Monkey’s Claw Vs April Fishes

2015-03-10 21.00.53

Les Poissons d’Avril as our French comrades would have it. Despite the obvious problem with releasing anything on April 1st (rather than the 2nd or March 31st) plenty of people went ahead with it. Competition for which of us is the most foolish around here remains stiff nevertheless it was Thee Monkey’s Claw who sat irritably through a pile of new releases to bring you all his uninvited and curmudegonly views on a few so you could save precious time and brain power for more worthwhile things…

First up then this Electric Pencils album which isn’t out April 1st but has been out since Feb 29th, a much more intriguing release date. It has a spring into summer, bright and breezy feel to it, short sharp pop punk songs with sing-a-long melodies. Ben (on the left of the cover, which he painted) was formerly in Thee Spivs but this is a more melodic, less snottily punk rock affair. The love of Billy Childish is still there, his voice has something of Mick Jones in it and it often, if loosely, reminds me of Buzzcocks. There’s that energy and youthful brightness to it. Steve, as you can see from the cover, is a one man rhythm section and plays the drums with his feet which gives it a very simple, direct feel. I don’t think they’ve even taken advantage of the studio to put any cymbals on the record, I’ve not noticed any and it’s a nice touch if true. So the drums recall the stand up kit of The Shop Assistants or Bobby Gillespie pounding away in the early Mary Chain. It’s actually the more punk mid 80’s indie bands they most sound like though I hesitate to say it because I don’t mean it in a bad way at all (The Shop Assistants were damn perfect). Actually English bands because they don’t cop any American garage band/rock ‘n’ roll clichés either, they’re quietly and politely English without making a fuss about it (because that would be vulgar). I’m of the right age and inclination for this to scratch a nostalgic itch in just the right way. On repeat listens it’s clear just how well they’ve pulled off a remarkable trick, the descriptions ‘punk pop’ or ‘indie pop’ rightly strike indifference into the heart in any context but retrospective because there have been so very many crappy bands unimaginitively flogging that dead horse for 30+ years now. But they are perfect descriptions of this record, and it’s really good. It reminds of a lot of things without being embarrasingly indebted or tiresomely generic, and the writing, playing and production is a cut above a lot of those 80’s indie records without being all shiny and happy and Californian…

Which brings me embarrassingly to Bleached, scrappy punk rock sisters from California who have made a shinier, brighter pop punk record than previous. I’m not slagging it though, no sir. Where the comparisons above were vague signposts and suggestions this one is straight up The Runaways + The Go-Gos = YES. If you don’t like The Runaways or The Go-Gos you are wrong and there’s nothing for you here. Still, those records are 35 – 40 years old and maybe something to add to the pile wouldn’t hurt? I’ve already played ‘Beauty and The Beat’ a few times this year. Have a listen to ‘Sour Candy’, that should be a proper pop hit shouldn’t it? Not even impossible that it could be. No-one’s reinventing the wheel here or anything but sometimes it gets really boring listening to another bunch of stoned half wits digging into the same riff for 15 mins pretending they’re gifting us conciousness expansion. I think you know what I’m saying. Even I’m in a good mood sometimes. It is 1000% better than what I’ve heard of the new Cherie Curie record so, you know, a young ‘un’s game. Take a look at the cover too, they look like a less glamourous version of The Faster Pussycat gang, drag you out to Barstow and kill you in the desert.

There’s a limit to the sweetness and summery vibes of the last two records though, something in both about finding the positive way out of life’s darker moments, the last track on the Electric Pencils is about a neighbour being killed, nothing much seems to have ever troubled this guy. The Burning Hell may be sarcastically or inappropriately named. They are basically Matt, a nice Canadian, and any number of others from time to time although improbably they recorded this in Kent. Which apparently soured the mood nowhere near as much as it should have. They seem nice. I don’t want to be mean. I’ll suggest you listen to “Fuck The Government, I Love You” because it seems to neatly encapsulate the problem here. It’s quite a smart lyric in it’s way but it’s a pretty shit song. So smug you want to punch everyone. I don’t just mean everyone involved either, I mean EVERYONE.

Enough happy upbeat pop, lets have a little intellectual heavy lifting in here again, my teeth hurt. The name The Comet Is Coming has a pleasing 23 Skidoo echo to it so I thought I’d give them a go. Tries the patience somewhat but it’s not an entirely off base assumption. If you know 23 Skidoo’s self-titled album from around 2000, the one with Roots Manuva and Pharoah Sanders on, this isn’t too far away from that sort of thing but coming from the Jazz direction rather than heading towards it. I am again regrettably drawn to the issue of shininess here. Like the glistening cover there is much going on but it appears to be all surface. Perhaps it would sound better had I not been listening to pretty straightforward pop songs all day, there are enjoyable moments here and there but I’m torn between thinking it might open up and reveal secrets or just be a load of old tosh. They have stupid stage names and ancient hip hop beats, the titles suggest a space adventure type narrative theme ‘Journey Through The Asteroid Belt’ and so on. It reminds me of stuff from 20 odd years ago which does not seem at all the point of what they’re doing, and then it packs a little wonky surprise now and then. The truth of the situation is I am just not interested enough by it to give it the chance to impress me on a second listen. From the blurb “Listen! As a trailing meteor shower drops hot coals hissing into topographical oceans. Inhale! The burning funk of strange new flavours. The sound of the future… today.” Lucky they got a first go reading that to be honest. I must have been in a good mood. Jazz Wankers.

Fucking Gnod eh? What are we gonna do about them? They do almost everything right and yet I still don’t like their records. Noticing that topographic oceans nod just now I’m sure their last one earned them some unfavourable Yes comparisons. Not a place you want to be. I’m starting to feel mean. If the uk’s underground/avant garde rock scene/whatever was pub, Gnod would be the pub dog or cat, and everyone would love it except me. I’d be the cantankerous old drunk bastard who kicked it if he got a chance. Why is that? I like this one more than others and I can see me enjoying this version of the band live, if they’ve not transformed again by the time I do. It claims to be channelling PiL and Swans this time out which is a welcome development. More accurately they are the obvious reference points when listening to it. While it might be easily better than the last Pil album and the influence of Swans is pretty clear it’s no match for actually listening to Swans. Not a lot is of course, the recent run has been particularly overwhelming. It’s earlier, dragging, sludgy, darker Swans they’re tapping into here. The vocals are surplus and slightly annoying but the music is pretty impressive for something recorded in a very short time. Still, I’m not having it. One day they’ll make a really great record and I’ll have to admit it, this isn’t it but it’s another step on their intriguing path. It’s possible the problem with Gnod is they keep seeing shiny things in the woods and veering off that path to have a look and when they come back they haven’t moved forwards.

Thank God for Mogwai. How do they do it? We’ve had ourselves a good old chuckle about the purple prose this latest album has inspired elsewhere, so best be careful. Especially this far down the bottle. Firstly and most importantly it does not contain a cover of Blondie’s ‘Atomic’. Once you get over that little heartbreak you’re good. It’s a Mogwai record, a particulary good one, a better Mogwai album than ‘Rave Tapes’ was and a better soundtrack than ‘Les Revenants’ which I liked a lot. The first track here is so beautiful I keep expecting the wonderful voices of The Unthank sisters to chip in, it’s the very sound of spring. The rest of the album is equally good, the fierce noise beast of the live band kept on a short leash but to no detriment, there’s a lot more electronic tinkering as well but perfectly combined. They seem completely in charge of their wide sound world, subtler than before not so reliant on dynamic drama. Not that such comparisons make much sense but if we look to Tortoise’s recent water treading effort and Godspeed’s ‘We’ll do another one the same in five years eh?’ approach it seems the plucky Scots lads have emerged victorious from the post rock wars…




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s