Thursday, December 29, 2005

a year

raptures
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Worn Copy
The Focus Group, hey let loose your love
Belbury Poly, The Willows
Hot Chip, Coming On Strong
Sa-Ra, Sa-Ra: the Woebot Selection
The Advisory Circle, Mind How You Go
Kononono #1, Congotronics
Kanye West, “Addiction”
Ruff Sqwad, “UR Love Feels”
Eric Zann, Ouroborindra
Infantjoy, Where the Night Goes
Duncan Powell, The Something’s Wrong EP
Three 6 Mafia, “Stay Fly”

rushes
Kano featuring D Double E and Demon, “Reload It”
Aftershock feat Bruza, Shizzle, Napper, Fumin,“Not Convinced”
SLK,“Hype Hype (DJ Wonder Refix)
Essentials, “State Your Name” aka “Headquarters”
Lady Sovereign, “Tango Man,” “Public Warning,” "Random"
IMP Batch, “Gype Riddim”
Flirta D, "Warpspeed"

cold rushes
Skream, “Midnight Request Line”
Vex’d, Degeneration
Lethal Bizzle, "Against All Oddz"



textures (a partial inventory)

gruffage (Bruza, anything)
gabbage (SLK/Wonder, "Hype! Hype!)
tremolovox (Ariel Pink, “Trepanated Earth”)
duck-kazoo (Ariel Pink, “Life in LA”)
cthono-bass glow-tone (Belbury Poly, “The Willows”)
violin-wolf (Essentials, “State Your Name”)
string-scree (Three 6 Mafia, “Stay Fly”)

texts (an even more partial inventory)

“I know I’ve got far/Is it too far to turn back?” (Kano, "Sometimes")

“this world is so strange” (Lethal Bizzle, "Against All Oddz")

“You’re going on a bit and/You’re boring me like a Sunday… I’m not convinced/Since you’ve been spitting/I haven’t believed one word/Not one inch/Not even a millimeter/To me you sound like a silly speaker/Silly features in your style/You spit silly/And you spit like how kids be.” (Bruza, "Not Convinced")

cherished mishearing (reluctuantly relinquished)

“you spit like Agnes B” (Bruza)

absorbing
Kudu, live
M.A.N.D.Y. Body Language
DJ Koze
Animal Collective, Feels
Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll
Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice, XIAO/Buck Dharma/The Flood
Analord series, intermittently
Kano, Home Sweet Home
Jane
Animal Collective/Vashti Bunyan
Jackson and His Computer Band

flickers
Ying Yang Twins, “Pull My Hair”
LCD Soundsystem, “Too Much Love”
My My, “Klatta”
Amerie,”1 Thing”
Daft Punk, "Make Love”
Franz Ferdinand, “Fade Together”
Avenged Sevenfold, “Bat Country”
Damian 'Junior Gong' Marley, “Jamrock”
Lil Wayne, “Fire Man”
Virus Syndicate, “Major List MCs”
Kanye West, “Crack Music”, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”
True Tiger/Doctor Bearman, L Man, Purple, "Let It Go"
Roll Deep, “Shake A Leg,” “When I’m Ere”

revenant/revelation

Robert Wyatt & Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974
Comus, Song To Comus
June Tabor, “The Four Loom Weaver”/“The Fair Maid of Wallington” / “Bonny May”/ “Young Johnstone”/“The Overgate” (from Always)
Van Der Graaf Generator reissues
the all-American car-radio experience (Cheap Trick, “The Dream Police”, "Surrender"/Rush, “Tom Sawyer”, "Spirit of Radio"/Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good”/Scorpions, “Rock Me Like A Hurricane”/Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like An Eagle” etc etc)
X Ray Spex
Bill Fay, Time Of The Last Persecution
Shocking Blue, “Love Buzz”
Fripp/Eno, “Swastika Girls”
Guy Pedersen, “Kermesse Non Heroique”
Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, “Maid That’s Deep In Love”
Steeleye Span, “The Blacksmith”
Doctor Who At the Radiophonic Workshop: Volume 1: The Early Years 1963-1969
David Essex, “Gonna Make You A Star”, “Good Ol’ Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Rolling Stone,” "Rock On"
Spooky Tooth, "In My Dream"/Quintessence, "Notting Hill Gate"
Scritti Politti, Early and "Knowledge and Interest"

other
Penguin By Design
The Music Library

K-punk’s London Under London Resonance FM audio-derive
Saint Etienne Presents Finisterre
Break, Blow, Burn : Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems
Lisa Crystal Carver, Drugs Are Nice: A Postpunk Memoir
Green Wing
I Am Not An Animal
the resurrection of Woebot


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

* Worn Copy. Suddenly struck me the other day: Ariel Pink’s my new AR Kane, a route back to bliss-out, to music that can only be “explained” or “justified” in terms of rapture. If anything deserves to be called dreampop, it’s Worn Copy and The Doldrums (which I might love even more than Copy; “The Ballad of Bobby Pyn” is close to my favourite track of the decade, all the more loveable for its slight resemblance to “Driving Away From Home” by It’s Immaterial). There’s definite parallels with Alex & Rudi: noise-pop collision; the fallible, occasionally offkey vocals attaining sublimity so much devastatingly than your obviously endowed singers; the aesthetic of defects, smears, deliberate marring; the penchant for gratuitous guitar-effects; an undertone of fragility and sadness behind the idyllic-kaleidoscopic-oneiric drift-and-gush. In approach if not specifics, Worn Copy is i (pop formalist exercises, stylistic pasticherie) meets Up Home (a headrush of halcyon chaos).

* Ghostbox. The philosophy-ethos-sensibility; the dense, endlessly-linking web of references and sources, touchstones and talismans; the integrated audio-visual design… it’s all fantastic, seductive, thought-catalysing, inspiring both in its specifics and the sheer amount of obsessiveness and curiosity involved… but none of that would matter a jot if they the music didn’t live up to and substantiate (insubstantial-ize?) the ideas, give them eerie unlife. Which it does, superabundantly.

*Infantjoy. Talking of concepts and music actually living up to them… this Satie-honoring venture from Mr. Morley and friend… surprised me. And I prefer their invocation of "Kate Bush" (from an alternate universe where she fronted Japan) to the actual real-world resurrection (Well, so far anyway--promise to try harder. How rockist, though: an album you have to work at, persevere past the tame surface to appreciate the depth!)

*Degenerate/”Request Line”. Recently struck me (during Vex’d excellent set at SubTonic): dubstep bears the same relation to the hardcore continuum that microhouse does to Eurotechnohaus. It’s a consolidation, not a giant step forward, its constituent parts taken from different points in a long-running tradition of darkness/ruffness/bass-presha. Dubstep producers reshuffle elements of bleep, bass, mentasm, breaks, leavened with hints of acid and electro and digidub; the resulting composites working both through their intrinsic and abiding sonic effects but also as signifiers, tokenings-back that address themselves to"those who know", who grew up in this tradition. Because it’s plugged into stuff I have deep history with, because its repertoire of sounds and effects is both hardwired neurologically into my sensorium and part of a chosen worldview/musical ideology, I get much more of a buzz from its recombinant aesthetic than Kompakt-and-co. At its best, it gives me a rush that’s ever so slightly leashed. There’s the same neurotic finesse as microhaus, an implosive aesthetic (the detonation, the brock-out, never really comes) slanted towards production quality/size-of-sound/precision-tooled details, and away from Big Riffs and the Anthemic. “Request Line,” I think, is as close as dubstep is likely to get to a “Shadowboxing”; most of it is far nearer prime Photek or Adam F’s “Metropolis”.

*Sa-Ra. Every bit as mindblowing and untaggable as the man said.

* Hot Chip. Like Young Marble Giants going G-funk; R&Bathos; hip hop, if it had spawned, not in the South Bronx, but in a cul de sac of maisonettes on the edge of Tring, and based itself around diffidence not ebullience. The crestfallen, crushed-in-the-mouth melodies are as delicate and piercingly lovely as Junior Boys’.

*“Addiction”. Strangely reviewers of Late Registration (bit disappointing in the end, eh? and eclipsed then and forever-ever by the Kanye Tells Truth to Power Moment) never mention the one track I found sublime--a tale of male weakness and shame, mutual degredation and pained ecstasy, lent unbearable poignancy by its exquisite arrangement: a glisten of Amnesiac guitar, filtered hi-hats, threaded by a sampled chanteuse’s “you make me smile with my heart” from “My Funny Valentine”.

*Duncan Powell/"Something’s Wrong"
The exact intersection of Todd Edwards and The Avalanches.

* “Stay Fly”. All I ever listen for, all I ever hear, even--those near-microtonally clashing and meshing strings-samples--that and maybe the beat, a bit (and the "stay fly" stutter-riff of course). Everything else gets out-dazzled by that tinglerush. (Can I just say en passant and apropros of almost nothing that the “next rap city” chase seems a wee bit fatigued at this point: slight variation on post-electro diaspora beats’n’bass + excessively self-confident chaps shouting more socially-regressive nonsense on stock set of themes (ego, ice, ass, rims, etc) = changeless same, ultimately.)

*Bill Fay. Took a while to acquire a taste for his voice, its sagging, beaten-cur quality grating somewhat. But the strength of everything else finally brought home its... aptness. He reminds me most of Tim Rose--not as.. the word is virile... for sure; none of the dignity-in-the-face-of-ruin of “Long Time Man”, but the same sour sting of heartburn in the voice, a rising howl held just in check.

* Wyatt and Friends. Still don’t know if I would call this the best record released in 2005, if only because by those lights it might have been the best of record of the year in nearly any year in recent memory. But this definitely registers as a portent, a sign.

* “Knowledge and Interest”. A true ghost.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

matos and minions sum up the year (no enviable task) with mixtapes and commentaries
RIP Derek Bailey

i can't say i've ever engaged properly with the man's music, i get the sense it's not really my cup of tea, but the interviews definitely gave the impression that he was a bit of a diamond geezer. and i cherish the mental image of him in his flat jamming along to the raggamentalist frenzy of the East London jungle pirates circa 94/95. a pity the improv-meets-D&B cd he ended up releasing wasn't more rhythmically jagged and bass-thunderous. He should have gone straight to Hype or Marvellous Cain, one of those guys. Or just put out a cd of him improvising over his favourite pirate tape. But as I say, a lovely image, and testament to his free spirit and open mind.
james v/vm has put up a vintage new beat mix that's rather tasty, by someone called thaman
more rockcrit haikus from mike "stylus cru" powell at peanut butter words and ha-ha breath

stop press: even more rockcrit haikus from stylus massive
Finney the formalist on his favourite album of 2005, Target's Aim High 2. Must confess that despite repeated attempts I've so far remained underwhelmed by this one--there's something overly clean and thin about most of the productions, and by the end of it I'd heard enough accordion riffs to last a lifetime (apparently they're not actually accordion samples but some synth patch or software function called "musette"). But maybe Tim's close anatomy of its texturhythmic attributes will open it up for me.
Edifying, controversial (Poz Normal, but no Stooges, no Roxy? Nearly God, not Maxinquaye?! Diamond Day rather than Hangman's Daughter?!?!?!) and scan-tastic: Woebot picks his top 100 records of all time (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Make room! Make room!

Having a massive purge at the moment. Imminent life changes require the creation of space. On a more general existensial level, all those stockpiled cultural artifacts have reached an intolerable pitch of oppressiveness. The 20 year mark also seems a good symbolic point at which to pare down the accumulated culture-matter to an essential core, if only to be able to access more easily the stuff you want to.

I quite enjoy purges. It goes back to childhood, when my dad would periodically institute what he called an “admin”, the gist of it being that we would throw away approximately a quarter of our belongings. Don’t know how--aged six, seven, eight-- I managed to accrue so much stuff (certainly didn’t have a lot of pocket money), but it was astounding how much there was to chuck out. And there was a strange gleeful exhiliration getting rid of it, an existensial lightness after the potlatch was done. This current purge, though, is less of a joyous affair, more fraught. Being an accumulator-by-profession complicates the process, it’s often hard to know what you should get rid of, there always being the future possibility that a CD or book might be urgently needed for research purposes; or that a band might warrant reassessment as critical climates change, the Uberhipster Index waxing and waning in unforeseeable ways (example: I really should have hung onto that Sub Pop advance cassette of the Earth album, shouldn't I?).

Nonetheless it has to be done. So far I’ve dealt with CDs and tapes; vinyl lies ahead, daunting. Everything goes into three categories: that for which a strong desire or likely imminent need exists, to be situated ready to hand; that which I cannot bring myself to let go of, or can imagine might one day be needed, boxed up and stacked away, out of sight and out of mind; that whose significance, once deemed large enough to warrant its retention, has now receded to a seeming near-zero, and looks unlikely to enjoy resurrection, plus music that, in all honesty, I can’t imagine every really wanting to hear again, life being short. It's never that easy, though. Certain favourite artists, there’s an impulse to keep every last they ever did--Stereolab, Royal Trux, Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert--even though the oeuvre is preposterously, un-navigably extensive and in most cases there's a definite “passing their prime” point. Then there’s groups where you like the idea of them so much, you want to give their oeuvre a proper appraisal at some point, to see if it finally truly clicks: Broadcast and Add N to X being good examples.

(Exempt from the purge, pretty much, have been those genres so loved and so esteemed that they’re hard to be hardnosed about. Bleep, Belgian, hardcore, jungle, 2step, postpunk, gloomcore, psychedelia, Krautrock, probably a few others…. here I cherish the second-rate, even third-rate instances, the botched and the under-baked. A definition of musical true love: how hard it is to part with even its most mediocre output. Partly it's sentimentality (especially with the rave-related stuff); partly because it's because a grander Geist, a larger cultural project, seems to infuse even the most humble specimens of the genre. And in ethnomusicological terms, even the lowly examples of hardcore/jungle/UKgarage carry informational traces or data-nuances, function as tiny clues or puzzle-pieces as to the meaning of the greater whole.)

So where has the axe been falling? "Incredibly Strange Music"/exotica/E-Z listening--I mystifyingly seem to have a lot of this stuff, most of it still shrinkwrapped-- got pruned to within an inch of its life, leaving just a single Esquivel CD and Arthur Lyman’s Taboo (and that only for nostalgic reasons: Monitor crew friend Micalef, legendary for his indiscriminately voracious appetite for records, had this on vinyl back in 1981). Heavy culling in the late Nineties experimental electronic and weird-dance zone, all that clicky-and-glitchy. Whole oeuvres felled: Autechre, Squarepusher, Cristian Vogel (the latter with a twinge, but cmon, let's get real Simon, when will you ever, etc). Mille Plateaux/Force Inc stuff underwent heavy-duty reduction (got rid of all of Electric Ladyland series, kept the Curd Duca albums though!); Mille put out some great stuff, but did err on the side of overproductivity (all those Rauschen 3 CDs comps...). Digital hardcore, decimated: lovely bloke, Alec Empire, and a great idea, but it's hard honestly to see when the inclination or occasion to play those records would ever occur. Glitchcore, also harshly assessed. Underground rap, ditto (sorry, I’m simply a simpleton when it comes to rhyme schemes). Trip hop already got pared to the bone during previous “admins”, but this time gloomyguss DJ Vadim didn't survive and I’m already wondering what, if anything, I can get for that Mo Wax box when I get round to the vinyl. Postrock’s gone through a steady thin-down over the years, but further flab was shed (especially the American end of it). Early 90s chillout got pretty kitschy-sounding pretty rapidly (the new exotica?), which of course soon became its retrospective charm (and you have to love and even admire its commitment to beauty--all those luvverly textures and heaven-scented melodies--especially c.f. the clicky-glitchy-drilly mohair-underpants IDM of the later Nineties). But still, some further weight was shed in that dept. Illbient, in its own Afrodiasporafuturoid way, was just as schlocky, and most of it has now entered my personal dustbin of history.

Although relatively conservative genres like trance, big beat (bye bye Fused & Bruised), retro-electro (adios Adult.), electroclash, et al, suffered some downsizing as well, overall the connective thread running through this purge was that wherever there was a whiff of innovation-for-its-own-sake, without any other expressive purpose (on the individual level) or exciting social energy attached, then I’ve been inclined to wave it goodbye. As much as I value innovation, experimentalism, futurism, etc, where that seems like the sole axe being ground, it's not ultimately that interesting to me. Or at least, it might have grabbed initially, but that fades away.

Cassettes for some reason are much harder to get rid of. Compilations, if self-made, often have memories attached to them, and are residues of effort; if not, they were usually gifted, often come with handcrafted packaging, etc. As for the pirate tapes: as unmanageably voluminous as the archive is, I’ve always felt like I could never get rid of any of them, because they’re documents of this amazing culture, and who knows, it's possible that a tape in my possession might be the only surviving documentation of that particular pirate show. Then again, like any culture-zone, there’s a helluva lot of indifferent output, shows that just never ignited, that merely went through the motions. So where the titles I gave the cassettes at the time give me a hefty hint--Tamestep 2000, Blandstep Bizniz 2001--I’ve taken it, and, with a twinge of regret, condemned them the tape-over-for-interviews pile. Grime tapes I’m generally less attached to because they rarely have that random MC element that I liked in hardcore/jungle/Ukgarage: the incantatory freeform riffing, that whole element of the subcultural unconscious speaking itself through ad libs and off-the-cuff nonsense. Grime MCs, aspiring professionals all, generally have their verses pre-prepared and deliver them in set form over the tracks, sometimes leading to a less-than-perfect fit between the internal rhythms of their prosody and the beat-patterns. Still, I'd find it hard to get rid of them; after all, there might be adverts on there (ethnocultural documentation innit), or rare beats that never got further than being dubplates.

If it sounds like the cull has been harsh, well, the decisions are less to do with the worth of the music on some absolute objective level and more to do with my personal life-economy. Plus, you should see the vastness of what survived. And, needless to say, my plans for further accumulation are extensive. We purge, we binge--it's a syndrome.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I agree with Gutta: someone with a business head and resources should really hook up with Woebot and set up some kind of Soul Jazz-style "salvage" (copyright John Carney at Tangents) operation with Matt as trawler/compiler in chief.

Talking of Woebot compilations, by coincidence this past weekend I had a stab at pulling together my own equivalent to this. Like Matt I seem to end up doing about two grime comps a year, but this latest one, Grime 2005: the Second Half, has been a pretty desultory affair. Being a much more sporadic buyer than Matt, the CD doesn't offer any kind of reliable survey of the state-of-grime. But it does provide an accurate picture of one individual's waning obsession with a genre. For a start, a couple of the tracks ("Prang Man", "Warpspeed"), I'm pretty sure are 2004 tunes belatedly acquired. And to even reach the 80 minute mark I had to throw in a non-grime killatune ("Request Line") plus the instrumentals of "Prang" and "Warp".

Admittedly I made it harder on myself by deciding to do a separate CD of Terror Danjah/Aftershock family releases, a sequel to Vol 1 (part of a planned grime producer focused Auteur Series, so far just consisting of Terror). I was surprised when Matt wrote that Terror had disappeared, as I seem to have a great stack of Aftershock and Frontline releases and I only made it to the UK twice this year. With the exception of "Not Convinced", though--track #2 on Grime 2005: the Second Half and my tune of the year purely as an instrumental, before you even factor in Bruza and the other guys--none of them really seem like a brand new Danjah template.

Had a bit of fun making a JME hypocrisy sandwich--his two lectures-to-the-scene about guntalk and negativity, "Serious" (one of only two tunes i included that's also on Matt's comp) and "Don't Chat", being the bread (wholemeal, natch), and the cheese in the middle being a prime slice of JME spouting guntalk, threats, etc, "JME Staggering". Otherwise, the one track on Grime 2005: the Second Half besides "Prang", "Warpspeed", "Convinced" and "State Your Name" (and the released version is so markedly not-as-good as the earlier one in circulation, it's painful) that gave me the gonna-smash-it-up rush of prime grime is something I don't even know the title of: Flirta D, I think, with something vaguely misognyist and unpleasant, has this "i know" sneer-hook, keeps calling himself Dirty Flirts, on the flip of a white label titled "Frontline Refix." Any idea?
I bought Joy a copy of Aerial recently; she was a massive Kate Bush fan when she was younger, I'm something of a medium-sized fan. But while it's lovely to hear that voice again, so far neither of us have really succumbed to Aerial's universally-vaunted genius. The other night I thought I'd give it another go, and was musing, as on previous attempts, on how it's a bit decorous, a bit prog-lite (and oh Lord that CD art work, that booklet!), a bit late Eighties David Sylvian solo album tasteful, ultimately a bit sonically safe for something recorded in 2005. Mid-mistresspiece, I wandered off to do something else--get Kieran ready for bed. Then suddenly my attention was grabbed. Something seemed to be rising inside the music, a vespertine twinkle-drone of abstract gorgeousness. And I was like, did I just miss this element on previous listens? Returning to the living room, my ears established that the loveliness actually emanated from outdoors, looked through the window and saw what looked like a protest march. Which is sort of what it was: a demonstration in favour of senseless acts of beauty. It looked like every other person in the throng was carrying a boombox, whence came the glistening mist of drones. I realised almost instantly it was this peripatetic event that goes on every year through the streets of downtown New York, and that I always meant to participate in: "Unsilent Night", " an outdoor ambient music piece for an INFINITE number of boom box tape players... each playing a separate tape which is part of the piece," the brainchild of musician Phil Kline (more info here). Absolutely magical. The cloud of sound and its enablers drifted up Avenue A and were gone. Leaving us once again with the politely pretentious Aerial.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pernicious adequacy afflicts the film world too, not just music. Well, so says A.O. Scott, more or less, in this NYT piece on the malaise of middling middlebrow movies, entitled "Where Have All the Howlers Gone?". As it'll be subscribers-only any minute now, I'll just go ahead quote big chunks of it:

"Just last summer the air was filled with anxiety about an apparent box-office slump, as journalists and studio executives alike wondered why fewer people seemed to be going to the movies. The most obvious explanation - or at least the one I favored at the time - was that the movies just weren't good enough. But now that the season of list-making and awards-mongering is upon us and the slump talk has quieted down, I find myself preoccupied with a slightly different, not unrelated worry: What if the problem with Hollywood today is that the movies aren't bad enough? Which is not to say that there aren't enough bad movies. Quite the contrary. There is never a shortage, and there may even be a glut. The number of movies reviewed in The New York Times - those released in New York - grows every year; in 2005 it will approach 600. Given that so much human endeavor is condemned to mediocrity - like it or not, we spend most of our lives in the fat, undistinguished middle of the bell curve - it is hardly surprising that many of these pictures turn out not to be very good. But the very worst films achieve a special distinction, soliciting membership in a kind of negative canon, an empyrean of anti-masterpieces. It is this kind of bad movie - the train wreck, the catastrophe, the utter and absolute artistic disaster - that seems to be in short supply.
And this is very bad news. Disasters and masterpieces, after all, often arise from the same impulses: extravagant ambition, irrational risk, pure chutzpah, a synergistic blend of vanity, vision and self-delusion. The tiniest miscalculation on the part of the artist - or of the audience - can mean the difference between adulation and derision. So in the realm of creative achievement, the worst is not just the opposite of the best, but also its neighbor. This year has produced plenty of candidates for a Bottom 10 (or 30 or 100) list, but I fear that none of the bad movies are truly worthy of being called the worst. And this may be why so few are worthy of being considered for the best..... There are fewer and fewer movies being made that send us from the theater reeling and rubbing our eyes, wondering "what the heck was that?" or demanding a refund. For precisely that reason, we are less and less likely to emerge breathless and dazzled, eager to go back for more and unable to forget what we just saw
."

Another parallel between music and film: the remake phenomenon. When did it start? I don't remember there being remakes at all when I was a youth in the 1970s and early Eighties, unless you count A Star Is Born, and the only famous example from the classic Hollywood studio era I can think of The Philadelphia Story getting turned into High Society (which a/ turned into a different kind of movie all together, a musical and b/ the remake is such a classic anyway). I'm not counting Hollywood remakes of foreign films, just thinking of remakes where the motivation is that the film was already a blockbuster the first time round, ie. that mixture of play-safe meets imaginative failure meets exploiting nostalgia/retro-kitsch. What was the first real example of that, cineastes and scholars?

The parallel between rock-retro and movie-retro isn't precise. You get bands who'll base themselves almost entirely on another earlier band, but you don't get groups who decide to remake a classic rock-canon album. (Well, that's not true, it's happened a few times--Pussy Galore redoing Exile on Main Street, other examples I'm sure--but always as a way-marginal, art-conceptualist move, i.e. nothing like the mainstream blockbuster remake a la King Kong, Bad News Bears, etc). Still there' s definitely a similar kinda lameness at work, a failure of nerve that proves that retro-mania isn't just a pop/rock-specific phenomenon but a culture-wide malaise.
everybody already knows about this resurrection, right?
taking the pith

rockcritical haikus!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

look i know we're not supposed to give Adorno's ideas about popular music any credence on account of his infamously silly comments about jazz (mind you he'd probably only heard a Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman album) and his general haughty tone of hetero-modernist snobbery versus mass culture, but i couldn't help thinking of his concepts of "pseudo-individuation" and "part interchangeability" when reading SF-J's piece on reggaetón in the New Yorker, viz this bit especially:

"Because all the acts used backing tracks or records, there were no instruments to assemble or break down, and the sets—each only three or four songs long—succeeded one another quickly, before similarities between them became obvious."

which is immediately followed by the wry comment

"Wisin & Yandel did not appear as scheduled, but the genre has no shortage of male duos."

Adornoid thoughts also occurred while perusing various enthused dissections of Girls Aloud's new album when it became clear that even their most passionate and unstintingly analytical fans cannot distinguish between the girls' voices on record (although some seem to be able to tell them apart okay as fantasy fuckmates)
pun of the year--"the incredible triteness of Black American being"--
in this greg tate elegy for richard pryor (and his era)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Concerted push by Nick Gutter to turn New Beat into the new Italodisco!!!

His comrades-in-arms Kid Shirt, Idiot's Guide to Dreaming, and Psychbloke pitch in!!!

Not forgetting the man who started this retro-dance x-plosion off!!!

Feast your eyes on the covers!!!!!
!! the return of!!

Sample-Spotting Saddo

Am I wrong here but isn't the "another sleepless night" bit in Dem 2's "Destiny" actually from that Tracy Chapman song about listening through the wall to domestic abuse going on in the next-door apartment?

(Which almost-whole Chapman song later got turned into a marvellously creepy slice of dark-step I picked up on white by chance in 2000, Stealth Men's "Chapter 1: Behind the Wall" )
Depressingly accurate assessments, sensibly non-defeatist conclusions from mr martin clark rounding up the year in grime. See i had to demur a little bit with the note of optimism sounded recently by woebot re. the health of the scene recently. it just seems untenable that yet another year'll roll around and grime'll be where it's been the three previous January 1st's, i.e. in this state of about-to-break, about-to-blow poisedness. In a sense, the quality of the music being made--whether it's dipped, or in a holding pattern, or set to resurge--that's almost irrelevant. What I'm talking about, if you'll pardon my french, is grime's "libidinal economy". The last three years (even longer if you date the pivotal moment as "i luv u" circulating on white), it's like an endless fuck with no climax. And because the scene is so much about "we're coming through, you can't stop us, gonna bust, gonna blow", the idea of just rolling into 2006, Run the Road 3, and so forth.... The alternative, though, is (as Martin kinda hints with his talk of autonomous infrastructures and long-term strategy) that grime readjusts its self-image and instead of seeing itself as potential-pop, as soon-to-be-overlording-the mainstream-a-la-American-rap, it settles for being a permament underground. In which scenario, it'd be, like, another UKrap scene on the top of the one we already got! And what would the music become like in that scenario? So much of its actual quality and vibe is bound up with its explosive, hungry-to-conquer, extroversion. Grime needs lebensraum.

On this subject, this interview with Lethal Bizzle chez Chantelle didn't exactly dispel the gloom, specifically this bit on his album getting a re-release:

LB: "... To be honest with you I’m not too happy with my label. I’m just doing my thing but if I was relying on them I don’t know where I’d be.... I’m grafting. There’s been no posters for my album nothing, I’ve sold about 10,000 -- I could have done that myself.... All of this is going to give me the ammunition to do it myself because end of the day all that happens in this game is you get signed and you get dropped. They’ve offered me another album but I’m not sure at the moment whether to try and do it to myself. I signed to take me to another level but I feel I’m in the same place."

He must have a powerful sensation of deja vu, here we go again, the big hit ("Oi!"/"Pow!"), the album that falls short, the major label that doesn't know what to do with him, the return to grafting on the underground.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Twenty years ago--if not to the day, then very nearly--I received my first paid byline. Not
exactly a grand entrance onto the global stage of rock criticism: a downpage album review, for Melody Maker, twinning releases by Midnight Music luminaries Snake Corps and Sudden Afternoon, both of whom got dispatched with some brutality. Funnily enough, these groups and the next two reviewed (an outfit called Direct Action who were into early-Scritti/Desperate Bicycles-style demystification/cultural democracy/anti-stardom, and had pulled together a various artists comps where none of the artists were actually named, "to avoid egotism"; Peel-circa-1979 favorite Morgan Fisher with a solo album on Cherry Red) involved me castigating what were essentially stragglers from the postpunk era. Soon I was shuttling across London to gigs by The Redskins and The June Brides (both with their own ideological and sonic connections to postpunk), where I'd dissect their failings, master the art of scrawling legibly in a notepad without drawing attention to oneself, and avoid the bar on account of barely having two shillings to rub together. Yes it was a non-glamorous lifestyle early on (in those last two months of 1985 I would have been still on the dole, waiting for my first Lambeth Borough cheque to arrive, sleeping on a horsehair, weird-bumpy couch in my friends' living room in West Norwood) , while music at that point (and indeed most of 1986) seemed at a low ebb, with few rave-worthy opportunities presenting themselves for the making of one's name through audaciously ardent and rashly extravagant claims. But from such humble beginnings do etc etc etc.

20 years!!
Mega-feeling postscript
(always end up missing a few)


Feeling

Pepe Bradock, the Woebot selection

The Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang (yeah i was surprised an' all)

Lightning Bolt, Hypermagic Mountain

Pitbull, Money Is Still A Major Issue

V/VM, “I Wanna Fuck Miss Nicky Trax’, “Benelux (Ghent Mix) et al


Retro-Feeling

John Lennon, Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon (especially “instant karma”, the title track, “mother,” “mindgames”...)

Various Artists, Anthems In Eden: An Anthology of British & Irish Folk 1955-78 (especially disc four: A Midsummer Night's Happening)

Retro-Feeling Really Feeling

Guy Pedersen, “Kermesse Non Heroique”

Maltesers
I've got some kind of Lady-Sovereign-live-in-NYC jinx: the first time I wrote it down in my book as a Thursday gig when it was actually Wednesday; the second, it was part of CMJ and Webster Hall (horrible venue, I was amazed to learn Animal Collective were playing there) did their usual "we've reached our badge-holders quota already, you can wait outside until someone leaves or you can buy a ticket" scam. And then last night at Knitfac: almost third time unlucky. I'd been told she'd be on at 11-30; arrived at 10-45 to discover I'd missed the first third of the show. Venue unbearably crammed, impossible to get near the music's physical force-field or get much more than a glimpse of Sov's form, but eventually found a place on the balcony where the music was almost loud enough AND you could, if standing on your toes and craning your neck at an agle, glimpse most of Sov and absorb some of that radioactive charisma. By this point, though, it was well into the home stretch of the set. Playing with a "real band" seemed like a bad move at first, especially as the result sounded like a uneasy meld of pick-up band unwieldiness/self-effacement and stuff on tape (Sov's own backing vocals and various wacky production bits). Seems like maybe a decision has been made to break her in America as some sort of Sporty Stefani/Avril Skinner type hybrid, hi-nrg rock entertainment with English quirk'n'charm. But the new track called something like "This Is My England"--hilariously skewering American Anglophile illusions about Britain as home of refinement and olde worlde quaintness, "we ain't all posh like the Queen" etc etc-- was fantastic, sonically mining that Madness/HyperOnExperience/The Streets vein of zany-jaunty arrangement. And then on "Public Warning" everything seemed to gel finally, the band went full-throttle, the
track went through a whole bunch of exciting changes, sections where it was kinda speed-ska meets happy-gabba meets polka-Oi!. Too bad it was the last number.
Gutterbreaks on the Spirals tribe--no, not what you're thinking, not at all: a personal recollection of what provincial nightclubbing was really like back in 1988--"booze, birds, smart white shirts and Simple fucking Minds"--plus the house music epiphany that set him on that bleep-strewn and bassquaking path to his present state of dubsteppin' dadhood.
tiny wee thing by me on saint etienne presents Finisterre

crucial missing line re. skipping the 19th Century between sentence two and sentence three:

"You get little sense of the city as Dickens would have understood it: the hustle-bustle of a place where people work and produce."

And I didn't have space to even mention the fact that its flow of near-stills are interleaven with interview fragments with similarly invisibilized people (artists, musicians, novelists, bob stanley's missus) and has a voiceover delivered by veteran thesp Michael Jayston in the woody-prissy tones of a 1960s educational film; the text--evocative if occasionally a wee bit Dylan Thomas-manque (“ringtones and ringpulls… Belgian beers, tears and fears, four to the floor”), and penned by the director Kieran Evans with Stanley and pop mythographer Kevin Pearce

Well worth viewing though and i am v. keen to see the next Saint Etienne Presents movie which just got aired publically in the UK I believe

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

andy cumming, who i was very pleased to finally meet when in sao paulo, with a stylus piece on
baile funk/funk carioca

Monday, November 21, 2005

that Ghostbox profile i did for Frieze

my original title was "Hauntology"

still planning to run the interviews with Jools et Jim at some point
depressingly accurate picture

Sunday, November 20, 2005

MEGA FEELING

now, don’t go imagining that the relative enormousness of the following contradicts remarks here previous about lean times and thin gruel (confirmed by almost everyone I speak to these days, which is both reassuring and disheartening), no it's simply that it's been about five months since I last did one of these, and as you can imagine an awful lot of so-so’s been sifted to produce this relatively bumper-seeming harvest

(I was asked recently to participate in some kind of interweb project that was purportedly set to create some kind of "revolutionary" net community, the gist of it being that you’d install some program in your computer and you wouldn’t need to do anything, it would just automatically pass on information about what you were listening to so everyone would know what everyone else was digging, knowledge would be pooled, buzz and subcultcapital accrued, mainstream media channels bypassed, and utopia brought that little bit nearer. BUT apart from the fact that it reminded me a tiny bit of the "spy in the cab" (you remember, truck drivers having their work rate clocked, now totally common in the work places, but back then, controversial), and apart from being vaguely ideologically opposed on some gut-level to this sort of web-utopian connectivity talk, and apart from the fact since it wouldn’t monitor my vinyl listening it would hardly reflect my listening, apart from all that, the main flaw for me was that of necessity the greater part of my daytime, in-front-of-computer listening is stuff I don’t like--sounds crazy i know, but think about it, the job entails shoving in promo after promo, the bulk of which are only ever going to provoke tepid responses. So this system would not in fact give any indictation what I liked or thought was good. Whereas below you'll find a list of the things that made it through the sieve these last several months and that I do voluntarily listen to--or would, if so much ear-time weren't taken up with the sifting.)

Feeling

Jackson and his Computer Band, Smash (Warp)

Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom, The Days of Mars (DFA)

Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock’n’Roll

The No Neck Blues Band , Qvaris (5 Rue Christine)

Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice, XIAO/Buck Dharma/The Flood

Todd Edwards, “Like A Fire” (i Records)

The Kills, No Wow (Rough Trade)

Vocokesh, The Tenth Corner (Strange Attractors)

Kudu, Death of the Party (forthcoming on Nublu)

Rvng Prsnts Mx4 ‘Crazy Rhythms’, mixed by Mike Simonetti & Dan Selzer

Damian Lazarus, Suck My Deck

Avenged Sevenfold, “Bat Country”

Various Artists, The Electric Institute (New Religion)

High Contrast mix cd Fabriclive 25

Dubstep Allstars: Vol 02 mixed by DJ Youngsta (Tempa)

M.A.N.D.Y mix (Get Physical)

DFA Records Holiday Mix 2005

DJ Koze, Kosi Comes Around (Kompakt)

Boards of Canada, The Campfire Headphase (Warp)

AFX, Analord 01 to 11 (except the boring tracks) (Rephlex)

Franz Ferdinand, new album

Animal Collective, Feels (Paw Tracks)

Lady Sovereign, Vertically Challenged EP (Chocolate Industries)

Three Six Mafia, “Stay Fly” (BET)


Really Feeling

Vex’D, Degenerate, (Planet Mu)

Skream, "Midnight Request Line" (Tempa)

Hot Chip, Coming On Strong (Astralwerks)

Franz Ferdinand, “Fade Together”

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, House Arrest (Paw Tracks)

Menstrual Chinese Dream Cdr

Doctor, Bearman, L Man, Purple, “Let It Go (Eye of the Tiger Vol 1)” (True Tiger)

The Advisory Circle, Mind How You Go EP (Ghostbox)


Retro-Feeling

Van Der Graaf Generator, The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other (Caroline/Astralwerks)

as Mercernarias, O Comeco Do Fim Do Mundlo (Soul Jazz) (and live in Sao Paulo)

David Chesworth, 50 Synthesiser Greats (W. Minc)

Eric Random, Subliminal (LTM)

Todd Tamanend Clark, Nova Psychedelia (Anopheles Records)

Maximum Joy, Unlimited (1979-1983) (Crippled Dick Hot Wax)

Ike Yard reissue forthcoming

Delta 5, Singles and Sessions 1979-1981 (kill rock stars)

Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Scream Expanded

The Fire Engines, Codex Teenage Premonition (Domino)

Talking Heads, Box

OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music -- 1948-1980 (3CD box reissue plus all-new DVD)

The CD that comes with The Music Library book (see below)

John Martyn reissue bonanza: Bless The Weather, Inside Out, Sunday’s Child, etc


Retro-Really-Feeling


Van Der Graaf Generator, H to He Who Am The Only One
-- Pawn Hearts

The Stooges, Funhouse Deluxe
-- The Stooges Deluxe Edition

Comus, Song To Comus (Sanctuary)

Robert Wyatt & Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974
(I actually wrote" the best releases of 2005 was recorded 31 years ago", not “one of the best”. Maybe they were right to tone it down. Maybe not.)

Retro-(Unreissued)-Feeling

Andrew Rudin, Tragoedia (Nonesuch)

Morton Subotnik, Touch,

Quintessence, “Notting Hill Gate” (Island)

Shocking Blue, “Love Buzz”

Spooky Tooth, “Lost In My Dream”

Various, NDW Selection (Woebot Productions)

Janet Kay, “Silly Games”

Cool Notes, “My Tune”

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, ‘Folke Songs of Olde England Volume 1’ especially “Maid That’s Deep In Love”
--- Summer Solstice

Luke Vibert, Nuggets, library music compilation of some years back

Rattlebone and Ploughjack (Island, 1975)
[Ashley Hutching’s Morris Dancing project!]

Monoton (see NDW comp)

Luciano Cilio, Dell’ Univers Assente

Nuno Canavvaro - Plux Qubu
-- Ultramarina

Klaus Schulze, oeuvre (presque, pre-digital) entiere

Tomita, The Planets (RCA Red Seal)

George Harrison, Electronic Sound (Zapple)

Conrad Schnitzler, Con

Non-sonic Feeling

Saint Etienne Presents Finisterre (Plexifilm)

K-Punk, London Under London audio-mentary/radio-docu-derive

Frank Kogan, Real Punks Don’t Wear Black: Music Writing By Frank Kogan (The University of Georgia Press)

Ethan Brown, Queens Reigns Surpreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and The Rise of the Hip Hop Hustler (Anchor)

Marta Petreu, An Infamous Past; EM Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania,
(Ivan R. Dee)

Jan Jagodzinski, Music in Youth Culture: A Lacanian Approach (Palgrave)

ed. Jonny Trunk, The Music Library (Fuel)

I Am Not An Animal

Bodies (except the crap last episode)

Hero Blackcurrant Jam

Ahmed Mixed Pickle in Oil Hyberadi Taste

Friday, November 18, 2005

back in full scan-tastic force, the Crate Digga with the lowdown on German postpunk esoterica

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Major battle for your entertainment dollar* in new york city this friday, i.e. tomorrow. On the one hand, you can hear me and Paul Kennedy deejay at Geeta's birthday party at subTonic (107 Norfolk Street) along with The Bunker residents Spinoza and Movement. Party starts at 10pm, goes to 4Am; I think I'm supposed to be on first, with a concept loosely based around the year 1990 (which i believe is roundabout when Geeta first got into music) so expect a non-beatmixed selection of bleep 'n' baggy. Paul, I imagine will be ranging from lover's rock to grime to all across the spectrum.

However, it behoves me to inform that Kode 9 and his big bag of subplates are in town the very same night. Rothko and subTonic are within a few blocks of each other, though, so oscillating between the two is perfectly feasible.

* the subTonic/Bunker event is actually free admission, making it the competitive option for those of reduced means, or if you're a cheapskate

Friday, November 11, 2005

the Lord giveth with one hand


and taketh away with the other


in this, the blogmos, as much as any other plane of reality...


sad to hear


about the


retirement


of the


mighty



SILVERDOLLARCIRCLE




relieved to hear though that Simes will still be writing a lot and...


mmmmmmm


has plans for a website dedicated to archiving pirate radio tapes in mp3 form!


yippeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!






PS if all this bloggworld upheaval continues i fully expect the return of The Pillbox within a week

Thursday, November 10, 2005

well, fuck me!






wouldya believe it!






stone the bleedin crows!





as i live and breathe!






it's the unexpected un-announced super-on-the-downlow reactivation.....





almost one whole year after its retirement





of the mighty mighty





WOEBOT




tis a banner week for the bloggusssphear and no mistake!

Monday, November 07, 2005

two other retro-overload micro-trends i forgot to list:
-- reformed bands doing special concerts where they perform their classic or signature album in its entirety and original sequence
--the 'expanded' cd trend, the second disc full of out-takes/alternate versions/radio sessions/stuff that wasn't good enough to release in the first place etc

cmon it's getting out of hand!
the resurrection of heronbone!
john shaw aka uTopianTurtleTop chips into the nostalgia discussion
buncha new stuff at the Rip It Up site

Sunday, November 06, 2005

john darnielle had a few comments about my A Past Gone Mad post, the first in a series (where have you heard that before eh? no honest this time I mean it) , namely, in reference to the idea i suggested of a loss of a sense of forward temporal propulsion, he wondered:

"is there such an erosion? Or is that sense of forward movement something that dies for everyone, and for every generation, in some new and different way, via different signals? Is there an historical narrative here (one didn't used to see this, now one does), or is there rather a mythic narrative, one which is occult 'til a person (you; me) has been kicking around long enough to notice it, at which point it's a new story? After all - in older pop worlds (jazz, classical really [Vienna being a very pop> scene in its day, albeit with shockingly different social cues & mores], vaudeville) the same entertainers-sticking-around-as-long-as-they-possibly-can tendency is also present; see also film, where Bela Lugosi was appearing in whatever no-budget production would have him, stage or screen, up to the week of his death. And Maria Callas starring in Pasolini's Medea after her voice was shot. Chaplain's "Limelight." Etc".

to which I responded:

"Well some of this had crossed my mind a bit--the idea that entertainers keep on treading the boards and always have done (cos what else can they do?). but i think there's differences. one is that the reformation thing--bands coming back after having split up, a long time after they split up--is pretty unique to rock/pop. (As is the tribute/clone band thing, come to think of it). i also think that showbiz/variety/MOR/whatever you want to call, it is not based around the idea of moving forward/progression etc as rock was in its identity-defining heyday, either on the macro level of the music-culture and on the individual level of the career (the artistic need to progress, change styles, a big jump with each album, etc). i do think rock is uniquely afflicted by this retro inundation effect--and it's made worse because you have a whole bunch of syndromes going on at once. You have the natural greying of the music 40 years into its existence (bands just carrying on, becoming cabaret versions of themselves), you have the endless reformations, you have the reissue explosion; you also have sampling and the whole 'record collection rock' thing i've written about. You get remakes of songs and cover versions. Mash up culture. You have an explosion of historical documentation: TV and film documentaries, books, magazines that are heavily slanted to retro like Uncut and Mojo, at least in their features. And then there's all the spin-off issues, like the Mojo specials: magazines that are like smallbooks, one on synthpop/New Romanticism, one on ska/2-Tone, one on punk, one on prog, and so on; some on individual bands like The Clash. NME has done all these similar books, basically reprints of old reviews and interviews: one on Britpop, one on Manchester--really recent history becoming dug-up, in a way that feels premature to me. Then you factor in VH1, all the endless documentarys, the I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s things, etc. So I do think it is a unique predicament for rock music and for this era--it started a while ago, but it just keeps building and building, and I wonder if it's reaching a tipping point, when the present is buried in the past.

"One thing that chimes with your point about MOR folk treading the boards forever, though is that I remembered Broadway Danny Rose, where the guy that Woody Allen's character is managing is a washed up MOR singer who had one hit in the 60s. But then "the nostalgia circuit starts to take off" and the guy's career gets a big shot in the arm, which is why he ditches Woody for a big-name manager. But then it's actually kinda hazy what era Broadway Danny Rose is set in, anyway... but it did make me curious about nostalgia, and about when it actually became an industry. The first nostalgia phenom I can remember is 1920s nostalgia in the early Seventies, which was in fashion, in movies like The Sting. I wonder if there have been any historical studies of nostalgia? Were there nostalgia crazes in the Victorian era, in the 18th Century?"

John also wondered:
"is this an erosion of our sense of time, or is it a clearer view of time? When we stop moving forward, might it not be the case that we only noticed we weren't really moving forward in the first place? I don't think of this as a depressing possibility but a liberating one, since I suffer from the dual attractions of classical studies & poetry, where the possibility that time is a painting rather than a film drives further engagement. The best point of a night out dancing, I mean, are those moments in which one feels certain that the flow of time has been somehow changed - the sorts of words used to describe this feeling, such as "lost in the moment," point directly at this thirst for an ahistorical experience of life/music/what-have-you."

to which i responded:
"that's a good point, but i think the kind of "in the now"/"outside time"experience you talk about to do with dancing is something different from retro time. i think there's some Greek term for that kind of ecstatic immersion in the now, kairos maybe, it's the opposite of chronos, which is like the everyday time of routine and work and going about your business. Kairos, if i've got the word right, it means intensified time or epiphanic time, or ritual time--something like that. At any rate i think it's different from retro time--there's an uncanniness when you see certain bands where it all refers back to a period in rock history. Or a reformation, seeing Gang of Four live on their current tour was strange and bleak, as powerful as they still areas a band. I always felt the rave-now was a kind of future-now, like the music was totally immersing you in the present moment but somehow that moment was tilting into the future at the same time."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

everything is glam rock

kid shirt weighs in with some interesting thoughts in semi-response to my wooden wand piece, some cool compare-and-contrast vis-a-viz grime... his idea of free folk being about wanting to disappear is intriguing (theory triggered unconsciously by "vanishing voice" maybe?), yes yes, makes sense: a bourgeois-bohemian impulse to get lost, to unmake the most of yourself, (which makes the Animal Collective's "You Don't Have to Go To College" the closest point at which the scene gets to writing that unwritten manifesto) .... tune in, turn on, drop out... dissipate and radiate.... And some of his comments about WW&VV made me think the closest parallel/precursor to them is the Butthole Surfers (think about the pastoral weirdness on Hairway to Steven, the cover of "Hurdy Gurdy Man"; the Living Theater-esque stageshow; also the thread of classic rock pastiche running through the buttholes c.f. WW's comments re. deep purple, jefferson airplane, etc etc), and the Buttholes would have been something I'd have analysed in those terms, a middle class youth stepping off the career track (gibby trained as an accountant), laying waste to their own potential as a sort of proto-political act of refusal

i was talking to jon dale (who may be on the verge of staging a reappearance act) about this, he having his own dissensions with the piece, and i realised the stumbling block for me is actually not the unwritten manifesto aspect at all, cos when all that stuff says implicit and latent you can groove along with the trippy untethered soundswirl; no the stumbling block specifically with WW&VV is when they do write the manifesto, or at least get into spelling out the "what's it all about" too literally -- either in the lyrics (Toth intoning about how "the mystical power of the beautiful flower has turned sour”, or Satya Sai Baba Scuppety ululating about how "I sought the truth so long… all things must pass away… there is one path to choose” or visioning “a land of wondrous beauty that far exceeds my wildest dreams/where the air is pure and clean”) or just the mode of address: invocational, i-be-the-prophet. Cos, for me as not-ready-to-sign-up-for-membership-in-the-movement bystander-onlooker, it's like you're suddenly put on the spot: you either have to say "yes, i totally buy it, this guy is a visionary" or you hold back. and for a whole bunch of reasons possibly more to do with me than the guy's performance, I hold back from that suspension of disbelief. Woebot described the Wand solo album as "more Bonnie Prince Billie" than the group's stuff, and that's it exactly, cos Will Oldham' another one where I don't quite buy the persona, there's a "you're kidding me, right?" element.

With "performative enactment of the authentic", I guess what I’m suggesting or playing with is simply the idea that nothing is “real” once it takes place before a microphone or on a stage (how could it be?). Everything is glam rock, it's all artifice, the make-believe dependent on suspension of disbelief (bothon the performer's part and the audience's). So Humble Pie, despite being very much the kind of shabby blues-bore drivel that prompted glam rock into being, were no less contrived, absurd, or even grotesque, than Roxy Music. Everything is glam-rock too because it all works through glamour, of which there are many more kinds than "glam" or Hollywood (the glamour of anti-heroism or "ordinary joe" is still the stuff of fantasy, from Springsteen to Mike Skinner). Glamour in its original sense--witchy enchantment--might be a big part of free-folk's allure; the mise-en-scene that is conjured by the music works through exoticisim and mystique--you imagine a raggle-taggle commune on the periphery of society, banging instruments in some Finnish wildland or Vermont grove (or with the ancestor-influences: Incredible String Band and extended family in the woods, Vashti in her caravan, etc).

All the things that Kid Shirt lists, seemingly to refute the idea that there is a manifesto or needs to be a manifesto to the f-folk scene, do actually amount to a charter of principles, albeit quite diffuse and low-key. Not a manifesto in the sense of bulleted declarations and exhortations to be shouted in bold and capitals from a soapbox, but certainly a cluster of tendencies-verging-on-tenets:

-- looseness and spontaneity, a be-here-now approach to the jam
-- flux and mutability
-- shifting line-ups, collaborations, nucleus-groups orbited by solar dust-rings of freefloating occasional participants
-- trance states, creative automatism, music-as-ritual rather than "show"
-- tribalistic/family/commune-like image (and often structure)
-- "I am the music. There is no separation"--Heather Leigh Murray
-- “it’s all music, man” as overtly stated principle of all-gates-open fusion
-- yet at the same time countered by very definite zones of non-influence and attractions to other areas; bias to the organic, the acoustic, the hand-played

then when you factor that in with the hand-made, cottage industry aspect: the lathe-cut vinyl, the small-run pressings and odd formats (painted and decorated cassettes etc), the attempt to de-commoditise the commodity while also re-enchanting it, making it more precious and treasurable; you see an impulse to escape and transcend commerce that echoes the original folk movement's (in both US and UK) drive to reject the commercialism of popular culture music.

yes it does amount to a taggable worldview/philosophy, one that's in the continuum of the hippies, the beats (Woebot nailed it all a while back with his Are You a Beatnik or an Avant-Yob thesis, plus afterthoughts). and a subculture too, there's strong elements of homology between sound, clothing, discourse, economics

it reminds me a tiny bit of psy-trance: the syncretic spirituality (psy-trance's postmodern tribal package of Tao, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Mayan cosmology, wicca, and alien abduction theories), the trancey-trippy music, the internationalism and dispersed rhizomatic scene structure, the cult of the great outdoors, the freak image

the musical coordinates for psy-folk are a lot cooler than psy-trance, of course, but i reckon that both scenes are expressions of a recurring and perennial syndrome, something that is
almost a structural fixture (if not quite requirement) of Western society... the children of affluence who become see through their parents values and the spiritual void of a life based around ambition/acquisition, become disenchanted with its lack of enchantment and try to build another path that will re-enchant the world ... you could probably even trace the impulse back through the centuries... here's a chunk from the Sex Revolts on those Medieval gnostic heretics and millenarian cultists the Free Spirits:

"The 12th Century initiated a period of unprecedented prosperity, just as in the post-World War Two West. But this materialism prompted a counter-reaction, in the shape of a new class of voluntary poor who renounced riches in search of spiritual values. These downwardly mobile bohemians formed 'a mobile, restless intelligentsia' who went 'on the road', following the trade
routes and preaching a contempt for wordly things. Like the beats, the Free Spirit brethren divided the world into square and hip, a 'crude in spirit' majority and a 'subtle in spirit' elite who could access the Divine Oneness in this life rather than having to wait until the afterlife. "

In the end though, I have to give the f-folkers a cautious "big up ya collective chest", if only for being one of the few things in the last five years (and i know the scene's got longer-back roots than that, but then so's grime: as fruitions, both are really Noughties phenoms when it comes down to it,) that actually amounts to a thang--a movement/scene, with something approaching a manifesto (however buried and vague, which is in itself in keeping with the manifesto, after all), plus accompanying canon it's pulled together for itself (interesting to me that they leave out the straighter Britfolk-Steeleye, Carthy, Tabor, Ashley Hutchings--in favour of the kooky stuff; again, makes me think it's Vashti's biography--and precisely her commercial failure--that inspires as much as her music per se). The whole package is something I can feel the pull of, to an extent, but well, I doubt I could fully get on board.
details of OFCOM's depredations (link courtesy of kode 9), looks like a pretty impressive sweep across the spectrum of london street beats tranmissions, but then again most stations have back-up transmitters so perhaps not as devastating a harvest of tech-booty as it looks

Friday, November 04, 2005

Blimey, bit alarming, this. Wonder which ones got taken off the air? Ofcom sounds kinda sinister and Newspeak doesn't it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

here's an interview i did while in sao paulo a couple of months ago (i never did post about the experience, too much of a blur to make anything cogent out of, a great great time though), the interview was done by a young journalist called Serginho Teixeira Jr, with Marcelo Negromonte and Marcos Boffa chipping in here and there. a while back Serginho also put up the dj set i did at the afterparty for the campari rock festival, it barely counts as djing but is a nice enough post-punk mix-tape
gloom in the room

always pleased to find it’s not just a case of my suspect faculties misinterpreting the data as per usual, but to get confirmation from the youngers that the gruel actually is getting a wee bit thin 'n' watery out there in music-land. Specifically, martin blackdownsound notes a perturbing lull in grime, while even those of generally poptimistic disposition such as matos are glum, finding it a real chore sifting through all the so-so in order to fill up a cd-r , which leads him to conclude that 2005 is "the worst year for pop music I've yet lived through." His older mate says "nah, 1975, much worse", but seriously, check what came out in '75... 05 by comparison makes the pre-punk nadir look like a ruddy golden age.
have to concur with kpunk on the excellence of the latest release from ghostbox, the mind how you go ep-or-is-it-more-like-mini-lp?, by the advisory circle (go here for preview mp3s and a glimpse of its exquisite 3 inch cd cover). the concept of the advisory circle is a sort of
benevolently paternalistic government (busy-)body, issuing guidance to the general public on every aspect of their behaviour, loosely inspired by those public safety films they used to show on children’s tv in the 70s (often quite gruesome and disturbing: i remember ones warning about playing on building sites and the unexpected dangers of the english countryside: kids on a trip to a farm coming a cropper one by one--the first tumbling into a pig pen and drowning in the quagmire of mud and ordure, another getting impaled on a pitchfork, and so on). the music, though, is almost devoid of darkness, redolent of various points of radiophonic workshop at their most positivist, ergonomic and heimlich, human league circa dignity of labour and ‘dancevision,’ stereolab's music for the amorphous body center, plus a hint of aphex twin's early euphonious side ("analogue bubblebath", bits of the first selected ambient works, and especially polygon window's surfing on sine waves). typical of this vibe is highlight track "osprey", a fragrant rhapsody of flute-wafting moodtronica that totally fits the title (which brings to mind the vicarious-transcendence-via-falconry scenes in kes, the early ken loach, movie). (digression: i’ve actually been within 30 feet of an osprey--ultra-rare protected species, cordoned off from the public, they may be in the UK, but on shelter island, off the coast of long island, they’re almost as common as crows, and nest on top of telegraph poles by the side of busy roads).

the only faintly creepy aspect on mind how you go are the voices, mingling emollience, solicitousness and over-perfect enunciation in a way that recalls the telescreen announcers in fahrenheit 451 (and did the décor and mise en scene of that movie precede or come after the prisoner?). i wonder what exactly is the appeal of that vibe of postwar planning and efficiency, of benign paternalism (maternalism perhaps more apt, given the welfare state’s associations with free milk and nursery clinics). perhaps it's just nostalgia for something long gone, or maybe it's that the idea of a nanny state doesn't seem nearly so suffocating and oppressively intrusive in this heartless postsocialist world where no one official gives a shit about you.

the advisory circle is an alter-alter-ego for jon brooks, who otherwise traffics as the king of woolworths and like the focus group and belbury poly is a library music fiend (the word 'library' itself giving off a wonderful tang of the municipal/pedagogic/edificatory). i'm not familiar with his other works but after mind how you go i'm eager to check them out.
oops... cock up
momus, superstar blogger
(link courtesy harald greene)

well at click opera he does churn out quality discourse at a remarkably rapid rate, like this veritable Momus-festo on the Seven (modernised) Deadly Sins

Monday, October 31, 2005

me on Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice and Comus

and the missus on Rome and Boondocks
this is worth looking at -- Pil miming 'poptones' + 'careering' and making mayhem (relatively speaking) on american bandstand in 1980

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A past gone mad, #1

Perusing the gig and tour ads at the back of Uncut is a dizzy-makingly anachronic experience. You get the most incongruous juxtapositions and unseemly adjacencies. Why, just on p. 173, divided into quarter-page ads, you'll find New Model Army, Seth Lakeman (whoever the fuck he might be), and Dreadzone rubbing shoulders with Bob Dylan. (Who you might have thought could afford a whole page of his own, i mean, Jesus, he just had a documentary on him that was some kind of world cultural event!!!). It seems like everybody's still treading the boards again: The Levellers, the Pogues (minus Shane), the Proclaimers, Was (Not) Was, Swing Out fucking Sister, Lee Scratch Perry, Jethro Tull. Durutti Column gets sandwiched in a bottom-of-page threesome with Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Eliza Carthy (well, foursome I suppose)! Sinead O' Connor with Sly & Robbie, and I don't mean ads next to each other, they're performing together, presumably they're her backing band!

Now, I don't begrudge Roy Harper his annual tour, though, some fifteen decent-sized venues across the UK. Don't begrude it one bit, and in fact if I lived in Britain I'd pay to see the man, never have had that pleasure. Hey Woebot, hey K-punk, you surely know, right, that Jeff Wayne is restaging your much-loved War of the Worlds across the country, April next year, with extra shows in response to public demand, later that summer? Delightful-sounding venues like the Glasgow Clyde Auditorium and the Bournemouth BIC, where'll he be conducting the Black Smoke Band and the 48 piece ULLAdubULLA Strings., Special guest Justin Hayward and Richard Burton in ghost form.

But all generations are catered for in this long night of the living dead. P. 170 has an almost conceptual unity, baggy-tastic and scally-delic, with Ian Brown in the upper right corner, Happy Mondays (plus support The Farm!) in the lower left, and Scousters The Coral and Echo & the Bunnymen squaring off in the middle. And bloody hell, directly opposite, a group called The Hacienda Brothers! (And I just learned that there's going to be a recreation of the Hac in all its pills'n'thrills'n'bellyaching glory, promoted by none other than Tony Wilson's young son Oliver. I would go if I lived in England, having never caught the Hac in its rave-on prime, but gone a little too early when it was still a little too indie). But I guess all this shouldn't be surprising, as it's just the live-music corollary of the retro-reissue explosion, an over-population of music with bands dying at too slow a rate c.f. the birth rate, and worse, many of them resurrecting. I suppose you can't blame 'em for having a second go, or trying to eke out a living; what else are they supposed to do? But it all contributes to what I increasingly feel is a key issue of our pop time, namely the erosion of a sense of time, of forward temporal propulsion.
Those lovely people (probably just person: James Nice, appropriately named) just reissued a late-period Ultramarine album . And yunno, 'spretty good, but I think they, like a lot of people by the mid-to-late 90s ,had gotten a bit lost in their gear and all the capabilities and options it presented.

1991's Every Man And Woman Is A Star , though--which LTM also reissued in wondrously glistening remastered form and I blogged about at almost the very start of this blog--sounds as timeless as ever. I dug it out the other week, actually, and you know what, I actually teared up at a couple of points. It was those samples that did, the ones they took from god-knows-what BBC 2 or Radio 4 documentary and detourned into commentaries on rave (despite Ian and Paul never being ravers or even clubbers themselves). You know the ones, “they’re looking for spiritual reasons, they’re looking for something more than this world has to offer” (I forget the tune that one's in) and of course that New Agey dance-therapy woman on “Stella” talking about her quest to find an emptiness "where I could begin again", about how she achieved spiritual rebirth through dancing: “I wanted it in this life, in this body, not tomorrow, not some other day, some other lifetime, I wanted it now, and I... I had to dance.” Swear to God, my eyes misted up. See, I’d clean forgotten that there was that whole transcendental, oceanic aspect to rave. That whole "cosmic dancer", ‘danced my way back into the womb" impulse. Oh yes, not forgetting those Kevin Ayers samples on "Weird Gear", “everyone is high until something makes them blue” and other fine sentiments.....

Yknow, Ultramarine were into this Brit-folk revival thing way WAY ahead of the pack. Before Every Man and Woman they did an album called Folk (although it had some inspiration to do with Wyndham Lewis, who wasn't exactly a nature boy). And as A Primary Industry, their pre-Ultramarine band, they did all this kind of wispy pastoral-tinged third-wave industrial meets On Land-y dark ambient to be honest quite unclassifiable stuff, somewhere between Dif Juz and Strafe Fur Rebellion. Joy has all the records; she interviewed Ian and Paul when they were API (lovely guys, apparently). Always meant to listen to those records. And her Dif Juz ones for that matter.

Ultramarine makes me think of Ultramarina, an excellent group I know nothing about. (In fact I got it real garbled, 'cos that's actually a record by someone else, now I think of it). Anyway, it came in a bunch of stuff from Mr. Jonathan Dale down under (whose blog is sorely missed) and what I did, for a change, was just listen to all it blind, knowing absolutely nothing about any of them. I could have just gone on the web but I was working on something else so opted to pop them in and play them. It was refreshing because it's the opposite of how I hear anything these days. There's usually a heap of context. This is a side effect of the web. Even doing a record review, the temptation is irresistible to do research. It's too easy. And with longer pieces, there's always the temptation to over-research. More than anything, it's a not-so-subtle form of procrastination (you feel like you are actually working but you're actually putting off the dread moment of writing!). But listening in this more pure-sound way was almost like a throwback to being at Melody Maker and stuff coming through the mail. In those days, I wouldn’t even read press releases (totally opposite to the cliche of the journalist who just rewrites the press release!). Often these were records that hadn't been written about elsewhere yet because they had only just come out or I'd got the white label or the tape. Or perhaps there was advance buzz in fanzines, which I hardly ever read. Either way, there was an element of an un-preconceived listening experience, the music existing purely as a blank slate, a Rorsasch blot for your projections. Well, I can see the advantages of both approaches. With context and research, the writing is more informed and "authoritative"; you know what the band is trying to do, maybe, or where they fit in. On the downside, it's a far less unmediated encounter between self and sound. Anyway, as an exercise I might try and see if I can write a whole review knowing nothing at all about the record or group, in a completely insulated bubble. Most likely, that's totally impossible.
Nice review of Ghostbox emanations at Stylus

Talking of which, this made my jaw drop! (It'll be gone by Monday, though).

Tangentially connected (MM to the other’s NME) here’s Pitchfork's Nitsuh Abebe on the case again, giving me those giddy-queasy feelings by excavating the history of another moment/movement (the first one was UK post-rock/"the lost generation") I actually lived through as a frontlines reporter: “anorak’n’roll” aka C86. In fact, one of my best friends was actually in a defining band of the era, Talulah Gosh, although I don't think they were on the cassette. (Cutie-shamblers stock rising + cassette retro-fetish = maybe I can finally sell all those copies of C86 I purloined from a cupboard in King's Reach Tower).
Frank Kogan’s book (don't have a heart attack when you clock the price, there's a ppbk version too) looks amazing at a quick skim. As you'd expect, it's highly unorthodox in its structure and provenance. As well as Village Voice reviews and Why Music Sucks rants, there's an email reply to Geeta, chunks of ILM commentary, interviews with the author from rockcritics.com, unpublished Pazz N' Jop commentaries about 15 times longer than the longest blurbs they ever print, and--piece de resistance--a letter to Voice managing editor Doug Simmonds, with Kogan complaining that the paper is failing to utilise his intellect (the largest, Frank writes, and most self-questioning in all of rockcrit--bigger than Frith’s, bigger than mine, bigger than Bangs', and Meltzer's doesn't count because it's out of service!) to the fullest. All this and an acknowledgements list that takes in virtually everybody in this community and runs for pages. The dedicatee, naturally, is Chuck Eddy.
Sam Blatherwick says there’s at least one precedent for Go4’s Return: “In 1997 Sparks did a tribute album to themselves didnt they?... ummmmm... called plagiarism”. And Matos said it was common in R&B (but then only gives a coupla examples). I'm sure it's actually a routine showbiz thing, because in entertainment/variety, artists--I should say artistes--are known not so much for their recordings as for their songs, which they'd perform here there and everywhere: on TV variety shows, at nightclubs, and so forth. It's not a specific recording of the song that is their signature, but their interpretation, which they're accomplished and professional enough to be able to reproduce at the drop of a top hat, regardless of which band-leader or orchestra they're fronting. So I'd imagine people like Jack Jones or Max Bygraves or Perry Como, upon signing to a new label, might do an album reprising the songs most associated with their names. Which wouldn't bother an MOR audience, because it's all about the Song, the top-line melody (which is what copyright is vested in, in song publishing), and I wonder if
the differences in arrangement, production, recording aura, etc would even be audible to those listeners. In rock, however--and in pop, in all post-Beatles/Spector music perhaps--it's all about the record. (Trevor Horn, or was it Micky Most, used to go on about how they had the song, but they didn't have the record yet). Which is why we get very very attached to the specific aura of a recording--the precise vibe created by the meshing of instrumentation, arrangement, production, studio ambience, perhaps even the mood of that moment in time, as captured forever. Eno has commented on this, that remarkable ability whereby someone raised on rock/pop can identify a song within a second, purely on its sonority and aura, before enough of the melody has unfurled to recognise the tune. It's the timbre of the "band-voice" (Carducci's term). So that's why Return the Gift is a disconcerting listen, these are songs that you've cathected in their original incarnation, and now that element of eroticised haeccity is precisely what's been stripped from the re-recordings. (C.f. how people got livid, understandably, when the first CDs came out, and discovered that often ultra-perfectionist artists (with no 'e') such as Todd Rundgren or Frank Zappa had remixed the music, often adding all-new percussion.)

Which reminds me, those missing Slate-piece paras. Hardly essential, but what else is a blog for, and anyway why shouldn't I join the out-take "bonanza"/second-disc-of-inferior-material-you-deep-down-never-really-wanted retro-culture?

Two reasons why Return’s auto-plagiarism might make sense:

"When I saw Gang of Four perform earlier this year in New York, I was struck by how contemporary the lyrics felt, with their dissections of consumerism, militarism, the psychology of right-wing backlash, and so forth, and how depressing that was as an indice of our society’s advance since the late Seventies. Take “Natural’s Not In It,” a critique of the leisure and entertainment industry’s “coercion of the senses,” a mass-media and advertising barrage of hedonic imagery that causes singer Jon King to protest “this heaven gives me migraine.” The song is even more blisteringly applicable to today’s porno-fied popular culture than it was when the Gang first recorded it in 1979."

and

"The cycle of pop history has turned, putting Gang of Four in a position to get payback not just for the trademark infringements of today’s Go4-recyclers but earlier bands with heavy debts (the most successful being Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were such fans they hired Gill to produce their 1984 debut album). “Comrades, let us seize the time” is the tongue-in-cheek chorus of “Capital,” and Gang of Four have done exactly that."

and one last grim'n'uncanny irony:

"Return ends with “We Live As We Dream, Alone.” When Gang of Four first recorded it for 1982’s Songs of the Free, the track was a bleak evocation of the privatization of public life in the era of Reagan and Thatcher (who once famously declared “there is no such thing as society”). The ideal of the collective is at the heart of socialism, but it’s is also a big part of being in a rock band: all-for-one and one-for-all camaraderie, unity allied to a sense of purpose and destiny, the shared dream of making it and making history. The original “We Live As We Dream, Alone” can be heard now as a glimpse ahead to the break-up of the gang and the dispersal of its members into solo careerism. Resurrected as the final track of their comeback, the song seems pointedly to pose the question of whether the reunited Gang will stick around to see if they do have anything new to say, musically or lyrically, or whether they’ll simply go their own ways again. "
Tapes extra

Samuel Macklin of Blogglebumcage drops me a line to say, "I can GUARANTEE you that tapes have become a fetishitem. The old 'cassette underground' seems to be making a real resurgence. A lot of the free-folk/noise scene bands seem to be (re)turning to tapes in preference to CDRs--precisely, I suspect, because cassettes have basically disappeared from the mainstream. A lot of the labels specialising in limited run LPs and CDRs with hand-made artwork have started churning out tapes too.

"Here
are
some links
to
get
you
started..."
of course, the polarities underlying the previous post (meaning the one below) are explored, at a much more abstract, meta- level, in this thread