Reject Musical Trash

Oasis were already massive by the 1995 release of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. It was a done deal that this album was going to be big, but twenty two million copies worldwide was not supposed to happen. This was rock music not even flirting with mass mainstream appeal, it was a full on affair with tongues and everything (two number ones, two number twos, first week sales of almost 350’000) – a rock album that performed on a scale that our generation had never experienced before, and will never do so again.

It wasn’t even a slow burning build up, “Supersonic” lit the touch paper in ’93, spreading like wildfire, and by their third single, “Live Forever”, they were firmly planted in the upper reaches of the charts. The impression that they had lost their commercial appeal and whimpered out back in 2009 was clearly untrue; they were still regular inhabitants of the Top 10, and only failed to reach this position once (with 2008’s “I’m Outta Time”- penned by Liam, telling…that).

(WTS)MG? heralded the end of Definitely Maybe’s escapism and the wide eyed optimism of a band with nothing. In came the mega fame, the glamorous girlfriends, the big houses and the mountains of narcotics that led them to being negligent towards the quality of music on post …Morning Glory releases. “Stand By Me”, anyone?

There’s a typically Mancunian melancholy that is evident throughout. We thought it was all about going with the flow, “rolling with it”, but there’s a nostalgic air within these tracks that we may have missed at the time (augmented with obligatory strings – it was actually illegal for indie bands to record slow songs without some strings at the time). On “Hello” there’s “We live in the shadows and we had the chance and threw it away”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” offers that classic parental scolding that resonated with every Northerner’s childhood memory: “Take that look up off your face” and even the celebratory “Champagne Supernova” laments those who are missing as Liam asks “Where we’re you while we were getting high?”

Placed alongside the feral fever of Definitely Maybe, (WTS)MG? sees their council estate swagger neutered by success. With the good, there came plenty of bad; the piss throwing at gigs, the jealousy fuelled hate towards Blur, the distasteful braggadocio of Liam Gallagher, the copying of this by their fans and of course, the avalanche of truly dreadful artists who all got their moment in the sun thanks to this album. Artists such as Cast, Robbie Williams and Embrace all took their cue from Oasis to give us an apparently authentic, heartfelt brand of rock, a dreadful blot on the 90’s UK music scene that is, of course, nothing to be thankful for but showed that for its perceived simplicity, it wasn’t as easy as it appeared to be.

“Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall” still have the ability to make grizzled men cry into their beer, whilst the track that resonated most with the ecstasy crowd, “Champagne Supernova”, showed their skill being able to reach out to music listeners who wouldn’t normally necessarily listen to songs with guitars. The sliding six-strings and reticent chorus of “Hey Now”, “Cast No Shadow”’s sweet dedication to Richard Ashcroft – who’d just split The Verve soon after the release of their best album, 1995’s A Northern Soul – the regrettably Gary Glitter referencing opening track “Hello” and even the cheesy pop of “She’s Electric” (as maligned as “Roll With It”) are unbeatable additions to their back catalogue. As the album plays, even now, it’s clear why so many people got involved, it may not be something you head towards when putting a record on these days but as a long player, like all the best albums, it plays like a greatest hits collection.

The rudimentary lyrical approach (sky/fly/high etc.) didn’t matter, because the strut of tracks like “Hello” was so damn big that they were just words – it didn’t mean much, literally. Noel Gallagher later stated the success of this album, which culminated in the huge gigs at Knebworth, should have been the point where Oasis stopped. Judging the patchy albums that followed, he has a good point; what followed didn’t exactly damage their reputation, but there’s a very valid reason why the likes of Heathen Chemistry is never mentioned alongside their first two albums.

The other two CDs of this triple set clearly shows off Gallagher’s hot streak. EP tracks such as the yearning “Rocking Chair” (far out shining its parent EP’s lead track, “Roll With It”), Noel’ s acoustic yearning on “Talk Tonight”, the Stevie Wonder “Uptight”-referencing “Step Out” (originally due to be included on the album until lawyer intervention), the dual vocals of both Liam and Noel on “Acquiesce” and huge “The Masterplan” all remain some of the band’s very best moments, despite the suspect coupling on the latter: “There’s four and twenty million doors, on life’s endless corridor”, still Gallagher s most cringe worthy lyric.

Simplicity is key here, that’s why every single busker in the country could be found singing at least four of the tracks here through the mid-Nineties. It’s why half a million people congregated at one of the gigs with the worst sound ever, why each release shot into the charts in the top three, and why the two Gallagher’s getting a haircut was front page news. These were songs that everybody could cling onto, and for those four or so minutes, the gutter was way outshined by stars.

8/10

Although much has been said about the ‘60’s, it was really the ‘90’s that swung. It’s when we as a people learnt to dance, controlled by electronic thud, all night long. It was naive, druggy and most importantly, non-London-centric. 1994 was a key year in terms of landmark UK electronic releases. The Prodigy, dismissed as some kind of Cheesy Quavers novelty act, shocked with their political second album (the shock was that it was good), Music For the Jilted Generation, Orbital perfected a cinematic sound only alluded to on previous releases with their third album Snivilisation and Portishead took that cinematic template to record a real nightmare on wax with their debut, Dummy. And then, of course, zoomed in on the last train to Romford, there was Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

Underworld’s core duo Karl Hyde and Rick have recorded together since 1983, initially as gothy electro rockers, Freur, then as Underworld. Initially operating as a kind of Front 242 goes pop band, they split after two albums, then hooked up with DJ Darren Emerson to reform under the same name. The introduction of Emerson was the missing piece – Underworld were a rock band that used electronics, and in Hyde they had a focal point cut from a recognisable rock frontman mould.

Dubnobass’s nine tracks were square pegs that obliterated the holes. It took in so many influences, smashed them up and glued them back together with a 4/4 beat. If you take a look at some of the other albums celebrating their second decade, very few sound as contemporary, or have as much of an influence on current music. Electro-rock bands are ten a penny now, but how many bands seriously want to sound like Green Day’s interminable Dookie?

The tracks sounded epic, and lengthwise they certainly were – “Mmm…Skyscraper I love You” clocks in at just under 14 minutes, while “Dirty Epic” – arguably their best track – falls just short of ten. Dubnobass benefits from a wide-ranging scope. Of course there are dance tracks (“Spoonman”, “Cowgirl”) but also spacey comedowns (“M.E”), dub flavoured chill-outs (“River Of Bass”), and in the dirty, druggy “Surfboy” they recorded a sequel to Primal Scream’s “Don’t Fight it, Feel It”. In fact, the whole album acts as a follow up to the Scream’s Screamadelica; it’s certainly just as ground-breaking.

Rave, ambient, trance, techno, dub, even the hideously unfashionable (at the time) Italo and Moroder riffs (that arpeggiated riff on “Dark & Long” should have got them sued) got a look in. All these elements are recognisable in their own right but presented in a way that sounded brand new, with equal parts pop trash and intelligent atmospherics (check the beatless synth and bluesy guitar work on “Tongue” a Pink Floyd rethink).

Karl Hyde’s unique lyrical approach was created by gluing cut out phrases on paper back together at random (a kind of ‘90’s cut and paste, and six years prior to Thom Yorke doing the same to much acclaim on Radiohead’s game changing Kid A). But we when were dancing, when we were high, “I see porn dogs sniffing the wind/pornfest pork fat/Jesus Christ/night light/Elvis/fresh meat and a little whipped cream” actually meant something in the state we were in at the time, even if we now we can’t remember.

This comprehensive re-issue covers five CDs. Daunting this may be, but it’s not a bunch of slight variants of the originals, rather a treasure trove of b-sides, remixes, re-interpretations and unreleased jams which give a fascinating insight into how the original album’s nine tracks came to be.

Earlier material such as “The Hump” and “Eclipse” (released under their Lemon Interrupt guise), are more conventional than what came after; the latter could even be an outtake from New Order’s 1989 classic Technique. These tracks were their eureka moment, not quite so fully formed as what they went out to achieve, but they do pinpoint the transformation from ok synth popper to electronic rock behemoths. Very soon after these tracks they created some of their best; “Spikee”, “Dogman Go Woof” and “Rez”, the latter remaining a master class in the art of a techno build up.

“Dark and Long” appears a slightly ridiculous seven times, but most renditions are unrecognisable from the album version, the best being the classic “Dark Train” remix which was used perfectly to soundtrack the harrowing cold turkey scene of Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, (the film also bringing their “Born Slippy NUXX” track to the attention of a wider public, becoming a major financial concern and creative albatross for the band).

The real find of the non-album material is an unreleased version of “Dirty Epic”, named “Dirty Ambi Version”, a genuinely astounding piece of work. By stripping away the percussion and vocals, the despondent shimmering synths and beautiful Phillip Glass influenced chiming piano are highlighted, it’s the original stripped bare resulting in a simple and incredibly moving piece of work.

The UK rock scene had it’s own landmark releases in ’94, Parklife, Definitely Maybe, The Holy Bible, and Morrissey’s career highlight,Vauxhall and I being all massively important releases, but ghettoised into their own genres. Dubnobasswithmyheadman reached out beyond the electronic music scene due to being such a visionary collection of tracks. And just look at that cover; it’s designed to stand alongside the likes of Unknown Pleasures, Aladdin Sane or London Calling. 20 years down the line it’s proving to be just as influential musically, it’s power undiminished in any way with time.
9.5 / 10

Five piece The Asteroid No 4 – once of Philly and now relocated to San Francisco – have been conjuring this kind of cosmicness since the mid-Nineties. Over eight albums, including a 2013 collaboration with psych royalty Peter Daltrey of 60’s acid prog act Kaleidoscope (who’s ’67 classic Tangerine Dream named that band), they’ve peddled a krautrocky, proggy, psych sound throughout. Unfashionable for many of those years, and always slightly overshadowed by Anton Newcombe’s Brian Jonestown Massacre, the timing is perfect this time. Krautrock’s re-emergence as a favoured sound is in turn leading to a slow re-acceptance of kraut’s much unloved cousin, prog rock, and this self-titled release has them excelling in such sounds.

Ranging from grimy Spaceman 3 influences (note their influence on their name) and stoner rock to Asian vibes and metronomic rhythms, “The River” even takes in Deep South country rock and The Beta Band’s baggy shuffle, with backwards guitar and sitar sounds. This ain’t Kasabian we’re talking about – a far more hippyish air pervades the whole affair. The grungy “Rukma Vimana” is driving psychedelic rock with quasi-mystical lyrics referencing a Sanskrit text about flying machines which will “Take you to places that you’ve never seen”, and “The Windmill of the Autumn Sky” is lovely, lilting country-tinged Americana, taking references from Gram Parsons and Fleet Foxes and encasing them in a smoky fragrant fog. It’s the least ‘out there’ track, but it nonetheless proves to be a highlight.

Their Americana and Asian influences are most apparent on the Rickenbacker and sitar-led “Ropeless Free Climber” – which manages to contemporise the raga rock of a late 60’s Byrds – and “Mount Maru”, a lysergic piece of 5am desert rock and wordless chants augmented by tabla, sitar and a spooked-out spoken word passage which indulges their passions of both Syd Barrett and a 1968 George Harrison to eerie, bummed out effect. It’s not all looking at the castles in your cortex or whatever – they operate just as effectively when they come across as snotty. The grinding riffs on “Back Of your Mind” (yes, really), give the album a much welcome kick of The Stooges’ rock swagger, and “Revolution Prevail” is a welcome break from all things double denimed, sharp, oppressive and druggy.

Through dogged determination, The Asteroid No. 4 have continued down their particular path, managing to avoid being written off as revisionist. It’s encouraging that the success of the likes of Tame Impala and Ty Segall has led to precursors such as these also getting a look in – guys have been doing it for so long now that they could, certainly on the evidence of this album, be cast as one of the originators of the new psych scene.

7/10

The DFA throne has been up for the taking since James Murphy stepped down from the top perch. The Rapture split up, Holy Ghost! failed to step up by revisiting 2005 indie with their fizzy second album, 2013’s Dynamics, shit robot released a fantastic album earlier this year, We Got A Love, while Factory Floor were pre-occupied making a new kind of electro that pretends to be techno by dismissing the big room sounds of the former and fusing it with a kind of Berghain influenced sweat pit minimalism. All good, but none of them reaching that infamous ‘hit’ status.

So onto the The Juan MacLean, the duo made up of Murphy cohort MacLean and vocalist/multi-percussionist Nancy Whang, a major player in LCD Soundsystem. Throughout that time they’ve hooked up to indulge in their mutual love of twisted disco under Maclean’s ‘sort-of’ name since 2005’s debut, Less Than Human. The ending of Wang’s ‘day job’ has resulted in them dropping their best album to date – coincidence, or natural conclusion?

They’ve released some killer tracks during this time; the epic 10 minute “Happy House” or last Year’s standalone release “Feels Like Movin’ for example both showed a skill for jaunty dance music. Yet their two previous albums, despite being strong, haven’t quite stood up to the power of the singles, either a result of them either trying too hard to sound, or not to sound like the act both were so closely connected with.

In A Dream, their first album since 2009 no longer has this cross to bear, and is a much more refreshing listen for it. Whereas before they had a tendency to be a bit slapdash at showing off their eclecticism, this is fully focused, expertly produced, featuring Whang’s best ever vocals, it’s classy, cool and sleek by design.

The intro “A Place Called Space” is an energetic shot of disco, it takes from Giorgio Moroder and Patrick Cowley in the 70’s, Larry Levan and Vangelis in the 80’s, with an addition of pomp taken straight from superb 80’s German pop group, Propaganda, this album title possibly referencing Propaganda’s epic “A Dream Within A Dream”, and certainly nodding its way in sheer scale of its lofty ambition. At nine minutes, it’s a dramatic opener, bubbling synths and a very disco intro of three minutes of build up before the introduction of a voice, a crunching ‘80’s almost hair rock guitar solo just adds to the preposterousness, an unmissable piece of 21st Century disco.

Using Whang as main vocalist is a good move. MacLean’s vocal delivery was a problem on previous albums, non-committal, undistinguished, lost amongst the music and operating the same way of many other electronic artists who decide to have a go on the mic (See Moby, Andrew Weatherall, David Holmes, etc) on In A Dream however, Whang is the star of the show. Be it the bratty protestations “All I wanna do is talk about it” over transcendent synths on the early 90’s revival house jacker “Here I Am” which shows Disclosure how to do that kind of thing properly, or the masterful vocal trading of the two on the Human League-esque highlight “I’ve Waited For So Long”, where Whang soars with yearning on the chorus.

That said, it’s MacLean excels on the uplifting highlight, “Love Is Here”. Its driving live punk funk drums, offbeat basslines and gothy synths build up into an explosion of a joyful early New Order cut. For those missing the kind of gradual build up to joy from LCD Soundsystem on the likes of “All My Friends”, this heartfelt and emotive track will enforce pumped fist and gurns of wonder. His vague, monotone delivery is a perfect match here.

In A Dream is a melting pot of pop, disco, house and funk with a punky anything goes attitude. It’s thirty five years of dance music history wrapped up in a glorious fifty minutes and with Whang at the helm, it’s encased with an icy sheen, impossible to resist.

7/10

Compiled by dance music legend Terry Farley, last year’s Acid Rain compilation hit the spot by using an open minded approach to the track list. Each sub-genre of house music under the telescope (’85-91) was comprehensively represented; twisted instrumental acid, joyous gospel tinged piano tracks, rap led hip-house, soulful black/gay disco updates, and a bunch of electronic sex tracks. Instead of the tried and tested music contained on hundreds of other compilations, Farley – a man who has forgotten more tracks than we’ll ever hear – dug much deeper.

Acid Thunder follows on from it – same curator, same era of dance music, fifty-nine tracks over five CDs, expertly re-mastered, many of which have been out of print for years and again, only a minimal nod to those rinsed out classics. The previous compilation showcased the TRAX label which in turn led to a preference for a tougher edge, whereas this time it’s the D.J International imprint under the spotlight – plus another of the CDs is compiled as a dedication to the late great Frankie Knuckles – so this collection is a much less aggressive journey.

Of course, many of these tracks pinpoint a specific time. Some of the tunes here are rudimentary to say the least; no Pro-Tools, a “cut” was literally a cut in the tape used to record, and these rugged edges were what made it such an anarchic, DIY, punk-like thrill. During the elapsed thirty years, many of the sounds of Acid Thunder have made a return; the sleek warmth of “It’s You” by E.S.P is everything with a Joe Goddard writing credit on it, Marshall Jefferson’s “Open Your Eyes” is the originator of sleek analogue 808 soul and the dark atmospherics emulated by the likes of Caribou or SBTRKT. Plus, European labels such as Kompakt, Ed Banger, and Kitsune all have direct reference points dating back to this era.

It’s not just them. Listen to the minimal tribalism of “Let There Be House” by Bobby Konders, and you hear a Boys Noise track. Byron Stingley’s camp diva delivery on Ragtyme’s “I Can’t Stay Away” could be a new Sam Smith hit, while “Cut by a Laser” by Crystalline could be from a plethora of Parisian Italo revivalists.

A prime example of how timeless these tracks are can be heard in “This Brutal House” by Nitro Deluxe, here in a slightly preposterous 14 minute version. It’s 28 years old, but its power hasn’t diminished in the slightest – listen to a Daniel Avery house workout or a Disclosure pop track, and the lineage leads to this. The sample always told us that house music will never die, and this compilation is testament to that. We’ve lived with house music throughout its existence in the UK – remember, Steve Silk Hurley and Farley Jackmaster Funk both had Top 10 hits back in ’86, the former hitting number one with “Jack your Body”, a track that sounded genuinely freaky when it was played on the radio at the time. So, is this compilation even necessary?

The answer is of course yes. Even though the majority of dance music genres were born there, there’s is a historical lack of understanding of dance music in the ‘States (Jesus Jones being classed as acid house for example). So many people there and in other Countries where the dance music ‘phenomenon’ is a relatively new one will be hearing these tracks for the first time. The ‘States has such a rich history of electronic music that it’s ridiculous to even consider listing it, but it took a bunch of European button pressers (Guetta, Calvin Harris, Avicii etc all) who removed the funk of Chicago, the Moto-Soul of Detroit to dumb it down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Although this is a travesty, if a bunch of people decide to look beyond the latest Martin Garrix track to go back to the source, then that’s a great thing – and Acid Thunder is the perfect way to do it.

9/10

© 2010 Reject Musical Trash.

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