Monday, October 31, 2005

Slow Slow Music

(In which the author can’t seem to figure out if he is an “I” or a “we”.)

Okay, we seem to have fallen behind in our regular collocation of hypothetically downloaded songs. This bunch was put together back in March. That would be March of 2005, obviously.

1. NAMCO, “Katamari On The Rock”: rollicking bongos, female “choo choo choo” vocals, male “la la la” vocals, a rich mix of instruments; irrepressible; a jaunty 60s mindframe. Not a million miles from Pizzicato 5 (which is somewhere we like to hang out). Thus we start off on the front foot.

2. Inner Dialogue, “Yesterday The Dog”: as in, “Yesterday the dog ate the turtle.” Anti-war propaganda (Vietnam, that is) dressed up as a soft-focus Seekers-esque fairy tale. Just as you are lulled into a trees-and-flowers comfort zone, you get king-hit with “Yesterday the gun ate the people.” Sneaky.

3. Can, “Turtles Have Short Legs”: possibly the only time we will ever be able to run a segue from one song about turtles into another song about turtles. This may not be the most earth-shattering moment Can ever committed to tape, but how can you resist Damo Suzuki singing, English-as-a-second-language-style, “Turtle have a short regs, not for da walking.” One is put in mind of Roberto Benigni’s star turn in Jim Jarmusch’s “Down By Law”, wherein he delivers his lines almost phonetically owing to his then lack of understanding of English. “Not enough-a room to swing-a a cat.”

4. Holger Czukay, “Cool In The Pool”: more Can-related hilarity, as dictaphone-wielding Holger creates a new genre, Teutonic tropical. Hmmm, perhaps this was the precursor to Uwe Schmidt’s Senor Coconut project.

5. Eurythmics, “Never Gonna Cry Again”: forget what they did later, this early Eurythmics track, with no small involvement from the boys from Can, is sublime, understated motorik pop.

6. Cluster, “Heisse Lippen”: of course we know Cluster from the work they did with Eno, and we recently fell upon “Cluster 71”, a not immediately scrutable album but one we feel sure we will go back to. This is closer to the former: all melody, echo, space, drift.

7. Jeans Team, “Wunderbar”: more synthy, drifting, pop ambience. Not much motorik here, but somehow solidly krautrocky, nevertheless.

8. Michael Rother, “Stone Cold”: Rother was in Neu!. Over the summer I surreptitiously made a copy of Rother’s “Katzenmusik” which was buried in our good friend Doctor Jim’s expansive collection of stuff. That album is full of nice stuff; this is a totally nice track, too. Is “motorik” really a word? If you were attempting to give it a precise meaning, this track might be a good place to start.

9. Gary Numan, “Cars”: Mr Numan’s finest moment. Sampled almost to death, but clearly works best in its original, undiluted form. Some kind of debt clearly owed here to Numan’s krautrock forefathers, but paid back handsomely, even if he did wander off into his own black-leather-and-makeup Neverland from about this point on.

10. Stereo Total, “Ich Bin Nackt”: something like what “Ca Plane Pour Moi” might have sounded like if concocted by Germans. Carried along by a slightly out-of-tune analog synth line straight out of the DAF songbook (we still await the DAF revival). Also borrows generously from “Turn Up Your Radio”. And throws in some really nice guitar right at the end. I have my suspicions that “Nackt” should be “Nacht”, but what would I know?

11. 2raumwohnung, “Spiel Mit”: more perfect German electronic pop. I never thought I’d say this, but the singer reminds me of ...

12. Fox, “Sssingle Bed”: ...Noosha Fox! Mainstay of every Countdown-watching boy’s dreams in the 1970s. The surprising thing is how great this song sounds today. The other surprising thing is how the suggestive nature of the lyrics completely escaped this farmboy. Vocoder!

13. M83, “Don’t Save Us From The Flames”: no real segue here, but earlier this year I could rarely be found not listening to this (German? The vocals are definitely coming from the mittel-European end of things somewhere) big-screen pop masterpiece. Everything is turned up to eleven, we have excessive contrast between sustain and release, and it still takes this listener into the stratosphere every time he listens to it. As with many other of my short-term favourite songs, this probably couldn’t have existed in a world without My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, but could you pick a better template?

14. Out Hud, “One Life To Leave”: this is one example of (loosely) post-punk-funk exhumation that gets it perfectly right.

15. Psapp, “Rear Moth”: I have always thought squeaky children’s toys have been sadly underutilised in pop music. I know nothing about this band. I have no idea why I (hypothetically) downloaded the song. Serendipity rools!

16. Barbara Morgenstern, “Aus Heiterem Himmel (Dntel mix)”: at which point we slip into yet another example of what we assume to be the dreamy world of German electronic-inflected pop music of the present day.

17. AK-MOMO, “Greasy Spoon”: now that CocoRosie have gone all pretentious on us, this is where we must turn for our faux-naive faux-folk faux-girl-pop fix. Actually, there is no small resemblance between the backing music on this and the Michael Rother, Jeans Team and Cluster tracks appearing further up the page. And furthermore, it strikes me now that the singer here also reminds me of Noosha Fox. No, I must surely be imagining it.

18-21. Marine Girls, “Love You More”, “Lazy Ways”, “That Day”, “Seascape” (John Peel sessions): we feel comfortable putting these four tracks together on a mix CD because (1) they are inseparable and (2) we have included individual songs with longer running times than these four put together. One song is a Buzzcocks cover. Our good friend Russell (get well soon, Russell) owns both of the Marine Girls albums. We have always been insanely jealous of him for this reason, although we have never told him this. The real question, however, is: whatever happened to Jane Fox, the Marine Girl who wasn’t Tracy Thorn?

22. Yoshimi and Yuka, “Elegant Bird”: we are gently brought down to earth by this brief instrumental interlude from the girls of Cibo Matto.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

User profile

Mood: caffeinated.
Listening to: Tony Bennett.
Reading: Art Speigelman, "In The Shadow of No Towers".
Thinking about: Clare Grogan. As usual.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

In between moments of reading Bob Dylan's "Chronicles: Volume One"; watching the "No Direction Home" DVD (courtesy of Kateena at work, whose lasting achievement has been the naming of my office as Stan's Den Of Funk); attempting the impossible task of looking through every page of every issue of the New Yorker from 1925 to 2005 (seemed like a good idea at the time until its overwhelming nature, erm, overwhelmed me); trying to give at least a cursory listen to the currently 1,069 songs that I have downloaded but not listened to; and discovering that gardening really is the new rock and roll, I have taken the time to update the links that appear at the right of your screen.

In related news, I have decided that the key to Dylan is early in the song "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", where he sings "If'n you don't know by now": he could have just as conveniently and conventionally said "if", but chose "if'n" instead. This is so clearly the mark of greatness I can't believe I have overlooked it until now. Didn't fIREHOSE [sic] put out an album called "If'n"? Obviously Mike Watt was hipped up to this long before I was.

I went to the library and I borrowed ...

Francis Lai, “Bilitis”: what better place to start than soundtrack music for a late-70s "erotic" movie with plenty of girl-on-girl fun. The cover shows two barely clad females in the early stages of "sexual awakening". The inside cover shows one similarly unclad girl up a tree and-or in the early stages of some arboreal action. Don’t ask me about the music ... (Actually, do ask me about the music, which is sometimes gorgeous but too often stuck in a seventies soft-focus timewarp. Francis Lai wrote “A Man And A Woman”, one of the most-covered songs in our expansive collection of old easy-listening records. It sounds perhaps best on the Hammond Organ but can be profitably adapted to many different styles.)

Interpol, “Antics”: unlike the DFA crew, and bands like Vive La Fete and Out Hud, Interpol are content to take elements of the post-punk sound/ethos and do absolutely nothing with them. It’s a bit like the umpteenth mod/ska/rockabilly/garage-punk revival, where the object is to stay as close to the original template as possible without breaching any intellectual-property laws. But post-punk was never about respecting the past. It was about either smashing the display cabinet into a million pieces or skirting deftly around it. So, to me, this both misses the point and is pointless.

Bloc Party, “Silent Alarm”: as above, so below, only more so.

Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Mermaid Avenue”: on the other hand, if you are going to exhume Woody Guthrie you might as well choose people in the nature of Bragg and Wilco, artists who both, in their own ways, forged new paths through the witchy thickets of established musical genres, maintaining a healthy scepticism and a lot of ’tude while at the same time paying the best kind of respect to their elders.

The Hives, “Tyrannosaurus Hives”: on yet another hand, The Hives show that, in certain situations, sounding like the past isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to a record like this too many times, but each time I did I would smile, which in this rotten world is no bad thing. In any event, I can't get enough of that gloriously counterintuitive riff on “Walk Idiot Walk”.

Camera Obscura, “Underachievers Please Try Harder”: the hazards of random downloading of music, part 225: you stumble unexpectedly upon a song as astoundingly good as “Teenager” by Camera Obscura. You know nothing about them, but the song quickly worms its way to the deeper recesses of your central nervous system. You find a copy of the album from which it sprung. Your expectations are high. And yet. And yet. You work hard at it. Perhaps a little bit too hard. Each time you listen, you can’t get past “Teenager”. Of course, you feel guilty. “It’s not me, it’s you”, you say. But you can’t really be sure. The rest of the album seems pale in the shadow of that one song (as would a high proportion of pop songs released in any given year, admittedly). But where would the rest of the album be without it? It’s impossible to tell. You are already too badly smitten to be able to take a step backwards and admire it from a sensible distance. So you give it a “fail”. And hate yourself for that. But you keep listening to “Teenager”. And you will continue to do so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Buzz or Howl

Stereolab vs LCD Soundsystem:

LCD Soundsystem is your record collection.

Stereolab is the record collection you wished you had.

The Story of Creation

Man worked for 14 days straight.

On the 15th day, he rested.

He looked back on his works and said, "At least I get paid some overtime. Now I can go and buy the Laughing Clowns box set, which looks like it might finally be seeing the light of day. Oh, and the new Broadcast CD."

And it was good.