Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JUNE 22, 1998: 

Tricky, Angels With Dirty Faces (Island)

Over the course of four albums in as many years, Brit wunderkind and alleged father of trip-hop Tricky (both the man and the genre being hip-hop’s art-damaged European cousins) has emerged as a category unto himself.

Stated allegiances to hip-hop and Prince aside, Tricky’s music conjures, like nothing since, Sly Stone’s epochally depressing There’s A Riot Goin’ On. Both are undeniably rhythmic, yet at times willfully unpleasant, rebelling against most conceptions of what constitutes pop music. Tricky’s œuvre – like Sly’s perverse refusal a quarter-century before – distills all of the despair, cacophony, and disgust from the whole of African-American music (Billie Holiday and Ike and Tina are invoked by name here) into one personal sound. For better or worse, despite using live instrumentation more than ever, Angels With Dirty Faces may be Tricky’s most claustrophobic record to date.

The darkly romantic mood of his masterful 1995 debut Maxinquaye seems to have collapsed onto itself. If 1996’s aptly titled Premillennium Tension had Tricky chanting “Can’t hardly breathe…” then Angels With Dirty Faces has him reaching the point of suffocation. Tricky doesn’t sing or rap. He rasps. So when his dystopian dream girl Martina takes the mike, it’s a relief, even if it’s to sing “The bills are going to rob me tomorrow, that’s why I need my ten dollars today…” on the great “Singing the Blues.”

Tricky: art-damaged, European, intellectual

Though this is the first Tricky record that doesn’t directly cover a hip-hop standard, it’s his most hip-hop-consumed statement. Angels With Dirty Faces is as haunted by the deaths of Biggie and Tupac as Neil Young’s Sleeps With Angels was by the death of Kurt Cobain, and with a similar degree of distance. If for Young that distance was generational, for Tricky it’s geographical and cultural. However much he loves American hip-hop, this intellectual English kid hasn’t been embraced by the genre. This distance may be what enables Tricky to explore ideas that more traditional MCs either haven’t had the guts or insight to explore.

On the CD’s concluding “Record Companies” – the only track that mentions Biggie and Tupac by name – Tricky takes corporate labels to task for profiting from a culture of violence (“Corporate companies love when they kill themselves/It boost up record sales”). From the album’s title (a reference to pop-culture icon and often name-dropped hip-hop hero James Cagney) to allusions to “tough guys dropping like flies” to naked disavowals (“I’m too scared to be a gun-toting gangsta wanna-be”) this record looks hip-hop dead in the eye. The grandest moment of all comes in the form of “Broken Homes,” where Tricky pal PJ Harvey, backed by a chorus of fallen angels, sings obliquely about the neglect and oppression at the root of the problem (“Those men will break your bones/Don’t know how to build stable homes”). – Chris Herrington

Ninewood, New Can Of Ice (Vaccination)

In those good old college days back when Hector was a pup, there were two entities who could always clear the dorm room regardless of their implicit artistry – King Crimson (with Lizard) and Captain Beefheart (with Trout Mask Replica). It never took more than five minutes to determine the pain threshold of the musically unenlightened as they ran for the exits screaming. Now there’s another name and album to be added to this litany of discomfort – San Francisco’s Ninewood and their first full-length recording, New Can Of Ice.

Ninewood is composed of two bass players (no waiting), a drummer, and a caterwauling lead vocalist by the name of Angela Coon. As would be expected from such a configuration, their sound is quite unique, out-of-tune, and very heavy on the thud. Music lovers beware, because the treble-free vibrations of Ninewood may induce nausea with prolonged exposure. Waveforms reproduced at the subsonic level may cause internal organs to rub together. Should the resulting dismay not lead one to barf, riots and other unspecified uprisings are sure to follow.

At their best, Ninewood are reminiscent of the original Throwing Muses lineup; at their worst, they’re something like Concrete Blonde on Ritalin. The instrumental/sound-effect pieces, “Baby Flume,” “Rink,” “Pancake Breakfast,” and “The Flume Atrocity” are certainly worthy. However, since the total running time of these four pieces only adds up to around five minutes (seven with the creepy bonus recitation track), that leaves a good half-hour of unexplored Ninewood territory for the brave (some would say foolhardy) among you.

New Can Of Ice can best be described as angry alternative bohemian meanderings wrapped in creative cartoon primitive packaging. A line from track 17, “Sten’s Message,” best sums up Ninewood’s aural onslaught in one well-chosen phrase, “A truly scrotal tightening experience.” – David D. Duncan

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