Tunin' the motor, like a weekend boater
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Thursday, May 28, 2009
March/April/May ’09, Part # 1:
Look at all the little things I've found to fill my shoeboxes with! In alphabetical order from A to E, part #2 coming soon-ish...
The Bats / Songs split EP
(The Spring Press)
Well, what a coincidence – there I was eulogising The Bats but a couple of posts back, and here’s a brand new 7” from them, split with Australian (I think?) band Songs.
True to their status as a working definition of consistency in pop music, The Bats side is sublime. “Castle Lights” is the slower of the two songs, with violin and an honest-to-god harp helping to intensify the stately ‘great plains’ ambience the band has grown into over the years.“Under The Branches” is a tad jauntier; yet another text-book jangle-pop killer that they could have recorded any time in the past twenty five years really – all constituent parts are present and correct, and a fine time is had by every instrument in this band’s steady hands. Now that they are out and about again, touring and such, I would commend anyone playing in one of the many bands who seem to be going for a ‘classic indie-pop’ kinda sound to listen, listen, listen to The Bats, and hopefully learn something.
Songs stab at the big-time meanwhile begins with a largely instrumental number showcasing a mixture of instinctive, motorik drumming, surfy, post-punk derived guitar & bass and spacey organ-drone that puts me strongly in mind of early Electrelane. Really nice actually, especially when the chanted, phone-number-as-mantra vocal comes in and the music builds up around it – good stuff. Their other song by contrast is a slightly drippy male-voiced reverby acoustic thing. It’s ok, but a tad forgettable. Overall, sounds like a band worth keeping an ear on.
Ok, so clearly regular readers will already know that I love this single dearly. My main purpose in writing this is to remind you that it exists. Boy, is it ever a good one though! A sweet story of old fashioned pop star obsession, international plane flight, dreams fulfilled etc., staring an archetypal British girl and everybody’s mum’s favourite 70s crooner, all set to gleeful, breakneck-speed girly singalong punk rock. Great to hear a good bit of storytelling creeping into such fast and furious music too; “Los Angeles is a long way from Ryslip, they told me so!” Brilliant!
My friend told me that this song has a line about masturbation, but honest to god, I’ve listened to the lyrics very closely, and I still can’t hear it. It all sounds quite wonderfully innocent to me. Please tell me there’s not some sleazy sub-text running through the whole thing that I’m missing.
But, uh, anyway, I got a special Betty & The Werewolves pencil when I bought my copy of this single off them. Maybe you will too! It’s on sparkly pink vinyl as well. Great! I hope I’m selling it to you here. Something still has to be number # 1 in this era when nobody buys records anymore, so let’s make it Betty & The Werewolves!
Look out guys, here come The Bombettes! Five more tough gurls straight outta Sweden, a land where I can well imagine school careers advisors counsel kids from a young age on the right choice of tight jeans and Fenders, gently pushing each teenager towards the one precisely designated aspect of Anglo-American rock n’ roll culture that suits him/her best, all in order that they might eventually make a one-off 7” which will inevitably find it’s way into the singles racks at All Ages Records in Camden where, about two years after the recording date, I will glance at the cover for a couple of seconds, think “wow, this looks great”, and proceed to swell the coffers of the Swedish recording industry to the tune of a five pounds, before taking it home and being slightly underwhelmed. At least, I think that’s how it works. I’m not so hot on the finer points of international commerce.
Anyway, true to form, the first time I played the Bombettes record, I was pretty underwhelmed. Unerwhelmed by its ruthless efficiency and it’s manifest lack of charm or ideas. Underwhelmed by its strict adherence to a sound akin to early Blondie after a spell at The Hives’ high-energy garage-pop bootcamp. Underwhelmed by its hectoring, over-enunciated faux-punk vocals and dumb-ass lyrics, and underwhelmed by the extent to which it’s very existence is so evidently surplus to the requirements of anyone who once heard a Sahara Hotnights record.
BUT, then I played it a second time, this time in company after a couple of beers, and things changed. It’s true genius became evident to all. This instant change of heart was clear right from the outset, as opening track ‘The Thief’ kicked in with The Bombettes singing “I stole a look from you / while dancing to The Who! / Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” about twenty times in a row. Wow, what a great song! You can probably guess what the accompanying music sounds like without any help from me, but by this stage I was actually starting to enjoy the way it bludgeons one into submission, a theme which is more overtly discussed on the curiously bracketed ‘I Wanna (Kick your Ass)’. Herein The Bombettes sing “I wanna kick your ass, because you’ve got a nice ass!” about twenty times in a row. “You came along / I wrote this song / now I sing it / all night long!” they add by way of clarification. There aren’t many other words. You’ll be singing it all night long too if you’re not careful.
After that, they turn their attention to the ‘Dating Scene’, observing: “I’m bored /
You’re not good enough / I’m bored / And your record collection is too small / I’m bored I’m bored I’m bored / I’m so fucking bored”.
See what I mean? Genius!
Hmm, what have we here? A silly band name and a cover like a Hefner record that’s gone psychotic…. looks like it’s signed by some people too; the band, presumably. Any bets on what might be found within? Let’s have a listen, shall we!
The answer is: two two minute slabs of perfectly decent, trebley indie-punk; nervous verses and pounding, singalong choruses as the martial rhythm section pound on ahead of the choppy, Strokes-y downstroke guitar licks and groovy, surfy lead riffs; the singer howls distraught in high register with a slight cockney twang. Unhappy lyrics about girls. I quite like it!
Basically these guys sound like the winners in a secondary schools Pete & The Pirates impersonation contest, but c’mon, that’s nothing to be ashamed of! Either side of this could prove a right belter in thirty years time, when ‘00s indie becomes a long lost collector’s cult, and people start compiling it on teenage wasteland-focused ‘Back From The Grave’ type albums, revelling in the sound of these mad kids of yesteryear working out their girl troubles on guitars in a way that all this wimpy, smartarse 2030s music just can’t compete with, goddamnit.
Looks like they’ve renamed themselves “The Cheeks” since this single. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement name-wise, or even worse.
“Coming in, tuning in on Comet Gain as they sing their favourite song, Herbert Hunke” says a guy who I think must be world’s angriest millionaire Christopher Appelgren, last heard signing off CG’s immortal ‘Ballad of a Mixtape’, “..they ask him for bread, and he doesn’t know what bread is, but you do, you understand..”. Don’t we just. Thus begins a definitively shambolic live-in-studio wouldbe-Velvets jam of a rendition of David Feck’s tribute to beat poet/associate Hunke, the ‘real life criminal’ said to have inspired much of Kerouac and Ginsberg’s drug/outlaw shtick. The song lopes along pretty painfully, lacking the declamatory energy it’s had at recent gigs, but hey, fans of this band have long learned to accept that perfection is scarcely the point. ‘Hunke’ catches Feck at his most audacious/arrogant/vital/obsolescent/sloppy/boorish/ wonderful (delete as applicable), and your enjoyment will largely hinge on whether or not you’re able to stomach a good dose of ‘Sister Ray’ street jive play-acting, as an old-enough-to-know-better British bloke proudly declaims lines like “motherfucker, where is my bread / you’ll get it off my eyes when I’m dead”, and “my name is Herbert Hunke / poet bum, majestic junkie”. As you could probably have guessed, I can stomach it just fine.
Diehard indie-poppers wondering why they’re being subjected to this rubbish though need only flip the disc to be soothed by “No Spotlite on Sometimes”, latest in a long and beautiful line of defiant/despairing Gain-ballads, guitar jangle glowing & fizzing out like cigarettes thrown into the 3AM ocean in slo-mo; sobering sea breeze on your face. Another lament for chances blown, dying romance, fading stars, rendered with a force that can claw these things back from cliché, from fiction back into reality, the way that only this band can (even if that’s the opposite of what they managed to achieve on the A-side). “Some whisky, some old friends, some rock n’ roll disease”; “I loved you, I existed, underneath these eyes”. Heartbreaking. A welcome reminder of why we all need this band in our lives still, and why I’ll fight anyone who suggests otherwise.
This one's limited to about 300 or something I think, and seems to be available solely via Pure Groove. Beautiful sleeve, and insert full of reprocessed photographic pathos, random poetical scrawl and warped declarations etc, as per usual. An artefact worthy of anyone’s time/money.
A debut single’s worth of red leather & skinny jean clad punky power-pop direct from Leeds Rock City, courtesy of Damaged Goods.
I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it’s totally great!
If you like The Undertones, The Rezillos and The Adverts, you know what you’ll be getting here, and it feels good, like suddenly finding yourself pogoing in comfy slippers in some stale lager-stinking basement.
And if you don’t like The Undertones, the Rezillos and The Adverts, well… clearly I do not care to listen to your dumb-ass opinions! Scram fool, I’ve got jumpin’ and “whoa-oh-oh!”ing to do! TWO THUMBS UP for Cyanide Pills. Going to see these guys play would be a fun evening for sure – I hope I get a chance to do so at some point.
On the same label as the Comet Gain single, with artwork by David Feck, so I thought I might as well pick it up at the same time. And so, well, uh, bloody hell! It seems this is some kind of superslick, sugar rush electroclash/big beat party song with saucy lyrics about hotpants that sounds like Bis being remixed via Beck’s Midnight Vultures! Not what I was expecting at all! Funnily enough, it features a special appearance by one Jerry Waronker, who I seem to recall was a sideman on the Beck albums…? What the hell is up with this thing? Away with you, Electrocute! Go dance into the record collection of somebody who likes The Go Team! Stop trying to make me be happy and exercise, it’s Sunday night and it’s not fucking going to work!
Against all the odds, b-side “Bad Legs” actually goes down a lot better. It’s, I dunno…. it’s shorter for one thing, and it’s punkier, with gutsier vocals and a better tune – not too bad at all really. Sounds a bit like Brassy, if you remember them. Ho hum.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Just discovered, via XRRF, that Plan B is over:
Sadly, yes - we were preparing a nice statement to go on here for you all after telling all our contributors and contacts, but sadly the gossip machine has beat us to it. I'm sorry you've found out via hearsay.
We've come to the decision to close Plan B Magazine after the June issue after a lot of deliberation. The current economic climate, combined with the situation of the music industry - to which, whether we like it or not, the fortunes of a commercial monthly music mag are inextricably linked - has made it ever harder for us to continue producing the magazine the way we want to. To keep going, we'd need to make cuts in staff, content, size, frequency, print quality - and we're not prepared to do that. We're still above water, we're making some beautiful magazines, and we are quitting while we're ahead.
This forum has been a hugely important part of the magazine. At present, we'd like to keep it going as long as there's a will to do so, as the site will be continuing for a while. We are hoping to archive all our back issues as PDFs, and will be continuing to sell back issues for a limited period of time.
Subscribers will be refunded in due course - Richard and I will be in touch about that once the June issue has been sent out to you.
If you are a contributor and were not notified about this by email, our apologies. We tried to contact everyone today, but our mailing list messages do end up in junk mailboxes sometimes.
I'm you all have questions about this. If we can answer them, we will try to do so.
I guess this marks the end of a near decade-long experiment in doing the unthinkable and publishing a regular, independent music magazine in which good writers write about good music that they actually like from a position based on DIY idealism, open-mindedness and inclusivity, and actually putting the damn thing on newsagents shelves at an affordable price.
Under the circumstances, I guess they did fucking well to last this long, so let's try not to get too maudlin and instead offer thanks all who contributed to keeping the magazine rolling, and keeping the quality so consistently high.
It's no secret that, ever since I randomly picked up the first issue of 'Careless Talk..' back in 2001 or 2002 (I forget the exact date), CTCL and Plan B have completely defined everything I've thought/done/aspired to as regards music writing and music culture. In addition to this, these magazines and their forums have helped introduce me to some good friends, and a wider network of solid souls, for which I am very grateful.
I haven't got the time I'd need to say much more than that at the moment unfortunately, but as Stew says in the link I'm gonna post below -- life changing stuff.
I guess in the past year or two, Plan B's collective tastes have parted ways fairly drastically from my own, but hell, that's probably just as well, who needs to read 100 pages every month about all the moaning, retrogressive three chord rock I listen to most of the time? For the record, I've still been buying every issue on the day of release and reading it cover to cover. Even recently, when there are some issues that haven't featured any bands I'm terribly interested in, there's still the work of so, so, so many fucking brilliant writers crammed in there to enjoy, not to mention photographers, and ILLUSTRATORS, for god's sake... I mean, where else am I gonna go to get a monthly fix of so many great people drawing neat pictures of things?
It breaks my heart that I'm going to be missing out on all this each month, and that anyone else who might be idly browsing the newsagent's shelves thinking "hey, that looks interesting" will be missing out on it too.
A sad day for print media, music writing and quality journalism in general, no doubt, but like I say, let's not get all grumpy. On the off chance that any Plan B staffers happen to stumble across this post - THANKS, in capitals, for the whole deal.
Some better words from...
I went to see The Bats at The Windmill last night, and they were bloody terrific.
Apparently it was the first show they’ve played in the UK for fifteen years. It’s funny; I guess there must be hundreds, nay thousands, of similarly middle-aged bands in Europe and America, all working a similar strain of low-key, Velvets-indebted guitar-pop, all with some Mojo reviewer on hand to call them ‘slow-burning’ or ‘smouldering’, all of them boring me to tears. What is it about New Zealand that allows these guys to take the same formula and make it so definitively beautiful, so fresh-faced and innocent you just wouldn’t believe they’ve been doing it for over two decades of record/tour/record etc.?
I guess The Bats are a hard sell, as a band. I can’t imagine ever playing a Bats CD for someone and expecting it to *blow their mind*. There’s nothing there on the surface that you haven’t heard a thousand times before, probably done with more noise and enthusiasm. But to us hopeless snobs, who (pity us) end up sampling indie guitar bands as if they were fine wines, delighting in the subtleties of different strumming patterns, guitar tones, minimal drum beats, understated melodies... well it doesn’t get much better than The Bats. Robert Scott introduced one song as being about “lying on your back on the grass in the winter and looking at stuff in the sky”, but he needn’t have said anything, cos that’s what the music actually sounded like. Masters at work, so to speak.
Here’s what they looked/sounded like quite a few years ago. The male members have less hair circa 2009, but aside from that they haven’t changed much:
I’ll mention that they’re playing at both the ICA and the Victoria, Mile End tonight, just on the off chance that anyone in London reads this before about 8pm this evening and exclaims “Of course! The Bats! That’s my kind of Friday night!” It’s an experience I’d heartily recommend.
I’d be tempted to finish by saying “and to think, some people listen to Crystal Stilts”, but such a gratuitous diss would seem out of keeping with this post’s positive, optimistic tone. Let’s aim higher.
And to think, some people listen to R.E.M. : P
Monday, May 18, 2009
By and large, I am unable to watch youtube videos at the moment. I did though manage to transcend technological limitations for long enough to experience these two at the weekend.
As I'm sure we are all aware, Metal is a serious business. But is it not the essential disjuncture between Metal as it exists for it's noble practitioners and Metal as it relates to the wider world that frequently renders it such a joy? With such notions in mind, we lovingly present the following, without further comment:
(In fairness to the guy in the second video, he's just saying what I'm usually thinking.)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
You're All My Sisters.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – This Love is Fucking Right
I’ve been meaning to write a post reviewing the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart album for AGES. Seems like the kind of thing I should really have an opinion on, what with them being the real from-the-underground-into-the-stratosphere band of the moment, playing within a style & scene I broadly speaking enjoy. But in fact I’ve been meaning to get around writing about them for so long that the essence of what I initially wanted to say about them has changed several times over.
Seeing them play for the first time, I was kinda suspicious – what was with these young, impeccably turned out, slightly-too-perfectly-hewn Brooklyners, with their mighty, streamlined noise-pop sound, with their spare Fender Jaguars, their pedalboards for christ’s sake, ripping their aesthetic wholesale from the kind of faintly desperate, lovelorn racket trademarked by ugly, misfit British kids at the dawn of the ‘80s? What was with this guy’s weedy, reedy singing voice, being bullied by all the other instrument like he’s mimicking the kind of ‘bad’ voice that Dan Treacy and the guy from The Razorcuts used to sing in because those were the only voices they *had*, deliberately adopting it for the purposes of retrospective scene identification?
They were an enjoyable band on stage, no doubt; really loud, with all the right bits in the right places. But I found it odd how they seemed to have immediately assumed deity status amongst the indie-pop cognoscenti before their first album was even on the shelves, with practically every one of their available songs being DJed in turn to rapturous response on every conceivable occasion. The kind of natural GROUNDSWELL that major label pluggers probably do not even dare to dream of these days. And I mean, they’re pretty, and they do all the stuff that’s currently indie-trendy, and they don’t even sound weird, man! Squint your ears a bit in the right/wrong direction and they could even sound a bit like The Smashing Pumpkins, without that whining bald guy getting in the way. These guys could be BIG.
Needless to say, it was during one of my periodic retreats to the Welsh hills that the tables turned, when I downloaded a leak of The Pains album on a whim and stuck in my earphones to go for a nice long walk. BOY, is it an album. Outside the city, far from any music scene backbiting, my above reservations started to seem like the petty, snidey, insular bitching they undoubtedly are. Fuck ‘indie-pop’; what I was listening to as I barrelled down Welsh country lanes was rock n’ roll the way the Velvets rewired it forty years ago: the drummer plays simple stuff real enthusiastic, the organist holds down big, single chords and lets them ring, the bass doubles back on itself in sweet melodic patterns, and the guitars go FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF, covering everything like a happy rainstorm. The recording is huge, with everything amped up, filed down and maximised to digital-age, killer proportions, the chord changes are lovely, the songs are heartfelt and the lyrics are memorable and smart. What’s not to love?
My friend and I spoke briefly to the guy from The Pains at one of their gigs, and he seems like a really sweet, modest sort of fellow. I’m sure his band didn’t MEAN to make a Battle-Album. I think they’re just careful, ambitious, and very good at what they do. But nonetheless, they have made a Battle-Album. In one fell swoop, they manage to out-twee the neo-indiepoppers, to out-Superchunk the neo-indie rockers, and even to out-‘Gaze the neo-shoegazers on the longer tracks, with their motorik rhythmic drive and luxurious layered distortion. Within their designated sphere, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are kings of the castle. If you’re into any of this kinda stuff, they are henceforth the band to beat.
Ok, so they’re good. We are PRO- them. That’s terrific, but so what? Lots of people are *good*, but I didn’t think this album really had it in it to properly move me or anything, with all my strange, unguessable musical moodswings. So, phase # 3 was instigated by “This Love Is Fucking Right”.
Jesus christ. I could carry on about this band and their place in the current scheme of things until I’m blue in the face, but this here? THIS is a fucking song.
This is their ‘September Gurls’. I’m not saying it’s that good (nothing is), but…
Like ‘September Gurls’, you’d be hard pressed to catch more than more than a few fragments of the lyrics on a first listen, and they perhaps don’t seem to add up to anything terribly coherent, but you’d be a fucking moron if you didn’t instantly grasp the totality of what this song’s, y’know, ABOUT. Hint: it’s not about incest. It’s all in the way half-heard phrases, ghosts of what was originally on the lyric sheet, combine with the power of the music to torpedo into whatever the hell place your emotional impulses come from, to make new shapes, like fireworks and stuff, to get the point across.
Also like ‘September Gurls’, this song has a perfectly positioned lead guitar overdub that just cleaves the sky in two, saying more in ten seconds than ten minutes of huffy-puffy folky storytelling could.
And like ‘September Gurls’, this song is a gateway drug, a key to the rest of the album, leading you to reassess the merits of ‘Young Adult Friction’, of ‘Come Saturday’ and ‘Stay Alive’ (and today I think the Vaselines-y 'Hey Paul' is by far my favourite), subsequently finding them all just as powerfully realised as the key-song, pieces of a puzzle that threatens to spell out Classic Album, whether you like it or not. Cos after a while, if you listen to it loud enough, the whole of this Pains album will smash your face and rip your heart at least half as thoroughly as the Big Star ones did. I recommend listening to it with the bass up a lot, the treble down a bit.
Most of all though, most importantly, and UNLIKE ‘September Gurls’, (which found it’s initial audience largely among lonely record geeks and ‘70s fanzine scribes), ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’ just makes me think of the dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people who are going to have this song, and the other Pains songs, and whatever joyous, confusing, bittersweet, frightening, unreal memories they each surgically attach to them, sewn into their recollections of this summer, or last summer, last winter, tomorrow or right now, or at a retro night in 2030, stuck to them forever as they blast from sound systems yet unknown, making life like a movie in the midst of heat haze and sunsets and warmth and streets and fields, fuel to human feeling and hope and folly and momentary love frozen forever.
Man, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are fucking RIGHT! And so am I, and so are you, and love is always right.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Earth to Gordon Waller: WTF?
Peter and Gordon (right) stepping out, in happier times..?
Gordon Waller – Rosencrans Boulevard
A total curveball, this song unexpectedly leapt out at me from the end of side # 2 of the utterly excellent second volume of the Rubble compilation series (“Pop-Sike Pipe Dreams”), as I was hanging some pictures in my new room.
For whatever reason, I’ve never paid much attention to it on previous spins of the LP, trapped as it is sounding rather square amid a giddy wealth of fuzz guitar madness and dead-cert freakbeat gear, but... my god. What an extraordinary, inexplicable, misguided pop venture it is, carelessly splitting the difference between “audacious” and “utterly fucking insane”.
A few seconds intensive research reveals that Gordon Waller was one half of Beatles-affiliated lightweight pop duo Peter & Gordon, who disbanded in 1968. According to Wikipedia:
“Afterwards, Waller attempted a solo career with little success, releasing one record, ‘..and Gordon’. On this album Gordon used New York based group White Cloud featuring Teddy Wender on keyboards. He also appeared in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as Pharaoh, a performance that he reprised on the LP.”None of which really does a lot to prepare one for ‘Rosencrans Boulevard’.
Point one is: were it not on a compilation CD of British stuff, I’d never have guessed this track had originated anywhere except from the cosmic pop wonderland of late ‘60s LA, and indeed I would be extremely surprised if it was recorded in the UK. The song opens with a swell of symphonic/mariarchi bombast worthy of a Jimmy Webb production, which is appropriate, as a swift search on AMG reveals that it is indeed a Jimmy Webb composition, although apparently not one he ever managed to turn into a hit. So, given the presence of his trademark sound, I’m assuming he arranged/produced this version of it too, although Waller's rendition doesn’t merit an entry on AMG, or in Wikipedia’s list of Webb songs.
This is a shame in a sense – I think I liked the song better back when I thought it was some absolutely bugfuck English imitation of a Jimmy Webb record, strung out as the whole thing is with an inexplicable vibe of slightly scrappy Tin Pan Alley lunacy, of some doomed pop svengali’s celestial ambitions going waaaaaay overboard, crashing like an upturned salad bowl in the midst of a record label buffet.
It’s not surprising it wasn’t a hit. The song’s various distinct sections stack up with no apparent rhyme nor reason, none of them offering much in the way of a pleasing melody, central theme or connecting framework, whilst the mood remains desperate, decadent and somewhat hysterical throughout. Even these days, you couldn’t work this one onto one of those kitsch-cool ‘60s crooner dinner party albums – it would just bum everybody the fuck out. The damn thing’s got no tune! A headscratcher for sure, ‘Rosencranz Boulevard’ seems less of an attempt to score a hit, more like some natural, unstoppable outpouring of… something.
After a few seconds of unmistakable Webbery by way of introduction, the song swiftly gives way to a kind of epic Americana travelogue reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks ‘Song Cycle’, until our protagonist finds himself drawn to Hollywood, grounded on the titular Boulevard, propelled by fate into the midst of a doomed relationship with some spectacular, yet no doubt fatally flawed and ultimately unworthy, female.
“You know I never loved her anyway, I just used her over and over”, confesses Waller in portentous, Walker-like tones, before a swift change of pace hits, stabbing strings plunging us into an arena of overwrought metaphysical hysteria worthy of ‘Scott 4’, as Gordon is wracked with guilt regarding his unsatisfactory conduct in this tempestuous liaison.
Naturally, the only thing to follow that with is a car chase, so here we go: “the girl was half crazy, the way she drove her little car”, “doing ninety in a thirty mile zone!” “And she blamed me when she got a ticket”, Gordon adds wistfully, the drama concluded.
So far, pretty fucking breathtaking actually, but it’s only then, in the song’s concluding act, that the genius/madness barricades are thoroughly breached, as Gordon recalls that “she was a stewardess, you know”, “shot down on a non-combatant mission!” For a second, I thought that might be some kind of sly Leonard Cohen-esque double entendre, but I think Jimmy & Gordon actually mean it literally, gratuitously raising the spectre of Vietnam whilst they’re about it.
Music swells to an apocalyptic crescendo, as we leave our hero, wracked with confusion, driving drunk down Rosencrans Boulevard, asking “why did I do it??”, before disappearing forever into a compressed panorama of America reduced to a chintzy recording studio funfair, never to be heard from again.
Total running time: 2 minutes 44. Take that, ‘Macarthur Park’!
Do you think perhaps if someone had just thought to approach Jimmy Webb or Gordon Waller or whoever else was at the controls here, to ask “do you want to talk about it?”, we wouldn’t have this song?
Hooray for emotional repression and it’s deranged artistic consequences.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Kicks in Space!
The Homosexuals – Neutron Girl
When I recently acquired (ok, downloaded) the ‘Astral Glamour’ 3CD anthology of stuff by post-punk obscurist faves The Homosexuals, I was kinda expecting to hear a lot of serious-minded, sharp-edged, politicised stomp n’ clatter and muscular power trio rock. And indeed, there is much of that to enjoy. But there is also, to my delight, a scattering of the bestest, craziest new wave era weird-pop gems I’ve ever heard, this song being a case in point.
To a certain extent, it sounds like a conscious parody of The Buzzcocks – hopefully a dignified homage rather than a vicious pisstake – with some of the inspired chaos of Swell Maps thrown in for luck. A fine combination. I’ve listened to this song on my way into work every day this week, and it’s never failed to put a spring in my step. I think the bit where the singer yelps “like robots falling over….. in their hungry quest for love!” is perhaps a moment that encapsulates everything I love about homemade pop music and geeky punk rock.
If Grant of The Guild of Scientific Troubadours happens to be reading, I recommend this one to him as a classic, if somewhat comical, example of what we might call the ‘science/love crossover/metaphor vocab song’ sub-genre.
“Kicks in space... Your singularity stopped my watch!”
I know I have about 8,000 favourite songs, but this is one of them.
Friday, May 08, 2009
Man, Do I Like Fridays!
Roy Esser – Can I Pawn My Teeth To You?
Roy Esser – Man, Do I Like Fridays
These tunes form the a and b side of a random-junk-shop-discovery type single I downloaded off the WFMU blog a while ago and rediscovered at random this week whilst browsing through my iTunes.
By and large, I am not one who much enjoys the pursuit of chortling over mystifying ‘Songs In The Key of Z’ type oddities recorded by forgotten lunatics and unfortunate misfits. As such, an inexplicable one-off single featuring a guy who sounds like a drunken pensioner hollering about being so poor he wants to pawn his teeth to get money for something to eat, backed by a low budget recreation of syrupy fifties pop strings, would not usually tend to be my cup of tea.
That though does not take into account the sheer enigma, the raw, unrefined genius of Roy Esser. Roy Esser did not write “Can I Pawn My Teeth To You?”. According to the scanned record label, that honour goes to messrs Kaye and Wilson. (surely not THAT Kaye or one of THOSE Wilsons?) Quite what inspired them to pen such a stupid song I can scarcely imagine, but boy howdy, did they ever find the right guy to sing it!
I would expect that most professional singers of the era, if presented with material like this, would treat it as a comedy number, singing it in a kinda gurning faux-hillbilly fashion over some lolloping, tongue in cheek country n’ western. Not so Roy Esser, who approaches the song with an earnest spirit of open-hearted joy in the face of adversity, with a sense of soaring, implacable faith in the righteousness of human endeavour, that must be heard to be believed. In doing so, he effortlessly transcends his place in the world of music, transforming a bizarre, grotesque parody into an inexplicably moving pop masterpiece, packing more complex, mixed up emotion into 100 seconds of old garbage than the most carefully-wrought of contemporary girl group melodramas. Appropriately, given the toothless theme, I can’t quite hear what he’s saying on the verse that begins “when I go to kiss my gal..”, but whatever it is, it almost makes me weep.
Maybe I’m giving it too much of a build up here. Just take a deep breath, turn this up loud, and let me know what you think.
The flip-side, “Man, Do I Like Fridays” is also well worth your time, exhibiting as it does that that same sense of implacable, universal optimism. If you were to commission a thousand songwriters to each compose a tune called “Man, Do I like Fridays” (perhaps with a ten minute time limit), chances are about 68% of the results would sound exactly like this one. And that would be a wonderful thing, because, MAN, we ALL like Fridays. And at some point mid-way through the twentieth century, Roy Esser approached a microphone with the intention of making sure we will never forget that simple truth.
Does he really sing “Oh I’m always goofing off on Fridays, they always tell me off on Fridays”? Roy Esser, we salute you through tears of joy.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Never Underestimate Little Corners.
Slumber Party – That’s Why I’m Not Sad
I love Slumber Party. I think they’re one of the great, under-rated bands of the early ‘00s, and it is rare that I should spent a long period of time alone without at some point feeling the urge to put on one of their three wonderful albums of dreamy, Velvetsy psychedelic pop. (They re-emerged a few years ago with a new, synth heavy line up to record a disappointing fourth album, a circumstance which we still find it painful to talk about ‘round these parts).
Oh, to be the rhythm guitar player in Slumber Party, I used to opine to myself on long winter evenings shortly after I bought my first guitar. So much beauty for such little effort! Sadly main singer/songwriter Alicia Berg already fulfilled that job perfectly though, so it was not to be. Just a few downstrokes on a few open chords, set all the knobs on the amplifier just right and…. how does she make sound so lovely? Lead guitarist Gretchen Gonzalez is my real hero in the band though, unafraid as she is to inject some real gutsy psyche into the brew, pulling things back from the gates of whimsy with some plain fuckin’ beautiful lead lines, rich, fuzzy tones and real subtle and inventive use of effects. ‘Church Key Gonzalez’, they shoulda called her. The band’s minimal bassing and one drum drumming too should serve as a model of restraint for all groups approaching this kind of music, and OH MY, what’s the use in continuing: Slumber Party were just real real good, that’s what I’m trying to say. You just cannot go wrong with those three albums.
(I’ll give you a bonus song actually, to demonstrate all this in case for any Slumber Party neophytes in the audience: opener off their self-titled album: Sooner or Later.)
I guess some folk may be apt to accuse Slumber Party’s music of being samey, predictable, unadventurous, ‘pretty’. But phooey to them, I say! That’s like approaching someone who’s experiencing some kinda idyllic whirlwind romance, and saying, oh come on now - running through the park with your new love in the blazing sunshine, crying tears of laughter and joy ‘pon his/her shoulder as the sun sets? Everyone’s seen that shit before; what a bunch of boring crap! Start stabbing each other or something, or I’m just not interested!
Slumber Party is comfort music, perfect for settling into new surroundings, establishing a sense of continuity and contentedness in changeable circumstances. ‘Comfort music’ may sound like some kinda fuzzy, questionable notion, like ‘chill out time’ or obsessive concern with interior decorating or white wine or something – just the sort of girly nonsense you’d expect a group called “Slumber Party” to indulge in. But phooey to that too! Comfort music is very important. Black Sabbath is comfort music too, just at the masculine end of the scale. In fact, if we’re talking vague n’ nebulous binary gender divisions, I’d contest that Slumber Party were ‘girly’ in very much the same way that Black Sabbath were ‘boy-y’. Eg, the best possible way.
And, it is in the process of squaring such weird notions that we reach ‘That’s Why I’m Not Sad’, from Slumber Party’s debut LP ‘Psychedelicate’ (and, according to iTunes, my most played Slumber Party song). A simple, beautiful, psychedelic lament of self-explanatory, universal loss, return and reassurance, done to spidery, slow-burning ballroom perfection. I love it. I know it’s a winner in the long song stakes because it’s 6+ minutes always seem to pass by in about 90 seconds, leaving me thinking “what, it can’t end yet, surely?” In fact, such is the hazy, low-key bliss conjured by the song’s cyclical melody and basic, hypnotic chord changes, I think it could work very effectively as the ‘Louie Louie’ of plaintive, minor key jam band songs. (I guess ‘Down By The River’ must be a distant relation.)
Altogether now: “I was sitting by this river, feeling very sad…”
I was thinking I’d like to hear some other bands revive the song in precisely that fashion – rooms full of stoners, crying into their cider. But it never occurred to me it already WAS a cover version. Imagine my surprise then when I threw on ‘Artefacts From The Black Museum’, second record from mysterioso ‘70s private press heavy-psyche godheads Dark, (quite an UN-girly outfit, one would assume), and there it was, just sitting there fully formed, track # 5.
It felt weird, but good. Slumber Party, you were just too cool for school.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Darling, That's The Way It Is.
Let’s Wrestle – I Won’t Lie To You
As arch self-deprecators and the authors of “I Wish I Was In Husker Du” and “Music Is My Girlfriend”, it was obvious really that if my life were adapted into a sit-com, Let’s Wrestle would provide the music. And on this track - the lead-off from their 2007 ‘In Loving Memory Of…’ CD on Stolen Recordings – they’ve really nailed that concept good and proper. As the first verse rolls by, I can almost see the credits sequence montage of images of myself suffering minor, comedic misfortunes, and grinning them off like a big oaf in the doomed hope that I may one day rise above it all.
For all their youth, their self-deprecations and their barely concealed reservoirs of self-pity though, Let’s Wrestle can’t help but also convey the feeling you had when you were a teenager, and you thought you were doing alright at it, until you happen across another bunch of loser kids who you know are funnier, smarter, sharper and more cynical than you’ll ever manage to be. Such is the feeling when Let’s Wrestle open the second verse by singing, “the duvet’s on fire, and so is your hair, but darling…. that’s the way it is”, and I am overcome by the knowledge that nothing that off-handedly absurd and wonderful will ever cross my lips.
Quick fingered bass-man Mike Lightning can also be heard here accidentally rediscovering the joys of the bass-line from The Rezillos ‘Can’t Stand My Baby’, for all the world to enjoy anew.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
No, not a tribute to the best song David Bowie ever wrote, unfortunately. Just a lame ‘happy birthday to me’ post to acknowledge the fact that, unlikely as it my seem, I’ve been doing this shit for five years.
Yes, it was on May 6th 2004 that I sat down before my old PC in my palatial rented room in Swansea’s Uplands district, mucked about a bit with the blogger template you still see before you and wrote:
So I’ve decided to do a music blog. Well why not?
1. It seems like every other fucker’s got one, and some of them actually have ones that other people bother to read, thus making the whole enterprise seem slightly less masturbatory.
2. Whether I like it or not I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to, and collating opinions upon, music, and opportunities to get a copy of my print zine together or post decent reviews elsewhere are few and far between, so what better form than a weblog in which to chronicle my day to day adventures in the world of popular music?
3. Maybe if I prove to be good at it, people might eventually start sending me free stuff (seriously – anybody out there who has the power to send me free records, please, go ahead, I’ll be sycophantic as hell, I promise..)
MY UNIQUE SELLING POINT: whereas most other music bloggers are fairly hip and down with all the latest tunes and able to brush aside huge swathes of MP3s ‘twas if they were matchsticks on a daily basis, my music consumption is far more eccentric and random; basically, I don’t have much spending money, I don’t have a fast internet connection, I don’t live in a cool, hipster-saturated community and I don’t listen to daytime radio. Hence the music I end up digging is almost entirely down to chance most of the time, so prepare for many wild tangents about stuff I recorded off John Peel, stuff I just borrowed from the library, stuff I bought in a clearout sale because I thought it looked cool, pointless mix CD tracklistings etc., as well as the occasional standard drivelling about new releases from my favourite currently active bands and so on..
Hmm, yes, well. I’m not too sure about that.
To refer back to my original three point justification for this weblog's existence: 1. fair enough I suppose, 2. dude, do you think maybe there's a reason for that?, and 3. thus far, this weblog has earned me about five free records that I actually liked, zero guestlist places, and a lot of publicists in my inbox trying to convince me to listen to 'americana' bands. Result! Of course, with availability of music not being such an issue these days, and with the increasing impossibility of anyone making a profit out of independent music, free stuff is scarcely the point, and I'm happy to pay decent bands/labels for their labour, so that's cool.
It should probably be pointed out that at the time I was unemployed and living in Swansea, so the idea of writing a militant no mp3s/no pictures blog about stupid shit I randomly stumbled upon seemed reasonable enough. Swearing a lot and throwing about phrases like “cool hipster-saturated community” also appeared to come naturally.
Despite having no social life, no money and nothing to do all day, I actually have extremely fond memories of that period of my life – denied the opportunity to obtain more than about one newly released album every couple of months, aimlessly wondering around town, across beaches and carparks and dilapidated terraced streets for days on end with my £20 discman, expanding my horizons to soak in the brilliance of Crazy Horse, of Soft Machine, of Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, Fairport and Pentangle, Can, The ‘Dead, Mingus, Fahey, Robert Wyatt, Love, The Byrds etc. I might have been logging onto ebay every day desperately trying to find a copy of the new Sonic Youth or Liars albums for under £6, but I sure wasn’t going hungry music-wise – where there’s a will there’s a way.
And, in such a culturally deadened climate, every single thing that happened that was even slightly noteworthy – going to a see a local punk band, chatting to somebody who seemed interesting, scoring some old metal albums or a Lucio Fulci movie from the depths of some crappy junk shop – became a towering incidence of excitement that I remember to this very day. I swear, sometimes I even find myself fondly remembering some occasion on which I had a particularly satisfactory cup of coffee, or one time when the weather was quite good.
It seems that during my first month on-air, I chose to write of my admiration for Wendy Case & The Paybacks, The Mummies, Ian Svenonious, The Shins second album and PJ Harvey, to rejoice in the fact that Arthur Lee was playing a show at a Victorian pavilion down the road from my house, and to critically evaluate a few Terrorizer cover CDs, stating my clear preference for satan/apocalypse themed black metal over ugly man-tantrum themed metalcore. Man, that kid was alright.
Cut to the present, which finds me still writing from a slightly dilapidated front bedroom in a student district, still having trouble with my internet connection, but otherwise I am gainfully employed, perhaps a bit more grown up, and able to go and see great bands every night of the week should I so wish, to play in bands of my own and to buy as many records as I like. I can listen to stuff online and download on a whim, raid other people’s iTunes for swag, dragging it back to my 140Gb and counting stash of digital sound, all whilst enjoying the, uh, myriad cosmopolitan delights of our capital city. So naturally it stands to reason that I can scarcely even remember what I was listening to/doing/thinking this morning, as awesome stuff and stimulus of one kind or another bombards me day in and day out.
Which is BETTER, obviously. End of discussion. What was my point again? – oh yeah, the weblog.
I guess it had a pretty slow start, and it’s always been a pretty inconsistent. Sorry about that. A huge thanks to anyone out there in reader-land who bothered to stick with us over those first few years. I seemed to have picked up the slack a bit recently though, bar the odd extended absence, and I’m enjoying writing for Stereo Sanctity more than ever.
Actually, I was initially going to use this anniversary as an excuse to do a self-indulgent post linking back to various notable posts and high water marks in Stereo Sanctity history, but the truth is, everything I wrote more than about, say, eighteen months ago, I find pretty cringe-worthy. Even pieces of writing I was really proud of at the time now seem pretty florid and hyperbolic and pointless and dumb, and I’d probably rather not draw any extra attention to them. So it goes though. I’m sure most bloggers feel this way when looking back over their old stuff – I’m sure I’ll feel the same way looking back over my current posts before long.
So, what I’m going to do instead to mark this dubious landmark is quite different:
For ONE WEEK ONLY, I’m going to pretend that this is like some proper weblog, like Fluxblog or something, and will be putting up a new post dedicated to an individual song EVERY DAY. (Well, maybe not over the weekend, because I probably still won’t have internet access, but every weekday at least).
Yep, new “content” every day this week, beginning tomorrow! Start your engines!
- 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
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