Thursday, February 28, 2019

double sorrow

Here is my NPR Music tribute to the late great Mark Hollis of Talk Talk.

In a further blow to late-Eighties Melody Maker headz, the sad news has come through that Steve Jameson, the mighty bassist in World Domination Entreprises, has also died. 

Here are some things I wrote back in the day about World Dom - one of the supremely exciting live experiences of their time.

Two different directions, two different post-postpunk outcomes - but more in common than immediately meets the ear.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

you know the score

I really enjoyed contributing to the Pitchfork lists of The 50 Best Movie Scores of All Time and  The 50 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time. The original plan was for a single unified list but there were so many suggestions from the electorate that it got split into two, although the distinction between score and soundtrack can get blurry with some films having a mixture of all-new and preexisting musical elements.

For Scores, I wrote about Blade Runner, Walkabout, and Solaris.

For Soundtracks, I wrote about Performance and McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

In these lists, there are lots of films with great scores and soundtracks I'd forgotten about, and  many that I didn't know at all -  loads here to investigate and read about.

Quite a few of the ones I voted for didn't make the cut - below are some faves that did not get ratified by the electorate.

BEDAZZLED – Dudley Moore
As well as starring as the hapless Stanley Moon, who sells his soul to the devil for seven wishes, Dudley Moore -  being a jazz pianist, songwriter and arranger of considerable talent -  wrote the score to this Sixties Brit caper, variations on a theme that are rendered by turns insouciant, idyllic, poignant, and snazzy. There’s also a pair of brilliant Sixties pop parodies: “Love Me” (performed by Moore with moist passion) and “Bedazzled”, on which Peter Cook deadpans his disdain and indifference to all amorous advances - ‘you fill me with INERTIA”.

RIP Stanley Donen, the director.

FORBIDDEN PLANET – Louis and Bebe Barron
For one of the superior science fiction movies of the 1950s, this husband and wife team created the first entirely electronic score in movie history: an abstract, virtually atonal sequence of drones, shrieks, groans and pulsations that seem to reverberate from the coldest, blackest recesses of deep space. But because the Barrons were credited ambiguously with "electronic tonalities", they were cheated of a chance to contend for an Oscar for Best Soundtrack.

A sci-fi thriller about scientists investigating a lethal super-virus of extraterrestrial origin in an isolated white-walled underground laboratory gets an appropriately chilly and sterile-sounding score from jazzer turned instrument-inventor. Melle used found industrial sounds like jet propulsion lab blasts and roars and  transformed them by tape-editing. 

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK  - John Carpenter
One of the director/composer's best, ranging from bloodcurdling, borderline-abstract sequences like "The Crazies Come Out" to more melodic synth-pulse propelled tunes like "Orientation #2," which glides along like an empty monorail car coldly surveying the ravaged city below.

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS – Stu Philips & Bob Stone, et al

Russ Meyer’s mischievously over-the-top camp satire of the rock biz and Los Angeles decadence gets an equally ersatz superb set of songs. Performed in the movie by the fictitious all-girl group The Carrie Nations, the vocals actually came from the off-screen session singer Lynn Carey, a blue-eyed soul powerhouse. There’s also contributions by “real” psych pop group Strawberry Alarm Clock and a kitschy theme song by The Sandpipers,

LOGAN’S RUN – Jerry Goldsmith
Partly orchestral, partly synth, the veteran movie composer’s O/S/T is particularly stunning on the icy electronica of “Flameout” and “Fatal Games” and the pulsating pornodelia of  "Love Shop," which scores a sequence in which the hero and heroine's escape through a strobe-blitzed brothel of the future.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY – Francis Monkman
Formerly of prog rock group Curved Air, Monkman whips together an unexpectedly jazzy and funky OST for this Brit gangland thriller – at its most strutting and flamboyant on the main theme, which bookends the movie and accompanies the abrupt downfall of Bob Hoskins’s East London mobster to make for one of cinema’s most exhilarating outro sequences.

THX 1138  - OST by Lalo Schifrin; “sound montages” by Walter Murch
Schifrin’s orchestral score for George Lucas’s dystopian movie is somber and impressive in its own right. But what really makes THX such a compellingly total audio-visual experience are Murch’s sound design, effects and underscores: sourceless shudders and judders, abject squelches, android death-rattles, shearing-metal groans, and, not least,  the electronic garbling and distortion applied to the voices of the bureaucrats who surveil every citizen constantly.

Here's some other faves that did not get the nod.

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Rosemary’s Baby
Liquid Sky
Dark Star
Gregory’s Girl
The Draughtsman's Contract
The Parallax View

And these are ones I voted for that did get ratified 

Under the Skin
Dazed and Confused
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Taxi Driver
2001, A Space Odyssey
The Wicker Man
Midnight Cowboy

Friday, February 08, 2019


Here's my 4Columns  piece about Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990, a new compilation on Light in the Attic put together by Spencer Doran - the guy who did those legendary Fairlights, Mallets and Bamboo mixes some years agoCheck out Kankyō Ongaku here

Update: Here's a Guardian interview with Doran about the project

Doran is one half of the Portland-based group Visible Cloaks, whose music takes it bearings in large part from that  Fourth World Japan moment of the '80s. Their latest project goes one step further and directly collaborates with a pair of Japanese veterans of the era - Yoshio Ojima and Satsuki Shibano. Released on April 5, 'serenitatem', is Vol. 15 in FRKWYS - RVNG Intl.’s series of inter-generational collaborations. 

Release rationale: 
"serenitatem burns away the easy cynicism of the day, presenting itself as the kind of delocalized work of art the internet promised us decades ago — a synthesis of artistic visions, technological sophistication, futurist ambition, and, occasionally, ancient polyphony. Listening to it can feel a bit like tuning in to a 21st Century version of St. Giga: It’s a place where the future still grows."

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

book news

Rip It Up and Start Again has been repackaged in a new virulently glowing pink edition as part of the series Faber Social Greatest Hits, alongside books by Viv Albertine, Barney Hoskyns,  Nick Kent, Rob Young, and Kim Gordon. 

The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion & Rock 'n' Roll is coming out in a German translation on Ventil Verlag in the early summer of 2019.  It contains a new foreword that reframes the book in the light of the current anti-feminist backlash, a bonus section of pieces by me and Joy Press on various female artists from the last 25 years since the book was first written, and the reincorporation of  a chapter cut out of the original text for space reasons that looks at rock criticism and its gender-political biases. 

That revamped and expanded version of The Sex Revolts is also coming out in a French translation at some point in 2020 through the publisher La Découverte

Finally, a collection of my electronic music writings is being published in Italian by minimum fax. Titled Futuromania, its contents range from rave to ragga, synthpop to musique concrete, EBM to trapedelia. Out sometime in 2020.