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Review: Life on Mars novels, part two July 16, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Uncategorized.
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getMake sure you’ve read part one, below, and that you’ve seen all of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Spoilers!

Actually, I don’t want to say too much about these two. If you care enough to read this, just go read the books now.

Borstal Slags and Get Cartwright increase the continuity and the suspense. The former does things in a somewhat annoying way, though — Same gets some very important things very, very wrong. He has some pieces of the puzzle but not as many as he thinks he does, and makes things more complicated than they need to be. In typical early episode fashion, he jumps to conclusions about who’s a villain and who’s a poor misunderstood soul, putting everyone in danger.

But that’s mostly been sorted out by Get Cartwright. By then it’s clear who the real enemy is, who’s on Sam and Annie’s side, and what exactly happened in Annie’s real life. Annie is remembering and she is having a hard time with it; she disappears. Sam has to find her before it’s too late. It’s a suspenseful trip out of Manchester that puts the characters on less familiar ground.

Ashes to Ashes never really gives us all that much information about Sam and Annie, so there’s room for suspense. Overall, though, the book ends in a satisfying way, neatly tying up the story threads built up in previous volumes, giving a few characters chances to shine, and I’m glad to have read it. It also works well with Ashes to Ashes. I recommend this to fans of the two series.

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Review: Asphalt for Eden by dälek May 6, 2016

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asphaltdälek returns after a hiatus of several years with some lineup changes. That could be cause for alarm, not least because they developed and refined a unique noise/hiphop sound over the course of their past albums. Would they lose what made them work? Or, conversely, would they try too hard to recapture that sound and end up just imitating past glories?

Turns out there was no need for concern. The elevator pitch description of their sound — Public Enemy meets My Bloody Valentine — still fits. You’ve got swirling layers of noise and texture, plenty of bass pressure, and MC dälek rapping over it all.

So far, so familiar. But it still manages to feel like a progression because there are more melodic touches in the music. At times it’s reminiscent of some of the ambient dub and shoegazer dub experiments bands like Scorn, Bowery Electric, and Seefeel ventured into in the ’90s.

At the same time, the vocals have been moved up in the mix. The rapping sometimes got almost lost in the noise squalls on past albums. During the hiatus, Will Brooks dropped the dälek name and released some old school hiphop albums as IconAclass (well worth checking out in their own right). Brooks has a lot to say, and maybe the IconAclass albums reminded him of the importance of letting people actually hear his words.

Asphalt for Eden sounds fresh and reinvigorated, not that they ever lacked for vigor, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, with seven tracks in under 40 minutes. Often a band who’ve produced some classic music come back after a break with something that’s perfectly respectable and solid and after a few listens you forget about it and go back to the old stuff. That won’t happen with this one. It’s as vital as anything else they’ve done. I just hope it’s not long before the next album.

Review and reminiscence: Head of David, Dustbowl March 20, 2016

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headIn the late 1980s I bought a punk/metal/weirdness zine, Chemical Imbalance, with a cover mount EP featuring songs by Band of Susans, UT, Head of David, and, for something completely different, Sun Ra. I’d read about Band of Susans and Head of David in the context of Sonic Youth-like noise rock, and it was the latter’s track that most connected with me out of the noise scrawls on the EP.

It’s a kind of music that probably makes sense again now, in this Internet-powered age of all music of all time everywhere at once, and in some small circles it made sense in the late 1980s. But I didn’t hear anything much like it for a long time in between. It’s about as slick as an army issue wool blanket, Steve Albini’s raw production doing absolutely nothing to smooth the rough edges. It probably doesn’t sound much different from their demo tapes. As for where it fits musically… Justin Broadrick from grindcore metal band Napalm Death played drums and did some vocals on this album before starting industrial metal noise legends Godflesh. It’s repetitive, grinding, riff-heavy hard rock, the sound of a mining robot lost in the desert, sandblown and rusting , with sometimes rough shouted vocals, sometimes murmured almost spoken vocals, a million miles removed from anything in mainstream metal at the time. It seems likely that Head of David shared a lot of influences with early Spacemen 3 and Loop, especially the psychedelic sludge of the early Stooges, with New York noise rock and British heavy metal and, hell, maybe some early Killing Joke added to the mix.

It’s a funny thing, but I bought this album 25-odd years ago on vinyl and didn’t get into it as much as I expected because it sounded kind of thin on my stereo. The mp3s coming out of my laptop speakers almost sound better. The drums pound, the bass holds down a queasy bottom end, and riffs and squeals of guitar all but drown out the distorted vocals.

All in all, this is a damn good album I should listen to more often, not just a footnote in Steve Albini’s production resume or Justin Broadrick’s musical history. (My favourite project of his is Jesu. You can draw a line from one to the other but you wouldn’t confuse them.)

So, the reminiscence. Yes, it’s easy to find a ridiculous amount of music on the Internet. And there’s a lot of information about music on the Internet. You can flood yourself. But back in 1988 or ’89 that wasn’t the case. You had to go to independent music stores or stors that carried really big selections of magazines and look for obscure magazines like Forced Exposure, Chemical Imbalance, The Big Takeover, and others to find out about the music that wasn’t on the radio. They didn’t exactly publish regularly, either. So when you found one it was a good day. And then, when you read about some band and thought, damn, this sounds cool, there was no guarantee you’d be able to find anything by them. It could be frustrating as hell.

So, you know what? Forget the wallowing in nostalgia. You can get almost any recorded music legally now in a matter of minutes.

Um. Except for this album. Not on iTunes, not on eMusic, not on Bandcamp, and only available on used physical formats on Amazon. Well, so much for that. Looks like you’ll have to check it out on youtube then figure out where to pirate a copy. Or buy used. Sorry. But hey, now you kinda know what it used to be like, back when you might read about a record and not find a copy until a year or two later. I don’t miss that.