MATT ELLIOTT – The Mess We Made (2003)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

Labels such as “incredibly sad” or “probably the saddest album ever” were stuck upon The Mess We Made like they’ve been welded. The album was also labeled as an electronic music album by a dark folk guitarist and singer from England. Too many labels, huh? And pointing to the same sad thing. I braced myself. 

“Let it play, already!”  – My mind screamed.

However, when I first listened to the record, I didn’t find it as depressive as it seems. Strange. It was the right moment, the mood was there. After waiting for a while, I opened a beer at a particularly cloudy dawn. 

“Let it play, again!” – I needed to try once more.  And I did. 

Matt Elliott’s oeuvre is an amazing piece of art. Technically, he’s amazing. Complete instrumentals, be it either creative riffs who never get too much repetitive or cohesive melodies whose progression and tempo flows like a cold winter breeze. Yeah, the labels were kinda right. It is, by all means, a completely sad record. It was imagined that way, designed that way, recorded that way. I can picture Mr. Elliott reminiscing at a particularly cloudy british day, lazily strumming his guitar and getting ideas for those melancholic riffs and vocals. Lyrics point to the same place as well, always full of loneliness and regret but, as every sad album should have, there’s the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the track “The Sinking Ship Song”.

Full instrumental tracks, distorted vocals, melancholic lyrics and melodies are the labels I give to The Mess We Made. Strangely, a potential candidate to “the saddest album ever” didn’t made me sad. Instead, I found myself thinking about what inspires Elliott to compose like this, to express himself that way. I checked some of his other works and these moods were there over and over again. Regardless of the themes, his contemplative melancholy seems omnipresent like he is a man with one single intention, to pass these feelings on. After all, art is supposed to make you feel something, right? 
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A Young Person’s Guide to… Nina Hagen (Part II)

Nina Hagen (Part II)

By Tommy Mostalas 



The music video that first opened my eyes to the extent to which the *right* sort of visual imagery can directly affect how you experience, and most of all, how you can subsequently hear a piece of music, was Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’. It wasn’t that up until that point I had seen music videos as essentially disposable, mere promotional vehicles for songs that should and would stand on their own musical merits or that I hadn’t grasped that on rare occasions they could qualify as pieces of art in their own right. It was more that having grown up without satellite or cable, I had never experienced MTV as the all-pervasive cultural force that so many of my early to mid 90s peers had, and I therefore failed to realise just how integral to the listening experience music videos had become. Beyonce’s supple but muscular cavorting to the accompaniment of a song I already loved, but which I began to love exponentially more after seeing the video, was enough to convince me of the necessity of something like the Wagnerian idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, but scaled down and tailored to contemporary popular music: a concept that would explain the appeal of modern pop by encompassing everything, words, music, dance, visuals (and all of this is highly appropriate given Queen Bey’s Wagnerian-scale ego, but anyway). A growing appreciation for Bollywood song and dance numbers around the same time helped to further cement this conviction (I used to hate it when they broke off into song at the end of a scene, but then later realised that the musical interludes were usually the best thing about the film). 


All of which brings me to the music video that triggered my current fascination with Nina Hagen and that ultimately led me to undertake this series of mini Hagen reviews, since it strikes me now that which first drew me to Nina was precisely her success in marrying the visual together with the musical. I say ‘the’ music video but in fact there were two, though the first of these can’t really be called a music video per se. Instead what we’re talking about is some black and white footage of a very young Hagen singing ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen’ (the title means ‘You have forgotten the colour film’), which was taken from an East German broadcast from back in the days when Nina was still a citizen of the good ol’ DDR. Truth be told, I was only vaguely aware of Nina prior to stumbling onto this video; I think I’d previously dismissed her as some variety of crazy screaming German goth lady or other. But Hagen’s manic star quality, even as a seemingly demure young woman in a sober dress, sitting all prim with her knees placed together, shone through so brightly that I was in no doubt that this was an artist I urgently needed to find out more about (she dropped the whole innocence thing pretty quickly upon defecting to the West).

The second video, and the one that made me go even crazier for Nina, is a promo for the song ‘Hold me’ taken from her eponymous sixth album, the follow up to In Ekstasy (and don’t worry I’m about to get to the album itself, I haven’t forgotten I’m supposed to be reviewing her discography). This time round the video is a full on showcase of her extraordinary, kinetic show(wo)manship: that superlative combination of the comic, the voluptuous, and the absurd that is uniquely Hagen’s. The video itself is shot in Paris and brazenly so; it’s the City of Light in the late 80s we’re talking about here: the Paris of Mitterrand, and er…whatever else was going down in Paris during that not particularly celebrated period. It starts off with a swift pan down from a street sign (‘Rue de Rome’) to Nina in a gold lamé jacket and a black mesh umbrella with a strapping blond angel in tow; then cut to Nina in an octopal-turban on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, executing a busy vogue-type weaving gesture with long lithe black-clad arms; then we’re treated to a derriere shot as Nina gyrates towards a wall with her rather impressive arse waggling and poking up in the air; next, cut to our Diva giving a warm and welcoming smile; then a close-up of Nina shaking her head in an exaggerated succubal pout and emphasising her gorgeous silent film star eyes; then finally cut to a shot of Nina flapping her tongue out rather suggestively and also rather ludicrously. And this is all just for starters, the rapid succession of clips a perfect visual accompaniment to the intro to Hagen’s brash version of this gospel number. Nina’s in particularly fine form voicewise and the song, despite its cheesy 80s europop stylings, is brassy without being vulgar. But it’s the combination of saucy video with saucy music that really gets you going, that is wondrous to behold: Nina’s extraordinary repertory of facial ticks and exaggerated childlike expressions — pulling her beautiful, elastic face first one way, then the other — and the way she manages to flesh out and give body to the music with her whole physical presence.



What is absolutely not wondrous, on the other hand, is the LP that the video was trying to promote — and here the contrast between the efficacy of the video with the rest of the album is glaring. But the news gets much worse: for Nina Hagen was only the first in a succession of thoroughly second-rate albums that Hagen released after In Ekstasy,  and that, barring a few stand out songs like ‘Hold Me’ (which in no way redeem these albums as a whole), are best avoided by all but the most ardent of Hagen completists. It takes a while to get accustomed to the mediocrity of a record like Nina Hagen — like eyes adjusting to the darkness and the murk of a dimly lit room — but regardless of how far you manage to lower your expectations, you can never really escape the feeling of the pointlessness of it all. How, for instance, anyone could have ever felt that there was any sort of motivation for inflicting Hagen’s miserable, dead in the water, cover of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ on the world is completely beyond me. Her vocals sound lacklustre and her performances seem dialled in for the most part. Fair’s fair though, I’ll admit to a bit of a soft spot for her version of ‘Ave Maria’ (3/10).  

Trust me when I tell you that the best thing about Street, Hagen’s unimpressive 1991 follow up to the truly dire Nina Hagen is the cover: simply put, you get three beautiful avatars of Nina — looking utterly spectacular, mind, all dressed up in Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood — rather than just the usual, though still really quite awesome, one. Once again Hagen manages to wield her visual allure forcefully and so demands your complete and undivided attention: promising so much but failing to deliver anything that comes close in terms of musical stimulation. However if you periodically suffer from pangs of nostalgia for early 90’s techno-lite euro pop — and by now I’m convinced there must be a substantial contingent of us out there — then there’s a certain pleasure to be had from an album that sound wise so clearly dates back to that heady cultural moment.  In particular, if like me, you have fond memories of listening to the BBC top 40 chart rundown of a Sunday and dancing about in your pyjamas to the pseudo-house keyboards of the C+C Music Factory, ‘Stars’ era Simply Red and the Ace of Base, then Street might well be right up your… street.  Don’t get me wrong, the album is not completely without its other merits (and I was going to give the album a much lower rating until I realised just how cleverly ‘Divine Love, Sex und Romance’ had managed to sneak its way into my psyche), still, ‘Street’ comprises yet another staging post on Hagen’s ongoing musical journey from subversive and avant gardist to full-on soulless commercial banality; and it’s worth giving a wide berth to, if only to spare yourself Hagen’s feeble cover of ‘Good Vibrations’ (4/10). 

Sadly the situation doesn’t really improve much with 1994’s Revolution Ballroom — well, apart from the fact that this time round the cover art is even more terrific than on Street.  Here Nina is clad in glossy black latex and tied with rope to her chair, two magnificent raven ponytails sprouting from the top of her head and a look on her face that’s somewhere betweenindignant sex doll and social realist art mural (the kitschy soviet font at the top also contributes to the effect). If it had stopped there, if Nina and the gang had gone as far as just making a mock-up of the cover and left it at that, we could have passed right onto FreuD euch, which SPOILER ALERT is actually quite a good record. But no, Hagenonly had to go and make a record that, if anything, manages to outdo her previous two efforts for blandness. And you might think it strange, if I follow that up by affirming that the songs on the actual album are much more memorable than on Street and especially than on Nina Hagen — but that’s what makes it all worse, as promising as these songs are, they’ve been smothered at birth: the arrangements and the production are simplistic and Nina’s lackadaisical vocals are underwhelming throughout. I mean, I ask you friends, how can a song called ‘Berlin’ and sung by Nina Hagen possibly be so fucking dull? (4/10)

Nina’s all round devotion to Babaji and the higher powers, which she was so eager to demonstrate on her previous albums, seems to have eventually paid off because the following year (on New Year’s Day 1995 to be precise) she released FreuD euch, which was by far the best thing she’d done in ages. Indeed the record feels like a reinvigoration, long overdue, of Hagen’s very singular talents after years and years of putting out substandard product. This doesn’t mean that FreuD euch is Hagen’s long hoped for return to the riotous bedlam of nunsexmonkrock, far from it. Ultimately it’s just a very enjoyable, but fairly conventional punk rock record, and although she’s in fine fettle voice wise — almost enough to make you forget the apathy that crippled her previous three albums — Nina’s vocals (sadly) never come close to scaling the transgressive heights of years gone by. But you know how the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth. With FreuD euch Hagen produced the kind of straight-ahead punk record that — setting aside the fact that she’s supposed to be the mother of punk — she’d never actually attempted before. And boy, does it work well. Presumably we have Dee Dee Ramone, listed as rhythm guitarist and with a co-writer credit on four of the songs on here,  to thank in large part for this, one of the most convincing entries in Nina’s discography since nunsexmonkrock. And fuck me, even her cover version (in German) of ‘Sunday Morning’ is actually quite decent, which given Hagen’s miserable track record with covers is an exceptionally pleasant surprise. The whole album is in German and maybe that’s ultimately what makes it so convincing: Hagen is always at her most credible in her native tongue. But still, this Hagen’s for everyone: it gets a well earned (8/10).
Next time round Nina Hagen in the New Millennium!

RICHARD THOMPSON – Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I am travelling while writing this review, on a hot spring day, oddly calm and just a tad older than Richard when he wrote these songs. In a way I feel we’re travelling together. And it’s a fantastic trip. 

There’s a thing about solo artists in the days after the Great Music Decades. The nineties are a blur for me sometimes, I gotta admit. But many artists found their feet then by the end of the Bad Production Party of the late eighties. And I feel that as years go by it is more sensible to think of artists doing things on their own terms, their own timing and resources. After all who’s buying records? Play for the Torrent Kids. They’re the here and now. If the 80s were the Ego Decade these are the NobodyElse Times.

Richard is supposed to have made a great “mainstream friendly” album here. A deceiving trick I would say, as he reaches great heights in terms of subtlety while adhering to friendly hooks that only Fleetwood Mac might dream of. “Grey Walls” is an immense achievement in that category, and “I Dream Too Much” is the great tune Lindsay Buckingham never dreamt of. He stays on that nice tone, keyboard glares here and there, a shy secret weapon,  guitar-shaped. 

And after such mundane joy,  I arrive to my destination, evening starting to fall and shadows beginning to unfold, and Richard just manages to win my heart too. And he teaches me..

“Why must I plead with you darling/
For what’s already mine”

And I’ve done that too, yeah… And he brings me an anthem for the years to come (“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”) or he reminds me how “God loves a drunk”. Who else would he love? A banker? Come on.

And he manages to end the affair with an awkward song, “Psycho street”, which ably marries a bass-laden part with poignant lyrics.. To move into the sweetest musical box chorus ever. Genius.

And that’s the feat you know, that’s the trip. A little joy, a little nastiness. And a shy guitar, and a voice of your own.

Oh I’ve arrived, lucky me for the brilliant company.  Wish you all the same and the trip is worth it. Godspeed!

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND – Doc at the Radar Station (1980)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: B.B. Fultz


Captain Beefheart (hereafter Cb) is a maker of capitalistic things: music (1), paintings (2) and poetry (3). In the Year of Water Dog, having realized (1) and (3) require an industrialized workflow which could not, at that time, be sufficiently provided by an individual, Cb retired (1) and (3) from production, concentrating solely on (2).
The object of the review is the #11 in the (1) + (3) output, consisting of 0xC entities in two groups of 6 (see Fig. 1).


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C
Fig 1. The layout of the entities.


The lengths of the entities vary from the minimum of 60000000000 to over 38039985927014 ns.
7 human beings are credited: Cb (DVV), JMT, EDF, RAW (not to confuse with JPEG), BLF, JF(D), GL.
(*) Cb plays: the reed wind instrument, a transposing instrument on which a written C sounds like B♭, a woodwind instrument with a high F# key and a range from A♭3 to E6, 鑼 and several others.


The lyrical contents of the album is, due to its analogue nature and as usual with any poetry, difficult to almost impossible to translate. For those interested, I can only give you a fragment of how it sounds to the author of this review, personally: “Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги!” which, hopefully, is instructive enough for any further attempts at the studies.


Fig. 2 presents one of the possible layouts of the human beings involved in the production of the entities.


Cb(DVV) JMT EDF RAW BLF, JF GL, JPEG
Fig 2. A possible layout of the human beings


As an addendum and following the long-established reviewing tradition we present eight random words from a single product review in the ascending order of their lengths


a to the over Vliet singer vampire because
Fig. 3 Eight random words from a single product review in the ascending order of their lengths


Fig. 4 presents the possible ratings of the product on a hypothetical 5-stars scale. Further studies seem to suggest that the same algorithm can be applied to any of the separate entities, as well.


☺ ☺☺ ☺☺☺ ☺☺☺☺ ☺☺☺☺☺
Fig. 4. The possible ratings of the product on a hypothetical 5-stars scale.


Exercises:
(1) Design a thumbs scale
(2) How does “Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги!” sound to you and your friends? Discuss in groups.
(3*) Estimate art compression boundaries if JPEG is used instead of RAW

CAPTAIN AHAB – After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams (2006)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

I don’t know, based on the title of the album and the name of the band I was expecting like, dream pop or something indie. Then I read about it on RYM and see that one of the guys from Clipping is involved, so its probably not dream pop. I also get kinda excited, I really like Clipping. 

BUT BOY DOES THIS ALBUM SUCK.  

You know how Frank Zappa done those albums to mock sleazy 70s rock music with Flo and Eddy, but often came across as equally sleazy and (i’m listening to this as i write it and one of the songs just made me physically cringe. Like for real, i’m not exaggerating) repugnant so not really enjoyable anyway. This album does that for sleazy EDM and shit like LMFAO and its much worse than anything Zappa done in the same vein. 

Okay, so not to be too politically correct or anything, but a lot of the lyrics are fucking sexist. Now, i’m assuming this is intended as satire, but if it’s a satire of teenaged girls it is sexist, and if it’s a satire of people’s perception of teenaged party girls it still sucks. 

Some of the songs have good parts, the occasional catchy part or interesting synth part betraying that this was made by, you know, an experimental musician with a goddamned thesis on noise music. But on the whole it’s a lot of annoying clubbish synth parts with a really obnoxious singer SHOUTING EVERYTHING. The album is the equivalent of a spastic child running around a shopping market with shit in their pants pushing everything over and attacking the shoppers. It’s not to my taste is what i’m trying to say. “U Want Me” is kind of pretty i guess, but even then it sounds more like an attempt at depth than you know, depth. And the vocals and lyrics are fucking obnoxious.

I mean, okay, there’s the occasional amusing line, but fuck it. 

Anyway, this album is an hour long and I honestly don’t know who it was intended for. Maybe check it out if you’re just like really into experimental music and willing to try anything, even if the album isn’t really experimental. 

I guess i would summarise it as smug hipsters try to parody obnoxious EDM and end up sounding worse. 

MOSSING ABOUT: CHICO SCIENCE AND NAÇÃO ZUMBI – Da Lama ao Caos (1994)

Review dedicated to Margaret Murdoch and Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Written by: Jonathan Moss 


The more Brazilian music I listen to the more I think it’s unjust that its countries like the USA and Britain that are focused on. However, this is a review of a specific album, not a thinkpiece on the implicit white supremacy of the music industry. 

Well, when I get assigned these sort of albums, albums I don’t know the background to, it can be quite exciting, because I get to listen to them completely context free, no pressure to conform to any sort of opinion, positive or negative. So my friend France gave me this album to review and I listen to it on Spotify, quickly ascertain that I enjoy it, i listen to it more times, find more things to enjoy, specific tracks I like and so on. I discover it’s an energetic, brash catchy album with a fun, likeable, charismatic singer. Then I actually look it up and discover that the singer died in a car accident at the age of 30. Oh, and that the album is critically acclaimed. So, looks like without having to feel the pressure of conformity I still picked the right opinion! 

And man, for an album which I’ve seen compared multiple times to Rage Against The Machine I really don’t hear it. Rage Against The Machine are a kind of dour, grey band with no range and a singer who, whilst angry, doesn’t really have any charisma. Da lama ao caos (which, according to google translate translates to “from mud to chaos”) instead is a rather lively and varied album. This isn’t to deny or downplay the politics. Though I can’t understand what Chico Science is singing, the album certainly does have a strident militant vibe, and occasional moments of melancholy as well, but with the funky and occasionally abrasive guitars I would more compare them to Gang of Four than Rage Against The Machine, if I have to compare them to any other leftist band. However, the album is fun as well, unlike either of those bands! How so? Well, first of there is the percussion, which is very rhythmic and erm….latin (sorry France), giving the album a danceable feel, like a hypothetical caribbean soviet disco. This interacts smoothly with the bass as well, which is funky and melodic, while still being understated and holding shit together. Then of course there’s Chico himself, who as I mentioned before is quite charismatic. He’s not the most tuneful singer but he has a lot of energy and passion, like a guy you could hang around with and get occasionally into heated debates with, but end it all with some friendly joke wrestling. Intense but affable. This dialectic is echoed perfectly in the guitar playing as well, which is rough and distorted and on a few tracks even heavy metal, but despite this retains a looseness and spontaneity.  

These elements are all demonstrated beautifully in the opening song “Montologo ae Pe do Ouvido”, a fiery anthem opening with strident blood pumping percussion (hand percussion played by Chico I understand) and clanging psychedelic guitar playing. Chico speaks ominously over it and from there a lighter percussion part starts as well as a groovy little bassline, and then the guitar comes right in, turning it into a fantastic rock song with a great intense rhythm part and a menacing but funky lead part! Chico kind of rap-sings it, very enthusiastically and with a passion that demands respect. Perfect music for the upcoming revolution. Got me air guitaring like an idiot. 

The title track is a masterpiece as well, with a seismic crunchy lumbering riff and spat out vocals from Chico. Lucia Maia also does several quick searing guitar solos. The song in general has a stormy paranoid vibe, like Black Sabbath but sublated from fantasy to reality, perhaps Chico is singing about some war that happened (yes, I know Black Sabbath had songs about wars, but there’s involved witches and fairies). The following song is a classic as well, “Maracatu Tiro Certeiro”, with a fantastic scratchy funky rhythm guitar, like an erupting volcano which people from the beach are partying on top of. Antene-Se is another fab song, funky slapped bass playing and a wah-wah guitar! It sounds so self-assured and confident, like a renegade businessman who has joined the cause and is bombing his old company! Okay, with “slapped bass” (i’m not actually sure it’s slapped, it just sounds like it. Either way its fluid and melodic) and “wah-wah guitar” i may have made it sound cheesy, but trust me, the punkish spirit of it, melodicity of the guitar, badass groove of the song and Chico’s fun but militant shouted vocals give it a lot of personality and vigour. It even ends with a short ominous synth bit!

There’s a couple of good short instrumentals as well. The first one is a very busy song with an agitated vibe and melodic bass. The second one has more awesome heavy metal guitar part which is built up by militaristic drumming and a weird sound that could be an air horn or something. They’re cool interludes and both come before amazing songs, working to enhance them in creating a build-up and tension. 

The last two songs end the album on a bleaker vibe. “Computadores Fazem Arte” is an intense melancholic rocker with more melodic singing from Chico. He sounds almost nostalgic and kind of wails in a slightly lower range, not baritone, but more romantic sounding. The bass line is hooky and ambiguous sounding, the guitar playing an angular shuffle, with a passionate mourning lead line occasionally showing up. “Coco Dub (Afrociberdelia)”, as its name suggest is a slow, psychedelic number, with a sorta apocalyptic vibe. The guitar line is really interesting, it sounds kinda like morse code being tapped out, but if morse code had been created by a depressive post-punker. Chico makes weird bird sounds at one point, there’s a catchy sci-fiish synth sound and groovy, tribalesque percussion. 

There’s some other great songs on the album but this review is already too fucking long and I think I covered the best ones. All the songs are cool though, try to ignore the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine likes this album and check out it!  

JOHN COLTRANE – Om (1968)

Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

“Coltrane for tryhards”- Blob Nayld, PhD

Like a door creaking. Not in a good way. Sounds like fucking ass. This is a bad album. Right i like some free jazz but this is a load of wank (“its pretty wank”). Oh Coltrane was apparently on LSD during the sessions, probably thought his saxophone was a snake or something. Honk honk honk. Like elvin jones sounds like he has no idea whats going on. The best bits on this record are the chants. Sounds a bit like magma. It’s a fucking horrible album.