Monday, January 30, 2023

The Corecore Encore

Here's Kieran Press-Reynolds with another report on the "chaotic contentscape" that is the internet and social media in 2023. He wrote the first piece on corecore back in November. Now that the meme-montaging videoclip genre has blown up and become a site of discourse fever (with journalistic pieces galore and K finding himself interviewed on the subject several times), he returns to replant that flag with  an extensive update for No Bells, examining corecore's recent political turn and other urgent developments within this splintering and contested vortext of nano-genres.  You will learn about wilbertcore and even  something rejoicing in the name corecorecore.

Corecore, you know the score - well you will after reading Kieran's piece


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

RIP David Crosby

I was talking just the other day about getting into "The Sixties"....

That was 1982 and I think it was the following year that I discovered The Byrds. There had been references in the papers, in relation to R.E.M. and that jangling, chiming sound that was emerging on the indie / college rock fringe. 

I can remember several of us sitting in Hilary's room, listening to Younger Than Yesterday. I had borrowed the LP off our friend Micalef - I must have taped it for her, I know she didn't have a record player, just a boombox. We listened in rapt silence, shyly exchanging glances every now and then, eyes shining. I don't know what the others felt, but I imagine something along the lines of what I was feeling - sheer disbelieving awe that something so beautiful could exist. 

(There was a similar joint revelation around this time with Forever Changes, also borrowed from Micalef's sprawling collection - literally sprawling across his room, like some kind of deep pile vinyl carpet, sleeved and unsleeved discs layered slant-wise, resembling shingles on a roof). 

The track that entranced me the most on Younger Than Yesterday was written and sung by David Crosby: 

"Everybody's Been Burned" stole my breath with its beauty: the guitars hewn out of some magical mineral; the deep-chiming bass and the fluid, snaking way it moved in relation to the guitars and voice; Crosby's timbre and pacing and nakedness. And the lyrics made me shiver with their emotional wisdom, proposing an approach to living and loving at once true and impossibly idealistic. The original song was written a few years before Crosby joined The Byrds, when he must have been only 21 - just a year older than me when I first heard it. 

I know that door

That shuts just before

You get to the dream... 

I know all too well how to turn, how to run

How to hide behind

A bitter wall of blue

But you die inside if you choose to hide

So I guess instead

I'll love you

The other song that set me spinning was "Mind Gardens" - also written and sung by Crosby. Which most people find embarrassing. It is a period piece, I suppose. But the modal singing, the truly-let-loose folkadelic ululations, the rippling reversed-guitar, I still find dizzyingly gorgeous. As for the lyrics -  it's the same idea as "Everybody's Been Burned" (and their cover of "My Back Pages", which is sort of the title track of Younger Than Yesterday). But this time it's rendered as a parable, the garden as self walled off from the winter's "killing cold" but also from life-replenishing rain and sun. Again, that seems like  timeless emotional and spiritual wisdom. 

Crosby had a hand in two other beauties on Younger - "Renaissance Fair" and "Why".  

"Why" is one of a pair of Byrds songs in which the rebel, the free spirit cutting loose, is a young woman ("She Don't Care About Time").  It occurred to me that "Why" in particular preempts "She's Leaving Home", and sure enough, Younger preceded Sgt. Pepper's by several months - I wonder if the song subliminally influenced The Beatles? In both cases, rather than ascribe it to a spirit of enlightened male feminism, I suspect the gender choice was more like an intuitive songwriting impulse based in the understanding that the big threat to the status quo / patriarchy was the fear of daughters being led astray, lured into the counterculture. (Not that parental anxieties were unfounded exactly - bohemian freedom cut differently for women then, and probably still - the costs and risks were greater).

You say there's a limit there, she can't go past that

She don't believe you, she don't think that's where it's at


You say it's a dead old world, cold and unforgiving

I don't know where you live but you're not living


Keep sayin' no to her since she was a baby

Keep sayin' no to her, not even maybe


Back then ('83, '84) I would have known "Eight Miles High", "5D", "All I Really Want To Do" - taped off somebody or other - but it took me years to get to the previous album Fifth Dimension or the one after,  The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Back then I simply couldn't afford to be systematic: funds were tight, so many things from the past and the present beckoned urgently, hearing stuff depended to a great degree on what you could find in libraries or the collections of friends and acquaintances. So I think it was only when it came to doing The Sex Revolts that those gaps got filled (although I had picked up Sweetheart of the Rodeo along the way, in a brief moment of Gram Parsons interest - something that hasn't lasted at all, nor the Flying Burrito Brothers).

By Notorious, Crosby is starting to fade as a creative presence within The Byrds. But he does have a hand in "Dolphin Smile" (pleasant enough) and "Tribal Gathering" (ditto) and in one absolute beauty, "Draft Morning". Here the critique of a system that offers the living death of routine parceled out between meaningless work and empty leisure shifts to a soft protest against a system that wakes young men from their dreams and marches them off  "to kill /and take the will / from unknown faces". This time it's the Byrds who seem to be writing a sequel to a Beatles song ("I'm Only Sleeping").   Like "Why" and other Byrds songs of this period, "Draft Morning" is a kind of rejoicing lament - the plaintive, chiding tone of folky protest shot through with an elevating ecstasy, rising above the folly it decries. . 

The true genius bit of writing and singing from Crosby during those sessions got left off the album: "Triad". I'm not sure if that exclusion was because of personal conflict or because the theme was considered too risqué (if so, oddly timorous of the other Byrds, given all the other taboos being broken at this time).  In some ways, it's the third song in the cycle of "She Don't Care About Time" and "Why" - in this case, there's an appeal to a woman (well, two women) to break with convention, take a leap into the emotional and existential unknown. Again, it doesn't strike me as a feminist song; if anything, it leans the other way, a man proposing an arrangement  that suits him only too well. Today "Triad" might be considered prophetically polyamorous, but in the context of the 1960s counterculture and its mile-wide streak of chauvinism, its ideal of free love invites the thought, "free for who?". The reference to "sister-lovers" is uncomfortably redolent of "sister-wives" as in Big Love and that Mormon fundamentalist sect that still practices polygamy. The line "and, in time, maybe others" cracks me up - Crosby holding out the prospect of further additions to the harem, an ill-timed suggestion that in real life could easily have killed the deal he was on the verge of striking. 

I also can't help thinking that Crosby might have reacted rather differently if it was Joni proposing that he join her and Graham Nash in a ménage à trois

We didn't know about this song when we did The Sex Revolts - I guess it came out only later as a bonus track on the Notorious Byrds Brothers reissue - which is a pity because one verse in particular is a classic example of "momism": the syndrome, rife with the Beats and the Angry Young Men, and largely continued with counterculture-era rock, in which suburban convention and conformity are equated with housewives and mothers (the patriarchy-as-matriarchy switch, where the victims of a System get mistaken for its perpetuators and beneficiaries - as gaolers rather than inmates). 

You are afraid, embarrassed too

No one has ever said such a thing to you

Your mother's ghost stands at your shoulders

A face like ice, a little bit colder

Saying to you, you cannot do that

It breaks all the rules, you learned in school

But I don't really see

Why can't we go on as three

As songwriting and as a sound, "Triad" forms a triptych with "Everybody's Been Burned" and the next tune in our selection today, "Guinnevere". What Crosby is doing in these songs - the crooned vocals with the long held notes, the intimacy and lack of drama or bombast, the unusual chords and tunings, the haze of drone-chimes -  became clarified for me when I read that he was never into rock'n'roll. When all that was happening in the late '50s, he was listening to Chet Baker and cool jazz instead. Certainly, his vocals on those three songs owe nothing to rock but also little to folk or country or blues either.  

If it took me a while to fill out the Byrds discography, I only got to Crosby Stills and Nash in the second decade of the 21st Century. For some reason, the punk dismissal of that type of hippie music held sway in my head long after similar prohibitions about progressive rock or sophisto-rock (Steely Dan etc) had faded away. The idea of a song called "Marrakesh Express" was enough to put me off investigating. The S and the N element held no interest (Hollies = meh; Buffalo Springfield bypasses me apart from the very famous song, while as a personality Stills unappeals).  Even after moving to Los Angeles and experiencing first-hand the idyllic vibe of Laurel Canyon and Topanga Canyon, that era / area of rock history didn't draw me (apart from Joni).

So it was actually hearing "Guinnevere" used to spellbinding effect on the science fiction TV series DEVS that convinced me anything was there: the gold-graded images suited the gauzy radiance of the recording, the song's spacey stillness and suspension chimed perfectly with the suspense of the storyline. In the week after hearing "Guinnevere" in the show I must have played the song about forty times -  and "Triad", rediscovered through contiguity and affinity, another forty.

"Triad" and "Guinnevere" seem to go together especially, in style and sound. Thematically they may be cousins too:  "Guinevere" is inspired by three different inamorata of Crosby's. Crosby told Rolling Stone, "That is a very unusual song, it's in a very strange tuning (EBDGAD) with strange time signatures. It's about three women that I loved. One of whom was Christine Hinton - the girl who got killed who was my girlfriend - and one of whom was Joni Mitchell, and the other one is somebody that I can't tell.

I've yet to hear anything else quite as magical in the CS&N / CSN&Y discography but friends who are fans recommend these: 

Another take on "Guinnevere"

And here's Miles Davis's extremely expansive interpretation of "Guinnevere", which apparently Crosby disliked intensely, and had the balls, or ego, to tell him to his face.  A circle of influence was completed here: as Crosby said in one interview, “When I was young I must have listened to Sketches Of Spain 100 times... I learned if I changed tuning on the guitar then I could get chord inversions that were really different.” Some say that "Guinnevere" song is actually based on a motif from a Sketches of Spain song.

The story of Crosby's youth spent listening to modal jazz is related here

A bit from Graham Nash's memoir Wild Tales, a Rock & Roll Life about Miles and Crosby meeting in the street in New York in 1969 and Miles taking Crosby back to his brownstone pad to hear his take on "Guinnevere":

Miles put on the song, a twenty-minute version that riffed in myriad cosmic directions, and went into the bedroom with the blonde, leaving David there to smoke...  and listen to the track. A half hour later, Miles emerged from the bedroom rendezvous. “So, Dave, what do you think?” Crosby threw him one of his trademark glares. “Well, Miles, you can use the tune, but you have to take my name off of it.” Miles was crestfallen. “You don’t like it?” he asked. Crosby refused to temper his opinion, even for royalty like Miles Davis.

“No, man – no. I don’t like it at all.”

About ten years later, I was at an after-party event for the Grammys at Mr. Chow in LA and saw Miles come in with Cicely Tyson. He caught my eye and started waving insistently at me. I looked over my shoulder, certain he must be gesturing to someone else. “No, no, c’mere, man,” he insisted. When I got within earshot, he leaned close and asked in his low, gravelly voice, “Crosby still pissed at me?”

I said, “You mean about Guinevere’?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “He still pissed?”

“I don’t think so, Miles. He was either too high or he wasn’t in the right mood to hear your take on it. He probably expected the chords to be the same as his, but I don’t think he’s pissed at you one bit.”

Miles pondered this with Socratic intensity. “Okay. Tell David hello. Tell him I hope he’s not still pissed.”

Addendum 1/26/2003

I clean forgot to mention If I Could Only Remember My Name, the first Crosby solo album... it's never made much impression on me, I must say, but it has its fans and now would be the time to reinvestigate 

Asif Siddiqi points out a couple of Crosby contributions:

Crosby was the one who pushed The Byrds to cover the then-obscure song "Hey Joe", and after its appearance on Fifth Dimension, it became widely covered by others, including  Love, Tim Rose, and most famously Jimi Hendrix.  (That said, I believe the first recorded version of it was by the garage punk group The Leaves - indeed, it was they who added the word "gun" to the lyric). 

Asif also directs our attention to Crosby's rhythm guitar on this Neil Young track "Revolution Blues" - "there's something about that choppy guitar that opens the song and that essentially carries the song for four tense and taut minutes... it's really unsettling, meant to be unobtrusive, but somehow channeling all the slow derangement of the fall of the '60s in its sloppy minor chords".

Andrew Parker hears The Incredible String Band in the modal soul-moans of "Mind Gardens" - and he could be onto something, the debut ISB came out in '66 and was well received in folk circles on both sides of the Atlantic. No less than Byrds-god Bob Dylan singled out this song as particularly impressive - its piercing long-held-notes  do bear a resemblance to Crosby's more untethered cries on "Mind Gardens".

A demo for "Burned"

Tyler comments: 

'Why' as unintentional proto-feminism based in 'intuitive songwriting impulse' - yes, and Dylan's 'Tears of Rage' works on a similar principle, casting the irrational, controlling, but genuinely hurt patriarch against the daughter pushing against him

'Triad' - the 'sister lovers' bit comes from Heinlein rather than Brigham Young, but that hardly makes it better; the Airplane version complicates it interestingly with Slick's female vocals, but I'm still not crazy about it - subject matter aside, it's a little too pat

Crosby's non-rock fandom - this was always the root of both old-school rock critics' and punk-and-after's animus against him, but once you get past the assumption that electric guitars should inherently rock, it's one of his most interesting facets - taking the texture of amplification/electronics and blending it into acoustic forms, rather than the initial 'Trad. with a backbeat' school of folk-rock (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Possible ISB connection - it's entirely possible; there was a fairly substantial crossover between US and UK folk-rock then, which tended to get obscured later (when Garcia was asked if the Dead's incorporation of acoustic sets into their late 69/70 shows was inspired by the Band, he replied that it was more so by playing bills alongside Pentangle)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Replacement Theory

I had a lot of fun writing this Tidal piece about ChatGPT and whether AI can replace people like me - critics, music journalists, professional opinionators, pundits, pontificators, etc etc. Until they invent something that manifestly enjoys the sound of its own voice, I would say "not quite, not yet".

There's also a playlist I pulled together to go with it, only tangentially linked really but a cool journey through the Man-Machine Interface in music from Tonto's "Jetsex" to Raime's "Our Valleys Are Always Uncanny"

Sunday, January 15, 2023

RIP Jeff Beck

It was 1982 that I got into "The Sixties."  Well, for a while I'd already had, taped off a friend, the blue and the red Beatles compilations,  and I'd picked up on vinyl  the double-LP Rolled Gold (the Stones '60s singles + odd album cut) and the similarly collated Doors double Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine. But  the academic year of 1982-83 was when I got really into "The Sixties," in that Motown / Dusty Springfield / Sandy Shaw / Manfred Mann / Dave Clark Five / Georgie Fame / Hollies / Petula Clark / Small Faces et al way - sounds that instantly conjure a whirling cliche-images vortex of Carnaby Street / Mary Quant  / The Knack (and How To Get It) / Smashing Time / kids capering through city centers, shopping arcades and parks without a care in the world  etc etc.  

Part of it was getting friendly with a boy at my college, Zaki, who dressed like he actually lived inside the 1960s -  an out-of-time modernist with pointy shoes. On the floor of his digs sat several cardboard boxes full of 7-singles, some of them in picture sleeves, and others with the centers punched out. I taped a heap of these singles off him. Zaki also hipped to me some of the Sixties groups who'd never made it, like The Action, The Creation, and John's Children, whose music was then being reissued for the first time on album-length compilations  (I don't think he could afford the highly collectable original 7-inch singles, although that would have been his preferred format, ideologically). 

Bridget Riley Op Art stylings!

In that first flush of Sixties-love, the single that seemed to me to be the absolute quintessence of Sixties-ness was "For Your Love" by The Yardbirds. But even more impressive - a harbinger of future preoccupations with sonic overload, what David Stubbs would call "the New Guitar Air" of the late '80s - was "Shapes of Things".  And it's one reason why Jeff Beck has a hold on immortality.

Another is "Over Under Sideways Down", like "Shapes" very much Beck's brainchild, sonically. 

People swear by "Happening Ten Years Time Ago" although it never quite grabbed me as much as the previous two. But certainly in historical terms it's a notable stride into the era of the Guitar Hero - two heroes in this case, Plant and Beck. 

What are Jeff's other holds on immortality? Hmmm, well, now we get into shaky terrain. 

Beck is famously - notoriously - the archetype of the great musician who hasn't been involved in many great records, and the least of them have tended to be the ones that bear his own name.  "Uneven" would be generous. 

                                                           A record designed to blow the minds of other guitarists,                                                               wow the technical magazines, zero interest to anyone not into flash for flash's sake... 

In the early '90s, when the record industry was at its fattest, Columbia / Sony / Epic Legacy had me on their mailing list for box sets. I was writing quite regularly then for New York Times, perhaps that's why. All kinds of unlikely shit came through the post - a Santana box set, an Aerosmith box set, a Ted Nugent box set for fucksake. Many others that I only got one disc into and a few I never even opened at all, but still own (Earth Wind and Fire - and I love EW&F, the golden stretch with I Am in the middle of it, but there's few things more appetite-suppressant than the sight of a box set, am I right? Reviewer's droop, you could call it). 

But you can tell what comes next... I got sent the Jeff Beck box set Beckology. Styled to look like a Fender guitar case. A guided tour across his scattered discography. A traipse across barren vistas. 

This one by Beck Bogert Appice is one of the only non-Yardbird tunes I even half-way liked. Psycho-semantically, the title of the track  - "Jizz Whizz" - seems revealing. 

Back to the Yardbirds. Alongside Beck's spotty career, the afterbirth includes Led Zeppelin (a guarded thumbs-up) and Eric Clapton's various endeavours (a fairly firm thumbs-down, give or take the odd smidge of Cream). But their real achievement was a knock-on - being the single largest influence on American garage bands. More than Them, more than the Stones even. 

After 1982's first flush of Sixties infatuation, I became an ardent acquirer of compilation series like Pebbles, Mindrocker and Back from the Grave,  taping some (Zaki was a source) and buying others, and purchasing the odd single-artist reissue too, like Mouse and the Traps, Nazz, and The Music Machine.  Alongside Them's"Gloria", the Yardbird's restructuring of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" became one of the standards of the time, covered by a legion of regional no-hopers.  

Meanwhile my pal Paul Oldfield chose the path of freakbeat (I'm not sure it was even called that yet), picking up compilations with titles like Chocolate Soup for Diabetics and The Perfumed Garden as well as single-artist reissues by The Eyes and John's Children. He preferred the English combination of fey and feral, whereas my state of hormonal insurgency at that time found a better fit with the more rampant and less androgynous American stuff. (Since then I've come to share Paul's view, finding the Anglo-freak stuff more magical and plain peculiar - but there's not a lot in it and we are basically, in both cases, talking about some of the most exciting music ever made - in a true, deep-core sense, music for ravers and raving). 

The hallmark of Yardbirds songs (like their reinvention of "Train Kept A-Rollin'") is the 'rave-up', a  climactic passage of double-time rhythm and frenzied solo-guitar.

The Yardbirds can claim to have made major donations to the DNA of both garage punk and freakbeat, so that's some more credit in the Jeff Beck ledger.

Another fingerhold on immortality for Jeff Beck: he appears with the band in this iconic (no really, the word is warranted) scene in Blow-Up (one of my Top Five films of all time) where they play "Stroll On", essentially a rewrite around the riff of "Train Kept A-Rollin". 

A big Blow-Up fan, Paul O would discourse about this scene at the Ricky Tick club - the impassive, affectless audience,  the frenzy that erupts as they all fight for the talismanic guitar-debris tossed by Beck into the crowd, the photographer's determination to get possession of it and the way he then discards his prize in the street outside, where it becomes a non-sign, mere meaningless rubbish to puzzle passers-by.  Hilary, Margin / Monitor's resident radical feminist (and Paul's girlfriend) would insist that the only notable thing about  Blow-Up was its dolly-bird era misogyny. But does the depiction of a misogynist count as misogyny? (It might be its opposite, in fact). Also, Vanessa Redgrave's character is fairly formidable and gets the better of the sexist photographer in the end. 

Another dollop of credit in the accounts book: Beck appears to be the inspiration - sartorial and coiffeurial and mannerism-wise at least - for Nigel Tufnell

Tufnell's first band, The Thamesmen 


Tuesday, January 03, 2023

RIP Alan Rankine

In these days we wake up wondering: “Who next?”.  

And it seems like almost every morning there comes the answer - yet more sad news of another legend, who filled our lives with beauty and illumination, who's passed, and too often, passed earlier than we'd have expected.  

Today’s sickening blow is Alan Rankine, who has died aged 64. Slightly older than Terry Hall. Both were just four-five years older than me (how weird to think of them creating these amazing records in their early twenties, recalling how barely-formed I was at that age). 

Alan Rankine - gentle man and genius musician. I had a lovely time interviewing him the couple of times we spoke. He was the  music director and effectively more than half the backing band for one of the towering singers of our time, Billy Mackenzie, someone else who left way too early. Not that he "backed" Billy: it was a partnership, a made-in-heaven musical marriage, a shared vision. 

In particular, Alan was an inventive and thrilling guitarist - an exemplary exponent of that clean, cold Scottish sound that abounded at the turn of the Eighties - Skids, Scars, Josef K, Altered Images, Simple Minds et al.

The Associates! One of the sounds of our generation. 

Sights too  - remember, ooh gosh, that swoony string of Associates appearances on Top of the Pops in 1982. The mischief, the panache!

Remember, too, the record covers -  what a handsome pair Alan and Billy made together. 

RIP and condolences to family, friends, fans. To you and to me. 


Here's some of the many opportunities I seized to write retrospectively about The Associates. There is also the chapter and a half in Rip It Up and Start Again, a tidied transcript of the first of those two conversations with Alan that appeared in Totally Wired, and the sleeve note for last summer's's deluxified reissue of Sulk, for which I spoke with Alan a second and, as it now turns out, final time. 

I prefer this original wiry and emaciated-sounding single B-side version of "It's Better This Way" although the Sulk maximalist version certainly shows off Alan's potential to be a full-blown guitar hero

Once again, this time the studio version, for my absolute favorite "Skipping", or equal absolute favorite, alongside "Party", "Q", "White Car" and "No"


Roy Wilkinson has a very nice tribute to Alan Rankine on the Facebook Associates group, including a cool bit about "Party Fears Two" and this morsel, which made me want to listen to Alan's solo music:

I feel very fortunate to have done two in-person interviews with Alan. The first was in 1987, for Sounds magazine, talking about his second, post-Associates solo album She Loves Me Not. Alan was living in Brussels at the time. His first solo album, the impressive The World Begins To Look Her Age (precognitive title alert?), had been released on the Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule. In my mind, Alan was occupying a landscape established by one of The Associates richest concoctions, Skipping from their great album Sulk:  “Ripping ropes from Belgian wharfs / Breathless Beauxillous griffin once removed seemed dwarfed.”  (The Beauxillous griffin/griffon was a linguistic twist from dog-lover Billy – a spin on a Belgian breed, the Griffon Bruxellois). What I recall from this interview is Alan being very cool, handsome and quietly authoritative. I asked him if he missed anything about his native Scotland. He thought for a moment: “Just a pint of milk – in a bottle, full cream, a pint of milk you can drink in a one-er.”

From Roy's second Rankine interview, for Mojo, here's a nice bit on "Party Fears Two"

 “Bill and I came up with [Party Fears Two] as far back as 1977. We were in Linlithgow, hungover, Sunday morning, one of the first things we did together. I came up with that lead keyboard line on the upright piano in the front room at my mum and dad’s. It’s just one of those special things that come from who knows where. It just happened. I never contrived to write that melody, it just happened. We both just looked at one another – like it’s really good. We didn’t record it [at that point]. We didn’t need to. Once you’d heard that could not forget it. But this was 1977 – punk. It just wasn’t right to emerge at that time, so we filed it away. Then we recorded a demo in a session in Willesden where we worked through the night. [At that point] it was called I Never Will, with different lyrics. Billy seemed to struggle for ages with the lyrics for a long time. It is a pretty unusual song. It starts in G major, but half way through the second bar of the intro it’s changed key. It changes from G into C then back into G again. Then, with the verse, it’s changing into B minor, then E minor. Then E major. It’s modulation but if you’d said to me that something was modulating that much in that short a space I would have said you’re crazy, but it just works. When that sort of thing’s working it’s when you’re not noticing it – Penny Lane by The Beatles modulates seven times…”

Rankine did a lot of producing while living in Belgium - people like Paul Haig and Anna Domino. This record with Tuxedomoon ally Winston Tong is said to be  more like a full-blown collaboration than mere production.