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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Reviews: Caustic and Bing Ji Ling

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Review: Caustic - The Golden Vagina Of Fame And Profit (electro-industrial)
L-Tracks Music LT 007, 2011, CD album, 42m 46s, €14

The difference between the electro-industrial and powernoize genres can sometimes be no more than the degree of distortion involved. Much of this album’s beats and song structures could have sat quite happily on Matt Fanales previous Caustic release ...And You Will Know Me By The Trail Of Vomit, but they have largely been constructed with cleaner, tighter, less brutally devastating sounds. There is distortion, sure (if it’s even valid to talk about an entirely synthetic sound being distorted), and some tunes are still on the powernoize side of the fence, but it’s mostly a bit of spice, a dash of aural vodka stiffening and thickening the mix, rather than its defining feature.
Trail Of Vomit has plenty of tunes that deliver on the dancefloor, but they weren’t aimed at it quite as precisely as the contents of the latest release. Fanale has taken his production work to the next level in terms of making highly focussed, irresistibly thunderous beats, although to my ear its been at the expense of some dynamic range, and some of his creative individuality.
The electro-industrial scene has developed methods and expectations in the last ten years, ones that most listeners and producers are plugged into: in terms of generating immense, floor-filling beats, technical standards have undeniably risen. Creativity on the other hand has taken a back seat: it can be hard to distinguish one act from another, and in fact, one tune can often be distinguished from another solely by the samples it employs. Despite this (or because of it) practitioners of the style have hyped their status as auteurs to comical levels, and often give the impression of having bought into the scene’s stylistic tropes, as though they think they are really vampires, demons, serial killers or commanders of intergalactic warships. Caustic has made a career out of poking holes in all this, using his powerful, snarling vocal delivery and brain-crushing beats to bring us the humour that is often all too lacking in industrial music.
So the crucial question with this album is this: has he effectively continued in this mission with this latest, more commercial, club-orientated release? And if not, what’s he doing instead? Has he compromised on his creative integrity, or just chosen a different avenue for it?
Well, I have to say that a big part of the humour in his earlier work was, for me, the sheer frothing insanity of it, and by taming things somewhat, he steps back from his role as the music’s court jester. The tunes in which his vocal is prominent, such as ‘666 On The Crucifix’ or ‘Hiroshima Burn’ still sound very much like Caustic, but some of the others sound frankly generic. There are also some brilliantly murderous beats, as on ‘Carpe Rectum’ and ‘Darling Nicky’s Gnarly Dicking’, but I don’t feel either track benefits greatly from the slicker production and mastering.
There are four collaborations on the album: ‘White Knuckle Head Fuck’, which features Faderhead, has a classic Faderhead synth riff, and really sounds like a Faderhead tune with Caustic on guest vocals. It’s a fierce electro-industrial clubtrack, but it doesn’t sound very Caustic. ‘Churn The Waters’ is a superb track, and mainly so for the guest vocal from Ned Kirby of Stromkern, which takes the form of a rap that verges on nerdcore in its delivery. ‘Generate Chaos’ features Bitch Brigade, although it’s hard to say in what measure: it’s a stonking beat regardless. Unwoman is a very interesting and creative musician, and I was intrigued to hear what her collaboration with Caustic would sound like: sadly it’s the weakest track on the album, with a pedestrian melody and an undistinguished beat.
Don’t get me wrong: this album is going to be on heavy rotation at Chateau Arditi for a good while. It’s full of juicy, saturated basses and jackhammer kicks, superb samples, insane vocals and beats that brook no standing still. As long as you remember to crank up the volume, it will always be a good listen. DJs will love this record, and Caustic is certain to get more club play than ever before. But to me, this sounds a lot more like other electro-industrial producers’ output, where earlier Caustic was unmistakeably, wonderfully unhinged.

Review: Bing Ji Ling - Shadow To Shine (funk/ soul)
Tummy Touch Records TUCH2025, 2011, CD album, 38m 34s, £6.99

This is a record drenched in the seventies, literally dripping with honeyed, soulful, in-your-face, grinning disco lurve. I mean, look at the cover. Quinn Luke is a man who lives his creative convictions (or knows exactly how to give his audience the impression that he does).
These songs are full of that wonderful fusion of the sexual and the spiritual that defined the best of the disco era: ‘when I get you alone here’s what I’m gon’ do/ gon’ love all your outsides and your insides too’ he sings in ‘Hypnotized’. Bing Ji Ling has embraced the aesthetic of the cheesy, and confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that we only think it’s cheesy because we are afraid to admit publicly to feeling the things he gives voice to. Like his illustrious predecessors (Barry White, Earth Wind And Fire, Tower Of Power, Al Green, and many more seventies soul and disco lyricists and performers) Luke doesn’t set out to write a specific, analytical description of a relationship, but deals in universals, most notably the positive vibes of deep sexual love, or the sadness of its termination. If he was writing poems or novels it would be empty sentimentality, but this is music, and he has an impressive command of melody and harmony to add depth and nuance to his message.
Does that sound like I’m asking you to re-evaluate disco and seventies soul and find them creatively profound? I hope so, because you should. While much music of that era did indeed peddle empty sentimentality, there was also a great deal that touched something more significant, with its total disregard for coolness, its unmediated joyfulness, and its unrestrained outpouring of positive emotional generosity. This was the era in which peace and love hit the mainstream of black American music, and it left a legacy that has been almost unfeasibly influential, although few artists have had the courage to revisit it in the round as Bing Ji Ling has on this recording. Peace and love is a controversial message: it says ‘fuck you’ to many of the vested interests in our society and economy, and since it proved impossible to stamp out in the late sixties, the cultural mainstream has spared little effort to co-opt and de-radicalise it. Bing Ji Ling reinvests it with meaning, because he makes it unmistakeably clear that he believes in it.
These ten songs are filled with dreamy sunshine and mellow groove, that I anticipate forming a core component of my personal soundtrack this summer. Relaxed but tightly locked-in rhythm section feels are festooned with an array of expertly crafted sonic raiment, from predictably funky, clean guitar, swooping strings and idiomatic brass and woodwind arrangements, to psychedelically burnished noise. On ‘Hold Tight’ there is so much grit on the Hammond organ that the tone wheels sound like grindstones spinning, and ‘Bye Bye’ is dominated by a fuzzed out guitar more reminiscent of ’69 than ’74; but still, both songs are shimmering waterfalls of sincere, groovy soul.
The musicianship throughout this album is top notch, with a fantastic feel and developed technique: Luke himself is an excellent guitarist and vocalist, but he is too much of an all round musician to let those skills become the focus of the album, which is never about the playing, but always about the groove and the vibe. There’s really nothing bad I can think of to say about this recording: it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those that can listen to it without their cheese alarm ringing, it’s a slice of irresistible summery joy.

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