I Swear To God The Feeling’s Real
Just before the start of the holidays at the end of 2003, a CD dropped into my hands. It came via the very kind Shane Moritz and I don’t think I ever said thank you. Oddly enough I didn’t play it straight away, or if I did it failed to penetrate the defenses of my end of term psyche. It gets like that, you know. The CD was called …considering… and was by a Melbourne band called New Estate. Shane said he loved them dearly. Having finally given it the attention it deserves, I’d have to say I agree with him.

I used to live on a New Estate. It was the early 1970s and I remember going with my parents to see our house being built; a little box just like all the other little boxes, but I imagine the thrill for my parents must have been immense. There were fields beyond the estate for years and we used to watch foxes run across and dream we saw ghosts in the windows of the deserted cottage. Eventually though they knocked down the cottage, dug up the fields and built even more little boxes. My friend’s mother used to call it the Ghetto, which I always thought was more than unkind, but aside from that I had no real feelings of warmth for the place. And as far as I can recall, none of the girls walked around in confetti and sunshine.

I don’t know if new estates in Australia look much like the one I grew up in, but certainly the cover painting for …considering… looks familiar, looks like it could be Troon or Melbourne or anywhere. New Estate themselves sound like they could be from anywhere also: they possess the kind of effortless placelessness that the best bands manage so effortlessly. What’s easier to do is to place them in a cultural geography. So imagine the land of early Boo Radleys’ melody and mayhem, where Swirlies swoosh and where children are lulled to sleep by My Bloody Valentine when they still wrote songs (so, you know, there’s an understanding here that MBV lost their way when they started work on Loveless and that in fact if we’re being honest the best MBV record is ‘You Made Me Realise’ and that the best album is the aptly titled Ecstasy). Throw in a delicious occasional reference to Life Without Buildings, the Jean Paul Sartre Experience and Straitjacket Fits and you know you’re living in a pretty special place.

Also hailing from Australia and about whom I also know next to nothing is an album by [bilby] (Ramjet Records). I admit I was dubious when I got this because I’d heard previous Ramjet releases by Bidston Moss and hated them passionately. So I really wasn’t ready for the sweet country angles and awkward folk on Life In The Slow Lane. There’s a something about [bilby] that also recalls Life Without Buildings a little; like a breath of a whisper of a ghost. It’s just the occasional phrasing, the odd peculiar shadow cast by the rockers on the porch in the sunset light. It’s really rather lovely.

Something you probably couldn’t begin to describe as lovely would be the noise made by Squarepusher on his new album Ultravisitor. I used to have a huge amount of time for Tom Jenkinson (for Squarepusher is he, and he is Squarepusher). I picked up his ‘Conumber’ EP on Spymania way back in the day, and was utterly blown away. It was like an icy breath blowing away the cobwebs of the previous twenty years, leaving bare bones and the chance to build something new and thrilling. A lot of drum’n’bass at that time did that. It promised so much, and ultimately delivered so little, which of course is being hugely unkind, but it certainly didn’t evolve in ways that were ultimately particularly intriguing or challenging, and instead went into blind alleys of jazz fusion and into the empty vacuum of the garage. I lost touch with Jenkinson around the time of his first album, the appropriately titled Feed Me Weird Things, which was admittedly magical. Looking back I’m not sure why I lost interest, except that I was on another one of those loops of interest, getting back out to Pop and guitars. And that’s just how it goes. I was stunned then to read that Ultravisitor is Jenkinson’s ninth album. Nine albums! Has so much time really passed by? And are they all worth checking out? Are they all as fine as Ultravisitor or indeed Feed Me Weird Things? Someone tell me please.

The appeal of the ‘Conumber’ EP of course was that it sounded like nothing else ever before. It was an extraordinary explosion of noise and rhythm and peculiar tech soul; a new dawn for sound. Naturally new dawns fade, and Ultravisitor sounds like Jenkinson is now filled with an awareness of so much more than the need to make the passionate yelp of youth carving out a sense of extraordinary identity. It’s still gloriously chaotic (never more so than on the sensational supernova of the epic ‘Steinbolt’), but within that chaos there are roots of order, a blending of genre so that the clatter of the breakbeat is tempered with the occasional hip hop and some magical electronica melodies that could break your heart. So there, I guess I have described it as lovely after all. Ultravisitor has reignited my love of Squarepusher, and that’s no bad thing.

Finally, there’s Oneida, a band I never latched onto like so many others did in the past couple of years. There was always something too self-indulgent about them that put me off. They seemed too Rock, too turgid, too caught up in the r’n’r mythology, although I’m willing to admit it was possibly more my unwillingness to explore that dingy Rock place than any real response to the music that coloured my judgement.

Secret Wars, their first album for Rough Trade, suggests either I was indeed always wrong or that Oneida are slowly moving into an orbit I can get into. I’m going with the latter. So with Secret Wars there seems more of a groove, a spaciousness that leaves room to manoeuvre. Imagine Loop or Spacemen Three with a love of the dancefloor; dream of Suicide with a fixation on guitars instead of electronics and you’re getting close. There’s certainly a shared interest in repetition, with motifs pounded out, reverberating monumentally in the fabric of your soul, and nowhere is that more keenly felt than in the closing duo of ‘The Winter Shaker’ and the massive 14 minute epic ‘Changes In The City’ with its guitar motif echoing the opening to Twin Peaks, and really, you can imagine Oneida playing up at the Roadhouse or slipping over the border on illicit trips to One Eyed Jacks.

Oneida are also funky in a dirty way, and at times they are like ESG getting it on with a bunch of long haired Krautrockers. Or, to put it another way, Oneida are A Certain Ratio in a machine oil bath, and if that sounds like an unhealthy combination then so be it, because Oneida are certainly unhealthy, and Oneida are certainly about dancing like a loon. Play loud, and dance along.

© 2004Alistair Fitchett