colourbox mini album



May 2012



Still waiting for the man

OK, May fared a little better than the rest of the year with a handful of decent new releases, but yet again, these are mainly from artists who have been around for some time now. Where are the younger bands taking up the baton and producing music to kill for? There must be some out there who care. Anyone? Anywhere? If you know any, if you are any, let us know.

the road gets darker

Gallon Drunk - The Road Gets Darker From Here

Cloud Hills

Released: 7th May 2012


Another group re-emerging after a lengthy absence, this is the first album from London’s Gallon Drunk since 2007’s The Rotten Mile. Never the most prolific of bands, this is only the seventh collection of new recordings since they first emerged with 1992’s You, The Night... And The Music on the Clawfist label when they were being acclaimed as the latest inheritors of the flame wantonly discarded by The Birthday Party. Gallon Drunk looked great, enthralled on stage, and had a nice line in deconstructed blues, yet struggled to build upon their early successes, especially in the press, and sadly spent much of their later career in the shadows before largely fading from the memory. With main man James Johnston spending five years as a Bad Seed and recently performing with Faust, it was feared we would never again hear GD’s particular blend of aural chaos, but Johnston, Terry Edwards and Ian White recently dived back into the studios at Hamburg to lay down this new analogue recording under the guidance of Faust producer Johann Scheerer, and the result is a pleasingly blunt collection of eight songs over thirty-seven minutes that serves as a great reminder of just how much we have missed them. Gallon Drunk never did subtle well, though there are plenty of nice touches on this record that show a musical sensibility, perhaps encouraged by Scheerer who urged the band to try out things they normally wouldn’t have done. There are some gorgeously mangled solos, some choral backing vocals, dissonant harmonicas and fantastic saxophone bursts all decorating the band’s bludgeoning blues carnage. It’s heavy stuff, pounding and dangerous; most of the time Ian White doesn’t play the drums, but hits them, and more than likely kills them. Edwards’ bass reverberates menacingly and Johnston’s dirty guitar grinds and grates its way through the messy battlefield framing his harsh and knowing vocals. Bloody hell, it’s good stuff and why aren’t there more young bands playing like this? The single ‘You Made Me’ is big, ponderous and frightening; the swirling ‘Hanging On’ sounds like a beefy These Immortal Souls and is as good as anything we’ve heard in the last ten years; ‘A Thousand Years’ throws out hints of Swervedriver at their hardest with some top order Psychedelic Furs’ sax; ‘Stuck In My Head’ is slow and threatening with gorgeous, distended guitars and Marion Andrau joining Johnston on vocals; ‘Killing Time’ is a huge, pulsating journey through a nightmare wild west; ‘The Big Breakdown’ and ‘I Just Can’t Help But Stare’ are diseased jazz; and we conclude with ‘The Perfect Dancer’, edgy and threatening with whispered vocals drowned in a distorted guitar wail. Recorded straight to tape, the best way of listening to this is to invest in the heavy duty vinyl release. This comes with a CD copy of the album and codes for downloading the tracks online – surely this is how all albums should be released these days? Quite simply, this is fantastic. Buy it.

My Bloody Valentine – EPs 1988-1991


Released: 7th May 2012


Having been one of the literally twelve people who bought their early records and then fell in love with the ‘Sunny Sundae Smile’ EP on Lazy, the development of My Bloody Valentine into avant garde press darlings through ‘Strawberry Wine’ and Ecstasy to the ground-breaking Creation EPs and albums was fascinating to witness. Of course, the band became more and more studio-bound as the music became more tangental and Kevin Shields became harder to please – the records took longer and longer to finish, with the ever increasing studio costs for their final album Loveless allegedly dragging Creation to the brink of bankruptcy. The same factor probably explains why the remastering and reissues of Isn’t Anything and Loveless have taken a long time to come to fruition, their release being put back some nine times by an increasingly despairing Sony. This month they have finally seen the light of day (though Loveless has ended up with two remasters being released together) and the reworked albums have been accompanied by this repackaging of the band’s four Creation EPs: ‘You Made Me Realise’, ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, ‘Glider’ and ‘Tremolo’. This is a neat package; a four-fold gatefold sleeve containing two discs with the inner parts featuring the virgin artwork of the four EPs and a sixteen-page booklet containing the EP covers proper along with collections of photos of the band. No words here; MBV’s music always said everything you needed to know about them and few bands have ever delivered with such oblique eloquence.

The first thing you notice is that August 1988’s ‘You Made Me Realise’ EP is no great step away from the band’s earlier Lazy releases. There are distinct vocals and the harmonies on ‘You Made Me Realise’ and pretty much all of ‘Thorn’ (especially the drumming) are pleasingly familiar. Where the songs begin to swerve is in the unfeigned aggression and the mixed-up backing tracks to ‘Slow’ and ‘Cigarette In Your Bed’ where you see the band taking the first steps into creating soundscapes rather than tunes, and trading prescience for ambience. The ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ EP, emerging just three months later, is further down the path of experimentation. The lead track is another weighty number with Shields’ and Bilinda Butcher’s vocals largely swamped in throbbing swathes of noise and virtually indecipherable. The other tracks are given a similar treatment, indie pop songs downing the Mr Hyde potion and emerging as something far tougher, far more dangerous, and far more interesting. ‘Emptiness Inside’ remains a classic, reverberating hollowness, while ‘I Believe’ and ‘I Need No Trust’ are warped and atmospheric.

It was April 1990 before the band released their next new material and the ‘Glider’ EP felt like it had come from another planet, with no traces of the old MBV anywhere in sight. It is here the remaster comes into its own, ‘Soon’ is marvellously sharp and it is impossible not to immerse yourself in its welcoming folds of pulsating sound, losing consciousness in a tantalising embrace of shapes, colours and dreams. ‘Glider’ is edgier and less welcoming, ‘Don’t Ask Why’ is, unusually, built around its vocal to an accompaniment of empathetic distortion, and ‘Off Your Face’, graced with a dreamy Butcher vocal, refinds the warmth to leave you glowing inside. The final EP on this compilation saw the light of day in February 1991 though it was to be another nine months before it was followed by the Loveless album. Parts of ‘Tremolo’ proved to be even more deconstructed than ‘Glider’, the lead track ‘To Here Knows When’ barely able to hold itself together as it spills out of the speakers and floats away into the atmosphere. This really is remarkable stuff, music transformed out of all recognition but still retaining the power to lift and shape your emotions and leave you eager for more. The remainder of the EP doesn’t disappoint either. ‘Swallow’ captures similar emotions, ‘Honey Power’ is driving and aggressive and torn apart by cutting guitars, while ‘Moon Song’ is fittingly otherworldy.

As well as the four Creation EPs this album also contains seven rare tracks, including ‘Instrumental No.2’ and ‘Instrumental No.1’ (for some reason in that order), taken from the free seven-inch single given away with early vinyl copies of Isn’t Anything, the difficult full version of ‘Glider’ from the Glider Remixes single, the excellent ‘Sugar’, originally given away on a flexi-disc with The Catalogue, and three previously unreleased tracks, the early-sounding ‘Angel’, ‘Good For You’ and ‘How Do You Do It’ – all interesting listens and certainly missing links in the band’s evolution. It would be easy to underestimate the impact these four EPs had on the music scene at a time when the hugely important music press was completely blown away by them. My Bloody Valentine shook the foundations of independent music and the concept of how records should sound in way not seen since Public Image Limited first emerged on the scene. They remain not only historically important, but a bloody good listen and this is well worth an investment.

in the belly of the brazen bull

The Cribs - In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull


Released: 7th May 2012


It always felt strange that Johnny Marr had tied up with The Cribs. It seemed so out of place that the master of the delicate and subtle could find a home in a group renowned for their raw exuberance and in-your-face laddishness. There’s little doubt Marr guided the developing band through a more introspective phase, but following his recent departure from the ranks, this new double album from the brothers Jarman clearly demonstrates how much The Cribs have progressed in their own right in the eight years since the release of their eponymous debut album. Of course, the Wakefield terrors were snotty kids at that time and no doubt wound up as many people as they attracted through their press interviews, but the common factors throughout their recording career have been their easy grasp of melody and the ability to blow an audience off its feet while still sounding like they were doing them a favour. In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is a remarkable piece of work; it sounds huge throughout, littered with feedbacking squeals, massive guitars, drilling drums and some marvellously off-the-wall basslines. You feel there should be about twenty of them making this much noise, yet throughout it is clear the band has a handle on everything they are doing; there is a mellowness at the very heart of this record, a control that makes its myriad textures all the more impressive. And we have everything here. The furious, slow ‘Back To The Bolthole’ revels in its own struggle, the grungey ‘Come On, Be A No-One’ has everything such a song needs from its massive chorus to feedback-drowned verses, the Steve Albini produced ‘Chi-Town’ is a thrashy punk classic with a brilliant ‘Woo!’ over its splendid guitar solo, and even the gentler songs such as ‘Anna’ are infused with such life and enthusiasm that you cannot help but bathe in the warmth of it all. And to crown it all, the band even puts together its own Abbey Road medley at the end, twelve glorious minutes recorded (of course) at Abbey Road itself. From the thumping ‘Stalagmites’ decorated with Pavement-style discordant stabs of guitar, we are led into the gently melodic, sixties’ pop of ‘Like A Gift Giver’, then to the gorgeous jangle of ‘Butterflies’ – surely one of the best things the band has ever recorded – and finally into the tongue-in-cheek ‘Rock Encore With Full Cast’ with its repeated refrain, “Sorry that it’s taken years / We were victims of our own ideas / But I’d rather be tied to myself than to anyone else.” The Cribs have certainly walked their own path from their early days when they would play anywhere for some petrol money and a case of beer, to their fifth album which has seen them emerge as a truly exciting and valuable force in British rock music. If they carry on like this, the stadium encore will be theirs one day. We wouldn’t wish that upon them, but if they get there it will be of their own doing and they would have enjoyed one hell of a ride. Big, bold and brilliant, but we can’t wait nearly three years for the next offering.

Colourbox - Colourbox


Released: 28th May 2012


At one brief point in time Colourbox were all there was. Having come out of nowhere with the astonishing coupling of ‘Tarantula’ and ‘Breakdown’ in 1982, somehow unearthed by the increasingly impressive 4AD despite being unlike anything the label had ever previously released, the band followed this up the following year with a reworking of the two tracks before unleashing on an unsuspecting public one of the strangest, most wonderful melting pots of musical insanity we had ever heard. This four-track mini album, instinctively titled Colourbox, was housed in a dramatic sleeve featuring copulating horses and there were probably decent songs in there somewhere, but the whole record was smashed up beyond belief. Colourbox tore the hearts out of their own songs and threw them to the four winds to see what resulted. It was a hugely appealing Frankenstein’s monster of a record, the band’s natural bias to soul sounds ravaged by their stubborn indie outlook and uncontrollable need for experimentation. The elegant vocals of Lorita Grahame fought against the tide, emerging piecemeal in a sea of dub, sample and glorious anarchy; the record stayed in your head for weeks on end and has always remained in our hearts. It was magic. Though many couldn’t see past the sheer bravado, those who understood realised this was something at the very core of music, artists daring to step out and break boundaries, daring to care enough to try something new and wild.

Of course, the dream faded much too quickly, the band failing to record another record after 1986, but now Colourbox are once again being thrust into the limelight and a new generation has the chance to marvel at a remarkable body of work. This new four-disc box set marks thirty years since brothers Martyn and Steve Young along with Ian Robbins first released a record on 4AD and contains all of their seven-inch single mixes, all of the twelve-inch versions of those tracks, the aforesaid mini album, their debut full length album, again brilliantly titled Colourbox, the songs from the bonus album given away with early copies of that release, and a collection of BBC sessions, all overseen and remastered by Martyn Young. And there is much gold here. The original ‘Tarantula’, gorgeously sung by Debian Curry, is as good as it gets, dreamy yet powerful, built on a ghostly keyboard refrain and decorated with stabbing guitars and running out to a huge, incongruent bass riff. The second version, released in 1983, lacks the same impact, but the reworking of ‘Breakdown’ on the other side of the single eclipses the first version and is simply stunning: an unstoppable, pounding monster of a tune with a fat keyboard backing track, nice bursts of guitar, some excellent dubbing and new vocalist Grahame exuding warmth as she sings the bleakest of songs before being mixed out of existence.

Robbins, who had written or co-written much of the band’s material, sadly departed following the mini album and the brothers Young released the band’s first full length album with Grahame on vocal duties in August 1985. Although tracks such as ‘Just Give ‘Em Whiskey’ were build around plenty of samples (a technique that was reap dividends in 1987 with the massive No.1 hit ‘Pump Up The Volume’, credited to MARRS but ostensibly a Colourbox record), on the whole this was a collection of much more direct songs, free from the maniac engineering of the previous releases. In some ways this was a shame, but the quality of the work shone through the relative simplicity of the approach. ‘The Moon is Blue’, ‘Inside Informer’, ‘Suspicion’ and ‘Arena’ are chunky, electronic soul classics, and the band’s respectful version of the Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ was totally ignored in July 1985 only for Kim Wilde’s weaker version to storm to No.2 in the charts just over a year later. And all the time Colourbox lyrics had an edge, hitting out at authority and regulation, while enshrining the importance of the individual. “Fight against them or they’ll break your spirit down / Fight against them or they’ll try, try to control you,” Grahame croons and it is clear nobody was controlling Colourbox. The music is so idiosyncratic and refreshing there has never been anything quite like it.

Martyn Young has done an excellent job on the remastering here. The sounds are sharp and clean, the BBC sessions are a terrific bonus, and the box set lives up to 4AD standards; the four discs are individually housed and accompanied by a nice set of spot uv’d cards featuring the details of every release. Colourbox were great and this is a worthy celebration of one of Britain’s most eccentric and appealing bands. And for sixteen quid .... you’d be mad not to snap this up.

this is pil

Public Image Limited - This Is PiL

Public Image Official

Released: 28th May 2012


Let get this straight, it never bothered us in any way that Johnny Lydon featured in some adverts for Country Life butter or in some television reality show. The only thing that really bothered us was that 1992's That What Is Not, the last PiL album, was a pig's ear of a record, a really sad conclusion to one of the most adventurous, important and exciting series of recordings any band had ever made, from 1978's groundbreaking First Issue to 1989's more conventional Nine. When it was announced that Lydon was using his ill-gotten television gains to reform PiL and record some new music, it sent pulses racing and visions of Lydon, Levene and Wobble reunited on stage were almost too much to comprehend. Sadly, this proved not to be the case, with apparent negotiations stalling, and instead Lydon gathered together former Happy? era members, guitarist Lu Edmonds (The Damned) and drummer Bruce Smith (The Pop Group), along with new face, bassist Scott Firth. Having toured to good reviews, the new PiL released the vinyl-only 'One Drop' EP in April this year and now unleash This Is PiL, the band's eleventh album and first for some twenty years.

After such a long period of creative inactivity, you might have expected Lydon to be bursting with ideas and energy and, thankfully, he doesn't disappoint in delivering a quite astonishing record and, furthermore, one he has obviously enjoyed making. As his new band produce a series of funky backdrops, all decorated with Edmonds' inventive guitar washes, Johnny is in his element, merrily proclaiming in the belching intro to 'This Is PiL', "You are now entering a PiL zone ... lucky people." This is Lydon at his most playful; at times he almost croons his vocals, at others he adopts a strange patois, announcing in the excellent 'Reggie Song', "I am from Finsbury Park and I’m having a lark." For someone who has chosen to spend much of his life in Los Angeles, this is an album very much rooted in England. "I am John and I was born in London. I am no vulture, this is my culture," underwrites his manifesto in 'One Drop', the vibrant melting pot of the nation's capital obviously an unchangeable part of his inner being, prompting the exclamation "We come from chaos, you cannot change us." And though it easy to dismiss the ex-pat's inevitable grumblings at the state of the nation, one thing you cannot escape is that John Lydon, despite his Irish heritage and US residency, remains the most English of rock stars, unyieldingly eccentric, stubborn and full of unbending self-belief. Sounding as if it was almost added as an afterthought, the line "but really we are born everywhere," remains the most unconvincingly uttered on the whole of the album.

There are plenty of highlights here, but also moments when things don't work quite so well. The awkward 'It Said That' and the stuttering poetry of 'The Room I Am In' aren't entirely convincing, but these are minor grumbles when you can embrace such glorious insanity as the splendid 'Lollipop Opera' and the darkly rumbling 'Out Of The Woods'. Hearing this album only makes you contemplate what wonders the Metal Box era PiL could have conjured up in an inevitable collision of monumental egos, but as it stands, this will do very nicely for now. This Is PiL isn't going to shatter galaxies, but it's a damn fine record and all the more worthy of praise as it doesn't sound anything like we thought it would. This isn't looking back to 1979, but is very much rooted in 2012. And it's great to have him back.

Released by the band themselves, there is a limited run of albums containing a bonus DVD of the band's 'legendary' live performance at London's Heaven on 2nd April 2012 (the previous day's concert reviewed here).



Top photo: Colourbox Mini Album 4AD MAD 315


March/April 2012 Reviews

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