Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 15, 1999: 

XTC, Apple Venus, Volume 1, (TVT)

It’s been a long while since so many slobbering pop critics and discerning fans have turned so very blue holding their collective breath in anticipation of a record release such as this new XTC album.

At the time I was but a squirt, so perhaps my perspective is slightly screwy (no disrespect whatsoever to snotty little bipedal carbon-based future fringe-element types), but I can’t imagine that the imminent unleashing of the Beatles’ unspeakably masterful Sgt. Pepper’s LP generated much more in the way of preliminary fact and myth than has Apple Venus, Volume 1. Legitimately, that is.

A necessarily brief history regarding recent XTC-related This & That: Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding have always been the Lennon/McCartney-esque nucleus of this particular crew — as British as a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. However, it’s worth noting that certain others have contributed mightily to XTC’s lovely output through the years, perhaps most remarkably Dave Gregory (guitar, keyboards). Anyway, Gregory split during the early stages of this project (reportedly whizzed about the fact that his opinions were becoming more and more … ignored). So what? So, it finally comes down to Partridge and Moulding.

Another little (pink?) thing: XTC bravely went to war with their last label (Virgin) so as to contractually function with something even remotely resembling the dignity which should be automatically afforded magnificent musicians like these, musicians who not only shed magical fairy dust as so much blessed dandruff, but who also busted ass for the aforementioned corporate entity to boot. So what? So, XTC was ultimately compelled to advise Virgin to fuck themselves (puns, anyone?) and went on strike.

But they didn’t stop writing. During the horrible hiatus (on top of legal crap, the band was plagued by Partridge’s health problems, his nasty divorce, Dave Gregory’s unpleasant departure, and project-related monetary difficulties) they courted and conjured the muse unfailingly. Recently, the band managed to liberate themselves from their ill-conceived agreement with Virgin and fled to TVT.

Which more or less brings us to now. And what’s up with now? Now we are treated to what might best be described as a victory lap. With this release, Moulding and Partridge simultaneously flip off the trad record industry and beckon the faithful toward adventure and scarred beauty.

The usual and expected high-powered, over/understated, askew, elegantly/eloquently damaged Beatlesque XTC inspiration is intact, but that’s not all there is to it, not by far. Word has it that Partridge and Moulding ran out of funds at a semicrucial moment during the recording process, so (whoops!), they were forced to “make do” in Moulding’s home studio (his living room). So what? So, they made do with a certain amount of sampled sounds, which lent a wonderful DIY-flavor to the project (though, before depleting their advance, XTC was able to persuade a few string players [quite a few … ] to scrape taut horsehair across tighter catgut).

As a result of their trials and tribulations, it seems to me that Apple Venus ends up as Partridge and Moulding’s most compelling offering in many, many years. All of the “hick Brit eccentricity” is here (these guys are of rural English stock, if you don’t already know), but there’s another, newer vibe happening as well. I’m not going to pretend that I know precisely how to best describe the vibe, but I feel that it’s important to mention it, to alert those who might be interested in XTC’s trajectory to it … to promote it even. — Stephen Grimstead

Hank Dogs, Bareback (Hannibal)

This London folk trio is the latest discovery of Joe Boyd, the man who helped launch the careers of such luminaries as Nick Drake, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, and Sandy Denny.

Singers Piano and Lily, along with guitarist Andy, intermix various guitars and assorted percussion with captivating harmonies in original songs that bespeak dark scenes, unsettling childhood events, and episodic violence in the best tradition of British folk song. Their atmospheric sound is simultaneously inviting yet chilling, and refreshingly unique while sounding hauntingly familiar.

This debut introduces a major new voice in the British folk movement, a band that mesmerizes with their songwriting, singing, and exquisite playing and arrangements. — Gene Hyde

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