damian lazarus

Album Review: Rebel Rave - Various

Anyone that has followed BlackPlastic for a long time may be aware that Damian Lazarus' Crosstown Rebels label is one of those labels we just have a bit of a soft spot for.

Back in the days when BlackPlastic was just starting out the label captured a unique take on the (then current) emerging Electroclash scene - taking that scene's enthusiasm for experimentalism and pop sensibilities. Rather than applying it to the no-wave post-punk and disco samples that was Electroclash's short-lived treasure trove though it felt like the Crosstown Rebels label was genuinely creating something of the future.

The result was some average to good records but more importantly some genuinely excellent mix albums, both on the Crosstown Rebels label (in the form of Rebel Futurism and the follow up, Rebel Futurism II) and in Lazarus' Suck My Deck compilation for Bugged Out! The latter actually proving a particularly prophetic view of the minimal sound that came to dominate over the years that followed.

With this background in mind a Crosstown Rebels compilation still feels like a bit of an event. Rebel Rave is a three disc set with the first two discs being unmixed and the final on the three discs mixed by Clive Henry.

Sadly Rebel Rave feels dry compared to the relative passion and drive of the albums mentioned above. In reality there are some strong moments - the stripped back minimal of Minilogue's 'Hitchhikers Choice' or the angry vocal of The Royal We's 'Party Guilt' for example - but this really feels like an evolution of the minimal Crosstown Rebels sound rather than a revolution.

Where are the clever moments that re-imagine what a genre can be? For a label that released an album as challenging (and frankly bonkers) as Lazarus' own Smoke The Monster Out this just feels phoned in. Maybe they really believe that this set of tracks are genuinely exciting and defining. Hell, maybe BlackPlastic is just getting too old but we struggle to believe this would ever have raised our pulse without some sort of chemical enhancement.

With a title like Rebel Rave BlackPlastic just expects a bit 'more'.

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Crosstown Rebels Present: Rebel Rave is released today on Crosstown Rebels, available from Amazon.co.uk on CD and MP3 [affiliate links].

Album Review: Smoke the Monster Out - Damian Lazarus

Having started the label Crosstown Rebels and produced some of the best mix albums in recent memory the concept of an artist album from Damian Lazarus was an interesting one. Usually you would have an idea of what to expect from a DJ or an artist album by checking their own productions but in Lazarus' case, in BlackPlastic's knowledge at least, there were no tracks produced by him released prior to this album.

Anyone who has heard lead single 'Moment' will know exactly what to expect. And that's the unexpected... Because Smoke the Monster Out is a musical journey about as far from the dancefloor as anything Get Physical have released previously. Out not long after Bronnt Industries Kapital recent Hard For Justice it shows the label to be much more creative and less risk averse than BlackPlastic would have previously thought.

'Moment' is not a dance track so much as a brain seizure. With a piano intro and a melodic vocal, presumably Lazarus himself, it starts off like the delicate ramblings of a Spiritualized or Lou Reed track before descending into a dubby cacophony of snatched vocals and bass. The album's main guest vocalists, the Sweidsh twins from Taxi Taxi, repeat Lazarus' opening line over time-stretched versions of themselves. It sounds Lazarus not giving a damn about where he came from and, frankly, it's a breath of fresh air. It's inventive in a totally unexpected way. Acting as a counter-weight to 'Moment' is Lazarus' cover of Scott Walker's 'It's Raining Today', an epic ballad positioned one track away from the album's close as if to mirror the position of 'Moment', one track separated from the album's opening.

Some tracks are (a little) more straight up - 'Memory Box' is less good, but it's cockney-yob minimal is more what you would expect of this album. At the same time there are curiosities in different forms, with 'Diamond In The Dark' being one - a duet of computer synthesized vocals combined with Lazarus' own over a gentle backing. 'Neverending' is different again, a celebratory stomp of a dance pop record.

Smoke the Monster Out may occasionally backfire in its attempts to be different but on the whole it is a total success. Not since Joakim's equally bonkers Monsters & Silly Songs has an album captured so many ideas in one place whilst simultaneously confounding all ideas of what a dance album should consist of.

Smoke the Monster Out's greatest achievement is that it sounds cohesive despite taking a inconsistent approach. The moods and ideas are fractured but there is an overriding dub-drenched paranoia that weaves its way through the whole thing.

Available on at Amazon.co.uk on CD , LP and MP3 .

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