Wednesday, December 29, 2021

slender harvest

Far and away my favorite and most listened-to contemporary recording of 2021 - New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning

Some disjointed thoughts: 

Florence as a modern day singer-songwriter, although without much in the way of sing or song going on.  As with the classic '70s female singer-songwriters, the backing band is all-male and the music lags a little, or a lot, behind the contemporary edge of mainstream pop. Back then the singer-songwriter template might draw on folk or country... here, today, the settled style is post-punk (40 years on, as fixed in its strictures as the blues). 

One counter-critique to the retromania argument is that it fixates on sonic innovation – form rather than content. It doesn’t take into account the possibility that the innovation might  occur in the domain of lyrics, emotional expression, persona, or other non-sonic aspects of the work, while the music itself might be relatively traditional.  Dry Cleaning’s music contains familiar elements; as able or apt as the playing is, nothing really innovative happens there. What is new: Shaw's language, delivery, and the subjectivity, the portrait of self.

Pressed to characterise Florence's affect, I would go for the slightly old-fashioned English expression "browned off.”  It's an affect that speaks to the blankness of the present – the feel of life in the Boring Dystopia (to use Mark Fisher's term). This blankness is different from the sort of emptiness that triggers the imagination and stirs daydreams; rather, it's a saturated  blankness, crowded with trivia of the type that snuffs daydreaming in the cradle. The mental space of this record is insanitary with inanity. "Scratchcard Lanyard," then - a "Transmission" for an era in which vision-quest of the kind that Joy Division could undertake is no longer accessible.  

Another Fisher notion - "depressive hedonism" – threads through New Long Leg.  Small pleasures snatched, or snacked (a profusion of references to treats, fast food, artisanal goodies, splashing out on gourmet mushrooms, a favorite cafe you used to frequent).  Comforts that don’t console (a different kind of full emptiness).

I’m not hugely au fait with the late Lauren Berlant’s work, but what I've gleaned seems to have applications.  The emotional landscape of New Long Leg teems with bad attachments, hopes  that impede flourishing, impasses, interpersonal skirmishes, a perpetual low-key state of ordinary crisis. So it's what Berlant might have called a new kind of affective realism. Part of that realism relates to the way the "songs" aren't stories, they don't resolve (often the track cycles back to the opening verse and ends with it).  Each piece consists of an accretion of disjointed perceptions in shuffle mode. Listening, the overwhelming feeling you take away, beyond browned-off, is accuracy. This is the texture of everyday life today, this how the mind moves. Focused goal-oriented thinking or sustained feeling-flow constantly perforated by the relentless telemediated blip-blip-blip of alarming nonsense  from outside one's immediate lived situation. Attention flickers back and forth across the battery of implanted aspirations, desire-triggers, ambient fears,, the tragic absurd and random grotesque.  

"Emo dead stuff collector" is a great line: the artist casually defining her method.  But Dry Cleaning is the opposite of emo – Shaw is a nondrama queen.  The deadpan flatness tamps down the musical backing, which, left to its own devices, could easily take on the epic swell of a post-rock group as the term is currently (mis)understood: dramatic instrumental guitar music with quiet-loud dynamics.

Her intonation and inflection stir a kind of expatriate ecstasy in me. There's an exquisite nostalgic pull:  "this is my people (for better or worse)".  The songs clearly translate (loads of Americans love New Long Leg, and even some non-Anglophones) but I can’t quite believe that it does or that it should. Surely only someone born and bred in that septic isle could even pick up these emotional frequencies, feel the full richness of the meagreness, the mustn’t-grumble stolidity.  

Emotions so opaque they’re like the point where colors mixed turn muddy. Like the percussively exhaled “ha” at the end of “Scratchcard Lanyard” - a mouth-snort of poisoned breath, equal parts derision, defiance, exasperation, indignation, hostility, exhaustion. 

Or the “well well well well” in “Her Hippo”.

The actual Southern Mark Smith arrives, finally.

Sleaford Mods -  if the place they wrote from wasn’t the Greggs and poundshop world of the lumpen-prole Midlands, but the aimless ennui of post-postgraduates whose fresher-year at uni occurred somewhere near the end of the Coalition. The well-fed fed-up.

eMMplekz / Baron Mordant – minus the electronics, the dyspeptic mise-en-scène shifted slightly, from petit-bourgeois to middle middle-class.  “Simple pimple, stomach stab” could easily be a Baron line. And mordancy is one of the inflection flavours on NLL.

An inventory of irritating sensations (“raincoat sweat” ). A list of listlessness. A catalogue of intractabilities. 

Rock poets, then and now. Half-a-century of contracted horizons captured in the shift from “we want the world and we want it now” to “just want to be liked.”   

The heartbreaking mildness of  “I like you… stay.”

I wrote here earlier about “every day is a dick” - about creative mishearings truer than the truth. Here's some other lines from New Long Leg (accuracy not guaranteed) that speak to me. Speak for me. 

“Absolutely huge fuck-up”

“Sick of that shit”

 “Thanks a lot

“I don’t know, what’s the point” 

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do”

“So full of poisonous rage”

"Do everything and feel nothing"

 “Too much to ask about, don’t ask”

“Time to get fed up”

"It's useless to live"


Far and away my favorite and most listened-to archival release of 2021 - Ann Southam's The Reprieve, the Emerging Ground

At one point, over a decade ago, Creel Pone was supposed to be winding up -  now, was that just a wind-up,  or did they simply  recover enthusiasm and/or come across further caches of esoteritronica?  This past year in particular has seen a huge new surge of activity, an  avalanche of releases, indicating the seeming will to push onwards, up to and beyond the #300 release point. There's also been a flood of reéditions of earlier releases with bonus material added to them - sometimes a whole second disc of new stuff.  There's even been a series of prequels, releases apparently once intended to happen before the Creel project was properly conceived and started. Releases that have now emerged with catalogue numbers that go into the fractisimal space between 1 and zero, e.g. CP 000.10 for their deluxe unoffish-reish of the legendary Philips 21e Siecle box Electronic Panorama

For a good while now - perhaps even as far back as the  #100 mark - Creel output has been variable: a lot of the stuff files under "interesting", or it's curios so curious that you (meaning me) can't help craving them (musique concrete using langue d'oc - aka Lenga D'oc-  also known as Occitan - i.e. the language of Medieval Provence; most recently a disc of tape and electro-acoustic music by Basque composers). There's been a fair few duds too. What keeps the Creelhead hanging in there loyally are the marvels that turn up regularly. And the one out of this year's copiousness that stands out as very special is this hard-to-find, hellish-expensive-if-you-do album by the Canadian composer Ann Southam, originally released in 1983.. 

Made for a dance piece, "The Reprieve" (1975) is less a unified 24-minute composition than a suite of texturescapes, a succession of spaces. The coherence comes from the techniques and the sound palette: even more than electronics, Southam's primary instruments here are reverb and delay. Listening, you feel like  you're moving one by one through a grotto's chambers. Light from the headlamp flickers across nacreous walls and damply glistening ceilings;  magnified sounds of distant dripping water bounce through the uncanny acoustics of the honeycombed underworld. "The Emerging Ground" (1983) -  constructed according to a similar logic, nearly as wondrous - unfurls as serried ranks of pearly palimpsests, each pulse trailing a glimmering succession of after-images.  The original 1983 album is expanded in this Creel edition with two other pieces composed for dance, "Seastill" and "Rewind" -  plus an excerpt from 1974's "Walls and Passageways" - and these likewise get your mind's eye dancing with wraiths and rivulets, fronds like wavering perpendicular ribbons, looms of lustrous yarn.... 

You can buy The Reprieve, The Emerging Ground here - and if you hurry there's still 10 percent discount on Creel releases that applies until the year's end. 

You can listen to a snippet here.  Actually, the whole of "Reprieve" is hearable, albeit in a "stereo diffusion mix" by one Jeff Morton, here.  And "Seastill" you can check out here

More of Southam's earlier-Creeled work can be checked out here and here and here

The late Southam is interviewed at length here


Far and away my favorite and most listened-to piece of non-reissued old-music-new-to-me  would be  this mos' t'peculiar assemblage by mouth-music-maven Anton Bruhin. I've no real idea how he made this (it's non-digital, from 1981 - some kind of repurposed, fucked-with children's toy?) and I don't want to know really. 

(Bruhin actually had a properly reissued set put out this year by Black Truffle and it's very good, if not quite as sound-clowning crazed as "InOut" - Speech Poems / Fruity Music  - stuff made in the 2000s using digital technology)

No, I tell I a lie - there's another contender for far and away my favorite and most listened to piece of non-reissued old-music-new-to-me. Let's say it's equal first: Ennio Morricone's "Invenzione per John". Which I stumbled on -  and was instantly entranced  - while watching Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (also known as Duck, You Sucker!). I had faint memories of seeing this film a kid and enjoying James Coburn's performance as an Irish Republican soldier exiled to Mexico in the 1920s. But I didn't remember the soundtrack particularly, and so was unprepared for the revelation that is "Invenzione", which crops up several times during the film. 

An extraordinary piece of music - "originale" indeed. Like, what is that emotion?  "Invenzione per John" features an insistent, strident, almost jarring rhythm - a bolero? - that feels both at odds with and yet perfect for the billowing cloud of strings, voices, mandolins, and what almost sounds like controlled waves of guitar feedback. If not for that rhythm, the opposite of groove, "Invenzione" feels like something that belongs in the rock leftfield of the day. You could imagine it as perhaps the backing track of a tune on  Scott 4 - something over which Walker might  have intoned one of his more abstract and darkly mystical lyrics, like "Boy Child".  Or maybe something John Cale might have done if he'd gone into movie soundtracks (okay, bar the whistling). Or perhaps a lost track from by Shame, Humility, Revenge, by Skin, that Swans offshoot.


So those are the three / four favorites - who else has also served to amuse-bemuse-beguile?

My favorite Ghost Box in a few years...  I want to say, "sounds like Der Plan if they'd formed in 16th Century Swabia", but perhaps I'm being led towards that idea by the Bruegel-ish artwork. ToiToiToi's sound here is certainly jaunty and volkish, but it's completely electronic. 

A gorgeous return from Julian + Kirsty, every bit as good as their earlier Insides classic Euphoria.

Dependable pleasure from Moon Wiring Club, arriving in the nick of the time to make this year's tally, and here proferring a pleasing foray into drum+bass skitteration on the first couple of tracks, before sinking into sunken, brackish terrain that  - in the case of "Are We 100 Years Too Late" - Mr Hodgson likens to a later nuum-phase: "a bit like a dubstep excursion that’s been buried underground for a century ~ you can sort of feel / see the component parts of the track as different layers of sediment cross-sectioned in a museum exhibition".

Update January 13 - well, it seems I've been listening to the files of the vinyl version, and in fact Ghost Party Delirium on CD is a completely other album - and in fact, a double album! Which is also a terrific listen. My initial impression wasthe  coordinates that waver somewhere in the early UK house-techno zone (faint whiffs of A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, Humanoid, Ultramarine maybe) but apparently the concept / inspirations are a bit earlier: "The overall idea is that the LP is a party that ends up back in time inside an Edwardian Immersive Theatre experience, while the 2xCD is a party that goes off to a Phantom Roller Disco. 
In terms of a production template, the CD is inspired by 80s 12” extended versions ~  where a 3min pop song gets wonderfully dragged out for just a little bit too long and studio limitations mean there’s lots of ’stripping back the tracks’ after the second chorus before it’s built back up again before the end chorus and then deconstructs again. Most of the tracks on the 2xCD were originally shorter in length, but received the extended ’12” style’ treatment once I’d figured the 2xCD format could accommodate the format." Breaking with the 80s template, D&B reskitters into earshot on the second disc occasionally, e.g.  "Zodiac Flair", which Ian describes as "a LTJ Bukem track gradually infected by a jaunty necromancer on skeleton harpsichord

And then there were these too (with links to my scribbles about same)

PinkPantheress - “Break It Off” 

Foodman - Yasuragi Land 

Saint Etienne - I’ve Been Trying To Tell You 

Oneohtrix Point Never featuring Elizabeth Fraser - “Tales From The Trash Stratum” 

Proc Fiskal - Siren Spine Sysex 

Dean Wareham -  I Have Nothing To Say to the Mayor of L.A.

Wet Leg - “Chaise Longue” 

Position Normal -  various scraps (previews of promised-in-2022 EPs, one hopes) plus an actual single release "Lite Bites" . Oh and this, what I suppose must be a Christmas single, stumbled on while looking for "Lite Bites"

Archivally, there were also (with links to my scribbles about same)

London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984-1993, Vol.2

Various - Creelpolation-2.2 (Singles 2) 

Suburban Lawns – Suburban Lawns 

Acen – Trip to the Moon 2092

Seefeel – Rupt and Flex (1994-96)

Janet Beat – Pioneering Knob Twiddler 

The Stick Figures – Archeology  

Beatriz Ferreyra – Canto+ 

Full Spectrum, Australian Digital Music (early 1980s release added to the 2021 reédition of Creel Pone's Electronic Music, University of Melbourne)

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

RIP Greg Tate

Still in a state of shock after the awful news yesterday morning that Greg Tate has died. A gigantic figure in criticism - original thinker, dazzling stylist...  someone with something unique to say and an unique way of saying it...  fearless, daring, always surprising (loved the Van Halen love!), a joy to read on anything and everything...   I did not know him really, a few amiable encounters over the years,  those left the impression of someone as kindly and gentle in person as he was cool and commanding in print...

It was a thrill when Tate became an early Stateside champion of A.R. Kane (one of his celebrations can be read here, there's another circa 69 that appeared in Village Voice and later in Flyboy in the Buttermilk, which maybe I'll dig out later) and his writing on the electric Miles is the best there ever was. 

He wrote about a lot more than just music, of course. But when he wrote about music, it was about more than just music, if you get me. 

Here's a review I did in '92 of Flyboy, that only scratches the surface of the greatness of Greg. 

Here's the full transcript of Tate's 2004 conversation with Alan Licht for the Wire's Invisible Jukebox series. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

best of the year - father and son edition

Pleased as ever to have contributed blurbs to Pitchfork's annual best albums and best tunes end-of-year 

For Albums of 2021, I celebrate Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg - which features high up in the chart but not nearly high enough if you ask me. 

For Songs of 2021, I delectate over Oneohtrix Point Never's remix-collab with Elizabeth Fraser,  "Tales from the Trash Stratum" which pops up just after the half-way mark. 

Incidentally I had a different lyric at the end of the Dry Cleaning blurb- "every day is a dick". However it was pointed out to me that this is not actually the correct lyric. I contend that it should be the lyric (it certainly sounds like "every day is a dick" and I'd wager it's a very common mishearing). It's better and truer than the actual line - more expansive, less specific. I supplied a number of alternate dyspeptic lines from New Long Leg (there's no shortage) and they went with one of the best (although "sick of this shit" might have clinched it as my runner-up). Still, every day is a dick is the one really. Says it all. 

A casualty of compression was the single sentence in which I acknowledge the contribution of the band, which is not inconsiderable - what they do is always apt, they are  very able. But I suppose ultimately it is the Florence Show. 

On which subject I'll have more to say when Blissblog does its annual and - each year ever more compact - run-down of the year's aural delights. 


Meanwhile  junior genreologist Kieran Press-Reynolds is doing his own looking-back-at-2021 count-down, drawing on a far larger cache of bliss. He has that young hunger to find the new sound, identify the new formation. 

So far K's done






Our  listening worlds overlap at just two points (these come later in the countdown -  no spoilers). I was surprised, though, about one of the intersections. 

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Pleasures of the 'Text(e)


Owen Hatherley remembers the petite 'n' portable pocket-size "Foreign Agents" series of books published by Semiotext(e) - a format that was the little black dress of critical theory. Wistfully recalling a time when all things semiotic and (post-)structural were sexy, Owen traces how these contraband-seeming catalysts to delirious pretentiousness exerted an unlikely influence on certain elements within the UK music press. Which carried through to the blog wave of the 2000s and thence to Zero and its breakaway Repeater (now reunited, hoorah), also in the business of compact paperbacks packed with ideas. 

The piece is a Tribune tribute to the late Sylvère Lotringer, obviously - and the music connection / music-crit reception makes a certain sort of sense given that he moved in the orbit of NYC punk and No Wave.