Wednesday, December 28, 2005

a year

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

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

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

textures (a partial inventory)

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

texts (an even more partial inventory)

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

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

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

cherished mishearing (reluctuantly relinquished)

“you spit like Agnes B” (Bruza)

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

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


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

Penguin By Design
The Music Library

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Knowledge and Interest”. A true ghost.
matos and minions sum up the year (no enviable task) with mixtapes and commentaries
RIP Derek Bailey

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Make room! Make room!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2005

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

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

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

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

rockcritical haikus!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

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

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

which is immediately followed by the wry comment

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

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

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

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

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

Sample-Spotting Saddo

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

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

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


Pepe Bradock, the Woebot selection

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

Lightning Bolt, Hypermagic Mountain

Pitbull, Money Is Still A Major Issue

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


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

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

Retro-Feeling Really Feeling

Guy Pedersen, “Kermesse Non Heroique”

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

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

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

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

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