Sunday, August 20, 2006

The listening post

Young people often ask me, “Stan, what have you been listening to lately?” Actually that’s not true, but it’s a good excuse to put down a few words about some things that have captured my attention of late. I should say, though, before we start, that, notwithstanding what David Byrne once intoned, first impressions are not always correct.

There has been a quartet of “electronic” releases over the last few months that have grabbed my attention and not let go. First is Tiga’s “Sexor”, which comprises good-natured and gentle sleaze, Canadian-style, atop a musical bed that could have been made in those golden days of the early 1980s and is all the better for it. The others, which I kind of lump together out of ignorance, although each one probably occupies a different sub-genre if you are “hip” to the “jive”, are “Orchestra of Bubbles” by Ellen Allien and Apparat (which has a certain warmth and charm, unusual for electronic music outside of Kraftwerk, and which may be the result of having a woman at the controls), “We Are Monster” by Isolee, which I have been previously restricted to hearing in isolated snatches, but which works much better as a unit, and the new CD by The Knife, “Silent Shout”, almost on the strength of the sounds it tosses up (check those marbles on “Marble House”, I have never heard anything quite like them and don’t expect I ever will again), but also on the strength of that voice (which I once described to Adrienne as being like a cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, a description I am quite proud of even if it might be totally wrong).

Then there is the imaginatively titled “Espers II” by Espers, which grabs me in a very special place reserved for records that don’t quite fit any particular mould but which are nevertheless clearly drawing from traditions that mean a lot to me. Espers seem to be lumped in, for convenience (as is always the case with lumping in), with the “freak folk” gang, the likes of Devendra Banhart and what have you, lots of guys with unruly hair and unhygienic-seeming beards, you know the sort (and what about the afro on that guy from TV On The Radio, whose new album has kind of left me feeling a little bit underwhelmed after all the hype, although, as with Belle and Sebastian’s “The Life Pursuit”, it may be a delayed-onset experience). Anyway the Espers disc is probably my little bit of excitement for 2006, in the same way M Ward and Gillian Welch have been previously, which is high praise I know, and I may regret it later, but that’s what blogging is all about. (And on a not unrelated note the self-titled record by Brightblack Morning Light is not half bad, either; likewise the latest from Six Organs of Admittance.)

(And I was a bit scared by what I had read about the new Sonic Youth, but having finally given in, I like what I am hearing. Have they mellowed? Have I? I suspect that all that has happened is that we have all gotten used to the Sonic Youth sound, and that if you put anything off “Rather Ripped” up against actual “classic rock radio” the punters would still run a mile with their hands over their ears. Still, since when has the most fitting adjective to describe SY been “nice”?)

Adrienne and I have, in the last few years, got into a bit of a habit of buying each other, for birthdays etc, books or CDs that we would like to read/hear ourselves. So the person who buys the present ends up monopolising it, and the person who receives the present never sets eyes on it again. (Leaving aside the infamous Three-Tiered Bean Sprouter Incident of 1989, which will never be spoken of again. Except by Adrienne, whenever she feels like twisting the knife just that little bit further.) Anyway, it all kind of backfired (but in a good way) this year when I used mother’s day as an excuse to acquire the “Tropicalia” compilation on Soul Jazz (home of the wonderful “Reggae Disco” set, “The World of Arthur Russell”, and a few thousand Studio 1 compilations). It dug its hooks into her straight away, and has barely been out of the car stereo since. Which is bad for me, because I almost never get to use the car. From what I have heard, however, it would be difficult to stitch together a better, or - crucially - more enjoyable, representation of a "scene".

Meanwhile there have been Bob Dylan’s radio shows, and a whole slew of old reggae plates and reissues have been turning up on the internet, which it is hard to say “no” to. And then there’s Zorn, about which, a bit more a bit later.