Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Sunday, November 23, 2008
Putting My Self-Promotion Hat On...
^ Unlike my self-promotion hat, this hat is signed by Stevie Nicks!
So I've got a pretty busy couple of weeks coming up. Largely this busy-ness will consist of merely going to more gigs, or shows, or whatever you want to call musical happenings, than usual, but I'll also actually be DOING a few things, so thought I'd take time out from posting stuff you might actually want to read to inform you of these.
Saturday November 29th: Myself and some other good Plan B foruming folks are going to be playing records at the Mucky Pup pub in Islington, on behalf of The Olde Peculiar. Tunes played will hopefully laugh in the face of puny genre-based remits, but will be united in the fact that they will all be GOOD. And there will be ale and wine and friendliness, perhaps bordering on outright joviality, so, uh, y'know, if you're knocking about in London somewhere, come along and say hello. I'll buy you a drink. The Mucky Pup is on Queen's Head St., N1 8NQ: Map here.
Monday December 1st: The Give It Ups, featuring myself, will be playing at The Windmill in Brixton, opening a bill also featuring the completely awesome Cars Can Be Blue, the also completely awesome Hotpants Romance, and The Keith John Adams, who I can't speak for, but anyone who starts a band by taking his name and putting "the" on front is alright by me. It's a killer line-up: I'd be really excited about going to this one even if I wasn't playing at it, so come along for the other bands if not for our own fuzz-pop tomfoolery. Tickets, further details etc: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/38682
Thanks for your time. Proper posts returning soon.
Going through some folders of old stuff this week, I found some flyers for the DJ night myself and some friends did in Leicester a few years ago. Ain't it sweet? Great stuff. Predictably, barely anyone turned up, but we had a great time dancing to each other's tunes.
As it happens, this rediscovery has coincided with another DJing engagement which, for the avoidance of confusion, I'll be plugging in another post above this one.
So, to recap: this night happened A WHOLE BUNCH OF YEARS AGO - so don't try to go to it. GO TO THE ONE IN THE POST ABOVE. Just thought you might like to see the flyer, because it's a beautiful piece of lofi-type work. Ah, the youthful optimism of people under 25 who live outside of London.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Deathage: Frank Navetta
Whilst Kenneth Anger may be alive and kicking, despite his predictions to the contrary*, the past month or so seems to have seen the passing of any number of much-loved yet underappreciated figures from the worlds of music and culture – Studs Terkel, Miriam Mabeka, Norman Whitfield and Yma Sumac foremost amongst them.
Whilst I’m not really familiar enough with the work of any of the above to provide a worthwhile obit here though (I’ve always thought Terkel sounded like a thoroughly amazing individual, as well as the owner of the greatest name on earth, but shamefully I’ve never actually found the time to read his books or listen to his recordings), I was particularly saddened to hear yesterday of the death of Frank Navetta, guitarist with the original line-up of The Descendents.
The legacy of this version of the band – before they regrouped without Navetta in the mid ‘80s to become pop-punk godfathers – rests almost entirely on their brilliant ‘Milo Goes To College’ LP from 1982.
I actually only got hold of a copy of ‘Milo..’ recently and, whilst it’s the kind of album I really should have discovered ten years ago, I’ll admit I’ve still been playing it LOADS this year.
If you’re able to stomach the occasional misguided lyric ruining a couple of otherwise great songs (sadly par for the course in early ‘80s LA punk it would seem), it’s an absolutely definitive blast of teenage punk genius. Within it’s twenty-two minutes, you can hear obnoxious, misanthropic loser-kid hardcore giving way to smart and self-deprecating hymns to adolescent confusion, heart-rending pleas for affection and superbly venomous commentary directed at anyone who’d try to pin them down to a ‘punk rock’ lifestyle option, all set to kick-ass pop melodies, growing naturally out of the band’s vicious Black-Flag-with-a-sense-of-humour thrash. As a result, ‘Milo..’ not only establishes the clever/dumb, loud/fast/pop musical blueprint that The Queers, Screeching Weasel and the whole pop-punk sub-genre follow religiously to this very day, it’s also a landmark in expanding punk rock’s horizons beyond macho chest-beating to take in honest and affecting songwriting and emotional catharsis, just as much so as the early work of Husker Du and The Replacements.
In fact, I’d place ‘Milo Goes To College’ alongside The Replacements ‘Sorry Ma..’ and ‘Let It Be’ as an album that should be forcibly thrown at any unhappy looking sixteen year old. I mean, yeah, there are a few weak tracks, a few totally gormless tracks, but the right feeling is there throughout, and once the band hit their stride on the second half of the record, the final stretch of songs from ‘Marriage’ through ‘Hope’, ‘Bikeage’ to ‘Jean Is Dead’ are truly unfuckable-with.
In much the same way that later pop-punk bands often seem to have their own ‘so uncool it’s cool’ extra-curricular hobbies (golf, hockey etc.), it seems like The Descendents were really into fishing, writing several songs on the subject, and when the band initially split up after recording ‘Milo..’ (a decision taken because singer Milo did indeed go to college), Navetta apparently quit music for good and moved to Oregon to become a fisherman.
I love that. I’m not sure exactly what KIND of fisherman Frank became- was he a sorta sporting fisherman, entering contests and making videos about angling? Was he a commercial fisherman, working a trawler or something? Or was he simply a free spirit, wondering the majestic Northwest with his rod and line, ala Richard Brautigan’s ‘Trout Fishing in America’?
Whatever, he certainly made his mark on the world in his brief musical career. Here are two great songs, one about fishing, one not;
The Descendents - Catalina
The Descendents - Marriage
Many thanks to Last Days Of Man On Earth for providing the news, info and the great photo above for this post.
*As an aside, I went to see Anger introduce a screening of some of his films on Halloween – the day he’d apparently publicly announced as his last. I was unaware of this prophesy at the time, but I thought he seemed a bit nervous, and he seemed to keep trying to drag the subject of the brief Q&A that followed the screening back to that of the unhappy deaths and suicides of various friends of his. Strange stuff.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
MASTER OF REALITY
A book review / extract.
“I don’t know what’s happening
My head’s all torn inside
People say I’m heavy
They don’t know what I hide”
- Black Sabbath, ‘Cornucopia’
Let’s begin with what (appropriately enough, given the lapsed Catholic foundation of the band’s work) amounts to a confession: I can *really relate* to Black Sabbath songs. I mean, when I put on ‘Master Of Reality’ or ‘Volume 4’ (my personal favourite), I don’t think to myself “wow, this is some awesome, imaginative heavy metal with crazy OTT lyrics”, I think “fuck yeah, they’ve NAILED IT”.
What ‘it’ is, I’m not sure – the apocalyptic, melodramatic feeling in the back of the mind of every weirdo adolescent male perhaps? – but it’s something ‘Sabbath manage to communicate through the very bones of their music, whether they’re singing about religion, deep space or some weird robot stomping people in boots of lead. And, as a grown up with a job and a certain amount of education and a fairly sedate existence, I feel like I shouldn’t really be going so far as to share ‘it’ with them, even as I, like all people of taste, enjoy their incredible music. ‘It’ is not there for me. I should be getting my jollies listening to some dreary alt-country loser crafting thoughtful songs expressing mature concerns, or something.
Well, maybe it’s just another obvious signpost of emotional immaturity, but fuck that. At the end of a crappy, uninspiring day as I trundle on toward my late ‘20s, it’s still ‘Sabbath who’ve got my number.
Strangely, I never got into Black Sabbath when I actually WAS a confused, miserable teenager. I didn’t really discover them until I was nineteen or twenty and beginning to take my by then well-established musical tastes on a forced march back through the ‘60s and ‘70s in order to break away from punk and indie-rock and take in the near endless catalogue of earlier wild sounds awaiting appreciation.
It’s probably just as well I waited actually. As a thirteen year old, idly picking over the bones of grunge and hair metal in search of traces of GNARLY LYRICS and BIG RIFFS, I’m sure one listen to Iron Man would have killed me – I mean, flat out heart-attack-on-the-spot dead.
And a few years after that of course, it was The Ramones rather than Sabbath – and by extension, punk rather than metal – that anchored my darkest teenage years. Thinking about it, the two bands actually have a LOT in common. They definitely provide each other’s analogues in their respective genres, both in terms of making simple, powerful, timeless music, but also by means of helping to create a unifying identity and instant aural comfort zone for disaffected, suburban kids across the decades and across the globe.
The similarity even extends to the roles and personalities of the bands’ members. Think about it: a really strange looking singer who "can’t sing" and has no conventional stage charisma, but who is nonetheless clearly THE MOST AWESOME GUY IN THE WORLD in the eyes of fans; a taciturn, workman-like guitarist with a style so singularly brutish and uncompromising that it went on to define the entire future of heavy music, leaving a rainbow of entirely new sub-genres in its wake; an eccentric, wildman bass player with a killer groove who wrote loads of the lyrics….. I guess the similarity breaks down when we get to the drummers though, in that Bill Ward’s jazz-inflected swing (a vital ingredient that stops ‘Sabbath from ever slipping into the kind of trudging heavy blues sludge that idiots and detractors often deride them as) doesn’t really bear much comparison to Tommy & Marky’s relentless 4/4 perfection…
…but I’m getting off the point here. What was the point again? – Oh yeah…
Black Sabbath rule. That was it. To anyone who is still apt to consider them foremost as a corny millionaire heavy metal band rather than as authentic avatars of youthful defiance, watch this video of them performing ‘Paranoid’ on Belgium TV in the first flush of their fame. The sheer, singleminded *otherness* of the band hits me every time. It’s a wonder the British establishment let these guys *walk the streets* in 1970, let alone ok’d them for international TV appearances. The look in Ozzy’s eyes alone must have been enough to see elderly uncles crashing to the ground before they could choke out “god help us if there’s a war”. But how many frustrated teenagers must seen this and witnessed their own position in the world reflected straight back at them for the first time?
I’ve always kept the 33 1/3 series of books at a distance. The concept behind them has always seemed a thinly veiled excuse for writers and readers alike to indulge in the worst kind of reverential music geek blather. Not that there’s anything wrong with that once in a while, but trust me, I really, really, really don’t need another excuse to spend yet more of my time consuming trivial facts and observations regarding the genius of ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ or ‘Exile On Main Street’ or whatever.
But then, it seems the editors of the series have been doing some good work recently – getting some good writers in, commissioning some daring (by the conservative standards of music book publishing anyway) pieces of writing on some interesting records.
Chief among these for me, needless to say, is John Darnielle’s book on Black Sabbath’s ‘Master Of Reality’.
Wisely, Darnielle has realised that a wry re-evaluation of the merits of Black Sabbath by a learned, grown up music critic would, in a very profound sense, be missing the point.
Instead, he has decided the best course of action is to take us straight into the mind of one of the people Black Sabbath were REALLY speaking to, someone for whom their music – forever veiled in a distant layer of irony for so many of our culturally complacent indie brethren – meant fucking everything.
So, the book introduces us to Roger. It’s 1985, it’s California, he’s fifteen years old, and his parents have just had him forcibly committed to a secure adolescent psychiatric unit. Roger has been denied access to his walkman and his tapes, and, in a series of increasingly lengthy journal entries directed at his uncaring counsellor, he begins to try to explain, step by step, why he needs them back, beginning with his favourite, ‘Master Of Reality’.
In ditching rock-write expectations entirely and turning in a work of straight-up fiction, Darnielle has succeeded not only in telling us more about the cultural importance of the record than a more conventional treatment ever could, but also in producing one of the most emotionally effective pieces of writing I’ve read in recent years.
Drawing heavily on both Darnielle’s empathy for the fate of underdogs, outsiders and misfit teenagers, as extensively chronicled in his songwriting for The Mountain Goats, and also his own experiences working as a psychiatric nurse, the book’s narrative rings true as a bell, cutting straight to the heart of precisely how much music can mean to people as they’re growing up, of how deep the strange imagery, fantastical words and overpowering sound of rock n’ roll can penetrate our being, of how much we can build ourselves around it, finding strength amid the most shattered and dismal wreckage.
Recalling, and indeed standing alongside, Dennis Hopper’s masterpiece Out Of The Blue as an exploration of those issues, it is, needless to say, essential reading.
Oh, and it’s pretty funny in places too, and tells you loads of stuff about Black Sabbath and ‘Master Of Reality’, so don’t be scared.
Rather than explaining further, I am instead going to spend the rest of this post quoting a couple of extracts from the book. I hope nobody minds. (My email is at the top of the page if you do.) I think they help to express the essence of ‘Sabbath far better than I ever could.
In entries dated October 24th and 25th, Roger tries to get to grips with the appeal of ‘Sweet Leaf’;
To be honest I don’t even know why ‘Sweet Leaf’ is on the album because it does not really belong. Soon when I talk about the other songs on the album, if you go back to ‘Sweet Leaf’, you will have to agree. On the album Paranoid or even on that first album all the songs seem to go together, all the things Ozzy is singing about are like pieces of the same puzzle. But ‘Sweet Leaf’ is just this song about how Ozzy really likes weed. My theory is, there’s no way they could keep the guitar riff hidden from the world, so Tony Iommi wrote it and gave it to Ozzy, and Ozzy was maybe high that day so he wrote about what was going on in his mind and the whole band was like “That’s what it is then.” If I was Ozzy I think I would have wrote the words differently and maybe made a song about living naked in a cave or being afraid that the house is haunted. But I am not Ozzy so I have to respect his decision!
But this is the thing about you guys and music here. You think that all we are doing when we listen to our music is either looking at the words like they were a bible for us, or looking at pictures of the singers like they were Jesus. It is not like that at all. When you guys talk like that, that is how we know that you are stupid and growing old has made you crazy. Because: music is like a whole world, and there are words and pictures and sounds and textures and smells probably, OK I didn’t actually mean that I just got carried away. Albums do have a special smell though. Old ones smell different from new ones. Anyway you gotta know what I mean about this! It’s like, when you sing “Row row row your boat,” do you really only focus on the boat and the rowing it? And think “Wow this is a song about some guys rowing a boat, fucken awesome!” No of course not. Only if you are totally weird do you think like that. When you are singing, you hear the song, the part that is more than the words, and is also the feeling of just the notes in the air, especially if you are singing it in a round with a bunch of other people. We used to do that in my Kindergarten. You hear a mood which is way higher (not “high” like that, come on) than the words, it is sort of always floating above the words. And that is why bands like The Beatles can be popular everywhere, even where people do not speak English, where to them The Beatles probably sound like trained monkeys trying to talk.
Well OK now that you got that check it out. In “Sweet Leaf,” if you can’t hear the mood that just the guitar and the bass and the drums make without anything to do with weed, you are prejudiced or you are not listening. Imagine that you are a man from space! And you don’t speak English and you never heard of weed, and you landed in California and the first person you met up with took you to his house and said “Hey check out this band.” And then he played you “Sweet Leaf.” In my opinion, the man from space would hear that song, just the crunchy guitar sound and those bass notes, Geezer Butler is the best bassist it sounds like his strings are made of lime jello salad, and he would start banging his head! Because the riff on “Sweet Leaf,” that is something anybody can understand. ANYBODY. It doesn’t really have anything to do with what Ozzy is singing about. The lyrics, that is just what Ozzy thinks of when he feels this groove. But it doesn’t have to mean that to everybody, and it means more no matter what, because it’s like a physical thing. So when I told you yesterday, that I don’t know how “Sweet Leaf” fits on Master of Reality, I think now I understand. It’s there because the mood is right, even if the words are weird. And the mood comes first. This whole album is just about that mood. That feeling.
Mp3> Black Sabbath – Sweet Leaf
The second half of Darnielle’s book rejoins Roger ten years later, as he tries to come to terms with his years of unnecessary incarceration and, rediscovering his old Black Sabbath tapes, tries to keep his head above water by tracking down his old counsellor’s new address and continuing his unfinished exegesis;
Pretty soon we learn that all the people we’re supposed to look to for guidance think we’re stupid, or dangerous, or “confused,” which is really insulting. And at that point we’re all out of role models, because any other possible role models are out there in the real world, which we can only visit when we get a daypass. The people we see every day seem to have been made from different parts.
And so we look up to Black Sabbath – to what we remember of them, in my case. Even after we’ve grown up, we do. Always. Because looking at Black Sabbath – at their album covers, at their handmade costumes, at their lyrics sheets, at the dumb faces they make in their videos now – we can see people like us. It’s nice. I don’t do sports, but with Ozzy I feel like I can understand the concept of the home team crowd. It’s like, I know that dude. That’s the guy that used to break into people’s houses. Now he’s making money and the whole block is safe. Good for him. Maybe every other band in the world has more brains and deeper meaning, but only Black Sabbath sounds exactly like what my friends and I might have done if we’d had the equipment.
Which, by the way, is the actual story of how Black Sabbath got started, although I can hardly stand to think about it now, because it’s dangerous to think about how things might have been different. Still. When Ozzy Osbourne was a teenager, he lived in Birmingham, England. When I was in treatment, I used to try to imagine Birmingham, but all I knew about England was the Queen and Buckingham Palace guards, really. And Shakespeare. Birmingham isn’t like that, I found out later. It’s a town that manufactured a lot of guns in the nineteenth century, and then tyres in the twentieth, and then it got the crap bombed out of it during the second world war. Ozzy Osbourne was born in the late ‘40s, so he probably grew up looking at a lot of bomb craters. I grew up in Southern California, so what I grew up looking at was a lot of strip malls. Same basic idea. The only difference is that my neighbourhood looked like it was waiting to get bombed instead of recovering from the bombing.
If Ozzy had come from California he would have been sent to treatment, and that would have been the end of that. Instead his dad bought him a P.A. system to keep him out of trouble, and he started forming bands: Rare Breed; The Polka Tulk Blues Company; Earth. Different guys who were also losers started to join up, and then they became Black Sabbath. And instead of trying to make important records that made a big statement, the band decided to stay exactly the same as they were when they’d just been angry young people getting hammered in bars.
This makes them role models. Real ones. Not unreachable dicks like Bon Jovi, who you know got into music with a business plan, and had a bank account under the band’s name before they played their first show. And not like Poison or any of those other bands they have now. When you listen to early Black Sabbath you know the main difference between them & you is that somebody bought them guitars and microphones. They’re not smarter than you; they’re not deeper than you; they’re a fuck of a lot richer than you, but other than that it’s like listening to the inside of your own mind. So when they write songs, they sing about wizards. And witches. And robots. When they try to write a love song, it always ends up being about getting rejected before anything really got started. And they sing about war too, like everyone else who’s making records at that time, but they don’t really have anything special to say about it, except that it sucks. They say they figure things would probably be better if we did not have wars. And they say how the world’s going to end, but we should all be friends.
By the time they make Master of Reality, they’re pretty famous, but anyone who says he can hear a difference between the Ozzy who wrote the song “Black Sabbath”, and the Ozzy who sings “Children Of The Grave” is a liar. It’s the same guy. Same dumb poor kid from a bombed out town in the middle of nowhere. That’s why Black Sabbath are special. They aren’t rags to riches. They’re just rags. All they have is themselves, and that’s turned out to be enough. For them.
Mp3>Black Sabbath – Into the Void
Buy 33 1/3: Master of Reality from Amazon.
Read more stuff by John Darnielle at Last Plane To Jakarta.
Keep up to date with the rest of the 33 1/3 series (wow, check out that Alex Chilton interview stuff from the ‘Radio City’ book!).
Listen to Black Sabbath.
Friday, November 07, 2008
JUST A QUICK ONE...
No, I just couldn't keep the cynicism at bay.
As a brief devil's advocate appendum to yesterday's slightly misty-eyed post, just thought I'd quickly draw people's attention to this open letter to the new president from everybody's favourite fly in the ointment, Ralph Nader. Worth a read.
As a reponse, I'm going to say that sincerity is pretty much a moot point in modern politics, and that whatever Obama actually believes has been near irrelevant up to this point; the shortcomings of his campaign in the eyes of leftists and humanitarians were likely a matter of cruel necessity. He had his work cut out for him as it was staying one step ahead of potentially state-losing bigotry and slander from the right wing peanut gallery; clearly a candidate who'd also NOT delcared his support for Isreal, and had hung out for photo opportunities in mosques and publicly associated himself with Jimmy Carter, would not be preparing to move into the Whitehouse right now.
Of perhaps deeper concern is his sadly inevitable reliance on corporate finance to get where he's going. The ability of corporate interests to effectively buy themselves a president is perhaps THE biggest problem in Western democracy as it currently stands, and, as the happy beneficiary of that process, it would be foolish to expect B.O. to do anything to rectify matters, however much he may (or may not) push other aspects of policy in the right direction.
Those of a more overtly paranoid persuasion may also wish to remember Bill Hicks' routine about the optimistic new president being ushered in the room with the cigar-smoking bigshots. "Roll the film.... any questions?"
Meet the new boss.... etc?
Thursday, November 06, 2008
WORLD SAYS: ALRIGHT.
So I should get a post down on the U.S. election, for sure. I know I’ve managed to put pop music aside for a few minutes each time there's been a US or UK election over the past five years to chip in with a bunch of hand-wringing, cursing and venomous cynicism. So to ignore the one where, suddenly, against all the odds, something unexpectedly good happens, would make me out to be an inveterate humbugger of the highest order.
But you see, given the ceaseless nightmare of corruption, greed, vote-theft, lies and horrifying stupidity that we’ve all got used to politics in America (and elsewhere) being over the past decade or so (not that it was any great shakes before that), it’s almost EERIE to have something good to say the day after an election; it’s not something my young mind is used to. My standard litany of Reagan-era punk bands and Hunter S. Thompson quotes will not help me to find anything well-balanced and original to say here, in this stunningly uncynical circumstance.
Such is my political pessimism, I spent the first few days of November just *waiting* for some contrived "turning of the tables", for some colossal unforeseen (OR WAS IT?) fuckup or unexpected shift in the voting, for The Ugly American to raise his head and say "what, you didn't REALLY think we were gonna let the black guy win did you?"
But no; I checked once, I checked twice – and whilst I fear the ‘rat-bastards’ of HST’s comic book worldview are still out there planning something nasty, for the moment it looks like he actually made it.
I mean, politically-speaking Obama's obviously no utopian anticorporate revolutionary or anything, but having a vaguely left-leaning Democrat in charge after near a decade of neocon chuckleheads still feels like a huge relief from at least some of the madness and chaos hanging over the world, and it'll be great just to be able to hear things like 'Secretary Of State' and 'Whitehouse Spokesperson' and not have to hate yourself slightly for immediately wanting to launch a psychic axe at the face of whoever appears on the TV screen. But, as has already been repeated a million times over, in purely symbolic terms, Obama's election is MASSIVE.
Just to think that a man who looks like - as my Dad might put it - "the guy who'd always die first in all the war movies" is now in charge, insofar as anyone can be, of the system that made those movies (and the wars for that matter)…? As a dude I’m going to get onto in a minute once put it: ain’t that good news!
And, whilst Obama's words thus far have stuck closely to the accepted 'I want to win an election' school of vague, optimistic rhetoric, that acceptance speech was sounding pretty good. Yeah, the ‘equality for all’ style of blather may be well played out in American political vocab, but an incoming president explicitly pledging his support for Americans “male and female, black and white, gay and straight”? – THAT’S not something I remember hearing before. And I don’t recall any previous president-elect paraphrasing Sam Cooke either. If he’d just taken the trouble to get photographed in a Ramones shirt too, I’d be 100% sure me and Barack were gonna get along.
Stupid I know, but it’s the Sam Cooke thing that really blows my mind.
I mean, even if you find the overly sentimental approach to politics a little cringeworthy, just check this out from a music fan’s point of view:
“I was born by the river, in a little tent
and just like the river, I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long time coming, but I know
A change is gonna come”
- Sam Cooke, 1964
“It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, a change has come to America.”
- Barack Obama, 2008
So you've got this great, unspeakably beautiful, noble yet desperate song of hope for the future that everybody loves. And everybody listens to it, and they think “ah yeah, one day....”. And yesterday morning, this dude got on stage in front of millions and effectively said “HEY – IT’S TODAY”.
Obviously I know that at heart the whole thing's as cynical as any other political 'victory', and he's only there thanks to the fact he raised shitloads of money, had a few good lines, deliberately avoided raising any divisive issues and was lucky enough to face an opposing team who were an even bigger bunch of clowns than usual, and I know that the grim economic/social reality of race relations in America probably isn't going to change very much, but still..... how often in a lifetime do you get the chance to take the message of a famous, rhetorical hope-for-the-future song and, for a moment at least, declare it DONE?
It’s like if an international panel of experts announced that a man only has to walk down one road to be called a man, or if somebody started issuing certificates of land ownership signed by God and Woody Guthrie’s grandson, or if the silver spaceships started flying in the yellow haze of the sun.
Crazy, and wonderful.
Now of course, I’m duty bound to post the song. I guess I should have had some smart-alec obscure cover version lined up really, and well, I hear Baby Huey’s version is a blast, and The Wave Pictures recent rendition is beautifully executed and reassuringly heartfelt, but…. if you’re up against Sam Cooke, Sam Cooke wins, y’know?
I don't know if I've mentioned it as often as I should have done on Stereo Sanctity in the past, but man, I love Sam Cooke SO MUCH. If you've ever had a party where this guy's recorded works weren't close at hand: well, you could have had a better party. Enjoy.
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
Sam Cooke – Ain’t That Good News
Oh, and hey, let’s remember:
Sam Cooke – Rome (Wasn’t Built In A Day)
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
MORE BLOODY SINGLES.
This’ll be the last batch for a while I should think. I like buying singles though, so don’t count on it.
Comet Gain – Love Without Lies
(Twee As Fuck / What’s Your Rupture)
So here it is – the first recorded output from Comet Gain since their London love/hate/aaarg magnum opus ‘City Fallen Leaves’ three years ago, in advance of their forthcoming singles/rarities/etc. comp ‘Broken Record Prayers’. A cheaply pressed looking 7 clocking in at under five minutes, it’s an inauspicious return for the best British band of the past decade (© me), but we’ll take whatever we can get. Fast Lady & Scorpio Scorpio – Love Dictator
The A-side here is an urgent, Rachel-voiced punk stomp, not without the potential to stand aside ‘Bored Roar’ off the last record, ragged fuzz and fragments of specific-yet-universal defiance & self-definition spat out like nails. But on this recording at least, things are marred slightly for me by an uncharacteristically lumpen ‘indie-disco’ beat, rhythm section front-loaded in the mix with late-entering guitars and echoed vocal, almost like some way-too-late attempt to jump onboard The Gossip’s hit single, or an unwarranted grab at the aesthetic of the capital’s contemporary indie club culture, as romanticised so wonderfully/disgustingly (delete as desired) in the song’s video.
B-side ‘Books of California’ by contrast exists at the opposite pole of the band’s established musical territory, showcasing a similar West Coast psyche via British jangle-pop vibe to ‘Silverlake to Seven Sisters’ off the last album, as David Feck pays vague and effusive tribute to the works of Richard Brautigan, worn paperback-referencing (gotta love those beautiful old Picador editions) non-sequitors drifting off into the wind over shimmering freezing-sunshine-on-a-hungover-morning backing. Alright.
It’s a great thing to find Comet Gain returning in such rude health anyway; all vital signs looking good. More new songs soon please!
Fast Lady & Scorpio Scorpio – Love Dictator
It’s been a long time since I’ve checked out anything on V/VM’s label – longstanding home of all that is evil, wrong, disconcerting, occasionally illegal and often sublime in the sphere of underground electronica / record detourning weirdness type stuff. Gloria Cycles – Vegas
On the basis of this one though, I fear they might have started taking their terrible-becomes-genius aesthetic into uncharted realms of unfettered ghastliness in the meantime, because whatever the hell this record is supposed to be about, it is truly, truly awful in a way no hidden gag or conceptual barb could serve to redeem.
It’s like some nightmare Chris Morris parody of toxic, Vice reader post-everything stoopid cokehead music; thuggish sampled NWBHM guitar riffs and preset hip-hop beats, guys with shitty fake American accents yelling macho cock-rock pastiche lyrics, presumably trying not to bust out sniggering between each line. And the worst thing is, I don’t even think it’s meant to be a parody. I mean, I think these goons actually think they’re making *great party music* or something. Horrid.
I failed to make it through either side of this before reflexively pulling the needle. Utter shit, and not in the good way you’d tend to expect from V/VM. If anyone wants this thing, let me know roughly what direction you live in and I’ll climb on the roof and throw it.
Gloria Cycles – Vegas
Now this is a bloody lovely looking piece of vinyl, I’m sure you’ll agree. And ‘Gloria Cycles’ is a great name too! And so, hoping it was a person’s name rather than a band, I took a chance on this one, sound-unheard. The Manhattan Love Suicides – Clusterfuck EP
And, Hmm, the intro at least is nice… predictably enough, they’re an indie band of some description, but the opening bars of chiming, mildly psychey guitars and a singer with a Welsh(?) accent are really pleasant – rather like Gorkys trying to be the BJM or something maybe? That’s until that same old indie-disco kick drum thing rears it’s ugly head like a metaphor-mixing death knell, and we’re dragged into a thoroughly uninspired chorus that sound rather like I’d imagine some band wanting to be the Arctic Monkeys might sound like.
Not a bad record by any means, but not a great one either. Here’s wishing them luck in fusing the genuinely groovy aspects of their sound onto something a bit more engaging in future.
The Manhattan Love Suicides – Clusterfuck EP
It’s a curious phenomenon, the current popularity of prefabricated early Jesus & Mary Chain styled rock n’ roll bands in indie-pop circles, and one which is surely crying out for an article of damning indictment from some journo or other, laying into these essentially ridiculous groups who stomp onstage in leather jackets and mini-skirts to snarl, pout and spit with a carefully feigned disinterest, play twenty minute sets of sloppy, politely-feedbacking noise-pop tunes about drugs and death then storm off in mock disgust…. only to be sighted a few minutes later hanging out in a perfectly personable manner with their fellow concert-goers, all parties having enjoyed a few minutes of vicarious r’n’r chaos, but without the inconvenience of having to deal with an ACTUAL gang of wild-eyed Iggy-wannabes getting in their faces. Rolo Tomassi – Digital History / Beatrotter
I’m not gonna write that article though, cos I think the whole business is actually really good fun, kinda charming and an amusing comment on the essentially inauthentic (yet universally applicable), dress-up nature of rock n’ roll cliché, and The Manhattan Love Suicides in particular are, like their beloved JAMC and Shop Assistants, a fantastically enjoyable bunch of self-aware trash culture avatars. And what’s more, they’re a dedicated and prolific band, and on releases like this one they transcend their inbuilt clichés by making some genuinely fucking great rock n’ roll.
The guitarist’s fuzztone is vicious; absolutely toxic buzzsaw skree. The rhythm section work out some glorious no bullshit DeeDee n’ Tommy thug-motorik pounding to killer effect. The singer cuts in high and clear in angelic, deadpan Debbie Harry style as classic three chord chorus melodies bounce past like rocks through classroom windows.
Bands with the audacity to try to look cool are often given shit for being overtly beholden to underground rock’s past, but when a sensible grasp of history allows bands like the MLSs to craft music containing NO ELEMENT THAT’S NOT BRILLIANT, well…. I’m all for it. Fuck ‘authenticity’, this is genius; it’s great and it’s exciting and I don’t care what the lyrics mean! Stick this shit on the portable dansette the next time yer bombing down to the seaside in the Morris Minor to cause some trouble. (Whatdoyoumean you don’t have an… etc.)
Rolo Tomassi – Digital History / Beatrotter
A one-sided 45 with the grooves on the music side so thin that I momentarily thought I’d paid £5 for a completely blank record, the couple of minutes of sound presented here capture the current exciting/terrifying/frustrating trajectory of great-white-teenage-British-hopes for progressive, heavy music Rolo Tomassi in full effect, leap-frogging the genre expectations of the hardcore and math-spazz scenes they’ve grown from and emerging blinking into the light of the kind of undocumented place that sees them gracing the cover of Plan B as punk-dude fans find themselves trying to stagedive to meandering gothic keyboard passages and interpretative dance. Underground Railroad – Kill Me Now (Or You Never Will)
‘Digital History / Beatrotter’ manages to compress all facets of these aesthetic conflicts into about two and a half minutes, as a loping machine noise intro gives way to twenty utterly invigorating seconds that sound like Man Is The Bastard headbutting Mayhem, followed by a brief Delia Derbyshire nature documentary theme, a soaring melodic metal guitar motif, a blink-and-you’ll miss-it Painkiller jazz freakout, about twelve seconds of flawless synth-pop and…. fuck, I’ve lost track. And now it’s finished.
As fans will know all too well, the sections in which singer Eva cuts her tonsils into pure, bloody black metal gravel and the band lock into ferociously precise whipcord beatdowns are simply astounding. To be honest, whilst I have no time for thuggish concert etiquette, I’ve kinda got to side with aforementioned punk dudes in wanting them to do this more, for longer, and to try to incorporate their more eclectic callings within a more natural framework, rather than tearing up the rulebook and starting again every ten seconds.
Praising ambition and eclecticism in a young band is one thing, and the range of musicality and imagination embedded in every second of Rolo music is awe-inspiring, but sides like this one sound more like an explosion in a record collector’s basement than a cohesive piece of music. It’s too much, man! Proof that intense focus on realisation of one’s craft can, at the same time, create the most fragmentary, unfocused art imaginable. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
(One Little Indian)
Underground Railroad – Kill Me Now (Or You Never Will)
A French trio enamoured of all things ‘90s and American who’ve relocated to London to make their fortunes in a climate perhaps more receptive to the unquestioned worship of Trux/Youth/Pixies/Chunk, Underground Railroad (perhaps named after The Lollipop Shoppe’s classic psyche track? – I HOPE SO) have made themselves a pretty ubiquitous presence on the – AHEM – ‘live circuit’ in recent years, and, having caught them in several support slots, I can vouch for them presenting a seriously fucking impressive live presence, swinging out an’ reeling it back in as only a band who live together / play together every day really can. The Vivian Girls – I Can’t Stay b/w Blind Spot
That live energy, sadly, is not really captured by the two studio recordings represented here, their essentially derivative yankophilic nature getting the better of them, rendering Underground Railroad strangely out of time – short on ideas and too late to hook the fading echoes of this particular way of doing things, too early to catch it on the rebound currently being raucously pioneered by the likes of No Age and Blood On The Wall. The songs here lack any real melodic hooks (and if there’s one thing ‘90s indie-rock is all about it’s the HOOKS) or lyrical development, and the nasal, transatlantic whine on the vocals is too fucking much. B-side ‘Breakfast’ starts off with a great, stooped Trux-esque stomp/chant, but unfortunately goes nowhere except a swift fadeout.
Not bad stuff by any means – in fact it’s growing on me after a couple of listens - but oh boy, this takes me way, way back to the far end of my 7” singles box…. not to Live Skull or Babes In Toyland as the band might wish, but to other sterling examples of the ‘we-wanna-be-American’ subgenre…. Anyone remember ‘Kirsten’s Beach’ by The Pecadiloes? Scarfo? Carrie? Tiger..? They were great, and at least they didn’t do the accent. Maybe even ‘Fake Fur’ and ‘Hello Tiger’ by my beloved Urusei Yatsura….? Oh yeah! [review terminated before I drivel off into senseless nostalgia about taping shit off Steve Lamacq circa 1997].
(In The Red)
The Vivian Girls – I Can’t Stay b/w Blind Spot
You’ll recall I wrote about these guys but a few posts ago, so I won’t repeat myself. This is a non-album single put out by In The Red in advance of their rerelease of the album, and, drawing maximum effect from minimal ingredients, it’s equally wonderful. William – Playground
The A is another triumph for the virtues of moody Shop Assistants-core that would have slotted into place perfectly on the album, sing-song chorus standing grimly resolute against crashing guitar chords, sounding like the distortion is trying to drag the frantic bass n’ drums back to earth before they take off. The B is apparently a cover of a tune by a band called Daisy Chain (me neither), and it’s utterly, utterly beautiful, with a wobbly ‘Be My Baby’ intro opening up into a hypnotic love-chant over near cleantoned guitar, a quietly beguiling psychedelic sound to leave wouldbe shoegazers standing, irresistible like staring at the layers of a pre-Raphaelite painting inches from your face, before a shimmering tambourine signals a faster bit, and the girls kill us dead by slowly fading out on a looped groove and ending the song before the two minute mark, when really we just want it to carry on forever.
This won’t be the last time I’ll be writing about this band, you can be sure of that.
William – Playground
Hailing from the less than glamorous environs of Lewisham, William is, thankfully, not some dreary singer-songwriter bloke, but a rock solid indie rock band possessed of rare guts and fire, fusing impassioned lyrics concerning one-thing-or-another to backing that flies straight across the finish-line before you’ve noticed it, half Dinosaur Jr, half Buzzcocks, with zero watered down post-punk nonsense, zero yobbish chorus yelps and zero self-referential gags. It’s all too easy to shrug off bands like this in favour of more immediately novel/exotic fare, but there’s a very genuine spirit to these guys that I think will take them a long way even if fame and critical rapture are unlikely to be on the agenda. Punk rock, it used to be called I suppose.
This is a 2007 single, and they’ve subsequently had an album out – ouch, sorry for delay in reviewing. Great, unpretentious, furious stuff, If I were them I’d get working on a new name and some new sleeve designs lest everyone mistake them for aforementioned dreary surnameless bloke, but take this as a public service announcement: worth a listen.
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