My favoritest Lee Perry (a Woebot turn-on)
Cool typo here - "recorded at BLACK ART STUDIO"
Jon Dale pointed me to a flurry of new tracks from Position Normal, the first substantial activity since the third full-length, the self-titled album of 2009.
Initially I was somewhat thrown by the ultrapristine digital sound - so different from the age-faded analogue aesthetic of Stop Your Nonsense and Goodly Time, that worn cassette, fusty-musty aura that triggered the memoradelic regions of the brain....
But Matthew Ingram's instant enthusiasm made me return and he's right, it's totally got the old Chris Bailiff magic, which he's somehow soaked and stained through the software of now - all the affordances in sound quality and tricksy detailing that come with it - so that the outcomes are still bent, creaky, haunty.
Matt has usefully corralled the tunes into a playlist
You can also check them out at Soundcloud - where there are also earlier tunes from 2 years, 4 years, even 7 years ago.... one is called "Sketch for Album 4"... that phase of stuff is very ambient and minimalist, far from song
In his recent Woebot newsletter (you can subscribe here) which bears the title "Lorra Music", Matt writes a lovely appreciation of Position Normal and the new batch o' tunes - rightly highlighting "Book Looks" as a particular gem, with Chris Bailiff's voice gorgeously mushmumbled, the lyric evoking a man who loves the smell of his own house and the people in it (ambiguously poised - is it a homebody hymn to the mammalian continuum and that primal snuggling drive to make a dwelling? Or a PiL's "No Birds Do Sing"-style barb against the Englishman's castle idea?).
"pn2021 is done with all the fuzzy analogue stylings and is clear like Listerine. That just makes the preciousness of the tip-toeing sonics more pronounced. Everything is painstakingly wonky and, such is Chris's laudable detachment, built on borrowed equipment. Just try making music as lopsided on today's DAWs - the time and care required to create this kind of spontaneity is mind-blowing."
One of the other tracks Matt singles out, "Lite Bites", seems to have already disappeared, mysteriously. As has one of my own faves from when I last looked - "Bondrun", which sneakily weaves in part of the theme tune to the '70s kids TV show How. I wonder why - did Chris take fright, grow self-conscious at the sudden "upsurge" in interest?
At any rate, hasten ye to check the stuff out.
In the newsletter, which rounds up a bunch of interesting this-parish-and-adjacent releases, including an excellent cassette from Xylitol that I have been meaning to big up, Matt proposes - or rather seeps up from his unconscious - a genre-not-genre term for this disparate field of low-key activity:
" I was amused when one came to me in a dream: krumble. Where in the nineties and onwards glitch once worked as a useful catchall - now this kind of music is not "futuristic" or in thrall to its digital nature, but rather organic and, like the fabric of western society, decaying. Decaying in a comely, small but rather delicious way..."
krumble - love it!
Matt also directs to an elegy (premature, it now seems) that he wrote for Position Normal earlier this very year, at Discogs...
"Properly divining that the true spirit of the most inventive dance tracks was DIY bedroom music they proceeded to make an eccentric and lo-fi music with rock's palate. Not for Chris Bailiff the sheen and gloss of Seefeel, Tortoise and Broadcast. Bailiff was a fan of Ralph Records' weirdo Snakefinger (a UK expat) and the waning format of the C90 cassette - but his sensibility was pure 1999. Only The Streets' Mike Skinner, a couple of years later in 2001, came as close to defining how it felt to be in the UK at the turn of the century - deconstructed and, if not homesick, timesick.
For all the patina of supposed amateurishness Position Normal's recordings have the exquisitely crafted soundscapes of productions thousands of times their budget. There's a sensitivity to sound here bred of "redeye" 4-in-the-morning sessions; of poring over nuances. All his records are masterpieces and blessed with a delightful tunefulness and charm which entirely escapes most of the desiccated Arts-Council-funded pabulum which clogs up the avant-garde mainstream. Buy."
timesick - love it!
Listening and pondering again the magic of Position Normal, I remembered two things:
1/ I have never heard the precursor-to-Poz stuff, by Bugger Sod. Anyone able to help a feller out?
2/ I have never ever interviewed Chris Bailiff, which seems a bit remiss, given that Stop Your Nonsense was my favorite album of 1999*, but perhaps reviewing it twice felt like enough at the time, and the opportunity never presented again. Perhaps if Album 4 becomes more than a sketch, who knows...
* Funnily enough, with a number of artists whose albums were my ab fav of that particular year, I have never written anything substantial about them - not a feature, but sometimes not even a review. Rangers, Micachu and the Shapes, Metronomy, eMMplekz... Black Moth Super Rainbow just had a very short review ... A strange state of affairs, really... But then perhaps I was busy doing a book, or maybe I was unconsciously driven to keep the pleasure of listening to them entirely separate from the drudgery of journalism... or even from having to try to come up with some kind of definitive set of ideas about why I liked it so much...
Todd L. Burns - who many will remember as the founder of the excellent music webzine Stylus and subsequently helmed various important publications - puts out an unmissable missive, a weekly newsletter called Music Journalism Insider. One of the regular features is called Notes On Process, in which he invites a music journalist to go deep into the background (the writing, editing, etc) of a particular piece.
Todd asked me to do a Notes on the news story I did about the Castlemorton mega-rave at the end of May 1992. I realised that the article that ran in Melody Maker's news section on June 6 was significantly different (more newsy) than the fevered rave convert / eye witness thinkpiece I submitted. So we have both versions up there annotated with queries and comments, discussing the circumstances of the piece, the workings of a weekly music paper, the traveler-raver movement / moment, and the larger question of "the politics of dancing."
Oh and I just this minute noticed that Todd and MJI got nominated in the Multimedia / English category of an international Music Journalism Award done by the Reeperbahn Festival.
(My kid Kieran is nommed in a different category - his second time of being nominated - will he win again?)
The missus with a piece from 1994 about the Crusty-Raver-Traveler-Squatters versus the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.
When the groop that became Orange Juice was first assembling its constituent parts, one OJ-to-be put out a musicians-wanted advertisement. It announced "A New York band forming in the Bearsden area" (Bearsden being the posh Glasgow suburb - once rated in the Top Ten wealthiest places to live in Britain - whence they hailed).
When The Stick Figures were getting it together, it's tempting to imagine one of them putting an ad in the college paper: "A Scottish band forming in the Tampa area".
The Florida postpunk unit, whose slim but succulent body of work is to be reissued by Floating Mill Records, does often recall the fast-funk associated with Postcard and pop: aural at the turn of the Eighties. But there's more in the mix.
The squirmy but droney bass on "N-Light," for instance, adds some A Certain Ratio flavor but also makes me think of the glittering psychedelic funk of Meat Puppets circa Up on the Sun (and the solo shades off into Byrdsy raga-rock altitudes).
Still, it would be fair to describe The Stick Figures as Britophiles who also have affinities with similarly aligned hubs and clusters such as Athens, Georgia (Method Actors and Pylon especially) and NYC (the 99 Records roster).
"September," with its piecing female vocals and trancey swirl, is a stand-out tune, while "Make A Fire" trundles sweetly with a Modern Lovers meets Cat Burgers naivete. And the closing pair of "Ellis Otivator Dub"'s - the first dubbed in 1981, the second re-dubbed this year - offer a spiky frenzy in which Perry & Tubby's techniques have been assimilated to the music's core rather than simply plastered over it as a superficial add-on.
When I was listening to the mixture of released-but-rare and never-issued tunes that makes up the Floating Mill collection Archeology - out on September 3 - and perusing the pix, I suddenly realized that I'm friends with one of the Stick Figures - Robert Dansby - who I've known for years and who had on a few occasions shyly mentioned his postpunk musicking past!
Here's a bit of history, a condensed version of the press release:
"The Stick Figures, formed in 1979 by University of South Florida students Rachel Maready Evergreen and David Bowman (siblings), Robert and Sid Dansby (also siblings), and Bill Carey, were a seminal fixture in Tampa, Florida’s deep and talented pool of late-70s/early-80s post-punk groups.... But The Stick Figures [broke up] less than a year after the release of their 1981 eponymous EP. For the last 40 years, those four tracks were The Stick Figures’ complete discography—until now. Archeology, the first release from Floating Mill Records, takes the original EP and adds six previously unreleased songs, two live tracks, and a reimagining of the EP’s experimental “Ellis Otivator Dub.”
"Citing contemporaries such as Orange Juice, The Buzzcocks, and fellow emerging southern bands Pylon and The B-52s as influences, The Stick Figures’ instrumentation on Archeology frequently and proudly wears a warm, exuberant grin.... Journalist Gary Sperazza!’ .. named The Stick Figures as the winner of his competition of “unheralded genius” in the June 1981 edition of the New York Rocker, asserting that The Stick Figures are, “if nothing else, better than all the other Velvets/Television/Feelies-derived aggregations” due to a “small fortune in good ideas, entertaining songs and imaginative playing....”
"...The Stick Figures charted course for the opportunities New York City offered an up-and-coming band, stopping to play shows in Atlanta during the Summer of 1981 on the way. Just as their ambition and talent finally earned interest from a label, Glass Records, the band, whose youngest member was still in their teens, succumbed to being “penniless and young” in an unforgiving Big Apple stuck somewhere between the 1977 blackouts and the 1981 garbage strike. Within a year of the move, some members retreated back to the Sunshine State before even stepping on a New York City stage while others roughed it out, leaving over 1,000 miles of East Coast to divide the group in two and force them to look for artistic fulfillment in other ventures.
"But that retreat was not with their tails between their legs—The Stick Figures had made something together: a damn good EP (and dozens of equally impressive unreleased tracks). And, as unsung pioneers of the budding indie and DIY music scenes, they really “made” that EP. All five band members designed a cover before photocopying, assembling, and hand-coloring the 7” release themselves—all 500 copies—to be sold by Green Records, the Tampa-based label they formed and ran with the ever-helpful Pam Wiener Dubrule and a handful of other Tampa musicians."
Now another postpunky reissue out next month on vinyl via Superior Viaduct that's been tickling my cochlea is the self-titled debut (but also one-and-only) album by Suburban Lawns.
SUBURBAN LAWNS – Suburban Lawns (1981)
From Long Beach, California, Suburban Lawns had the ultimate New Wave name. Lyrically, their prime subject is the post-WW2 landscape of American banality, that same prefab plastic world satirized in films from The Graduate to Edward Scissorhands. In “Flying Saucer Attack” the citizens of the fast-food nation don’t mind being abducted by aliens so long as “we’re back for work on Monday”. “Mom and Dad and God” scorns the parents’ “mindless devotion to lack of emotion”.
As with so much New Wave, you sense that these CalArts students can really play: it’s the friction of their ability against punk taboo’s on flashy musicianship that creates the music’s delicious nervous tension. “Janitor” is the jewel: Su Tissue sings not like a rock’n’roller but a librarian with a very peculiar imagination.
It's followed by Kit's mix of Neon Screams music at 9 pm UK / 4 pm East Coast / 1 pm West Coast.
The whole shebang - interview + mix - is repeated for early risers / night owls, starting Sunday 8 am UK / 3 am East Coast / midnight West Coast.
Check out an extract from Neon Screams - on Brooklyn drill - here.
And here's an interview with Kit Mackintosh at Tribune - "The Musical Future Has Not Been Cancelled"
And here's a review at Aloysius blog.
“What was once cringe has now become cool again."
Early 2000s nostalgia already... .Internetculture genreologist Kieran Press-Reynolds at Insider on the retro-absurdist meme collages currently infesting TikTok.
"Technologically impressive, hyper-digital spectacles that viewers admire purely because they are so unintelligible… Creators speed up, distort, saturate, stretch, or mutate these pieces of media to maximize the ludicrousness…"
Also contains a potted history of early stages of meme-faddery during the 21st Century so far, including Youtube poops and MLG montage parody.
In the intro to Rip It Up, I suggest that “young people have a biological right to be excited about the times they're living through”. Elsewhere I have gone further and declared that there's an almost ethical obligation, for a young music writer, to remake your time as an adventure. Talk of rights or duties is rhetoric, but what could be safely ventured as an observation is that there do seem to be a few individuals in each generation who, through some special combination of excitability and ability, are prepared to take on the task of writing up the musical era they happen to inhabit as a rolling real-time golden age. If they're especially fired-up and impatient, they might also shove that vision in the faces and down the throats of the elder-wiser generation, the half-dead septic sceptics.
Kit Mackintosh is just such a young hothead - a holy convinced convert to his own credo of the 2010s as a renaissance of sonic futurism. But in Neon Screams: How Drill, Trap and Bashment Made Music New Again - not only his debut book, but his first published writing - the 25-year-old Mackintosh doesn't simply froth fervour: he makes a case. Unlike in the hallowed 1990s, he argues, the new phuturism has manifested itself not in the domain of beat-construction or sound-design, but in the interface between pitch-correction software and flamboyantly individualistic MCs and singers. Vocal mutation has been a field of action across the genrescape, from Melodyne-designed Top 40 pop to conceptronica to the online welter of Auto-Tune-blitzed microgenres. But Mackintosh’s focus here is the street sounds – dancehall and trap - where the synergistic symbiosis between soft technology and expressive eccentricity is pushed to the most delirious extremes. Although less prone to what he terms “vocal psychedelia,” UK Drill is also celebrated in Neon Screams as a sonic vanguard rather than just a sociological phenomenon / media panic (although its gang-related lifeworld, as it informs lyric imagery and group self-mythology, necessarily comes into the ultra-vivid picture painted).
When I read Neon Screams a Marshall McLuhan quote sprang to mind: “Youth instinctively understand the present environment – the electric drama. It lives mythically and in depth.” In the foreword I contributed to the book, I note how the performers that Mackintosh champions – Vybz Kartel, Tommy Lee Sparta, Alkaline, Rebel Sixx, Future, Quavo, Young Thug, Playboi Carti, Pop Smoke, to name only the most possessed and Tourettic – seem drawn to Auto-Tune because it “feeds into and magnifies their own grandiose self-images… fits their fantasies of superhero powers.” I further point to the way Mackintosh “surrenders to the mythopoeic visions emanating from this music”, allows them to supercharge his prose through “imaginative contagion”. It's this intense identification and merger with the music, along with the writing's brio, humour, and occasional delicious spurts of spite, that makes Neon Screams such a rush to read.
Look out for a chat between Kit and me about the book’s polemics and provocations on an upcoming Repeater Radio show later this month - it goes on Saturday August 21 at 8pm UK / 3 pm East Coast / noon West Coast and then gets repeated, for early risers / night owls, Sunday 8 am UK / 3 am East Coast / midnight West Coast. Each broadcast of the discussion is followed by a Kit mix of Neon Screamsy tunes. Try also these playlists - bashment, trap, drill. - for a sense of the sonozeitgeist he's championing.
From a young hero to an older hero… As I’ve said a few times now, Barney Hoskyns has been a profound formative influence on me - a role model of how and why to do this. And although it's likely more just how things panned out than intentional evolution, I do seem to have mirrored Barney’s arc - starting out penning delirious mystic-nihilistic paeans to self-“destruction” through sonic ecstasy, then finding a way to a more sane and livable relationship with music; from prophet-of-the-present to historian of pop and unpop. In truth, even as he was real-time mythologizing groups like The Birthday Party, The Fall, Blue Orchids, Meat Puppets, Black Flag, et al, from the start Barney had an unusually wide and deep sense of music history: stray references in his pieces to records like Forever Changes, Astral Weeks, and Marquee Moon led me to lifelong revelations, as did features like his 1984 profile of John Martyn - which directed me to Solid Air, another inexhaustible gift.
It struck me that I might actually own more books by Barney than any other author, with the possible exception of Ballard. It’s a great pleasure to add to the Hoskyns shelf God Is In The Radio, his new career-spanning collection of reviews and interviews. As the subtitle Unbridled Enthusiasms 1980-2020 makes clear this is a celebration of the artists and recordings that have abided undimmed as sources of solace and sublimity in his life. The scope goes from a luminous Bobby Womack profile to a Burial paean, via insightful career surveys of Scritti Politti and Cocteau Twins (a group I once dismissed as vaporous guff after catching one whole side of Head Over Heels on Peel, until Barney’s review guided me towards the right way to hear them) and another 46 appreciations ranging from Sly Stone and Laura Nyro to Associates and Prefab Sprout.
As the title God Is In The Radio hints, and as Barney movingly details in the preface’s inventory of stages in his relationship with music starting age four, if there’s a threading subtext that connects these pieces it involves the way music can serve as a substitute sacred for the secular; a surrogate religion offering regular doses of deliverance and transcendence, relief and release. Music stills the voices of doubt and fear; it fills the emptiness; it dissolves the Insoluble. Consistent in its blissing and blessing, it's one of the main reasons to stick around.
In the preface, Barney writes about suspecting that for him (and by implication people like him) “music is a proxy for emotion itself: it is the way I feel, dissolving the rationalisation of feeling and enabling me to experience joy, desire, pain, loss, sadness, defiance and gratitude that might otherwise remain out of reach.” Certainly, for whatever reasons – nationality, gender, class, or some admixture of the three – music has an unmatched capacity to bring me to tears, in a way that hardly ever happens in real life, even during the worst of trials. (Certain films, too, have this cathartic effect).
Barney further writes: “Indeed it almost seems to me the point of music that it frees us from the constrictions of thought..." But of course, being constitutively a writer, he can’t help striving to articulate this “speech of the heart”, he wants to think the escape from thought’s constrictions. His writing* has been a model for me of a criticism that lets itself melt into worship, music journalism that shifts back and forth between telling the story and testifying.
* which reminds me that writing itself (alongside dear ones and Nature's beauty) is another of those main reasons to stick around. Doing it, reading it - it's another way to slip through the bars of the self-cell.
Not a great video but this single, as sound and song, still seems astounding to me.