Sunday, February 26, 2006


China Burg, guitarist/vocalist of Mars

@ Mo Pitkins, 34 Avenue A, 7PM Tuesday 2/28

further info

Thursday, February 23, 2006

me talking about some tracks at largeheartedboy

me given the jukebox treatment by my mate andy chez my mate matos

oh yeah

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


After the success of the last contest (to christen the postpunk book), it seemed like a good idea to invite blissblog readers to bail me out once again. This time the competition is: come up with a name for our second child, due to arrive any time in the next three weeks. There’s hundreds and hundreds of girls names out there but none of them seem quite right and time is running out. Please, though, no corny rock monikers (Nico, Siouxsie, Bjork, etc), and variations on Postrocquelle, Jungalette, Grimelda, Postpunkia, et al, will be disqualified. Winner gets a signed DVD of the birth; runners-up will receive first-edition soiled diapers.


Mark your calendars--here’s some upcoming Rip It Up events in NYC

* Panel discussion featuring James Chance, Steven Daly, Vivien Goldman @ Mo Pitkin's (34 Avenue A), Tuesday February 28th, 7 PM, advance tix available here

* XLR8R and Nublu present Rip It Up and Start Again party featuring Kudu (live) plus DJs Dan Selzer, Mike Simonetti, Roy Dank, @ Nublu (62 Avenue C), Saturday March 11.

*Talk about postpunk-era NYC @ Grey Gallery (100 Washington Square East), Tuesday March 28th

More details about these events plus news about other Rip-related magazine articles, webzine dialogues, radio interviews, etc to be found at the Rip It Up Site

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My consolation prize for not being in the UK when the Folk Britannia series is airing--a show on Ovation, spotted by the eagle-eyed missus (who's always looking out for me televisually), Ken Russell: In Search of the English Folksong. Actually made in 1997, making Ken bizarrely ahead of the pack--just him and the dude in Current 93 at that point, eh? No ancient footage from mid-Sixties folk cellars like Les Cousins and Bunjie's, or Communist Party singalongs from the Fifties... instead it's the performers as they are now (well, '97, but you catch my drift)... June Tabor doing a wonderfully haunting unaccompanied story-song "The King of Rome" in the grounds of a stately home, the Albion Band marred a bit by some nasty modern keyboards, Carthy/Waterson harmonising in a graveyard, Donovan singing "Nirvana", Fairport Convention doing a sort of video I guess and cavorting around a thatched cottage, the Cropedy Festival (including Osibisa!).... and then lots of stuff that doesn't fit at all (this being a wonderfully eccentric take on what constitutes folk song, goofily presented by the ruddy-faced Russell)
... a really strange calypso-folk/circus-carnival type outfit called Edward II at Glastonbury, a man obsessed with Native American folkways, a sexy middle-aged Greenham common veteran singing a suggestive ditty full of horseriding/fornication double-entendres, scenes at Greenham (the military base now derelict and Ballardian) with former protestors singing the tunes that kept their spirits up around the camp fires, a minstrel called Bob Appleyard singing with bizarre and oddly affecting intensity a song about "The Fawley Flame" (a plume of fire that lights up the night sky from the Southampton Water refinery), and various other performers who basically seem to be friends of Ken's or people who live in his village...

And right at the start, something that gave me a real tingle--Russell whipping through a stack of 78 rpm records and stopping at one by Joseph Taylor, "Died Of Love" b/w "Brig Fair", originally recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger, on a cylinder. "Bought this at Cecil Sharp House," says Ken, adding that Taylor was "around eighty when they recorded him". A ghostly flutter of voice comes through the shellac's hiss and crackle. Equally ghostly was the tiny bit of pre-First World War film they had of folklorists Cecil Sharp and George Butterworth dancing in a circle with "two ravers" (as Ken put it, in his archly sexist way) in an English country garden. The name "Joseph Taylor" gave me a rush because that's the voice sampled on the amazing "Caermaen" by Belbury Poly, aka Jim Jupp--the one where he changed the speed and pitch, restructured the melody, made "a dead man sing a brand new song". Don't know whether the tune Russell played ("Died of Love" I think) was the one that Jim used, but it did give me a right queer feeling--which in turn reminded me that I meant to write something else on the topic of hauntology....
hilarious and freakily accurate
(although i'm more of a cat person myself)

Monday, February 13, 2006

It’s weird, when I read Mark’s riposte, I can still feel the pull of this ultra-futurist rhetoric, the allure of this severity stance….

A number of points to be made … I’ve lost track, though, if they’re in reference to Mark here, or other outcrops like here, or K-punk guest worker Alex Williams

* record collection rock

See, AM’s music doesn’t strike me as that really…. “record collection rock” in my usage has a much more specific application than just "the group has precedents" or "they work within a tradition" or "sounds familiar". R-C-R is music where the listener's knowledge of prior rock music is integral to the full aesthetic appreciation of the record ("full" because the creator put the allusions there for you to spot with a smile). Prime exponents include Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Primal Scream, and--to a lesser degree but still part of the sensibility I think-- Stereolab; there's many many more. Oasis are the paradigm case: you get Beatles deja vu flashbacks from the melodies, the title “Wonderwall” is sampled from a George Harrison album and “What’s the Story Morning Glory”, slightly more esoteric, comes from “Tomorrow Time” on John and Beverley Martyn’s Stormbringer (someone I only realised the other day playing the recent reissue, and imagine my surprise!), and ooh just check out this for a list of Noel Gallagher’s Top Ten blags , and that's just scratching the surface I’m sure. But AMs strike as more along the lines of The Smiths: precedented, for sure, but not a pastiche, you don’t listen and spot specific steals and quotes. The hints of Mozz and Gallagher in Turner’s voice here and there are fully integrated into a vocal identity that's totally sure of itself; the guy is very much his own man. Is it even "retro"? Not in the sense of intentionally flashing us back to a specific era or lost golden age (e.g. The Cult circa "Love Removal Machine," any number of nouveau garage punk bands you care to list, et al), or being taggable to a single illustrious ancestor band.

* indie
And you know, there’s moments when I don’t even feel that word applies, except as a vague and derogatory social designation based on their assumed audience. See “indie” to me always implied a certain lameness, what Carducci calls a “feeb” aesthetic, you think either of twee C86 tunesmithery or Wedding Present-type scruffiness; deficiency is part of the music’s point and appeal, its rhetoric of sound. Musically AM’s strike me as simply a British rock band; the key difference is the way they’re plugged into the rhythmic power and fluency of British beat music of the Sixties, ie. the side of the Sixties that indie always used to ignore in favour of melody/guitar-jangle, or was simply too inept to duplicate. In that sense AM’s are very much a post-White Stripes band, which won’t placate the futurists one bit, but at least they’re reactivating some of what’s actual worth keeping in rock and something which most British bands since baggy have been grievously lacking in (Stone Roses being one of the last UK bands with a really moving rhythm section, although it should noted that the Libertines are relatively dynamic on that front).

* “be reasonable, capitulate to the available”
The angle I pursued last time--nothing really futuristic around at the moment, so non-innovation is more forgiveable--is of course way too negative. I actually think this would be a splendid album in any year, that it would stand up to the competition like Pulp’s Different Class did in 1995, a futurism-crammed year by any measure. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is in fact the strongest record of its sort since Different Class, and if Turner isn’t yet the match for Jarvis Cocker lyrically, he’s real close. Plus he’s, like, 16 years younger than Cocker was when he wrote those songs. What does “of its sort” mean though? I think Mark hits the nail on the head in the various places he’s brought up “New Wave”. If musically the sheer potency of Whatever People Say shakes off the limp designation “indie”, lyric-wise the content is New Wavey--songs of love and lust with bite and a hint of bitter; social realism, observational lyrics. In 1979 it would have been filed alongside Costello, Specials, Dury, The Jam.

The Specials seem worth picking out from that list, because the title Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is something Arthur Seaton the bloodyminded young wage-slave in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning says, and the best songs on the AMs album remind me a bit of “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” the last great Specials song (give or take “The Boiler”), track 3 on the Ghost Town EP. Turner's songs give much more sense of the lust-for-life boiling inside the teenprole leisure treadmill than Terry Hall on that tune (or “Nite Klub” on the Specials debut), but he’s just as aware that the short-term-buzzy bad things are long-term bad for you, dissipating energy and life-force as well as money. That’s why the CD front cover of the lad smoking a cigarette down to its nub opens up to display a CD picture of an ash-tray crammed with fag-ends. It seems significant that two tunes on the album--probably the two most subtle and evocative and no-one’s-written-about-this-before--involve young people being locked inside a vehicle by authority figures, “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure” and “Riot Van.”

To me, what AM’s are doing is analogous to someone working with the conventional novel form and coming up with something fresh, if not precisely innovative. Like Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters Club; now, that guy is very interested in avant-garde literary form, he wrote that biography of B.S. Johnson Like A Fiery Elephant, but his own novels are fairly conventional (in fact his big cited influence is Henry Fielding). But that doesn’t stop Rotters being an amazing book Actually, a better comparison with AMs, given the youth landscape it depicts, is Alan Warner’s The Sopranos. And then in a clever touch, seemingly to circumvent the romanticisation of W/C teen life that invariably wraps itself around or permeates from the inside out such depictions (Warner being a case in point), the album ends with a song set off on its own in the credits, as a coda or afterword: “A Certain Romance”, which says, no, actually, there’s no romance in this life, this place--nothing glamorous about it at all.

* daft comparisons and the impulse to make them

Whether it’s kingmaker/cud/wonderstuff, or ruts/members , to me it's no different to someone saying "Dizzee Rascal, Kano, that's just Derek B and Rebel MC all over again--more black blokes, boasting over beats, heard it all before." Indeed I think there is a sense in which, for a certain ‘informed sector,’ hating indie-rock saddoes and NME readers is an OK form of bigotry, almost an inverted racism.

* turn to face the strange change-lessness

Correspondent Matt Wright wonders whether "advocating for a return to a past aesthetic ideal”--“the modernist principle of pushing forward and advocating the Truly New”--as espoused by K-punk and (most of the time) myself, whether that was in some senses “anti-modernist /nostalgic”, in so far as one of the salient features of modernity as it's been for some while now is the fading away of the idea of the vanguard, its retreat from the centre of cultural life.

This is an idea I’m presently trying out, like a new pair of shoes that are slightly uncomfortable, that you have to wear in a bit: the idea that we are now in different times, or more profoundly, living with a different sense of temporality. Indeed, have been for some while.

I do think the uncanny persistence of indie-rock, the fact that it has outlasted all the obituaries written for it, is something to reckon with. Explaining it by positing an inherent lameness or laziness to its audience seems… inadequate. Perhaps it’s a format that does a certain thing particularly well, and the mystery is not the survival of the format, but the survival of the need for it (society's to blame?). Maybe it’s that indie-rock is actually like metal, a fixture on the music-culture menu now, again serving a certain population that keeps reforming itself and rewewing itself, again because of a certain stasis in society. Most of the time, metal's internal fluctuations are no interest to those not immersed in it, but every so often it'll throw up something that grabs the wider world's ear. And yet, metal does change, almost imperceptibly; you put a metal track from 2006 next to one from 1984 and they’re not the same. And so it goes with “indie,” that increasingly inadequate term; if you tele-transported an AMs song back to 1985, it wouldn’t, actually, fit right in.

Talking of a sense of temporality changing radically, the fading or disruption of a former sense of forward propulsion through time… Alex Turner is 20, which means he was born in 1985, the annus disappointingus at which Rip it Up ends; the year when Retro-Rock displaced the early ideals of “independent”; his is a generation that was born under the sign of anachronesis, perhaps.

Except perhaps not… because in the 90s there was a sense of future-tilted motion, largely due to E-lectronic music (do all the hurtling-into-the-future period--sixties, punk/postpunk, rave--have in common the quickening of culture caused by amphetamines?).

Then again, it’s bizarre how "indie" has outlasted the irruption of “faceless techno bollocks,” the culture of DJs, beats, and E’s; how it’s outlived the future-surge of the ‘90s*. This struck me really forcefully with the unexpected appearance, near the end of “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” of the phrase “banging tunes in DJ sets”. It suddenly made me wonder what dance music meant to this generation. The last convulsion of dance culture in Sheffield presumably would have been Gatecrasher, and that would have been 1999-2000--six years ago, an eternity when you're young. It would be something that AMs’ older brothers and sisters would have been involved, maybe; music for the AMs generation begins with the Strokes most likely. Jesus, for some of the young kids getting into AMs-type music now, the ones aged 11, 12, 13, raving might even be something their parents did! Or perhaps--and this is almost worse in a way--perhaps clubbing-and-drugging is something that’s around still but relegated to a leisure option, something they’ll dabble in a bit for a while (a teen rite of passage, doing your first E’s), or even to keep on dipping into, now and then…. but not a cause or a creed, no longer based on the military/religious models that underpinned rave in the ‘90s, not even a vibe-tribe or AWOL.

* while writing this I’ve been listening to that Boxcutter Breezeblock set that folks have been bigging up, except that the mp3 is of the whole Breezeblock/Mary Anne Hobbs show, which I’d never listened to before, and pretty diverting stuff it is, mix of dubstep/grime/drum’n’bass/UK hip hop/weirdbeat/melodic IDM/all sortsa beatz-oriented electronic music… but then I got this sudden feeling that "the future" itself had somehow become a minority interest, a niche market to be catered to... An enclosure where the Nineties never stopped happening.
Best bit of this K-punk riff on glam's nietzchean will-to-splendor and its paradoxical ethos of egalitarian hierarchism, is the sideswipe at the absurdly over-rated Smash Hits, recently deceased with circulation figures lower than the NME it once eclipsed so dramatically in the Eighties. As Mark points out, SHits, for all its anti-rockism, was equally opposed to the very currents of awe and idolatry (from the consumer p.o.v.) and pretension and ambition (from the artist's standpoint) that fuel pop. With that deadly all-too-English mix of "sensible" and "irreverent," it was the enemy of pop's true essence, a ludicrous seriousness. But as Adam Ant said, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

For a heavy dose of heroic pretentiousness, check out, this forthcoming compilation by Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, which practically is Mark's K-glam canon encapsulated (only significant ommissions: Japan--who I thought Duran worshipped--and Visage).

Nick Rhodes & John Taylor Present: Only After Dark (EMI)
Human League – Being Boiled (Fast version) (3.39)
Yellow Magic Orchestra - Computer Games (3.32)
David Bowie – Always Crashing In The Same Car (3.29)
Psychedelic Furs – Sister Europe (5.38)
Simple Minds – Changeling (4.11)
Mick Ronson – Only After Dark (3.30)
John Foxx – Underpass (3.53)
The Normal – Warm Leatherette (3.22)
Bryan Ferry – In Crowd (4.33)
Brian Eno – The True Wheel (5.11)
The Tubeway Army – "Are Friends Electric?" (5.17)
Kraftwerk – The Robots (single edit) (3.45)
Donna Summer – I Feel Love (3.48)
Wire – I Am The Fly (3.06)
Magazine – Shot By Both Sides (3.57)
Grace Jones - Private Life (5.11)
Iggy Pop – The Passenger (4.41)
Ultravox – Slow Motion (3.29)

from the press release:

"The late ‘70s and dawning ’80s period has often been misunderstood and overshadowed by the punk rock era, yet for many it was the point where the most innovative ideas of the 1970s collided to create a new set of possibilities - a fusion of punk, glam, art-rock, disco, synthesizers and DIY experimentalism. Birmingham teenagers Nick Rhodes and John Taylor were inspired by these ideas as they formed their own band Duran Duran. Their HQ in 1979 was the Rum Runner club in the town centre, a meeting place on Tuesday night for all the local misfits, art students and music fans. Rhodes DJ’d on those evenings, mixing together old glam idols - Bowie, Roxy Music, Mick Ronson - with the Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk and strange post-punk bands such as Magazine and Wire. This was the time when electronic music got into the hands of thin young men from London‘s squats around Kings Cross, the suburbs and Northern England, namely Ultravox, Tubeway Army and The Human League. ‘By putting together this album our intention is to introduce songs by artists who influenced us,’ explains Rhodes. ‘As we were to developing our own sound, this was the backdrop. John Foxx’s Ultravox in particular were important as they were the first to fuse punk with synthesizers and there was a new kind of groove creeping in there too. Bands were moving ever closer to the dance floor.... everything was at a crossroads. Everything was in flux.’ The result was a new wave of artists who reinvented themselves through fashion, graphics, photography, and identity as well as through their music - New ideals that were misinterpreted at the time as a distraction from the songs. The cover art and booklet of ‘Only After Dark’ uses images from a fascinating new book, ‘Duran Duran Unseen …Paul Edmond - Photographs 1979-82’. Edmond documented the Birmingham scene and its more experimental characters: the designers Kahn & Bell, Martin Degville, Fashion and even Boy George a frequent visitor to the city. ... John Taylor explains: ‘The gender identity thing was going on around the music: boys looking like girls; girls looking like boys. Everything was in a state of transition. Punk was a drug that everybody had taken and we were all wide awake - eyes dilated and pores open. You’re as high as a kite because your senses are alive and you’re turned on - it’s that moment of possibility which we‘ve tried to bring to life again on this album.’

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Scanning the other week through a bunch of old P&Js for examples of when the electorate let political sentimentality override aesthetic judgement, I was struck by how incredibly high things like Artists United Against Apartheid and Midnight Oil had placed: the former's
Sun City album was #5 in 1985 (and ‘I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City’ was voted #1 single!), while Midnight Oil's Diesel & Dust reached #4 in 1988 (the year of PE, MBV, SY, etc etc; the whole 1988 chart is a bit of a shock actually, comparing it with how the music world looked through Melody Maker eyes). Impeccable causes, for sure (compensation and restitution for dispossessed aborigines in the case of Midnight, shudder, Oil) but… that ain’t right, letting right-on biases over-rule the aural evidence. But anyways, all this got me thinking about the way rock criticism has always leaned heavily to the left, politically. Obviously there are good historical reasons for that, rock itself having at one point been in the vanguard of change etc etc, BUT, given that there are in fact an awful lot of conservative people in the world, and not all of them are old… Well it made me wonder, where was the body of right-wing rock-write? I mean, does it actually not exist or did I just miss it? The only significant rock thinker that comes to mind as overtly right-wing is Joe Carducci, and even then his is an odd sort of anarcho-libertarian, less-power-to-the-state brand of conservatism, mixed up with a bit of ornery illiberalism. But who else is there? It’s pretty easy to think of openly right-wing musicians--Ted Nugent springs immediately to mind, Rush of course, and weren't Queensryche a bit dodgy; metal's full of them, I'm sure--plus there's others who succumbed, usually briefly, to the lure of Reagan (Neil Young, Prince, Iggy Pop). But it's hard to hink of any rock writers who've celebrated rock from a right-wing perspective, let alone come up (a la Carducci) with a convincing theory of how rock works and why it matters that meshes with a conservative worldview.
I’ve often thought that if there’s one thing that will always remain immune to the hipster's ghastly grasp, it’s mainstream black music. I’m talking about the way you
can go into Other Music and there'll be a Shuggie Otis reissue sho'nuff, but you’ll never find a Gap Band best-of. Oh, the Metro Area/"negroclash"-headz might have latched onto some of that NYC postdisco/electrofunk West End/Prelude/Kiss FM Mastermix type action, and there's a whole other hipsterati set, the kosmigroove lot, with their own canon of arcana--RAMP, Sylvia Striplin, etc. But the stuff I’m talking about--Heatwave, SOS Band, Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire, Rose Royce, Slave/Steve Arrington, SWV, et al.... well, it's simply not obscure enough to be ripe for subcultural capitalization. Call it "common groove": hundreds of thousands of vinyl copies--millions, probably, in some cases--of albums by these groups are in circulation still, and getting tattier and less desirable by the month; the artwork looks absolutely horrible, often--but not always--due to the fact that the clothes these groups wore were hideously kitsch even at the time; there’s little in the way of overt futurist cachet or outsider chic attached to any of this music, which was by and large aspirational, non-rebellious stuff, eager to crossover, and with few pretensions (apart from the occasional dose of dilute mysticiism a la EW&F) beyond entertainment. Of course, it just happens to be some of the most glorious music ever made, and beneath its pleasure-principled functionalism, some of the most innovative too--but that’s by the by. Well, I don’t know if this is the first glimmer on the horizon of the hipsterization of this hitherto neglected zone ( I’m pretty sure these guys would puke at the very idea, they’re just bigging up some records they love), but there is now a blog-cluster dedicated to all things R&B, launched earlier this year by some of the House Is A Feeling crew, and like HIAF a collective operation. True, they do cover some Kirk DeGiorgio-type arcana (Bobby Lyle? No, me neither) but they also have posts on Luther Vandross/Change, Minnie Riperton, Stephanie Mills... So hats off to Back and Forth and its sista-blogs Boogie Fever and Bourgie Fever.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fighting talk from K-punk

His trope of pop as undead reminded a bit of something Greil Marcus wrote in a great 1992 piece, "Notes on the Life & Death and Incandescent Banality of Rock ‘n’ Roll", for Esquire (!) (you can find it in the Faber Book of Pop, ed. Jon Savage and Hanif Kureshi). Spinning off a discussion of a Poison video (!) as being emblematic of the state of rock as “a pornography of money, fame, and domination, all for no reason outside itself” (sounds more like hip hop than hair metal, these days!), Marcus speculates:

It’s as if the source of the depression is not that rock is dead but that it refuses to die. Far more than Elvis, really, a clone like Bret Michaels, so arrogant and proud, is of the walking dead. It’s just that the money’s too good to quit.”

In the same piece, he also wrote about how the “myth of the Sixties” was felt, by modern youth who’d never lived through the time, “as a an absence, like the itch of a limb amputated before they were born”. Which at the time of first reading, really irritated me--bloody babyboomers and their generational narcissism! (And I can only imagine how annoying Mark would find it!). But these days I think maybe Marcus was onto something, while also appreciating the hauntological reverberations of the phantom limb metaphor.

But back to K-punk. Really liked this idea:

What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists.”

And the example given of the syndrome struck a chord: ABC (New Pop) versus The Birthday Party (the new Rock). Light versus Dark, Upwardly mobile Health versus Romantic self-destruction. This was an even more resonant example for me because the two bands also represented my two favourite music writers (and all-time formative influences), Paul Morley and Barney Hoskyns, then engaged in a mighty agon in the pages of NME; ABC champion Morley frothing over the new cleanliness and health in pop and Birthday Party worshipper Hoskyns championing dirt, sickness, darkness, the Dionysian. I simply could not choose between these two visions, so instead oscillated wildly (PM and BH’s sole point of overlap was the Associates if I recall, although some kind of détente was later reached). If Morley was the original Popist, then Hoskyns was the original nu-rockist: one week writing about Black Flag, the next Donna Summer, the week after some anthology of Lost Soul from the early Seventies, the week after that some NYC postdisco electrofunk 12 inches, the week after that the Blue Orchids… but never as mere generalism , always with an underlying vision-quest and value-scheme somehow connecting these seemingly disparate or even incompatible sounds. Talking of weak ecumenicalism versus enflamed partisanship:

Kpunk again, rejecting the idea of music “as an archipelago of neighbouring but unconflicting options” and envisioning pop as “as a spiral of nihilating vortices.”

Yeah, not so much war on pop, as pop-as-war, riven by factionalisms and schisms: Northern Soulies hating progressives, postpunk versus Oi!, new pop versus rock, Goth versus new pop, Dexys versus everybody, etc. Every strong passion accompanied with an equally strong antipathy. This adore/abhor reflex relates to that old argument about the either/or mechanism as intensifier, versus the dis-intensifying logic of plus/and…. The latter seemingly proved by all the recent articles about how downloading creates apathy, that ennui of abundance syndrome… I’m not sure if the polar thing's gone away completely: I seem to remember reading a few years about how in the UK the bashment/grime hated nu-metallers and vice versa. But far more common, encouraged by iPod/downloading, is a sort of mild omnivorousness (Burchill's "rock's rich tapestry", except it extends way beyond rock now), liking a little bit of this and that, with the fan losing its fanaticism and becoming more like the generalist critic who doles out praise evenhandedly across a broad spectrum, emotional investments distributed judiciously across a portfolio of pleasures.

Mark asks:
Where is the chorus of disapproval and disquiet about a group like the Arctic Monkeys?,” while also conceding that they’re not “significantly worse than any of their retro forebears

This brings us to the tiny Achilles heel in the argument which is that within the terms of what they do, Arctic Monkeys are (whisper it) exceptionally good. Of course it’s still possible to reject “what they do” on principle (a jihad I might have signed up for even a few months ago) but such a principled stand would mean you’d deny yourself one of the best records of the year.

I must admit when I wrote that bit in the Frieze piece about rhythmically inert Britbands and referenced “whoever’s on the cover of NME this week” I had Arctic Monkeys in mind, I just assumed from what I’d read that they’d be just another nowt-going-on-in-t'-rhythm-section indie-rock combo, fronted by an excessively cocky Northern lad singer, drawing an ever-more insular set of quintessentially English sources. On this occasion, though, the inbreeding has paid off: the family tree is narrow (Jam, Smiths, Oasis, Libertines, etc ), but for once the result isn’t an enfeebled poodle, it’s a mighty attack dog spliced out of the most potent and poignant genes of their ancestors. The drummer and bassist are uncommonly dynamic and flexible, several cuts above the Brit norm--just listen to the way they switch, on “Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But…” from Sabbath-style “heavy” dynamics to punk-funk that casually out-grooves Franz Ferdinand. Unlike Oasis, who were really like Carducci's "electric busking", singalong-plus-riffalong but dead-below-the-waist, Arctic Monkeys make physically involving music.

Also unlike Oasis, their lyrics aren't gibberish, they are actually about something. People compare Alex Turner’s words to The Streets and Pulp (actually Alex himself has made that comparison, saying he walks "the lyrical tightrope between Jarvis Cocker and Mike Skinner”), but in some ways he reminds me as much of Dizzee Rascal: the combination of cockiness and sensitivity; the way the melodies curl around the natural cadence and flow of his regional speech patterns; the jouissance of the moments when his accent, always present, asserts itself with a word or syllable that rings out completely and jarringly askew; the combination of proximity to the experiences he’s writing about and being ever so slightly above/beyond/outside them (old head on young shoulders); the sense of locality and rich verisimilitude in the details; the hunger that shakes through the voice and whips out of the speakers. (Oh yes, not forgetting the fact that internet buzz got the ball rolling…). I once fantasized about Dizzee becoming a Morrissey-like figure, his account of a very particular and relatively unusual troubled youth and his alienation from everything, coming to represent a much larger unity of alienation. Well, of course, Britain being how it is, the black artist doesn't get to be NME-readership-beloved Everykid spokesperson. Instead it's another white Northerner who gets to be the Morrissey-like figure.

One thing that’s oddly engaging about the Arctic Monkeys is how they actually subvert Sheffield’s own pop myth as the city of electr(on)ic dreams. I wonder if that’s a subconscious impulse lurking behind the line in “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” about the girl “dancing to electropop/like a robot/from 1984”… sort of that was then (synth Sheffield), this is now?

Their use of guitars alone is probably enough to condemn the Monkeys in some people’s eyes, including Mark’s. But you know, synths have been around a long while now, 20 or 30 years, haven't they? Long enough to signify their own kind of retro, even if it’s aa retro-futurism. So have samplers. This brings me to a larger point about the absent “chorus of disapproval and disquiet”. It’s not just that the group are great enough to be an exception to the rule, it's that the rule itself is ailing. The trouble with all the arguments that can be mustered against Arctic Monkeys is partly that these charges (Luddite, Anglo-inbred, parochial, etc) have become as stale and predictable as their music itself is purported to be. It's a critique that goes back at least as far as Oasis (although I remember people also making it about The Smiths in the mid-80s come to think of it) . What's different now from Oasis days, though, is not simply the relative freshness of the critique; it's the fact that there is much less of a sense of there being an aesthetico-moral high ground from which to make it. Circa Britpop, you could argue “this stuff is retro-gressive, if people want the true modern British pop they should listen to jungle/Tricky/uk postrockers like Disco Inferno/etc etc”. Nowadays it’s harder to see where are the vanguardist bastions on behalf of which one would launch one's volleys of indignation and disgust. Not dance music, which give or take a handful of peripheral innovators like Villalobos, has for the last half-decade or so been recycling its own history as assiduously as rock has. Hip hop and R&B are puttering along at a snail’s pace; there is a definite “same old shit in shiny new cans" syndrome at play, except the cans aren’t that startlingly novel either. E.g., I love Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” but lyrically it’s the same bleeding metaphor that Cash Money were caning 7 years back (Hot Boys, we on fire etc) while the sonix are sorta gloomcore-meets-crunk, recalling the Goth-tronica of the Horrorist, himself always on a kinda retro tip.

Sure there are innovators and extremists way out on the fringes of music, but most people can't live on fringe fare, that’s not the kind of action that Mark is pining for, that’s never going to be war-inside-pop. Like the poor, the remote-periphery experimentors are always with us.

I don’t really buy this notion of the nu-Pop as the nouveau New Pop. What it is, it’s like New Pop if New Pop had only been in the mold of Dollar; if there’d been Trevor Horn, but no ABC, no McLaren, no Frankie, no AoN/Morley. The characterless vocals, the choreographed routines, the quirk-less personalities…. it couldn’t be further from the New Pop menagerie of Adam Ant, Kevin Rowland, even the spark of a Clare Grogan. The comparison with postpunk is even more tenuous: formally there’s a strong element of retro-pastiche in the Nu-Pop, which stems from its links to mash-up culture, and draws heavily on this indigenous English-pop tradition e.g. the glitter stomp element (BTW, remind me to tell you the story of how the Monitor crew invented schaeffel)….

Grime worked as the high ground for much of this decade, but… well, that banner is looking a bit dog-eared right now. As for dubstep: jolly good stuff, i'm chuffed on the scene's behalf that its morale is so high, that the buzz is building and spreading... But the idea that it is stepping fearlessly into the future is, well, an over-estimation; it strikes me as very much a consolidation sound, it moves forward slowly and steadily, but it works from a tradition and a set of historical sources that are just as narrow as that which nourishes Arctic Monkeys. You’ll hear elements from techstep 96, from bleep’n’bass, from digi-dub… It’s roots’n’future music, like all hardcore ‘nuum sounds, but to these ears it feels like the ratio of rootical to futuroid is weighted to the former. I saw Digital Mystiks’s NYC debut the other week and the vibe was very Disciples/Iration Steppers, even harking at times back to On U Sound…

None of these points diminish the overall thrust of K-punk’s critique--he’s against Arctic Monkeys-type music on principle. But I do think there is a sense in which, at the moment, it’s much harder to single out Brit-rock as especially culpable on the retro front. There's probably a sense in which the Arctic Monkeys are a disaster in the grander sense, their very excellence will inevitably lead to the Oasis>>>Northern Uproar syndrome--droves of dismal soundalikes given a warm welcome by hapless A&R executives. In that sense I’m “against it” --but not to the actual point of denying myself the delights of the album.
interview with dizzee rascal by the man like martin
Horror story (with a twist at the end--he won't really miss the stuff?) which encourages me to keep on being a music-in-material-form throwback (even though the house is in utter chaos at the moment as we have two crap, poky closets being knocked in and combined into a magnificent uber-closet with sky-high shelves mainly to accomodate the music-in-material-form already stockpiled and the more more ever more to come....)

V/Vm has embarked upon an intriguing project, making a piece of new music everyday and instantly releasing it, as free downloads. From his latest communique:

"The 365 project is a month in. Fifty four tracks (over 300MB of MP3s) in various stages of development were uploaded in January, so far so bad/good. Below is a direct link to all the audio files uploaded throughout last month for those of you who may have missed some of them.

The aim of course with the project is the challenge of the format, nobody as i am aware has created audio each day and uploaded it in this fashion before, not for a whole year anyway. You are also encoauraged to hack and destroy any audio you find there as it's all being licensed to you under the creative commons banner. Think of the project as being one big unfinished audio scrapbook which you need to make some sense out of. Being on brainwashed it flies underneath the usual blog searches and has no RSS feature, so unless you visit the site you can't get the info on what is being uploaded which is how i want it to be. Here is the full link to the project so don't miss a beat and remember it's all totally free, so even if you hate it all it's cost you nothing. "
I just watched The Last Waltz for the first time (they have some funny things on in the morning, just right for stretching out the period between dropping the kid off for school and mustering yourself for the day ahead) and as I watched and listened, I thought: this is everything I don't want from music.

And I love The Band (more precisely, I love The Band)

Bob Dylan's hat!
the main point of the below (sometimes i have to write something before i realise what the point is!) is that 18 years after acid house, 12 years after jungle, however many years it is after 94 diskont and homework, there is still this fixation on Content that means that neither an epochal compilation (history of our world part one, say, or whatever Total you want to nominate, or...) nor a fabulous instrumental electronic album (with beats--Frequencies--or without: Selected Ambient Works the first or the second; going far back, On Land).... such records will never place anything like as high as they deserve. What will place is the electronic/beat-oriented album that has content or is construed to have it (so it'll always be Maxinquaye, or Post, or Everything Is Wrong/Play, or... do i even need to say it...) , where there's a Charismatic Candidate for Iconhood (sorry IP!) to focus on....

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Well I’m a mite put out that Arular didn’t win P&J cos I had a whole rant-riff all mentally prepared (will be looked back on in years-to-come as Arrested Development/3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . level debacle of soft-leftist/middlebrow consensus; “neither a stroke of genius nor a stroke of scenius”, etc etc) but, well, all that’s kinda beside the point, given that the record's placing means it much more on the level of a Los Lobos How Will the Wolf Survive? or Graham Parker’s third lp or King of America i.e. something that don't mean diddly outside the crit-bubbleworld and even that standing was clearly waning well before last year was out, the defenders getting distinctly less strident and fervent...

Scanning P&J, though, it does seem really quite remarkable the extent to which rockism is as entrenched as ever, in this, the year (meaning 2005) in which its foes had allegedly discredited it and driven it into righteous retreat. Not talking about the merits of the artists in question or even really their mindset/modus operandi, so much as the framework of values and assumptions that conditions how and to whom esteem is bestowed; and which, despite Pop-ism's efforts to unlock our mental chains, exerts as much of a hegemonic strangehold on the profession as ever. Like, Kanye West: clearly now being maneuvered into the place of a rock-approved Black Auteur/Statesman previously occupied by such as Stevie Wonder or Prince (especially with the added “real” musicality supplied by that Fiona Apple guy) plus there is so palpably a gesture-of-solidarity/approval/pat-on-the-back thing going on vis-a-viz the KW Speaks Truth To Power Moment (wittily foregrounded in Greil Marcus’ “singles” ballot
where #1 is Kanye West Featuring Mike Meyers “George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People” [NBC Chartbusters]). Then Arular: seriously, if you think the “plastic fun” angle of appreciation is anything but a minority strand in the support, you’re kidding yourself, it’s pure rockist-middlebrow--“at last a voice with something to say”, 3rd world cred/vicarious solidarity-with-the-subaltern etc. And then the rest: Sufjan Stevens with his dastardly triple-whammy combo of conceptualism, proggoid musicality, and singer-songwriterism; Hold Steady as nu-Replacements; Fiona Apple as nu-Joni/nu-Sinead/nu-slightly-deranged-female-auteur (talking of which Kate Bush appears surprisingly high with an album that is nothing but an incitement to rockism, it simply cannot be appreciated in any other fashion... and nowt wrong with that) … Sleater-Kinney… and so it goes... And as I say, not talking here about the merits or demerits of these works (few of which I’ve actually heard), just purely about the value scheme that enfolds them. It's rockist rockist rockist to the core: auteurism, authenticity, substance, durability; long-form Works that take effort and perseverance and time to unlock their depth and detail; artists-who-keep-getting-better-we-firmly-believe-that-and-we-stick-to-them-loyally-unlike-those-fickle-pop-fans; singer-songwriter torn-from-heart gut-grit; Concepts and confession and “character studies”; Opuses and Oeuvres. None of which I'm rejecting totally, they can be engines of intensity, but it is a little weird how we're almost back in the early Seventies, when (apart from the then heterical minority of Bangsian types) the prevailing model of meaningfulness and artistic validity was people like Randy Newman, Jackson Brown, Lowell George, Warren Zevon, The Band.... sophistication, sensitivity, song-as-short-story.. etc etc etc (although in truth, perhaps that model never really went away, but was refurbished and, augmented with a little New Wave spite, endured into the Eighties and beyond with such “new-old” figures as Costello, surviving very successfully the irruptions of punk, of rap, of techno, et al). Looking at the grand decades-spanning scheme of American critical consensus, there’s a sense in which even art-rock is marginalized (the relatively low presence and this year and every year of instrumental or mostly-intrumental abstraction--prog, fusion, ambient, industrial and the more abstract forms of postpunk, post-rock, experimental electronics; the abiding suspicion of artifice in re. glam or New Pop). See, rather than art-rock, what the critically esteemed stuff really is, most of it, it's lit-rock: music as dramatic backdrop to words. Stuff that is purely, sheerly sonic is still felt to be de trop, suspect because self-indulgent, decadent, music for music's sake, mere ear candy with no "improving" aspect. And stuff where there are words but they're "inane" or incidental is completely marginalized (look at the almost-utter non-presence of functional dance music, the near-absence of non-auteurist, non-socially redeeming hip hop).

Why, it’s almost enough to make one cry out: come back Popists, your work is not done! Truce! Let’s join hands and join forces! (Nu-rockism, see, involves including and assimilating all the stuff ngelected and undervalued by old-rockism, wherever the rejected stuff serves as an intensifier. Not a lot of people get that though). In terms of acts of resistance, this ballot by Tom Ewing, which reverses the old-fogey-crit syndrome of not bothering to vote for singles (too trivial) but just listing albums, seems a more effective and truer Popist intervention (even if it wasn’t a sly gesture of protest at all and he simply didn’t like or remember any albums from ‘05) than this rant by Joshua Clover about the racism structurally encoded in P&J (as if non-white people never had any truck with ideas of art or expression or long-form work or looking to posterity!), which, while right about the singer-songwriter/story-teller/statement-maker model, does itself relapse almost immediately into auteurism of the most Andrew Sarris-like sort, i.e. tracking of every last release by one Jazze Pha, just like all the other reborn beat-raptured nerds in recent years who've have hunted down every last production by Timbaland or Lenky or whoever. Not that there's anything wrong with that but, surely, that is rockism if anything is, … following the Auteur Signature through works major and minor…..

My #1 album: Worn Copy, in like a bullet at #205!