The Natural Curriculum
The Best Fertiliser Is The Gardener’s Shadow TNC
The Natural Curriculum have been an integral cog in Manchester’s hip hop scene for over a decade, but it’s only now that we’re blessed with their debut album, The Best Fertiliser Is The Gardener’s Shadow. The backbone of the group and the record is Joe Mills, aka Joey Average, but better known as Aver, who handles sonics throughout, as well as the gorgeous cover art.
It’s as moody and quirky as you’d expect from a group of Mancs who grew up on underground hip hop. Aver’s murky production is a character all of its own, answering the ever-sardonic and intelligent narrative woven by lyricists Chalk and Bill Sykes, who are accompanied by Joe himself. Layering up percussive elements over Aver’s always-tight drum snaps are DJs Rickards and Omas on cuts, with Jam providing the beatbox.
‘Middle’ is a melancholy lead single, Chalk’s swaggery flow easing you into an album full of the unexpected. The group dynamic comes to the fore with joint choruses in ‘Don’t Speak Your Mind’, a spookily radiophonic backing keeping proceedings edgy. ‘We Are Transparent’ laments corny rappers and herd mentality, and ‘The Calming Presence Of Steven Ryan’ is a drum workout for Aver, resulting in a little flirtation with jungle and breakcore.
Appropriately enough with DJ Shadow being back in the limelight, The Best Fertiliser reminds me in places of a rainier version of his own debut, Endtroducing, all weird spoken samples and unexpected instrumentation, sometimes uncomfortable until you hit the destination. TNC’s work thrives in its own realm, a unique hip hop experience for the connoisseur - or, in their own words, “tighter than a duck’s chuff”.
Scobberlotchers American Patchwork
With the spectre of the European Referendum ever present, the growing sense of detachment and reclusion on both sides of the political landscape seems immutable. Perhaps the first artist to successfully translate the zeitgeist into pop music is Scottish writer and musician Nick Currie, otherwise known as Momus.
Named after the Greek god of satire and mockery, Momus returns with his 31st record, the self-described Post-Brexit LP, Scobberlotchers. Recorded during the rainy season in Osaka, Japan, where Currie currently resides, a number of tracks, including the album’s opener, ‘Heian’, continue in the same vein as his previous record, Glyptothek, which combined samples of Japanese shamisen 45 records with disparate synthesisers and abrasive guitars.
‘Tick of the Clock’ is undoubtably the record’s strongpoint, in which Currie laments the death of not only his father, but of his artistic muse, David Bowie. The accompanying piano results in melancholia reminiscent of Magazine’s ‘Parade’. Other noteworthy songs include ‘The Death of Empedokles’, which tells the tale of the ill-fated Greek philosopher, and the unrequited longing of ‘Hatecrush’. All feature Momus’s trademark amalgam of lo-fi electronic post-pop. Another highlight, ‘Cabin Porn’, combines a catchy vocal cadence with a scathing critique of the isolationist rhetoric that has come to dominate contemporary political discourse.
References to figures as diverse as Ezra Pound, Henry Darger, Theresa May and Fernando Pessoa demonstrate Momus’s propensity to tackle more subject matter in an individual album than most groups achieve in their entire discography. With Scobberlotchers, Currie perfectly captures the growing societal chasm and secures his position as one of the last true intellectuals in pop music.
Mr Splashy TNS Records
Wonk Unit are back with a new album full of their classic devil-may-care attitude and a few surprises. The band’s sound has certainly altered since their 2015 album, Feel the Wonkness, evolving into a more melodic and practised brand of punk. Mr Splashy is reminiscent of 90s American punk bands like The Offspring, but with a raw sense of poetry that other groups have failed to capture. The soul of this album certainly lies in its lyrics, which are unpretentious and hard-hitting.
One of the unexpected treats of this album is the inclusion of an acoustic ballad accompanied by a string section. This gives a greater sense of depth and emotional maturity without compromising the down-to-earth spirit the band represents.
Mr Splashy reads like a story, with clear climaxes and crises represented by the individual songs. The inclusion of female vocals in ‘Model on the Northern Line’ is an astounding change of pace that is as debasing as it is haunting. Front man Alex Wonk has been criticised in the past for his controversial poems about sex, narcotics and gender, but through the use of these musical devices Wonk Unit are able to convey the intention behind these harsh words.
Wonk Unit’s music is gradually becoming more accessible without becoming commercial or fake. That’s why their international tour this year should be a successful and intimate experience for everyone involved.
STEVE BUSCEMI & ELLIOTT SHARP
RUB OUT THE WORD INFREQUENT SEAMS
Take two notables of the New York arts scene - composer/musician Elliott Sharp and actor/director Steve Buscemi. Add the writings of one of the most infamous junkie misanthropes of American letters, William Burroughs. Give them a stage and some time, record the results, then treat the recordings in accordance with the infamous misanthrope's own creative praxis, which is to say, by cutting it up into chunks and sticking them together again.
And it's OK, I guess. I mean, I enjoyed it well enough. Droney sounds and noises with Burroughs prose over the top - what's not to like?
But there's a great deal of audio of the actual Burroughs reading his work already out there, plus his numerous collaborations with musicians (Tom Waits! Sonic Youth! Ministry!), and as much as Buscemi nails the man's distinct cadence and mannerisms in his performance, it's just not the real thing. Much as with his writing, when you've heard Burroughs speak once, you'll never mistake anyone else for him.
Of course, Burroughs is two decades dead, so live performances like Sharp and Buscemi's are as close as you're going to get to hearing the man speak in person, and Rub Out The Word likely makes a great souvenir of a thrilling and visceral live event. But for anyone other than completists and super fans, this is far from an essential purchase.
If you want to hear Burroughs but haven't yet done so, he's out there wandering the cut'n'paste interzones of the internet, a hungry ghost haunting the fibres. Go find him.