Various Artists: The Kakutopia Annual Report
(Unsound Automatic: UACD015)
Homo-Genetic Arsonist: The Proverbial Flaming Domicile
(Unsound Automatic: UACD014)
Mig Harries (vocals, guitar, drums), Peredur Gwladus (bass), Manwell Greig (keyboards), Dafydd Harries (keyboards), Rick Dragger (drums, vocals)
Master Class: Mindgarden
(Unsound Automatic: UACD009)
Derrug Claptona (guitar, vocals), Fred Bansen (keyboards, vocals), Bo "Porn" Craddock (drums), Baru Harrison (bass), Dawn craddock (keyboards)
Those bonkers boys from Kakutopia (aka Unsound Automatic) are back again, with what promise to be the last two proper album releases on the label and the second of their "annual reports", compilations which they intend to continue releasing however nicely we ask them not to.
Actually, it's hard -- but important -- not to treat these guys as a comedy outfit. Much of this material is silly, yes, and some of it is very funny. Take Gwilly Edmondez -- almost certainly a Welsh-Hispanic alias of Will Edmondes -- performing his touching "Plugs (for Emma)". One imagines him sitting on a bar stool with a tight spotlight and a guitar on his lap, the sensitive singer-songwriter about to perform a favourite ballad. Except that the playing is all pinging, off-key wrongness and the vocals consist entirely of burps.
Yet elsewhere on what can only be described as a very healthy annual report which is bound to please the shareholders, there are some really cool tracks which transcend plain (but to-be-encouraged) silliness. "Serious" electronic composer Richard Bowers, whose Nocturne received plaudits from (musings) last year, appears here again with the excellent "Succubus"[note], which packs a lot of music into eight and a half minutes and sounds much like an electronically-manipulated Ligeti. He also appears as producer of the pleasingly in-your-face SAAB
Under the banner of Kak (from "cack", meaning crap, rubbish) the group appears to have attracted some really cool bedroom fastracker music makers. Abel Aabab puts forward the extremely cool "Notte Santa", a track which David Shea would be proud of. Gwilly Edmondez returns with the brilliantly-named "Helen & Wendy -- Two Women", which turns out to be a nice (but too short) piece of swirling electronica. The guys at The Wire go wild over this sort of stuff. Tony Gage is obviously a clever composer who plays deliberately stupid (actually, it seems they all are), and "Frank's Breakfast" is a nice juxtaposition of "proper" atmospheric piano playing, cruddy guitar noodles and some dialogue from a 1950s movie.
Meanwhile, the traditional face of Kak, with its cruddy mum's-garage guitar dins and silly lyrics, can still be seen about the place. Tony Gage fuses his synth stylings (yes, "stylings") with some kak rock to pretty cool effects, while the aptly-named Slowband lazily rumble through some Beefheart territory. Surviv use tinny drum machines to approximate a sort of Skinny Puppy goth-techno which you can make at home for less that your giro money. Pukus (another good name) have a cool Hendrixian guitarist but only one little condenser mike, resulting in a nasty bootleg-quality recording, although the track is called "Hur Spittle", which is some compensation.
Psychedelic Spazstic Hamster's "Die Motherfucker" would sound very much like a candidate for kak. Instead, however, it provides four minutes of pure genius. It's a towering piece of trip-hop ranting filtered through school rock band sounds and re-fried in the "studio" (ie someone's bedroom) into a menacing but nigh-on dancable slab of, well, funk.
As for the album releases, Master Class sound very much like Radioactive Sparrow, and unless they actually are Radioactive Sparrow with different names ("Derrug Claptona"? We don't think so) then this is -- and how can one put this without it sounding hugely unlikely? -- they're very much derivative of the Rads. "Beautiful Noise -- Experimental Band" may be a good gag reminiscent of King Missile's less Kak "Sensitive Artist", but if they'd been around at the time they'd have been picked for the role of the band who live below the protagonist of "Driller Killer", making his subsequent killing spree all the more psychologically believable. But go and see them live, if they ever come your way, because their gigs are probably a riot.
Homo-Genetic Arsonist's second CD wins the controversial (muusings) Album Title of the Millennium award, and there's as much to enjoy here as on "Fuck Theory", his first release. It starts well, with Harries singing with a mouthful of water (or something), and it just stays on pretty much that level throughout. It's all a bit less edgy than the first album, but Harries isn't setting himself up as a joke for adults to laugh at (for those who don't know, he's a schoolboy). His intentions seem quite serious, although he has a far more mature sense of what that means than the self-ingulgent bands people like this writer were involved with at that age. The packaging of these releases has improved, too, and this is an object you'll be proud to own, in contrast with his previous release which was horribly (but appropriately) ugly.
If you only buy one rubbish record this year, make it Kakutopia's annual report. It's not "so bad it's good", but good despite having all the odds against it. Maybe they intended to make it crap and got it wrong. Maybe. One suspects not. In a nutshell, they've created a unique missive from a musical hinterland nobody seems to care about.
"Succubus" uses recorders as a primary sound-source; Martin Archer's most recent release, "Winter Pilgrim Arriving", also features recorders. And before hearing about either of these projects, this writer started working with recorders too. What was in the water around the middle of last year?