• JC Chasez

    28 août 2006, 21h56m

    This won't be the first time for me to say this, but I don't really know who this JC Chasez is, though someone told me he was in one of these late-90s American boybands.

    Anyway, his song Some Girls (Dance With Women) is fantastic. It really works its way into your head, and it's not like the lyrics are particularly subtle (he has some similarly restrained titles for songs on his album). No, in fact, the key theme to the song is that, as the title indicates, "some girls dance with women knowing that it gives them attention", presumably from such chancers as Mr Chasez, who "want(s) to get in with them". Yes, indeed.

    What I find fascinating is the strange understatement in Chasez's delivery of the song. After almost subliminally reciting the first few verses describing the scene in the club, the tempo suddenly changes as Chasez notices one particular women and addresses her in the second person (though it's not clear that he's directly addressing her; it seems more like he's talking to himself). "[You] move your body, so sexy, nice and slow ... You know how I like it". As he says the words of this verse, the musical accompaniment introduces a few lengthy organ notes, moving down the scale. I don't really have the musical knowledge to describe what happens here, but it's the point you'd expect a chorus to really break free into the upper registers, but instead it somehow seems to reinforce the dream-like quality of Chasez's narrative. It all stays a little bit subliminal.

    Maybe that's the insidious secret. About halfway through the song, a second voice (the same singer but at a higher, more urgent pitch) starts to interrupt the chant-like recitative verses with imperatives -- no mere wishes, but demands now. At first he just quietly -- barely noticeable in the background -- repeats or emphasises certain words in the chorus ("come here girl" and "let's go"), but soon the voice gets more insistent and finally gets a whole verse of his own and sings it twice:

    "Step right up and spin the wheel / All charged up on what you feel / Make an approach, tryin' to keep it real / What's your name, girl?"

    Do you see what he does there with that final line? What was all potential energy is actualised. He has been psyching himself up, watching the girls, and now suddenly he's over there talking to the cynosure of his affection.

    The original voice has set up a narrative which is a bit restrained and trades heavily on wishes -- viewing from afar but not making any approaches. However, by introducing this new voice Chasez has created an alter ego who makes demands and acts on them. Eventually, it's this voice which comes to dominate the song, upping its tempo, and finally limning the divide between what the narrator wants to do and what he actually does.

    "Pass me a drink and let's go."
  • The Vichy Government

    9 août 2006, 22h36m

    So yes, I'm drinking whisky. It must be time for that elusive update. This evening finds me listening to a track by London's The Vichy Government, described somewhere on the net (maybe it was Wikipedia) as a "casio nihilist" band. Yes, the brogue of Jamie Manners competes with the, er, Casio keyboard of Andrew Chilton to glorious non-effect. I've tagged it "meta-pop", because it is pop music but abstracted and pared down.

    In How to Become a Cult Figure, our narrator contemplates his path to this elusive goal while "looking for a crash course in global domination". It's a hard road paved with all kinds of indignities, but it leads him ultimately to where he is now. I think cult figuredom is the no less than Mr Manners and his casio nihilist band deserve. Certainly, there's little likelihood of very much more.
  • The Incredible String Band

    8 juin 2006, 19h35m

    I rarely update in this any more. One entry a month is about average, but really it's because I only ever do it when I'm a bit drunk, on my own and something I really like is playing. So here I am, and those conditions are fulfilled.

    The Incredible String Band it is then. My mother used to listen to them once in a while, and being a teenager, I was astounded. What rubbish, eh? Retrogressive 60s hippy claptrap, thought I.

    Anyway, fast forward some years, and I still only have one of their albums, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968). It's an excellent example of, well, 60s hippy claptrap I suppose, but pleasant folky psych-tinged stuff. I really should investigate them more deeply.

    However, for now, A Very Cellular Song is the most incredible composition ever. Right now, that is, while it's playing. It's 13 minutes long, with about five distinct musical sections. A harpsichord ties it together (backed by flutes and, improbably, a kazoo), and the slightly reedy, slightly camp vocals. The theme is tied into nature, growth, animals and plants, a balanced ecosystem, the cycle of life -- that kind of thing.

    Each of the sections is in itself pretty funky, and changes speed and key before you've got tired of it, but by the final coda (around 10:30 in), it's just wrapped you up in its brilliance, and you're trying to sing along with the idealistic sentiments.

    "May the long-time sunshine upon you
    All love surround you
    And the pure light within you
    Guide you all the way on."

    Yeah, right, you say. But it really works.
  • Operation Wolf

    13 avr. 2006, 22h53m

    They'd probably flinch at being referred to as a South London band. They're not, after all. But these days 'south London' is just a byword for being more cutting-edge than you. Like 'Shoreditch' also is. Maybe they're more of a Shoreditch band, anyway.

    That's beside the point, because Operation Wolf are the band that popular culture has been preparing you for. Not necessarily the most proficient, but they have the musical smarts where it matters -- in crafting perfectly piercing short essays about identity and performance.

    That would be indie identity and power-pop performance.

    After all, their overpowering musical thematic tends to be about identification with alternative media avatars. Particularly instructive is Kim Deal or No Deal. Like Le Tigre, totems of identification are presented from the popular media, with clear guidance as to how we should be judging them: "Keith Richards?"... "Pete Doherty?"... "no way!".

    The crossover between indie cred and media pabulum is a related discussion in Op:Wolf's work. In fact, there's little need to do more than merely quote one of their song titles: Women's Magazines Are Sucking My Will To Live.

    The least that can be said is that women's magazines are not sucking Operation Wolf's will to rock. It's safe to go further, though, and say that in their precise fury, these songs evoke a critical discourse that's all to often elided in contemporary indie music.

    We'll reassess that opinion when they become famous and embrace the bling, but for now, check out their music on Myspace and look out for a live appearance near you (assuming you live in the southeast of England).
  • Eliane Radigue

    29 mars 2006, 22h48m

    I remember the first time I listened to biogenesis. It's packaged as a lovely 3" CD in a gatefold sleeve, part of the "Cinema for the Ear" series on the French electroacoustic label Metamkine.

    So this first time I listened to it, was on headphones lying on the couch with all the lights turned off and it just seemed the perfect way to experience it. I've done it again that way -- in fact, it tends to be my favourite way of listening to a lot of .

    "Biogenesis" has a wonderful, and not particularly surprising, organic quality. After all, it is underpinned by the beating of a heart. As a whole, Radigue's drone is like a massive bed of warmth, all humming and pulsing. It's a bit disconcerting too, and some of that humming is a bit alienating (like the constant background noise which permeates Todd Haynes' film Safe, which is all about urban alienation). Mostly, though, it's about the warmth for me, about the feeling of sinking into a piece of music.

    There's no drone I can recommend higher than this release by Ms Eliane Radigue.
  • Magnolia Electric Co.

    31 jan. 2006, 23h48m

    So now, like all the mopey "" singer-songwriter lovers out there, one of my favourite American bands of the past few decades has been Songs: Ohia (and Jason Molina's follow-up/spin-off project, Magnolia Electric Co).

    I always liked them best when it was just Jason Molina's guitar and voice with minimal accompaniment, like on their Didn't It Rain album, or (my favourite track of all) "The Lioness (Didn't It Rain Translation)" (the version from the split 7" with Scout Niblett). The way his voice sounds so brittle and filled with emotion really gets to me, when I'm willing to be in that mood.

    It's probably this reason why I prefer Trials and Errors (the live album) to some of the studio recordings. Despite the presence of all the musicians, it just seems more stripped-down and immediate. In particular, the rendering of Almost Was Good Enough from this album is the version I prefer to play, and I can play it over and over again. At over 9 minutes (5 minutes longer than the album version), it's the longest track on the album, and yet there's nothing extraneous. It sweeps along from peak to valley, carried along by the rhythm guitar not unlike a train. There's no individual showboating by any of the musicians, and when Molina builds up into the refrain, "Almost no-one makes it out", they all work together perfectly with a precise forward momentum that pulls the listener through even when the singer is reaching bleak depths in the lyrics.

    If that's not all too pretentious. Yes, so I like it: I like this song.
  • This Mortal Coil vs Tim Buckley

    31 jan. 2006, 22h51m

    It's been over a month since I've been here, but I'm ready to tackle what's playing right now. Or perhaps I am not, for what I know of This Mortal Coil is merely that the words that form their name are from the famous soliloquy in Hamlet. I don't know how many people are behind their music (though if I were inclined, I'm sure I could easily find out). Their version of Song to the Siren in fact seems to feature Elizabeth Fraser as vocalist, so whether it's typical of their output I have no idea. None whatsoever.

    I therefore have no great claim to be a serious reviewer, but this is not a review site, it's a blog. So, continuing, I'll say that I've loved Tim Buckley for years, and his "Song to the Siren" in particular (or at least, since I've owned a copy of Starsailor, a fearsome and rather difficult record as a whole -- I still prefer Happy Sad as a complete album). If I were pushed, I'd probably say I prefer his version taken from "The Monkees" TV show which appears on the two-disc anthology set which was released a few years back. That one has a really stripped-down raw feeling to it, which I like.

    With this in mind, it's probably quite some achievement that I'm actually unsure of whether I like This Mortal Coil's version better or not. At the very least, it has its own very precise atmospherics which have some of the openness of the Buckley original, but which overlay a hefty chunk of 80s shoegazing driftiness. It's not 'new age' per se, but it's the kind of feeling I'd like to think the 'new age' genre could only ideally aspire to.
  • Chris Knox

    19 déc. 2005, 0h27m

    Now, really, you all know who Chris Knox is, surely? He's been pretty damn-near fundamental to the development of NZ music since the late-70s. He's recorded or drawn the cover art for most of those seminal 80s Flying Nun bands, and as Toy Love and the Tall Dwarfs he's been a part of some important NZ bands himself. He also does film reviews, draws comics, and pops up on NZ TV every so often. Plus, he's recorded music as a solo artist.

    I remember back when I was a student of classics in NZ, my American lecturer (educated at Berkeley: a classicist, but with a documented interest in the Korean punk rock scene, as well as being a translator of Korean poetry) was keen on Chris Knox. Obviously this was a positive, as like everyone in my class, I looked up to this lecturer. But, being young and foolish, when the lecturer dragged us off to see him play live at the Bar Bodega, we were distinctly unimpressed.

    Such youthful misunderstanding tends to linger and I've only recently given him a chance again. Really, it's like when you hear Bob Dylan as a teenager and think, wow this guy really can't sing: 'I hate him, he's boring!'... and then you neglect him until you're 60. You don't know what you're missing out on, even at just the level of sheer musical history being created, if not for the wonderful music.

    I still haven't rediscovered Dylan (though it's on my mental list for before I'm 60), but I'm giving Knox another chance.

    And how fabulous is his album Songs of You and Me? I mean, really? It's great!

    So many of the songs are just perfect little pop masterpieces, wrapped up in three-and-a-half minutes and recorded direct to four-track. It's a privileged insight to hear something like Half-Man/Half-Mole. You can sing along! You can dance along! And deep down, you can be a bit morose too ("All that I want is to be left here on my own."). Just like any good pop song.
  • Smog

    18 déc. 2005, 23h07m

    Sometimes I try to remember what I love, what I really loved (back when it was on the stereo a lot, a good few years back) about The Doctor Came At Dawn. And I put it on and think, OK, Whistling Teapot (Rag) is great and always gets me warbling along, but it's quite a dour album full of sombre tones and it makes me rather sad.

    Right now, though, making my way through my single-malt whiskies and feeling a bit sad for myself (no, worry not, it's just a passing mood!), I realise just what this album's for, just why it's so damn good.

    In fact, it's probably in some ways (and for some moods), my favourite Smog album. The songs have an openness that invites you to fall into them, like into a deep pool of water, where it's so easy to drown. Rock stars do that, they drown in pools of water. Didn't Brian Jones go that way?

    Well, no, I'm just drinking whisky and feeling vaguely sorry for myself, but Bill Callahan, he is living it, is he not? And then singing about it. "How could I ignore your hardness, your softness, and your mercy?" "Oh, who needs you..." and so forth. There's a lot of self-pity, which, when you're in one of those bouncy Girls Aloud-are-the-sound-of-the-NOW moods (as you so often are, admit it), just seems like so much self-defeating moroseness.

    But it's not. It's uplifting, like when Bill's voice reaches -- uncertainly -- for those higher notes in "Whistling Teapot (Rag)". It's a bumpy ride, but it gets you there.

    Talisker, though.* That's uplifting too, and good for cold winter nights.
  • Birchville Cat Motel

    18 déc. 2005, 22h45m

    I said some time back, while discussing Side-Mounted Scum Suckers (that great band that never was, ahem), that I'd written an entry on Birchville Cat Motel. Well that was wrong; I hadn't. So now I'm putting that right.

    There's not much I can really tell you, though. I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, and I'd be lying (blatantly) if I told you that I'd also grown up with the music of Campbell Kneale. It was only in the last few years that I started hearing any of this stuff, but when I did, seeing Birchville gigs was one of the intermittent highlights of following the local free jazz/noise/whatever scene.

    Actually, the 'first' time I saw him live wasn't even that. He was going to be playing with Negative Eh (some lathe-cut limited releases you'll never find, but pleasantly-droning enough that they're worth tracking down; as a later incarnation, Nova Scotia, they have a release on Peter Stapleton's Metonymic label). But he didn't show up, and instead a guitar was left, plugged in and switched on, against an amplifier -- creating a staticky buzz, which everyone jokingly referred to as Birchville.

    Amusing enough as in-crowd in-jokes go, but it scarcely sums up the output of Mr Kneale. Even as Birchville Cat Motel, he has a bewildering array of releases, varying from the full-on noise explosions of parts of screamformelongbeach and Swarming Tamagotchi Plague to the ambient swell of Crestfallen and We Count These Prayers..., with most stops in between. Except vocals. I don't think he has vocals on any of his BCM releases. Of course, that doesn't preclude his metal outfits and various collaborations, which you can track via his label, Celebrate Psi Phenomenon.

    Even within one of his pieces, say Swarming Tamagotchi Plague (which is one 45 minute track followed by a 9 minute coda), there are many tonalities. His collaborator here, Jeff Henderson, adds an array of saxophone effects to the hum-and-buzz of Kneale's instrumental manipulations, resulting in a piece which moves pretty rapidly from the calm of static to incendiary attack. "Plague" indeed.

    I don't think I'll ever be able to categorise everything he's done, but I don't think any of it is really disappointing. And to be able to achieve that requires a lot of talent.

    Trust me, there's a lot of really poor noise music out there.