iJAMMING! album reviews
While the cross-referencing to wine is presented in good humour (and with genuine forethought), the reviews stand seriously on their own; these are the new albums that push my buttons, twist my knobs and otherwise get me off!
Older album reviews are listed here - or use the search engine at left
BT
10 YEARS IN THE LIFE
(Warner Strategic/Essential)

BANCO DE GAIA
TEN YEARS
(Six Degrees)


The techno-electronica boom of the nineties has clearly peaked, and while it undergoes a necessary reflection and hopeful rejuvenation, some of the longer-lasting artists are taking the opportunity to assemble best-ofs. Orbital did so earlier this summer, followed now by two similar projects from two distinctively different artists.

First, the similarities. Toby Marks, who works under the name Banco de Gaia, and Brian Transeau, better known as BT, have each been recording electronic-techno-trance music for a solid decade - hence the almost identical album titles. Each artist has been sufficiently prolific that these retrospectives are double CDs; in fact, they both come as digi-packs, with one CD each as a continual mix. Each artist is a classically-trained musician who abandoned their conventional approach (jazz-fusion for Banco, singer-songwriter for BT) when hip-hop came along, then found their niche in the post-rave scene. Each act has an interest in Indian and Middle eastern music. Each artist is a self-trained studio technician who could by now teach entire college courses in production techniques, they're so gifted. And, while we're at it, BT even has a track called 'Lullaby For Gaia,' though it's more of a homage to New Order than it is to Toby Marks.

And now for the differences. The overly photogenic American BT, though not quite a household name, has released a couple of bona fide trance classics ('Embracing The Sunshine', 'Dreaming') and several guest vocalist cross-overs (the genius cut-up 'Blue Skies' with Tori Amos, the pop-trance hit 'Dreaming' with Kirsty Hawkshaw, and the decidedly grungy 'Never Gonna Come Back Down' with M. Doughty). Signed to Perfecto by Sasha, BT quickly became a major league remixer for the likes of Billie Ray Martin ('Not Over Yet'), Madonna ('Drowned World'/'Substitute For Love' with Sasha himself) and his Maryland pals Deep Dish; he's now moving into the lucrative soundtrack world. Brit-born Toby Marks, on the other hand, has never fully recovered from his early association with the crusty Planet Dog label, has generally eschewed the whole rave/remix scene, has proven obstinately unconcerned by passing trends,rarely allows his photograph to be shown, and languishes, if not quite in obscurity, then at a level far below his talent.

It's not purely the contrarian in me that feels compelled to say that, despite the above, Banco De Gaia's Ten Years is a better album than BT's Ten Years. Why? On the first, continually mixed Banco CD, we're treated to a non-chronological journey through Marks' signature tracks that highlight the consistency of his oeuvre: the eastern rhythms and melodies ('Last Train To Lhasa,' 'Sakarya'), the big bass ('How Much Reality Can You Take?' featured here as a Jack Dangers remix), and occasional big beat dumbness (I've always loved 'I Love Baby Cheesy'). There's even a live version of the filmic 'Data Inadequate' from his Live At Glastonbury album, back when his popularity was at a peak. Though the tempos move up and down, the sensation remains one of a constant, steady journey that takes occasional detours but never loses sight of its destination.

BT's first CD, on the other hand, plots an entirely chronological course through his best-known singles, and, while musical experimentation has to be applauded, is alarming for its lack of cohesion. The difference between debut single 'The Moment of Truth' and most recent single 'The Revolution' is not just that of ten years, or between house music and rock music, it's the difference between , essentially, two different artists who sit uneasily on the same CD. In-between, we get the collaborations mentioned in the second paragraph, all of which have their distinct merits – but as with any album that draws on different vocalists, the changing singing styles jar as much as they gel. It's a great album – but it's best taken in individual doses.

Tables turn somewhat on each artist's second CD. Toby Marks offers up eighty minutes of his more mellow compositions, some of which ('Desert Wind' with Ofra Haza on vocals, 'Shanti') date back to the period when 'ambient dub', in the wake of the Orb's initial success, was as thrilling a genre as anything the techno revolution ever offered . But Toby's never been one for brevity, and the slower pace allows him to ad lib seemingly for ever – or, at least in the case of '887' and the Floyd-esque 'Celestine,' for well over ten minutes. None of this is a problem, but it's not as immediate or ultimately as effective a CD as the uptempo first one. Nor is it meant to be, and that's part of Ten Years triumph: the double package is a carefully constructed, well-presented overview of a techno-ambient underdog.

BT's second CD takes the exact opposite stance, being a continual, non-chronological mix of his collaborations, dance anthems and remixes. There are several tracks here worth the price of admission, including his lovely version of the cult hit 'Calling Your Name' by Libra presents Taylor, a driving remix of The Crystal Method's 'Keep Hope Alive', his take on the Morel-fronted Deep Dish single 'Stranded' and the near ambient finale, a collaboration with Richard Butler entitled 'Shineaway', along with the aforementioned Madonna, Deep Dish, and Billie Ray Martin remixes. Taken at its most simplistic level, it's a highly effective mix CD, though just like its predecessor, it suffers for its myriad vocalists. Indeed, it's hard to remember that 'Dreaming' (featuring Kirsty Hawkshaw) on CD1, is a BT track, whereas 'Calling Your Name' (by Libra), on CD2, is not. Then again, given that I fully support the dance music world's blurring of distinctions between artists, remixers, DJs and producers, I'm not sure if this is a criticism or a compliment.

Both packages are extremely well-presented, though BT's sales history allows for a thoroughly engaging and informative 28-page booklet (the story about the Madonna remix is priceless) whereas Banco must suffice with sleeve notes embedded into the digipak. If you can afford both, get both: each artist thoroughly warrants this opportunity to collate his first decade, and judging by these pasts, neither is in any danger of being obsolete a decade from now. However, if these two 'best-ofs' reveal any permanent truths about their subjects, it's that Brian Transeau is still trying to discover his true identity; Toby Marks long ago discovered his.

WHO
FUZZ TOWNSHEND
FUZZ TOWNSHEND
(Stinky Records)

(Review posted Oct 1, 2002)

WHAT:
A Poppy Rhythm Ace drums to his own beat

WHY
Maybe I should have known his name, but there's too many musicians out there; it therefore escaped my attention that Fuzz Townshend was the (late-joining) drummer in Pop Will Eat Itself until I'd already fallen in love with this album. And that's a good thing - it's reassuring to know that pedigree can prove itself irregardless of a listener's prior knowledge. And while he's also been the drummer for Bentley Rhythm Ace (featuring fellow former Poppy Richard March), Townshend's easily got enough charisma to merit heading out on his own, as this eponymous second album under his own moniker proves. It's an exuberant excursion into rhythm-heavy fun-and-games and disheveled song structures; stripped of pretension, it's as infectious as the best of his predecessors' acts, no less dumb, and equally entertaining. (And for all that it will appeal to fans of his other acts, I can also hear the eccentricity of contemporary black musicians like Chocolate Genius and the Incredible Moses Leroy.)
Titles like 'Ain't It Great' and 'Sinful Happy Fool' hint at the upbeat attitude that dominates these 14 blissfully short cuts, but for all the apparent inanity ("What time is it now?" he shouts on 'Bokka'; "dinner time!" he gleefully responds), some of these beats are seriously inspired. The crisp opening percussive riff to 'C'mon C'mon' and the rightly titled 'I Love Playing The Drums' are worthy of sampling; given PWEI's precedent in that regard, that's the highest compliment.

PRIME CUTS
The young, dumb and full of it 'Fashion Boy/Fashion Girl' shows up in two delightful mixes; 'Don't Break My Heart' takes an excursion into calypso' 'C'mon C'mon' is crazy enough to be a novelty hit, and 'Fantasy' is heady sixties psyechedlia filtered through big beat techno. A total mind-f*ck and proud of it.
WINE?
It's fruity, funky, fresh - and has plenty of balls. It needs a wine to match. Try Ridge Wine's Coast Range.
WHO
HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT
THE WHOLE BLOODY 1990s CATALOGUE
(PROBE PLUS)
WHAT:
Social satirists - still crazy after all these years.
WHY
My main memory of the indemonstrably witty and resolutely witty south Liverpool band Half Man Half Biscuit was how, in 1985, they twice turned down an invitation to play live on the Tube because it conflicted with attending a Tranmere Rovers Friday night home game. They broke up in 1986 with a single atop the indie charts, I moved to the States and that, I assumed, was that.

And then earlier this summer, I befriended 'Sheffield Jamie' during the World Cup and when he was forced to return to England, he entrusted me with the band's entire catalogue since its 1990 reformation. Now, whenever I'm in need of light relief (which is often in these troubled times), I throw on McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt, Some Call It Godcore, Voyage To The Bottom of The Road, Four Men Who Shook The Wirral, or Trouble Over Bridgewater and laugh out loud at some of the sharpest, if most provincial, lyrics to have been set to indie music this last decade.

Half Man Half Biscuit would be nothing without its (purposefully anonymous) songwriter Nigel Blackwell, whose keenest ability is apparent from his band's album titles: take a well-known phrase and rewrite it as something faintly ludicrous yet inherently funny. So, on the Trouble Over Bridgwater album, we get 'With God On Our Side' as 'With Goth On Our Side' ("I was brought up on Bauhaus and black bedroom walls"); on Four Lads…, there's 'Four Skinny Indie Kids' ("drinking weak lager in a Camden boozer") as a reworking of 'Five Little Indians.' Four Lads also has 'Turn A Blind Eye' in which the famous poem about the greater German population's complicity in Nazi pogroms is updated with cheerful audacity: "They came for Danny Behr, I said 'She's over there.'"

The group's obsession with the temporary players of British pop culture (even Paolo Hewitt gets a mention) and their working class roots means, sadly, that HMHB's humor barely translates outside of England. And their simplistic guitar riffing, occasional acoustic picking and singalong choruses vary so little from undated album to undated album that you end up identifying its year by clues in the lyrics. E.g. 'Deep House Victims Minibus Appeal' from Voyage contains a reference to "stripped down Italian speedcore, new wave of righteous handbag," which places it as mid-1990s. (It was released in 1997 – though I had to go online to prove it.)

While much of this back catalogue is interchangeable, the most recent album, Trouble Over Bridgwater, shows a marked maturity in Nigel Blackman's songwriting (I find 'Ballad of Climie Fisher' surprisingly emotional), and that makes me all the more keen to get my hands on Cammell Laird Social Club, out this very month (September 2002). A very British treasure.
PRIME CUTS
Absolutely nothing and nobody is sacred from HMHB's acid tongue, but pop music trends come top of the list (as they should). Titles like 'Eno Collaboration', 'Ready Steady Goa', '24 Hour Garage People,' and 'Children Of Apocalyptic Techstep' can't but put a smile on the face. The humor regular crosses into quality social satire: on 'Used To Be In Evil Gazebo', Blackwell conducts an entirely fictional interview between the NME and the latest Ladbroke Grove rehab survivor (Brett Anderson, possibly?). HFHB are more than willing to laugh at themselves too, even their loyalty to their football team: 'Friday Night And The Gates Are Low' could only be sung by a Tranmere fan.
WINE?
You've got to be joking. The notion of knocking back anything more refined than lager, cider or possibly a Babycham would repulse the band. And don't even ask for a pint of proper beer: the song 'C.A.M.R.A. Man' makes clear their thoughts on your type - a "Dr. Who aficionado, no wife, no kids."
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What's new in iJamming!...
(Last updated
Wed, Oct 23, 2002 3:49 pm)

REMARKS REMADE :
Available Now!
The introduction to the new edition of my R.E.M. biography is here.

FEATURED WINE:
Ridge Coast Range 2000
A Decade In Dance
BT & BANCO DE GAIA
10 Years (Apiece)
The October Hitlist
30 Albums 10 Songs
FEATURED ALBUM:
FUZZ TOWNSHEND
HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT
The whole Bloody 1990s cataloge
The Last Great Mix CD?
2 Many DJ's As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2.
Last of The Summer Rosês:
Goats Do Roam, Vin Gris de Cigare and Rose of Virginia.
DID BIN LADEN WIN?
10 Reasons To Fear The Worst
From the Jamming! Archives:
PAUL WELLER
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
LEVI'S STROKES EARS
New York's rock'n'roll rescuers play Lowlife - loudly
LUNA at SOUTHPAW
Local legends and international influence come home to party
THE AUGUST HITLIST:
28 Albums Rocking Our World
THE TWO ARE ALRIGHT:
The Who at Madison Square Garden
AREA 2:
A wash-out
24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE
The Movie
The Party
THE HOOTENANNY REVUE REVIEW:
Cedell Davis, Tuatara, and The Minus 5 atthe Knitting Factory
WILSON PICKETT:
Still 'A Man And A Half'
THE JULY HITLIST
30 Albums, 5 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies
TIMOTHY WHITE
An obituary by Chris Charlesworth
The REZILLOS:
Back On The (Flying Saucer) Attack
The iJAMMING! interview
RICHARD BUTLER
THE JUNE HITLIST
30 Albums, 10 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies.
MAY MUSINGS
Eight Days in A Week's Music:
Ed Harcourt, Vines, Candy Butchers, Timo Maas, Ashley Casselle & Adam Freeland, Aerial Love Feed, and enough little club nights to shake several sticks at.
LONDON MUSING
Tony's (lengthy) trip down nostalgia lane from his visit home at the end of April. Stop-offs include Death Disco, old Jamming! Magazines, life-long friendships, road trips to Brighton, Damilola Taylor and political frustration, Morrissey-Marr, Zeitgeist, Oasis, Dexys, Primal Scream, the current British music scene and more.
The iJamming! interview:
CARL COX
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
GOLDEN SHOT
hostess 'Lee Patrick' recalls her time as Keith Moon's amour
HEDONISM:
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
JOHN ACQUAVIVA
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
The iJAMMING! interview:
DAVID SYLVIAN
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:
MARK PERRY

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region 2:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
TRAVIS.
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
LLOYD COLE
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
The iJAMMING! interview:
BOY GEORGE.
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
The full iJamming! Contents