Saturday, May 13, 2017

Song of the day

"Bill Is Dead", by The Fall.

The bad thing about being me is that I have been compelled, against my better judgment, to spend way too much time observing, to the point of obsession, the unfolding spectacle/tragedy of the president of the United States of America.

The good thing about being me is that over the past week I have been able to veer between (again, most likely against my better judgment) yet another trip down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole (a series of May 1977 shows that have just been officially released for the first time) and a trip down a very different rabbit hole, and one which I haven't descended for some time, that of Mancunian institution The Fall.

It was only two weeks after these particular Grateful Dead shows that The Fall played their first gig. And yet to judge by the mellow, laid-back nature of this particular iteration of the Dead ("Dark Star" would seem to have been retired; there is little if any sign of space noodling) (actually, the one noticeable gesture towards modernity is the extended "Dancing In The Street" that closes off the first set of the fabled 8 May show at Cornell, which most likely would not have existed in this particular form had it not been for the advent of [sudden intake of breath] disco; although the observation I read that it leaves for, ahem, dead everything on the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack is, surely, rather wide of the mark), the thing called Punk Rock hadn't yet (if it ever did) invaded personal Dead space. (One interesting discovery, or realisation, that my sojourns into the dark realms of Grateful Dead have led me to, however, is that there is quite a bit of Dead in Television's "Marquee Moon". I feel I am a better person for being able to notice this. I could also be wrong about both of those statements.)

As has happened each time I dive headlong back into the land of the Dead, after a few days random songs of theirs start keeping me awake at night. It was with some relief (and exhaustion), then, that I stumbled upon The Quietus's recent survey of personal-favourite Fall songs, produced to celebrate Mark E Smith's sixtieth birthday. Aside from the rather unflattering (but then is there any other kind?) photo of The Man Himself, it is an excellent piece, with a fine selection of songs (I can't, off the top of my head, think of any that are missing -- [brief pause] -- actually that's not true at all) and some perspicacious observations about them and/or personal reminiscences, the latter of which are frequently what make these kinds of thing succeed or fail.

The songs are listed alphabetically, and I recommend going through the list from "Before The Moon Falls" to "Words Of Expectation" in the order presented. Why? Because it demonstrates an unexpected unity of purpose for a band that has existed for forty years, seen innumerable lineups, and been through good times and bad. Every non-casual listener would have a sense of their favourite eras and also of the years that they would rather disown. This selection, in this sequence, will happily debunk all such ideas. Myself, I switched off between the end of the eighties and the end of the aughts, during which time other things got in the way: relationship; "career" (ho ho); children. So, when I returned to The Fall fold, I felt I had missed way too many records (and had heard way too many tales of woe) to ever catch up, leaving me with a 20-year black hole that this article has, in a stroke, chastised me for ignoring. (In fact, I intend burning myself a "wilderness years" CD comprised solely of the selections from this era that appear here.)

Everything here contains that unbottleable Fall magic, in one way or another, but the song that stands out at this moment is "Bill Is Dead", from "Extricate" (which came out not long after I jumped off the train). It is, and I can't believe this word belongs anywhere near a Fall song, gorgeous. In fact, it is such an atypical Fall song that, this being The Fall, it is actually a typical Fall song. (If you have read this far, you will know what I mean.)

But wait, there's more.

Philip Harrison's write-up of "Garden" makes reference to Hacienda footage of that song from 1984. I am now going to force you to sit down for the ten minutes it takes to watch this through. (Full screen, if you can. I don't know why it's better, it just is.) It reveals one thing that Jerry Garcia and Mark E Smith both recognised: the power of a two-drumkit lineup. It is also a rare example of an already great song that pushes itself to be even greater. (Which, to belabour the point, is also the reason people keep diving head-first into three-hour-long tapes of Grateful Dead shows.) (Now, about all those live Fall records ...)

And, because I can't help myself, the greatest Fall video ever. Maybe the greatest music video ever.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Song of the day

"Daylight", by The Pattern Forms.
The Pattern Forms is Jon Brooks, of The Advisory Circle (and one of the masterminds of the Ghost Box label), and two dudes from The Friendly Fires.

Ghost Box have made an art form out of burying personality under layers of what tends to be called "hauntology" but what breaks down as overdosing on British children's television shows of the sixties and seventies, "The Wicker Man", and old-school BBC public service announcements, and turning all of this (and more) into pieces of music. What they haven't done too much of is actual, honest to goodness songcraft. (There are fleeting glimpses of this across their two seven-inch-single series, but still largely obscured by the concept.) 

(I am making this sound like negative criticism. Actually, it isn't. They do what they do consistently brilliantly.)

The Pattern Forms come to us still dressed up in inverted commas, but here it's the sound of mid-80s British music, in all of its high-production-values majesty. (Think Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, and any number of records the product of expensive studio time with Fairlights, and go on from there.) And, in "Daylight", they have come up with an honest to goodness pop song, with heart and soul, and complete with chorus that, if you were there the first time around, will bring literal tears to your eyes. You have been warned.

First Impressions

So, like everybody else around here, I have listened to the two new LCD Soundsystem songs.

If I am good at anything, it is NOT judging records on the strength of one listen. Sometimes, even 10 (or even 100) is not enough. Often enough, down the track I can no longer remember what I first thought. Here, then, for my own future reference, are those first thoughts.

"Call The Police".

All I've got for this, really, is a pull quote. You want it, it's yours.

"I don't mind that James Murphy got the band back together. It's just a shame that the band was U2."

"American Dream".

Having blown the entire budget on "Call The Police", LCD find themselves stuck with some sick (NOT in the sense of "fully") OMD synths circa 1980, and have some fun doing what they do best: slapping down something that sounds remotely like a song with what gives the impression of minimal effort or pre-planning but, knowing James Murphy, was no doubt quite the opposite. "An unlikely hit."