Cardiff International Arena



[a]Four Tet[/a] is the nom de plume of one Kieran Hebden. Funny how these cutting-edge denizens of DJdom and avant-breakbeat types always have such wussy names. [a]Photek[/a]’s real name, for instance, is Rupert. Anyway, Kieran is just 21 and has been locked in his bedroom since the age of about 13, sacrificing his formative years to record extraordinary soundscapes such as this, the follow-up to his similarly masterly ‘Thirtysixtwentyfive’ and in tandem with his work with the group Fridge.

The title track is the topper, an eerily meandering sequence of imagined neo-be-bop, with an undertow of guitar drifting through the mix like the ghost of ’40s jazzman Charlie Christian, as a saxophone snakes over the top. ‘Aying’ is less successful, a stab at Indian ambience which is a bit cut’n’paste, all film soundtracks and snake-charming pipes, but ‘Fume’ is excellent, couched in a world of echoes, vibes and the sampled strains of some long-dead violinist.

Beyond trip-hop, beyond Gilles Peterson-style jazz-funk, this is utterly beguiling and genuinely disturbing stuff, the sort you’d be recommended to listen to with the lights on and another person present in the room if you didn’t want to get seriously freaked out. Kieran Hebden is probably the sort of person who should get out more but it’s to our advantage that he doesn’t.

‘Beyond The Biosphere’
[I](Easy! Tiger)[/I]

The mission statement of Boston brothers Christian and Justin is to try to “recapture the lost grandeur of the ’70s stoner album”. What they’ve actually done here is to apply one last, inspirational surge of voltage to that supine and exhausted beast, US white college rock.

‘Cold Fingers’ is the snappiest of the three tracks, in and out in under two minutes, a nifty blast of Replacements-style powerpop. ‘The Filth Of It All’ makes morose and paranoid self-pity almost respectable again by dint of a sharp lyric and a sharper melodic sensibility, while the similarly non-chipper ‘I’m Over And I Know It’ somehow manages to rouse itself from its comatose despair into a dizzying lather of guitar. I never thought I’d listen to a record like this again.

The Sound Of Lovers EP
[I](U-Bahn Productions)[/I]

Glaswegian five-piece Fatlip have captured here, for those who care to hear it, the desolate evocation of strobes flashing, music blaring and dry ice looming in an entirely empty nightclub. I know whereof I speak; before becoming a music critic I was an extremely unsuccessful DJ. Playing stuff like this accounted in no small part for my lack of success.

Beautiful Day

The extraordinary, indeed ultra-ordinary, 3 Colours Red soldier on for no other reason than that they might get there. If they didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be necessary to invent them. They’ve made it hard enough on themselves releasing a single called ‘Beautiful Day’ in the middle of January and this is hardly the sort of galvanising epic that makes you yearn to burst into the grey outdoors and fill your lungs with the damp. They try to pull out all the stops, dousing their efforts in generous amounts of symphonic brine and thrusting hard for some sense of climax but the effect is one of quantity rather than quality. Better than the last Oasis album, but that’s really not saying much.

Superfly And Bindi

Emotional Breakdown

There seems to be some unwritten rule that new Asian music can only come through one band at a time. First it was Fun^Da^Mental, then Cornershop, then it was Asian Dub Foundation, as if one band at a time is all the market can bear or all that critical consensus can cope with.

Here are two good reasons why Asian music deserves better in 1999. Black Star Liner‘s ‘Superfly And Bindi’ is, I suspect, some ironic paean to the dubious virtues of ‘cool’ ([I]”You’ve gotta walk this way/You’ve gotta talk this way… like Superfly”[/I]) but it swaggers with seasoned confidence, a seamless mix of tablas and samples.

That there’s no longer any sense of self-conscious curry-and-chips-style dislocation between Eastern and Western music is still further evident on Mo Magic‘s ‘Emotional Breakdown’. More ambient and with less attitude about it than Black Star Liner, it luxuriates irresistibly across its 12inches, a perfectly integrated, cosmopolitan mix of styles that never clash but merge and procreate like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Asian music is no longer an ‘option’ – it’s now fully entwined into the fabric of pop.

Bad Girls

A cover of the Donna Summer classic this, destined to be bouncing out of your radio on a round-the-clock basis. Has it come to this? Soul music, bastard son of the blues, descendent of sharecroppers’ hollers and the shackled laments of the slaveships, is now the soundtrack to wet T-shirt competitions at singles weekenders in Essex? Did Robert Johnson make a pact with the devil down at the crossroads for this? Did Otis Redding die in vain? Did… all right. I’ll calm down. Yes, Thank you, I just needed a sit down, that’s all.

Needles Eye
[I](Bad Parents)[/I]

This one I’m hanging on to. Over a wasted, civil war-style landscape comes a vocal that sounds like some daughter of Tim Buckley intoning a lament for the dead, before gradually the drones in the background pick themselves up like soldiers come back to life and start flitting about the song like busy little sprites. The further two tracks, ‘A Reason To Live’ and ‘Seen Before’ continue in a similar vein of sober but not po-faced beauty. I know nothing about Lost Girls; all I know is the world should know more about them.

Manners, Pianos & Mouthorgans

[I]”Here’s your bill for human rights/It costs more than you’ve got”[/I]. The Bitter Springs take the dog biscuit for the gloomiest, albeit most truthful remark about the human condition this week. A pity, really, that it’s couched in such a listless musical setting, of strings like a wet Sunday afternoon and a wah-wah guitar that’s clearly thinking of going out to the shed and ending it all with an air pistol. The moral of this review is this – miserablism is great, so long as it makes you happy.

Feng Shui

A word, briefly, about Feng Shui, which teaches that the way you arrange your furniture has a direct bearing on your spiritual wellbeing. It’s bollocks. The sort of nonsense lapped up slavishly by New Age Agnostics, the sort of people of whom that redoubtable Catholic GK Chesterton once said, “People who believe in nothing will believe in anything.”

For instance, according to Feng Shui theory, if your toilet is located in the middle of your house, then you will be profligate with your money and liable to sink into debt. Well, since I moved into a house where the toilet is located smack bang in the middle of the house, I’ve paid off my credit card bills on time every month. So that’s Feng Shui fucked.

What Derby’s Cato feel about Feng Shui is less sure. Judging by the desperate tones of their press release, it’s doubtful that they can even afford furniture. A shame, as this single merits wider attention. The My Bloody Valentine/Bark Psychosis influence is obvious but there’s a uniqueness to the grainy shapes Cato sculpt here. This is the sort of ‘noise’ music that approximates to a silence of sorts. The vocals barely make any impression beyond condensation, while the guitars rumble like distant thunder. I doubt their neighbours were even aware there was anyone living next door, let alone banged on the walls, when they recorded this.

You Should Be…
[I](Ministry Of Sound)[/I]

They say there’s no easy way to make a fast buck but this, of course, is untrue. Record an old Bee Gees song and you’ll be waved through to what is laughingly known as the Top Ten, no questions asked. This is a cover of the Gibb brothers’ ‘You Should Be Dancing’ and stomps along like the sound of the machinery printing up new ten pound notes at the Royal Mint. Trouble is, it also stomps out all the subtle little wah-wah details which made the original so special, all those loving little indicators that although this was disco, human beings were still involved in its crafting.

Still, destined as this is to be played at deafening levels on Friday nights in All Bar One, why waste time on details, eh?

When I Wake Up

Umajets strive to emulate the bright blue skies and bulging cotton clouds of their sleeve with their surging, chesty, vitamin-drenched harmonies and big pop hooks. And for sure, if you’re the sort of nauseatingly bushy-tailed person who greets the 7.30am alarm call with a big smile and a bowl of delicious corn flakes as opposed to Solpadeine and a suicide vow, then this is probably the single for you. Better than Cast, but then most things, some of them physically painful, are better than Cast.

Postcard From Heaven

There haven’t been many more stupefyingly blank groups in pop history than The Lighthouse Family. One marvels at the spiritual mundanity of people who find room for this sort of thing in their lives. Do people make love to Lighthouse Family? This is barely adequate as the soundtrack to a handshake. For all I know, ‘Postcard From Heaven’ might well be their last single given a different name and sleeve and bunged out again to a semi-comatose public. It’s the same-old same-old affable shambles of bucket rhythms and strings, with a vocal that captures all the soulful zest of one of Trevor Brooking’s pullovers. My left foot actually went numb with tedium at listening to this.

This And That

[I]”Fuck rock’n’roll/Fuck losing your soul/Fuck digging a hole/Fuck being stuck in a hole/Fuck Hollywood/Fuck being misunderstood/Fuck your mood/ Yeah, fuck your mood/Fuck Lois Lane/Fuck singing in the rain/ Fuck no-smoking trains/Fuck aeroplanes…”[/I] This little ray of sunshine was brought to you by one Rico. Not the Rico who used to play trombone with The Specials, at least I don’t think so, but another Rico, snarling away over a dodgy, second-hand trip-hop riff and the occasional downpour of suitably misanthropic guitar. In spite of the surplus of them on this single, it’s a fuck that Rico needs, I suspect. Badly needs a fuck.

The Wind

She’s been through so many costume changes over the years, adopted so many vocal dramatis personae, from vamp to pseudo 90-year-old bluesman to deranged mother, from foxy lady to foxhunting lady, that it’s hard to remember what the ‘real’ Polly Harvey sounds like. It’s a coping strategy, you suspect, a means of evading some truth about herself that’s too hard to deliver in straight first person.

‘The Wind’ is once again elusive, switching from a whispered intro to an oddly impersonal falsetto: [I]”See her in her chapel/High up on a hill/She must be so lonely…”[/I]. The emotional displacement might be exasperatingly coy but the whole exercise is carried off with formidable confidence and panache, carried along by a riff that’s simple yet supremely confident in its ability to carry the song. There are also samples from the Planet Of The Apes soundtrack wafting in and out, unaccountable for and yet somehow not out of place. An admirable musical spectacle and yet there’s this nagging feeling that it’s a distraction, a calculated charade.