My favorite piece of music from 2020 - released this year (on room40), but actually recorded in 1978. I wrote about it here, where it places #90 in Pitchfork's annual tally of tracks of the year. (The whole Echos + album byBeatriz Ferreyra is excellent).
My favorite piece actually recorded in 2020 (or thereabouts) was this:
Unexpected after-Xmas treats from blogger-authors!
Blogger-author Matthew Ingram a.k.a. Woebot reappears with an extensive, rich, attractively illustrated post about recordings that relate to the spiritual concerns of his 2020 bookRetreat: How the Counterculture Invented Wellness. Many surprising inclusions (e.g. Wire's Pink Flag as Zen Album).
Blogger-author Phil Knight returns, after a long silence, with The Interregnum Navigation Bureau, a new blog. It's a space for exploring Phil's declinist view of history and assessing the epistemic / epistemological traumas of this Age of Disintegration - "the stresses and strains that are presently distorting and corroding what was until fairly recently a broad consensus of reality" - the endeavor no doubt feeding into his current work-in-progress. (Or should that be work-in-regress?)
A bumper package, this season - not just an LP, but a vinyl 7-inch single too... and a hardback book, and a calendar!
The LP is one of Ian Hodgson's best for a while - while I enjoyed the beat-oriented short 'n' sweet bite-size focus of the recent runny of release, I do ultimately favor the foggy marshland vibe. The Most Unusual Cat In the Village is nicely portioned out as four long tracks all in the 10-minute range, enabling you to sink into a mood. But it's not completely wraithscape ambience - there are beats, but their gait is peculiar and halting. Insistent but frustrated, like feet trying to make headway through soggy ground.
The book-of-the-album is gorgeous to fondle and peruse. Hardback but without a dust jacket, the cover images printed directly onto the cardboard, like a twilight-zone version of a school textbook... inside it's full-colour illustrated on every page... the effect hovering somewhere between a book of images with large captions and a comic book story without panels or speech bubbles.
I quizzed Ian H about the sound procedures and narrative thematics involved this time around:
"The main ‘beat’ idea was to start off with something minimal, and see how much you could stretch out of it. So rather than multiprogramming 38 different snare patterns, it was taking something like a 1960s easy listening LP sample (of about 4 seconds) and seeing if you could loop that for ages, applying different filters and effects (hellooooo reverbbbbbbbbb) without it being just an experiment. (Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room is the main inspiration here ~ I don’t listen to it often, but I think about it all the time).
"I did a few (loads) of these extended loops (beats / melody / vocal / environmental / etc) and then overlaid the different parts in various combinations.... 'Spiritwave Communication' was the beat loop I liked the best ~ I see it as a solid flan-base you can keep adding ingredients to. The more jelly / fruit / cream dolloped on, the more the base beings to sag, but the more tasty it sonically becomes. It collapses almost completely at some points, then re-solidifies at the end.
"The 4 x 10 minute LP format was a good way of structuring the music ~ long enough to allow everything room to breathe (whilst being different to the more standard 10-14 tunes you can fit onto a 40 minute LP) but short enough to prevent things from degenerating into slog-fest tedium....
"Thematically, I’ve had an idea for many years of an ARGO-styleLP cover where a pop-folk singer was also a vampire. It was (for me) a really strong visual that never went away, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, or how the music would sound.... Roll on January 2020... a medieval plague appeared.... Being a pedestrian in lockdown meant there was no public transport, and where I live it takes about 20 minutes by foot to get to somewhere interesting. So on my daily 2020 walks of up to three hours I couldn’t ever quite escape the distinctly claustrophobic feeling of being permanently walled-in. After a while it began to feel like a mundane horror-film, a bit like the 70s Amicus ‘present-day’ Portmanteaus where daft things happen to slumming character actors.
"Vampires traditionally appear during plague years so after a while it became clear 2020 was unquestionably the purrrfect time for that long-contemplated MWC 'Vampire Folk Singer on the Cover’ LP. If you had to sum the LP up quickly I’d say ‘Attempted Escape from Claustrophobic Village’ would do the trick.
"I also quite like the slightly ‘trashy’ horror aspect ~ it stops things getting overly antiseptic and neatly formatted. I was pleased with how the cover turned out ~ it’s pretty much exactly the image that was in my head all these years. Like something safe had gone wrong. Which, you could argue, for a lot of people might sum up 2020.
"There was so much stuff going around and clogging up my mind, that I thought you could even write a novel about it.
"Generally speaking, you could either do something creative this year that offered a means of escape, or reflected in someway what was going on around you. The conclusion I personally came to, was as there was no means of escape, creating something that actually reflected this ~ 'escape from claustrophobic village' ~ was the only fulfilling course of action."
"The Jass of Thun ‘festive single’ seemed like a good companion piece. The idea presented itself when I was experimenting with reverse bell loop sound that accidentally sounded like sleigh-bells, and it all snowballed (ho ho ho) from there."
Visit the gift shop at the new Moon Wiring Club website and pick up these choice items.
Release rationale #1a
The Most Unusual Cat in the Village (GEpH014LP) features 4 long-form compositions that elongate beat-loopery into a fragmented-demented dreame-language, coax easy-listening ultra-paste possessed possession collages into hallucinatory dreamscape wanderings, fuse phantom-light exotic artistic endeavours into a beyond the grave reverie and Collapse sunken-dreame-ship winebar musicke into a multi-temporal reality incantation escape wave-loop ritual.
Release rationale #1b
This delightful matt laminated A5 Hardbound book features 92 pages of full colour 200gsm MWC photo-collage-illustration with an unusual, dreamlike narrative-wandering text that could quite possibly eerily echo the claustrophobic implausibility of 1596 / 1898 / 2020.
Release rationale #2
JASS OF THUN is a jaunty-step classic MWC ritualistic concoction that deftly conjures alpine-deity seasonal activities with a spicy abundance of irresistibly-curdled melodic offerings and off-piste aural manifestations! AWARD THYSELF and (possible) future generations this FESTIVE TREAT / FESTERING THREAT
Release rationale #3
Professionally manufactured and ring-bound, this full colour A3 170gsm silk calendar will provide a hypnotic, unearthly focal-point for blank space reinvigoration and illuminate even the most subdued Billiard Room support-wall / executive crypt.
Well, it's a been a strange week of writing and a strange week of listening: Harold Budd and The Clash. Specifically, Sandinista! which is 40 years old roundabout now. Here's my piece for Tidal on the Clash's fan-perplexing triple - which must be their least-listened record (well, apart from Cut the Crappy) but which makes for a surprisingly listenable listen for streaming-era ears.
Talking about not listening to things, I once included Sandinista! in a fun little piece I did for Spin in 1991- a list of Most Underrated Albums of All Time. However I'm not honestly sure I'd heard the album, or at least all of it. I was probably going by my affection for "The Call Up" and "The Magnificent Seven" and having heard other bits round someone's house. It's not a record that can be listened to in a single sitting, especially in those days of vinyl - all that getting up and removing another disc from the sleeve, or flipping over the platter.
However, having listened to it multiple times for this piece, I concluded that I was right all along and it is underrated - found many things I liked and that seemed interestingly un-Clash-like (the worst stuff is the default Clash-mode tunes, especially the "Stay Free"-like Mick Jones numbers). When it is dire, it is oh so dire. But on balance, I'd rather listen to it - all six sides of it - than London Calling, a record I've never clicked with, despite loving "Lost in the Supermarket" and finding the title track to be compelling in its somewhat histrionic overwrought way (it's a very original sounding single, isn't it - can't think of anything else that has like that stiff, martial, slashing gait). But all the other stuff on Calling bound up with rock 'n 'roll history, the Clash embracing America... songs about Montgomery Clift.... - do me a favor. For all its flawed sprawl, Sandinista! is a much more forward-facing and outward-looking album.
My favorite track on it provides an unlikely point of contiguity with the late Harold
"Rebel Waltz' also reminds me - not just because of the title, but the spidery feel of the music - of this instrumental by The Band that closes out The Last Waltz. But where the Band tune is an abomination of twee and dinky fit to get you puking, "Rebel Waltz" is eerie and poignant.
Sprawl boiled to best bits
I described this as "a panoramic lament for boy soldiers all across the world heading off to an early grave" - actually that's more appropriate to "Straight To Hell", in this case "a lament for boy soldiers all across history who headed off to an early grave" would be more accurate (Strummer sings "All the young people down the ages /They gladly marched off to die")
Apparently Mr. Dread felt he should have been given a producer's credit for his contributions - for a period, the fifth member of the Clash effectively.
Here's my NPRtribute to the wondrous and wise music of Harold Budd.
Who lived in South Pasadena and who I ran into on the street briefly a few years ago when I was out walking with Geeta Dayal (who knows everybody). By all accounts, he was as lovely a person as his music.
(See bottom of post for choice quotes by Budd and about Budd)
I reviewed the Cocteaus collab The Moon and the Melodies in '86 - I'm not sure I had a very clear idea who Harold Budd was then. The LP was the spur for some very flowery imagery. Maybe I'll dig it out later if it's not too embarrassing....
Cheeky Harold put out the same piece twice under different names, in the same year. You can see why though, what a beauty.
Another Moon + Melodies lovely.
Cocteau Twins "Eyes Are Mosaic ft. Harold Budd", as if this was a modern rap'n'B record! YouTube is pretty darn lax as an archive - of course it should be credited to Harold Budd. Elizabeth Fraser. Robin Guthrie. Simon Raymonde.
His music lends itself to the infinitely extended remix
Facts I wish I had known so that I could have included in the piece
That he taught himself to play the piano in his late thirties, in order to be able the music he wished to compose.
Things Harold said
"Being immediately pretty is the most important component."
"I really like to find as much life as possible in the smallest amount of material. A very simple scale, a relationship of note against note, especially a sustained note; I milk everything for all it's worth."
"One of the things was I got profoundly upset and bored to death with the avant-garde music that was being practiced around the world—the Western world—at that time. It seemed self-congratulatory, and for a small cadre of snobs, and I refused to go on with it."
"I really minimalised myself out of a career"
I cannot play the piano. I can play what I play, I can play me, but I have a dyslexia when reading music. I’m not a professional musician. I hack away at it and the piano is convenient. By no means would a proper pianist consider me one.”
"I slipped back into discovering something that no-one else was doing, or was likely to do in the very near future. I divorced myself from modern music in a sense, and began to develop a language which I thought was honest to God me, and totally outside of competition with my fellow composers.”
"I admire painters very much and I secretly wish that I were doing that"
"“Brilliant blasts of colour that simply engulfed you” - on Mark Rothko, Ellesworth Kelly, and other painters he admired.
"It's curious about The Plateaux of Mirror. It came so quickly and so easily that it was kind of a phantom"
"This whole 'new age' business is very distasteful to me. I don't like being even considered in that “category and I have almost no respect for it at all... It's very lightweight and very bothersome to me. .. I don't think it has anything to do with the actual truth about the meaning of the music”
"That one frosted my balls so much. I was just enraged every time I’d walk into a Tower Records or Virgin Megastore or something like that. There I was in the new age category and I just thought ‘Jesus Christ, how can I escape from these mindless bastards?"
"When I did the White Arcades album, I went to the studio with a list of titles and that's all."
"I've never worked with musicians who know how to read music. So that's always swell for me,
"A mature artist ought to be able to make a good record from the contents of a cutlery drawer."
"The one collaboration that never occurred and never would occur would be David Sylvian, whose work I admire above all others. I just love everything he does. There is a really good reason, it’s because although one thing is good and another thing is good, putting them together doesn’t make it twice as good. In fact it could be a disaster, and I’ve never wanted that to happen."
Things people said about Harold
"A great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician" - Brian Eno.
"I would set up a sound, he would improvise to it, and occasionally I would add something: but it was mainly him performing in a sound-world I had created” - Eno, on The Plateaux of Mirror.
“Harold Budd's intention was to make what he called "eternally pretty music", and his way of composing was to write a piece of music, then take out all the notes you didn't like! - Eno
"He was really down to earth, a ham 'n' eggs kind of guy" - Cocteau Twins, via David Toop.
Recently I participated in a project called microtelevision pulled together by outernational audio imprint Artetetra, "an experiment in imaginal PSAs, digital folklore and non-narrative infotainment". Basically it's lots and lots of YouTube playlists of cool shit curated by oddball types, mostly musicians in the same online milieu that Artetetra moves within.
My contribution is an immense (and still growing) playlist of experimental animation, visual music, and weird short films titled Dreams Built By Hand - an offshoot of my blog dedicated to same, Dreams, Built By Hand.
The Artetetra project is a finite entity, so for the permanent link to the playlist, go here, where you'll also find my introductory text. But do check out the other great stuff at microtelevision.
Loosely linked to the French publication of Le Choc du Glam, here's a questionnaire for Libération magazine I did on my sonic habits and audio quirks. But you'll have to break out your Harraps French English dictionary to understand it.
(I don't know what's up with Blogger but since they changed the user-interface, I've not been able to embed things from Bandcamp Soundcloud et al. So pardon me for just linking)
A new release from Lo Five - TONIC - reminds me that I most remissly omitted to mention here his July releaseThe Art of Living. Both that and the new batch are chips off the same lustrous-grey block as Geography of the Abyss, which became one of my favorite releases of 2019, and one I've returned to regularly since. Its rain-streaking-down-the-windowpane feel seems to fit this glum, withdrawn year, offering solace and calm. This year's releases build on this special sound Neil Grant has found, which pulls off the same trick as prime Ekoplekz in so far as you sense the coordinates (in Lo Five's case, BoC, Bush of Ghosts etc) but the mood and palette is distinctive - belongs to him alone.
'The Art of Living' is a collection of music I made between the summer of 2019 up to the month of release.
Without going into detail this has been an intense period of personal turmoil due to multiple family health crises and bereavements, plus of course the halting consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
During this period I have found comfort and perspective in the writings of the Stoic Philosophers, which has inevitably influenced the sounds. Hopefully these philosophies and sounds can offer some comfort to you too.
Stay safe X
Presenting TONIC: a collection of jams and experiments with no real cohesion or grand unifying concept.
These tracks were, for the most part, recorded straight out of the mixer to a stereo recorder. I did this so I could concentrate on the more enjoyable, spontaneous, creative side of making music, but it also left me in a situation where I couldn't do much to polish them up afterwards - not that I particularly wanted to anyway.
I wasn't sure what to do with these tracks and I wanted to draw a line under them, mainly so i could stop thinking about what to do with them and just get on with my life.
So for what it's worth, here it is - some music I made that soundtracked drizzly lockdown walks on a desolate Wirral beach. Maybe they can accompany your lockdown excursions too. Take care x
Twin town exchange student Mart Avi has a new album of Estonian / Esperanto never-neverpop out in a few weeks time, Vega Never Sets, on Porridge Bullet - trailed by the gorgeous single "Feather". (You might remember his single from earlier in the year, "Soul Reaver")
Like a sheet of paper folded into a cylinder holds up to dozens of kilograms, and animated characters defy gravity, ‘Feather’ presents its physique in a gentle manner.
Accompanying the main track are two alternative versions with warped phasing as well as “an ocular version” – that is, a video made using the game creation system ‘Dreams’ on PlayStation 4. Created by Avi and Ivar Murd, the visual saturates the single’s elusive charge with surrealist horizons, serene vistas, and encounters with Jungian dream figures.
"Stock Fantasy Zone is a new album by Babau dedicated to the unearthly delights of unconscious reticular motion, wacky 2D shredding and daily side quests. Directly from inside the Stack, finally imagine a zone where all activities are possible but purposeless, all primary objectives are achieved without even moving and the game-logic has finally disappeared leaving back a virtual fauna of forsaken babbling Npc’s and uncharted, yet to be tested stockpiles of maps and levels.
Lofty low poly structures, tentacular mickey-mousing gesticulations, already obsolete sonic ontologies and the unsung age of Dreamcast workfantasy frenzy. All and all, just another day spent testing the margins and edges of the simulation without leaving your Sofa. Don’t wait! Enter the Stock Fantasy Zone!"
A new Artetetra label compilation, Exotic ésotérique Vol.3, is due in December, and there's a beyond-music project being launched involving many contributors, myself among them.
The only proper (living - there's one RIP) mate in this round-up - the rest are more like internet acquaintances - Michaelangelo Matos has a new book: a long-fermented and richly researched appreciation of the year 1984. Like similar year-focused tomes by other, older writers (Jon Savage's 1966, David Hepworth's 1971), pop's annus mirabilis just so happens to coincide with the author's youthful peak point in terms of excitement-capacity and impressionability / ability to be impressed. (So if I was to do one, the title would be 1979, or 1981 - when I was sixteen and eighteen respectively... but then again I was also blessed improbably with a second adolescence at the cusp of late twenties into early thirties, a proper one in which I actually went out and had wild fun rather than stayed in reading - so 1992, or 1993, or 1994, would also be strong contenders). But back to Matos's wonder year.. well of course, from the Brit perspective, '84 was the year the bloom went right off New Pop, although we did have the whole Frankie commotion... but it was definitely slipping into the Bad MusicEra... but from a young American's perspective it must have indeed been a supremely exciting year, especially on the MTV and mainstream radio front, with the Brit invaders still coming through but starting to get out-done by Americans who'd cottoned on to the power of video (Prince, ZZ Top, Springsteen, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, M. Jackson et al). But as Matos amply demonstrates, there was a whole lot more going on. Can't Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop's Blockbuster Year is out in a couple of weeks.
Everybody knows the hits of 1984 - pop music's greatest year. From "Thriller" to "Purple Rain," "Hello" to "Against All Odds," "What's Love Got to Do with It" to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," these iconic songs continue to dominate advertising, karaoke nights, and the soundtracks for film classics (Boogie Nights) and TV hits (Stranger Things). But the story of that thrilling, turbulent time, an era when Top 40 radio was both the leading edge of popular culture and a moral battleground, has never been told with the full detail it deserves - until now. Can't Slow Down is the definitive portrait of the exploding world of mid-eighties pop and the time it defined, from Cold War anxiety to the home-computer revolution. Big acts like Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (Purple Rain), Madonna (Like a Virgin), Bruce Springsteen (Born in the U.S.A.), and George Michael (Wham!'s Make It Big) rubbed shoulders with the stars of the fermenting scenes of hip-hop, indie rock, and club music. Rigorously researched, mapping the entire terrain of American pop, with crucial side trips to the UK and Jamaica, from the biz to the stars to the upstarts and beyond, Can't Slow Down is a vivid journey to the very moment when pop was remaking itself, and the culture at large - one hit at a time.
update 11/24/2020 - I forgot, there's another book about 1984 as pop wonderyear coming out, at almost the same time bizarrely - but this one is from the UK perspective: David Elliott's 1984: British Pop's Dividing Year. Read Elliott's piece on it at The Quietus. Information about the book and its scope here.
Ten Cities tells a transnational tale of club culture across six decades, 1960-2020, focusing on five European and five African cities: Lagos, Luanda, Berlin, Bristol, Johannesburg, Kiyv, Nairobi, Lisbon, Naples, and Cairo. Edited by Johannes Hossfeld, Joyce Nyairo and Florian Sievers and published by the art book imprint Spector Books, it weaves together contributions from 20 writers and 19 photographers from those ten cities.
In Africa as well as in Europe, club cultures create free spaces that can function as nocturnal laboratories for societies. Nightclubs are hubs in a complex global network – and at the same time they are manifestations of very local and specific practices. This book tells the story of club music and club cultures from 1960 to the present in ten cities in Africa and Europe: Nairobi, Cairo, Kyiv, Johannesburg, Berlin,Naples, Luanda, Lagos, Bristol, Lisbon. It expands the focus beyond the usual North Atlantic narrative of centres and periphery and instead aims at a coeval narrative. In 21 essays, playlists and photo sequences the book draws intimate portraits of these cities’ subcultures, their transnational flows, as well as the societies from which they evolve and which they, in turn, influence. An urban and political rhythm-analysis from the viewpoint of sound and night.
More information about Ten Citieshere at the Spector Books website.
I don't know if this is the very first book wholly dedicated to hauntology (there's been a couple of tomesfrom A Year in the Country that cover that terrain where it particularly overlaps with the pastoral horror / rural uncanny). But Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past is a notably thorough and probing survey of the field from the marvelously monikered Merlin Coverley (and that's his birthname, not an assumed alias), whose prior works include the adjacently-themed Psychogeography and Occult London. Mark Fisher comes up rather often (and yours truly makes the odd appearance too) along with expected suspects like Derrida and M.R. James.
"Ghosts and spectres, the eerie and the occult. Why is contemporary culture so preoccupied by the supernatural, so captivated by the revenants of an earlier age, so haunted? The concept of Hauntology has evolved since first emerging in the 1990s, and has now entered the cultural mainstream as a shorthand for our new-found obsession with the recent past. But where does this term come from and what exactly does it mean? This book seeks to answer these questions by examining the history of our fascination with the uncanny from the golden age of the Victorian ghost story to the present day... Moving between the literary and the theoretical, the visual and the political, Hauntology explores our nostalgia for the cultural artefacts of a past from which we seem unable to break free."
The front cover photograph of long shadows gave me a little haunty shiver as it recalled "Ghosts of NYC": a family self-portrait we took in the golden hour of the day before we left Manhattan and moved to Los Angeles, about ten and a half years ago now.
Talking of Mark Fisher (and of ghosts of my life), I've been remiss in not mentioning here a new Repeater collection, edited and introduced by Matt Colquhoun aka xenogothic (whose own contribution to Fisher Studies, Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy, and Mark Fisher nestles at the top of the pile of books awaiting my attention, which has been at its most attenuated and eroded this past year). This new Fishertome, available now in digital form but you'll have wait until January for the analogue object itself, collates Mark's lectures from his final year of teaching at Goldsmiths. I assumed that meant written or mostly-written texts that he delivered, but the book consists of transcripts of the actual classes themselves and rather movingly captures the back-and-forth between Mark and his students.
Beginning with that most fundamental of questions — “Do we really want what we say we want?” — Fisher explores the relationship between desire and capitalism, and wonders what new forms of desire we might still excavate from the past, present, and future. From the emergence and failure of the counterculture in the 1970s to the continued development of his left-accelerationist line of thinking, this volume charts a tragically interrupted course for thinking about the raising of a new kind of consciousness, and the cultural and political implications of doing so. For Fisher, this process of consciousness raising was always, fundamentally, psychedelic — just not in the way that we might think…
Talking of remissness (and obliquely acid communism) I have been culpably remiss in not earlier bigging up this tome from Joe Banks about Hawkwind and the UK Underground, an era that I am most fascinated by and indeed may one day take a pass at. This makes a good case for Hawkwind as a revolutionary band and a precursor to both punk and rave, or perhaps more accurately, a bridge between the original counterculture and these later assaults on commonsensical reality. For a taste of Banks's approach, check out his Guardian feature and this musical tour of reasons why Hawkwind musically matter for The Quietus.
Election Eve anxiety was momentarily alleviated last Monday when I got to moderate a really fun discussion about rave culture's visual aesthetics and its ongoing legacy in graphics, fashion, music and pop culture. Involving Jeremy Deller, Martine Rose, and Trevor Jackson, the conversation - convened by The Design Museum as part of its current exhibition Electronic: From Kraftwerk to the Chemical Brothers -goes out live on Thursday, November 12th, at 7pm UK time. Information about tickets can be found here.
from The Design Museum's announcement for The Spirit of Rave:
Rave was a defining counterculture movement in Britain. Responding to the social, political and economic conditions of the 1980s and 90s, it joyfully disregarded design convention from cut-n-paste techniques to neon colours and brash imagery.
Join artist Jeremy Deller, fashion designer Martine Rose and graphic designer / deejay / producer Trevor Jackson and music author Simon Reynolds for a talk exploring the legacy 90’s British rave culture has left in art and design today.
Please note that this event includes strong language and references to drug culture.
Tried to put down some thoughts on the events of the past week, but I don't really have thoughts, just feelings. Relief, joy, hope, elevation... a sensation of lightness, the lifting off and away of an immense heavy shadow. All the things everyone else is feeling. Well, except for the people who are feeling the opposite - and who are still with us, still alarmingly numerous, still implacably lost. But let's not dwell on that right now... let's stay in the glow as long as we can.
What songs are large enough for this moment? This is no time for subtle or emotionally complex or artfully ambivalent; only simple, direct, uplifting will do.
Here's my 4Columnsreview of theSuper Deluxe Edition of Sign O' The Timesand ever-so-slightly ambivalent paean to the uncontrollable copiousness of Prince.
Listening to the Super Deluxe Sign
in a single sitting did remind me of the episode of Louie where
now-disgraced Louis C.K. and an equally greedy comedian buddy do a “Bang
Bang”: eat two slap-up meals in quick succession at different restaurants. As
gross and health-endangering as this was, at least the sad-sack duo gorged on
different cuisines. Listening to the new supersized Sign
all the way through is like eating at the best Italian restaurant in town (the
original Sign, which takes up the first two discs) and then immediately
repairing to a mediocre Italian restaurant for rounds two, three, four… Not only has the edge been taken off your
appetite, but you have the fresh memory of something superior and delicious with
which to compare.
Too-muchness is Prince's essence. He seemed afflicted with a sort of erotomania of sound. Just couldn't stop playing - with himself (literally, in the studio - playing nearly all the instruments, multitracking his own voice), with others. The
compulsive, almost involuntary creativity caused him to record while on tour, both before the concert using a mobile studio truck or after the gig at a local
Where did he get the energy from? Especially as these concerts were bloody long. In August 1988, I saw Prince twice in a single night: first
at Wembley Arena, where he and his band blazed through 41 songs over the course
of a couple of hours (there were three sets of encores!), and then again at a smaller venue a couple of hours later, where the Purple One’s idea
of post-show relaxation was to play another lengthy concert to a more
intimate audience.Don’t stop ‘till you get enough, as Michael
Jackson - the only Black American artist
of the Eighties to eclipse Prince in popular impact – put it. But also "enough" is as a good as a feast, as the old maxim goes –once you’re replete, even the sight of a banquet brings
Talking of maxims... Prince's music turns around the contrast of maximalism and minimalism. Across whole albums, but also within individual tracks sometimes.
I always dug the maximalist tendencies, and certainly "approved" of the excess, then and now. Harped on about it at a time (late Eighties) when me and my Melody Make crew were calling for an unpunking of the discourse... when we were rejecting the truism "less is more" and proposing that more might actually be MORE. (The sheer obesity of the Buttholes sound - spare tyres of sound flopping free from the girdle of postpunk inhibition and restraint)
But in practice the minimal Prince holds me more as a listener.
The nubile perfection of Dirty Mind, a sound that is barely there (those translucent keyboards), all suggestion and implication. His only truly flawless statement, as an album?
"Kiss", worn out by over-exposure, but so fleet and fresh to hear after the baroque folly Around the World In A Day
(Although the sublime loping simplicity of "Pop Life" ...)
And on Sign itself, the tracks that are faraway my faves are the most mechanistic and monolithic - "Hot Thing", "It."
Well, there's also "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" - ripe, humid, detuned.
And "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
"I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man" is a particularly striking example of the minimal / maximal tension.
The first half is this perfect pearl of power pop.
But then it goes off into a completely different direction / aesthetic universe, that barely seems connected to the first part - more to do with Santana than the Bangles. And which I like even more...
That unexpected detour / split-song structure always reminded me of what happens in the Stones's "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" - the shift from taut raunch to jazzy meander
The bluesy funk of "Sign O' The Times" the title track / lead single reminds me a tiny bit of the biting blues-funk and bitter “hard times” lyrics of Johnny Guitar Watson songs like
“Ain’t That A Bitch” and "A Real Mutha For Ya" - updated with a late Eighties drum machine feel.
This is my favorite thing on the Supersize Deluxe and it turns very much around the minimal-maximal contrast - stark, almost Mantronix like drum machine versus florid multi-tracked vocals
At one minute long, more a splinter than a song, “Colors” is an
exquisite fragment of jazzed guitar chords that could be off an ECM album by Bill
Frisell or John Abercrombie.
On the disc B-sides and extended mixes of singles off the original dubble, I enjoyed “La, La, La,
He, He, Hee,” which mimics George Clinton’s cartoon heterosex allegory in “Atomic Dog” of canines chasing felines, and pivots around an
astonishingly funky vocal lick like a hound yowling (plus wonderfully
And there's other delights but boy do you have to pick through a lot of lesser material
There isn’t a neat parallel with other art forms, because
pop albums rarely have a narrative structure, but let’s imagine the ‘super
deluxe edition" template applied to film. You might dream of seeing the original
director’s edit of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons before the studio
butchered it (and lost forever the offcuts). But sensibly you might flinch at a 9-hour version of Citizen Kane.
In this case, Sign doesn’t
restore what Prince originally intended, it’s more like a series of extensions
to a house that partially obscure the original construction without actually rebuilding
it. The pristine thing is still in there but there’s all this stuff in the way
In one sense, the Deluxe
Edition is beautifully curated – the sound is fabulous, the packaging exquisite,
right down to the peace symbol stencil on the cardboard box that arrives at
your front door. Yet in another sense, it’s a feat of anti-curation that
overrides the original curation of the artist (and the record company, who held in check Prince's own more-IS-more impulses).
ways, it would have been more intriguing to reconstruct the original planned
but abandoned albums – Dream Factory, Camille and Crystal Ball – that
preceded Sign and supplied much of its originally released content. Like all those music nerd bloggers out there who create counterfactual albums - sometimes records that were planned and put on the schedule but withdrawn, or that were started but abandoned, and in other cases, were never conceived by the artist but fit alternate-history timelines (Beatles albums if they didn't split in 1970 but pooled songs from what in our world went into the solo albums).
Kieran Press-Reynolds, a.k.a the other genre taxonomist living under this roof, has won the award for Best Work of Music Journalism: Text-English at the Reeperbahn Festival, for his piece on "How Tik Tok Is Taking the Tunes Out of Pop." Kieran saw off competition from the illustrious likes of Laura Snapes, Roxanne Gay, Ed Gillett, and my friends Tariq Goddard and Carl Neville. Check out the list of winners here and K's acceptance speech video here!
In olden times, children carried on the family business - bakers beget bakers. Even today it's still quite common that a kid will go into the same or similar profession as the parents - hence multiple generations of actors, musicians, doctors, teachers - or soldiers, builders, farmers, whatever. Still, it has taken me quite by surprise that my son has grown up to be a genre taxonomist - this is not stuff that we sat discussing around the dinner table, believe you me. He's yet to coin a genre name, but he's still only twenty and that dastardly streak of DNA - neologine - will doubtless manifest itself soon enough.
Here is Kieran Press-Reynolds's latest feature, for Pigeons & Planes / Complex - titled "Gorgeous Glitches and Nightcored Melodies: The New Generation of SoundCloud Music is Here".
Here's my son Kieran Press-Reynolds with a fascinating deep dive into the world of virtual raves, virtual clubbing, and virtual fashion (and it's that last one that got me feeling like a befuddled fuddy-duddy - "how's that work then?!?", "what will these youngsters think of next?!" etc) for Highsnobiety.