Tag Archive: Wire


2011 through my (biased) eyes: January

January (and indeed 2011) kicked off reasonably well with ‘Red Barked Tree’ by Wire, a fine combination of subtle dreamy tracks that recalled shoegaze and new wave particularly Bill Nelson’s Red Noise (‘Please Take’, ‘Adapt’, ‘Down to This’) and a more typical Wire sound (‘Smash’, ‘A Flat Tent’ and ‘Two Minutes’ . The highlight of this was ‘Moreover’ with its creepy synth intro slashing guitar riff and effected vocals building in intensity throughout the track ending in a final crescendo. I was initially wrong footed by the dreamy songs, they completely the opposite to image of Wire I have and I was unsure of how they sat in Wire’s career arch. However, a little reading filled in a some gaps in my Wire particular the second phrase of their career in which they secretly pioneered a sound similar to that of the shoegaze bands that would follow them. For me the jury is still out in this way album, though the band do prove not purely trading on past glories. I will be revisiting this album later in the year to try to make my mind up about it.

Another post-punk band Gang of Four returned to the fray this month with ‘Content’ their first album since reforming in 2004. Unfortunately I feel this album is a massive disappointed, hackneyed and lazy reliving and ruining of past glories. For a band that has for so long riled against retro revivals and giving their audience an easy ride, it seems I (and possible many other fans) had Gang of Four all wrong. Minus the original rhythm section and with Andy Gill on production the band has become a pale imitation of its self. Jon King regularly lets the band down on the vocal and lyrically front undermining any political points he may be making, Gill fares better but still lacks the sharpness of his prime and rhythm section is one half lifeless (drummer Mark Heaney) and one part session muso of slap bass duties (bassist Thomas McNeice). These elements all combine to ruin what was which an amazing formula and reduced to a sub par Duran Duran/INXS played by Gang of Four.

Deerhoof were the next band to release a new album in January and I have to say that like Wire they produced a mix bag stylistically speaking. The album veers from Spanish flavoured tracks such as ‘Que Dorm, Nomes Somia’, ‘I Did Crimes for You’ and ‘No One Asked to Dance’, the chugging sprightly guitar powered riff-a-rama of ‘Let’s Dance the Jet’, ‘Secret Mobilization’ and the slightly mellower ‘C’Moon’ and the indie electro of ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads’ and ‘The Merry Barracks’ and a couple more genre de tours too!! This is a band who often can’t sit still for one song and I had to listen to each one several times to really start to get a hold on them, however Deerhoof’s music isn’t difficult possessing much rhythmic and melodic skill and dexterity. I’ve checked out some of band’s back catalogue (and will continue to) and I feel that through this album has some great highlights to maybe feels a little laboured and is maybe a transition to the bands next break through.

The first début album of year to blow my socks off this year is ‘Violet Cries’ by Esben and the Witch, traditional song structure is almost exclusively abandoned in favoured of tense post-rock style structures of building intensity and massive drops. The band has taken massive steps forward since their début E.P. and gothic-folk just won’t cut it as description. True theres goth influences I can hear Siouxsie and The Banshees in a lot of the melodies and textures used across this album, ‘Light Streams’ hints at Battles influence in its spiky guitar arpeggios and exploding drums. ‘Marine Fields Glow’ is a torch that recalls Portishead at their finest and the records ambition is pure Kate Bush. I have a feeling that this could rival These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ as an ambitious album that successful combines many influences, though I’ll admit that Esben and the Witch’s influences are less varied and diffuse, the two albums share a similar medieval atmosphere.

The Dirtbombs returned with a novel concept album that really could have gone either way. Ten years after they released ‘Ultraglide in Black’ their album of Detroit soul and funk covers they released another celebration of Detroit’s musical history ‘Party Store’ there revising of classic Detroit techno tracks. Starting with a grease, grinding garage version ‘Cosmic Cars’ the album doesn’t really take off until track three ‘Good Life’ which combines heavy drum machine back beat, busy post-punk chicken scratch guitar, funk bass-line and singer Mike Collins falling a little short of the originals vocal heights. ‘Strings of Life’ ups the ante once again but is probably the closest to the original. ‘Alleys of the Mind’ continues a good run of tunes and returns to the grime of ‘Cosmic Cars’ but more successfully. The album’s centrepiece a 21 minutes plus version of ‘Bug in the Bass Bin’ features it composer Carl Craig jamming along on a modular synth and despite its length is the highlight of album, powering it through the remaining three tracks.

Talib Kweli made his return as an independent artist with new album ‘Gutter Rainbows’, a return to form after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

I’ll be adding three new bands to our preview of the year and a new pages that will act as new music and film release schedules.

Just a couple of things to add before we move on to February:

1) You can find links to music news, album streams, our posts and more on our Twitter.

2) We’ve been scratching our heads trying to work out a way that we can share our playlists we more people (Spotify has its limitations). If anyone knows of an app/piece of software/website where we can create playlists from a legal database of music, please feel free to post in the comments or our Twitter. We have thought about Grooveshark but it’s not technically legal and is being sued by many record companies so may not last. iTunes is obvious one but I’ll be honest I don’t like it. So to recap, it has to be free, legal and with a pre-existing database of music that is updated regularly.

Spotify playlist *:

January 2011 playlist

*More tracks to be added as they become available

February recommendations

Asian Dub Foundation – ‘A History of Now’ (Cooking Vinyl) 7th February

ADF return with their seventh album the follow-up to the brilliant ‘Punkara’ (2008), the title track (available at the band’s website for your e-mail address) suggests it business as usual these innovators and that’s no bad thing, lets hope there’s plenty more on the rest of the album.

Beans – ‘End It All’ (Anti-Con) 14th February

Anti Pop Consortium member Beans returns with an album of 13 tracks by 13 different producers and with a smattering of guests. Producer’s include Four Tet, Bumps (Tortoise’s drummer), Tobacco, Clark and many more. T.V. on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe sings on the track ‘Mellow You Out’ which is a promising preview for the album. I’ve personally found Beans solo material hit and miss though I’ve lost touch with his solo activities in the last few years, however I think this could prove an interesting record.

Paris Suit Yourself – My Main Shitstain (Big Dada) 14th February

The début album from French-US collective (the first ‘rock’ band to sign to Big Dada) is one that is incredibly impressive while also suggesting areas that could be expanded on in the future. The first knock out album of the year stakes out similar territory to garage-funk band The Make-Up but with a more modern and street wise hip-hop edge. Though vocalist Luvinsky Atche doesn’t sound like Saul Williams his half sung, half spoken vocals are. The Pop Group and PiL also seem like good reference points for tracks such as ‘Decadence’ and ‘Yesterday Make You Cry’.

Mogwai – ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’ 14th February (Rock Action)

Another Mogwai album another great album title. Having a few tracks off the album I can honestly say that I think the boys are back up their with their best albums. As is always the case the development from the previous records is subtle and can take a few listens properly present themselves but they are there. More vocals is something they haven’t tried since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ and its stands up and adds a more human feel and another layer of texture and harmony to the bands sound. Particularly highlights are the corroded guitar drones of ‘Rano Pano’ and the motorik groove of ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ (a real departure for the band).

Win Win – ‘Win Win’  14th February (Vice)

A three-way collaborative project comprising XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Delvin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. Their self titled album is out on Vice on 15th February and features Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Andrew W.K., Naeem and Blaqstarr (Spank Rock) and Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) to name a few. Having only heard one single its hard to say how this sound, however given the people involved its safe to assume it’ll be dirty but sleek and eclectic yet danceable.

Toro Y Moi – ‘Underneath the Pine’ 21st February (Car Park)

Toro Y Moi follows up last years excellent début album – ‘Causers of This’ with an album full of live instrumentation a straight up 80’s funk and pop influences. ‘Still Sound’ and ‘New Beat’ bristle with elastic energy and bounce. An album to brighten up the winter just ahead of spring rebirth.

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Wow, 2010 was quite a year for music and Sonic Fiction, personally I think it was a really great year for music of all types and blog managed to grow massively in the second half the year when we doubled our views from the first half of the year. Thanks to anyone who has taken a look, enjoyed and commented on our pieces. I have to say though that in some ways the end of the year was frustrating reading end of year polls and finding tons of reviews of albums I hadn’t listened to in my bookmarks. Still I’ve decided not to stress about as even some of my favourite journalists haven’t found the time to listen to everything.

In 2011 we hope that Sonic Fiction can continue to grow both in terms of quality of writing and views. We aim to continually improve but want to make this a more conscious effort from now on. We’ve launched a Twitter account which will enable us to link readers to articles, albums, playlists etc and provide the real interactivity that we want with Sonic Fiction. I think that when we started the blog, we were just relived that it was (finally) up and running but as time has gone on a set of aims has emerged. We really want to start debates about the points that we are making and we hope that with the help of Twitter and even better writing we can do so. If anyone has any suggestions of further ways we can encourage this please let us know. We also have a new bi-monthly column launching in February (when we’ll be one year old) that will reassess the perceived reputation of artist(s), a period of their career or a genre, we don’t have a title but if anyone has a suggestion just Twitter it or put it in the comments section.

Ok, so looking forward into the New Year here’s list of the various cultural happenings we are looking forward to this year:

Bands/Artists/Releases

There’s a trio of returning post-punk legends (two of them this month) in the shape of Gang of Four’s (first album in almost 16 years) ‘Content’, Wire release new album ‘Red Barked Tree’ and The Pop Group return with a new album later in the year, which will possibly feature The Bug, Keith Levene (ex Clash and Public Ltd guitarist), Micheal Rother (Neu!), Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) and DJ Assault or not.

There’s ‘Violet Cries’ the debut album by spooky, folky goth types Esben and The Witch, a band I saw a lot of potential in last year but failed to mention.

The explosive agit-prop of Asian Dub Foundation is always welcome in my flat and on the evidence of the title track so will new album ‘A History of Now’ out 7th February.

A week later Mogwai’s fearsome noise will pollute speakers the world over with new album ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.

I always get excited about new PJ Harvey album but haven’t even listened to one since ‘Tales from the City, Tales from the Sea’, so we’ll have to see if ‘Let England Shake’ changes that.

There’s also the much anticipated collaboration/remix album by Gil-Scott Heron ‘We’re New Here’, though the description I read on FACT doesn’t fill me with confidence.

The Knife have hinted via their newsletter of new material emerging sometime in 2011 and in other Scandinavian news, Bjork has said that new music will be “ready in a few months”.

Finally Primal Scream celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Screamdelica’ with a tour and impressive looking 6 disc box set on March 7th. There will also be smaller edition more info as I get it.

New band tips

  • OoOOo – self titled debut E.P. was one of the top releases of 2010, next release much anticipated.

  • Balam Acab – debut E.P. ‘See Birds’ was one of the top releases of 2010, to be issued on CD in February.

  • Factory Floor – this industrial dance outfit’s early singles impressed, an album is being recorded.

  • Dels – Big Dada’s new hip-hop hope delivers debut album produced by Joe Goddard (Hot Chip) early in 2011.

  • Laurel Halo – made waves all over the internet last year and seems to have the talent to back up the hype!!

  • Yanqui – I was very impressed by this post-rock bands self titled debut E.P. and think there’s real potential for development into something bigger and better.

  • The Samps – another impressive self titled debut E.P. from these sample lovin’ duo, kind of like a sampled based Chin Chin cheesy yet irresistible.

  • Games – this Oneohtrix Point Never side project launched with their debut release ‘We Can Play’ on the super hip Hippos In Tanks late last year and it was packed with great tunes that promises their debut album might just be as good as Oneohtrix’s own material.

  • Blondes – synth based Brooklyn duo who after the success of their ‘Touched’ E.P. should release a debut full length that takes their ‘bedroom space disco’ sound even further out.

  • Win Win – a three way collaborative project comprising XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Delvin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. Their self titled album is out on Vice on 15th February and features Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Naeem (Spank Rock) and Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance).

  • Floating Points Ensemble – the side project of producer Floating Points have already received critical acclaim for their spat of electronic jazz infected 2010 releases, a debut album on Ninja Tune awaits in 2011.

  • Holy Other – The haunting track ‘Yr Love’ leads to a potential album this year. The electronic music producer’s blend of gauzy vocals, 808 claps and swampy delays creates a highly emotional feel, which hopefully will materialise as a complete release.

  • White Car – Having released two EP’s last year this exciting industrial dance duo are currently putting the finishing touches to a début album to be released later this year.

  • Suuns (pronounced ‘Soons’) – This band’s début album ‘Zeroes QC’ manages the ineviable task of  combining post-punk and post-rock influences into a cohesive, tuneful and confident and all without sounding like overblown and bloated rock.

  • Breton – This South London have been saddled with the unfortunate description of ‘post-punk dubstep’ but don’t let that put you off. It’s true that they combine influences from those genres but a quick visit to their MySpace will show that they transcend these distinct sounds to make their unique style. With only one 12″ the potential is definitely there and only time will tell if it can blossom further.

Albums we hope finally see the light of day in 2011

Missy Elliott’s long anticipated ‘The Block Party’, the second Madvillain album, the new Mouse on Mars album; a new album by audio-visual dons Coldcut is due and The Avalanches much, much, much anticipated follow to ‘Since I Left You’, yes I believe this is coming soon.

Spotify playlist:

Preview of 2011

Recommendations

Wire – ‘Red Barked Tree’ (Pink Flag) 10th January

Wire return with their 12th album (and first without guitarist Bruce Gilbert), the bands own description makes it sound like business as usual but this no bad thing!!

Deerhoof – ‘Deerhoof vs Evil’ (Polyvinyl) 25th January

American indie-rockers return with their 11th album, following on from their great contribution to Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics’ late last year. You can hear tracks from the album via Soundcloud now and in each week leading up to release.

Gang of Four – ‘Content’ (Groneland) 25th January

Post-punk legends return with their first new album since reforming in 2004. Heavily published by the bands fund raising efforts which included giving away vials of blood to fans with the album. Should be interesting as the two tracks I’ve heard so far have gone from great to so-so.

Talib Kweli – ‘Gutter Rainbows’ (Talibra) 25th January

Talib’s first independent release after the fall out from ‘Eardrum’ lead to leaving Warner Bros. early signs are good and come in the form of the Ski Beatz produced ‘Cold Rain’. You can hear the track and read more details here.

Esben and the Witch – ‘Violet Cries’ (Beggars Banquet) 31st January

Quietly gathering support from The Quietus to the Guardian through last year and expected to produce one of the debuts of the year. Will their folky gothic pop live up to the hype?

I hope to have some more music, plus television and film recommendations next month.

Coming up in January we have a piece on slow music (more interesting than that sounds), the return of Music Is Improper with the second part of its history of techno and ‘Doolittle’ by the Pixies is this month Classic’s Critiqued.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Wire – ‘Pink Flag’ (1977, Harvest/EMI)


Wire and their debut album ‘Pink Flag’ are a complex proposition: arriving at the tail end of punk but too early for the beginnings of post-punk and the ideas and attitudes that aligned best with Wire’s. They were not musicians merely discarding the excesses of progressive rock but a band learning to play their instruments and hating that punk rock was becoming a self parody, descending into the yobbish pub rock that they had reacted against. A band not only interested in making music but ‘art objects’ and concerned with image and performance.

Wire, like many art rock and post-punk bands, formed at art school. Originally called Overload the band comprised of Bruce Gilbert (guitar), George Gill (lead guitar) and Colin Newman (guitar/vocals) and they were later joined by drummer Robert Gotobed and bassist Graham Lewis. During this period the members were divided. Gill the skilled musician and main writer wanted to pursue a more traditional approach while the others were interested in their school’s guest lecturer Brian Eno’s ideas about non musicianship and limited skill not being a barrier to artistic expression. Even at this early stage Gilbert and Newman thought of Wire as more of an art project than simply a band. The pair considered that by wearing the same black and white clothing and having a disciplined presence on stage they would not distract from the music. This idea of distancing of themselves from their music became an important feature of Wire.

Wire also detached themselves from other punk bands though they were spurred on by the notion that punk broke down the traditional concept of needing to be a trained musician to create music. Lewis recalls “We felt an affinity but we weren’t part of the social scene” while Newman says “I viewed as a bit of laboratory, not musically but culturally, because the people were experimenting with themselves: with their behaviour, their appearance and their clothes. Everything was up for grabs.” Their age was a big factor as punk was focused on youth and rebellion. As Ira Robbins of Trouser Press Record Guides puts it “Wire seemed like adults. They weren’t just kids spewing invective. They were intellectuals making a very informed statement that just happened to sound like kids spewing invective.” Wire were allergic to the ragged rock ‘n’ roll traditions that their peers were morphing into in front of their eyes. Their discipline shunned the messiness of punk but kept its speed and aggression while imbuing it with a minimalism that was closer related to Kraftwerk, Steve Reich and Terry Riley and though they didn’t sound like these artists they embraced their aesthetics and principles. Appropriately for their arty sounds and ideas Wire signed to Harvest, a label famous for releasing progressive and art rock bands in the early 1970s, before releasing their debut.

This minimalism manifested itself in the artwork of ‘Pink Flag’, which started as a simple line drawing and then later developed from a photo of a bare flag pole in Plymouth where the band was playing. Gotobed’s drum kit was stripped down to the essential bass drum, snare and hi-hats and his drumming style followed suit. By the time Wire came to record ‘Pink Flag’ they were down to the classic quartet having shed George Gill and his winding solos.

The album opens with ‘Reuters’, a brilliant introduction with its crawling build of guitar and bass standing in stark opposition to their peers’ records that opened with an upbeat anthem. It perfectly demonstrated the Wire blueprint and a statement of their intent. Immediately countering its predecessor is the 28 second rush of ‘Field Day for the Sundays’ and pace-slower ‘Three Girl Rumba’ (which features their most famous riff that was later used by Elastica for their hit ‘Connection’). The opener’s use of unconventional structural framing that concentrates on the beginning and the end of the song not the song’s content and ambiguous lyrics are threads that run through ‘Pink Flag’, particularly on ‘Field Day for the Sundays’, ‘Surgeon’s Girl’ (with its misplaced count-in subverting that rock cliché) and ‘The Commercial’. The next big moment is ‘Lowdown’ with its slowed down funk riff and atmosphere placing it firmly in a trio alongside ‘Reuters’ and the title track as ‘taut minimalist exercises in dread and menace’. ‘Surgeon’s Girl’ separates Wire further from punk and together with ‘Fragile’ and ‘Mannequin’ hints at why the band signed to Harvest. Newman described the former as ‘Pink Floyd, fast’ referring to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, which the other songs echo and the jangly guitars of ‘Mannequin’ recall late 60s psychedelia. In another extreme swing the album ends with ‘12XU’ a punk blast that is one of the album’s standouts. It bursts out at full speed and doesn’t waste an ounce of fat adding to the split second feeling and then it’s over as quickly as it began.

‘Pink Flag’ could appear to be a collection of dissident tracks, certainly some were deliberately sequenced to jar, but this was conceived as an ‘art object’ and is best experienced as a glorious whole and it went on to influence a range of alternative and experimental artists, impacting on Blur, post-punk revivalists The Futureheads, radiophonic experimentalist Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud who formed Githead with Newman in 2004) and the 80s US punk underground with the likes of Henry Rollins and Minutemen extolling its virtues. Despite everything that could have not worked Wire created a disciplined work that still sounds as unique and strong today as it did in 1977.

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