Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
2. Ditch the dusty stuff - Secondhand vinyl takes up quite a lot of space in the shop and - desperate as I was to find SOMETHING worth hearing - I couldn't find one record I wanted when I was in right at the start of the closing-down period. From my experience as in the bookshop near my house, I have some idea of what you buy in and what you sell in terms of secondhand stuff, and the stuff there has been stripped out already to the point where most of it will be there in twenty years.
3. Use the space for something else - like... more new vinyl? I don't know. Tower has got a new vinyl section that is very much the standard to aim at, and I'm not sure how Road will compete with this.
4. Ditch the dusty Irish stuff - I have nothing but praise for the fact that Road will stock almost anything independent and Irish, but there comes a time when a CD-R in a clear plastic sleeve that hasn't sold in five years has to be binned to stop it cramping the style of the Jape album or even the Ambience Affair EP. It brings the tone down.
5. Brighter lights - Is this reasonable? Dark and dusty shops are uninviting.
6. Let more people know it's there - One of Road's main complaints was that their old customers weren't being replaced by new, young customers. While point 1 (the stock thing) impacts on this, the fact that people don't know it exists has got to impact on it. I knew it was around somewhere, but it took going out of my way to find a Mumblin' Deaf Ro instore, I think, to actually figure out where it was. People have got to know. At LEAST put the logo on the bag. Even if people don't know where to find it, let people know that it's there to be found.
7. More reasons to go - Instores, compilations, something. To get people to make the leap between knowing it exists and actually finding it. To get people to go more often, once they do know it's there. Tower is in the kind of place where I can barely avoid going in once a day to at least browse. Road is not. So get me there somehow.
8. Modernise - That isn't a great title for this one, but what I mean is that Road is associated with a generation of Irish musicians that isn't exactly on the cutting edge. The benefit was played by Jape, The Jimmy Cake, Si Schroeder, Adrian Crowley and some members of the Dudley Corporation and Large Mound. Not that a lot of those bands aren't great. But that line-up could have been Jape, Fight Like Apes, Grand Pocket Orchestra, Katie Kim and Children Under Hoof. No need to cut associations with older musicians, but forge associations with younger musicians too.
9. Redesign the website - Just make it look a bit nicer. Surely in the current atmosphere of goodwill, someone will do this for free or at least cheap.
10. Have gigs - why not? Everybody seemed to have fun at the One For The Road thing, from reports. This is another way of keeping Road in people's consciousness after they're satisfied that they've done their civic duty and saved it.
I write this as somebody who shopped in Road reasonably often - say, second most of any record store in Dublin. I don't have any of the sentimental connections that a lot of people seem to have of halcyon days past or of a first break by stocking a homemade record. I'm just a consumer. Your average 20 year old who for one reason or another likes to buy a CD or a 7" every now and then. I'm just thinking out loud here, so don't wade in and tell me to shut up. I fail to see how any of the suggestions could hurt, anyway, and if Road is planning on continuing, it's clear that it's going to have to do SOMETHING, because it can't rely on the goodwill boom continuing indefinitely.
Photo by Naomi McArdle, sorry if it's not cool to nick it.
Chemical or natural? There is a single moment on Merriweather Post Pavillion, after a few lush, watery minutes of introduction, where the music reaches out of the speakers and cracks open reality so that you can see inside, in a way that only Tibetan boddhisativas and LSD-devoted professors usually experience. That moment, called forth with an invocational ‘if I could just leave my body for a night…’ is a genuine landmark in the winding path of music’s history. There is a level of transcendence, of originality, of genius present in that moment on In The Flowers, and on Merriweather in general, that elevates it instantly to the realm of hushed tones. So, is it chemical or natural?
It doesn’t matter. It’s easier for once to talk about this album in terms of what’s it not, rather than what it is. It’s not a retread of anything that has come before. It’s not difficult to engage with, but it’s also not populist in the least. It’s never dull. In fact, over eleven tracks, it comes off as almost too short and leaves a small but inescapable feeling of disappointment that it’s over, in the way that all great albums should. But that’s not to say that it’s unfinished, or imperfect. It’s not. This is Keats’ well-wrought urn manifest, an album genuinely without low points or flaws.
But even out of this consistent brilliance, there come peaks. Besides the aforementioned In The Flowers, My Girls is stunningly beautiful and layered in Panda Bear’s signatory reverb-drenched harmonies, erroneously attributed to the Beach Boys. Lyrically, it’s an affectingly earnest account of the responsibility of providing for family. The evident singalong qualities of the refrain create a strange feeling of intrusion into Panda’s ‘four walls and abode slats’, but the ability to get such basic, instinctive emotions into a song this catchy without coming off as cheesy must be marvelled at.
Summertime Clothes recalls the lyrically-evocative Animal Collective of the days before Panda Bear was a significant songwriting influence, painting a picture of happy and naïve summer days over a seriously danceable pulse. But the next track proves exactly why it was a good idea to give Panda equal air-time. Daily Routine grows out of individual organ squeaks into an arpeggiator-based piece of everyday escapism that dissolves eventually into a slow repetition that’s almost shamanic in texture. Which then gives way to the golden melodies of Bluish. Which then give way to… you get the picture.It doesn’t let up. The album closes with Brother Sport, tropical and trance-inducing in a way El Guincho could only dream of. After a mid-section of ever-building rhythms and a screaming Avey Tare, the tumult reaches saturation point. The clouds part and a new day dawns. With one of the most smile-inducing melodies you will ever hear, Animal Collective give you two minutes to dance and forget your troubles before the album finally ends. Merriweather Post Pavillion is an album that effects emotions in a very real way, pulling you headlong through nostalgia, hope and the forty shades of joy. I can’t think of another album that is as perfectly executed, as plain perfect as Merriweather Post Pavillion. I would be extremely surprised if this didn’t turn out to be the best album of the year. Or the decade. I’ll stop at that before I say something I might regret later.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Don't get used to it.
Anyway, to celebrate, here is a YouTube video of my favourite comedy sketch of all time. When I saw this first, it hurt my stomach. I don't know why, it just did. It's from Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews' surrealist sketch show Big Train, and it's about Portaccio, the greatest ever Shakespeare impersonator.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Because this band is incredible.
America del Sur formed somewhere in America some time in the last few years. Then they broke up. When they did exist, they made an album on tape and for free download on the internet.
It's a synthesis of Grizzly Bear-esque unusual chordliness, Of Montreal-sque many-chordfulness, Tapes 'n' Tapes-ish energy, Pavement-oid guitar meandering and...
It's just fantastic, put it that way. It's the great lost American record, better than everything but maybe five albums I've heard in the past year. And it's legitimately free. You need to hear this.
America del Sur - America Del Sur (Rack and Ruin Records, 2008)
Monday, March 2, 2009
So you're an original founder of Elephant Six. You've got production credits on both Neutral Milk Hotel records as well as work with Olivia Tremor Control and Beulah. You've made enough great albums with The Apples In Stereo to have a good shot at the Indie Rock Hall Of Fame, and on top of that, your solo projects Marbles and ulysses weren't too bad either.
What do you do next?
Write music for children educating them about science, maths and ethics! Make it into a cartoon!
That's the career path for Robert Schneider, aka Robbert Bobbert from Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine. It's unclear who the Bubble Machine is as yet, but the bookies have thrown up the names of the bubble machine from the Flaming Lips at 3/1 and the bubble machine who formerly worked with Dublin Duck Dispensary at 10/1.
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Apples In Stereo + a straight admission that you're writing for children = Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine.
But then, when you hear some of the songs about science, like 'Gravity', you'll realise that certain AIS songs, like for example 'Energy'... are exactly the same.
Check this one out:
Or if you want sound quality, try MySpace.
- Television Personalities - This Angry Silence (And Don't The Kids Just Love It, Rough Trade, 1981)
- Kim Jung Mi - I Wanna Enjoy The Warm Spring Breeze (Now, World Psychedelia [Korea], 1973)
- The Who - Boris The Spider (A Quick One, Reaction, 1966)
- Fiddle Bambi - Banana Uyu (Bambi Rocks, Beatball [Korea], 2005)
- Annie Philippe - On M'a Toujours Dit (Ticket de Quai EP, Riviera [France], 1966)
- Big Monster Love - Little Bear's Song (Perils of Internet Dating EP, Abomination, 2006)
- Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know (You Broke My Heart In 17 Places, Motown, 1983)
IT'S A FREE COVERS EP FROM SO COW
It's great, too.
Download it here
Saturday, February 28, 2009
What, you mean you've never seen a full Fight Like Apes gig?!
Well here's one in Holland to a crowd who clearly have no idea what the hell is going on.
Nothing provokes the nationalist feeling like a nice Lilywhite accent billowing off a stage towards Dutch people.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
What's that, you say. a gig in Stoneybatter?! Yes. In a large room in what seemed to be a stripped-out former shop. What you might call a "space", I think. Bring your own drink. I didn't bring any, but some did and I'm sure they were delighted. It seemed to be some sort of Deserted Village buzz, and I have only nice things to say about that label, even though I've only got Thinguma*jigsaw's (awakeinwhitechapel) by them.
Their logo was a fetching road sign on that CD and they included the translation: Sráidbhaile Iargúlta. In one swoop, Deserted Village instantly rooted themselves in Irishness - for who else has such bilingual signs? - and that somehow made them seem all the more cool to me, because they were putting out a mortality-obsessed Norwegian duo and not trying to be too detached and hipstery. I don't know why that seemed important to me, it just did. It also might not have been anything to do with them, but there was a merch desk with non-performing bands' stuff, so I surmised.
So I missed Cian Nugent, and Laura Sheeran was essentially just thirty minutes of equipment failure, one stunning song, one alright song and a semi-sean nós a capella song about love.
Next on, Peter Delaney. Peter Delaney's Duck Egg Blue EP from a couple of years ago helped open up my conception of what music produced in Ireland could sound like at a point when I was still pretty fuzzy about the fact that it didn't have to be gig-focused and Dublin-centred. He's from Limerick and he plays the ukelele. Not in a jaunty sort of way, but in a deeply sad way which can only be created by an instrument with no natural sustain. Two ukeleles he had with him in fact. He played only three songs, concluding with an unpolished, melancholy epic called 'The Guest' which is, at some point, going to be spoken of with reverence. Probably.
After Peter came LITTLE MYTH EPIPHANYMPH, icily scouring the room with her silent death-stare and THE SEVERED HEADMASTER, presenting the merry morbid show to the gathered patrons. So comfortable did he feel in fact that he later introduced himself and his companion by their real names: MARTHA REDIVIVUS and SETH HORATIO BUNCOMBE.
Banjo in hand, Seth sang sanguinary songs about death, mortality, fatality and downfall with the peace-disturbing bowed-saw playing of Martha creating a bizarre, unsettling atmosphere in the background.
But here's a secret.
YOU HAVE TO BUY THE MYTH
SUSPEND DISBELIEF! JESUS!
When the singer of Thinguma*jigsaw tells you that he is about to sing a song about a mortuary, you don't give off a relaxed chuckle.
When the singer of Thinguma*jigsaw tells you that he is about to sing a song called "Sweet and laudable it is to die for pornography or, in Latin, Dulce et decorum est pro pornographia mori"... that's not funny either! Internalise it.
Some woman hummed her way through 'Dulce et decorum est...' and in return had the last several lines of the song (which is about the production of snuff films) sung directly at her. She soon exited her front row seat, possibly to meet with early demise.
Highlights? All the new songs sound just as atmospheric and eerie as the first albums, and the show was mostly new songs. The Daniel Johnston cover 'Walking the Cow' and the (awakeinwhitechapel) opener 'Serpent's Apple', opening and closing the show respectively, were the equivalent of hits.
But in the end, the crowd in this bouncer-free, bar chat-free, cheap, communal space tainted the experience themselves. This is why we can't have nice things.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Oh wait, I tag things in a completely senseless way, by venue and nationality. As if anyone ever wanted to check which Danish bands I'd seen or how many gigs I've been to in Crawdaddy since September 2007.
A better way to preface this review would be to go look at these incredible pictures at State and this interview at Aoife B's gaff.
I turned up at the Button Factory alone and stood around, trying not to look awkward while people arrived. Nobody I recognised. A weird sort of in-betweener crowd: half were comfortable, beer in hand, waiting around the back to step up when a band appeared. The other half were excited, on edge, 80% female and at the front. I belonged at the back. But I went to the front. Sorry if you were a short girl and I was standing in front of you. I've put in the same fawning hours you have, get off my back.
Casio Kids played first and I was initially thinking, "wow, Unicorns!". Then it all got a bit smoothed out in a sort of a Hot Chip vibe. But then, gradually, it became clear that Casio Kids are Scandanavian. A quick Google shows that they're Norwegian, but I could not stop hearing Swedish bands once I realised they weren't Anglo-American. The Shout Out Louds. Jens Lekman. Even fucking Dungen. It's something about the inflection when they sing.
They passed the time, and I like that they sing in Norsk, but nothing to write home about.
If you were about to write home, however, and you needed something other than "things good here, hope all is well at home" to tell the people in the old country, you wouldn't have had long to wait.
Enter Of Montreal. BP Helium in Eno-mode as in 2007 (rather than Low-era Bowie mode, as 2008, if I remember correctly). A tiger, a pig, a smattering of shadows, a diplodocus-headed gentlemen of some description, and a respectable family. And Kevin Barnes, character in his own postmodern fantasy. Much of the excitement of this show is in the insane, postmodern theatrics that go on, both behind Kevin and involving Kevin. An anthropomorphic tiger hunting to tense music is exactly that in this context - it's not a song with a theatrical accompaniment.
But I suppose I should mention music. Minuses first:
- He's not feeling the lyrics. But hey, who says every singer of their darker hours has to crucify themself on stage to satisfy me.
- As with every Of Montreal live show, the sheen is dulled a little in performance, and the backing tracks are always a touch busy... as if everything's not in its right place. Although maybe that helps.
Well, as Damien Hirst knows well, if you're just arranging diamonds, you're going to end up with something pretty valuable no matter what you do. Of new material, 'Triphallus to Punctuate' was my favourite, as it is on record, because of its bizarrely disco-fried "ah yeah" part as much as anything else. Of old material, 'Sink The Seine-Cato As A Pun' was pretty stellar, as was Gronlandic Edit, and though there was nothing further back than Sunlandic Twins, 'Wraith Pinned To The Mist' waved that flag fairly well.
Just a good show then, right? Just an American band, bigger than small clubs but smaller than big theatres. Same setlist all tour, even if it synchs with performance art. Worth the entrance fee, definitely.
Kevin smears himself head to toe in shaving foam and leaps into the crowd. You see a hand flailing so you grab it to right him onto his feet and feel you've done your part. Go home happy.
"Do you think they will do an encore?" I heard an obviously largely housebound fellow attendee ask.
'Suffer For Fashion', immediately weighing in on a level above the entire regular set. 'I Was Never Young', holding the fort. Then (you know this already if you ever wanted to know, so there's no point in suspense, especially in a textual medium where there is no temporal block on you) Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Which they apparently no longer issue the lyrics to at birth. But I bellowed them nonetheless. Leapt around and knocked the guy-protecting-girlfriend and the I-need-to-get-this-on-camera-phone and the lets-do-live-song-by-song-analysis people out of their comfort zones a little I hope.
It was great. Insane, but great. Five members and four actors on stage, blasting it out. Crowd giving it straight back. If you don't have 'em, steal 'em. The encore, as usual with OM gigs, lifts the show and makes the whole thing seem that much more epic.
So fuck you, the everyone I know who went to the last one but didn't go this time. This was great, even if I think I nearly killed myself sprinting up Dame Street for the last bus because of it.
Old OM posts:
Fawning about Fauna
And about Skeletal Lamping
December 2007 in the Button Factory
The early 2007 show was before the blog, I forgot this
Monday, February 9, 2009
I bought records on Portobello Road and in Rough Trade. I bought clothes in (predictably) American Apparel. Took black cabs, saw Westminster, went the wrong way around the Circle line to get to where I was going. But the weekend was about Animal Collective. Every gap, while we were cooking or waking up or just hanging out, was filled with Merriweather Post Pavillion.
And then the weekend passed, and it was Monday the nineteenth of January and we went to the Koko in Camden to see Animal Collective.
This guy stood in our way for a while, singing Orwellian songs in a John Lydon-on-I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of here persona. Few support acts have been worse.
Then came Avey, Panda and Geologist. The set-list was as follows:
In The Flowers
Weird unrecognisable version of Winter's Love
Lion In A Coma
The rainbow strip lights were going and it was the first Animal Collective gig I've ever been to that hasn't had majority new stuff being passed down from the improvisational gods on high. It was mostly pretty cathartic.
Things that were off:
Winter's Love's only recognisable bit was ONE BAR of the drum loop from it, during a 5 minute long improvisation that was apparently supposed to BE Winter's Love
I think the bass was missing from My Girls, which robbed it of some of its finality at the end
I have a feeling they missed synching the beat in Banshee Beat, ironically, but it was still great as just an Avey strumathon.
Things that were on:
Everything. The guts of Merriweather Post Pavillion, which is probably the most perfect album I can think of, and I've been thinking for about two months.
Slippi, being off the cuff as it is, freewheeling along. Chores, starting in ultra-slowed down, lamenty Panda Bear mode, but eventually kicking in to its full-on frenetic brilliance.
Songs like Also Frightened and Lion In A Coma leaping off the page and being counted even more than they are on the album.
Brothersport, being an incomparable live experience.
met a man who was talking about government laws and saying "that's right yeah" every four mumbles on the tube, who seemed to know what he was talking about.
Read in 'The London Paper' (a free Tube-rag) that 'Josh Dibb and co.' were playing the Koko, Josh Dibb being Deakin who has been on hiatus since just before the release of Strawberry Jam.
It was a great gig. I'm sorry this review has no logic or structure, but it was quite a long time ago.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
1. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
2. Why? - Alopecia
3. Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
4. Beach House - Devotion
5. Times New Viking - Rip It Off
6. Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
7. So Cow - I'm Siding With My Captors
8. Jeremy Jay - A Place Where We Could Go
9. El Guincho - Alegranza
10. Xiu Xiu - Women As Lovers
11. No Age - Nouns
12. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
13. Stephen Malkmus - Real Emotional Trash
14. Roots Manuva - Slime and Reason
15. Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
16. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
17. The Mae Shi - Hlllyh
18. Santogold - Santogold
19. Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements
20. Port O'Brien - All We Could Do Was Sing
21. Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
22. Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual
23. The Dodos - Visiter
24. Correcto - Correcto
25. This Is The Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank
By bands I was already into before 2008: 40%
Saw live: 48%
Reviewed for print: 32%
Interviewed for print: 12%
Owned on CD or vinyl: 40%
Might briefly review the Animal Collective gig I was at in the Koko in London in January, and the Of Montreal gig I was at in the Button Factory last week, for the sake of being complete. My main efforts, however, will primarily be going towards the study of dusty old books in the Ussher and Berkeley libraries of Trinity College Dublin for the next several weeks.
Like I said last year and probably this year before I embarked on that ridiculously overwrought top 25, I do it more for myself to look back on than for others to read. Let that explain the bits that got too obtuse, or the bits that weren't really developed enough to make sense.
It also gives me an opportunity to go back and re-engage with albums that might have fallen by the wayside, which happens all too often when a set of mp3s falls out of my 'recently added' and off the 2GB mp3 player I carry around. I wouldn't have thought nearly so hard about those albums if I hadn't committed myself to actually reviewing them, rather than listing them. So I'm glad I did.
No album was as good as Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? No album was as good as Merriweather Post Pavillion. But it was about par for the course as a year. I'm looking forward to burying myself in comfortable, mostly older music for a while. At some stage I might take Merriweather out of my CD player (it's been a month), or Wire off my turntable... but not till I'm ready.
See you round.
Oh, thanks to Darragh and Dan for writing those interim posts, and to Bobby Duck Dispensary and Brian So Cow who so foolishly fell into the trap I laid for them to review each other's albums. Wouldn't have worked if I'd explained!
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
XLTake a simple, relatively formulaic guitar, bass and drums construction. Adds subtle keys and collegiate vocals. Tacks on an occasional baroque string flourish. And end up with what? Well, with the keys transformational steps in the process mired in the cloudy confusion that obscures the reasons for all great pop music, you end up with the best album of 2008. Nothing to it.
It couldn't have been any other way. No other album dominated my headphones like this one did, or wrapped up my consciousness in its deceptively simple folds. I first encountered Vampire Weekend late by blogger standards (having missed out on the blue CD-R and attendant hype), but early enough by normal person standards. Some time after Christmas last year, I saw the video for A-Punk and thought it was by-numbers NME bollocks. Then, after returning to college, I was handed a promo copy of the album, a white disc in a clear plastic sleeve. Thanks XL for splashing out there.
I was expecting it to be bad, to be honest. I convinced myself it was for a little while. But it's impossible to resist it. It's insidious. Once I'd heard it twice it would not leave the jukebox in my head. Waking up in the morning I would hear the harpsichords of 'M79', disembodied, and be unable to remember where I knew them from. Walking down the street, I'd tap the syncopations of the drum pattern in 'Mansard Roof' once it kicks in, subconsciously.
But the key song was one that doesn't sound a whole lot like the quintessence of the album - it doesn't have African rhythms, fruit-flavoured keys or particularly referential lyrics. Walcott. Sounds like the Walkmen if they'd had a wash. Perfect pop song, perfect length, perfect builds and breakdowns.
Then I saw it. It's like that all over. I listened again and again, so that it was whole verses, with the lyrics lodged in my memory, that would appear when I was reading newspapers or playing games or walking through college corridors. It became a daily thing for me, one of the few bandnames that survived the initial wearing-off of novelty on my mp3 players.
If they were slipping out of my consciousness towards the end of the year, the gig brought them right back again, and the fact of interviewing them forced me to look at them in different ways, to question different angles, to probe and see what happens. Doing a degree in English literature at the same time as writing for an indie music magazine probably leads to unnecessarily prosaic and theoretical approaches to things. But whatever.
I asked them about it, they told me what they thought, and I really enjoyed hearing it. It changed what I heard again. It became more African just because people elsewhere were talking about it being African. But the interview challenged that too:
"I think the idea that you can only appreciate African music by associating it somehow with poverty is just as ridiculous as saying you can only listen to African music if you’re some rich safari hunter. It really is nothing to do with it. I hope that people who listen to African music, just because they like the sound of it, would also take it upon themselves to be a moral, ethical person. But, you know, those are two separate things. I find that the people who get angry about an American band being interested in African music aren’t offering any alternative. They tend to be the people who exoticise African music, and ghettoise it, as something that can only be appreciated in this particular way."
And as if to pull things back out of the theory and back to the real world, they play a new song that sounds like Strawberry Jam and a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song at the gig. As if to say "we are a pop band, stop over-thinking it".
As I listen to it tonight, it's no less exciting than it has been in the year I've heard it. It might be, yet again, an overly subjective choice for best album, but I know other people think it too. And there's no reason to deny that I've listened to it most and enjoyed it more than anything else, more cerebral or more wrought, put out in 2008. I had it clamped to my ears for 12 months. When it wasn't, it was bouncing around my head. It even made me go to see a band from the Congo with my afro-enthusiast friend. That's something.
Friday, January 30, 2009
What is this album about? That's the question that has kept me coming back to this album, something that I never thought I would like so much even when I heard it first in the shadow of a newly-wrought appreciation for oaklandazulasylum and Elephant Eyelash. On every listen, a new line stands out and seems to colour the whole differently, but then on closer inspection it all disappears, like some imagined structure in the clouds of the cover.
It's impossible to pin down, or I find it impossible anyway. There's so much to it. For one thing, death is unavoidable on Alopecia, no matter where you look. The first line: "I'm not a ladies man, I'm a landmine, filming my own fake death". On 'Fatalist Palmistry', he sleeps on his back "because it's good for the spine (and coffin rehearsal)". On 'The Song of the Sad Assassin', Yoni and the perpetual female "you" find a dead body floating in water, and wrap its wound anyway.
So that's the first step. It's about death. But that's just a black background to paint on. All human existence is about death. There are layers still to unwrap. The other universal which is omnipresent on Alopecia is sex, as seen inside the head of Yoni Wolf. Everyone's normal is someone else's perverted, but some of the lyrics challenge by most standards. "I'll suck the marrow out and rape your hollow bones, Yoni". "I never said I didn't have syphilis, Miss Listless". "Stalker's my whole style, and if I get caught, I'll deny."
Now sex and death are universal, and obviously they've been done to death [ugh] but when they're unearthed in such a bizarre and obsessive manner, it's hard not to see things differently. Need more ingredients? Try Christian imagery. Son of a rabbi, talking about a past or future girlfriend as the "female young messiah", "what the church-folk mean by the good news" on 'Simeon's Dilemma'. It gets thicker than that, though. Perhaps aware of the trade-off sometimes known as 'selling out', or perhaps for some other unknowable reason, the martyr references are nothing short of messianic. "If I get lost, or die on a cross, at least I wasn't born in a manger." "Does the cock crow thrice until someone is denied?"
I'm not going to get any further with that sort of approach, I doubt. New parts will reveal themselves, but there'll never be a whole. That's the thing about lyrics like this. To twist the meaning of what one of the ghostly fathers said about language, it has both a social and an individual aspect. Social is what we can get.
It's the sex, the death, the weirdly incongruous religious imagery. But individual is what we miss, and what we can never know. When you write a diary, you write, first and last, to yourself. And that's what Why? is. That's why it'll never be see-through. It might not even be see-through to Yoni. It really is something literary though, and it makes me a little sad to think back to those fist-pumping fans singing back to him about raping his hollow bones at Andrew's Lane. If you say it yourself, maybe it's a personal sort poetry. If someone else says it to you... isn't it a threat?
Friday, January 23, 2009
Word on the street has it that the album format is dead, and that pick ‘n’ mix downloading from mp3 megastores like iTunes and eMusic is the way of the future. Well, even if you’re naïve enough to believe that money will continue to change hands as the generations who have never had to pay for music march resolutely on, you’d have to be pretty deluded or incredibly narcissistic to believe that you’d be able to play God with an album and come out the better for it, telling from 30 second previews which songs are worth having and which are likely to be skipped over anyway. Like, on your iPod.
If you do believe that, though, I doubt you’d have much fun with Skeletal Lamping. Following up what seemed to be a perfect synthesis of the Pop Song and incredibly complex, cerebral structures and lyrics on ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ (my erstwhile favourite album, though a late challenger may have emerged), Skeletal Lamping eschews the ultimately superficial shell that is the 2-6 minute song. If you were trying to figure out which songs you’d like from 30 second samples on Skeletal Lamping, you’d literally only be hearing about a quarter of the songs, or ‘sketches’ as they might more properly be called.
The concept, as I grasp it, is as follows: Kevin Barnes comes up with what is known in the trade (maybe) as a “bit”. Normally, this would be hewn through hard labour into something approaching a four-minute song. But on Skeletal Lamping, the bit exists in its own right. It segues into another bit, which could be completely different. This process repeats, and occasionally bits might reappear, or an extended sketch which goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus might show up, but the net result is, at the end of an hour or so, a fairly volatile mass of styles.
Could be terrible. Probably sounds terrible. Some people did think it was terrible, perhaps misguidedly expecting that most sacred of taboos, a repeat of the last record. It’s not terrible though. It is, very basically, a mind map. 50%, say, of Kevin Barnes’ mind is reasonably funky. 20-30% is concentrated in doe-eyed pop, some of which crosses over into the 50% funk. Sometimes he turns into Aladdin Sane for about a minute and a half. Sometimes he’s normal and he sings nostalgic love songs. Sometimes he is fucked up and sings from the perspective of a middle-aged pre-op transvestite named Georgie Fruit, who you may have met in the latter stages of Hissing Fauna.
The pieces of the jigsaw often don’t make sense in isolation. But of course they don’t. Who has ever looked at a single jigsaw piece and exclaimed in recognition of genius? That doesn’t happen. It’s a mind-map. It doesn’t make sense by itself. It makes sense as a whole, though, and probably gives a clearer picture of a particularly interesting person/character/person than any of Of Montreal’s previous efforts did, even though they weren’t half as veiled. At moments there is unbearable tension, such as a pitch-black invocation of the ubiquitous “ladies of the spread” who overlook Georgie’s existence. At other moments, there is reckless, screwy disco abandon that would seem like kids’ TV if you hadn’t heard the half-hour of music that came before.
Cokemachineglow said there weren’t moments of transcendence. I got into an argument about this, and shorn of the weapons of sobriety and reasoned detachment, I did what I always do. I got vaguely hysterical and threw my hands to heaven. There are moments of transcendence. So many. First track, Nonpareil of Favor. Its title is a fucking moment of transcendence in itself. Anyone who uses words that are almost exclusive to Macbeth in the title of a song is permanently invited to my house (familiarity with my sometimes musical project is not expected – but about 75% of the songs have Shakespeare references, mostly to Macbeth). The measuredness of the build-up is transcendent. Kevin/Georgie celebrating a love realised in the first (and only) verse is transcendent. Turning the first corner of the album is transcendent in itself, and the sleaze of the second sketch is, through contrast with the first one, transcendent too.
But let anyone stand in front of me and tell me that the three minute wig-out that follows is not transcendent. It struck me (on a bus, as these things are wont to do) that the wig-out at the end of Nonpareil of Favor is both a representation of chaos in the perceptible universe in general and inside the head of Kevin/Georgie. That somebody can make noise sound like something that specific and that complex is surely a sign of genius?
I realise that this review moreso than probably any of the other album reviews I’ve done here is based totally on a subjective view of the album. But in the end, every review is subjective. This CD, complete with David Barnes’ insanely detailed, analogous-to-the-music fold-out cover art, took over my life for a while. So it commands this place. The only question I have: how do you follow this?
Friday, January 16, 2009
How important is style to music? I don't mean style in the sense of the 'skinny jeans and tight t-shirts' that the bouncers of certain London "indie-rock" club nights require. I mean the layers, the arrangements, the how of the music. Its realisation. The fact that there is a piano playing that melody instead of a flute. The fact that that word is slurred, rather than sounded properly.
It's probably a society-wide assumption that style is something that goes on top of music, especially in the essentially post-punk landscape of indie music. I first came across that idea reading about poetry and the debates various crusty Oxbridge types had about the concrete universals and intrinsic beauty or values, below rhyme and rhythm, below the mere words.I thought it was missing the point then, and I think it's missing the point now, in the context of music. There's no such thing as style in that sense. It's not a paint that you put over some song that you've plucked from the ether, or your arse, depending on how flighty your aspirations. The song is its style, nothing more.
And it's from this theoretical standpoint (very sorry about all that, casual observer) that I oppose the criticism that Beach House's songs are boring, samey plods with an interminably sickly layer of style-paint coating them. These songs are made up of their lush organ sounds, reverb-soaked guitar lines and misted spider-web shakers. In the very same way that Times New Viking aren't a noise band with pop songs underneath, but a band with great noisy pop songs, Beach House aren't playing regular songs and then making them pristine and pretty with layers. It's a house, if you'll excuse the pun, built from the ground up. An impressionist faces a blank canvas and ends up with a masterpiece. He doesn't just colour in between the lines.
It's another world. There's a truth somewhere in those low organ chords that seem like they came from nowhere and have nowhere to go. Victoria Legrand's voice, reminiscent of Nico, gives her romantic evocations a sense of nobility that few peers manage. The album feels like a dream, a Xanadu trip, even though it's largely about domestic love. There's also something to be said for its timelessness. It could pass as a 60s album if it tried, but it doesn't sound derivative or retro. That's a surefire sign, I think, that it will last.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Being but a young hopper still in the trial and error stages of his trade on the tough street corners of alternative and indie music 2008 taught me one particularly harsh lesson: As soon as you strongly define your music taste it changes instanteneously. I could rightly be accused of dilletantism given the amount of genre-hopping my pallete did this year- From Julian Cope-recommended Krautrock for breakfast to a Lydia Lunch of no-wave noise rock, a three-course dinner of funk, soul and hip-hop, before ending the day with a nightcap of DC hardcore punk.
Perusing most end of year lists leaves me feeling awfully inobservant. I can't see the charms in Fleet Foxes, the brilliance of Bon Iver, consistency enough in TV on the Radio to warrant a lofty position in the top of most charts. Am I missing something? When I went to form my own list I could find very few releases from 2008 that actually left me feeling the gurgling of excitement deep down in my ribcage sparked off by contact with pure brilliance (though Hair Police, Marnie Stern, Mahjongg, and Indian Jewelry all made my ears perk up). The album that truly left an indelible imprint on my musical consciousness, that made me want to delve into back catalogues, order in special editions to Road Records, hunt out every iota of biographical information, and explore every incendiary note of every explosive song was a less recent release.
23 Skidoo- Seven Songs (Reissue)
If I had the privelege of writing this particular entry this time last year !!! progenitors Outhud and their spontaneous and combustible album 'S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D.' would be tip top of my 2007 (But Not 2007) list. To my less educated earbuds the NYC outfit were the first of their kind- alchemists of punk, funk, ambient, industrial noise rock, and ethnic polyrhythm, and hypnotists extraordinaire. It was akin to a soap plotline then when I discovered Outhud were not the fathers of the recent NYC punk-funk movement they'd been telling me they were- A revelation from Uncle Simon Reynolds and a subsequent DNA test revealed that the babydaddy was, in fact, British post-punk band 23 Skidoo. Sounding something like Cabaret Voltaire beating the shit out of Fela Kuti down a Sheffield backstreet with a gamelan, Skidoo will sound instantly recognizable to anybody who's heard !!!'s “Must Be The Moon” dropped in an indie disco- It's the same template minus the twerpy vocals and trippy lyrics. In fact, if those protruding lumps at the side of your head are functioning correctly you'll have directly heard 23 Skidoo: The Chemical Brothers cloned their song “Coup” to create ubiquitous big beat gangbang “Block-Rocking Beats”. More relevantly to the music released this year I found cropping up on my 'to find on Rapidshare' list their far-reaching influence radiates through bands like Mahjongg, Yeasayer, Gang Gang Dance, Not Squares; any band of white boys incorporating “black” music into their patchwork.
However, while there's a readily-available list of bands that sound like Skidoo today, those bands bravely staking out new territory and chalking up new chemical equations on the blackboard of the musical landscape while still creating something distinctly pop-orientated are as rare as kedang drums. In this aspect they share most in common with the toast of 2007: Battles. Experimental in the least alienating and masturbatory sense, populist, mindful of craft, and blending together a full platter of familiar ingredients to create an entirely new dish. No band, for me, cooked up such a storm in 2008.
Friday, January 9, 2009
MatadorI just watched a documentary made by a very embittered middle-aged man about the obsession of record-collecting, the individuals who indulge in it, and what they sacrifice to do so. When offered "warmth" as an explanation as to why one would accumulate 20,000 LPs, one collector retold something that Geddy Lee (of the prog band Rush, who you never have to listen to) explained to him: vinyl isn't really warmer. The light distortion is just creating that impression, and he only prefers it to CD because it is recreating a recording embedded in his mind.Those sound waves that Neil Young claims are missing - they're just being filled up with the crackle of static and pick-up buzz. It's a self-created myth of nostalgia for a youth on the bedroom floor, a fondness for the ritual maybe, but nothing more.
It's an interesting thought. "Warm". What does that even mean, in a musical context? How do you describe it? Is cold something like Merriweather Post Pavilion, where every note occupies its own space and the entire song is preserved in crystal? Is warm... Times New Viking?
It certainly fits with Geddy Lee's theory. Live, Times New Viking are a reasonably polite, guitar-led indie pop band. It has elements of Flying Nun kiwi lo-fi, elements of surf rock, elements of 60s beat bands. Obvious elements of Yo La Tengo's moments of smaller scope. But on record, it becomes something transcendent. Because Times New Viking create noise. They create those in-between waves, the static. They do it on purpose, too. This isn't like the Royal Trux or something like that, people kicking their guitars and groaning. These are good, catchy songs. Recorded clean. And then forced, like the weight of the world turning coal into diamonds, into this muddle of colliding music, this mess.
When you can barely hear lyrics, the phrases you think you hear become so much more important. It's the same thing that made Murmur by REM so great, and that gets people through the sonar-bleep Sigur Rós songs while they wait for the drama to build again. Drop Out equates getting up late and being a wreck so perfectly, even if it doesn't mean to, that I can't wake up at 5 ever again without hearing it. And My Head? I'm not sure what's wrong with my head, but I know there's something, and it was probably caused by the noise.
Songs like The End Of All Things are made into something unreal by the gain-knob abuse. It sounds like the song that plays out over the credits after the actual, factual apocalypse... "that's all for everyone, that's all for you". And when the noise cuts out, the smoke clears and you can survey what is left of your house and your possessions (and your hearing, after half an hour of this on headphones)... there are about five seconds when you can see into the heart of all of this, and you know that it makes sense. I don't know why. I can't tell you why, just like I got the why of it wrong when I did my initial review for Analogue. It just makes sense.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Kill Rock Stars
It's hard to say anything about Deerhoof that hasn't been said before. These guys are hardened vets of the highest rank. Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier plus others have been making genuinely fantastic albums with a barely plausible regularity, given their complexity, for a decade and change. Their music is a dichotomy. It's pop in its purest, most child-like sense, the sort of thing you could put on at 10 o'clock in the morning over Play-Do figures dancing in a meadow and have some sort of success with those aged 2-5. But it's also experimental, almost avant garde. And these two senses don't trade places. They exist simultaneously, in a captivating sort of musical messianic duality.
To be honest, I'm not really qualified to talk about Deerhoof on their own terms. Most people aren't, I would think. To talk about Offend Maggie in purely indie rock terms is probably as off-base as that Beatles review where he talks about their augmented shifts. But I don't know anything about Ornette Coleman. So I have to say that, when you jam an absolutely manic musical genius drummer/songwriter into a band with a Japanese woman who was essentially hired because she was quiet but who turned out pretty well, you get weird things. Like the Large Hadron Collider. And about as inexplicable to the man on the street.
So, some specifics about Offend Maggie then. It's probably the most focused album they've ever made. The guitars sound more in charge than ever, and the rhythm makes a serious point of upsetting that authority. Many of the songs are perfect. Offend Maggie the song is fussy but articulated, folky but assured. Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back is the best knowingly insane song Deerhoof have ever knowingly included. Snoopy Waves skips around with some fantastic riffs that I can only describe as groovy. On This Is God Speaking, God has nothing interesting to say, or if he does, it pales in comparison to the instrumental genius on every song surrounding it. Man has come too far.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Kill Rock StarsWhen Women As Lovers was released, it was billed as the most accessible Xiu Xiu album yet. There are several reasons to support this assertion: one might be that every song is melodically-based, a departure from the frictive noise pieces that have appeared and sometimes defined the band's albums to date. You could also point to overtly accessible songs: the cover of Under Pressure, with vocal duties split between the worldly Michael Gira, the enchantingly innocent-sounding Caralee McElroy and the manic homosexual street preacher style of Jamie Stewart himself. No Friend Oh! with its pop chorus and non-difficult melodies is another example. However. However, however, however.
Who could be taken in by this idle talk? Women As Lovers might seem consumable, but it's not, and it's probably not meant to be. It is, as with everything from Jamie Stewart, concerned with the unbearable heaviness of existence. Torture in Guantanamo. His dead father's sex life. Intolerance. Percoset. Self-consciousness. Loneliness. In a voice that could be used to terrorise children into bed for fear of being cut into pieces and taken away in a black bag. This is heavily depressing stuff to listen to, and no doubt it's heavily depressing stuff to make.
But that's why Xiu Xiu exist. Seekers of happiness stroll no further. Women As Lovers is everything bad, set in high contrast on a stage with nightmarish gargoyles carved where the gold leaf and pegasi should bed. When it leaves itself room to seethe, like on Master Of The Bump (Kurt Stambaugh I Can Feel The Soil Falling Over My Head), it evokes empathy. When it builds itself up in balls of tension, it calls forth a more inexplicable sense of sadness. But the emotion never ceases, like a bumpy rollercoaster that only goes down. Music as nightmare.
9. El Guincho - Alegranza
Young TurksIt's a rare treat to be able to use words like "spectacular" or "extravaganza" about an album that is even remotely listenable. Imagine the joy, then, of finding Barcelona resident El Guincho's Alegranza. Straddling the hitherto underrated no-man's-land between latter-day Animal Collective and tropicalia compilations, Alegranza is essentially a beach party in a can, the soundtrack to an imaginary ur-summer. The result of applying lo-fi looping techniques to the cheesiest of musical sources is an unrelenting, swirling, euphoric experience. It is not mere reckelss abandon, however, with the same notes of childish wonder (and a couple of melodies) from Panda Bear's Person Pitch making appearances. The highlight, Kalise, is repetitive almost to the point of infuriation for three and a half minutes, until it recedes without warning into a chorus that approaches anaesthesis in its fulfilled joyousness. Just like the inevitable but slightly embarrassing situation of involuntarily singing random words that sound vaguely like the original Spanish, any words I use to try to explain how much fun El Guincho is on a sunny day are meaningless. Alegranza means joy. In translation I mean. But you get what I'm saying.
((This is from Analogue. Last one from there, I promise.))
8. Jeremy Jay - A Place Where We Could Go
KTake the Everly Brothers. Strain off their smile for the benefit of Good Christian Television Viewers, and remove the harmonies. Put more reverb on everything. Then imagine what would happen if a very strange, soft-spoken Patrick Wolf-esque Californian in a v-neck and tie took the first verse of any classic song and just repeated the lines with more and more emphasis every time. There's something very ordinary about Jeremy Jay's music, referential as it is to 50s teen drama ballads, David Bowie, Buddy Holly, Jonathan Richman and French chanteuses. But there's also something spectacularly surreal about it. Maybe that's what an absence of audible influences from after 1972 will do.
Jeremy Jay is as tall and thin as a Topman model, and to be honest, he looks exactly like one. Jeremy Jay grew up in California but for some reason his family was Francophone within the household. Jeremy Jay is on K Records. Jeremy Jay seems like a cookie-cutter hyper-literate bohemian type, but a brief MySpace exchange revealed that he's not much of a speller. There's a lot that doesn't make sense about Jeremy Jay, and that's what makes him so impossibly intriguing. I mean, what is this guy picturing when he closes his eyes and listens to his own music? Much more pertinently, what should the listener be picturing?
The mystery of Jeremy Jay is a part of what endeared him to me. But he definitely doesn't lack the songs to back it up. Beautiful Rebel and Heavenly Creatures as a tandem would blow the shit out of most of the crackly remasters they sell in infomercials late at night on the lesser channels. Escape To Aspen, just like everything on the album, seems barely held together with thread, but it is still toe-tappingly catchy and strangely beautiful. But the title track is the highlight. "We'll meet super late. And we'll go for a walk. Dream kisses. Danger. Romance. No-one knows." Not sung, but spoken urgently. Is he poking fun at himself or is he serious? Does it matter?
7. So Cow - I'm Siding With My Captors
Covert BearIf success in music came proportional to merit instead of by fickle democratic means, So Cow would be sitting on a multi-platinum catalogue, appearing on "OMG! The 90s!" specials on Channel 4 and marrying Zooey Deschanel. Alas.
What are the best Irish albums ever? Loveless? U2? Something by that glut of late 80s bands that are held in such high esteem? I've got a suggestion. Nobody would ever print this in a broadsheet, but I'm Siding With My Captors is genuinely up there. It's short, seamless and literally spotless in terms of the absence of chaff. There is no such thing as a highlight, because there aren't any low points. Only the style of delivery changes.
Greetings is a plaintive, self-doubting, heartrending love song, perfectly measured over two minutes, and it would be perfect for radio in a parallel universe. On the more unwieldy end of the guitar pop is the 52 second One Hundred Helens, a semi-surreal and deceptively unhurried piece enumerating the Helens on So Cow's street.
Shackleton is another in the line of Brian Kelly songs about inadequacy and love, led by a wavering synth-organ sound over what sounds like a Casio preset drum track. "One day I'll write the song you deserve babe, I'll give it all I have/One day I'll write the song you require, until then, la-la-la".
Lines like that are the overt signs, but throughout the all-too-brief 29 minutes of the album, there is an all-pervasive sadness that sets it apart from These Truly Are End Times. These aren't character songs, and they're not all that cased in metaphor either. It documents a life, not just lyrically, but in the reverb-soaked chords, the impossibly knotted riffs over weird bar lengths, the progressions that feel just slightly wrong. I probably say this online at the same rate that poverty claims victims in the developing world, but So Cow is the real thing . Though I am confident that ongoing lack of recognition will thankfully still provide no obstacle to his making albums as good as this.