Friday, January 31, 2020

Return of Blogs

New blog of note #1 - The Priapean Logs. Started by Dissensus contributor Sadmanbarty, a young fellow with a bulging sackload of ideas about 21st Century music.  (And earlier music too - a drummer by trade, he knows the nuts-and-bolts intricacies of rhythm). Check out these posts on the Haze as an analogue-era production aesthetic now replaced by something sharper and frostier, and on Wu Tang Clan's Forever.

New(-ish) blog of note #2 - Aloysius. Started by Dissensus contributor Mvuent, from Minneapolis. Check out this post on "reaching the far lands as an aesthetic goal" for experimental music. Never having played Minecraft and only glimpsed it from a distance, the concept of "the far lands" goes over my head. But my son - who practically lived inside the game for a few years in his mid-teens - says it's spot on.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

dream a garden

I had a lot of fun with the researching- which among other things involved spending time in three different LA gardens - and writing of this survey-of-the-2010s feature on Ambient and New Age for Resident Advisor. It's part of a swathe of looking-back-at-the-past-decade coverage they're doing this week.

Big up to the interviewees: Spencer Doran (Visible Cloaks / Kankyō Ongaku), India Jordan (New Atlantis), Matthewdavid (Leaving Records), William Thomas (Sounds of the Dawn), and Droid (No Place Like Drone / Dissensus).

One thing I didn't get to explore is the ambient quality of certain genres that on the face of it would seem to be about as politically and philosophically distant from ambient / new age values as imaginable. Such as  trap. Lyrically it's all triumphalism and machismo - the opposite of ego-melting surrender and androgny. But the production drapes glistening wooze over the hard beats-and-bass. Wistful melody-riffs loop endlessly in a way that recalls the more idyllic kinds of Nineties IDM. 

In many ways, trap is one of the last bastions of minimalism on the radio. Achieving its effects through accumulative sameness, trap - like UK drill - is designed for immersive and inattentive listening: it’s purpose-built to slip back into being background music, the soundtrack to driving or chilling. 

You could call it Ambien Music, after the sedative-hypnotic prescription drug, given the way that trap MCs so frequently reference pain-killing, anxiety-deadening drugs like Percocet and Xanax.  The result is the characteristic affect of this music: glazed, numb, insulated, oddly passive.  Auto-Tune etherializes rappers like Quavo, Rich the Kid, Playboi Carti (with his famous “baby” voice) and Young Thug to the point where they sometimes seem barely-there - angelic boy-men whose vocal texture contradicts the overt meaning of the text.  

So pretty, so hypnotic, so chill - the chiming glistening glide of the backing track to "Motorsport" sounds like nothing so much as systems-music. Except that it rolls out at a  calm steady pace, almost screwed tempo, rather than the typically highly-strung, frantic, fidgety feel of a Michael Nyman or Philip Glass movie score.  

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Youtube clips I played at the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, and the ones I didn't get to play as time got tight. Plus some images.



(Full lecture text to appear here shortly)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

tune for Terry

spam-free rmx

another Neil bites the dust

a Rand-y sod maybe, but Peart's lyrics for "Spirit of Radio" make for one of the greatest music-about-music songs ever

Here's another and all

Wot a drummer (and drum kit!!)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture - Friday 17th January - Goldsmiths, London

Next Friday I will be in London to deliver the third annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture at Goldsmiths.

It's at 6 pm at the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre - and it's free, open to the public, with no booking required.

If you can't make it down, there's a livestream

Here's a foretaste:

Bridging the Chasm: the Promise of Music

In this third annual Mark Fisher memorial lecture, Simon Reynolds looks at the centrality of music – specifically popular music - in the K-punk vision. Talking about the formative postpunk era that lastingly shaped his outlook and his expectations for pop, Fisher once declared: “Music wasn’t only about music.” Through the prism of Fisher’s thinking as it evolved over two decades, Reynolds explores changing ideas about the relationship between pop and politics: the power that music has held out for successive generations, and the challenge of activating music’s promise in the world beyond.

Later that night there is a post-lecture party at Goldsmiths Student Union, with bands and DJs - including Mark Leckey playing some tunes. Full line-up and event info at Xenogothic.


Wednesday, January 08, 2020

the aural trawl recalled

Last year's aural trawl produced a meagre haul of bliss, but here, by popular request, are my faves of 2019 (+ one non-fave )


Billie Eilish,  “Bad Guy”
Billie Eilish, “Bury A Friend”
Dababy, “Suge (Yea Yea)”
Saweetie, "My Type"
Burna Boy feat. Future, "Show & Tell"
Holly Herndon, "Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt"
Thaiboy Digital feat. Ecco2K, "Baby"
Tame Impala, "It Might Be Time"
Offset, "Tats On My Face"
Selena Gomez, "Lose You To Love Me"
Lana Del Rey, "Doin' Time"
Doja Cat, "Juicy"


Baron Mordant, Mark of the Mould
Vanishing Twin, The Age of Immunology
The Caretaker, Everywhere At The End of Time
Moon Wiring Club, Cavity Slabs
Ana Roxanne,  ~~~
Solange, When I Get Home
Meitei, Komachi
Oneohtrix Point Never, Uncut Gems OST

frozen dinners

Various, Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
Ernest Hood,  Neighborhoods
Various, All the Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks, Rock’N’Glam (And a Flavour of Bubblegum)
Insides, Euphoria
Moon Wiring Club, Somewhere A Fox Is Getting Married (Vulpine Remix)
Gong, Love From the Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973-75
Various, Strain, Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One


If frozen dinners and fresh-made meals were lumped together, Kankyō Ongaku and Neighborhoods would be equal-place  #1.

The miserly number of meals is no surprise really, as the lack of appetite on my part in recent years for Masterpieces this year verged nearer and nearer outright aversion - and Masterpieces seem to be preponderantly what's on the menu these days.

What is surprising and disheartening is the paucity of bite-size bliss. The radio has been my friend all decade but the things that brought delight in recent years - trap / AutoTune rap'n'B / mumble, mainly - seemed to run dry in 2019. Or perhaps I just overdosed on that sound.

Apart from Billie, hardly anything on Top 40 jumped out at me (Billie jumped out by not jumping out, as I noted here).

Some of the tracks above are like dwindling pleasure-dribbles eked out from a sound-paradigm that's run its course...  or a tendency reaching a kind of baroque finale (e.g. the ultra-precious vowel-broke braided-breath style of singing, with "Lose You To Love Me").

Talking of the Zone of Fruitless Intensification

Nearly forgot - the Unfave!

Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride

After several attempts that only got a little way in before I had to bail, finally, during a long journey, I made another kind of lengthy arduous trek: listening to the entirety of the fourth Vampire album. Eucch - everything that was enjoyably precious and dainty in the first two albums has now definitively become prissy and over-ornamented. What is the sound Koenig & kru are aiming for here - Lindsey Buckingham '80s solo album meets Dave Matthews Band with a bit of Wilco thrown in? And did I mention that it's long? The debut (which still sounds so fleet and fresh) clocked in at under 35 minutes, a canny return to the manageable proportions of the classic LP; Contra was similarly short n' sweet and left you wanting more.  But FotB, in its middle-aged spread, leaves you wanting less. Or in my case, wanting none.

Monday, January 06, 2020

a good Innes

"and dip my brain in joy"

I doubt that there's been a month passed since I first heard that song in 1979, that I haven't at least once broken out spontaneously into the chorus....

RIP Neil Innes

Being a Python fiend (starting in my pre-teens, mind blown by the repeats of the original series, initially grabbed by the Gilliam cut-out animations) I devoured the books, the records, the films .... and I also followed the squad's every last tangent...  Bert Fegg's Nasty Book for Boys and Girls, Ripping Yarns... and Rutland Weekend Television, Eric Idle's spin-off. Which must be where I first encountered Innes. Although he was also memorably a minstrel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and is sometimes described as "the seventh Python".

He's also in the let's-do-Grail-again Gilliam feature Jabberwocky.

Both Rutland Weekend Television and Neil's own show The Innes Book of Records were variable affairs - which we fiends watched hopefully for flickers of the full Monty madness.  Book of Records was a bit too mild and droll, its parody targets rather easy and obvious.

Still there was a rock parodic bent that pulsed promisingly in both series...

... and that would culminate in Innes's towering achievement:

Which I had the opportunity to write about a few years ago as part of a Pitchfork piece I did on  the history of pop parody:

THE RUTLES, All You Need Is Cash (1978)

Running a very close second to This Is Spinal Tap for the prize of all-time funniest movie-length music parody, All You Need Is Cash started as the spin-off of a spin-off. After Monty Python's Flying Circus, Eric Idle  made the not-quite-as-hilarious British series Rutland Weekend Television (the name -  a play on the commercial-television regional franchise London Weekend Television - comes from the smallest county in England, Rutland, which is only 18 miles by 17 miles), for which ex-Bonzo Neil Innes contributed musical sketches. One of these was The Rutles’s “I Must Be In Love,” filmed in the black-and-white caper style of A Hard Day’s Night.  Something was in the mid-Seventies air: Fab Four nostalgia erupted with the Broadway smash musical Beatlemania and the all-star calamity Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. When Idle hosted Saturday Night Live for a period, he dug out the “I Must Be In Love” clip;  the huge viewer response persuaded Lorne Michaels to finance a prime-time NBC special. Most likely the very first rock mockumentary,  All You Need Is Cash tells the story of  the Pre-Fab Four -  Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry -  and their manager Leggy Mountbatten (who hated their music but liked their tight trousers, which “left nothing to the imagination”).  Embarking on the project, Innes decided not to listen to the original records but rely on his memories, expertly simulating the guitar tones, chordings, and vocal traits of the Beatles at every stage of their career. He also formed a proper group to play the songs so that there was a real “vibe” to the music. All You Need Is Cash works simultaneously as a wistful wallow in nostalgia, a satire of Sixties folly, and a enjoyable showcase of sheer musical craftsmanship. In addition to roles for SNL cast regulars like Ackroyd, Murray, and Belushi, there weres delicious cameos for real-world rockers like Mick Jagger (“we were the South’s answer to the Rutles”) and Paul Simon.   Out of many wonderful scenes, perhaps the best is the New Orleans sequence: the documentary maker goes in search of the black ‘n’ bluesy roots of the British Invasion Sound, only for Blind Lemon Pie to tell him that he learned everything from the Rutles.  The ex-Beatles loved it, especially George Harrison, who said that "the Rutles sort of liberated me from the Beatles in a way. It was the only one I saw of those Beatles television shows...  It was actually the best, funniest and most scathing. But at the same time, it was done with the most love." 

Earlier in the Pitchfork Parody piece, I also wrote about Innes's first brush with renown as the music-man in The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band:

THE BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND, “The Intro and the Outro” 1967, 

Although Spike Jones and his City Slickers took the mickey out of American pop culture of the 1940s and ‘50s with the Musical Depreciation Revue, the first rock-era outfit wholly dedicated to parody was The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Centered around singer/trumpeter Vivian Stanshall and singer/music-man Neil Innes, the Bonzos came out of the same Anglo-Surrealist comedy sensibility that produced Monty Python; indeed they were resident band on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a kids TV show that involved future Pythons Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones.  As with Python, their absurdist nonsense was a cathartic protest against the repressions of English middle-class life.  Stanshall talked disparagingly about “Normals”, suburban drones trapped in inane routine: it’s they who were the “really dreadful freaks”, not bohemian eccentrics like himself.  Parody, then, was for the Bonzos the aesthetic counterpart to their rejection of common sense reality. Probably their most famous skit is “The Intro and the Outro,” a smarmy-voiced “introducing the band” routine with each player allowed a brief flourish in the spotlight: the patter rapidly extends beyond the actual group to public and historical figures like Charles De Gaulle (on Gallic accordion, of course) and Adolf Hitler (“looking very relaxed... on vibes... nice”). 

Elsewhere in the Bonzo discography, there’s a spoof on Elvis in country ballad mode (“Canyons of Your Mind”), a merciless skewering of late Sixties minstrelsy (“Can Blue Men Sing the Whites”), a Wilson Pickett take-off (“Trouser Press”), and a teen-pop parody that tells the unsavory truth about adolescence (“King of Scurf”). But the Bonzos don’t spare the freaks, either -  even though they were considered counter-culture fellow-travelers -  sending  up psychedelia on “We Are Normal”.  As with so many parodists, the Bonzos’s secret shame – or at least fatal weakness – is their deep attachment to the clichés and conventions they mock: they poke and pick away at them, but never quite transcend.

In the waning days of buying used vinyl, several years ago I picked up an LP by a group I'd never heard of before (always love it, or used to love it, when that happens). Like the rest of that twilight trawl, the record languishes unplayed to this day:

I picked it up because it was on Island and Neil Innes was in the band - a sort of
comedy/rock-interface supergroup incorporating members of The Scaffold, the Bonzos, and The Liverpool Scene. GRIMMS is an acronym of the founding members's surnames

another bit from the BBC 1975 special The Camera and The Song

As well as the poets and parodists, some serious proggers and folk-rockers played with the band, either joining permanently or  guesting for concerts. Members of King Crimson and Plainsong, Timebox  and Steeleye Span, Colosseum and Patto.

There is something to be written about the intertwining of rock and comedy in Britain - parallel currents of the liberation energy that broke through in the first couple of decades post-War, streams of irreverence and insubordination that criss-crossed and converged at many points *.

Python's records were on Charisma, who later had Viv Stanshall ... Island, and then Virgin, did the Derek & Clive records by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore... Ivor Cutler, earlier in the Magical Mystery Tour film, was on Virgin and Harvest...  Billy Connolly had been in a folk group...

And as this clip below reveals, like so many 1960s and 1970s British rockers, Innes was a product of art school - Goldsmiths, in fact - and the other Bonzos were art students too.

* which is not to deny that both liberation-currents were ultimately contained within their own middle-classness, maleness, English eccentricity, etc...  they pushed the limits, but only so far

the proto-Python show Do Not Adjust Your Set, on which Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band were a fixture

an appearance on Blue Peter

Friday, January 03, 2020

Moon Meadow 1969

Here's a really in-depth and interesting piece by Lee Shook at The Audiovore about an event I'd  never heard of before: the Moon-In, a Central Park celebration of the lunar landing as it happened, for which Silver Apples were commissioned by the city to compose and perform a special piece, which they titled "Mune Toon".  Some great pix too provided by the Dept of Parks.

Village Voice report on the event from the time.


Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Scattered and Shattered

Happy New Year  /  Happy New Decade

Here's a piece I did for last weekend's Guardian Guide looking back at the last decade's popular culture - music and TV -  and focused on how streaming is eroding the idea of a mainstream, as we all follow on our own increasingly individualized streams that thread through the flood of content. The result is not so much the disintegration of the Monoculture as the de-synchronization of the Monotemporality: a swarm of micro-publics all tied to their own timeline.

"Scattered and Shattered" was my original headline.

Here's some further thoughts from Julia Alexander at Medium and a different view (by Soraya Roberts, from earlier in the year) which detects greater homogenization than ever: a narrowing  oligopoly dominating the attention economy and literally concentrating power, in the sense of converging the concentration of masses of people.