Saturday, January 31, 2009



RIPs appear here quite regularly. Rock is long in the tooth; musicians you admire, whose music you've grown up with, seem to be popping their clogs with mounting frequency. Usually I feel sad for a bit, in a fairly removed sort of way... then life's petty urgencies resume. But this week's big one, I must admit, has hit me quite hard. It's cast a shadow over the last few days. It feels a lot more personal somehow.

It struck me that I might possibly have listened to John Martyn more than any but a handful of other musicians. Actually I can't think of who else I'd have listened to more, over such a sustained period. The Smiths? Love? But if you broke it down, it would be Solid Air and One World that accounted for 95 percent of that lifetime of Martyn listening. Those two albums have been such a large and constant presence. They keep coming back, or rather, they don't go away, whereas there's other central artists, deep deep favourites, where there are long periods of mutual leave-taking (Can, for instance--I seem to be taking a breather from them, for some reason just don't feel the urge, but I know the time will come again.) (Another example: postpunk, which dipped away for much of the Eighties and almost all of the Nineties). But John Martyn… it barely took me a minute to settle on Solid Air as my desert island disc when asked to contribute to Marooned. It was my first choice, and then to do it proper I thought up some other candidates (closest contender being Rock Bottom). But it was always going to be Solid Air, partly because the "desert island" scenario suggested it somehow, but also because of its inexhaustibility as a record.

Strangely, though, when I think of John Martyn's music, I don't think of personal memories particularly. Some records evoke times of your life: Head Over Heels and Sunburst and Snowblind, the debut Smiths album, those records remind me with incredible vividness of a student bedsit in north Oxford, the yearnings and miseries of that time; "Thieves Like Us" carries with it the flush of romance remembered; there's plenty more examples. But with most music, the memories carried are memories of the music itself, if that makes sense. When you're a music fiend, that function of commemoration or life-soundtracking or "our song" that perhaps remains prominent for the more casual listener, it really fades away. You might say that music's life eclipses your own, or it becomes one with it, or it fills in the holes. Music doesn't serve as a mirror for narcissistic identification so much as a means of leaving one's self behind. A favourite record, then, might be more like gazing at a landscape, the kind of place you'd revisit at different stages of your life. A perennial source of wonder. (This is why I'm not a huge fan of memoiristic criticism: oh, it can be done well, but even at its best it doesn't really tell you anything about the music; that one individual's memories adhere to a piece of music in a particular fashion doesn't have any relation to what I or anybody else might get out of the record or glom onto it, experientially. Although it's also true that the narcissistic projection towards a song/album/group that music arouses so potently can make it feel like those life-experiences somehow inhere to the music).

But back to John Martyn--another strange thing is that I'd never gone to see him perform live. This despite being a fan since 1985 (when I'd taped Solid Air off David Stubbs--cheers David!--having been intrigued by this Barney Hoskyns interview with Martyn that compared Solid Air to Astral Weeks--cheers Barney!). The opportunity just never presented itself , and I'd never felt tempted to seek it out. I guess the sense you got was that after the 1970s heyday Martyn onstage was likely to be... variable. He'd be playing with bands composed of younger musicians, a modern soft-rock/AOR-ish sound like on those post-Grace and Danger Eighties albums, you heard tell of the keyboard sound being thin and digital-synth nasty. It seemed to promise disappointment. Anyway, I've always been more of a records man; I just don't have that compulsion to witness everybody whose music I love perform live at least once.

But late last year I heard that John Martyn was playing in New York. (I have to thank Rob Tannenbaum for the tip off, I'd have completely missed it otherwise--cheers Rob!). October the 9th, at Joe's Pub--less than ten minutes away. And not only playing in New York, virtually round the corner, but playing with Danny Thompson. So I had to go, even though this was the night before we flew off to London for the annual see-the-folks-and-friends vacation, there was packing to be done that night, an early rise the next day.

I got there and found quite a long line to get in, which surprised me, as I'd always had the impression Martyn wasn't really known in this country. And nor was it the case that the line was entirely composed of British expats. I ran into a friend-of-a-friend, an experimental musician (of the academic kind) who I'd not have particularly expected to be a John Martyn fan. We positioned ourselves near the bar with good sight-lines of the stage.

Joe's Pub is not a pub at all, but a sort of nightclub/performance space attached to The Public Theater on Lafayette. It's the sort of place where you'd expect, oh, Norah Jones to play; it's got a bit of an acid jazz/downtempo/Giant Steps type vibe to it. The last thing I saw there was ages ago: Herbert and Dani Siciliano doing the full chanteusy-meets-clickhouse thing. Anyway, there was this small, scarlet curtain at the back of the stage, which just seemed like part of Joe's plush cabaret-ish décor. All of a sudden there's a ruffling with the curtain, the suggestion of struggle and kerfuffle behind it, almost a Tommy Cooper/Morecambe & Wise-esque effect. And then, with evident difficulty Big John and his wheelchair were maneuvered through the red fabric and onto the tiny stage. I might be misremembering it but I think they actually had to wheel him on backwards. At any rate, it wasn't a dignified entrance.

First impression was of a ruin of a man. Magnificent, maybe, but definitely a ruin. In fact what I couldn't help thinking of was the sketch in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life ... the monstrously obese diner who eats so much he explodes. Martyn's face had this sagging quality, it seemed to droop and merge into the sprawl of his torso.

They opened, I think, with "Big Muff". It was great, totally different from the One World recording naturally (no drummer, just John and Danny), loose and swinging. I can't remember the exact sequence of songs, but at some point early in the set, they did "Sweet Little Mystery", Martyn's voice this immense blubbery ache of sound, a beached whale of bluesiness, bedraggled and beseeching. But apart from "Mystery" from Grace and Danger and "Muff" from One World, everything else was from Solid Air: "Jelly Roll Blues", "May You Never" (which got a cheer), the shatteringly tender imploring of "Don't Want To Know", "Solid Air" itself, maybe another one or two I'm forgetting. It was almost a Don't Look Back, except the order was scrambled and they didn't do "Go Down Easy", to my chagrin. The friend-of-a-friend pointed out how different the guitar tunings on each song were from the recorded versions.

Indeed between the songs there was some tuning-tweaking going on. There was also banter. But Martyn's speaking voice was so slurred, plus he was sat slightly far back from the mic (fine for singing but not for stage patter) that it was all completely indecipherable. He told jokes but through his bleary, sodden mumble they became abstract jokes. You could pick up the cadence and the timing of joke-as-pure-form, almost to the point of getting the comedic pay-off when the punchline came. But the actual content was lost. I picked up one or two lines: one involved a man going into a bar, another one was about penguins. I think he might also have cracked his post-amputation standard about having promised the promoter not to get legless, boom boom.

But I did manage to catch it clear when he apologized for the set being below par--"that's just the way it goes sometimes". At which Danny Thompson leaned over and gave him a kiss on the top of his balding head, affectionate yet reverent. I also just about made out what Martyn said before they launched into what turned out to be the final song: something like "this is by a gentleman called Skip James, who doesn't deserve to have his song murdered." It was "I'd Rather Be the Devil" of course and it made me wonder what other examples there are of a great artist--a writer and performer of brilliant original material--whose absolute greatest recording and signature song in live performance is a cover of someone else's song. (From the rock era obviously; there's loads of examples from the era when singers did standards, didn't write their own songs, etc). Of course to call it a "cover" is to underplay the amount of reinvention imposed on the original (which must be why John changed the title from "Devil Got My Woman", a bit of justified arrogance there: took your song, made it my song, whatchu gauna dee aboot it, eh?). So "Devil", live at Joe's Pub: not as torrential and tectonic as Live At Leeds, not quite the exquisitely wrought aquamiasma of Solid Air. But I wasn't disappointed. Oh no. Stole my breath away it did.

And then they were off, John wheeled backwards through the red curtain with the same awkward strenuosity it had taken to get him onstage in the first place (apparently he'd reached 20 stone in his last year). Semi-apologising for the brevity of the set as they shuffled off, Danny Thompson explained that the gig was kind of impromptu: John was coming to New York to visit a hospital to get a new prosthesis fitted, and they thought "why not?".

So, my first and only John Martyn Live Experience. I walked home aglow, much earlier than I'd expected (just as well with the flight) but not dissatisfied, not in the least. I meant to blog it after we got back from London but the moment passed. Now the man has passed and the moment seems right.

^^^^^^^^

There's no footage online I can find of the gig (an older crowd, not down with youtubing every show they go to?) but here is Jon Pareles's review of the performance.

Friday, January 30, 2009

ardkive fever (vol.17)

Dance Before the Police Come: another blog with old skool pirate tapes to download... Don FM!.... plus cute little photo-scans of the cassettes
third in the Nuum series c/o The Wire: The State of Drum & Bass, published June 1995



This essay got titled "The Sounds of Blackness"--not my choice, the title I originally had was "The Deep End," which gives it a different inflection. But that probably wouldn't have prevented it from being the controversial piece it proved to be (resulting in some angry transatlantic phone calls from certain figures in the D&B inner circle). Having gone from absolutely no media coverage to absolutely praiseful coverage, the scene seemed completely unprepared for the notion of actual criticism (pretty balanced in this case but certainly forcefully expressed). Perhaps they anxiously sniffed The Backlash on the horizon. It wasn't,actually: drum & bass had a least another two years of extensive and uniformly laudatory coverage from the media ahead of them, while I personally would do another two state-of-scene reports for The Wire.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


RIP John Martyn

gutted

absolutely gutted
second in the Nuum series c/o The Wire: Ambient Jungle, published September 1994



(Funny thing I never noticed before: that photo portait was taken by famed artist Jeremy Deller. Now he did a painting called The History of the World 1997-2004 that's kind of a cultural flow-chart of the tangled intersections between nuumological and postpunk musical narratives and UK socioeconomics/politics. Sm:)e Records, who presumably commissioned that shot, put out in 1994 a compilation, brillantly mixed by DB, called The History of Our World, Part 1: Breakbeat and Jungle Ultramix, made up of tracks from Moving Shadow, Reinforced, Production House, Suburban Base, Formation, sleevenotes by yours truly.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009



On February 11 I'm going to be in Liverpool to give a talk on the Hardcore Continuum hosted by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), in association with The Wire. There'll be an audio-visual component (expect: rude 'n' cheesy) and the main body of the talk will be followed by an onstage discussion with Mark Fisher (Acting Deputy Editor of The Wire/K-punk) and then a Q/A session with the audience.

Location: FACT, 88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L14DQ
Date: Wednesday February 11th
Time: 7.00pm to 9-00 pm
Admission: £7.00/£5.00 (members & concessions)
Information: tel. 0151 7074444 or http://www.fact.co.uk/



In parallel with the FACT lecture and as part of the magazine's 300th Issue commemorative program of online selections from its voluminous archives, The Wire presents my series of hardcore continuum articles: seven essays, midway between scene reports and thinkpieces, that appeared in the magazine between 1992 and 2005, documenting in real-time the paradigm shifts from rave to jungle, UK garage to grime.



Here's my introduction to the series archive
and
here's the first piece, on Ardkore and "Rush Culture", from November 1992
and
here's the second one, about Ambient Jungle, from that glorious summer of 1994
and
here's the third one, on The State of Drum & Bass, June 1995
and
here's the fourth one , Slipping Into Darkness, about Jump Up and Techstep, June 1996
and
here's the fifth one , Neurofunk Versus Speed Garage, December 1997
and
here's the sixth one, Adult Hardcore a/k/a Feminine Pressure, about 2step Garage, from April 1999 -- plus the infamously long footnotes to the piece originally on the Blissout website
and
the seventh one, on Grime (and a little bit of Dubstep), published April 2005




Once the whole set of pieces is up, I'm going to scribble down here some of my more straggly and whimsical afterthoughts/memories relating to this series, which after all constitutes, in a funny, veiled sort of way, a kind of autobiography.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a piece on the New Austerity

^^and^^

A Frenchman gives the British a good telling off for living on credit and caring only about money and general loss of values

"This drift to the centre, combined with the weakness of the extremes, has anaesthetised British politics. So the British don't vote very much. They don't object very much. They don't dream very much.... You no longer imagine, it seems to me, that there might actually be such a thing as a 'choice of society'. Along with New Labour, the very idea of anything resembling an ideology vanished. In France, on the other hand, politics still condition the life of the individual. Rightly or wrongly, my fellow countrymen still want to believe that a choice of society really remains possible"

(Although in the comments section there are some good pot-kettle comebacks, e.g. he goes on about the UK's unresolved issues with multiculturalism but hang on monsieur, what about the blazing banlieues eh? Le Pen? Eh? Eh?!)

(( Plus our music, even now, is better.))

Monday, January 26, 2009

When Mates Make Music

It's always an awkward moment--for a critic. It might be a real-world friendship, someone you've known for years; it might be one forged entirely through email correspondence. Some ways into the relationship comes the uneasy, slightly queasy moment of revelation: "oh yeah, did I really not mention this before? but yeah, actually I make music." Neither party is sure if they really want to go there, the next step. Because after all, judgement is my job.

I hasten to add that with barely a single exception everything I've actually received in this fashion has either been good or at least interesting. (Perhaps there's a filtration effect, if I've got to that point with someone, they're likely to have some reasonably sharp ideas about music). And in fact, in one case at least--The Focus Group, Julian House (who I've still yet to meet in the flesh)-- the music encountered in this shy and ginger process would turn out to be among my absolute favourite of this decade. But still (and I really don't mean to discourage--any and all offerings welcome, honest!) it's bound to be an uncomfortable moment. Awkward, and yet intriguing.... Because you never know

Now there's a couple of people, well-known figures on this scene, who've been backward in coming forward, shall we say. One, I only found out was playing both sides of the critic/creator fence a long way into our friendship, and I've yet to hear a single scrap of sound despite a genuine expression of interest (perhaps I'm supposed to badger?). And there's another who mentioned in this quite casual way that he'd been messing around with music, in what sounded like a low-key, no-real-aims-here fashion.... except at the very end of last year he only goes and slyly puts out a pair of records, without a word! And I must say he's been very coy about me getting to hear them. In the end I had to mail-order the bloody things! At this point, I'm sensing a certain subconscious resistance here to the idea of me ever clapping ears on his audio creations! Okay, discretion and forebearance are commendable, but you can take any virtue too far. Then again, he's right in a way, it's lose/lose really: if I hated the music and came up with some neutral wish-washy comments he'd sense the truth, while in the reverse case, us being such good mates, nobody'll believe a word of anything nice I'd have to say.

Too bad. So be it. I paid me 20 bucks and I'll bleedin' well say me piece!

But who on Earth am I talking about, you ask with mounting impatience (those who haven't guessed already).

Why this fellow of course…






I popped the first 3 inch CD in my computer with some nervousness I must admit. What if it's… complete shit? Or just okay. Moderately interesting.
But praise the Lord, it's actually good. And the second EP, East Central One, is really good. How I'd put it is, the first one is promising and the second one delivers on the promise.

The overall sound is on the outskirts of hauntology, but with a different set of reference points (classical music rather than library music, for instance). Others have alluded to "dubstep", which would be richly ironic given Matt's dismissive comments about that genre, but I don' t see it myself. Here and there you'll hear a rootical flourish, a shard of skank, a drum sound or reverby chasm that is obviously reggaematic, but it's such a sporadic, fragmentary presence. If anything it reminds me more of the couple of tracks that Belbury Poly's done that have a peculiar Albion-meets-Jamaica vibe.

To particulars… Hollow Earth 001 starts with "Hit It": James Brown barking "1, 2, 3.. hit it"…. glum, pensive synth chords… wuthering choral voices that seem to levitate upwards to the nave… the overall effect akin to The Black Dog moulting and senile. "Cheese" starts with a wonderful vocal sample--an elderly woman, her voice leathery and clotted, saying "all I know is, we've always made our own cheese". A low Reese bassdrone and twilight chords with a vaguely ecclesiastical flavor are offset with piano exercise chords that vaguely remind me of the Lord Skywave project (Simian's Simon Lord sampling his dead grandmother Madeleine Dring's compositions). This is the closest any track on both EPs veers to dubstep, although the effect is much more like "rural rave". Or Burial if he tuned into Radio 3 rather than the pirates. "Bear Market Rally" could be the incidental music from The Prisoner remade by Playstation grimesters, all punctilious blares and horn-toots, skitters of kettle drum and broken-backed paradiddles. "Morvern" has a ceremonial feel, the soundtrack to Masonic rituals perhaps--something terribly British yet deeply, darkly atavistic.

Overall, with Automat I'm actually reminded of the first few EPs by D-Generation, tracks like "Rotting Hill" with its Elgar samples. (That fits right into the "when mates make music" category in a funny ass-backwards way in so far as years and years after I enthusiastically wrote them up in Melody Maker, Mark Fisher revealed that he'd actually been a member of the trio--but not the one I'd interviewed on the phone.)

As I say, promising stuff... But Hollow Earth 002 is genuinely impressive. "Bunhill" starts with a craggy old thesp intoning with sonorous poshness "when the stars threw down their spears/and watered heaven with their tears"… shooting-star synth-lines twinkle down slowly to the horizon…. sub-bass pads thud doomily in pure darkside style but there's no beat as such… then the Bells of St Clements (or similar) chime in as keys ache distantly like fog creeping over the Thames Flood Barrier… Then my favourite bit, a one-off soundbite, "come on", the cadence almost jungalistic, the tone pure Derek Nimmo. "Chiliblains" is another track book-ended with a vocal sample, in this case a leery, bleary "nice, nice" that could be straight off Position Normal's Stop Your Nonsense. Then we're into a highly strung mood piece, pushed along by a scrapey, skittery beat like an egg whisk against a frying pan, a beetling of high-toned bass, and what sounds like someone attempting to mimic the staccato-pulsing Psycho music armed only with a ukelele. Sombre yet somehow wry, the horn-draped "Salami" showcases the big inspiration Matt has been drawing recently from 20th Century classical music, Benjamin Britten and such like. There's a dingy but old-slippers-comfy melancholy to this track that for some reason makes me picture the old Luncheon Vouchers symbol you used to get in the front of cafes, middle aged gents with comb-overs poring through the Racing Post. Finally, "Flapper," easily the stand-out track out of both EPs for me, and at just under six minutes, the longest too, suggesting that Matt had moved beyond crafting arresting slivers of mood to creating pieces that go through changes. Plinky clinks of melodic-percussive sound firmly in the nuum lineage sit alongside cawing violas from the classical tradition and odd little geometric riffs like rock music miniaturized and dessicated. The echoed snare and loping bass evoke a disembodied skank (reggae on muscle relaxants) as radically distant from Jamaica as Monolake's "Lantau/Macao". Quite unexpectedly a deliciously crisp early Eighties summerfunk pulse (a more languid "And the Beat Goes On" perhaps) glides into the mix and gently takes control of the groove for a while; before the irruption of playfully querulous voices from some Estonian radio play. "Flapper" makes me imagine the more ambient slow-motion pieces on side two of Bush of Ghosts, if Byrne & Eno had eschewed America's evangelist radio in favour of the BBC World Service. Or something the post-Can Holger Czukay might have cooked up if he'd studied with Harrison Birtwistle as opposed to Karlheinz Stockhausen.

It's true that when I listen to these EPS I can't help smiling every so often at the thought of Matthew toiling away on his deliberately non-state-of-art gear, whittling the sounds into shape and pursuing the vision in his head with typicial obsessiveness (see below for links to information about the guiding ideas behind the project). But trust me, I'd keep schtum if I couldn't honestly report that these EPs are very much worth checking out. I for one am excited at the prospect of a Woebot full-length.

Phew!

About the Woebot ethos

About the Woebot methodology

About the Woebot packaging

About the Automat EP

About the East Central One EP
Tinchy Stryder is at Number 3 in the UK pop single charts with this

whattthef*#@!!!!!!!

That's TINCHY STRYDER of the RUFF SQWAD (legendary grime cru, a rinse FM session by whom i actually sat in on while doing a grime piece for spin, thanks to the intercession of martin 'blackdown' clark...

Grime's arc of development in terms of the underground/overground thing is about as weird as any i can think of

It starts at the top of the charts (oxide & neutrino 'bound 4 da reload', so solid '21 seconds', both Number Ones), goes back underground, wins media praise and global hipster-blogger interest, gathers itself for an onslaught on the mainstream, has a measure of success (dizzee, "Pow", few other non-Top 10 semi-hits) but ultimately fails, fades from view, then has this bizarre resurrection last year at the very toppermost of the poppermost with Wiely's "Rolex", that godawful Dizzee #1, and now this Tinchy trance-rap that would be too cheesy to even get dropped at Gatecrasher back in the day

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

sort of vaguely on this theme (the noughties as the decade of pop entropy)i've been pulling together the audio portion of this event and one of the tracks i dug out was Truesteppers's "Out of Your Mind", yes the one made by Jonny L and Kid Andy with Posh Spice and Dane Bowers on vocals.... and what struck me about it, apart from what an incredible production it was (neurofunk d&B mashed into uk r&B), was that it's SLATHERED in AutoTune. Now that was August 2000.... But last year, 2008, that was The Year of AutoTune... last year's Big Thing was an aesthetic of excessively AutoTuning vocals.... And to think there's people who'll try to tell you that pop's pantry is not bare!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A thread about Animal Collective at Dissensus takes an interesting turn with a comment by one Chris, in response to a fellow called Josef K's complaint "where is the beastliness? The ferociousness? The murderous chaos and violence of nature? The red in tooth and claw part. It seemed to us that there is not enough evil and violence in the animal collective world view."

This Chris wonders aloud about how dog-eat-dog was what we had these last eight years, politically culturally economically ("the Beasts of the Corporate Jungle were letting their animal sides run wild too. Like with animals, it's just a competition, a race, there is no meaning, just the game"). There's a good swipe at the whole idea of "darkness" as a left-field music default mode, an apocalypticism that is often not so much about a documentary realism as a sheer wallowing in doom n' gloom "just for the rush of it"--and whether that's the case or not, I don't really see the point of reflecting the darkness at this time... What does it actually contribute? Surely it just tells us what we're abundantly aware of already.

This Chris continues:
"in the face of today's EVENT" (guess he wrote the post on Inauguration Day) "with it's layers of significance, not just culturally, but idealogically [a typo, presumably, but a resonant one!], I'm happy to bask, for a moment, before we get cynical again, in this sense of good will, of possibility, of optimism, CHANGE(tm), HOPE(tm) (who knows, maybe this CHANGE spirit might even peak it's head into the music world. LOL PROBABLY NOT).
I'll be happy to hear a bit of roughness, of struggle, in music soon enough, it'll probably suit the times. But for this naive moment, the lightness and transcendentalism of this album hits the right notes, for me. There's nothing that I'd want to hear less right now than something invoking savagery and law-of-the-jungle self interest
."

A Man like Dominic chips in with some stuff about the rash of positivity bands in Brooklyn.

Now all this chimes harmoniously with the Appollonian angle I was taking in the Vampire Weekend piece

And after all Beach Boys, Animal Collective's faves, are the ultimate Appollonian band... all sun-worship and hymnal harmonies

It reminds me too of the sunniness of African music, and something Kevin Shields once said to me in 1995:
"Someone wrote that black American music, being born of oppression, is downbeat even when it's meant to be lifting your spirit, but that African music is always stepping off the ground.. I think that's what jungle rhythms do, and there's so much room for making the music air-borne..."

Now Obama, one of the things about him is that he is completely outside of the whole "Blues People" narrative. That's not his story. He's from elsewhere (Hawaii--talk about sunshine land. Perhaps that's his armour of serenity, soaking up those rays so young.)

But generally speaking Appollonian principles--order, regulation, clarity, calmness, being "on point"--seem to where it's at, at this point in our culture.

Obama is like the return of the Super Ego after this long period of "getting away with it", spending tomorrow's wealth today, at every level of society from national debt and corporate potlatch to individual credit card balances and 110 percent mortages. The return of the Reality Principle (remember how the last lot mocked the idea of "the reality-based community," meaning the responsible liberal media, but in a sense the very idea of responsibility itself, as well as the relationship between words and referents, truth, science, etc). Obama's whole things is stability and sanity, sacrifice and service. Okay, governments generally aren't Dionysian... but the last lot, they got close. They were reckless.

I keep coming back to this vague idea to do with Obama and rock'n'roll, the complete turning of a circle... I think of the image: the Poitier poise, the Nat King Cole grace and urbane elegance... You get pundits actually comparing him to Eisenhower, the steady hand on the tiller... Okay he also has the New Frontier/Camelot image gloss and rhetoric of a JFK but the actual substance of policy is, we can already see, going to be Austerity. Like a peacetime (not that we're actually at peace of course) version of war time belt-tightening.

There's all this research been done recently, with related articles in the press, about how consumerism makes people unhappy. Whereas during WW2, when there was rationing and hardship--not to mention trauma,anxiety, and bereavement--levels of mental illness went down, attributable to the sense of collective purpose and resulting reduction of anomie.


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

On a different Animal Collective note I had a conversation with Kevin Pearce, who objected to my mod theory of AC-dislike, on the grounds that he, uber-mod, really likes the new album. But then he admitted he can't stand their audience of young beardy types, and I can't help thinking this antipathy fits the mod profile to a tee!

But it got me thinking: loving a group's music, hating the group's audience. It must happen fairly often. (I'm sure there's got to be an ILM thread on this subject). But if you think about it, wouldn't that mean you had in a sense misunderstood the music? Isn't a band's following in some sense a manifestation of their music's meaning? A mirror-image of its spirit, enacted in crowd rituals and dress and discourse?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

smore Sweet-talk, this time from History Is Made At Night, who borrows a great term--"bubblepunk"--off Barney Hoskyns

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two excellent and sane reviews, by two sharp dressed men, of the new Animal Collective

Mike Powell in the Voice

Taylor Parkes at Quietus

Merriweather being a record I'm starting to love after initially feeling it was a bit like eating a whole box of Entenmanns in one sitting

It's funny watching AC haters frothing at the mouth isn't it? They can't help it, their loathing is so visceral, such an uncontrollable gut aversion to the sound: its maculate, confusional qualities seem to be intolerable, a real affront to sensibility--the way the music mixes levels, categories, registers like so much spin art (or more apposite in this case, like tie-dye). Yet there also seems to be a principled aspect to the revulsion, a real concordance of aesthetics and ideology, taste and social allegiance. It reminds me a bit of those people in the UK who hate hate HATE crusties, on principle, which really means squeamishness sublimated, elevated with a gloss of quasi-pro-workerist indignation ("bloody trustifarians", "soap-dodging layabouts" etc). In the UK that often seems based in the mod thing of "clean living in difficult circumstances" and the accompanying sharp, clear sound-aesthetic; the ressentiment the lower middle class are structurally led to feel towards that fraction of the upper middle class who aspire downwards, who step off the career track. See also attitudes to psy-trance and (most relevant to AC-disgust) jam bands. It's not quite the same in America, where there isn't really an equivalent to the mod stratum in society. But something similar is going on. You just think "why not funnel your hate towards something actually... hate-worthy?". Of course anybody's entitled to simply not like the records, but there does seem to be something more going on a lot of the time, like it's one of those instances where aesthetics and ideology, sonics and the social, conjoin very tightly. Judging by the intensity, the virulence, of the anti-reactions...
Matos has launched a one-man campaign called Slow Listening Movement!

Here's his initial statement of intent

And here's his most recent post where he's in part responding to an email from me
Resident Advisor hosts a three-way colloquy on the State of the Dancetronic Nation between Peter Chambers, Philip Sherburne and Ronan Fitzgerald, each staking out a distinct position on the way forward over the course of a long (three chunky replies each) and highly detailed discussion.

Stances and supporting quotage:


Chambers
(resilient, keep-the-faithful, "aw quit griping, learn to float on the 'datasea'")

"...people have unreasonable expectations of innovation from house and techno. House/techno is genre music. It's not just that we have we flicked through all the plug-ins, running through all combinations until the mature style has stabilised and congealed. House is now (and was almost always) a stable genre/code that anyone can engage with, and as with other genres, it's much more about playing between the rules than trying to break all of them all the time (and getting disappointed when that doesn't happen)... House isn't a feeling, it's a formula—and that's alright."

"As I once said about Redshape... 'The future of the past never sounded more contemporary.'"


Fitzgerald
(discursively shagged,browned off a la John Peel in 1985 saying "I don't even like the records I like")

"It seemed records that might have merely joined the dots in another year were the dots in 2008. The raging debates about these ubiquitous DJ tools then made the dots burn onto your retina".

"... Ultimately 2008 was a year in which—to me—there was very little to say about dance music, even the stuff you liked. If talking about dance music matters, then it was a year when sermons from the mount seemed more sickly than ever. Perhaps a coherent dance discourse is increasingly impossible and irrelevant, as an online world which allows users to inform themselves finally seems to have stabilized? In 2009 there may be even fewer stories to tell. For the vast majority of fans, this probably doesn't matter in the slightest."


Sherburne
(Trying to strike an optimistic note but increasingly listening to anything but house and techno)

"DeepChord. Deepgroove. Enliven Deep Acoustics. DJ Rasoul's "Untitled Deepness." Patrice Scott's "Deep Again." Tony Lionni's "Deep Sea Diver." Jay Haze's "Lost in Deep Space." FLSK's "Esencia Deep." (Both same tempo, same key.) Rick Wade's The Good, the Bad and the Deep. Sinan Baymak's "Deep Morning," for Deeper Shades. Deep Vibes, of course. Radio Slave's "8 Bit Romance Deepest Slave Remix" for Florian Meindl, a track that's nothing but self-conscious about being spacy and deep. If anything was certain in 2008, it's that people seemed really interested in tags like these, which only makes a track title from DJ Sprinkles's Midtown 120 Blues all the more intriguing: "House Music Is Controllable Desire You Can Own." 2008, it seems, was all about owning—and controlling—desire."

(in a side bar)
"The self-professedly "deep" stuff in 2008 often tended towards an unapologetic revival of Afro-American house tropes... But there was also a tinge of minstrelsy visible in the prevalence of preacher-man vocals (Layo & Bushwacka's MLK-sampling "Now's the Time," Âme's use of Last Poets in their Fabric mix)…. maybe this is very politically correct and American of me—I find it odd when white folks (no matter how good their music) are picking names like "the Chocolettes" or slathering their music in black American a cappellas and nobody brings up the subject of race."

"I quite liked the approach of the Kann label... they reminded me a little of the bright, brittle tech-house of the Force Tracks label, but with a bit more cheek.. Are they reinventing house music? No. But with minimal adjustments (no pun intended), they've put their own subtle touch on it."

"If other music is saying more to me than house and techno right now, then why is that, and what exactly is the message?... I'm feeling less partisan than I used to, partly out of a feeling that the party (no pun intended, though the double meaning fits perfectly) let me down. I think Brian Eno's concept of "scenius" is useful here. Dance music always follows a dialectic between individual genius and collective inspiration, or "scenius," and for my money, the post-minimal scenius isn't terribly inspiring at the moment. To generalize wildly, what I'm hearing from the more functionalist end of the club-music spectrum is increasingly workmanlike, increasingly professionalized."


It's fascinating to read this debate (the above quotes being just a fraction of the whole discussion) in complete knowledge that I will never, ever hear any of the 742 tracks mentioned, some of them described in loving and vivid detail. No really, it is enjoyable just to read about them, I'm happy to know they exist, they're out there in the world, rocking bodies in small intimate clubs in Europe and beyond... I just don't feel the need myself to take it any further than this screen in front of me.

Yes, a high-powered and eloquent conversation, although they do lose me a bit when they get to wrangling over the question of "new-old deep house", a term that makes my very soul droop and wither.

Hewing to the more abstract contours of the issues under discussion, Aaron at Airport Through the Trees ratchets the intensity back up again.
this year's Pazz and Jop

to which I contributed an appreciation of Vampire Weekend, who I was surprised and pleased to see placed #2 in Albums.



more thoughts on Ezra, Rostam, and the other two to follow

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Matos reminds me there is actually a German techno club called Robert Johnson...

ARDCHIVE FEVER (and ya don't stop)

Check this out:

ArtCore--an exhibition of the visual culture of acid house and rave, a collaboration between Mary McCarthy of Dreweatts Auction House and Ernesto Leal from Our Cultural History. Location: Selfridge's Ultralounge from February 13th. Featured material includes flyers for clubs and raves (The End, QueerNation, Hacienda, Spectrum, Beyond Therapy, Raindance, Tribal Gathering, Circus, Warp, Trade, DIY, Back To Basics, Sign Of The Times etc etc) and original works by such as Goldie, Trevor Jackson, Darren Bartlett, Pez, Ollie Timmins, etc.

followed by an auction of the artwork

ooo gosh

(big shout going out to Matos, another tasty tip off)

i wonder if they'll have this beauty on sale?



or this one?

Saturday, January 17, 2009



It's not often you see an advertisement for a record that's also a piece of criticism, let alone one that's a seditious feat of canon rewriting. NUFF RESPECK for whoever came up with this practically treasonous idea/image, getting on for twenty years ago.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Miss Haversham is overstating it a bit, perhaps

but certaintly the music as identity-formation syndrome does, in most cases, have as ultimate destination some variation on the Saxondale scenario

you work out what you're about, and you make your stand there, Canute-like

(Analogous perhaps to that Quentin Crisp quote about how "Style is deciding who you are and being able to perpetuate it" whereas "Fashion is never having to decide who you are.")

winding up Sweet appreciation week...

here's something I prepared earlier...

reversing a bit my reservations about auteurisation, it strikes me there's a monograph, if not quite a book, to be written about Chinn & Chapman, connecting what they did with Sweet, Quatro et al with the later Blondie/Knack phase plus stray things like the post-McLaren Bow Wow Wow, Toni Basil, Pat Benatar... Interviewing someone recently who'd been briefly connected with them, I also learned for the first time about Chinnichap's unsuccessful attempt to start their own record label called Dreamland in Los Angeles. (Founded 1979; folded 1981).

Their work with Sweet is a supreme example of this thing I'm moderately obsessed with, "radio rock" you could call it--music that has all the force and friction of the rock aesthetic as defined by Carducci but merges that heaviness and live drive with the pop aesthetic's structural focus (the use of arrangement and space to make the 3 minute single a mini-drama somehow capable of withstanding endlessly repetition without diminishment) along with its hi-gloss finish and love of a good cheap gimmick. There's loads of examples, here's a few exemplars: Cheap Trick's "Dream Police", Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good", Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper", Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar On Me," Thin Lizzy circa Jailbreak...

Talking of which, Halvard Halvorsen suggests that in terms of 70s hard rock male singers--if one expanded the scope from UK to British Isles--then Phil Lynnott would be a serious challenger to Connolly... I agree, although the song material is more erratic I think... The adjective that always springs to mind for Lynott's voice is "low slung" for some reason...
micro-feeling



this is great, especially the later selections which are well weird

Wednesday, January 14, 2009



RIP Patrick McGoohan

even as he achieves immortality and omniprescence



Can't they leave anything alone?

That goes for you too Steve Martin

Is it just the money? cos i know you like expanding your collection of modern art but still... first Bilko, now this?

I mean, I could understand it if you were devoid of talent or creativity

But it's like if Rembrandt had a bash at repainting the Mona Lisa or something--no matter how good an effort wsa made, it just wouldn't be the Mona Lisa.
gram bam bam (slight return)

had more responses to the Sweet post than anything since Alt Slow Jamz

lotta love for Steve, Andy, Mick and Brian closetted away out there!

from the bulging mail bag:

re. possible rivals for Connolly as hard rock vocalist (UK, 1970s)

Tiit Kusnets suggests Ian Gillan.
(I dunno, Deep Purple. They were so big once,weren't they... at my school there were almost as many Purple logos scrawled on desks as Floyd ones... but they seem to have aged so much worse than Zep or Sabbath, definitely a distant third to those titans... when you put Ritchie Blackmore up against Page and Iommi... even the album cover art is so drab and lame by comparison with Zep/Sabs.... well "Smoke On the Water" is undeniable I spose... So Gillan: hard to say, given the material he was working with. I'd pick the bloke in Budgie first to be honest.)

Steve Schuldt says it has to be Jagger.
(Well I'd kind of discounted anybody whose name screams out Nineteen-Sixties, but yeah Sticky Fingers, Exile, a few bits and bobs as the decade limps on... "Hard rock" doesn't seem quite the right word though for the Stones, in the same way that as Chuck Eddy wrote in Stairway to Hell's intro he could never have included them in under "metal", even with how elastic his definition of that word is ... They are just a genre of their own, the Stones)

(Other contenders:

Ian Hunter: nah, too Dylan-y

David Bowie: hmmm, think "Rebel", "Suffragette", Jean Genie", hmmm... nah, too thespy.

Gary Glitter: nah, too neanderthal

Lemmy Kilminster/Brian ex-Geordie in AC/DC: nah, too painful (in the sense that you can almost feel the nodes forming on their vocal cords)


Back to the Sweet...



Simon Sellars says I need to get the original singles for their B-sides, while Joe Stannard recommends Sweet Fanny Adams as "their hardest, heaviest album... It rocks like Iron Maiden with a serious chip on the shoulder replacing the cack sword 'n' sorcery fantasies".

Joe also directs me to this piece at the Book of Seth on the half-live half-studio double album Strung Up

It's certainly an enticing read... very informative

And yet something in me resists going down this path, chasing down the albums*... I fear it would (c)auteurise the pure enjoyment out of it for me.... I'm not sure I want to go into that zone that Popular can get into where it's all a bit studium-encrusted... you start clocking who was the studio engineer on track X and so forth, the arranger, that kinda brain-encumbering lumber of data that doesn't really have anything to do with Sensation or Truth.. I'm almost happier just sticking with the Greatest Hits CD. (I actually have Desolation Boulevard, on vinyl--had it for years, but only listened to it once). The idea of scurrying around scooting up every last speck of pleasure...

I feel the same about ABBA, I think... as much as I love what Carl's written and bow down to the majesty of Taylor Parkes's deservedly legendary Visitors piece in Unknown Pleasures (someone should just scan it and wack it up there on the web... I will if no one else does) ... or enjoy reading the case made for particular UK #1 singles of theirs at Popular... I feel a strong impulse to keep them in a securely cordoned-off reservation of (relatively) unreflective rapture, a theory-free zone ... perhaps that seems odd (all things considered!) but there it is... it's not that they're not worthy of that kind of Bazin-level signature-scrutiny, not at all - just that i can't see any personal advantage, or enjoyment-enhancement, in going down that route myself

and actually it's exactly the same as with the Sweet: I've got the ABBA greatest hits CD, which gets an airing quite regularly... and then this vinyl copy of The Visitors (picked up for only a dollar a few years back).. which is still in its shrink wrap... I just can't see myself trawling through the oeuvre album by album





* oh who am i kidding, i'm going to be stopping and looking under 'S' every time i go in a used record store until i get my mitts on the bloody things... just wish it was me who'd bought the 7 inches back in the mid-80s when they were dirt-cheap and the Monitor crew was going through its glam'n'glitter obsession (Paul Oldfield was the one who bought them i think, and Hello's "Another School Day", another Tasmin anthem), whereas nowadays, thanks to bleedin' Bob Stanley and his "junkshop glam" concoction they're collectable and doubtless go for a pretty penny...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

compare this
(Impostume on music and identity formation)
with that
(Tom Ewing's experiment in self-de(con)struction through taste deletion)

the first is adolescent, a narcissism that nonetheless looks outward hungrily towards the world if only in search of mirrors

the second is a drastic attempt to grow up/grow out of that mode of tortured identification (Impostume's "Certain stuff is just not you; it doesn’t provide the dreamspace, the theatre in which you can act out your ideal-ego")

the first has as its likely destination a Miss Haversham-like scenario... the Ideal, forged in adolescence (not necessarily biological adolescence) becomes less frequently supplied as music follows its own wayward course.... gradually you're taken out of the market for new music

the second promises no end to desire... the self as empty, capacious and refillable as an iPod... indeed because the investments are not intensely bound up with a self-making project, there almost has to be a continous circulation of new objects to compensate... thrill-power replaces the violence of cathexis
At first you're thinking there's been some massive, mass malfunction of the calendar system in The Guardian office and they thought it was April 1st and time for one of their famous fool-the-readers spoofs. I'm talking of course about the piece yesterday about a scientist who's researching the connections between the chartpop's rhythms and the biorhythms of the economy. But no it's for real, there's this Professor Maymin at NYU who's done this study that suggests that "low beat variance" (songs with a steady beat) correlates with turbulence in the markets. Whereas when the market is steady, we can all handle more disruptive beats, supposedly.

Derek Walmsley expertly directs a jet of cold reason on this thesis over at The Mire.

Barmy as the theory appears to be, however, it oddly chimes with something I mused up last year... While confessing how I'd stopped believing in beats (meaning, the idea of rhythmic innovation as some kind of cause, teleology, intrinsically disruptive force... of course I still prefer pop records to have drums in them, on the whole, by and large), I alluded to having had this "quasi-mystical faith in beats as somehow figurative; a belief that the tremors that each breakthrough by auteur-producer or scenius alike sent through the state of pop somehow correlated with or could be equated to tremors through society..."

Which is praps as mad-as-Maymin on first encounter.... EXCEPT that if think of the history of rock... it starts with beats that do send tremors through society, absolute palpitations of panic and revulsion: the "jungle rhythms" of rock'n'roll... It wasn't that they "represented" or homologically "paralleled" social forces, these new beats were actual agents of historical change in and of themselves

or think of the significance of Martha and the Vandellas's "Dancing in the Street" in the Sixties

or rap's block-rocking beats in terms of the politics of urban space

or rave and "repetitive beats" as a scary zombie-fying cult, a rhythm-religion
interesting new blog ruminating hard about techno as music and as discourse
ardkive fever (the endless return)

http://hardcoreuknowthescore.blogspot.com/


Monday, January 12, 2009

"Still trying to work out the contradictions of loving M.R. James and Channel U. But slowly getting there"

Robin Carmody returns to the fray!
Help me now: was there in fact a better British hard rock vocalist of the 1970s than Brian Connolly of The Sweet?

I mean, just look at the competition (all great, of course, well I can only take Freddie in small doses)

Robert Plant? Nah, too gaseous.

Ozzy Osbourne? Nah, too nasal.

Paul Rodgers? Nah, too blues-bore-y.

Freddie Mercury? Nah, too operatic.

Noddy Holder? Nah, too Lennon-as-foghorn.

Roger Daltrey? Be serious now.


The only one who comes even close, I think, is Johnny Rotten.

But when it comes to the combo of power and sweetness, Brian's the man.

He's helped immeasurably of course by the material, that astounding run of singles from "Little Willy" to "Action"--the writing, arrangement, production (which amazingly all get even better when they leave Chinn & Chapman and do it all themselves)... takes my breath away it does. Raw power with a high gloss. The drums the drums the drums the drums.

Also nice is the complementary relationship between Connolly's blowdried blast and the arch histrionics of Steve Priest ("we just haven't got a clue, WHAT to do" etc)



It's been Sweet week here at Blissblog Towers--Tasmin is besotted with the group she calls Gram Bam. It all started with "Little Willy", on account of one of her pre-school teachers being called Willy, but has since spread to "Wigwam Bam" (aka "Gram Bam Bam")and "Blockbuster" and "Ballroom Blitz". Strangely the greatest-hits I have omits "Hellraiser", one of their biggest hits, and featuring the lines "she's a natural born raver/yeah yeah yeah YEAH."
over-used-by-journalists expression of 2008: "newly minted"

seriously, keep an eye out for it

it was last year's "parse"
what a ranker

"the very act of ranking rankles"

sez Phil

but 'e gone dunnit anyway

that lucky dragons is a cool #2

Saturday, January 10, 2009



Went to check out the exhibit Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) by Pipilotti Rist (one of the missus's favorites) at MOMA today. There's three immense wall video projections and in the centre of the room a gigantic circular sofa in the shape of an iris. You have to take your shoes off to enter that area. In the middle of the iris sofa--the pupil I guess--there's an enclosed carpeted area. This makes for a great holding pen for kids, who frolic with cushions in cute shapes like starfish. With the children and toddlers romping, and parents able to relax and pay attention to the artwork for once, lolling out on this huge comfy couch and getting lost in the visuals, it's already quite a halcyon vibe. And that suits the imagery on the screens: a dreamy, intensely colourful mélange of fruit, soil, flowers, puddles ... underwater sequences... a meadow through which a wild boar snuffles before sinking his fangs into a rotted apple at the foot of a tree, a naked girl likewise crawling through the grass before sinking her teeth into a not-rotted apple (probably bought at the Swiss equivalent of Sainsburys and placed there carefully).... petals being crushed under the wheels of a wheelbarrow, petals folded like rolls of ham and inserted in the girl's nostrils... and ooh look, an earthworm, still crumby with dirt, crawling over a nipple.

I guess the idea here is kinda similar to that Siouxsie & the Banshees song that goes "she's got green fingers" or "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by United States of America, except less witchy and menacing ("omnivorous orchids" etc). Indeed it's all quite wholesome and eco-feminist: the plaque outside the installation says Rist wants this work to provide the viewer with "spiritual vitamins", and she invites patrons to do stretches, "pour your body out of your hips". Singing is encouraged. Anyway, very enjoyable, although all the fruit made me hungry.

And there's this music playing, the only sub-par bit really, an endless looped sequence of wishy-washy ambient. Suddenly I flash on what this all reminds me of: Telepathic Fish and their ambient tea parties; lying on mattresses chilling out to chill out music.

In fact Rist's superlush imagery is ever so slightly redolent of the color-saturated, hypergloss photographs of plants, tree frogs,tropical birds, reptiles etc on the front of CDS by the nu-ambient labels T:me / Em:t. Even a bit Buggy G. Riphead.



It got me thinking about that era of "electronic listening music", wondering whether it would ever be reappraised or come back into favour. Friendsound blog has been posting some stuff from Fax and adjacent swathes of Nineties electronica, but it's a period of music that's never really talked about much these days.



Really, it only had a year, maybe slightly longer: the latter part of '92, all of '93. Then there was a big backlash: I remember Mixmaster "lie down and be counted" Morris's Global Chillage getting a right pasting in the Wire. The sharper ELM operators moved sharpish to a darker brand of ambient (isolationism) or got more difficult/tricksy-sounding/Autechre-y i.e. closer to what we generally think IDM is. Drum 'n' bass had came along to steal its thunder (and persuaded a lot of ELM-ers to go up the path of breakbeat science). I suppose the problem with a lot of that early electronic listening music is that it's too pretty, too pleasant. Still, I felt half-a-yen to dig out of some of that stuff, like Beaumont Hannant's Texturology, although I suspect that went in one of the purges.

Rist should really do Pour Your Body Out at the next Big Chill I reckon.

Here's a youtube of it

and here's another one that has the curator discussing it plus lots of different sections of the image-flow


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thinking again about Carl's talk about needing to have "some broad operative criteria in order to be able to navigate the vast reaches of modern music consumption/production", how "I suspect that there’s even a certain moralistic aspect thrown in. I tend to approve of records I enjoy", I realised that in a sense what he's talking about is the necessity of having a cop in your head. Because the cop in your head is your friend; the cop in your head is you. It's a system of judgement that serves to protect you from the torrential barrage of trifle and ordure that is the entertainmentscape. (The problem with popism: it's no cop).

I'm talking about a kind of aesthetic super-ego... Most people will start with an inherited one... prejudices and biases, values and aversions that are assimilated from their immediate environment (family, friends, school, etc)...later from the media or from subcultures they might join. (That's what the Big Other is, am I right?... a collective super-ego... I ask because all I know of Zizek is osmosed via K-punk!). The goal is to create your own aesthetic/cultural super-ego... maintain and modify it... not eliminate it altogether. (People who try just end up with another super-ego: "Thou Shalt Not Listen to Indie"... you can even turn eliminating the Big Other into just another Big Other...) Having a filter, it's essential, a matter of survival, of effective time-management.
of course the dance dudes in the post before last, they were bemoaning a malaise in their immediate environment,which is "mnml &____" , minimal and the stuff around it -the hipster mainstream of dancefloor-oriented electronic music I guess you could call it ... centered on Germany, dominant in Europe, strong in the UK and the rest of the world... but it's not the whole story by any means... i daresay there's pockets of stuff that's not in those dudes' immediate purview, not in the forefront of their consciousness, that could be construed as more vibrant, maybe... for instance, funky, as much as I'm not feeling it that much, at least seems like it's packed with producers trying new moves, throwing all kinds of stuff into the pot, trying to find a way forward...

but mnml, i knew the jig was up when I heard that this year the technoscenti were going back to deep house. Because that's really circling back to zero... That's actually rewinding the clock to 1989 and the great divide (first of many) when some backed away from acieeed and the early stirrings of what would become hardcore, went back to the souly side of Chicago and to New Jersey... condemned themselves to passivity and piety... Going back to deep house, that's like the erasure of Europe, of everything that happened in the Nineties!
well fancy that!
http://hardwax.com/label/hauntologists/

(tip off courtesy andrew beddow)

i must say i've been struck by the persistence of the ghost-meme in music--last year we had Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours (lovely title) and Nomo's Ghost Rock (good record, not quite enough to make my 8 X 3 though), and every week I seem to stumble upon some new incidence of it in band-name or album/track-title. (Although there's a rival creeping up fast: Crystal. What's with that, eh?)

also quietly pleased by the persistence of the first-wave H-ologists too... Mordant Music dropping a stream of cool download-only tunes in their Travelogues series and tasty vinyl 10 inch with Shackleton entitled "El Din (Part One) / Olde Wobbly" ... 10 inch '"The Hauntological Song" (no really!) in a month or so and a proper full length soon come promised to bid goodbye to all tHat... Moon Wiring Club: steady progress on collaboration with The Advisory Circle.... Ariel Pink (not really to be filed under 'H' but anyway) with a new "clean" sound, initial exposure to early examples thereof suggesting it's gonna really splendid, this album, when it drops in the autumn.. one track's like the long lost orphan child of Tusk or something...

plus

Seeland, a sort of proto-hauntological supergroup if you will! The duo of Tim Felton (ex-Broadcast) and Billy Brainbridge (ex-Plone), with their debut Tomorrow Today. Nice, bit too song-y maybe...




and ooh,look what arrives in the mail today:

a new Belbury Poly album
(I'm listening to it now... the first few tracks of which are like Michael Hoenig meets Erich Von Daneiken... looking foward to getting to the track entitled "Widdershins" I must say... and there appears to be some kind of running theme to do with miniature landscapes and modelling... the missing link between Michael Bentine and Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch?)

plus
news of a spring EP on Ghostbox from former Broadcast keyboard player Roj
plus
info about a download-only label primer, Ritual and Education


which you can get here


Oh and something else arrived in the mailbox today, debut offerings, definitely on the outskirts of the H-word, from a member of this community who's very secretively made the move into music-making, more later, but early listens suggest it's rather good....

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"minimal 's dead/ dance-criticism's dud/ dance music's directionless"

How on earth did I miss the eruption of moan 'n' groan a couple of months back concerning the death of minimal (or mnml as it now appears to be cutely nicknamed by the cognoscenti), the dearth of Big Picture writing about dance music, and general entropic vibes in dancefloorland?!?

It starts, more or less, with this Guardian blogpiece entitled "The Strange Lingering Death of Minimal Techno"

(although that column does refer to a slightly earlier article in FACT)
(and even earlier there was this record of course, "Minimal", by Matias Aguayo, meta-dance complaining how mnml "got no groove, got no balls", or is it satirising those kind of moaners --either way doesn't matter, it brought the Issue into plain view)

The baton is then picked up by Ronan Fitzgerald at House Is A Feeling who suggests expanding the frame of gloom:

"Maybe the article should have been called “The strange lingering death of dance music’s direction”. Not because the genre is finished or over, but because it doesn’t seem to be travelling forward in time with any coherency. People are looking to every moment and era of the past all at once. Others are fighting desperately to etch out some kind of future. After a couple of years of hostility the sounds of the past and the present sit together quite comfortably, even as new sounds seep into 4/4from around the world.

"The only question is: where the hell do things go from here?"


Then, a month later, Ronan announces his (temporary) discursive retirement (House Is A Feeling but the Feeling is Browned Off and Burned Out), which sets off a lively discussion on the state-of-dance in his crowded comments box.

Around the same time Philip Sherburne drops his Pitchfork survey of The Year in Techno which starts off pretty darn dispirited but then suddenly perks up--significantly, with the decision to abandon the drear duty of compiling a proper all-inclusive list of 2008's top tracks--when focusing in on three saving-grace auteurs who for Phil maybe just maybe point the Way Ahead. (Persuasively enough to make me want to go check them out--and that Tobias EP is exciting, especially "Go").

Sherburne's overview then triggers a debate at Resident Advisor (which as these things do features some of those tedious types who espouse that levelheaded-me stance of "it's always a good year (so long as you don't have excessive expectations)"

Reading through all of this, as you can imagine, I'm really wanting to holler:
EARLY 2004. "TIME FOR SOME MACROHOUSE". CALLED IT. 2005. "DANCE MUSIC STUCK AT RECOMBINANT PLATEAU". CALLED IT.

Now that everyone (except for those aforementioned keep-the-faith plodders who've never understood the essentially bi-polar nature of true music fandom) is on the same page I should be enjoying some kind of warm glow I suppose. Actually I feel... sad. Looking for a bright side, perhaps you do have to get to the absolute utter pits, a nadir nobody in their right mind can deny, before the whole thing can reinvent itself. Perhaps it'll come back HARD in a way that's impossible to imagine until it happens. Oh it's too late for me, my lifestyle's altered irretrievably. But I'd love it if it came back in a real powerhouse way, something that shakes up the larger culture with the same force it did back in the day, but differently. Even if I couldn’t experience it directly, could only be an onlooker.

Strangely not long after reading all the above I stumbled on this. I've no real sense why Tom thinks 2009 is set to be the Year of Techno. But it's a nice idea, isn't it. I'm tired of young men with beards.

possible name for what Carl's talking about here: the Small Other

RIP Ron Asheton



at the end of this there's a little interview i did with Ron a few years back

Monday, January 05, 2009

Another list! Commendably short, this one, but with a long thought-full preface addressing the subject of list-making, listener fatigue, aesthetic judgement and other crucial issues.

I nodded my head especially at this bit, the Impostume talking about how he requires

"some broad operative criteria in order to be able to navigate the vast reaches of modern music consumption/production"

and how

"the pleasure I take in something has to be imaginatively enjoined to some overarching concept, some set of grounding ideas. In other words music is a part of the way I conceptualize things, it’s part of the architecture of my understanding of the world. This means it has a rather different status for me than it does for others, perhaps (I feel it’s a big “perhaps”). I suspect that there’s even a certain moralistic aspect thrown in. I tend to approve of records I enjoy. In other words there’s a whole, admittedly shifting, personal/political/cultural edifice that records slot into."

That's the way my brain's wired too, nothing I can do about it, even if I wanted to. Clearly my experience of music (I should say, new music) is distorted because in addition to all the normal things (pleasure, thrills, surprise, solace etc) I'm also always looking for it to create new thoughts in my head and to "compute" (in some way or other, infinitesmal or involuted though it may be) as an advance in the dialectic. (Both those things = the same thing, maybe. Obviously). That creates a subliminal pressure to move on, because an artist or genre really has to be incredibly fertile and vibrant and changeful to keep on catalysing a stream of new ideas, and that's rarely the case. People who don't have that extra requirement of music (let's call them "civilians") are much happier sticking with a performer or a genre long into that second phase where it's essentially static but still churning out "quality".

Now did I get like this as a side effect of my occupation, or did I always have a critic-head (and a certain kind of critic-head)? Increasingly I think the latter, I seem to remember always thinking and feeling music this way, although perhaps you could say this was because for much of my youth I was mentally preparing for what I would go on to do (and indeed was a critic-fan as much as follower of bands).

What Carl is maybe suggesting is that for a certain kind of person there's always going to be a fatal confusion of Favourite and Important, matters-to-me and Matters, pleasure and "truth".

Now how does that relate to the entropic listmania so noticeable this season?

You can see various impulses battling it out--the gigantism of all-inclusiveness versus whittle-it-down brevity. The latter drive ("get back to what you really care about"--define "care" though!) could be seen as a retreat to the incontestable solidity of "Favourite" (unchallengeable subjective preferences) and an avoidance of the quicksand of "Important" (the slippage into Rockism). The shorter the list (the thinking goes) the less likely it'll succumb to worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism that doles out praise across the genrescape, and other liabilities of the profession.

Yet equally the expanded list can be a celebration of ravenous hedonistic appetite, an ostentatious amassing of pleasures, a glutton's testament to yet-another-year-of-plenty (i.e. pure Poptimism). And the shrivelled micro-list could actually be an expression of diehard rockism, a paring down to just those few things that warranted commemoration (because they alone lived up to the Ideals, were innovative/extreme/intense or arguable as such).

^^^^^^^^^^^

Throughsilver chips in, concurring with another of Impostume's pungent points:

"I also wonder why anyone would give a rat’s behind about what a single person considers their 43rd favourite album of a year. I understand when The Wire does it – they pool many people. But the individual top 50? I’m now old and ugly enough to realise the folly (both Narcissistic and Promethean) of such a move.
Top 20, max. I don’t care how many albums you’ve heard.

Let’s not forget that little correlation: the greater amount of albums you have heard means less time available to actually digest each one"

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Lists lists lists--so many lists. There seem to be more lists than ever this year. And they're still coming through!

This year they've seemed more disparate than ever too, often barely overlapping. That's certainly the case with individual bloggers, but even the print periodical and webzine End of Year surveys, which through their expanded electorates and Big Other-shadowed institutional responsibility to "The Truth" usually point towards something approaching consensus... even they have seemed quite far apart from each other.

Surely the most lone ranger-like of all the Listmakers: Chuck Eddy, whose Top 150 at his Rhapsody blog is divided into three instalments, starting here , continuing here and climaxing here . One hundred and fifty selections in itself makes some kind of statement (I've seen only a few others that go beyond fifty). Well, some of my late 90s Faves of the Year would have run close to that scale, if actually numbered, but I've long since felt the pull in the opposite direction, away from compendiousness (with its Big Other-shadowed genuflection towards "justice", "the deserving") and towards the hard kernel of what you really care about. Is it really possibly to love 150 albums that came out in a single year? And then the actual choices... Groups you never heard of, groups you can't help wondering whether they've been made up. What I enjoyed most was the bizarre, unexpected, extremely rare convergences of "worlds," e.g. lookee there, nestling amidships Oughties Oi! and Nu-Nu-Country and Post-Neo-Freestyle and Forest Metal, eighteen places below a new album by Dub Pistols but only ten places lower than a Girlschool compilation, there's Pauline Oliveros with Four Electronic Pieces 1959-1966, which would have made my own Reish List if I hadn't gone with the Eight format. As I recall there's just one other overlap of mine and his: my #1 scrapes in at #125! (does Chuck really think there were 124 albums superior to Vampire Weekend released last year?).

Also making my own list look positively middlebrow and follow-the-herd-like (what with its
inclusion of Portishead, Crystal Castles and--who'd have ever thought they would become even the slightest bit consensus-picky!--Gang Gang Dance)here's Dan at The End Times's best-of-2008 selection. Lots of intriguing choices (really wanna investigate that Abe Vigoda, whom eMusic describe as a "harder-edged Vampire Weekend"!) although one can't help thinking Dan might have had a slightly jollier year with an audio-diet that was a teensy bit less non-stop harrowing.

Big up both chaps for bucking consensus. But was there much consensus to buck, in fact? Despite the general air of entropy and disparation abroad (fragmentation + musical overproduction + reissuemania = lots of crevices to crawl into and make your bolt-hole) there does seem to be a smattering of releases that cropped up on a lot of institutional lists, adding up to the New Middlebrow. And while I'm not especially pleased about this fact (believing that a strong middlebrow culture is actually vital, and that moreover many wonderful things end up in that category, if not by intent then by acclamation) I was quite struck by how few of them ended up making my list. They all left me cool if not quite cold; provoked appreciation, even admiration, but not adoration, or a desire to listen to them repeatedly. Viz:

Bon Iver
A voice like shredded wheat with no milk. Nothing about the sound or the backstory made me want to persevere long enough with this to find the vaunted brilliance.

Deerhunter
Someone somewhere described this as like a bunch of Chapterhouse B-sides. Unfair, but this does strike me as an overly meticulous collation of borrowed bits and bobs (the sources all things I like, but what's the point?). Not so much blissed out as prissed out.

Hercules and the Love Affair
C.f. McAlmont, this kind of capital 'S' Singing from a capital 'S' Singer always seems like a good idea on paper. Otherwise this is just Faze Action all over again, no?

Lil Wayne
I was all set to put Tha Carter III in my list, remembering having enjoyed it a lot when it came out, but in the end just opted for "A Millie" in top tunes (and that mostly for its brain-evacuating voice-loop rhythm, which is only a notch about the drivel Swizz Beatz Mk2 was peddling last year, or was it the year before?). The rest of the record I barely remember, and nor can I summon any desire to revisit. Sadly I've come to the conclusion that I much prefer Lil Wayne circa his debut album to the Noughties version with its crabwise flow and allusive density. Lil Wayne, he's the John Sessions of rap, really. Sort of funny; very nearly entertaining.

Cut Copy
This is New Pop revivalism, essentially--the next logical step from the interminable postpunk revival, but drawing on New Pop's wetter side--OMD, China Crisis. Nice blurry/yearn-y sound. Will anyone care in a year?

The Bug
Commendable, well-executed, most effective when it relents a bit from being so unrelenting. When it's on I can't fault it, exactly. But I've gone back more to Dusk + Blackdown: as an audio-essay about London, Margins Music has a more seductively sensuous and varied sound-palette. It also seems significantly more up-to-date than London Zoo (isn't an album largely based around dancehall really kinda early Noughties?!). And it doesn't hammer the getting-somewhat-fatigued London=darkness notion so hard.

Flying Lotus
Highly listenable, quite impressive, the best of it makes me think of Sa Ra sans the kosmigroovy sexiness and goofadelic humour. The least of it is a bit… Prefuse 73-y.

There's plenty more in the consensus-overlapzone that leave me cooler still (Fleet Foxes, TV On the Radio,Santogold, etc), I'd happily accept that the problem is me, I need to put in some more work (but whoever said you had to work at listening to music?), I seem to have fallen into a kind of simpleton mode of assessment, which is that if after a couple of listens I can't remember anything about a record or find the urge to listen again, then... goodbyeee. Life is short and there's too many other fish in the sea of sound.

Some other good lists:

More an overview of trends than a selection of toons ("Audio Deco"--niiiiiice coinage!)

A survey of the "annus stolidus" (niiiice coinage!) with good swipes at Deerhunter and Fleet Foxes.

Those two capture a version of pop reality that I can dimly recognise, whereas the always-interesting Jane Dark...
(Well I agree with Joshua about T.I. if nothing else! Actually he's right about hip hop having been the centre of pop for a long while now, about how talk of rock's death refers only to guitar-band-music's fading and fragmented grand narrative, whereas the true "counterstory" is "hip-hop’s increasing permeation, coordination and domination of the Western market"... But hmmmm, now, if (let's say) the late Eighties was when hip hop began to encroach on hegemonic status, if you time-scale that out then hip hop is right about now at roughly.... 1986 or something. A time when rock looked pretty bankrupt as a Force and finished as a Form, and round the corner there was just one last deceiving gasp [grunge] and a few final formalist spasms of glory [e.g. MBV, Sonic Youth]. So by my analogy mainstream rap is and has been for a little while now at its own equivalent to the hair metal era: beyond-parody videos,horrible shrill sonics. That sounds just about right from where my ears are sat, especially in re. the dominant mersh-rap sound of portentous digi-synth fanfares and lumbering beats, that brittle blare that seems pre-degraded to 128kbps mp3 or ring-tone level, as purveyed by your T.I.s and Young Jeezys.)