Saturday, January 10, 2009

Crispy Ambulance - The Plateau Phase

With so much stuff sloshing around in our culture these days it has been remarkably easy to find new avenues for exploration.  It must have been so different for earlier generations, without TV, without cinema, without the enormous printed media, without the Internet.  Sometimes finding stuff so easily does seem like cheating in a way, there is the small thrill of the initial discovery and then it becomes just another bit of stuff along with all the rest.  I try to gravitate towards those albums which have a story behind them, a story that I have often concocted to 'tell' the way in which they were found.  As it is with Crispy Ambulance (a name which seems revealing somehow even though it is nonsense) who first came to my attention whilst watching the film Control about the life of Ian Curtis (I ended up not learning much more really than what the NME has told me).  The singer of Crispy Ambulance, Alan Hempsall, stood in for Ian Curtis once when the latter was unable to perform.  I thought then, what a bizarre name for a band.  I remembered it though, which is how I came to listen to their one and only 'proper' album, The Plateau Phase.  At the time of release in 1982 (I am coming to the conclusion that 1982 was one of the greatest years for music) Crispy Ambulance seem to have been unduly affected by the music media's continuing obsession with Joy Division and were condemned for 'slavishly' copying said band.  I have always thought the praise for Joy Division was somewhat fanatical; Joy Division, to me, on record come across as distant and aloof, rather bleak (live it seems they were far more aggressive), Crispy Ambulance on the other hand feel so much more alive, even if their subjects are as melancholy, and the album throbs at times with a primal power.  Take Are you Ready? which builds slowly and slowly into a mantra, developing the suspense... then unfortunately things falls flat with the dirge-y Travel Time but never mind, they tried.  We are back on track with The Force and the Wisdom, Hempsall howling over minimal keyboards, the bass echoing eerily in and out, conjuring visions of dark forests and night-time.  Although inspired by Sex Pistols and Magazine like most bands at that time, Crispy Ambulance also seem to be closet hippies, I am not sure exactly why I think this but there is something far looser in their sound than the jerky rhythms of the post-punk leaders; that they take their inspiration from nature as well as from the Modern.  Hempsall's voice, whilst flat at times, is unaffected and 'real.'  The repetitive, driving rhythms echo hypnotic 'tribal' rituals (but might also be where the charge of being 'turgid' came from depending upon whether you like that kind of thing).  Take The Wind Season which, close to the end, breaks down into chants of 'oo ah oo', and We move through the Plateau with its refrain 'Nature attacks you and Nature heals you.'  Whilst Death from Above sounds like they were trying to capture the feel of the Arctic, something which Joy Division also excelled at, however Crispy Ambulance's effort comes across as slightly wistful, suggesting there is some optimism beneath the froideur.  

Friday, January 09, 2009

So much music, so little time...

It's been ages since I posted here and so many albums I have neglected to even compose the beginnings of a review... in order to catch up I am going to cheat and keep everything to a sentence, hoping to capture the essence somehow.

PS Except for The Cure all of these albums are from the 1980s

The Crackdown - Cabaret Voltaire
Grimy and forbidding, the sound of steel shutting down, nihilistic shopping centres and underground car parks, not to mention wildly innovative.

Head on The Door / The Top / Disintegration / The Cure / Faith / Japanese Whispers / Pornography / Wish / Seventeen Seconds / 4:13 Dream / Mixed Up - The Cure
In the search for the perfect emotional rush - be it happiness, heaven, gloom, despair, optimism, hope, fear, boredom, tension - The Cure just about nails every one you could ever imagine; they are more than essential, they are vital.

Voice:The best of Eyeless in Gaza - Eyeless in Gaza
Two men, a synthesiser and effortless amounts of quiet creativity

Immigrant / Promise / Voodoo Dollies: The Best of Gene Loves Jezebel - Gene Loves Jezebel
Perfect before they decided to go all Bon Jovi, the Welsh coalfields meets melancholy meets two oddly-coiffed brothers makes dark, wild fairy stories

Life in the Gladhouse: The Best of Modern English - Modern English
Bizarrely labelled as 'Goth' more agitated popsters producing some interesting tunes (some which appear to have inspired LCD Soundsystem), unfortunately remembered only for their soppiest offering 'Melt with You'

Swimming / Spectators of Life - The Names
Finally a group to dispel notions that the Belgians can only produce good beer and chocolate, lovely dreamy, wobbly pop to fall in love with - 'Life by the Sea' going onto my list of the most beautiful songs ever

For all and none / Pindrop - The Passage
Britain seems to be good at producing dramatic, if obscure, intelligent pop, The Passage are no exception even if sometimes they come across like a typical English day, wet and murky

If I Die, I Die - The Virgin Prunes
There is no justice in the world that the flamboyant, sarcastic, entertaining, over-the-top 'Prunes should not be as famous as their childhood friends, U2

Garlands - The Cocteau Twins
Before they started cooing of elle megablast burls and itchy glowbos, the Cocteau Twins exercised a darker imagination, captured here in all its stark beauty

Here Comes Everyone - The Wake
Etheral vocals, woozy sounds, lovelorn lyrics and dainty guitar, The Wake represent the template for many an 80s / 90s twee Indie band; there are many moments of sublimity e.g. 'All I asked you to do' which sets a high standard for tugging at your heartstrings

In the Flat Field - Bauhaus
Help! this is scary stuff, the desperate sound of a band struggling to get out of the East Midlands (I know how that feels...)