Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Print day: the stresses and strains

Print day for ShadowPlay is always a stressful occasion with last minute adjustments and chopped off edges always standard fare. I’ve been looking for a new print shop for quite some time, since moving to London in fact, and received a great tip off from a fellow zinester about one in the centre of town a couple of months ago.

I’ve started using an annual, How It Was To Be Young Then, about the swing era to keep the master copies flat and it was from this that everything fell immediately on entering the bizarre copy place. Housed in a disturbing quiet school-type atmosphere, it is staffed by a man of indeterminate eastern European origin wearing a large knitted jumper adorned with a Scotland flag on the top floor. After a last minute cut and Blu-tack job on some flyers featuring beautiful artwork from ShadowPlay fave Os Gemeos, everything is ready to go. Thus ensues the most circular conversation of my life:
“I’ve put this next to the edge to make it easier to cut, will it get cut off?”
“No, that’s not a problem. Is this not the finished cover then?”
“Yes, it is the finished cover.”
“Then why do you want to cut it?”
“It’s just the design. I do.”
“But why?”
“It doesn’t matter”

And so on. And so on for literally three minutes before the Groundhog day was broken by a paper jam, thank fuck. Of course there’s problems, missed off headlines that have disappeared, marks on the cover and a change in the price but, on getting the copies home (having skipped down the stairs of the weird building avoiding the lift in a cage and grappling with the heavy box and big umbrella given to me by a potato company on a tube packed tighter than battery hen) and assembling the protype it doesn’t matter. A new ShadowPlay is born and a sense of pride and dread installed. Now for the hard part, pass the long-armed stapler…
ShadowPlay #27 is available by emailing shadowplayfanzine@hotmail.com with your address, simple eh.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Mad March = Great Records

So when Howard Hughes greets the “interplanetary indiepop pickers” in the intro to The Pocket Gods’ new record he isn’t going too far wrong in addressing the average sanity, and musical taste, of potential listeners to Plan Nub, Behind the Fridge. In fact, by the time he invites us to “loosen those space belts and prepare to go down, deep down into Nub country…”, you’re either in or out. Luckily for ShadowPlay, we’ve already ripped off our leather waist strapping (it was purely cosmetic anyway, three quid from the British Heart Foundation) and are rolling in a veritable pig sty of bonkers tunage. Ahem. Billy Childish Enters the Space race gives an excellent early sign of the witticisms, perfect riffs and off key singing in store. Alien Xmas Song displays the indie poppers in a rare contemplative move, coming over all lighters in the air but, before the hankies are out over the irresistible slow strumming they’re singing “there’s a nipple fight in the car park, nipple nipple nipple fight..beautiful manboobs”. Perfect and bizarre, indiepop at its finest.
ShadowPlay’s favourite Barcelona-based ridiculously traditional folksome singer, Peter Loveday, returns with a new album, Standard Ideal, recorded last summer. Always full of erudite phrases and clever little imagery (“As the trucks roll by I step out of the way/I’m in no hurry and there aren’t that many anyway”), Loveday has beguiling, cracked voice now backed with some complementing vocal and violin tones by Naomi Weldman and Sarah Davison. Some of the duets here work better than others but there’s a genuine skill in the songwriting that make him worth investigation for lo-fi fans across Europe.

Talking of lo-fi, the crayon cartoons scribbles across Islands Lost At Sea’s new record (pictured) belie the stylish CD packaging with a bunch of funny bookmarks (sample “Read Thicko”) spilling out from its bambuzzling form on unfolding. It would be easy to get distracted from the music then, but this Staywarm Records release is a particularly charming piece of indiepop wizardry. A mix of plaintive peaens, chirpy tunage and even the odd carefully weaved in beat keeps the island floating on towards success. Oh, and the packaging’s actually a bookend, neat.
Not for the first time, Sunday Best are band on form. Well, more specifically their artist Dub Pistols are, with Rodney P taking some of the limelight on new A-side Ganja. We know what to expect from Dub Pistols – the slight warped reggae, the inevitable catchiness – but the added element of Monsieur P shouting “they got us under prohibition like it’s 1932” gives it an edgy, exciting top layer – to be skimmed off and enjoyed as 2 Bit Thugs and Nitenoise play around with it in subsequent mixes.

Elsewhere Skeletons, aka Nostalgia 77, releases Smile on Impossible Ark Records – a clever ‘act of mindless fun’ combining West African earnest jazz with more fun, upbeat offshoots. The man behind is, Benedic Lamdin, says Skeletons “is a made up band” as the musicians were never together in the studio and, after playing around with what was in vogue, he couldn’t stop. Whatever the process, it sounds good and very, very hard to turn off. Oh, and Alice Russell fans – get this if only for her usual supersonic display on Adam and Eve. Funk and soul act The Bamboos finish us off, Tru Thoughts luminaries they’ve been around for a while now and new album ‘4’ displays perfectly why their stock has risen steadily in the last few years. Turn It Up has the dusty feel of a classic while you can hear the stilettos squeaking on the two tone floor in Like Tears in Rain, retro stylings in its finest. A stellar month then, go forth and multi-buy!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Various Artists: Disco Love (BBE Records)

Just as you know Danny Dyer probably isn’t going to turn up in a period drama, cities can be typecast too. Musically certain cities are always associated with particular genres – Sheffield and Bristol breathe connotations of electronica, Manchester the stagnant fag smell of rock’n’roll – and it’s probably fair to say that Glasgow is as synonymous with disco as Rio de Janeiro is with black metal.

But Glaswegian native Al Kent, aka Ewan Kelly, might just be about to change all that. The talented DJ is best known for his label Million Dollar Disco and its Disco Demands series – a Northern Soul and disco digger if ever there was one he has added to this with his much lauded 20-strong Million Dollar Orchestra.

Here Al kicks off the exciting new Disco Love series covering rare disco and soul over two discs (originals and remixes) of sheer delight. There’s plenty for the casual disco acolyte, as well as the aficionados as Kent delights in sharing his eclectic taste. His liner notes for Sweet Daddy Floyd’s irresistible I Just Can’t Help Myself expose this raw passion as he urges listeners to “give it three listens and you will love them too”. And it’s true, there’s so many tracks here that do what both disco and soul should do – be impassioned but tight and clean cut, show some hard graft but be smooth as the proverbial swan on the water and provide something to dance your badly laced boots off to.

The mix from Bob Williams’ I’m Alright into the classic Nite Life (Let’s Get It On) by The Midas Touch shows Kent’s skills at their exemplary best while the smooth transitions that guide the second disc through remixes of Patricia White, Quinn Harris and JNB show a style that explains his appearances at London’s Soul City and Edinburgh’s Ultragroove among other big names. Al Kent has a heartening and genuine talent for mixing and provides a disco mix that can’t fail to please in this well thought-out appearance.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Zero dB: One Offs, Remixes and B-Sides (Tru Thoughts)

As much as experimentation and diversion from what’s gone before is the spice of life when it comes to contemporary music, there is something perfectly satisfying when a new release does exactly what you’d hope, and expect, of it. Obviously, with an off-cut type of album like this two disc set, these expectations can sometimes be negative ones, tinged with worries over quality-quantity balance and whether it’s the artist or the label who wanted to release it.

No such concern here though, as Zero DB and Tru Thoughts could be one of the most reliable combinations in the world of beats and breaks. The experienced remixing duo of Chris Vogado and Neil Combstock have here combed the edges of their back catalogue to form a retrospective that says as much about their calibre as it does how good they must be at going to the right sort of parties. On their illustrious guestlist Alice Russell, Quantic, Hexstatic, Javi P3z Orquesta, Frank De Jojo, and Bonobo appear, along with remixes from Seiji and Aaron Jerome. The Vogado Projects’ glorious ten minute triumph that is Mas Feurte Que El Sol proves a particular highlight, ponderously mixing deep house (stay with me) style piano with a Latin rhythm and flecks of sax in the same way that made Quiet Village’s Silent Movie an effortless piece of perfection.

Zero DB may always remain deliberately shadowy figures, sat at the bar sipping a beer while some of their labelmates bare all on stage. But their gliding skills in production and ability to move from smooth low tempo work to textbook breakbeat will ensure they will keep winning and keeping fans time after time.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ty: Special King of Fool (BBE Records)

Special Kind of Fool represents a first outing for Ty, aka Ben Chijioke, on BBE Records, having formerly only really arrived in the public’s ears through the established auspices of legendary hip-hop label, and Ninja Tune sub-label, Big Dada.

Interestingly Ty describes the record as his story. And an interesting tale it is – that of artist who after ten years, three critically acclaimed albums (Awkward 2001, Upwards 2003, Closer 2006), collaborations with the likes of Tony Allen, De La Soul, Damon Albarn and Estelle, a Mercury nomination amongst other accolades, and a worldwide army of fans, has always followed his heart it seems.

But it feels like there’s too much heart and not enough of what makes Ty great here. His burly, thunderous rapping drawl has always contained plenty of humour in the past with the frontman always bouncing live and with an irrepressible amount of charisma. But somehow his passion has been channelled in the wrong direction here, passing on the vocal duties to a posse of impressionless, sometimes irritating guests. Many of them try so hard to sound soulful that they just appear vacuous and you are left craving more of the main man’s sturdy vocal. The beats are also a little pedestrian, rarely stepping up a gear and providing the genuine hooks usually so evident from the London-based Tony Allen associate.

There are a few positive signs though. The appearance of Sway and Roses Gabor does genuinely complement the ebb and flow of Heart is Breaking and there is a span of several songs, including the relaxed rhythm of Me and the clubby feel of I Get Up, where Ty is at his swashbuckling best saying: “where I’m from I’d probably make twice the money/if my skin was a different colour ain’t that funny?” before nonsensical lyrics and nursery rhyme rip-offs. But it’s too little, too late and it feels like a waste opportunity for one of Britain’s biggest hip-hop talents to burst back out of an overlong hiatus.