REVIEW: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (1998)

“Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation.” – Hugh Aldersey-Williams on This Is Hardcore from the article Living Dolls, which appeared in New Statesman Magazine, on 8 May 1998.

Riding on the intoxicating waves of britpop and cinema-chic, Pulp’s 1998 release This is Hardcore is an intoxicating ride of pleasure and disappointment. An entire essay could be written about the album’s depiction of consumable sex, narcissistic dissatisfaction, the album’s place in the conversation of sexism within media, and arguing points over intent, self-awareness or lack thereof. That said, I’ll spare you any bigger questions on life and morality in favor of getting on with it.

Almost immediately, This Is Hardcore showcases a tendency to crowd itself. There is little space for songs to breath, which shows both in its ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ song structuring (understandable/forgivable/expected) and corner-cutting song endings.

Opening track The Fear, like much of the album, is much too indebted to this way of song writing to allow itself the room to see its moody composition to fruition. There’s choral arrangements, layers of guitar and then some more layers of guitar, leaving the recording feeling crowded, busy, and at the same time a little flat. Regardless, the actual songwriting across the album is incredibly well crafted. As a result, front-man Jarvis Cocker and crew’s songwriting is, to recontextualize a quote from journalist Edgar Nye, ‘…better than it sounds’.

I feel slightly sorry for the teenager buying this album in a second hand shop, expecting something more, well, hardcore, and hearing a song like Dishes: a mellow pop piece on the doldrums of being 33. But This Is Hardcore makes a lot more sense once having worked one’s way in. It’s an album of repercussions wallowing in melancholy and want.

Uh, hello? Teen angst? Ever heard about it?

The album’s energy takes a step up with Party Hard while simultaneously dating it alongside 90s alternative rock groups EMF and Spacehog. The following Help The Aged does a much better job. By balancing wailing power pop choruses with soft psychedelic lounge-pastiche verses, Help The Aged gives itself room to breath while continuing to apply layer and layer of sound.

Music video for title track This Is Hardcore, directed by Doug Nichol.

The album’s titular track may be the best singular work on this album. This Is Hardcore is an incredibly dark song. Taking a steady 2 minutes 30 seconds to reach its first chorus, its repetitive motif does more to help the song breath slowly and fully until reaching a magnificent… er, climax, nearly 2 minutes later before its emotional downward spiral: a clearing of the fog of fame and the burnout which succeeds it.

Jarvis Cocker has been on record about the song’s meaning a few times, albeit different angles: a song literally about porn, about fame, society’s aggressive appetite for ‘new faces’, the thrill of burning bridges and so on and so forth. Regardless, the emotional sleaze and excitement of excess followed by destructive fallout is a transition perfectly exemplified in the synthetic melting tones of the song’s outro, which leads into the introductory cold drone of following track TV Movie.

Even across its Beatles-inspired pop rock, TV Movie’s bleakness further reveals the emotional fall-out of narcissistic-consumptive pleasure: the depressive sense of isolation and dissatisfaction.

A Little Soul, however heartfelt, is too cheesy for me to be caught listening to. And from here This Is Hardcore seems to drift out of focus, until its rallying finale. This could have been an album of exemplary pop writing had it reallocated some of its space to letting its songs breath, and perhaps trimmed the fat. Even with a stream of fairly consistent hitters, This Is Hardcore is bloated, which makes the work susceptible to becoming banal. That is to say, from A Little Soul to The Day After The Revolution should have been lifted and reconfigured to their own release, leaving Like A Friend to close the album after TV Movie. Perhaps in this process, the masters to songs like A Little Soul and Glory days could have been destroyed in a fire, leaving all traces of the songs lost to time…

The age of the CD lead to the exploitation of new possibility, which in turn lead to occasional negligence of the art being created for that medium. This tends to happen whenever there is a new medium or fashion of doing things. But this was only the first step in the slow expedition of digital possibilities. More recently, Kanye West – Life of Pablo (2016) became infamous for this very neglect. Having taken advantage of digital possibility, the album was only finished months after its release. This brought into question the criteria of what finished or completed an album and if we had possibly surpassed the age of the solid album.

This Is Hardcore‘s recording sessions spanned from November 1996 to January 1998, and upon its original release didn’t feature one of my favorite songs on the album, Like A Friend. For clarity, I reviewed the non-deluxe version of This Is Hardcore that was available on the Apple Music store (can’t we just call it iTunes?) in October of this year. But what does this mean for reviewing work? What constitutes an album in the post-artifact age? Going forth, how do we group parts of a larger work? What IS mu-… no, I said I wouldn’t go there. Right then. Getting on with it;

There is absolutely amazing work to be found on This Is Hardcore, but as a collection of work it has a tendency to get in its own way. I’m (figuratively) curious what the outtakes of this album have to offer, but I sense the truth is they’re still very much present.

For fans of: Blur, Portishead, Spacehog

Like Pulp? Give these a listen: EMF, The Good The Bad & The Queen, Sparks

REVIEW: Frankie and The Witch Fingers – Sidewalk (2013)

Having never heard Frankie and The Witch Fingers before, I expected the proceeding 34 minutes to be a morose journey of cinematic surrealism. Even the album’s cover, a naked torso and head with eyes obscured by flowers laying atop rugged concrete doused in red, lead me to believe it would be some sort of Black Dahlia; a homage to the grotesque photography of Man Ray.

In a way, what I did hear was kinda grotesque. Sidewalk is yet another disappointing add-on of the 4th wave of garage rock, indistinguishable from all its contemporaries in the only genre to have become more of a parody of oneself than contemporary death rock. This album is in many ways the same as Shark?’s album Savior, also released in 2013, only with weaker songwriting and overindulgence of rock’n’roll antics.

The only redeemable tracks (out of 12) are Ferris Wheel, a slightly unique song with Nick Nicely or Holger Czukay-esque psychedelia and song My Love, in which the singer’s incessant wailing gives it a go at making me not mention the song entirely. Seemingly undeterred, over the rest of the album Frankie and The Witch Fingers give it their all at getting me to stop listening entirely! I didn’t. I kinda wish I did, but I didn’t.

Comparatively, originality came in spades from the original incarnation of garage rock grappling with beatlemania, its 80s and 90s counterparts reinvigorated by punk, and 00s by degrees of commercial accessibility and further artistic success. Why has garage rock become such a bad joke? Every guy and gal an Easy Rider wannabe, drenched in high-waisted denim and leather tasseled jackets. I once saw the frontman of a garage rock band leave after load-in, only so he could ride up to the venue on his motorcycle, inevitably pushing everyone’s collective set-times back by 15 minutes.

In an interview with Jesse Thorn in 2011, music cultural theorist and author Simon Reynolds observed that “…[ideas of] authenticity came from feeling that someone else has more of it than you, that you don’t have it. A lot of it relates to white middle class people feeling a little hollow in some way. They feel like other people are leading realer lives than them. In the early days of rock music, rock and pop, used to be a real-time thing, it would be like The Rolling Stones admiring Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, relatively recent records. But now it’s much more likely to be located in the past…

…I thought things would be weirder and stranger in the 21st century than that. Some trouble with that assuming of authenticity through somebody else’s style is that you inevitably produce something that’s false. It doesn’t have anything of you in it, that’s the crucial difference I think.”

If you’re looking for the anti-chic records of days gone by, you can check out our article CHASING GHOSTS: An Interview With Lost RPM’s Jeffrey Harvey.

For fans of: Thee Oh Sees, Shark?, Caesars

Like Frankie and The Witch Fingers? Give these a listen: The Monarchs, Clinic, Didjits

REVIEW: Art Brut – Art Brut vs. Satan (2009)

As an American, liking Art Brut in 2009 was about as simultaneously nerdy and hipster as being into British shows like Spaced or Louis Theroux documentaries. Remind you, this is pre-Sherlock phenom. Actors like Matt Berry weren’t being given full weekly articles just because we can.

Looking back twelve years, Art Brut vs. Satan holds up incredibly well. Unfortunately for Art Brut being timeless in an age of nostalgia and hyper-pastiche doesn’t work to their advantage. The songwriting is straight forward and stripped down. Vocal metres are occasionally emphasized by syncopated stabs, unifying the band’s effort throughout the album. The band’s unification lends itself perfectly to building emotional potency, especially over the course of Art Brut’s long build ups. The Replacements (a song about The Replacements) ends with a stacking of Gregorian-esque backing vocals under singer Eddie Argos hysterics over choosing between cheaper secondhand CDs or reissue CDs (extra tracks, mind you).

Vs. Satan is closed off with the lengthy Mysterious Bruises, a relatively funky and lonely song about a lost night out. Its on-and-off soft choruses and punchier verses is reminiscent of The Pixies, which is appropriate as the album was produced by Pixies frontman Black Francis.

“Our songs are true stories and I wanted to do them once or twice and record them because you’ll lose that sincerity if you do that again and again and again. After we realized we wanted to do that we asked ‘who is the expert at doing that?’ and came up with Frank Black because that’s how he did all of the (Frank Black and the) Catholics’ albums. And also, he’s cool and we wanted to hang out with him. ‘What excuse could we use to hire Frank Black?’ And then he said that he liked us, so we signed him up.” – Eddie Argos in an interview with Three Imaginary Girls blog. You can read an archived version of the interview here.

Argo’s spoken delivery is often compared to the late Mark E Smith, but is distinguished by a greater sense of emotional urgency. On vs. Satan, Argos delivers lines of daily mediocrity, yet sells the listener on existential joys and cultural ponderings. Nothing embodies the antithesis of rock behemoths Led Zeppelin and Kiss more than Art Brut, and what’s more punk than that?

In many ways, the music culture gripes expressed throughout Art Brut vs. Satan got me thinking about music in the way I do now. This album was released right before I entered highschool. I was at my peak interest in Primus, Gwar, and dime-a-dozen rockabilly bands. So on midway track Demons Out! when Argos begs “how can you sleep at night when nobody likes the music we like?” Well, it felt like he was speaking directly to my angry middle-schooler self.

They’re not on Bandcamp yet, but maybe one day they will be. Till then, you can buy the album on iTunes or search for it on Spotify.

Read Eddie Argos’s blog or visit Art Brut’s website.

For fans of: Kaiser Chiefs, Psychedelic Furs, Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Like Art Brut? Give these a listen: Hazy Sour Cherry, Shorty Can’t Eat Books, Geisha Girls

REVIEW: Geisha Girls – Disappearing Act (2006)

Geisha Girls puts their contemporaries to shame with accessible high intensity alternative rock tinged with death rock sensibilities. Pounding tom percussion, use of 16th note hi-hats, and angular power-chord-shy guitar work may feel familiar to any Rikk Agnew/Rozz Williams era Christian Death fans. But with dry production and Hot Hot Heat styled vocals, Disappearing Act is as distinctively 2000s alternative rock as it is anything else.

The bass bounces, nearly plodding along with angsty disregard. That is until Retaining Water. With walking bass lines and a stripped down section where the bassist shines, Geisha Girls skirt the repetitive nature that current death rock bands accept as the boundaries of the genre.

In other ways, Disappearing Act is what Arctic Monkeys fans thought they were into. Tonal similarities wouldn’t be lost on a listener of both bands, but Geisha Girls don’t let the listener off as easy. Songs like This is Novelty, Finding Peers, and Skinny Wrists use dizzying compositional structures with puncturing frenetic drumming.

If you enjoy alternative rock, and are looking to get into something a little bit harder, you need to hear this album.

For fans of: Phantom Planet, Art Brut, Christian Death

Like Geisha Girls? Give these a listen: Infinite Void, Dame, The Atom Age

REVIEW: KAPUTT – Demo 2017 (2017)

Demo 2017 is a uptempo danceable punk splurge of weirdo rock’n’roll archived in stripped-dry production. Its wirey and agile songwriting keeps things moving and interesting for the whole 14 minute ride. What more could you want from a demo?

KAPUTT’s guitar work is, in some way, in lineage of Devo’s Bob 1 and Jerry Casale, while drummer Rikki Will and saxophonist Chrissy Barnacle take a laid back but nevertheless meticulous playing style reminiscent of The Cardiac’s Dominic Luckman and Sarah Smith, respectively.

The band has since released the full-length album Carnage Hall (a demo of the title track appears here on Demo 2017) as well as 2 singles. You can go check out Carnage Hall now, or keep a look out on Resident Sound, as I’m sure I’ll be revisiting KAPUTT more in the coming weeks.

For fans of: The Cardiacs, James Chance & The Contortions, Devo

Like KAPUTT? Give these a listen: Crack Cloud, Clinic, Polyrock

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