With their bigger and better second album, London-based indie/dance band Boxed In have earned their breakout moment
The cardigan never fooled anyone. Under all the trappings of saintly lo-fi sweetheart - the fringe, the doe-eyes, the glasses, the hairclips - Lou Barlow has always had emotions of steel. He might be able to turn a tune that opens your heart, but chances are, once in there, he'll turn the knife as well, unable to stop himself from singing the things most people wouldn't even be able to say. If The Barlow Files of Sebadoh's precious back catalogue are a study in fragility and sensitivity, they're also daubed with cruelty. 'Flame' is another slash at the songwriter's flesh, another glimpse of the rock-hard skeleton beneath, and best of all, another stab at beauty. That's not to say Lou has turned into the alt-rock Terminator, stalking the mean streets of indie with a heat-seeking plectrum to dispense with troublesome fanzine writers, but 'Flame' has a deadpan resilience at its core that suggests a refusal to give a damn anymore. Walk through the soul and fire and this is what emerges at the other side. A needling, desolate soul stomp surging under loops of chilled distortion, it's relentless, Lou's voice as blank and brutal as the unforgiving drumbeat. "I don't wanna go where the seekers all go / I don't wanna know"[I], he spits, a world of shame, claustrophobia and defiance hidden beaneath. The broken-hearted, it seems, become like this. Consider it something to look forward to.
Championed by Zoe Ball, which in credibility terms is like being championed by the Grym Reaper. You might just as well wait for the Authorities Of Cool to bring the handcart round to your door and shout "bring out your dead". Oh, her crimes are many - and there's a strong feeling that behind that flinty-eyed, good-time girl exterior, she'd rather spend her nights hunting fieldmice - but persuading EMI to release the Mint Royale remix of 'Tequila' is among the most evil. It's not as if the album version rivalled 'Blue Monday' for bleak atmospherics, but stripping it down to the silly Speedy Gonzales backing vocals and big beats Norman Cook might find a little brash seems to sabotage any chance the very lovely Terrorvision had of getting people to see them as more then Play School metal for tousled rock kids. Like the deceptively deft songwriting supremos they really are. So, 'Tequila' - better neat than clumsily mixed with the first sticky bottle that comes to hand. Terrorvision might now have Zoe Ball on their side, but right has never left them for a minute.
Three Monster Magnet clichis: heavy, psychedelic stoner-rock. Clichis they might be, but you should start repeating them like a mantra, man, because that's what they do and you're gonna like it. "Whose gonna teach you how to dance?" they growl, and even as you shake your hair like a fool, you hope it's not them because they could bring down the Empire State Building should they so much as attempt a rhumba.They're that heavy. Whether nine-foot Lemmyalike in denim or seven year old girl in gingham, 'Powertrip' provides anyone crossing its path with instant beard, testosterone and massive grin, and Monster Magnet remain one of the few bands who can legitimately make someone from Kent (the county, not the terrible Swedish band) use the word "dude". As in, "Hey, you guys rock, dude!" Followed by a sickening crunch.
The terrible Swedish band, not the county. '747' - presumably named after the big aircraft and not the song's length in hours - sounds like Radiohead. And that really is all there is to say about that. Or would be if it wasn't such a travesty - a bit of technophobic angst, some abstract chiming, and a singer who's stolen Thom Yorke's voice so unabashedly you wonder if he might not want to break into his house and take his credit cards and silver. With all the talk of "violent whispers" and promises that "this time it's for real" you might start thinking that The Unbelievable Truth were a class act after all. At least Kent have a sure friend in Andy Yorke, if no-one else. This is ominously labelled the "single version", implying there's an album version out there that's even longer. Even if you were a Californian redwood, life would be too short.
Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)
Just in case there was any doubt that this week's singles spring from the vanguard of experimental art, here come The Offspring with the last release prior to their eagerly awaited split 7" with Godspeed! You Black Emperor. While 'Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)' undoubtedly appeals to that part of your brain you keep in a jar, it's not as quite stupid as it seems. The lolloping riff plundered from their own 'Come Out And Play' might have you believing singer Dexter Holland just uses his recently acquired PhD in microbiology for growing parent-killing mould in peanut butter, but the sly samples, Ramones-style countdowns in Spanish and unlikely Black Francis squalling have been grown in a smart petri-dish. A heartfelt satire on some homeboy wannabe - "He needs some cool tunes not any will suffice / but they didn't have Ice Cube so he picked Vanilla Ice" - if it's just a little dated, they know that. After all, they called their last album 'Americana'. Fly like an emperor penguin, undoubtedly, but massively endearing. And think of this: while the US got The Offspring, we got Space. As if it isn't enough that they invented peanut butter cups and Frasier. . .
To Earth With Love
Oh, this is painful. 'To Earth With Love' is wonderful - a storming collision of Bowie and Roxy Music, the righteous attitude of Earl Brutus, a fade-out that pays long overdue tribute to the majesty of Meat Loaf, and a sense that here is planet-devouring ambition with the brain to back it up. "Aerosmith rule!" yells Cliff Jones, "Let's get it on! Put your platforms on!" seemingly dizzy with the sheer ecstatic love of it all. Then you remember the live set, where they appeared in thrall to the mechanics rather than the magic, and the spell fades. If this single is the glance across the crowded room that sends your heart spinning 360 degrees, that gig was the sorry first date where you discover the object of your affections collects beer mats and grows a beard for the winter. Whatever, an affair to remember. All four minutes of it.
What Will Become Of The Key Of Reason>?
Released on the label that once put out a My Bloody Valentine tribute album, as if you wouldn't guess within three seconds of Mahogany's guitar-sequencer-cello-melodica madness. They have clearly found their spiritual home, and if it's furnished with a worrying amount of scented candles and Kate Bush albums - singer Allysa Massais probably has a past singing drama school madrigals - they still make a treasurable sound. If you feel like drifting away to a world where wilful song titles roam free, 'What Will Become Of The Key Of Reason?" is available from Claire Records, PO Box 13299, Gainesville, IL, USA.
Cassius 1999 (In Da House)
Shameless. Thomas Bangalter has got a lot to answer for. Firstly with Daft Punk, then with Stardust, he's apparently started a crusade to ensure everyone is having A Good Time, and even if your idea of a disco biscuit is a nice chocolate digestive, it's becoming harder and harder to resist. French duo Cassius have joined the chase with a vengeance, but for all the speedy exhortations and spangled enthusiasm, 'Cassius 1999' isn't quite the towering disco inferno it might have been. Unlike the strangely poignant Stardust single, it fails the 'Dancing Queen' test - in other words, at no time does it make you want to cry over the transience of youth, tell your best friend you love them, nor smile knowingly at complete strangers. Happily, that lowers the chances of hideous embarrassment, but also means it's just rather tiring. In fact, if Cassius are "in da house", you can't help but envy them. Especially if they've got some Kettle Chips in.
This is much more fun, mainly because Berlin-based Austrians Kurt Martini Jr and Franz Pratsch are less concerned with gripping the universe with joy and more fixed on letting all hell break loose. In an aesthetically controlled way, naturlich. Kicking off with some cloven-hoofed jazz beats before disintegrating into a visceral drum'n'bass grind, 'Intro' is all sinister static and worrying muttering, while B-sides 'When Somebody' and 'Sexx' are wipe-clean, black leather industrial hell, the equivalent of being given an unexpected cranial massage by a deranged stranger. And everyone knows how much fun that can be. Bleak and beautiful. Feels like music sounds better with doom.
(Blue Dog Singles Club)
They come from as far afield as New Zealand, Canada, Hull and Bognor, and it shows. If the chorus of 'Information Centre' treads the dour provincial trail of The Smiths, Stone Roses and Oasis, the weirdness surrounding it is epically delusional, placing them in big sky country and Flying Nun's alarming universe as much as suburban shopping precincts. Starting with a monotone cabaret piano and mysterious muttering, it's otherworldly without the wandering-through-forests-in-white-shifts pretension that implies. Apparently the story of a casual liasion with"a solitary character /who said his name was Dan or something" it's semi-precious at the very least. Next time, this crucible should fire up some pure gold.
Up And Down
Just imagine for a minute what your idea of a cool, credible, "indie" support band would be if you were Natalie Imbruglia. Britpop would probably feature quite large, possibly a bit of residual neo-psychedelia, and a earnestness and passion that would mark them out as true creative artists and not chart-controlled corporate automata. Consequently, it would then be no surprise if this band's debut single sounded like the most irritating bits of 'There's No Other Way' and 'Grateful When You're Dead' combined in one anthemic package, a Blakean vision of hell if ever there was. Welcome Carson, formerly Jaguar, now on special offer as Natalie's Choice. They share a producer with Silver Sun.
A plea for escape and surrender at the end of the universe, 'Malibu' is Hole sounding less like themselves than ever before. If there's something vaguely unsettling about Courtney Love in lyrically reflective mode - similar to finding a friendly crocodile or nurturing pirahana - it's tempered by the sheer ridiculousness of her chosen location, home of coconut drinks, silicon implants and Barbie. Love has melted away its plastic charms, though, left behind the murders of crows and magazine mavens that haunted her in the past, and produced a pure and dreamy single untinged by hysteria. It's a beautiful song, all the more so for the disturbing ambivalence of the lines "When the sun goes down walk into the waves". Yet it's only when she sings "love to tear you apart" that you hear her tongue click against her teeth.
Once more, it's the hoary rocker rictus show. Let's do the timewarp again. Only let's not do it quite like Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and the one who wasn't in the original line-up, because when it comes to releasing a single off an undoubtedly entertaining greatest hits LP, they choose not 'Rio', not 'The Reflex' but the deathless classic 'Electric Barbarella'.If you haven't heard of this track, that's because it was taken from last year's 'Medazzaland' LP, a record that mysteriously remained unreleased over here. No wonder. The title alone has the grace of old men stringing buzzwords together in the hope of looking contemporary - expect 'Chemical Millennium Bug Trainspotting' or 'Neon Clockwork Orange Lewinsky' next time round - while the tinfoil futurism of the music gyrates like an rusty robot. Nice to see their attitude to women has matured, too - "Took you home and dressed you up in polyester. . ." snarls Le Bon "I'll plug you in, dim the lights. . ."
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