Oh Fracas!
Holl(i)y revies some singles and demos

O Fracas - Follow Sue (Marquis Cha Cha 27/04/06) ofracas.com

O Fracas here present their second single on uber-ace indie label Marquis Cha Cha. They will be touring to promote it, and will apparently be providing "O Fracas Maracas" so that the audience can join in the joy. Particularly proactive fans are also encouraged to bring along their own percussive accompaniments. Sounds like these'll be gigs worth attending… And what of the noise which will be spawning this orgy of communal rhythm improvisations? Well it's damn fine - and also damn deceptive.

O Fracas, you see, are possessed a kind of cumulative weirdness. On first listen you're so swept up in the frantic beat and urgency of their scritchy punk racket that you don't quite notice how damn odd it is… and then on every subsequent listen the ear picks up on more and more wrong notes and you gradually realise exactly how offbeat and surreal the noise is. Feedback; the kind of tautly speedy drumming which makes you suspect that the drummer has at least four arms; howling, empty breakdowns; a scratchy, hyperactive energy which sounds like the music is straining to break off the CD and burn over the horizon… all these factors combine to give O Fracas a haunting, slightly disconcerting edge which calls the listener back over and over again. They're highly dramatic, but it's a Mulholland Drive kind of drama: flickering, confusing, surreal and lingering in the mind. It's mutated scratch-punk terrorism to sate the willingly bemused and the artistically hungry and well, well worth checking out.

Elektradog - Demos (elektradog.com)

As the wise among you might've already guessed, this collection of nine demos falls into the category of electronica. Which is, as a rule, a genre for which I have a lot of time. However, in this instance the use of synths and drum machines can't hide the fact that this is incredibly anodyne stuff. The definition of the beat is submerged under fuzzy edges and utterly loses any drive; the repetitive riffs sound more lazy than insistent and the whole thing suffers from a complete lack of energy and punch. Occasionally a decent introduction will prick up the ears and lead one to believe that the next track will be a saving grace; but it'll soon dissipate into soaring bombastic nonsense or that drudging repetitiveness, and before long we're bored again.

It is, I believe, possible that there're the seeds of some decent numbers in here, but they've been utterly destroyed by the aforementioned laziness and by vocals which sing about love with the passion and emotion of a man reading through a shopping list to check he hasn't forgotten anything. Of course, a notable feature of electro is that it often makes a selling-point of clinical emotionlessness - but if you're gonna do that, you need the sharpness and innovation which Elektradog sadly lack. A total lack of reasons to hit the repeat-button.

Love Ends Disaster! - Faster, Faster… (Denial Records) loveendsdisaster.co.uk

First up, a public service announcement: the production values on this EP leave something to be desired, and your listening experience will benefit greatly from your cranking the volume up before pressing play.

And once you've done that, there'll be no obstacles left to your being utterly converted to Love Ends Disaster's technological, reverberating rock noise. Displaying just the right balance between intellectual pretension and a clear desire to make large amounts of beautiful noise, LED's sound is as intelligent as it is dance-floor compulsive; a beguiling mixture of densely tangled riffs, quicksilver space age guitar effects and clapping-and-shouting or drawn-out-and-trancey breakdowns. Add to this a vein of humour which cuts the sound back down to earth with a bump just to allow it to wind back up into the stratosphere again, and you have something really rather special. LED are smart and witty; original, tuneful and loud; and in general make a noise that's really, really, really worth listening to, both because it interests and impresses and because it engages the emotions in a casual, non-histrionic manner. You should listen to this EP, and then you should go and see them when they next come to Cambridge. And then you should listen to this EP again. Yes.

Soho Dolls - Stripper (FilthyPretty) sohodolls.co.uk

My instant assumption was that this would be some idiot drooling voyeur-fest… but I was wrong. And I'm very glad I was wrong, as this rather disconcerting record makes for far more interesting listening. For a start, the stripper-watching character vocals are both sugary-pure and strong-lunged… and are sung by the very definitely female Maya von Doll. As she alternates between crooning "We come here to stare" and hollering "Hey! Stripper! I Wanna Be Your Mister!" the listener isn't quite sure how to react. The song's attitude is hard to pin down: straight-forward pastiche? Casual sarcasm? Bitter irony? Pure shallow shock-provocation? All of the above? Whatever: it's thought-provoking, and the attention is thoroughly engaged.

Beneath this disconcerting gender(politics)-bending stomps a beat-heavy glam-rock swagger which hitches electro-clash pose and posture to a fists in the air chant-along simplicity which adds up to give the impression of Marilyn Manson covering Goldfrapp. The press release claims that this is already a "classic single" in the form of underground electro-club cult dancefloor filler, and I can well believe it. The pounding beat, rock'n'roll hollering, in-yer-face hip-swaying sexiness and jeeringly mindless "Na-na-na"s add up to something simultaneously threatening and compulsive: whether Soho Dolls quite intended this disconcertion or whether they simply dug the vibe they ended up with, they've made something which just screams Cult Classic and which will doubtless welcome a multitude of people onto the dancefloor this summer. And that multitude may well include me.

Rory McVicar - The Things You Do (NR One Records) myspace.com/rorythelion

Rory McVicar does acoustic songs with the odd bit of sampled backing vocal, knife/fork/dustbin percussion cameos and similar trimmings just to pad out the sound and give it some layers. Despite these decorations his sound is, at root, very traditional, moving from straightforward man-with-guitar to a melancholy choral effect to (even more) deeply rooted folky beats. The vocal delivery is muted and fairly unremarkable, and the subject matter is, says Rory, nothing in particular: he's more keen on the aesthetics of words than their meanings in context.

So, that's the objective synopsis. And the subjective analysis is: that despite all the wacky percussion and celebrity endorsements and claims of beauty and delicacy, this is actually pretty dull stuff. Possibly that's to be expected in songs which "aren't about anything in particular" - with no investment in the songs' subject matter, it must be hard to deliver them with much in the way of emotion. McVicar does often put effort into infusing his songs with passion, but he always hits his emotional level right away and then stays on it for the rest of the song with no variation, no peaks or troughs or emphases. And it's rather hard to be swept along by anything so strainedly, blandly featureless.

Mike Rosenberg Band - Stray Dog (MRB Music) mikerosenbergband.com

The Brighton-based Mike Rosenberg Band are fans of classic songwriting and telling "stories for our time", and say they do this by means of "contemporary sounds and beats". This "contemporary sound" involves acoustic guitars, barely-there drums and sweeping electronics to fill in the gaps between the sounds, thus creating a low key, unremarkable noise of the kind which would be described as "ambient" or possibly as "elevator music".

And yes, that droning shopping centre background sound which you don't notice for a while but which, once noticed, scrapes itself against your nerves like a particularly bunted file is indeed a reasonably contemporary invention. But that's an insufficient recommendation for basing your band's sound on it, and then topping it with an affectedly nasal vocal which possesses a similar trick of simultaneously being utterly ignoreable and utterly impossible not to be offended by. 'Tis rare that a voice complimenting the music well makes for further cause for aesthetic complaint, but MRB have managed it.

Uncle Ray - Miss You (Singer Records)

"Uncle Ray was a teenage pop star in the sixties" who is releasing the album In Line With Mr Jimmy (from which, this single) to celebrate and remember Jimmy Miller, the producer responsible for "the seminal albums Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers".

So far, so understandable. However, In Line With Mr Jimmy is an album of "chilled out versions of some of the Stones greatest songs" featuring saxophones, soul divas and a pervading stench of easy listening.

There are two types of people in the world: those who're already demonstrating some expression of disgust, incredulity, helpless laughter or similar disapproval at the very notion of this album, and those who're certifiably beyond help.

The Baddies - Monkeys in their Monkeysuits thebaddies.co.uk

The Baddies are… Oh, heavens… They're kinda just a band. You know? They do that kinda lame punk thing which sounds like The Clash might've sounded if they'd never heard of excitement, with a mastery of scratchy punk-pop tunes and a hint of an ear for a tune which, however, is never fully realised. Although they talk the talk very well with regards to politics and anger, this sussed attitude doesn't make up for the fact that no anger presented in such an anger-free manner is ever going to succeed in stirring the emotions of others.

Live, of course, it'd probably be an entirely different matter, and The Baddies would be perfectly good at playing scratchy punk in a manner which got the audience moshing. But this CD doesn't manage that kind of punch. And the thing is, that even if it did it'd still just be a fairly generic demo CD by a fairly generic band, except that it'd have climbed from poorly-presented stereotype to well-presented stereotype. And… that's really that.

If the Baddies' next recording is a transcendent slab of noise proving that not only their impact but their worth has been disguised by production values, I will be utterly delighted. Until then, if you're a fan of the punk by numbers genre check this lot out live before acquiring the demo.


Captain Black - A Club Called Destiny (Pure Groove) captainblack.org.uk

Captain Black talk the talk well, aiming at a troubadour-esque lyrical exposé of the grandeur and folly of London with room for the odd detour to talk about pigs picking flowers and similar picturesque diversions. It's a back-to-basics ethos married to a lyrical social wisdom: an idea with a great deal of merit.

Their songs have a wry folkish bounce to them which sticks in the mind in a most welcome manner, and are as traditionally tuneful as one might imagine. However… they don't quite spark. I suspect that live energy and emotion would make this lot into something rather special, but on record the lack of engagement means that it all feels a bit too clever, a bit too self conscious. If you're gonna go for social commentary and tongue-in-cheek historical tale, you need to make sure your songs have the kick necessary to sweep the listener along. Otherwise, your audience ends up going "Well, it is clever stuff and we appreciate that… but we find it hard to really care".

Cash Cow - demo (Vilegenereation@yahoo.com)

Cash Cow play punky, distorted fuzz-noise; simple, repetitive riffs under simple, repetitive vocals with plenty of muzziness and scratch to the sound. There's also the odd howl of feedback, and those kind of muted "1-2-3-4!" shouts which sound as though the singer is counting in from underwater. Though in this instance, it sounds as though the rest of the band are submerged with him…

And the more I listen to this, the more my ear's drawn to the sudden spikes of sound, emotion and character which weave in and out of the fuzziness and, correspondingly, the more I'm won over. This demo sounds very much like a work in progress, and it would've been nice to have a press release to make up for the missing links in comprehension and intention which're always present when you only have three songs by which to judge a band. But on the evidence of those three songs, Cash Cow have big intentions and a grand determination to realise them, and I hope to hear more from them soon.



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