Thursday, November 27, 2003

Matt Elliott - The Mess We Made (Domino)

Matt Elliott was once The Third Eye Foundation, a moniker under which he wrote and recorded albums which married drum & bass rhythms to experimental electronica and chaotic samples (animal cries, air raid sirens) on tracks about loneliness, madness, death and suicidal sailors. Each 3EF album covered similarly bleak areas of the human condition, but always managed to do so while tipping the audience a wink and a wry grin - track titles that included agonising puns, one album finished with a trip-hop pastiche about ridding the world of the horrors of trip-hop. This pitch-black humour was evident in everything Elliott did and was fundamental to the 3EF thing. It's no coincidence that his music formed the sonic backdrop for a number of Chris Morris' Jam sketches.

The Mess We Made presents us with a different Matt Elliott. The decision to drop the pseudonym suggests that we're heading into more personal territory - there'll be fewer of the knowing smiles this time around, or at least they won't be as obvious. It'd be worrying sign, if it weren't for the fact that the last 3EF album - 2000's Little Lost Soul - had already started to shift into a less abrasive, more reflective style of songwriting and had done so successfully. This latest album takes that one step further, marking another logical progression in the flow of his career.

It kicks off with Elliott pleading for help to end an unhealthy, destructive relationship on Let Us Break. The voice is coming through a badly-tuned radio, nothing more than a ghost's moan. A female spirit chorus joins in and the track eventually ends with raindrops playing on an acoustic keyboard.

This is the main difference between The Mess... and virtually all of Elliott's previous work. Technology here's been used to create a much more organic feel, the electronics providing a wash over the more traditional instrumentation that gives it an other-worldly ambience, rather than the harsh, crushingly solid industrial reality of 3EF tracks. Also Ran continues from the same place Let Us Break drops off, keyboard and phantom vocals painting out a faintly threatening lullaby, before providing one of the few obvious electronic moments on the record as the track turns into a quiet, melodic glitch/house hybrid. It's one of the album's stand-out moments.

The other is The Sinking Ship Song, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Wind blows around the speakers, wood creaks, water washes up against the sides and, somewhere in the distance, strings play out the bass line to a waltz. With the introduction of vocals and an accordion, it becomes a sea-shanty. A sea-shanty on the Mary Celeste. A fatalistic "live today, because tomorrow we die" sea-shanty on the Mary Celeste.

Just quickly, a run-down of the other tracks here: The Mess We Made is the closest the album ever comes to any of the 3EF tracks, initially consisting of a double bass and unintelligible, though tuneful, vocals, before a d&b rhythm kicks in; Cotard's Syndrome is all lonely aches and haunting melody, vague voices trying to make themselves heard but not quite getting through; End (the track directly after The Sinking Ship Song) is a pulse throbbing under water; and Forty Days rounds the album off magnificently, sounding like a nautical Dave Pajo.

In amongst all this, there's one real duffer. The Dog Beneath the Skin lacks any real subtlety and instead feels overblown, overlong and overly melodramatic. Skip it - it only detracts from the rest of the album.

That one misjudgement aside, this is an absolutely excellent record, experimental in an understated way, with depth and emotion that, for the most part, never becomes tiresome or pretentious.

Review by E. Randy at 3:28 pm
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Monday, November 10, 2003
Also on an Acid Mothers Temple tip;

Mainliner - Mellow Out (reissued on Riot Season records)

Recorded in 1996, this is completely unredeemed heavy-as-shit stoner/noise rock staring Kawabata Makoto on 'Motor Psycho guitars'. As you might well imagine, the resulting racket is utterly, utterly deranged... scuzz-drenched noise practically forming into a solid mass of bad attitude black ectoplasm in front of the hi-fi and thundering directly toward yr. face. To unashamedly steal somebody else's line, it rocks like a fight between Alcatraz and Halley's Comet.
As the hand written shop label on the front of my copy says, "watch your speakers!". And keep a spiked bat handy in case something nasty crawls out of them.
My only complaint? It's only 35 minutes long - shockingly brief for this kind of thing.

Review by Ben at 10:22 pm
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Here are reports on a couple of releases I bought the other day related to Japanese psychedelic spacerock godheads Acid Mothers Temple;

Kinski / Acid Mothers Temple split CD on Sub-Pop

This CD documents a collaboration between AMT and American 'post-rock' group Kinski, and also features a new track from each of the bands. First of all, let me say to anybody even remotely interested in spaced out experimental rock that this represents fantastic value for money. As it only has four tracks, it's selling for the price of an EP (around a fiver), but the total playing time is over an hour.
I haven't previously heard anything by Kinski, but on the basis of their track 'Fell Asleep on Your Lawn', I think I'd like to. It's a superb slice of guitar mangling, starting off in brooding Mogwai territory, it adds some clever intersecting guitar lines reminiscent of Jackie O-Motherfucker and eventually builds up to a storm of rhythmic noise more in tune with Hawkwind.. yow.
The Acid Mothers Temple contribution, 'Virginal Plane 5:23', is a fullscale 25 minute wig-out in the classic AMT tradition. Beginning with some 'mystic UFO moments' thanks to the spaced out synths and throat singing, it inevitably ends with everything getting buried under Kawabata Makoto's planet shattering guitar feedback, and isn't that just the way we like it?
The two tracks featuring members of both groups are slightly more laid back affairs built around droning celestial atmospherics with some restrained guitar noodling and almost somnambulant bass throbbing. They are quite, quite lovely.

I'd highly recommend picking this up if you see a copy. Seriously fine listening.

Review by Ben at 10:12 pm
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Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Iron & Wine - the Sea and the Rhythm EP (subpop)

Oh, now this is something really special. It's hard to write about the kind of music that inevitably gets labelled 'alt-country'. It's a devious piece of categorisation which groups together all manner of music, good and bad, under the banner of specific aesthetic and cultural conventions, and when genuinely strange and beautiful non-conformist sounds such as those made by Miami's Iron & Wine get hoovered up by it .. I just think it's a real shame. This is music which, well, it's just … it's the kind of music that's beyond the need for reviews and descriptions and stuff. Like Neil Young, it's impossible to say "this is great music because it has A and B.." - it's just great music, period. Don't ask why. File alongside Cat Power, 'I See a Darkness', 'Meat Puppets II', the Mountain Goats, 'After the Goldrush'. Forget all the indie rockers trading in their distortion pedals for cowboy boots and trying their luck down the 'singer-songwriter' path. Just pick this up instead and know that you've found a new source of Beautiful American Music.

(salutes and retreats)

Review by Ben at 12:57 pm
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Electrelane - On Parade (toopure)

Last time I saw Electrelane play live - as part of Ladyfest London just over a year ago - they were superb, their songs starting with pounding unashamed pop before spiralling off into extended dronerock freakouts of astonishing rhythmic intensity, barely being kept under control by the hammering drums and organ until they left the ground completely, collapsing into chasms of avant garde bass fuzz and screeching forks-under-strings spaced out no wave guitar oblivion.. "Stereolab, say hello to Hawkwind..".
Sadly, there's no sign of any of that here whatsoever. It's still *good*, don't get me wrong, but, like 'Film Music' (the weakest song off their first album), the three tracks here are for the most part merely.. pleasant. 'On Parade' has a pretty nice foottapping tune, but for what should be a big pop comeback single, it's shockingly unexceptional, especially as a follow-up to the superb 'I Want to be the President'. The cover of Springsteen's 'I'm on Fire' admittedly sounds fantastic and haunting, but as a 2 minute track with a minimal arrangement, it's not given time to develop the power it has when they perform it live. Hopefully the forthcoming album will deliver the goods, but this isn't exactly the best trailer for it. They should be screeching through the experimental rock stratosphere, but instead this is just sounding.. so damn... indie! It's infuriating.

Review by Ben at 12:56 pm
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3 Inches of Blood - Destroy the Orcs / Sunrise over the Fjords (death o'clock)

Gods bless the current ironic rock rival malarky, if only for the fact that one can stroll into a cool record shop and purchase a 7" single like this one, featuring a Games Workshop-tastic ball and chain wielding orc on the front and zero redeeming hipster value. For those who have so far been denied the pleasure of hearing 3 Inches of Blood (yeah, that's '3' rather than the more refined 'Three'), they're essentially a bunch of bored hardcore-type guys who one day pondered "hey man, wouldn't it be fucking great if we started a band that was just like Iron Maiden??" and got rather too into the idea. So here we go with the stupidly high-pitched air raid siren vocals duelling with the constant shrieking lead guitar heroics over the essential 'dur-ump dur-ump dur-ump' galloping rhythm, providing us with a couple of songs about slaughtering orcs and raising your blood-stained weapon in triumph to greet the majestic Teutonic dawn over the icy wastes.
It's certainly heavier, faster and more fun and has loads more energy than recent Maiden records, but, although 'Fjords' shows a certain respect for the more subtle nuances of the cheese-metal subject matter, it's all screechingly OTT, and they lay on the cliches pretty thick. I think the real acid test for future releases will be to see whether 3 Inches of Blood can prove themselves to have a genuine appreciation for the variety of crazy possibilities provided by ridiculous fantasy power-metal, or whether they'll simply lapse into a one-note piss-take band. For the moment though, let's rock! Kill the Orcs! Slay the Orcs!! Destroy the OOORRR-CCCCSSS!!! Who am I fooling? I've played this twice a day since I bought it...

Review by Ben at 12:56 pm
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Email us: barbelithreviews(at)
3 Inches of Blood - Destroy the Orcs / Sunrise Over the Fjords
Acid Mothers Temple/Kinski - Sub Pop split
The Barbs - Massive Crush EP
Electrelane - On Parade
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sleep/Holiday
Matt Elliott - The Mess We Made
Iron & Wine - The Sea & the Rhythm EP
Kinski/Acid Mothers Temple - Sub Pop split
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
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