthur has been amassing a formidable reputation with his exceedingly limited ‘Test Pressing’ series and his ‘Dubs From The DAT’ EP, which display a personalised grasp of lethal weapon beats, old school sensibilities and properly extra-terrestrial excursions. Nobody knows if TB Arthur is an old name having a laugh (or in contractual straits) or a new blood using this strategy to build a following. Whoever he is, he has already displayed a stellar grasp of compelling house music expansion and now comes this recording of his recently performed first-ever live set, for which the suitably hooded Arthur pumps out his trademark back-to-basics manipulations of the original minimal acid house style. The drum machine percolates and stomps, hi-hats cleave the foreskin off gnats at 50 paces and the trusty 303 squelches like an irate duck on downers. But there’s also something eerily effective in his sound, charged with subtleties that prove devastating. In these increasingly sanitised times, we need these dogged mavericks more than ever. The set is available as a limited edition cassette from the TB Arthur Bandcamp page, purchase of which opens up his mighty archive.
‘PSK – What Does It Mean?’
(Get On Down)
Thirty years ago, Schoolly D was a bit like the hip hop equivalent of TB Arthur, sneaking out of Philadelphia on his self-named label and appearing in the import bins of Groove Records in Soho with stripped-down takes on the new electronic sound that had occupied his music a couple of years earlier. The session bands of Sugarhill and Profile had now given way to booming, behemoth TR-909 drum machine beats, in Schoolly’s case adorned with little more than the amplified scratching of DJ Code Money. If Melle Mel’s ‘The Message’ had introduced brutal urban realism into hip hop, ‘PSK – What Does It Mean’ saw Schoolly minting the first gangsta rap, with ‘Gucci Time’ expanding on rap’s bragging ethos on the B-side. Now these seminal cuts are being honoured with a limited and lavish anniversary release from the Get On Down operation, and on split clear and yellow vinyl too. Many things started here, not all of them good, but amidst the flaccid electropop and lightweight posers littering that time, it stood like a brutal bolt of reality and well deserves this tribute.
‘Hit The Breaks’
It appears that Liberation Technologies has been started by Mute Records to get back to its original ethos by encouraging experimental foragers. Its 10th release consists of six electronic drum outings from US-born Berlin-based producer Daniel Fisher, which take the 90s rhythm sets into the 21st century with hard-hitting relish. The beats range from treated funky breaks to gonad-stomping techno and somehow remind me of some of the tackle uncorked on Freddy Fresh’s Analog label – primitive but innovative tracks sprinkled with the odd vocal sample and some simple synth toppings. Another commendable return to basics.
Tuxedomoon & Cult With No Name
‘Blue Velvet Revisited’
In 1985, while David Lynch was making his psychological noir mystery ‘Blue Velvet’, one of the greatest movies of the 1980s, he invited director Peter Braatz to film the proceedings. The pricelessly insightful footage has now surfaced as ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, complete with a joint soundtrack by US post-punk outfit Tuxedomoon and UK electronic landscapers Cult With No Name (plus a guest appearance by John Foxx on the haunting ‘Lincoln Street’). Evocatively pastoral and late night smoky, the music is suitably eerie and atmospheric and decidedly Lynchian, but without ever trying to replicate the mighty Angelo Badalamenti’s original score.
‘On The Loose (Larry Heard Mixes)’
Among all the Chicago house pioneers, Larry Heard carries the deepest sonic template, initially as the mastermind behind Mr Fingers and Fingers Inc, and more latterly through some of the most glacial solo albums released this century. It’s beyond great to hear him still sculpting multi-textured creations lashed with twinkling melodies and fathomless swells as he tackles a track from Villanova’s ‘Monk’ EP. Heard’s ‘Trybalambient Mix’ sees him wrap Elbi’s haunting female vocal over a scooting undertow, on top of which he sprinkles billowing jazzy keyboards and unearthly sonic sparks, microscopically arranged so every piano flourish counts. The midway drop to percussive tones and piano icicles is breathtaking, compounded when it heads into the space-jazz unknown. The ‘Teknospheric Mix’ meanwhile beefs up the drums and vocals, but its ethereal ambience is still unmistakable Mr Fingers. This has made my month.
‘Detroit Vs Everybody’
Killer ghetto grooves blossom once again like radioactive black flowers in a tramp’s pants on this latest from Detroit’s Filthiest, who seems to be becoming a regular name in this column. Released on New Year’s Day, ‘Detroit Vs Everybody’ follows the series of reissues to launch the Motor City Electro Company imprint with another exercise in brutal percussion programming, savage analogue riffage and wired nagging stabs, all topped by a snarling vocal war hook. This is Detroit against the world flanked by Satanic goats sporting enormous strap-ons. There’s an electro-tinted ghetto tech dub too.
The UK’s most prolific pure techno producer unveils his latest set with meticulous attention to getting the right degrees of glisten on the floaty counter riffs, beef in the hippo testicle beats, and snake-like twist in the acid spikes. Returning the compliment for giving Robert Hood’s M-Plant last year’s ‘Stunned’, Hood then steams in with a typically relentless exercise in pressure cooker simplicity, while Ben Long (from the Space DJz) and Oliver Way (from the Detroit Grand Pubahs) brandish an outstandingly hypnotic mix boasting hi-hats constructed from prehistoric elephant foreskins and a latrine-demolishing determination to get seriously tough. It’s followed by one of Ben’s renowned ‘Late Night’ mixes, which focuses on haunting strings and a bassline to make a killer kick-less build-up for those moments when the melon is a distant memory. If I was still playing having-it clubs, this would be an essential electronic battle weapon.
‘The Chronicles Of Ruuun’
Sub-titled ‘An Imagined Future’, electronic maverick Glen Wiffen continues the fiercely independent mission displayed on his two previous albums with a wildly ambitious concept double set, based on the idea of the beleaguered human race having to drag out their old rocket ships to flee into deep space. The story may recall Christian Vander’s original Kobaïan trilogy, but Wiffen does a magnificent job of dispensing with terrestrial reference points and depicting these cataclysmic events using sometimes impenetrable walls of black hole static, heaving subterranean drones, and raging elemental fury, occasionally anchored by Godzilla bowel drums or Dan Housego’s wriggling guitar. The result is a mad electronic epic that detonates the constraints of musical conventions and gloriously releases the bats out of sonic hell.
Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes
‘Reflections Of A Golden Dream’
After stints with Pharoah and Gato Barbieri (which later led him to join Miles Davis), keyboard virtuoso Lonnie Liston Smith signed a solo deal with Bob Thiele’s esteemed Flying Dutchman imprint in 1973, resulting in the funky spiritual jazz of ‘Astral Travelling’ and ‘Cosmic Funk’ before defining a new, electronic keyboards-based fusion form with ‘Expansions’, followed by ‘Visions Of A New World’ and, lastly, 1976’s Reflections Of A Golden Dream’. Produced by Lonnie and led by his glittering keyboard textures, the album gets increasingly transcendental, traversing the twinkling vistas of ‘Quiet Dawn’, ‘Sunbeams’ and the luminescent ‘Meditations’, before ending with the Sun Ra-recalling drift of ‘Journey Into Space’. Accept no substitutes.