The Rise and Fall of a Northern Dubstar
INTASTELLA FT JAH WOBBLE
Listen to album here
Single available from here
You’re On Yer Own- So Own It….
Intastella chanteuse and self-confessed gobby cow Stella Grundy has been shaping her Tracy Star character for some time now. A stage play, an earlier record of electronica and artpop released under her own name, happenings and installations across the North and beyond, Ms Star may or may not be an extension of La Grundy her smouldering self, either way she’s a remarkable creation, a swinging, switched on and cerebral 21st century rock n roll casualty. Think Valley of The Dolls, the MDMA Years maybe, except The Doll is calling the shots.
Having hooked up with studio maestro Mike Bennett and former Public Image Ltd bass monolith Jah Wobble, and other fabulous foils like Verve/Gorillaz guitar genius Nick McCabe and ex Smith and six string miracle worker Craig Gannon, Stella decided to rekindle the Intastella brand …a really good thing in itself coz they created some great music back in the 1990s with people like Craig Leon and Tricky. But, critical plaudits aplenty hitting the charts, particularly in Europe and Japan. The fact that they did nt hit the dizzy heights if some of their contemporary’s in the UK is good as it happens because it allows Stella Grundy and her current charges the luxury of being unshackled by the limitations of all that Step On Fools Gold malarkey. As ‘The Doctors Of Madness’ Richard Strange said recently, it’s so good not to be weighed down by an overriding hit record from another age, artistically, creatively, you can run with your conceptual ball and enjoy the game all over again.
This new album of material by Intastella and featuring Jah Wobble is a very exciting game to play too. No retro meanderings into the pre baggy indie pop disapora here. Intastella, were always ostensibly a psychedelic band anyway, not a bison hairdo Brutus Gold flares and sambas kinda band at all. However in the meantime for Intastella the psych just got more psychotic . This album is as dark and dangerous a trip as you could possibly wish for.
A cursory glance at the cast list makes you stop in your tracks before you’ve heard a note. Alongside the aforementioned Bennett (The Fall, Ian Brown, Trojan Records), Wobble, McCabe and Gannon you’ll find former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, Dr John Cooper Clarke, Dillinger, Simon ‘Ding’ Archer (The Fall, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry), The Membranes and other luminaries and all augmented together throughout by the beautiful strings arrangements of Alan Keary.
The deep, deep dub element ballasting this album wont surprise you with Wobble in tow, but the rich amalgam of electro, glam, indie, prog and psychedelia this intriguing record contains within those monumental bass patterns might. The Wonderful and Frightening World of Tracy Star has an exotically eclectic soundtrack to suit the troubled but enigmatic protagonist. From bhangravia gospel and electro it’s all in here…in dub.
As this is such a rewarding and diverse album, crying out for old school vinyl LP appreciation, I’m gonna virtually skin up on the yet to be realized 12 by 12 cover and take you through each track as they play. It’s that kind of album.
LEMONS is a wonderful opener, with something of a Sunday Morning Velvets flourish to the beautifully hewn naïve keyboard refrain here- a total hook of a fender Rhodes refrain, but this wonderfully alluring song is positively pregnant with hooks…strings that weep, mirrored by louche, mournful guitar flowing back in the wondrous stream of music care of Nick McCabe. And then there’s Stella’s yearning vocal meditations, a reliable vessel forthright in the eddy of the relentless, rich tune. ‘You put a hole in me- you put me in your pocket’. The vulnerability is there but what might appear to be a frail psych pop flower of a song is wrought with deceptively strong bones and pop bones at that. Pop music to break a leg for. Could be the Christmas No.1 if the stars align right- or at least those nice advertising men could shackle it to the 2017 John Lewis campaign. That would be just fine, I’ll have another mince pie please darling and keep the Cockburns coming… anyway it’s a wonderful way to open an album.
You don’t get many albums like this anymore. Narrative, expansive, segued poetically, turning eye opening corners at every turn… once Lemons has finessed off into the distance
SUPERSIZE INDUSTRIAL hits you up with noise and noir and Stella G’s Manchester crossover queen heritage poking thru the acidic angst. At times Stella could be almost a femme fatale, North Manchester counterpoint to the Mark E Smith Salford persona. The vinegar verbiage married to insistent repetition, semi buried moribund sonic disturbances and nonchalant chat (isn’t that Mike Joyce intoning avuncular advice? I do believe it is). You’re reminded that auteur/producer Mike Bennett cut his gnarly sonic teeth on, amongst other ace things, two classic Fall albums in the mid 1990s (Cerebral Caustic IS a forgotten classic).
Going back to SUPERSIZE, it’s an insistent banger replete with impressive prose full of wizards rocking starry beards and eternal staircases, all a vehicle for sardonically satirizing the star maker process. Which may be why the young Jack Wild wafts in from another Universe being derided by 1960s clever dick TV wunderkind and Alan Partridge prototype Simon Dee for his Mancunian heritage. This is still Manchester. London still needs a slap… It’s a brutal, tribal kinda number which explains it’s rise and rise on the American club and college radio circuits care of some remarkable remixes out there above and beyond this long player as fashioned by the likes of Jose Jimenes and Mark Hagan. Rick Cross of Lada gaga and Britney Spears Fame Producer Bennett went to the USA to embrace the EDM style mixed with punk fusions and Intastella received a very warm welcome as the chart placings for the single attests.
PLASTIC HEAD (TRACY STAR)-gets the pop chops back into the workings with a mesh of ‘60s psychedelia and ‘90s rave textures and some nigh on religious choral singalong action. ‘White powder in the air compound my despair in hotel bars’…the musician defiled by the process is the theme, and you’re reminded that Tracy Star was the focal point of an acclaimed stage play before she got channelled in to this remodel, remake, rerub with Wobble’s deep space bass underpinning all. Harry Shearer’s deep brown satirical tones take your ears unawares and Mike Joyce pops up again to reminds us…ultimately Tracy Starr, me, you… ..’You’re On Your Own’. That steadfastness, the theme of the narrative perhaps. Ultimately you’re on yer own, so own it….
THE RISE AND FALL OF A NORTHERN DUBSTAR is the big club pop raison detre here- an actual anthem, the tune that’ll push the buttons of the Madchester massive, It’s certainly got mainstream indie rock radio potential. There’s a go to wow factor at play and then some. Craig Gannon adds beautiful glam guitars over a reet proper hands in the air singalong chorus. All this juxtaposed with the sweetly delivered poetic stream of consciousness Stella spikes the verses with. Consequently, it’s a gem of a tune. Hit singles do still happen right?
ACRIMONIOUS FRAME OF MIND arrives like a dub mastodon. In case you forgot Wobble is on board this ultimate exercise in abdominally attuned bass carries you off into a kind of On U Sound psychedelic jungle fulla fizzing choral insect noise and dubbed out delirium…Stella’s unique Manc vocalese and psalmodic sighs trade places in the speaker cones with Dr John Cooper Clarke, leaking thru the lysergic sweat and swagger of the ecstatic mix. A great piece of old school headfuck. Mind you if that’s headfuck what the hell is UNZIP YOUR REVOLUTION ?…Off shore leaky boat boho jazz and seaside arcade ill head hallucinations draw you into an aural narcosis false security….- you’re on your own…with Wobble and Joyce blowing back and forth with narrative considerations of all things Tracy Star and beyond…The swoonsome narco skank of the first few minutes has taken you somewhere dark and sorry you ain’t returning.
UNZIP descends into a multifarious, poly rhythmic viper’s nest of a gloriously out there nature. .Mike Bennett takes the tiller and gives us a trip into the individual spectral ventricles of the DMT molecule…most excellent! But then this is the man that helmed many a trippy Trojan mix for the likes Gregory Isaacs and Lee Scratch Perry! A Revolution 9 for the post post acid house generation maybe, a track that just gives and gives again albeit not one for yer Auntie’s Xmas party playlist- that’s Lemons.
TIME STOOD STILL is a space rock two parter in which Dr JCC returns and Craig Gannon sears yer face off with some ripping guitar work before Stella’s ethereal internal choir bleeds into an ecstatic symphony for poetic deliberations about skinny men who smoke hash thru coke cans, pink room bad trips and myriad pills…oh and of course Marcel Marceaux? Stella Grundy’s gift for an acerbic yet inviting bon mot or ten is always a joy throughout this album, and that lyrical gift in tandem with the psych symphonics of her band creates the achingly imperfect perfection all our messed up heads are crying out for. Intastella is once again interstellar here, no need for crushed velvet loons though don’t lose the shrooms just feel the depth of that rich, black space. It may even be a bit…Pink Floyd.whisper it, Gilmour even, not Barrett. Well it works fabulously well. Shine On …
ROCK AND ROLL CRIME Ft THE MEMBRANES hits hard and fast. A return to concise rock dynamics and discipline. Enter John Robb and his Membranes to this cavalcade of crack players…RNR Crime is another big meaty stab at commercial accomplishment…this time the blade cuts deep, dangerously deep, into unforgiving, vitriolic rock tinged with Goth sensibilities. It’s really hard and hey it comes and it goes before you know it, a 3 minute metallic K.O with what just could be THE most Mancunian vocal ever put to music. Roll over Liam G tell S Ryder the news.
As the album nears it’s end we have a Bowie-esque Rock n Roll Suicide moment MOONDOG enters the piano bar, a set em up Joe scenario with one more cheeky half a pill , a rueful Tracy Star/ Stella Grundy looking back or looking over her shoulder, jut a girl who can’t say no. ‘Do you think you can open your eyes for me honey’…the dark underbelly of the music industry peels off into a delicious Joe Meek via Observatory Crest crescendo born of vibrato synth and dreamscape radio pollution. With references to rock roll anti-hero Alan Freed. Another fallen idol. Weirdly and warmly achieved, haunting as well, and it’s into the closing DUB TRAP.
DUB TRAP features clarion calls from a distant Dilinger, reverbadelic poetry from Stella and more deep dub studio trickery and head wrangling sonic gourmanderie. It’s a suitably bass heavy psych skank finale to an explosive, arousing and impressive record.
5/5, Buy It! The new Intastella will be out on tour soon with Jah Wobble. Not to be missed then, even if you are on yer own…
STELLA GRUNDY – VOCALS, KEYBOARDS, PERCUSSION, SFX
JAH WOBBLE – BASS,VOCALS
MIKE JOYCE – VOCALS
NICK McCABE – GUITARS
CRAIG CANNON- GUITARS
MIKE BENNETT – GUITARS, KEYBOARDS, SONICS, BACKING VOCALS