“Call in the Crash Team” LYR (Mercury KX) – spoken word/music review

LYR Simon Armitage Patrick Pearson and Richard Walters band photoLYR is Simon Armitage, Patrick Pearson and Richard Walters and “Call in the Crash Team” has 11 tracks, mixing poems with music. Each track takes a fictional character and a tour through post-industrial landscapes and austerity from marginalised voices. First track, “The First Time”, muses on the girl first slept with a decade on, with Simon Armitage reading over a background of keyboards and kora.

“Gone your own way now
Nothing to say now.
Still mouthing your name though
Ten years to the day now.”

Next up, “Zodiac T-Shirt” is the track that gives the album its title,

“Zodiac T-Shirt
Paper clip bracelet
Mercury rising
Call in the crash team.”

It seems to hark back to teenage years with a mix of poppy optimism and pessimistic lyrics. One stanza reads,

“We pull up a tree
And plant a rose
A cigarette dies
Another one glows.”

“Never Good With Horses” focuses on a woman who could pin insects in cases, dry flowers, keep a rabbit’s foot on a keyring but couldn’t cope with real, living things as the chorus, “But you were never good with horses were you my dear” reminds her and claims she “couldn’t bear to look in the dark pools of their eyes”.

“Urban Myth #91” ups the background to accelerated percussion and discordant piano in a song about sticking to a middle lane and avoiding the barricades. The theme of ordinariness and routine is picked up again in “Adam’s Apple”, a song about tying a necktie while looking in the mirror and not really seeing what’s there. “Product Testing”, a mere 56 seconds, builds towards a punch line that is deliberately, ironically anti-climactic.

With “Great Coat” listeners are in similar territory to “Adam’s Apple” with added pathos “It’s a great coat all right. Now that you’re gone/ just never ask me to put it on.” It’s the coat you can’t get rid of but carries so many memories, it can’t be junked and almost has a life of its own.

“331/3” according to the blurb is about “a truly tragic moment in musical history – the sudden and heart-breaking passing of Joy Division lead singer, Ian Curtis”. The blurb is necessary. The sound of a record spinning on a turntable at the end of the track when all that can be heard is the imperfections in the vinyl provides the backdrop. The title is the speed of the record. The lyrics, spoken, mention “captured orbit around the spindle,” and mention “whirlpool” and “swansong.” Not one mention of a Joy Division lyric or the band, but you get the idea of sadness, repetition, someone’s life governed by music.

The remaining tracks slow the tempo. “The National Trust Range Of Paints Colour Card” lists drab, neutral colours and repeat two lines, “Poverty’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s true” and “Nobody’s to blame, to blame, to blame but you”. Generally, poverty is more complicated than individual action or circumstance. It’s like the last track, “Leaves On The Line”, builds a series of images but doesn’t really do anything with it.

“The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog” starts with an interesting idea: a website that features collections of items under 100g: bottle tops, guitar picks, a set of plastic soldiers arranged to spell the title. But the website is then abandoned as if the owner lost interest or got a better offer. Armitage makes his own list: bank notes, dead leaves, beer mats, fingerprints, one night stands, Yuri Gagarin in zero gravity. “where I stand in your affections.”

When the novelty wears off, it gets predictable. Aside from the last track, “Leaves On The Line”, the voice is the same: ponderous, flat, unchanging. A voice that belongs in bedsits, the pub band, singing of unrequited love and squalor. A voice occasionally overwhelmed by the music, which here is given equal footing to the lyrics. The music is heavily influenced by Sigur Ros, but is sparser, aiming to be a soundtrack rather than the main event. Those already fans of Armitage will love this. Those unfamiliar with Armitage’s work might want to start with the books.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover image

“Dreams of Departure” The Process Void – music review

The Process Void Dreams of Departure EP coverThe Process Void set their own bar high on this five track EP. How do you carve your own niche in electronica without sounding like someone else? Go for a pop sound and listeners hear The Cure or OMD. Add rock and listeners think Gary Numan or Devo. Aim somewhere in between and comparisons with Yahoo and Depeche Mode are inevitable. Add a dash of goth/punk and listeners think Miserylab.

Fortunately Alex J Wise’s experience and talent give The Process Void a distinctive sound, even if the elements of hard-edged guitars, melodic synth and basslines plus male vocal sound familiar.

“Eliminate” starts with a simple beat, the synth and guitars come in with the voice centre stage. Its focus is on fallen idols, “You thought they were king of the universe/ But there comes the day you see the mask fall off”.

“Konstellation” feels the most gothic. It’s theme is disillusion, “Constellation, black sky in view/ The stars in your eyes/ Where did they go?” Synth and guitars combine to give the chorus a densely-layered feel, which eases a little during the verses.

“Disgrace” feels like the lament of someone stuck, hamster-on-a-wheel-like, in a rut they can’t see a way out of. The guitars become relentless, the voice more insistent and the synth adds a note of desperation.

“Dying Machine” appropriate starts on a mechanical heartbeat, synth stripped back to give prominence to the vocal. The verses are carefully enunciated, like the last gasp of someone/something fading away. “A new reality is here for you/ Stuck in a time without progression” comes with with an imperative to “Act now or drown”. Choruses are less sparse and vary the tempo, starting with urgency and slowing as the song progresses. I felt this was the best track on the EP.

The title track is voiced by a man who is “Waiting for the paycheck/ For the money already spent” wants to leave. The mix gives prominence to the guitar and cymbals punctuate the lyrics giving the song a wistful note despite the repetitive, regular beat echoing the sense of someone stuck in a life they don’t want.

“Dreams of Departure” is a soundtrack to a dystopian landscape urging listeners to find their inner rebel and challenge existing norms one considered step at a time. That “considered” is important: The Process Void want listeners to think and don’t particularly care if a thinking listener disagrees with them. The Process Void like calculated risks such as taking what looks as if it should be familiar and shifting the listener’s angle so they see it in a new light: punk with melody, electronica with intelligence and purpose.

More on The Process Void here.

Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing is undertaking a three year collaborative project, Colonial Countryside, which will mobilise child historians to develop new audiences for cutting-edge research about British country houses’ Caribbean and East India connections. Peepal Tree Press will publish and resource new writing. To kick-start this project, a pilot event will be held with Colmore Junior School in Birmingham and Kenwood and Harewood Houses. A crowdfunder has been opened to pay for 20 children to visit country houses and related archives along with a historian and a writer to support the children in creating a podcast about their experiences.

The JustGiving page for the project is available here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/uniofleicester/colonial-countryside


“20TEN” Prince – music review

Prince 20TEN album cover

Prince albums tend to come in one variety, a self-indulgent concept that produces some stand-out singles, although the balance between self-indulgence (“Purple Rain”) and greatness (“Sign O the Times”) isn’t always achieved.  Lyrics were never his strong point but the quality of the music is.  Even a weak Prince track is still very listenable and comparable in quality to a lot of chart singles.

Like “Planet Earth” was previously, “20TEN” is released as a freebie with certain newspapers.  Prince has expressed a desire to find new ways of distributing his music and has banned You Tube and iTunes from using any of his tracks.  His explanation: “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.” 

“20TEN” is back to basics sexy, soul funk.  On first listen “Sticky Like Glue” qualifies as single material but “Compassion”, “Future Soul Song” and “Lavaux” quickly grow on you.  In anyone else’s hands “Everybody Love Me” would have been very uncomfortable listening, but Prince is inclusive, “Tonight there’ something in the air/ music of celebration drowning out despair” and later, “ain’t nothing to it but to do it” and it’s a great ending anthem for a live show.

“Act of God” is the political song here and the point “Freedom isn’t free” underlines problems with bankers, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the problems with corporate America.  It’s a point he repeats in “Lavaux”, “The cost of freedom isn’t free.”

“20TEN” is classic Prince, but not a classic.

“the xx” The XX (Young Turk) – music review

The XX self-titled debut album

The XX take a traditional line-up, drums, bass, keyboard, guitars, vocals, throw in some avant garde bed-sit love songs  and produce something that sounds as fragile as a dew-covered spider’s web, but, like the silk that makes the web, is deceptively strong.  The lo-fi beats and synths background draws the melody to the fore and gives plenty of space for the male and female vocals in the 11 songs here.

“VCR” speaks of evenings of natural intimacy from a band whose singers, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, “learned to speak together”.  The XX use the contrast between the stripped-back sound and closeness of the duets to fine effect.  “Islands” uses the lyrics, “See what I’ve done/ That bridge is on fire/ Going back to where I’ve been/ I’m froze by desire/ No need to leave// Where would I be/ if this were to go under/ It’s a risk I’d take/ I’m froze by desire/ As if a choice I’d make”.  That “froze” (rather than “frozen”) hinting at incompleteness and that this island of love might not be entirely a free choice.  “Shelter” probably sums up the band’s aims best, “It felt so crystal/ In the air/ I still want to drown/ Whenever you leave/ Please teach me gently/ How to breathe.”

The songs grow on you: managing that trick of seeming familiar yet drawing you in to notice layers you didn’t hear at first.  It’s that trick that will ensure their audience grows as their musical maturity does.

“Freedom is Work” Miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital) – music review

Miserylab Freedom is Workmiserylab are back with a trade mark guitar tune weaving around mellow vocals and a catchy drum beat: pop with a parallel tension that brings you back for further listening as the deceptively simple sound conceals its complexity. 

The lyrics echo the complexity of sound. TV news is an easy target for satire and miserylab point out in television, “fear is the news here begins television makes it real television is how to feel who to hate what’s to blame”, that only bad news sells and TV has ceased to be a tool but become an end as if ‘being on TV’ is a talent in itself, which of course it isn’t.  The sleeve note points out that “there have been 153 deaths related to acts of terrorism in England since the term was introduced in 1798.  each year in England 350 deaths are related to hypothermia”, yet we fear the former because the latter don’t make the news.  Porl King’s love of ironic wordplay comes to the fore in making a bomb, the title deliberately ambiguous, particularly in the lyrical phrase “they fool the world they rule the world they are making a bomb… …they are making a killing they are making a bomb”.  Compassion shows in way things are “somewhere a child cups its hands weak from crying somewhere a child makes demands wants something buying…”

Vital, vibrant and great value.  Buy it.

“a death that we can cure” miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital)


The title of this fourteen track album is a quote from George W Bush, ‘so that we can see a reduction in death of young children that – a death that we can cure.’ Unsurprisingly it’s a political album, but not a partisan one.  Porl King’s politics are firmly and genuinely humanitarian.  Prescient too the title song mentions, “projects have crashed/ shares have all been cashed/ no need to watch our backs/ we’re protected by our class…”

everything falls apart is a modernised echo, perhaps unconscious, of W B Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming”, particularly ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.’

we are happy the ‘are we happy’ refrain is like a nagging anxiety you suspect lies in the minds of those who wander malls in search of retail therapy and whether they blame themselves for not making themselves happy in the process.  Or they so disconnected they cannot longer sense happy?  Or is happy merely a goal that can be reached with a combination of Prozac and cognitive behavioural therapy if the aromatherapy and shopping don’t work?

Above all, Porl King understands music and knows when to apply drumbeats as a note of anxiety or to complement the melody.  His lyrics have always been rhythmically succinct and audible, a crucial point as their message needs to be heard.  Electronica usually conjures up 80s stalwarts such as OMD, Heaven 17, Bronski Beat or the Eurhythmics, but miserylab give it a very contemporary twist.  a death that we can cure is structured so it rewards re-listening; it’s definitely not disposable pop.  Its anti-consumerism is built to last.  It should be, but won’t be, played at every shopping mall.

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“Function Creep” by miserylab

“Dig Lazarus Dig” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“The Black Parade is Dead” My Chemical Romance”

“The Black Parade is Dead” My Chemical Romance (Warners)

My Chemical Romance The Black Parade is Dead

My Chemical Romance The Black Parade is Dead

A live CD and DVD set confirming My Chemical Romance as simply a great live band. The CD features My Chemical Romance in Mexico City and the DVD reprises Mexico City and throws in the New Jersey show as a bonus. “The End”, ironically, is a perfect mood-setter, kicking off the Mexico City set. The mood is fast and furious through “Dead!”, “This is how I Disappear”, “The Sharpest Lives”, “The Black Parade” with its “just a man, not a hero” aphorism, “I Don’t Love You” and “House of Wolves”, until the piano-led “Interlude” gives everyone a breather. Refreshingly, this isn’t the band recorded through the sound desk with the crowd filtered out. My Chemical Romance encourage their audiences to sing along and that’s captured. “Cancer” (which is what “The Black Parade” is about, contrary to views elsewhere) ups the tempo again and My Chemical Romance maintain it through “Mama” and “Sleep”. “Teenagers” is a great singalong. Powered up, the band keep the pace through “Disenchanted”, “Famous Last Words” with it’s anthemic “I am not afraid to keep on living” refrain and ends on “Blood”. If you don’t come away sore throated and worn, then you’re an android.

The DVD starts with Mexico City. The New Jersey show largely features “The Black Parade” plus some crowd-pleasing favourites. “Thank You for the Venom” is superb live, Gerard Way’s vocals growl out the sarcasm and who can disagree when he comments, “still my favourite song to play live,” of “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison”. Good too to hear the sleazy guitars will come back from their “The Black Parade” hiatus. Gerard Way’s charisma shines and he uses his stage presence wisely, repeatedly thanking the audience and, at one point, asking them to move back when he realises the front row are in danger of getting crushed. The blistering version of “Helena” is almost worth the price alone.

Ultimately, the size of venue – stadium or bar back room – is irrelevant for My Chemical Romance. They bring along their own intimate atmosphere and the audience join in. The live DVD is the next best thing to My Chemical Romance playing in your living room. “The Black Parade is Dead”, but My Chemical Romance are alive, lively and on form.

“Function Creep” Miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital)

Miserylab Porl King Carbon Neutral RecordingsMiserylab’s “Function Creep” is rhythmically precise, low key but emphatic and comes with a contemporary twist, “about the now” is an apt opening track. It’s eighties’ electronica, influenced by Joy Division, that looks forward instead of back. Porl King’s love of irony hasn’t gone away, “your idol is idle” (from “delusions”) or “self-esteem is a screen you have to use -/ so you can love yourself” (from “only human”).

“when you turn away” envisions a J G Ballard “Kingdom Come”-style nightmare of shopping malls and suburbs, where to be is to consume. “Function Creep” is a necessary soundtrack to a panorama of Edward Hopper-inspired crepuscular scenes, taking in the ‘what’s in it for me, am I famous yet?’ non culture. It deserves to spawn a bandwagon that inspires listeners to seek out the leader.

The ending “rise”, opening with “I sense the apathy in your silence/ I sense the contrivance in your kindness…”, is an outstanding anthem which fades into a chilling reverberation that lasts beyond the track.

“Dig Lazarus Dig” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Mute)

Dig Lazarus Dig Nick CaveNick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ fourteeth studio album sees him ploughing that not unfamiliar furrow of biblical characters, garage rock and dark humour. “Lazarus” is dug up and moved to New York where he descends in dope, prison and back into the grave, naturally the song explores the ambiguity of the title’s “dig”.

But it’s not all swaggering rock, “Moonland” with the bittersweet, “…the snow provides silent cover// & I’m not your favourite lover/ I turn on the radio// & it must feel nice/ o very very nice to know// that somebody needs you…” is dreamy in tone with laid-back but rhythmic bass. A mood taken a notch swampier in “The Night of the Lotus Eaters”. “We Call Upon the Author” contrasts, with its more preacherly tone insisting that there’s “nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix.” No one does the post-party atmosphere of “Midnight Man” better than Nick Cave.

He’s confidently doing what he’s always done best and still makes it an interesting listen. If you remember “Tender Prey”, you’ll like this. If you’re looking for “Grinderman” part 2, this will be too slow and too blues-influenced.